This is severely bad timing.” “You are talking to yourself again.” Jill looked back up at him. “Oh, yeah? Well. I always do. That’s what happens when your mother was a professor of library science, and your father was a mathematical physics genius. I talk to myself because nobody else understands me.” “They don’t?” “Of course not. And it’s not an issue. Nobody’s ever there, anyway.” He moved a fraction of an inch, his eyes soft. Almost concerned. “I’m here.” Jill choked. It was more a snorting sound. “True. But you are a figment of my imagination, so you don’t count.” He pulled in a deep breath and held it. The heavy sigh that followed lifted some of her bangs with the force of it. And what was really strange, she seemed to have made the same sigh. Without conscious thought or need. She’d matched him physically? It wasn’t likely. Was it even possible? “Do I not look real? Surely I sound it?” “Actually, you sound borderline psychotic. But you do look pretty substantial. You’re probably very heavy. No wonder you didn’t have any trouble carrying my weight. What do you tip the scales at, anyway? Two-fifty?” This time he didn’t sigh. It sounded more like a grunt from deep in his throat. “This is not working.” “No lie.” “Jill. Please listen to me. I am not imaginary. I am very real. And you keep missing the rest of my words. I am here because I am your mate.” “Oh. I heard that part. I’m just avoiding it. I mean... um. This word you toss around. Mating. That puts a negative, animalistic-sounding connotation to something that should be incredibly beautiful, very personal, and extremely intimate. I mean, if that’s your pick-up line, you probably need to work on it.” He stepped closer still, while his hands tightened on the sword hilt. His knuckles whitened, and cords stood out in both arms. Wow. The guy was more than ripped. He was body-builder perfection. He also had an intensity that seemed to heighten the temperature. She was trembling. She should probably feel terrified. She didn’t. She felt like every cell was getting an electrical charge. “Mating isn’t something negotiable. It isn’t something you can fight. I’m finding it difficult to keep from you, despite any dislike of the situation.” “Am I coming across... that I dislike you?” “Not after you spoke of sculpting me. Naked.” “Oh! Oh. I cry foul. You’re using eavesdropping against me? That is a complete and total cheat.” “Sebastian Cole never cheats.” “Oh yeah? What do you call it, then?” It was her move stepping closer this time. He was exuding something that felt like flypaper must to a fly. Flame to a moth. Something forceful. Passionate. Magnetic. He was also tensing throughout his frame, causing every nuance of his muscularity to get defined, begging a touch. A caress. She barely caught the move to do exactly that. “You speak aloud. I listened. That is not cheating.” “Well, it’s completely unfair. Nobody should have their fantasies stuck out in the bright light and examined. Even me. With those frickin’ doctors. Oh, this is bad, Jill. Really bad.” “Why is it bad? I know you wish to see me naked. It’s completely right. And true.” “Excuse me?” “I was told that mating is an amazing experience. It restarts everything. Breathing. The heart beating. The senses. The passions.” “Oh, you were told that, were you? By whom? An astrologer?” “You disparage me?” “That’s a big word,” she replied. “Do you know what it means?” “And you malign me?” “Another... big word. Wow.” Her voice was breathless, and at a much lower tone than she intended. Good heavens. She was actually able to verbalize sexual turn-on? “I cannot believe this! I did not ask for a mate! I did not want one. I did not need one. I did not pine for one. You don’t understand.” “Wow. That’s... everything a girl wants to hear.