In An Ounce of Hope, Max O'Hare is tortured by memories of the woman he loved, the child he lost, and the drugs that numbed his pain. Grace Brooks, an eternal optimist, appears to be the perfect girl, but she keeps the truth of her own difficult history closely guarded.
Max is fresh out of rehab, so a relationship is the last thing on his mind. Yet he's drawn to Grace: he senses that she, too, is looking for escape. Bound by their greatest fears and deepest secrets, Max and Grace must learn to trust again.
And the key to opening their hearts lies in one another . . .
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"I was wondering if you'd let me take some pictures of you." Max opened his mouth to protest with a huge, fat "f*ck no," but Grace beat him to it. "They're not portraits or anything," she assured him. "In fact, people won't even know it's you. It'll be parts of you."
Max's hands found his hips. "Parts of me."
"Mmhm. Like your arms." She lifted her hand but kept it from touching him. "Your chest." The nervous demeanor he'd seen in the coffee shop returned, her expression wary, guarded.
She'd never been that way with Max, and he wasn't about to let her start. Without thought, he took a step forward. Grace's hand splayed against his chest, directly above his heart. Her palm burned hot through his tee. A small gasp escaped her at the same time her large eyes snapped to his, all emerald shine and beautiful.
"You can touch me," Max told her gently. "Don't be afraid. Not of me."
She swallowed but didn't move away. Instead, she opened her fingers wider and pressed her palm more firmly against him. An expression of determination hardened her features.
"All right," she whispered. "I'd also want pictures of your face."
She lifted her hand gradually, took his chin between her thumb and forefinger, and turned his head to the side. "This part." She traced an invisible line from the corner of his eye to the edge of his mouth with the tip of her finger. "No one would know it's you."
Max's breathing was heavier; his pulse thundered. The feel of Grace's fingers on his jaw, the sensation of her skin against his was unbelievable. It'd been too damned long since he'd experienced a woman's touch. He was hard and breathless, and they were both still fully clothed.
"OK," he croaked.
"OK?" she asked, dropping her hand. "You'll do it?"
Right then, he'd have done anything she damn well wanted if she'd simply touch him again. "Sure."
For the next hour, Grace took photographs of Max's face, his eyes, his mouth, and his jaw, set against the backdrop of the old cottage, the trees, and the water. She showed him what she'd taken after each one, reassuring him that he was unidentifiable. Max had to admit, though with little surprise, that she was very talented.
Her eye for shape and light was extraordinary.
"I need you over there," she ordered, pointing to the overturned tree he sat on when they had a break on their morning run.
He threw one leg over the side, straddling it. Grace sat down next to him.
"I want to take photographs of your hands." Her voice quieted when she touched the back of his wrist. "But, I . . . I want to show color variation." She put her hand on his. "Like this."
Max licked his lips as he looked at their hands together, her skin an exquisite dark, warm caramel against his white and slightly tanned. She lifted her camera with her free hand and clicked twice.
She adjusted herself, moving closer, the scent of her perfume, all sweet and floral, accosting Max. She tilted and clicked, moved her hand, moved his, but still she seemed unsatisfied. Max, however, was anything but.
Grace huffed and sat back, removing her fingers from his. "It's not working." She closed her eyes and tilted her head back. "I can't get the angle right."
Max's gaze wandered the length of her neck, across her pulse points, down to the V of her top and the swell of her chest, to the top of her thighs, where her skirt had ridden up. Her legs were f*cking perfection. She had runner's legs, slender and strong. He wondered fleetingly what they'd feel like wrapped around his hips, his ribs, and his neck. He bet she tasted incredible.
His fingers slid across her collarbone and down. His gaze flickered to hers the closer he got to her breasts, caution in their depths. "All right?"
And she was. Oh, God, she was. She felt alive in his hands, and when he finally touched her nipples and cupped her in his palms, she moaned a sound she didn't know she was capable of. It was relief, gratitude, and yearning for more. He groaned, too, as he squeezed her gently, tweaking her nipples between his thumb and forefingers, moving closer.
His tongue poked out between his open lips. "You have such great tits." His thumb circled her. "Perfect. Look how they fit my hands." He watched, his gaze hot and enraptured as her breasts moved and rippled under his ministrations. "F*ck, Grace, I want — will you let me, can I suck them?"
His words were so unintentionally erotic, Grace could do nothing but nod.
He leaned closer. "I've got you. You're safe," he murmured. "And so f*cking sexy."
And then his mouth was on her.
His burning tongue wound around her nipple, flicking, teasing, and sending electricity coursing through her veins. It was wet, sloppy, and made Grace call out and sag against him. He hummed into her skin, sucking harder, grabbing tighter, breathing harder.
Grace's body twitched and grew wet, desperate for friction, but fearful of having his body over hers, holding her down. She pushed her hands into his hair, sighing at its thickness between her fingers, wanting nothing more than to bury her nose into it and breathe him in. She held him close.
She was safe, she reminded herself. He wasn't going to hurt her.
"Feels so good," she murmured, knowing from the ache between her legs that she could easily come from his mouth on her chest alone.
Max's reply was muffled but loud, and when Grace looked, she saw that he was rubbing himself furiously through his sweats with the heel of his hand.
"Oh, God," she gasped, yearning flashing through her. "Please let me see."
His mouth never moved, but his eyes darkened impossibly further as they flickered up.
"Could you come?" she asked. He nodded, his lips sliding against her. "Show me."
He pulled down his waistband and underwear faster than Grace could take another breath. The head of his c*ck slapped his belly, glistening and so very hard. No c*ck she'd ever seen was pretty, but Grace would say that Max's was magnificent. He was thick and long, and when he twisted his fist over its bulbous tip, Max moaned and sucked her harder. That was good to know for when she touched him there.
And she would touch him there.
There was no question.
Desire curled in her belly, tighter and tighter as images of them doing more, going further, pummeled her mind until she too was pushing her hand into her pants and into her underwear. She was drenched and burning. One swipe of the pad of her thumb against her cl*t and her back arched. Her head hit the headboard, and she cried out.
Max released her nipple with a loud smack of his lips, his eyes widening when he saw what she was doing. "F*ck, are you touching yourself?"
She bit her lip and nodded — his words gasoline to an already furious inferno. "Close."
Even though her eyes were closed, Grace knew Max's fist had sped up. The bed shook, and his grunts got louder, his breath hot and wild on her throat.
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