Copyright © 2012 Jodi Redford
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“I’ve been a very naughty girl, Santa. Think you better spank me with your big candy cane.”
Choking on his swallow of beer, Kevin Monahan jerked his gaze upward just as Jana Colton draped her arm around his neck. Flashing a cheeky grin, she leaned forward and planted a chaste kiss on his forehead that was in direct opposition to the wicked sparkle in her dazzling blue eyes. Her position thrust her generous breasts square in his face, awarding him a bird’s eye view of the luscious cleavage peeking from the scooped neckline of her pink sweater. A sweet and sensual floral scent drifted from her peaches-and-cream skin, tantalizing his already overtaxed senses. The bead of sweat crawling down his nape couldn’t be blamed on the too-warm interior of Hadley’s Bar and Grill.
He and Jana had known each other for five years and been good friends for at least four. He should have been immune to her outrageous flirtations by now. Apparently his libido was too sadistic to let him off the hook that easily.
Jana straightened and tugged off her fingerless gloves before shrugging out of her leather trench coat in a seductive shimmy that officially fried a few more of his brain cells. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.”
Desperately grappling for every ounce of inner strength he possessed, he tore his entranced stare from the outline of Jana’s perky nipples and schooled his expression into the blandest one he could manufacture. “No. I’ve only been here a few minutes.”
Jana arranged her coat over the back of the chair opposite him and plopped onto the seat. He didn’t fail to notice the lewd glances and snickering whispers she garnered from the neighboring table of college frat boys. A completely inescapable flash of protectiveness streaked through him, prompting him to offer the ogling boys a cold glare. Taking the hint, they returned to their raucous conversation and beer chugging. He allowed a fraction of the tension to ease from his shoulders.
He knew he had no right to be the slightest bit territorial where Jana was concerned, but it also didn’t stop him from wanting to kick the ass of every punk kid who eyed her like a side of beef while making crude comments to his dips**t friends.
Displaying her typical blasé disregard for the attention she generated in the opposite sex, Jana propped her arms on the pockmarked wooden tabletop and focused the full wattage of her smile on him. As always, it possessed the power to seduce the pants right off him—something Jana would undoubtedly take full advantage of if she knew the true scope of his weakness where she was concerned. For the past ten months, she’d really amped up her quest to take their friendship to the next level. He had no intention of giving in to her and the inevitable fallout that’d result if they slept together, but it didn’t mean his vigilant resistance wasn’t a fierce struggle.
She wiggled in her seat, drawing his rapt, albeit reluctant, scrutiny to her bouncing breasts. His c**k swelled, and he mumbled a soft curse.
Tucking a lock of her shiny blonde hair behind her ear, she twitched her nose in a way that was both adorable and admonishing. “I missed you, you jerk. I thought you said you’d call me while you were in Vegas.”
A niggle of guilt worming through him, he situated his pilsner glass on the coaster, taking his time with the task on the off chance she’d grow bored with his silence and move on to another topic.
She didn’t. “Did you have a nice visit with your dad?”
“Yeah.” If you could call enduring three days of awkward tension remotely pleasant. Then again, it hadn’t been anything less than what he’d expected. Tense visits with his dad were standard fare. Not that Jana knew anything about the harsh reality of his relationship with his father. It was yet another facet of his life he preferred to keep locked away in his closet of dirty secrets.
“Do anything exciting while you were out there?”
His thoughts automatically veered to his meeting with the departing executive chef at the Cinders and the resulting job offer that’d been presented to him. The meeting had merely been a formality. The position was his from the get-go, thanks to his father’s majority share in the Cinders. Richard Monahan wasn’t averse to using his money and power when it came to getting what he wanted. Right now, that something was the prestigious five-star Metro Cuisine ranking that Kevin toted. He held no delusions about possessing any further value in his father’s eyes than that. Still, he owed this to his dad. It wouldn’t absolve Kevin of the guilt he’d lugged around for the last fourteen years, and it sure as hell wouldn’t change the past and the transgressions of his youth. But taking the job was one small act of repentance.
He cleared his throat. “Not really.” It probably made him an asshole for lying, but telling Jana he’d accepted the Cinders proposal and would be moving to Vegas in a couple of weeks would only upset her. He didn’t want to ruin her Christmas.
“Okay, on to the most important question of all.” She batted her eyelashes endearingly. “Did you bring an awesome X-mas pressie back for me?”
Her blatant maneuvering tactic did the trick of lightening some of the heaviness weighing at him, and he chuckled. “Actually, I bought your gift months ago, but you’re not getting it yet.”
“I won’t peek.” She sighed when he raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I totally will. Can I help it that I have no willpower?”
She wasn’t the only one. In his case, his personal Kryptonite was a certain blonde with a quirky personality and the prettiest, kissable-looking lips in all creation. He dragged his gaze from her mouth and reached for his beer, slamming another desperate swallow. The frosty ale did nothing to douse his desire. Not by a long shot.
Jana was a crippling addiction he couldn’t kick. Worse, she was a temptation he couldn’t give in to. For years he’d been able to use the excuse of her being the little sister of one of his bosses at the Dockside, but soon he wouldn’t have that flimsy copout to cling to. It was no secret she had a crush on him. If he were a selfish prick, he’d take advantage of what she was openly offering. God knows, it was a battle to resist. Especially when she was staring at him with a sinful glint in her eyes, like she was mentally engaging them in all kinds of naughty acts that were likely illegal in forty-nine states.
Despite her propensity for brazenly flirting with him, it didn’t change the fact she was a good girl at heart. A bit wild, yes, with a vocabulary that’d make a construction worker cringe. But there was no denying that an innate sweetness radiated from within her.
The heaviness from earlier settling in his heart, he plunked his glass down. It’d rip him apart if he hurt Jana. And sooner or later, that’s precisely what would happen. He wasn’t any good at letting people into his life. His dysfunctional past guaranteed that. No way in hell he’d drag Jana into the hot mess of his psyche. She deserved better than that. Deserved better than him.
Shoving aside his glum musings, he waved the waitress over. After ordering a glass of sangria, Jana picked up her napkin and fidgeted with it for a second before spreading it across her lap. “So I was thinking…” Despite her casual tone, a slight nervous flutter wavered through her voice. “Why don’t we make an entire night of it next Saturday? After The Nutcracker, we can hit a few clubs downtown, maybe even the casino. It’d probably be easiest to get a room while we’re at it, so we won’t have to worry about driving home. I hear the hotel at the MGM Grand Detroit is super nice.”
The unspoken part of her proposition hung sultry and oh so irresistible between them, tempting and teasing him with seductive possibilities. It didn’t take much creativity on his end to mentally conjure a scene straight out of his fantasies. A sumptuous suite and a king-sized bed big enough for two. On the nearby nightstand—chilled wine, chocolate-dipped strawberries…a blindfold and wrist restraints. He swallowed. Hard. Damn it, he wasn’t even into bondage, for the most part. What the hell was wrong with him?
He took a steadying breath, digging deep for the right words. They weren’t the ones he wanted to say, but his conscience reminded him of the necessity of them, regardless. “Jana, I don’t want to lead you on.”
She tried for an innocent look that fell far short from working its mark. “In what way would you and I sharing a room be leading me on?”
He lowered his voice. “Because I know you’ll finagle for a single bed.”
“Would that be so terrible?”
The taunting fantasy of the blindfold and restraints paraded through his mind again. This time the hot, wicked visual came with the added torture of him imagining Jana’s sweat-glistened skin slip-sliding against his, her soaked p***y squeezing his c**k like a fist as she screamed his name in climax. His balls tightened, and he discreetly adjusted the uncomfortable snugness of his zipper.
“Not a good idea.” His overheated libido grumbled in protest.
Wetting her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, she traced the pattern engraved on the handle of her fork with her fingernail. “Did I happen to mention I sleep naked?”
His d**k perked up even more in interest, and he silently groaned. You’re f**king killing me, baby.
Her timing impeccable, the waitress returned to take their orders before moving on to the neighboring table. In a rare instance of behaving herself, Jana didn’t bring up the possibility of her and him sleeping together—or her fondness for going au naturel—for the duration of their meal. Their conversation flowed freely, and soon enough she’d lulled him into the familiar ease he always experienced when they were together. Because of his inability to let many people close, he didn’t have a lot of friends. The only person he’d truly shared this level of camaraderie with had been Nick, his best friend—back before everything went to s**t between them.
Forcing his mind from that dark alley of thoughts, he drained the remainder of his beer and waited for Jana to finish her pasta primavera before he signaled for the check. After a brief argument over who would pay—him, of course—he pocketed his wallet and helped her into her coat, careful not to linger over the process in hopes of touching her silky skin. He avoided that temptation at all costs, although she went out of her way to rub against him every chance she could. His damn c**k was going to wear through the fly of his khakis at the rate his erection was growing.
Before his sanity took a complete nosedive, he escorted her outside and led the way to Jana’s old Mustang. She plunked her purse onto the hood and dug for her keys. A strong wind whipped through the lot, catching the ends of her shoulder-length, wavy strands. She shivered, and he resisted the urge to bundle her into his arms. He compromised by shielding her from the next oncoming gust with his body.
A second later she held up her key ring. “Found ’em.” Jingling the keys, she gifted him with another of her megawatt smiles and unlocked the driver’s side door. She carelessly tossed her purse inside the vehicle and plopped into the driver’s seat before turning her key in the ignition. A series of dull clicks broke the silence. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she peered up at him. “Oops. I must have left my dome light on.”
Her expression was too innocent to be taken seriously. His suspicions buzzing, he gripped the doorframe and eyed the hood. “I’ll give you a jump.”
Jana’s full, glossy lips curved upward in a wicked grin. “I’d love for you to jump me.”
Damn it, he’d stepped right in to that one. Heat crawled up his neck and pooled low in his groin. A sultry sparkle dancing in her gaze, Jana draped her fingers over the gearshift and idly stroked it.
God save me. Dragging his attention from the erotic sight of her giving the gear stick a hand job, he cleared his throat. “I’ll bring my car over. Jumper cables are in the back.”
“How are you going to reach my engine?”
Plowing a hand through his hair, he gave the cars blocking the Mustang in on all sides his frustrated attention. “We’ll have to wait it out until someone leaves.”
“That could be all night. Why don’t you just take me home, and I’ll have Bram give me a lift here in the morning and charge my battery?”
He’d been on the receiving end of too many of Jana’s seductive schemes not to recognize an attempt in the works. Still, it was either risk whatever she had up her sleeve during the ride to her place, or try to survive what could possibly be an hour or more in the close confines of his car without giving in to the temptation of those long, sleek legs and mouthwatering breasts.
Sending up a silent prayer for strength, he released the doorframe. “All right, I’ll take you home.”
“Thanks, I owe you one.” Leaning sideways, she flipped open the glove compartment and fetched a CD. She caught his frown. “Road tunes.”
He knew her musical tastes enough to be worried. One glance at the label confirmed his worst suspicions. “Making me sit through the Chipmunks’ Christmas album is beyond cruel, Jana.” Then again, he couldn’t find a better boner killer than being serenaded with squeaky rodents.
She hopped from the Mustang, and after securing the lock, crooked her arm through his. “Where is your yuletide spirit?”
Grumbling in response, he led the way two rows over to his Lincoln Navigator. He assisted her into the passenger seat, desperately trying to concentrate on anything but the sweet, feminine scent playing havoc with his senses while she took her time unbuttoning her coat. A moment later, he dashed to his side of the vehicle and buckled himself in before pulling out of his parking spot.
Soon enough, he discovered caroling chipmunks weren’t nearly as much of a libido buster as he’d hoped. Not when they were up against the potent allure of Jana in full-scale-seductress mode. Every shift of her long legs and jiggle of her breasts within the confines of her too-tight sweater murdered another of his brain cells. It was a damn miracle he wasn’t reduced to a mindless, drooling fool by the time he pulled into her driveway.
“Can I entice you into coming in for a nightcap?”
His d**k eagerly bobbed against his fly, giving a resounding Hell yeah to the invitation. “How about a rain check? I’ve got an early morning ahead of me.”
“Please? Just a quick one. Besides, I have to give you your present.”
“You can give it to me later.”
Determination replaced her cajoling expression. “If you don’t come in, I’m going to start singing along with Alvin.”
Flicking the dial on the radio, she cranked up the volume and began belting out an off-key duet that probably had all dogs in a two-mile radius howling in agony. Hard to say who was the worst singer—her or the squeaky rodent.
Groaning, he killed the engine and pocketed his keys. “This present better be damn amazing.”
Offering a mischievous chuckle that made him infinitely nervous, she ripped off her seat belt and shoved open the car door. By the time he reached her front porch, she’d unlocked her house and turned on the living room lights. Half expecting her to tackle him to the floor and give him a lap dance or some equally nefarious, sanity-blowing activity, he cautiously stepped inside the entry. He was relieved to spot her hunkered next to the mountain of gifts arranged around the huge evergreen tree he’d helped her cut down the week before. “Jesus. Did you buy something for everyone in the tri county?”
Glancing over her shoulder, she stuck out her tongue at him. Even that playful act made his c**k rigid. Monahan, you are severely warped. Unfortunately, that was all too true. Hence his need to keep his vigilant resistance of Jana on high alert.
She started to reach for one of the packages but stopped short. “Wait, I’m not wearing my Santa hat.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have—”
Ignoring him, she leapt to her feet and hurried down the short hallway to the master bedroom. Heaving a resigned exhalation, he paced the carpet, his wary focus glued to the beckoning front entrance—and escape. A Leavenworth inmate had nothing on the desperation he was currently experiencing.
The ticking of a nearby clock added to his strained nerves as he planted himself in place and tweaked the bridge of his nose. “I need to get a damn grip.”
He’d been too preoccupied with calming his racing pulse to notice Jana’s approach. Dropping his hand, he swung his gaze in her direction. She stood less than two feet away, wearing the most outrageously sexy getup on God’s green Earth. Considering some of the outfits he’d seen her in, that was saying a lot. Lust nailing him square in the groin, he raked his stare over the red satin number she was poured into. The top consisted of a halter that tied into a bow between her delectable breasts. A matching skirt with a white-furred trim barely toed the scant line separating it from indecent exposure. Her creamy, smooth skin and luscious curves knocked the breath from his lungs. She was the living embodiment of sex and everything he craved to the depths of his soul.
He took a staggering step back, the pulse he’d valiantly tried to normalize revving into hyper speed. “J-Jana, what the hell are you doing?”
“Giving you your present.”
“While dressed like Ms. Porno Claus? I don’t think so.”
She plopped her hands on her hips. “For your information, I’m a naughty elf.”
You can say that again, baby. “Whatever you’ve got cooking in that evil head of yours, it won’t work.”
“I’m only giving you your gift.” Rolling her eyes, she stooped and snatched one of the festively wrapped packages. “Unlike some scrooges, I’m even going to let you open it now.” Walking toward him, she held out the present.
Not daring to take his focus off her in case she tried something funny, he cautiously accepted the container and fumbled with the fabric ribbon and bow.
She grinned, her sparkling eyes more than conveying that she was fully aware of how much she was affecting him. “You know, it’s usually easier to open those things if you look at what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, I’ve got it handled.” Somehow he managed to rip the foiled paper free. After that he was forced to glance at the box he held. He blinked at the set of Wusthof chef knives, his previous frustration over her sneaky and sexy machinations vanishing. “Jana, you shouldn’t have. This is way too generous.”
“So help me, if you say you can’t accept them, I’m going to kick your freakin’ ass. And trust me, that’s gonna be difficult to do in these platform heels.”
He ran his thumb along the edge of the box, the emotion filling his chest bittersweet. A few weeks ago he’d taken her window-shopping at the ritzy new mall that’d opened up in Sterling Heights. Obviously she’d caught him wistfully ogling the knife set and returned later to buy it. The knowledge that she would do something like that for him increased the odd pressure against his breastbone. Tempting as she was in her naughty elf F**k Me ensemble, the sweet, generous woman standing before him with hope and love shining in her eyes was the biggest threat to his armored defenses.
He’d never known someone like Jana, so open and giving in every way possible, even right down to her heart. He wished with his entire being that he could give back a fraction of what she offered. Most of all, he wished he could be the right man for her and not one who would ultimately hurt her when he walked away. Even if he weren’t leaving for Vegas, there still wasn’t a future for them. He knew himself too well to feed himself any lies regarding his emotional baggage.
“I—I did get the correct set…right?” A cloud of worry and uncertainty shuttled across Jana’s face, and she chewed her lip.
That show of vulnerability punched him in the abdomen. “Yeah, it’s perfect. But from now on, no more expensive presents.”
Her expression cleared, and she graced him with a blinding smile. “Does that mean I have to send back the Lamborghini?”
His chuckle breaking free, he pulled her in for a hug. Too late, he realized his tactical mistake as Jana’s lush curves molded against him.
She slipped her hands beneath his jacket, snuggling into him. The nearness of her invaded his senses. Battle-rammed his defenses. His arms reflexively tightening around her, he hugged her close. It was a simple enough gesture shared between friends, but in his case, it meant so much more. Intimacy didn’t come easy for him. Until Jana entered his life, he rarely let down his guard enough to share that side of himself. The only other person who’d broken through his barriers had been Nick.
And look where that got you.
Jana’s expression was a dreamy-eyed invitation that wrapped around his heart and squeezed. “Stay with me tonight. Please.”
The desire to give in nearly knocked him to his knees. It would have been easy enough to give in to the fierce urge firing through him. Forgiving himself in the morning? Not so much. “Jana, I can’t. We’ve already discussed this.”
“And I’ve already told you not to worry about what Bram thinks. For Pete’s sake, my brother isn’t going to fire you for having sex with me.”
If Kevin weren’t moving to Vegas, it might have been a genuine possibility. Particularly since Bram had seen him at Club Arabesque on more than one occasion and knew about his kinky side. To be honest, he was a little surprised Bram apparently hadn’t spilled the beans to Jana about that. Still, he’d caught every single one of Bram’s covert looks of warning whenever the man saw him with Jana. Decoded, they amounted to Keep your d**k in your damn pants.
Jana deliberately brushed her hipbone against his erection, making him suck in a harsh breath. He loosened his hold on her and dropped his arms. This was just one more sanity check to remind him why touching her was too much temptation to handle. “I don’t want to destroy our friendship.” And break your heart when I leave.
Stubbornness blazed in Jana’s eyes. “God, that is so f**king stupid!” She jabbed a finger in the middle of his chest. “What difference does it make if we engage in some horizontal gymnastics? It’s not going to change the way I feel about you, or our friendship.”
“Sex complicates things.” In a big way, in his case.
“Oh dog’s balls. My brother sleeps every night with his best friend. Both of them, to get technical about it. And their relationship is going great.”
“The key word in there is relationship, Jana. That’s why it’s working for them.”
“I’m not asking you to move in or marry me, you idjit. Just f**k my brains out.”
Another ragged breath lodged in his esophagus. Her palm flattened on his sternum, stroking him through the starched cotton of his navy Oxford. He gripped her fingers, stalling their enticing motion. “No, you want more than that. I see it in your eyes every time you look at me.” And that, more than anything, was what terrified him and kept him away. He’d made the reckless decision once before to pursue a relationship he knew he ultimately couldn’t commit to. The resulting disaster had destroyed the only real friendship he’d known at the time. He damn well wasn’t going to let Jana be another casualty to his f**ked-up psyche. “Trust me, one day you’ll thank me for telling you no.”
The uncensored hurt that washed over her stricken features was like a fist rammed into his gut, but it was nothing compared to the guilt that would plague him if he f**ked her and walked away.
Her eyes became suspiciously misty, making his heart cramp.
“Jana, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—” The remainder of his apology fell victim to the unexpected crush of her soft lips over his. He was completely unprepared for the kiss and his body’s knee-jerk reaction to it. His c**k thickened, and every nerve ending he possessed buzzed like he’d stepped on a live wire. A hungry groan tumbled free before he could corral it.
Jana’s lips parted beneath his, and her bold tongue stroked inside his mouth, playing over the tip of his. She tasted like sunshine and sex. Every one of his fantasies brought to life. His c**k bobbed against his fly, straining in Jana’s direction. The rest of him instinctually followed his d**k’s lead.