Copyright © 2009 Jess Dee, Jayne Rylon, Lorelei James
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
A Question of Trust by Jess Dee
In full view of Connor, Gabe turned Maddie’s still flushed face to his and kissed her.
Connor watched as Maddie’s lips softened and relaxed into the kiss. He watched her mouth open to Gabe’s probing. Her pink tongue met his darker one, and damn, he wanted to be the one kissing her, making her sigh like she’d just got a taste of heaven.
Christ, he wanted to be the one showing her heaven.
When Gabe pulled away, Maddie moaned her disapproval. “Later, baby,” he promised, then looked up at Connor. His mouth curved into a knowing smile. “She’s all yours,” he said with a wave and walked away.
“Don’t I wish,” Connor muttered under his breath.
“Wish what?” Maddie answered. Her voice was all lazy, her pupils tiny pricks of black in her hazel eyes. With her kiss-swollen lips, her beaded nipples and her luscious body, she looked like sex personified.
“That you were all mine,” he told her without skipping a beat.
She stood up, drawing her wrap around her shoulders. The glow from a light above her caught the gold glints in a wisp of her hair. She didn’t look like sex. She looked like an angel.
“I’m Gabe’s,” she said. “You know that.”
He too got up and touched her shoulder, indicating she should walk ahead of him. “I’ll share,” he told the back of her head. “You know that.”
Her footsteps faltered. “A Maddie sandwich,” she mumbled to herself
That’s when he grinned. “Is it on the menu?” he asked. “Because I would like to order one. To go.”
She almost tripped, but he caught her arm, steadying her, and led her out of the restaurant. Her skin felt like silk beneath his fingers and he did not let her go until she was seated in the rental car and he had no choice.
The minute he switched on the engine Maddie spoke. “Connor—” She floundered, seemingly at a loss for words. “I…it’s… Look, it’s not…” Her voice dropped off and she shook her head. “How am I supposed to respond when you say something like that?”
He glanced at her and lowered his voice. “Tell me you want a bite too.”
The full moon and clear sky provided enough light in the dark of the night for Connor to see her color deepen. “I… I…”
“Okay, I’ll make it easier for you.” Christ, that virginal blush played havoc with his hard-on. “Tell me you don’t want a taste.”
She blanched. “Connor. Dear God, how did we even get on to this subject?”
When he noticed her nipples poking through her shirt, bathed in the moon’s soft rays, it was with a certain measure of satisfaction. This time Gabe was not the one who had induced the response. Connor’s desire hit him like a blow to the gut, hard and fierce. “You can’t do it, can you? You can’t deny you’d like to be the middle of a you, me and Gabe sandwich?”
She stared out of her window, silent for a long time. “I can’t do this, Connor,” she said at last. “I can’t play these games. I’m with Gabe. You know that.”
Such strong words. So why did she sound so unconvinced by them? He couldn’t help it, he had to touch her. Reaching out, he tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear. Beneath his hand she trembled.
“What if…” Shoot, he had to change gear, had to pull his hand away, “…this wasn’t a game. What if the two of us, Gabe and I, turned your sandwich into a reality?”
Maddie let out a shuddery breath. Fog steamed up her window.
Connor forced his attention onto the road in front of him. “What if I really did join your pajama party?”
She whimpered out loud.
Focus on driving. Don’t crash the car because you’re thinking with your groin. “You, me and Gabe, sweetheart. What do you say?”
Maddie opened her mouth, but no words came out, just a strangled groan.
Think outside the box, Maddie, he urged in silence. Open your mind to any possibilities, not just the obvious ones.
Connor pulled up outside Gabe’s building. He turned to her, took her hand in his, and noticed with satisfaction that she did not draw away. “Here’s a new puzzle for you, Maddie. One only you can solve.” Her skin was warm and just a little damp. Nerves? “A man sits down to dinner. He meets a woman who makes his world shift slightly off its axis, who makes him hard as a rock and horny as hell. But the woman has a boyfriend—the man’s best friend. Tell me, Maddie, what happens next?”
Maddie stared at him, her face wild. Her chest rose and fell in uneven ripples, like her choppy breath.
“Ponder that one, sweetheart,” he said and swung open his door.
Maddie sat where she was, looking dumbstruck.
He circled the car and opened her door, waiting chivalrously as she climbed out. They walked up the stairs to Gabe’s apartment in silence, but Connor could sense Maddie’s tension, could hear her knuckles crackling as she clenched and unclenched her fist.
He let them into the flat.
“I know the answer to that one,” Maddie said as Connor put his keys down.
Connor’s heart rate slowed.
Maddie ran her tongue over her lower lip. “The…the woman goes to bed.” She nodded, as though to emphasize her answer. “With the man’s best friend. Just like she did last night and the night before that.” She gave him a tight smile. “Goodnight, Connor, and thank you for the lift.”
Maddie turned towards Gabe’s bedroom.
Before Connor had time to register the crushing disappointment wrought by her departure, she swung back round and their eyes locked. Gone was the contained woman who’d answered with such certainty. In her place stood a vixen with fire in her eyes and lust in her gaze.
His heart slammed into his ribs.
“Damn you, Connor.” Her whisper was harsh. She took three paces forward and poked her finger into his chest. “Damn you for putting me in this untenable situation.” Without giving him a chance to defend himself, she raised her head in defiance, swore out loud and pressed her lips to his.
It was over too soon. She’d messed with his brain and sent a hurricane hurtling through his stomach and it was over. He hadn’t even had a chance to appreciate her actions before she pulled away.
“No!” She couldn’t leave. Not now, not like this. He grabbed her arm, halting her retreat. He looked into her eyes, acknowledged the hunger and the confusion and the awkwardness he saw there, and then he kissed her.
Connor had experienced his share of first kisses. Some were nice, some were hugely erotic, some needed practice and one had just been bloody awful. Indescribably bad. Kissing Madeline Jones was like nothing he had ever encountered before.
Never, ever had a kiss stopped his heart beating before kicking it into overdrive. His pulse drummed to an erratic, irregular rhythm, pounding so hard it sent blood roaring through his ears, drowning out sounds.
Her lips parted to his seeking tongue, offering him entry into the warm, wet cavern of her mouth. He tasted wine on her breath, and honey, and a bewitching mix of woman and desire. Lord, a man could become inebriated on her taste alone.
Time lost meaning as her tongue twined with his, as she wrapped herself around him, pulled his chest to her breasts, brought her hips to his groin. Space no longer existed, it was just him and her. Together. He felt himself slipping, dropping and falling into Maddie. Whatever she ultimately did or did not agree to, Connor knew it would never be enough. One kiss was all he needed to know that with Maddie he wanted everything.
And then she groaned, twisted and pulled away. She stared at him in horror for perhaps five seconds, pressing her fingers to her puffy lips. Then she looked at her hand as if not comprehending what it was, before wheeling around and racing down the hall.
When there was nothing left but the soft echo of her footsteps ricocheting through his head, Connor found his voice again. “I’m coming after you, Madeline Jones,” he promised her absent form. “Sooner than you think.”
Nice and Naughty by Jayne Rylon
“She’s beautiful,” he murmured reverently.
The car. He’s talking about your car. She tried to convince herself, but the rationalization rang false. While he admired the convertible, something more arced between them. Attempting to shake off the unusual reaction inflaming her senses by focusing on her vehicle, Alexa stepped a little closer.
“I’ve done a lot of work on it.”
“Can I touch her?” His implicit understanding of her dislike for people handling her vehicle made her confident he would treat it with the respect it deserved.
“Sure, go ahead.” Plus, she got to watch the way his broad finger stroked the defined contour in the flawlessly waxed side panel, which inflamed her senses nearly as much as if he’d placed the caress on her skin instead.
Before she could stop to analyze what her subconscious offered, she asked, “Would you like to take a look under the hood?”
She had to laugh at the look on his face. “You look like a kid on Christmas.”
“It’s not every day I come across an opportunity like this.” The dark undercurrent of the statement and his piercing green stare made it clear he referred to more than a fancy sports car.
Oh God. He feels it, too.
Alexa should have been freaked out. Alone with a stranger, on a deserted stretch of highway, in the mountains far from the city, sounded like an unwise situation to put herself in. She should be nervous but a remarkable calm surrounded her instead. In fact, she just now realized she’d stopped on the side of the road without a second thought to safety. Today, she threw caution to the wind. The chemical reaction between them affected her like a drug.
As though he sensed her train of thought, the man backed away a few steps, displaying his non-threatening intent. He left the path clear for her to get in her car and drive away but her instincts shouted that she could trust him. She wanted to explore this attraction just a little bit further.
She leaned over the door and rested her fingertips on the hood release. The man’s gaze tracked her movement yet he didn’t encroach on her space. For a moment, the only sounds breaking the silence were the babble of the stream below, the gentle rustle of leaves from the tree branches overhead and a soft birdsong.
The air between them crackled with tension.
Then, the metallic click of the hood’s latching mechanism disengaging relayed her decision to stay. A broad smile spread across his face, raising faint dimples that heightened his attractiveness. Alexa inclined her head in a “come here” gesture as she circled around to the front of the car.
He ambled to her side with a steady gait that made her cognizant of his confidence she wouldn’t run. Reaching for the edge of the hood simultaneously, their hands met. Sparks shot up her spine and she jerked. His arm wrapped around her waist in a protective hold. The solid strength kept her from losing her physical footing, but not her emotional balance. This close she could smell the unique combination of his leather gear and subtle, earthy cologne.
“Easy.” His hand smoothed down her side and across the top of her ass as he went back to lifting the hood. The blatant touch imbued her with respect for his natural ability to handle a woman. However, she retained enough rationality to admire the gleaming chrome of the engine that she cleaned with painstaking diligence each weekend she could manage the time. Together they leaned forward, caught by the lure of a ridiculously overpowered motor.
“This is an aftermarket addition. Did you do this yourself?” His raised eyebrow conveyed his surprise.
“I’m impressed. Are you a mechanic?”
“Nope, this is just a hobby.” She smirked.
“Some hobby. I am a mechanic. This is a damn fine job.”
Alexa basked in his appreciation for details. None of her friends understood her devotion to this machine. They couldn’t comprehend why she spent the majority of her precious free time refining each tiny part until it was flawless. This man obviously did.
He ran his hand along the connections, searching with deft flicks of his fingertips for imperfections where none existed. His satisfied nod had her beaming.
“Jesus, woman. If someone told me I’d have the chance to play with a car like this today, I’d have said that nothing could distract me. But the way you’re looking at me…”
His voice trailed off as she reached up to do a little exploring of her own. Her hand moved on autopilot, following her desire, cupping the side of his stubbled face.
Is this guy for real?
The wet heat of his lips on her palm rasped against her nerves, stronger than any dream. She whimpered as he turned his head to lick the center of her palm before catching the sensitive skin between her thumb and index finger in his teeth in a gentle nip. The move set her ablaze, destroying common sense.
“Kiss me,” she demanded.
He didn’t need to be told twice. With a low groan, he closed the narrow gap between them, sealing his mouth over hers. He dropped the hood in place and put his hand to better use, wrapping it around her hip, yanking her tight against the hard plane of his chest. His height made Alexa strain on tiptoes to return his kiss. Eager to help, he tucked his other hand around her thigh, just beneath the curve of her ass, and hoisted her up higher on his body.
They fit perfectly together.
Her hands tangled in his hair, loving the way the silky strands teased the sensitive crevices between her fingers. She kneaded his scalp, urging him to take her mouth deeper. His head angled over hers, intensifying the kiss as his tongue lashed playfully against the seam of her lips. She drew it inside her mouth and sucked. He tasted like peppermint.
She moaned with regret when he pulled away.
“I’m going to set you on the hood.” He rumbled in her ear in between nibbles of her neck.
Though he looked disappointed, he stopped without hesitation.
The heat suffusing her face highlighted her discomfort with being so brazen. “I…I don’t want to scratch the paint. Take my shorts off first.”
Strained laughter burst from his chest. It transformed his features from rugged to unbearably handsome.
“Honey, you’re my every fantasy.”
Wicked Garden by Lorelei James
Eden LaCroix embodied sin. Wicked, sinful pleasures of the flesh that’d lead a monk straight into temptation.
Billy Buchanan never claimed to be a monk, but how on earth had he ever walked away from her?
Walked? Nice try, man. You ran away from her.
He traced her outline on the glass partition separating them—slumberous hazel eyes, full lips, auburn curls—and was surprised his fingers didn’t come away scorched.
Eden’s spine straightened. Before she turned and caught him gawking, Billy stepped from view.
Way to act like a stalker, Buchanan. Real professional.
Minutes later, her secretary found him calmly leaning against the wall in the reception area. However, calm was the last thing he felt when faced with the pleasures of Eden.
“Ms. LaCroix will see you now.”
Billy’s knees were knocking as loud as his heart when he finally opened her office door.
“Financially unfeasible my ass,” Eden muttered. Not every decision had to be about money.
She didn’t glance up from the spreadsheet when the door clicked open. Dammit. She wasn’t ready to listen to another “expert” regurgitate the same gloomy diagnosis: the building housing the community center couldn’t be salvaged. “Hang on. I’ll be right with you.”
“No hurry. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
A chill skittered up her spine. She’d heard those exact words before. In that low timbre, with that playful tone. Nah. Couldn’t be. Her ears were playing tricks on her.
Curiosity won out. Eden shoved the papers aside and looked across the desk. But the man’s zipper—not his face—was at her eye-level. Before she could discern whether he dressed left or right, her gaze traveled up the charcoal-colored suit pants, past a narrow waist and broad chest covered with a crisp white dress shirt. Wide shoulders. Strong neck. Square jaw. Big grin.
A familiar big grin.
Eden’s stomach knotted. “Say it ain’t so,” she half-whispered. “Billy Buchanan?”
“In the flesh.” Billy spread his arms wide before his killer smile melted away. “Eden? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“A ghost from prom past, minus the baby blue tux.” She shook her head to get the blood flowing, never taking her eyes off him.
“It’s been a few years,” Billy said. “You look amazing. Last time I saw you—”
“—my prom dress was down around my ankles at Motel 6. I’m surprised you remember since the last time I saw you, your scrawny ass was high-tailing it out the door.”
Billy allowed a sheepish shrug, which fell short of the endearing mark Eden suspected he’d been aiming for.
“Although this trip down memory lane is fascinating…” she smiled—all teeth, “…I don’t have time to reminisce. I have an appointment.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Billy plopped into the chair, watching her with an intensity that hadn’t dimmed despite the passing of a decade. “Feather Light Consulting, right?”
That stopped her cold. “How did you know?”
“Because I am your appointment.”
Eden’s pulse spiked, but she managed a droll stare. “Still the consummate bullshit artist, I see.” The wheels on her office chair squeaked as she rocked back. “I’m supposed to believe you work for Feather Light Consulting?”
“Yep. Since yesterday afternoon.” He clicked open a battered black briefcase, propping it on his lap. “Robert Light had a heart attack Saturday night.” When she gasped, he said, “Bob is recovering, but it’ll take time, time Feather Light doesn’t have in order to meet their current client obligations. Jim White Feather brought me here from Illinois.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Why you?”
“Robert gave me a great recommendation with the engineering firm I work for in Chicago. I owe him.” Billy reached into his briefcase, withdrawing a manila envelope. “Luckily I’d just wrapped up a job in Calgary. With freelance status, I’m assisting on this project with Feather Light.”
“Guess it is a lucky thing for Robert.”
“And for you.” Billy smiled, flashing a deep dimple. “Isn’t it great, us working together again? Just like old times?”
“Marvelous.” The last time they’d punched a communal time clock at a local floral shop, any free moment between deliveries and customers her clothing had been askew and Billy’s eager body had plastered hers to the flower cooler as they’d played the FTD version of post office.
Billy merely lifted his brows at her sarcasm.
“Although I’d like to renew specific relationships—” his eyes moved from her eyes to her lips, “—I’m not interested in making friends, Eden. I’m here to do a job.”
Eden chalked up the fluttering in her stomach to acid reflux, not anticipation, and certainly not from his predatory once-over.
While he rummaged in his briefcase, Eden studied the changes ten years brought to Billy Buchanan. He was still undeniably sexy, and boy-next-door handsome. His hair had darkened from blond to tawny gold. His once lanky 6’3” frame filled out impressively. She imagined a toned athlete’s body under his custom tailored clothing. Yet the quick smile with deep-set dimples and his hypnotizing blue eyes remained unchanged. Blue eyes completely focused on her.
“Jesus, Eden. You take my breath away.”
The heat of his gaze evaporated every bit of moisture in her mouth. Not many things threw her, but one compliment from him and she reverted to a seventeen-year-old girl; her heart raced, her face burned, her blood pumped hot.
“Sorry. I know that was out of line. Not a good way to start this.”
“So how do we start this, Billy? Do I ask you how you’ve been? Do I ask to see your credentials?” Or do I ask why you ran out on me?
Billy’s eyes didn’t waver as the locks on the briefcase clicked. “Sure. We could also discuss the weather, or whether my old boss Nathan and his wife Tate, have contributed to the population explosion in Spearfish.” He angled forward, settling his elbows on the briefcase, studying her carefully. “Or, we could skip all that crap and I could tell you why I left you and your virginity intact ten years ago.”