Why didn’t he ever give her the slightest hint of his true feelings? And now that she knows…will he be the one to teach her the glorious delights of making love?
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
Reid quietly stepped through the open auditorium doorway, then hesitated and blinked a few times in surprise. He tried to attend all of Andi’s swim meets, and he’d watched her cut through the water at a pretty fair clip. But he’d never seen her rocket down the narrow lane like a runaway shark! If she could manage this kind of speed in the competitions, she could win every race hands-down!
Delighted, he stepped forward to applaud…and all hell broke loose.
Andi caught a glimpse of him standing at the edge of the pool, and even through the chlorine haze burning her eyes, she recognized his distinctive profile.
Mac! The one person she wanted to see the most!
Dizzy elation threw her off stride—and instead of slapping the rim in a final spin that would allow her to coast to a comfortable stop, her right wrist connected with a sickening crunch that sent shrieking shockwaves of pain ricocheting through her entire body. Her anguished scream was choked off as she flipped backwards, desperately clutching her broken wrist, and sank to the bottom like a stone.
“Andi!” Mac roared her name as blood stained the crystalline water. His feet were in motion before the first echo had rebounded back, and then he was diving so deep that he nearly shot past her. Her petite body was limp as he dragged her to the surface, and tried to hoist her head above water.
Afterwards, he’d never be entirely sure how he managed to haul himself, and her, out of the pool without losing several layers of skin. “Breathe, Andi! Come on!” Urgently he shook her, then began to pump vigorously on her ribs. “Breathe!”
Water trickled from her mouth. Swiftly he rolled her onto her side, and pounded on her back. He was rewarded by a sudden gush as she choked, and frantically sputtered for air.
“Again!” More water exploded from her mouth and nose as he looped an arm around her waist, half-lifted her off the cement floor, and squeezed rhythmically in a modified Heimlich…
Until finally, like the melodic trill of an angelic harp, he heard the sweet sound of air filling her lungs.
“Thank you, God!” Relieved beyond measure, he gently lowered her to the floor again. “Andi, can you hear me?”
Her low moan was an agonized rasp. And then he remembered the blood.
Reid’s face paled as he stared at her wrist in icy horror. It looked like a clean break…but how could he tell for sure when both bones were jutting through the skin, and she was losing blood at an appalling rate?
Or is a job the only thing he wants? Astra has always assumed he’s gay…but what if she’s been wrong? Just how far can she trust him…with their new business, or her vulnerable heart?
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
“Hey, Astra!” Phoebe popped out of the farthest bay, where she’d been cheerfully talking with Riley. “You’ve got company!”
“Who?” A welcoming smile began to curve Astra’s lips…but then her spine stiffened when Jared Montrose stepped out into the bright midday sun and lifted a hand in greeting. “I thought I told you ‘no!’”
“Hello, Astra. Morning, Elle.” He identified them effortlessly, which only annoyed her more, and aimed his most charming smile at her twin. “If I chip in toward lunch, can I snag a wing or two?”
Astra wanted to throw the entire bucket of fried chicken at him. And that, she mused with a puzzled frown, wasn’t like her at all. He hadn’t irritated her this way when they’d studied physical therapy together, so why should every single thing about him be striking a raw nerve now?
He was too damned charismatic for his own good, she decided. And Elle was too sweet and innocent to see through him. She’d get hurt…and then Astra would have to rip his head off and stuff it up his extremely fine ass. No one, but no one, messed around with her sister and got away with it.
“What brings you out here, Jared?” she asked crisply, brushing past him. “I distinctly remember telling you that we aren’t hiring.”
He snagged one of the heavy buckets, and casually bumped shoulders with her. “I hadn’t forgotten,” he said mildly. “Call it curiosity. You girls are the talk of the town, you know, between deciding to fix up this old place and finding that big bag of money buried under all that trash.”
A sudden pang of uneasiness rippled down her spine. “Stories grow in the telling,” she retorted. “It was a small bag—and it’s already been returned to its rightful owners.”
“I know.” He flashed her an amused grin. “But it’s still one helluva good story.”
Astra tried not to watch the way he was easily flirting with her sorority sisters. He could be utterly charming when he chose…but he’d always baffled her. Something about him didn’t quite ring true. Maybe it was just that he seemed larger-than-life, with his muscular body and broad shoulders, rich golden-blond hair, and classic chiseled features.
All the other girls in her therapy class had goggled when he’d stepped through the door on that first day of class. Okay, she conceded with a rueful sigh, she had, too. How could a woman not gape in wondering awe when a man was just that drop-dead gorgeous? But he’d seemed so oblivious to their fascination, and to their often-obvious flirtation ploys, that she’d reluctantly written him off her short list of potential dates.
He hadn’t seemed interested in the other men who were attending the class, either…but was that only because he already had a boyfriend of his own? If he did, he’d been remarkably close-mouthed about it; no one had ever seen him hanging out in the local gay bars.
But if he wasn’t gay, then why hadn’t he taken up at least one of the girls on their breathless open-ended offers? What normal red-blooded man would bypass multiple offers to go out and…anything?
All in all, he just didn’t add up. And that was probably why her nerves were humming, she thought grimly. Well, that combined with the way he was cozying up to Elle, and the overly casual way he’d mentioned that double-damned bag of money…
(Includes the exciting series conclusion: Ben finally solves the mystery of the stolen money…and must learn to live with the tragic knowledge that one of his closest friends was not what he claimed to be!)
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
It struck Nina suddenly, as she lay watching the pre-dawn sky glide slowly from dusky gray to molten gold, that she hadn’t slept well since the night of the barbeque. And as much as she hated to admit it, there could only be one reason why.
Her family had moved from Montana to Florida nine years ago, just after her twelfth birthday. Muriel had become her very first friend, and they’d been inseparable ever since then. She couldn’t remember a time when Asher hadn’t been hanging around nearby, as older brothers so often did—but she’d always thought of him as, well, just a friend. Muriel’s older brother.
All that had changed on the night of Jared’s barbeque. Suddenly, for the very first time, she’d become aware of him as a man—a sexy black-skinned giant who’d stirred her blood to a flashpoint boil when he’d protectively laid his massive hand on her shoulder to warn Jory away.
The shock of it had literally stolen her breath, and the rest of the evening had whipped by in a hazy blur. Every nerve in her body had ached with the need to drag him into some dark corner and attack him!
But when he didn’t feel the same about her…
How could she possibly risk losing the deep, comfortable friendship they’d shared over the past near-decade just because she itched to peel him out of his clothes and impale herself on his lusty big shaft?
She knew it was big, too, because she’d seen him in a swimsuit too many times to miss that vital detail. Big, long, and thick, with a delightful curve that she knew would stroke her right to the core, and give her explosive orgasms.
Was that why she’d bought a new vibrator that matched his provocative shape and dimensions when her old one had finally died?
Why on earth hadn’t she ever really seen him before, and considered the delightful possibilities of taking him as a lover?
She’d been too used to looking at him and just seeing Muriel’s mildly-annoying older brother, she admitted with an edgy sigh. And maybe she’d been afraid that it might destroy the special camaraderie she and Muriel had always shared. True sisters-of-the-heart bonding was rare. She’d walk ten miles over burning coals before she’d allow anything to damage that.
So here she was, caught on the horns of her own personal crisis…and horny as hell because of it. She couldn’t turn back the clock and become not-aware of him again. But if she took matters…and him…into her own clever hands, as Astra had with Jared, she’d probably send him running for the hills. Running and screaming in panic, she concluded with another gusty sigh. And that would ruin things for everyone…
She’s known Riley’s nephew, Brad, for years, but never thought of him as a possible lover. So why are her nerves suddenly humming with eager anticipation every time he touches her hand?
And since she knows he feels it, too…why won’t he give into temptation, and make love to her?
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
Before she could take a single step, Brad slid his arms around her narrow waist, and tugged her back against his broad chest. “I won’t apologize for kissing you earlier tonight.” His low voice thrummed in her ear as his warm breath tickled her throat. “I’d wanted to do that for too long. And I want to do it again, right now. Will you let me?”
No one had ever actually asked her if they could kiss her, and Selena turned to stare at him in blank confusion. “Brad…”
He cut her off by gently gliding his mouth over hers in a seductive butterfly kiss.
“Come outside with me.” He whispered it as he curled his hands around her face, and lightly kissed her again. “You look so beautiful in the moonlight!”
Her legs were trembling so hard that she could barely even stand. But somehow she managed to move with him. The screen door softly flapped closed behind them as he led her over to a double-wide recliner, and eased her down onto the plush cushion.
“Not much moonlight tonight.” She murmured it in bemusement as she glanced up at the star-sparkled night sky. The waxing moon was barely more than a slender silver crescent hanging low in the west.
“You’re still beautiful.” The lounger creaked as he settled beside her. “Kiss me again, Selena.”
How could she refuse when the air was so soft and fragrant, and he was stirring up fierce needs that were clamoring for release? Moaning, she curled her arms around his strong neck, and met his open mouth with her own. Oh man, it hadn’t been a fluke—he really could kiss like a dream!
The padded cushion was soft beneath her back. Selena whimpered with anticipation when he eased her down, and stretched out beside her. She needed sex so badly, and she could feel his hunger like a living flame! Any moment now…
He kissed her again, and threaded his fingers through her satiny hair…but when she arched against him, blindly offering herself, he gently shook his head. “No, Sele. Not tonight.”
“What?” Breathlessly she stared at him in helpless confusion. “Why not? We can go somewhere else if you want…”
“No.” He silenced her with another heady kiss, then slowly shook his head again. “I want you more than you could possibly know—but we’ll do it right, or not at all.”
She knows she has to face her fears, and tell him about the child she miscarried right after he left…but not yet. Not today! She just isn’t ready!
Then, without warning, he appears at the carwash…and everything blows up in her face!
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
“You won’t see Logan today.” Tami whispered the words aloud to give herself courage. “You won’t! He won’t be there…and even if he is, you’ll be far away.”
Nepal was looking pretty good, or the Siberian wastelands. The further away, the better!
Firmly she tried to turn her wayward thoughts away from the agonizing past, and toward their new business’s grand opening, which was only thirteen days away. Yes, it was safer to concentrate on that. In just thirteen short days, she and her sorority sisters would be opening the gates of their newly-remodeled carwash, and splashing each other with hoses and soapsuds while they pranced around in skintight bikinis, washing a long line of cars and vans.
She’d already planned what to wear that first day…a satiny snow-white G-string that would showcase her generous curves and dusky skin to perfection. Her long, shiny hair would be pulled back in a graduated series of ponytail loops. She’d be wearing gem-sparkled sandals that would catch the bright sunlight and throw out fiery prisms every time she moved her feet. She’d have lots of fun dancing and waving her ‘Grand Opening’ sign along with Phoebe and Selena…
What if Logan saw them, and stopped to have his car washed?
In an instant, all her hard-won serenity vanished, and she was back in a deep, bottomless pit of despair.
Enough! The past was gone! Over! Finished! And no matter how much she might wish to change things, there wasn’t a single thing she could do to alter the tragic events that had nearly destroyed her.
If Logan hadn’t even cared enough to write her from Europe, or call her when he’d come back, then she owed him nothing. And nothing was exactly what he’d get if their paths ever did happen to cross again. No happiness, no anger, no emotion of any kind. She’d be calm, cool, collected…and if her nerves quivered with desperate longing when she watched him walk away again, no one but she would ever know.
Yes, that was how she’d handle it. Like a confident, mature adult.
But oh, God, please…not today!
But Jory is about to realize he’s just met his match in sweet, soft-spoken Elle Sutherland. Will the angry sparks flying between them bond them together, or drive them apart forever?
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
Elle’s mind suddenly went blank when Jory closed the distance between them again, and curled his arms around her waist. “Knock it off, I’m trying to work here,” she yelped—but even she could hear how feeble her protest sounded. “Damn it, Jory, I mean it!”
He retreated…but very reluctantly. Hastily she put one of the massage couches between them.
“You’re as skittish as a newborn colt,” he teased, lightly running one finger over her trembling bottom lip. “Are you that way around all men? Or only me?”
Elle’s heart was pounding so loudly that she could barely even hear his mocking question—but there was no mistaking his intent as he leaned so close that she could feel the heat of his muscular body.
“I choose my own partners,” she gasped, and wished that her whisper-soft voice wasn’t so shaky. “So if you want to help me finish decorating in here, that’s fine. But if you have anything else in mind, you can kiss it goodbye.”
“I’d rather kiss you.” His teeth flashed in another dazzling grin…then he startled her by cupping both hands around her face. His long fingers sizzled against her bare skin, and she gasped in surprise. Was this what Astra had felt when she’d let Jared make love to her?
Damn it, why did it have to be Jory? She didn’t even like him!
Every nerve in her body shattered as his mouth closed over hers in a hot, heady kiss. She never even heard the frantic whimper that tore from her throat as her fingers gripped his shirt like a lifeline, and her long body arched against his in wondering shock.
Then his nimble hand rose to possessively cup her lush breast…and the next instant, he was writhing on the floor, moaning in helpless agony.
Elle stumbled back in appalled shock. Oh God, what had she done?
Reflex. Selena had taught them all how to defend themselves against attack. A necessary skill, she’d insisted, for nine single, superbly stacked sorority sisters. The alliteration had made Elle laugh while she’d been obediently practicing her kicks and blocks on the mat. But she wasn’t laughing now. Jory’s twisted features were a sickly green, and his helpless moan was an agonized rasp.
“Jesus, Elle!” Fierce shudders racked his hunched frame as he rocked back and forth, desperately clutching himself. “What the hell! I said I wasn’t going to hurt you!”
“And that makes it all right?” Outrage rose in a choking wave, and her normally-soft voice rose with it. “I told you no! You didn’t listen! You never listen! What gives you the right to grab me against my will?” Tears of sheer rage began to shimmer in her crystal-blue eyes as she backed away, clenching her small hands into fists. “You think that since you’re drop-dead gorgeous and sexy as hell, you can just take whatever woman you want, whether she’s interested or not? You can go straight to hell, Jory Montrose!”
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
Ben was fiddling with a well-worn pair of tinsnips, trying to find a comfortable grip through the heavy gloves he was wearing. Muriel watched in silence as he began to trim sharp edges off the heavy wire mesh. She could have done it in half the time; why hadn’t Reid told him to stir the wet stucco, and let her do the more intricate work?
He was definitely an odd sort for a day laborer. Most of them were a sorry lot—scrawny, underfed, and usually looking like they were a half-step away from being homeless. Many of them probably were, she suspected, since jobs were so hard to find nowadays.
In contrast, Ben was strong, solidly built, and—under that coating of hard-earned grime—clean-cut enough to pass for a Boy Scout. It made her wonder why he hadn’t bothered to shave that morning.
And why did he look so eerily familiar? She was sure that she’d seen his distinctive face somewhere before!
His low rumbling voice was drowned out by the distinctive crunch of tires on gravel. Muriel glanced over just as a familiar pickup truck turned into the carwash lot, and an eager grin curved her lips. “Morning, Ashe!” she yelled, waving one hand in greeting.
Her older brother tossed her a cheery salute before parking the truck a few yards away, and energetically vaulting out. “Hey, MacGyver!” he boomed, clapping Reid on the shoulder. “Gimme a hand? Santa Claus just made a special delivery on the other side of town, and asked me to bring over the first load in person.”
Ben helped Reid peel back a dusty weatherstained tarp, and then they all gaped over the stacks and stacks of faded red bricks piled neatly beneath it. “There are three more loads just like this one,” Ashe boasted, “plus a whole bunch of old wiring and pipes that they salvaged. We just gotta go over and get it all hauled it away before sundown.”
Pandemonium reigned as everyone tried to scramble into the pickup at once.
“Hang on, hang on!” Reid had to shout to be heard above the excited chatter. “There’s too many of us all at once, and someone’s gonna get hurt.
“Muriel, you finish patching that section of wall. Phoebe, you stir the mix until Muriel needs it, so that it doesn’t harden. And the rest of you, get back to cleaning the third bay. If you hustle, you can be done by noon.
“Ben, you and I will set up an assembly line. Ashe can hand us the bricks, and we’ll pile them neatly back there.” He pointed toward the far end of the first bay, where they’d been working all morning.
“Ben?” Ashe’s surprised voice made Muriel stop and glance curiously over her shoulder. “It really is you under all that dirt!”
Were her eyes playing tricks on her, or did Ben rapidly shake his head, as if he didn’t want to be recognized?
Then he stepped forward with an easy laugh, and reached up to clap Ashe on the shoulder—and she wondered if she’d imagined it.
No, she must have been wrong. There was absolutely nothing furtive about his cheerful greeting as he began energetically reaching for bricks. The sun must have gotten in her eyes at exactly the wrong moment.
So why did she feel so uneasy as she slowly turned back to her own work?
And the county’s new building inspector has showed up unexpectedly, and brought trouble with him. Now they might not be able to open their new business for several months!
Why does he keep coming back to pester her? If only he wasn’t so incredibly sexy, with a taste for homemade Italian cooking…and gorgeous Italian sorority girls!
“Toni!” Muriel rounded the corner at top speed…then rocked back on her heels and stared up at Jason in surprise. “Well, hello there, dark and handsome!”
“Hello, yourself!” Thompson had warned him that the BetaZeds were all lookers, but even so, Muriel’s exotic beauty was stunning. Those long slender legs, lush breasts, coppery skin that gleamed with healthy sweat, and enchanting elfin features packed an unexpected punch that he felt all the way into his gut.
“Muriel.” Toni’s crisp reply held a low note of warning that surprised even herself. “What’s wrong?”
“Not wrong…right! I think.” The Jamaican girl’s rich contralto voice suddenly faltered with doubt. “We found a plastic bag buried under the rubble, and there’s a whole bunch of money inside!”
“What?” Toni and Jason spoke at once, then nearly ran each other over in their scramble to follow Muriel.
“Don’t touch anything!” Jason yelled as she vanished around the far corner. “The police will want to dust everything for prints!”
“We know!” Another woman’s voice answered him. “Who the hell are you?”
He skidded to a stop, and found himself facing Muriel and five other women in a tight cluster. The tallest one’s raking glance was distinctly chilly.
“Jason Prescott,” he said, thrusting a hand in her direction. “County building inspector.”
She shook his hand reluctantly. “Nina Marshall,” she replied. “And these are my sorority sisters.”
He pumped each of their hands, and had a moment to appreciate the absurdity of behaving so formally when there was a black plastic sack filled with probably-stolen money lying at their feet. “Where did you find the bag?”
“Why?” The busty redhead—Phoebe, he thought—glared at him with definite hostility. “You’re not a cop.”
“Phoebe.” The petite Oriental girl laid a soothing hand on her arm. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Jason wondered if he’d correctly heard just the slightest emphasis on the word ‘he.’
Phoebe flushed with embarrassment. “Sorry,” she muttered, scuffing one dirty sneaker on the oil-stained concrete. Then she slanted a rebellious glance at him. “We’re all hot and tired,” she added with a sugary-sweet smile that only emphasized her resentment. “We’ve been working hard here.”
Her sly implication, that he’d been sitting on his butt in a comfortable air-conditioned office while they’d been slaving away in the sultry heat, came through loud and clear. Briefly Jason wondered whether he should respond in kind. Then he decided that he liked Phoebe MacIntyre, despite her surly attitude. Or maybe, he thought with a quick ironic grin, because of it.
“Where did you find the bag, Nina?” Toni asked in a subdued voice.
“It was under here.” Bending, the taller girl pointed to a shallow depression in the solidly packed mound of garbage. “The ends were knotted tightly around an empty wine bottle, and it looked strange, so I tugged on it, and the entire bag came free.”
“I suggested opening it.” Selena spoke up, and hunkered protectively over the lumpy bag. “It never even occurred to us that anything valuable could be inside. But we’re trying to salvage recyclable cans and stuff while we clean it all up, so I figured it was worth checking.”
He could imagine the shocked looks on their faces when they’d untied the knot, expecting to find more disintegrating McDonalds wrappers…only to discover a hefty pile of cash!