Authors: Laura Strickland
Tags: #Holiday,Contemporary,Humorous/Romantic Comedy
Had she ever gone to bed with a gentleman before? She ran her mind back swiftly over the men of her past—some of whom she’d met at work, customers. Nothing wrong with that, but they’d proved, to a man, rough and ready—more interested in their own gratification than anything else.
Not so, with Leo. She could tell, by the way he touched and kissed her, he focused on making her shiver with desire. He gave every indication he could go on all night just caressing.
Well, she couldn’t.
“Off,” she told him between hungry kisses, and attacked his belt. He laughed deep in his throat, one of the sexiest sounds she’d ever heard. Fingers clumsy with eagerness, she conquered the buckle and moved on to the zipper, which strained over a generous bulge.
“Where are the—?” she gasped, and he laughed again.
“Oh, not yet, Miss Webb. Allow me.”
Now as devoid of clothing as she, he began to conquer her slowly with his tongue. A thorough man was Leo Rankin, she quickly found, and one who paid attention to detail. The fantasies in Gerri’s head evaporated, chased by hot reality. Who needed fantasy when his mouth coaxed maximum response from every inch of her body, lips to toes? When his fingers knew exactly where to caress and invade?
Eagerly she returned the favors kiss for kiss and lick for lick. His control never faltered till she pushed him onto his back, crawled up his body, and asked, “What did you do with that package?”
“Bedside table.” He could barely speak. “You sure you like bubble gum?”
“Let me show you.”
There in the half dark, with sleet skittering against the windows, she did. So strange, how natural it felt being with him—a virtual stranger—and how right when at last he plunged into her. The ensuing light show nearly blinded her and left him lying like a man slain.
“Well,” she whispered, settling on top of him, “that sure beat spending Valentine’s Day alone.”
He opened chocolate-brown eyes and gazed at her. “Oh, Miss Webb—I hope you don’t think we’re done.”
So this, Leo thought hazily while staring up at Gerri Webb’s ceiling, was why men indulged in one-night stands. He’d heard other guys brag about it in bars or the locker room at the gym and had always been too cautious-natured to do anything more than contemplate the possibility.
Only this didn’t feel like two strangers hooking up. Gerri Webb didn’t feel like a stranger at all. She felt like another part of him he’d never suspected he lacked.
Whatever the case, that had been, hands down, the best sex he’d ever had—or imagined.
He reached across the bedspread—they’d never made it beneath the sheets—and groped for her hand. Her fingers met his, meshed and slipped between them without effort.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Better than okay.”
She rolled onto her side and cuddled up to his shoulder. He could barely see the color of her eyes in the dim room, but a rakish smile teased at her lips. Very talented lips, this woman possessed—and yes, she obviously favored bubble gum.
Good thing he’d bought the big pack.
He supposed this moment might prove awkward. What did one say to a woman after sharing the most intimate acts possible?
His lips moved without conscious intention. “You’re beautiful, Gerri Webb.”
Her eyes widened. “Me?”
“So beautiful.” He ran his hand down the length of her hair, just for the sheer pleasure of it. “Any regrets?”
“Good. I don’t want any regrets between us.”
Her smile turned wicked. “I’m just wondering how far we can stretch things.”
She trailed the fingers of her free hand down his chest, across his belly, and further downward. “You said we’re not done.”
He smiled back at her. “Does that feel like we’re done?”
“I have to say”—she planted little kisses on his mouth—“you’re quite something, for a button-down professor.”
“We’re exploding some stereotypes here, aren’t we? I think I like this new genre.”
“Me too. Listen to that.” She cocked her head, and her long, black hair slid over one shoulder to brush his chest. “The weather’s turned pretty nasty. Makes this feel even cozier, doesn’t it?”
“I’m sure glad I’m not alone tonight.”
He kissed her once more, and it didn’t feel like seduction but deep and genuine emotion.
his brain screamed at him.
Don’t go thinking you’re attached to her just because the sex is monumental. Casual sex means no strings.
So she was smart, funny, and beautiful—that didn’t mean he’d ever see her again.
He half sat up and fumbled on the bedside table.
Gerri raised an eyebrow. “Already?”
“I’m looking for my glasses,” he explained.
“We left them in the other room. Why?”
“I thought I noticed one or two interesting tattoos in passing. Ah, yes.” Abandoning the search for specs, he peered at her. “Let’s perform a proper count.”
Her lips curved. “Now you do sound like a professor.”
She had a sweet little butterfly at the top of her left breast, just over her heart, and a tribal band around one bicep. He caressed and kissed them both lingeringly, marveling at how they turned him on.
“Any more?” he inquired raggedly.
“Here, on my hip.”
He kissed that one—a flower—and laved it with his tongue for good measure.
“And here,” she continued, and flipped onto her stomach, displaying her buttocks to best advantage.
Two mounds of perfect white flesh confronted Leo, one graced with a tattoo of what, to his blurry vision, looked like a leaf. His pulse leaped as he reached out to caress and part her cheeks gently.
A thousand images tumbled through his mind, things he longed to do, ways he’d like to taste her. Did he dare ask her?
Carefully, he bent his head. When he traced the tattoo with his mouth, she stirred luxuriantly and parted her legs a bit more. An invitation?
“Ask me,” she breathed into her pillow.
“Miss Webb, would you like to try an alternate position?”
“Do I like the taste of bubblegum?” she returned.
Gerri opened her eyes to a room full of gray morning light. She lay in Leo Rankin’s arms, her cheek pressed against his warm chest while he slept quietly, without snoring—a wonderful thing, she reflected.
So, this was the dreaded morning after. As she’d told Leo at the outset, she didn’t do one-night stands—far too smart, she’d always supposed. The men she’d slept with were, for better or worse, men with whom she was in long-term relationships. The fact that they’d proved to be jerks for the most part had nothing to do with it.
She eyed Leo from a distance of mere inches. Was he another jerk? She didn’t think so, and, anyway, it didn’t matter. This wasn’t a relationship, long-term or otherwise.
That was the beauty of it, right? They’d saved one another from being alone on Valentine’s Day. Period.
And had an astounding, magical time into the bargain.
Gerri resisted the temptation to brush her fingers down his cheek, now downy with brown stubble.
None of that, my girl
, she told herself sternly. Tender impulses had no part in this. She and Leo Rankin clearly came from two different worlds—the sort that seldom met. Just because they’d shared one night of blinding passion…
She knew one thing: she’d never again be able to taste bubblegum without becoming hopelessly aroused.
She slid from Leo’s arms and off the bed. He sighed and stirred but didn’t wake. The corner of her mouth twitched in a self-derisive smile. Somehow she resisted the impulse to wake him for another kiss.
Still naked, she padded to the bathroom, where she took a quick shower. When she came back, Leo had awakened and risen; she caught him half clad.
“Morning,” she said softly. “You hungry?”
Still devoid of his specs, he inspected her slowly. She wore her black velvet Victorian robe that dripped lace onto the floor, and appreciation filled his eyes.
“Well, yeah—though maybe not for breakfast.” His smile held a hint of mischief. “Don’t worry; I’ll get out of your hair as soon as I find all my clothes.”
“You can shower first, if you like.”
The heat in his eyes intensified. “I’d love to, but—that wasn’t the deal, was it?”
She tipped her head. “What was the deal, exactly?” She knew, but wanted to hear him say it, require him to request a little more. What if he asked to see her again? Not a good idea, but…
, she urged him silently.
“Blind Valentine’s date with a book—and each other.” He made a show of looking around. “Where is the book, anyway?”
“We left it in the living room.”
“Why don’t you read it first? Let me know when you’re done. Here.” He juggled his clothing and reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet. Extracting a card, he laid it very carefully on her pillow. His gaze held hers. “My number.”
“Okay.” And what did that mean? Just that she should call him when she finished their book? Or that he wanted to see her again, and she should call him when she desired another night of wild passion?
She wrapped her arms around herself. “I’ll keep the book; you take the candy hearts.”
He shoved the little red bag into one pocket.
“And the—” She indicated the box on the bedside table; he snatched it up with a half smile, donned his shoes, and got to his feet.
“Well, I’d better go. Thanks, Miss Webb.”
“Gerri. It was—well, magnificent.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” A high—or, rather a series of them—superseding all previous highs. Then why, watching him go, did she feel as if she crashed to an all-time low?
She didn’t know what she should say to keep him from leaving, or even if she wanted to keep him from leaving. She’d lowered her guard often enough, in the past, only to have it bite her severely.
No, she needed to let Leo Rankin walk away. They were just two souls who’d paired in passing to keep one another from a single night of loneliness.
He went out into the living room, where he collected his glasses; she followed to the door. There he paused, and she caught her breath.
, she willed him again.
“See you,” he said, and leaned over to kiss her cheek. The scent of him enfolded her, and she had to close her eyes against the exquisite accompanying rush of desire.
When she opened them an instant later, he’d gone out so quietly she might almost believe last night had never been.
Leo trudged through two inches of slush, back up Gerri’s street, past the drug store on the corner, to where he’d left his car in the library parking lot. His mind raced through a thousand thoughts as he went, alternate realities
: he’d taken her up on her offer of a shower; she’d shed that damned sexy robe (was that steampunk?) and joined him beneath the pelting water, her lean, limber body adhering to his even as it had last night… He’d stayed for breakfast, only they’d fed off each other, something far more satisfying than food.
His keys dropped into the slush from suddenly nerveless fingers. What a fool he was! He’d given her his card but failed to get her number. What if he wanted to call her? What if she never called him?
No question he wanted to see her again—taste her again, be with her again.
Savagely, he tore his car door open and got inside. That hadn’t been the deal, and she’d given him no real indication she wanted to change it.
God, he was in deep shit.
Hours later, when he should have been grading essays, he instead trolled online for tattoo artists—something he’d certainly never expected to do. Surprising how many there were in the city, none of them named Geraldine Webb. Did she perhaps work under a different name? Rent space in someone else’s premises? That seemed a common practice.
Ruthlessly he plumbed the websites of artists in the immediate area and—bingo!—found her at last, listed as working in a parlor called the Golden Dial. Tension drained from him, replaced by victory.
He could get in touch with her if he wanted to, could even turn up there, if necessary. But what constituted necessity? Right now the taste of her lingered with him, her scent, and the way she’d laughed when he’d eased her slender legs apart on the bed and…
He had to stop thinking about it, about her. Either that or he needed to go take yet another shower.
What if he went in and inquired about getting a tattoo—made an excuse to see her? Lame. It sounded like a plan hatched by a fourteen-year-old. She knew he wasn’t the kind of man to get tattooed. Not that he wouldn’t suffer any discomfort to have her touch him again.
And to see the light in her deep blue eyes.
Get to work
, he growled, and applied his attention determinedly to the next essay.
It took Gerri three days to admit she wasn’t getting over her night with Leo Rankin and another two to think up a good excuse to call him. During each of those five days, nothing went right. Customers seemed hard to please, and one of her colleagues—Roman, who’d been trying to date her for weeks—became more annoying than ever.
She had no intention of dating Roman; he felt too much like an incarnation of all her past mistakes. Besides, he didn’t have a lean, supple body or chocolate-brown eyes.
When she got home from work on Thursday, she didn’t hesitate. Instead she punched in the number from Leo’s card and listened to the rings.
She nearly gave up after six rings, unprepared to leave a message. Then she heard his voice, breathless.
“Leo? It’s Gerri.”
A moment of silence ensued, so total Gerri could hear her own heartbeat, before he spoke. “Hi. Don’t tell me you’ve finished our book already?”
“No.” She eyed the still-wrapped book, which she hadn’t touched since he left. “Not that. But I had an idea, a sort of challenge. Don’t know if you’ll be up for it.”
He laughed a little. “Ask me.”
Her pulse leaped.