Authors: Desiree Holt
She tensed. Here it came. Of course. “But what?”
He kissed her bare shoulder. “But it turned out just great, didn’t it?”
“Great. Yeah. Okay.” No, no, no. Great but dangerous.
“Unexpected,” he repeated. “And actually maybe better than great.” More shoulder kisses. “So, I’m thinking,” he went on, “I mean we should probably talk about it.”
Erin’s stomach knotted. Talk about it. Right. What was there to say? Was he afraid she’d attach herself to him like a barnacle? Did he think she wanted some kind of commitment from him after one night? She should have known. This whole damn thing was her fault for letting him take her home, kiss her, invite himself inside.
Where they’d done a hell of a lot more than kissing.
Now it was time to pay the piper. He wanted to talk? Fine. But she’d be the one doing the talking. No one gave Erin Bass
At least not anymore. She’d just take the lead on it here and surprise Mr. Macho.
It was hard to gather her thoughts, however, when one warm hand cupped her breast, his thumb and forefinger tweaking her nipple. His lips trailed soft kisses along her shoulder and his warm breath caressed her ear. Just like that, her body woke up and said,
Give me more.
Her pulse set up a steady tattoo in all her erogenous zones.
No, no, no.
“I don’t do anything without coffee,” she told him, trying to ease herself away from him. But before she slipped out from beneath the covers, she remembered she’d have to make the coffee because they were in her place and no way was she getting out of this bed while Jake Russell could get another eyeful of her exposed body.
What do you think he did last night, idiot? Kept his eyes closed?
“On second thought, maybe I’ll skip the coffee.” She inched herself upward, clutching the sheet as high as she could. “If you could maybe put on some clothes, though, I won’t look while you do it.”
He chuckled, a sound so unexpectedly sexy she had to squeeze her legs together against the throbbing his voice ignited.
Stop! Stop it now! This is a huge mistake, Erin! Fix it!
“How about if I just get dressed,” he offered. “And run out for some coffee with maybe a pastry or two.” He started to toss the covers back.
“No. Don’t move.” She squeezed her eyes shut and slapped her hands over her face.
Jake laughed again. “Make up your mind.” Then she felt the bed shift as he stood up. “It’s okay,” he told her a minute later. “All the important parts are covered, although last night you couldn’t seem to get enough of seeing them.” He paused. “Or touching them.”
She opened one eye partway and discovered he had told the truth. Not that this was much better. He’d pulled on his boxer briefs, but they did little to disguise the outline of his thick and obviously swollen cock. His streaky blond mane was sexily rumpled, and the darker hair on his chest called attention to broad shoulders and hard muscle, reminding her of nothing less than a proud lion. His arms and legs looked just as powerful, just as hard, just as defined. Of course they should be. Wasn’t he the Mustangs’ number one running back?
Some said he was getting close to the end of his career, but looking at him now, Erin would have to argue with them. He was still in excellent shape, with flat abs, sculpted muscles, and long powerful legs. It took a lot of restraint to keep from drooling.
“Think you’ve looked long enough?’ There was a hint of laughter in his voice and mischief danced in the chocolate brown of his eyes.
Unfortunately, none of it distracted her from the sight of his morning woody. She felt her face flame when she saw him studying her carefully, a big shit-eating grin on his face.
“I didn’t—I’m sorry, I—Oh, hell. Turn around so I can put something on,” she ordered. “Be a gentleman for once.”
“For once?” His eyebrows lifted. “I think I’m insulted. I always try to behave like a gentleman.”
“Fine. Then close your eyes, or turn around, or both.”
When he turned his back on her, she scrambled off the bed and reached for the nearest piece of clothing, which just happened to be the shirt Jake wore the night before. Well, too bad. No way was she having this conversation while she was in her current state of undress. It was hard to be indignant when you were stark naked.
Even though the shirt covered her almost to her knees, she still hopped back in bed to pull the bedclothes up to her waist. No skin, she told herself. Running her fingers through the tangled mass of her hair that always refused to behave, she pushed it back and tucked it behind her ears. She dearly wanted to wash her face, brush her teeth, and make herself presentable, but she didn’t want to take the time. It was important to get out in front of this and have it over with quickly. She was determined that she’d have the upper hand here, so she folded her hands on her lap and wet her lips.
“Can I look yet?” His voice still had its morning huskiness.
“Yes. I’m ready,” she told him in a prim voice, smoothing out the covers.
He grinned when he saw her. “You look like you’re about to give a lecture to a misbehaving class.”
“Not at all. You said we had to talk and I agree. Absolutely. Talking is important.” She frowned. “But could you, um, put the rest of your clothes on?”
“Since you’re wearing my shirt, that’s impossible at the moment, but I’ll do the best I can.” He yanked on his pants and zipped them up, shoved his feet in his shoes, and stuck his socks in his pockets. “This work for you?”
“Fine, fine, fine. Sit down. Please.” She waved a hand in the air. “No, not there,” she snapped when he moved to sit on the bed, and pointed to the small chair next to her dresser. “Over there.”
She nearly laughed watching him try to fit his large frame into the small slipper chair, but she was determined to be serious. He finally squeezed his very fine butt in, rested his elbows on his knees, and turned his chocolate velvet eyes on her.
“So, Erin—” he began.
“Wait.” No, no, no. She was taking the lead in this. She cleared her throat and let out a slow breath.
“You said we needed to talk,” she pointed out, “and I completely agree.” Yes, she’d definitely get the upper hand here.
He cocked an eyebrow, as if surprised she agreed with him. “You do?”
“Yes. I know exactly what’s on your mind, and I am in complete agreement. This whole thing—last night—was a big mistake. For both of us.”
Jake’s eyebrows rose so high they almost hit his hairline. “What?”
“We both got a little carried away,” she went on. “The party was fun, but I—we—probably had a little too much to drink.” And wasn’t that an understatement. “We had a good time, but honestly, Jake, we can’t do this again.”
He sat there with his mouth hanging open, a stunned look on his face.
“Well, really, that was what you planned to say, right? When we had our ‘talk’?” She formed air quotes around the word talk. “And you’d be absolutely right. We needed to get it out there. ‘Last night was great but we need to put it out of our minds.’ Did I get that right?”
He studied her for a long moment. “What if that wasn’t what I was going to say at all?”
Erin pinched her eyebrows together. “What? You weren’t?” A funny little wiggle shimmied through her system. Then she forced a smile. “Come on. We both know this wouldn’t work. I just wanted to save you the pain of giving me the ‘It was nice but this can’t go anywhere’ speech.”
He shook his head. “As a matter of fact, no. That wasn’t what I planned at all.”
“Oh, come on.” She picked at the fabric of the sheet. “You have plenty of other fish to fry. You’ll never notice the loss, right? Besides, your sister is my friend and how would that work, exactly?”
“It might work just fine,” he disagreed. The dumbfounded look on his face was replaced now by one of growing irritation. “I don’t get in Ivy’s business, and she doesn’t get in mine.”
“Besides,” she went on as if he hadn’t said a word, “football season starts in a week, you have a packed schedule and I’m sure a cheerleader at every stadium. I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated or anything. I mean, just because I’m friends with Ivy.”
“So which is it?” he demanded. “We can’t see each other because you’re my sister’s friend or you think I’d string you along
you’re her friend? Make up your mind.”
“I have made it up.” She used her best lady-like tone.
He pushed himself out of the small chair. “As a matter of fact, I was going to suggest we take this slow but see where it goes. Hooking up turned out great for both of us, so maybe there’s something there to explore. And yes, I have a busy fall. It’s all football from August to February. Yes, I have other obligations, but I can work around those, that is if you were reasonable about them—”
“Reasonable?” she broke in. “Did you just say reasonable?”
He raked his fingers through his hair. “Okay, bad choice of words. But damn, Erin, last night was great. I thought we could—”
she wanted to ask. Roll in the hay for a few weeks when he could find time and then he’d leave her holding the bag? Not gonna happen. Maybe under different circumstances, but her life was falling apart. She couldn’t risk heartbreak along with everything else.
“You know it wouldn’t last. At least this way we can part friends.” She forced a smile. “Right?”
“Friends?” Each word sounded as if he’d bitten it off. “Friends don’t act this way with each other.”
“What way?” She frowned. “I’m not an idiot here. I know all about hotshot football players and their so-called social lives.”
“And apparently don’t have a very high opinion of us. Where did you get it, from the gossip rags?”
No. From her brothers. Worse than that, from past experience. “Come on. I’m giving you a free pass here. Anyway, I have a lot going on in my life right now, too much to be a notch on someone’s bedpost, so let’s just say it was great and let it go at that.”
“You know nothing about me. Nothing at all.” He gave her a penetrating look. “I’m not who you think I am, but I guess you’re not interested in finding out.”
“I don’t need to,” she insisted. “Besides, what are you so mad about? I should think you’d be happy I said this for you. Isn’t that what guys like you want?”
“Guys like me?” Every muscle in his face tightened. “What, do we come with a stamp on our foreheads that says ‘macho asshole’?”
“No.” She blew out a breath. “But I wish you would. It would make it easier on all of us.”
“Listen, Erin,” he began.
She held up a hand. “Just say thank you, take your stuff, and go. There. I’ve made it easy for you.”
He stared at her, unbelieving, and something flared in his eyes. For a moment, she thought it was hurt, but that couldn’t be right. Then the anger flashed again.
“You want to toss me out on my ass? Fine. I can take a hint. But don’t expect me to be all warm and fuzzy the next time I see you with my sister. In fact, don’t expect me to acknowledge you at all.”
He looked around the room, then back at Erin, as if just remembering she was wearing his shirt.
“You can keep the damn shirt.” He raked his fingers through his gorgeously mussed hair. “Keep it as a souvenir. Besides, it’s probably the only thing that will get close to you with your attitude.”
attitude?” She stared at him. “There’s nothing wrong with my attitude. You’re just mad because I got to the point before you did.”
Golden flecks like tiny flames sparked in his eyes and a muscle twitched in his jaw. Why was he so upset? She’d given him his easy out. He should be grateful to her. It couldn’t be possible she’d hurt his feelings.
“You know,” he said, his words slow and measured. “Ivy’s talked about you so much I thought now
a woman I could get to know. Spend some time with. She’d probably be cool with my schedule during the season. Last night it felt like fate had played right into our hands. I just didn’t realize you had such a stick up your ass.” He shook his head.
“A stick up my ass?” She rose to her knees, outraged. “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”
“Not the same thing.” He gave her a long, hard look. “We could have had something good going here, Erin. I guess now we’ll never know.”
Then he was gone. Out of her bedroom, out of her house, out of her life.
But when she lay back down in bed, trying to cool her mad down, she couldn’t help rubbing the soft fabric of his shirt against her or inhaling the clean male scent that clung to it. Wondering if, like everything else lately, she’d made a huge mistake.
Jake stood on the sidelines, taking in the sight of all the pregame activity. The first game of the regular season always got his blood really pumping, and he couldn’t wait to get out there. All the players had completed their warm-ups, people on the sidelines with special passes were laughing and high fiving as they waited for kickoff, and music blared over the loudspeaker. Cheerleaders from both teams were doing their thing with loud cheers and high kicks. As the Mustangs squad finished their current cheer, the blonde at the end of the line glanced at him and winked.
Great. Hadn’t he made it plain enough over the years, as politely as possible, that he wasn’t interested in that kind of connection?
He knew several of his teammates were into hooking up with the cheerleaders, but that wasn’t his thing. For one thing, he didn’t believe in mixing pleasure with his business. From what he’d seen over the years, it usually ended badly. For another, he had always been pretty selective in his dating. There was too much in his past that he had no intention of sharing with anyone. Except… For a brief moment, the image of Erin, naked, flashed into his head, bringing with it a fierce hunger combined, as always, with a surge of hurt and anger. He’d found himself so strongly attracted to her at that party, the chemistry so intense, that he just couldn’t help himself. The night they’d spent together was still imprinted on his brain, every erotic moment of it.
Anger and irritation bubbled up inside him every time that night flashed back across his mental video screen. The way she’d tossed him out made him grind his teeth in frustration because he had no idea why. He’d sure been mistaken about her if the connection they’d made was only one-sided and meant so little to her.
No, it wasn’t,
the voice in his head always told him. He wanted to hunt her down, knock on her door, and make her spell it out for him, except then he’d probably have stalker written all over his forehead. And it wasn’t his style.