Authors: Jill Shalvis
“I thought you were going to comfort me.”
Taylor's words messed with Mac's head, tempting him. He knew if he so much as touched her, he'd never stop. He took a deep breath, needing to put some distance between them.
“You're going to be fine.” It was himself he was worried about at the moment.
As he watched, she shrugged her robe off, leaving her shoulders bare, leaving her body bare except for that column of silk and the ribbon beneath her breasts. Crossing her arms, she ran her hands up and down her arms and shivered. “It cooled off tonight.”
Had it? He was hot as hell, sweating just watching her.
When she shivered again, he sighed, recognizing the inevitable, and took a step toward her.
The top of her gown dipped low, exposing the soft curves of her breasts. The material clung to her, molding and outlining every part of her that he'd been dying to touch, taste since he'd first seen her.
“Warm me up,” she whispered.
His hands slid to her hips before he could stop himself. “Taylorâ”
“No, don't think. Just touch me.”
I had so much fun writing my first Harlequin mini-seriesâSOUTH VILLAGE SINGLES. I have to confess a particular soft spot for this story. The hero, Mac, is a deliciously sexy, alpha guy with a heart of gold. And whether he likes it or not, he's met his match with Taylorâa tough, brave woman who, for all her outrageous wit, isn't so sharp when it comes to men. Oh, boy, the fun I had pitting these two against each other!
I hope you enjoy their fall into love. If you haven't already, be sure to read the other Harlequin Temptation SOUTH VILLAGE SINGLES storiesâ#910
Roughing It With Ryan
Tangling With Ty
. Also, look for
Men of Courage,
a May 2003 anthology where I team up with Lori Foster and Donna Kauffman. And keep an eye out for my first single title,
The Street Where She Lives,
coming out in October 2003, when we return to South Village.
P.S. I'd love to hear from you about this or any of my other books. You can reach me at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96161, or check out my new Web site at www.jillshalvis.com.
Books by Jill Shalvis
861âA PRINCE OF A GUY
878âHER PERFECT STRANGER
885âFOR THE LOVE OF NICK
910âROUGHING IT WITH RYAN
914âTANGLING WITH TY
42âKISS ME, KATIE!
HUG ME, HOLLY!
57âBLIND DATE DISASTERS
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
85âA ROYAL MESS
HER KNIGHT TO REMEMBER
63âNAUGHTY BUT NICE
For Courtney, for watching every Disney movie ever made ten times during the writing of this book.
NE OF THESE DAYS
Taylor Wellington figured she'd be old, maybe even wrinkled, and then, finally then, her best friends would stop trying to convince her she needed love.
No one needed love.
Having been both with it and without itâmostly without itâshe knew this for a cold, hard fact. Still, Taylor held the cell phone to her ear and let Nicole and Suzanne, via three-way conferencing, ramble on about how amazing the L-word was.
“You've got to try it.” This from Nicole, who'd been swept off her feet a few months back by Ty Patrick O'Grady, Taylor's rebel Irish architect.
“It's even better than ice cream,” Suzanne promised, and coming from Suzanne, this was quite the promise, but she'd recently fallen in love, too, and had even gone one step further and gotten married. “Come on, Taylor, give up on singlehood and try a man on for size. It'll change your life.”
Taylor wasn't buying it. Not one little bit. In her opinionâand she had very strong opinions, thank
you very muchâlove sucked. Always had, always would.
She was speaking from firsthand experience and hard-earned knowledge, not that her friends would understand. They wouldn't because she hadn't explained, she hadn't known how to in the short time they'd been together, which had begun when, in order to keep up with life's little luxuries like eating, Taylor had rented out two apartments in the building she'd just inherited. Suzanne had come first, then later Nicole, and both had happily joined her in a solemn vow of singlehood.
Only they'd each caved like cheap suitcases in the face of true love, and had both recently moved out again, having found their soul mates.
“Just because you two willingly gave up your freedom doesn't mean I have toâ” Taylor stopped at an odd noise and cocked an ear. “Hang on a sec.”
building, shuddered. Not surprising really, as she considered it an amazing feat the entire thing hadn't fallen down long ago, but in Taylor's world, things didn't happen off schedule. Her building crashing to the ground definitely wasn't on her schedule for today.
And yet there it went again. Another shudder. And then again. Something was systematically banging, in tune with her growing headache. “Guys,
much as I'd love to listen to you tell me what's wrong with my life in singular excruciating detail, I have to run.”
“Hold up. Is that more construction I hear?” Suzanne asked casually.
The question didn't fool Taylor. Both Suzanne and Nicole had found their happiness due to construction.
Now they had equally high hopes for her.
They were going to be disappointed, as Taylor didn't intend to fall for anyone. Feeling like a heel, she pulled the cell phone away from her ear and simulated a static sound with her mouth. It wasn't a kind thing to do to the only two people in the world who truly cared about her, but all this talk of love, no matter how well-meaning, was making her perspire.
And a Wellington never perspired, especially in silk. That was one thing she'd learned from her mother. “Gotta go, bad connection!” she yelled into the phone and disconnected.
Damn it. She loved Suzanne and Nicole, loved them like the sisters she'd always wished for instead of the two she had, but any more talk of love as it pertained to her and she risked losing her wits, something she couldn't afford at the moment, as she needed each and every available wit to keep her sane.
Oh, and in the black. Her every thought these days seemed to focus on finding enough money to pay for the work that needed to be done. That alone was enough to give her insomnia. This was a real kicker of an inheritance from her grandfatherâthis falling-off-its-foundation building she stood in, and not a single penny to go with it. No trust fund, no cushy little savings account, nothing.
After a lifetime of paying for all her fancy education and everything else, the distant, cruel bastard had cut her off cold turkey, giving all of his substantial wealth to her mother, who hadn't seen fit to share.
The woman wouldn't, not when all her life she'd been so cheap, so tight with money, she squeaked when she walked.
Well, tough. Taylor wouldn't wallow over that, or the fact that her familyâcalled such only because they shared the same bloodlinesâprobably wouldn't notice if she succeeded, but would most definitely notice if she failed. And she wouldn't think about the fact that she only had to sell this place and walk away if she chose, because sheer stubborn pride refused to allow her to walk away from the first real challenge in her life.
She would do this. She would take this place and make something of it. And of herself. She'd started
months ago, one room at a time, but had decided to sell several of her precious antiquesâwhich had been worth more than she'd imaginedâusing the opportunity to renovate all of it in one fell swoop.
Hard as it would be to maintain her notorious cool, maintain it she would. With a nod of determination, she slipped the phone into her pocket and narrowed her eyes at the walls, which were still quivering from the rhythmic blows.
Oh, yes, she was quite certain she'd agreed with her new contractor that he could start tomorrow.
And if there was one thing Taylor didn't appreciate, it was someone messing with her carefully laid plans. She needed today, her last day alone, her last day to buck up, thrust out her chin, and get ready to show the world what she was made of.
Her building had been built circa 1902, and looked liked it. The Victorian style had nooks and crannies everywhere, windows galore and all the old charm and personality from the turn of the previous century, but with a hundred years of neglect added in. To say it was falling apart was the understatement of the new millennium. Bad trim, bad siding, bad paint, bad electrical and never mind the termites and last year's flood damage from a busted pipe.
The bottom floor had two store-front units. The top floor had one loft apartment and an attic compartment. The middle floor had two apartments, one of which she'd claimed. Shutting the door of her apartment now, she headed downstairs, toward the hideous banging.
Outside, the streets of South Village were gearing up for what promised to be another profitable day.
Los Angeles, only five miles away, had been kind enough to share its smog and muggy heat, but Taylor didn't mind the summer months like so many others did. She loved it here, felt perfectly at home among the young, hip, urban crowd which was drawn to Southern California's premier pedestrian neighborhood. And why not, when any day of the week one could walk to a theater, an outdoor cafÃ© run by someone famous or simply stroll through a mecca of interesting galleries or shops.
Taylor was counting on that crowd, as someday soon her two storefronts would be ready for lease.
Suzanne was taking one of them for her catering business, she'd already committed to that. A relief.
But there was still the other one. Leasing it out would keep her bank account happier than it was at the moment. But the truth was, she'd held out a little tiny seed of hope that someday she could use it for
herself, opening her own shop. That is, if she had any antiques left after using them to finance the renovation.
A definite pipe dream at the moment.
The banging sounded louder now, and was definitely coming from one of the dusty, dirty storefront units. Outside, from beyond the front gate, she could hear people walking by, talking, laughing. Shopping. Once upon a time, that had been her favorite pastime, shopping, and a silly part of her suddenly yearned to be out there.
But that, too, was for another day.
As she reached the left unit, the banging increased in intensity. Opening the hallway door, which led into the back, she was greeted with a thick cloud of dust. The banging was so loud now she could hardly hear herself think, but as she stepped inside, the noise abruptly stopped.
Stunned by the silence, Taylor inhaled dirt in the already hot, muggy, spring California morning, and wondered how long before her carefully curled hair, flowing in a purposely artful and loose manner beneath her straw hat, sagged into her face.
“You're in my way,” said a low, gruff voice from behind her.
Whirling, Taylor blinked into the cloud of dust as it slowly settled. Standing there among the dirt and grime was a man. He had one long arm propped on
his hip, the other holding a huge sledgehammer, which rested against his shoulder.
came the inane thought, if one substituted the sledgehammer for an ax. But why was Paul Bunyan standing in her building? Confused, a rare occurrence for Taylor, she found herself momentarily speechless.
Another rare occurrence.
The dust started to settle, and Paul materialized into her contractor Thomas Mackenzie, and though most of their contact had been handled by e-mail and telephone, she
seen him before. Clean and dressed up, that is. He wasn't clean or dressed up now.
At least four inches taller than her own willowy five-foot-ten frame, she found it a bit of a surprise to have to tip her head back to see his face. The last time she'd seen him, they'd sat at her table, and for the life of her, she didn't remember him being soâ¦tall, so built, so imposing.
His mouth was scowling. His eyes were the color of expensive whiskey, two liquid, shining pools of heat and annoyance, and his hair, an exact match to his eyes, fell over a blue bandanna which had been tied around his forehead. Combined with his unsmiling, and rough and tumble expression, he looked more than just a little dangerous.
At the thought, a completely inappropriate shiver of thrill raced down her spine. Now was not the greatest time to remember that while she'd vowed to remain single for the rest of her life, she'd never vowed to remain celibate. She had a great appreciation for all things beautiful and finely made. And this manâtall and edgy and frowning as he wasâwas beautifully and firmly made, a magnificent male specimen, one who seemed to awaken every hormone and nerve ending in her entire body.
But she most definitely did not have a thing for a rebel-at-heart, and it didn't escape her that this man was one-hundred-percent pure attitude.
In light of that, she repeated the same thing she told herself at estate sales, when she saw some spectacular piece of furniture she quivered to own but couldn't affordâ¦ Walk away. Just walk away. Repeating that mantra, she took a careful step backward, taking one last glimpse to tide her over.
Hard, powerful looking legs were encased in soft, faded denim. His work boots were well worn, with a sole made for the long haul. She'd already noticed his very capable arms and his chest, which was wide, hard and covered in a T-shirt that clung like a second skin to his damp body. He was long and lean, rugged and virile, the way she preferred a man, when she chose to be with one.
But she wasn't choosing now.
“You're still in my way,” he said.
“Good morning to you, too, Mr. Mackenzie.”
He blew out a breath. “Mac.”
“You can call me Mac. That's my name.”
“Really? It's not Mr. Attitude?”
His lips twitched. “I respond better to Mac.”
“Okay, then. Mac.”
He stood there politely enough, andâ¦waited for something. At his raised brow, she realized he was waiting for her to leave.
Too bad he didn't know her better, or he'd already know she did only as she pleased, not as expected. “I didn't approve for the demo to begin today,” she said.
“You signed the contract.”
Yes, she had. She'd sold her beloved Queen Anne headboard to give him the first payment of many, but she'd agreed upon tomorrow. Damn it, she needed today.
Apparently deciding they were done, Mac turned and walked away, moving with the easy, loose-limbed stride of a man who knew the value of patience. With that patience, he hoisted up the sledgehammer and brought it down on the south wall. And then again. His arms strained and stretched, his
muscles working in perfect synch, taut and sleek with sweat as he completely ignored her while simultaneously stripping down the wall to the framing.
Unable to help herself, she stared, utterly fascinated by the unrestrained violence of what he was doing. By the hone of that well-built machine that was his body. “Umâ¦excuse me?”
The sledgehammer continued to rise and fall with amazing regularity. What kind of strength did that entail, she wondered, watching with utter fascination as Mac's muscles flexed and flowed. Another shiver wracked her frame, and it had nothing to do with a chill. The room was hot. He was hotâ¦and so, suddenly, was she.
Definitely, it had been too long since she'd had any sort of physical release besides her handy, dandy, trusty vibrator. “Mac?”
He never even looked at her, which was a bit disconcerting. Taylor had matured at an early age, her long, gangly body turning into a man's wet dream. In all the years since, she'd never failed to turn a head.
And yet she was being completely ignored now. Vexing. So was the cell phone ringing in her pocket. Pulling it out, she put it to one ear, finger in the other to hear over Mac, and yelled,
“I have bad news,” said Mrs. Cabot, the owner of a very upscale antique shop in town.
Sledgehammer raised, Mac turned.
Their gazes locked.
It was like a chemical reaction. Unintended. Unavoidable. He had the most amazing eyes, and for the first time in her life, Taylor lost her place in a conversation. Chewing her lower lip, she wracked her brain for working brain cells, but her pulse tripled when Mac's gaze dropped from hers, and locked on the movement of her mouth.
This wasn't happening. He wasn't attracted to her. She wasn't attracted to him. That would be bad, very bad, but while she'd promised herself to never again engage her heart after the devastating loss she'd once suffered, she was no monk.