Authors: Anne Calhoun
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General
“Features the deep, simmering desires and fiery chemistry that has earned [Calhoun] legions of adoring readers.”
RT Book Reviews
“Calhoun has a winner, and romance readers will be enchanted by this couple and their love story.”
“Romance readers who enjoy a solid love story with some heat will appreciate this steamy, emotionally complex novel.”
“One of the things Anne Calhoun excels at is writing emotional, tension-filled sex scenes.”
“Uncommonly good storytelling.”
New York Times
“Scintillating sexual chemistry, wonderfully drawn characters—a total winner.”
New York Times
“Beautifully written and emotionally charged, Anne Calhoun’s romances define the erotic.”
—Alison Kent, author of
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF ANNE CALHOUN
“Anne Calhoun is one of the best writers of contemporary erotic fiction.”
“One of the best erotic romances I’ve read in a long time . . . An emotional read with two characters that I can fall in love with.”
The Romance Readers Connection
“Fresh and imaginative.”
The Romance Studio
TITLES BY ANNE CALHOUN
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
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A Penguin Random House Company
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2015 by Anne Calhoun.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
HEAT and the HEAT design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-17573-0
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The list / Anne Calhoun.—Heat trade paperback edition.
p. cm.—(An irresistible novel ; 3)
1. Mate selection—Fiction. 2. Man-woman relationships—Fiction. I. Title.
Heat trade paperback edition / March 2015
Cover photograph: “Woman with feather” © Nilufer Barin / Trevillion Images.
Cover design by Diana Kolsky.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
To my editor, Leis Pederson, who bought the book I really wanted to write.
To Megan. If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake.
As always, to Mark, who is living proof that love at first sight is real, and lasts.
Finally, to my mother, the original Ann. Your love remains a steady source of inspiration and comfort. Thanks, Mom.
This book took shape during a months-long rambling conversation with Megan Mulry; settings and characters were kick-started by a Perry Street stay in the West Village with Megan and Miranda Neville. Once again, Robin Rotham read the rough draft, and this time talked me back up on a ledge. With friends like this, a writer can go anywhere.
Attention is the most basic form of love. Through it we bless and are blessed.
he window air-conditioning unit clicked twice, then whirred to life. Cold air drifted through the swath of sunshine that faded the ancient Oriental rug’s reds to a brick shade. Special Agent Daniel Logan took up position at the left end of the love seat and braced his elbow on the arm as he noted the way light fell on the monument in Washington Square Park. Back in his NYPD days, before he left for the FBI, he’d trained himself to note not just date and time but the weather, moon, and astronomical events in his reports to anchor things in his memory. It was useful when he testified in court.
At this very moment the sun was at its highest point in the sky, and the summer would only get hotter.
Today he noted the solstice not because he’d be called to testify, but because he’d met Tilda the preceding summer solstice. One year had passed, the year of Tilda. They’d met, started dating or whatever Tilda called it, gotten married, and were now sitting in front of a marriage counselor, because Tilda thought they needed to divorce.
She folded herself into the opposite end of the love seat, as pale and textured as fine paper, wearing a sleeveless black sheath, her bare legs crossed. No wedding ring. No birthday bracelet. The therapist, a tall, thin man with dark brown eyes and a turban covering his hair, shook both their hands as he introduced himself as Dr. Bhowmick, then settled himself across from them.
“Daniel,” he said in a lightly accented voice. “Do you prefer Daniel or Dan?”
“The interpreter of dreams,” Dr. Bhowmick said. “Word origins are a hobby of mine. What do you do?”
“I’m with the FBI.” It wasn’t all that different from interpreting dreams. As an agent assigned to investigate white-collar crime, he reconstructed people’s dreams after they’d been stolen.
Dr. Bhowmick transferred his gaze to Tilda. “And Tilda. An unusual name.”
“It’s short for Matilda,” she said, but she lacked her usual smile.
“Ah,” the therapist said genially. “Do you know the origin of your name?”
“I do,” she said. “It’s German and a combination of two words meaning strength and battle.”
Her face wore her most pleasant expression, as if she batted away idle observations and trivial facts all day, deflecting the conversation down shallow gullies until everything they had left dissipated into the air.
“What brings you here today?”
“I think we need to divorce,” Tilda said.
“I think we don’t,” Daniel replied.
She smiled at Dr. Bhowmick. “And there you have it.” Crisp, clean, precise, the upper-class British accent the same temperature as the room. She must be freezing, in her sleeveless sheath. Daniel was comfortable in his suit, and he ran much hotter than Tilda, who lived like she could spontaneously combust at any moment but was always cold.
Dr. Bhowmick turned to a clean page in his legal pad, and wrote something at the top. Daniel’s gaze flicked to the words. He could read most handwriting from all angles, but Dr. Bhowmick appeared to be taking notes in some form of shorthand. Tilda was also studying the pen and paper, but Daniel doubted she was trying to read the handwriting.
Cheap legal pad, a ballpoint pen that came in packs of ten at the Duane Reade
is what Tilda, who owned an upscale stationery store, would see.
“How long have you been married?”
This information was on the intake assessment Daniel filled out before the appointment. He’d do the same thing to a suspect or witness, take information, ask again from a slightly different angle, then ask again from another. It’s how he pieced together the stories that solved crimes. Simple or complex, financial or physical, a crime was always about a story. People had goals, motivations, conflicts that escalated into theft and violence. Stories and numbers were his specialty. “Six months,” he said.
Dr. Bhowmick halted midscrawl. “You’ve been married six months? How long have you known each other?”
“Eleven months,” Tilda clarified.
Daniel slid her a look. “It’s the solstice. We met a year ago today,” he said, standing on the only solid ground in his earthquake-rattled world. That day was written on his bones, as real and solid as the love seat under him, the light on his skin, Tilda’s even breathing beside him.
“So you’ve been together for almost a year, and married for most of that time. Why don’t you want to be married to Daniel any longer?”
She looked away, out the large rectangular window in the living room. NYU students were crossing the square, pausing by the chess games going on at the south end of the park. Daniel remembered his student days, the freedom to explore everything body and mind had to offer. Tilda, four years younger, hadn’t crossed his path.
“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick prompted gently.
“I’m not comfortable opening our marriage to a stranger.”
“Neither am I,” Daniel pointed out.
The look she shot him was swift and fierce, like a silver blade. When she returned her gaze to Dr. Bhowmick, he straightened almost imperceptibly. “We married in haste. It was an impulsive decision that, in hindsight, was the wrong one. It would be foolish to repent at leisure, when both of us could be free.”
Words mattered to Tilda; she chose them carefully. She didn’t say to meet other people. She didn’t say she didn’t love him. She didn’t say it was a mistake. She didn’t even say she wanted a divorce.
We need to divorce.
“I love her. I want to be married to her for the rest of my life.”
Tilda’s unreadable gray gaze never left the window. Her slender, pale fingers, bare of any rings at all, sat unmoving in her lap while the rest of the session passed in silence. Daniel was comfortable with silence, knew how to use it during an interrogation, so he sat and watched the sun shift on the rug as the seconds crawled by. When their time was up, Tilda collected her purse as she stood. “I have an appointment. Thank you, Dr. Bhowmick,” she said, and walked out the door.
“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick mused. Reflecting on her name, Daniel thought, not pining for her. He said it that way often enough. “These things take time, Agent Logan. Would you like to schedule a recurring session?”
“I need to talk to Tilda first. She travels for work.”
When he reached the street, Tilda was standing by the curb, her tote slung over her shoulder, one slender arm outstretched to hail a cab. Without looking at him, she asked, “Do you want to share a taxi to Midtown?”
Startled, he laughed. None of this was like Tilda, except it was. She was perfectly capable of walking right up to a ledge, a cliff, and peering over the edge to assess the landing. He loved surprises, loved pitting himself against the unexpected, loved even more his unpredictable wife. To get a better angle on oncoming traffic, she stepped off the curb between two parked cars. He took a moment, just a moment, to admire the taut swell of her calf in four-inch heels, the way her dress hugged her hips, the play of her shoulder blades, the seemingly vulnerable nape of her neck, exposed by the riotous tumble of chin-length black curls.
“I assume you’re still having lunch with the runners club?” she said over her shoulder. “I’m meeting Colin at Barneys before we leave for London. Do you want to share a cab?”
A cab slowed for her, the availability light flicking off as it braked. Her words were a challenge, a dare, a gauntlet thrown down onto the steaming city pavement. She was exactly the same as the day he’d met her, except she thought they needed to divorce. “Yeah,” he said, and slid into the backseat next to her.
“Sixtieth and Madison,” she said, then sat back and tucked her purse in her lap.
The cab crawled through midday traffic. Daniel stared out the window and thought. Tilda didn’t talk about emotions with him, much less strangers, some vestigial remnant of her English upbringing. In an era of constant oversharing on social media, it took months for Tilda to give him even the thinnest slivers of her story. When she did tell him something, she was ruthlessly honest.
“An impulsive decision to marry isn’t a solid foundation for a marriage,” she said, as if she could read his mind. Maybe she could. “We never really meshed as a couple. Your work and family. The deal is about to close, the situation with Sheba snowballed out of control, and I’m worried about Nan.”
Her grandmother lived in a fishing village in Cornwall, England, where Tilda had lived as a child. Two weeks earlier Nan had stumbled off the ramp leading to the henhouse and broken her ankle. If Tilda hadn’t been in the middle of a business opportunity that could make or break her, she would have been in Cornwall already.
The cab pulled to a stop on the east side of the street. She handed a twenty through the sliding window, while Daniel, seated on the sidewalk side, got out of the cab so she wouldn’t exit into the traffic rushing up Madison. Without thinking about it, he held out his hand; he suspected her taking it was equally a matter of habit. He stayed where he was, trapping her between his body and the cab door, and let her forward momentum bring her right up against his body.
It was far too blatant and possessive for an on-duty FBI agent wearing his gun and his badge and standing on one of the busiest street corners in Midtown Manhattan. He was working the case of the decade; even a verbal reprimand could get him yanked back to investigative support. But this was Tilda, his wife, who said there was nothing between them worth building a marriage on.
Then he kissed her.
His mouth landed a little off center, her lips parting in surprise and then softening, heating under his. Her fingers spasmed as if she would pull away. He neither tightened nor relaxed his grip on her hand, but rather slipped his tongue between her lips to touch hers. Then it happened, a hint of flint and tinder, sparks flaring, the hitch in her breathing as she tilted her head just enough to align their mouths.
With one quick jerk she freed her hand and stepped back, her eyes dark with an anguish that triggered a sense of déjà vu. “Don’t, Daniel. If you really knew me, if you really
, the last thing you would have done is schedule an appointment with a
She pushed past him onto the sidewalk, and disappeared around the corner. Daniel closed the cab’s door and tapped the roof twice with his fist. As the cab pulled out into traffic, Daniel withdrew his notebook and pen, and took refuge in habit. He made a list.
Risks Tilda Takes
He walked the few blocks to meet the ultramarathon runners for lunch, his mind only half on the discussion about training schedules, nutrition, hydration, and war stories. Instead he thought about the divorce rate for law enforcement officers, which was well above the national average. Just about every cop or agent he knew well enough to swap stories with fell somewhere on the spectrum from marriage counseling, separate rooms, separations, filing for divorce, to actually divorcing. Then, just out of curiosity, he walked back to Barneys, got an iced coffee from the coffee shop across the street, and stood in the shade under the awning of the coffee shop next to Judith Ripka, just in time to watch his wife get into another man’s car.
Colin Wilkinson, Quality Group’s director of North American acquisitions, had spent the last nine months negotiating Tilda to partner with them. The deal agreement sat next to the divorce agreement on their dining room table. Colin aimed the clicker at a Mercedes that cost more than Daniel made in a year. Tilda called him posh. Daniel would have called him slick except for the fact that Colin had the cheerful optimism and manners of a well-trained, well-bred Labrador. Tilda stood on the sidewalk, her hair curling in the humidity, accentuating her cheekbones and her lush mouth. She reached for the door handle of the rear passenger door; when it didn’t open, she shot Colin a glance across the roof of the car. Colin said something Daniel didn’t catch, but Tilda’s smile didn’t light up her eyes.
The lights on the Mercedes flashed, then flashed twice, then the alarm went off. This time Daniel caught Colin’s
even over the traffic between them. Daniel took another sip of coffee. Tilda switched her clutch from her left hand to her right. More impatient thumbing at the key fob, the Mercedes’s lights blinked like it was taking fifty thousand volts from a Taser, and finally Colin silenced the alarm and got the doors unlocked. Tilda folded herself into the passenger seat. For a split second, Daniel let himself drink in the pleasure of watching Tilda get into the car, all clean lines and sharp angles. She could stop him dead in his tracks, the bolt of lust paralyzing him as swiftly and effectively as it had the first time he saw her.
Impossibly, unapologetically, effortlessly stylish, his wife. At West Village Stationery she sold exclusive, handmade paper, couture stationery, invitations embossed or engraved. By twenty-eight she had established herself as the trend-setting expert for millennials fascinated by the art of pen and ink. The shopping trip with Colin, scoping out the luxury goods trade, potentially looked incriminating, but there was no sex involved. Daniel knew this for two reasons: Tilda’s cheeks, throat, and collarbone turned a very specific shade of dark pink when she had sex, and her personal code of ethics had no room for anything as cheap as infidelity.
Was that the only thing he knew about her?
Colin managed to start the car and turned on his blinker to merge into traffic, only to have a fast-moving cab slam on its brakes, then begin the requisite honk-showdown. The blinding sunlight slid off the windshield, and for a split second Tilda’s face was visible. She wore an expression of such naked anguish, her enormous gray eyes dark with despair, that Daniel’s thigh muscle clenched to take a step forward and intervene. A jolt of primitive awareness shot up his spine, straightening his vertebrae as he remembered exactly where he’d last seen that look on Tilda’s face.