Author: Jill Shalvis
"Yes," he said. "You are."
Ouch. "I have a rule too," she said evenly, pulling her hands back and sliding off the bike.
He cocked his head, waiting.
"If there are no promises, at least keep your…options from your mom."
"Yeah. I'm not going to go to all this trouble only to have the whole thing messed up by one of your blond bimbos."
She'd expected him to smile. He didn't. "Who?" he said instead. "Who are your options?"
She shivered at his commanding tone. Sexy, in a caveman sort of way. "Maybe I have several."
He just leveled her with a narrow-eyed, steely stare and waited her out.
"Fine," she said, caving like a cheap suitcase. "I don't have any. Happy now?"
"I'm something, but happy isn't it." He studied her a moment longer, and she returned the favor. The exhaustion was shadowing his eyes. There was a rough, two-day growth on his square jaw and strain in those broad shoulders.
Drawn to him like a moth to the flame, she held out her hand to him. Without hesitation, he put his in hers, letting her pull him off the bike.
They climbed down to the caves and sat there, completely alone, watching the morning sun shimmer on the water three hundred feet below as it crashed into the rocky shore.
"Yes," he finally said, startling her.
Turning his head from the water, he looked at her, his eyes filled with enough heat to blow her hair back. "Oh," she breathed, and her nipples hardened. "You mean…" Suddenly her mouth was dry, and all she could do was swallow hard. "Here?"
"You change your mind already? After all the convincing arguments and fact citing?"
No. Hell no, she hadn't changed her mind. This had been her idea, after all. Except…dammit. Some of that same old panic she'd felt that night long ago flooded her now.
Because this wasn't just any guy.
It was Jack, and expectations were at a lifetime high, at least for her. What if she didn't do it for him? What if she wasn't everything he needed? What if she screwed this up? "What if it doesn't work?" she whispered.
"What if what doesn't work?"
Not willing to let him see her fears, she went on the offensive. "Um…what if we don't turn each other on?"
He blinked, and she realized he was truly flummoxed by this question. Not getting turned on had never occurred to him. If this wasn't so deadly serious, she'd have laughed because he was such a guy.
"You get naked first," she decided.
Her heart was pounding, and her palms were slick with nerves, but she gave him a cool smile. "Well, what if you're ugly beneath all those clothes? I might have no choice but to rethink my options."
He narrowed his eyes again. "New rule."
"Oh my God. Now? You want to talk about your rules now? I don't want to discuss your other women right now, if you don't mind."
"No others," he said. "Not for me, and not for you. No options, period."
Her heart was at stroke level now. "So…an exclusive pretend relationship."
"That's right," he said, eyes surprisingly serious. "Tell me we have a deal, Leah."
This wasn't exactly a hardship for her, not that she was going to say so. "Deal."
He paused. "That felt too easy."
She smiled, trying to look innocent. Because he was getting off topic. And besides, they both knew he wasn't ugly beneath his clothes. He was perfect. Not wanting to lose control of this situation, she rose to her feet and pulled off her sweater.
He watched her, not moving a single, big muscle.
"Well?" she said.
"Are you turned on?"
"Leah, I've been turned on since I kissed you over a week ago on the beach. But-"
"No. No more buts," she said quickly and kicked off the boots she'd gotten in Amsterdam, trying to look sexy while doing it.
Problem was, he still wasn't looking impressed, so she pulled off her tank top and then hesitated. She hadn't dressed for seduction, hadn't realized…and she was wearing a plain cotton, black sports bra that covered her more than a bathing suit would.
Worse, Jack didn't appear overcome with lust.
"Now you," she said desperately. "You have to lose something."
"But you're not finished." He leaned back on his elbows, all long, sprawled-out grace. The caged leopard at rest…
Good Lord. "Fine." She shoved off her jeans. Dammit. To go with her sports bra, her panties were laundry day panties, faded yellow, and worse, they had "Thursday" printed across the butt.
It was Sunday.
"This isn't supposed to be funny." Mad, she bent over, reaching for her tank top, determined to get dressed again and somehow find her dignity while she was at it.
But Jack, moving silent and fast as a wild cat would have, stepped up behind her
"Forget it, Jack-"
"Shh." With his big body snug at her back, his hands went to her hips, holding her in place.
She froze, thinking he'd heard or seen someone-but he didn't move. "What are you doing?" she hissed.
"I like this position."
Straightening up, she tried to push free, but he held her still, his hands sliding up from her hips to her breasts, his quick, clever thumbs rasping over her nipples. "And this one," he said low and husky. "I really like this position too."
He was hard-she could feel him pressing into her-and that went a long way toward soothing her bruised ego. Turning in the circle of his arms, she faced him so her breasts smashed into his chest.
"And this one," he murmured, his hands sliding down to cup and squeeze her ass.
The rest of her embarrassment and anger dissolved, and she felt a reluctant smile curve her mouth. "I'm getting the idea you like all the positions."
"Every single one," he assured her.
Around them, the day went on. Insects buzzed. The sun warmed. The wind, what there was of it, stayed outside the cave rustling only the very tips of the two-hundred-foot-tall pines surrounding them. The sounds were as familiar to Leah as her own breathing and brought comfort.
The man in front of her had always brought comfort too. But now, in this moment, he brought something entirely different.
Holding her gaze, Jack stroked a strand of hair off her forehead. "Still with me?"
"Yes," she said with far more confidence than she really felt.
Seeing right through her, he smiled. "We're going to do this, Leah," he said calmly. "We're going to take one for the team."
Oh God. Yes. It was what she wanted, desperately. But…had she coerced him into it? Into wanting her?
Of course she had.
If only she wasn't standing there in her plain cotton underwear. The least she could've done was arm herself with something really silky and lacy. No, wait. Armor. Yeah, armor would have been perfect. Something to protect her heart-
"I want you, Leah."
Some of her doubt must have still been visible because he cupped her jaw and met her gaze. "I want you," he repeated softly, his fingers sliding into her hair.
The words and his voice melted her. It was just that simple for him, she realized, as he stared her down, letting her see the hunger in his gaze. It'd been a long time since he'd looked at her like that. She'd have liked to savor it, but she couldn't resist the promise in every line of his body.
"You want me too," he said. "Bad."
She held the eye contact, trying to outlast him, but she was losing the battle and he knew it. His slow smile said so.
Yeah. She wanted him.
He was looking at her with the absolute confidence he always seemed to carry. It might have been infuriating if she had room for anything but the need. The desperate need. But… "Here?" She looked around them. "Now?" The cave was secluded, and the area around it completely deserted. Their only company was the sun slanting through the trees, dappling the forest floor with dotted patches of shade. There were a few bees and other various insects, and hopefully no bears, but…
"Here," Jack said. "Now." He backed her to a huge, ancient wall of rock, trapping her there with a hand on either side of her face. "This was your idea," he reminded her. "And, as it turns out, a really good one." Showing none of his earlier resistance and certainly no mercy, he pressed into her, caressing her body with big, sure hands. "You're wet," he murmured with a hint of naughty accusation as his hand moved between her thighs.
"It's from when I was thinking about my options," she said.
He slid her a look as he let a finger stroke over her slowly. Purposefully. "Is that right?"
"So it's not for me at all, is that what you're saying?" One of his long, callused fingers played with the edge of her panties, and she couldn't breathe for the need.
"N-nope," she managed.
"Liar." Then he laughed softly. Cocky. The bastard. His hand continued its wonderful torture, and she strained closer for more.
He'd never touched her like this before, never, and yet her body quivered as if it were recognizing a long-lost lover's touch. And far before it seemed possible, he had her writhing against him, breathing unevenly and desperate. "How," she managed, unable to get the rest out. How did he know how to drive her crazy?
He trailed his mouth along her jawline to her ear. "You're good at hiding," he murmured, his voice low and serious, no trace of teasing in it now as he lightly ran the pad of his finger just beneath her panties.