Author: Jill Shalvis
"Yes you did. But it was only once. I didn't like him enough to repeat the experience."
Their gazes met again and held as he wondered if she liked him enough to repeat their experience. In his pocket, his phone vibrated. He ignored it. "Go on," he said.
"There's nothing else to tell." Standing up, she moved to the porch railing and leaned on it, staring out into the bright morning. "He got pissed off and made a big stink about how if I didn't sleep with him again, I was going to blow the chance of a lifetime."
Jack narrowed his eyes. "He threatened you?"
"He was just blowing off steam after getting rejected. I could have handled it better." She shrugged. "He wasn't my type. We weren't a thing. You'll see that in the finals, where he ignores me completely."
Feeling a whole lot better, he looked at her and realized she wasn't feeling better at all. She was tense. "You okay?"
She let out a low, mirthless laugh that told him she wasn't, and why.
It hit him then, like a bucket of ice water. She'd been watching the fire last night with everyone else in town. Watching and worrying. He remembered those years his mom had made herself sick with the strain and stress and fear of waiting. Just the thought of having a woman do that for him had always been enough to keep himself from letting anyone get too close. Lots of other people managed to do the job and have families, and it all seemed to work out. But after watching his mom fall apart when his dad had died, Jack had known he'd never be one of them.
He set the bag and the thermos down and stood up. Turning her to face him, he stepped into her, his boots on the outside of her pretty shoes, his hands gliding up her arms to her face, which he tilted to his. "I'm really good at what I do, Leah."
"Yes," she agreed. "I know."
"I'm not my dad."
"I know that too."
"I'm trying to honor his memory," Jack said. "Trying to live up to what he believed in, but trust me, I have no intention of being a hero. Not like he turned out to be."
She set her hands on his biceps and looked into his eyes. "There was a time that wasn't true," she reminded him. "When you were wild and reckless."
"I'm past that," he assured her. "Long past. And knowing what my mom went through, how she suffered, it's made it easy to say no to any sort of deep relationship."
"To any relationship."
He lifted a shoulder. "Fine. Yeah. I stay away from them."
"Except for one," she said, and drew in a deep breath. "Me."
This was true. His relationship with her had stood the test of time-although not without its share of bumps and bruises along the way.
"Because we've been friends," he said. "Not lovers."
She arched a brow.
"Until recently," he allowed.
She took in his expression. "Let me guess," she said quietly. "We're going back into negotiations on our rules." She pulled out her phone. "Go ahead," she said. "I'll take notes."
"This isn't funny."
"Well, give the man an A."
Irritation bubbled at the base of his skull. His very tired skull. "Tell me this, Leah. Where do you see this charade going? Or ending?"
Something flashed across her face that he couldn't quite interpret. Maybe guilt.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I didn't think that far. It's not like this was premeditated," she said, voice heavy with regret. "I only meant to make your mom happy-"
"I know." And he did know. "It's worked. She's eating. Getting up and out." He shook his head in marvel. "She's happy. But…"
"You're not," she said softly. "Happy."
"You want to know what I think?"
"I think you're using this opportunity to avoid whatever the hell you're running from this time."
She stared at him for one stunned beat before pushing at him. "I've got to go."
"Shit," he muttered, catching her, pulling her around, and pinning her to the railing. "I'm right, aren't I? You ran from whatever happened. Was it Rafe?"
"No." In his arms, she squirmed. Her hair tickled his nose, caught on the stubble of his jaw. It smelled good. She felt good too, and like always when it came to being with her, she both aroused and frustrated the shit out of him. "So are your plans to run from me, Leah? Because that's next, right? And how are you going to explain that?"
She sighed and dropped her forehead to his chest. "I don't have plans to go anywhere, Jack. Does that make you feel any better?"
When he didn't respond, she lifted her head and let out a mirthless laugh. "I see that makes you feel worse," she said. "Since it means you're stuck with me. Aren't we a pair? Look, I really do need to go. Apparently I can only pretend to like you in small doses."
Ignoring the fact that they were visible to anyone coming down the street, he pressed into her again, plastering himself to her from chest to thigh
An electric charge zinged between them, heating the air. She didn't move, not a single muscle.
He couldn't say the same since he went instantly hard.
"Jack," she whispered, gaze on his mouth. "Don't. We're too bad at this."
"So let's go back to something we're good at," he said, and kissed her, long and hard and wet. It wasn't enough. Fisting his hands in her hair, he held on to her and plundered. With a moan that soothed his soul, she wound her arms around his neck. "Damn you," she murmured against his mouth. "Damn you."
With a growl, he backed her into his front door, unlocking it, pulling her inside.
They staggered like drunks into his living room, still kissing while attempting to strip each other.
Kevin, thinking they were playing, was jumping up and down on his back legs like Scooby-Doo, trying to get in on the fun.
"Sit," Jack told him.
Kevin barked. Jesus. "Kevin, bark."
Leah was shaking with laughter when Jack once again took her mouth with his. The urgency hadn't abated. She got his shirt unbuttoned and off one arm. He kicked off one boot while ripping off her sweater. She tripped over the boot, and they both went down onto his couch.
She landed on top, forcing the air out of his lungs with her bony elbow. Hell, she very nearly unmanned him completely with an ill-placed knee. None of it mattered as he continued to kiss her like she was better than air.
And in that moment, she was.
Leah sat up to take in the glorious sight of Jack sprawled beneath her on the couch. He wasn't like any other man she'd ever been with. Even when he was in a hurry, he never let anything rush him.
She'd watched him at the fire. Calm, level-headed, never losing his cool.
Now he lay still with deceptive languor, deceptive because she could feel him, thick and hard between her legs as she straddled him. Weaving her fingers in his, she slowly slid his arms up, resting them above his head on the back of the couch. Holding him like that, she rocked against him.
He groaned, simmering heat radiating from his big body. "Leah, kiss me."
Oh yes, she'd kiss him, but first she let go of his hands to shove his shirt up. "Mmm," she said, and stared down at what she'd exposed. Warm skin and ridged muscle.
He looked up at her, gaze hot and unapologetically sexual. His pants had ridden low, revealing the way his obliques were cut at his hips. She wanted to taste him there. So she did just that, humming in pleasure while he gave a low growl.
At the sound, Kevin bounded over and thrust his huge head between Jack's and Leah's, trying to see what he was missing. "Lay down," Jack commanded.
If he'd used that voice on her she would have done anything he commanded, but Kevin only whined.
"Horse factory," Jack grated out.
Kevin heaved a sigh and trotted off.
"Do you have birthday plans?" Leah asked Jack softly, unbuttoning his pants. She ran her fingers down the center of his chest and lower abdomen, following the line of dark hair to where it vanished into his opened pants.
"Yes," he said, his voice sounding as strained as the waistband of his boxers. "I have plans to make you scream my name."
"I'm not much of a screamer."
"I have my ways."
Leah shivered because she knew it to be true. She'd seen firsthand what happened when Jack was…determined. Her body quivered again as she took in the sight of him beneath her, taut, ripped, waiting with mock patience. "Ah," she said, "but it's your birthday. Maybe you'll scream my name."
He slid his hands to the backs of her thighs and then up her skirt to cup and squeeze her bottom. Then he tore away her panties.
"Jack!" she gasped in shock.
"Hmm. That's a good start." He nudged her bra straps from her shoulders. "Take this off," he said, then put his attention to shoving up her skirt. His gaze followed his fingers, and at the sight of her, he growled out her name.
She unhooked her bra and let it slip down her body, and then kissed him again, a soft touch of lips to lips before pulling back slightly.
His warm brown eyes were heavy-lidded as he watched her watching him. Reaching for her hands, he guided them down his chest and farther until she'd wrapped her fingers around his hard length.
She squeezed, and a slight tremor ran through him. Practically vibrating with pleasure, she kissed her way down the same path her hands had taken. "Happy…" She gave him a long, slow lick. "Birthday…"
With a low, long groan, his fingers slid into her hair. Not pulling, not guiding…more like he needed a handhold.