Logan Crenshaw finished paying for his coffee and turned away from the counter, holding a cup with one hand and snapping his wallet closed with the other. There were at least four people in line behind him, and as he moved out of their way, he glanced up and his gaze was immediately caught and held by a pair of amazing blue eyes with the longest, darkest eyelashes he’d ever seen. His footsteps stalled as an instantaneous, raw arrow of heat immobilized him. A delicate female face looked back at him and a soft pink flush filled the contoured cheekbones before the woman quickly looked away, undoubtedly knowing that she’d been caught staring. The profile she turned to him was eminently feminine, and as he watched, she hastily turned her attention to the manila folder spread out in front of her.
She was sitting at a table, alone, and as he shoved his wallet in his back pocket, he continued to look at her. She was unquestionably beautiful with long, soft hair and graceful features. She sat still and quiet and a subtle tension seemed to have stiffened her shoulders. She refused to look at him again and he glanced swiftly around the semi-crowded coffee shop before zeroing in on her once again. He knew he should probably look away, but hell, she was beautiful in a sultry, exotic way, in a way that attracted him instantly, and anyway, she’d started it by staring at him first. A primitive hunger clawed through his guts, hardening him beyond comfort, and a sudden need to touch her overcame him.
This was his own damn fault; he knew he should have jacked-off this morning.
Having gotten the coffee he came in for, he’d been about to turn and leave. While he was certainly fearless enough to walk up to her, there was something about her that told him a bold move at this moment wouldn’t be well received. But as the soft lines of her profile showed an unease that indicated she continued to be aware of him, Logan knew there was no way in hell that he could just leave, and he made the quick decision to sit for a while.
He turned away and snagged one of the only open tables, where he could see her from behind, but couldn’t be observed in return unless she turned around completely. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t with anyone, or possibly meeting someone, before he approached her. And he knew he had to approach her. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and sat it on the table and took a healthy drink of coffee. He debated what the hell he was doing, but as he watched her, her hand reached out and she scribbled something on the document she was reading. Was he only imaging the slight tremor he saw in her slender fingers? Did she know he sat behind her?
As his gaze pierced her narrow shoulders and the delicate line of her back, libidinous thoughts filled his head. Thoughts of ripping the shirt from her body and laving the nipples he’d find with his tongue. Her hair looked just long enough to wrap around him as he thrust inside of her, and those slender fingers painted a pale pink were enticing him to imagine them wrapping around his cock and relieving him of the hard-on he had for her.
So the question was: Did he have a shot at her? The way she’d been watching him indicated that he might, and the way he was jonesing for her already told him that he knew he was going to find out before he left this place.
He realized his coffee cup was empty and he’d been sitting there for ten minutes fighting a boner that refused to go away, when she began to gather her things together and slipped the folder into a large purse. Now that she was standing, he could see that she was only medium height, and she was dressed in tight, albeit, conservative, jeans. She wore a purple t-shirt and medium heels, and the entire combination enflamed his senses. She slipped the strap over her shoulder and prepared to leave. Unconsciously graceful, she looked neither to the left nor to the right as she made her way to the back of the store where the restrooms were located.
Logan didn’t waste a second. He slipped his cell phone in his pocket and dumped his coffee cup in the same can that she’d used. As she disappeared inside the restroom, he walked up to the kid who’d waited on him earlier. The line was gone now, and the male barista, who didn’t look much older than a teenager, turned to him when Logan leaned on the counter. “The woman who’s been sitting there,” he began, indicating the chair she’d vacated.
The kid’s eyes widened and he came to attention. “Yeah?”
“You know the one I’m talking about?”
The kid lifted his chin in a quick affirmation and raised his eyebrows. “It’d be hard to miss her, dude.”
Logan nodded his head.
That was the damn truth. She was hotter than hell. “Have you ever seen her before?”
“She come in here often then?”
The kid leaned closer and crossed his arms over the counter a foot away from Logan.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually.”
“Thanks. I owe you.”
“Nah. Just lookin’ out for you, bro. Good luck.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Logan turned away and went to stand in the small vestibule outside of the women’s restroom.
Maybe he’d be accused of stalking, but then again . . . maybe not.
Lauren walked from the restroom and came to an abrupt halt as she saw the man leaning against the wall, casually masculine, in a relaxed posture with his boots crossed in front of him and his fingers hooked into the front pockets of his jeans.
Crap. She’d thought he’d left, she really had.
Liar, she admitted to herself. She’d known he’d sat down behind her. This was
so her fault. He’d caught her staring, but damn, she was only human! As she looked up into his face, she took a sustaining breath, but it didn’t help her nerves settle.
Jesus, they made ’em tall here in Texas.
Tall and freakin’ gorgeous.
Which had been the exact reason he’d caught her staring in the first place.
She felt her cheeks fill with heat for a second time. She nodded quickly and attempted to move past him, trying to ignore the fact that he was leaning against the wall, and in all probability, waiting on her.
As she slid past, he pushed off the wall, stood to his full height and his hand shot out and wrapped around the fleshy part of her upper arm.
Her stomach flipped crazily and she almost melted at his feet when he drawled,
“Not so fast.” She blinked up at him, and the heat she saw in the dark brown striations of his eyes was almost her undoing. The guy was incredible looking, and she was semi-ashamed to acknowledge that the beefy fist wrapped around her arm only excited her. The main area of the coffee shop was full of people who weren’t three feet away. What she was feeling certainly wasn’t fear, and she couldn’t even pretend to herself that it was. Her heartbeat stalled and then began to bang loudly in her ears as she attempted to look at him serenely, with only a question in her eyes.
His gaze raked boldly over her.
“Now honey, don’t look at me that way. You started it back there and we both know it.”
His voice was deep and low, and its effect on her ran like hot liquid scorching through her veins. She knew she should be pulling away from him, but how was she supposed to do that when he was, by far, the sexiest man she’d ever seen in her life? She valiantly tried to bring her mind into focus. Had he just accused her of something? She needed to pay attention to the conversation and not the deep tones of his beautifully modulated voice. “I’m sorry, what?”
As she uttered the question that undoubtedly betrayed her confusion, Lauren was aware that his grip became caressing, and his face broke into a smile so stunning that it nearly knocked her off her axis. His eyes creased with amusement as if she
‘d pleased him in some indefinable way, and he briefly looked at her lips before glancing back up. “What’s your name?” he drawled.
That indecently deep voice hit her senses, and Lauren wondered for a split second if it would be an entirely wise move to give him the answer he was asking for. On the one hand, he was the epitome of hot male. But on the other, he seemed to have a confidence that said he was aware of it.
At her silence, his amusement grew and his overt, virile appeal made it difficult to make up her mind. “Come on, sweetheart. You have a name, don’t you?”
Lauren bit the inside of her lip to control the trembling. “Lauren,” she finally responded.
He lazily appraised her and in that moment, his sexual magnetism was blatantly displayed. “You’re very pretty,” he said in a voice filled with a self-confidence that seemed to grow by the second.
It didn’t make him any less appealing.
She inhaled raggedly. “So . . . so are you.”
His smile became wider and she could see his perfect white teeth. A river of heat ran down her spine. God. She wanted to kiss him!
“You think I’m pretty?” he asked in a perfectly controlled voice.
Lauren realized that she’d voiced that thought out loud and she felt her blush become hotter. “Not . . . not pretty, exactly.” Since she’d graduated from college and come to live in Texas she’d dreamed of meeting cowboys, but never one like this. And maybe he wasn’t a cowboy. Maybe he just favored jeans and scuffed boots.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re pretty enough for the both of us.” It occurred to Lauren that he was trying to soothe her, but with his thumb sliding back and forth across the skin of her bicep, it wasn’t happening.
She attempted to get a grip and was about to try to slide her arm from his grasp, because there wasn’t anything decent about loitering in a restroom vestibule with a stranger, but his fingers only tightened, as if anticipating her next move. She looked down at his hand clasped around her arm before lifting her eyes back to his. “I’ve got to go . . . I’m sorry you caught me staring. I mean . . . I mean I’m sorry that I stared at you.” He was looking at her so steadily that she thought she might drown in the deep velvet pools of his eyes.
“I didn’t mind you staring,” he replied, as if it had made his day and then some. He made no move to release her from his grasp.
She took a shaky breath and licked her lips. “No?”
His eyes slid down her body in a long, hot caress before lifting to her face once again. Watching her intently, he began shaking his head back and forth. While one hand still held her arm, his other slowly lifted and tipped her chin up while he began walking her backwards until her spine hit the wall.
Lauren flinched away from him, the back of her head hitting the wall.
“You can’t kiss me!”
“I can’t?” he asked, far too dramatically.
His brows came together and he tipped his head to the side a bit, as if they were sharing a joke.
Her heart continued to crash against her breastbone
His thumb swirled over her chin in a caress as he peered at her intently.
“So when? You want to come to my house tonight?”
She couldn’t believe he’d just asked that question. She knew what he wanted, of course, and she felt a huge burst of disappointment. But just to make sure she wasn’t about to blow him off unjustly, because he was crazy-freakin’ hot and she for damn sure didn’t want to blow him off if he didn’t deserve it, she asked, “What for?”
His eyes narrowed and he frowned as if he were trying to come up with a suitable answer.
“How ’bout for coffee? I know you like coffee.” He smiled as if he’d just come up with the most brilliant statement ever.
“Coffee?” she asked with deep sarcasm.
“No? Not coffee? You’re not buying that one? How about food? I could feed you.”
“You want me to come to your house for coffee and food?” Lauren knew she needed to leave now. “You’re just hilarious, aren’t you?”
“What do you want me to tell you here, sweetheart?” He looked her over seductively, his attention focused entirely on her.
“You’re real smooth, aren’t you?” she asked harshly.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“You started it, hon. You were the one watching me.”
“So does this approach usually work for you?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking.
“Can’t say I’ve ever cornered a woman in a coffee shop before.”
“So I’m the first? I’m flattered.”
“You don’t need to feel flattered. Every man out there is thinking the same thing I am.” He tilted that damn arrogant head toward the room behind them.
Rolling her eyes, she said,
“Great. Thanks. I need to get back to work.”
He ignored that and asked,
“Are you married?”
Her eyes narrowed and her mouth tightened.
“You wouldn’t still be touching me if I were.”
“Ahh. A woman with scruples. I like that.”
“Yes, well,so happy you’re pleased.” With a knot of disappointment in her stomach, she attempted to shrug him off again but he wasn’t having it.
“I’ve got to go.”
“And I’ll let you go. In about ten seconds. So. No husband. No boyfriend?”
Lauren began to get light-headed under his unrelenting questioning. She shook her head, prepared to give him one more chance.
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Lauren gasped and rolled her eyes at his over-the-top question.
“Looking for one?”
She knew it. He wasn’t interested in her. He just wanted to do her. She’d given him the benefit of the doubt, but he’d blown it. Such a pity. She raised a single eyebrow and prepared to shoot him down. “You offering?”
She shook her head back and forth and cut her eyes heavenward before focusing back on him.
“I don’t think so.”
He was smiling again, the bastard. Instead of noticing that she was trying to blow him off, he was grinning as though they were about to have babies together. He opened those gorgeous lips and asked,
“You don’t think it’d be good?”
Jesus, this guy thought he was God’s gift to women. She looked him over, up and down and then shook her head. She had a momentary feeling of regret, but nothing good could come from an encounter like this one. She stiffened her spine and prepared to sound firm and confident, tried to sound as if she had untold experience and that he didn’t match up. She opened her mouth to speak, and was proud of herself when her words came out smooth and crisp. “Nah. You’re too good-looking. In my experience, good-looking men have no clue what to do in bed. And sorry,honey. I’ve got no interest in teaching you.” With that, she pulled her arm from his fingers and walked away.
Logan watched her rigid little back and the gentle sway of her butt as she left the building and a hot coil of need filled him. He abruptly knew that what he was feeling couldn’t be appeased by anyone else anytime soon. He lifted his hands and cracked his knuckles as if preparing for a fight.
Oh, fuck yeah. Game on.
At work the next afternoon, Lauren’s friend and co-worker, Heidi, invited her out for drinks with the usual group of women. They were going to a pub around the corner where they often went for happy hour. “You look great today. How you manage to pull off that casual look but still appear so professional is beyond me,” Heidi complimented, or complained, Lauren couldn’t tell which.
Lauren continued to stare at the numbers in front of her.
“Thanks, I’m just glad they let us wear jeans. That’s how I pull it off. But I can’t go. Not tonight. I’ve got a couple of hours to put in on the Beaumont project. The figures just came in and I don’t want to be here all weekend so I’m going to get a jump start on them.”
Heidi looked put out.
“You’re going to wrinkle up and your vagina will atrophy if you never use it, you know.”
Lauren glanced up from the document on her screen, not quite believing she’d heard her friend correctly. Seeing the coolly disapproving look on Heidi’s face, Lauren burst into laughter. “That’s ridiculous. You come up with a lot of crap, but that about makes the top of the list.” Lauren turned back to the work she needed to finish but she continued to speak with a distracted tone. “You think I’m menopausal or something? I’m kind of young for that.”
“There are more causes of atrophy than menopause, you know. Lack of estrogen for one. Have you ever heard of the saying ‘use it or lose it’?”
Heidi seemed intent on goading her, but Lauren continued to study the chart on her screen. “I’m serious, if you don’t do it, your estrogen levels will drop.”
“That’s pure bullshit,” Lauren laughed, knowing that she’d be able to get back to work sooner if she’d take the time to humor Heidi for awhile.
Heidi tapped the back of Lauren’s chair and then crossed her arms over her chest. “Seriously, you need to do something. You hardly ever go out with us, and I know you haven’t dated anyone since surfer boy.”
The laughter died from Lauren’s lips. “Yeah, that was a mistake.”
“It’s always a mistake to date a surfer. Nothing good can come of it. But since you come from the Midwest, you couldn’t have known. But now you’ve learned the lesson. You’ll always come second behind the most important thing in their lives. Waves.”
Lauren nodded her head in pained agreement and Heidi continued,
“It’s not like they can keep a job, because they’ll quit at the drop of a hat instead of missing a strong south wind.”
Lauren wasn’t so quick to judge them all as one and keeping half her concentration on her work and the other half on the conversation, she said, “I’m sure there are men who surf who also manage to hold down a job. Just because you and I got burned by a couple of bums, doesn’t mean they’re all bad.”
“Oh, trust me. They’re all bad. You just hit on the key difference. Men who surf are just that; men who surf once in a while. Surfers are the ones who chase waves and don’t give a shit about anything else, not really. Scott and Robert were surfers, capisce?”
“Yep. I see the difference.”
Heidi studied her intently and turned the subject back to where it had been going before she got derailed.
“So how long has it really been since a man has touched you?”
Even though Lauren knew that her friend was asking how long it had been since she’d had sex, she took the question at face value and immediately thought of the man at the coffee shop yesterday.
He’d touched her.
She knew he had because she’d felt it all the way to her toes. Her skin still tingled from where his fingers had locked around her arm. It was a pity he’d been such a douche and was only interested in one thing, because she couldn’t deny that the thought had definitely been in her mind as well.
But unfortunately, she wasn’t a slut.
Damn. Why wasn’t she a slut?
Surely she could have learned to be one for him. That touch. That voice. That tall, hard body incased in boots and blue jeans. Holy hell, if there was any guy who warranted her becoming a slut, it was him. But she’d let him go, and now she had no way of getting in contact with him again, even if she wanted to.
Heidi waved her hand in front of Lauren’s face and snapped her fingers. “Hey. Are you holding out on me? Not telling me something? You’ve been sleeping with somebody?”
“No.” Lauren grimaced and shook her head.
“So what was the look for?”
“Nothing.” Lauren finally gave up and pressed a button to save her work and then swiveled in her chair to fully face her friend. “I met a seriously hot guy yesterday.”
Heidi put her hand to her chest and dramatically acted as if she were about to fall to the floor. Then she sat down on Lauren’s desk and crossed her legs. “Spit it out.”
“There’s nothing to tell. He was hot. We were at the coffee shop, we checked each other out, he followed me to the back of the store and proceeded to try to get me to meet him later for sex.”
“No fucking way!”
“Oh yeah, he did.” Lauren underlined.
“You have all the damn luck! So what was wrong with him?” Heidi questioned.
Lauren’s mouth flattened in lines of a sulk. “You mean, besides the fact that he was an asshole who only wanted to screw me?”
“Well, yeah, besides that. You going to blame him for thinking you’re hot?”
“Well, no,” Lauren was forced to admit.
“Well, what then?”
Lauren stared at her friend.
“Have you ever known me to just sleep with somebody for what . . . the relief of it?”
“Yeah, the relief of it, and no, I haven’t known you to. But I’m telling you.” Heidi narrowed her eyes. “Vaginal atrophy.”
“You shut up. You need to get laid, Lauren.”
“I don’t have his name or number or anything, even if I was as . . . non-discerning as you are.” She gave her friend a look and Heidi only smugly smiled and nodded her head as if she fully agreed.
“Yeah, I tried to put that nicely.”
“Well done, but next time, don’t screw up so badly. If a dude’s as hot as you’re describing, you have to at least get his number, you know!”
“All right. I hear you loud and clear. Maybe you can start giving me lessons on snagging a guy for . . . good times,” Lauren joked, tongue-in-cheek. “But it will have to wait a few weeks, I have to get this project finished or I’ll have no life and I’ll be continually stressed about it,” she hinted, trying to get back to work.
“Blah, blah, blah.” Heidi lifted a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “I know you’re not serious about lessons so I’m not going to get too excited.” Heidi looked put out and then changed the subject. “You know that new guy from Florida is hot for your tail, right?”
“Hot for my tail? Seriously, you’ll never get married if you don’t tone it down.” Lauren studied her friend. “Nico? The guy in sales?” She made a face and shook her head. The guy gave her the creeps. “He already asked me out and I turned him down.”
“I want him if you don’t,” Heidi said.
“Be my guest.”
“And I damn well will get married,” Heidi argued. “Just because I act like a slut in front of my friends doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to do it in front of potential fathers-of-my-future-children.”
Not missing a beat, Lauren said,”That’s good because guys have a built-in slut radar or something, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, I liked you staring. You can stare at me while I kiss you, if you want.”
“Yeah, I know. But they don’t all have a radar–” She stopped as if waiting for Lauren to ask.
Lauren rolled her eyes.”Fine, I’ll bite. Which ones have a radar and which ones don’t?”
Heidi glanced down at her french manicure and wiggled her ass on the desk as if she were settling in for the long haul, ready to impart knowledge of an almost biblical proportion.
“Well, in my experience, your average beta-type male doesn’t have one. Your typical alpha-male, of course, does.”
“And you know this, how?”
“God, you’re really just as sweet and innocent as you come off to be, aren’t you?”
“I’m not innocent, Heidi. That ship sailed a long time ago.”
Heidi shook her head in disbelief. “Could have fooled me, but whatever. Do you want to know or not?”
“Sure. For kicks, I guess. Share your wisdom, oh, slutty one.”
Heidi cut her eyes at Lauren. “Watch it.”
Lauren blew out a breath and looked at the clock on the wall. “I’m sorry. Share your wisdom, Miss Voice-Of-Experience.”
“That’s better. Okay. Beta males don’t have a clue. If you go by the three-date rule, they’ll just think you’re a decent girl. Alphas, on the other hand, know all about the three-date rule and they’ll be instantly suspicious if you sleep with them on the third date.”
“Three date rule?”
“Oh, come on, Lauren. Seriously?”
Was this three-date rule something Lauren had missed in college? Something the sorority girls passed down that she’d never heard about because she wasn’t affiliated with them? “I’m serious. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you telling me there’s an unspoken rule that women can have sex on the third date and still retain their dignity?”
“Yes. And everybody knows that a sign of a slut is if a woman has sex before the third date.”
“I didn’t know that,” Lauren said.
“How could you have missed it?” Heidi fired back.
Lauren shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know. By being in a long-term relationship for most of my college years and never having had a friend quite like you until I came to work here.” Lauren smiled at her friend to soften the blow.
“Well, it’s a good thing you have me now! I won’t let you go astray. So here’s the thing. Like I said, an alpha knows all about the rule, so if you’re dating an alpha, you have to wait longer than three dates. Probably like five or six.”
Lauren was getting extremely bored with this conversation and needed to get back to work but she played along.
“Good to know. What else?”
“Basically, your alpha-male is so experienced and has slept with so many women that he’s a suspicious animal. You have to clean up all signs of prior men in your life and you have to pray that you never run into one of your ‘flings’ while you’re out with him. Because if you do, he’ll peg the guy right off as someone you’ve slept with.”
“So this is what you do?”
“I’m not that slutty, Lauren. I don’t have a trail of past lovers behind me. Besides, my plan is to find a nice beta-boy who won’t know the difference and will worship the ground I walk on.”
“But really, you’re saying that alphas are just out to sleep with a shit-ton of women but betas are your marriage material?” That was actually good information to know and Lauren was going to file it away.
“Pretty much. I’m not saying that alphas don’t want to get married. Someday.
That’s the key word. They want nothing more than to bang a long list of women, probably into their mid-thirties, and then at some point when their own mortality is staring them in the face, they’ll pull a double standard and try to find a good girl to marry. And the bastards can always tell an inexperienced girl from an experienced one. Trust me on this. It’s why you should have fun with alphas, but only set your heart on a beta.”
“But aren’t betas supposed to be boring?”
“Oh, my, no. Not necessarily. A lot of them are super good-looking, but they’re just shy. You find one of those who will treat you right, and it’s marriage time.”
“So how do you tell the difference between a beta and an alpha?”
“The alpha is the one who acts like he’s God’s gift to women.” When her friend said that, Lauren got a shivery feeling in her stomach as Heidi blathered on. “The beta may look as if he is, but he won’t act like it. The alpha is the one who expects sex right off the bat because that’s what he’s used to. An alpha knows what he wants and goes after it, balls to the walls.”
“Like the guy yesterday,” Lauren mumbled under her breath.
“Yeah, probably so. If he flat out tried to get you to go home with him the first time he met you, the dude is an alpha. Stay away from him. Don’t have sex with him, because nothing will come of it and you’ll only get hurt.”
“But I thought you told me that I should be having sex with someone? And that alphas are good for having a good time with. Why not someone like him? I mean, if all I’m after is sex.” Which was still up for debate, but Lauren wanted to know Heidi’s reasoning.
“Because I know you, Lauren. You wouldn’t have sex just for the fun of it. I can advise you to do it, and you can lie to me and tell me you’re going to, but trust me, I know it
ain’t going to happen.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Heidi gave her a sly look.
“Oh, honey. I’m always right about stuff like this.”
On Thursday, mid-morning, Lauren sat her stuff down at her favorite table and lowered herself into the chair, blowing on her coffee. She looked across the room and her eyes clashed violently with the man who sat facing her.
His eyes held hers and refused to release her, and a thousand butterflies went crazy in her stomach, trying to get free. Her hand began to visibly tremble, and she sat the cup down before she spilt her coffee.
The dude wasted not a second, and got up and came across the room. He pulled out the chair opposite her, sank down with his legs spread wide, crossed his arms and put them on the table in front of him, and leaned in toward her.
He stared solidly into her eyes without saying anything, and Lauren began to hyperventilate. When he remained silent, she felt her eyes widen and she finally found her voice. “What are you doing?”
His eyes dropped to her lips before finding her gaze again.
“Not taking ‘no’ for an answer.” A cocky, mirthless smirk twisted his lips and the force of his commanding presence sizzled dangerously from across the table.
Lauren could feel his sexual magnetism, even with the space that separated them. It was so incredibly strong, and undoubtedly one of the reasons why he was so self-confident. A thought hit her:
Her stomach made an odd kind of flip and she was aghast to feel a hot, liquid heat in her midsection, even as silent alarm filled her.
Her mouth opened of its own volition. “I’m not sleeping with you.” Her eyes widened and her fingers gripped the table.
Oh, my God. Had she just said that?
A hint of laughter came from his throat and he raised his brows, his eyes raking over her as if she were the kind of dessert he’d been waiting his whole life for. “All right.”
Still dismayed that she’d voiced her thought out loud, his casual agreement combined with the rapacious glitter coming from his eyes caused immediate suspicion. “You’re okay with that?”
His gaze held a sheen of purpose: his eyes reflected a seductive promise as he waited a second too long before answering.
Liar. He was lying. She knew he was.
But she’d put her cards on the table so now she could play along for a bit. “Okay,” she breathed out. She licked her lips and tried to think of something to say to break the loud, pulsing silence that beat between them. “So, you know my name.” She arched an eyebrow as she thought better of what she’d just said. She was probably giving him too much credit. “You do remember my name?”
His features turned sharp and assessing, but something in them was unfathomable.
“Sure do,” he answered with an air of placid ease that Lauren didn’t buy.
She narrowed her eyes on him with a hint of disbelief.
“What is it?”
He squinted as he looked away for a moment, as if he were trying to figure something out. His fingers tapped on the table. Lauren’s nerves wouldn’t steady as she looked at his long, tanned fingers. They had masculine, blunt nails and appeared tough and callused, as if he worked with them out of doors. He turned a teasing gaze back to her. “Let’s see. Something with an ‘L’. Lisa, Linda, Leanna, something like that.”
Lauren gave him a look that was meant to shoot daggers, but she was afraid she’d failed miserably. He grinned and as quickly as a snake striking, reached across the table and grabbed her hand, as if it was his to take. He laced his fingers through hers until the heat of his palm was searing into hers and he rasped in a heated tone,
From the touch of his hand, she felt electricity course down her entire length and pool between her legs. Her insides felt like liquid marshmallow, and the weakness that overtook her body left her with no words and barely enough oxygen.
“Do you want to know my name?” He asked as he stared at her, his hand holding hers hostage in an unyielding grasp.
She took a shuddering breath as his deep, dark voice slid down her spine and his callused palm against hers made thinking almost impossible.
“I suppose . . . there’s no way out of it.”
He gave her a questioning look as if it was decision time.
“Yeah, there is. You can start screaming at the top of your lungs and I guarantee that the two cops sitting behind you will come running.”
With the full force of his attention zeroed in on her, it took Lauren a moment before his statement sunk in. And when it did, she was discomfited and surprise dazed her.
“Are you serious? Are there two cops behind me?”
“Maybe.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe not.” His fingers tightened around hers. “But you just lost your window to scream.” His thumb softly caressed the back of her hand as his eyes devoured her. “My name’s Logan Crenshaw.”
Logan Crenshaw. A strong, masculine name. It suited him. Lauren let the name sink in and memorized it quickly as if it might have some major importance in her life. “Hi.”
A dizzy current rushed through her as he scrutinized her with a smoldering flame.
“Lauren . . .” His voice trailed off with a question as if he expected her to supply her last name post-haste.
Was she certifiably insane?
And then she made herself acknowledge the question that had been beating through her system since she’d glanced up and seen him a few minutes ago. “Did you know I’d be here today?”
He wore a blank, impassive stare.
“I had a hunch.”
At his answer, Lauren quickly gauged where he might have received his
‘hunch’ and she glanced at the teenage boy behind the counter with a penetrating look. “I should turn him in.”
“Nah. He knows I’m harmless.”
Lauren turned back and glanced pointedly at where Logan still had her hand captured in his, and then into his eyes.
He didn’t pretend to misunderstand her. “Harmless?”
“Sure,” he answered succinctly.
A shiver ran through her.
“May I have my hand back?”
“Absolutely.” His grasp only tightened around her, negating his answer, while he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and tossed it between them. “Just as soon as you key your number into my cell.”
A ribbon of sexual curiosity cast a spell over Lauren.
“You’re holding my right hand.” She glanced down at his smart phone that wasn’t the same as hers. On a normal day, she’d have enough brainpower to figure it out. With him holding her hand?
“And I’m not used to your phone.”
“Okay. Rattle it off,” he offered in a compromise, picking up the phone but still not letting loose of her hand.
Lauren’s nerves quaked inwardly. She still wasn’t sure how she wanted to handle this, and tried to delay him with humor. “Seven-one-three,” she began, reciting one of the more prominent Houston area codes. “Eight-six-seven-five-three-zero-nine,” she said in a perfectly neutral tone.
He immediately began keying the numbers into his phone, but then he abruptly stopped and his eyes zeroed in on hers. She saw a hint of amusement and a glimmer of . . . something else.
“Ahh Lauren honey,” he intoned softly, almost challengingly. “You’re going to pay for that one, sweetheart.”
“You know your eighties dance music?” she asked, somewhat surprised.
“Do you like to dance?” he retaliated swiftly.
“Yeah, I do,” she answered honestly.
“When do you want to go?”
They might only be joking around, but in Lauren’s experience only about a quarter of the men out there cared to dance at all, and finding one wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. “You’re offering to take me dancing?”
His eyes held hers for three beats.
“All I need is your phone number.”
He was probably only leading her on to get her number, but the thought of fast songs leading to slow songs and him holding her intimately was causing her limbs to tremble.
“I’m not so sure I’m ready to go dancing with you quite yet.”
“How about dinner?” He offered so softly and gently that Lauren knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what he wanted her answer to be.
The look he was giving her pierced her soul. She really wanted to go. But she didn’t believe him for a minute that not sleeping with him would be okay. He’d be after her; she knew he would. And the knowledge was inducing not only sexual heat but also a mild sense of panic.
And then she remembered what Heidi said would happen to her if she didn’t start dating again.
She didn’t believe it but she also didn’t want to become a sad old lady with only a bunch of cats for company.
And he was amazingly, agonizingly hot.
Taking a chance, she inhaled deeply and rattled off her phone number.
He reared back in his seat. “Are you serious this time?”
He released her hand, put both hands around his phone, and keyed the number in.
“Dinner tonight?” He swiftly tried to get her to commit.
“I can’t tonight.” Lauren thought of all the hours of work ahead of her. “Are you busy tomorrow night?” she asked, rather daringly, shocking herself a little.
His gaze raked her, appraising her hotly.
“You want to give me a Friday night?”
What the hell did he mean by that?
“Just dinner, right?” she clarified firmly.
“Yeah, I’ll pick you up.”
Now that he had her phone number, his answers were coming so swiftly that Lauren had the impression he was trying to rope and tie her down.
“No, I’ll meet you somewhere.”
He lifted one eyebrow and his expression was impossible to read.
“Don’t trust me?”
Lauren lifted her chin a notch and crossed her arms over her chest.
Any laughter that might have been in his eyes died, and he gave her a wholly approving look.
“Good girl.” He held her gaze captive for several prolonged heartbeats and a warm, fuzzy feeling hit Lauren’s stomach from his blatant approval.
He glanced back down and keyed something into his phone.
Her cell vibrated. She picked it up and read the text there.
Logan Crenshaw. Just his name. And yet simple and powerful. Well, there was no way she could confuse his text with someone else’s, now could she?
Lauren hadn’t told Heidi about her upcoming date because she didn’t want to hear the kind of lecture that she knew she’d be subjected to. So Lauren had no outlet for her nerves and when she walked into the restaurant on the south side of town where she’d agreed to meet Logan, her stomach was tied into knots of stress.
She stood in line at the hostess stand and surreptitiously looked around. Her phone vibrated almost immediately and she lifted it and read the text there.
At the bar.
Her nerves escalated as she realized that even now, she was being watched.
She declined to waste time sending an answer and walked around the line of people until she found the bar area. Almost immediately, she saw his tall figure stand to his feet at the far end of the bar, and she felt the butterflies dance around in her stomach and try to claw their way up her throat.
Jesus, he was good-looking.
The lights were dimmed for the nighttime crowd, and when she got close enough, he reached out and snagged her hand and pulled her into him, until her torso came flush against his with startling impact. Her breath escaped with a silent
and without waiting for her consent, his head dropped down and his mouth covered hers in a kiss so unexpected that the surprise of it hit her full force.
His hand released hers and his arms wrapped around her, gripping her tightly to his large form. Her lips parted slightly from the impact and he took immediate advantage and pushed his tongue inside. Lauren shut her eyes and was swamped with the hottest wave of desire she could ever remember feeling. Every thought in her brain escaped her head and all she could do was hang in his arms as he kissed her as if she already belonged to him. She had a single crazy thought; it was as if they’d been together forever and were meeting after work for the thousandth time. But that was just a weird feeling of déjà vu, and the hot jangle of excited nerves she was feeling told her it was definitely
the first time.
As his tongue swirled slowly and firmly in her mouth, he turned his head and adjusted the way their mouths fit together. He took total control of the kiss, his arms claiming her, steel bands holding her in place. His mastery was absolute, yet she felt no threat from him, only a weird sense of sanctuary that blended with an all-consuming craving for more of his touch. Her hands landed on his biceps to find purchase, and his fingers slid down to her butt and clenched her flesh.
It was as if an electric wire connected them; his touch coiled through her and landed like a heated ache between her thighs. Her legs began to shake and just when she began to forget that they stood in a crowded room full of rowdy people, he lifted his head. She finally remembered to open her eyes, and when she did, she found his look centered wholly on her.
Any lingering smile he might have worn dissolved completely. In fact, his eyes narrowed and his expression was one she couldn’t interpret, but for some reason, he looked none too happy, but maybe she was reading too much into it. He continued to restrain her tightly within the circle of his embrace, and she cleared her throat in agitation. “Hi,” was all she could manage.
His eyes dropped to her lips before slowly lifting again and tangling with hers.
She took a ragged breath as her heart beat viciously in her chest.
“I wasn’t expecting that.”
His eyes shadowed.
“I didn’t plan it.”
Lauren saw the truth of that statement in his eyes, and as they continued to stare at each other, the crowd jostled and Lauren felt a push from behind, and the moment was broken. Logan’s arms clamped protectively around her as he looked over her head. His eyebrows came together and he swiveled her until she was standing away from the crowd and he blocked her with his body.
Lauren was just about to sit on a barstool when the hostess arrived and led them to their table. They were led all the way to the back of the restaurant, and Logan stood beside her while Lauren slid into the booth. She was kept totally off-balance when he slid in next to her instead of taking the seat across from hers.
The hostess gave them two menus and told them that their server would be there soon to take their order.
Logan opened his menu and began to scan it.
“What do you want to drink?”
Lauren glanced at the beer bottle he’d carried with him from the bar. “Corona Light.”
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Lime and extra salt.”
Their server came and Lauren couldn’t help but notice that the girl couldn’t keep her eyes off Logan. And who could blame her?
They placed their orders for food and drink and sat back. Logan didn’t delve into speech right away. He looked away from her, in the opposite direction, as he seemed to study the restaurant, but his hand slid under the table and Lauren almost jumped out of her skin as she felt his beefy hand on her thigh.
He must have felt her jump because he turned and looked down at her.
Lauren unwrapped her utensils from the napkin to occupy her hands.
His expression was hooded as he looked down at her.
“You’re okay with my hand there?”
She exhaled a shaky breath.
“Do I have a choice?”
She didn’t want a choice; she loved his hand there.
His look became thoughtful.
“You need to learn something about me right off the bat. You always have a choice.” His eyes ran over her. “There’s something about you,” he said, as if to himself. He studied her intently with a hooded gaze. “If I push too hard, I want you to promise me right now that you’ll let me know, okay?”
Lauren caught her breath. That sounded serious. Nothing like first date, getting-to-know-you kind of stuff.
“So, you’re okay with my hand there?” He asked again as his fingers spread over her thigh and gripped her in a subtle caress.
She nodded her head.
He looked away again, but his hand stayed plastered to her thigh. Lauren wasn’t sure why he kept turning away from her but she knew instinctively that she still retained one hundred percent of his attention. His hand slid up and down her thigh and his voice was anything but casual as he asked, “If I tell you something, will you believe me and not think I’m just bullshitting you in a lame attempt to get you into bed?”
“Yeah, sure,” Lauren managed, bracing herself for what he might say.
He turned back toward her and his eyes swallowed hers whole. Seconds passed and the prolonged anticipation began to make her blood heat. For a moment Lauren thought he
‘d changed his mind and wasn’t going to say anything, but then he inhaled and said in a roughened voice, “You’ve got to be the sexiest woman I’ve ever come across in my entire
His words registered and a thousand points of light rushed through her system and attacked her with a need so strong that she felt light-headed. Even though she didn’t know him, not really, she somehow believed he was telling her the truth. His eyes never let hers go and she could only respond with the truth, although she could manage little more than a whisper. “You’re pretty sexy yourself.”
His eyes flared and his lips clenched as his hand slid up another inch on her thigh.
“How long do you think we’ll be able to stay out of bed?” he asked in a rough, heated tone, almost as if he was as stunned by the depth of the chemistry between them as she was.
Lauren was saved from having to answer when their drinks arrived. But all she could think about was the question he’d just asked and how she could distract them both from it. She moved her beer bottle forward and reached for the lime and carefully squeezed it into the bottle before dropping the entire wedge inside.
He watched the procedure intently.
“You’re pretty good at that.”
She flashed her eyes at him and tried to regain a little control over the situation.
“It’s a fine art, you know.”
“Mm-hmm.” He took a drink of his own beer and seemed to take his attention from her again, but Lauren felt his concentration never waver.
As he watched from the corner of his eye, Lauren lifted the bottle and took a tiny swipe of the salt with her tongue before lifting the beer and taking a sip.
He spluttered, slammed his bottle to the table and turned to her completely. “You did that on purpose,” he accused.
She laughed and did it again, this time taking a bit more salt on her tongue.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yeah, you did.” He reached out and knocked a grain of salt from her lip.
It was a definite turn-on, watching him watch her.
“It’s the only way I can drink beer. I have to have lots of salt.”
He looked dumbfounded.
“You don’t like beer?”
She turned toward him with the bottle in her hand and took another sip.
“I hate it.”
His face broke into amused creases as he studied her.
“Why did you order it?”
She smiled and tipped her head to the side.
“Because you’re drinking and I want to drink with you, but I can’t.”
“You can’t?” His eyes turned into slits. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lauren shrugged a single shoulder.
“It means I want a margarita, but I’m going to settle on a beer.”
“Why can’t you have a margarita?”
“Because I’m driving and I’m a lightweight. I’ll only drink about half this beer, a few sips will take the edge off but I’ll be able to drive.”
He watched her for the count of three seconds before answering,
“That’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard.”
“But you don’t doubt that I’m telling the truth, right?”
“Oh, I believe you’re telling the truth.” He took another sip of his beer before continuing, “It’s too insane to be anything bu the truth.”
She smiled but remained silent and he continued in a lower voice,
“So, you need to take the edge off?”
He was watching her intently and a sensuous light passed between them.
“Yeah,” she admitted.
His gaze sharpened on her.
When his eyes fell to her breasts, the truth came tumbling from her lips.
“Because you make me nervous?”
He raised his eyes back to her face.
“Was that a statement or a question?” he asked.
She took a deep breath.
“It was a statement; you make me nervous.”
His expression turned serious, his gaze riveted on her as a look came down over his countenance that she couldn’t identify. “Sweetheart, if it makes you feel any better, you scare the shit out of me.”
Lauren’s heart jolted and she felt a tingling in the pit of her stomach. She tried to form words but she couldn’t and just then, Logan’s eyes were forced to leave hers as their food arrived.
They ate in a silence, almost companionable but not quite, as a current of electricity circled over them and kept her on edge.
He questioned her between bites. “How old are you?”
“Where you from? You’re not from Texas.”
“Ohio.” She studied the brackets around his mouth. “How old are you?”
He sent her a look and she asked,
“What? You asked me first.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an architect.”
“Really? That sounds interesting. Incredibly hard, but interesting.”
“I like it,” he answered succinctly. “I’m in the process of opening up my own firm. What do you do?”
Her mouth twisted.
“I sit in a cubicle all day and look at numbers.”
“An accountant of some kind?”
“Yeah, sort of. I do some accounting, but my job title is financial analyst. And it’s not interesting. It’s extremely tedious and boring.”
“Why do you do it?” he questioned.
“I got my bachelor’s in finance. Don’t ask me why. I was good at math and didn’t know what I wanted to do. But it’s a good job and it pays the bills.”
His eyes traveled over her face and searched her expression.
“Can’t ask for more than that, I suppose.”
Lauren took the last bite she could possibly manage and set her fork down. She recognized a maddening hint of arrogance in his questions, and yet it didn’t upset her. But it certainly kept her on her toes. He was extremely attractive; and she was in no way blind to that attraction.
After a few moments he finished his meal as well and washed it down with half of the iced water that sat in front of him.
The server came and with precise, economical movements, cleared the table, left the bill and then turned and walked away. As Logan picked up the check, Lauren made a move for her purse.
He raised a single eyebrow and annoyance crossed his features.
“Don’t do that.”
“Why not?” She asked as casually as she could manage.
“I asked you out,” he replied succinctly.
“Does that mean if I ask you out, you’ll let me pay?” she enquired innocently.
Lauren wasn’t trying to argue; she was just curious. “Why not?”
“What are you expecting me to say here, Lauren? Me, Tarzan . . . you Jane?”
Her heart started a heavy beat. Was it from apprehension or excitement?
Oh, excitement, definitely. “Is that the way you feel?” she questioned.
“You don’t really want to know how I feel,” he said off-handedly as he placed a large denomination note in the folder and slid to his feet.
A quiver of dangerous warmth hit her belly at his ominous assertion.
He held his hand out to her and Lauren took it, standing shakily to her feet.
Ignoring her question as if the subject was closed, he put one arm around her and tipped her chin up with the other. “Are you going out with me tomorrow night?”
A hot rush of delirium mingled with a bit of relief infiltrated her system.
“Okay,” she agreed. She tried not to smile but she couldn’t control the slight lift of her lips.
His eyes roved over her and lazily appraised her, even as his arm tightened around her waist.
“I’ll pick you up so you can have a margarita.”
“All right,” she agreed again. With his arm like a steel band around her waist and his heady, masculine scent swirling around her senses, Lauren had the insane thought that she might agree to anything he suggested. Thank God he wasn’t a scientist or an astronaut or something crazy like that; she could just see herself blithely agreeing to a one-way mission to colonize Mars with the intent of propagating the species as his mate.
Thankfully, he couldn’t read her thoughts or tell how fast her pulse was racing. He dropped an abbreviated kiss on her lips and walked her out of the restaurant. They strolled hand in hand toward her car and when she stopped he asked, “Is this it?”
He looked at her four-door sedan and then around the darkened parking lot with a frown.
“Why did you park so far back here?”
“I had no choice. I was lucky to get this spot.”
“My fault. We should have met earlier.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Although he wasn’t saying it was the darkness that was upsetting him, Lauren could read between the lines. “It was daylight when I got here . . . and now you’re here. So, I’m okay.”
Without missing a beat, he swung her around until her back hit the driver’s side door and he was caging her in with his arms. “Yeah, now I’m here.” His head swooped down, and before Lauren could take a breath, he was kissing her again. She was absolutely powerless to resist as he plunged his tongue into her mouth and began stroking her. If she’d thought his kiss in the restaurant had been amazing, she had a lot to learn. With the dark night and no people around them, he kissed her as if he meant it.
A deep need inundated her and she lifted her arms and slid her fingers through his hair, holding on as he searched her mouth. He shifted his body against hers, and a sexual urgency hit her that screamed through her bloodstream and started a whirling in her head. His kiss held a persuasive hunger, causing her pulse to beat with the need to give him anything he wanted. With his body pressed against hers, Lauren was aware when he hardened with arousal and in that moment, the chemistry between them exploded and the embrace went into overdrive.
His kiss became biting; he nipped at her tongue and lips with his teeth before plunging in even deeper. He growled low in his throat and if he hadn’t held her up, Lauren knew that her legs were so shaky that she would have fallen to the ground. She felt a heady sensation of shock and ecstasy, and it registered that the forceful domination of his kiss was unlike anything she’d ever experienced in her life.
Abruptly, he lifted his mouth from hers and when she opened her eyes, he was staring down at her with a dark look that was impenetrable. He was silent, and a need to lighten the tense, sexual atmosphere came over her. She licked her lips and tasted the residual hint of him; it didn’t help to calm her nerves as she tried to get her senses into order.
She removed her hands from his hair but he refused to release her. She cleared her throat and tried again to shift things back to normal.
If they had a normal. “I know you lied yesterday,” she challenged softly, leaning against him.
His eyes impaled hers and his brows narrowed in question.
She tried to smile to show she was only teasing, but she was very much afraid that she failed.
“It won’t be okay if I don’t sleep with you.”
He never smiled as she’d meant him to. His expression became hooded and when he finally replied, his voice was so deep and gravelly that she was lacerated by both his tone and his words.
“No, it won’t be okay.”
His hands tightened around her and she felt the steel in both his body and his words. “I want to fuck you more than I want to breathe and I’ll have your little ass naked inside of a week.”
The next night, when Lauren’s doorbell rang a full fifteen minutes earlier than she expected, she almost had a heart attack. Her hair and nails and make-up were done, but she wasn’t dressed. What he’d said to her the previous evening, right before he’d put her in her car, blared through her brain every five seconds.
She ran to the front door in her bra and panties and looked through the peephole.
Guys were supposed to be late, not early. “I’m not ready yet.” she called through the door.
“That’s fine, I’ll wait. Open the door.”
That deep voice penetrated both the door and her system and slid down to make a hot pulse between her thighs.
“I’m not dressed yet,” she managed weakly.
“So I’ll close my eyes and you can lead me to a chair and I’ll sit until you’re ready.”
He had an answer for everything. “Okay, just a sec. Let me grab a robe.” Lauren hurried away and grabbed her old purple robe. It was silky and cool and came to mid-thigh, but it covered her completely where she needed to be covered. She tied the sash and went back to the door. “I’m going to open the door. Close your eyes.”
“Yep,” he acknowledged shortly.
When she opened the door, his eyes were closed as requested. She picked up his hand and led him into the living room and then pushed against his chest, indicating the chair where he should sit. He didn’t so much as budge. “There’s a chair behind you,” she hinted.
She looked up and found his eyes opened and focused hotly on her. Their heights were disparate; he towered over her and she felt incredibly small and feminine next to him. She sucked in a breath and tried to remember that she was completely covered up.
“You have a nice home,” he drawled as if he couldn’t care less, without glancing away from her for even a second.
“You didn’t even look around,” she admonished quietly.
“I’m looking.” His hands landed on her sides and his fingers sank tightly into her hipbones, the silk of her robe sliding sensuously against her skin as it gave under the strength of his touch.
The feeling was like an electric charge between them and it slammed down to her pelvis in a heated rush.
“Oh, shit,” she breathed out heavily, knowing immediately that she was in trouble.
“Oh, shit is right,”
he snarled in answer as he picked her up by the hips and walked forward until her back hit the wall.
She attempted to unfreeze her last few remaining brain cells and divert him from his goal.
“You have a thing about walls, don’t you?”
“Only with you.” He frowned as if puzzled, but it didn’t detract him in the least.
He completely controlled her movements with his torso. Slowly, he let her slide down until she came to an abbreviated stop, her legs forked over a muscular thigh.
The contact hit her with a force of lust that panicked her.
she mumbled again, glancing down between them for a heartbeat of a second.
He sounded as dazed as she felt and she lifted her eyes to his. As he looked down into her upturned face, the very second their eyes clashed, he lifted a hand and encapsulated her breast.
She gasped and felt the flood of heat that dampened her panties. Mortified color spread over her cheekbones as she realized he could probably feel her wetness on his thigh.
They stared at each other for two seconds while her heat penetrated his blue jeans, and with a hissing sound of pure reverence, he muttered,
and raked his thumb over her nipple right before his head lowered and his mouth sank over hers. Lights began flashing in her head, butterflies swirled in her stomach, and all Lauren could do was hang in the circle of his arms as he all but ravished her mouth with his tongue.
As he pushed in and out of her mouth, his hand quickly slid down and untied the sash at her waist. He pushed one side of the robe out of his way, and his hand came back to her breast, now covered only by the silk of her bra. His palm engulfed her completely, his hand squeezed and a beguiling sexual need took over her entire body.
Even as he grasped her breast with uncompromising demand, he lifted his head again and caught her eyes. He ran his gaze over her features only long enough to rasp out,
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, you’re unbelievable.”
And then his mouth began to fall again.
It was the wake-up call that Lauren needed, and she stiffened her body and turned her head away.
“No,” she panted.
His hand left her breast, snaked up to her chin and pulled her face back to his again.
Lauren felt a dangerous tension take hold of his body and the steel that corded his muscles.
This was it. He was either a good guy, or he wasn’t. She took a deep breath and shook her head.
He scowled and irritated displeasure came over his features, but he made no move to grab her again.
“Why the hell not?”
“I’m not sleeping with you yet,” she said as firmly as she could manage with his torso plastered against hers and her wet core rubbing against his thigh.
“Are you playing some ridiculous game with me?” he accused in a menacing voice.
Laure’s nerves shifted restlessly. She frowned and was about to deny it but then she actually thought about the question. Her eyes closed momentarily in defeat before she admitted,
“Crap. Evidently, I am.”
He looked completely floored by her response and it was obvious to Lauren that he was taken aback by her honesty.
“Why?” he asked in a slightly more gentle tone.
She took a breath.
“Two reasons.” He wasn’t going to be happy, but she was going to be as honest with him as she could be, and if he didn’t like it . . .oh, well. “One . . . apparently there’s this three-date rule that says if I sleep with you before the third date, then I’m a slut. And two . . . I’m not a slut.” At his stunned look, she asked, “Have you heard of it?”
He had the gall to laugh.
Lauren began to wiggle away from him and was a bit surprised that he let her get away. As she tied her sash, he asked,
“Apparently? Are you telling me you’re just now finding out about it?”
She pulled more tightly on the sash.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“How am I only now becoming aware of it?” At his quick nod, she continued, “I have a friend from work, Heidi, she’s trying to give me slut lessons–”
“Don’t get your hopes up. It’s her dream, not mine, and it isn’t going to happen.” Lauren took two steps toward the bedroom door on trembling limbs, trying to escape from not only him, but also the conversation. “Can you sit there until I’m ready?” She pointed to the chair he’d refused to sit in earlier.
He lifted his hands in the air as if he’d thrown in the towel, and moved to plop his large body down on her Queen Anne armchair. She winced as she heard the wood creak under his weight. “I’ll be out in five minutes.”
“Don’t rush, you just shot my entire evening to hell.”
Lauren turned and gave him a fulminating look that she couldn’t control.
“That was rude. If you only want to take me out for one thing–”
“Don’t start.” He indicated her bedroom by pointing. “Get your little butt in there and get dressed.”
Her little butt?
Lauren stilled completely and crossed her arms over her chest. “Logan–”
He came to his feet, stood to his full height and her words stopped at the look on his face.
“We can play this a couple of ways, sweetheart.” He stood nonchalantly, but Lauren was supremely aware that there was nothing nonchalant about his words or his actions. “You can be a good little girl and go on in there and get dressed . . . or . . . ” He clamped his bottom lip between gritted teeth as he looked her up and down. “Or, you can keep standing there, you can keep throwing down that gauntlet, and we’ll see just how fast I can pick it up and spank your naked ass with it.” He lifted one deadly serious eyebrow. “Can you guess which one I want you to choose?”
Disbelief mixed with a dangerous coil of heat hit Lauren. He wasn’t serious, was he? She didn’t think he’d actually try to spank her; he was exaggerating for effect. Because that was just fifty shades of bullshit. Nobody, but nobody, was ever going to ride all over her like that. But the sexual threat, in whatever form he’d meant it, was there. Put right out in front of her. Sexual heat from his challenge lanced her core. The guy was so freakin’ intense, but he was also the sexiest guy she’d ever met in her entire life. She breathed in deeply, stood there for two more seconds wondering what in the shit she was getting into and berating herself for it, and then she turned and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her.
This time he took her to a crowded Mexican restaurant. There was one thing she was going to give him credit for. He’d simply asked her if Mexican food was all right. She’d been on more than a few dates in her life, and she absolutely hated it when a guy had no plan, or expected her to always be the one to say where they were going or to come up with something to do. But Logan wasn’t like that and she admitted to herself that she appreciated that about him.
Once again, she found herself sitting in a booth beside him instead of across from him.
He ordered two margaritas and they sat perusing the menus while they waited for their drinks to be delivered.
Although she gave him credit for choosing the restaurant, Lauren silently fumed about his threatening words before they’d left her apartment.
The guy was worse than alpha. He was worse than the descriptions that Heidi had supplied. He was worse than what she’d read when she’d Googled ‘alpha-male’.
She wanted to sleep with him worse than anything she’d ever wanted before in her life. She was ashamed to admit that. Thank God she only had to admit it to herself and no one else.
“Tell me about the slut lessons,” he ordered, taking her by surprise.
She shrugged her shoulders and made a stab at nonchalance.
“There’s really nothing to tell. I’m not actually taking lessons. I’m pretty sure if I wanted to be a slut, then I could figure it out for myself.” She couldn’t help the cool tone of her voice; this guy would walk all over her if she let him.
He let out a grunt. He actually grunted.
Lauren lowered her head so he couldn’t see her roll her eyes.
What the hell was she doing here?
“So this Heidi chick was just imparting her wisdom?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” she answered neutrally.
He let out a mirthless laugh.
“You couldn’t be a slut if you tried.”
Lauren turned to look at him, but the server came up just then and they had to place their orders. After the young man had turned and left, Lauren asked,
“Why do you say that?”
“About not being able to be a slut?” He turned in his seat to look at her and with a finger under her chin, lifted her face so he could better study her. The steel in his spine seemed to relax a degree and his eyes softened. “You’re too sweet,” he rasped from deep in his throat.
She refused to allow the tingle in her belly go any farther.
“I’m not sweet.” Why would she take offense at that?
He lifted his brows.
“Yeah, I’m fairly certain you are.”
“How many guys have you slept with?” he asked in a bored tone of voice.
Lauren couldn’t get enough oxygen. “That’s none of your business.”
He shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t care, but for whatever reason, Lauren wasn’t buying it.
“You didn’t know about the three-date rule,” he said.
“So what the hell does that matter?” she questioned, not seeing his point, suddenly taking offense at everything that came from his mouth.
He didn’t get upset at her tone, his manner only turned warmer. “Don’t get mad at me, sweetheart. I’m just calling it as I see it.”
“I can be a slut if I want to.”
God, was that the stupidest thing she’d ever said?
He took a drink of his margarita and then slowly answered her.
“Okay, whatever. You can practice with me if you want to.”
“Yeah, right,” she smirked.
He turned back toward her and his glance captured hers.
“You don’t think I could teach you a few things?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a withering stare.
“Oh, I imagine.”
He looked at her as if they were engaged in a game of Chess and he was about to capture her queen.
“Why would that be, sweetheart?”
She didn’t take the time to think about her rebuttal. “Because you’re dripping with experience and I’m not.”
He reached across and grasped her cheek and forced her to look into his eyes.
His gaze ran to her lips and then back again. “I close my case.” He turned away and looked out over the restaurant and just about that time, the waiter came and delivered their food.
They sparred throughout the entire meal. She goaded him, he goaded her back and the sexual chemistry between them only grew as the night wore on.
They drove back to her apartment, and as he began walking her upstairs, her nerves were so shot that she stumbled and almost tripped. He caught her by the arm and steadied her, turning her so that she leaned against him.
“Yeah,” she said, embarrassed.
“Why do you wear those goddamn shoes so high? You’re only going to hurt yourself.”
She was standing so close to him that his scent went to her head. She’d never met a more arrogant man in her life, and she hated herself for how fast her pulse was racing. She knew he’d just said something to her that demanded a rebuttal, but for the life of her she couldn’t get her brain to function.
He smiled again, that same smile he’d shot at her the first time she’d met him, when he’d cornered her at the back of the coffee shop. His eyes ran over her and Lauren felt it all the way to her soul. “You are sweet, Lauren,” he said, not letting the conversation from the restaurant completely die. “I don’t give a shit what you say.”
His statement sounded so honest that currents of pleasure rushed through her at the compliment and she gave up her belligerence for the moment.
“If . . . if you say so.”
“I say so.” He lowered his head to her ear and his words rattled from his throat. “Let me come upstairs with you and strip you naked. You know we both want it.”
She shook her head and he pressed a single kiss on her lips before leaning his forehead down on hers in temporary defeat.
“Okay. So, tomorrow night?”
The relief she felt again startled her. She couldn’t deny it to herself. He intrigued her and she wanted to keep seeing him, even if they did makes sparks of anger fly off each other. “You want to go out again tomorrow night? You sure?”
A glimmer of a smile tilted his lips and something flickered in his eyes.
“Okay,” she replied simply.
His expression hardened.
“Third date. Tomorrow night, I get you butt-assed naked.”
She regarded him with a searching look as her nerves tangled in her throat.
“Not . . . not necessarily.”
He ignored that and with a casualness that she didn’t quite believe, he took her hand and walked her up to her front door where he proceeded to give her a mind-blowing kiss.
She hung in the circle of his arms, and when it was over, he lifted his head and stared down at her.
“Yeah, it’s necessary. I’m taking you to bed tomorrow night and don’t for one second think that it’s going to be otherwise, understand?”
He stood still as if waiting for her to agree, and with her heart beating a crazy tattoo inside her chest, she unlocked the door, twisted the doorknob and escaped inside her apartment.
Lauren opened her door the next night ready to walk out and not be cornered. With his mandate from the previous night ringing in her ears all day, her plan was to outmaneuver him. She’d been fully ready an hour before the designated time, just to be sure, and when she opened her door, she had her bag over her shoulder and her keys in her hand, ready to lock the door behind them.
But Logan completely out-played her.
He had Chinese takeout in a bag and as she opened the door, he pushed it toward her and she automatically took it before she realized her mistake. He walked over the threshold, and she stepped back as he slammed the door shut with a booted foot. She watched him as if in a daze as he turned and bolted the door and then even locked it with the chain for good measure.
He turned back to face her, leaned against the door and folded his arms over his chest.
How the hell had he done that?
With her heartbeat in overdrive, she took the two small steps that brought her to the kitchen counter and dropped the bag down and then turned to face him, wanting to keep him in her line of sight.
He said not a single word, but the look on his face was enough to make her begin hyperventilating. He wore his favored jeans and tonight he had on a tight, black t-shirt that molded his pecs and sent spasms of heat down her spine.
She watched him warily as he continued to lean back and when he pushed off the door and took one step toward her, she knew her face reflected her alarm.
She was completely speechless; she knew for a fact that he could tell that she was quaking on the inside. A war of emotions raging within, she swallowed and ran her damp palms down the silk of her dress.
As the blood pumped heavily through her veins, she tried to decide what to do. He took another slow step forward that felt as if he were stalking her. His gaze never left hers.
“It’s Sunday,” he stated, as if she was supposed to know what that meant.
“Yes,” she agreed mildly, disoriented by that statement but determined to continue breathing evenly.
“Can you count to three?” he asked in a slightly ominous voice that sent unwanted ripples of arousal down her spine.
She was nervous and more than a bit disturbed. Turned on and a tiny bit intimidated. A gamut of perplexing emotions ran through her as he stood just opposite of her, staring down at her and reducing the thoughts in her head to drivel. She was silent, not about to agree to anything he might be intimating, no matter the ribbon of heat that was settling in her midsection.
He took the last step that brought him into her personal space. Reaching out, he pulled the strap from her shoulder and dropped her purse to the floor at her side. He dropped his hands down and encircled each of her wrists within the grasp of his fingers. “Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” he enunciated clearly as he began walking her backwards, until her spine hit the same wall he’d had her against the night before. He lifted her arms above her head and as her breath quickened and began to come in raspy gasps, he gripped both of her wrists in one strong hand and brought the other down to lift her chin.
He pressed his torso fully into hers and she was immediately, intimately introduced to his erection, hot and hard, pushing against her stomach. His eyes clashed and held hers.
“Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” he repeated. “One, two, three,” he continued, counting slowly and evenly.
Lauren was sinking under his spell faster than she could control. Sexual awareness, brought about by the hard iron of his muscles and the steel of his arousal made thinking impossible.
“One, two, three,” she whispered, parroting him, only aware at this point of his corded, sinewy strength pressing against her and the intoxicated need that enticed her to submit.
His hand slid from her chin to the row of buttons down her dress and released them in seconds. He let go of her hands only briefly, and with a strength and determination that totally disarmed her, stripped her of her dress. She found herself standing in her bra and panties and stilettos, with her dress tossed down at her feet. She sucked in a stunned breath, and he grabbed her hands again, holding them rigid above her head.
“One date, two dates, three dates, mine.”
His voice was guttural, and as his mouth closed over hers, Lauren shut her eyes and gave in to what they both wanted.
Logan felt her relax against the wall, and his head almost exploded with relief. She was driving him completely insane; he’d never wanted a woman the way he wanted this one. He’d done nothing but think about her since the first moment he’d seen her. She was affecting his sleep and his work and his ability to do anything else. She was the epitome of femininity and she was fucking with his brain and he knew that there was no way he could rest until he’d had her.
He pushed his tongue inside her mouth, and all he could think about was getting his cock into her wet, silky heat. She was trembling against him, trying to breathe, and he tried to go easy on her, but he couldn’t resist dominating her with his mouth.
He felt a rush of fire; he let her hands go and wrapped his arm around her waist and lifted her, arching her back, trying to align their pelvises together. Her hands fell to his shoulders and he continued to kiss her as he reached down and twisted the snap between her breasts. He felt the material give away, and completely fascinated, he tore his mouth free so that he could see what he’d unwrapped.
Her breasts were not quite medium-sized, soft and white, tipped with pink nipples that were already hardened into tight little buds.
Lust seized him by the throat and he almost lost it that very instant.
He lifted her up, and dropped his mouth down to enclose a breast. He began sucking and licking, and took the time only to hoist her up and wrap her legs around his waist. Not letting go of the breast he’d captured, he began walking into her bedroom, intent on his mission.
The bed was in the center of the room, and he dropped her to the middle and followed her down. He came over her, spreading her thighs with his knee and put his mouth back to her breast. She began whimpering, moaning in her throat, and no matter how much he tried to get a grip and go slow, he couldn’t. His hand slid purposely to the juncture of her thighs, and feeling her damp underwear, he knew she was with him. He wasted no time in stripping the material down her legs.
His hand returned in an instant, and when he pressed his palm tightly against her, she almost came off the bed.
He almost came in his pants.
She began clawing at his shirt, and he stopped and ripped it over his head. She was naked except for her shoes, and seeing her like that almost did him in. Her feminine scent was heady, utterly addictive to the primal being raging within him. He had only one goal.
He leaned in and kissed her again, his tongue sinking into her mouth, his finger sinking into the hot pink flesh between her thighs.
They groaned in unison. His world was about to come apart, and he needed to get into her first.
He stood up and shucked his boots, jeans and underwear and within two seconds, he was back with her.
He put his hand back between her legs, and played with her clit until she was moving in a way that had the sweat breaking out on his brow. She was ready. He was ready. They were both going to come now if he didn’t get inside of her.
Moving over her, he spread her legs and came between them, his erection ready to impale her. He grabbed her hands and lifted them over her head and her eyes flew open. Her attention was riveted on him while she panted in and out.
“Did you put a condom on?” she questioned while she sucked in oxygen.
Son-of-a-bitch, he’d forgotten.
He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten.
He pulled away and dug one from the pocket of his jeans and sheathed himself within seconds. He came back over her and this time, he slid his hands under her butt and lifted her up.
He held her sweet, blue eyes with his gaze and brought the head of his penis to her opening.
“Okay,” she panted.
He began pushing inside, but she was narrow and he had to go slow. Intense pleasure screamed down his spine from the constricting tightness surrounded his cock. He continued his relentless push until he was buried all the way in. His brain began screaming in triumph.
Lauren, fuck yeah, Lauren. He had her now.
A barrage of emotions hit Lauren from all sides. She was excited, beyond excited. Dating him, let alone sleeping with him, was so new that she was feeling not only sexual excitement, but also butterflies in her belly all at the same time. He smelled so awesome, he felt so incredible as he stretched her. Her mind spun out of control as pleasure, hot and intense and stronger than anything she’d ever felt before, hit her in a giant wave.
She finally remembered to breathe and inhaled sharply at the same time as he began pumping. He stopped and adjusted their positions as he took his hands out from beneath her. He leaned on one hand as he ran the other down her thigh and lifted it at the knee and brought it over his arm. She sucked in a startled breath as the move opened her wider and more intimately to him. Her eyes flew open and she found him staring down at her with an almost frenzied look. His nostrils flared as he took in a ragged lungful of oxygen.
He took a stroke and intense pleasure lashed her. She cried out.
His lips tightened and he bared his teeth as he gritted out,
“That was good?” His lips flattened. “Or that hurt?” Lauren looked into his face and saw pure lust mixed with concern.
“G-good,” she stammered, trying to catch her breath.
He took another stroke and she cried out again.
“Oh, yeah, good,” he hissed out.
A multitude of feelings inundated her as she hung on for dear life. The sexual excitement was without question, but underneath all that, just below the surface, Lauren was experiencing a plethora of mind-blowing sensations. He was amazing, his touch on her skin was amazing.
He held her in a tight vise that told of his involvement in the moment, that told of his total involvement in her. His arms, his eyes, his body as he hung over her smoldered with heat. His attention was all-consuming, inflexible as he all but held her captured beneath him with ruthless, commanding intent.
But there was more to it than the raw, almost feral sexual encounter. Below his dominant touch, below the uncontested duel that raged between them, she felt something else . . . the way he sucked in his breath, the way his eyes flared, the way his hands ran over her skin, there was almost . . . adoration there. Adoration and. . . care. As he held her so tightly, she felt as if there was a buffer between her and the rest of the world. As if she was safe in his arms and she could let go and enjoy the sensations he was inducing within her, because he’d take care of her.
It was a heady, dangerous combination to her senses. His primal, aggressive force, combined with the sense of refuge she was feeling in his embrace was knocking her off-center.
She felt a shiver of response run through her at the stroke of his hand and suddenly her long-denied sexuality forced every thought from her head. The only thing left was the sexual being he’d awakened from dormant sleep.
He found a steady rhythm, and within seconds, her womb began tightening and fireworks began exploding in her head. She tried to delay it, but she couldn’t. She came hard and fast and had just enough snap to know that he was following her over the edge.
Lauren closed her eyes but he didn’t give her much time to recover. He slid from her body and went to her bathroom. In a daze, she heard running water coming from the sink. He came back to the bed and made an attempt to put a warm washcloth between her thighs.
Lauren jerked away from him in delayed embarrassment and pulled back the covers and dove under them.
He stood by the side of the bed with a look on his face and a raging hard-on.
She stared at it, confused, her eyes wide.
“Didn’t you . . . didn’t you–”
“Didn’t I what?” he asked.
“Didn’t you . . . come?”
His expression filled with amusement.
“Yeah. The evidence is in the condom in the trashcan. Want to see it?”
She began shaking her head, but her eyes remained glued to his erection as the oxygen stuck in her throat.
He took the washcloth back to the bathroom and came back to stand over the bed again. Lauren watched him from under the sheet.
He put one knee on the bed and then made a move to pull back the covers. He looked as if he had every intention of having another bout of sex, but Lauren didn’t think she was ready for that quite yet and held on tightly to the sheet. What she’d experienced already had her brain fried like an egg, and above all else, she desperately needed to put a small amount of distance between them.
Even if that distance was only comprised of some clothes on her body and getting away from the bedroom.
She scooted up on the bed until her back was against the headboard and she held the sheet all the way up to her chin. His eyes narrowed on her and he moved onto the bed fully, up on his knees, and stared down at her. “What gives, sweetheart?” he asked as he ran a single finger on top of the sheet, from her knee to the valley between her breasts.
She shook her head,
“Let me have the sheet.” His hand fisted around the edge of the cover.
She shook her head again.
“Are we playing a little game here? You want me to play along?”
Her eyes flared and her breath became lodged in her throat.
“No,” she managed. “No game. I just n-need a little time, okay?”
“How much time?” His muscles tensed and his gaze became pointed.
“More than you need, by all evidence.”
He smiled at that answer and continued to watch her and then reached for her once again. Lauren sucked in a breath and reared back from him.
“You remember what you t-told me?”
“What was that?” he asked, his eyes going down to the breasts she was keeping hidden behind the sheet.
“You told me to tell you . . . if you were pushing too hard.” She licked her lips and let out a controlled breath. “You’re pushing too hard.”
At her words, his eyes found hers again and something flared in them that she couldn’t interpret. He nodded swiftly, only once.
She attempted to move them along and the situation out of the bedroom.
“That was Chinese take-out, right?” she asked.
“I’m hungry,” she said simply and untruthfully.
For a prolonged moment he only stared at her, and Lauren was very much afraid he was going to pounce on her again. But he didn’t. He merely rose from the bed in splendid nudity and held out his hand to her. “Well, then, by all means, let’s eat.”
Lauren knew her face was flushed red; she could feel it. She stayed under the covers and made no move to take his hand.
“No, that’s okay. You go on and get dressed and I’ll be in there in a minute.”
“I just saw you completely and totally naked, Lauren. And I gotta tell you, I approve, one hundred percent. You really don’t have anything to hide from me.” He reached down and snagged his jeans and pulled them over his hips, sans underwear, Lauren noticed.
Geez. She approved of his naked body a hundred percent as well. But then, he was awesome naked. Tall, muscular, tanned, there really wasn’t a single aspect of him that wasn’t perfect. Well, at least physically. His total arrogance was another matter entirely.
But evidently, he planned on going easy on her because all he did was send her a searing look and then he walked from the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind him.
Logan forced himself to walk from her bedroom and close the door. Did he want to? Hell, no. He wanted to stay and sink inside of her again, and short of that, he wanted to stand back and watch as she crawled out from underneath that damn sheet she’d hidden beneath. He wanted to see what she looked like naked, when she was standing. He wanted to span her waist with his hands and see his thumbs pressing against her abdomen. He wanted to see exactly how wide or how narrow her hips were in proportion to her breasts. He wanted to see the line of her naked collarbone and he wanted to see the hollow of her throat.
Most of all, he wanted the right to stand there and watch her, he wanted an invisible chain that bound her to him so she couldn’t get away from him as easily as she’d just done, and he wanted the satisfaction of knowing that she wanted that just as much as he did.
He scrubbed his hand over his face in agitation when he realized the direction of his thoughts. He needed to get a fucking grip and slow the fuck down or he was going to send her running.
And damned if he would allow that to happen.
She was too perfect, too sexy, too sweet, just as he’d told her. And he hadn’t had enough of her yet. Not even close. He could still taste her on his tongue, and he wanted more. He could still feel his hands wrapped around her wrists, and he wanted more. He could remember the exact moment she’d exploded in spasms around him, and he wanted more.
Yeah, he needed to get a grip and slow the fuck down before he scared her off. He definitely needed to tone it down a notch or two, because there wasn’t any way in hell she was going to get away from him this quickly.
He’d play her game for awhile, let her think she was in control of this thing between them, because it wouldn’t help his case a damn bit for her to know how goddamn obsessed he was already. He was feeling a hot, possessive streak that he’d never felt for another woman, an aggressive need to mark her as his territory.
He sucked in oxygen and blew it out slowly. Shit yeah, he needed to calm the fuck down. Not only would it scare the shit out of her, it was beginning to scare the shit out of him.
An hour later, they’d eaten together, mostly in silence, and Lauren moved around the compact kitchen cleaning up the mess. She glanced at Logan, feeling a subtle ache between her legs. Not so much of a sexual need, but an actual ache from where he’d been just a little over an hour ago. Her inner muscles had been stretched and exercised, and Lauren was feeling the effects already.
As she leaned over the counter, scrubbing at an invisible spot, her mind working feverishly, Logan came up behind her and she felt the hair pulled from her neck and his hot mouth on her skin.
Her hand stilled as a wave of heat transmitted itself from his body to hers.
She sucked in a breath as she felt his teeth sink into her skin as his hands reached around and enclosed her breasts.
She jerked in his arms and moaned softly. He tweaked her already tender nipples, and his mouth on her neck, just short of pain, was inducing a flood of moisture between her thighs that begged her to let him have his way in this. Lauren tried to capture a thought, any thought, but couldn’t and only fell into the pleasure that his embrace induced.
After the episode in the bedroom, she’d dressed in t-shirt and shorts, and now, she felt him drag her shorts and underwear down her legs. There was no need for him to seduce her; she was way beyond that.
Her clothes pooled around her ankles, and when he instructed her to step out of them, she did as he said without question.
She heard his zipper come undone, and the rustle of a condom, and within seconds, he was pushing into her from behind. He held her hips in his hands, and instantaneously, she flooded with wet heat. Seconds after he bottomed out within her, she contracted around him, and he groaned, and then began sliding in and out in a rhythm that sent ecstasy shooting through her body.
It took only a minute of his hard strokes, and Lauren felt the wave sweep over her and she began coming. His teeth bit into her neck harder, and as his hands stilled on her hips and he held her grasped to him in a merciless grip, Lauren knew that they were coming together.
Fifteen minutes later, Lauren sat on the sofa in a daze. She’d cleaned up quickly in her small bathroom, and then moved out of his way so that he could do the same.
She picked up the remote while she waited for him, and absently began surfing through the channels, paying absolutely not a whit of attention to what was playing. Her heart was beating loudly in her ears, and no matter how much she tried to focus, she couldn’t believe that they’d had sex so soon after meeting each other, and to top it off, twice within a matter of an hour or so.
And not only that . . . she had the feeling that she hadn’t been just another notch on his proverbial bedpost. She wasn’t worried that he’d never want to see her again. In fact, it was just the opposite. She was getting the vibe that after what they’d done together, his arrogance and his alpha tendencies were only going to grow.
He came to stand in the threshold between her bedroom and the living room, and as he remained there in silence, Lauren had no choice but to glance up. She found his expression foreboding as he studied her.
The look on his face put her back up. “What’s wrong? What did I do?”
He frowned at her and shook his head.
“Nothing,” he replied in a voice that was, by far, the gentlest tone she’d ever heard from him.
He continued to study her intently and Lauren swallowed.
“Then what’s wrong?”
He flattened his lips and put one hand to his mouth in a fist, working it as if he didn’t want to voice his thought out loud. He looked away and finally, with resignation, back to her. “The condom busted.”
Lauren was already more than a little disconcerted, and all she had was an automatic response,
“It’s not your fault, sweetheart,” he said gently.
He continued to watch her, almost carefully, and Lauren began to feel light-headed as the implications of his words began to register. A busted condom.
A busted condom. A. Busted. Condom.
“You don’t seem worried,” he said, matter-of-factly, noticing the lack of expression of her face. “You’re on birth control, then?”
All at once a roaring began in her ears and the residual shock she was feeling from having sex with him disappeared in a flash as another worry took precedence. She tried to speak, but the oxygen snarled in her lungs as she felt the blood drain from her face.
There was no question that he saw her reaction. “Honey, I’m clean, I swear.”
She began shaking her head, and she stood to her feet and covered her mouth with both hands and spoke through them, her voice muffled.
Her stance probably reflected her horror and he left the doorway where he stood and walked swiftly across the small room and put his hands on her shoulders.
“I’m clean, baby. Calm down.”
She tilted her head and looked up at him.
“I’m not on birth-control.”
The horror she was feeling was now reflected on his face.
She broke away from his hold and paced a few feet away from him toward the kitchen area. Her panic was fast blending with anger.
“What do you want me to say here, Logan?”
“Okay, I’m sorry. So you’re not on anything.”
“No, I’m not,” she said.
He studied her silently from across the room.
“What do you want to do?”
Logan seemed so adamant that he was clean that Lauren was going to trust him on that for the moment and think about the risk of pregnancy and whether or not she should go buy some emergency contraceptives. She wasn’t enthused about the idea, as the last time she’d tried the pill, it had made her so nauseous that she’d thrown up and been out of commission for a couple of days. And emergency contraceptives were probably about ten times as strong.
She didn’t want to panic. She began counting and realized almost immediately that she was probably okay.
She glanced up at him and shook her head.
At her silence, he asked, “What does that mean?”
“I think it’s going to be okay.”
“Are you sure?” he questioned quietly, but no less intently.
“No! But I think so.”
“You’re not mad at me?” he asked.
The turmoil in her head was about to make her brain split in two.
“Why would I be mad at you?”
“I don’t know. The condom splitting. It was my responsibility and I fucked it up.”
“You had no control over that, right?” she asked, trying to breathe, trying to think.
“Okay, well, I think it’s going to be okay. I’d rather not panic and put a bunch of hormones in my body that I know will make me sick.” She shook her head. “But I don’t know for sure, I’m going to Google it after you leave.”
“All right, sweetheart.”
“You seem pretty okay with trusting me on this,” she said, trying to figure out what was inside his head.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I trust you not to lie to me. And I’ve got your back on this, Lauren. If you get pregnant, we’ll deal with it together.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lauren felt her stomach tighten in rejection of his possible meaning.
What was he going to do, pay for her to terminate the pregnancy?
“What the hell do you think it means?
It means I’ll help you raise the kid. Marry you. Support you financially. Learn to love a baby. Whatever you want, I’m here.”
Lauren was all at once ashamed of what she’d just mentally accused him of. So maybe the guy wasn’t all macho jerk with only fantastic sexual charisma.
“How soon will you know?” he asked her.
“Not soon.” Lauren didn’t want to have a conversation this intimate with a guy she hardly knew, but she’d forfeited that when she’d chosen to have sex with him. “I’m safe because it’s so early in my cycle.”
“So, like what? Three weeks?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she agreed.
“You can buy a kit thing and find out sooner, right?”
“A kit thing?” she repeated with a hint of sarcasm.
“Test. Whatever,” he growled.
“Yeah, and I will,” she said.
He watched her for a long moment and then crossed the room and slipped his hand under her chin and lifted until her eyes were on his.
“Whatever you do, it doesn’t mean we’re not having sex for three weeks.”
“You want to take another chance?” She almost shrieked.
“I don’t think I have a choice, darlin’.” He leaned down and kissed her ear and then breathed softly into it, his arms wrapping all the way around her. “You’ve got me well and truly addicted.”
She shuddered softly and his voice in her ear held a questioning tease.
“I’ll toss the rest of the condoms that came in that box, of course.” His hand slid down and gripped her gently at the vee between her legs. “You’ve got some here we can use later tonight, right?”
She pushed against his shoulders and after a pause he reluctantly released her.
“I can’t believe that’s all you think about! And no! I don’t have any here.”
The look in his eyes was remarkably mild as he studied her.
“Sweetheart, I’m only human.”
“I–I want to be alone now.”
His eyes narrowed on her.
“Only if you promise you forgive me and that you’ll see me tomorrow night.”
Lauren desperately needed time to regroup, but she couldn’t deny that his unwavering interest was almost hypnotic to her senses. She knew she shouldn’t feel that way. He was too arrogant, too macho, too much entirely
“Yeah, I promise.”
Logan climbed in his truck and drove home, all the while thinking about everything that had just taken place. He’d wanted to stay with her, but she’d kicked him to the curb without so much as a qualm.
He guessed he couldn’t blame her.
She wasn’t on birth control.
The meaning behind that sank into his brain. So maybe it was true that the hormones made her sick, but she had other options. And the fact that she had no condoms in her apartment was telling.
It was just as he’d suspected; she was sweet.
Damn. He wasn’t supposed to want to bang a sweet girl.
Sweet girls meant trouble. They were a threat.
He took a stabilizing breath and acknowledged the truth.
Too bad he had no damn choice in the matter.
As arranged via text message, Logan knocked on Lauren’s door at seven o’clock. Somehow, he had no idea how, more than a week had slipped by and they’d seen each other almost every night.
She’d texted him a few days before that she’d taken a pregnancy test and it was negative. Thank fuck.
Shit, he was relieved. That congealed ball of emotional crap banging around in his stomach was relief, right? What the hell else could it possibly be?
He’d had a presentation the night before and hadn’t been able to see her, so the forty-eight hours without her was about to drive him insane. He’d thought this shit would have cooled down by now, but it hadn’t.
He tried to suppress the arousal seemingly caused by just standing in front of her door, but it was damn near impossible. She was all he’d been able to think about all fucking day.
How fast could he get her little ass naked?
She answered right away and held the door open for him, but her cell phone was glued to her ear. She ushered him in with a vague smile as she spoke into the phone but her words made his mood deflate.
“Yes, sir. We’ve got it covered. John arranged for ten tickets to the Lakers game. My flight gets in at noon. I’ll grab a rental and see you at the office.”
Logan hung back and observed her with his mouth flattened. As she listened to whomever she was talking to, she shut the door and motioned him toward the couch.
“Yes sir, I’ve worked on it and the amortization of the two properties combined will easily turn a substantial profit. We’re going to make money off the deal, no problem.”
Logan sat down as a tension he couldn’t explain stabbed him between the shoulder blades. Lauren’s soft voice continued as she walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “I don’t mind.” As Logan listened to her soothe the man on the phone with her feminine tones, his head began pounding. “It’s actually really interesting for me to see how the sales side of the operation works. If it eases your worries to have me there, it’s no problem.”
Logan spread his legs out, lifted his hands behind his head and laced his fingers together as Lauren laughed into the phone.
“No, that’s true. I don’t know the first thing about basketball. Now football . . . I’m your girl.” She paused. “Yes, sir. You, too. I’ll see you in a few days. Goodnight.”
Logan sat back against the couch cushions, his temples throbbing, and watched as Lauren walked toward him with a beer in one hand and a Diet Coke in the other. He leaned in and took the bottle, as she sat down in the chair that was at a ninety-degree angle to the couch.
Lauren couldn’t read the hooded expression in Logan’s eyes, but it made a quivery feeling run down her spine. “I’m sorry I’m not ready yet.” She indicated the shorts and t-shirt she was wearing.
He seemed to ignore that statement.
“So, you’re going out of town?” he asked in a voice that sounded casual . . . too casual.
“Yeah,” she said as she sipped her drink.
Lauren took another drink while she digested his terse, one-syllable questions.
“You’re leaving for a business trip on Friday? When will you be back?”
“Sunday night, late.”
“What’s up with the weekend travel?”
She licked her lips and maintained a casual tone.
“A couple of things. One . . . we got some good airline rates and two, the clients we’re working with requested tickets to this particular Lakers game.”
“So, why you?”
“Why not me?” She took a sip and raised her eyebrows at him with a challenging smirk. “You don’t think a girl can handle it?”
He twisted his head from side to side as if relieving tension.
“That’s not what I meant at all.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” she replied neutrally. “I fly to different regions of the country fairly often. My job title is discretionary, if my bosses want me to wear a different hat, I wear a different hat.”
“I thought you said your job was boring and tedious.”
That almost sounded like an accusation to Lauren, as if he wanted her job to be boring. “It is boring and tedious. It’s boring about seventy-five percent of the time, and for me, traveling is tedious. But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, you know?”
“Yeah.” He took a drink and set the beer on the coffee table and then leaned back and laced his hands behind his head, the same pose he’d been in earlier.
He didn’t look happy, but there wasn’t a damn thing Lauren could do about it. It was a fact. She didn’t like to travel, but she did like to eat. Her job paid well and she planned on keeping it. But she tried to steer the conversation away from her and onto him. “Do you travel much?”
“Not usually,” he answered flatly.
“What, like, a couple of times a year?”
“About that,” he said.
“So, you don’t care for basketball?” he asked, his tone colored in neutral shades.
“Not really. Football’s my game.”
“So why do you have to go?”
“Ostensibly to make sure John doesn’t promise the farm after he’s had too many beers. But they like me to interact with the clients, as well.”
“The clients being men?” He asked in an almost bored tone, a tone that Lauren didn’t believe for a second.
“This trip will be comprised of men, but they aren’t always.” She spoke the truth, and why not? There wasn’t anything she could do about it.
Lauren felt the impact of her answer hit Logan as his nostrils flared and a subtle tension corded the muscles in his neck. As she assimilated the hostility that he tried unsuccessfully to hide, her nerves shifted restlessly. Thank God she was only messing around with this guy, and didn’t see him as a husband prospect. She didn’t see him as a husband prospect, right? That would be insane. Heidi was absolutely right, a guy like this was only meant to be enjoyed, and Lauren had absolutely no intention of trying to tame him. She doubted she’d have any success even toning him down.
He was just so freakin’ male.
As she sat in silence, trying damn hard not to be titillated by his purely male responses,
because that was just wrong, he stood to his feet in a rush of movement and grabbed her by the hand.
Lauren almost lost her grip on the can she held, and he took it from her and slapped it to the coffee table next to his beer. With one hand wrapped around her wrist, he leaned down to take her mouth, but Lauren reared back from him, caught off-guard by his sudden move and her inappropriate sexual response to it.
He stopped the forward motion of his head and his eyes caught and held hers. He bared his teeth and Lauren sucked in a breath. There was a warning in his eyes, and Lauren had the unmistakable feeling this was about to be an exercise in dominance.
His, over her.
A shivery feeling hit the pit of her stomach and moisture bloomed between her legs, much against her will.
He lifted the hand he had wrapped around her wrist until it was mid-air and he took one step forward, propelling her backward, while his eyes, raging with an inner fire, held hers imprisoned. His expression was stamped with authority, and although Lauren’s nerves were jolted, she couldn’t deny that his aggressive force was intoxicating.
Dangerously so; she could barely breathe.
“Did you just turn down my kiss?” His question was a challenge, and Lauren struggled to understand his exact purpose. He was lethally intimidating, standing over her with his height and strength, and yet, no part of her was afraid that she couldn’t control the outcome of this encounter.
She just needed to decide how she wanted this to play out, and she needed to decide quickly or there wouldn’t be a decision to make.
With her mind in a whirlwind of indecision, she shook her head infinitesimally. At her action, he took another two steps and pushed her against the wall. His stance was dominant, one sinewy thigh wedged between her legs as he stared down at her.
“Lift your mouth to mine,” he ordered.
Lauren inhaled raggedly and lifted her chin only a fraction of an inch.
His hand tightened around her wrist and he growled low in his throat,
Lauren felt the exquisite pleasure of her name rasped in his fevered voice and knew her acquiescence was imminent. She couldn’t even fight it anymore. She lifted her face and waited.
At her act of submission, she felt his tension come down a notch.
“Don’t push me like that again.”
“I didn’t push you,” she denied. “You took me by surprise, that’s all.”
With one hand still controlling her, he wrapped his other arm around her middle and lifted her until she felt his hard arousal pushing into her stomach, threatening her sanity. His gaze was pointed as he held her eyes captured with his and he hissed out in an accusing voice,
“You’ve been taking me by surprise since the moment I met you.”
His mouth came down over hers and with a force that took her by storm, he thrust his tongue into her mouth and began kissing her as if he’d never let her go. The thought both terrified and elated her, and as she hung in his arms as he ravished her mouth, it flashed across her brain that she’d never again be exactly the same person she’d been before she met him. And that was the part that terrified her, because she didn’t want to go back to that time, she didn’t want to think about being without him.
As he kissed her, he kept her off-balance, his touch changing between punishing and adoration and then back again just as swiftly.
She turned her head to catch her breath, and he quickly began stripping her, and within seconds, he was holding her against the wall, naked and aching for him.
“Tell me you want my kiss.”
The demand stunned Lauren, and helpless, she gave him what he wanted, both because it was the truth and because she felt how badly he needed to hear her say it.
“I want your kiss.”
His sinewy muscles tightened against her.
“Logan. Say my name.”
“Logan,” she repeated. Her heart turned over at the look reflected from his eyes. “I want your kiss, Logan.”
He leaned down and kissed her again, his tongue going deep and stroking her, mimicking the sex act before ruthlessly pulling away and making another demand.
“Don’t flinch from me again, you understand me?”
Lauren shivered in his hold and as he let go of her only long enough to adjust his pants and slide on protection, he said in a softer tone,
“You took me by surprise,” she repeated softly.
“I’d never hurt you.” He lifted her up and Lauren felt the head of his arousal at her opening. “My God, you have to know I’d never hurt you.”
He pushed in an inch and then stopped, his face etched in lines of tension. “You drive me insane. You’re driving me insane, woman.” With that, he pushed all the way in with one strong stroke and Lauren moaned as pleasure, hot and sweet, slid down her spine and wrapped around her entire body.
Logan impaled her completely, and felt her tight, silky femininity enclose him. He stilled inside of her, finally feeling halfway human now that he was inside of her once again. He closed his eyes and let her softness ease the beast inside of him that was trying to break free.
He’d felt damn fine when he’d knocked on her door tonight, but that had been shot to hell as soon as he’d heard her damn phone conversation.
And there wasn’t a fucking thing he could do about it.
It had only been two weeks since he’d seen her for the first time. Two weeks.
She wasn’t his. He didn’t own her or her time. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t impose his will over her. He had to fucking remember that.
If he tried, she’d kick him out of her life faster than he could say, ‘tag, you’re mine.’
Oh, but he planned on it. Yeah, he planned on saying it before too much longer. He’d try to wait as long as he could, so she wouldn’t figure out how insane he was about her.
Jesus Christ, he was insane.
He’d never felt like this before, ever.
What the fuck was she doing to him?
Maybe he needed to stay away from her. Maybe her trip out of town would be a good thing. She was getting too deep into his system and he needed some time to think about all this shit.
But he’d think about it later.
For now, all he could think about was her wet, tight pussy clenched around his cock. Oh yeah, he’d think about all that other shit later.
Right now, he was in fucking heaven. He had her exactly where he wanted her; her inner muscles were clenched around him and all he wanted to do was fuck her and fuck her good. He began to move.
Logan began pumping into her and the pleasure was so intense that Lauren had no control when the back of her head fell against the wall.
He adjusted their position. He let go of her hand and lifted her higher, wrapping his arms around her thighs and holding her open to him. When he sank in again, Lauren knew she’d never felt anything like it before. She had nothing even remotely close to compare it to. He was big, and he was macho, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He controlled her like a marionette on a string and she just went along with the flow.
He pushed in and out and Lauren lifted her head for his lips.
He accommodated her immediately. His tongue sank in and with a rhythm that held her in its grip, he slid in and out of her mouth as he slid in and out of her body.
Within moments, Lauren couldn’t control it anymore and knew she was coming. Starbursts began exploding in her head, and when he pushed in one last time, and hissed out his pleasure from the back of his throat, Lauren exploded into spasms of ecstasy.
On Thursday night, the night before she had to go out of town, Lauren sat beside Logan in a booth at the same Mexican restaurant they’d eaten at on their second date.
He held his hand on her thigh but there was no question that he was on a short fuse. And there was no doubt in her mind as to why. Lauren had no clue what to do about it or if she should even care. She had enough to worry about just dealing with her job. There was a glass ceiling she was always pushing against, men hit on her so much of the time that it sometimes bordered on sexual harassment, and she was putting in way more hours than she cared to think about.
She certainly didn’t need to worry about Logan getting all pissy on her.
She decided to ignore his bad attitude.
“Do you have plans this weekend?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, just took a sip of his beer and shook his head. “I’ll probably work.”
She nodded her head and offered him an olive branch.
“I’ll be home Sunday night about nine if you want to come by.” God, she hoped that didn’t seem too needy.
The look he turned on her was piercing.
“For a quickie?”
She sucked a piece of salt off her straw and flashed her eyes at him.
“It doesn’t have to be quick.” She shrugged her shoulders and looked down into her margarita as she stirred it. “Or it can be, whatever.”
Lauren knew this could explode around them in a heartbeat if she let it. But for some reason, she didn’t think it would escalate to a break-up. She wasn’t going to break up with him over this and she pretty much knew that he might be so pissed he couldn’t see straight, but he wouldn’t cut her loose. Besides, it wasn’t her that he was angry with. It was her job. She took a breath. “You’re reading too much into this. It’s no big deal either way. You can come by if you decide you want to. Just text me and let me know.”
“Do you even care one way or the other?”
His tone was so neutral that Lauren couldn’t read him. He didn’t seem as pissed as he had a moment before, and the question he asked seemed like an honest one with no hidden implications.
“I’d like to see you,” she answered quietly.
His steady gaze bore into her and she felt a flush cover her cheekbones.
“Okay, we’ll plan on Sunday night then. Do you want me to pick you up at the airport?” he asked as his hand ran up and down her thigh.
Pick her up at the airport? For some reason that seemed like too much too soon.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll have my car.”
“It’s going to be dark when you land . . . I’ll pick you up.” He said in a deep, controlled voice.
Lauren tilted her chin up a degree and shook her head at him.
“Nah. I’ll drive.” She attempted to use a tone that brooked no argument. If he dared to disagree with her, dared to impose his will on her this early in the relationship, Lauren was going to have to think twice about all of this. The alpha shit was fun in bed, no doubt about it. But every minute of the day? She sucked in oxygen followed by a healthy drink of her margarita. It was a lot to think about.
Logan could have kicked himself in the ass. He needed to learn how to rein it in and damn quickly. When he’d made the mistake of telling her that he’d pick her up at the airport, her demeanor had changed. She’d gone from sweet, soft and biddable, to
‘don’t fuck with me’ in an instant.
And he planned on fucking with her, a whole lot more.
So he’d better get with the program, and if he couldn’t do that, then he at least needed to bluff her into thinking he was with the program.
On Sunday night, Logan counted to ten as he waited for Lauren to open her front door. The weekend had been sheer, unmitigated hell as he imagined every bad scenario under the sun. The thought kept beating at him over and over again that he couldn’t let her see how badly her out-of-town trip had affected him.
But he admitted to himself that the weekend had not been good. All he’d been able to think about was how beautiful she was, and he knew how badly he wanted her, so didn’t it stand to reason that every other horny motherfucker out there would feel the same?
And goddamnit, she was almost like an innocent little virgin, inexperienced and having not a single clue what went on the minds of ninety-five percent of the men out there. He could just imagine some fucker buying one too many rounds and Lauren trying to keep up with the men by drinking with them. She couldn’t handle liquor, she’d admitted it to him and he’d seen it for himself. One margarita went to her head and lowered her inhibitions. He could just see some fucker walking her up to her room on the pretext of seeing her safely to her door and then trying to take advantage of her.
And not only did that piss him off, it put his protective instincts on high alert. Why the fuck should she have to deal with that? Did she get scared? Was she put in situations that she didn’t know how to handle that worried her?
No, the weekend had not gone well as he’d imagined all kinds of crazy-assed shit happening.
Before he could get fired up even more, the door opened and she stood smiling back at him. The sight soothed the shit out of him, calmed the fires raging in his bloodstream, and he ran his gaze over her to make sure she was in one piece.
She looked fine, as if nothing or nobody could faze her, and her obvious happiness at seeming him made him take a bold move.
He pushed inside the apartment and turned and locked the door. Yeah, she looked good, but he needed a little something more than just a quick observation.
He reached out and grabbed her.
She gasped as her torso was propelled into his, but he didn’t stop to think. He was acting purely on physical impulse, and the impulse blaring through his brain was to strip her naked and push inside of her.
He wasn’t going to deny himself.
He took the time to kiss her once, only briefly, and then he lifted her up and carried her through to the bedroom. He pushed her shorts and underwear down her legs and tossed them to the floor. Lowering his head, he slid his tongue inside her mouth as he unsnapped his jeans and shoved them to his ankles.
Not bothering to step from them or to remove any more clothing, he clenched his stomach muscles as he forced himself to don protection as they stood by the side of the bed.
With that feat accomplished, he separated her legs and pushed her butt to the bed. Standing between her thighs, he grabbed her knees and levered them up and out and away from her body.
He could hear her panting breaths through the ringing in his ears but he couldn’t stop or slow down.
He wrapped his hands through her hair, his fingers molding her scalp and as he came down over her, her spine hit the mattress. Her eyes held his with a possible touch of panic in their depths, but she wasn’t stopping him and thank fuck for that, because he didn’t think he was capable of stopping.
The head of his erection unerringly found her wet heat and he began pushing into her, studying her reactions as he slid all the way inside. Relief hit him immediately, but her eyes began to close and he couldn’t stand it. “Look at me, Lauren,” he managed in a voice he couldn’t control.
She inhaled raggedly and opened her eyes, and the almost-drugged look he saw reflected there both fascinated him and fuelled the flames of his lust. The slight question he read in her eyes had him answering with an aggression he was incapable of taming.
“It. Was. A. Fucked. Up. Weekend.”
She sucked in a breath and he felt his abs clench as he pushed harder and impaled her to an impossible depth that calmed him not one fucking bit.
She let out a tiny whelp and he stilled completely. “Did that hurt?”
Her eyes were huge and blue and she shook her head just once.
He pulled out and pushed in again and her breath strangled on an abbreviated cry.
“Son of a bitch, babe. Am I hurting you?”
“No,” she panted.
Relief grabbed Logan by the throat; he’d stop if he had to. Thank God he didn’t have to. He pumped once more and adjusted his hold as he tightened his hand on the side of her face and looked into her eyes. “I don’t like it when you go out of town.” He pumped again. “It sucked pure shit.”
He tried to shut his fucking mouth but the words kept spilling out as he thrust in and out of her. “There’s no fucking way you can be safe out there.” He attempted to take a calming breath but it didn’t help and he kept on burying himself deeper with his words. “Somebody tries something with you and I swear to God, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
Her eyes flared and he read what looked like distress as she took a shallow pant and stared back at him. He needed to shut the fuck up; he knew he must be scaring her but in that second, he felt her shiver of response and her uncontrollable physical reaction that manifested itself in a rush of moisture that wrapped around him where he penetrated her. It both eased his way as he pounded into her and goaded him into seizing her hands in a restraint that he needed more than anything he’d ever craved before.
Oh my God.
She was crazy.
She was crazy.
She must be insane. How could she like this? Like it?
Hell, she loved it. In what universe was it right for her to love the way he was hanging over her, holding her down, staking her to the side of the bed while his feet were still on the floor?
How could she love the way he had her knees shoved up to her hips in a position that put her under his uncontested control? How could the fact that he’d stripped her of her shorts and panties while leaving the rest of her clothes intact excite her? How could she love the dangerous sizzle of his antagonistic words pummeling her brain while he pummeled her body with his?
How could she love the way he was out of control, almost out of his mind as he restrained her to the bed?
How could she trust him enough to even now, feel her imminent orgasm?
Oh God, she knew how.
It was because of the wild look of relief that crossed his features as he sank inside of her on the first stroke. It was because of the fact that he hadn’t been able to take the time to remove the rest of their clothing before joining with her. She felt his need that could only be appeased with that joining he hadn’t been able to wait another second for.
And it was because of the depth of his concern when he’d thought he might be hurting her. He would stop if she asked him to; she had absolutely no doubt of that.
It was that level of trust that she already felt in his arms that was screwing her up so much.
So yeah, she knew why she loved this. As she sank under the most mind-blowing orgasm she’d ever experienced in her life, she knew she had the best of both worlds: she had an absolute caveman in bed . . . and one who cared for her.
And he wasn’t capable of hiding either fact.
Another six weeks slid by and Lauren was getting in a little over her head. Logan was only showing her a good side, and she wondered what had happened to the crazy-assed man she’d first met. He was just as uncontrolled and hot in bed, but the rest of the time, he treated her with kid gloves.
He spoiled her, pampered her, and was protective of her.
She was beyond suspicious; she knew he was playing her. But it didn’t matter. He was getting under her skin in a good way and she loved it.
She almost, almost wanted to have the ‘exclusivity’ conversation with him.
But she thought it was too soon, and besides, she wondered if they even needed it.
He showed no signs of even being interested in other women. Like, she didn’t think he even registered that there were other women alive. Like there were no other women but her living on the planet.
They’d gone dancing a few times, and when they walked into a club or a restaurant, she immediately noticed when other women checked him out. And why wouldn’t they? He was infinitely hot, and if she could see it, then everyone else could see it.
But Logan didn’t seem to notice they stared at him or, in fact, even existed.
Which was good, it really was.
Although with no actual conversation, it kind of left their relationship status up in the air.
The night of her birthday, Lauren walked out of the bedroom ready to go out. Logan had asked her the night before what she wanted to do and she’d told him. She wanted to go out to a club where they would meet all her friends from work and dance the night away.
It seemed like a good and reasonable plan to her and he went along with it. The problem was, he’d never met her friends from work and she was very much afraid that he’d assumed they would all be women.
And they weren’t.
It wasn’t as if she was a social butterfly, no matter what her mother called her, but she did have a lot of friends, both men and women. If you got down to it, John was probably her only true guy friend. Since he was gay, Lauren felt comfortable around him and she could just be herself. Heidi had invited the rest of the men who would be there tonight.
Lauren bent and grabbed her purse and Logan stood to his feet, frowning.
“You’re wearing that?”
Lauren glanced down and looked at herself. She wore a red blouse with the shoulders cut out, black shorts and stilettos. She glanced back up. “Too slutty?” She watched his intent stare and had to smile. “It’s conservative slutty. I’ll have you know these are lined, linen shorts.”
He didn’t comment and Lauren received the impression that he couldn’t. She almost laughed; she’d never even remotely seen him speechless before.
His eyes continued to run over her and when he didn’t speak, she said, “We’re going to a dance club. I’m twenty-five years old and you know what they say: you’re only young once. I’m going to be among friends and besides, I’m sure you wouldn’t let any harm come to me, right?”
His gaze slid back to hers and examined her thoroughly. His look became territorial and Lauren was hit with the same shaky feeling she always got when he was this close to her. Butterflies started fluttering in her stomach and her knees weakened. He walked forward with a purpose and picked up a lock of her hair and twirled it around his finger until he stopped at her scalp. She felt the tug on her hair center all the way to the juncture between her thighs.
“Did I just hear you correctly?” The words rattled from his throat in a brusque, possessive tone. “Did you just grant me the right to be the man who protects you?”
Lauren’s heart began beating viciously in her chest. She heard his question through a roaring in her ears. Her remark had been off-handed. She hadn’t really meant anything serious with her question, so why was he taking it so seriously and why did she think this was suddenly a pivotal moment in their relationship? She tried to think, tried to get her brain to work.
She licked her lips and tried to put the ball back in his court.
“Do you . . . do you want to be that man?”
His answer was a silent one. A glimmer of heat exploded in his eyes and he began nodding his head, slowly, up and down. With one hand wrapped around her hair, his other hand snaked up and wrapped around her cheek and lifted her face to his.
He bent down and kissed her, quickly but firmly.
He raised his head.
“Okay. It’s a done deal.”
The look in his eyes was scaring her shitless. Scaring her shitless and exciting the living crap out of her all at the same time.
Her mother had never told her that there were men like this one living on the planet. Nobody had ever warned her.
“Okay, yeah, but–” she began.
He cut her off.
Lauren was excited and nervous and panicky.
“Yeah, there’s a ‘but’.”
“And what would that be?” he questioned slowly and succinctly, only seeming to be humoring her.
“I guess this means we’re . . . exclusive–” she began, but he cut her off again.
“Damn right,” he breathed out in a possessive hiss.
“Okay, so it’s just you and me, but that doesn’t mean . . . ”
“Doesn’t mean what?” he questioned shortly, obviously wanting no conditions on the relationship whatsoever.
She narrowed her eyes and gathered her nerves together.
“It doesn’t mean that you make the rules. You need to understand that going in. You’re not the boss of me, you don’t tell me what to do, what to wear, or what time I have to be home. We’re together, but we’re not married or anything like that, and I’m all grown-up and have been for some time and I make my own rules.”
His eyes impaled hers but Lauren could tell he was listening to her mandate carefully
She’d been right!
It had been a strategy all along!
And suddenly she knew that whether she’d given him an opening or not, he’d planned on having a confrontation with her tonight about . . . boundaries. And she’d played into his hands with that statement about him not letting her come to any harm.
She really needed to watch what she said around this man.
His hands stayed plastered to her skull, and his body filled with a tension that was palpable.
“All right, I agree,” he answered in a voice that reflected his mercurial mood. “We’re not married and I don’t own you. You’re a big girl and can live by your own rules, for now. All I’m going to say is one thing: You called it. We’re together.”
His hand left her face and slid down and cupped the heat between her legs firmly and aggressively.
“And this is mine.”
His fingers tightened. “Nobody fucks you but me, and if somebody lays so much as a finger on a single strand of your hair, they’ll wish they were dead.”
Lauren’s jaw dropped and she couldn’t seem to close her mouth as he stared down at her.
“You got that, babe?” He hissed out while his hand between her legs enclosed her in an unyielding grasp.
Lauren sucked in a ragged breath and nodded her head, too stunned to speak.
Son of a bitch.
She’d just released the Kraken.
The very minute that they walked into the darkened club and found Lauren’s friends, Logan knew he would have to pull off the biggest con job of his life. If he could con Lauren into thinking he was having fun and that he was as calm as shit, she’d never know that his insides were tied into knots and that he was actually running on a surge of adrenaline.
Her friends, whom he thought would be women, definitely included men. There were more women, true, and one in particular named Heidi who Logan focused on. This was the chick who wanted Lauren to start sleeping around and having ‘fun’. It was enough to make him grit his teeth, but not enough to set him on the warpath.
That was left to a couple of douche bags who Lauren introduced as John and Nico. Both were men she worked with, and Logan quickly realized it was this John fucker who she’d gone out of town with. The bastard just had to be single, tall and fit, and wouldn’t you just fucking know it, had goddamn eyes for Lauren. The guy could not keep his fucking eyes off of Lauren.
And of course, being the birthday girl, she was passed from one set of arms to the next and kisses and goddamn touches were plastered all over her.
Logan stood back and felt his temperature soar. His back teeth were clenched so tightly that his jaw was aching.
He knew that he needed to calm the fuck down, because Lauren had been looking at him like he was Attila the Hun ever since they’d left her apartment. One little innuendo about killing anyone who touched her, and she’d started looking at him as if he was crazy. Her eyes kept darting sideways at him, almost like she was sizing him up, and he knew she was speculating on his possible sanity or lack thereof. He needed to get his jealousy under control and he needed to do it now.
He took a stabilizing breath.
He could never let her find out how fucking jealous he was.
As the night wore on, Lauren watched Logan from below her lashes. He seemed to be handling everything okay. He was laughing and joking with her girlfriends, and he was
almost pleasant to John and Nico, who Heidi had insisted on inviting.
But there was just something about Logan’s demeanor that Lauren didn’t believe. It seemed almost contrived, although she couldn’t exactly put her finger on why. She realized that by bringing him here, putting him among all her friends and co-workers, that she was putting him to the test.
She really liked Logan, cared for him deeply already. He was amazing, actually astounding, in bed. He made her insides quiver and the thought of breaking up with him made her extremely sad, upset if the truth were told.
But they had to be able to get along; they had to be able to have a social life that included other people. But this was all so new, and he was so very, very intense.
Yeah, intense. That was the word.
He needed to tone that shit down if he expected this relationship to mature into something more.
And holy crap, wouldn’t that be amazing? To experience that sexual chemistry all the time? To have that hunk of man-meat hanging over her in bed for the unending future?
Yeah, she wanted that. If he could just tone it down a bit.
She had to be able to keep her identity, to be her own person. It was way, way too soon to start giving into him.
If she gave in too soon, he’d control her faster than the blink of an eye.
Logan thought he was doing exceptionally fucking well until the John fucker asked Lauren to dance and without even giving him a heads up, she took the fucker’s hand and went to the dance floor with him.
When she stood to her feet and walked off, his temples began throbbing and tension filled his muscles.
The song was a fast one, but it was almost over and by the time they got to the dance floor, the music had turned slow. Logan fisted his hands and cracked his knuckles under the table and waited, not knowing what he was going to do or if he could even control his reactions. When she went into the motherfucker’s arms and began dancing with him, Logan saw red and began counting.
Exactly how many goddamn weeks had Logan been sleeping with her?
Was it too fucking soon? Could he reasonably go over there and put his fist in that motherfucker’s face and then drag her ass out of here and take her home and explain exactly how the fuck it would be from then on?
Logan kept his eyes glued on her and could see that Lauren was watching him in return. She was dancing with the other guy, but she was watching him. And then, like a bolt of lightning, he knew. This was a fucking test. She was testing him to see if he could keep his ass in his seat and not cause a fucking scene.
He wanted to beat the living shit out of the guy. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would please him more.
He took five deep breaths and slowly began counting to ten, and then to fifty. Could he make it through the dance? He wasn’t even going to think about whether or not she was going to dance with the dude again. Even in his brain, he couldn’t go there yet. One fucking thing at a time.
He had a decision to make. If he wanted to keep her, and he did, he had to sit here and prove he . . . what? Wasn’t an animal?
Did she think he was an animal?
Fine. He’d sit here and nurse his drink and play nice. He could play nice when he had to. But later, when he got her clothes off . . .
The song ended and segued into another round of slow music. John raised his brows in question but Lauren shook her head and he began leading her back toward the table.
They hadn’t taken two steps before Nico came upon them and made a grab for Lauren’s hand. Not knowing there was a problem, John walked off the dance floor and left Lauren to face Nico alone. Lauren shook her head with a half smile, trying to get out of this without any repercussions.
“Oh, come on, Lauren, you danced with John,” Nico began, belligerently.
“I know, but I’m tired. I feel a bit light-headed and–”
Her words were cut off when he swung her around and wrapped his arms around her, preparing to dance with her whether she liked it or not. Her hands went to his chest and she began pushing against him.
He reared back from her, and she was slightly amazed that she’d been able to get him off her that quickly. It took a moment to realize that Logan held Nico by the shirt collar and that the look on Logan’s face portended trouble, bad trouble.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, asshole? She clearly told you that she didn’t want to dance.”
“Get the fuck off me, you piece of shit,” Nico said to Logan. “You don’t deserve her.”
Lauren recognized the glimmer of emotion that shone from Logan’s eyes. It looked as if he finally had somebody he could take his anger out on. And unfortunately for Nico, he happened to be that person. There was no question in Lauren’s mind that Logan was about to hit the other man. He pulled his arm back and was about to let loose when he was stopped abruptly by two big, beefy bouncers. “That’s enough. All three of y’all can leave. Now.”
Logan released Nico instantly with a look of resentment. His nostrils flared, his legs were braced apart, but all he did was grab Lauren’s hand and say, “We’re leaving.”
Logan gave Lauren time to grab her bag but that was it. He escorted her out of the door under the watchful eyes of one of the bouncers. He hustled her into his truck and started the engine.
Lauren fumbled with the buckle, her head spinning.
“I’m sorry about that. Nico’s a douche sometimes. Heidi invited him, not me.”
As Logan pulled onto the street, he said,
“That was your fault.”
“If you hadn’t been dancing with the other fucker and laughing and joking and flirting your ass off like you
were goddamn single, then that jackass wouldn’t have thought he had a chance at you. You gave them both entirely the wrong impression and you expected me to sit on my ass and watch it happening. Yeah, your fault,” he seethed.
“Logan. . . ”
Logan stopped at a red light and turned to her, anger on the clear cut lines of his features.
Lauren took a deep breath and confessed,
“John’s gay and everyone, including Nico, knows it.”
If looks could have killed, Lauren would have been a dead woman.
“Gay,” Logan said flatly, his mouth held rigidly. “You neglected to mention that to me, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, it was just an oversight–”
“Bullshit. And the guy wasn’t watching you like he’s gay. He was watching you like he wants to fuck you.”
Lauren’s throat tried to close up as she felt his animosity. “No, you’re mistaken. He tries to protect me, that’s all. And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you before, it was an oversight–”
“Bullshit. You were testing me. And who better to test me with than someone who isn’t a threat to you?” Logan pressed on the brakes and made a barely legal u-turn. “And you weren’t going to tell me the dude is gay. You were going to let me stew in my own jealousy.”
As he made the u-turn, Lauren felt almost faint.
“Where are you going? You can’t go back there.”
“I’m not going back there. Being around a crap load of people is the last thing I want right now. Besides, we got thrown out, remember?”
He didn’t want to be around people? Lauren swallowed as she saw the brooding displeasure clearly written on his face and in the rigid way that he held himself. She cleared her throat. “Then I don’t understand. Why’d you turn around?”
“We’re going this way.”
“But I live that way,” Lauren said softly as she pointed behind her.
“Yeah, and I live this way,” Logan kept his eyes on the road and tilted his head forward.
She watched him, analyzing his statement.
“You haven’t asked me if I want to go home with you–”
“No, and I’m not going to.”
Lauren was held spellbound by that tersely worded announcement and by his thick, sinewy wrists gripping the steering wheel.
He looked to the left and to the right and swiftly pulled the truck into a twenty-four hour Wal-Mart and idled the engine.
“It’s time to get some shit straight,” his said in a voice so guttural, so primal that Lauren knew he was about to unleash the dominant personality he tried so hard to keep hidden from her. She wasn’t fooled; she’d known what lay underneath that thin veneer of civility since the day she’d met him.
She began shaking her head.
“No, it’s not time to get shit straight. It’s way, way, way too soon to be getting any shit straight.”
His mouth clamped and his muscles corded angrily in his neck.
“Fine. I’ll let it be for now. But answer me one goddamn question because I’m sick and fucking tired of tiptoeing around you.” Logan’s hands were wrapped around the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.
Tiptoeing around her? Holy crap, he thought he’d been tiptoeing around her? How the hell would he act if he wasn’t taking care?
“What?” she asked, almost afraid to know what the question was going to be.
“Are you scared of me? You think I’m going to go off the deep-end and hurt you or some shit?” He turned his head to look at her, and she could read his eyes. “Because I’m not.” As his words stilled, his expression grew agonized. His gaze swept over her, and his unguarded look of longing was defined by his exposed anxiety.
Lauren stared, not sure how she should answer. She wasn’t scared of him, exactly. She didn’t think he’d hurt her.
She actually didn’t doubt that at all. In fact, she felt . . . utterly safe with him. But . . . she wasn’t so sure that he wouldn’t hurt someone else or put a hole in the wall or something like that. “I don’t think you’d hurt me, no.”
“I’d never hurt you.” His voice was adamant.
She studied him a moment before answering.
“You’re pretty damn intense, Logan.”
“Yeah, I get that.” He exhaled deeply. “So, here’s the question. Can you handle it?”
“I . . . I–”
“Cause I have to know pretty damn soon. If you want to cut me loose then you just need to do it now. I can’t change the way I am, Lauren. The longer this goes on . . . I don’t know . . . ”
“What? The longer this goes on, what?” She wanted to know; she needed to know.
“I don’t know. I’m getting in deeper.”
“Have there been other . . . ”
“Other what?” he prompted when she didn’t finish her thought.
“Other women who . . . had to cut you loose because of your . . . intensity?”
“Hell, no. Nobody has ever dumped me and there damn sure hasn’t been a woman who. ..”
“Who what?” she asked him quietly.
His gaze was riveted on her face, and his expression filled with heart-rending confusion.
“Fucked me up like this. Made me feel the way you do.”
Lauren’s heart clenched and turned over. Her stomach did a somersault and she moved just a tiny bit closer to him.
He noticed and moved a hand from the steering wheel and wrapped it around her neck, massaging it in a circular motion. His forehead landed against hers.
“I passed your ridiculous test, you know.” His voice, although low, dripped satisfaction. “I was doing fine until that second mother fucker pushed you into dancing with him when I knew you didn’t want to.”
“I know,” she said simply.
He lifted his head from hers and stared down at her.
“I passed your test,” he reiterated in a vulnerable tone that pulled at Lauren’s heartstrings.
He had passed her test.
“Yeah, you did.”
“I don’t want you to put me through that shit again. I think once in a lifetime was enough, okay?” His tone had regained the strength that Lauren was used to hearing from him.
“Okay,” she agreed.
“Pretty soon it’s going to be time to get some stuff straight, you know?” he demanded in a raspy tone.
She knew he wouldn’t let her postpone the day of reckoning forever, but that day wasn’t here yet. “I know, but not yet.”
His finger trailed down her cheek and then dropped to stroke her arm sensuously.
“Do you trust me enough to let me take you home?”
Her heartbeat fluttered and then went into overdrive.
“Yes,” she answered, readily and unequivocally.
He’d mentioned where he lived, but she’d never been to his house before. He drove to the south side of town, to an upscale, gated neighborhood close to the Space Center.
Lauren almost held her breath as she walked into his house for the first time. He had parked in the garage, and they walked in through the backdoor. But right away, she could see that he had not an ounce of decorating skills at all. He’d told her that he’d bought the house some three years before. The house was big and newish, but it was a man’s house, with the entire concept being that of a ‘man-cave’. She noticed one thing immediately. There was no junk strewn about. Everything was in perfect order and seemed to have a place.
She thought about her apartment and what he must think about it. She kept her living room reasonably tidy because she liked it that way, and after all, you never knew when someone might stop by. And her kitchen was always clean, because, well, you had to keep your kitchen clean. But her bedroom . . . my God, what must he have thought of her bedroom? She usually changed clothes four or five times before she found what she wanted to wear, and because her closet was tiny and barely held half her stuff, she had shirts and skirts and shoes strewn everywhere around her bedroom.
Lauren pushed the thought aside and focused on his house. She loved it immediately and she knew there were two reasons for that. The first was that it was so very obvious that another woman hadn’t put her mark on the house in any way. There was nothing feminine about it, nothing to indicate that a woman had ever lived here. The second thing was that because it was a man’s place, Lauren was woman enough to be able to blank all the guy stuff out of her mind and look at the place as if it were a clean decorating palette.
The house had wonderful lines and if things continued the way they were going, she could definitely see herself living here.
Of course, she’d keep that to herself for now. Even though she knew he had long-term on his mind because of all these ‘talks’ he wanted to have with her, she didn’t think his brain had gone to marriage and she wasn’t ready enough to even begin hinting. It so was not time.
But his house was definitely doable. She could work with it and make it beautiful if the time ever came.
Lauren stood back as he flicked on a few more lights and then turned to face her. He slid the small, over-the-shoulder bag off of her arm and tossed it to the coffee table. Picking up her hand, he led her over to a set of french doors, turned off the living room lights and flicked on a switch, so that the backyard was lit with subdued lighting. Lauren gasped as a swimming pool that she hadn’t realized was back there came into prominent view.
The inside of his house might need attention, but the outside was nothing short of beautiful. As she looked out, he pressed his chest against her back and grasped her wrists in his palms and held them down by her sides. His mouth slid to her ear, and he took her lobe between his teeth with just enough force to draw a cry from her lips and kindle heat in her stomach. Lauren expelled a shallow pant.
“What you did to me tonight, that’s not happening again.” Just like that, Lauren’s vulnerable guy was gone and her testosterone-laden male was back.
She stood enthralled against the cool glass of the door pane; heat saturated her senses.
“Do you understand, Lauren?”
“Yes,” she breathed softly.
He transferred her hands to the door and pressed her palms flat against the glass.
“Hold them there. Don’t move,” he ordered in a voice that dripped blatant masculinity.
His hands came in front of her and unfastened her linen shorts, and he roughly pushed them to the ground. Lauren jerked but he easily controlled her movements.
“Don’t move,” he said again. She sucked in a ragged breath. “Step out of the shorts.”
Lauren lifted one foot and then the other and he kicked her shorts and the panties that he’d dragged down with them across the tiled floor. He ran one hand over her butt, down her thighs and back again. “Tell me what you want,” he said in a low tone that vibrated through her.
Lauren was trembling now and she closed her eyes as she answered him truthfully.
“Ahh, now that’s good, sweetheart.” His hand came between her legs from behind and he parted her folds. He circled her clit just once before sliding his finger all the way inside. She flooded with heat, let out a strangled moan and he controlled the jolt she made with his heavy torso leaning against her. “That’s real good, babe, because you’re about to get me.”
Lauren felt Logan adjust his pants and within seconds, he’d removed his finger. He picked her up at the hips, and let her legs dangle down. Spreading her thighs out, he moved between them and began to sink inside of her. Lauren felt the sensation that stretched her and a molten river of heat cascaded through her system and a warm, sweet ache began to build in her womb.
He stretched her until he was all the way in, and he stayed like that, refusing to pump no matter how much she wiggled against him.
“You like that, babe?”
“Yes,” she panted. “Please.”
“Okay, sweetheart.” He pulled out and slid back in, slowly and agonizingly firmly, until he was planted all the way in again. He held himself there and Lauren thought she was going to go crazy.
His mouth came to her shoulder and he bit down before lifting up and stroking her once again.
Electric shocks hit her pelvis and she was lanced with a coil of heated desire.
“The next time you pull what you did tonight, you best be ready for the consequences.” He slid in and out in a pump so forceful it took her breath and sent currents of pleasure own her spine. He stilled again, pushing against the opening of her womb with an unspoken threat that clogged Lauren’s throat. “Don’t make me prove in a public place who you belong to.” He took another stroke, his cock lunging inside only to still again. “Because, trust me, I will, and it could turn south real quick. Those two bouncers? I could have laid them out flat in less than three seconds. Don’t dangle some guy in front of me and think I can always control my reaction.”
He began stroking, firmly and evenly, and with his advice ringing in her ears, Lauren pushed everything from her brain except for him and what he could make her feel. His strokes were hard and even, his erection so large and hot within her that the pleasure was almost impossible for Lauren to believe.
Could it ever be this way with anyone else? Did he feel this way too? Was that the reason he went so wild, acted so aggressively?
As he pumped inside of her, he snatched up her wrist and encircled it in his fingers in a declaration of possession. She felt the provocative action in a shiver of anticipation over her skin. She was wet and excited for him, she could feel the ache in the pit of her stomach. Desire spread through her bloodstream, and every time he pulled out, she hung on a precipice until he surged back inside.
“Ahh, that’s good,” he muttered next to her ear.
All she was capable of was a moan in response.
She whimpered as he continued his dedicated assault on her senses.
“Lauren,” he bit out again as he held himself at her entrance, ready to impale her once more. “Are you listening to me?”
“Yes,” she managed as another wave of heat enveloped her.
“You’re mine, baby,” he said so gently that she was shaken by it. He continued in the same tone but with a thread of added force, “You best get used to the idea. It’s not something that’s going to go away, and it’ll be a hell of a lot easier on us both if you don’t resist what you know is true.”
Lauren heard his demand and knew he was right. She was his. She didn’t know exactly when or where they’d crossed that line, but as she stood against the cool glass waiting for the impact of his thrust, she gave him what he wanted. “Yes, Logan. I’m yours.”
At her words, he slammed back inside with an impact and need that blew her mind and catapulted her world into the stratosphere.
Twenty minutes later, Logan walked up and met her as she came from having a shower. Her hair was wet and she wore one of his t-shirts. He smiled at her and then reached up and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Happy birthday,” he said, in a low voice as he caressed her shoulder blades.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time he’d said that to her tonight, but still, Lauren felt heat from his simple words. At the same time that she felt his touch, she also felt something cool at her neck as his fingers moved over her skin. He lifted her hair and moved the length of it over her shoulder as he dropped something around her throat and fastened the clasp at the back of her neck.
In a daze, she lifted a hand and felt the necklace that fell right below her collarbone.
“Thank you,” she whispered, trying to see what he’d given her but failing without a mirror.
He kissed her forehead and led her by the hand to a mirror on the wall.
“You want to see?”
“Yes,” she answered simply.
He turned her around and Lauren suppressed a gasp as she saw the delicate jewels around her neck. It was a beautiful necklace, but what held her attention were the emeralds and diamonds at the base of the necklace that formed a beautiful and intricate letter L.
Her nerves shifted restlessly and as she looked up, their glances connected in the mirror. His gaze was intent, compelling, and any smile he might have retained disappeared as he reached up and touched both the emeralds and her skin with an unyielding possession.
In that moment, she knew without a doubt in her mind.
The letter didn’t stand for Lauren.
It stood for Logan, and it marked her as his, and the truth of that was reflected in the satisfaction that blazed from his eyes.
Ten days later, Logan knocked on Lauren’s door but she didn’t answer. He knew she was home, he saw her car in the space where she usually parked as he came up the steps to her apartment. Granted, he hadn’t spoken to her or texted her since the morning before, but he thought she knew he was coming over.
He came over most nights.
He knocked again and leaned on the doorbell and waited.
After about five minutes while he tried not to imagine crazy-assed scenarios, he finally heard some shuffling behind the door and her voice calling,
“Just a minute.”
The chain rattled, and the door slid opened. She stood swaying in front of him, and he reached out to steady her.
“Don’t get close,” she mumbled as she turned her head away, “I’m probably contagious.” She looked like hell, her hair was hanging in limp strings around her pale face and her nose was red.
He wasted no time and without thinking much about it, he put an arm behind her back and one under her legs and swung her up in his arms.
“Yeah, you don’t have to worry about me catching it. I don’t ever get sick.” He slammed the door shut with his booted foot. “Where do you want me to put you? In the bed or on the couch?”
“The couch is okay.”
“All right. For now.” He walked over to the couch, her weight negligible in his arms, and gently laid her down. “You need something to cover up with.”
“There’s a throw on my bed,” she managed right before she went into a coughing fit.
Logan turned away and went into the bedroom, which looked as if a hurricane had hit it. He grabbed the throw and a couple of pillows, and walked back out to her. He handed her one pillow, and helped her put the other behind her back. Then he shook out the throw and placed it over her.
She pulled it up to her chin and shivered.
He frowned and laid the back of his hand to her forehead, and then to her cheek. She was burning up.
“Have you taken anything for fever?”
“No. This came on so suddenly. My throat was scratchy this morning when I left for work, and by noon I had aches and chills.” She lifted sad, blood-shot eyes to his. “I think I’m really sick.”
His hand gentled on her cheek.
“You think so, sweetheart?” he asked in a voice that reflected a hint of humor and commiseration. He sat down on the edge of the couch, facing her. He lifted one of her hands, and surreptitiously, felt to make sure she had a strong pulse. There was no reason to think she wouldn’t, but you never knew, and he wanted to be sure.
She closed her eyes and remained silent, looking as if she was enjoying the feel of his hand on her hot skin.
“Do you want me to take you to the emergency room?”
She shook her head without opening her eyes.
“I don’t think it’s life-threatening,” she said with amusement, as if he were over-reacting.
“You’re obviously running a fever. Do one thing for me, okay?”
She opened one eye and watched him through the slit in her eyelid.
“Bend your head all the way down and see if you can put your chin on your chest.”
She looked at him as if her were insane, but she did as he asked before lifting her head back up. She raised one eyebrow in question.
“That didn’t hurt?” He asked.
He swallowed hard in relief.
“Okay. I guess you’re going to live.”
“What was that all about?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Something about a quick check for meningitis. My mother always made us do it when we were sick.”
She closed her eyes again.
“That’s good to know.”
“I need to get something in you for that fever, though.”
“Okay,” she agreed weakly.
“Do you have anything here?”
“Top drawer in the bathroom.” She answered as she cuddled under the blanket.
Logan went to her bathroom and opened her top drawer. It was full of over-the-counter pain relievers, along with scissors, a hammer, tampons, and both opened and unopened packages of cosmetics. Did she not have a rhyme or reason for anything? Shaking his head, he grabbed a couple of the bottles of medications and went to the kitchen and got her a glass of water.
“Here you go.”
He offered her ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and a cold medicine that he knew contained a fever reducer.
“Which one do you want?”
She cracked one eye again and groaned as she tried to come to a sitting position.
He dropped the medications and steadied her, and then lifted her enough so she’d be able to swallow. “Is ibuprofen okay?”
He shook out two pills and she took them into her hand. He held the glass to her lips as she swallowed them, one at a time.
When she relaxed back against the cushions, he sat down next to her again and pushed the hair off her forehead, trying to make her more comfortable. “Are you hungry?” he asked her as her eyes slid closed.
She shook her head.
He studied the wan look about her. “Let me rephrase that. Have you had anything to eat?”
She shook her head.
“No. I don’t want anything.”
“Baby, you at least have to stay hydrated. I’ll fix you some soup.”
“I don’t have any,” she mumbled.
He slid to his feet.
“I’ll run to the store and grab some. Chicken noodle? Or do you want something else?”
“No, that’s fine, but you really don’t have to go. I don’t think I could manage more than a few bites.”
“That’ll be better than nothing. You try to get some rest. I’ll be back in a few, okay?”
“Where’s your key?”
“I don’t want you to have to wake up if you do manage to fall asleep.”
She waved her hand in the general direction of the kitchen counter.
He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
When she heard her front door open, Lauren surfaced from a groggy dream of Logan moving around her apartment while she was trying to get ready for work. She was sweaty and sticky, and the first thing she realized was that it hadn’t all been a dream; Logan had been here, because he was back. The second thing she realized was that her fever had broken. The chills were gone, and she kicked off the blanket that had been draped on top of her.
She tried to sit up but the effort was too much and she fell back against the pillows.
Logan shut and locked the door, and Lauren saw him carrying grocery bags. He dropped a twelve-pack of Diet Coke on the kitchen counter before he stopped at the coffee table that sat in front of her, and began unloading his booty. He had four cans each of three different brands of chicken noodle soup.
How much could he possibly think she could eat? Watching him in amazement, she glanced up at his face but he showed no expression as he continued to unload the sacks. There was Gatorade and protein water, vitamin-C tablets, five more bottles of assorted over-the-counter medicines, a heating pad, and in a box, a humidifier.
She finally found her voice. “How much did you spend?”
He glanced up from what he was doing.
“You don’t need to worry about it. You need to get well.”
She watched as he wadded up the plastic sacks and then came to the last one. Inside were five paperback books and a stack of magazines. Through the remaining remnants of fever, her head began to spin. Trying to come to terms with everything he’d bought and the care and thought he’d put into the project, she began to get even dizzier.
She looked back at him and found his gaze on hers once again. His hand went to her forehead and with a gentle touch, he grazed the back of his fingers across her skin. His expression contained worry, the lines of his face taut with strain.
“Are you feeling any better yet? Did your fever break?”
She stared back at him, but speaking was beyond her. She was so taken aback by the concern and care he couldn’t hide. This was just one more aspect of his personality that she was seeing, whether he wanted her to see it or not.
She sucked in a ragged breath.
She had one thought and one thought only.
She was falling in love with the Neanderthal.
During the evening and night, Logan fed her soup and made her drink Gatorade and lots of water. Lauren knew he’d called someone, she suspected it was his mother, because she’d heard him talking on the phone. After that, he timed her medicine and alternated between giving her ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
He took care of her, and she left any worries she might have had to him. Since the following day was Friday, she already knew she wasn’t going in to work, and so did her immediate boss. It had been more than obvious when Lauren had left with chills and a fever and he had called out, “See you Monday.” She knew he didn’t want her spreading what she had all over the office.
So Lauren alternated between sleeping through the evening and night, and being taken care of by Logan. All she had to do on her own was pick her way to the bathroom, and a couple of times, she hadn’t even had to do that. He’d lifted her up when she’d swayed a little too much for his liking, and deposited her in the bathroom and closed the door. He’d been there waiting for her, ready to carry her back after she opened the door.
They watched some television together, and at about midnight, he carried her through to the bedroom and held her as she slept.
Lauren couldn’t ever remember having had so much fun being sick. She reveled in his care; she luxuriated in the undivided attention he was showing her. Nothing anyone had ever done for her had ever felt so . . . compelling.
The next morning when she realized that he wasn’t going to go to work, she rebelled against that. “I’m okay. I’m going to live. Please go to work.”
He frowned in obvious agitation.
“Your fever might flare up again.”
“I just took the ibuprofen. I’ll take some more meds in a couple of hours, okay?”
He watched her as if debating the idea.
“I think you still need me.”
God, yes, she needed him.
“I’ll be fine.” She watched him warily, a thousand emotions bouncing around in her head. “You can come back after work if you want.”
He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.
“That’s a given, baby.”
Lauren went back to work on Monday but was slow to fully get her strength back. Two weeks later, however, she was full steam ahead. She’d laid low at work, put a lot of stuff on the back burner as she recovered from what she guessed was a mild case of the flu. Then one day, feeling much better, she took a look at her upcoming calendar and almost flipped out. She had a full schedule packed into the next ten days or so, starting with an out of town trip.
Logan took her out to dinner that evening, and after they’d eaten and she’d delayed as long as she could, she lowered the boom on him. After she told him about the trip, he turned in his seat to stare down at her. He said nothing for a moment, as if not trusting himself to speak.
The waiter walked by, and Logan motioned for the check with a jerk of his hand. Every motion of his body indicated his heightened stress level.
“Logan, you’re overreacting,” Lauren chided softly.
“Am I?” he asked, staring across the restaurant, out the windows, looking everywhere else but not at her while he drummed his fingers on the table.
“Yes. It’s no big deal, really, I’ll be home before you know it,” she tried to soothe.
“I don’t think you understand,” he said flatly as he turned to look at her.
Oh, Lauren was pretty sure she did understand and told him so in no uncertain terms. “I understand that you don’t trust me.”
The look he gave her was piercing.
“I trust you. I don’t trust all the motherfuckers out there who want to sleep with you, got that?”
“Then you don’t trust me,” she reiterated.
“No, it’s two entirely different things,” he said through pinched lips.
“How do you figure?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he continued to drum his fingers on the table as he stared at her. His eyes were deep, velvety brown, and the look in them was a little wild.
“Three o’clock, Lauren,” he said succinctly, apropos of absolutely nothing as far as Lauren could tell.
Lauren licked her lips.
“Three. Fucking. O’clock,”
he said through gritted teeth.
She shook her head.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The guy at the table in front of us, positioned at three o’clock.”
Lauren turned her head to the left and Logan emitted a strangled groan.
“That’s nine o’clock, babe. Look the other way. He’s wearing a blue and white striped shirt.”
Lauren turned her head and felt a frisson of shock that there really was a guy, in a blue and white shirt, staring straight at her. She averted her eyes and glanced away. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that her face had turned an interesting shade of red.
“He’s been watching you all fucking night. And you didn’t even notice, did you?”
How the hell could she have noticed? Why the hell would she have noticed when Logan Crenshaw was sitting next to her?
“That’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. I trust you, babe.” He tilted his head toward the table across the restaurant. “It’s them I don’t trust.”
Logan’s features were grim; he wore the familiar mask that covered his features when he was barely holding onto his control. Lauren took another swift glance at the guy. “He’s with a woman.”
“Yeah, he is, you know what that makes him?”
“An asshole? A douche bag?” She threw out recklessly.
“I’m serious,” he snapped.
“So am I.” She thought about it a bit more. “Okay, so it makes him a cheater, probably unfaithful.”
“Yeah, and that’s at the least. At the worst the motherfucker is a predator.”
“I’m not in danger, Logan. You’re sitting right beside me and besides, he wouldn’t just dump that woman he’s with.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him. And hell no, you’re not in danger while I’m with you.” He reached down and pulled her face toward his and lifted it until she was looking at him. “And that’s my point entirely. You keep running off here and there and everywhere, someday, you might get hurt. You don’t take the time to notice what’s going on around you, Lauren. You think the world is peaches and cream and that the bad people live far, far away when in fact, they’re all around you.”
“What do you want me to do?” She felt a stab of both anger and helplessness. She suppressed the helplessness that wouldn’t get her crap and she focused on her anger. “You’re not upset about that guy over there. You’re angry about my job. But what the hell am I supposed to do? It’s. My. Job. I don’t have a choice. You’re acting as if I’m just out for a good time, running around to happy hour here and there, jetting to this city and that. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m earning a freakin’ living here, Logan, in case you haven’t noticed.”
At the end of her tirade, the server brought the bill and Logan took care of it in silence. He encapsulated her wrist in his hand and brought her to her feet. Looking down at her as they stood beside the table, he kissed her, long and hard, and Lauren knew he did it just to prove a point to the anonymous man who watched them.
But still, audience or no audience, she couldn’t help it; she melted in his arms.
He ended the kiss and his eyes blazed down into hers.
“We’ll finish this at the house.”
Lauren’s pulse skyrocketed and she didn’t know if she couldn’t wait to get there or if she dreaded it altogether.
The drive to his house was silent, but he held her hand gripped tightly in his, his thumb running around making circles on her flesh.
It felt as if he was marking her, branding her, forcing her not to forget who she sat next to.
Like she could possibly forget.
She swallowed hard as he led her inside, and her palms became sweaty and the moisture between her legs built. She was excited; she couldn’t deny it. There was no question that he excited her when he acted like this.
He led her through the darkened house, not taking the time to turn any lights on. She followed helplessly behind him, her hand encapsulated within his grasp.
When they arrived at the master bedroom, he shut and locked the door and pulled her into his arms. He leaned back against the closed door, and wrapped his arms around her waist, spread his legs wide and brought her in, close to him.
The room was dark, the quarter moon supplying the only light coming in from the sheer curtains and Lauren breathed heavily while she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimness that surrounded them.
He slid his hands down to the hem of her shirt and lifted it over her head and tossed it away. Lights exploded in Lauren’s head and her heart pounded an erratic rhythm.
He unsnapped her bra, and pushed it apart. Slipping his t-shirt over his head, he brought her torso back to his, their now naked skin hot against one another. Lauren felt the impact as a current of electricity bolted down her spine. His hand slid into her hair and clenched tightly around her skull.
“Have you figured out why they look at you?”
At the sound of his rough voice and the controlling movement of his hand on her scalp, Lauren began to softly pant.
Jesus, she couldn’t figure out if she loved his jealousy or if she hated it.
Okay. Loved it, yeah, she loved it.
“It’s the same reason your motherfucking boss wants you for all the trips, wants you to take the clients out to dinner, wants you to entertain them at happy hour. You figure it out, babe?” She continued to pant, her breath coming in and out as he got on a roll and continued to bitch. She knew she should listen to him, but Christ, his skin was so hot and he smelled so good and it had been two days since they’d done it and her hormones were going crazy.
When she remained silent, he pushed the bra off her arms and tossed it aside until she was completely naked on top. His thumb brushed once, twice, and then three times across her nipple and Lauren moaned and shifted her body closer to his, trying to align their crotches together.
He groaned at her movements, but he was on some kind of a mission to get her to understand. “It’s because you’re beautiful. That’s the reason. Yeah, I know you’re smart. I’m not denying that. Obviously you’re intelligent and I’m sure you do a kickass job. But that ain’t it, babe. It’s because you’re fucking gorgeous and your cock-sucking bosses are exploiting that fact.”
Lauren thought she should probably take offense at what he was saying. But she was too far-gone; she was only hearing his jealousy, which, as much as she tried to deny it to herself, kind of excited her. And damn if what he was saying wasn’t exactly what Heidi told her all the time. So she really didn’t think she could be angry at the content of his words.
But what the hell was she supposed to do about it? She wasn’t being sexually harassed in a way that made her think her job was on the line, even though, admittedly, she did get attention she didn’t want or enjoy. She wasn’t scared to go to work or to do the things they asked her to do. She was good at her job and she needed to eat. It wasn’t as if she could just quit tomorrow.
She tightened her mouth and forcing herself to rein in her raging hormones, she pulled away from his arms.
“I don’t have a fairy godmother,” she said.
“What?” He made a grab at her but she stepped away and managed to elude him.
She slid her arms up and attempted to cover her breasts while she held her hand to her mouth, trying to suppress her nerves.
“I don’t have anyone to wave a magic wand over me or sprinkle stardust in my hair and supply me with clothes and stuff. I have to work. I need to eat. Pay my bills. That kind of crap. What exactly are you suggesting I do? Quit my very high-paying job just because my boss likes the way I look and thinks it might bring him some business? Besides, I can’t prove that. He’s never hit on me. He’s freakin’ in love with his wife. If anything, he sees me as a granddaughter. The dude is old, Logan. Yeah, maybe he thinks I’m sweet and pretty and that I know how to help the sales guys get customers to sign contracts. Go figure. It’s the world. It’s out there everywhere.”
“Lauren–” He began to pull her back into his arms but she backed up a step.
“Really. I’m asking you what the fuck do you really want from me, Logan?”
His mouth clamped.
“Come back here.”
“No.” She took another step back and shook her head.
He followed her, a dark mask clouding his countenance.
“Come. Back. Here.”
“No. And the truth of the matter is that you don’t know what you want, do you? You
know I can’t quit my job.” Rancor sharpened her voice. “You’re just pissed because I have a life that doesn’t include you.”
“That’s not it,” he intoned harshly, both accusation and a threat of punishment glittering in his eyes.
Lauren took another step backwards, wondering what kind of fire she was playing with.
“I think it is.”
He took a menacing, sexual step forward. “You’d be wrong.”
Lauren swung away and hadn’t taken two strides before he pounced on her.
Logan’s hands sank into Lauren’s hips and he lifted her from behind and carried her, vertically, to the bed. He twisted her around, tossed her on her back and followed her down.
He loomed over her and something intense flared between them as they stared into each other’s eyes. They panted together; they were so close together that they pulled in each other’s oxygen. His gaze raked over her naked chest and without hesitation, he reached down and stripped her skirt and underwear from her body, leaving her completely nude.
Lauren’s heart beat erratically as her body filled with a pulsing heat that held her in its grip. Logan’s cheekbones tinged a deep red as he caged her in, and the tic in his jaw began throbbing, proving his involvement in the moment. The air around them electrified and her heart lurched with excitement.
He rose to his knees and then to his feet and shrugged out of his remaining clothes, never taking his eyes away from her. He came back to her fully naked, and Lauren began to feel a mild panic as he began to lift her leg to the position over his arm that he seemed to favor so much.
“Stop,” she squeaked.
He halted with effort, fire blazing from his narrowed eyes. His nostrils flared and he shook his head as if to clear it.
“What the fuck, babe? You can’t be asking me to stop.”
Lauren heard the pure agony in his voice and took a deep breath.
God, no, she didn’t want him to stop.
“I’m not asking you to stop. I’m telling you to get a condom.”
With a rare moment of discomposure, he pulled away from her, a stream of obscenities leaving his mouth.
Returning to her twenty seconds later, he crawled back on top of her and pushed her legs apart. He lifted her leg until it was hooked over his arm and his other hand grabbed her wrists and manacled them over her head. He leaned down and kissed her, his tongue going in deep, tasting the farthest recesses of her mouth. His lips continued to cover hers hungrily and as he tasted her, his erection lay hot and heavy on her stomach between them.
His kiss suddenly became punishing, and Lauren’s heart skipped an extra beat as she realized the depth of the emotions conflicting him.
He lifted his head and stared down at her.
“Someday you’re not going to ask me to wear a rubber; you’re going to want my cum. You won’t be scared of it forever. I promise you that, babe. It’ll happen, mark my words.”
What he was telling her was blowing her mind.
Was he telling her that she was going to want his babies? Was he acting as if that was what he wanted as well?
Lauren shuddered as he began to push inside, his manhood long and thick and probing.
He stopped just an inch inside of her, at the place where he stretched her, at the place where she desperately needed him to go farther. Her eyelids closed but he wouldn’t have it. “Open your eyes and look at me.”
Lauren’s pulse skittered as she opened her eyes. His mouth was flattened, as if he were fighting his arousal, trying to prove a point to her. “I get that you have to go out of town.” His fist released her hands and he sank his fingers into her scalp, holding her hostage. “I get that you have to have a job,” he growled,
His lips pulled over his teeth in a snarl.
“But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.”
He pulled back and pushed all the way inside and Lauren mewled in the back of her throat as his fullness inundated her, her wet heat easing his way. His hand tightened and his face was slashed with lines of arousal.
“But while you’re away, while all those motherfuckers are sitting with you and fucking around with you and doing nothing but dreaming about fucking your little ass,”
he paused, as if his own words enraged him, and took another stroke and slammed back in. “Don’t you forget that you belong to me. Every inch of you, Lauren. It’s mine. You understand me? I’m not going to share. I’m never going to share, and I’ll kill any cocksucker who tries to take what’s mine.” His hand left her hair and slid down and lifted her chin. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” It was all Lauren could say. She understood all right.
She understood that she shouldn’t love the tone of his voice, but she did. She understood that she shouldn’t find his words and his actions hotly addicting, but she did. She knew she shouldn’t love his over-the-top machismo, but Jesus, she did. And just as long as he continued to protect her, take care of her and cherish her and want her as badly as he did, she was going to ignore what she should be feeling, and concentrate only on what she was feeling.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, ready to concede this to him so he’d put her out of her misery and start moving.
“Yeah, I understand. I’m yours and you won’t share,” she repeated succinctly. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
His fingers pinched her chin and he kissed her hotly, firmly, just once.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he growled.
She pressed her hands to the back of his neck to urge him closer.
“I agree, so will you just shut up and fuck me now?”
The last thing she saw on his face was total satisfaction before his mouth came back to hers. He began pumping into her with long, even strokes that completely decimated her and sent her heat index soaring. He adjusted her legs and sank in even more deeply, going all the way inside and hitting the sweet spot that had her coming in seconds.
Lauren heard a ringing in her ears and a faint scream coming from somewhere in the room and barely recognized that she was the one making the noise.
Logan reared up on his knees and began hammering her with such inflamed strokes that she thought she’d died and blissfully floated off to heaven.
She heard his low groan, and then it turned into a heavy growl as he pushed against her womb, coming inside of her and completing her in a way that she knew only he would be able to.
Lauren was gone for four days and Logan somehow managed to play nice on the evening that she returned. She had no idea how he managed it, but she gave him big points.
He took her out to dinner and he made slow, hot love to her, three times, in his bed. He didn’t refer to her trip at all, not even once, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Since he managed to restrain his words, she couldn’t really hold it against him when he held her just a little bit tighter, breathed in her scent just a little bit deeper, and pushed her to achieve more orgasms in one love-making session than she’d ever thought possible.
Yes, he played very nice. But the next night, it came close to all hell breaking loose again. And Lauren really didn’t know how it didn’t. She had a happy hour and dinner meeting scheduled with new clients that she couldn’t get out of. There were several members of their team going, and unfortunately, Nico was one of them. The guy just never really seemed to get that Lauren was involved with someone else, even though both she and Heidi had reiterated that fact to him several times.
He was obnoxious the entire night. His attitude reflected poorly on their company, and Lauren was so pissed she could hardly see straight. They managed to perform well at work together, so why did these after-hours meetings seem to screw him up so badly?
She breathed a sigh of relief when the evening was over. They almost got the client to sign, and there was little doubt in her mind that by the end of the week, they would.
She said goodbye to the members of her team, and she drove the clients, a man and a woman, to the airport.
All seemed well and the only thing she had to deal with now was Logan. She wasn’t too worried though, because she’d pretty much figured out how to handle him. She usually just let him have his tirade and then she let him dominate her in bed, which he seemed to need, as it was the only thing that soothed him. And it didn’t hurt that she craved it, as well.
There was one thing she couldn’t do, and that was worry about her job. So, she didn’t. She didn’t worry about her job, and she didn’t worry about Logan. It was true that his dislike of her job was a huge conflict, but in her mind at least, she’d figured out a way to make the two most important things in her life coexist.
So everything was going fairly damn well until her car spluttered and died. She’d been at the secondary, smaller airport on the south end of town, and now she sat in her car and wondered what to do.
If she called Logan, he would use this as an excuse to rage at her for being out too late, putting herself in danger and all that.
Unfortunately she didn’t have Triple A. And her father, who had always taken care of stuff like this for her, was at home in Ohio. For a brief moment, she thought about calling Heidi or John. But there was just one problem with that. Logan would find out and that would piss him off as much or more than her being out in the first place.
She abruptly quit putting it off and called Logan and waited.
“Where you at?” he questioned without any preamble, instead of answering with a simple hello. Lauren heard the sound of his voice and as always, it sent pleasure all the way to her toes. Would she ever get used to his caveman-like grunts? He never spoke in complete sentences. Everything was so basic with him.
“I dropped the clients at the airport,” she tried to sound matter-of-fact but wasn’t sure she’d pulled it off.
He must have heard something in her voice.
She took a shuddering breath.
“Please don’t go off half-cocked.”
Three long seconds passed before he answered neutrally,
“My car broke down,” she announced on a deflated sigh.
“Are you with the car now?” His voice was suddenly all terse, very business-like.
“Yes. On the shoulder of the road.”
“Okay, that’s good. Do me a favor, baby.” His voice gentled and wrapped around her like a caress. “Look around you. Where’s the closest place with a lot of people?”
Lauren held the phone to her ear and swiveled her neck.
“There’s a McDonald’s across the street.”
“Can you cross the street safely?”
“Okay. Grab your purse, switch on your flashers, and get over there and then call me back. Do it now.”
Logan forced himself to breathe slowly and steadily as he went to meet her. He knew she was safe; there wasn’t any reason he should be panicking. He focused on that calming thought as he drove up to the McDonald’s some twenty minutes later. He walked into the fast-food restaurant, and found Lauren sitting in a booth, reading on her cell phone. She glanced up with a look he couldn’t read when he came to stand over her.
He attempted not to touch her, just to prove to himself that he could, but it was out of his control. He leaned down and planted a kiss on her lips.
He stood back to his full height and studied her. She looked a little shell-shocked. “I didn’t see your car.”
“They towed it.”
“What? You couldn’t stop them?”
“No. They said it was in the way and someone might hit it and get hurt. I didn’t want to argue because they might have been right.”
He gave her a look and tilted his head toward the door.
Lauren followed him to his truck. He started the engine and then leaned toward her and tilted her chin up.
“Are you okay?” He ran his eyes over her but he couldn’t make out what was making her hold herself so stiffly.
“Yeah, just waiting.” Her voice sounded resigned and he didn’t care for her loss of animation.
“Waiting for what, babe?” he asked, as gently as he could while he inhaled the fragrance of her skin and tried to absorb the calming knowledge that she was indisputably safe.
“Waiting for you to start yelling,” she responded softly.
Guilt pierced him.
“What makes you think I’m going to yell?”
She watched him, studying his features.
“You want to, don’t you?”
He tried like hell to lie to her, but he couldn’t. “What I want to do is strangle your boss.”
A tiny hint of a smile lifted her lips and she leaned over and kissed him on the lips.
She was thanking him?
“For what?” he asked, the pleasure of her touch fucking with his brain just like it always did.
“For not taking this out of my hide,” she said, cutting her eyes to his.
Logan felt the arrow in his groin, just where she’d aimed it. “Oh, darlin’, just wait ’til I get you home.”
The rest of the week flew by for Lauren. Logan took care of everything that had to do with her vehicle. He arranged for a rental to be delivered to her, and he handled the dealership that was working on her car.
Lauren had to admit, it felt nice to have him take care of her that way. Sure, she could have handled it herself if she’d had to, but why not let him? He expected her to let him do it, and she was busy with other things, so she let him handle it.
The days passed in a blur of work and Logan, and by the beginning of the following week, she had her car back.
She also had another dinner meeting scheduled, and she was forced to break the news to Logan when he texted her and tried to confirm where they would meet that evening.
I’m going to be busy until late. Maybe tomorrow?
Dinner with clients.
He didn’t text back right away and Lauren knew he was thinking about what he would type. His texts always came back swiftly, and this time it didn’t. She knew he was upset, but there wasn’t a lot she could do about it.
When he finally sent a message, it was a simple question.
Is ten tonight okay?
God, she wasn’t going to get any sleep at all and decided to tell him so.
I kind of need some sleep.
I’ll let you sleep.
Would he let her sleep? Lauren had no idea. The guy could burn the candle at both ends when he wanted to. Still, she did want to see him and she loved sleeping next to him.
You want to come to my house?
He replied in two seconds:
Okay. See you at ten.
Lauren set her phone down and wondered what she’d just opened herself up for. He was always volatile when she got home from meeting with clients. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that he’d go ballistic on her ass once again.
Her stomach muscles clenched just thinking about it.
She did need sleep, but God, she was a lucky girl.
Lauren was totally wiped out when she pulled into the parking lot of her apartment at nine-thirty. She hated never-ending work days like the one she’d just had. She was so tired and already dreading the next day so much that all she wanted was a bed and a pillow.
As she was getting out of her car, Logan pulled in after her. As she gathered her things and pushed open her door, he came around and held her it open. There was no mistaking the grimace on his face.
“I was trying to beat you here.”
“Why?” she asked as she began walking up to her apartment.
“Obviously, I didn’t want you walking around in the parking lot by yourself at night.”
Lauren wasn’t surprised. She knew him pretty well by now and this was just another example of his method of operation.
As she unlocked her front door, he stood to the side.
“Why don’t you gather some things and we’ll go back to my place.” The way he projected the words could have been a question, but somehow, Lauren knew it wasn’t.
But she truly didn’t care where they slept. She was completely neutral on the idea and decided to let him have this one if it would expedite getting some sleep. “Okay. I’ll just be a minute . . . or you can go on and I’ll meet you there.”
“You think I’m going to let you walk in the dark by yourself just so I can get home a few minutes earlier?”
Well, hell no, what had she been thinking?
“Okay, I’ll only be a minute.”
As Lauren gathered her stuff, throwing everything in the cosmetics bag that she’d learned to keep handy, she heard him in the living room, surfing through television channels. It didn’t take long for her to gather her work clothes for the morning, and she came out of the bedroom ready to go.
“We’re going to leave your car here. I’ll drive you back in the morning.” He didn’t take his attention from the television as he made that statement, but nevertheless, Lauren got the idea his focus was solely on her; she felt the subtle tension that held him so stiffly.
She debated on how to handle him. It niggled at her that every time she gave him an inch, he tried to push for a mile. Did he think that she didn’t notice what he was doing? But at the same time, she didn’t care one way or the other, in fact, she’d probably rather ride with him. She was tired and didn’t feel like driving, and her apartment was centered between his house and her work, so she wouldn’t be losing time in the morning.
“Then why are we even going? We should sleep here, it’ll be so much easier.” She turned as if the decision was made, and dropped her floral bag that held her things just inside her bedroom door. Then she went and sat by him on the couch as if she were settling in for a while.
Lauren fully expected him to go commando on her ass, because slowly and surely, he was always pushing her to stay at his house. But he didn’t. He was sneaky about it, damn him. And maybe he was actually telling the truth?
His muscles tensed as he turned to face her.
“I’ve got another couple of hours of work I need to finish tonight and I need to be at the house to do it.”
She leaned back farther in her seat.
“Then why didn’t you tell me to meet you there in the first place?”
“I thought I’d be finished before now. And time slipped away and I forgot to text you again.”
Lauren studied him as his perfectly reasonable words sank in. He picked up a strand of her hair and proceeded to annihilate her heart even more when his voice gentled.
“But if you’re too tired to come with me, just rest here and I’ll go get my laptop and stuff and be back in half an hour. I should have brought it all when I left the house.”
Just when she thought she had this guy pegged. “Logan . . . ”
His hand slid from her hair and his thumb swirled around her jaw.
“I’ll probably be asleep when you get back . . . you know, too tired to . . . ”
Her words trailed off as his fingers caressed the line of her cheekbone. He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
“That’s fine. I want you to sleep. But you’re okay if I come back and finish my project and then sleep here with you?” As she watched him, he added, “Just sleep, okay?”
She reached out with trembling fingers and laced her fingers with is.
“You want to just sleep with me?”
A muscle clenched at his jaw.
“Yeah, I don’t know why, I seem to sleep better when you’re in my arms.”
At his words, her heart began slamming against her breastbone as emotion suffused her. She took a deep breath, not able to form an answer even if she’d needed to.
That night had been another pivotal point in their relationship. At first what she’d thought had been a power play, was actually anything but.
Logan wanted her near him. It was obvious, she could tell, and he’d more or less admitted as much when he told her that he slept better with her in his arms.
After that night, they slept together every night, if Lauren was in town.
His place was bigger and nicer and had that awesome swimming pool in the backyard, and a lot of Lauren’s things began migrating to live at his house. Lauren knew it was happening, and as every single item of her stuff found a new home, she knew she was getting in deeper. But that didn’t scare her; she was comfortable in their relationship and decided to go with the flow and see where it would lead.
One rainy Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, Lauren was trying to prepare coffee in his kitchen and found herself grumbling under her breath when Logan walked into the room. He was freshly showered and looked immaculate and she felt like everything was out of control in her life. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her and buried his head in her neck.
“What’s the problem?”
“Nothing,” she denied sharply, absolutely not her best in the morning without her coffee.
He spun her around to face him and tipped her chin up with a finger.
“Tell me what’s wrong.”
She’d put up with it for about as long as she could stand it. Lauren threw out a hand and indicated his kitchen. “It’s all wrong.”
His eyes narrowed as he glanced around.
“Nothing’s wrong with my kitchen. It’s exactly like the rest of my house. It’s organized and everything has a place.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head at him, trying to shake him loose, too impatient to try to explain something to him that he was too male to see.
He frowned and his hold tightened.
“Don’t blow me off. Tell me what the hell is wrong with my kitchen.”
“Everything,” she gritted out.
A sense of urgency seemed to come over him and any patience he had remaining, splintered.
“Tell me,” he grunted.
Lauren blew out a breath.
“The coffee cups should be kept in the cabinet above the coffee-maker. All the coffee stuff should be kept there. The hot pad holder thingies should be kept in the drawer next to the stove where they’ll be needed, not across the room in the top cabinet, where nobody can reach them. The glasses and plates should be in the cabinet either to the left or to the right of the dishwasher, where they can be unloaded more quickly, without having to take a million steps.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “I can go on.” She raised her eyebrows. “You want me to keep on or do you get the picture?”
His face was expressionless for a moment. But then it changed and he looked astounded, as if a light bulb had just gone off in his head. Then he began laughing. He glanced around the kitchen and then back to her. He frowned in confusion.
“What’s wrong with the plates being in the cabinet directly above the dishwasher? Why to the left or the right?”
She narrowed her eyes at him and would have slammed her hands on her hips if he hadn’t held her so tightly. “Because I’m too short to reach that cabinet when the dishwasher is opened. I have to walk all the way around it and then go up on my tip-toes.”
There was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes and she felt like hitting him.
“Why not just stack them on the counter and close the dishwasher and then put them away?”
She felt a flare of temper and gave him a withering stare.
“Are you arguing with me just for the sake of an argument?” She exhaled a pent-up breath. “I don’t like to extend housework. I like to get it finished quickly and stacking the dishes is adding another step to the process.”
“So, basically you’re okay with the kitchen, you just don’t like the way I have things arranged?”
Her lips flattened and she crossed her arms over her chest.
“Yep.” She took a deep breath and took a look around. “The kitchen itself is gorgeous.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“So change it.”
Lauren didn’t think she’d heard correctly. Mr. Perfectionist was telling her she could mess with his stuff? “I’m sorry, what?”
“Change it. Move the crap around. Put it where you want it. I don’t care; I don’t spend a lot of time in here.” He turned to walk out. “I’ve got work to do, let me know if you need help with any of the heavy stuff.” And then he stopped and turned and faced her again. “Lauren . . . if there’s anything at all about the house you don’t like, just change it and if you need help, tell me, okay?”
She nodded, and after he left, Lauren leaned back against the sink, totally discomfited. He’d answered her in a serious tone, as if he really wanted her to be happy and at home. She took a few deep breaths, trying to slow her heart rate. And then she glanced around at the gorgeous kitchen with a tiny arrow of excitement that she tried to suppress. This was going to be fun.
Things were getting deeper by the day.
Two hours later, Logan walked on silent feet to the bar that overlooked the kitchen. Lauren was on her knees with her head and shoulders inside one of the lower cabinets and all his stuff was in piles and stacks on top of the granite countertops. A sharp, fierce coil of pleasure heated his guts as he silently watched her.
The feeling wasn’t sexual. At least not for the most part. His satisfaction was coming from having her in his kitchen, messing with his stuff, moving it around and putting her mark on it, making it hers.
Whoa. He wanted his kitchen to be her kitchen. That was damn basic.
He stood and watched her for a few moments, enjoying the sway of her hips and the perfect roundness of her butt as she reached farther into the low space. He swelled against his jeans, but he fought his arousal, because this moment wasn’t about sex. A gratified smile twisted his lips, and a haunting fire licked down his spine. He was getting so close. So fucking close to his goal, that he could taste it.
It didn’t escape Logan’s notice that he should be running for cover and throwing her out of his house. That’s what guys were supposed to do when women got too clingy, wasn’t it? But damn, she never got clingy. Besides, Lauren wasn’t like other women. Other women, he could barely tolerate. They were usually good for only one thing, but that wasn’t the case with Lauren. Lauren was her own woman, damn it; she had a life of her own and he continually had to ram himself against her reserved outer layer so that he could be a part of that life.
But he was getting close.
He’d have her, and sooner, rather than later, if he had his way about it. She was like the proverbial Little Red Riding Hood, taking one step too close to the Big, Bad Wolf.
And when she did, he’d have her. And that would be that.
Lauren turned off the water in the shower stall and breathed a sigh of relief. Crawling around in the cabinets and moving everything around had taken a lot more work than she’d expected. She grabbed a towel, wrapped it around her body and walked out of the bathroom.
Drying her hair with another large towel, she came to a dead halt in the middle of the bedroom. Her stomach twisted with heat, and her nerves jangled to life.
Logan lay on the center of the bed, completely nude, with his hands laced behind his head, staring straight at her. He lifted a hand and crooked a finger at her, and Lauren’s eyes took in his straining erection.
“Come here,” he drawled deep in his throat.
Never thinking to deny him, never wanting to, like an automaton, Lauren took two seconds to squeeze the excess moisture from her hair and then dropped the towel on the floor. Goosebumps shivered over her skin and as his erection jerked and throbbed, her feminine channel flooded with answering moisture.
It was a damp and dreary day, romantic in the bedroom with the rain softly falling against the windowpanes, and Lauren didn’t hesitate. She dropped the remaining towel that hid her body from his, and climbed over the foot of the bed.
Their glances connected and his arrogant half-smile disappeared completely as tension gripped his muscles. Incendiary heat built between them and the primal expression on his face accelerated the blood as it pumped through her veins. She felt an intoxicating need to take him into her mouth. He only ever allowed it for a small while; his patience was always tested and she never got to play with him the way she wanted to. It never failed, he always flipped her to her back before she got what she wanted; he rarely allowed her to bring him to completion this way. But when he did, it was awe- inducing.
Lauren looked at the washboard abs of his six-pack clenched in uncontested strength. He seemed to lounge back almost indolently, but she knew him well enough to know it was a facade; he looked as if he could attack in two seconds flat if he wanted to or needed to. She smelled the raw sizzle of primitive hunger that wrapped around them. His face was stamped with authority, like he was about to get his way in all things, but Lauren was about to dispute that dominance in a non-verbal way of her own.
She slowly scooted up another few inches, keeping her eyes on him the entire time, as if he were a sleeping lion that couldn’t be trusted. His legs were spread just enough that she could slide between his thighs and keep her own legs tightly closed. She made the move and took his straining cock triumphantly in one hand.
His head jerked and he sucked oxygen in through his teeth.
he growled, his hands staying behind his head for the moment, but the muscles in his forearms were strained and his biceps bulged.
She leaned down and took a single swipe with her tongue, her lips against the head of his arousal as she held his eyes.
“You better be careful,”
he said in a rough threat that sent chills down her midsection, but scared her, not in the least.
“I’m always careful around you, Logan,” she purred, taking another swipe with her tongue. “I’d be crazy not to be.”
She found a drop of pre-cum, sticky and salty, and as he watched, she licked it up and savored it on her tongue before swallowing. Then she moved up another notch and fastening her eyes on his, she took him deep in her mouth and held him there.
His eyes flared and his hands jerked down and landed on her shoulders. Lauren felt the small, square package he’d held ready in his fingers the entire time. He watched her now, intently, looking drugged and mesmerized as she continued to taste him. Lauren sucked and licked him, exactly the way they both liked it best.
He groaned, deep and long, and Lauren thought for a moment that he would let her finish what she was doing, but it wasn’t to be. He released her and lifted the plastic package to his mouth, ripping it open with his teeth. He moved her away and pulled her up to him by the shoulders, donning the protection quickly. “Later.” And then he flipped her to her back and came over her. He moved down over her stomach, scattering a wet path of kisses over her belly. He stopped and draped her thighs over his shoulders and began performing the same act on her that he’d just made her abandon on him. His tongue was hot and wet, and he put his finger on her clit and began massaging it, in time with the strokes of his tongue as it plunged in and out of her.
Lauren saw stars and began to feel a familiar tightening sensation, but he knew it, damn him, and he changed his tactic. He slid his long, thick, middle finger inside of her and began swiping her clit with his tongue, abrading it and rubbing it until her world narrowed to him and only him.
“Logan,” she began.
“What,” he asked, in a deep, rough voice, but he never stopped.
“Logan,” she tried again.
“What?” he asked more harshly as she began a keening sound that signaled her coming release.
Lauren’s brain liquefied and colors lit the sky. At the height of her orgasm, her thought process splintered and all she could think of was one thing. “I love you,” she panted in mind-blowing oblivion, just as her world exploded around her.
He held her tightly with his mouth and hands for a few seconds while she rode her orgasm, and then he pulled away from her only long enough to crawl on top and sink inside of her.
He took one deep breath and began lunging inside of her, his hold on her unbreakable.
Lauren knew something was different, but she was too far-gone to identify what it was. She only knew Logan was following her over, coming inside of her and that he was gripping her more tightly than he’d ever done before. She let go of the tiny thought that plagued her and focused on the joy that he’d brought into her world.
Logan lay beside Lauren with his arm thrown over his forehead, taking huge drags of oxygen into his lungs. Nothing he’d ever experienced in his life could compare to what had just happened to him. Not before her, and not since he’d met her. It was always good with her, it had always been good, from the very beginning, but what she’d just said to him was literally blowing his mind.
He liked it. No question he liked it. Fuck, he loved it.
But had she meant what she’d said? Or had she only said it because she’d been under the influence of a powerful orgasm? Did she only think she loved him because he knew how to push all of her buttons, how to give her the kind of sex that he knew for a fact she loved and that she’d never had before he came along?
Whatever. He was going to hold on tight and soon, he would remind her of what she’d said, because there was one damn thing he knew for sure: she was never getting away from him.
Lauren slowly recovered and she opened her eyes to find Logan flat on his back with his arm over his forehead, but his head was turned toward her and he was staring at her. His eyes held an expression she’d never seen before, except for possibly the first time they’d gone to bed together. They smoldered with a feral fire, a possessiveness that was inflexible. He stared at her without mercy, with no respite offered, with an irrefutable look that told her unequivocally that she belonged to him. She could clearly read the expression on his face. Suddenly, she knew; the window of opportunity to try to impose her will was gone. Logan was the master and he was seizing control.
She shivered in reaction and wondered what had put that expression on his face. And then it hit her like a shot in the dark.
She’d said it out loud. She’d told him the thing she’d been thinking for weeks. And he wasn’t kicking her out of bed and picking up his cell phone to block his number.
Oh, no, quite the contrary.
By his look she could tell that he was claiming her. He was letting her know that he’d not only heard what she’d said, but that he wasn’t going to let her take it back. He was invoking his authority and asserting his power.
He would get his way in this.
A mind-numbing arrow of bliss flipped her stomach over. And why shouldn’t she let him have his way?
There was no reason she shouldn’t.
He was a good man and she was madly in love with him.
Slowly, over the next two weeks, Logan made sure that Lauren almost completely moved in with him. As she stood in her apartment after work one day and looked at the non-existent clothes left in her closet, it suddenly hit her how much of a one-track mind he had about their relationship.
He wanted it cemented. Set in stone. He’d never told her, but she could clearly see it.
She looked around her apartment. Her furniture still remained, of course, as did most everything in her kitchen. But the stuff she used daily, her clothes, her toiletries, her personal effects, everything was at his house now.
She had a set of keys to his house, and he had a set of keys to her apartment, even though they never stayed here anymore.
As she stood and looked around, she realized how quickly her life had become centered around him. And she was glad.
He made her happy, and the only ‘but’ to the equation was how quickly it had all happened. She was twenty-five years old, and she had never really imagined herself getting in so deep at this age. Several of her friends had gotten married the second they’d graduated from college. So twenty-five certainly wasn’t too young, but in that farthest area of her brain where she vaguely thought about a husband and children, she saw it in the future, maybe somewhere around twenty-eight or thirty.
Logan had turned twenty-nine the week before. She didn’t know why that thought suddenly seemed important to her, but it did.
She bent down and grabbed the bag she’d been hunting for at the back of her closet and walked out to the living room and tried to focus.
Abruptly she came to a dead stop as the realization hit her.
Logan was going to ask her to marry him.
She took a deep breath and sank down on the couch. Now that she thought about it, there was little doubt in her mind. She didn’t know when or how soon, but the notion wouldn’t go away. He was so utterly possessive that just living with her wouldn’t be enough for him. He’d want it all. He’d want her body, heart and soul.
And he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He had no ‘give’ to him. She would have to decide if she was going to break up with him, or marry him. She wasn’t going to break up with him, no way. There wasn’t a decision to be made. There was no way in hell she was giving him up.
Her heart began pounding against her breastbone as she went over his actions. He’d maneuvered her into this relationship from the very second he’d caught her staring at him, and she hadn’t really known why, other than the obvious reason.
He’d never said he loved her.
And she’d never said it again, either.
But thinking about it now, and not for the first time, she thought he did love her. He was just too ‘into her’, too caring, too possessive, too protective. It was almost as if his world revolved around her, and she got a squishy, marshmallow-like feeling in the pit of her stomach just thinking about it. Yeah, he gave her goosebumps and butterflies, and they didn’t seem to be letting up as the months slid by.
He was protective and so utterly possessive. She thought about what he’d said to her about someday wanting his sperm. Lauren could well and truly imagine having his children. She tried to picture another man as the father of those ambiguous little babies, and nothing came to her. Just the idea repelled her. All she wanted was Logan.
So she knew he was going to ask her to marry him. Or if she knew Logan, he’d probably
tell her that she was going to marry him. And she was going to say yes, quick fast.
So, really, the only question was, when would it happen?
Logan pushed inside of Lauren and then stilled, trying to let the feel of her wrapped tightly around him soothe the ache he felt. Yeah, he had an ache, an emptiness in the pit of his stomach that he thought would be appeased by sliding into her, but it was still there, fucking with his head.
He kissed her gently on the mouth and smoothed back her hair. She was soft and hot and tight around him, and he knew in a few seconds he wasn’t going to be able to control himself any longer. He was going to start pumping no matter what his brain was telling him to do.
But for now, he delved his tongue into her mouth and tasted her. She tasted of warmth and sweetness, of Lauren and. . . home. His tongue swirled around, tempting her to play with him. She moaned sweetly into his mouth, and she began sucking on his tongue as her hips lifted in a silent attempt to get him to move. An arrow of pure lust slammed him hard, but he still had a nagging emptiness that he couldn’t explain.
He lifted his head and stared down at her. She was peering at him intently, with her arms wrapped around his shoulders. She stared at him with a look of open desire, and his heart turned over in response.
“You’re so sweet.”
Her sultry look turned so tender that it almost took his breath away.
“You’re sweet too, Logan.”
He pushed farther inside and a spark arced between them, even as he quirked a half-smile.
“No, I’m not, I’m an ass.” He tried to ignore the current of electricity that flowed between them and concentrate on her.
She hit his shoulder and lifted her hips at the same time.
“You’re my ass.”
He couldn’t help it, he let out a smirk and she said, “That didn’t come out the right way.”
He dropped a single kiss on her lips.
“I know what you meant.”
“And I’m right, aren’t I? You’re mine.” Her blue eyes held his.
He nodded his head, his gaze on hers as the demand she made somewhat mitigated the ache he felt.
“And I’m yours,” she continued softly.
“Oh, yeah. You’re mine.” He slid out and pumped back into her, and she gasped. “You want me to do that again?”
She pushed her hips up to his, silently begging him for more.
“I always want you to do that again,” she said in a voice colored with heightened arousal.
He slid his hands around her face.
“And I’m here to make you happy.” He swallowed hard and tried to temper his voice. “I’ll do it again if you tell me one thing,” he bargained.
Her eyes were slipping closed, the purity in the lines of her face being replaced with a primitive hunger, but he couldn’t allow that to happen, not yet, not until he got what he needed from her to fill the starving place in his heart. “Hey, open your eyes.”
Her eyes flew open.
She wriggled against him, her hips thrusting up to his.
“Okay. I’m going to give it to you, baby. Right after you tell me something.”
Her eyebrows came together in confusion.
“What do you want?”
He stared down at her. He had to have this. He nudged her with his hips.
She panted softly, her wet heat dripping for him the longer he made her wait.
“Tell you what?” she mewled as her internal muscles clenched around him, and he knew she was trying to soothe her own ache.
He gritted his teeth at her provocative action and refused to move.
“Tell me, Lauren.”
Abruptly, he knew when she finally understood what he was asking. A pink flush came over her face and he felt the slight tremble of her hands at his shoulders. Her hips stopped moving and her eyes closed and then opened again. She licked her lips.
He could see it there. The truth. He could see the love shining from her eyes, but she wasn’t opening her mouth to give him the words.
He had to have the words.
He tightened his hold on her cheekbones. “Baby, it’s going to be okay. I’ve got you. You can trust me.” He kept his words calm and steady so she wouldn’t know how messed up he was on the inside. “I’ll never let anything or anyone hurt you. I need this.
I need you. You’ve got to give me the words again before I go crazy.”
His eyes focused on her pink lips and surrendering for the moment, he dropped his mouth over hers.
His words captivated her. Lauren’s pulse raced as Logan’s lips parted hers and his tongue thrust inside. Her brain was nothing but scrambled mush. But she did understand one thing. He was all but begging her to tell him that she loved him again. And although he hadn’t just said the same words to her, what he had said had underlined how much he did love her.
He’d say it eventually.
She wasn’t going to force him into doing something he wasn’t ready to do yet.
And anyway, it didn’t matter because she knew the truth.
He loved her.
She threaded her fingers through his hair and kissed him back with everything she had to give.
He slowly began to pump into her, and desire came slamming back and hit her so hard it almost took her breath away.
She met him slow thrust for slow thrust.
In a mad state of delirium, she felt his mouth slide from hers and fasten on her ear. He pulled her lobe into his mouth and sucked her there.
And then he lifted from her and she opened her eyes to find him staring down at her. She knew her own eyes were drugged with the passion that held her in its thrall, and as he slowly pumped into her, she knew, deep in her heart, that she could never live without him.
She swallowed and stared up at him. “I love you,” she whispered, wanting nothing more than to give him what he wanted.
Lauren couldn’t describe the look on his face. His eyes closed for a second, and when they opened, he looked exalted. His features came alive and an expression of pure satisfaction lit his eyes.
His hands tightened on her and he stared at her as he slowly pumped into her, as if spellbound.
“Say it again.”
She felt her heart sing with delight and peace infiltrated her system.
“I love you.”
He slid in deep and Lauren gasped as he hit her womb. His eyes wouldn’t release hers. “Again,” he hissed, as arousal turned his voice to gravel.
he forced out between gritted teeth.
“I love you.”
His hands left her face and slid underneath her to lift her butt up. With a strength that sent crazy tingles through her stomach, he rose to his knees and brought her with him, until he knelt on the bed in a vertical position and held her pinned over him, his arousal pushing even deeper inside of her.
Her hands fell to his shoulders and gripped him there as lights began to dance in her head. Her lungs hurt as she tried to pull in enough oxygen, and a molten river of need hit her between the thighs as her body flooded with liquid heat.
He grasped her, his hands sinking under her butt and he lifted her up and down, stroking her on his erection and causing her world to become engulfed by the electricity that coursed between them.
He was purely masculine; he was strength personified.
She held none of the power between them, and yet she never felt powerless. He controlled her physically, but she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she controlled the happiness between them.
And with that knowledge, her heart turned over and currents of pleasure ran up and down her spine and exploded in a jolt that had her clinging to him as her inner muscles clenched around him. She could feel his muscles cording beneath her, she felt the surge of blood that hardened him that last bit, and she felt the groan that built in his chest before it erupted and exploded from his throat.
She held on tightly as he held her captive, and with the thought in her head that he was the best temptation she’d ever come across, she let her brain float away from her body and let her orgasm take over and blend with his.
Two weeks later, on a Wednesday, Lauren came from her immediate boss’s office feeling completely shell-shocked. She stumbled to her desk and sat down before she fell down. She couldn’t get a grip, couldn’t form a single thought in her head.
Five minutes later, she was still sitting like a zombie when Heidi walked up and grimaced.
“Your face is white. Are you okay?”
Lauren looked at her friend and only managed to shake her head.
Hell, no, she wasn’t okay.
“What’s wrong?” Heidi questioned, pulling up a chair and sitting down close enough to Lauren so they wouldn’t be overheard.
Lauren glanced around and made sure no one was close by.
“They want me to move to L.A,” she said tonelessly.
Heidi reared back, completely speechless for a couple of seconds.
“No fucking way.”
Lauren took a deep breath.
“Yeah. They do.”
“What for?” Heidi asked in a quick whisper.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Lauren whispered back, not quite believing it herself.
“Try me,” Heidi challenged.
Lauren held her friend’s eyes and said slowly, “Vice-president of sales.”
“No fucking way,” her friend breathed out again.
“I know, right?” Lauren asked, shocked to her core.
“Holy shit. I thought you were going to say something like ‘assistant to the CFO’, or something like that.”
“I know, if they want me to move, it should be for a financial position, if anything, right?” Lauren lifted her hand to her forehead and rubbed. She was quickly getting a stress headache.
“Well, yeah, but I can see why they’d want you in sales, too. But vice-president? Holy crap, Lauren. You can’t turn that down, can you?”
Lauren worried her lip before answering.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. They’ve given me a week to decide. The old guy, Richardson, he’s finally retiring.”
“I’m going to miss you,” Heidi said as if it was a done deal.
Lauren shook her head.
“I don’t think I can take it.”
Heidi looked thunderstruck, but she quickly recovered.
“Because of Logan?”
Lauren nodded her head and Heidi continued with a hint of a question,
“The amount of money they’re offering–”
Lauren cut in,
Heidi took a deep breath, commiseration in her eyes.
“But Logan is also unbelievable.”
Lauren nodded again, her eyes wide.
“Son of a bitch,” her friend blew out a breath.
“Sales,” Heidi pondered out loud. “Are you really that good? I mean, I know you’re a closer, everybody around here talks about how you can get anybody to sign practically anything. But is it true? I thought maybe it was just an exaggeration.”
Lauren shrugged her shoulders.
“I guess. I don’t think of myself as a salesman, though. I damn sure don’t have the gift of gab or whatever. I think maybe I just know numbers and can usually get the clients to understand how they’ll make a profit. A quick return on investment, that’s what they’re wanting and I tell them how it will happen.” Lauren studied Heidi and slowly grinned as pride in her achievement came to the fore. “And I can do it with a smile on my face.”
Heidi gave Lauren a knowing look.
“Yeah, and I’m sure that face of yours doesn’t hurt anything either. Especially since ninety percent of our clients are men,” she teased without an ounce of jealousy or animosity.
Lauren didn’t take offense but the words struck a chord of panic. “Logan’s going to shit a brick.”
“From what you’ve shared about him, yeah, that’s a given. So, you’re probably not going to take the job?” Heidi asked, her curiosity as strong as her disbelief.
“It goes without saying that you’re sworn to secrecy about this entire conversation?”
Heidi gave her a withering stare.
“I don’t think I’m going to take it,” Lauren admitted.
“If I were you, I don’t think I’d take it, either. There are always other jobs. And you’re damn good, Lauren. If you pass this up but stay with the company, other stuff will come up. They’re still going to love you just as much. But no matter what you decide to do, I’d for sure let that caveman of yours think you’re mulling it over.”
“Well, I am mulling it over,” Lauren responded quickly.
Heidi waved a hand.
“You know what I mean. This is a perfect opportunity to get the dude to commit. I mean, you do want him to commit, right?”
“Yes. If I didn’t, I’d probably be packing my bags about right now and looking for condos online.”
“So, don’t lose the opportunity to scare him shitless.”
“I don’t want to play games with him.”
“Oh, my God, Lauren. What planet are you from? It’s all a game. Every damn bit of it is a game. Books have been written, you know? There are rules you have to live by to get a man to commit.”
Lauren sucked in a deep breath.
“Yeah. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a game or not, because I have to feel him out, because if he’s not in this like I think he is, I need to know this week.”
“I can tell you the dude’s in it. He’s in it for the duration. Just from the things you’ve told me and the few times I’ve seen how he acts around you, trust me, that guy ain’t letting you get on a jet and move cross country.” Heidi said with exaggerated passion as she crossed her arms and shook her head. “Ain’t happening.”
Lauren took comfort from Heidi’s certainty. “You sure?”
“Oh, my God. Of course I’m sure. The dude’s crazy about you.”
Lauren’s nerves stayed on high alert. “I hope you’re right.”
Lauren decided to wait until Friday night to broach the subject with Logan. She was honestly conflicted, but she acknowledged to herself that with just one word from him, she’d be fine to let the job go and stay where she was.
But if she’d never met him . . . she’d be in Los Angeles faster than a heartbeat.
Texas wasn’t really her home, it was just the place she’d moved for her job. Her job was what was most important to her at this stage in her life, or at least it had been, before she’d met Logan.
But now, there was Logan.
She soaked in the bathtub for a while because he’d texted her and said he was going to be late. He wanted to go to the Mexican restaurant that they both enjoyed, and Lauren wanted to get the hard part over with before they left the house. She needed to be able to study his reactions, and she couldn’t do that in a noisy restaurant. So, telling him here would be best and she needed to do it as soon as he came home because she’d already put it off for two days.
So now, she was almost ready to go out. She sat in the master bathroom at the vanity that was now hers and applied mascara, which would be the last step of completing her make-up. While she waited for it to dry, she glanced down and saw that her fingers were trembling.
How would he react to her news?
How should she bring it up so she could get an honest answer from him? Heidi seemed to think he was in this with her for the long haul, and if Lauren was honest with herself, she did, too. But she needed something definitive, maybe even tangible so she didn’t blow away a career move with the kind of money that could change her future.
Of course, she’d rather her future be changed with Logan.
The door slammed and she heard him coming through the house.
Within seconds, he stood in the threshold, looking down at her where she sat in bra and panties on the small seat between their two sinks.
He stood without speaking, and Lauren could see his knuckles turning white where he clenched the doorframe on both sides. His shoulders looked a yard wide and he wasn’t smiling as he watched her like a predator ready to pounce. Sexual chemistry, hot and heavy, pulsed between them. Her emotions were running high, and with a wave of apprehension she realized she wasn’t going to get to make her announcement the way she wanted to.
She was going to have to handle him the same way that she’d handled her mother when she’d been sixteen and had that damn car wreck. She’d called her mom, and the first thing out of Lauren’s mouth had been, I’m okay. I’m not hurt. And that was exactly the way she was going to have to handle Logan now.
The first thing she had to say was that she wasn’t going away. That had to be the very first thing out of her mouth. Because if she didn’t say it . . . if she just announced she’d been offered the job . . . good Lord, she didn’t want to think what his reaction would be.
She attempted to maintain her fragile control as he watched her, his expression filling with primal intent. Warmth surged through her at the look on his face, and for one second, she thought about falling in with his obvious plans for her. But she couldn’t do that.
She had to tell him now. She had to get this over with, and see if it would play out the way she imagined it would. Heidi was sure that Logan would commit. Lauren didn’t want to force a commitment, but neither did she want to continue imagining that a future existed between them if it really didn’t.
He took a step forward and her pulse became erratic, mixed with both hope and fear.
She opened her mouth to try to stop his approach. “I need to tell you something.”
He halted in his tracks, a foreboding look darkening his face. Lauren knew her voice had come out shaky, and already she could see the expression that came over him when he didn’t care for something.
When he didn’t care for something that had to do with her.
She knew her fears were probably premature, but they gnawed away at her confidence.
She just wanted to stay here with him. And she needed to know he wanted that, too.
He stood completely still, his muscles corded with steel and Lauren opened her mouth to speak, but then paused and licked her lips.
Tell him already. Say the words. Say, ‘I’m staying here’. Just do it.
“I was offered a job in Los Angeles.” She was already trying to focus on his reactions and she realized that her voice was uncharacteristically expressionless.
And then she realized what she’d just said.
The breath slammed from her lungs as her words rang in her ears.
Had she said that? Why had she said that?
How could she have messed up so badly?
She opened her mouth to fix it but nothing came out as she saw the look that came over his face. He stayed still for the count of two seconds, his legs braced apart, and then he surged into action. He stormed toward her and invaded her personal space with a jerky movement of his body. He caught up her wrist, and encircled it in his fingers. Her breath quickened as he pulled her from her seat with a physical force she couldn’t fight against. Her butt landed against the granite top of the vanity unit and she opened her mouth to say what she needed to say before he lost it completely.
His fingers tightened until they were like steel bands around her wrist. She began to hyperventilate and every thought flew from her brain.
She was supposed to be saying something right now. What was it?
Her breath fragmented as an enraged snarl left his chest and erupted from his mouth.
He stared down at her, his nostrils flaring and his shoulders seeming to grow wider by the second. She could see that his jaw was clenched, his eyes narrowed to slits, and a coil of tension held him inert for a heartbeat.
And then he exploded into action again. With his booted foot, he kicked the door shut behind him and still holding onto her wrist like a metal vise, he turned around and twisted the lock.
Jesus Christ. This should not be exciting her.
He swiveled back to face her and his torso slammed into hers. He repositioned the wrist he’d captured and held it out to her side, away from their bodies. Then he lowered his head until his eyes were so close to hers that she could see the flecks of gunmetal that encircled his pupils. His mouth flattened and his lips pulled back from his teeth.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
His eyes turned as dark as the blackest coal and she could barely breathe as she looked up at him.
He cut her off with a curt voice.
“You’re. Not. Fucking. Going. Anywhere.”
Pleasure inundated her and she tried again.
“What?” he hissed.
“You’re hurting my wrist,” she complained softly.
He released her at once and his hands sank to her hips and he picked her up and put her on the top of the vanity, her legs dangling between them. Without missing a beat, his fingers sank into the fragile silk at her hips, ripped the garment from her legs and tossed it away.
He lost not a second, and with his hands gripping her knees, he shoved them apart and moved between them.
The light was bright, almost glaring and now, as he looked down between them, Lauren was spread wide and vulnerable to him.
He began to growl low in his throat like a wounded animal, his expression a glowering mask of fury. His hands left her knees long enough to adjust his fly and release his engorged erection. Immediately, he began pushing in, and Lauren suddenly felt both weak and powerful all at once.
He was so aggressive in his masculinity, that she was powerless as his body towered over hers and dominated her as he filled her where she was open to him. But it was good because now she knew how he really felt about the possibility of her leaving.
She had the answer she needed, and she set out to soothe him at once. “Logan,” she began, but he cut her off by swiping her wrist again and swiveling her arm until he held it twisted behind her back in a clasp that she couldn’t possibly get away from.
Sheer, unmitigated sexual excitement coursed down her spine and landed in a heated rush between her thighs.
Oh, God, yes . . . this was new.
Another onslaught of dampness eased his way, and he surged all the way inside with a grunt and held there.
Lauren was well and truly captured. He held her pinned to the vanity with his shaft that impaled her, and her arm in a vise behind her back. He wasn’t hurting her, but she couldn’t have gotten away, even if she’d wanted to.
Like that would ever happen.
She tried again to ease his torment.
“Don’t start. I don’t want to hear it. You’re not leaving.”
“No, I’m not,” she said softly.
He picked his head up and narrowed his eyes on hers.
“You said you were going to Los Angeles.”
She read torture and confusion in his eyes, and knew without a doubt that her home was with him now. She held his eyes and shook her head, her hair spilling around her shoulders.
“No, I didn’t say that. They offered me a job, that’s all.”
Relief, in its most basic form, spread across his countenance.
“You’re not going?”
Their gazes held and a hot, sweet ache began to pulse between her legs.
“You don’t want me to go, do you?”
For an answer, he growled again and pulled out and then slammed back inside. Lauren caught her breath. His head fell to her shoulder and he began pumping, in and out, his thrusts both aggressive and territorial.
Lauren began splintering around him but had enough snap to try again. “You don’t want me to go, do you, Logan?”
His hands clenched around her with uncompromising strength.
“You’re staying here,” he answered with commanding arrogance.
His possessive answer sent her into a tailspin and she felt her muscles clasp around him and begin to milk him. The feeling was electric. Amazing and electric and she knew she was about to come undone in his arms. He started to groan his pleasure in a spiral of grunts as he jerked and throbbed inside of her, but with a flash of panic and realization, Lauren pushed against him. “You didn’t put on a condom.”
His nostrils flared, a primal look appearing on his face. It became apparent that it was too late to worry about anything anymore, and Lauren let go. She saw stars as a feeling of contentment engulfed her. He released her arm and she immediately wrapped her arms behind his neck and held on. She felt him pull out and then just as quickly slip two fingers inside of her, and they strained against each other, coming together as a hot rush of liquid landed on her stomach. She rode the last waves of her orgasm, and then took a deep breath and relaxed against him, the feeling of euphoria she always felt with him stronger than ever before.
The strength left her limbs and she felt his magnificent hold grasp her tightly to him. She let out a breath. “I love you,” she said simply.
She felt his muscles relax for half a second but then, in a rush of motion, he opened the door, picked her up and carried her into the bedroom, where he dropped her to the center of the bed.
She scrambled to her knees, wearing only her bra, and watched as he began slowly and methodically taking his clothes off, his hot gaze never leaving hers.
The primal fear and rage that had been boiling in Logan’s system not ten minutes ago was only now slowly receding. When he’d heard ‘Los Angeles’ come from her lips, he thought his world was about to split apart at the seams.
He thought maybe he’d gone a little crazy. Getting inside of her and capturing her in his arms had helped somewhat, but it wasn’t until he’d heard her say that she wasn’t going, had he returned to sanity.
But maybe he wasn’t quite there yet.
He’d come, true, barely having enough time to pull out before he exploded in heated bliss. But it hadn’t been enough. He was still primed, still ready. Dropping his boots, jeans and underwear to the floor, he pulled the t-shirt over his head and took it to her, dropping it to her stomach and swiping it across her belly, but that was all the time he could give to something as inconsequential to him as cleaning her up.
They’d have time to clean up later.
Her eyes were big and round as she stared at him.
“Are you going to get a condom this time?”
“Do you want me to?” he asked as calmly as he could manage.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He didn’t answer her, just opened the drawer and with economical movements, slid a condom over his erection.
He turned back and mounted the bed, pushing her down and coming over her on all fours.
“If you weren’t going to leave, why did you even bother to tell me? You had to know how I would react.”
She began shaking her head.
“No, I wasn’t completely sure. I needed to know . . . I need to know that you want me here with you. If you don’t, if you don’t feel the same way about me as I feel about you, then you need to tell me now. I can’t turn down this job offer lightly. This would be a career move that–”
At her words, Logan began to feel his brain separate from his body again and he cut off her words by lowering himself until his face was in hers.
He’d been so fucking close. So fucking close to pulling it together and acting human again. But then she’d opened her mouth and said more shit that was causing a fire in his guts and a burning sensation in the region of his heart. “Shut up, Lauren.”
“Just shut the fuck up. I already told you. You’re not going anywhere. Don’t talk to me about job offers and career moves. Are you trying to drive me out of my mind? Is that what you want?”
She stared at him, obviously shocked, and took a quick intake of breath.
“Then what do you want?” he demanded to know.
“I want you to tell me that you want me to stay here with you. To stay here because of you.”
He pushed the hair back from her forehead and took a deep breath. He slid his hand down and lifted her leg over his arm and opened her to him in a way that he found himself dreaming about, day and night. He slid inside her hot sheath and momentarily closed his eyes as a feeling of peace almost overwhelmed him. Lifting up, he stared down into her eyes.
He could see the pulse beat in her neck.
He paused and then said firmly and once and for all,
“I want you to stay here with me. I want you to stay here with me and turn down the job. I want you to do that because of what you and I have together.” He studied the purity in her upturned face. “Is that clear enough for you?”
An expression crossed her face that caused a stab of satisfaction to slide through his guts and then she nodded her head before her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around him as she welcomed him into her body.
He slowly let the tension recede but found his grip on her just a little tighter than he usually allowed it to be.
Twenty minutes later, Lauren came from the shower and Logan was fully clothed and putting his boots back on. “You still want to go out to eat?” he asked, his voice seeming deeper than usual.
She held the towel around her and nodded her head.
“Come here,” he ordered.
As she walked toward him, she felt the coil of heat that she knew she should be getting used to by now. He was sitting, fully clothed, on the bench at the foot of the bed with his legs spread apart. She came between them and raised her eyes in question.
He held out his hand to her. “Let me see your wrist.”
She was momentarily puzzled but then remembered she’d told him earlier that he’d been hurting her. There was no use in arguing that she was okay, he’d want to make sure for himself. She lifted her arm and placed it in his open palm.
As she already knew, there would be no mark from his hands left on her body. The only marks he left on her were either accidental from his whiskers abrading her, or purple bruises that he sometimes scattered across her breasts. He never used his strength in a way that wasn’t always controlled. And while his earlier grasp had been a little too tight, it wasn’t anything that he should be worried about now.
His fingers ran over her skin lightly, almost in reverence, and Lauren’s heart turned over at the gentle touch. “Does it still hurt?”
“No. It’s fine,” she answered lightly.
He lifted his hand to her cheek.
She smiled and shook her head.
His gaze was intent, as if he were trying to learn her secrets.
“Are you sure?”
She didn’t have any secrets. He owned them all. “Yes.”
“You know I’d never mean to hurt you, right?”
She held his eyes and something hot and intense passed between them.
“And you have to always tell me if I’m too rough,” he said, his fingers swirling over her wrist.
She smiled softly in acknowledgement.
The tenderness in his gaze was almost her undoing.
His hand slid down and patted her on the butt.
“Go get ready. I’m starving.
Another two months slid by, and to Lauren’s way of thinking, Logan should have asked her to marry him by now. She hated to admit it, even to herself, but she was getting a little antsy. It was crazy, she knew, but she needed something from him.
He hadn’t told her he loved her yet, and she hadn’t pushed it.
But it was making her antsy.
The way she saw it, she was giving him what he wanted. She repeatedly told him she loved him, both because it sometimes slipped out of her mouth and because she knew he wanted to hear it.
She’d even tried to go a few days without saying it, but that had backfired on her every time she’d tried it. He’d get her naked in bed, get her crazy-assed steamed up until she couldn’t think straight, and then he’d punish her by holding back until she was forced to say it.
And that was starting to irritate the hell out of her.
Why should he continue to hear an affirmation of her love, over and over again, and yet she never received the same words in return? It had been okay in the beginning, but now, this far into the relationship, she needed something from him, and the feeling wasn’t going away.
It almost felt as if she was the one who was doing all the giving. And Lauren was smart enough to know that what she was feeling could turn into a dangerous emotion. She realized that this was one of the ‘dangers in a relationship’ that one read about in magazine articles and relationship books.
It had a simple name. Not communicating.
If two people failed to communicate in a relationship, then it was doomed.
But she was a little bit stubborn; she didn’t want to be the one who instigated the ‘communication’. At least, not now, not this time, not before they’d committed to each other one hundred percent. She took a determined breath and promised herself, faithfully, that once they were married, she’d step up to the plate and never let miscommunication of any kind cause hurt feelings between them.
Because in that moment, she admitted that her feelings were hurt.
She was only human, and female on top of it, and by God, she either wanted him to say the damn words or she wanted a marriage proposal. Preferably both. Post-haste.
A queasy feeling roiled through her stomach as she continued to obsess about it. She’d also read in those same kinds of relationship articles that the majority of happily married women had ‘forced’ their men to commit.
Lauren immediately thought about the strong bond that her parents shared and the unquestionable love between them, even after thirty years of marriage. And she thought about the stories her mother jokingly told.
She and her mother had always had a close relationship, and even though they were indisputably mother and daughter, as Lauren had achieved adulthood and went off to college, that relationship had turned into the best kind of friendship, as well. And now, her mother’s amused words were ringing in Lauren’s ears.
Your father would never have wanted to tie the knot. And really, why would he have? We’d been together for so long by that point, and I was doing everything for him. I was cooking his meals, cleaning his house, washing his clothes. And silly me, by that time I was sleeping in his bed, as well. So why would he have wanted to get married when he already had every advantage that marriage could bring?
Lauren remembered the day her mother had spilled those beans with a smile. Her very Catholic mother admitting she’d been sleeping with her father sans wedding vows. At the time, Lauren had gulped down her shock and asked her mom how she’d managed to get a proposal. Her mother had taken a sip of wine and given Lauren a sly, calculating look.
Oh, it was ridiculously easy. I told him I wanted to get married, but he told me he wasn’t ready to get married yet. So I told him that he could do his own laundry until we went to see the priest. He did his laundry one time and the very next week, we went to see the priest.
With that conversation striking an internal chord, Lauren wondered whether Logan was of the same mind as her father had been all those years ago. Had Lauren made it too easy for him? Did Logan have everything he wanted from her now and had no plans to commit? Had she been reading him wrong all along?
She hadn’t read everything wrong. She knew he loved her.
Crap. She was going to drive herself crazy thinking about this.
Something had to give.
Because now she was in a huge quandary. Her apartment lease was up for renewal in a couple of weeks, and she had no idea what to do about it. She didn’t want to flat-out ask Logan what she should do, and she didn’t want to casually mention it, as in a hint, because that was the same damn thing as flat-out asking him.
If she asked him, that would feel like pushing to her.
And she didn’t want to have to push him. Not for everything.
Not this time.
If the butthole would just tell her that he loved her.
She exhaled raggedly in aggravation.
What the hell should she do about her apartment?
She was twenty-five, that was true. She was grown. She shouldn’t care what her parents thought. But she did. And if she gave up her apartment, which she was sure Logan would want her to do, her parents would eventually find out that she was living with him, and they’d probably find out sooner rather than later.
And no matter how open-minded her mother seemed to be at times, it would cause her a lot of worry. And Lauren’s father. Crap. Double standards and all that. Lauren was still and always would be, her father’s little girl.
It might not break their hearts, but her mother would obsess and worry and her father wouldn’t care for it at all. So Lauren had about another week, at best, before something had to give.
She just prayed like hell that she hadn’t been reading Logan wrong. If it turned out that he didn’t care for her the same way she cared for him . . .no.
That was crazy.
She wasn’t even going to go there.
Logan closed his laptop and rose to his feet and stretched his stiff muscles. He couldn’t concentrate for shit. Something was up with Lauren and it was about to drive him insane. For the last few days she’d been uncommunicative, almost despondent. A sorrow seemed to be constantly weighing her down.
She went to work and then she came home, but the animation seemed to have left her features.
He gnashed his fist to his teeth in frustration. He had no idea what was wrong with her, but something was, and it was scaring the fucking shit out of him.
She seemed to be going through the motions of her day as if by rote. She still slept with him every night, she still opened herself to him and shared her body with him, she still clung to him the same as she always had, almost joyfully . . . certainly generously.
But there was a difference.
And that difference was slowly driving him insane as the days wore on.
She was mostly silent as they made love. She was swallowing and holding inside the small moans and soft noises that always drove him insane with lust. She was holding her emotions in check, and only under duress would she utter those three little words that he craved.
Something was wrong with her. Was she trying to slow the relationship down? Was she even questioning her love for him?
She had to be.
And why shouldn’t she be?
He was moving too fucking fast for her; he had been from the very beginning. He’d maneuvered her into going out with him, he’d seduced her into sleeping with him, and he’d railroaded her into a relationship with him.
Fear, stark and vivid, slid down his spine and coalesced in a burning ache in the pit of his stomach. What the hell was he going to do?
What could he do to make it go back to the way it had been six weeks ago or so when his world was just about as damn perfect as he could have wanted it to be? It had been perfect, except for the minor detail of finessing her into marriage.
Minor detail, his ass.
He’d been working on that. He’d been strategically analyzing his plan. He’d been biding his time, holding back until he knew she’d want to give in to him. Because if he moved too quickly . . . if she didn’t want to marry him . . . well, that scenario scared him shitless.
She must have felt his need to accelerate the relationship and bind her to him forever, and it had scared her. That had to be what this was all about. Didn’t it?
Motherfucker, he had to marry her. He needed to marry her. He loved her so much, beyond anything he could have ever imagined in his life.
And she had to know she held his heart in the palm of her hand.
But she was pulling away from him. Why? What the hell had he done wrong and how in the hell was he supposed to fix it if he didn’t know what it was?
Lauren glanced up from unloading the dishwasher and sucked in a breath as she saw Logan advancing toward her with a purpose. His eyes glittered, and he had that don’t fuck with me look about him that she loved so much.
Why did she love that about him so much? How could she possibly stick to her guns when he made her insides quake this way?
And what the hell were ‘her guns’ anyway? It wasn’t as if she had a damn plan.
As he stalked toward her, her hands began shaking and the wineglass she was about to put up in the cabinet slipped from her fingers and shattered into tiny pieces against the tile floor.
Lauren heard Logan’s expletive as if through a wind tunnel. There was a roaring sound in her ears and before she could even blink, his boots crunched across the broken glass and he lifted her, bare feet and all, into his arms and strode away from the dangerous debris her confusion had caused.
He stalked across the living room with her in his arms, one steely hand under her legs and the other behind her back. When he arrived at the french doors, he twisted the knob without letting her go.
He slid outside into the dark of the night, and slammed the door closed with his booted foot. Like a man on a mission, he strode toward the swimming pool and held her over the deep-end as if he was going to dump her in.
It was extremely dark outside; no lights were on and the moon was so small that it was no help at all. Lauren didn’t much like deep water to begin with and dark water, not at all. She could swim if she had to, but she wasn’t super-confident in the water and never had been. Of course, Logan didn’t know that about her. Every time they’d gotten in the pool, she’d hung around the shallow end, always telling him she didn’t want to mess up her hair or make-up. No doubt that was the reason he was threatening to drop her in now. She clung to his neck, trepidation running through her. If he dared to dump her in, she had news for him; she was taking him with her.
“What the hell is wrong with you, woman?” Logan roared.
Lauren was both appalled that the neighbors might hear him and upset that he was mad at her.
“I broke a damn glass, asshole! Get over it,” she screamed.
He retaliated swiftly by bending his knees and acting as if he were going to give her a drenching. She gasped and clung tighter and he stood back up and the immediate threat was delayed.
“This isn’t about the fucking glass, Lauren. I want to know what the hell’s got up your ass? Why are you so goddamn reserved lately?”
She couldn’t help it, she stiffened in his arms.
Son of a bitch. He could tell she was upset? She’d done everything within her power to hide it from him. “I’m not reserved.”
Her temper soaring, she couldn’t help the truculent expression that she knew was now plastered across her features.
“Bullshit,” she hissed back, intent on denying it.
“Are we fighting?” he bit out with exasperation.
“Are you holding me over the swimming pool and threatening to throw me in?”
“Yes.” he hissed.
“Well then, I guess we’re fighting,” she snarled back, determined to give as good as she was getting.
“I’m not talking about right this minute, Lauren. I know we’re fighting right now. I want to know if I’ve done something wrong, something to piss you off that you’re not telling me about? Have we been in a goddamn fight and I’m too dense to even know it?”
Her heart sank and her body relaxed in partial defeat. Had it been so obvious that her feelings were hurt? She’d tried so hard to act normal, to go about her daily business as if everything was just fine and dandy.
She didn’t know how to answer him. And for the same damn reason she hadn’t wanted to broach the subject in the first place.
She didn’t want an ‘I love you’ out of pity.
She wanted him to feel it. She wanted him to feel the emotion with such an overriding passion that he couldn’t help but scream it from the rooftops.
Well, not literally.
But she wanted him to scream it to her. Or to say it with a fervor he couldn’t keep from his voice. She wanted that like she hadn’t wanted anything before in her life.
Except maybe to marry him.
She wanted that just as badly.
“Can you put me down?” she asked instead of answering his question.
“No,” he replied, pig-headedly.
“Logan, move away from the freakin’ pool!” she screamed in agitation.
“No, goddamnit, not until you tell me what the fuck I did wrong.”
Lauren took a deep breath and counted to ten in her head.
“Fine. We’ll talk about it, okay? Just put me down first.”
Logan’s muscles tensed as if he didn’t believe her, but then he dropped his arm from under her legs and her feet hit the cobbled path of the walkway. She straightened to her full height, and the second he released her, she turned and began running back toward the house.
She heard his hiss of impatience, and within two seconds, she knew that running from him had been a stupid, stupid mistake. She hadn’t taken three steps before he caught up with her from behind, one hand fisting in her hair and the other arm encircling her completely around the waist.
His arm was as tight as a boa constrictor, and the breath left her lungs in a silent
He lifted her off her feet and she felt the world careen as her back arched over his shoulder and he twisted toward the swimming pool once again.
She began fighting like a mad woman, absolutely, one hundred percent more pissed than scared. Her feet flayed backwards, trying to hit him anywhere, but preferably in the groin, as her arms bent at the elbows and her hands fell to his forearms and she sank her nails into his skin. She would be damned if he got his own damn way again! She was sick and tired of it.
“Leave me the fuck alone, Logan!” she screamed.
“Like hell,” he gritted through bared teeth.
“I swear to God, in about two seconds I’m going to start screaming and the neighbors will call the police,” she threatened, only half wondering if she meant it. She felt like screaming, but she for sure didn’t want the police to come.
“Ain’t happening darlin’. Scream all you want. Gibson and Julie are in Cozumel, and the Parkers are at the football game.”
Lauren saw red and opened her mouth, inhaling a lungful of oxygen, and prepared to call his bluff and start screaming.
But she never got the chance.
He twisted her around until she was facing him, her feet dangling down between his boots, which were planted firmly and squarely on the ground. Just when she began to let out a scream, he slammed his mouth down on hers and any noise she might have made was stifled to a muffled screech.
His arms held her torso plastered against him, and beneath the kiss, he began a slow and steady growling noise that vibrated along Lauren’s spine and landed with a punch of heated desire between her legs.
Before she could decide whether she wanted to pull away or fall into the kiss, he lifted his head from hers and glared down at her.
“What the fuck’s wrong?”
At her answer, his shoulders stiffened and his mouth flattened.
“Don’t give me that bullshit again. I’m not stupid. You’re pissed about something and I want to know what it is.”
She felt a streak of stubbornness invade her blood that she only ever experienced with him.
“I’m not telling you anything. You don’t care!”
He had the temerity to look affronted.
“I don’t care? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I just said,” she maintained, refusing to give in.
If he’d had any patience left at all, Lauren could see that it disappeared completely. “You’ve got three seconds to tell me what’s wrong or you’re going to have two choices. I’m either going to throw you in the pool so you can cool off, or I’m going to spank your little ass until you tell me what the fuck is wrong!” he roared.
Lauren began to breath so heavily she felt light-headed. And then he began counting.
“One.” His lips flattened into a snarl. “Two–”
Son of a bitch, he wasn’t kidding. Lauren didn’t want to go in the water and she knew the bastard would drop her in. He wasn’t bluffing. “My apartment lease is up for renewal,” she screamed into his too-close face.
His brows came together in a frown and his jaw dropped as if he were floored.
“My apartment,” she said, only a tad more calmly this time. “It’s up for renewal.”
She glared at him.
“So I guess I’ll fucking renew it,” she spit out, in a flurry of belligerence.
“Like hell you will,” he snapped back.
“Why shouldn’t I?” she challenged, put-out because it had come down to this.
“Because that would be stupid, that’s why. You live here, with me,” he said in a bold statement that was meant to draw a line and end the fight they were having.
Lauren contested that.
“Yes.” His frustration was apparent as he stared down at her. But she was frustrated as well. “What do you think is going on here, exactly, between you and me?” he asked her in a low tone.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll have to think some more about the apartment.”
“You’ll think about it?” His hands tightened around her. “You want that spanking after all?”
“No, that’s not what I want!”
“Well, what the fuck do you want?”
“Nothing!” She began wriggling to get away. “I don’t want anything from you!” God, could she hear herself? Why had she let it go this far? She was so hurt that she was angry. So angry she could barely see straight.
As he stared at her in complete silence, his eyes searching hers, it suddenly all became too much and Lauren let her muscles relax as she slumped against him. She was horrified when tears came to her eyes. She balled her fist and hit him in the arm, with what little strength she had left.
“I love you, damn it.”
“Then what the hell’s wrong?”
He sounded truly confused and she sagged in defeat.
“I have to keep my apartment. It would crush my parents if they knew I was living with you. You just don’t know my dad. He’s so old-fashioned. Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I do.”
He studied her silently and then said the very thing she’d both been dreading and wanting to hear. “Then let’s get married.”
A small sob escaped her and tears started rolling down her cheeks. “No.”
His body tensed.
“Why not?” he asked, his thumbs wiping away the tracks of her tears.
“I don’t want you to marry me because there’s no other way, because you’re forced into it.”
“Lauren, nobody could force me to do anything that I don’t want to do.”
She didn’t quite believe him and she felt her mouth wobble and her heart almost break in two. “I want you to want to marry me because you love me.”
He stared at her blankly for a second or two and then a look came over his face as if he’d been struck by lightning.
He dropped his arms from where they gripped her around the waist and she slid down until her feet found purchase on the ground. With one hand held lightly on her hip, he tilted her chin up with the other.
“You think I don’t love you?” he asked her in a voice that sounded tortured.
Lauren swayed in his arms and couldn’t form an answer. She didn’t know what she thought anymore. She felt another tear slide down her cheek and abruptly, he grabbed her by the hand and turned and walked back inside the house.
He took her to the fourth bedroom, the smallest of the four, the bedroom that he’d made into his study. A large mahogany desk dominated the room, and a black leather chair sat behind it.
He led her to that chair now and pushed her down into it. All expression had left his face and Lauren scrubbed at her cheeks and pushed her hair behind her ears, trying to get a hold of herself. She had no idea what she was doing in here, but knowing Logan, she was sure she wouldn’t have to wait too long before she found out.
And she was right.
He moved to his haunches as he squatted in front of her. Caging her in the chair with his hands on the black leather of the armrests, he studied her for only a second or two before he lifted a hand and picked up hers. He pressed their palms against each other, and then laced their fingers together for good measure. His eyes held hers with a brilliant fire.
“I love you, Lauren,” he said so seriously that Lauren’s heart almost stopped beating.
She stared at him.
He cut her off.
“I love you, Lauren,” he said again, more firmly.
Her pulse raced and a tear slid from the corner of her eye.
“Logan–” her voice broke.
“I love you, baby,” he said for the third time.
She swallowed and the tears she’d been holding back for weeks now came spilling down her cheeks. “I love you, too.”
His hands came to her cheeks and wrapped around her face. His words were anguished as he spoke.
“I don’t know how I could have fucked up so badly. I have no clue how I could have been so selfish. In my defense–” His shoulders slumped. “I have no defense. I’m a dumb motherfucker who doesn’t deserve you, I never have. But baby, I didn’t realize until tonight that I hadn’t ever said the words to you. When you told me the first time . . . and then every time you’ve said it . . . all I feel is a hot rush of joy and a profound need to hold on tight so you don’t ever figure out how fucked up I am about you.”
He put his fingers to her lips. “I need to get this out.”
“Okay,” she mumbled against his hand.
“You just don’t understand. I’ve been insane about you since the first moment I saw you. I don’t know what I would have done if you’d refused me. Probably lived a miserable life knowing that I was missing out on the best thing in the world.” He took a shuddering breath and his thumb ran over the back of her hand. “I’ve been so focused on getting you, and keeping you, and getting you to live with me, that I haven’t been able to think straight. I love you beyond life itself, I love you more than I ever thought I’d be able to love anything, and I’ve been so scared that you’d figure out how insane I am about you that it would scare you into running away from me. I think about how much I love you at least seventeen times a day.” He shook his head as if in a daze. “I can’t believe I fucked up this bad.”
Lauren closed her eyes and bit her lip as she let his words sink in.
Logan loved her. She believed him. She really
believed him. A sense of peace enveloped her. So it hadn’t gone exactly the way she wanted, that was okay, she had what she’d always wanted, and that was
him. Yeah, she hadn’t wanted it to happen this way, but that was okay. Just so long as it had happened. She opened her eyes and studied his intent features. “I love you, too. It’s okay, I’ll give up the apartment–”
“No. Not until we get married.” His eyes hardened that little bit the way she recognized so well and he said in a deep voice so that she couldn’t misunderstand, “You’ll keep living here but we’ll keep the apartment until we get married.”
“Logan . . . it’s okay. We don’t have to get married.” She felt her face fall. “I don’t want to rush you or force you into a situation you don’t want.”
He laughed, a hoarse sound filled with bitter humor. Not letting go of her hand, he stood to his feet and leaned away from Lauren. He slid open his middle desk drawer and pulled out a small jewelry box, the size that would contain a ring.
Lauren gasped and her heart took off like a freight train.
She watched as Logan went down on one knee. Her breath stalled and then took up such a quick cadence that she thought she might faint. She was only vaguely aware that she had started crying again.
“Lauren,” he began, looking into her eyes. “I love you more than life itself. I’ve never wanted anything the way that I want you. I need you, as much as I need air to breathe.” Lauren sat in stunned silence as he opened the box with one hand. She gasped when she saw the large, emerald-cut diamond and matching wedding band. “Will you marry me?”
She couldn’t speak. She felt her face turn white then flood with color as realization sank in. She began nodding her head, quickly and emphatically.
His muscles relaxed and the tension seemed to leave his body.
“Thank God,” he muttered reverently. He finally let her hand loose, and as she held her trembling left hand out to him, he slid the diamond on her finger. He closed her palm around it, and leaned down and kissed her fingers and the ring, and then kissed her on the lips before enclosing her in his arms.
Lauren sighed and her world spun.
She’d just gotten everything she wanted.
Logan lifted the bottle away from his four-month old daughter after she spit the nipple from her mouth. She gurgled with sleepy laughter as he held her in his arms and her cherubic face caused his heart to tighten and splinter.
“Precious. You’re precious, aren’t you?” he whispered.
He heard light steps enter the room and glanced up to find Lauren in the doorway, holding their son in her arms.
It had taken several years, but the fertility treatments had worked, and the twins were amazingly, adorably perfect.
Logan ran his eyes over Lauren.
His wife was amazingly, adorably perfect. She hadn’t changed, not a damn bit, in the ten years since he’d married her. Of course, she thought she had. The ten remaining pounds she’d put on with the twins, that she was so determined to lose, only added a few interesting curves to Logan’s way of thinking.
He watched her now as she took a few light steps over to the matching cribs, and carefully laid their sleeping son down. She leaned down and kissed the tufted hair and then stood back up and swirled around and faced Logan once more.
Her hands fell on her hips and her eyes narrowed. “I’m thirty-five, Logan!” she wailed in a whisper.
He tried to stifle the laugh that erupted from his lips.
“I know, baby, it’s your birthday. Remember that circle of diamonds that I slipped on your finger this morning?” he asked, low in his throat. It was always a difficult task to get both babies down for a nap at the same time, but he was damned determined to accomplish that mission today. He wanted his wife to himself for a while, even if it could only be for five minutes.
At the reminder, Lauren lifted her hand and stared down at the ten-year anniversary ring that sat next to her wedding band, and she tilted it this way and that, making the diamonds sparkle.
“I love it.”
“Hmm,” he grunted in quiet satisfaction, knowing that he’d accomplished his goal and surprised his wife with the gift, since technically, their tenth anniversary wouldn’t be for some months yet. But why wait?
He’d gone over every damn gift in his head that he hadn’t already given her and for the life of him, the anniversary ring was all he could come up with. It made for a great birthday present, but he knew he was only screwing himself later, because what in the hell could he get her for their anniversary?
Of course, it really didn’t matter, he supposed, because she was always pleading with him to stop buying her stuff. But he didn’t want to stop. He liked buying her stuff; it made him happy. He liked seeing the jewelry he picked out for her on her fingers, on her wrists, and wrapped around her neck. He liked seeing her naked in bed, except for the jewelry he’d given her. He liked her driving the car that he supplied, and he liked her decorating the house with the furnishings that his money had purchased.
Damn. It was probably true; he was the Neanderthal that Lauren always accused him of being. He’d been a happy freakin’ man since she’d given up that damn job six years ago.
He stood to his feet, gently lifting their now sleeping daughter. He walked over to her crib, and as carefully as he could, laid her down. He pulled the tiny blanket up and covered her legs with it, and then leaned down and kissed her chubby hand before glancing at his son to make sure that he was sleeping soundly as well.
Seeing that both babies were well and truly settled, Logan walked with a silent tread to where Lauren stood and waited with full lips and bright eyes.
Reaching down, he encapsulated her wrist between his fingers in a steely, determined grip. He glanced down when he heard the soft gasp that escaped her lips. And he couldn’t deny he loved the way she still, to this day, reacted to him.
But he lifted his finger to her lips and held it there while her silken skin went to his head.
“Shh,” he admonished, before pulling her from the room and leading her to the master bedroom.
The monitor was already on and ready to amplify any sound the babies might make, and he was more than ready. His guts clenched, and his shaft pulsed and throbbed from being so close to his goal.
“Your clothes need to come off, Mrs. Crenshaw,” he said, advancing on her.
She smiled wickedly and began pulling them off, one by one. He watched her as he did the same. Their eyes clashed and held as she moved backwards to the bed, and he followed her down, coming on top of her on all fours.
“We can’t risk the time for too much foreplay right now, little birthday girl. Will that be okay with you?” His hand landed on the coveted prize between her thighs and electric need flared between them as he found her wet and ready for him. “Ahh, I can feel that it is,” he continued to tease in a low, determined voice.
He leaned down to kiss her, and as Lauren slid her arms around his neck and opened her body to him, he pulled back his hips and thrust inside of her, attaining his ultimate goal.
He nipped her lips and then leaned his forehead against hers as peace inundated his soul.
Thank you, God.
His life was perfect.
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