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Entice

Entice

Аннотация

    What if everything you think you want isn't what you actually need...
    Dr. Shelly Monroe is a woman who doesn't shy away from going after what she wants, but lately good sex has been hard to find. Shelly's become increasingly frustrated with the men she's been dating and the men she believes are the right choice.
    Joshua Daniels is certainly not even close to the right choice. In fact he is exactly the wrong choice. For one thing, he's Mason Langley's best friend and best man. Second he's too much of a risky complication for Shelly to even consider.
    Then why can't she stop thinking about how delicious he looked that first night she met him at Exquisite? Why is it so imperative to keep her lusty desire for a man that doesn’t meet her preconceived mold hidden from Lena and Mason, her trusted friends?
    It seems unreasonable that being with a man completely wrong in theory could somehow feel so right. Then why is it the more she sees him the more enticing he becomes?


Entice  Exquisite - 2 by Ella Frank

Dedication

    To someone who refused to be acknowledged for all the hard work she did on making this book pretty.
    You are truly amazing at what you do, and I am extremely lucky that you put your hand up in the nick of time.
* * *
    To my husband, as always, because every time I sat down to write, edit, or work on my blog, you never once asked me not to. You were just happy to be in the same room.
    I love you and us for that.

Past…

    “I can’t believe you just asked me that,” Shelly fumed, hands on hips, mouth open.
    “Why? Come on, Shel. It’s not like you don’t have the money. Three-thousand dollars is nothing,” Adam pointed out as he sat on the couch looking at her.
    Shelly took a deep breath and turned around to walk into the kitchen. When she got there, she spotted the knife block, thinking better not tempt myself, and made her way to the window instead.
    After two years of bailing out her wanna-be-entrepreneur-slash-inventor boyfriend, she’d finally snapped at his latest idiotic idea.
     Up until now, most of his “inventions” had been semi-plausible, and she’d been able to convince herself that he’d make enough money one day to pay her back. However, several thousands of dollars later, she was still out the cash, and he was still sitting at home on her couch, cooking up the next million-dollar idea. According to Adam, the latest and greatest was “The Auto-Toss,” a moronic invention with “Want your salad tossed for you?” as the catchy slogan.
    Really? Is he serious? Did he even realize the double entendre there?
    Shelly raised her hand, squeezing the bridge of her nose.
    Honestly, who needs an automatic salad tosser? Okay, even thinking about that made her want to laugh at him. More to the point, she thought, Is this who I possibly want to share DNA with and raise my children? Is this who I want to support for the rest of my life? The immediate and very obvious answer was hell no!
    “I can’t do this anymore,” she told him, shaking her head.
    “Do what?” Adam demanded.
    Shelly turned to face him, noticing he was now standing and glaring at her.
    “This,” she motioned back and forward between them.
    Adam arched a brow and crossed his arms over his chest.
    She tried to look at him objectively, from top to bottom, as though she’d never met him before. He was standing in her living room dressed in Doc Martens that were unlaced. He had on his scruffy blue jeans that had a rip across his left butt cheek, which she knew from staring at his ass one too many times, and a blue flannel shirt.
    She wanted to like what she was looking at. She wanted to remember why entering into this relationship had been a good idea, but as he stood there glaring at her, she just couldn’t see it—and didn’t that just piss her off.
    “You don’t like the new idea? I mean, come on! It’s great—”
    “Stop. Please, God, just stop,” she interrupted. “I’m done with this, Adam—as in us. It’s just not working anymore. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. And now this, well, this whole salad-tosser thing? It’s a ridiculous idea! I’m not even remotely interested in giving you more money.”
    His face contorted in anger the exact moment he realized what she was saying. In all honesty, she couldn’t tell if he was more pissed off about her breaking up with him or for telling him his idea essentially, well, sucked.
    “You’re such a snob, Shelly!” He yelled, pointing his finger as if to punctuate his point.
    “Excuse me? I’m not a snob.”
    “Yeah, you are. The whole time we’ve been together you’ve looked down your nose at me.”
    Shelly blinked slowly, feeling her temperature rise quickly. In fact, if she had to guess, she’d venture out and wager her fair skin was probably turning a nice fuming shade of pissed off, and steam was probably starting to leak out of her ears.
    This fight wasn’t a new one. Throughout their whole relationship, Adam always accused her of being a snob, and up until this moment, she’d never even entertained the thought.
     Up until this exact moment.
    “You know what? For once, you’re right, Adam. I’m sick and tired of giving you money to sit at home—my home—and come up with these stupid dead-end ideas that you never follow through with. I’ve got to admit, up until now, most have had an inkling of making it. But this one? Wow, this one really blows. So, yeah, I guess you can call me a snob because I want a man who’ll go out and get a job. Oh, and here’s a novel idea—keep it!” Shelly paused for a moment, thinking about the main example of a man in her life—her father.
    All of a sudden, she saw her mother sitting at home in their kitchen, waiting for him to come home, only to find he had been held up for some reason or another.
    Yeah, some reason in a skirt.
    Nope, Shelly swore she wouldn’t be that woman either.
    “But I’ll tell you one thing. The man that I end up with will be honest, he’ll be hard working, and he will not sit on his ass while I’m out busting mine.”
    Adam came around the table and stopped right in front of her. Looking down, he sneered. “You’ve always been such a fucking princess.”
    Shelly felt like he’d slapped her. Her father called her that, and honestly, he hadn’t meant it in an endearing manner either.
    “I think you need to leave,” she told him through clenched teeth.
    “What about all my stuff?”
    Shelly glared up at him, not one to be intimidated. “You can come and pick up your one suitcase tomorrow.”
    “Well, Dr. Monroe, I’d love to say it’s been a pleasure, but hey, even the sex these last few months hasn’t been.” With that, he turned, grabbing his cell phone from the table.
    Shelly glared holes in his back as he walked to the door. Asshole! Like the five minutes he spent on top of me was the highlight of my week!
    Without a backward glance, he walked out, slamming the door behind him. It crashed shut with a resonating boom.
    As Shelly stood in her empty living room, she made a promise to herself. No man will ever use me again. She vowed to only date a man who could give her what she needed and did not look to her to be the sole provider.
    It was a promise she intended to keep.

Chapter One

    Present…
    February
    Shelly knocked on the back door of Exquisite, and waited in the chilly February air. Coming from a hectic Monday at the hospital, she thought she’d be late but she still managed to arrive by 7:30.
    Ever since Lena and Mason had gotten engaged, they’d moved the traditional Langley dinner down to the restaurant. It just hadn’t felt right to any of them to go back to the cottage without Catherine there.
    So, they’d switched to the restaurant, which had worked out well since Exquisite was closed on Mondays. Somehow, ever since Lena had been welcomed back into the Langley family unit, Shelly, too, had found herself adopted by them.
    Hearing the click of the lock, Shelly turned to see Mason pushing open the door.
    “Shelly,” Mason greeted her as he reached out and pulled her into a tight hug.
    Shelly gladly returned his embrace. After all, it was Mason Langley, and she wasn’t going to pass up a chance to get her hands on his sexy body, even if he was engaged to her best friend.
    “Mason. How are you tonight?”
    “Great, just great. Get in here. The food’s cooking, the wine’s open, and Lena’s at the bar making margaritas.”
    Shelly smirked as he tugged her through the door.
    Making her way inside, she walked down the main kitchen aisle that led them out to the dining area. Shelly looked to her left and saw her friend standing behind the huge mahogany bar that ran down the side of the restaurant. Lena raised a hand, waving at her.
    Shrugging out of her coat, Shelly smiled as Mason took it from her.
    “Full service tonight, Chef?”
    As he grinned, matching dimples appeared. “Nothing but the best here at Exquisite,” he winked.
    Nodding, Shelly tugged at her tight, little red skirt. “That’s actually true, including your alcohol. So, I’m going to go over to your woman and grab some.”
    “Let her know I’ll be in the kitchen if she needs me.”
    Already making her way toward the bar, Shelly called back over her shoulder, “Will do.”
    Turning back, she stopped in front of her friend and colleague. “Where’s my usual Cosmo, huh?” Shelly grinned at Lena.
    Lena arched a brow. “Sit down. Tonight, you’re trying Lena’s Margarita.”
    “Oh, am I?” Shelly questioned, watching as her friend started to salt the four large glasses in front of her.
    “Yep. You, Rach, and Wendy are my guinea pigs.”
    “Lucky us.” Sighing, Shelly looked around at the now familiar bar and dining room.
    “Hey, what’s up?” Lena asked.
    Turning to face her friend, she shrugged, and then shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”
    Lena frowned and reached over the bar to grip Shelly’s hand. “Well, you shouldn’t. You’re wonderful, and we all love you.”
    “I know you do, but I can’t have sex with you.”
    Lena laughed, pulling her hand back to pick up the pitcher of margaritas. “Oh! I see. It’s that kind of feeling sorry for ourselves.”
    Picking up a straw from the container on the bar, Shelly twirled it between her fingers. She blew out a breath and felt her blonde hair ruffle against her cheek.
    “Yeah, it’s that kind of ‘I feel sorry for myself.’ I hate being sexually frustrated,” Shelly whined. “It sucks. Well, not literally, obviously, but you know what I mean.”
    Lena rested a hip against the bar and pushed a margarita toward her. “Actually, no, I don’t. I’ve never felt like that.”
    “What about before your sex god turned up?” Shelly asked, feeling a huge grin slide onto her face as Lena predictably stiffened slightly.
    “Sex god? Really? Please don’t say that around him. The man already has a huge ego. You don’t need to feed it.”
    Shelly picked up her drink, took a sip, and swallowed down the tart, icy liquid. Smiling, she nodded. “Okay, but I’m right, aren’t I?”
    Grinning, Lena picked up her own glass, taking a sip. Looking over the rim at Shelly, she replied, “Oh yeah. He’s a god.”
    “Lucky bitch,” Shelly accused, pouting, as Lena grinned from ear to ear.
* * *
    Josh Daniels was having a bad day.
    He’d just come from his lawyer’s office at Mitchell & Madison, and he was not happy. His last employer was trying to skip out on making their final payment, stating that Josh’s company had gone over by two days.
    Stupid prick, he thought. If they hadn’t gone over, I would’ve ended up with shit work. Knowing the slimy little weasel, he would’ve sued for that, too!
    He was definitely not having a good day.
    Josh had decided to move back to Chicago after he broke things off with Melissa a little over six months ago. Originally, he’d moved to L.A. because she’d wanted to pursue an acting career. Cue the curtains and the eye rolling.
    Turns out, the quickest way she saw to get to the top was by being on top—of the casting agent. Is it really so hard to find a nice, sweet woman who wants to settle down and marry? Apparently, it was because here he was back in cold-ass Chicago, which was currently rainy Chicago, making his way over to his friend’s new restaurant—alone.
    Mason Langley. He hadn’t seen the guy for a little over two years. When he’d arrived back in town, he’d been so busy moving in and getting his business up and running that he didn’t have the time to track him down. It wasn’t until recently, when he’d caught a review on TV about Exquisite, that Josh had kicked himself into gear.
     When they’d gone to school together and even through their college years at different universities, they’d been trouble with a capital T. He remembered many parties involving lots of hot girls and even hotter nights. They’d spent those formative years, as they liked to call it, “networking.
    Yeah, he thought, networking our way into girls’ beds, cars, dorm rooms, and parents’ holiday homes. Josh chuckled to himself. If you could think of a place, they’d been there and done that there.
    Yep, Josh thought with a grin, it’s going to be good to meet up with my old friend.
    He’d heard around town about Exquisite, which was Mason’s and Rachel’s restaurant, and after the TV piece, he was looking forward to checking it out for himself. After all, he couldn’t remember how many times Mason had told him that one day he’d be so famous all the women he wanted would be lining up around the block for him. Pretty-boy bastard probably achieved that goal, too.
    Pulling up at the address Mason had given him, Josh parked his white Ford F-250 around the back in the tiny parking lot. Walking over to the back door, like he’d been told, he noticed a shiny red BMW convertible and rolled his eyes. It reminded him of a Barbie car. He chuckled. Should’ve parked the truck next to that just to piss off the owner. Stopping at the door, he knocked twice and waited.
* * *
    Shelly and Lena made their way over to the table that’d been set for eight and took a seat. Lena had refilled her margarita, and she had to admit Lena’s Margarita was pretty damn delicious. As Lena took a seat, she beamed over at Shelly.
    “Look, before everyone gets here, can I ask you something?” Lena asked quietly.
    Shelly nodded and took a sip of her drink, noticing that Lena was keeping an eye on the  kitchen doors. “Sure. Hit me with it.”
    Lena licked her lips, and then blurted out, “Will you be my Maid of Honor?”
    Shelly smiled so widely her face hurt. If you’d asked her not even a year ago if Dr. Magdalena O’Donnell would ever look so happy, she would’ve said that you were out of your mind. After the death of her sister, Lena had closed down, determined not to let anyone in—until Mason, that is.
    However, as Lena smiled over at her with twinkling eyes, Shelly was hit with such joy at her friend’s happiness that she almost started to cry. Nodding quickly, she reached across the table and took Lena’s hand. Squeezing it gently, she answered softly.
    “I’d love to be…” She paused. “But do I really need to be called Maid of Honor? It makes me sound so old and kind of stuffy.” Shelly grinned, wrinkling her nose.
    Lena smiled as she sat back, lifting her glass to her lips. “Fine. I’ll call you that in secret meetings only.”
    Shelly winked at her over the rim of her glass and took a sip. “Sounds like a plan. So, when’s the big day?”
    “Oh, we haven’t decided yet. But guess what? One of Mason’s old school friends is back in town, and he’s coming here tonight. It’s so exciting! I’ve never met any of his school friends. They all moved away after graduation.”
    Shaking her head, Shelly felt the hair at the back of her neck start to rise as she slowly lowered her glass. “Please don’t tell me you’re—”
    “He’s going to be the Best Man, if he agrees. Wouldn’t it be great if you two get along and—”
    “Stop, stop,” Shelly interrupted, sitting forward in her chair. Lowering her voice a little, she glared at Lena and shook her head. “No. No, no, no, Lena-I’m-so-in-love-O’Donnell. Do not try to fix me up. Ugh, I hate being fixed up,” Shelly said, faking a shiver.
    Lena’s brow raised. “Need I remind you that you were the one who told Mason to come stalk me at O’Malley’s. Look at how that turned out.”
    Shelly rolled her eyes and picked up her drink. She was well on her way to feeling relaxed. “Yeah, but look at him. We knew, or let me say I knew, from having seen him that he was smokin’ hot and that you should grab him and take a bite.” Shelly licked the salt off her bottom lip and finished by adding, “This guy could be balding and fat for all we know. You do not get to set me up with anyone until I see him first.”
    Lena’s eyes had moved, looking past her shoulder. They widened slightly, and Shelly thought she almost looked comical in her shock as though her eyes would pop out of her head.
    “Well, maybe you should turn around because, as far as I can tell, Josh isn’t fat or anywhere close to balding.” Shelly heard Mason say from behind her.
    Shutting her eyes on a groan, she shook her head at Lena, who was now biting her lip and trying hard not to laugh. Putting her glass down, Shelly slowly turned, ready to face the music.
* * *
    So, Barbie has a mouth on her. Big surprise, Josh thought as he watched the blonde’s back stiffening. He knew from what Mason had told him that the woman currently facing him, trying to contain her laughter, was Lena. Her green eyes were smiling at him, and her long brown hair was spilling over her shoulders in a riot of curls.
    Yep, Mason had described her right down to the smirk appearing across her mouth, so he knew this was the woman who’d won his friend over. That left the blonde, who must be Dr. Shelly Monroe. Josh looked back to the woman who was slowly placing her margarita glass on the table and turning toward them.
    The first thing Josh noticed about her was the hair. Man, she has some perfect-looking hair. It landed just beneath her shoulders in a completely straight line. The color was almost what he’d describe as platinum, but it had several darker shades of gold through it, which could’ve only been achieved through a very high-end salon. He knew that courtesy of Melissa.
    The second thing he noticed was her cherry-red skirt. Not only was it short enough to show off a good portion of her thigh, it was the same bright shade as, what he was presuming, was her Barbie convertible out in the parking lot. When she finally faced them on spiked black heels, she smoothed her matching black blouse and lifted her face. That was when he noticed her eyes. They were such a startling deep cerulean blue that he could barely take his eyes away from them, so he just stood there and watched as she flicked her now amused gaze to Mason.
    “Didn’t anyone teach you it’s not nice to sneak up on people?”
    Mason crossed his arms, looking down at the petite blonde. “Don’t try and wiggle your way out of this, Shel.”
    Mason smiled and turned to face him while Josh watched her red lips tip up in return. “Josh, this is Dr. Shelly Monroe, and that gorgeous woman over there is my doctor, Lena.” Mason paused, and then looked back to Shelly. “This is my non-balding friend, Josh Daniels.”
    Josh focused on her as she turned and looked him in the eye. Not only did she seem unembarrassed about what’d just happened, but she also seemed to be challenging him to make it an issue.
    “Yes. I can see that,” she almost purred.
    Josh felt her voice skate up along his spine. Oh, holy shit, this is not good.
    He was not in the market for upper class and high maintenance. He wanted middle class and low maintenance. However, as Dr. Monroe ran her incredible eyes over his body, he felt all the blood in his brain disappearing quickly. Trying to stop the inevitable, he held out his hand to her. She looked down at it, and then reached forward with her own, sliding it gently against his. Her eyes moved up from their joined palms to meet his again as she bit her bottom lip slowly and continued with a grin.
    “Not an ounce of fat either,” Shelly whispered seductively.
    Beside him, Mason cleared his throat with a small laugh and shook his head. “Okay, Shel, leave the poor man alone.”
    Letting go of his hand, she shrugged, turning back to her friend. She must’ve done something when she faced her because Lena let out a small giggle, and Mason sighed. Josh turned to find Mason shaking his head.
    “Ignore them. Most of the time, they act like they’re in high school instead of behaving like two of the smartest women I’ve ever met.”
    Josh nodded silently, still trying to work out what had just happened.
* * *
    Shelly turned on her heel to face Lena, who was looking at her with a giant smirk. When she arched a brow and mouthed “no,” it sent her friend into a fit of giggles. Rolling her eyes, Shelly sat down and reached for her drink.
    Delicious. That’d been the first word that came to mind when she’d seen him. The second had been a very loud no. No way was she going to get herself involved with a man like that. He was everything she swore she’d never go back to.
    Wearing worn jeans with a rip across the knee, he had big broad shoulders that looked so strong and powerful he could possibly lift her above his head in a bench press. Add in all that amazing wavy brown hair that was just long enough to come down and curl behind his ears, she thought, Crap, I’m screwed.
    Sitting very still and sipping her margarita, Shelly continued to discreetly watch him as he walked around the table with Mason. Even the way he walked was sexy. She closed her eyes, letting out a small groan.
    “Something wrong, Shelly?”
    Her eyes snapped open, and she glared across to her friend, who was now grinning with pure glee. Shelly decided right then that if she could’ve reached she would have kicked Lena right in the shin. She was about to respond when her phone buzzed. Looking down, she turned it over and noticed a text message from Lena.
    Lena: You’ve seen him. So?
    Shelly raised her eyes to see Lena had turned to face Mason and Josh, pretending to listen to their conversation. Sneaky little shit.
    Hitting reply, Shelly lied.
    Nope, not my type. You know me—suits and ties all the way.
    Shelly put the phone back on the table, watching as Lena looked down at hers when it buzzed. As Lena arched her brow and typed back, acting like they actually were the teenagers Mason had accused them of, Shelly looked at the two men who were now discussing what sounded like a job proposal.
     Mason caught her eye and winked while Josh reached forward for his glass. With an arched brow Mason cocked his head toward his friend in a so-what-do-you-think kind of way.
    Shelly rolled her eyes, shaking her head, when Josh sat back up. Mason’s eyes went right back to his friend like he hadn’t been doing anything mischievous. Another sneaky little shit.
    He and Lena deserved one another.
    Again, her phone buzzed. Looking across to Lena, who was once again pretending to pay attention to the boring man conversation, Shelly picked up her phone. She’d just taken a sip of her drink when she looked down and read.
    Lena: Corporate’s not fixing the issue. Time to hire a handyman to flush out the plumbing.
    That’s when Shelly sputtered on Lena’s Margarita, almost choking.
    “You okay over there?” Shelly heard Mason ask.
    Glancing up, Shelly saw Lena grab her drink, grinning as she took a sip. Looking back to Mason and Mr. Delicious, Shelly smiled slightly.
    “Yeah, just went down the wrong pipe,” she stressed, noticing Lena pick up on the pun.
    Shelly was about to say something else when the double doors behind her whooshed open, and Rachel squealed. Looking over her shoulder, Shelly watched as the currently purple-haired pastry chef zeroed in on Josh—aka Mr. Delicious Handyman.
    “Joshua Daniels! Oh my god! You are even hotter now than you were back in high school!”
    Hot, he definitely is, Shelly agreed.
    Shelly turned to watch Josh stand, and then he pulled out his biggest weapon of all. Across his face slid a smile so slow and so sexy, it could’ve dropped a woman’s panties in five seconds flat—hers in particular.
     Rachel ran across the room, launching herself at him in a huge hug. Shelly watched those powerful arms wrap around Rachel, and for the second time that night, she thought, I’m screwed.

Chapter Two

    Tuesday morning rolled around, and Shelly was relieved when she noticed she was alone. Sometime during the night, she’d had a fantastic dream where she’d cornered Delicious Daniels and dragged him home to her bed. She was thrilled to discover that was not in fact reality.
    She’d made it through the rest of the dinner last night with what little dignity she could find after almost choking on her drink. Then, she’d hightailed it out of there.
    Today was her day off, and she planned to make the most of it. She was looking forward to getting her hair cut, her nails buffed, and her feet massaged—pretty much reveling in a full day of pure self-indulgence. She always made sure to treat herself once a month. After all, why shouldn’t I enjoy something for myself when I’ve worked so damn hard?
    Grabbing the juice from the refrigerator, she poured herself a glass and started thinking about her father. He was the kind of man who would always go out of his way to make her feel as though anything remotely relating to self-indulgence was a waste of money and a “female thing.”
    In her father’s mind, she’d committed two major sins. First, she’d been born a girl, not the anticipated boy. This had been a major disappointment to her father, and it was completely her fault, of course—as if she actually had a say in the matter. Second, she’d chosen not to become a surgeon like him. Instead, she chose to specialize in a less-demanding field in case there ever came a point in time where she wanted to maybe—and this was a huge maybe—take some time to start a family.
    And that was all just the tip of the iceberg. Shelly sighed as she sipped her juice, wondering how he had the ability to aggravate the shit out of her even when he was hundreds of miles away.
    Pushing him aside, she started to think of more pleasurable things—like Mason Langley’s fine-looking friend. It was true. She didn’t want to get involved with a man like him—meaning a man who moved from state to state for a contract job, essentially being a man with no stability. A man who by all means could have her on her knees in ten seconds flat if he knew her weakness.
    However, he was also the exact man she was drawn to. For some reason, her screwed-up DNA had decided that her girly parts would get tingly whenever a man dressed in ripped-across-the-ass jeans came along.
    It isn’t fair, Shelly thought as she lifted the glass to her lips. All she wanted was a predictable man who went to a boring Monday-through-Friday job in a boring suit with a boring everyday personality.
    That, however, was not the case. She was attracted to the kind of man who was likely to pound her into her bed, floor, or couch, and then roll off, walk out the door, and leave the state. What the hell is the matter with me? She knew from past experience that relationships based solely on instant attraction never ended well.
    Placing her glass in the sink, she made her way down the hall to the bathroom, and then stopped in front of the mirror to glare at herself. Reaching up, she held her hair back from her face.
    Maybe I should just chop it off? Be more serious—less girly. She turned her head to the left, and then came back to face forward. Nah, who am I kidding? The men love it! It is a female thing.
* * *
    Josh woke the next morning to a warm, wet tongue licking his cheek.
    Cracking an eye, he saw his six-year-old German Shepherd, Mutley, sitting on his haunches next to his bed. His long snout was resting on the mattress, and his big brown eyes were focused directly on his.
    “Need to go out, boy?” he asked as though the dog would actually answer.
    Mutley whined and wagged his tail where he sat, making his big body twitch from side to side. Reaching out to scratch the dog’s head, Josh yawned and pulled back the covers. Swinging his legs over the side, he winced when his feet hit the cold hardwood floor. Cold-ass Chicago.
    Moving toward the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard, he unlatched it and pushed it open. Mutley dashed outside to relieve himself, probably cursing him for oversleeping. Josh looked out at the hot tub that was half-installed off to the left of the deck. Another project he’d decided would be a challenge when he’d relocated here, north of the city in Evanston. It was still unfinished and untouched, waiting for him to take up the challenge. His hand scratching over his stomach, he rolled his head side to side, stretching out his neck.
    Last night was interesting.
    Meeting up with his old college friend had been great. He’d forgotten how much fun he’d had with Mason back in the day. He was so easygoing, and his family was awesome.
    Rachel was exactly how he remembered. Crazy, he thought with a chuckle, but he also felt there was something else going on now with the crazy, or maybe he was just imagining that.
    He leaned a shoulder up against the glass door as Mutley took the opportunity to sniff every plant in the yard.
    Josh was happy to see Rachel was still sporting the colorful hair—so colorful that she almost looked like an Easter egg, not that he’d ever tell her that.
    The Langley family had been through a rough year. He’d been extremely saddened to hear of Catherine’s passing. He’d known Mason’s father had died a few years back, and he had sent flowers when he couldn’t make it to the funeral. But to learn that the gentle lady with the warm smile had passed—well, there just weren’t any words. The world had lost a wonderful soul.
    Mason’s Lena was adorable and absolutely perfect for his friend. He couldn’t have found a better woman if he’d gone around with a list of requirements and marked off each one. She was funny, stubborn, smart, and quick as a whip, and his friend was completely and hopelessly in love with her.
    He hadn’t known what to expect when Mason had told him he was engaged. After all, she would have to be someone pretty special to have Mason finally give up the bachelor life, but after being around the two of them for less than four hours, he could see they were a perfect fit.
    Then, there was Shelly Monroe—who was another matter altogether. With her blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and a body that just wouldn’t quit, he’d found it hard to keep his eyes off her. He’d made a conscious effort to have as little to do with her as possible, but that didn’t mean he stopped trying to catch quick glances of her from the reflection in the mirrors behind the bar. The lady was a knockout. Not only was she stacked, but she also oozed sex and was as smart as her BFF, Lena. Combine those three ingredients, and you’ve got one dangerous package. The woman was a man-eater, and he had to admit he was finding it difficult to avoid the urge to offer himself up for a bite.
    He reminded himself for the millionth time that she was not what he wanted. Melissa had been the same way—stunning, funny, and a spitfire in bed. In everyone’s bed.
     No, he needed someone gentle, sweet, and possibly cute, and for that very reason, he was going to stay the hell away from Man-Eater Monroe.
* * *
    Later that evening, Shelly let herself into the house, dropping several shopping bags on the floor. She fished through her bag, looking for her ringing cell phone, grabbed it, and answered.
    “Monroe.”
    “Hey there,” Lena’s voice greeted.
    “Hey, you. What’s up?”
    “Not much. Just sitting here, watching TV, and waiting for Mason to get home.”
    Shelly moved around the couch and sat down, kicking her purple heels off and propping her feet up on the table.
    “So, I’m your I’m-bored phone call?”
    “No! You know that’s not true.”
    Shelly laughed. “I know. I’m just giving you a hard time.”
    “Figures,” Lena mumbled, and then paused. “So?”
    “I knew it! I knew there was an underlying reason why you called me. Spit it out, O’Donnell.”
    “I just wanted to know what you thought of Josh?”
    “He seemed nice,” Shelly replied, keeping it vague.
    “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
    Sighing, Shelly shook her head even though her friend couldn’t see. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you. He’s not my type.”
    “You need to broaden your horizons. Did you ever think Mason would be my type?”
    “Ahh, Lena?” Shelly questioned.
    “Yeah?”
    “No one was your type! You didn’t date. I do,” Shelly stressed into the phone.
    Lena sighed, and then said softly, “Okay, so you’re right there, but obviously, something isn’t working. You’re miserable. You always complained about Paul, and before that Steve, and before that—”
    “Yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Shelly mumbled. “But that doesn’t mean I want to date Josh the handyman.”
    “Well, actually—” Lena tried to interrupt.
    “No. There’s no actually in this conversation. He’s not for me. Now, find me a cute banker, CEO, or lawyer.”
    “Paul was a lawyer,” Lena pointed out.
    “Okay, not a lawyer, but not a contractor, or an inventor, or a salesman. Ugh.”
    There was silence, and then Lena asked softly, “What’s wrong with all those things? At least they’re jobs.”
    Shelly thought about what she’d just said and agreed it had sounded obnoxious. “You’re right. I’m being a jerk. They are jobs. I’m just not interested in Josh, okay?”
    “Okay, okay. I get it. Mason and I just thought it would be nice.”
    Shelly let out a laugh and replied good-naturedly, “You and Mason are two interfering busybodies. Go and practice making babies.”
    “Hmm. Now, there’s a good idea,” Mason’s deep voice came over the phone.
    “Lena! How many times have I told you to tell me when I’m on speakerphone? What if I’d been telling you about the latest penis I’d—”
    “Stop! Stop! My ears—they’re bleeding!” Mason yelled, laughing.
    “Well, it serves you right. Now, go and keep your fiancée occupied, so she leaves me alone.”
    Suddenly, Mason’s voice sounded much closer when he answered, “With pleasure,” and then the connection died.
    Looking down at her silent phone, Shelly let out a deep breath and glanced around her empty house. God, when had it become so lonely here?
    About five minutes ago, when she’d heard from lover’s paradise, that’s when. Ugh, she thought, standing up and heading down to her bedroom. She needed to stop feeling sorry for herself.
    Maybe she needed a pet. A dog, perhaps? Oh no! All that slobbering. That settles it. She was going to get a cat.
    When she reached her room, she stopped and shook her head. No, not a cat either. The implications of an older single woman with a cat were horrifying.
    Unzipping her skirt, she stepped out of it when it fell to the floor, and then walked into the bathroom. She turned on the sink faucet and reached for the face scrub in her cabinet. Tying up her hair, she watched the basin fill, and suddenly, it hit her—the perfect pet.
    Tomorrow, I’ll go and buy myself a fish.
* * *
    Josh had thought about Mason’s renovation proposal for the last two days. He wasn’t sure if it was good to mix business with friends, but Mason had balked at the idea that Josh would do it for free.
    So, here he was, walking through the dining room of Exquisite on Thursday morning, looking for the owner. He found Mason standing behind the bar with his head bent over, reading something. Josh walked over to the counter, and as he reached it, Mason looked up.
    “Hey, Daniels. How you doing this morning?”
    “Good, man, good. Yourself?”
    “Can’t complain,” he told him, grinning widely.
    Josh nodded as he lifted the folder he had in his hand to the countertop.
    “Is that the bid?” Mason asked.
    Pushing it toward his friend, he replied, “Yeah. I think I got it all in there. You wanted an estimate for the wall to be knocked down and the space next door to be brought up to code for the restaurant to be expanded, right?”
    “You got it,” Mason answered, reaching out to grab the folder.
    Lifting it, he opened it up and flipped through the pages. Josh turned and looked around the dining room, giving Mason a moment to look it over.
    Damn, this place is something else. The tables were perfectly arranged, and the fancy silverware and crystal glasses made the place look refined and elegant. The beautiful big bar behind him also gave the place a cozy feel. Josh could imagine Friday and Saturday nights here were insanely busy.
    He was about to turn around when he heard his friend ask, “So, ahh…Josh, you single? Dating?”
    Turning back to face Mason, he chuckled and asked, “Why? You interested?”
    “Sure, smart ass, that’s why I’m asking.”
    Josh shook his head. He was pretty sure he knew where this was going, and he wanted to can it before—
    “Well, I was just thinking it might be nice if you and Shelly got to know one another. You know, the good-looking blonde that was here the other night. She’s single,” Mason suggested with a devious grin.
    Josh shook his head. “No way, man.”
    “What’d you mean no way? Did you see her?”
    Laughing, Josh pointed out, “I have eyes, don’t I? Of course I saw her. She was pretty damn hard to miss.”
    “So, what’s the problem? Are you seeing someone?”
    Crossing his arms, Josh narrowed his eyes. “No, I’m not, but I’m not going to start seeing her. I’m not going to do anything with her.”
    Mason tilted his head to the side. “Why? What’s wrong with you? She’s exactly what you normally go for.”
    “Oh, really? And is Lena what you always went for?”
    Mason’s spine straightened, and he shrugged. “What do you mean?”
    Josh answered, “People change. That’s all I’m saying. You found a woman who is wonderful, and yeah, she’s not what you used to go out with, but it works.” Josh knew Mason thought he was going to say something about models and beauty queens, but that’s not what he meant. “I’m looking for someone a little quieter than I think Man-Eater Monroe knows how to be,” he muttered, forgetting to drop the name he’d given her in his head.
    Suddenly, Mason let out a loud booming laugh. “What’d you just call her?”
    Shaking his head, Josh answered quickly, “Nothing.”
    “Oh yeah, you did. Did you say ‘Man-Eater Monroe’?”
    Rolling his eyes at his friend, he nodded. “Yeah. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. The first thing she did when we met was size me up like her next meal.”
    That set his friend off again. Mason was laughing so hard that he had tears coming out his eyes.
    “Ah, man! Don’t you remember when we were in high school? We would’ve killed for a girl to look at us like that, and now, you’re acting like a horrified virgin.” Mason grinned. “Which I know you’re not.”
    “Shut the hell up, Casanova,” Josh threw at him.
    Mason’s mouth snapped shut, and he glared at him. “Alright, who told you?” Shaking his head, Mason narrowed his eyes. “Forget it, I know. Rachel’s a dead woman.”
    Josh pointed at the folder. “So? What’d you think?”
    Placing the folder on the counter, Mason asked, “When can your guys start?”
    “How ‘bout Monday?”
    “Sounds good to me.”
    Josh reached over and shook Mason’s hand. Mason was about to pull back when Josh gripped his hand tight and said in the most menacing voice he could find, “If you tell Monroe I called her that, I’ll kill you, and I don’t even care that it’d make Lena cry.”
    Mason grinned unrepentantly as Josh let go of his hand, placing his palm on his chest. “You’re breaking my heart.”
    “Do I look like I care?”
    “Cold, Daniels, cold.”
    Smiling at his old friend, Josh replied with a grin, “You live in Chicago. Suck it up.”

Chapter Three

    It was Monday evening when Shelly finally sat down after a grueling twelve-hour shift in the Intensive Care Unit. She looked at the messages on her desk and picked one up.
    Memo: 4:25 p.m.
    Dr. Lawrence Monroe called.
    Please call him back.
    You found some time for me, did you, Father? Squeezing me in, probably somewhere between the nurses or maybe an intern? Sorry but not right now.
    Folding it up, Shelly stuffed it into her pocket and picked up the second one.
    Memo: 11:52 a.m.
    Paul Worthington called.
    Oh, he did, did he? Shelly thought, sitting back in her leather chair. She hadn’t heard from Paul for almost three months. What on earth would he be calling about now? Who knew? she dismissed as she heard a knock at her door.
    Looking over, she saw Dr. Roger McKinney, leaning against the frame with one leg crossed over the other. He had his glasses on, and his hands were stuffed into his lab coat. Shelly gave him a stiff smile, hoping he wasn’t here for round three of what Shelly liked to refer to as Uncomfortable Moments, starring Dr. Roger McKinney and Dr. Shelly Monroe.
    She watched as he pushed away from the doorframe, walking into her office. At five-feet-six, he wasn’t a tall man by any means, and Shelly knew that in a good pair of heels she was most definitely taller than her boss. As casually as he could, he moved around the chair opposite her desk and took a seat. He crossed his legs and smiled at her, and Shelly noticed for the first time his mustache was gone—an improvement by any standards but still by no means someone she envisioned herself dating.
    Shelly sat silently, hoping whatever was about to come out of his mouth was work-related.
    “Are you finished for the night?” he finally questioned.
    That did not sound promising, she thought as she turned to face him directly. Nodding, she forced a full smile and held up a yellow memo note, waving it back and forth.
    “Just going through my messages before heading out.”
    “Great, great,” he said, placing his hands on his knees.
    Please don’t ask me, please don’t—
    “So, I was wondering if you’d like to grab a drink with me tonight.”
    Annd he did, Shelly groaned internally.
    No matter how many times she said no, he kept coming back. It was getting to the point where she was running out of creative and polite ways to refuse a drink with this man. Wincing, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the note from her father.
    “I’m sorry. Dad called to tell me he was coming into town, so I really need to get home.”
    Liar, liar, pants on fire.
    “Oh. Oh, okay,” he stuttered as he stood and brushed his hands over some imaginary lint on his lab coat. He then quickly put his hands back in his lab coat pockets and nodded. “Maybe some other time. Be sure to say hello to Dr. Monroe for me.”
    Shelly forced a grin onto her face, refusing to be mean or rude, and nodded once. “Will do.”
     Sitting in her chair gripping a yellow piece of paper, she watched as her boss left. She hated the fact that her father had just inadvertently saved her.
    Oh, my father would love Dr. Roger McKinney, Hospital Administrator. Even though her father was forever telling her she made bad choices in her relationships, he’d think McKinney was the perfect man to settle down with.
    Dr. Lawrence Monroe was convinced his daughter would end up with someone she would have to support for the rest of her life, and Shelly was determined to prove him wrong. That’s why it was such a shame that McKinney was about as appealing as a root canal. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t flip her switch, but…well, he just didn’t.
    Sighing, Shelly bent down to pick up her purse and looked at the other piece of yellow paper.
    Paul Worthington. Lawyer, self-made man, educated, smart—maybe he was worth another shot. After all, what do I have to lose?
* * *
    On Tuesday morning, Josh pushed through the front doors of Exquisite with the blueprints for the building next door and a tray holding four coffees plus a bag of doughnuts. As the front doors closed behind him, he saw Lena look up from the table she was sitting at.
    He smiled and made his way over to her. She had some kind of account book with columns and numbers running up and down the pages open in front of her.
    Numbers—I hate crunching numbers.
    Lowering his knees a little, he dumped the bag on the table as she stood and reached for the tray.
    Smiling up at him, she whispered, “What’s in the bag?”
    Looking around the empty dining room, Josh answered in a conspiratorial whisper, “Doughnuts. Why?”
    Lena shook her head from side to side. “Have you ever been around Rachel when she’s seen store-bought doughnuts?”
    Josh felt a huge smile spread across his mouth as he placed the rolled-up prints on the table behind him. Pulling a chair out, he sat down and shook his head.
    “Nope. But if it’s anything like the time she was caught looking at Mason’s porn magazine collection, I have a feeling I’m in trouble.”
    Lena’s mouth fell open, and he wasn’t sure if she was shocked at what Rachel had been caught doing or the fact that the magazines had belonged to Mason. She quickly seemed to regain her composure though as she leaned forward.
    “Really?” she asked, grinning at him in a way that let him know she was cooking up some way to use this new information.
    “Really. He hid them in his closet in a shoebox.”
    “How original,” she muttered.
    Laughing, Josh nodded. “Better than under the bed.”
    “True, that’s the first place Catherine would’ve looked.”
    Crossing his arms over his chest, he tilted his head to the side. “That’s where all the naughty boys hid them. Did you know her well?”
    His question must have hit a nerve because she stiffened, and then nodded. “Yes, I did.”
    Okay, message received. No more questions about Catherine.
    Josh reached up and ran his fingers through his shaggy brown hair, wanting to get back to a more comfortable topic. “Yep. Rach had just turned sixteen, and Mason and I had walked in and found her in his closet with magazines scattered all around her. She had them opened on all different pages, displaying various…” He paused, looking for the right word. Grinning, he winked at Lena. “Positions.”
    Gasping and bringing her hand up to her mouth, Lena burst into giggles, and Josh couldn’t help but laugh with her.
    He was about to continue when he heard Mason ask, “What are you two laughing about?”
    Turning around in his chair, he saw Mason walking across the dining room, smiling at his fiancée and him.
    Josh glanced over to see Lena watching her man as he made his way toward her.
    See, Josh thought, that right there. That look she has in her eyes—the one that shows when Mason’s in the room, no one else exists, except the two of them and the connection they share. That’s what he wanted. That’s how he wanted a woman to look at him.
    Then, that sweet look she had on her face turned mischievous, and in the most matter-of-fact tone Josh had ever heard, she informed Mason, “Josh was just telling me about your porn collection.”
    Wincing a little, he watched Mason stop in his tracks and look at him.
    Then, he turned back to Lena. “Oh? And what did he tell you?”
    Lena stood, and with her eyes only on Mason, she made her way toward him. “That you had an extensive collection hidden in your closet.”
    Josh watched Mason’s eyes flick in his direction, so he shrugged and shook his head. “I was actually telling her about catching Rachel. You were just part of the story.”
    Lena had finally reached Mason and wrapped her arms around his neck. “A big part of it. He told me about lots of different positions,” she whispered in a husky tone.
    Mason’s head turned toward him so fast that Josh stood quickly, knocking the chair back. “Ahh, she said that wrong,” Josh assured Mason, coughing.
    That was when Lena started to giggle and kiss Mason’s cheek. “Relax, Casanova. He said you two caught Rachel with your magazines open, showing all different positions, and she went nuts.”
    Josh watched as Mason leaned in, kissed her lips hard, and then pulled back. “I’m confused. How did you got on the topic of porn again?”
    Josh reached behind him and grabbed the bag, holding it up. “Doughnuts?”
    “Doughnuts?” Mason repeated.
    Lena grinned and let him go, moving back to the table. “Yep, doughnuts…” She paused and looked to the front door. “I was checking to make sure he knew that he was risking the wrath of Rachel because of the store pastries, and he told me her reaction could be no worse than—”
    “Us finding her with the pornos. I got it.” Mason stated, ending her sentence for her.
    Lena grinned as she sat down, and Josh breathed a sigh of relief while his friend walked over and took a seat. It had been so long since he’d hung out with Mason that he wasn’t sure if he was joking or not about the whole situation.
    As Mason reached for a powder-covered pastry, he bit into it and said around a sugary smile, “I’m not scared of Rachel, and neither is Josh. We have way too much on her for her to threaten us. Ever. Isn’t that right?”
    Josh nodded, picking up his own doughnut, as the lady in question walked in.
    Her blue eyes, the same color as her brother’s, zoomed in on his hand holding a doughnut, and then her gaze moved up to lock onto his.
    “Put it down, Daniels,” Rachel warned.
    “Aw, come on, Rach. Just one little bite?” he asked, winking at her as she moved closer.
    “Don’t try and charm me. You’re too much like my own brother for it to work. So, put down the doughnut,” she enunciated slowly.
    Josh watched as she made her way across the dining room with a Hessian bag. With her purple hair braided into pigtails, she was dressed in tight black leather pants and had a bright red hoodie zipped to just between her breasts.
    Josh tried to look at her as a woman, someone he’d never met, just to see if he could. But no such luck. She was Rachel—his best friend’s baby sister. She would always be the little brat he’d picked on. It was a shame really because she was extremely attractive in an in-your-face wild kind of way.
    She stopped in front of him and held her palm out flat, looking down at him with twinkling eyes full of mischief.
    “Give me that horrible excuse for a doughnut.”
    Josh lifted it slowly and licked right across the top of the powdered sugar, winking at her. That was when she reached out and pushed it into his nose. Coughing, he pulled it away, hearing both Mason and Lena laughing behind her.
    “Don’t mess with her pastries, Josh,” Lena told him through a fit of giggles.
    Looking up at Rachel, he watched as she grinned and reached out to swipe his nose with her finger.
    “Powdered sugar doesn’t look right on you. You aren’t that sweet.”
    Josh frowned. “Aw, come on, Rach. Now, you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”
    Turning, she moved around the table and took a seat, putting her feet up on the chair opposite her.
    Josh watched as she crossed her arms, and then he asked, “How can I make it up to you?”
    She sat forward before questioning him. “Do you still like to dance?”
    Groaning, Josh shook his head and rolled his eyes. Back in the day, Rachel, Mason, and himself all use to frequent the clubs. Sure, now I do it a lot less, but I’ll go if she really wants me to. Plus, I might meet someone.
    “Yeah, I don’t mind it. Got a place in mind?”
    She nodded, putting her feet on the floor. “Friday night. We’ll all go to Blue Moon.”
    From across the table, he heard Lena cough a little, so Josh turned to look in her and Mason’s direction.
    “You don’t like Blue Moon?” he inquired cautiously.
    Mason reached over and took Lena’s hand. He squeezed it, and then said, “We’ve only been once.”
    Josh watched Mason turn to Lena, speaking softly, “Let’s go and change that memory, huh?”
    Lena nodded, and Josh could tell there was more going on than he knew about. He turned back to Rachel, who was sitting quiet and pensive, lost somewhere else in her own thoughts as she stared out the window.
    Josh kept his eyes on her, wondering what was on her mind. Instead of asking, he told her, “Okay, count me in. Friday it is.” He paused, reaching for the doughnut. “Now, can I eat my doughnut in peace?”
    Rachel turned back to him, plastering on a too happy smile, and took the offensive doughnut, dropping it on the table. She opened her bag, pulled out a cling-wrapped plate with what looked like homemade beignets, and placed it on the table in front of him.
    Josh pulled his eyes away from the plate, moving them back to Rachel. He grinned. “You’re an angel. Anyone tell you that?”
    “Stop sucking up, Daniels. Just know that when this melts in your mouth, I saved you from polluting your taste buds.”
    Picking up one of the tasty morsels, he took a bite and groaned, looking over at her smug face.
    “You can say it now,” she instructed him.
    “Say what?” he questioned around the second bite.
    “That I’m right, and I’m a genius,” Rachel pointed out smugly.
    Grinning, Josh leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “You’re right, and you’re a crazy purple-haired genius.” Sitting back, he watched the smirk creep onto her face. He looked at Mason and Lena and winked as he ended with, “Who loves to look at her brother’s porn.”
    He watched with delight when her eyes widened, and the other two at the table burst out into laughter.
    “Oh, I hate you, Daniels!”
    Finishing off the beignet, he blew her a kiss. “Nah, you don’t. I’m gonna take you dancing.”

Chapter Four

    Shelly was standing in front of her mirror, inspecting her reflection, when she heard the intercom peal through her condo. Quickly, she dashed over and hit the enter button.
    Lena had called her the other night and asked if she wanted to go out dancing. At first, Shelly had hesitated, thinking it was a set-up, until Lena had told her to bring a date.
    Enter Paul Worthington, a man that would most certainly prove my father’s theory on my dating skills wrong. Enter a successful, stable, reliable man.
    Shelly had called him back when she’d gotten home Monday and was surprised when he told her he wanted to get together and maybe even give things another try. Not having any other interesting offers available, she hadn’t seen the harm in giving it one last shot, even though she had a rule about repeats. Never repeat bad words you hear, never repeat bad dates you had, and never ever repeat a bad sexual experience.
    In all fairness, Paul hadn’t been bad at anything. He just never followed through. He’d told her over and over that he wanted to wait so it would be special. Wait for what? Marriage? It wasn’t like I was saving myself since those days were long gone. So, what was he waiting for?
    Before she talked herself out of the date, she slicked her lips with gloss, tugged down the hem of her black dress, and made her way to the front door. Pulling it open, she found Paul standing with his back facing her.
    He was dressed in a dark brown sports coat and cream-colored slacks. When he turned, his green eyes shined as he smiled at her, looking her over. She reciprocated, looking at the blue button-up shirt that was tucked neatly in at his waist. She finally pulled her gaze up to land on his.
    “Paul, it’s so nice to see you again.” Reaching out her hands, she watched as he took them and squeezed her fingers.
    “You, too, Shelly,” he told her as he moved into the condo. She turned away to grab her bag and coat as he said softly, “You look fantastic.”
    Smiling over her shoulder at him, she took his hand in hers. “So do you. Ready to go dancing?”
    He tensed a little, and Shelly got the impression that he was not looking forward to it at all. Ahh, prayers answered—a boring suit, a nice man, and a personality that I can predict. That’s what I want, right?
* * *
    The music was pumping through the club and bodies were gyrating when Rachel dragged Josh through the doors. The dim lights were a welcome relief from the bright floodlights outside where they’d been waiting in line. His eyes scanned the sea of people, looking for his friend, but he was coming up empty. Man, I could use a beer, he thought as they pushed through the crowd. When they got to the bar, Rachel turned and rested her back against it.
    “Man, I love this place!” she shouted over the music.
    “Really?” he queried, looking at her as she scanned the crowd.
    Josh was starting to get the impression that Rachel’s outlandish hair and outfits were all part of some kind of bigger picture that he and everybody else may be missing, and he wanted to see if she would confirm it. She turned her head, facing him, and grinned.
    “Yeah, really.” She paused, and then looked back out at the dancing crowd with that same almost sad look on her face from the other day. Then, she brightened again and nodded as if confirming her first thought. “You can totally lose yourself here. I love it!”
    Josh looked at her, smiling. Now, that statement is completely Rachel.
    She was dressed in a tiny pink PVC tank top and leather pants tonight. She looked like a tiny little dominatrix that had been spray-painted with Pepto-Bismol.
    The bartender came down and took their orders. Josh watched the crowd as they shifted and swayed to the throbbing of the music.
    Rachel turned around when the bartender came back and grabbed her drink. Josh was about to ask when Mason and Lena were supposed to meet them when Rachel started waving her hand in the direction of the door. He turned around and that was when he saw her walk in.
    Even from where he was standing, he could see every curve of her spectacular body, but that probably had something to do with the skintight black dress she’d painted on herself. She had her perfect blonde hair pulled up into a tight high ponytail. As she stepped forward through the crowd, he noticed her feet were flaunting a wicked pair of heels that looked so sharp they could be deadly.
    Josh took a deep breath in, letting his eyes follow her naked legs up to the long stretch of creamy white thigh that was then cut off by the black dress. It hugged her thighs, hips, and all the smooth lines between before tightly clinging to her spectacular breasts. The sexy little dress ended in a halter fashion, held up by two strips of material tied around her neck.
    The woman looks fucking amazing. No matter what his brain had told him the other night, he couldn’t help but want her. Want. Her.
    He was about to make the dumbest move possible and go over there when his sanity was restored in the form of a man stepping inside the club behind her. He was dressed in what looked like a sports coat and a pair of slacks and looked like he belonged at a business barbecue, not at a nightclub and certainly not with her.
    Josh shook his head. Turning back to the bar, he picked up his beer. Thank God for men in sports coats because that schmuck just saved my ass from being a total dipshit.
* * *
    Shelly let her eyes adjust to the dimly lit club.
    Looking around, she couldn’t see Mason or Lena anywhere, but suddenly, she spotted Rachel over by the bar, jumping up and down and waving her hand erratically. Shelly grinned and turned to grab Paul’s arm.
    “They’re just over this way,” she shouted, pulling him into the crowd with her.
    Pushing her way past the bodies, she noticed a man standing with his back to them. Must be Rachel’s date, she thought, looking him over.
    As her eyes worked over his relaxed form, Shelly felt a stab of guilt for the jealous thoughts entering her mind. Damn, Rachel’s date has one fine ass.
    He was bent over leaning on the bar, wearing jeans that clung to his thick thighs and the posterior she was currently admiring. Stretched snugly across his huge shoulders was a black leather jacket that Shelly wanted to stroke.
    God, that’s hot, she thought as she stopped in front of Mason’s sister. Stop looking at him and start paying attention to your friend, Shelly chided herself, and then tacked on the end, and your own date.
    “Hey, Shelly. Mase and Lena aren’t here yet,” Rachel told her with a grin.
    Nodding, Shelly looked over her shoulder at the crowd, and then back to Rachel and her mystery boyfriend. Shifting toward Paul, she figured introducing him would in turn get Rachel to encourage Mr. Sexy to turn around.
    Hey, if I can’t date these guys, I can at least look and drool.
    “This is Paul,” she said, gesturing to him.
    Paul leaned toward Rachel, holding out his hand. Shelly watched as Rachel looked at him with a confused frown before she grabbed his hand and pulled him forward into a huge hug. Shelly tried to stifle a laugh at Paul’s stiff posture.
    “Hi, Paul. I’m Rachel, and this here is Josh.” Turning to the guy beside her, Rachel whacked him on the back before he stood and turned to face them.
    Shelly felt her stomach tighten as butterflies started to take flight in her belly.
    Josh Daniels! Just my damn luck.
    She let her eyes wander down his jeans, and then back up over the tight black T-shirt that molded to every muscle he had.
    Delicious. There’s that stupid annoying word again, but holy cow, he looks edible. His shaggy brown hair was falling down around the collar of his leather jacket, and a few stray strands were flopping into his eyes. Those sexy chocolate-brown eyes were currently making no secret that they were unmistakably devouring every inch of her. When they finally got to her face, he winked.
    “Dr. Monroe,” he said in a voice that licked all over her naughty bits. “So nice to see you again.”
    Gripping her purse in one hand and Paul in the other like he was her lifeline, she answered, “You, too. Still no bald patches, I see.”
    Shelly watched as a wolfish grin appeared on his mouth. “Not since the last time I checked. Would you like a closer look?”
    Returning his slow grin, she shook her head and squeezed Paul’s arm, trying to reassure him that she was with him tonight. “No, I’ll take your word for it.”
    Looking over Josh’s shoulder, she caught the bartender’s eye and ordered, “One Cosmo.” She then turned to Paul, who was looking around as though he’d never set foot in a club before. Poor guy probably hasn’t.
    “Paul? What do you want?”
    He turned his head to her and smiled. “I’m driving, Shel. That means water.”
    Turning back to the bartender, she rolled her eyes and heard Josh chuckle. Her eyes moved to his as he picked up his beer, toasting her with a mocking look.
    “I just saw Mason and Lena walk in, Rach. I’m going to go get’em,” he said as he turned and walked away, leaving Shelly at the bar muttering under her breath.
* * *
    Why on earth would a woman like her be dating Paul the Bore?
    Josh shook it off as he finally got to his friend. He smiled, looking at Mason who had a proprietary arm wrapped around Lena. Josh had to admit he could see why. Lena looked smoking hot tonight. She’d left her hair out in a riot of curls and was dressed in a corset top and tiny skirt with tall boots.
    “Hey,” Mason said, reaching out to shake his hand.
    It reminded him of Rachel a minute ago, and he grinned.
    “What?” his friend questioned.
    Shaking his head, Josh laughed and answered quickly, “It’s nothing. I was just thinking about something that happened a minute ago with Shelly’s date.”
    Lena tried to look around him but obviously didn’t succeed in what she was trying to see because she then peered up at him.
    “Shelly ended up bringing a date?”
    Josh nodded, lifting his beer to take a sip. Lowering it, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and nodded. “Yep. He’s a real winner, too. Paul, I think his name is.”
    “Oh god,” Lena sighed, rolling her eyes.
    “Oh, I see you’ve met Paul, too.” Josh laughed.
    “Ah, well…technically, no, I haven’t. I only saw him once as he was exiting her office after being ‘kicked to the curb,’ I think is what Shelly called it.”
    Josh took another swig of his beer as Mason tugged Lena in against his side.
    He looked down at her asking, “Isn’t that the guy that wouldn’t put out?”
    Coughing, Josh lowered the bottle, and he felt his eyes widen.
    Seriously? The guy is holding out? On her?
    He watched as Lena nodded.
    “Geez, she must be hard up then. She doesn’t do repeats.” Mason chuckled.
    Lena whacked his chest. “That’s not nice.”
    “Well, it’s true! I mean, I tried to get Josh to take her out.”
    Raising his bottle, Josh interjected, “That woman is hotter than hell, but I’m not touching her. She’ll burn me to a crisp.”
    Lena’s eyes widened, and then she smiled slowly.
    Josh shook his head. “No.”
    “Oh, come on, just dance with her. That’s all.”
    Rolling his eyes, Josh looked at Mason for help.
    His friend shrugged. “Don’t look at me. You’re on your own.”
    Josh saw Lena smiling with her bottom lip caught between her teeth, looking so adorable he knew he was about to cave.
    “Do you ever win an argument, Mason?”
    “Only when she’s close by, and I can shut her up.”
    Whacking him again, Lena protested, “Hey!”
    Rubbing his chest, Mason grinned down and leaned in, whispering against her mouth, “With kisses.”
    “No other way with a hot woman,” Josh replied softly as he turned and made his way back to the bar.
* * *
    Shelly was starting to think that reconnecting with Paul had been a terrible mistake.
    He was sitting beside her drinking water. Water in a bar. He was asking her how her day was when she really just wanted to dance. She wanted to lose herself in the music and forget about her long day—not rehash it.
    She felt slightly guilty, too, because she knew she was being overly judgmental with Paul this evening. But, in all fairness, she had dated him before, and on those dates, she’d given him the benefit of the doubt. Now, she knew it didn’t get better than this. Why did I call him back? Because I’m a lonely and confused moron apparently.
    She turned to look at Paul, and that’s when she saw Josh take the seat on the other side of her date. And that right there is another reason why I had called Paul. She’d known that tonight had been a not-so-subtle way for Lena to try and set her and Josh up. Really, the idea was extremely appealing to all of her bad decision-making neurons. The good decision-making neurons were trying in vain to push her to Paul, who had now turned and was asking Josh what he did for a living.
    Not wanting to listen to “work” talk, she turned and saw Lena walking toward her, dressed as she had been many months ago when she’d been trying to seduce Mason. Judging by the death stares he was shooting at everyone glancing in Lena’s direction, he planned to put a big “do not touch” sign on Lena. And, the grip he had on her said that later he’d let her seduce the hell out of him.
    Sighing, Shelly smiled when they got to her, noticing Lena’s eyes stray to the back of Paul’s head.
    Mason grinned like a bad schoolboy, and then asked loudly, “So, Shelly, who’s your boyfriend?”
    Glaring daggers at him, she grimaced as Paul turned, and then she forced a smile as she introduced Paul to her closest friends. “Mason and Lena, this is Paul. A friend of mine.” So she happened to stress friend a little more than she probably should have, but she wanted it to be clear.
    Mason released his grip on Lena and held his hand out for Paul to take. Standing, Paul shook it as Mason shouted over the music, “Nice to meet you, man. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
    Paul turned to Shelly with a questioning look, and she just grinned at him, watching as he turned back and told Mason he hoped it was all good. She almost died when Mason replied.
    “Oh, yes, Shelly told me you’re nothing but respectful and treat her like she’s very special.”
    Shelly heard a chuckle from down the bar and turned to see Josh’s eyes on her as he tried unsuccessfully to conceal his laughter. Raising a brow at him, she tipped her chin up and watched as he lifted his beer to take a sip. His throat mesmerized her as he swallowed, and she felt her thighs twitch.
    Stop looking at him, she ordered herself.
    Turning back to the three in front of her, she was about to stand up and ask Paul to dance when Rachel bounced out of the crowd and over to them.
    “Come on, Paul! You look like you could use some fun! Come dance with me.”
    Paul looked over his shoulder to her, and Shelly nodded, trying not to laugh at his worried expression.
    “Go, you’ll have fun. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
    Rachel grabbed his wrist and pulled him into the sea of people.
    Mason moved closer to Shelly and leaned down, asking her with a devious grin, “So, has he put out yet, or is he still making you feel special by waiting?”
    Shelly turned her head so her mouth was right over his ear when she promised, “I’m going to kill you if you don’t shut it.”
    Standing up straight, he nudged her under her chin, and then grabbed Lena’s hand, who grinned at Shelly as she was tugged into the crowd.
    That left her and—oh, terrific—Josh Daniels sitting at the bar.
* * *
    Watching her closely, Josh noticed the minute she realized she was stuck with him. He almost laughed out loud as he watched her turn on the bar stool to face him. Picking up his beer, he finished it as he stood and moved down to sit on the stool vacated by Paul.
    He’d told himself over and over that he would not get involved with her. As he slid onto the seat, their knees brushing against one another, he also convinced himself sex did not require involvement.
    She turned and picked up her drink, bringing it to her shiny, wet lips to take a sip.
    Oh yeah, you don’t need to be involved to hit the sheets.
    She watched him over the glass, and her blue eyes lowered in a slow, sensual blink as she seemed to size him up.
    “What are you looking at?” she asked boldly.
    “There’s only one thing in front of me,” he returned, deciding to forget about his brain and all of its flashing neon warning signals for a minute.
    She put the glass down on the bar top, and then made a show of licking her bottom lip. He knew she was one-hundred percent aware of her own sensuality and how to use it to draw his eyes to her mouth as she finished the sexy move by biting her bottom lip.
    “And do you like what you see?”
    Feeling a grin pull up on his mouth, he nodded. “You certainly aren’t hard to look at.”
    Leaning an arm on the bar’s counter, she crossed one of her bare legs, flashing him more of her thigh. His eyes drifted down to look at them, and then came back up to meet her fiery gaze.
    “So, why aren’t you dancing, Shelly?” he questioned teasingly.
    She let her eyes roam all over him, and he felt them as if they were her hands, stroking over his suddenly very aware body.
    “There’s no one to dance with,” she answered him in that sexy voice of hers.
    He tilted his head to the side as she reached for her glass again. He watched while she lifted it to her mouth and noticed for the first time how perfect the skin was on her neck. It was a perfect shade of creamy white that he suddenly wanted to suck.
    “And what am I?” he finally asked her.
* * *
    Shelly looked at Josh as he sat there with his legs spread and booted feet on the floor, facing her with one arm on the bar while the other rested on his knee.
    The man was pure temptation, and she was finding him hard to resist. So hard in fact that she was trying to think of a way to have him—at least for a night.
    “You are not an option,” she replied.
    His eyes narrowed, and she watched him as he very carefully slid off the stool and took a step closer, still resting his palm on the bar.
    Not one to cave to a man, Shelly looked up at him with a questioning expression. To anyone looking, she knew it just looked like he was asking her to dance, but that was so not the case.
    “Why? I can tell you want me. Your eyes are all over me, and your breathing is just a little too hard for some woman sitting at a bar. Come on, Shel, you can admit it. Just like I can almost guarantee you’re getting all hot and bothered down between—”
    “Okay,” she interrupted before he voiced what she knew was true.
    Looking up at him, she had to admit that the man was sexier than anyone she’d ever met. He attracted her like a bee to honey, and as she locked gazes with him, she knew she was going to have him between her legs at some point in the very near future.
    “Okay, what?” he asked as he stood still, barely making a move with each breath.
    Not into self-delusion, Shelly always went after what she wanted—and want him she did. She raised her eyes to his, speaking loud enough for him to hear, “You’re right. I do want you.” She watched that panty-dropping smile appear on his face. “I’ve wanted you since the moment I turned around in Mason’s bar. Happy?”
* * *
    Josh couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of this woman’s mouth. He didn’t understand why he was so surprised. He’d known from the get-go that she was sexy, confident, and the kind of woman to eat a man alive. But to hear her stating so bluntly that she wanted him? Well, that sent all the blood left in his head straight to his cock.
    Trying to remember what she’d just said, he leaned down until they were almost nose to nose, and then moved at the last second to her ear.
    To someone watching, he looked like he was just trying to talk to her over the loud music, but to the hot woman in front of him and to his out-of-control body, they both knew it was more like adding a spark to a stick of dynamite.
    “I’m horny, not happy. You’re so fucking sexy that all the blood in my body is in my cock. But you already know that because you keep aiming your eyes down there to check.”
    Leaning back, he looked down at her as she smiled and licked her lips again, which automatically made him think of her mouth and his cock. Together. Right now.
    “That’s true, too.” Blinking big blue eyes up at him, she asked, “So, do you want to make a deal?”
    “A deal?” he asked, suddenly a little confused, either from the lack of blood to his brain or the way the conversation was going.
    “Yes, a deal. You know, an agreement that is forged between two individuals.”
    Shaking his head slowly, he muttered, “Smart ass.”
    “So, do you want to?” she pushed.
    Josh looked her over, sitting there with her legs crossed and her thighs so close that he wanted to reach out and touch them.
    Then, he answered the only way he knew how. “Hell, yeah. What’s your deal, Shel?”
    With a smile touching her lips, she looked out to the dance floor. When she was happy they were in the clear, she replied, “This stays between us. I’m not looking for anything other than—”
    “Sex?” he interrupted.
    Raising a blonde brow, she dipped her head once, conceding, and quickly added, “Hot, sweaty, great sex. Which I’m assuming, you can deliver.”
    Josh was completely amused and turned on by the woman. He found himself battling to keep his hands off her, and at the same time, he wanted to burst out laughing.
    “Oh, and why would you assume that?”
    She let her eyes travel down his chest, then to his jeans where he was sporting a major hard on, and then brought them back up to his face.
    “I guess I’m not assuming. I’m hoping. Because, if not, I think I may have to just go ahead and end my life,” she sighed dramatically and looked at the dance floor. Then, she turned back to him as she continued, “Let’s put it this way. If I found out Paul wasn’t a firecracker after dark, it wouldn’t be such a surprise. If I found out you weren’t, I’d want to find a short pier and hurl myself off it. You have a body that’s made to pound a woman into her bed. So, I’m really hoping you can live up to that.”
    Josh clenched his fist on the bar top and gritted his teeth as he shifted his feet where he stood, painstakingly trying not to reach down and rearrange what was pushing hard against his zipper.
    “What’s the deal you’re offering, Monroe? Spell it out to me before I pick you up and haul you and your dirty mouth out of here.”
    Grinning like she’d won some kind of battle, she uncrossed her legs and slipped off the stool, standing so close to him her breasts brushed against his chest. He continued to stand where he was, refusing to give in to her aggressive stance.
    Raising a hand, she reached out with a finger and traced a line around one of his nipples that was pressing hard against his shirt. She looked up at him from under her dark lashes, and her hot blue eyes locked onto his.
* * *
    Shelly was about to explode as she stood close enough to Josh she could smell his cologne mixed in with his own scent. She raised her eyes to his and grinned at the hot primal expression on his face. He looked like he wanted to attack her, and quite honestly, she wanted to be attacked.
    “The deal is this. No one knows about us. This is sex. Hot sex, but just sex. I want a nice, sweet everyday man to settle down with. And, honestly, you scream complicated and not so sweet. So, the deal is you, me, and sex. No one knows. Not Lena and definitely not Mason.”
    She watched as his scorching eyes melted away all her resistance. When he finally moved, he lifted his hand from the bar and took hers that was tracing his chest.
    He brought it down from his body, almost as though he couldn’t control himself while she was touching him, and then he held his hand out to hers as if they would shake on it.
     Oh no, Delicious Daniels. We’re going to seal this my way.
    Smiling, she stood on tiptoes and whispered, “We’ll seal the deal tonight when we come all over each other.”
    She heard him groan softly as she took a step back and smoothed her hands down her dress. She’d gotten herself so worked up that she could feel her damp panties sliding against her aroused flesh.
    “So? Deal, Mr. Daniels?”
    She could have sworn she felt his eyes as they tracked down her body, and then came up to rest on her face as he nodded.
    “It’s a deal, Miz Monroe.”
    Smirking at his sexy delivery of her name, she went to step around him to go and find Paul, but then stopped when she was beside him, shoulder to shoulder.
    “My number is in Lena’s phone. I’ll let you work out how to get it,” she paused as he turned his head to look down at her. Raising a brow, she ended with, “No strings, Josh. Not one. Unless, of course, it’s to tie me up.”
    He nodded, and she winked at him before she walked away.

Chapter Five

    Josh watched Shelly strut away from him on those ice-pick heels. What the hell just happened?
    Shit, he knew what had happened. His brain had left the building, and he had decided to forget all his convictions for the sake of having her. All because the Man-Eater had arrived, and she’d taken a huge bite out of his ass.
    The woman was sex personified, and she had no problems using it. In fact, she used it so well that she had made him forget his entire conversation with Mason about his own adamant refusal to touch her. She was a witch, and she had cast a spell.
    He let his eyes search the crowd quickly, trying to spot Lena, so he could devise a plan to get that cell phone number. There wasn’t a chance in Hell he was missing out on that.
    Josh leaned back against the bar, crossing one leg over the other, as he discreetly tried to run a hand over the front of his jeans to alleviate some of the pressure. Once he realized there was no use, he just gave up, knowing the only relief would be to—how had she put it? Oh, that’s right—come all over each other.
    He was trying to remember if he’d ever had a woman talk to him quite so boldly, and he was pretty sure that the answer was a big fat no.
    However, Shelly gave as good as she got.
    When Josh had first decided to hell with all his plans about not touching, he’d thought he would just be blunt, get to the point, and lay it all on the line for the sexy doctor. What he hadn’t expected was for her to give it back to him—and twice as good.
    The woman is trouble, and I’m going to have fun getting into it. Or should I say her?
    Finally, he spotted Mason pulling a hazy-eyed Lena from the dance floor. She was stuck to his side like glue, and Josh could tell by the expression on her face that by the end of the night she would be even closer to her man.
    They stopped in front of him, and Mason smiled before he asked, “What’s up with the Shelly? You piss her off?”
    Josh shook his head, making sure to keep his face as neutral as possible. “Who knows? That woman’s touchy. Probably upset that I even thought about talking to her. From what I can tell, she goes for someone of a different caliber than me.”
    Lena rested her flushed cheek against Mason’s side and smiled softly at him. She looked as though Mason had already taken care of her and was basking in the glow of a fantastic orgasm. Who knew? Maybe he had, Josh thought with a smirk.
    “That’s not true,” she said softly. “Shelly doesn’t know what she wants. She dates all these boring stuffed-shirt guys that never leave her satisfied. Why do you think she’s still single?”
    Josh shrugged, as though it was of no concern to him. When deep down he was thinking, There is no way in hell she is going to leave unsatisfied tonight.
    Then, he asked over the loud music, “Hey, Lena, do you mind if I borrow your cell phone? I need to call…” Shit, who do I need to call? Hello, make someone up, moron. She doesn’t know you. “I need to call my neighbor. I forgot to let Mutley out before I left, and I don’t want a mess in the house.”
    Nodding, she moved a little from Mason, and in Josh’s frustrated state, he was almost brought to his knees when she bent over and unzipped the top of her boot, pulling out a phone.
    When she stood and handed it to him, he heard Mason ask, “Man, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
    You think? I’m dying over here. Dr. Barbie has me hard as a steel rod, and your woman is pulling a phone out of fuck-me boots, Josh thought.
    However, instead of answering Mason, he nodded mutely as he grabbed the phone, making a mad dash for the exit.
* * *
    Shelly was standing in the crowded bathroom at the sink, slicking her lips with gloss. She’d pretty much licked it all off as she’d stood there salivating over Josh.
    So what? I’d given in to my urge to pounce on him.He is very pounceable. Is that even a word? Probably not, but if it was, it would be made for that man.
     Just thinking about him made her thighs twitch and her tummy do a somersault. He was sex on legs, and she wanted him to walk all over her.
    Looking at her reflection, she could see the subtle changes in herself that hinted at how aroused she was. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her eyes were dilated. But the telltale sign that no one could see was the moisture between her thighs.
    Damn that man.
    She hadn’t wanted to get involved with Joshua Daniels, Mason’s Best Man. Not to mention, he was also Mason and Rachel’s childhood friend. Way too complicated, but she wasn’t going to get involved. She was going to have sex. Fantastic sex that would leave her completely and utterly satisfied, and then she’d leave. She’d done it before, and if this guy was for real, she’d do it again—real soon.
* * *
    Josh was standing out in the parking lot by his truck. He was scrolling through Lena’s phone, searching for the Sexy Doctor’s number. Jackpot! He found it.
    Pulling out his own phone, Josh added her into his contacts under Barbie. Well, she wants it to be a secret, he thought with a smirk, dialing the number.
    He waited.
    One ring, two rings, and on the third, he heard a click, and loud music pulsed through his phone. Smiling slowly, he knew she’d answered it somewhere in the club.
    “Hello.”
    Hmm, there’s that silky, sexy voice of hers, he thought before responding with, “Outside in the parking lot now. I’m ready to seal the deal.” Then, he ended the call. Now, let’s see what she does with that.
* * *
    Looking at her phone in the dark corner she’d moved to, Shelly felt her hand shaking as she ended the call.
     He wants to do this now? More to the point, am I really going to let him?
    Shelly felt some movement to her side and noticed Paul had come over to stand with her. He was kind of—and by “kind of” she really meant he actually was—bopping to the music like she imagined an awkward kid would.
    Shaking her head at her own stupidity for pulling him into a situation so totally foreign to him, she decided now was the time to slap herself for even contemplating reuniting.
    Reaching out, she tapped his arm. He turned to face her, and she turned on her sexy smile as she leaned in to whisper against his ear.
    “I’m just going to step outside for some fresh air for a few minutes.”
    Paul nodded and asked, “Want me to come with you?”
    Shaking her head, Shelly thought, Nope, I have a man in mind that’s going to do that.
     “No, it’s fine. I’m just going to stand by the door with the bouncer.”
    Paul squeezed her hand, shouting back over the music, “Okay, but make sure you do. Can’t be too careful.”
    Shelly turned and walked toward the door. Oh, I’m about to be anything but careful, Paul.
* * *
    Josh saw her the minute she stepped out under the floodlights. They seemed to light up her blonde hair, almost giving her a halo, but he knew this was no angel. She looked from left to right, and then spotted him leaning up against his truck in the far back row of cars. He watched her tilt her head, moving toward him.
    She walked in a way that made him want to stand and watch her for hours. Sure, it was just like everyone else, one foot in front of the other, but she made it a statement. With each step, her hips swayed from side to side, and her ponytail swished behind her. Her shoulders were so straight, and her chin was tilted up, making her look like a confident sex kitten about to devour him like a hungry lioness.
    He could hear the gravel crunching beneath her heels, but she never faltered. When she finally got to him, she stopped and ran her gaze over his body as he remained where he was.
    He knew she’d notice the huge hard-on pressing against his jeans, and he also knew the moment when she saw it because her tongue came out, licking at her lips again.
    “You do that a lot, you know?”
    Her eyes came back to his as she raised questioning brow at him.
    “What’s that?”
    “Look at my cock and lick your lips.”
    She took a step closer, and he had to uncross his legs or she would have bumped into them. Reaching over beside him, she tossed her little purse in the back of his truck, and then moved one more step closer until she was positioned snugly between his thighs with her amazing breasts pressed against his chest. He watched as the lips in question tipped up in a sexy smile.
    “That’s because I want to lick it,” she informed him in true man-eater style, bold and to the point.
    Josh clenched his teeth and his hands. As of right now, she still hadn’t given him permission to touch her, and she hadn’t touched him either.
    “You don’t have a subtle bone in your body, do you, Shel?”
    He watched as she looked at his mouth, and then let her eyes come back up to his.
* * *
    Shelly was breathing hard as she felt his inner thighs flex around the outside of hers. His hands were resting down by his legs, and she decided it was time to touch. Raising her hand, she ran a finger over the shoulder of the smooth and supple leather jacket.
    “Why be subtle? We both know what we want, and we’re both consenting adults.”
    She felt him take a breath as his whole body shuddered, and then she watched as he raised a hand and let it go to her hip. The minute he placed it on her she could have sworn she felt electricity and heat sizzle all along her frustrated nerves. It had been so long since she’d had great sex, and she knew this was going to be fantastic. Hell, the guy almost has me coming from touching my hip.
    “That’s true, and the last thing I remember was us coming to an agreement.”
    Shelly nodded. “Well, yes, a verbal one.” Then, she leaned forward until her lips were by his ear and took a deep breath of his delicious cologne. “Now, we need to seal it,” she whispered.
    She heard him groan as his fingers flexed on her hip, tugging her forward. Placing her hands on his chest, she squeezed his tight pecs. Damn, the man is built beneath that black T-shirt. She couldn’t wait to rip his shirt off and rub all over his hard naked chest.
    He leaned his head down a little, and she could no longer resist flicking her tongue out to swipe at his lobe. She felt his other hand come up, pulling her in so close that she could now feel his erection pushing into the apex of her thighs. He groaned and flexed his hips.
    Shelly chuckled in his ear and asked, “So, we’re going to do this out here?”
    Although she was completely scandalized by the idea, Shelly also had to admit that she was completely turned on. Another deciding factor was she wanted to know if he could actually do that out here.
    “That’s the plan. I want this set in stone before you strut away from me.”
    “Hmm,” she moaned, rubbing her aching mound against his hardness.
    God, that feels incredible.
    Running her hands down his chest to his stomach, she gripped his shirt and started bunching it up. He rocked his hips against her, and then turned his head.
    “Give me your fucking mouth, woman.”
    Feeling herself clench and dampen, Shelly smiled before she laid her lips against his.
* * *
    His head was about to explode.
    Both of them.
    The woman was molten lava, and she was melting him with every touch. Her hot little hands were busy burrowing in under his shirt, and her glossy lips were now parting beneath his. He groaned, and without any finesse or preliminaries, he thrust his tongue deep into her mouth. She moaned, gripping his shirt, as he yanked her up against his cock.
    Goddamn, she is sweet. Sweet, hot, and wickedly sexy.
    Just when he thought he was about to combust, she lifted her hands from under his shirt and wrapped them around his neck, tugging on the hair brushing his collar, ramping up the temperature all over again.
    He ran one hand over the curve of her sweet ass, then all the way up her spine, and when he reached the back of her neck, he gripped it, pulling her away from him.
    Panting, she stopped as she looked at him.
    Amazing, he thought as he tried to catch his own breath. She is absolutely fucking amazing. Her eyes were wide and dilated, her cheeks were rosy and flushed, and her wet mouth was parted as she squirmed against him.
    “I believe we’re supposed to do something very specific to seal this deal,” he pointed out, squeezing her hip and neck gently.
    He watched her swallow and then nod as she reached between them to unbutton his jeans. Looking around the parking lot, he was starting to get a little nervous. She’s going to do this here—for real? He’d just been teasing her, but as he felt her pull his zipper down, he knew she was going for it.
    Taking his hand from the back of her neck, he turned them so his back was to the club, and she was shielded from any eyes. It also gave her the opportunity to see if anyone was coming.
    Well, anyone other than us.
    “Well then, now that you have me here and your hands are down my pants, what are you going to do with me?”
    She brought her sex-clouded eyes to his as she reached down to grab the hand he had on her hip, bringing it to her bare thigh.
    “I’m going to keep my hands down your pants, and you need to get this hand up my skirt.”
    Feeling a grin tug at the corners of his mouth, Josh asked, “Is that right?”
    Nodding, she bit her lip. “That’s right.”
    Running his fingers up her naked skin, he smoothed them around her hot thigh, moving to the inside. Sliding his fingers up and in between, she started to pant and squirm as her busy hands slid deeper into his jeans. Now inside his boxers, she wrapped her fingers around his aching cock.
    He took a breath and asked, “And when all is in hand?”
    She smiled in a way that made him think she’d just devoured him.
    “Then we come all over each other.”
* * *
    Holy shit. Did I really just say that?What is wrong with me?
    She’d always been a sexually confident person, but she’d never ever behaved this way before. It had to be him.
    She watched a wolfish grin appear on his mouth, and then she shuddered when she finally felt his fingers trace her soaked panties.
    “Fuck, you’re wet.”
    “Hmm,” she moaned, gripping and stroking his hot hard flesh between her hands. “And you’re so deliciously hard.”
    He didn’t waste much time after that, and she figured if he felt anything like her, they were pretty damn close to erupting like a volcano.
    Finding the edge of her lace panties, he pulled it aside, sneaking his fingers in to slide through her folds. She couldn’t help the loud moan that tore out of her as she gripped his cock, stroking it up and down once, then twice, and again, keeping time with his fingers that were teasing and gliding between her thighs.
    She couldn’t believe she was standing in a parking lot, mutually getting off some guy that she’d sworn she wouldn’t touch. But as his finger finally pushed into her, she panted and clenched her thighs around his hand, rocking onto him, thinking that all her good intentions could take a flying leap.
    She heard him let out his own groan as his fingers pushed in deeper, and she dragged her hand up and down his throbbing flesh. She noticed he watched her face as he dragged his fingers in and out. While she continued to stroke him, they rocked their pelvises against one another’s hands.
    Then, in a voice so deep and low she almost didn’t hear, he said, “For fuck’s sake, Monroe, come on me.”
    That did it. She felt her climax slam into her as she squeezed her thighs around his hand, screaming as she came all over his fingers. She gripped his cock tight and milked him as he groaned. She felt his hips piston in her palm—once, twice—and then he buried his face in her neck as he came all over her hand.
    Hmm, so damn messy and unrefined.
    Oh, yes, Josh Daniels would deliver, and she couldn’t wait.
* * *
    Josh was breathing hard as he stood on shaky legs with a hand burrowed beneath her skirt and his mouth pressed against that pretty neck. When he finally caught his breath and moved back an inch to look down at her, he was satisfied to see her eyes were glassy, and her lips were swollen.
    Mission accomplished.
    Other than those two differences though, she was still completely put together for someone who’d just screamed out an ear-shattering climax into the night.
    Her hair looked perfect, and her dress was not even an inch out of place, except for the middle of the skirt that was riding high over his wrist. Slowly, he dragged his hand out from under her dress as she removed her hands from his jeans. He turned and reached into the truck, pulling out an old rag he had back there.
    Handy.
    After they wiped their hands, he buttoned up while she tugged down her skirt.
    Then, as calmly as possible, she asked, “Can I have my purse?”
    Raising a brow at her, Josh turned and reached into the back of his truck again. When he found it, he pulled it out and handed it to her.
    She was about to walk away. He could feel it.
    Sex. No involvement. That’s the deal. I’d do good to remember that.
    As she stepped around him, she stopped by his shoulder just as she had in the bar. Still facing the back of the parking lot, he turned to look down at the perfectly put-together doctor.
    “So? Do we have a deal?”
    He grinned before nodding. “Signed and sealed, I believe.”
    She gave him one last look as she blew out a breath. “Oh, yes, it was, Daniels. Yes, it was.”
    With that, he watched Man-Eater Monroe walk away with a piece of him between her teeth.

Chapter Six

    On Saturday morning, Josh was flat on his back in his office. It wasn’t really his office. He’d converted the small space into a homemade gym that had a treadmill and bench press. Currently, he was on his back, lifting weights. He had to admit that last night he’d slept like a baby. It probably had something to do with the spectacular orgasm he’d had in the parking lot. He was still mulling over the rest of the night though, trying to decide how he felt about it.
    After Shelly had left him in the lot, he’d taken a moment to pull himself together before making his way back inside, passing the gigantic bouncer who’d looked down at him with a huge smirk. Josh knew the asshole had probably heard Shelly’s scream as she’d shattered all over his hand, and for some reason, that had completely pissed him off.
    Shaking off the memory, he went back to thinking about what had happened once he got back into the club.
    Shelly had been sitting at the bar next to Paul, who had his hand resting on her bare knee, and Rachel had pulled him straight out onto the dance floor. Knowing he’d owed Rachel, Josh had gone reluctantly, considering all he’d wanted to do was get close enough to Shelly to smell her. Or to smell myself on her.
    However, no such luck. For the rest of the night, which had been three more excruciating hours, she’d managed to completely avoid him and spent the whole time pretending to be interested in Paul.
    Just sex, he kept repeating to himself. It’s all about sex. Great sex, but just sex.
    He gripped the bar above his head and did five reps before placing it back.
    I can do just sex, right?
    Granted, he’d never done it before, and honestly, he had never even thought of it as a possibility. After all, how can two people be so close with one another yet remain uninvolved? And how does this work anyway? Am I supposed to just dial for a booty call? Or is she going to call me? The hell if he knew.
    Staring at the ceiling, he was about to reach up and grip the weight again when the phone rang beside him.
    Reaching out, he grabbed it, answering, “Daniels.”
    “Joshua, its Cole,” his lawyer and friend announced, even though the stern tone at the other end could never be mistaken for anyone else.
    “Hey, man. How’s it going?”
    “Good. I have no reason to complain. I just wanted to touch base and let you know that the disgruntled—”
    “Asshole?” Josh injected.
    “Well, yes, I was going to say employer, but asshole will work. He called and dropped the case. He’s going to pay you the full amount.”
    Sighing a huge breath of relief, Josh asked, “How’d you get him to change his mind?”
    “Threats and lies. All threats and lies,” Cole told him in an almost sinister tone, which was only lightened by the dark chuckle he added on the end.
    “Ahh, just the kind of lawyer I want on my side.”
    “That’s right. Now, tell me, are we all still going to your brother’s for poker?”
    Josh sat up, grabbed the towel he’d slung over the end of the bench, and wiped his face.
    “Yep. Jeremy told everyone to come by at noon.”
    “Okay, I’ll be there. Should I bring anything?”
    “Maybe some beer? It is poker, sooo maybe some luck? Last time you played, we killed you.”
    Josh got the reaction he’d been waiting for in the ever so serious tone he’d become accustomed to from Cole.
    “Be careful, my friend. I read up on it and now know all the rules.”
    Laughing, Josh threw the towel into the dirty clothes basket. “Is that right? Could you sound any more like a nerd? Or a lawyer?”
    “I’ll have you know, Daniels, this nerd just saved you ten-thousand dollars.”
    Conceding this round to his friend and business associate, Josh nodded. “You sure did, so I’ll go easy on you.”
    “How accommodating of you.” Cole laughed, good-naturedly. “See you soon.”
    “Yep. I’ll be the one taking all your money.”
* * *
    Shelly was standing outside the door to Mason and Lena’s home. It was strength training day, and every second Saturday, they went down to the local gym to do an hour of weights. Shelly had been let into the building by Ed at the front door and had now knocked twice. Still, there was no answer. She moved closer and pressed her ear up to the door.
    That was when she heard Lena giggle and say emphatically, “Mason, stop.”
    Shelly moved back just as the handle twisted, and the big door was pulled opened by a flush-faced Lena.
    “Getting in some early morning cardio?” Shelly asked with a raised brow.
    Mason strolled forward in a white T-shirt and some low-riding sweats, placing a hand on Lena’s shoulder. “I was trying, but she’s conserving all her strength for you,” he told Shelly with a smirk.
    Poking her tongue out at him, Shelly strolled into the loft. “Lucky me.”
    Stopping at the kitchen, the usual OJ was sitting on the counter. She picked it up, taking a sip. “Oh, Mason! Forget Lena. Come live with me and squeeze my oranges.”
    Mason let out a loud laugh as Lena punched her lightly on the arm.
    “That did not sound right,” Lena muttered. “He better not squeeze anything of anybody’s, except mine.”
    Smiling, Shelly took another sip and shrugged at her friend. “Hey, it was worth a shot.”
    “Yeah, well, you can forget it. This chef, playboy, and charmer is all mine.”
    “Ahh, ladies? I’m still in the room. Although I have to tell you, being fought over is kind of hot. Can you maybe start pulling hair? Ripping clothes?” Mason pretended to look around, and then opened the fridge. “I’m sure I can find some Jello for you to both roll in.”
    They all started laughing.
    “Perv,” Shelly told him as she finished the glass of OJ.
    She watched Mason move around the kitchen, cooking them breakfast. This had become a ritual for them. She would come over to pick up Lena, and Mason would cook them a healthy and scrumptious breakfast, and then send them on their way. The man was a genius in the kitchen, so it certainly wasn’t a hardship to eat his food. He also wasn’t hard to watch.
    Shelly bet he and Josh had broken hearts all through school. Two good-looking guys—one a complete charmer, all polished and smooth around the edges, and the other a little wild with sharp, jagged edges—who were the perfect good boy and bad boy. And they just happened to be best friends.
    Hell, if her friend wasn’t engaged to the pretty boy, Shelly may have found herself entertaining a hot ménage à trois scenario. However, her friend was in love with him, so that was an automatic no-go fantasy. So, she settled for being friends with the sizzling hot chef, who was currently wrapped around Lena, kissing the hell out of her.
    Clearing her throat, Shelly watched with amusement as the two lovebirds pulled apart. They were so happy with one another; it was hard not to envy what they had. Shelly was woman enough to admit to feeling a small stab of jealousy.
    “Hello? I’m still here. Wait until I leave to get naked, please,” Shelly teased with a grin.
    Lena moved away from Mason and came over to the counter, leaning up against it.
    “So?” she asked, and then paused. “Where’d you disappear to last night?”
    Busted, Shelly thought with a wince. “Nowhere. What do you mean?”
    Lena’s mouth pulled up in a smug I-got-you smirk. “It means that while we were dancing—”
    “And making out,” Mason injected into the sentence.
    “Yes. Thanks, babe. While we were dancing and making out, we noticed you had disappeared. Did you have a fight with Paul?”
    Shelly thought about it for all of two seconds before she latched onto that excuse. “Yeah, he was annoying me. Not even having one drink. And then, did you see the way he danced?”
    “Yep,” Mason said, looking over his shoulder at her with a grin. “Boy cannot move.”
    Shelly nodded, feeling bad for throwing Paul under the bus. When he’d dropped her off last night, they’d decided that theirs was a relationship better left in the past. Way in the past.
    “Yes. So, anyway, I went to the little girls’ room for a breather.”
    Lena picked up a slice of apple from a fruit platter in front of them and bit down into the crisp segment, nodding.
    “Huh, well, that’s too bad. I was hoping it’d work out for you,” she stated, moving away from the counter to walk over to her bedroom. “I’ll be right back, just going to put on my shoes.”
    Shelly grunted an unintelligible answer as she watched Mason plate the eggs he’d been scrambling. She stood and moved around the bench, making her way to the stove. When she got there, she reached out to take the plate he was offering. But, when she gripped it, he held onto the edge, making her look up at him.
    “Funny thing. Josh was gone right at the same time you were,” he pointed out with a curious expression on his too handsome face.
    Shelly felt every muscle in her body freeze. She tried to remain calm and not give herself away. As she stood there, her gaze locking with Casanova’s, she felt like maybe her poker face was crumbling.
    “Huh. Yeah, that is funny. I don’t know where he was. Probably off in a dark corner somewhere.”
    Mason’s eyes narrowed, and he nodded as he let go of the plate. Shelly felt like he could read her mind as he stood there staring at her. God, she hoped not because it was currently screaming, I’m lying! I’m lying!
    “Yeah, probably. Josh never had a problem getting a woman into a dark corner.”
    I bet, Shelly thought to herself. He’d had no problem getting her in an open-spaced, dimly lit parking lot.
    “Typical,” she responded just to say something while she spun away from Mason’s probing stare. When she was seated at the bench, she watched him move over to the counter with a hand towel, wiping his hands.
    “What do you mean typical? He’s a good guy, got a good job. Why not give him a chance?”
    Shelly lifted a fork, stabbing into the eggs like they were her mortal enemy, and then raised them to her lips, grinning. “Because I gave a guy like him a chance once, and he used it all up for every other guy like him.”
    Mason threw the towel on the counter as Shelly heard Lena come out from the room behind her.
    “What do you mean guys like him? And that doesn’t seem real fair, does it?” Mason paused, watching her. “I didn’t think you were such a snob.”
    Shelly let her fork drop down on the plate with a clang. “And I didn’t think you were such a gossipy woman. Geez, Mason, let it go. Why do I need to be banging your friend?”
    Lena stopped at the end of the counter, looking back and forth between Shelly and her fiancé. Mason very rarely got upset or annoyed at anything, but right now, he looked a little bit ruffled.
    “You don’t, Shelly, although it might help with the bitchy attitude.”
    Sighing, Shelly picked up her fork and looked at the man opposite her—a man who had surprisingly become a really good friend.
    “You’re right about one thing. I need to get laid. But not with Josh, okay? It’s just too complicated and messy with us all knowing each other.” She paused, thinking that if she were Pinocchio, her nose would have grown past Mason, through the kitchen wall, and back out into the hall. “I had a bad experience with a man, and guys like Josh remind me of him. So, I just try and steer clear.”
    Mason reached over, putting a hand on hers. “Okay. I’ll lay off.” He paused, his killer smile and twin dimples appearing. “But, for God’s sake, go and find someone to jump. You’re turning into an old-frustrated broad.”
    Lena gasped, and Shelly giggled.
    “Are you telling me to get laid, Langley?”
    “Yes! Go and find a willing man, which I know will be extremely easy for you, and ride him home.”
    Shelly looked at Lena, who was staring at Mason with a what-the-fuck-did-you-just-say look. Then, she turned back to Shelly and shrugged.
    “Okay, okay! You’ve convinced me. I’ll go and find a man to—what did you say—ride. So, I no longer act like a bitch to my two closest and dearest friends.” Pausing, she lifted the fork, shoveling the eggs into her mouth. “Damn, the things I do for you two.”
    With that, the three of them burst out laughing.
* * *
    Josh arrived at his brother’s house a little after 11 a.m. Parking near the side of his place, Josh got out and made his way through the back door and into the kitchen. He found his brother, Jeremy, standing at the counter putting a bag of chips into a bowl.
    “Hey, Martha Stewart,” he greeted him from the doorway.
    Josh’s younger brother turned and flipped him the finger. “Up yours, Josh. How you doing?”
    Strolling into the kitchen, Josh grabbed a chip, crunching down onto it. He leaned up against the sink and shrugged. “Not bad. You?”
    “Same,” Jeremy answered as he turned to the fridge. Opening it, he searched around, and then came back with a jar of salsa.
    Jeremy was two years younger than Josh, had blonde hair that was longer than usual, and almost looked like a “surfer dude,” except for the fact that they lived in Chicago.
    “So, who’s coming today?” Josh asked, reaching for another chip.
    “Vince and Cole.”
    Nodding, Josh picked up the two bowls and followed his brother through the house to the game room.
    Vince was his Crew Manager and now friend. He’d hired him around two years ago with his tough but fair attitude, and he’d been running things in Chicago when Josh had been in L.A. Physically he was short, stocky, and as some of the other guys called him, scary as hell.
    Jeremy had set up the usual poker table, and Josh put the chips and salsa on the side table where the cooler sat beside it.
    “I can’t believe Cole agreed to come. Last time he was here we cleaned the floor with him.”
    Josh laughed at his brother, moving to the stereo. “I know. I just told him the same exact thing today, but he has informed me that he has ‘read up on it and now knows all the rules.’”
    Jeremy looked over at him, and they both started to laugh.
    “God, that guy is something else. He’s such a suit and yet so flippin’ scary cool at the same time. I don’t know how he pulls it off,” Jeremy said, shaking his head.
    Josh finally found what he was looking for—ahh, classic Pink Floyd—and put the vinyl on. “No one knows what makes that guy tick, and shit, I’ve known him for years. He never gives anything away either.” Josh smiled as the doorbell sounded. “I’ll go let them in.”
    “Okay, I’m just gonna get the rest of the food,” Jeremy answered, walking back into the kitchen.
* * *
    Two hours later and several beers in, Josh was down twenty bucks but was almost positive he was about to win fifty. Sitting across from a stoic-faced Cole, Josh was starting to think the guy was up to something.
    Cole had been kicking everyone’s ass tonight. He’d walked in dressed in a three-piece suit from an earlier meeting in the office—yes, on a Saturday—acting like he’d just read up on how to play last night. Then, he’d sat down and proceeded to clean house.
    The guy was playing them and playing them well, but Josh felt like he had this one. After all, he had a straight flush. There he sat, staring at his five hearts, as Cole slowly smirked at him like a cool seasoned pro.
    “You know this I’m-better-than-you smile makes you look real ugly, Madison.”
    Cole just smiled wider. “Does it? I thought it made me look…” He paused, cocking his dirty blonde head to the side as the other two sat back watching. “Rich?”
    Josh shook his head and picked up his beer, taking a swig. “Nope, sorry, just ugly.”
    Cole nodded and asked him, “So, what’s eating you? Usually, you’re a much better loser when these other guys win. Is it because it’s me kicking your sorry ass?”
    Josh laughed a little and ran a hand up and through his hair, thinking about a certain blonde. “Nah. Not that I’ve lost,” he stressed. “You going to show your cards or keep talking shit?”
    Cole casually put down his five cards. Sitting up and leaning across the table, Josh and the other two men stared in complete shock at Cole’s beautiful royal straight flush.
    Josh shook his head, throwing his cards down on the table. “How in the hell, Madison?”
    Cole leaned over and picked up the cash. “I told you. I read up on how to play.”
    Jeremy chuckled in the background, and Vince let out a loud bark of laughter, too.
    “You read a fucking book, and then just beat us all and took our money?” Vince questioned in disbelief.
    Cole folded the cash and pulled out what appeared to be a money clip.
    The guy has a money clip? Who even knew they still made those?
    Clipping his money and tucking it away, Cole nodded. With that same annoying as shit grin, he told them all, “Yes, that is exactly right.”
    “Not cool, man. Not cool,” Josh said, shaking his head.
    “Sorry, just the way it goes.”
    They all sat back, shaking their heads.
    Then, Jeremy asked, “You have been in a funk today, Josh. What gives? Woman trouble?”
    Is that the reason I’ve been kind of pissy and irritable today? Because I don’t know what the deal is with Shelly? Josh reached up, scratching his head. It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s supposed to be a secret. Well, it could still be a secret if they don’t know her name.
    “Well, yeah, actually. I met this woman.”
    All of a sudden, the guys sat up, moving slightly forward. It was like a bad scene from a movie. Tell me more, tell me more. Anyone?
    Josh sighed and again found himself running his hand through his hair.
    “So? What about her? Why’s it bothering you?” his brother asked.
    “Well, it’s complicated.” Josh paused. Relaxing back in the chair, he grabbed his beer as Jeremy, Cole, and Vince stared at him.
    “Why? What’s so difficult about the woman? And if it’s such a fucking pain in the ass, kick her to the curb.” Vince suggested.
    Josh thought about that, rubbing a hand over his stomach, and then blurted out, “She’s fucking hot. I’m not kicking her to the curb. I kind of want to haul her to my bed.” And keep her there, he thought right before Jeremy jumped in.
    “So, what’s the problem? She won’t let you?”
    Josh laughed, took a gulp of beer, and then put the bottle down. “Oh, no, she wants to, but that’s all she wants.”
    The table went quiet. Cole, Vince, and Jeremy stared at him with bewildered looks.
    “Forget it,” he told them with a self-deprecating chuckle.
    Jeremy’s mouth was the first to fall open. “Ahh, I don’t understand what the problem is here. Hot chick just wants sex. What’s your issue? You feeling degraded?”
    Josh glared at his brother. “Shut the fuck up. Her and I? Well, we both know the same people, and she came up with this deal about sex and secrets. She’s so insanely sexy, but I know she’s trouble with a huge neon T blazing. I don’t know the rules for this kind of game—” Suddenly, Josh realized how much he’d said and shut up real quick.
    Cole was the first to speak. “There are rules?”
    Josh nodded. “There’s one. It’s a secret. That’s the fucking rule.”
    Cole blew out a breath, reaching up to scratch his head. “She’s hot, you say?”
    “Fuck yeah.”
    “She worth the trouble?” Vince queried with a raised brow.
    Josh paused, and then shrugged. “I have no idea.”
    The room fell silent before Jeremy asked, “Can you do that? You’re not real good at just walking away. Look at Melissa. Five months later-”
    Josh glared at his brother. “Sure. If she can do it, so can I. After all, she doesn’t want feelings. She just wants sex.”
    And that, Josh thought, is what I’ll give her.

Chapter Seven

    DD: So, how does this work?
    It was Monday, and Shelly was standing in line at the hospital cafeteria. She’d been staring at her phone for the last twenty minutes, trying to understand exactly what he meant.
    As she stared at the contact name she’d filed him under—DD, aka Delicious Daniels—she smiled and thought about just how delicious he’d been in that parking lot. Oh yeah. Those hands, so big and talented, and that mouth, so sinful. The man is positively scrumptious.
     How does what work? Shelly thought as she swiped her employee badge. I’d been pretty clear, hadn’t I? Sex. No strings. Secret. What more needed to be said?
    “Dr. Monroe?”
    Like a guilty schoolgirl getting caught passing notes in class, Shelly shoved her phone in her pocket and turned to see Dr. McKinney behind her.
    Great, just what I needed.
    “Sir,” she acknowledged, tipping her head slightly.
    “How’s your day going so far?”
    Shelly shuffled along the line, picking up a bottle of water and an apple. Moving down further, she looked at her boss. “Busy. People always need to breathe.”
    He smiled at her lame joke before continuing on. “That would be true, Shelly.” He paused, and then asked quietly, “Hey, listen, are you ever going to say yes to an invitation from me? Or is this a hopeless case?”
    Shelly glanced around them as discreetly as she could, hoping no one had heard. Then, she turned back to him and smiled.
    Really, what harm could there be in going for a drink with the man? She thought as he returned her smile. Maybe he really is fun and interesting outside of work.
    She was about to answer when she felt her pocket vibrate. Plus, she had Josh as an outlet for those other things. So, yes, maybe now was the time to take Roger up on his invite, considering she didn’t need him to flip her switch. It was already being flipped—in a big way.
    “How about tonight?” Shelly asked, turning to see Roger’s mouth fall open a little.
    “Really?”
    Shelly smiled. “Sure. I usually go to Lena’s fiancé’s for dinner on Mondays.”
    “Oh, yes, Exquisite.”
    Nodding, Shelly picked up a pre-wrapped chicken salad sandwich. “Yeah, that’s the one. Would you like to come with me?” She watched as the usually calm and professional McKinney stumbled around a little.
    He then nodded with a slight flush. “Yes, I’d love to.”
    Shelly grinned and winked at him. “Great. So, we can go from here tonight if you like. Say seven? I’ll come to your office.”
    “Okay then. Yes, that sounds wonderful.”
    Turning, she waved at him as she made her way out of the cafeteria. “See you then.”
    “See you,” he replied, waving back, although Shelly hadn’t caught that because she was too busy digging in her pocket for her phone.
    DD: So? How does it work? Do I just tell you I’m hard, and you come running?
    Sucking in a deep breath, Shelly moved to the side of the busy hospital corridor and quickly typed.
    I assume you mean our deal?
    Shelly hit send and started back down the hall. Not two seconds later, it buzzed, and she glanced down.
     DD: Of course, Shelly. Why else would I contact you?
    Well, that kind of stung, Shelly thought with a wince, but he was right. That was the deal in place. Stopping in front of the elevator bank, Shelly leaned in and pushed the up button. Taking a step back, she typed.
    It can work 1 of 2 ways. You can either text me or call to request the time. If I’m available, I’ll tell you.
    After she hit send and the doors pinged open, Shelly got inside, standing at the back. Geez, this all seems so impersonal, business-like almost. Why not just ask for a fee, Monroe? She thought, mentally kicking herself. Why on earth did I decide to do this?
    DD: Okay. I’m hard, horny, and want YOUR lips around my cock at 2 p.m. Can you make that happen?
    That is why she did this.
    Shelly felt her thighs clench, and her stomach flip upside down. The damn man was nowhere in sight, and she was already getting twitchy. Shelly glanced at her watch. It was just going on 1:30 p.m., and she knew she had her schedule blocked until 3 p.m.
    Hmm, all the possibilities, but if she was going to be the one down on her knees doing all of the hard work, he should have to make an effort, too. Smiling, Shelly squeezed her thighs together, trying to ease the ache that had started to throb, and typed.
    If you can work out where my office is by 2 p.m., I’ll make that happen.
    Then, she hit send.
    The elevator came to a stop at her floor, and she got out, walking down toward her office. She was almost there when she heard her name being called. Turning, she saw Lena coming down the hall, dressed in the usual scrubs and a lab coat.
    “Hey there. I’m glad I caught you. Are you coming tonight?”
    Pushing aside her little phone-tag game, Shelly tried to focus. “Ah, yes, actually. I hope you don’t mind me bringing someone.”
    Lena smiled immediately. “No, not at all. Who are you bringing?”
    Shelly knew this was not going to go over well. “Roger McKinney,” she mumbled quickly. It was almost—almost—comical the way Lena’s mouth fell open.
    “Please tell me you’re joking?”
    Shelly shrugged and shook her head. “Nope. I’m not.”
    Lena raised a hand to rub her forehead. “Why would you want to date McKinney?”
    Shelly laughed and moved past Lena, making her way to her office. Lena pivoted on her heel and jogged to catch up.
    “I’m serious, Shelly. The guy is a hard ass who is balding.” She paused, and then accused triumphantly, “You told me you didn’t want to date a balding man!”
    Shelly looked at her friend and shook her head slowly. “I told you I didn’t want to go on a blind date with a balding man. I know McKinney.” Shelly paused and sighed. “Plus the man’s been asking me out for three weeks. It was the easiest thing to do. And who knows—maybe he’s fun outside of work?”
    Lena stood at the doorway of Shelly’s office and asked, “Have you lost your mind? Mason and I said go and get a guy to bang, not date, least of all McKinney!” Pretending to shudder, Lena asked, “Are you going to sleep with him?”
    Shelly sat down in her chair and removed her phone, looking at it and then placing it down on the desk.
    Still nothing, huh? Maybe he’d changed his mind when he realized she wouldn’t be the only one making an effort.
    “No. I’m bringing him to dinner just to get him off my back…and also just to see if there’s even a remote possibility he’s relationship material.”
    Lena threw her hands up in the air. “You’ve gone mad,” she rolled her eyes and shook her head. “No sex is making you mad.”
    “Who said I’m not having sex?”
    Lena froze, and then took a step forward, placing her palms on the back of the empty chair facing her.
    “You had sex? With who?”
    Shelly arched a brow and crossed one leg over the other. “Who I have sex with is not yours or Mason’s concern, and no, I haven’t had sex, but I had a really good orgasm.”
    Lena stood back up, placing her hands on her hips. “By yourself doesn’t count.”
    Licking her lips slowly, Shelly grinned. “It wasn’t by myself. Now, go! Leave! I need to finish up, so I can go to dinner with you and McKinney.”
    Shelly stood and walked around the desk just as the phone vibrated on top of the stack of folders. Both women turned to stare at it, but luckily, Shelly had turned the screen notifications off, so the screen was blank.
    “Was that him?” Lena asked in a whisper.
    Shelly finally reached her friend and started to push her out the door.
    “Was that who?” Shelly asked, trying to deflect.
    Lena dug her stubborn heels in. “Mr. Orgasm?”
    Shelly burst out laughing and shook her head. “I have no idea.”
    Geez, when did I become such a liar? When I started this ludicrous deal with Josh. That was when.
    Now at Shelly’s office door, Lena turned on her. “Fine, don’t tell me. Just answer one question for me.”
    Shelly put her hands on her hips. “What?”
    “Was it worthy of a repeat?”
    Shelly felt a smile so wicked and smug spread across her face that she almost wished it hadn’t been caused by a man whom she could never keep. “Oh yeah.”
    Lena returned the smiled and then turned. “About time,” she muttered as she walked away.
    Racing over to the table, Shelly grabbed the phone and unlocked it, to see a message that made her breath catch.
    DD:University Hospital. 8th floor. See you at 2.
    While her whole body shivered and her thighs clenched, all Shelly could think was, Two o’clock couldn’t come quick enough. Pun intended.
* * *
    Josh figured he pretty much broke every single traffic law to get his car parked at the University Hospital parking lot by 1:50 p.m. He glanced at his watch as he raced through the lobby to the directory board.
    He’d mulled over the decision to call Shelly all through Sunday. He’d gone back and forth on the pros and cons of having this kind of a fling.
    Sure, he’d heard all the time of people who had friends with benefits. But are we even really friends?
    As far as Josh could tell, he and Shelly had friends in common, but as far as two individuals went, they hardly knew anything about one another.
    One thing he was certain about was the fact that he’d told Mason a huge “hell no” to dating her, which worked perfectly since she had made it clear she wanted to keep things a secret.
    So, of course, it all made perfect sense that he was now standing in the lobby of her place of employment, searching for her name, so he could go upstairs and get his sex on.
    Finally, he spotted “Dr. Shelly Monroe, Pulmonologist, Level 8.” Good, the computer site was right. He made his way over to the elevators and stood with five other people.
    One lady turned and looked him over quickly. When her eyes met his, she gave him a shy smile. Josh winked at her and watched a blush spread all across her cheeks. He grinned as the elevator pinged and they got in along with the others. They were both at the back of the crowd, and she kept sneaking glances at him. Each time he caught her, he smiled, and she blushed.
    She was cute in a soft way. Her dark brown hair was held back by a black headband. Josh noticed she was fiddling with the strap of her purse as she looked at him, and he figured it was some kind of nervous gesture.
    See, Josh thought, this is the kind of woman you are supposed to want, not the dirty-talking man-eater upstairs. However, when the elevator stopped at Level 7 and the young lady beside him moved to get out, Josh watched her go with only one thought. I’ll never be able to do what I’m about to with a woman like that. Wouldn’t that be a damn shame? After all, he had a feeling what was about to happen was going to blow his mind—literally.
* * *
    Shelly glanced at her desk clock as it flicked to 2:03 p.m. He hadn’t shown. She hadn’t expected to feel so disappointed. It wasn’t as though they were an item—or ever going to be.
    Sighing, she sat back in her chair, rocking it as she tapped her pen against the desk. She was in such a funk about it that she was about to call McKinney and tell him she needed to cancel their date tonight. Then, her office phone buzzed. Sitting up straight, she dropped the pen and answered over the speaker.
    “Yes, Amy?”
    “Dr. Monroe, there’s a Joshua Daniels here to see you.”
    Shelly sucked in a breath and looked at the clock. 2:05 p.m. He was late, but there was no way in hell she was turning him away. She wanted this, and she wanted it now. Clearing her throat, Shelly buzzed her assistant.
    “Send him in, Amy.”
    Letting go of the intercom button, Shelly sat back in her chair with her legs crossed and her eyes on the door, waiting for him to enter.
    She knew she had the advantage, and she planned to use it. Feeling her heart start to hammer inside her chest, she waited in dead silence, straining to hear the moment he was close. Then, there was a soft but firm rap against the wood. Choosing to stay silent, she watched as the handle turned, the door opened, and then—Holy hell, there he is.
    The man was the very definition of sex. His hair looked as though he’d run his hands through it, and several long brown strands had escaped, falling forward into his face. He was dressed in jeans today—worn torn jeans that were faded and well-loved by the look of the washed denim. Up top, he was wearing a long-sleeved navy flannel shirt that was unbuttoned and hanging open over a white tee that molded over every delicious muscle of his chest. On his feet were workman boots, and for some reason, this hard-working handyman look was really pushing all of Shelly’s buttons in exactly the right way.
    He stepped into the office and shut the door behind him, waiting silently for some sort of cue from her.
    Finally, when she’d looked him over thoroughly, she stated, “You’re late.”
    She watched as he brought his arm up and looked at his watch, and then he dropped it back down by his side and sauntered into the room.
    “Not by my watch.” He moved around the chair that sat facing her, leaning across the desk. “Want to check, Doctor?”
    She reached out and grabbed his thick wrist, tugging him further over the desk. He placed his other hand flat down on top of the glossy surface to brace himself as she looked at his watch. It did in fact show 2 p.m. Raising her eyes to his, she saw him quirk up an eyebrow.
    “What was my punishment going to be?” He paused as she sat back in her chair.
    He straightened and took a seat on the opposite side of the desk.
    Shelly looked at him, sitting across from her, with his legs spread and his hands resting on his jean-clad thighs.
    “I was going to send you away,” she said bluntly.
    He seemed to think that over, and then nodded once. “Sure, you were.”
    Shelly cocked her head to the side, and then stood. She watched his eyes track her as she rounded the desk and came to stand in front of it. Leaning back, she rested her butt up against the edge, looking down at him.
    “You don’t think I would’ve?” she questioned, letting her eyes fall down to those spread legs and the expanding bulge in between. “My time is very valuable, especially around here.”
    He tilted his head to the side, those deep brown eyes sliding down her scrubs before they came back up to rest on her face.
    “Oh, I believe it. You’re a doctor, and this is a hospital. Of course, you’re valuable. Makes me wonder though if you brought me down here to tease or to deliver?”
    Shelly had to hold back a smile at his direct question.
    So, he thinks I’m a tease, does he? Well, he’s in for a rude awakening then.
    Keeping her eyes on him, she leaned over to the side, pressing a hot pink–manicured nail to the intercom button.
    “Yes, Dr. Monroe?”
    Smiling the sexiest smile she had in her arsenal, Shelly let her eyes fall to his crotch.
    “Why don’t you go and have lunch now?” she said to Amy.
    Shelly saw his thighs bunch and raised her eyes to meet his hot ones.
    “Are you sure?” Amy asked.
    Without taking her gaze from his, Shelly pushed the button again and answered, “Yes. It’s slow, and I won’t be going back up to the units until around three.”
    There was silence as they sat in her office, the air crackling with tension, and then the intercom buzzed.
    “Okay, I’ll be back by three.”
    Standing up and away from the desk, Shelly answered, “Very good.”
    Then, she stepped forward until she was beside Josh’s chair. “Don’t you move a muscle.”
* * *
    Josh sat glued to the seat.
    He couldn’t have moved if the building was on fire, and he had a feeling in about two minutes it very well could go up in flames. He knew one thing for certain. He was on fire, and the reason for that was currently walking to her office door to—click—lock it.
    Taking a deep breath, Josh closed his eyes and tried counting backwards from thirty to calm down. He’d known the minute he stepped in and saw her, sitting behind her big wooden desk in her sky-blue scrubs and lab coat, he was screwed.
    The woman was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost hurt to look at her. She literally looked like a Barbie doll and was absolutely flawless, except for all of her stupid notions about rules and secrets.
    Today, she had pulled her hair half up and tied at the back of her head, leaving the rest of it to fall down to her shoulders in a straight line. Those amazing blue eyes of hers popped out even more with the scrubs she was wearing, and her curvy little body tested the boundaries of the flimsy fabric, somehow managing to make even them look unbelievably hot. A diamond in the rough, he thought. The lady was a diamond, and as he sat there trying not to explode before she even touched him, he thought he was most definitely the rough.
    He felt her walk back toward him. As she moved by the chair, she reached out and dragged a perfectly pink-manicured nail across his shoulder. She walked in front of him and stopped between his thighs.
    Looking down, she asked softly, “Aren’t you going to undo your pants?”
    Josh swallowed. Shit, this is really going to happen. She is really going to get down on her knees and give me a blow job in her office at 2 o’clock in the afternoon! Hell, maybe there is a plus side to this sex-with-no-strings deal.
    Nodding, Josh moved to stand, and she took a step back. He wasn’t an overly tall man, but at six-feet, he topped her by a few inches. She looked up, watching his face as he started to undo his belt.
    “So, this is it? I’m going to undo my belt, drop my pants, and then you will—”
    “Get on my knees,” she interrupted, stepping up close to him, “take you in my hand, and then suck you into my mouth.”
    Josh looked down at the face that was now only a couple of inches from his and breathed in deeply. The woman smells fantastic like—he sniffed again—apples.
    “No small talk?” he asked with a raised brow as he finally undid his jeans.
    She looked down between their bodies, and then reached out, gripping the open denim and spreading it apart. She ran a finger up and down the hair leading down to his now painfully hard erection.
    “What is there to say? The deal is what it is. You called. I answered. You’re here, and I’m willing.”
    With that, he watched as she lowered herself down to her knees, looking up at him with her beautiful, perfect face an inch from his aching cock.
* * *
    Shelly was so turned on she could barely talk.
    Josh had her so hot and bothered that she was surprised she hadn’t melted through her scrubs. He was standing in front of her with his feet spread apart and his jeans wide open, and she was now dipping her hands inside his pants to lift him free. She heard him softly groan when her fingers wrapped around his naked flesh. Looking up at him, she blew a light hot breath across the tip of his throbbing erection.
    “Fuck,” he cursed as his legs shuddered.
    She felt his whole body tremble. Lowering her lashes, she bent over him and flicked her tongue across the swollen head. She saw his hands flex by his side and thought he might try and grab her hair, but he didn’t. He just clenched his fists steadily against his legs. Grinning against his pounding sex, she gripped the base firmly and stroked her tightly wrapped fingers around his hard length.
    He let out a strangled groan and looked down at her. “The request was for you to suck it, I believe.”
    Nodding in acknowledgment, Shelly whispered against his vulnerable flesh, “I believe you are correct.”
    Then, she opened her lips and took him deep inside her mouth.
* * *
    The woman is a fucking sex goddess, Josh had decided. She was from some other planet where sexy women were created to go around and torture helpless men. As she knelt at his feet, sucking his cock deep down her throat, all he could think about was possessing her—forever.
    He really needed to stop thinking like that, but damn it was hard when she was sucking him like a pro and moaning as though she loved it. He refused to mess up her hair, out of fear she’d never let him touch her again, so instead, he kept his hands clenched by his sides.
    He’d let his head fall back and was now thrusting his hips toward her to get his cock as deep as she could take it. Josh groaned when he heard her whimper. He wondered why there was some sick part of him totally getting off on the fact that this woman—this beautiful, smart, highly educated professional woman—was currently down on her knees sucking his cock. Fuck if that doesn’t turn me on.
    Finally past his breaking point, he let go and reached up, gripping the side of her head, not caring anymore what happened after this immediate moment in time. He felt her moan around him, and the vibrations from her throat reverberated up his stiff shaft, sending shockwaves of pleasure up his spine, which then caused him to thrust harder.
    She raised a hand and cupped his balls, squeezing gently, and that was all it took. Josh groaned loudly and thrust deep, spilling himself into her mouth. Then, he watched as the sexy siren swallowed every last drop.
* * *
    Shelly sat back on her heels on her office floor and stared up at the disheveled man above her. What the hell is going on? This man makes me lose my ever-loving mind!
    She was so worked up right now that she wanted to strip out of her scrubs and beg him to take her. His breathing was labored as he looked down at her. With his jeans open and his erection right there, barely deflated at all, Shelly thought he was the sexiest man she’d ever seen in her life.
    “Wow, Shel,” he said with a smug smile. He reached down, rearranging himself, and pulled his jeans back together, zipping up.
    Shelly blinked and tried to gather her wits about her.
    “That sure was something else.” He ran his hands up through his sexy hair, and then looked down at her where she was still sitting at his feet on the floor.
    He held out a hand for her, and Shelly gripped it, letting him pull her to her feet. Once she was there, she was about to tell him no problem and send him on his way, but he nodded once and turned, walking to the door.
    She watched as he unlatched it and reached for the handle. Before he walked out, he turned to look at her, sitting with her butt against the desk to hold herself up, and winked.
    “Thanks again, Doc. Now, I feel great.”
    With that, he left before Shelly could say one damn thing.

Chapter Eight

    Seven o’clock rolled around, and Shelly found herself outside of Roger McKinney’s office. She knocked twice and waited until he called her inside. Entering, she noticed he’d changed out of his scrubs and put on a black buttoned-up shirt and some black slacks. While it was obvious he wasn’t in the same category as Josh and Mason, she found herself taking a second look at the older doctor.
    She supposed for a well-educated man, Roger McKinney was exactly the way he should be. He was extremely smart, slightly stuffy, and according to Lena, arrogant, and obnoxious. All of these qualities were what made him an excellent doctor and director, and a man her father would be extremely impressed to call his son-in-law.
    The only problem with that scenario was Joshua Daniels, who kept flashing through her mind with his unzipped jeans and his sexy, satisfied grin.
    “Shelly. You ready to get going?”
    Smiling over at the man currently moving around his desk, she looped her arm through his when he offered.
    “I sure am.” Pausing, she looked him over, and then commented, “You scrub up pretty good, McKinney.”
    He shot her a slightly embarrassed grin, which was in direct contrast to his usual cocky attitude in work situations, and replied, “Thanks. You look absolutely stunning as usual.”
    Smiling sweetly at him, Shelly squeezed his arm tight against her side. “Come on. Let’s go eat.”
* * *
    Josh heard her the minute she walked in. He hadn’t meant to be at the restaurant when she arrived. He knew Monday nights were the Langley family dinner, and he’d been working like a dog all afternoon, trying to get the heck out of there before she turned up. However, luck was not with him, and maybe it was his own fault. After all, he had taken two hours off this afternoon for extracurricular activities, and now, it was coming back to bite him in the ass.
    Standing in the building adjoining Exquisite, he listened carefully as she seemed to make her way through the restaurant. He couldn’t see her. But he could hear her talking, and occasionally, that sexy laugh of hers would echo through the air. Josh could swear he felt it stroke right down his arm, causing the hair at the back of his neck to stand up.
    He was about to call it a day and leave without going next door when he heard a deeper voice fill the silent space. Moving closer to the connecting walls, Josh crept past the sawhorse and stood still as a statue.
    “Dr. McKinney! It’s so good to see you again.” Josh heard his friend Mason say,
    Listening carefully, Josh heard who he assumed was Dr. McKinney.
    “Thanks, Mason. You, too. I was thrilled when Shelly told me we were coming here tonight.”
    Now, that got Josh’s attention. Standing straight up and inching backward, he accidentally stepped into the wooden sawhorse, sending it falling over with a loud crash. Shit! Looking around for a quick exit, Josh made a beeline for the door. He almost made it.
    “Josh?” He heard from behind him.
    Shit, shit, shit! Turning slowly, he saw Lena standing in the makeshift door.
    “Yep. Hi, Lena. Sorry about the noise. I was just leaving.”
    Please leave it at that and let me leave, Josh thought as he inched his way toward the main door.
    He did not want to spend the next two hours sitting at a dinner table across from a woman who had been on her knees in front of him several hours ago and who was now entertaining her rich, smart Dr. Date.
    But no, luck was definitely not on his side because Mason chose that moment to stick his head through the door.
    “Josh! Come eat with us, man!”
    Josh groaned, seeing no other way out, and made his way over to his friends. Shit.
* * *
    Shelly watched in horror as Josh Daniels stepped through the makeshift door where Lena and Mason were now standing. He was dressed as he had been earlier, but now, he had a tool belt—oh god—wrapped around those amazing hips.
    Lena must have noticed it, too.
    Let’s face it. Who wouldn’t look at his crotch when that damn belt was designed to display it?
    “You were leaving with your tool belt on?” Lena pointed out with a small laugh.
    Shelly noticed Josh’s eyes glance over to her quickly, and then they moved directly to Roger where they zeroed in with an assessing gaze before returning back to Lena.
    “Ah, yeah. I was on my way out and was going to put it in the back of my truck.”
    Mason clapped him on the shoulder. “What’d you do? Trip over in the dark?”
    Josh glared at his friend, and then nodded slightly. “Shut the hell up.”
    Laughing, Mason moved to go back into the kitchen. Shelly kept her eyes on Josh as he moved around Lena. He then started to unbuckle his tool belt as he and Lena both walked over to a table across the room.
    Shelly felt Roger nudge her arm. Moving her eyes to his, he asked, “Who’s Bob the Builder?”
    Shelly almost winced at Roger’s condescending question. Then, she thought to herself, Am I just like that?
    Dismayed at herself and feeling almost protective of Josh for some inexplicable reason, she answered softly but firmly, “That’s Josh Daniels. He’s one of Mason’s longest friends and his Best Man. He’s renovating next door.”
    “Ahh, I see,” Roger answered, nodding. “I’ve never really understood the need to build things. Don’t really have the patience for it.”
    Or the muscle, popped into Shelly’s head.
    She smiled and answered, “Yes, it seems like hard work.”
    Turning in the direction Josh had gone, Shelly looked across to where Lena stood chatting with him. She found herself making excuses, moving away from Roger, and headed toward her friend and DD.
* * *
    Did this woman ever look anything but perfectly put together? Josh thought as he saw Shelly walking toward them.
    The minute he’d come through the door he’d felt her eyes land on him. He’d made a conscious effort not to look in her direction until it was absolutely necessary, and even then, he’d made sure he’d kept his cool and not given anything away.
    However, right at this moment, while Lena was facing her friend, Josh let his eyes roam all over her as she made her way toward them. She must’ve changed at work because she was now wearing a navy dress with white polka dots all over it. The sleeves hit her arm just above the elbow, and the pencil skirt of the dress landed an inch or so under her knee. The modest dress hid her body in the most sophisticated way, but to Josh, the fact that he couldn’t see anything just made it that much sexier. Damn, damn, damn!
    Finally, she stopped in front of them and her eyes boldly latched onto his as she asked, “Playing with your tool so late at night, Josh?”
    Feeling his mouth curve into a wicked grin, he was about to reply, but then Lena snapped at her.
    “Shelly!”
    Lena turned to face him quickly with apologetic eyes, and he saw Shelly behind her, giving him a thorough once over.
    The woman is insane.How am I supposed to just stand here, letting her drive me crazy, and keep everything a secret? Hell, who knew, maybe she gets off on the thrill of being caught.
    “Don’t worry, Lena. It’s okay,” Josh told her.
    Looking back at Shelly, he returned her smug smile and replied, “I was cleaning up for the evening actually. I played with my tool a little earlier today.”
    Lena shook her head and muttered, “You two are both idiots. Can we go and eat? Or are we going to start talking about secret gardens next like we don’t know that we’re alluding to a...” she trailed off, not brave enough to say it.
    Shelly looked at her friend and asked sweetly, “Alluding to what, Lena? I don’t have a garden. Mine’s just a nice bare patch. What about you? Does Mason prune your garden?”
    Josh choked on a strangled groan as Shelly looked at him with an evil smile full of pure mischief. That was when Lena threw her hands up and groaned, turning to stomp away. Josh looked at the sassy woman in front of him as she glanced quickly behind her to see that Mason had come out and was now talking to her Dr. Date.
    “Did you do that on purpose?” he asked.
    Josh watched Shelly’s eyes stray down to his mouth, and then come back up to meet his own.
    “Do what? Embarrass Lena? She’ll be fine,” Shelly reassured.
    “No. Run her away?”
    She bit her bottom lip, and it immediately brought to mind other activities her mouth had been involved in earlier.
    “Now, why would I do that?” she asked a little too innocently.
    Leaning over a little closer so he could smell her—hmm, apples again—he said in a low voice, “So, you could be alone with me.”
    Turning her head just an inch, he watched the corners of her mouth tilt up.
    “And why would I want to do that?”
    Josh stood back slowly and said in a soft whisper, “Because I owe you.”
    He watched with complete satisfaction as her eyes clouded over.
    She reached out to grab the back of a chair. “Do you?”
    He moved around the table and was about to brush past her when she stepped in front of him. Looking down, he noticed her head tilted back, her eyes locking on his.
    What kind of game is she playing with me?
    She had a date here, and now, she was looking at him like she wanted to take him out the back and show him what was underneath her skirt.
    Suddenly, Josh realized he didn’t like this deal anymore.
    Leaning down slightly, he whispered, “New rule to our deal. You’ll get what I owe you, but first, you have to tell me something about yourself.”
    He watched as her mouth fell open a little, and then she responded with a soft whisper, “That causes strings, Josh. I said no strings.”
    He shrugged. “Then, I say I don’t owe you a thing.”
    And, for the second time today, he walked away from her.
* * *
    Shelly had just taken her seat next to Roger when Mason came in, carrying a huge bowl of pasta and a basket of garlic bread. He handed it to Lena who dished out her own, and then he sat down at the head of the table and started to pass the food around. The meal smelled absolutely amazing. The only problem, as far as Shelly could tell, was the immediate company.
    To her left sat Roger, who was now chatting with Wendy and her husband, who’d arrived around fifteen minutes ago. Directly across from her was Lena, who was seated beside Josh, who was currently watching every single move Shelly made.
    Oh, he’s being subtle, but she could feel his eyes tracking her like a predator tracking his prey. He needs to back off, or he’s going to get a punch in the gut—by me.
    “Hey, everyone! Sorry I got held up,” Rachel said as she moved in behind Lena and Josh, taking the vacant seat beside him.
    Shelly smiled over at her and asked, “Hot date?”
    Rachel pulled her chair in laughing. “Ah, no. Not unless you call a flat tire a hot date?”
    Shelly pretended to think about it, picking up her glass of wine. “Depends on who fixed it for you. Was it some hot, sexy mechanic in overalls?”
    Lena snorted and asked, “Is this another one of your warped sexual fantasies?”
    Mason decided to add his two cents in then. “Better watch out, huh, Roger?”
    Shelly almost spat her wine everywhere as Roger chuckled and nudged her in the arm.
    “I’m game. I may have to buy some overalls though.”
    Shooting glares up the table at Mason, Shelly couldn’t help but notice Lena trying extremely hard not to laugh hysterically.
    Shelly was about to say something quick and witty, she was sure, when a cool familiar voice asked, “Are there any other warped sexual fantasies you’d care to share?”
    Shelly let her eyes lock with Josh’s, and she arched a brow. “Not with you, Daniels. I’ve heard all about you.”
    Rachel took that opportunity to jab Josh in the side, letting out her own loud laugh. “Hell, yeah! Man, him and Mason use to clean shop back in the day.”
    Lena sat forward to peer down the table at Rachel. “Do tell.”
    Happy the discussion was off of her, Shelly looked at Roger and found he was laughing and smiling right along with everyone else. It appeared McKinney could still manage to surprise her.
    “Rachel,” Mason warned with a low voice.
    “Oh, Mason, come on. Are you trying to tell us Lena doesn’t know all the dirty details of your past yet?” Wendy asked as she cuddled into her husband’s side.
    They both smiled over at Lena, and Shelly watched as her best friend turned to look up at her frowning fiancée.
    “Worried?” Lena asked her Mason.
    Mason shook his head. “Not overly. Josh was worse than I was, but I know how you like to get jealous.”
    Lena grinned. “Do not.”
    “Do to.”
    “Ah, guys?” Shelly interrupted. “If you don’t mind, I want to know.”
    Silence fell around the table as everyone turned to face Rachel, who was now looking at Josh with a huge grin plastered on her face. Josh shook his head and raised a hand to run it through his hair.
    “You’re a pain in the ass, Rach,” he muttered.
    “Why? It’s true. You and Mason had girls lining up to date you. Every weekend they had a different girl with them.” She paused, laughing. “They were all morons.”
    When Roger turned to pass her the bowl of pasta, Shelly scooped some out, and then handed it back to Mason. She then looked at Josh, who was sitting silently shaking his head.
    “Is that what turns you on in a woman, Josh?” she asked.
    His eyes snapped up and locked on hers. “Not lately.”
    The whole table went silent, and Shelly felt her stomach tighten. She was about to speak up to break the awkward moment, wanting to ask about what had changed, when Mason broke the tension instead.
    “Nope. Josh told me he’s looking for a girl who is sweet and kind. A proper little angel.”
    Shelly arched a brow. Really? Now, that is interesting.
    Josh flipped off Mason. “Screw you, man. Is nothing sacred?”
    “Not around here,” Mason finished, shoveling food in his mouth with his mischievous eyes now on Shelly.
    That was when Roger asked very seriously, “Sweet is kind of boring, don’t you think?”
    Everyone paused as seven pairs of eyes landed on him, including Shelly’s.
    “Wow. I think I was just insulted and complimented all at the same time,” Shelly stated with mock amusement.
    Roger laughed and shook his head, reaching out to put his hand over hers. Looking down at it, Shelly had to physically force herself not to remove her own hand. She glanced across the table, coincidentally catching both Lena and Josh looking at their joined hands, seeming to be equally appalled for completely different reasons.
    “No, not at all. You’re amazing. I mean, look at you.” Roger explained.
    Shelly heard a cough and noticed it had come from Josh. Looking at him with a pointed glare, she raised her eyebrow. You got something to add?
    “You’re gorgeous, sexy, and smart. That’s rare these days.” He paused and stood. “I’d take that in bed over sweet and kind any day.”
    Shelly swallowed and could not help herself from looking straight into a pair of hot chocolate eyes that belonged to Josh Daniels.
* * *
    Josh was trying really, really hard to behave himself, but it was getting damn difficult. This stuffed shirt was pretty much insinuating in front of all of them that he was going to take Shelly to bed.
    Judging by the look on her face, however, McKinney was in for a massive disappointment, and that was the only reason Josh stayed in his seat, biting his tongue.
    Roger stood and excused himself, and the minute he was out of earshot, Josh watched Lena place her hands on the table.
    “Are you out of your mind?” Lena asked Shelly.
    Josh remained silent, waiting to hear what was about to go down. He’d noticed Shelly’s eyes shift to his several times during the course of the last hour, and he knew she was making sure he kept his mouth shut and didn’t give them away.
    No problem, Barbie. Things are getting interesting without my help.
    “No. Shut it, Lena,” Shelly warned her friend through clenched teeth.
    “Shut it? Our boss, Dr. Roger McKinney, just basically told the whole table he wants to bang you!”
    Josh chuckled, watching Shelly’s eyes turn and give him what would’ve most definitely been a lethal stare.
    “Got something to add?” she snapped.
    Holding up his hands, he shook his head. “Not at all.”
    Rachel was munching on some bread and piped up, “Seriously, Shel. What’s your deal? Always going for these stuffed shirts.”
    Shelly rolled her eyes. “He’s not a stuffed shirt, he’s—”
    “Balding,” Josh threw in with a shit-eating grin.
    Mason chuckled. “You did seem very specific about that just a little while back.”
    Josh fully laughed now, completely enjoying himself, and he was sure Shelly was about to deliver a scathing reply when a phone started to ring. He watched as Shelly reached into her bag, pulling it out and glancing at the number. Sighing, she clicked it off and set it on the table. Interesting, Josh thought as she looked to Mason again.
    “Yeah, well, that was the other day. Maybe I changed my mind,” Shelly told him.
    “Please do not tell me that he is Mr. O,” Lena hissed.
    Josh looked from Lena to Shelly, who, for once in her life, had gone slightly pale and completely silent. She seemed to be glaring at Lena, trying to get some kind of message across to her. It failed.
    “If he is who you told me about this afternoon, I think I’ll die,” Lena continued.
    “Mr. O?” Rachel asked as Mason and Wendy started to laugh. “Would someone please answer the number-one question floating around the table? For all of us, either ill-informed or stupid people, who or what is Mr. O?” Rachel demanded.
    Shelly seemed to straighten her spine like she was about to do battle, and then her eyes met his in what he could only describe as a direct challenge.
    That was when Lena stated very plainly, “Some guy who gave her the big O.”
    Everyone at the table started to laugh as though this was a normal conversation, but Shelly’s eyes were glued to his, her eyebrow raising in challenge.
    “Got something worth saying, Daniels?”
    Josh pushed his tongue into his cheek and shook his head. “Nope. But, for someone who got the big O, you seem awfully grouchy. Maybe he wasn’t very good?”
    He could see she was about to probably agree and try to make him feel like shit, but Lena ruined it for her.
    “Oh, yes, he was!” Lena said in a singsong voice.
    He watched with complete satisfaction as Shelly appeared to kick her friend under the table.
    “Shut up,” she hissed at Lena.
    “Geez. It doesn’t matter. They all know and love you. We’re family.”
    Shelly looked back to him, and Josh had to admit that he was wearing the most arrogant grin he’d ever sported in his entire life.
* * *
    Well, shit, Shelly thought as she conceded defeat. Lena had completely and utterly outed her, giving Josh Daniels ammo for life.
    Hang on a minute. Life?Where did that come from?
    Not only was she stuck here with everyone grinning at her like she was the evening’s entertainment, the phone call she had ignored had been home calling. She heard it beep, which meant she now had a message. Standing up, she smoothed her hands on her skirt and held up her phone.
    “Thank you for completely humiliating me, Lena. I need to go and check this message. Can you let Roger know I’ll be back in a second?”
    Lena nodded with a smile.
    Mason chuckled. “Don’t be mad, Shel.”
    “Shut it, Casanova. I’ll be as mad as I want.” Then looking at Lena and her fiancée, she smiled and muttered, “Traitors.” As she turned to walk out into the back kitchen.
    When she got there, she turned on her phone and listened to the message.
    “Shelly, love, it’s your momma. Your father and I would love it if you’d come on home for the weekend sometime soon. I promise to make your favorite dinner, chicken-fried steak, as long as you’re sweet to your father. You know I don’t like y’all fightin’. Give me a call, and we can set it up. Love you, dear.”
    Shelly sighed, leaning a shoulder against the wall, and closed her eyes. She really didn’t want to go home right now. Whenever she got there, she ended up fighting with her dad, and then she came back from her “vacation” more stressed than when she’d left.
    “Everything okay?”
    She spun around to see Josh standing just inside the frosted doors to the kitchen. Nodding, she slipped her phone back into her purse.
    “Yes. Did you need something?”
    He didn’t move. He just stood there, watching her with a serious expression. “I need a lot of things. But, let’s start with, why guys like Dr. Douche Bag?”
    “Dr. Douche Bag?” Shelly questioned.
    Tilting his head, he spoke so softly she had to strain to hear him. “Try not to be a smart ass for once and just answer. Why guys like him? It’s obvious you don’t want him. So, why date him?”
    Shelly put her bag on a counter and took three steps forward. She raised her hand, palm flat against his chest. She kept walking, pushing him out of view from the doors, until his back hit the wall. She knew he let her push him, and when he came to a standstill, she placed herself directly in front of him.
    “Who should I go out with? Guys like you?” she asked.
    He seemed to contemplate that, and then shrugged. “Sure. Why not? You seem to like doing other things with me. Would eating a meal really be that big a step up?”
    Shaking her head, she whispered, “That’s the problem. I’d like it too much and would want it all the time. And you know what? That clouds judgment.” She paused, and then stressed, “I don’t want to want a guy like you.”
* * *
    Josh leaned down until they were an inch apart. He was not fazed at all as he whispered across her lips, “Yes you do.”
    Her eyes were clouding over, and as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him, he raised his head and shook it. Her blue eyes blinked open and focused on him.
    “No. Not until you tell me something about you.”
    She licked her lips. “Didn’t I just do that?”
    Josh shook his head, feeling his heart pound and his erection throb, as he looked at the most kissable lips he’d ever seen. “No. I want to know something about you that has nothing to do with this.”
    She dropped her hand and took a deep breath, and Josh had to admit that he thought she was about to back away. However, her response shocked him.
    Looking over her shoulder, and then turning back to face him, she asked, “What do I get if I do?”
    Josh felt his grin appear, and he replied in a low voice, “Satisfaction.”
    Looking him over, she ran her eyes down his jeans and back up to his face. Then, she shook her head like she was fighting with herself.
    “Okay. I’m originally from Georgia, and while I love a lot of things about that place, I took speech lessons during school to disguise my accent. A lot of people these days will—how should I say this? Judge you just because of a slight inflection in your voice.”
    Josh couldn’t have been more stunned if she’d admitted she had a third eye.
    “Be serious.”
    She grinned, and then she completely floored him in her Southern lilt, “Why, I am being serious, sugar. It ain’t my fault I do such a good job of hidin’ my accent.”
    His eyes widened, and he felt a genuinely happy smile spread over his face. She was adorable, and with that accent, she was absolutely lethal.
    “Wow,” was all he could manage.
    She spun on her heel about to move away, but he reached out and snagged her arm, pulling her back against him. Josh pressed his chest and body against her back and breathed against her ear.
    “I didn’t think you could get any sexier. God, was I wrong,” he whispered.
    Josh felt her take a deep breath, and he let go of her arm. But she remained right where she was, leaning against him.
    “So do you always cover it?”
    Turning to look at him over her shoulder, she whispered, “That’s two questions. You said only one.”
    Josh conceded, knowing this was a bigger step than what she had wanted.
    Then, he found himself nibbling her ear. “Come on. Give us a chance, Shelly?”
    He was pretty sure he wouldn’t get an answer.
    What he hadn’t counted on was Mason walking through the kitchen doors.
* * *
    “This is not what you think,” Shelly stated as she quickly stepped away from Josh.
    Mason looked from her to his friend, and then back to her with a smug grin. Shelly almost gave into the urge to punch him.
    “Oh?”
    Shelly marched over to Mason, looking up into his laughing blue eyes.
    Mason was tall, well over six-feet. He probably stood around six-feet-three, but that didn’t stop Shelly from glaring up at him.
    “Then what is it, Shel?” he asked her, grinning like a loon.
    Shelly jammed her fists on her hips, furious that she’d been stupid enough to cave in for one lousy minute.
    Narrowing her eyes, she snapped, “None of your business!”
    Laughing, Mason looked over her shoulder to the silent man standing just behind them.
    “Should I start addressing you as Mr. O from now on?” he asked Josh.
    “Mason, shut up,” Shelly warned through clenched teeth.
    Looking back down at her, Mason shook his head. “Sorry, Shelly, this is too good to let go.”
    He stepped around her, and she turned, watching him move toward his friend. Josh had his eyes on her while she was trying to somehow melt into the floor. Finally, he dragged his gaze away to look at Mason.
    “What happened to ‘hell no’? And what was the other one? Oh yeah, ‘she’d burn me to a crisp’?” Mason asked Josh.
    Walking over to the two men, who were now about to discuss her like she wasn’t there, Shelly asked Josh, “Burn you to a crisp?”
    Suddenly, this was a much more important issue than getting Mason to shut the hell up. Josh looked at her with a crooked smile, and then he had the audacity to wink.
    “Yeah, because you’re so damn hot.”
    Mason let out a loud laugh as Shelly fumed at Josh.
    Damn him! He’d just confirmed everything with that single sentence. Even though it had been a fairly reasonable assumption about the two of them, up until that moment, they could have played it off. Right?
    “Ha! You just couldn’t help yourself, could you, Daniels? I knew it! She’s totally your type!” Mason exclaimed.
    “Ah, hello! She is still here, you morons.” Sighing as though she was extremely put out, Shelly turned on her heel, stalking to the door, when she heard Josh call her name.
    Turning, she looked at him, standing there next to the grinning idiot, otherwise known as Mason.
    “The deal?” Josh asked.
    Lifting her chin, she shook her head. “Is done.”
    Leaving it at that, she turned, storming out of the kitchen, and went back to her date.
* * *
    Josh stood there, watching the doors swing slowly back and forth until they stopped.
    “Holy shit! When did this all happen?” Mason questioned with a devilish smile.
    Josh rolled his shoulders and shook his head. “Nothing happened. We just got together a couple of times.” He paused. “We had a deal.”
    Mason moved around him to the fridge, opening it and grabbing a couple of beers. He turned and passed one to Josh, who took a long sip.
    “What kind of deal?” Mason questioned.
    “A fucked-up one.” Josh raised his hand and ran it through his hair.
    “I didn’t think you two really talked. Although, Lena and I did start to get vibes. Do you even know her full name? That burned my ass once—big time,” Mason explained around a grin.
    “Just barely. God, what a mess. That night at the club—”
    “I knew it!” Mason shouted, interrupting Josh’s train of thought.
    “Huh?”
    “I asked her about that night, and the little brat lied right to my face.”
    Taking another sip, Josh nodded. “Doesn’t surprise me. She wanted to keep it our dirty little secret.”
    “Hmm, I don’t understand,” his friend stated as he leaned back against the counter.
    Josh shook his head and pointed his beer toward the door. “The deal she’s talking about—that night at the club, we came to an arrangement of sorts.”
    Mason slowly grinned at him. “Oh, this just gets better and better.”
    “Are you gonna shut the hell up, so I can tell you? Or keep interrupting me?”
    Holding his beer up, Mason nodded. “My apologies. Please go on.”
    Rolling his eyes, Josh continued, “We both agreed that we liked what we saw and wanted to explore it, but then she told me it needed to stay a secret, and it was just going to be sex.” He stopped, waiting for Mason to comment. When he stayed silent, Josh asked, “Do you really have nothing to say to that?”
    “Oh no, I have plenty. I was just waiting for permission to talk, sir.”
    “When did you turn into such an asshole?” Josh asked with a smirk.
    “Hey, man, I was always this way. You’re just feeling sensitive right now because Sexy Shelly closed the lid of the cookie jar.”
    Josh shook his head and placed the now empty bottle back on the counter.
    “I never got into the cookie jar.” Well, maybe I dipped my fingers in a little—okay, bad pun—but nothing else.
    “So, why the secret? And why is she here tonight with her boss if you two are—well, you know—heating up the sheets?”
    “Because we’re not. We fooled around in the parking lot and today at her office, but that’s it.”
    Mason’s mouth fell open as he asked quietly, “At her office? In the hospital?”
    Josh felt a smug grin spread across his lips and nodded. “Yep. She made sure she gave me a very thorough physical.”
    “Ha! I really didn’t think you’d touch her since you dubbed her the Man-Eater.”
    “Yeah, me either.”
    Mason finished his beer and pushed off the counter, walking toward the door. “You never told me why she doesn’t want to date you.”
    Josh shrugged, following him. “She didn’t make any sense, but she said something about losing focus and ending up wanting too much.”
    Mason stopped and stated, “Well, surely, that isn’t a bad thing.”
    “Apparently, it is when you’re Shelly Monroe.”

Chapter Nine

    The dinner wrapped up fairly quickly after the disaster in the kitchen. Shelly had barely glanced at Mason or Josh the whole way through dessert, and once that was gone, she stood, grabbed Roger’s arm, and pulled him out the door. Lena had watched her carefully but kept quiet, and Shelly had to wonder just how long it would take Mason to share his juicy gossip.
    As Roger walked her to the lobby door of her condo, she was so preoccupied with thoughts about Josh and how she’d been looking forward to finally getting into bed with him. Now that the opportunity was gone, she totally missed the cue that Roger McKinney was leaning in for a good night kiss.
    Completely blindsided, Shelly froze and clamped her mouth shut. Feeling her tension, Roger stepped back, giving her a regretful look.
    “This,” he said, motioning between them, “isn’t going to happen, is it?”
    Shelly sighed and shook her head with an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Roger.”
    He smiled at her and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Nah, don’t be. It’s okay.” He paused and then asked, “You and Bob the Builder—there something going on there?”
    “No!” she answered a little too quickly for her own good.
    Roger nodded, reaching out to stroke a hand down her cheek, “Well, maybe there should be.”
    Shelly felt her mouth open, and then shut without saying anything.
    What can I say?
    She didn’t want to date a man that was unreliable, especially in this economy. Been there, done that. “Not going to happen.”
    “Hmm. Well, I’m going to leave you to it.”
    She watched as he started to walk down the path back to his car.
    Then, he stopped and turned to her. “Shelly?”
    She looked at him and smiled. “Yeah?”
    “Thanks for taking me tonight. I had a good time.”
    Giving him a genuine smile, Shelly nodded, wishing there was something there.
    “You’re welcome, Roger. Drive safe.”
    He waved, walking back to his car. “Sure will. Have a good night!”
* * *
    Josh just walked through the door to an excited ninety-pound Mutley, who was currently jumping up on his hind legs and placing his huge paws on Josh’s chest. Reaching up to scratch his dog’s head, he smiled as Mutley ran a huge tongue up his cheek.
    “Hey, boy. How you doing?”
    Mutley’s tail wagged as his mouth fell open, letting the same wet tongue loll there as though he was grinning. Pushing him down, Josh watched the dog circle him, and then he made his way through the hall down to the kitchen.
    “Want some dinner, buddy?”
    Sitting by his bowl patiently, Mutley looked at him as if to say, Well, yeah, genius.
    Moving to the pantry, Josh pulled out the dog food and went over to grab Mutley’s bowl.
    He was still thinking about the evening and Shelly’s quick departure after the scene in the kitchen.
    He didn’t understand why she was so upset about Mason knowing they were involved. No, not involved. That implied they knew one another, which they certainly didn’t. Fooling around—those were the words he was looking for.
    For some reason, she wanted to give off the impression that she was interested in men who were, as far as Josh could tell, so boring they could put her to sleep.
    Why? That’s what he wanted to know. What did she mean she didn’t want to get involved with someone like me because she’d get too distracted?
    The woman baffled him. She was such a firecracker, yet she wanted to settle down with someone like Paul the Bore or Dr. Douche Bag.
    After feeding Mutley, Josh walked over to the sliding door, leading to his back porch. Opening it, he walked outside and looked up at the stars. It was so beautifully clear tonight. It was a perfect evening to take a walk with a hot woman. However, the woman he wanted to walk with had instead walked out the door tonight with another man.
    He was such an idiot to still be thinking about her. That’s it, he thought as he pulled out his cell, intending to delete Barbie the Man-Eater from his phone and life. But, when he got to her number, he found himself dialing it instead.
* * *
    Shelly’s phone buzzed right as she climbed into bed. Looking at the cell, she leaned over and saw DD displayed on the front. Picking it up, she shook her head, telling herself she shouldn’t. Like that ever worked.
    She answered and put it to her ear. “What do you want, Josh? I told you tonight. The deal is done.”
    “Well, hello to you, too, Shel.”
    Closing her eyes, Shelly slid down, laying her head on the pillow, and allowed herself a minute to fantasize that the deep sexy voice on the other end of the phone was instead coming from beside her on the bed and not through the earpiece.
    “I want to keep the deal,” the voice told her.
    Shaking her head and keeping her eyes closed, Shelly relaxed. “You broke it. The deal was sex, no strings, and definitely no Mason. You broke all three rules.”
    She heard him sigh, and if she had to guess, she figured he was running his hand through his hair.
    “I want a new deal.”
    Laughing, Shelly asked, “A new deal? Just like that? What else can there be, Josh? I told you that I don’t want to get involved.”
    “With me,” he interrupted.
    “Huh?” Shelly asked, confused.
    “You don’t want to get involved with me. You’re quite happy to parade around a string of completely wrong choices, yet you won’t even give me a five-minute date.”
    He paused, and Shelly knew what would be the next word out of his mouth.
    “Why?”
    Finally, she opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. She started to count the little boxes that were painted in checkered black and white across it, which she loved.
    “Because you’re not my type.”
    “Excuse me if I don’t believe you. You fall apart all over me.”
    Letting out a frustrated sound, she replied, “Not sexually. It’s pretty obvious that part works. It’s everything else.”
    There was a pause, and then he asked, “Like what? I’m not in the health industry? Because that’s ridiculous.”
    “No! Geez, Josh, why do you care? You told Mason you didn’t even want to date me. I believe ‘hell no’ was the answer he said you gave him.” Moving to sit up, Shelly leaned back against her pink headboard. “Look, I just think it would be better to forget all of this. Nothing really happened—”
    “I beg to disagree. Something most definitely happened. You’re just being stubborn. Give me a new deal.”
    He paused, and Shelly heard a bark in the background.
    “Do you have a dog?”
    “Huh?”
    “A dog? I heard a bark. I asked if you own a dog.”
    “Yeah. His name’s Mutley. Stop changing the subject.”
    “I’m not a fan of dogs. They’re too slobbery.”
    Shelly could almost hear his eyes roll.
    “Of course, you’re not. Are you always so perfectly put together?”
    Feeling a grin on her mouth, she lowered her voice. “Do you always look like you just got out of a woman’s bed?”
    The phone went quiet, and the silence was so thick that it was hard to hear his words as they slid through the phone and into her ear.
    “Is that how I look?”
    Groaning softly, Shelly let her eyes close, thinking about how sexy Josh Daniels was. Everything about him appealed to her, and right now, she wished he was in her bed on top of her.
    A new deal? Do I really want to do this?
    “Shelly?” he asked in a voice that was designed to seduce.
    “Yes, that’s how you look. You always look like you just rolled out of some woman’s bed—as if her hands tunneled through your long hair, hanging on for dear life.” She paused, and then tacked on the end, “And, to answer your question, no, I’m not always perfectly put together. I’m not right now.”
* * *
    Josh knew there had never been a better opening for phone sex—ever.
    That, however, was not what he wanted.
    Knowing exactly what he wanted, he said, “A new deal, Shel. Stop trying to distract me. Give me one.”
    He moved to sit in the reclining chaise lounge he had on his deck, waiting patiently for her answer. Mutley had laid down beside him, resting his big head on his paws as he watched him with a raised eyebrow. He swore his dog understood everything he was saying.
    “Okay, I have one,” she announced.
    Josh had to remind his cock it was not coming out to play tonight.
    “I’m waiting,” he told her.
    He heard her take a breath as though she was unsure, and then she asked, “What are you doing next weekend?”
    Josh hadn’t seen that question coming. He thought about the barbecue he was supposed to have with his brother, and then shrugged. It isn’t like I have to go to that.
    “Nothing. Why?”
    There was complete silence.
    Then, as though she’d change her mind if she didn’t get it out, she asked quickly, “Want to go on a road trip? Can you ask your boss for some time off? I was thinking I could leave Friday morning and make it home by Monday night.”
    “Hey, Doc?” Josh interrupted.
    “Yeah?”
    “Where are we going?”
    There was another stretch of silence, and then, “You’ll come with me?”
    Josh chuckled, wondering what the hell he was doing. But, deep down, he knew. He was getting involved. He was just hoping she’d take it easy on him.
    “I’d like to say I already have.” He heard her take a deep breath. “But that’s a different conversation. Yes, I’ll come. Are you going to tell me where?”
    Josh looked down at Mutley, who had raised his head with his ears perked.
    Yep, you’re coming, too, bud. Josh thought with a grin, knowing Shelly would freak out.
* * *
    Shelly was biting her lip, gripping the cell phone tight.
    What the hell am I thinking, inviting him home with me?
    In all honesty, she knew her plan was genius. Her father would have a fit when she walked through the door with Josh, but on the other hand, she found the idea of having him with her more and more appealing for other reasons.
    “Savannah, Georgia.”
    “As in your hometown?” he asked quietly.
    Shelly thought about what she was doing for one second more before she blurted, “Yeah. My mom wants me to come home, and I told her I’d come this weekend.” She paused, having a rare moment of nerves.
    “You want me to meet your parents, but you didn’t want Mason and Lena to know about us?” he asked. “I don’t get it, Doc.”
    She didn’t get it either. All she could come up with was she didn’t want to disappoint or hurt Mason and Lena.
     Whereas, her father was already disappointed. And her mother? Well, she pretty much thought as he did. So, what the hell?
    “Look, Josh, you’re either in or out. My new deal is you come home with me for four days—”
    “In what capacity?”
    “What? Man, what is it with you interrupting me?” Shelly chuckled, feigning exasperation.
    “Well, I’m trying to nail down the facts because last time we made a deal you blindsided me by using all that sex magic you have.”
    Shelly couldn’t help it then. She burst out laughing. “Sex magic?”
    “Yeah. You get around me, and I lose my mind. So, you must be casting spells.”
    “No secret spells here, Mr. Daniels.” She paused, and then stated, “I want you to come home with me as my friend. However, when we’re alone together, I don’t see why we can’t have added benefits.”
    “Such as?”
    “You know what I mean, Josh.”
    “I know, but I love it when you talk dirty.”
    Closing her eyes, she had to bite back a moan. Then, she told him what he wanted to hear. “Benefits such as hot, sweaty, back-scratching sex.”
    “Hmm. We haven’t done that yet,” he pointed out in a voice smooth as whiskey.
    “No, we haven’t,” she managed through clenched teeth.
    “But we will. Won’t we, Shel?”
    She took a deep breath and stated plainly, “I really hope so.”
    There was another quiet moment, and then he asked in a most scandalized tone, “In your parents’ house?”
    Laughing, she replied in the most Southern accent she could dig up, “Oh, you naughty man, Joshu-ah Daniels. Well, I did always want to be ravished in my old bedroom. Think you could manage that, big boy?”
    “You keep talking like that Man-Eater, and you can count on it.”
    “What did you just call me?” she asked, still chuckling.
    “Man-Eater. Damn, you’re sexy as hell. You know that, right?”
    Choosing to ignore him, she asked, “Will your boss give you the time off?”
* * *
    Josh was about to explain that he was the boss. Then, it occurred to him that she thought he was a construction crew worker.
    Ha, imagine that.
    In all fairness, he was a construction worker. He just happened to also own Creative Construction and Remolding Co., but he wasn’t going to let her in on that just yet.
    It was nice actually—not to be looked at as though he was just a bank and would always foot the bill. Melissa had treated him like that, but he wanted Shelly to be with him just for him.
    “Sure, he will. It’s this weekend, so that should be enough time for me to finish my work for the week.” He paused, and then asked, “How long does it take to get there?”
    “Usually, I fly, but this year, I felt like a road trip. I looked it up, and it said eleven-and-a-half hours.”
    Josh nodded, reaching down to pat Mutley on the head. “Okay, so you want to leave early Friday morning then?”
    She let out a breathy sigh and answered quietly, “Uh, yes. I was thinking early—around 4:00 a.m.”
    “Damn, Doc, that is early.”
    “It’s a long trip.”
    “It sure is.” He paused. “Are there any rules to this deal I should know about?”
    There was silence, and then he heard a whisper so quiet he almost missed it.
    “Don’t make me want to keep you.”
    Josh felt a huge grin spread across his face. “Well then, don’t make me want to be kept.”
    He was about to wish her a good night.
    Then, she asked, “Josh?”
    “Yeah, Shelly?”
    “I’m breaking all my rules for you.”
    “Are you? How’s that working so far?”
    “I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know.”
    He closed his eyes, imagining her beautiful blue ones. “Get some sleep, Man-Eater.”
    He swore he could see her smile when she answered in a breathy voice.
    “Will do, Delicious Daniels.”
    Before he could comment on that nickname, she’d hung up.

Chapter Ten

    March
    Shelly saw her the minute she stepped into the cafeteria.
    Lena was seated at their usual table in the far back to the left. Shelly went through the line, grabbing the usual bottle of water and a ham sandwich, and then made her way over to her friend.
    Lena watched her approach with a smug smile on her face, and instantly, Shelly knew Mason had spilled the beans. Pulling out the empty chair, Shelly sat and raised a brow at her friend.
    “Okay. Go ahead.”
    Lena nodded. “So, I guess you used the plumber after all?”
    Rolling her eyes, Shelly asked, “How long did it take you to come up with that?”
    “Not long. Around ten minutes.”
    “You’re so original. I can barely stand it,” Shelly told her with a smirk.
    “Oh, don’t even try with the snarky attitude. That’s my department. Plus, you had to know Mason would tell me.”
    Shelly twisted the lid off the bottle and asked, “And what exactly did your gossipy old man tell you?”
    Lena grinned at her and took a bite of her sandwich. “That you and Josh had a deal.”
    “Man! Did Josh tell him everything?”
    “Well, they are best friends. You tell me everything.” She paused, and then tacked on, “Well, you used to.”
    “Stop trying to make me feel guilty. It won’t work.”
    Lena sat forward and whispered, “And why not? You made me tell you all the details. So, come on, tell me. How amazing does he look naked?”
    Shelly felt her eyes widen as she stared at her friend, who was waiting patiently with her reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, her lab coat falling open. Laughing, Shelly shook her head.
    “Mason’s right about one thing.”
    “Oh, and what’s that?”
    Opening her sandwich, Shelly pulled it out and took a bite. “You and I act like we’re in high school.”
    Sitting back, Lena crossed her legs. “Well, if that’s true, then tell me about the boy you were kissing in the parking lot.” She ended that mature comment by poking out her tongue.
    Shelly grinned, ready to play the game. “Well, he’s really cute.”
    “Josh? Cute? I don’t think that’s the right adjective,” Lena interrupted.
    “Yeah, you’re right. He’s really, really sexy. Oh boy!” Shelly sighed, fanning herself. “He took me to heaven in less than thirty minutes in that parking lot.”
    Lena’s mouth fell open. “He did not!” Then, looking around them to make sure they weren’t overheard, she leaned in closer to Shelly. “You did not have sex with him in the parking lot.”
    “Geez, Lena. What version of that game were you playing in high school?” Shelly asked, pretending to be scandalized.
    Lena arched a brow, shaking her head. “You’re hilarious. Don’t try to distract me. Answer the question, Shelly.”
    “What was the question again?”
    Lena pouted. “I said,” she responded, sighing with frustration, “you did not have sex with him in the parking lot.”
    “So, is that a statement or a question?” Shelly asked, raising a brow.
    “It was a question. Answer it please.”
    Finishing off one side of her sandwich, Shelly nodded. “No, I didn’t have sex in a parking lot, but he sure did make me happy. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he gave me the best orgasm I’ve ever had—and it was in a parking lot.”
    Lena blinked once, twice, and then let out a deep breath as she sat back in her chair. “You are so screwed,” Lena told her with an annoying grin.
    “Why?”
    “Because I’ve never seen that look on your face.”
    Shelly thought about her conversation with Josh last night, and then nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
    Lena continued to smile like a cat that got into the cream. “I told you so.”
    “Yeah? Well, you have either made me the happiest person in the world, or I may still kill you for it. I’ll let you know after this weekend,” Shelly told her with a small smile.
    “Why? What’s this weekend? Is he taking you on a date?”
    Shelly stood, picking up the other half of her sandwich and her bottle of water. She pushed her chair in and shook her head. “Nope, I’m taking him home to visit Mom and Dad. We’re going on a road trip.”
    Lena looked up at her with a frown.
    “What?” Shelly asked.
    “I’m trying to keep up. It was only two weeks ago when you told me you would never date him. Why the sudden change?”
    Shelly thought about it for a minute. Why am I suddenly having a change of heart? She was throwing all her rules out the window for this man. Maybe it was because he was a friend of Mason’s, so she figured he would be a good guy.
    She had no idea. All she knew was that she was going to give Joshua a chance. What can it hurt? It’s just a weekend. Right?
    Looking down at Lena, Shelly shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess somewhere in between my orgasm in the parking lot and his orgasm in my office, he convinced me to give it a shot. Have a good afternoon, Dr. O’Donnell,” Shelly told her friend with a smug grin and a perky wave. Then, she turned and walked away, leaving a shocked but silent Lena staring after her.
* * *
    Josh arrived at the worksite and let himself in when his phone rang. Pulling out the phone, he saw Cole’s name on the screen.
    “Daniels here.”
    “Hello, Joshua. How are you this morning?”
    Stepping over a toolbox, he moved over to the makeshift table he’d put up.
    “Good, man, good. What’s up?”
    “Well, Harris called this morning. He said he’s going to come in and sign the papers on Friday. Will that work? Can you be here?”
    Wincing, Josh stopped and ran a hand through his hair. Of course it had to be Friday.
    “I can’t do Friday, Cole. I’m going out of town. Won’t be back until Monday morning.”
    He heard some rustling around on the other end of the phone.
    “Hang on, I’m checking my calendar,” Cole told him.
    Josh waved to Vince as he walked in for the morning. Three other guys—Alex, Gary, and Chris—followed, looking at him and nodding. Acknowledging them, he smiled, and then turned his attention back to the phone.
    “How about Tuesday then?” Cole asked.
    “Yep, I can do that. Time?”
    “Ten-thirty looks good. If it changes, I’ll let you know.” Cole paused, and then asked, “Where are you going this weekend?”
    Josh smiled, thinking about the road trip ahead. “Savannah, Georgia.”
    Cole chuckled. “Business or pleasure?”
    Oh, definitely pleasure, Josh thought.
    Then, he answered, “Pleasure. I’m going with that woman we were talking about the other night.”
    “Really?” Cole asked. After a quiet moment, he continued, “So, you worked things out with her?”
    Josh laughed, and then shook his head, even though Cole couldn’t see him.
    “Not really. We kind of got caught before things got started. Then, she was going to nix the whole idea, but in the end, we decided to go on a road trip. That’s a good way to get to know each other, right? Eleven hours in a car with a dog?”
    Cole laughed. “Either that, or you’ll kill each other. Why Georgia?”
    Josh leaned against the table and replied, “She’s going home to see family.”
    “And you’re going with her?” Cole asked in a tone that implied Josh was out of his mind. “I thought you two were just starting, and it wasn’t even a dating thing.”
    Sighing, Josh ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, well, the deal changed. I think I’m going as a buffer, but she wants me to go with her, so I thought why the hell not.”
    “Hmm, the deal changed how?” Cole questioned him in that cool serious tone he usually reserved for business.
    Josh thought of the sexy doctor. “The deal changed in the fact that she asked, and there was no way in hell I was going to say no.”
    “Oh shit,” Cole muttered.
    “Oh shit indeed,” Josh replied. “I’ll see you Tuesday at 10:30. If the time needs to be changed, let me know.”
    “Will do, Josh. Have fun down south.”
    Chuckling, Josh asked, “Was that a sex joke, Cole? From you?”
    Josh could have sworn he could see the lawyer’s eyes rolling.
    “I’ll have you know I can tell a sex joke just like the next guy.”
    “Sure you can, man. You just choose to be mysterious. Is that it?” Josh laughed.
    “That’s exactly it. See you Tuesday, Joshua.”
    “See you Tuesday,” he replied before he ended the call.
* * *
    Thursday night turned up much quicker than Shelly had anticipated. She was in the process of packing her bag when her phone beeped.
    Leaning over, she saw DD on the display and opened the message.
    DD: Don’t pack much.
    Smiling, Shelly texted back.
    Why?
    Throwing the phone on the bed, she moved to the closet and pulled out her cowgirl boots, grinning. She had a good feeling about this trip. Maybe not so much the eleven-hour car ride, but she was looking forward to spending time with Josh. She found she was a lot more excited than she had originally thought she would be. Walking back to the bed, she placed the boots in her suitcase and looked at the phone.
    DD: You only need enough clothes for meals with your parents. Around me— nothing.
    Shelly turned, resting her butt against the bed. She closed her eyes for a moment picturing Josh. Hot damn! The guy pushes my buttons. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on his naked body. Licking her lips, she wrote back.
    We’re staying at my parents’ house. You plan to have me naked under my father’s roof?
    There, take that! She grinned, wickedly.
    Moving to her chest of drawers, she opened it and looked at her panties.
    Hmm… Picking out the sexiest items she owned, she turned, throwing them in the bag, when the phone vibrated.
    DD: I plan to have you naked under me. If that happens to be in your father’s house, then so be it.
    Giggling, Shelly called Josh’s number.
    He answered immediately. “I mean it, Shelly.”
    “Is that right? But then you’d miss seeing all the pretty panties I just packed.” She took great delight in the soft groan she heard at the other end.
    “What color are they?”
    “My panties?”
    “Yes, Shelly, your panties that you just packed. What color are they?”
    Looking into the bag, she answered, “Black, white, hot pink.”
    “Bikini or thong?”
    “Why?” she asked, picking up the black lace thong that had a pearl in the middle of the waistband.
    “Because I’m picturing the color disappearing between your perfect pale ass cheeks, and if they’re bikinis, I need to change the fantasy.”
    Holding back her moan, Shelly dropped the panties. “How do you know my behind is pale? You haven’t seen it. And don’t change your fantasy. You’re spot on.”
    Groaning louder this time, she could have sworn she felt it rumble through the phone.
    “I’m picturing it in HD as we speak—your deliciously round ass with a sexy strip of lace running down the middle.”
    Shelly laughed. “Oh yeah? And what am I doing? Just standing with my back to you?”
    “No, you’re turned away from me, and my finger is pulling that little strip of lace out of the way as you ride my cock like a cowgirl in reverse, Georgia.”
    Georgia? Shelly thought with a smirk. Now that was a new nickname.
    Shelly closed her eyes and bit her lip. God, he was so damn sexy.
    The man had her thighs clenching, and her palms sweating. “Is that right, cowboy?”
    “Oh fuck yeah.” He paused, and then asked, “Shelly?”
    She was breathing a little faster than usual when she answered. “Yes?”
    “I’m loving this new deal, and I can’t wait to get inside you. Now, text me your address. We have an early start tomorrow.” With that, he hung up.
    Shelly stared at her phone and shook her head. She had a feeling that this man-eater had just met her match in Joshua Daniels.
* * *
    On Friday morning, Josh pulled up at the valet of Shelly’s condo at 3:55 a.m. It was dark, and the air was cool. As he sat in the cab of his truck, he found he didn’t care that it was so early because he couldn’t wait to see the doctor.
    Pulling his phone out, he texted her, letting her know he was there, and then waited.
    He watched the lobby for her, and then grinned as the doors opened.
    Shelly came out wearing a tight white T-shirt with a loose-fitting black cardigan and jeans. As she made her way down the path with a small bag, he had to admit that the woman was stunning. Her blonde hair was flowing down and spilling over her shoulders. Although she wasn’t wearing anything flashy, he found this version of her much more appealing on so many levels.
    Just as she reached the curb, Mutley chose to sit up behind him, putting his big head out the window. He watched as Shelly froze, looking at the dog with eyes so big Josh thought they might pop out of her head.
    “What is that?” she asked from where she had stopped.
    Josh had to smile. Her adorable nose that was usually tipped in the air was scrunched up in a look of disgust.
    “Mutley, my dog.”
    Her eyes went from him to the window behind him where Mutley still sat panting.
    “I am not getting in the car with that.”
    Josh laughed and opened his door, climbing out and moving several steps until he was just inches away from her. “Yes, you are.”
    Shaking her head, she looked around his shoulder, and then turned her eyes back to him. “No, I’m not. He’s huge.”
    Josh grinned and reached out, giving in to the urge to touch her hair. He picked up the ends of it, running his fingers through it.
    “He’s harmless.”
    She looked up at him and narrowed her eyes. “Like his owner?”
    Josh shook his head and lowered it, his lips were brushing against hers. “Oh, no, he’s harmless. I’m not.”
    With that, he kissed her.
* * *
    Shelly forgot all about the gigantic dog in the back of Josh’s truck as he pressed his hot lips to hers.
    Not even thinking twice, she opened her lips and felt his tongue slide deep inside to rub against her own. She moaned as she lifted her hands and gripped his leather jacket, feeling his muscular arms underneath. She heard him grunt softly, and then felt him wrap his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against his jeans.
    Oh yeah, Shelly thought as his lips shifted and the kiss took a deeper dive toward hot, steamy sex. She felt his tongue trace over her teeth, and then come back to slide over her lips. He moved his head back, and she moaned at the loss of his mouth as he looked down at her.
    “Where’s your suitcase?”
    Shelly looked up into his deep brown eyes. “Huh?”
    He chuckled and brought one of his hands up to cup under her chin.
    “Your suitcase, Shelly. Where is it? If we don’t hit the road, we’ll never get there.”
    That shook her out of her lust-clouded haze. “Josh, I’m not getting in there with him.”
    Josh moved around her and walked toward the lobby, yelling over his shoulder. “Yes, you are!”
    “No, I’m not!” she called back, staring at the huge animal that was looking at her intently.
    “You got your keys and purse?” Josh asked her.
    Shelly nodded and patted the bag on her arm. She heard him moving closer, and then he rolled the suitcase past her.
    She took her eyes off the beast for a minute to watch Josh as he moved to the back of his truck.
    Okay, so the suits I usually date don’t have the muscle and brawn tooh my, Shelly thought as she watched Josh’s biceps bunch and flex as he picked up the suitcase and threw it into the bed of the truck. Sheer animal magnetism and sexy-as-hell muscle definitely weren’t things a suit usually had. Shelly wanted to lick him.
    “Come on,” he told her as he walked around the truck, opening the passenger door.
    Shaking her head again, she could see him looking at her through both windows as he leaned his arms on the frame, the truck now separating them.
    Her eyes drifted back to the huge dog that was now eyeing her with a raised brow.
    Oh, so the dog has attitude, too? Forget that, Shelly thought and crossed her arms.
    “Get in the truck Shelly.”
    “No.”
    Grinning at her, Josh warned, “Georgia, get in the truck.”
    She felt a grin tug on her lips, deciding she really liked that nickname on his lips. “I’m not getting in the car with that,” she told him, pointing to the dog that had now placed his head down so it was resting on the open window.
    “Mutley’s harmless. You’re hurting his feelings.”
    Ha! Shelly thought. The beast wants to eat me. Okay, so maybe not eat me, but definitely slobber on me.
    “One more chance, Georgia.”
    Shelly crossed her arms. “And then what happens? You leave?”
    She watched him straighten up on the other side of the truck, and then he walked back around the front, making his way over to her.
    His face was dead serious, not a smile in sight as he got closer to her.
    Oh, shit, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. She’d never seen him upset.
    When he reached her, he didn’t stop walking. He just made his way over to her and hauled her up and over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry as though she didn’t weigh a thing.
* * *
    Josh grinned when he heard Shelly shriek as he tossed her over his shoulder. Pivoting, he carried her down the path as she pummeled his back.
    “Are you insane? Put me down right now, Joshua Daniels!”
    He chuckled and continued around the truck. When he got to the passenger side, he slowly lowered her and stepped in close, giving her no other option than to step back with her butt against the passenger seat.
    “Now, get in the car, Georgia, before I strip off your clothes and take you in the front seat of my truck in front of all your nosy neighbors.”
    He watched her close her mouth, and then look around to make sure no one was outside.
    “Maybe I’d like that,” she told him.
    Josh grinned at her and leaned in, resting his arms on the roof of the truck. Trapping her between the seat and his body, he rubbed himself up nice and close against her.
    “Oh, Georgia, I’d make sure you loved it. But do you really want Mutley to watch? His poor sensibilities might get hurt. Plus, we need to get going.”
    Josh watched her look over her shoulder, and Mutley gave her a goofy doggy smile and whined.
    “Oh, fine! But he better not come near me,” she said, giving up as she climbed into the truck.
    Josh closed the door with a huge smile. Yes, ma’am.
    He sure did like this Southern girl he’d met this morning, and he wanted to get to know her a whole lot better.

Chapter Eleven

    Around five hours into the trip, Shelly was getting antsy. She started to understand why people took planes or, more importantly, why she took planes.
    This trip was just too damn long. If you included the fact that there was a ninety-pound hairball sitting behind her and giving her the evil eye, then you not only had a long trip, you had a long trip from hell.
    On the plus side, she had plenty of time to sit and study Delicious Daniels.
    He’d put on a pair of black aviator glasses when the sun had made an appearance this morning. He had his arm resting by the window as they drove along the highway while his other hand lightly gripped the top of the steering wheel, giving her a lovely view of those strong, thick biceps of his.
    He’d removed his jacket once they had gotten in the truck, and the black shirt he was wearing molded like a second skin to all of his bulging muscles. As she ran her eyes down to the jeans he seemed to live in, she had to catch herself from licking her lips. They cupped him like a lover’s hand, and then wrapped tightly around his thighs.
    Unconsciously letting out a small grown, Shelly was mortified when he turned and caught her staring. She quickly brought her gaze up to his. Deciding what the heck, she gave him a flirty smile and a raised eyebrow.
    “Keep your eyes on the road, Josh.”
    He gave her a smug grin, and then turned back, facing the long stretch of road ahead of them.
    The whole way out of Chicago Shelly had bitched at him about the hairy dog being in the truck until he had told her if she mentioned the dog once more he’d move him into the front seat. That had shut her up real quick.
    They’d stopped for coffee with a quick breakfast at one of the fast food joints and had been driving straight through with no breaks since.
    They had discussed everything from how he’d met Mason, which was in grade school during year seven to be exact, to when she had met Lena, which, of course, had been when they had started working at University Hospital.
    She now knew he had one brother, Jeremy, who lived in Chicago, and their parents had retired to Florida. He now knew that she’d grown up in Savannah, Georgia and was an only child.
    When they had exhausted all the small getting-to-know-each-other talk, he’d told her to relax and maybe try to sleep, but she had known that would be impossible with the dog staring at her. Instead, she had rested against the window, watching the scenery pass by, but she was getting antsy and needed a pick-me-up.
    Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her iPod and the car jack and moved to plug it in.
    Josh looked over at her. “And what do you think you’re doing, Georgia?”
    “We need some music,” Shelly told him, finally getting it hooked up.
    “We had music,” he pointed out as his huge dog decided to take that opportunity to move forward and rest his head against Josh’s seat.
    He’s eyeing me, Shelly thought with a shudder. He definitely wanted to eat her, and she knew it.
    “What?” she asked the dog as though he would actually answer her.
    “He just wants to know what you’re about to force us to listen to.”
    Rolling her eyes, Shelly smiled at him with a mischievous grin, and he shook his head.
    “I don’t like that look.”
    “What look?” she asked innocently.
    “That one. The one that says you’re about to subject me to something I’m not going to like.”
    Shelly laughed, making sure she had the volume up good and loud, and then hit play. As the music blared through the speakers, she took great delight in Josh’s pained expression as he whipped his head around to face her.
    “No.”
    “Yes!” Shelly told him over the loud beat of the music.
    “No way, Georgia!” he told her, trying to grab the iPod.
    She pulled it out of reach and hit pause. The music stopped.
    “You need to concentrate on the road,” she told him seriously.
    Rolling his eyes, he asked, “How am I supposed to concentrate with that noise playing?”
    Shelly laughed again. “I told you no about that,” she reminded him, pointing to the beast, who took that moment to cock his head to the side and raise an eyebrow.
    “Oh, don’t act sweet and innocent with me,” she said to the hairball.
    “Are you talking to my dog? You do know he can’t understand you, right?”
    Shelly harrumphed. “Well, it was worth a shot.” She paused, grinning. “Now, shhh. I’m enjoying—”
    “I’m not listening to Shania Twain, Georgia.”
    Shelly leaned her head back against the seat, singing to him with a sexy smile. “But, Josh, I feel like a woman!”
* * *
    Josh shook his head at the woman beside him, singing the ode to all females very loudly. He couldn’t believe that he was actually sitting here, listening to this song, and smiling.
    Shelly had rolled up her jeans to mid-calf and slipped off her shoes, resting her sock-covered feet on the dashboard. She was tapping her foot and smiling as she sung about wearing men’s shirts and short skirts.
    Looking over at her, he thought, this is honestly the first time those lyrics have ever been appealing.
    She had a grin on her face that was lit with pure joy, and every time she hit that ridiculous chorus, she sung the lyrics at the top of her lungs.
    The woman is insane, and he liked her—a lot.
    All she needed now was a cowgirl hat, a pair of boots, and some Daisy Dukes, and she would have been one of his sexiest fantasies come to life.
    She continued singing about the best things of being a woman.
    Josh found himself smiling and—holy shit—tapping his hand on the steering wheel.
    When she got to the main line of the song, he saw her look him over and lick her lips.
    “Damn, Josh—you make me feel like a woman,” she sang to him with lowered lids.
    Oh shit!
    He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to grab her, pull her over his lap, and kiss that sassy smile right of her smirking lips—but he was on a damn highway and needed to concentrate.
    “When we stop, I want you to play that song again.”
    The song ended, and he was relieved when it changed to The Who singing the anthem to Woodstock and stoned teenagers. “Babba O’Riley”—classic.
    “I thought you didn’t like that song,” Shelly pointed out.
    He looked her over, letting out a deep breath. “Suddenly, I’ve had a change of heart.”
    “Is that right?”
    “Yeah, it is. I want it to be playing while I have my hands all over you.”
    Shelly laughed and asked, “So you can make me feel like a woman?”
    “Hmm,” he answered, watching the road.
    He didn’t even hear what she had said, and before he knew it, she was right up beside him, sliding her hand smoothly along his thigh. He whipped his head around, and their eyes met.
    “Careful, I need to concentrate.”
    “So concentrate. I just need to touch you for a minute,” she told him while continuing to stroke his thigh.
    Josh let out a ragged groan, moving his arm away from the window to grip the steering wheel tight with both hands.
    “You don’t even need to touch me to make me feel like a woman. I’m finding if I just sit and think about you—or even better, if I sit here and look at you—I have absolutely no problem feeling like a woman.” She paused in her verbal torture and slid that hot little hand over his leg toward the inseam of his jeans, stopping mid-thigh. He sucked in a deep breath.
    “I can’t wait to get you naked, Josh. Hot, naked, and mine. Hmm, I can’t wait,” she whispered.
    Josh took a chance and looked sideways at her. She was so close that he could see her pupils had dilated, and he knew she was as aroused as he was. His cock was so hard that he was surprised it hadn’t busted through his jeans. She hadn’t even touched him there, and he was ready to go off like a rocket.
    “Move your hand, Shelly,” he managed, trying to keep his attention on the road despite her torture.
    He watched her eyes spark with mischief, and then she started to move her hand up his leg toward his throbbing hardness.
    “Not there,” he told her through clenched teeth. “Move your hand away from me, or we’re going to have an accident.”
    He watched her grin and felt her squeeze his thigh while she leaned up to put her mouth next to his ear.
    “Find a motel.”
    Josh felt every muscle in his body clench, but he looked down at her and shook his head.
    She pouted, squeezing his thigh again. “Why not?”
    Josh licked his lips and explained, “If we stop, we won’t ever leave.” He paused. “Have mercy, Georgia. Take your hand off of me before I explode and move back to your side of the truck before I go insane.”
    Josh groaned as she kissed his cheek and quickly brushed her palm against his erection. Then, she moved back to her side of the truck.
    He looked over to where she was sitting, staring at him with hot eyes and a strained smile.
    “I hate that you’re right,” she told him.
    He looked at her and replied softly, “Believe me, so do I.”
* * *
    Shelly was so frustrated!
    She was so hot and bothered that she was almost tempted to undo her jeans and stick her hands inside to take care of her own ache. But, as she looked at the beautifully tense and stiff man navigating the truck’s steering wheel, she knew that waiting would be its own reward.
    She couldn’t believe how turned on he had gotten her, yet he hadn’t done anything but drive and say a few words.
    The man was potent and so hot that he set her on fire by just looking at her. Forget that. He set me on fire by just breathing.
    His dog was now lying down across the back seat, and Shelly took a chance, looking over at him. He raised his head, and his mouth fell open. She could have sworn he was smiling at her. She felt her heart squeeze a little, and she couldn’t help but smile back at him.
    “Stop flirting with my dog.”
    Shelly’s eyes moved to Josh, who had glanced at her for a moment.
    “I’m not flirting with your dog. I don’t even like him.”
    She could have sworn the dog understood because he whined, and she immediately felt guilty.
    Josh took that moment to look in his rearview mirror. “Don’t worry. She said that about me, too.”
    Rolling her eyes, she slumped down in the seat. “Do you want me to drive for a little bit?”
    “My truck?”
    “No, your Lamborghini. Of course the truck.”
    Josh shook his head. “Ahh, no, it’s fine. I’m going to pull over for lunch in a few minutes, and then we’ll go the rest of the way.”
    Shelly nodded and watched out the window, noticing a twenty-four hour motel. She glanced at Josh longingly.
    He shook his head. “No.”
    Sighing, Shelly capitulated. “Fine. Food it is.”
    She was no less frustrated when he laughed and pulled off the highway to get them some food.
* * *
    Six long hours later, Josh was navigating his way through downtown Savannah, admiring how beautiful it was.
    It was just going on 6:30 p.m., and there was a light breeze in the air. They’d made good time even with several pit stops along the way. As they rolled down the main street, Josh couldn’t help the smile that was stretching across his face.
    Shelly had told him that she wanted to take him down through the Savannah Squares. At first, he didn’t have any idea what she had been talking about, but as they turned onto Charlton Street, it became very obvious.
    Every couple of streets, he noticed a park was located in the center of them. The first one they passed was Pulaski Square, and then they drove by Madison Square. As they were approaching the third park, Lafayette Square, Shelly pointed and told him to pull over.
    He parked the truck and watched her get out, stretching her hands above her head. She looked around with a soft smile as the wind whipped through her blonde hair. He found himself mesmerized, not by her sexiness that usually took aim at him like a fully loaded weapon, but by the simple beauty of her as she stood on the outskirts of the park with the wind blowing around her.
    Josh opened the truck door and stepped down, letting Mutley out. He grabbed a leash, hooking it to his dog’s collar, and came around to stand beside this woman, who seemed to have morphed into a stranger.
    She had transformed into a different version of herself, and he had to admit that he liked this version.
    “These parks are amazing,” Josh commented, stopping beside her.
    Shelly turned and smiled up at him. The sudden tightening in his chest from her radiant look shocked him.
    “I know. This is one part of my hometown that I absolutely adore.”
    She looked down at Mutley, who had taken a seat beside him on his haunches, and raised a brow. “The mutt has to come?”
    Josh chuckled, shaking his head. “Well, yeah, he’s been cooped up as well, and this is a park. Kind of his thing.” He ended with a wink.
     “Fine,” she sighed. Then, she shocked him by holding out her hand.
    Josh reached over and took it, feeling her warm palm slip into his.
    She squeezed his fingers, and they made their way down the path leading into the lush green park.
* * *
    Shelly felt relaxed as she walked with Josh and the beast through her favorite Square.
    As of 2012 twenty-two squares were littered throughout Savannah.
    As a young girl, her father had often taken her to Lafayette Square where they had walked around for hours, sometimes taking a break to eat ice cream. On each occasion, he had brought her right here to this fountain where they had thrown pennies in, making wishes together.
    Shelly stopped by the large water feature and looked over to Josh, who was looking around the park as the sun started to set.
    The lights in the fountain and on the path where they were now standing started to blink on, and suddenly, the moment turned extremely romantic. This was not something Shelly had anticipated.
    She turned to see Josh looking at her with a gentle and warm expression. She’d never seen that look on him before.
    “Who are you?” he asked as he stepped closer, letting the leash go slack as his dog lay down on the ground.
    Shelly immediately started to fidget with her hands, feeling nervous, which was very unlike her.
    “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
    He stopped when he was just a breath away from her, reaching out to run a finger down her cheek.
    “Back in Chicago, you’re this sex goddess, who is so incredibly hot, but intimidating as hell—”
    “I didn’t intimidate you,” she pointed out.
    “Oh, yes, you did. Remember my nickname for you? Man-Eater Monroe—the kind of woman who would eat you up in one bite. I wasn’t going to touch you because I knew you’d burn me or rip me apart.”
    Shelly licked her lips, becoming hypnotized by this man and his words.
    All of a sudden, Shelly didn’t give two hoots what he did or did not do for a living. She wanted Joshua Daniels. The biggest shock, however, was that she wanted to keep him. For how long, she wasn’t sure, but she knew she wasn’t ready to let him go.
    “And here in Savannah?” Shelly asked, wanting to know what he was getting at.
    “Here,” he said, taking that final step to close the distance. “Here, you’re different. You’re relaxed and casual, still incredibly sexy, but in a much more approachable way. This Shelly—Georgia Shelly—she’s the girl next door wrapped up in subtle sex. Man-Eater Monroe’s the ball-busting doctor, who oozes blatant, sizzling, hot sex.” He paused, leaning down to whisper across her lips. “So, who are you, Shelly?”
    Shelly blinked at him and locked her eyes with his. “Both.”
    She felt his lips move against her own into a smile before he nipped her bottom lip.
    “I was hoping you’d say that,” he answered.
    Then, he gave her the sweetest, hottest kiss she had ever received.
* * *
    Josh wasn’t sure when or how it had happened, but as he stood in front of possibly the most romantic place he’d ever been in his life, he felt his heart start to beat faster as he gave himself permission to care.
    This complex woman, now standing glued to his front with her lips molded to his, was creeping inside of him.
    Nowhere in sight was the Shelly he’d first met back at Exquisite. The woman he’d exploded with in the parking lot—not to mention, the hot-as-hell doctor who had given him a thorough once over in her office—was nowhere to be found. Instead, in her place was this sweet, wholesome woman, who was kissing him like they were on a high school date.
    Josh changed the angle of his head and used his free hand to wrap around her waist, pulling her in just a little bit closer. He felt her soft moan and slid his tongue gently inside her mouth to rub sinuously against her own.
    Her hands came up, grasping behind his neck, and he could feel her fingers spread out, pushing up into his hair. She gripped it and tugged gently until he raised his head, his eyes locking with her beautiful blue ones.
    “I like your hair like this,” she told him as she lightly dragged her fingers through it again.
    “Long? I forget to get it cut, so it just keeps growing.”
    She smiled at him, still running her fingers through it. “I like it. Very bad boyish.”
    Josh couldn’t help but snort and chuckle at that. “Bad boy? Is that how you see me?”
    He watched as she moved her eyes to his mouth, and then back up to meet his gaze, pulling again at the end of his hair.
    “I was kind of hoping.”
    “Oh yeah?”
    She let out a breath across his mouth, and he could smell that intoxicating apple scent on her. Leaning in, he put his nose to her hair. Ahh, it’s her shampoo.
    “Apples,” he whispered.
    “Huh?” she asked in a daze.
    “You smell like apples.”
    She grinned up at him. “It’s my shampoo.”
    Josh nodded, and then backtracked their conversation. “Why do you think I’m bad?”
    Her fingers traced down his neck, bringing them around so her palms were flat on his chest. She squeezed a little, and then raised an eyebrow at him.
    “You gave me an orgasm in a parking lot. You think a good boy would do that?”
    He felt a smirk tug at the corner of his mouth as he reached up to trace her arched brow with his fingertip.
    “Well, you gave me a spectacular orgasm in your office. Do you think a good girl would do that?”
    That familiar sexy smile appeared on her lips. Her eyelids lowered, so she was looking up at him from beneath her lashes. “I never said I was good.”
    “Neither did I,” he replied, now tracing her lips with the same finger that had just been against her brow. “I just asked you why you think I’m bad.”
    She let out a deep breath across his finger, and then whispered, “Because no one who is good could make me want to be so very bad.”
    Josh felt his whole body stiffen, and he removed his finger from her face. Taking a step back, he reminded himself that he needed to watch it. Man-Eater Monroe was still there, just lurking beneath the surface. He needed to keep his wits about him and not get fooled by Georgia.
    She was a lethal combination.
    “Touché, Georgia. Now, we better hurry if we want to make it to your parents’ house by seven, like we told them.”
    He watched her blink and then nod, seemingly shaking herself out of the daze she was in, as she turned to walk away.
    Before she got too far, he called out her name. She stopped and turned around.
    “Why this park and not the others?” he asked.
    She looked at the huge church behind them, and then she turned back to him.
    “My father used to bring me down here when I was a little girl. We’d always end up at the fountain. He chose this park because I was baptized in that church over there, St. John the Baptist. We would always come here and make a wish before tossing in a penny.” She paused, taking in a deep breath. “I just wanted to remind myself of that before I see him tonight. When you meet him, you’ll understand why.” Then, she turned, walking back through the park.
    Mutley stood and looked up at him while Josh pulled a penny out of his pocket.
    Staring at the huge cathedral that was lit up and peeking out above the trees, Josh was pretty sure he’d never seen anything so spectacular.
    He thought about what Shelly had just told him and wondered what he was going to witness this weekend. Before he turned away, he brought the penny up to his mouth, closed his eyes, and made a wish. Then, he kissed the penny and tossed it into the fountain.

Chapter Twelve

    As Josh turned the truck onto a small pebbled lane, all he could see was darkness.
    “Are you sure you haven’t forgotten how to get there?” he asked around a laugh.
    “Funny, Josh. It’s just up here around the bend.”
    The truck crawled along slowly, bumping and swaying over a couple of potholes. As it made the final bend in the road, Josh felt his mouth drop open.
    Right in front of him, like something out of Gone with the Wind, was a driveway lined by huge oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. They were stunning all on their own, but when the six light posts on both sides of the driveway illuminated them, they were absolutely spectacular.
    As Josh turned into the drive, he saw a huge white plantation-style mansion at the end of the road. He abruptly stopped the truck.
    He turned to the woman beside him and asked, “This is your house?”
    She gave him a lopsided grin and nodded. “Yep. This is home.”
    Josh turned back to the opulence in front of him, suddenly feeling extremely intimidated. “That is not a home, Georgia. That’s a damn mansion.”
    He heard her chuckle beside him.
    “Try not to be too impressed when we get there. My father loves to gloat.”
    Josh could understand why. He looked down at his thirteen-hour worn shirt and jeans, and then back at Shelly.
    “Maybe we should go somewhere and change.”
    She looked him over quickly and raised her eyebrows. “If we go somewhere and you take your clothes off, I’m not going to leave until you’ve been inside of me.”
    Josh felt himself harden, and his eyes widened. “We are right outside your family’s house. I don’t think now is the time to be acting that way.”
    Suddenly, she started laughing, hard.
    “What?” he demanded, knowing her laughter was at his expense.
    “You.” She paused to giggle. “You’re so proper all of a sudden. It’s just a house.”
    “Georgia. That is not a house. My place back in Chicago is just a house.”
    He watched her bite her lip to keep from laughing.
    “Well, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen your house.”
    He grunted at that. “Well, maybe you can visit when we get back.”
    She moved across the truck, putting her hands on the middle seat to lean up to him. Josh looked down at her.
    She whispered, “I have another deal for you.”
    Josh shook his head and suddenly felt like this woman was weaving her hot Southern magic around him again.
    “Oh yeah? And what’s that?” he asked like the stupid lust-hazed fool he was.
    “I don’t have to go back to work until Wednesday. So, when we arrive back in town, if you show me your house on Tuesday morning, I promise not to put on a stitch of clothing until I need to head home on Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m.”
    Josh looked at the woman who was seducing him with her words, instantly deciding he could call Cole and postpone their meeting. He muttered, “You’re trouble.”
    She leaned in and flicked her tongue across his bottom lip. “And you love it.” Sitting back up, she said, “Let’s get this show on the road, Josh. I suddenly want it to be Tuesday.”
* * *
    Shelly took a deep breath as the truck made its way up the long driveway. Josh was right. This place was a mansion, and she knew it was extremely impressive whenever people saw it for the first time.
    She had loved growing up here.
    It was a cool night, but nowhere near cold when compared to Chicago.
    A lovely breeze was blowing through the majestically large trees that were draped with moss. The leaves and branches danced with the wind giving off an almost eerie but beautiful quality.
    The main house itself was a throwback to the days of the plantations. It was massive and had four white columns at the front, supporting a balcony on the second level and a huge roof.
    It was remarkable and enormous. That was what mattered to her father. Other people were impressed.
    Sighing as Josh pulled the truck to a stop, Shelly flipped the visor down and looked in the mirror. She was a mess, but there was nothing she could do about that. Running a hand through her hair, she opened the passenger door when her mother appeared on the landing.
    “Well, I’ll be damned. You made it here on time.”
    Shelly smiled at her and moved up the stairs to hug her tight. “Of course, ma, we told you seven.”
    “Oh, I know, I know! I just thought the traffic might hold ya’ll up a bit.” Her mother’s charming Southern accent reached Shelly and wrapped around her like a warm embrace.
    Her mother made a move, looking at the man and dog behind Shelly.
    Shelly turned to stand beside her, so she could also look at the pair. They looked disheveled and tired, but all in all, Shelly thought they made a very fine team—even though one was a hairy beast.
    “And who do we have here?” her mother asked, walking down the stairs.
    Shelly had always thought of her mother as a tiny powerhouse. The only problem was that she was never strong enough against the steel force that resided in this househer father.
    “Ma, I’d like you to meet Josh Daniels and his dog, Mutley.”
    Shelly noticed Josh raised an eyebrow when she finally referred to the dog as indeed a dog. He stepped forward and took her mother’s hand in his.
    “Please excuse me, ma’am. We’ve been traveling for nearly thirteen hours now, and I’m not as clean as I’d like to be.”
    “Oh, please! Don’t you worry yourself ‘bout that. You look mighty fine to me.”
    “Ma!”
    “Well, it’s true. Fine young man you have here, Shel.”
    Shelly groaned, moving down the stairs to the grinning Josh.
    “Yes, well, this fine young man is going to grab his suitcase, and I’ll grab mine. We’ll be inside in a minute.”
    Her mother turned and walked back up the stairs, mumbling. “I don’t know why you insist on talking like you ain’t from the South.”
    Chuckling beside her, she turned to glare at Josh before giving up and grinning.
    She asked in the sweetest most Southern accent she could muster up, “Hey, Ma? Where’s Father tonight? I thought for sure he’d be out here to greet us at the door.”
    She heard Josh suck in a deep breath, and she knew he was reacting to her accent. Sucker.
    “He’ll be here, sweetheart. Don’t you worry yourself. He wouldn’t miss ya’ll for the world,” she replied, walking inside.
    Shelly turned and leaned up against the truck. “Well?”
    “Well what?” Josh questioned as he lifted the first bag out.
    “I know you’re dying to say something to me, cowboy?” Shelly asked, still putting on the thick country accent.
    “Hmm. All I’m going to say to you is the next time we’re all alone and you’re wrapped around me…I want you to talk just like that.”
    “Why?” she teased in her Southern twang as she sidled up closer, wrapping her arms around his waist. Tipping her head back, she bumped her hips up against his. “Oh, I see. You like the way I talk all country. It that right, Joshuahh?” she asked, adding an extra-long drawl to his name.
    He reached up, taking her face between his hands. “Yeah, I like this country girl.”
    “Well, good, cowboy, ‘cause she likes you, too.”
    She went up on her tiptoes and was about to kiss him when another truck drove up the driveway.
    Letting go of him, Shelly took a step back, glancing at Josh with a tight smile. She dropped the accent altogether and straightened her spine.
    “Good thing you didn’t have your lips on me, Josh. My father would have shot you on sight.”
    With that comment, she walked around the truck to greet her father.
* * *
    Josh watched as Shelly made her way over to the truck that had just pulled up. He leaned against the side of his own truck with his arms crossed, watching the man that got out of the Ford F-150.
    He was tall and blonde, instantly reminding Josh of Robert Redford. The guy was good-looking, and Josh could see where Shelly had inherited the fair skin and blue eyes.
    When the man kissed her cheek, Josh noticed Shelly was still and stiff, losing that relaxed air she’d had about her only five minutes earlier.
    Mutley took the opportunity to run around the truck, heading over to the stranger. Josh watched as her father bent down, his hand reaching out to ruffle over the dog’s head. Mutley, of course, licked his hand and wagged his tail. With a smile, Josh noticed Shelly was discreetly taking a step away from the dog, still not quite comfortable with him.
    Josh found himself grinning until her father stood and turned to look at him.
    As their eyes locked, Josh felt the other man assess him straight away. Shrewd eyes took in the truck first, then they moved back to him, looking over the T-shirt and jeans, and then he turned back to the dog and his daughter.
    Josh was left wondering if he had passed or failed. Well, I’m about to find out, he thought. With a pinched expression, the man made his way over to Josh with the dog trotting along one side and his daughter on the other. Stopping when they reached Josh, her father held out his hand.
    “Hello. I’m Dr. Lawrence Monroe.”
    Oh shit, Josh thought as he looked to Shelly. Her father is a doctor, too?
    He wondered if that had anything to do with the cool relationship between the two of them.
    Josh reached out, taking his hand in a firm clasp, and shook it. He had to look up at the man and found himself caught in a kind of stare down.
    Josh had promised himself he would not be intimidated. After all, he was successful and owned his own company, not that Shelly knew that. Overall, he was a good guy.
    A good guy who wants to sleep with this man’s daughter. So?
    “Nice to meet you, sir. I’m Joshua Daniels.”
    Since when did I start calling people sir and ma’am? When I entered the South?Who knows?
    “Yes, so my daughter was just tellin’ me.” He paused, and then turned to look at Shelly, effectively dismissing him. “Dinner will be served at 7:30.”
    Shelly nodded. “We’ll be there.”
    He looked his daughter over again, and then turned back to Josh, looking him over, too. “Cleaned up, I presume?”
    “Of course,” Shelly muttered.
    Josh watched as her father walked up the stairs and into the house where Shelly’s mother had disappeared to earlier.
    Shelly turned to face him, giving him a smile so painfully false that it almost looked as though it hurt her face.
    “And that is my father.”
* * *
    With Josh’s help, Shelly had managed to get her things inside and upstairs to her bedroom. Then, she’d directed him to the room across from hers. She had just finished washing up, and she was slipping into some cutoff jean shorts when there was a knock on the door. She tied her blue-and-white gingham shirt at the waist and opened the door to see a fresh-faced, cleaned-up Josh leaning against the frame.
    He looked her up and down, and then moved back out into the corridor, glancing both ways. Pushing her back into her room and following her, he shut the door and leaned back against it, pinning her with fiery eyes. She had just finished tying her hair into a high but messy ponytail and hadn’t put on any shoes yet.
    “Whatcha doin’, Josh?”
    She watched as he reached down between his legs with one of his big hands, adjusting the hard-on that had very obviously formed behind the faded denim. And didn’t that just send a shiver of desire straight down between my thighs.
    “Just looking at you. I had this exact fantasy in my car today.”
    She licked her lips and moved closer to him. “Oh yeah? And what was the fantasy?”
    He let his eyes travel down her legs, and then they came back up to rest on her face. “You in a cowgirl hat, some Daisy Dukes, and cowboy boots.”
    Shelly laughed, placing a hand on his chest. “Well, one out of three ain’t bad, sugah.”
    “When you talk like that, the other two don’t even need to exist.”
    “Hmm,” Shelly hummed in the back of her throat. “We’ve still got an hour or so before dinner.”
    “We do, don’t we?” Josh told her as he pushed himself off the door, starting to walk forward. Reaching out, he grasped the knot that rested over her navel.
    With each step he took forward, Shelly took a step back. “And just what do you think we should do in those sixty or so minutes?”
    “Well,” he drawled, his eyes watching his fingers as they untied the knot. “I think we should start with this,” he told her right before he gripped the material and pulled it apart, the buttons popping from the shirt.
    Shelly gasped, and then felt a smile touch her lips as she watched Josh give her the most deliciously wicked grin she had ever seen.
    “And then what?” she asked, uncaring of the fact that she was now standing in front of him in her ripped shirt, her breasts barely covered by a black demi-cup bra, and cutoff jean shorts.
    “Then,” he said as he reached out, stroking a fingertip down her chest, dipping it into her navel, and then stopping at the top of her shorts, “I’ll undo these.”
    Feeling her heart start to beat rapidly, Shelly reached out and gripped his hand.
    His eyes came up to meet hers, and he asked, “No?”
    Chuckling at him, Shelly shook her head and whispered, “I don’t have a lock on my door, Josh.”
    He blinked, and then what she was telling him seemed to sink in. He looked over his shoulder at the unlocked door, and then back to her.
    “You don’t?”
    Biting her bottom lip, Shelly gave him an impish grin and reached out with a fingertip to trace his shoulder.
    In the country voice she knew melted him, she drawled, “Nu-uh, sugah. Ma didn’t trust me to have a lock on the door.”
* * *
    Josh felt his mouth fall open after that comment. Fuck, she is sexy.
    As she stood there with her ripped shirt and her sly little grin, Josh almost fell to his knees. He was debating in his head if it was worth the risk to do what he wanted, knowing that the door was unlocked, when she took the choice out of his hands.
    “I’ve always wanted a boy to kiss me in my bedroom.”
    Josh licked his lips, knowing he was up, literally, for that challenge.
    “No boy ever came up here?”
    Shelly shook her head, and for some reason, that answer greatly pleased Josh. How stupid is that?
    “Georgia, if this boy kisses you in your room, he’s not going to stop,” he warned her, reaching out to touch her sexy lips with his finger.
    True to form—well, true to the man-eater he knew—Shelly nipped his finger, once again shocking him to his boots.
    “I’d be disappointed if he did.”
    Groaning low, Josh made up his mind.
    Slipping his fingers into her shorts, he unsnapped the buttons and parted the material.
    As her bare skin appeared, Josh sent up a prayer of thanks that he was the one standing here about to lay down with Shelly Monroe.
    He slid his hand down into her jean shorts and panties, turning his hand around so his palm was cupping her, and watched as her mouth parted on a sigh.
    Her eyes were on his, and he couldn’t help but smile as he whispered, “Shh, got to be quiet up here. Don’t want anyone to come in and ruin the moment.”
* * *
    Shelly widened her legs just a little to get Josh’s hand deeper inside her Daisy Dukes. Closing her eyes for a minute, she wiggled closer to him and tried to slow her breathing as she felt his clever fingers slip down between her wet lips.
    “So, tell me, Georgia, you think you can keep it down?”
    Opening her eyes, Shelly looked into his sparkling ones. “I don’t know, Josh. Willing to risk it?”
    “Fuck yeah,” he told her as he reached out with his free hand, hauling her in close. He kept his other hand down her shorts while his mouth crashed down on hers, his tongue spearing into her mouth.
    Shelly squirmed against his fingers as she reached up, wrapping her arms around his neck. Tilting her head to the side, she moaned as he deepened the angle of the kiss, his tongue rubbing and stroking up against her own.
    “Josh,” she begged. Then, his hand left her pants. “No,” she cried out, hearing him chuckle as he put that hand under her ass, hitching her up into his arms.
    Shelly immediately wrapped her legs around his waist as he walked around to the bed she had slept in her whole adolescent life.
    Placing her down on the edge of it, Shelly scooted across the comforter, laying back with her legs hanging off the side.
    “So, you really are going to have me under you—under my father’s roof?”
    Josh shook his head, reaching out to grip her shorts and panties. Biting his lip, he concentrated on tugging them off of her.
    “Let’s not discuss that right now,” he groaned.
    “Why not, Josh?” Shelly asked. After her shorts and panties were removed, she raised a foot to the edge of the bed, now giving him an unobstructed view of just how excited she really was. “Do you feel guilty?”
* * *
    Josh sure as shit did not feel guilty.
    He felt horny, hungry, and ready to fucking explode.
    She was lying across her bed with her shirt ripped apart, her sexy bra still in place, and nothing on from the waist down. As if that wasn’t enough, she had raised her foot to rest on the edge of the mattress, and he could now see her glistening, plump lips weeping for him.
    “I don’t feel guilty at all. I just don’t want to talk about your father right now,” he told her as he reached down, unsnapping his own jeans at a record pace.
    “Well, I can understand that,” she told him as though she wasn’t lying there naked and open to him. “But, Josh, you need to understand something.”
    Josh stepped out of his jeans and boxers, and then pulled his shirt over his head. He stopped, completely naked, and raised a brow.
    “What? What is it I need to understand, Georgia?”
* * *
    Shelly couldn’t remember.
    She had been about to tell him something. But after he had lost the shirt and pants, her eyes had latched onto his built chest, where an intricate little symbol was inked onto his right pec, and all thoughts had left her head. Slowly, as her eyes glanced at his impressive hard-on, she licked her lips, and then raised her eyes to his.
    “Huh?”
    A slow, sensual smile spread across his lips as he moved to the edge of the bed. Reaching out, he slid a long finger slowly through her wetness.
    Sucking in a deep breath, Shelly let her bent leg fall open into a wide straddle.
    “You don’t have a shy bone in your sexy-as-sin body, do you, Shel?”
    Keeping her eyes on his, she asked, “No. Should I?”
    “No, you sure as hell shouldn’t,” he breathed out, reaching down to grip the ankle of her bent leg. Tugging her down until her ass was at the edge of the bed, he kept hold of her ankle in his hand, pushing her leg back toward her body.
    Holy fuck, the way his eyes are looking over me—it’s making me so goddamn hot. I’m surprised I haven’t set the mattress on fire.
    “Do I need to get something?” he asked, his eyes battling for where they should look.
    His voice, so low and deep, felt as if it had vibrated right through her. Shelly tried to comprehend what he was asking, but she was coming up blank. She wanted him, and she wanted him now.
    “Shel?” he asked with a little more force, tightening the grip on her ankle. “Do I need protection?”
    “Oh,” she sighed, shaking her head.
    She lowered her eyes and raised her hips. “I’m on birth control. So, unless you think—”
    “I’m not thinking much about anything but getting inside of you. I’m safe. It’s been months. You?”
    “I’m good, too,” she sighed, her eyes now moving down to his pulsating cock that was so close yet still so damn far away from her.
    “Well, in that case—”
    “In-that-case discussion is over, Josh,” she almost whined. Shelly watched as a feral grin met those sexy lips of his. “Please?” she added, batting her eyelashes.
    She watched as he looked to the side. He reached out, grabbing a pillow. Shelly felt even more moisture pool down between her thighs, knowing exactly what he had planned.
    “Lift up,” he told her in a deep gruff voice.
    Raising her naked hips, she watched as Josh placed the pillow beneath her, making her the perfect height to his own.
    Reaching down his own body, he gripped that fantastically hard cock in his hand, and Shelly thought she might come from that alone.
    He lifted his burning gaze from her aching body and moved closer, dragging his hot tip through her weeping folds.
    “Now, Georgia?”
    “Yes?” Shelly panted, feeling her body contract with each slow delicious slide of him against her throbbing clit.
    “Do you need something to scream into?”
    Shelly felt both her eyebrows raise at that as she asked, “Scream, huh?”
    Josh nodded, gripping her hips tight, as he thrust his cock so deep and hard inside of her that she had a hard time keeping a scream from leaving her mouth. Instead, she bit her lip with so much force that she thought she might draw blood.
    When he was buried to the hilt in her warmth, he stilled and looked down at her, trying to get a hold of his breathing. “So?” he asked on a panting breath. “Do you need something, Georgia?”
    Feeling her breath coming fast and her body contracting from the thick intrusion of his body, Shelly lifted her legs to his hips and wrapped them around his ass. She then reached down and brought the end of her shirt to her mouth. “Do your best, rock star,” she challenged, and then clamped her teeth around the material.
* * *
    Josh gripped her naked hips and hauled her tighter to his body, if that was possible. He felt like his cock was encased in a warm fist. Although she was dripping wet, she was so tight that Josh thought he might have hurt her at first, but no, it was clear that Shelly was ready to enjoy the ride.
    Rocking his hips a little, Josh closed his eyes and groaned.
    “Do you need something to keep you quiet?” she asked from below.
    Opening his eyes, he noticed Shelly had removed her shirt from her mouth and now had her hands busy, squeezing her bra-covered breasts.
    “Pull it down,” he instructed, watching as she immediately obeyed.
    He flexed his hips, and she moaned softly as she pinched her tight nipples.
    “Make me scream, Josh.”
    Never one to disappoint a lady, Josh gripped her hips and ass and started to slowly pull out of her snug body. Her eyes latched onto his, and her hips chased his as he thrust home.
    “Fuck, Georgia,” he hissed, starting to move his hips at a fast and steady clip.
    He couldn’t slow down. The climax was barreling down his spine, urging him toward completion. There was not a damn thing he could do about it.
    Looking down at the sexy woman below him, he watched as one of her hands slid down her body to where his cock was sliding in and out, and then she touched him. Her flirty little fingers stroked his wet cock with each pull out and every thrust back in until his climax gripped him hard, and he gritted his teeth. He felt her body grip his cock tight while he heard her muffled scream. He clenched his jaw and flew over the edge of sanity with her.
* * *
    Later that night as they sat around the dining room table, Josh started to wonder how he could have gone from feeling such bliss only an hour or so earlier to such extreme awkwardness.
    Dinner was painful as he sat opposite Shelly while her mother and father sat on each end. At least, the food, roast beef and vegetables, was absolutely delicious. As the meal was winding down, Josh could sense a shift in the air. Now that the small talk was over, it seemed the real stuff was about to happen.
    He just wasn’t sure what the “real stuff” involved.
    Josh had been right in his first opinion of Dr. Lawrence Monroe. He did look like the actor Robert Redford. He had sandy blonde hair that was a little longer than a classic, clean cut, and his eyes were a piercing blue that seemed to slice right into you without a second thought. Did I mention the man is tall?
    By the looks of him, he was tall and strong, not at all fitting Josh’s picture of a doctor. Usually, doctors were wiry, lean, and intellectual. Not this guy—this guy looked like a tough quarterback.
    “So, Joshua, what is it that you do?”
    “Here we go,” Shelly muttered as she picked up her glass of red wine.
    “What? I’m just askin’ the boy what he does for a livin’,” her father told her matter-of-factly.
    “He’s not a boy, Father, and you weren’t just asking. You’re judging when you have no room to.”
    “Shel, please,” her mother whispered.
    Josh decided that now was a good time to answer. “I’m in construction.”
    Josh watched as Shelly stiffened in her seat, and then he noticed her father arch the same damn eyebrow she used.
    “You work in a construction crew?”
    Josh thought about this and wondered if it were a trick question. He looked to Shelly, who was taking another sip of her wine. Then, she did something he wouldn’t have expected. She gave him a smug look and turned to her father.
    Suddenly, it all fell together as he sat there in the firing line. He was the target. For some reason, she had brought him all the way across the country to deflect her father’s bullets onto an unsuspecting bystander—him.
    While he didn’t overly care about this man’s opinion, Shelly’s behavior pissed him off. So, she did care that he was in construction, or so she thought, and she had decided to use that to as ammunition against her father..
    Nice, Man-Eater, real nice.
    “Yes, I work with a construction crew—as in building things, such as restaurants, offices, and hospitals, just in case you weren’t sure.”
    Josh didn’t like to be rude. When he heard Mrs. Monroe suck in a breath, he felt a slight twinge of guilt until Shelly’s father spoke.
    “And that satisfies you?” he asked. “Is it really the kind of job that is stable enough these days to provide for a family?”
    Josh felt a headache forming and clenched his teeth. He was about to answer when Shelly decided to pipe up.
    “Father, Josh doesn’t have a wife. Otherwise, I hardly think he’d be here, trying to get to know me better.”
    Josh blinked across at her, not believing she had just said that.
    “Shelly, why do you find the need to be so blunt and distasteful about these things?” her father asked.
    Josh sat dumbfounded as the sweet Southern girl disappeared, and the Man-Eater appeared.
    “Why shouldn’t I? I took lessons from the best, Father. If I’m attracted to someone, I should just tell them or show them, and I am most definitely attracted to Josh.” She paused and took another sip of her wine as she turned her smoldering blue eyes on him.
    Josh felt that hot stare all the way down to his toes, but he was still livid with her. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to nail her or strangle her.
    “I mean, look at him.”
    “Shelly Monroe! That’s quite enough,” her mother snapped her accent sharper, like a whip cracking.
    Josh watched Shelly turn to face the small woman at the other end of the table.
    “Is that right, Mother? When will what he does be enough for you?”
    “Shelly!” her father boomed.
    Josh watched her stand.
    “What, Father?” she said, now adding an ugly twist to the word. “You’re quite happy to sit in lofty judgment and regard of everyone else in this world, but when it comes to you—shhh, we can’t talk about that.” She stood and moved to leave the room. When she reached the door, she turned back to look at her mother. “I’m sorry, Ma, but what he does, it just isn’t right. Not for me and certainly not for you.” With that, she left with her wine glass in hand.
    Josh sat completely still in the aftermath of a storm he didn’t quite understand.
    Then, her mother’s soft accent floated across the quiet space, “I’m sure she went down to the barn, Josh, if you’d like to go after her. It’s down the back of the property.”
    Josh nodded, placing his utensils down. “Thank you for dinner,” he said as politely as he could before he left the now cold and silent room.

Chapter Thirteen

    Shelly was pissed. She was walking back and forth in the barn from one side to the other. Her father was such a damn hypocrite that he drove her nuts. For years, the man had paraded his affairs around right under his mother’s nose, but her mother had stuck around.
    Not to mention that when Shelly had been interning at the same hospital as him, she had seen him chase nurse after nurse or pretty much any kind of woman that walked through the hospital. The sad part was he usually succeeded.
    Well, I’ll be damned if I end up like my mother. Used by different men over and over in the past, she was determined to find a man who respected her. She was not going to be stuck in a dead-end relationship with a man who took everything from her, only to watch him walk away when he was done.
    She heard her name being called from the front of the barn.
    “Shelly?”
    She’d known Josh would follow her out here, but she didn’t want to talk to him either. Wiping her tears away, she stayed silent.
    “If you don’t come out, Georgia, when I find you, it won’t be pretty,” he warned in a pissed-off voice.
    Shelly took a deep breath and moved out from the shadows to see him standing at the end of the barn.
    He marched forward with his hands on his hips and stopped when he was a foot away from her. “You want to explain what that was all about in there?”
    Shelly shook her head and answered, “Not really.”
    He took another step this time, making her retreat back. “You used me tonight.”
    She nodded. “Yes, I did.”
    “Well, at least you’re honest about it,” he granted.
    Shrugging, Shelly asked, “What do you care? This was just a detour for you, so you could get laid.”
    “Excuse me? Screw you, Shel.” He paused, inching closer with each menacing step until her back was against the barn wall. “I do not like being used.”
    Shelly was breathing a little harder now that he was close and all up in her space. She forgot about her father and dismissed all the pain her mother had suffered.
    “Then, use me, and we’ll be even,” she offered on a breathy sigh.
* * *
    Josh took a step back and looked at her leaning against the wall, breathing hard.
    Her bare legs were slightly parted, and her palms were flat against the wooden wall. All the lights in the barn were off, and she was illuminated by only the moonlight. She looked magnificent, and right now, she was offering herself up on a platter.
    “I don’t want to use you,” he told her. “That’s the problem and the difference.”
    She closed her eyes and suggested, “Why don’t we use each other?”
    He wasn’t feeling kind though, and she needed to know that.
    “I’m not very happy with you right now, Georgia, so if you prefer to wait—”
    “No,” she replied quickly. “No. I don’t want to wait.”
    Josh looked her over one more time, and then looked back to the house. “Will they come out here?”
    She shook her head once.
    “Are you sure?”
    “Not one-hundred percent, but doesn’t that make it better?” she asked him, letting her eyes wander down to his jeans. Then, she pointed out, “The idea seems to be flipping your switch.”
    He gave her a smug look, and then said in a deep throaty whisper, “If we do this, it’s by my rules. You humiliated me in there tonight. This is my reward.” He watched her breasts rise and fall under the new blouse she had put on before dinner. “Got it?” he asked, needing verbal confirmation.
    “Yes. I understand.”
    He let his eyes wander. “Good. Now, unsnap your shorts.”
* * *
    Shelly was damn glad she had the barn wall behind her because she knew she would have otherwise crumpled to the ground. The man standing in front of her was so intense that she could feel the waves of sexual energy rolling off him.
    Holy shit. She was about to get it, and she couldn’t wait!
    As quickly as she could, she started unsnapping her jean shorts. When they were undone, she went to push them down, but he halted her.
    “No. Leave them like that. Now, unbutton your shirt.”
    Shelly wasn’t shy at all, and as she untied the shirt, she almost laughed, thinking of the one he had ripped apart earlier. As she started on the buttons, she let her eyes roam all over the hot, tense man in front of her.
    He had his jean-clad legs spread wide, showing off an impressive hard-on, and his arms crossed over his chest, making all his muscles bulge. Shelly wanted to see them.
    She got to the top button of her shirt and raised her eyes to his. What she saw was scorching hot heat, and it flickered over her, making her insides melt and her thighs clench as moisture pooled between her legs.
    “Spread the shirt apart. I want to see your breasts this time.”
    Licking her top lip, Shelly spread the shirt and left it hanging down her sides. Then, she slowly peeled her lace bra cups down, baring her breasts to him.
    She heard him suck in a harsh breath, and then she watched with anticipation as he reached down and peeled off his own shirt over his head, throwing it on the floor.
    Mother of all that is holy! That tattoo, please bring it closer so I can lick it.
    Shelly felt her knees shake, and her panties went from damp to soaked in ten seconds. The guy was her every burning hot sexual fantasy wrapped into one big muscular package, and right now, all she wanted was for him to pound her into the barn wall. Please?
* * *
    Josh moved forward, watching her lust-filled eyes trail across his chest and zero in on the tattoo. He could tell she liked his eighteen-year-old mistake because a shiver ran through her, and her mouth fell open a little.
    He looked at the beautiful breasts she had put on display for him, and his mouth just about watered. She stood, her back pressed to the barn wall, with her shorts unsnapped and her shirt wide open. She looked so fucking sexy that his heart almost ached as much as his cock—almost.
    He took the final step toward her, closing the distance between them.
    In a soft growl, he told her, “Don’t move.”
    Then, he dropped to his knees in front of her.
* * *
    Shelly looked down to see Josh kneeling on the floor in front of her open shorts, and she sent up every prayer she knew, hoping he was about to do what she thought.
    He raised his big hands and parted the denim, and then leaned up on his knees to place a hot, wet kiss just below her navel. She hissed out a breath and brought her hands around to grip his hair lightly.
    Looking up at her from beneath those long dark lashes, his eyes were so hot they just about singed her skin. Giving her a smug smile that melted her insides, he then raised his hands, tugging the denim down her legs.
    He didn’t take them all the way down. He stopped mid-thigh and ran his hands up her legs to her panties. Josh gripped the edge, pulling the panties down out of his way, and then leaned in with no hesitation, kissing her bare aching mound.
    Shelly gasped and thrust her hips toward him, gripping his hair a little tighter. She wanted to widen her legs, but she couldn’t with where the shorts were. He dragged his tongue over her bare flesh and up to her abdomen, nipping and licking it until she was so hot and wet that she gripped his hair and tugged his head back.
    “Hmm, you smell so good—like you and me,” he told her, reminding her of what they had done earlier. “Want something, Georgia?” he asked as though he’d been waiting for her to say something.
    She smiled down at him and replied just the way she knew he wanted—dirty.
    “Yeah. I want your tongue between my thighs, tasting you and me.”
* * *
    Josh had been waiting for the sex goddess to show up.
    And there she was—with her fingers gripping his hair, a siren’s smile on her face saying “I know you want to,” and her legs currently straining to widen for more pleasure.
    He knew once the shorts were gone, all bets were off. He was giving her a chance to change her mind. Granted, it wasn’t much of a chance because he was about a second away from snapping.
    God, she smells amazing.
    Josh looked up at her. “Is that right?”
    She panted and thrust her hips again. “Oh yeah, Josh. I want your mouth, your tongue, and maybe your fingers, but I definitely want your cock.” She paused, smiling innocently at him. In direct opposition to her dirty talk, she sweetly asked, “In that order. Please.”
    This woman was going to kill him slowly and pleasurably. He was going to enjoy it, but she was killing him just the same. He shook his head and reached up, gripping her shorts and panties. He pulled them all the way off, throwing them somewhere behind them.
    He looked back up at her and grasped her left thigh. He hitched it up and over his shoulder, bringing her hips in line with his mouth.
    She took in a deep breath, watching him with sizzling hot eyes, and then she licked her lips, pushing her hips closer toward him.
    Keeping his eyes on hers and feeling her fingers tighten in his hair, he leaned forward and flicked out his tongue, licking across her throbbing clit.
* * *
    “Josh!” Shelly heard herself moan as his wicked tongue flicked back and forth across her hot, wet skin.
    The man had his eyes glued to hers as he teased her relentlessly with his tongue. Sliding it between her slick folds, and then sucking each side individually between his hot lips. He watched every move she made with blazing eyes. When she gripped his hair tight, he took her small throbbing nub between his lips and sucked hard, causing Shelly to scream and climax way too quickly all over his tongue.
    She was limp against the wall, but she knew this was nowhere near finished as far as she was concerned. She felt him slide her leg gently off his shoulder, and then he moved away from her. She opened her eyes and saw him picking up his shirt and sliding it over his head.
    “What are you doing?” she asked as he walked back to where she was standing.
    “I’m going back inside to get some sleep. It’s been a long day. Plus, I need to check on Mutley.”
    Shelly blinked and shook her head. “Huh? What the hell, Josh?”
    He cocked his head to his side. “Is there a problem?”
    Gripping her shirt, Shelly pulled the sides together, realizing she was not wearing anything below the waist. “Yes, there’s a problem. You said—”
    Josh moved back to her and brushed her hands aside. He started to button her shirt for her. He didn’t even seem to realize she was without her shorts.
    “I said this was my reward—what I wanted. You agreed,” he told her firmly.
    “But—”
    “No buts. I took what I wanted, and now we’re even. You used me, and I used you. Quite well, too, I must add,” he leaned down and kissed her nose.
    Shelly narrowed her eyes, almost going cross-eyed. “That was not the deal, Daniels.”
    “I don’t care what you think this was about. I’m telling you. I will not be used like that ever again. If you have issues and want to talk to me, then, fine, we’ll talk. But don’t ever use me to fight your battles without at least telling me what I’m getting into.”
    Shelly stood silent, shocked that he was so angry about what had happened.
    After all, why does he care? We hardly know one another.
    “I just thought we were going to—”
    He let out a deep breath, and it slid over her mouth and tickled her nose.
    “I know what you thought, Georgia, but I will not have sex with a woman who is angry, hurt, and who just finished humiliating me. This lowly construction worker has higher standards than that.”
    With that, he turned on his heel, leaving her standing in the barn with her shirt, no shorts, and what little dignity she thought she had broken in pieces.

Chapter Fourteen

    It was 5:30 a.m., and Shelly hadn’t gotten any sleep at all.
    After she had gone back to the house, all the lights had been turned off, and it had been so quiet, you could have dropped a pin and heard it land. She had made her way upstairs and had been precariously close to knocking on Josh’s door. But, after her performance tonight, she didn’t think he would have welcomed her.
    Instead, she had gone into her empty bedroom and climbed into a cold bed.
    What the hell was I thinking, bringing him home with me? He didn’t know me, my problems, and more to the point, my family. Maybe that had been the whole point. She was finally realizing that she wanted him to know all of it.
    A little happier with that conclusion, Shelly climbed out of bed and got ready to face the day. She needed to remind Josh that he wanted her, and then she would show him why he should like her.
    Putting on a different pair of Daisy Dukes that were faded at the pockets, she paired it with a flowy white shirt that had long loose sleeves. Tucking in the shirt at her small waist, she then framed it with a brown leather belt. Leaving her blonde hair down, she pulled on her cowgirl boots and made her way downstairs.
    When she reached the kitchen, she heard some movement and made her way toward it. Shelly stopped, waiting quietly at the door, and watched as her mother stood in front of the large bay windows that overlooked the back lot, scrubbing the big pots she must have used last night.
    Her mother was humming softly as she worked with her hands in the sudsy water.
    Shelly walked over toward her, and as her boots hit the tile, her mother turned to look over her shoulder. Stopping mid-stride, Shelly locked eyes with this woman whom she loved more than anyone else, even though the woman always managed to let her down in some fundamental way.
    “Good mornin’, Shelly,” her mother said softly as she turned back to the sink. Gone was the use of “Shel,” which meant she was in trouble.
    Sidling up beside her mother, she took the hand towel hanging over the rail and started to dry the dishes.
    “Morning, Ma.”
    The silence was awful.
    It stretched and tightened like a taut rope with each breath Shelly took. Finally, when the air was pretty much suffocating her, Shelly asked, “So, where’s Father?”
    Without looking her way, Shelly’s mother answered, “Your Father got called into the hospital. He’ll be gone most of the day.”
    Before she thought better of it, Shelly muttered, “Typical.”
    She heard the pot clang down, hitting the bottom of the stainless steel sink, as her mother whipped her head around to face her.
    “What on earth has gotten into you, Shelly Monroe?” she demanded, taking a deep breath before shaking her head. Softly, in a tone that almost sounded defeated, she whispered, “I don’t remember raising such a rude and cruel young lady.”
    Shelly couldn’t bring herself to look at her mother, so she continued staring out the window at nothing in particular.
    “What did you hope to achieve with your lil’ performance last night?” her mother asked quietly. Her country accent was still present, but it was not as obvious when her emotions were tense. Her tone clipped and curt.
    Swallowing, Shelly turned to look at the small lady beside her. She shrugged slowly, not wanting to speak.
    “Not only did you embarrass yourself, but you managed to humiliate that lovely young man you brought here to meet us.” She paused and picked up the pot out of the sink, rinsing the suds from it before placing it in the drainer.
    Finally, Shelly decided she needed to say something. “I just can’t stand the way he treats you, Ma.”
    “That is none of your business, Shelly,” her mother stressed, looking at Shelly with annoyed eyes. Her mother blinked slowly and shook her head. Once again, her annoyance and disappointment were evident on her face. “Your opinion on my marriage does not count. Do ya hear me? And it certainly did not need to be announced across the dinner table in front of a guest.” She paused breathing hard. “For all your father has done to me in the past, he’s never humiliated me on purpose, like the way you did last night. He is discreet and—”
    “And cheats!” Shelly yelled back. “He cheats on you, Ma! Over and over again. How can you let him keep coming back?”
    Throwing the sponge into the sink, her mother wiped her hands and turned to face her daughter full on. Shelly straightened her spine, preparing for whatever was about to come her way.
    For years, she had watched this woman let her husband emotionally destroy her. Shelly couldn’t comprehend why her mother let him get away with it for so many years.
    “I will say this once, and then you’re to never speak of it with me again. Do I make myself clear?”
    Shelly sharply nodded once and waited.
    “Your father and I met when I was sixteen years old. Sixteen, Shelly. We dated and fell in love. It was wonderful, full of flowers an’ rainbows. That’s the way you think it should be, am I right?” She paused, and her shoulders slumped a little. Stepping closer to Shelly, she reached out and ran a finger down her daughter’s cheek. “You look so much like him.”
    “Don’t.” Shelly muttered, pulling her face away from the touch. “I wish I looked nothing like him.”
    Her mother shook her head. “I don’t. I look at you, Shel, and I see all the goodness that he was. When we fell in love, life was easy. We were young and had the rest of our lives ahead of us. But then, we grew up, and life changed. He went into a grueling medical program, and I got pregnant.”
    “I’m so sorry,” Shelly snapped.
    “Stop it,” her mother told her firmly, the strong Southern woman making an appearance. “Stop being so angry at him. I chose this life, Shelly. Me—not him. He has told me on numerous occasions that he’d look after me if I wanted to move on, but Shelly, I don’t want to. This is my life. It’s where you grew up not wanting or needing anything, and he’s my friend.”
    Shaking her head, Shelly stood there looking at her mother, but all she could see was a stranger. Suddenly, everything crumbled down around Shelly’s shoulders. All the anger she had held for her father, thinking that he was the one destroying her mother’s dignity and her good name, now seemed misplaced. It had been her mother’s choice to stay this whole time. Shelly’s heart seemed to be splitting inside her chest. She felt pure betrayal from the woman who loved and raised her, teaching her to respect herself at all costs. How can someone voluntarily stay with a man who doesn’t want you?
    “A friend?” Shelly finally sputtered. “He’s your husband, Ma. He’s supposed to love you and look after you and—”
    “He does all of that,” she replied, taking a step closer.
    She reached up and took Shelly’s face between her small palms. “Your father fell out of love with me a long time ago, Shelly. I know that because he told me. The problem is that I will always love him, so I’ll take any part of him I can. Friendship and companionship are what he offered—not to mention, stability for you.”
    Shelly blinked once and felt her eyes welling up. “That’s no way to live, Ma. Everyone else gets to be happy except you? Don’t you want someone who loves you completely?”
    Her mother’s eyes became glassy, and a tear slipped free, running down her cheek. “Of course, I did, you silly girl, and I had it. Do you really think anyone is lucky enough to find it twice? So, I took what I had and stored it away. Shelly, when I lay down at night and think about the man in the room next door to mine, I am still so happy I get to see him every day.”
    Shelly felt tears streaming down her cheeks as her mother stood in front of her calmly explaining her loveless marriage.
    How does someone survive that? How does someone not die from being so incredibly lonely?And how on earth can I not hate my father for not freeing my mother from all this pain and heartache? Why didn’t he push her to move on? Like he obviously did.
    “Ma, don’t you think you would be happier to go and—”
    “No,” she told Shelly firmly. “I’ve looked at this from all angles, my dear, for years, believe me. I know what people say about me. I know they whisper about how your father runs around, but he ain’t doing anything I don’t know about.” She paused and turned to face outside. She put her hands on the sink and leaned into it as though she needed it to help hold her up.
     “At first, I figured I would be better if he left. He did for a couple of weeks, but it was so much worse. So, I invited him back into our lives and told him what I wanted and expected of him. And, Shel, he agreed and has done everything he said he would. How can I fault him for that?” Finally, her mother looked back at her. “I’m gonna to go out to the yard for a while but think about what I have told you, Shelly. You need to forgive him. He hasn’t done anything to you, and he certainly hasn’t done anything to me that I am unaware of. He loves you very much and is so very proud of you. He just hasn’t done what you wanted.” She stopped, the last tear falling over her cheek. “He just fell out of love, and that is not a crime.”
* * *
    Josh stood at the bottom of the staircase just outside of the kitchen as the back door slapped shut. He had come downstairs around ten minutes ago and had heard two voices. He had turned to make his way toward them when he had heard Shelly crying.
    Holy shit, Josh thought as he ran a hand through his hair. How on earth does a daughter comprehend what Shelly’s mother just told her?
    Mutley, of course, took that moment to bark. Josh looked down at his dog and shook his head. “Thanks buddy,” he muttered as he walked forward.
    He came through the kitchen door to see Shelly facing him with tears on her cheeks and a lopsided smile on her face. She stared down at the dog sitting by his side.
    “Did he just out you?” she asked him, gesturing to Mutley with her chin.
    Josh gave a half smile as he walked toward her. “Pretty much.” He stopped in front of her, reaching up to trace her wet cheek with his index finger. “You okay?”
    He watched as she shook her head, and then she leaned her face into his palm. He cupped the cool cheek nuzzling his hand while her wet blue eyes looked up at him with tears shimmering, threatening to spill over.
    “Not really. How much did you hear?”
    Josh grimaced, and then whispered, “Enough. I’m really sorry, Shelly.”
    He watched her shrug.
    “Not much I can do about it, right? It’s her choice.”
    Josh dropped his hand, stroking it down her arm, and entwined their fingers together, squeezing gently.
    “Yes, it’s her choice, but it couldn’t have been easy hearing all of that. Does it make you feel any different toward your father?”
    Josh watched her take a deep breath. She looked at their fingers, and then back up to him.
    “I’m not sure. I wish I could ask him what happened, you know? Why did he stop loving her? What changed for him?”
    She paused, and Josh took a step closer, so she had to stand up straight. He reached up with his free hand, cupping her chin. Tipping up her face to his, he leaned in and gently kissed her lips.
    “Maybe he wouldn’t have an answer for you, but you won’t know unless you ask. Then, maybe you can start to forgive him.”
    She shook her head and asked softly, “How would I even begin to ask that? I’m so disappointed and sad right now.”
    Josh sighed, dropping the hand at her chin to grip her other fingers as well.
    “Disappointed in whom? Your mother?”
    “Both of them! I’m angry and disappointed in both of them!” she fumed as Josh held her hands. “How dare they do that to a child. I never knew any of that. I never knew this was a cozy understanding they shared while I was working with the women he was having his freedom with,” she told Josh angrily. “Sure, Ma got to stay at home and avoid those awkward moments. I had to work with these women. I still cannot forgive him for that.”
    Josh tugged her to him and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
    “You wouldn’t do something like that,” she whispered into his chest.
    “No, I wouldn’t,” he replied, kissing the top of her head.
    “You wouldn’t even have sex with me when I asked you to.”
    Josh choked out a rumbling laugh. “Oh, I wanted to, Georgia.”
    “Yeah?”
    Josh ran one hand down her hair as he replied, “Oh yeah. I dreamed about how good you tasted all night.”
* * *
    Shelly leaned back, looking up at him. “I’m sorry I used you last night.”
    He looked down at her with understanding eyes. “I know you are.”
    Shelly then snuggled back into his chest and took a deep breath. “You’re making it so easy to fall for you, Josh,” she whispered.
    His arms tightened around her as he replied softly, “Is that such a bad thing, Georgia?”
    Shelly placed a palm on his chest and felt his heart beating strong. “I’m not sure yet,” she told him.
    He placed his lips against her head, giving her a gentle kiss, and then he whispered, “Take a chance, Shel. I’m not going to hurt you, use you, or take any part of you for granted.” He ran a hand down her hair and lightly squeezed her neck. As he took a step back, he said, “Look at me, Georgia.”
    Shelly raised her eyes to him and almost felt her heart explode from the look of pure raw emotion in Josh’s gaze.
    She shook her head, unbelieving, “How can this be happening?”
    “What do you mean?” he asked with a crooked grin.
    “You and me? This is all so fast. Maybe bringing you here was a mistake. It’s clouding..”
    “It’s clouding nothing,” he told her, cupping her face again. He lowered his mouth to hers. “It’s stripping you bare, and I’m falling for you so hard that I can feel the scrapes on my knees as I’m brought to them. I understand you’re scared because I’m absolutely terrified, but I’m not going to hurt you or kick you when you’re down.”
    Shelly couldn’t believe everything he was saying. It was every single thing she had ever wanted to hear, and suddenly, she was finding it hard to breathe. She needed space. She needed a distraction.
    “Will you come somewhere with me?”
    He blinked at the sudden change of subject. “Avoidance?”
    Shelly nodded, watching him grin at her.
    “I’ll only let you avoid me for so long you know,” he pointed out.
    “That’s fine,” Shelly squeaked.
    “Okay, where do you want to take me?”
    Shelly was close to saying, everywhere as long as it’s with me, but she decided at the last moment to keep that to herself.
    “It’s a place I loved going to when I was younger.”
    She watched a smile spread over his mouth, and she couldn’t help but stand on her tiptoes to kiss him.
    “Okay then, let’s go,” he whispered against her lips.
    Shelly watched as he stepped back, looking her over.
    “By the way, you look beautiful this morning.”
    “Thank you.” She paused, and then remembered. “Oh, wait here a second!” she told him and ran out of the kitchen.
* * *
    Josh watched her run off and took a moment to compose himself.
    What the hell am I doing? Oh, that’s right. I’m falling head over heels for Dr. Monroe, aka Georgia, aka Man-Eater.Am I insane? Yeah, probably.
    Every second he was with the woman, she snuck in a little deeper. He knew there was going to be more obstacles for him to climb over after what had happened between her mother and herself. But, as he watched her practically skip back into the kitchen in her cowgirl boots, clutching a sexy cowgirl hat, he felt himself fall further in love.
    Hang on, love?Oh shit, I’m screwed. First Melissa and now Shelly? Why can’t I ever learn from my gigantic mistakes?
    However, Shelly had these moments of such complete vulnerability that made him want to wrap his arms around her and never let go. He had never gotten that from Melissa—not once.
    Georgia on the other hand was one surprise after another.
    “You okay?” Shelly asked as she stopped in front of him.
    Josh looked her over, and then nodded. “Yep. Mutley and I were just wondering where you were taking us.”
    “I suppose he can come, but it’s a surprise.”
    Josh moved forward and kissed her on the nose. “I’m starting to find I love surprises.
* * *
    Shelly sat in the front seat of Josh’s truck, pointing left and right, as he followed her directions without complaint. She had to admit that when they had been talking about their feelings she had freaked out.
    She was not supposed to be falling for Joshua Daniels. She was supposed to be having fun with the added bonus of no-strings sex.
    Scratch that. Great sex!
    So, what had she done? She’d had such great sex that she had almost confessed she was falling for him.
    What on earth do I think I’m doing? I have no clue. That’s for sure.
    Instead of being brave like him, she had freaked out and told him she wanted to take him somewhere. And where was she taking him? To the place she treasured the most. It was a place she had labeled the “dreaming tree.”
    As he pulled off the main street and started down a little dirt road, the huge oak tree came into view with its twisted and gnarled branches spreading out in all directions, including several that arced out, reaching across a small river that ran behind an old abandoned property.
    Josh brought the truck to a stop, and Shelly jumped out, running over to the edge of the river. She then turned back to see him standing at the front of his truck, leaning his butt up against it.
    Shelly shielded her eyes against the morning sun shining brightly, looking from the man to the loyal dog that sat beside his master.
    What a pair they were—both silent and both solid in their stillness.
    Was there ever a question I would fall for this man? Not really.
    It was only a matter of time, and suddenly, it felt like time had run out. In a few short weeks and really only a handful of days, she had fallen hard for Josh Daniels and that scared the hell out of her.
    “What is this place, Georgia?” he asked, moving toward her.
    Shelly turned back to the river and took a deep breath, trying to decide how she was supposed to function now. She had given her heart permission to be vulnerable, risking the potential of it being broken into a million pieces.
    Hang on, this is Josh. He told me he wouldn’t hurt or use me, right?
    Surely, she was safe to step forward and give her heart to him.
    When he stopped beside her, Shelly turned, seeing his profile as his hair blew in the slight breeze, and she couldn’t help but smile.
    “I’m finding it really hard to fight wanting you, Josh,” she whispered, watching as Josh looked down at her.
    He turned his big muscular body toward her, reaching out to cup her face in his hands. “Well, that’s nice to hear, Georgia, because I stopped fighting a while ago.”
    Shelly blinked, shaking her head the best she could with two strong hands holding her face.
    “This doesn’t make sense.”
    “What doesn’t?” he whispered, moving in closer.
    “This. Us. How I feel,” she whispered back.
    “And how do you feel, Shelly?”
    Somewhere down inside her chest, Shelly felt her heart pound while she considered what she wanted to reveal.
    “I feel like I’ve fallen so far down the rabbit hole that I can’t get out.”
    She held her breath as he leaned in, pressing a soft, gentle kiss to her mouth. Shelly sighed, pulling back from all the emotion.
    “This isn’t a dream, I promise you,” he assured.
    Shelly blinked at him, confessing, “I’m so scared.”
    She watched as he reached out and stroked her cheek with his fingers.
    “Of me?”
    Shelly shook her head. “Of us.”
* * *
    Josh took a step back, looking over to where Mutley had stretched out beneath the shade of the tree.
    “Why did you bring me here, Georgia?”
    He watched as Shelly turned back to face the river. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and seemed to let go of the anxiety she was holding onto.
    “I would come down here when my parents would argue—or when someone told me they saw my dad kissing some woman on the corner of their street.” She paused and turned to face him. “That actually happened more often than you would think. I called this my dreaming tree. I would come down here and dream of where I wanted to escape to and who I wanted to meet.”
    Josh smiled at her, watching her blonde hair whip around her shoulders under the cowgirl hat. Then, he thought of something and only hoped he had what he wanted in the truck.
    “Can you wait here for one second?”
    She nodded and waited by the riverbank while he jogged back to his truck. He held his breath as he opened the toolbox in the bed of the Ford F-250, and sitting inside, he found an old blanket. He grabbed it, smiling, and walked back over to the woman he was about to make love to.
* * *
    Shelly turned when she heard him coming back toward her. Her heart thundered inside her chest as she watched him stride down to the riverbank with a blanket beneath his arm.
    He was dressed in a white T-shirt and the usual jeans and boots. She looked him up and down and smiled.
    “It’s too early for a picnic, isn’t it?”
    Josh stopped in front of her and held out a hand. “That’s not what I had in mind.”
    “No? Then, what?” she questioned.
    He tugged her forward, kissing her mouth a little harder than the previous two kisses they had shared this morning.
    “Tell me what else you would dream about under your dreaming tree,” he requested with curious eyes.
    Shelly looked up at him, dazed and caught under his spell. “I would lie under the tree and dream about the man I’d end up with—who he would be and what he would look like.”
    She watched as a grin appeared on his face—that panty-dropping smile from the first time she had ever seen him.
    “Oh yeah?”
    Nodding, Shelly stepped forward, placing her hands on his chest. “Oh yeah.”
    “And?”
    Shelly moved to step around him, walking toward the tree. She looked over her shoulder and winked. As he groaned, letting his head fall back, she felt a shiver run all the way down to her toes.
    “And he turned out much better than anything I could have imagined.”

Chapter Fifteen

    When he reached a spot under the tree, Josh spread the blanket out as Shelly leaned against the thick trunk, watching him. After he arranged it the way he wanted, he moved around the edge to where she stood. He watched as a sexy smile appeared on her lips.
    “What are you thinking about, Georgia?”
    Keeping a little space between them, he watched as she reached up and removed her hat, tossing it on the ground beside her.
    “I was just thinking about how right this feels, even though it’s so sudden.”
    Letting his eyes wander down over her, he nodded, holding out a hand. She reached her small palm out, sliding it against his. He tugged her forward, pulling her away from the tree, until she was close enough for him to hold.
    Tilting her head just a little, she whispered, “I was determined not to fall for you, and somehow, I don’t think I ever had a chance of resisting.”
    Josh raised his free hand and stroked it down her blonde hair.
    “Sometimes things just happen,” he told her.
    “Like fate?”
    “Fate, or in my case, good goddamn luck.” He chuckled a little at that, and then sobered as he said, “I looked at you and instantly wanted you, but my past was telling me not to touch.”
    He watched as she tilted her head to the side.
    “Why? Am I allowed to ask what happened?”
    He nodded. “Of course. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I was involved with a woman, a beautiful woman who used her beauty to get where she wanted to go, and she used me as a bankroll.”
    Josh watched as Shelly’s face tightened, and he felt her stiffen in his arms. He let go of their joined hands and reached around to rub a soothing hand up her spine.
    “I’ve had boyfriends who have been all about my money, too,” she confessed.
    Suddenly, things started to fall into place for Josh. She had dated rich, successful men because she’d been burned just as bad as he had. However, his ammo had been to steer clear from the beauties, and hers had been to steer clear of the ones who looked at her profession as a cash advance.
    Leaning down by her ear, Josh clarified, “I don’t want a single penny from you, Shelly Monroe. I want your mind, your heart, and your sexy-as-hell body, but not your money.”
    Josh felt her take a deep breath, letting it out with a whoosh.
    He placed a gentle kiss against her neck just below her ear, smiling against her soft skin as she tilted her head to give him better access. He made his way back to her earlobe, sucking it gently into his mouth, and then he felt her hands come up, gripping his chest.
    She let out a soft moan, and Josh felt his whole body shudder in response. Lifting his head, he looked down at her, noticing her eyes had clouded over and her plump lips had parted.
    “I want to take off all your clothes, lay you down here in the morning sun, and love you from your head to your toes. Would that be okay with you?”
* * *
    Hell yeah, it’s okay with me, she wanted to scream to the heavens.
    However, all of a sudden, Shelly was finding it hard to form any kind of coherent sentence. When Josh had started kissing her neck, she had felt goose bumps rise all over her skin, but when he had sucked her earlobe into his hot mouth, her thighs had clenched, and her stomach had taken a flying leap off of a huge building.
    She was sunk.
    This man had snuck up and worked his way quickly and efficiently into her heart, like some kind of stealth operations mission. She hadn’t even seen him coming, and now, he was seducing her mind right along with her very willing body.
    Removing his hands from her, he reached down and slowly undid the buckle of her brown leather belt.
    “Did I tell you how much I liked your outfit today? You are wearing every single item on my fantasy list.”
    Shelly found herself breathing harder than usual, so she nodded instead of speaking. She watched as one side of his mouth quirked up.
    “Have I rendered you speechless, Georgia? Because, I have to say, I didn’t think that was possible.” He paused as the belt finally gave, and then he gripped an end in each hand, tugging her forward with a little more force than she was expecting. She ended up flush against him, her hands reaching up to grip his biceps for balance.
    “Well, maybe Georgia would be speechless,” he continued as he lowered his head, his lips whispering gently across hers in a quick kiss. “But Man-Eater Monroe, who eats men for dinner, definitely would not be.”
    With that, he dipped his head and kissed her with so much heat that she thought she would go up in flames.
    Shelly felt his tongue swipe across her bottom lip and didn’t hesitate for one second before opening her mouth to him. She heard him groan softly as his tongue dipped inside to rub against hers. He still had a firm grip on her belt and tugged her even closer, rubbing his straining zipper against her own.
    Tilting her head a little, she moaned as he deepened the kiss by sucking on her tongue when she dipped it into his mouth. Shelly could feel herself becoming more and more aroused with every dip of his tongue and every suck from his wonderful mouth. When he finally pulled his head back, it took everything she had not to whimper from the loss of it.
    Shelly stood very still as her heart raced inside her chest. Josh’s breathing was coming a little too fast now as well, and Shelly felt a smile slide across her mouth because she had caused that.
* * *
    Josh took a small step back, still gripping her belt in both hands. That kiss had just about fried his brain cells, and as Shelly stood there smiling up at him in the morning sun, he knew he was about to give his heart away.
    His breathing felt labored as he looked over the beautiful woman in front of him. Her amazingly blue eyes were currently focused on him with such sexual intent that he thought they could probably just touch fingers, and they would explode. Then, she smiled and licked her lips, and Josh knew he wanted to touch her everywhere and be consumed by her.
    Apparently, his annoying brother had been right. Yeah, so I can’t do sex without feelings. So what?
    Dropping one end of the belt, Josh gripped the buckle and slid it deftly through the loopholes of her Daisy Dukes. It made her hips jiggle a little, and that, in turn, made her breasts sway under that breezy top.
    Holy hell, this woman is something else.
    He heard a laugh bubble up out of her, and he raised his eyes to meet hers.
    “Am I amusing you?” he questioned with an arched brow.
    Shelly bit her bottom lip, shaking her head. “No, you just seem hypnotized by my breasts.”
    Josh couldn’t help but laugh at her audacity. There she was, Georgia mixed in with the Man-Eater, blunt as always.
    Keeping the belt dangling in his hand, he told her, “Well, maybe you should take your top off and see what you can make me do—once I’m under hypnosis and all.”
    Josh knew Shelly was not shy, and as her mouth turned up in a okay-mister-you-asked-for-it smile, he stood still and waited for the unveiling.
    There in the shade of the beautiful old oak, the Shelly who had morphed somewhere between Chicago and Savannah reached down, tugged her shirt from her jean shorts, and took it off, throwing it on the ground beside her. In true man-eater style, she reached behind and undid her bra, throwing it to the ground as well.
    Josh gripped the belt tight in his hand as her breasts were bared to him. The morning sun streaming down seemed to kiss them all over. He watched as Shelly tilted her head to the side and cocked her hip out, resting her hands on her waist, which jutted those perky rose-colored nipples out even closer to him.
    “What do you plan to do with that belt?” she asked out of the blue.
    Josh looked down at his hand where he still held the belt, and then let his eyes come back up to the half-naked woman in front of him. He grinned, tossing it aside.
    “Not a damn thing.”
    Shelly chuckled as she took a step toward him. “Good, because I have to tell you, that is so not my scene.”
    Josh let his eyes run all over her when she stopped so close her nipples were brushing his white shirt.
    “Oh no? Then what is?” he asked.
* * *
    Shelly grinned up at Josh as he waited for her to do something.
    It was almost comical to Shelly that she had felt more comfortable, more like her old self, when Josh had suggested she take off her shirt. She knew how to be this person—a sexy siren who could seduce a man with no problem. Shelly understood her.
    She didn’t understand or have any idea how to handle the vulnerable, smitten, and lovesick Shelly.
    Reaching out her hands, Shelly let them wander under the bottom of his shirt to his jeans, releasing the snap and unzipping them.
    Josh stepped back from her. He quickly pushed his jeans down and kicked them aside, leaving him standing in his white shirt and navy boxer shorts.
    Shelly let her eyes roam all over his body, and she had to admit that his muscle tone was amazing. She had always liked a little bulk on her men, but Josh was ridiculously buff.
    Instead of moving a step toward him, Shelly watched him closely as she kicked off her boots, and then unsnapped her own shorts, sliding them, along with her tiny excuse for panties, right off her excited body.
    She heard Josh suck in a deep breath as she kicked aside her final pieces of clothing, and then she moved to lie down for him on the blanket under her dreaming tree.
    “Are you coming?” she asked.
    He stood there in the sunlight, watching her in silence. Finally, he seemed to gain motor function again because he moved so he was standing at her feet.
    He shook his head. “Not yet, but I’m really close.”
    Shelly winked and stretched her hands out behind her. Completely unashamed of her body, she arched up her back and had a good morning stretch in the sunlight.
    “Holy shit,” Josh muttered, shaking his head.
    Shelly could see his erection as it strained against his boxers, and she licked her lips.
    “Are you going to get down here on this blanket, Josh? Or stand there all day, staring?”
* * *
    Josh ran a shaky hand through his hair, looking at the sex goddess who was currently stretched out butt-ass naked on his old blanket.
    “The view is pretty amazing from up here.”
    Shelly propped herself up on her elbows. “Josh, take off your clothes. I want to feel you naked, rubbing all over me.”
    Now, who can argue with that? Certainly, not me.
    Josh whipped off his shirt, and then pushed his boxers down, stepping away from them. He watched as Shelly’s eyes zoomed in on his hard-on, but he wasn’t ashamed, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to hide it.
    If the way her eyes lit and then came back up to him with pure heat was any indication, she didn’t want him to hide either.
    Josh dropped to his knees at her feet and made his way up her sun-warmed body. When he was finally mouth to mouth, chest to chest, and—thank God—hip-to-hip with her, he winked at her.
    “Now, what did you want, Georgia? Me rubbing myself all over you?”
* * *
    Between Josh’s body, finally touching hers in all the right spots, his sexy voice, and his wink, Shelly was about to come with absolutely no physical stimulation.
    However, when he lowered his hips and rocked his hard cock up against her bare mound, she closed her eyes, letting out a small moan of pure delight.
    Raising her hands, Shelly gripped his arms where they flexed as he held himself above her while he continued to rub himself against her slowly.
    “Shelly, look at me,” he demanded softly.
    Shelly found herself obeying without question, letting her eyes open and focus on his.
    “You feel absolutely amazing underneath me.”
    Shelly felt a grin creep across her lips as she raised one leg, placing her foot flat on the blanket, and lifted her hips to push against his.
    “Well, you feel pretty amazing on top of me.”
    When he groaned and lowered his mouth to hers, Shelly knew this was different. The emotions behind the actions had changed, and she felt them slowly wrapping around her heart as they bound them together.
    His lips met hers in a tempestuous kiss that stripped her mind of anything other than having every part of him she could deep inside of her.
    She let a hand roam up and slide into his hair, gripping it tightly. She held his mouth close to hers, so she could devour him every bit as much as he was consuming her. She sucked on his bottom lip and gave it a little nip, producing his rumbling groan and a flex of his hips.
    He moved back, inching down her body to her breasts, and finally—thank God—took one of her hard nipples between his lips. He sucked on one while his other hand traced down her naked side to her hip.
    Sliding his hand under her ass, he lifted her, grinding her up against his body, as he continued his sensuous assault on her sensitive nipples. Suddenly, Shelly felt a little bite and her back arched as she reached down to grip his hair. His eyes came up to meet hers in question, and as Shelly nodded and widened her legs a little more, he got his answer.
* * *
    Josh had his mouth on one of her rosy little nipples and his other hand under ass, pulling her up hard against his body while he ground his aching cock against her.
    Fuck, she’s on fire, and I want to be burned by her.
    He moved his attention to her other nipple, licking and biting it before ending the delicious torment with a strong suck that had her arching and begging for more.
    Smiling against her skin, he came back up her body, and then kissed her with everything he had. He slid his tongue between her parted lips, mimicking the very act he so desperately wanted. As he changed the angle of his head, for a deeper kiss, he felt her hands slide down his back to grip his ass, pulling him up hard against herself. Both of her legs were bent now, cradling his hips between her thighs. As she thrust her pelvis up, finally sliding his cock against her hot mound, he knew it was time.
    Raising himself up above her, he looked down at her, laying there beneath him and the sun, and then he rocked his hips so the head of his erection slid between her wet folds.
    As her mouth parted and her eyes fluttered shut, he pushed his hips forward and slowly let himself sink into her. He kept his eyes on her face as her mouth let out a moan and her eyes opened, latching onto his. He pushed forward, letting more of himself slide deeper inside her warm, wet heat. When he finally bottomed out, he lowered himself down slowly.
     “I’m so lost in you, Georgia. I don’t even know where you end, and I begin. You feel so fucking amazing. I want to stay here forever,” he professed softly.
* * *
    Shelly blinked as she raised her hands to grip Josh’s ass, pulling him in deeper, if that was possible. She was trying to comprehend what he had just told her, but instead of letting the full impact of his emotional confession sink in, she chose to make light of it and deal with feelings later.
    Now, as he braced himself above her on arms she wanted to bite and lick, she couldn’t help but roll her hips up and reply, “Well, that might make it difficult for me to walk.”
    She watched as Josh pushed his hips down toward her. His face was serious, knowing exactly what she was doing, but he chose to once again let her get away with it.
    “Let’s see if I can make it difficult for you to walk tomorrow anyway.”
    Shelly groaned at his response, and then she felt him pull slowly out before thrusting back in. She held onto his ass as it flexed and bunched with each strong slide.
    He kissed her beneath her ear, and then did something she hadn’t expected. He rolled them over, and Shelly was now sitting on top of a hot, tense wall of male muscle.
    Oh, hell yeah!
    Looking down at a strained-face Josh, Shelly placed her hands on his chest and started to slowly roll her hips. She watched his eyes as they traveled all over her, and then she spotted her hat behind his head. Biting her lip and grinning, she stopped and moved forward, leaning over him, which caused him to slip from her body.
    “Shelly, what’s wro—” he started.
    Then, he saw her move back to sit on his thighs with her hat in her hand.
    Smiling down at him, she placed her cowgirl hat on her head before she reached down to grip his cock at the base. Lining it up with herself, she rose up on her knees, and then slowly sank down onto his waiting hardness. She heard his groan and watched as his eyes opened, focusing on her.
    “Jesus, Georgia, you’re my every fucking fantasy right now come to life.”
    Shelly grinned, licked her lips, and then brought her hands up to play with her breasts as she worked herself on his cock.
    She felt him buck up his hips as his big, strong hands gripped her thighs, and she rode him like he had told her he wanted.
    As the tempo changed and Josh started to breathe harder, Shelly leaned down and braced her palms against his chest. Rolling her hips up and down as he thrust along with her rhythm, she arched her back and clamped her legs hard around his waist. His mouth opened on a loud groan, and Shelly came right along with Delicious Daniels.
* * *
    With the sun streaming down on him through the oak leaves, Josh was stretched out on his back as the naked woman on top of him pressed her ear to his chest, tapping her small fingers along to the sound of his heart.
    “You have a solid heartbeat. It’s steady and strong,” she told him.
    Josh felt a smile form, and then he chuckled. “Oh, for a minute there, I thought you were going to tell me I had something else that was nice and solid.”
    He watched as Shelly looked up at him, grinning, from where she was sprawled across him.
    “Well, that, too. But, no, I was listening to your heart.”
    Josh ran his hands up and down her smooth skin and ended by cupping her sweet ass, pulling her further up his body, so her mouth was within kissing distance. He leaned his head up, pressing his lips to hers.
    “That was pretty amazing, cowgirl.”
    She grinned against his lips. In her Southern voice, she said, “Well, you know how that lil’ ole saying goes, sugah. Save a horse and ride a cowboy.”
    Josh groaned, rolling his eyes. “Please, not the accent,” he told her as she squirmed around on top of him.
    “What do ya mean, sugah? I thought you liked my lil’ bit of country.”
    Josh laughed as he hugged her close, kissing her right smack on the lips. “That’s the problem. I’m tired, and I like it too much.”
    He heard her giggle.
    She pronounced in the best country twang she could, “Well, what good are ya to me then? I need me a cowboy who can ride all night. Not one who is done after one lil’ ole session.”
    Josh gripped her ass, rolling her over onto her back as she squealed with laughter.
    “Okay, Georgia, but remember, you asked for it.”
    “Oh, I nevah forget a challenge, cowboy. Now, giddy up!”
    Josh groaned as she winked up at him with a sassy smile and smacked him on the ass.
    Oh yes, Shelly Monroe is trouble with a capital T, and I love it.

Chapter Sixteen

    Around two hours later, Josh was driving them back to the house. As he turned onto her parents’ drive, Shelly was sitting on the far side of the truck, facing him, and Mutley was lying down on the back seat.
    He looked over at her and winked, and Shelly felt a delicious thrill all the way to her toes. They had just spent the morning down by the river laughing, making love, and in Shelly’s mind, falling further down the rabbit hole.
    When they got closer to the house, she saw her father’s truck parked off to the side. As her eyes moved to the front porch, she saw him sitting on the top step, watching their approach. All of a sudden, last night’s dinner and her conversation with her mother this morning came hurtling back with full force and clarity.
    “Shel?” Josh’s voice broke into her thoughts.
    Turning her eyes back to his, she noticed he had a worried look on his face. He reached across the truck’s seat and took her hand in his.
    “You don’t have to talk to him right now, Shel.”
    Shelly nodded and squeezed his hand, grimacing a little. “Yes, I do. He knows.”
    “You don’t know that, Georgia.”
    “Yes, I do.” She paused and took a deep breath. “He always sits there when he wants to talk.”
    She watched as Josh looked out to where her father was waiting, and then he turned back to her.
    “Do you want me to come with you?”
    Shelly shook her head and removed her hand from his. “No. This is something I need to do by myself.” She paused and unlocked the truck door, pushing it open. “It’s been a long time coming.”
    She watched Josh nod.
    “I’ll be inside with your mother if you need me, okay?”
    Shelly jumped down out of the truck and nodded once. Then, she closed the door and moved around the front, walking over to her father, who was now standing on the top step of the house.
    Shelly walked right past the stairs, making her way down the side of the house, and she heard her father follow. She’d be damned if they did this where her mother could walk outside. She’d been through enough already this morning.
* * *
    When Shelly reached the barn, she turned around and saw her father come to a stop at the door. He leaned against it and waited. She didn’t really know where she wanted to start, so she figured she’d just begin with the question that had been nagging at her all morning.
    “How could you have let her stay all these years?”
    Shelly watched as the illustrious Dr. Lawrence Monroe took one hand out of his pocket to rub his chin and then asked in his sophisticated Southern drawl.
    “I’m trying to decide, Shelly, what right you think you have to question me and my motives.”
    Shelly looked at him as though he had gone slightly insane. “Gee, Father, I don’t know? Maybe the same reason why you think you have the right to question my choices.”
    “Well, you’re my daughter. I want to make sure you are makin’ the right choices.”
    Shelly felt her mouth drop open at the sheer arrogance of him. “Could you possibly be more condescending? You know, as my father, you were supposed to set a good example of the right choices. Wow, what an epic failure on your behalf, wouldn’t you say?”
    Shelly watched as he pushed off the door, stepping toward her.
    “What’d ya want from me, Princess?” he asked, his smooth charm faltering and his accent getting stronger.
    Shelly spun away from him, shaking her head. “I don’t know, Dr. Monroe, maybe a tear?” Turning back to him, she explained, “Maybe then I’d know you care. I keep waiting to feel that you understand just how much pain and embarrassment you have put me through! Not to mention, what you must have put her through over the years.”
    Shelly turned away from him, pacing across the barn. She was so angry at him. Couldn’t he see? Couldn’t he understand how his actions had totally destroyed any faith I would ever have in a man? Did he not realize that he was the example I used and applied to every single man that walked into my life? How was I supposed to trust one word out of the mouth of the opposite sex when I can’t even trust my own father?
    “Shelly,” she heard him say. When she didn’t respond, he said her name again. “Shelly Monroe, stop pacin’ and look at me.”
    Shelly stopped on the opposite side of the walkway, tilting her head to look up at the man who she strongly resembled. She wouldn’t give in to him, and she would not let him see her cry.
    “I never meant to hurt you—” he started, moving to walk toward her.
    “Don’t come over here,” she snapped.
    “Shelly, your ma and I have had an understandin’ for years. I just don’t think we realized how much it affected you.”
    “Wow, do you think?” Shelly asked with so much bitterness she almost choked on it.
    “Princess,” he said softly.
    Shelly shook her head and felt angry tears forming. “Don’t be sweet to me. Not now, not here. I deserve answers. You owe me that,” she ended, reaching up to wipe away a tear that had escaped.
    “What, Shel? What do you need from me? An apology? Okay, I’m sorry you were so affected—”
    “But not sorry for your actions? Don’t pity me, Father.” Shelly tipped up her chin and swallowed. “I’m not doing so badly.” Pausing for a moment, she took a deep breath and finally told her father everything she had ever wanted to get off her chest.
    “However, you know who you should feel sorry for? The little girl who saw all the fights and was teased continuously because her father had been caught sneaking out of their neighbor’s house…or maybe the young woman who interned beside you and looked up to you, trying to do everything she could to make you proud, even when the nurses laughed and pointed her out because they had slept with her father.” Shelly paused in her anger, stepping forward, and pointed up at him. “Yeah, you’re damn right to feel sorry for her. You let her down big time. You completely failed her at every turn. And now…now, you want to judge my choices? You want to stand there and tell me someone like Josh isn’t a good enough man for me.”
    Shelly watched as her father arched a brow, but he stood silent, letting her finish.
    “Well, that is where you are dead wrong. He is an amazing man. Yes, he may be a construction worker, which doesn’t fit your lofty ideals, but you know what? I don’t give a shit anymore. You did this to each other. I am over trying to do what you want and over trying to save myself from being used the way Ma was.”
    Before he could say a word, Shelly marched past him and stopped at the door, looking at him over her shoulder. “The sad part is you also did this to me. I may forgive you eventually. But how on earth do I ever forget what I now know?”
    With that, Shelly stormed back toward the house.
* * *
    Josh heard her the minute she stormed through the back door. Shelly’s mother looked over at him, grimacing as she stood.
    Josh stood as well suggesting softly, “Why don’t you let me go?”
    Shelly’s mother gave him a strained smile. “Okay. That’s probably for the best.”
    Josh made a move to walk past her when she reached out and touched his arm. Turning, he looked down at two very sad eyes.
    “Look after her for me?” she whispered.
    Josh placed a hand over hers, where it lay on his arm, and squeezed it gently. “I will. I promise,” he told her.
    She took her hand back, nodding. “I believe you, Joshua Daniels.”
    Walking to the door, Josh glanced one more time at the small woman in the large sitting room, and he felt his own heart break a little from the loneliness in this house.
    As he moved out into the foyer, he saw Shelly disappearing up the stairs. He took them two at a time, and when he got to her door, he rapped on it and then waited. When there was no answer, he turned the knob, pushing the door open, and walked inside.
    Facing the large window, Shelly was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed and her head in her hands, openly sobbing. Her back shook with each shuddering breath she took.
    As Josh moved toward her, he felt completely helpless.
    “Shelly?” he asked quietly.
    He came around the bed, and when he stood in front of her, he reached out, putting his fingers beneath her chin. Tilting her face up to him, she blinked wet eyes and gave him a tremulous smile.
    “What’s all this?” he asked softly.
    She tried again and gave him the saddest smile he had ever seen.
    She pointed to her face. “This is my brave face.”
    Josh gave her chin a gentle squeeze, and then he whispered, “I hate to tell you, but it’s not very good. We may have to work on it.”
    That made her chuckle and sniffle. “Yeah?”
    “Yeah. It’s kinda pathetic.” He gave her a crooked grin, and then tacked on, “But cute.”
    Shelly laughed halfheartedly and whispered, “Can we go home early?”
    Josh arched a brow and asked quietly, “Like tonight? We just got here. Are you sure you want to leave?”
    Shelly nodded and wiped her eyes. “I think I need to. Plus, I can’t imagine this has been wonderful for you.” She paused, looking up him with pleading eyes. “I think they need me to go, and I think I want to be gone.”
    Josh knew at that moment there wasn’t one thing he wouldn’t do for her.
    Nodding, he wiped her cheek with his thumb. “Okay, let’s pack then and hit the road. Maybe this time, we can stop at a motel and split up the trip.”
    That got a full-blown smile from her, and she nodded as she stood up. She reached up and wrapped her arms around Josh’s neck. He leaned down and kissed her softly.
    “Come on, Georgia, let’s go home, so I can have you naked in my bed until Tuesday night.”
    “That was the deal, wasn’t it?”
    “Ahh, yes, the famous deals. I believe the deal was I would show you my house if you stayed naked for at least ten hours of the tour,” Josh told her with a grin.
    “Then, what are we waiting for?” she asked.
    “Absolutely nothing. Let’s get packing.”
    Josh let her go and moved toward the door. When he got there, he looked over his shoulder at her. She was standing exactly where he had left her and was looking at him with a ghost of a smile.
    “We’ll talk in the car,” he told her.
    She nodded, and he turned to go and pack.
* * *
    They ended up driving straight home. Josh had told her the sooner they got home, the longer they would have together. He had put pedal to the metal, and they were currently driving into the outskirts of Chicago. It was strange to be coming home after only two days away. It felt as though they had been gone for weeks.
    They had come such a long way in the very short time they had been together, and as they rolled through the dark streets right before dawn, Shelly was starting to settle into the idea of them as a couple. On the trip home, he had asked her how things had gone with her father, and Shelly had calmly told him everything she’d finally been able to get off her shoulders.
    It was freeing to be able to talk to a man and know he wouldn’t judge you. That was Josh. He just listened. Every now and then, he would say something, but generally, he just sat steady and listened to whatever it was she was telling him.
    As they exited the main highway and rolled down the streets toward what looked like the suburbs, Shelly turned her head to face the man behind the wheel.
    He had shrugged on his leather jacket over his familiar white T-shirt and jeans. The man looked sexy and relaxed, and as she watched him silently, he turned to her and smiled slowly.
    “What are you thinking about?” he asked.
    Shelly gave him a half smile as she yawned. “I’m thinking about how you’re going to strip me down and have your bad old way with me.”
    He laughed and nodded. “You got that right. I have been thinking of nothing else for the last…” He paused and looked at his watch. “Ten-and-a-half hours.”
    “Is that right?” Shelly probed.
    “That’s right, Miz Monroe.”
    Laughing, Shelly asked, “So, now that we are back in the city I’m Miz Monroe?”
    Josh’s mouth quirked on the side, as he nodded. “Yeah. The city seems to bring out the Man-Eater.” He paused and told her in a deep voice, “But I kind of like her now that I know Georgia is in there, too.”
    Shelly raised her eyebrows at him, and then licked her lips as she looked pointedly at his denim-covered crotch.
    “Well, I have to tell you, Josh, I am really looking forward to living up to my name.”
    He cocked his head to the side in question, so she answered.
    “Man-Eater.” She paused, licking her lips again. “I really want to eat you.”
    Josh groaned and shook his head. “Thank God we are nearly there.”
    Shelly laughed and settled in for the remainder of the drive.
* * *
    Josh looked across the truck at Shelly as she lay with her eyes closed, her head leaning back against the seat. Mutley was lying down on the back seat, and Josh had to smile at the fact that Shelly now seemed okay with his mutt. They had talked all the way home about her mother and father, and Josh had gotten a much better understanding of the way Dr. Shelly Monroe’s mind worked.
    He was happy she had been able to confront her father and maybe set some demons to rest. He also hoped, somewhat selfishly, that it had opened the possibility in her mind that they could have a real shot at this.
    Everything had happened so suddenly between them, but for Josh, it felt so incredibly real. He couldn’t explain why, but he just knew this was meant to be. He knew he had to come clean and tell her he owned the construction company. She would probably be pissed at him, but it was nothing they couldn’t get past. He was sure of it.
    As they rounded the final street, Josh couldn’t help but feel completely excited about the next day and a half. Shelly had agreed to spend that time with him at his house and in his bed. Hell yeah. Can anything be better than that?
    He pulled the truck to a stop at the curb of the street, got out, and walked around to Shelly’s side where she was now sleeping. The sun was just starting to come up, and it was going on 7:00 a.m. Josh had plans, and they involved carrying the sleeping doctor inside, cuddling up with her, and then waking in a few hours to make love to her.
* * *
    Shelly heard her door unlock, and she opened her eyes, noticing the truck had come to a stop. She turned her head and saw Josh outside her door, smiling at her through the window. Sitting up, she let him open the door. He placed his hands on the roof and leaned in to kiss her.
    “We’re here.”
    Josh moved back from the truck, allowing Shelly to get out. Once she was free, she stretched her arms over her head, yawning, and then stood on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck.
    “I believe we have specific plans for the next couple of days,” she told him, planting a sweet kiss on his lips.
    He grinned and hugged her tightly before humming against her mouth. “Hmm, I believe you may be right. You and me naked in my bed sounds familiar.”
    That was when Shelly looked over Josh’s shoulder to the house behind them. It was a nice house that looked like he had bought it with restoration in mind, knowing his background. As her eyes moved to the driveway, they stopped and zeroed in on a blue Ford Fusion and a tall brunette woman, who was leaning against the driver’s side, staring at them.
    “Josh?” Shelly questioned as she pulled away from him.
    He looked down at her. “Yeah, Miz Monroe?” he asked in a deep voice, sweet-talking her.
    But Shelly had left the sexy thought process behind. Suddenly, she had a new one.
    Who the hell is that woman?
* * *
    Josh noticed Shelly had stiffened, and he moved a step back, wondering what was going on. He was about to ask when he heard a familiar voice call out.
    “Joshua!”
    Now, it was Josh’s turn to stiffen. He saw Shelly’s eyes narrow and her shoulders straighten, and he wanted to explain something, anything, but he was interrupted when he heard his name being called for the second time in that annoying high-pitched voice. He pivoted on his heel and saw the last person on earth he wanted to see.
    “Melissa,” he replied in a tone so defeated he didn’t even know where it had come from.
    He just knew Shelly was thinking the worst, and right at this moment, he didn’t blame her. But she needs to let me explain. She has to, right?
    As he watched his ex-girlfriend strut down the driveway and make her way toward them, he felt Shelly retreat further back, as he turned to look at her. Her eyes were so glacial that they pretty much froze him on the spot.
    “I can explain,” he told her quietly.
    “Why would you need to?” Shelly asked coolly.
    Josh wanted to scream. Because you are jumping to the wrong conclusion! He looked to Shelly and then to the woman fast approaching. What the hell is she doing here?
    “Melissa is her name, huh? The woman who did a number on you?” Shelly queried, regaining his attention as she climbed back into his truck.
    “What are you doing?” he asked without answering her first question.
    “I’m going to wait in your truck until you do whatever you do to get rid of a woman, and then you are going to drive me home because I don’t have a car.”
    “Shelly...” Josh tried again.
    “I don’t want to hear it,” she told him before slamming the truck door shut between them.
    Josh was staring at the side of her perfect, angry face when Melissa stopped in front of him.
    “Where have you been? I have been coming by since Friday,” she said.
    Josh shook his head, not quite believing how shitty this morning was turning out.
    “Who’s that?” Melissa asked, gesturing to the truck. “You looked nice and friendly.”
    “What are you doing here, Melissa?” he asked her through a stiff jaw and clenched teeth.
    She flashed the smile he used to adore and do anything for. “Isn’t it obvious?”
    Josh shook his head and kept glancing at the car door. All he continued to see was Shelly’s side profile.
    When he finally looked back at Melissa, he was beyond pissed. “What? Why are you here?”
    She grinned and shrugged. “Because I made a mistake. I want you back, Josh.”

Chapter Seventeen

    Shit, shit, shit. So, it wasn’t the most eloquent moment of her life, but as she sat in the passenger seat of Josh’s truck, that was all Shelly could come up with. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Josh standing there by the window, talking to the leggy brunette, Melissa.
    Over and over, Shelly kept chastising herself and her quick fall into la-la love land. Had I really thought for one moment that it would be that easy? When had I become so naive? Fairy tales didn’t happen overnight. Heck, they rarely happened at all! She just had to look at her parents for that wonderful reality check.
    Pulling out her phone, Shelly texted Lena.
    Need to talk…NOW.
    Almost immediately, she received a response.
    Lena: Are you okay?
    Shelly shook her head, and then noticed out of the corner of her eye Josh was walking around the truck. Looking down at her phone, Shelly texted back quickly.
    Will call in thirty minutes to talk.
    The driver’s door was pulled opened, and Josh climbed inside the truck. Mutley whined and sat up on the back seat.
    “Shelly…” Josh started hesitantly.
    Turning to face him, Shelly plastered on the most painfully fake smile she had ever given.
    She responded, “Josh…”
    He sighed, shaking his head. “Are you going to talk to me about this?”
    “Nope,” she answered and stared out the window, avoiding his gaze.
    That was when she noticed the leggy brunette leaning up against the little Ford again, glaring at them. So, Shelly gave in to a sudden impulse and offered her a perky little wave that screamed, I’m in the car with your man, biotch.
    “She doesn’t mean anything,” Josh told her as he started up the truck.
    Shelly rolled her head along the headrest, so she was facing him. “Really? To me either,” she told him, her voice dripping with saccharine sweetness.
    “Why are you being like this?” Josh questioned, pulling the truck away from the curb.
    Shelly looked back out the window and muttered. “I’m not being like anything.”
* * *
    Josh looked at the silent woman sitting beside him. Gone was the soft country Georgia he had been with all weekend, and in her place was Man-Eater Monroe. She wouldn’t look at him, she wouldn’t talk to him, and he had to believe that as she sat there staring out at nothing in particular, she sure as hell wouldn’t let him touch her either.
    How could this morning have gone so wrong? He had been five minutes away from having a naked Shelly beneath him, over him, all around him, and then Melissa had happened. As if this weekend hadn’t been stressful enough, the arrival of his ex had to top it off.
    There was no way Shelly was going to let this go, especially after her parents’ confessions on the delicate subject of cheating. The real kicker, however, was that even though she knew Melissa was his ex, being confronted with another woman was not what she was ready to deal with now.
    Josh turned to look at her again. She was beautiful in her silence as she stared, fuming out the window. Hell, he thought, she is beautiful all the time, including the moment she confessed her feelings to him down by the river.
    “Are you really going to sit there and pretend I don’t exist?” he asked her, no longer able to bare the silence. How did this woman slip under his skin so damn quickly?
    “I’m not pretending you don’t exist. In fact, I am very aware you are right there. I am pointedly ignoring you.” She told him while she continued to stare at nothing.
    “Is that right?” Josh asked, starting to get annoyed.
    “Yes, it is. I don’t understand what you expect me to say,” she told him, finally turning to face him. “Is she leaving?” she asked.
    Josh knew his answer was not going to be what she wanted to hear, but he wasn’t going to lie.
    “No, she wants to talk to me,” he told her.
    Then, he watched as she rolled her eyes.
    “What?” he questioned.
    “Nothing.”
    Josh stopped at a red light and looked to Shelly. “Tell me.”
    “That’s what all women say when they want to get a guy back,” she informed.
    Josh sighed, moving the car forward when the light turned green. “Well, I don’t want her back. I left her, remember?” he told her pointedly.
    As he sat there waiting for her response, he thought this was probably a good time to confess about owning the construction business, too. After all, she was already pissed. Probably best to get it out and just let her get over all the bad at once. Then, we can focus on the good, right?
    “Look, I don’t want Melissa. She has some stupid idea that she wants to discuss things with me. Shelly, she cheated on me. Why would I go back?”
    “But you’re going to go and talk to her?” she asked again as if driving home a point.
    “Yes. I told her I would.”
    “Fine,” she responded and went back to silently looking out the window.
    He drove them the rest of the way without saying a word. When he pulled up at the parking zone in front of her building, he parked the truck and watched as she unlatched the door. She seemed ready to get out without saying a word to him.
    Josh suddenly felt it was crucial to stop her. For some reason, it seemed imperative that he make her talk to him now before he drove away. He didn’t know why, but he felt as though something was slipping away from him.
    “Wait,” he told her.
    Josh watched as she stopped her movements.
    “What, Josh?” she asked coolly.
    Josh swallowed. What the hell? I’m already in the bad books, might as well lay it all on the table. Here goes nothing… “If this weekend meant anything to you, anything at all, then please let me take care of this, and then come and get you.”
* * *
    Shelly pushed open the truck door and climbed out without answering him. Her chest felt tight, and she wanted to scream, It meant everything! However, as her feet hit the pavement and she walked to the end of the truck, all she could think of was her mother’s sad face as she told her how she loved a man who didn’t love her. Then, as she banished that thought, she was swamped with visuals of her father calmly telling her that it was an arrangement between them, like it was some damn contract.
    Now, here she was, standing on the curb in front of her building, with a man who had to leave her to go and appease another woman. No, thank you! That was not what she had in mind for herself—not ever.
    She watched as Josh pulled her bag out of the truck and put it down in front of her, extending the handle. Reaching out, Shelly gripped it, and suddenly, he put his hand on top of hers. Looking up at him, his anxious eyes gazed down at her, but Shelly steeled herself against it.
    “Don’t end us like this,” he said softly.
    Standing tall, Shelly swallowed and asked, “End what, Josh? Nothing began. We had a fling.”
    He stood back. Removing his hand from hers, he lifted it and ran it through his hair. “Wow. Just like that, huh?” He paused, and then bent down to get nose to nose with her. “You sure don’t have any trouble writing off people as you judge them, do you?”
    Shelly raised a brow. “Excuse me?”
    “I was worried you’d be pissed when I told you about my job. But I didn’t even need to do that because you’re pissed for no reason at all, aren’t you?” he asked in angry disbelief.
    Shelly straightened her spine and tilted her head. “What about your job? You don’t work in construction now?”
    He shook his head at her. “What do you care, Shelly? You’re done with me, isn’t that right?” He questioned.
    Shelly felt her heart clench. Am I really done with him?
    However, before she could even answer herself, he continued.
    “Fine, go ahead and keep lying to yourself. Go and date Dr. Drab and the most boring men you can find because I tell you what—any man worth his weight would not stand here and be judged for something he didn’t do.”
    He went to move around her, to walk away, but he stopped beside her, telling her softly, “I own the construction business Mason hired, and this weekend meant everything to me. Have a nice life, Shelly Monroe, and do me a favor—lose my number.”
    Shelly watched him march over to his truck’s door, haul it open, and get in. Just as he pulled out from the curb, that stupid mutt poked his goofy head out the window. Shelly tried to remind herself that this was all Josh’s fault, but as they drove away, she was finding it harder and harder to convince herself.
    She was perilously close to feeling sorry for herself when her phone rang. Pulling it out, she flipped it open where she stood on the sidewalk.
    “Okay, what happened?” Lena asked without any kind of preamble.
    Shelly sighed, trying to push Josh’s parting words and the thought of him going back to Melissa from her head.
    “I need to get drunk.”
    “Tell me what happened,” Lena requested again.
    “Josh Daniels happened, and I need alcohol to recover.”
    There was silence, and then Lena suggested. “Rachel has been bugging me about this place she goes to. She says it’s off-the-chain wild.”
    See, this is what I need—a night with the girls.
    “If it’s Rachel I’m sure it will be, count me in.” Shelly paused, and then asked, “What’s this place called?”
    Lena laughed, and Shelly groaned, knowing it was going to be some crazy place no one had ever heard of.
    “I believe she said it’s called Whipped.”
    Shelly paused. What the hell?It could be fun. “Okay, call me with details.”
    “Will do. Hey, Shelly?”
    “Yeah?”
    “Are you going to be okay?”
    “Sure,” she said in a soft voice. “Just don’t ever fix me up again. You suck at it.”
    With that, she hung up, wheeled her bag to the lobby door, and went inside to try and sleep the horrible morning away.
* * *
    Josh was fuming while he made his way back to his house. He couldn’t believe Shelly had reduced their weekend to a fling.
    A fling!
    The woman was so pig-headed and stubborn that she couldn’t even see what was in front of her—which, of course, was him. Well, not anymore. He was not going to be one of those guys who waited around for a woman, who in the end said no, thanks and wiped her hands clean. He wanted a partner—someone to share his life with.
    The problem was he also wanted Shelly.
    Turning into his street, he saw the blue car still parked in his driveway. He had been hoping that maybe, just maybe, Melissa would have left.
    He parked the truck into the spare space beside his home and got out, opening the door for Mutley. Melissa smiled over at him as she got out of her little car.
    Josh walked over to her and demanded, “Okay, what do you want, Melissa?”
    She smiled at him, reaching out to touch his arm. It was almost strange how much he wanted to pull away.
    “I told you, Joshua. I want to try again.”
    Josh looked to the sky and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, and then looked back to Melissa, focusing on her.
    “I don’t understand. It’s been months, Melissa. Why now?”
    He watched as she stepped closer, and he just waited, not moving.
    “Can’t we go inside?”
    Clenching his jaw, Josh shook his head once. “No, we can’t go inside. You can tell me why you’ve turned up here. Did you run out of money?”
    Josh watched as her brown eyes widened in feigned shock, and he couldn’t help but compare them to a startling blue pair he had come to adore. Melissa’s were suddenly lacking.
    “No. What a horrible thing to say to me!”
    Raising a hand, Josh ran it through his hair. “Look, Melissa. I’m tired, annoyed, and just want to go inside and get some sleep. Stop jerking me around and tell me what you want.” He paused, and then added in an annoyed tone. “Or leave.”
    She looked around, and then finally her eyes came back to his. “Fine. A friend of ours saw you the other day with the blonde.”
    Josh blinked once slowly, trying to comprehend what she was telling him, and then he shook his head again. “Are you serious? You came all the way here because someone told you I was out with another woman?” Beyond incredulous now, Josh demanded, “Where did they even see me? No, wait a minute. Who cares? Tell me you didn’t come back here because of that.”
    She bit her bottom lip in a gesture that had once worked every time, but suddenly, all Josh could think of was a certain man-eater.
    What the fuck is wrong with me? He internally berated himself and his poor choices in women. He was obviously delirious from lack of sleep.
    “Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while—how much I missed you—”
    “That must have been when Dave was at home with his wife, right?” Josh asked coolly.
    “Being an asshole doesn’t suit you, Joshua.”
    “Well, I didn’t think being a cheater would suit you, but you made it work,” he told her, watching as she registered his words. Then, he said what he had wanted to say for years. “I wanted a life with you, Melissa. I wanted to make it work. Hell, I moved across the country to try and make it work.” Shaking his head, he looked over his shoulder and whistled at Mutley. He watched his dog’s ears prick up, and then he trotted over and sat by his legs. “It was you who chose otherwise. So, please don’t come back here, pretending to care because you heard I might be moving on. Get in your car, drive away, and please don’t ever look back.”
    “But, Josh—”
    “No,” he said, effectively cutting her off. “There’s nothing else to say except goodbye.”
    He spun on his heel without waiting for an answer and made his way to his door. When he got there, he turned and watched as Melissa, the first woman he thought he had loved, reversed down the driveway. As she pulled away from the curb, he realized he felt nothing as she drove away. He wondered if that had anything to do with the fact that he’d left his broken heart at a certain blonde’s feet as he had driven away from her not even an hour earlier.
* * *
    It had just turned 10:00 p.m. when Shelly’s intercom sounded.
    Buzzing the girls up, she applied one last coat of gloss to her lips, and then headed to the door to unlock it. Several minutes later, the door opened and in walked Lena and Rachel. Shelly tried to smile at them both.
    With her hair flowing over her shoulders, Lena was dressed in a tight black dress and bright red shoes. It was her go-to dress as Lena liked to joke. Hey, it works, and she looks gorgeous.
    Then, Rachel moved from behind Lena and shook her head as she looked over Shelly. “No,” she told her pointedly.
    “No?” Shelly questioned, looking down at her black strappy top and flirty pink skirt. “What’s wrong with it?”
    Rachel rolled her eyes, shaking her head.
    She was dressed tonight in a black backless halter top and skintight black leather pants. Her dark hair was pulled up in a tight, high ponytail, and the purple tips were brushing the nape of her neck.
    As Rachel walked around her, Shelly noticed for the first time a wicked-looking tattoo, running vertically along the length of her spine and disappearing beneath her leather pants.
    Shelly looked over to Lena, mouth hanging open, and her friend shook her head.
    “I didn’t know she had it either.” Lena paused, and then chuckled. “She has a whole bunch. She was showing me on the way over here.”
    Shelly turned back to look at Rachel, who was still frowning at her.
    “What’s wrong with my outfit?”
    “You look like you’re going to a high school dance,” Rachel told her with a smirk.
    Shelly tried not to be offended. She decided if Rachel was going to turn up looking like the sexiest version of a goth dominatrix, then she needed a drink to deal with the fashion advice.
    Most of the time Shelly was the one handing out the opinions. Tonight, apparently, it appeared she was totally out of her depth.
    Moving to the kitchen, Shelly poured them all a lemon-drop martini. She then turned, handing the drinks to the girls, and looked over at Goth Barbie in the corner.
    “Well, I’m sorry I don’t know how to dress appropriately for a place called Whip Me.”
    Lena laughed as Rachel raised a brow.
    “It’s Whipped, Monroe, and don’t be so quick to judge. I hear your nickname is Man-Eater,” Rachel said with a grin.
    Shelly felt her mouth drop, and then she shut it, shooting a quick glare to Lena. “I’m killing Mason. Next time I see him, he’s dead.”
    Lena gave her a pretend pout as Shelly turned back to face this morphed version of Rachel. Gone was the fun-loving pastry chef, and in her place seemed someone slightly detached and cool.
    Almost as though she was removed from the entire discussion, Rachel looked over Shelly. “You want to bring sex.”
    Shelly raised a brow and put a hand on her hip. “Excuse me? This isn’t sexy?”
    Rachel nodded. “It is. But it’s not the right tone. You want dirty sex.”
    Narrowing her eyes at Rachel, Shelly turned to Lena, who was grinning like a fool.
    “Does Mason know where we are going tonight?” Shelly asked Lena.
    “Um...he knows we’re going clubbing,” Lena answered with a smile, and then tacked on, “Plus, Rachel doesn’t want him in her business.”
    Shelly turned back to Rachel. “What is this place? You’re freaking me out, Rach.”
    Rachel took a sip of her martini, and then told Shelly. “Just a place I go to escape. It’s nothing illegal or bad. I just don’t want my big brother there. Is that cool?”
    Shelly shrugged but sensed there was more to this than she knew. The three of them had been out before and had even gone out with Mason. Heck, they had all been to the Blue Moon that night with Josh.
    Yes, that amazing night in the parking lot with—no! She was not going to think about him tonight.
    Instead, she focused on Rachel. Usually, she was relaxed, happy, and fun. Tonight, she seemed edgy and wired, almost as though she was going to explode if the fuse was lit.
    Shelly raised her glass, toasting them. “Tonight is a girls’ night out! No men allowed!”
    They clinked their glasses and gulped down the rest of their drinks.
    Shelly turned to Rachel and tried for a real smile this time.
    “Okay, come and find me a dress that screams dirty sex, Rach.”
* * *
    Josh was climbing into bed at around 10:30 p.m. when the phone rang. Reaching out, he picked it up, almost hoping it was Shelly.
    “Daniels.”
    “Hello, Joshua,” Cole’s voice greeted him over the phone.
    “Hey, man. What’s up?”
    “I was just looking over my work schedule and called to remind you about our 10:30 meeting.”
    Josh sighed and then yawned. “It’s 10:30 p.m. And you’re working?”
    Cole chuckled over the phone. “I’m always working, Daniels. That’s why you hired me.”
    “No. I hired you because you are mean, ruthless, and scare the shit out of me.”
    “Oh good. My image is intact. Have a good night. I will see you tomorrow.”
    “Night, man,” Josh told him and hung up the phone, wondering what Shelly was doing at this very moment.

Chapter Eighteen

    Whipped was definitely not what Shelly had been expecting.
    As the cab pulled up to the curb, Rachel got out first as Shelly turned to Lena.
    “Do you know anything about this place?” she whispered in her friend’s ear.
    Lena looked over at her and shrugged. “I think it may be a little S&M.”
    “What?!” Shelly squeaked, as they got out clutching their coats around them to fight off the chill of the late March air.
    When they were all standing on the pavement, Shelly stated, “Alright, look, before I walk in the door...” Then, she stopped and looked over Rachel’s shoulder. “Ah, where’s the door?” Shelly paused, giggling, and moved closer, inquiring quietly, “Or is it like a dungeon?”
    Rachel raised her eyebrow and shook her head, her sleek ponytail swishing from side to side.
    “You, my friend, are an idiot,” she told Shelly. “The door is around the side of the building. No dungeons and no cages.”
    Shelly frowned, and then asked seriously, “Um, Rach? What should we be expecting?”
    Rachel smirked, walking past her toward the corner of the building where a crowd was loitering. “Just drinks and dancing.”
    Shelly turned to Lena. “I don’t believe her.”
    Lena slipped her arm through Shelly’s and grinned. “Neither do I, but you did say you wanted drinks to forget Jos—”
    “Don’t say his name,” Shelly told her friend as they finally reached where Rachel had taken a place in line.
    “Okay, I won’t say his name, but it is a shame. I thought things would work out.”
    Rolling her eyes, Shelly sighed. “Just because you’re happy and boning Langley every night—”
    “Eww,” Rachel chimed in. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”
    Shelly grinned unashamedly. “Okay, Miss Dirty Sex.”
    Then, she continued speaking to Lena. “Not everyone is as lucky as you and Mase.”
    Lena nodded before telling her softly, “I wish you could have been.”
    Shelly turned to face the front of the line, muttering, “For a moment, I was.”
    The line moved fairly quickly, and they were inside before they knew it.
    The lights in the entryway were dim, and Shelly wondered why it mattered that she had changed. It was so dark that it would be impossible to see the blue skintight tube dress Rachel had picked out for her.
    Rachel had also insisted on tying a black ribbon around her throat, resembling a choker necklace. After she had been dressed like a human-sized Barbie doll, Rachel had handed her a tall pair of spiked stilettos and had declared Shelly ready for dirty sex.
    Now, where is Josh when I need him?
    Like it mattered, she had nipped that in the bud, and he had told her to lose his number. Now, she could finally go back to looking for someone suitable who didn’t have an ex-girlfriend popping up to be a match contender.
    Once they were finally allowed into the main area, Shelly felt her eyes widen as her mouth formed a small O-shape. By the looks of her somewhat more prudish friend, Lena, she too, was a little out of her depth—or more like a lot.
    Rachel, however, strutted through the crowd, who actually moved for her, and made her way over to the bar. Not knowing what else to do, Shelly and Lena followed, looking around.
    This place sure was something. The low lighting continued through the center of the club, and red-velvet booths with black tables lined the far wall of the establishment.
    In the center of the space was a medium-sized dance floor, and on the other side of the club was the bar that ran along the wall. However, it wasn’t the décor of the place that was slightly shocking. It was the people that had Shelly gob smacked.
    Following Rachel, Shelly noted men and women of all different shapes and sizes dressed in anything from leather to PVC to—Is that spandex? Wow.
    Clearly, some of the people rocked the look. Like Rachel Langley, who had now reached the bar and was leaning on it, talking to the bartender with a sexy smile.
    Then, there were others who were showing a little too much skin and should probably invest in some full body chain mail.
    Shelly felt Lena grip her arm as they made it through the throng of people dancing and heavily kissing until they reached Rachel and stood beside her.
    Over the loud music, Rachel yelled, “What do you two want to drink?”
    Shelly was so busy staring at the way people were moving and acting in all their different outfits that she didn’t answer.
    “Shel?” Rachel asked her again.
    Shelly turned to look at her. “I need a tequila shot please.”
    Lena piped up then and yelled, “Me, too.”
    Rachel spun back around to the bartender and leaned her palms up on the counter, effectively moving her body halfway across the bar. The younger looking man, probably in his early twenties, stepped forward immediately.
    “Did you hear that, Riley?”
    Shelly watched as the bartender nodded, his eyes only on Rachel. Then, he said something that almost made Shelly fall flat on her face.
    “Yes. Miss Rachel.”
    “Good boy. Now, come here.” Miss Rachel told the young man.
    Shelly felt Lena grip her arm and squeeze.
    “What the hell is she doing?” she hissed in Shelly’s ear.
    Shelly watched as Rachel stretched across the bar’s counter.
    “I think she’s sealing a deal, or proving a...” Shelly paused utterly bewildered, and then looked at Lena clueless. “I have no goddamn idea. Did you know all about this?” Shelly demanded. “No wonder she doesn’t want Mason to know. He’d flip his lid.”
    Lena’s eyes were huge as she looked over at her soon to be sister-in-law. “I’m worried about her.”
    “Because of this?” Shelly asked, looking back to see the bartender now licking Rachel’s neck slowly with his hands behind his back.
    Mesmerized by the odd nature of what was going on before her, Shelly stood frozen, unable to look away. Once the bartender, Riley, had completed his…task, goal? Shit, Shelly had no clue what to call it. He stepped back and waited patiently for his next order. Aha! That’s the word—order!
    Rachel then moved from the bar and shook her hands by her side, as though coming out of a trance, before turning to face them both with a smile.
    Shelly imagined that she and Lena looked like they could have caught flies as they stared slack-jawed at the usually bubbly and fun-loving pastry chef. Oh yeah, Mason would have a shit fit if he knew where his baby sister was spending her nights.
    “Riley is going to bring us tequila for the rest of the night. It would be rude not to drink it,” Rachel informed.
    Shelly raised a brow at the forceful tone of Rachel’s statement, and then decided, What the hell? You only live once.
    Looking over at Lena, Shelly grinned. “I wanted to forget Josh Daniels. I can’t think of a better place to do that than here. You game?”
    Lena looked over to her fiancé’s sister, who was staring at them with those serious blue eyes again. Shelly followed her friend’s gaze and also zoomed in on the stranger, formerly known as Rachel, that was standing before them.
    Who is this woman?
    “You promise I will get home safely?” Lena asked her.
    Rachel finally smiled in a somewhat familiar way, and Shelly had to admit the power she was throwing their way was kind of cool.
    How does she do that?Super Domme powers? Ha ha, Super Domme! Shelly giggled giving the words a low deep ‘movie announcer’ voice in her head. Put on leather pants, and BAM, you’re an instant hypnotist?
    Either way, Shelly wished she had been wearing a pair when she had been looking at Melissa this afternoon because she would have advised her to take a long walk off of a short pier.
    “I would never let anything happen to either of you, Lena. You have my word,” Rachel told them.
    Shelly had to admit that this version of Rachel could tell her it was safe to go into a dark padded room, and she’d probably believe her.
    Turning to Lena, Shelly smiled and nodded before looking back to Rachel.
    “Well? Where’s the tequila, my friend?”
    Rachel looked over the bar to the statue of Riley and said nothing, just gave a slight nod of the head, but he understood because he scurried off.
    As he walked away to presumably get the shots, Shelly couldn’t help but liken him to a certain ninety-pound hairball.
* * *
    One-and-a-half sweaty hours later and four tequila shots down, the three of them moved off the dance floor, making their way back to the bar.
    Lena was at the end of the bar, leaning her back up against it. Shelly stood next to her, and then beside her was Rachel, who turned to face the ever-present Riley. Once again awaiting orders.
    Shelly had to admit that, as far as she could tell, it was a good system Rachel had going. Hey, more power to her.
    No man would ever tell Super Domme what to do, Shelly thought as her vision of Rachel started to blur a little. Giggling, she watched as Rachel turned toward her.
    “Having fun?” Rachel asked.
    Shelly nodded, and then turned her head back slowly, so she could focus on Lena.
    “Yep, we’re drunk,” Shelly slurred as she leaned into her closest friend and colleague. “The room is spinning a little.”
    Lena nodded before looking out to the sea of black leather, silver-studded collars, and PVC booty shorts. She giggled, saying, “You know these people all look ahh-ma-zing.”
    Looking out to the dance floor, Shelly had to admit that the club had lost quite a few patrons as the time had ticked by—probably since it was a Monday night.
    Then, she noticed that the remaining people were from a different kind of crowd. This crowd looked fitter, younger, better-looking. It was almost as if the young ones came out to play later at night.
    As Shelly stood leaning back on the bar, the three of them all looked to the dance floor.
    “He’s sexy,” Rachel pointed out.
    Shelly looked over to where she was pointing.
    There was an auburn-haired man dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, who was bobbing his head around to the music.
    Shelly looked him over—yeah, he is attractive—but his hair was the wrong color, and it was too short. He wasn’t muscular enough either, and when he turned to look at them, his green eyes weren’t chocolate brown.
    Damn Josh Daniels! Even drunk in a place called Whipped, he was still in her freakin’ head.
    Lena took that moment to peer around Shelly at Rachel. “Would ya fuck him?”
    Shelly looked at her fellow doctor in shock. “Oh hello, nosy?” Shelly sing-songed with a giggle. Then, she too turned to Rachel and asked, “So, would you?”
    Just as Rachel was about to answer, a low voice interrupted. “She would, but she shouldn’t.”
    Both Lena, and then a more controlled Rachel, turned to peer down to the very end corner of the bar where a man sat with his back against the wall. He was out of the light, so in their inebriated state, they really couldn’t see much. Shelly noticed he seemed to be twirling a lowball scotch glass in his hand.
    “And why shouldn’t I?” Rachel asked the man, acting much bolder than Shelly had expected.
    “Because he’s not your type,” the guy told her in that same smooth I-know-I’m-right kind of voice.
    Shelly watched Rachel roll her eyes as she turned away to look back out at the crowd.
    Lena took that opportunity to walk over and stand in front of Rachel. “Do you know that guy?”
    Rachel shook her head. “No. I’ve never seen him before.” She seemed thoughtful for a moment, and then added, “But guys like him—they’re all the same.”
    This interested a drunken Shelly immensely.
    Moving to stand beside Lena, she stumbled over her own shoe but caught herself in the nick of time. Straightening up with an amused giggled, Shelly and Lena faced Rachel, looking at her like she held the answers to the universe.
     “What’d ya mean?” Shelly questioned conspiratorially.
    Just then, Riley came over with three shots, three lemons, and a salt shaker.
    Rachel opened her mouth about to answer when her eyes lifted above their shoulders and zoomed in on the person now standing behind them.
    Shelly and Lena turned to see a tall man, at least six-foot-two maybe three, with short dirty-blonde hair, and Shelly knew that all three of them were staring.
    It wasn’t that he was dressed in anything ridiculous, like a studded collar or leather shorts. He was dressed in a pristine white dress shirt buttoned and tucked perfectly into charcoal pin-striped pants that narrowed at his waist. Draped around the open collar of his shirt was a crimson tie. However, the outfit didn’t end there. Resting over his arm was a jacket that was being held in place as he stood with both hands in his pants pockets.
    Wearing what appeared to be his work suit, he looked so out of place in this club that it was almost more comical than seeing the men and women in the leather and studs.
    “Ladies,” he greeted them with the same tone the man at the end of the bar had used.
    Shelly muddled through that with her inebriated mind. Ahh, same man.
    “I hope you don’t mind. I’d like to dance with your friend.”
    Shelly turned to peer at Rachel, and wouldn’t you know it, cool-as-a-cucumber Rachel looked Mr. Incredible over, shaking her head.
    “No, thank you. You aren’t my type,” Rachel dismissed.
    Lena squeaked and looked to Shelly, mouthing, Seriously? This guy was every woman’s type. Well, every woman but Rachel apparently.
    “Is that right?” he asked calmly.
    His voice was so smooth and cultured that Shelly knew this guy was educated in some way. Or, maybe, he had just a few less drinks than they had.
    Rachel dipped her head slightly and very elegantly for someone who had to be feeling more than a little tipsy. “That’s right. Nice suit,” she told him, almost sounding like some sort of  challenge.
    Shelly and Lena were now looking back and forth between the two like a tennis match—only this was better. This was Super Domme, and...well, heck, what does that make him? Shelly was almost afraid to know.
    “Nice hair,” he threw back. “Are you sure you won’t take me up on my offer?”
    Rachel sharply shook her head once. “I told you. You are not my type.”
    Shelly watched as the man moved in closer to Rachel. She was ready to tackle him if need be, and by the looks of it, it seemed as though Lena was also ready to jump up on his back and start hitting and kicking if back-up was required.
    However, it wasn’t needed as he merely leaned past Rachel, freeing his hand from his pocket to take the salt shaker. Bending his head, he licked the skin of his hand between his thumb and index finger, and tapped some salt onto it. He then moved the lemon, placing it close by, and picked up the shot glass filled with tequila, gesturing to her.
    “Oh fine! If you insist. Hold your hand up where I can lick it.” Rachel instructed, eyes blazing, chin determined.
    Fascinated, Shelly watched as he lifted his salt-covered hand to Rachel, daring her.
    “Lick.” his deep voice instructed, it seemed he was now giving the orders. He lifted his other hand, and raised the shot to her. “Sip. Suck,” he ended, nodding to the lemon.
    Apparently, not one to back down from anything, Rachel leaned forward, eyes locked on the stranger’s. She licked his hand, took the shot he offered, and then picked up the lemon on the bar and sucked.
    Shelly heard Lena gasp, and she wondered if her friend was also feeling the crazy sexual tension that was hissing and crackling around them like a roaring inferno.
    Then, he spoke. “See? I, too, can follow orders. Sometimes.”
    Rachel glared at him and narrowed her eyes.
    Shelly was shocked at this whole other side of Rachel. In fact, she was starting to think that maybe she was hallucinating her very own superhero and Super Domme was what she had come up with.
    Rachel stepped forward and tilted up her chin to the man, further investigating their battle of wills. “Once again. No, thank you,” she said strongly.
    Suddenly, it felt like the man realized the underlying message in Rachel’s response.
    Lena gripped Shelly’s arm tight like they were watching a great movie, and then they both froze as he dipped his head in retreat.
    “Very well,” he turned as though to walk away. But before he took a step, he looked over his shoulder and told Rachel, “By the way, I think I am exactly your type.”
    With that, he walked through the crowd and out of the club.
* * *
    Shelly watched Rachel blink twice, and then she seemed to pull herself out of some kind of moment.
    Well, hell, Shelly thought, that’s how I felt when Josh was all up in my space. Mesmerized, intoxicated, hot, and bothered.
    But Rachel had said no and had clearly shown that she was not interested. As Shelly looked across the club at the auburn-haired man, she had to wonder just what was so appealing about that guy over Mr. Incredible.
    Lena took that opportunity to reach over and grab their shots. Handing one to Shelly, they both passed on the licking and sucking and went straight to downing the fiery liquid. As it burned a hot liquid trail down her throat into her tummy, Shelly felt a giddy buzz come over her.
    “One more dance?” she asked Lena and Rachel.
    Lena had a pinched expression on her face from the shot, and Rachel was now laughing at her.
    “Sure, one more dance, and then in a cab to head home,” Rachel told them both.
    Shelly followed them out onto the floor, thinking to herself with a giggle, Yes, Miss Rachel.
* * *
    Josh woke up to a loud knock on the front door.
    Rolling over, he looked at the clock and saw it had just turned 1:45 a.m. He was going to ignore it until the knock happened again, and this time Mutley sat up, barking.
    Great. Now, I have to get it.
    Getting out of bed, he grabbed a T-shirt and walked toward the obnoxious knocking. When he got there, he opened the door and found Shelly standing on his doorstep in an electric-blue skintight tube dress. She had a jacket dangling from her fingers, her hair was a mess, and she smelled like a bottle of tequila.
    “What are you doing here, Shelly?”
    She wobbled a little, so Josh reached out his hand and grasped her shoulder to steady her. She smiled up at him, her face lighting up, but her bleary, bloodshot, sad eyes detracted from it.
    “I can’t get you out of my head,” she slurred. “I lost your number...the...the way you told me to, but I re..rem..remembered how to get to your house.”
    Fantastic, Josh thought as she swayed again.
    “Shelly, where were you tonight?”
    She moved a step closer and looked up at him. “You were so easy to fall for.”
    Josh shook his head. Shit. Not like this. Of course he wanted to hear this, but not now, not when she was drunk.
    He was about to say something when suddenly she swayed in the opposite direction.
    “I be okay, Josh,” she told him in the worst English imaginable. “Josh?”
    “Yes, Shelly?” he asked patiently.
    “Can I come inside?”
    This was so not what he wanted right now and definitely not how he had wanted to show her his place.
    “I’m going to drive you home, Shelly,” he told her.
    “Why?” she whined, frowning.
    “Because you and I are over, remember? We just had a fling?”
    “Fling schming,” she told him with a goofy grin. “You’re sexy.”
    That’s it. Josh reached back, grabbing his wallet and keys off of the small side table, shoved his bare feet into some sneakers by the entrance, and then moved toward her, shutting the door behind him.
    Swinging her up into his arms, he carried her to the truck and opened the passenger-side door. He slid her inside and closed it with a firm hand. Walking around to his side, he saw her looking out the window at him with a sappy look.
    Boy is she toasted, Josh thought. She’s going to hate herself in the morning.
    Getting in the truck, he started it and made his way to her place. She took that opportunity to start talking.
    “I wished you were with me tonight.”
    Josh took a deep breath and asked, “Where were you?”
    “Whipped.”
    “Huh?” he asked, thinking he had misheard.
    “At Whipped. With Super Domme.”
    Josh was beyond confused and suddenly worried some guy had been harassing her—or maybe she had been harassing some guy. In that outfit, any guy would welcome it.
    “Josh?”
    He turned to look at her. She was leaning against the truck’s seat with her head back and her face turned, her eyes focusing on him.
    “I really did fall for you under my tree.”
    Josh grimaced and felt his heart crack. “Oh yeah?”
    She nodded. “Yeah.”
    Josh swallowed and licked his lips. But he had to ask, “Then, what happened?”
    She took a deep breath and smiled sadly at him. “Reality,” she said before she promptly passed out.
* * *
    When they arrived at Shelly’s condo, Josh woke her with a gentle nudge and helped her inside.
    Waiting by the elevator with Shelly clinging to his side, Josh asked, “Which floor are you on, Georgia?”
    She tilted up her face, giving him a lopsided smile.
    Even drunk, the woman is gorgeous.
    “Three,” she told him, holding up her fingers. “One. Two. Three. Yep, three.”
    Josh shook his head and tapped his foot impatiently. He wished the doors would hurry up and open, so he could get her inside her condo, and then go home. Finally, there was a loud ping, and the doors swooshed open.
    Securing his grip around Shelly’s waist, he moved forward, making sure she came with him. He wasn’t quite sure what the security guard would think of him, standing there in his T-shirt and boxers.
    Not to mention, Shelly looked like she had been sexed up really good. Her hair was still a royal mess, her shoes were now in his hands, and she was clinging to him as though they hadn’t had a huge ugly fight earlier in the day.
    As the doors shut and the elevator started to move, he felt her slip a hand under his shirt.
    “What are you doing?” he asked.
    “Hmm…” she cooed. “I’m playing with you.”
    “No shit,” he replied. Halting her hand, he asked, “In more ways than one?”
    Removing her palm, she pouted, and those full pink lips called to him. He was still so mad at her, yet at the same time, he couldn’t help the way his cock twitched and his heart ached just from looking at her.
    She had essentially kicked him out of her life less than twelve hours ago.
    Without even waiting for an explanation, she had decided they were done and over with. And now, here she was looking like the man-eater he had first met—batting those eyelashes, pursing those sexy-as-sin lips, and inviting him to do all kinds of wicked things to her.
    “Fine then,” she told him when the doors opened.
    She removed herself from his grip and sauntered forward with as much grace as she could manage, which wasn’t much considering she stumbled a couple of times.
    “If you don’t want me, maybe you should go back to Melanie.”
    Josh rolled his eyes and made his way over to where she was struggling to insert her key into the door. Taking it from her, he unlocked it and pushed it open.
    “Her name is Melissa. And don’t you think if I had wanted her I would be in my bed now, wrapped around her, instead of standing out here in your hallway in my shirt and boxer shorts at…” He paused, glancing at his watch. “3 a.m.?”
* * *
    Shelly had to admit that she may have drunk more than she thought she had.
    As she stood just inside her doorway, Josh was starting to sway, and she didn’t think it had anything to do with him wanting to slow dance.
    “Well, maybe you left her in your bed so she’d be there when you got back home.” She paused, and then before she could stop her stupid runaway mouth, she added, “Just like you left me to go to her this afternoon.”
    Obviously, that had not been the right thing to say because, before she could blink, Josh was through her door, gripping her arms as he pushed her back against the wall.
    “Do you even know what you did to me this morning?” he growled as he lowered his head to look her in the eye.
    Shelly tried to focus, but she was finding it hard, so she closed her eyes and licked her lips.
    “It was you I wanted in my bed tonight, Georgia—not fucking Melissa.”
    Shelly’s eyes flashed open at that, and she arched her hips toward him. He was so close, and she wanted to touch him.
    “But you decided what kind of person I was, and then you left.”
    Lifting his hands off of her, he took a step away. She watched as he turned on his heel. She knew he was about to walk out her door, and there was nothing she could do about it.
    Or maybe there was.
    “You don’t have to leave,” she whispered seductively, moving away from the wall. The room spun a little, so she steadied herself. “You can stay.”
    He looked her over and then asked, “Why would I stay, Georgia?”
    Shelly looked him right in the eye this time. She thought she saw something, almost like defeat. She knew she had caused that, but now, she was not in the right frame of mind to deal with it. Instead, she reverted back to what she knew.
    Reaching up to the top of the electric-blue tube dress, she slowly peeled it down, revealing a blue strapless bra. Now, she had his attention.
    “Well, maybe you could stay for this.”
    Keeping her eyes on him the whole time, she continued to push the dress down, wiggling it past her hips until it fell to the floor. Stepping out of the fabric, she turned on the ball of her foot and made her way down the hall. Just before she disappeared into her bedroom, she looked over her shoulder at him.
    “Either lock the door on your way out, or lock it and come to bed.”
* * *
    Josh watched in quiet disbelief as Shelly turned and walked into what he presumed was her bedroom.
    The woman is driving me in-fucking-sane. Had she really just stood there and stripped down to the sexiest blue lingerie he’d ever seen in his life and then invited him to bed?
    What the fuck is going on? Just this afternoon, she had told him to get lost.
    Turning, he made his way to the door, determined to walk right through it and leave, but apparently, his hard-on and his goddamn heart had different ideas.
    Locking the door, he rested his forehead against it and took a deep breath. He could do this. Just go in there, keep my heart out of it, tear up the sheets with her, and walk away.
    Yes, he could do this.
    Determined to prove himself right, he turned and made his way down to her bedroom.
    However, what he saw when he got there almost blew his mind. She had turned on a side lamp and made her way onto her large plush bed. Somewhere along the way, she had stripped off the last two remaining pieces of lace, leaving them haphazardly on the floor. Looking at him from beneath her wickedly long eyelashes, she was centered on a crazy-looking comforter, lounging back against the pillows.
    She is too fucking enticing.
    “Good decision. You just going to stand there?”
    Josh finally kicked his ass in gear and made his way into the room.
    Her décor was insane.
    Pink, white, and black everywhere, but he didn’t give a shit about that at this moment. He walked toward the end of the bed, staring at her in all her perfect naked glory.
    “If we do this, you keep quiet, and we do this my way,” he told her.
    He watched as one side of her mouth tilted up while her eyes dilated. He couldn’t be sure if that was a result of alcohol or desire, but if he had to guess, he would have thought it was a bit of both.
    “Ohhhh. Want to gag and blindfold me, too?”
    Trying not to laugh at her sassy mouth, Josh stripped off his boxers, which were doing nothing but constricting him, and then he whipped off his shirt over his head.
    He took an inordinate amount of pleasure at the way her eyes zeroed in on his cock as her mouth parted. She lifted her right hand and moved it down between her thighs, pressing it firmly against her bare mound.
    Oh no, none of that tonight, Josh thought.
    Then, he moved up and over her like a panther on the prowl.
    “Move your hand, Georgia. It’s not needed down there tonight,” he told her, watching as she slowly removed her hand.
    When he was finally settled above her, he lowered his mouth to her lips and instructed, “Open your legs.”
    Her eyes slid closed, and he felt her shift, those beautiful legs of hers parting at his command. Settling his weight down between them, he rubbed his rock-hard erection up against her wet lips.
    “Hmm,” he groaned as he bit her lip. “You were so ready to just throw this all away, weren’t you, Georgia?”
    Her eyes snapped open. When he saw she was going to say something, he decided that he didn’t want to hear it.
    So, Josh took her mouth in a tempestuous kiss.
* * *
    Shelly thought she must have died and gone to heaven.
    After she had climbed into bed, she was sure she had heard her door open, shut, and then lock. But now, here was Josh—lying above her, settling between her thighs, and pressing all those rock-hard muscles against her.
    Wrapping her arms around his neck, she arched her breasts up to rub against his chest. She heard a rumble in his throat as he lifted his mouth from hers, bringing a hand up to stroke her face.
    His eyes were locked on hers, and she knew she must have been dreaming when he whispered against her mouth.
    “How can you not see how perfect this is?”
    Shelly closed her eyes, hanging on to the moment like a perfect memory, and then her lips parted as the dream took an erotic turn. A delicious pressure pushed between her thighs, and then suddenly she felt full—fuller than ever before.
    Clinging on to shards of reality, she arched her hips and sighed as he thrust home, her whole body thrumming with sensation.
    Her eyes slowly opened, and there he still was, deep chocolate eyes looking down at her with so much desire and such raw emotion that Shelly thought her heart would burst out of her chest.
    Then, her dream opened his mouth and spoke to her, telling her everything she wanted to hear.
    “You feel so good, Shel. You’re so tight. So warm.”
    She felt kisses along her neck and a hardness pulsating deep between her thighs.
    “How can you not see how good we’d be together and how much I would love you?”
    His final words hurled her over the blissful edge of pleasure, and then lulled her into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter Nineteen

     May
    Shelly had been on her feet for the past eight hours, and she saw no end in sight. She was currently bedside in the ICU, preparing to perform a bronchoscopy procedure.
    She was tired—exhausted actually.
    Over the past couple of months, she had been working extra shifts and doing everything she could to avoid having to examine her recent life choices.
    Her mother had been calling her every weekend to see how she was doing and when she would be coming back to talk.
    Honestly, all Shelly wanted to do was forget that they had ever talked in the first place. However, she knew the time would come when she would have to see them both, and she felt it would be better if she did it sooner rather than later.
    Then, there was him—the man that had somehow imprinted himself on her mind and body after such a short amount of time.
     How is it that Josh is still always on her mind?
    It had been over a month now since she had last seen him, and that had been so emotionally gut-wrenching that Shelly didn’t think she would ever recover.
    So, what do I do?
    She had worked herself into the ground to avoid dinners at Exquisite, skip late nights out with Mason and Lena, and evade working out with her friend. She had essentially disappeared. After all, that is what Josh had accused her of wanting to do. So why not live up to it?
* * *
    Shelly woke up to the sun streaming through her window and across her pillow. It was hitting her right in the eyes. As she blinked them open, she raised her hand to her face, trying to block the intruding rays. She groaned, “Oh god.”
    “Head hurts, huh?” a voice asked from the corner of her room.
    Squinting over at the comfy reading chair that she had placed under her window, she saw Josh sitting in his—wait, T-shirt and boxer shorts?
    Looking down at herself, she noticed she was in the bed with the sheet over her. Turning away from him, she slowly lifted the sheet and peeked under.
    Naked except for panties.
    She knew she must be a total mess, which didn’t help her disposition—not to mention, her throbbing head. Just as she was about to speak, Josh beat her to it.
    “Before you even start, you wanted it too.”
    Shelly bit her lip and reached up to run a hand over her, apparently, bird nest of hair. She frowned and cleared her throat.
    “I wasn’t going to say anything.” Because, honestly, she couldn’t remember.
    Images kept flickering through her mind of him above her, inside of her, but she was too embarrassed to clarify if it had been real—or worse, if it had been a fantasy.
    Josh quietly accused, “Now, that seems more like you.”
    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Shelly snapped as dignified as she could while hung over.
    Josh stood then and walked to the end of the bed. He looked around at the outlandish décor, and then back to her. He placed his palms on the comforter on each side of her covered legs, and then made his way up and over her.
    “It means you never say what you actually mean,” he told her as he hovered above her.
    Shelly clamped her mouth shut, not wanting him anywhere near her after the things she had drunk the night before.
    He didn’t smile. He merely held himself up with strong arms as he looked over her face.
    “I think you are the most amazing woman I have ever met, Shelly.”
    Shelly clutched the sheet tighter to her, gnawing hard on her lip.
    “And that completely terrifies you for some reason. It makes you want to just disappear from the moment,” he told her, his eyes locking with her own.
    Lowering himself down, he lay on his side next to her, reaching out to gently stroke her hair. “You got upset last night when you came to see me.”
    Finally, Shelly had to say something. Swallowing once, she asked. “What did I say?”
    Josh leaned in, and she tried not to even breathe as he laid a gentle kiss on her cheek.
    He whispered in her ear, “Nothing I didn’t already know.”
    Then, he rolled across the bed and got up.
    “What does that mean?” Shelly demanded, sitting up fast.
    She clutched her head, wincing, and then remembered the sheet, which had now fallen down in her lap. She used her other hand to slowly pull it up—although why she bothered, she didn’t know. When she finally looked back at him, he gave her a sad smile.
    “You’re not ready for me, Georgia,” he told her softly. “And that’s a real shame.”
    Then, he turned and walked out of her life.
* * *
    Shelly finally made it into her office as the phone was ringing.
    Pushing aside memories that continued to haunt her, she picked up the phone and was not surprised to hear Lena on the other end.
    “Okay. I don’t care what excuse you think you have or can look for or what the hell else you do whenever I’ve asked you out lately. You are coming to Mason’s tonight, and then we are all going to go down and watch the fireworks.”
    Shelly groaned and sat back in her chair.
    She was definitely in a funk. She hadn’t even started her new dating campaign. Maybe Lena was right. She just needed a night out with friends.
    “Will Josh be going?” she asked hesitantly.
    She reminded herself yet again that this was why she had avoided getting involved with him in the first place.
    “Mason had asked him to go. I don’t know if he’ll show.”
    Shelly shook her head against the chair and shut her eyes. Am I really going to do this to myself?
    “Okay, I’ll be there.” She paused, thinking, I can do this and be an adult. “What time?”
    “We’re meeting at seven for drinks,” Lena told her. “Shelly, we’ve missed you.”
    “I know. I’ll be there,” she promised, and then hung up the phone.
* * *
    Josh was on his way home to get ready for tonight.
    When Mason had first asked him to come along, he had been unsure. He hadn’t seen Shelly for nearly two months, and now that it was the start of all the holiday festivities, he knew it was more than likely that they would start running into one another.
    Chicago had a hidden secret—well, not that hidden to the natives. Every Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the city let off fireworks from Navy Pier.
    Tonight was the first night. They were all going to meet at Mason’s for drinks, and then go across the park to watch.
    Josh had kept himself busy over the past weeks, working on the restaurant expansion for Mason and getting a few minor details ready on his house to make it more buyer-friendly. Around a month ago, he had decided to put his house on the market.
    It had been one night after a few too many beers when an idea had come to him of what his next project should be, and it sure as hell didn’t involve restoring the house he was currently living in.
    Mutley looked over at him, and Josh nodded. That’s right, buddy. Once things are tidied up at the restaurant, I have a new project and some direction for my life to go in.
    First though, he had to get through tonight. Since Shelly never went anywhere alone—and God only knows who her exciting date will be tonight—Josh was going to ask Jenny.
    She was a nice girl he had met recently and had a few coffees with. A nice, sweet girl who had no baggage and seemed to want something permanent. Unfortunately though, nothing seemed to erase those big blue eyes and perfect blonde hair from his mind.
* * *
    Seven o’clock rolled around, and Shelly was now standing in the lobby of Mason’s, waiting for the elevator. She had pushed the button and was tapping her foot when she heard a pair of heels clicking behind her. When they stopped, she glanced over her shoulder and felt her heart skid to an abrupt halt.
    Standing behind her, looking as gorgeous as she remembered him, was Josh—and beside him was a small woman in a yellow sundress and strappy white heels. The lady had honey brown hair, and as she smiled at Shelly, all she could focus on was Josh’s hand on the woman’s back. Lifting her eyes to his, she thought she detected a moment of discomfort before he made himself smile.
    “Shelly. It’s been a while.”
    Shelly was trying to remember how to talk.
    Open mouth. Project sound. Nope, it’s not working.
    Luckily, the elevator pinged, and the doors swooshed open. Shelly almost ran in and pressed herself in the back corner.
    The little woman next to Josh looked up at him and smiled, probably at Shelly’s odd behavior, and then stepped in, standing on the other side of the elevator. Josh moved inside, pushed the button, and then leaned back between the two of them. As the car lurched and started to rise, he turned to look at Shelly.
    “This is Jenny.”
    Shelly looked up at him and knew her eyes must have been screaming something—maybe, What the hell are you trying to do to me?
    But, really, she had no recourse. This is what she had done to him.
    Telling herself to act like an adult, Shelly looked past him and smiled at the lady holding his hand.
    “Hi. I’m Shelly. I work with Lena.”
    Jenny’s face lit up as she nodded. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard Lena and Mason talk about you. I’m so happy to finally meet you.”
    What the hell? Shelly thought as the car came to a jolty stop. They have been double-dating with Lena and Mason?
    Oh god. She felt ill. All of a sudden she wanted to throw up.
    As the doors opened, Jenny got out first, and Josh turned to look at her where she was plastered up against the wall.
    “It’s good to see you, Georgia. You look great,” he told her.
    Then, he got out and walked over to Mason’s front door, leaving Shelly and her emotions shot to shit.
* * *
    When Mason opened the door, Josh could tell he was shocked to see all three of them waiting in the hall.
    His friend looked at him, and Josh knew his face must have looked strained. He was trying really hard not to let it show because he didn’t want Jenny to be uncomfortable, but standing so close to Shelly after all this time had him all kinds of wound tight.
    “Hi, guys!” Mason exclaimed with a big grin, letting them all in.
    As Josh moved past him, Mason whispered, “What the hell, man?”
    “Don’t ask,” Josh mumbled back and moved forward, following his date.
    That was when he heard Mason say softly, “It’s so good to see you, Shelly. You look beautiful.”
    Oh and she does, Josh thought as he walked into the kitchen to grab a beer.
    His eyes found hers as she moved over to Lena.
    Tonight, she looked absolutely stunning, wearing a white gauzy dress that seemed to float over her body as she moved. It was a halter dress that dipped down into a low V-shape between those beautiful breasts with the waist cinched by a taupe satin ribbon.
    However, that wasn’t the kicker—that was the back of the dress, or should he say, the lack of one. The whole creamy expanse of her back was on display, and the material started up again at her waist, extending to the flowy skirt.
    She had a frown on her face, and he noticed her eyes kept darting over to Jenny.
    Great. Josh had really thought she would bring somebody. What a fucking mess.
    That wasn’t the biggest part of this mess though. The biggest part was he wanted to touch her.
* * *
    Shelly stood in front of Lena and thought it was pretty spectacular for her to have even walked into the condo.
    “You didn’t tell me he was dating someone,” Shelly accused softly.
    “Well, you never asked,” Lena pointed out gently. “You have hardly talked to me for me to tell you.”
    Well, she had a point, Shelly thought, silently hating her for it. “I hate that you’re right.” Okay, maybe not so silent.
    Lena leaned over and told her softly, “Would it help if I told you that you look beautiful, and he hasn’t taken his eyes off you?”
    Shelly looked over to the kitchen and locked eyes with the man she had said she wouldn’t and couldn’t love. She tried desperately to think of what her reasons for that had been again.
    He was dressed casually tonight in a white button-up shirt and jeans, and he looked sexier than she ever thought he had. He didn’t look away and didn’t hide the absolute raw emotion that filled his eyes as he ran them down over her.
    As Shelly felt her body respond, she pointedly looked away from him to his date, the lovely Jenny. This time when she looked back, he had moved over to chat with Mason.
    Turning back to Lena, Shelly told her, “No, that doesn’t help, and I need a very stiff drink.”
    Lena nodded and moved away to get it.
* * *
    So, Jenny was nice, which made Shelly even more miserable.
    She was an elementary school teacher and was so sweet.
    Shelly was feeling ill. What is the matter with me?
    She was the one who had ended things with him after his ex had turned up that morning months ago. She had panicked and sent him away.
    Shelly knew it had been for the best because she had been and still was way too raw over the whole mess with her parents to even think about getting into a relationship.
    However, whenever she looked at him or heard him talk or laugh, her heart clenched, and her body throbbed.
    She had never been a believer in an instant connection, but that weekend, whether it was because she had been raw with emotions or just because it was the right man at the right time, she really thought she had fallen for him.
    Maybe she had for a day, before reality had come back to slap her across the face. But now, she had to stand here with this kind, sweet woman and watch her as she discovered that he was in fact very possibly the perfect man.
* * *
    Several hours later, after all the fireworks had gone off, they walked back through the park to catch a cab home.
    Lena and Mason were at the front of the group, holding hands and laughing together, and Josh found himself beside Jenny, wondering about the woman a couple of paces in front of them.
    He was listening to what Jenny was telling him and answering in response correctly, but his eyes and mind were on the naked back of the woman walking ahead of him.
    She had been so subdued tonight, not the usual man-eater he was accustomed to or the sweet Georgia for that matter. She was just quiet.
    Almost sad.
    He knew she had to still be dealing with her parents’ revelations, and he figured that him showing up with Jenny tonight probably hadn’t helped either. It pained him to see her that way because she was usually full of life. Tonight, though, she just looked so tired.
    When they all reached the road, Mason hailed a cab, and Jenny was the first one in because she lived across town. She leaned up and kissed Josh gently on the lips as he wished her a good night. She really was a good girl, but he was pretty certain she knew that they weren’t a forever match.
    As the cab pulled away, Mason chose that moment to clear his throat.
    “I’ll let you get Shelly a cab. We’re going to call it a night.”
    Josh saw Shelly roll her eyes and shake her head as their friends went to cross the street.
    From the other side, Lena yelled, “I’ll call you tomorrow with the time for the dress fittings, okay?”
    He saw Shelly nod as Lena then turned, taking Mason’s hand as they walked into the lobby.
    Josh had to envy them. They had found each other and loved one another so much that it made him smile just to look at them.
    Turning, he saw that Shelly had taken a seat on a bench that edged the park.
    Josh put his hands in his pockets and moved over to stand in front of her.
    “Jenny seems nice,” she told him, finally looking up at him.
    He nodded. “She is nice.”
    He watched Shelly look down at her lap and pick at her skirt. “What’s going on, Shel?”
    This was not the woman he had met a few months back. He moved and took a seat beside her. “Talk to me. Is it your parents?”
    She turned her head, and her blonde hair spilled over her shoulder. He reached out and pushed it behind her ear. She sucked in a breath and bit her lip.
    “Why do you think I’m such an idiot?” she asked.
    Josh felt the side of his mouth quirk up. “Idiot? You? Now, that’s not something I would ever accuse you of being.” He paused, raising an eyebrow. “Stubborn maybe, but not an idiot. Why would you even think that?”
    She looked away, and Josh felt his heart tighten in his chest.
    He didn’t want to feel like this for her, not for a woman who didn’t want him. But as she sat there, looking like a young girl lost, he couldn’t help but reach out, stroking the back of his finger down her cheek to her chin.
    He tipped her face up toward him, and as her blue eyes blurred with tears, he let his emotions show as well.
* * *
    Shelly watched as his eyes roamed all over her face as though he was memorizing every little feature. She couldn’t help the tear that had slipped from her eye, falling down her cheek.
    “Talk to me,” he told her.
    Shelly wanted to. She wanted to tell him everything she was thinking. How much it had hurt to watch him with Jenny. How much she had wished it was her. How every time he had touched his date tonight, Shelly had pretended he was touching her instead.
    But, as he looked at her so intently, she knew she couldn’t do that to him.
    He had moved on. He was dating a wonderful woman, who really was the sweetest woman Shelly had probably ever met.
    So, instead of telling him everything in her heart, she whispered, “Mason was right, huh? Blondes really are your type.”
    Josh dropped his hand and took a deep breath before standing. Shelly stood beside him as he raised a hand for a cab.
    When one pulled up, he stepped forward, opening the door for her. Shelly took a step and was about to get in the cab when he gripped her arm gently.
    She turned as he softly said, “She is the imitation of what I want. Unfortunately, the original is not available.”
    With that, he let go, taking a step back onto the sidewalk.
    Shelly looked him over, feeling another tear slide down her cheek, and then she slid into the cab’s back seat.
    As it pulled away from the curb, she turned around inside the cab and watched as Josh faded away into the night.

Chapter Twenty

    June
    Two weeks later, Shelly was standing in front of a full-length mirror, looking at the dress Lena had picked out for her.
    She had to admit that the dress was gorgeous. It was pastel blue, strapless, and flowed gently over her curves, ending just an inch or so above the knee. The dress complemented both Rachel and her perfectly. With eyes on the mirror, Shelly looked at the two women who were standing behind her.
    “So? What do you think?” she asked, raising a brow.
    “Are you serious? It looks fantastic,” Lena exclaimed, stepping forward to run a hand down the material covering her hip. “It is seriously unfair how you sometimes resemble a Barbie.”
    Rachel laughed behind them. “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult.”
    Lena looked over at Rachel, who stood next to her in a long purple, blue, and pink tie- dyed shirt and cutoff denim shorts that were frayed around the thigh. The girl sure does have an eclectic choice of clothes, Shelly thought.
    “It was a compliment. Didn’t every little girl want to be Barbie when they were younger?” Lena responded.
    “Not if she wanted to get laid. Ken always had his tighty whiteys on.” Rachel pointed out with a wicked smirk.
    Shelly chuckled, and Lena burst out laughing.
    “Okay, okay. Forget the Barbie reference. We all definitely like sex,” Lena said.
    “Although it’s been a while for some of us,” Shelly mumbled.
    All of a sudden, she had two pairs of eyes on her as she stood in the center of the pedestal.
    “How long?” Lena asked quietly.
    Shelly moved her eyes to Rachel, who seemed intent on her answer as well.
    Oh, what the hell?
    “Since Josh.” Both of her friends’ eyes widened, and Shelly shrugged. “Don’t read anything into it. I just haven’t wanted to date after that whole thing.”
    Rachel stepped up close behind her, still keeping their gazes locked. For a minute, Shelly thought Super Domme was making an appearance, but then Rachel’s eyes softened.
    “What happened with you two? He won’t tell me shit, and that’s not like him.”
    Shelly looked to Lena, who was the only person who knew the whole story. Then, her eyes moved back to Rachel. “He wanted more. I didn’t. So, we ended it.”
    It was silent for a moment. Shelly took the opportunity to step down from the small round platform, turning around to move into the dressing room.
    “Are you high? Why wouldn’t you want something more with Josh? He’s one of the most amazing men I know,” Rachel asked.
    Shelly felt her temperature rise as she faced that very logical question. Instead of answering Rachel, she went on the defensive. Always a great move among friends. Not.
    “Why don’t you date him then, if he’s so wonderful? Or maybe you’re afraid he won’t follow orders?”
    Rachel’s eyes narrowed as Lena moved to stand between the two of them.
    “Alright, kitty cats, sheathe your claws,” Lena said.
    Rachel was the first to speak. “I just don’t understand. He’s attractive, successful, and kind, and you’re going to just let him move away.” She stopped, shaking her head. “For a doctor, I thought you’d be smarter than that.”
    Shelly blinked at Rachel as she continued pointing out all of her faults, but Shelly had blocked out all the sound. All she kept hearing was, You’re just going to let him move away. Those words repeated over and over in her head.
    Finally, she snapped to. “He’s moving away?”
    Both Lena and Rachel nodded.
    “He told us last night at dinner,” Lena confirmed.
    Shelly walked back into the dressing room like a zombie.
    He is moving. He’s leaving.
    She would never have to see him again. She would never have to worry that he was going to be at Lena’s and Mason’s or down at Exquisite.
    She should have been thrilled, but as she stood in the dressing room, she felt as though her heart had made that final crack, and it was now completely broken.
* * *
    Josh was sitting on his couch with a beer, watching the Cubs.
    His afternoon couldn’t have gotten much better than that. He had finally taken the plunge the other day and gone down to the bank to apply for a loan. When Cole had called to tell him he had been approved, he had felt elated.
    Finally.
    Finally, something was going the way he had planned. He had worked things out with his crew, currently working on Mason’s renovation, and arranged it so he only had to be present once a month.
     Ahh, the beauty of owning your own business. If you want to work on other projects, you are free to. You have no one to answer to, except your employees and the person that hired you. As long as you can deliver your services and pay your staff, then the sky is the limit.
    However, Josh didn’t want to go to the sky. No, he had somewhere more specific in mind.
    Just as he took another sip of his beer, there was a sharp knock at his door. Looking out the window, he tried to see who was there, but whoever it was must have been standing close to the door.
    Sitting up, he placed his beer on the coffee table and went to answer it. When he pulled it open, he was surprised to see Shelly standing there, but in the back of his mind, he had known, or suspected, that she would eventually show up.
    She stood there on his porch, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt, a pair of cutoff jeans, and white flip-flops. She had her hair pulled to the side in a messy-looking braid. She looked cute, refreshed, and so utterly appealing that he almost felt like nixing his whole plan.
    But, no, in the long run, he felt that what he was doing was for the best, and it would eventually work out for him. Right?
    “Shelly? This is a surprise,” he told her.
* * *
    Shelly looked Josh over as he stood there holding the door open. It was true. She didn’t know him as well as she wanted to. It was also true that it was her fault.
    As she stood there taking him in, she thought it was highly unfair that she was just now realizing the enormity of her own stupid mistake.
    “Is it true?” Shelly asked with no greeting whatsoever.
    He stepped aside, and Shelly walked in past him.
    Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes for a moment before continuing into his front hall. When he shut the door, she turned and saw him standing there, watching her.
    “Is what true?” he questioned slowly.
    Shelly knew he had to know what she was referring to, but he wanted confirmation. So, she gave it to him.
    Dropping her bulky leather bag on the floor, she asked, “Are you really leaving Chicago?”
    She watched as he nodded, but he stayed where he was, not making any move toward her.
    “Yes, it’s true. I’ll be leaving in a couple of days.”
    Shelly sucked in a deep breath, not realizing until that moment how much that admission was going to affect her. She felt like he had just punched her in the gut. Taking a step to him, she was a little shocked when he took a step back.
    “What are you doing here, Georgia?” he asked her.
    His face was serious and devoid of all emotions.
    Swallowing deeply, Shelly turned away from him and looked around the living room.
    “Where’s Mutley?”
    He laughed and asked, “Really? You want to know where my dog is?”
    Shelly turned back to face him, shaking her head. “No,” she whispered.
    “Then what?” Josh inquired again.
    Trying to find the courage, but not locating it anywhere, Shelly opted for evasive maneuvers.
    “Well, I wanted to say goodbye,” Shelly rolled her eyes at herself, and then shook her head. “I’m doing a terrible job of lying, aren’t I?”
    Finally, he moved.
    He stepped forward until they were standing with only inches separating them.
    Shelly looked up into his warm chocolate eyes and whispered, “I’ve been working on my brave face.”
* * *
    Josh reached up with both hands and cupped her face. “It’s still pathetic.” He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. “What do you need to be brave about?”
    He watched as she bit her lip, blinking those beautiful eyes at him.
    “I wasn’t like this before you.”
    Josh tilted his head and asked, “Like what?”
    “Vulnerable. You’ve made me a walking bag of emotions!” she accused.
    Leaning down, Josh laid his lips against hers in a gentle kiss.
    Lifting his head, he told her softly, “But we were just a fling.”
    She tried to shake her head, but with him holding her face, she could move it only slightly.
    “You were never just a fling,” she whispered.
    “Then, what was I, Shelly Monroe?”
    She licked her lips and locked eyes with him. “You were a game changer.”
* * *
    Shelly couldn’t believe what she had just said that to him.
    What on earth am I doing?
    Laying her heart on the ground is what she was doing. Laying it down and saying, Here you go, please tread carefully. She stared up at him, eyes locked with his. She saw sadness flicker into them before quickly disappearing.
    “And what game are we playing, Georgia? Yours?”
    Well, that didn’t sound good, Shelly thought as she pulled back. What did I expect? Well, she had expected…
    “I thought that you wanted this?” She paused, pointing to him and then herself. “Us?”
    She watched as he turned away, shaking his head. “I don’t trust you, Shelly.”
    That hit hard. It actually physically hurt. “I don’t understand what you mean. I’ve never cheated on you or betrayed you.”
    “Haven’t you?” he questioned, running his hand through his hair. Spinning back to her, he dropped his hand down by his side. “Didn’t you betray me and yourself when you reduced everything we did that weekend to a fling?”
    Shelly stepped back until she bumped into the wall. “I was confused. I didn’t believe it could happen that quickly,” she tried explaining in a rush of air.
    “Well, that’s convenient—for you. But me? I’m just thrown aside. Not trusted because an ex showed up?” he asked, moving toward her. “I’m left feeling like shit because you freaked out. And now that I’m leaving, now that I have my shit together and know what I want, you want to tell me how you feel? Jesus!” he ended on a loud sigh and pushed past her, storming into the kitchen.
    Shelly stood with her back pressed to the wall, breathing hard.
    Is that what I’m doing?It probably is, but screw that.
    She was fighting for what she wanted. She was going to push all the sweet Jennys out of his mind and remind him who he met first—and that was Man-Eater Monroe. Delicious Daniels liked her. He couldn’t resist her.
    Maybe she just needed to reintroduce them.
* * *
    Josh stood in the kitchen, staring out the back window.
    Mutley was outside running around, and he was in his house on this perfect afternoon with Shelly, confessing her feelings for him.
    Of course, this is what he had wanted all along, but somehow, her showing up just because he was leaving pissed him off. He wanted her to turn up because she had realized every day would be better if they were together. Not because she was afraid that he was walking away forever. Shit, her timing is horrible.
     “Josh?”
    He heard her call from behind him. Turning, he saw Shelly standing at the door to his kitchen.
    She had let her hair out of the ponytail holder and had kicked off her flip-flops, and suddenly, Josh was thrown back to months ago when he had first met this firecracker.
    “What, Georgia?” he asked as he watched her look him over.
    What the hell is the woman trying to do to me?
    “Why are you angry at me? I just wanted to tell you how I felt before you left. You always tell me I never say what I’m thinking.”
    He shook his head and watched as she pushed off the doorjamb, moving toward him.
    “That’s the problem, Shel. You’re telling me because I’m leaving or because of Jenny.”
    He watched her stop at that, and then she tilted her head.
    “Are you and her serious?”
    Josh almost lied. He almost said yes, just so he wouldn’t get pulled into her spell and be caught for the rest of his life. As he stood there with his ass leaning against the sink, he watched while Georgia walked toward him with those big eyes and her sexy hair spilling over her shoulders. And he thought, Fuck it. Sometimes a man has to know when to give in.
* * *
    Shelly waited in the middle of his kitchen as he looked her over from head to toe.
    He answered quietly, “Jenny and I only went on three dates.”
    Something heavy lifted off of Shelly’s chest at that, and suddenly, she felt very confident. Continuing her walk across the kitchen, she stopped in front of him, reaching out to trace a finger down the white T-shirt he was wearing.
    That was another thing she liked about Josh. He was such a simple guy when it came to the everyday things, but then again, he could afford to be because the man filled out a T-shirt and a pair of jeans like nobody’s business.
    “Shelly?” he seemed to warn her.
    Looking up at him with a raised eyebrow, she smiled wickedly, teasing a finger under his shirt down to the top snap of his jeans. She was thrilled when he uncrossed his arms and braced his hands behind him on the sink.
    “Josh?” she asked in turn.
    She watched his muscular chest expand on a deep breath.
    “If we do this, you need to understand that I’m still leaving,” he explained.
    That was not what she was expecting, but at this stage, she was willing to take what she could.
    “Okay. Would you be open to email?” she asked him unexpectedly.
    She was pleased when surprise crossed his face.
    “I don’t understand what you mean,” he told her.
    She continued to swirl a nail around the bare skin between his navel and the top of his jeans.
    “Will you email me—stay in contact with me?” She paused, biting her bottom lip. “Or are you leaving and never coming back?”
* * *
    Josh looked down at her, feeling every emotion he had tried to squash rush back in.
    “I’m undecided at the moment, but yes, I’ll email you if you want me to.”
    He watched as her eyes clouded, but she quickly blinked and nodded.
    “I’d like that,” she confessed. She rose up on her tiptoes, placing both palms on his chest, as she laid her lips against his. “You know what else I’d like?”
    Josh’s breathing was getting more and more labored with every word she spoke. “No. Why don’t you tell me?” he suggested, finally reaching up to grip her upper arms.
    “I’d like to feel you inside of me again.”
    Groaning low, Josh nodded as he straightened up from the sink.
    Reaching into her hair, he pulled her face forward, pressing his lips to hers. She parted her mouth straight away as he slipped his tongue into the warm interior. He heard her moan and felt her hands move around behind his waist, landing on his ass.
    Oh yeah, it’s been too long since I’ve kissed this woman.
    As she pressed closer to him, he walked her backwards until her back hit his stainless steel fridge. Her eyes opened and focused on his as he reached for the hem of her shirt, tugging it up and pulling it over and off her head. Tossing it behind them, he then looked down at her beautiful breasts encased in a lacy yellow bra.
    I’ve never liked that color so much, he thought with a smile.
    Reaching up with both hands, he gently cupped and plumped them forward before lowering his head, biting at the straining nipple through the bra. A moan reverberated through her as he felt her hands come up and drag through his hair, gripping it tight.
    Rubbing his tongue against the lace-covered tip, he’d finally had enough. He wanted her flesh. He reached up and slipped his fingers in the cup, moving the lace out of the way. Once the nipple popped free, he latched onto it with greedy lips, sucking the hard tip into his mouth. The scream that left her throat was deep and throaty, and as she flexed her hips toward him, he knew that she wanted this as much as he did.
    “What, Georgia? Tell me what you want.”
* * *
    Shelly tugged on Josh’s hair until he moved away from her sensitive nipple. She was standing in his kitchen in only her shorts and her bra that was now pulled down, and all she wanted was to be completely naked. Right now.
    “I want you,” she panted.
    “Well, that’s good because I want you, too.”
    Shaking her head back and forth against the fridge, she told him, “I want you in me, over me, all around me. Now.”
    He smiled at her and reached down to pull off his white shirt.
    Shelly felt her mouth part, as her eyes traced every wonderful muscle defined on his chest. She wanted to lick and bite all of them.
    He unsnapped his jeans, pushing them down his hips. All of a sudden, Josh—aka Mr. Delicious—was standing buck-ass naked in his kitchen in the middle of the afternoon.
    Shelly licked her lips, lifting a hand to tug on her own nipple, as he stood there proudly displaying his own obvious attraction to her.
    Holy shit! The man is hard.
    His cock looked like an arrow that was pointing right to her. As she played with her nipples, he groaned, and she lifted her eyes from his hard-on to his face and smirked.
    “You don’t even need me,” he told her as he stood a few inches away, watching her.
    Shelly pushed her hips out as her back leaned up against the fridge, and she moaned while she tugged a little harder on the sensitive tip.
    “Hmm, yes, I do,” she told him in a purr.
    “Oh yeah?” he asked, stepping closer. “What for?”
    Shelly let her eyes flutter closed, but when she felt big hands on the button of her shorts, they flew right back open.
    “I need you to put that,” she said, pointing to his now weeping cock, “in here.”
    Then, she palmed herself through her shorts, thrusting her hips forward.
* * *
    Josh watched as Shelly played with her nipples while pressing her hand between her thighs, and suddenly, his control snapped.
    Reaching out, he grabbed the hand between her legs, tugging her forward. Caught off-guard, she squeaked when she almost fell, but he was there to catch her as she stumbled.
    He turned her around, pushing her toward the fridge. She was now standing so her breasts were pressed up against the cool stainless steel, and his hot naked body was pressed firmly against her back.
    “Hmm,” he moaned, rubbing his aching shaft against the denim covering her ass. He leaned down and burrowed his nose under her ear, taking a deep breath. Ahh, apples. Reaching around her tiny waist, he slid his big hand down her shorts and into her panties. She groaned loudly as his fingers brushed past her hard little clit.
    “Oh god,” she moaned, pressing her cheek to the fridge. “Just do it,” she told him boldly.
    Grinding himself against her, he asked softly, “Do what, Georgia?”
    She squirmed, pushing her ass back against him. “Put your damn fingers in me.”
    Josh chuckled, loving this side of Shelly. She was so demanding and confident. She was never one to shy away, and she always asked for what she wanted.
    “Not yet,” he told her.
    Removing his hand, he unzipped her shorts, pulling them and her flimsy little yellow thong off of her.
    If he hadn’t been so desperate to get point A—his cock—into point B—her wet, tight slice of heaven—he might have stopped for a minute to appreciate the little thong. As it was, all his blood was between his legs, and it wanted to start pounding something now.
    As he looked at her creamy white ass now on display for him, he dipped his knees and stroked his erection up between her ass cheeks. He heard her curse, smirking to himself, as he did it over and over while he gripped her hips.
    “Josh,” she groaned in warning.
    “Yes, Georgia?”
    She looked over her shoulder at him with her eyes clouded and dilated, her lips parting. She looked like someone who had been thoroughly fucked—or was about to be.
    “Sometime this year, please?” She paused, pushing her hips back on him. “I never knew you were such a tease.”
* * *
    Shelly was overheating.
    She was burning up from the inside out, and Josh kept sliding his hard cock over her ass like he was going to start his own fire from rubbing wood—literally.
    She was about to tell him to hurry up and get inside her when he pulled back and gripped her waist, tugging her over to the kitchen counter. Bending her forward so she was half lying on the cool granite, she felt his large hard body mold to hers from behind.
    “Now, Georgia, you might want to reach across and hang on.”
    Feeling her own juices dripping down her thighs, Shelly knew she was more than ready for a good pounding.
    It had been weeks, no forget that, months since she’d had good hot sex, and it had been with this man. As she felt his throbbing tip brush against where she was aching, Shelly reached across the counter and held on tight.
* * *
    Josh gripped Shelly’s hips, lining himself up, and then he thrust deep inside where she was hot, tight, and oh, so wet. She felt like every fantasy he had ever had, and as she moaned out loud, she also sounded like it.
    Bending over her so his chest was touching her back, he gripped her small hips and started to flex his own, burrowing his cock deeper inside her.
    He felt possessive all of a sudden, like he wanted to mark her, imprint himself on her, in her, wherever he could.
    As he pistoned his hips back and forth, he leaned down, whispering in her ear. “God, Shel, how could you think this is anything other than fucking perfect?”
    He heard her cry out, feeling her push her hips back to him, as he felt a deep chuckle leave his throat from the sheer animalistic nature of the act.
    He had never been so rough or so forceful with a woman, but as she pushed herself up with her hands, arching that beautiful back toward him, Josh couldn’t help but lean down and bite her shoulder.
* * *
    Oh fuck! Shelly thought when she felt his teeth in her skin.
    He was fucking biting her, and she was loving it. She lifted herself up, using her hands to brace herself, as she slammed back against him, feeling his cock drive deeper inside her.
    “Fuck, Shel,” he moaned.
     Then, he wrapped one arm around her waist and really started to move. In and out, his hips bumped up against her ass with every forward stroke. As he leaned down, he growled in her ear.
    “Nothing ever feels as good as being buried deep inside you while your hot little pussy squeezes me every time something excites you.”
    Shelly clenched, and Josh cursed.
    “Apparently, you like it when I talk dirty, hmm?” he murmured in her ear. “Hold on tight, Georgia. I need to get deeper.”
    Shelly almost came right then.
    Good God, the man has a dirty mouth on him, and she had to admit that she didn’t mind it one bit. Usually, she was the one who had to hold back, but when Josh pushed gently on the small of her back and she found herself with her cheek against the cool granite counter, she knew he was her exact match.
    “Now, Josh. Oh god,” she groaned, needing completion.
    She felt him flex his hips, his hands gripping hers on the counter. After three strong thrusts, he leaned down and kissed her ear gently.
    Whispering, he confessed, “I knew from the very first moment that you would change me.”
    He sucked her lobe and continued to move harder inside her. As her breathing quickened, she turned her head, and his mouth found hers. He kissed her hard, thrusting his tongue deep inside her mouth. As she felt him tense behind her, flexing once more, she fell apart, body and soul on his kitchen counter.

Chapter Twenty-One

    July
    Home was always hard to go back to. However, this time around it was excruciating for Shelly. She had opted to take the plane back for Fourth of July, and as she sat by the window looking out at the runway, she couldn’t help but think about her last email from Josh.
    He was being really mysterious about where he was. She had even tried getting it out of Mason, but he merely shrugged and told her he had no idea.
    Honestly, Shelly didn’t believe Mason for one moment.
    Why would Josh just vanish? Well, he had his reason, but she didn’t buy that either.
    Shelly,
    Please stop sending me naked pictures of you during the day. I lose focus on everything around me. At least if you send them at night, I can open them in private and enjoy them one-on-one. ;)
    For the millionth time, no amount of skin that you send me is going to make me tell you where I am. I told you that I am happy being alone for the time being. Plus, if I tell you where I am, I know you will turn up, and quite honestly, Georgia, I’m not there yet. That’s not to say I won’t ever be—just not yet.
    As always,
    Josh
    He wasn’t there yet. Well, aren’t I stupid?
    When he’d been ready, she had run away as quick as her legs could carry her, clinging to the insane notion that his ex-girlfriend had been a threat.
    Shelly had known all along that there was no threat there. She had seen it in his eyes and heard it in his voice when he had waited to make sure she was okay the next morning after her late night out.
    Every single move Josh had made proved that he cared and his feelings were real.
    And what did I do? Reduced them all to one ugly word—fling.
    So, really, this hopeless, unrequited infatuation she had with him was her own damn fault because now he didn’t trust her.
    As the plane taxied down the runway to wait in the holding line for take-off, she recalled her own email with her anxious questions.
    Maybe it was time to leave the man alone. Perhaps he did need his space, like he had said. Maybe he didn’t want her to keep emailing him with naughty snapshots.
    However, as the cabin rattled and the jet engines kicked in, making the loud roaring sound signaling their imminent departure, Shelly couldn’t help but think if that were the case, then he would tell her to stop emailing altogether. Wouldn’t he?
* * *
    Josh sat down with his laptop and a beer.
    He had spent the morning down at the worksite, and he couldn’t wait to get home to open the most recent email from Man-Eater.
    Yep, she had most definitely reclaimed that name.
    The woman was intent on giving him a hard-on in the middle of the day. On more than a few occasions, he had been working at the site, checking his phone after he had heard it chime.  Then, right there in his inbox, snapshots of the stunningly sexy doctor had appeared.
    At one point, he had asked her why she had sent them through email instead of a text message, and he had to laugh at her response.
    If I text it, it’s instant. If I email, you anticipate opening it. Plus, if it goes to the wrong person, then at least I have a chance of recovery. Imagine that going to Mason? Instantly?
    Oh, hell no, had been Josh’s first reaction.
    There was no way he wanted Mason’s eyes on that, and he was pretty sure that Lena wouldn’t want it either.
    Shelly was breathtaking. As he sat down on his apartment’s shabby couch, he opened the laptop and switched it on. There, on his screen, was the most beautiful face he had ever seen.
    Her eyes were almond-shaped, and the blue was so stunning in its vibrancy that it almost looked unreal. In this picture, she was looking over her naked shoulder, and her hair was disheveled all around her face. She had her phone in one hand, pointing it at the mirror. Her lips were parted, and her eyes were screaming come and get me. Damn, she’s beautiful.
    He had known leaving was going to be hard, and honestly, Josh hadn’t known what to expect after that desperate moment of passion in his kitchen.
    Letting her walk away that day had been the most difficult decision he had ever made, especially knowing he was still going to leave.
    He’d known from the beginning the depths of his feelings, and nothing was going to sway him from giving them both the time they needed. If it was meant to be, they would find their way back to each other.
    If not?Well, if not, I’m screwed.
* * *
    As the plane touched down in Georgia, Shelly took a deep breath and looked out at the rain drizzling down the plane’s window.
    What a miserable day, she thought, and then wondered if it was a precursor to her visit. She wasn’t looking forward to spending one-on-one time with her parents, and she was pretty sure her father wasn’t either, especially after her last spectacular visit.
    After the plane landed, she made her way off and went through all the necessary lines and security checks. Shelly finally entered the waiting area, and immediately, she saw her father standing toward the back of the baggage claim area, leaning up against a big white column.
    Shelly noticed that most women walking by had stopped to look at him. Shelly could see that he was an attractive man. She looked just like him, or so everyone told her, and for years, she had taken that as a bad thing.
    However, when his eyes found hers and he smiled, she had to rethink her initial thoughts. Maybe he was looking forward to seeing me. The man looking at her with a full warm and friendly disposition was not the man she was accustomed to. This man looked relaxed and carefree. Nothing like the stressed-out rigid man she knew as her father.
    Walking toward him, Shelly hefted her carry-on bag over her shoulder and watched him move forward. When he stopped, holding out a hand for her bag, she slid it off of her shoulder and gave it to him.
    “Hey, Princess.”
    Shelly usually resented that name from him.
    He’d given her the nickname as a child, and when things had started to change for her in regard to him, well, she hadn’t wanted him to call her anything special because it had hurt too much.
    So, as he stood there, holding her bright pink bag over his broad shoulder, she found herself shocked as she relented—a little bit.
    “Hey.”
    “How was the trip?” he asked. Turning on his heel, he led the way out to the parking garage.
    “Not bad. Considering the weather, it was fairly smooth,” she stated, following beside him silently.
    When they got to his truck, he pulled back the bed cover to put her bag in the back, and she had an instant flash of Josh lifting her bags into his truck. That man was determined to stay in the forefront of her mind.
    “So, you decided to fly this time, I see,” her father pointed out as they got into the truck and the engine rumbled, turning over.
    Shelly nodded. “Yes, eleven hours in a car is only good once a year.”
    “I agree. It’s a long way to drive.” He paused, and then tacked on the end, “By yourself.”
    As they pulled out onto the road, the rain accompanied by a strong wind hit the windshield, making a swooshing sound.
    It’s a really miserable night.
    “I thought you might have brought that fellow with ya,” her father stated, and then paused. “Josh, was it?”
    Shelly winced a little, not wanting to talk about it because she had a sneaking suspicion they might get into an argument.
    “Yes, that was his name, but we aren’t together anymore. He moved,” she told him, effectively ending that line of conversation.
    The silence in the dark cab of the truck stretched painfully.
    Then, her father cleared his throat. “Look, can we talk ‘bout what happened the last time you were here?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
    Shelly looked over at him and tried to see the man she had idolized as a little girl—before all the teasing had begun, before the relentless rumors had followed her everywhere she went, and before her perfect image of him had been shattered.
    She nodded. “Sure.”
    He glanced at her quickly, and she found herself staring at her own blue eyes. They crinkled at the sides as he gave her a tight smile, and then he looked back to the wet road.
    “I want to apologize to you, Shelly.”
    Shelly stared at his profile, unable to say anything.
    When he realized nothing was going to come out of her mouth, he continued. “For years, your mother and I had an understanding.”
    “God, that is such a horrible word to use for a marriage,” Shelly told him boldly.
    He nodded in agreement before pointing out, “So is using the Lord’s name in vain, but you just did.” He paused for a moment his accent slipping in here and there, as he continued, “However, you’re right. What we had wasn’t ideal for any situation, especially for a young girl growing up.”
    Shelly couldn’t look at him anymore. She turned, staring out the window as the rain slid in small droplets down the pane. Her heart started to ache, and as her father’s deep voice continued, it ached a little more with each word.
    “I don’t know where ya ever got the notion that I wasn’t proud of you. Your mother told me that. Truly, Shel, how could you ever think that I’m not proud of you?” He paused as though waiting for an answer.
    She had nothing to give him except snarky comments like, Maybe because you never told me. Or, perhaps, because you cared more about chasing ass? However, she didn’t say anything like that. Instead, she sat silent once again, letting him continue.
    “Nothing made me prouder than when you decided to go into medicine. I remember thinking you were just like me.” He paused as she turned to look at him.
    “I’m nothing like you, Father,” she told him softly.
    He frowned. “I know that now, but I figured that some of me had to rub off. And, Shel, honey? Maybe it was the good part?” He took a deep breath and raised a hand to run his fingers through his hair. “Maybe you are all the goodness I had in me.” Shaking his head, a baffled expression came over his face. “I was never cut out to be a husband or a father, Shel. I’m a surgeon—a man with no emotions who goes into an OR to stop someone from dying. Not a man who can walk around a park and buy ice cream with a little girl in pigtails. That was never me.”
    Shelly tried to blink back her tears but knew she was failing, so instead of facing him, she continued to stare out the window and listen to his confession.
    “For years, I tried to be what your mother and you needed and wanted, but, Shelly, that wasn’t me.”
    “So why not leave?” Shelly finally asked, looking at him with a million questions in her eyes. “Why not pack your bags and leave us?”
    He took a deep breath and reached across the truck seat to take her hand. Shelly found herself perilously close to yanking hers away, but at the last minute, she made herself keep it there.
    He squeezed it and then told her, “Because I loved you both, just not the way you needed me to.”
    It was Shelly’s turn now to shake her head. “I don’t understand what you’re saying to me.”
    He took a deep breath and let it out on a long sigh. He let go of her hand, grasping the steering wheel. “I loved your mother as a friend, Shelly, a best friend, but not as a wife. When she got pregnant, she was so happy about you. I was terrified. I had just enrolled in medical school, and adding a baby to the mix was not going to be ideal in any scenario.”
    Shelly swallowed, and then forced herself to ask, “So, you stayed because of me? Gee, that makes it so much better.”
    There was silence, and then he told her, “No, Shel. I stayed for me. I couldn’t bear to leave you. Your mother kicked me out, rightfully so, when she had heard about my indiscretions. Those weeks were the longest of my life—the ones away from you, and in a sense, her, too. In the end, I begged her to let me see you, and she did with one condition.”
    Shelly narrowed her eyes. “And the condition was that you didn’t break up the family?”
    He nodded. “Yes, that I raise you in a good, respectable Southern way by providing you with a mother and father living happily under the same roof.”
    Shelly barked out an odd sound, and she assumed it was some kind of sarcastic laugh she had resorted to. “Yeah, look how well that turned out?”
    He was facing the road, and then he finally turned to her. Shelly was shocked to see tears blurring his eyes.
    “It turned out horribly wrong,” he told her slowly. “Instead of raising a happy, proud, and beautiful daughter, we raised a scared, smart, stubborn, and incredibly beautiful young lady, who was embarrassed her whole life and made to feel ashamed of her own family. For that, your mother and I are truly sorry, and we hope that someday you can forgive us.”
    Shelly raised a hand to her eyes, wiping tears away. “I just don’t understand where the man who took me to the park disappeared to. When did he become so quick to judge my life instead of supporting me in it?”
    Her father grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t know where he went, Shel. I can only say that I probably judged you harshly in your life because I was afraid you would make the same mistakes I made in my own.”
    “Being me? And Mother? We were your mistakes?” Shelly demanded.
    “No, being the hurt I caused you and your mother. My own selfishness and stupidity hurt two women I respect and admire. The man who bought you ice cream by the fountain is not who I am. But, Shelly, he is the man who taught me how to love you, and he is the man you should try and love. Try to think about him and maybe eventually you’ll forgive me.”
    They finally pulled up outside the house, and her father turned to her.
    “I love you, and your mother and I are so very proud of you. Don’t let what we did to each other, and inadvertently you, destroy your life.”
    Shelly bit her bottom lip as she turned to push open the door.
    “Oh, Shelly?”
    She turned back to see her father give her a lopsided smirk.
    “Your brave face is still horrible.”
* * *
    Josh was sitting, watching a baseball game, when his laptop chimed, indicating he had a message. Looking down to the toolbar, he saw it was from Georgia.
    Leaning forward, he picked up the computer and put it on his lap. Reaching out, he grabbed his beer, took a swig, and read.
    Georgia: Can’t sleep. You awake?
    Josh settled on the couch and typed back.
    Yeah, I’m awake, Georgia. How goes it?
    Georgia: Ugh. I’m down visiting my parents this weekend…need I say more?
    Josh took a deep breath and let it out.
    Wow, that must be rough on her, he thought as he put the beer down on the coffee table. Sitting back, he typed.
    Horrible?
    Georgia: Pretty much. Drove back from the airport with my father.
    Oh boy. Josh wasn’t sure what she wanted at this stage, so he kept it light and easy, letting her make the decision to either open up or move on.
    How’d that go?
    Josh waited a good five minutes, and then he got her response.
    Georgia: It was really sad. How is it that in the space of several months I have had my heart broken twice?
    Josh leaned his head back against the chair and reread that message twice.
    Why is she determined to bring me to my knees?
    He wasn’t ready. His brain and his body were ready, but his heart was still telling him to tread gently. This woman had the ability, as he already knew, to break and burn him.
    I broke your heart?
    Josh asked like an idiot. This conversation could only move him further toward aching for her when he was trying to work out what to even do about her.
    Georgia: It breaks every time I think of you.
    Josh’s heart wasn’t broken right now. It was thundering in his chest. He wanted so badly to reach over and pick up the phone—to call her and hear her voice telling him all the words she was writing. Instead, he wrote back.
    Mine has never quite healed.
    There was a long pause, and he wondered what she would write next. He was shocked when she changed the subject.
    Georgia: It’s raining here tonight. I’m sitting by my bedroom window with my laptop, watching the lightning.
    Josh settled in, crossing his legs on the coffee table while he turned on some music.
    Yeah? It’s raining here, too.
    Georgia: Where’s here?
    None of your business.
    He typed, chuckling, and added a smiley face poking out its tongue.
    Georgia: Damn, I thought for sure I could get you that time.
    Nice try, Georgia, but I’m onto you.
    Georgia: Pretty sure you’re not, or I’d be much happier right now.
    She ended that flirty little comment with a wink. Josh grinned, typing back.
    Happier, huh? You’re happy when I’m on top of you?
    Oh yeah, sexy I can do. Heartfelt, I’m not ready for, Josh thought.
    Georgia: Happy is probably the wrong word. Hot? Horny? Wet?
    Josh groaned, and then shook his head. Crazy, sexy woman.
    What are you wearing?
    Georgia: A smile.
    Laughing, Josh wrote back.
    And…
    Georgia: A bigger smile?
    Josh smiled over her antics, and then wrote.
    I want to kiss that smile soon.
    Georgia: If you told me where you are, I’d come see you.
    Josh sighed as he always did when she asked. Then, he responded.
    I know. That’s why I haven’t told anyone. I’ll be back for the wedding.
    Georgia: That’s in a month! That’s a long time to wait for a kiss.
    Josh sat up before writing.
    Trust me, it’ll be worth it. I gotta go sleep now. You okay?
    He waited, wanting to make sure she was feeling alright.
    Georgia: Yeah, I’m fine. Josh?
    Josh felt his heart hammer in his chest again.
    Yes?
    Georgia: Thank you for being there. I wish you were here to hold me tonight.
    Josh read the words and was just about to send, I want to be there every night, when he noticed she was already gone.

Chapter Twenty-Two

    August
    Josh was packing up his truck and getting ready to drive back to Chicago. He had a wedding to attend.
    He opened the side door for Mutley, and his dog took a bounding leap, landing in the passenger seat before turning back to look at him.
    Yeah, you aren’t as pretty as my last road trip partner, Josh thought before ruffling his dog’s head.
    Mutley whined, and then lay back down.
    As Josh walked around the front of his truck to the driver’s side door, he looked up at the clear sky and took in a deep breath of fresh air. He had been on his way to hitting the highway, but before he got on a long stretch of road, he had wanted Mutley to stretch his legs a little. And he had some things he wanted to think over.
    So, he’d driven by a small place he had found recently and pulled the truck over. As he sat on the back of the tailgate, he thought about his future. He knew what he wanted, and she was living in Chicago. He wondered if she was happy there. Is that the place where she sees herself growing old?
    Shelly was such a contradiction of personalities. Sometimes, he wondered who it was he was talking to, but he knew it was time to lay out some options for her.
    He had to admit that in the months he had been gone, she had been extremely persistent. He didn’t know if the saying absence makes the heart grow fonder applied to her, but she sure did keep in daily contact with him, and it just made his evenings that much sweeter.
    Taking one last look around at the serenity in front of him, he stretched his hands above his head with a smile.
    Now is the time, Shelly Monroe.Now is the time to let me know what you want from me and when you want it, he thought.
    He climbed into the truck and started the ignition. As the vehicle hitched and bumped over the gravel road, he smiled at his dog and rubbed his head. Let’s go see Georgia, Mutley.
* * *
    Shelly was a mass of nerves.
    It was ridiculous really. It should have been Lena that was nervous. After all, tomorrow was her wedding day, not Shelly’s. However, as she stood in front of her full-length mirror, all Shelly could do was think about her last email to Josh and the sexy but vague response she had received in return.
    The man was utterly frustrating. He blocked her at every turn, never giving an inch. She wasn’t sure if he still had real feelings for her or if she was fighting a losing battle.
    Shelly was done fighting people. After the weekend with her parents, she had come home feeling freer than she ever had. Even though everything her father, and then her mother, had said to her was still not ideal, the fact that they apologized at all was a miracle.
    After that weekend, she had also started to reflect on her decisions in life.
    Exiting was the Shelly who thought she needed to date a man merely based on his success, and entering was a Shelly who wanted a man whom she couldn’t seem to get out of her head. And that man happened to be coming to the rehearsal dinner tonight.
* * *
    Tonight, Josh had opted to take a cab from the hotel he was staying at. The dinner was being held at Exquisite, and Josh had to admit that he was excited to see everyone. Even though he had only been back for a short time a few months earlier, hanging out with the Langley crew had been like living with a second family again.
    He was also looking forward to seeing a certain blonde.
    Oh yes. He hadn’t seen her since the end of June in his kitchen, and that had been such a hot and desperate parting that he had trouble remembering anything about that day except for taking her over the countertop.
     As the taxi pulled up in front of the valet, Josh got out and made his way to the front door. He knew that Mason had shut down the place tonight due to the private party. As Josh pushed open the doors and made his way inside, he had to admit that he was more than ready to see Shelly again.
    He looked around the dining room and saw Rachel and Lena sitting at a large table off to the left of the entrance. They were chatting among themselves and hadn’t seen him walk in yet. From the door, he saw a very serious expression on Rachel’s face as she shook her head at Lena. Then, Mason’s fiancée reached out, touching Rachel’s shoulder, and nodded.
    Okay, something is definitely up there. It’s none of my business though, so I’m not getting involved.
    He was about to move forward when the door behind him whooshed open. He turned around to see who had just walked in, and there standing a few feet away from him was Dr. Monroe. Tonight, every inch of her looked like the man-eater.
* * *
    Shelly opened the door and was treated to a fine view of Josh’s ass. She had forgotten how much she liked that part of the male anatomy.
    When he heard the door close, he turned, and they locked eyes for the first time in over a month and a half.
    “Well, hello, Josh,” she purred as she stepped closer in her red high heels.
    “Evening, Shel,” he greeted, now turning around fully to look her over.
    She’d opted for a blue blouse tucked in at the waist of a simple black pencil skirt that ended an inch above her knee. She had secured her hair into a waterfall braid around the crown of her head.
    “You sure are a sight for sore eyes, Josh.”
    She watched as he took a step toward her.
    He asked in a voice as smooth as whiskey, “Did you miss me?”
    Shelly knew he was testing her, checking to see if she would hesitate or deviate from the direct question that would make her reveal her true feelings.
    Instead, she told him sincerely, “Very much so.”
* * *
    Josh hadn’t been expecting that simple and honest answer, and just as he was about to tell her that, he heard Lena shout out her name.
    With the moment now gone, he watched her smile at him with those sexy lips, and then she brushed by his arm to make her way toward her friend. Hmm, she even smells amazing.
    As he turned around, he saw Mason standing over at the bar with a huge grin on his face. Josh shrugged and walked over to his friend.
    “Hey, man. What’s up?” Josh asked as he settled on a bar stool.
    “Not much, Josh. The business is great, the weather is supposed to be amazing, and tomorrow, I am marrying the woman I love.”
    Josh chuckled. “Could you be anymore smug?”
    Mason poured him a Goose Island Beer and shook his head. “Nope. Well, maybe. I could add to my list my prediction that you and Dr. Monroe would hit it off, but that would just be obnoxious or annoying, right?”
    Josh lifted the glass to his mouth and took a sip.
    As he placed the glass back on the counter, he nodded and told his good friend, “Or just annoyingly obnoxious.”
    Mason laughed before asking, “How are things going between the two of you?”
    Josh thought about that for a moment. “Good. We’ve kept in contact while I’ve been away. I think things are going well.”
    Mason acknowledged that silently, and then looked beyond him to the table of women. Josh turned around just in time to see Shelly let out a loud laugh that then had Lena chuckling and Rachel frowning.
     All of sudden, Josh found that he too wanted in on the joke.
* * *
    “Super Domme? That’s my new nickname?” Rachel asked incredulously.
    “Well, only in private, like in my head,” Shelly told her with a laugh.
    Rachel did not look impressed. Lena was chuckling, and Shelly thought it was downright hilarious.
    “Oh, come on, Rach, you took us completely off-guard. Who knew you had that in you?” Shelly asked her with a smile.
    Rachel arched her brow. “Was I supposed to announce it?”
    Shelly thought about that, and then lowered her voice. “Well, no, but hell, I didn’t even know you had any tattoos until that night.”
    Rachel rolled her eyes. “I just like to keep that part of my life private. Is that such an issue?” She paused, looking over to where Mason and Josh were now staring at them. Then, she turned back to Shelly. “Kind of like you and Josh Daniels.”
    Shelly thought about that as she turned and gave Josh a flirty wink before looking back to the girls.
    “No secret there. I am head over heels for that man.”
    Shelly watched as Lena’s face split into a huge grin, and Rachel’s mouth fell wide open.
    “Does he know?” Lena whispered.
    Shelly shrugged and then told her, “I’m pretty sure he has an idea since I’ve cyber stalked him every night since I don’t know where the hell he is staying. But, no, I haven’t straight out said it.”
* * *
    “Said what?” Josh asked as he stopped beside the sexy doctor.
    She looked over at him and smiled in a way that made every part of his body tense and achy.
    “None of your business,” she replied with a smug smirk that he wanted to kiss.
    Josh looked at the other two women sitting in front of him, and suddenly, he felt like he had been a large part of their conversation.
    “If I had wanted to tell you, handsome, I would have. I’ll tell you when I’m ready,” she said as she reached out a sassy finger, tapping his nose playfully.
    Reaching up, he grabbed that finger and squeezed it tight as he brought it down from his face. “Watch where you’re pointing that,” he warned her.
    He noticed her eyes narrow as she took a step closer to him.
    Suddenly, everyone seemed to vanish from the room except for him and Shelly.
    “Or else?” she inquired.
    Josh felt his cock stir. Every single emailed word, innuendo, and thought that had crossed his mind over the last couple of months flashed before his eyes, and he was a millisecond away from dragging her somewhere, anywhere, to act them all out.
    That was when Mason came up behind him and clapped him on the shoulder.
    “Okay, guys, let’s eat!” his friend declared.
* * *
    An hour later, Shelly was still seated opposite Josh, and she had to admit that he looked sexy as hell. He was dressed in black slacks, something she had never seen him in, and a white button-up shirt that had been left loose and unbuttoned at the neck. Just as she licked her lips in anticipation of finally nibbling that spot, he looked up and locked gazes with her.
    Shelly pulled out her dirtiest smile, directing it at him, as she relaxed back into her chair, taking a sip of her wine. The man was making her crazy with all of the stolen glances, promising hot, sweaty, back-scratching sex. It was amazing she had even made it through dinner with the obvious sexual tension he was throwing her way.
    She wanted him, and she wanted him now.
    “So, Shelly, are you ready for tomorrow?”
    Lena’s voice cut through her sensual haze, and she turned to look at her friend.
    “Yep, I sure am. All I have to do is walk down the aisle, and then stand off to your side, right?”
    Lena grinned, nodding. “Yeah, that’s it. Nothing special and nothing complicated. Just a simple, smooth wedding that will give me full legal rights to claim him.” She grinned up at Mason.
    Mason took that opportunity to bend down and kiss her gently on the lips.
    As he did that, Shelly looked over to Rachel, who was watching them both with an odd expression. She almost looked sad. Shelly didn’t know what that was about, but when Rachel looked her way, she plastered on a grin. Shelly returned it, not wanting to make her uncomfortable.
    Then, Shelly looked back across the table to the man she had been missing for the last month or so. He was finally here. She could actually touch him and tell him what she had been thinking about and what she had decided. She could finally ask him how he felt.
    Her face must have given something away because all of a sudden he stood and made an announcement rather boldly.
    “Shelly and I need to leave.”
    Shelly looked around the table at the shocked faces that were now looking at her.
    “We do?”
    Josh nodded, and then moved away from his chair, pushing it in under the table. Then, he gripped the back of it, and Shelly noticed his knuckles were going white.
    “Yeah, we do,” he replied in a voice that warranted no questions and no explanations.
    Shelly looked at his clenched jaw, then her eyes dropped down to his slacks, and—damn it, his shirt is covering his crotch.
    Standing slowly, Shelly noticed Lena and Mason grinning like idiots, and then she turned to see Rachel looking at Josh like he had three heads.
     Huh, apparently, this side of Delicious Daniels isn’t often exposed, and quite honestly, Shelly wasn’t sure she recognized him either.
    She moved around the table and made her way toward Josh.
    When she got there, she whispered, “In a rush?”
    Josh grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her toward the front door.
    When they were out of view from the table, he made a quick detour, pulling her into the coatroom. The small space was dark, and as he tugged her inside and shut the door, they were thrown into pitch blackness.
* * *
    Josh was going insane.
    He had tried to be civil, play it nice, laugh, socialize, and all of that good stuff, but what it boiled down to was he wanted his hands and mouth on this woman. He planned to achieve that—right this second.
    As he clicked the lock on the door, he moved forward and backed her up to the wall. She stumbled a little due to his haste, and when she was finally flush up against it, she dropped her bag.
    He moved directly in front of her until his hands were by each side of her head on the wall.
    “Did you hear anything during that dinner?” he asked.
    It was dark in the little room, and he couldn’t see her well. All he could do was wait and listen. He could hear her breathing intensify and kick up a notch, and then she whispered close to his mouth.
    “Not a damn thing.”
    “Me neither,” he told her.
    Then, he pressed his lips to hers in a crushing kiss. He dipped his tongue deep inside her mouth and felt his eyes almost roll to the back of his head when she sucked on it. He heard her moan as her hands crept around his waist to land on his ass.
    Moving his body in against hers, he rubbed it up against the length of her as she molded her front to his. When he lifted his head, he heard her panting, and she clutched him close.
    “God, I’ve wanted to touch you for weeks,” she confessed.
    He brought his hands down from the wall to trace along her body until they reached her hips, and he pulled her even closer. He nuzzled his face into the side of her neck, nibbling it, and then he dragged his tongue up to flick it against her earlobe.
    “I’ve wanted to be touched, Georgia. You’ve been making me crazy,” he told her.
    Her nails dug into his ass, and then her fingers moved without hesitation up his body and under his shirt where they stroked his bare flesh.
    Pulling his mouth away from her neck, he groaned in her ear.
    “I want inside of you so badly.”
* * *
    If it was possible, Shelly could have sworn that she just got wetter than she already was. It was hard to believe that the man held such power over her.
    As they stood in complete darkness in the tiny room only a few feet away from their close friends, all Shelly could think about was how quickly she could remove her panties and hike up her skirt.
    Apparently, that was all Josh could think of too because suddenly he disappeared from in front of her. She heard a soft thud and realized the man had gone down to his knees.
    Yes, yes, yes! Shelly thought when she felt his big rough hands cup her ankles, make their way up her naked calves, and then over her knees until he reached the hem of her black skirt.
    He paused there, and Shelly stood still, her harsh breathing the only sound thundering through her ears.
    “Any reason I should stop?” he asked.
    Shelly knew that he was trying to give her an out if things were getting a little too real for her, but as she stood there with her back to the wall and darkness surrounding them, Shelly couldn’t think of one reason for him to stop.
    “Not if you don’t want me to die,” she said, trying to inject some lightness into the situation.
    Instead, she felt his hands squeeze her legs, slipping a little ways under the hem of her skirt.
    “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you ever,” he told her much more seriously than she had anticipated.
    Shelly heard a rustling, and then his hands slid further up her thighs, the fabric slowly bunching up at his wrists and forearms. Then, she realized the rustling had been him rising up higher on his knees.
    As he was kneeling in front of her in the dark with her skirt bunched up around her waist, he told her, “I promised that the next time I saw you I’d kiss you.”
    Shelly took a deep breath in as he quickly ripped her tiny black thong away from her. She couldn’t have moved if the fire alarms had gone off and Mason had been pounding on the door. Her desire was so tangible that she was surprised her trembling legs were holding her upright. She supposed, somewhere in the back of her mind, that the wall was helping with that issue as well.
    The fact that they were surrounded by darkness only added to her heightened sense of awareness. When she felt a rough finger slide back and forth between her slick wet folds, she couldn’t help the deep guttural moan that was wrenched from her.
    “Oh yeah,” Josh groaned from his position down in front of her. “Goddamn, Shel, you’re so fucking wet.”
    Whimpering loudly, she finally told him, “Now, Josh. Please. Do it now.”
* * *
    Josh chuckled as Shelly leaned back against the wall for support, trembling in her heels with her skirt up around her waist. Since he had shredded her panties, she was naked from the waist down. As he took a deep breath in, dragging his finger back and forth through her juices, he licked his lips in anticipation.
    When she started to beg, Josh moved his head in close and flicked his tongue out to play with her throbbing clit. It was so hard and wet from her excitement that it took everything Josh had to slow it down and not devour her.
    Reaching up with his fingers, he spread her flushed lips a little further apart, and then ran his tongue back and forth against her juicy flesh. When she cried out in pleasure and gripped his head, Josh couldn’t help but grin wickedly to himself as he devoured the man-eater. What irony, he thought as she melted all over his tongue.
    He pleasured her until her moaning and panting was almost turning to a sob, and then he felt her reach down and grip his hair tight.
    “I need it now. Can’t wait. Need to feel you inside me,” she begged him as she tugged on his hair, trying to get him to move.
    Not one to turn down such a sexy plea, Josh stood, unzipped his slacks, and pushed them down his hips. He heard her moan, and then he moved forward.
    She wrapped her arms around his neck as he reached down to grip her right leg behind the knee. Hitching it up to his hip, he held it there and rubbed his aching flesh against her, waiting for her next move.
* * *
    Shelly was going to die if he didn’t put his cock inside of her right now.
    As he played between her thighs, she gripped his hair at the back of his neck, tugging him forward in the dark, and kissed his mouth roughly. This time she heard him groan, so she pulled back and bit his bottom lip.
    “Please…inside of me, Josh. I need to feel you stretching me, filling me up—”
    He grunted softly against her mouth as he lined up the thick head of his shaft, and then he proceeded to thrust home.
    Shelly screamed, biting down on his shoulder, as he entered her forcefully, banging her solidly up against the wall. While he continued to pound away at her with one of her legs hitched up and over his naked hip, Shelly couldn’t remember a man ever having such power over her. As she gave herself over to the powerful climax, screaming out his name and shattering all around him, she also knew there would never be another man who would.
* * *
    Standing in the cocoon of the coatroom, breathing hard, Josh could feel a bead of sweat slide down his temple. He was still lodged deep inside of her, and her arms were still wound tightly around his neck. Their reunion had been nothing short of spectacular.
    As her breathing calmed, she whispered, “Josh, I—”
    “Shh,” he murmured against her neck. “Shh.” He was not quite ready to hear that yet.
    He felt her tense a little.
    She asked quietly, “Why won’t you let me tell you how I feel? I don’t understand why you’re making this so hard.”
    Josh leaned in and kissed her lips. “I’m not trying to make it hard, Shelly.”
    As he finally pulled away, she sighed. “Then, what are you trying to do?”
    Josh thought about that, and then answered honestly, “I’m trying to make it right.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

    The next morning Shelly woke up early. As she lay in bed, she couldn’t help but think back to last night with Josh.
    It seemed that no matter how much she tried to open up to him, he was now the one pulling back. Or is he? It’s all so confusing, Shelly thought with a sigh.
    One moment, she could swear he wanted nothing other than to touch her or hold her. Yet, in the next moment, when she tried to tell him her feelings, he always stopped her.
    Maybe he was right to make them wait. He kept saying that he wanted things to be right. But how could they be when he was living somewhere else?
    As the alarm sounded beside her, Shelly rolled over and looked at the time. 8:00 a.m. Rubbing her eyes, she decided that now was not the time to try and work out the enigma that was Josh. Instead, it was time to focus on one very important thing—a wedding at Promontory Point.
* * *
    Several hours later, Shelly arrived at Lena’s old condo.
    She was actually rather surprised she remembered how to get there since Lena was very rarely at the old place anymore, instead choosing to move in with Mason. She put her place up for sale, but in this economy, it still sat empty. It was now the perfect location to get ready and keep the bride away from the wandering eyes and hands of her impatient groom.
    When she was buzzed in and let up to the floor Lena was on, Shelly had to admit that she was starting to feel nervous for her friend.
    Today was a huge day in Mason and Lena’s life.
    In front of family and friends, they were about to commit to one another, promising to love one another forever.
    Forever.
    That’s such a long time, Shelly thought as she waited for Lena to open the door. Just as it unlatched, Josh suddenly flashed into her mind, but she quickly pushed him aside when Lena appeared, beaming at her.
    “And how is the lovely bride on this beautiful morning?” Shelly asked as she stepped forward.
    Lena moved aside to let her in. “Ahh, the bride is nervous, and the groom has already called five times.”
    Shelly had to laugh at that. It sounded just like Mason to be worried about his doctor today. The two of them had been through a lot to get to where they finally were now. He was probably having a minor case of paranoia, believing it wasn’t actually going to happen.
    “Well, the groom is out of his mind. There is no way I’m going to be slacking on my duties, even if I have to pick you up and carry you to the wedding myself.”
    Lena laughed as she closed the door, and Shelly took that moment to lay her garment bag across Lena’s couch.
    “You don’t have to worry about that. There’s no other place I want to be this evening than standing at the alter with Mason,” Lena told her with a smile on her face.
    Shelly returned it, reaching out to hug her friend. Shelly’s heart tightened. She felt herself getting somewhat emotional, hearing her friend so sure of her path and direction, not to mention, the person she intended to share it with.
    “You’re lucky you know,” Shelly told her as they parted.
    “Oh, I know I’m lucky. But why do you think I am?” Lena asked with a laugh.
     She stepped around her and made her way into the kitchen. Shelly followed and took a seat on one of Lena’s breakfast bar stools.
    “Because you know exactly what you want,” Shelly told her with true conviction.
    Lena turned and arched a brow, holding a chilled bottle of wine.
    “Wine? This early?” Shelly asked with a raised brow and a smirk.
    “Just one—to calm the nerves a little and to celebrate.” Lena paused. “I do not want to be tipsy tonight.”
    Shelly let out a small chuckle and assured her friend. “I will not let you be tipsy for your own wedding.”
    Lena grinned and moved toward the counter, taking two glasses from the cupboard overhead. After she had poured them each a glass of wine, she turned to face Shelly.
    “What do you mean I know what I want? In life? In general? Or with Mason?” she queried as she passed a half-filled glass in Shelly’s direction.
    Shelly took the wine and raised it to her friend. They tapped the glasses gently in a soft clink as Shelly looked at her closest friend.
    “All of the above, my friend. You have it all worked out, and that makes you a very lucky woman.” Raising her wine glass, Shelly saluted Lena. “Cheers to you on your wonderful wedding day.”
    “Cheers!” Lena returned as they each took a sip of their wine.
* * *
    A little distance away from the girls, Josh sat on his friend’s couch, looking out of Mason’s huge living room windows.
    Wow, what a view, Josh thought as he waited patiently for Mason to come back from making yet another anxious call to Lena.
    Josh had to smile at his friend. He knew Mason was nervous that Lena would disappear and not show, so every hour on the hour, he was calling his soon-to-be bride to ease his worried mind. Josh wondered what Mason would do if she was stuck under a hair dryer or something and wasn’t able to answer the phone. He’d probably go a little insane.
    Ahh, isn’t love grand?
    As he waited, his mind slipped back to the night before with Shelly.
    He knew she had been close to telling him exactly what he had been waiting to hear, but it had not been how or where he wanted it. He knew he couldn’t control when she was going to say it. That wasn’t the point at all. The point was he wanted her to say it and feel it no matter what time of the day it was—not because she missed him and certainly not because he had just blown her mind in a coat closet.
    As Josh started to slip deeper into those thoughts, he was saved by Mason reappearing from the bedroom.
    “So?” Josh asked his friend lazily.
    This routine had now been repeated several times today.
    “She’s good. Her and Shelly are in the process of getting their hair done.”
    Josh chuckled. “Fancy that.”
    Mason shook his head and moved over to sit down on the couch. “I’m going crazy, right?”
    Josh smirked at his friend. “No, you’re in love. You’re about to get married, and you’re just a little nervous, I’d say.”
    Mason took a deep breath and then let it out on a sigh. “Yeah, I’m a little nervous, but not because I’m getting married.” He paused, and then looked at Josh with the most serious expression Josh had ever seen on his friend. “Have you ever looked at someone and just thought, Yes. I know you. You’re meant to be mine.”
    Josh raised a brow, thinking about that for a minute. How did it happen with Georgia? Well, it had been more like a sledgehammer blow across his head. Before he could say that, Mason continued.
    “Lena couldn’t stand me when we first met, and I remember thinking she was so prickly and rude. But when she walked into the restaurant that same night, it all just fell into place. I knew I needed to know her.” Mason stopped, and then laughed at himself. “Listen to me, I sound like a total fool.”
    Josh shook his head and assured his good friend. “No, you don’t. You sound like a man who went after the woman he loves and got exactly what he wanted.” Josh paused, and then decided to let his friend in on his own secret. “I’m familiar with that, man.”
    Mason looked at him, cocking his head to the side. “You and Shelly?”
    Josh nodded, letting out a deep breath. “But it’s complicated.”
    “It always is, Josh. Look at Lena and me. We had a rocky moment at every turn.” Mason paused, and then told him seriously, “But, if it’s what you want, don’t wait to tell her. Women like Lena and Shelly don’t come along every day. Smart and beautiful—that’s hitting the goddamned jackpot, man.”
    Josh laughed at that. “I won’t wait too much longer, but she already pulled a fast one and ran away once. I want to be sure she won’t do that again.”
    Mason raised a brow. “And how do you plan to do that?”
    Josh sighed and admitted, “I actually have no idea, but I’ve been working on it.”
    “So, will you be sticking around after the wedding?”
    Shaking his head, Josh stood, moving to the window. “No. I need to get back to work.”
    “Are you ever going to tell me where you’re staying?” Mason inquired from the couch.
    Josh looked over his shoulder and shook his head. “Hell no, you’d squeal to Shelly in two seconds.”
    “Hey! I resent that.”
    Josh let out a loud laugh. “Hey! I don’t give a damn.” Looking at his watch, he noticed the time had just turned 4:00 p.m. “Well, you ready to head over?”
    His friend stood and walked into the adjoining room. When he came out, he was carrying a garment bag that held his tux. He nodded and said, “Yep. I’m ready. Let’s go and get me married.”
    With that, they headed down to the valet where Josh’s truck was being brought around to the front.
* * *
    It was 5:50 p.m., and the time had rolled around quicker than Shelly had expected. As she stood inside the Field House at Promontory Point, she glanced out the window to see all of Lena and Mason’s family and friends seated under a lovely white tent that covered the lakefront patio.
    The main aisle had been set up to run between two sections of white chairs. Each section was comprised of four seats across and twelve down, and every aisle seat had a small cluster of blue Singapore orchids and white roses attached to it to complement Lena’s choice of bouquets and boutonnieres.
    Rachel had assured Lena that these flowers would look both elegant and classy. Shelly had to admit that Rachel had gotten a keen eye since she had started to work afternoons down at, Precious Petals, after spending the mornings baking for Exquisite.
    Lena had chosen a color scheme that included crisp white and a lovely vibrant shade of blue to complement Mason’s tie and the gorgeous bridesmaids’ dresses.
    The wedding wasn’t a huge event people-wise, but for the city of Chicago and all of its single women, one of the most eligible bachelors was going to be off the market in approximately—Shelly looked at the clock on the wall, noticing it had just turned 5:52 p.m.—eight minutes.
    Turning, she found Lena standing over with Rachel, who was fussing with the back of the bride’s dress. Shelly made her way over to them, noticing Lena’s father had also arrived. When she reached Lena, she stood before her and looked at her friend with pure female appreciation. She is so beautiful.
    Lena was wearing one of the most stunning wedding dresses Shelly had ever seen. It was made up of miles of white lace and had sleeves that were only a few inches wide. It sat perfectly on her elegant shoulders before sweeping down in a soft dip across her breasts.
    That, of course, was what Shelly saw before Lena turned around. Shelly then got a glimpse of the back of the dress, where the material intricately covered her in a peek-a-boo fashion of lace and skin, ending in a V-shape at the sway of her back.
    Under Lena’s bust was a beautiful broach made up of sliver and diamonds that Shelly knew Lena’s mother had given her to wear. Lena had two hair clips made similar to match her and Rachel’s. Beyond all the trimmings on the dress, the fabric molded to every line of her body until mid-thigh where it gently flowed out into a spectacular pool of lace and loveliness around her feet.
    Simply put, Lena looked like a princess.
    Shelly stood silently and waited for her friend to look at her. When Lena finally raised her eyes to meet hers, Shelly smiled and nodded. She watched as Lena looked at the clock on the wall. 6:00 p.m.
    It was time.
* * *
    Josh stood by Mason up at the front of the crowd and waited expectantly for the music to start up, signaling Lena’s appearance. He looked over to his friend and noticed he looked a little tense.
    Josh leaned in and asked, “You doing okay, man?”
    Mason looked over to him and nodded. “Yep. I just want to see her.”
    Just as he said that, the music began. Instead of the usual wedding march for the beautiful bride to walk down the aisle to, Josh grinned as the familiar chords to “Crash into Me” by Dave Matthews Band filtered in through the speakers.
    Several seconds later, Rachel appeared.
    Wearing a long sweeping dress in a light shade of blue, she made her way down the aisle. Her dark hair was curled and clipped on one side, leaving the length of it to fall down, covering her back.
    In her hands, she held a small bouquet of blue Singapore orchids and white roses, matching the same orchid that was pinned to his lapel.
    Rachel’s eyes met her brother’s, and Josh noticed there were tears in them as she made her way closer to where they were standing. Watching them both closely, Josh wondered what exactly was going through Rach’s head as she moved over to stand on the left side of the aisle.
    Her eyes finally met his, and Josh smiled at her, trying to reassure her everything would be okay. He felt like she needed it and wasn’t quite sure why, but before he could think on it too long, the crowd was oohing and aahing over the next person that appeared.
    Josh turned and found it hard not to do the same.
    Making her way down the aisle in a much shorter version of Rachel’s dress was Shelly Monroe. Georgia.
    Her hair was pulled half up and back from her beautiful face, and the rest was left in a halo of soft curls around her shoulders. Josh assumed the clip holding it back was the same silver-and-diamond-looking one that Rachel was wearing.
    However, that wasn’t what kept him entranced. It was her eyes as she was making her way up to the front. They were locked on his. She had glanced at Mason once, but then she had looked to him and had not faltered since.
    Josh felt his heart thundering in his chest, almost feeling like this was his own damn wedding. As Shelly reached the front and went to stand beside Rachel, he turned to look at her and watched as she winked at him. Josh smiled and suddenly felt like he was back on even ground. Ahh, there’s the Man-Eater.
    He needed to let her know tonight how he really felt. He needed her to be aware that he wasn’t aiming to make her anything other than a permanent part of his life. The thought that she would not want to hear it terrified him.
    All of a sudden, everyone stood, and the music continued to play as Magdalena O’Donnell and her father made their grand entrance.
    Josh had to admit that as he watched her move closer down the aisle to Mason, who was now watching his bride with a look that was complete and utter adoration, he could one-hundred percent appreciate the reasons for getting married.
    The woman who was walking toward her groom wasn’t the Lena they all knew and loved. This was a woman who was radiating so much happiness and love as she made her way toward her man that it was like they were all seeing her for the first time. Her gaze never left Mason’s as she moved closer, and the complete unfettered love in her eyes was absolutely mesmerizing.
    When she finally reached Mason, Josh watched as his usually smooth-talking friend just stood and stared at the woman in front of him. Her father let go of her hand, and Lena finally smiled up at her fiancé, greeting him softly.
    “Hi.”
    Josh chuckled, and so did the rest of the crowd behind them.
    Mason shook his head, and then blinked once. “Hi.”
    Finally, the pastor made a little coughing sound and stated, “If everyone could please be seated, we’ll begin.”
    Josh heard all the chairs shuffle and watched as everyone took their seats. He turned toward Rachel and Shelly and smiled at them both. Shelly gave him a radiant one in response, and Rachel smiled, but it felt strained.
    Josh then turned back to face the bride and groom who stood before the pastor. Just behind the pastor, a small table held a beautiful spray of tulips and an equally impressive vase of sunflowers, each representing the people in their lives that could not be here.
    “Dearly Beloved. We are gathered here in the presence of God and this company so that Magdalena O’Donnell and Mason Langley may be united in holy matrimony,” the pastor began.
    Josh watched as Lena looked up at Mason and gave him a shy smile. His friend must have winked or done something equally as smooth because she ducked her head bashfully and blushed a little.
    Yep, Mason has his groove back now that he has Lena in his sights.
    “Who here gives this woman to this man?”
    That was when Lena’s father stated, “Her mother and I do with our deepest blessing.”
    Mason turned and looked at his new father-in-law. “Thank you. I’ll take care of her.”
    “We know, son,” he told Mason and then sat down.
    The crowd went quiet as the pastor announced, “The bride and groom have opted to say their own vows over those traditional ones we all know. So, when you’re ready, Mason.”
    Josh watched as Mason reached across to take Lena’s hands in his own.
    Lena wasn’t wearing a veil, and her hair had been pulled back into a sweeping side bun that was elegantly pinned at her neck. As she looked up at her husband-to-be, Josh thought she was probably one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, not including, of course, the woman just beyond her right shoulder.
    “When I first sat down to write these vows, I had no idea how I was going to explain just how much I love you, Lena. Life isn’t easy, and anyone who tells you it is, well they’re lying. Life is hard. It gives you good times, and it gives you extremely bad times. You and I have had our share of both. We’ve each struggled through pain and loss individually, and then just last year, we struggled again—together. To me, that is what life is all about. It’s about finding someone—you, Lena—to help me when I need it the most. To guide me out of my darkest moments and to bask with me in the lightest ones.” Mason paused, and Josh watched as a tear slid down Lena’s cheek. “My mother loved you very much, and I know that she is sitting up there front and center, watching this wedding with the biggest smile on her face.”
    Josh heard several quiet sniffles in the background. Behind Shelly, who was gently wiping a tear away from her cheek, Rachel stood clutching her flowers with tears falling gently down her face. She seemed immobilized as Mason ended his vows.
    Mason continued, “You walked into my life, and now, I never want to walk alone again. Magdalena O’Donnell, will you marry me and make me the happiest man on the planet?”
    A pin could have dropped,reverberating noise throughout the room. It was that quiet.
    Then, Lena began.
* * *
    Shelly watched through blurred eyes as her friend gripped Mason’s hands and started her own vows. Although, how she could manage after Mason’s was a miracle. Shelly didn’t think there was a dry eye in the place.
    “I would marry you every single hour of every single day for the rest of my life. Before you, I didn’t know how to live. Oh, I went through the motions of having a life, but it was all for show. I was broken in here,” Lena told him and raised one of Mason’s large palms to her heart.
    She held onto one of his hands and kept the other one pressed close to her chest. She took a step closer and looked up at him.
    “You have given me so much I can’t even begin to express how deeply my love runs for you. Your strength and sensitivity, your complete love of your family, and your absolute perseverance and stubbornness are just some of the many things I love and adore about you, Langley. You taught me how to accept things I never could have without you, how to forgive myself, and give permission to my heart to open up and love again. Your happiness and joy of life is so strong that it left me no other option but to let you in to warm up my soul, which had been cold for so long.” Lena paused, and then firmly and loudly said, “I would be honored to marry you, Mason Langley. Will you please marry me?”
    Shelly watched as Mason tugged Lena forward, and she was pretty sure only those standing up close to them heard him whisper.
    “Just try and stop me.”
    Then, he laid the sweetest, most passionate kiss Shelly had ever witnessed on his bride.
* * *
    Three-and-a-half hours later, the reception was in full swing. There had been photos upon photos and so much food had been eaten that Josh felt like he was going to explode. He’d hardly had one moment to himself all night, and he certainly hadn’t had a chance to talk with Shelly.
    Every time he turned around, she was off getting another photo with the bride. Then, when he thought he could finally catch her, Lena’s parents had started talking to her, or someone from their work had pulled her aside. He was starting to think that he wouldn’t get the opportunity he so desperately craved.
    Glancing around the reception area, Josh saw Shelly near the makeshift bar. Standing, Josh was about to make his way to her when he saw Rachel sitting at her table by herself, watching everyone dance.
    He had seen Mason chat with her and pull her into several dances. Rachel had smiled and moved to the music with ease, but there was something off. Josh headed toward her table, finally deciding to find out what it was.
    “Hey there,” he said as he pulled the chair out beside her.
    Rachel looked over to him and smiled. “Hey, Josh. Nice night, huh?”
    Josh relaxed into his chair. “I’ll say. Have you ever seen a couple so stupid over each other?” he said, hoping to get a laugh from her.
    However, instead of the usual burst of joy he would get from Rachel with the colored hair, he got a small grin from the new Rachel with the black hair.
    “They seem very happy,” she told him.
    Josh leaned toward her, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. She looked over at him, and Josh couldn’t help but see the raw emotion that was welling in her eyes.
    “You don’t,” he whispered.
    “I don’t what?”
    “You don’t look happy,” he explained quietly. “In fact, every time I see you I feel as though you look sadder.” Josh watched as she straightened her spine and blinked her eyes, trying to hold back the moisture forming there. “What’s going on, Rach? You haven’t been yourself lately.”
    She shook her head, smiling sadly at him. “It’s nothing to worry about. I think I’m just a little out of whack. Not having Mom and Dad here today was just hard.”
    Josh thought that might have been some of the issue at hand, but for some reason, he felt it went much deeper than that. Obviously, she didn’t want to discuss it right now, so he squeezed her arm and assured her, “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
    Rachel nodded but kept her mouth taut with tension. “Man-Eater is looking over here. I’m pretty sure she wants to get her hands on you.”
    Josh chuckled, looking over his shoulder.
    Shelly was indeed staring across the room at them. Looking at his watch, Josh nodded and told Rachel, “I think I’ve got time for one more dance.”
    Rachel smirked then. “Before what? You turn into a pumpkin?”
    Josh stood and shook his head. “No. Before I hit the road.”
    Rachel tried for a full grin but once again failed. This sad version of her was worrying Josh a lot.
    “Drive safely, okay? And, Josh, thank you.”
    “Anytime, Rach. You know I’m just a phone call away,” he reaffirmed.
    Then, he turned, heading toward a certain blonde.
* * *
    Shelly watched as Josh made his way across the dance floor to her.
    Mason and Lena had left half an hour earlier, and the festivities were starting to wind down. All night, Shelly had wanted to talk to Josh, but there hadn’t been one moment where she could get away. But right now, well, she had nothing to do except watch him walk toward her.
    He was dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit that molded to every tight muscle the man possessed. Under that, he had the same crisp white shirt as Mason, and instead of the cobalt blue tie that Mason had worn, Josh’s tie was a light blue to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. The man looked sexy in a suit, and Shelly wanted to take it off of him, piece by piece.
    When he finally stopped in front of her, holding out his hand, Shelly slipped hers into it, allowing him to pull her out onto the dance floor. Tugging her in tight, he held her in a waltz-hold as the music switched, and Sinatra started singing “The Way You Look Tonight.”
    “I didn’t think I’d ever get to speak to you tonight,” he spoke softly against the side of her head, moving them gently around the floor with the other couples.
    Who knew he could dance so well? Shelly thought as she held on and let him lead, loving the feel of his body as it swayed against her own.
    “I know. It was crazy how busy it was—all the photos and people and food,” she said.
    “Oh god, yes, the food,” Josh said with a false groan.
    Shelly chuckled a little, and then looked up to see he was looking right back at her.
    “I love this song,” she told him with a smile.
    His eyes crinkled at the sides as he stared down at her while moving them in a slow twirl.
    When they were back to a basic step, he agreed. “Yes, it’s one of those classics that definitely stood the test of time.”
    Shelly felt his heartbeat against her chest, and she was starting to get nervous as he watched her with an expression she hadn’t seen before. It was almost as though he was unsure of his next move.
    Well, she could help that along. After all, she didn’t want him to guess what she wanted tonight. She planned to make it crystal clear.
    “Will you come home with me tonight?” Shelly asked, and then licked her bottom lip, waiting for the answer she assumed was inevitable.
    The one thing, however, that Shelly had not expected was being taught the valuable lesson of one should never assume.
* * *
    Josh looked down at the beguiling woman in his arms and hated what he had to do next. He had no clue what her reaction was going to be. In fact, he was almost worried that she might tell him to go to hell and never talk to him again, but he had decided last night that this was what he needed to do if he was ever going to be more than a roll in the sheets to her.
    “I’m leaving tonight,” he told her as the music stopped.
    As they stopped swaying around the floor, he watched as the hurt moved across her eyes, and she pulled back a little, shaking her head.
    “I don’t understand,” she stated in an annoyed tone before she turned away.
    Josh followed as she moved off the dance floor toward the door leading to the front porch of the venue. When he got outside, he saw her making her way down to one of the seating areas that overlooked Lake Michigan. She must have heard his feet crunching on the gravel because she suddenly turned to him.
    “You’re running away!” she accused.
    Josh took a step closer to her and was about to reach out, but at the last minute, she turned away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. A light breeze was teasing around them, and as it blew through her beautiful curls, Josh tried to remind himself that this was for the best.
    “No, I’m running forward, Georgia. So, catch up to me, would you?”
    She spun around on him with that comment, and this time moved up close to him, pointing a finger.
    “You first tell me I’m not ready and that you don’t trust me.” She paused, chest heaving as she bit her bottom lip, and then she shrugged helplessly. “Yet, now, when I try to tell you how I feel you stop me at every turn,” she ended, sounding completely defeated.
    Josh made the final step to her, reaching out to grip her shoulders. “Shelly, look at me.”
    She tipped up her head, facing him with huge cerulean blue eyes that were filled with angst and tears.
    He smiled sadly at her. “I don’t want a girlfriend.” He felt her stiffen and knew what conclusion she was jumping to. “I also don’t want a woman who only decides she cares after a hot round of sex.”
    “That’s not what happened,” she whispered. “What would make you stay?”
    Josh leaned in and kissed her forehead, knowing he was now doing it. This is it.
    She would either want what he wanted, or she would never talk to him again.
    After taking a deep breath, he whispered against her hair, “This.”
    She didn’t try to move away from him. She just stood silently for a moment while he held her arms and kissed her hair. God, she smells amazing.
    “What is this?” she asked softly.
    Pulling back a little, he looked down at her and tipped up her chin so their eyes met.
    “Everything that tonight represents.”
    As the reality of what he was saying sank in, he watched her eyes widen, and he felt his nerves bubbling up inside of him.
    Spit it out already, he thought to himself.
    “The music, the friends, the ceremony, but most importantly, the love. I want all of it. I’m ready for all of it, Georgia. And, until you are too, nothing will make me stay.”
    Dropping his hands from her shoulders, he watched her take a deep breath and waited for anything she was going to say. But nothing came.
    She just stared up at him with eyes as big as he had ever seen them, and he felt like he was being punched over and over again.
    Alright, man, he thought, time to leave.
    Turning on his heel, he had made it three steps when he heard his name.
    “Josh!”
    Turning, he saw that she had moved, and she was now facing him with the lake as her backdrop. The breeze had picked up, and it was whipping around her hair and dress.
    She looks absolutely breathtaking.
    He stopped and waited.
    “How will I know?” she called out.
    Josh shook his head and shrugged. “I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is you won’t have to ask.”
    With that, he turned and walked away.

Chapter Twenty-Four

    October
    September had been dubbed the longest month of Shelly’s year.
    After Josh had left the night of the wedding, Shelly had done something she had never done before. She went home and cried.
    Never had she felt so helpless. She’d wanted to express the thoughts that had been running through her mind when Josh had been standing in front of her that night. But she couldn’t.
    Thinking you’re in love with someone and just saying it seems so easy, Shelly thought as she lay in bed. However, the reality—a man telling you that he wants you to be everything that makes his world—is just completely terrifying.
    What if I fail?
    That was all Shelly had thought about for days—hell, weeks now. What if for some reason she was like her father? It wasn’t too far of a stretch. She obviously resembled him in many ways. Why not personality flaws as well?
    Sighing, Shelly closed her eyes and pictured Josh as she had last seen him, standing in front of her with his heart on his sleeve, looking at her like she had just let him down.
    And she had.
    She knew it, and he did, too.
    So, what if I do that after we’re committed?
    Well, lying here isn’t getting me anywhere, she thought as she climbed out of bed. Booting up her computer, she went to her closet and pulled out a black satin robe. Pulling it on, she sighed as the material slid over her bare skin. When the computer was up and humming, she immediately went to her email, and there it was—the usual nightly letter he still sent her, sitting in her inbox. This one had a subject header, Halloween.
    Sitting down in her reading chair, she placed the laptop on her thighs and clicked to open it.
    Georgia,
    Mason is having a Halloween party down at Exquisite on Saturday. I’ll be in town. Do you want to be the Sandy to my Danny?
    Josh
    Shelly smiled and responded with seven words.
    Yes. You’re the one that I want.
    Clicking send, she was shocked when she got an almost immediate response in her mail.
    You’re awake early, considering you worked last night.
    Josh
    Shelly noticed he was online. Forgetting about email, she clicked the instant message bar and typed.
    Couldn’t sleep. Someone won’t get out of my head.
    Josh: I’m annoying like that.
    Yes, you kind of are. Are you sure you want to go to the party with me?
    Josh: I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t sure, Georgia. Nothing for me has changed. Just know that I’ll be leaving after the weekend.
    Shelly sat, staring at the screen. Nothing has changed for him.
    Over the last month and a half, this had been his very obvious approach, letting her know he still wanted to be with her, and that it was her holding up this leg of the race.
    She also had a distinct feeling that her time would soon run out if she didn’t catch up.
    He had been clear in all their emails since the wedding. Until she knew one-hundred percent what she wanted, he didn’t want to hear it.
    Shelly would like to argue that it wasn’t fair. But is it really fair to ask him to settle for anything less? So, here she was—stuck in a conundrum.
    She had a man who loved her and wanted everything, and she had a terrifying fear that she would fail him. How do I get over that?
    So, at the party, am I allowed to touch you?
    Josh: I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.
    Well, that’s something at least.
    Josh: Don’t mistake me walking away as me not wanting you. I’m just sure of what I want, and I have been for a very long time. I refuse to let you go on thinking this can’t be more.
    Shelly thought about that last sentence. Is that what I’m doing?
    She had been looking for the perfect man in so many places, yet it seems he may have turned up in the last spot she would have thought to check.
    Josh: So, see you on Saturday? I’ll be there around 4:00 p.m.
    Sounds good. Josh?
    Josh: Yes, Georgia?
    I’m trying.
    Josh: Try harder.
    With that, she watched him sign off.
* * *
    Josh was sitting on Cole’s couch, staring at his computer screen.
    Josh had known if he’d mentioned he was in town, Shelly would have invited him to stay at her place, and Josh was pretty sure his resistance was failing. Instead, he was going to let her believe he was arriving in two days. Meanwhile, he was going to hang out on his friend’s couch.
    Cole had gone out for the night and still had not returned. When Josh had asked where he was headed, he had just told him, “Out.”
    Seeing as how he was such a tight-lipped guy, Josh had decided not to push it further. He was just happy he could bum for a few days on the man’s couch. He was exhausted.
    This new project had him working around the clock like a dog. He hadn’t known at the beginning just how much work it was going to be to have his vision come to life, but in the end, he knew it would fulfill that part of him that was gaping wide open. Just knowing that he could go to work and use his hands to create a perfect structure was so satisfying. He couldn’t even begin to explain it.
    He was also happy that the expansion on Exquisite was going as planned. It seemed like they were on schedule, and within a few months, it would be ready to open.
    Sometimes life handed you the perfect opportunity to do something that you feel is vitally important, as well as the right thing, and for Josh that had happened. It had also given him the perfect excuse to get away and think about what he wanted.
    With Melissa, he had been so caught up at first that he had dropped all of his thoughts and plans and followed her to L.A. so she could pursue her dream. When he had met Shelly, he felt himself doing the same thing. He had decided to change tactics, switching gears in a sense.
    So, before he could even begin to invite her inside where he wanted to keep her, he left, knowing that he needed to sort out his own feelings without her clouding his mind.
    He knew she was scared. Hell, he was scared, too, but he wasn’t about to let her make their relationship less than what it was. As far as Josh was concerned, it was everything.
* * *
    Saturday afternoon rolled around, and just as the clock hit 4:00 p.m., there was a loud buzzing through the condo. Shelly ran over, and pressed the button to let Josh in, and then waited.
    She was seated on the couch, tapping her foot. She was nervous. The party didn’t start until 9:00 p.m., and Josh was here now.
    So, what does that mean?
    Every single time Shelly had made a move on him recently, he had flat out told her “no.” But, now that he would be here, she was starting to wonder if she was expected to just hold hands and watch TV with the man. She wanted him, and she wanted to know what he thought about that—or if he intended to do anything about it.
    When the knock sounded, she stood and made her way to the door, wiping her hands down her black leggings. Opening the door, she found him leaning against her doorjamb, looking more delicious than ever. He had a sports bag in one hand with his leather jacket draped across it, and Shelly assumed it held his costume.
    Holding onto the door, she crossed one leg in front of the other, allowing herself to look him over. Her eyes traveled to the ripped knee of his overly washed jeans, and then up to the nice display of tanned, bulging muscles where the midnight blue T-shirt hugged his biceps. He had a blue baseball cap on backwards, and as he raised his arm with the bag, slinging it back over his shoulder, Shelly was even more determined to convince him to let her touch.
    “Hey, Georgia. Gonna let me in?” he asked in a voice so low and gruff that Shelly felt it rub all over her naughty bits.
    Shelly nodded without saying a word and moved aside.
    As he brushed by her, she took a deep breath and realized she had even missed how he smelled. He dumped the bag on the floor as she shut the door, and when she turned, she noticed he was looking right at her. That was when he gave her a full on DD smile.
    “You look really good, Shel.”
    Shelly finally found her brain and her tongue. “You look hot as hell.”
    He seemed shocked at first, but then laughed as he stuck his hands in his pockets. “Oh yeah?”
    She unconsciously licked her lips and moved toward him. When she got close enough to raise her palms to his chest, he took his hands out from his pockets and gripped her wrists before she could physically touch him.
    “Please don’t stop me,” she begged.
* * *
    Josh held her by the wrists and looked down into eyes that were pleading with him.
    How can I continue saying no to her? The answer was simple. He couldn’t.
    Finally giving in to his own desire, he tugged her forward and dipped his head, crushing his mouth down onto hers.
    Immediately, she parted her lips, and he slid his tongue inside to taste her.
    God, she is sweet, and it had been too long.
    Months without touching her, kissing her, or just being near her had made him ravenous. With her hands trapped between their bodies, she could do nothing but go along with his demands. Taking the kiss deeper, he felt her sensuous little tongue slip forward between his parted lips, flirting and tangling with his own, until she had him groaning deep inside his chest. Pulling his head back, he looked down at her.
    “Why can’t you hurry up and decide what you want? It’s killing me not having you with me,” he growled.
    Just as she was about to respond, he pulled her arms behind her back, arching her whole body toward him.
    Josh trembled as he looked down at her. She was dressed in sexy little black leggings and a cream sweater that was falling off her shoulder. Her hair was swept into a messy notch at the back of her head, and wisps of hair were all around her face.
    Her feet were bare, and as he pulled her forward, a little rougher than he had intended, she went up on her toes, and those magnificent breasts were crushed against his chest.
    She gasped, and then pushed herself harder against him. Moaning, she tipped her head back, parting her lips as the sensuous noise broke free.
    Leaning forward so he was bending down into her, he whispered against her mouth, “I need to be in you, Shelly.”
    Her eyes tried to focus on his, but she seemed to be having trouble keeping them open.
    “I’m going to pull you down onto this carpet, get rid of those sexy tights, and then I’m going to bury myself so deep you’ll never not think of me again.”
* * *
    Shelly could barely breathe, let alone answer.
    The man holding her arms behind her back and leaning down into her was desperate. This man was strung tight on emotions, and this man was going to consume her.
    Licking her bottom lip, she watched his eyes focus on her tongue, and then he released his grip, dropping to his knees. Reaching up under her loose sweater, he gripped the leggings and her panties around the waist, and with one smooth move, he removed them from her body. When they were at her ankles, she stepped out of them, and then dropped to her own knees, tugging the sweater over her head and throwing it to the floor.
    He was kneeling opposite her, still fully dressed while she was now completely naked. His eyes couldn’t seem to get enough of her as they looked her up and down, and then up and down again. He finally went into action, lunging across the short distance to grip her face between his large palms.
    Moaning, Shelly let him push her down onto her back, humming in sensual delight as he laid his fully clothed body against hers. The friction is amazing, she thought as she arched up and rubbed her aching breasts and pelvis against the fabric covering him.
    “Oh fuck,” he groaned into her mouth, pushing his denim-covered erection gently against her bare mound.
* * *
    Josh was dying. He could swear his blood was leaving his brain and going straight to his cock. And because it was confined behind his zipper, it would explode, and he would die.
    Beneath him on the carpet was a naked, writhing Shelly, and she was on fire. She was making the sexiest noises he had ever heard as she arched up against him, rubbing all of that perfect naked skin against his tense body.
    Then, her eyes snapped open, and she reached up, taking his hat off and flinging it behind them. Running her hands through his hair, she gripped it tightly. He watched her lick her lips as she leaned up slowly to slide her tongue across the stubble on his cheek.
    “I can feel your heart going crazy,” she whispered against his ear.
    Josh let out a puff of air. “That’s because you’re rubbing yourself all over me.”
    Shelly giggled. “Want me to stop?”
    Pushing his hips down, Josh turned his head and gently bit her grinning bottom lip. “Not even a little bit.”
    He heard her moan as he kissed her hard, rolling them so she was now straddling him.
* * *
    Shelly was now sitting astride a fully clothed Josh.
    She herself was completely naked, and as she rocked against the bulge behind his zipper, she reached down to unbutton and unzip him. She looked at his face and smiled slowly as she parted the jeans, and then left them to smooth her hands up under his shirt.
    Pushing up the blue material over all those ridged and tight muscles, Shelly couldn’t help but lick her lips, bending down to drag her tongue over his impressive six-pack.
    She felt his abs quiver as she pushed the shirt higher, tracing every dip and valley up along his ribs until she got to his nipple where she gently bit his solid pec.
    Hmm… Finally, she was licking all of his warm muscled skin, and she loved it.
    Looking up at him from where her mouth was nibbling, she watched his eyes darken. As she felt his hands move to land on her bare ass, he squeezed her flesh.
    Sitting up, Shelly dragged her palms down his body, and with her eyes on his, she slowly dipped them inside his parted jeans.
    His eyes narrowed, and he focused on the hand that was now wiggling down into his pants. She grazed her fingers against his boxers, and then winked. She started to move off of him, so she could tug the jeans down.
    However, as she moved from his waist, Josh jackknifed up and came for her, obviously thinking she was going somewhere. Giggling a little, Shelly decided to play and moved to dodge his hands, which just made his eyes take on a fiercer look. She got up to her knees and was about to stand and run to the bedroom. As she got one foot up under her, she felt two big hands grab her around the waist, pulling her back down to the floor.
    He flattened her out on her belly and stretched out over her. She heard him breathing a little harder while he rubbed against her ass.
    “Where do you think you’re going?” he growled in her ear.
    Shelly smiled into the carpet and pushed her hips back.
    “I was just going to pull off your pants, but you panicked.”
    Josh moved away, and then tugged her hips up and back until she was on her hands and knees. Looking over her shoulder, Shelly saw his eyes had zeroed in on her ass and between her thighs, where she knew she must have been glistening wet.
    “Well, do you blame me?” he asked as he slowly stood.
    Shelly watched him from where she was, waiting for him to get down behind her and take her. However, this view she liked, too. As she watched, he pushed off his pants and boxers, and then removed his shirt.
    Awestruck, she silently followed his movements with her eyes. He dropped down onto his knees behind her, and before she knew it, she was whimpering as she felt him reach out and slide his fingers between her thighs. He removed them from her heat and slipped them into his mouth for a taste.
    “I have to be careful with you, Georgia. You often change your mind,” he told her.
    Shelly moaned at the raw sex in his voice, and then dropped her head forward, presenting herself in silent invitation.
    The man is insane. There was no way in hell she’d be changing her mind anytime soon.
* * *
    Josh watched as Shelly arched, pushing her ass back at him. He was so fucking hard he thought he might physically hurt her when he finally got inside all of that waiting heat.
    Moving forward, he rose up on his knees and gripped her hips. He heard her breathy shudder as he moved the throbbing tip of his cock along her ass, sliding it down against her wet puffy folds.
    “Now, Josh! God, do it now,” she almost screamed.
    He punctuated her request with a solid thrust.
    Even though she had braced herself on her hands, when he first thrust forward, he felt her slip a little. Her naked back arched, and he gripped her hips, slowly pulling his glistening erection out from between her juicy wetness.
    Watching his own departure from her tight little body only served to spur him on further. So, he tightened his fingers into her hips and slid them down to the sides of her thighs before thrusting forward again. When he heard her moan, that was the moment he lost all control.
* * *
    Shelly could swear that she felt every inch of him as he slowly withdrew the first time, only to drive back inside of her time and time again after that. The sheer desperation in him pulled at Shelly more than any gentle lovemaking could have. As she felt his hand move smoothly up her spine, gathering in her hair, she felt her body contract and tighten around him. She felt him thrust in hard and deep, and then they both screamed.
    Shelly thought they were lucky they didn’t pass out from the sheer erotic pleasure of it all.

Chapter Twenty-Five

    As Shelly stood across the crowded room from Josh that night, three things occurred to her at the same time.
    One, Danny Zuko had never looked so hot. Two, she was a complete and utter moron. And three, she was one-hundred percent in love with Joshua Daniels.
    It was funny because she wasn’t one to believe in “aha” moments, but this was most certainly one of them.
    He wasn’t even looking at her or doing anything remarkably special. He was just standing by the bar with Mason, laughing at something his friend had said.
    Suddenly, every little piece of the puzzle finally moved, shifted, and locked together. Shelly sat down gingerly at the table and watched the man she was finally seeing for the first time.
    If she had to pinpoint the moment it had started to all slide into place, it would definitely have to be the desperation in him this afternoon. When he had come to her and taken her with such raw passion, something had switched on inside of her. It was like he had lit a fuse, and it had spread like wildfire up through her body, setting her heart ablaze.
    Resting a hand on the table, she reached out with her other one to take a glass of water in her shaky hand.
    What the hell do I do now? Just go over and tell him?
    After all, it hadn’t been like he had been very receptive lately, always shushing her.
    “Hey there.”
    Shelly looked up to see a little round peach beside her—Lena in costume. If Shelly hadn’t known the story behind the outfit choice, she might have thought her friend was slightly insane. As it was though, the peach was a lovely nod to a creative date Mason had once come up with.
    Shelly tried to smile but felt it came off a little strained. “Hey.”
    “Are you okay?” Lena asked as she tried—and tried was the exact right word—to sit beside her.
    That made Shelly chuckle a little before nodding. “I think so.”
    Lena finally situated herself, even though the outfit pushed up to just under her ears. It really was rather comical. She had bright green tights on, so showing anything she shouldn’t wasn’t an issue. On her head was a nice little green cap shaped like leaves. The overall picture was downright hilarious.
    “What do you mean you think you’re okay?” Lena asked, looking over to Mason and Josh. She turned back to Shelly. “Did you two have a fight?”
    Shelly swallowed, shaking her head. “No, not at all. Just the opposite actually.”
    Lena frowned, and then probed, “Opposite meaning?”
    “I’m totally in love with him,” Shelly blurted out.
    She then widened her eyes and clapped a hand over her mouth. She watched as a wide grin split across Lena’s face.
    “Did that feel good?” Lena asked. “Or are you going to throw up?”
    Shelly looked over to the guys again. This time Josh was staring right back at her, and then he winked.
    All of a sudden, Shelly was thinking that she felt just like Sandra Dee from Grease, and yes, she had gone as Sandra Dee. She was dressed in the white preppy sweater, red skirt, ponytail, and all.
    In fact, Josh had taken one look at her and smiled before kissing her brains out. Dressed in the black leather jacket, the black shirt, and the black jeans, he declared that finally he was the bad boy she had accused him of.
    Oh god, her heart would not calm down. It had kicked up and was now thundering a deafening beat as he went ahead and added to the wink. He smiled in that devastating way that had first put him on her radar so many months ago.
    Shelly turned quickly to Lena with a panicked expression. “I don’t know what to do next.”
    Lena smiled and tried to reach across to Shelly but the peach impeded her. It would have been ridiculous if Shelly hadn’t been sitting there realizing that the next few hours would probably either secure her future happiness or commit her to a lifetime of heartbreak and misery.
    No pressure though.
    “How about you tell him?” Lena suggested.
    Shelly gave her friend a deadpan look and told her, “Wow, thanks for pointing out the obvious there, peaches.”
    “Hey! You asked,” Lena defended, pouting and sitting back the best she could.
    She really did look beyond absurd.
    “It was more of a rhetorical kind of thing. I know what I need to do.” Shelly paused, and then looked back to the man she now knew with certainty she wanted for the rest of her life. “Now, I just have to convince him I mean it.”
* * *
    Josh knew something was up. His spine had been tingling all night. He wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, but Shelly had changed somehow.
    “Earth to Josh. Hey!” Mason said, waving a hand in front of him.
    Josh turned his eyes to his friend and raised an eyebrow.
    “Did the guys tell you they are ahead of schedule?” Mason asked him.
    Josh nodded, taking a swig of his beer. “Who the hell are you supposed to be again, man?”
    Mason spread his arms out and did a mock bow as he stood there dressed in a white pirate shirt coupled with a black vest and cream pantaloons.
    “I’m Casanova. Lover of all women.”
    Josh shook his head, chuckling. “And douche bag extraordinaire? What on earth were you and Lena thinking? She looks so uncomfortable anytime she tries to sit.”
    Mason chuckled. “I suggested it, and she liked the idea. Well, until I brought the costume home, but by then, it was too late.”
    Josh shook his head. “Shocker, man, total shocker.”
    “Hey, that’s my wife you’re talking about. I happen to think she looks cute as a peach.”
    Josh looked over to where Lena was squished up, seated with Shelly.
    “Okay, she does look cute.”
    Mason hummed his agreement, and then told him, “And your Man-Eater looks downright tame tonight, dressed as innocent little Sandra Dee.”
    Josh then let his eyes wander to the perfect blonde ponytail and the red and white get-up. He had to admit that he wished he was staying tonight, just so he could get under that skirt.
    “Yeah, well, maybe she isn’t quite the man-eater I first thought.”
    “Oh yeah?” Mason queried.
    “Yeah,” Josh agreed, lifting his beer for another swig. “In fact, she’s pretty fantastic—in every way.”
    Mason gave him a shit-eating grin. “In a forever kind of way?”
    Josh looked over to Shelly, who was now watching him. He winked at her and then smiled, watching her pale a little before gathering her composure. When she turned back to Lena, he himself turned back to Mason.
    “Oh yeah, man. In a forever kind of way.”
* * *
    Shelly took a deep breath and nodded. “Yep. I’m going to tell him tonight. Maybe he’ll stay.”
    Lena nodded, and then grinned up at Rachel as she appeared beside their table from the crowd. She was dressed as a ninja tonight, wearing black skintight leggings that rode low around her waist, showing off her pierced navel, which, apparently, Mason knew about. She’d paired them with a slinky black top that clung to every curve of her body but left her arms bare. She wore a black scarf wrapped around her head and neck, revealing only her startling, now sad, blue eyes. The only reason Shelly knew what she was supposed to be was by the fake sword on her side. Oh yeah, and I had to ask.
    “What’s going on?” Rachel asked as she sat down beside the peach.
    “Sandy over here is going to tell Danny that what they had over the summer really was true love.”
    Rachel snorted at Lena, and Shelly rolled her eyes.
    “Ahh. So you finally worked out he was a keeper, huh?”
    Shelly felt her spine straighten, like she was defending herself. Hang on, why should I? She had just been erring on the side of caution.
    “Fine. Okay, yes, you’re right. I finally caught up.” Shelly paused, and then like a teenage girl, she added on a sigh, “He’s amazing.”
    Rachel let out a grunt and stated softly, “Excuse me while I get a violin.”
    She turned to the left, pretending to get the fake violin no doubt, and that was when Shelly saw her freeze.
    Shelly raised her eyes to follow Rachel’s line of sight, and that was when she noticed him. Isn’t that...
    “What the hell is he doing here?” Rachel demanded in—oh boy—Super Domme’s voice.
    Lena struggled to sit up and peer across the crowd to where they were looking. When she locked on to who they were staring at, Lena turned to Rachel.
    “I thought you said you didn’t know him,” Lena said.
    Rachel’s spine straightened, and her shoulders went back a noticeable inch. “I do not know him. I don’t even know why he’s here,” she stressed, looking physically agitated.
    Shelly tried to calm her. Shit, she had enough on her mind. She didn’t need Rachel having an anxiety attack.
    “Look, if he’s given you shit in the past—” Shelly started.
    However, before she could finish, Rachel stood abruptly.
    “He hasn’t done anything to me. I. Don’t. Know. Him,” she stated, and then turned on her heel, stalking off.
    Shelly looked at Lena with a shocked expression, and then they both turned back to see the man from Whipped, whose eyes were currently on Rachel’s retreating form.
* * *
    Josh had gotten a text from Cole that he was just now making his way in.
    He’d apologized for not dressing up, but he was coming from the office. Josh hadn’t thought that it was so unusual. After all, the guy practically lived there.
    Scanning the room for his friend, he saw Cole as he stepped through all the colorful costumes. He noticed that his lawyer and friend was looking at the table with Shelly, Lena, and Rachel. Josh smirked. Hell, who can blame the guy? They were a good trio to be watching, even though two were taken and the other one was more like a loveable sister.
    Plus, Josh didn’t think Cole dated anyway. It wasn’t like he ever had time, considering the painfully long hours he put in on his job.
    “Cole!” Josh shouted out.
    He watched as his friend turned slowly on his heel, and then he strode over toward the bar. There wasn’t a smile on Cole’s face, or even a grin, just a serious expression accompanied by a frown.
    Mason had left a few minutes ago to go and socialize. Cole came over and took the seat beside him.
    “Want a beer?” Josh asked.
    “How about a cognac?”
    Josh chuckled. “Of course.”
    After putting the order in, he looked back to his lawyer and friend. “Another long day?”
    Cole reached up and scratched his chin. “Yes. Very long and tedious.” He paused as the bartender passed him the lowball, and then he turned back to Josh and gave him a thoughtful look. “However, I think it just got interesting.”
    Josh raised an inquiring brow. “Oh? Because of the party?”
    Cole scanned the room, and then turned back to Josh.
    Without answering Josh’s immediate question, Cole asked, “Do you know the three women who were over there?”
    Josh stiffened, immediately feeling the ugly green-eyed monster creeping into his gut.
    “Yes. Why?” he asked in a tone much shorter than he had intended.
    Cole must have caught that because he turned narrow eyes on him, raising his glass to take a slow sip.
    “No reason,” he told him smoothly. “I thought I knew one of them.”
    Automatically, Josh started to think the worst until Cole continued.
    “The one in black. She’s not there anymore.”
    Suddenly, Josh’s heart slowed to a normal rate. “Rachel?” Then, he found himself laughing. “I doubt you’d know Rachel. She’s a pastry chef slash florist. Not really two things you have a lot of use for since you’re married to your job.”
    Cole nodded slowly, tapping the side of the glass with his finger. “Perhaps I’m wrong.” He paused and then asked, “Maybe you could introduce me?”
    Josh nodded, suddenly thinking this would be great. After all, look how good his set-up had turned out—well, almost turned out.
    “Sure, let me go and get her.”
    Cole nodded, and then muttered quietly, “I’ll just wait here.”
* * *
    Shelly turned to Lena. “Okay, who’s the guy with Josh?”
    Lena shrugged the best she could. “Why don’t you ask him? He’s coming over here.”
    Shelly turned her head and saw that Josh was in fact making his way toward them. When he stopped, Shelly felt all the nerves from earlier come fluttering back.
    Forget the stranger at the bar, here was her man. The man I want to spend the rest of my life with.
    “Hey there, Zuko,” Shelly sassed, trying to hide her nerves.
    He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. “God, you’re sweet.”
    “Hmm,” she hummed, and then asked, “Can we talk?”
    Josh grinned against her lips. “I’d love to talk to you.” He paused. “But first, where’s Rachel?”
    Shelly pulled back and told him, “She left.”
    “Oh, that’s a shame. My friend, Cole, wanted to meet her.”
    Shelly looked over at Peaches and widened her eyes in the universal sign of holy shit.
    “That guy at the bar?” Shelly asked, turning back to Josh.
    She watched him nod, and then he reached out to twirl her ponytail.
    “Who is he?” Shelly asked before she lost all focus.
    “He’s my lawyer and friend.”
    “Oh,” Lena squeaked behind them.
    Josh looked over Shelly’s shoulder.
    “What?” he inquired.
    “Nothing,” they both answered in unison.
    So subtle.
    Shelly knew that she needed to distract him from getting Rachel. For some reason, this Cole guy was determined to meet the Super Domme, and Super Domme wanted nothing to do with him.
    Shelly stood and Josh backed up a little.
    “So? Can we talk?” she asked again.
    Josh nodded and held a hand out to her. Shelly gripped it and was about to walk away with him. Before she did, he turned back to Lena.
    “If you get a chance, go ahead and introduce the two of them. I think Cole is interested. It’d be funny to watch.” Josh said to Lena.
    Lena gave them a strained smile, and when Josh turned around, she looked at Shelly panicked. Yeah, Shelly heard her loud and clear. That would be one big hell no.
* * *
    Josh had taken Shelly’s hand and tugged her into the newly renovated and empty space. He knew he had to leave soon if he wanted to make some good time tonight, but as he stood with her in the silent room, he was finding it difficult to walk away.
    “I love you,” Shelly blurted out.
    There was no gentle delivery and no build-up. Just straight to the point, like the bold, brave man-eater he had first met.
    However, this time she was standing with her hands balled together in front of her in a dark room, illuminated only by the passing taxicabs.
    She looked sweet, innocent, and full of the love she spoke, and Josh was trembling with how much he wanted to believe what she was saying.
    Taking a deep breath, he took a step closer, reaching out to cup her face.
    “Don’t play with me,” he told her as he looked down at eyes shining with nothing but pure emotion.
    “I’m not,” she whispered, licking her lips. “I want everything you talked about. I’m ready.”
    Josh shook his head, not believing he was finally getting everything he wanted. He stroked a hand down her neck and cupped the back of it, tugging her closer to lean his forehead against hers.
    “You really mean it, Georgia?”
    She blinked her eyes, and he felt her eyelashes against his skin. Then, she looked back at him.
    “Every single word. I want everything you said you wanted. I want to wake up with you in the mornings and fall asleep with you every night. I want you to stay,” she whispered.
    Josh felt his heart clench. “I still need to go back tonight, Shel.”
    She stepped back from him and shook her head. “I don’t understand.” Pausing, she asked softly, “You still don’t believe me?” Then, she reached forward and gripped his hands. “Because I mean it,” she told him almost desperately. “I really mean it. With everything inside of me. Just thinking about you leaving...”
    She sniffed a little, and he realized she was actually crying.
    He reached out and pulled her into his arms. “You crazy woman,” he spoke against her head, hugging her tight. “I have to go. I have responsibilities. But, Georgia, I believe you.”
    Pulling back from her, he tipped up her chin and wiped away a tear from her cheek. “Where’s your brave face?”
* * *
    Shelly laughed a little and tried for a smile.
    “Still pathetic,” he commented and leaned in to kiss her.
    His lips were so sweet and so very gentle that Shelly felt her heart crack even wider when he pulled back.
    “I need to go. But, Georgia, if you mean everything you said tonight—”
    She nodded, confirming quickly, “I do.”
    She watched as a big grin crossed his face.
    He squeezed her hand. “Then, will you do me a favor?”
    Shelly nodded before he even finished. He looked so sexy standing there, eyes and mouth smiling at her.
    “If you mean everything you said tonight, next Saturday at 4 p.m., meet me.”
    Shelly cocked her head to the side as he dropped her hand. She frowned at him. “Does that mean you’ll finally tell me where you’ve been staying?”
    She watched as he walked backwards toward the door, and Shelly literally felt her heart gaping wider apart the further he moved away from her. Saturday will take forever to get here.
    “Where, Josh?” she demanded.
    She almost afraid he would vanish before she knew where to find him.
    Giving her the biggest grin she had ever seen, he shouted back, “Saturday! Four o’clock! Where I once wished for you on a penny!”
    Shelly thought for a moment, and then gave him a huge grin of her own. “I’ll be there!”
    When he reached back and opened the door, eyes still on her, he called out, “Don’t be late, Georgia.”
    All Shelly could think was, For once, I plan to be right on time.

Chapter Twenty-Six

    November
    It felt like a year had come and gone by the time Friday morning finally arrived. Shelly had been anxious ever since Josh had disappeared out the door Saturday night.
    When Sunday evening had rolled around, Shelly was woman enough to admit that she had checked her email around twenty times.
    Nothing.
    On Monday, after a shift that had dragged forever, she upped her email monitoring to thirty times before reminding herself that she was acting like a complete idiot.
    The man had clearly stated he was going to meet her on Saturday, and just because he didn’t send her an email every night did not mean he had changed his mind. She needed to stop worrying, stop obsessing over what may happen, and just trust him.
    “Hey there, Dr. Monroe.”
    Shelly was standing just inside the doctor’s lounge, and when she turned, she saw Dr. Robert McKinney strolling in. He smiled in her direction, and then made his way over to the coffee pot. Shelly returned the smile and moved over to the doctor she now considered a kind and friendly colleague who she had once dated.
    “Good morning, Dr. McKinney,” she told him as he passed her a mug of coffee.
    “I heard a little rumor that you’re off to Georgia for the weekend.”
    Shelly grinned over the lip of her mug and nodded, feeling her heart squeeze inside her chest.
    “Yes, that’s right. I fly out at two o’clock.”
    McKinney nodded, and then asked, “Going to see family?”
    Taking another sip, Shelly lowered the cup to the counter and leaned against it. “Actually, yes and no. I’ll see the family while I’m there, but I’m going to meet Josh down there.”
    McKinney frowned, and then almost like a light bulb went off, he nodded. “Oh, yes, Bob the Builder.”
    Shelly laughed at that image, and then thought of Josh that one time she had seen him with a tool belt around his waist.
    Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to get him to put that on again around his jeans, so I can get on my knees and unzip—
    “Shelly?” McKinney interrupted.
    “Oh, sorry. Yes, that’s him,” she replied, pulling herself out of her fantasy.
    McKinney looked into her smiling eyes, and then gave her a huge grin. “It’s serious, isn’t it?”
    As Shelly stood there, she thought back to the Halloween party and how Josh had smiled at her, telling her to come and meet him. Meet him where he wished for me.
    She felt her heart melt as she answered McKinney with complete certainty, “Yes. Very.”
* * *
    Josh was exhausted.
    It was Friday night, and he and his crew had been working around the clock. Although the project was nowhere close to being finished, he felt that they had definitely gotten things to a point that he was happy with. He had a couple of things to do tomorrow morning, but none of that came close to what he planned to do tomorrow afternoon.
    He had to admit that not emailing Shelly all week had been something he was unsure of at first. Ever since he had originally moved away, he had made sure to keep in contact with her, usually every night, just so he knew she was always thinking about him. And, he also got a shot of adrenaline every time he opened his email and saw Dr. Shelly Monroe in his inbox.
    However, this was different. He had laid down the rules this time, told her what he expected from her, and now, it was her turn to show up and follow through.
    Josh only hoped she didn’t disappoint.
    He looked around the cramped space he had lived in for the last several months.
    If things go according to plan tomorrow, this will all have been worth it. If it doesn’t, this sad, lonely room will be a fitting place for me to bury my broken heart.
* * *
    Saturday morning had arrived.
    Shelly’s flight had been smooth the whole way through. Her father had been there to pick her up. This time around the drive back to the house was not in the least bit awkward, and they actually had a decent conversation. He’d asked her about work, how she was enjoying it, and then he’d even gone so far as to ask how she and Josh were doing.
    Of course, Shelly wasn’t really comfortable divulging all of that, so she had just told him things were good, and then smiled and moved the conversation along. Dinner that night had been a civil affair as well. To Shelly, this was a huge step in the right direction because, for as many years as she could remember, their family dinners had always been awkward and strained.
    As she climbed up into her father’s truck, she put it in gear and drove down the gravel driveway to exit the property. As she pulled out onto the main road, she was reminded of the day she had taken Josh down to her favorite place, her dreaming tree.
    She glanced at the clock up by the rearview mirror and saw that it was just now 2:45 p.m. She had plenty of time to stop by the river and take a moment to work out everything she wanted and needed to tell Josh.
    When she reached the exit, she slowed down and made the turn only to discover a huge red and white sign that read, PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING!
    Shelly stopped the truck and hopped out, making her way to the now huge padlocked fence that was across the dirt road.
    Well, shit, Shelly thought. She tried to look down the road, but she couldn’t see anything. That was not the way she had wanted to start they day. The one place she had always found peace and solitude was now owned by someone who would never truly appreciate it.
    Sighing and knowing there was nothing she could do about it, she turned and walked back to the truck. Well, maybe it’s for the best anyway. After all, it could be a sign that it was time to actually live her life and quit standing under a tree just dreaming about it.
* * *
    It was 3:50 p.m. As Josh stood in front of the fountain he had once visited with Shelly many months ago, he started to feel nervous.
    What if she doesn’t show? What if this has all been for nothing?
    He took a deep breath and looked up to the clear blue sky above him. Stuffing his shaking hands into his jeans pockets, he closed his eyes and reminded himself, She said she loves me, and her eyes meant it. I saw it.
    Once he had calmed himself the best he could, he opened his eyes and found himself staring at the white steeple of the Catholic cathedral, St. John the Baptist, where Shelly had told him she had been baptized. Reminding himself of everything he had put into this moment over the last several months, Josh was determined that nothing would deter him—nothing except for her failure to show.
* * *
    Shelly found herself running through Lafayette Square at 3:57 p.m.
    The stupid traffic had held her up a little longer than she had expected. As she rounded the final bend in the path leading to her fountain, she slowed down to a walk and took in the perfect scene before her.
    Standing with his back to her was a man now so familiar she would be able to pick him out of a crowded stadium, and beside that strong figure sat a dog. They were both silent in their stillness, and as Shelly moved closer, she swore everything in the entire universe disappeared.
    She had almost reached them when he turned, and she finally locked eyes with Josh.
    Shelly stopped where she was, waiting to see what he was going to do, but Josh didn’t do anything at first. He merely looked her over from head to toe, and when his eyes came back to hers, he smiled slowly. She could have sworn she felt that smile reach inside of her and hug her heart.
* * *
    Josh wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but as Shelly stood in front of him, dressed in a billowy blue blouse and simple faded jeans, he knew that this was his Georgia who had shown up.
    In a move that was so simple and yet so incredibly important, he lifted a hand and held it out to her. He took a deep breath and waited to see what she would do.
    He watched the woman he had fallen so deeply in love with step forward and take his hand without even a moment of hesitation. She gazed up at him as he squeezed her hand, tugging  her forward. When Shelly put a hand up on his chest to steady herself, he swore she must have been able to feel his heart beating at a hundred miles an hour.
    “You came,” he whispered down to her.
    He watched as those incredible eyes of hers smiled at him, and her mouth tipped up at the corners to match.
    “Nothing could have stopped me,” she answered.
    Josh finally let go of the breath he had been holding in, and he shook his head. He reached up with his free hand and stroked it down the back of her head over her silky blonde hair to cup the nape of her neck, bringing her closer. Then, he leaned down and did what he’d wanted to do all week. He kissed her.
* * *
    Shelly sighed as she felt his lips finally brush against her own.
    He was so gentle in his persuasion for her to open to him. He had no need to worry though. Shelly was ready to give herself over to him, body and soul. And, if he wanted anything else, he could have that, too.
    As he lifted his lips from hers, he leaned his forehead against hers, and their noses brushed as he closed his eyes. He still had a hand on her neck, and the other one was holding hers. She could feel his heart thundering beneath her palm.
    “Josh?” she questioned softly. When she got no response, she moved and kissed his cheek. “Josh?”
    He blinked as though he was pulling himself out of some kind of daze, and then he smiled at her.
    “Stop it,” she told him.
    “Stop what?”
    He watched her move back, leaning down to pat Mutley’s head. When she straightened, she bit her bottom lip and gave a nervous laugh.
    “Looking at me like that.”
    “Like what?” he asked as he stepped closer again. Before she could answer, he raised a finger and laid it across her lips gently. “Like I love you?”
    Is that a question I’m supposed to answer?
    Apparently not because then he continued.
    “Because I do. Love you, that is. I have never loved someone as much as I love you, Shelly.”
    Shelly felt her heart starting that strong gallop inside her chest, but she tried to remain steady as he reached up and cupped her face in his palms.
    “I love the Shelly that made an outrageous deal with me one night in a club. I love the Shelly that brought me here to this very spot and showed me that she has a soft side that is so damn appealing I would never be able to look anywhere else ever again. I love the Shelly that was confused and angry and who kicked me out of her life because she was honest. She didn’t hold onto me and make me stay only to stray elsewhere.” He stopped, kissed her nose, and leaned down, whispering, “But, you know what, Georgia? I couldn’t leave you behind.”
    Shelly looked up at Josh with tears shimmering in her eyes.
    What a stupid woman I’ve been! Why did I wait so long to discover what kind of man he is?
    As she was about to talk, she stopped as he stepped back, leaning down on one knee. Shelly felt her eyes widening and her mouth parting as she watched with something close to absolute wonder when he reached out and took her hand in his.
* * *
    Josh stared up at Shelly from down on his knee.
    He had thought about this moment for months. He had gone over and over in his head exactly what he wanted to say to her. As he knelt at her feet, looking up at her shocked face, he felt a slight shiver of anxiety run down his spine.
    Josh watched as she shifted her eyes to Mutley, who thankfully was sitting on his haunches like an obedient dog, and then they came back to rest on his.
    Well, Josh thought, it’s now or never.
    “Over the past ten months, I have met and fallen in love with three different women.” He paused and watched as Shelly took a deep breath and swallowed. “A man-eater, who is gutsy, bold, and so scary she almost made me walk away. A professional, who is so smart and sophisticated that her brains and sheer knowledge of certain things in life leave me breathless and in awe.”
    Shelly finally smiled down at him then, squeezing his hand. The shock had left her face, and he could see a tear sliding down her cheek.
    Thatis definitely a good sign, Josh decided.
    “Lastly Georgia. I met and fell in love with a sweet hometown girl, who has a terrible brave face and who sings the worst rendition of Shania Twain’s songs I’ve ever heard. Yet, she still managed to make me fall madly in love with her.”
    Josh kept his eyes on hers as he dug into his jeans pocket with his free hand, pulling out a small box. Looking up at her, he let go of her hand, unsnapped the black velvet, and then looked once again at the most beautiful face he had ever seen.
    “Georgia, will you marry me?”
* * *
    Shelly was finally rendered speechless.
    There was Josh, down on one knee with his big beast of a dog beside him, asking her to marry him.
    As he waited patiently for her answer, Shelly kept running over all the important things she wanted to tell him. Like how much she had missed him when he had left Saturday night. Or how hard it had been to see him with his ex-girlfriend all those months ago. Or how the thought of him leaving her life when he’d moved away had ripped her heart out.
    However, as she gazed down at the man before her, holding out his hand with a little black box, none of that was important.
    All Shelly could do was whisper. “Yes.”
    She watched as that sexy smile, that was all Delicious Daniels, spread across his lips, and those warm brown eyes lit up. Then, he stood, and she reached out to wrap her arms around his neck.
    He gripped her around the waist and hauled her up against his body, kissing her mouth with a sweet desperation born of fear and finally ending with sweet joy of the outcome he had wished for so hard.
    When Josh finally put her on her feet, he looked down at her and asked, “Yes?”
    Shelly laughed and nodded before saying softly, “Yes, yes, yes!”
    Then, as she moved in close to kiss him, the huge bells in the church behind them tolled loudly.
    Both of them looked over their shoulders as the church doors opened, and a wedding party spilled outside into the street, making their way across to the park.
    Shelly felt Josh reach out and take her hand, pulling it up to his lips where he kissed the knuckles and slid the beautiful diamond onto her finger.
    “I want that to be us. Whenever you’re ready, I want to bring you back here and marry you in that church.”
    Shelly turned to look up at him and asked, “Why here? Why not Chicago?” She paused, and then rushed on, “You are moving back to Chicago, aren’t you?”
    Josh leaned in, kissing her softly. “I plan to be wherever you are, so I can go to sleep with you at night, and—”
    “Wake up with me in the morning?” she finished.
    Pecking her on the lips, he nodded. “Yes, and wake up with you in the mornings.” He paused, and then told her, “This is who you are to me, Georgia. You’re the girl in the faded jeans, who grew up in a small Southern town. The one who dreams under a tree. That’s my Georgia, my little slice of heaven, and I want to marry you in the church you grew up in.”
    Shelly shook her head, “I don’t need to dream anymore, and anyway, the property has been sold.”
    She watched as a huge grin spread across Josh’s lips.
    “Don’t be too quick to throw it all away. Some dreams are meant to last.”
    As Shelly quirked a brow at him, he leaned down to whisper in her ear.
    “I’ve been building a dream.”
* * *
    Josh watched as Shelly took a step back.
    She tilted her head. “I don’t understand.”
    Reaching out, Josh took her hand in his and whistled for Mutley, who trotted up along beside him.
    “Come with me. Trust me, and I’ll explain it along the way.”

Epilogue

    Dreams are funny things. They shift and morph the more you grow, Shelly thought as Josh’s truck rumbled to a stop in front of the padlocked gate.
    On their way over here, he told her all about his dreams and what he’d been doing for the last few months.
    Quite honestly, Shelly was left speechless.
    She watched as he got out of the truck, walking around the front to unlock the gate. The man had bought her property.
    Well, of course, it wasn’t hers, but he had put money down and bought the place she ran to for comfort and solace.
    As he moved back to the driver’s side, climbing up into the truck, he gave her an almost shy grin.
    “You okay?” he asked.
    Shelly nodded before asking, “All this time, you’ve been here? That’s what you’re telling me?”
    “Yeah.” He paused. He put the truck in gear, and it lurched forward. “I wanted to get away from Chicago. It’s never been for me. It’s too cold, and when we came down here…” He looked over to her. Shelly smiled at him as he continued softly, “Well, when we came here, I fell in love.” Reaching across the seat, he took her hand and touched the ring he’d just placed on her finger. “I fell in love with Savannah, with this property that has a river running down the back of it, and a beautiful big oak tree where I made love to my fiancée.”
    Shelly took his hand that was on hers and brought it to her lips. She kissed his big knuckles, and then raised it to her cheek.
    “So, then what?” she asked a little breathlessly.
    As the truck took the final bend in the road, she looked out the windshield to see a small foundation and the start of walls and a roof being erected right behind the large oak. Shelly gasped and looked at Josh, who had stopped the truck and fully turned to her.
    “So then, I started to build. I had no clue at first what I wanted to do. All I knew was I wanted to make something beautiful here—for you. I wanted you to be able to come back and visit your family, and if you wanted to, come down and stay by the river.”
    Josh grinned and jumped out of the truck, making his way around to her side. He opened the door, and she got out, taking his hand when he extended it. They made their way over to the beginning of what looked to be a small-sized cottage, and then they stopped.
    “It started as a hammock under this tree.” Josh turned to her and took her hands in his. “In fact, it started as a kiss under this tree. A kiss from a sweet girl called Georgia, wearing nothing but a cowboy hat. But then, my dream changed. Every time we talked, Shelly, every time I saw you and touched you, this grew in my head. I was building us a dream.”
    He pulled her in close, and Shelly could feel the tears sliding down her cheeks.
    All of this is just too good to be true.
    The man, the house, the place she felt most at home, and yes, even the damn dog.
    “I know you live in Chicago. I know our lives are there,” he told her as he kissed her nose. “But I want us to be able to come here whenever we want. Lay down on a blanket in the afternoon sun and make love. Unwind and dream together.”
    Shelly looked up at the sweetest, sexiest man she had ever met and wondered how on earth she had ever let a day go by, let alone months and weeks, where he wasn’t close enough to touch.
    Reaching up to wrap her arms around Josh’s neck, Shelly smiled into his warm eyes and asked, “But what do you dream for when you have everything you already want?”
    She watched as his sexy smile widened across those delicious lips.
    He conceded, “Good point.”
    Standing up on tiptoes, Shelly kissed those lips softly and whispered in the best Southern accent she could dig up, “Oh, what a shame, sugah. Now, it just looks like you’ll have more time to unwind and make love to me in the afternoon sun.”
    Clutching her in tight, Josh kissed her lips with a lot more force than she had. He whispered, “Oh now, that is a shame, Georgia. When do you think we can begin?”
    Shelly answered on a soft sigh, “I’m thinking now, sugah. I’m thinking right now.”
    With that, she found herself kissing her future husband under her dreaming tree and thinking of new dreams.
    She wondered, just for a moment, if it would shock Josh at all to know that the dream now held a dog and a toddler running around under a large oak tree.
    As Josh picked her up in his arms, carrying her closer to some shade and a blanket, he leaned down and nuzzled her ear.
    “I love you, Shelly Monroe. I can’t wait to have a family with you.”
    “I love you, too,” Shelly told him as she turned her head and kissed him back, smiling and thinking.
    This tree really does make dreams come true.

Special Thanks

    I would like to take a moment to thank some amazing people, who have gotten to know my work and me over the past few months. It has been such a pleasure becoming a part of the wonderful indie-writing community.
    First and foremost, I must thank my fantastic editor, Jovana Shirley, whom I was lucky enough to have found through Taryn Cellucci from My Secret Romance Book Reviews. What a great day that was when I saw a link to your site! You have been nothing but supportive and professional throughout our duration of working together, and I appreciate all of the time and effort you have put in to making Entice the best version of itself.
    Second, I’d love to thank a few of the amazing bloggers that I have had a chance to work with: Shh Mom’s Reading, TotallyBooked Blog, Scandalicious Book Reviews, Flirty and Dirty Book Blog, Reviews by Tammy & Kim, Zee Book Truth, Swept Away by Romance, Reality Bites! Let’s Get Lost!, THESUBCLUBbooks, Romantic Book Affairs, My Secret Romance Book Reviews, Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews, Three Chicks and Their Books, Natasha Is a Book Junkie, and The Indie Bookshelf. All of these blogs offer some of the best recommendations in books, so if you’re looking for some advice, I would go to one of these ladies straightaway. Thank you for all being so helpful with the Entice Blog Tour, and I look forward to working with you all in the future.
    I also would like to thank Samantha Young, author of On Dublin Street, and Tiffany Reisz, author of The Siren, for writing two of my favorite reads of 2012!
    Okay, it must be mentioned. You didn’t think I’d forget, right? Thank you to all the wonderful people I have met along the way through Goodreads. If you are an avid reader, I suggest you go and sign up! It is a wonderful place to meet like-minded people with the same addiction, who love to read and maybe write too much.
    And (haha, Alyssa) this doesn’t even need to be said because they know they are loved: To my Four Critters! You are always in my head when it comes to saying thank you, but since I do it about one hundred times a day…well, I know I’m covered.
    So, Ninj, Alyssa, Mends, and Brits, you guys rock, and you all know I wouldn’t be able to do even half of what I manage to without you in my phone all day!
    xx,
    Ella
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