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by Loribelle Hunt
Description: Tattoo artist Nancy Burke likes her life fine the way it is. She has her work and her friends, and has worked hard to recover from the abuse of her dead ex-husband. So what if it's a little lonely? It's peaceful. One man challenges that peace and makes her long to let loose. For one night. And one night only. Disabled war veteran Brad Moore knows he's damaged goods, but that's not enough to stop him from pursuing Nancy. She's the exact opposite of the kind of woman he usually goes for, but maybe that's exactly what they both need.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
25 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [67 KB]
Reading time: 41-57 min.
Two a.m. Thank God, the torture was almost over. She only had one thing on her mind: escape. Well, there might have been a man on her mind too. An impossibly dark and hot and enigmatic man whom she couldn't have.
The wedding reception was finally winding down. There were only a few stragglers left, and Nancy motioned to the bartender, who was standing next to her, to issue the last call. He did and handed her a glass of champagne. She shouldn't accept it. She'd already had more than a couple in the last few hours, but what the hell? Her head might protest in the morning, but she'd survive it. She frowned into the glass before taking a long swallow. There were other things in her life that hadn't been nearly as easy to survive as a hangover.
After taking another swallow, she set the half-empty glass down and smiled her thanks to the barkeep. She'd smiled so much tonight her face felt frozen into that position. She walked into the remaining crowd, subtly but clearly letting it be known the party was over.
About an hour's drive east of Panama City, Bank's Crossing was a small beach community in the Florida Panhandle. Most of the reception's guests would walk home, and a couple of the gutsier men asked if she needed someone to walk her. She declined those offers with a smile and shake of her head, and they left quickly. Much as she wanted to take credit, she knew it belonged to the man watching from the shadows.
Silent. Impossibly still. And always, always expressionless. Except when he met her gaze, as he did now. She couldn't repress a shiver. His face didn't change, but his eyes... She wasn't sure what she was reading in them, only knew that it scared her as much as it excited her. Hot, territorial, possessive? How could those black eyes be described? The only thing she knew for sure was she not getting involved with another man like that.
Jessalyn thought she was overreacting. She thought that Brad Moore was harmless. Nancy snorted. Jessalyn was out of her damned mind. But Nancy couldn't blame her old friend. She'd been married earlier in the evening to a man she'd loved for years, stayed one hour at her own reception, and then left with her new husband to catch a flight to Jamaica. She'd let the remainder of the reception in the hands of the maid of honor--i.e., Nancy--and best man Brad Moore, her new husband's recently returned brother.
Brad was a mystery Nancy didn't want to delve into. She knew more than she wanted to already. He'd gone to college before going into the Army. He'd been gone sixteen years, not long enough to get retirement, she thought, but the rumor was he'd been badly injured in Iraq. Bad enough to justify an early retirement in the Army's eyes. She got the feeling he didn't see it quite the same way. That made him what? Thirty-eight? Something like that. Five years older than her. She'd done the older man thing before too, though she secretly conceded five years wasn't a difference worth noting. It just gave her another handy excuse to ignore him.
He was still watching her, and she couldn't stand it. Her skin felt hot. Tight. The satin bodice of her dress should have been cool and soft against her nipples. Instead the fabric rasped over her the way she imagined his calloused hands would. The rings weren't helping. When he looked at her, her nipples hardened into painful points, and the metal that pierced and circled them seemed tighter each time. He was making her crazy and he hadn't done a damned thing.
She felt like she was going to combust. Because as much as he scared her, he also turned her on. She could admit that to herself. Privately at least. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge before she got crazy and acted on the impulse to approach him. To beg him to take her to bed and fuck her with the same intensity he looked at her with. No, no, no. Nancy, you don't want that, remember? Been there. Done that. Ended badly.
She had to get out quick. Her dress was marvelous, she had to give Jessalyn credit for that, since she'd seen some really horrendous bridesmaid dresses over the years. It was a dark blue that showed off her tan and blonde hair, floor length, strapless with an empire waist. It came with a three-quarter-sleeved jacket, cut off under her breasts, that hid most of her tattoos during the wedding. She'd taken it off a few hours ago when the older residents, the ones most likely to find body art tacky or offensive, had left. She was a walking advertisement for her profession as a tattoo artist. She wasn't ashamed of her body or her art, but she didn't see much point in causing unnecessary conflict with it.
Retrieving the jacket and her tiny purse--the caterers would take care of the cleanup--she hurried for the door. And almost made it. She didn't have to turn around to know the big tanned hand that pressed against her stomach, freezing her in place, was Brad's. She'd spent weeks fascinated by his hands.
"Where are you going?" he asked in a deep, masculine voice that unnerved her as much as the heat from his palm. He stood right behind her, his broad chest barely touching her back. She didn't turn around.
"Home. It's been a long day." One that had started early in the morning then gone late into the night, and she had to go to work in a few hours.
"Dance with me first," he demanded.
She sucked in a breath. She shouldn't do that. Let him pull her close, press his body against hers. How could she resist then? Hadn't he been pursuing her subtly, with a truckload of restraint, for weeks? Like he was afraid of scaring her off? Was that really what was going on? She could be completely, totally wrong. The attraction she felt, the crazy pull she felt towards him, could be absolutely one sided, but she couldn't take the risk. There was something so resolute about him. He'd never let a woman he wanted go, and she didn't ever want to be with a man like that again.
"There's no music," she answered when she finally found her voice again.
He shifted closer to her. She could feel the heat of his body against her, his warm breath blowing against the back of her neck. "Who needs it?"
She wanted to say no. She almost said no. But there was the faintest hint of defenselessness in his voice that she found impossible to resist. She nodded and he took her hand, pulled her back towards the center of the room. She watched the floor as they walked, afraid and excited at the same time. A man she'd barely spoken to in years shouldn't make her feel this way. It had been years since anyone had. Two years since she'd had sex or wanted to. She shoved that thought away. She wasn't doing that tonight either, and definitely not with this guy. It was just a dance. One dance and she'd flee.
He must have made a deal with the band, because as soon as they reached the dance floor and he pulled her into his arms, they struck up a slow, sultry ballad. He held her close when she would have preferred distance, but she laid her head against his chest anyway, over his heart. Heard it hammering fast and remembered what it was like to trust a man. He didn't touch her suggestively, kept his hands in the free and clear, but there was no ignoring the erection pressed against her belly. There was no ignoring the desire that wound through her. She sighed. She was so screwed. Well, hopefully. If he propositioned her now, she knew she wouldn't say no. The song ended and another didn't start up. He kept her close, still swaying to music only imagined, and whispered in her ear.
"Come home with me."
Here it was. Decision time. Go? Run? Ignore the only man who'd turned her on in forever, or take one night? Because surely it would be only one night. He looked at her with that hot something in his eyes, but he treated her with chilly disdain. They were not compatible. They both knew it. She made a split-second decision and hoped it wouldn't come back to bite her in the ass. Nodding, she retreated from the warmth of his arms.
"Let's go then."