With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this week’s teaser comes from In Too Close book 1 in my Holiday Heat series.
Candlelight flickered in Elizabeth Anders’s office, reflecting off the lacquer finish on her Louis Sue Parisian art-deco desk. The stone floor was cold under her feet and she glanced down to see that she’d inadvertently slipped off her Jimmy Choo shoes. Suddenly a shiver raced down her spine. She felt as if someone else was in the room but couldn’t see anyone. There was no sense of menace…more a heightened anticipation. She knew the person in the shadows. Bradley Hunt.
Her best friend, the man she kept at arm’s length but secretly lusted after. She held him at bay because her goals were too important to get tangled up in sex. And he was a playboy, someone who worked hard but played even harder. Not the kind of man she could ever be interested in, but…
He liked to play at being relaxed and easygoing and he wore his thick brown hair collar length like a corporate raider and always had a day’s worth of stubble on his jaw. He seemed casual but he was just as intense as she was when it came to business. The main difference was that she worked for an exclusive luxury hotel chain and he worked for himself.
He revealed himself and her breath caught as her eyes moved over his rippling muscles and lean six-pack abs. He arched one arrogant dark brown eyebrow at her as he flexed his pectorals. Then he strode toward her.
She groaned as a wave of pleasure swept through her and she knew that no matter how much she might say they were just friends she craved more. She’d wanted him from their first meeting at his frat house when he’d been shirtless on that warm, sunny day and had offered to help her move into her dorm.
Now, as his arms wrapped around her and he drew her closer into his embrace, all those old feelings came flooding back. His mouth was hot, his tongue talented as he used his kisses to melt away the last of her resistance. She knew better than to give in to passion, but for once she wanted to forget all of that and experience everything he had to offer.
Bradley’s hazel eyes were half closed and a dark flush spread across his cheeks as his lips continued their slow, sensual descent. His breath was warm and each exhalation brushed against her neck as he nibbled at the length of it. Shivers of delight pulsed through her and she squirmed, trying to get nearer to him, but he refused to let her close the gap. Only the heat of their bodies touched and, of course, his mouth on her skin.
His hands hovered just over her chest. Their eyes met as she glanced up to see why he wasn’t caressing her. His gaze on her body was intense as he slowly traced just one finger over the exposed flesh.
“Are you sure?” he asked, his voice deep and husky. It was a tone she’d only heard from him one time before.
The last thing she wanted to do at this moment was debate the wisdom of this. She took his hand and guided it to her breast. He moaned her name on a long, guttural sigh as his hand encompassed her entire breast and squeezed it gently. “Lift your shirt,” he said, the command in his voice mirrored in the intensity of his stare.
His hands were already there. First, just that sensuous rubbing over the globes of her breasts, and then cupping them as his fingers moved in ever-narrowing circles while he touched then tweaked her nipples. She squirmed and shivered as she felt a pulse of heat between her legs.
She parted them and leaned back as his hand drifted down to her stomach and then settled on top of her feminine mound.
Elizabeth jerked awake and sat up to find her own hand between her legs and her cell phone vibrating on the night-stand. She sighed. Of course she’d have a hot sex dream about Bradley Hunt. It made sense. One kiss five years ago had ignited a flame inside of her that had never been extinguished.
She glanced over at the phone and saw Bradley’s smiling face on the screen. It was a selfie he’d sent to her. The man had an ego as large as the Wasatch Range that surrounded Park City.
Groaning, she reached for the phone. At first she’d thought she conjured him up with her erotic dream, but then cold, hard reality hit her. She’d left a message for him earlier so he was simply calling her back. “Do you know what time it is?” she asked by way of greeting. The clock said 2:00 a.m. Her pulse was still racing. She wanted to be calm and collected but so wasn’t. Something about Bradley always got her riled up.
“Sorry, I’m in London. I can’t ever remember the difference between GMT and Mountain time.”
“Seven hours, lame-o,” she said. “You run a multimilliondollar sport outfitter and travel all over the world opening retail stores and yet can’t tell time… How do you do it?”
“I can tell time, Lizzie, just not time zones. Anyway, I wanted to be the first to congratulate you on your promotion, and I knew our friends would wait until the hour was decent.”
“But not my bad-boy best friend,” she said, trying not to sigh. A part of her had hoped he’d called because he remembered their friends-with-benefits pact, but clearly that wasn’t the case.
“I like being first,” he replied.
That wasn’t news to her. When they’d first met, he turned getting good grades into a competition and she’d risen to the challenge. She hated to lose. Had to bite her lip and smile politely when she did, and in Bradley she’d found a fellow competitor who always wanted to win. If things had been different… She thought of her torrid dream and the one scorching kiss they’d shared five years ago.
“Did you fall back to sleep?” he asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“No, of course not,” she said.
“Then, what’s up, Lizzie?”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me Lizzie?” She was stalling for time. How was she going to bring up something that had been said so long ago? Something he’d more than likely forgotten but that she’d kept tucked away in the back of her mind as a kind of insurance policy.
“An infinite number, but I like it,” he said. “Lizzie suits you.”
“My boss wouldn’t agree,” she retorted.
Lars Usten, former Olympian and owner of the very exclusive Lars Usten Lodge and Spa luxury hotel chain, never called her anything but Elizabeth.
“He doesn’t know the real woman.”
“And you think you do?” she asked. She doubted that Bradley had ever really paid any attention to anything other than himself. He was fun, flirty and way too selfabsorbed, or so she’d always thought. “I know I do,” he said.
“Cocky and arrogant, as always,” she said. “Okay, hotshot. Prove it.”
“I know that you’re an executive now, so you’ve met your business goals. I know that you’re going to be thirty on December 31. And I know that we made a bargain with each other that if we were both still single at thirty…”
He let the words trail off and she lay in her bed, sheets twisted around her hips, shaking her head that he’d beaten her to it. She wanted to be mad but could only laugh. This was one time when she was glad he had won. His ability to always rise to any challenge was one of the things she’d always liked about him.
“I wasn’t sure you remembered,” she admitted.
“How could I forget?” he asked. “I’ve had a thing for you for years, but you’ve always kept your distance.”
“It was hard to tell you wanted me through all the women surrounding you,” she quipped.
He laughed. “Touché. So, you still want to give it a try?”
He was so blasé about it that she wondered if there was something she was missing. She’d spent her entire adult life focused and contained so that she wouldn’t do anything stupid like she had when she was twenty. Now, ten years later, she’d accomplished everything she’d always wanted to.
She had it all…except for a lover.
And playboy jokester Bradley…well, he turned her on like no one else, and unless she’d missed something, he could be hers. She wanted him in her life temporarily to sooth that sexual ache that was keeping her up at night. It wasn’t surprising, given his virile nature and how demonstrative he was all the time, but over the years she’d always felt a little ping of excitement in her stomach whenever he called her or walked into a room.
“Do you?” she asked, throwing the ball back into his court.
“I brought it up. Do I really have to be the one to say yes first?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. She needed to be very careful about how she handled this because she wanted to keep their friendship intact. He was one of her longest relationships, and he got her in ways others didn’t. Maybe he wasn’t as self-absorbed as she’d always wanted to believe. Her girlfriends all teased her about being too intense, but not him. She guessed it was because she was always busy and distracted with work. Plus, as her female friends started getting married and having kids, she’d stepped back. That whole thing—husbands, kids, settled life—it wasn’t her.
“Okay, fine, I want to try dating and see if our friendship can be more.” He paused. “And if not, it will finally put to rest that nagging question.”
“What nagging question?” she asked, trying to play it cool. Bradley and this affair thing were like a business deal. But in her heart she knew it was more.
“Was that kiss a fluke or is there real sexual attraction between us?” he asked.
“Oh, I think it was real,” she said. “As real as you can get.”
Bradley Hunt leaned farther back in his seat in the departure lounge at London’s Heathrow airport. Cradling his smartphone in his hand, he pictured Elizabeth with her long blond hair falling around her shoulders, her blue-green eyes sleepy, maybe even drifting shut, and wearing some sort of pajamas that covered her from her neck to her toes. She was that buttoned-up, but there had always been something more lingering beneath the surface. She needed a lover to awaken her and remind her she was young.
Hiding in the depths of her beautiful eyes he occasionally caught a fleeting glimpse of fire and passion. And he’d wanted to unlock it, but she’d shut him down each and every time.
Starting when they’d first met.
They’d originally crossed paths when she’d stopped in front of his frat house on her moving-in day at the University of Texas at Austin and asked for directions. She’d been so damned cute with her ponytail and large hornrimmed glasses that he’d been unable to resist making a pass. And, being Elizabeth, she’d turned him down flat.
He’d taken that rejection as a challenge and the game between the two of them had started. A game she’d done her best to simply ignore until that kiss five years ago that had culminated in a sweet, slightly inebriated bargain.
Back then, on that one unforgettable night, it had seemed as if he was finally going to get a chance to see if the attraction between them was genuine, but in the end…she’d been too vulnerable. He intended to win and have her in his bed, but not because she was feeling lonely and any man would do.
He’d have felt like a cad if he’d gone through with seducing her when she was clearly so not herself. The Elizabeth he wanted to make love with was feisty and confident. Not scared of ending up alone. She was this woman. At her prime. Youngest general manager in the Lars Usten Corporation. He was very proud of her and had never wanted her more.
But with Elizabeth, just as with any competitor, he couldn’t let her see it. He’d built his business from the ground up with hard work. One client at a time. Which was why he had to keep her guessing about how he felt and what he really wanted. She liked the challenge as much as he did. “What makes you think the attraction is real?” he finally asked, breaking the silence.
“Because you wouldn’t still be sniffing around if it wasn’t.”
He laughed despite himself. “So true. And you wouldn’t be talking on the phone with me in the middle of the night unless you wanted…me.”
“I’m not going to deny it,” she said. “I have thought of that kiss at Marina’s wedding more than once.”
Seeing her younger sister married five years ago, coming on the heels of a bad breakup, had shaken Elizabeth. It hadn’t taken a rocket scientist to understand it. He’d glimpsed beneath the outer facade of his best friend and something had changed inside him at that moment.
“I still can’t eat chocolate cake without remembering the way it tasted on your lips,” he admitted.
“Me, either,” she said softly. “So, are you—we—really doing this?”
“Doing what?” he drawled, unable to resist teasing her.
She cleared her throat. “You know…are we going to try the friends-with-benefits thing?”
“Yes. I want to,” he confessed, totally serious now. “You have your career on track and my business is going steady. There’s nothing stopping us.”
She took a deep breath. “This is just sex, right? You know I’m still not interested in anything long-term.”
“Yes.” For now. Bradley knew he wouldn’t be satisfied until he had everything that Elizabeth had to offer. Until she was his, body and soul. But for the time being, friends with benefits worked for him.
He heard the rustle of sheets as she rolled over. Feeling an all-too-familiar throbbing, he straightened his legs to make room for his erection as he pictured her topless, wearing only a pair of sheer black panties….
His imagination took over. If he were with her right now, he would take both of her wrists in one of his hands and hold them behind her back so that her breasts were thrust forward. He’d move in closer to caress her but wouldn’t touch her until she was calling his name, begging for more.
He shook himself and thrust his hand through his hair as he realized he needed to get her into bed…and the sooner the better so he could stop fantasizing about her.
“I suggest dinner, once you’ve had a chance to recover from the jet lag. Do you think in two days time would be okay?”
“We can talk about the details of our arrangement then,” she told him.
“Lizzie, do you really have arrangements with the men you sleep with?” he asked harshly. “I’m not another corporate entity that you are trying to merge with.”
“I know that, really, I do. But I’m not sure how to approach this without keeping it more in business terms. I don’t want—”
“To get hurt, the way you were when Ken left you,” he said.
She didn’t say anything and he wondered if he’d gone too far, but the truth was, they weren’t like other couples that were starting a relationship. They knew each other’s pasts and closely guarded secrets. In a way, Bradley thought it might make things easier. Yet she was still a mystery from his point of view. And he was dying to know how they’d be in bed.