“You’re not getting here until Saturday? What kind of best man rocks up the day before the groom’s wedding?”
Brody Nash grinned as Drew Buchanan’s incredulous words barked at him through his mobile phone and replied, “The kind who warned you he wasn’t suddenly going to turn into Mr. Reliable just because you’re whipped.”
“Whipped and loving it.” Brody could hear the happiness in his old friend’s voice as he referred to his fiancée. “You ought to try it. God knows no one needs to be pulled into line more than you.”
“She’d have to be seven foot tall and armed.”
“Nah—I reckon short and sassy would do it.”
There was an awkward silence into which they both inserted the obvious—like Sidney. About six months ago Brody had thought exactly along those lines, which had landed him in an ill-advised three way and at the wrong end of Drew’s fist. Brody’s infatuation with his best friend’s girl had almost destroyed his relationship with Drew, but as usual Buchanan hadn’t given up on him when he probably should have. Story of their lives.
“The weekend is the best I can do,” Brody said as he approached the back entrance of Drew’s restaurant, the Blue Fish Grill. He figured Drew would be in the process of closing up for the night, and the likelihood that he’d scream like a girl when Brody snuck up on him was pleasingly high. “I don’t control the northerly winds.”
“Northerly winds,” Drew scoffed. “More likely you got sidetracked. Which was it this time, blonde or brunette?”
“Redhead, actually.” Brody frowned, wondering why he lied. He hadn’t hooked up with a woman in the past week, or in the past six months in fact, an anomaly in terms of his usual pattern. The drought wasn’t due to a lack of opportunity, but more to a sense of restlessness that he didn’t think could be cured by mindless sex. The idea of losing himself in the temporary heat of a woman he barely knew and would soon forget had actually bored him.
“You’re a piece of work, Nash. You’d better be here on time. Rufus is my second choice for best man and he isn’t even house trained. I’m not sure he’s up to wearing a tux.”
Rufus was a big, hairy mixed-breed puppy Brody had read about via email. From what he’d heard, Sidney treated that mutt like a newborn baby, which Brody figured was next on her list of must-haves. Buchanan really was going all out at this commitment thing. “It’s nice to know my backup is a mongrel. Is this a comment on my skills as a best man or my sparkling personality?”
“Take it as you like. But be here before the wedding or Sidney’s going to have my ass.”
“Doesn’t sound like hard labor to me.”
“Watch yourself, Nash. That’s my future wife you’re talking about.”
Brody winced at the icy edge in his friend’s voice. “Sorry, man. Too soon?”
Relief seeped through him at Drew’s chuckle. “Nah, it’s all right. I can afford to be generous. Winners are grinners.”
Brody laughed at Drew’s smug tone. There had never been any real competition when it came to winning Sidney’s affections, and Brody had stopped wasting time on “perhaps if I’d met her first” conjectures. For one, he was glad Drew was happy. Secondly, if he’d met Sidney first, he would have fucked up her life. So all things considered, everything turned out as it should have.
Pushing open the unlocked back door, Brody stealthily crossed the kitchen and peered into the restaurant’s dining area. He saw a woman gyrating to a raunchy number blaring from the stereo system—something about getting dirty that he vaguely recognized—while simultaneously running a broom over the polished wood floorboards. Her ponytail shone a deep russet in the sparse restaurant lighting as she spun it around to the melody, her narrow hips swinging in time to the pounding beat. A redhead. And a hot one at that.
“Nash, is that Christina Aguilera?”
“Who?” The woman had just started dancing around the broomstick and using it as a microphone. Amused and more than a little intrigued, Brody watched the sinuous silhouette of her body move against the backdrop of the marina and the few lights of Graceville’s main street beyond.
“Either your musical tastes have changed markedly or that’s Sid’s CD playing in the background. You’re at the restaurant, aren’t you?”
Brody made some noise of assent and listened with half an ear while Drew read him the riot act for pulling his leg about not being able to make it back for days yet. Drew’s new waitress had an absolutely phenomenal pair of long, slender legs and she knew how to use them. Brody let his gaze trail over her until it came to rest on her stocking feet where they slid across the floor.
The song ended and the silence that came after throbbed. The girl heaved a sigh and bowed toward the empty restaurant. “Thank you, thank you,” she said. “You’ve been a wonderful audience.”
She spun around and shrieked. She dropped the broom and her feet got tangled in the handle. There was a loud thud as she tripped and landed on the hardwood floor. “Ooouch!”
“What the hell was that?”
Into the phone Brody explained, “I think I just scared the shit out of the new waitress. I thought it was you locking up.”
Another song came blaring out of the stereo, a ballad this time. Brody had trouble hearing Drew’s words so he turned the volume down before striding toward the woman on the floor and offering his hand.
She eyed his outstretched arm as though it were a venomous snake. Brody’s attention was arrested by the fascinating hues fanning out from the dark spots of her pupils—multi-facets of gold, treacle and honey contained within almond-shaped eyes that turned up a little at the outer edges. A spark of recognition flared.
But the girl she reminded Brody of wore glasses and wasn’t a redhead. Neither did Lana Green wear her skirts so satisfactorily short. This couldn’t be her.
“Courtney’s the only new waitress I’ve hired in the past six months, and she’s not on tonight,” Drew said as, finally, the girl on the floor slipped her hand into Brody’s. She had slim fingers, strong yet ladylike. The short, practical nails were tipped with a pearlescent pink polish. Brody drew her to her feet easily. For a tall woman she weighed next to nothing. When he tugged on her hand her slender body came barreling into his.
They stood there, chest to chest. Brody’s nose rested close to that jaunty ponytail and the scent of apples and cinnamon teased his nostrils. He heard Drew’s words—it must be Lana—as though from far away, and he had to question if he’d misunderstood. Lana Green had worked at the Grill for three years. Brody would have noticed if she’d had such ogle-worthy legs.
But those eyes…
Wanting to see them again, Brody pulled back a little. He looked into an oval-shaped face with wide, lightly glossed lips and a nose that was perhaps a little too long to be classically pretty. His mind’s eye took away the subtle flattery of makeup and added a pair of wire-framed glasses. “Lana?”
She opened her mouth as if to say something. All that came out was a soft puff of breath that tickled through the hair on his chin, reminding him of the beard he’d grown purely out of neglect. Maybe she still hadn’t recognized him. Wearing the ratty clothes he’d sailed his yacht, the Sunset, back to Graceville in, he probably looked like a homeless guy who’d broken in to rob the till.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He would never have crept up on her if he’d known she was locking up alone. “It’s Brody.”
“I know who you are.” Lana gave him an incredulous look. “Didn’t you know who I was?”
Well, now she’d made him feel like a real dope about it. “You look different.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to tell her she looks nice, Nash.” Brody frowned at Drew’s remonstrance. How had he forgotten he was still holding the mobile phone to his ear? “Try and keep the staff happy. You’ll have to be a little more personable when you take over.”
“Yeah, yeah.” More personable his butt. He’d have to get a full-blown personality transplant if he wanted to keep everyone as happy as Drew seemed to do with minimal effort. Brody had agreed to fill in as the Grill’s manager while Drew was on his honeymoon, but he hoped his friend didn’t expect flawless results. The food was his thing—people were not.
Belatedly, Brody became aware he was still resting a hand against the soft indent of Lana’s waist. Probably why there was a hint of uneasiness in her eyes. Releasing her, he took a step back. He must have moved too abruptly because the sudden loss of his support seemed to unbalance her. She stumbled backward, her feet coming in contact with the fallen broom handle again. For the second time in as many minutes, she tripped and landed on the floor with a resounding thump.
“Jesus, what are you doing to that girl?”
Brody scowled, feeing as disorientated as Lana appeared. “Nothing,” he told Drew a little defensively. It wasn’t his fault Lana was a klutz. She always seemed to be tripping over something. “Listen, why don’t I come by in the morning? You can measure me up for a penguin suit.”
“Alright, see you then. Hey, can I talk to Lana for a sec?”
“Hang on.” She was still sitting on the floor, resting her head on her bent knees. Brody crouched beside her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded without lifting her head. Brody wondered if she was in serious pain and if she might be about to cry. Anxiety sliced through him. He hated it when women cried. Made him feel helpless and ineffectual every time. “You sure?”
At last she raised her gaze to his, her expression more embarrassed than distressed. “Nothing that an ice pack to the butt wouldn’t fix.”
Brody’s lips twitched. He barely managed to refrain from offering to help her with that as he handed the phone over. “Drew wants to talk to you.”
Taking the device, she pressed it to her ear. “Hey, Drew.”
A smile curved her lips as she started giving Drew a rundown of how the end of the night had gone. The wariness that had been in her expression when she’d faced Brody cleared as she spoke to Drew, shared a laugh with him. The obvious change in her demeanor irritated Brody for some reason.
Lana tried to push herself to her feet. Brody noticed she gave a little wince when she rested her weight on her ankle and instinct came out of nowhere. He slipped an arm beneath her bent knees, another around her shoulders and stood, hoisting her against him.
She let out a gasp and grew utterly still in his arms, every muscle in her body tense as he carried her into the kitchen. That hint of spicy apple hit him again, made him think of hot pie fresh from the oven and the girl next door a troublemaker like him would never be allowed to touch.
Not that he wanted to touch her. He carried her out of pure necessity.
He set her carefully on the stainless-steel counter, aware of what she’d said about her butt needing an ice pack. For the purposes of first aid—definitely not because the idea of touching her appealed in any way—Brody lifted her foot and examined it. He pressed his fingers into the flesh around the point of her ankle, trying to figure out if there was any swelling.
There didn’t appear to be. The only swelling in the room seemed to be in the region of his jockey shorts.
Lana’s eyes shot to his and Brody abruptly dropped her foot. Could she tell he was getting aroused from doing nothing more than touching her leg? Christ. Six months was obviously too long to go without.
“He’s still here,” Lana said to Drew. Then her brow furrowed, deep lines creasing the smooth skin. “That’s not necessary, but if you insist, I’ll tell him.”
At last she clicked the disconnect button and handed back the phone. The second she faced him her expression seemed guarded, as though her defenses were once again engaged. It dawned on Brody what had been nagging him. She treated him differently than everyone else—always had. While she laughed and joked with Drew and the other guys who worked here, she’d never appeared that at ease in his presence. It was almost as if she was afraid of him. At the very least it seemed she disliked him.
So what? Brody asked himself. A lot of people didn’t like him and he’d never wasted a minute thinking about it before.
Turning away, he stalked to the cool room. Inside he found some ice and bagged it, allowing the frigid air to quell his burgeoning erection. His annoyance over Lana’s attitude mystified him. She was a nice girl, and he wasn’t a very nice guy. It shouldn’t have irked that she didn’t like him. He could only imagine her reaction if he got her in bed and started doing some of the stuff he liked to do…
He wasn’t going to get her into bed. It was bizarre that he would even have the thought.
Brody carried the makeshift cold pack out to where she sat. “What are you supposed to tell me?” His question came out sounding brusque. Was it any wonder she was wary of him?
“I’m in strife.” She watched, her eyes doing that anxious thing again, as he lifted her foot and pressed the bag to her ankle. “I’m not supposed to lock up on my own but Mick wanted to catch a soccer match at O’Ryan’s Pub and I told him to go ahead. Drew said you should stay until I finish, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to do that either.” She gestured to where he was holding her foot. “I said I was fine.”
“Preventative medicine.” Brody supposed she was hinting that she didn’t want him to stay. Apparently she’d feel safer taking her chances against potential vandals and thieves than with him. “And I’ll stay. Drew’s right, Mick shouldn’t have taken off.” Mick Jensen was a pretty good chef and a likeable enough guy but he did have a tendency toward forgetfulness and other lackadaisical behavior.
Her shoulders squared. “I told him I could handle things. Graceville’s not exactly crime-spree city.”
“The night’s takings are in the safe, aren’t they? A woman alone is asking for trouble.”
She issued a delicate snort and muttered, sounding almost annoyed about it, “I’ve never asked for trouble in my life.”
Brody caught her gaze and smiled. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Be personable, Drew had said. Try not to scare the crap out of this poor girl. Maybe, with a bit of effort, he could even make her like him a little. To grease the wheels at work, he told himself, as she was Drew’s most experienced waitress. Not because he suddenly couldn’t recall why celibacy had seemed like a realistic option for the past six months.
He wasn’t going to break his drought with Lana Green, anyway. Playing where he worked was not something he did routinely. Or ever, if you didn’t count Sidney and that whole fiasco.
Lana wriggled her toes, highlighting their proximity to his groin, and he had to stifle a groan. No way. Brody tamped down the surprising surge of desire with effort. Even he wasn’t that stupid.
Although he resembled an escapee from a Mexican prison, Brody Nash looked good enough to eat. And his continued touch on her foot was making Lana a very hungry woman.
Calling on the skills she’d acquired from years of long practice, she did her best not to let it show how his nearness affected her. Maintaining an air of indifference was tremendously difficult because he’d never touched her like this before. He’d never touched her, period, at least not deliberately. And anytime they’d accidentally brushed up against each other in the course of a night’s work, Lana had darted away as quickly as she could, lest he perceive that even unintentional contact with him set every nerve end in her body on fire.
While his gaze was concentrated on her ankle, Lana allowed herself the pleasure of studying him. He’d grown a beard that encircled his cynical lips in a way that drew attention to their sensual fullness. His hair was long, curling like black silk over his shirt collar. The T-shirt he wore was dark and rumpled, the cotton stretching over his shoulders and arms, emphasizing their broad strength.
He didn’t look like a prisoner so much as a pirate, recently returned from months at sea. Blackbeard seemed a fitting moniker. Ravish any wenches lately, Brody? If only he thought of her in that way, he would barely have to lift one of those dark sardonic brows and he could ravish her too.
“So what happened to the glasses?”
He glanced up and their gazes locked before Lana could prepare herself. Something flickered in the enigmatic depths of his eyes, turning them hot as fresh espresso. “Yours.” He cleared his throat as though he had something caught in it. His expression turned bemused, the lilt of his lips teasing. “Your glasses.”
Well duh. “I got struck by lightning and now I have perfect twenty-twenty vision.” He looked at her as though he were trying to figure out if she had all her ducks in a row. “Sorry. I got contacts.” When his focus passed over her ponytail she added, “And I dyed my hair. Did you really not recognize me before?”
“I told you.” His assessing eyes wandered over her. Intense. Thorough. Hot. “You look different.”
Whoa. Had she imagined that look? In addition to the contacts and new hairstyle, Lana had shortened her skirts and begun wearing a little makeup. She’d been told she had nice legs and she figured her eyes and mouth weren’t bad, as features went. Her nose had a small bump in the bridge and she had more freckles than she would have liked, but she wasn’t ugly. Lately, she’d been accentuating her few good points, instead of lamenting the many attractions she didn’t possess. She hadn’t thought for a minute the small changes she’d made would garner Brody’s attention.
“I could say the same to you,” she at last responded.
His rueful chuckle reverberated through her as he ran a hand over his thick beard. “Yeah, perhaps I ought to shave before I go see Sidney and Drew. Drew’s already threatened to demote me from best man, and I’m told Rufus is eager to step in.”
“You might have some competition there. Rufus can fetch sticks so wedding rings should be a piece of cake.”
“I don’t fetch. But I’ve never tried to hump anybody’s leg either.”
His droll retort renewed Lana’s awareness that her foot was still resting quite comfortably on his leg. Or more specifically, his thigh. She could feel taut muscle against her toes, which were planted mere inches away from his fly. She couldn’t prevent the way her attention snagged on that spot, or the lust that arrowed through her at the thought of any part of her body, even her pinkie toe, sharing proximity with that part of him.
It would be so easy to curve her leg around his hip and draw him toward her, until his chest was once again brushing against hers as it had when he’d lifted her from the floor. She could make some comment, some bawdy reference to humping and watch those dark eyes flare with surprise and, hopefully, interest.
It would be so easy. If she were somebody else. Someone with the courage to act on her impulses without fear of probable rejection. The kind of woman a man like Brody was attracted to and not some clumsy geek who lost all ability to coordinate her limbs around him. Tripping over that broom twice proved that whatever improvements she’d made to her appearance hadn’t given her the confidence to be cool and collected with Brody in the room.
Lifting the ice pack from her flesh, he tossed it on the counter beside her and turned away so her foot dropped, the contact between them obliterated so fast it made Lana blink. “Your ankle looks fine.”
“What else do you need help with?”
The help she needed ought to come from a trained psychologist. Or perhaps a hypnotist. There had to be a cure for the Brody Nash Obsession out there somewhere. A patch? Gum? Another man?
Lana had tried the last several times in the past five months since her parents had moved their dogmatic conservatism to a retirement villa on the Gold Coast and she had decided to get herself a sex life. So far, she hadn’t found a candidate worthy, which was proving endlessly frustrating. Why was the only man she could see herself sleeping with the most unattainable man of all?
Levering herself off the counter, she dropped to the floor. Other than the weakness in her knees that always seemed to plague her in Brody’s presence, her legs were in full working order. “It’s all done. I should get home to bed.”
Brody’s eyebrows hiked. “In a hurry?”
Was he asking if someone was waiting for her? She wished. “I have to get up early tomorrow. I work from home too.” At his look she elucidated, “I build websites.”
“Don’t I look like a computer geek without my glasses?”
His gaze passed over her again, the way it had earlier. “You don’t look like any kind of geek, with or without glasses.”
Oh. My. God. Was he flirting? He was definitely staring at her like she was a woman, not some maladroit girl who wouldn’t warrant his attention. Lana’s heart accelerated, began pounding hard against her ribs. She knew his type of woman—beautiful, seductive, confident. In other words, the very antithesis of her. He must be amusing himself at her expense.
Lana felt transported back to high school, and the few times a cute boy had bothered to talk to her. Invariably, she discovered he did it on a dare, or that he was entertaining himself momentarily with the nerd so she’d help him with calculus.
“I have to go.” She headed out to the restaurant and grabbed her stuff from the cupboard behind the bar, anger fuelling her strides. She felt Brody watching as she slipped on her shoes and backpack, and then grabbed her motorbike helmet.
It probably wasn’t the type of riding he thought, but Lana answered, “Yep.”
“This I’ve gotta see. I’ll walk you out.”
Couldn’t he tell she was mad at him? Arguing the point would only delay her departure further, so Lana remained silent as they left the restaurant and she used her keys to lock up. Their shoes crunched on the gravel as they traversed the car park, her low-heeled pumps making far less of an impression than Brody’s heavy-soled shoes. At almost five ten, Lana wasn’t petite, but the whole broad-shouldered, hard-muscled six feet of man at her side made her feel that way.
Brody started laughing before they were halfway to her mode of transportation. Lana pursed her lips. He wasn’t the first to tease her about the scooter. “You never asked how many cc’s it was.”
“Do they use cc’s for that thing or amps?”
“Very funny. Men always think size matters.”
Brody’s laughter petered out but the amusement still tinged his voice. “Sometimes it does.”
The innuendo was unmistakable, and Lana felt herself flush. She supposed he was used to women well practiced in sexual banter, but she was nowhere near capable of it, not with him. “It’s not very nice of you to tease me.”
She could sense the surprise in his eyes as he slanted her a look. “Sor-ry. But it is a girlie bike.”
Hardly able to tell him that wasn’t the teasing she was referring to, Lana said, “I am a girl. Anyway, I like it. It gets me where I want to go.” It sure beat the rust heap of a Toyota sedan that had finally died on her a few months ago, she thought, giving her blue Yamaha Bee Wee an admiring glance.
Lana pulled the band from her hair and shook out her ponytail before slipping the open-face helmet on and straddling the bike. She glanced up and found Brody’s eyes trained on her, his expression hinting at a fascination she would never have thought herself capable of engendering in any man, let alone this one. Lana told herself to breathe. Breathe in, breathe out.
“I like your new look.” His gaze roamed over her face slowly, at last connecting with hers. “It’s a shame to hide eyes like that behind a pair of specs.”
Nervous excitement gave way to anger, which sharpened to a hard, flinty point of hurt inside her. “You can’t go around looking at women like that if you don’t mean it—at least not at me. I’m not good at casual flirting, and I don’t appreciate being made fun of.”
He reared back as though her words had zapped him like electricity. “You think I’m making fun of you?”
“My eyes are brown, Brody. You’re not interested in me, so please don’t act like you are. It’s cruel.”
His brows scrunched as he stared at her. Lana had time to dimly sense that he was holding his breath, to realize she was holding hers, before his head dipped. His lips settled on hers and her pulse stilled, her body remaining motionless as his mouth mobilized, began to explore.
Heart fluttering, Lana tightened her grip on the scooter’s handlebars. She wasn’t game to reach out and touch him, to move even a millimeter, lest any action on her part break the spell. The moment she’d long ago given up dreaming about was actually happening. Brody Nash was kissing her.
His lips were warm and soft, the rasp of his beard against her chin a masculine sensation that had desire breaking out of its safe box and running free through her blood like salmon swimming upstream—instinctual, single-minded, ultimately doomed. Pragmatism told her he was still teasing her.
What if he wasn’t?
A sigh escaped her mouth and pushed its way into his as Lana at last reacted. She parted her lips and invited the soft sweep of his tongue, lifted her hand and threaded it through his hair, pulling him closer. He drew in a sharp, surprised breath, his hand rising to cup her head. The contact sounded loud in Lana’s ears as he bumped the helmet she wore.
He retreated abruptly. Stepping back, he swore, staring at her as though she’d sprouted a second head. Lana brought her hand to her lips. They felt singed where Brody’s had been pressed against them a moment ago. “You kissed me.”
He pushed out a breath, sounding as stunned as she did. “Yeah.”
“I don’t know. I’ve been at sea for six months.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He scratched a hand over his beard, appearing beleaguered. His gaze swept over her and once again she saw that look of astonishment flicker in his eyes. “You look really good tonight. I guess it threw me.”
This was getting better and better. “Your surprise is so flattering.”
“Hell, Lana. You’re a pretty girl, I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t.” Lana resisted the urge to insist she was a woman not a girl. Debating the point would only make her look petulant. “Drew told me to be nice to you, and I was only trying to do that,” he explained in a mutter. “But I don’t think this is what he had in mind.”
“Drew told you to be nice to me?”
“You and the rest of the staff. Somehow I’ve got to try and fill his shoes for a couple of weeks.”
“And you’re planning on kissing everyone to achieve that aim? The girls might like it but I’m not so sure Mick and the apprentices would take it well.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth. “You liked it?”
Lana’s pulse picked up speed again. His body inclined toward her, as though he was considering giving a follow-up performance if she vacillated on the issue. Much as the notion appealed it also piqued her temper. She couldn’t believe he thought she would let him kiss her again after the insulting way he’d tried to explain away his actions.
Well, she probably would. Of course she would. His kiss had had a potent margarita effect—smooth and delicious, with a pleasing salty aftertaste and a mean kick that made her thirst for seconds. But he needn’t know that, the arrogant swine. She lifted her shoulders in a careless shrug. “It was fine.”
“It was fine?”
Lana almost laughed at the look on his face. This was some turnaround, making him feel inadequate for a change. She shrugged again, letting him assume she’d had better when in reality nothing in her past had come close to the thrill of that kiss. “You don’t have to worry I’m going to tell Drew, or make things difficult at work because you kissed me. Apparently it was an accident,” she added in a drawl. “And as for being in charge—maybe you should do things your own way. You’re not Drew, so just be yourself.”
“Be myself.” His lips quirked. “You’ve known me three years, Lana. You really think that’s the answer?”
“What are you afraid of—that someone might find out who you really are?”
She saw she’d gone too far when his smile slid away and his eyes shuttered. He straightened and the cool bay breeze swept into the breach that widened between them. “You’re the one who ought to be scared, of doing yourself an injury on that thing. Ride carefully, will ya?”
Inwardly cursing herself for putting an end to the longest conversation she’d ever had with Brody, Lana turned on the ignition. Some of his amusement resurfaced at the tinny sound of the engine chortling gaily to life. She raised her voice over the noise. “I’ll have you know I’ve been riding the Bee Wee for three months, and I haven’t had a bingle yet.”
“Three months,” he grumbled. “You’re a novice.”
At more things than riding, Lana thought, relieved he didn’t know the truth. A virgin at twenty-three—it was darned embarrassing. She wondered if Brody would laugh if he found out.
She thought of the only way in which he could discover the fact and flushed hot all over. Maybe it would be worth the humiliation.
Not that she’d ever considered Brody would want to do the deflowering honors. But then, she’d never thought he’d turn around and notice she wasn’t the same awkward geek she’d been three years ago, and tonight it seemed he’d done just that. He’d talked and touched, flirted and kissed, more progress in half an hour than Lana had made in three years of secret pining. Accident or not, a kiss was still a kiss. It had to mean something. There was always a chance that Brody would have another lip-locking mishap, especially if she found the right way to encourage him.
As she eased the scooter out of its parking space and headed for the turnoff to Main Street, Lana smiled to herself. Anticipation expanded inside her like a helium-filled balloon, making her feel lighter and lighter as she got closer to home. Her life had definitely taken a turn into interesting territory.
The bride was late.
Only by fifteen minutes, which Lana figured was understandable given all a woman had to do to prepare for a wedding. By the look on the groom’s face as he glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time, she didn’t think he shared the same understanding.
“She wouldn’t stand him up, would she?”
Lana sent a sideways glance toward Courtney Fitzsimmons. “No way.”
“Marriage is a huge deal. Maybe she chickened out.”
“Nothing’s going to stop Sidney getting here—she’s nuts about Drew.”
“Oh my God,” Courtney groaned. “You believe in true love, don’t you?”
“Why not? Don’t you?”
The brunette’s lips twisted bitterly. “Not lately. Tony and I broke up.”
“Oh no.” Lana tried to remember how long Courtney had been dating Tony. Courtney had only been working at the Blue Fish Grill a few months and already there’d been a Tony, a Simon, a Ryan and she thought a Brian. Lana wasn’t entirely sure those last two weren’t the same guy and she’d misheard the name. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be sorry. Turns out he wanted to post naked pictures of me on some website called Horny Housewives dot com.”
“Tell me about it. Do you think I look old enough to be a housewife? My ass I do.”
A woman sitting in the row in front of them turned and displayed a filthy look, to which Courtney responded with a suitably chastened expression. They settled into guilty quiet again while the small crowd of invited guests began to shift uncomfortably in their white fold-out chairs.
The heat of the balmy Sunday afternoon was ameliorated by the ample shade cast by the arbor above them. Blooming wisteria draped from its framework, imbuing the air with a sweet fragrance that mingled pleasantly with the salty breeze drifting in from the Pacific. Lana surveyed the crowd idly, a ruse to cover the true focus of her attention, who was standing at the altar beside the groom.
Doing his Blackbeard impersonation the other night, Brody had looked gorgeous. Clean shaven, wearing a formal suit with his hair freshly trimmed, he was beyond delicious. As she watched from the fourth row, Brody leaned forward and said something to Drew, who was once again dragging his hand through his tawny hair and pointing to his watch. Taking advantage of the other man’s closeness, Brody grabbed Drew’s wrist and snatched the watch from it, slipping it into his suit pocket.
Lana smothered a grin. As though he sensed her amusement, Brody’s gaze scanned the small gathering until it collided with hers. Seeing the mirth on her face, he responded to it with a half-smile that made her heart trip over.
“The best man’s a dish.” Courtney’s statement mirrored Lana’s thoughts. “Who is he?”
“That’s Brody. He’s going to be filling in for Drew while he’s away.”
“Really?” Courtney asked with interest.
“Forget it, Courtney.” On Courtney’s opposite side, Mick Jensen joined in the conversation. “Brody’s a shark—eats women alive and moves on. Wouldn’t you rather date a nice guy, someone you could cuddle up to at night?”
At the suggestive way Mick waggled his blond eyebrows, Courtney shoved at his shoulder. “Come off it, Mick. I’m not that desperate.”
“Ouch.” Mick settled a hand over his chest. “My poor wounded heart.”
“You’ll survive. Some girls might like this whole look you have going.” Courtney gestured at Mick’s dress slacks and vibrant purple and blue paisley shirt. It wasn’t an outfit many guys could carry off, but in Lana’s opinion Mick had such a jovial way about him his odd sense of style hardly mattered.
Yet Courtney sniffed in distaste. “Look at you, you’re like a cockney David Spade.”
“I wish I was.” Mick tossed his longish blond hair out of his cheeky baby blues and ramped up his British accent. “I could make me a million quid acting like a dweeb.”
“And here you are, doing it for free.”
“Could we call a truce today, guys?” Lana entreated with a long-suffering sigh. “This is a happy occasion.”
“Spoken like a true romantic,” Courtney drawled. “Wait a few years, Lana, and that optimism will wear off.”
“We’re the same age.”
“Yeah, but something tells me I’ve got more miles on my speedometer.”
Mick leaned in close and whispered, “Any time you want to rack up a few extra, I’m available.”
Courtney sent her spike heel careening into his leg, making Mick wince. “One day I’m going to give up on you, Court. How will you feel then?”
“Like I don’t have to get that restraining order after all.”
Mick muttered, “I know when I’m not welcome,” before turning back to Jack, the young guy who worked as a bartender at the restaurant.
“Doesn’t seem like he knows squat,” Courtney said to Lana.
“Mick’s not so bad. I think he’s quite sweet.”
“You can have him.”
Lana laughed. “It’s not that way with us. We’re friends.”
Courtney narrowed her green eyes shrewdly. “So who did we get all dressed up for then?”
Lana glanced down at herself, running her palms over the smooth fabric of her purple silk shift dress. The thin straps and crossover empire style top showed off a lot more skin than she usually dared to, and while she could easily have gotten away without wearing a bra, she’d worn a strapless one underneath the dress because the padding gave her at least the illusion of cleavage. “I look all right?”
“Oh yeah. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were hoping to get lucky tonight.”
Lana tossed her hair, sending the auburn ringlets she’d manufactured with a curling wand bouncing around her shoulders. “What makes you think you know better?”
“Oh my God.” Courtney stared at her with wide eyes. “You’re planning on getting laid. Who’s the main target?”
“No one you know.” It wasn’t really a lie because Courtney hadn’t met Brody officially. Lana wasn’t ready to share her plans with Courtney, lest the other woman laugh at her. Lana wouldn’t blame Courtney if she did. In her more sensible moments even she had to admit getting Brody into bed tonight was probably a pipe dream.
The improbability of success didn’t stop Lana from indulging the fantasy. However minor, there was a chance she could pique Brody’s curiosity enough that he might push things a little further than he had the other night—a lot further, she hoped. She’d waited three years for a kiss, she wouldn’t wait another three for the next one.
There would be a next one if she had anything to say about it.
Lana was saved from additional interrogation when the sound of a car engine punctured the afternoon quiet. The gathering turned as one and watched as an antique convertible car pulled to a stop and Sidney McCall hopped out. Leaving her bridesmaid to race after her, she lifted the flowing skirt of her strapless champagne satin dress and raced halfway up the aisle. “Hi, honey,” she called out to Drew. “Sorry I’m late. Stupid car had a flat tire.”
“It’s okay,” Drew replied, looking equal parts relieved and besotted. “I knew you were coming.”
Brody cleared his throat pointedly and everyone laughed, the entire gathering having witnessed Drew’s obvious anxiety over the bride’s delayed arrival.
A young musician with long hair began playing an old Bryan Adams ballad on his guitar, and after some shuffling, Sidney allowed her bridesmaid to precede her toward the altar. Lana assessed the voluptuous brunette dressed in fitted, mint green silk. Dark glossy hair piled on her head so sexy ringlets tickled her nape, big brown eyes and even bigger boobs. Lana glanced down at the modest décolletage she’d needed underwire and padding to enhance, and felt her hopes dwindling. That woman was going to be dancing with Brody all night. Lana sent up a prayer that she was married or gay.
As the maid of honor took her place, she sent Brody a look filled with promise that anyone could have interpreted. Nope. Not gay. Darn it.
As if seducing Brody wasn’t already a long shot, now Lana had to compete with the bridesmaid from hell.
Amy Walsh had a really nice set of tits. Brody couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more interested in them.
As the song ended and the band smoothly played into another one, Sidney’s bridesmaid made no move to step away and Brody missed his chance to extricate himself politely. So he moved through another dance and made the occasional expected comment as she told him all about her ex-boyfriend, who was evidently a dropkick, and her cat, who apparently had fur balls.
Amy also had big, pretty brown eyes that were sending him all kinds of messages about her availability. But for some reason his gaze kept straying over her shoulder to scan the room. He had no idea what he was looking for until he found it.
She was dancing with Mick Jensen. Brody remembered that she’d made excuses for the chef’s early departure the other night and wondered if they had a thing going on. The guy said something to her and Lana laughed so hard she had to cling to his shoulders for support. Those long tapered fingers stood out, the nails newly painted a shiny lilac, against the dark fabric of Mick’s shirt. Brody knew a yen to see those pretty fingers resting against his shirt, toying with the buttons until they popped open and slipping inside the material to touch flesh.
He’d been envisaging all manner of similar scenarios for three days and it didn’t make a bit of sense. That heat that had risen between them had to have been a fluke. The kiss had surely been some peculiar impulse, one he definitely shouldn’t have acted on. But tonight he was more interested in watching Lana dancing with somebody else than he was in flirting with the woman in his arms. It didn’t seem normal.
“So what do you do for excitement around here?” Amy inquired, dragging his attention away from the other dancing couple. She eyed him through her thick lashes. “I guess in a small town you have to make your own fun.”
“It’s not so bad. I spent some time in Sydney when I was younger. The city’s not my thing.” Like it or not, Graceville was home. He’d realized it as he sailed back into Knight’s Bay this time, when a sense of rightness had settled in his bones. Not all his memories of this town were good ones, but the place was part of him and the easy pace agreed with his sensibilities. He couldn’t see himself living anywhere else.
“You sure? Because if you were ever up that way I’d be happy to show you the sights.”
Brody chose to ignore the open invitation Amy’s words presented. Why? She was exactly his type. Available, uncomplicated and headed out of town tomorrow. He really couldn’t figure why he had no interest in nailing her. She was pressed up against him in all the right places, but he remained consistently unstirred by the physical contact. The only female who’d gotten his juices flowing since Sidney was Lana.
To Amy, he said, “Thanks for the offer. I won’t have time.”
She blanched visibly at the brusque refusal and Brody felt a sweep of remorse that he’d offended her. But he had the feeling he wasn’t going to change his mind about taking her home and he didn’t want to spend the rest of the night fending her off.
The song ended and this time Amy seemed only too happy to put a bit of space between them. Fortunately, a few of the dancers started swapping partners, and Brody took the opportunity to hand Amy over to Drew’s dad, Ray, which left Carol Buchanan without a partner.
She held her arms out to him and Brody got into position with ease. Drew’s mother had taught him the fundamentals of waltzing way back when he’d been trying to impress some girl at high school. Trying to get into her pants more precisely, but he hadn’t divulged that to Drew’s mother at the time.
They chatted about the wedding but Brody’s attention kept wandering to Lana and Mick. Was it his imagination or was she moving closer to the guy?
“She’s a pretty girl.”
Brody pulled his gaze back to his own dance partner. “Your son has good taste.”
Carol laughed, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “I’m not talking about Sidney. I meant the girl you’ve had your eye on all night. Her name’s Lana, isn’t it? She works at the restaurant.”
“I haven’t had my eye on her.” Complete bullshit, but Brody was surprised his preoccupation had been so obvious.
Carol gave him an admonishing look. “Brody Nash. You forget who you’re talking to.”
Brody felt the urge to squirm under the woman’s sharp scrutiny. She’d always had had a talent for seeing everything, for knowing everything. All the secrets he’d never told about what it was really like living with his father. Why he’d swallowed his pride so many times and accepted Carol’s open invitation to dinner with her family, even though it had made him feel like a stray dog she was too kind to shoo away.
“Why don’t you ask her to dance?”
Yeah right. Maybe he could lose his mind again and plant one on her, something she’d think was fine. Frankly, he was used to better reviews and the sting of her critique still hadn’t quite dissipated. Perhaps that was why he was so preoccupied with her. “Nothing’s going to happen there, so stop matchmaking.”
“That would be quitting. Have you ever thought maybe it’s time to stop sowing your wild oats and breaking hearts all along the eastern seaboard?”
Brody felt the beginnings of an honest-to-God blush creep up his neck. “Mrs. B, I promise I don’t break hearts.” He wasn’t going to clarify one way or the other about his wild oats.
“Of course you do. Girls have been lining up for you for as long as I can remember.”
“You’ve always been biased.”
“If I am, I have good reason.” Carol smiled up at him, a wealth of affection displayed on her elegant face. “You never realized how much I adored you, Brody—how much we all did. I used to wish one of my girls would take a shine to you but that never happened.”
Brody laughed at the idea. “Belinda and Deanne did nothing but abuse me.”
“Just like they did Drew. Abuse is the highest form of compliment from those two. Really, Brody, I don’t think you’ve ever understood that we think of you as part of the family.”
“You say it all the time. I get it.”
“No, I don’t think you do. Ray and I would have adopted you if we could have, if you’d only told the truth about what really went on in that house.”
Brody turned away from her too-intelligent eyes. The urge to tell Carol to zip it was strong, but he could never speak that way to Drew’s mother. Didn’t she see talking about this shit always made him uneasy? He had no interest in delving into the past. It was long buried, along with his father, Larry. His mother hadn’t taken an interest or bothered to give a good explanation for why she “couldn’t handle being a mother”, and had ultimately left going on twenty years ago. Francine Nash had never given a damn what had happened to him, so Brody figured he’d reciprocate. As far as he was concerned, when it came to his past there was nothing left to talk about.
Carol sighed. “I’m sorry I brought that up, sweetie. I’ve been feeling nostalgic today. Your youngest child tying the knot will do that to you. And I can’t help but be very aware of the fact that none of this would be happening, that we wouldn’t have Drew with us, if it weren’t for you. You saved his life.”
Brody didn’t say anything. Speech was suddenly impossible over the massive lump in his throat. He hated it whenever Carol or Ray expressed any kind of appreciation for what he’d done all those years ago, when he’d been only twelve. He’d jumped into a flooding drain and yanked Drew’s foot out of a grate that had hold of him. So what? Anyone who ever heard about the incident always seemed to look at him like he was some kind of hero, when the truth couldn’t have been more different. Reckless instinct was part and parcel of who he was back then. He’d jumped into that water simply because that was the kind of crap he was willing to do. He’d taken a perverse satisfaction from dicing with his life. Altruism had nothing to do with it.
Applause smattered around the dance floor as the song came to an end. Carol didn’t release him to add hers to the cacophony. Instead she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. She whispered in his ear, “I love you, sweetie. Try and accept it.” Before she moved on to retrieve her husband from Amy, she threw over her shoulder, “And ask that girl to dance before someone else does.”
Her comment made him seek Lana out with his gaze again, as he’d been doing all night—and being damned obvious about it apparently. Mick said something to her and walked off, leaving Lana without a dance partner. For a split second she appeared disoriented. That flash of little-girl-lost made Brody act on Carol’s suggestion even though he’d had every intention of ignoring it.
He walked over and placed a hand on Lana’s arm, stopping her as she looked set to leave the floor. She glanced at him, her eyes as wide and round as gold coins, her lips parted in surprise. He leaned in close in order to be heard over the opening bars of the next song and a light tangy fragrance tickled his nostrils. Her skin was softer than he’d expected, and the feel of her beneath his fingertips made them tingle in a way that shocked him, made his words gruff with demand. “Let’s dance.”
Lana felt herself gaping. She’d had only two glasses of champagne, but the room spun as though she were half-drunk. “You want to dance with me?”
Brody smiled thinly, as if her shock irritated him. “Yeah. Promise I won’t bite.”
His gaze passed over her in that thorough, assessing manner, resting for a moment too long on her throat. A hot chill swept through her, the thought of Brody and her throat and love bites preventing speech.
Taking a small step back, he released her arm, apparently taking her silence as a refusal. “It was only an idea.”
Comprehension finally caught up with her. Lana halted his egress with a hand on his arm. “No.” She sounded panicked and breathless, and that wasn’t the word she’d wanted to say at all. “I mean yes. Now. I want to. Dance with you, I mean.” Jeez, way to articulate, Lana.
Something in his eyes flared, a mixture of heat and what she thought might be self-recrimination. Then he opened his arms and she moved into them like she was falling into heaven.
The band played Van Morrison and he smelled deliciously like subtle cologne and warm skin. With her in heels their faces aligned nicely. She would only have to tilt her head a little and their lips might brush. How would he react if she did it?
“Are you having a good time?”
Lana blinked and raised her eyes to his. “It was a lovely ceremony. They’re such a great couple.”
Lana thought of his speech, which had been short but poignant. What he’d said about the bride had made every female in the room expel a collective sigh. To Sid. If you could pick the perfect woman out of a catalogue, honey, you’d be it.
Yes, blonde and vivacious was definitely Brody’s thing. Still, it was a full moon tonight, and everyone liked to try something different every now and again. She was dancing with him, which was a start.
Her gaze roved over his clean-shaven jaw. “I saw Rufus didn’t get called into service.”
He grinned. “I managed to find a razor. I didn’t want to spook anyone else.”
“You weren’t that scary. The beard was very…” she searched for a suitable descriptor, “…rakish. I like this look better though.”
Lana’s heart raced at her bold words, the flirtatiousness inherent in them. She averted her eyes, avoiding the sharp focus in his before she remembered she’d promised herself she wouldn’t do that tonight. If Brody showed even the slightest interest she wanted to capitalize on it.
Resolutely, she turned back to face him. His attention was trained on her neckline, and Lana decided all the work she’d done to create cleavage had been worth the effort.
Catching her gaze, he said a little huskily, “Nice dress.”
“Thanks. I bought it off the Internet.” Great, Lana. He really wanted to know that. She flushed. “Sorry. Champagne makes me babble.”
“No problem. Babble away.”
Assuming he didn’t mean it literally, Lana remained silent. She dared to move a little closer, wanting to sink further into the virile masculine heat he was giving off. He turned his head and their cheeks brushed. Lana held her breath, wondering if the move had been intentional. From the way his chest seemed to still against hers she didn’t think so.
They danced like that for what seemed an eternity, encapsulated in a perfect little bubble. For once, Lana was glad she was tall for a female. Her steps easily matched his and her face fit perfectly into the curve of his neck. Without stopping to talk herself out of the impulsive gesture, she turned and brushed her lips lightly over his throat.
The hand resting on her hip flexed, anchoring harder to her flesh. “Christ, Lana,” he rasped against her ear. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I don’t know.” She really didn’t. She had no clue how this was happening, how he seemed to lean closer to her with each dance step, how she was managing to somehow draw him in with the sway of her body. “What do you think I’m doing?”
“Coming on to me.”
“Is there anything wrong with that?”
“I’m not the kind of guy you should tease. I might take you seriously.”
One could only hope. Lana’s pulse thundered in her ears, so she was barely aware of when Van Morrison ended and Eric Clapton began. “Who says I’m not serious?”
“I do. You’re not exactly…”
When his words trailed off Lana filled in, “I’m not your type.”
His soft chuckle tickled her earlobe. “Lana, female’s my type. I was going to say you’re not the kind of girl who flirts with the likes of me. Perhaps you ought to ease up on the champagne.”
“I’m not drunk. And I’m not a girl.”
His hand moved from her hip, sliding around to the small of her back. He used the grip to draw her toward him until her breasts settled close to his chest. “I did notice that. But this—it’s not a good idea.”
“Do you ever do things simply because you want to?”
“All the time. Too damned often. I don’t always think before I act.”
Lana sighed wistfully, thinking of all the years she’d done her best to be good, decent, unobtrusive. Of how it had gotten her nowhere while a few audacious moves had her right where she wanted to be. “I envy that.”
“Most people would tell you it’s not a virtue.”
“Being virtuous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” she said, using his retort of the other night.
“What is it you want, Lana?” he demanded, his voice suddenly terse. “You want me to find one of the empty rooms here, take you there and fuck you senseless? Because I’m warning you, I’m not above it.”
The sound of applause penetrated the hazy cloud of thrilling desire that had woven around her. Lana felt stung, as if he’d slapped her. One part of her recognized that, as crude as the suggestion was, it wasn’t without appeal. Perhaps she wasn’t above it, either. Yet another, more sensitive part knew he wasn’t really offering, but being intentionally rude in order to send her away. That he would go to that much trouble to put her off made her feel acutely unwanted.
She took a step back, leaving the heat of his embrace, feeling very much like she’d been burned. “Sorry, I forgot for a moment.”
“Forgot what?” His voice sounded choked.
“That I’m dull and ordinary and not nearly daring enough to interest you.” She couldn’t believe she’d failed to remember that, even for a few short moments. “Thanks for the dance. Excuse me.”
She managed to leave the floor without running like she wanted to. Lana decided to view that as a victory.
Brody figured he was going to kick himself tomorrow, but he couldn’t let Lana leave like that. Following her outside, he found her standing on the balcony. The elegant outline of her shoulders, the flowing lines of that silky dress silhouetted against the backdrop of the moon-gilded bay made her look like a mythical beauty, ethereal and unattainable.
But she wasn’t unattainable. She’d made that pretty clear back on the dance floor before he’d fucked things up. Why had he done that anyway?
The rapid thump of his heart gave the answer as he crossed the balcony tiles. Something about her made him feel almost imperiled. He was intimidated by sweet, whip-thin Lana Green.
Lifting a hand, Brody touched it to her shoulder. She stiffened beneath his palm and he curled his fingers over her skin. “I’m sorry I said that in there. It was rude.”
There was a pause before she spoke and when she did her voice was half-missing. “It’s all right.”
Brody’s stomach dropped when he realized she’d been crying. “Jesus, Lana, don’t cry. Not because of me.” Regret seared him. “You’re not dull or ordinary.”
“You don’t have to say that. I know I made a fool of myself.” She lifted a shoulder. “But I thought the forward approach might be worth a try.”
She made to move away, but he circled her wrist with his fingers, feeling the way her pulse jumped beneath his touch. Her eyes widened when he drew her toward him. He felt the soft imprint of her breasts against his chest and it made him as hard as it had out on the dance floor. Harder now, because there wasn’t such a critical need to mask his reaction.
Reaching up, he sank his hands into the softness of her hair, awakening that spicy apple scent. “It was worth a try,” he said, and brought her mouth to his.
She sighed against him and immediately her lips parted. A relieved, hungry sound fell out of her and called to him, made his actions speed swiftly toward urgency. He settled her against the cool stucco of the wall and pressed into her. Concealed from the guests inside by a potted palm, Brody kissed her like there was no tomorrow, no good or bad choices. Making sure he did a more exhaustive job of it than he had last time, he nibbled at her lips, sucked gently on her tongue and barely held back from flat-out devouring her. He didn’t stop until he ran out of air and she lay boneless against the wall.
The breath gasped into her in one long drag when he pulled away. She stared at him, her eyes wide with wonder, her lips plump and not as artfully painted as they had been. Her hair was mussed, a riotous cloud around her face. Moonlight did amazing things for her sex appeal.
“Wow,” she said at last. “That was some kiss.”
“Damn straight,” Brody agreed. “Better than fine.”
She laughed softly. “Oh. Was your pride hurt?”
“Doesn’t take much.”
Her gaze drifted over him with such blatant appreciation that he sucked in a breath. “No way should your ego be fragile.”
Like a bullet train gone off the rails, there was no stopping him. Brody swept her up in his arms again and reveled in her instant response. She kissed like a wild creature who lived for nothing but this, as natural and committed to the process as a bird is to flight. When he lifted a hand between them and settled it over the slight swell of one breast she didn’t flinch or hesitate. Arching into his touch, she breathed a word into his mouth that killed him, then brought him back to life.
Releasing her mouth, Brody dropped his gaze to the place where he cupped her in his hand. The strap of her dress slipped down her arm, exposing the barest hint of pink lace. Pink. In his experience women usually wore black, as though it came as a package deal with the evening dress. But Lana wore pink and he was reminded once again that she was no ordinary woman. He really ought to tread carefully, because although he was by no means a monk, he also sensed that he’d never been anywhere quite like this with a woman before.
He brushed his fingers lightly over the edge of her strapless bra. There was barely anything to it. He watched, his hunger growing ferocious, as her flesh quivered, expanding so the lace tautened over the pebbling tip of her breast.
Suddenly the words tread carefully seemed like a foreign language. With little more than an encouraging tug, the lace dropped and Lana’s ripe, dusky nipple popped out. “Sweet Jesus. I’m headed for trouble.”
He took that enticing nub between his thumb and forefinger and gently pinched. Lana gasped and curled away from the wall, into his hand. “Take me with you.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Nash?”
The chirpy pep of the wedding coordinator’s voice had never grated on Brody’s nerves as much as at that moment. He turned slightly to face the woman wearing a red power suit and a smile, shielding Lana from sight as he did so. “Yeah?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan are preparing to cut the cake. We need everyone to gather inside.”
It took him a moment to realize the Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan she referred to were Drew and Sidney, not Drew’s parents like he’d initially thought. One of these days he would have to get used to his best mate being a married man. “Right. We’ll be in shortly.”
The woman disappeared with a satisfied nod, the glass door swinging closed with a thud that once again muffled the music filtering out from inside. Laughter drifted up from somewhere below them, a couple out getting some fresh air. They weren’t alone, yet he’d gone at Lana like they had been.
Well, almost. If they’d had complete privacy he wouldn’t have stopped.
Turning back to her he saw that she’d covered herself, that pale, hard-tipped mound of soft flesh now hidden from view. Damn shame. “I didn’t mean to go that far,” he said. “But I can’t say I’m sorry.”
To his surprise when she met his eyes there was nothing but mischievous glee in hers. “Me neither.”
As if he hadn’t already been hard enough. “I wasn’t serious inside when I said we could find an empty room. But it’s not the kind of thing I’d stop at on moral grounds.” He held her gaze. “Are you sure you want to get involved with a guy like that?”
Her lips curled slowly. “Yes.”
He expelled a long sigh. “You should go inside.”
She took a couple of steps toward the door then stopped, turning back to look at him. “Aren’t you coming?”
Not yet, but I will be. “I need a minute.”
It took her a moment to comprehend his meaning. When she did her eyes dipped to his crotch before immediately skittering away, as if she was ashamed of the fact she’d given him a hard-on he was having trouble getting rid of. Most women wouldn’t be, but Lana wasn’t most women.
Yet she was, most definitely, a woman, one who apparently wanted him. Brody was not prone to throwing away opportunities like this one.
He closed the distance between them and looked down into her face. “You know where I live?”
She laughed a little. “Yes.”
“Once this thing is over you might want to stop by. I’ll give you the grand tour.”
She smiled, unconfused about what that meant. “I’d like that.”
Although his cock still strained against his fly, an irritant with only one satisfactory cure, he said, “If you change your mind, Lana, no harm done.”
A touch of irony tempered her smile. “I won’t change my mind.”
Brody watched her walk away, her strides assured and elegant. There were few things hotter than a woman who knew what she wanted. He was going to seriously enjoy giving Lana just that.
A few minutes later the cool night air had finally worked its magic. Brody had himself more or less under control when he turned to see Drew stepping out onto the balcony. “So this is where you’re hiding.”
“I’ve been enjoying the view.” He thought of Lana’s sweet little breast cupped in his palm and tried not to smile.
“As soon as we’ve finished the obligatory stuff, we’re going to head off. Don’t even think you’re going to get out of saying goodbye.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Drew and Sidney planned to spend tonight at a nearby five-star hotel, bonking each other’s brains out most likely, before flying out tomorrow for a fortnight in Mauritius.
“Was that Lana I saw you talking to out here?”
All of a sudden Drew didn’t seem in such a big hurry to go back inside, and Brody took his lead, slowing his progress toward the door. “Yeah.”
“She looks good, doesn’t she?”
Brody tried for a nonchalant shrug. “Suppose. If you like the skinny type.”
“She’s not that skinny and you’re not that fussy.”
“Are you making a point here?”
He heaved a sigh. “Hey, don’t tell Sidney this but Lana’s the best waitress I’ve got. Knows how to do everything at that place. If she could cook, she could run it.”
“Maybe you should have put her in charge.”
“I thought about it.” Drew grinned. “But I trust you.”
A ribbon of warmth curled inside Brody, bringing humor along with it as a cloak. “Give us a kiss then.”
“Shove it, Nash.” Drew laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “All I’m saying is, I’d hate for Lana to quit. Say, if something happened to upset her.”
Brody recalled how he’d driven her to quiet tears not so long ago, the memory and its implication killing what was left of his libido. Disappointment ripped through him. How could he have forgotten he had responsibilities now? Two weeks of being a stand-up citizen, that was all Drew had asked of him. Surely he could at least try to do that.
He thought of Lana’s wild kiss and the brave, arousing way she’d come on to him. His words sounded bitter. “I get your point.”
“I figured you would.”
It was nearly midnight by the time Lana climbed aboard the Sunset.
The bouquet had been tossed and through valiant effort Amy ensured she caught it. With smug satisfaction she took the flowers as well as Mick and his blue silk garter off the dance floor and neither of them were seen again. Courtney seemed inordinately irritated by the whole scenario, whether because she’d missed out on the flowers or Mick’s hitherto constant attention, Lana wasn’t sure. She drank far too much champagne and Lana avoided keeping pace with her, a decision she later congratulated herself for when she was as sober as a judge and Courtney had her head in the toilet.
“All I want is a nice guy. Just one nice guy,” Courtney had wailed between bouts of retching. “Someone with a decent job and no Internet porn fetish. Is that too much to ask?”
Lana refrained from pointing out that Mick was actually a pretty nice guy once you got to know him and he had a decent job. But she couldn’t swear either way on the Internet porn, so she kept her trap shut while she held back Courtney’s long brown hair and patted her shoulder soothingly.
Shortly afterward, the crew from the Grill—sans Mick Jensen—called a maxi taxi and headed into town to continue the festivities at O’Ryan’s Pub. Dropping a sore and sorry Courtney off on the way, Lana joined the others for a drink but spent most of the time staring out the window that fronted onto the street. It gave a good view of the marina, only a few hundred meters away. When she could extricate herself from the group without being noticed, she slipped out of the pub and walked the short distance.
Now she found herself on the deck of Brody’s yacht, her shoes in hand. Fiddling with the latch that led to the lower cabin, she eventually got it open and slipped down into the warm darkness.
It took her eyes a moment to adjust. Then she managed to make out the dark paneling and navy blue upholstery. Moonlight streamed in a porthole, glancing off the stainless-steel galley and what she guessed was navigational equipment. In such a small space it wasn’t difficult to locate the cabin Brody slept in.
The bed was neatly made, draped in a navy quilt. Indecision gripped Lana. Should she sit on the bed and wait? If so, would under or on top of the sheets be better? She was a virgin and had never been this close to a man’s bed before. She had no idea what to do.
He invited you, Lana. Relax.
Smiling to herself, Lana climbed on top of the quilt and stretched out. Yes, Brody had invited her, had promised the grand tour. Very soon, she was going to have sex for the first time.
Inhaling, Lana let Brody’s aura into her lungs, her body. The quilt smelled like him, a mixture of soap and salt. She recalled his touch on her breast earlier tonight, and her nipples beaded inside her bra, making her shift restlessly where she lay. Her panties, damp already from that balcony interlude, flooded with renewed arousal. Lord, when Brody got here she was going to combust the second he touched her.
When was he going to get here anyway?
Grappling with her evening purse, Lana found her mobile and checked the time. A few minutes past midnight. That wasn’t so late. He probably felt he should wait around until Drew’s parents left the wedding. Why, she didn’t know but she wasn’t going to get worked up about it. So he wasn’t rushing here to be with her. He had invited her. Surely he wouldn’t have forgotten.
Fear’s icy fingers unfurled in her stomach. What if he’d changed his mind?
No, Lana. Don’t be defeatist. Closing her eyes, she ran the memory of earlier tonight through her mind, like making a scene selection on her favorite DVD. She recalled the feel of his hands on her, his mouth possessing hers, so hungry it had seemed like he was starving for her. His body had been hot and strong as it pressed her against the wall. She’d felt something hard jutting against her and had suspected it was an erection. He’d later confirmed that.
She’d made him hard. He’d be here.
Her thoughts had longing mounting to uncontrollable proportions inside her. When she slipped her hand beneath the hem of her dress, the act was almost involuntary. The lace of her underwear was sodden where it rested against her swollen flesh. Pressing the heel of her hand to her mound relieved the building ache a little, not nearly enough. Lifting her hips, Lana slid the panties down her legs and off.
Her clitoris was so sensitive. When she touched a finger to it, it hummed like it was electrified. Lana moaned helplessly, circling the knot of flesh over and over again with her middle finger. How many times had she done this to herself while picturing Brody Nash with her mind’s eye? How often had she uttered his name in a whisper as she took herself to the brink, wishing it was his hand moving on her? His fingers slipping inside her?
Inner walls clutching at the penetration, Lana fingered herself with practiced strokes while she thumbed her clit. Surrounded by Brody’s masculine scent and the promise of what was soon to take place, climax came swiftly. Gasping his name as she had on so many previous occasions, she rode the waves to the shore, where she lay thrilled and spent on the sand. Ecstatically alive but as alone as a shipwrecked castaway.
But not for long, not this time. Keeping her eyes closed she felt herself drifting, sure that Brody would be here any minute.
Something made her wake with a start. Lana’s heart pounded in her chest, her ears straining until she heard a metallic sound—the yacht’s rigging rattling in a strong breeze that hadn’t been evident before. Moonlight still bathed the cabin in pale light, but time had passed. How long had she been asleep?
Intent on finding her purse, Lana sat up. It was then she saw the shadowy figure sitting on the end of the bed. Instinct made her open her mouth to scream but a large, rough hand clamped over it.
“It’s okay. It’s me.”
Fear dissipated but her heart rate remained erratic when Lana recognized Brody’s voice. After a moment he dropped his hand. “I keep spooking you. I don’t mean to.”
“What time is it?”
“Almost two. I thought you’d be gone.”
Lana’s neck prickled, embarrassed heat rising through her. He’d deliberately waited, assuming she would give up and go home. “Oh my God. I’m so stupid. I thought you meant it, but—Oh God. I’ll go.” I’ll go away and die of humiliation.
Planting a hand on the mattress either side of her, he stopped her from leaving. “I meant it.”
With his face so close to hers, Lana smelled the rum on his breath. “Is that why you spent the last few hours drinking and waiting so late you thought I’d have left?”
“I was trying to do the right thing. You shouldn’t have come.”
Annoyance sparked to life. “You asked me to.”
His touch was soft on her cheek as his eyes roamed over her face. “I know, but Drew reminded me we’re supposed to be working together.”
“So? I can handle going to bed with someone I work with.”
He scowled. “Really?”
Lana realized she’d made it sound like a habit she’d acquired. Not wanting to follow that conversational path, she decided instead to concentrate on him. On the fact that he was here, that he hadn’t moved away as a man who wanted her to leave might have.
The moonlight filtering in through the hatch in the ceiling of the cabin bathed him in cerulean light. He’d removed his bow tie and jacket, and the crisp white of his dress shirt took on a fluorescent appearance. Lana’s gaze drifted downward to examine the V of skin revealed by the two buttons he’d undone, and her mouth dried out. Lana reached out and toyed with the shirt. She felt the heat of his flesh through the soft fabric and knew hers must be as hot to the touch.
His breath caught sharply when she released the next button, his shock mirrored by the way her heart slammed against her ribs. Even as the audacity of her own actions stunned her, Lana slid her fingers down and worked on the next button until it too was free of its hole.
Her question was barely audible. “Do you want me to leave?”
She was terrified he’d say yes, but he said nothing at all as she slowly, methodically released every last fastening. When she was done the material hung open to reveal a strip of his chest—toned flesh covered in fine dark hair. She’d never seen him with his shirt off before, and he looked better than she’d ever imagined.
Reaching out, she touched her fingers to all that hard-packed muscle. He was so strong, so solid. Touching him alone made the wetness between her thighs increase, made her true feelings slip out. “Wow. You’re so sexy.”
“Hell, Lana.” His voice was raspy, making Lana aware her actions had impacted him. “You make it impossible for a man to kick you out of bed.”
“Are you trying to?”
“Yes.” He encircled her wrist with his fingers, stilling the wandering exploration of her hand. Glancing up, she met his gaze. His dark chocolate eyes shone in the dim light, their depths reflecting the battle going on inside him. Tense lines bracketed his mouth, and his heart beat a rapid tattoo against her palm. “You should get out of here while you still have the chance.”
Lana shook her head, never tearing her eyes from his. “I’ve used up all my chances tonight. If you want me to leave, you might have to carry me out.”
He snaked an arm around her back and grasped her thigh with his other hand. For a moment Lana was sure he was going to do exactly as she’d suggested. Mortification ripped through her. That would be a great look, being hauled down the wharf and unceremoniously dumped in the parking lot.
Perhaps it was his intention to get rid of her, but the instant he pulled her forward and their chests meshed together, he stilled. The action had brought their faces close, and Lana watched as the fight in his eyes turned to surrender. His grip on her thigh tightened and he drew her leg snugly around his hip. Then he made a guttural sound and leaned forward to capture her lips with his.
He devoured her mouth like a man starved. Lana tried to keep up, to give as good as she got, but the sensuous thrust of his tongue, the tantalizing scrape of his teeth overwhelmed her so all she was capable of was a primal response. Where he led, she followed. When he touched—her face, her hair, her breasts—she offered herself outright. What he demanded, she let him take.
His movements were hurried as he pulled her arms out of the straps of her dress. “Do you have any idea how much I’ve wanted to do this all night?” His move had exposed her bra, and he brushed his fingers over the lace. “Pink. You’re such a cute little surprise package.”
With a deft flick of his fingers her bra disappeared. Instinctively, Lana crossed her arms over her chest. She’d tried not to think about the part of this plan of hers that involved Brody seeing her naked. “It was padded.” From the astounded look on his face, she deduced he was wondering how her cleavage could have been so misleading. “I can eat whatever I want and I never seem to put on weight. Other women hate me for it but I always wished I had more…” She glanced down at herself. “Well, more of everything.”
Something in his eyes softened, and his smile reassured her. His touch became gentle as he uncrossed her arms and set them away from her body. Lana tried not to squirm as he looked at her. “You’re gorgeous,” he uttered.
Lana released a nervous laugh, which died in her throat when Brody dipped his head and nuzzled her breasts. His breath was hot on her flesh, the slight rasp of his chin an erotic sensation. When he took her nipple into his mouth and rolled his tongue over it, she cried out at the shock of exquisiteness. All the times she’d imagined what this would be like hadn’t prepared her for the wonderful whirlpool of pleasure that spun inside her. “Oh, I can’t believe how good that feels.”
“You’re unbelievable. Taste like honey. God, Lana.” She fell back on the bed as he moved over her, his touch growing more urgent as it skimmed down her side and tugged off her dress. He slid his hand over her hip and into the valley between her thighs. When he encountered her exposed folds, a groan spilled out of him and his teeth grazed her throat. “No panties. Jesus.”
Lana’s hips jolted from the mattress when he ran his finger over her clit. She clutched his shoulders and whimpered, tugging at his dress shirt. “Off. Take this off.”
With jerky movements, Brody stripped away the shirt and discarded it, falling on her once again to feast on her breasts.
Sensation burned inside her, heat mounting, spiraling from the inside out. His mouth on her flesh was incredible, the untamed desperation of his kisses exhilarating. Her hands moved to his waistband, a blatant urging that he had no trouble interpreting. He yanked down his zipper and pushed his pants down his legs.
He reached above her head to open a hideaway cabinet and rifle through it. Lana took the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity, slipping her hands down his hair-roughened chest and flat stomach until she came up against something rigid and hot. And big. She curled her fingers around it and her heart thundered. He was larger, thicker and more unyielding than she’d ever expected.
Returning her gaze to his face she saw a sardonic smile curving his lips. Was he beginning to realize how inexperienced she was? She schooled herself to smile, hoping she would appear worldly and eager, instead of daunted by his potential to hurt her. “Never been better.”
He moved his hips a little, the action causing his hard length to tunnel through her cupped hand. His skin was so smooth and sleek, the strain of his flesh so strongly masculine that Lana’s feminine muscles quivered in anticipation, anxiety fleeing for the moment. Experimentally, she ran her fingers up and down his shaft, fascinated by the slight protrusion of veins running along the front of it. The tip of his penis was smooth and round, dampened by a drop of shiny, translucent liquid. Collecting some with her index finger, Lana brought it to her mouth and tasted him.
“Fuck. Lana, Christ, I need to…” He ran his hand up her thigh and dipped a finger into her moist center. “Tell me you can come while I’m inside you, because I don’t want to wait.”
Lana had no idea, but she doubted it, under the circumstances. She supposed now might be a good time to enlighten Brody of that particular situation, but somehow she knew he wouldn’t be happy to hear he was breaking new territory. It was close to dark, he was half-drunk. If she could keep it together he might never know. Lana would much prefer he never knew. “Maybe. Let’s try.”
She watched in fascination as he rose to his knees and rolled on the condom he’d retrieved, the sheen of latex making his cock seem bigger somehow. Her heart jumped nervously, but she told herself to calm down. Women did this all the time. She was so wet he’d probably slide in easily anyway. She hoped.
He lowered his body, aligning it above hers. His heat was overwhelming. The slow, purposeful way he parted her thighs and settled his pelvis between them made her hold her breath in mounting anticipation. He probed her wet entrance. She felt the shift in her muscles and it wasn’t an unpleasant sensation. Lana moaned in pleasure and relief. This was going to be fine. Not going to hurt at all.
Her breath hitched when he pushed a little farther into her, spreading her flesh apart. “God, Lana, you’re tight.”
His comment made panic jolt inside her. Need he point it out? It felt as though he could barely fit into her, like her body was resisting him. Why, when she wanted him so much? Would he stop if he figured out the extent of her inexperience?
She couldn’t let that happen. Grasping his hips, she clung to him, keeping him inside. “Now,” she said. Perhaps it would be better to get this part over with quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. “I want you now.”
Heat radiated from the spot where their bodies fused. He advanced again and her muscles clenched as though in protest. Pain sparked inside her and Lana was shocked at its intensity. God, how much farther did he have to go?
Framing her face with his hands Brody stared down at her. Astonishment and suspicion gathered in his expression. “Lana, tell me you’re not a—”
“Don’t stop,” she interrupted him. Digging her fingernails into his lower back she arched her hips, inviting more of his thick rod into her. “Do it, please.” She wanted him, had always wanted him to be her first. She had to see this through. Tilting her hips higher she wrapped her legs around his and felt the action propel him forward. He entered her completely with a throaty groan.
Lana bit her lip to stifle the exclamation that tried to burst from her mouth as her flesh gave way with an explosion of sensations. Sharp pain followed by a hot, thrumming ache. The way he stretched her was so alien that her breath came in rapid pants as she struggled to adjust to the incursion of his body into hers.
“Lana.” Her name sounded low and dangerous on his tongue. She resisted the urge to hide from the accusation in his gaze, wanting to be strong in that at least, if she couldn’t do this without giving away the shock and hurt of it. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me this was your first time?”
Ignoring the question, she said again, “Don’t stop. I want more.”
The lines of his face turned implacable. Lana felt the imminence of his retreat and tightened her hold on him, digging her fingernails into the taut muscles of his backside and arching beneath him so he went deeper. He squeezed his eyes shut before burying his face against her collarbone, a tremor rippling through his chest. She shifted her pelvis against his. “This feels good, doesn’t it?”
“For me,” he said roughly, his voice muffled against her throat. “Not for you.”
“It’s getting better.”
Brody propped his weight on his elbows and looked down at her, stern remonstrance marking his features. “You shouldn’t have done this. Not with me.”
She’d never had a choice about that—he was the only one she’d ever wanted. “It’s done already.” Lana touched the uncompromising lines of his face, memorizing the feel of his cheek beneath her hand because she sensed she might never get to touch him like this again. “I want to finish it.”
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