Title: Their No Strings Affair
Author: Charlotte O’Shay
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Honey packs everything she owns and heads to NYC to jumpstart her art career. Her cheating boyfriend is history, and she finally acknowledges the truth of her mother's mantra: Careers are forever and happily ever after isn't in their DNA. All she needs is a job and a place to live. What she doesn't need is a taciturn, sexy, ballbuster but she's woman enough to know the difference between need and want. Isn't she? Jake's childhood was marred by tragedy and his future hijacked to a promise born of guilt. His failure drove him to a career as a SEAL and a security expert.
But it's not enough. Now he'll give up his freedom in reparation for the life he lost. Honey may be the last sweet stop on the road to a joyless future. If it's what they both want, where's the harm in a no-strings affair?
Jake shrugged out of his jacket, yanked off his tie, and unbuttoned his shirt. The tuxedo was only slightly less restrictive than his dress blues, and he couldn’t wait to be out of it. He opened the wine and lifted the cover on the tray. He never had a chance to eat more than an appetizer or two at these events because it was work and he was always moving. Now he’d have a couple of bites of fruit and relax with a glass of wine before he hit the sack.
Jake forked up some sweet cantaloupe and a couple of strawberries, then poured a healthy portion of the wine. He savored the cabernet franc’s perfect blend of spice and buttery smoothness.
Getting his mother’s vineyard, correction, when her manager got his mother’s vineyard up to this standard, it would be an accomplishment. His mamma took little interest in anything in the states, including him. It wasn’t until after his father’s death he discovered her majority stake in the struggling Long Island vineyard seeded by old world vines.
He tossed his shirt on the chair, then froze when he heard the faint sound over the white noise of the hotel’s piped-in music. A slight rustle through the thick wood of the bathroom door. He pushed back a step toward the armoire to get into position, then in one fluid motion, grasped and cocked the pistol he slid from the holster strapped to his right ankle.
The door opened as he leveled the gun, chest high at the opening.
Her mouth gaped, and a wild shriek issued in the short seconds it took him to uncock the pistol, push it into his waist, take one long stride to reach her, and shove his hand over her open mouth.
“What the hell?” Her muffled words tickled the palm of his hand, and heat flooded his chest as electricity ran in a hotwire from his hand to the tease of her soft lips against his skin.
Jake, pull your shit together!
“Damn right, what the hell! What the hell are you doing here?”
She was slippery as an eel as she jerked back and forth to get out from under the arm pressed across her chest from shoulder to shoulder and the hand covering her mouth. She wasn’t at all concerned he had a gun or with his superior strength, he could do serious damage to her without breaking a sweat.
Or maybe she was well aware what froze him in a cold sweat was the shock of seeing a fantasy come to life. There was nothing imaginary about the round little ass pressed against his body and the precarious state of the towel that was about to slide off her.
She squirmed, and a torrent of curses flew out of her mouth against his hand. Yeah, she was in a temper all right, but so was he. Because this person, this woman, who had trouble written all over her, was back again. Somehow, angry and aroused as he was, somewhere deep in his gut, he knew. The rest of his life would be divided into the time before he met her and the time since.
“Stop. Right now. I have a weapon.” He put his lips a breath away from the delicate shell of her ear. Kept his voice low but didn’t disguise the snarl in it. “If I take my hand off your mouth, you shut up. I ask the questions and you answer. Got it?”
The spiky roadrunner head bobbed up and down. “Okay.” He lifted his hand slowly. She stepped away from him, and right away her hands jumped up to tighten the towel around her body. She jerked her chin up, keeping silent as instructed, but her lips pressed into a determined line, and her dark chocolate eyes sparked outrage.
By now he didn’t even find it weird the emotion showing strongest in her eyes was indignation. Nor did he wonder his strongest desire was not to find out how or why she’d gotten in here. Nope. His hands itched to remove that towel. His jaw tightened, and the rest of his body hardened into painful readiness. He forced out a harsh breath, unclenched his fists. Searched for logic.
“Ms. ah...Hill. Somehow, we meet again. I guess it wasn’t enough for you to get fired. Do you want to be charged with breaking and entering and theft of services as well?”
Her annoyed eyes widened further before she said, “That’s your question? You almost gave me a heart attack pointing that gun at me. The answer is no.”
He raked a hand through the pristine smoothness of his hair. Smart-ass.
“What are you doing in my room?”
As she opened her mouth to speak, he raised his right hand up chest high. “Hand to God, if you say you were taking a shower, I’m gonna lose it.”
He watched her pale pink lips press together again and one eyebrow rise, and he knew she was suppressing a smirk.
“Okay,” she said. “I won’t say it, but that’s the reason. And it’s pure bad luck this is your room. That’s just the kind of luck I’ve been having lately.”
She started to shrug, but the movement caused the knot of her towel to unravel. She grabbed the edges of it again, but not before he caught a gut-clenching glimpse of the creamy skin at the top her breasts.
No apology, not a hint of embarrassment. The woman was certifiable. If he could think about anything other than what was under that towel, he’d tell her so.
He went for sarcasm. “Of course, you could’ve avoided this altogether by taking a shower at your own place. You know, where you live.”
“Yeah, that would’ve been smart. But I don’t have my key. I locked myself out of my apartment, and anyway, it’s a long story, and I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than hear it. I’ll just get my things and get out of your way here.”
The little speech poured out of her mouth fast as she executed a quick sidestep away from him.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To get dressed. Then I’ll get out of your hair.” Jake ran an aggravated hand through that hair.
He angled his jaw toward the bathroom door and watched it close behind her, frustration clawing at him. He had to get to the bottom of this: how she’d worked tonight without proper authorization and her astonishing reappearance in his room just now, but hell, the woman was practically naked. The sight of all that pale skin, damp and rosy from the shower, unnerved him.
Because her mere presence pushed every sane thought out of his head. Because now that she was no longer in his employ, he could act on the attraction sizzling between them. Or was it just on his side? No, he never got that kind of signal mixed. But it wasn’t like him to leave the mystery of her being here unsolved in favor of getting her into his bed. This chick was seriously messing with his head.
He poured another generous portion of the cabernet into his glass and tossed it back in a gulp. He’d find the whiskey in the minibar in a moment because wine wasn’t gonna cut it tonight. But first he’d wrap up this mini-interrogation and send her on her way. Then tomorrow, no later today, he’d dig deeper. When she was gone and he could think straight.
Then she was out of the bathroom in skinny cargo pants and a long-sleeved white tee. Even though every inch of her skin was now covered, his pulse amped up even more. With every muscle tense and on edge, he was a rocket about to go off. The well-worn, too-snug clothes clung to every curve of her tight little form. For the first time in his life, he appreciated the term second skin.
She hitched her small knapsack onto her shoulder.
“Okay,” he said looking over the top of her spiky hair, looking anywhere but at her unadorned face or her body. “Let’s see your ID, and then you can go.”
She opened her mouth, then closed it, stuck her hands into her back pockets.
“I lost my ID when I lost my house key.” She lifted her chin.
He rolled his eyes at the ornate ceiling. “Basta! Are you kidding me? Isn’t it too late for this kind of nonsense? It’s two in the morning. I’m not going to prosecute you. I’m just going to note your name and information.” And flag it so you’re never allowed anywhere near anything I’m in charge of again.
She chewed her bottom lip, shook her head back and forth. “Listen, I want to be gone as much as you want me to leave. I don’t have my ID, though.”
A thought occurred to him, which should have hit him much sooner.
“If you have no house key, where are you going now?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m going to stay with a friend.”
“Where?” The question shot out fast enough to fluster her.
“I, um, the address is in my phone.” She looked down and fumbled with the screen, but not before he saw the rush of deep pink that washed over her skin from throat to hairline. “It’s about ten blocks from here.” She pocketed the phone, still not meeting his gaze.
“You’re a terrible liar. Fake name. Lost ID. You’re insulting my intelligence, H. Hill.”
“I don’t care whether you believe me or not. My name is Honey Hill, and I did lose my ID. Unless you’re going to call the cops, I’m leaving now.” She turned smartly and walked to the door.
Puzzle pieces fell into place as he studied her—her straight-backed, proud posture, her neck tilting slightly to the side. She reminded him of a slim-stemmed flower with delicate, silvery petals. A summer flower that somehow made it into late fall with no protection from the elements. It was two a.m. Though it was unseasonably warm for this time of year, it was still late November in New York. The temperature outside had dropped to forty degrees. She had no jacket, just a death grip on that minuscule backpack.
The words came out before he knew what he was saying. “If you need a place to sleep tonight, you can stay here.”
His deep voice was casual, almost matter of fact.
Honey kept her hand on the doorknob and made an effort to compose her face before she turned back to respond.
It was a struggle not to react when part of her wanted to do a sky-high fist pump and the other part wanted to slump over in exhaustion. Absolutely the last thing she wanted to do was go back out into the chilly November night, walk ten blocks to her Ford Escort, which she’d christened Fred and who was the friend she’d be staying with tonight.
Right now, the warmth of a bed and the thought of a bathroom, the glory of a bathroom, the blessing of not sleeping in her clothes, especially with her interviews tomorrow, was beyond tempting.
She turned around then, and yeah, there was one more, very alluring thing. She was looking at—no, practically drooling over—hands down, the most gorgeous guy she’d ever set eyes on, a tanned, shirtless, six-packed god with a pistol stuck in the back waist of his pants.
No, she couldn’t do this. How would she ever sleep? She had to say no.
“Okay,” she said.
Excerpt © Charlotte O'Shay. Their No-Strings Affair
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