Jason groaned as he rolled over in his bed. He had only been in town for three days and he was beginning to think Mama might have been a little off in her choice for this little improvement project. Hope Falls itself wasn’t the issue. No, the town was great. Skiing and mountaintops, and what seemed to him to be a higher than average population of insanely sexy women, was all great. In fact, the librarian looking woman staying in the room across the hall from him had fueled some pretty insane fantasies the night before when he’d finally come home and crashed.
It was the location of the bed and breakfast that was an issue. It was owned and operated by the owner of TJ’s Roadhouse. Unfortunately, it was located right smack dab in the backyard of said roadhouse. Which was why he’d spent the night playing pool and doing shots with a few guys from town.
That’s not true.
He’d spent the night playing pool and doing shots because he was still trying to avoid the reality of what he’d signed up for. Mama hadn’t just set things up for him to get away from the world for a while. She’d made damned sure he would have no choice but to become a contributing member of this town while he was here. That he gave back.
Again, that wasn’t a problem. He could do that. It was what she had committed him to doing that had him running and hiding like a baby. Or a little boy. A ten-year-old boy to be exact.
He opened one eye and cursed when the sunshine flooding the window shot pain through his head. He could deal with this later. This being reality. He had one more day before he had to face the job Mama had set up for him. The one she’d guilted him into. The one he couldn’t bail on.
He would spend that day ignoring the fact that he was shaking in his boots. He rolled toward the wall and pulled one of the overstuffed down pillows over his head. Reality sucked when you were trying to better yourself. Especially when you had as far to travel to hit better as he did.
It was then that Jason heard the first of the muffled thumps. From the hallway? No. The balcony off of his room. Who in the hell would be out on his balcony?
Hell. Had some fan already figured out where he was staying? When Mama told him about the famous people inhabiting this town that managed to live like fairly normal people, he’d thought he’d be pretty safe here. If Karina Black and Ryan Perkins—pop icons who were still huge with active careers in the music industry—could live here without being harassed, he should be able to. Right?
Jason threw himself out of the bed, maybe a bit faster than he’d intended. He overshot and his feet landed on the floor with a thump of his own, before snatching up the bed sheet and wrapping it around his waist. He wasn’t modest in the least and really couldn’t care who saw his junk, but he’d learned long ago that fans waiting outside his room often had a camera ready. If he showed up with his shorts down on one more blog, his publicist would have his balls in a vise. Her words, not his.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he shouted in his best, don’t screw with my ass early in the morning voice, as he opened the balcony door, without bothering to see who it was. A good fright could go a long way toward keeping these people off his balcony in the future.
The blood curdling scream he got in response had him smiling for a split second, before he realized it wasn’t coming from his balcony. It was coming from the balcony next door. Well, crap.
“Oh, hey, it’s you,” he said when he spotted the hot librarian chick. She sank down into a chair, one hand on her chest, gulping for air.
Jason frowned. “Whoa. You okay? Were you running or something?” Wow, that was stupid. She’s on her balcony. Of course she’s not running.
She didn’t reply, but the look she gave him indicated she agreed with his assessment. He was an idiot in her estimation as well.
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” she muttered, more to herself than to him. She lifted her phone from the table beside her and began furiously typing.
Jason watched her with narrowed eyes. What was she doing? Calling for an ambulance? She couldn’t be serious. She wasn’t really having a heart attack. Besides, he hadn’t yelled that loudly. All right, maybe he had. But, seriously, if the chick was texting all her friends to let them know he was out here then he needed to bail quickly. He didn’t have it in him to deal with this right now.
As obnoxious as it sounded, he couldn’t handle his fans at the moment. He was hung over and trying to figure out how the hell he was going to handle the next few months of his life. Screaming women just couldn’t be on the agenda today.
“Listen, lady, I’m sorry I scared you. Are you okay?” He looked back into his room with longing, taking a step toward the door as he spoke.
She just stared at the screen of her phone, breathing deeply again and again. What the hell was up with this chick?
“Okay, then, um—”
“It’s a breathing app,” she said, tilting the phone toward him a bit so he could see the shape of a sort of triangle thing expanding and contracting on the screen. She continued staring at it and breathing in and out with the rhythm of the triangle.
“Great, uh—” Jason honestly couldn’t remember ever being at a loss for words. Or ever being as perplexed and conflicted about a woman. Half of him—that half—was saying, grab this woman and haul her into your room, man. Show her what it’s like to really lose your breath. Make her lose that librarian look. Give her a dirty, satisfied-in-fifty-different-ways librarian look. It’d be way hotter.
The other half wanted to run to his room and lock the door. No wait. As it turned out, his feet had abandoned both halves of the argument. Great. Now he was in thirds. His head said run. His dick said full steam ahead. His feet had planted themselves and didn’t seem able to move at all.
She appeared oblivious to his conflict, which made sense since she was still staring at the weird triangle on her phone. “You breathe with it and it calms you down. I have panic attacks and it’s the one thing I’ve found that helps.”
Just then she looked up and the scream was back. When she finished her shriek—not the good, oh-look-it’s-Jason-Denali kind—she pointed her free hand at him, waving it from head to toe. “You’re … you don’t … you’re not—”
Her gaze went down his body just then and Jason didn’t have time to wonder how much of a tent he was making under the damned sheet, but he didn’t need to. She told him when her eyes went wide and her breath went ragged again.
“—and you’re, oh my God, you’re—”
This time, she spun her finger in a circle directed at his dick, which was all but waving hello at her through the material. She sputtered, as though she couldn’t quite come up with the words to describe exactly what his body was doing in response to her.
Jason grinned. Turned out, it was fun throwing her off her game. Wait. What the hell was wrong with him? He bunched up the excess sheet around his waist, halfway managing to hide the evidence of his erection. She’d gone back to studying her phone, breathing with the triangle and damn it if his gaze didn’t drop to where her chest rose and fell with each breath. It was mesmerizing. He could watch her all day.
Yup. Going to hell, Denali. Straight to hell.
He shook himself and could almost feel the whack of Mama’s hand at the back of his head. He was a pig.
“So, um, if you’re all right, I’ll just go.” He gestured lamely over his shoulder to his room, knowing he needed to move before he got himself into trouble out here.
Aw, hell. He turned back and raised his brows. If she asked him to hop the railing between the little wooden decks and come into her room to show her what was under the sheet, he was there. He was sooooo there.
You’re disgusting. Yeah, no shit. Like I didn’t know that before. All right, maybe the extent to which he was a pig—the actually severity of his piggishness—hadn’t been made completely clear to him to date, but he was getting it now. Coming through in shining Technicolor for him. He was the lowest of low. This woman was having a panic attack—caused by him no less—and he wanted to jump her. Impressive.
“Can you move it for me?”
Jason gave himself a little shake again. Surely she didn’t mean—
“The table,” she said, pointing behind her. If it matched the one on his balcony, it was carved of some kind of hardwood that matched the wood of the balcony itself, and he guessed it was pretty heavy for a woman her size. That explained the thumping.
Jason glanced down at the sheet he was still clutching to his waist, then back up to find her staring at the same spot. Only, her look didn’t match his. Her look dragged a groan from his chest. She had just the tiniest tip of her pink tongue playing at her top lip as though she were thinking about running that tongue over his skin. In a heartbeat, his cock jumped toward her and his body raged with heat.
Her eyes darted to his when she heard his groan, and her answering gasp said that she hadn’t meant to have that effect on him. Hadn’t meant it and didn’t want it. It was time to get control of himself. If there were any more road signs and barricades screaming No! from this woman, she’d be eligible for Federal Highway Safety Commission funding.
Without a word, he stepped back into his room and donned the first shirt and pair of jeans he found, sans boxers. He’d move that table then get out of her hair. Or, get her out of his hair. Whatever. He was past the point of sleeping now, so he’d grab a cold shower then maybe head out for a run. He heard the thumping again and realized she was trying to move the damned thing by herself.
“Really?” Laken grumbled to herself before turning back to the table. Not only was the guy insane—he had to be to walk around outdoors in a sheet in this weather, or any weather for that matter—he was a jerk, too. Who does that? First he nearly gave her a heart attack and then he just completely ignored the request for help with something as simple as moving a table.
Okay, she thought, as she tried to half-lift, half-nudge the table across the space. She’d just have to do it herself. It would be easy for him. It wasn’t easy for her. That should have been obvious to him, and that made him a double jerk. No triple. A jerky jerk jerk. She sounded like a child, but she didn’t care. She was desperately trying to wipe out the memory of seeing that man—whoever he was—in nothing more than a sheet. She’d been thrown enough at the sight of his chest, of the rippling muscles of his abs—the kind you only ever see in underwear ads. Then, she’d made the mistake of looking down at his—you know, his … that—and, wow. Just, wow.
Laken shook her head, half in frustration at the stupid table for being so darned heavy and half in frustration at herself for heating up all over again. Because, wow. Yeah, she was a broken record. All she seemed to be able to think was wow. But that really summed it up.
She bent over the top of the table, stretching her arms wide and grasping either edge of the round block of wood that had become her nemesis, only to hear his voice again behind her. Right behind her.
“I got it.”
Laken stood so swiftly, spinning toward the object of her muttered complaints, to find him clothed—thank God (maybe?)—and her body so close to his, she forgot everything. Forgot the table, forgot to chastise him, forgot how rude he was, that his hair was too long, that he had poor manners. All of it.
Oh, and she forgot to breathe. Because clothes or not, that chest of his was too near. And the tee shirt was tight, doing little to cover the muscles she knew were just beneath the thin fabric. In fact, it was almost more enticing now. Was it the excitement of unwrapping him that had her fingers itching to reach out? Or maybe the fact that he stood so close?
He seemed to lean in a little and she swore she held her breath even harder, but that made no sense at all. You were either holding your breath or not. There was no such thing as holding it and then holding it harder. But if it were at all possible, that’s what she did. It seemed like an eternity as she watched his eyes grow darker as she leaned in—heaven help her, she leaned closer—and then he opened that mouth of his and she held her breath harder.
“I got it,” he said quietly.
“Oh!” Yeah, Oh. She actually said oh. And then she was breathing again. Because, what an idiot. No, not him this time. This time, she was the idiot. She’d been standing there thinking he was going to kiss her and instead of being offended that the jerky jerk jerk was going to kiss her—a woman he didn’t know from Adam—she’d been holding her breath (hard!) and hoping for it. Wonderful.
Laken stepped to the side as he lifted the table in a ridiculously effortless move, all the while looking at her. She looked back.
He stood there some more.
She looked back.
He raised his eyebrows.
She looked some more.
“Where do you want it?”
“Where do you want the table?” His mouth twitched at the corners and she knew he’d read her mind.
“Oh!” Great. Oh, again.
Now he was laughing at her. Laughing and still holding the table like it was nothing. She began to wonder how long it would take for his arms to grow tired, but he raised his eyebrows again and she waved her hand at the other end of the balcony.
“Over there, please. I’m just trying to get the best view of the mountain range I can. I need to sketch it and I’ll get a better angle from that side of the porch. But, who would have thought the thing would be so heavy, right? I mean, I guess it’s big and it looks pretty solid, so there’s that, but why would they make a table so big you need a giant to lift it? Oh! Not that you’re a giant or anything. I mean, unless you want to be a giant?”
By now, he had put the table down where she’d gestured and was standing there, watching her vomit words all over the place. What’s wrong with me?
He took one step and crossed the expanse of the balcony, closing the distance once again.
“Oh.” Yes. That was Laken saying oh again.
“Anything else?” The smoothness of his voice seemed to throw her for a loop every time he spoke.
She didn’t say oh this time, but it might have been better if she had. She squeaked. Yes, squeaked. Laken closed her eyes, willing the whole thing to go away. The whole episode, conversation, whatever it was that was happening. If she closed her eyes and wished hard enough, maybe she’d wake up.
But, she didn’t wake up. And he didn’t go away. Instead, his arms came around her, his body—including those rock hard abs and that erection she’d been drooling over moments ago—pressed into her. She didn’t just stop breathing. She stopped thinking. Stopped functioning altogether, as his mouth crushed down over hers and she was helpless to stop the hard slam of lust that rocketed through her.
Laken felt her body soften as she swayed into him. Her mouth opened and her tongue tangled with his. There was a small part of her brain screeching in protest—something about stranger danger and the man being a drunk and all sorts of warning bells sounding and red flags being waved. But, there was this other part of her—a hussy part she hadn’t known existed—and that part apparently carried a big old club in its back pocket. Hussy girl was beating screeching good girl senseless and yelling we need this! over and over. Not nice, but who was she to argue with a club-wielding maniac in her head?
Then he stopped. Rather abruptly, in fact. He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her backward as he cursed a blue streak a mile long.
Laken’s eyes went wide at the language, the kiss, the fact that he was now holding her away. She was just now beginning to process that maybe she should have listened to the shrieking good girl in her head. What was she doing? What was he doing? She didn’t even know who he was. She had no name, no information. One minute, he had moved her table, and the next he was moving her table. Or her world. Or at least her lady parts.
That was that. He barked out an apology, moved around her, swung his leg easily over the balcony divider, and disappeared into his own room.
And Laken stopped breathing. Again.
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