Authors: Mia Zachary
“When we got outside, my buddy rushed me over to one of the medics. A melted ceiling grid had fallen on me, ripping through my Nomex jacket. I wanted to go back. I wanted to keep searching. But they wouldn’t let me. I was bleeding and dehydrated and the rest of the team was in no better shape.”
He finally looked up and Jordan was by his side. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she grasped his hand in both of hers. Wanting—needing—the solace she offered, he allowed her to lead him to the bed. He lay down next to her, closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder.
“You never leave anyone behind. That’s the code we live by, and yet that’s what we had to do. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. When the fires were finally out, there were bodies found less than twenty feet from an exit—people kept coming to me with pictures, showing me these photographs, asking if I’d seen…but I never found anyone alive that day, or any of the next six days we searched…”
His voice trailed away. Speaking the words out loud couldn’t begin to convey the appalling reality of those events. The images were branded onto his memory. He opened his eyes, seeking the reassurance of the rock light even as he gratefully accepted the comfort of Jordan’s fingers stroking his bare arm.
Her hand reached up to caress his face, her voice equally soft. “You’re a hero.”
Danny scowled and shook his head. “Heroes are the guys in the movies and on TV. I was just doing my job. I wish I’d done it better.”
“That’s what makes you a hero.”
Jordan turned until they were lying side by side, the towel she’d tucked around herself falling away as she moved. Her bare breasts felt like warm silk against his chest. Danny wrapped his right arm around her waist, pulling her closer, letting the heat of her body seep inside to warm him.
She cupped his face in her palm and tilted his head up until he looked at her. He saw that tears still shimmered on her lashes before she kissed his brow, his cheek, then sealed her lips over his mouth. He opened to her, letting her tongue glide over his in a slow exploration. The kiss was warm, sweet and heartrending.
Her fingers brushed his skin in a long, gliding caress, making him shiver. Her touch was raw torment. As they kissed, her hands were everywhere at once, sliding, squeezing, stroking. Comforting, giving… The sensation was almost more than he could stand.
A raging need built inside him, something he wasn’t ready to acknowledge. What the hell was she doing to him? She was supposed to seduce him and then screw his brains out. But it felt more like they were making love—
His heart thundered as panic formed a knot in his gut.
Jordan draped her bare leg over his thigh and pushed herself up until she lay on top of him. Bracing her hands on either side of him, she continued to sweep feather-light touches over his mouth and jaw. Her kisses were like whispered promises that he didn’t want to hear. A tremendous weight settled on his chest, threatening to crush him. Danny angled his body, intent on rolling her beneath him, but Jordan resisted.
He chuckled weakly. “You got a taste for being on top out on the fire escape, huh?”
Jordan looked at him, her brown eyes dark and unfathomable. Her expression was gentle, almost tender. “Yeah. That’s it.”
She leaned down to capture his lips again. Need sang in his blood as she combed her fingers over his hair and deepened the kiss. She settled her bottom on his lap so that only the thin cotton of his briefs separated her from his throbbing erection. The heat between them built gradually, but it was a warm glow as opposed to a raging fire.
A sense of urgency mingled with one of dread. He couldn’t go on like this. Danny planted his hands on her hips and lifted her off him, then rolled to the edge of the bed. He closed his eyes for a second, struggling to catch his breath. Then he glanced over his shoulder with what he hoped was a smirk.
“I need to grab a condom before we go any further.”
He stood up and reached into the nightstand for one of the foil packets inside, then shucked off his underwear. When he turned, Jordan had removed the towel completely and pulled down the bedspread. She lay atop the sheet, waiting for him. Waiting. For him.
Well, she had a hell of a long wait. The boundaries of their agreement had been crystal clear. Sexual favors in return for a fake engagement. That was it. He had no intention of getting involved with her. When the ten days were over, so were they.
Danny sheathed himself in the condom and climbed back onto the bed. When she opened her arms, he moved over her and ravished her mouth in a punishing kiss. He savored the softness of her lips, the faint taste of beer on her tongue, the eagerness of her response. Yeah, this was what they both wanted.
He reached between their bodies to touch the damp curls then positioned himself at her entrance and pushed into her. Jordan pressed her mouth to his throat, gasping aloud, her hands gripping his back. He pressed forward, inch by inch, shuddering with the fulfillment of it.
He rocked his hips, nestling into sleek warmth and pulling out again. Spurred on by the way she squirmed beneath him, he quickened his pace. Jordan moaned and arched her back, cupping his buttocks to urge him on. With that, he stopped being selfish and saw to her pleasure.
Incredible emotion and fierce desire combined to intensify the sensation, but he struggled for control. Thrusting heavily, he raced toward physical release. Every muscle in his body went taut as a groan escaped his throat in a slow, ragged breath. Finally, gloriously, his body convulsed inside her; her body trembled around his.
After a moment, he shifted his weight off her and rolled onto his back. Jordan cuddled against his side, already drifting off to sleep. He reached for the bedspread and settled it over her shoulders. For a long time, Danny stared up at the ceiling, listening to the soft whoosh as Jordan’s breath fanned his neck.
“What time is it?”
“Time for breakfast. I’ve got to get going.”
He laid her dress, panties and jacket on the bed without meeting her eye. Jordan watched him walk out, closing the door behind him. A feeling of trepidation crept over her. Not exactly the warm greeting she might have expected after the intimacy they had shared.
She got off the bed with a heavy sigh and pulled on her panties. They felt a bit snug. She sighed again. The grilled chicken, baked beans and sorbet she ate at the barbecue would be her last real meal for a while. It was back to salad for her.
Jordan stepped into the cotton sundress, slipped her arms into the cap sleeves and reached for the zipper. Which rose an inch then stopped. And wouldn’t go any farther. She hadn’t eaten
much! She looked down and realized that the hemline was three inches higher than it had been yesterday. Her shoulders slumped. Danny had shrunk her dress in the dryer.
Rolling her eyes, she closed the dress as best she could and put her jacket on to hide the open back. When she left the bedroom, she heard a mechanical grinding sound. She followed the noise to the kitchen and found Danny measuring protein powder into the bright red blender. Banana peels and empty ice-cube trays littered the countertop.
“I wondered what you did with all of that fruit.”
Jordan walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning in to give him a kiss. The muscles beneath her fingers bunched as he angled his face so that her mouth brushed his cheek. Her uneasiness increased.
She watched him toss chunks of pineapple and slices of strawberry into the mix. Then he handed her a tall frosted glass already filled with the pale orange concoction. She took a tentative sip and licked her lips. “This is really good. And here I thought you didn’t cook.”
“I do my share of KP at the fire station, but soy milk smoothies are the extent of my home repertoire.”
At the mere mention of “fire,” a wall of tension thunked down between them. The very air crackled with strained silence. Danny turned away, busying himself with the blender, but not before she saw the look in his eyes.
Though his expression was nonchalant, the stiffness of his posture said otherwise. His dark brown eyes reflected the painful shadows of his memories. He must be embarrassed. It probably hadn’t been easy for Danny to bare his heart like that. Her own heart wrenched in response to his withdrawal, but she understood and would give him the space he so obviously wanted.
Jordan tried to keep her tone casual. “I’m going to miss you at the crab feast.”
He lifted his glass and chugged down his smoothie, stretching out the silence. Finally he said, “Yeah, well, I was already scheduled to work tomorrow night.”
She stood by, feeling helpless and rejected, while he washed out the blender and the glasses. She hated to act like one of those needy, clinging women, but she couldn’t stop herself. “When are we getting together again?”
Danny still wouldn’t look at her. “I’m going to try and make it to the baseball game Wednesday.”
Her friend didn’t pull the shop-until-you-drop routine unless she was really upset. Breaking up with Matt had led to the purchase of sapphire earrings. Shane Smith’s ultimatum was going to max out his daughter’s platinum American Express card.
Jordan tried to adjust Sheris’s bags so the weight didn’t dislocate her shoulder. “Can we please sit down somewhere and talk about this?”
“What’s to talk about?” She yanked a cashmere sweater from a pile on a display table. “I either pull off a miracle, or I get disinherited.”
Jordan wrinkled her brow. “Did you bother to look at that? It’s not your color and I don’t think it’s even your size.”
“It’s not. I’m buying it for Melanie. I figure I’d better do my holiday shopping now since I’ll be broke come December.”
“You could try cooperating with your dad’s request.” Jordan dropped the shopping bags on the floor.
“It wasn’t a request! It was an order.” She made her voice a deep and commanding drawl, a dead-accurate imitation. “‘You’re a perpetually unemployed student. Either you stop flittin’ through your life or I’m cuttin’ off your credit.’”
Jordan grasped her friend’s arm to stop her from picking up a rivet-studded miniskirt. “You told me that, for once, you weren’t bored, discouraged or quitting. This Celebrate Celibacy program is a lucrative contract. You’ll do a great job of managing this campaign, Sheris.”
Her clear blue eyes darkened and the corners of her mouth turned down. “I
done a great job. I could have gotten Smith and Watson Advertising running in the black if I didn’t have to deal with…him!”
Jordan didn’t know whether to sigh or to laugh. Logan was the best thing that had ever happened to Sheris. But neither of them had seen it during their short-lived marriage or in the years that followed. So she tried the logical approach.
“WRRS is the most popular radio station in the city. I don’t think you could pull off this campaign without their help. Especially since the
In the Mood with McGuire
show is at the top of the ratings.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Sheris stalked over to the cashier to pay for the cashmere sweater, a silk dress and a pair of purple snakeskin boots. Back outside, Sheris strode briskly along the sidewalk, forcing her to keep up.
“Okay, Jordan. Let’s deal with
problem. You lied to your family, kidnapped a stranger, had fabulous sex and now you’re in love. Does that about cover it?”
Jordan stumbled, barely catching herself before she crashed into a tree. Love? Who said anything about love?
No way. No way could she have fallen in love with Danny after only four days. It was probably just the brothers’ similarities that were confusing her. Except…they really weren’t identical other than in their looks.
Unlike with David, there had been sparks between her and Danny from the start. What she’d passed off as excitement over acting out fantasies was really a deeper connection. Oh, my God. What she’d thought was role-playing was the beginning of something real. Omigod. She was in love with him.
“Oh, look! The Scent Shop.”
Jordan hefted the bags and felt a twinge in her upper back. She hurried after Sheris. “Haven’t you bought enough stuff yet?”
“I could use some new lotions.”
Jordan groaned in frustration, already anticipating the headache she’d end up with after helping Sheris choose between Mango Mandarin, Vanilla Grapefruit or Peach Ginger. Dragging the shopping bags, she followed her friend into the store.
“I’m in real trouble here,” Jordan admitted.
“You said yesterday went great. So what’s the problem?” Sheris rummaged through the samples in the discontinued product bin.
“Yes, the barbecue was a success. My family really likes him. And last night was so incredible. I really thought it was a turning point in our relationship. But, this morning, that man couldn’t have backpedaled fast enough.”
Sheris pulled a face, her voice tinged with bitterness. “He’s a guy. That’s what guys do.”
“Could you please focus?” Jordan pulled the room spray out of her friend’s hand before she got covered in Berry Banana mist. “Falling in love was not part of our deal. What am I going to do?”
“Follow his lead—finish out the agreement, enjoy the sex and walk away. That tactic ensures you won’t get hurt.”
Jordan knew her friend was probably right, but the idea of not having Danny around caused her a sense of disquiet. She adored his sense of humor and his spontaneity. She liked the way he interacted with her family. She loved the way he looked at her, as if she were beautiful, curves and all.
“I’m not sure he’s following the plan anymore.”
Sheris glanced over from the display of herb-scented candles. “Come on, Jordan. His own brother calls him the Eight Date Man—”
“Thanks for reminding me about his reputation. I feel so special now.”
“Fantasies for favors, honey. That’s all. What makes you think he wants to change?”
Jordan recalled the intimacy of holding Danny in her arms while he shared his memories. “Last night he let me inside. He told me about an experience so deeply personal that it had to be a show of trust.”
Sheris scoffed. “This guy is a player, Jordan. Logan used to try and manipulate my sympathy, too. And then he walked out. Don’t forget that.”
She guessed it was possible, but for what purpose? Why would Danny entrust her with his secret if he never intended to see her again?