Authors: Kerry Connor
With his face hovering so close, she could see that she’d lied
to Miranda. Gorgeous didn’t come close to describing this man.
He didn’t give her a chance to refuse again. He stood and
leaned over her, giving her a bird’s eye view of those abs,
flexing directly over her head. Mesmerized, she watched them, the
play of muscles beneath the taut skin, barely registering what he was
doing. A familiar rasp drew her attention, and she lifted her gaze to
his hands. He’d retrieved a matchbook from the shelf above the
tub and was in the process of lighting the row of tiny candles that
lined it, his movements quick and sure. When he was done he stepped
away and began to repeat the process on the candles that seemed to
sit on every available surface in the room.
For a moment, she watched his back, the shifting muscles of his broad
shoulders and arms. Even in the harsh fluorescent lights of the room,
he still looked as golden as he had when touched by sunlight.
Like a break in the fog, a moment of clarity snapped her out of her
stupor. She realized she was sitting there passively while he went
about creating a romantic atmosphere. That was the last thing she
wanted. “Look, Charlie, I’m serious—”
He flipped off the lights, effectively cutting off her protest in the
process. He’d managed to make his way all the way around the
room in record time. The entire space was now lit with a few dozen
flickering flames. All but the very middle. Jess glanced up to
discover there was a skylight in the center of the ceiling. Overhead
the moon slid out from behind the clouds to cast a pale glow on the
Charlie stepped into the puddle of moonlight, a sponge in one hand, a
bottle of body wash in the other. Not even the silver of the moon
could make him look anything but golden. His skin gleamed with the
burnished glow of the candlelight. In the shifting shadows, he almost
looked as if he were the one aflame. She could almost imagine he was
the devil. She couldn’t fathom a more effective temptation.
“You were saying?” he murmured, his voice gentle in the
silence. Was he mocking her? She couldn’t tell. He wasn’t
smiling, wasn’t smirking. There was no trace of arrogance on
his face. He merely watched her, his expression benign.
I don’t want you to bathe me
. Her well-developed sense
of self-preservation told her to say the words. But another part of
her acknowledged how ridiculous they would sound. Not only because it
was one sentence she’d never thought she would have to say, but
because they weren’t true. She couldn’t imagine any woman
sitting where she was saying those words to this man. Most would be
begging him touch them, to run his hands all over her wherever he
The sensible side won out. “Would it make any difference if I
said I wanted you to leave?”
“It hasn’t so far.”
He dipped his head in acknowledgment, and with a hint of apology.
“It’s not my intention to make you feel uncomfortable. I
know you’ve been having trouble finishing your book and you’ve
just driven all the way across the country. I just want to do
everything I can to help you relax so you can get to work.”
This was where she was supposed to say that leaving her alone would
be a good first step to helping her relax. She must be
hunger-deprived after all, because she couldn’t say it, no
matter how much she knew she should.
She wavered too long. He took another step toward her, bringing him
tantalizingly close, within arm’s reach. “I’m not
talking about sex, if that’s what you’re worried about.
But you never know what it means to be truly relaxed until you’ve
been bathed by another person.”
Damn, but he was good. She’d give him that much. He made it
sound so simple. It wasn’t sex he was offering. It was a bath.
As innocent and intimate as that. It wasn’t as though she would
turn down a masseuse who offered much of the same.
He must have taken her silence for the acquiescence it was. He
crossed the few remaining feet between them and knelt behind the tub.
She heard him flip the top on the bottle of body wash, then the
squirting sound as he squeezed the liquid from the bottle. She
started to turn around to see what he was doing. His hands came down
on her shoulders, holding her still and forcing her neck to face
forward with the gentlest of touches. His palms were broad, his
fingers long and lean. She felt a jolt of response to his touch. She
had to be losing it, if even the slightest contact of his hands on
her bare skin could cause such a reaction. His hands were slick, and
she knew he must have poured the body wash onto them.
“Relax,” he whispered, his voice soft and insinuating in
Jess wondered how exactly she was supposed to do that with his hands
With some trepidation, she made herself hold utterly still in the
tub. There was no mistaking her posture for anything close to
relaxed. He withdrew his hands anyway. She could hear him as he
squeezed a bit more of the liquid onto his hands and began to lather
them up. Her body trembled with nervousness and anticipation. She
tried to convince herself it was because the water was cooling.
Then his hands were back on her shoulders, harder this time, more
purposeful. His long, sure fingers massaged the line of her
shoulders. His thumbs rolled in circles against the knots in the back
of her neck. It only took five seconds for his ministrations to work
a moan from deep in her throat. Her eyelids lowered, her pupils
rolling back as she eased into his touch. “Man, you’re
good at that.”
“I’m glad you like it.” A note of supremely male
satisfaction ran through his words, but damned if she could bring
herself to care. She’d gone completely limp. It didn’t
feel like she had a bone left in her body.
His hands moved upward, caressing her face, sweeping up to her
hairline. He began to gently massage her temples with the tips of his
fingers. Tension she didn’t know was there faded away, leaving
her feeling strangely light-headed again. It was that same feeling of
weightlessness she’d had floating beneath the water, but this
was so much better.
He could have kept doing that all day long. Instead, he lowered his
hands again, his touch feather light. They slid downward, to her
shoulders again. Acting on impulse, Jess lifted her arms, propping
her elbows up on the edge of the tub. He followed her movements
automatically, leaning close in behind her, then sliding his slick
palms all the way down her arms to her hands. He gently rubbed the
cleanser over every inch of her limbs, until her skin tingled from
She was so utterly relaxed she didn’t even realize when he
withdrew until he came back again. He was beside her now. She heard
him lower his hand into the water, and when he lifted it to her body
again, it held the sponge. His other hand lifted her right foot, the
fingers gently kneading her arch while he ran the sponge up her leg.
As he worked upward in small circles, she gradually began to wonder
just how far up her body he was going to go. But when his hand
reached the point where the water hid the rest of her body, it
withdrew. He lowered her leg back into the tub and reached for the
other, repeating the process.
When he finished with her legs, she waited to see what he would do
next. She reacted with a start when she felt him place the sponge in
the center of her chest just above her breasts. Her eyelids flew
open, her eyes automatically seeking his. They didn’t have to
look far. He wasn’t watching what he was doing. His solemn gaze
was fixed on her face, watching every flicker of response to his
actions. His expression was impassive, but she couldn’t see his
eyes in the candlelight. They remained in shadow, unreadable.
He moved the sponge in light circles over her upper chest, sliding
gradually slower with each sweep of the cloth. She suddenly realized
she was holding her breath, waiting once more to see how low he would
go. She should stop him. This was too personal.
Yet she wanted to know how far he would dare to push it.
He dropped the sponge.
It rolled down her body, landing in the bathwater with a splash. The
sound broke through the spell. Jess blinked rapidly to clear her
head, instinctively reaching for the sponge.
As orders went, it wasn’t a particularly demanding one. It was
uttered mildly, the words so soft she didn’t even see his lips
move. He hadn’t even blinked, and she suddenly knew that
dropping the sponge hadn’t been an accident. Her heart jumped
into her throat.
She did as he ordered, lowering her hand to her side, and waited.
“We don’t need it.”
With that, he lowered his hands to her breasts. The sensation of his
touch was shockingly different from the sponge, the contrast between
smooth and rough instantly noticeable. She couldn’t hold back
the involuntary gasp that escaped from her lips. If he had any
reaction to the sound, she couldn’t see it on his face. He
merely continued to watch her as his hands worked over her chest. His
fingers were still soapy from handling the sponge. He curved his
palms to the swell of her breasts, smoothing the lather over the
sides and beneath them. He traced her nipples with his thumbs,
starting at the engorged tips and moving around them in widening
swirls. The movement could be interpreted as perfectly innocent. He
was doing nothing more than he’d said he would. He was bathing
her. At the same time it was plainly sensual. Her body responded to
his touch in a way that wasn’t remotely innocent. Her breasts
felt heavier, aching with need, wanting more than the light contact
He pulled his hands away so abruptly she almost groaned. They
released her breasts and sank lower, deep into the water. There were
still enough suds from the bubble bath that he couldn’t see
anything he touched. It hardly seemed to matter as his hands roamed
freely over her body. They coasted over the sides of her abdomen, his
thumbs sliding over her ribs. He smoothed a palm over her stomach,
rubbing his palm over her belly in those torturous circles of his.
His eyes held hers as his hand moved lower and lower, toward the
juncture of her thighs.
There was no discernible change in his expression. She sensed it just
the same. He was testing her.
He wasn’t going to turn back.
She caught his wrist before it could move any lower.
“I think I can take it from here.”
Neither of them moved, his hand poised above the apex of her thighs,
her hand clamped down on his wrist like a vise. They stared at each
other, and she wondered if he was going to obey.
She wished again that she could see his eyes. But they remained as
elusive as his true intentions.
Then he began to withdraw his arm. She hadn’t realized she was
holding her breath until it came out in a rush.
“You’re probably right. You need your rest.” His
voice was perfectly even, as clinical as a doctor’s, with no
trace that anything that had just transpired had affected him in the
Charlie shoved to his feet, reaching for a towel to dry his hands.
She stared at them, still feeling the heat of them on her body.
It took her a moment to realize he had another towel in those hands.
He was holding it open for her. “Would you like to get out
Jess took a sharp breath and shook her head. “I’m going
to soak for a little while longer.”
For the first time since she’d met him, he frowned. “All
right, but that water’s pretty cold. You don’t want to
His words sank in about the same time she began to feel the chill of
the water. He was right. It was freezing. She hadn’t even
“I’ll be fine.”
“As you wish. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He set the towel on the floor beside the tub and strode from the room
without a backward glance, gently closing the door behind him.
She lay there long after he was gone, unable to move, the sensation
of his hands on her body still searing her flesh.
The water had gone cold. She was still waiting for her body to do the
HIS HANDS WERE SHAKING.
Caleb stood in the hallway for a moment after he’d closed the
bathroom door and stared at his trembling hands. His hands never
shook. They couldn’t, not in his line of work. He had a thief’s
hands, necessary when the people he was stealing things from were
thieves themselves. His fingers had never been anything but steady
Then he touched this woman, and his unshakable steadiness failed him.
As much as he’d like to attribute the effect to the cold water,
he wasn’t that delusional. It wasn’t the water. It was
He could still picture her face, every one of her reactions burned
into his memory. He wondered if she had any idea how obvious her
responses had been to his hands on her body. Even in the dim
candlelight, he’d been able to see the flush of her cheeks, the
sudden tightening of her pupils. You’d think it was the first
time she’d been touched by a man. She’d been that eager,
that receptive. She’d been his. He likely could have asked her
anything he wanted and she would have told him every one of her
secrets. He’d had her that surely.
Or was it she who’d had him?
Caleb frowned at his hands. They continued to shake, like a horny
teenager who’d just touched his first breast. He hadn’t
been that teenager in a long time. Even then, he hadn’t had
He forced himself to remember who she was. She was a thief. Nothing
His hands instantly steadied.
He closed them into fists and stalked away from the bathroom. It
looked like he’d underestimated this particular adversary a
It wouldn’t happen again.