Authors: Jodi Redford
To Sasha. This is our twelfth book together. Twelve! Through every single story I’ve written, you’ve made me a better writer. You’ve challenged and inspired me to venture into worlds and characters that I might not have been brave enough to pen without your encouragement and unwavering support. I couldn’t have done this without you, lady. So here’s to number twelve, and many, many more to come.
“I’ve been a very naughty girl, Santa. Think you better spank me with your big candy cane.”
Choking on his swallow of beer, Kevin Monahan jerked his gaze upward just as Jana Colton draped her arm around his neck. Flashing a cheeky grin, she leaned forward and planted a chaste kiss on his forehead that was in direct opposition to the wicked sparkle in her dazzling blue eyes. Her position thrust her generous breasts square in his face, awarding him a bird’s eye view of the luscious cleavage peeking from the scooped neckline of her pink sweater. A sweet and sensual floral scent drifted from her peaches-and-cream skin, tantalizing his already overtaxed senses. The bead of sweat crawling down his nape couldn’t be blamed on the too-warm interior of Hadley’s Bar and Grill.
He and Jana had known each other for five years and been good friends for at least four. He should have been immune to her outrageous flirtations by now. Apparently his libido was too sadistic to let him off the hook that easily.
Jana straightened and tugged off her fingerless gloves before shrugging out of her leather trench coat in a seductive shimmy that officially fried a few more of his brain cells. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.”
Desperately grappling for every ounce of inner strength he possessed, he tore his entranced stare from the outline of Jana’s perky nipples and schooled his expression into the blandest one he could manufacture. “No. I’ve only been here a few minutes.”
Jana arranged her coat over the back of the chair opposite him and plopped onto the seat. He didn’t fail to notice the lewd glances and snickering whispers she garnered from the neighboring table of college frat boys. A completely inescapable flash of protectiveness streaked through him, prompting him to offer the ogling boys a cold glare. Taking the hint, they returned to their raucous conversation and beer chugging. He allowed a fraction of the tension to ease from his shoulders.
He knew he had no right to be the slightest bit territorial where Jana was concerned, but it also didn’t stop him from wanting to kick the ass of every punk kid who eyed her like a side of beef while making crude comments to his dipshit friends.
Displaying her typical blasé disregard for the attention she generated in the opposite sex, Jana propped her arms on the pockmarked wooden tabletop and focused the full wattage of her smile on him. As always, it possessed the power to seduce the pants right off him—something Jana would undoubtedly take full advantage of if she knew the true scope of his weakness where she was concerned. For the past ten months, she’d really amped up her quest to take their friendship to the next level. He had no intention of giving in to her and the inevitable fallout that’d result if they slept together, but it didn’t mean his vigilant resistance wasn’t a fierce struggle.
She wiggled in her seat, drawing his rapt, albeit reluctant, scrutiny to her bouncing breasts. His cock swelled, and he mumbled a soft curse.
Tucking a lock of her shiny blonde hair behind her ear, she twitched her nose in a way that was both adorable and admonishing. “I missed you, you jerk. I thought you said you’d call me while you were in Vegas.”
A niggle of guilt worming through him, he situated his pilsner glass on the coaster, taking his time with the task on the off chance she’d grow bored with his silence and move on to another topic.
She didn’t. “Did you have a nice visit with your dad?”
“Yeah.” If you could call enduring three days of awkward tension remotely pleasant. Then again, it hadn’t been anything less than what he’d expected. Tense visits with his dad were standard fare. Not that Jana knew anything about the harsh reality of his relationship with his father. It was yet another facet of his life he preferred to keep locked away in his closet of dirty secrets.
“Do anything exciting while you were out there?”
His thoughts automatically veered to his meeting with the departing executive chef at the Cinders and the resulting job offer that’d been presented to him. The meeting had merely been a formality. The position was his from the get-go, thanks to his father’s majority share in the Cinders. Richard Monahan wasn’t averse to using his money and power when it came to getting what he wanted. Right now, that something was the prestigious five-star
ranking that Kevin toted. He held no delusions about possessing any further value in his father’s eyes than that. Still, he owed this to his dad. It wouldn’t absolve Kevin of the guilt he’d lugged around for the last fourteen years, and it sure as hell wouldn’t change the past and the transgressions of his youth. But taking the job was one small act of repentance.
He cleared his throat. “Not really.” It probably made him an asshole for lying, but telling Jana he’d accepted the Cinders proposal and would be moving to Vegas in a couple of weeks would only upset her. He didn’t want to ruin her Christmas.
“Okay, on to the most important question of all.” She batted her eyelashes endearingly. “Did you bring an awesome X-mas pressie back for me?”
Her blatant maneuvering tactic did the trick of lightening some of the heaviness weighing at him, and he chuckled. “Actually, I bought your gift months ago, but you’re not getting it yet.”
“I won’t peek.” She sighed when he raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I totally will. Can I help it that I have no willpower?”
She wasn’t the only one. In his case, his personal Kryptonite was a certain blonde with a quirky personality and the prettiest, kissable-looking lips in all creation. He dragged his gaze from her mouth and reached for his beer, slamming another desperate swallow. The frosty ale did nothing to douse his desire. Not by a long shot.
Jana was a crippling addiction he couldn’t kick. Worse, she was a temptation he couldn’t give in to. For years he’d been able to use the excuse of her being the little sister of one of his bosses at the Dockside, but soon he wouldn’t have that flimsy copout to cling to. It was no secret she had a crush on him. If he were a selfish prick, he’d take advantage of what she was openly offering. God knows, it was a battle to resist. Especially when she was staring at him with a sinful glint in her eyes, like she was mentally engaging them in all kinds of naughty acts that were likely illegal in forty-nine states.
Despite her propensity for brazenly flirting with him, it didn’t change the fact she was a good girl at heart. A bit wild, yes, with a vocabulary that’d make a construction worker cringe. But there was no denying that an innate sweetness radiated from within her.
The heaviness from earlier settling in his heart, he plunked his glass down. It’d rip him apart if he hurt Jana. And sooner or later, that’s precisely what would happen. He wasn’t any good at letting people into his life. His dysfunctional past guaranteed that. No way in hell he’d drag Jana into the hot mess of his psyche. She deserved better than that. Deserved better than him.
Shoving aside his glum musings, he waved the waitress over. After ordering a glass of sangria, Jana picked up her napkin and fidgeted with it for a second before spreading it across her lap. “So I was thinking…” Despite her casual tone, a slight nervous flutter wavered through her voice. “Why don’t we make an entire night of it next Saturday? After
, we can hit a few clubs downtown, maybe even the casino. It’d probably be easiest to get a room while we’re at it, so we won’t have to worry about driving home. I hear the hotel at the MGM Grand Detroit is super nice.”
The unspoken part of her proposition hung sultry and oh so irresistible between them, tempting and teasing him with seductive possibilities. It didn’t take much creativity on his end to mentally conjure a scene straight out of his fantasies. A sumptuous suite and a king-sized bed big enough for two. On the nearby nightstand—chilled wine, chocolate-dipped strawberries…a blindfold and wrist restraints. He swallowed. Hard. Damn it, he wasn’t even into bondage, for the most part. What the hell was wrong with him?
He took a steadying breath, digging deep for the right words. They weren’t the ones he wanted to say, but his conscience reminded him of the necessity of them, regardless. “Jana, I don’t want to lead you on.”
She tried for an innocent look that fell far short from working its mark. “In what way would you and I sharing a room be leading me on?”
He lowered his voice. “Because I know you’ll finagle for a single bed.”
“Would that be so terrible?”
The taunting fantasy of the blindfold and restraints paraded through his mind again. This time the hot, wicked visual came with the added torture of him imagining Jana’s sweat-glistened skin slip-sliding against his, her soaked pussy squeezing his cock like a fist as she screamed his name in climax. His balls tightened, and he discreetly adjusted the uncomfortable snugness of his zipper.
“Not a good idea.” His overheated libido grumbled in protest.
Wetting her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, she traced the pattern engraved on the handle of her fork with her fingernail. “Did I happen to mention I sleep naked?”
His dick perked up even more in interest, and he silently groaned.
You’re fucking killing me, baby.
Her timing impeccable, the waitress returned to take their orders before moving on to the neighboring table. In a rare instance of behaving herself, Jana didn’t bring up the possibility of her and him sleeping together—or her fondness for going
—for the duration of their meal. Their conversation flowed freely, and soon enough she’d lulled him into the familiar ease he always experienced when they were together. Because of his inability to let many people close, he didn’t have a lot of friends. The only person he’d truly shared this level of camaraderie with had been Nick, his best friend—back before everything went to shit between them.
Forcing his mind from that dark alley of thoughts, he drained the remainder of his beer and waited for Jana to finish her pasta primavera before he signaled for the check. After a brief argument over who would pay—him, of course—he pocketed his wallet and helped her into her coat, careful not to linger over the process in hopes of touching her silky skin. He avoided that temptation at all costs, although she went out of her way to rub against him every chance she could. His damn cock was going to wear through the fly of his khakis at the rate his erection was growing.
Before his sanity took a complete nosedive, he escorted her outside and led the way to Jana’s old Mustang. She plunked her purse onto the hood and dug for her keys. A strong wind whipped through the lot, catching the ends of her shoulder-length, wavy strands. She shivered, and he resisted the urge to bundle her into his arms. He compromised by shielding her from the next oncoming gust with his body.
A second later she held up her key ring. “Found ’em.” Jingling the keys, she gifted him with another of her megawatt smiles and unlocked the driver’s side door. She carelessly tossed her purse inside the vehicle and plopped into the driver’s seat before turning her key in the ignition. A series of dull clicks broke the silence. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she peered up at him. “Oops. I must have left my dome light on.”
Her expression was too innocent to be taken seriously. His suspicions buzzing, he gripped the doorframe and eyed the hood. “I’ll give you a jump.”
Jana’s full, glossy lips curved upward in a wicked grin. “I’d love for you to jump me.”
Damn it, he’d stepped right in to that one. Heat crawled up his neck and pooled low in his groin. A sultry sparkle dancing in her gaze, Jana draped her fingers over the gearshift and idly stroked it.
God save me.
Dragging his attention from the erotic sight of her giving the gear stick a hand job, he cleared his throat. “I’ll bring my car over. Jumper cables are in the back.”
“How are you going to reach my engine?”
Plowing a hand through his hair, he gave the cars blocking the Mustang in on all sides his frustrated attention. “We’ll have to wait it out until someone leaves.”
“That could be all night. Why don’t you just take me home, and I’ll have Bram give me a lift here in the morning and charge my battery?”
He’d been on the receiving end of too many of Jana’s seductive schemes not to recognize an attempt in the works. Still, it was either risk whatever she had up her sleeve during the ride to her place, or try to survive what could possibly be an hour or more in the close confines of his car without giving in to the temptation of those long, sleek legs and mouthwatering breasts.