Read Courting Jealousy Online

Authors: Kimberly Dean

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Courting Jealousy

BOOK: Courting Jealousy
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Courting Jealousy


Kimberly Dean


Table of Contents


Courting Jealousy

Thank you!

Excerpt from Courting Trouble

Links to Other Kimberly Dean Books



Courting Jealousy

This had been a bad idea.

Noelle looked into the large room filled with oceanic displays, fancily dressed people, and milling waiters. The Aquamarine Alliance had taken over an entire chamber of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for their fundraiser. With the blue lightning, food stations, and swarms of people, it should have been difficult to find anybody. Yet there he was. Her ex-boyfriend, Barry, was standing straight ahead by the devil ray display.

, she thought,
for the devil

She’d known he’d be here. She’d even come up with a plan on how to handle the situation. Now that she was here, though, she didn’t know if she could go through with it. Adrenaline filled her, triggering solely her flight response. Instinctively, she stepped back – only to walk right into the man who was accompanying her.

“Careful,” he said.

Heat flared in her cheeks when he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her up against him.

Oh, damn. He felt as good as he looked – all tall, warm, and muscled.

Nervously, she stepped aside. “Maybe it would be best if we just leave.”

“Which one is he?” her date asked.

He knew the plan. He was an integral part of it.

She grimaced. “Tan suit at twelve o’clock.”

He rubbed her waist up and down as he looked in that direction. His brow furrowed, and a muscle in his square jaw flexed. She waited for his attention to focus on the busty blonde at Barry’s side, but the woman barely rated a glance.

His gaze returned, and it was all Noelle could do to hold it. She’d asked for handsome. She hadn’t expected weak-in-the-knees gorgeous.

“We’re not leaving,” he said firmly. “The only question is whether we go for ‘green with envy’ or ‘cross-eyed with jealousy’?”

The corners of her mouth twitched. “His eyes

Her date blinked in surprise, but then let out a chuckle that emanated from deep in his chest. He brushed the tip of his finger across her cheek. Electricity sizzled, and it was all Noelle could do not to lick her lips.

“The green-eyed special it is,” he murmured.

Oh, dear.

Before she could catch her breath or prepare herself, he was leading her across the room with their bodies pressed side to side.

“Wait,” she hissed.

“No time like the present.”

“But, but…” Yes, she wanted to make Barry jealous. She wanted him to see she’d moved on, too. She’d just hoped to do it from afar. With mystique.

Apparently, her escort had a more brazen plan in mind.

And why not? It was what she’d hired him to do. Her escort was truly that – an escort.

Her pulse started beating overtime. Bad plan. Bad, bad plan.

They stopped near the entrance to the aquarium. The living coral reef and saltwater fish were bright and colorful. The blue lighting for the event made it feel like they were right there in the water with its inhabitants.

Maybe that’s why it was so hard for Noelle to breathe.

Her escort leaned in to whisper in her ear. “If this is going to work, you’ll need to relax.”

“I know,” she said quietly. Easier said than done.

“Smile at me. You could even try saying my name, if you remember it.”

“Dane.” She remembered everything from the moment she’d first called Luxxor Limited. She remembered sneaking the company’s business card out of her father, Congressman Hatcher’s, desk. She remembered talking with Nina Lockwood, the company president, and explaining her situation. Most of all, though, she remembered Dane walking into the room, looking like a good girl’s secret dream.

Oh, this would be so much easier if he wasn’t so mouth-wateringly hot.

A beautiful waitress with white-blonde hair stopped to offer a platter of appetizers. The mini quiches looked delicious, but Noelle’s stomach was knotted with nerves. She politely declined.

“Is he watching?” she asked. With Barry behind her now, she couldn’t see him anymore.

“Oh, yeah.” Dane reached out to toy with a dark tendril of hair that had fallen from her up-do. “The green-eyed monster is taking root.”

He folded his hand around the nape of her neck, and she stiffened.

“Easy,” he murmured as he drew her in.

Noelle’s eyes widened when she realized his intent. Her heart began pitter-pattering against her ribcage, and she drew in a surprised breath.

It caught when his mouth settled over hers. The contact was soft and slight, a mere brush, yet it made her stomach tighten in an altogether different kind of tangle.

He paused for a moment and pulled back to look at her. Whatever he saw on her face made him come back with a fuller kiss. Deliberately, he molded their mouths together. His tongue brushed against the seam of her lips, and the tension inside Noelle started to uncoil. He’d been tempting her all night with soft, seemingly polite touches. They’d made her sensitive, aware, and half crazy.

She kissed him back and, by the time they came up for air, they were both short of breath.

“That’s better,” he said roughly. He rubbed her nape lightly before catching her hand. “Now, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”


“Do you see me kissing anyone else?”

She shook her head to try to clear it. After that lip lock, she could barely remember her name. “There’s not much to tell.”

“I doubt that.”

Noelle ran her tongue over her lips. They were still tingling. “I’m a middle school teacher here in DC. I volunteer, and I do yoga. Pretty boring, I know. At least Barry thought so.”

Dane lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Barry is an idiot.”

He was looking at her so intently, she couldn’t hold his dark gaze. Shifting on her stiletto heels, she focused on the fish swimming about the aquarium. A tiny one was spying on them from a hole in the coral, with its mouth rounded into a shocked O.

She touched her hair anxiously.
She knew
. That kiss!

The pretend intimacy was way beyond what she’d expected. From the strong fingers gripping her hand to the textures that still played on her lips, she was fully aware of this man. He might be playing the game she’d asked him to play, but her body didn’t know it was a lie. She’d never been attracted to someone so quickly. There was weakness in her knees, heat low in her belly, and an ache in her nipples that she was desperately trying to ignore.

“Why come here tonight if your ex makes you so uncomfortable?” he asked.

Barry wasn’t the one making her uncomfortable. And it wasn’t really discomfort. It was awareness. Sensitivity. Arousal.

“Tonight’s not about him,” she said. “Or… all about him.”

She took a steadying breath and became more self-conscious when Dane’s gaze dropped to her chest.

“The Aquamarine Alliance did important work in the village where I taught. I’m here to support them.”

Her handsome date’s gaze snapped back up to meet hers. “Village?”

“In Haiti, before I moved back. Clean drinking water is in short supply there.”

His eyebrows rose. “Teaching… volunteering… You’re far from boring, beautiful.”

Noelle saw movement out of the corner of her eye as someone approached, but Dane tugged on her hand and led her into the hallway that navigated the aquarium. It was darker inside, and more intimate.

She tucked that stray strand of hair behind her ear.
The compliment hadn’t slipped by her, nor had the gruff way he’d said it.

He was very good at this game. Maybe too good. She was starting to wonder if the attraction she felt went both ways.

“Barry works for the Alliance. That’s how we met. It’s how I knew he’d be here tonight,” she rambled.

She gasped when she was swung into a darkened corner. Moving in close, Dane trapped her against the wall that had been designed to blend in with the scenery behind the glass. Soft blue light glowed from the aquarium beside her, but the tunnel was quiet. Music and chatter from the fundraiser sounded far away.

“Please tell me you’re not still hung up on him,” her date said. He planted one hand against the thick glass and leaned into her.

He smelled incredible up this close, and Noelle curled her fingers into her palms to keep from brushing his dark hair away from his forehead. “I’m not,” she whispered. “I’m the one who broke it off.”

The hard line of his jaw softened. “So Blondie is his way of getting back at you?”

“He likes to…
that he’s moved on.”

“She has nothing on you, sweetheart.”

Noelle felt her cheeks heat and was glad for the dimness around them. “She does in the chest area.”

“They’re fake.”

She choked on a laugh. “I thought guys didn’t care.”

Her laugh morphed into a moan when Dane settled his big, hot hand over her breast. He squeezed gently, lifting her in his palm. “I care, and I prefer the real thing.”

Noelle’s nipple hardened on the spot, and the ache traveled down directly to her core. “Why… why are you saying these things?” she asked.

They were hidden away together. Alone, with nobody around. There was no reason to keep up the act.

His lips curled into a somewhat embarrassed smile. “I guess you could say I’m hot for teacher.”

Her jaw dropped. Sexy men didn’t come on to her. She was pretty and she kept in shape, but she was low-key. Composed and self-contained. With her father’s high-profile job, she’d learned to live in the shadows. Handsome men like Dane didn’t tend to look outside the limelight for girls like her.

Yet when he leaned more heavily into her, she felt the evidence of his interest against her belly.

She propped her hands against his chest, and heat seeped into her fingertips. He was hard and muscled, yet she swore she could feel his heart pounding as hard as hers.

“But why?” she insisted.

“Why wouldn’t I be attracted to you?” he asked, flicking her nipple in chastisement. “From what I’ve seen, you’re sweet, giving, and adventurous. And in case you didn’t know it, you’re stunningly beautiful.”

He dropped his head and whispered into her ear. “I want to kiss you for real.”

Noelle shivered. She wasn’t convinced, but she wasn’t going to turn down another kiss. Instinctively, she turned her head. Her cheek rubbed against his five o’clock shadow, but then their lips brushed. And their mouths locked.

And it made the kiss he’d given her out in public look timid.

Her body gave one big throb. Trapped in the corner with a virtual stranger, she could have been scared, but the kiss felt real. He didn’t push, and he didn’t force. The way he touched her was almost protective, but hot and hungry as hell.

She gave herself over to the feeling. Arching into him, she wrapped her arms around his neck. She rubbed against his hot body, and a growl left his throat. One of his hands dove into her hair, while the one at her breast slid down to wrap around her bottom. Through it all, their mouths sealed tight and their tongues did battle. Noelle felt suffused in heat. Every erogenous zone she had was lit up like a four-alarm fire.

Footsteps echoed in the empty hallway. Dane’s head lifted sharply, and his gaze met hers. Communication passed between them as silently and easily as if they’d known each other for years.

It could be Barry. The couple had been watching them before.

Yet instead of falling back into the clinch and putting on the show they’d agreed to, Dane pulled away. When he held out his hand, Noelle took it. Together, they hurried farther into the darkness.

That kiss hadn’t been for Barry. It had been for them.

Their footsteps had to sound like a mad dash as they hurried away from onlookers. The echo through the twisty hallway was unavoidable. The aquarium had been built to immerse viewers in the ocean world, while protecting the saltwater inhabitants from light and noise. The walls of the hallway were dark and textured to give the appearance of an underwater cavern. There was apparently no way out until the end, but just around another bend, Dane stopped.

Noelle didn’t see the door until he lifted the hidden latch. Painted black and molded like the rest of the cavern wall, it was practically invisible.

It was also unlocked.

He sent her a simple look with one eyebrow raised.

She sucked in a sharp breath, but then nodded.

The footsteps behind them sounded close as he tugged her into the tiny room and shut the door behind them. It was pitch black inside. She felt his hot breaths against her face as she waited for them to be caught. The footsteps outside were muffled. She swore they stopped just outside the door, but they kept on going, right past the maintenance room.

Dane turned on the light, and she found him closer than she’d expected. She was plastered against the door, hands flat against it, but he hovered right over her. Her chest rose and fell with every breath she took. When her breasts brushed against his chest, the intimacy was nearly unbearable.

BOOK: Courting Jealousy
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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