Authors: Alexis Morgan
To be honest, she wasn’t quite sure why she’d accepted Emmett’s invitation to dinner in the first place. Even though his conviction had evidently been set aside, he wasn’t the kind of man her family would approve of her dating. There was an edge to him that they wouldn’t like, not to mention he was a bartender, and not the doctor or lawyer they’d always hoped she would marry. Regardless, there was something about Emmett that drew her as no man had in a long, long time. When she was with him, she felt . . . safe. Not just physically, although that was part of it. But on some level she sensed that he would be careful with her. She liked that idea.
She also understood how hard it was to start over when someone’s life plans went seriously off the rails. Second chances didn’t always come around, and she respected Emmett’s efforts to make the most of his.
In the small bathroom, she touched up her lipstick and ran a brush through her hair. The knock on the front door came just as she finished. When she opened the door, Emmett backed up a step and gave her an admiring look from head to toe and back up again. When his gaze met hers again, his eyes were warm and approving.
She returned the favor, liking how he looked in black jeans and a Henley shirt in a deep gunmetal gray that matched the color of his eyes. “You’re looking good there, Mr. Sloan. You clean up real nice.”
“Thanks.” His deep laugh rang out across the small lobby. “At least I think that was a compliment.”
She liked making him laugh. She suspected he didn’t do so nearly often enough. When she picked up her jacket, he took it from her and held it for her, an old-fashioned gesture she found surprising but appreciated. “I’ll lock up, and we can go.”
Emmett stepped between her and the door, blocking her way. “In a second, Jana. There’s something I want to do first.”
Before she could ask what that was, he enfolded Jana in his arms and kissed her. He kept it sweet and simple, his lips brushing gently across hers, a greeting rather than a claiming. Even so, a surge of hungry heat burned straight through to her core. Breathless and a bit shaken, she stared up at Emmett and was relieved to see he also looked a bit stunned by the power contained in that one little kiss. She didn’t know about him, but she had to know if it was a fluke or if it had been only the beginning of something so much more.
This time she was the one who started the kiss, but Emmett was clearly a man of action. The second their lips touched, his arms tightened around her, drawing her flush against the hard planes of his body as his mouth settled firmly over hers. He deepened the kiss, his tongue sweeping in as if staging a daring raid. He tasted of coffee with a hint of peppermint toothpaste and healthy dollop of a spice that was all male and sexy as heck.
She wanted more, but her usual caution around men was already clamoring for her to listen. Fine, but she backed away slowly in the hope Emmett would recognize that her reluctance wasn’t meant as rejection.
He loosened his fierce hold on her, giving her the space she needed and them both room to breathe. Emmett rested his forehead against hers. “I’d apologize for letting that get out of hand, but I’d be lying if I said I had any regrets about kissing you. I’ve been wanting to from the minute we met.”
His words pleased her. So did the gentle touch of his fingertips as they stroked her cheek and then traced the line of her jaw. She closed her eyes and savored the small moment before saying, “Think we should head for the restaurant? I don’t know about you, but lunch was a long time ago.”
Emmett immediately stepped back and opened the door. “Sure thing. I can still drive if you’d rather not walk. It’s not exactly raining, but it’s pretty damp out there.”
She followed him outside and locked the door. “I’ve been cooped up inside all day, so I’d rather walk if you don’t mind.”
“Fine with me. After being locked up for so long, I like spending as much time outside as I can.”
Jana couldn’t imagine what it had been like for Emmett. If he ever wanted to talk about his time inside, she’d listen but wouldn’t press him for details. It was his story to share or not as he chose. It wasn’t as if she had an uncontrollable urge to pour out all the sordid details about any mistakes she’d made in her own life.
Now wasn’t the time for such gloomy thoughts, so she shoved them to the furthest recesses of her mind, where they belonged. Looping her arm through Emmett’s as they walked, she savored the damp marine air, the wisps of fog that softened the rough edges of the night, and the solid strength of the man beside her.
inner had been every bit as delicious as Jana had promised. Emmett couldn’t remember the last time he’d had lasagna and fresh baked bread. Regardless, he doubted it had been anywhere near as good. They’d also shared a bottle of red wine and an order of tiramisu. Finally, they’d lingered over coffee with some chocolate biscotti.
Unfortunately, even the best of times had to come to an end. Emmett worked evenings and could sleep in tomorrow, but Jana had to be at the clinic bright and early in the morning. As they headed out of the restaurant, she took his hand in hers, that small connection making him even more reluctant for the evening to end.
She paused to smile up at the night sky. “It’s such a pleasant night despite the weather.” Emmett would do anything to spend more time in her company even if it meant walking in the rain. “I wouldn’t mind taking the long way back to your car.”
Jana’s smile faded as she squeezed his hand. “I’d like that, too, but I really should get back home. Morning comes pretty early for me.”
He dutifully headed back the way they’d come. Neither of them spoke much as they walked, but the silence between them was comfortable. They’d talked a lot over dinner, keeping to safe topics like sports and music. She liked baseball better than football; he liked blues better than country. Not much in the way of deep dark secrets, but he soaked up each bit of information she shared with him.
They reached her car all too quickly, but at least she didn’t act as if she was in a hurry to leave. He should probably say something memorable, but right now all he could think about was kissing her again.
He stared down at her pretty face, liking how the evening mist sparkled like glitter on her dark hair. “Thanks for tonight, Jana. I really enjoyed myself.”
“Me, too, Emmett. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night when you’re on Dumpster duty.”
It took him a second to make sense of what she meant. He suspected his cheeks flushed a bit red. “Believe me, I know you’re an adult woman, but I still don’t like you walking down the street by yourself.”
She patted him on the cheek. “You’re a sweet man, Emmett, but you don’t have to stand guard duty every night.”
Before he could protest, Jana added, “But if you
to be on break when I get off work, you can always walk me to my car. I’d be glad for the company.”
He bet his grin was a mile wide. “Okay, then, it’s a date.”
Jana took his hand in hers again and turned his wrist so that she could read his watch. “I really do need to head home, but isn’t there one thing you want to do first?”
Was she hinting that they should end the evening the same way they’d begun it? God, he hoped so. His mind instantly filled with images of all the other ways he’d like for their evening to end, most of which involved someplace a lot more private than a city street and with them wearing a lot fewer clothes. He could only imagine the sweet slide of her skin against his when he took her hard and fast. Damn, he’d give anything to tangle his fingers in the silk of her hair as those long legs wrapped around his waist. He bet she was a demanding lover. He’d like that.
And if he didn’t quit thinking that way, he was going to lose what little control he still had.
He gathered her into his arms, pleased that she didn’t hesitate to let him hold her close even though the bulge in his jeans had to be obvious as their bodies came in contact.
Their lips came together in a rush with no hesitation, no teasing, and going from zero to sixty in an instant while their tongues mated in a wild and wicked rhythm that stole his breath away. He tightened his arms around her waist long enough to lift her up onto the fender of her car. Bless the woman, she immediately spread her knees so he could get closer.
She whispered his name, a siren’s call on the night air, as he kissed her again. This time he did some exploring by touch, learning the curve of her waist and the way her butt was a perfect fit for his hands. Pressing her back onto the hood of the car, he loved the soft crush of her breasts against his chest and the way she rocked her hips to make solid contact with his erection. Considering the heat they were generating, he wouldn’t have been surprised if they both burst into flames.
And if they didn’t slow down, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop. He broke off the kiss and put his hands firmly on the hood of the car, one on each side of Jana, breathing hard as he dragged his reluctant ass back from the precipice.
The night air wasn’t the only thing cooling off. Jana stared up at him with something akin to shock in her dark eyes. At least she wasn’t screaming for help or slapping him silly for groping her like some teenage kid.
When he had reestablished some control, he lifted her off the hood and set her down, careful to keep some distance between them. “Well, I guess that kiss went a bit farther than it should have. Sorry about that. My social skills are a bit rusty.”
She was already shaking her head. “No apologies necessary, Emmett. I think it should have been pretty obvious that I enjoyed every second of what you were . . . what we were . . . well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” He risked one small touch, pushing a strand of her hair back behind her ear. “I enjoyed every second, too. Now, you’d better get in the car before all my good intentions get shot all to hell.”
Jana turned her head to kiss the palm of his hand before getting into her car. As soon as she was inside, she started the engine and backed out of her parking spot. Before leaving, though, she rolled down her window. “When’s your next evening off?”
His brain was pretty much fried, so he had to think about it. “Thursday.”
“How about dinner at my place?”
The two of them alone behind locked doors? Oh, hell yeah!
“Sounds good. Let me know if I can bring anything.”
“Wine would be nice.” Then with a wicked look, she added, “And your toothbrush, you know, just in case.”
Then she left him staring after her with his tongue hanging out as she drove off laughing.
• • •
Jana held the phone to her ear and sighed as she stared out the kitchen window. “Yes, Mother, I did see the report about someone getting knifed near where I work, but I haven’t heard if the police have any leads. And before you ask, I’m always careful, and most nights I walk to my car with a friend.”
There, that should reassure her. The recent murder was just another in a long list of reasons that her parents had for why Jana needed to find another job. If they weren’t nagging about how much more money she could make elsewhere, then they were reminding her of every crime that happened within a five-mile radius of the clinic. She no longer bothered arguing with them, not when nothing she said ever made a difference.
They had never understood why she loved working at the clinic. It had all started back when Jana had been in college. Felicia had been her roommate, and they’d been close from the moment they’d met. But as time went on, between classes and jobs, they didn’t see much of each other. Somehow along the way, Felicia started using drugs, at first only occasionally to ease the stress of the heavy workload. From there, it was a slippery slope into full-blown addiction.
Jana tried everything to get her friend the help she needed. But without insurance or money, the options were pretty limited. Finally, a doctor at a free clinic managed to pull some strings and got Felicia into a long-term program that proved successful. When she was due to be released, Felicia convinced her family to let her come home and to give her one more chance to start fresh somewhere else. They agreed, on one condition: she had to cut all ties with anyone connected to that dark part of her life. Unfortunately, that included Jana.
Jana missed her friend to this day, but she’d always be grateful to that one doctor for saving her friend’s life. If not for him, Felicia might not be alive today; he’d also had a lasting effect on Jana’s life. She finished her education focused on one goal—to be the one who made a real difference in a person’s life, especially someone who didn’t have the resources so many others take for granted.
It was a vocation, one she’d never regretted taking on.
Meanwhile, Jana glanced at the clock and wondered how quickly she could end the call without offending her mother. “Look, Mom, I hate to cut you off, but I’m having someone I met at work over for dinner tonight. Tell Dad I love him.”
Then she hung up before her mother could start the usual inquisition about anyone Jana hung out with these days. Normally, she would be happy to know Jana was dating someone, but she wouldn’t be at all pleased to know Emmett was a bartender much less that he’d spent fifteen years in prison. It wouldn’t matter in the least that he’d been wrongly convicted. Considering this was only their second official date, there was no reason to stir that particular hornets’ nest yet.
Speaking of things her parents wouldn’t approve of, Jana had some definite ideas on how she hoped this evening would play out. Four days—and four lonely nights—had passed since she and Emmett had indulged in that scorching-hot make-out session on the hood of her car. Even now, her body ached from the need to finish what they’d started. She couldn’t remember the last time a man’s touch had affected her so strongly, and she’d tried without success to figure out what it was about Emmett that drew her. Maybe it was because he’d been dragged through hell and walked out on the other side with his basic decency and honor intact.
Of course, those broad shoulders and that great ass didn’t hurt, either. Okay, that was enough fantasizing for now. The man himself would be there soon, and she needed to check on dinner. A peek in the oven showed the stuffed pork chops were coming along nicely, and the blueberry pie she’d made earlier was cooling on the counter.
Jana was putting the finishing touches on the salad when the doorbell rang. Emmett was a few minutes early. She stopped in the entryway to check her appearance in the mirror. As soon as she opened the door, she wished she’d used the time to look through the peephole instead. If she’d known it was her sister, she wouldn’t have opened the door.
Well, yes, she would have, but she might have taken a few extra seconds to think of an excuse to keep her from coming inside. She pasted what she hoped was a friendly smile on her face and said, “Hi, Sis, what’s up?”
“I was driving by and thought I’d stop.” Marta attempted to push past her. When Jana stood her ground, Marta tried to see around her. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
Jana planted herself right in the doorway and refused to give an inch. “No, and I’m guessing Mom called and asked you to rush over here to spy on me.”
Her older sister had the good grace to blush. “She said you were having someone over for dinner, someone you obviously didn’t want to tell her about.”
Her mother was right. “I would remind you both that I’m a grown woman and capable of choosing my own friends. I’m also entitled to my privacy.”
Marta’s own temper slipped a little. “And you know she worries because you shut us all out of so much of your life.”
That might be true, but what could they expect when all they did was criticize? Even if their hearts were in the right place, it got old. “I get that, Marta, and I’m sorry, but you need to leave. I have dinner in the oven and a guest due to arrive any minute.”
Before Marta could respond, a familiar truck pulled up in front of the house. Damn, she’d really hoped to shoo her sister away before Emmett arrived, but he’d already started up the sidewalk, a bottle of wine in his hand. His steps slowed as his gaze flickering between her and her sister. No doubt he was picking up on the tension shimmering between them. Jana started to say something, but leave it to Marta to jump right in and take the initiative.
She held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Marta, Jana’s older sister. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Emmett shifted the wine to his left hand to shake Marta’s. “No, we haven’t. I’m Emmett, a friend of Jana’s.”
“I can see that.” Marta gave the wine a curious look before turning back to Jana. “Well, I won’t intrude on your evening plans any longer. How about we meet at the coffee shop at ten on Saturday? We’re overdue for some girl talk.”
Great, nothing like an inquisition. “I’ll be there.”
Marta at least had the good manners to smile at Emmett as she left. “It was nice meeting you, Emmett. I hope to see you again. You’ll have to make Jana bring you the next time the family gets together. Then you can meet the whole clan.”
Jana noticed his answering smile had a sharp edge to it. “It was nice meeting you, but I’ll leave it up to your sister if she ever wants to invite me. Have a nice evening.”
Then he moved to stand next to Jana as her sister walked away. He made no effort to touch her, but she appreciated his solid presence right next to her. She waved at Marta one last time before heading into the house. Emmett closed the door and threw the dead bolt.
“Sorry about that. They worry about me because they don’t much like where I work.”
Emmett set the bottle on a nearby table and immediately wrapped her in his arms. “No apologies are necessary. It may have been a while since I had to face a girl’s family, but I’m guessing the basics haven’t changed. They feel protective of you, and maybe they have the right of it. No one wants their daughter dating an ex-con.”
Okay, that pissed her off. She let him see a bit of her temper by poking him in the chest with her finger. “A couple of things, mister. First, they’re not just protective, they’re over-the-top protective. Second, I won’t let anyone else disparage my opinion of you, not even you. Got that?”
He caught her hand before she could poke him again and brought her finger up to his lips for a kiss. “Got it.”
He offered her a crooked smile. “So are we still on for dinner? I hope so, because something smells awfully good.”
“Yes, we’re going to have dinner.” She led him into the kitchen. “At least we will if I didn’t let the pork chops burn. While I get everything on the table, why don’t you open the wine? I don’t know about you, but I could use a glass about now.”