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Authors: Dawn Atkins

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Friendly Persuasion

BOOK: Friendly Persuasion
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“May I join you, señorita?”
An accented voice whispered close to Kara’s ear.

She glanced at the man, then did a double take. “Ross? What are you doing—?”

“I do not know this Ross person. My name is Miguel. I am a stranger here in your city and I am, sadly, alone.”

“You’re what?” She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Ross had smoothed back his hair, bought a stylish suit and now was pretending not to know her. He looked so hot, so sexy, and he wasn’t teasing.

“How is it that a woman so beautiful is alone on such a night as this?”

“I was waiting,” she said, then paused for effect. “For you.”

She almost laughed at the B-movie line, but then Ross—Miguel—looked into her eyes and said, “I’m so happy.”

At that, she did the most amazing thing. She took him by the lapels, pulled him close and planted her lips on him. He made a sound low in his throat and kissed her back, a hot, steamy kiss.

She broke off the kiss and gasped, “Is there somewhere we could go?”

Dear Reader,

Falling in love too fast—that’s Kara’s trouble, along with thinking that sex equals love. What better way to overcome the problem than having sex with an incredible lover she couldn’t possibly fall in love with? Her best male friend, Ross Gabriel, fits the bill perfectly. He’s the opposite of the steady, responsible, appropriate man she knows she’ll eventually settle down with. With Ross, she’ll learn to enjoy sex without complicating it with all that love stuff, right?

Wrong. The heart doesn’t care about steady and responsible and appropriate. The heart just chooses. And Kara’s heart chooses Ross. It takes the rest of her a while to catch up….

This was my first Harlequin Blaze novel, and I had fun describing the sexy games Ross and Kara played. I loved seeing her explore and take charge of her erotic nature, with Ross’s eager help.

And Ross…whew, what a honey—a dream lover—imaginative and energetic and sensitive. This poor boy took a while to realize this was the best sex of his life not because of the fantasies but because he was in love. Duh. The man was so dedicated to having fun, he was afraid to notice he’d outgrown his old life until Kara pointed it out to him.

I hope you find Ross and Kara’s story as fun and sexy and tender as it seemed to me.

All my best,

Dawn Atkins

Books by Dawn Atkins
HARLEQUIN TEMPTATION
871—THE COWBOY FLING

895—LIPSTICK ON HIS COLLAR

HARLEQUIN DUETS
77—ANCHOR THAT MAN!

91—WEDDING FOR ONE
TATTOO FOR TWO

FRIENDLY PERSUASION
Dawn Atkins

For my husband, David…
my own perfect stranger and best friend
Contents
1
“J
UST BECAUSE YOU’RE SLEEPING
with a guy doesn’t mean you have to pick out china patterns,” Kara’s best friend said, pointing her nearly drained Fuzzy Navel in Kara’s direction. “Stop channeling your mother. Sex does not equal love.”
Kara Collier sighed at the lecture. “I can’t help it. I’m a serious person. I want a serious relationship.” She downed the last dollop of her frozen prickly-pear margarita and licked the rim of the glass—salty as tears.

“You always rush things,” Tina continued. “You did the same thing with Brian. And a year ago it was Paul. What happened this time with Scott?”

“I just asked him if he’d like a drawer—for convenience, you know, to keep a change of clothes when he stays over—and he accused me of trying to smother him.”

“Affection-miser,” Tina declared. “I was afraid of that.”

“Not another
Cosmo
quiz.”

“Experts write those surveys.”

“Did you really think Scott and I wouldn’t have worked out?” Kara asked, filled with gloom.

Tina nodded. “Sorry. I might have been wrong. Sometimes I am.”

“I didn’t see it. Once I sleep with a guy everything changes. My mind starts running with plans and dreams. Maybe I should just stay away from men.”

“Celibacy’s a possibility, I guess,” Tina said, her expression doubtful. She tipped her glass to collect a mouthful of ice. Kara braced for the crunching. What did they say about ice crunchers being sexually repressed? That couldn’t be the reason in Tina’s case. She was the most sexually liberated woman Kara knew.

“The only problem,” Kara said, “is that after a while without a man I get kind of—” she squirmed in her seat and leaned closer to finish “—
itchy.
You know?”

“You mean horny, Kara. Just say it.
Horny.

“That’s such a crude word.”

“Crude but accurate.” Tina shrugged, her spaghetti strap sagging over her pretty shoulder. Tina wore her dark hair curved close to her face. She had petite features and a bow of a mouth—Betty Boop with a smart-ass answer for everything.

“Can I get you ladies something?” Tom, their favorite bartender at the Upside, shot them his darling half smile—Mona Lisa if she’d been a man.

“Yes, you can, Tom,” Tina said. “You can get my friend here a new attitude about sex.”

Kara’s face heated. “Tina,” she warned, knowing it was pointless to try to get Tina to hold back.

“Not my specialty,” Tom said. “I can, however, get you another prickly-pear margarita and a Fuzzy Navel, double ice.” Tom always remembered what they were drinking, even though they made a point of trying different things during their weekly wind-down happy hour. They went Tuesdays or Fridays, depending on how hectic things were at work. Today was Tuesday.

“Not his specialty, my ass,” Tina muttered. “That man has sex god written all over him…from that gorgeous head of hair to those size-twelve feet. And you know what they say about the size of a man’s feet.”

“Everything isn’t about size, Tina. Or sex.”

“Prove it,” she said, then glanced at her watch. “Where’s Ross? I want to ask him about the Emerson campaign.”

“He was finishing the sketches for the beer company pitch.” Ross was a graphic artist who worked as an art director at Siegel and Sampson Marketing, the ad agency where Kara was an account manager and Tina a copywriter. He joined them for a drink most Upside nights and was due any minute. He was also Kara’s best male friend.

“You should take lessons from Ross and me and have sex for sex’s sake,” Tina continued, “instead of wearing your heart on your parts.”

“You have such a way with words,” Kara said. “And that’s not fair. I try to take it slow, but when the guy seems right, I can’t help but think ahead. I don’t want to invest emotional energy in something that’s going nowhere.”

Kara lived by her goals—in every aspect of her life. Added to that was her parents’ divorce when she was sixteen. She’d concluded her mother had married the wrong man and the lesson seemed clear—choose men with care…and with your future in mind.

“You’re either picking the wrong men or rushing the right ones,” Tina concluded, her eyes on Tom, who was bending to get something from a low shelf. “What a great butt,” she mused wistfully. “The quiet ones are deep, you know. And Tom’s so alert. Think of all that attention in bed. Mmm-mmm-mmm.” She drummed her highly decorated nails on the bar.

“Could we focus on my problem here?” Kara said.

“Oh, right.” Tina shook herself, then turned her big eyes on Kara, crossing her curvy legs with a quick movement. “Sorry. Talking about sex gets me thinking about sex. Like looking in a bakery window discussing the éclairs. You gotta have one.”

“I may choose the wrong men,” Kara said, “but at least I choose. Don’t you ever want to settle down?”

“Someday, maybe. Maybe not. I see no point in gluing myself to a guy. When he rips away, you’re a blob of jelly at his feet. I’m not doing that.”

“Why are you so sure he’ll rip away?”

“Because that’s how it works. I tried clinging once. In high school I fell hard and it was a disaster.”

“High school is Hurt Central.”

“It’s a proving ground. Lessons for life.” Tina frowned. The topic seemed to bother her. “But that’s me. Let’s get back to you.” Tina tapped her lip. “Okay. Without a man, you get horny, right? Then handle your horniness. Buy a vibrator. When you itch, you scratch. Simple.”

Kara shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way with me. I need another person for my, um, equipment, to work. I never know where the guy’s going to touch me next, so it’s always a surprise. When it’s just me, it’s boring.”

“You’re missing out on a good time,” Tina said. “It’s the electronics age, baby.” She pretended to smoke a cigar and wiggle her brows à la Groucho Marx. “At least check out that naughty lingerie store by the doughnut shop.”

“I don’t think a gadget’s the answer.”

“So maybe it’s lack of experience. How many men have you slept with, anyway?”

“Not that many,” she admitted. There’d been two relationships in college, and in the eight years since, just four men, including the three Tina had mentioned. Kara had dated other men, but not long enough for sex to happen…and complicate things.

She’d chosen stable men with relationship potential, but somehow they weren’t quite ready or they had commitment issues or mother issues or just plain issues. “I tried to go slow—I waited six months this time—but I just got too…”

“Itchy?”

“Yeah. And Scott was there and he seemed so perfect.” He was the attorney for one of their clients.

“He only
seemed
perfect. You were itchy when you met him. That’s like going to a grocery store when you’re hungry. You bring home all kinds of nasty things you’d normally never look at twice.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Kara said. “So what should I do about it?”

“Change your thinking,” Tina said. “Having sex simply means two people care enough about each other to share physical pleasure. Period. Sex is a healthy release, not an engagement party.”

Tina made sense. Kara wanted to be sexually liberated, but in her heart of hearts, she was a traditionalist. You got close to someone, had sex, fell in love and got married—or at least moved in together—in quick order. “But I want it to be more than that.”

“When you’re ready, it can mean happily ever after, I guess. But you’re not ready, Kara. You just think you should be. Do you even miss Scott?”

“Not exactly.” Especially not sexually. He liked things in a certain order and almost timed—five minutes of kissing, five minutes of breast and penis work, two minutes of thrusting, then bingo. She wasn’t exactly a tigress in bed and she preferred the man to take the lead, but she’d tried different things—climbing on top, doing a little striptease—and Scott seemed more annoyed than titillated, so she figured she wasn’t doing it right. She wasn’t that experienced in the variety department…and, okay, maybe a little inhibited.

Tina looked past Kara’s shoulder. “Here comes Tom with our drinks. I think he and I, rubbed together, would make nice sparks. Let me show you how it’s done.”

Tom set their drinks on napkins and smoothly slid them forward. “Need anything else?”

“Funny you should ask,” Tina said, leaning forward, deepening her cleavage. “I was wondering what you do after work. For fun, I mean.”

“Usually I go home and go to bed.”

“Sounds interesting. Alone?”

He gave her that mysterious smile. Kara could see his appeal. He was clean-cut and gently handsome with a broad, solid frame.

“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” Tina said.

He shrugged. “If you mean what do I do on my days off, I like quiet things.”

“Me, too,” Tina said, which was a lie, Kara knew.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Well, what quiet things are we talking about?” Tina stirred her drink very slowly, her eyes glued to Tom.

“For me, it’s sailing. I have a small boat I take to the lake.”

“Sounds nice. Water and waves and rocking.” She lifted a straw full of drink and let it slide into the side of her mouth, a gesture just this side of suggestive. “I always wanted to learn to sail.”

He shook his head. “Your nails are too nice.” He patted her hand, then moved away, leaving Tina open-mouthed, her straw poised in midair.

“So that’s how it’s done, huh?” Kara teased.

“He blew me off.” She sounded more mystified than wounded. “I swear there were definite vibes.”

They watched Tom pour bourbon into a glass for someone at the other end of the bar, completely ignoring them.

“Maybe I’m not his type,” Tina continued. “Maybe he goes for blond bombshells with exotic eyes like you.”

“Please.” Tina had convinced Kara to ditch her glasses for contacts because her uptilted eyes were “unique.” Kara knew her figure was decent, but she was far from a bombshell, and she had to watch what she ate to keep her hips under control. As for her hair, it was blond, but so unmanageable she often pulled it back into a ponytail or a twist in the librarian look Tina never failed to malign.

“Why don’t you go for it?” Tina urged.

“Because he’s not my type. We’d have nothing in common.”

“That’s the whole point. You need to sleep with someone you can’t possibly fall in love with. Someone sexy as hell but all wrong for you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. If not Tom—and I have first dibs on him—someone like… I don’t know. Let me see.” She looked around the bar, which held a number of attractive men, since it was a popular singles watering hole. “These guys are all business types. You need somebody less responsible, more of a bad boy. Someone like…”

The bar door opened and, as if on cue, Ross Gabriel walked in.

“Ross!” Tina declared. “He’d be perfect!”

“Ross? He’s my friend. My good friend.” Kara loved nothing better than to hang out in the art department exchanging cheap shots and jokes with Ross. They were known to finish each other’s sentences. She couldn’t have sex with him.

He was cute, though, she noted, watching him swagger in, blinking at the sudden dimness. Kara had been instantly attracted to him when she’d started work at S&S, until she discovered he was just an overgrown boy—Peter Pan with a sex life. He was her age—twenty-nine—but he lived in a funky apartment in a dangerous part of town, his only transportation an ancient motorcycle and a battered bike. He considered a kegger in the desert to be high entertainment, and, despite talent, intelligence and a terrific way with clients, he was perfectly content to remain an art director at S&S, designing ads, not overseeing anything or anyone, until they closed shop.

But it was more than his lifestyle. He was a babe magnet. And Kara was too ordinary to be considered a babe. Ross would never say that, but she’d read it in his face and that took care of any desire to flirt she’d had.

Right now, he’d barely gotten inside the bar and was already talking to a woman. He had an easygoing, bad-boy-who-brings-his-mom-flowers way about him that women warmed to. He made you feel really seen, and he was an excellent listener. It was a routine, probably, since Ross looked after Ross and never went far beneath the surface, but the blonde on the bar stool was interested, Kara could see by her open body language.

“So what if he’s a friend?” Tina asked. “He’s hot. He’s experienced. And you could never fall in love with him.”

“You got that right,” she said, watching the woman write something—her number, no doubt—and hand the paper to Ross, with an extra touch of his sleeve. How did he do it? He was indifferent about fashion and tended not to comb his dark, longish hair, though he always managed to look arty. On him, stubble looked charming.

Could
she sleep with him? The idea gave her a sharp charge. This is
Ross,
she reminded herself. The brother she’d longed for as an only child. He was like Tina, but better in some ways. Tina told her what to do; Ross mostly listened. He gave her the male perspective on her breakups, until she ended up laughingly philosophical instead of morose.

He was also the guy who’d held her forehead in the S&S bathroom when she’d gotten sick on fish tacos, then driven her home and watched over her all night. Of course, he’d kept her awake with Three Stooges movies at top volume and consumed all her imported beer and impress-your-date pâté, but it was the thought that counted.

Meanwhile, Ross had caught sight of them and was headed their way with his great affable smile, which faded as he got closer. “What’d I do?” he asked, and Kara realized she and Tina had stared at him during his entire approach. “Is my fly down?” He checked his zipper.

BOOK: Friendly Persuasion
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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