Authors: Isabel Sharpe
Tags: #Checking E-Males
“Shower later. You and me now…”
“You smell delicious,” Troy whispered as he kissed Darcy’s bare shoulder, the base of her neck, her throat. “I want you now. No waiting…”
His hunger grew as he undid his jeans, pushing until they fell to his ankles and then stepping out of them. Finally, he found her mouth, wrapped her tightly in his arms and lifted her, making her clutch at his shoulders and moan against his lips.
She wanted him, this stunning, incredibly hot, mysterious woman. She wasn’t as indifferent as her methodical striptease had suggested.
His ego swelled along with other parts.
He was going to make this good for her, good enough to break through that iron control.
So what if she hadn’t told him anything about herself? She’d tell him plenty with her body by the time this night was over….
Have you ever locked eyes with a stranger and felt deep emotion you can’t explain away as simple attraction? Given that love develops over time, that it involves two people knowing and accepting each other completely, the concept of love at first sight seems dubious. But how else to explain that intense reaction?
For beautiful restaurateur Darcy Clark and sexy techguy/triathlete Troy Cahill, the third and final hero and heroine of my Checking E-Males miniseries, this thunderbolt of desire leaves them with no clue how to fit all the new and tempestuous emotions into what they think they know about love and relationships. It was great fun to watch them squirm and try to avoid the obvious truth. Also in this book, our beloved master matchmaker, Marie, owner of Milwaukeedates.com, gets another stab at convincing the charming Quinn Peters that she doesn’t remind him of his sister after all…
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series,
Turn Up the Heat
Long Slow Burn,
and that you’ll consider
Hot to the Touch
an appropriate send-off for Candy, Kim, Darcy and Marie. I’ll really miss these women!
HOT TO THE TOUCH
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Isabel Sharpe was not born pen in hand like so many of her fellow writers. After she quit work to stay home with her firstborn son and nearly went out of her mind, she started writing. After more than twenty novels for Harlequin—along with another son—Isabel is more than happy with her choice these days. She loves hearing from readers. Write to her at www.IsabelSharpe.com.
Books by Isabel Sharpe
11—THE WILD SIDE
76—A TASTE OF FANTASY
126—TAKE ME TWICE
162—BEFORE I MELT AWAY
221—ALL I WANT…
244—WHAT HAVE I DONE FOR ME LATELY?
“The Nights Before Christmas”
376—MY WILDEST RIDE
444—NO HOLDING BACK
533—WHILE SHE WAS SLEEPING…
595—TURN UP THE HEAT
606—LONG SLOW BURN
619—HOT TO THE TOUCH
To Sienna, Ruby and Leia,
who have made life so much cheerier.
“CAN WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING other than men?” Darcy flipped back her dark hair, an impatient scowl marring her beautiful features. “I think I’m getting heartburn.”
Across the table, Marie Hewitt watched her carefully. Every month the four of them, restaurant owner and chef Darcy Clark, plus web designer Kim Horton, event planner Candy Graham and herself, CEO of Milwaukeedates.com, gathered for this third-Wednesday breakfast meeting of Women in Power, Milwaukee’s organization of female business owners. Since Marie started her matchmaking campaign in January for her three younger, never-married friends, Candy and Kim had fallen. Candy and Justin Case had become engaged back in February on a wonderful if slightly out of control Valentine’s day. Nathan Alexander had asked Kim to marry him the previous month, on April fifteenth, her thirtieth birthday.
Until now, Darcy had seemed genuinely thrilled for them, though stubbornly resistant to any and all attempts to entice her into signing up for Marie’s online dating company in order to find her own happiness. Could her sudden irritability have anything to do with envy? Was she finally cracking, and would a little of her suppressed longing for love start oozing out? Marie was counting on that happening eventually. Darcy’s I-hate-men act might fool some people, but the more she saw, the less Marie was buying it.
“Sorry.” Kim put her hand on Darcy’s arm, eyes warm with contrition. “I know Candy and I are being nauseating going on about wedding plans when we’re all here to talk business. Tell us how life was last month in the restaurant world. Though I keep hearing people raving about Gladiolas so I probably don’t need to ask how it’s doing.”
“Things are okay.” Darcy settled her coffee mug back on the table. “Do you all remember Raoul?”
Kim made a disgusted face. “The slimeball you fired? The one who was having the affair with the married waitress, stole from the restaurant and came on to you to try and get professional favors?”
Darcy nodded grimly. “Yup. That slimeball.”
“What about him?” Marie went on alert. “He’s not still trying to land you, is he?”
“Worse. He’s starting his own restaurant. Emphasis on local and organic while keeping prices affordable. A short, seasonal menu and daily specials with whimsical names. Sound familiar?”
“Sounds exactly like Gladiolas.” Candy looked helplessly furious. “What a scum. That is disgusting.”
“Ya think?” Darcy shrugged. “Who knows, word has it his investor might back out. I hope so.”
“We all hope so,” Candy said. “But if he doesn’t, after the restaurant opens we’ll plant roaches and rats in the kitchen, then report Raoul to the health inspector.”
“Oh, good one.” Kim patted Candy’s shoulder affectionately. “How about I post viciously negative reviews all over the internet?”
“Very nice, Kim.” Marie smiled her approval. “I’ll book the whole place every night and then cancel at the last minute.”
“Thanks, guys.” Darcy grinned warmly. It was great to see her smile. She didn’t do so often enough. “Look, I didn’t mean to rain on the wedding parade before. I don’t know where that came from. PMS probably.”
Marie smirked. PMS? Nuh-uh. Though Darcy would probably be the last to figure it out.
“No, no, you were absolutely right.” Candy gracefully waved away the apology; Justin’s ring, which he’d planted in a delivery pizza, flashed on her left hand. “We were being disgusting. You and Marie must be ready to scream.”
“Not me.” Marie pulled off the crisp end of her croissant and spread jam on it. “I’m delighted. And I know Darcy is, too.”
“Yes. I really am.” Darcy nodded emphatically. “If you guys are happy that’s—”
“However, she is also ragingly jealous.” Marie bit casually into her pastry, counting down to Darcy’s anticipated explosion. Three…two…one…
“Jealous!” Darcy cracked up too loudly. “Oh, right. Deep down I really want my own self-centered man-child keeping me enslaved for the rest of my life.”
She laughed again harshly, grabbed her mug and gripped it between her palms as if it was her salvation.
“Jeez, Darcy.” Candy frowned at her. “Could you turn up the bitterness a little more? I’m not sure it’s coming across.”
“Nathan and Justin aren’t like that.” Kim’s soft tone was uncharacteristically firm.
“They’re all like that.” Darcy’s voice broke. She jerked the mug to her lips and took a sip.
“Not all of them.” Marie spoke gently, heart aching for her friend. Would Darcy ever admit she needed someone in her life to help share her burdens, to help her open up and trust again? Would she ever admit that in the midst of a full and successful life she was isolated and lonely? “With the right man, you’ll never feel that you’re—”
“No.” Darcy held up her hand. “I’m not going there, Marie. Find someone else if you need to keep foisting women onto lonely men. I like my freedom, making my own decisions. I take care of myself and of Gladiolas. I don’t have time or energy for another guy to make the whole relationship about him and his needs, and to hell with mine.”
“I understand.” Marie waited a beat, then met Kim’s blue eyes, which were helpless with worry, and Candy’s brown ones, dark with frustration. She smiled reassuringly. They’d get Darcy to fall somehow, sooner or later.
Maybe not overtly, by making her an appointment at Milwaukeedates.com, the way Marie had been able to with Candy and Kim. Maybe not by making reasonable overtures and putting forth reasonable logic. Some other method.
The Women in Power president came to the podium and called the room to order. Members finished sentences and cups of coffee, turned their chairs and settled in to pay attention.
Marie folded her arms on the table, her gaze focused on the back of Darcy’s dark head. There would be some chink, some fault line, some way into the warmth and passion Darcy kept bottled up out of fear, and Marie was going to find it, no matter how much resistance Darcy mustered.
She lowered her brows thoughtfully, imagining the profile she’d love to put up for Darcy on Milwaukeedates.com. Men would fall all over themselves wanting her. Eventually the right one would come along, a man strong and secure enough to let Darcy be the woman she needed to be, if only Darcy would give him a chance.
The president introduced the morning’s speaker and with the applause the glimmer of an idea rose into Marie’s mind and floated enticingly, even as she knew she’d have to reject it for ethical reasons.
Though when it came to Darcy, maybe ethics were beside the point. Maybe the only way Marie could win this battle against stubborn denial was to get stubborn herself. Stubborn and persistent.
Stubborn, persistent and willing to fight dirty.