Authors: Kristine Mason
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General, #Contemporary Women
Jenna Cooper scanned the restaurant’s lobby and bar again. Tonight would be her first girl’s night out since her best friend, Darci Farraday, had become engaged to Nate Davenport last month, and they had much to discuss. Like what Jenna should do about her search for a sex buddy. Yeah, right. Make that what she should do about her fantasy man, Luke Sinclair. No, not good. Mentioning Luke and sex buddy in the same conversation would only add fuel to Darci’s Cupid fire, and the Cupid wannabe already had enough arrows to sling.
Tired of waiting and a little worried, Jenna decided to call Darci to see if she was on her way. As she reached for her cell phone, a warm, calloused hand slid along her arm, sending sensual sparks over her skin. Startled, she looked at the hand, then at the man.
Jenna blinked. She’d just been thinking about him and poof, here he stood, in the flesh, and looking yummier than ever. She loved how his dark brown chinos rode low on his lean hips, and the way his loose, short sleeved, black shirt couldn’t hide his muscular chest and impressive biceps. Oh yeah, yummy enough she’d forgo the filet she’d had her heart set on and go straight for dessert — if Luke happened to be on the menu.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “I thought Nate said you and Darci had plans tonight.”
“We did…we do,” she floundered, because the man had a way of making both her mouth and heart stutter. “You know Darci, she’s always late. What are you doing here?”
Realization hit her with hurricane force.
She’d been set up.
Hadn’t she told Darci just this morning that she didn’t want Luke for a no-strings boy toy? Okay, so she did, but still. Her friend knew she’d wanted no emotional involvement with a man. And with Luke, she could see herself becoming emotionally involved. Killer looks, killer personality — talk about double trouble.
“So you’re meeting Darci,” Luke said. “And I’m supposed to meet Nate. At the same restaurant, at the same time…”
She folded her arms across her chest. “And neither one of them are here.”
“Don’t be crabby,” he said with a grin.
She wanted to melt. Luke had
sexiest smile. “I’m not crabby. I’m starving.”
He shrugged. “So let’s eat.”
Before she could reply, the hostess approached. “Jenna, party of two?”
“That’s us,” Luke said, took Jenna’s hand, and followed the hostess.
After they made their way to the table, Jenna
scooted into the plush, leather booth. The restaurant’s dim lighting, along with the sultry, jazzy music playing, made for a cozy, romantic setting. But this wasn’t a date, it was a set up. And why didn’t Darci’s matchmaking seem to bother Luke? Probably because they were friends, she supposed. Or maybe he felt sorry for her, which would be the worst-case scenario. She’d rather sit home alone, rearranging her hutch, than go on a pity date. Talk about
Their server placed a basket of rolls on the table, then asked, “Would you care for a drink, or perhaps I can help you choose a bottle of wine?”
“Jenna, what would you like?” Luke asked.
“Um, want to share a bottle of Pinot Grigio?” Pity date or not, at this point, she couldn’t jump up and leave without being rude. Besides, she honestly didn’t want to. She’d take whatever time she could with Luke. He was a wicked combination of everything she wanted in a man, along with everything she didn’t. Sexy and smart, all pluses. Player and heartbreaker, all negatives. He and guys like him, were the main reason she searched for a boy toy to play with for the rest of the summer. She’d missed sex, but not the relationship drama.
As the server filled their glasses, Luke kept his eyes on her. His deliberate stare unnerved her, intensified the feelings she’d fought hard to ignore since first meeting him. She wanted him, regardless of his past, regardless of their future.
But would he want you if he knew about your wild past?
Luke raised his glass. “To us,” he said.
Had the heat wave plaguing Cleveland messed with his head? There was no “us.”
“You mean, to us getting even with Darci and Nate. If you haven’t figured it out yet, my darling friend has a bit of a Cupid complex and is always trying —”
“About that,” he interrupted. “This wasn’t Darci’s idea, it was mine.”
First the cryptic toast. Now he admitted to intentionally switching places with Darci. None of this made any sense. In the four months she’d known him, he’d never once shown any interest in her. Zilch. Nada. She’d assumed his lack of interest had something to do with her lack of promiscuity, coupled with her tight friendship to his best friend’s fiancée.
Confused, she asked, “What are you talking about? Why would you switch places with Darci?”
He captured her hand, then rubbed the rough pad of his thumb along her knuckles. The subtle movement sent a spark of sensual heat straight between her legs. “Answer me honestly, if I had asked you out to dinner, would you have accepted?”
“I…of course, we’re friends.”
“Yes, but what if I told you I wanted more.”
Luke wasn’t a relationship kind of guy. As a sex buddy, though, he’d be the perfect man for the job. A known commitment-phobe, known player, she’d be guaranteed hot sex with no-strings. And because they were friends, she wouldn’t have to worry about him treating her like crap. Could he actually be proposing what she’d hoped for? Comfortable, compatible, no-strings sex without a messy relationship?
Unsure, she drew in a deep breath, and carefully weighed her words. “I think more could be nice…depending on what more means to you.”
He grinned and twined his fingers through hers. “Okay, we can play it safe. How much do you know about me?”
She raised her shoulders. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Come on, don’t give me that BS. I know women. I know they talk. And I know Nate. I’m sure between him and Darci —”
“I don’t need either of them to tell me about the kind of man you are, if that’s what you’re implying.
Because I already know you’re a great guy. Career driven, hard working, generous, you’re loyal to your family and friends, volunteer your time…am I missing something?”
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “No, Jenna, it’s me. I’m afraid of missing something.
I set you up tonight because I worried you might not go out with me if I’d asked you on my own.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry about that, and I hope you’re not mad, but I wanted to have a chance to talk. Alone.”
“I’m not mad. I guess I just don’t understand why.”
He blew out a deep breath. “I want you.”
Her stomach somersaulted. You wanted this, she reminded herself. No-strings sex. No emotional involvement. But could she maintain that kind of attitude with Luke?
When she shifted her gaze to his, the hunger in his eyes sent a shock of excitement straight to her core. He leaned forward, she did the same. The table stood in the way of melting into every hot male inch of his hard body.
“I’m not the greatest catch.”
So not true
“I’m sure you’ve heard how I am…was with women.”
She shook her head. “What you do and whoever you do it with isn’t any of my business.”
“That’s what I like about you. You’re always ready to accept people for who they are. I’m no saint. And I know I’ve, ah…been with a lot of women.” He took both of her hands in his. “I want to date you…exclusively.”
He might as well have poured ice water down her dress. She hadn’t expected him to say anything that hinted at dating. Sex, hell yeah. But dating? Exclusively? No way.
She didn’t want to date. Dating led to emotions she didn’t have time for. It also led to heartbreak, something she wouldn’t allow — especially after the way her last relationship had ended. She cleared her throat and attempted to pull her hands from his, but he held her firm.
“For the record, I haven’t been with anyone since we met. I haven’t wanted to…because of you.”
Aliens must have taken control of Luke’s mind. Never in a million years would she have expected this notorious commitment-phobe to want to date her exclusively or even admit that he hadn’t had sex in four months.
“You’re gorgeous and fun and probably way too nice for a guy like me, but I’d love to have a chance.”
If only he knew the half of it. Nice, chaste, and wholesome were not words people from her past would have used to describe her.
“Is this how you usually ask out a woman?”
He shook his head and half-smiled, half-laughed. “No, but I’ve never met a woman like you. And I want to be completely honest.” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve wanted to ask you out a dozen times since we’ve met, but because of my reputation I thought for sure you’d take everything I said or did as a way to get in your pants…not that I don’t want to.”
What would h
e say if she’d told him she’d been just as bad? Talk about two peas in a pod. A nervous bubble of laughter caught in her throat. “So you want to get in my pants, huh?”
“Honestly? Yeah, I do. Only when the time’s right.
I want us to date, but I want to prove myself to you. We’re friends and you have no idea how much I value that. I respect you and because of that respect, I don’t want to screw things up with…with…sex.”
“Okay, so let’s get this straight. You want to date, but leave out the physical side of things.”
“Right. For now. Until when?”
He frowned. “I, uh, I guess until I can prove to you that I can be in a monogamous relationship?”
“Is that a question or an answer? Never mind.” She shook her head. “And then what?”
“Hell, Jenna, I don’t know.”
Luke released a deep sigh. Damn, this wasn’t going the way he’d planned.
“I’m not going to lie. I told you I want you. Every inch.” Man, did he ever. When he’d first met her, he’d been immediately attracted to her long legs, slender curves, and bewitching hazel eyes. But as he’d come to know her, he’d realized she was more than a gorgeous package, and nothing like the manipulative, promiscuous women of his past.
Sensing he needed to give her space, he released her hand and leaned into the booth. “I didn’t bring up my past relationships to give you some sort of sexual resume. Trust me. It’s not something I’m proud of. Like I said, I want honesty between us. You’re a good woman. You deserve a good man. I want to prove I can be that man, without letting sex get in the way. Will you let me?”
She didn’t say anything. Instead, she tossed a lock of blonde hair over her shoulder, then crossed her arms over her chest. A cute, little L dimpled between her eyebrows, and her plump, pink lips twisted in an adorable pout. She didn’t look pissed, but she didn’t look pleased, either.
Maybe he’d moved too fast, too soon. He hadn’t planned on it, but she’d had this vindictive look in her eyes when she’d spoken about Darci and Nate setting them up, and he couldn’t let the blame fall on their shoulders. After all, he’d been the one who had convinced Darci to let him take her place tonight.
Then there was her sex buddy stuff.
Today, while he and Jenna were at Darci’s, helping her finish a few remodeling jobs before she put her house on the market, he’d overheard Jenna and Darci talking. Jenna flat-out told Darci she didn’t want a relationship, but a boy toy, a friend with benefits. Although shocked, he’d understood where Jenna was coming from. She’d been working on her Ph.D. in psychology while counseling kids at St. Michael’s Youth Center, and didn’t have time for a serious relationship.
As he’d listened — ear glued to the woodwork — he’d nearly fallen through the open door when Darci had suggested
as a prime candidate for Jenna’s sex buddy. He’d held his breath, waiting for her answer, then choked on disappointment when she’d quickly knocked him out of the running, saying something about him never showing any interest in her.
Because of his interest in her, he’d kept his hands to himself and his eyes off her killer curves. At the time, telling himself that doing the friendship thing first was the right way to proceed with a woman like Jenna. He swore she didn’t have a promiscuous bone in her body, and since he suspected she knew about his reputation, he wanted to earn her trust. Afraid if he moved too fast, she might think he was only after a one-night-stand. She deserved better than that, deserved better than some no-strings, boy toy too.
She finally unfolded her arms, then reached for her wine. Before she took a sip, she puffed her bangs. Perfect. That little habit of hers, something he’d noticed when they’d first met, meant she was dwelling and contemplating.
He reached for his own glass. So she wanted no-strings sex. No emotional ties. And he offered her the opposite.
He wanted sex too, but he wanted to tangle her up in his heart before they tangled up the sheets. He needed to. He’d never had a relationship without sex as the primary focus. Now that he thought about it, sex had always been the sole focus. And once the fun had ended, or his latest conquest had demanded more from him, he had always headed for the door in search of his next playmate.