Authors: Sheri WhiteFeather
If she rubbed the rope against the wall behind her, would it fray?
With her heart thudding in her ears, she tried it. But all she could feel was the pain of her skin being scraped against a rough-hewn surface.
She winced, stopped the process and wished that everything wasn't so dark. She hated being blindfolded. She had no sense of place, no sense of time.
Was it morning? Or had she slept through the afternoon? Either way, she sensed that Jason wasn't coming back for a while. That he'd gotten sidetracked somewhere, leaving her alone.
Grateful that he wasn't nearby, she started rubbing her wrists against the wall again. She didn't care if she scraped every ounce of flesh off her arms. She had to cut through the rope. She had to get away.
And escape the demon that had kidnapped her.
DÃ©jÃ vu, Ethan thought.
He stood on his porch, a late-day breeze blowing his hair across his eyes. Susan arrived in a white sedan chauffeured by the same FBI agent who'd driven her to his house the night before.
She climbed out of the passenger seat, and the driver kept the car running. Was he waiting for her to collect her overnight bag she'd left in Ethan's bathroom?
He'd meant to call Ryan and ask if she could stay with him again, but he hadn't gotten the chance. After work, he'd come home, grabbed a beer and let the dogs out.
Then she'd showed up.
He noticed that she carried an oversize purse and her hair was tucked behind her ears. Unlike him, she wasn't wearing the same clothes she'd put on that morning. Instead, she'd changed into a stretchy pink top and wore sugary lipstick to match.
He wondered if she would taste like bubble gum. Or cotton candy. Or that sweet, decadent frosting the bakery put on their Valentine's Day cakes.
Chocolate ran to greet her, and Ethan contemplated the upcoming holiday. Should he buy her something? Or would that be pushing the boundaries of their relationship, of the friend-only agreement they'd made?
She ruffled the dog's fur, then looked up and caught Ethan's gaze. He pulled on his beer, taking a long, thirst-quenching drink.
When she approached him, he tried to act casual. “Are you here to get your stuff?” He waited a second. “Or to stay another night?”
“To stay.” She chewed her bottom lip, pulling the frosted pink color against her teeth. “If you don't mind.”
Was she kidding? “Of course I don't mind.” He sat on one of the creaky wooden steps, inviting her to join him.
She did, right before she signaled the federal agent, letting him know that he was free to go.
The car crept past the cabin and onto a back road. Ethan watched it disappear. “Did you really think I would turn you away?”
“No, but it doesn't hurt to ask andâ¦” She stalled, started over. “And it was my idea this time, not Ryan's.”
“Really?” He thought about Valentine's Day again,
about buying her a gift. Then he glanced at the dogs, grateful they were amusing themselves instead of demanding Susan's attention.
She shifted in her seat. “Ryan thinks we're going to fall in love, get married, the whole bit.”
He made a twisted face. “I suspected that Ryan felt that way.”
“Yeah. Didn't you?”
“He's been prodding me from the beginning. Teasing me about you. But I didn't expect him to bring up marriage, to be so convinced it's going to happen.”
He took a swig of his beer, then, a bit remiss, he offered the bottled draft to her. He hadn't meant to be a lousy host. When she declined the drink, he asked, “Did you set him straight?”
“I tried, but he refused to listen.”
Ethan gazed at the Fortune land, at the scatter of prairie grass, the wild shrubs and historic oaks that surrounded the cabin. There was no point in being angry with Ryan for wanting to find Susan a husband. The older man was battling for his own happily-ever-after. “His intentions are misguided, but he means well.”
“That's why I dropped it. Why I didn't keep pressing the issue. But it was probably my fault to begin withâ” She fumbled, nearly knocking her too-big purse off the step. “Considering what I told him.”
He frowned at her. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
No, he didn't. “You've lost me.”
This time she grabbed the bottle. “I want to have sex with you, Ethan.”
Silence. Two hearts pounding at the speed of light.
“Damn.” It was the only thing he could think of to say, the only response that popped into his befuddled brain. But it was a good damn. Damn good. “When?” he asked.
“Tonight.” She gulped the beer, putting her mouth where his had been.
He watched her. And got aroused. “Are you sure you want to be with me? Are you absolutely sure?”
She nodded, took another drink, swallowed.
He got even more turned-on, hard and hot and anxious. But he couldn't give in. Not yet. “What about you not having affairs anymore? What about all that stuff you told me?”
“It's not as if I'll be sleeping with a stranger. You're my friend. My old crush. The boy I always wanted.” She returned the beer. “But that doesn't mean I'm going to fall in love with you. I know the difference. I can handle it.”
“So can I.” Every fantasy he'd dared to dream about her was spinning in his mind.
Like cotton candy and bubble gum and Valentine icing.
He stood, helped her up. He would go crazy if he had to wait until tonight. “Let's go inside.”
She teetered on her feet. “You're making me dizzy. Tingly all over.”
“Good.” He pulled her into his arms, determined to hold her, to romance her, to peel off her clothes.
One sweet layer at a time.
usan scrambled for her purse.
“What's in there?” Ethan asked. “What's so important?”
She latched on to the leather handle. “Condoms.”
He grinned and spun her around. “How many boxes?”
“A lot.” Too many, she thought. But she wanted to be prepared, for as long as they were going to be lovers, for as long as their affair lasted.
He yanked her tight against him, and she could feel muscles bunching beneath his T-shirt. And his jeans, those frayed denims, proved how strong and solid and aroused he was.
He closed the cabin door, locking them inside. She
let go of her purse and noticed the sofa was pulled out, made into a bed, leftover from last night. She liked that he'd kept it that way.
But a moment later fear shot through her blood, making her shiver. Was she deceiving herself? Going back in time and becoming the old Susan?
He touched her cheek, let his hand linger. “What's wrong?”
“I have this urge to be wild. To do all sorts of crazy things to you. But it scares me, too.”
“You shouldn't repress your feelings, Susan.”
Memories assaulted her brain. “But I've worked so hard to be good.”
“This is different. You're not the troubled girl you used to be, and I'm not one of those other boys.” He leaned into her. “I've fantasized about you being wild for me. But I would never disrespect you for it. Not then and not now.” He rubbed his thumb across her lips, smearing her lipstick, just a little, just enough to make her heart catch. “I've craved you for over half my life.”
“Then let it happen.” He kissed her. The kiss they'd been waiting for. Seventeen years of pent-up lust, of boy-girl hunger, of the most incredible feeling in the world.
He tasted like sex and sin and warm saliva. His tongue swirled with hers, meeting, mating, making her limbs weak.
She gripped his shoulders, and he pulled her even closer, cupping her bottom, dragging her hips against his, creating friction, the way he'd probably wanted to do when they were young.
Innocent, dangerous foreplay, she thought.
One quick breath, one gust of air and they kissed all over again.
She kicked off her shoes, a pair of strappy sandals that slid across the floor. He got rid of his boots, too, stumbling to keep her in his arms, to not let go.
Hands questing, she toyed with his belt buckle, slipping lower, brushing his fly. He nibbled her neck, using his teeth, sucking and biting. She gave him free rein, hoping he left marks on her skin.
He stepped back, looked at her. “I want to take off your clothes. I want to see your bra, your panties, what you wore for me.”
He lifted the Lycra fabric, and she raised her arms, letting him undress her. The material was tight, making it difficult for him to strip it away. But she could tell he enjoyed the challenge.
“It's pink,” he said the moment her bra was exposed. He yanked off her shirt, tossing it onto the floor. “Pretty poison. Pretty pink.” He tugged at the lace cups, pushing them down, making her nipples pop out.
She knew what came next. He was going to lick her like a lollipop. His candy. His poison.
Susan braced herself. How many times had she imagined this? Ethan Eldridge touching her? Teasing her?
He lowered his head, and she delved into his hair.
He licked; he sucked; he drove her half-mad. She pitched forward, pushing her nipple farther into his mouth.
“It hurts,” she said.
He glanced up. “A good hurt?”
“Yes.” She watched him switch sides. “Do it harder.”
That made him smile. “How hard?”
“As hard as you can.”
He went after her like a rabid animal, sucking with a vengeance. When he was through, her nipples were raw and swollen, aching and throbbing.
Dizzy, she bit her lip, loving every second of it. He dropped to his knees and tugged on her jeans, dragging them down her hips. When he got to her underwear, a pair of panties that matched her bra, he played with the elastic band.
“Show me,” he said.
She knew what he meant. He wanted her to pull them down, right there, right in front of his face.
Her skin went warm, a blush that heated every inch of her body. But she did what he asked her to do, excited by his request, by the wickedness that came over her.
Needing more, she moved closer to his mouth. “Is this what you want?”
“Yes.” He parted her with his thumbs. “I can't believe this is happening.” He darted his tongue, making her quiver. “You're as wild as I imagined.”
And he was grazing her thighs, abrading her with his beard stubble. She touched his face, tracing those rugged features.
He glanced up, shocking her with his eyes, with how powerfully blue they were.
She watched what he did to her. She even rocked back and forth, encouraging him, showing him what she liked. The roughness. The softness.
He took his time, bathing her in sensation, in wetness, in butterfly kisses that nearly cracked her soul.
And then it happened. Pleasure poured over her, like a jar of wax, as bright and blue and feverish as his eyes. She'd never felt so treasured.
“Ethan.” She said his name, and he lifted her up and carried her to bed, where they tumbled onto the sheets.
And into the luxury of each other's arms.
Ethan nuzzled the side of her neck, breathing in the scent of her hair. He could still taste her, and the flavor sent shock waves through his veins, rippling beneath his skin.
“You almost made me come,” he said.
“Can I see?” She sketched her hand along the waistband of his jeans.
“You gotta get me naked first.”
“No problem.” She removed his shirt, and while she undid his belt, he lifted his hips.
His pants came next, his boxers, his socks. She didn't waste any time. She stripped him to the bone. The only article that remained was the Apache amulet around his neck. But that wasn't what caught her attention. She stared at his erection, where moisture seeped at the tip.
“I told you,” he said.
“So you did.” She collected the pearly drop with her finger. Then brought it to his lips, daring him to taste it.
Properly stunned, he shook his head, laughed, hoped she wasn't serious. She wasn't. She sucked on her own finger instead, taking what she'd offered to him. Ethan watched her, and the sound, the motion, the knowledge of what she was doing made another bead of semen appear.
This time he wanted her to put her mouth on it.
But she didn't. She lowered her head and kissed his stomach, purposely missing her mark.
His muscles jumped, creating a rippling effect. He considered nudging her farther down, but he decided to wait, to let her seduce him.
She looked up and smiled, and he held his breath. Dusk slipped through the blinds, casting shadows across the bed, draping her in soft, wintry colors.
He combed his fingers through her hair, and she licked his belly button, nearly bringing his craving to fruition.
Finally, she stroked him, using her hands, positioning him against her lips, getting him ready, making him even more aroused than he already was.
He closed his eyes, just for a moment, just for one life-altering second. And in the silence, in the stillness, she took him in her mouth.
Deep, hard, thrilling. He couldn't get enough.
Slipping under her spell, he caressed her face, her shoulders, every part of her he could reach.
Finally, before he exploded, before he lost control, he pulled her up, where they kissed like reckless lovers, refusing to let go.
She straddled his lap. “I warned you that I felt like being wild.”
And he knew that he would like it. That he would crave her even more. He lunged forward and caught her in another kiss. She was as addictive as a drug. “I used to think about you when Iâ” He stalled, realized what he was about to say.
“I know, Ethan. I used to do that, too.”
Her admission made him shudder. “No one's ever said that to me before.”
“I wasn't just saying it. It's true.”
“I believe you.” He knew how important he'd always been to her. And he wished that those other boys hadn't hurt her. That he could have kept the wolves at bay.
Her eyes turned watery, and he brought her against his chest, giving her the solace they both needed.
“I should have saved you,” he said.
She blinked away her sadness, kissing him softly. “You're doing it now.”
He smiled, nipped her jaw, latched on to her hips. “Are you ready?”
“Yes. More than ready.”
“Then I want to be on top.”
She laughed and rolled over. “Men and their power trips.” Her hand crawled up his thigh. “We need a condom.”
“Yours or mine?” He had a supply in the armoire and another batch in a bathroom drawer, probably as many as she'd stuffed in her purse.
“Whose is closer?”
“I think it's a draw.”
“One of each?” she suggested.
He lifted his eyebrows. “I'm not wearing two.”
She lunged for her purse. “I was kidding.”
Like kids in a candy store, they dug through her bag, choosing an ultrathin style. He tore it open and watched her roll it over every anxious inch.
“You're good at that,” he said, grateful that the pro
tection had become part of their foreplay. “I used to hate this part.”
“But now you like it?”
“I like everything with you.” He slid his fingers through hers, holding her hands above her head, pinning her beneath his body. “Everything.”
She wet her lips. “Me, too.”
“Will you move in with me?” he asked, the question rising like a volcano. He couldn't have stopped it if he tried.
Her eyes went wide. “For how long?”
“For as long as you're in Texas.”
He kissed her, using his tongue, his teeth, his entire mouth. They both knew that his invitation, their upcoming living arrangement, was only temporary.
But it was enough, he thought. All they needed to feel secure, to explore their relationship without drowning.
She wrapped her legs around him, and he entered her, to the hilt, as deep as he could go.
In the next instant they went crazy, beautifully insane. He filled her perfectly, the way a man should fill a woman. Moist heat surrounded him, clutching, drawing him closer.
He moved; she moved with him, rolling over the bed, keeping him locked between her legs. Lust roared in his head, pounding with every stroke, with every glorious thrust.
Her lashes fluttered, soft and silky and desperately erotic. He wondered why he'd ever slept with anyone else. She was it. His fantasy. His dream.
They made love at a dizzying pace, in a tangle of limbs, in voracious pants, in carnal images careening
through his mind. And when she bucked beneath him, when she came all over him, he breathed her name.
Then took his own mindless fall.
While Ethan went into the bathroom to dispose of the condom and do whatever men did after sex, Susan scrounged around for her underwear, then sifted through her purse for the big, baggy T-shirt she'd crammed beneath a year's supply of protection.
Okay, maybe not a year. But she'd hauled a lot of rubber with her. And on top of that, she'd just agreed to live with her brand-new lover. One afternoon of skyrocketing sex, and she was his for the taking.
Was that her method of not getting attached?
Disgusted with herself, she dragged her panties over her hips and pulled the T-shirt over her head. She would simply tell him that she'd made a mistake. That she couldn't possiblyâ¦
He came out of the bathroom, still naked, still looking tall and strong and erotic. The ultimate partner.
He sat on the edge of the bed, smiled at her comfy ensemble. “How cute you are. Warm and cozy. I'm glad you're going to stay here.”
Her resolve shattered. She reached for him, felt the breadth of his shoulders, the comfort of bare skin. She'd always wanted to belong to him, and now she had her chance to play house, then let him go.
What could be more perfect than that?
“I'm glad, too.” She skimmed his hair away from his forehead. It was in need of a trim, she noticed. Dark and tousled. “Are you hungry? I can make dinner.”
“I'm starved. But there isn't much in my fridge.” He lifted his jeans off the floor and zipped into them.
No boxers, she thought. He'd just climbed into his pants without underwear.
How sexy could one man be?
She sucked in a controlled breath. “I'm sure there's something I can fix.”
“So you say. Wait until you look.”
She was looking, and she liked what she saw. A solid chest, lean hips, the stomach she'd kissed.
He turned his head, distracted by a scratching sound. “My pesky mutts are at the door.” He gave her a lopsided smile and leaped up. “I'm glad they didn't bug us earlier.”
Susan went into the kitchen and tried to scrounge up some food. The contents in his refrigerator consisted of stale bread, a half-eaten block of cheddar cheese, a gallon of milk, too many condiments and a twelve-pack of beer.
“Do you live on ketchup and mustard?” she asked, when he came strolling in with three rambunctious dogs.
“I warned you.”
She opened the freezer and found a jumbo-size bag of French fries and an even bigger container of ice cream. Amused by his sheepish grin, she checked the pantry. He was better off in the canned goods department if chili, chicken noodle soup and franks and beans counted as wholesome meals. The cereal they'd had for breakfast was in abundance, too. Oh, and canine food, lots of veterinarian-approved chow.
He waited, the dogs dancing at his feet. “What's the verdict?”
“Chili cheese fries andâ¦” She poked around, found a can of peaches and held it up. “And these, with vanilla ice cream.”