Authors: Kate Meader
“They’re great,” he said. “All in. Even Alexandra.”
“Your father would be proud. Logan, too.”
Those shocking blue eyes flashed, and remembrance of that night flooded the space between them. The night they both lost something, and everything changed.
He angled his thumbs to stroke her pulse in tight, erotic circles. Unadulterated lust slammed through her. The power he had over her still . . . it electrified her to the core. Just one look stripped her bare and stunned her with want.
An attention-grabbing cough sliced through the loaded silence.
“Hi, I’m Mel.” Her friend thrust out her hand.
Beck released Darcy’s hands, shook Mel’s, and had already redirected his burning focus back to Darcy before he spoke his name. “Beck Rivera.”
Okay, this has been awesome.
“We should go,” Darcy said.
“After you’ve rested that ankle and we’ve had a drink,” Mel chimed in. “A couple of G and Ts, please. Heavy on the G.”
“Sure, coming right up.” Beck wrapped Darcy in an all-encompassing look that left her feeling she’d been touched in an intimate way—and enjoyed it far too much. “Leave your boot off in case the ankle swells. I’ll check back on it later.”
He lifted a wooden flap at the end of the bar and went back to work.
“Okay, spill the juicy deets,” Mel intoned. “Now.”
“Well, my ankle really hurts when I put any weight—”
Mel cut her off with an exaggerated eye roll. “When and where did you do Wolverine?” She gestured violently to Beck just in case there was some confusion about which bearded sex god was under discussion.
“We were kids.”
Mel gave her the don’t-even look, which she had honed to eviscerating sharpness in the years since they had first met at Harvard.
“Popped your cherry?”
Darcy sighed heavily, caught between annoyance it
was so obvious and relief her friend knew her well enough to guess. “Popped it, then popped a cap in my heart.”
“Ooh, you so ghetto, girl.”
Funny, that. Maybe if she had been, things might have been different between the Gold Coast
and the dangerous, furious boy who had lit her soul on fire. Before he doused it with an ice cold vat of adios.
Mel’s eyes widened in a way Darcy was sure she would not appreciate in three, two, one . . .
“He’s the one you cried your eyes out over all freshman year. The guy your father hated because he was a gangbanger.”
Ex-gangbanger, saved by the Dempsey fostering machine when his biological father died during a drug deal gone bad. Not that she had learned those details from Beck, who shared nothing. Jack had filled her in, trying to scare her away from him.
“How do you remember this stuff?”
Mel tapped her temple. “Mind like a steel trap. Other body parts as well, which I hope to be demonstrating before the night is through.” She waggled her eyebrows and directed a sexy pout in Gage’s direction. “So we have firefighting, bartending brothers—”
“Foster brothers, taken in by Sean and Mary Dempsey. They couldn’t have children of their own so they were big on spreading the love to kids who needed it, five boys and a girl. Sean was a big-time fire chief who died on the job just over seven years ago. The oldest son, Logan, died in the same fire.”
“A couple of them—” She nodded at Luke behind the bar. Intimidating Wyatt was nowhere to be seen. “—did a stint in the Marines first.”
Mel’s twisted expression depicted a battle between sympathy for the city’s fallen and imminent collapse into a puddle of lust. “Hot ex-marine Chirish firefighters. Jesus, my panties are going to melt.”
The lust option. Excellent choice, madam.
“Not Irish, just raised that way. And your panties melted about five minutes ago, you dirty bird.”
Mel grinned. “True to the last drop. What’s the skinny on my man, Thor?”
There was something about him, something different that teased the cold edges of Darcy’s mind and refused to come in to the open. “That’s Gage and from here, he fills out his shirt and jeans
nice. What else do you need to know?”
“Too fucking right,” Mel said, laughing that girlish tinkle, step one of her slide into flirt mode.
“That shit’s wasted on me, you know.”
She giggled inanely. “Just warming the pipes. And I think from the look the cherry popper is giving you, things will be getting nice and warm in Darcyland very soon.”
Lifting her eyes to Beck took effort, as did meeting the unerringly scorching look he was laying on her. So much for benevolent gods. He had to go and grow hotter over the years. Strong arms corded with sculpted muscles stretched his tee sleeves to the limits, walking temptation in a six-foot-two package. Virile, warrior-like, and
a beard to boot! Hot damn, she loved a good smattering of facial hair.
Concern lined Mel’s brow. “What happened, exactly? I know you met in high school, but all I can really recall is the ugly crying before the inevitable graduation to ‘guys suck.’ ”
“If they’re any good, they will,” they said in unison, drumming the bar with a quick one-two.
Darcy’s laughter gave way to a sigh. “He was a friend of my brother’s. They used to train together at a boxing gym.”
That look came over Mel again, the one where her brain might disintegrate to lust-mush any second.
“Yes, Melanie, he was a boxer. Control yourself.” Admittedly, it had been verra, verra sexy.
“For a year”—
and two months, one week, three days—
“he didn’t breathe a word to me. He’d come over to play video games with Jack and I’d try to get him to open up, but it was like talking to a brick wall. An unbelievably sexy brick wall. I thought he hated me. He’d get this crimp between his eyebrows every time he looked at me like he’d smelled rotten eggs. Or was trying to solve a really difficult math problem.”
“Kind of like how he’s looking at you now?”
No need to lift her gaze to verify that his eyes were still trained on her. Her skin sizzled with his penetrating heat.
A patchwork of sensual images grabbed hold. Their first kiss during a winter festival at Lincoln Park Zoo, her
hot chocolate cooling while his lips kept her warm. A yearlong diet of sexy smooches and teenage exploration, stopping short of home base because Beck refused to take full advantage.
“I begged him to do the deed, but he said I was too young. Finally, when I turned eighteen, he—” She stopped as memories of Beck’s blunt prizefighter hands on her body, seeking out erotic flash points and bringing her to blistering release, assaulted her senses.
“Did you good?”
“So good,” she said, lowering her voice though the bar’s noisy hum provided adequate cover. “I was gaga about him and I thought it was mutual until he sent me packing.”
Darcy still remembered his final words to her all those years ago, spoken in that graveled voice, dripping with sex and menace. Only a month after he had made her a full-fledged woman and claimed every part of her.
Forget you ever met me, Darcy.
And she had, after a year—or five. She stowed the boy in her brain’s basement and went on to a new life, one she chose for herself instead of following the gated path her father had insisted she travel. Underneath this designer sweater and perfectly cut skirt was the project she had been working on for years. A well-traveled, well-adjusted, reinvented woman.
“You’re not a kid anymore,” Mel said. Despite only seeing each other a few times a year, her friend could always intuit when Darcy was about to send out invites to the pity party. “You should go for it.”
“Go for what?”
“School the cherry popper. Make him beg. Milk. Him. Dry.”
Though Darcy had been on that very wavelength before actually coming face-to-face with Beck, now that he was in her immediate orbit, looking hot as sin and twice as dangerous, doubts assailed her. “Hooking up with the old flame who took my virginity and cast me aside quicker than the used condom? That seems a bit—”
“—revengey,” Mel finished with a smug grin.
“Sad. It seems sad. I’m not looking for revenge. Revenge is for people who care.” She most definitely did not care about Beck Rivera and his soulful eyes. Nor did she care about that livid scar on his head or how he came by it. And no way in hell did she care about how good his ass looked in denim. Those trim, tight glutes were the natural resting point for a gaze that started at the broad triangle of his shoulders and traveled down his solid back, tapering waist, and slim hips. Even from behind, the man was painfully beautiful.
Did not care.
“You lied to him,” Mel said, her brows veed. “About your art.”
So she had. Explaining how her life had turned out would open a can of worms and invite unwanted scrutiny. While wearing the costume of her alter ego, the Gold Coast princess, she could keep her true identity hidden. She didn’t owe him any explanations. She didn’t owe him a thing.
“Like I said, don’t care.”
“So bang that hot firefightin’ ass and don’t care,” Mel said. “And hope to God he’s better at that than he is at tending bar. I’m parched over here.”
Bang him and don’t care. Not revenge, necessarily, just raising her sex point average. And if, in the process, she happened to remind him of everything he had given up by casting her aside? Well, that was just extra credit.
Forget you ever met me, Darcy.
Maybe it was time to ensure Beck Rivera never forgot he met her.
f all the bars in all the world, she had to be tackled to the ground outside his. And she had hardly changed. Beck’s man card required he knew subshit about designer duds, but even he could tell those fancy fabrics clinging fondly to her curves and the pearls around her swanlike neck were the real deal. The
still oozed money, class, and keep-the-fuck-away.
“She looks familiar,” Luke said as Beck poured shots of gin.
“Darcy Cochrane. Another lifetime.”
Luke’s mouth tightened in recognition. “She was at the funeral. Her father owns the
magazine, a slice of the Cubs, part of the United Center.”
“She’s grown up fine,” Luke mused.
True that. The prettiest girl Beck had ever known was
now a knockout on an epic scale. Sleek hair pulled tight off her face in a swishy ebony fall. High, haughty cheekbones, ruby pink lips, a chin as stubborn as her father’s. The feel of her curves beneath his searching hands left the impression of a heaven-formed, amazingly built woman.
“She’s been traveling the world,” he said, because Luke seemed to expect something more. She had skipped any mention of her marriage from the catch-up checklist, though he noticed she wore no ring. Admittedly not compelling evidence, and that it spiked his pulse annoyed the bejesus out of him. The day Luke had pointed out the engagement notice in her father’s paper, eighteen months after they had split, Beck had punched a wall so hard he broke his hand. Whatever Darcy’s situation now, apparently she could drop her jet-setting life for three months to help her grandmother.
“Well, now she’s back,” Luke said. “Whatcha gonna do about it?”
Beck’s heart hitched and tripped out a ragged beat. She was the cliché, the one who got away, and now she was here, a glowing second chance. A do-over.
Except she was still so far out of his league that she may as well be crater hopping on the moon. And oh yeah, he had dumped her without explanation in the name of doing her a favor.
“It’s not quite so simp—”
“Jesus Christ, ladies, could you put a plug in your hourly gossip and help me out here?” Gage threw his
hands up dramatically in case the caps-lock delivery didn’t reflect sufficiently
The Real Housewives of New Jersey
“You’re doing fine, Short Stack,” Luke returned, clearly amused. “Think of all the tips you’re making.”
“Tips I’m sharing with you dickheads. When I should be keeping them because I’m so fucking awesome.”
With both hands in perpetual motion, Gage deftly added vodka shots to a couple of metal shakers, then got busy squeezing lime halves into the mix. His T-shirt advised his fans to Feel Safe at Night: Sleep with a Firefighter.
A group of enthusiastic female customers cheered Gage on and slammed a couple of twenties down on the bar. Their youngest brother had read an article on mixology last year and introduced a special cocktail menu that no one could get right the nights he was on shift at Engine 6. His grand pretentions were a menace, but they loved him all the same.
It had taken Beck awhile to get on that page. By the time he was pulled out of the foster care system into Waif and Stray Central at the Dempseys, he was thirteen years old, and the rest of the kids had been part of the family for years. A well-established unit with rituals and connections and nuances he could never hope to understand. He spoke to no one for the first six months, just nodded to Mary when she asked if he’d had enough to eat and grunted at Sean for everything else. Unfortunately, he had to share a room with a ten-year-old Gage, and the kid would not shut up.