Authors: Jill Shalvis
She had the cold counter at her back and a hard, warm Ryan at her front and she'd never felt so hot in her life. The shadows lent to the intimacy, which threatened to overwhelm her.
“This is just what we said, right? No more, no less,” she said on a gasping breath.
“Sex.” Ryan's deep voice sent another thrill through her.
sex. And when we're doneâ¦”
“We're done,” he finished. Was she imagining things or did he sound skeptical, as though he didn't believe what he'd just said?
“Right. Itch scratched.” She was panting now, and so was he.
For the longest moment he just looked at her, her dark and beautiful man. Then he groaned, pulled her even closer and she melted against him. His mouth was so firm, and so deliciously demanding, she couldn't help but sink into the mindlessness of it, needing the mindlessness of it. He had a wonderful mouth, a make-her-forget-everything mouth, and he knew just what to do with it to make her wild.
And she intended on getting very,
I'm so excited about this book, as it's the first in my three-book Temptation miniseries SOUTH VILLAGE SINGLES. I loved the idea of writing a series about three friends who make a vow of singlehood. And I started thinking about the sexy, irresistible men who could tempt them to break that vow. Just what kind of man would it take to break a vow between friendsâespecially since we're talking about strong, independent women! Guess you'll have to read on to find out.
I hope you enjoy reading Suzanne's storyâand have fun with her as she tries so hard to resist the very charming Ryan. Be sure to catch Nicole's story in
Tangling With Ty
available in February, and Taylor's story,
Messing With Mac,
available in March, as all three of them fall hard and fast in the most unexpected waysâ¦.
P.S. I love to hear from readers! You can reach me through my Web site www.jillshalvis.com or by writing me at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96160-3945.
742âWHO'S THE BOSS?
771âTHE BACHELOR'S BED
804âOUT OF THE BLUE
861âA PRINCE OF A GUY
878âHER PERFECT STRANGER
885âFOR THE LOVE OF NICK
42âKISS ME, KATIE!
HUG ME, HOLLY!
57âBLIND DATE DISASTERS
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
85âA ROYAL MESS
HER KNIGHT TO REMEMBER
63âNAUGHTY BUT NICE
Kelsey, this one is for you.
You might be my oldest, but you'll always be my baby.
glanced between the apartment-for-rent ads and the balance in her checkbook. No matter how much she squinted, added or subtracted, she was pretty much S.O.L.
With what she had, she'd be fortunate to get a place that had four walls and a roof, never mind such luxury items as hot water and a bathtub.
And yet, anything would be better than where she currently lived, which was nowhere. As of this morning, her fiancÃ©âex-fiancÃ©, she reminded herself, her very ex-fiancÃ©âhad politely stacked her things outside the apartment they'd shared. Honest to God, she'd thought he'd been kidding.
Until her key hadn't worked. Seemed the joke was on her. Damn if the joke wasn't always on her.
In any case, she'd finally realized the truth. She was relationship cursed. If she hadn't been, then she could blame any one of her other ex-fiancÃ©sâthere had been three in total, not that she was countingâfor the relationship failures, but the fault was hers alone. She seemed to possess the single-handed ability to de
stroy a good man. She'd destroyed Tim to the point he'd cried every night, wanting her to talk about her feelings,
her to open up. She'd felt horrible, but deep down she knew she didn't want a man who also cried at long-distance commercials and when he talked to his mother on the phone. Daily.
Not that Tim hadn't helped commit their relationship to doom by getting caught performing sexual gymnastics against the front door with his cleaning lady. But he'd pinned that on Suzanne as well, saying his heart had been so broken by her distance and lack of commitment that he'd needed the release.
This latest relationship disaster only confirmed in her own mind that she was cursed. And so, as of this moment, she was vowing to give up men to save them from herself. Too bad no one could save
from these dismal rental listings. Maybe she should have fought for the apartment, but she no longer wanted it. With a sigh she lifted her red pen and circled the very cheapest ad in the paper she could find.
That's right, get thrifty,
she could hear her mother say with approval.
Everyone said Suzanne needed some regimentation. Well, everyone but her father, from whom she'd gotten her “lack of.” Just ask her mother.
The ad she'd circled boasted a
cheap, cheap, cheap
one bedroom/one bathroom walk-up.
Cheap, cheap, cheap sounded right up Suzanne's alley, given that, one, she was currently homeless with no savings, and two, contrary to popular belief, chefs made next to nothing. Home Sweet Home, she thought, she
and got in her car.
Being a Monday, South Village was hopping in a way she still couldn't get used to. When she'd been young, the area, just outside of Los Angeles, had been little more than an outdated, neglected area of commerce, the buildings all falling apart, the homeless camping on the corners. Then some historical committee had come along, and the next thing Suzanne knew, the place had incorporated and rebuilt itself, creating a delightful cosmopolitan area that people came from all over to visit.
It was considered
hot spot, filled with trendy cafÃ©s and restaurants, art galleries and unique shops, all designed to draw in urban singles by the BMW-load.
She managed to park her not-even-close-to-a-BMW at the correct address and pulled her sunglasses down her nose to get a better glimpse at the building. It didn't help. No matter how she looked at it, the view was the same.
Bad. The building's turrets, mock balconies and many windows, while charming, couldn't quite dis
guise the fact that it needed major repairsâor demolition.
However, this was South Village, which meant that on either side of the falling-off-its-foundation-dump sat beauty personified. For blocks in either direction, all the other once decrepit old buildings had been restored to their former glory.
Not that she could afford one of
places. But that wasn't the point, she reminded herself. Today was a new day, and a chance to prove to the world she could do this without screwing up and without bringing another man to ruin. This was her chance to learn to be responsible and mature. To be regimented.
Which, really, by the age of twenty-seven, she should have learned already. “So. It's come to this,” she said to the building in front of her, and slid out of her car.
The bottom floor appeared to be meant for commercial use, though its glory days were long past. There were two storefronts, with surprising potential given the picture windows and brick work, but both were vacant and dark, the area out front overgrown with weeds.
Since the apartment listing read
she assumed she needed the second or third floor, and was sort of hoping maybe she'd gotten the wrong place al
together when the tree right next to her started to shake. It was an oak tree, full and majestic, one of many surrounding the building.
And it was shimmying and shaking like crazy.
In her next breath, a man dropped right out of the thing. And not some normal man either, but a tall, dark, leanly muscled man, and given his scowl, she could add
to the list.
Straightening his broad shoulders, she got a quick impression of wavy sable hair and deeply tanned features while he stared up at the tree. Still not noticing her, he shoved his sunglasses up on his head, then put his big hands against the huge trunk andâ¦pushed?
Suzanne's gaze dropped from the back of his head to his now straining body in shocked curiosity. For the life of her, she couldn't look away.
He was beautiful.
Maybe beautiful was the wrong word, as it brought to mind female qualities and there was nothing feminine about this man and his superb form. Holy smokes, just looking at him, she needed a cup of ice to soothe her suddenly parched throat.
He wore faded Levi's over legs that went on forever, and a white T-shirt that was sorely stressing at the seams against his working muscles, of which he seemed to have plenty. Not that he was overbuilt, no
sirree, not like a bodybuilder, who in her opinion was usually over the top. No, this man was more like a long, lean boxer.
Not that it mattered! My God, she was
done with men. Had she forgotten she destroyed them on a fairly regular basis? She didn't need yet another one on her conscience, thank you very much. But in spite of herself, her mouth dropped open a little as she took in his tough, sinewy back and shoulders, vibrating with power while he beat up this tree. He was quite determined about it, too.
But then he caught her staring. When he did, a smile crossed his face that transformed him from merely take-another-look toâ¦
“Sorry if I startled you,” he said and scooped up a discarded clipboard. And because she was weak, and he was soâ¦yummy, she stared at his butt while he bent over, then jerked her gaze upward when he straightened.
He had tanned, rugged features that spoke of an outdoor life, and dark, dark eyes, with the sort of laugh lines fanning out from them that would so horrify a woman but looked so sexy on a man. He made a quick note on the clipboard, and, whistling now, turned and entered the building.
What had he said?
He was sorry to have startled her?
Presumably because he'd dropped out of a tree like Tarzan.
If he only knew what had startled her was how he seemed to trigger everything feminine within her, despite the fact she wasn't interested.
Not at all. Not even one little bit. She had a life to fix, and regimentation to put into it. Lifting her chin, she put Gorgeous Crazy Tree Guy right out of her mind and entered the building as well.
“Hello?” she called out. Her voice echoed and it appeared she was alone.
Not a gorgeous crazy tree guy in sight.
Taking the stairs to the second floor, she found two doorsâboth lockedâpresumably leading to apartments. From above she heard voices, so she took the stairs to the third and final floor, which opened to a loft apartment.
She stepped into what was probably meant to be a living room, but the room was empty and as filled with dust as the hallway had been. It was also small, yet the picture window facing the street somehow made it okay. Sunshine streamed in fully to the wooden floor, and as the dust bunnies danced through the air, Suzanne could see the place had potential.
Because the kitchen was separated by only a minibar, she could see two people standing in the
cramped space, huddled over a set of blueprints laid out on the counter. The woman had a hand to her mouth, deep in concentration. As Suzanne's sandals clicked across the floor, the woman looked up.
She appeared to be about Suzanne's age, only that's where the similarities ended. Unlike her own unruly Little Orphan Annie mop, this woman had glamour hairâblond and pulled back in a careful, elegant twist Suzanne could never manage to do for herself without pulling both arms out of their sockets. The woman also wore glamour makeup and glamour clothes to match. Surrounded by dust and the cramped loft, she looked as out of place as a princess on a frog's lily pad.
Suzanne might have dwelled on that, and the fact that
always wrinkled whether or not she stood absolutely still, except that the man looked up, too.
Gorgeous Crazy Tree Guy.
He looked right at her, his big body dwarfing the small space. Wouldn't you know it, his eyes were the perfect color of a double chocolate mochaâher favoriteâand held an intensity that spoke of passion. She could have drowned in them.
If she hadn't given up men. Which she had. A shame really, because he definitely had a face designed to tempt womenâsort of saint and sinner all packed into one very well put together unit.
“Hi,” she said, a little self-consciously. “Is this the apartment marked in the paper asâ¦” she unrolled the newspaper and quoted the ad, “Cheap, cheap, cheap?”
The woman laughed, not the snooty sound one might have expected either, and pushed at a nonexistent stray strand of hair with a long-fingered, well-manicured hand. “I hope that didn't turn you off.”
“Are you kidding?” Suzanne pictured her own decidedly unhappy bank account. “It drew me here like a moth to the flame. How cheap exactly?”
“We'll talk. But firstâ¦” She turned to the man. “Can we finish this later?”
“Later is going to be too late, Taylor.”
Suzanne should have guessed he'd have a tempting voice to go with that face, low and serrated and sexy. His face didn't hide feelings, and at the moment he appeared to be highly annoyed as he rolled up the plans.
If the woman was annoyed back, she had too much class to let it show. “I need a tenant.”
“You need to fix those trees. Any one of them on the east side could blow over in the next good storm, which by the way, is due tonight.”
“Ryan.” She touched his arm, and Suzanne watched as the man gave in with a sigh.
Suzanne had never in her life tamed a man with
just a touch, much less a man like thatâa big hulk of a man who wouldn't tame easily.
Was it the expensive clothes or the way the woman wore them, Suzanne wondered. Self-conscious, she ran her hand down her sundress, which was not only
in style with its long, flowing flowery skirt, but was wrinkled. She wore it because it hid her flaws, the biggest one being her fondness for her own cooking. A
fondness. As in ten extra pounds fondness.
“Relax, the weather channel is
right.” Taylor patted the man's arm again. “Tomorrow will be soon enough to decide on the trees.”
He shook his head, his dissatisfaction showing in the tension in his big body, in the heat radiating in those riveting eyes.
Fascinated in spite of herself, Suzanne watched him. The men in her lifeâthe only one at present being her fatherânever showed their real feelings. In the Carter household intense emotion was the source of great amusement, and all adversity was met with laughter. Footloose and fancy-free, that was the Carter family motto. Her fiancÃ©s had followed a similar pattern, hiding their emotions behind masks, even Tim with his big, teary eyes disguising his cheating, manipulative ways.
And until right this very moment she'd never once realized there was any other way for a man to be.
Gorgeous Tree Guyâ
âbrushed past her with an acknowledging nod. Their shoulders touched, his mouth curving slightly in apology.
Embarrassing to admit, but her pulse scrambled and she craned her neck to watch him go. Apparently deciding she was cursed and swearing off relationships didn't affect the lust genes from operating.
“Yeah.” Taylor had come to stand beside her. “He's quite fine.”
Suzanne agreed, but kept her opinion to herself.
“And though he's far too kind to show it, he's royally pissed at me at the moment.” She gave an elegant shrug. “He'll live.”
They both moved to the door to watch him vanish down the stairs, momentarily absorbed in the way his T-shirt so nicely outlined his wide shoulders and strong back, and then there were those jeans, so lovingly cupping his long, well-defined legs, not to mention the best-looking butt Suzanne had ever seen.
The woman standing next to herâlooking far more suited for a fancy luncheon than standing in the dusty roomâsighed lustily, then shrugged it off. “So. I'm Taylor Wellington. I placed the ad. Do you want the apartment?”
Suzanne might have utterly failed in the love de
timesâbut she hadn't been born yesterday. “I think I should see the rest of it first.”
“Oh. Yes, of course.” Taylor took a look around her, then cut her gaze back to Suzanne's. “Just remember, it's cheap, okay?
cheap. Now here's the bedroom, just off the front here.” She opened a door that Suzanne had assumed was a closet.