Authors: Sandra Owens
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense
“Am too.” She opened one eye to prove she was, but quickly closed it when another astronaut’s belly began to quiver.
By the time the movie ended, she’d practically crawled onto Jake’s lap and he’d let her. Her one and only boyfriend had made fun of her for watching scary movies with her eyes closed. Jake had held her tight against him.
Maria opened her eyes and grinned. “She saved the cat.”
His answering smile, the one she was coming to adore, lit his face. “And you scared yours so badly with your screams, he took off an hour ago.”
“But you’re still here.”
“I am.” His eyes searched hers, and hers answered the question in them with a yes.
Oh, God, yes. Please kiss me.
Their mouths met as if they were enacting a scene from a movie. Slowly, so achingly slowly, his lips covered hers. She slid her hand around his neck, brushing her fingers through the bristle of his short hair, pleased when his skin quivered under her touch.
He’d kissed her yesterday, but that one had been borne of anger, his frustration with her getting the better of him. If a kiss could melt her bones, this one would. His lips lightly brushed over hers, his breath warming them. Jolts of electricity sparked through her when he nipped on her bottom lip, then captured it with his teeth.
When his tongue scraped across her teeth, she opened her mouth and his hand came to rest against her jaw as he explored her. His taste, flavored by the malt beer, made her drunk with desire.
Maria moaned, and he stilled. “Please.” She would beg if necessary to keep him from stopping.
His mouth inched away and he leaned his forehead against hers. “No, we can’t do this.”
Jake never turned down sex freely offered. Why was he saying no to her? She placed her palm over his heart, felt it pounding. He wasn’t unaffected.
“We can. I want you, and I think you feel the same.”
He put his hands on her waist and lifted her to her feet. “Go to bed, Maria.”
She searched his eyes but they shuttered, blocking his thoughts. “I don’t understand.”
“There’s nothing to understand.”
Jake turned off the TV and the lamp, leaned his back on the sofa, and tried to wipe from his mind the look of confusion and hurt on Maria’s face as she left the room.
I want you, and I think you feel the same.
Damn straight he wanted her. He’d come close to taking her right there on the couch.
But he was Romeo. He loved ’em and left ’em. In the end, he would hurt her, something he’d never much worried about with other women. Of course, he’d always made sure the women he chose knew the rules, understood the game.
Maria didn’t understand the game, and he would never want her to. She was different—special—meant for someone who had long term in mind. A man who would put a ring on her finger and honor his vows.
He didn’t believe he had fidelity in him. A day would come when some tempting little thing would cross his path, and he’d go and royally screw everything up. If he ever hurt Maria like that, he’d shoot himself, saving Kincaid the trouble.
But, Jesus, she’d knocked the floor out from under him with that kiss.
From the time he’d kissed his first girl at age thirteen, he’d loved the feel of soft feminine lips on his, had made it his mission in life to kiss as many girls as possible. Then at sixteen, he’d lost his virginity to his twenty-three-year-old neighbor and never looked back. Though he now understood she was wrong to seduce a teenage boy, she’d taught him how to please a woman and he had very fond memories of her.
If someone asked him how many women he’d slept with, he couldn’t begin to answer. He couldn’t remember most of their names, though he’d always remember their faces as they came. Seeing their eyes dilate and darken, hearing their soft sighs and sometimes their screams, feeling the curves of their bodies as his hands explored them, it was what he lived for.
No, he wasn’t the man for Maria.
A ball of fur landed on his lap and began to knead his stomach. Jake sighed. “Yeah, cat, I guess we guys have to stick together.” He peered down at the creature. “You are a guy, right? Or have you been neutered? Maybe that’s what somebody needs to do to me.”
Jake once again found himself standing next to Eddie as Detective Nolan questioned Angie and her mother. Nolan had agreed to hold the interview at the Davis house, his hope that it would put mother and daughter more at ease. Maria sat on the couch, her hand clasped in Angie’s.
“When was the last time you saw him, Mrs. Davis?” the detective asked.
“I’m not sure exactly, about a month ago.”
Jake studied the woman who’d been Fortunada’s girlfriend. She was attractive, maybe in her midthirties. Her eyes, green like her daughter’s, were red rimmed and swollen from crying. Even now, she had a handkerchief clutched tightly in her hand, dabbing at the tears falling down her cheeks.
Nolan handed her a mug shot. “Is this Hernando Fortunada?”
She glanced at it and gave it back. “That’s him.”
“Does he have a job?”
“He’s a bartender at Missy’s Place. At least, he was a month ago.”
As Nolan questioned Angie about her visit to Fortunada’s house, Eddie started bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands curling into fists. Jake put his hand on the kid’s shoulder and pushed him into the kitchen.
“You need to calm down, Eddie. Getting all agitated isn’t helping anyone.”
“I know, man, but I just get so pissed when she talks about what he tried to do to her.”
“I understand, but she got away. What Angie needs now is for you to hold it together and be there for her.”
“Man, I know that, but what I really wanna do is find the asshole and hurt him like he hurt Angie.”
Jake caught the boy’s gaze and held it. “Eddie, pay attention here. The man’s dangerous. He’s hurt people before. I’m an ex-SEAL, and even I would use caution where he’s concerned. Let the police do their job.” A small lie, that one. He’d have no problem tangling with Fortunada.
“No shit? You’re a SEAL. Wow. Were you on the team that killed bin Laden?”
Jake suppressed a smile. The kid was a trip. “No, that was Team Six, but back to my point. The way you can help is to stick close to Angie and her mother. Like I said yesterday, it’s possible Fortunada could show up if he gets desperate, maybe looking for a place to hide out. What if he does and they’re here alone because you’re out somewhere on a fruitless search for him?”
“Shouldn’t I have a gun?”
Hell no. “You have a cell phone?”
Eddie’s eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead. “Doesn’t everybody?”
Well hell. He let his amusement go and laughed. “Yeah, you’re right. You stick with your ladies and any sign of our man, you call the police, then me. Give me your cell.”
Jake programed his number into Eddie’s phone and handed it back. “Now, there’s something else I need to know. Who holds the mortgage on this house?”
Jake had given this some thought and knew Maria would eventually ask the same question. “The Tango stole all of Angie’s mother’s money and now she can’t make the mortgage payment. If I know Maria,”—and he was sure he did—“she’ll probably want to help out.” He would insist on contributing at least half.
“What’s a Tango?”
Right. No SEAL lingo. “A bad guy. Can you find out?”
Eddie squared his shoulders, his stance one of the man he might grow into some day. “I already took care of that, dude. I had some money saved up, you know? Gave it to Angie this morning to give to her mom.”
He was starting to like this boy. Jake exchanged a smile with the kid, giving him a manly slap on the shoulder. “Cool, dude.” Had he really just said that?
Jesus, he’d been sucked into a time warp.
Maria noted his return with a softening of her eyes as he escorted Eddie back into the room.
Stop looking at me like that, Maria.
Somehow, he had to put an end to this growing desire to make her his. When she turned those coffee-colored eyes on him in that warm way, he wanted to promise things he couldn’t deliver.
Forever was not in his vocabulary.
ake’s gaze fell on Maria, then flicked away. He’d been quiet and distant all day, speaking only to answer a question. She’d given up trying to get him to talk. If this was how he was going to act for the duration of his time with her, then she hoped the police caught Fortunada soon.
The Davis living room was dark because of the drapes drawn over the windows. Jake stood off to the side, out of the small beam of light from the lamp, his face shadowed. She didn’t need to look into his hazel eyes to recall the heat they’d held the night before when he’d kissed her. He wanted her, she was certain.
If she could choose who her heart wanted, it wouldn’t have been Jake. He was exactly the kind of man she should avoid. But from the time she’d met him, he had fascinated her. Her teenage crush on him had blossomed into something more at her twenty-first birthday party. Logan’s wife was a romance writer, and it had happened just like in one of Dani’s stories.
She’d met Jake’s gaze from across the room, and it was as if time had stopped. He’d taken a step toward her, but then he’d shifted his gaze to her brother and some kind of message had passed between them. From then on, Jake had avoided her as if she carried some kind of plague. She supposed she did, one named Logan.
When Jonathan had asked her out, she’d thought he was exactly the kind of man she should marry. Like her, he was going for a law degree and was goal oriented. Most importantly, he was as different as possible from the men her mother brought home. But she’d erred. It hadn’t taken long for her to see he was too possessive and critical.
She loved colorful clothes, Jonathan didn’t. It wasn’t only her clothing that bugged him but also her eating habits, her cat, her love of horror movies—just about everything that made her Maria, actually. Then there was the sex. It hadn’t lived up to her fantasies.
Looking back on it, she realized she’d hoped he would make her forget about Jake. Unfortunately, Jonathan had failed at that, too. She glanced at Jake and caught him staring at her. His gaze quickly shifted to the detective.
“If you think of anything else, Mrs. Davis, call me,” Detective Nolan said, handing her his card.
Once outside, Maria stood close to Jake while they talked to the detective. Occasionally, she
brushed her arm against Jake’s to gauge his reaction. Every time she touched him, he tensed. She suppressed a satisfied smile.
“I think if Maria and I drop in at Missy’s Place, we’d be able to learn more than if you go there in cop mode, full of questions,” Jake said.
Maria’s ears perked up. When Carol had said that’s where Fortunada worked, she’d decided—whether Jake agreed or not—they were going there.
Detective Nolan shook his head. “This is a police investigation, not a game for civilians.”
As Maria opened her mouth to dispute that she thought anything about the situation was a game, Jake put his hand on her arm and gave it a slight squeeze. Message received, she waited to see what he would say.
“Did you call that number I gave you?” he asked the detective.
“Of course. And I was duly impressed, which was your intention. You might know how to kill a man three different ways with your little finger, but you’re not an investigator, nor are you involved in this in any kind of official capacity.”
“Tell that to her,” Jake said, thrusting a thumb Maria’s way. “You might also want to ask her what she’ll do if you don’t agree to let us check out Missy’s Place.”
When he winked at her, something warm and fuzzy fluttered in her stomach. How did he know her so well? That Jake understood she needed to do this maybe wasn’t so surprising. That he knew she’d go no matter what Detective Nolan said was a bit alarming. How was she supposed to get away with anything if he was always two steps ahead of her?
The detective turned his attention to her and narrowed his eyes. “Is he saying you’ll go there even if I order you not to?”
Refusing to be intimidated, Maria returned his stern look with a smile and nodded.
The man threw his hands up. “I give up. Call me if you learn anything.”
Jake held the car door open for Maria. “Follow my lead.” The smile she gave him was too sweetly innocent for his comfort.
“Stop worrying. Nothing’s gonna happen to me as long as you’re with me,” she said.
He didn’t like bringing her to where Fortunada worked—or had worked—but he’d known without asking that she was determined to do this. He doubted they would find the man behind the bar pouring drinks, which was the only reason he’d helped set this visit in motion. Glancing at the building, he was relieved it didn’t appear to be some kind of biker bar or strip joint.
Maria slipped her arm through his, and he wished she would stop touching him. He also wished she’d worn something more conservative instead of the sheer, red silk blouse, the tight black jeans, and those
shoes with the spiked heels and black straps.
It was impossible to keep his eyes off the red lace of her bra peeking out of the blouse, and her red-painted toenails. And why couldn’t she have wound her hair into some kind of nun type of bun instead of letting it fall loose down her back?
She was so damn hot he didn’t doubt he’d end up in a bar fight before the night was over. The first man to look at her wrong was toast. The tips of her fingers pressed into the skin of his arm. Seriously, she needed to stop touching him.
Jake escorted her into Missy’s Place, his gaze sweeping the interior. It was nicer than he’d expected. An R&B band played on a small stage, and the tables were filled with well-dressed couples drinking wine and fancy drinks. He spotted two empty barstools and guided Maria to them.
“What can I getcha, beautiful?” the bartender asked, his gaze only on Maria.
A smile lit her face. “A chocolate martini, please.”
Jake gritted his teeth and ordered a Glenlivet neat. The bartender might have some answers for them, so it wouldn’t be wise to give him a bloody nose. This jealousy thing was not only uncomfortable, it was also unwelcome. He’d never felt it before and didn’t like it one bit. If a woman he was out with saw a man she liked better, then she was free to go. There was always another waiting to take her place.
He turned a moody gaze on Maria. What was it about her that got under his skin? Putting aside the fact that she was gorgeous, he couldn’t think of anything they had in common. He was a warrior; she the untouchable princess in the castle. She put food in her body that made him want to cringe. She loved the beach; he hated getting sand in his butt crack. She—
He blinked. “What, what?”
“You’re staring at me as if I’m some kind of weird puzzle.”
She was a puzzle all right, but he doubted she’d appreciate him agreeing. “You really are beautiful.”
Her eyes warmed. “Thank you.”
It was the first thing he’d thought of to divert her attention, but now she’d gone all soft and doe-eyed on him. His finger seemed to have a mind of its own because it trailed a path down her cheek. Hell. Now he was touching her when he’d sworn it was hands-off where she was concerned.
“Here’s your martini, gorgeous.”
The bartender slid Jake’s scotch to him, not taking his eyes off Maria. Smothering his urge to smash something, Jake considered how to bring up the subject of Fortunada.
“Is my Uncle Hernando working tonight?” Maria said.
Jake swung his gaze to Maria. He’d been right not to trust that sweet smile when he’d told her to follow his lead, but for openings, it was a good one. The man leaned on the counter, his face too damn close to Maria’s.
“Hernando’s your uncle?”
“Yeah,” she said and leaned her head on Jake’s shoulder. “I was hoping he was here tonight so I could introduce him to my husband. We’re newlyweds and my uncle’s never met Jake.”
The man glanced at her ring finger, and Jake followed his gaze to see a band of diamonds circling her finger. Well hell, apparently he had a wife who planned ahead.
“Lucky man,” the bartender said, giving Jake an envious nod.
“Don’t I know it,” Jake answered and then gave his
a heated look
Maria one-upped him when she turned mischievous eyes to him and said, “No, Tiger Toes, I’m the lucky one.”
Jake could actually feel the grin slowly forming on his face. This would probably be a good time to take cover from the barrage of new sensations falling down on his head, but he ignored the warning and leaned toward Maria, fully intending to kiss her. Christ, she smelled good—earthy and spicy—the scent exotic like her.
“You two are giving me an overdose of sugar.”
Maria reacted to the interruption by ignoring it, but Jake jerked his head back. What the hell was he thinking? That was the problem: he wasn’t.
“Sorry, but sometimes she scrambles my brain.” Too much information there and way too true. He tore his gaze away and shrugged. “Back to her question. Is her uncle working tonight?”
“No, man. Haven’t seen Hernando for a few days. He was a no-show for his shift and I haven’t heard a word from him since. He’s got a paycheck coming, but I doubt the boss will turn it over since he left without so much as a good-bye.”
“If I give you my cell number, would you call me if he shows up?” Maria asked. “It’s been a few months since I’ve seen him. We stopped by his house a few times but haven’t been able to catch him, and he’s not answering his phone. I’m starting to worry.”
Once again, the man turned a too-interested look on her, and again, Jake gritted his teeth.
The bartender grabbed a napkin and pen. “Sure. I’ll be glad to call you.”
Maria gave him a beautiful smile and rattled off Jake’s number, then ordered jalapeno poppers and loaded potato skins.
Jake ordered a plate of fruit and cheese while wondering if he was a boring man.
They were halfway through their appetizers when Maria grabbed his arm. “I love this song. Come on, let’s dance.”
There were other couples dancing, most of them pressed tightly together. Jake reluctantly followed Maria onto the dance floor and placed his hand on her hip, keeping her an arm’s distance away. But halfway through the song, she’d somehow inched closer and he gave up the fight.
He slipped his hand around her back, pulled her against him, and buried his nose in her hair. As they swayed to the slow beat of the music, something low and hungry settled deep in his groin. He pushed his leg between hers and she, his
, practically straddled his knee. So much for his good intentions.
But he didn’t care. Not now. Not tonight.
All he wanted was to feel Maria pressed hard against him, to hear her soft sigh when his thigh pushed between her legs. And oh yeah, she did sigh.
“Jake,” she whispered.
He lowered his mouth to her ear and nibbled on the delicate lobe, felt the skin over her spine shiver under his hand. If he had a white flag, he’d wave it. He’d never surrendered any battle before, but this one he didn’t resent.
For as long as it lasted, he’d go along for the ride. He might not know how to do
, but he could love her like no other man until she wised up and sent him packing or he decided it was time to go.
His pulse kept to the beat of the music as her soft body coiled around his. He circled his arms around her, sliding his fingers into the back pockets of her jeans. She sighed again and rubbed against his hip. If she didn’t stop doing that, he was going to throw her over his shoulder like some kind of barbarian and carry her back to his cave.
She looked up at him with those bedroom eyes—now almost black and shimmering with desire—and he lowered his mouth to hers. The couples around them faded, the music faded, and he was aware of nothing but Maria. With his hands still in her pockets, he caressed her ass with his fingers. His cock throbbed with the need to be buried inside her.
Another couple bumped them and Jake lifted his head, his surroundings coming back into focus. Damn, this was a first. He’d never before come this close to making love on a dance floor.