Authors: Sydney Landon
The only thing he couldn’t figure out was why he wasn’t running the other way. He’d been so damn restless and edgy lately. Nothing seemed to excite or appeal to him anymore. He blamed it on stress, but his reaction to Crystal had him wondering if maybe it wasn’t more. Spending time with someone who appeared so different from most of the women he met had been surprisingly appealing.
Always in the past if he was in bed with a woman, then there was sex involved. But now, he found himself content to hold the beauty who had literally fallen into his arms—just like an angel.
The next morning, Crystal settled in the backseat of the car next to Mark. She vaguely remembered him getting in bed with her the night before, but he’d been gone when she woke at seven. She’d stumbled into the bathroom for a quick shower. When she’d walked back into the bedroom, she had been surprised to find a new dress with tags and matching shoes lying on the bed. A quick check showed both items were the correct size. The dress was a pale lilac color in a soft, whispery material. Crystal gasped in shock when she turned the tag over and saw that it was almost fifteen hundred dollars and the strappy sandals were well over a thousand. There was no way she could afford to pay Mark back all at once. She finally decided to leave the tags on the dress and tuck them out of sight. Hopefully, he’d be able to return it if she was careful with it today. The store would never take the shoes back, though, and God, she loved them. Surely, he’d be okay with her paying him in a couple of installments.
“You look beautiful.” His words jarred her back to the present. His eyes were intense as he stared at her appreciatively.
“I—thank you,” she stumbled over her words, sounding like an inexperienced teenager. “You didn’t
have to buy me clothes. You could have dropped me at home to change. I’ll pay you back. I mean—not right away, but I left the tag on the dress so you can return it. And I’ll reimburse you for the shoes as soon as I can.”
“Angel, stop,” Mark said quietly, placing a hand on her leg where the dress had ridden up. “Seeing you looking so exquisite this morning is more payback than I need. The outfit is yours. I don’t want to be reimbursed.”
“Bu-but Mark, do you know how much this whole thing cost you?” Crystal protested.
“Don’t worry, honey. He can afford it,” called a voice from the front of the car. “He wanted you in something that would bring out the color of your eyes and shoes that would accentuate your long legs. I think I followed directions pretty good, right, boss?”
Crystal gasped while Mark chuckled. “I couldn’t have done better myself.” The hand on her leg stroked her tender skin reassuringly as he added, “Angel, you probably don’t remember him, but Denny is my assistant, my driver, and now your personal shopper. He’s also my cousin.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Angel—er, I mean Crystal.” The man in the front seat shot her a sideways grin before returning his full attention to the road. “Thanks to you, I got a new suit, so I’m grateful. It was definitely an upgrade.”
“Oh no,” she groaned. “I didn’t throw up on you too, did I?”
“Nah.” Denny waved one hand. “But I had to hold you while Mark got in the car—which was kinda
messy, and then you puked all in the back floorboard. Don’t feel too bad about that one, because I had someone else clean it. I have a weak stomach.”
Crystal dropped her head forward in embarrassment. “I’m really sorry I put you both through so much. You should have ignored my protests and dropped me at the nearest hospital. Thank you so much for taking care of me.”
Mark raised his hand from her leg and pulled her into his arms. Somehow, it felt as if he’d done that a hundred times before with her. He was still basically a stranger, but she’d never been so comfortable with anyone so fast, even her ex-husband. “You were no problem, Angel. Hell, you were pretty funny a few times—between the whole projectile-vomiting thing you had going on.”
Crystal heard Denny snicker from the front, causing her to smile ruefully. She leaned her head against his chest and enjoyed the feeling of a man holding her. No one would ever believe that she was in Mark DeSanto’s arms while being driven to work. Stuff like this just didn’t happen to her. The embarrassing-herself part wasn’t that big of a surprise—even though she’d never tossed her cookies on a man before. She was certainly socially awkward enough to make a fool of herself on a regular basis—and she did. “Well, you’re both my heroes,” she told them—and she meant every word of it. “I bet you do this sort of thing all the time.”
Denny sounded like he was choking, causing her to eye the back of his head in concern until she figured out that he was actually laughing. “The women in and
out of this car have problems, for sure—but in a whole different way.”
“Denny—that’s enough!” Mark snapped. Crystal could still hear Denny chuckling, but he didn’t say anything else. She couldn’t help but wonder what he had been talking about. She felt a crazy flicker of jealousy at the thought of how many women must have sat exactly where she was right now. It was quite possibly the reality check that she desperately needed before she cuddled further into his hard body and professed her undying love—and lust. When she started to move away, Mark’s arms tightened around her. “Ignore him, Angel, and kiss me.”
She turned her head to stare at him. “What?” Her shrill voice echoed around the car. She dropped it to a whisper as she said, “Are you crazy? We don’t even know each other—plus we’re not alone.”
Looking amused, he asked, “So, exactly how well would I need to know you in order to taste that pouty mouth?” He tapped her lips, which, dammit, parted as if of their own volition.
Without thinking, Crystal pinched her arm. “Ouch!”
Mark grinned. “Are we going to have the dream-Mark chat again? That was one of the most entertaining moments of the weekend, Angel. Well, along with your confessions of stalking me.”
“Oh, my God,” she moaned. “This can’t be happening.”
“Ah, come on, baby, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m flattered as hell. Am I the only object of your obsession or are there others?” Giving her knee a quick squeeze, he added, “I’m not good at sharing, so you’ll
need to devote your complete attention to me from now on.”
Keeping her head down, Crystal mumbled, “People say all kinds of things when they’re sick, so you can’t hold it against me.” Before he could reply, the car slowed and they were pulling into the circular driveway in front of the Danvers headquarters. He didn’t do anything to stop her this time as she scurried from his lap and onto the seat next to him. Denny put the car in park and got out to open the door. She took his proffered hand and stood uncertainly, waiting for Mark to join them.
To her surprise, Denny threw an arm over her shoulders. “Nice meeting you, Crystal. I feel like we’re friends now, seeing as I’ve held your hair back while you were sick.” When she gave him a confused look, he added, “Oh, not in the car. It was in Mark’s flower bed while he unlocked the door at his house.”
Crystal looked helplessly at Mark as he stepped closer. He rolled his eyes at his driver before saying, “Stop tormenting her and go park the car. I’ll see you inside.” Denny gave him a quick salute before getting back in the car and driving away.
Studying Mark’s shiny shoes, she said, “So . . . um, thanks again for everything. Are you sure you don’t want the clothes back? I can skip lunch to avoid staining the dress.” Suddenly, a hand was under her chin, lifting her head until their eyes locked. Dear sweet Lord, she’d never thought of a man as lickable before, but oh, how she wanted to taste him. Then it happened . . . the ultimate mortification to put all other moments to shame. His mouth dropped open in shock,
and she realized suddenly that she had voiced her desire aloud. “No, no!” she hissed. “What are you doing to me? I can’t stop making a fool out of myself where you’re concerned.”
Mark, seeming to notice that she was now close to tears, pulled her into his arms and rubbed a hand down her back. “Damn, Angel. The only thing you’re doing is keeping me hard. I’ve never wanted to fuck anyone as badly as I want you. I’ve got a meeting with a roomful of men in about five minutes and my cock is hard enough to cut glass.”
Crystal moved closer despite her embarrassment, wanting proof of his words. There it was . . . the unmistakable feel of him pressed against her stomach. He made a pained sound and it hit her that she was practically dry-humping him on the sidewalk. She reluctantly stepped back, breaking his hold on her. She needed to salvage what little pride she had left. She was acting like a teenager with her first crush, instead of a grown woman. Extending a hand to him, she strove for a strong tone as she said, “Thanks for everything. I—maybe we’ll see each other around the office sometime.”
She had gotten a few steps away when she heard him say, “No kiss good-bye, Angel, after all we’ve been through together?”
Before she could talk herself out of it, she whirled around and retraced her steps. Standing on her toes, she dropped a kiss onto his smooth-shaven cheek, causing him to inhale deeply. Then she scurried away like a frightened mouse.
When she reached the doorway of Danvers, she
looked over her shoulder to see him still standing in the same place, looking confused. No doubt the poor man probably thought she was mental and was pondering relocation so he’d never have to see her again.
• • •
As soon as Mark opened the door to his office, he saw Denny sitting at his desk in the reception area with a big smirk on his face. “Don’t even start,” he growled as he walked past and shut his door. He’d given his assistant enough to keep him amused for the near future, and right now, he wasn’t in the mood to be heckled. Hell, what could he say? Both he and Denny knew that he’d acted completely out of character for the last several days and even he didn’t know why. It certainly wasn’t like him to be content to play house, but strangely enough, he had been.
When she’d stood on the sidewalk and stared at him as if in some type of daze before saying how much she’d like to lick him, he’d almost lost it. As it was, he’d had the hard-on of a lifetime with her luscious body plastered against him. He should be grateful she’d had enough sense to pull away, because his hand had been about an inch from her ass and closing in fast. His cock still throbbed just thinking about it. He was adjusting his zipper, trying to ease his discomfort, when Denny buzzed to let him know that Brant Stone was there to see him. Grimacing, Mark stayed seated as his friend opened the door.
Brant crossed the room, extending a hand. If he thought it strange that Mark didn’t get up to greet him, he didn’t mention it. Dropping into one of the chairs
in front of the desk, Brant asked, “So what’s the deal with you and my sister-in-law?”
Mark was momentarily taken aback by the question. “Ella?”
With a snort of impatience, Brant said, “No—Crystal. I heard she was at your house all weekend. Something about her being sick.” The narrowing of the other man’s eyes told Mark that he didn’t believe a damn word of it. That was the downside to being longtime friends with business associates. They tended to know far too much about your personal life. He and Brant had grown up in the same circles, so there weren’t many secrets between them.
Trying not to look guilty that he was battling an erection at the sound of Crystal’s name, Mark looked his friend in the eyes—and danced like a fucking ballerina. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he said, “Man, Ella is your sister-in-law. You are aware of that, right? I’m almost certain she’s the only one you have.”
Brant had always been a bit on the uptight side, and even though his fiancée, Emma, had loosened him up quite a bit, jokes still tended to fly over his head at times. Of course, he possibly didn’t look amused because he knew Mark was bullshitting him. “You know what I mean,” he said dryly. “I consider Crystal as much my family as Ella now. Declan was a little . . . concerned about how she came to be at your house.”
Mark couldn’t help but be irritated over the fact that neither of his friends considered him trustworthy. Hadn’t he always been there when they needed him, with no questions asked? Okay, maybe a few, but
nothing like this inquisition. “For fuck’s sake, Brant, I didn’t chain her up in my basement. She threw up on me on her way out of the building, before passing out. What would you have had me do, leave her on the curb?”
Brant pursed his lips, before shaking his head. “I’m grateful you helped her. But I’m not clear on why you took care of her for so long. I know Declan and Ella were out of town, but you could have called her parents or me.”
Mark gave a snort of disgust. “Her mother is one evil bitch. There’s no way I would have put Angel at her mercy.” Realizing his slip too late, he prayed that Brant hadn’t noticed his nickname for Crystal.
Predictably, Brant parroted, “Angel?”
Shifting nervously, he muttered, “Um, sorry. Crystal, I mean.” He could only hope that Brant thought he just couldn’t keep up with all the women he interacted with. Before he could ask further questions, Mark launched into an explanation of his first statement. “I was going to take her to the hospital, but she got really upset. Said her mother had left her there overnight once when she was young. She’d been scared to death and in pain. Now she has some sort of phobia over it. So I took her to my house and called a doctor. It was a nasty viral bug, and she was really sick for almost forty-eight hours. Would you have wanted to move her in that condition if I had called?” Brant looked uneasy now. Since the other man was a bit of a neat freak, Mark couldn’t imagine him dealing with what he had this weekend, and the look of horror on his face confirmed it.
“It sounds like we all owe you our gratitude,” Brant admitted. “Plus, you may have a small point about Declan’s mother-in-law. I haven’t interacted much with her, but Dec says she’s hell on wheels. I think Crystal’s been in her line of fire since her divorce. I guess both her mother and ex-husband are trying to pressure her into reconciliation.”
“Maybe they both need someone to spell it out for them. Ang—Crystal isn’t interested,” Mark retorted. What in the hell was he doing? He had no idea how she actually felt. For all he knew, she was dying to get back with her ex-husband. Even more worrisome was the fact that it pissed him off to even think about it. She wasn’t Mark’s, and he didn’t want her to be. He was just feeling strangely territorial after taking care of her for a few days. He’d never done something like that before, so it was only natural that he would be concerned about her—right?
Brant studied him for what seemed like hours but was probably only seconds. “We’re friends, Mark, and what you do in your personal life is your own business. Unless it involves someone that I care about.” Indignant, Mark opened his mouth to protest, but Brant waved him off and continued. “Crystal is so far out of your league that you two might as well be from different worlds. She might have been married, but like Ella, she’s led a very sheltered life. I know she’s attractive and would appeal to most men—especially once someone spends some time alone with her. But she wouldn’t know how to handle your world. You’ve got to know that, man.”