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Authors: Lucy Monroe

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BOOK: The Shy Bride
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Neo had never practiced self-denial when it came to sex. He met a woman he wanted, she wanted him, too, and they danced the horizontal mamba a few bars. Well, he wanted Cassandra, and he was damn sure she wanted him, too, but for the first time, that wasn’t the only consideration at hand.

The blow dryer cut off. Neo’s hands fisted at his sides
as he fought through an internal quagmire of conflicting thoughts. One thing shone through the rest—Cassandra Baker had spent twenty-nine years being denied aspects to life most people took for granted. First by the circumstances of her childhood and then by the limitations of the anxiety that plagued her.

He could give her a taste of passion—more than a taste, a whole buffet. Maybe friendship didn’t have to preclude sex. Not if both people wanted it.

And Neo wanted it. So did Cassandra.

Cass walked into the kitchen expecting to find Neo making tea, which was such a domestic thing to do, it really endeared him to her.

What she did not expect was the feral gleam in his green eyes and the clear tension thrumming through his body.

“Are you all right, Neo?” she asked, wondering if she should have put her suit jacket back on and not sure why that particular thought was flitting through her brain.

Except for the way he was looking at her. Like her white silk blouse was transparent and the lacy bra she wore beneath it not much better.

“You left it down.”

She looked to the right and then to the left, but neither the pristine counter nor the small bistro table set with goodies and tea things gave her a clue what he was going on about. “Um, okay. Did you want me to pour the tea?”

He didn’t answer, his hands clenched as if he was trying to stop himself touching something.

“Uh, Neo? You’re starting to worry me.”

“Is it desire or lack of opportunity?” he demanded in a guttural voice.

“I don’t think I know what you are talking about.” In fact, she was sure of it. “Your virginity?”

“My vir…” she squeaked, choking the word off midway. “What are you talking about?” And why were they talking about it? Being untouched at age twenty-nine was not exactly her favorite topic for contemplation.

He crossed the distance between them with two long strides. “Your innocence. Is it a condition you are pleased about?”

“Pleased?” Right. Because every woman wanted to stare thirty down without ever having had a boyfriend, much less a serious relationship. “Neo, you aren’t making any sense!”

“It is a simple question,
pethi mou.”

“I’m sure it is, only I don’t know what the question is.” She was getting an inkling, though, and her face was flaming because of it.

“Zee said you might not be a virgin by choice, but rather by necessity.”

“Necessity?”

“For lack of opportunity,” he clarified.

“You talked to Zephyr about my sex life?” she asked in outrage as her brain finally caught up.

He ignored her. “Lack of sex life. If you had a sex life, my own would be so much easier.”

“I don’t see how.”

He slid his hand under her hair to cup her nape, the gentle touch at odds with the feral gleam in his green gaze. “Don’t you?”

The heat from his hand froze her vocal chords. No, that didn’t make any sense. Shouldn’t heat unfreeze them? But they felt frozen, unable to move. All she really knew was that
she couldn’t speak. She wasn’t even sure why she was having the silent dialogue in her head, except that it was easier to think about that then what Neo was trying to discuss.

“I do not wish to take advantage of you.” His thumb brushed her neck, up and down…up and down, sending tingles through her with each light sweep.

Her vocal chords finally unstuck. “Neo, you cannot go around discussing my private life with Zephyr.” Really, really.

“I did not go anywhere. I called him from right here.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know I want you.”

“You do?” Okay, that bit of information was certainly enough to sidetrack her.

“Definitely.”

“But what about the
no kissing friends
rule?”

“I am rethinking my stance on that one.”

“Oh.” Well, it was probably a good idea, considering the fact he kept breaking it.

“Hence the call to Zephyr.” Where they talked about her virginity.

Oh, man. Her whole body flushed with embarrassment. “And he said…”

“That I should let you make your own choices. That you are an adult.”

“He’s right. I’ve been all grown up for years and as much as it seems to happen—or used to—I detest having others make important decisions for me. Only the problem here is that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be choosing between.”

“Sex with me.”

Oh, heavens. Okay, she really got it now. “As opposed to friendship without sex?” she asked, just to be sure. “Precisely.”

“And after the sex?”

“The friendship remains.”

Friendship never remained for her, sex, or no sex, but now probably wasn’t the time to mention that salient little fact to him. “Friends with benefits.”

“I guess.” A sound of dark amusement came out of him. “Some benefit. As I told you, I have never had a female friend before.”

“But you do now. And you want to make love, er, have sex with her.”

A brilliant smile broke over his features. “Exactly.”

“But you don’t want anything else. Beyond friendship?”

The troubled expression returned. “It is not fair to you.”

“Why? If it’s fair to you and I do assume you think it is? Why wouldn’t it be fair to me?” What made her so special?

“You are far less cynical than I. And I’m worried you will mistake our intimacy for…”

“Love?” she asked, clueing in to the fact that even in the abstract he wasn’t comfortable saying the word. Never mind the obvious reality that he thought she wasn’t just lacking in cynicism but was encumbered with a big dose of emotional naiveté.

“Right.”

“It goes without saying you won’t make the same mistake.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I have never fallen for any of the women I’ve taken to my bed.”

“If you had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” And even the thought had the power to hurt her. Maybe she was more at risk here than she realized.

“The truth is, I don’t think I’m a guy who does the softer emotions.”

“Ah, you don’t think you are capable of love?”

“I have never loved anyone, never been loved by anyone.”

She knew that wasn’t true. The affection he and Zephyr shared was love if she’d ever seen it. They loved like brothers. Like family. She hadn’t experienced it but she knew what it looked like. Family love. Neo was clearly uncomfortable acknowledging the feeling but he’d been lucky to experience it.

The discussion was moot in regard to her anyway. She hadn’t engendered unconditional love in her own parents, no way was it going to spring forth from Neo’s manly chest in relation to her. She had never expected to be loved—longed for it, but never expected it. And it had been years since she allowed herself to even daydream about such a thing. She didn’t feel as lonely when she didn’t dwell on what she could not have.

And she wasn’t going to let it stop her from having what she could.

“I’m not expecting love from you,” she told him honestly.

CHAPTER NINE

“W
HAT
do you expect?”

“Nothing. I learned a long time ago that expectations lead to disappointment.”

“What are you looking for, then?”

“I’m not sure I’m looking for anything. Your advent into my life was like a comet dropping from the sky, totally unanticipated and a little earthshaking, if you want the truth. Your friendship is a remarkable gift.”

He took a deep breath and stepped back. “That’s it then.”

“But sex would be wonderful, too.” Not that she thought
wonderful
even began to describe what she would feel sharing her body with this man.

“So it
is
a matter of opportunity.”

“Not exactly.” She hadn’t dated. She’d never kissed, but she’d met men who wanted to bed her. Groupies that might be rich and snobby, but were groupies nonetheless and frankly, they’d scared her silly.

Almost as badly as getting on stage to play a concert.
Talk about performance anxiety. What would someone who almost deified her because of something she couldn’t control—her talent—expect from her in bed?

“But you do want me now?”

“Right now?” she asked with an embarrassing hitch in her voice.

“Yes, right now.”

“I always want you,” she admitted quietly. “From the very beginning I’ve wanted you, even when I didn’t recognize what that feeling was.”

“But you recognize it now?”

“Yes.” And how. It was a screaming ache inside her. And he was offering to assuage it. She could have cried with relief.

“And you are ready to act on those feelings?”

“Here? Now?” Her voice had gone high with nerves, though to be honest—yes, and
yes.

“Do you have other plans?”

“Tea?”

He smiled, almost indulgently, though his demeanor was anything but. He looked like an ancient warrior contemplating his next conquering. “I think tea can wait.”

She could do nothing but nod. Tea
could
wait. He could not. Her virginity would not. She maintained a fa7#231;ade of semicalm on the outside, but inside, she was shaking.

He must have sensed it because he bent down and picked her up, one arm under her legs and another behind her back. Just like always, she felt safe with him, even when faced with the unknown. He turned and headed down the hall that led to the bedrooms.

“I don’t want to get naked in a bed tons of other women have gotten sweaty in.” Not only did her heart—which
wasn’t supposed to be engaged in this—rebel, but so did her
ick
factor.

The last must be the only thing that registered with him because instead of getting all worried that she was getting emotionally carried away, he laughed. “I change the sheets or rather, my housekeeper does.”

“I don’t care. We can use a guest bed.”

“Actually, we cannot.”

She frowned up at him.

“When I bring them back to my penthouse, I don’t take women to my bedroom, we go into the guest room.”

“Okay, it’s the master bedroom then.”

“You do not mind
my
sweat?”

“We are friends.”

“Ah.” But he was still clearly laughing at her.

She didn’t care. He could be as amused as he liked, but while she might not ever have his heart, she would demand every concession his friendship afforded.

Neo could not believe that he was carrying Cassandra into his bedroom with serious intent. The intent to share his bed and his body. His hold on her tightened as he inhaled her scent and reveled in the knowledge of what was to come.

His body rejoiced while his brain tried to wrap around the change in his circumstances. She wanted him and she understood the limitations of their relationship. Not only understood, but accepted.

Friends with benefits. He would have to discuss this concept with her. The idea she might decide to have benefits with another friend down the road did not sit well with him. Their case was a special one and she would need to
understand that. Another man might not treat her generosity with the respect and appreciation it deserved.

But right now, Neo was going to give her exactly what he had promised. He was going to blow her mind with pleasure.

They entered the bedroom and he turned on the light with his elbow. The California king-size bed was in the center of the room and he headed directly for it. He leaned down to pull back the top sheet and duvet, then he laid her on his black Egyptian cotton sheet-covered mattress. Her beautiful brown hair fanned out on the pillows just as he had known it would.

Reaching out, he smoothed his fingers through it. “It’s like silk.”

“It flies everywhere when I don’t keep it put up.”

“And yet you left it down for me.”

She looked at him with confusion for a second, but then she smiled and nodded. “Yes, I think I did.”

“You knew I craved to see and feel it.”

“I did notice you looking at my braid rather intently by the pool.”

“I was looking at all of you intently.”

“I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t imagining that.”

“You were not.”

“I’m glad.” Her smile was sweet and, for all her innocence, full of womanly mystery. “As am I.”

“I wanted to feel our bodies pressed close together in just our swimwear.”

“I will give you better than that. There will be nothing between us.”

She shuddered, her eyelids going half-mast. “I might not survive it.”

“You are good for my ego.” And Zee had been so right. Even the bantering with her was different…he was himself, he wanted to talk.

“Does it need stroking?”

“No,” he admitted with a smile. “But it feels good nonetheless.”

“I get that.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. I know I have uncommon talent with the piano, but it still feels really nice when others express their appreciation.”

“You do get it.” She got
him
like no one else. Not even Zephyr. The warm approval in her pretty amber eyes went straight to his groin. “Yep.”

“Get this,” he said as his hungry mouth pressed down over hers.

Her lips gave way under his almost immediately and he took instant advantage, sliding his tongue inside to taste sweetness that was rapidly becoming addictive. Her response was complete and unhesitating. She flicked her tongue against his while her sweet lips moved with unconscious sensuality.

His body knew what to do and without even thinking about it, he started stripping his clothing away as he kept her occupied with one devouring kiss after another. He wore only his briefs when he started on the buttons of her blouse.

Her hands slid down from his head and seemed to stutter when they encountered naked skin, but within seconds she was caressing everywhere she could reach, her slender fingers mapping his torso with passionate curiosity.

He slid her blouse back, revealing her lovely body. He wanted to see, but he didn’t want to stop kissing her.

She made up his mind for him by dragging her mouth from his. “You won’t be disappointed?”

He reared back and looked down at her, taking in the satin smooth skin of her stomach and the worried glint in her amber gaze at the same time. “How could I be disappointed? You are beautiful.”

“I am not.”

“Who determines the splendor of a piece of music?” he demanded.

“The person listening.”

“And who decides what is beautiful in what they see?” She hesitated for a moment, but then grudgingly said, “The person looking.”

“So?”

“To you I am beautiful, but you’re just saying that.”

“No.”

“But…”

“You must trust my words.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” He used the moment of trust to pull her blouse the rest of the way off and dispense with her bra in one well-practiced series of movements.

Instead of trying to cover up as he half suspected she might, she reached up. “Come closer, I want to feel your skin against mine.”

“You are perfect for me,” he told her heatedly. “I adore this passionate innocence of yours.”

“Passionate innocence. That’s me,” she said with a self-deprecating laugh that choked off into a moan when he gave her what she craved and felt the trembling result in the feminine limbs wrapped around his shoulders.

How had such a sensual woman made it to twenty-

nine without having sex? Even with her lifestyle and limitations?

“That’s so good,” she breathed into his ear while moving from side to side infinitesimally. “So good.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I want my slacks off, too.”

“My pleasure.” And it was, undoing the crisp navy trousers and pulling them down her legs.

He had to stop and look, soak in the sight of her sprawled out on his bed in nothing but her panties.

“Incredible,” he said.

She shook her head. “Now, I know you are lying. You told me I had bird legs.”

“I was teasing.” With a shake of his head for her ignorance, he pressed his body down onto hers, reveling in the feel of naked flesh pressed against naked flesh. “I was picturing them wrapped around my torso while I pleasured you.”

“You weren’t.”

“I was.”

“Like this?” she asked in an innocent tone, completely belied by the mischievous sparkle in her eyes. Her legs wrapped around his hips, her calves hooking over his thighs.

“Exactly like that.” He took a deep breath and held it while keeping his body rigid. “Careful,
pethi mou.
I am in grave danger of reaching the goal long before the game is over.”

“A Casanova like you?” she teased. “I don’t believe it.”

“Believe.” No matter how embarrassing he might find it, that was the truth.

“I like affecting you that strongly.”

“I, too, like it.” And to prove how much, he began to kiss
her again. This time, caressing her with his lips all over her face and down her neck.

Her legs’ hold on his hips broke as he continued his oral caresses down over her satiny shoulders and lower to her breasts.

Her breathing, which had grown rapid and shallow, hitched. “Oh, oh…Neo…yes. I like that.”

He would have laughed if he had any air to make the sound, but he didn’t feel like laughing when his lips closed around one delicately pink peak and she cried out with shocked delight. He felt like giving the victory chant. She was so incredibly responsive. To him.

Every one of her reactions belonged to him and him alone. As did she.

No matter how temporary his possession, it pounded through him as a primitive, fierce drumbeat. She was his.

He nibbled, suckled and licked her nipple and the soft mound surrounding it, like she was a particularly tasty ice cream cone, until she was making incoherent sounds of need. And then he moved to her other petite breast and gave it just as much attention.

Her hands went from caressing him, to burying in his hair, to pulling his hair, as she bucked her hips in an ancient if unconscious plea.

No matter how much he wanted to give in to that silent demand, she wasn’t ready. Not yet. But she would be.

He was going to drive his sensual little virgin out of her mind with carnal delight.

With that goal firmly entrenched in his mind, he moved down her torso, his lips and tongue caressing and tasting the salty smoothness of her skin. She writhed under his ministrations, making incoherent demands when he tongued her
belly button. His hands were busy revisiting every spot his mouth had already been.

He played with her breasts, but it wasn’t until he pinched and teased at her hard little nubs that she tried to arch up off the bed. He laughed in victory-filled pleasure against her smooth stomach and slid his mouth lower. When he reached her hot pink panties, he stopped with his teeth on her waistband.

Everything in Cassandra seemed to go still. She stared down at him. Their eyes locked as he made silent promises and she reeled from the message he knew she could read in his gaze. He was going to make this the best first time she could possibly have.

She deserved the most incredible experience he could give her. She wasn’t just a one-night stand; she was his friend. And her innocence was not merely a powerful aphrodisiac, it was a great responsibility as well.

With a jerk of his head, he tugged the small scrap of lace down. Blatant desire tinged by virginal uncertainty washed over Cassandra’s precious features. She canted her pelvis so that he could pull off her last piece of clothing over her hips.

In other circumstances, she might be shy, but in this, Cassandra was tantalizingly open.

Pretty brown curls were revealed to his hungry gaze now that her panties were on the floor with the rest of their clothes. The natural feminine mystique was a nice change from the waxed, shaved and tweezed nether regions he’d been exposed to over the past few years.

He ruffled the curls with his fingertips and she bit her lip on a moan.

He smiled. “Sensitive?”

“Yes, but…”

He brushed his hands down her legs, stopping with them clasped around her ankles. “There are so many things your body can feel that I look forward to showing you.”

“And will you feel them, too?”

She was smart, his sweet little Cassandra. “Yes. Giving you pleasure will turn me on so much I won’t be able to stop—”

“Pounding into me.”

The earthy words coming from her prim mouth were almost enough to send him over the edge. “You are dangerous,
pethi mou.”

“That’s good to know.” And indeed, she did look proud of herself. Then she dipped her head, looking up at him through her lashes in a gesture he was coming to recognize as her default in uncertainty. “You won’t really pound. Not at first, will you?”

“Sweetheart, I will never hurt you. Not even accidentally. I will be so careful with you, you will beg me to hurry.”

“That could be fun.” Her words were all bravado, but the relief in her lovely features told its own story.

“Yes, I think it will be.”

“You know what else would be fun?”

“Many things. What did you have in mind?” he asked, enjoying himself in a way he never had in bed with a woman.

“You. Naked.”

“You are a delight.”

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear that. Now, strip.”

BOOK: The Shy Bride
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