Authors: Lori Foster
The question threw him. “I want you all right.”
“You’re not drunk this morning?”
“Dead sober.” He’d
be drunk again.
“Then…” She shifted, looked up at him. “Okay.”
His knees almost gave out. Was Grace trying to kill him? He tightened his hold on her upper arms and tugged her the smallest bit closer. “Okay? What the hell does
“Yesterday you were so drunk, I knew I couldn’t take advantage of you.”
“You couldn’t…” She left him speechless.
“I especially wanted to touch you. Leaving you in your boxers wasn’t easy. But I promise, I behaved.”
behaved? “Grace, are you saying we really didn’t do anything? As in
? As in not even kissing?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Oh.” That one word held a wealth of disappointment. “You, uh, well you did kiss me a couple of times. It was…really nice.”
The timid way she confessed that made Noah want to kiss her again. He
to kiss her.
The Novels of Lori Foster
Just a Hint—Clint
When Bruce Met Cyn
The Secret Life of Bryan
Say No to Joe?
Never Too Much
Too Much Temptation
Truth or Dare
Anthologies Featuring Lori Foster
I’m Your Santa
A Very Merry Christmas
Bad Boys of Summer
When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys
The Night Before Christmas
Perfect for the Beach
Bad Boys in Black Tie
Bad Boys to Go
Jingle Bell Rock
Bad Boys on Board
I Brake for Bad Boys
I Love Bad Boys
All Through the Night
Published by Kensington Books
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
oah Harper stood frozen in the carpeted hallway of his fiancée’s house while his skin prickled with some vague, unsettling emotion. It wasn’t really anger or grief. It sure as hell wasn’t jealousy.
If Noah hadn’t known better, he might have sworn it was…relief. He shook his head at the thought. No, he’d wanted to marry Kara. He’d accepted it as his fate and even viewed it as part of a grand plan for the future. Not really
grand plan, but then, he didn’t think in grand terms. His grandmother did.
Noah liked Kara, respected her and her parents, and his grandmother adored her. Almost from the time he’d met Kara, everyone had assumed they’d eventually marry. In one month, they would have.
Without a conscious decision, Noah moved toward the obvious sounds of soft moans, low encouragement, and rustling sheets. He wasn’t in any particular hurry, because he already knew what he’d find.
He was wrong.
Very, very wrong.
Oh, Kara was in bed all right, doing exactly what he’d suspected she was doing: having very passionate sex, when all he ever got from her was perfunctory attendance. It was her partner who was so unexpected.
Not that it really mattered.
Noah’s eyes narrowed as Kara gave a particularly ardent moan and bowed her slender body in a violent climax. He watched, unmoved.
Faced with such a bizarre circumstance, Noah pondered what to do, and settled on propping one shoulder on the door frame, crossing his arms, and waiting. Surely he’d be noticed soon enough, and at the moment, his territorial nature rejected the idea of offering them privacy. After all, Kara was his fiancée—or rather, she had been.
That had all changed now.
Her skin dewy from exertion, her eyes dazed and soft in a way Noah had never experienced, Kara leaned back and sighed. “Oh God, that was incredible.���
“Mmm,” came the husky, satisfied reply. “I can give you more.”
Looking scandalized and anxious, Kara purred, “Yes?” and came up on one elbow to smile at her lover.
That’s when she noticed Noah.
Kara’s beautiful face paled and her kiss-swollen lips opened in a shocked, horrified
. Her lover, with his dark eyes glittering and bold, lounged back in antagonistic silence.
Amazingly enough, Kara snatched up the sheet to conceal her body…from Noah.
Noah shook his head in disgust—most of it self-directed. He’d been a royal fool. He’d treated her gently, with deference, with patience. And she’d cheated on him.
“Don’t faint, Kara. I’m not going to cause a scene.” Noah didn’t even bother to glance at the other man—there was no challenge there.
Instead, Noah lent all his attention to the woman he’d expected to be his wife. “Under the circumstances, I’m sure you’ll agree the wedding is off.”
Kara gasped in panic. Having said his piece, Noah turned on his heel to stalk away. He was aware of the race of his pulse, the pounding of determination that surged in his blood. It wouldn’t be pleasant, ending elaborate plans already in progress. The upper society of Gillespe, Kentucky, was about to be rocked by a bit of a surprise.
Kara’s parents, Hillary and Jorge, had gone all out on preparations for the celebration. They’d rented an enormous hall and purchased a wedding gown that had cost more than many houses. Guests were invited from around the country, and all of Gillespe was aware of the impending nuptials.
His grandmother…God, Noah didn’t even want to think about Agatha’s reaction. She fancied herself a leader of the community, and she was tight with Hillary and Jorge, treating them like relatives as well as her dearest friends. In many ways, she already thought of Kara as her own.
Noah bounded down the spiraling carpeted stairs two at a time, anxious to get away from the house so his mind could quit churning and settle on a course of action. He’d learned at an early age, while being shuffled from one foster home to another, to make cool, calculated decisions and then to analyze the repercussions so that nothing could ever again take him by surprise.
This time, he had few choices, so his decisions were easy. He wouldn’t marry Kara now, but at the same time, he hated to disappoint his grandmother.
He’d just started to pull the front door open when a small hand grabbed his upper arm. “Noah!”
Damn. He’d really hoped to avoid this confrontation. He sighed and turned.
Kara stared up at him with wet eyes and a trembling mouth. Her fair skin blanched whiter than usual, with none of the rosy glow he’d grown used to. She wore only a hastily tied robe that emphasized the swells and hollows of her body—a body he’d once thought very sexy. Her short golden brown hair was becomingly tousled and as Noah watched, she released him and ran a shaking hand over her forehead, pushing her wispy bangs aside.
Her shoulders slumped and she looked down at her bare feet. “I’m sorry.”
A cynical smile curled Noah’s mouth. He could just imagine how sorry Kara felt right now. How could he ever have considered making her his wife? “Sorry you were caught?”
She clasped her hands together. “There’s more than just our wedding at stake, Noah, you know that. My parents…” She shuddered. “Oh God, I can’t imagine how they’ll react. Everyone has been planning for us to marry for so long.”
Noah snorted. “Your folks accepted me, Kara, mostly out of respect for my grandmother. I doubt they’ll be brokenhearted not to have me in the family. There’re plenty of other guys they’d rather you marry and we both know it.”
“They love Agatha.” Kara looked at him, her expression fierce. “I love Agatha.”
At least that much was true, Noah decided. “Yeah, my grandmother loves you, too.”
Much more than she’ll ever care about me.
“You’re the daughter she never had, the granddaughter she wants, the female relative to fill all the slots. She dotes on you, and I doubt that’ll change.”
Kara swallowed hard. “This will kill her.”
The laugh took him by surprise. “Kill Agatha? She’ll outlive us all.”
“Noah, please, don’t do this.”
Big tears ran down her cheeks and she quivered all over, truly beside herself, pleading. Why the hell did women always resort to tears to get their way?
“Please don’t ruin me. Don’t ruin my family. I can’t bear the thought of everyone—”
Realization dawned, and with it, a heavy dose of disgust. Didn’t Kara know him at all?
Noah looked at her sad, panicked eyes and accepted that no, she didn’t. She’d have married him, but she didn’t really know him.
Just as she’d never really wanted him.
He said, “Hey,” very softly, and watched her try to gather herself. Any second now he’d have a hysterical woman on his hands.
Looking at it from her perspective, now knowing what she expected of him, Noah could understand why.
Feeling a surge of compassion, Noah took her delicate hands in his. “Listen to me, Kara. The wedding is off; there’s no changing that. But why we ended it is no one’s business but our own, all right?”
Her mouth opened and she gulped air. She wiped her eyes on her shoulder, sniffed loudly. “You mean that? You really mean that?”
Hell, he was used to worse hardships than censure. Kara had led a pampered life protected from ugliness, never forced to face the harsh realities life often dealt.
Noah had learned to survive almost as a toddler. He could shoulder the heat much more easily than she. “Yeah, why not?” Then he added, “I’ll break the news to everyone if you want.”
She pulled her hands free and searched in her pocket for a tissue. “I don’t believe you.” A shaky laugh trickled out. “You’re too damn good, Noah Harper.”
Now there was a joke. “No, I just don’t relish being humiliated either.”
Rather than make her laugh, she covered her face and sobbed. “I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“We were obviously never meant to marry, babe, you know that.” It was Noah’s turn to glance up the stairs, but her lover wisely stayed out of his sight. Noah shook his head, still bemused by her choice. “Your secret is safe with me.”
She threw herself into his arms, leaving him to awkwardly deal with her gratitude. Noah wanted only to escape. Even at the best of times, he’d never totally felt at ease with Kara. She was too refined, too polished and proper—the opposite of him.
Noah set her aside and said, “Maybe you should think about a quick trip, until you have time to figure out what you want to say. I’ll wait to tell Agatha until tomorrow, to give you time to get away.”
She managed a pathetic smile. “Thank you, Noah. Really.”
Kara had just saved him from making a horrible mistake. Though he felt like thanking her right back, Noah merely nodded and walked out. For more than the obvious reason waiting upstairs, tying himself to Kara would have been a disaster.
For one thing, he didn’t love her. If he had, he wouldn’t be so easy right now. He should have realized that sooner.
As he went down the walk, he felt the sun on his face, the chill of a late spring breeze, the freshness of the day—but he didn’t feel hurt or heartsick. He felt no real sense of loss.
For another thing, sex with Kara had offered no more than base physical release. She’d never blown his mind, never burned him up. During their engagement, he’d been faithful, and he’d made do with the few quick, passionless screws he’d gotten from her.
But God, he missed the burning satisfaction of hot, sweaty, grinding sex. He missed the bite of a woman’s nails, her teeth, when she felt too much pleasure to be gentle. He missed the clasp of sleek thighs wrapped around his waist and the softer, hungrier clasp of a woman’s body on his cock. He missed the throaty, raw groans during a woman’s climax.
He missed the wetness.
Kara had been a lady through and through, even while under him. Ha! He was a blind fool. A lucky blind fool, because now he was free.
It wouldn’t be easy, but he’d deal with the families and the gossip sure to arise—and then he’d find himself a wild woman, a woman who matched him in every way. He’d ride her hard until he’d worked off every ounce of tension. Then
be the one to leave
Noah’s last thought as he drove away from his ex-fiancée’s house was that he could hardly wait.
Grace was so furious with herself, she felt like spitting. The near-torrential rainfall didn’t slow her down as she splashed her way up the sidewalk to Noah’s building, her every step punctuated by a passionate rage. Eight days. Eight hellish days she’d been away, probably when Noah had needed her most. She’d expected to come home to a list of things yet to be done for the wedding, because Agatha did love to give her lists.
Instead, she’d come home to the tail end of an uproar.
She swiped away a tear of fury that mingled with the rain dripping down her cheek. It was always that way. Hurt her, insult her, and she was fine. She’d summon up calm dignity and deal with it. But let her get really mad and look out—she cried like a baby.
Damn her car for breaking down, damn Agatha for being a hardheaded matriarch, and damn everyone for ever doubting him.
Poor Noah. Poor honorable, loyal Noah.
Spurred on by her convictions, Grace hurried on. She slipped as she jerked the foyer door open and bounded inside onto slick marble tile. She’d have landed on her well-padded behind if it weren’t for Graham, the doorman, catching her arm and wrestling her upright.
“Here now!” Graham said with some surprise, maintaining his hold on her arm as Grace started to dart past.
It took him a moment to recognize her with her hair hanging in long, sodden ropes in her face and her clothes saturated through and through, making them baggier than usual. When he did recognize her, his old eyes widened.
“Ms. Jenkins! What in the world are you doing out in this storm?”
Grace forced herself to slow down. “Sorry, Graham. Is Noah in?”
“Yes, ma’am. He’s with his brother.”
Grace would rather have had her visit with Noah in private, without Ben as an audience, but at least Noah was home. Besides, she should have known Ben would be close at hand. He very much respected his brother, and always offered unconditional support.
Grace was relieved that Noah hadn’t been all alone during the ordeal.
“My stupid car broke down a few blocks from here,” she told Graham. “I’ll call triple A from Noah’s.”
“Should I announce you?”
Noah had a standing rule that his family was always welcome. Grace was in no way a blood relative, but as his grandmother’s personal secretary, Noah granted her the same importance. She’d known Noah for three years. She’d loved him just about that long.
Not that she would ever tell anyone, especially not Noah.
“No, I’ll go on up. But thanks.”
The doorman shook his head as she turned away, probably thinking she had less sense than a turkey to go running through the stormy weather. But she simply hadn’t possessed the patience to wait in her car for a cab. A little rain wouldn’t melt her, and since hearing what Agatha had done yesterday, how she’d treated Noah because of the breakup, Grace had been filled with a driving urgency to reach him, to let him know that at least one person still…what? Still believed in him, still trusted in his innate honor?