Authors: Nicole Austin & Allie Standifer
Tags: #Erotic Romance
“What are you doing?” Karen demanded as she turned to face him, green eyes blazing.
“Darlin’, you seem determined to pick a fight so I’m obliging you in the safest way I know how.” Trip unsnapped his seat belt and turned until he stared right into her beautiful, fiery eyes.
“We’ll be late. Syndra, Ice, and the rest of our friends will worry.” She didn’t seem to upset by the idea, merely throwing random roadblocks in his direction.
He agreed and didn’t want to worry anyone. Grabbing his sat phone from the dash cubby, Trip quickly typed a message to the guys. Seconds later, his phone buzzed with replies.
Squashing the grin that wanted to form, Trip swiped his finger over the screen. “There, everyone knows we’re okay and we’ll be a little late. Now, let’s have it.”
“Have what,” she asked in a sulky tone, determined to hold onto her anger regardless of how unreasonable.
“The explanation of why you turned into a shrill, insecure harpy,” he responded honestly.
She sucked in a sharp breath at the insult. “You don’t know me well enough to judge me.”
“Darlin, I know you better than you think. I know you’re a naturally generous, giving woman but afraid to trust. You turn me on faster than anyone I’ve met. I want to know what you’re thinking, what makes you smile, who pisses you off, and where your favorite place to be touched is.”
“No.” The soft curls around her pretty face tumbled with her movement. “You can’t mean that. You just met me, and the sex is screwing with your head. Tomorrow, you’ll wake up and wonder what the hell you ever saw in me. You’ll be grateful one of us remained sane.” Panic made her green eyes glow in the dim car interior.
“You really believe that,” he stated in amazement. The most beautiful and sexiest woman he’d ever met doubted his sincere interest in her. The repercussions of his past were truly coming back to bite him on the ass. Payback for every female he dated and walked away from without so much as a backward glance.
Absently, he rubbed a hand over his aching heart while wondering what to do next. How to convince Karen he wanted more from her than a few fucks?
“Of course, I mean it,” she said. “We have nothing in common but sex, and after a few days, even that would wear off. It’s better to end things between us now than deal with a broken heart later.”
“Broken heart?” Did that mean she already felt something for him? “You think I’ll break your heart?” He tried to keep the happiness out of his tone but must not have been successful since she glared at him.
“What, eager to add another notch to your bedpost? You don’t have enough conquests already and need to branch out into fluffy ladies?”
“No,” he protested shaking his head in denial. “There are no notches. I don’t even have a headboard. You’re Karen, the smart-ass, graphic artist who had me hard all night with just one look at your silky skin or the taste of your lips. I can’t compare you to anyone because there’s no equal. Darlin’, you’re one of a kind, and I can’t get enough of you. What I need to know is have you had enough of me? You want me gone?”
Karen’s mouth opened and closed without uttering a word. Did he mean it? He wanted more time with her? She shook her head as thoughts rattled around aimlessly.
The last thing she expected setting out for Syndra’s wedding was to have a heart to heart discussion. Trip wanted to talk about feelings again, the big bad Navy SEAL pulled the girl card. Karen didn’t know what to do.
Then again, she hadn’t known what she was doing or saying from the moment she sat her generous rump in the front seat. The bitter taste of jealousy and panic sat on uneasy on her tongue as she pictured Trip seducing Syn. The image and insecurity must have shut down her brain since that was the only reason she could possibly think of for turning into Queen Bitch of the Universe. Damn it, had she gone and fallen for the hunky Navy man even as she’d been congratulating herself on maintaining her perspective?
Life didn’t usually reward her so generously. Something deep within her latched onto his words and hope whispered the possibilities in her ear.
“Karen, darlin’, don’t leave me hanging here. It’s my first time having this talk with a woman. Did I screw it up? Should I have waited? Did I completely screw it?”
Karen shook her head in denial. “Trip, I’m…” Giving up on finding the perfect words, she parted her lips and spoke from the heart. “I’m terrified. Terrified that you don’t mean what you say and even more terrified that you do. Things like this don’t happen to me. Hot military men with ripped abs and the tightest ass I’ve ever seen don’t generally pop into my life and rock my world.”
Serious pale eyes caught and held her gaze as he slid his calloused palm to cup the back of her neck. “Darlin’, I’m not much better at this emotional stuff. I’d rather blow shit up and shoot bad guys. I know how to do that with my eyes closed. I know nothing about relationships.”
She smiled, the sheer honesty in his voice easing her fear as nothing else could have. “Little kid syndrome?”
“You know it.” He playfully winked at her. “But for the first time in my life, I finally found someone worth staying around for. I’ve got these feelings…for you—”
“Lust does not equal lo—” Karen clapped a hand over her mouth, praying he would ignore her slip. As usual someone upstairs ignored her desperate pleas.
“Love? Is that what you were going to say? Lust doesn’t equal love?” One dark brow rose in the way that infuriated and aroused her.
Playing it safe, Karen kept her mouth shut and stared at the graffiti tagged warehouse over his shoulder. The less she said the less ammunition Trip would have to work with.
“Karen.” He reached out to turn her head. Their eyes met, and the honest emotions she found in Trip’s rocked her straight to her heart. “I’m not claiming to be in love, not yet. I’ve never been in love, but I’ve never felt this strong connection with any woman. And that’s not just my dick talking either, though he agrees one hundred percent.”
“Please tell me you didn’t name your man junk?” The thought alone had her biting back a smile.
“Of course, I did.”
“Ugh, what is it with men and naming body parts?” The whole idea screamed immaturity. “You don’t see women running around naming their boobs, do you?”
His pale gaze dropped down to her chest as if unerringly drawn there by her comment. “May I say, on behalf of men everywhere, we’d be happy if you did. I kind of like the idea of calling the girls by their proper names.”
“Tell the truth, Trip.” She deliberately lifted her gaze to the side of his head as if searching for something while avoiding his gaze. “You were dropped a lot as a child, right? Or maybe you spent a little too much time playing with things that go boom?”
His laughter sent pleasure shooting through her. That quickly the fight ended and her fear dissipated. “You’d have to ask my mama about the dropped thing. I can, however, assure you that I always protect my most important assets from possible injury.”
“Shit.” She looked at the clock on his dash. “We’re so late. Syn is going to kick both our asses.”
“Ice will cover for us,” he stated in a confident tone.
“Once my partner figures out we’re late, nothing Ice can say or do will save either of us.” Typical of men always thinking brawn beat brains, but Karen knew better. “So get this car in gear before she puts us on a hit list.”
Doing as she instructed, Trip put the car in gear and once more headed to the marina. She still couldn’t believe he’d talked her into letting him drive. Surrendering that battle and handing over her keys had been intended to save time. “I’d tell you to relax, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.”
“Brownie points for you.”
Sliding her a concerned glance, Trip thankfully was smart enough to clamp his lips shut and kept his eyes on the road. Twenty minutes later, they pulled into the busy marina parking lot. Following the printed directions, they soon stopped next to Ice’s black truck.
Before she’d even undone her seatbelt, her door was yanked open by a gorgeous but frowning Alexa. She looked splendid in her deep purple gown, her hair upswept, and her makeup flawlessly applied. “You’re late.”
Effortlessly and with great pleasure, Karen threw her lover to the angry female. “Blame him.” She pointed her finger at Trip. “I was ready, but he just had to stop for a chat.”
She spared Trip a quick glance, bracing herself for the anger she knew would be there. Instead, he shocked her again by laughing, his blue eyes bright with humor.
“Alexa, you gorgeous thing you.” He shamelessly flirted with the angry bridesmaid and his best friend’s girl. “When are you going to dump Jagger and run away with me?”
“Trip, you wouldn’t know what to do with me if you had me,” Alexa taunted as a smile tugged at her lips.
Did the man have this effect on every woman regardless of race, age, or relationship status? A few words from his silky lips and the anger seemed to drain away.
Trip waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated, lewd manner. “Oh, I can think of one or two things to do with you, hon. Unfortunately, Jagger would have my nuts flame-broiled if I tried.”
“Damn straight,” Alexa’s hunky man growled low as he pulled the lush beauty into the security of his embrace. “Besides my woman has better taste than to run off with an idiot who has a public women’s bathroom fetish.”
Trip hopped out of the vehicle with fluid grace, his smile wide and open as he shared a meaningful look with his friend. “Tell me you don’t do the same? Chicks have some tricked out places to pee. Couches, smell good things on the counters, and sometimes, actual towels to wipe their hands. We’re getting ripped off, I tell you!”
“Let it go, Trip. It’s time to move on and find something new to capture your manic attention. Although…” Jagger slid his gaze to Karen and left the sentence hanging. She figured it was some kind of silent male communication that went straight over her head.
“Already got it covered, Jag.” Trip made some sort of odd hand signal, and Jagger laughed until Alexa sent her elbow into his stomach.
“Enough you two. We’ve got to go. Syn’s going to be worse than a rabid monkey on crack if we don’t show up soon.” Alexa grabbed her man’s arm and tugged him in the direction of a magnificent yacht.
“Well, you heard her,” Trip said before coming around the car and offering his arm. “Your chariot awaits, my lady.”
Adjusting the too clingy dress for the millionth time, Karen blew out a hard breath and wondered how much longer the festivities could possibly continue. There seemed to be no end in sight and none of the happy couples appeared ready to call it a day.
Casting a surreptitious glance across the deck, she observed Trip talking jovially with the team. The guys were all cheesy grins shot her way and high-fiving Trip. What was up with that?
Good God, the man was too hot to handle. The gorgeous, witty SEAL could have any woman he wanted. And he was genuinely interested in her. In a—
—relationship. The whole thing was more than a little hard to wrap her mind around.
A beaming Ice swept in, grabbed Syn, and glided with her to the sappy love song the band played. Karen envied their happiness and said a quick pray for their future.
As if drawn to him, her eyes turned to Trip again only to find his heated stare locked on her. Too bad they were stuck out in the middle of the ocean or she’d sneak away with him for some of the sizzling sex his eyes promised.
A glass of bubbly was moved into her line of vision, and she readily accepted the glass.
“Thanks, Alexa.” She toasted the other woman and took a deep drink of the crisp liquid, savoring the tingles that raced outward through her body. “I really needed that.”
Alexa nodded toward the team, pointing her glass at Trip. “So what’s the deal with you two?”
Karen bit back an exasperated sigh. She’d known the inquisition was coming. Hell, she felt almost relieved to get it over with.
She shrugged as she met Alexa’s knowing gaze. “Hot sex. Lots of hot sex in every conceivable position on any available hard surface. Why?”
“That good, huh?”
“You have no idea,” Karen purred and rubbed her damp thighs together.
“Well, congrats,” Alexa raised her glass. “I’d say that boy is off the market for good.”
She choked on a sip of champagne and glared at the grinning woman pounding on her back.
“It’s true, whether you want to believe it or not. Trip and Jagger have been friends forever, and Jagger’s convinced Trip’s single days are over.”
Karen snorted and fought to swallow the panic those words evoked. “Yeah, right. One night of shake the rafters sex doesn’t mean he’ll stick around. I’m sure he has plenty of women, beautiful women, waiting in every port.”
Alexa threw back her head and laughed, drawing every male eye in their direction. When she finally recovered, she proceeded to blow Karen’s mind.
“You really have no clue, do you? That man is smitten. He’s hardly taken his eyes off you all day, and hon, those eyes are full of more than lust. I thought he’d rip Ice’s head off when you two danced. Jagger said he’s never seen Trip pay more than passing attention to any woman, but you are constantly on his radar.”
Shrugging off the way her heart beat triple time, Karen went for a nonchalance she didn’t feel. “I honestly don’t know if I can handle a guy like him. I want to rip out the eyes of every woman who gives him a come hither grin, and there are tons of them. Then there’s the whole SEAL lifestyle, leaving at the drop of a hat and months of worrying, not knowing if he’s alive or dead.” She searched Alexa’s expression for answers. “How the hell do you deal with that?”
Alexa nodded in acknowledgement. “I won’t lie. It’s not easy. When Jagger is on a mission, I stay as busy as possible to keep my mind off the possibilities, but I have faith in him, his abilities, and the team. Those guys will do everything possible to make sure each and every one of them comes home safe and sound.” She shrugged. “The rest you have to put in God’s hands.”
Moving closer, getting right in her face, Alexa whispered, “Don’t doubt him for a minute. That man has his sights locked in on you, and he’s not going to let go, Karen. When those guys find their one, they hold on tight and never surrender.”