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Authors: Janelle Denison

Wilde Thing

BOOK: Wilde Thing
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A TALL, DARK, AND GORGEOUS MAN DRESSED IN BLACK JEANS AND A LEATHER JACKET, LEANED IMPUDENTLY BY HER DOOR, WAITING FOR HER.

Liz knew better than to underestimate that casual stance of his, or his reasons for being there. He was, after all, a dauntless, overly confident bad boy who took what he wanted, when he wanted it.

Summoning a bit a defiance, she lifted her chin and pinned Steve with a direct look. “How did you know where I live?”

“Where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way.” Taunting amusement flickered across his features.

And he was a PI, trained in tracking people and digging up secrets. “What are you doing here?”

A lazy, seductive grin curved his lips. “Sweetheart, I don’t think this is a conversation you want to have out here, where your neighbors might overhear.”

She ignored the warning note threading his voice, unwilling to make any of this easy on him. “And you’re not getting inside until you tell me why you’re here.”

“I think we both know the answer to that question,” he said.

BRAVA BOOKS are published by

Kensington Publishing Corp.
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Copyright © 2003 by Janelle Denison

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

All Kensington Titles, Imprints, and Distributed Lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising, and educational or institutional use. Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington special sales manager: Kensington Publishing Corp., 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, attn: Special Sales Department, Phone: 1-800-221-2647.

eISBN-13: 978-0-7582-6717-7
eISBN-10: 0-7582-6717-7

Brava Books and the Brava logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

First Brava Books trade paperback printing: July 2003
First Brava Books mass market printing: July 2004

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America

To Karen Drogin, a.k.a. Carly Phillips. Chance brought us together, but fate made us the best of friends. I’m so incredibly blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for being the person who makes my stories stronger and helps me bring my ideas to life. Thank you for being the one to boost my confidence on those days when I have none, and for giving my stories your love and attention and discipline, as if they were your own. Your friendship is a beautiful, priceless gift I’ll always treasure.

To my daughters, Danielle and Kellie, for your patience and understanding when Mom is on a deadline, which seems to be all the time. I love you both very much.

And to my husband, Don, for living with me through the ups and downs of this crazy business. Thank you for your faith in me, your unending love, and your unconditional support. You are my best friend, my inspiration, my life. I love you!

Dear Reader,

First you met Eric Wilde in SOMETHING WILDE, a story in the “I Brake for Bad Boys” Brava anthology out in November 2002, which introduced you to my sexy, gorgeous “Wilde” brothers, who are just as untamable as their last name implies! Now, get ready for a fun, red-hot read about Steve Wilde and his brazen pursuit to seduce the woman who has tempted him for too long. It doesn’t get any hotter than this!

WILDE THING. The title of this book conjures up all kinds of shameless, erotic possibilities, doesn’t it? How about an irresistible bad boy who rides a Harley, enjoys everything about women, and has his sights set on sensual Liz Adams? Throw in a bit of steamy, erotic phone sex between the two of them, along with a provocative, anything-goes affair filled with a wealth of sexual indulgence, and get ready to be swept into a world of decadent desires that will leave you restless and breathless.

I hope you enjoy Steve and Liz’s sexy, sizzling story, and keep a look out for Adrian Wilde’s story in THE WILDE ONE, which will be part of the BAD BOYS TO GO Brava anthology, out in November 2003. Be sure to check my website at www.janelledenison.com for updated information on all my books, Brava releases, and more Wilde stories! I love to hear from my readers, and you can write to me at P.O. Box 1102, Rialto, CA 92377 (Send SASE for goodies!), or at [email protected]

Happy reading,

Janelle Denison

Chapter
1

H
e had
bad boy
written all over him, and Liz Adams wanted him in the worst possible way. From his rumpled sable hair and striking, seductive blue eyes to that lean, honed body she’d imagined naked and aroused, he exuded raw sex appeal and brought her feminine instincts to keen awareness like no other man had in a very long time.

Simply put, she was completely and totally in lust with her gorgeous, head-turning customer who’d recently started frequenting her café, The Daily Grind. Over the past month, he’d become a pleasant visual distraction from other responsibilities and worries that had been weighing heavily on her mind.

He lifted his head from the latest best-seller he was reading, and from across the room their eyes met briefly and she caught a glimpse of the to-die-for grin that raised the corner of his sensual mouth. An undeniable warmth and excitement stirred within her, and she had to resist the urge to close the distance between them, rip his black T-shirt and tight jeans off his long, muscled body, and have her wicked way with him. On the countertop, on one of the couches in the sitting area,
or even the floor. She wasn’t picky about the
where
part of her fantasy.

Picking up a damp towel, she wiped down the stainless steel espresso machine and let out a wistful sigh that conveyed three long years of suppressed desires. She’d recently turned thirty-one, and she swore she was hitting her sexual prime, because for the past few weeks she’d been craving sex—ever since
he’d
strolled into her coffeehouse and jump-started her libido, fueling her nightly dreams with carnal, sinful fantasies.

Undoubtedly, it had been too long since she’d felt the exquisite caress of a man’s mouth sliding across her sensitized flesh. Too long since she’d experienced the delicious heat of a hard, strong body covering hers, the silken texture and erotic friction of a man sliding deep in a slow, grinding rhythm. Those realistic sensations were something no artificially enhanced sex toy could duplicate, and she missed that kind of physical connection with a flesh-and-blood man.

But as much as her fantasy man over in the corner tempted her, everything from that black leather jacket he wore, to his come-hither eyes and self-confidence, screamed
rebel.
And she’d vowed after her marriage to Travis that she’d never get involved with another man who was wild and impulsive and had the ability to leave her devastated in the process.

Unfortunately, despite being burned by one bad boy who’d turned out to be bad in the extreme, she couldn’t prevent her attraction to the kind of man who possessed a bit of an edge. A take-charge kind of man who was decisive and straightforward yet unpredictable, with a sense of reckless adventure. That Harley-Davidson motorcycle her customer rode told her a lot about the man—that he was secure in his masculinity, didn’t like to be constrained by rules, and was untamable, intrepid, and daring as well.

Even knowing he was most likely all wrong for her,
that those qualities could only lead to trouble and heartache, she still wanted him. Badly.

“Mind if I make myself a chilled mocha before you finish cleaning up?”

The sound of Mona Owen’s voice snapped Liz out of her private thoughts and jolted her back to reality and the cleanup still awaiting her attention. She glanced at her good friend and owner of The Last Word, a new-and-used bookstore that directly connected to her coffeehouse café, and caught Mona eyeing the last of the drink mix in the blender.

Liz grinned, having grown used to Mona’s tendency to mooch leftovers near closing time. “Sure. Help yourself.”

Mona tossed ice into the concoction, switched the blender on for a few seconds, then poured the frothy drink into a plastic cup and added a straw. “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you’ve heard from your cousin Valerie yet.”

The reminder of Valerie’s vanishing act brought Liz out of her fantasy and back to the helpless feeling that had grown with each passing day. “I haven’t heard a word from her since she left me that vague note Friday night.” And all the message had said was that she was going to a weekend work party with a new boyfriend, Rob, a wealthy client she’d met through The Ultimate Fantasy, the phone sex place where she worked.

Admittedly, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Valerie to do something as frivolous as to take off with a boyfriend for a short getaway. Her twenty-four-year-old cousin had always possessed an impetuous streak and often did outrageous things to get attention, but the weekend had come and gone and here it was, Tuesday evening, and Liz had yet to hear from her.

She knew Valerie enjoyed her unconventional occupation, but there had been other aspects of her job that her cousin had mentioned that had troubled Liz—like
those fantasy parties that dealt in other services and sexual escapades. She couldn’t help but worry that Valerie had gotten herself in over her head with this man she’d taken off with. A guy Liz had never met, and the only connection she had to Val’s disappearance was The Ultimate Fantasy.

“Are you thinking about contacting the police?” Mona asked.

“I already tried that.” Grabbing the steaming pitcher, she dunked it into the hot, soapy water in the sink and took out her frustration in scrubbing the stainless steel pot. “I called and spoke with an officer, but once I told him about the note Valerie left, stating she was off on her own free will, he said at this point there wasn’t any evidence of foul play to warrant an investigation, and all I could do was file a missing-persons report on her behalf.”

And with every day that passed without a word from her cousin, Liz’s concern grew. So far, she’d been able to keep Valerie’s vanishing act from Val’s parents, Liz’s aunt and uncle, who’d moved from Chicago to Southern California almost a year ago. Ben and Sally Clark were wonderful, kindhearted relatives who’d raised Liz from the age of twelve after her own parents had died. The two of them had always treated her like a second daughter, which Valerie, as an only child, had resented at times. Thus her cousin’s penchant for being excessive and irresponsible, and much too self-centered.

If Liz hadn’t promised her aunt and uncle she’d watch out for Valerie as well as keep her out of trouble, she’d probably write this scenario off as one of her cousin’s eccentric antics. But she had agreed to look after Valerie, even going so far as to share her apartment with her cousin. Liz had taken on the request as an opportunity to prove that she was reliable and responsible after her disappointing fiasco with Travis. She’d desperately
wanted to please her aunt and uncle and earn back their respect.

Guilt and frustration drove her, and this situation with Valerie certainly wasn’t going to earn Liz any extra brownie points. Especially since she’d had to lie to her Aunt Sally, who’d called on Monday evening to talk to her daughter. While Liz had told her that Valerie was out of town for a few days with a “friend,” it was only a matter of time before her aunt phoned again. Liz hated covering for Valerie, yet she had no choice for now.

“So what are you going to do?” Mona asked as she stirred her straw through her thick, icy drink.

Not wanting to shell-shock her aunt and uncle with the news that Valerie indulged in phone sex for a living unless she absolutely had to, Liz had opted to pursue her cousin’s absence herself, in the only way she knew how. She bit her lower lip and gathered the fortitude to spill her secret to Mona.

“I applied at the same phone sex company where Valerie was working,” Liz said. “I have an appointment for an interview at The Ultimate Fantasy tomorrow morning at eleven.”

Concern creased Mona’s dark brows. “Do you think that’s safe or smart?”

Liz didn’t want to respond directly to that question, because she knew the answer would be a resounding
no,
and she wasn’t about to give up on the idea. “It’s the only way I can think of to get inside information on Valerie or where she might be. Someone there has to know something, even if they just saw her at the party.”

Mona shook her head, her expression adamant. “I don’t think this is something you should do on your own.”

Liz dragged her fingers through her hair and sighed. “The police aren’t willing to get involved, so I don’t have much of a choice.”

Her friend was quiet for a few moments while she considered Liz’s idea, her gaze focused on something out in the lounge area. Then a bright smile spread across her face. “Why don’t you hire Steve Wilde?”

Liz frowned in confusion as she filled a basket with scones and another tray with gourmet cookies. “Who?”

Mona pitched her empty plastic cup into the trash and hooked her thumb toward Liz’s fantasy man. “Steve Wilde. The guy you’ve been lusting after for the past month. And don’t bother denying it. I’ve been watching the two of you, and when you’re not ogling him, his eyes are following you. And from my astute observations, that lingering gaze of his is hungry for more than just your pastries.” She gave Liz a playful but encouraging wink.

Wilde.
God, even his last name insinuated trouble of the most sensual variety. Her gaze strayed back to the lounge just as he unfolded his big, lean body from his chair and shrugged into his well-worn leather jacket, causing the muscles in his arms and across his chest to shift temptingly as he moved. Her pulse quickened with female appreciation. He was so compelling, his magnetism so potent, she couldn’t help but respond to his stunning good looks.

He picked up his book and keys from the coffee table and glanced up, his disarming gaze locking with hers—as bold, direct, and unapologetically sexual as the man himself. He tipped his head in acknowledgment, causing a lock of unruly sable hair to fall across his brow, accentuating his rakish appearance. The private, sinful grin he graced her with literally stole her breath and sent her hormones into an overwhelming frenzy of sexual longing. Her breasts swelled and tightened, her nipples tingled, and a surge of liquid desire settled in intimate places.

Oh, yeah, he was most definitely trouble personified.

He exited the café, leaving her with more than enough new,
stimulating material to fuel another night of erotic mind candy. She returned her attention to Mona. “So, tell me, how do you know his name?”

Her friend snagged a biscotti from the glass jar on the counter and munched into the baked treat. “He’s come into The Last Word to purchase a few books, and we’ve talked a time or two.”

Which essentially meant that Mona knew not only his name but his age, marital status, and occupation as well.

Finishing off her cookie, Mona licked the crumbs from her fingers. “And knowing the attraction between the two of you is mutual, I’m thinking it’s time you took off that gold band you wear on your finger that makes men think you’re taken, and take a walk on the
Wilde
side.”

“Ha-ha. Very funny,” she said, though the idea was one she’d already considered … in her fantasies.

“I’m being completely serious.” Mona’s tone reflected just how resolute she was. “At least about taking that ring off your finger and putting yourself back on the market. There’s a time and place to shed everything—your ring, your clothes, your inhibitions …” she added meaningfully.

The lights overhead glimmered off the gold band she’d worn since Travis’s death, mocking her solitary, abstinent lifestyle—of her own choosing, she reminded herself. She was still struggling to dig herself out of the financial mess her late husband had left her in when he’d died three years ago, and she didn’t want or need the complication of a binding relationship. Not when her focus was on her café and seeing her savings account back in the black again.

Feeling useless resentments clawing their way to the surface, she redirected their conversation back to their original topic. “You mentioned hiring Steve Wilde. What for?”

“Because while he might have all the markings of a bad boy, he’s definitely one of the good guys. He’s a private detective with his own agency, and I’m betting he can help you out with Valerie.” Excitement infused Mona’s voice. “At the very least, he can offer advice or follow up on your cousin’s disappearance without you putting yourself at risk.”

So, he was a good guy with a bad-boy demeanor, a combination Liz found much too intriguing. “It’s not like I have a lot of extra money to pay a private investigator. You know that.” She’d spent the past three years on a tight budget while Travis’s debts had drained a huge portion of her savings. “I could barely afford to have the alternator on my car fixed, let alone a PI’s professional services.”

“Maybe Mr. Wilde would be willing to work out a payment plan of some sort,” Mona offered with a sly smile, leaving no doubt in Liz’s mind what her friend meant. “I have his business card back in my shop if you’re interested.”

On a purely business level, Liz supposed an initial consultation with Mr. Wilde couldn’t hurt, and any free advice he might impart could only help her in her search to find her wayward cousin.

“I’m definitely interested in Steve Wilde,” she said to Mona, and realizing how those simple words could be misconstrued, she followed that up with a quick, “I mean, in his business card.”

“Of course.” Amusement and satisfaction flashed in Mona’s eyes. “I’ll be right back.”

Liz watched her friend trek across the short distance to her bookstore, anticipation making her heart pound hard in her chest. She swore that contacting Steve Wilde—the object of her fondest, most carnal dreams— had nothing to do with her attraction to him, and that her interest was strictly professional.

Her mind accepted the lecture. Unfortunately, her neglected body wasn’t completely convinced.

Steve Wilde wasn’t a man easily shocked. Yet he couldn’t have been more stunned when his secretary, Beverly, announced that Liz Adams was there to see him. Seconds later, the woman who’d occupied too much of his thoughts lately appeared in his office, her vivid green gaze meeting his from across the room.

She looked incredibly sexy. He’d only seen her in her work uniform of jeans, T-shirt, and a bib apron that tied around her neck and waist. Nothing overtly suggestive or clingy, but he’d seen enough of her coming and going to know that she had the kind of full, luscious figure he liked on a woman. And the thigh-length form-fitting cocoa-colored skirt and matching blouse she was currently wearing confirmed a knock-out, head-turning shape he couldn’t help but admire and appreciate.

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