Danielle’s got three months to make her Grandmother’s rundown Craftsman house livable. Her game plan is to get in, get grubby, and get back home to L.A. She needs a carpenter, and her best friend’s younger brother is a good one. It’s hard to ignore the buffed body under Ryan’s paint-splattered sweatshirts, but her friend declares he’s off-limits so Danielle reluctantly agrees.
Ryan doesn’t have the cleanest record, anyway. His recently ex-ed girlfriend wants him back, and he has a reputation for brawling. He’s also had a crush on Danielle since he was a kid. Despite their nine-year age difference, he knows she’s worth pursuing.
Soon the paint under Danielle’s fingernails starts feeling more natural than the L.A. sunshine. She’ll have to navigate plumbing disasters, money problems, and one seriously cranky best friend to find something she hasn’t had before: a real home, and a man who loves her.
A pair of headlights streaked across the front window, interrupting her bid war. A minute later, heavy footsteps crossed the porch. Then someone knocked hard on the door.
She jerked out of the chair, her confusion exacerbated by the heavy pounding of her heart. No one should be here. The door rattled like someone was messing with the lock. She made a sound halfway between a bleat and a scream when the door opened.
Ryan came in. "Hey, you're here," he said, dimples flaring.
"What are you doing? You scared the shit out of me.” She braced herself on the table, pulling in a deep lungful of air.
He just stood grinning at her, hands in his pockets, curls gelled into something close to order. The laptop streamed soft music that all of a sudden sounded romantic, and she panicked, hoping he wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
“Glad you think this is funny,” she said.
“I thought you’d be out with Maeve.” He held up his hands, calming her, placating her. She really wanted those hands touching her.
“I just had to finish up a couple things.” She straightened up and rested her knuckles on her hips. Instead of his usual worn jeans and tee shirt, he was dressed in black pants and a light blue button-down shirt that looked like silk and made his eyes crazy bright. His tie was navy and he'd changed out his usual UW hoodie for a black leather jacket. "You look … um…"
"Company Christmas party." He spoke too quickly, like there was something going on under the surface.
"You should be out hanging with your crew." And not here torturing me.
"I need to take the clamps off those cabinets I glued up."
The expression on his face had nothing to do with carpentry. He took a couple steps toward the dining room, then veered over to where she stood, moving fast. She fell back, carried by his wave of energy, and in seconds he had her up against the wall, his hands bracketing her head, his hips pressed tight to hers.
"Ryan, no. What are you…"
He covered her mouth with his fingers. "Sh. Just let me be close to you for a minute."
She tipped her chin up and his fingers slid down her neck, stopping when his thumb hit the hollow at the base of her throat and his strong hand cradled her shoulder. He rocked forward, resting his mouth against her forehead.
She stood still, caught up in the heat of his breath on her skin and the soft woodsy smell of his aftershave.
"I know I'm not supposed to do this, Dani."
The scratch of lips against skin made her mouth water. "It's … okay. Just … we shouldn't."
His head turned and lowered. He meant to kiss her. If he succeeded, there was no way she'd stop. She wanted him so, so bad. He cupped her face with both hands, pinning her.
His mouth closed over hers like the final piece of a puzzle dropping into place. She stilled, time stopped, the universe paused. She didn’t push him away.
Sometimes not choosing becomes its own choice.
Instead, she reached up and grabbed the collar of his silk shirt and hauled him closer. This was what she wanted. To hell with all the arguments against it.
He shoved a thigh between her legs, and his hands grew rougher, grabbing her hair to change the angle of her head. He tasted of mint and gum and beer. The heat rose between them, and oh my God she wanted it. Wanted him. He pulled back, flicked her lips with his tongue. The sound she made was nearly a sob. She drove her hands under his leather coat and pulled his shirt free. When her fingertips reached the warm, velvety skin of his lower back she almost sobbed again.
His kiss got harder, rugged, more demanding, and his hands dragged her ass closer still. Her body lit up, her core turning to liquid flame. He got under her sweatshirt, kneading her breasts. Her head rocked back against the wall and her laughter swirled out under the exquisite torture of his hands on her nipples. His lips and tongue mauled her ear and down her neck, and she keened a victory sound, tiny and high-pitched, her hips rocking slowly against the growing bulge in his groin.
She went to work on the buttons down the front of his shirt, ready to indulge in exploring his muscular chest, but he wrapped her hands in his and shifted his weight away from her.
When he spoke, his voice was rough, heavy. "I'm sorry." He turned slowly, moving like a man three times his age. "Jesus, I know you don’t want … I'm sorry, Dani."
She let the wall support most of her weight, breathing hard, all that warm liquidy goodness turning to ice. Her sweatshirt rode up around her ribs and her bra was off kilter. She tugged everything back into place, embarrassment verging on mortification washing over her. Why the hell did he stop? He'd acted on an impulse she felt just as surely as he did. Then he tipped forward a little, unsteady, almost losing his balance, and she put the pieces together. "How much did you have to drink tonight?"
He scrubbed his face with his hands. "A bit."
"A bit too much." She punched his shoulder. He reached out like he would gather her in for a hug, but she sidestepped him. "None of that, now. Let me get my stuff together then I'm going to drive you home."
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Um, right. Give me your keys."
After a brief staring match, he flipped his car keys in her direction. She'd seen pain in his eyes, hiding behind a whole boatload of frustration.
All emotions she could relate to.
I write romance: m/f, m/m, and v/h, where the h is for human and the v is for vampire … or sometimes demon … I lean more towards funny than angst. When I’m not writing I take care of tiny premature babies or teenagers, depending on whether I’m at home or at work. My husband is a soul of patience, my dog’s cuteness is legendary, and we share the homestead with three ferrets. Who steal things. Because they’re brats.
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