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All rights reserved. Copyright ©2004 by Doreen DeSalvo No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including, but not limited to, printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Changeling Press LLC. ISBN 1-59596-010-4 Formats Available: HTML, Adobe PDF, Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader Publisher: Changeling Press LLC PO Box 1561 Shepherdstown, WV 25443-1561 www.ChangelingPress.com Editor: Sheri Ross Carucci Cover Artist: Sahara Kelly
The door to Katherine's office opened with a click. She looked up at a tall man — tall, dark and broad-shouldered, wearing a denim jacket over a white T-shirt and jeans.
Great. Just what she needed, a reminder of her ghetto roots. A reminder of everything she'd worked so hard to leave behind. He had the same curly black hair, cut short, and the same jutting angles to his face. Age had added deep lines to his cheeks and bitterness to his brown eyes. And he looked much more dangerous than she remembered. At least he didn't give any hint of recognizing her. Maybe she could keep it that way. "I'm John Monroe."
She closed his file and put it face down on her desk. She wouldn't want to see a man like him get angry. No need to let him know she'd been reading up on him — worse, she'd been looking at his rap sheet. He'd done three years for his first offense. Armed robbery. When he reached over her desk to shake her hand, she rose to greet him. "Katherine Kern. I'm an assistant district attorney for the city." His big, calloused hand swallowed hers in a firm grip. "Congratulations," he said dryly, with an ironic lift of one eyebrow. Still no glimmer of recognition, though. Maybe she hadn't been that memorable. Even leaning across her wide desk, he towered over her. And he didn't release her hand after the perfunctory handshake. No, he held on while his gaze raked her breasts. Blatantly. She pulled away and motioned to the chairs that faced her desk. "Have a seat." He did, leaning back and sprawling his legs in front of him as if he were lounging on a sofa watching Monday night football. Even as a punk teenager, he'd been muscular, but now... He'd really filled out. Broad shoulders, a solid chest, and bulging thighs that strained the denim of his jeans. Maybe he'd spent his time behind bars working out. Or maybe he'd filled out naturally in the ten years since she'd seen him. Time had changed her, too. So much that he didn't seem to recognize her. Maybe he never would. She'd kept away from his kind in high school. As tempting as the bad boys had been, she'd known better than to play with fire. She still knew better. Unfortunately. No wonder she hadn't had a man in years. She sat down and folded her arms on the desk in front of her. "You know why you're here, John?" "Yeah." He sounded resentful, like one of the kids he was supposed to help. Why had he volunteered to be a mentor if he didn't want to be here? Maybe he hadn't volunteered. Maybe community service was a condition of his parole. "You'll have to be a bit more communicative than that when you talk to the boy you're mentoring. Have you prepared anything to say?" "No." So much for communication. After a long moment of studying his hands, he spoke. "I can ad-lib just fine. I want to sound natural. Natural and honest." "Good. Kids can tell when you're lying to them." He shrugged. "I don't have anything to hide." He stared straight into her eyes, as if he was challenging her. Defensive — typical for an ex-con. She'd worked with a lot of them. No reason to treat Jake Monroe any differently than the others, even if seeing him again brought back a stupid rush of adolescent hormones. She grabbed the file folder labeled Scott Hopkins and slid it across the desk to him. "Here's the boy you'll be meeting tonight." He straightened up and took it, then slouched back again and opened the file. "Tell me about him." "He's new to the program. His mom is in and out of rehab all the time. His older brother supposedly takes care of him when his mother isn't home." "Is he in a gang?" "No. He's a loner." At least he was curious. Maybe he'd do a good job after all. "He's been convicted of multiple misdemeanors. Our goal is to prevent him from graduating to felonies." "Like I did." She might as well be frank. "Exactly." He looked amused by her agreement. Full lips tilted up at the corners in a little
smile.. .almost a smirk. "If you aren't going to take this seriously, you might as well leave right now. There's no point in establishing a relationship with Scott if you're going to flake on him." He frowned at that. "I'm not going to flake." "You clearly don't want to be here." "How do you know what I want?" He gave her another long look, as if assessing her suit. "How did you get stuck with this gig?" "I volunteered. These kids need all the help they can get." "Isn't it your job to prosecute criminals, not to help them?" He sounded like he thought she had the most immoral job in the world. "I'd prefer it if the crime was never committed in the first place." His eyebrows lifted. "Then you'd be out of a job." She didn't have to take this. "We have five minutes before the session begins. If you can't be civil, you can wait in the hallway." And take those broad shoulders with you. "Don't get pissed off, Kate." "It's Katherine." Wait a minute. She hadn't gone by Kate in years. His eyes gleamed. Now his lips wore a bona fide smirk. As if he recognized her for the scared, uptight girl she'd been all those years ago. "So you do remember me." His smile didn't fade. "And you remember me." "Why didn't you say something earlier?" "Why didn't you?" She had no answer to that. He leaned forward and gave her another once-over. A heated once-over, his gaze lingering on her breasts. She clenched her hands under the desk to stop herself from folding her arms over her chest, but the warmth in her face told her she was blushing. His grin was wicked. "You sure have changed. I like the buttoned-down executive look." Was that his idea of a compliment? "I don't care what you like." Liar. He leaned closer, resting his arms on the desk. Could just a look make her nipples hard? Yes. Damn him. She wouldn't move away, no matter how much he crowded her. No matter how rapidly her heart beat from having him this close. "You never did," he said. She frowned, totally confused. "What?" "You never did care what I liked." He smiled. Slow, confident, and God help her, sexy. "But I liked you, Kate." Subtlety obviously wasn't one of his strong suits. He looked like he wanted to throw her over his shoulder and carry her off. God, the image was tempting. For once, just once, she could have a wild, dangerous man. A man she couldn't control. No. No, she couldn't take the risk. "Forget it." He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "Hey, it's only natural to wonder how much you've changed. It's been what, eight years?" More like ten. Since graduation from high school. She'd gone to college and tried to put the projects behind her. "Give it up, Jake." He shook his head. "You're harsh. What's wrong with a little reminiscing?" "We have nothing to reminisce about, and you know it." "Sure we do. We're from the same hood. But you probably don't live in the Gardens anymore." The Gardens. She'd almost forgotten the nickname they'd given the projects. "It's none
of your business where I live." His gaze dropped to her breasts again. He looked at her like he hadn't seen a woman in months. Well, he'd been in prison for three years. Sometimes she felt like she'd been in prison herself — a prison of self-denial, always being the good girl. A man like him could teach her to be bad. Very bad. His gaze came back to her face. "Remember how we used to play together when we were kids?" Oh, God. They'd played Doctor. Exactly twice, under the front porch of her grandmother's house, until they'd been caught. At age seven, this man's penis was the first one she'd ever seen. He'd knelt on the ground at her feet, feasting his eyes on her while she held her skirt up like a little tramp. She hadn't been anything but curious at seven. Now, twenty years later, the thought of having his head under her skirt made her wish she was the little tramp her grandmother had called her. He grinned. "I know you remember. You're blushing. I've learned a lot since then." Like how to steal, and God only knew what else. He winked at her. "Let's play together again. Real soon." Hardly a subtle offer. But God, she wished she could take him up on it. Wished she could live dangerously for just one night in her cautious life. But not with him, not with an ex-con fresh from prison. He'd make a good fantasy, but the reality was just too dangerous. "In your dreams, Monroe." He gave a low chuckle. "Oh, definitely. Now that I've seen you again, you're going to have a starring role in my dreams." Before she could answer, a knock came from the door. Scotty. Thank God, a chaperone. She couldn't throw herself into Jake Monroe's arms in front of a teenaged chaperone. *** Jake held the door open for Kate and stepped inside the coffee shop behind her, squinting against the sudden brightness. Kate led the way to a booth in the back, near the restrooms and the alcove that held the pay phones, as far away from other customers as possible. She probably didn't want anyone to see her with a thug like him. He couldn't really blame her. But he did. And he couldn't take his eyes off her ass, swaying under that conservative wool suit as she walked briskly in front of him. They sat down in a shiny red vinyl booth with a three inch chip on one corner of the Formica table. A waitress followed them and set menus down on the table the second they were seated. "You folks want coffee?" "Hot tea, please," Kate said, pushing the menu aside. "Just coffee for me." The waitress picked up the menus and rushed off. Kate stared at her folded hands for a moment, then gazed at him. "You did a good job with Scott tonight." She looked surprised. Was that why she'd agreed to come out for coffee after the meeting? To thank him? "What did you expect?" She glanced at the table, then back up at him. Her eyes were green. He'd grown up in the same crummy project as her, and he'd never noticed. She'd kept to herself — a driven, college-bound girl in cheap clothes. Maybe he'd never been close enough to see her
eyes like this. Or maybe he'd forgotten. "I didn't expect anything," she answered. "I never know how...how new mentors will interact with the kids." "You have beautiful eyes." Damn, he hadn't meant to say that. She sat up straight and pulled her hands close to her breasts. God, she had a nice chest. Generous, but not unbelievable. Maybe she'd take off her suit jacket and give him a better look. Instead, she folded her arms over her chest.. He must have been staring. Hell, why did he feel like he should apologize? So she had a nice rack. Anyone would have checked it out. No crime in that. But he'd been staring far too long. "He's a good kid." She didn't seem startled by the change of subject. Same old Kate, always in control. What would it take to rattle her? "Yes, he is," she agreed. "They all are. Most of the hard cases drop out after the first month." The waitress arrived with their drinks. Kate dipped her tea bag in the little tin pitcher of hot water. He cupped his hands around the warm cup of coffee. God, he loved the smell of good coffee. He'd missed it a lot while he'd been in prison. Not as much as he'd missed the smell of a woman, though. Kate's scent drove him crazy — a light musky perfume, subtle and delicate just like her face. He'd like to smell her without it, too. Fresh from a shower, her skin damp and flushed with heat. Just the thought made his cock lift. He took a sip of coffee to ease the tightness in his throat. "I liked the kid. He says what's on his mind." "Tonight he did, at any rate." She took the tea bag out of the tin pitcher and put it on the saucer. Her nails were clear of polish, but nicely manicured. She had great fingers, too. Slender, capable fingers. Just looking at her hand, imagining it on him...his cock went rock hard. God, it didn't take much to get him horny these days. He'd gone too long without a woman. "He's usually very quiet," she went on. "I think you made an impression on him." He'd like to make an impression on her, too. On a mattress. What were the odds? One in a thousand? "I hope so." "It helped that you talked about your time behind bars." Behind bars? Was that the new, politically correct way of saying he'd been in prison? She kept on talking. "I'm sure he never thought about how dangerous it is. He's only done a few weeks in a juvenile facility. He has no idea what prison's like." Christ, couldn't she think of anything else to talk to him about? After all these years? "Kate...stop." "What's wrong?" He took another sip of coffee while he tried to think of a polite answer. "Look, I'll talk about prison for the kids, but I don't want to talk about it with you." She looked a little hurt, like a vulnerable woman hiding under that competent wool suit. "Oh. I understand." She didn't, he could see that. He set his cup down and folded his hands in front of him. "All right. Why don't we get it out of the way? What do you want to know?" "Nothing." She took a sip of tea, no doubt to give herself time to think. "It's none of my business. Really. It's fine." She stared at the bridge of his nose, as if she couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes. "You want to know if I was raped in prison, don't you?" Her eyes went wide. "No. I don't want to make you relive bad memories." "I wasn't." His jaw clenched, feeling like it would break if he opened his mouth, but he managed. "I was big and bad. No one messed with me after the first guy who tried ended up
with a broken jaw." "But you were released early for good behavior." She sounded shocked, like she'd have thrown away the key to his cell. "He'd have ended up with more than a broken jaw if he'd ratted on me. No one likes a snitch." Her throat moved, like she'd swallowed. Was he bothering her with this frank talk? He hoped so. He wanted her to think twice before she sent another man to prison. "You're not going to ask, are you?" "Ask what?" He dropped his voice so the couple sitting two tables away wouldn't hear. "If I raped anyone myself." Her eyes widened. "No, I wasn't going to ask. I wasn't thinking of asking." She had a good poker face — most lawyers did. "I didn't," he said. "I haven't had sex in three years." "I wasn't curious." Most lawyers were good liars, too. But time in prison had taught him how to read a face, and he saw the curiosity in her eyes. "Do you know what it's like, going for that long without sex?" Had she nodded? No, he must have imagined it. A beautiful, elegant woman like her could have any man she wanted. A better man than a thug like him. "Being without a woman.. .it's the worst thing about being in prison." "I'm not interested." Sure she was. And he'd tell her, because she was the closest thing to heaven he'd seen since getting out...and because she wasn't going to let him get any closer to her than he was right now. He wanted to punish her for that. Punish her for making him so desperate to get between her legs. Hell, he'd punish her just for the fun of it. Just to prove what an undeserving bastard he was. "You probably think it makes a man selfish. That he'll grab the first woman he sees. That he won't want anything but a quick fuck." She gasped a little, like she'd never heard the word. "Well, you'd be wrong." He leaned forward, until he swore he could smell her perfume. "It makes him fantasize about just looking at her. Looking at her spread out on a bed, naked. Open. Waiting for him. It makes him think of a thousand different ways to take her." A thousand kinky ways. Ways you've never imagined in your safe little lawyer world. His throat got tight. He had to take another sip of coffee before he could go on. "It makes him want a whole night of fucking. Over and over.. .until you beg me to stop." She licked her lips. "I'm not interested." She was interested, all right. She was so interested, she was repeating herself. And she hadn't noticed that he'd replaced his fantasy woman with her. "After the first year, you almost forget about the sex. You start fantasizing about touching her, just touching her. Touching her in little ways." He moved his hand across the table until it was next to hers. With his forefinger, he gently stroked the side of her wrist. "Little ways.. .like this." The tip of her tongue peeked out for a brief flash as she wet her lips. "Stop." Her hand moved just an inch, but enough to break contact. His own hand followed, until his forefinger barely rested against her arm. "If you let me touch you..."
If you let me touch you, I'll have you under me in ten seconds.
Not a good thought to share with her. "I'd give anything to kiss you." He kept his voice
low. "I'd die happy if you gave me one kiss. Let me taste your mouth just one time." "You wouldn't be happy with just a kiss, and you know it." She sounded angry — angry and a little breathless. Did he actually have a chance with her? "I'd stop whenever you wanted." He'd try to, at least. "I'd start with your hair. I'll take it down from that bun..." "It's a French twist." "Whatever. First I'll kiss your bare, beautiful neck, with little open-mouthed kisses."
And I'll bite your neck hard enough to brand you. To remind you that I was in your bed. In your body.
"I'll unbutton that shirt so slowly, you'll wonder if I'm going to take all night." Sounded good, but in reality he'd rip the damned thing off her. Her breasts would be beautiful, he just knew it. "I'll spread your shirt open real slow, and I'll look at you in your bra for a long, long, time." He swallowed to get the hoarseness out of his voice. "I wonder what yours looks like. One of those stretchy sports bras? Or something lacy?" She shook her head once, but didn't speak. Her lips had parted, like she was breathing hard. "Something lacy, I bet. I'll touch you through your bra. Kiss you through it." He dropped his voice so no one could hear. "Maybe I'll bite you a little. Do you know how close pleasure can be to pain?" He saw her throat move, but she didn't say anything. Was he exciting her? "Yeah, I'd bite your nipples just a little, just until you were squirming. Until you begged me to get to your skin. Then I'd take your bra off.. .and bite you some more." "Stop this." Her voice came out hoarse. Almost a moan. "Why? A little fantasy never hurt anyone." He'd had years to do nothing else. Nothing but fantasize about all the ways he wanted to take a woman. And now, with only a week on the outside, he was rock hard over a woman who'd never let him touch her. "Because..." She glanced down at the table, took a deep breath, and looked at him again, her chin raised belligerently. "It's not appropriate." Appropriate? God, she was a starchy one. "I don't give a damn." He slid out of the booth and sat down next to her, his torso turned to face her. She looked shocked, eyes wide, lips parted. He leaned close, closer, and she leaned further away, until her back was against the wall. "What do you think you're doing?" Her voice shook. Was she frightened? Good. "I'm gonna kiss you." Her hands came up to press against his chest, and she gasped. "Don't." Her resistance made him want her even more. He'd never forced a woman before, not even into a kiss. But now, after prison, he was one sick bastard. Those slender hands pushing him away made him want to crush her against him...to crush her resistance, plunder her mouth, grab her breast...to show her how much he wanted her. To force her to want him. Right here in this tacky diner. One arm went around her, pulling her closer, his mouth lowering — "No, Jake. Don't. We're in public." He stopped...and smiled down into her face. "So if we weren't in public, you'd let me?" Her cheeks went pale. She looked even more frightened now. Because she wanted him? No, he couldn't be that lucky. A clink on the table made him turn. The damned waitress, giving them refills. Her face was bland, bored — no doubt she'd seen worse things than an ex-con trying to force himself on a classy attorney. "You need anything else?" the waitress asked.
"No," he snapped. "Can we have our check, please?" Kate asked. "Sure." The waitress pulled a check out of her pocket and laid it face down on the table, then walked away. Kate pushed against him, hard. Damn, now she just looked pissed. Embarrassed, maybe. He backed off, and she straightened up. With a quick motion, she grabbed the bill with one hand and reached for her purse with the other. No way was he letting her pay for his cup of coffee. He reached for the check, but she pulled it back. "Let me get this," he insisted. "Don't be silly. You don't even have a job yet." Nice of her to remind him. The hell of it was, even this five dollar tab would hurt him. "Thanks." She stopped foraging in her purse and looked up at him, giving him an awkward little smile. As if she knew he hated being broke. "You can pay me back later." Then she laid a few bills on the table and clutched her purse close to her chest, holding it between them like a shield. Damn. He'd scared her. This wasn't over, not by a long shot. He'd see her again. But for now, he'd let her go. Her eyes looked too frightened to give him any more tonight. He slid back out of the booth and stood up. Kate slipped out behind him. Without a word, she walked toward the door. He had to hurry to keep up with her. She raced out the door without holding it for him, like the hounds of hell were after her. When he caught up with her in the parking lot, she was trying to get the door of her car unlocked. Her hand was shaking so bad, she couldn't get the key in. He laid a hand on her shoulder, and she jerked around to face him. "Leave me alone." She was breathing hard from rushing out of the restaurant. Her hot breath hit his neck, and he shuddered from the contact. Reaching out, he took her elbows in his hands. "Take it easy." She stared up at him with those big green eyes, her lips moving a little with each breath. What would she do if he kissed her? Slap him, probably. Or knee him in the groin. His cock shriveled a little at the thought. "What are you afraid of?" "You." At least she was honest. He stroked up and down her upper arms, trying to reassure her. "I won't hurt you, Kate. I've never hurt a woman in my life." She gave a half-choked laugh. "Oh, good. You have standards." Damn her. Judging him after all he'd been through. "Yeah, I do." He eased closer, just a fraction of an inch. She didn't flinch, didn't back up, didn't reach out to touch him. God, she acted like she'd never been this close to a man. Like she wanted him, but didn't know what to do about it. He did. He slid his hands to her waist, testing. No resistance — she didn't move an inch. God, he shouldn't kiss her. He really shouldn't. But when he moved closer, she didn't back away. Another inch. Another. She closed her eyes in consent. Unbelievable. He kissed her gently, just barely stroking his lips over hers. He'd never felt lips so soft. A groan came from his throat, rumbled against his lips. Her hands went to his shoulders, just resting there, not pushing him away...but not pulling him closer, either. Shy little Kate. He wouldn't grind his hard-on against her, no matter how badly he wanted to. She gasped against his mouth, and his tongue touched hers for a second. Then again, and again, just light little touches...and then they were delving into each other with raw hunger. He tried to stay gentle, not crowd her, not squeeze her too hard. He didn't want to
scare her away. Breathe. Breathe. He dragged his lips from hers and buried them in her hair, panting. She nuzzled at the front of his neck. Enough. He'd fall over if she kept this up. "Kate, stop." He took her shoulders and gently moved her away. She looked up at him, her lips glistening wet in the dim streetlight. Her eyes were cloudy with passion. Confused. "Take me home with you." He almost winced. Not the most elegant pickup line he'd ever come up with. "You won't be sorry." Christ, that wasn't much better. Her eyelids dropped closed. Then she nodded. Yes. She'd said yes. He felt like shouting, but managed to keep himself to a smile. Probably more of a leer. A classy woman like her had no business with a man like him. And he'd prove it to her. But first she'd give him every thing... every nasty fantasy he'd ever had.
They rode in silence. Just as well, because she didn't know what to say. She'd never done anything this impulsive in her life. She'd always been a planner, a worrier. That was the only way she'd escaped the old neighborhood. If she'd been impulsive, she'd have ended up pregnant or worse. And that tendency to worry had carried over into adulthood, made her uptight and fretful. Tonight she wanted to let go. Just for one night. Maybe that explained it. Or maybe she'd responded to his need, his yearning. She'd been with other men, but she'd never felt needed before. Jake made her feel like she was the only thing he needed in this world. And she hadn't been with a man for a long time...probably longer than he'd been without a woman. Maybe she needed this as much as he did. Whatever the reason, she wasn't going to punish herself with second thoughts. For once she wanted to live for the moment, to give in to her wildest impulses. She was an adult now, not a teenager. She could handle it. Sure she could. She pulled into her parking space and turned off the car, then reached for her purse. "Don't worry, Kate." She glanced over at him. "I'm not." Only half a lie. She was worried, but she didn't want to be. She turned away to get out of the car, then locked the doors behind her. Jake followed her through the parking lot and into the lobby. She pressed the elevator call button, then stood there waiting, too nervous to look at him. What if he was gloating over her easy consent? He slid an arm around her waist. "Let me hold you." He didn't sound like he was gloating. She turned to face him and relaxed against his chest. His arms came around her, gently holding. This was why she'd said yes, this gentleness of his, when he had so much strength. He made her feel safe, protected... Oh, no. Protection. She pulled back and looked up at him. "We need to go find a drug store." "No, we don't. I have everything we need." Why? In case he found an easy lay? "Don't look at me like that," he said. The elevator arrived, and she heard the doors open behind her. Jake didn't take his gaze off of her face. "I've been carrying them since I got out last week. I thought I'd be so desperate that I'd go to a hooker."
"Why didn't you?" He shrugged. "A hooker would just want me to get my rocks off and get out of there." His hand stroked her neck, cupped the side of her cheek. "That's not what I want." He was strong enough to bruise her, but he stroked her cheek as gently as if she was a baby. She couldn't resist his tenderness. "What do you want, Jake?" "I want a woman who gives herself to me. Completely. A woman who doesn't hold back." She always held back. That was the problem. He moved his hands to her shoulders, then stroked down her arms and squeezed her hands. "I just want you, Kate." There didn't seem to be anything to say. "You might be disappointed. I'm not very.. .adventurous." He brushed his lips against hers in a soft, gentle kiss. When he pulled back, he was grinning. "We can start with plain vanilla. Then we'll add a few kinks." "K-kinks?" God, she stuttered over the word. "Just a few kinks." He took her hand and led her into the elevator. "You'll like 'em. Trust me." She'd be stupid to trust him. But for this one night, she would. For this one night, she'd be reckless and impulsive. Maybe even kinky. *** He kept one beefy arm around her waist as they rode up to her floor and walked down the hallway to her apartment. He held her close...so close that the motion of his hips, of his longer stride, threw her off balance and forced her to take quicker steps to keep up with him. His arm felt strong and heavy, like he'd done nothing in prison but pump iron. Was she crazy, taking a convicted felon home with her? He'd done his time; he deserved a chance to go straight. Even so, that didn't mean she should invite him into her life. But God, she wanted him. All that sexy talk at the restaurant had worked on her like an aphrodisiac. When they reached the door to her apartment, she stalled. Once she let him in, she'd be completely at his mercy. She'd known him forever.. .but she hadn't seen him in ten years. What if he — No, she wouldn't even think of the possibilities. She deserved one wild night, and he was just the man to give it to her. His arm tightened — a warning? As tall as he was, she couldn't see anything but a powerful jaw and the side of his face. From this angle, she couldn't read anything. He turned toward her slightly, lowering his mouth to her ear. "Are you trying to back out, Kate?" His hot breath teased her skin, and the menacing note in his voice made her shiver. That little hint of danger set her heart pumping. What would he do if she tested his limits? "What if I am?" He spun her around to face him. His hands gripped her waist, pulled her tight.. .her stomach rubbed against the hard bulge of his cock. All that hard masculine heat, all that desire.. .all for her. She almost moaned. "If you back out..." His voice sounded rough, urgent. She could feel his chest moving with each harsh breath. "If you back out, you'll be sorry." Was that another threat? If she said no, would he force his way into her apartment? God, she almost wanted him to. If he forced her, she wouldn't be responsible for
anything they did. But that wasn't fair to him. She wanted him; the least she could do was admit it. "I'm not backing out." His breath shuddered against her neck. "Then open the damned door." She had to pull away a little to fumble in her purse for the keys. Her hand shook as she unlocked the deadbolt. When she reached for the doorknob, he touched her elbow. "Don't be scared." He sounded a little nervous himself. Three years without sex? She knew exactly how he felt. Nervous, excited...aroused. She turned her face so he wouldn't see her smile. "I'm not." With a quick twist of the doorknob, she opened the door and led him inside. The slam of the door behind her made her jump. Before she could move, his hands were on her shoulders, turning her toward him. He grabbed her ass in his huge hands, pulling her up against him. The sudden movement, being lifted off balance, made her gasp. When he canted his hips, rubbing his erection against her belly, she clutched his denim jacket to steady herself. His teeth gleamed in the dim streetlight shining in a nearby window. "Are you scared now?" So he wanted her to be frightened. "Maybe just a little." She let go of his jacket and slid her hands underneath it, stroking his chest. Solid muscle. "You're a lot bigger than I remember." He squeezed her ass for a second, then moved his hands around to cup her breasts. "So are you." She gave a breathless laugh. Humor wasn't the kind of thing she expected from him. His teeth gently nipped her earlobe. "I've missed hearing a woman laugh." And probably any woman would do. Hard to care about that now, with his hands stroking her breasts, his body so hot and hard against hers. He found her lips with his, kissing her, tasting her, devouring her. His tongue made heated, rhythmic thrusts into her mouth. She leaned against the solid heat of his body, pressing his hands tight to her breasts. God, she wanted him. He made her ache in a way she'd never known she could. His thumbs stroked over her nipples. He groaned, making her lips tingle with the vibrations, and pulled his warm, wonderful mouth away from hers. "Bedroom. Now." Her legs might not carry her. They seemed leaden, barely able to hold her upright. He pinched her nipples, and the sharp sting, pain burning into pleasure, made her jump. Pain could be close to pleasure, he'd said. And he was right. Before she could move, he tugged her suit jacket down her arms. "To hell with the bedroom." The jacket fell behind her, and he jerked at the buttons on her silk shirt. "I'll fuck you right here." He sounded so desperate — more desperate than any man she'd ever been with. But she wanted him in her bed, not here on the floor of the entryway. In the future, when she lay in her lonely bed, she wanted to remember this dangerous man in it. She moved away a little, and his hands fisted in her shirt, stopping her. The delicate fabric pulled tight. God, his face looked fierce — mouth drawn taut, eyes blazing. She laid her hands over his wrists. "Bedroom," she said, mimicking him. "Now." He grinned and released her shirt, but took one of her hands in his. "Lead the way." She did, and he followed. In the bedroom, she turned on the faint nightstand light. Jake never took his eyes off of her. He looked totally incongruous next to her pale cherry furniture and floral comforter, but he shrugged off his denim jacket and threw it onto the overstuffed chair by the window as if he came into her bedroom every night. And he took her into his arms the same way, kissing her with just the right amount of
pressure, teasing her lips apart. His tongue filled her mouth with a vibrant thrust, finding hers and drawing it to his own mouth. His hands wandered over her back, over her ass, around to cup her breasts through her shirt. He broke the kiss and looked down at his stroking hands through fiery, heavy-lidded eyes. "I want to kiss you here, too," he murmured, strumming her nipples with avid fingers. One hand trailed down her side, over her hip, and cupped her sex. His fingers pressed against her. "And I want to kiss you here." He lowered his lips to her ear, took her lobe between his teeth in a soft bite. "Do you want those things, Kate?" His hand plucked at her breast, making her nipple even harder. "Do you want me to lick these big hard nipples?" Licking was the least of what she wanted. She nodded. His fingers moved between her legs, scratching lightly against her clit, generating heat and friction. "Do you want me to kiss you here?" She clutched his shoulders and tilted her hips in rhythm with his fingers. God, she was wet. "Oh, yes." "I'll suck you until you're screaming. I'll..." His teeth stung her neck, hard enough to bruise her. "I'll fuck you with my tongue." She pushed harder against his hand. No man had ever talked to her like this. Like she was a tramp. She loved it. He made her feel so.. .desirable. Suddenly his hand was gone, and he stripped off his T-shirt with fluid grace. Oh, his chest was absolutely perfect. Broad and solid, with a thoroughly masculine swathe of curly black hair whirling around his nipples and arrowing down his stomach to disappear into his jeans. She couldn't stop herself from touching that amazing chest. The hair tickled her palms as she swept her hands over him. He groaned. "You'll never know how good that feels." His voice sounded rough and achy — exactly how she felt. Eager hands fumbled at her breasts again, trying to force his way inside her shirt even though only a couple of the buttons were undone. He'd rip it in a minute. Part of her wanted him to rip it off, wanted to drive him wild, to feel him tear off her clothes. But her practical side hated to see the ruin of a perfectly good silk shirt. She reached for the buttons on her blouse and started to undo them. "No," he snapped, pulling her hands away. She jumped at his harsh tone and gazed up at his face. She'd never seen a man look so angry. "Don't be afraid." He gave a crooked half-smile. "It's just — you're like a present, Kate. I want to unwrap you myself." Hard to argue with that. His fingers stroked her face, then stole around to the back of her head. She felt him searching for pins, tugging carefully. So carefully. She laid her hands on his forearms, feeling strong muscles move as he gently pulled pins out. Her hair fell down her back in a curly sweep. He buried his face against her neck, biting gently through the curtain of her hair. The sharp nip of his teeth made her knees go weak; she swayed against him, clinging to his bare arms. And all the while his fingers worked at the buttons of her shirt. He peeled it off her shoulders and left it hanging, caught on her bent elbows. She couldn't stop touching his chest to take it all the way off. He could get to her breasts now, and he did, his fingers strumming, pinching, then strumming again. She couldn't hold back the moan any longer.
"Lace and satin." His voice was low and rough. "I knew you were wearing something sexy under that uptight suit." Another pinch. A bite on her neck. A hard twist of her nipples. Harsh sensations that rushed straight to her sex. She cried out, grabbing his shoulders to keep herself upright. "That's it," he rasped against her neck. "Tell me how good this feels." He pulled her bra straps down, tugged the cups lower, and lifted her breasts until they spilled out above her bra. His head bent, and he suckled on one nipple, his hair brushing against her collarbone. She felt the rough stubble on his cheek abrading her tender skin — another taste of pain and pleasure. She held his head against her as he licked one breast, then the other. His teeth rubbed across her nipple, but he didn't bite. Words she'd never thought she'd voice left her mouth. "Bite me." She felt him smile against her breast. "I promised you vanilla first." He nipped anyway, just a gentle bite but enough to make her gasp. Clever fingers played with her nipples, tugging and twisting, stroking and soothing. His panting breaths rushed over her skin. When his hands left her breasts, she shivered from the loss of his heat. But those eager hands went to the waistband of her skirt, pulling, fumbling, until she heard the button skitter across the hardwood floor. Then he had the zipper open, his hands sliding under her skirt, under her hose and underpants, pulling everything down with a harsh groan. He knelt in front of her and grabbed one ankle, impatiently trying to lift it. She had to lean against his shoulders to step out of her shoes. He pulled off her tangled clothes at the same time. The accidental brush of his hair against her thighs felt wickedly erotic. She'd love to have him bury his face between her legs. He swept his head back and forth, as if he'd read her mind. Her fingers slipped through his short, clipped hair. He'd worn it long and shaggy as an adolescent — a badge of rebellion. Even cropped close, the natural curls wound around her fingers. Her hand looked startlingly pale against his black hair. His nose pressed against her pubic hair, his mouth between her legs, hot and wet, breathing moist heat against her clit. She whimpered and her knees gave out. Big hands caught her ass, holding her upright, and his tongue...oh, his tongue burrowed between her thighs, finding her clit and relentlessly thrusting, over and over, until her knees trembled. She tried to spread her legs further apart, to give him more access, but they were too weak to move. And if she stepped away to get on the bed, his mouth would leave her. She couldn't bear it. She could only stand and shudder, her bare ass trembling in his hands, her body pushing forward to meet each heated stab of his tongue. When he pulled away, she clutched his head closer. But he resisted, damn him, leaving her aching for more. He rose to his feet and his lips met hers in a hot, wet kiss. God, his mouth smelled like her sex...tasted like her sex. She squirmed against him, rubbing her bare legs against his jeans, her breasts against his chest. While he kissed her deep and hard, his hands tugged her bra off. She twisted away and gasped against his neck. "Please, Jake. I can't stand anymore." He bent and wrapped one arm behind her knees, then lifted her off her feet. She wasn't a tiny woman, but he carried her as easily as if she were a child. Her hand rested against his chest; his heart beat fast and hard under her palm. He laid her carefully on the bed. Before he straightened, he fanned her hair out with one hand. His steady, unnerving stare made her blush. One big, rough hand cupped her neck, his thumb pressing lightly against her throat. How easily he could hurt her. Just the thought made her heart hammer. But he skimmed over her throat, traced along her collarbone, and stroked down to her breast in a
long caress. "You're stunning." He sounded amazed, like he couldn't believe she was here with him. How could she have thought that he'd hurt her? He might be big, bad, and rough around the edges, but he wouldn't hurt her. Not much. Not more than she wanted him to. "Thank you." Her voice came out a whisper. He took his hand away and stood, curving his fingers around one of the posts of the wrought-iron headboard. "Nice headboard. Very sturdy." What a thing to comment on, with her lying naked in front of him. "I guess." He grinned down at her and winked. "I'll put these posts to good use in a little while." Did he mean... God, she didn't know what he meant. And she couldn't ask. He'd make fun of her, no doubt. The grin faded, and he looked down at her hungrily. "Touch yourself." Her breath caught. "What?" "Touch yourself. Like you can't wait for me to touch you." No man had ever seen her pleasure herself. No man had ever dared to ask. Jake was the kind of man who'd dare anything. The kind of man she'd always fantasized about. And she'd give him anything he wanted. Anything. She slid one shaking hand to her breast and stroked over the nipple. His tongue had left wetness on her skin, and her fingers slipped easily over her breast, toying with her nipple. His eyes were heated, following every motion of her hand. She couldn't look away from his face. She pinched her nipple gently, like he'd done — and saw his mouth open, as if he was breathing faster. "Spread your legs." Her hand froze. She couldn't do it. Not with the light on, not with him looking at her so directly. "Spread your legs," he said again, his voice harsh. A command. If she resisted, what would he do? She wanted to find out. Wanted it desperately. She shook her head. His eyes narrowed. In anger? "Show me how much you want me." No, not anger. His voice was as soft as a lover's. "Show me how wet and swollen you are." She wanted to. But more than that, she wanted him to force her to do it. She shook her head again. "Make me." One corner of his mouth tilted up. He dropped a hand to his jeans and rubbed the thick bulge of his cock. "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine." His joke startled a laugh from her. He'd used that line when he'd been seven years old, wanting a look up her skirt, and it had worked like a charm. "That sounds fair." She lifted her knees and spread them, just a few inches. "Wider." He sounded threatening again. That dangerous tone caused a little shiver. She moved her thighs a little, then let them settle back where they'd been. He stepped to the edge of the bed, reached down, and grasped her knees. His hands were so big, he nearly circled her legs with each hand. He pulled her knees apart while she lay there, gasping in surprise. Those rough hands skimmed up her inner thighs, then stopped. What a tease. She opened her mouth to beg, but the look on his face stopped the words. His eyes were fixed to her sex, and he looked so.. .hungry. "Very..." He cleared his throat. "Very nice, Kate. All wet and red. Such pouty lips..." One hand edged closer, closer...she felt the brush of a blunt thumb on her clit, just a
light stroke. A light, teasing, tormenting stroke. She squirmed on the bed, trying to get closer. He took his hands off of her completely. "Touch yourself." Her fingers shook like crazy, but she reached low, between her legs. She closed her eyes, hiding from him as she rubbed slippery wetness over her clit. God, she'd come in a minute.. .from her own hand. She stopped. "It's too much, Jake." He grabbed her wrist, and she opened her eyes in surprise. But he simply lowered his head, pulled her hand up, and sucked her fingers into the heat of his mouth. His tongue swirled over her skin in hot raspy strokes. "Mmm." The moan sent vibrations of need all the way down her trembling arm. "Now I need more of a taste." He bent his head, nuzzling at her thighs, and she spread them as wide as she could. But he kissed the inside of her thigh, brushing his mouth over her leg. Nowhere near her sex. "Please, Jake." His breath teased her, hot little pants against her clit. Deliberate, no doubt. "Please, what?" Her face burned. She couldn't say it. He nipped at her thigh. "Tell me, Kate." "You know." "You can say it for me." He licked her thigh — so close, damn him. "I want to make nasty words come out of that prissy mouth." If it was what he wanted... She swallowed. "Make me come, Jake." "How?" "With your mouth." He chuckled against her thigh. "You can talk nastier than that." "Go down on me." "Hmm. That's a little better." He licked then — one long, hot swipe over her clit. She moaned and clutched at his head; he grabbed her hands and held them down beside her. Then he licked, teased, and flicked his tongue against her. Tormenting her deliberately. She moaned and tried to move, but his chest was holding down her legs, his strong hands wrapped around her wrists. She could only lay there, moaning, pleading without words, while his tongue and mouth drove her higher — then moved away and left her on the brink. He stood, and his hands went to his waistband. "I can't wait another minute, baby." Baby. A casual endearment, one he'd probably use with any woman. But she was the woman he wanted now. And hearing the word made her heart beat faster in a way she knew was dangerous. She couldn't bring herself to care. All she wanted was that hard, strong body on top of her. Between her legs. "Don't wait. Please don't wait." His gaze never left her as he kicked off his shoes, bent to yank off his socks. And she simply lay there, watching the light play over his muscled body as he pulled down his jeans and briefs. What a gorgeous man. Her gaze wandered from his spectacular chest down to his thick, long cock. Longer than she'd imagined, standing red and hard against his belly. And for tonight, all hers.
He couldn't believe he'd managed to wait this long to fuck her. She was incredibly sexy, hot and soft under his hands. In his wildest fantasies, he'd never imagined a
woman as beautiful as Kate would let him touch her. Would lie naked in front of him and touch herself, just to please him. Would look at him like she wanted him with the same desperation he felt for her. Her hand, the hand he'd licked her juice from, stroked over one full breast, then reached out to him. "I want to touch you." "Later." She looked hurt, frowning, a crease between her brows. "If you touch me now, Kate..." I'll come the instant you touch me. Christ, that made him sound like a teenager. What the hell could he say? "I'm about to go off like a rocket." She smiled at that. A slow, inviting, sexy smile. "You'd better take me with you."
Staring at her, he almost lost his balance when he kicked off his pants. His jacket, condoms in the pocket, seemed a mile away — clear across the bed. He didn't trust himself to go over the bed, not with Kate lying there waiting for him. If he got too close, he'd fuck her bare. To feel her wet heat around his bare cock... Shit. He looked away from her and circled the bed instead. His jacket was half off the chair, and he groped in the pockets until he found the cardboard box. "Hurry, Jake." God, she was begging. Begging for him. Her pleading made him wild. Made him want to tie her up and make her plead some more. The iron posts of that headboard were just asking to have her wrists tied to them. Next time. Vanilla first. "I'm hurrying, baby." He fumbled with the box, tore it open, and the condoms slipped through his trembling fingers. He caught one and let the others hit the floor. He only needed one right now. He ripped the foil packet open with his teeth. His hands shook so badly, it seemed like an age before he got the rubber rolled down over his cock. When he turned back toward the bed, she was stroking her breast again. As if she couldn't wait for him. God knew he couldn't wait another minute to get inside her. Her legs were still spread, wide and inviting. With one trembling hand, he stroked from her knee up the soft skin of her inner thigh. When he reached her pussy, he teased her clit with his thumb.
In just a second, he'd be inside all this luscious wet heat, inside this beautiful pussy. The most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Fuck. He'd be spouting poetry in a minute. Kate squirmed a little, her hips pulling away, then rising to meet his hand.
"That's enough," she echoed, as if she'd read his mind. He knelt between her spread legs, then leaned over her, bracing his weight on his arms. She reached out to him, welcoming him as he settled on top of her. After three long years, he was on top of a woman again. A woman who lay hot and panting beneath him. He wanted to remember this moment for ever... remember how she felt, so warm and soft.. .how she looked, her green eyes inviting and eager. Her arms wrapped around his back — just the way he'd imagined. But he'd never imagined needing a woman quite this much. He'd never imagined a woman like Kate. He couldn't wait another second. He buried himself in her with one achingly swift
thrust. And groaned, hard, against her neck. She felt so damned good. Hot and just.. .oh, the way she pushed her hips up at him, as if she wanted to take him even deeper. Nothing could have stopped him. He pounded into her, pounded fiercely, desperately. He couldn't get deep enough. Kate met him thrust for thrust, moaning and clutching his shoulders. Her legs wrapped around his, holding him close. He'd never last. Not with her panting in his ear, making little noises deep in her throat. Little female noises, tiny cries and moans, a sweet counterpoint to his own deep grunts and groans. Her lush, full breasts bounced against his chest. Even through the haze of lust, the almost total focus on his cock, he felt the hard points of her nipples rubbing through his chest hair. And her cunt gripped him so tightly...as tight as a fist.. .so much warmer and tighter than his fist... Fuck it. He'd get her off later. He let go, let go of what little control he had, driving into her again and again, groaning his need against her neck, biting the soft skin under his mouth. She gasped and twisted her head away. Must have hurt her. But her hands grabbed his ass and urged him on. Christ, she was hot. He lost all rhythm, thrusting mindlessly, climbing higher. So quickly...too quickly. His teeth clenched hard, try ing... try ing to hold back, trying to make this last. Suddenly she went still beneath him. Totally still. With a wordless little cry, she trembled and shook, her nails stinging his back. He lifted his head, saw her face twisted with pleasure, her teeth biting down on her lower lip.
He thrust deep, deeper...harder...and joined her, shaking as he came with raw, wrenching spasms, a joy so fierce it felt very close to pain. His teeth bit into the soft skin of her shoulder — a primitive need to brand the woman he'd just taken. Then he collapsed on top of her, drained and satisfied. Satisfied for now. For maybe five minutes. After that long stretch of celibacy, he could fuck her all night long. If she let him, he would. And the next time, he'd make her scream his name. After a few moments of panting against each other, struggling for breath, his heartbeat slowed to something close to normal. Kate's fingers were weaving through his hair, gently caressing. Another thing he'd never imagined — a woman stroking him in the aftermath of passion. He'd never thought much beyond the point of release. He propped his head up on one hand and looked down at her face. She was a stunner, even with her lipstick kissed off. Especially with her lipstick kissed off. And the expression on her face.. .smiling and satisfied, kind of.. .tender. As if — Damn. She looked at him like he was some kind of prince. As if she'd forgotten that he was nothing but a thug. An ex-con. But someday she'd remember. She'd figure out just how fucked up he was, and she'd go looking for a better man. But when she finished slumming with him...he wouldn't want to let her go. Shit Best to get it over with now. To show her just how nasty he could be. Then she'd give him the boot. And she'd never look at him like this again. ***
She'd never been a particularly sentimental woman. But lying under the warm, sprawling, masculine weight of Jake's body, feeling his cropped hair slip through her fingers, relishing the afterglow of that explosive orgasm...suddenly, inexplicably, she felt close to him. Probably just an illusion. She knew, intellectually, that physical intimacy and emotional intimacy were two completely different things. But looking up into those thoughtful brown eyes, she felt a rush of tenderness. He seemed just a little less bitter. Maybe sex had taken the edge off of his anger. She smiled and stroked his hair some more. "You should let it grow." "I probably will. A little." "You wore it long in high school." "I need to look more clean cut now. I have to find a job." At least he wanted to get a job. Too many ex-cons ended up back in prison. She'd help him find something, if he wanted her to. His brow furrowed. "I'm surprised you remember what my hair was like in high school." "I remember a lot. You were very memorable." He frowned. "I was a thug, Kate." "Well, yes. That's what made you memorable." He gave a brief, hard laugh, quickly stifled. As if he didn't want to think about those days. Before she could stop him, he pushed off of her. He grabbed a tissue from the box on her nightstand and trashed the condom, then settled beside her with a long sigh, not touching but close. She rolled to face him, snuggling closer. Just pressing up against a warm man felt wonderful. A pleasure she'd been denied for too long. His huge hand settled on her hip. "Insatiable wench." The smug satisfaction in his voice made her smile. She stroked across his hard jaw, feeling the faint scratchiness of evening whiskers. "I'm making up for lost time." He turned his lips into her hand and dabbed her palm with his tongue. Her fingers twitched at the erotic caress. "Give me a couple of minutes, Kate. Then I'll get back to work." She wrapped her arm around him and nuzzled her face against his chest, letting all that silky hair tickle her nose. "Two minutes?" Fingers wound in her hair until it pulled tight. He pulled her by her hair.. .pulled her face to his. She moved with him, but the sharp tug on her hair hurt. She frowned. His lips were fierce and rough, kissing her deeply. When he bit her lower lip, she cried out — in surprise more than pain. "No more vanilla." He sounded more harsh than he ever had before. "What.. .what do you have in mind?" "If I told you, it wouldn't be as much fun." His expression seemed to challenge her. Challenge her to what? To be kinky? To be wild? She'd wanted a dangerous man in her bed. She wasn't about to back off now. "All right. Just promise not to —" When his eyes narrowed, she broke off. His anger made him more intimidating than ever. And an angry ex-convict wasn't the kind of man she should have in her bed. Fantasy was one thing, but in reality she'd be stupid to put herself at his mercy. "I don't like conditions." His words were clipped, terse. She swallowed and forced herself to speak. "Just promise you won't hurt me." He moved like lightning, grasping her wrists in his hands and lifting them over her head. Before she knew what happened she was on her back, gasping under the heavy weight of
his torso. His eyes seemed cold, his face as bitter as ever. "No deal." Suddenly he dropped his head and kissed her. She braced herself, but oh, he surprised her with a gentle, coaxing kiss, a soft brush of his lips, a light teasing lick on her upper lip. Then he caught her lip between his teeth, just hard enough to make her whimper. She trembled. Pulling away, moving in any direction, would make the pain worse. She stayed as still as she could, taking shallow breaths, waiting for him to let go. When his teeth finally released her lip, he pressed down hard on her hands, lifting himself just enough to see into her face. "You might like a little pain." She might. Her heart hammered with fear, but the rest of her body hummed with arousal. He'd take her and do whatever he wanted to her...and she wouldn't be responsible for any of it. He'd force pleasure on her. Pleasure.. .and a little pain. "All right." His eyebrows lifted. "I'm not asking for your permission." Her breath caught. Before she could think of a single word to say, he lifted off of her and sat on the edge of the bed. She heard the drawer of her nightstand open. What was he doing? She rolled toward him to see, but his broad back blocked her view. All she could see was his arm reaching into the drawer. He came out with matches, struck one, and lit the votive candle on the nightstand. With one hand, he brought the lit match to her face. "Blow it out." Would have been easier for him to do it. But she obediently took a breath and blew out the match. He paused for a second...then he dropped the match onto her chest, right between her breasts. She jumped up, more from surprise than pain. "Why did you do that?" He didn't look sorry at all. "Did it hurt?" She rubbed at the spot on her chest. No soreness at all. "Not really. But you could have burned me." "But I didn't." Did he hate her so much that he wanted to burn her? She felt ridiculously close to tears. "But you could have." He gathered her close, pulling her into his lap. "Hush, baby. I knew it wasn't hot enough to burn you." She let him rock her, feeling his heart beat under her cheek. "Wasn't it just a little..." He stopped. "A little what?" He bent her backwards over his arm and looked down at her face. God, he was strong. With just one arm, he held her weight effortlessly. "A little exciting." Could he read her that easily? Or did he just know more about human sexual response than she did? She swallowed. "A little." With his free hand, he brushed her hair back from her face. "Then let me give you more. Okay?" Her fingers couldn't stop foraging in his chest hair. "You're asking my permission?" His smile looked a little...strained. Fake, maybe. "I guess I am. Just this once." He wouldn't hurt her.. .not seriously, at any rate. Like the biting of her breasts, of her lip, he'd just hurt her enough to give her that odd blend of pain and pleasure. To drive her crazy. She wanted to be crazy tonight — wanted to be a different woman than the uptight person she'd been all her life. She wanted to be the kind of woman he'd fantasized
about all those years in his lonely cell. "All right." Jake laid her down on the bed, settling her head on the pillow like she was fragile and precious. Then he stood up, crossed to her closet, and took down a handful of scarves from the wooden rack next to the door. When he knelt next to her on the bed, his smile looked teasing. With a little flourish, he draped one scarf over her chest, pulling the silk across her breasts. Her nipples peaked against the cool brush of the cloth. The scarf trailed down her belly, over her thighs. He rubbed his cheek against her pubic hair. "You have the silkiest pussy hair." His voice rumbled against her thigh. The compliment was so earthy, so male...he made her feel so desirable. She ran her fingers through his hair again. He should definitely let it grow a few inches. Just enough for her to be able to tangle her fingers in it when he went down on her. Ah, that sounded like heaven. But he lifted his head and pulled the scarf back up, over her belly, over her breasts, along one arm. The tickling material went over one wrist. He smiled down at her and gently lifted her hand over her head, as if she was a doll he posed for his amusement. Then he lifted the other. The scarf slid along her arms, tickling her. She tried to pull away from the tormenting fabric, but her hands were stuck overhead. She frowned. Her wrists...he'd tied her wrists! Tied them to the headboard. "Jake..." His hands stroked down her arms to cup her breasts. "Hmm?" That handsome face looked teasing, with a little smile on his lips and a glitter in his eyes. "I've never..." She couldn't say it. He'd just make fun of her. His fingers pinched her nipples, just a little. Just enough to make her gasp. He bent to her breast and took one nipple deep into his mouth, sucking hard. When he released her he brushed his cheek over her breast, gently abrading her with his faint trace of whiskers. "But you'll do it for me." He said it like a command. Yes! her body screamed. Her mind wasn't so sure. "I suppose so." He lifted his head and brought his face close to hers, pressing his forehead to her forehead in a tender, lover-like gesture. "If you want me to untie you, just say...Alcatraz." She laughed. "Alcatraz?" Jake pulled back and smiled down at her. "The more outrageous the word, the more likely you are to remember it." "Alcatraz," she repeated. He froze. "Was that a trial run?" God, he could go from smiling to angry in no time flat. "Yes, it was a trial run. The next time I say it, you'll have to untie me." His expression didn't lighten. Could she trust him? She took a breath to say the word again — then stopped. She didn't want to know if she could trust him or not. She just wanted to be wild.
"I want to make you scream," Jake whispered. She was close to screaming already. His hands tormented her. He kept running them over her body, slow and soft, his gaze following. Over her collarbones, down her arms, then back again, over her tingling breasts — not lingering enough to satisfy. As if he wanted to stroke her all night. As if he couldn't decide what to do with her next.
She couldn't enjoy his teasing. Enjoy? He was driving her crazy. She'd expected something kinky, not this gentle touching. Was he afraid to get kinky with her? Maybe he didn't think she could take it. His movements were too light, too soft. She lifted herself up against his hands, but the scarf held her down. She couldn't get any leverage. "Jake..." His gaze met hers then — wicked and teasing. "Hmm?" How could she tell him she wanted him to do more to her? He might think she was criticizing him. She knew how defensive he could get. "You said...no more vanilla." One of those big, strong hands wrapped around the front of her neck. She felt a beat of pressure against her throat — his thumb. "If you knew what I want to do to you, Kate..." She twisted a little, rubbing her leg against his. "Do it. Do everything you want." I
won't say no.
Teasing hot breath filled her ear. Then a wet lick on the edge, a gentle bite on the lobe. She shivered. Another bite, this time on her neck, right under her ear. Then a lick. A soft, sucking kiss, hard enough to raise heat to her skin. He alternated bites, licks, and kisses around the front of her neck to the other ear. Hard enough to mark her with hickeys. She'd have to wear a scarf for a few days. He pulled away and traced across her neck with one finger. "I branded you." "I can imagine." "Did it hurt?" He looked merely curious. Did he want her to say it hurt, or that it didn't? "Not much." His head dropped to her breasts, and he suckled hard on one. So hard that it almost hurt. When her entire breast felt swollen and aching, he let go and scored her nipple lightly, brushing the edge of his teeth across the hard point. The little hint of pain made her body throb. She gasped. Oh, if only she could hold his head there. "Did that hurt?" His deep voice rumbled through her breast. "A little. But..." But not enough. "I.. .1 want more." He nipped the side of her breast, and she trembled. One warm hand cupped her breast, thumb stroking, while he sucked hard on the other. His hand soothed one breast.. .his mouth stung the other, sucking her so hard, hard against his teeth. Pain.. .pleasure.. .she couldn't focus. But she wrapped her hands around the scarf and lifted her chest, trying to get closer. He pulled away and studied the lower half of her body. "I should tie you down more. You can still move your legs." "All right." He glared at her. "You couldn't stop me if you wanted to." "If I said no -" "I'd ignore you." He cupped her sex with his hand. She arched into his hand, felt his fingers move through her wet, slick flesh. "This is mine. Your body is mine. Whatever I want, you're going to give it to me." She could stop him. All she had to do was say the word. Alcatraz. She didn't even want to think it. A wild woman would never dream of stopping a man like Jake. "Yes." His eyes flared. "You don't even know what I want." The hint of danger in his eyes made her heart race. She loved this feeling — out of control. Wild. Wanted. "Whatever it is...I want it, too." His hands ran up her torso, cupped her breasts. "When you're all alone at night in this
big bed, do you imagine a man touching you like this?" "Sometimes." "Do you ever imagine a man tying you down?" "No." His hands slid up her arms to the scarf. Was he going to untie her? She didn't want him to. Not yet. "But that doesn't mean I don't like it." He frowned at that. Didn't he want her to like it? Maybe it was more exciting for him if he could imagine he was forcing her. She'd never wanted that before...but she'd always wanted a dangerous man. A man who could force pleasure on her. "How often do you —" He broke off and seemed to struggle for words. "How often do you satisfy yourself?"
Now this was getting personal.
What a ridiculous thought. She was lying here naked, her wrists tied, and talking about masturbation was too personal? "I don't know. It varies." He bent low, his head against her chest. She felt his arm moving.. .heard him rummaging around in her nightstand. When he raised his head and shifted to lie beside her, she saw a long, pink object in his hand. Her vibrator. She felt her face heat, for some stupid reason. "Do you always use this?" He sounded curious, nothing more. "Yes." Her voice came out a whisper. The vibrator hummed to life. He stroked it across her breast, over her nipple. After the way he'd sucked and bitten her, the faint vibrations felt like a mere tickling. He moved it lower, down her stomach, a smooth, tingling vibration. She lifted her hips a little, and he pressed it lengthwise between her legs. She closed her eyes as he moved the vibrator up and down, sending glorious sensation through her clit. So good. She'd come any second. He pulled it away. She cried out at the loss. Her arms strained against the ties, her hips turning toward him. With one strong push on her hips, he turned her onto her side. She felt his body curl around her back, felt one hand grab her breast and lightly pinch the nipple. She pressed forward into his hand.. .then back against his chest. And the vibrator slid down her ass...between her legs again. Oh, yes. She lifted her knee, giving him more room. The vibrator slid along her pussy, back and forth, moving easily through all that wetness. She was dripping. His hand left her breast and grabbed her hip, moving her in rhythm with the sliding motion of the vibrator. "Is this how you use it?" His breath was hot on her neck, as hot as his chest felt pressing against her back. She could barely catch her breath to answer him. "No." "No?" "No, I..." He stopped moving the vibrator, and she shifted her hips, to keep the rhythm going. He held her hip tight, stopping her. With that restraining hand on her hip and his body hard against her back, she couldn't move. "How do you use it?" he asked. Her face flamed. Thank God he couldn't see from behind her. "I put it inside." Suddenly the vibrator slid back, further back, until she felt the tip pressing against her ass. Pressing.. .oh God, pressing inside her ass. Kate gasped and tried to move away, but he pulled on her hip, fingers digging into her flesh as the vibrator pressed into her tight hole. He stopped when barely an inch was inside her, but God, it felt like the whole thing.
The strange penetration, the tightness, the burning sensation, made her whimper. "Like this?" "No." She sounded pathetic, moaning the word. "Shhh." His breath was hot in her ear. "You said you'd take anything I wanted to give you." Yes, she would. And she'd even let him pretend he was forcing her. "It's too big." "You can take it, baby. You can take it for me." She whimpered and moved back and forth, nudging the vibrator just a little. It didn't hurt so much now. The gentle humming stimulated her just enough to make her want more. To make her want to climax. His breath came in hard pants against the back of her neck. "You like it, don't you?" Did he want her to say yes, or no? She didn't speak, just moaned. The wet glide of his tongue on the back of her neck made her jump back against the vibrator. "I know you like it. You're pushing it further inside." Pain seared her, and she cried out at the harsh feeling — he'd twisted the vibrator, pushed it in more. "Now it hurts again, doesn't it?" She could barely catch her breath. "Do you.. .do you want to hurt me, Jake?" "Yes." Teeth nipped the back of her neck. "I want to make you scream. Remember?" He pulled out the vibrator, leaving her sore and tingling...and feeling strangely empty. She heard the vibrator drop onto the hardwood floor, hitting so hard that it turned off. Jake pressed his cock along the crease of her ass, rubbing his full length against her. "I want you to know how it feels to want something so bad, it hurts." God, she wanted him inside. "I know how it feels," she gasped. "I want you so bad..." His hand found her hip again, pulled her tight against his hot cock. "How bad? Bad enough to beg?" Definitely. "Make me come, Jake. Please." "Do you want me bad enough to give me anything I want?" "Yes, yes." He bit the slope of her shoulder. "Bad enough to take me in the ass?" What? She shook her head. His cock was huge. She'd never be able to — "I knew you wouldn't." He sounded disappointed...and oddly satisfied at the same time. "I knew you could never want me." Then he gasped, as if he couldn't believe what he'd said. "I mean — I knew you could never want what I want." She barely heard anything after his slip. She should have known — she'd worked with enough ex-cons. The anger, the self-loathing... it was all so familiar. Jake wanted her, but he didn't believe that she could truly want him. Could she ever convince him? Maybe if she could touch him...stroke him...pull him tightly against her. If she could take his cock into her mouth and give him selfless pleasure. With her hands tied, she couldn't even hold him. Words would have to do. "I want whatever you want, Jake." She took a deep breath. "Take me...however you want to take me." He rolled her to her back and loomed over her, glaring down into her face. "You're lying." "No, Jake. Feel how wet I am." His hand moved between her legs, stroking and rubbing. "Any man would do this," he ground out. "Even a piece of plastic would do this to you." She shook her head. "Only you. I haven't..." Well, this might convince him. "I haven't been with a man in over three years."
He slowed his hand to a cold, tormenting rhythm. Deliberately trying to frustrate her. Damn him. "So I'm the lucky one. I wonder why." His hand took all of her attention. She nodded mutely. One hard fingertip flicked her clit, and she moaned. "Why me?" "I..." His fingers stopped. She whimpered. "Why me?" he demanded. If she answered, maybe he'd stroke her again. "Because I thought you needed me." His fingers moved idly, then stopped again. "So I'm a pity fuck." "No! No, that's not it at all." She shunted her hips, trying to move against his hand. "You're dying to come, aren't you?" His face looked so cold, staring down at her while his fingers grazed her lightly...far too lightly. She had to close her eyes. "Yes." "It hurts, doesn't it? To want to come this bad?" She nodded. "You're killing me." He pressed his cock to the side of her thigh, driving it hard against her. "Now you know how I feel. To want someone so bad, it hurts." "I know," she gasped. "And nothing.. .nothing you do could make me stop wanting you." His hand left her completely. What — Her eyes met his. Oh God, she shouldn't have said that. He looked furious, more angry than she'd ever seen him. "You think you know all about me." She was tied up, helpless. Defenseless. "No, I just...I know you won't hurt me, that's all." "I've already hurt you." "I liked it." Understatement. "And if I did something you didn't like, you'd use the safe word." "I won't." He pushed himself up and leaned over her, another scarf in his hand. To tie her legs? He wound it between his hands, twisting it into a rope. Then he put it against her mouth. When she opened her lips to ask what he was doing, the scarf slipped between her teeth. He tied it at the side of her head. And his face, hovering over hers, still looked furious. "Do you remember the safe word?" She nodded. With the scarf gagging her, she couldn't say an intelligible word. "Good," he answered. "If I hear you say it, I'll untie you." He wanted her to fear him. Mission accomplished. Without the safe word, she had no protection from him at all. No protection from his anger, his frustration, his self-loathing. She moaned and squirmed on the bed. He lowered his face to hers. "What's that?" He chuckled humorlessly. "Now you can't say it. No matter what I do. No matter how perverted I get." Her breath whistled through her nostrils. She could barely breathe. No, that was panic talking. She could breathe.. .just not as easily. His hands ran over her again — a mockery of the loving stroking he'd done before. "Now you're all mine. Really mine." He could do anything he wanted, and she couldn't protest. But she wouldn't have protested before. No reason to panic now, just because he'd made sure she couldn't. Still, her heart was beating faster than ever. Light suddenly flared in her eyes. She squinted up at him, her eyes narrowed against the glare. He'd taken the burning votive candle in his hand, and now he held it over her chest. "The match didn't hurt you earlier." No, it hadn't. She shook her head.
His face looked hard. Dangerous. "Maybe this will." The glass holder tipped in his hand. Surely he wouldn't... She shook her head wildly. Her shoulders ached from pulling against the scarf that bound her wrists. His hand stopped. "Saying no won't stop me." Alcatraz. She couldn't say it. The match hadn't burned her. The wax wouldn't — The wax would be hot. If he burned her, he'd comfort her. Maybe he'd make her come. She whimpered and squirmed as he tipped the votive, her gaze fixed to the candle. A slow dribble of wax fell onto her chest, right between her breasts. Hot. So hot. Not unbearable, but she writhed under the heat. The gag muffled her moans. The wax splattered onto her skin in hot bursts, then cooled and left her aching. The hot bath moved.. .down her chest, over her stomach. Oh God, would he drip it between her legs? She tried to close them, to protect her sex, but he was kneeling between her legs. She moaned and twisted. The dribbling trail of heat stopped at her navel. She heard the soft clink of the candle holder when he put it back down on the nightstand. His head dropped to her stomach, blowing cooling air on her. The heat faded slowly, leaving a tingling, raw feeling in its wake. "Too much?" His breath whispered across the side of her breast. Nothing was too much. Nothing he wanted. She shook her head fiercely. His gaze caught hers for an instant before he looked away. Lifting to his knees, his powerful legs spread her thighs wide. "I can do anything I want to you, baby. I could fuck you without a condom." Oh, no. Her eyes went wide; she shook her head again. His hand moved over his cock, stroking. "That's right. Beg me. Beg me with those big green eyes." He stroked her cheek above the gag with the backs of his fingers, his touch oddly gentle. Then he ran his hand down her chest, following the wax trail. "I've given you hickeys. I've left a little path of red down your belly. And it's still not enough." What more could he possibly do to her? With his free hand, he gripped her thigh, the thumb stroking tiny circles on the inside of her leg. "If I could, I'd tattoo my name right here. So that every man who took you would see it and know that I was here before him." She couldn't talk, couldn't tell him that he'd already left his mark on her — that she'd never forget him, whether he tattooed her or not. His fingers played with her sex again, so gently. Closing her eyes felt scary. Already mute, she couldn't bear to be sightless as well. She stared up at his hard, handsome face — and tried to tell him, without words, that she still wanted him. That she still trusted him. All she could do was nod. His gaze wandered down her chest, along the path of wax that he'd poured. His face changed, his eyes turning soft while his hand stroked her intimately. "Kate.. .you're so beautiful." Then suddenly his hand was gone. Fingers plucked at her belly, her chest — peeling the cool wax off her skin. His hand skimmed down her flesh, probably tracing the marks left by the wax. Jake left her completely, left the bed. Even turning her head, she couldn't see him. She heard a tearing noise — ah, a condom. At last. He joined her again, his body coming down on hers, his breath whispering in her ear. "I want you so damned much."
And she wanted him. She couldn't speak, couldn't hold him, couldn't tell him. She nodded instead. He thrust into her then, groaning. His body didn't pause, didn't miss a beat, setting a strong, steady rhythm, driving into her deep and hard. She couldn't move, couldn't even lift her hips, not with the heavy weight of his body pinning her to the bed. But she didn't need to move. Jake moved perfectly, as if he knew exactly what she needed. Every thrust, every brush of his chest on hers, every groan in her ear took her higher. After all his teasing, she was ready to explode. She bit down on the scarf and moaned, straining toward release. She let him take her there, let the frustration and fear burst into a heady orgasm. Jake! The gag muffled her scream, but he threw his head back as if he heard it, shouting out her own name as he gave a deep thrust that pushed her hands against the posts of the headboard. He dropped his lips to her neck, his forearms trembling with the force of his release. He nuzzled against her skin as he moaned and shook, pumping with the last throes of his climax. So much passion in him...so much anger. Tears came to her eyes. She'd never wanted to hold a man more in her life. *** He couldn't quite face her yet. So he lay on top of her for long, breathless moments, panting for air, trying to wrap his mind around that volatile experience. She'd given him everything. Everything he'd ever imagined, everything he'd ever wanted. And no matter how nasty he got, how far he pushed her, she wanted more. She wanted him. He shifted, raised his head and looked down into her face. The scarf, wrapped tight around her mouth, muted her expression, but her eyes were wet. Tears. Oh, God. What a fucking brute. He'd very nearly raped her. Taking away her ability to say no... Hell, it was rape. He was no better than an animal. What had prison done to him? He didn't deserve to be out. He sure as hell didn't deserve Kate — and he'd proven it in spades. What could he say? I'm sorry? Lame. The least he could do was take the gag off so she could scream at him. He fumbled with the scarf that gagged her, finally got it untied. As gently as he could, he pulled the cloth away. She looked beyond angry. She looked shaken. Traumatized. "Alcatraz," she said quietly. What the hell? Wasn't it too late for that? "Untie my hands, Jake." Oh, shit. He pulled out of her and sat next to her on the bed, untying the scarf that bound her wrists with shaking fingers. He wanted to stroke her arms, hold her, comfort her. What the hell kind of comfort could he provide? He'd brutalized her. She brought her hands down from the headboard and shifted to a sitting position. Would she hit him? Call the cops? Throw him out? He deserved the worst punishment she could give him. She launched herself at him — and threw her arms around his chest, burying her face against his neck.
He held her close, baffled. "Kate? You're not mad?" She shook her head. "That was wonderful." What the hell? He tilted her back against his arm so he could see her face. "You liked
A delicate blush covered her cheeks. "The only thing I didn't like was not being able to tell you how much I liked it." Would he ever understand this woman? Maybe he'd at least have some time to try. "I thought I was forcing you, Kate." She smiled at him and cupped his cheek with one hand, as if he was the best lover in the world. "I know. I've never had so much fun." Fun? Where had this kinky woman come from?
From his dreams.
No. Dreams didn't come true. Not for him. "Why are you slumming with me?" "Slumming?" Her voice lilted with amusement. "We're both from the projects, Jake." But she'd spent the last ten years making a decent life for herself, not scamming, getting arrested, and doing time. "You're not from there anymore. Kate..." She smiled at him, so sweetly, and he completely lost his train of thought. "Kate, I'm living in a twenty-dollar-a-night hotel. We don't have anything in common." She shrugged. "Well, we both like kinky sex." Then she grinned. "And thanks to you, now I know it." He couldn't think of a single thing to say. She was kinky, beautiful — and far, far too good for a man like him. She stroked his hair with one hand. "You know me as well as anyone, Jake. I won't have to pretend with you, because you know exactly where I came from. You know what I used to be." "You used to be one of the sexiest girls I'd ever seen." And now you're one of the
She pushed against his shoulder in a playful gesture. "You didn't even know I was alive back then." "The hell I didn't. On prom night..." Did he really want to share this with her? Expose himself? Her face was all green eyes, all curiosity and trust. She trusted him. May be... may be he could learn to trust her, too. Had he ever trusted a woman? Hell, he could barely remember any other women. Only Kate seemed real. He took a deep breath. "I saw you on prom night. Senior year. You were out with Tom Nicholson. And the dress you had on.. .just a simple pink thing, but it made you look-" "It was all I could afford. I got it at a thrift store, and it showed." She sounded embarrassed about it, even after all these years. He brushed her hair back, remembering exactly how she'd looked. Proud, innocent and untouchable, all at once...with just a hint of the confident, full-breasted woman she'd become. He'd wanted to take her and violate her in every way his adolescent mind could imagine. "You looked totally hot, Kate. I wanted to beat the shit out of that asshole Nicholson and fuck you in the backseat of his Chevy." She smiled up at him, her eyes luminous — as if he'd just paid her a great compliment. "You did?" "Hell, yes." "I wanted you back then, too." She didn't have to lie to him. "Bullshit."
"I did. You were so.. .1 don't know. Dangerous." So she liked to live dangerously. Before tonight, he'd never have guessed. Not in a million years. "You kept a good secret." Her fingers tickled his chest. "I was afraid." He grinned. "Afraid of me?" That thought should not be so exciting. She nuzzled her face against his shoulder. "A little. But mostly I was afraid of winding up pregnant and stuck in the projects. I was afraid of my own desires, I think." When she tilted her head back and flashed those green eyes at him, blonde hair spilled over his wrist. "I'm not afraid of you anymore." "Why not? I'm worse now than I ever was back then." She laughed. "I know it. And you've shown me there's nothing left to fear." Her foot slid up his calf. "No more vanilla for me. From now on, all of my men will be dangerous." Men? Plural? He gripped her shoulders. "You're not going to have any other men, Kate. Not as long as you're with me." She tossed her head and frowned at him. "You can't control me." His hands tightened on her shoulders. He saw red. And then he saw the gleam in her eyes, the little curve at the edge of her pouting lips. What a tease. He gave her a gentle shake. "You're playing with fire, baby." She wrapped her arms around him again and giggled — the sexiest sound he'd ever heard. "Yes, and I like it." Too good to be true. This was all too good to be true. "I'm not nearly..." I'm not nearly
good enough for you.
He cleared his throat. "I'm not the right man for you, Kate." Her smile faded. "You're really saying that I'm not the right woman for you. Aren't you?" God, how a woman could twist a man's words. He hadn't missed that aspect of women. Not at all. "No, that's not what I'm saying." She looked down at his chin. "You're dumping me." Christ. As if he didn't want her with every fiber of his body. "Kate...you're beautiful, smart, and very successful. You probably make more money in a month than I've ever made in a whole year. Someday you'll figure out that you can do better than an ex-con who never went to college." Her head tilted to the side, all thoughtful. "And someday you'll want a wilder woman than I am." A wilder woman? "A wilder woman would kill me." She laughed, then grew serious again. "You have some good qualities yourself, you know. You're funny and sexy and...masculine, and...I can tell you're a good man at heart." He snorted. "That proves how little you know me. I just got out of prison, baby. Remember? I held up a gas station." She bit her lip at that, looking indecisive. "Well...well, you did your time. You're going straight, aren't you?" He sure wanted to. And with Kate's help, he could find a way. He took a deep breath and made her a promise. "Yes, I am." "I knew it. No man who was wholly bad would give a damn what happened to a kid like Scott." He did care about the kid. And about her. God, he cared about her. He stared down into her lovely face, staggered, suddenly short of breath. Before he could speak, she did. "Jake, I want this to be more than a one-night thing." She looked away, then back at his eyes. "But only if you want that, too. And I promise, no strings attached."
No strings? He wanted to put all kinds of strings on her. Strings, ropes, chains...tattoos. He wanted to tie her to him as tightly as he could, using every bond he could find. He'd settle for silk scarves. For now. "No strings." They sealed that agreement with a light kiss. Had he really bitten these soft lips? Had she really liked it? He kissed her again, just because he could. Then he leaned against the headboard, holding her on his lap, her head resting on his shoulder. He felt a sharp nip on his earlobe. "Hey! I do the biting around here, woman." She laughed softly. "Is that so?" Then a little bite on his neck. "Maybe you should punish me. I'm such a bad girl, you know." He gave her ribcage a gentle squeeze, made her yelp in surprise. "You're a very bad girl. And I'm an even worse man." A thief. No, not anymore. He'd only take what Kate was willing to give him. What he could persuade her to give him. And he'd be very, very persuasive. "You're not as bad as you think you are, Jake." That sounded like a dare. He slipped a hand over the round curve of her luscious ass. "Are you begging for some proof?" He felt her smile against his shoulder, felt her fingers curl in his chest hair. "Sure. First you prove that you're a big, bad, nasty man. The worst man I've ever met." Little teeth scored his nipple, and his cock twitched against her hip. She chuckled. "Then I'll prove that I wouldn't want you any other way."
This story is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Maryjane, the best mother a daughter-in-law ever had. I know we'll find each other in our next lives, but I sure do miss you in this one. Tell John I miss him, too.
* * * A lifelong daydreamer, Doreen DeSalvo sold her first short story at the age of eight. Her payment was a candy bar. Over thirty years later, her passion for writing — and chocolate — remain. Her work has won the Fallot Literary Award for Fiction and the Doubleday Venus Book Club's "Book of the Year" Award. Now living in San Francisco with her husband of over twenty years, she can think of no career more rewarding than writing stories that always have happy endings.