Authors: Skylar Kade
Thank you to all my wonderful beta readers (Phuong, Dawn and Kim), my editors Christa and Lisa, who had the utmost patience with me, and to the Nine Naughty Novelists, who never gave up on me. As always, to Ky—I love you.
David Cameron paced the gray tile, his shoes squeaking on the surface, and looked at the clock every thirty seconds. Forty, when he mustered his self-control. Back and forth, five steps each way, until the loudspeaker crackled to life. A monotone voice announced the arrival of Flight 937 from New York.
His heart stumbled and regained its balance, a habit it’d formed after knowing Carrie for a couple of months. David was thankful his legs had outgrown a similar habit years ago. Though he hadn’t appreciated his six-feet-four height as a teen, he did now—he’d see Carrie that much sooner over the heads of other people waiting in the baggage claim area.
He paced until a stream of passengers hit the automatic doors, then paused to scan the travelers for his woman.
Neighbor. She’s just your neighbor.
But when she turned the corner, her red hair tied up into a loose bun, he forgot everything rational and started forward. That lasted all of two steps before he remembered he was just there to bring her back to their condominium complex.
His version of Love Thy Neighbor was in a different language than hers. So he waited and forced his long legs to hold still, at least until she made it into Baggage Claim.
Carrie exited the dimly lit hallway and pushed through the glass double doors into the light. Backlit, she looked like an angel coming to save him from himself.
Until he saw the lines of exhaustion etched onto her face.
He rushed forward to take her carry-on, a dusty tan duffel that looked like it matched her in weight. She let it drop into his open hands, then sluggishly raised her head.
“David, it’s so good to be home.” She sank against his chest and wrapped her arms around his midsection.
Not the way he’d envisioned their first full-body contact, but he wouldn’t let her go for the world. He wrapped his free arm around her shoulders and rubbed circles across her shoulder blades, though he did tilt his hips back. The last thing he needed was her disgust at his cock’s poor sense of timing and lack of propriety.
“It’s good to have you home.” The citrus scent that always evoked images of her wafted up from her hair. David had taken to eating a lot of tangerines in the six months since Carrie moved into the condo across from his.
For a frozen moment, he could imagine she was his lover, home from a long trip and happy to see him. He’d kiss her silly and load her into his sedan, take her home to their bed and spend the night making her come until she forgot everything ugly about her trip.
The daydream broke when she stepped back from him, her impassive expression already covering the exhaustion and whatever else had compelled her to touch him.
She’d made it clear from the beginning she had no fondness for contact beyond the most awkward of handshakes between neighbors. Except for the awkward one-armed hug he’d received when he took her to the airport four weeks ago, that was all he’d gotten.
He studied Carrie’s thin, weary form, shocked she hadn’t collapsed under the weight of her duffel bag. Though he didn’t know exactly what she’d done on this work expedition, he knew the case involved uncovering mass graves in Rwanda. Hell, he’d look worn too.
She looked like she needed comforting—and food. “Hamburgers okay?” Her eyes lit up and his chest tingled.
“Yes. I’m ravenous. Give me anything that doesn’t come powdered or in a can, and I’ll be a happy girl.” Her full pink lips almost quirked up, and David put it in the win column.
He rarely got more of a reaction than her barely there smile, aside from one unguarded, truthful moment a month after she’d moved in across from him.
“I don’t have the time or the inclination to date. Ever,” she’d told him one night.
He’d been teasing her about her weekend plans when she’d thrown him for a loop with that one. She was one of the most dedicated experts he’d ever met, but he called “bullshit” on her excuse. He’d played along with her at the time, but it had been a turning point for him. A woman as incredible as Carrie deserved to have a partner in her life to make her smile, to ease some of her burden.
Almost from the beginning, attraction had sparked between them in a way David had never before experienced. Though they worked together, he’d craved spending time with her, first during lunches at work and then for dinners at his place. Awareness had simmered between them the whole time, though the attraction was all on his part.
In less-guarded moments, he caught Carrie watching him and biting her lip in a damned erotic way that always tested his control. But he’d decided that until she made the first move and changed her mind about her dating hiatus, he’d be her friend. And take lots of cold showers.
On the half-hour drive back to their suburb of DC, he snuck glances at Carrie as she slept in the car. The roomy leather seat seemed to swallow her up. She’d definitely lost weight, and she’d been slim to begin with.
Carrie had let him bring her lunches and share dinner with her—it was one of the few ways she’d let him care for her. He’d damn well take it and run now. She looked like she was wasting away.
Not on his watch. He pulled into the parking lot of their local Wendy’s, the site of many a late-night meal between them. Loath to wake her, he zipped around to the drive-through instead of parking. She didn’t wake until the scent of burgers and fries filled the car.
At the first crinkle of the paper bag, she sat upright, fully aware. “Thank you for buying dinner.”
David envied the ease with which she woke up. He had to set three alarms to drag himself out of bed in the morning.
Carrie would be a far better enticement.
The rogue thought combined with the fry he’d popped in his mouth threw him into a coughing fit. He slowed on the empty late-night road until he regained control of himself and dislodged the piece of potato slipping down his throat.
A small hand pounded on his shoulder blades then stroked across the back of his tee-shirt. His skin warmed at the touch of her hand.
He nodded and sipped the proffered cup, moving as little as possible, in hopes of prolonging the moment. Her hands on him twice in one night. He wanted to sear this feeling into his memory.
When Carrie removed her hand, he started down the road again, this time without incident.
By tacit mutual agreement and the habit of months, they made their way up from the parking structure and both stopped in front of his door while he unlocked it.
They always ate at his place because she didn’t have a kitchen table. Or a TV. Carrie, minimalist to the core.
David unlocked his front door and a flying fur ball tangled around his legs. He nudged the cat away and set the food on his counter.
Cooing sounds from over his shoulder startled him. He turned to see Carrie holding his cat, Psyche, on her back. She rubbed the cat’s belly and made mock purring noises. David almost pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. She hadn’t paid any attention to Psyche before.
Carrie met his incredulous gaze with a small laugh. “A stray cat adopted us in Rwanda.” The half smile melted from her face. She cleared her throat. “He went home with one of the other anthropologists.” She set Psyche down and straightened her back before getting two plates down from his cupboard.
Whether she’d meant to or not, she’d made herself at home. In his home. And he liked it more than was smart.
Sometimes they would chat about current events or entertainment news—anything but work. Otherwise, they would veg on the couch and watch TV. Tonight, they ate in amiable silence and caught up on the shows he’d recorded for her while she’d been gone. David kept his focus on the screen and tamped down the barely leashed desire that rose in her presence. Besides, if he ignored the not-so-secret glances he was getting from Carrie, she might continue to study him.
Carrie’s wry, no-nonsense attitude thinly veiled something more—something he wanted to expose—and made her an irresistible puzzle. She’d grown on him, her eccentricities burrowing their way into his heart.
For example, Carrie had discovered a particular fondness for
The Real Housewives
of any city. David humored her, even recording some of the episodes. He liked to hear her analyze the “foreign” group dynamics and behavior.
He would spend the mind-numbing hour cycling through cranial anatomy as a distraction from her reactions to the show: her mouth open in shock, her tongue darting out to moisten her full bottom lip, the little quirk of a smile that flashed across her face.
Tonight, after a month’s absence, she was even more appealing.
When the show finally ended, he rose to take the remnants of their dinner into the kitchen.
Two slim arms clasped his waist and the empty fast-food bags almost slipped from his hands. A glance down showed Carrie’s small hands, lightly calloused from her work outdoors, her nails short and unpainted—hands he loved to look at. Hands he’d dreamed about having on his body.
“I need you, David.” Though quiet, her words quavered in the air. Her embrace tightened, and one of those delicately strong hands slipped lower.
He would have stopped her if his brain hadn’t short-circuited. Maybe he’d fallen asleep on the couch, or had an aneurysm and was on the brink of death. Anything but reality would explain this.
She cupped his growing erection and his hand pressed against hers as he pivoted to face her.
“Carrie, please.” He wasn’t sure if he was begging for more or asking her to slow down.
She gave a slight shake of her head, set the takeout bags in the trash and led him into the bedroom. He followed like a puppy.
The sounds of clothes flying to the floor rent the air. In record time they were naked, and David lost all his control right there.
Carrie’s body stoked his desire, though her too-lean lines needed to be remedied. Food, TLC—later.
He pressed her down onto the bed so he could savor her long stretches of skin and muscle, the adorable indent of her belly button, the thatch of pale strawberry hair between her legs.
She had tan lines from her time in Rwanda, the golden skin of her arms and legs standing in stark contrast to the rich, creamy white of her torso. A handful of old scars graced her skin, like the long, white stripe that sliced down her side. He wanted to ask her about it, but he wouldn’t push her to open up—not yet.
Carrie was the only woman he knew who wouldn’t be self-conscious about surface details like uneven tan lines. Her scars and calluses and sunburns were badges of a job well done, she’d once told him.
She had enough “badges” to make him want to yank her from the war zones her job often took her to.
Intent on discovering each scar, David skimmed his hands up her ankles and across bumps and bruises on her shins. He paused to kiss each one. She sighed and he slowed his hands, wanting to hear it again. When he reached the juncture of her thighs, he pressed his thumbs into the pronounced indents of her hips and was rewarded with her shuddery exhale.
God, he couldn’t believe she was really here, naked. She’d kept her distance over the past few months, and he’d almost given up on ever touching her like this. But then she’d do something out of character, like sending him some hilarious, ridiculous cat video, and he would be hooked again.
She was a knot of contradictions, and he couldn’t help wanting to tug at her until he got them unraveled. But tonight was about the physical.
With reverent fingers, he pressed her legs apart. “My God, Carrie.” He tucked his hands under her ass and tilted her up to meet his hungry lips. His tongue met her soft folds, and he savored the sweet taste of her—before she shifted out from under him.
Stunned, he turned to watch her rise from the bed and take his place. She shoved him back so that he sprawled on the bed and before he could argue she was straddling him, swirling her hips to brush her wet core across his cock without taking him inside her.
He was gone. She could do whatever she wanted to his body so long as she didn’t stop.