Authors: Jennifer Crusie
things before she even ate breakfast. First, she showered and shaved. Everywhere. Then she polished her toenails. After all, no one had seen her bare toes since October. She wanted to make it a positive experience. Finally, trying not to grin down at her smooth legs and red toes and the little black panties she was wearing, she called about the driving class.
It was held on three consecutive Monday evenings from six to eight and the next class started in March. Jenny signed up. She’d have to tweak her schedule, but Rayleen wouldn’t mind. It would give her extra ammunition to crack insulting jokes, and there was nothing that woman loved more.
Then Jenny stretched out on her couch with a happy sigh. She had the whole day off. Winter was the busiest season in Jackson, but it also meant a surplus of workers. Jenny normally worked a six-night week in the summer, but in the winter she could pick and choose, depending on how much she needed the money. There was always a pack of snowboarding bartenders waiting to fill in. And right now the rent on her little one-bedroom apartment was paid, her car insurance rates hadn’t yet gone up, and she needed to preserve her sanity more than she needed to save for a new pair of heels.
At the moment, her sanity seemed to hinge on the prospect that Nate Hendricks would call, that she might be seeing some fantastically dirty action, and that Ellis would leave her the hell alone. She was scrubbed, exfoliated, shaved and polished, and ready for all three. She even had a reasonable amount of hope for two of those. And two-thirds’ worth of sanity was better than none at all.
When her phone rang in the middle of a reality show cooking competition marathon, Jenny snatched up the phone and grinned at the unfamiliar number. It was Nate. She knew it was. And she smiled when she heard his voice.
“What time do you go in to work?” he asked.
She smiled harder. “I don’t. What about you?”
“It’s my day off. You’ve probably had lunch already—”
“I haven’t!” Okay, that had been a hairbreadth too eager. Or maybe more than that, since he paused for a long moment before speaking. But screw it, if he wanted her to play coy, he could go to lunch with his disappointment. Last night, she’d been nervous. Now she was just pissed that she hadn’t already gotten in his pants. She wanted to get it over with. Not the sex, but the nervousness. The doubts and worries. She wanted to get to the good part.
“I could call that new place on the square,” he finally said. “I’m not sure if they’re open for lunch.”
Jenny glanced at her pitiful little kitchen, then down at her T-shirt and black panties “I could make something. If you’d like to come over.”
Despite her internal pep talk, Jenny’s heart began to pound before the words had even left her mouth. Oh, God. Oh, God. There was no mistaking her invitation. Was there? He had to know. What if he insisted on the restaurant? What would that mean? Her bravery started to sneak away. “If you want to go to a restaurant, I—”
“No! I mean, yes. No. I’d love to come over. For lunch. Do you need me to pick anything up?”
she squeaked inside her mind. But she was pretty sure she had a few left in her dresser from...the Jurassic era? No. From a year ago. When she’d met that cute doctor. Ugh. Cute and...efficient.
“No,” she said. “Unless you’d like wine? Since you don’t have to work later, I mean. I won’t be driving. Oh, I called about the class! I start in March. So don’t worry that I’m just trying to distract you with—um. Lunch. Or even wine. If you want it. Or if you don’t, that’s fine, too. Do you need my address? No, I guess you—”
“I’ll grab a bottle of wine. See you in thirty?”
“Yes!” She nearly sobbed in relief that her sudden chattering had been mercifully put down.
But she didn’t have time to worry about her spazzy methods of seduction. He was coming over. He was bringing wine. She was stubble free and fragrant. And...she didn’t have any idea what to make for lunch.
She started toward the kitchen, but before she’d even opened the fridge, she reversed course and ran for the bedroom. The top priority was looking delicious. She’d worry about her lack of food later.
More than half her wardrobe was jeans, but she rejected that idea out of hand. Jeans weren’t easy access. They didn’t encourage exploration. And she wanted to be explored like a new world with gold in its rivers. Or something.
She tried on a dress, then a skirt, then another dress. Then she put on the original dress and kicked the rest of the clothes back into her tiny closet. But as she shoved the door closed, she realized she looked like a woman who was going to dinner. Too much. Yanking the door open, she dug the black skirt out from the pile and slipped it on. She topped it with a pretty black bra and a blue sweater that always accidentally slipped off one shoulder when she wore it. “Oops,” she said with a smile when it immediately slid down to expose her skin.
She shook out her hair and fluffed it with her fingers, so thankful she’d kept up with the color her friend Grace had done for her. A subtle change to her natural blond, but just enough warmth to give her confidence. Not that a man was likely to notice such things, but she wanted to feel like a goddess when she threw her head back and rode Nate Hendricks into the sunset.
“Oh, Jesus,” she gasped, covering her face in horror at her own thoughts. She’d never do that, not with a man she barely knew. Just the idea of getting naked for him made her cheeks flame.
On one hand, she’d heard too many guys discussing women’s bodies in the saloon. Little digs about big thighs. Crueler digs about breasts that didn’t measure up or fat in all the wrong places.
On the other hand, she’d watched men fall head over heels for the plainest girl at the bar just because she made them laugh. Men who went starry-eyed at some obscure hobby he had in common with a girl who didn’t draw anyone else’s attention.
She didn’t know what to think about men anymore. Sometimes they seemed the simplest creatures in the world. And sometimes she was convinced they were more complex and sensitive than any women she’d ever known. All she could do was take off her clothes and enjoy the experience. Since he was a man, she had confidence he’d do the same. Another of their many gifts.
But on her way to the fridge to check the contents, she made one last detour to close all the blinds. Getting naked was one thing. Getting naked with a gorgeous new lover in the cold sunlight of midafternoon? She’d rather sell her car and leave town on the bus.
* * *
of Jenny’s apartment door, clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and checking to see if his hair had dried with the other. He’d rushed through a shower, raced to the liquor store and arrived exactly thirty minutes after his call, but now he hesitated.
Somewhere between picking up the phone and walking up her stairs, he’d become confused about the visit. He’d meant to push her a little harder about Ellis. To find out what she knew, what the man had told her. He’d wanted someplace quiet where he could watch her face and listen closely to her voice for any tells. And then hopefully move on, set it aside and get to know this woman who’d been driving him crazy for months. But along the way, his logical plans had scattered like tumbleweeds. Actually, he knew exactly when his brain had started misfiring. It was when she’d nixed his perfect lunch date in favor of something more intimate.
Lunch. At her place. With wine.
His fingers squeezed the neck of the bottle and he knocked.
No reason he couldn’t stay on track with his plans. Maybe they’d get intimate. Maybe they’d have sex. But she wasn’t going to jump him as soon as she opened the door. He could still ask his questions. He could still step cautiously before deciding to move forward.
Then she opened the door, and he suddenly remembered the taste of her skin, and the sounds she’d made, and the way he’d fucked her in his fantasies that morning.
Her hair was down today. It slid past her shoulders in shiny blond waves. Her eyes glinted green in the sunlight, and her teeth pressed nervously into her plump bottom lip. When she spoke, Nate forced his gaze away from her mouth to meet her eyes.
“Come in!” she announced, stepping back and drawing his attention to her bare feet and red toes. Then her bare legs. And the short black skirt. His brain flashed to an image he’d had that morning, of parting her legs and putting his mouth to her pale, sweet thigh. And then higher.
“I think this was a bad idea,” she said, and he yanked his eyes from their unfortunate journey up her legs. “I shouldn’t have invited you over.”
“I’m sorry. I—”
“The only thing I have here is breakfast food. I can make eggs and home fries. God, I don’t even have any bacon. An omelet, maybe? I’m sorry. I just wanted...” Her voice faded into an uncertain quiet.
Nate’s mind was still spinning, but he latched onto her last word. “You wanted what?”
She bit her lip again, denting the tender pink flesh until he wanted to make her stop so he could lick the hurt away. His cock stirred at the thought of gently
sucking her lip until she groaned. She’d open for him then. Give him her mouth. Her tongue. Her need.
“I wanted to...” She shifted, her gaze falling to the floor, but Nate was distracted by the neckline of her blue sweater slowly sliding down. The gentle turn of her shoulder was revealed in torturous increments. The hollow above her collarbone. The silky strap of her black bra. The soft skin just at the front of her shoulder. God, he wanted to taste her right there. This time he didn’t look away from the tempting sight when he spoke. “What did you want, Jenny?”
He heard the soft shush of her inhaling. Her nervousness stoked his lust. “I wanted to be alone with you. Last night, we were interrupted. And I wished we weren’t.”
Nate set the bottle on the kitchen counter.
“Do you want a glass of wine?” she asked.
“No.” That wasn’t what he wanted at all. He reached slowly toward her, giving her time to move away. But she held her ground. “Your sweater’s sliding off,” he murmured, but he didn’t fix it. Instead, he brushed his thumb against the sweet expanse of skin that had become exposed. Jesus, she was soft. He felt goose bumps rise under his touch. “Jenny,” he said, thinking that he needed to ask her something. Say something. But he couldn’t recall what it was. Because he could feel the way her breath came faster as he touched her, and he was closer now, though he couldn’t remember moving, and his hand slid higher, up toward her neck, while she sighed and arched into him. Her neck...she liked that so much, when he kissed her there.
So he bent his head and kissed her neck. She gasped as if she’d been holding her breath for long minutes. Nick spread his fingers over the delicate muscles that tensed beneath him as she pressed closer to his mouth. He gave her what she wanted, scraping his teeth along her sensitive skin.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, and suddenly they were right back where they’d left off. Jenny whimpering and Nate hard as a rock as he pressed his hips to hers. What questions could possibly exist that couldn’t be answered by the taste of her, the feel of her body? Whatever concerns he’d meant to address were surely solved by her hands sliding around his waist. She snuck beneath his flannel shirt and tugged his T-shirt from his jeans.
For a split second, every neuron in his brain was focused on that one thing, that one promise of her hands and his skin and...
Christ, he finally felt her fingers on his bare back and every goal he’d ever had in life was supplanted by the need to feel her naked against him. Her breasts against his chest. Her legs entwined with his. And her sweet, tentative hand around his cock.
The thought made his hands shake as he finally kissed her mouth. Whatever this insane chemistry was, she must have felt it, too, because she kissed him back with wild need and he felt the sudden, delicious bite of her fingernails in his back.
This was the woman who needed to drive fast. Who needed speed and danger and freedom. Nate dragged her sweater up, only breaking the kiss for a moment to pull it over her head. Then their mouths were sucking and biting and licking again, and it was her bare skin now. And his hands. And she was so hot, her skin so soft as he traced the line of her spine.
She turned her head to gasp, “Your shirt,” so Nate shrugged out of his flannel shirt as she helped to push his tee up and off his body. And then, thank every god that had ever lived, her stomach was pressed to his and she groaned in relief as he unhooked her bra and tugged that off, too.
“Yes,” she said, her breasts pressing tight against him as she drew her hands along his shoulders and over his arms. “Oh, God, you’re so damn gorgeous.”
His male ego thrilled at the lust in her voice, but he shook his head. Nothing about his body could begin to compare to hers. Just the sight of her shoulders, completely bare, her hair falling around them, then the plump rise of her breasts against him. “God. Just...please, Jenny.” He eased her back, giving up the feel of her for the sight.
She turned her head slightly, as if she didn’t want to watch him seeing her, and he was relieved, because his eyes would’ve betrayed him. He was used to being shielded in a uniform and sunglasses. Impervious and unfeeling. But he knew he looked stunned right now. Overwhelmed that she was exposed to him. Her beautiful breasts, tipped with small nipples such a deep pink that his mouth watered at the sight of them.
He cupped a hand carefully over her breast. His fingers looked rough and dark against her perfect skin, her breast too small to fill his grasp. He teased her nipple with his thumb, watching it grow tighter. He heard her breathing quicken and looked up to see her watching now, her gaze locked on his thumb as he teased her.
He’d thought he was as hard as he could get, but then her eyes focused on her own breast as he rolled her nipple between his fingers...God. He wanted her watching him as he did...other things to her.