Authors: Jennifer Crusie
ALONE WITH YOU
Thank you to Harlequin HQN,
Angela James and Kim Whalen for the chance
to join Jennifer Crusie and Victoria Dahl in bringing
Valentine’s Day romance to our readers!
For Stuart. Chocolates and flowers are nice,
but nothing’s better than plain old everyday love.
Thank you for twenty years of it and counting.
stranger’s breath blew warm over her neck as he whispered the word near her ear, and Darcy Vaughn chased a full-body shiver with a big gulp of martini.
“Ashgabat,” she repeated for the trivia host, since he hadn’t been wrong yet.
“That’s correct!” The other teams around the bar all groaned, and Darcy smiled sweetly at Kent and Vanessa, formerly the reigning know-it-alls of Tuesday-night trivia.
She and her sexy fountain of random facts were kicking butt tonight.
Her regular partner hadn’t called to cancel until after Darcy had ordered her margarita and nachos, so she’d left it to the waitress serving as trivia host to pair her with another customer flying solo. She hadn’t expected the guy rocking the scruffy, blue-collar look to raise his hand and join the academic fun, but figured he’d contribute on the sports questions. Despite working at a sports bar, Darcy wasn’t much of a fan.
But now she knew a few things about her trivia partner. His name was Jake. He had brown eyes the same shade as his close-cut hair, smelled delicious and had a body made for selling charity calendars. He also knew a little something about which capital city sat between the Kara-Kum Desert and the Kopet Dag Mountains. Being able to cough up Turkmenistan trivia was almost as sexy as the way he rested his arm across the back of her bar stool every time he leaned in to whisper an answer in her ear.
“Ten-minute break,” the host announced.
After hitting the restrooms, the teams eventually settled back on their bar stools to wait for the host, who’d disappeared into the kitchen. When the silence stretched toward awkward, Darcy turned to Jake. “So, let me guess. You’re taking a break from exploring the world after an expedition to Turkmenistan to find an ancient, possibly cursed relic went bad.”
His smile should’ve been illegal. “And that must make you the Russian spy sent to charm the relic’s location out of me with your knowledge of U.S. presidents and the Periodic Table of Elements.”
“I have ways of making you talk,” she joked, though it came out a little more suggestively than she’d intended.
“I bet you do.”
Darcy realized, with the way they were gradually leaning in closer to each other and the innuendo, they were in heavy flirting territory and she panicked a little. Guys didn’t usually come on to her in bars. At Jasper’s Bar & Grille, where she waited tables and occasionally worked the bar, most of the guys were looking at Paulie, who managed the place. She was tall, had a killer body—including great breasts—and knew everything and anything about sports.
Darcy was on the short side of average. Her breasts were on the small side of average. She pretty much ran just left of average overall. Her hair was nice, though. Dark and thick, with just enough wave to keep it cute in a ponytail.
“So, Darcy, what do you really do when you’re not answering trivia questions or charming Indiana Jones types out of their relics?”
“I wait tables.” She shrugged. “It’s a good cover. Lots of eavesdropping opportunities. What do you do when you’re not sifting through ancient ruins?”
“Some business consulting. Boring stuff.”
“Do you get to travel a lot?”
He shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t fly, so a few sledding trips to Canada and a really misguided summer in Florida during my youth are the extent of my travel. Not trusting airplanes to stay in the sky killed my dreams of being Indiana Jones when I grew up.”
“Yeah, well, my Russian accent sucks.” They were laughing as the trivia host stepped back into the horseshoe center of the bar and poured them all another round before continuing the game.
After Kent and Vanessa got an economics history question right and the next couple blew it on geography, the host turned to them. “What famous player, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, was known for the phrase ‘It ain’t over till it’s over’?”
As Jake leaned in to whisper in her ear, Darcy blocked him with her hand. “Wait. I know this one, dammit. Finally a sports question I know the answer to.”
“We should talk about it.”
“Why? Don’t you think women can answer sports questions?”
His mouth brushed her ear as his arm pressed against her back. “I just like having an excuse to whisper in your ear.”
“Yogi Berra,” she told the trivia host in a surprisingly normal voice, considering how on the inside she was a shivery, breathless mess.
A couple of drinks and a few rounds later, Jake and Darcy were declared the winners. The grand prize was nothing more than bragging rights and the his-and-hers puckered looks Kent and Vanessa sported as they went out the door.
“How are you getting home?” Jake asked as he held Darcy’s sweater so she could slip her arms in. Such a gentleman.
It was an innocent enough question, but Darcy’s overheated, alcohol-fueled imagination added a pronounced
ungentlemanly slant to his words. “I’m walking.”
“It’s not far.”
“You’ve had a bit to drink.” A bit more than she usually did, actually. “I’d feel a lot better if you let me walk you home.”
He didn’t know it yet but, unless she’d totally misread his signals, he’d feel a
better because if he got as far as her front door, she was going to drag him inside and have her way with him. She wasn’t in the habit of bringing men home after the first date—and random trivia partnership was stretching the definition of date—but she was going to roll the dice on this sexy, smart guy with a sense of humor. They were rare. Plus, she just really, really wanted him.
* * *
Darcy, cursing himself the entire time. Now wasn’t the time to be romancing a woman, even if she was smoking hot and correctly guessed that painite was considered the rarest mineral gem.
But he couldn’t let her walk home alone in the dark. And after watching that mouth smile at him all night and her teeth catching on her bottom lip when she wasn’t sure of an answer and her tongue flicking out to grab a stray dab of nacho cheese, he wanted a good-night kiss. Maybe it wasn’t the most traditional first date, but it counted. Sort of.
Translating a woman’s body language didn’t come as naturally to him as it did to other guys, but he was pretty sure he was reading Darcy right. She walked really slow, as if she was lingering to make the walk last longer, and she stayed close enough to him so their arms occasionally brushed. After the third time, he threw caution to the wind and captured her hand in his. She didn’t pull away.
“Do you do that every Tuesday night?” he asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence.
“As often as I can. My usual partner couldn’t make it, so I was lucky you showed up tonight.” Her usual partner? He didn’t like the idea of her sharing random facts and sexy smiles with anybody else. “Her youngest was sick and her husband does diapers and homework help, but no puke buckets.”
So not a boyfriend, then. “I’m sorry your friend’s kid is sick, but I’m glad I got to be your partner tonight.”
On the well-lit street, he had no trouble seeing the blush on her cheeks. “And I talk to you about puke buckets. That’s so sexy.”
“Puke buckets might not be sexy, but a woman as pretty as you who knows the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War is hot as hell.”
The blush got brighter and he squeezed her hand. It wasn’t a line, either. Brains and beauty were like peanut butter and chocolate—each good on its own, but downright delicious together.
Leave it to him to find a potentially right woman at the totally wrong time. And in the wrong place. The city was a quick stopover between the life in Connecticut he’d grown bored with and the exciting, new restaurant venture with an old friend. When he’d seen a flyer at the auto shop for trivia night, he’d decided to scope out how it was run and the turnout in case it was something he might want to try in the future. He hadn’t expected to meet a woman he’d be reluctant to walk away from.
“This might sound pushy, but I’m only passing through here and I’m leaving tomorrow for business and I really want to ask for your number, so...what’s your romantic situation?”
“No boyfriend. No husband, though there was one once. No kids and we went our separate ways years ago. How long will you be gone?”
“It’ll be an extended trip, but I’ll be traveling back and forth a lot and I’d like to maybe see you when I’m in the city. You know, if you want.” Which was probably a dumb thing to say considering she was holding his hand.
“I’d like that.” Her voice was soft and warm and his mind jumped ahead to the possibility of a good-night kiss. “This is my building.”
He was so busy imagining how her mouth would feel, he barely registered that they’d stopped walking. Would her lips taste like margaritas? He started to reach for his phone, intending to program her number into it.
“If you come up, I’ll write my number down for you.”
Some of the blood left his brain and headed south, but he was no fool. He left the phone in its holster. “Sounds great.”
Darcy unlocked the glass door tucked between two business entrances and led him up the stairs to a very small hallway somebody had tried to make nice with a few potted plants and a bright throw rug. There was a door on either side of the hall and she unlocked the one on the left, reaching in to turn on the light.
Her apartment was small and pretty, just like her. The walls were a plain beige, but she’d hung colorful pictures on them and she had a bunch of those little pillows on the couch that matched the curtains and throw rugs that matched the one in the hall. He wasn’t surprised to see several bookshelves taking up space.
He watched her tear a sheet of paper off a memo pad stuck to the fridge and then rummage in a drawer for a pen. After jotting something down, she held it out to him.
Darcy, from trivia night.
And her number.
It made him chuckle. “How many Darcys do you think I know?”
“I thought it might help you remember me when you fish that out of your pocket later.”
In the light of the bar, he’d thought her eyes were a hazel color, but now—standing close enough to her to touch—he realized they were more green, with flecks of brown and gold. “I’m not going to forget you that easily.”
When she blushed again and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and then back again, he realized she either wanted him to make a graceful exit with a promise to call her later or make his move. The problem was deciphering which she was looking for.
Then she stood on her tiptoes and leaned forward, so he took the hint and moved in for the kiss.
* * *
thoroughly kissed in her life. When Jake first touched his mouth to hers, he’d been tentative, maybe even a little shy. Now she was backed up to her fridge, her nails digging into his shirt as his tongue danced over hers.
His hands slid from her waist up to her breasts and she moaned when his thumbs brushed over the taut nipples. Just the lightest touch, but it ignited a need in her stronger than any she’d felt in a long time. And then his lips left her mouth and blazed a trail down her neck.
“All I thought about tonight was kissing you,” he said, his breath warm against her skin.
“And yet you still almost always knew the right answer.”
“Well, I tried to pay attention when it was our turn, but when it wasn’t, all I could do was think about touching you.”
Darcy took a deep breath and said the words. “I’d like for you to stay. You know, if you want to.”
He straightened and looked down into her face. “You’re sure?”
“Then I want to.” He kissed her and, when she curled her arms around his neck, he lifted her off the floor.
It startled her and she wrapped her legs around his waist, really hoping he wouldn’t drop her. But she wouldn’t have fallen, anyway, with her back against the fridge and Jake between her thighs, his denim-clad erection putting a little pressure in just the right spot.
Once he’d kissed her until she could barely breathe, she felt him shift his arms to hold her more securely and then they were crossing the living room. She’d never been carried before and she buried her face in his neck, hoping nothing mood-killing happened, like running into a wall or hitting her head on the doorjamb.
When he leaned forward, she clutched at his shoulders for a second, until she felt the mattress under her. He went down with her, kissing her and nibbling at her ear, with short interruptions to pull her shirt off, then his shirt and then her bra.
The feel of his warm, naked skin against hers sent shivers through Darcy and she wanted more. She reached for the fly of his jeans, but was momentarily distracted when his mouth closed over her nipple. Gentle suction, then a little bit harder, and when he slid his hand between her legs, she lifted her hips, desperate for the touch, even through the jeans she still wore.
“Remember how I told you I spent the whole night thinking about touching you?” She made an
noise. “It’s even better than I imagined.”
They lost the jeans and socks and underwear then, and he lifted her so he could lay her down higher on the bed. She heard the rustling of a condom packet and then he covered her body with his.
Closing her eyes, she moaned as he filled her, moving with slow, even strokes that felt so good, but weren’t enough at the same time. “Faster.”
“In a hurry?”
She opened her eyes to find him smiling down at her. “It’s been a while.”
“Good.” But he didn’t seem inclined to obey her demand. If anything, he slowed his pace, drawing almost completely out of her and then pushing deep. She moved her hips, trying to urge him on, but his fingers pressed into her thighs, holding her still. “Not yet.”
“Who made you the boss?”
He drove into her, and her back arched off the bed as she bit down on the side of her hand, trying not to scream and wake her neighbor. Again and again he did it until she was almost at the brink...and then he stopped moving.