Authors: Lori Foster
Harris drew a slow breath, but it didn’t help. He was aware of Dane watching him in appalled consternation, Alec grumbling and scowling. Hell, it almost looked as if Alec was blushing. The wives were silent.
And behind them all, Clair strolled in whistling.
Everyone turned to face the doorway in various stages of disbelief and anxiety.
Clair saw them all congregated together, watching her—and her whistling died a quick death. She took in all the expressions of shock, alarm and dismay, and she stalled. “Um...what’s going on?”
Dane and Alec began to sputter and cough, and now they were both red-faced. The wives looked worried, casting Clair looks of sympathy. Dane’s wife even scooted closer to him. “Dane?”
Dane said, “Shh,” then bent to whisper in her ear, most likely explaining the inexplicable. His wife’s eyes widened and she darted a fascinated glance between Harris and Clair.
Harris just stared at Clair, trying to take it all in, trying to accept that he’d passed around naked pictures of the woman he loved. Dane and Alec had seen her. Ethan had seen her.
Not once had she let on.
Alec, his hands full of photos, shoved them against Harris’s chest, saying, “Here.” Then he grabbed his wife and fled the office. Dane quickly followed, stopping to clap Harris on the shoulder in commiseration while avoiding Clair’s gaze.
Dane pulled the door shut behind him with a finality that hung in the air like nuclear fallout.
They stared at each other until Clair, her face white, groped for a chair. “You know, don’t you?”
The photos got wadded in his fist. His stomach cramped. Through his teeth, Harris snarled, “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
Without answering, she dropped her head and shrugged.
Feeling savage, Harris paced a circle around her. “Jesus.” Then, leaning close to her nose, he said,
“I let Dane, Alec, and Ethan see.”
Her mouth firmed. “And you carried one photo in your pocket. I know.” Curling her lip, she added, “You were smitten, Dane said. And Alec claimed you were totally obsessed.”
Clair, if you’d only have admitted it before I...” He shuddered with the awfulness of it. “Before I showed them to other men.”
Outrage brought Clair to her feet, to her very tiptoes. “How was I supposed to know you’d do that? But once you did, what would be the point in confessing? It was too late to take it back.”
He waved a shot of her behind in her face. “It wasn’t too late to keep from having them enlarged!”
She slapped the photo aside. “So you’re a pervert! I didn’t know that either.”
Dane tapped on the door before pushing it open. He stared fixedly at Harris. “Um, we can hear you, and in fact, with the way you’re both roaring, most of the people in the building probably can. If you want to tone it down just a little, that’d be good.” He cleared his throat, dared a flash peek at Clair. “Uh, Clair? You can have the day off.” He snapped the door shut again.
Harris strangled on his anger.
Clair didn’t seem to even hear Dane. Somehow, she managed to get her nose even with Harris’s. Her hot, angry breath pelted his face with each word. “Why didn’t you know it was me, Harris? How could you
know? We see each other every damn night.” Harris backed up—and Clair followed. “We’ve been friends a long time, close friends, and yet you never once considered it might be me. So tell me, why would I confess to you when you were never interested in me?”
The shock was slowly wearing off, and Harris began to see things clearly again. Clair wasn’t embarrassed—at least, not that he could tell. And she wasn’t exactly apologizing for duping him, either. No, she was royally pissed off.
And she accused him of not being interested? Now that was just plain wrong. He stopped retreating and leaned into her anger. “Since when am I not interested?”
She slugged him. Her small fist thumped hard against his pec and, damn it, it hurt. “I don’t mean to jog, you moron. I mean for more. For
Harris narrowed his eyes. “I was interested enough last night. Twice, as I recall. You could have told me then.”
Alec’s loud whistling could be heard.
“I was going to tell you today.” And then, in a smaller voice, she murmured, “After I got those stupid pictures off the wall.”
“They’re off now.” Harris slapped the crumpled photos onto the desk behind him—facedown so no one could see them. He tried to get himself under control. Most of his reaction was due to jealousy. He couldn’t believe he’d studied her naked ass, in detail, with Dane and Alec. “You told me your boyfriend was nobody. If that’s so, why’d you let him take naked pictures—”
She slugged him again, aghast and appalled and wide-eyed. “I didn’t
him.” She swallowed and her eyes looked a little glassy, her bottom lip trembling. “Do you know me at all, Harris?”
She sounded so forlorn, it about ripped him apart. “If you didn’t let him, then how did he...get...” Fury erupted, black and mean and sharp-edged. His jaw set, his teeth locked. “That son of a bitch.”
Clair looked resigned. “He has a tiny little spy camera. I didn’t even know he was looking at me, much less that he was photographing me. I never would have allowed that. I was only with him for a little while, because...” She stared up at him, solemn and sad. “He wasn’t you.”
Harris’s eye twitched. His lips felt stiff. “I’ll kill him.”
Clair held her breath, then said, “Why?”
Harris caught her shoulders and brought her to eye level. “I love you, damn it. No way in hell am I going to let some bastard—”
“You love me?”
He gave her shoulders a gentle shake. “What the hell did you think?”
“I don’t know.” Her eyes were round behind her glasses, filled with hope. “You didn’t recognize me. Even after last night, you didn’t recognize me.”
Harris couldn’t believe she was hung up on that. “I looked at those pictures with totally detached lust. It was a naked woman, period. How I looked at them is entirely different from how I looked at you.”
“How’d you look at me?”
He pulled her closer. Took a deep breath. “With lust, for sure. God knows, Clair, you make me hot. But with so many other feelings, too—love, tenderness.” He hesitated and then added, “Need.”
“You need me?”
Harris hauled her into his arms. “I love you so damn much I almost can’t think straight, so of course I need you. You make me laugh, and you make me feel easy, sort of rested. Like I’ve found the perfect place to be. With you.”
She smiled up at him, laughing a little, weeping a little. “I love you too.”
Finally hearing her say it relaxed something inside him, something he hadn’t realized was tense until she fully accepted him. “That’s a relief.” He released her and rubbed his hands together. “Now if we can just figure out where this ex-boyfriend of yours is, I’ll go have a talk with him. Then everything will be perfect.”
Dane again tapped on the door before opening it. Alec was beside him. “Give us his name, Clair. We’ll handle it.”
Clair bit her lip. “I don’t know....”
“He could have negatives still,” Alec pointed out.
“Or more shots,” Dane added.
Harris watched her face flush with anger, saw her hands curl into tight fists. “
go talk to him—”
Harris pulled her around in a bear hug. “Forget that idea. I don’t want you anywhere near the creep.”
Dane’s eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t go near him either, Harris. You just want to take him apart.”
Alec raised a brow. “Hitting him would only get you in trouble. Whereas we can likely prove what an unscrupulous jerk he is.”
“How?” Harris demanded.
“If he did this to Clair,” Dane explained, “then he’s likely done it to other women, too. All we need is the evidence, and hey, gathering evidence is what we do.”
“Then we can have criminal charges filed against him—and neither Clair nor her photos will have to be involved.”
It didn’t feel right to Harris, letting Dane and Alec take care of the matter. Clair was his, and he felt so damn protective. He needed to punch the guy at least once. Hell, he wanted to break his nose. But he definitely didn’t want Clair involved.
“Think of it as a wedding present,” Alec urged him.
At the mention of a wedding, Clair pushed away from Harris with a gasp. He hauled her right back again. “We are getting married, Clair.”
Her brows snapped down and she looked at him over her glasses. “Since when?”
“Since I just told you I love you and you told me you love me too.”
Angel Carter, Dane’s wife, grinned. “Sounds reasonable to me, Clair.”
Celia Sharpe nodded. “Let Alec go get this awful man, and you and Harris just concentrate on wedding plans.”
Clair still looked mutinous. “I expected a proper wedding proposal.”
“Everyone in this room has seen you in the buff, Clair. Hell, Dane and Alec were looking at your photos with a magnifying glass, trying to spot details. They were—”
“I’ll marry you.”
Harris grinned at her burning face and the rushed way she’d interrupted him. But now the wives were scowling at their husbands too, and the husbands looked ready to hang him. Harris laughed. “Sorry. All’s fair in love and war.”
Dane caught his wife’s hand. “Let’s go before Clair starts shedding blood and gets my office all messy.”
Alec threw his arm around Celia. “Wait for us.”
They were gone in moments, leaving Clair and Harris alone. With everything in place, Harris relaxed. “Ethan and Riley are going to be damned pleased, but Buck will have a fit.”
“Buck is one of your friends, right?”
“Yeah, soon to be my only single close friend. He won’t like it that I’ve jumped ship too.”
“So he should get married.”
“He claims he’s married to his lumberyard.”
Clair rolled her eyes. “Some guys just like the bachelor life, I guess.”
“No.” Harris tipped up her chin. “Some guys just haven’t met the right woman yet. Which is why I have to get you tied to me. I may not have recognized you in the photos, but I definitely recognize you as the perfect woman—for me.”
* * *
“CAN WE ESCAPE, NOW, do you think?”
Clair smiled at Harris. Because they’d both wanted a small, simple wedding with only close friends and family, they’d been able to organize it all in just under three weeks.
Harris had been very impatient the entire time. The rehearsal dinner had lasted hours, filled with good food and a lot of laughter. Her family loved Harris, and vice versa. Ethan and Riley were beyond pleased, and Buck wasn’t too disgruntled. In fact, he seemed to be wallowing in the fact that he was the only single one in the bunch.
Dane and Alec were finally able to look at Clair again without turning red, but they were still more hesitant with her. For her part, she doubted she’d ever be able to face them again without blushing.
“I think we can leave now.” Clair scooted closer to him. “You have big plans?”
“Yeah.” Harris nuzzled her neck. “Plans to have my way with my soon-to-be-bride.”
She sighed, now as anxious as he was to be alone. They made an announcement, put up with a few more toasts, and finally headed out the door.
In the parking lot, however, Celia Sharpe and Angel Carter chased them down. Celia carried a large package and Angel had a manila envelope.
“We’ve been elected to do the honors,” Celia explained when they reached them.
“The men are still shy about that whole photograph thing,” Angel added with a shrug. “They say you’re too valuable to the office to replace you, but no way can they discuss this with you.”
Harris put his arm around Clair and smiled. “Discuss what?”
Angel presented the envelope with a flourish. “They located that ex-boyfriend of yours. They found these.”
Clair went blank. “Ohmigod.”
Beside her, Harris stiffened in anger. “Damn it. I should have—”
“Dane did that for you. Punched him right in the nose.” Angel seemed to relish the retelling. “And he did it in such a way that he wasn’t the one who started it. If I know Dane, he goaded the guy into taking a swing first.”
Celia nodded. “Then
Dane laid him out.” She laughed. “Alec thought it was great.”
Clair bit her lip. “If they found more photos...”
“Not to worry,” Celia rushed out. “They went over his place with a fine-tooth comb. There wasn’t much that pertained to you. Just a few souvenirs, apparently.”
Clair closed her eyes in mortification, then felt Harris hug her to his side.
“It’s all right now, Clair.”
“It really is,” Angel assured her. “He’d done the same with two other women, one that he was still dating. Dane and Alec clued them in, and they confronted the jerk, even ransacked his place until they found some of the photos themselves. They both agreed to prosecute, so he’ll be taken care of for sure.”
Clair pulled herself together. It was over and she had her whole life ahead of her—a life with Harris. “Please, tell Dane and Alec how much I appreciate it.”
“You also get this,” Celia said with a grin. “It’s a paper shredder. Alec said the photos belonged to you, and you could do whatever you wanted with them. But he said he figured you’d want to shred them.”
“He figured right!”
Harris snatched the envelope out of her hand. “We’ll definitely do that.” He leaned toward Angel for a hug, then to Celia for the same. He held the bulky box under one arm, the envelope in his free hand. “Thank you, ladies. Knowing that situation is settled is the very best wedding present.”
Celia and Angel left them with smiles. The moment they were gone, Harris opened the envelope and started to peek inside.
Clair snatched it away and held it behind her back. “Oh no you don’t.”
Trying to look innocent, and failing, Harris said, “I just wanted to see—”
“I know what you wanted to see. But these are getting destroyed the moment we get home. You’ve seen all the nude photos of me that you’re ever going to see.”
Harris grinned, and the grin spread into a laugh. “All right, babe,” he soothed. “Don’t get all bristly on me.” He turned her toward the car.