Authors: Lori Foster
“Speak for yourself.”
Was that a confession? His interest sharpened to an ache. “You’ve thought about me?”
“You’re not an ogre, Harris. Most of the time, you’re not too moronic. I’m not with anyone else. Do the math.”
Harris chewed over those critical and questionable compliments, and didn’t like the conclusion he came to. “So like your ex-boyfriend, I’d be filler until something better came along?”
She laughed. “Harris, honey, do try to remember your own credos, okay?”
“You don’t want to be anything more than filler. You don’t want a woman getting ideas of forever after. You’re totally against marriage.” She waited two heartbeats, then prodded him. “Right?”
“Uh, yeah.” But somehow that didn’t seem to be the point right now. “So you thought about, what? A quick fling?” He could start with that, maybe work up to more....
“You weren’t listening to my instructions a minute ago, were you?” Typically Clair, she turned to walk backward so she could see his face. “I thought I was more than clear that men want it quick. I want it slow and easy. I want to—”
He swallowed hard.
“—take my time.” She continued pacing backward. “But there’s that mystery lady occupying you right now.” Her sigh was absurdly long. “So we can just go on being sexless buds. No problem.”
No problem? What about his boner? That was a definite problem. And his curiosity, which was so keen he suddenly felt obsessed with knowing Clair intimately. And there was a strange excitement he’d never felt with any other woman, too. Maybe it was the way she insulted him so energetically. “I may never meet that woman, Clair. I mean, I know Alec and Dane are good, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll find her.”
“And if they did?”
How should he answer that? The mystery alone made him want to approach the woman, to talk to her, to find out how she knew him and why she hadn’t ever told him how she felt. There was her sex appeal, and the notes, her sincerity and admiration...
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Clair reached out and clasped his hand, lacing her fingers with his. “Come on. No more lagging. Time to run.”
“I don’t think I can.” He’d never run with a hard-on before. It didn’t seem all that comfortable.
“You can,” Clair assured him, “or you’ll be heading home alone, because I’m not walking. I’m tired and I want to get to bed.”
“So you can
” Harris accused. Possibly about him. The way her hand tightened shored up that belief.
He did not need to hear this. She dragged him along, never once releasing her hold on him, and in a few minutes, they were jogging again. At the pace she set, it didn’t take them long before they were on their own street. This close to the burned building, the lingering scent of smoke still hung in the air. It reminded Harris of his reaction when he’d feared Clair might be involved in the fire. His reaction had been extreme, and that was before she’d been flirting with him.
He also thought of the shoebox he’d found, and the tantalizing prospects it had presented. Harris was strangely aware of the photo in his back pocket, and Clair’s hand in his.
Two women, both of them making him nuts.
What the hell was a guy supposed to do?
* * *
CLAIR STOPPED in front of her steps. So far, Harris seemed more than a little interested in sex, but she wanted more than that. She wanted him to want her, in and out of bed. She felt manipulative, teasing him and then pulling back. Making comments that she knew would get him thinking about sex. But she didn’t know what else to do.
And already it was working with Harris. He wanted her now—but he still wanted her alter ego, the Naked Lady, too. Somehow, she had to get him to give up the fantasy prompted by those stupid photos.
Feeling awkward, Clair said, “It’s early yet.”
A light sheen of sweat dampened Harris’s bare shoulders and chest. He had his hands on his hips, breathing deeply, watching her. “You pulled our run short.”
Clair shrugged, adjusted her glasses nervously. “Want to come up?”
His gaze sharpened. Like a blue laser, his gaze pinned her in place. Slowly his hands dropped from his hips and he took a step closer. “Are you playing with me again?”
Man, he was still primed, ready to jump the gun—apparently ready to jump her. “I’ve had you up to my place a dozen times, Harris. For drinks, a snack.”
His hands came to settle on her waist. “For more?”
Despite her urge to say
Clair laughed. “We’re both sweaty and you have to be up early.”
“I’m never too tired for—”
“Will you send me in alone if I say I just want to talk?”
For a brief moment, his hands tightened, then the heat left his eyes and he released her with a sigh. “What the hell. I always enjoy talking to you.” His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Lead the way.”
Her apartment was dark when they first went in. Clair turned on lamps as she headed to the kitchen. “You want something to eat or drink?”
“Just some water.” He trailed behind her, far too close, in Clair’s opinion.
She filled two glasses with ice, then got the spring water from the fridge. “So tell me what the attraction is.”
He looked perplexed enough that Clair wanted to hit him. “No, not to me. Far as I know, you’re
attracted to me.”
He cocked one brow, then looked pointedly at her body. “I’d be more than happy to prove you wrong on that.”
Clair groaned. “So then why do you want the woman in the photos so bad? She gets naked and that makes you so interested you can’t let it go?”
He immediately shook his head. “She does look hot, no way around that. I mean, any woman who’s comfortable being naked is okay in my book.”
He grinned. “Hell yeah. If it was up to me, all women would stay naked. At least when we were alone together.”
That had Clair blushing a bit, especially as Harris let his gaze roam over her, no doubt imagining her in such a state. Not that he had to imagine, if he only realized....
“But the woman in the photo also said some nice things in her notes.”
Harris rubbed the back of his neck and paced away. He had a gorgeous back, strong and broad, sleek and hard with muscle. His shorts rode low on his hips, hugging a narrow behind and strong thighs. “This is kind of embarrassing.”
She knew all about embarrassing. “Why? We’re friends.”
He nodded, turned to face her. “She said I’m generous.” Harris looked uncomfortable. “And funny and heroic.”
Men could be such dolts. “Well, of course she did. Because you
” Clair handed him his water. “You’re one of the greatest guys I know.”
The water never made it to his mouth. “You think so?”
“But I didn’t know....”
“Harris,” she said with aggrieved sigh. “Do you think I’d hang out with a guy who was an idiot?”
His mouth tipped in a crooked grin. “You call me an idiot all the time.”
Too true. It had always been her way of making sure she kept her feelings to herself. A self-protection mechanism of sorts that reminded her she wasn’t to get too romantic with Harris.
Clair moved back to the living room and dropped onto her overstuffed, oversize couch. She stretched out her legs, caught Harris staring at them, and smiled. “Yeah, well, I insult you with affection. I don’t mean it.” She sent him a quick grin, just to keep her comments from getting too dramatic. “If I didn’t like, respect and admire you, I wouldn’t want your company.”
His brows came down, his expression arrested. Clair stared at him over her glasses. “Now what’s wrong?”
With a small shake of his head, Harris muttered, “I need to think. You’ve sort of thrown a bunch of stuff at me all at once.”
“Thinking is good.” Clair waited while he, too, plopped onto the sofa. Because of their conversation, sitting so close to him felt different this time. “You should decide what you’ll do once you find this woman. I mean, have you considered that?”
He propped his big feet on her coffee table and let his head fall back. “At least a hundred times.”
Clair stared at his abdomen. It, too, was hard, lean and ridged with muscle. A dark, silky line of hair led from his navel to beneath the waistband of his shorts.
She held herself in check, when what she wanted to do was attack him again. “So,” she said, sounding a little strained, “what if she’s a witch? What if she has an ogre’s personality? She could be like a fatal attraction or something. A nut. A slasher even.”
Harris rolled his head toward her. “You made your point early on, hon. Now you’re just stretching it.”
Clair shrugged. “But the point is valid.”
“Maybe.” Harris stared at her, surveying her face as if trying to read her thoughts. “She didn’t sound like a slasher in her notes. She sounded like a nice lady.”
Here we go again. “You don’t
a nice lady, Harris, remember? You want someone who’s out for kicks. Nice women tend to get serious thoughts when they’re having sex with a guy.”
His blue eyes filled with speculative interest. Still lounging back lazily, he said, “You’re nice.”
Nervousness fluttered through her. Was there a point to that? Maybe something she was missing? She took a big gulp of her water, then agreed, “I’m very nice.”
Harris warmed to his topic, leaning toward her a bit, resting his arm along the back of the sofa. His fingers just touched her nape, teasing her a bit. “So if we slept together,” he asked in a slow drawl, “you’d want to settle down with me?”
Lord yes. She wanted to claim him as her own, and have babies and make love every night....
“I dunno.” Her feigned indifference was laudable. “See, even if we did sleep together...”
“I have an advantage.”
“Do tell. I’m on the edge of my seat here.”
Smugly, Clair stated, “Unlike other women you know, I have no illusions. I’ve watched you revel in your bachelor ways.”
“I don’t revel.” His mouth flattened in distaste. “You make it sound like I go around dancing and singing about it. I just enjoy my life, that’s all.”
“Thing is,” Clair continued, ignoring his protests, “I’m not sure you really know what you want or feel.”
“So I can’t figure out you or me, huh? What a dope I must be.”
“I didn’t say that, Harris. Don’t put words in my mouth.” He grinned at her, seeming far from insulted. “Look at the way you’re panting over a photo. That proves you’re anxious for a serious relationship.”
“You think so? I thought it just meant I was curious.”
So curious, he’d hired two very expensive detectives to find the woman. Clair made a face at him. “What if,” she said, determined to get her theory out in the open, “what you really want is to be loved?”
For a suspended moment in time, Harris froze. Then he jeered. “Do I look that needy to you?”
“No.” Given the perfect opening, Clair spoke from her heart. “You look like a guy who’s a great catch. Earnest when you need to be. Reliable. Dedicated.” Melancholy got a stranglehold on her. Helplessly, she said, “You’re a hero, Harris. A gorgeous, sexy, funny, bona fide hero.”
He slowly straightened in his seat. “Don’t overdo it, Clair.”
“I’m serious.” She scooted closer to him on the couch. “You’re an incredible guy.”
His gaze zeroed in on her mouth. “Clair, you do realize you’re turning me on again, right?” His big warm hand came up to cup her cheek. “I hope that’s your intent and not part of this new sadistic streak you’ve developed.”
Clair chewed her lower lip. She did want to arouse him, but she didn’t want to push him too far. She wanted them to talk more before they took the plunge.
“Listen. I’ve told you what I really think of you.” She drew a deep breath for courage—and inhaled his scent. After their jog, he was a little sweaty, but he smelled delicious. The way a man should, the way Harris always did. “Now why don’t you tell me what you think of me?”
His thumb brushed her jaw. “Sure.” The left side of his mouth kicked up. “You’re cute, in a funky egghead, jock sort of way.”
The romantic haze cleared from around her. “Be still my heart.”
The teasing glimmer in his blue eyes clued her in. “Now Clair, what did you want me to say? You keep changing on me, so I don’t know your personality anymore.”
He knew her better than anyone, including her family. He just didn’t realize it yet.
“I can’t even tell what you’re thinking most of the time because you always hide behind your glasses.” The seductive way he caressed her neck mesmerized her. “Do you shower in them? Sleep in them?” His voice dropped. “Make love in them?”
Clair tried to rear back, but Harris kept her in place with the gentle hold on the back of her neck, and his compelling stare. “I’m not telling,” she whispered.
“Then I think I’ll find out on my own.” He reached for her frames.
Clair couldn’t let him take her glasses off! He might recognize her. She shoved him hard, but Harris being Harris—a big, sturdy, physically fit firefighter—he didn’t budge.
“You want to wrestle?” he said with a laugh, and he caught her flying hands while somehow managing to tickle her. The next thing Clair knew they were rolling off the couch and onto the floor. She landed on Harris with a grunt, but only had a split second to enjoy that position before he flipped her beneath him. The coffee table got shoved away, and Harris settled himself between her thighs.
He caught both her hands in one of his, pinning them in place, keeping her still. And then, with her squawking and protesting, he slid her glasses off and placed them gingerly on the table.
Clair went mute in fear, sure that he’d recognize her.
Instead, he leaned down until his mouth just touched hers. “Can I show you my ideas on the differences between horny and antsy?”
He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and all that sleek bare skin was against her. He smelled like a man should, like something that could be bottled and sold to make a fortune. And she could feel his hard, hair-roughened thighs on the tender insides of her legs. “Yes.” Her heart threatened to punch out of her chest. “You can show me.”