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Authors: Nina Pierce

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BOOK: Love’s Bounty
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“Deirdre, all I’ve thought about in the last two days is having you in my bed again.” He stopped just inside the door of the bedroom and released her legs. She slid down his torso. “Why did you slink away in the middle of the night?”

“I thought you wanted some uncomplicated sex. And I thought that’s what I wanted too.” Shyness washed over her. Deirdre couldn’t stand the hurt she saw in his eyes, and she dropped her gaze to her fingers playing in the soft tufts of hair on his chest.

“But?” He bent to look into her eyes.

“But when you acted like you didn’t know me at Shawn’s house today, it started eating me up. It hurt actually.” She lifted a shoulder. “It’s not like you owed me anything. I was a real shit leaving the way I did.”

Austin opened the bureau drawer next to him. He pulled out the black lace thong and held it to his face breathing deeply. “You’re all I’ve thought about for two days, Deirdre.” His cock tapped against her belly, hard and ready. “I saw you on Saturday, kissing Jameson. I was surprised as hell to see you in his garage. I didn’t know you were the one wielding the chainsaw in the tree. I thought you were more than his landscaper.”

“I told you I never met the man.”

“Tonight, you told me that. But it does beg the question as to why he came to your rescue at the police station.”

Affronted by his accusatory tone, Deirdre stepped away from him. “I haven’t any idea why he was there. I don’t know how the hell he found out about the arrest!” Her voice raised an octave with each sentence. “I sure didn’t call him. Not much of a way to impress a client, having them bail you out of jail for heroin possession.”

“Deirdre, I didn’t mean to imply…” He reached for her, but she yanked her arm out of his grasp.

“No, you know what. Let’s forget this whole thing. We’ve got too much baggage to make anything worth our time here. Thanks for the fuck. Not bad for a
guy
.” She started to storm from the room, intent on going home, but he held her arm, refusing to let her leave.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

The hurt pressed like hot coal in her throat, and tears stung her eyes. “Just that. Great sex. No strings. Thanks for dinner. Adios.”

“No, the remark about the
guy
thing.”

“My ex-lover was a woman.” Her words dripped with acid. “I haven’t been with a man in a long while. Probably won’t make this mistake again.”

Austin’s hand dropped with his jaw.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Too much baggage,
Austin.” She stalked down the hall.

“I don’t think so, Deirdre.” He stormed after her, grabbing her shoulder, spinning her so fast she fell against his chest. He fisted his hands in her hair, slanting his mouth over hers. His tongue ran along the seam of her lips, begging her to open for him. She tried to resist, but he changed the angle and assaulted her mouth with a hunger that weakened her knees.

She snaked her arms around him, grabbing his ass, kneading the muscles, pulling him tighter to her body. His erection pushed against her belly. She wanted him as badly as he seemed to want her.

He pulled back, his heavy lids shadowing eyes dark with desire. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel anything for me, Deirdre.” His nostrils flared, and she knew he could smell the arousal on her thighs.

Damn, he could make her wet.

“We’re good together. I don’t know what kind of man loved you before, but I can do things to your body no woman can. Don’t leave tonight. Stay and let me prove to you how much I’m beginning to care for you. Don’t run from this.” He lifted his elbows, his gaze sweeping hotly over her face.

“I don’t know what I can give you, Austin.”

“Give me tonight, Deirdre.” He leaned over and licked the shell of her ear. “Just tonight.”

* * * *

Deirdre lay staring at the sliver of moonlight moving slowly across the ceiling.

Austin’s body was tangled with hers. His hand possessively cradled her breast, and his leg was thrown over her thighs as if he needed to hold her captive. She’d decided a while ago, as his breathing slowed to a gentle rhythm, she had no desire to go skulking into the darkness tonight. She liked the solid feeling of his body pressed pleasantly against her.

What kind of a mess was she getting herself into? He was a business
man
from
away
. Two problems rolled into one incredibly sexy package.

But
Austin wasn’t her only problem.

Thinking about the consequences of the drug arrest was actually the reason she was still awake. Sleep was a fickle creature, meant only for those with a clear conscience. Hers was filled with uncertainty and apprehension. She hadn’t done anything illegal, but felt guilty none the less. Perhaps it had something to do with the doubtful expression that seemed to shadow
Austin’s face every time they talked about Shawn and the drugs.

Deirdre couldn’t help question what this meant to her life. Surely she’d lose the Jameson job and all the money that went with it. And when the rumors churned through the gossip mill in Delmont, as they inevitably would, the townspeople wouldn’t be hiring her to do their landscaping.

Hell, her arrest would probably even affect the family business. All of
Tilling
Gardens
and Plants, including Meghan’s floral business and Julie’s accounting clients, might suffer. Even when she was proven innocent, the school board wouldn’t allow Mark to continue having his students work for her. The whole thing was a friggin’ time bomb, and when the smoke cleared, Deirdre was beginning to wonder if there’d be enough pieces to pull her life back together.

She’d called Rachel sometime after they’d eaten the reheated spaghetti and before the steamy sex in the shower. But for the life of her, she had no idea what she’d said to her best friend.
Austin’s tongue had been in her ear and his fingers working magic on her clit. She’d rushed off the line just before the orgasm had slammed into her.

The clock on the nightstand read 2:14. Her body was pleasantly sore in a way it had never ached before. Maybe she should work
Austin into another frenzied pitch and see if he could take her mind off the problems looming in the darkness.

The muffled sound of music wafted up the stairs. It took her a moment to identify the noise. Her cell phone was ringing.

It stopped momentarily, but began again almost immediately. Who could be trying to reach her at this hour? And why were they being so persistent? She tried to slip out of bed without rousing
Austin, but he came instantly awake the second time the phone released its melodic tune.

“Who’s calling?”

“It’s my phone on the stairs. I have no idea. Let me find out.”

“No, don’t go. They’ll leave a voice mail.” His mouth pebbled her nipple as he spoke with his lips rubbing her breast. The ringing stopped and started again.

“That’s the third time. Let me get it.”

Deirdre extricated herself and ran down the hall, bumping down the stairs, fumbling in the dark toward the ominous sound. Her stomach did a somersault as she rifled through her pants, searching for the pocket in the mass of material. She gasped when she saw the number illuminated on the phone’s display screen.

Chapter 6

Deirdre leaped out of the Jag before
Austin had a chance to put it in park. The emergency entrance of the
Delmont
Hospital
glowed eerily in the dark of the night. The sulfur street lamps cast an ominous orange hue over the scene. She’d been in this nightmare before.

Not waiting for
Austin, Deirdre sprinted the short distance across the nearly empty parking lot, wanting only to get inside and find her father.
Austin had made the drive from Cutler in less than thirty minutes. Still, it had seemed like an eternity for them to reach their destination. Deirdre hoped she wasn’t too late. Julie had shut off her phone, and they’d had no communication since she’d talked to her sister in the stairwell at
Austin’s condo.
Another heart attack.
She prayed her father’s weakened body could survive the trauma.

“Where’s my father?” she said to the receptionist before the pneumatic doors hissed closed behind her.

“Deirdre.” The petite blonde stood abruptly, dropping the romance novel she’d been reading. Everyone in Delmont knew the Tillings. “He’s been taken up to ICU. Your family’s already up there. We’re all saying prayers for him,” she yelled at Deirdre’s retreating back.

Deirdre absently waved over her shoulder and sprinted toward the stairwell. The elevator to the third floor would be too slow. She took the stairs two at a time.
Austin’s feet pounded on the metal treads right behind her.

She’d talked non-stop since climbing into the car, nonsensical ramblings about her childhood and Brianna and her sisters.
Austin seemed to understand her need to focus on her family. He hadn’t commented, only forced the Jag along the twisting back roads at reckless speeds. Her heart was as heavy as the darkness that shrouded the car. Hope glowed weakly like the dashboard lights. But it was all she had to hold onto, that and her family.

She burst through the door and ran the short distance through the familiar hallway to the ICU. She detested hospitals. The smell of disinfectant nearly made her retch, but she swallowed down the bile with the fear clawing at her throat.
Austin ran into her back when she turned the corner and stopped abruptly.

They were all there.

Her mother stood in the center of the group. Deirdre’s sisters, Julie and Meghan flanked her. It was hard to tell who was emotionally supporting whom. Peter and Damon, her sisters’ fiancés, stood behind them, their arms wrapped around the small group. Tears ran down their cheeks.

She was too late.

“Deirdre, sweetie.” Her mother whispered the words, but she heard in them a truth she knew she couldn’t face.

The tears that had threatened the whole drive slid down her cheeks. Deirdre stared at the cluster, too dazed to move from where she stood. She wanted time to stop right now and for no one to say a word. She didn’t want them to speak. Deidre knew if they did, the ache in her chest would become a burden she couldn’t bear. She hadn’t gotten there in time to say good-bye.

“Daddy?” The name slipped from her lips in a voice she didn’t recognize.

Her mother broke from the group, reaching out her hand to cradle Deirdre’s cheek.

“Honey, he’s still alive…”

Relief flooded through her and came out in a choked sob that weakened her knees. She would have fallen if
Austin hadn’t caught her from behind and guided her to the chairs by the wall. Her mother settled next to her.

Alice Tilling clasped her satin hands around Deirdre’s. “They’re not sure what happened, honey. He was having a bad night. He finally fell asleep around eleven. He woke up a couple hours later, clutching his chest. I thought it was another heart attack. The EMTs stabilized him on the way in. But they don’t think it’s his heart. There seems to be something wrong with his kidneys. They’re doing more tests. Doc McCarty’s still in there with him.”

“Can I see him?”

“Not until the doctor comes out.”

* * * *

The sun glistening off the windshield of the Jag had risen hours earlier. Ayden had stood alone at a window and watched it push away the shadows of night, not knowing where he fit in to the group huddled outside John Tilling’s ICU room. Ayden had lost his family so long ago he didn’t know the kind of strength that came from sharing grief. He felt the warm waves of it when Deirdre was surrounded by the women, the men who loved them offering silent comfort with gentle touches and proximity. He was definitely an outsider.

“Turn here. The farmhouse is only a couple more miles.” Deirdre’s voice was weak.

“Do you need me to call anyone? Rachel? Mark?”

“No, I talked with Rach about an hour ago. She’s going to call Shawn and let him know about my dad. There are a couple small jobs I put off, but Rachel will go there with Mark and crew.” Her voice was monotone.

She looked so small, so defenseless, huddled in the leather seat. He didn’t know how to make this better. He knew for certain, after he overheard her tearful confession to Julie and Meghan about the arrest, she had nothing to do with Jameson’s drug operation. She’d told him the truth. He thought he owed her the same. But how much worse could the timing be?

After Sunday, after they busted Jameson, he’d tell her everything, all the sordid details of his life. He just didn’t know if the reality would send her running in the opposite direction.

That would be his luck.

He had more than his libido wrapped up in Deirdre. He’d felt her defenses fall away last night with her clothes. She’d given all of herself to him. Maybe he’d read her wrong, but he didn’t think so. He looked over at the woman who’d tied his emotions in knots and worried about her reaction to his confession.

The vending machine coffee turned to acid in his stomach. When the Jameson deal went down, he knew he wouldn’t be able to walk away from her. He just wasn’t prepared to let go of what he’d felt today—acceptance.

Her sisters hadn’t questioned his presence at the hospital. Damon and Peter had taken him into their confidence, filling him in on everyone’s bio, talking the way only guys can about being involved in the Tilling clan. He wanted what they had. Actually, he wanted Deirdre; the rest of the package was just icing.

Only
Alice had raised an eyebrow when Deirdre had introduced them, but later, while Deirdre was sitting with her father,
Alice had confided to him she’d never believed her daughter was a lesbian. The bisexual thing hadn’t bothered her. She just thought Brianna had been a poor substitute for the love Deirdre was so desperately seeking. Men hadn’t treated Deirdre well, and
Alice hoped his intentions were honorable. He hoped like hell they were too. He hadn’t had time to sort that one out yet.

Ayden pulled the Jag into the dooryard of the farmhouse. There weren’t any neighbors visible in either direction, cars either. It occurred to him Deirdre’s welfare had taken priority over his undercover work. Not a smart move on his part. Not when Jameson seemed to be breathing down his neck. But there was nothing he could do about it now.

Deirdre reached for the door handle, but he could see she was too tired to open it.

“I need a shower,” she mumbled.

“What you need, Deirdre, is some food and rest. Meghan promised to call if there was any change. You don’t need to be back at the hospital until this afternoon. You guys have a pretty good system going there. Rotating shifts with your mom.” Lifting her hand, Ayden rubbed it against his lips. “I don’t have any pressing business meetings today. Everything I need to do can be done by phone. Let me take care of you.”

“I’d like that.”

* * * *

“Rachel called while you were in the shower. I hope you don’t mind that I answered it,” Ayden hollered over his shoulder toward the bedroom down the hall. “She says she’s got everything lined up for today.” He turned back to the stove, flipping the eggs in the frying pan. “She said she’d stop by the hospital tonight, but call her…”

“Do you always yell while you’re making breakfast?” Deirdre stood in the kitchen door absently rubbing a towel through her wet hair. The shower had done wonders for her.

He turned and extended his arms, waiting for her to fill them. He pulled her in tight. “I didn’t hear you come in.” Inhaling, Ayden filled his lungs with floral shampoo and soap. He brushed his lips in the wet tangle of hair and dug his fingers into the muscles of her tense shoulders. The woman carried the weight of the world there.

“That feels so good.”

Her moan against his chest vibrated straight to his cock.

“I am so tired. Your arms are the only thing holding me up,” she said.

His heart tripped all over itself as he pulled back to see the desire clouding her eyes. He wondered who was supporting whom. “Deirdre, you need to rest. And I made some eggs.” The protest sounded weak even to him. His heart rate kicked up a notch. He was scum. The woman’s father was battling for his life. All Ayden wanted was to bury his dick in her and forget about everything but the feel of her body squirming between his thighs.

“I have more eggs.” She pushed the pan off the heat. “What I
need
is you.” She tipped up on her toes, nipping at his lip. “I need to feel alive,
Austin. I want to drown in the mindless abandon of what you do to me.” She dipped her head, looking up at him through those thick lashes. Her bottom lip pouted playfully. “You wouldn’t deny a woman in need, would you?”

“I wasn’t hungry for eggs, anyway.”

She jumped into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist. His cock swelled with each step out of the kitchen. He thought he had his fill of her last night, but he was wrong. Where she was concerned, there never seemed to be enough.

“Deirdre, I can’t deny you anything.” Ayden nuzzled her neck and worked his hands into the robe. The hot flush of her skin against his fingers shot all the blood in his body straight to his groin. On autopilot, he found her bed without trouble, a four-poster canopy with lace draping everything. Very feminine and definitely too girly for Deirdre.

Deirdre read the confusion in his expression and giggled

“I know, not what you expected.” She dropped her legs, pulling the shirt from his pants in one motion. “This used to be the family homestead, until I traded houses with my parents.” Undoing his belt buckle, her hands worked feverishly to strip him naked. “Mum did this room for my Gram when she moved in with them. Ah, there we go.” The metal clasp of the belt clanked on the wood floor as his pants pooled at his feet. “I’ve been meaning to update it, but Brianna liked it this way.” Her hands froze on his hips, and little red flags filled her cheeks. “Sorry.”

“Never apologize for your past, Deirdre.” He kissed her nose. “Both of us have one.”

“Anyway, I’m busy with the landscaping in the summer, so I didn’t have time.” Deirdre shimmied his boxers seductively down his hips. “Later, we can do this in my old room. Nothing’s changed since I was a teenager. It’ll give you that bad boy feeling of sneaking in.”

He laughed against her ear, his tongue circling the dainty shell. “I’m thinking you snuck
out
, rather than the other way around.”

Deirdre grabbed his cock, palming the rigid tip. “Enough talk, I can’t wait a moment longer,
Austin. Just love me.” She breathed the word hot on his neck.

Ayden wondered if she’d meant to use that word.

“Fill me. Right here, right now. Make me forget everything outside this room except us.” Deirdre kept talking. Perhaps it was the endorphins making her ramble.

Ayden pushed the robe off her shoulders, and the terrycloth fell to the floor. He filled his hands with her. “Just grab a condom, and I’m all yours, baby. Your wish is my command.”

For a second time, Deirdre froze.

“What?” Ayden looked at her. He silently prayed she wasn’t having second thoughts. His stiff dick was tapping against his belly.

“Please tell me you have a condom,
Austin. I … well, it’s just I…”

“…don’t have any,” he finished the sentence for her. Ayden pressed his forehead against hers, their breaths mingling in ragged pulls. Closing his eyes, he worked to rein in the hunger overtaking him. “You haven’t needed them. And despite our recent sexual marathons, indicating otherwise, I don’t usually need them, either.” He wished his erection would deflate with his mood. “No, I don’t have any.”

“Okay, we’ll just have to improvise. We don’t have a condom, and there’s no way you’re going all the way to town to get one.” Her hand glided down his swollen shaft. “There are other ways to accomplish this.” Pushing him down on the bed, she bent and licked the tip of his erection. “I haven’t had much experience, but I’ve been dying to try this.”

“Deirdre, baby, it’s okay. Really, it’s not so far…”

The heat of her tongue circled the mushroom tip, and he gasped.

“You don’t need to…” Ayden watched the dainty pink tip dart around his swollen cock.

“No, I don’t
need
to do anything. I
want
to.”

Her lips pulled at the skin on his shaft. “Unless you don’t like this.” She laved his balls. “Then I can stop.”

Ayden swallowed hard and cupped her face in his palm. “I’d rather you didn’t stop. It feels amazing.”

Deirdre motioned for him to move back against the headboard. She followed him onto the bed. Kneeling, she bent over him. The silk of her hair grazed his heated skin and sent shockwaves into his belly. Shoving the tails of his shirt out of the way, she raked her nails up his torso and down his thighs. His cock tapped against her chin.

He was putty in her hands—and mouth.

“Tell me how you like it,
Austin. Teach me.”

She nibbled her way from tip to base, her fist following the path.

“Seems you know what you’re doing, baby.”

It had been a long time since a woman had sucked him dry. The blood pulsed in his cock, making him harder than hell. He felt his balls pull tight to his body. She kissed her way around the base, her fingers plucking at his pubic hair sending pleasure skittering along his nerves. He watched her head bob and her damp curls cover his lap. He pushed the cinnamon tendrils out of her face and cupped the back of her head.

BOOK: Love’s Bounty
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