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Authors: Karen Erickson

Stolen hearts

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Stolen Hearts

 

ISBN 9781419915680

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Stolen Hearts Copyright © 2008 Karen Erickson

 

Edited by Kelli Kwiatkowski.

Cover art by Syneca.

 

Electronic book Publication April 2008

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/)

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Stolen Hearts

Karen Erickson

Trademarks Acknowledgement

 

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the followingwordmarksmentioned in this work of fiction:

Cosmo: Hearst Communications Inc.

Volvo: Volvo Trademark Holding AB Corporation

 

Chapter One

 

“Did you get it yet?”

“No, I haven’t gotten it yet. Will you quit asking?” AlexanderMorettiglancedaround,making sure no one was close enough to hear him. “I need more time.”

“I bet you haven’t even walked into the store yet, have you?Gah, you’re no son of mine. I offered this job to you as a test, to see if you still have what it takes. I’m starting to see that you don’t.”

Alex could hear the disgust in his father’s voice and he closed his eyes, willing himself to ignore it. But he couldn’t. Age-old guilt gathered inside him, threatening to overwhelm him in a wave of familiar, irritating emotion and he leaned against the wall of the coffee shop for support.

“You know I haven’t done this in a long time, Dad, so I’m a little rusty. You need to cut me some slack. I’ll do it, I swear.”

“Giving up is so easy after getting caught, I know. That’s why you have to jump back into the saddle, Alex. A trueMorettiwouldn’t let a little jail time scare him so easily.”

Easy for his dad to say.The man hadn’t been caught in all of his sixty-plus years. Not once. His father didn’t know what it was like to get tossed into the slammer, to appear before a judge, to receive a jail sentence that felt like the end of the world.

No, his father had no idea whatsoever.

“You don’t have much room to talk since you’ve never been arrested in your life.” Alex opened his eyes, focusing on the quaint storefront across the street from him. The sign in the door read Closed. The display windows were empty, devoid of any sparkling jewelry.

He knew the owner would appear any minute, just as she did every morning promptly at nine. Always an hour before the store opened, allowing him the opportunity to watch her bustle about inside, getting ready for the day. Bringing out the jewelry from the safe, setting up the displays in the windows,cleaningthe glass counters until they shined.

True, he’d never been in the store but he’d been lurking around it for a week. Trying to gather up the nerve to go inside, to see the piece his father so desperately wanted.

And then snag that fucking bracelet so he’d be in his father’s good graces again. He didn’t think it would be too difficult in this small tourist town. It would be easy to take the bracelet and please his father. Make a couple bucks, get back on his feet and maybe even find a normal job.

His dad would think he was crazy but he really didn’t want to do this anymore.

Unfortunately, Alex just couldn’t force himself to go into the store. Not yet. He felt like a giant pussy.

“I’m not a pussy like you, son. I’m too good to get caught.”

The old man must read minds.

His father, AlexanderMorettiSr., didn’t hold back—never had, never would. He always spoke his mind, too blunt for his own good sometimes.

Ignoring the ache that clutched at his heart, Alex shook his head. No matter what he did, it would never be good enough. Since receiving jail time, he’d been a constant disappointment in his father’s eyes.

That’s why he was in this stupid town, trying to work up the nerve to steal a stupid bracelet.He wanted to prove to his father that he was good enough to be his son, his namesake. Even if it meant doing something he promised himself he would never do again.

“Listen Dad, Igottago. The owner is about to show up and I’m going in.Today.”Resolve filled him and he knew it was true. He was going into that store.

He was going to steal the bracelet and hightail it out of this town as soon as possible.

“About damn time.Case out the joint, figure out your best move and then follow through, my son. I need that bracelet and I wantyouto get it. Don’t disappoint me.”

A loud click sounded in Alex’s ear and he snapped his cell phone shut, shoving it into his front jean pocket. Leaning against the roughened outdoor wall of the coffee shop, he crossed his arms in front of his chest and waited.

The woman seemed to run on an internal clock that was never, ever wrong. She showed up at the same time every morning, immaculately dressed, not a hair out of place. A calm, cool blonde with long, long legs and tits she showcased in form-fitting sweaters that drove him nuts. And he couldn’t figure out why.

First of all, she was so far from his normal type it wasn’t even funny. He liked his women open and easy. No fuss, no muss, just in it for a good time, no relationships allowed. Women like the ones he always found hanging around his old friends, his thieving buddies.Women who liked dangerous men, who liked the thrill of fucking a bad boy—or multiple bad boys.It didn’t matter to them.

The owner of Anderson’s Fine Vintage Jewels didn’t look like the type who craved danger. She definitely didn’t look like the type who enjoyed fucking multiple bad boys. No, she probably had a nice boyfriend, or maybe even a husband who wore a three-piece suit to work everyday, drove a Volvo, had a college degree.A nice guy who was actuallydoingsomething with his life.

Alex had barely graduated high school. He didn’t own a three-piece suit and he definitely didn’t drive a Volvo. Giving up his criminal lifestyle after his release from prison, he led a simpler life now. No more flashy cars, flashy clothes or flashy watches—and no more flashing big wads of cash. He was all about low profile. He didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention.

Didn’t necessarily want to get back into the fold.

Of course, it was hard to ignore the fold when your father ran the largest theft ring on the West Coast.

When his father had called out of the blue three weeks ago, Alex had been shocked. He hadn’t heard from him in nearly a year. All but disowning him when Alex announced he wasn’t going to work for him any longer, his father hadn’t even bothered contacting Alex during the holidays or his birthday.

That’s why he knew something was up when he’d heard his dad on the phone. He’d been right. As usual, his father wanted something from him. Something he thought he didn’t want to give but when his father had muttered those fateful words, he hadn’t been able to resist.

Don’t disappoint me, son. I need you to come through for me.

That had been the clincher. For once in his life, he wanted his father to be proud of him. If this was the only way to earn that pride, then so be it.

The click of high heels on concrete drew his attention and he watched as Ms. Perfect came down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, a chic purse on her shoulder, her reddish-blonde hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. The morning was quiet, with only the occasional car passing by and, lowering his head, he watched her from beneath his lashes.

Even from across the street he could tell she was beautiful. Smooth skin that reminded him of peaches and cream, accentuated by big blue eyes and sweet pink lips. Lips he wanted to see up close and personal, lips he dreamed about at night.

Wrapped tightly around his cock and giving him the blowjob to end all blowjobs.

Shifting, he adjusted the crotch of his jeans and continued his perusal. He tried to ignore the rush of lust that surged through his veins every time he saw her, though it was hard.

Actually, it was his dick that was hard, but he couldn’t focus on that now. He had other things to do.

Like case out a jewelry store.Steal a bracelet. Make his father believe in him again.

* * * * *

Walking down the sidewalk toward the store, Celeste Anderson couldn’t ignore the tiny shiver that slithered down her spine.

It almost felt like someone was watching her.

She stopped in front of the door, glancing to her left then right. No one was on the sidewalk, not even a car drove by. Tellingherselfit was nothing, she reached into her purse and pulled out her keys, unlocking the front door with a quick flick of her wrist.

The feeling was still there, though. Like two lasers boring holes into her back. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and goose bumps chased up her arms as she turned around slowly.

A huge man stood in front of the Coffee Bean, the little shop across the street, his dark head bent, hands stuffed inside his pockets. He didn’t appear to be watching her.

But instinct kicked in. He was most definitely watching her. She just couldn’t figure out why.

Ignoring him, she opened the door and went inside, turning the lock back into place behind her. Heading straight for the tiny office in the back, she shoved her purse in the bottom desk drawer then stood, smoothing her hand over her ponytail. If she caught that man still watching her store, she’d call the cops. Johnny was always good for a drive-by…always enjoyed coming in and talking to her for a few minutes too. That would scare the boogeyman from his stakeout post. Grabbing the cordless phone, she set it on top of her desk to remind herself to give Johnny a call.

Why Johnny wouldn’t ask her out on a date, she didn’t know. Not like she hadn’t given him at least a hundred clues that she was interested. Maybe he was slow on the uptake.

Maybe he was, heaven forbid, not interested.

Celeste stopped dead in her tracks, pressing her hand against her chest. Maybe she was losing her touch. Not that she had much touch with the opposite sex anyway but still. Usually when she became interested in a man she made her subtle moves. And they usually worked.

With a shake of her head, she stepped to the safe and turned the dial, listening as the locks tumbled into place, allowing her entrance. Pulling a stack of midnight blue velvet jewel displays out, she headed back into the store and started the morning preparations, menial tasks she’d resumed a while ago, after her sister Hannah had ditched her.

Hannah had been the one who’d prepared the store for opening for so long and when she left, Celeste had taken over. The preparations didn’t bore her, though, not at all. It thrilled her to know that all of this was hers,reallyhers, her own business. Her mother had enough faith in her to take over the family store and Celeste worked hard at it, wanting to make it shine—wanting to make her mother and her entire family proud.

Not like her sister Hannah, who took off the first chance she got to run a gallery for her sculptor fiancé. Celeste crinkled her nose as she set the velvet displays on top of a counter and opened the tiny glass door beneath it, shoving one of the panels inside.

She couldn’t imagine being involved with an artist, dealing with an artist’s temperament, the uncertainty of financial status. How could Colin make enough money to support him and Hannah forever? They planned on getting married soon, probably wanted to have children. How could they afford to give their children everything they needed when they were living off the sales of his weird, too modern sculptures? Yes, he was successful right now but that could all change at a moment’s notice. Or more like on the buying public’s whim.

Celeste didn’t get it. Relationships were a partnership, almost like a business deal. A marriage was made between two people who got along, held the same interests and beliefs and worked to support each other until they died. None of this spontaneous fall-in-love-and-run-away-together kind of stuff like Hannah did with Colin. That just didn’t compute.

She wanted to find a respectable man, fall in love slowly and then marry him. Become a powerful couple in the community—she running her store, he preferably a man of the law—havetwo children and live a neat and tidy life, just like her parents had.

Glancing out the front window, Celeste saw the large man still leaning against the wall of the Coffee Bean, his head bent, hair dark as night tumbling over his forehead. Taking her time studying him, her hand automatically reached for the phone she’d brought back from the office. She wanted to be able to describe him properly to Johnny when he stopped by, of course.

Though she couldn’t see his face there was no mistaking he was one of the largest men she’d ever seen in her life. Broad shoulders and a wide chest encased in a dark green button-up shirt, legs that went on for miles in dark denim, heavy work books on his feet. Rugged, rough-looking, probably had nomanners,ate with his mouth full or something gross like that.

Ewww.

Celeste dialed Johnny’s cell number, told him about her lurking stranger and then hung up, intent on finishing her preparations for opening the store. She put the man across the street out of her head. She couldn’t be bothered with that right now.

She had a store to get ready, business to attend to. A bracelet she needed to sell—and fast, considering how much money she could potentially make. Money she needed to better the store’s future.

The gorgeous thirteen-carat diamond bracelet was made in the Fifties as a gift for a society bride from her husband and his wealthy family. A stunning piece Celeste had found at an estate auction as part of a lot of various pieces of jewelry and bid on immediately. She’d known at first glance it was far more valuable than the pieces it accompanied.

She’d spent more money than she meant to in purchasing the lot but she hadn’t been able to resist. She knew the bracelet would fetch a pretty penny, giving her a huge return on her investment—if she could just find a buyer.

More than anything, she needed to find that buyer fast. The store needed refurbishing and it would be nice to get that accomplished before the holiday shopping season. Maybe she’d made a foolish move, being so rash in buying the bracelet, but she really didn’t think so.

That bracelet, if it got the price she wanted, would give the store’s earnings a considerable boost. She’d even have enough to invest in more exquisite pieces that could fetch the store even more money.

Chewing on her lip nervously, she placed the bracelet in the glass case that sat in the center of the main countertop, closest to the cash register. It was the most prominent spot in the entire store. She was sorely tempted to place it in a window display but it made her too nervous. Anyone could come up, break the glass and take it. She couldn’t afford for that to happen. Yes, she had insurance on all the items in the store but still. Celeste wanted that sale more than anything in the world.


Page 2

Glancing at the clock above the door, she hurried to flip the sign to read Open and disengaged the lock once more. Across the street, the front of the Coffee Bean was devoid of any tall, dark strangers and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Good. She didn’t need to worry about anything right now but the store. Besides, now she could flirt with Johnny instead of sending him to interrogate the lurking man.

Humming a nameless tune, she turned to stash the cleaning supplies in a cabinet behind the counter, standing tall when she heard the distinct tinkling of the front door announcing the arrival of the first customer of the day. With a smile she turned, figuring it wasn’t a customer at all but Johnny making his arrival.

Her mouth dropped open when she saw who stood in the doorway.

Him.The lurking stranger, the very man she wanted Johnny to check out. Now she could checkhimout, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

No—she really, really didn’t want to.

His presence seemed to fill the entire store, even though he didn’t move from the doorway. His face, which had been hidden before, shocked her silent, rendered her still as a statue.

He wasgorgeous. Beautiful dark eyes fringed with the longest, thickest lashes, chiseled cheekbones, a strong nose, firm jaw shadowed with the faintest hint of stubble and the most sculpted lips she’d ever seen on a man. Lips that would probably feel divine pressed against her own, trailing along her neck, over her chest…

Smoothing back an imaginary hair, she ignored the rather shocking thought of his mouth on her body and cleared her throat. “May I help you?”

He stood there silently, glancing about the store, his brown eyes wide. Shaking his head, he stepped backward, his arm moving behind him to shove the door open.

“This was a mistake. I should’ve never come in here.”

Her brow wrinkled in confusion. “Are you lost? Do you need directions to another store perhaps?”

He turned his gaze upon her once more and her breath stalled in her throat. Really, no man should be as handsome as this one. Certainly no stranger had ever made her react like this one did. Heart beating against her chest, breathing shallow, skin tingling with awareness, all over a man she didn’t know.

“I’m not lost, just made a wrong turn. Sorry to bother you.” Making an attempt to leave, the man was thwarted by Johnny, who pulled the door open from behind him, forcing the handsome stranger farther into the store as he entered.

“Where’s that strange guy you called about, Celeste? Your hero is here to save the day.” Johnny grinned at her and the man scowled at Johnny.

Talk about bad timing.

Chapter Two

 

Herhero?Who the fuck was this bozo?

One look at the uniform though and Alex wanted to bolt from the store and never look back. Cops made him nervous as shit, ever since he got busted by some a couple years ago. They were so cocky, thought they were superior to everyone else when really they were usually just adrenaline junkies like the bad guys.

They just decided to work on the right side of the law instead.

“Um, I’m fine, Johnny.Really.”The beautiful blonde smiled at the cop, resting her tiny hands on the countertop. Her nails were painted with pale pink polish, her hands neat and elegant, fingers slim.

Hands he could imagine stroking his cock, bringing him undeniable pleasure, making him come like a geyser with just her touch.

Shaking his head, Alex stepped out of the way of the cop who now stood in front of him, sizing him up. The skinny jackass rested his hands on his hips, pointy elbows out, grim expression on his wholesome face.

“You from around here?”

“No, just visiting.” Alex didn’t plan on volunteering any more information than he had to.

Damn his luck for running into a cop the moment he stepped into a jewelry store for the first time in years. Discreetly sniffing the air, he swore he could actually smell the expensive stones. He caught a glint of something extra shiny in the center case of the counter.

The bracelet he’d come for, he’d bet his life on it. He’d always had an eye for the most expensive item in a store. It had never failed him in all his years. He didn’t doubt it now.

“Is this the guy you told me about, Celeste?” The cop cocked his bean head in Alex’s direction.

Celeste shook her head, her big blue eyes never leaving Alex’s. His groin heated, cock stirring to life and he swallowed, trying to tear his eyes away from her, focus on the cop, anything but her.

But he couldn’t. He was trapped like a fly in a spider’s web.Unable to move, unable to look away.

She couldn’t seem to look away either.

“No,” she finally said, her sweet voice washing over Alex, sending a shiver up his spine. “That guy was shorter, with blond hair. He left. I don’t know where he went.”

“Want me to go look for him? He might be hanging around here, or maybe he’s down the street.” The cop hitched up his belt, keys clanging, gun slapping against his thigh.

Alex turned quickly, focusing on the gun. He hated guns—they made him more nervous than cops did.

Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from bringing one with him, though it was back in the motel room.

“Oh that sounds like a great idea, Johnny. Thank you.”

Johnny the cop nodded his head in Celeste’s direction and turned, squinting at Alex. “Have a good day, sir.”

“You too, officer.”Alex gave him a mock salute and the cop was on his way out the door, searching for a phantom stranger.

Interesting.Celeste the store owner must have called the cops on him for watching the store—yet she didn’t tell Johnny Gung-Ho that he was the very one who’d been watching. She even sent the cop on a wild goose chase.

It didn’t make much sense. But he wasn’t about to protest it.

“Why’d you send him on his way?” Alex edged closer to the door, already planning how to grab the bracelet though he knew he wasn’t going to do it today. He needed a little more time to figure this shit out.

All the jewelry sent his senses into overload. The gorgeous blonde behind the counter was fucking with his senses too, though he wasn’t protesting that either. He swore even from across the room he could smell her sweet scent, reminding him of a summer breeze and flowers.

“Why were you spying on me?”

Her question threw him for a loop, surprised at her bluntness. “I wasn’t spying. I was just…waiting for your store to open.”

“When you walked inside you said you shouldn’t have come in here. I didn’t think you were interested in my store.” A dark reddish blonde eyebrow arched, pink lips pursed with doubt.

He wanted to kiss the doubt right off those lips. Wanted to taste her, devour her,consumeher.

Shaking his head, Alex rested his hand on the door handle, deciding to go for the poor-pitiful-me plan. “I can’t afford this place. You have beautiful jewelry but it’s a little out of my league.”

Shit, he couldn’t afford to beinsidetheplace, thatwas for damn sure. His palms literally itched, whether to get his hands on some valuable pieces or the hot little piece suddenly headed his way, he wasn’t quite sure.

Okay that was a lie. He’d rather have his hands on her than some expensive, cold stones any day.

Damn it, he didn’t want her to come any closer. He needed her to stay as far away from him as possible. She was temptation personified, walking sin,seductionin its purest form.

Where the hell was his fried brain coming up with this stuff? This is what happened when a man went without sex for too long.

He got all dramatic and shit.

“Our jewelry comes in various price ranges. We have very reasonably priced pieces. What are you looking for?” Her smile revealed straight white teeth and she clasped her hands in front of her. The pale blue sweater set she wore emphasized the color of her eyes, and the string of lustrous pearls surrounding her slender neck showcased its elegant curve.

She was one classy broad, as his father would say. Certainly wouldn’t be interested in an ex-con like him.

“Um, something for my mother.”The words came quickly, easily, and disgust filled him. His mother had died when he was five yet he had no problem lying.

Once a liar, always a liar, his father always told him.He said the same thing about being a thief too.

Shit.

“Ah, that’s nice.” Celeste’s smile grew and Alex felt a tightening in his groin at the sight of it. “Does she like anything in particular?”

“Diamonds.”

Damn, he could swear his forehead just broke out into a cold sweat. Why the hell did he say that?

Her eyes lit and she waggled a finger at him, turning to walk straight toward the center of the glass counter. “I know you said we’re too expensive but let me show you this, just to show you. It’s beautiful. Maybe your father could buy it for her. Is it her birthday?”

“Yes. It is.” Alex followed her, admiring the shift of her ass beneath the tight black skirt as she walked.

She leaned against the edge of the counter, tapping her fingernail on the glass, exactly at the spot where a diamond bracelet rested. “Isn’t it gorgeous? I just obtained it from an estate sale, I couldn’t resist it.”

“It’s beautiful.” His breath lodged in his throat, his heart rate increasing triple time. The bracelet sparkled up at him in all its brilliance, thirteen carats of pure perfection. The woman had no idea justhowvaluable this bracelet was—or to whom.

The old lady who’d had it in her possession when she passed was none other than the mother of the man who founded the gang his own father now ran.

His father had explained the entire story. When old ladyAnnabellaRizzo up and died, no one from her family had been able to claim any of her possessions. The son who’d once headed his dad’s gang was already long gone, her various grandsons either locked away in prison or hiding out in other countries. The only one available had been her great-granddaughter, who was unable to make it to the estate before it had been sold off, perAnnabella’swill. Apparently the great-granddaughter had no idea the bracelet was so valuable either. She was so happy to be presented with the check after the auction that there’d been no protesting or questions on her part.

But Alex Sr. had found out about that bracelet—had even seen it once, briefly, many years ago. Once word ofAnnabella’sdeath reached him, he’d tracked down the buyer and then sent his son to this quaint little coastal town to steal it and bring it back to him. Just so he could boast about the great lift he’d made, brag about possessing the Rizzo family’s greatest heirloom.

Now Alex stood right where his father wanted him, the bracelet teasing him with flashing winks of icy blue fire. His palms were clammy and he rubbed them on his jeans, anxiety filling him.

He couldn’t do this today, the timing was all wrong. He should’ve planned this better, should’ve brought the gun his father gave him. He would’ve held the beautiful Celeste at gunpoint and snatched that bracelet from its place beneath the glass in a matter of seconds.

Instead, he stood before her pretending to be looking for a gift for his dead mother, feeling like the biggest jackass in the entire damn world.

“It’s expensive, though.” Celeste leaned toward him, her whispered words making the moment intimate somehow. There was a glint in her eyes that made him yearn to reach for her, haul her against him and kiss her senseless. Let her feel exactly how much she excited him before taking her right on the goddamn floor of her store.

“Yeah, I can’t afford this though my mother certainly deserves it. Maybe Iwillsend my dad in.”

Ah hell, he wished.

* * * * *

He looked nervous, her big handsome stranger. Why Celeste had covered for him and sent Johnny on his way, she had no idea. There was something about him, though. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

He was definitely handsome, carried himself well and had manners, all pluses. But his clothes looked old and worn, his shirt almost threadbare in some places. He needed a haircut, though the rakish wavy lock of hair that fell over his forehead was rather sexy.

She crinkled her nose, tearing her gaze away from him.Sexy.She’d never thought of any man as sexy. When her friendsoohedandahhedover a Hollywood celebrity or some random handsome man at a restaurant, she always played along but she never really found them that special.

This man, though, was sexy. Her body seemed to react to him without any help from her brain. She didn’t understand it.

Then again, she couldn’t fight it either.

“Maybe you’d like to look at something else?Aquamarines?”She had to break the silence, had to keep things normal, keep the conversation moving. If she didn’t, something else might happen.Something weird.Like maybe she’d reach out and touch him, test those arms to see if they were as big and hard as they appeared.

Breathing deeply, she allowed her gaze to travel over his form once more, lingering on his arms held akimbo, fists resting on his hips. His biceps bulged against the worn fabric of his shirt. Goodness, when he stood like that the buttons on the front of his shirt actually strained, he was so broad.

Celeste wondered what he would look like without the shirt on. Her mouth literally watered at the thought.

“Nah.”He shook his head, a faint smile curving his sensuous lips. “I appreciate you taking the time though, and keeping your cop friend from frisking me.”

She laughed, couldn’t seem to help herself, which caused his smile to widen, revealing dimples that bracketed either side of his mouth.

Oh my.

“Oh no problem, really.And your name is?” She had to ask, had to know what this man’s name was. She might never see him again.


Page 3

“Alex.” He extended his hand toward her. “And you’re Celeste, right?”

“Yes.” She nodded, taking his hand. Long fingers wrapped around hers, his skin hot and electrifying to the touch and the brief contact sent a frisson of excitement up her arm. Her nipples hardened instantly and she released a shuddering breath.

Never in her life had she reacted so strongly to such a simple touch. Heck, she’d never reacted so strongly to any kind of touch.

It made her crave more.

“Nice to meet you, Celeste.”His voice was a low murmur, making her toes curl in her shoes, her nipples hardening even more beneath her sensible bra.

“You too, Alex.”His name rolled off her tongue and she could easily imagine herself calling it out while he buried himself deep inside her, her fingers tangled in his thick, silky hair, his big, hot body pressed against hers.

Blinking, she released his hand as if burned, mortified by her train of thought.

This was not normal. She did not think this way about men, especially a complete stranger. It didn’t make any sense.

There was no denying the invisible energy buzzing around them though, filling the room, making their bodies lean toward each other. Her lips parted. She could actually imagine herself kissing this man right here, right now and the way his head cocked toward her made her think he was about to do it too—

“I didn’t find him.” The bells jangled with Johnny’s arrival and she and Alex sprang away from each other.

“You didn’t find who?” Her voice came out shaky, even a little husky and she risked a glance toward Alex, who watched her from beneath lowered lashes. The seductive expression on his face made her think of satin sheets and naked skin.

No!She needed to stop this. It was ridiculous.

“The perpetrator you told me about. I looked up and down both sides of the street, couldn’t find anyone.” Johnny shook his head, resting his hands on his hips in that annoying wide-leg stance he had.

Annoying? When had she ever thought of Johnny as annoying before?

“Well, thank you for looking, Johnny. I appreciate it.” She smiled at him, hoping he’d get the hint and leave but he didn’t. He just stood there watching both of them with a goofy grin on his face.

Standing next to the giant Alex, Johnny looked downright puny. Like a boy compared to a big strapping man. What had she ever seen in him?

“Wannagrab some dinner tonight after my shift ends?” Johnny shuffled his feet, glancing down at the floor. “I thoughtLuberman’ssounded good.”

This was the moment she’d been waiting weeks for. Johnny had been coming by the shop off and on for almost two months and she’d laid it on thick, hoping he would ask her out on a date. Now that the time was here, her automatic urge was to turn him down.

All because Alex was watching her with narrowed dark brown eyes, his full lips pulled tight into a slight frown. He didn’t look pleased with Johnny’s attempt at asking her out on a date.

“What do you say, Celeste?” Johnny finally looked up, his expression hopeful though his body was tense, as if waiting for her to say no.

Her mouth opened, her gaze sliding toward Alex—but he answered for her.

“She’s going out with me.Tonight.For dinner.”

“Huh?” Johnny’s mouth hung open, his arms dropping to his sides. He looked from Alex to Celeste in disbelief. “Do you even know this guy’s name?”

“Well, yes, I know Alex.” She smiled, her tummy tingling at the thought of going out to dinner with him.

Funny how an hour ago she thought him to be some sort of criminal watching her store and now she was ready to go on a date with him.

It really,reallymade no sense whatsoever.

“Yes, she knows me and we’re going out tonight.” Alex smiled in Johnny’s direction but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Sorry bud, I guess I beat you to the punch.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Johnny shrugged and started for the door. “I’ll beseein’ you, Celeste.”

She waited until the door shut behind him before she turned toward Alex. “Why did you do that?”

“You didn’t want to go out with him.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.

“Yes, I did. I’ve wanted to go out with him for weeks!” Well, that last part was true at least.

“Yeah well, you don’t want to go out with him now. You want to go out with me instead.”

“I donotwant to go out with you.” Now it was her turn to place her hands on her hips, hoping he didn’t notice the hard points of her nipples. She was almost positive her bra was lined well enough…

Really, she didn’t want to go out with this man. He wasn’t her type, she had no idea who he was and he was awfully pushy.Cocky.

So why did she find that just the slightest bit irresistible?

“You’re saying that what happened between us earlier didn’t actually happen then?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Of course she knew what he was talking about. And secretly, she couldn’t deny the sexual tension that had crackled around them. There was something between them—but people just didn’t react based on instant attraction.

Did they?

Well, people likeherdidn’t. She knew that.

He smiled and actually brushed the tip of her nose with a calloused fingertip. Just that little touch sent a zing straight to her pussy, making her panties dampen in an embarrassingly quick manner.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll meet you here at six-thirty, when you’re done closing the shop. How does that sound?”

“I can’t even go home and change my clothes?” She didn’t deny his suggestion or protest his arrogance in assuming she’d be waiting for him.

“I like that sweater on you. It does amazing things for your eyes.” His gaze was nowhere near her eyes, though. No, more like he’d taken up a complex study of her breasts.

She didn’t know it was possible but her nipples actually ached, they were so hard.

“My eyes are up here,” she protested weakly.

“Yeah, I know.” He met her gaze, a smile on his face, dimples winking at her.

And then he was gone,the swooshof the door closing and the gentle tinkling of the bells the only evidence that he’d been there.

Slumping against the counter, she rested her hand against her chest, her wildly beating heart threatening to burst out of her skin. If she could barely survive that encounter with the mysterious, sexy Alex, how was she going to survive dinner with him?

She had no clue. But she was dying to find out.

Chapter Three

 

“Tell me you have it now. It’s the least you could do for your old man.”

“Look, Dad, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of complications I have to deal with. Give metime,let me finesse the owner before I swipe the bracelet from her display case.” Alex turned the key in his motel door and walked inside the tiny room.

“Finesse the owner my ass. I heard she’s a pretty little thing. Stop wasting your time trying to get in her panties and bring home that bracelet now, Alex.”

Alex sat heavily on the edge of the bed, the cheap mattress groaning from his weight. “I’m not trying to get into her panties. That’s your method, not mine.”

“Ha.Smartass.Listen—you get that necklace back to me within the next seventy-two hours and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“What are you talking about?” He perked to attention at the words “worth your while”, he couldn’t help it. It was part of his nature, the greed, the lure of the money. Yeah, his father had given him a couple grand to make it through his time in SantaAugustinabut he hadn’t talked actual payment for the return of the bracelet.

His father was so eager to have that bracelet he figured the payoff on delivery would be well worth it. Give him enough money to get back on his feet, establish himself so he wouldn’t have to resort to working for his dad on a permanent basis.

He loved dear old Dad, worried about him and all that but he’d be damned if he wasgonnafall back into this life all over again. He needed to start over, start fresh…redeem himself, damn it.

Problem was,the easy money was hard to stay away from.

“Ten K for you, but you need to bring it to me in three days’ time.” Alex Sr. paused, his breathing ragged over the phone line. His father wasn’t in the best of health but damn if he didn’t sound outright awful today, worse than usual. Yet another reason to make his dad proud—he wanted to do this before he lost him for good. “Are you up to the challenge, boy?”

“I’ll try,” he said with a sigh.

His father grunted. “You’d better do more than try, you’d better get it. And fast.”

Yet again his father hung up the phone before Alex could get another word in. Frustrated, he tossed the phone on the bedside table and stretched out across the mattress, folding his arms beneath his head.

Dumb move he’d made, telling Celeste he was taking her out to dinner in front of the cop. He didn’t know what had possessed him. What he should’ve done was turn tail, bolt out of that store and never look back. Forget abouther,forget her beautiful face, the sound of her voice, the scent of her skin.

Ah fuck all that. He needed to think up a plan to sneak back into that old store with the flimsy security system and snag the bracelet. He knew it went into a safe at night but he’d cracked enough of those in his lifetime to not let that little detail worry him. He’d scoped out what little security she had while in the store and realized it wasn’t worth much.

He sighed. He was tempted, but no way could he get involved with the very woman who was in possession of the item he needed to steal. Not even a quick fuck, much to his disappointment. How long had it been anyway since he’d actually enjoyed a woman? Six months?Yeah, at least six months.A man shouldn’t go that long without sex. It made him think crazy things, maybe evendocrazy things.

She was so beautiful though, in a classy, prim yet sexy way. He had a feeling she would be a wildcat once he stripped those proper clothes off her. Peel away what could only be a cashmere twinset, unhook the sensible pearls,tugthe modest skirt off her hips to reveal her body to his gaze. Stroke her soft skin, taste it, taste the very essence of her. She’d writhe and moan beneath him, trying to restrain herself but unable to.Too consumed with lust for him, just as he would be for her.

Fuck.He leapt from the bed, trying to ignore the raging hard-on straining against his boxer briefs. He’d be better off buying a porn movie off the motel cable versus dreaming about the very pretty, very unattainable Celeste.

What a damn shame.

Gazing at the open door of the tiny closet, he saw the white dress shirt and black pants hanging from wire hangers. When he unpacked, he hadn’t known what possessed him to bring the dressier clothes. Not like he had any semiformal events to attend while stealing a bracelet.

Now he was glad he’d brought them, though they could be newer. Plucking at the pants waistband, he realized they were a little faded, the shirt not necessarily stylish, rather basic and boring. But they were all he had, and they would have to do.

He shook his head. He still couldn’t believe the complete transformation from his previous life. A life filled with designer clothes, expensive cars and lavish homes.Big parties with plenty of booze flowing and gorgeous women attending.He’d had it all.

Lost it all too.

After the first few bitter months behind bars, he’d realized he didn’t miss any of it, didn’t need all that shit. That’s why he hadn’t run to dear old Daddy the minute he’d been sprung. He’d missed him, though.Even missed his old way of life though he hated to admit that.He’d been happy to hear from his father. Had leapt at the chance to come to this shitty tourist town and steal a bracelet his father so desperately wanted.

Now the idea of an easy ten thousand dollars made the deal even sweeter.

Celeste’s image flashed in his memory and he closed his eyes. The way she leaned toward him just before Johnny Jackass Cop burst through the door. The hungry look in her eyes as she’d watched him, the breathless sound of her voice when she’d caught him blatantly checking out her rack.

His eyes popped open. Crap.Thatten thousand dollars didn’t sound so easy anymore.

Deciding to hell with it, Alex went into the bathroom to take a shower and beat off. Get rid of the frustrating erection he’d had since leaving Anderson’s Fine Vintage Jewels.

He had a feeling it was going to be a long shower.

* * * * *

Alex wasprompt,Celeste had to give him that. As he walked through the front door at six-thirty on the dot, she couldn’t help the giddy bubble of excitement that bounced in her already nervous stomach. The smile he shot her way when he spotted her caused that excitement to bloom throughout her body, making her warm all over.

Pressing her fingers to her lips, she assessed him as discreetly as possible. Unbearably handsome in a white button-up shirt and black trousers, she couldn’t help but sigh with approval. At least he didn’t look like a lumberjack, which his outfit from earlier in the day had reminded her of. A sexy lumberjack nevertheless, all rough and rugged and sexy. A look that was a little uncouth for a nice night out for dinner.

Hmm, who knew rough and rugged was so tempting, though?

He cleaned up nicely. His hair was raked back from his forehead, so dark it almost seemed to glisten beneath the spotlights scattered throughout the store. A spicy, purely masculine scent wafted in the air and she breathed deeply, unsure if she’d be able to survive the night smelling him. Intoxicating is what he was. Intoxicating to look at, intoxicating to smell and most likely intoxicating to touch.

Her hands itched to touch him. She clenched them into fists, physically restraining herself from doing so.


Page 4

“Are you ready to go?” His deep, rich voice washed over her, making her skin prickle with awareness.

“Yes, everything’s in thesafe,all locked up.” No way would she admit she started closing up shop early just so she could be ready by the time he showed up.

“Sell my mom’s bracelet today?” His voice was casual, nonchalant, but he seemed to tense, as if he were holding his breath.

Rolling her eyes, Celeste grabbed her purse from the countertop and walked toward him. Wishing she could wrap her arms around his waist and snuggle against his broad chest. “I wish.”

His big body visibly relaxed. “Do you think you maybe have it overpriced?”

“Oh no, it’s truly the most valuable piece in the entire store.” She glanced around, pretending someone could have overheard. “But that’s just between you and me.”

“Of course, don’t worry.”

They exited the store, Celeste careful as she locked the doors tight. Tugging on the door handle, satisfied when it didn’t give, she finally turned to face Alex. She wasn’t about to take any risks with that bracelet inside.

“Do you have somewhere in mind for dinner?”

He glanced at her as they walked down the sidewalk. “I was hoping you’d have some ideas since you’re from here. Me just being a visitor and all, I don’t know what’s good.”

“Oh, so what brings you here?” When she’d been younger, she’d wished she could’ve escaped the almost strangling confines of the small town where she’d spent her entire life. Now, though, she was glad she had stayed. She liked SantaAugustinain all its quaint, small town glory.

Though she wondered what made people come here sometimes. Especially single, handsome men like Alex.

“A little vacation.I needed to get away, needed some downtime.” He shrugged those impossibly wide shoulders and smiled down at her. “I just wanted to escape for a bit, gain some me time, I guess. I live in Los Angeles, a total hellhole and rat race that can eat you up inside if you let it.”

“So you decided to come up the coast?”

“Yeah, I jumped in my car and just started driving. Took a little vacation time from work and now here I am. It’s a nice town.”

“Yes, it is. I like it here. And there’s a good restaurant that’s just two streets over. Do you like Italian food?”

He chuckled. “With a last name like mine, I would have to say yes.”

Her brow crinkled. “What’s your last name? I don’t think you ever told me.”

“It’sMoretti.”

“Ah, so you’re Italian.” That explained the dark hair and dark eyes, the almost exotic look to his swarthy features. Compared to Alex, the men she knew and hung out with seemed so bland and boring—kind of like herself.Nothing special, nothing exciting.

Excitement seemed to shimmer off Alex. He was completely different from any of the men she’d dated in the past. Someone she’d consider not her type at all but was undeniably attracted to all the same. An attraction she would normally fight off or ignore but she realized tonight, she didn’t want to.

She wanted to see where this would go. For once, temporary didn’t sound like a bad idea.

Stopping abruptly, she rested her hand against her chest, stunned at her own thoughts. Something temporary didn’t sound like a bad idea?A little fling with a man who was on vacation and would leave in a matter of days?This was so far out of her normal realm of thinking she didn’t even know what to do.

“Are you all right?” Alex rested a big hand on her shoulder, the heat from his touch searing her skin right through her sweater.

Celeste released a shuddering breath and glanced up at him, a weak smile on her face. The intensity of his gaze, the way his hand still rested on her body, made her feel funny inside. Made her body tingle in all the right places—and go liquid in all the right places too.

“I’m fine,” she finally said, her voice wobbly as she nodded once. Yes, she was.Really.She could get through this night without attacking him across the table, for instance.

She could get through this night without drooling at the sight of his handsome face, his dark eyes watching her so closely. Really she could.

“Are you sure? Is something bothering you?” His hand slid from her shoulder down her arm, sparks of awareness from his touch making her tremble with need.

Need for him.

“No, nothing’s bothering me, I’m fine. I, uh, thought I forgot something back at the store and that’s why I stopped. But really, I’m fine.” She gestured to the left, where the sidewalk curved around along the cross street. “We go this way and turn another left at the light and we’ll be at the restaurant.”

“Sounds perfect.”He smiled at her, his hand dropping away from her and she restrained the groan that wanted to slip past her lips.

She was in so much trouble.

* * * * *

Alex had no idea how he’d sat through that long, torturous dinner without touching Celeste but he did it. The restaurant was small, intimate, seemingly lit with only candles in red cups on every table. The waiter had been more than courteous, familiar with Celeste, offering them the best service imaginable and food that would make his dead grandmother praise the hills of her birth country.

But he’d barely been able to eat a thing, too enraptured with Celeste’s beauty, her voice, the way she looked at him from across the table. Surprise was one way to describe it. Like she couldn’t believe she sat there with him, talking to him…was attracted to him.

He felt exactly the same way.

Finishing off that bottle of good red didn’t help either. He hadn’t been a big drinker since he’d gotten out of prison and he felt like a pansy that a couple glasses of wine had gone to his head. It was some excellent wine, he had to admit. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time.

Depositing a bunch of twenties on the table, he escorted Celeste out of the restaurant, surprised at the lateness of the hour. They’d stayed at the restaurant for nearly three hours, talking about their lives. Well, she did most of the talking, he just listened.

No way could he reveal anything about his past. She’d jump up from her chair and run like the devil was nipping at her heels if he mentioned anything about his time in prison for breaking into a jewelry store.

Sweat beaded on his forehead at the thought, even in the cool fall night air.

“Thank you so much for dinner. I think you left Sid the biggest tip of his life.”

“He deserved it.” Deciding to go for it, Alex grabbed her hand, her soft, small fingers clutching around his. “I’m glad you wanted to go there. I’m stuffed.”

“You barely ate your food.” She smiled shyly at him, the sight of it making his dick jump in his pants and he cleared his throat, squeezing her hand even more.

“Yeah, well I was distracted.”

“Distracted by what?All the good wine?”A little giggle escaped her and she covered her lips with her other hand, her gaze drifting away from his.

“No. I was distracted by you.” He said the words quietly, stopped in front of a small gift shop and turned to face her.

“Oh.” Her hand dropped from her lips and she looked up at him, her blue eyes even bigger than normal,thecolor almost the same as the dark blue sky above. Lit by a full moon and tiny sparkling white stars, the night was magnificent, clearly made for lovers.

He wanted to be this woman’s lover. If only for tonight, then so be it. The urge to be buried deep inside her, bringing her pleasure with his hands, mouth and cock nearly overwhelmed him.

“Where do you live?” The question came out fast, his voice gruff,hisstance tense as he watched her.

Waiting for her to give him a sign.

“Where are you staying?” The words seemed to slip past her lips without her even thinking and he heard the tiny gasp that followed them.

She must’ve surprised herself. Good, he was shocked too.

Shaking his head, he tugged on her hand, bringing her closer to him. The scent of flowers and fresh rain washed over him, making his cock even harder. “I can’t take you there, it sucks. Tell me where you live, Celeste. Do you have a nice soft bed?”

Her eyes widened and he saw the pulse at the base of her neck jump erratically. He was so tempted to kiss her there, lick her sweet skin, but he restrained himself.

“I do.” Her gaze didn’t waver though her pulse kicked up another notch.

“You want to show me your bed, sweetheart?”

“Yes.”

“Then lead the way.”

Chapter Four

 

Her house was small and on the older side but Celeste had fixed it up nicely so she wasn’t ashamed of it. Besides, she’d bought it for a steal before SantaAugustina’sreal estate boom of the last few years and it wasn’t too far from the ocean. On a really quiet night, she could even hear the waves crashing against the shore in the distance.

Tonight was proving to be just such a night. Not only could she hear the waves lapping against the sand but she also had the most handsome man she’d ever seen standing in the middle of her bedroom. Glancing about the room with a seductive look in his eyes, he seemed to fill the entire room.

All she could do was stand there at the foot of her bed and stare, her arms hanging at her sides, her tongue wanting to hang out of her mouth.

She kept that last bit under control, thank goodness.

“I don’t normally bring men I don’t know to my bedroom,” she blurted, unable to stop herself.

Immediately she covered her mouth with her hands, shocked at her statement. Whydidshe bring this man back to her home, into her bedroom? Did she really want to have sex with him? Because that’s what this meant, the two of them standing near her bed, their mingled breathing the only sound in the room besides the comforting sounds of the ocean waves wafting through the open window.

Her silent answer seemed to move through her body, causing her nipples to peak and harden, her panties to grow wet.

Yes.

Yes, she did want to have sex with him. Something she’d never done with a man after the first date. Celeste could count on one hand the number of men she’d had sex with in her life. Then she could count on one hand again the sexual encounters she’d had with each of those men.

Needless to say, she wasn’t that impressed with sex. Didn’t really get it when her friends rambled on and on about the great orgasm they’d had the night before or the amazing moves some guy had in bed. It didn’t compute. She had better orgasms by her own hand, she was embarrassed to admit. How did a man make a woman feel the way they described in the movies, in the romance books she read and hid under her bed?

“You don’t need to explain yourself to me, Celeste,” Alex finally said, his eyes roaming over her form, seeming to undress her everywhere they roamed. “All I care about is what’s going to happen between us tonight.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, something happening between us tonight.” She said the words so fast they seemed to slur together and she cleared her throat, taking a step back when he moved toward her.

“I don’t think I believe you.” His moves werestealthlike, his feet quiet as he came closer, his arms stealing around her waist and hauling her close. “I think you want this as badly as I do.”

Resting her hands against his chest, she was startled by the heat she felt there, the pounding of his heart beneath her palms as quick as her own. Having him so close was overwhelming, made her body go limp, her mind fuzzy. She titled her head and found him watching her, his eyes zeroing in on her mouth, and her tongue snuck out to lick her lips tentatively.

He groaned, the sound reverberating through her, rumbling against her hands. “Are you okay?”

“Whatever you do, don’t dothatagain unless you want me to attack you without any finesse whatsoever.”

“Do what?” Her eyebrows drew together in confusion.

“God, you’re cute as hell when you do that too.” Alex pulled her even closer, his lower body brushing against hers and she gasped when she felt his rigid erection through his pants.“Licking your lips.Don’t lick your lips like that, it drives me nuts.”

“Ooh, you mean like this?” Celeste did it again, her tongue swiping across her lower lip. What possessed her to do it she didn’t know but the sound of his strangled groan caused a great wave of satisfaction to roll through her.

And then before she even realized she’d moved he had her lying across the bed, his big body pinning hers, mouth fused to hers as if he never wanted to let go. A little cry escaped her and he took advantage. His tongue dipped into her mouth, tangling with her own and she surrendered completely. Her hands sank into his hair, gripping him tightly, holding him to her. He ground his pelvis against her, his erection hot and huge against her belly, and her eyes flew open in surprise.

Did he actually think that thing was going to fit? Good Lord, her entire body was trembling and not just because she wanted him.

A little trickle of fear spilled down her spine and she tried to ignore it, concentrating on the delicious things his mouth was doing to hers instead. His big hands roamed all over her body, pushing at the hem of her sweater and she let him slide the fabric up the slightest bit, baring her belly.

“Such soft skin,” he whispered, his rough fingers searching her stomach, inching higher. “I’ve wanted to touch you all night.”

“Don’t stop,” she murmured, arching toward him, shocked at her bold command. Had she ever asked for anything from a man in bed before?

No, she didn’t think so.

His hand kept moving, up and up until it tickled the edge of her bra. She squirmed beneath him, wanting him to touch her breasts, dying for him to touch her there and when he did, she sighed with relief, basking in the sensation his long fingers wrought within her.

“I want the bra off.” Sure fingers searched then found the clasp in the front and she thanked the heavens above for convenience, nearly giggling when the bra sprang free so easily for him.


Page 5

Alex pushed the cups from her breasts, moving away from her so he could yank the sweater and shell she wore up higher so he could stare at her bare skin.

His dark eyes glittered in the faint light of the moon from the open window. “Take the sweater off.”

Without hesitation, she lifted her upper body as best she could and whipped the sweater and shell off in one movement, throwing the offending garments on the floor.

“Ah, God, you’re so beautiful.” He cupped her breasts once more, thumbs flickering across her nipples and she closed her eyes, lost to his touch.

When his mouth closed around her nipple she cried out, sinking her hands in his thick hair, holding him to her. His lips tugged and pulled, his wet tongue swirling around her turgid nipple and she whimpered. Wanting more but not quite sure how to ask for it.

He moved to her other nipple and gave it the same glorious treatment, his hands skimming down her stomach, hovering just at the waistband of her skirt. Her stomach tingled in anticipation, her panties already saturated, and she opened her eyes to watch.

The neglected nipple pointed in the air, rosy and so hard, glistening in the moonlight. His dark head moved over her chest, sucking and nibbling her other nipple, big hands moving all over her upper body, claiming her, making her ache with need.

“We need to get rid of this.” Alex tugged on the band of her skirt, fingers slipping beneath it.“Now.”

She eagerly reached for the button on the side and undid it, sliding the zipper down. Reaching out to help her, his hands slid the skirt past her hips, down her legs until she was able to kick the garment off. He straddled her, sitting up so he could stare down at her and she didn’t move, eyes wide open, not shying from his blatant observation.

“I can’t believe I’m here.With you.”His hands drifted over her body, his gaze following their path, his expression filled with admiration. “You’re so beautiful, so elegant.”

Her cheeks grew hot with embarrassment and she shook her head, startled by his words. “No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.” Alex began to unbutton his shirt, undoing each button one by one, slowly revealing a broad, muscular chest. “You’re the classiest woman I’ve ever met.”

Celeste could only stare in fascination as he finished unbuttoning his shirt, tugging it off his wide shoulders. Her mouth literally watered at the sight of his well-developedpecscovered with a soft smattering of dark hair, his flat, rippled abs. He must workout,do hard labor or something along those lines. He could probably crush puny Johnny with his bare hands.

“Are you okay? You’re looking at me funny.” His brows furrowed, his lips twisting in question.

“You’re just so—wow.” She waved her hand in his general direction, couldn’t help but notice the discreet beading of his tiny nipples. The temptation to circle her tongue around each one was strong but she held herself in check. Just lay there waiting for him, more than ready to feel his bare skin pressed against her, his legs tangling with hers.

Even though he still wore his pants.Unfortunately.

“I should take these off.” As if he could read her mind, he tore himself away from her to stand next to the bed, his hands going for the waistband of his trousers.

A man stripping in front of her by the dim light of the moon was the ultimate fantasy she hadn’t even known she had. Her breath lodged in her throat while she watched him take the rest of his clothes off. Strong, hairy thighs were slowly revealed, along with his dark gray boxer briefs. Her gaze zeroed in on his package and a startled cry erupted from her.

Celeste had thought his erection impressive when he pressed it against her earlier but now, seeing its length strain against the thin fabric of his underwear…

Mind-boggling, to say the least.

He kept his underwear on when he rejoined her on the bed and she sighed in pleasure at the initial contact of skin on skin. Blazing hot, hair-roughened skin caused a delicious friction against her own, making her shiver.

“You feel good,” he murmured, his voice like smooth silk rippling over her skin.

“So do you.” Her arms slid around him, fingers splaying across his back, searching.

If she was only going to have this one adventure-filled night with this man, then she was going to take full advantage of it. She wanted to do it all, see it all,tasteit all.

All with Alex.

Nuzzling her neck, his lips were warm and damp as they pressed a trail of kisses along her sensitive skin. She lifted her chin, allowing him better access and he took it, his teeth nipping, tongue licking, making her squirm and giggle.

“You like that?”

“I seem to like anything you do,” she said on a sigh, for once in her life not embarrassed to say something like that. Screw it. She’d been readingCosmolately. She needed to start asking for what she wanted in bed. Why not start tonight?

More than anything, she wanted to have an orgasm while a man was inside her. Something she’d only done a couple times with previous sexual partners. Oh she’d faked it more than once. Almost every single time—but she was done with that. No more fakes allowed in her bed.

Celeste had a feeling Alex was the perfect candidate to bring her to orgasm while buried deep inside her. Just the thought of it made her tremble in anticipation and her panties were beyond soaked.

He slid down her body, raining kisses all over her skin, paying close attention to her breasts once more. His hands skimmed the outline of her body, smoothing along her waist, over her hips, across the tops of her thighs. Fingers brushed against the front of her panties and she held her breath, shifting beneath his touch, dying for him there.

As if knowing exactly what she wanted he moved lower, his hotmouth pressingagainst the sensitive skin of her stomach, tongue dipping inside her navel. She smiled, tilting her head forward to watch and her heart swelled with eagerness at the sight.

Alex’s face was directly above her panty-clad sex, his hot breath puffing against the cotton and she swore she grew even wetter. Legs widening to accommodate him, she waited breathlessly, arching upward when his fingers hooked around the sides of her underwear, allowing him to slide them down.

“Hmm, so wet,” he said, his hand clutching the fabric as he pulled the panties off her legs.

Wetter than it had ever been in her life, her pussy positively tingled in anticipation, waiting for him to stroke her there. And when he finally did, her eyes slid closed in ecstasy, a tiny moan escaping her when a finger brushed against her extended clit.

“God, Celeste.” His voice was positively ragged, the sound of it thrilling her. His fingers worked magic between her legs, searching her folds, one,thentwo thick fingers pushing deep inside. “You’re so tight.”

Moving slow and sure, his fingers were a sensuous push and pull within her body and she moved with him, arms drifting over her head, upper body arching. A cool breeze from the open window brushed across her hard nipples, making them ache even more.

With an appreciative murmur his head dipped, mouth nuzzling her outer lips and her head turned from side to side, overcome with the sensation of his mouth on her pussy.

Alex’s tongue swiped her clit, teasing it, running down the entire length of her slit. Big hands pushed at her inner thighs, widening her legs even more for his gentle assault.

Always too uncomfortable before to let a man go down on her, she’d suffered in silence before, always pulling her partner away before he could complete the act. Now all she could think was—finally. What had she been afraid of, why so self-conscious? She had always been so sexually repressed.So damnboring.

Celeste didn’t know why she’d led such a dull life, didn’t have an answer at all. But she knew one thing for sure…

She was glad she was sharing all of this with Alex.

All thoughts of her past disappeared in an instant when he drew her clit between his lips, his tongue tapping against it in an insistent rhythm. She pressed her groin to his mouth, grinding against him, unable to help herself. Her limbs started to quake, her belly tightening in preparation for orgasm and she reveled in it, her entire body pulled taut, ready for it to take over.

How lovely she didn’t have to work for it so hard like normal. All it took was Alex’s wonderful hands and skillful mouth to bring her to climax in mere minutes.

His fingers picked up the pace, thrusting in and out of her, his tongue lightning quick as it slashed against her clit and she let loose a keening cry. A wave of sensation crashed over her body, her inner walls constricting over and over again around his fingers, her womb rippling with the force of her orgasm. Alex rode it out with her, his fingers slowing, mouth releasing her clit though his tongue still softly licked.

“Beautiful,” she swore she heard him murmur and then he was above her, kissing her, the taste of her juices still on his beautiful lips. His insistent cock probed at her entry and panic suddenly smacked her sensible mind awake.

Pushing against the solid wall of his chest, she gazed up at him with hope surely shining in her eyes.

“You have a condom, right?Right?”

* * * * *

Alex’s lids slammed closed, his entire face crinkling in concentration. Shit, did he have a condom? Hell if he could remember.Maybe a spare in his wallet?

For the love of all things womanly soft and naked, he sure as hell hoped so.

“Do you, Alex?” Her fingers rubbed against his chest, nails scraping, and his skin broke out in gooseflesh.

Her touch was like a balm that soothed his soul. Corny shit but hell it was true. He wondered if it was just because he hadn’t had sex in so long but deep down, he didn’t think so. It was the woman beneath him that touched him so.

“Uh,lemmecheck my back pocket.” Reluctantly he lifted himself away from her, went to where his pants lay crumpled on the floor and dug his wallet out of the back pocket. Flipping it open, he searched, heart tightening in his chest at the thought that there wasn’t a condom in there.

Ah, there it is.He plucked the tiny foil package from the depths of his wallet, waving it at her with satisfaction.

“Only one, babe.We’regonnahave to make this last.”

Her eyes darkened considerably, pretty little mouth parting and she crossed her arms over her chest. What a shame. She had the most gorgeous breasts he’d probably ever seen. Nice and full, not too big, not too small and not a drop of silicone or saline in them.

Most of the beautiful women who’d graced his bed in the past had fake boobs.Nearly every single one of them.It was ridiculous but something he’d eventually gotten used to. Hell, when a man had a nice pair of tits in his face he usually didn’t complain, real or no.

But Celeste was one hundred percent genuine. She had the softest skin too, like satin, and so fragrant. Her scent would linger in his senses long after he was gone, he knew.

“Hurry,” she whispered, big eyes pleading, voice trembling.

Tossing his wallet on top of his pants, he hopped onto the bed, pinning her beneath him. Her breath came in quick spurts, her chest rising and falling rapidly, causing her peaked nipples to brush against his chest hair.

God that felt good. Everything about her felt good. He didn’t know if he could ever get enough. Not the kind of thoughts a man had about a quick fling.

Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply through his nose. Shit, this was a quick fling he shouldn’t even be indulging in. He would only hurt this woman. And what if his father found out? He’d never hear the end of it, could only imagine what his dad would say.Great, you banged the broad and then you stole the bracelet from her? And now she can identify you…hell, can identify yourdickin a penis lineup? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Alex had no idea what was wrong with him.

Gentle fingers stroked his cheek and he opened his eyes, watching in amazement as Celeste searched his face with her fingers. She touched his jaw, ran her index finger down his nose,tracedhis lips. Opening his mouth, he drew her finger inside, swirling his tongue around the tip.

She moaned and he sucked her finger deeper, loving her taste, remembering how responsive she’d been when he’d buried his face in her creamy cunt. The little sounds she’d made, the way her pussy contracted around his fingers when she came, all of it drove him straight over the edge.

Made him want to ram himself deep inside her right now.

Moving away from her, he tore open the little package still clutched in his hand and sheathedhimselfwith trembling fingers. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman made him shake. He poised himself at her entrance, his cock brushing against her swollen pussy lips and she arched against him, trying to take him in.

“Easy, baby, let me take my time. I don’t want to hurt you.” He tested her depths with hisfingers,found her more than wet enough to make his entry easy. She was just so damn tight though, and he wasn’t bragging but hell…

He was big.Thick.Had been told that more than once in his life.

She whimpered in frustration. “You’re teasing me.”

“This is just as hard for me as it is for you, trust me.” He chuckled at his double entendre.

Her engorged folds surrounded him, welcoming him inside and he entered her tight hole slowly, the soft suctioning of her body around the head of his cock making his eyes cross.

“Please,” shewhispered,her voice harsh with need and he understood.

He was just as needy as she was, he was sure.

Celeste was so small though and the last thing he wanted to do was bring her pain. He wanted to make this good for her, make this good for them both. If he just plunged in, buried himself balls-deep then surely he would come in an instant. Just feeling her hot, tight walls surround the tip of his cock was enough to make him blast his load.

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