Just the Way You Are
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She’d called it a game and laughed when he’d agreed to play. But his bride didn’t know he intended to break every one of her rules.
One year of marriage. No sex. No complications. No messy emotions.
Harrison Duval watched Stacey laugh with a friend on the dance floor, the candlelight winking in the crystals on her white dress. Her dark hair was pinned into thick curls at the back of her head. He wanted to shove his hands into it and kiss her, wanted to make a mess of those curls and her composure.
Wife. Jesus. One month ago, she’d been nothing but the one who got away. The one who reappeared in his life years later as his little sister’s college buddy. The one who brushed off his advances like they hadn’t once found themselves half na**d and breathless in his father’s cornfields, the hot summer sun beating down on their bare skin.
His buddy Chase nursed his beer and nudged Harrison with an elbow. “You want to tell me why you aren’t getting your beautiful bride out of here and into a nice oversized bed somewhere?”
Harrison’s gaze slid over Stacey’s curves. His mind instantly fixed on everything he wanted to do to her and couldn’t. Not yet. “We have the rest of our lives, right?”
“Hmm,” Chase said. “You know, they make a little blue pill that might help you with that attitude.”
Blue pill my ass. Harrison grinned and punched Chase in the shoulder.
The sight of Stace was enough. The sound of her voice, the innocent way she’d squeeze his arm when she was excited, even the way she chewed on her thumbnail when she was nervous—everything about her turned him on. “She is beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Congratulations, man.” Chase slammed the flat of his hand between Harrison’s shoulder blades. “I need to get out of here.”
Harrison winced, remembering where Chase planned to go. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to find my sister.”
Chase slid his beer onto the bar. “No problem. I won’t tell you a thing.”
Hell, they all knew it was only a matter of time before Chase and Addison stopped making eyes at each other and actually did something about their feelings. “Think real hard about how much you like them balls,” Harrison warned Chase’s retreating form.
But Chase was right. It was time for Harrison to get his bride and head out. Their flight left at the crack of dawn and they should try to get a couple hours of shut-eye before the long day of travel.
He pulled out his cell and sent a text to their limo driver, letting him know they were ready. Then he made his way to the dance floor to retrieve his wife.
Her smile fell and her face grew serious when she spotted him. “Hey, you.”
He took full advantage of their audience as he drew her to him and looped her arms around his neck. “Remember,” he whispered against her ear, “you have to pretend you like me.” He ran a thumb down the curve of her neck. He wanted to taste that spot, wanted to feel her arch into him as he nibbled a path down to her shoulder, sucked at the sensitive flesh. He wanted her breath in his ear as he slid his hand between her legs and f**ked her with his fingers.
“I do like you. But I don’t deserve you.”
Harrison frowned and pulled back to study her face. “You’re drunk.”
He caught sight of flash of light from the corner of his eye. A look out the open doors of his parents’ party barn confirmed their limo was waiting for them outside.
“Hey!” She tugged at his suit jacket. “If I’m drunk, does that mean you’re going to take advantage of me?”
“Is that hope I hear in your voice?”
Harrison wrapped his arm around her waist and ushered her to the limo. She leaned into him and hummed a soft tune he couldn’t make out. The bridal march?
He opened the limo door for her and helped her step inside.
“Harrison, my boy!” a man called behind them.
Harrison tensed at the sound of his new father-in-law’s voice, but he pasted on a polite smile as he turned to him. “Yes, sir?” He closed the limo’s door. Stacey was happy. He wasn’t going to let her father ruin that.
“I need to head out.” His speech slurred only faintly, but one look at the man’s glossy eyes and Harrison knew he was drunk.
“Hey, let’s get you a cab, Mr. Parker.” Harrison signaled his brother Jake, who was already pulling out his cell to take care of it.
“I wanted to thank you again for marrying my daughter,” Stacey’s father said.
Harrison set his jaw. “I should thank her for marrying me.”
The man chuckled as if Harrison had just shared an outrageous joke. “We both know she’s no catch, but maybe you can get her to drop some of that weight. I’m sure there’s a pretty girl under there, but my efforts to unearth her were never successful.”
Harrison clenched his fist and reminded himself that punching this man wouldn’t change a thing. But it would feel good. “Your daughter is gorgeous.”
“Right! Sure!” The man slapped Harrison on the back and gave him a conspiratorial wink. He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “Wait until after the wedding night to fix ’er up. Smart man. You got enough money.”
Bile burned his throat. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, reaching for the door, “we have an early flight.”
“Right, right. But first I was wondering if you could spot your new dad some cash. I’ll pay you back, of course, but this wedding wrung me dry.”
Harrison didn’t bother to call the man on his lie. The Duvals had paid for the wedding. Every cent. Harrison pulled a fifty from his wallet.
“What good’s that supposed to do me? Look at all them envelopes your guests gave you. I’m sure you’re rolling in cash, yet all you can spare for the man who raised your wife is fifty measly dollars.”
His jaw was tight enough to snap as he pulled out two more fifties. The man wouldn’t pay him back and he sure as hell didn’t deserve it, but Harrison wouldn’t risk him making a scene.
After their honeymoon, Stacey could wash her hands of Mitchell Parker.
“You kids be safe.” Mr. Parker tucked the bills into his back pocket, eyes gleaming. “Use protection. That one pregnant, not a pretty sight.”
Stacey’s cheeks burned with equal parts embarrassment and hatred as she waited for Harrison to join her in the limo. She couldn’t hear them, but she could only imagine the exchange.
Her father deserved none of her respect. But he was the only parent she had left.
When she and Harrison had announced their engagement, her father had laughed uproariously and asked why a man like Harrison would want to strap himself down to her.
She had her mama’s brains and her grandfather’s Norwegian build. Both intimidated her father, a small man in every sense of the word, and it had taken her years to construct a sense of self worth that his drunken insults couldn’t tear down. And still, her father’s disbelief that a man like Harrison would want a woman like Stacey hurt all the worse under the knowledge that their marriage was a sham.
Harrison climbed in and slid next to her until his body heat warmed her.
“I’m sorry you had to deal with him,” she said.
He toyed with the loose hairs at the base of her neck, his jaw tight. “I don’t mean to start our marriage on a sour note, but your father’s an ass.”
She attempted a laugh but it was forced. “No kidding.” And if it wasn’t for her father, they wouldn’t even be doing this.
His face relaxed, but his fingers lingered at the nape of her neck.
She closed her eyes against the sparks of pleasure streaking through her at the simple touch. She liked Harrison. Liked him so much that, if she wasn’t careful, playing this game could mean losing her heart.
“Hey,” Harrison said softly, “don’t let him ruin your day.”
Light from a street lamp filtered in through the window and cut shadows across his angular face. He’d tied his hair back for the ceremony, but he’d released it sometime during the evening, and now it hung to his shoulders. His full lips and kind green eyes contrasted with his sharp jaw line. An image hit her unexpectedly, making her throat grow thick—this man holding a new baby, his face going soft as he studied the new life in his arms.
She shook off the image and the hot grief that came with it.
Too much wine. Too many conversations pretending their marriage was a love match and not a matter of convenience. It had all gone to her head. Now she was thinking of babies when she should be planning the logistics of a smooth divorce.
Harrison’s gaze dropped to her mouth. His fingers stroked the side of her neck as the limo began to move. “Did you have a nice night?”
She licked her lips. “It was a dream.” She wanted him to kiss her—not despite their lack of audience but because of it. The last month had been one filled with soft kisses and hand holding. The public displays of affection had been an act for the benefit of their friends and family, but each touch had made her little crush on him morph into an all-out lust fest. Now she wanted one of those kisses for her own benefit. “No one’s watching.” Brave with wine, she leaned into him even as she spoke the words. “You don’t have to touch me. You don’t have to pretend.”
“I like touching you.”
Heat swept through her at his words—heat and an ache as delicious as the wine she still tasted on her tongue. She was taken back to their one time together—that hot, impulsive teenage mistake.
Tilting her head up, she brushed her lips against his, blaming the wine, the day, anything but her foolish heart.
Harrison groaned softly and held her fast before she could pull away, his hand slipping from her neck into her hair, dislodging bobby pins and sending strategically placed curls tumbling.
His tongue brushed across her lips, his teeth nipped. She opened to him, full of his heady, masculine smell, wanting his taste.
For a heartbeat, he stilled and she thought he might pull away. Then he slanted his mouth over hers and she found herself crawling in his lap. He found her breast through her dress, but there was too much fabric, too many barriers, and she needed him closer.
“Unzip me,” she whispered.
Between their bodies, her hands sought out his waistband. She had him half unzipped before he stopped her.
He squeezed her fingers. “You’re drunk.”
“Thank God.” She was taking what she wanted—something she never did sober, not since she was sixteen.
“Jesus.” He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling.
Unwelcome sobriety washed over her, bringing with it a memory of the rules she had insisted on. She leaned her head against his shoulder and exhaled slowly. “I know. We agreed.” She muttered a curse. “I’m sorry.”
He grunted. “Stacey.” His face softened as he shifted, and the hand she had pressed to his upper thigh came into contact with the long, hard ridge of his erection.
A soft moan slipped from her mouth. There was something amazing about knowing she could turn on a man like Harrison.
He laughed, but the sound held a dangerous edge. He released her hands. “Yeah. So let’s just remember who wanted those rules to begin with.” He ran his thumb over the edge of her jaw. “If it were up to me, I would have had you under me weeks ago.”
Power whipped through her, and she licked her lips, adjusted her fingers over his thick shaft. “So, why are you stopping me now?”
His fingers stilled on her face. “Because you’re drunk. And Stace, when I break your rules—and I plan to—it will be because you made a conscious—sober—decision to let me.” The corner of his mouth drew up in a grin. “I want you to remember every second I’m inside you.”
“Oh.” She applied light pressure to his erection.
He groaned and pulled a hand through his shaggy hair. “Are you trying to ruin my noble guy act?”
She slid off his lap and onto the floor. Before he could react, she took his zipper between her teeth and carefully, slowly unzipped his pants. The move felt deliciously wicked and drew his breath from him in a raspy gush.
“Are you drunk?” she asked, her fingers curling under the sides of his waistband.
“No.” His voice was rough, his breathing audible.
“Then you’ll remember this,” she said, tugging his pants down his h*ps until his c**k sprang free.
“Stacey, you don’t have to—”
“I want to.” She ran her finger along the length of him. “Let me.” She drew her gaze to meet his. “Please?”
Harrison swallowed hard and looked into Stacey’s doe eyes.
He wanted to feel her mouth on him, the wet heat of her tongue and lips, the delicious suction. “You deserve something better than this.”
Her laughter filled the limo the moment before he lost his breath.
She ran her tongue along the length of him, as if testing his taste. A drop gathered at the head of his c**k and she rubbed it with her finger, then looked him in the eye and tested it with her tongue.
He drew in a breath and she grinned—the smile of a woman in control.
When she took the head of his c**k past her lips, his h*ps shifted forward instinctively, but he pulled back, his hands fisted in her hair. He gritted his teeth against the instinct to hurry her along, to push himself a little deeper into her hot, wet mouth.
She took her time—licking the head before pulling back to press soft, wet kisses against the length of him again. His blood pumped hard and thick in his veins at the sight of her—soft and sweet, as she tortured him with her tongue.