Just the Way You Are
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He loved the feel of her, the sweet little moans that slipped from her mouth as she sucked at him. He wanted—more than anything—to slide his hands under all that white fabric and test her arousal. She rocked a little as she worked him over, but he wanted to feel her wetness on his fingers, wanted to taste her the way she was tasting him.
The one time he’d been inside her had been too rushed and too long ago. And yet he’d never stopped thinking about it. About her.
She slid her hands up his thighs, her fingers curling into the muscles. One hand slid under his c**k and his h*ps bucked. She applied light pressure to his balls and took him deeper.
Finally, he closed his eyes and let himself get lost in the pleasure. And when she drew him in impossibly deep, he knew he was done for.
She sucked harder, moved her lips over him faster, her br**sts rubbing against his legs. When he came, she moaned, like his pleasure was her own.
She pulled back carefully and licked her lips.
Slowly, his world righted itself. “Luckiest goddamn bastard in the world,” he muttered, pulling her up onto his lap. He tried to make out her face through the passing lights of the interstate. Her lips were swollen and her cheeks were flushed.
“You don’t play fair.” He traced the fullness of her bottom lip with his thumb.
She grinned. “I didn’t break any rules.”
He raised a brow. “No sex?”
She shook her head. “No intercourse.”
“You said no sex.”
“That doesn’t count.”
His grin spread slowly across his face. “Well, sweetheart, that changes everything.”
“It doesn’t change anything.” She bit her lip. “But thanks. I liked it.”
Dear God, he didn’t deserve this woman. But he was damned determined to keep her anyway.
One Month Ago
Wandering around Decadence Creek was good for his soul. If he even had any soul left. Harrison had deprived himself. And now he wasn’t even sure who he was.
He followed the train tracks and took big gulps of fresh country air. They’d had a wet spring and everything was vibrant, green, and full of life. A short drive away in the city, concrete and asphalt overwhelmed what was supposed to be his real life, and Harrison had begun to feel suffocated.
He hopped a fence and let the wind whip through his hair. Maybe he’d make his way down to the creek and tromp through the water like he’d done as a kid. He needed to get his mind right. Needed to break free of this malaise.
When he’d landed a job in Louisville after law school, he’d purchased a downtown condo to go with it. He’d wanted to send the right message to the partners—this wasn’t just a job to him, and he was committed to the firm.
Two years of monochrome city life—with its hard edges and constant noise—had taken its toll. He needed to come home.
He quickened his stride as he came up over a hill. Blood pumped to his limbs in a way health club treadmills couldn’t duplicate. He was waking up for the first time in months.
As he came down the other side of the hill, he narrowed his eyes at the POS car parked in the tall grass along the tracks. A woman sat on the hood, knees drawn to her chest as the wind whipped her long, raven hair around her face.
He approached silently, a little spooked by the timing of it all. His introspection and wish for change met so appropriately with the sight of the girl—woman, now—he’d once let slip through his fingers.
As he stepped closer, the clouds pulled away from the sun. The light cast down through the trees and glinted off her tear streaked face.
“Hey,” he said softly.
Stacey Parker. She was his little sister’s best friend from college. He’d known her before that too. She’d grown up in Decadence Creek—a few years older than his little sister, a few years younger than him. She’d been this quiet, exotic beauty at their high school—turning heads with those impossibly long legs and all that thick, dark hair, and keeping the boys away with her force field of insecurity.
“Everything okay?” It was a stupid question. This was not the posture of a woman with whom anything was okay.
She swiped at tears with the back of her hand, her jaw hard. “Everything’s great.”
He leaned against the car and followed her gaze to the little split-level home tucked behind the trees. “That’s where you grew up, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer, but it hadn’t really been a question.
“Who lives there now?”
“No one. The family that used to rent it from my father moved out.” She settled her chin on her knees.
“You miss it?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “It reminds me of my mom.”
His chest ached for her. He couldn’t imagine losing his mother. “How old were you when she died?”
She took in a breath and let it out slowly, as if bracing herself to answer. “Sixteen.”
He blinked at that. She’d been sixteen that hot August day he’d found her wandering around the estate. The day they’d torn at each other’s clothes in the middle of a cornfield, flattened husks scraping up their backs.
The next day, she’d disappeared. Her family had left town and she hadn’t bothered to say goodbye.
“I’m sorry about your mom.” He tucked a dark curl behind her ear, wiped away a stray tear. “Mom misses having you at the house. She complains that she lost two daughters when Addy moved to France.”
That made her smile. She squeezed her eyes shut and laughed. “I have lunch with your mom at least twice a month.”
He loved her smile. “Yeah, well, she’s so used to making people feel guilty, she practices even when they’re not around.”
“You’re lucky to have her.”
She shook her head and wiped at her cheeks before sliding off the car. “I should get going.”
“You want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Nothing.” She pulled her keys from the pocket of her faded jeans. “Just being nostalgic.”
She looked at her shoes. “My father likes to play cards.”
Harrison winced at the understatement. Decadence Creek was a small town and Stacey’s father had once been big gossip—always gambling, always broke, always begging money off the nearest mark.
“The house is supposed to be mine. My mom got it from her parents when she married, and she left it to me.”
He frowned. “Are you going to move in then?”
“It’s his until I get married. My mom was a romantic like that. But now that it’s vacant, I think he’s trying to figure out a way to sell it before it’s mine.”
He nodded, not bothering with protests of what her father could and couldn’t legally do. He knew better than anyone that, for some, the law was just a technicality. “Looks like you and I both have to be married to move back here.”
“What’s keeping you away?”
He shifted his gaze to the tree line and sighed. “Work. Politics. It’s not important.” He sighed. “But the partners are big believers in family, and they wouldn’t frown on me commuting to the office if I was doing it for the best interests of my wife and future children.”
“You want to live here?”
He shrugged as if it were that simple. “I don’t know who I am if I don’t live here.”
She studied him for a long time but didn’t respond.
“Are you and your boyfriend serious?”
The one you had last time you flat-out rejected me? He lifted a shoulder. “I guess I assumed you were still with that guy you were seeing when Addy was in town.”
“Oh, God.” She shuddered. “No. God, no.”
She stared at him for a moment, those brown eyes growing sad. “I don’t ever want to get married, Harrison. Never.”
She lifted a shoulder. “I didn’t exactly grow up in the Partridge Family.”
Of course her childhood would make her gun shy, yet he was filled with the desire to change her mind, to prove life could be better than the one she’d had. Not that she ever seemed to want what he had to offer.
He looked at his boots. “Why didn’t you tell me you were single again?” There was a rule about asking questions you didn’t want the answer to, and he was pretty sure he’d just broken it. Badly.
He reached for her hand and toyed with her fingers. “What do I have to do to get you to go on a date with me?” What do I have to do to get you to acknowledge that day ten years ago?
She opened her mouth, blinked, then closed it. “I don’t need a boyfriend, Harrison. I need a husband. A temporary one, preferably, but a husband nonetheless.”
He grinned. He wouldn’t be scared off that easily. “Well, I’d like to have dinner first, but we can do things your way.”
Stacey hadn’t been drunk enough to forget—a blessing and a curse. And now, stuck next to him on this long flight to the Caribbean, she could hardly think of anything else. The memory aroused her to the point of pain. The taste of him, the stiff head of his c**k against her tongue, his hand fisted in her hair.
Next to her, he peeked up from his book. “What?”
God, that smile. “Nothing. I was just…” Wishing I hadn’t insisted on those stupid rules. Wishing our history didn’t make this so damn complicated. Her cheeks burned.
His grin broadened like he could read her mind. When he leaned toward her, his lips brushed her ear as he spoke. “I hope you’re thinking about last night. I hope you’re imagining all the ways I’m going to stretch the limits of your rules.”
Pleasure shot through her, coiling tight and painful between her legs.
He pulled back and settled his gaze on her parted lips. “Because that’s all I can think about.”
A strangled laugh slipped past her lips. Any fool could see they couldn’t exist at this level of sexual tension for a whole year. Even a saint would break. “This is ridiculous, isn’t it?”
He arched a brow. “Glad you think so too.”
“Sex just complicates things and—”
“We’ll figure it out.” He pulled something from his briefcase and handed it to her. A stack of envelopes. “A distraction,” he explained.
She fanned them out in her lap. “What are these?”
“Cards from our wedding guests.” He grabbed one and tore it open. Not bothering to read the card, he pulled a crisp fifty from inside. “My family always gives cash for the couple to take on their honeymoon. There will be more than enough here for you to treat yourself to a day at the resort’s spa.”
Her stomach dropped. “We can’t take this money,” she whispered. “This is supposed to go to a happily married couple.”
He grinned. “I’m happy.”
“Harrison, what about—”
“My family enjoys being generous. Are you going to throw it back in their faces by refusing their gift?” He squeezed her thigh. “And how exactly would you explain?”
She chewed on her bottom lip. He was right, but this felt like blood money. She knew she wouldn’t spend a penny of it on herself.
They quietly opened cards, and the experience cheered her. His family was so different than hers and their warmth and optimism were apparent in their scribbled well wishes. She handed all the cash to Harrison and focused her attention on the embossed and glittery cards and the words inside them.
When she came to a card signed with a name she didn’t recognize as a relative of his, she nudged him. “Who’s Martha Twill?”
“That’s my boss—one of the partners at the firm.”
“Well, she is too generous.” Stacey handed over the hundred-dollar bill.
The smile fell from her face as she read the message.
It’s been a pleasure having you at the firm. We’ll certainly miss you there, but we wish you luck opening your private office in Decadence Creek. It’s a beautiful little town, and we know how much you will enjoy living and working close to your family.
Stacey stopped reading and reminded herself to breathe.
Harrison was grinning at the contents of another card, his green eyes crinkling in the corners.
“Why did you marry me?” she asked softly.
His smile fell and he shifted his gaze to meet hers. “What?”
“What’s in it for you? Tell me again?”
He looked around, as if someone might overhear their conversation. As if anyone cared. “We’ve been over this. I want to help you get your house before your father loses it.”
“No. I mean, what’s in it for you?”
He stilled. “Originally, my motivation was to dodge the negative office politics of moving out of the city.”
“Originally?” The drink cart squeaked as the flight attendant pushed by. Stacey almost stopped her and asked for a drink. A stiff one.
“My plans have changed.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you’re opening your own office? The bullshit you fed me about office politics doesn’t even apply.” Her mind swam with the implications of his omission. Panic squeezed at her stomach. “There’s nothing in this for you.”