Chapter One Excerpt:
Scents of pepperoni and garlic permeated the back room of the lone pizza parlor in the village. One of only two restaurants in the vicinity, both owned by Pete, a former oil worker. With tonight’s scant business, he’d left hours ago, asking Daniel and the other guys to turn off the lights on their way out of the building.
The group of four sat at a table in the snug room that doubled as a storage area. Fishing poles, men’s boots, a rifle, and harpoon mingled with mixing bowls and dented pizza trays.
Nat Sterne, a quality supervisor, shuffled the cards with the flair of a Vegas magician. Brawny, black, and in his mid-thirties, he projected an air of authority. Rumor had it the ladies loved his cocoa skin and domineering style.
Daniel knew better. When it came to women, Nat was a real sweetheart. Now, with men…
“Hey.” Nat punched Junior Merrill’s hand away from the beer stashed in the cooler.
“What?” Junior complained. At twenty-eight, he was the youngest of their crew, a quality inspector.
Nat turned to Daniel. “I don’t think he’s old enough to drink.”
Frowning, Daniel leaned back in his chair and regarded Junior’s boyish features, blond brows, light hazel eyes. Even with Junior’s muscular body and shaved head—which gave him the look of a gangbanger—he seemed so fucking young. The main reason no one ever used his given name of Joel. “Card him.”
“Screw that,” Nat said. “It could be a fake. Drop your jeans,” he ordered Junior. “Let’s see if you’ve reached puberty.”
“Doubt it.” Daniel squinted. “He definitely doesn’t shave.”
Junior smirked. “How about we compare lengths. Then you’ll see who’s the man.”
He turned his laptop to face them.
Daniel expected to see a selfie of Junior’s cock, which wasn’t necessary since they’d all seen each other naked in the showers. Instead, the internet porn site showed a couple in the throes of bliss, their mouths hanging open as they grunted or groaned. Impossible to know which since Junior had turned the volume off. Each of the girl’s boobs was bigger than her head. Together, they were larger than her torso. A mule had nothing on the guy’s dong.
“Oh sweet mother.” Nat covered his eyes and spoke in a falsetto. “Turn that off before I faint.”
Daniel’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Is that supposed to be you?” he asked Junior. “The guy, I mean.”
Ignoring the dig, the young man puffed out his chest. “Hell no. When I’m hard, I’m way bigger.”
Red Haynes moaned. A year older than Junior and as powerfully built, he was a safety specialist, always taking care, never making mistakes. At least on the job. While Junior had been surfing porn sites during the poker game, Red had opted to play online slots. And had obviously lost again. His freckled face darkened to match his ginger hair, mustache, and goatee, which made his eyes seem unnaturally green. “Shit.”
“Hey, watch your fucking language,” Nat ordered.
Grinning, Daniel grabbed another beer and tossed it to Junior. “After you’re finished with that, Nat’ll burp you.”
Junior took a healthy gulp of the brew and belched loudly. “God help me if I’m ever as old as you dudes.”
“Hold this game up any longer,” Nat muttered, “and you won’t live to see tomorrow.” He dealt the cards.
Daniel rearranged his, putting his three of a kind next to each other. Junior divided his attention between his hand and the porn site. Nat fingered the packets of Parmesan cheese they were using as chips. Red stomped his foot at another loss and groaned, “Oh goddamned holy fucking—”
He stopped abruptly.
Daniel glanced up. Red stared at something across the room, his freckly complexion drained of color.
Shit. Had a fox wandered inside? A damn bear? Daniel turned and blinked at Alexandra.
A puffy gray parka covered her from throat to mid-thigh. White woolen scarves hid her hair, forehead, nose, and mouth, leaving only her eyes exposed. Similar to a woman in an Arab country, except Alexandra’s irises were pure blue framed with long, dark lashes. Her attention on him.
No one else.
The world seemed to slow, colors fading, sounds growing indistinct. Something deep and arousing stirred within Daniel as it always did when she was near.
He swallowed hard and fought his feelings. Again.
She was his boss.
At first, that had bothered Daniel because he believed her position on this project was undeserved. Granted because of birth, rather than her having earned it. How wrong he’d been. Alexandra worked as hard as the rest of them. Intelligence burned in her gaze. Speaking with her was a pleasure, not a chore.
Oddly enough, that increased Daniel’s desire. He found her intelligence beyond sexy, and troubling, because her effect on him could never go any-fucking-where. Good god, her grandfather was Lucius Waite, a prick who didn’t give a crap about the environment, only his bottom line. Daniel had agreed to this project so he could beat the old turd at his game and do the job right.
Red leaned toward Daniel and whispered, “What’s she doing here?”
“Does she want us to go back to work?” Red asked, then whined, “Now?”
Daniel lifted one shoulder.
She said something he didn’t hear, the scarf muffling her words.
At the sound, Nat turned. Even Junior finally noticed Alexandra’s presence, though he kept his attention divided between her and his porn.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” Daniel said to her.
Moving closer, she pulled off one of her bulky gloves and tugged down her scarf. Despite the protective covering, her cheeks and the tip of her nose were rosy from the frigid wind, her lips a deep pink, the lower one plush, just begging to be sucked.
Daniel’s cock stirred, pressing against his fly, wanting out.
Alexandra inched closer, as though uncertain of herself or what she wanted to say.
Daniel’s gut twisted in quick worry, while his mind flew in a dozen directions, most of them bad. Something shitty had happened with his designs. One of the crew had gotten hurt. Equipment had sunk into the—
She cleared her throat, interrupting his thoughts. “Hi.”
Her voice sounded huskier than Daniel recalled. Smoky. Alluring.
Nat, Red, and even Junior turned in his direction. No doubt, because she’d offered that inviting ‘hi’ to him. No one else. Bursts of heat travelled from Daniel’s belly to his groin, thickening his shaft even more, tightening his balls. If this place had been on fire, he couldn’t have fled. His legs were too watery.
What had gotten into her?
With him, he figured it was a shitload of lust he’d been fighting for weeks. “Hi…everything all right?”
She hesitated, then nodded. “Yep.”
Red mumbled something beneath his breath.
Alexandra noticed him finally, along with Nat and Junior. She appeared surprised they were here. “Guys.”
They nodded in greeting.
She regarded the cards, Parmesan packets, cooler. This was a damp village. Restaurants and grocery stores didn’t sell liquor. You had to BYOB—bring your own booze—after purchasing it from a licensed dealer.
When she kept staring at the cooler, Daniel opened another bottle and handed it to her. Her fingers slid over his. A current of sensation rushed through him so quickly the room lurched.
“Thanks,” she murmured, then finished a third of the brew before coming up for air.
Daniel pictured her long throat bobbing beneath her wool scarf. He imagined the scent of beer on her breath. A drop of the brew sparkled on the side of her mouth. She licked it off.
His balls hurt.
Red cleared his throat nervously, breaking the charged silence. The sound brought her attention to the laptops. Nat closed Junior’s before Alexandra moved closer and noticed what was on the screen. Embarrassment flooded her face. The kind generated when someone knows they’ve crashed a private club where they’ll never belong.
Daniel debated whether to ask if she wanted in on their poker game. Before he could, she moved to a shelf of plastic plates. With her beer bottle next to them, she pulled off her other glove, her scarves, parka, and tossed them on an empty bench. She wore construction boots, jeans, a plaid flannel shirt in black and red, along with thermal underwear that peeked from beneath her collar and the ends of her sleeves. In other words, clothing identical to what he and the others had on.
Unlike them, she looked adorable, her long, chestnut hair braided, the end of it dangling above her ass. Her lush buttocks filled out her jeans nicely, begging a guy’s hands to explore every inch of them. Daniel couldn’t count the times he’d wanted to indulge himself in that, along with snuggling his face between her full, ripe breasts that were beyond womanly. Alexandra’s body was all softness and curves, meant for a man’s use.
Though not his. When she noticed him watching, indecision, and what might have been unease, flickered across her face. She took another prolonged swig of her beer.
Cool it, he ordered himself. Clearly, he was scaring her.
With a ton of willpower, Daniel turned back to his cards, not seeing any of them, no matter how long or hard he tried. Alexandra remained in his thoughts.
She’d moved to the pool table in the corner and kept rolling the cue ball across the torn green felt. Each time the ball hit the side of the table, Daniel’s heart jumped. In his peripheral vision, he noticed she’d focused on him again. Nat kept shooting him looks that asked, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’
Only Alexandra knew, and she wasn’t telling.
Intrigued, Daniel glanced over.
She didn’t turn away as he’d expected, but regarded him with such naked hunger, his mouth went dry. A trickle of sweat ran down his chest. Was she actually coming on to him? In front of his crew?
She stopped bouncing the ball in her hand. Her face flushed, making her eyes seem even bluer. She murmured, “Do you want to play with me?”
For too many damned weeks, and she must have finally caught on. Her throaty voice had dropped even lower, sounding nearly as deep as his. Junior noticed that and her double entendre. Bending over, he muffled his snicker as he pretended to get another beer.
Daniel said the only thing he could, given the other guys. “You want to play pool?”
Alexandra regarded the ball, her expression saying she just noticed it and the table she’d leaned against. Her forehead and cheeks pinked up even more. If Daniel had been a betting man, he would have wagered she was debating whether to stay or run.
She didn’t move a muscle. Her body language changed, showing her sudden decision. Her determination to dig in here as she’d often done on the site, as though her life depended upon it. “If that’s what you want to do first.”
Nat kicked him under the table. Daniel ignored him. “I don’t understand.”
Alexandra put the ball down. “We can make it interesting. Play for our clothes, unless you prefer strip poker.” She gestured to the deck of cards. “I’m game for either, and everything that comes after it.”