Ignited by passion, p.18

Ignited by Passion, page 18

 

Ignited by Passion
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  Her words reclaimed his attention. “Excuse me?”

  She smiled. “I said if you eat enough of these you might be able to forgo dinner later. They’re so delicious.”

  His first instinct was to tell her that to him, food was like sex—he rarely got enough of it. But he decided telling her that wasn’t a good idea. After they had both filled their plates, they walked up the steps to the upper deck where tables and chairs were located.

  His attention shifted to claiming a table close to the rails so they could continue to enjoy the view of the river while they ate. When they were both seated, he turned his attention back to her. Her hair was blowing in the midday breeze and he stared at the magnitude of her beauty once again. While his attention was on her, her attention was on her food. Most people who came to New Orleans appreciated its culinary excellence and he could tell by the way she was enjoying her bowl of seafood gumbo that she was enjoying the cuisine, too.

  Instead of concentrating on his food, Storm was becoming obsessed with a question. When he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to eat before he got an answer, he decided to come out and ask her the one question that was gnawing at him.

  “So, are you seeing anyone seriously, Jayla?”

  He watched her lift her head and met his gaze. She smiled. “No, I’ve given up on men.”

  Storm frowned. Her answer was not what he had expected. “Why?”

  She leaned back in her chair. “Because there’re too many out there like you.”

  He leaned forward, lifting a dark brow. “And how am I?”

  “The ‘love them and leave them’ type.”

  He couldn’t dispute her words since he was definitely that. But still, there was something about hearing it from her that just didn’t sit well with him. “Not all men are like me. I’m sure there are some who’d love to get serious with one woman and make a commitment.”

  She tipped her head back and grinned. “Really? Any recommendations?”

  His frown deepened. There was no way he would ever introduce her to any of his friends. Most of them were players, just like him, and his only unmarried brother was too involved with his restaurant to indulge in a serious relation ship. His thoughts then fell on his six male cousins, eight now if you counted the most recent additions to the Westmoreland family—the two sons his uncle Corey hadn’t known about until recently. But still, he wouldn’t dare introduce her to any of them either. If she was off-limits to him, then she was off-limits to them, as well.

  “No,” he decided to answer. “There aren’t any I can recommend. Where have you been looking?”

  She chuckled as she went back to her gumbo. “Nowhere lately, since I’m no longer interested. But when I was interested I tried everywhere—bars, clubs, blind dates and I even used the Internet.”

  Storm’s mouth fell open. “The Internet?”

  She smiled at the look of shock on his face. “Yes, the Internet and I have to admit that I thought I had gotten a very promising prospect…until I actually met him. He was at least fifteen years older than the picture he had on the Web site made him seem and instead of having two hands, it seemed he had a dozen. I had to almost deck him a few times for trying to touch me in places that he shouldn’t.”

  Storm’s hands trembled in anger at the thought that she had done something so foolish as to place herself in that situation. No wonder Adam had asked him to look out for her. Now he regretted that he hadn’t done a better job at it. He could imagine any man wanting to touch her body, since it was so tempting, but wanting to touch her and actually doing it were two different things. “Don’t ever date anyone off the Internet again,” he all but snarled.

  Jayla grinned. “Why, Storm, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were jealous,” she said playfully.

  Storm wasn’t in a playful mood. “Jealous, hell. I’m just trying to look out for you. What if that guy would have placed you in a situation you couldn’t get out of?”

  Jayla raised her gaze upward. “Jeez, give me the benefit of having common sense, Storm. We met in a public place and—”

  “He was groping you in a public place?”

  She took a sip of her drink and then said, “We were dancing.”

  Storm took a deep, calming breath as he tried reeling in his anger. “I hope you learned a lesson.”

  “I did, and there’s another reason I’ve given up on men.”

  He raised a brow. “Yeah, what’s that?”

  Her eyes turned serious. “Most are too controlling, which is something I definitely don’t need after having Adam Cole for a father. I didn’t start dating until I was seventeen, and I wasn’t allowed to do sleepovers at my friends’ homes.”

  Storm frowned. “There was nothing wrong with your father wanting to protect you, Jayla. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for a single man to raise a daughter, especially one as spirited and defiant as I’d heard you could be at times.”

  Jayla shrugged. “Well, whatever. You wanted to know the reasons I’d given up on men and I’ve just told you why I don’t date anymore. I figured what the hell, why bother. Men are too much trouble.”

  The eyes that were gazing up at him were big, round, sexy and serious. He shook his head. To tell the truth, he’d often thought women were too much trouble, too, but at no time had he considered giving them up. “I don’t think you should write men off completely.”

  The jazz band that had taken a break earlier started back up again and conversation between him and Jayla ended. While she became absorbed in the musicians, he sat back and studied her for a long time. Being concerned about his late mentor’s bratty daughter meant he was a good friend and not a jealous suitor as she’d claimed. He never cared enough about a woman to become jealous and Jayla Cole was no exception…or was she?

  Jayla sipped her drink and half listened to the musicians who were performing a very jazzy tune. Of course she had recognized Storm’s concern as a protective gesture but still, she couldn’t resist ribbing him about being jealous.

  He was so easy to tease. Charming, gorgeous and sexy as sin. But what she’d told him had been the truth. She had basically written men off. That’s why she had decided to use the fertility clinic instead of a live donor.

  She had made up in her mind that marriage wasn’t for her. She enjoyed her independence too much to have to answer to anyone, and men had a way looking at their wives as possessions instead of partners, a lover for life, his other half and his soul mate. Her time and concentration would be focused on having her baby and raising it. Then later, if she did meet someone who met her qualifications, he would have to take the total package—her and her child.

  She glanced over at Storm and saw his full attention was focused on the musicians. There was a dark scowl on his face and she wondered if he was still thinking about her and the Internet man.

  Running into him in New Orleans was definitely an unexpected treat. She decided to enjoy the opportunity while it lasted. So far, their day together had been so much fun…at least for half the time. The other half of their time together she’d been too busy fighting her attraction to him to really enjoy herself. He was no different from the other men she had dated—possibly even worse—but that didn’t stop that slow sizzle from moving through her body when ever he looked at her.

  A part of her couldn’t help but wonder if all the things she’d heard about him were fact or myth.

  “The riverboat has returned to dock, Jayla.”

  His words, spoken low and in a husky tone, intruded into her thoughts. She glanced around and saw that the river boat had returned to the Toulouse Street Wharf. “We returned sooner than I thought we would,” she said, forcing down the lump of disappointment that suddenly appeared in her throat.

  “We’ve been cruising the Mississippi for over three hours,” he said, returning the irrepressible smile that had recently vanished from his lips. “Don’t you think it’s time we got back?”

  She shrugged, wondering if he’d gotten bor
ed with her already. Without saying a word, she stood and began gathering up the debris from their meal. He reached out and stopped her. She looked up and met his gaze.

  “I’m not one of those men who expects a woman to clean up after him.”

  She opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. His hand was still on hers, holding it immobile, and she could feel the sensuous heat from his touch all the way down to her toes. She pressed her lips together to fight back the moan that threatened to escape. How could he overpower her senses in such a way that she couldn’t think straight?

  Frowning, she blew out an aggravated breath as she pulled her hand from his and resumed what she was doing. “I don’t consider it as cleaning up after you, Storm. It’s an old habit. Whenever Dad and I ate together, I always cleared the table afterward. We had a deal. He cooked and I cleaned.”

  “Really?” he asked, studying her intently as his lips quirked into a smile. “And why was that? Can’t you cook?”

  She glanced up at him and the deep dimples in his cheeks did things to her insides that were totally beyond her comprehension. She figured it would have been a lot easier for her to understand if she wasn’t a twenty-six-year-old virgin. While in college she’d almost gone all the way with a senior guy by the name of Tyrone Pembrooke. But his roommate had returned unexpectedly, interrupting things. For her, it had been fortunate since she’d later discovered he had made a bet with his fraternity brothers that he would get into her panties in a week’s time. She had al most learned too late that the name the senior guys had given the freshman girls was fresh meat.

  “Yes, I can cook,” she finally answered Storm. “Dad loved home cooking. He thought food wasn’t worth eating if it wasn’t made from scratch. He just couldn’t get into those little microwave dinners that I was an expert at preparing.”

  Storm chuckled as he helped her gather up the remaining items off the table. “Hey, I can understand your father’s pain since I like home-cooked food, too.”

  They walked over to the garbage container and tossed in their trash. “You cook for yourself every day?” Jayla asked as they headed toward the lower deck to depart.

  “No. Since my shifts run twenty-four on and forty-eight off, I eat at the station when I’m working and the days I’m off I eat at Chase’s Place, my brother’s restaurant.”

  She nodded, remembering that his twin brother, Chase Westmoreland, owned a restaurant in downtown Atlanta. It was a really popular place; she had been to it several times and always found the food delicious. She glanced down at her watch. “When we get back to the hotel, it will be nap time for me.”

  “Umm, not for me. There’s still more for me to see. I think I’ll go check out that club on Bourbon Street that’s located right next to the drugstore. I hear they have good entertainment.”

  Jayla lifted a brow. She knew exactly what club he was referring to, since a group of the guys who’d also attended the convention had visited there. And if what she’d heard about it was true, its only entertainment was of the strip tease kind. She frowned wondering why the thought of Storm watching women bare all bothered her. Why did men fail to realize that there was more to a woman than what was underneath her clothes?

  “Well, I hope you enjoy yourself,” she said. Her tone had been more curt than she had intended.

  “Oh, trust me, I will.”

  And she knew, just as clearly as he’d said it, that he would.

  Chapter 3

  Storm was having a lousy time, but when he glanced over at his cousin Ian, it was evident that he was enjoying him self. Ian had contacted him last night and told him that The Delta Princess would be making a stop in New Orleans and suggested they meet for drinks at this club.

  A few seconds later, Ian must have felt him staring and looked over at him. “What’s the matter with you, Storm?”

  Storm decided to be honest. “I’m bored.”

  Ian lifted a brow. “How can you be bored looking at women take off their clothes?”

  He shrugged. “It all looks basically the same.”

  A smile curved the corners of Ian’s lips. “Well, yeah, I would hope so.”

  Storm couldn’t help but return the smile. He and Ian were first cousins—their fathers were brothers. While growing up, they had always been close. They were the same age and one thing they’d always had in common was their appreciation of the opposite sex. Storm wasn’t surprised that his cousin thought the fact that his lack of interest in women stripping naked was strange.

  “Okay, who is she?”

  Storm looked confused. “Who’s who?”

  “The woman who’s ruined your interest in other women.”

  Storm frowned. He glared at Ian. “Where on earth did you get a crazy idea like that from? No one has ruined my interest in other women.”

  Ian met his glare. “And I say you’re lying.”

  Storm released a frustrated sigh. Ian was damn lucky he hadn’t hauled off and hit him. But that was his brother Thorn’s style. Thorn was known for his moody, ready-to-knock-the-hell-out-of-you temperament. At least, that had been his attitude until he’d gotten married. Now Tara had unruffled Thorn’s feathers and the last few times he’d seen him, Thorn had actually been easygoing. Marriage had certainly made a happy man out of Thorn, as well as his brothers Dare and Stone. Storm found it downright sickening. He’d also been curious as to why his brothers were smiling all the time. As far as he was concerned, they weren’t getting anything at home that he wasn’t getting out there in the streets.

  Or were they?

  “I can’t believe you just sat there calmly after I called you a liar, so it must be true,” Ian said, taking another sip of his beer.

  Storm rolled his eyes. “I just don’t feel like knocking the hell out of you right now Ian, so back off.” What he preferred not to let his cousin know was that he had pretty much hit on the truth. For the time being, Jayla had ruined him for other women and he couldn’t understand why. He certainly hadn’t ever been intimate with her and he never ever intended to be. And yet, here he was bored to death at the sight of these half-clad dancers, while the thought of Jayla taking off her clothes made him break into a sweat.

  “Want another drink, cuz?”

  He glanced over at Ian. What he wanted was to go back to the hotel and call Jayla to see what she was doing. “No, I’ll pass. When will you be back in Atlanta?”

  Ian leaned back in his chair and smiled. “In a few weeks. I promised Tara I’d be in town for that charity ball she’s working on. Why?”

  “I’ll check you out then.” Storm stood and tossed a couple of bills on the table. “I’ll let Uncle James and Aunt Sarah know you’re doing okay.”

  Ian nodded. “And for heaven’s sake if Mom asks if I was with a woman when you saw me, please say yes. With your brothers getting married, she’s starting to look at us kind of funny.”

  Storm grinned. His mother was beginning to look at him and Chase kind of funny, too. He glanced around the room before turning his attention back to Ian. “I guess I can tell her that and not feel guilty about lying, since this place is full of women. I’ll just leave out the part that the woman you were seeing was naked.”

  Ian chuckled. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that.”

  Storm turned to leave.

  “Hey, Storm?”

  Storm turned back around. “Yeah?”

  Ian met his gaze directly. “I know it’s just a temporary thing, man, but whomever she is I hope she’s worth all the hell you’re going through.”

  Storm frowned, opened his mouth to give his cousin a blazing retort that no woman was putting him through hell, changed his mind and turned and walked out of the club.

  Jayla heard the phone ring when she had finished toweling herself off and slipped into the plush hotel bathrobe. She quickly left the bathroom and picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

  “How was your nap?”

  Jayla frowned. The last thing Storm needed to k
now was that she hadn’t been able to sleep, thanks to thoughts of him being surrounded by naked women. Each time she’d tried closing her eyes, she saw women, taking off their clothes, heaving their breasts in his face, skimming panties down their legs and giving him an eyeful of all their treasures. She’d even heard there were some women who were bold enough to sit naked in a man’s lap if he tipped her well enough.

  “My nap was fantastic,” she lied. “How was the entertainment at the club?” she asked then wished that she hadn’t.

  “It was definitely interesting.”

  Jayla’s frown deepened. A part of her wanted to slam the phone down, but she had too much pride to do so. Be sides, she took great care of herself and thought she looked rather decent, in or out of her clothes. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing those women who’d stripped off their clothes had on her other than that none of them was Adam Cole’s daughter.

  “I called to see if you’re free later.”

  She rolled her eyes upward. So they were back to that again. “Dinner, you mean?”

  “Yes.”

  In her present frame of mind, he was the last person she wanted to see. It was on the tip of her tongue to suggest he invite one of the “ladies” from the club to dine with him. But she thought better of making the suggestion, since he might very well do it. “I think I’ll pass on dinner. I’m not hungry.”

  “Well, I am, so how about keeping me company?”

  She lifted a brow. “Keep you company?”

  “Yeah, I enjoy being with you.”

  Jayla dropped down on the bed, feeling ridiculously pleased by his admission. Although she knew that she shouldn’t read too much into his words, she suddenly felt confident, cocky and in control. “Well, I hope you know that my company is going to cost you,” she said, breaking the silence between them.

  “In what way?”

  She rubbed her fingers over the smooth wood-grain texture of the nightstand next to the bed. “I’m not hungry for anything heavy, but I’d love to have a slice of K-Paul’s mouthwatering strawberry cheesecake.”

 
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