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Dangerous Lover: Take Me, Lover, Book 4

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Dangerous Lover: Take Me, Lover, Book 4

  The heat is on…

  Take Me, Lover, Book 4

  Just a few more weeks and accounting student Cherry Harris will officially get her master’s degree and kiss her pink waitress uniform goodbye. There’s something else she’d like to make official, too—no more bad boys.

  Tired of getting burned, she’s determined that from now on, it’s nice guys or nothing. What could be nicer than a firefighter rescuing a kitten from a tree? Joe Deluca looks like the perfect way to break her romantic destructive pattern.

  Perfect melts like ice cream on a hot day when Cherry finds out that when Joe’s not in uniform, he rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket over his tattoos. Is he a nice guy, a bad boy, or the man who’s just right for her?

  The five-alarm passion Joe inspires proves an irresistible temptation, but Cherry’s determined to guard her heart if not her body. Until a firebug leads them both into danger and Cherry is forced to admit her heart’s been in jeopardy from the beginning…

  Warning: Contains a sexy firefighter and burning-up-the-sheets sex scenes that use ALL the words. May induce Harley-Davidson motorcycle fantasies you should not attempt on a moving vehicle.

  eBooks are not transferable.

  They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

  577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

  Macon GA 31201

  Dangerous Lover

  Copyright © 2010 by Charlene Teglia

  ISBN: 978-1-60504-965-6

  Edited by Laurie M. Rauch

  Cover by Angela Waters

  All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: March 2010

  Dangerous Lover

  Charlene Teglia


  Thanks to my husband for answers to motorcycle-related questions and for not choking when he found out why I wanted to know. Thanks to Sasha White for reading and giving helpful feedback. And as always, thanks to the Write Ons: Jackie Kessler, Jill Myles, Megan Crane, Michele Lane and Michelle Rowen. You almost make writing a book painless. Write On!

  Chapter One

  “Cherry Harris, you’d better smile before your face freezes like that.”

  Cherry’s head snapped up and her gaze connected with Marla Waite’s dark brown eyes. The older woman was shaking her head. The movement didn’t budge the dark auburn hairstyle that would probably hold through gale-force winds. Cherry wondered how much hairspray Marla went through. A lot, she guessed, since Marla’s big hair was rivaled only by her big heart.

  “Sorry,” Cherry said, forcing her lips into something she hoped resembled a genuine smile and not a corpselike grimace. “Bad day.” She thought back and added, “Bad decade. Do you realize I’m twenty-six?”

  Marla’s eyes widened in pretend shock. “Ancient.”

  “Ha. So not. Just old enough to know better.” Cherry quit trying to smile and focused on filling the apron pocket of her pink retro uniform with an ordering pad and two pens. The uniform went with the interior of Sweet Delights, Melba, Georgia’s 1950s-style diner. Some days, going to work felt like stepping back in time. The unmistakable voice of Elvis Presley belting out “Maybelline” from the jukebox helped the illusion.

  “I started dating when I was sixteen. That’s a decade of experience and now it’s time for me to learn from my mistakes.”

  “Ahhhh.” Marla gave her a knowing look. “So I don’t have to ask how your date went last night.”

  “He went.” Cherry rolled her eyes. “He never should have come in the first place. After ten years of dating, I should have known better, but I see the error of my ways now. I have officially dated my last bad boy.”

  Marla looked past Cherry. “Does that mean you want me to pick up table sixteen?”

  Cherry followed Marla’s gaze. Her eyes came to rest on the back of a man’s head. He wore his dark hair in an almost military crew cut and sported a circular symbol with four offshoots that resembled a cross tattooed on the upper arm his tank shirt left bare. His tanned, amazingly well-defined upper arm, which the tattoo in no way detracted from.

  Cherry swallowed. It was a good thing she could only see the back of his head, the line of his shoulders, and that tattoo. If the rest of him lived up to the first impression he made, the impact of the whole might weaken her resolve. She’d just sworn off bad boys and it was probably like quitting smoking. No point in tempting herself too far, too early. She had to clear out her system first.

  A week earlier, she’d have been thrilled to find him seated in her section at the start of her shift. She would have flirted with him, and he would have flirted back. Good thing he hadn’t come in last week.

  Today, she was a stronger, smarter woman. A woman who could see the sexy packaging for what it was—a bad boy alert.

  “Yes, thank you,” Cherry told Marla. She felt a pang over the loss of what probably would’ve been a good tip. College tuition was eating her alive, even with student loans, partial scholarships, and this job. Still, given her history of attraction for his type, she was coming out ahead by giving up the table.

  Marla bustled off to take his order. Cherry checked the board for the day’s specials then glanced over at the ice cream counter with a longing that almost rivaled the way she’d looked at the tattooed stranger. A scoop of chocolate cherry chunk drizzled with hot fudge sauce and topped with a swirl of whipped cream and a sprinkle of nuts would go a long way towards improving her mood.

  Then again, if she was going to substitute food for love, dating might be the better choice. Too many sundaes and her uniform would get a little too snug. The short skirt didn’t provide much camouflage for extra pounds, either.

  Be strong, Cherry, she told herself sternly. Her goal was in sight. Another month at the most. She’d almost finished her master’s degree in accounting. Then she just had to pass the CPA exam and find a new job before she could turn in her pink uniform and say goodbye to the daily temptation Sweet Delights subjected her to.

  Her eyes drifted towards the temptation table sixteen presented. Suppose she didn’t give up dating, just changed how she went about it? She really did need to clear her system, and that meant she needed an antidote. The anti-bad boy. Sort of like eating carrots to make up for ice cream.

  “Are you sorry you gave him to me?” Marla asked, coming back with the man’s order.

  “No.” Cherry gave Marla a wide smile. “I just realized what I need to do. Instead of giving up dating, I need to change who I date. I’m going to go out with the next nice guy I see.”

  “Uh-huh.” Marla gave her a long look. “Good luck with that.”

  “It’s a perfect plan.” As long as she kept her eyes off Mystery Man’s bare biceps, it might even work.

  By the end of her shift, Cherry’s tip jar was full and her determination to stick to her plan was firm. She walked home riding a wave of optimism. When she rounded the corner to the old Victorian split into four apartments she called home and found a fire truck parked out front, her optimism wavered.

  She picked up the pace, her heart racing. There were two other students re
nting apartment units, and one elderly lady in the fourth unit upstairs. If there’d been a fire, Miss Lewis would’ve been home.

  The last few steps were nearly a run. Cherry came to a stop when she saw a man climbing down from the spreading oak tree out front with Miss Lewis’s fat Persian secured under his arm.

  Relief left her knees weak. Or maybe that was due to the smile the firefighter gave her. He had dark hair, cropped short like her mystery man’s, but unlike the tattooed stranger, he looked every inch the dependable man in uniform. He also had deep blue eyes and an indented chin that made her fingers itch to trace the dimple. The smile made his face exceed the sum of its very attractive individual parts.

  It made her feel a little breathless and reinforced her decision to date the next nice guy she met. Here was a nice guy, and oh, was he ever nice to look at. Her eyes went to his hand stroking the cat’s soft fur. He can pet my pussy anytime, she thought, and then mentally slapped herself.

  “Hi,” Cherry said out loud. “Miss Lewis must’ve called you to rescue Clara Belle.” She waved a hand towards the Persian. Clara Belle, no dummy, stayed put.

  “Yes.” He held the cat out to her. “Yours?”

  “No, Clara Belle belongs to Miss Lewis, my upstairs neighbor. But, between you and me, the stairs are getting to be too much for her.”

  “I’ll save her the walk, then.” He gave her a smile that made her toes curl inside her shoes. “I’m Joe Deluca.”

  “Cherry. Cherry Harris.”

  “Nice to meet you, Cherry.”

  “Nice to meet you too,” she echoed. Then he went up the stairs with the cat and she realized she’d missed her opportunity to make a move on the first nice guy she saw. “I am so out of practice,” Cherry muttered. Bad boys always took the initiative.

  She grabbed her mail and went inside, kicking off her shoes as she came through the door. The uniform followed the shoes, discarded clothing forming a trail to her bedroom. She put on a pair of denim cutoffs, worn nearly white, and the first clean T-shirt she grabbed off the pile of folded laundry she’d meant to put away before work.

  The T-shirt was halfway over her head when she heard a knock. Cherry swore under her breath as she yanked it down, padding barefoot back the way she’d come.

  Joe stood on the other side of the door. “Hello again,” he said with a warm grin. “Since I’m here, I thought I might as well check all the smoke detectors and make sure everything’s working. Your neighbor’s needed new batteries.”

  “You fixed it for her? Thank you.” Cherry stepped back and waved him inside. Then her eyes went to the clothes she’d dropped on the floor. She pointed to the smoke detector to distract him from the sight. “In the kitchen.”

  “Got it.” As soon as he was busy with the electronics, she scooped up her uniform and hose and stashed them in the bedroom.

  “Yours is working fine,” Joe informed her when she returned. “I checked the fire extinguisher in the stairwell, and that’s good to go too.”

  “Good to know.”

  He winked. “If I make another trip here, I’d rather it wasn’t for anything work-related.”

  She felt a smile tilting the corners of her mouth up. “Is that a hint?”

  “Yes. I would love to take you to a movie. I would hate to pull you out of a burning building.”

  “If I had to be pulled out of a burning building, I’m sure you’d do it very well,” Cherry said, pretending to weigh the two options. “But I’d rather go to a movie.”

  “I have no idea what’s playing,” Joe admitted.

  Her smile widened. “Do we care?”

  “Well, I’d rather not be seen going into a chick flick.”

  He crossed his arms and Cherry tried not to stare at the way it accentuated his chest and shoulders. Joe must lift weights.

  “I can see how that would be a problem for you,” she said. “Real men don’t do chick flicks.”

  “Unless it gets us in the good graces of our dates,” Joe conceded. “Then it’s all right. It’s in the Real Men’s rule book.”

  “I don’t really like chick flicks,” Cherry admitted. “I like explosions.”

  “It’s a date, then. I have to get back to the fire station, but I’ll give you a call with the choices and times.”

  “Okay.” Cherry wrote her cell phone number down and handed the slip of paper to him. Just like that, she had a date with a nice guy. Who made her knees weak. Progress.

  She locked the apartment door behind Joe and went to deal with the laundry. If he ended up on the other side of her bedroom door, she didn’t want him to have any trouble finding the bed.

  While she was scooping up the clothes, she caught sight of herself in the mirror and groaned.

  The words Sweet Delights were spelled out across her generous breasts. Her face looked okay, although any makeup she’d started off the day with had worn away. The shoulder-length mop of inky curls on top didn’t look any messier than usual, but combined with the slogan over her D-cups, she looked like she’d just gotten out of bed instead of getting off work.

  “Sweet Delights,” Cherry muttered. That shirt would be the first thing she grabbed. Oh, well. Did she mind if it made Joe think of something a lot hotter than ice cream?

  She had a sudden image of the shirt replaced by strategic dabs of cold vanilla over her nipples, and Joe licking them off while she shivered in delight. Her heart rate kicked up and the temperature in her apartment seemed to soar.

  “So I’m fantasizing about a guy I just met. It’s not my fault,” Cherry told the now-flushed mirror image of herself. “I haven’t had real sex in so long, I have to go with my imagination.”

  The recent string of bad boys hadn’t led to hot, grinding satisfaction. Just the death of attraction as they said or did something to kill the rising swell of desire. God forbid she accidentally led one of them to reproduce. Cherry groaned as her internal mercury dropped. Great. Now her past was buzz-killing her present.

  “I am capable of being attracted to the right kind of man,” Cherry said out loud. “Joe’s proof. And this time, I’m going to follow through.” Before she died of frustration.

  Get the degree. Get a career. Get some. Her to-do list was small, but it was made up of big goals. Maybe she should start with doing the laundry. Cherry went off to do it, feeling closer to the life she wanted already.

  The next night, she was dressed and ready for a Kung Fu flick that won her vote over the weepy drama that constituted the current movie choices. The hormone rush she’d gotten from Joe’s company was better suited to action than angst. Instead of a T-shirt with suggestive lettering, she wore a white polo shirt left unbuttoned at the throat, a pair of jeans, and white canvas sneakers.

  Underneath, she wore a matching white lace bra and panty set. Just in case. Condoms in her bedside table drawer, checked for the expiration date. How sad was that? People her age were supposed to run out long before the damn things dried up and cracked.

  “I’m going to use up the rest of that box,” Cherry promised herself. If things didn’t go well enough with Joe to result in even a fling, there were other nice guys out there, and at least one of them would make her libido sit up and take notice.

  Her naked ice cream fantasy had driven one point firmly home. It was time to give her personal life the same focus she’d given to going after the career she wanted. No reason the same approach couldn’t be used on her social life.

  The knock at her door, right on time, added to the happy sense that the date was going according to plan. Cherry opened the door to see Joe standing there with his hands in his jeans pockets. He wore a short-sleeved T-shirt, displaying muscles that tempted her to reach out and trace the outlines. The pose made his shoulders seem a little broader and she took a second to appreciate the effect.

  “Hi,” she said, a little breathless now that he was there.

  “Hi, yourself.” He smiled at her, the heat in his blue eyes kindling a matching warmth in the pit of her b
elly. He stepped back to give her space to come out, and Cherry joined him.

  She pulled the locked door closed behind her just as Joe stepped forward again, bringing his body closer to hers. Not quite touching, but to put more space between them, she’d have to move back against her door. He drew his hands out of his pockets and planted one on each side of her, framing her.

  “I thought we should get this out of the way first.”

  “This?” Cherry felt her pulse skip as he bent his head so his forehead touched hers.

  “The goodnight kiss. If we do it now, we won’t be distracted all through the movie.”

  “Oh.” She felt her lips curving in a smile that died as he slowly, so slowly, lowered his mouth to meet hers. Since he was taller, she had to tilt her chin up and rise a little on her toes. She put her hands behind her to use the door for balance.

  The kiss was warm, sensual, unhurried. Joe didn’t take his hands off the door to pull her closer or take it further, and she followed his lead. The single point of contact sharpened her awareness, focusing her senses on the press of his lips against hers, the taste of him, the breathless pause that drew out as her heart thudded faster. When he ended the kiss, her eyes slowly opened again to meet his.

  “I was wrong,” Joe said. “I’m going to be more distracted now.”

  “Me too,” Cherry admitted.

  He gave her a crooked half-smile and stepped back, offering her his hand. She took it, glad for the extra support as their fingers intertwined. He led her down to the parking area, and stopped between a pickup and a motorcycle with the distinctive Harley-Davidson logo on the gas tank.

  If this was one of her typical dates, there’d be no question which vehicle they’d be taking. Cherry grinned as she waited for him to unlock the truck.

  Instead, he turned to pick up a helmet strapped to the back of the Harley. When he extended his arm to retrieve it, his shirtsleeve rode up, revealing a distinctive circular, four-pointed tattoo she recognized instantly. The short, dark hair, the muscles, the tattoo… Cherry groaned inside as her plan blew apart.

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