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One hot holiday, p.6

One Hot Holiday, page 6

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  “That’s certainly possible.” There had been a few other holiday break-ins. He didn’t like them, but they’d occurred. An unfortunate holiday situation…people swiping expensive presents and running into the night. They also had encountered a few front porch pirate situations. Again, he freaking hated those, but they happened even in his town. Yet, tension nagged at him. And when his instincts talked, he listened. “Or something else could’ve happened. Something tied to the past you’re determined to hide.”

  Her hand was shaking as it fell back to her side. “Look, I’m not some criminal. I haven’t broken any laws.”

  “I know.” Spencer tried to make his tone gentle.

  He must have failed.

  “That’s right. You checked me out. Right after we met.” Her eyes widened. Her lips parted. She rushed up toward him. Stopped just inches from him. “You been doing more digging on me, haven’t you?”

  He winced. “Guilty.”

  “How the hell could you do that?”

  Seriously? “Uh, ’cause I’m the sheriff? Because it’s my home?” Because I don’t like it when you’re fucking afraid?

  “You thought I was dangerous?” Hurt flickered in her eyes. Unfortunately, that emotion was too easy to read, and it made him feel like an absolute jackass.

  “No,” his voice softened as he answered. For her, he was trying to be soft. She wouldn’t get how very alien that was for him because she didn’t know about his past. “I thought whatever—whoever—was chasing you might be dangerous. I wanted to help you.”

  A furrow appeared between her eyebrows.

  “That’s the same reason I want you to stay here tonight. Because I want to help.” There was actually a whole lot more to it than that. “I don’t want you over there alone, not until I think things are more secure. Even if it is some jerk teen, I don’t want him scaring or hurting you. This house is plenty big. You’ll have your own room. You stay there, you stay safe, and we can figure out everything else tomorrow.”

  She nibbled on her lower lip. “Tomorrow…”

  He could practically see the wheels spinning in her head, and Spencer knew that she was thinking about running. All she had to do was pack her bag and slide out of town. If she thought the trouble from her past had found her, it would be incredibly easy for her to run again. “Don’t,” he rasped.

  Haley’s gaze held his. Such deep, dark green eyes. “Don’t what?”

  “Don’t run. Stay.” Stay right here with me. “I can keep you safe.”

  “But why? I am nothing to you.”

  Now he had to swallow. “Not true. I’m your landlord, remember? You’re my tenant. It’s my responsibility to protect you.” He cleared his throat. “I’d do the same for any tenant. Not like I’m giving you special treatment.”

  Her long lashes swept toward her cheeks as she seemed to consider his words. “I suppose so.”

  Great. “You can take the room next to mine. It’s upstairs, just go down the hallway on the right. Second door. Mine is the first.”

  Her lashes lifted. “You’re being really nice.”

  Wonderful. “I think I fucking hate that word.”

  “What?” A quick, startled laugh. “Why?”

  “You’ll figure it out.” Spencer rolled back his shoulders as he tried to banish the tension that had gathered there. “It’s late. We should both get to bed.” His crew had been very thorough, and it had taken them a long time to turn up their absolute jackshit.

  “Right.” She didn’t move.

  Neither did he. His gaze had dropped to her mouth again.

  She licked her lips.

  Fuck.

  He turned on his heel. “Yep, definitely time for bed. Definitely time to—”

  “Thank you.”

  He stopped. Spencer was at the stairs and his hand had reached for the bannister. “What are you thanking me for?”

  He heard her soft steps then turned to find her right behind him. She gave him a bright smile. “For being a hero when I needed one. It’s a nice change for me.”

  I can be whatever you want.

  She eased past him and climbed the stairs. He was immediately given a killer view of her ass. He should probably look away.

  But then, she hadn’t looked away when he’d answered the door in his towel. In fact, she’d seemed to enjoy the view. His lips quirked at the memory. Of course, that was the moment she looked back.

  “What is it?”

  She’d caught his grin. “Sorry about flashing you earlier. Didn’t mean for the towel to drop.”

  He heard her fast inhale.

  “I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. You know, since we’re being professional. Landlord and tenant and all.”

  She was on the stairs a little above him. Because she was a few stairs up, they were on eye level. Mouth level.

  Kissing level.

  “Don’t want to…cross any lines,” he added gruffly.

  “No.” So soft. “That would be bad.”

  Too bad I have the feeling it would feel incredible.

  She held his stare, then glanced up.

  What was she looking at? “Haley?”

  “Just making sure there’s no mistletoe above me.” Her gaze came back to his. “There isn’t.”

  “No. Nothing there. No reason to kiss.” Except that her mouth obsessed him.

  She leaned forward.

  But caught herself. Stopped. “No reason.” She pressed her lips together. After a moment, she told him, “Have a good night, Spencer.” She turned away.

  He didn’t move as she climbed the steps. His dick was hard in his jeans, and all he wanted was…her. “It’s Spence.”

  She was at the top of the stairs. She reached the landing and frowned back at him.

  “Friends call me Spence. Tenants can call me that, too.”

  Haley gave a nod and a faint smile. “Good night, Spence.”

  He stayed rooted to the spot until he heard her close the door to the guest room. Then he released the breath he’d been holding. She wasn’t interested. He would back off. Leave her alone.

  Even though she’d be starring in his dreams that night.

  ***

  “I think I found her, boss.” The voice was low. Gruff. He held the phone a bit tighter and said, “You’re not gonna believe where little Ms. Fancy wound up.”

  “Cut the shit and tell me,” Drew Bradley demanded.

  “Alabama. A little dot on the map. She’s staying in some bayside town, and she’s all alone.”

  Music blared in the background. The boss must be at one of his clubs.

  “Say it again,” Drew ordered.

  “Point Hope, Alabama. I tracked her movements here. Wasn’t hard. It’s like amateur hour.” Sure, she’d done a good job of using cash so that there hadn’t been a credit card trail to follow, but when he offered the right people money—like the guy at the train station or the fellow manning the bus terminal—he’d hit pay dirt.

  The fact that Ms. Fancy had a killer body and an unforgettable face? That helped. It made her stand out in the crowd. People who stood out were easy to remember and to track.

  “Want me to make a move?” He’d already gone into her cottage in order to be sure he had the right lady. When dealing with a guy like Drew, it didn’t pay to make careless mistakes.

  “No, you keep watching her. You keep eyes on her. I’ll come and deal with her myself.” Drew hung up on him.

  Francis Callaway frowned at his phone. “You’re welcome, asshole. Happy to find your missing girlfriend for you. No, no, I don’t need a bonus for a quick job during the holiday season. Not like I got an ex-wife waiting on alimony. Your thanks is more than enough.” He shoved the phone into his pocket. “Dickwad.”

  But Drew was a very, very wealthy dickwad. A guy with a ton of cash and a million connections, some that weren’t always on the right side of the law. It would be good to have a man like Drew owe him a favor.

  So he’d watch the pretty la
dy. He’d make sure she stayed in town. And if she tried to run before Drew arrived to claim her, then Francis would stop her.

  No matter what, his target wasn’t going to slip away.

  ***

  She couldn’t sleep.

  Haley stared up at the ceiling. The bed was soft. The mattress was fresh and obviously new. Moonlight drifted through her window. She could hear the faint rush of waves against the shore. A soothing sound. She should’ve been asleep.

  She wasn’t.

  Because…

  What if he’s found me?

  Her asshole ex. The whole reason she’d lost the life that she’d loved back home. A guy who should have been perfect. Everyone had told her that Drew was perfect. Handsome, charming, successful. He’d said all the right things at the beginning. And, sure, there had been some whispers that he might be tied to the darker world in the big city, but…who believed whispers? Not her. Oh, no. She didn’t fall for gossip.

  I do, now.

  Now she knew the truth.

  She’d broken things off with Drew six months ago. Everything had gone straight to shit when she found out just how bad her ex truly was. The kind of bad that had dirty cops working on his side. That had people turning their back on her. The kind that had her running because she’d seen things she shouldn’t.

  Now she’d had a break-in at the cottage. Could be nothing. Jerk kids. Some would-be robber. But what if…what if it was more? What if it was him?

  She had to get out of that bedroom. Because if she stayed in that bed, letting her mind spin as she stared at the darkness, she might go crazy. Haley hopped out of the bed. Her bare feet curled against the wooden floor. She’d go downstairs. Grab a glass of water from the kitchen. No, check that, she’d go for milk. A nice, soothing glass of milk. She’d peek in Spencer’s fridge and, hopefully, he’d have milk. Surely, he wouldn’t mind if she got just a small glass?

  The guest room door gave a faint squeak when she opened it. Spencer had gotten his crew to bring pajamas over for her—well, her pajamas consisted of comfy jogging shorts and a loose, soft blue t-shirt. When she walked toward the stairs, she realized how incredibly quiet the house seemed. So still.

  She put her hand on the bannister. The wood was smooth and solid beneath her fingers as she made her way down the stairs. A few of the stairs creaked beneath her weight, and she winced every single time because she was afraid she’d rouse Spencer. She’d already been enough trouble for him. The last thing she wanted to do was wake him.

  She made it to the kitchen. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness so she could easily see the fridge. She opened the door, and—yes, success! She reached for the carton and a few moments later, she’d flipped on the counter light so that she could snag a mug and pour some milk. She had a quick flash of her childhood as she drank the milk and—

  “Guess I’m not the only one who couldn’t sleep.”

  Holy mother of God. She hadn’t heard a sound. Like, no creeping stairs. No rustles. No footsteps. Nothing. He was suddenly just there. The mug slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor.

  “Don’t move.”

  He hit the light switch on the wall, and the kitchen was flooded with illumination. Not just the little bit of light that had come from the counter area, but all of the overhead, recessed can lights spilled a soft glow down on her.

  On her…

  On the broken mug at her feet.

  At the puddle of milk currently spreading across his tiled floor.

  “I am so sorry.” She started to crouch and reach for the broken shards. “I didn’t mean—”

  “Haley, what part of don’t move did you miss?” He caught her hands. Then scooped her into his arms. Held her as if she weighed nothing. She didn’t, by the way, the guy was just strong. Sexy strong.

  He didn’t have on a shirt. No crime there, she totally approved, and his jeans hung low on his hips.

  He was warm and muscled and still holding her. “Y-you don’t have to do this.”

  “You might cut yourself. That’s why I didn’t want you to move. Hold on.” He turned, took a few steps, and put her down on the nearby countertop. “You okay? No shards hit you when the mug fell?”

  She smiled. “I’m really okay. No cuts. Just sticky feet.” Her smile faded. He stood right in front of her with his tousled hair and intense eyes. “I’m sorry about the mess. I didn’t mean to break your mug, and please tell me it’s not one that you are super sentimental about—”

  “It was my dead father’s mug. He drank from it every single day.”

  Her stomach clenched. “I can fix it! Give me some super glue and—”

  Spencer sent her a toe-curling grin. “It’s a dollar mug that I got at the school yard sale last year. Forget it.”

  Her heart was racing. “That is not funny.”

  “Are you sure? I’ve been told I’m hilarious.”

  “I—”

  “Stay here. Do not think of moving. Those toes get cut, and I won’t be a happy man.”

  He cleaned up the mess in a blink. She sat on the bar, swinging her legs and admiring the fact that, seriously, he must work out a whole lot. A very, very lot.

  “Ahem.”

  He’d stopped cleaning. She had no idea when. His hands were on his hips, and he was just a few feet away.

  Her cheeks burned. She’d been ogling him. Caught in the act. How unstellar. “I need to get back to bed.”

  “Are you sure? If you’re still thirsty, I can give you another mug.”

  “No, no, I need to get back to bed.” She pushed away from the countertop and her toes hit the floor. Before she could take a step—

  She was in his arms again. Why did it feel so good to be in his arms? “You don’t need to do this. I can easily walk on my own.”

  His gaze dipped to her mouth. “I could’ve missed some shards. Just in case, I’ll carry you back to the stairs.”

  Her arm looped around his neck. “I think I’m probably the worst tenant you’ve ever had.”

  A soft rumble of laughter. “Like I told you before, you’re the only tenant I’ve ever had. I just posted the cottage online, and you were the first person to request a stay.” He reached the stairs. Lowered her onto the step. He turned away—

  “I’m sorry if I woke you,” Haley blurted.

  He glanced back at her. “You didn’t.”

  “You were already awake?”

  A slow nod.

  “You were having trouble sleeping?”

  His lips parted, but he seemed to think better of what he was going to say. He slowly turned to fully face her. The air seemed to thicken between them. She needed to say something. Anything. Or maybe she should run up the stairs. She didn’t, though, because…

  She wanted to stay with him a little longer. The kiss…that crazy kiss at the bar. It would not get out of her head. Surely it hadn’t been that good. Not as good as she thought. Not so good that arousal had flooded through her whole body and she’d clung to him as tightly as possible. It had just been…the drama of the moment. Having all the attention on them. Her nerves.

  He cleared his throat.

  Her gaze whipped up. Wonderful. First, he’d caught her ogling his abs and now he’d seen her staring at his mouth. First tenant for him…and worst tenant for him.

  “Want to tell me what you were thinking about?” Spencer invited.

  She shouldn’t. She’d already said there were lines they wouldn’t cross. But…

  But if I’m leaving in the morning, does it matter what I do tonight? And, unfortunately, as she’d lain in bed and stared at the ceiling, as fear had started to swirl within her, she’d realized that she needed to keep moving. Find a different place. Just in case she had been traced to Point Hope.

  So why not do what she wanted that night? Why not just see if the kiss had really been…all that? “I was thinking a second kiss wouldn’t be as good as the first.”

  His thick eyebrows climbed. “That really what you were think
ing?”

  “Yes.” She licked her lower lip. “No way was the kiss as good as I thought it was.”

  He took a step toward her. His right hand reached out and curled around the bannister. “You think the kiss was good?”

  A shrug. “Yes.” It was body melting, toe-curling, where-the-hell-am-I-when-it-was-over good. “But it was probably just a fluke.”

  He laughed. “No, no, don’t worry. You won’t hurt my self-esteem any.”

  Oh. She gave a wince. “I didn’t mean—” Haley stopped. Squared her shoulders. “How about we try a second time?”

  If possible, his eyes seemed to darken even more. “You’re saying you want me to kiss you.”

  She absolutely was. Haley nodded. “Just to see, you know, a scientific inquiry kind of thing.”

  He leaned closer to her. His delectable scent curled over her. “I thought you didn’t want us mixing up our relationship.”

  “Yes…um, don’t think that rule applies any longer.” Because I’ll be cutting out of town as soon as I can get a driver to come and pick me up in the morning. She put her hand on his chest. Loved the way his warm skin felt beneath her touch. “So let’s try for scientific inquiry.”

  His jaw hardened. “Bullshit.”

  That wasn’t exactly the romantic response she’d expected. “Excuse me?”

  “You want me to kiss you, and it has nothing to do with a scientific inquiry.” His mouth came nearer, but he didn’t press his lips to hers. “You just want my mouth on you.”

  So guilty. “Don’t you want my mouth on you?”

  “Fuck, yes, but I’m not gonna lie about it. I’m not gonna lie to you, and I don’t want you lying to me.”

  That was unfortunate. She’d already lied to him. Would lie again, too. Dammit. “Never mind. We can just—”

  His left hand curled around her waist. His right was still on the bannister. “Tell me what you really want.”

  “I want your mouth.”

  And he gave it to her. His lips met hers in a hot, passionate kiss. The kind of kiss that a woman felt in every cell of her body. That rare and wonderful kiss that was so good you found yourself moaning. And maybe scratching your partner as your nails dug into the arms of the man who was kissing you.

 
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