/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

It’s About Time

Erin Mccarthy

County prosecutor Trish Jones has had it with smooth-talking, under-performing suits. And though she's never had a thing for big, brawny guys, one look at Caleb Vancouver's bulges makes her think she might have been missing out. One Harley ride later they're back at her place, and she realizes that she has been missing out… on quite a lot…

Erin McCarthy

It’s About Time


It was a good thing Trish never intended to get married, because from what she could tell of the male population as a whole, they were mostly idiots and not worth the reception expense.

She’d been stood up again.

How hard could it have been for Brad to call her midday when he had known she was at work and leave a wimpy cancellation on her home voice mail?

A lot less difficult than sitting by himself in a restaurant for an hour waiting for a date who never came, which was what she had just done.

Sighing, she pushed the door open and stepped into Ryan’s Pub, wondering what it was about her that made men smile and promise things they never intended to deliver. While she had no desire to wade into matrimony despite her friends’ recent success with it, she would still enjoy a little companionship. Someone to take to the Christmas party at work, a dinner partner, a man to fulfill her very real and getting slightly urgent sexual needs.

“Hey, Trish. What’s up?” Joe called from the bar as he deftly shook a martini shaker.

Wiping the seat with her hand first, Trish dropped down onto a stool in front of Joe. She slid her outrageously uncomfortable shoes forward on her feet, until they were dangling, held on only by the grip of her toes. “The usual. I got stood up by my date.”

Joe looked properly outraged on her behalf, jaw dropping and shaker hitting the counter with all the force of his meaty arms. “No way! Well, the jackass obviously doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

“Is there something wrong with me? Do I have a sign on my behind that says ‘Lie To Me’?” she asked in exasperation.

Trish pushed the ashtray in front of her to the side and marveled at how morose she was being. This kind of thing didn’t usually bother her. Life went on, with or without men, and thankfully, she’d never actually been emotionally hurt before, just annoyed. But lately she was getting lonely, and while good for many things, a computer couldn’t carry a conversation or sexually satisfy her. Okay, if you wanted to get technical, it probably could do both in a roundabout sort of way, but it just wasn’t the same. She wanted to hear someone breathing next to her when she had a conversation, and she didn’t think that was too much to ask, damn it.

“You just intimidate men, that’s all.” Joe turned to deliver the drinks to customers, leaving Trish to ponder that. Intimidation was all about power, something she appreciated.

Intimidation was good in the courtroom, but not the bedroom. She’d never thought her sex life-if she could remember that far back-was lacking in anything. But put in those terms, she wondered if she had ever really had a relationship with a man where they weren’t both scrambling for control.

It was not an uplifting thought for a lonely Friday night in September when her good friend Kindra was three weeks away from her wedding to Mack, and Ashley was flashing a mammoth engagement ring from Lucas. Even Violet, who shied away from men, had managed to snag a pro baseball player, and Trish figured it wouldn’t be too long before they went down the aisle. Dylan was already chomping at the bit to marry Violet since she was having his baby.

On nights like tonight, when Trish was alone and her friends were all cuddled up with their men, she couldn’t help but feel a little tinge of something.

God, she was actually jealous. How small.

Joe bustled back and offered her a glass of wine but she shook her head. “Just a water, please.” She didn’t want an innocent glass of wine. Nor was she certain she could stop at one or two drinks of the hard stuff, not when her defenses were feeling as weak as they were tonight. And getting drunk alone was the adult equivalent of being the last kid picked for the dodgeball team in grade school. Sad. Better to stick to water.

“Shake it off, babe-you know you’re hot stuff.”

The drinks were so-so at Ryan’s Pub, but it was nice to see a familiar face, nice to hear Joe’s staunch support. Trish had been wandering into this pub off and on for five years, and hung out with her girlfriends there twice a month after their bowling night. “You know what, Joe? I don’t feel like shaking it off. I want to feel sorry for myself tonight.”

Maybe she wasn’t justified. After all, she had a budding career as county prosecutor of domestic violence, a great apartment, and good hair. But men didn’t seem to appreciate any of those things. She didn’t think she was asking too much. It wasn’t like she expected comfortable pantyhose to be invented. She just wanted a nice guy, loyal, honest, friendly.

She supposed she could get a dog.

But Kindra and Mack’s yappy poodle annoyed the hell out of her. A lizard was more her style.

“If you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, slide on down the bar and join my buddy Caleb there. He’s having a hell of a pity party tonight.”

Without much interest, she glanced over. A guy was propping his head up with a massive, muscular arm, and trying to sip his beer without lifting his head. Moisture from the bottle dribbled onto the bar and his arm, and he made a halfhearted swipe at it. A quick count showed six empty bottles in front of him.

Now there was a winner. Hold her back.

“Do you know him?” she asked Joe, hoping she didn’t look that pathetic. This guy looked like he’d set down some serious roots in Loserville.

“Yeah, I’ve known him for more than fifteen years. We played ball in high school together and he’s a good friend.” Joe leaned on the counter, moving closer to her, and kept his voice low. “He never drinks.”

The six bottles hadn’t emptied themselves. “Could’ve fooled me.”

“I’m serious. But tomorrow his ex-wife is getting married. He’s celebrating by getting shit-faced.”

Trish forgot to clench her toes, and her shoe fell to the floor. “That does not look like a man who is celebrating.”

Joe stood back up. “I know. Looks to me like he’s feeling sorry for himself. But that’s what he said-that he’s celebrating.”

This was not a man who was about a blow a party horn and throw some ticker tape. If he called this celebrating she’d hate to see sulking. “Did you know his wife? Was she a bitch or something?”

Trish would lay down five bucks she was. The ex was probably a busty blonde who had henpecked her mild-mannered husband while weeding the flower bed in her bikini. And clearly this guy was still passionately in love with her, devastated by the divorce. Sitting in a bar plotting the new fiancé’s murder. Or worse, planning to dash into the wedding ceremony in one of those cringe-inspiring moments and yell,Bambi, no one loves you like I do! Don’t marry him!

It was definitely a court case waiting to happen. Public intoxication, disturbing the peace, stalking, assault and battery-one of those was probably in his future. Trish’s whole career revolved around that kind of idiotic behavior.

Joe paused and scratched his light brown goatee. “No, she wasn’t a bitch at all. She was one of those people who’s always smiling, always something nice to say, always dressed like she was on her way to church.”

Well, that didn’t fit Trish’s image of his wife at all. No wonder he’d gotten divorced-he’d been married to the wrong woman.

“He said he has a plan,” Joe said.

Here it was. Poisoning the fiancé, slashing the tires on the limo, kidnapping the bride. Trish leaned closer to Joe. “What is it?” If he was planning something illegal, it was her duty to warn him of the ramifications.

“He said he’s not leaving until he finds a woman to sleep with. Tonight.”

What? Well, that wasn’t worth the buildup. She’d at least been hoping for a midnight serenade of the ex or something. But it was not news for a man to bury his problems between a woman’s thighs. This guy had probably slept with a dozen women in the past two years in his quest to forget or get over his wife. The world revolved around sex, not love, as she had seen over and over again as a prosecutor.

“That just sounds like another Friday night man on the make to me.”

“Except he hasn’t been with a woman since he left his wife.”

Trish didn’t know which was more curious-that an able-bodied man in his twenties had willingly gone two years without sex, or that he had shared that fact with Joe.

“How do you know?”

“By beer number five, he was starting to get loose-lipped.” Joe shuddered. “Look, it was a really embarrassing conversation for me. I think I’m permanently scarred.”

Trish bent over to retrieve her shoe and tried really hard not to brush her hair against the sticky black lip of the bar counter. “Then why the hell are you telling me? I don’t want to know about his sex life any more than you do.” In fact, less. The only person’s sex life she cared about was her own, and how she could actually get one.

“So maybe if you go down there and talk to him, you’ll distract him and he’ll forget about it. He’s not in any shape to be picking up a woman. He’ll probably wind up married to a stripper by the morning if he doesn’t chill out on the beer.”

Why was it her job to save him? He was a big boy. Really big boy. He could take care of himself. Trish sipped her water, thinking. She blew her hair out of her eyes. She studied the guy, his arms as wide as porch pillars. He looked like he could pick up a building, all muscular and brawny.

She wanted to be alone in her sulk.

He looked over then. Sexy, deep-green eyes stared at her blankly, glazed with alcohol. Damn, he was cute.

She groaned, knowing she was going to regret this. “Dammit. Fine, I’ll talk to him.”

“You’re such a good person, Trish.” Joe clapped her on the shoulder, almost knocking her off her stool.

It wasn’t a compliment people usually paid her. She was reliable, efficient, and ruthless with criminals in her job, but no one had ever attributed inherent goodness to her before. She wasn’t even sure that’s why she acted now. But there was just something about a guy with six bottles of beer and a broken heart that had her standing up.

“Drinks are on me, Trish.”

“Then get me two bottled waters.”

Under the pretense of grabbing a book of matches, Trish sat in the chair next to Caleb. “What are you watching?” she asked, looking up at the TV. Baseball, of course. It was September.

He didn’t look at her. “The game.”

“Who’s winning?” She squinted through the dim light at the TV, seeing little men standing idly around a baseball diamond. In baseball, it always looked to her like the players were waiting for something good to happen, and that given the choice, they’d rather be eating barbeque.

There was silence. Trish discreetly shifted her bra strap under her black clingy dress and marveled at how huge this guy next to her was. Joe was big in a fleshy sort of way. But this guy was massive, his T-shirt straining against rippling muscle-and he towered over her, even sitting down. It was fascinating for a woman who spent all her time with professional men, who tended to be a little pale and thin, though with impeccable suits. She’d never dated a man who could snap her in half with his bare hands. Maybe that had been a mistake.

His rudeness didn’t bother her. She wasn’t even sure he’d heard her. He seemed to be floating in an alcohol haze, and when Joe put the waters in front of her, she gestured for him to clear away the empty beer bottles.

“Get me another one, Joe.” The giant tilted the bottle in his hand and drained it.

Joe nodded. “Sure, Caleb.”

Trish glared at Joe. Hadn’t he been the one to say this guy needed to go easy on the beer? Watching Caleb, she had to agree, and apparently it was up to her to be his salvation, savior, Saint Trish. That was her. Sure thing. Not.

But she did feel significantly less sorry for herself than she had when she’d walked in the door, and she owed it to Joe’s friend to save him from himself. Especially if he had truly loved his wife, the prospect of which she found strangely compelling. For some weird reason, she wanted to believe a man could love a woman enough to be upset when she got remarried, and Trish didn’t want this guy to cheapen that by having a one-night stand, his judgment impaired by alcohol.

Nor did she want to see his name come across her desk as the defendant in a crime of passion. Those were always such a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Leaning over the counter, she grabbed the beer out of Joe’s hand when he returned with it. Using her best courtroom voice, she pushed it out of Caleb’s reach. “Take this back and don’t bring any more. I’ve cut him off.”

Caleb Vancouver had a good little beer buzz going, but he wasn’t drunk yet. Not the way he wanted to be, at any rate. Snapped out of his stupor by a stubborn woman’s voice, he glanced over at her.

“What?” he said, taking her in with one swift glance.

Woman wearing a scowl, looking at him like he was a pathetic lush, that’s what he saw. Caleb wondered if she was right. He was feeling pretty damn pathetic.

She was very attractive. But definitely not his type. Not what he was looking for. He had come to the bar to find a woman, true, but the smiling, laughing, big-hair kind who thought nothing of going home with a guy she’d just met, and didn’t expect or want a phone call after the fact.

So far he hadn’t seen any likely candidates, which was starting to piss him off. A guy goes two whole friggin’ years without sex and then he can’t even find one chick to sleep with? It didn’t seem right. Not that he was looking all that hard, if he were totally honest. Somehow his plan to celebrate April’s wedding with a drunken night of sexual revelry had disintegrated into him sucking down beers by himself in a sulk.

And he suspected, despite the physical urges and the emotional need to stick another woman in his bed, if only for one night, that he wouldn’t actually go through with picking anyone up. Hell, he’d been there for three hours already and hadn’t spoken to anyone besides Joe.

He’d never had a one-night stand in his life. Of course, maybe that was because he’d married April right out of high school. But regardless, he wasn’t a sex-with-a-stranger kind of guy. He liked to know a woman, liked to learn how to please her, share an intimacy in bed and out, before and after.

“I said you can’t have any more beer,” came the persistent voice.

Caleb shifted on his stool and took another gander at the bossy broad next to him. Who the hell did she think she was?

If he wanted a beer, he’d have a beer, and some woman with nice shoulders and a scowl couldn’t stop him. No one could stop him, especially not when he was determined to drink enough beer to forget how annoyed he was, and he wasn’t nearly there yet. It was going to take a lot of beer to get over his confusion that his ex-wife was marrying a guy old enough to be her grandfather. And was so happy she was beaming. Glowing. She’d never glowed with Caleb, and it bothered him.

“Get me another beer,” he told Joe.

“No,” the woman next to him said quite clearly.

Was this the morality committee? Annoyed, he turned to her. “I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind your own damn business?”

He blinked hard, trying to focus a little better. Damn room was dark and the cigarette smoke hanging like a factory cloud always made his eyes water.

She switched tactics. Her hand rested on his arm. Her tone became conciliatory. “Just take a break,” she said. “I hate to be the only one not drinking.”

But Caleb wasn’t fooled. She looked and sounded too wily and calculating to be genuine. Women with short hair were like that. They existed in a world of hair products, where everything could be sculpted and molded and tamed to their liking, and he thought she probably viewed him as an unruly cowlick.

Unsure what to say, and wanting to ask why she was in a bar if she didn’t want to be around drinkers, he gave a grunt that could be interpreted any way she liked and turned back to the TV.

“Can you pass me a nut?”

She smiled at him, her hand held out expectantly. Caleb felt prickly annoyance as he passed the bowl of peanuts to her. Was she bored or was she flirting with him?

His brain was a little addled from the beer, so he decided if he were uninteresting, she’d move on to someone else. Because she really wasn’t what he had in mind.

Oh, she was pretty enough if you were into perfection. Long cheekbones, artful makeup, stylish dark-brown hair with lighter highlights. Great shoulders, tanned and toned, making him wonder just briefly if the rest of her would be the same before he stopped himself. Only the message didn’t quite reach his bottom half in time and he felt a hard-on rising in his jeans.

Thanks, pal, he told his unruly appendage.

Despite his body’s reaction, he knew he wouldn’t know quite what to do with a woman like this. Self-assured, bossy, clipped and manicured, wearing a sleeveless dress that screamed classy businesswoman, she was from a different world. One of cappuccinos, Audis, and business trips to New York-nothing like his life managing his small construction business, and living in a dingy little duplex.

“You know, I’ve never met a huge man who grunts before,” she said, popping a nut into her mouth and pouching it in her cheek. “I mean, I’ve seen guys like you on TV and checking purses at the airport, but I’ve never actually talked to anyone like you. Are you a cop, a welder, or a mechanic?”

He gave her a hard stare, hoping to scare her into leaving. He did not want to be her blue-collar novelty of the night.

Instead she shivered and gave him a smile. “Oh, do that again. And growl this time.”

She was making fun of him. Caleb frowned deeper.

“Here.” She took a peanut and shoved it between his lips. “I think the alcohol is dulling your reflexes. You’re just staring at me.”

With good reason. The woman was friggin’ crazy. But he couldn’t protest, not when her warm finger was still resting on his lips, the salty, fleshy taste of the tip still lingering on his tongue. If he sucked, he could draw her into his mouth.

It was nothing, a little gesture that meant nothing, but his long-neglected body stood up and took notice.Hey, it said.I remember this. This is foreplay.

It could be, but it wasn’t.

He hated to disappoint his gonads, but this woman was only amusing herself. At his expense.

“Chew the nut,” she said. “Food will help absorb the alcohol before it hits your bloodstream.”

“One peanut?” he asked.

“Good point.” She grabbed a whole handful and started toward him.

Caleb clamped his mouth shut and shook his head.

She grinned. “No? Well, Joe can get a sandwich for you. They make club sandwiches and really greasy fries here.”

“I’ll have one if you do. I don’t like to eat alone.” He smiled smugly, throwing her words back at her.

A snort of laughter flew out of her mouth, and she covered it with a soft, golden hand, her short, rounded fingernails painted white at the ends.

Diamonds flashed in her ears, and dark, intelligent eyes gave him another once-over. “I might as well, I guess, since I missed out on dinner when my date stood me up.”

Caleb figured his brain was firing a little slow, but he couldn’t believe this woman had been stood up. Personally, he would have been scared to. She was intimidating as hell.

“Some idiot stood you up?”

“Sad, but true.” She popped a nut into her own mouth, then offered him another one by hovering her hand over his.

He opened his fist and let her drop the peanut into his palm. “So you came here instead?”

She nodded. “Even more sad, isn’t it? That when lonely and pissed off, I came to a bar.”

If it was sad, then he was doubly so. “I can understand that.” More than he even wanted to admit to himself.

Gesturing for Joe to come back over, he chewed the nut. And looked down at the woman beside him, all straight-backed and confident, one leg crossed over the other, a hint of cleavage popping out of her little black dress. “What’s your name?”

“Trish,” she said, and stuck her hand out like they were in a business meeting. “Trish Jones.”

He took her hand, small and soft in his, but possessing a firm, bold grip. “I’m Caleb Vancouver.”

She pumped his hand up and down twice, then let go, a mischievous smile on her perfectly painted, caramel-brown-lipstick lips.

Those lips were very distracting. Very luscious, very arousing. Caleb had a sudden image of what exactly she could do with those perfectly pretty lips on what part of him. He shifted on the stool.

And when Joe came over to see what he wanted, Caleb completely forgot to order another beer.


Trish watched Caleb pack away his second club sandwich in awe. The guy was huge, granted, and probably needed a lot of fuel to drive that big old muscled body of his, but Jesus. Come up for air once in a while.

“Don’t you feel better now?” Trish asked, not sure how she felt. He was really damn cute, in a pathetic, kissable, lumberjack sort of way.

He nodded. “I didn’t realize I was so hungry. You’re a smart woman, Trish, but I bet you hear that all the time.”

Damn good at her job. Dedicated. A bitch.She’d heard all of those lately, but notsmart. Sometimes it seemed like a woman was only allowed to be intellectual, academic, with her intelligence-not sharp, driven.

The compliment meant more to her than it should. “I’m a prosecuting attorney. I handle all the sex-crime cases.”

Caleb licked mayo off his lip, and carefully set his sandwich down. “No kidding? Are you sure you’re in the right joint? Me, I’m a construction worker, and not your usual type, I would guess.”

Of course he was a construction worker, and of course she had to have an arousing vision of him shirtless in the summer heat pop into her head. Carrying a two-by-two, or whatever those pieces of wood were called, jeans sinking down low. Sun lightening that short brown hair until it was the color of milk-doused coffee. Tan. Hard.

And of course she was wearing a dress that revealed that her nipples had suddenly gone leaping out toward the bar like they wanted to join that sandwich being palmed by his fingers.

Waving her hand, Trish gave a scoff, striving for cool and sarcastic. No need for him to see that she was tilted a little off her axis. “My type for what? Besides, I’ve adopted you for the night.”

Snatching one of the bottled waters off the bar, he glared at her. “Adopted me? I don’t need you to baby-sit me, Miss Prosecuting Attorney.”

“You were drunk when I sat down.”

“So? And not nearly enough, in my opinion.”

Trish nibbled on a French fry, then tossed it down as her stomach recoiled. It was like licking bacon grease. “But you feel better now that you’ve stopped drinking, don’t you?”

He didn’t answer.

Irritation rose in her, and she wasn’t even sure why. “And what were you getting drunk for, anyway? To talk yourself into dragging some woman home with you tonight?”

Caleb shifted on his stool, pinning her with another one of those hard stares. “What does it matter? Why do you care?”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t!” Stupid lug. Here she was, being friendly, reaching out, something she didnot normally do. Let him wallow. “Order yourself another beer, for all I care. Get blitzed and pick up some giggling, brain-dead bimbo who might be impressed by all that muscle you’re hauling around.”

“Maybe I will.”

“And maybe I’ll just leave you here to do that.”


“Fine.” Yet Trish didn’t move. She just switched legs and wondered why she wasn’t walking away.

Because she didn’t want to. Caleb was drunk, totally not her type, and he drank domestic beer. Yet she just didn’t want to go home alone. Again. So she’d stay with Caleb for a little while longer, another minute or two, before she headed back to her empty apartment. He needed the company.

She needed the company.

Caleb picked his sandwich back up. “Aren’t you leaving?”

“No.” She shrugged. Let him think what he wanted.

But he shot her a quick glance out the side of his eye. “Good.”

Trish laughed. “You are drunk, aren’t you?” And she nudged his brawny arm with her side.

He grinned. “Maybe just a little.” And his finger reached out and moved past her face to touch her earring. “These are pretty.”

“Thanks.” She reflexively ran her own finger over the spot where his had been. “They were a present from my parents when I graduated from law school.”

“Are you a good lawyer?”

“The best,” she said, never doubting it for a minute. She’d been born to argue, and she was good at it.

“I believe you. You look like you could run circles around those guys downtown. I bet you won every staring contest when you were a kid.”

“Of course.” Trish pushed the plate of fries away from her and went back to the nuts. It had been too much to expect that Joe could produce a salad for her. But instead of leaving and finding a grocery store or deli, or just scrounging something up in her fridge at home, she was still sitting there on a stool so hard her backside had gone numb.

It was stupid.

Caleb took another swallow of water and some of it sloshed down the front of him. “Damn. Got a hole in my lip.”

Trish reached for a napkin. The guy clearly needed a keeper. He couldn’t even drink water without slobbering all over himself. There would be no telling how he’d find his way home if she didn’t stick around.

“Here.” With less-than-gentle fingers, she swiped at his chest. His solid, football stadium-wide chest.

His hand grabbed hers, stilled it. A big, scratchy hand that swallowed hers whole like a shark with a tuna. He was strong, holding her immobile even when she tugged a little, and she was annoyed, yet simultaneously fascinated.


“What?” Damn if she wasn’t actually leaning toward him, gazing up into his murky green eyes like some soulful Juliet wannabe.

Only she didn’t have a romantic bone in her practical body. The dating game and her job had only confirmed that romance was dead in the twenty-first century, if it had ever existed.

“I think you’re a lot nicer than you pretend to be.”

Giving up on retrieving her trapped hand, she let him cup it like a baby bird, while she sat back and snorted. “Don’t bet your tool belt on it, buddy.”

But she was secretly pleased.

Caleb had figured out that his beer buzz was still racing, and that the room was pulsing in bright, fuzzy, undulating waves. Which had to be why Trish looked so deliciously tanned and perfect, perching on her stool with posture that would make a chiropractor proud, and why he suddenly wanted to taste her. Every polished and smooth inch of her attorney ass, from that tidy hair down to her rounded breasts. Past her firm belly, skimming over her dark, wispy curls, down her toned and tan thighs to satin toes, capped off with a dash of red toenail polish.

Two years was a long time to go without sex.

At the moment he couldn’t even remember why he’d been celibate. It had something to do with his ex-wife, and how he’d vowed not to make the same mistake twice. April had been about the neediest woman he’d ever met, lacking in confidence and unwilling to give him any independence. He had loved April in the beginning, loved that she was a generous, caring woman, but in the end he’d realized he wanted to be friends with her, not married to her.

And if he ever got involved with a woman again, he wanted passion this time. Not just friendship. Not just companionship. But passion, and deep, lasting love.

He’d been holding out on the sex. Waiting for the right moment, the right woman, when he was so turned on, so intrigued by a woman that the thought of waiting was downright painful.

He was thinking he was just about there.

Enough so that his jeans were straining at the crotch and he was shocked at himself. He’d just met Trish-what the hell?

He let go of her hand. “I was married for eight years.” Flicking the crusty rye bread on his sandwich, he stared at the bare spot on his left hand where his wedding ring had been. He had felt a tremendous relief when he’d taken that ring off. He’d been more than ready to move on, to a new life, to a new woman. Yet it was April getting a second chance, not him.

“Was married?”

“Yep. I’m divorced. Been two years, and my ex is getting remarried tomorrow.”

“Yeah? So I guess you’re heartbroken? Jealous of the new hubby?”

That startled him. Jealous? Definitely not in the way Trish meant. “Nah, I actually feel kind of sorry for the guy. Everybody loves April, but not everybody’s had to live with her.” It had been exhausting to always ease April’s insecurities.

“So it was a mutual breakup?”

“Nope. I left her. She dragged out the divorce as long as she could.”

“So you’re here getting drunk…why?” Trish wrinkled her nose. “I’d think you’d be happy to get her out of your hair.”

“I’m celebrating, that’s why I’m getting drunk.” Caleb frowned. “Was getting drunk.”

“Yeah, you look like a barrel of laughs to me. Party on, Caleb.” She made a funny face and stuck her fingers out in some frat-boy gesture.

It made him want to laugh. “Okay, so it’s kind of hard to celebrate by myself.”

Trish played with a French fry on her plate. “Why’d you leave her?”

“I left her because I wanted something more, you know what I’m saying? And here she’s moved on, getting married.”

Trish leaned over the bar counter, propping her arm up as she watched him. Caleb wasn’t sure how the conversation had turned to his life story or why he was telling her anything about his ex-wife. He’d have to blame it on the beer, because he was not the kind of guy who talked about his friggin’ feelings on a regular basis.

After studying him for a second, Trish nodded. “Aah. I get it. You’re feeling bad because she’s over you. Found someone else. She’s got a lot of nerve picking up the pieces of her life after you broke them.”

Wait a minute. “What’s that supposed to mean?” It didn’t sound flattering.

“That you’re just such a typical guy. You don’t want her, but you don’t want anyone else to have her.” Trish made a face at him. “What was she supposed to do? Sit around crying for the rest of her life because you decided the marriage wasn’t working? You should be happy for her.”

Trish had it all completely wrong. “I am happy. Very happy. Happy that Harry fell on my grenade. If you don’t press down April’s pin at all times, she’ll explode.”

“I have no idea what that means except that it sounds vaguely sexual. If it is, donot explain any further. If it’s not, enlighten those of us who can’t follow military metaphors.”

Caleb grinned at the look on Trish’s face. He hadn’t meant to sound sexual, but now that she mentioned it…he wondered where Trish’s pin would be. What would set her off? Before he could stop himself, he glanced at her cleavage again. Trish had a fabulous body that he’d love to see more of.

“I mean April’s really insecure. She can’t make any decisions on her own, and she gets whacked-out upset if you don’t do everything exactly the way she thinks it’s supposed to be. For eight years I walked on eggshells, until I got tired of it.”

“But everybody loves April?”

“Yes. Because she’s so damn generous and sweet and unselfish.”

“Tricky bitch.” Trish’s mouth quirked up.

“Exactly.” Caleb fingered the lettuce on his plate, feeling a little better about the whole thing. “Harry’s sixty years old,” he added.

That was a little embarrassing, though he wasn’t sure why. Maybe it made his masculinity feel a little threatened, if he wanted to get all talk-show about it.

Trish’s lip twitched again. “Now we’re getting to the bottom of it. How old is April?”


“Huh. And loved by all.”

“Yep. My mother is acting as mother of the bride in the wedding tomorrow. My sister is one of her bridesmaids.”

Trish burst out laughing. “Are you kidding me? Now that’s pretty damn funny.”

Caleb fingered the water bottle and found himself grinning. It was kind of funny. “And we still all go over to April’s house for holidays. Sometimes I think April wanted to marry my family more than she wanted me.”

Trish lifted her water bottle. “Here’s to Harry and April-may they live long and prosper.”

He lifted his own water. “Alright, I’ll drink to that.” He guessed he really was happy for April. Even if she was having sex and he wasn’t.

They clunked their plastic bottles together.

“You ever been married?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’ve never been convinced that it’s worth it in the end. That people can be selfless enough to stay together and in love forever.”

Caleb thought that was a cynical view. He still believed in marriage, despite his first mistake. “Who says you have to worry about forever? Can’t you enjoy one day at a time?”

“I don’t know. Have you ever been in love, Caleb?”

“I loved April way back when. I wouldn’t have married her if I hadn’t. But there are different kinds of love, and ours was based on friendship. What about you? Ever been in love?”

“No,” Trish said, her head shaking. “And I don’t think I ever will be, and that scares me. I don’t want to spend my whole life alone.”

Trish couldn’t believe she’d just said that. Neither could Caleb, given that his eyes had dilated and his jaw had slackened, hovering above the still-damp water spot on his T-shirt.

Afraid of what might come out of his mouth, and mortified that she’d acted so pathetic, she bit her lip hard and got her shit together. She was a successful career woman. It was what she’d always wanted and she was damn proud of herself. She wasn’t lonely, she was just horny. Big difference.

“So enough of Trish’s Deep Thoughts. Tell me about your ex.” Trish used a brisk, nonchalant voice that had Caleb narrowing his eyes in confusion.

She added to prod him along, “Short? Tall? Good at sports, what?”

Caleb didn’t say anything for a minute. When he did, he sounded distracted. “April’s small, delicate, sweet. Quiet voice, polite, loves to cook, to can preserves, to sew. She has honey-blond hair and wears those sweatshirts with things stuck on them. You know, cats and stuff.”

Oh, yikes. Caleb’s ex-wife sounded like Holly Hobbie sprung to life. Virtuous, demure, bad fashion sense.

The exact opposite of Trish.

She wasn’t the type who could get his engines revving. Pressing flowers and whipping up biscuits and gravy were not scheduled in her PDA for the near future. Not that she cared. She didn’twant him to be attracted to her.

Which did not explain why fantasies of climbing onto his broad lap were flitting through her head.

“She sounds perfect for a sixty-year-old guy.”

He shrugged, like he didn’t care one way or the other. “Yeah.” Then he turned, and reflected in his green eyes was something that resembled interest. Lust, even.

It had to be her imagination, a result of being stood up, a need to feel desired.

“I don’t want to talk about…that anymore,” Caleb said, and there was no mistaking where his gaze dropped. Right into her cleavage. “Tell me about you, Trish Jones.”

She’d tell him about Trish Jones, but that’s as far as the whole thing was going. No way was she going to be stupid enough to fall for the wounded animal act, and take this guy home and lick his wounds, also known as his ego. Nope, she wasn’t going to lick anything of his. She did not need that kind of entanglement in her life. Besides, she felt concern for him, that’s all. She did not have any interest in seeing if he was that huge everywhere.

Light. Fun. Witty. That’s all. “The quick breakdown of the facts is as follows. Trish Jones, prosecuting attorney, age twenty-eight. Raised in Rocky River, currently residing in the Clifton Boulevard area, with no pets, though considering a lizard. I bowl with my friends twice a month, work shockingly long hours, and have been credited with always being direct in both my personal and professional lives.”

She smiled at him, what she hoped was a confident, flirtatious smile. “How about you?”

“Caleb Vancouver.” He spoke slower than she did, which could be his temperament or the alcohol dulling his reflexes. “Thirty last June. Grew up in Lakewood, still live there, in a double on Cordova. My two brothers and I run our own construction business, but we focus mostly on concrete. And I already have a lizard, Spanky, who only moves at three A.M. when I’m trying to sleep and he’s screwing around with the rocks in his tank.”

“So I should rethink the lizard thing? I prefer to sleep at three A.M., not listen to an amorous lizard.”

Caleb laughed. “I didn’t say he was screwing the rocks, I said he’s screwingaround with the rocks.”

“So you think.”

“I don’t want to know.”

Trish switched her legs and took a sip of water, taking some weird pleasure in making Caleb laugh. This dogooder shit wasn’t all that hard.

And her interest had nothing to do with the fact that he was damn cute, with the hottest body she’d ever seen off the WWF circuit.

“We grew up practically neighbors then. When I wanted to be daring and pretend I was hip, I used to go to Lakewood.”

“Let me guess-you grew up in one of those lakefront houses with private beach privileges. And went to private high school.”

Damn. “Maybe.” It was fine for her to make assumptions about him, but having it turned back on her was annoying. Especially since he was right.

“You like to come here and slum after a day out sailing or dinner at some trendy restaurant?”

If he only knew how little she had fit in at her all-girls high school, how often she’d been reprimanded for breaking dress code with striped black-and-white socks, and how the administration had not appreciated her turning the school newspaper into a hotbed of debate on crime and punishment in America. No one was extending her an invitation to the yacht club, and her parents indulgently referred to her as their “driven” daughter.

“Sure, I get a cheap thrill from eating greasy food and gawking at the commoners.” Trish swatted him on the arm. “Come off it! I work with criminals all day long. I have no pretensions. I grew up in comfortable surroundings, but so what? I drive a crappy, ten-year-old Toyota, my favorite hangout is the bowling alley, and while I’ve never dated a guy who was technically blue collar, that was never intentional. It was more a convenience factor, but I’m rethinking that. The guys I know are all schleps, so a welder has to be a step up.”

Caleb had stopped brooding long enough to look amused. “You know any welders?”

“No, but maybe you could hook me up. You know, I may be on to something here. You realize that we all date in a very narrow circle, usually people we work with or through mutual friends. There are probably a thousand single guys I’ve never even come into contact with, all right here in like a ten-mile radius.”

“You going to date all thousand?”

“Maybe,” she said airily. It would keep her busy for the next ten years or so, while her friends all settled into domesticity and diapers and had increasingly less time to spend with her.

He laughed. “You should probably just start with one, Trish.”

For some insane reason, she smiled up at him and moistened her lips with her tongue. “Know anyone who might volunteer?”

The grin faded off Caleb’s face. “Maybe I do.”


“Hey, Caleb, Trish.” Joe leaned over the bar in front of them and Caleb was annoyed at the interruption.

“What’s up, man?” In other words, leave so he could go back to talking to Trish, who after two hours of conversation, had shed her shoes and her reserve. She had a cute little spot of pink on each cheek as she dissected her favorite movie for him.

“Last call, buddy. You want anything?”

Jesus, make that four hours. Caleb looked at Joe in surprise. “It’s one-thirty?”

“Yep. Time flies when you’re sitting on your ass gabbing. But when you’re a working stiff like me, you feel it. It is most definitely one-thirty.”

Trish laughed. “And we haven’t even gotten started on the secondLord of the Rings movie yet.”

Joe groaned. “Oh, God, spare me. Caleb’s always boring the shit out of me with that fantasy elf crap, trying to drag me to those movies. I’m glad he’s found another geek to talk about it with.”

And talk they had. About everything. He’d confessed to Trish he liked bowling, too, but riding his bike better. They liked the same books, movies, sports, and thought getting on the back of a horse was just nuts.

“Geek at your service,” Trish said wryly, bending over to pick up her shoes.

She obviously had no idea he could see right down her dress to the tops of her breasts, pushed up with a black satin bra. Caleb’s mouth went dry and he felt a surge of lust so powerful he almost shot off the damn stool.

“Gorgeous geek,” he murmured.

“What?” she murmured, breathless as she stayed bent over, fooling with the straps on her heels.

“Nothing. I said you’re not a geek.”

But Joe had heard him and gave him a questioning glance. “You want some coffee or something Caleb, before you head out? You were pounding ’em pretty hard earlier.”

Joe must think it was the alcohol talking. And maybe it was, though Caleb didn’t feel drunk anymore. He just felt a heightened awareness of the room around him, sound louder than normal, color vibrant. And he felt interest in something, someone, for the first time in a hell of a long time.

“No, thanks, man, I’m fine. I guess I’ll head out soon.” Not that he wanted to leave, go home to his empty house, listen to the silence, and Spanky getting it on with his rocks.

Trish sat up, all remnants of a smile gone. “You’re not going to drive home, are you?” She nodded to Joe, commanding and prissy and somehow damn sexy. “Joe, call him a cab.”

Joe, the idiot, nodded. “Sure thing, babe.”

“Wait a minute! I can’t take a cab. I rode my bike here and I’m not leaving it in the parking lot overnight.”

Trish fiddled with her bra strap, giving him another flash of flesh. He took a deep breath and shifted, his cock caught in an uncomfortable position as it swelled enthusiastically.

“So what? Just throw it in the trunk of the cab.” Trish rolled her eyes. “I’m not letting you drive.”

There was something she was missing here, and it struck him as funny. “I don’t think a Harley will fit in the cab’s trunk.”

Joe laughed. “I’ll let you two work this out. Let me know if you want the cab company’s number.”

Trish gave him a blank look, then raised her eyebrows in understanding. “Oh, I get it. Here I was picturing you, this huge guy, pedaling a bicycle, and the thought was killing me, I’m telling you. But on a hog, okay, that makes more sense.”

“Thanks for your approval.”

“But you still can’t drive.”

And she stood up and leaned over him, hands sliding down past his waist, groping and feeling all over his thighs, her breasts brushing against his chest.

“What the hell are you doing?” He wasn’t sure whether to move out of her reach or grab her, throw her on the bar, and kiss her. Odds were two to one on kissing her.

“Whoa!” He jerked when her hand dipped into his jeans pocket and fished around. Christ almighty, if she shifted to the right a little she’d be stroking his johnson.

“I’m looking for your keys.” Her voice was a little breathy, and her eyes had darkened as she looked up at him, fingers stilling in both of his front pockets.

“You’re going to find more than my keys.” He tried to maneuver back, but all he managed to do was force Trish to lose her balance. With her hands still trapped in his jeans, she fell forward against him.

“Umph,” she said, her chin colliding with his chest, breasts giving softly against his lower ribs.

He put his hand on her back to steady her and forced himself to speak, even though every inch of him was aching with desire. “Trish, I can drive. I’m fine.”

“That’s what everyone says-then they plow into a utility pole.”

Maybe she had a point. Better to be safe than sorry. And he was having fun letting her fish around for his keys. He moved his hands to the bar, off of Trish, as she stood back up. “Alright, fine. You’re right. But it’s a moot point if neither of us can get the keys out.”

“I walk away for two minutes and she’s got her hands in your pants?” Joe cleared the empty water bottles from in front of them. “I’ve known her for four years and she’s never felt me up.”

Trish was on the move again, tickling his thigh as she pushed herself off him slowly.

“Shut up, Joe,” Caleb said, thinking the whole scene would be a hell of a lot more interesting if they were in private.

Then Trish moved like lightning, holding his keys up before dancing out of his reach. “Got them!”

While he knew she was right, and he no longer had any intention of driving, he still made a grab for her just for the fun of it. She shrieked and slipped out of his hold before he had more than a fistful of her silky dress.

“Damn, Trish, you’re like a greased pig.”

“That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” She taunted him with the keys, dangling them in front of her, laughing.

Caleb hadn’t laughed with a woman in a long time. It felt good now, right, easy. He stood up to stalk her, back her against the bar, maybe accidentally stick his hands on various spots of her body until he came up with the keys.

She looked up at him, her grin disappearing in astonishment. “God, you’re huge. Even bigger than I thought when you were sitting down.”

Caleb was used to that reaction from women. He was a little broad and on the tall side, and while he was comfortable in his own skin, it had always made him a little nervous around women. Like he might knock them down by accident. He took a tentative step toward her, holding his hand out. “Give me the keys. I’ll ask Joe to drive my bike home for me.”

“What kind of prenatal vitamin was your mother on? You’re like a freak of nature,” Trish said, cocking her head a little.

That stopped him short. He grunted, though he was amused. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

Trish laughed, not a girlish giggle or an obnoxious snort but a beautiful, rich sound, her teeth gleaming in the dark room, her hair framing a heart-shaped face. “You like reading fantasy novels, have a lizard and a Harley, are in touch with your emotions, and have a sense of humor, too. Very interesting.”

Not really, but his heart started a goddamn tap dance in his chest. She looked delicious standing there, rolling her ankles off her shoes, smelling like warm flesh and a subtle layer of sweet perfume.

“Keys, Trish.”

“I’ll drive the Harley and you can ride on the back.”

Clearly she thought he was shit-faced enough to agree to that, but there was no way in hell, drunk or sober, he was going to agree to let a woman drive his chopper.

No way.

Trish knew Caleb was nervous, given that gasping, choking sound he was making in the back of his throat, but she was confident as she straddled the motorcycle.

“You sure you know how to drive this?”

“I told you, I passed the test and everything. I’m a fully licensed motorcycle driver.” That had been in her early twenties when she had been in a retro-seventies phase, wearing mirrored sunglasses and listening to CDs by angry women. But she was sure she could handle the thing. And as an added bonus she wouldn’t need to use her Thighmaster the next day after squeezing her legs around the wide bike.

“We’re only going two blocks to my place. It will be fine.” If she could just find the ignition.

“Your place? What are we going to do when we get to your place? Call me a cab? I know I’m not drunk, and I’m missing the logic in your cunning plan.”

When Caleb shifted, the whole bike tilted. He towered behind her, six-foot-four or so and about two hundred and forty pounds of muscle. If she were faint of heart, it could very well be intimidating. But Trish had been subjected to curse-laden tirades from psychotic criminals and had even had a rapist spit on her after his conviction. No, fear was not the reaction Caleb was wresting from her.

More like screaming desire.

Somehow over the past few hours, he’d morphed into just about the sexiest man she’d had the horny pleasure to meet.

“No, we’re not calling a cab, because then you’ll be stuck without your bike. We’ll leave my car here, drive the bike to my place, you’ll spend the night, then in the morning you can drive us back here on the bike to get my car.” Trish was glad he was behind her as she delivered this little speech.

She honestly wasn’t implying anything sexual, but if he expressed an interest, she wasn’t at all sure she would say no.

“Spend the night? With you?”

Since she hadn’t started the engine yet-an impossibility, since she couldn’t figure out where to put the key-the summer air was still and quiet around them. He had spoken in a low, rough voice that sent shivers racing across her shoulders.

“Well, notwith me. You can crash on my couch.”

“I don’t think this is such a good idea.”

She chanced a glance over her shoulder. He looked…alarmed. Like she might lure him to her couch and have her wicked way with him. It was an embarrassing reminder that he hadn’t slept with a woman in two years and that he was used to his ex-wife, who surely never would have straddled a motorcycle in a short black dress.

For a minute, she’d allowed herself to get carried away, which was so not her. Never once had a guy swept her off her feet. Most couldn’t even get her big toe to lift. And she sure in the hell wasn’t going to do the sweeping herself.

“Oh, come on. I’ve adopted you, remember? If you go home, I’ll just spend the whole night worried that you’re dead in a ditch, and then tomorrow I’ll have bags under my eyes for my friend Kindra’s bridal shower.”

And shewould worry about him. He had compelled her, intrigued her, from the first moment they had locked eyes, and she couldn’t just walk away from him without knowing he was safe and sober. Besides, it didn’t seem right to send him home alone tonight, when his whole family was off celebrating with his ex. Trish knew what it was like to be alone, and sometimes it just wasn’t all that much fun.

“Is it safe to leave my Harley at your place overnight?”

“I rent the second and third floor of a house and it has a garage.”

“Alright then.” He leaned over and whispered in her ear, making her shiver when his hot breath touched her cool cheek. “I’m trusting you with my life and a really expensive piece of metal. Are you sure you can handle it?”

Trish turned her head so that her lips were an inch or two away from his chin. She couldn’t see his eyes but she could feel him everywhere, surrounding her with his powerful, masculine body, coarse caramel whiskers dusting below his lips. “I can handle it.”

“I thought so.” Then he moved out of her personal space, and Trish was disappointed.

But he came right back and shoved a helmet onto her head, jerking her forward with the force, and sending her hair straight down over her eyes. Her ears bent painfully in half.

“Caleb!” She parted her bangs to either side of her eyes so she could see, and lifted the helmet to adjust it.

“Keep it on,” he ordered. “If we wreck, I’ll probably land on you. At least this way I won’t squash your head. And the key goes in there.” He pointed to the ignition.

No wonder she hadn’t been able to find it-it was in a stupid spot, nowhere near the handlebars. “Of course it does.” She started the bike with a loud roar. “And I’m not going to wreck,” she yelled over her shoulder indignantly, but she kept the helmet on.

Caleb’s hands went around her waist.

Then lower, to her thighs.

Controlling the rumbling bike meant her skirt had inched up.

So that his rough hands were on her bare skin.

And by the time they crossed West 117thand turned onto her side street, his hands had somehow traveled under her bunched skirt, a healthy distance above her knee.

She concentrated on driving. Not on the way her legs were vibrating wildly from the engine of the bike. Not on that delightful little jolt of awareness that was rolling through her body. Or that things had suddenly gotten warm, and maybe even a little damp, not so very far from where he was touching.

Then his hands slid higher. Resting on the outside of her thighs, thumbs dangerously close to her black seamless panties.

Trish nearly took out the telephone pole turning into her drive. That would have been ironic. But did he know what he was doing? Or was he so immune to her sex appeal he could pat her crotch like he might the head of a nice, friendly Lab?

Maybe he was falling asleep.

Because men always fondle women’s thighs when they’re dozing off.


This whole idea of having him over to her place obviously fell under the heading of extremely bad judgment.

“You know,” she said, as she turned the motorcycle off in front of her garage. “You probably don’t realize it, but you have your hand up my dress.”

“Do I?” he said in a voice that left no doubt he knew exactly what he was doing.

Thank God.

“Sorry. Your driving scared me, so I just grabbed and held on.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. Well, we’ve stopped, so you can let go now. I need to open the garage.”

The retreat of those big hands was gratifyingly slow.

Caleb stayed on the bike while she bent a little, twisted the door handle, and lifted the garage door up. Before she could say anything, he had pulled the bike inside with a roar of the engine and a squeal of the brakes, and was standing up. Way, way up.

Dang, he was gorgeous, in a really cute, big sort of way. And he was walking toward her, sticking his bike keys back into his pocket. Trish still had her hands up in the air, holding on to the garage door, ready to pull it back down once he was out.

But instead of heading toward the house, he walked right up to her and put his hands over hers. “I’ll get it.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got it,” she said, even as he dropped the door with a casual flick of his wrist. “Or not. Thanks.” She took a step away from him.

But he stopped her, with a tug on her fingers, his face dark in the shadow of the house, the streetlight’s feeble glow not penetrating the backyard where the garage was.

“I need to thank you, Trish. For watching out for me. I was drinking myself under the table when you…introduced yourself.”

She laughed. “You mean interrupted you like the bossy bitch that I am.”

He grinned, but shook his head. “No, that’s not how I see you at all.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, she shivered a little as a breeze kicked up. She wanted to get inside, take her heels and her bra off, and relax, far away from him, but Caleb seemed inclined to linger in the driveway. “How do you see me?”

He glanced up into the sky, and Trish followed his gaze. The stars were out, dim but straining to be seen against the lights of the city and the dark backdrop of the sky. Crickets were chirping wildly like they’d never get another chance, and voices from the next street could be heard as a car door slammed. When Caleb touched her lower back, shifting her clingy dress as his finger rubbed back and forth, she turned to him.

“You’re beautiful, Trish. That’s how I see you. Absolutely gorgeous.”

Before her frozen brain could formulate any adequate response, he was bending and brushing his lips across hers, a soft, light touch that almost wasn’t even there, and sent a rush of longing through her body. She could have sworn her soul sighed-which was such a ridiculous, girly thought that she was momentarily too stunned to kiss him back.

Then he was gone, standing full height, and she recovered herself. But when she reached to return the gesture, maybe expand on it, she couldn’t quite manage more than the bottom of his chin, even on tiptoe.

Gripping his steel biceps, she gave up straining. “Shit, I can’t even reach you. Come here by the side door so I can stand on the step.”

Rushing on her heels, she about broke her ankle, but wasn’t in the mood to care. Stepping onto the stoop that led through the side door of the house and up to the second floor where her apartment was, she turned back to Caleb. It still wasn’t an even match, but he bent his head a little, she reached up, and she was there.

On his mouth, tasting him, dragging her lips across his while her hands clung to his shirt and every part of her exploded in electrifying lust. He groaned, she moaned, and the kiss went deeper, harder, rougher, his hands pressing against her back while she opened up for the thrust of his tongue.

Trish molded against that hard body, wrapped her leg around his, ignored the fact that her dress had bunched up a hell of a lot more than was appropriate for her driveway. Then his tongue touched hers, and she sank into ecstasy for a split second before jerking herself back out.

He tasted like beer.

What the hell was she doing? He was drunk, which generally didn’t make for rational behavior.

Trish fell back against the screen door, scratching her bare shoulder on the metal frame, breathing hard. Caleb was also sporting an incredible erection in his jeans. But that didn’t matter.

She eyed that burgeoning denim and flattened herself further against the door. Okay, it did matter, but it shouldn’t.

What mattered was that she not take advantage of him. The last thing in the world she wanted was to sleep with him, then have him wake up with a throbbing head and regret, mortification, or horror at what he had done.

He was lonely, embarrassed that his ex was marrying an old guy, and Trish could not be selfish about this and give in to the lusty urge to just rip her dress off and hop on him right now.

He reached for her. She turned around, hugging the door, digging in her purse for her key. “Sorry. Sorry, Caleb. God, I didn’t mean for that to happen. Not to worry, though. I won’t lay another finger on you for the rest of the night-you have my word.”

Oh, yippee.Caleb stared at Trish’s cute little backside wiggling as she fiddled around in her purse, and wondered why she was apologizing for kissing him exactly like he’d wanted her to.

And wanted her to again.

He enjoyed her company, liked the way she was so confident and direct, and he was rapidly developing intense interest in her body. She was compact, firm, with a little curve to the hips and a luscious swell of breasts. He was afraid to touch, yet at the same time itched to slide his hands everywhere.

It was the last lingering effects of the alcohol that had emboldened him to rest his hands on her thighs, and when he’d felt that toned and satin-smooth flesh, he had about fallen off his bike. Two years was too damn long to go without touching a woman.

Now as Trish climbed the stairs in front of him, he swallowed hard. “It’s okay, Trish. I enjoyed it.”

She paused, but didn’t turn around. “Caleb. I lost my head for a second there, but let’s be up-front here.”

He followed her into a small living room with hardwood floors and a vibrant red couch. “Up-front about what?”

Trish kicked her shoes off under the coffee table. “Look, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’m attracted to you. But you’re sleeping on the couch tonight. That’s all there is to it.”

“Okay.” No matter how hard he was, he didn’t want her to have any doubts at all. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to ask her out for tomorrow night. He had every intention of seeing Trish again.

“Okay then. Great.” She put her hands on her hips. “Let me get you a sheet and a pillow. And I can get you something to eat if you’re hungry. Or coffee-do you need coffee?”

“I’m fine.” Caleb sat on the couch and fought a grimace. It was like a pine board. Stiff and smelling chemical, like she’d had it sprayed with stain repellent. It was a look-good-but-shit-for-comfort couch.

He lay down as she came back into the room with a bright red pillow. “You like red, huh?”

It seemed to be jumping at him from every direction, including by his feet. He nearly clipped six red candles on metal sticks on the end table when he lay down. Shifting, he tried to bring his feet back onto the couch. His head, shoulders, and chest shot off the other end and almost collided with a lamp. Red, of course.

“It’s my signature color. I’ve gone with a monochromatic decorating scheme.”

Okay. He took the pillow but there was nowhere to put it since his head was dangling three feet above the couch arm. He tried to adjust his feet so part of his lower half and part of his upper half were both off the couch, and he wound up feeling uncomfortable everywhere, muscles tense and bunched.

Trish laughed. “You look like a foot-long hot dog in a regular-size bun.”

He searched for a compliment in there, but couldn’t find one. “This is a small-ass couch.”

She rested her finger above her lip. “Well, I’m not cruel, so you can sleep in my bed and I’ll sleep out here.”

“You don’t want to sleep on this couch. It’s like laying on a brick.”

“I guess we could share the bed.”

Oh, yeah, baby. She didn’t need to ask him twice. “I guess we could.”


Trish was left with one burning question.

What the hell had she been thinking?

She was lying in her bed, staring at the ceiling, inches from Caleb, and she couldn’t do anything about it.

Damn her parents for teaching her ethics. If she hadn’t felt sorry for him, she would have left him tortured on the too-short couch. Or for that matter, she would just do what she really wanted and have hot and sweaty sex with him. Or if she hadn’t been a total softie, taken in by the big lug’s pathetic solo drinking, she never would have talked to him in the first place.

Being nice and responsible was a bitch.

Because she was wearing shorty pajamas that clung to her body, no bra, within smelling distance from the sweetest, most interesting guy she had met in aboutever, and she was just going to fall asleep.

After having told him that she didn’t mind in the least if he took his T-shirt and jeans off.

It had taken incredible discipline not to look when he’d climbed on the bed with her.

“Trish?” he asked as he turned toward her.

She grabbed the edge of the mattress so she wouldn’t roll toward him. Every time he shifted, the bed sank on his side and she started to skid downhill, right toward him.


“How long does my adoption last?”

He was using that voice again, the one that had traipsed past her ear while his hands had managed to fall up her skirt.

She clung tighter to the mattress. “Until I’ve decided you’re grown up and don’t need me anymore.”

“That’s nice of you.”

Oh, yeah. She was nice all right.

Nice and horny.

And wide awake. Inches from him.

It all came back to that.

Caleb watched Trish staring at the ceiling, covers up to her chin. He was under those covers with her, in nothing but his underwear. She was wearing tight little black shorts and a clinging red top that had revealed her nipples to him before she’d gotten into bed while he was stripping off his jeans.

If he shifted, he would be on her side and could pull her into his arms.

And she would probably knee him in the nuts.

“I’m not usually as pathetic as I was tonight, Trish. I’m not sure what that was all about.”

She finally turned and looked at him, eyes softening. “Hey, you spent a lot of years with your ex. We all have some baggage.”

“Thanks.” It made him feel less like a loser, knowing she understood.

“When I walked in there tonight, I was sure that all men are selfish bastards who wouldn’t know love if it bit them on the ass. You reminded me there really are good guys out there. I enjoyed talking to you.”

“There are probably more of us than you think.” He followed his urge to brush her bangs off her forehead.

She didn’t even seem to notice. Her expression was wistful. “Maybe someday I’ll actually find the one that’s right for me.”

I’m right here, he thought, then was shocked at himself. He was attracted to Trish, he thought she was funny and sexy, and he’d love nothing more than to see what was under that red shirt, but that was it. He wasn’t looking for anything that resembled a relationship in any way. Wait-yes, he was.

This thing with Trish, it had definite possibilities. Possiblities that could stand exploring. Now he just needed to convince her to let him do a little exploring come tomorrow when she didn’t have his blood alcohol level to use as an excuse.

“I’m sure we’ll both find the right person for us.” Maybe even sooner than she thought.

She shrugged and pulled the covers down a little. “Good night, Caleb.”

“Good night, Trish.” And he reached over and pressed his lips to her forehead, wishing it were tomorrow already.

“Want to crash the wedding?” she asked, her voice mischievous.

He laughed and lay back. “That would be really damn inappropriate.” But really friggin’ funny.

“But funny,” she said.

Man, he could not wait for tomorrow.

Trish was wet, slick, and swollen, giving little moans of encouragement as Caleb swirled his tongue over her aching nipple, and her hands roamed across his broad steel chest. His licking wasn’t enough-her clitoris was tight, desperate for his touch, and she arched against his hard thighs, trying to entice him to slip a finger inside her hot vulva.

Instead he pulled back and with a wicked grin, flipped her onto her stomach and gave her something much bigger than a finger. And Trish came, jerking on the bed, and straight out of sleep.

She blinked her eyes, shuddered, and flopped back down onto her pillow. Now that was just embarrassing. She had just had anorgasm while sleeping, and a lousy one at that. There was nothing worse than coming with nothing touching her but her own moist panties.

Sucking in air, she squirmed on the sheets, unfulfilled, her inner thighs still throbbing, and hoped like hell Caleb was still asleep. And that while fantasizing herself to a blistering O, she hadn’t squealed out his name between moans.

She chanced a look at him.

Green eyes met hers. Open. Curious.

“You okay?”

No, she wasn’t okay, she was so desperate she was getting off in her sleep while she had a half-naked man in her bed with her. There was something inherently wrong with that.

He rolled on his side toward her. “Did you have a nightmare? You whimpered a little bit.”

No kidding. And she wanted to again.

The sheet only came to his waist, and the sight of all that man skin so close to her, that solid golden chest, that sprinkling of masculine hair, undid her. There was only enough space between her chest and his for a book. A thin, paperback book. His eyes looked clear and sober, his soft brown hair sticking up a little.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was like prosecuting a case with circumstantial evidence. You could lose, but if you were lucky, you might just force a plea.

“It wasn’t a nightmare. I was having a sex dream.”

His eyebrows rose under his disheveled hair. “You werewhat?”

Surreptitiously, she kicked the bottom of the sheet with her feet, dragging it down so her tank top was visible. “Having a sex dream. About you.”

Caleb looked frozen in fascination. “You were?”

“Yes, and it’s your fault for looking so cute and for being too big for my couch. I told you last night I wanted you. I wasn’t lying.”

His look of shock had smoothed away-his hand reached out and touched her cheek, thumb rubbing along her bottom lip. “I wanted you, too, more than anything. So why did you tell me to stop?”

“Because I wasn’t sure how drunk you were, and I didn’t want to take advantage of you when you were feeling down.” Trish brushed his hair off his forehead in a gesture that was totally foreign to her.

She nearly laughed. Good God, next she’d be offering to do his laundry. But this wasn’t about a relationship. Caleb wasn’t ready for that, and she didn’t want one. But they could have one time together, here, while he was in her bed. She could satisfy this driving need for him. Or at least try to, really hard, while they were both naked.

“I’m not drunk now. And I’m feeling more up than down.” Caleb’s hand dropped to her bare shoulder, his eyes dark, his voice low and coaxing. “Want to tell me about your dream?”

She’d rather act it out. “Well…you were inside me. And I whimpered because I was having an orgasm in my sleep.”

“No shit?” He looked thoroughly intrigued by that.

Trish nodded, going up on one elbow, her tank top pulling taut. “And, well, it hurts, you know, to come with nothing touching me.”

Caleb cupped her breast, brushing across her nipple, and she bit her lip.

“Poor thing,” he said. “It sounds awful.”

“It was. I’m very unsatisfied.” Her breath was hitching and her thighs were throbbing and his hand was teasing and torturing, and her sleep-relaxed muscles tensed up.

“Let me fix that, Trish.”

She thought he’d never ask.

“Okay.” And she closed her eyes when his mouth covered hers and he gave her a deep whoa-baby kind of kiss that had her losing her grip and falling back against the pillow.

With one arm and very little effort, he pulled her up on him, so her body was snug along his everywhere that mattered and she clung to him like dog hair to black pants. His thick arms surrounded her, while his mouth tasted her, and Trish knew never again could she entertain sexual thoughts about a man shorter than her. Not after Caleb. Not after feeling his hard strength and being flush against so much masculinity. Paired with his very appealing compassion, he was damn near irresistible.

Not that she was resisting.

When he broke off their kiss, she actually went and whimpered again.

Caleb stroked Trish’s back, sliding down past the bottom of her tank top, feeling her bare flesh in the dip of her body before it reached the firm curve of her smooth backside. She was nibbling his ear, running her fingers through his hair, and he loved the way she took what she wanted. He had her on him, part for the press and grind of her luscious body along the length of him, but also because he knew he was big and strong, and didn’t want to overpower her or trap her or hurt her.

But he should have stripped her naked first. He wanted to see, feel, and taste her bare breasts. He tugged on her tank top, trying to work it up awkwardly. Trish caught the hint. She sat up with her legs around his thighs in an enticing straddle and raised her shirt over her head.

It went flying across the room, hit the wall and slid to the floor. Trish ran her fingers through her hair and arched her breasts toward him.

Caleb forgot to breathe.

He didn’t know what was sexier-the curve of her breasts, the tips of her dusky nipples, or the sexy I-know-you-like-them smile on her face.

His air came back on a desperate groan.

“In my dream, you were sucking my nipples, refusing to touch me anywhere else,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be that cruel,” he managed to say, though he was feeling something like a two-by-four had been taken to his head.

He should have known Trish would be different from his ex, but he hadn’t really had time to follow the thought through. April would never have sat on him, baring her breasts so enticingly. Nor would she ever have spoken out loud what had happened in a sexual dream, though Caleb doubted she’d ever even had any. April had been inhibited sexually.

And hot damn, it looked like Trish wasn’t at all.

“Then touch me,” she said, leaning forward and clasping one of his hands in her own. “I’m still wet from my dream,” she added, like this was a selling point.

He’d been sold the minute she’d dug in his jeans for the bike keys.

With a groan, he reached for her breast with the hand she wasn’t holding, took the fullness and squeezed. Trish gasped, her eyes drifting closed. He dragged his thumb across her nipple, felt the tight plumpness of it, felt the tremor that stole over her as he whispered her name.

Her eyes snapped open. “Caleb, oh, I want you so much.”

His briefs were too tight, his cock strangled alongside her inner thigh as she rocked over him, her breast heaving in his hand. Heat from her sweet spread reached him even through her tight shorts and his underwear.

Still holding her small, soft hand in his rough one, he sat up and swiped his tongue across her nipple. “I want you, too.”

His intent was to settle her firmly in his lap and suck her nipple into his mouth for a good long taste. But Trish had other ideas. She pushed on his chest.

“Lay back down. I need to take my shorts off.”

He did as he was told, and she collapsed on his chest, hot, perky breasts fitting over him. Caleb stroked her back, kissed her chin, while Trish wiggled around, pulling on her waistband.

“Dammit, I can’t get these off. Help me.”

“I’m just going to enjoy what you’re doing for a minute or two.” All that moving around felt pretty good, in a painful, torturous kind of way.

“It will feel better with my shorts off.” She buried her head in his shoulder as she lifted her hips and shoved.

He felt the fabric of both shorts and panties go down, felt her hot skin hit his, right above his briefs, felt the soft, feathery touch of her pubic hair on his midriff, and he swallowed a bucketful of saliva.

Then when he cupped her tight ass he swore at the pleasure of it. “You feel so incredibly good.”

Caleb stroked her in delicious exploration, rolling his thumbs across the swell, slipping into the dip between her cheeks with his middle finger as he palmed over her. He breathed hard, so primed just from touching her that he was afraid he would embarrass himself. Damn, he had waited so long, and she felt so fucking right.

“Your hands are huge.” She gave him a glassy-eyed stare. “How big are your fingers?”

“Not too big,” he assured her, not wanting to scare her. Shuddering, he lay still, battling his need into submission. “Look, Trish, anything that you’re not comfortable with, just say so. If I’m hurting you in any way, yell or slap me or whatever to let me know.”

He’d castrate himself if he hurt her.

But Trish shook her head and licked his bottom lip. “I wasn’t concerned. I was actually hoping your fingers would be big.”


And she rolled off of him and onto her back, slipping her shorts the rest of the way down her legs, kicking them off with a little flip of her toes. Her hands lifted over her head and one knee elevated. Her stomach dipped in, her breasts rose and fell, and her mouth turned up in a wicked smile.

“Hurt me, baby.”

Caleb watched her for a second, all laid out for him to touch and taste and fuck, and he felt something akin to awe.

“Now that’s a beautiful thing, Trish.”

Then he reached for her.

When one of those rough hands of Caleb’s cupped her between the legs, Trish gasped, rising up into his touch. His mouth played with her nipple, sucking lightly first one, then the other, while his hand just sat there and she squirmed in agony.

Trying to encourage him to do something besides letting his hand lie like a crotch-potato, she squeezed the solid muscles right above his waist. Then promptly did it again, enjoying the tight, wide feel of him.

He pulled away from her breasts. “Am I hurting you? Should I stop?”

Not in the way he meant. Trish wiggled again and his hand started to retreat.

No, no, no. Wrong answer.

“You’re not hurting me at all. I want you to show me how big your fingers are.”

Her voice must have driven her meaning home because he nodded his head. “Aah, I see.” Then with a grin, he lifted his hand off her completely and held it in the air. “This is what my fingers look like.” He wiggled them.

Never having entered into a study of finger-size comparison, Trish could draw no immediate conclusions. Caleb’s fingers certainly looked bigger than average, and his hand looked like he could palm a watermelon, but there was only one way to really tell.

“I don’t want to see them, I want to feel them.” She took his hand and guided it to her, sliding his index finger across her slick folds.

She rolled her eyes back in her head.

Caleb moaned. “Oh, shit, Trish, you feel so damn good.”

Look who was talking. His finger pushed inside her, filling her, and sending her muscles into little jerks and spasms of pleasure. He retreated, came back, went deeper, pulled out to swirl moisture around the swollen button her clitoris had become.

Her hand still rested on his wrist, his movements dragging her with him, and Trish decided this was indisputable proof of a much-argued maxim.

Bigger was definitely better.

“Like that? Not too big?”

“Absolutely not,” she managed, the thought of him withdrawing striking terror in her sex-crazed heart.

“Try adding another one,” she suggested.

His green eyes darkened to the color of a dense forest. His mouth covered hers with a moist, demanding kiss at the same time another finger plunged into her, stretching her and setting off a climax that she couldn’t stop.

Holding on to his arm with both hands, Trish let his tongue take her while she came with tight, shattering pulses. She yanked her head away from his to suck in air and let the pleasure take her under.

For a long, quiet second after she stopped shuddering, he held his fingers inside of her until she finally gave him a shrug and a smile. “Oops.”

Caleb pulled back and laughed. “Don’t give meoops. You knew what you were doing.”

“What areyou doing?” It appeared he was taking his underwear off, which left one thought in her head.Yes, yes, yes.

Struggling to sit up for a better view as he bared his skin, she asked curiously, “Are you…proportionate?”

His briefs were off and he rolled back toward her on his side.

Her question was answered. Oh, God, that thing was astonishing. Trish gulped.

“Yes, I’m proportionate.”

“I see.”

“I know you claimed I’m a freak of nature, but honestly, Trish, I’m not that big.”

She’d be the judge of that. “You look like you take your vitamins to me.” Ripping her eyes off of his fully engorged penis, she slid closer to him, licking her tongue across his chest. “I’m impressed.”

“I won’t hurt you.”

Closing her mouth around his nipple, she sucked, her fingers digging in his chest hair. “Put a condom on, Caleb. Before I throw a temper tantrum.”

He went still. “I don’t have any condoms. I…I just don’t.”

A thousand angry no’s went screaming through her head. Then she picked her head up off his chest and dragged her thigh off of his as hope restored itself. She resisted the urge to grind herself against him and sat up. “Don’t panic. I think I might have some.”

Crawling off the bed, she rushed across the room to her dresser. “My friend Ashley decided to become a Pleasure Party consultant a few months ago.”

“What’s a Pleasure Party consultant?”

“Someone who sells sex toys. Officially, they call them romance-enhancing products, but they’re really sex toys.” Trish dug through the drawer. “Come on, they’ve got to be in here. I was trying to support her, you know, so I bought some lingerie and stuff and condoms.”

Her hand closed over them. The condoms had been a joke. Because they were glow-in-the-dark pink.

But they were fully functional.

She ripped a row out of the box.

And turned and collided with him. “Oh! I didn’t know you were so close.”

Hitting that much immobile man sent her bouncing back into her dresser, and she nearly took a handle in the butt before Caleb steadied her. With hands that were now sliding across her backside and making interesting little crossroads into her inner thighs.

All while that impressive erection nudged her in the belly.

“Condom,” she said, holding the packets up in front of his chin before he distracted her with his talented tongue, currently running along her neck.

He took them and moved out of her space. Dammit.

Caleb ripped the pack open and got one out. And dropped it.

“Holy shit. It’s pink, Trish!”

“Novelty condoms.” She shrugged.

“I can’t slap a pink rubber on my dick.” The look of horror on his face made her laugh.

“It’s not like I’m going to doubt your masculinity.” Unable to stop herself, she wrapped a hand around him and stroked. No, no question there. “Come on, it’s this or it’s nothing. I don’t have any other ones.”

He was tense, grinding his teeth together. But it didn’t take him long to decide. He bent over and retrieved the pack, knocking her hand off him with the motion.

“Don’t laugh.”

“Of course not.” Hilarity was not the overriding reaction his presence brought on.

Turning slightly from her, Caleb rolled on the condom.

“Need some help?” Trish asked, fingers itching to lend assistance. She should be shocked at herself. She’d never been quite so voracious about sleeping with a guy before.

But analyzing her rioting emotions wasn’t top on her to-do list right now.

“I got it, thanks.” Caleb turned back, an endearing and adorable stain on his cheeks-Trish glanced down-that matched the hue of the condom sheathing him.


He was wearing a pink condom and Trish was laughing. Somehow this wasn’t the way Caleb had pictured events playing out.

Hands on his hips, he grimaced and fought the urge to cover himself with one of Trish’s red pillows. “You said you wouldn’t laugh.”

She covered her mouth. “I didn’t mean to.” She struggled to wipe the grin from her face. “Sorry. Okay, I’ve got it.”

Then she glanced down and nearly suffocated herself trying to hold in a laugh, fingers pinching her nose.

Granted, he was a little embarrassed. The thing was pink. Shocking pink, not-found-in-nature pink. But he was still turned on, and watching Trish was a joy. She was so direct, honest, so up-front about what she was thinking and feeling, and he liked seeing her laugh, especially since she was doing it naked.

“It’s not really your color.”

What would be, he wondered. “I can take it off,” he said, brushing his thumb over her nipple.

Her laugh cut off on a thin moan. “No, you can’t do that. Don’t worry about its color, pretend it’s just normal.” Fingers clung to his arms. “Better yet, just-hide it.”

When her breath hitched like that and she got that excited, aroused look of anticipation on her face, he thought he could wear a spotted or floral condom and not give a crap. At least, the spotted. Floral would probably be too much to handle with a straight face.

“Where should I hide it?” Caleb pressed against her body, before giving in to impulse and lifting her into his arms.

“Whoa!” she shrieked, grabbing at him. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I’m hiding the condom from your view.” Caleb bounced her a little, adjusting her in his grip, her bottom nestled against his abdomen, her breasts brushing over his chest in a torturous tease.

“Really? Well, I had a better way to hide it than this.”

He just bet she did. “I’m taking you to the bed, so you can show me.”


She was. When he laid her down on her crisp white sheets, the red bedcover piled on the floor, he forgot about pink condoms, and without any thought or plan or warning, pushed inside her moist opening.

Caleb held still, pleasure pulsing through him. Her hot little body writhed under him and tight, moist walls clamped down on him, making him grit his teeth.Holy shit. He’d forgotten how good it felt to be in a woman, how much he’d missed it.

But he didn’t want to finish before he started. And he didn’t want to crush her with the weight of his body, so he held himself over her and pulled back for a nice, long, slow stroke, savoring the snap of acute ecstasy in his nerve endings.


Another thrust. Another demanding “more” from Trish. Pausing, Caleb stared down at her, thrown off his game, not sure what she was really asking for.

“What…” he trailed off when she pushed on his chest.

“You’re holding back,” she accused, giving another little shove.

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Neither did he want to be talking. He stared at her in confusion.

“You won’t. Now get on your back.”

For a second he just lingered there, half in her, half out, feeling like a gigantic goofball who didn’t know how to please a woman. Then because he wasn’t sure what else to do, he rolled onto his back, Trish gripping his arms and following him, until she wound up on top of him.

A bolt of lust shot through him.

It had possibilities.

Trish splayed her hands on his chest and arched her back. “You’ve got to understand something about me. I’m not a nice girl. I send men to prison every day and I enjoy it. And when I want something, I really want it.”

She moved, lifting off and on him, with sure, confident strokes, and Caleb couldn’t keep his eyes off her. She was gorgeous-mouth open, eyes glazed with pleasure as she rode his cock slowly at first, then increasing in speed.

“And I…want…you.”

Her carefully painted nails dug into her mussed, but still stylish, hair as she went up and down with frantic thrusts.

Caleb held the small of her back, fought to keep his eyes open. “You’ve got me, gorgeous.”

She was smooth, slick over him, pushing herself down so hard that he went deep inside her, and the little bud of her clitoris pressed into his pelvis. It was almost too much, too fast, sensation winging through him, and he knew he couldn’t stand that hot, wet friction much longer.

But without warning, Trish dropped her hands onto his chest, eyes wide, and convulsed against him in an urgent orgasm, so damn sexy that Caleb gave up holding off and joined her.

He heard his own moan rushing past his ears, forced himself not to maul her too hard as his body jerked in its release, hard and satisfying. It went on for a good, long, hot minute, and when he finally relaxed back against the pillow, exhausted and satisfied, Trish gave a throaty laugh.

“My sentiments exactly.” And she draped herself across his chest with a sultry sigh.

While he liked having her there, he knew he was sweating, and probably smelled rank. He gave her a gentle nudge. “You don’t want to lay on me, I’m all sweaty.”

“So?” Trish played with the ends of his hair and yawned. “After we take a nap we can hop in the shower together.”

With an enticing little lift of her hips she moved off of him, then resettled on his thigh. “But first, I have to sleep. It’s hard to settle into good REM sleep when you’re orgasming.”

Caleb laughed and wrapped his arm loosely around her. But instead of sleeping, he tugged off the pink condom and listened as Trish’s breathing evened out. Wonder stole over him at how amazing she was, and how right she felt in his arms.

Trish was fascinating. She didn’t care that he was sweaty, she talked casually about her sex dream, and already had a shared shower planned.

He liked it.

Sleeping across a hard, naked man was therapeutic. Trish woke up rested and satisfied, more relaxed than she’d felt in months. She stretched her legs and snuggled back into his chest, glancing up to check him out. Caleb, the little cutie, was still asleep, a small snore emitting from his mouth.

Trish really thought he was just absolutely adorable, which struck her as funny. The man was huge, and yet she was constantly pulling out adjectives likecute,sweet, andadorable to describe him. But he was.

He was probably one of the nicest guys she’d ever met, which maybe didn’t say much for the company she’d been keeping. But Caleb was just a good, solid, loyal kind of guy who worried that he might hurt her, and she might be interested in exploring where the whole thing could go beyond her bedroom.

Except that she didn’t cook, didn’t own anything appliqué, was ambivalent about children at this point, and worked relationship-killing hours. Not exactly marriage-making material.

So that left her this morning to enjoy Caleb.

She tickled his ribs.

He jerked in his sleep, making an “unnnn” sound of protest, but didn’t open his eyes.

Trish shifted a little, found his penis, and stroked it.

This jerk was enough to almost knock her off his chest. Green eyes locked with hers. “What are you doing?”

“Giving you a hand job.” That hadn’t been her original intent, but he felt pretty dang good beneath her fingers. “But I’ve been going for like ten minutes now and my hand’s tired,” she teased. “So I’d better stop.”

He groaned. “Next time, wake me up first so I can enjoy it.”

Next time. The fact that it pleased her to think there would be one had her sitting up, annoyed with herself. She’d just given herself theGet A Grip lecture and here she was, already fantasizing about waking up like this with Caleb every day.

Yet she couldn’t quite make herself pull her hand off of him, not since he’d grown gratifyingly hard. Then Caleb sat up next to her. “Can you hold that thought, gorgeous?”

He shifted out of her touch. She was momentarily miffed until he yawned and rubbed his hand over his stubbly chin. “I really want to revisit what you’re doing in like two minutes, but first…where’s your bathroom?”

“To the right. Want me to make some coffee?”

He smiled and cupped her cheek. “That would be great, thanks.”

Then he stood and walked across her bedroom toward the door, gloriously naked, muscles rippling. Was it her imagination or had her ceilings shrunk? He filled her apartment and made it seem small, poky. She’d lived there two years and was really happy with the place. She had two bedrooms and an office, lots of windows and extensive woodwork and molding, which had all been painted white, setting off her red furniture to advantage. But the minimalist decorating and the sharp edges screamedsingle woman to her, for some reason, and Caleb looked odd surrounded by her things. He needed sturdier furnishings. Pine, cedar.

Trish dug a pair of red boy-short panties from her burgeoning lingerie drawer and pulled them on, along with a tight white T-shirt that claimedANGEL across the front. She had ordered it at Ashley’s Pleasure Party and had meant to check the box “Princess,” but somehow had checked the one below it and had wound up “Angel.” Which wasn’t exactly something she aspired to. But Ashley had given her crap when she’d asked to exchange it, so she’d have to be an Angel.

She rescued the condoms from the floor where they had dropped and set them on the nightstand. Just in case. Easy access. Then at the last minute tucked another one in the waistband of her panties. She liked to be prepared.

Caleb appeared in the door. He glanced at her chest. “Angel?” he asked dubiously.

Trish tried to move around him, but he blocked the whole damn door. “Yes. I’m an Angel, through and through. Pure as the driven snow. Now move your big body so I can make the coffee.”

“Give me a kiss first, Angel,” he said, and lifted her up, straight off the floor.

Trish dangled in the air like a slutty puppet. Her T-shirt rode up, panties likewise. Her hands were pinned against his chest, and even though she felt ridiculous, she had to admit she was impressed with his strength. He wasn’t even straining to hold her.

She laughed. “Put me down, you oaf.”

“Kiss me first,” he ordered, nuzzling in her neck.

“I can’t with your mouth down there.”

“Got an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“Never doubt it.”

He lifted his head, stared at her, his mouth inches from hers, waiting. Trish forgot about the coffee.

Dragging her tongue across his bottom lip, she maneuvered her arms around his neck. Then slowly, slowly nibbled her way across his hot mouth while her legs drew up and locked around his waist.

Over and over she licked, tasted, touched across his mouth, while his breathing grew hitched and his grip on her hard and tense. Trish rocked forward, bumping his erection with the apex of her spread thighs, drawing a shaky groan from both of them.

Still she didn’t give him the kiss, just rubbed and sucked and tormented until her nipples ached and her clitoris throbbed and she wanted him so very, very bad. Then she kissed him, her tongue pressing hot and hard into his mouth, demanding, claiming, ordering him to respond.

He did, matching her tongue thrust, gripping her ass, grinding her against him.

Drowning in desire, Trish fumbled for the condom in her panties. She held it up as he bent over her, shoved her shirt up, and pulled her nipple into his mouth. Hard. Rougher than anything she’d seen from Caleb yet. And it turned her on, to see him let go, forget to hold back.

“I bet you’re strong enough,” she murmured into his ear, “that we could do it just like this, standing up.”

“I bet I am,” he said, starting to stroke between her thighs, running along her damp panties.

With her teeth, Trish opened the condom. “Hold on to me.”

“Trust me, I’ve got you.”

She did trust him. Letting go, she let Caleb hold her up by her waist as she reached below to unroll the condom onto him. She fumbled, her hands slipping around, but eventually she got it in place over his erection.

It never even occurred to her to laugh at the pink color this time. She was in agony, aching with want, arching to rub her nipples across his chest. “It’s on.”

Caleb kissed her-deep, penetrating and possessive-before urgently walking her backwards and slamming her into the wall. Her shoulders made contact with enough force to rattle the pictures hanging there.

It forced the air out of her lungs in a startled, “Oh!” Trish grabbed Caleb’s arms, and held on as he shoved her panties to the side, and when his finger ran across her, sinking in, her exclamation drew out in a shaky sob of pleasure.

“Oh, God, yes.”

Then Caleb replaced his finger with his cock in one out-of-control thrust that sent Trish’s head snapping back into the wall, and her body into ecstasy.

Caleb held Trish around the waist with one hand, the other on the wall for leverage and he sank inside her over and over, lost to anything but the incredible reception of her body gripping around his. She was digging her nails into his flesh, making loud, encouraging sounds that drove him into her harder.

It felt incredible, raw, everything between them stripped down to the basics of lust and want, cushioned by trust. He knew she trusted him not to take it too far, and that was just as arousing as anything else.

Trish wrapped her ankles tighter around his ass, dropping her thighs wider to him, and when he gave another rhythmic push, he heard the sound of fabric giving way as her panties tore. She gave an excited little laugh, her eyes wide, lips shiny from his kisses, skin flushed, head tilted against the white wall.

Damn, damn, double damn, she was hot.

“Oooh, just like that.” And her eyes closed as she came, arching forward into his arms, forehead falling on his chest in a sexy little shudder.

He was okay until she gave a vulnerable little whimper. “Caleb.”

The way she spoke his name, so soft, so sweet, stole his last bit of control and sent him over into a pounding orgasm, as he let out a groan Joe probably heard back at the bar. A groan that strung out long and hard as his body pulsed with pleasure like he’d never felt before.

They stood together, holding each other, panting, his muscles straining and tired, for a drawn-out minute, as Caleb tried to rein his control back in, and figure out what in the hell had just happened to him. And how he could convince Trish that something powerful was stirring between them, something fun and fascinating, and damn well worth pursuing.

“Am I heavy?” she asked drowsily.

“Not at all.” He liked holding her there, tucked around his waist, his hands on the sexy rise of her backside. But after a minute her panties were starting to cut off his circulation so he pulled back. Trish gave a sigh of disappointment, her inner muscles squeezing him a little.

“Sorry, Angel.”

Her breath tickled his skin as she laughed. “You’re not going to start calling me Angel, are you?”

“Maybe.” She’d certainly popped into his life right when he’d needed one. Right when he’d been feeling sorry for himself, Trish had sat down next to him and had ordered him to stop being an ass. To take responsibility for his own happiness. If he wanted a relationship, wanted passion and love in his life, he had to go out and get it.

He wanted it with Trish.

He was about to open his mouth and tell her when the doorbell rang.

Sliding her down to the floor, he jumped when she yelled, “Go away! I don’t want any.”

Trish had a voice that carried when she wanted it to.

An astonished female voice yelled back. “Trish, it’s Ashley and Violet. Let us in.”

“Oh, crap.” Trish let go of him and padded toward her room, shimmying out of the destroyed panties. “Caleb, it’s my friends. You jump in the shower and I’ll get rid of them, okay?”

Caleb took a full ten seconds to process the second half of her sentence. Once she’d started wiggling out of that red lace, he’d gone stupid. “Huh?”

His jeans hit him in the face as she reappeared, wearing a bulky nightshirt. “The shower. Get in the shower.”


“Trish, are you sick? Open the door!”

“Coming!” she called, then gave him a shove.

Caleb did as he was told and stepped into the bathroom, distracted with visions of pulling that nightshirt up and tasting between her thighs with his tongue.

Trish hoped Ashley had a damn good reason for pounding on her door on a Saturday morning.

“What?” she said as she opened the door, running her fingers through her hair. “Is the building on fire?”

Ashley and Violet gaped back at her. They were both wearing dresses, Violet pushing up her glasses, while Ashley twisted her engagement ring around and around her finger.

Why did Trish have the feeling she was forgetting something here?

“You’re not even dressed! We’re supposed to be at the restaurant an hour early to set out the party favors.”

That’s what it was. “Damn it! I forgot all about the shower.” Trish craned her neck to see her platinum clock.

“How could you forget?” Ashley pushed past her and looked around the room, obviously seeking an explanation for Trish’s sudden amnesia. “We spent all afternoon yesterday shooting e-mails back and forth with Kindra until I thought I would scream. Kindra has totally entered the frantic-bride phase.”

“She’s just nervous,” Violet protested. “She wants everything to be perfect.”

“You can say that because she left you alone since you were puking your guts out with morning sickness for four weeks straight. I work with Kindra, have no excuses, and trust me, this has been a painful process.”

All the more reason not to be late and aggravate Kindra, aka Bridezilla. Trish stood there with her arms crossed, mentally ripping through her closet to find something to wear. “What time do we have to be there?”

“In fifteen minutes.”

“Well, hell, go ahead without me. I’ve got to take a shower. It’s only five minutes from here. I’ll drive myself.” Then she slapped her head. “Except that I left my car at Ryan’s last night. Shit!”

She was already moving ahead to plan B, figuring she could take the bus or ask Caleb to drop her off, when Ashley flipped back her blond hair and narrowed her eyes. “Late night?”

Trish nodded.

“Is your shower running?” Violet asked, peering down the hall.

Ashley laughed, glee evident in her expression. “You have aguy here, don’t you? We’ll wait for ten minutes for you to get ready if you tell us who he is.”

Since Ashley had parked her little floral-dress-covered butt on Trish’s couch, she figured she might as well tell her. “He’s one of Joe’s friends-I met him at Ryan’s last night.”

“You just met him?” Violet sounded shocked, which irritated Trish.

“Ryan’s known him for fifteen years, he wasn’t just some freak on the street.” She loved Violet, but she really wasn’t one to talk. “And if memory serves, Dylan had you pregnant like ten minutes after you met.”

Violet’s face turned a guilty red. Good.

Ashley just laughed. “But this is cool, Trish. We’re all part of a couple now. We can take vacations together and stuff. And go out to eat and to Cedar Point amusement park…”

As charming as that sounded, she needed to stop Ashley’s couple train before it rolled any further. “Except that Caleb and I aren’t a couple. His ex-wife is getting remarried today and he was just looking for a distraction. I provided one. I’m not his type.”

Saying it made her feel like complete and utter dog crap, even though she knew it was true. Yet she wanted it not to be true.

Annoyed at her weakness, she stood there, leg out in defiance, and said firmly, “I’m the transitional woman. That’s it. Nothing more.” Only it had felt like a heck of a lot more to her last night when they had talked for hours. And this morning, just minutes ago, when he had been holding her, their bodies joined intimately.

Dammit. She should have just stuck to unconscious orgasms-they were a lot safer, though not nearly as satisfying.

Ashley’s eyes darted past her, then went wide. “Hello.”

Violet put her fingers over her mouth. “Oh, my.”

Trish turned and saw Caleb in the doorway, wearing only his jeans, water still running down his chest, hair sticking up like toothbrush bristles.

“So you felt sorry for me? The sex was your contribution to the Poor Caleb Fund?”

Her mouth worked, but nothing came out.

Ashley said, “That’s one big, angry guy.”

Which pretty much summed things up.

“Of course not! I’m not nice enough to run around having pity sex with guys. Iwanted to have sex with you.”

“But that’s it?” His voice was quiet, tight, tense.

Shoot, shoot, he was hurt. She had hurt his feelings. This was why she couldn’t make a relationship work. She was selfish and too blunt.

Violet tapped Ashley on the shoulder. “It’s time for us to go. We’ll meet you there, okay, Trish?”

Trish waved her hand in agreement.

Ashley looked disappointed to miss the show, but she followed Violet with one more peek back at Caleb’s chest.

A Lake Erie-sized wave of jealousy flooded over Trish.

“I saw that, Ashley Andrews! Watch it or I’ll tell Lucas.” God, she sounded like she was twelve. And she knew darn well Ashley was head over heels for Lucas, which made her own reaction seem even stupider.

“What?” Ashley blinked innocent green eyes. “I was checking the clock.”

“We’ll see you at the shower,” Violet said, and dragged Ashley out the door.

When it clicked in place, Trish turned to face Caleb.

But he was gone.

She found him in the bedroom, pulling on his T-shirt. “Caleb…I have to go to this bridal shower, but we need to talk first.”

“About what?” He sat on the bed to pull on his socks.

“Us.” She stood there feeling like a humongous jerk, somehow devastated by the idea that he was going to just leave and she’d never see him again.

“There is no us.”

“Yes, there is,” she snapped.

“No, you’re just the transitional woman, remember?” He tossed her own words back at her calmly as he laced his gym shoes.

And her heart broke for the first time in her twenty-eight years of life.


Caleb wanted to eat his words the minute they left his mouth. Trish froze, her hand dangling over her chest, her eyes huge.

He swore. Just because she had hurt him didn’t mean he was justified in turning around and doing the same thing. And she hadn’t said anything that was surprising. They hadn’t discussed dating at all. They had just fallen into bed together.

Because it had felt so right, so perfect.

“I’m sorry, Angel, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

Her hand came up in a defensive gesture. “No, no, you’re right. I said it first. It’s not like we could actually date or anything.”

Jesus, there were tears in her eyes. He leaped off the bed, reached for her, hesitated.

“We don’t have anything in common or, or, anything,” she finished, turning away and blinking hard. “God, I’m just as annoying as your ex-wife must have been.”

That’s when he knew she felt the same as he did, and that they could get past this little blip, and be together. Because for some reason she had sat down on that stool next to him the night before, and he knew what that reason was. They were supposed to be together.

“We have a lot in common. We like bowling, lizards, and Harleys, and we believe the bad guy should pay for his crimes. We like the same books and movies and we’ve both been lonely. We like each other.” He touched her chin, forcing her to look at him. “At least, I like you. A lot.”

“You make it sound like it’s easy.”

“It can be easy, if we make it easy.”

She snorted. “The only thing easy is me. I was about as subtle as a hooker this morning.”

Caleb was momentarily distracted by the memory of her straddling him. “Did I look like I minded?”

“Caleb.” She gave a sigh, all hint of tears gone. “Let’s be practical. Maybe I wasn’t tactful in what I said to Ashley, but it was the truth. I’ve confused you with great sex, but I’m not an easy person to get along with. And you still have feelings for your ex-wife.”

The only thing confused was her logic. “Honestly, Trish, I do not.” They needed to get that cleared right up. “What drove me to that bar last night was the fear that I was never going to find someone to share my life with. A woman confident in who she is, intelligent, passionate. And then there you were. All of those things, sitting down right next to me. That’s not dumb luck, Angel. That’s the universe telling us something.”

Trish turned and went to her closet, sorting through her clothes. She shot him a rueful expression over her shoulder. “Telling us what? I don’t feel illuminated. I feel confused as hell.”

Anything he was going to say was forgotten when she pulled that nightshirt off and stood in front of her closet completely naked.

Her fingers plucked an orange-colored dress off a hanger and she turned and threw it on the bed, clearly not noticing that his tongue was on the floor and his dick had shot forward like a pointer dog at attention.

“I’m going to be late to this shower, which makes me a sucky friend. I have to get ready, Caleb. Kindra’s important to me and I don’t want to let her down.”

He wasn’t even going to acknowledge she was standing there naked, looking good enough to lick from head to toe. Because if he did, he wasn’t going to be able to prevent his tongue from taking action.

“I’ll drop you off.” Caleb took a step toward her, palms itching to touch her. He shoved them in the pockets of his jeans. “But before you go, think about this. You said you’re not sure marriage would ever be worth it. Well, this…” He gestured from himself to her. “This is worth pursuing. Because right now I’m feeling like if you let me, I could fall right into love with you.”

Trish felt her nipples harden and her heart go soft like crème brûlée. She was naked and he was talking about love. How exactly did she get herself into situations like this?

Someone here had to be rational, and since he was giving her a lovesick look, it would have to be her. “You just think that now. It’s called afterglow. You don’t really mean that. We just met sixteen hours ago.”

She expected him to give in. Maybe even look a little hurt and embarrassed.

Instead he took another step closer to her, eliminating the remaining space between them. His big hands landed on her arms and she thought taking that nightshirt off had been her stupidest move to date.

“We have something else in common, Trish Jones. You said you always get what you want. Well, so do I. And I want you.”

Then he picked her up and held her so tight she expelled all her air and feared for the safety of her bladder. “Put me down.”

“No. I want you and I’m keeping you and you can’t do anything about it.”

“You’re nuts.” And sexy as hell. Geez, she had it bad for him.

“Nuts about you, lawyer girl.”

“I thought I was Angel.” Her words came out breathier than intended since his hands were stroking across her backside and her breasts were pushing into his bare chest.

“That too.” He kissed her chin.

“You know I’d love to stand here all day and chat, but I have a bridal shower to go to. You know, lots of gifts, cake, smiling so much your face cracks.” Talk wasn’t the only thing she had in mind when he started nibbling on her ear.

“Just tell me you want me, too, and I’ll let you down.”

“You know, if we’re going to start dating, you can’t just sling me around whenever you feel like it. It’s rude.”

“Sorry.” His tongue slid into her ear.

Somehow her legs wrapped around his and a moan escaped her mouth. “Caleb, stop it.”

“Tell me you want me, Trish. I need to hear it.” His voice was soft, vulnerable, even as his nose nuzzled into her neck.

Trish couldn’t think of any more good reasons to deny it. The man clearly had no sense of self-preservation. “I want you, too. There, I said it, and you’ll be sorry, you know. I’m difficult to get along with. I’m aggressive.”

He laughed. “That’s one of the things I love about you. And the only thing I regret is that you have to put clothes back on your sexy little ass.”

He patted the little ass in question and Trish felt sickeningly, grotesquely happy, and very glad he hadn’t walked out of her apartment angry.

Caleb covered her mouth with his in a desperate, possessive kiss that rocked her to the tips of her bare toes. And she thought she might have an idea why Kindra, Ashley, and Violet had been walking around with such smug smiles on their faces.

Finding a great guy was better than winning a court case.

She broke off the kiss. “Give me a ride on your Harley,” she panted.

Caleb raised an eyebrow and gave her a wicked grin.

“No! I mean to the bridal shower.” Then she thought about it and relented. “But maybe tonight…”

He groaned and dropped her to the floor. “Go, before I use my strength for evil purposes.”

Trish darted away from him and went to her underwear drawer. “There’s one good reason to go to the shower. I can order more pink condoms from Ashley. I anticipate us using these up quickly.”

As she pulled on panties, Caleb said, “Order red instead. It’s your signature color.”

She laughed, while Caleb adjusted himself in his jeans. “What’s the matter? Pants too tight?”

“Yes. You have no idea how you just looked wiggling into those panties.”

“No, I don’t.” Trish shoved the panties back down to the floor and pulled them off. She stepped in front of her full-length mirror and lifted a leg, thoroughly enjoying the shocked arousal on Caleb’s face reflecting back at her. “Let me see.”

“You are going to kill me.”

Trish pulled the panties up her legs, making sure Caleb got a nice view. “But you’ll enjoy every minute of it.”

Caleb nearly tore through the front of his jeans watching Trish display everything she had and then some. “Oh, hell, yeah.”

When he pulled her into his arms again, Trish looked up at him, her brown eyes serious. “I do believe in love and marriage and a happily ever after, you know. I just never saw it happening for me. I’m still not sure it can.”

Caleb thought it was ironic that a woman so confident, so successful, could doubt that she would ever find love. And he found it amazing that what he already felt for her seemed suspiciously like love.

“Trust me, Trish, not to hurt you.”

She nodded without hesitation. “I do.”

“Then let’s go for a ride.”

Trish grinned. “Can I drive?”

“Our relationship, my Harley, or in the bedroom?”

“All three.”

“How about we drive the first together and take turns with the other two?” Though he felt a little pang at letting her drive his bike.

“Perfect.” She threw her arms around his neck. “Now kiss me, you big lug.”

“You got it, Angel.” Caleb moved his lips over hers and sighed. She was a hell of a woman.

Which was confirmed when she grinned up at him. “Now let’s get a move on. We have a bridal shower to be late for, and an ex-wife’s wedding to crash.”

Erin McCarthy

Erin McCarthy sold her first book to Kensington Brava through author Lori Foster's website contest in 2002, and has since sold an additional nineteen contemporary romances and novellas to Brava and Berkley Publishing. Her debut, BAD BOYS ONLINE, was a Romantic Times Top Pick, and BAD BOYS IN BLACK TIE was a USA Today bestseller. Erin lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband, two kids, and two cats.