He let his hand drift to the first of a long row of buttons that fastened up the front, making her half wish she’d worn the zippered one.
“In all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever once wondered what you were wearing underneath.”
She gulped a little as her cheeks flamed. He’d never noticed her like she’d noticed him. He couldn’t be making that more clear. “Brodie,” she choked out, letting go of the table with one hand, intending to stop him.
Then he lifted his gaze to hers. And what she saw in his eyes wasn’t disinterest. Or even mild curiosity. What she found there wasn’t remotely casual. Anything but. She saw an intensity of want, and need. She saw desire. For her.
“Yet, right now,” he went on, his voice a husky murmur, “I can’t seem to think of anything else.” He slid the top button free, then another, pushing the edges apart. Her nipples were twin points of fierce need, and the muscles between her thighs had clenched so tightly together now, she might never be able to relax. He slipped another button free ... then another.
And suddenly this wasn’t a game any longer.
“What changed your mind?” she blurted out.
Don’t stop him now, you bloody loon!
But whatever sliver of sanity she had left told her she’d forever regret this if she didn’t understand his reasons behind this sudden about-face.
“Does it matter?” He slipped another button free. “Do you want me to stop?”
She automatically shook her head. What? It was the truth. She didn’t want him to stop. She just wanted to know why.
“Then let me get on with discoverin’ what treasures ye’ve been hiding from me all these years.”
Her hand came up of its own volition and covered his. “Brodie.” She heard the urgency in her own voice, and she wondered what he saw when he looked into her eyes. “Why now?” she insisted. “I need to know.”
He let his fingers play through hers. “A little bird came whispering by and mentioned that maybe what I’ve been looking for all along was right under my nose.”
“A bird,” she managed, her entire body tightening as he slid his hand free and toyed with the next button down, this one between her breasts. “Or, perhaps ... a flower?”
He paused, glanced up through those lashes. “Does it matter?”
Her heart stuttered a little.
Why had she opened her big, curious mouth?
“Yes,” she said quietly, knowing why. “It matters.” She forced herself not to pull away from him. To stand there and listen, and not run from the room before he could say the words that would crush any hope she had of ever getting him to love her like she loved him. If this was all a lark ...
“Kat.” He snagged her hand and held it still against his chest. “I don’t want Daisy, if that’s what you’re asking. Do ye think I’d be here with you now if that were the case?”
He nodded. “But it’s me who is doing something about it. I was thinking ye might want to thank her.” He smiled. “I know I do.”
Inside she was a tumble of emotion and not a little confusion. “But all these years and you never once ...” She let the sentence trail off, wishing she was as confident about this path they were embarking on. However playful, it was still going to change things. “And if we ... and I’m not ... things won’t be the same.”
He grinned then, surprising her with the force and surety of it. “I should bloody well hope things won’t be the same.”
She wished for a sliver of that confidence.
He feigned a wounded look and pressed her hand to his heart. “I’d rather ye’d keep me about, underfoot ... and perhaps under other more interesting things as well. I’d hoped to be unforgettable.”
She couldn’t help it, she laughed. “Oh, aye, ye are that, Brodie Chisholm. Ye are that.”
His lips curved and that mischievous twinkle returned to his eye. “Then perhaps ye’ll let me get back to claiming me spoils, and stop interrupting.”
She wanted nothing more in the whole world. “I want to. You have no idea. It’s just—”
“Och, so much worryin’. Of all people, you should trust me, shouldn’t you?” He stopped her from finishing with a finger pressed to her lips. “Let me ask you something, then.”
She nodded, moaning just a bit when it caused the warm skin of his finger to brush over her bottom lip.
“Why haven’t ye said anything to me, Kat? About what you were feeling? Why didn’t you approach me yourself?”
She dipped her chin then, but he lifted it right back up.
“We’ve always been the best of friends to one another,” he said. “You could have told me anything.”
“Anything save that,” she answered. “I couldn’t ... I didn’t want to risk ... because I do know you. I’m not your type. I know that. Hell,” she said on a watery laugh, mortified at the tears that suddenly threatened. Could she be any more pathetic? “I’m not anybody’s type.”
“Enough of that kind of talk.” He held her chin rather firmly when she tried to duck him again. “I’ll not have that from you, Kat Henderson. You deserve better than that from yourself. And I deserve better than that from you.”
Surprised by his outburst, she could only stare at him. She’d never thought of it like that.
“You’ve been closer to me than anyone and the fact that we’ve stayed close throughout should tell us both something. You were smart and recognized it for what it was before me.” He loosened his hold, let his fingers stroke along her jaw. “And you’re not the only one with insecurities, Kat-o-mine.”
She couldn’t recall the last time he’d used that nickname. It felt good to hear it from his lips again, better than ever before. In that moment, the way he was looking at her, touching her, saying her name like that, she felt more intensely female, and feminine, than she had in her whole entire life.
“What could you possibly be insecure about?” she asked him.
The single word, so seriously spoken, surprised her. “Why on earth would you be worried about that? Everyone loves you and you’ve got the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
“I don’t doubt my capacity for love ... I just—” He stopped, as if looking for the right words. He was really serious about this.
“I’ve dated my fair share. More than my fair share,” he blurted.
Her lips curved in a small smile. “Aye. A legend ye are, Brodie Chisholm. Which is why I find it hard to believe you’re looking at the likes of me.” She gestured to her grimy coveralls. “You could do a damn sight better.”
His gaze found hers and locked on. “That’s just it. I’ve dated plenty. But I haven’t given my heart, or didn’t ye notice? I was beginning to think maybe I wasn’t meant for the long term, and I’ve been finding myself thinking that it’ll be a lonely life for me indeed if that’s the case. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. He was a charming rogue, for certain, and every lass in a hundred kilometers likely knew his name. Or wanted to. She’d never once thought what he was thinking, how he felt, assuming he was happy, romping through the field of available women.
He toyed once again with the buttons, and as she watched the uncertainty fill his beautiful eyes, her heart melted further. Something she hadn’t thought possible. “You’re not destined to be alone, Brodie,” she said softly. “I can’t imagine such a fate for you. You’re the heart of this village. You thrive on people, on being around those who mean so much to you. You’d shrivel up without the fervor and hubbub of life around you.”
“And yet ... Have you ever felt alone in a room full of people, Kat?”
The quietly asked question caught her off guard. “I—” She paused, thinking how often she’d felt that way when looking at other couples, wondering what it was that had given them the impetus to come together, and stay together. And why that magic forever seemed to elude her. “Aye,” she said softly. “Indeed I have.”
He tipped her chin up. “I don’t feel like that when I’m with you.”
Her heart skipped a full beat, then resumed beating in double time. “I—I ... neither do I.” It was the God’s honest truth if ever there was one. But so was this. “Being friends, Brodie, isn’t the same as being lovers. I couldn’t bear it if—”
“That’s just it, Kat. I think I kept you in this special place in my heart, separate from all the playing and fooling around, because, to my mind, you were above all of that. Better than all of that. And I think now it was because I knew that fun was fun, but I’d never managed to find a way to make it more than that. Every relationship I’ve had has been disposable. Except this one. So I couldn’t see you like that. Do you understand? I didn’t. But I do now. And I want more. I want it all. And if you don’t think that terrifies me, too, then you’re daft. But the thing is, I trust you. If I’m ever to make this work, I can’t imagine it with anyone but you.”
He was looking at her with such earnest sincerity ... and an intense desire that couldn’t be feigned. It was enough to shake her right down to her toes. She’d come into this wanting to get his attention. Well, she’d gotten it, all right. But she hadn’t expected that he might actually fancy himself in love with her. In the way she knew she was with him.
“And ye see me that way now? Truly?” She kept pushing, needing to be absolutely certain before taking another single step. “Because of something Daisy said? Or because I wore a dress? Because that wasn’t me, Brodie, that was me being stupid and insecure and thinking that I’d do almost anything to get your attention. And now you want my hair down and I’m thinking I’m no’ the woman you—” She broke off when he burst out laughing.
“You keep talking about yourself as if you’re not desirable. Don’t you understand? It’s no’ just the hair, or the clothes, that make the woman. In fact, it’s almost everything else that does.”
“That’s friendship, Brodie. I need to know that you—”
“Desire you?” He took the edges of her coveralls and yanked her to him. “Want you?” Pushing her back against the billiard table, he pressed the full length of his body against hers. “You mean like this?”
And, without wasting another breath, or even asking her if she was ready, he kissed her. Took her mouth, and claimed it, he did. There was no slow lowering of his mouth to hers. One instant she’d been standing there, clutching the pool table as if her life depended on it.
The next thing she knew, she was clutching him. Fists in his shirt and in his hair. Kissing him back as if her life depended on it.
And maybe it did.
e was kissing Kat Henderson. Like there would be no tomorrow and this was his last chance at heaven. She tasted like heaven.
He groaned when she sank her fingers into his hair, then grabbed on and kissed him back with the same fervor. How in the hell had he missed out on this for so long? Their tongues dueled, both of them seeking to gain as much of each other as possible. It was insane, the need he had for her. It should rightly terrify him, and on many levels, it did. He knew her too damn well, knew everything there was to know about her ... except this. Which served to make every touch, every taste, that much more intense, that much more primal.
Yet he knew immediately that this was what he’d been missing all along. A connection that went so deep it was like a joining of souls.
He heard what he thought was a whimpering moan coming from her, but when she pushed him back a little, she was smiling, her cheeks flushed as she shook her head in disbelief.
“What?” he said, struggling to pull back on the reins a little. It felt like he’d waited his whole life for this moment. . . and now that it was here, patience wasn’t looking to be his strongest suit.
“Us,” she said simply. “What the bloody hell are we doin’ here, Brodie?”
He grinned at that, at the excitement he saw reflecting so purely in her eyes. “If I have to explain that to ye, lass, we’re in a heap of trouble.”
She swatted at his shoulder, then gasped when he caught her hand in his and slid two of her fingers into his mouth. Desire made her pupils punch wide. Her lower lip dropped further as he pulled her fingers deeper and began to suck. He wanted to suck that lower lip of hers. Badly.
He released her fingers, letting them slide slowly, wetly, from his mouth, nipping at the soft pads just before letting go completely. Her gaze was locked on his as he cupped her cheek and pulled her mouth back to his. He nibbled at her bottom lip, making her moan deep this time, and perhaps there was a little groan of his own as she sighed and sank into him. He took her mouth again, and again. Leisurely, thoroughly. Her bottom lip was an irresistible delight, one he treated himself to repeatedly and with great indulgence. If her little whimpers were anything to judge by, he wasn’t alone in the pleasure it evoked.
Her fingers curled into the hair at the nape of his neck. There was no battle this time as he continued his exploration, but a slow capitulation as she let him have his way with her mouth. His entire body was rock-hard and screaming for release, but with a clarity of sanity he was surprised he still possessed, he knew that they would both be better served by scraping together whatever patience they could find.
And take this one exquisite step at a time.
He had many firsts in his life with Kat. First fish caught. First bike ridden. First ale consumed, followed by far too many more, leading to their first time drunk, as well.
But this would be by far the most important first. He’d never forgive himself if he did anything to screw it up.
“Ye make me ache, Kat-o-mine, that you do,” he whispered against her jaw. She murmured something he couldn’t make out, but let her head drop back, allowing him access to the soft skin of her neck. Of which he took full advantage.
She moved against him, her hips shifting in the tight space between the table ... and him. Now he was growling, and it was all he could do to maintain concentration on the task at hand. He alternately kissed, licked, and nipped at that place just below her ear ... while simultaneously slipping another button open on her coveralls, and another still, until he could push the garment off her shoulders and down her arms, so the top half hung around her waist.
He didn’t want to risk making her feel self-conscious again, but he had to look at her. Had to see her with these new eyes of his. He lifted his head, holding her steady with his hands at her hips, gripping the bunched-up coveralls ... and, more importantly, keeping part of her body in constant contact with a very needy part of his.
“Och, but what ye do for a man’s white t-shirt should be declared illegal, Kat.”
Under her coveralls she wore a tank-style, ribbed undershirt that was so thin he could see every detail of the bra she was barely wearing underneath. She was a tall woman, but small-chested, yet what she had was cupped sweetly inside lacy little cups of silk that plumped them up perfectly for the taking. And take them he would.
His throat went dry and his fingers dug into her hips as he struggled against the need to yank her tight to him and press his now-throbbing cock into that soft spot at the joining of her thighs. Where he knew she’d be wet for him, ready for him. It cost him. Dearly. But the reward was just as great. “Ye run about claiming you don’t like the frippery and such of bein’ a woman, so kindly explain to me where that wisp of nothing came from.”
She was blushing furiously, clearly wanting to believe he was aroused by her, and just as clearly not. She gripped his wrists, but didn’t try to wriggle free. “Please, don’t make fun—”
“A man never teases about something that makes his body harder than the marble cutting board atop his own bar.” He tugged her just a little closer, costing him another chunk of his restraint, but wanting her to know just how deeply she was affecting him. He pressed the bulge of his jeans hard between her thighs. “That’s what you’re doin’ to me.” He shifted his gaze to the perfectly budded peaks of her breasts, just begging to be suckled, then lifted his eyes back to hers. “And it’s glad I am that you seem to enjoy it, too.”
Her flush crept down her neck, but her lips twitched a little. And for the first time, he saw the other part of Kat, the part he knew as well as he knew himself. “I never said otherwise,” she teased. “And why is it I’m half undressed and you’re still—?”
“I believe I’m the one collecting my spoils here.” He pressed even more deeply into her, making her gasp and dragging a long, guttural groan from him as well. “However, if it’ll make you feel more comfortable, by all means, take a little for yourself as well.” He gamely held his arms out to the side, still keeping her hips pinned to the table behind her with his. “Like as not you’ll take the next round anyway, seeing as I’m a little distracted at the moment.”
She surprised him by reaching immediately for his shirt and tugging it up over his head. Seeing his slightly stunned expression as she tossed it over her head onto the table behind her, she smiled smugly. “When have you ever known me to take a pass on gaining an edge in a competition?” She took her time getting her fill, looking him over.
He had no idea how he looked to her, wondering if he suddenly looked as different to her as she had to him.
“You have a fine chest, that ye do, Brodie Chisholm,” she said on a sigh as her gaze all but gobbled him up, making him twitch even harder.
He grinned, liking that thread of need he heard in her voice. “Aye, something we both seem to be in agreement with about the other. Speaking of which, I believe I was in the midst of claimin’ my prize.” He reached around behind her. She stiffened slightly when he nimbly released the catch on her bra.
“What are you about now?”
He slipped his fingers inside the edges of her tank top and slid the straps down her arms, slowly dragging the lacy silk across those oh-so-perfect budded nipples of hers. She gasped first, then moaned, grabbing the edge of the table once again for support as her knees dipped a little.
Once he’d slid the garment free, it joined his shirt on the table.
“The only feminine bit I’m wearin’, and you—”
“Think you’re incredibly sexy standing there with your coveralls half hanging down from your hips, those perfect nipples of yours pushing through that t-shirt, begging for my hands to cup them.” Which he did, making her knees buckle a little again as he softly let his palms rub over her nipples through the thin, ribbed cotton.
“Dear, sweet Christ,” she murmured, her knuckles white as she gripped the table harder.
He lowered his head, unable to keep himself from her a moment longer. He captured one cotton-covered nub between his lips and pulled it slowly, softly into his mouth. Her groan was deep and satisfied, pleasing him in a way another woman’s climax couldn’t even compare with. She released her death grip on the table and clutched at his head, keeping him where he was, which was perfectly fine by him.
He slid his hand up and toyed with her other nipple, making her body twitch hard and her hips drive forward. So responsive, his Kat. Every inch of his body was rigid and aching hot. He pushed the t-shirt up, needing to taste her sweet flesh. Her nails raked his scalp as he finally circled her bare nipple with his tongue. Her hips were pumping now. He skated his palm across the nipple that was still damp from the t-shirt he’d suckled it through, then rolled it gently between his fingers as he continued to flicker his tongue over her.
She groaned again and again, holding him to her breast, her back arching now. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to slip his arm around that arched back and lift her up onto the pool table. He pushed her back and climbed right up on top of her.
“Brodie,” she gasped. “What—” The word ended on another long groan as he pressed his hips to hers. When he’d dragged her onto the table, her coveralls had slipped down her hips, revealing a pair of soft rose-colored bikini panties that made the pale skin of her belly and thighs look luminous in comparison.
He slid to one side of her, needing to see all of her, touch all of her. With her blond hair all wild and spread out across the green felt, her skin so alabaster pure against the dark backing, all slender legs and slim torso, she looked like some sort of fairy sprite. Which, had he mentioned it out loud, would have surely brought a derisive snort from her.
The thought of it made him grin.
“That looks distinctly feral,” she told him.
“Och, but I’m a harmless bloke, merely looking to pleasure his lady.”
That earned him a short giggle, which somehow turned him on more than everything that had happened to this point.
“Yer doin’ a fine job of it so far,” she told him on a sigh.
For all that he had her sprawled across his billiard table, in complete dishabille, he’d have thought she’d have turned shy or self-conscious. Once again, the Kat he knew peeked through. There was almost a taunting thread to her tone now. “Of course,” she said, “you have me wondering just how much ‘spoils’ one round of darts should earn ye. And don’t think I’m no’ payin’ close attention, as I plan to best you for certain next round.”
Brodie reached across her and plucked one of the handmade darts from the table, twirling it in his fingers. “Do ye, now.”
Her eyes widened a little, but not in fear. He loved that about her most. She didn’t shy away from him. Never would. Their bond went far too deep.
He shifted onto his side next to her, propping himself up on one elbow as he continued to toy with the dart. “Lovely piece of art, don’t you think?” Then he looked at her and winked. “The dart is quite a piece of work, too.” And he got the satisfaction of seeing the pink rise in her cheeks again, even as the curiosity regarding his intentions flared to life in her eyes. Och, but she was a complexity of needs, his Kat. He was going to quite enjoy unraveling them all.
Slowly, and with great deliberation, he turned the dart around, cupping the sharp end in his palm ... then softly twirled the feathers across first one bare nipple then the other. Both were still budded and damp from his earlier ministrations, and slightly flushed in color. Her hips jerked as her back arched deep, her sudden intake of breath coming out on a long moan as he slowly trailed the soft feathers down the line of her torso, circling her navel.
He leaned down and continued his exploration with his tongue. “Och, but a man could feast here for days,” he told her between suckling her nipples, the words never more heartfelt. “And yet ... I am drawn to the rest of the feast.”
Her breath was coming in short gasps as he drew his tongue down along the path the feathers had taken. Shifting his body down, he hooked one finger in the slender strap holding her panties around her hips, and tugged. She gasped, arched again, and he could smell the musk of her. Aroused she was, which was a good thing. His boxers clung to the tip of his cock, so wet and ready was he for her. Had he ever wanted a woman this badly?
With his body, aye, perhaps, he acknowledged. But when the power of love was behind that need, it took him to a place he’d never dreamed of approaching. The need was deep, bordering on desperate, and came from places within him, deep-as-a-well places he hadn’t thought he possessed.
Possess her, that’s what he wanted. Nay, that’s what he needed.
Patience, lad. Handle this right ... and she’ll be yours forever.
The very idea almost made him come right there. And what a waste that would have been. The smile that brought to his lips also brought with it the much-needed edge he required to continue.
As he traced his tongue along the edge of elastic that ran between her jutting hip bones, she flung one hand over her head, clutching at the far edge of the table. Her other hand came down to grip his hair so hard he was certain he lost a few in the battle. The visceral nature of her need drove him even higher. But he also resisted her urging him to move his mouth to where she needed it most.