Authors: Jennifer Bernard
Special thanks to Sierra Dean,
Kristina Birch, LizBeth Selvig, my agent Alexandra Machinist, and the Avon team, especially Tessa Woodward and
Elle Keck. You're all All-ÂStars in my book.
This book is dedicated to my sister Yael, who inspires me in so many ways, and to my parents, who opened their minds when it mattered.
made a list of Âpeople she'd never expect to see at the Kilby Community Library, Mike Solo would be right at the top. He was the popular catcher for the Kilby Catfish, after all, with a grin promising every kind of fun, and the sort of physique built from squatting behind the plate, not carrying a pile of heavy-Âlooking hardback books to the checkout desk.
“Need a hand, Solo?” She slid next to him, propping one hip against the desk. “In case, you know, you're wondering what all these big, thick things are good for.” She flicked one of the books; it looked like a serious biography.
Mike, as always, didn't miss a beat. With a flash of his devil-Âgreen eyes, he murmured, “I know exactly what big, thick things are good for, but you can demonstrate if you want.”
Frank the librarian, nearly dwarfed by Mike's tower of books, choked a little.
Mike raised an eyebrow at Donna. “Look at that, you've gone and upset the librarian, Red. That's bad etiquette.”
gone right into the gutter, not her. She wanted to protest, but the pink tinge on the librarian's face made her shift gears. “Sorry, Frank. I'll behave.” She leaned across the desk. “But you do realize that one of the notorious Kilby Catfish is in our humble library. I just hope the patrons are safe. We all know how crazy those ballplayers can be.”
“Now that's just prejudice, plain and simple,” Mike announced, looking injured. “I'm a law-Âabiding citizen here to settle up before I leave town. Frank knows I would never cause any trouble. Unless trouble comes looking,” he added, sweeping Donna with a glance that made her skin warm. “I have a few more of these, man. Be right back.”
“Thanks, Mike. I'll get started.” The librarian reached for the top of the stack. Donna stared, mouth dropping open a bit. Apparently Mike was just as well-Âknown to the staff of the library as to the bartenders at the Roadhouse. Well, well, well.
“Donna, you'd better come with me,” Mike added, putting out his hand. “I'm not sure I trust you alone with all those big, thick things.”
“Ha .Â .Â . ha.” The rest of her no-Âdoubt-Âbrilliant comeback evaporated as his big hand enveloped hers in callused strength and heat. She and Mike Solo had been flirting with each other all season, ever since she'd first met him at the Roadhouse. But it had never gone further than that, for various reasons. Her complicated life, for one thing. His Vow of Celibacy, for another. Everyone knew that Solo took a Vow of Celibacy at the start of the season and never broke it.
Hoping her way with words would come back soon, she followed him out of the library into the hot parking lot. It was just so .Â .Â .
to see him here, in real life, instead of out on the ball field or partying with the other Catfish. Like one of those “Look, celebrities are just like you” magazine spreads showing movie stars with cups of Starbucks. It made her wonder what else she didn't know about Mike Solo.
He opened the door of a silver Land Rover and reached in for more books, giving her a chance to watch the flexing muscles of his back and a truly spectacular rear end. She averted her eyes before he caught her, fixing her gaze instead on the books he dropped into her arms. On the cover of the top book, the face of Steve Jobs stared back at her. “Do you really read all these books?”
“We have a lot of road trips and I like to keep my brain cells active. I'm a catcher, you know.” He extracted himself from the car, burdened with another stack of books.
“So, catchers have to be smart. We have to know the game better than just about anyone. Strategy, patterns, human behavior. I have to know what someone's going to do before they even do it. Like you, right now.” With a twist of his hip, he closed the door of the Land Rover. It was unfairly sexy, how he did that.
“Me, right now, what?”
“From what I know of Donna MacIntyre, you're going to make a joke. That's your go-Âto, make a joke. Come on. Tease me, baby. Do that thing you do so well.”
She clamped her mouth shut, not wanting to prove him right, though of course he was. Ever since she was little, she'd coped with all the crap in her life by laughing about it. What else could you do?
Lifting her head high, she marched toward the library. Mike caught up with her instantly. “Did I forget to mention I like it?” He leaned down close, so she felt his warm breath on her ear. Shivers raced down her spine. “Don't hide your light for me. Joke away. Bring it on.”
“Maybe I'm not in a joking mood. This is a library, after all.”
“I keep forgetting that, maybe because I usually see you in a party atmosphere. What brings a wild and crazy girl like you here?”
For a reckless moment, she wanted to tell Mike the truth. The whole story, in revealing detail. But she hadn't even told Sadie, her best friend. Which was all kinds of wrong and had to change, right away. But for nowÂ .Â .Â .
“Picking out books for the Shark. He's the boy I nanny for.”
“Love the nickname.”
“Thanks, Priest. I have a knack for nicknames.”
mine?” The confounded look on his face made her laugh. It was fun getting under Mike's skin.
“Because of the Vow of Celibacy, you know. But don't worry, that's not your only nickname.” She winked.
“I shouldn't ask. I really shouldn't. What else?” He shifted his pile of books to one arm and held the door open for her.
She ducked under his arm. “Hottie McCatcher,” she told him demurely. “But don't let it go to your head.”
“I've got news for you, Red,” he whispered, as Frank the librarian put a finger to his lips, urging them to be quiet. “Season's over. The Vow of Celibacy has expired.”
Donna's entire body, including her suddenly dry mouth, reacted to that piece of information. With a strangled squeak, she hurried toward the desk.
Mike followed Donna, drinking in the sight of her denim short-Âshorts and tight T-Âshirt, which he'd already scoped out as advertising a local zydeco band. Her body curved to a deep indentation at the waist. For about the millionth time, he wondered how it would feel between his hands. Sexy, maddening Donna, with her copper-Âbright hair and changeable hazel eyes. He knew her face was prettyâÂheart-Âshaped and stubborn-Âchinned, with a damn dimple to boot. But to him it went beyond that. He always found himself caught up in the jokes she cracked, her cheeky attitude, her .Â .Â . daring.
After all, the last time he saw her, she'd been standing up for her friend Sadie against the entire Wade clan of bullies. That took guts, and he respected the hell out of her for it.
At the desk, they both unloaded their piles of books. Mike pulled out his wallet and extracted two hundred-Âdollar bills.
Apparently stunned, Frank dropped one of the overdue booksâÂan account of World War I fighter pilotsâÂon the floor. “Oh, I'm sure it won't be that much.” The librarian shook his head nervously. “We're only up to five dollars so far.”
“Consider it a donation, then. A little something extra for keeping all these books out of circulation. Sometimes the season gets away from me.”
Donna was looking at him strangely. “You do this a lot?”
“Check out books and forget to return them? Been known to happen. Road trips. Injuries. Team drama.” He shrugged. “I try to make up for it. Are we good, Frank?”
“Good, good. Very good.”
“Excellent. Maybe I'll see you next season. Hopefully not, of course. Nothing personal.” He winked at the librarian, which seemed to unnerve him, as he just kept nodding in response.
He turned to Donna, who had her hands in the back pockets of her shorts. Lord, she was sexy. And fun. The most fun he'd had with a girl in .Â .Â . well, definitely since Angela, and maybe ever. And they'd never even kissed.
With a lightning-Âquick calculationâÂthe way he figured things behind the plateâÂhe did the math.
1. The vow was over.
2. Donna was giving him that sassy look.
3. She was wearing that T-Âshirt that hugged her gorgeous curves.
4. Tomorrow he'd be gone.
“C'mere a second.” He took her hand again and pulled her toward the tall, secluded stacks where the biographies were shelved. He'd never seen anyone in this section, and anyway, there were only two other Âpeople in the library, including Frank.
“What are you doing?” she hissed. But she followed him willingly. Maybe she'd had the same thought. It took two to create this kind of chemistry, after all.
When they'd reached the deepest part of the stacks, where dust floated in the quiet sunbeams, he stopped, then turned to face her. The sun lit her hair into a fiery cloud. “I'm going back to Chicago tomorrow. But before I go, I'd like to do something.”
“Return your library books. I can see that. You probably have some parking fines to pay too. Disorderly conduct, maybe?”
He ran a hand through the rough curls at the back of his head. “I have to confess something.” His Catholic-Âboy conscience had been tugging at him this whole time. “Only a Âcouple of those library books are mine. Mostly they're my neighbor's. He's house-Âbound, so I pick up books for him.”
She blinked, her eyes a soft heather green in the filtered sunlight. “Your confession is that you don't read big piles of books, and that you go to the library for your neighbor? What else, do you feed his cat?”
“Only when he forgets.”
Amusement lit up her little heart-Âshaped face. “I'm crushed. I was thinking there was a secret genius hidden inside that ripped body.”
She was talking about his body. Looking at it too, her gaze lingering on his chest. That was good. Seize the opportunity.
“Maybe I was trying to impress you. We've been dancing around each other all season. Don't you want to see if there's anything to this chemistry?”
Her eyes widened. “
Are you trying to add public indecency to all those fines?”
“Just a kiss. One kiss. There's nothing indecent about a kiss.”
She tantalizingly considered that for a long moment, while a tension rose between them. He meant what he said; he didn't intend anything beyond a kiss. He was leaving the next day, and one-Ânight stands weren't his style. But Donna had been on his mind for months, and damn it, he wanted one taste of those curvy pink lips before he left Kilby.
Finally she seemed to make up her mind. She took a step forward, brushing against him. A fresh fragrance came with her, like a fern unfurling in the woods. “Nothing indecent, Priest? I've got news for you.”
“There is if you do it right.” And she lifted her mouth to his.
As soon as Mike's lips met hers, Donna knew she was in trouble. When he'd said he fed his neighbor's cat, she'd melted inside. Then when he'd mentioned Chicago, something had clicked. If he was leaving, she didn't have to worry about what would happen next. She could have a hot moment with the guy she'd been crushing on for months, end of story. No consequences, no aftermath, no fallout. Just a chance to experience something she'd imagined a thousand timesâÂa kiss from sexy Mike Solo.
But this .Â .Â . this was more than she'd bargained for. Firm and skillful, his lips parted hers, their mouths fitting together as if they'd been preparing for this moment all along. One of his big hands came around to the back of her head and cradled it. It made her dizzy, the way he held her, as if she were something precious, something to treasure.
Was this real kissing? Maybe she'd never done it right before. Tingles shot from the back of her mouth all the way to her toes, with a few stops in between as well. Every movement of his tongue sparked a blaze of sensation that made her gasp. As if every kiss in the past had been meaningless, a placeholder for
kiss. She pressed against him, losing herself in his scent, his warmth. She wanted to dive inside his big body and nestle inside his heat and strength.
His other hand, the one that wasn't cupping the back of her head, stroked slow fire along the curve of her waist. “God, you feel good,” he muttered against her mouth. “Even better than I imagined. And I've been doing a lot of that.”
So had she .Â .Â . but nothing came close to the reality of his strong thigh pressing between her legs, the panting from deep in his chest, the soft prickle of stubble against her neck as he kissed her shoulder.
God, she was going to melt right here on the library floor. She pulled out of the kiss. “This is crazy. We can't do this here.”
His eyes blazed down at her. “No,” he rasped. “You're right. Not here. There.” He jerked his head toward a door set into the wall at the end of the stacks. Some kind of supply closet? Bookbinding room? Door to another dimension? Did she care?
No, she didn't. Holding hands, they tiptoed to the door, checked to make sure the coast was clear, then ducked inside. Janitor's closet, it turned out, based on the mop bucket she nearly knocked over. Fighting back the giggles, she snuggled back into Mike's arms.
“I knew it would be like this,” Mike whispered fiercely, running his big hands under her shirt. Her nipples hardened before he even reached them, just from the thrill of his touch on her stomach. “I knew it ever since I saw you that night at the Roadhouse. I want to see you ignite all the way. Like dynamite. I want you to come, Donna.”
An erotic buzz cruised through her system. She opened her mouth to tell him that was highly unlikelyâÂshe was too wary with menâÂbut instead she said, “Clothes stay on,” the last vestiges of her sanity reminding her that they were in a library. He nodded, and sealed his lips over hers in a deep, mind-Âdrugging kiss. Her knees failed, and she sagged against him. At the same time, he curved his hand over her hip and tugged her closer. Her sex scraped against his thigh and she moaned, the sound buried in their kiss.