Authors: Sandra Owens
But the sex . . . He’d accustomed himself to reining in his needs and had believed he’d been successful. As he sucked on a lemon drop, he swiveled his chair and stared at the map on the wall, trying to concentrate on the red pushpins where K2 had active operations underway. Annoyed, he threw his pen on the desk. He’d wasted an entire morning thinking about Sugar.
Did he want her? Absolutely, unequivocally yes. More than he’d wanted another woman in years. He was hard just thinking about her, but she was a threat to the rules he’d put in place.
For months after the wreck, he’d been lost in a haze of drugs and booze in an attempt to dull the pain of what he’d done. Then the day came when he had to appear in court. Although he’d hit black ice, and that was determined as the cause of the accident along with his high rate of speed, he’d tested positive for marijuana and alcohol.
To his dying day, he would thank his lucky stars to have gotten the judge he had. His attorney had advised him to plead not guilty because Jamie didn’t have any priors, and it could be argued he was speeding to the emergency room because his father was having a heart attack. The lawyer had thought it likely Jamie would only get his hands slapped.
Refusing to take the advice, he’d pled guilty, hoping the court would throw him in prison where he belonged. Instead, the wizened old judge had been sympathetic of Jamie’s loss and
suggested he join the military.
“If you want to honor your father’s and mother’s lives,” he’d said, “do something with yours that would have made them proud.”
That night, he’d gone to the house that was no longer a home with parents who loved him even when he’d screwed up, and, in a rage that he hadn’t been locked up and the key thrown away, he had gotten stoned dead drunk.
He’d blown everything. The college football scholarship he’d lost the summer after graduation when he’d hurt his shoulder playing a game of football with friends, all of them high. The homecoming queen—his girlfriend—had broken up with him when it turned out he wasn’t going to be a college football star.
Then he had killed his parents, and every screwup that came before paled in comparison.
What kind of judge turned loose a man who ruined everything he touched? The next morning, he’d stood in front of a mirror, bleary-eyed and swaying, staring at himself as he contemplated his choices. Out of all the things said in the courtroom the day before, one thing kept hammering over and over in his mind. The judge was right: his parents wouldn’t be very proud of the man looking back at him.
Jamie gave himself three days to sober up, then went to the closest recruiting office—which happened to be the navy—and enlisted. When the opportunity arose, he tried out for the SEALs and managed to get through the elimination process by the skin of his teeth. By that time, he’d already instituted the rules he would live by, and it was no surprise when his SEAL teammates nicknamed him Saint.
The last thing he wanted in his life was a woman who called to the man who was far from a saint. There’d been women who had tempted him to fall back into his old ways, but it had been a quickly passing urge, easy to resist.
Sugar threatened rule number three: no anything-goes sex. Because he knew down to his toes that’s how it would be between them. If he gave in, which rule would fall next? He’d already cursed twice because of her, even if it was only in his mind. Next thing he knew, he’d slip and say one aloud. Doing drugs didn’t worry him. He’d never touch the stuff again. But alcohol? Different story.
When would he decide there would be no harm in joining her in a glass of wine over dinner? No, he had no choice but to resist Sugar Darling. He lived his life to honor his parents, and nothing else mattered.
od, she was tired. Going from one job to the next was taking its toll. The numbers on the computer screen blurred, and Sugar pushed away from her desk. The music blaring from the strip club didn’t help her pounding headache, and the three cups of coffee she’d downed to stay awake weren’t doing it any good either.
One more week and she’d never have to come back to the club. Robert hadn’t given up trying to talk her into staying, but she was so ready to be gone. The one plus—Kyle had avoided her like the plague. She’d been a little worried he would ignore Jamie’s warning, but apparently Jamie’s message had come through loud and clear.
She powered off the computer and tidied up her desk. A tropical storm had moved offshore and it was raining so hard she could hear it hitting the roof even over the music. After slipping on her raincoat, she grabbed her umbrella and purse. Wouldn’t want to keep Jamie waiting.
True to his word, he’d been parked behind her car every night when she walked out the door. He didn’t get out, didn’t talk to her, just followed her home and waited until she was inside her condo before driving off into the night.
It was kind of weird, like having a phantom guardian angel. She’d tried to tell him the day before when she was at K2 that it wasn’t necessary, that Kyle wasn’t bothering her. He’d just grunted and walked off.
That was weird, too. After his one day of being nice to her, he was now ignoring her completely, to the point that she actually missed the grouchy Saint. Strangely, he intrigued her more each day. After what she’d learned about him on the Internet, she’d come to the conclusion there were depths to him he kept hidden.
It was as if there were two different Jamies: the one before the accident that had killed his parents and the one after. Unable to resist, she’d spent hours studying the pictures of him in high school, and in almost all of them, he was either laughing or had a big smile on his face. She could understand the grief and guilt he must have suffered, but it was as if he had banished forever the boy who had always been happy.
She thought back to the day she’d found Junior in the alley. Her cat had not been pleased when she’d trapped him and carried him home. He’d hissed and spit; he’d hidden for days under her bed. Since he couldn’t talk, she could only try to imagine what he might have gone through trying to survive. Considering his bent tail and the missing part of an ear, at some point, he’d obviously either been in a fight or had been tortured.
With extreme patience and determination, she’d slowly won him over. When Jamie had given her a manly grunt the day before—after she’d told him he didn’t need to worry about protecting her—a lightbulb had gone off. If he was worried about her, that must mean he cared, even if he couldn’t admit it to himself. Could she win Jamie over as she had Junior with the same kind of patience and determination?
“Here, kitty, kitty,” she murmured as she opened the door to step outside the Palace. With a new purpose in mind, she brought up her umbrella and the wind promptly tore it out of her hands.
“Get in the car!”
Sugar jerked her gaze from her departing umbrella to the car parked two feet in front of her. Jamie leaned over his console and pushed the passenger door open, and she scurried inside.
“Wow, did you see that?” Crap, in the few seconds it had taken to get in, she’d gotten soaked and was dripping water all over his leather seats. That should make him happy. When he grunted what she took to be a yes, she had to bite back a smile. Oh, yeah, kitty, kitty was hissing.
“Where ya goin’? You just drove past my car.” She twisted and stared at the receding car until it was lost in the rain.
“You can’t drive worth a . . .”
“Shit?” she supplied at his pause.
“On a clear day under the noonday sun,” he finished as if she hadn’t spoken. “You’d be a menace to yourself and others on a night like this.”
“But I need to get to work tomorrow.”
A longer pause this time. “I’ll pick you up in the morning and take you to get your clown car.”
“I think my car just got insulted.” She pretended to be offended by adding a huff and staring out the window. When she’d ignored her cat during the you-can-trust-me stage, he’d soldier-crawled to the edge of the bedframe where he could keep watch on her. Out of the corner of her eye, she waited to see if Jamie would look at her. He did. One point to her.
“Admit it, Sugar, that thing is an easy target for ridicule.”
Convincing herself she’d heard a smile in his voice, she shifted toward him. “Torture me if ya want, but I’ll admit no such thing.” Well damn, his eyes heated and his nostrils flared. She was onto something it appeared. Just what, she wasn’t quite sure yet, but she’d puzzle it out. “Course, I’ve never had my feet lit on fire, so I might blab all my secrets.”
“Had your feet held to the fire,” he said, the slight crinkle of amusement at the corners of his eyes contradicting his scowl.
“That, too.” The windshield wipers slashed back and forth on high speed, and the car’s lights were overpowered by the heavy downpour. It was probably a good thing she wasn’t driving in this mess.
Inside it was warm and cozy, and the man next to her smelled damn good, the spicy scent of his aftershave making her want to press her nose to his neck and breathe him in. He wore a button-down, white Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. She laced her fingers together to keep from trailing them over his arm to see if it was as muscle-hard as it looked.
A sign ripped from its moorings flew across the road in front of them. Sugar screamed and grabbed Jamie’s thigh. He swerved to the left without changing speed, and continued down the road as if flying signs were an everyday occurrence.
“Wow, I’m impressed. I woulda crashed us into one of those parked cars.”
“The reason I’m driving and you’re not.”
It wasn’t until his leg twitched under her palm that she realized she still had her hand on him. She almost snatched it away, but that was what Hannah would have done, so she left her hand where it was. If he didn’t want it there, he wouldn’t hesitate to let her know.
It felt good to touch him, but she’d known it would. His heat seeped through her skin and up her arm, warming her. Probably, she shouldn’t caress his leg the way she wanted. Hannah had been taught about sex by Rodney, and she’d hated having those cruel hands on her. Sugar wanted those memories replaced by good ones, but she’d yet to meet a man she thought could live up to her fantasies.
She’d rented endless romantic movies over the last two years, studying couples falling in love and how they treated each other. At first, the love scenes had made her physically ill, but as time went on and she continued to watch them, she’d started to understand Rodney was a sicko and how it had been with him wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
Jamie pulled up in front of her condo, leaving the car running. During the ride, he’d not spoken since he’d informed her why he was the one driving, nor had he pushed her hand off his leg. On an impulse, she leaned across the console and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek.
“Thanks for the ride.” She grabbed her purse before turning to open the door.
“Sugar,” he said, sounding like a pissed off, growling dog.
Pulling her back to him, he curled long fingers around the nape of her neck and covered her mouth with his. The revulsion she’d been afraid would rear its ugly head the first time a man’s mouth touched hers was nonexistent.
So that was how it felt to be kissed by someone who she actually wanted to kiss her. It was wonderful, marvelous—spectacular even. He teased her lips with little nip
s, and then he slid his tongue inside her mouth.
Afraid he would stop if she responded the way she wanted, she tentatively touched her tongue to his. He tasted like tart lemons, and she gave a little sigh of pleasure. Remembering she’d wanted to touch his arm, she placed her hand on his forearm, feeling his muscles flex under her palm. She sensed he held back, but she didn’t know how to let him know he could devour her if he wished. She gave a little sigh of impatience, and he stilled.
Damn. Damn. Damn.
His hand slid away from her neck and he pulled away. It was too dark to see his eyes, to know if there was regret in them. “That was nice,” she said, then cringed at how mundane that sounded considering her body was tingling all over.
“Pink pikes,” he muttered.
Judging by his tone, he wasn’t happy. “Word games again?”
“Go inside, Sugar.” He stared straight ahead.
“Okay, but please don’t be sorry you kissed me. I’m not.”
He finally looked at her. “I’ll pick you up at eight to take you to your car.”
All righty then. He wanted to act as if it hadn’t happened. “Thanks again.”
She opened the door and the wind slammed it closed. “Well, hell.”
Needing to get away before she begged him to kiss her again, she pushed hard on the door and scrambled out of the car. Having lost her umbrella, she put her purse over her head and ran to her condo. Once inside, she peeked out the window just in time to see his taillights disappear into the downpour.
“Hey, Junior, my boy. Guess what?” She picked him up and carried him into the kitchen, setting him on the counter. “Since you’re not going to hear a word I say until your belly’s full, I’ll wait to tell ya my news.”
Opening a can of cat food, she spooned it into his bowl, then poured herself a glass of wine. In the living room, she turned on her stereo and curled up on her couch to wait for Junior. As she sipped her wine and listened to Adele, she studied the room.
It had taken the past year to slowly decorate the condo the way she wanted, with a mix of contemporary and odd things that caught her interest. She was renting it, but some day, she’d like to buy the place if she stayed in Pensacola. Of course, it depended on whether or not she continued to feel safe.
She glanced at the silver frame holding the picture of her make-believe parents. Pretending they were her mom and dad was kind of stupid if she thought about it too hard, but sometimes she would look at the couple holding the hands of the child between them as they walked along the beach and remember the good times, before her mother died and her father started drinking.
One day her mother had been fine and the next, she was gone, an aneurysm at the age of thirty-three. Ten-year-old Hannah had come home from school and found her mother sprawled on the kitchen floor, and life had never been the same after that.
She had not only lost her mother that day, but her father as well. In his own personal grief, he’d all but forgotten he had a daughter. One he’d used to lovingly call his sweet sugar. Two years later, the bank had foreclosed on their home, the only one Hannah had ever known, and her father moved them to public housing on the wrong side of Charleston’s Calhoun Street.
Junior jumped gracefully onto the couch and began studiously washing his face. Glad to have her depressing thoughts interrupted, Sugar picked him up and sat him on her lap. “Forget about your bath, I have something important to tell ya. Are you listening?”
He blinked green eyes at her, and she took that as a yes. “Okay, so get ready ’cause the most amazing thing happened tonight. Jamie kissed me. Yeah, I know. Surprised the hell out of me, too. But, Junior, it was sooo incredible. I wasn’t sure I’d like it . . . you know, because of Rodney.”
Rodney’s slobbery kisses had disgusted her to the point that she never thought she’d want to be kissed again. Then she’d met Jamie and started wondering if it would be different with him. She could now truthfully say: hell yeah.
“He didn’t slobber all over me, and he tasted like lemon drops.” She was going to buy a supply of the candy so that all she had to do to recall Jamie’s kisses was pop one in her mouth. She’d probably end up spending a fortune on the things.
“Oh, and I think I’ve figured out his word game. He doesn’t curse, but when he wants to, he says whatever comes to mind.”
Junior apparently didn’t care as he curled into a ball in her lap, tucked his nose under his tail, and went to sleep. “Okay, you’re not impressed, but I sure as hell am. I just need to figure out how to get him to kiss me again.”