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Authors: Jill Shalvis

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For the Love of Nick

BOOK: For the Love of Nick
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“Nick, I can’t sleep.”

Danielle—the woman of his dreams, the woman he’d just been thinking about—materialized at his side. He’d imagined her in his bed, her head on his pillow. But the reality of her standing beside him now was far more potent than any fantasy. His eyes swept over her, stopping at the gap of bare skin below the T-shirt she wore.

“I wanted to thank you again,” she whispered. “Because of you, I can let my guard down.”

He forced his gaze up, past that bare tantalizing belly. He shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts. She needed his help, not his overactive libido.

She hesitated, then continued boldly. “I want what we should have had all those years ago.”

Her words stunned him. Did she mean what he thought she meant?

She tugged at the light blanket he’d thrown over himself. Her gaze roamed over him, greedily taking in his naked chest. His breath caught at the heat that smoldered between them.

“I want this night, with you. Make love to me, Nick.”

Dear Reader,

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Rhode Island branch of the Cooper family. I'm grateful to the COOPER’S CORNER continuity for letting me live out fantasies that have no place in my reality. Being on the run, for instance. In my life? No, thank you.

But in
For the Love of Nick,
it works. Danielle Douglass is on the run from the law, with only her one-hundred-pound puppy and her wits to guide her. Thankfully she runs into one particular sexy memory from her past—Nick Cooper.

Tall, dark and slightly attitude-ridden, Nick is the answer to her prayers…and her greatest nightmare, because Nick wants to show her what's missing in her life.

I hope you enjoy this prequel to the continuity series COOPER’S CORNER. Look for my upcoming Duets titles in October—
A Royal Mess
and
Her Knight To Remember.

Happy reading!

Jill Shalvis

Books by Jill Shalvis

HARLEQUIN TEMPTATION

742—WHO’S THE BOSS?

771—THE BACHELOR’S BED

804—OUT OF THE BLUE

822—CHANCE ENCOUNTER

845—AFTERSHOCK

861—A PRINCE OF A GUY

878—HER PERFECT STRANGER

HARLEQUIN DUETS

28—NEW AND…IMPROVED?

42—KISS ME, KATIE!

    —HUG ME, HOLLY!

57—BLIND DATE DISASTERS

    —EAT YOUR HEART OUT

SILHOUETTE INTIMATE MOMENTS

887—HIDING OUT AT CIRCLE C

905—LONG-LOST MOM

941—THE RANCHER’S SURRENDER

1019—THE DETECTIVE’S UNDOING

Jill Shalvis
F
OR THE
L
OVE OF
N
ICK
Prologue

A
S IF SHE HADN’T
just broken the law, Danielle made a full stop at the red light before getting on the highway heading back toward Providence. “Well.” She glanced at her passenger. “It’s official, you know. We’re on the run. Outlaws.”

Sadie didn’t answer; she was too busy enjoying the breeze from the open window.

“At least the car isn’t stolen,” Danielle said. “But we have to have it back to Emma tomorrow.” She let out a laugh that sounded slightly more hysterical than humorous, and checked the rearview mirror for flashing lights. “I wonder if they’ll let us share a prison cell.”

Sadie pulled her humongous head back inside and craned her thick neck toward Danielle. Her tongue hung out as she panted her hopeful agreement.

Danielle sighed at her best friend and loyal one-year-old bullmastiff, a dog she’d raised with her boyfriend.

Ex-boyfriend.

Ex-
psychotic
-boyfriend.

Luckily Sadie wasn’t psychotic. Just unsure of men.

That made two of them.

Danielle checked her rearview mirror again, grateful to see nothing but light traffic and the bright colors of spring in the Rhode Island countryside.

Apparently, she’d truly gotten away with it. Stealing Sadie back. She had simply pulled up to Ted’s house—where he’d had Sadie staked on the lawn in the sun without water—and released the grateful dog, who’d been nearly beside herself at the sight of Danielle. “I wish you could talk,” she said, checking her rear mirror yet again. “Or hug. I could really use a hug.”

Sadie stopped panting and looked at Danielle with her heart in her eyes. As if Danielle was her hero.

“Stop that.” She glared out the windshield. “I’m not a hero.” Her gut twisted. If she had been, she’d have been smart enough to see this coming. Strong enough to protect Sadie.

She’d almost been too late. As it was the poor dog had been underfed in the time Ted had kept
them separated. And given the heart-wrenching way Sadie was hanging on Danielle’s every movement, she’d been neglected entirely. It was a crime, as Sadie was just a baby, really, albeit a one-hundred-fifty-pound one.

Okay, more like a brick of brawn than a baby, with a broad, well-padded head set on a thirty-four-inch neck sturdy as oak. But she was adorable, and she was Danielle’s. Well, half, anyway.

She had no idea how she could even put a roof over their heads, now that Ted had changed the locks on the house, stolen her car and emptied her checking account.

The police hadn’t had time for the case. First of all, the house was Ted’s, leaving her with little legal recourse. Second, Ted had bought her the car he’d taken back.

The money though, that had been all hers, hard earned from her job as a professional dog handler. Not that she had legal recourse there, either, as she’d actually given Ted the PIN number for her bank card.

Danielle could handle her stupidity in letting herself get ripped off, but living with the fact she’d nearly lost Sadie to a man who could, and would, hurt her had been untenable.

Sadie, restricted by the seat belt across her body, leaned on Danielle. Hard. Her hug.

The lump in Danielle’s throat was more from lingering stress than anything, but comfort was comfort. “Thank you,” she said, smiling when Sadie licked her from chin to cheekbone.

But even the superfluous slobber of a lovable bullmastiff couldn’t mask the facts. She was truly on the run. She, a woman who followed the rules and was honest to a T, reduced to common criminal status with nothing more than approximately forty-nine dollars in her backpack, her laptop and a tank of gas in the car she’d borrowed from her friend Emma. “But I couldn’t have done anything different,” she murmured to Sadie. Not when Ted’s sudden and terrifying temper against the dog had become so clear.

How had she been so blind for so long?

But she knew the answer to that. Ted had been wealthy, intelligent, gorgeous…and interested in her, Danielle Douglass, a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks, with no father and a distant-hearted mother who’d had little to give her daughter.

In comparison, Ted had paid attention to her, he’d made her his world.

God, that hurt, that she’d been shallow enough to fall for a few good lines and a pretty smile. Only the smile hadn’t lasted, as Ted gradually had reeled her in, absorbing her life into his, leaving her uncertain, unbalanced, and more alone than she’d ever been, despite the fact she’d been alone a lot.

His rage against Sadie had been the last straw.

Danielle knew he was reacting to the fact she loved the dog more than him, that his pride was hurt, and maybe also the fact Sadie had lost her last dog show, but it didn’t matter.

She was out of his life. And God help her, so was Sadie.

She was so tired. The result of sleeping in the borrowed car for a week, using a friend’s shower when she dared, biding her time until she could steal her own dog back.

Not that the law would see it that way, as Ted held all of Sadie’s papers in his safe. With time and money, Danielle figured she could try to prove otherwise, that while they had shared physical custody of the dog, it had been
her
to provide the love and comfort.

But she had neither time nor money on her side. Ted wouldn’t take lightly to her stealing Sadie
from beneath his nose—never mind that he’d done the same thing first. Disappearing, and fast, was her best plan. If she only had a good professional photo of Sadie, she could go to Donald Wutherspoon, a reputable art director she’d been introduced to at a show a few months ago, and hopefully get Sadie a commercial endorsement.

That would mean money. Which would mean security. Stability. Two things Danielle most definitely needed in her life.

Determined, she got off the highway. First up, she bought two Big Macs, one for Sadie, one for her. Fortified, they found a phone, and two photograph studios listed in the Yellow Pages for Providence. Garnering some hope, she closed her eyes and blindly pointed to one.

“Wish me luck,” she said to Sadie, and dialed.

1

T
HE PHONE RANG
.
And rang and rang. But as he was sprawled in a hammock soaking up the rays, with a drink nicely balanced on his belly, Nick Cooper pretended not to hear it.

It wasn’t his fault his sisters had jumped ship and deserted their photography studio to chase after the men in their lives.

Okay, so they hadn’t jumped ship. Kim had gotten married and deserved her honeymoon. Her twin Kate deserved a break, too, which was why she was at this very moment far away from Rhode Island, all the way in Hollywood with her new stuntman boyfriend.

And after all, they
had
asked if he minded. He just hadn’t known how to tell those four melting, pleading, expressive eyes no.

The phone kept ringing.

“I’m not an answering service,” he said into the delicious spring air, loath to move even an inch.

But he
was
an answering service. He’d looked
into his sisters’ hopeful gazes and had caved like a cheap suitcase, promising to take messages and set appointments and make nice with whomever called.

Even if making nice was not his specialty.

“Okay, yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” Hey, he was on vacation, too. Extended leave, actually, from his job as a news journalist. He had a great job, a Pulitzer prize and the freedom with which to travel the world over as he pleased.

Oh, and a monster case of burnout.

He supposed being called home to the States, to Rhode Island in particular, back to the so-called normal life to attend Kim’s wedding had been a blessing in disguise. Somehow.

At least the relaxing part wasn’t half bad.

“Hello,” he said into the phone. “Providence Photography.” He let out a silent sigh as he switched to work mode. “Can I help you?”

 

N
OT TOO MUCH LATER
, Nick heard the front door of the studio open. Hard to miss it with the ridiculously noisy wind chimes someone had attached to the thing. Probably Kim, who had a notion for such things.

Damn it, she was early. Whoever
she
was, the
woman who’d called, sounding harassed and harried, asking for a dog portrait.

Who the hell would waste good money on a dog portrait, of all things?

Coming off his recent trip reporting from South America, with some of the poorest regions in the world, such an extravagance seriously annoyed Nick.

But it wasn’t his place to wonder about the woman and her strange request. He’d offered to set up an appointment for when his sisters returned. They were the experts, he was just answering phones like a good older brother.

And napping. Lots of napping.

But the woman had sounded panicked and desperate. She’d even, when he’d tried to get rid of her, resorted to begging. Hell, that had done him in but good; her soft, honeyed voice pleading as if her very life depended on it.

Nick’s family had often accused him of having a save-the-world complex, and maybe that was partly true. But mostly, he figured, he had a woman complex.

He couldn’t seem to resist them.

Seeing as that was the case, it was handy to be back, as he had dates coming out his ears for the re
mainder of his stay. He deserved a little casual, mutually satisfying playtime after all he’d seen and done in the name of journalism over the past years.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice rang out.

Oh yeah. Definitely the woman from the phone, with the voice that could melt the Arctic. Damn, he was such a sucker.

“Hello?”

“I hear you,” he called out. “Hang on a second.” He stood in the darkroom with some film he’d shot in Belize only a few weeks before, just finishing up the developing. A hobby, not a profession, which explained how he’d nearly ruined the entire roll.

But he was glad he hadn’t. Leaving South America for his sister’s wedding, he’d been tired and exhausted, having just handled a particularly grisly story of murder and mayhem among two feuding drug lords. On the way to the airport, along the side of the road, he’d come across a group of children playing. Not as they played here in the States, with toys and gadgets and electronics. Not these kids, who’d probably never had a single possession to call their own in their entire lives.

They’d been playing at a game of stones, and
their sheer pleasure at being alive and free to play had grabbed him by the throat.

The picture was of a boy no more than six, half-naked with his ribs and stomach protruding. He held his treasured pile of stones, grinning a toothless grin, which made Nick smile, too.

“I appreciate your working me in like this,” came the woman’s voice again, just on the other side of the door now, removing his thoughts entirely from that world and placing them firmly in the present.

She still sounded soft and sweet, and more than a little harried. “No problem.” He wondered if she had a face and body to go with that sensuous voice. Wondered if she was lush and curvy, or lean and petite. Wondered if she dressed as hot as she sounded. Wondered—

“Sadie is very cooperative.”

Oh, yeah. She had a way of speaking that brought to mind sweaty, wild, against-the-wall sex. “Sadie?”

“My dog. She’ll be no trouble at all.”

Hell, he’d nearly forgotten. But how hard could it be to snap a photo of a dog? If he couldn’t do that, then he ought to just pack it in and call it a day. “Be right with you.”

Suddenly he was looking forward to this doggie gig. Sure, he’d had a nice, leisurely afternoon planned out, but Nick was nothing if not a man willing to make the most out of every opportunity. Spending time in the company of an incredible-sounding female seemed nice and leisurely, too, so he hung up the last picture from his roll, wiped off his hands and opened the darkroom door.

And was greeted by a sight that made him grin.

His pretty-sounding client had her back to him. Specifically her butt, as she was bent over a mass of something he assumed was a dog. Not a canine-lover, Nick ignored the animal and let his gaze soak up the very nice view its owner provided.

She wore khaki shorts that were riding up at the moment because of her bent-over position, and since he happened to be somewhat of a lingerie connoisseur, he could tell she wore thong panties, as nothing marred the clean lines of the shorts over the twin curves of her cheeks.

Very nice,
he thought on an appreciative sigh. Her legs were nice, too, long and bare and toned. As for the rest of her, he caught a blur of equally nice long, toned arms in a white sleeveless blouse, and a flash of shoulder-length, wavy, russet hair as
she whirled around with a half smile already in place.

On her hauntingly familiar face.
He knew that face, knew that body. Knew those misty gray eyes. And one night, a lifetime ago, he’d known more than that.
“Danielle?”

Her smile faded, replaced with an expression of shock. “My God. Nick. I haven’t seen you since…”

“High school graduation.” Never taking his eyes off her, Nick shook his head at the vision of all his adolescent fantasies, standing in the flesh before him. They’d gone through four years of school together, and though they’d never spoken except for that one fateful night, he’d had enough imagination even then that it hadn’t mattered.

How many nights as a horny teenager had he lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking of the hottest girl in the school, knowing he wouldn’t get a chance to be with her? He would have sworn that that girl had never, not once, noticed the tall, skinny nerd he’d been.

And yet she’d known his name.

That’s when he heard the odd rumble, and realized there was a huge mass of teeth and muscle standing behind Danielle.

Growling. Not a friendly, how-do-you-do growl,
either, but a should-I-eat-your-face-or-your-heart-first sort of growl.

Nick had faced guerrilla warfare, crash landings in unfriendly territories, typhoid fever and countless other emergencies, but he’d never quite imagined himself going like this.

He took a better look at the dog, or what he hoped was a dog, as it was past hip height to Danielle. Its short muzzle was black, and at the top of this inky mask, two mahogany-brown eyes peered out below a thick, simian brow. The shorthaired coat was a riot of brown-and-black tiger stripes.

Yep, just a dog.

The next thing Nick knew, he’d been hit in the chest with what felt like a bowling ball. No, make that a
wrecking
ball. Staggering back, he hit the wall, but was saved from sliding gracelessly to the floor by the two huge, massive paws on his chest, pinning him in place.

Nick stared into the brown, bloodshot eyes and realized the dog was about as tall as he was. There was a huge tongue, lots of drool and really bad breath. That’s about all he caught before Danielle lugged the thing off him.

“Sadie,” she admonished. “You’ve got to stop greeting people like that.”

Nick straightened and ran a hand down his shirt, grimacing when he encountered great globs of…slobber.
“Greeting?”

“Well, she’s a bit nearsighted. She likes to get close to see your face.”

“Uh-huh.” Nick glanced down at the biggest, beefiest dog he’d ever seen. “I thought she was interested in eating me.”

“Oh, no! Sadie is the sweetest thing, she’d never hurt anyone.” Proving so, she bent and cupped Sadie’s huge jowls in her palms, smiling a smile that seemed both indulgent and infinitely sad. “She’s had a rough time of late, that’s all.”

And so had Danielle, Nick guessed. He knew little about her other than she’d headlined his every wet dream for several happy years, but his instincts were never off. Something was wrong, he could see it in the exhaustion in her eyes, in the way she carried her lithe body. Hell, he could practically smell it on her.

And everything within him wanted to ask her about it. Could he help? He’d done so once, though he’d always wondered how things might have been different if she’d let him do more. It did startle him how easily and instantly he fell back into that pattern of wanting to save her.

But damn it, he was on vacation. No rescuing fair maidens in distress required. He was going to just hang out, take some pictures, get some recreational sex if he could, and do whatever came to him that didn’t demand much thought.

And yet it was utterly beyond him to ignore anyone’s problems. Just as he opened his mouth to ask her about it, she closed off her expression to his questing gaze. “So,” she said. “Who’s taking the pictures of Sadie?”

“You’re looking at him.”

“Oh. Can we get started? I’m a bit…strapped for time.”

BOOK: For the Love of Nick
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