Authors: Erin McCarthy
But when she reached for her margarita, Rhett actually moved it out of her reach. “What are you doing?” She stretched further, and he put his hand over hers to stop her progress.
“I just did a double shot of tequila. I think you should drive us home, not me.”
Was he fucking kidding her? “I didn’t tell you to take a shot!” And what was this about going home anyway? Whose home? She had fully intended to spend tonight alone with her rabbit. The vibrating kind, not the furry kind.
“But I did. So would you mind driving us home?”
His tone was even, but his eyes said something she didn’t understand. Shawn felt confused, miserable, and in desperate need of an orgasm. If she said yes, she did mind, she would just sound petulant. Besides, she probably shouldn’t argue with her fake husband on her wedding-night outing with friends. It would look a little sketchy.
“Of course I don’t mind.” Big. Fat. Lie. “Though I guess we should discuss these things right off the bat, shouldn’t we?”
“Communication is key to a successful marriage,” Charity said confidently.
“How the hell would you know?” Eve asked. “You’re not married.”
They started to argue, and Shawn sat back, glad the spotlight was off her. An hour later, she was more than ready to leave and massage her cheeks out of their lockjaw from fake smiling.
But of course, that presented a different set of issues. Rhett held her coat out for her, and when she slipped her arms into it, he said, “Just let me get my bag out of Nolan’s truck, then we can go.”
He really was coming with her, and she couldn’t ask him what the hell he thought he was doing in front of everyone else. That it was manipulative and rude.
After hugging her friends and smiling and waving in the parking lot, she climbed into her car and wished for death. It would be preferable to this bullshit. Why had she thought she could do this?
This was the stupidest, most ill-conceived plan ever on the face of the planet, and she was going to be struck by lightning and die for lying to her closest friends. Either that or end up in prison after murdering Rhett. A girl was entitled to her cocktail, thank you very much, and if he valued his junk, in the future he would not do that. It was patronizing and it pissed her off.
She was going to have to establish some ground rules.
He got in the passenger seat and smiled at her. “That went well.”
Why did his smile disarm her anger? Maybe because he didn’t really smile all that often. When he did, she felt . . . special. Gag. The tension was causing her to lose it. “Not really.”
“I’m not really sure it could have gone any differently. All things considered, everyone reacted pretty calmly.”
Whatever. “Why did you show up there? And why are you in my car? You could at least give me a little warning, you know.” So she could have been somewhere else.
Rhett just gave her a very calm, very matter-of-fact shrug. “Because you would have tried to talk me out of it. Or you would have gotten way too nervous waiting for me to show up. And the truth is, no one was going to believe this marriage is real if we didn’t go home together tonight. What bride and groom don’t want to be together on their wedding night?”
He had a point.
Shawn threw her car into reverse. “You’re pretty damn good at this, you know that? Have you been fake married before?”
“No. This is my one and only time. So I plan to make it count.”
A shiver tripped up her spine, and it wasn’t from the winter temperatures. It was from anticipation.
knew that Shawn was stressed out. He also knew that she was expecting him to hit on her and that if he did, she would resist. So he was going to sneak around and try to enter from the back door. Not literally. That would keep for a while. He’d give her a week at least on that one. No, he meant he was not going to approach the subject of sex head-on. He was going to come at it from an unexpected direction by trying to get to know her.
It wasn’t game playing. He was curious about her. But he knew she wasn’t expecting it, and it would help her let her guard down.
“So you said you have one brother,” he said as they pulled out of the parking lot. He probably could have driven—the tequila hadn’t really affected him at all—but better safe than sorry, and he had wanted to establish that they were a couple now in everyone’s eyes. They needed to communicate and act the part. “What’s his name?”
Shawn glanced at him, clearly startled. “Will. He’s an optometrist and he’s married. His wife is Kate. And they were married before the Prince of England and Kate Middleton, so it’s just a coincidence.”
“I never would have thought about the prince, trust me. I’m not one to follow royal gossip.” Any gossip for that matter. He couldn’t tell you who was dating who in Hollywood, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass. “Is he older or younger?”
“Younger. By two years. My mom and grandparents raised us. My father lit out when I was four.”
Her fingers gripped the steering wheel tightly in the ten and two positions, but it was clear she was comfortable with her car. She drove a stick, which was the only way to drive as far as he was concerned. “I’m sorry. That sucks. I have no respect for a man who can knock a woman up, but not stick around.”
“Me either,” she said wryly. “But I don’t remember him, so no big deal. My grandfather was a good role model. The only mistake he ever made was putting this dumb marriage deal in his will.”
“I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it.” He fully intended to. At the end of six months, he wanted to look back and say that he’d fully explored Shawn and their relationship, no matter what the end result was. If they had to act married, why not attempt to be married, in a manner of speaking?
“I guess so.” She glanced over at him at the red light. “Rhett, I should say thank you. I mean, I know I’m paying you, but this isn’t easy. It’s a big deal to tell people we’re married. To move in with me. I appreciate you keeping it together and handling the details. I’m a big-picture type of girl, and this is all a little overwhelming for me.”
“No problem.” It pleased him that she recognized he had been trying to pave the way for her. He wasn’t someone who got much credit for being thoughtful, because he didn’t smile and laugh and flirt all the time. Serious seemed to equal selfish to a lot of people, when the opposite was true. If he cared about someone, he was loyal, and he busted his ass to make her happy. He couldn’t crack jokes like Nolan, but he’d change your oil, wash the dishes, and make you come five times, all in the same night, and he thought that was nothing to sneeze at.
Shawn was already someone he knew he could care about. She was by far the least irrational woman he had encountered, and when she got angry, it blew over faster than a summer storm. The fury seemed to come and go in under five minutes. She didn’t whine, she didn’t cry, as far as he could tell, and she was honest, which was maybe his number-one requirement for a healthy relationship.
“Where are we going?” he asked suddenly when he realized they were heading out of Mooresville, not that far from his parents’ house.
“To my house,” she said, sounding bewildered. “Isn’t that what you wanted to do?”
“For some reason, I thought you had an apartment in town. I’m not sure why.” He had pictured her in a modern new-build apartment, with a perky little balcony in a complex called Symme’s Landing or some other similarly vague name. But he could see he had been way off base when she turned off down a dirt road.
“No. I live in my grandparents’ old house. I like not having the neighbors too close. Is that a problem?”
“Hell, no.” He was actually relieved. “I prefer this. I like having some space myself.” Aside from the fresh air, and the room to tinker on cars, it meant no one would hear Shawn when he made her scream in pleasure. It was perfect.
“The house isn’t exactly up-to-date, and it’s only two bedrooms, but it’s cozy. I like it.”
“My parents raised nine kids in a three-bedroom ranch. If the plumbing works, that’s the only amenity I need.”
“It does. The toilet may be powder blue a la 1950, but it works just fine.”
“Perfect. It sounds manly.”
“So what was growing up with eight siblings like?”
“Noisy.” Rhett craned his neck to see the house as they pulled up to it. It was a brick ranch with an aluminum awning, surrounded by trees. The garage was set back and had a dilapidated basketball hoop. It was a hell of a lot like the house he’d grown up in. “But I have no complaints. Being the baby, my sisters, well, babied me. I didn’t have to walk unless I really wanted to until I was about five, because there was always someone to carry me.”
She laughed. “I have a hard time picturing that.”
“Every picture of me under the age of three is on a sister’s hip, with a sippy cup or a pacifier or a lollipop in my mouth. It was a tough life.” Though until he was at least four, he’d thought his name was actually Rhettie-poo. His reality was bad, but at least not that bad.
“Apparently.” Shawn parked her car alongside the house and turned to him. “Maybe that’s why you grew up getting what you want. You’re used to it.”
“Maybe.” But he didn’t tend to think about the psychology of how he was raised. He liked to be in charge in the bedroom and that’s just the way he was. It didn’t require diagnosis. “Since you weren’t expecting me until Monday, I’m sure my room isn’t ready. I can sleep on the couch.”
That seemed to throw her. “Okay,” she said, but she looked troubled.
Exactly as he intended. He wanted her to invite him into her bed.
Rhett opened the car door and pulled out his bag. They walked the few feet to the side of the house, Shawn pulling back the squeaky storm door and propping it with her shoulder. He took the weight of it, holding it for her.
“Thanks,” she murmured as she shoved the wood door open and flicked on the hall light.
It was a typical ranch, with the side entrance opening onto a tiny landing with two steps up to the kitchen, and a narrow steep staircase straight in front leading to the basement.
Before she could step inside, Rhett dropped his bag on the gravel and dirt drive, and kicked the metal bar on the bottom of the screen door with his foot so it would hold the door on its own.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking down at the propped door.
“Carrying you over the threshold,” he told her, no smile, just all serious intention. It may be a fake marriage, but that didn’t mean a girl didn’t deserve to have a little romance. He wanted her to feel comfortable around him, comfortable with her decision to have him in her home, her life, for six months bare minimum. He wanted her to like him enough to open her body to him and let him inside so they could both gain as much pleasure as possible from their arrangement.
“Oh, God, please don’t,” she said, her cheeks turning pink. “It seems so fake. Forced.”
“I don’t believe I asked you for permission,” he told her, reaching over and gripping her under her backside and lifting her into his arms.
She was light, but she shrieked and instantly squirmed and flailed. “Put me down!”
“I intend to. In your bed,” he promised. And that’s where he was going to leave her. Alone, aroused, wishing for his hard cock.
• • •
really didn’t want to be in Rhett’s arms being carried over the threshold like a blushing and happy bride. But neither did she want him to drop her down the basement stairs, so she realized it would behoove her to quit jerking around. Given his spot on Evan Monroe’s pit crew as a gasman, he had killer biceps and excellent strength, but he probably didn’t work out by wrangling giraffelike women with thrashing limbs, so if she valued her skull, it seemed best to at least get into the kitchen before putting up a fight. Because she had to put up a fight to get out of his embrace or she was going to find herself in bed with him on top of her, and then how the hell was she supposed to say no to nekkid fun?
He wouldn’t ask. He would just start stripping her, and it was so damn hard to say no to him. It was like she was looking at a shaman or something, the way he stared at her so intently, like he was digging into her sexual soul. Saying no would feel bad, but she would have to, and really she just wanted to avoid the whole situation. But she could allow herself one tiny moment to relax and feel very feminine and very womanly captured in his rock-solid embrace. He was doing it—watching her, while his grip on her was firm. He smelled good, like skin and heat and nothing more.
When they got up the two steps to the kitchen, she didn’t bother to fight. It felt kind of good, actually, and why deny herself? “Do I get a sippy cup next?” she asked. Then realized immediately there was all sort of naughty directions he could take that question, regarding other things she could put in her mouth.
But he didn’t, surprisingly enough. He just said, “No.” But then he did add, “It’s bedtime, young lady.”
Oh, God, that shouldn’t have turned her on, but it did. She heard herself giggle nervously, and was appalled. She was a giggler, she had to admit, but Rhett wasn’t the guy you giggled with. He wasn’t going to laugh back.
Nope. He definitely didn’t. He just kept walking, in the dark, through the kitchen and past the living room and down the hall, like he knew the house. “Don’t you want to turn a light on?” she asked. “I don’t want you to trip.”
“My room is the . . .” Room he was already going into. “How do you know your way around my house?” she tittered. Now she was tittering. Good God. Next she’d be simpering.
Of course. It wasn’t like all ranches didn’t have about the same basic floor plan. Shawn said, “Just set me down next to the bed, thanks.”
But he didn’t. He deposited her on her bed, brushing her hair back off her cheek as he bent over her, his hip close to hers, warm breath rushing over her face. Shawn waited, teeth clenched and shoulders tense.
“Can I use the bathroom first? I just need five minutes,” he said.
Now that wasn’t what she was expecting him to say, but it made sense. He probably wanted to brush his teeth. Not that he had bad breath, because he didn’t. But he probably wanted to before bed, and he wanted to dig a condom out of his bag, sure he was going to get some. Which he wasn’t. She put a stop to her pointless panicky thoughts and managed a casual, “Sure.”
“I can find it myself.” He stood up, the air around her suddenly empty.
He went into the hallway, partially closing her door on the way out, which was courteous. Shawn lay on her bed, forcibly letting her body relax, one muscle group at a time.
He was coming back, wasn’t he?
An hour later, it was evident he was not. She’d heard the toilet flush and the sink run, then there had been silence. Nothing but silence.
She had kicked off her shoes and gotten under the covers, but she was still wide awake, waiting for him to creep into her room and hit on her, so she could tell him no. Which she now realized wasn’t going to happen. So eventually she found herself doing the creeping, climbing out of bed and down the hall to the living room to confirm what she knew—that he wasn’t coming into her room. There he was, fast asleep on the couch, in his jeans and no shirt, on his side, hands tucked under his cheek in a way that was pretty damn cute. The bare chest wasn’t cute, it was smoking hot. She cursed the fact that he’d left the light on by the back door, because otherwise she wouldn’t have seen what she was missing.
And Lordy be, wasn’t he cold? It was February after all.
Shawn took the USC afghan off the easy chair and slowly, carefully draped it over Rhett.
“Thanks,” he murmured, eyes closed.
She jumped. Shit, he was awake. Sort of. His breathing was even and steady, like he was already sliding back into sleep. Shawn stood there for a minute, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did, so she went back to bed. Alone. And cursed herself to the ends of the earth for falling for another double-dog dare.
It was cold and lonely and very unsatisfying in her queen-size bed solo.
• • •
didn’t help when Rhett came in at seven in the morning, fully dressed, and gently shook her awake. “Shawn.”
“What?” she asked crossly, running on about zero sleep, her dreams plagued with erotic images of Rhett stroking her to orgasm, over and over.
“I have to go to work. I just called a cab. Are you going to be home later when I get back, or can you leave the door unlocked for me?”
Oh, my God. Details. More effing details. They were killing her. “I’ll be home.” Masturbating, apparently, since she was even hornier now than when she’d gone to bed. “And I can drive you to your car if you want. You’re going to need it, obviously.” Even though she would rather walk through a fire anthill naked, she would get up and drive him. Right after she pried her eyes open. They felt slightly glued together, but she managed to focus more clearly on him.
He looked wide-awake and sexy. Bastard.
“Don’t worry about it, babe. I’ll have Nolan take me to my car. You sleep in.”
She tried to find something asshole-ish in any of that, but there wasn’t anything. Geez. He was making this so difficult. “Are you sure?”
He smiled. “Yes, I’m sure. See you later. And I’d love steak for dinner if you were wondering what to fix.”
That had her eyes popping back open. “Excuse me?”
Rhett actually laughed. “I’m kidding. God, the look on your face was great.”
“You’re not allowed to joke,” she told him, completely serious. “It’s out of character.”
That just made him grin even wider. “Go back to sleep, Shawn.”