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Authors: Jill Shalvis

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Instant Temptation

BOOK: Instant Temptation
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index<br/>INSTANT TEMPTATION

JILL SHALVIS

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

www.kensingtonbooks.com

Contents

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

EPILOGUE
PROLOGUE

If you asked TJ Wilder to choose between a warm autumn night in the Sierras or a warm woman, he knew that most people would put money on him taking the woman.

And while that might have been true in his wild, unchecked youth, tonight they’d have been wrong.

Not that he didn’t love women. He did. Short or tall. Willowy or curvy. Sweet or hot-as-hell sexy—

actually, make that especially hot-as-hell sexy. Over the years he’d loved plenty.

Yet he loved the Sierras, too. While it was true that the tall, rugged, remote mountain peaks could be deadly dangerous to both life and limb, the mountains couldn’t break a man’s soul.

At least not without permission.

TJ no longer let anything break him. He didn’t let anything break him or get to him, period. He was cool, calm, and prepared, always. Cam and Stone had long ago accepted, that as the oldest brother, TJ

just knew things, like which direction to go on the mountain whether on skis or a bike, or in the helicopter. He knew which of their outdoor expedition clients would be a pain in the ass, and he could sense trouble a mile away.

Usually.

But, as he walked through Moody’s Bar And Grill after a quick dinner with Cam and Stone, feeling full and surprisingly content for the moment, something plowed into his chest with the force of a cyclone.

Not something. Someone.

Harley Stephens—the one source of trouble he’d never managed to avoid.

Absorbing the impact, he prevented them both from tumbling to the floor, and as his brain registered how warm and soft she felt in his arms, she lifted her face, the scent of her filling his head. That’s when something else hit him, too, the same inexplicable sense that he always got with her, the déjà vu feeling that he’d been there before. Not there in the doorway of Moody’s with the fiery Indian summer sun setting behind her and the sound of the dinner crowd behind him, loud and rowdy…but there, as in having her practically wrapped around him.

Which made about as much sense as the head-buzzing physical reaction he got from the feel of her against him.

Wishful was a small mountain town. TJ knew every person in it fairly well, and Harley was no exception. He knew her layered blond hair, silky and straight and not quite touching her shoulders, even as a strand of it caught on the stubble of his jaw. He knew her face, always soft and pretty, though tonight it held more than a hint of fatigue and anxiety as well.

And just like that the sexual punch faded, replaced by concern. “Harley? You okay?”

Twisting free, she turned from him so quickly he was barely able to catch her hand. “Hey. Hey,” he murmured when she fought him pulling her back into him. His hands were on her arms as he bent to look into her face, which did him little good. Her eyes were covered by reflective sunglasses.

He pulled them off, exposing her warm chocolate eyes, but whatever expression he’d caught a quick flash of was gone, carefully and purposely gone.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked, staring at his throat, always so tough on the outside, yet so soft on the inside.

“No, I’m fine. You?”

She wasn’t. He could feel the tension of her body against his, in the quick quiver of her limbs, though that might just have been the same unwelcome erotic awareness he’d felt.

Still felt.

With Harley, he’d always felt it, though he’d gotten good at ignoring it since they subscribed to two very different philosophies in life. His being to live as uncomplicated as possible, including romantic entanglements. Hers being the opposite. She was complicated as hell, and she played for keeps.

“I’m fine, too,” she murmured, flexing her shoulders beneath his hands. “Really.”

He wasn’t surprised at her statement. She was proud and she didn’t need anyone. Just ask her. But he took a second, longer look at her, saw the exhaustion in the paleness of her skin, and the worry in the tight lines of her mouth. God, he loved her mouth. She wore gloss on a pair of lips that had given him more than a few dirty fantasies over the years. Then there was the milk chocolate depth of her gaze, which could warm anyone else’s soul but sliced right through his. She wore faded, snug Levi’s low on her hips and a pretty stretchy knit top that hugged the curves she was so often forced to hide beneath her mechanic overalls when she was working. “Harley, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

A bullshit answer and they both knew it. Once upon a time, they’d been close enough that he could have called her on it. She was still close with his brothers, but TJ had never been able to put his finger on exactly when things had changed between them.

“Sorry about the collision,” she said.

Wow. Four whole words, willingly given. “No problem. Watch out.” He pulled her back up against him to let a customer move through the door, and for the second time in as many minutes he felt an undeniable…zing. And for the first time, he saw the mirror of it in Harley’s gaze before she could mask it.

For a deliciously long beat she stayed plastered up against him, and he began to think she was enjoying the connection, but proving the ridiculousness of that, she snatched her glasses from him and turned to walk away.

“You telling me you didn’t feel that?” he asked her back, having no idea why he pushed, or why he cared. Since when did he push for anything, especially something as nameless and intangible as what he might want from Harley Stephens?

“Feel what?”

“The thing that happens when we get too close.”

She froze, then slowly turned to face him. “It’s Indian summer, TJ. We’re all a little overheated. It’s natural.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes.” She broke eye contact, her gaze skittering away. “It’s Wishful, you know. High altitude. And it’s hot, it’s really, really hot. It’s normal to feel so…”

“Hot?”

She bit her lower lip. “Yes.”

“So is that what happens when we get too close then, Harley? You get real y, really hot?”

Her eyes jerked to his, clearly realizing she’d just given away far more than she’d meant to. “What are you even doing here anyway?” she asked. “You’re usually in Alaska, or Wyoming, or anywhere other than here.”

True. He took all the long treks for Wilder Adventures, which usually had him gone for weeks, even months at a time. He liked it that way. Always had. “I’m in between trips. So do you get really, really hot with Nolan, too?”

Nolan being Nolan Lightner, the owner of the car and truck garage where Harley wrenched part-time. And Wishful, being Mayberry-With-Attitude, loved its gossip mill, which meant that everyone knew she’d gone out with Nolan twice.

Not that TJ was counting.

“Yes,” she said firmly even as a blush bloomed on her cheeks. “Nolan and I get…hot.” She crossed her arms, as always, ready and willing to do battle when backed against a wall. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Hell, no. But TJ watched her fidget, and suddenly he felt a whole hell of a lot better.

Because she was lying.

“In fact, if you must know…” She stabbed a finger into his pec for emphasis, “there are so many sparks between me and Nolan that our clothes catch fire every time we’re near each other.”

He registered the abrupt change in the pitch of her voice and her overly defensive stance and grinned. Yeah, he was feeling much better, and leaned in close enough to whisper in her ear. “Liar.”

A low growl of temper escaped her and once again she pushed clear of him, heading toward the pickup counter, bad attitude spilling from her with every swing of her sweet hips and sweeter ass.

Feeling a mixture of amusement, at himself, at her, he let her go.

Stone came up behind him. “You’re supposed to ask them out, not scare them off.”

TJ turned to his brother, standing tall and lean and tanned from long days on the mountain, his stark green eyes flat-out grinning, looking like what TJ knew was his own mirror image. “You think I scared her?”

“No, I think you do something else to her entirely.” Stone shook his head. “Though I have no idea what she sees in you, man. You’re ugly as sin.”

Ignoring that, TJ twisted to look at Harley again.

“You going to run off on yet another long trip to get away from her again?” Stone asked. “’Cause that’s only a temporary fix and we all know it.”

“Stone?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.”

Stone clapped a hand to TJ’s shoulder and didn’t shut up. “Face it, man. You’re as drawn to that woman as you’re drawn to the mountains. One guess as to which is more lethal.”

CHAPTER 1

Late the next afternoon, Harley sat at her kitchen table staring at her bank balance, but no matter how long she sat there or how much she squinted, the balance wasn’t going to cover her rent.

That is what happened when one took two part-time jobs, only one of them paying, and not all that well.

She shut her laptop, then thunked her head down on the table a few times, enough to scatter some papers and make her Canon digital bounce, but that didn’t help either. After six years of night school, she’d recently completed her degree in wildlife biology. Six long years of wrenching cars and trucks during the day and staying up all night studying, and she still couldn’t make ends meet.

But there was a silver lining. Thanks to her brand-new shiny degree, she’d been granted a part-time internship as a research biologist for a federal conservation agency, and if she impressed them, she had a shot at the lone full-time research position in their Colorado branch in the spring.

Since that job—unlike her internship—came with an actual paycheck, impressing them had become Harley’s biggest goal.

Her duties involved putting together data and analysis on a species indicator report, which was seeking to answer questions about western coyote populations. It sounded a lot more impressive than it actually was. In truth, there was almost no funding for the project, and the staff consisted of two wildlife biologists located in Colorado, and a few lowly, unpaid interns like herself scattered throughout the states of California, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming.

But for Harley, it was a foot in the door, because she intended to get that job in Colorado.

When her belly rumbled, reminding her she’d skipped lunch, she got up to look in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the food fairy hadn’t paid her a visit, so her choices were questionable cottage cheese, an apple, or the last of her emergency stash of double fudge brownie ice cream. She’d been saving that for an extreme disaster, but the possibility of getting evicted for not paying her rent seemed pretty extreme.

She’d just stuffed a large bite into her mouth, and was moaning over the sweet chocolate melting on her tongue when her phone rang.

She looked at it with the same caution she’d give a piqued rattlesnake. It was probably her landlord. Or maybe it was her mom wanting to bring her some tofu concoction in thanks for helping her meet her mortgage this month. Or her father wanting to crash on her couch, since the fun-loving hippie had probably pissed off his latest lover and had nowhere else to go. It could be her sister Skye wanting to mooch food and/or cash, which—no surprise—was in shockingly low supply. Harley loved her family, she real y did, but she couldn’t seem to master their carefree, no-worries attitude.

Not when the worries kept piling up.

The phone stopped ringing before her machine picked up.

Blowing out a relieved sigh, shaking off her sense of impending doom, Harley looked down at her coveralls. It was a good day, relatively speaking, as she had only one grease stain streaked down a thigh and another on her bare arm. Not bad. She could probably get it off with fingernail polish remover. Lifting her spoon, she used it as a mirror. She wasn’t vain. She knew she had an okay shape thanks to a decent metabolism, but seeing as she wasn’t all that into makeup or fashion, she rarely did anything to accent her attributes. She took a quick inventory of her face and realized she’d spoken too soon about not being all that filthy, since she had another grease streak over her forehead.

BOOK: Instant Temptation
12.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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