Authors: M. Malone
RIDLEY SNUGGLED DEEPER into the cushions of the couch, watching as the flickering lights from the television played over Jackson’s face. His mood had shifted toward the end of the movie and she wasn’t sure what to make of it. They’d started off laughing like hyenas and throwing popcorn at each other before they’d gotten comfortable enough to put their legs up.
She should have kept her mouth closed. All her talk about how crappy her week had been had probably made him uncomfortable. But she’d wanted to express her gratitude for everything he’d done for her today. Not just letting her stay, but listening to her talk about David, and hanging out with her so she didn’t have to be alone.
She closed her eyes, helpless to resist the lure of rest after the hectic pace of traveling for the last few days. Returning to Virginia wasn't something she'd planned on doing yet. College was supposed to be her chance to escape her past, to branch out into a world where no one knew her. A chance to redefine herself as more than just “Raina's sister” or the girl with the bitter, chain-smoking mother who worked double shifts at the diner to keep them all fed. She’d had so many plans to make her mark on the world and be successful before she returned.
How telling that, for all her hope of being independent, the place she’d run to at the first sign of trouble was right back to her sister.
The final credits rolled and the screen went blank for a few seconds before the opening menu screen flashed. Ridley yawned so widely it felt like the sides of her face might crack. The clock on the wall to her left told her it was almost two in the morning. She thought of the soft, decadent bed upstairs in the guestroom she was using and almost whimpered. It was way past time for her to go upstairs and get some sleep.
Instead she turned her head and looked at Jackson again.
He was such a puzzle. Men who looked like Jackson weren't nice for no reason yet he hadn't asked her for anything. He'd just been there when she had no one else. Why, she couldn't even begin to guess.
His features were relaxed in sleep, the long, sharp blade of his nose more prominent now that it didn’t have to compete with his killer smile. His lashes rested against the top of his cheekbones and she had to resist the urge to run a hand over his curly hair. It wasn’t fair that he looked so beautiful and guileless in sleep when he carried such a lethal sexiness when fully awake.
“I would say ‘penny for your thoughts’ but I have a feeling
thought would cost more than I’m worth.”
Ridley ripped her gaze from the curve of his lips up to his now wide open eyes.
“Hi. I was just…” She decided not to even address her blatant staring. “Wondering if I could borrow something to sleep in?”
“Sure, sure. Of course.” He got up slowly, unfolding his long legs from the couch one at a time. “Follow me. Sorry I conked out at the end there. I guess I was more tired than I thought.” He waved for her to follow him up the stairs and she did, keeping her eyes on her own feet so she couldn’t ogle the way his jeans fit him as he walked.
She was in his room before she’d realized what she’d done. “Oh, I’ll just wait out in the hall,” she stammered.
“No. Stay.” Those two simple words halted her in her tracks. He smiled a slow, sexy grin before pulling open the second drawer in his bureau. He rummaged for a while, pulling out shirts and then pushing them back in. “I’m trying to find one of my shorter ones so it won’t swallow you up.”
“Oh, I like them longer. It’ll hang lower and cover my legs like a nightgown.”
He stopped digging and glanced at her. Then his eyes dipped lower to take in her bare legs exposed by the mid-thigh terry cloth shorts she wore. “Right.”
He held out a shirt and Ridley took it carefully, making sure their fingers didn’t touch.
“Well, thanks again. Goodnight.” She fled the room, racing down the darkened hallway, not stopping until she reached the door of the guest room. She turned the handle and opened the door but before she entered she looked back.
Jackson stood in the same position next to his dresser. The heat of his gaze burned over her entire body and she shivered as her nipples peaked against her shirt. She didn’t know him well enough to interpret the look on his face but she could interpret her body’s response.
God, she wanted him.
He’d been nothing but a gentleman all day, seeing to her every need, listening to her vent and keeping her company. He hadn’t made any moves on her, hadn’t done anything suggestive or said anything provocative. Was he just being a good host and making sure she made it to her room?
Or was he imagining what she would look like when she stripped off her clothes and went to bed wearing nothing but his shirt?
JACKSON WASN’T SURE who moved first, but a second later he was down the hall and Ridley was in his arms. Her hair flowed over them as he held her against the wall. He buried his face in her neck and inhaled, his libido instantly going haywire at the warm, seductive scent of her skin. There were no words spoken between them, just the unspoken desires in their eyes.
I want you.
I want you, too.
When he finally anchored a hand in her hair and tilted her face up for his kiss, it was both a pain and a relief. Her lips opened under his with a breathy little moan. He would kick himself later for his angry assault on her mouth. There was no gentleness, no finesse. He held her captive against him as he took her mouth, capturing her tongue and sliding it against his own.
She was warm and soft in his arms, her breasts pressing against his chest as he held her against him. He was holding her too tightly but she didn’t push away. She clung to him, her long legs snaking around his waist to hold him in the cradle of her thighs.
“Jackson,” she pleaded.
“Hold on, baby. Just wait.”
He groaned as she arched in his arms, rubbing her core against him. She was perfect, so soft and responsive. He worked her, angling so he could rub right against her sweet spot. Damn if she didn’t catch his rhythm right away, rocking her hips up as he ground against her.
“Jackson. Please, please, please—” She broke off with a strangled cry when he slid her down so she was riding his thigh.
She went rigid in his arms before her head fell back against the wall. Her eyelids drifted down as she shuddered beneath him.
“Oh yeah, that’s it,” he whispered.
That look. Damn if she wasn’t the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, with her head thrown back, ecstasy all over her face as her most intimate muscles clenched against his thigh.
He’d be seeing that look in his dreams.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he gasped, then took her mouth in another crushing kiss, kissing her deeply until he again had to pull away just to breathe.
He ripped his mouth from hers, the sight of her swollen lips almost making him dizzy.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to do this. You need someone to lend a helping hand not take advantage.” He pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes.
It should have been better with his eyes closed, when he couldn’t see the way she looked up at him, so soft and trusting. But even with his eyes closed, he could still see her face. The way she looked at him made him feel powerless. He could literally feel his self-control oozing out, drop by drop.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re supposed to stay away from me. I’m a vulture, remember?” She licked his bottom lip and he groaned.
When she kissed a trail from his jaw down to his neck, he flinched and set her down. “That was my brother talking. I know better. But that doesn’t make this a good idea.”
“You really are a nice guy, aren’t you?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” he grumbled.
“Well, the fact that you don’t seem any happier about it than I do,” she stood on tiptoe and wrapped her arms around his neck, brushing her body against his, inch by inch, “makes me feel a little better. My ego anyway.”
He stopped thinking the instant she plastered herself against him. It took a moment for him to direct enough blood to his brain to translate what she was saying.
“I’m definitely not happy about it, beautiful. I’m just trying not to be what you think I am.”
She pulled back and looked him in the eye. “Jackson—”
He cut her off before she could continue. “I have a family picnic tomorrow so there’s going to be a lot of people around. But we always have tons of food and good music. You’re welcome to join us. I want you to make yourself at home while you’re here.”
It was asking for trouble but he couldn’t stop himself from taking another kiss, bending her back over his arm until she was forced to cling to his shoulders to stay on her feet. Then, while she was still dazed, he turned and walked off.
There was a cold shower calling his name.
THE NEXT MORNING, Ridley threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood up.
. Even though she’d been awake since the early hours, she’d been waiting for the sun to rise so she could move around the house. It was bad enough that she was a forced houseguest. She definitely didn’t want to wake her host too early on a holiday.
She stretched and tugged the edges of Jackson’s tee shirt further over her cotton shorts. A warm feeling spread through her as she remembered the look in his eyes last night when she’d asked to borrow something to wear. He had a way of looking at her that made her throat go dry.
The worst part was that she’d not only been restless and itchy after their hot little interlude, but because she’d been so keyed up, she’d heard every noise the house made. Every bump made her think someone was scaling the wall outside her window, every creak in the hallway sounded like footsteps. She’d had to turn on all the lights and ram the chair from the dressing table under the handle of her door before she could even begin to relax.
Even after her makeshift security measures, she’d still spent most of the night staring at the intricate designs in the ceiling. Who would have thought you could create so many different designs with plain white paint?
The thought of seeing Jackson after she’d all but molested him last night was just too embarrassing for words. Not that she didn’t agree with him. Sleeping together would have been a huge mistake. She was only in town for a short time, and he didn’t even know who she really was. But that didn’t mean she liked being turned down. He’d just been so…
. And yes, she was petty enough to hate him for it. She hoped he’d regretted it as soon as he got to his empty bed.
And she really, really, really hoped he’d had blue balls.
“It’s just chemistry. It doesn’t mean anything. Clearly I’m not irresistible since he walked away. Besides, I’m sure I’m not the first girl to borrow this shirt,” she muttered before going to stand in front of the mirror over the antique dressing table. Her appearance made her wince.
Whoa, I look rough.
She immediately headed into the ensuite bathroom. She may not be a supermodel, but she had enough female vanity not to want Jackson to see her with dark circles under her eyes and bedhead.
She took a long, leisurely shower, wishing the whole time she could take the five streams of water coming from the fancy showerhead with her when she left. After wrapping herself in one of the plush towels on the rack, she brushed her teeth and carefully untwisted her hair. It fell in long waves down her back. She was thankful she’d bundled her long hair up on her head to keep it from getting wet since she didn’t have her hairdryer.
“With any luck, Raina will call soon otherwise I’ll look like a hot mess before long. I don’t have my hair dryer. I don’t even have enough clothes.”
Oh crap, the clothes.
She hung her head. She’d completely forgotten about the clothes she’d put in the wash yesterday. They’d been sitting for the better part of a day in the machine, so she’d no doubt have to rewash them before she could put them in the dryer.
“I guess getting up earlier has its uses.” She dressed quickly, pulling on her shorts and the same tee shirt she
d slept in, before opening the door. She peered out into the hallway. A grin tugged at the edges of her mouth. It was more than a little ridiculous how she was creeping around. What would she have done even if Jackson was in the hallway? She squared her shoulders and walked to the staircase.
The early morning sun streamed through the expansive windows in the family room, bathing the beige furniture with buttery light. She couldn’t suppress a sigh as she walked through the room and then through the kitchen to get to the laundry room. It was such a beautiful morning that she could almost forget why she was here. It was the kind of day that just begged for coffee outside on the patio with a bowl of fruit and a good book.
She pulled one of her shirts out of the washer and held it under her nose. It didn’t smell moldy or anything and the clothes hadn’t been sitting for
long. She shrugged her shoulders and pulled an armful out and then bent to throw them in the dryer.