Authors: Jill Shalvis
“Then why did you?” Lani asked, sitting up. The comforter slid down to reveal more than Colin could handle.
His brow furrowed as he quickly raised his eyes to search her gaze. “You neededâ”
I needed you.”
“You were having a nightmare. Anyone would have doneâ”
Colin sucked in a harsh breath. In the pale light, his eyes darkened. “Laniâ¦”
She could hear his ragged breath, could feel his struggle for control. “It wasn't supposed to be like this,” he murmured. “It was supposed to be uncomplicated. Easy.”
“I know,” she whispered, sinking her fingers into his thick, silky hair. “I know.”
Even as he reached for her, he said, “This is going to make it harder.”
so,” she whispered.
I would rather clean toilets than talk about myself, which leaves me in a bit of a quandary when it comes to writing you a satisfying reader letter. But since the heroine in
The Bachelor's Bed
cleans toilets for a living, it all sort of works out. While running her cleaning service, Lani dreams of things like marriage and commitment, but she hasn't found a way to make that happen. (I, on the other hand, found my Mr. Right and we have three wonderful little girls.)
When our hero (who never cleans toilets) asks Lani to be his fictional fiancÃ©e, she figures pretending is better than nothing, andâbecause he's smart and funny and has a jobâshe agrees. But we all know that true love is a sneaky emotion. It also conquers all, thankfully, which is what I love about romance.
I hope you enjoy how love works its magic in
The Bachelor's Bed.
Let me know what you thinkâyou can write to me at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96160.
742âWHO'S THE BOSS?
SILHOUETTE INTIMATE MOMENTS
887âHIDING OUT AT THE CIRCLE K
941âTHE RANCHER'S SURRENDER
To Susan Sheppard, for always believing.
to take the cash I left out for you.”
At the low, unbearably sexy voice in her ear, Lani hugged the telephone closer. They weren't strangers, not by a long shot, but neither were they familiar enough with each other for her to joke about what the mere sound of his voice did to her insides. Shakily, she let out a breath. Her heart raced, and to combat the funny, weightless feeling that such a severe attraction caused, she leaned back in her squeaky office chair, lifted her tired, worn-out feet up to her desk and closed her eyes.
“Yes, I'm here.” He couldn't know she'd recognize his voice anywhere. She sighed and opened her eyes as she straightened. It wasn't right to fantasize about a client, no matter how much that client occupied her thoughts. Truth was, he probably occupied the thoughts of every woman in this small mountain town of Sierra Summit. Not that there wasn't plenty to do in the quaint, lovely place, but Colin West was such absolutely perfect fantasy material.
“Your money for your house-cleaning services,” he repeated patiently. “You left it on the counter.”
“I know. I'm sorry,” she said, embarrassed. At the
time, she'd been flustered because he'd been watching her with a silent intensity that she didn't understand as she'd prepared to leave his house.
“No need to apologize, they're
Again, that quiet yet steely tone. She was intelligent, she knew she couldn't love someone she didn't really know, but she could lust.
He was a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it, and if rumors were to be believed, he rarely ever let anything get in his way. “Ruthless and aggressive” was what they said about him, but Lani believed it was only a front.
To her, he wasn't frightening or even dangerous, but he
magnetic and passionate and fiercely private.
He also intimidated the hell out of her.
They'd known each other for one year. Lani had provided services for him once a week since they'd met, and though she had hoped their relationship would have risen above this stilted awkwardness by now, it was clear she was the only one who wished it so.
Sighing again, she shoved back all her secret yearnings and desires. “I'll pick it up when I come next week,” she said. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.” The husky timbre of his voice deepened, and for just a second, Lani thought that maybe it did so with equal yearning, but that was silly.
She was a nobody to him, less than a nobody.
What she made in a year, he considered less than pocket change. Her office was smaller and more cramped than the walk-in closet of his huge bedroom.
He probably didn't even remember her first name.
“Next week then, Lani,” he said softly.
She hung up the phone, stared out the tiny office window at the Los Angeles Crest Mountains and smiled dreamily.
know her name.
“Next week,” she whispered to herself.
HE FOLLOWING WEEK
when Lani drove up to Colin's house, it looked dark. Disappointment filled her.
She'd rearranged her crazy schedule even though she could have had a rare day off, just to get a peek at him. It was all for naught.
She was an idiot. A lust-bitten idiot.
She walked into the kitchen and saw an envelope with her name on the counter. Inside was her money, for both this week and last.
“You won't forget this time.”
Lani nearly leaped out of her skin at the unexpected, silky voice.
He stood in the doorway, filling it with his tall, dangerous-looking presence. She wasn't afraid of him. She didn't know why really, except that she knew all his dark beauty covered pain, not meanness. His gaze, as always, was inscrutable and mea
sured, and every nerve inside Lani went shy. “I won't forget, thank you.”
“You should charge more.”
“I get by.”
“You're worth far more.” Colin said this sincerely, even as he remained against the doorway, cool and collected. Distant.
It didn't matter. She knew that was a defense, and she of all people understood defenses. But he'd noticed what a good job she'd done, and while it shouldn't mean so much, it did. Oh, it did. She smiled.
He stared at her, not returning the smileâshe'd never seen him smileâhis eyes for once readable. In them she saw confusion, which in turn confused
because he was always so sure of himself.
Apparently he didn't like the feeling, because he grabbed his keys, said a quick good-bye and vanished.
Lani watched him go, wondering at the flash of vulnerability she'd seen.
HE DIDN'T SEE HIM
again all month, though he always left money for her services. Twice he left her notes, complimenting her on her work.
She saved them and wondered how long it would be before he allowed them to run into one another again. Wondered also if he felt the connection between them, and if it unnerved him as much as it did her.
OLIN WOULDN'T HAVE SAID
desperation was a personality trait of his, but he felt the cold fingers of it now. Frustrated, he stared at the calculated mess in his office. The building was deserted except for him. Even the downtown streets beyond the darkened windows were quiet on this late-summer evening.
His favorite time to work.
If he could, he'd work all night. Every night. Whatever it took to finish this project, he would do it, it was
But he had to go home, had to ward off trouble.
It wasn't often he felt so helpless, and he hated that. There was only one thing to doâfight it.
in this case wasn't some terrorist threat or even a horrific viral infection, but something far worse.
It was his mother and her two meddling sisters.
The three of them had come together in their mutual campaign to ruin his life.
They wanted him married and they wanted him married yesterday, and to further this mission, they had sent woman after woman to him. They'd created
parties, blind dates, “surprise” visitors, chance meetings, anything and everything to drive him insane.
He had no idea what the latest plan of attack was, but they'd been too quiet since the last one, when they'd sicced Ms. Mary Martin, the town librarian and closet nymphomaniac, on him. She had made his life a living hell for a month, smiling wickedly every time she ran into him, which had been disturbingly often. When she had goosed him in his office elevator one night, practically stripping him before he managed to separate himself from her, he had drawn the line.
No more interference by his family.
They had to be stopped.
barely made it, but that was little surprise. The poor clunker had been threatening to go all year and since she'd just recently put her cleaning business into the black for the first time, transportation had taken a low priority to other things, such as eating.
Carmen glanced at her with a raised eyebrow when the car lunged and jerked.
“Hey, it got us here,” Lani told her worker as she shut it off.
Carmen read her lips, looking not so much grateful as doubtful. The woman was sixty years old and deaf. She also had a bit of an attitude and didn't do windowsânot exactly perfect maid material.
But Lani was so short-staffed that she, too, was out
in the field cleaning today. Not that she minded since this was
In fact, for a glimpse of
rugged, athletic body she'd clean every toilet in the house. With his dark, thick hair, even darker, fathomless eyes and full, sexy mouth, Colin West was truly the stuff secret fantasies were made of.
Sometimes she pretended that he noticed her for something other than the weekly maid. That he wondered how he could have employed her for a full year and not seen her mind-shattering beauty, her sharp wit. But in the end that was a cruel fantasy because he was perfect and she wasâ¦wellâ¦not.
Still she never stopped wishing, because someday she was going to take her great-aunt Jennie's adviceâshe was going to stop living life so carefully and purposely, she was going to jump up and take a risk and not worry about getting hurt.
Carmen sighed theatrically at the delay while Lani daydreamed. Lani knew she was going to have to stop hiring people just because she felt sorry or responsible for them. But it was a difficult habit to break. Besides, Carmen could be sweet.
The older woman stared at the huge house they were to clean and shook her head sharply, glaring at Lani. She huffed with indignation, which made Lani laugh. Okay, not
exactly. But she was company, which was nice.
It's going to be a scorcher of a day,
Lani thought as she tugged and yanked at the heavy bucket in her
trunk, panting a little under the weight of it. The mountain air was supposed to make a person strong, but Lani had lived here all her life and she was still on the puny side of petite.
Sierra Summit was located at the base of the Los Angeles Crest Mountains above the sprawling Los Angeles area, but still the July hot spell penetrated the altitude.
Lani swiped at her sticky forehead and hefted the bucket higher while Carmen watched, probably relieved she hadn't been asked to carry anything. The bucket was filled with sponges and cleaners and Lani wrinkled her nose when the strong aroma of pine and lime caught in her throat.
She had nothing against cleaningâit was her livelihood. But if Colin wasn't going to sweep her off her feet, which she had to admit was highly unlikely, then she might as well be back in her small but cozy office in town, working on her very-behind bookkeeping.
A sponge bounced from her bucket to the ground. Lani nearly killed herself in the juggling act she had to perform just to get it back in.
Carmen simply watched.
“Hey, don't worry, I've got it.” Silence met this dry statement, and Lani found herself yearning for someone,
to speak to.
The blast of unexpected self-pity was startling. She never allowed it, so why was she wallowing in lone
liness today? “Because I just had my twenty-sixth birthday,” she realized, speaking out loud.
Carmen watched her speak then snorted her opinion of that.
But, twenty years after losing the family that had been her entire life, Lani was just realizing something disturbing. Despite her inherent sunny disposition, despite her determination to live her life as though each day was precious, she had never again fully opened her heart to another. Guilt stabbed at her because she did have Great-Aunt Jennie, who'd taken in a traumatized six-year-old Lani instead of enjoying her retirement years. But still, Lani ached for something that continued to elude her.
Truth was, she wanted more from life. She wanted to follow Jennie's advice and take a chance, lower her guard.
And if, in the process, she managed to have a hot, wildly passionate love affair with a man as dreamy as Colin, then so much the better, because she had to face factsâorgasms were but a blissful figment of her imagination.
Cleaning bucket in tow, Lani followed Carmen up the long, bricked walk of the upscale home, the early morning sun beaming down on her. She should be used to waking up on one side of the tracks and working on the other, but she still stopped to gawk at the incredibly beautiful home.
Her own place was a tiny modest apartment in an older part of town. Not seedy or even dangerous, justâ¦cheap. She lived there for nearly nothing be
cause Jennie owned the building and never let Lani pay what she charged everyone else.
But Colin's two-story, sprawling house took her breath away. The cedar siding had aged to the color of expensive whiskey. There were no less than three chimneys to conjure up the imagine of hot, crackling winter fires. Decking surrounded the bottom floor. Lani could close her eyes and imagine the swing she'd place where Colin would draw her down and whisper husky promises in her ear on warm summer nights. Then, beneath a sliver of a moon, he'd make good on those promises, using his hands, his tongue, his body until she was limpâ¦.
In the real world, she plowed into Carmen, who'd also stopped short to admire the house.
Icy liquid flowed down Lani's front, cooling her off.
Carmen frowned down at her own splattered tennis shoes and worked her lips in what Lani was certain was a colorful Spanish oath.
“Sorry,” she muttered and, ignoring her wet shirt, kept moving, her gaze back on the fabulous house. She knew that Colin never used the fireplaces. He hadn't placed a swing on the deck either. His work was his life, and while Lani appreciated and understood his dedication, she wondered if he didn't sometimes yearn for more, the way she did.
As she came to the back door, she felt a strange thrill in her belly.
Would she see him? Would she catch a glimpse of
his deep mysterious eyes? Would she hear his low, mesmerizing voice, the one that turned her inside out?
She hoped so because he was the highlight of her week. He was incredible. Okay, maybe a little dark and moody, but positively magnificent. Maybe he'd be wearing those soft, faded jeans again, the ones that fit him like a glove, emphasizingâ¦
Carmen tsked deep in her throat and Lani jumped guiltily, knowing her thoughts had been plastered across her face. “Oh, like you don't think it, too.”
Carmen made the equivalent of a grumpy old woman's laugh and wagged her little finger at Lani. Then she wiggled her ample hips suggestively, pausing in her dance to shake her head. Lastly, she gestured to the cleaning supplies.
“Yes, yes, I know.” Lani rolled her eyes. “We're here to clean. Clean, clean, clean. No hanky-panky. You know, it's amazing how well you can communicate when you want to. Maybe while you're in the mood, you can explain to me how you have the energy to make fun of me, but the minute we get inside you'll suddenly tire and let me do all the hard work.”
Angelic now, Carmen smiled with a lift of one shoulder and a vague shake of her head.
Lani shook her head in disgust at the both of them. Every woman, young and old, within thirty miles sighed over the thought of Colin. He was rich,
amazingly intelligent, gorgeous and, most importantly, he was single. That he kept his distance from people only fueled the constant rumors about his love life. It was said that he went through a different woman every day of the weekâbut that only made Lani all the more morbidly curious.
for lack of a better termâelectronic robotics. She knew nothing about that.
It didn't matter. She didn't need to understand to appreciate him. Colin worked hard, a good quality in anyone. He was driven and successful. His dark, dangerous fallen-angel looks didn't hurt, either.
Too bad he was so involved in his work. But unlike some of her other clients, who preferred to pretend that their maid was invisible, Colin West always nodded politely to her, spoke easily, and never made her feel less than the woman she was. They'd had many pleasant conversations over the months, and she could remember every one of them.
she told herself firmly. Ignoring the overwhelming heat, she headed quickly up the steep walk to the kitchen entrance, leaving Carmen huffing far behind.
Just as she reached the door, it whipped open, sending blessedly cool air into her damp face. Standing there before her in all his somber glory was Colin, looking unexpectedly wild, rumpled and just a little desperate.
“Thank God it's you.”
“Instead of?” she asked in surprise.
“One of your non-English-speaking employees or, God forbid, the older woman who can't speak at all, the one who always sticks her tongue out at me.”
“Wellâ¦” She thought of Carmen making her way up the walk right this very moment.
“Come in,” he said a bit impatiently, his voice deep and rumbling. His dark, wavy, collar-length hair was more disheveled than usual and standing on end as if he'd been plowing his fingers through it. His eyes, so deep blue they looked black and fathomless, shimmered with what she might have suspected was nerves, if she didn't know better.
From what she'd seen, Colin West never suffered from nerves.
So why was his tall, well-built frameâwhich she couldn't help but notice was beautifully packed into a well-worn T-shirt and those snug old Levi's she lovedâso taut with tension?
Lani opened her mouth to speak, but it fell shut again when his huge, warm hand closed over the heavy bucket she held. He set it aside as though it weighed no more than a penny.
His mouth was grim.
“What's the matterâ” Lani squeaked in surprise when he pulled her the rest of the way into his kitchen, slammed the door and, with a gentle but inexorable force, pressed her back against it.
She should have spared a thankful thought for the deliciously cool house. She should have thought about Carmen, who was going to wonder why Lani
hadn't waited for her, but her attitude-ridden helper was the last thing on her mind at the moment.
“Mr. West!” she gasped, even as she closed her eyes to fully enjoy the sensation of his incredibly hard body against hers. After all, if this was a dream, she didn't want to wake up. “Did I forget my money again?”
Lord, she felt good against him.
felt good. “Soâ¦this is to thank me for the job I did last time?”
“No.” For a brief moment he pressed closer, and the almost-embrace spoke of a desperately needed comfort. She lifted her hands to his waist and squeezed reassuringly, trying to remember that he was a client.
“She's not going to let up,” he said gruffly. “And I can't take it, not now, not in the middle of this project. It's too damn important.”
Reluctantly, Lani opened her eyes because a
definitely ruined the fantasy. “Who won't let up?”
“It's enough to drive me insane.” His voice was low, edgy and spine-tinglingly rough. “Only one way to stop her andâdamn, you're wet!” His dark brows came together in a sharp line as he jerked back, staring down at his T-shirt, now clinging damply to his broad chest.
“I spilled. I'mâ¦sorry.”
“It doesn't matter,” he said, still staring down at himself.
Lani stared too, because wow, with his wet shirt
pasted to that fabulous chest, the blood rushed right out of her head, which made thinking a tad dangerous to her health.
“It's the project that's so important.”
She concentrated on his words with effort. “Project?”
“I'm designing a laser-surgery process,” he said, pulling at his shirt. “It's so close.”
“Laser surgery. They already have that.”