The One Who Got Away

BOOK: The One Who Got Away
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Ben tugged her zipper open with his teeth

Taylor thought she had died and gone to heaven. It was unbelievably erotic to have him on the floor in front of her, knowing he could touch her anywhere, do anything. He kissed her right below her belly button, and she whimpered in pure surrender.

“Oh, God,” he whispered, just before he licked the expanse of flesh above her lace panties.

Oh, no. The thought of where he was going, what he was going to lick next, made her hot. She wanted him to hurry, to rip off the rest of her clothes and throw her on the bed.

Restlessly she put her hands on his head and ran her fingers through his dark hair. “Stand up, please.”

Ben looked up and smiled. “Are you sure?” At her nod, he got up from his knees, kissed her hard. Let his body lean against her and she felt his erection through his soft jeans.

He gazed at her. “Why did we wait so long?”

She laughed. “We just got here last night.”

“Ten years,” he said. “I missed too much.”

Her hand went to his face where she traced his lips. “I'm here now. And we definitely need to make up for lost time….”

Dear Reader,

Oh, what a special book this is to me! The story, while fictional, is based in part on something that happened to me….

Twenty-five years ago (argh!) I met the man of my dreams. He was everything I ever wanted in a guy. Only, the romance ended after a few years. Ended badly. But I never did get over him. He was The One Who Got Away, and it took me a long time to make peace with the fact that I'd never meet a man who could compare.

Flash forward twenty years, and bless the Internet. Because guess who found me? You got it. The One! We talked, and talked…and three months later, we moved in together. He's no longer the one who got away, but he's still The One!

So that's how Taylor and Ben came about. Although the details are different, the incredible gift of finding (and keeping!) a lost love are just the same.

Affectionately yours,

Jo Leigh

Books by Jo Leigh

HARLEQUIN BLAZE

2—GOING FOR IT

23—SCENT OF A WOMAN

34—SENSUAL SECRETS

72—A DASH OF TEMPTATION

88—TRUTH OR DARE

122—ARM CANDY

THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY
Jo Leigh

To Lawrence: The One Who (Almost) Got Away!

Prologue

To: The Gang at Eve's Apple

From Taylor

EvesApple.com

Subject: BEN!!!!!

 

If you're looking for something soft, you won't find it in Ben's face. Not at first.

He is all hard lines and sharp angles. The cheekbones, of course. The stuff of dreams. Improbable. Dangerous. Unforgettable. The cheekbones make you look at his eyes, give you no choice. They're dark and knowing. Too knowing. Which makes you look away, but not for long. The focus shifts to his lips. The upper is thin, but there. The pouty lower makes up for it. And when the corners of his lips curve up in that slight smile, when those eyes take you in from the toes up, when he flicks his dark, straight, too-long hair back with a hand, there's nothing to do but surrender. Give it up. Lie down, whether you're near a bed or not.

That's Ben. My first lover. My best lover. Might as well have been my only lover. Because it's been ten years, and I can't get that face out of my head.

Every man I've dated, from that gorgeous Richard
Gere-like attorney to that race-car driver from Atlanta has failed the Ben Test. Not that I even realized there was such a thing, but now that I know I'm going to see Ben again, I finally get it. I see what he's done to me.

So, my fellow Eve's Apple Compatriots, my sisters in righteous conquests who seek the perfect Men To Do before we say I Do…I hereby declare that Ben Bowman, the man of the exquisite cheekbones, of the mesmerizing dark eyes, is my official MAN TO DO.

I, Taylor Hanson, am going to spend one week with the aforementioned Mr. Bowman, in, appropriately enough, Las Vegas, Sin City, while attending my brother's wedding. I will, without fail, get Ben “Cheekbones” Bowman into my bed, and then I will see, with my very own eyes, that regardless of cheekbones, of knowing eyes, and wicked smiles, Bowman is just a guy. Like a bunch of other guys. Not a God, not an icon, not the King of the Stud Muffins.

I was only eighteen.

And then, my dear friends, I will come home, and I SHALL BE FREE to find my Mr. Right. My forever guy. Because I will have broken the spell. Damn it.

Love and Kisses,

Taylor

1

O
NLY IN
V
EGAS
.

Ben watched the crowd standing in front of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine as he made his way through the airline terminal toward the baggage claim area. Breathless with anticipation, a dozen or so tourists watched the spinning wheel as it slowed, coming to a shaky stop under the bold 20. A collective groan marked their disappointment, and Ben marveled again at the gullibility of humans.

All anyone needed to do was take one look at the Strip to see that Vegas wasn't in the business of giving away money. But most of the good folk who came to Vegas didn't stop to think about the odds. They came for magic. For the turn of the wheel, the flip of a card that would free them from the daily grind of working for a living. They wanted the dream and no place on earth knew how to sell the dream better.

Not that Ben didn't mind a friendly game of poker now and then, but he had no illusions about windfalls or magic. He believed in hard work and persistence. If luck ever entered the picture it was because he'd made sure to be in the right place at the right time.

He passed the shops selling overpriced leather jackets, gaudy trinkets and T-shirts, finally arriving at the
escalator that would take him down to his the baggage claim area.

As was his wont, he'd checked in at the last possible moment, assuring that his luggage would be some of the first out of the plane. In fact, this time his bag was the very first. A few minutes later, he was in a cab on his way to the Hard Rock Hotel.

He stared at the vision that was Las Vegas as the cab made its way along Paradise Road. How appropriate. The Hard Rock wasn't on the Strip per se, but two blocks east. Still it managed to be the hippest of the big hotels. He'd never stayed there, but he'd had dinner at Nobu and the Pink Taco. Nice place, if you liked that sort of thing. He didn't. Give him a mountain lake and a fishing pole, and he was all set. Glitz and glamour made him itchy, but this was Steve's wedding, and he'd have gone to the far side of the moon for that.

It puzzled him, however. Steve Hanson had been his closest friend since the fifth grade, and while they hadn't lived in the same town since college, they still got together twice a year to go deep-sea fishing. It made things easier that Steve owned the boats. Five of them, actually, all moored in his and Steve's home-town, San Diego. Steve had eschewed the white-collar life of his father to follow the beat of his own drum. He'd started out with one boat,
The Golden Mermaid,
and had increased his fleet by a boat every other year for ten years. He'd made himself a good life, and as far as Ben could see, he was a truly happy man. What Ben couldn't see was why he was about to change all that.

He hadn't discussed his plans with Ben, or the reasons behind his decision. There had just been that one phone call where Steve had asked him to come to Vegas, to be his best man. He'd said his fiancée's name was Lisa, and that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He'd also said that he was going to keep the fleet but move to Kansas, and work for her father at his aerospace company. That was the kicker. The puzzle. Steve hated corporate life, had broken his father's heart by not taking over the family insurance business. So why now? Why her? Why marriage?

The cab turned into the big driveway, underneath the huge guitar that was the Hard Rock logo. The lot was crowded with every kind of vehicle from Hummers to limos to beat-up Chevys. At the entrance, a uniformed doorman tried to help but Ben took his suitcase to the front desk. His room, on the fourteenth floor, was ready and after a long walk through the noisy casino, and another down a silent padded hallway, he reached it.

The parlor of his deluxe room had gold walls, green carpeting, a semicircular couch with a round black coffee table, a wet bar and, behind purple drapes that framed French doors, a fabulous view of the Strip. The bedroom wasn't quite as fancy, but nice. Two queen platform beds with leather headboards, a built-in TV instead of the usual armoire and another spectacular view.

He tossed his suitcase onto the bed, then noticed the light on his phone blinking. He punched the numbers to get the message. It was Steve, sounding chip
per, asking him to dinner. They were to meet at the front desk in about three hours, long enough for Ben to have a shower and a nap. The last part of the message was that Taylor would be joining the party, and that she was looking forward to seeing him.

Taylor.

Ben hung up the phone, but he didn't move. She'd been a little kid when he'd first met her: Steve's baby sister. She'd followed them wherever she could, always wanting attention, always wanting to be let in on the fun. They'd ditched her as often a possible, and he could still remember her tears.

But mostly he remembered the last time he'd seen her. It had to be ten years ago, just after she'd graduated from high school. He'd been at his folk's house for their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and had stayed on for a week while they'd gone on the second honeymoon cruise to the Virgin Islands he'd treated them to. Taylor had come by on a Friday afternoon and she'd stayed until Sunday.

She'd grown into a beauty and when she'd come on to him, he hadn't the will or the strength to turn her away.

The weekend had been one of the most exciting of his life. She'd been a wildcat, and he'd loved every second of it. She'd cried when he'd said goodbye, but he'd known the tears were more about the end of a fantasy than any real heartbreak.

Taylor had been heading off for college, for a whole new life that had nothing to do with childhood crushes. He'd returned to the New York police force, determined to become a sergeant. By the time he'd
settled back into his regular routine, he'd felt certain she'd forgotten all about him.

It would be good to see her again. According to Steve, she'd never married. Smart girl.

Ben glanced at the clock, and got up. He didn't want to be late for dinner.

 

T
AYLOR CHECKED
herself out one last time before she had to leave. Her hair wasn't too horrifying, although she would have to buy some kind of conditioner that would give it some lift. She'd put on her makeup with care, and felt she'd hit the right combination of come-hither and stay there. After trying on every item of clothing she'd brought, she'd ended up wearing a cute little Michael Kors she'd picked up at a ritzy secondhand store. It was black, sleeveless, and skintight, with kicky leather shoulders that made her boobs look much bigger than they were. She'd have to hold in her stomach the entire night, but it was worth it. She wanted Ben's jaw to drop the moment he saw her. She sucked in harder. Realizing that she couldn't go the entire night without a breath, she gave it up.

So she pooched. He probably had love handles.

She got her purse, made sure she had her room key, and headed off to the elevator, her pulse racing faster with each step.

By the time she reached the casino level, she was practically hyperventilating. What had she been thinking? She hadn't seen the man in ten years, she had no idea what his life was like. For all she knew, he could have brought a lover with him. Steve hadn't mentioned anything about Ben being attached, but
then Steve was a notoriously bad gossip. He'd had all kinds of famous people on his boats, and had he ever brought home one juicy tidbit? Never. She hated that.

And she hated the butterflies in her stomach. This wasn't going to work. Taylor leaned against a large display case exhibiting stage clothes worn by Shania Twain. The woman had to weigh twelve pounds, the outfit was so tiny. But that was beside the point. Taylor had to do something, and do it now. She could go back to her room, call Steven and say she didn't feel well, but that would only delay the inevitable. She couldn't stay in her room the whole week. What made oodles more sense was for her to forget about her Man To Do plan and just go enjoy her brother's happiness. Forget about Ben and his cheekbones. If he looked anything like he had, there was no way he would be single. No woman could possibly resist him, and living in New York, he was up to his deliciously square chin in stunning babes.

She straightened her shoulders, flicked her hair back and pasted on a smile. Tonight, in fact this whole week, wasn't about her. It was about her brother. For heaven's sake, she hadn't even met Lisa yet, and she was going to be her sister-in-law. With that thought firmly in mind, she once again headed toward the lobby, letting the sounds of bells, coins, music and chatter ease her way.

So what if she didn't get her Man To Do? She had her vibrator, and that was a relationship she could count on.

 

B
EN SPOTTED
S
TEVE
standing near the Jimi Hendrix display. He had his arm around a tall, slim blonde.
She was frowning, but even so, she was pretty. A different kind of pretty for Steve. The women he went for tended to look like Playboy Bunnies. They partied like Bunnies, too. But Ben didn't get that feeling from Lisa. She was dressed in white slacks, a pale blue top and a white jacket, tailored, classy; more Midwest than So Cal. Her hair was neat, not quite to her shoulders, and her shoes and purse were both white and conservative. She looked like she'd be right at home in a country club or on a golf course, not on one of Steve's boats.

Ben kept on walking, shaking off his first impressions. One thing he'd learned the hard way was that looks don't mean squat. He'd judge Lisa for who she was behind the Ralph Lauren look.

Steve turned, and grinned like he'd just caught a two-hundred pound swordfish. “Ben, you old bastard!”

Ben shook his head. Some things didn't change, thank God. “I didn't know they let people like you in here. Where's security?”

Steve let go of his girl and gave Ben a rib bruising hug. “Thanks for coming, man.”

“Oh, right. Like I'd let you get married without me? Someone's got to tell her what she's getting into.”

Steve laughed, that big hearty guffaw that was as distinct as his fingerprints. It made Ben feel like he was home.

“This—” Steve said, moving toward his lady “—is Lisa.”

Ben met her gaze, liked her smile. Close up, she was attractive, but subtly so. Her blue eyes seemed a little hesitant, judging him. Which was only fair, he supposed. “Nice to meet you, Lisa.”

“Steven has told me so much about you.”

“Uh-oh. Remember, innocent until proven guilty.”

She laughed, then took Steve's arm. “Do you think we should call your sister? I don't want to lose our reservation.”

“Let's give her another— Wait. There she is.”

Ben turned to follow Steve's gaze. He wasn't in the least prepared for what he was about to see.

 

T
AYLOR SLOWED
as she got her first look at Ben Bowman.
Oh, shit.
He'd changed, all right. He'd become the most devastatingly handsome man she'd ever laid eyes on.

Her legs wobbled beneath her, but she focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and not falling on her fanny. She didn't know what to look at first. No, not true, the cheekbones were first, they had to be, and holy mama, they were even more chiseled than she remembered. His eyes seemed darker, but she'd need to be closer to be sure. He still wore his hair long, just past his ears. It wasn't neat or tidy in the least. It didn't need to be. He looked like he'd just gotten out of bed. And she meant that in the best possible way.

Her fingers twitched, itching to run through those dark locks, to see those familiar lips curl up in a wicked smile.

Okay, so she was back to the original plan. Sleep
with him or die trying. She could do it. She had to do it. Hell, there was a long couch just this side of the lobby that looked pretty comfortable.

Finally, seconds before she was close enough to actually speak to Ben, her gaze shifted down. His body was every bit as wonderful as her memory had promised. Not the tallest guy on the block, but perfectly proportioned. He wore jeans, well-worn, cowboy boots beneath them. His shirt was white, no tie, his jacket hunter green. Altogether a delicious package.

No way he wasn't taken. Not possible.

“Taylor, hello?”

Startled, she looked at her brother. “Hi.”

Steve laughed, shook his head. “I see you remember Ben.”

Heat filled her cheeks as she forced herself to forget about Ben and concentrate on her brother and his wife-to-be. After a quick kiss and a poke to his shoulder, she said, “Well? Are you going to introduce me?”

Steve stepped over to the woman in the white pant-suit and put his arm around her shoulders. “Taylor, this is Lisa. The woman who's changed my whole life.”

Taylor smiled and moved in for an awkward air kiss. To say she was surprised was an understatement.
This
was Lisa? This preppy sorority sister? Not possible. Taylor glanced at Ben, and from his practiced look, she could tell she wasn't the only one who thought something was screwy here.

But she wasn't being fair. She hadn't even talked
to Lisa, so maybe inside those Alpha-Gamma-Delta clothes there lived the soul of a wild woman.

“Everybody hungry?”

Taylor turned to Steve. “Starving. Where are we eating?”

“I thought we'd go over to the Venetian tonight. Eat at The Grand Luxe.”

“Great.”

He turned to Lisa, his gaze adoring. “I'll go get a cab,” he said.

“I'll come with you. Give Taylor and Ben a chance to catch up.”

They walked away, leaving her alone with
him
and awkwardness swallowed her whole. She smiled, turned toward the big glass doors with the guitar-shaped pulls.

“It's been a while,” Ben said, moving closer to her, ratcheting up the heat in the casino by a good ten degrees. “You look great.”

“Thanks. So do you.”

His low chuckle made her look. The moment their eyes met, she was lost—eighteen again, fumbling, frightened, drowning in lust.

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