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3/06/2009

Bound and Determined

Posted by Munk


Shayla Black

Bound and Determined
Berkley HEATISBN-10: 0425226905ISBN-13: 978-0425226902Genre: Sexy Contemporary RomanceRe-release Date: March 3, 2009

WANTED FOR KIDNAPPING: A bubbly blonde with a penchant for trouble. May be armed (with good intentions) and dangerously seductive…
Kerry Sullivan is running out of time-and patience. With her brother wrongfully accused of embezzling millions, she can’t face one more humiliating hang-up from the man she’s begging for help. Rafael Dawson may be one of the top electronic security experts in the country — and the only man who can prove her brother’s innocence — but his phone manners are appalling. Damn Yankee. Too bad kidnapping the man isn’t an option. Or is it?
There’s nothing Kerry wouldn’t do for her brother. There are lots of things she longs to do to Rafe Dawson when he’s lying tied-up and naked in her secret hideaway. Rafe is certainly something to look at, but Kerry’s brother’s life is riding on her pulling off the impossible: getting this man who’s always in control to lose it. But when the tables get turned, Kerry finds herself at Rafe’s mercy. And the only way to get her way is to let him have his way — with her…

Excerpt

This excerpt contains both explicit language and sexual content intended for adult audiences and readers should be 18 years or older to continue reading.
Chapter One
A woman thought of just one thing when she looked at a man like Rafael Dawson–and it had nothing to do with firewalls and passwords.
Oh, my. Kerry Sullivan watched him prowl into the baggage claim at Tampa’s International Airport with a restless, sexual grace. He looked good enough to eat…or at least nibble on for prolonged periods.
Not the most intelligent way to regard the man she had to abduct in the next two minutes.
Grimacing, she tugged down the little black mini skirt Jason had insisted would distract Dawson. Looking at her prey, Kerry feared she would be the one hard-pressed to focus. He was far more devastating than his little black and white picture—or his annoyed voice on the phone telling her to seek professional help—had implied. “Nerdy” was the last word she’d use to describe him, not with that wide, sensual mouth and cheekbones that could have been chiseled from a work of art. Damn it, he was supposed to be a techno-geek. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t see a pair of thick glasses or a pocket protector anywhere.
Kerry watched as Dawson retrieved his black hanging bag from the serpentine carousel and slung it over one wide shoulder. He gripped his laptop case with his other hand and scanned the signs the chauffeurs around her held up.
Now it’s up to me.
The bank hadn’t sent a driver. Kerry had invented one for her purposes and made a sign to lure her quarry. All she had to do was raise it—when she found her nerve.
I am woman. I am strong… I am way outta my league!
How was she going to coax a major melt-in-your-mouth hottie like Rafe Dawson, especially if he recognized her voice from their previous…misunderstandings? Even if he suspected nothing, she doubted he’d give her a first glance, much less a second. And if he knew she had absolutely no experience with men, she would have two chances of interesting him: slim and none. Already, Slim was packing its bags.
A virgin at twenty-three, she felt like a freak.
Even if he did look at her, couldn’t place her voice, and fell for her plans, what then?
Her brother Mark and the possible prison term in his future forced her to ignore the vise of self-doubt and fear cramping her stomach. Screw what the FBI and her brother’s boss, that tyrant, Mr. Smikins, thought. Mark was innocent. She owed it to him to persuade Dawson to help her prove it. The good news was that she was much more articulate face-to-face than she ever could have been over the phone. The bad news: Rafe was already one pissed-off puppy.
No, she had to put some positive energy into her thoughts. Her plan would enable her to get Dawson’s undivided attention. Then he would understand she’d been right about Mark and not press charges. She hoped. Damn, she was breaking something like ten laws here.
Kerry sighed. Her first instinct had been right: This was a stupid, stupid plan.
But Rafael Dawson had refused to listen to her pleadings during any of her calls. Mr. I-Only-Take-Corporate-Clients had blocked her number, too. Since then, the brainstorm fairy hadn’t gifted her with a brilliant plan, and time was slipping away. This was it.
In a way, Dawson’s abduction was his own fault. If he’d only listened when she called, they could have worked something out! Well, okay…a teeny, tiny bit was her fault, too. Being less rattled would have helped, but still… His personal assistant screened his calls so thoroughly, Kerry wondered if the woman was a talking Doberman.
The first time he had answered the phone himself, presumably after the rabid canine’s departure for the day, had been the most successful. Of course, he’d accepted the job to shore up Standard National Bank’s electronic security some weeks prior and had assumed she was a bank representative. Once she’d corrected him…well, he’d disconnected the call. The next time she called, he’d barely listened. Her coworker’s four-year-old with ADHD stayed tuned in longer. The third time, she’d been smarter. She’d pretended to be calling from another company and asked him if he did any investigative work. He’d covered his list of impressive credentials and client list—FBI and tons of Fortune 500 companies. She had no doubt he could prove her big brother innocent of embezzlement. Dawson definitely played in the big leagues. The price per hour he’d quoted her confirmed it. Kerry had nearly dropped the phone and started crying. Trial attorneys were less compensated. Much less.
She sighed. But the fourth conversation… That one had gone really badly. Even now, she could hear his deep growl…
“You again?”
“Consider me a fan.” She’d done her best to put a smile in her voice.
“As often as you call, you’ve fallen into the obsessive groupie category. Should I worry that you’re going to show up at my apartment angry and armed? Or are you the other kind of psycho who stalks a guy completely naked?”
Kerry paused, considering. “Those are strategies I hadn’t thought of.”
“Forget I said anything. I didn’t mean to give you ideas. You don’t work for Standard National Bank or eBay, do you?”
“No, but I can explain.”
“At this point, I don’t care who you are or what you want.”
“Actually, I’m—”
“Seriously, don’t tell me. I’m better off not knowing.”
She’d gripped the phone tightly, feeling opportunity slipping away. Mark had practically raised her. She had to make this work.
“Just listen to me, please. I need help in the worst way.”
“Oh, I figured that out a while back. But since I don’t wear a white coat, I don’t think I’m the right choice. Stop hounding me.”
“Don’t hang up. Please! I’m desperate. Our lawyer is awful, the FBI won’t listen…”
She’d tried to keep it together, truly. But the date for her brother’s trial had just been set, and the enormity of their problem had made her…well, emotional. Which was why she’d rambled. And cried. At the same time.
“No one will listen, and he’s never even had a speeding ticket. If the pain of chemotherapy didn’t make him a criminal, why would anyone assume getting married would?”
“I have no idea, nor do I want to.” A brief pause later, Dawson added. “Don’t call again.”
He’d hung up, leaving her to plot something far more forceful and devious. Kerry really wasn’t good at either. So here she was, in the frigid airport, determined to tie the man down—literally—to enlist his help.
With a resolute breath, Kerry raised the sign with Rafe Dawson’s name printed in permanent black ink. Perspiration broke out under her hairline. Her hands shook. Would he recognize her voice? Or guess that she was up to no good?
He saw the sign and moved closer, luggage in tow. Then Dawson shifted his gaze to her. And didn’t look away. She swallowed as he discreetly took her in, his gaze brushing her curve-hugging red halter, skimming her bare midriff, grazing her microscopic miniskirt and almost-bare thighs.
Kerry was sorely tempted to make sure her siren red lipstick hadn’t smudged, that the Florida humidity hadn’t detonated her sleek style into its usual curly tumble and that she still showed signs of cleavage above her indecently tight top.
As his focus returned to her face, a bad-boy smile curled the edges of his mouth. The heat in his to-die-for gray eyes was ferocious enough to liquefy her knees in world-record time. Despite his unfriendly demeanor on the phone, Kerry was stunned that she had no trouble imagining herself running her hands across the yummy width of his chest…
Down, girl, down!
Dawson came closer, now a breath shy of infringing on her personal space. His heat pulsed at her in a palpable wave. She drew in a deep breath, and his killer scent enveloped her. It wasn’t manufactured. The man simply smelled like black silk midnight wrapped in velvet sin. The scent totally matched his voice.
Yikes, she was in major trouble here—for so many reasons.
“Mr. Dawson,” she greeted, keeping her voice breathy to disguise it.
He nodded, his gaze glued to her. Nothing in his face hinted that her voice seemed familiar. Yeah! So far, the goddess of bad and illegal plans was smiling on her.
But Rafe wore a hint of a smile, too.
Staring at him sent her pulse into a circus-like frenzy. She could make an obsession out of wondering how well muscled he was beneath his pricey linen shirt, considering the amount of hair dusting his broad chest, pondering whether he wore boxers or briefs. Or went commando altogether.
Stop! Kerry chastised herself. Being attracted to the jerk wasn’t a good idea, but apparently she had no control over that. Still, distracting the man so she could successfully abduct him would be impossible if she was too busy drooling. Nor would he find it alluring.
She had to get ahold of herself. Mark’s fate rested in her hands.
Why couldn’t Mark have another sister, one who wasn’t curvier than current fashion dictated? One with more confidence? A sister who didn’t have to persuade a man she’d already irritated to help her?
“Welcome to Tampa,” she forced out in her best Marilyn Monroe voice, fidgeting with the sign.
He raised a surprised brow. “You’re my driver?”
Kerry hesitated, biting her lip again. Could she say this? When she had conceived this plan, the words had sounded so simple. But Dawson didn’t look like an idiot. In fact, he looked more like a shrewd sex god, put on this earth to make her mind mush. Worse, what if he figured out who she was before she had him bound? Kerry pushed aside the fear that her plan had less than zero chance of succeeding. Positive energy, she reminded herself.
“Your driver is in the car. Think of me as a…hostess.”
“Hostess?”
Kerry had no idea if his tone indicated disbelief or intrigue, but she pushed on. “I understand this is your first trip to Tampa. We—that is, everyone at Standard National Bank—thought you might appreciate a tour guide of sorts.”
Did he recognize her voice? Believe her? Impossible to tell. Instead, Dawson watched her, adjusting his burgundy silk tie with dark, elegant fingers. Her gaze climbed to the sharp angle of his jaw, the sculpted temptation of his lips. She’d bet last week’s tips the man knew how to do fantastic things with that mouth. Not that she would ever find out.
He screamed New York polish in his thousand-dollar suit. The scent of money wafted from him like a subtle cologne. She, on the other hand, probably still smelled like today’s lunch special of a double cheeseburger and onion rings.
“Lead the way.” He gestured her before him.
A new battalion of nerves attacked her with the force of a blitzkrieg. For her plan to work, she needed to get him comfortable at least. Hot and bothered wasn’t necessary. In fact, it wasn’t even likely if he really listened to her—or looked at her hips. But comfortable she could do.
“It’s pretty hot today. Humid, too. You might want to lose the coat or you’ll swelter.”
With a shrug, he rested his hanging bag over the back of a nearby chair and removed his suit coat. Beneath, his crisp white shirt, comfortably creased from his travel, strained to encompass a pair of shoulders so broad, Kerry would have been hard-pressed to pry her gaze away with a crowbar. Mr. Unpleasant sure was easy on the eyes.
He retrieved his garment bag, gaze discreetly scanning her. Then he paused. Looking as if he was suppressing a grin, he handed her his suit coat. She took it with numb fingers. Lord, it smelled like him–musky, mysterious, manly.
“You can wear that if you like,” he offered.
Kerry stared at him with a puzzled frown. “Thanks, but it’s way too hot.”
His hot gray gaze drifted away from her face, down her body for a moment. He glanced away, wearing a ghost of a smile. “Suit yourself.”
What did the man see, goose bumps all over her body? Yes, the air-conditioning in the airport was set on subzero, but they’d soon be outside. Scowling, Kerry looked down at her body—and found her nipples puckered prominently against the form-fitting gauzy shirt Jason’s girlfriend had told her could stop traffic. Too bad it hadn’t stopped her nipples from being as obvious as a neon sign.
As she turned away, mortification rolled over her in a heated wave.
With a sigh, she slung his coat over her shoulders and drew the lapels together with a tight fist. A hint of a laugh sounded from behind her. She ignored it.
“This way, Mr. Dawson.” She marched toward the door.
“Rafe,” he corrected, following her with a long-legged stride. “And if you’re going to be my guide, shouldn’t I know your name?”
Surprised that he asked—or cared—she blurted the truth. “Kerry, with a K.” Thankfully, she’d never had a good opportunity to give him her name when they’d spoken on the phone.
“Nice to meet you, Kerry with a K. Since I have no meetings until tomorrow, are you scheduled to show me around this evening?”
“I’ll be…with you for the duration of your visit.” Kerry swallowed past the half-truth. She’d be with him, all right. He just had no notion that he’d spend the next few days not tied up in meetings…
But tied to a bed.
The thought made her stomach churn again—and not unpleasantly. The image of a man of his size and power being completely at her mercy set her imagination spinning. As for the flow of her juices…thinking about that now simply wasn’t a good idea.
As they walked outside, the sultry May weather hit them with a gust of hot, damp air. Warm raindrops clung to every car in sight, and heavy gray clouds hovering above promised more.
Rafe sucked in a breath and loosened his dark tie with a grimace. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. This is like August in New York.”
“Yeah, well, we hang Christmas lights in shorts and tank tops, so there’s a trade-off.”
Rafe laughed. The deep tones vibrated down her spine, igniting a spark within her. Lord, when the man smiled, he was downright edible. Other than a hot glance or two—maybe even imagined on her part—he did not seem nearly as affected by her. And any minute now, he was going to hear something in her voice, which she was desperately trying to disguise, and realize she was his psycho “fan.”
Damn it, positive energy! Where was it today?
“I’ll take the coat now, if you’re no longer cold,” he offered, grinning.
Kerry risked a quick peek down. Nope, her nipples still stood straight up as if saluting a superior officer. Odd, considering the warmth curling through her at the sight of his smile. In fact, the tips of her breasts rasped against the filmy top with every breath she took, so sensitive and tight…and damn it all, even arousing. She couldn’t remember anything like it. The whole problem was downright embarrassing.
“I–I’ll keep it for a bit,” she stammered, mentally cursing her fair skin. Her cheeks were likely just a shade lighter than the average fire engine. “So you don’t have to carry it.”
His knowing gaze coasted down, to where she clutched his coat over her chest. “Very considerate of you.”
She sent him a weak smile. He had to at least suspect he was the cause of her little issue.
Oh, yeah. She had control of this abduction. No problem.
Kerry cursed under her breath. Why didn’t she have a Plan B?
Thankfully, she arrived at the limo, Rafe just a few steps behind. Jason, Mark’s best friend and coworker at the bank, stood there, hat pulled low over his blue eyes.
I can’t do this, Kerry mouthed to Jason.
He nodded—and took over.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Dawson.” Jason stepped forward to retrieve his garment bag.
“Hello,” Rafe answered.
“Any other bags?”
“This is all I need.”
Jason nodded and opened the door to the backseat, slinging the bag over his shoulder. Kerry stood close to her brother’s buddy.
After Rafe climbed in the car and sat, Jason shut the door. Kerry felt her pleasant mask dissolve as panic took over.
“You can do this,” Jason whispered, squeezing her hand. “Just get in the limo. I’ve already made his drink.”
She was in over her head here. “With what?”
Jason hesitated. “Flunitrazepam, better known as Rohypnol. It’s a benzodiazepine.”
“Huh?”
“The date rape drug. Think Valium with a big kick. He’s not likely to remember much tomorrow.” Jason shrugged. “One of the perks of your family living overseas is that they can send things the U.S. government doesn’t like.”
“The drug is illegal?” Kerry buried her face in her hands. “Oh, this is bad. Hollywood makes comedies about stupid plans like this and they never end well.”
“Do you want to prove Mark innocent? You know he’s been framed. Dawson is one of the top electronic security experts in the country. I didn’t schmooze Smikins to get his name so that you could back out. Dawson is your best option to prove Mark didn’t steal a dime.”
“But–”
“This is your opportunity. School just ended, Pops gave you a couple of days off from the diner. The timing doesn’t get any better than this. All you have to do now is distract him so that he doesn’t realize we’re headed away from his hotel. Or wait until he passes out. Once we reach the cottage, you’re home free.”
Kerry shook her head. “Did you see the man? There’s no way I can distract a guy like him with mere small talk. He’s like—like Antonio Banderas crossed with Brad Pitt…only taller, bigger. And if he recognizes my voice, I’m hosed.”
“It’s fine. He’s not suspicious, and trust me, he looked his share.” Jason’s buck-up stare cut through her insecurity. “You don’t have to have sex with the guy. A little light flirtation will most likely work. If not, do…the minimum and move on.”
No, she had no plans to have actual sex—not that a guy like Dawson would seriously look at her as a potential bedmate. He might flirt a little, but that didn’t mean he wanted to get down and dirty. Still, Kerry had visions of what the “minimum” might entail, assuming he actually was interested, and in every scenario tempting him to such an act required more knowledge than her limited experience allowed. Hell, she’d never even seen a naked penis in person. What if he wanted a blow job?
She couldn’t think about that now. Positive energy!
“You’re right. I came up with this plan and I’ll finish it. When I get him alone, I will persuade him to help Mark. Somehow.”
“You’ll be fine. Just present Mark’s case as logically as you can. Don’t get emotional.”
Kerry rolled her eyes. “That’s like telling the sun not to rise.”
Jason conceded the point with a shrug. “Do your best. Now lose the coat.”
Yes, she wanted to be unafraid of her sexuality, be bold, be brave—but being liberated was harder than it sounded. Kerry shook her head, clutching the lapels of the coat tighter.
He sighed. “Dawson can’t be distracted by what he can’t see.”
Jason had a point, damn him.
Reluctantly, Kerry removed the coat, resisting the urge to cover herself with her arms.
“You look hot,” Jason assured her, giving her a quick grin.
Her, hot? Yeah, she had guys clamoring at her door. In her dreams…
Okay, so she hadn’t had time for a relationship yet. Mark’s bout with cancer had begun just after she’d left her last hellish foster home. Kerry had been trying to put herself through school and working, taking care of Mark after the chemo–all that had taken a toll on her social calendar. But Mark had been healthy for a while. Why, oh why, hadn’t she found someone to date? Or at least have a quickie? Once upon a time, Jason might have been a candidate…except he was like another brother to her. And Mark would have killed him.
So now she got to have her first sexual experience since Richard and the nightmare of her prom. And she got to acquire this new experience with a veritable god. Granted, she didn’t intend to have sex with him…but coaxing him to the cottage without touching him—or him touching her—seemed unlikely.
Lord, what if she started hyperventilating?
“Hot? I’m packed into this outfit like a sausage. I’m all boobs and hips.”
“And that’s a bad thing because…?” Jason smiled at her hesitation. “Besides, I doubt he’s thinking about sausage when he looks at you, Kerry. You look great.”
She took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this. I’ll just keep him talking for now.”
“Between conversation and that damn near see-through handkerchief you’re wearing, that really ought to be enough.”
Hope sparked. Likely Jason was right. She could handle it. She would. Positive energy.
Besides, what choice did she have? It was either survive this humiliation or see her brother go to prison.
* * * *
It hadn’t escaped Rafe’s notice that Kerry with a K was one very sexy woman.
Or that she was a nervous one.
He sipped on a Black Irish, his drink of choice, grimacing with pleasure as the whiskey and Kahlua burned a sweet path down his throat. Very nice. Most limo services didn’t pay that kind of attention to detail. Then again, Standard National, after a recent security breach in which an employee had electronically embezzled nearly three million dollars, was worried enough to pay through the nose for his services to tighten things up.
Desperate enough to hire a limo, complete with his own personal “hostess.”
And since Rafe didn’t live in Mayberry, he was pretty sure he knew what “hostess” meant. Interesting for a bank, usually conservative to the core, to have sent such a woman…but who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth?
Except that fair-skinned, wide-eyed Kerry didn’t act like a woman who fucked for a paycheck.
So what the hell was she?
Generally, Rafe dated worldly women. A little conversation, maybe an evening at the theater, lots of experienced sex, then an air kiss or two goodbye. No scenes if he encountered them later by chance on the street. No tears, no regrets, no messy emotional shit.
Kerry wasn’t sophisticated. In her, he sensed an odd sort of innocence that went beyond the appearance of her pink-bowed mouth smeared with too-dark lipstick and the artless sunshine ringlets beginning to overtake her hairstyle. Hell, for someone who “entertained” men for a living, she’d certainly covered up a pair of hard, heart-stopping nipples faster than a preacher’s wife.
Getting naked with someone hired for the job had never appealed to him in the least.
Getting naked with Kerry…very appealing—as the hearty erection south of his belt buckle could prove.
Where did that leave him with Kerry? He pondered, swallowing more of his cold, tangy drink. Was she a sure thing? He couldn’t possibly have misread the situation, right? No one wore a fuck-me skirt with boots like that, along with a shirt so small it made a bikini top look like nun’s garb, if she wasn’t a sure thing.
It sounded logical, but that question niggled in his mind: Why was she so nervous?
Then again, why question the situation? This simple job with Standard National would finally put him over the five-million-dollar revenue mark. He’d worked two bartending jobs to afford college and damn near starved through his first year in business–all without the help of his father’s money—just to reach this milestone before his thirtieth birthday. And he’d make it with two weeks to spare. He’d be someone in his own right then, more successful than Benton Dawson III had ever been. Screw the past—and his old man.
The car door opened and Kerry slid into the backseat with him. She sat close—but definitely kept air between them. A tense silence ensued as the driver took his seat, started the car, and drove away. Sipping at his drink, Rafe studied Kerry. She couldn’t be a day over twenty-two, twenty-three tops. Why was she working as a glorified hooker? And her breathy, starlet-on-Valium voice? He shrugged. Maybe she thought it was sexy.
His thoughts scattered when she scooted closer and leaned in, providing a spectacular view straight down the front of that tiny red halter, which instantly confirmed two curiosities: Yes, her breasts were naturally large, and no, she wasn’t wearing a bra.
Rafe bit back an insane urge to tear the tiny scraps of her clothing away and persuade her to dance the horizontal mambo with him in the limo’s backseat. Now. His cock got even harder at the thought she might oblige him.
He closed his eyes. Where was his self-control? Normally, he didn’t take the Neanderthal approach—stupid and ineffective. But Kerry made him feel surprisingly primal.
Rafe searched his memory for the last time he’d had sex—and came up empty. Two, three, four weeks ago? Hell, he couldn’t remember. Not after being treated to a view of the best breasts he’d ever seen.
Wearing a wobbly smile, Kerry with a K tapped one of her fingers to his chest and began tracing a light, random pattern. Where did her teasing sugary vanilla scent come from? That alone made his mouth water. Coupled with her touch, his heart started chugging.
If she smelled that good, how fabulous would she taste?
Kerry stared, batting thick, dark lashes over huge green eyes. “We’re going to be busy tonight—lots to see and do. If you have someone to call, someone you should check in with, now is the time. We’ll be much too busy later.”
The words sounded sexy and ripe with promise. His cock certainly stood at even greater attention. But the look on her face did not say come hither. More like now what? When the privacy panel between the two of them and the driver slowly rose with an electronic buzz, her sweet-faced confusion turned to dread. She crossed her arms over her chest self-consciously.
Again, he wondered just who she was and what she was doing here. Kerry didn’t seem comfortable alone with him or with exposing her…assets. And was she asking if he was single? Would a real professional “hostess” care?
He blinked, feeling suddenly too tired to solve the riddle. Too little sleep and too little coffee were not a good recipe for a late night with a beautiful woman.
“Nope,” he answered. “No one to check in with. My mother died years ago and my friends don’t bother me when I work.”
“Great news—about the friends.” She smiled, showing a sweet pair of dimples. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother.”
Whoever sent Kerry his way must have read his fantasies. He was a sucker for blondes with dimples… Would she surrender herself completely? The question rolled around his mind the way candy rolls on the tongue. He’d give his right arm to be inside her in the next five minutes, but the reticence she was trying to hide made that doubtful, no matter her occupation. Instead, he sipped the last of his cocktail and fished around for another tactic.
His sluggish brain took a while to cooperate. “So Kerry, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a skirt like that?”
He tossed the question at her playfully. Her defensive stare took him aback.
“What do you mean?”
Rafe sighed. “You seem awfully nervous. I won’t bite…unless you want me to.”
She sent a stilted, dimpled smile his way but said nothing.
Damn it, his head was beginning to hurt. A nap before dinner would probably be a good idea.
“You don’t…entertain men regularly, do you?”
Those green eyes widened to big-screen proportions. “I–I…”
“First day on the job?” he guessed.
“Exactly.” She nodded vigorously, emerging curls bobbing.
Oddly, her answer pleased him. So she wasn’t a hooker and she was having second thoughts. Which was good. He didn’t like the idea of another man pawing her in the back of this limousine. For some reason, the image pissed him off.
Lord, he must be tired to be caught up in a woman he’d met all of fifteen minutes ago. What was wrong with him?
Still, his thoughts continued to spin in his oddly lethargic brain. Why had she felt compelled to take a job she obviously did not want? Was she in some sort of trouble?
“This job is more difficult than I thought. I—I’m sorry if you were expecting someone sexier.” Her apology broke into his contemplation, startling him.
Forcing himself to focus, he peered across the inches separating them. Kerry had bowed her head and apparently taken up hand-wringing as a new hobby.
Something—compassion, empathy?—stirred to life within him. He placed a gentle hand beneath her chin and lifted her gaze to his. Tears shimmered in her eyes, disturbing him.
“If you were any sexier, I couldn’t restrain myself. You already blow my mind.”
Kerry’s jaw dropped. She blinked once, twice. “Me?”
Rafe nodded—and noticed a lock of stray golden hair curling about her moist bottom lip. Slowly, he lifted his hand to brush the hair away. Kerry didn’t flinch, didn’t tense.
Was her silent acquiescence a green light to touch her more?
Fighting off a wave of exhaustion, he smiled and dragged his thumb along the edge of her full, red-painted lips. Damn, how would she taste? He was dying to know.
“Yes, you. Very sexy. If you don’t hear that often, the men in your life are stupid and should be beaten.”
That sweet pink flush crept into her cheeks again. She tried to reproach him with her stare, but that low-lashed gaze caressed more than punished him. A hint of a sexy smile played at her pretty mouth.
She was an amazing combination of angel and temptress. And he wanted her under him, legs splayed wide, in the worst way. But jet lag and an oddly fuzzy brain were beginning to spoil the moment. And damn, it was hot in here. Wincing, Rafe loosened his tie.
“I’m sure my brother has never considered whether or not I’m sexy.”
“Your boyfriend?” he prodded, stifling a yawn.
Why was he asking her this? The guy was likely a loser who simply couldn’t appreciate Kerry with a K the way he ought to. What kind of guy would let his woman “entertain” other men for a living?
Sleep. He needed sleep. That would restore his common sense.
“No boyfriend,” Kerry whispered.
Rafe grinned, despite his weariness. “That’s a shame.”
His teasing made her laugh, and her dimples came out to play once more. A bleary-eyed moment ruined it, and he knew he would need that nap before dinner whether he wanted it or not. He really should have eaten lunch during his layover in Baltimore…
Hell, why did he have to give out now?
No. He would not fold like a cheap tent—not without tasting her.
“Kiss me, Kerry,” he blurted, aghast to hear his words slurring.
She appeared not to notice. Instead, she sent him a shy nod. Rafe grasped both of her arms like a lifeline and pulled her close, dragging her firm, fine ass onto his lap. Kerry gasped. Refusing to acknowledge his utter exhaustion and his screwed-up speech, he pressed on. His raging erection demanded attention. He wanted Kerry to ache the way he did.
Odd that he should be tired and aroused at the same time…but who cared when he had a beautiful blonde on his lap?
Rafe settled one hand low on the curve of her hip. The other he thrust into the soft silk of her hair. He wanted to kiss her, touch her, until she was desperate to have his cock inside her. Hell, he wanted to inhale and savor her at once.
And he would make it happen now…if his growing headache weren’t slamming him between the eyes and the need for sleep weren’t shutting down his brain.
He felt freakin’ weird. What was happening to him?
Apparently, he was going to have to settle for inhaling Kerry—quickly.
Rafe covered her incredible lips with his mouth. She was soft, as he had suspected. But he needed more. Everything. He plunged his way inside. Her sweet taste, like summer-ripe cherries, exploded on his tongue as she opened for him. Kerry kissed shyly, but somewhere in his lust-fogged brain, he heard her moan. If a kiss could do that, he wondered what sort of amazing sounds she might give off when he laved her clit with his tongue.
He was dying to know. And if he didn’t get closer to her in the next few seconds, he was going to combust.
As he swept through her mouth for another searing kiss, Rafe lifted Kerry and shifted her to straddle him. Her inner thighs hugged his middle. Her skirt inched up around her hips, revealing the fact she wore tiny, very sheer black panties. No question, she was a natural blonde.
“Wanna touch you, rip your panties off,” he breathed against her neck. “Then taste you.”
Kerry shivered in his arms.
A new wave of weariness followed. He ruthlessly squashed it.
Cupping her delectable ass in his hands, he urged her hips forward until he felt the damp heat of her pressed against his tented trousers. Unable to stop himself, he broke the kiss and threw his head back. She arched into him, too, a cry rising from her lips. Raw pleasure clawed up his spine, crashing between his legs. God, the woman was killing him.
Breath coming in harsh pants, Rafe looked back to her, the disheveled hair, the swollen mouth and flushed skin. Her green eyes looked darker, dilated. Hunger tore at his belly. She would be a goddess in bed.
“Want you,” he grunted. “Damn bad.”
Where the hell had his ability to speak gone? Was he getting sick? Or was the light-headed feeling the result of all his blood rushing below his navel?
Fighting suddenly heavy arms, Rafe found the little bows holding her halter together. The one between her shoulder blades wasn’t too difficult. One quick tug…ah, magic, he thought, sliding one hand around to cup her breast, tease her distended nipple.
Kerry bit her lip at his touch, her lashes fluttering closed.
“So sexy,” he murmured, faltering about for the next tie. After a Herculean effort, he raised his free hand to her nape and found it. The tug required to set the top loose exhausted him. But once it fell free of her body, having her breasts bared at mouth level…worth the effort.
Determined to stay awake long enough to enjoy the sharpest arousal he could remember–and the woman who had caused it–he stroked both nipples with thumbs and forefingers. The sweet mewling sounds from the back of her throat encouraged him. He latched on to her with his mouth, sucking hard on her flushed, rosy nipple, nipping gently with his teeth. Her sigh became a groan.
“Skin so soft,” he muttered, taking the other nipple in his mouth.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he registered the fact Kerry had sunk her fingers into his hair and was holding him in place. That suited him. He laved her again, then looked down at her panties. They were damp. Perfect.
But once focused down, his eyes refused to lift again. He gave up. Sight wasn’t as important as touch or taste right now.
“Here,” he rasped. “Now. Can’t wait to be inside you…”
“Yes,” she moaned in his ear.
Triumph spiked briefly as he reached for his belt buckle. He would have all her slick heat closing around his cock. For a while, the goddess would be exclusively his to take in every way he ached for. But consciousness became harder to grasp. What the hell was wrong with him? Heat poured over him in inferno-like waves. Sweat rolled down his temple. Rafe fumbled around to find the button that would roll down a window. No luck. Nausea hit him. Damn, he’d never been sick like this before. Never. Why now?
Kerry shimmied against him, those fabulous breasts swaying near his face. Determined to press on, Rafe slid a hand between them to tug down his zipper…then his world went black.

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