Sultry encounters, forbidden passion, irresistible temptation-what more could you want in a collection of four scintillating stories by today's sexiest authors?
Luring Lucy by Lori Foster: All Lucy was looking for when she went to her vacation home was an innocent fling to quell the yearning she had felt since her husband died four years ago. She never expected her longtime friend Bram to lure her into a love affair so hot.
Truth or Dare by Laura Bradley: Undercover P.I. Shay McIntyre takes on the guise of a reporter to uncover who's behind the suspicious deaths of two bullriders, and finds herself locking horns with the sinfully tempting Luke Wilder in a deliciously wicked game of truth or dare.
Compromised by Gayle Callen: Country baron John Malory nobly offers to wed Lady Elizabeth Stanwood when they are caught together alone in a garden. Elizabeth never expected to be compromised--or to soon be wed to a man whose affection she does not welcome....until he changes her mind with lingering kisses and a passion she has only dreamed of.
Treading Dangerous Waters by Victoria Marquez: Sofia's plans to relax on a cruise are ruined when she encounters James, her aunt's future son-in-law, who is intent on breaking up his father's wedding...unless Sofia can distract him. But she's treading dangerous waters, for James has designs of his own, which include seducing the Latina beauty until she surrenders completely to him.
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
July 14, 2001
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Excerpt from Hot and Bothered by Lori Foster
HOT AND BOTHERED
To Kay Johnson, a very respected friend who's also a wonderful mother, a giving person who's loads of fun--and a reader besides! Thanks, Kay!
Sweltering air, humid and thick, tugged at his hair and blew over his bared skin as he accelerated the car to seventy-five. He'd left the top of his Mustang down, knowing he'd need the exposure to the hot wind and the faded blue sky to counteract his increasingly volatile mood.
The sun was a broiling white ball, reflecting off the hoods and windshields of passing vehicles, making the blacktop waver and swim from the heat. There wasn't a cloud in sight along the endless stretch of I-75, promising nothing but more scorching heat. But the heat of the day was nothing compared to the fire pulsing under his skin, demanding release. Anger. Urgency. Lust.
Bram Giles gritted his teeth, and his knuckles turned white as his fingers curled and clenched around the steering wheel. He thought of how the night would end, how he'd make it end, and the turbulent thoughts made his lust expand. No matter what, he wouldn't let her run from him tonight. He'd been too patient too long and now she had some harebrained idea of indulging in a summer fling. With someone else.
Bram took the exit from the highway on squealing tires and turned left, heading toward the lake community and the woman who had driven him crazy for more years than any man should suffer. By the time he'd realized what she was up to, when that carnal look in her eyes and the way she'd held her lithe little body had finally registered, she'd already gotten a two-hour head start on him. It had taken Bram another frustration-filled hour to throw together some clothes, rearrange his schedule and his plans, and get on the road.
That one hour had felt like a lifetime.
Was she flirting even now, trying to pick up the firstboater who went by? Had she met someone in town on her way to the lake? Maybe she'd even brought someone along with her, guaranteeing her success.
Whoever it was would be swiftly booted out.
Bram's foot pressed harder on the gas, speeding the car along until he hit the narrower gravel road that led to her summer house. She hadn't been to that house in four years, not since she'd caught her husband, David, there with another woman. Bram's stomach tightened with pain.
David was an idiot, now a dead idiot.
Jesus, Bram still missed him; they'd been best friends who were also like brothers.
But more than that, more than anything else in the world, he wanted David's widow. Bram had always wanted her. He had taught himself to live with the clawing desire, to push his needs deep down into his soul so no one else would ever know. But now she was free and obviously over her grief. Now she was ready.
Tonight he would have her.
The winding turns on the old country road forced Bram to slow the Mustang, but it did nothing to slow his thoughts. Sweat trickled down the middle of his chest and stuck his hair to the back of his neck. Was she eyeballing some guy right now? Was she making plans? Handing out come-ons?
Bram wiped the sweat from his brow and cursed. Once he got to the summer house, he'd jump into the crisply cold water of the lake to cool off--after he'd set Lucy straight on how things were going to be between them from now on.
She wouldn't like it.
He wasn't giving her a choice.
By the time Bram slipped the Mustang into the sloping drive cut out of the side of the hill behind the house, he almost had himself under control. The road was the highest point on her property, with the land dropping downward toward the lake and the house built in between. The house faced the lake with patio doors and a long, widedeck, while the back butted into the hill, surrounded by mature trees. It was because of the higher vantage point of the road that Bram saw her immediately.
His temper kicked into overdrive at the same time that his lust nearly consumed him.
Lust always rose to the surface when he got near Lucy. As he looked her over from top to toes, Bram cursed softly under his breath. At thirty-nine, Lucy was one sexy-as-sin woman, all lush curves and mature angles. Never before had he seen her put those assets on display.
Today, she was most definitely Haunting her wares. For another man.
He drew a deep breath and concentrated on not being a brute, on not storming down the hill and terrorizing both Lucy and the guy ogling her by letting his temper loose. It wasn't easy, not with her looking like that.
A sexy little pair of cutoffs, unlike the longer, more staid walking shorts she generally favored at home, hugged her rounded ass like a lover and left a long length of lightly tanned thighs exposed to the casual viewer. Her silky dark hair hung loose to her shoulders, playfully teased by a soft hot breeze, and her bare feet nestled in the thick summer grass.
Worse that that--or better, depending on your point of view--she had on a cream-colored halter top that left her back bare and had the young worker she spoke with fidgeting with lecherous interest. The worker kept looking at her chest, and Bram had the horrible suspicion that her nipples could be seen through the soft material.
A haze of red clouded Bram's vision and he slammed his car door hard, deliberately alerting them to his presence. Both Lucy and the worker, unaware of him until that moment, turned to look up the hill. Lucy shaded her eyes with a slim hand, but the worker took two steps back, obviously seeing the fury on Bram's face despite the mirrored sunglasses still covering his eyes.
If the guy had any sense at all he'd have already abandonedthe mower and headed for his service truck.
Lucy started up the hill, her brow pulled into a worried frown. Bram saw that her nipples were, in fact, puckered against the material and quite noticeable. Every muscle in his body tensed in reaction.
"Bram? What's wrong?" Then with a touch of panic: "Did something happen to the kids? Are they all right?"
Her anxiety smote him hard. Damn, he hadn't meant to scare her; she was a mother first and foremost--which was one of the most appealing things about her. Ignoring the nervous worker as he headed straight toward Lucy, Bram rumbled, "The kids are fine, Lucy. They're at Marcy's."
Her gaze skipped over him, from his athletic shoes up his bare legs to his wrinkled shorts to his sweat-dampened T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. "But I thought you were taking them camping."
Bram had thought that was the plan, too. As an honorary uncle to David and Lucy's two teenage children and as David's best friend, he'd filled the bill of doting uncle rather nicely. The kids loved him, and he loved them--just like they were his own. They'd willingly agreed to accept Marcy as the provider for the next week when he'd told them something vitally important had come up. At fourteen and sixteen, they didn't need a babysitter, but Lucy insisted that an adult be available in case of an emergency.
Bram took his responsibilities to the kids seriously and had made certain they were settled securely before he'd been able to leave.
He hadn't told Karyn or Kent why he had to renege on their camping trip, but he could tell by the look on Marcy's face that she understood. She was Lucy's best friend, the only one who hadn't gossiped about her during the divorce and the horrible scenes that David had caused. Oh yeah, Marcy knew that Bram wanted Lucy. The woman wasn't blind.
Not that Bram minded. Soon everyone in Lucy'sneighborhood and his own would know that he was staking a claim, and to hell with any gossip that might ensue.
Lucy glanced nervously at the worker as Bram descended on them. She was confused by his appearance and probably disheartened to have her illicit tryst interrupted. The little darling had been on the make, and she'd apparently already picked out a conquest.
Bram wanted to take the younger man apart but couldn't really blame him for his interest. He knew any male in his midtwenties, which this guy looked to be, was likely to have been interested. He couldn't go around destroying every guy who looked at her, especially if she started issuing invitations. What he had to do was give Lucy a new target for her erotic curiosity. Himself.
Bram didn't slow in his pace and stalked right up to Lucy until he stood mere inches in front of her. Her long dark lashes left feathery shadows on her smooth sun-kissed cheeks, and her full mouth was parted slightly. Her eyes, so clear and bright a blue they put the sky to shame, watched him warily.
Bram could detect the subtle salty scent of her warmed skin and hair. A very light sheen of perspiration glowed on her upper chest and in the cleavage she had clearly on display. Her honey-colored shoulders glowed, too, as did her supple thighs.
Bram felt his own flesh heating with sweat, and it had a lot more to do with the proximity of his woman than it did with the unrelenting sun.
"Bram?" Her voice emerged as a breathless whisper, uncertain, a tiny bit frightened. And, if he didn't miss his guess, tinged with sudden awareness of him as a man. "Why are you here? What's going on?"
Showing his teeth in what Bram hoped looked more like a grin than a warning, he growled, "Because I missed you, of course." Then taking her totally by surprise he caught her arms above her elbows, lifted her to her toes--and kissed her the way he'd been wanting to kiss her for a very long time.
Her parted lips gave him the advantage, letting his tongue slip in deep to taste the sweet hot recesses of her mouth and move lazily along her own tongue. Lust boiled inside him, savage and hungry--and it was just a kiss.
Bram could only imagine how intense it would feel when it was his cock sliding-into her tender body, when her legs wrapped tight around his waist and he could fill his hands with her breasts, her luscious ass. He nearly groaned with the thought, imagining her hot and wet, thinking how tight she'd be after four long years of abstinence ... . His testicles tightened and he did groan, low and raw.
Lucy was obviously stunned by his primal display, but the worker got the message loud and clear--just as Bram had intended.
Lucy held her breath, amazed and embarrassed. She felt caught in a whirlwind, naked and on display, and she didn't understand.
Bram was a friend, practically a member of the family. He'd never touched her sexually before, but wow--he was touching her now!
Ignoring Bram's kiss was out of the question. It wasn't the first time he'd ever kissed her, but the others had all been brotherly pecks and in laughing friendship. Never like this. Never so ... carnal.
This was a kiss of possession, a kiss of incredible passion. She'd never experienced anything like it, even through fifteen years of marriage, and her heart did two wild flips before settling into a frantic rhythm of panic, excitement, and, amazingly enough, response.
Lucy flattened one hand on Bram's chest, wanting to push him away but using it for balance instead. The damp cotton of his shirt did nothing to shield his hot masculine flesh. He felt blistering hot and wonderfully solid against her palm. She realized he was coiled tightly, his muscles iron-hard and straining, his heartbeat thumping in a fast gallop that mirrored her own.
The young worker whom she'd specifically hired because he'd flirted with her cleared his throat loudly. Bram ignored him, which left her no option but to do the same.
All too aware of the heat of Bram's mouth, his delicious taste, and the overwhelming strength in his muscled body, Lucy tried to protest. All that emerged was a small sound, barely audible, a mere whimper that could have been interpreted any number of ways.
Abruptly Bram released her. Her lips felt swollen and wet, her body both tight and too soft. She would have fallen down the hill and tumbled into the lake if Bram hadn't reached back out for her, throwing one bare, heavily muscled arm around her shoulders and literally anchoring her to his side. Caught in the cage of his body, Lucy felt small and defenseless, and strangely enough, that feeling stirred others, rousing emotions she hadn't dealt with in far too long. Female to male, soft to hard.
The idea of flirting with a stranger had titillated her senses. Bram's kiss had gone far beyond that. She felt as if she'd been torched.
Her brain may have turned to mush, but her body was working on full alert.
Lucy shook her head, attempting to regain control so she could figure out just what it was Bram was doing. Why had he kissed her? Did he think to somehow warn off the worker by intimating a nonexistent involvement? To protect her virtue?
Ha. Bram couldn't know that she wanted the indiscriminate fling. She wanted to feel again, to be alive as a woman, as a sexual being--and then she'd sell the summer house and get over the past, burying all the hurt once and for all.
The worker looked at her nervously, as if asking for instructions. The difference between Bram and the young man she'd hired was like the difference between an impressive oak and a new sapling. The younger man was rangy with muscles, lean and toned. But Bram was solid and thick with layered muscle, large and in his prime.Overwhelming. He exuded sheer masculinity and iron will.
Lucy wanted to fan her face, still reeling from that kiss. She used to wonder what it'd be like to be kissed by the infamous Bram Giles. Shortly into her marriage, when David had lost interest with teasing and nuzzling and foreplay, she'd thought of all she knew of Bram, how the women sang his praises and his own testament--by word and deed--to loving sex and females. She'd always thought that sex with Bram would be something almost too delicious to bear.
Now she knew what it was like to have his mouth, and she doubted she'd ever sleep peacefully again. His kiss alone had been more sexual than anything she'd experienced in half a decade.
What did that kiss mean?
Bram turned his head toward her, but with his reflective sunglasses on she couldn't even begin to read his expression. A little embarrassed, she hoped he didn't see her reaction, that he wouldn't know his tactic to warn off other men in a half-baked plan to protect her had actually turned her on. He was so cavalier about sex and intimacy, accepting it as a natural, healthy part of his life. After her marriage, he probably assumed she was, too.
He'd have been far from the mark on that one.
Lucy held her breath until Bram again looked away. With his free hand, Bram dug into his pocket, pulled out two twenty-dollar bills, and handed them to the young stud she'd hired to tend her lawn--with hopes for more.
"Get lost," Bram ordered in a low rasp, and the worker, after snatching up the money, fled.
"Bram," she protested, looking around at the yard with only half the work done, "he hadn't finished."
"He was finished, all right." She couldn't see his eyes, but she read his fierce expression all the same.
Lucy lost her temper. Oh, he'd thrown her with that kiss, but she was squarely on her feet now. And he'd just chased off her most promising prospect.
If Bram had some macho notion of looking after her, keeping her pure, she'd just have to help him rethink it. For this one week, for one time in her life, she didn't want to be pure. She wanted--needed--to feel the burning satisfaction of lust one more time.
"Are you nuts?" Lucy demanded in a warning growl. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing, Bram?"
Bram stared out over the diamond surface of the lake. It shone with twinkling sunlight and the occasional ripples from a fish. During the week, the tourism was thankfully low, leaving the area quiet and serene for those who owned lakefront property. On the weekends, though, it got downright rowdy, boats and water-skiers and Jet Skis everywhere.
For now, Bram thought, watching the worker drive away in a cloud of spewing gravel and dust, he had Lucy all to himself. She could rant and rave as much as she wanted, but there would be no one to hear.
Without bothering to explain his intentions, Bram scooped her up into his arms and headed for the house. His body relished the feel of her, her gentle weight. Damn, it felt good to finally hold her, to have her in his arms where she belonged.
Lucy gasped so hard she choked, and when she was finally able to pull in a wheezing breath he was already on the steps leading to the deck. She smacked him hard on the side of the head. "What ... is ... the ... matter ... with ... you?"
He kissed her again. He wanted to keep kissing her, everywhere, all over her delectable body, but he knew they'd both end up rolling down the hill if he didn't give appropriate attention to where he stepped. "I have something to explain to you, woman, and it's best done in private just in case there's anyone fishing on the lake who might hear you yelling."
"Why," she asked loudly, "would I yell?"
"You're yelling now," he pointed out, thinking he sounded most reasonable.
She started to club him again, so Bram squeezed her tighter. Lucy generally wasn't a violent woman. Of course, she usually wasn't on the make, either. "None of that," Bram told her, trying to contain his satisfaction. "I can't very well explain if you knock me silly."
"You can explain no matter what, starting right now!"
The bare flesh of her soft thighs draped over his hard forearm was a torturous temptation for Bram. He wanted to feel the silky skin of her inner thighs on his jaw, his mouth, his hips as he drove into her.
Her breasts, more bared than not, felt so plump and full against his chest. He thought about pressing his face into her cleavage, tasting her pointed nipples through the cloth until she squirmed.
And her mouth--hell yes, her mouth. Set in outraged, mulish lines, it made it hard to concentrate on what he was doing.
The second he stepped across the sprawling deck and through the tinted patio doors, Lucy wiggled free. Bram let her go, but not far. Her feet were barely touching the hardwood floors and she was still against his body, where she belonged, when he said bluntly, "I want you."
Lucy pulled back. Her clear blue eyes were wide, her lips parted. She went alternately pale, then flushed.
The need to kiss her again was a clawing ache.
Bram touched her cheek, needing the contact, but she flinched away. "I want you, Lucy," he said again, harder this time to make sure there was no mistake, no misunderstanding. "I've wanted you for a helluva long time."
She shook her head, either denying him or not believing him.
It didn't matter which to Bram, because neither one was acceptable. He fully intended to have his way. "Yes. And I'll be damned if I'll sit back now and watch you indulge in some sort of prurient idiocy."
Her face went blank with shock, then burned with mortification. "Dear God," she rasped, sounding appalled, "what ... what are you talking about?"
Bram straightened to his full height. At six feet, four inches tall, he stood a good foot above Lucy. She didn't look the least intimidated.
Bram frowned. "Don't bother to deny it, Lucy. You came here to get laid."
Guilt flashed over her features before she sputtered, "That's utter nonsense."
Leaning down close to her, Bram met her nose-to-nose. "Oh no you don't, sweetheart. In general, I know women too well to be fooled, and specifically, I know you as well as I know myself. The second you told me you were coming to the lake, I knew what you were up to."
She didn't want to believe him. "You can't possibly--" "The hell I can't. This is where David cheated on you; this is where you want to get even."
Crossing her slender arms around herself, Lucy turned away. "David is dead. I can't get even."
"In your mind, you can." Bram stepped up to her back and slipped his own arms over hers. He wanted to comfort her, console her. He wanted her digging her nails into his back as he gave her a mind-blowing orgasm. Hands, mouth, penis, he didn't care how he accomplished it; he just wanted it to happen.
"He ruined your marriage by fooling around here, in the family vacation home. A place where you brought the kids, a place you used to love."
In a small voice, she said, "I still love it."
"You haven't been here since, not in four long years. But now you're here, looking incredibly sexy--"
"What?" She tried to twist to see him, but he held her still.
"--and eyeballing a guy who, if I don't miss my guess, is close to the age of that girl you caught here in bed with David. That sounds like getting even to me."
She gave a self-conscious laugh. "Funny. To me, it sounds like a woman who's desperately horny."
Shaking with the possibility of that, Bram gentled his hold, stroking her arms, bringing his groin in closer to herlush ass. Though he had a damn good guess, he still asked, "How long has it been for you, baby?"
She stiffened, but Bram secured his hold, refusing to let her sidle away.
"Don't be embarrassed with me, Lucy," he urged. "We've known each other too long for that. We're friends." And he wanted them to be lovers. He wanted all of her, every way that he could take her.
"If you're asking how long I've been without a man," she replied stiffly, "it's really none of your business."
Bram rocked her. "I'm guessing it's been over four years. You and David were a little on the rocks even before he blew it." He pressed his mouth to her temple in a reassuring kiss. "Am I right?"
He felt her tremble, heard the shuddering breath she drew in. "Bram, don't."
He ruthlessly ignored the pleading in her tone. It was his damned sympathy, his misplaced understanding, that had led her here today with plans to crawl under another man. He wouldn't make the same mistake again. "Four years, Lucy. A short lifetime to go without letting another man get close."
She yanked herself away from his hold and whirled to face him. "What was I supposed to do, Bram? Pick up a guy in the grocery store? At the school? Being a mother to two kids, the president of the PTA, and already the object of scandal made it just a little bit tough to go looking for sex, didn't it?"
For about the hundredth time Bram wished he'd beaten the hell out of David before he died. "No one has ever blamed you, Lucy."
"David was responsible for his own actions." Sadness welled inside him, but he shook it off. "He was the only one responsible for his death."
"I guess you never heard the neighbors whispering. They think I'm coldhearted, that during one of David's crying jags I should have taken him back."
Bram shook his head. "He was a partier. And it had come close to happening before that." David had slowly grown out of his marriage and had begun flirting, testing the waters. He'd been on the prowl long before he'd gotten lucky. Or unlucky, as Bram saw it, thinking of all he'd lost.
"I know," Lucy whispered. "He ogled women everywhere we went." She cast Bram a narrow-eyed glance. "And he envied you."
Bram gently shook her. He couldn't, wouldn't, let her draw a comparison or blame him in any way. She had no idea of the lengths a man would go when the woman he wanted was married to someone else.
"A man who cheats is a cheater," Bram told her, determined to at least ease any ridiculous guilt she might feel. "If it happened once, there's no guarantee it wouldn't have happened again. You can't blame yourself for not liking the odds."
And, Bram thought savagely, a man who cheated on Lucy didn't deserve a second chance. He'd loved David as a friend, but he'd known all along that David wouldn't make her happy. Too many times, David had told him that he resented the restrictions of marriage.
And time and again, Bram had told him what a lucky bastard he was.
Tiredly, as if she'd rehashed the story too many times, Lucy said, "I kicked him out, he went on a two-year drunken spree, and he died in a damn car wreck because of it. I blame myself."
Bram wanted to shake her again. "Lucy," he said, chastising. "You're too smart for that, honey. And too realistic to think you had control over David. He chose his own way, then regretted it. No one made him cheat; no one made him ignore you or the kids. And no one made him drink too much or drive too fast."
He squeezed her shoulders and said quietly, "I know the past few years have been ugly."
Her blue eyes lifted to his face. "You made it easier.You've been such a help, with the kids, with everything."
Bram shrugged. "The kids are important to me, you know that. I love being with them."
"And they love being with you."
That hurt, too, because he wished they were his own, not David's. Bram loved them like his own. He shook his head. "It's time for you to get on with your life, Lucy."
She ran a hand through her hair, and her bangs ruffled back into place, a little mussed, a lot sexy. Indicating the summer house, which she'd had freshly cleaned and aired, she said, "That's what I was planning to do."
Bram realized that a hard-on was totally inappropriate to the moment, but he'd long since lost his control around Lucy Vaughn. And now, knowing it was only a matter of time until he could get inside her, his body rioted with need.
He held her gaze and whispered, "Good. Now you can plan on me taking part, too."