Better than any candy bar at 7-Eleven.
“And I bet no one but me knew you made that up on the spot from the crap she had out on the counter,” he said, sounding amused.
“Hey, you loved that crap. You ate like twenty of those pieces of crap.”
“I did.” He was leaned back, utterly relaxed as he drove, the annoyingly sexy alpha.
“You didn’t do so bad yourself,” she admitted. “Telling her that I could bake. We’re even now, right?”
“Oh no,” he said silkily, his voice like warm butter. “We’re not even. Not even close.”
There in the dark interior, with the darker night all around them, surrounded by the wilderness and four adorable dogs in the back, she shivered. “Don’t tell me you’re going to hold a grudge.”
He slid her a glance. “Weekly grooming sessions? Male Brazilians?” He smiled evilly. “Yeah. I’m holding a helluva grudge. If I was you, I’d be worried. Very worried.”
“I’m pretty sure they knew we were making all that up.” She nibbled her lower lip. Okay, maybe she’d taken it a little far. “And I was really torn between the Brazilian and saying that we met at the dog-grooming place, where you were having your Pomeranian groomed. The one with a jeweled collar.”
She smiled. “I’ve got to ask—why did you go with the whole couple thing in the first place?”
“Because they wanted it to be true.”
She stared at him. “So you told a whopper to a very nice, kind middle-aged man and his wife for altruistic reasons? That’s . . . sweet,” she decided.
“I am sweet.”
She laughed, and he smiled wryly. “Okay,” he said. “Maybe sweet is a bit of a stretch.”
“I don’t know,” she murmured, feeling herself soften inexplicably as she thought of all the little things he’d done for her. Giving the woman who’d crunched his bumper a ride home, leaving her breakfast, carrying her to bed when she’d literally fallen asleep on her face. Driving one hundred miles for a dog rescue just to keep her company . . . “You have your moments.”
It was midnight when they pulled back into Sunshine. Brady walked Lilah into the kennels and waited while she got the dogs in and settled, spending a few minutes with each of them, making sure they were calm and had what they needed even though she was yawning widely every two seconds and clearly dead on her feet.
With good reason, he knew. She’d been up since before dawn. He stepped in and helped her, a physical ache in his heart, the one that he was getting used to when it came to her.“What’s the matter?” she asked when they were done.
He’d just realized what else was really bugging him. She was there for everyone and everything, and yet near as he could tell, it didn’t go both ways. Not because people didn’t love her and want to help her. They did. Everyone loved her. Everyone wanted to help her.
But she didn’t let them. She was the most independent, feisty, sexy woman he’d ever met. “Nothing,” he said, and walked her to her cabin.
“Want to come in and look beneath my bed? Or better yet, in my bed?”
He wanted her, bad. Beyond bad. But more than getting her na**d and making her scream his name, he wanted her rested. She worked so damn hard, was clearly exhausted . . . “I’ll tuck you in.”
“I’m not going to sleep.”
“You’ve had a long day.”
“Yes, but that chem test I’m taking tomorrow counts for half of my grade. I have to burn the midnight oil.” She turned in the doorway, clearly expecting him to leave.
Instead, he caught her close, lowered his head, and kissed her, and for a moment she clung to him. It was sweet and warm, and like always when he was within two inches of her, not enough. Gently he nudged her farther inside her cabin. “Get comfy.”
She smiled, and he laughed. “Not that kind of comfy. I’m going to help you study.”
“Because I can.”
“What do you know about animal reproductive physiology?”
“I’ll be holding the book,” he said. “I’ll know everything.”
Her smile was gone, and so was the warmth in her eyes. “I can do it by myself.”
He cocked his head and studied her. “What just happened, what nerve did I step on?”
“Nothing. But I can do this on my own.”
That wasn’t an answer to his question and they both knew it. “Of course you can do this on your own. But why should you have to if someone’s willing to help? Oh,” he said, nodding when she didn’t respond to that either, “I get it. You don’t want help.”
“I don’t need help.”
And in her mind, he knew, there was a huge difference. “Everyone needs help sometimes, Lilah. Except for you, apparently, because that would signify some kind of weakness, right? Not accepting my help allows you to lump me in with all the other men in your life. The ones who, like everything else, are to be taken care of, not vice versa. Because no one’s allowed to take care of you.”
“That’s . . . stupid.”
“I might be temporary, Lilah, but I’m not stupid. And I’m not one of your pets, either.” He nudged her to the kitchen table where her books were spread out, waiting. “Sit down. The professor is here to make sure you pass.”
“That’s Professor Brady to you,” he said.
She arched a brow and gave him a level look. No longer defensive but not yet willing to concede surrender. “So is this some kind of sexual fantasy? The beleaguered student servicing her professor for an A?”
“Hmm, sounds promising.” He nudged her into a chair, smiling when a trickle of good humor came into her eyes. “We’ll get to that. For now, crack that book, woman. Don’t make me show you what happens to naughty schoolgirls.”
Three hours and lots of caffeine later, Lilah walked past a sleeping Twinkles and Boss and threw herself on her bed. She was frustrated and near comatose and also quite possibly close to jumping Brady’s bones.
“What type of uterus is found in mares?” he asked, following her from the kitchen to stand at the foot of her bed, staring down at her in a very intense professor sort of way.She wanted to strip him na**d and lick him like a lollipop, and he wanted to know what a chemical element was.
He nudged her foot. “Lilah.”
“Bipartite. Sir,” she added with a little smart-aleck salute.
“I like that,” he said with a firm nod as he consulted her review notes. “More of that. Now chemically, FSH is what?”
“A protein, sir,” he corrected.
She rolled her eyes while he turned her pages. “An oocyte that is surrounded by several layers of cells but does not contain an antrum,” he said.
He’d stripped out of his sweatshirt, leaving him in a loosely fitted Henley and a pair of cargo pants with more pockets than she could count. He looked edible.
“I can see you need incentive.” He got on the bed and crawled up the length of her, spreading her legs with his knee. “An occyte . . . ?”
“Secondary follicle . . . ” She broke off as he rested his forearms on either side of her head, his face just inches above hers.
“And the structures on the chorion that interlock with the uterine endometrium in the ruminant?” he asked, pulling off her clothes, brushing kisses to every part of her that he exposed, making her mind go blank.
When she didn’t speak, he raised his head, his eyes dark with concentration. “Lilah . . . ?”
“Um . . .” This was supposedly all review for her, but she couldn’t remember. She blamed his sexiness. “I’m—” She moaned when he drew her breast into his mouth and struggled to think. “I—God, Brady.”
He switched to her other breast and slid a hand between her thighs. His breath caught and he made a distinct sound of male pleasure that made her inner muscles contract.
“Shh.” His voice was low and delicious. “I know what will help.” And he shifted, kissing her belly, her hips, a thigh . . . and then between them. “This.” He rubbed his jaw to her inner thigh. “And this.” He stroked her with his tongue and she promptly forgot the question.
“Oh, please,” she whispered.
And he did. In a shocking short time, he had her crying out, shuddering with the surprise release. When she’d recovered she found him leaning over her, playing with her hair, face smug.
“Okay,” she admitted. “I needed that.” She pushed him to his back, pulled off his clothes, and climbed on top of him. “Now you, Professor Know-it-all. Your turn to beg.”
“I’m not much for begging.”
“Hmm.” She started at his throat, working her way down, tasting every inch of him, stopping occasionally to nibble. By the time she got to his abs, he was alternately groaning her name in a plea and in warning.
But not begging. Not yet. Drunk on her own power, and also how he felt shifting restlessly beneath her, she continued southward.
“Christ, Lilah,” he grounded out when she finally drew him into her mouth, his hands sliding into her hair. “Christ, don’t stop.”
Close enough, she thought, and didn’t stop.
A long shower and another cup of coffee later, Lilah smiled softly at Brady. “Cotyledons.”
“What?”“That’s the chorion that interlocks with the uterine endometrium in the ruminant. Thanks for helping me, you’re my hero.”
“I’m no one’s hero.” He pulled on his jeans by the first light of dawn slanting in the opened shades, adjusting himself with a scowl.
Either he’d slept badly after he’d put her into a pleasure coma, or her “hero” comment had gotten to him. She was betting on the latter. “In a hurry?”
“I’ve got to go.”
Yeah. Definitely, it’d been the hero comment. “Feeling claustrophobic?”
“This place isn’t that small.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
He ignored that and bent to lace up his boots. “I have a flight scheduled. I’m taking Dell to Idaho Falls for a business thing.”
She nodded. “So go.”
His mouth tightened, and he whistled for Twinkles, who leapt to his feet to follow blindly. As she was beginning to realize she would do as well.
At the door, Brady paused. “Shit,” he muttered to himself with feeling. He turned back to her, staring at her for a long beat while she forced her expression to remain even. Then he closed his eyes. “Fucking sap,” he said, and strode toward her, hauling her up to her toes to kiss her stupid. “Kick ass today,” he said against her lips.
“You, too,” she whispered, but he was already gone.
Brady walked through the chilly morning air, shadowed by Twinkles. It wasn’t a month yet, but probably he should call Tony and at least get himself back in the queue to fly. Getting the hell out of Dodge ASAP would be a good thing.
Too bad he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He wasn’t ready to go.It was as simple and terrifying as that.
“Yeah, yeah.” He’d taken off on Lilah like a bat out of hell, and now all he could see was her face as he’d left. There hadn’t been disappointment or irritation. She hadn’t been offended the way any number of women in his past would have been when he did his usual vanishing routine. Lilah didn’t get upset or withdraw. There’d been only those two words, her softly spoken “So go.” And yet in them he’d heard all the damage, all the hurt, she felt.
She was prepared to watch him walk away.
God, he was an ass. He turned around so suddenly he tripped over Twinkles.
“We’re going back. I don’t know why, so don’t ask me.” Brady wasn’t afraid of much. He doubted there was a boogey man left on earth that could scare him. And yet one woman from the middle of nowhere with heartbreaking eyes and the most courageous heart he’d ever known absolutely terrified him.
As he once again entered the clearing between the cabin and the kennels, Adam was just getting out of his truck, juggling two steaming drinks and a big bag of food from New Moon, the health food store in town.
“What are you doing here at this time of morning?” Adam wanted to know.
Brady shrugged. He’d asked himself that a hundred times in as many seconds. He still didn’t know. “She doesn’t like health food.”
“Are you just getting here?” Adam asked. “Or just leaving?”
Adam’s eyes went to slits. “I usually offer the choice of death or dismemberment to people who mess with her.”
Brady sighed, and Adam stared at him for a long moment, then slowly shook his head. “You poor bastard. You’re as f**ked up over her as all the others, aren’t you?”
Adam arched a brow, and Brady closed his eyes.
He was totally and completely f**ked up over her. Which settled it. He did not need to go back inside that cabin. Nothing good would come of him going back in there except muddying up the waters with more of his crazy-ass, confused emotions. Without a word to Adam, he turned around and began walking away.
“Was it the threat of death or dismemberment?” Adam wanted to know.