Jade’s brows went up. “Nice,” she said, but stopped him when he leaned forward to collect the pile.
“Not so fast.” She laid her hand out.
Brady and Adam grimaced in tandem. Lilah chortled with glee.
Jade smiled and gathered the booty toward her. “You lost, Dr. Connelly. All of it.”
Yeah. A feeling he was getting far too used to.
Much later, Dell was alone on his couch. He had his remote in hand, and Gertie doing her best imitation of a lap dog, leaving a good amount of slobber on his thigh.
A knock sounded at his door.
Not Adam or Brady. They’d left an hour ago, and besides, they both had keys and absolutely no care for Dell’s privacy whatsoever. They’d just barge in.
Dell glanced at his watch. Two in the morning. Frowning, he shoved Gertie off him and headed to the door, glancing out his living room window as he did.
Jade’s car was in the driveway.
What the hell? Gertie peeked, too, and gave a bark of wild enthusiasm.
Speeding up his pace Dell pulled open the door, reaching down to grab Gertie’s collar just before she could launch herself at Jade.
“Gak,” Gertie said, back paws on the ground, front paws in the air as Dell held her back.
“Were you sleeping?” Jade asked, her hands tightly clasped together. She sent a quick look over her shoulder as if the dark night was unnerving her. “You were totally sleeping, right? Never mind.” She started to turn away, but Dell used his free hand to snare his second female of the night, catching Jade in the back of her jacket and reeling her to him. Because it was cold, he pulled both woman and dog into his house and shut the door.
Gertie shoved her face into Jade’s palm, blithely demanding a rubdown, which Jade granted. Everyone seemed happy with the momentary distraction, especially Gert. After a moment, the dog shuffled back off to her spot on the couch.
“I—” Jade let out a breath. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“I wasn’t sleeping. I was just sitting here thinking of how broke I am.”
She smiled, and he felt the usual reaction in his chest. And south. “Not that I’m complaining,” he said. “But what are you doing back here?”
She hesitated. “Remember how when you were a kid and you knew something was a really bad idea, but you wanted to do it anyway, even when everyone from your nanny to your best friend told you it was stupid?”
He’d been moved around too much for best friends. Adam had fit the bill, but if Dell had gone to do something stupid, Adam had most likely been the ringleader. “Never had a nanny.”
She nodded with a little grimace. “I knew that. I didn’t mean . . . I just . . . The stupid thing. I’m trying to tell you about the stupid thing I want to do.”
“The thing your nanny and best friend would try to talk you out of.”
“Yes. But they’re not here. And you . . .” She shook her head and walked into his living room and looked around.
“No, I was just sort of hoping to find your Adopt-a-Farm-Animal type of secret thing you do when you’re alone.”
“Guys have . . . different alone-time activities than women. Very different.”
She laughed and dropped her coat to his couch. Okay, that meant she was staying, for at least a few minutes.
Or maybe not.
He’d long ago given up trying to read her mind. She’d changed out of her gambler’s wet dream outfit and was now in a snug black sweat suit. The bottoms were contoured to her body. The hoodie was unzipped to just beneath her br**sts and beneath was a lacy white number that f**ked with his head. She entwined her fingers and looked at him.
He looked back.
With a sigh, she sank to his couch and patted the spot next to her.
He joined her, trying not to notice that she smelled like heaven on earth or that he managed to sit as close as he could without actually sitting on her. Which made him no better than his own damn dog.
“You haven’t been yourself,” she said softly. “You know, since we . . .”
Actually, to be technical, it had nothing to do with their night and everything to do with the fact that she was leaving Sunshine. But he had just enough pride to keep his mouth shut.
Because if he opened it he’d do it. He’d say it.
So instead he did something even more dumb. He dragged her up against him and kissed her, because he remembered how good she tasted, remembered that soft, sexy as hell little sound she made when he touched his tongue to hers. Remembered what it had been like to be inside her, how she’d felt all silky soft and na**d in his arms.
She kissed him back until he was hard with hunger and need, but even he knew it wasn’t all physical. There was a deep and overwhelming longing within him, one he’d successfully buried for a long time but he was having trouble putting it away again.
No. No talking, because he knew damn well the wrong thing would come out.
Because God, really? What the f**k did he know about keeping a woman in his life? Not nearly enough to keep Jade with him, that was for damn sure.
Which didn’t stop him from pushing her down to the cushions and covering her body with his to kiss her again.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what stupid thing I wanted to do?” she whispered.
“Please, God,” he breathed against her neck. “Say me.”
She bit her lower lip but burst out laughing, anyway. “Dell.” She dropped her head to his chest. “This is all your fault. I just keep thinking about our night. I know it was a one time thing, it has to be a one time thing. I’m leaving, and you don’t do more than one night things, and . . .” She lifted her head and looked at him beseechingly. “Can you help me out here? Be the voice of reason?”
“What do you expect me to say, don’t want me? Are you kidding?”
“Tell me it was bad,” she said. “Like . . . bad bad. So bad that we don’t need to repeat it because it was so bad.”
Letting out a breath, he opened his mouth.
She nodded, eager to hear what he might say.
“It was bad. So bad we should repeat it to learn from it.”
She went still, then snorted. “Way to be strong.”
He knew every bit as much as she that this shouldn’t happen. It was risking too much. Someone was going to get hurt.
Too late for that . . .
And in any case, he couldn’t let her go. In fact, his arms came around her and held on. “Jade, what the hell am I going to do with you?”
“Are you as scared as I am?”
“Terrified,” he said. “Hold me.”
She laughed but did just that. “You know,” she said, mouth against his ear. “Someone once told me that when I’m in an unsure situation, calm assertive dominance is best.”
He stroked a finger over her jaw, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “You want me to assert some calm dominance now? Over you?”
She shivered and her eyes darkened. “Maybe just this once . . .”
As he went from zero to sixty in less than a second, rising with her in his arms to head for his bed, he had to wonder just who was the one in control.
The next morning Jade slumped at her desk and eyed the clock as she yawned widely. It was only eight o’clock.
She’d gotten maybe three minutes of sleep the night before, and so had Dell. He had to be dragging every bit as much as her.
Bringing up the day’s to-do list, she added, Get a nap.
Dell came in wearing work boots, low-slung jeans, a hoodie, and an opened down jacket, looking far more like a Hollywood version of the mountain vet than the real thing.
Except the dirt on his boots and the straw on his shoulder and back were real, and so were the shadows beneath his eyes.
Yep, he was dragging as much as she. Only he looked much better while doing it.
He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head and looked at her, his cheeks ruddy from the cold air, a day’s growth on his square jaw.
He’d been riding. She’d seen him out the window tearing across the meadow on Kiwi’s back, the man and the horse beautiful in the weak sun that was trying to burn through the fog.
She looked around her for a distraction, but everything was in place. Her pencils perfectly lined up. The files were pulled. Peanut was on top of Jade’s printer. Beans was curled up on Jade’s lap. Gertie lay at her feet, staring up at her with love and adoration.
None of them needing a damn thing from her, for once.
“You were gone when I got up,” he said.
“Had things to do,” she said. “The boss is real demanding. I left you a note.”
“Yes, thanking me for last night.” His gaze held hers. “You sneaked out.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said.
Okay, she had. She’d held her breath and slipped out of his warm, strong arms, grabbing her clothes off his floor and dressing on her way to the front door. “Fine!” She stood up and tossed her hands high. “I sneaked out. Are you telling me no woman’s ever sneaked out on you before?”
The look on his face answered her question, and with a sigh of disgust, she started to turn away, but he took her by the arms and lifted her up so they were nose to nose.
She wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but by the sparks in his eyes she was going to guess maybe some more calm, assertive dominance . . .
Suddenly the door opened and in came Keith, with Mike right behind him. And then Adam. All three stopped short and stared at the two of them.
Dell set Jade back down and she backed away from him, attempting a smile. “Morning,” she said, and turned to her workstation. She felt Dell looking down at her but she didn’t meet his gaze.
“Is everything okay?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” Jade said, and felt Dell move off. She let out a low breath and watched him go, then turned and nearly ran smack into Adam.
He picked up the schedule she’d printed out for him, and studied it. “Going to be a long day,” he said.
He wasn’t kidding.
At lunch Jade locked the front door after Dell and Adam left for their usual cholesterol overload. She looked around at the empty place and tried to rub the matching ache between her breasts.
She and Dell had spoken several times since their . . . what had it been, a fight? Not exactly. There’d been no raised voices, no slammed doors, no pouting or brooding.
But things were off. He hadn’t laughed when Peanut had announced to a room full of waiting patients that she had a “crush on doc.”
He hadn’t teased her when she’d brought him the lab reports to go over. He hadn’t let his eyes warm when he looked at her. Actually, he hadn’t looked at her.
With a sigh, she put in her earphones, cranked her iPod and turned to the accounting.
Her version of relaxing.
Now that she finally had all the accounts entered, it was sheer joy to balance the numbers out every day, and she watched with great satisfaction as reports ran down her screen.
Pink came on, her voice a gorgeous low, husky rockand-roll rasp. Jade loved Pink. Pink was strong. Invincible. “You’re f**king perfect,” Jade sang along with the song, standing up to put more paper in her printer. Fucking perfect . . .
Dell. Dell was f**king perfect.
She couldn’t help it, then, the song demanded it. She was already standing so her body moved with the music. It was her line dancing teacher’s fault, she used this song sometimes, the PG-rated version, of course. With a little shimmy, Jade whirled and—dammit!—came face-to-face with Dell and Adam.
With a surprised yelp, she yanked out her earplugs and searched for her dignity.
There was none to be found.
“Do you think she was singing to you or me?” Dell asked Adam.
“Me,” Adam said. “You’re nowhere close to f**king perfect.”
Oh God. Jade put her hands to her very hot cheeks.
“You might want to try a dance class,” Bessie said, coming through with her push broom. “You’re stiff as my broom.”
“I’m in a dance class,” Jade said.
“Maybe you should get a refund.”
“I thought she moved pretty good,” Dell said.
Jade would have shot him a shut-up-and-die look, but she was too embarrassed to meet anyone’s gaze directly.
“I could teach you some moves,” Bessie said, planting her broom right in the middle of the room and giving a little hip shaking boogey that had some parts of her jiggling more than others. Since Bessie was five foot two, both vertically and horizontally, she nearly gave herself a black eye, but she looked pleased with herself. “Yeah,” she said. “I still got it. I’d show you my never-fail-to-get-me-some move, but the last time I tried it out for Mr. Southwick, I pulled something in my hindquarters. Had to go to the doctor and everything.”
Even Adam was smiling.
Jade sank to her chair and stared at the phone. Why did it never ring when she needed it to? She did her best to look busy. Busy while sweaty and out of breath. She heard footsteps move away from her and she sighed in relief.
They’d left her alone.
“I like your moves,” came Dell’s low voice near her ear, making her jump. He put his hands on the armrests of her chair and whipped her around to face him.
“Everyone should dance on their lunch break.”
She tried to glare at him but he wasn’t laughing at her. His eyes were dark. And warm. “Don’t be mad. Seeing you so comfortable here is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.”