It wasn’t real. Hell, she wasn’t real, but the warm, silk-clad body against him said otherwise, and he couldn’t pull away to save himself the grief that would come later—not when his brain, hungry and awakened and desperate for release, had clocked out. She was touching him, making him smolder, then flame, and then she dragged him all the way down to the floor and straddled him.
With a slow, achingly sensual smile, she pulled a condom out of her pocket, untied her robe, and shrugged it off her shoulders.
Her br**sts gleamed pale and full in the foyer light, swaying when she leaned over him and took his mouth with hers. He was lost then; but as she stoked the condom down his length, then lifted up and took him deep inside her body, he was found.
Simple and unbelievable as that. Having had enough of her being in control, he surged up and tucked her beneath him now. She tried to rear up, but he entwined their fingers, holding her hands on either side of her head as he thrust into her again and again until she cried out, shuddering as she came with a soft, gasping cry. Burying his face in her hair, he followed her over.
It took him a while to gain his breath, though he did manage to roll off her so he didn’t crush her farther into the hard floor. Then he lay there gaping like a beached fish, thinking, so much for basketball keeping him in shape.
She shifted, and he was reminded of her last, hasty exit. Reaching out to pull her into him, he put his mouth to her throat, running his hand up her warm curves.
She put her hand over his, squeezed, but then scooted away and stood up.
Smiling up at her beautiful na**d body, the one he wanted to put his mouth all over, every inch, he wiggled his fingers at her to come back.
Slowly she shook her head and reached for her robe.
And his smile faded. “Ah, hell. Not again.”
“It’s late. I’ve got a teenager in the house. God. A teenager.” She shook her head as if she still couldn’t believe it. Then she glanced down at him, at his expression. She let out a sound. “You’re not going to make this complicated, are you?”
Still flat on the floor, still twitching from the aftermath of great sex, he let out a low laugh and managed to shake his head. “No, no complication.” Gathering his strength, he staggered to his feet and snagged her hand, tugging her close, trying one more time to reach her. “You came over here just for this then.”
She stiffened up on him and blinked warily. His little Ice Queen. “Yes.”
“Well, then, I’m going to ask you to take back what you said this morning.”
She didn’t pretend not to know what he meant. “Fine.” Her lips quirked. “You don’t have—what was it—stinky feet.”
Ah, wasn’t she funny. “Mia.”
“And you don’t snore.”
“And…” She smiled as she belted her robe. “And maybe next time we’ll get to a bed to see about that other thing.”
His poor heart gave a quick kick. “Next time?”
The flicker of unease across her face fascinated him. She hadn’t meant to say those words, and he knew why. She didn’t like to repeat. And not only had she repeated with him, she’d just admitted she wanted to repeat again. Unable to hold it back, he smiled.
She let out a frustrated sound. “There will not be a next time.” She flung open the front door, braved the rain. “Good night.”
When it shut rather hard, he stood there, still staggered, still half aroused, feeling as if he’d been hit by the Mack truck all over again.
She was bad for him. Bad, bad, bad. Next time she came knocking, even if she wasn’t wearing a damn stitch, he wouldn’t sleep with her. He would not make the mistake a third time. “Better keep telling yourself that,” he muttered and managed to find the energy to pull his sweats back up. He went to the fridge, but no food fairy had appeared, so he headed for some mindless TV.
A few hours later, the front door opened and Mike stood there, eyes glossy, crooked smile in place. He gave an exaggerated wave.
You’re drunk, Kevin signed.
Nah. Just a little looped. When he signed the looped part, he nearly took out his own eye.
Tell me you didn’t drive.
Nope. Got a ride. Mike blinked exaggeratedly and eyed Kevin. You look like hell. What hit you?
A Mack truck.
Was her name Mia Appleby? Mike laughed at the thought, but when Kevin didn’t, Mike shook his head. Ah, Christ. She got you again, huh?
I don’t want to talk about it. Kevin went to the kitchen, hunting through the cabinets until he found a bag of chips. He turned around to find Mike watching him. You going to do that interview tomorrow? The one you got from Monster.com? What was it, a data inputting thing?
Mike shrugged. Haven’t decided. Sounds boring.
Ah, hell. Here they came, the excuses. Maybe boring is what you need right now.
What I need right now is another drink.
Kevin watched him stalk out the door again and felt that same ache he felt whenever he looked at the troubled kids in his classes. He couldn’t fix them any more than he could fix Mike, and it killed him.
In fact, he couldn’t fix any damn thing. Pushing away from the counter, he groaned at his own aching muscles, particularly the ones in his thighs. Apparently Miss Hotshot Mia Appleby was going to kill him as well.
One would think being thrown to the floor and ravished within three steps of his front door would have a man sleeping like a baby.
But Kevin slept like shit, and then was interrupted by a four a.m. text message from Mike.
Remember when you said stay out of trouble? Tried. Failed. I’m at county. Bring cash.
Kevin groaned and didn’t move. No. He wasn’t going to do this again, damn it. Mike’s ass could just sit in jail this time.
But as he lay there in his cozy bed, he began to imagine all the things that could be happening to his brother. “Fuck.” Tossing aside the covers, he got up. “Idiot,” he muttered and headed for his bike, not knowing which of them he was talking about.
Public intoxication. For the second time this year. Fuming, Kevin threw the spare helmet at Mike, who caught it at his chest. It’s four in the morning.
Not to mention he’d been forced to max out his credit card for bail.
But Mike was uncharacteristically out of charm, and looking a little green, he dutifully put on the helmet and got on the bike behind Kevin.
They made it home before Mike slid weakly off the bike and got sick in the gutter, then lay there on the sidewalk and smiled shakily up at Kevin. Ah, admit it. What fun would your life be without me?
Kevin could think of lots of ways, starting with having more money and ending with having more peace, but saying it wouldn’t matter. This is the last time.
To which Mike grinned. He didn’t believe it, of course, and Kevin couldn’t blame him, not when he’d always come through. It was what he did, who he was.
The Go To.
One would think he must also love banging his head against the wall. I mean it, Mike.
No you don’t. Mom told you to take care of me for the rest of my life, and you feel just guilty enough to do it. Mike lay there, getting his color back by the second, looking cocky again. You love me, man.
Disgusted with the both of them, Kevin shook his head and walked into the house, leaving Mike to crawl inside.
You feel guilty enough to do it.
Wasn’t that the sorry truth. If he closed his eyes, he could still see his stepfather coming toward the pesky toddler Mike, could still see himself not getting to Mike in time to protect him from the blow—
From below, he heard the front door slam. Apparently, Mike had gotten inside. Guess there were some things he could do for himself, after all.
Now if only Kevin believed it.
Mia woke up three minutes before her alarm went off. Stretching, she felt a vague tightness in her muscles and let out a very satisfied smile.
Thank you, Kevin McKnight.
The guy had a mouthwatering body and knew exactly what to do with it.
Her morning ritual was to pad down the hallway to flip on the coffeemaker, and then hit the shower. She was halfway to the kitchen when she remembered.
The guest bedroom door was cracked, and she peeked in. The kid lay flat on her back, mouth open, a soft breath emitting at regular intervals. Well, look at that. Unlike every potted plant or goldfish Mia had ever attempted to keep, she hadn’t killed the kid overnight. Hope didn’t even look wilted.
Hope snuffled in her sleep, then rubbed her face and tucked her hand beneath her cheek. And just like that, void of makeup and her tough veneer, she looked all of ten years old, soft and sweet.
Ha! Sweet like poison maybe. Mia supposed this was why the gods made kids so cute when they slept: because it kept parents from murdering their young.
Then a long, shuddery sigh escaped Hope’s chest, the kind one let out after a long sob-fest.
Uh oh. Mia looked closer and her stomach sank. Yep, all the telltale signs were there: the puffy eyes, the tear streaks on the silk pillowcase…
Suddenly Hope’s eyes opened, and though they widened at the sight of Mia, she played it cool. “Whatcha looking at?”
Mia played it even cooler. “You. You look pretty like that. Without all that horrid, cheap black makeup.”
“I mean it. You have beautiful blue eyes and an extremely nice mouth. Why do you do yourself up like the living dead?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
Hope laughed. “Yeah, right. Adults don’t understand sixteen-year-olds. I’d be wasting my breath.”
Mia laughed, too. She laughed good and long, and ended up having to sit down right there at the foot of the bed because, damn, if she hadn’t once thought the very same thing.
“Whatever,” Hope muttered, looking miffed.
Mia just laughed harder; she couldn’t help it. “Yeah, I know nothing about being sixteen. Nothing at all, because I went from fifteen straight to seventeen without passing go.” She swiped her eyes. “Ah, hell, that was fun. Thanks.”
Hope rolled her eyes.
The girl didn’t appear to have much of a sense of humor. Mia blamed Sugar for that, because Mia’s momma, faults and all, had at least been able to laugh at herself. “You know what? You’re right. I wouldn’t understand. I was never desperate to get away. Desperate to find something new, a place where I could grab my future.”
Hope blinked. “You…really felt that way?”
“Every. Single. Day.”
“Desperate to get out?” Hope pressed. “Like…like you were going to die if you didn’t?”
Humor gone now, Mia nodded.
Hope just stared at her. “So…”
They actually had something in common. Neither of them said it out loud, though. Nope, the Appleby women had pride in spades, so much so they often couldn’t get out of their own way.
Hope busied herself playing with the blanket over her legs. Clearly she wanted to say something, probably how eternally grateful she was that Mia had taken her in, that she hadn’t been shipped back immediately.
“So what’s wrong with your eyebrow? I mean, it looks pretty stupid.”
Honestly, the love in the room was simply overwhelming. Mia put a finger to the singed spot and sighed. “Long story.”
“I have some black eyebrow pencil.”
Yeah, that would fix it. “Thanks, but I’ll manage. So. A week in California.”
“You’ve got the most God-awful traffic here.”
“Oh, trust me, you’ve seen nothing yet. You’ll get a good glimpse of it this morning, though.”
“Because I have to go to work. We’re going to have to find somewhere for you to go for the day. Kevin said something about a teen center next to the high school. I think they do day trips—you should get to see something fun today.”
Hope looked horrified at the thought. “A teen center?”
“Well, I can’t just leave you here.”
“What’s the matter Apple Pie, you don’t trust me with the family china?” she drawled.
“Or the silverware,” Mia drawled right back.
When Hope just exuded hostility, Mia smiled. “If you don’t like being treated like a thief, first order of business—stop stealing. And don’t ever call me that again, by the way.”
“I didn’t take that lipstick.”
“Whatever, Sticky Fingers.” Mia stood up. “Fact remains, I can’t leave you here to terrorize my neighbors.”
“Yeah, Sexy Old Guy looked real scared of me.”
“If you’re referring to Kevin, he’s only thirty-something.”
“Like I said, old.”
Mia’s jaw tightened. “Get dressed. Do you have anything that’s not black?”
“We’ll go shopping after I get off work.”
“On your dime?”
“Would that make you move faster? Fifteen minutes.”
“I need more like thirty. And can we go to the grocery store and get some food, too? Or do you plan to starve me?”
“Tell you what. I’ll give you fifteen minutes now, and fifteen more tomorrow morning. And if you pull it off, yeah, we’ll hit the grocery store and load up on any and all the disgusting food your heart desires. Get going.”
Hope buried her head beneath her pillow, but when Mia pulled the door shut behind her, she heard the rustling of the covers, signifying she was at least moving.
Kevin woke up with the alarm at what felt like only five seconds after he’d laid his head down, having dreamed of Mia in that damn wet silk, the material clinging to every inch of her, the look on her face as he nudged her over the edge, the way his name sounded on her lips.