Indeed Kevin turned his head and looked right at her, then at the candy jar.
Hope stopped breathing.
Kevin nodded, and his brother walked out the door.
Kevin watched him go as if maybe he really wanted to say something else, but he didn’t.
Instead he once again looked at Hope. A trickle of sweat ran between the br**sts she’d just gotten last year, but Kevin smiled. He smiled like he really meant it, and Hope let out a helpless one in return, hoping she didn’t have chocolate on her teeth.
Whatever he’d been mad at, it hadn’t been her. She didn’t know why she cared really, except for that she did. A lot. “So how are you doing this morning, Hope?” he asked.
Hope knew most people asked that as a matter of greeting, not really caring about the answer, but he sounded like he really wanted to know.
How was she doing? Actually, she hadn’t given a lot of thought to that, as she’d been quite busy just surviving. Then she’d woken up in a bed, a huge, comfy, expensive bed, instead of her car. She wasn’t on the road—hallelujah!—and the realization had been a little unsettling. Nice, but unsettling. Cranking the music to cover that unease had been fun, and it had the added benefit of annoying Mia. That was nice, too. And the ride over here in the Audi…wow. The navigation system alone could have kept her entertained for another cross-country drive—not that she wanted to ever make that drive again. “Fine.”
His smile felt genuine. “I’m glad to hear it.” He turned back to Mia. “You know, your accent matches Mia’s.”
Mia seemed to grind her teeth at this. “I do not have an accent.”
“Right,” he said and laughed. “Well, I’m sorry. The teen center is truly full today. I can get her in tomorrow—”
“I need her in today.”
Leaning back against the wall, he crossed his arms and feet casually, lifting a brow. “Maybe you could take her sightseeing today, get to know her, and then tomorrow—”
“I have to get into work.” Mia glanced at her fancy-smancy watch that Hope was betting was not a Kmart special. “I’m already running late. I need you to take her.”
“And what does that mean?”
“It means you have a real thing about getting your way,” Kevin said lightly.
This seemed to make Mia’s eyes nearly bug out of her head. She looked pretty good today, Hope had to admit, even with one of her sandals broken. Her skirt was a pale blue and floated on air when she moved, and her jacket revealed a lacy thing beneath, both of which hugged her body. It was a sexy, elegant look that Hope could never pull off in a million years, even if she wanted to wear colors again.
“Can you, or can you not, take Hope?” Mia said in a quiet but scary voice that made Hope’s spine itch.
Hope would have sworn Kevin’s smile changed now that it was aimed at Mia. It wasn’t kind anymore, but filled with mischief, revenge, and…heat. Yowza, lots of heat.
“Not,” he said firmly in an apologetic tone that didn’t match his expression. “We’re full up. Unless…”
Mia gritted her teeth. She was going to grind them to powder if she didn’t watch it. “Unless what?”
“You say please.” Kevin’s smile widened. “You do know the word, right?”
Mia let out a low growl that sounded a bit rabid as she turned to Hope. “We’re outta here.”
Hope was surprised, because if you asked her, these two had some unfinished business. Their mouths were arguing, but the rest of them were not. “We are?”
“You’re coming into work with me.”
Hope didn’t know if she was excited or wary but settled for somewhere in between because it beat the hell out of riding a horse.
Or being on a bus heading back to Tennessee.
They left Kevin’s office and walked back into the bright morning sunlight. With each hobbling step Mia appeared to become more and more uptight. “Here,” she said to Hope when they got outside and handed her the keys. “Start the car. I’ll be right there. I need to talk to Kevin for a sec. In private.”
Hmm. Hope supposed that was code for getting a quickie or something, but she stared down at the keys in her hand, then lifted her head, trying to hide her elation. “You trust me with your car?”
Mia narrowed her eyes.
“I mean, it’s good,” she said quickly. “I’m, like, totally trustworthy.” She began to walk away, but Mia snagged her by the scruff of the neck and pulled her back.
“Let me just add that if anything happens to my car I’ll personally deliver you to Tennessee right this very minute.”
Hope didn’t dare smile. No way was Mia going back to Tennessee to bring her home, this minute or otherwise.
“Are we clear?” Mia asked.
Hope pretended not to care less, even lifting an insolent shoulder, but inside she was jumping.
She had the keys to the Audi! And Mia hadn’t said don’t drive it, she’d just said not to let anything happen to it. Biting her lip to keep her smile in, she nodded. “Take your time.”
Mia walked—limped—back inside the teen center, ready to kick some ass, but it was hard to remain self-righteous with only one heel.
She caught Kevin just as he came out of his office door, looking clean and dangerous and sexy. He’d removed his leather jacket. His leanly muscled shoulders pushed at the limits of his dark blue T-shirt, which was loosely stuck into a pair of low-slung Levi’s. His shirt read ALWAYS FINISH WHAT YOU STA—. He wore his boots, both only half laced, and had a leather saddlebag slung over his shoulder and chest. Then there were those see-all eyes, steady as the earth beneath her feet. Admittedly, she didn’t know him thoroughly, but she knew enough to understand that everything about him was steady, from his rock-solid strength to the way he saw things. The man lived worlds away from hers, and yet he seemed firmly rooted, maybe more so than anyone she’d ever met.
But she was pissed and he was going to hear it, no matter how fine he looked this early in the morning.
Or na**d. “Hang on,” she said and pushed him back inside his office.
“Well now, darlin’,” he murmured, his voice like smooth velvet, glancing at his watch. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to scratch your itch right now.”
“As if I’d have you right now.”
He stared at her, his eyes a warm, swirling caramel. “Did you know that the madder you get, the more your accent matches Hope’s? I never did quite catch where you’re both from.”
“I’m from right here, right now. And I don’t appreciate what you’re doing,” she said.
His mouth quirked. “And what’s that? Breathing?”
“You turned Hope down to spite me.”
“You ought to spend time with the kid before you dump her. I get the feeling she’s been dumped enough.”
“So this was a lesson for me?”
He smiled. “Did you need a lesson?”
“Do you ever answer a question without another question?”
“Well, if questions annoy you, brace yourself, because I have one more.” He took a step toward her, and, damn it, she took an automatic one back, nearly tripping over her one good heel, coming up against his desk.
“Have you asked yourself why you’re really here?” he wondered. “In my office? Growling at me, with steam coming out your pretty ears, while your even prettier eyes are saying something else entirely?”
“What? You’re crazy.”
“Admit it,” he said very softly, taking the last step, bringing them toe-to-toe. His hand came up, and he glided the backs of his fingers along her jaw. “You came here this morning, twice, and you know what I think? I think you can’t keep your eyes—”
He broke off with a raised brow when she lifted her hands and fisted them in his shirt. To shove him away, she told herself, but she didn’t.
“—or your hands, off me,” he finished.
Her fingers sank into the material of his shirt, feeling the heat, the strength of him beneath. “I want to—”
“Kick your ass.”
He let out a soft laugh. “Bring it on, Apple.”
She felt herself stiffen. “Oh, I’ll bring it on, I’ll—”
She tipped her head up to his, saw the heat and intent in his eyes a beat before he murmured “Shh” and lowered his face, taking her mouth with his and beginning a slow simmer inside her.
The kiss started out sweet, soft, but cranked to intense quickly, a hot, deep, wet connection that reminded her that their bodies knew each other, craved each other like air, and that being this close was inviting the inexplicable maelstrom that occurred every time she let him put his hands on her. She stopped thinking then, just let herself feel, starting with the pure sensation of his solid, hard-muscled body against hers and ending with the heat of his mouth as he deepened the kiss.
He put his hands on her now, in her hair, holding her face, then with a groan glided them down her body, touching everything he could as he trapped her between the hard desk and his tough body. He stroked her breasts, then slid his hands beneath her clothes to warm her flesh with his hands, and the simmer burst into flames.
When he finally pulled back, she was grateful to have the desk behind her holding her up, because he’d just decimated her, burst right through her every single defense with one simple kiss.
Simple? Ha! She’d never been kissed so thoroughly, so deliberately, so absolutely fully.
He staggered back a step himself, looking surprised and just as shaky. “There,” he said in a voice low and ragged and satisfyingly hoarse. “You’re finally speechless. I like you that way.”
She stared at him, let out a sound of disgust, and pushed past him to the door. “You’re an ass.”
“And bad in bed,” he reminded her. “Don’t forget that part.”
She slammed the door behind her, a gaffe that surely announced in a scream how he affected her, but she couldn’t seem to help it. No more, she told herself. No more. She was Mia Appleby, ad exec, queen of her world, and no one made her crazy. She kept her cool at all times.
She stalked past the front door, which was now filling up with teenagers in various states of summer dress and insolence, though she didn’t see a single Goth teen. A small part of her wondered how the hell the Southern, small-town Hope was going to fit in here with all these sophisticated big-city kids.
When she stepped out into the sunlight, her heart was still pounding, her ni**les hard, her thighs quivering, and she stopped worrying about Hope entirely.
Because her car was gone.
After that steamy kiss, and then Mia’s furious escape, Kevin let his wobbly knees collapse, and he slid weakly into his chair.
“Mr. McKnight?” Sara, the college student who supervised the kids for the morning hours at the center, stood in his doorway. “You okay?”
“Yes, of course.”
“You didn’t answer my knock—”
“Sorry.” Sex on the brain. “What can I do for you?”
“You’ve got to get to the high school, right?”
Ah, shit. “Yeah.” He stood up again, locked his knees in place, and hoped he didn’t have Sucker-Kissed written all over his face. “Thanks.”
She smiled at him, then vanished.
Kevin did his best to shake off the sensual languor sapping his strength and headed toward the door. What had he told himself?
No more, Mia, that’s what.
And what had he done the second she’d touched him?
He’d been all over her.
But telling himself no more and actually following through were two different things. She was a puzzle, and he liked puzzles. She presented herself as a sophisticated, elegant businesswoman without an inch of softness or weakness, but he’d seen flashes of both now. Oh, yeah, she was a mystery, one he’d enjoy unwrapping if he didn’t suspect it came packed with deadly explosives.
As he left out the back way of the teen center, cutting across the football field toward the high school, he wondered if she’d come knocking tonight.
But all fanciful wondering ceased abruptly when he caught sight of his classroom, one window open, the screen flapping in the breeze, and an Audi in the middle of the field.
Mia stood on the sidewalk staring at the spot where her car had been. Then she whipped out her cell phone to call Tess.
“Did you get a good eyebrow pencil?” her assistant asked sweetly in lieu of a greeting. “Or did you just plan on losing your other one today?”
“Good, you’re going to need a sense of humor today. Layoffs are imminent.”
“Damn it. Who?”
“Don’t know.” Tess sounded a little stressed. “But I can bet you it’s at my level, not yours.”
“It’s okay. I’m too good to be fired.”
“Well, that’s the truth. I’d die without you there. Speaking of there, and getting there…I have a little car issue.”
“No. No, no, no. You have the Anderson people due here in…Ohmigod, twenty minutes. Mia—”
“I’ll be there, but if I’m a few minutes late, ply them with coffee and donuts.” She snapped the cell phone shut. She was going to kill Hope.
Turning in a slow circle of frustration, she stopped halfway, staring in shock at the football field between the school and the teen center.