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Page 27

Author: Jill Shalvis

“Does it matter?” She met his gaze, her own suddenly hooded. “No promises, remember? And this is just pretend.”

Well, hell. He’d walked right into that one. Reaching over the counter, Jack settled a hand on her wrist.

Quicker than he, she pulled free. Then she vanished into the kitchen.

He looked around. No one was paying them any mind at all. Outside on the bench, he could see Kevin, sitting in Mr. Lyons’s lap now. Since Mr. Lyons had his bony arm wrapped around the huge dog, Jack assumed they were both amenable to the arrangement, so he hopped over the counter and followed Leah into the back.

She was hauling a fifty-pound bag of flour to her work station, arms straining. He reached for it, and she gave him a don’t-you-dare look. Ignoring that, he took the bag and carried it for her, setting it down where she pointed.

“Leah,” he said to the back of her head as she worked at getting the bag open. “We need to talk.”

“So talk.” She was struggling, dammit, and he reached around her to help just as the bag opened and flour poofed out in a big white cloud.

She went still, then slowly turned and faced him, face and hair and chest covered in flour. “Look what you did.”

“Me? I was trying to help you.”

“Then why aren’t you white?”

They both looked down at his firefighter uniform. Navy-blue BDUs, navy-blue T-shirt with the firefighter logo on his left pec. Radio on his hip. Not a speck of flour on him. He solved that by hauling her up against him and wrapping his arms tightly around her. He felt her freeze for a beat, then her arms came around him with a soft sigh of acquiescence that made him instantly hard. Lowering his head, he took a nibble of her neck, absorbing her quiver as she rocked against him. “And good enough to eat,” he murmured.

She laughed, the sound music to his ears even as she pushed him away. “Now look at you,” she said.

He had a full imprint of her down his front, including two round white spots on his chest where her breasts had been, and then there was the patch of flour right over his crotch, where hers had pressed nice and snug like it belonged there. He grinned, his first of the morning.

“You’re a nut,” she said with a shake of her head and a helpless half smile. “And everyone’s going to think we went at it in here.”

“So?”

Her smile faded. “So we already did that.”

He let his smile fade too, let her see how serious he was. “You said that wouldn’t change anything, Leah.”

“It hasn’t.”

He caught her as she tried to move away and reeled her back in. “Then why are you changing right before my eyes?”

Her gaze slid over his features, landing at his mouth, where she lingered for a beat too long.

“Leah. Talk to me.”

There was a flare of heat in her eyes before she dropped her head to his chest. “It’s my body. It’s not listening to my brain.”

He knew what her body was saying because it was plastered to his, soft and warm and pliant. “And your brain’s saying…?”

“That we are not going to do it again. It was wrong and awful and…wrong.”

This was news to him. “Awful,” he said carefully, trying to reconcile the word with the woman who’d had at least three orgasms in that cave on the mountaintop. In fact, he’d gone to sleep every night since remembering exactly how it’d felt to hear her breathily pant, “Oh, please, Jack, oh yes, Jack, omigod, yes!” He took a deep breath. “Awful,” he repeated stupidly.

She lifted her head from his chest and took in his expression. Whatever she saw had her eyes darkening, and she bit her lower lip. “You think you can prove my brain wrong?”

“Oh yeah.”

She paused, glancing around as if to make sure no one was listening. “How long do you have before you’re missed at the station?” she whispered.

Not much shocked him, but this did.

“There’s our bathroom,” she said. “It’s small, but—”

“We’re not doing it in the bathroom.”

“You’re right,” she said, nodding, turning away. “The storage closet. There’s even some props in there—”

He tugged her back and wrapped his hand in her ponytail, tipping up her face so he could look into her eyes, all the possibilities playing havoc with his common sense. “Much as it kills me, not the closet either. At least not until we get a few things straightened out.”

“More rules?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “Great. I’m so not good at rules.”

No kidding. “You’ll be good at mine.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, and then her eyes widened. “Oh my God. You’re not one of those guys, are you? Like a…dom?”

He just stared at her. “What?”

“Someone who ties up their sub and…dominates them.”

“I know what a dom is,” he said slowly. “I meant what the hell?”

“It’s very popular right now,” she said. “And okay, maybe I’ve always had a little teeny-tiny fantasy about being tied up. Just to try it. And a light spanking might be all right, but if you think I’m going to call you sir and bend to your every whim, you’re going first.”

On his hip, his radio went off, but he just stared at Leah. He’d completely lost all coherent, cognizant thought.

“Jack?” she said. “Earth to Jack.”

He blinked.

“I think you’re being called.” She actually looked pretty relieved as she pointed to his radio. “Right? Isn’t that you? I think you’ve got to go.”

She was right, his radio was squawking, and he considered retiring from the job right there on the spot so he didn’t have to leave.

As if reading his mind, she shook her head and let out a low laugh. “Go.”

He pointed at her. “We’re coming back to this.”

The bakery phone rang and she turned toward it, but he caught her hand and pulled her back around. “I’m serious, Leah. We are going to finish this.”

She gnawed on her lower lip some more. “I—”

“Do not forget where we were.”

“Um—”

“Never mind,” he said. “I’ll remember enough for the both of us.”

Chapter 17

Leah was just closing up the bakery that night when Ali came in the back door. “Need cookies,” she said.

Leah was used to people coming into the bakery all stressed out and desperate for a sugar fix. Without breaking stride, she opened a bag and began stuffing some cookies into it. She was halfway through that task when the back door opened again, and in came Aubrey.

Aubrey pointed at the white bag. “Whatever she’s having, double it.”

Leah flipped the OPEN sign to the CLOSED side, shut off the lights in the front room, and pulled out a couple of chairs. She poured three serious mugs of milk and dumped all the day’s leftovers onto a tray.

Finally, she sat, getting off her feet for the first time since five that morning. She shoved a blueberry tart into her mouth, drank down half the mug of milk, and leaned back with a sigh. “Okay. Who’s going first?”

“I’m fine,” Ali said, stuffing in a cookie. She was wearing jeans and a tank top. She had dried clay on her jeans and a few flower petals in her hair, and what looked like some paint on her chest. Her hair was piled on top of her head, with a lot of it escaping in wild, frizzy tendrils, but she did indeed look fine. And happy. “I was just hungry,” she said, mouth full.

“I’m fine too,” Aubrey said. “If you count ‘fine’ going through that dusty old bookstore, where the newest book I have in inventory was printed back in 1959 and is a list of rules for a woman’s place in society—which include the grocery store and laundromat. The shelves are rusty and everything’s claustrophobic in there. It’s a mess.”

Both Leah and Ali looked Aubrey over. She was in white jeans and a red tee, and there wasn’t a speck of dust on her. “It must have been awful,” Leah said dryly.

“It was. I’m tossing everything.”

“So you taking on the project then?” Leah asked.

Aubrey shrugged. “The shop needs me. And it also needs new bookshelves and new furniture, including big, fat, comfy couches where people sit and talk about books and knit and drink tea.”

“Tea?” Leah asked.

“Tea,” Aubrey said. “People who read like tea. I’ll sell coffee too, damned good coffee.” She paused. “Not that I want to put you out of business with my own awesomeness,” she said to Leah.

“I’m not worried,” Leah said.

Aubrey nodded. “I’m going to sell ebooks too, though that’s going to require some serious updating of the building’s electrical, and then some fancy Internet setup.”

Both Ali and Leah laughed.

“What?” Aubrey said with a scowl.

“In this building you can’t run the toaster and flip on a light in the bathroom at the same time without blowing fuses,” Leah said. “Have you talked to your uncle?”

“He’s not willing to put a penny into the building because it’s in escrow,” Aubrey said. “But the new owner promised upgrades. So fingers crossed this thing goes through. It’ll mean good things for all of us.”

“Well, except for Leah,” Ali said. “She’s going to be leaving soon.”

Leah looked at her. “Tired of me already?”

“You going to tell us that you didn’t win Sweet Wars? That you aren’t only an episode away from starting up your own pastry shop with a hundred grand in your pocket?”

Leah got very busy rearranging the pastries on the tray in front of them. “I signed a contract,” she started. “I can’t talk about—”

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