by Susan Fox
November 27, 2012
When a leather-jacketed biker rides down the avenue of pink flowering trees, Maura knows there’s trouble, right here in Cherry Lane…
Maura Mahoney’s quiet routine as accountant and acting manager at Cherry Lane retirement community is turned upside down when Jesse Blue, a bad boy on a Harley, roars into her life. He’s been sentenced to do community service at Cherry Lane. Maura, protective of the seniors, puts him to work in the garden—outside her office window, where she can keep an eye on him. It’s an instant attraction of opposites. Though each believes the other is way out of their league, they can’t prevent the increasingly steamy fantasies that obsess them. When those fantasies turn to reality, will it shatter their tenuous relationship? Or will they discover that in fact they’re not as different as they thought—and they can surmount the barriers between them and find a deep, lasting love?
“Opposites attract in this sizzling contemporary… In asking whether her two sympathetic leads can overcome their personal issues, Fox will have readers fervently hoping for a happily-ever-after.” (Publishers Weekly)
[Maura has been supervising Jesse’s work for a day. They have just made a trip to a garden center to buy plants for Cherry Lane’s courtyard, and are in the van, ready to return to Cherry Lane.]
Jesse watched Maura fumble in her bag for her cell phone.
She answered, then said, “Oh! Cindy, I didn’t expect—”
He heard an animated female voice break in, but couldn’t make out actual words. Should he get out of the van, give Maura some privacy? Nah. If she wanted him to, she’d say so. He leaned back against his open window and watched her out of the corner of his eye. She was acting flustered and he was curious.
“Oh,” she said, “didn’t I send that in?”
Her right hand clenched on the steering wheel. “Well, actually, I’m not sure I can. My schedule’s pretty busy and—”
The other woman sure wasn’t letting her finish a sentence. Though he still couldn’t hear actual words, he got the impression of a high-powered sales pitch.
“No, I realize a lot of planning’s gone into it,” Maura said, finally managing a complete sentence. “Cindy, this isn’t a good time.”
A pause, then, “I do not have my head in a book. I’m with someone and—”
Her back went ramrod straight. “No, not my parents. As a matter of fact it’s a man.”
This time he caught the other woman’s words, because they pretty much screeched out of the phone. “A man?”
“Yes, a man.” A muscle twitched in Maura’s cheek. “A very attractive man, in fact.”
He started with surprise.
Her cheeks deepened from pink to red, all those cute freckles hidden by her blush now, as she stared straight ahead, listening. “Maybe I will,” she said. The muscle twitched again. “Fine, I’ll be there.” A moment later, she exclaimed, “Yes, put me down as a plus one!” She slammed the flip-phone closed and buried her face in her hands.
Jesse had no idea why she was upset, but it was weird seeing his usually poised boss lose her cool. Cautiously, he said, “Sorry for eavesdropping, but did you just make me your plus one?” He must’ve got things wrong.
She raised her head and stared at him, face on fire. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I . . . well, yes, I used you. I was so annoyed at Cindy. ”
“Yeah. I got that.” He was pretty sure she didn’t really mean for him to be her date, but did she really find him attractive, or had she just said it to piss off this Cindy person? “Hey, it’s okay.” With a hint of sexual innuendo, he said, “You can use me anytime you want.”
Her eyes widened, then she gave a splutter of laughter and banged her forehead with her fist. “I can’t do anything right today. I can’t even apologize properly.” Her cheeks were still rosy, her eyes gleamed with humor, and he wanted to grab her face and plant a kiss on those smiling lips.
Fortunately, before he gave into the impulse, her lips straightened and she frowned. “Boy, have I got myself into a mess.”
Should he ask? “Yeah?” he ventured tentatively.
“It’s so silly. There’s a high school reunion. It’s next weekend and Cindy is calling all the people who haven’t RSVP’d. I really don’t want to go.”
“So don’t go.”
“I told her I would.”
“Got the impression she was pretty determined, but why’d you agree?”
She dropped her head into her hands again and groaned. “She goaded me. She basically implied . . .” Her voice dropped, and it was so muffled he didn’t catch what she said.
Her head jerked up and she glared at him. “That I couldn’t get a date.”
Cindy was crazy. He frowned.
Maura groaned again. “See?”
“Uh, see what?”
“You agree with her!”
He shook his head, baffled. How come women never made sense? “That plus one thing? You, uh, didn’t really mean that you wanted me—”
“Oh, Jesse, no! I’m so, so sorry.”
No, she’d never want a guy like him taking her to her high school reunion. He’d known that—and he’d hate an event like that—so he shouldn’t feel pissed off.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” she was saying, “and I know better. I should always think things out ahead of time and have a plan, not leap impulsively.”
“Sounds like a recipe for a boring life,” he snarked.
Another groan. “And that’s the whole problem, isn’t it?”
“Uh . . . You lost me.”
“You know who I was in high school? President of the History Club. My adoptive father—he’s a history professor—was so proud. At the prom, my date— No, forget that, I’m not telling that story. Then I went to college and you know what I studied? Accounting and business admin. And where do I work? With a bunch of senior citizens. There’s not a single interesting thing about me!”
Somewhere in the middle of her rant, his mouth had fallen open.
The wind teased a tendril of fiery hair free from its knot, and it danced beside her delicate ear. Her blue-green eyes were huge and intense. Her breasts rose and fell against a light green blouse. Her neck was pale and slender and begged to be touched.
He shook his head. Was she having him on? Was this some bizarre kind of game? No, wait, women did this stuff all the time. Like, they’d say they were too fat, and you were supposed to say they looked great. Okay, he knew what she wanted. “There’s nothing wrong with you or your life.” Aside from her being uptight and snotty, but he knew better than to say that.
“You just implied I live a boring life, and you’re right.”
Did she mean that, or was it another “tell me I’m not fat” game. Cautiously, he asked, “Your job is boring?”
“Not to me. I think it’s great. But anyone else would find it boring.”
She raised nicely arched eyebrows. “I’m an accountant. Working with numbers isn’t most people’s idea of fun.”
“Numbers are good.” Jesse liked numbers. They didn’t give him the same trouble that letters did. Somehow, they kept their shape and stayed in place; they didn’t get all jumbled and distorted. The only subject he’d ever done decently in at school was math. He’d even helped girls with math—and other, more fun things—in exchange for their help with essays.
“Numbers are good?” she echoed. Then she flicked her head. “Oh, I get it. You’re kidding.”
He shrugged, not wanting to explain. “Bet you’re good with them.” She liked things to be orderly. “And there’s more to your job than numbers. You’ve got a way with the old folks. You make them feel good. That’s important.”
Her face softened and she was truly beautiful. Not just striking, not just sexy, but totally beautiful. “Jesse, I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.” She leaned toward him, her lips parted.
He stared at that mouth. Peachy-pink lips, a glimpse of white teeth. Last night, when she’d almost bumped into him in the hallway as he was leaving, he’d stared at that mouth, thought about kissing her. Had known it was a bad idea. Same thing earlier, when she’d been all flushed and laughing.
It was still a bad idea. Very bad.
His body had other ideas. He leaned forward so that his lips brushed hers. God, she was soft.
He hardened instantaneously, but forced himself to go light on the kiss, to test and see how she responded. Not much pressure. Lips, just lips, nothing more.
Her eyes had slammed shut and she was so still he wasn’t sure she was even breathing. She didn’t respond, but she didn’t draw away.
Then, a little sound seeped out. Part moan, part whimper, part sigh. Her lips softened, then she was kissing him back, but not totally into it yet.
He caressed the crease between her lips with an experienced tongue, back and forth, trying to persuade her.
Her lips quivered, then opened for him.
Before she changed her mind, he dipped his tongue into wet, honeyed heat. Jesus, she was sweet. Her mouth tasted as lush as it looked.
She made that sound again, reached up to thread her fingers through his hair, and finally she was with him, totally with him. Lips, tongue, all raw and hungry like she was as hot for him as he was for her.
His dick pulsed with need. Either it had been way too long since he’d had sex, or there was something special about this woman. Oh, hell, of course Maura was special. He’d known it when he first laid eyes on her.
He deepened the kiss, wishing she’d open her eyes so he could see their amazing color. He slid his hand down her shoulder and across to the soft curve of her breast. Cupping it, he felt the hardness of her budded nipple through thin layers of fabric.
And now her eyes did open—to widen in what looked like horror. She jerked backward.
* * * * *
Maura gaped at the man beside her. Was this another of her crazy fantasies? “Jesse! Oh, my God, tell me that didn’t really happen.”
“What’re you talking about?” He stared at her like she’d gone crazy. Which maybe she had. “I kissed you. You kissed me.”
Her hard nipples and the ache of need between her legs could have come from a dream, but her lips felt swollen and tender. From his kiss. “You did,” she murmured, still finding it hard to believe. “You really did.”
He shouldn’t have. She shouldn’t have responded. It was all wrong. But . . . did he really want her? Find her attractive? That was so hard to believe. “Why did you do it?”
He made an untranslatable masculine sound. “You’re hot.”
Hot? Hot? No, she definitely wasn’t. That must be the standard line he fed every gullible woman, every woman who made the mistake of thinking she was special to him. What he really meant was, she had lips and breasts—albeit small ones—and they were there, available—or so he thought—so he just took them. Kissed her, invaded her mouth, then groped her. And then he had the audacity to say she was hot? “Don’t insult me,” she snapped.
He heaved himself back in the passenger seat, arms crossed over his chest, and she could feel the tension radiating off him. “It’s a fucking insult to kiss you?”
“What? You think every woman should be flattered if you kiss her? And don’t swear. Macho crudeness doesn’t impress me.”
“Nothing impresses you, lady,” he growled. “You’re so damned high and mighty.”
“I am not!”
“And you know what?” He slanted a glittery-eyed gaze in her direction. “You kissed back.”
She closed her eyes briefly, remembering those minutes of bliss. Then she shoved the memory away, shaking her head. “I did, but it was wrong. All wrong. You shouldn’t have, and I shouldn’t have.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that message.”
“You didn’t even really mean it.” Or at least, it hadn’t mattered that it had been her. Any female would have done.
“Mean it? Jesus, were you there for that kiss? I sure as hell meant it.”
He wasn’t getting her point, and she didn’t feel like elaborating on her own undesirability. “Yes, fine, I’m female and you’re a red-blooded male with instincts. Physical ones. But we’re completely different. We’re from different worlds.”
His jaw looked so tight that she was surprised he could actually speak. “Sure as hell are.”
“I get it,” he ground out.
And that wasn’t even the worst thing. “I supervise you. That kiss was completely unprofessional. It was stupid.” It could cost her her job, much less the promotion.
“Stupid. Yeah. That’s for sure. It won’t happen again.”
Of course it wouldn’t. It had been some silly, mood-of-the-moment instinct on his part. She’d only responded because, inexperienced as she was, for a moment she’d confused fantasy and reality. Now, though, she was firmly grounded.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, him still with his arms crossed over his chest, her upright in the driver’s seat wishing she could take back the past ten minutes of her life. Although . . . would she really give up that kiss? It had only lasted a minute or two, but it had been the hottest, sweetest one of her life.
Jesse cleared his throat. “Look, about my community service . . .” The gravel in his voice was more pronounced than usual.
“Yes?” She glanced over.
Challenge in his hazel eyes, he asked, “You going to kick me out?”
She pressed her lips together, considering. “You want to stay?”
His jaw worked. “Need to.”
He didn’t want to work with her, but he needed to complete the community service assignment or he’d go to jail. Well, she didn’t want to work with him, either, and maybe she had the perfect excuse to throw him out. She sighed. “It wouldn’t be fair to kick you out. We both did something we shouldn’t have, and we both regret it. Right?”
Of course, for him that kiss had been completely unmemorable. “Then perhaps we can try to forget it.” No, she could never do that. “I mean, pretend it never happened.”
His gaze fixed on her mouth for a long moment, then he turned his head to stare out the windshield. “Forget it. Sure.”
“And we’ll continue with the community service just as before.”
The muscles in his throat rippled as he swallowed. “Thanks.”
She sensed how hard it was for him to speak that single word. “You’re welcome. And, uh, Jesse, neither of us will say anything about this, right? It wouldn’t look good for either of us.”
He didn’t turn to look at her. “It didn’t happen.”
“Right.” Of course it did! “Thank you.”
Why on earth had she kissed him, rather than slapping his face and ordering him to back off?
The man radiated sex appeal. That was why she’d kissed him. She was weak. Ruled by hormones. She’d been off balance, off guard; too many disconcerting things had happened.
Susan Fox, who also writes as Susan Lyons and Savanna Fox, is the award-winning author of “emotionally compelling, sexy contemporary romance” (Publishers Weekly). She is published by Kensington Brava, Berkley Heat, and Harlequin Spice Briefs. A resident of both Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., Susan has degrees in law and psychology but would far rather be writing fiction than living in the real world.