Before You Begin
WARNING: Due to frequent strong language and graphic scenes of a sexual nature, this book is intended for mature (21+) readers only.
If these things offend you, then this book is not for you.
If, however, you like your alphas a little rough around the edges and some serious heat in your romance, then by all means, read on…
Cover design by the amazing Kim Killion of The Killion Group, Inc.
Professional editing by the incomparable M. E. Weglarz of megedits.com.
And special thanks to some very special ladies – Deb B., Anjee Z., Shelly S., Carol T., Tonya B., Susan J., Perryne D., Carla S., Stacy T., and Shayne R (and a few of you who prefer to remain unnamed – you know who you are) - for reading the first draft and making invaluable suggestions. This is a better story because of them!
“Maybe we can have sex later.”
Her eyebrows raised, and Zane felt the color flooding into his cheeks. “A drink,” he corrected immediately. “I meant a drink. Maybe we can have a drink later.” Jesus, what was he, 15?
The corner of that pretty mouth quirked and Zane felt the force of her gaze raking up and down his body from behind those dark, mirrored shades. Her head didn’t move but based on the rolling, heated tingles licking over his skin, she’d checked him out head to toe at least twice in the few seconds it took her to respond.
“I’m not much of a drinker,” she replied, and Zane almost shivered in pleasure at the sound of her voice. It was soft, muted. The kind of voice a man wanted to hear crying out in rhythmic, breathless gasps.
“Coffee, then. Do you like coffee?”
Another quirk from those soft, full lips, but she was no longer ogling him. Her eyes were looking directly into his now. It was impossible to tell what color they were behind the nearly-black lenses, but he had the impression that they were powerful, given the way his skin tingled when she looked at him. They probably sparkled, too.
“I like coffee.”
Zane did a mental fist pump. He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt such a feeling of triumph; women rarely turned him down but there was something about this woman that was different. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, or the best built; not even his usual type, really. Normally he went for the stereotypical California bleached blondes – tall, bronzed, lean and toned.
From what he’d seen so far, she was on the shorter side, a bit curvier than he was used to (what his grandfather would have called voluptuous), and she had light golden/brown hair the color of rich honey with streaks of sunlight. He couldn’t put his finger on why he was so inexplicably drawn to her, which was just one more reason she warranted further study; so few women piqued his genuine interest beyond the usual ‘she’ll do’.
Out loud, he said, “That’s good, because I like coffee, too. And afterwards, maybe we can -”
“Have sex?” she finished for him. The quirk had become a slow curving of her lips. The tingling intensified into a slow burn. When this woman smiled, it touched all of her features … and apparently some of his, too.
He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling more like an awkward teen than a twenty-seven year old Marine. He was almost afraid to look down for fear that he’d be sporting full-on wood, something no male ever wanted to happen while wearing jogging shorts, no matter what his age was. It was just that kind of day.
“If I’m lucky,” he grinned sheepishly. He opted for boyish candor, instinctively sensing that smooth and slick – his usual M.O. - would not work on this woman.
“At least you’re honest,” she said thoughtfully, proving his theory.
“Some would say to a fault.”
He received a full blown grin in response. Yes! She had a beautiful smile. It lit up her whole face and made it impossible not to smile in return.
“I’m Zane, by the way.”
“Zane, huh? It fits you. I’m Celeste.”
Celeste. Yes, he could see that. There was something very soft and fresh about her, and – dare he think it – her heavenly body. He groaned inwardly at the bad pun, glad that he’d at least had enough brain-to-mouth filters still engaged not to spew that little gem out there. He felt like he was hanging on by his fingertips here and one more faux pas would result in an epic fail.
After agreeing to meet at a trendy new coffee shop later that evening, Zane walked back to his place, the towel draped around his neck, feeling a lot better than a man who had just thoroughly embarrassed himself should. Fortunately, the pretty honeyed blonde didn’t seem to take offense at his blatant Freudian slip, taking it all in stride with an unusually good humor rarely found in women these days. And she was going to join him for coffee later.
Maybe it was his lucky day after all.
* * *
From her chair beside the pool, Celeste watched the man walk away. The view from this angle was nearly as fine as the one from the front – a whole symphony of rippling muscles across his broad shoulders and back, tapering down into a lean, narrow waist that she now knew featured a six-pack on the other side. And his ass – it just might be the nicest one she’d ever seen on a man, blending perfectly into strong, muscular legs.
All of that was nice – really nice – but it was his roguish, youthful face that took her breath away. His eyes were the most amazing icy blue, surrounded by impossibly thick, dark lashes that were the same color as his hair – a rich, deep chestnut that captured the California sun and made it dance when he moved. His face was clean-shaven and looked baby-smooth but his lips were all grown-up. She probably shouldn’t have stared at them as much as she had, but as with his eyes, they had commanded her instant and complete attention.
Celeste sighed. Now that he was out of sight, her internal temperature was starting to return to normal levels and her logical mind was entering WTF mode. The last thing she needed was to become involved with someone. She’d moved into the gated community less than two days ago, and was hoping to stay long enough to fulfill her six-month condo lease.
The most womanly parts of her – the ones she’d neglected for far too long – reminded her that Zane probably wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship. Maybe they could just hook-up, satisfy each other’s curiosity, and be done with it. He certainly seemed like the type – gorgeous, sexy, a physique that gave women wet dreams, and playfully naughty. Definitely not the kind of man who would usually give her a second look, which made this possible opportunity even more tempting. Who knew when she might get another chance like this?
Celeste had never actually had casual sex before – her ex-husband was the only man she’d ever been intimate with – so she wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Did they have to go out first? Should she expect him to pay, or should they go Dutch? Would they go back to his place or hers, or maybe seek neutral ground?
The whole idea was as terrifying as it was exciting, leagues away from her usual routine of remaining quietly in the background, watching everyone else have all the fun. Then again, she had moved out here to make a fresh start, hadn’t she?
Celeste sat at the pool for a few minutes longer, enjoying the peace and quiet of the beautiful morning. It was still early, barely seven a.m., but she liked the emptiness and solitude for her morning workout swim. Once others began to arrive, she pulled on her beach cover up, gathered her things, and slipped back to her new place to start her day with a spring in her step that hadn’t been there before.
“Damn.” The coffee shop was temporarily closed for renovations. Zane had never been there himself, but he’d overheard enough people raving about it in and around their gated community to think it might be a goo
Yeah, he liked a bit of verbal foreplay before the main event; he wasn’t a complete animal. Besides building the anticipation, it gave him a feel for what a particular woman might like. Some were wild and adventurous; others needed a gentler touch. Zane was flexible; he knew he’d be ending the evening on a happy note and liked ensuring his partner would, too.
“Hmm,” she hummed beside him. “That’s too bad. It looks like a nice place.”
Zane looked down (she barely reached his shoulder), slightly surprised that she had spoken the same words that had been in his head only a second or two earlier. “Sorry about that.”
Celeste tilted her head up, and he was stricken by her eyes. Fathoms-deep polished amber with swirls of mahogany looked back. She looked as disappointed as he felt. “It was a good idea. Another time, maybe.”
He’d been looking forward to spending some time with her all day; there was no way he was going to let her get away from him that easily. “We could go somewhere else. Are you hungry?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I wish I could say I was, but I ate just before I met you here.” Zane wasn’t hungry either; he’d done the same thing.
They stood there for a solid minute, neither wanting to part quite so soon before Celeste took a breath and said, “I’ve got a Keurig at my place.”
Zane said a silent prayer of thanks that he knew what that was. His uncle had just gotten one, too.
“Yeah. If you’re still interested in coffee, that is.”
Celeste gave him a shy smile that lit him up on the inside. Without thinking, Zane reached out and captured her hand, interlocking their fingers. It was only after he felt the warmth and tingles extending up into his arm that he realized what he had done. The last time he had held a girl’s hand had been at the county fair in middle school, and coffee hadn’t been involved.
As good as it felt, he rationalized that the move had just been his finely-honed instincts kicking in, adjusting to the situation. She seemed as surprised as he did, but she didn’t pull away. In fact, after that initial hesitation, her fingers curled around his, perfecting the fit. Yes, Celeste was definitely the hand-holding type, and he was just being accomodating. His cock roused, agreeing whole-heartedly.
Her shy grin widened. “We shall.”
“Just moved, huh?” Zane looked around the near-empty space. It was the same layout as his uncle’s place, but seemed much bigger without anything in it. Except for a banquet-sized folding table holding what looked like various pieces of computer equipment and a rolling desk chair, the living space was bare.
“Yeah. Two days ago.”
That explained why he hadn’t seen her around before. “Computer geek? Or a fence dealing in stolen goods?”
“Definitely a geek,” she laughed over her shoulder, just as he’d intended. Sexy and likable, a devastating combination, that. “I guess I should get some furniture at some point, huh?”
“Furniture is good.” He watched as she filled the machine’s reservoir with bottled water. Standing behind her as he was, he could appreciate her shapely legs, the way her skirt clung to the rounded curves of her ass. His perusal continued upward, visually tracing the curve that slid inward at her waist before it broadened again beneath the soft-looking, lightweight sweater.
Suddenly, Zane’s interest in small-talk took a back seat to something much stronger.
* * *
Celeste turned around to find Zane right behind her, close enough to feel the scorching heat radiating from his body. She supposed she should have expected it; after all, she had invited him back to her place. To those well-versed in casual sex and meaningless hook-ups, the coffee invite was probably code for ‘do me’, the one-cup capacity of the Keurig synonymous with a one-night stand. Her over-analytical brain wondered absently what it would have meant if she had an old-fashioned percolator instead, forcing her to suppress a nervous giggle.
He shifted slightly, only the tiniest ripple of muscle and mass, but the movement made her catch her breath. Part of her felt afraid and wanted to step away; a larger, more insistent part wanted to close the several-inch gap separating them to see if he was really as tightly packed together as he looked.
“Celeste.” He whispered her name huskily before his head lowered and he brushed the softest of kisses across her lips. She might have moaned softly; she couldn’t be sure over the pounding of her heart or the roar of blood rushing through her veins.
Fear and excitement warred within her. Was she really going to do this? Could she suppress her natural inhibitions and have a meaningless fling based only upon carnal, physical pleasure? Granted, Zane was sexy and gorgeous and smelled amazing, and he certainly seemed like the kind of guy who would be very, very good at it, but…
Zane’s large hand skimmed down her back and cupped her bottom, pulling her close against him. The feel of all that hot, hard, aroused male made it a no-brainer. She most definitely was going to do this, and she was going to enjoy every lubricous second of it.
* * *
Christ, that sound she made, he thought. He’d never heard a woman make a sound like that from such a chaste kiss; one breathless syllable that seemed to convey the same need and desire centered in his groin. He deepened the kiss; after only a moment’s prodding, she softened and opened for him.
Time became irrelevant; he had no idea how long that kiss lasted. He was barely aware of the fact that he was holding her against the wall, keeping her softening body from sliding downward. Her hands burned like brands on his back, despite the cotton T that separated them from his bare skin.
He pressed his erection against her belly, wanting her to know exactly how interested he was.
“You’re very aroused,” she murmured.
He broke contact with her lips – now swollen and dark from his possession – and exhaled slowly, resting his forehead against hers as he struggled to calm his breathing. His hips, however, continued to roll in slight, sensual movements. “You’re a very arousing woman.”
He felt like a horny kid rubbing against her like that, but damn. Maybe he should try to cop a feel, too. His long fingers slipped under the hem of her skirt, tracing the skin along her outer thigh. Before he knew it, they were sliding beneath the silk of her panties, exploring. Discovering. He caught his breath about the same time she did.
“You’re very wet.”
Her eyes sparkled, just like he knew they would. “You’re a very arousing man.”
There was no reason to wait. Not when he was hard and aching and she was slick and ready. Before she could catch her breath, he stole it away entirely. One swift tug and the flimsy barrier of her delicate panties was history. He lifted her up against him; she instinctively wrapped her legs around his hips as he moved forward toward what he hoped was the bedroom.
“Are you on the pill? The ring? The rod? Get shots?”
“What?” she breathed. She looked up at him from the queen sized mattress occupying the far corner of the bedroom floor. Her expression was bemused, her eyes clouded with desire. He liked that look on her. A lot.
“Birth control,” he clarified as he lifted her shirt over her head and buried his face in her substantial cleavage. With a skillful flick of his fingers, the front closure clicked open; he used his lips and teeth to peel apart the satiny, lace-trimmed cups as she arched beneath him, offering herself to him with a breathy plea of need. Zane reveled in the softness of her obviously natural breasts as his hands explored the slight, womanly swell of her abdomen. It had been a long time since he’d felt anything quite so real, quite so… arousing. His cock was like iron. “Are you on any kind of birth control?”
Another sound, this one deep and throaty as he sucked her hard nipple into
“Um, no,” she breathed apologetically. “It’s… been a long time. Haven’t needed to.”
He knew it! This woman, as hot as she was, was also incredibly inexperienced. Warning bells should have been ringing in his head, but they weren’t. Or maybe they were and he just couldn’t hear them over the pounding of his heart.
“Don’t worry,” he told her, pulling a foil packet from his pocket. “I’ve got this.”
The relief in her eyes was tangible. She spoke volumes with those eyes. At the moment they were filled with longing and need, and something that he rarely saw in a woman’s eyes in the throes of passion: amusement.
“Boy scout?” she teased.
Her amusement was not the turn-off it would have been under any other circumstance, because he recognized it for what it was - anxiety. She wanted him, but she was a little scared, too. He grinned back at her, hoping to alleviate some of her unease. If she changed her mind now, he’d probably experience the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion first-hand.
“How’d you know?”
“Always… prepared,” she said, her eyes widening as she watched him sheath himself. “Um, Zane? I think we might have a problem.”
Problem? No, there was no problem. There couldn’t be. Not when he was so close to burying himself balls-deep in all that lush heavenliness. He would kill it, whatever it was. “What’s that?”
“I don’t think it’s going to fit.”
He grinned wickedly, using his finger to trace around the outside of her sex, wondering at the amount of slick wetness she’d already spilled for him. “It will.”