SLOW SEDUCTIONS NOVELS
He's bossy. She's sassy. The only business they can agree on is in the bedroom.
Bea Paxton is a free spirit. She loves her fledgling interior design business, having fun, and she loves men. But only temporarily. Rule #1 is no relationships, no love, no commitment. She likes being in charge. It’s the only way to protect herself from getting hurt again.
Zane Price is the perfect candidate for a steamy time—beautiful, built, and British. Plus, he’ll soon be moving back to England. Really perfect.
Well...except for the fact that he’s her biggest client. And he doesn’t play by her rules. Hell, no. He wants more. Much more. Which is definitely not on the agenda.
Unfortunately, his kisses are nothing short of toe-curlingly awesome. And he is distracting her—a lot—from doing her job.
She needs to stay away from him. Her livelihood depends on it.
But Zane always gets what he wants. And he wants Bea. But for right now? Or forever...?
A beach. A bed. And a bad boy.
What happens on the road stays on the road. Right? That is, until Jade Hollingsworth's first ever—and toe-curlingly awesome—one-night stand turns out to be Hunter Sparks, the contractor she hired via email to remodel the swimwear shop she bought sight-unseen in Shell Grove, South Carolina. A fresh start in a new place where no one knows her name means she can finally gain control over her life and find some inner peace.
Ha. Fat chance of that when Hunter informs her he can't take the job...then brazenly comes onto her. Seriously?
Hunter wants nothing more than to carry on their steamy affair, but has to keep it on the down low. If he helps Jade with her shop, he risks losing the biggest contract of his career, everything he's worked his whole life to achieve. The trouble is, he can't keep his hands off her...
Dr. Phil could kiss her ass.
Jade Hollingsworth scowled at the road in front of her, her insides quivering with anxiety as she drove down the highway. What had the good doctor said during the one episode of his show she had ever watched?
“You can’t play the game of life with sweaty palms.”
Well, she was sure as hell playing the game of life now.
And her damn palms had never been sweatier.
But none of this was a game. And she should never have listened to a TV psychologist in the first place. It would have been a lot more helpful if the dude had shared what to do when your palms got so sweaty you could barely maintain your control on the steering wheel of life.
Buy a stronger antiperspirant?
The drive from Washington, D.C. to Shell Grove, South Carolina was over seven grueling hours. After driving five, she was on the verge of throwing up her greasy fast food dinner. Not because she was carsick or had the flu. No. She was ready to toss her cookies because of the huge, life-altering decision she was making.
Although, Dr. Phil never told her to open up her own swimsuit shop in a strange town where she didn’t know a single person.
But he’d implied it with the whole sweaty palms comment.
She would have been a coward if she didn’t do it, right? And she didn’t want to be a coward. So, she’d said sayonara to her bitchy boss at the swanky bakery where she’d worked in downtown D.C., flipped off all the asshole customers she would never have to deal with again, slammed the door on her hated stepmother and pig of a stepbrother, and packed up her car for greener pastures.
Actually, she didn’t know what the pastures were like in the coastal town of Shell Grove, because she had never seen the town in person before. Everything she knew about it was based on internet research. Her Realtor had found her a house there and a storefront for her swimsuit shop. But other than that, she might as well have been moving to Timbuktu.
Was it risky? Definitely.
Could she fail? Absolutely.
Was she terrified beyond all belief? You bet your ass.
It hadn’t been her intention to start this journey off on such a melancholy note. But hey, no one had ever accused her of being an optimist before. Maybe a realist. After all, failure was a real possibility, and she had to prepare herself for—
She had to pull over.
Thankfully, she spotted a decent-looking hotel chain at the next exit and whipped her five-year-old BMW convertible into the parking lot. After turning the ignition off, she fought to get herself back under control by taking deep, calming breaths.
She could do this. She had to do this.
She had taken far too many steps to get where she was, and she couldn’t turn back now.
She glanced over at the shoebox in her front seat. The meager cardboard box held all of her most prized possessions, which was why she hadn’t risked it to the fates of the rickety moving truck that had picked up her furniture the day before. The contents of the box haunted her, always making their presence known in her subconscious.
She had to pry her eyes away.
Focusing back on the hotel, she pushed out a heavy breath.
Time to sleep in the bed you made for yourself, sweetheart.
Having left D.C. much later than she’d planned to, night had already fallen, and besides, the moving truck wouldn’t be at the house she’d rented in Shell Grove until the next morning. So, she had some time to kill.
Two more hours on the road didn’t sound as appealing as drinking her worries away in a bottomless glass of wine. Or vodka.
She grabbed her luggage and purse, checked herself into a standard room with a queen-size bed, and trotted back down to the hotel’s restaurant-slash-bar. She didn’t bother changing out of her high-waist shorts and crop top because one, it was hot, and two, she didn’t give a rat’s ass what she looked like. Okay, so maybe she’d touched up her beehive ponytail just a little. And she may have reapplied her trademark plum lipstick. But so what?
If she was going to attend her own pity party tonight, she wanted to be dressed for the occasion. She wasn’t completely devoid of pride.
Dignity, maybe, but not pride.
She made a beeline for the bar and immediately flagged down the bartender. “Dry martini and a shot of the best stuff you have,” she told him. “I don’t care what it is.”
He tossed her a half grin. “The last woman who said that to me, I ended up marrying.”
Jade glanced down at his bare ring finger. “And that charming smile wasn’t enough to keep her around?”
He chuckled, the sound coming out gravelly, making him seem older than he was. She’d bet he was a smoker.
“No, the smile was fine with her. It was my rule of monogamy that wasn’t.”
“Sounds like you’re better off.”
He winked. “My thoughts exactly. Let me get those drinks for you.” He sauntered down to the other end of the bar where he pulled a bottle filled with amber liquid off a shelf.
She hoped he wouldn’t try to make conversation with her all night. He was cute, though she suspected there was too much manscaping going on down under for her liking. And although he seemed nice and looked to be about her age, she was going to spend the rest of her evening giving herself one hell of a pep talk. She simply had no time—or motivation—for polite chitchat or subtle innuendo.
The bartender dropped off her drinks. “Let me know if I can get you anything else.” She was relieved when he walked off without another word.
As she sipped her martini, letting the alcohol slowly slide down her throat, she took the opportunity to scan over the other patrons. There were a few couples scattered around the restaurant area, other individuals seated by themselves—traveling on business if she had to guess—and a table of three older gentlemen in the bar area. Surprisingly, she was the only one actually seated at the bar—
Except for him.
Her attention caught on the hulking figure who sat at the end corner of the bar, facing her direction.
The guy was…big. Not, I pump iron three times a day and pop steroids like M&M’s big. More like I work my ass off for a living and this is the result big. And judging by his lack of suit and the beer bottle in front of him, she had a feeling he was not someone who pushed papers behind a desk all day.
He probably looked better in that fitted T-shirt than he would in a suit, anyway.
She was trying to get a better look at his face when his head suddenly turned and his eyes connected with hers. Flustered, she quickly averted her gaze and focused on the television in front of her.
Had he caught her staring?
Probably, because that’s how her day was going.
She hadn’t gotten a good look, but from what she’d seen, the guy was well proportioned. His jaw had appeared as strong as the rest of his body, and she’d definitely noticed a five o’clock shadow peppering his cheeks. She tried peeking out of the corner of her eye to get another look, but he was just a dark, blurry mass. And she was too embarrassed to actually turn her whole head again.
But she could feel his eyes on her.
She didn’t have to get a good look at them to know they were glued to her, searing through her. It was strange. She hadn’t really seen his face to know what he actually looked like, and all he could see of her was her profile. But she knew his gaze was intense. She could feel the way he was studying her, and a thrill shot through her.
What are you doing, Jade?
She had just told herself she wasn’t there for conversation or flirting. She had to move to her new life tomorrow and, more than anything, she had to get her fears under control. At the reminder of what she had gotten herself into, she tipped her head back and downed the shot of…oh yeah, that was whiskey. Gah.
Her attention was once again drawn to the Incredible Hulk when the bartender went over and asked if he wanted another round. She took advantage and subtly watched their exchange.
“I’ll have another Bud,” the guy responded, the deep rumble of his voice easily reaching her ears.
She was already in love with the South.
If all men down here had an accent like that, well…conversing with the opposite sex certainly wouldn’t be a hardship.
As if he was as aware of her as she was of him, the Hulk’s gaze flew back to her the second the bartender walked away. Dammit. She had been too distracted by his voice to pay attention.
She knew he’d caught her that time.
And was he grinning at her?
She thought she’d detected a small quirk of his lips just before she darted her attention back to the TV.
She squirmed in her seat, feeling like an animal at the zoo, making her hyperaware of herself and everything around her. It was that feeling like when you wanted to check every five seconds to make sure your boob wasn’t popping out even though you knew it was impossible. Or make sure you didn’t have food in your teeth even though you hadn’t eaten anything. Or that your lipstick wasn’t smeared from cheek to cheek like the Joker.
She sat there sipping her martini, staring at the TV while she fought to block the mysterious stranger out of her mind and concentrate on what she had to do over the next few days.
Tomorrow, she was moving into her new house in a new town.
Tomorrow afternoon, she was going to meet with her contractor.
Actually, she was going to go cuss out the jerk of a contractor who had just quit on her.
The guy hadn’t even started the renovations at her swim shop yet, and he’d sent her an email—earlier that morning—explaining that he couldn’t do the job due to time constraints. He’d offered his apologies and recommended a few other companies in the area. But his half-ass apology did nothing to assuage her irritation. She didn’t have the time or money to waste on finding someone else and going through the entire process again.
She was going to track down the d-bag and—if she could keep her temper in check—somehow convince him to change his mind. She was done getting walked all over by people who thought they could control her life. Done with people who didn’t give a damn about how much their selfish actions hurt her. Done with getting her heart broken by people who cared more about money and prestige than simple human feelings.
Done. Done. Done.
But for now, she was going to let all that fuel her pissy, the-world-is-ending attitude, because it was therapeutic.
After she handled the issue of that jerkface, reneging contractor, well, then she was going to make some new friends.
Okay. That was a good start.
See? All she needed was a few minutes to gather herself and she would be fine—
The bartender placed another martini down in front of her. She looked at him in confusion, then down at her empty glass. Huh. When had that happened?
Her fingers reached for the stem as she mumbled, “Thanks.”
He tipped his head toward the Hulk. “From the gentleman.”
Cautiously, she turned in the man’s direction and watched as he slowly raised his head and locked eyes with her. Her heart pounded as they gazed at each other, neither smiling nor moving an inch. She experienced tunnel vision as she got lost in his dark eyes. There could have been a Chinese New Year parade traipsing through that bar and she wouldn’t have noticed.
Play it cool, girl.
It took more effort to smile than it should have. But she pulled it off, raising her new glass to him in thanks. He returned the smile, tipping his beer bottle at her in salute. As he took a drink from it, his eyes never once strayed from her. She was mesmerized by the way his throat muscles bobbed when he swallowed. And when his hand rose to rub across his chin and move over his jawline, she about drooled dry martini all over herself.
How could one small movement—and not even a provocative one—be so damn sexy? The next thing she knew, he was pushing up off his stool, grabbing his bottle, and slowly making his way over to her.
Oh my God. He’s coming over.
Okay, no big deal.
She could talk to an intimidatingly gorgeous man like him. No problem.
Just don’t do that weird giggle thing you do when you’re nervous—
“Hi,” he said in a low, smooth tone.
She swallowed thickly, clearing her throat. “Hi.”
“Mind if I sit here?” He pointed to the stool next to her.
He could have shown her the toenails he’d removed from all thirty of his murder victims and she wouldn’t have minded.
“No, go ahead,” she replied, waving at the stool. She tracked his movements as he sat down, bringing his body closer to hers. Maybe too close. Not close enough. “Thanks for the drink, by the way.”
“You’re welcome.” His expression held amusement. “Looked like you needed it.”
She cringed. Great. Did she look like a lush, or something?
“Is it that obvious?”
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the bar. “That you seem to be having a rough day? A little bit.”
She sighed, wondering why he’d even bothered coming over at all, if she looked like a hot mess. Because, apparently, she did. “I was afraid of that.”
He chuckled lightly. “Don’t worry. You didn’t have Resting Bitch Face or anything like that.”
Her gaze snapped up to see his mouth spreading into a wide grin. Okay, he was teasing her. To most women, that would have been obvious. But Jade had enough experience with assholes to know that a lot of people who said things like that meant them in the most insulting ways.
“Well, that’s a relief,” she said, taking a long sip of her drink. “Because if I did, I’d have to really question your motives for coming over here.”
He released a full-bodied laugh. She couldn’t help but appreciate the way it made the lines of his face relax.
“Oh, I’ve become very adept at spotting that look and, trust me, I would have steered clear,” he said, his hand once again scratching his stubbled chin. “You just looked like you needed to unwind a little.”
She lifted an eyebrow as she shifted her stool to the side, facing more of her body in his direction. “Very astute.”
“That’s what they all say.” He winked and she had to smile. “I have a sister. So, recognizing those types of looks from an early age became a means of survival for me.”
She laughed. “Are you saying that a big guy like you is afraid of his sister?”
The look he sent her was full of mock horror. “You would be, too, if you knew her. I barely escaped my childhood home with my life.”
She laughed harder, shaking her head. Maybe this was what she needed to really take her mind off everything. A nice conversation with a funny, charming stranger.
Admittedly, she hadn’t had one of those in a long time.
“So, what brings you to this particular bar this evening?” he asked.
She was about to respond with the truth, but paused. He could actually have a toenail collection in his pocket. Weren’t a lot of serial killers normal-looking, unassuming people? Best not to risk being ax-murdered, and just stick to vague facts.
“Just passing through,” she responded. “You?”
He narrowed his eyes, and she knew he could sense she wasn’t going to reveal much. Wisely, he followed her lead.
“The same, I guess.” He took a drink, studying her over the bottle. “So, does that also mean I don’t get to learn your name?”
She touched the tip of her nose with her finger. “Like I said, you’re very astute.”
He nodded, and the corner of his mouth twitched. “Okay. What is it you do for a living, Red?” His gaze traveled over her mane of bright red hair, looking pleased with himself.
“Original,” she muttered.
He sent her another wink. “I’m a simple man, what can I say.”
She thought about how to answer his question without being too specific, and went with, “I’m an entrepreneur. I own my own business.”
His eyes turned thoughtful, though he didn’t press. “I have a feeling that’s all I’m going to get about that, so we’ll move on. And since I know you’re going to ask, I’m in construction.”
Sounded about right. His body sure as hell showed the fruits of his manual labor.
“You like your job, Bob?” she asked.
He choked on his beer. “Bob?”
She nodded. “Yeah. You know, like Bob the Builder?” She flicked her wrist in an absent wave, feeling the effects of the alcohol. “Plus, it rhymed with job.”
His expression turned wary. “I’m not sure what it says about me that I remind you of a children’s toy.”
She giggled—not the giggle, Jade!—and abruptly stopped. She let her gaze briefly roam down his body before coming back to rest on his face.
Where she saw the biggest shit-eating grin.
Yep. He’d definitely seen that.
She shrugged as if to say Can you blame me? His grin got bigger. But she wouldn’t let herself be embarrassed just because she’d checked him out. She’d felt him checking her out earlier, after all, so she was simply returning the favor.
“I don’t think anything about you could ever be described as childlike,” she said, hearing the involuntary drop in her voice.
Bob’s eyes darkened, noticeably heating. “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”
She nodded, returning her attention to her drink. “You should.”
“I feel a little better, then. Bob, it is.”
The air between them sparked with tiny jolts of electricity. She could practically see the way the mood had shifted, ever so slightly, in a different direction. A sexier, more naked one. Damn martinis, putting thoughts of sex into her head. She was not having sex with this guy. She didn’t do one-night stands. Never had a single one before in her life. Sex with someone she hardly knew made her nervous—it just wasn’t her thing.
She maintained her fascination with the two olives submerged in her drink. “You never answered my question. Do you like your job?”
He hesitated for a second before he responded. “Most days. There are highs and lows just like any other job, but overall I enjoy the work. Do you like owning your own business?”
What a loaded question. And one she couldn’t really answer. “We’ll see.”
His brow furrowed in question, but the bartender approached them before he could speak again. “Another round?”
They both looked at their empty drinks, and Bob raised an eyebrow to her. “What do you think? Can I buy you one more?”
What the hell.
She’d never see this guy again, and she was enjoying the conversation. What could one more hurt?
Half an hour later, she almost had vodka coming out of her nose.
They were telling each other stories from their jobs, resulting in fits of hysterical laughter.
“I kid you not,” she said, struggling to catch her breath. “The mother actually wanted the cake to say ‘Congratulations on Getting In, Dick.’ Her son’s name was Richard, went by Dick, and he had just gotten into law school. I tried to talk her into something else, but to her, it made complete sense.”
Bob was clutching his stomach as he wiped tears from the corners of his eyes.
“And when the sister came to pick it up,” Jade added, “she just looked down at it with a sigh, shook her head, and said ‘Not again, Mom.’”
They burst into another round of guffaws.
Jade had mentioned that her last job had been as a baker, so she was pretty sure he now assumed the business she owned was a bakery. She wasn’t about to correct him.
“Okay, okay, I got one,” he said after he collected himself. “When I was in high school, a buddy of mine asked me to help him with a job of putting polyurethane on the floors of a house. So we start rolling it on—mind you, neither one of us had ever worked with the stuff before—and after a while, we realize that we’re both feeling weird. Lightheaded, a little dizzy, and really spacey. We stop for a minute to go outside and get some fresh air, when it hits us.”
“What?” she asked, riveted. “You got sick?”
Bob shook his head, stifling a smile. “We were both high as fucking kites. We should have been wearing masks the whole time around that stuff, but we didn’t think about it. The rest of the day, we were stumbling around everywhere, our eyes glazed over. Hell, I was afraid to go home because I didn’t want my parents thinking I was on drugs or something.”
“Nope,” she mused. “Just huffing chemicals.”
“Then I got all paranoid that I was going to get drug tested and not be able to play football. Of course that was ridiculous, because it’s not like they test you for polyurethane exposure.” His eyes crinkled with restrained laughter when he looked at her. “I still pissed like a pregnant woman, though, thinking I needed to get it all out of my system. I was a complete dumbass.”
She about fell off her stool from laughing so hard, knowing full well she looked like the dumbass. At some point between her hunching over to catch her breath and trying to keep from spitting her drink all over the man, her hand had drifted down to his thigh.
Which did not go unnoticed by him.
He stared at her hand with a clenched jaw, his nostrils flaring. She knew she should remove it, but the alcohol was slowing down her reaction time. Majorly. She could tell herself she had grabbed him for balance, needing purchase to keep from face-planting on the floor. It was probably half true.
But somewhere in her subconscious, as she’d been delighting in his stories and reveling in his humor, she decided she wanted to touch him. Really, really wanted to touch him.
If she had been schooled in the ways of seduction, she could have transformed herself into a confident sex kitten, turning him on by purring sweet nothings into his ear.
Instead, she felt like a frazzled alley cat, aimlessly wandering around, waiting for someone to show her the way home.
As he slowly lifted his head, his gaze trailed up the length of her body, scanning over every inch of skin as if searing it to his memory. She let out a heavy breath when their eyes finally connected.
That was all she saw on his face.
All she felt in her body.
“You have a room, Red?” he said on a rasp.
She nodded. Yes, she did.
“You want to take me there?”
She nodded again. Yes, she did.
He gave her a curt nod. “Let’s go.”
Copyright © 2018, Melanie Munton. All rights reserved.