By Alexa Day
Ten days to Reno.
Ten days to the RT Booklovers Convention and days of splendiferous fun with loads and loads of romance authors and readers and books and parties and happy hours and general abundant good times. If you’re going, be sure to make a space on your calendar for the second coming of Never Have I Ever, Ever, hosted by my learned colleagues.
If you’re not going, hey, don’t sweat it. I’m not going, either. I expect to have my hands full right here.
Last year, I had some friends drop by to hang out on a fainting couch that wasn’t big enough for all five of us. If I were at RT with my friends and the couch, you and I would have had to have The Chat about how I’m not sharing and you need to bring your own friends. All that is easier to navigate if we’re each at home with our own couches, away from prying eyes.
But certainly it won’t take you all of ten days to get your calendar done or to get your own couch with your own friends. Honestly, some of you overachievers might manage to do both in ten days. What are you going to do with the extra time?
How about a trip to the beach? I can get you there and back in no time. You won’t even have to park. And this time you won’t have to bring your own friends. In my novella, Passing Through, you’ll get a whole summer with a very hot, very obedient Army Ranger, and you’ll be home in time for dinner.
You want to see a blurb?
The summer’s brought two surprises to bar owner Gigi Dean: the former Army Ranger she hired is the perfect barback, and he takes orders in bed as well as he does on the job. She swore long ago never to let a man come between her and her business, so pursuing the powerful attraction to her employee is a definite no-no. But how long can she resist the desire to put this alpha male on his knees?
Noah Monroe’s told his boss that he’s just passing through on the way to a more permanent job. He hasn’t told her that his hunger for her keeps him awake at night. He won’t have more than this summer with the gorgeous woman who is his perfect match. Can he coax her into his arms for a summer fling? Or will acting on instinct cost him everything he’s begun to love?
Sound inappropriate? Good. That’s my specialty. But don’t worry. Ever the responsible boss, Gigi has a conversation with her best employee right after their first night together. When Noah drives her home that night, she takes the opportunity to have that conversation again. Just so everyone knows where they stand. Or sit. Or lie down.
Check it out.
Driving home after work bothered Noah for reasons he used to have trouble naming. The traffic-clotted madness that marked his drive to the bar didn’t faze him. At rush hour, he was surrounded by people on their own missions, trying to get home or stop for groceries or meet friends for the evening. Late at night, he had the road to himself.
Not having all those people to pay attention to should have made things easier, but the empty streets pushed his senses to high alert. After a few weeks of making that late-night drive, he realized that part of him was looking for people. That side of him wasn’t nearly as hypervigilant as it used to be, but the quiet still bothered him.
Tonight, his boss’s directions provided just the right distraction. She led him deeper and deeper into the suburbs, away from the water and the highways lined with strip malls and hotels. Trees gave shelter to narrow drives, and petite houses lay in darkness. People envisioned this sort of place when they talked about settling down with a family.
“Nice neighborhood,” he said.
“This is where I grew up. Used to ride a bike up this very street.” She pointed out the open window. “Fell out of that oak tree once. Next right.”
As he made the turn, he caught her wistful grin. She had more stories to tell about growing up here. This had been the place she’d learned to drive a car. This was where she’d done homework. Daydreamed about a boy who would one day take her to prom. Her parents had left her with more than a business. She had a history in this neighborhood. She had a whole life with roots growing down deep in this place.
She had a home. Something stable to protect from transient barbacks passing through town.
Something inside him twisted painfully, but he willed the ache away. Whose fault was it that he didn’t have what she needed in her life? His whole history fit in the back of the truck with room to spare. He chose that for himself, connecting only with what lay inside his arm’s reach. Able to move and start over whenever he liked.
Her home and history still called to him, and the need to answer pulsed in his veins. When the time came, it would take all his strength to go.
She pointed at a farmhouse on the right. “There it is.”
He pulled into her driveway and coasted beneath the boughs of a tree to her carport. The ancient transmission clunked when he put the truck in park, and they turned to face each other as the engine gurgled.
They watched each other in silence for a few seconds. Years ago, a teenage Gigi would have looked across the front seat at some hormone-plagued boy, wondering if he would kiss her.
Noah chuckled. Who was he kidding? If this woman wanted to be kissed, no way she was going to sit there with her fingers crossed, waiting for it.
“Something funny, Monroe?”
“Just thinking, boss.”
She rooted deep inside her purse before pulling out her keys with a jingling flourish. “I’ll call Heather in the morning, I guess.” She glanced down at his lap briefly before her gaze skittered to the gearshift.
Damn if he was going to make this easy for her.
“I can pick you up if you want. You know, if you want to make a run on the way in.”
Her tempting lips pursed as she shook her head. “No, no. Heather has to be up early anyway, and she has the supply list.”
He tried without success to keep from smiling. Was she even going to thank him? “If you say so, boss.”
A breeze tickled the branches overhead, making them sigh. She’d probably sit here all night rather than ask him for anything. But she wanted to. She wouldn’t still be sitting here, her knee up on the bench seat, if she didn’t want something.
“You have a second to come in?” Her voice lacked a little of the steel she used at work, and for an instant, he wondered if he was wrong about the teenage Gigi, waiting on the passenger seat.
He turned off the engine and the truck shuddered to rest. “Yeah, I have a second.”
* * *
Gigi shut the door behind them and leaned against it. Noah waited for her in the living room. The hodgepodge of furniture, most of which her parents had left behind on their way to retirement, looked small and insubstantial around him. He towered over the coffee table like a giant.
She shook off the thought and jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the kitchen. “Want anything?”
He smiled and sat down on her couch. “I’m good,” he said.
She opened her refrigerator and stood in the chilly air, acutely aware of the heat of his gaze on her back. She’d invited him in to ask about their conversation from the other night, to be certain that there were no awkward aftereffects from the Fourth of July. She had no reason not to take him at his word, of course; Noah was a straight shooter through and through. But at work, he could be such a closed book, even when they were alone after last call. He’d never let on that there was more between them than work and one hot night on the patio. And the cab of the truck—that was where kids made out.
If they were going to have an adult conversation, they’d have it in the living room like adults.
She finally closed the fridge empty handed, cutting off the spill of light into the darkened room. When she turned back to the living room, she found Noah holding the hefty glass ashtray that weighed down the coffee table. He turned the unwieldy thing over and over, his thick fingers moving in the grooves cut for cigarettes.
Gigi grinned and joined him on the couch. “It’s an ashtray,” she explained.
He nodded, smiling. “Yeah, I know. My uncle had one like this. I haven’t seen one in years.”
“Home décor secrets of the Seventies,” she said, watching as he set the ashtray back on the coffee table. “This is your uncle who was in Vietnam?”
He nodded. “My Uncle Tim.”
“You really loved him, didn’t you?” The question was out into the air between them before she could stop it, more personal than anything that had yet happened when they were alone.
In the soft light of streetlamps, his gaze found hers. “Yeah. He was my favorite uncle.” He leaned back on the couch. “My dad’s oldest brother. He was old enough to be drafted to go to Vietnam like a bunch of other guys. Dad worshiped my Uncle Tim when they were kids.” He smiled at her. “He said when people asked him what he wanted to be, he used to say he wanted to be Uncle Tim.”
Gigi laughed, and Noah shifted on the couch. His smile slowly faded into something harder.
“Anyway, he went to Vietnam and came back home. When he got off the plane, this gorgeous woman came up to him. My uncle thinks, hey, this is great, this woman wants to flirt with the man in uniform. He opens his mouth to say something to this girl. And she spits in his face and then turns around and walks off.”
Gigi felt her mouth drop open, weightless. He glanced up at her, sorrow darkening his features.
“Dad said Uncle Tim wasn’t the same after that. It was like someone had taken whatever he used to be and shattered it, and then he wasn’t able to find all the pieces.” He sighed. “When we went to visit him and my Aunt Joanie, they were always happy enough to see us. I could kind of see what my dad saw in him. But sometimes I’d look over at him when we were watching TV, and he’d be staring at the floor, almost like he was wondering what happened to him.” He laced his fingers and set them on his knee. “You know, we’re doing all this stuff for veterans now. Free drinks and all that. College girls who want to climb you like a tree. Which is great. All that is great. But no one wants to remember that, a little while ago, people would wait for soldiers to get off the plane so they could spit in their faces.”
The silence stretched and grew thick between them. In the dark, she could all but hear him breathing.
“You learn a lot in the Army, boss. You learn that everyone’s there, willing to put it all on the line, for a different reason.” He looked up to meet her gaze. “And I never met one person who went all the way to Afghanistan for free beer. But little things like that matter anyway.”
“You didn’t have to tell me all that,” she said.
He shrugged. “Your ashtray just reminded me.” A long sigh slid out of him. “I guess it’s been trapped in there for a while.”
She had to reach to pat his knee. Resisting this need to make contact with him proved harder than simply giving in.
His hand covered hers, setting her heart on a jig. More than the excitement she’d been trying to fight for so long, she ached with a new emotion. She felt safe. Like he’d opened this part of himself to her now and wanted to welcome her inside.
She stared at their joined hands, long enough for her skin to tingle. She knew he was watching her with the same intensity he reserved for potential trouble on the job, for anything that might not go as planned.
Yeah, this qualifies.
He shifted again on the couch, and she forced her eyes to meet his. His fingers twined with hers. A whirlwind pushed at her insides, fear and need and this forbidden excitement chasing each other around her heart.
He reached for her slowly, cupping her face in his large palm. His rough thumb stroked her cheek.
“What do you need right now, boss?”
Gigi found her breath. “You said this was whatever we said it was.”
He nodded. “Right.”
“So what are we saying it is?” she whispered.
He closed most of the distance between them, stopping just inches away from her. “What do you need it to be?”
She tried to yank her hand out of his but he tightened his grip. Frustrated beyond endurance, she turned her gaze up to the ceiling. “Jesus, Monroe.” She looked back at him and wanted to pull that smirk off his face. “Can you really not answer a simple question like that?”
He slid his fingertips up to her chin, gently tugged her toward him. Their knees touched when they kissed. His mouth coaxed hers, teasing her, making the spark she was trying to suppress into a hungry flame.
He pulled away from her and pressed his forehead to hers. “I want you like I want air to breathe.” The rough caress of his whisper made her catch her breath. “But Gigi, you make the rules.” He kissed the corner of her mouth, his lips lingering there. “You tell me. You tell me what you want.”
She wanted him. She wanted to see all of him and hear every sound he could make, and even if it never happened again, with him or anyone else, she wanted him tonight.
“The bedroom is at the end of the hall.” She pulled back and away from his embrace. “Go down there and strip.”
Without a word, he rose and headed down the hallway, peeling off his shirt as he went. She stood up on suddenly uncertain legs and slowly followed him.
Don’t you love it when work meetings go a little long? Click and find out how Gigi evaluates her best employee.
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Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.