Breaking news: the Baltimore Harriers announced today that Cross Lecroix is out indefinitely due to the shoulder injury he sustained after dropping gloves with Erik Burke in last night’s heated overtime loss. #NoCrossNoCup #MaybeNextYearHarriers #HottestRivalryInHockey
Three months later…
“You look like you spent your entire day trying not to wring somebody’s neck.”
Kristen Burke slid onto her usual seat at the bar—on the end that wrapped around, so she could see everybody in the Firewall Bar & Grill—and picked up the vodka soda her favorite bartender set in front of her. “Nobody knows me like you do, Zach.”
“What is it you do again? You work in an office, right?”
She sipped her drink, pondering her answer. She was the unofficial office manager, as well as handling social media and promotion, for a very conservative boss with some political clout because it had been the best job opening for her overpriced degree and the most in line with her future goals, but she’d been working on her exit plan for a while. Once she was finally promoted to official office manager and he made that run for mayor he was gearing up for, she was going to be his chief of staff. And then she intended to use the experience and the contacts she gained to get a similar position with somebody whose personal views didn’t make her want to sit at this bar and have a vodka soda every night after work.
“I manage an office,” she said, but she really didn’t want to talk about it. “It’s boring and my boss is an asshat. What’s good tonight?”
“There’s a beef stew special in honor of it being freaking freezing outside, but based on the reactions I’m seeing, I highly recommend the salad.”
She laughed. “A salad sounds good. With some grilled chicken on top.”
Left alone to sip her drink and let the annoyances of the day slip away, she looked around the bar. It wasn’t very busy tonight since the more casual patrons were probably staying home, out of the bitter cold, so if he was here, she wouldn’t have any trouble spotting him.
And there he was, sitting at the same table he’d been at two nights ago. Thick brown hair. A well-trimmed beard. Broad shoulders. She could tell he was tall, even though he was sitting down. And she knew from the one time he’d glanced up and they’d made eye contact on her way to the restroom that his eyes were very dark. So intensely dark she’d actually shivered.
“Do you know who that guy is?” she asked Zach once she’d finished the salad and he’d brought her a fresh vodka soda. “The one in the gray Henley shirt toward the back?”
Zach took a look and then shook his head. “Nope. I’ve seen him in here three or four times, but he’s not chatty, and he seems to keep to himself.”
Kristen wasn’t surprised. Something about him, whether it was the way the soft cotton shirt hugged his body or the way he carried himself, suggested the man didn’t quite fit in with this crowd.
Not that there weren’t other attractive, leanly muscular guys to be found in the greater Boston area. But this particular watering hole attracted a techie crowd, and this guy was not only rough around the edges, but his phone appeared to be a generation or two out of date.
She’d seen him a couple of times before tonight, and she’d been interested since that first glance. He usually had a meal with a couple of ice waters, paid his bill, and then took his time nursing a coffee while looking at his phone. She was pretty sure he was reading, based on the rhythm of his thumb swiping, and she had a serious thing for guys who liked to read.
A few women and a couple of guys had tried to strike up conversations with him, and Kristen had been close enough to overhear a couple of them. He was polite and friendly, while making it obvious he wasn’t looking for company.
A smoking hot guy who enjoyed good food, liked to read, and wasn’t looking for an easy hookup was totally Kristen’s type when it came to easy hookups.
“He pay with a credit card?” she asked Zach and smiled when he nodded.
He wouldn’t give her any of the guy’s information—and she wouldn’t ask—but she knew Zach would take note of it, so if Kristen’s judgment was off and something happened to her, the police would at least be able to identify the guy she’d last been seen with. It wasn’t much, but it made her feel slightly safer, and it beat being in a long-term, monogamous relationship with her vibrator.
After paying her tab, she took her drink with her and made her way to the guy’s table, coming to a stop in his peripheral vision. “What are you reading?”
He looked up, and she saw the flash of annoyance in his dark eyes before his eyebrow arched and a slow smile curved his lips. “A biography of Abigail Adams.”
She snorted. “Sure you are.”
He slanted the screen in her direction, so she could see the text. “Ask me anything.”
“Where was she born?”
“Not far from here, actually. In Weymouth.” He pushed the chair across the table from him out with a shove of his foot. “Have a seat.”
A little bossy, but she didn’t mind that in a man.
No, that wasn’t true. She very much minded it, as a rule, but not from a man who was looking at her as if he was imagining what her naked body would feel like under him.
“I’m Will.” He extended his hand across the table.
“Kristen.” He didn’t offer a last name, and she didn’t ask. She didn’t care. And she also didn’t offer hers.
But she did take his hand, putting hers in his much larger one. It was less of a handshake and more of an excuse for physical contact, and the touch lingered as his thumb stroked over her knuckles. Even though he didn’t squeeze, she could feel the strength in him.
“Okay, Will,” she said, once he’d let go of her with visible reluctance. That was a very good sign. “What’s a guy like you doing reading a book like that in a place like this?”
“I’m reading a book like this because Abigail was an interesting lady and my mom recommended it to me. I’m in a place like this because I heard a rumor they make grilled chicken that isn’t over-seasoned rubber, and I keep coming back because the rumor was true and because I like hearing you laugh.”
“Sweet sentiment, but I’ve seen plenty of women hit on you, and you always leave alone.”
“They weren’t you.” He knocked back the last of his coffee and then leaned back in his chair. “You’re always alone. No significant other?”
“No time for others, significant or otherwise. But sometimes I like company.” At this point, if he didn’t take the hint, she was walking away. “I’m really choosy about it.”
“I’ve been told I’m pretty good company.”
Judging by the confidence evident in his body language and expression, she was willing to bet he was more than pretty good and he knew it.
That was okay. She liked confidence in a man. Sure, there was a fine line between confident and cocky, but Will seemed to have his feet planted on the right side of the line. Barely.
“You have any plans for tonight?” she asked, ready to move the party back to her place. She wanted to touch him again and more extensively, and she wanted that touching to happen behind closed doors.
“I was planning to spend the evening with Abigail here,” he said in a low voice, before he gave her a look that curled her toes. “But you are far more fascinating to me.”
“I live a couple blocks away. If you can stand the cold, you’re welcome to come keep me company.”
“I’m pretty comfortable with the cold. Let me pay for your drink and we can get out of here.”
“Thanks, but I pay for my own drinks. And I already settled up, so I’m ready when you are.” She drained her glass and stood as he grabbed his coat off the back of the chair and slipped it on.
Zach gave her a thumbs-up on the sly when she walked past the bar to get her coat, and she was impressed when Will took the parka from her so he could hold it. Holding the cuffs of her soft, cream sweater, she shoved her arms into the coat’s sleeves.
Then he gathered her hair in his hands, and she sucked in a breath as his fingertips brushed her neck in the process. Awareness of his body, so close behind hers that she could feel his breath as he tugged her hair free of her collar, sizzled through her. The anticipation of what was to come was delicious, and her hands trembled slightly as she zipped her parka.
The chivalry lasted throughout the short walk to her building. He held the bar door for her. He walked on the curb side of the sidewalk. And whenever the biting wind gusted, he’d try to adjust his pace to shield her from the worst of it.
So, Will was a gentleman in the streets, she mused as she let them into her building and nodded to the night security guard before crossing the lobby to the elevator. Hopefully he’d be just as attentive in the sheets.
“This is a really nice place,” he said as he followed her down the wide, well-decorated hallway to her door.
“I like it.” She figured he was probably fishing for more information about her. Like how she earned the paychecks that footed the bill for this apartment. Or whether she’d kept it in a divorce. She’d heard a few theories over the years, but so far none of her male visitors had guessed the truth. And she’d like to keep it that way. “Good security. Lots of cameras in the lobby and the hallways. Good amenities, too.”
Will made a noise that sounded like agreement, but he didn’t push the subject. He either didn’t care how she’d come to live here or he’d already figured out if she wanted to say more, she would.
Kristen liked that about him. She liked a lot about him, actually. As she glanced at him while unlocking her door, he watched her with those dark eyes and gave her a wicked grin that practically took her breath away.
She was definitely looking forward to getting to know him better.
Will Lecroix wasn’t sure what to make of the tall and very shiny building his new friend brought him home to, with its security desk and pass-carded elevator. She’d seemed more like the artsy loft type to him, and he’d been hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with a roommate situation. He was too old for that shit, and being shushed during sex was a serious mood killer.
Not that he was particularly loud, but he really hoped he was going to hear Kristen yelling his name into her pillow tonight.
He followed her into her apartment, standing to one side so she could close and lock the door, and looked around. The mystery of Kristen deepened. The place was immaculate, with high-end fixtures and one hell of a view of the city behind the large window. It looked like a large, open-concept, studio-type apartment, with a couple of doors on the back wall he assumed led to the bedroom and bathroom.
But rather than being filled with the kind of expensive décor that always made him afraid to make himself at home lest he knock something over, Kristen’s home was sparsely decorated with battered leather furniture that looked good quality and comfortable but definitely had some years on them.
“You can hang your coat up if you want,” she said, pointing into the closet where she’d just hung hers.
“Thanks.” Now came the awkward transition time between the pickup and the bedroom, he mused as he put his phone, keys, and wallet in his coat pockets and hung the garment on an empty hanger.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked, and there was nothing awkward about the way she looked at him. She wasn’t nervous or trying to figure out the next step. She just wasn’t in a hurry to get on with it. “I have vodka, coffee, and water.”
He chuckled. “I’ll take a glass of water. I’m a decaf-after-dark kind of guy.”
“Noted.” She walked toward the refrigerator. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Choosing the corner of the sofa that allowed him to watch her fill two glasses with ice and water from the fridge dispensers, he did as he was told.
He’d eaten at the bar his first night in the city, on the recommendation of some of his teammates who knew Boston well. Finding a place with good food where he would go totally unnoticed could be hard at times, even when he wasn’t in Baltimore, so he’d been happy with it at first. Then he’d seen Kristen walk through the door and became an instant regular.
There had been eye contact the second night, when she’d been on her way to the ladies’ room, and he’d seen the interest. But he hadn’t approached her or struck up a conversation because the last thing he needed right now was any kind of a relationship. It might vent some of his pent-up frustrations, but it wouldn’t be fair to a woman who was looking for more.
When she walked over to his table tonight, any willpower he might have been able to summon was depleted the second he looked up. Her soft sweater and well-worn jeans hugged ample curves his hands wanted to explore, and the athlete in him had been just as aroused by the challenge in her bright blue gaze.
Can you handle this?
He was sure as hell going to try.
Kristen handed him one of the glasses before sitting in the other corner of the couch, slightly sideways so she could see him.
“I don’t really care what you do for work or what your zodiac sign is,” she said, and he appreciated the bluntness. They were both on the same page, then. “But what I do want to know is if you usually choose where you spend your evenings based on rumors about their grilled chicken.”
“Good grilled chicken is hard to find.” It was one of the truest things he’d ever said. “Good grilled chicken I can eat while watching you? That I’ll keep coming back for.”
“If I hadn’t joined you tonight, how long would it have taken you to approach me?”
He probably wouldn’t have, no matter how badly he wanted to talk to her. If she wanted his company, she’d let him know. He’d been expecting a flirtatious smile or a tip of her head toward the empty stool next to her, but instead she’d made her interest a little more plain. He liked that about her.
“I would have worked my way around to it,” he said, not wanting her to feel as if he would have just passed her by. And maybe he would have broken his own rule and approached her eventually because she was not a woman a person could keep passing by. “I didn’t want to be pushy.”
“I don’t mind pushy.” She paused to take a sip of her drink, still watching him over the rim of her glass. “Just be prepared for me to push back.”
Anticipation flooded his veins as she stood and took the few steps needed to close the distance between them. She set her drink down and then took the water out of his hand. When she set the glass next to hers, he assumed she’d take his hand and lead him to her bedroom, but she hooked her thumbs in the waistband of the soft, black leggings she was wearing and peeled them down before kicking them away.
Catching a glimpse of silky black panties when she threw one leg over his, Will ran his hands over her thighs as she straddled his lap. His fingertips pressed into her soft flesh, denting her skin, and his dick strained against his fly.
She pulled the sweater off and flung it away, treating him to the sight of her pale skin covered by a cream-colored, lace-trimmed bra before she leaned down and covered his lips with hers.
He closed his eyes, her mouth claiming his as his hands roamed her soft, curvy body. She was lush and perfect and the way she moaned when his thumbs brushed over her taut, fabric-covered nipples seemed to vibrate through his entire body.
This, he thought, was going to be so worth closing his book for.