When Nicholas James draws Stephanie Martin’s name in their law firm’s Secret Santa exchange he knows he’s in for a merry Christmas—if he can figure out what to give the woman he’s wanted for months. When he works late and finds a crumpled piece of paper listing Steph’s personal wish list, he knows he’s in luck. Because all Steph wants for Christmas is him, in a number of naughty ways. And not-so saintly Nick is going to make every one of her carnal wishes come true.
Nicholas James, the hottest man on the planet, was bare-assed naked with a bow covering his cock.
Steph gaped. And not just any kind of gape, but a “bug-eyed, mouth hanging open to catch flies” kind of gape. Before she could even think twice, she flipped up the red bow and then drooled at what was under it. Oh. My. God.
“Jesus, Steph,” muttered her paralegal Elaine, bringing her sharply back to the festive conference room and the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing holiday songs. “Your Secret Santa gift can’t be that bad. Let me see it.” She held out her hand and beckoned with her fingers, showing off long acrylic nails with airbrushed snowmen.
Hugging the silver foil box to her chest, Steph thrust over the restaurant gift certificate that had concealed the photo beneath—the photo with the clever little bow strategically glued with just enough hinge to afford her an eyeful.
“Ooohhh, nice. I love Dominico’s.” Elaine’s red painted mouth curved in a smile.
“You should take me. All of my dates are too cheap to go there.”
“Uh.” Turning her head, Steph searched the crowded conference room for the naked man of her dreams. Of course, Nicholas wasn’t naked right now. Not at the Mitchell, Jones, and Cline annual Christmas party. No, right now he was wearing beautifully tailored slacks in dark blue, a crisp white shirt with blue tie and white silk vest. She loved that he wore three-piece suits. Somehow, the urbanity of his clothing only served to accentuate the raw masculine power of his body. He was single and gorgeous, and like most single and gorgeous men, he led an active lifestyle which kept him in fine shape.
Just the sort of man most women were wildly attracted to. She, however, avoided him like the plague. She’d learned her lesson the first time.
Her breath caught.
There he was. By the door.
You could hardly miss him. Not when he was so tall and broad shouldered. His dark hair gleamed under the glow of blinking strings of Christmas lights as he leaned his lanky frame casually against the doorjamb. He was staring at her with a wicked half smile.
Then he winked.
Realization hit her hard and made her gasp.
Somehow, he’d found her wish list. The fantasy one. The silly stupid naughty wish list.
* * * * *
Nick knew the exact moment Steph caught on. The flush spread up from the low V
of her teal silk blouse and then colored her cheeks.
Finally! After almost a year of flirting that got him nothing more than the occasional inconvenient hard-on, he was getting what he really wanted for Christmas—the opportunity to prove he was the man for her. He wished he could say it was his charm that won Stephanie over, but that wasn’t the case. No, he’d had to wait for fate to step in and slip her name into his hand for their law firm’s annual Secret Santa draw. He’d opened up the folded slip of paper, saw Stephanie Martin and grinned like an idiot.
For about one second.
Then he’d realized he’d have to come up with not only a great gift, but a great gift she’d have to share with him, and not one of the other drooling Lotharios around their firm. He’d walked through endless crowded malls, surfed a hundred online shopping sites, grilled every one of his ex-girlfriends and female relatives—all to no avail. They couldn’t understand why he didn’t just ask Stephanie out, instead of trying to plan something elaborate to make his point.
The answer was really very simple. He had a reputation as a ladies’ man. She’d heard about it and didn’t want anything to do with him because of it. So straight up asking for a date wouldn’t work. He had to show her he was serious first.
Steph’s reticence wasn’t a new experience for Nick. Most of the women who were strictly platonic friends were ones who’d made it clear they were looking for Mr. Right.
Not Mr. Right Now. Starting in high school, Nick had learned how to give the “not going to settle down” vibe pretty well. Not that he didn’t have committed relationships.
He did. They just weren’t the forever kind of commitment.
So he’d tried to respect Steph’s obvious non-interest, but the gnawing craving in his gut wouldn’t go away. He wanted her—wanted that long dark hair wrapped around his fist, wanted those dark brown eyes burning with lust, wanted that lushly curved body out of the business suits and arching naked beneath him. And even though he knew it was never going to happen, Nick couldn’t stop dreaming about it.
Steph was gorgeous, beautifully built, confident and intelligent. She knew her assets and showed them off. She also knew her worth and wanted a man who did.
What had she said to him once?
But he wasn’t a fly-by-night kind of boyfriend. He took damn good care of the women he dated. He paid attention to what they liked and didn’t like. It wasn’t so hard.
It just took a little effort, and Nick enjoyed making that effort. Enjoyed watching their surprise when he remembered their favorite author, favorite song, favorite places to be touched and caressed. Because of this, most of his exes were still his friends.
“You’re staring,” teased a soft voice beside him.
He tore his gaze away from Steph’s wide eyes to look at the woman next to him.
“Looks like she liked your gift,” Amanda said with a fond smile. “Why didn’t I ever get naked pics of you when we were dating?”
“You never asked.”
Stephanie hadn’t either, at least not in the verbal sense. He’d been staying late one night working on his billable hours. The goal was twofold—to get a decent cushion for the holiday time off work and also to forget about how he couldn’t find a damn thing to give Steph that would get his foot in her door. The ploy wasn’t working, so he’d stood and began to pace the hall that formed a ring around the center receptionist’s desk and elevators.
That was when it caught his eye. The small, crumpled ball of paper missed or dropped by the nighttime cleaning crew. It was wedged next to the polished wood leg of their waiting room sofa. He’d picked it up with the intention of tossing it when a bit of red and green caught his eye. Steph had been using a cute little stocking-shaped notepad ever since the first of the month. Christmas was obviously one of her favorite holidays, if the tiny decorated tree on her desk was any indication. He knew instantly the festive bit of trash had once belonged to her, and it took on new meaning just because of that.
So feeling a bit guilty but unable to help himself, Nick opened the bit of trash…
And he’d been thanking his lucky stars ever since.
At the top of the striped paper were the words Wish List printed in a font designed to resemble a child’s scrawl. Below that were the beautifully formed letters he recognized as Steph’s handwriting.
And then she’d run a slash through that list and begun a new one.
The shock of that list had hit him so hard he’d stumbled into the nearby couch.
He’d understood then that Stephanie had been fooling him the whole time, just like she would a jury. Acting unaffected when she was really as hot for him as he was for her.
No woman had such detailed sexual thoughts about a guy she wasn’t totally into. She’d obviously been thinking about him for awhile.
Images inspired by her words filled his mind. His cock swelled and he wondered how he’d make it back to his office, let alone the parking garage eighteen floors below.
He needn’t have worried. Her next shakily written line took all the heat out of him and left him cold.
In that moment he’d discovered two things. One—no matter how much she wanted his body, she still didn’t want anything to do with him. To the point where she was considering transferring to their firm’s other office across town.
Two—the thought of not seeing her nearly every day struck him like a physical blow. Too painful for his interest to be merely casual. He’d realized then what the tight knot in his gut was trying to tell him.
Somewhere along the way, the purely sexual desire he had for her had become something more. Maybe it’d happened when they’d worked that last case together and she kept blowing his mind with her brains. Or maybe it was when she’d cried over a verdict and hadn’t tried to hide it from him. Whatever it was, he’d be damned if his past got in the way of what they both wanted.
This Christmas, not so saintly Nick was making sure all of Stephanie Martin’s wishes came true.
Steph left the conference room party the moment Nick’s attention was drawn away.
She had the next two weeks off. If she could just slip out of the office, she could get out of this mortifying situation.
She’d had a feeling when she threw out that stupid scrap of paper that she should rip it up first. Or burn it. But then she’d told herself she was just being paranoid. The damn thing was in the trash. Who was going to see it? Certainly not Nick. He didn’t dig in trashcans. Or so she’d thought.
As her temper rose, her step quickened and she reached her office in record time.
This was ridiculous. Those were private scribblings made during an especially boring meeting. She hadn’t been able to concentrate with Nick sitting across from her and looking as impossibly gorgeous as ever. Instead, she’d been totally absorbed in staring at the small part of his wrist visible at the edge of his cuff—hair-dusted dark skin next to the gold of his watchband and the white of his shirt. That little flash of nothing had made her hot and damp between the thighs.
There was just something about Nicholas James. Maybe it was the dangerous beauty of his face. Or that tall, well-honed body. Perhaps it was his amazing intelligence and aggressive stance in the courtroom. Or maybe it was his pro bono work for the Abused Women’s Program… Shit, she didn’t know why. She just knew his track record with women was bad news and she’d already had enough bad news to last a lifetime.
She growled. That damn list had been a form of purging therapy. None of it was ever meant literally. Still, as she shoved documents into her briefcase, she grabbed the silver box with the X-rated photo of Nick and shoved it in too.
“Merry Christmas to me,” she muttered.
“I’m just getting started,” purred a deep voice in her ear. The delicious sound hit the top of her spine and then curled all the way down.
Mouth open to protest, she spun to face her tormentor.
And found herself hauled up against a rock-hard body and kissed senseless.
Taken completely off guard, by the time her addled brain figured out who was accosting her and what he was doing, she didn’t want him to stop. As her senses filled with the scent of aroused male, the hands pushing against Nick’s shoulders slipped around them instead.
“Don’t,” she whispered against his mouth.
Groaning softly in answer, Nick tilted his head and deepened his already drowning kiss. He tugged, stealing her balance so that she tumbled into him. Taking the advantage, he lifted her and sat her on the desk, wedging his lean hips intimately between her thighs. Instantly the throbbing that had begun the minute he touched her turned into an all-consuming ache. “Nick…”
His damp forehead rested against hers, his panting breaths hot against her swollen lips. “Let me give you what you want for Christmas, Steph.”
“I don’t want you.”
“Liar.” His hand came up and cupped her breast. Expert fingertips found the hardened nipple that betrayed her. Kissing his way to her ear, he whispered, “I bet you’re creamy for me.”
“Jesus, Nick!” She shivered but couldn’t deny it.
“I locked the door…”
“Are you crazy?” she shot back, pushing his wandering hand away.
Nick caught her hips, pulled her to the edge of the desk and fit the hard length of his cock directly against her pussy.
“Yes.” He moved his hips, nudging her clit through the soft fabric of their dress pants. She whimpered.
“Don’t you know how crazy I am about you?”
“You’re crazy about all women.”
“No,” he argued, thrusting against her with greater urgency. “I like women. I’m crazy about you.”
The sweet friction of his dry fucking made her cunt spasm with need. With her heart racing and her breathing labored, she pushed at him weakly. “Stop that… I can’t think…”
“You think too much.” He held her in place as he rubbed his cock against her. She hadn’t bothered with the lights when she’d entered, since moonlight lit the room through the floor-to-ceiling window. But even in the semi-dark, his eyes burned with a hunger that made her throat tight. Holding her still, he stroked the impressive length of his cock up and down her slit. He was so gorgeous, so determined, just watching him pleasuring them both was nearly orgasmic by itself. “I want you, Steph. I’ve wanted you a long time. And you want me too.”
On the verge of coming, Steph set her hands on the desk and swiveled her hips into that large straining bulge, stroking him with her pussy. Nick’s raw, pained moan was the impetus that pushed her over. Crying out, she rode the waves of pleasure that spread through her veins and made her dizzy.
“That’s it,” he praised hoarsely, rocking into her, making it last. “Ah, sweetheart.
You’re so beautiful.”
She sagged into his chest as the tension fled. With her hot face pressed against his throat, the scent of his skin was nearly overwhelming. “Oh my God,” she groaned, wishing the earth would open up and swallow her whole. The last thing Nick’s ego needed was her hair-trigger orgasm.
“It’s been awhile for you, hasn’t it?” His large hands stroked the length of her back, gentling her.
“You’re not going to take credit for that?” She couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Me?” He pulled back slightly. “I wish. That was all you. But the next one’s on me.”
A laugh escaped against her will and she buried her face in his shoulder to hide her smile. He was charming, she’d never denied that. “There’s not going to be a next time.”
His embrace was nearly crushing. “Whatever. You really had me fooled. Until I saw that wish list, I thought you didn’t like me.”
“It’s not about whether I like you or not, Nick. In fact, I think you’re a great guy, but—”
“You’re looking for someone to get serious.”
“Actually, I’m not looking for anyone.”
“I could get serious.” Cupping her face in his hands, he used his thumbs to stroke her cheeks. “There’s no reason I can’t. But we’ll never know if you don’t give me a chance.”
“Why?” She pushed him away. “Because we have the hots for each other? Being horny isn’t the basis for a relationship and I don’t want to be your experiment in monogamy.”
“There she is,” he said softly, stepping back so she could slide off the desk. “The exterior woman who doesn’t want me, while the real Steph inside does.”
She winced. The real Steph had learned to give up some of the things she wanted. It was a sacrifice she’d accepted gladly when she made it. “Are we done here?”
“No way. Not nearly.” He ran his hand through his thick, glossy hair.
She regretted that she hadn’t touched it when she had the chance. “You didn’t get off, but I don’t feel too guilty about that. You can have any of the girls in the conference room.”
“Fuck you, Steph,” he said gruffly. “This isn’t about getting laid and you know it.”
She snorted. “This is all about getting laid.”
Suddenly he straightened, his eyes lit with a dangerous glint. “Give me a couple days to go through your wish list. Then, once you’ve lived out your fantasies—all of which happen to be mine as well—we can get back to business as usual. Minus all this sexual tension.”
“That’s not going to work.” But her stomach did a little flip at the thought.
“Then you switch offices anyway, like you planned. But at least we got to have wild, sweaty, dirty sex before you go. If this is all about getting laid, let’s do it.”
She could see it in his eyes. “A hotel?” she suggested, resigned. A girl had only so much willpower and faced with a watertight argument, what else could she do?
At least that’s what her inner devil said.
“My place,” he said smoothly, having the grace not to gloat. “I’ve got everything I need to cook dinner—” He flashed a dazzling grin. “Naked.”
“Oh, Lord…” She was blushing, she could feel it. That he knew her secret longings was embarrassing in the extreme. And a major turn-on, which was dangerous. She had to keep the two separate—the lawyer she admired and the playboy she wanted to fuck.
“Let’s just keep this simple.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded slip of paper. Tucking it in her hand, he brushed his lips across hers. “No. You’ve been a good girl, so you deserve to have your wishes come true.” He kissed her again and it didn’t escape her for a second that he was the star of her sex dreams. “Come on, Steph, play along. It’ll be fun.”
Fun. Guys like Nick were always having fun.
“That’s directions to my condo. I’ll be waiting.”
* * * * *
By the time Steph got to Nick’s place, she was balls to the wall committed to having a good time. If she was going to binge, she was gorging. Period. So when she rang the doorbell and Nick answered wearing nothing but a Santa hat and an apron that said
“Kiss the Cook”, she didn’t hesitate. She dropped her mini-duffle at his feet and jumped him.
“Shit.” He stumbled backward in surprise but managed to shove the door closed before spinning his way to the nearest couch. They fell into black leather in a puddle of semi-naked gorgeous male and determined female.
Straddling him, Steph leaned forward and kissed him hard and deep. His scent inundated her senses and her nipples hardened into aching points.
She sat up atop the hard ridge of his erection, an obvious sign that he was as ready as she. Digging into the pocket of her billowy gauze skirt, she pulled out a condom and tossed it on his chest. “Hurry up and put that on.”
Blinking up at her, Nick sputtered, “Just like that? Wham, bam, let’s fuck?”
“Hell, no.” As she lifted to her knees to pull up her skirt, he fumbled for the foil package with comical haste. Then he glanced up and stilled, his gaze riveted between her legs. “Oh man. Steph… You’re not wearing panties.”
“Ooops. Must have forgotten those.” She tucked the trailing hem into the elastic waistband.
Dropping the condom, he licked his lips. “Whose wish list are we working on here?”
The heat banked in his heavy-lidded eyes made her shiver. His Santa hat was askew, his dark hair pushed over his forehead. Adding in the apron, he should have looked silly. Instead, he looked edible. His arms were sexy as hell, the skin still bearing the remnants of a dark summer tan, the muscles beneath beautifully defined.
“Come here.” The command was issued in a seductively husky voice that made goose bumps cover her skin despite the fire crackling in the fireplace.
“Come where?” she teased softly.
“Come in my mouth, sweetheart. I want to lap you up.”
Forcing herself to crawl over him slowly so she didn’t look desperate, Steph kneeled astride his head. With one knee on the sofa armrest and the other on the very edge of the couch, she was spread wide, affording him an unhindered view. His warm hands slid up her thighs, his breath gusted over her sex. He squeezed her ass. She whimpered her excitement…
And then he licked her cunt in a long deliberate lap.
She clutched the back of the sofa like a lifeline and moaned.
Kneading the backs of her thighs, he settled in to feast, gliding his tongue through her slit. Dipping inside her. Finding all the places that made her cry out and concentrating there before drifting away to find somewhere else. And then returning to stroke back and forth across her clit.
“Don’t come too soon,” he murmured as her legs began to shake.
“Are you kidding?” she gasped, her hips rocking into his busy mouth. “Don’t be so good at this.”
His chuckle was filled with pure masculine satisfaction. “I want to be fucking you when you come.”
She shuddered violently. “You better hurry up with that condom then.”
“I’m ready whenever you are.”
Nick’s grin was pure wickedness. “I guess you were a little distracted.”
Glancing down the couch, her eyes widened. He’d flipped up the apron and sheathed the object of her day and night dreams. Long, thick and arching up to his stomach, his cock made her mouth water. No wonder the man had that air about him that screamed I know how to fuck your brains out. The picture hadn’t done him justice.
She swallowed hard and moved to straddle his hips. He angled his cock upward solicitously. Her chest tight and heart racing, Steph paused just above him. It was the point of no return. Nothing would ever be the same between them once they had sex.
Could she handle that? Could she keep the distance she needed?
Her gaze shot up to meet his.
“Remember your list?” Nick’s handsome face was flushed and his lips were slick with her cream, but despite the blatantly sexual look about him, his blue eyes shimmered with just as much compassion as lust. “It’s okay to take what you want,” he said softly. “Especially when it’s given to you.”
She took a deep breath. Suddenly, she registered the holiday music playing softly and the smell of pine from the small, undecorated tree in the corner. If she went home, she’d be alone right now. Or she could spend the night with Nicholas James.
She’d wanted this, wanted him. It was Christmas, damn it!
Slick with desire, she sank onto him slowly, taking the only thing she’d asked for this year. The only thing she’d asked for in many years. To be touched and held. To be wanted.
“Oh yeah,” he groaned, his hands stroking along her thighs, his back arching. “God, you feel good.”
Steph bit her lower lip as the languorous glide continued. His cock filled her too full. The heat and hardness of it stole her breath. The wonderful length and width… As her buttocks hit his muscular thighs and the head of his cock struck deep, the sound that was torn from her was raw and needy.
“I’ve got you,” he soothed gruffly as she leaned over him, shaking. He stroked the length of her spine, murmuring, “Lift up a little… Shush, I’ll give it to you… Right there. Now don’t move.”
His hips lifted, stroking her cunt with a breathless thrust.
“Nick. Oh my God!” She buried her face in his neck, her pussy spasming around him.
He lowered and lifted again, fucking upward into her greedy depths. “How’s that feel?” he panted.
“Like I’m losing my mind.” She lifted her head and looked at him. His chest rose and fell harshly against her breasts, making her wish she’d taken the time to get naked so she could feel him skin to skin.
“Good. I’d hate to be the only one.” Holding her hips steady, he quickened his pace, surging upward in a relentless rhythm, withdrawing until only the thick head breeched her and then plunging balls deep with primal grunts.
Keening softly, she clutched his shoulders and braced herself for the slap of his hips against hers. He felt so good… He smelled delicious…
Nick spoke through gritted teeth, “Don’t wait for me.” He punctuated his order with a brutally hard thrust that caught her clit in just the right spot.
Her orgasm was stunning. She was paralyzed, unable to move, every cell in her body focused on the rippling of her cunt along his endless length of hard cock. He jerked beneath her then crushed her to his chest, growling in her ear as he came.
Holding him, she listened to the violent beating of his heart and the soft sounds of music, and she felt cared for.
For the first time in a long time it felt like Christmas.
Nick held Stephanie close and tried to focus his eyesight on the cobweb that hung in the corner. It was almost impossible. His brain and body felt like mush, which was really saying something considering how energized he’d been while waiting for her to arrive. He’d been worried she might not show and if that happened, there would be no way he could track her down until the office was open again. He had no idea how to reach her outside of work.
Then she’d rang the bell and he’d run to the door, feeling like a kid on his first date.
And when she’d tackled him, he felt like a king.
He’d always known she would be like that, warm and open and sexy as hell. No shyness about her when it came to getting down and dirty. Just like when she argued a case, she gave one hundred percent to everything she did. Lucky for him, he got to be on the receiving end of that attention to detail.
And he wanted it to stay that way.
Steph wiggled just a tiny bit and it was enough to remind them both that his cock was still buried inside her. His balls gave a last weary twitch and his eyes slid closed in contentment. It’d been a long time since he’d come that hard and even longer since he’d cared this deeply about the woman he did it with.
“Hmm?” He nuzzled against her neck.
“You didn’t have anything on the stove, did you?”
Groaning, he said, “Nah, but the oven’s on for the breadsticks.”
She sighed. “We should probably go check on that.”
It was the “we” that got to him. He’d wanted to be a “we” with Stephanie Martin for the last several months. Looking back now, he thought he knew when it’d hit him.
She’d been standing in the break room talking to Charles from Entertainment and while laughing at something said to her, she’d met Nick’s gaze and winked.
In that little blink of an eye, he’d fallen hard.
That tiny wink had said so much. It was playful and affectionate, and it had warmed him on the inside enough to know that out of all the women in his world, she was the one he wanted to spend his down time with.
Sliding off him carefully, Steph rose to her feet and wobbled a bit. When he stood, the same thing happened. His legs felt like jelly.
“Jeez, Steph,” he said, laughing and clutching her close. “You wrung me out.”
Her blush was lovely and he hated to let her go, but he had dinner to cook. He needed to charm her with more than his bedroom skills. So after a quick kiss on the nose, he moved toward the kitchen. Catching up her duffle on the way, he set it on a dining chair and took note of the luggage tag.
“Stephanie Donovan?” he asked as he pulled off the condom and tossed it.
She was righting her skirt and didn’t look up. “My maiden name.”
“I didn’t know you were divorced.” He turned on the faucet and studied her as he washed his hands.
“It’s not something that comes up and I don’t like to talk about it.”
“That bad, huh?”
Nick dried his hands then turned to light the burner beneath the waiting pot of water. “Want some wine? A beer?”
“A beer would be nice, thanks.” Steph took a seat on a barstool at the breakfast bar.
“It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t good.”
He grabbed a couple longnecks out of the fridge, twisted off the tops and set one in front of her. “How long ago did you break up?”
“A couple years. Should have been sooner, but we were both too stubborn to admit it wasn’t working.”
Catching up her hand, he gave it a squeeze. “You hate to give up. It’s what makes you such a damn good lawyer.”
“Thanks.” Her dark eyes sparkled with warmth at his compliment. “Tom and I never should have gotten married. We were friends in law school, nothing more. He was such a player, I never took him seriously. Then somehow we ended up together and I still can’t figure out how or why.”
“I thought so, but really I think we did it just because it was ‘time’, you know? Tom felt like he was at the age where he should get married. All of his colleagues were married and I think he started to feel a little out of place.”
“I can see that,” he admitted, resting his elbows on the granite countertop.
She wrinkled her nose and it hit him suddenly that he’d just been inside her, holding her, touching her however he wanted. It was the first time he could remember where he didn’t forget the sex as soon as it was done. Fucking Steph was an addition to an already established relationship and not the entire reason for it.
Now if he could only change their professional relationship into a personal one. He had to admit, he was usually actively working to do just the opposite so he was out of his depth.
“Do guys have a marriage clock?”
He laughed. “Like a biological clock?”
“I guess there is some peer pressure after awhile. If you’re thirty-something and single, even women start to think there must be something wrong with you or else some chick would’ve snapped you up.” Turning away, he opened the fridge and pulled out the produce he’d chosen to make a salad with. He was a simple guy. Spaghetti, salad and breadsticks were about as much as he could do with confidence in a tasty outcome. “I personally don’t care what people think.”
“I would say that’s pretty obvious.”
The humor in her tone had him looking over his shoulder at her.
Steph was grinning. “This whole wish list thing is really a bad idea, but I have to admit, it’s worth it to see you dressed like that.”
“You’re not laughing at me, are you?” He’d been a little nervous. Like anyone, he didn’t want to look stupid in front of someone he wanted to sleep with. Bent over like he was, he knew she was getting an eyeful of every damn thing he had to offer.
“No.” Her gaze was mischievous and warm. “I’m actually really impressed with you. You have enough confidence to wear that. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“Personally…” He turned with an armful of vegetables, which he dumped on the counter. “I’d like you in just the hat. That’s my Christmas wish.”
“You know—” Her fingers toyed with her beer.
“I know what?”
She sighed. “I really thought getting the sex out of the way would make me more comfortable.”
“The sex isn’t ‘ out of the way’,” he retorted, pulling a knife out of the wooden block next to him. “Just say what you’re thinking. I’m the one wearing nothing but a Santa hat, apron and a smile, so you’ve got no business being shy about anything.”
“Thank you,” she blurted, her gaze focused on the beer label she was removing from the bottle. “I don’t care why you did it. I don’t care if you just want to get laid. I’m flattered you went to all this trouble.”
Nick paused with his knife halfway through a cucumber and stared at her. “It wasn’t any trouble, Steph. I like giving you what you want, I like seeing you smile.”
She blew out her breath and fiddled with her collar. “Do you need my help with anything?”
It wasn’t like her to be so nervous or to switch subjects because she was uncomfortable, which told him she wasn’t dealing too well with tonight’s events. He knew it was a lot to throw at her—the photo, the wish list, the sex. Before the Secret Santa exchange they’d been nothing but distant co-workers. Now they were lovers.
He’d had a couple months to adapt to his changing feelings for her. She’s had a couple hours. She was asking for a little space and he had no problem giving it to her.
“No, I’ve got it covered. Go watch TV or something. It won’t be too much longer.”
“Okay. I’m going to wash up then.”
He gestured toward the hallway with a toss of his chin. “First door on the right.”
Steph locked gazes with Nick for a long moment and knew she was in trouble. He didn’t have that air about him that said, Thanks for the fuck, you can go now. No, his vibe was very homey and relaxed. And she was falling for it like a ton of bricks.
Somehow she made it down the short hallway to the bathroom, where she leaned against the vanity and stared in the mirror. The glazed look in her eyes and the flush on her cheeks made her wince.
Damn it, she didn’t need this right now! A relationship was completely out of the question on a good day, but to fall for a guy who had “temporary” written all over him was just plain stupid. Hadn’t she learned anything at all from her years with Tom?
When dinner was done, she was going home. They’d both gotten what they wanted.
It was time to minimize the damage.
* * * * *
“That was wonderful.”
Steph smiled at Nick as she set her fork down, not the least bit concerned that she’d cleaned her plate. They’d eaten together many times over the last year and after the first time he’d praised her hearty appetite, she’d ceased being concerned about appearances.
“You’re either too generous or you were really hungry.” He stood and picked up her plate from the small oak dining table. Featuring a pine centerpiece lit by three red tapers, it was both inviting and unexpected. There was so much about him she didn’t know. But she wanted to learn. Nick wasn’t good relationship material, but he was a fascinating guy, a great lawyer and a good friend from what she’d heard.
She watched him walk into the kitchen, his fine ass flexing as he took each step.
Occasional glimpses of his cock and balls kept her hot, and she grabbed her napkin to dab at the fine sheen of sweat that misted her forehead. He was also a fantastic and generous lover, but then she’d always suspected that and heard innuendo to the same.
The urge to bolt she’d felt in the bathroom earlier was now suddenly overwhelming.
It was time to go.
Standing, she reached for her duffle. It was rude to leave without offering to clean, but maybe a little animosity between them would be a good thing.
“What are you doing?” he asked behind her, the volume of his voice telling her that he was still some distance away.
“I’m going to head out,” she said with forced casualness, even as her heart raced.
“Thanks for a great evening.”
Suddenly, she was crowded into the table from behind by a very hard body. “Talk to me, Steph.” His palms flattened on the surface, caging her in place.
“We’ve been talking all through dinner.”
“About everything except us.”
“There is no ‘ us’.”
One of his hands reached into the pocket of her skirt.
“How many condoms did you bring? Feels like you’ve got half a dozen in here.” He tossed one onto the tabletop. “You were planning for a busy night. Now, all of a sudden, you’re done?”
“Yeah, well.” She took a deep breath. “I didn’t expect you to be so good. You took care of things the first go-round.”
“Bullshit. You’re as hot for it now as you were when you jumped me.” Wrapping a hand around her throat, he tilted her head back. He nipped her ear with his teeth and she shivered. “What’s got you running scared?”
She stiffened. “I’m not scared. I just think we both got what we wanted and it’s best to end the night before it gets complicated.”
“Guess what?” Nick bent his knees and rubbed the hard length of his cock between the cheeks of her ass. Somewhere between the kitchen and the dining room he’d lost the apron. With only the thin layer of her gauze skirt between them, she felt every millimeter of his arousal. “I’m not finished getting what I wanted and it’s already complicated.”
“Nick…” Her eyes closed on a whimper as he cupped the weight of one breast.
Heat flared across her skin. She was suddenly more than hot, she was burning up, melting. He smelled like heaven and felt even better. She’d had a ton of daydreams about him, but they’d always been raw. Carnal. Fucking on her desk or his. Buttons flying everywhere. Rough hands and bruising lips. Never had there been this gentleness, this concern for her feelings and pleasure.
“You had a wish list, Steph. Fantasies about me. Tell me why you don’t want to live them out anymore.” The pads of his fingers brushed across her nipple and it peaked into a hard, aching tip.
“Fantasies aren’t meant to come true.”
“Mine did. Yours too.”
“That’s the problem,” she muttered.
His hand left her breast and lifted her skirt, bunching it in his fists. She should stop him, wiggle away. He wouldn’t keep her against her will, despite the forearm that crossed between her breasts and the grip that held her neck. But the energy she needed to escape just wasn’t there. It had been so long since she’d been held with such tender lust, she didn’t have the heart to reject it.
“Did I become too real?” he breathed in her ear. “Do you like me, Steph? Just a little?”
Cool air hit her buttocks the moment before he stepped closer. His cock was so hard, so hot against her skin.
His open mouth nuzzled against her throat. “Stay with me.” Reaching beneath her skirt, he parted her and stroked her clit. A soft fluttering touch, circling then pressing.
Rubbing. “Be with me.”
“Nick.” Her eyes drifted closed on a soft moan. She was wet, nearly soaked, and she ached for him. She was starving for the affection he gave so freely. It scared her how needy she was. Until tonight, she hadn’t realized how lonely her life had become.
“Open the packet,” he urged, his voice like rough silk.
She reached blindly for the condom, steeling the reserve she’d had when she arrived. Enjoy him, her heart said, and she would. One last time.
“We’re so good together, Steph.” Nudging her legs apart, he slipped two fingers inside her, moving in and out in a deep glide. “In every way that matters.” The hand at her throat lowered to cup her breast again. It was heavier, full with desire for him.
Expert fingers stroked over her nipple, pinched it, fondled it through her thin shirt and satin bra. That teasing touch radiated outward and left her gasping.
“Here.” She thrust her arm back with the open packet in her hand.
Nick reached for the condom with shaking fingers. Steph had been ready to leave.
More than ready. She’d been nearly out the door. And he knew in his gut if he couldn’t get through to her before she left, he never would.
“Bend over,” he said gruffly.
When his fingers left her soaked pussy, she made a soft sound of protest. “Hush,”
he soothed, pushing gently until she bent across the table. “Let me give you my cock instead.”
He stared at the erotic view as he sheathed himself in latex. All the times he’d watched her at work and thought lewdly, he’d never quite pictured the view correctly.
Her lips were flushed, swollen, glistening. He wanted to lick her again and did, a quick swipe of his tongue that had her writhing. Taking himself in hand, he used the tip of his cock to tease her clit, to make her cream, to see her squirm for him.
And then he caught her hips and slid deep into her.
“Oh my God!” she breathed, her fingers scratching at his table.
Her cunt was burning hot and tight as a fist. “Fuck, yeah,” he groaned, his balls drawn up tight and aching. He withdrew and watched his thick shaft slide out of her, slick with her arousal, and then groaned as he pressed back in. Holding her hips, he stared at the place where they joined, arrested by the sight of him fucking her as he’d wanted to for so long.
The sound of his name spoken so morosely tugged at his heart. Hunching forward, he laced his fingers with hers and began thrusting in short shallow digs, his stomach rippling against her lower back. Her pleading gasps goaded him, incited him to bend his knees so he could stroke her pussy high and hard with the broad head of his cock.
With his cheek at her shoulder, he asked, “How can you give this up, Steph?”
She answered with a whimper and then hitched her hips up higher so he could pump deeper. Widening his legs, he gave her the long deep plunges that made her moan helplessly and drove him crazy. He released her hands, moving one of his to cup her breast and the other to pin her hips in place so he could swivel his pelvis and screw his cock through her grasping ripples.
“Give me a chance,” he gasped, shuddering with the need to come, with the need to keep her close until he could change her mind.
Reaching beneath her, he pinched her clit and thrust balls deep. With a cry she came, clutching his cock in her depths, milking him in a sensual massage. “Give me a chance, damn you.”
Her “yes” was a whisper, but he heard it. His release was silent, his teeth gritted, his cock jerking as it pumped his cum into her.
He should have felt relief. He should have felt some sense of security.
But he didn’t.
It was the sounds of shuffling paper that woke her. Stretching on the black leather sofa, Steph opened her eyes and turned her head to find Nick wrapping gifts. Or trying to.
“You’re mangling that wrap job,” she murmured, vaguely remembering being lifted in the dining room and carried to the couch. The fire still crackled merrily, music still played softly. Despite the fact she was in a strange place, it felt like home.
Dressed in worn gray sweatpants, Nick sat within touching distance. He twisted at the waist and tossed his arm over her legs. “I’m trying not to, but the more effort I put into it, the worse I seem to do.”
“Need some help?”
He nodded and gave her a boyish smile. With evening stubble along his jaw and finger-mussed hair, he was almost too gorgeous. Angled toward her like he was, the beautifully defined muscles of his chest and arms stood out in stark relief. She hesitated and then gave in to the urge to touch his hair. It was thick and silky, making her shiver with renewed desire. Then he turned his head to kiss her wrist and her stomach did a little flip.
It was going to take her a long time to get over him.
Blowing out a resigned breath, she sat up and maneuvered herself into position straddling his back. He leaned into her and yawned. Shooting a glance at the clock on the mantle, she saw it was two in the morning.
“Being tired might be the reason you’re not wrapping well,” she said dryly. “Why don’t you go to sleep and we’ll go over how to wrap in the morning?”
He linked his arms around her calves and looked at her upside down. “If I go to sleep, will you still be here in the morning?”
“Oh, Nick.” Steph leaned her cheek against the top of his head. “Don’t be silly.”
“You’re talking to a guy who cooked dinner naked.”
Nuzzling her mouth into his hair, she changed the subject. “Do you have double-sided tape?”
“Huh? That sounds kinky.”
She laughed and fell a little in love. “For your presents.”
“Oh… Bummer. No. Just the regular clear stuff.”
“Okay, sex maniac.” She looked over his shoulder. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
He turned his head and kissed her cheek.
Her heart clenched, and she had to clear her throat before she spoke. “You have too much paper on the ends. That’s why it’s hard for you to fold them without bunching it up.”
Nick took up the scissors and cut. “Like that? Is that enough?”
“Yeah.” She slipped her arms beneath his and demonstrated how to tuck the corners. “Now put some tape right there.”
“Here?” His voice had deepened. With her breasts pressed to his back and her nose by his throat, their position was unbearably intimate.
“That’s perfect,” she breathed, releasing the gift and drawing back. He caught her hands before they left his lap.
Cupping her hands over his pecs, Nick whispered, “Touch me.”
She swallowed hard as his skin heated under her hands. The tips of her fingers found the flat points of his nipples and rubbed gently. Groaning, his arms fell to his sides.
He leaned his head back into her lap and the sight of his face lost in pleasure was too much for her. Steph looked away, taking in the glass-topped coffee table, the flat-screen TV and the bare Christmas tree by the sliding glass door.
“Don’t you have any ornaments?” she asked.
“No.” His voice was a low whisper of sound. “I bought the tree for you and forgot the damn ornaments.”
Her hands stilled. “For me?” Oh my God, I’m going to cry.
“Yeah, I knew from that notepad of yours and the little tree on your desk that you must really like Christmas. I do too, but since I’m going to my sister’s for holiday dinner, I hadn’t bought one for myself. For you, though, I figured it wouldn’t be much of a Christmas wish if it didn’t feel like Christmas around here.”
Wiggling around, she switched from straddling his back to straddling his hips. Face to face, they stared at each other.
“I’m sorry I forgot the ornaments,” he said.
And then he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her.
Unlike the deep possessive kiss he’d given her in her office, this kiss was coaxing, his lips brushing, his tongue flicking softly. Steph wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back with everything she had. In gratitude. In lust. In love.
She pulled away and gasped, “What do you want for Christmas?”
“This. You. Making love with you.” He rocked his hips and she felt how aroused he was.
A gift that required no wrapping. No words. She lifted her skirt, he tugged down his sweats. She sheathed him. First in latex, then with her body. He groaned, she cried out. They moved together, without the haste that had marked their previous encounters. Her hands on his bare shoulders, she took him deep, rising and falling in tempo with the sounds he made. Clenching her muscles to stroke his thick length.
Pulling off her shirt and bra to press her bare skin to his.
“I’ve wanted you,” he said hoarsely, guiding her hips with shaking hands. “So badly… God, you feel amazing.”
Steph made it last, in no hurry for their time together to end. But it did, of course.
Dawn came too swiftly. As the pink light of the early rising sun came into the room through the sliding glass door, she tucked a blanket around Nick and picked up her duffle.
“Merry Christmas,” she whispered, pausing on the threshold a moment before shutting out the view of Nick asleep on the couch.
The clicking of the latch said the goodbye she couldn’t.
* * * * *
“Well, this is a surprise,” Amanda said as she pulled the door wide. “It’s been over a year since you last darkened my doorstep, Nicholas James. And you looked a hell of a lot better then than you do now.”
He gave a curt nod before dropping a kiss on her forehead. “I need a favor, Mandy, and I hope to God it doesn’t make me an asshole for asking. Do you know where Stephanie lives?”
The petite blonde blinked up at him. “Wow. Okay, hang on a sec. That hurt a little.”
She blew out her breath and stepped out of the way. “Come in.”
Nick stepped inside but hovered by the doorway. Three damn days had passed since he last touched Steph and if he didn’t get to her soon, he was pretty sure he’d go insane.
Mandy stared at him a moment and then walked to the kitchen counter where her purse waited. “I’m over you, I swear I am.” She pulled out her BlackBerry and a pen.
While writing she said, “I still have to ask why Steph’s the one that got to you.”
“Hell. What kind of question is that?” He ran his hand through his hair.
“I don’t know. I guess I’m just wondering if what they say about The Rules is true. Is playing hard-to-get the way to land the great guys?” She came toward him and held out a business card with an address on the back.
Relief flooded him. He tucked the precious card in his pocket. “Maybe in the beginning the chase is fun. Now it just sucks. Thanks for this, Mandy. Really.”
He paused on the threshold, his impatience nearly overwhelming. “What?”
“You’re not heading over there now, are you? Steph and Kevin were—”
“Who the fuck is Kevin?” Every muscle tensed at the sound of Stephanie’s name linked with another guy’s.
Amanda’s eyes widened. “Oh shit… You don’t know.”
“Obviously not.” He strode back into the living room. “But you’re going to tell me.”
She sighed. “You better take a seat.”
* * * * *
Nick watched out the window of his car as Stephanie exited her Grand Cherokee and started up the icy walkway from her driveway toward her front door. The house where she lived was quaint and cozy, with soft touches that were clearly Steph’s that made the residence a home. She looked sad and he knew why. He’d watched her leave with Kevin Martin just an hour ago. Now she was alone.
Steph had a family.
He was the outsider.
Steeling himself inwardly, he stepped out into the chilly afternoon air and shut his door with enough force to catch her attention. She looked over her shoulder and came to an abrupt halt. He walked toward her with a purposeful stride, part angry and part really fucking hurt.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice low and slightly panicked.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled his hands out his coat pockets and pulled her close, his mouth finding hers. The moment her lips met his, he groaned. When her momentary hesitation melted into desperate ardor, he knew he had a chance.
She still wanted him.
Lifting her feet from the ground, he carried her to the door. “Open it.”
“I suggest you hurry up if you don’t want to shock your neighbors.”
Fumbling nervously, Steph shoved the key in the lock and when the knob turned, he crowded in behind her, kicking the door shut with his booted foot. She turned and he pushed her against the foyer wall.
“I’ve missed you,” he said hoarsely, his hands wandering restlessly in an attempt to feel her through the bulky jacket she wore. “Every goddamned minute since you left me, I’ve missed you.”
“Don’t do this, Nick.” She leaned her head back and then gasped when his teeth scraped her neck. “We had a deal. The wish list and then we’d be done.”
“But we’re not done,” he argued. “We’re nowhere near done. And if I have anything to say about it, we’ll never be done.”
Stephanie stared up into Nick’s gorgeous but pissed-off features and felt like she was going to pass out. His jaw was shadowed with stubble, his blue eyes rimmed with red. His hair was spiked from agitated fingers and his beautiful mouth was harshly drawn. He simply looked like hell, but her heart swelled with happiness at the sight of him.
“I love you, Steph.” He caught her hand and pressed it over his heart. “Feel that?
That’s panic. I’m terrified you’re going to say that’s not enough, when that’s all I’ve got to give you.”
Tears welled and dripped from her lashes. “Kevin…”
“You should have told me about your son, Steph. I’ve been going nuts trying to figure out why I can’t have you.” Catching her zipper, Nick tugged it down and shoved her jacket to the floor.
“Now you know why this isn’t going to work,” she said, her voice shaky.
“I don’t know shit, Steph. Because you didn’t tell me.” Shoving his hands beneath her top, he squeezed her breasts and she melted in his hands. “Think quick. The bed or right here on the floor.”
“Oh my God.”
She stumbled away, backing down the hallway as he stalked her. With wide eyes and a racing heart, she watched as he shed his jacket and then his shirt. When he reached for the button fly of his jeans, she swallowed hard. The tender lover she’d known three nights ago was gone and the thrill that coursed through her made her dizzy.
“I’d lose the sweater if I were you. You’ll be sweaty enough without it.” He shoved his waistband just low enough to free his fully engorged cock and heavy balls. Then he reached into his back pocket for a condom and sheathed himself even as he stalked her.
Yanking her sweater over her head, she faced forward and nearly ran the remaining distance to her room. Nick was right on her heels. She was barely to the foot of her bed before she got her bra loose and then he was on top of her, his long lanky body sinking into hers. The crisp curls of his chest scraped her nipples and she gasped, opening her mouth to his questing tongue. A low groan rumbled deep in his chest and he tugged at her jogging pants.
She squirmed desperately, kicking. “I’m trying.”
Laughing, she wiggled free and then his hand was between her legs, stroking her pussy and rubbing her clit. She wasn’t laughing anymore—she was whimpering and arching up into his hard body.
“Did you miss me?” he growled, biting her earlobe.
“Yes… Ummm… too much.”
Two fingers slipped inside her and stroked, making her cream.
“Spread your legs.”
Nick came over her, nudging her thighs wider with his lean hips before he took her in a deep, breathtaking thrust. Then he wrapped his fist in her dark hair and began to fuck her within an inch of her life.
“Nick!” Steph writhed beneath him, trying to move but held still by the prison of her bound hair and his pumping cock.
He leaned his weight on one elbow and used his free hand to pull her leg over his hip so he could plunge to the hilt. She watched him, every nerve ending in her body hot and tingling, her breath panting. The waistband of his jeans rubbed against her inner thighs, a constant reminder that he couldn’t bear another moment without being inside her.
“This isn’t about getting laid,” he insisted hoarsely.
“I know.” Her hands clung to his straining, sweating back.
“This isn’t temporary.”
“I-I…” Her cunt fluttered along his cock. “I know.”
Burying his face in her neck, he said, “I love you” against her ear and she melted.
Into the bed, into him, into an orgasm that made her cry out his name. And he filled her with love.
* * * * *
Nick tucked her cheek against his damp shoulder and said, “Talk to me, Steph. Tell me what you’re thinking so we both get on the same page.”
She gave a lame shrug. “I don’t know where to begin.”
“Start with the ex,” he suggested. “Tell me about him.”
“Tom’s a great guy. He’s handsome and charming, a caring dad. But he couldn’t commit to me. I think he really wanted to, but he couldn’t.”
“Sweetheart, I’m not like Tom. Just because I waited for you to come along doesn’t mean I’ve got commitment issues.”
“He’s got a new girlfriend every month,” she rushed on. “Kevin has a little notepad he takes to his dad’s to write down their names so he doesn’t mess up and use the wrong one. He did that once and it was a mess.” She reached down and stroked his bare hip. “I can’t do that to him, Nick.”
He nuzzled against her. “I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to let me in.
Make room for me in your life, someplace permanent. Let me love you, be with you.
You won’t regret it.”
As his blue eyes began to glisten, something inside her softened. “I’m scared. For my son. For me.”
“I know. I’m scared too.” He pressed his lips to hers. “I’m scared you’re going to send me away because you can’t trust me.”
The last three nights without him had been hell. She’d missed the feel of him holding her, making love to her, making her feel special and cared for. She missed the way he made her laugh and how good she felt when she was with him. “I want to trust you,” she whispered.
“Then do it! Listen to me, Steph.” He rose up on his elbow to look down at her.
“Being a single mom doesn’t mean your life is over.”
“It means my needs come second. I can’t—” She closed her eyes. “You don’t understand. It was hard for Kev. I was a wreck when Tom and I broke up. And I didn’t even love him anymore.”
“But you love me.” Nick cupped her face in his hands. “A little. Enough to