Excerpt from IGNITED
I watched as Sloane brushed her hand possessively over Tyler’s arm, then whispered something to him. He laughed, then kissed her cheek. She moved away from him to enter the party, and he stood for a moment, his gaze lingering on her as he watched her go.
Since I was watching Tyler, I didn’t realize that Sloane had been coming my way until she eased up beside me. “Any news on the house?”
“We close next week,” I said. “I’m suffering from mild terror that it’s all going to get ripped out from under me. Like we’ll find out that something is horribly wrong with the foundation. Or the sellers will back out. Or the loan will fall through.”
The house had started as a whim. My natural state is to be in constant motion, everything from my habit of fidgeting to my general tendency to uproot myself every few years and move to a new city.
Over the last six years, though, I’d eased off that last trait. Instead of bouncing out of Chicago, I’d just bounced between apartments.
A few months ago, I decided that living in a house could be fun. I’d started out looking solely at rentals, but once I saw the tiny two bedroom frame house, I knew it was like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. All it needed was a little love. More important, I knew it had to be mine.
I hadn’t even realized I’d been contemplating ownership until I’d picked up the real estate agent’s flyer, but I was tired of feeling uprooted. I wanted to settle. I wanted . . . more.
And now I was on the verge of having it.
Honestly, I liked the way that felt.
Sloane’s brow was furrowed as she pondered my words. “You’ve had the inspections, the tenants have already moved out and the sellers live—where? New Mexico, right? And I think you would have heard by now if there was something wrong with the loan.” She narrowed her eyes. “The employment stuff checked out okay, right?”
“Yeah, but talk about a snafu. The call must have come when Liz wasn’t here.” I’d hit Liz up before I told my little fib on the loan application, and she’d promised to back me if the underwriters called.
“Shit. What happened? Tyler didn’t say a thing to me.”
“Apparently Cole got the call.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, really? When?”
“It’s been over a week.”
“And he didn’t say anything?”
“Not until just a few minutes ago,” I said.
She held her hands out, gesturing for me to continue. “Hello? What did he say?”
“That I owed him,” I admitted.
Her laugh was filled with pure delight. “Well, that’s convenient, isn’t it?”
“If he said you owed him, you just need to ask him how he wants to get paid.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “And what exactly are we talking about?”
“Oh, please, Kat. Don’t play coy. I’m a cop, remember? I know how to read people. And that goes for you, too, Katrina Laron, even though you think you’re impenetrable.”
I did think that, and it was a little disconcerting to know that I was wrong. This was why I’d spent most of my life avoiding making close friends. They got into the cracks of your life, knew you too well, and made you vulnerable. But Sloane was right—as a former cop, she was used to watching people and noting the details. More than that, it wasn’t that long ago that she’d been in a similar position, plotting out a way to seduce Tyler Sharp. Considering she and Tyler were now desperately in love and deliriously happy, I had to figure she understood the game.
She looked me up and down, the movement very deliberate. “Nice dress.” Her mouth curved in a wicked grin. “Seems like the kind of thing Cole would appreciate.”
“Bitch,” I said, but I was laughing.
“So other than the dress, what have you got in your repertoire?”
“Isn’t that the question of the day? You’re right about the intentions,” I admitted. “But I’m doing a piss-poor job on the execution.” I ran my fingers through my hair, remembered the clip too late, and cursed.
I gave her the rundown of what had happened in the gallery while I freed my hair and fluffed it with my fingers. “But I’m not sure if he was really interested, or if it’s just me being hopeful.”
“Please tell me you aren’t really that naive,” she said. “The guy’s completely gone on you.”
“You are such a liar,” I said. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine Cole being gone on anyone. He was too damn good at keeping everything in check. As far as I’d seen over the years, that temper was the only thing that managed to escape his walls—and even that burst out like a rocket and was quickly snuffed.
“I’ve seen his face when he looks at you,” she said. “Or, more accurately, I’ve seen his face when he looks at you and you’re not looking back.” Her mouth quirked up. “You know as well as I do that Cole doesn’t give anything away that he doesn’t have to.”
“There’s one of the century’s biggest understatements.”
“I’m serious,” she said. “When Tyler looks at me the way I’ve seen Cole look at you, I know to expect a very long night, with very little sleep.”
“Oh.” I drew in a breath, then licked suddenly dry lips. “That’s something,” I added, unable to keep the smile out of my voice. “Thanks.”
“Sure,” she said. “But, listen. Are you—” She cut herself off with a shrug. “Never mind.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “No way are you pulling that with me. You’ve got something to say, and it’s about me or it’s about Cole. And I want to know.”
“It’s just—are you sure about this? And why now?”
“Yes,” I said, because despite my nervous moments and hesitations, I’d never been more sure about anything. I took her arm and steered her to a far corner, where there were no paintings displayed on the walls and therefore no guests to overhear us. “And as for now, I don’t think I have a choice anymore. I can’t get him out of my head,” I admitted. “He’s getting into my dreams. I’ve never had a guy get this far under my skin, and it’s driving me a little bit crazy.”
“So this is an exorcism?”
“Maybe. Hell, I don’t know. Why?”
“Because we’re friends, Kat. All of us. Me and Tyler, Angie and Evan. And even you and Cole. I don’t want it to get weird, and I don’t want—” She shook her head. “Sorry, that’s none of my business. Shouldn’t go there.”
No way was I letting her get away with that. “Go where?”
“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
She dragged her fingers through her hair. “I just happen to know that Cole doesn’t date. I don’t want you disappointed. And—to be perfectly selfish—I don’t want to lose the dynamic between the six of us.”
“I don’t, either,” I said truthfully. “But I need to do this.” I didn’t try to explain that if I didn’t, the dynamic between us would change anyway. I’d crossed a mental line, and no matter what, I couldn’t go back to being Friendly Kat, the girl with the secret crush on Cole. Because this wasn’t a crush. This was a need. This was a hunger. I’d opened Pandora’s box, and even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t shove everything back inside.
“What do you mean he doesn’t date?” I pressed.
“That’s what Tyler told me. He fucks,” she said with a quirk of her brow. “But he doesn’t date.”
“That’s part of what makes him perfect,” I admitted, because although I had no way of knowing for sure, I’d watched him long enough and intently enough to guess that Cole was at least as fucked up as I was. “I just want to scratch this itch. And if you’re right, then Cole has the same itch, and this should work out just fine.”
“So you’re just looking for a fuck buddy?” She narrowed her eyes, obviously dubious.
“Yeah,” I said, though I hadn’t really put it in those terms before. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“Kat . . . ” She trailed off, and there was no way to miss the censure in her voice.
“That’s a load of total bullshit.”
“No,” I said firmly, “it’s not.” And it wasn’t. I’d admit—at least to myself—that the attraction I felt for Cole pulsed hard and drove deep. But that didn’t mean I wanted to date the man—or, more specifically, it didn’t mean that I would date him, no matter how much I might want it.
Not that I could explain all of that to Sloane. We might have become friends since she’d rolled into town late last summer, but no way was I opening my closet so she could see all of my skeletons.
I didn’t need a degree in psychology to know I was fucked up, and I didn’t need a degree in human sexuality to know that I wanted Cole’s hands on me. The second one I could do something about. The first one I just had to live with.
“Trust me, Sloane,” I said, hoping that I wasn’t about to screw up royally. “I know what I’m doing.”
For a second she didn’t answer, then she nodded. “It’s your life. Go get him.”
I laughed, then signaled to a passing waiter. He paused in front of me, and I grabbed a glass of chardonnay.
I held up my finger as I downed it, silently signaling the waiter to stay. Then I exchanged my empty glass for a full one. “Liquid courage,” I said, more to Sloane than the waiter, though his lips twitched as well.
He tilted his head in both acknowledgement and farewell, then slid off into the crowd. I watched him go, knowing that my turn was next. Because Cole was somewhere in that throng, too.
I caught Sloane’s eye, and took strength from her encouraging grin. “Here goes nothing,” I said, then moved away from her and back toward the throng, determined to see this through.
It took a moment, but I finally found Cole surrounded by a group of well-heeled guests, all of whom were gazing with rapturous expressions at a canvas that seemed to be in motion, it was so full of color and life. I couldn’t hear Cole, but I saw the animation in his face, the way he got when he spoke of art.
He used his hands, his body, and with every word and motion he captured the crowd. Hell, he captured me, too, and I moved closer and closer, until finally I could hear his words and I just stood there, letting his smooth voice roll over me and give me courage.
After a moment, he wrapped up his spiel and left the guests to contemplate the painting on their own. When he did, he turned and saw me, and I felt the impact of that connection all the way to my toes.
There’d been heat between us earlier tonight—of that I no longer had any doubt. But Cole had been in control then. This time, I’d caught him unaware, and I could plainly see the pulsing hunger that raged through him as he took in the sight of me.
Missed the previous parts of the excerpt reveal? Check out Read Love Blog for part one, Scandalicious Book Reviews for part two, Kelsey’s Corner Time for part three, and About That Story for part four!
to read what happens next!
He promised to take me as far as I could go—and I wanted to go to the edge.
My whole life has been a cover, a con, a lie. I was born into the grift, raised on the thrill of playing someone I’m not. As a rule, I never let anyone get too close—until Cole August makes it impossible for me to stay away.
Cole is tough, sexy, and intensely loyal, yet his secrets are dark and his scars run deep. Not many women can handle his past, or the truth behind his fierce demands. But something about him beckons me—and our desire is a game I must play.
I know he’s dangerous, that even his touch is trouble, but what is passion without a little risk?
OUT SEPTEMBER 9, 2014
PRE-ORDER “IGNITED” NOW
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