Roslyn can’t get to the nowhere town of Liberty, Alabama, where her good friend Anna lives fast enough. She screwed up big time at her law firm in New York. Disappearing in the Deep South seems like the perfect solution to clear her head and figure out where to go from here. A hot roll in the hay with a smoldering fellow out-of-towner is a welcome distraction. How was she to know he was the local preacher’s son? Oops.
Wren has one objective—land the contract that will put him on the map as a business broker. So what if he has to kiss ass and portray himself as the perfect preacher’s son to earn the trust of the business owner. He’s survived worst in his past. But the temptress who seduces him is exactly who he doesn’t need to be seen with if he wants to pull off this charade. Too bad he can’t resist her.
— Chapter One —
Oh holy fuck.
Roslyn slumped over the wheel of her beloved Mustang convertible, which was covered in more crap than she’d ever had the misfortune to encounter in the city. What in the hell was with these damn roads? If one could call them that. Pothole-riddled tracks of dust and dirt was a more apropos description. Anna sure hadn’t exaggerated when she’d told Roslyn the place she sought refuge was a little on the rough side.
But Liberty, Alabama, was now home to Roslyn’s good friend. Annabelle Reed had fled her old life in New York faster than you could say hoedown once she fell under the spell of her hot carpenter. And a damn good thing, too, since Roslyn needed a place to
escape to where she could screw her head on straight and wouldn’t be bothered. Because, really, who in their right mind would ever come here?
A woman fleeing a work disaster of gargantuan proportions.
Roslyn shook off the tingles of fear and embarrassment that accompanied that thought and grabbed her leather satchel off the passenger seat. A few deep breaths later, she was at her friend’s front door, engulfed in the late-August heat, rapping lightly against the polished wood. The door swung open and there stood Anna, lit up like a friggin’ Christmas tree. Hot sex out in the sticks obviously suited her.
She returned Anna’s hug, feeling a sense of calm for the first time in about two weeks. “Thank you for putting me up. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”
Anna waved off her comment. “Don’t think anything of it. Trey and I are happy you’re here.”
“Really? Trey?” Roslyn’s brow rose. “He’s not still pissed about the stripper I got the night before the wedding?”
“He was never pissed.” She laughed. “Okay, he was a little pissed. But I made it up to him on our wedding night.”
“I’m sure you did.” And Roslyn knew that was no hardship. She, along with every other woman in attendance at the lavish New York City wedding, had considered packing up and moving south if men like Trey Jacobs were what was on offer down there. “Where is your tall drink of water?”
“Out back, doing some work on the office. C’mon.” She grabbed Roslyn’s hand. “You can leave your bag on the porch.”
Roslyn dropped the satchel on a rocker as Anna led her down the steps. When they circled the side of the house, Roslyn’s spiked heels plunged south.
“Oh crap.” She pulled from Anna’s grip. Extricating one shoe from the muck, she looked down at it with a frown. “Are you kidding me?”
“Oops. Sorry. We had a heavy rain yesterday.” She pointed at Roslyn’s ruined cream silk heels. “You shouldn’t wear stuff like that here.” Anna offered an apologetic grin and traipsed toward a good-sized building behind the house.
“Now she tells me,” Roslyn muttered, debating whether she’d rather have more mud on her certainly ruined shoes, or feel it oozing through her perfectly pedicured toes. She wrinkled her nose. She had a trunk full of heels, so clean feet won out and she followed Anna.
“Babe?” Anna called.
“Over here.” He stepped around the side of the work in progress with a grin.
And there he was. Good God, that man was delicious. Nope. She didn’t blame Anna one bit for leaving the law firm for a life here with Trey.
“Well, well… If it isn’t trouble, come to visit.” His wink immediately set her at ease. He placed a kiss on his wife’s lips then stepped toward Roslyn with an outstretched arm. “Hey, darlin’. How you doing?”
She accepted his embrace with a smile. “Oh, I’ve been better. But it’s nothing a little, ah…fresh air won’t fix.”
He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Fresh air? Well, that can fix about anything. But sorry to hear you’ve got something that needs fixing.”
Roslyn glanced to Anna, who gave a quick shake of her head. So, she hadn’t said anything to Trey. She didn’t expect Anna to keep it secret but found she was happy for Anna’s discretion. “Oh, just a small thing. A change of scenery will help clear my head.”
Trey stepped back and put his hands on his hips. “If it’s that piece of work Richard I met up in the city who’s got you upset, just let me know. I’d be happy to go on up there and hand his ass to him. Could get in a show or something afterward.”
Anna laughed and grabbed Trey’s forearm. “Okay, Rambo, thanks for the offer. We’ll let you get back to it.” He crushed her to his chest and laid a kiss on her so hot, Roslyn felt it in her toes.
With a gentle push, Trey sent his wife in Roslyn’s direction. A blush stole over Anna’s cheeks and she smiled sheepishly.
Roslyn snorted. “Oh yeah, no need to look all innocent on my account. I’m sure you two mix it up real nice and good in the bedroom.” She looked over her shoulder to see Trey’s retreating back and raised her voice a few notches. “You two putting that glass dildo I sent to good use?”
She caught what looked like a smirk from Trey when he glanced over his shoulder before Anna dug her fingers into Roslyn’s arm and dragged her forward, nearly toppling Roslyn in the process. “Jesus,” Anna hissed. “Must you make comments about what Trey and I do in bed?” Anna did a poor job of holding back her smile, despite the affronted tone.
“While I loathe secrecy,” Roslyn said when they approached the porch, “I do appreciate you not divulging the real reason for my visit to your husband.”
Anna shrugged. “Not my information to share.” She opened the front door and stepped inside. Roslyn grabbed her bag and followed, kicking off her ruined heels. “So I guess Mr. Strummaker and the other senior partners haven’t made a decision yet on disciplinary action?”
“No.” Roslyn sank onto a plush couch, exhaustion seeping into her bones. “They’re still reviewing the facts. I bolted out of there yesterday as soon as my interview was over.”
Anna took a seat next to her. “James is—was—your good friend. Your confidante. I don’t blame you for addressing your fears with him first. Who could have known he would do something so…so…”
“Illegal? Immoral? Underhanded?” A fresh stab of betrayal gutted her.
“Yes, all those things. And that prick David. God, I hate him.”
Yeah, David. Still trying to make partner, that one kept his nose so far up the partners’ asses it wasn’t even funny. And he’d had no problem throwing Roslyn under the bus when he saw an opportunity. Damn him. And James. And the horses they rode in on.
Roslyn bit a corner of her nail and then shoved her hand under her thigh. No reason to ruin a fifty-dollar manicure.
Anna was right. Roslyn would have been willing to bet her life James would never do what he had done. He was just too good. Too trustworthy. A man who saw her through many bumpy times in her college career. And even bumpier times with her father. But in the end, he was just like every other man she’d come across—only interested in number one and doing whatever it takes to get what he wants.
Anna tapped her on the thigh and stood. “But we don’t need to talk about that right now. You came here to rest and clear your head, and that’s what you’ll do. I’ve got a guest bedroom all set up for you.”
She gave her a weary smile. “Thanks, you’re the best.” Roslyn stood and stretched. “Just let me grab my bags out of the trunk.”
“Nope. Trey would never allow it. Would say it’s his job. Keys in your bag?”
Roslyn nodded. “Thanks again, Anna. For everything.”
“Of course.” She put her arm around Roslyn’s shoulders. “I’ll show you the guest room and you can take a nap. You’ve got to be exhausted.”
In more ways than one.
* * * * *
Two cosmopolitans into the evening and Roslyn wasn’t feeling any better about things. Not that she expected to figure everything out so soon. But she’d hoped the alcohol would at least cut the creepy-crawly ick feeling in her stomach she got every time she replayed in her head what went down in her office. She just needed to stop doing that. Easy enough. As if.
Anna suggested they all go out for a nice dinner and then head to this godforsaken place—Jitterbugs…good God—for drinks and dancing. Two beers later and her friend was plastered to her husband on the dance floor. Anna sure got horny when she drank. Or perhaps she just got horny when within spitting distance of her husband. More likely the latter, since she didn’t recall Anna dry-humping anyone back in New York after a couple of cocktails. So Roslyn sent them home in a cab, resigned to waiting out whatever dirty tryst Trey and Anna would have going on the minute they stepped foot in their house. She sure as hell didn’t need to see that right now. Unadulterated bliss was fine, well and good. But not when she was feeling as if her life was screwed beyond repair. And as if she were the main attraction at a circus sideshow.
For about the hundredth time, she felt judgmental eyes on her. And when she glanced around, gazes quickly averted. She supposed she didn’t look as if she fit in. But from what she could see, that wasn’t really a bad thing.
She sighed and took a long swallow of her drink. Despite its sweetness, it still burned. About as much as the stare she presently felt drilling into her. Hadn’t these people ever seen someone from out of town, or dressed in something other than polyester? Having had enough of the open gawking, she pushed back her shoulders and prepared to do battle.
She slowly swiveled on her stool, affecting her best hard stare for Judgy McJudge-It-All at the end of the bar. And nearly dropped her cosmopolitan. Heat seared her to her core. Well, well. The South shall rise again.
Wren took a pull from his beer and thanked all that was good and holy for this visual treat. If he thought he was hard from the acreage of tanned leg leading to an obscenely short skirt, it was nothing compared to the rush of blood to his cock he experienced when she leveled that look on him. She was clearly going for frosty, but it soon morphed into a smoldering, come-fuck-me invitation. And he wanted to RSVP. Like nobody’s business. But he wasn’t a fool. This little slice of nowhere wasn’t Richmond. Hell, it wasn’t even Huntsville. And he was far from anonymous. Best not to push his luck with so much on the line.
He could literally feel his dick deflating as he resigned himself to a night alone in his hotel room. Best to get the hell out of the bar while the getting was good.
He plucked his wallet from his back pocket and had just pulled out a twenty when her presence engulfed him. She sat on the stool next to his, but she may as well have been in his lap for the effect it had on him. Her scent wrapped around him—some sort of spicy floral riding on top of what had to be pure pheromones.
This couldn’t end well.
“Hi,” she said, placing her cocktail on the bar in front of her. “I’m Roslyn.”
He eyed the elegant hand extended toward him before meeting her toffee-colored eyes. Oh yeah. She was trouble. He took her hand. “I’m Wren.”
“Wren?” she asked, crossing one long leg over the other. “Like the bird?” She leaned close, tucking a section of chin-length blonde hair behind her ear, still gripping his hand. His gaze was drawn to the long column of her neck. God, he wanted to lick it. The look on her face said she knew it.
When she released his hand he cleared his throat and took a long swallow of his beer. “Yeah. Like the bird.”
“Your parents must be terribly interesting people.”
He chuckled. “Oh, come on. It’s not so out there. I could be an Allister, or a Thatcher.”
“I guess. If you were from a historical romance novel.” Roslyn ran the tip of her finger around the rim of her martini glass and he figured he was willing to be from wherever the hell she wanted him to be from if she’d run that same finger over him.
“Well, I’m in town on business from Richmond, actually. Sorry to disappoint. What about you? You don’t look like a Liberty resident.”
Roslyn shook her head and did a brief perusal of the room at large. “Hardly. I’m in town from New York City visiting a friend.”
Now that he could believe. Everything about her oozed big city, from her spiked heels to her clearly expensive haircut. And her unabashed appraisal of him. No woman in his parents’ miniscule hometown would ever devour him with a look alone. Hell, they’d never devour him in any capacity. And why would they? Their upbringing would forbid it for starters, and the fact that his father had a direct line to the Almighty didn’t help his cause any. No sir. He would forever be the preacher’s son here.
And considering what he was in town for, that was a good thing.
But anyone who knew him would know he wasn’t without sin. And his father preached in his sermons about how no one was. Wren had one-upped his share, however. He was no stranger to the dark side of life. He’d relished it at one point. But the result of that behavior changed his life forever. He couldn’t say he regretted all of it, but he liked to think he’d learned from it. Or so he thought.
“New York, huh? This has got to be a culture shock.” He waved the bartender over and nodded toward her empty glass. “Another?”
She studied him. Well beyond what society in general would deem an acceptable amount of time. And then she stared at him some more, the corner of her lips turning up on one side. “Sure. Why not?”
He could tick off about three reasons right off the top of his head why not. But the blood pooling in his cock didn’t care. He placed their drink order and turned on his stool to face her fully. “So, Roslyn from New York, this must be a very good friend for you to come all the way down here to the sticks.”
“She is that.”
A she. Wren found himself a little more pleased with that information than he should be. Considering he couldn’t take this beyond blue-ball-inducing flirtation, it shouldn’t matter if she was here in town heating up some lucky bastard’s sheets. He rattled the thought of her naked and sweaty from his head.
“And what do you do in New York?”
For a brief moment he thought he saw regret in her eyes before she banked her expression and reached for the fresh cocktail the bartender had just placed in front of her. “I’m a criminal defense attorney.”
Wow. Hot and smart. And hot. God, why did he have to be in Liberty? “I bet that’s interesting work.”
“Never a dull moment,” she said dryly.
There was that look again. So clearly work wasn’t a good subject.
“What about you, Wren? What do you do?”
Or perhaps only her work wasn’t a good subject. “I’m a business broker.”
“Ah.” She nodded and took a sip of her drink. “Any particular industry?”
“Electrical contracting companies. It’s terribly fascinating.”
She laughed. “I bet. So, you’re just passing through, I take it?”
He considered his answer. He was kind of enjoying her not knowing him, or more importantly, his parents. Outsiders were rare in Liberty. He saw no reason to tell her any more than necessary. He would enjoy their heated back-and-forth until it was time to head to his hotel. “Yep. Have to meet with the owner of a Birmingham-based company who lives here in town.”
“Hmmm…” she murmured.
Holy Christ. That was the toe of her stiletto snaking up inside his jeans leg.
Wren watched, dry-mouthed, as she plucked the cherry from her drink and slid it between her plush lips. She sent him a saucy wink as she closed her mouth around that lucky-ass piece of fruit and pulled off the stem.
Jesus. He thought he was hard before, but it was nothing compared to the piece of granite in his pants now.
She leaned into to him and placed her hand on his thigh. Alarmingly close to the danger zone. Wren made a nervous perusal of the room. Few patrons were still there, and he didn’t recognize a one of them. He let loose a relieved breath. But the relief was short-lived when Roslyn’s hot breath caressed his ear.
“What do you say you and I make good use of your hotel room?” She squeezed his thigh. “I assume they have hotels in this backwoods place, and you’re staying in one.”
Wren shot back in his stool, and this time sent a sideways look at the bartender. He was counting money in the till, and seemingly unaware of the foreplay going on right under his nose. Wren was begging for it, taking this sort of chance. He drew a deep breath and took Roslyn’s hand from his knee and placed it in her lap.
“I’m tempted, darlin’. I can’t tell you how much.” He was certain if she looked down she would see exactly how much, but he couldn’t focus on the painful erection pressing against his jeans right now. “But I think it’s best if I just say good night.”
“Oh.” She scooted so far away from him she was practically on the next barstool over. Her cheeks flushed a deep rose. “Of course. Sorry if I…ah, misread the situation.” She took a swallow of her cocktail and fiddled with the strap of her purse.
Great. He’d embarrassed her. He was such an ass. Wren gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “It’s not you, it’s—”
“Me,” she deadpanned.
She faced him. “It’s not you, it’s me. I get it.”
He could feel the eye roll with that statement. But she was clearly too much of a lady to actually execute the gesture. “May I walk you to your car?”
“No thanks. I think I’ll hang out for a bit since I’m driving.”
“Oh, okay.” He offered her his hand, which she accepted with a brief smile. “It was so nice meeting you, Roslyn.”
“You too. Good luck with your meeting.”
He gave her hand a light squeeze before letting go. He missed her touch instantly. “Thanks. Enjoy your visit with your friend.”
She’d already turned back toward the bar before he heard her mumble something he couldn’t make out. Probably for the best. He placed a couple of bills on the bar top and made his way to door. Twice his steps faltered as regret rushed through him. But sanity won out in the end.
* * * * *
Roslyn had spent the last hour waiting out her buzz drinking coffee at Jitterbugs in the company of one Charlie “Bear” Whitmire. And after the first twenty minutes of being called darlin’, sweet thang and buttercup—whatever the hell kind of endearment that last one was—she’d realized the homely bartender wasn’t a skeeze douchebag asshole. He was just “Southern”. He’d explained that last bit, she had to guess, after she shot daggers at him.
He didn’t mention the fact she’d been brought down in flames, so either he didn’t notice or was too kind to comment. Whatever the reason, she was grateful. She could count on one hand the number of times a guy had turned her down, and would have four fingers and a thumb left over. God. Just thinking about how he’d politely moved her hand and put it in her lap sent humiliation surging through her. She shook with it.
“You cold, butter bean?”
She narrowed her eyes at Bear. “Now you’re just making crap up. Butter bean?”
He wiped down the bar in front of her. “Well, that’s the affectionate version of buttercup, you know, for when you know the lady real well.” He grinned when she raised her brow. “But are you cold? I could adjust the A/C.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m good. I’m headed out anyway.” She withdrew a generous tip and placed it on the bar.
“Now that’s just crazy.” Bear slid the fifty across the scratched wood toward her. “I can’t take this.”
“Nonsense. You kept me company while I was running a whole lot of stuff through my exhausted brain. Fifty is a fraction of what I have to pay my therapist up in New York.”
He blushed clear to his hairline. “Just doing my job. And talking to you ain’t no hardship. But I thank ya, darlin’. I’ve got my eye on some real sweet lures over at the Fish ‘n’ Stop.”
This town was too much. “Well, okay then. See you around, Bear.”
“Now you make sure and bring your sweet self back in to see me before you leave town, ya hear?”
“I will.” She couldn’t help but smile as she headed toward the door. Bear’s easygoing personality and humor had certainly distracted her from the Wren fiasco. Damn, but he was smoking hot. She’d have lived through that embarrassment ten times over if she could have wrapped herself around his delicious body.
Roslyn rummaged around in the bottom of her purse for her keys. The problem with carrying a bag big enough to fit a Doberman inside is that you lose things. Like car keys. In exasperation, she plopped it on the hood of her Mustang and dug in. “Come on, you little fuckers.”
She whirled at the sound of his voice, her heart racing. “Jesus, Wren. What in the hell are you doing?”
“Being stupid.” He walked toward her, hands in his pockets.
“O-kay.” Roslyn’s fingers closed around her keys and she pulled them from her purse. So cosmopolitan goggles had nothing to do with how sexy this dude was. From his form-fitting jeans to his spiky, golden-brown hair, he was a walking advertisement for debauchery. But he’d blown her off. Roslyn frowned. “Lose your car keys?” She was pleased with the amount of sarcasm she was able to shove into that one sentence.
“No. My mind.”
He advanced on her and the look on his face had her nipples tightening. Damn traitorous erogenous zones. They’d clearly forgotten how this man had turned her down flat. She straightened her spine and stopped him with the best glare she could muster, being as turned on as she suddenly was. “Well, I’m a lawyer, not a psychiatrist, so you’re shit out of luck.”
“Am I?” He placed a hand on her hip and she felt its heat through her skirt. Damn it. She really wished the arrogant approach didn’t work on her. But it did. Very well. And from the sexy curve of his lips, he knew it. She was done for.
“What happened to it being best to say good night?” As his thumb made gentle circles on her hipbone, she swayed toward him. Couldn’t seem to help it.
His gaze dropped to her lips before focusing on her eyes. “Like I said. I lost my mind.”
And clearly she had lost hers, because she was buying into this shit. Sure, she could admit she had a history of letting men walk all over her. But she could rationalize it by admitting she got something out of it too. Usually hot sex. And what Wren was offering, by the look on his face and the heat of his touch, couldn’t be anything but. He was just passing through, so what could it hurt? She licked her bottom lip.
“Well, Wren, lucky for you the balding man with the paunch I had my eye on left with some other chick about forty-five minutes ago. I’m yours for the night. If you think you can handle it, that is.”
The sexy curve that had teased his lips only moments before stretched into a full-out grin full of wicked promise. “Oh, I can handle it, darlin’. Just you wait and see how well.”