A quick trip to visit her hospitalized mother is lasting longer than Anna expected. About twelve weeks longer. It’s not that she isn’t used to taking care of her mom—Anna took over that job when her father died. But it’s a little stressful vying for partnership in her New York law firm from the nowhere town of Liberty, Alabama. Fortunately the neighbor, a hot Southern charmer, is willing to keep her occupied.
Since Trey breached her defenses, he and Anna have been getting to know each other, in every way possible, all the while doing their level best to be discreet in this tiny, old-fashioned town. The woman he’s coming to know is a far cry from the uptight lawyer he first met. And he likes the new Anna. A lot.
As her feelings for Trey deepen, Anna is torn between duty and desire. What she wants versus what she thinks she needs. Returning to New York, reverting to the formidable attorney her father molded, is the responsible thing to do.
Too bad that’s not the woman Trey fell in love with…
— Chapter One —
Anna Reed slumped against the wall by the front door of her mother’s cottage in Liberty, Alabama, pushing soaked tendrils of hair from her forehead with a shaking hand. She watched as the taxi’s taillights disappeared down the long drive and into the distance before searching blindly for the decorative pot where the house key was hidden. A flash of lightning crackled in the night sky and Anna jumped, clutching her chest and stumbling over what felt like a giant bag of potting soil. Her stiletto heel slipped between the boards of the front porch, snapping off when she tried to right herself.
She slipped the shoe off and groaned. As if her day hadn’t been sucky enough.
An emergency phone call to her office had launched her into a journey requiring three airports, two flights and a midnight taxi ride into Nowheresville. And now this. Anna glared at the mutilated shoe in her hand, grabbed its mate and tossed both over the porch railing with a disgusted sigh. She continued to feel around for the planter in the pitch-black night until her fingers brushed its smooth surface and she was able to extract the key from beneath. She unlocked the door and fumbled for the wall switch. Sighing in relief, she flipped it.
“Well that’s just great,” she muttered. “No power.”
She pushed the door closed with her hip and leaned against it, tears threatening to slip over her lashes. She shook her head, willing the negative emotions away. She was just tired—the panic that had seized her before learning her mother would make a complete recovery must have finally caught up with her, rendering her an emotionally fragile mess. Everything would seem different in the morning. She just needed some sleep before she went back to the hospital.
Anna locked the door and took tiny steps to avoid tripping on anything as she made her way to the tiny spare bedroom. She unbuttoned her wet blouse and skirt as she went, letting the soaked garments fall to the floor. A clap of thunder roared in the angry night and Anna cringed as she slid her hand down the wall, searching for the bedroom. Her fingers met air and she eased through the open doorway. Reaching in front of her, she felt for the foot of the bed and groped the edge until she was able to drop on top of the mattress in a heap of exhaustion. Releasing a long sigh, she turned onto her side.
“You must be Annabelle.”
Anna’s hip met the floor with a thwack, her head bumping the wall as she tried to gain her footing. “Damn it!” She scrambled to her feet, her pulse rioting. “Who are—”
The beam of a flashlight illuminated the small room in faint light and she gasped at the stranger who stood on the other side of the bed wearing a smile and very little else.
She lurched forward and yanked her grandmother’s handmade afghan from the bed, curtaining herself. Meeting his gaze, she squared her shoulders. “Obviously you know who I am. So who the hell are you?”
He chuckled and rounded the corner of the bed, approaching her. She took a step back, her effort to escape thwarted by the wall.
“Sorry,” he said, his voice a low, lazy drawl. “I’m Trey Jacobs. I live next door.” He extended his hand.
Anna eyed him for a long pause before tucking the corner of the afghan under her arm and hesitantly accepting his gesture. “Anna Reed.”
He narrowed his eyes slightly, tilting his head to the side. “Your mama calls you Annabelle.”
“Yes, well,” she pulled her hand from his warm, calloused grasp and wrapped her arms around her torso, “I prefer Anna.”
“Alright.” He moved toward her again and she took a clumsy step to the side and backed into the window, the blinds clattering against the glass. Anna heard a drawer in the bedside table slide open then the scraping sound of a match. A large pillar candle illuminated their corner of the room in a soft glow.
He turned to face her and she was met with her first full glimpse of Trey Jacobs. He stood before her in black boxer briefs, one hand resting lightly on his hip. His hair was mussed from sleep, sticking up in delicious disarray. It appeared to be a dark blonde in the limited light and she could just make out stubble on his square jaw. Anna’s attention drifted to his chest, to the hard planes of muscle concealed beneath skin that looked as smooth and soft as suede.
He cleared his throat and her gaze darted back to his. Trey smiled liked the Cheshire cat, his eyes reflecting amusement. Anna snapped her mouth shut, which had apparently fallen open during her unabashed perusal of her mother’s neighbor. “Um, the hospital staff said a neighbor had been with my mom. Was that you?”
He nodded and sat on the edge of the bed, gesturing for her to join him. She glanced at his wide expanse of skin and the brief stretch of black fabric before focusing her attention on the painting over his right shoulder. “Do you want to get dressed or something?” she asked.
His throaty laugh suffused her cheeks with heat. What in the hell was her problem? She was put under fire on a daily basis back home in New York. If it wasn’t opposing counsel or a squirrely witness, it was her demanding boss hovering over her as she attempted to scrape and claw her way to a partnership. Trey was only a man. She looked down at him, at the corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement, his full lips, the way he ran long fingers into his hair to brush it from his forehead.
Yes, he was just a man. And the Grand Canyon was just a crack.
He placed his palms against his thighs as he leaned toward her. “My mama always said, ‘If you ain’t seen it before, you don’t know what it is.’” He winked at her. “But I’ll be glad to give you some privacy if you’d like to put on something more decent than that afghan.”
Anna glanced down at the family heirloom she was clutching to her chest. The ice-blue lace of her bra and panties was visible through a multitude of holes that had stretched out over the years. Great. “I, ah, don’t have anything with me. My suit is soaked and I didn’t have time to go by my apartment before the flight here.”
Trey stood and assessed her for a long moment, his eyes sweeping the length of her, pausing where her waist cut in above her hip and again at the swell of her breasts. Heat crept up her neck as he slowly raised his gaze to hers. “Why don’t you borrow something from Ellen?” His voice was husky, the sound eliciting tingling in all kinds of intriguing places.
“Good idea. I’ll just…” Anna pointed to the door beyond him and he stepped aside, gesturing for her to walk past. She prayed there wasn’t an enormous hole across her ass as she scurried from the room and ran her fingers along the wall in the corridor until she found her mother’s bedroom. Anna closed the door and leaned against it, letting the afghan fall to the floor. “Geez,” she said on a sigh, rubbing her hand down her face.
The light in the adjoining bathroom flickered then came on. Wonderful. Now there was power. When she was stumbling around in her skivvies with a near-naked man waiting to greet her, no. But ensconced in the privacy of her mother’s bedroom, completely free of hot, bed-disheveled men, let there be light. Anna flipped on the overhead fixture with a disgusted sigh and walked to the closet. She slid hangers down the rod. “What the hell?” she muttered. It looked like a country thrift store had exploded in the small space. Where were all the respectable clothes her mother had worn in New York? Her cashmere lounging pants, her expensive jeans, her Gucci, her Prada? What was all this crap?
Anna grumbled as she searched for something, anything she would consider putting on her body. Finally she located a black velour tracksuit and one lace-topped camisole to layer beneath it. Needing to give herself a good once over before going to solve the mystery of Trey Jacobs, she stepped into the bathroom and stopped short in front of the vanity.
Two eyes ringed in mascara stared back at her. The knot she had fastened at her nape that morning was now dangling over her shoulder, suspended by one stubborn lock of hair still clinging to the hairpin in a death grip. Her skin was fish-belly white, her lips void of even their natural pink hue. Overall, not a pretty picture.
Anna groaned, yanking the pin from her hair. She shook out its length, running her fingers through from scalp to ends. Her hair fell in thick waves around her face. A definite improvement. Next she borrowed some of her mother’s facial cleanser and removed the offensive black smudges from around her eyes. Digging through the vanity drawer, she discovered an iridescent peach blush and a light coral lip gloss—not her usual color palette, but anything beat having the complexion of Wednesday from The Addams Family. A swish of mouthwash and Anna was as ready as she figured one could be to face the odd situation in which she found herself.
Who the hell was Trey Jacobs and, more importantly, why was he so at home lounging around half-naked…in her bed?
* * * * *
Trey fished through the kitchen cabinet, looking for the herbal tea he had seen Ellen prepare on countless occasions. Brushing coffee filters aside, he found the box of Pomegranate Green Tea hidden behind them. He glanced at the label. Caffeine-free. Not that he would be getting any sleep after his conversation with Anna, that was for sure.
Ellen had said her daughter was beautiful, but the woman who had jumped from the bed in horror made that term seem pedestrian. Even travel-weary with makeup streaked down her cheeks, Anna was the sexiest woman Trey had ever seen. And the afghan… He’d never be able to look at one of the musty relics again without remembering how her pale skin and bits of blue lace had been showcased through the holes in the worn throw.
The teakettle shrieked and Trey retrieved two mugs from the cabinet. He placed a tea bag in each and was just pouring the water when he heard her in the doorway. He turned toward the table, a hot tea in each hand, but stopped when he saw her.
She was wearing some of her mother’s clothes, the waistband of the pants rolled over to stay in place. Her face was scrubbed clean of her old makeup, and now in the light he could see that her eyes were an intriguing shade of blue—almost gray in the center with a darker hue around the edge of the iris. And her hair…it was the stuff of fantasies. Long and thick in a shade of blonde he’d never seen. It fell around her face in loose waves, the ends brushing the curves of her breasts. He stiffened behind the fly of his jeans, his mouth dry.
“So.” Anna tilted her chin up, crossing her arms over her chest. “Why is it exactly that you’re here? In my mother’s home?”
Trey walked to the table and placed the steaming mugs atop it. “Why don’t we sit?” He pulled a chair out for her. She studied him for a long moment then closed the distance between them in three long, graceful strides and accepted the offered seat.
“Thank you,” she said, scooting the chair toward the table. He joined her on the other side.
“I’m sorry if I startled you. I wasn’t sure when you’d make it down, and I was so tired when I got back from the hospital I didn’t think to leave a note.” He blew on the tea and tested the temperature with his lips before taking a sip. “Not that you’d have seen it in the blackout, anyway.”
She leveled her eyes on his. “Thank you for being with her at the hospital. I’m glad she wasn’t alone.”
“When they called, I rushed right over. Scared the bejesus out of me.” Trey shook his head. “Thank God she’s going to be okay.”
Anna stared at him, her eyes narrowing slightly. “So, the hospital called you? When she was admitted?”
He took a swallow of the tea. “No, the paramedics, actually. I’m her emergency contact. They must have gotten the number from her cell phone.”
“Wait,” she said, shaking her head as if she were trying to rattle something out of it. “They called you first? My mother has you…” Her lips compressed into a thin line and she leaned her forearms on the table, staring him down. “Just what in the hell is your relationship to my mother, Trey?”
Trey sputtered his tea as he swallowed at the implication. He imagined the look on her face was the very one Ellen had spoken of when describing what a brilliant trial attorney Anna was, how she could extract blood from any turnip of a witness. He’d certainly crack under the pressure if he were on the stand under this kind of regard. He bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile at her barely contained outrage.
“Anna,” he said, mimicking her posture. “Your mother and my mother grew up together here in Liberty. My mom’s family owned the house next door.” Trey saw Anna’s shoulders relax a fraction. “And like your mom, she moved away once she got married.”
“Oh,” Anna said, and brought the mug to her lips to take a sip. Placing the tea on the table, she eyed him expectantly.
“My mom died about five years ago and she left her parents’ house to me. Eventually I got tired of the city, so I moved to Liberty. The house was a wreck, so I’m doing repairs around my other jobs. Plumbing’s torn out right now, so Ellen told me I could sleep here until I finish it.”
The corners of Anna’s lips turned down. “I’m sorry about your mother. I lost my dad a little over two years ago, so I can relate.”
Anna nodded, clicking her fingernails against the mug. “So you’re doing the work on the house yourself?”
“Yep. The addition to your mom’s house as well. I’m a carpenter.”
“Jacobs Construction,” Anna murmured.
Trey had received the initial deposit for the necessary addition for Ellen’s business, Belle’s Buds, from Anna herself. As he watched her face, he could see it all coming together.
She sat up in her chair, stretching her neck from side to side. “And how is it I’ve never met you, Trey?” Her voice dripped with suspicion, and he guessed he couldn’t blame her.
“I’ve only been here six months. The city just got to me. I wanted something smaller.”
“Where’d you move from?”
Trey leaned back and draped his arm across the chair next to his. “Birmingham.”
The corners of her lips twitched. “Birmingham is the big city you escaped from?”
He smiled at her amusement. “What can I say? I like towns with one stoplight.”
“They’ve put a stoplight in Liberty?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Sure did. Over by the Stop ’n’ Shop. Old Mr. Wilkes plowed his Lincoln into a car turning into the parking lot a few months back, so I figure the town thought it was about time.”
Anna snorted and covered her mouth with her hand. “Sorry. It’s just, you know, coming from New York…”
Trey caught the sparkle in her eyes as she wrapped her head around what must seem absurd to a big-city girl. “But Liberty isn’t a complete mystery to you. Ellen said you spent some time in the summers here as a kid, and you were here to help her start up her business.”
“That’s true.” Anna glanced around the kitchen. “And Lord knows Mom did her best to infuse an air of Alabama up in New York, making sure her Southern roots took hold and grew strong in our home. But the town of Liberty has always seemed so foreign to me. So different from what I’m accustomed to.”
“I would guess so.” Trey studied her as she drank her tea. There was a sophisticated presence about her that he hadn’t seen in a woman in a long time. Even having been drowned in the rain and forced to borrow clothing two sizes too big, she exuded class and refinement. She would stand out in Liberty like a Union soldier on the Confederate’s frontline.
Anna rubbed her temple, her eyes drifting closed, and Trey was brought out of his armchair analysis of the city mouse thrust into the country. He rose from the table and circled around to her chair. “Come on, you’re exhausted. Why don’t you go to your mom’s room and get some sleep? I’ll drive you to the hospital in the morning.”
“Okay. Thank you,” she said softly as she rose. She picked up her mug and walked to the sink, where she deposited it in the white ceramic basin. When she leaned against the edge of the counter and lowered her head, Trey approached, placing his hand on her shoulder. She tensed beneath his touch.
“Are you okay, Anna?”
She nodded and angled her body away from him. He heard a muffled sniffle. If there was one thing he couldn’t bear, it was a woman in tears. Blame it on his upbringing, his mother, whatever, but he didn’t have it in him to just let it be—whether it was any of his business or not. And Anna didn’t strike him as a wilting flower. Hell, she could probably annihilate most men’s attempts to get near her with a practiced raise of her eyebrow and a piercing look from those incredible eyes of hers. But none of that stopped him from touching her again, placing his hand on her wrist and turning her to face him.
Her eyes were brimming with tears she attempted to blink away. One spilled over and Trey brushed it from her cheek with his thumb. “It’s okay to be upset, Anna. You’ve been through a lot today.”
She jerked her head back from his touch, confusion mixing with the tears in her eyes, but she didn’t step away from him. Trey breathed in her scent. She smelled of rain and some sort of wicked perfume meant to bring men to their knees. A scent so enticing a man could only step closer to consume it. So he did.
Anna’s eyes grew wide as he moved but she stood as still as lake waters at sunrise, tilting her head to look up at him. He knew he was going to kiss her. No matter how inappropriate it may be, he hadn’t a choice. Not when her eyes met his, her breath hitching when he cupped her cheek in his hand, her lips parting on a sigh as he slowly lowered his head.
He had meant for his kiss to be tender, to comfort her, but as soon as his lips met hers, everything changed.
She wound her arms around his neck and pulled him into the kiss, deeper and deeper, until they were both clinging to one another with greed—hungry mouths and tongues and hands. Trey groaned as she stepped into him, running his hands into her hair to anchor her mouth against his. Anna’s fingers found the edge of his t-shirt and she burrowed underneath, splaying her palms against his chest as she drew his tongue into her mouth.
Trey backed her into the counter and pressed kisses against her jaw, his hand sliding up her rib cage. As he neared her breast, she whimpered, the tips of her fingers digging into his flesh. He closed his palm over a round globe, his mouth seeking hers once more. She pressed her body closer, trailing the tips of her fingers down his abdomen.
Trey hissed in a breath and slid his hands around to her ass, pulling her flush against his erection. Anna stilled beneath his touch before she tore her mouth from his, turning her head to the side. Stunned, Trey took a step back.
“I-I can’t believe I just did that,” she said and placed the back of her hand against her lips. “I don’t know what came over me. I must be out of my head with fatigue.” She wrapped her arms around her torso protectively and turned away from him.
“Anna.” He tried to touch her arm but she stepped out of reach.
She swiveled slowly on her heel to face him. Her lips were still swollen from his kisses and her hair was sexy wild. He became even harder, if that was possible. He started toward her but she shook her head and eased back another step.
“This was a mistake. I should go to bed,” she said as she gathered her hair in her fist at her nape. “It’s been a long day.”
Trey drove his hands into his pockets, to hide his erection if nothing else, and nodded. “Alright.”
Her cheeks flushed a soft pink. “Well, okay then. Goodnight.” She waved at him awkwardly and turned to leave.
She pivoted slowly to face him. “Yes?”
He smiled as he watched her nod and scoot out of the room. He knew his dreams would be filled with what it would be like to feel her writhing body beneath his, the look of desire she’d have in her eyes as he slid inside her, and the soft cries she would make when he brought her to completion. That is, if he could fall asleep at all.
She’d called it a mistake. Well, if that was the case, he hoped he’d get the opportunity to screw up again. Really, really soon.