Author: Jill Shalvis


So close to where she needed him.


And yet so far…


“But your eyes,” he went on. “They don’t hide a thing, not from me. Neither does your body.”


Had anyone ever known her so well? It was both a terror that he did, and a relief. She could let go, forget, forget everything but this. Her hands fisted in his hair and pulled until his mouth was a breath from hers. “Now,” she said, hearing the desperation in her voice. “You said now.” She pushed his shirt up his chest. It was a glorious chest, and her mouth watered with the need to lick him from sternum to his low-riding jeans waistband.


He took over before she could, tugging his shirt off over his head in that one smooth motion that guys always make look so easy, and her breath caught. He was all smooth, hard muscle, in perfect proportion.


He tossed the shirt behind him and reached for her. She pulled him in, a little clumsy and a lot eager, kissing him with all the pent-up frustration that the uncertainty and anxiety of being back in Lucky Harbor had brought. She opened for him, pressing closer, harder, kissing him with everything she had.


He let her be the aggressor a moment, stroking her back, her hips, teasing her by slowly stroking his fingers lightly down her ribs and stomach, the rough pads of his fingers drawing goose bumps to her skin. Grasping her bra, she began to tug it over her head, but he took control then too, pushing her hands away to do the job himself.


She watched his eyes as he tossed her bra the same way he’d tossed his shirt, watched as he stroked her bare breasts with one hand, the other sliding beneath her panties. She moaned at the contact, which made him let out a very male sound of pleasure.


Then he dropped to his knees in front of her and dragged her panties down her legs, leaving her completely exposed to his hot gaze.


“Jack,” she murmured.


He scraped his teeth gently across her hip bones before moving lower. “Too late to run,” he said, and stroked his fingers over her until she trembled. Then he leaned in and put his mouth on her.


Her fingers tangled in his silky hair as he took her, not with the same untamed ferocity that she’d kissed him with, but a doggedly patient precision that told her how much her pleasure meant to him. He found her rhythm with shocking ease and settled in, and suddenly the game was no longer a game at all, but something much more personal.


And satisfying.


When she came and her legs collapsed, he caught her.


“Now you,” she managed. “Take off your pants.” Without waiting for him, she tried to do it herself.


“Easy,” he murmured, his large hands brushing hers aside to free himself.


Her breath caught again. She couldn’t help it; he was so perfectly, beautifully made. “I don’t have a condom,” she breathed, disappointment a physical ache.


He pulled one from his wallet and she nearly whimpered in relief. Spreading his shirt on the ground, he lowered her onto it, following her down, moving over her, running hot, open-mouthed kisses over her body until she could have instantly combusted. “Jack.”


He slid nine inches of perfection inside of her, and she did combust then, crying out, rocking into him as she came again. “Oh my God,” she managed. “Did you feel that?”


“Leah, you’re all I feel.”


Undone by him, wanting to drive him as crazy as he’d driven her, she lifted her hips so he could sink in even deeper.


He groaned. “Do that again.”


When she did, he dropped his head back, throat and shoulders corded tight, pleasure etched in every line of his face. “Oh fuck, yeah.” With surprising gentleness, he fisted his hand in her hair and tugged so she was looking directly into his eyes, which had gone dark with passion.


Her body throbbed, and unbelievably, the heat started to build within her again. “Jack.”


He answered by thrusting into her hard and lowering his mouth to hers. “Right here.”


Her nails dug into his skin as he moved; she couldn’t help it. And staring into his eyes, she let him drive her right over the edge. Again. This time she wasn’t alone; they came together with shuddering impact. It was the single most erotic, intimate moment they’d ever shared.


She came back to herself slowly, realizing she was plastered all over him. The sun was shining into the cave as Jack pulled her in closer, nuzzling at her temple, apparently perfectly content to lay with her in the morning sun.


He didn’t move or speak. But after a while she was afraid she might be coming off as too clingy, so she tried to separate herself, but he tightened his grip.


“Not yet,” he murmured.


Leah dropped her head to his shoulder and tried not to put too much into the fact that having sex with Jack had been better than every other experience of her life.


Combined.


Jack spent the rest of the day with Ronald going over the open fire reports.


Actually, that wasn’t true. He spent the day lost in fantasies involving a naked Leah on a mountaintop…


But in between replaying that over and over in his head, he managed to do some work. In the afternoon, the station got a call saying a woman was reporting that she had a garter snake in her house, and they needed to come get it out. Jack, as the head of station, told dispatch to tell her that unless it was an emergency, they didn’t remove snakes from homes. He referred her to animal control. He hung up and met Ronald’s wide grin. “What?”


“You turned away a damsel in distress.”


“Animal control handles snakes.”


Ronald just kept grinning.


“It’s their job.”


“Uh-huh,” Ronald said, sounding hugely amused. “Or…you hate snakes.”


Jack rolled his shoulders because he would swear he could feel a snake crawling over him right now. It’d been twenty-something years since it’d happened but it still made him shudder. “Me hating snakes has nothing to do with it.”


“I remember your dad telling me a story about a garden snake that got into your bedroom. It crawled through your bedroom window and dropped into your bed. You woke up with it on you. After that, you slept in your parents’ bed for a month.”


“I was seven.”


Ronald just cracked up.


Two minutes later, another call came in, direct to Ronald’s line, which he answered on speaker.


It was the mayor. “Listen, I need you to do me a favor. My neighbor is calling me at the office. She’s got this snake in her house, and I can’t get away to go help her out.”


Ronald was still grinning widely when he looked at Jack as he answered. “She called you about a snake?”


The mayor blew out a breath. “Listen, she’s new. She’s hot. And I’d like to date her. I can’t get away from the office, and animal control put her on hold. Can you go get the fucking snake or not?”


“I’ll send someone to save your future sex life,” Ronald said, and disconnected. He tossed Jack his keys. “Go get ’em, Tiger.”


Jack grabbed Ian, the only other guy he knew of who was also terrified of snakes. Misery loves company and all that… They dressed in their bunker gear, with Ian bitching the whole way that Jack owed him big.


The woman looked shocked to see them in full gear but led them down the hallway to her bedroom.


Jack stood in the doorway, sweating like a whore in church. Ian pushed him into the room, where they began their search. Ian went to the closet. Jack swallowed hard and dropped to his knees to look beneath the bed.


And hell. There it was. A two-foot-long, harmless garter snake that was taking years off Jack’s life just looking at him. Jack jerked back and fell to his ass.


Ian stared at the bed like it was a bomb. “It’s under there?”


Jack could only nod.


Ian gulped, appearing frozen in place.


The woman’s voice came from down the hall. “Did you find it?”


“Yes, ma’am,” Ian said, his voice sounding like Mickey Mouse. He grimaced and cleared his throat.


Jack found his legs and went out to the engine, where he grabbed a pike pole. He shoved it at Ian, who shook his head adamantly. “You’re head of shift,” he said.


Jack considered using the pike pole on Ian’s head, but there’d be a lot of paperwork afterward, so he resisted. And then, holding his breath, he went back to his knees and peered beneath the bed.


The snake was looking right at him with those obsidian eyes. Slowly Jack reached in there with the pike pole and snagged the motherfucker. Shaking like a leaf, he walked it outside.


The snake slithered off into the bushes and vanished.


And Jack had to lock his knees and gulp in air. Christ. He needed a new job.


Ian came out of the house, looking fully restored back to his good humor as he clapped his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “We did good,” he said.


Jack slid him a look. “We?”


“Hey, I had your back, man. If you’d dropped him, I’d have snatched him up for you.”


“If I’d dropped him, you’d have shit your pants.”


Ian grinned. “Well, now we’ll never know.”


At the station, Jack went back to the reports. He had the convenience store fire and auto shop fire reports side by side. Ronald wasn’t convinced either was arson, but Jack couldn’t get past the feeling that both points of origin had been buckets of rags, accidentally ignited. It just all felt far too pat, too convenient, and Jack didn’t believe in coincidences.


Nor could he buy the vagrant’s story of a Santa on crack theory, though that seemed more solid than the vagrant himself setting the fires since he’d been at the homeless shelter on the night of the auto shop fire.


And then Jack discovered something they hadn’t known—the auto-parts store had been in escrow too. To a Mr. Rinaldi, the same man in escrow to buy the convenience store. Jack ran a search on him. The guy had a squeaky-clean record and a well-documented history of cleaning up and turning around downtrodden areas.


It didn’t make sense. Not a lick of it made any sense at all.


That night, Leah made dinner for her grandma and was so distracted she burned the chicken and undercooked the rice.

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