Page 13

“Rick, if we’re still going to get n**ed together, I should probably prepare you. The doctors did reconstruction called a tram flap where they take tissue from my stomach to rebuild the breast. They also rebuilt the nipple and tattooed a simulated areola, but it doesn’t look the same. There are scars that run—”

He tipped her face up to his and brushed her mouth with his. “Nola.”


“You’re not going to scare me off.”

“What makes you think I’m—” Her voice faltered. “Damn, you’re too smart. Yeah, if I frighten you away then I don’t have to do this thing that’s scaring me.”

“We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but I promise you, you could never be anything but beautiful to me. I have many flaws, but I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”

And he would make sure he gave her everything he could. He needed to be that man for her tonight. Because all doubts aside, they were going to make love.

Rick hefted her off his lap and set her beside him. He reached over to click on the bedside lamp, the light casting a hazy, but unmistakable glow over the room. Then he swept aside the covers, his running shorts leaving his ankle on display. His scars on display. A crisscross of red, corded lines from when he’d first stepped through the soggy, rotten wood.

“So, lady, what do ya say—I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours?”

Show hers?

Nola struggled not to bolt off the bed at Rick’s proposition. The words most definitely would have sent her running for the hills just yesterday. But somehow, Rick had injected just the right amount of humor blended with the reality and yes, even his own vulnerability by showing his scarred leg first.

She’d been so certain five years ago she needed health and vitality and yet he seemed no less vital now. In fact, seemed stronger somehow for having overcome so much.

And hey, wasn’t that a revelation for herself?

If she believed that for him, then she deserved to take ownership of the same for herself. Strength from survival.

Her chin went up as her hands traveled to the hem of her tank top, peeling it over her head until she wore only her second tank with spaghetti straps and a built-in bra.

She’d opted for smaller br**sts during the reconstruction, easier to feel for recurring lumps. That involved reduction on her unaffected breast. And yes, maybe she’d also wanted to make sure any future guy who expressed a physical interest wasn’t a “breast man.” Lord, she was a mess.

Just get it over with. Her trembling hands went back to the hem…

Rick’s hands covered hers. “Hold on. This isn’t a race.”

“Okay. I understand. All right.” She exhaled a mega sigh of relief. “Wait. No, I don’t get it.”

“We forgot something important here in the need to put the cards on the table, so to speak.”

She waited, fingers twisting in the hem of her pink ribbed tank, nerves making her even edgier than the bout of lust she’d been battling all evening. “What might that be?”


“Foreplay.” She shivered in anticipation—and remembrance of their last time together. The fella was good at the foreplay. Lucky her. Lucky them. “I guess it’s been so long I forgot about that.”

“I never forget about that.”

“Oh.” She grinned weakly. Trust was more difficult that she’d expected.

“Yeah. Oh. Hopefully there will be some ohs, too.”

She laughed. Laughed? She totally hadn’t expected good old-fashioned giggles in the bedroom when she finally jumped back into sex again. How had Rick managed that? Another wonderful thing about this man. He had such an ease about him, no matter what life dealt.

He swept the comforter to the floor until they were left with only each other and a tangle of legs in a floral sheet. His legs stretched the length in running shorts, scars crisscrossing over around his ankles, running thick and corded up his right leg, thinner with more precision on his left knee.

All red and angry.

But that would fade with time, she reminded herself. She knew too well from experience. “You’ve had a rough year.”

His mouth tipped in a wry smile. “You could say that.”

“You’re even stronger than I realized when I saw you in the bar.”

“You have a way with words, lady. I’m not sure I agree, but thanks for saying so.”

“I have a way with the truth.” She rested her hands on his thighs, running her thumbs down steely muscles.

He rested his hands on top of hers. “You’ve done enough for me tonight. Now tell me what you want.”

What did she want? Total dark would be nice, to settle the nerves buzzing around like untrained newbie pilots in her stomach, but that was the coward’s way out. She needed to dive in. “Who’s going to be on top?”

“Is that an Abbot and Costello question?” Sliding his hands from hers, Rick lounged back against the headboard. He grinned that craggy smile that blew cobwebs out of corners with its sheer power.

“I’ve never met anyone besides you who brought humor into the bedroom.”

Not that she had that much experience beyond him, but sex with her husband had been such a serious business. And her mind was rambling away from her again to avoid the present.

Rick unfolded his hands from behind his head and gripped her waist, hefting her up. “How about we’re both on top?”

He settled her on his lap so she knelt.

“Comfy?” he asked.

“Perfect.” She adjusted her legs and leaned against him, chest to chest, the core of her nestling against his erection with tantalizing friction even through their clothing.

Gripping the hem of his brown T-shirt, she inched the worn fabric up and over his honed chest, a very familiar chest. This part of him she remembered well. She whipped the fabric over his head and flung it across the room.

Nola flattened her palms to the broad expanse of muscles. A sigh puffed from her mouth. His pecs twitched in response.

Her fingers fisted. “Okay, so now it’s the show mine time. Right?”

He leaned forward, pressing his mouth to hers. “Shh. Remember? There’s no timetable here.” He nipped her mouth. “No rush.” Kissed her again. “We can keep doing this.” Deepened the contact, tongues touching. “For as long as you want.”

His fingers tangled in her hair, he kissed her with a leisure she remembered from dating days, courting. Hmm.

“You can’t really mean we could just make out all night.”

“If that’s what you want.” His mouth continued to work over her skin while his hands explored.

“But I want more.”

“So do I. I want all of you.” He eased back to look at her again. “But if you’re not ready, then it’s not equal and I’m all about equality here.”

She rested her forehead against his. “What if I said I wanted to leave my tank top on?”

His exhale swirled between them and she wondered what she would do if he gave her an ultimatum. Except she also wondered how she would feel if he seemed grateful for the out. Oh my, there went those silver chains of emotion tangling up in her stomach again.

He slipped his hands just under the hem of her tank top, stroking along her midriff. “I realize we haven’t known each other long enough for you to have any reason to give me that level of trust, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed if you backed out on letting us come together, totally bare.”

Her breath hitched, she started to talk, but he pressed his mouth to hers to silence her.

“However, I’ll be more disappointed if we don’t do this at all. So bottom line, I’ll take you any way that I can have you.”

Oh. Wow. His turning over of control to her helped in a way she hadn’t expected. His understanding turned the tide for her. She nodded. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Slowly, oh so slowly, he tunneled his hands up the back of her shirt. She’d been prepared for him to go straight for the gusto; she relaxed a little more. The rasp of his callused fingers against her skin caught her by surprise. She sagged against his chest in a warm wash of… “Yum.”

His chuckle rumbled against her chest. “I don’t think my best efforts at seduction have ever been summarized in the same way as a good dinner.”

“A compliment is a compliment. I like my food.” She writhed against him to increase the friction of his hand against her flesh, a sweet pleasure so long missed. “This isn’t a time to overanalyze.”

Why think ahead? Enjoy the moment and let the rest take care of itself. She surrendered to his kiss and stroke, and yes, maybe she’d given over control but she deserved this, and doggone it, her hands were having a hell of an awesome time exploring his body, as well.

And as far as yummy meals went, her mouth enjoyed feasting on his mouth, his neck, his perspiration-dotted skin. So perhaps he’d given over to the moment, as well.

“Shirt on or off?” he asked

“Off,” she said without hesitation. If she didn’t do this now, she never would.

He didn’t take his time or give her even a second to think—thank heavens. Her shirt sailed across the room to hook on a lamp in a heartbeat.

She knew what she looked like now. She’d stared at her altered chest in the mirror often enough.

And she so didn’t want to think right now.

He gazed at her for a moment that seemed to stretch forever but probably was all of five seconds. She wondered if he would make some big ceremonial deal out of touching her scars which would make her cry and she so didn’t want to cry.

He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, bringing her chest flush with his and holy cow, he was still aroused. Relief beyond anything she ever could have imagined flooded her, followed by joy.

And desire. Sweet, wonderful, unrestrained pleasure.

She wriggled closer against him until she could feel the gentle abrasion of his chest hair against her skin. The sensation caught her by surprise. She’d been so caught up in thinking about the feelings she would lose, she hadn’t thought of what she would enjoy. And the way he’d positioned them, she didn’t feel so exposed. How ironic, how delightfully wonderful to find such surprising empathy from a guy with a call sign “Lurch.”

He hadn’t made this about cancer or scars, but about enjoying the moment. Perfect.

Then she stopped thinking at all.

She inhaled the scent of Rick’s spicy aftershave permeating the room. No more of her potpourri taking over the room. This was a man’s place now, regardless of how many floral sheets or froufrou comforters she brought into the place. The sheer masculinity of it sent a rush through her.

Rick dipped his head to trail nibbles along her ear with rambling whispers of how much he wanted her, needed her, his heated words as much an aphrodisiac as his touch skimming away her shorts and underwear.

All righty. Getting down to business. Yes. Her heart rate raced and her greedy hands grappled for his shorts, his h*ps lifting to accommodate, then—oh my—her hand wrapped around the heat of him. Something else so very familiar in this moment.

She remembered well the size and weight of him in her hand, in her. She remembered too his growl of appreciation in her ear, the sense that she knew instinctively what to do for him just as he knew how to bring her such sweet pleasure.


A groan or a question?



“Oh.” She couldn’t string together more than one word at a time, either, which posed a serious problem for finding birth control anytime soon. They didn’t have to worry about conceiving, but in this day and age, condoms were always wise with all the diseases out there.