He sat back on his heels. Again she kicked the covers off and lifted her foot for him to remove her sandal.
He pressed her foot to his chest and went to work on the buckle over her ankle, doing his damnedest not to notice that her panties were as sheer as her dress had been.
A white lace thong that barely covered her mound.
She smiled up at him, her eyes soft and dreamy and glazed over. He felt the helpless smile curve his mouth in return. “You’re trouble,” he said. “You know that?”
“I’ve been told.”
An innocent response, but it reminded him of exactly how often she’d been disappointed and hurt. He was not going to be one of those men.
“I also tend to drive people crazy,” she said. “Especially men. I drove all my mom’s men right off. She’d say ‘Oh, Ali-gator, there goes another one.’ I’m pretty good at doing it to my own men too, driving them off.” She sat up and tried to pile her hair on top of her head using the hair band she’d had around her wrist, but she was having some coordination issues. And then the thing got stuck in her hair, so there she sat, in her barely there panties, arms up over her head, hands entangled in her hair, looking like a walking/talking wet dream.
Deciding it was safest to leave her hands restrained, he ignored her, the same way he was trying to ignore the unintentionally gut-wrenching tales of her life, as he fought her sandal off.
“Hey,” she said, tugging on her hair.
“Hey, yourself.” When he finally got her sandals off, he leaned in carefully to take over the hair fiasco. He managed some sort of bun, though it was lopsided.
She smiled at him in gratitude, all flushed, a little damp, and looking hotter than anything he could possibly imagine. “Kiss me, Luke.”
A demanding drunk, he thought, amused, and gave her a short, sweet smackeroo.
But he’d greatly underestimated her determination.
“Mmm,” she said, wrapping him up tight in her arms, deepening the kiss, drawing him into her nefarious plans like a moth to the flame. He let her have her way—hell, who was he kidding, he probably wanted it even more than she did—but when she slid her hands beneath his shirt and then paused, he sucked in a breath. A few moments ago he’d been trying to extract himself but now all he could think was: Up or down, Ali?
She chose up first, brushing his nipples, tugging a low groan from him. Then down, over his abs and farther, her fingers playing with the tie on his board shorts.
When she tugged, he caught her hands and pinned them above her head. He had no idea where the hell he found the strength, but he couldn’t let her do this. He kept trying not to get sucked in by her.
And kept failing. But she had the singular ability to both break his heart and make him yearn and burn.
He’d told Sara she was work, but she wasn’t work at all. Nor was she a vacation diversion. She was…real. The first real thing in his life in far too long.
Ali fought a hand free and touched his face. “You’re a good man, Luke, you know that?”
With a groan, he tried to concentrate on anything besides the sexy, warm woman beneath him. Her curves were pressed up against him, chest to chest, hips to hips, thighs to thighs.
But that’s not what was grabbing him by the throat and holding on. As always, it was her eyes. And all the things he could see there, which was everything, every single thing, including the fact that she cared about him.
Far more than he deserved.
He dropped his head to the pillow beside hers, thinking here she was, all sweet and sleepy, snuggling up to him. And here he was, wanting to fuck her until she screamed his name.
Some good guy.
“Ali.” She didn’t answer.
He lifted his head to kiss her goodnight because he was leaving.
But caressing her hair from her face, he had to laugh softly. Her eyes were closed, her mouth slightly open, her limbs loose and relaxed.
She was fast asleep.
And he hurt just looking at her. Pressing his lips to her temple, he breathed her in. “You’re perfect,” he whispered, “just the way you are.”
Lucky Harbor was a town of hearty souls, and they rose early, whether for work or play. Ali had always been one of those early risers too, but this morning, she tried to get up and could only groan in misery.
“Yeah. Thought you might be having trouble.”
Along with Luke’s dry tone came the scent of coffee. Ali whimpered in gratitude and cracked open an eye. “Why is the world spinning?”
“Because alcohol is a finicky bitch.” Luke set a cup of coffee on the nightstand. “You going to live?”
Not at all certain, she sat up, clutching the covers to herself as it all came back. Last night. The Scotch. Falling into the water…She took a peek beneath the covers. Just a thong. “Oh God, I’m naked.”
“Not quite,” Luke said. “And not for lack of trying either.”
She stared up at him, remembering everything but completely unable to get a read on his mood. He was dressed for paddleboarding, looking like a Greek god. “You didn’t want me.”
“Wrong. I just prefer my women conscious.”
His board shorts were lifeguard red today, down to his knees and frayed at the hem. “You were a lifeguard?” she asked.
“Yeah, with Jack and Ben. But only because we got to sit on the beach and look at girls in bikinis all day. It was a no-brainer.”
He could still fit into a bathing suit from ten years ago, which was a good reason to hate him. That, and the fact that he didn’t appear to be the slightest bit hungover. Where was the justice in that? “Who got the most girls?”
“Ben. He had his dad’s truck and a black Lab pup named Ketchup. Both Ketchup and the truck were babe magnets.”
“You should have gotten a dog.”
He smiled sexily, as if the memories were that good. “I did okay.”
“I have news,” he said.
Uh-oh. “Good or bad?”
“I wanted to tell you last night, but you fell asleep on me,” he said without answering her question. “There’s nothing on the surveillance tapes.”
She absorbed the hit of it and shook her head. “I’m not going to get lucky today in bed or out of it, is that what you’re saying?”
At the look of regret on his face, she blew out her breath. “Forget it. I know, you’re leaving and you don’t want anyone to get hurt, blah, blah, blah. And anyway, I might be getting arrested today, so it doesn’t matter. I hope Zach isn’t in L.A.” Not wanting to face him, or the fact that her heart had tightened painfully, she plopped to her back and covered her head.
“Ali, we’re going to figure this out.”
She felt her heart squeeze at the “we.” She knew he believed that, but she wasn’t sure she did.
She closed her eyes. “I’d like to be alone,” she said softly. She needed to get used to that.
“Please, Luke.” And whether it was the threat of tears in her voice or something else, she heard him go. She rolled over and fell back into a fitful sleep, and this time when she woke up, the sun was a little higher and she felt a little more human.
She was also alone. She staggered out of bed, and as she got ready for work, there was only one call from a reporter. Progress.
She drove to the flower shop. It was locked up and dark, which was odd since it’d been Russell’s one morning a week to open.
But Russell was still sitting in his car, sipping from a to-go coffee mug, staring pensively at the shop. Ali slid into his passenger seat, making him jerk in startled surprise and spill his coffee.
“Crap,” he said, looking down at the stain spreading over his trousers.
“Go ahead.” She handed him a napkin. “Just tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“That you’re closing the shop.”
Russell let out a long breath. “I’m sorry, Sweetkins. I should have told you, I know. But God, the thought of disappointing you…”
He’d done exactly that by keeping it from her, but she didn’t add to his burden by saying so. “Are you sure about this?” she asked softly. “Really, really sure?”
He nodded solemnly, but his eyes were lit with excitement. “I leave in a few days. Paul’s ecstatic, said he can’t wait. He needs me.”
And Russell needed out of Lucky Harbor. She understood. She really did. But she stared with longing at the building, which was exuding quirky charm and ambiance despite the dark windows that broke her heart. She’d give just about anything to be in a position to take over the flower shop.
“Heard there’s probably going to be an arrest soon,” Russell said quietly.
“Want to talk about it?”
There was something in his voice, and she turned her head to his, a funny feeling in her stomach. “I didn’t do it.”
“Of course not, Kitten.”
She swallowed the hurt, because that’s what she did. When she fell down, she picked herself up without waiting for a helping hand. And though she now had the new panic of being unemployed burning a hole in her esophagus, she eyed the notebook on the dash.
Russell was a complete technophobe. He had his entire client base in that notebook, not to mention his bookkeeping records handwritten in purple ink in his bold scrawl.
And it was all right there… “Russell, I have a question.”
He tensed a little. “Okay.”
He looked worried, like maybe she was going to ask him to help her hide the damn money. She bit back the frustration and the urge to spill his coffee again. “What if I wanted to buy the flower shop?”
“I don’t own the actual store, you know that. I lease the spot. And I got out of the lease last night. I talked to the owner; Mr. Lyons was a hard-ass about it, but…”