Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
The Man of My Dreams, The Man from My Dreams
“Ayesha, I have to kiss you right now.”
“Adrían, I’m not looking for anything serious.”
“I know.” Adrían pushed her back against the car, her face between his hands. “But I’m going to kiss you, anyway.”
As he moved in, she spotted something over his shoulder, in the distance, tucked into a dark corner of the parking garage adjacent to the office building. It was in the shape of a large man, but by the time she blinked, it was gone…and Adrían’s lips were on hers.
She immediately saw Curtis behind her closed eyelids, big and solid yet playful, and she missed the way he felt on top of her. She missed the way he held her, kissed her. Each flick of Adrían’s tongue yanked a memory of Curtis from her heart and, with a sigh, she opened up.
The kiss deepened.
She was lonely. She missed her baby. She missed her sons’ father. She wanted him back. How could Curtis just leave like that? Didn’t he know she needed him? That she loved him?
Adrían took her arms, wrapped them around his neck, and caressed them from wrist to elbow. Tears flowed from her eyes, and she kissed him until the pain in her chest returned to something bearable.
“Just like that,” she whispered against his mouth. “God, Adrían. Just like that.”
Ayesha opened her eyes and blinked a few times, the room unfamiliar until remembered she was at Joel’s. When she turned, she was delighted to find he was still in bed with her, but he wasn’t sleeping. He was staring, and he stared at her in a way that made her hope she got the chance to wake up to him on many more occasions.
He smoothed her brow with his thumb. “Morning, gorgeous.”
“Good morning.” She stretched her arms above her head. Sleeping in Joel’s bed had made for a better night’s rest than sleeping on her cold, lonely mattress. “Where’s Theo?”
Joel’s gaze dropped to her mouth. “He and Josiah are, apparently, making us breakfast in bed.”
He was sexy in that way men were, first thing in the morning, his hair disheveled as though he’d woken up with bedhead and combed it with his fingers. His irises were darker than normal, and the way he helplessly focused on her mouth when he wanted to kiss or had just kissed her was a massive turn-on.
He didn’t look up. “Why not?”
“I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.”
“You can’t kiss me with morning breath.”
“You’d be surprised the things I would do if you let me.”
She slapped her hands over her mouth. He rolled his eyes with a grin, her wrists no match for his strong hands and forearms, and he proved it by straddling her and closing his grip around them.
While she struggled, he pulled. Even if she had been stronger than he was, the veins in his arms would have distracted her. The way his sleeves wrapped around his biceps made her body throb. She’d seen him shirtless countless times, so she knew what was underneath, but it wasn’t until now that she clearly remembered the fullness of his chest, the flat planes of his stomach, and the ridged Adonis belt that called out for her tongue, teeth, and lips.
He pried her hands away from her mouth and spread them on either side of her, fastening her to the bed. Tightness pulled at her nipples, and there were enough sparks between her legs to power the entire house.
“So you didn’t kiss Curtis in the mornings?” he asked.
“Yeah, but not in the beginning.”
“Are we ‘in the beginning’ still?”
“Well, this is technically our first night together, and we’ve only been on one date. Well, a half of a date.”
She didn’t fight.
Instead of pressing his lips to hers or slipping his tongue between them, he sucked her top lip into his mouth. There’d been no need for her to be on birth control for the last few years, and she owned no condoms for the same reason. But as Joel moved to her bottom lip, sucking and sliding his tongue along the lobe of flesh, she swore her body released an egg. Current circumstances had proven she’d been fertile at least twice.
Her nipples went from tight to aching.
He shoved his tongue between her lips, and she opened all the way up. He kept her pinned, knees on either side of her, those powerful thighs flexing to keep him from sitting his weight on her. And he kissed her slowly, his tongue deliberate as if committing the inner workings of her mouth to memory.
He smiled against her mouth and released his grip.
She flung her arms around his neck and slid her fingers into his hair. The pads of her fingertips met his scalp, and he let out a long, rumbling groan.
“I love when you do that,” he whispered.
She dragged her fingers along his scalp a second time. “And I love it when you moan when I do that.”
“You are so damn sexy.” He kissed the base of her throat. “So fucking sweet.”
She drew his lips to hers, never wanting to stop tasting him, but then he rolled so that she was on top of him, those massive hands caressing her bare thighs. Underneath her, he was hot and hard and pressed against where she desperately needed him.
“Just like that. God, Joel. Just like that.”
She sucked on his tongue. His hips shot up, pressing the thick bulge against her, and she rocked against it. He matched her movements, and she kissed him to the rhythm of their bodies.
“Mama and Daddy are still asleep.”
Joel broke the kiss.
“Five more seconds,” Ayesha whispered, chest heaving. Even if it was five seconds, she wanted to spend them with his mouth on hers. “And the boys always knock.”
“Joel’s not really my Daddy. It’s just his secret name that I call him.” Small hands tapped on the door. “Mama? Joel? Auntie Sydney’s here.”
Joel hesitated, gently moved her aside, and slid off the bed. He didn’t say a word as he walked into the bathroom, tousling his hair with his fingers.
Ayesha stared at the closed bathroom door. This was a new development.
“One second!” she called, tossing her legs over the side of the bed.
She thought about going to Joel’s closet to find something of his to wear over her nightshirt, but after a reaction like that, she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t come out and rip it off her for wearing it in front of Sydney. Instead, she made sure none of the buttons had popped open, let it fall back to just above her knees, and opened the door.
Theo wrapped his arms around her legs. “Good morning, Mama. Did you sleep good?”
“I slept very good, my love.” She played with his curls, kissed the top of his head, and straightened. “Good morning, Sydney.”
Sydney scanned her face, a woman who was an expert in what just finished making out with Joel Lattimore looked like.
“I didn’t expect to find you and the boys here,” Sydney said. “I’m sorry about barging in like this.”
“We live here now,” Theo said, beaming.
Sydney glanced over Ayesha’s shoulder. “Oh. And Joel’s in there?”
“He’s in the bathroom.” Ayesha held Theo’s hands while he positioned his feet on top of hers, and she carefully stepped forward, Theo’s weight shortening her strides. “We’ll go down while you talk to him. Theo, is that okay? Instead of breakfast in bed this time, can we eat downstairs?”
He nodded. “It’s okay, Mama.”
Ayesha headed toward the stairs, thoughts racing. Why did Sydney need to see Joel? Was her and Joel’s relationship at a place yet where she could question him about it? Did Sydney want him back? Something could have happened between them while Sydney was staying at his house. Anything, really.
She internally gasped.
Was Sydney pregnant with Joel’s baby?
By the time she made it to the breakfast table, she felt like she’d had several small heart attacks. There was a name for small seizures. She couldn’t believe there wasn’t something for the heart. Maybe petit mal infarctions.
Josiah brought a tray of French toast, hard-boiled eggs, grapes, cubed cheese, breakfast sausage, and her and Joel’s favorite coffee to the table.
“Here you go, Ma.” He hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Bon appétit.”
Ayesha smiled up at him. “What did I do to deserve such a beautiful gesture?”
“We just wanted to do something nice for you and Joel.” He looked at the stairs. “Where is he, anyway? Uncle Julien’s gonna be here soon to take me to school, and I want to make sure I see him before I leave.”
Joel and Sydney made their way down the stairs, laughing together.
Ayesha bit off a piece of French toast the way a rabid dog might bite a finger. The laughing wouldn’t have been an issue if, earlier, Joel hadn’t acted as though he’d nearly been caught cheating on his wife.
Sydney headed for the front door, and it was how Ayesha knew she was upset. There was no “Goodbye,” or “See you later.”
Josiah and Joel talked for a minute and then embraced. Afterward, Josiah gave her one last kiss and grabbed his things to meet Julien in the driveway. Theo, who’d been doing cartwheels in the living room, reentered the kitchen.
“Mama, do you like it?” He stood next to her chair. “I did the grapes and the cheese.”
“It’s very delicious, Theo.” And it truly was. This wasn’t their first time making her a meal, but it was the first time where it appeared everything was edible. “It looks so filling. Thank you for an amazing breakfast.”
“What does ‘filling’ mean, Mama?”
“It means, once I’m done eating all of this, my belly will be happy.”
Theo nodded and went back to his cartwheels in the living room.
Joel headed over, tucked his fingers underneath her chin, and gave her a kiss sweet enough to almost erase all of her anxiety. “Don’t eat without me, Eesh. I’ll be right back.”
He kissed her again, even sweeter, and went to see Sydney out.
All of this was probably awkward for him, for them both, and she understood that. Her fling with Adrían had felt like cheating on Curtis, and there’d been zero chance of Curtis showing up one morning outside her bedroom door. Yet, understanding didn’t stop it from hurting.
Theo raced back to the kitchen and stood behind her chair. “Mama, since me and Jojo ate already, can I play on my tablet?”
“You have to do ABC Mouse for an hour,” she said. “After that, you can play whatever you want.”
“Mama.” He dropped down into a squat, hands gripping the crossed bars at the back of the chair, and sprung back up. “I don’t wanna do ABC Mouse.”
“It’s either ABC Mouse for an hour and then your games or no games at all.” She motioned for him to stand in front of her, gently cupped his chin, and looked directly into his eyes. “That’s the deal. You should feel happy you get to play games at all, baby.”
“Because of what I did to Thandie?”
He tossed back his head with more drama than a stage actor. “Okay.”
“That’s my smart, sweet little boy.”
Theo giggled and headed for his tablet in the downstairs office. Just as he left, Joel returned and sat in the chair directly across from her. He poured coffee into his mug and brought it up to his lips, eyes on her.
She popped a couple of grapes and cubes of cheese into her mouth.
They remained that way, eating in silence and staring, waiting for the other to ask whatever question was causing the tense fog between them.
When their plates were empty, she geared up to ask about Sydney’s visit, but he had a more pressing question of his own.
“Did you dream about that Adrían last night?”
Joel was the type of man who almost always had a grin on his face. It was how everyone had known the divorce caused him a lot more pain than he’d let on; he didn’t smile, tease, or try to crack a joke. For months. Right now, he looked hurt, and she knew then that she’d read the earlier situation all wrong.
“Yes, I did,” she confessed. “I dreamt about the first time I…kissed him.”
Joel dragged his tongue over his bottom lip. “Was it more than that?”
“Wait, is that what happened this morning?” She pointed to the ceiling in the general direction of the bedroom. “I thought you might have felt some type of way to be kissing me while Sydney was right outside our door.”
“When you said, ‘God, Joel. Just like that,’ you said exactly the same thing, using his name, in your sleep.”
Why was this happening now? She’d had years to get these dreams and unresolved feelings out of her system, and now was when all this crap wanted to rear its head? Fate had the fight of its life ahead of it if it thought she’d give Joel up over something this ridiculous.
“So, I feel like crap,” she said, throat tightening. “I’m sorry doesn’t even begin to cut it.”
“Do you still have feelings for—”
I don’t have feelings for him. I have feelings for you. Every feeling, all of them, they’re for you. I love you. Do you love me?
“What about you?” she countered, shifting in her chair. “Did you push me off because of Sydney?”
His neck reared back. “I pushed you off?”
“It was a gentle push.”
“I’ll admit I did feel some type of way when I left the bathroom and found her standing in our bedroom staring at the messed up sheets.” He frowned. “Eesh, I pushed you? Damn it, baby. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It was a gentle push,” she reiterated. “Just a tiny one. You more like ‘moved’ me aside, really.”
He left his chair and crouched next to hers. “I don’t know if you ever feel this way, but sometimes I wonder if everyone thinks we were fooling around before Syd and I split up.”
“I have. I mean, this is a weird situation. Sydney was just in your house.”
“You live here too.”
Her pulse quickened. “I mean, Theo walked her right up to the bedroom.”
“Our bedroom, and I need to talk to him about that.”
“I don’t think Sydney would have come up if she knew I was sleeping all up in your bed these days.” She faced him and pushed his hair off his forehead the way he liked. “Joel, I don’t have any second thoughts about us.”
“And I have zero.” He stood and pulled her into his arms. “None.”
When he looked at her the way he was now, like war could be raging outside and he wouldn’t so much as glance at the chaos, how could she not be in love with this man?
“What do you have planned for today?” he asked. “I’m taking Theo with me to pick up some stuff. If we’re still out later, I’ll get Josiah from school. We can spend the afternoon together, the four of us.”
Had it been any other day, she and her aching heart would have already been brushed, showered, changed, and standing at the garage door.
“I can’t today. The ladies and I have Book Club.”
“You guys never miss a book club.”
“Mo’s very passionate about it.” She pushed onto her toes, and he leaned down so she could brush a quick kiss over his lips. “I’m going upstairs to get ready.”
“If we’re not going out, I’ll make dinner tonight. Any requests?”
“I’ll eat whatever you put in front of me.”
He grinned. “Ditto.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
After another kiss, he released her, and she hurried up the stairs.
* * *
Ayesha coughed into her elbow. Sweat dripped from her forehead onto the boxing ring’s non-slip canvas floor. Her shirt and tights, at this point, could be wrung out, and her shoulder hurt like hell.
“Is it painful?” Mo asked, examining a bright, purplish-red spot on Ayesha’s upper arm, fingers light. “Giorgio saw a bruise on my side the other night and asked me who I’d been fighting. I had to tell him I fell in the garden before innocent lives were lost.”
Ayesha laughed and smothered another cough. “You guys don’t have a garden, and you like that he’s crazy.”
“I do. My name is Mo Pozza, and I’m in love with a psycho.”
Behind them, Tayler grunted with each fist she slammed against a heavy bag. They’d started “Book Club” shortly after a woman showed up at Mo and Giorgio’s looking for a then four-month-old Aleksi. Tayler worked on marksmanship, Sydney focused on boxing, and Mo trained them in everything else. The last thing they wanted was to be sitting ducks, waiting for the guys to come in and “save” them or rely too heavily on Tayler’s deadeye or Mo’s lethal skill.
“Take five,” Sydney said to Tayler.
“Five minutes?” Tayler asked.
Sydney shook her head. “Nope. Seconds. Let’s go.”
Tayler groaned and restarted her set.
Ayesha switched with Ari as Mo’s sparring partner and joined Xara and Larke in the weight room. Just like the men had their Lair, Mo had a spot not too far from what Joel jokingly called their “commune.” Her hope was to train local women, much like she’d done at her self-defense center in California.
None of the guys knew about it yet. Ayesha figured Giorgio would find out about it when Mo found out about his secret piranhas. Joel had let it slip that Giorgio kept the exotic fish in a massive aquarium in the back office of the hangar where he kept his vehicles.
Their “training complex” was equipped with the boxing ring, rows of heavy bags and other boxing equipment, weight, cardio, and stretch areas—Mo turned into a drill sergeant during pilates, calisthenics, and yoga—and a glass play area for the kids more secure than the Oval Office. Ayesha’s favorite room, however, was at the furthest end of the structure—an obstacle course where they used either paintball guns or lasers for tactical training.
“Hey, Ayesha?” Sydney called. “Switch with Tayler.”
Tayler didn’t wait for Ayesha to answer; she stripped off her gloves and unraveled her hand wraps, her cami soaked. Ayesha playfully swatted Tayler’s shoulder as she walked past.
She wrapped her hands and pulled on a set of gloves. Sydney braced herself on the other side of the heavy bag.
Ayesha hit the bag with two quick blows at Sydney’s instruction, drowned out the noise around them, and focused on Sydney’s voice, striking with jabs, crosses, hooks, or kicks each time Sydney yelled out a command.
“Now give me five knee strikes,” Sydney instructed.
Ayesha raised her knee.
“Are you sleeping with Joel?”
Ayesha lost her balance and steadied herself by gripping the bag. “What?”
“You and Joel,” Sydney reiterated. “Are you two sleeping together?”
“What does that mean?”
“We’re not having sex, but we’ve slept in the same bed, and I believe we’ll keep sleeping in the same bed.” She decided to freestyle the rest of her heavy bag session. “Why do you want to know?”
“You were in his bedroom. Theo called Joel ‘Daddy’ this morning. The boys were making you guys breakfast in bed.”
“Theo knows Joel’s not his biological father, but Joel is theoretically the only ‘father’ he’s ever known.”
“What if you two don’t work out?” Sydney prodded. “Won’t that be confusing and traumatizing for him?”
She didn’t want to think about her and Joel not working out, not with how she felt about him. And she believed he felt the same way about her.
Joel’s and Theo’s relationship dynamic was unique, even more so than his relationship with Josiah since Curtis had been part of Josiah’s life for close to half of it. And yes, she thought often about the whole “Daddy” thing and if she was screwing her child up to the point where he’d need therapy to recover from her shit job at being both Mama and Papa.
God, she wished she could strangle her anxiety sometimes.
“I don’t know, Sydney,” she answered. “I don’t want us to not work out, so I don’t think about it.”
“I didn’t want me and Joel to not work out either.” Sydney stepped back from the bag. “Did you find him attractive while we were still married?”
Ayesha slammed her fist so hard against the bag, the reverb created a wave of pain down her already injured shoulder. “All the guys are attractive.”
“What I mean is, did you look at him in any way other than a friend while we were still married?”
“Are you sure?”
“Did you guys have sex or fool around while me and Joel were still married? Kiss?”
Ayesha frowned. “No. And I told you we haven’t even slept together yet.”
“What I meant was—”
“You in love with him?”
Ayesha stopped punching and grabbed the bag to hold it steady. The rest of the women weren’t listening, but she dropped her voice anyhow. “Look, Joel said you were okay with this. You said you were okay with this. This doesn’t seem like ‘okay,’ Sydney.”
Sydney sighed, her eyes misting over. “Most days, I am. Some days, like today, it’s a little more difficult. You were in his bedroom, Ayesha. The sheets were all messed up. It didn’t feel good.”
And she was sorry.
She was sorry one million times over.
She’d tried to avoid this happening, and it would have worked if Joel hadn’t felt the same way. Plus, the feelings were strong. Joel made her jealous and stupid and happy and weak-kneed. He made her smile in the shower and spend extra time in the mirror each day because she now had someone in her life who made her feel beautiful. Yes, she was in love with him. She couldn’t stop loving him, and she wasn’t going to try.
“I asked him to have dinner with me earlier,” Sydney said. “Did he say anything to you?”
Ayesha, done with the bag, pulled off her gloves. “No. Why’d you ask him to dinner?”
“I need to talk to him.”
“Did something happen between you and Joel,” she glanced at Sydney’s midsection, “while you were at his place?”
“If something had, wouldn’t we have been well within our rights?”
“Know what?” Ayesha tossed up her hands. “I’m not doing this, Sydney. Not with you. I love you, admire you, and respect you, so I’m not going to do this. Not today, not ever.”
She didn’t understand what it was, exactly, that she felt. With Curtis, no matter how long he was gone, she never wondered if there was some woman laid up under him in Kazakhstan or Budapest or wherever because she wasn’t around.
Before Joel, Curtis had been her only serious relationship. Since Curtis had done nothing to color her perception of relationships, she didn’t know if she was jealous of Sydney, suspicious of Joel, or if she had such intense feelings for Joel, she just really didn’t want to lose him.
“I’m not trying to be catty,” Sydney quickly asserted, reaching out to squeeze her hand. “I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.”
Ayesha dropped the gloves and unraveled her hand wraps. “It wasn’t something we planned, and I’m pretty sure he fought it as hard as I did. But, I like him Sydney. When I see him, I get butterflies so intense, I feel happy and sick at the same time. My heart goes all crazy when he calls or texts that he’s on his way over. I love his laugh, his smile, his beautiful eyes, his dark hair.” She smiled when his face popped up in her mind. “Honestly, we were just friends for a long time. Then, something changed. I caught myself needing him to get through the day. Missing him when he was gone. Sniffing his shirts.”
Sydney smiled, but there was a hint of sorrow on her face.
“But I didn’t betray your friendship.” Ayesha wiped a trickle of sweat before it dropped into her eye. “There was nothing between us before, and not even right after.”
Sydney swatted the air. “I know Joel would never cheat on me, and I know you would never do that.”
“So then what—”
“We’re done here!” Mo’s voice raised above the noise. “Wrap up! We’re heading to the obstacle course!”
Ayesha returned the gloves to a peg on the wall while Sydney followed.
“I think I’m just starting to realize how much better you are for him because of my relationship with Dmitri,” Sydney added. “He’s deliriously happy with you.”
“And you?” Ayesha asked. “With Dmitri, I mean.”
She smiled. “I’m over the moon.”
“Let’s go, ladies,” Mo called. “You can pow-wow later.”
Ari walked several paces behind her twin, far enough to whisper, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by Mo Pozza,” without Mo hearing.
Like last time.
Sydney fell in step with Ari, Larke, and Tayler.
Ayesha stared at the back of their heads until Xara hooked their elbows and pulled her along.
By the end of Book Club, she was exhausted, and she nearly fell to her knees when she came home to an empty house. She used every bit of the solace to draw a bath for a long soak.
After her bath, she took a long, much-needed nap.
“Hey, Eesh.” A finger caressed her jaw. “We’re back.”
She opened her eyes to Joel crouched next to the bed.
“I’ve been trying to call you for a while.” He smiled. “You must have had a good ass nap.”
She stretched. The man’s bed was amazing. She never wanted to leave.
“Eesh?” He leaned close to her injured arm. “Did I do that this morning when I held you down?”
“This? No.” She tugged at her sleeve. “I…fell in Mo’s garden.”
“Mo and Pozza don’t have a garden.”
“It’s an inside joke. I just bumped into something. It’s fine. I don’t even know why it bruised.”
She might as well have said nothing.
He sat next to her on the bed and raised her sleeve. It wasn’t until after her bath that she’d realized the bruise had only started at her upper arm. She’d stumbled and fallen on the shoulder while blocking one of Mo’s kicks. The impact had hurt, but Tayler had assured her nothing felt out of place.
“Jesus, Eesh.” He continued to examine her arm, and with each caress of his fingers, she slowly forgot there was a bruise present. “What’d you bump into this hard?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
“I’ll put some ice on it for you later tonight.”
He kissed her shoulder, her jaw, her cheek, and she turned her head for him to drop one on her mouth. Then, he was on top of her, cradling the back of her head. Her legs went around his waist as she sucked on his tongue and licked the arch of his neck, their hands clasped.
“Eesh,” he pulled back, hoarse, and she craned her neck to try to reach his mouth, “come on. I have a surprise for you downstairs.”
They passed Josiah’s room, and he was doing his homework at a desk that hadn’t been there before. He looked up, grinned, pointed to his new desk, and went back to his work.
The empty room she hoped Theo would eventually sleep in now had a wooden platform bed in the middle. A mattress, still in its plastic, sat on the slats. There were sealed boxes and several bags in the corner that she wanted to investigate, but Joel pulled her along, down the stairs.
“What all did you do today?” she asked.
“Picked up a few things.” He kissed the back of her hand. “I hope you don’t mind. I wasn’t sure if you’d want more input, but I wanted to surprise you.”
“I’ve had unilateral input for a while now. I’m good. Where’s Theo?”
The answer to her question stood in the dining room with his hands behind his back, trying to hide a bouquet of roses that was almost as big as he was. Joel had even gotten him a little tuxedo and bow tie, and he was so excited and adorable, it took everything in her not to squeal.
He presented the flowers. “The prettiest flowers for the prettiest mama!”
She stooped to his eye level, took them, and held them close to her chest. “Oh, Theo. These are beautiful. And you look so handsome!”
“I picked them out. You like them, Mama?”
“I love them, baby.”
He stepped aside and opened his arms. “Ta-da!”
Rose petals had been scattered on the dining tabletop between glowing tapered candles, wine glasses, and a bottle of wine on ice in a stainless steel bucket. Tea light candles flickered in glass dishes, and a steaming, covered dish held what she guessed was their dinner.
“Joel did it, Mama,” Theo announced. “He’s trying to empress you, so I told him to give you flowers and lemonade.” Theo dropped his voice to something that wasn’t even remotely close to a whisper. “And kisses.”
Ayesha, smiling, pointed to the “wine” bottle. “That’s lemonade?”
Joel nodded. “Yes, ma’am. My guy gives good advice. I didn’t want to stray from a single detail.”
Theo beamed up at Joel, and it melted her heart.
“Joel, did I do good?” Theo asked.
“You did amazing.”
They bumped fists.
Theo cheered, dashed up the stairs, and ran down the hallway calling for his brother.
Joel pulled out Ayesha’s chair and gestured for her to have a seat.
“Do you do stuff like this often?” She sat, and he took the roses from her hand. “Is it safe to feel spoiled?”
He pushed in her chair, placed the roses in a vase already prepped on the tabletop, and took the seat next to her. “Very safe. I’m a romantic kind of guy, Eesh. I’ll do it until you tell me to stop.”
“Then…please, don’t stop.”
His irises darkened. “Don’t stop?”
“No.” She licked her lips, and his focus dropped to them. “Never stop.”
For dinner, they had ribollita, which was delicious, but Joel claimed it wasn’t as close as he’d like to his grandmother’s version.
He poured her “wine” and leaned over to kiss her whenever the mood struck him. His smile and laugh made her hot and wet, and she wondered if a couple’s first time together being a quickie was considered bad luck. As their kisses got deeper and longer over the course of the evening, she wondered if he was considering the same thing. But if he’d done all this, there was no way he’d settle for a laundry room romp before he had a chance to make it special for them both.
“Joel,” she pushed at his chest, pushed his lips away from hers before she turned into a puddle, “I need to go upstairs real quick.”
He looked at her from beneath hooded eyelids. “Why?”
“To change my panties.”
“You know I can take care of that problem for you.”
She got up, leaned down for another kiss that only made her situation worse, and hurried to the stairs. When her foot landed on the first step, her phone rang.
“You can answer it!”
It took her only a couple of minutes to change. In that couple of minutes, Joel had gone from highly aroused to a malevolent intensity she heard before she saw him.
“I asked how you got this number, and why the hell you’re calling my woman’s phone.”
She entered the dining area.
“Yes, she is,” he continued. “You don’t have to know my name. I know how lucky I am, and I don’t plan on that changing.”
Then he hung up.
“Who was that?”
“Did you give that Adrían fucker your number?”
She frowned. “No. That was him?”
“I didn’t give him my number, Joel.”
“See, that’s the thing.” He walked over and stopped directly in front of her. “None of our numbers are listed anywhere. The only people who have these numbers,” he held up the phone, “are the kids’ teachers. Interestingly enough, Larke ran into an old tech friend of hers recently who Julien thinks tried to hack into her computer.” He stepped around her. “I’ll be right back.”
“Wait.” She grabbed his hand. “Where are you going? Julien’s?”
“Not tonight. Please? We just,” she motioned to the table, “had a lovely dinner together, and it’s been the perfect day. Plus, you look really good in that shirt and those joggers, and I’d like to kiss you for as long as I can because you know Theo’s already planning his return.”
“Damn, Eesh.” He set her phone down. “I’m not even pissed anymore.”
He grabbed her ass, picked her up, and latched onto her mouth. Any reply she had disappeared down his throat.
Joel had a way of kissing her that made her lose all sense of time. It made her bones melt, her head light, and her skin warm all over. His tongue moved slowly, boldly, tasting and licking the corners and caverns of her mouth. He’d propped her against one of the dining room walls, and she failed to rein in the whimper that had started as a tickle at the back of her throat the minute she’d seen what he’d done for her.
“Don’t do that to me, baby.” He flicked his tongue in and out of her mouth, licking from inside her top lip to the bow that dipped in its middle. “Don’t let me hear how much you like what I’m doing to you.”
He latched back onto her mouth, his fingers slipping over the soaked middle of her panties and stroking her through the fabric. She nodded, and he pulled them to the side.
They had to stop.
Why was it that they had to stop again?
She reached into his joggers, and as she went to wrap her hand around the base of his thick, rigid length to navigate it inside her, running footsteps sounded throughout the house and down the stairs.
Joel sighed through a laugh, gave her one last kiss, and let her down to the floor. She blocked his lower half from Theo’s view with her body.
“How was the lemonade, Mama?” Theo asked, crashing into her legs.
“It was,” she cleared her throat, “delicious, baby.”
“I forgot to tell you I helped Joel with the stirring part.” He demonstrated a stirring motion. “I stirred it real good.”
“Yes, you sure did.”
Theo peered around her. “Joel, did you like the lemonade?”
Ayesha turned him around by the shoulder. “Come on, Theo. Bath time.”
“Let’s go, sweetie. Mama had such a good time, she wants to tell you all about it, and you know bath time is when we catch up. I’ve been dying to talk to you all day.”
Not even a pair of thick jeans could have hidden that monster in Joel’s pants.
“Thanks for dinner, Joel,” she said, glancing back at him. “And thank you…for everything else.”
That night, Theo slept between them, and there were no nightmares.
* * *
Adrían didn’t spare Siriano a glance and continued to look out at Stockholm from where he sat on the balcony ledge. He’d been in a house, though large, with five other men for close to six months now. Somebody would end up dead before the year was out.
“I’ve known your secret since our Maui reconnaissance,” Siriano taunted, blowing a puff of smoke in the air. “I followed you. I saw you kiss her.”
“I knew you were following me, and I don’t care that you saw me kiss her.”
“Alors, tu sais ce que j’ai fait au garçon.”
Adrían went from sitting to his hand wrapped around Siriano’s throat in seconds.
The cigarette dropped from Siriano’s fingers and, as Siriano’s eyes turned red, the sick fuck smiled.
“You did what to what boy?”
Trevor stepped onto the terrace. “What the fuck is going on? Let him go, Delgano.”
Adrían squeezed tighter.
Siriano stumbled backward, coughing.
Trevor looked between them. “You two can’t play nice? I’m upstairs trying to sleep, but you’re out here trying to kill each other.”
“Lavigne, I already told you, several times before, that I’d kill you if I found out you were doing some underhanded shit,” Adrían warned. “I’m a man of my word. Let me find out you did anything to either one of those boys, and you’ll wish you were dead by the time I’m finished with you.”
Siriano swatted at him. “I didn’t touch the little boy. I scared him.”
Adrían went back to the view. “Anyhow, Ayesha’s not on our radar anymore, so I don’t know why we’re still talking about her. She left Maui. The intel that said she might have headed this way is wrong. I don’t think she’d leave warm, tropical Hawaii and move to cold-ass Sweden.”
Even though she had.
He suspected her new man had something to do with that.
“Ayesha?” Siriano made a sound in his throat. “Look at you sounding familiar.”
“You two play nice,” Trevor warned. “I don’t want us to be all messed up when we get the call. Don’t forget that out of us, Gamma, and Delta, whoever eliminates Alpha gets to walk away with their lives. So, stop this shit, understand?”
Siriano picked up his cigarette. “Oui.”
Adrían didn’t respond.
“I mean this in the most respectful way, sweetheart, but why do you think we need your ex-husband’s approval?”
Sydney looked back over her shoulder at Dmitri, tapping her chin with a ballpoint pen, the list in front of her longer than it had been just a few minutes ago.
“It’s not approval, per se,” she clarified. “I just want to tell him before we make the announcement. Joel and I are still friends.”
Dmitri kissed her bare shoulder, the sheets draped haphazardly around them. The Mediterranean Coast served as a picturesque backdrop, but she was the most beautiful thing in all of Greece. She and Joel might still be friends, but he was grateful to the man for letting her go. Sydney Donovan was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman—strong and intelligent with a mind for business—and, while he hadn’t planned on things moving this fast, he knew he didn’t want her going anywhere unless he was included.
Correction . . . he didn’t want her or their little one going anywhere unless he was included.