New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Beth Kery loves reading, writing and collecting books. Her books have been translated into eleven languages worldwide. Find out more about Beth and her writing at www.BethKery.com or follow her on twitter, www.twitter.com/BethKery or facebook.com/beth.kery.
Gateway to Heavenby Beth Kery
Life is rough when you’re gorgeous, rich, talented and so sexy that the media won’t leave you alone.
It’s certainly the truth in Christian Lasher’s case. He returns to the neighborhood of his childhood to escape the spotlight, hungering for a change in his creative endeavors. In the midst of his soul searching he meets Megan and is… See more details below
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Life is rough when you’re gorgeous, rich, talented and so sexy that the media won’t leave you alone.
It’s certainly the truth in Christian Lasher’s case. He returns to the neighborhood of his childhood to escape the spotlight, hungering for a change in his creative endeavors. In the midst of his soul searching he meets Megan and is captured by the tantalizing hint of her hidden fires. Megan knows nothing about his wild, rebellious youth or his career as a rock star—and Christian would prefer to keep it that way.
There was much, much more to her than the role of a fragile victim.
Megan Shreve is a sculptor with creative depths and passions that tragedy had forced into the shadows. When she looks into Christian’s eyes she sees herself for the first time as an exciting, sexy woman. She longs to discover more of herself in Christian’s arms and in his bed.
Two passionate souls destined for one another—unless the stifling roles imposed by tragedy and fame rip them apart.
- Beth Kery
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Christian Lasher stilled like a predator that had just sited unexpected prey when he casually glanced over Father Gregory's shoulder. His eyelids narrowed over a pair of blue eyes a female reporter from Rolling Stone had once described as being equally as adept at giving the impression of stripping away the protection of a woman's clothing as they were at drilling straight through her outer facade to her very soul. The same reporter had added that, much to the regret of a broken-hearted collection of discarded lovers, Lasher seemed to prefer what he saw in the former instance much more than what he saw in the latter one.
Father Gregory apparently didn't notice Christian's sudden absorption as he continued to pump his hand, extolling his thanks for the hundredth time that afternoon.
"The parish, and especially the children, will be eternally grateful to you once again, Christian. The proceeds from this year's festival will not only make it possible for us to finally purchase a new gymnasium, but also to hire a full-time art teacher, something we sorely need."
Christian glanced solicitously back at the elderly priest, but his eyes returned to their target almost immediately. "I guess it's the least I can do to make up for putting that skunk in Sister Elizabeth's desk drawer back in the sixth grade."
Father Gregory's broad smile faltered, as did his vigorous shaking of Christian's hand. For a brief moment, his voice became as stern as the one Christian recalled from his grade school days. "Christian, you were responsible for that? We couldn't use that classroom for a month!"
Christian's grin was nearly as devilish as it had been back when hewas a twelve-year-old hellion. "Yeah, and I don't think Sister Elizabeth ever got the smell of skunk out of her habit either, although I know she wore the same one every Tuesday until I graduated the eighth grade." Before Father Gregory could make a predictable comment about Sister Elizabeth's years of dedicated service to St. Catherine's, Christian continued. "Who's she?"
The object of his interest was bending over to speak in a soothing voice into the tear-streaked face of a brown-haired child. Not the same little girl Christian had seen her with in the park next to St. Catherine's or in the lobby of his loft condominium. Not the little girl whose white-blonde hair was two shades lighter than her mother's and who shared the same red bow of a mouth and sparkling green eyes. The little girl Christian had seen her with on at least three other occasions was too young to be of school age.
Despite the almost Quaker-like conservatism of her dress, Christian thought she might be one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. He had no right to find her so appealing. He'd seen her repeatedly with the little girl. Christian had already noticed that she wasn't wearing a ring, but that was never proof of anything. Cecilia used to forget to put on her wedding ring once in a while. There were a million reasons this young woman may not be wearing one.
Christian Lasher didn't do married women. Not his thing. Never had been.
He'd returned to his hometown of Chicago for a sabbatical during this stressful, painful period of his career. He needed a sanctuary to lose himself for a while ... maybe to find himself again. The last thing he wanted was to get involved with a woman who was either married or by the look of her clothes, a step away from the nunnery.
When he was a student here, hadn't all of the teachers been nuns?
But then Christian recalled the way her eyes had widened when he'd intentionally held her gaze yesterday in the condominium lobby. In that brief meeting of their gazes, he'd seen passion secretly encased in all of that innocent softness, that sea of soothing calm. He doubted she even knew it existed. Christian admonished himself for it but he couldn't seem to stifle the impulse.
He wanted to cause some serious waves in that calm sea.
"Ah, perfect. That's Megan Shreve, our art teacher. We got her almost fresh out of graduate school. You'll be able to personally meet one of the people your performance will directly benefit. After the St. Catherine's block party in a few weeks, we'll be able to offer Megan a fulltime position," Father Gregory said enthusiastically as he began to start over to the young woman. He paused and looked up in surprise when Christian stopped him firmly with a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't tell her about all that. Just tell her I'm a St. Cat's alum back for a friendly visit. Come on, Father, it's not like I'm asking you to lie or anything," Christian added compellingly when he saw Father Gregory's hesitation.
Father Gregory gave a conspiratorial nod. Christian knew the priest had assumed he wanted to keep his identity secret due to modesty, a desire for anonymity in his charitable acts. That was part of it, but his primary reason was a lot more mercenary.
He doubted the depraved hard-rocker type would impress Megan Shreve. Not that he was depraved. Not that he wanted to impress this slip of a female.
As Christian got near enough to her to capture her fresh floral scent, he was man enough to acknowledge that at least one of his self-assurances was a lie.
Megan sighed as she straightened and sent Lori Hunt on her way, the tears on the little girl's face replaced by a hopeful smile. She unconsciously rubbed tense muscles at the back of her neck, mentally grateful that it was a Friday and she didn't have to worry about school for a few days. It would be a relief not to have to divide her attention. It wasn't that she hadn't loved taking care of Emily, her sister's four-year-old daughter, every afternoon and evening for the past week while Hilary had been at a sales conference and Terry, her brother-in-law, worked late. She'd actually loved it. But keeping up with a four-year-old when you weren't used to it could be a challenge. She almost groaned out loud when she recalled that she'd volunteered to keep Emily for the weekend while Terry went on a golf outing in Galena with friends.
She turned around when she heard Father Gregory's voice behind her. "Crisis thwarted with Miss Hunt, I see."
Megan returned Father Gregory's smile. "The vase she made for a ... Mother's Day gift collapsed in the kiln." Halfway through her explanation, Megan became aware that Father Gregory wasn't alone. Her gaze traveled up to meet the eyes of the tall man with burnished brown hair who stood broodingly next to the priest. When their gazes met, Megan started in recognition. The man's stare was unapologetically direct and just as unforgettable as it had been yesterday.
It had the same effect on her today.
She glanced rapidly down the considerable length of him, taking in the crisp, white t-shirt with the worn logo on one side that enigmatically read Velvet Funk, the soft, unbuttoned shirt he wore over it and hadn't bothered to tuck into a pair of well-washed and worn jeans. His general appearance emphasized not only an obvious disregard when it came to impressing other people but a potent masculinity.
Megan glanced away. "I told Lori I would fire her replacement in the kiln at my Earth class. She'll still make Mother's Day," she finished breathlessly.
"Earth is where Megan gives classes in sculpture. She's a very gifted artist. Megan Shreve, I'd like you to meet Christian Lasher."
Christian knew his face gave nothing away as he studied her while Father Gregory made introductions. He hadn't missed her look of embarrassment or the telltale blush that deepened the color of her fair complexion when Father Gregory praised her talent. He should have stopped his eyes from following the fascinating trail of that blush as it lowered across the regal column of her neck and the inch or two of skin exposed at her chest.
He should have, but he didn't.
His gaze lingered. The white cotton blouse she wore was the epitome of modest good taste. Even Sister Elizabeth would have approved of how high she'd buttoned it and there could be no complaints about its tightness against her slender figure. Once again, there was no wedding ring in evidence. As a matter of fact, the only jewelry adorning her flawless skin was a small pair of pearl studs in her ears.
So why did Christian think that the way the crisp blouse ghosted her breasts, hinting at their surprising fullness, the way it revealed those delicious few inches of flushed, dewy skin above its conservative collar, made it the most feminine, sexy garment he'd ever seen? Weren't pearl earrings a common, modest choice for women's jewelry? So why did he have an overwhelming urge to experience what Megan Shreve's pearls felt like pressed between his tongue and lips?
Megan forced herself to look back up into Christian's face when Father Gregory introduced him, but his attention wasn't on her face. He must have noticed the way her breasts rose in agitation, because his gaze dragged unhurriedly back up her chest and neck before resting on her parted lips.
Did he know that her breath had just caught and held with a nameless, newly born anticipation?
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Shreve."
Megan tried to ignore the shiver that ran through her arm and tickled her neck when Christian Lasher took her hand. She couldn't have said if it was the touch of his skin next to hers or the compelling sound of his voice. It sounded deep, a little raspy, and as resonant as a finely-tuned instrument. She leaned back too abruptly when she realized that her body had swayed forward, mindlessly spellbound by the contrast of masculinity and tenderness in that voice.
Christian didn't miss the way her gaze skittered nervously toward Father Gregory as if she'd just been caught doing something red-handed that she'd probably never had to bring to the confessional in the past. Only the handful of people who really knew Christian Lasher would have recognized the fact that the infinitesimally small shift of his lips connoted a smile.
"You went to St. Cat's? Me, too. What years were you here?" Megan asked conversationally when Father Gregory mentioned that Christian was a former student.
"Too many years before you to count, I can imagine," he said sardonically, but Megan only saw the warmth of his unexpected smile. He'd seemed so serious before, so intense. Megan found herself relaxing a little at the sight of his engaging grin, the sudden contrast of white, even teeth against sun-darkened skin.
"Not too many years, Christian," Father Gregory corrected authoritatively. "When you're as old as me, a decade or so is a drop in the bucket. The Lashers lived only a few blocks away from your parents, Megan, until they moved to Evanston ... what was that, ten years ago, Christian?"
Christian nodded, instinctively knowing that the approximate timing was right. It was eleven years ago that Lasher Down got their first big break premiering with the first of seven albums, all of which had since gone platinum. Sometime soon afterwards, he'd had the financial means to help his parents buy their dream home in Evanston.
"I think Megan's older sister Hilary was too far ahead of you in school. Does the name Hilary Shreve sound familiar?"
Christian shook his head.
"Do you like living here in the neighborhood where you grew up?" Megan asked. When she smiled up at him Christian didn't have the heart to tell her that he wasn't a die-hard loyal, near west-side Chicagoan, like she was.
Or maybe he was. Chicago would always be his true home. Even though he owned a small home in Brentwood, California and a large recording studio in Los Angeles, he'd made a point of buying a condominium in downtown Chicago in the neighborhood near the park where he'd hit his first homerun, in walking distance from the high school from which he'd graduated, and a relatively short cab or L ride away from the bars and clubs where he'd first experienced the thrill of performing his own music.
Christian liked Chicago's honesty, the way it embodied the integrity of the workingman's spirit, something that he had always respected about his own father even if he'd followed a very different path.
So instead of correcting her assumption, he only raised his eyebrows a fraction, an unspoken question. When he saw her cheeks flush again, he knew that she'd read his thoughts perfectly.
"Oh ... I recognized you. I ... I think you live in my building." Megan swallowed with difficulty when he just continued to spear her with his unsettling stare. "748 West Adams? You do live there, right? I thought I'd seen you."
For Megan, the few seconds before he answered dragged on for an eternity. The moment when their eyes had randomly met yesterday obviously hadn't scorched an indelible place in his memory as it had hers.
"It was yesterday afternoon in the lobby. You were wearing a pink sweater. The little girl you were with was wearing pink, too." Christian leaned toward her slightly. "She was as cute as you are, in a completely different way of course."
Megan's mouth fell open at his matter-of-fact recital of facts. His voice sounded light and amused, but his eyes bore into her with an alarming intimacy. Didn't he realize that her boss--not to mention the fact that he was her priest--was standing barely three feet away? Unaccountably, Megan felt like he'd just reached out and stroked her, brushed the pads of his fingertips across her lower lip, sunk his hand into the restrained hair at her nape, forced the sleek knot open, dragged his knuckles across the tightening crests of her breasts...
Her eyes widened in disbelief at the direction of her thoughts and the uncontrollable reaction of her body. But she needn't have worried about Father Gregory. Christian's words had a drastically different effect on him than they did on Megan. He cracked his shiny forehead with the palm of his hand.
"I can't believe I forgot to tell you, Megan! Terry called earlier. He asked if he could drop Emily off right after school let out instead of at four o'clock. He must be outside right now--" He stopped mid-sentence, his expression apologetic, when they heard the loud call of a horn sounding from the street.
"That's okay, Father. I'll just grab my purse. It was nice to meet you, Christian."
She didn't dare look back to see if they were still standing in the hallway when she locked and shut the classroom door after getting her purse. She raced across the front steps of the school as if she were being chased.
"Are you sure this is okay, Megan?" Terry asked after Megan had unbuckled the grinning Emily from her car seat, swung her to her hip and met Terry on the other side of the car.
"Of course. We're going to have a ball, huh Em?"
Her niece nodded enthusiastically. "Get to go to Aunt Meg's clay class and 'Merican Girl."
Megan met Terry's amused gaze. "I offered to take her to ride the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier, or to see The Lion King onstage--"
"But even the American Girl store takes second place to going to clay class," Terry finished for her and they joined in laughter. He gave his daughter a hard hug that necessarily included Megan. Both of them received a kiss on the cheek. He pulled a shoulder bag containing Emily's things from the backseat. "Emily, you're going to have to walk. Aunt Meg can't carry both the bag and you."
When Emily whined in protest and clung to Megan's neck, Terry sighed in exasperation. "Emily, it will take me too long to find parking and I'm going to get a ticket parked here. Be a big girl and walk, so that Aunt Meg can carry the bag."
Megan swung the heavy duffle up to her shoulder. "It's okay, Terry, she's tired. It's almost naptime and it's only across the street."
They argued for a few seconds, but Megan was insistent and Terry was running late. He finally gave in. "Thanks again, Megan. Hilary and I owe you. Emily, you be good. No sneaking into Aunt Meg's clay unless she says you can."
Only after Terry's vehicle had vacated the spot did Megan glance back toward St. Catherine's School. The double take she did caused her to stumble slightly due to her heavy burden and precarious balance.
Christian Lasher was standing at the top of St. Cat's steps. Most people would have said his posture was casual as he stood with his long, jean-clad legs slightly spread, his arms crossed loosely over his chest, his back resting lightly against the limestone entryway. But for a reason Megan couldn't name, she knew that estimation would have been dead wrong.
She sensed the tension in those long, corded muscles just as she instinctively knew that the expression in his blue eyes was as intense as ever even if now they were alight with ... anger? Or was it disappointment?
Megan had no answer to that as she watched him lift one booted-foot and kick the wall behind him to lever himself forward. He sauntered toward the entryway with a loose-hipped swagger. Even as she spoke to Emily in a bright voice she wondered at the feeling of regret that flooded through her.
Christian let the door that led back into St. Catherine's fall shut without entering. He muttered a few choice curses, all self-directed. Christian knew there were a dozen reasons why he shouldn't turn around, only one of them being Father Gregory's enigmatic statement as they'd watched Megan Shreve fly lightly down the front steps a moment ago.
The priest had had a whimsical expression on his face as he watched her but his eyes looked sad.
"We're lucky to have her. The students love her. Megan is such a ... special girl."
"She's hardly a girl, Father."
Father Gregory had glanced up in surprise at the quiet conviction in Christian's deep voice. "Of course she's not. She's a young lady now. No doubt of it. There's always been something fragile about her though. Those who love her have always been a little protective of her and I suppose I'm no different."
"What do you mean fragile? Is she sick?"
Father Gregory looked taken aback at the sudden tension in Christian's voice. He seemed to come to an abrupt realization of what he'd been saying ... to whom he was speaking. "Of course not, Christian. She looks hale and hearty to me."
The priest had clapped him on the back and made an obvious attempt to change the subject. Christian had politely given an excuse and made his exit.
His stomach had knotted when he saw Megan in another man's embrace and when she looked into his face and shared laughter. He had been confident of his complete disregard for about three seconds before he found himself hesitating.
He damned himself for a fool but what the hell? What kind of a heel would allow her to struggle, weighed down as she was with luggage and a child? Surely he'd absorbed something from of his parents' moral upbringing and his strict Catholic education?
Hadn't Father Gregory said she was frail?
"That's right, Lasher, you're a real boy scout," Christian muttered wryly to himself.
But it didn't stop him from reaching out to touch Megan Shreve.
"Let me help with that."
Even if Megan hadn't recognized the deep, resonant voice, she would have known him by the effect his touch had on her when his hand closed on her shoulder. Surely she'd imagined that his long fingers squeezed softly into the muscle before she turned abruptly, causing him to release her.
"Christian ... oh, that's okay. That is, maybe ... if you're going home, too?"
He didn't bother to answer her but matter-of-factly eased the bag from her shoulder. Megan shifted Emily to her other hip and smiled in relief. "Thanks, it was pretty heavy." She glanced down at Emily who was eying Christian with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity.
Christian noticed the little girl's wariness and lightly brushed the tip of his finger across her perfect nose. "Hi. You must be Emily."
He chuckled, not at all offended when Emily shyly buried her face in Megan's breasts. Curiosity prevailed over her fear, however, and Emily peered cautiously up at Christian through tousled blonde curls. The mischievous smile that ghosted the little girl's lips suggested that she and Christian were two of a kind.
He was completely charmed.
"You sure you don't want to come, too?" Christian teased her as he held out his arms. His smile broadened when she shook her head adamantly and turned her face fully into Megan's chest. "No? Ah, well, I can't say I blame you, Emily. That looks like way too nice of a seat to give up."
Megan's eyes swung to Christian's; she was sure she had misunderstood the intent of his warmly murmured words. Hardly no one spoke to Megan that way. But no, there was a hint of yearning in his blue eyes as if he would have enjoyed having his head cushioned against the softness of her breasts just as Emily's did. His gaze met hers only briefly, but Megan stilled at the flash of desire she saw there. She glanced away, unsettled, and planted a kiss on Emily's warm hair.
"Don't be shy, Em. This is Christian. Say hello."
"Hello," Emily said obediently. She watched Christian, keeping her cheek resting on Megan's chest. As they progressed down Adams Street Emily shed her shyness like a winter coat on a sweltering day.
"You're tall. Taller than my daddy."
"And your hair is curly, curlier than your mommy's," Christian bantered with unaffected ease.
Emily sat up straighter and gave a gamine grin. "Mommy's would be curly like mine if she didn't put stuff on it to make it straight. Your face is hairy. Hairier than my daddy's."
"Emily," Megan muttered in embarrassment. She quickly assessed Christian's expression to see if he was put off, but his lopsided grin only widened. Her eyes unintentionally lowered to the goatee to which Emily referred. Megan hardly would have used the word "hairy" to describe it. It was very short, sleek and neatly trimmed. The hair was darker on his face than it was on his head, where sun-streaked golden strands intermixed randomly with brown ones. It only served to highlight the shape of his sensual lips.
"My mommy doesn't like hair on men's faces."
"Her father is clean-shaven," Megan mumbled by way of apology for her niece's innocent candor, but she was ignored by both of them.
"She doesn't? Well, she doesn't know what she's been missing. Doesn't your mom know what whiskers are for?" Christian asked in mock disbelief as he opened the condominium entrance for Megan. Emily's eyes sparkled and she leaned toward the same man whom she had just been thoroughly intimidated by all of ninety seconds ago.
She giggled as she tried out the new word. "What are whiskers for?"
Christian unexpectedly draped his arm across Megan's shoulders just inside the foyer, stopping her dead in her tracks. Her eyes widened when he drew her closer to the heat of his body and his head lowered over her. For a split second he pinned her with his penetrating gaze.
Then his face lowered more.
Emily's shrieks of laughter pierced the fog of Megan's stunned arousal. Her niece squealed with delight as Christian twisted his chin in her neck.
"Whiskers are for tickling little girls, that's what," he growled playfully. The whisker-tickling persisted until Emily was hysterical with giggles and had grasped his hair, then his shoulders in her chubby hands. When Christian pulled back Emily determinedly held on, making it impossible for her new friend to fully retreat.
Christian didn't seem to mind. He turned his attention to Megan. Because of their positioning, his face was only inches away from both her parted lips and the softness where he'd previously referenced wanting to rest his head.
Megan wondered at the sudden sensation of fullness in her breasts.
She froze when Christian's eyes went unerringly to the tips of her breasts, as if he knew exactly what she was experiencing. Pure deviltry sparked into his eyes.
"What about you, little girl?" he asked in a low, rumbling voice. "Do you want to be tickled, too?"
He inhaled deeply of her sweet, fresh, thoroughly feminine scent. He couldn't pry his eyes away from the dark pink bow of Megan's mouth. Her lips were unadorned by lip gloss or lipstick, but they didn't need a thing to highlight them. How could they look so soft, so vulnerable, so chaste and so flagrantly sexy at the same time? Her mouth looked as firm and succulent as exotic fruit. He inhaled sharply when her lips parted slightly and he saw her tongue brush nervously over the ridge of her upper teeth.
Forbidden fruit, Christian reminded himself irritably, forcefully deflecting a score of sexual fantasies involving what he would like to do with Megan Shreve's mouth, the most innocent of which would likely have made her blush all the way to her toes. Then he noticed the shock in her wide eyes.
He abruptly straightened to his full height and stepped away from the source of his suddenly raging libido. When he did, he effortlessly brought Emily with him.
Megan trailed after them dazedly as Jeff, their doorman, let them through the security doors. If she'd been completely tongue-tied by his audacious teasing about tickling her, then she'd been practically pole axed by his lustful gaze. Men didn't look at her that way. At least not men from St. Cat's parish. The sudden impenetrable veil that had seemed to drop over Christian's gaze afterwards had made her reel with just as much confusion.
More than likely, he was put off by her inexperience, her ignorance of how to participate in sexy, meaningless small talk, Megan reasoned as she watched Christian brace Emily so that she could push the "up" button on the elevator. She couldn't help but feel a little defeated. Resentment clambered across her awareness. She'd never so objectively viewed her prescribed role or regretted it so deeply until now. Suddenly she longed to have the knowledge of how to attract a man like Christian Lasher, a man who exuded utter masculine confidence with every cell of his being, whose eyes gleamed with an incisive intelligence ... whose sexuality was so potent it just might be addicting.
Even her four-year-old niece was light-years ahead of her, Megan realized with self-disgust as she watched Emily hook her fingers behind Christian's neck and unselfconsciously toss her blonde curls. Had there ever been a time in her life that Megan would have behaved in such a carefree way with a man, with so much innate trust and joy?
If there had been, the memory had been crushed out of her consciousness long ago.
"Let me push, let me!" Emily insisted once they'd gotten on the elevator. Christian handled her like a seasoned pro, shifting his hand to support the little girl's upper body when she flung herself forward to punch the elevator button. Afterwards, Emily used the same chubby finger that she'd used to push the button to test out the texture of Christian's goatee.
"Emily, you are such a flirt," Megan admonished with a roll of her eyes. Still, the honest part of her had to admit that she was a little envious of the privileged position her niece had. When the elevator door opened, Megan put out her arms. "I can take her from here."
Christian walked off the elevator, giving her a quizzical look when she held the elevator door. "Which way to your place?"
"That one," Emily answered enthusiastically as she pointed to a door down the hallway.
Megan tried to remember if her condominium was reasonably clean as she unlocked the front door. She breathed a sigh of relief when she glanced around. Not perfect, but presentable.
"I like your place," Christian complimented as he surveyed the open floor plan of the loft, the floor-to-ceiling east-facing windows, the inexpensive but tasteful furniture and decorations. He bent his long legs at the knee and set the duffle bag down on an entryway bench, then transferred Emily to his other hip before he began an unhurried inspection of her home.
"Thanks," she murmured. She got the impression that nothing was left unobserved by him. She watched as he walked slowly through her living room, presumably on his way to look at the view from her windows. He paused to glance at her book and music collection. He took considerably more time to study a rare bronze figurine that Megan had kept for herself instead of selling. It was of a young Asian woman looking upward, her expression rapt with sensual gratification.
Megan swallowed with difficulty when she saw one long finger gently touch the cool metal surface of the woman's upturned lips.
"Yours?" he asked, his back still to her.
When she didn't immediately answer, Christian's head swung around. A lock of untamed hair fell over his brow. Megan gave a strained smile and nodded.
He examined her closely. "She looks like she's looking up at her lover. Is she?"
Megan made a startled sound at the unexpected question. Suddenly she laughed. "I guess you could say that."
His dark eyebrow quirked up in a query but otherwise his face was marble-like, impassive. His silence seemed to demand an answer.
"That's my good friend Tina, who is a bona fide sun worshipper. She's downright hedonistic when it comes to sunbathing. Her face was turned up toward the sun when I photographed her for the sculpture," Megan finished with a shrug. Her explanation sounded lame, nowhere near as erotic as Christian's question ... or the manner in which he'd asked it.
"You don't like it when people take notice of your artwork. Still Father Gregory wasn't exaggerating. You are very talented," he murmured as he glanced out the windows.
Megan moved restlessly. His shrewd observation about her reaction to praise hit a little too close to home. She floundered to find a safer topic.
"The view is good, isn't it? It's what sold me on the unit. It's funny isn't it, how the working class, industrial neighborhood we grew up in has been transformed into such a desirable place to live in Chicago?"
"Umm," Christian agreed absentmindedly as he examined the spectacular view of Chicago's skyline. "Quite a few more BMWs parked along Adams and Monroe Street these days than there are Fords. I have to admit, I miss the way it was. I can't believe they closed down that old roller rink on Ogden."
"The Silver Flame?"
Christian was glad that he'd turned around in time to see the slow smile that curved her lips, so seductive without ever intending to be. He felt the impact of that smile like a kick to the gut ... like a caress where it counted.
"I had my first date at the Silver Flame."
Christian walked back to where she stood, drawn like a magnet. "Oh yeah? Well, I kissed my first girl at the Rialto on Jackson, and they closed that down, too. How old were you?"
Megan blinked at the unexpected question. Embarrassment flooded her, a remnant of her parents' extremely strict prohibitions regarding dating. "Uh ... fifteen, maybe? It wasn't an 'official' date. My parents wouldn't have allowed it then, I'm sure. How old were you?"
"At the Rialto, you mean?" He was standing only feet from her now. Megan nodded, once again caught in the spell of his magnetic blue eyes.
"Eleven," Megan exclaimed in disbelief. She couldn't help but smile, though, when he raised his eyebrows in mock lechery. Emily giggled at his silly faces and batted her fingers at his dark brows. "You must have been a very charming eleven-year-old," Megan conceded with dubious amusement.
He shrugged. "Tammy Dupree thought so. Who am I to argue? I set the romantic mood with chilled coca-cola and Juicy Fruits for an appetizer, than went in for the kill during the second scariest part of the movie. Not the first scream scene, because that was reserved for nonchalantly putting my arm around--"
"Tammy Dupree, otherwise know as your victim," Megan finished for him with a censorious expression that couldn't hide her smile "I feel sorry for that poor little girl. Eleven years old, indeed."
"Tammy wasn't eleven. What do you take me for? She was almost thirteen. An older woman."
"Your seduction sounds suspiciously sophisticated for an eleven-year-old."
"Tammy never complained," Christian deadpanned. But he could only hold the expression for a second before an idiotic grin plastered across his face. He was thoroughly enjoying himself.
Then Megan began to laugh. The sound was low, melodious ... thoroughly unexpected in its sensuality. His grin faltered.
Emily protested loudly when he gently set her on her feet.
"I should be going."
Megan took a step forward in unconscious protest at the obvious alteration in his mood. One second, he had been laughing, silly, charming and the next, he was making a polite, but cool exit. When she realized that she couldn't prevent him--a practical stranger--from doing whatever he wished, Megan hurried toward the door to graciously say goodbye.
"Thank you for carrying the bag and Emily. They were really heavy. I don't think I would have made it without--"
"Why didn't your husband help you?"
"My husband?" Megan asked thickly. Christian turned around and lowered his face close to hers. His eyes were like twin lasers. She was momentarily too stunned to speak. Any possibility of being able to utter coherent speech was squashed out of her when Christian slowly lowered his head even nearer to her upturned face. Their mouths were only inches apart. Megan's eyes fluttered closed just as her neck strained upward, blindly seeking.
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