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I BRAKE FOR BAD BOYS
By Lori Foster Janelle Denison Shannon McKenna
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2002 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe'd gotten herself into a pickle this time.
Too distracted to work, Erica Lee slouched back in her office chair and blew her bangs out of her face. Who would have thought that uptight Asia and ultrashy Becky would have followed through on the dares? Erica sure hadn't. But with only a little prodding both of them had traipsed right over there and done the unexpected.
It boggled the mind, it surely did.
Now her turn had rolled around and hey, it wasn't that she had anything against porn shops or fantasies or the like. But where the hell did they expect her to find a man who wouldn't be a pain in the patoot?
Of course, for them it had turned out great. That is, if one considered marriage great. Erica was still undecided on that particular point. Then again, footloose and fancy-free wasn't really working for her either.
She winced over that sad truth.
In the next second her office door slammed open with startling force. She jumped a foot and almost fell out of her rolling chair. She was alone in the office, and in fact, the entire floor was deserted while employees attended some meeting that she'd managed to opt out of. She'd been so lost in thought she hadn't even heard anyone approaching.
Holding a hand to her heart and ready to blast the noisy offender, Erica looked up—and up some more until she fell headlong into the mesmerizing midnight gaze of none other than Ian Conrad.
Oh, boy. Her heartbeat didn't calm with recognition. Nope. If anything, it tripped even faster. Ian was just so ... so male.
Hot around the collar and sweaty, clad in blue jeans, a dirty cambric work shirt, and scuffed lace-up black boots, Ian epitomized all that was man. He wasn't particularly handsome, at least not in the classical sense, but that didn't lessen his impact one bit.
His features were bold with a strong, straight high-bridged nose, a powerful chin, and high, harshly carved cheekbones. His eyes were the darkest blue and piercing in intensity—the type of eyes that froze a woman to the spot whenever he directed his attention on her.
His dark brown hair was more straight than not, a little shaggy and unkempt.
Bracing his long thick legs apart, he filled the doorway—and then some.
Well, well. Quiet, masterful, impossible-to-ignore Ian. Erica raised a brow, wondering what had put him in such a temper when in the past she'd never seen him so much as frown—even when she'd deliberately provoked him.
Unlike most of the men she knew, Ian was always calm and always firmly in control—of himself and everyone around him.
Not that she'd ever let him control her. "I've witnessed more polite entries."
She'd meant to be a smart-ass, of course, but her attitude got snagged in her throat when Ian took two long heavy strides to her desk, braced strong, lean hands flat on the surface, and bent down—way down—until his nose nearly touched hers.
Good Lord, she could see every eyelash surrounding those mesmerizing eyes, feel his warm breath against her lips, and smell his raw, potent scent.
"I know exactly what you're up to, Erica."
Her eyes widened over that gravel-deep voice that seemed to sink right into her bones. Combined with the heat of his gaze, his rough tone was impossible to misunderstand. It was that man to woman tone, and sexual awareness rolled over her. Feeling helpless, she asked, "You do?"
"Damn right." His mouth appeared tight with annoyance, but still sexy. "Your buddy George was more than willing to spell it out."
Her gaze snapped back to his. "George spoke to you?" With Becky as a best friend, and George as Becky's fiancé, she supposed he could be considered a buddy. That is, unless he'd done something to irk her—and given Ian's unusual mood, it sounded like he might have.
In that case, Erica would have George's hide.
"No, he didn't speak to me. And that's most of the problem right there."
Ian's disgruntled scowl was dark enough to make grown men tremble. No wonder he kept it under wraps in polite company. Not that Erica intended to tremble in front of him. Later, when she was away from him and remembering how close he'd gotten and how delicious he smelled, she might shake a little. But no way would she let him know he affected her that much.
"Well, if George didn't speak to you, then ...?" She let the sentence hang, waiting for him to explain.
"He didn't. But he did tell a couple of other guys what you have planned at that damn porn shop."
Erica's mouth fell open. It took a lot to shock her, and this definitely qualified. She sputtered a moment before finding her voice. "Why, that miserable rat!"
Ian straightened, studied her a second more, and then waved away her indignation. "Forget that. Hell, the whole factory knows what you and Asia and Becky have been up to so it's hardly a secret."
She'd just gotten her mouth shut when it dropped open again. "They don't!"
"You're not naive, Erica. You know something like that can't be kept quiet. Hell, I'd be surprised if all of Cuther doesn't know about it."
Erica shot out of her chair to pace. She, Asia, and Becky had made a deal when the new porn shop, Wild Honey, had opened up in their miserably quiet hometown of Cuther, Indiana. They were each to visit the somewhat titillating establishment with a specific fantasy in mind. As soon as they spotted a man shopping for wares that indicated a similar interest, they had to ask him out.
Asia had gotten off easy when Cameron overheard the initial discussion as well as the fantasy she'd claimed. Without letting on, he'd visited the shop on the right day at the right time and he'd specifically purchased items that would draw Asia to him, as per the dare. Since Cameron had already been half in love with Asia, one thing had led to another and they'd quickly advanced from making love to making wedding plans.
Then Cameron had played big brother and helped set Becky up so she got exactly what she was looking for too—in both her fantasy and her choice of man. George had been something of a surprise, but Erica liked him. Or at least she had before he let the cat out of the bag. Now she wasn't so sure.
Becky and George were currently shopping for engagement rings while Asia and Cameron had just tied the knot. As the only unattached female still in their circle, that left Erica out in the cold. Not that she wanted to be married, because she didn't. No, sir. Huh-uh.
It didn't matter that George and Cameron made it look so damn appealing with the way they catered to Becky and Asia and kept them both smiling like lovesick saps. Hell, these days it was downright nauseating to be around any of them, they all walked around in such a vacuous fog of romantic bliss.
Fuming, Erica whirled around to face Ian. "Who did George tell it to?"
"I don't know and I don't care."
"What do you mean, you don't know?" She didn't exactly mean to screech, but there were only around two hundred workers at the factory and everyone pretty much recognized everyone else. "What department do they work in?"
He narrowed his eyes. "I didn't see them, Erica. I was in the ceiling wiring the lights when they walked in. They didn't even know I was there and I didn't care to announce myself."
"Never mind, then." She started to go around him. "I'll find out." And when she did, she'd ...
Blocking the door, Ian crossed his massive arms over his wide chest and glared at her. "It doesn't matter who they are because you're not meeting up with either one of them."
Erica drew to an indignant halt. She hadn't planned to go anywhere with either of the men but, oh, boy, Ian's tone was guaranteed to get her back up. She knew him well enough since they worked in the same company and their paths often crossed. They chatted regularly, too, especially when he'd rewired her office, but then, she chatted with all the men.
Unfortunately, she was more aware of Ian than the others. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about him just really got to her—and she didn't like that. She didn't want to be drawn to him, but how could she not? When Ian was around, his personality was so quietly dominant that every other guy faded into the woodwork.
Regardless of all that, there was no way in hell she'd let Ian or any other man dictate to her.
Holding his steady gaze, she stalked closer toward him, her stride as long as her leather miniskirt would allow. "I'll see them, and a dozen other men, if that's what I want to do."
"No." He stared down at her from his lofty height. "You'll see me."
That drew her up short in mingled shock and affront. He'd sounded so ... certain, so in charge and imperious ... Luckily, she managed to laugh over her reaction. "You?" Her sneering tone sounded just right. "Gee, Ian, I didn't know you were interested."
His expression turned cynical; he even went so far as to shake his head in an indulgent way. "Erica, you assume every guy is interested."
Insults? Now just what did he think that would accomplish?
"This time," he conceded in that deep voice that felt like a tactile rub and sent shivers down her spine, "you're right."
He admitted it? And why did that give her such a thrill? She started to deny him, but he didn't give her the chance.
"I think you're interested as well, which is why we need to bypass this foolishness with the porn shop."
Foolishness? Okay, so now that it was her turn to visit the place, it did seem a tad foolish. Unlike Becky and Asia, she didn't need encouragement to date. Heck, her calendar stayed booked. She considered herself the quintessential party girl.
Her only problem was finding a man who could keep her interest, because so far no one had. Most were selfish and shallow and set in their ways—meaning they had no room to adjust to a woman who was also set in her own ways.
But she'd devised the plan and it had worked brilliantly to bring Asia out of her self-imposed celibacy, and to help Becky shed her unfounded insecurities.
So how dare Ian call her plan foolish?
She needed to bring Ian Conrad down a peg, and fast—before his dynamic manner started to turn her on. Sheesh, sometimes she was such a female, enjoying all that macho arrogance. "Did George, perchance, mention what kind of man I was looking for?"
Ian's eyes darkened a bit more, until they appeared more black than blue. He stared at her, his gaze so probing Erica felt pinned in place. She couldn't look away, and he wouldn't look away. "Yeah, something about sex slaves."
Despite herself, Erica's face heated. Becky was liable to be a widow even before she tied the damn knot, because Erica seriously considered killing George. She hid her turbulent thoughts from Ian, unwilling to let him know how the conversation disconcerted her.
Instead, she shook back her hair, propped her hands on her hips, and slowly smiled. "Should I presume you're here because you're willing to fill that role?"
"As a sex slave?" He grunted. "I'm here because I want you to stop dodging me."
"I don't." Her reply was fast and automatic. How dare he suggest such a thing? She didn't dodge anyone—not even big buff men who were a little too tempting and a lot too overwhelming.
"Bull. You'll flirt and tease with every timid weak-kneed jerk in the factory, but you're always cautious with me, never quite letting loose."
"That's not true." She didn't let loose with anyone.
"And no matter how many times I manage to corner you long enough to have a conversation, you're still jumpy as hell."
"You're jumpy right now, Erica." With one finger, he touched the racing pulse at her throat. His voice gentled. "I know I intimidate some people, but—"
He'd noticed her uneasiness? And here she thought she'd concealed that with plenty of sarcasm. Ian Conrad was just too damn astute for his own good.
Through her surprise, she managed a credible laugh.
"You, intimidating? Be real, Ian. So, you're big? So what." So, Erica reminded herself, he was big and calmly autocratic in a way that would make any sane woman think twice about getting too close.
Unlike many of the men she'd dated from the factory, Ian wasn't in a managerial position. His work was physical—and suited his large, hard frame. Compared to the guys in suits, he looked deliciously rugged and capable in his work clothes. Very capable. Very manly. Maybe too manly.
Halfway through the day he'd be all hot and sweaty, his brown hair damp against his nape and forehead, his shirtsleeves rolled up to show off thick forearms. And his jeans were always well worn, snug on his tight butt and long muscular thighs and a heavy ...
She nearly shuddered, just thinking about it, then covered that innate reaction by checking her nails and striving for a look of indifference. She did have to do that around him a lot, it seemed. But it wasn't her fault he exuded such raw, powerful appeal. "Ya know, Ian, it's hard for you to intimidate anyone when you're always quiet as a church mouse."
"Until I have something to say. And Erica, I have plenty to say to you."
That sounded like a warning, causing her heart to lurch and regaining her attention. He could be so damn intense, and yes, intimidating. She'd never admit it out loud, but it was a little thrilling. If she'd been truthful about her fantasy and what really turned her on, then . . . but no, she'd claimed to want a sex slave, and damn it, she'd stick with that story. "Yeah, all right, big boy. So speak up."
Trying her best to be casual, Erica propped her hip on the edge of her desk and crossed her legs. To her annoyance, though she had a lot of leg showing Ian never looked away from her face.
But oh so slowly, the corners of his mouth curled and wow, that gradual smile had a devastating effect on her equilibrium. It was wicked and sensual and suggestive, just hinting at what outrageous things he might do.
And then he did it, again with a distinct lack of haste that had Erica near to bursting with anticipation. By the time he stepped up, firmly clasped her knees in his big hands and drew her legs apart so he could stand between them, Erica was ready to swoon when she'd never considered herself a swooning type of woman.
Stunned by his daring, more than a little breathless, she stared up at him. He wedged himself closer—and in the process spread her legs more. She felt the rough denim of his jeans rubbing the tender insides of her thighs, felt the tensed steal of his muscles, his carefully restrained power.
"Listen up, Erica." He was again so close that if she leaned forward one measly inch she'd be kissing him. "I want you. I've wanted you since I first saw you months ago."
One breath, two ... "That right?" Damn, her voice still sounded like a squeak.
"Mmm. You're bossy as hell, gutsy, a little too outspoken and risqué, but all in all, I like it."
Some of her sensual haze dissipated, replaced by annoyance. "What's with all the insults?"
"Just telling it like it is. You flirt too damn much, tease without regard to consequences, and avoid any man who might come close to matching you. But you won't avoid me. Not anymore." His midnight eyes glittered dangerously. "Isn't that right?"
Annoyed by her own desire to submit, Erica pushed away from him, only he didn't let go of her knees and he was such a solid hulk he sure as hell didn't budge. Instead, she almost fell flat on her desk, sending papers scattering to the floor. She caught herself on her elbows but it was still an ignominious position, and Ian in an aggressive mood wasn't a man to be taken lightly.
Straightening seemed a high priority but before she could manage it, he lowered himself over her. With the impact of an electric jolt, she felt his hard abdomen press against her soft belly, his groin nestle against hers. Oh, wow.
Her legs, literally hanging over the end of her desk, sprawled wide apart to accommodate his muscular hips. If anyone walked into her office right now, she'd have a lot of explaining to do—that is, if she could find any breath to speak, which was doubtful given how she panted.
When she realized just how quickly and easily he'd aroused her, she stiffened in alarm.
Ian snuggled closer and murmured, "Shhh, relax," and none of the flustered anxiety she suffered sounded in his tone. "Everyone's gone to a meeting. We're all alone."
And that was supposed to reassure her when all she could think about was wrapping her legs around his waist? So unlike her! So ... submissive.
He cupped her face and smoothed her chin with his thumbs. His touch was sexual, but also tender, and Erica got flustered all over again. "Now tell me you'll forget this sex slave business and give me a chance to show you how good it'll be between us."
He oozed so much confidence, she couldn't help but believe him. And she wanted to agree, she really did. But old habits were hard to break, so she raised her chin, narrowed her eyes, and smiled her most taunting smile.
"You want a chance, Ian? Then meet me at Wild Honey after work, and plan on playing. Because I'm not about to back out of my deal with Asia and Becky and that means I need a sex slave. It can either be you—or it can be someone else. You decide."
Excerpted from I BRAKE FOR BAD BOYS by Lori Foster Janelle Denison Shannon McKenna Copyright © 2002 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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