Instant Temptationby Jill Shalvis
T.J. Wilder is the perfect package of breathtaking adventure and raw sex appeal. Even better, he's about to reconnect with the one woman he's never been able to forget. . .Get Your Pulse RacingTo Harley, the landscape around Wishful, CalifoSee more details below
T.J. Wilder is the perfect package of breathtaking adventure and raw sex appeal. Even better, he's about to reconnect with the one woman he's never been able to forget. . .Get Your Pulse RacingTo Harley, the landscape around Wishful, Califo
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By Jill Shalvis
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Jill Shalvis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLate the next afternoon, Harley sat at her kitchen table staring at her bank balance, but no matter how long she sat there or how much she squinted, the balance wasn't going to cover her rent.
That is what happened when one took two part-time jobs, only one of them paying, and not all that well.
She shut her laptop, then thunked her head down on the table a few times, enough to scatter some papers and make her Canon digital bounce, but that didn't help either. After six years of night school, she'd recently completed her degree in wildlife biology. Six long years of wrenching cars and trucks during the day and staying up all night studying, and she still couldn't make ends meet.
But there was a silver lining. Thanks to her brand-new shiny degree, she'd been granted a part-time internship as a research biologist for a federal conservation agency, and if she impressed them, she had a shot at the lone full-time research position in their Colorado branch in the spring.
Since that job-unlike her internship-came with an actual paycheck, impressing them had become Harley's biggest goal.
Her duties involved putting together data and analysis on a species indicator report, which was seeking to answer questions about western coyote populations. Itsounded a lot more impressive than it actually was. In truth, there was almost no funding for the project, and the staff consisted of two wildlife biologists located in Colorado, and a few lowly, unpaid interns like herself scattered throughout the states of California, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming.
But for Harley, it was a foot in the door, because she intended to get that job in Colorado.
When her belly rumbled, reminding her she'd skipped lunch, she got up to look in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the food fairy hadn't paid her a visit, so her choices were questionable cottage cheese, an apple, or the last of her emergency stash of double fudge brownie ice cream. She'd been saving that for an extreme disaster, but the possibility of getting evicted for not paying her rent seemed pretty extreme.
She'd just stuffed a large bite into her mouth, and was moaning over the sweet chocolate melting on her tongue when her phone rang.
She looked at it with the same caution she'd give a piqued rattlesnake. It was probably her landlord. Or maybe it was her mom wanting to bring her some tofu concoction in thanks for helping her meet her mortgage this month. Or her father wanting to crash on her couch, since the fun-loving hippie had probably pissed off his latest lover and had nowhere else to go. It could be her sister Skye wanting to mooch food and/or cash, which-no surprise-was in shockingly low supply. Harley loved her family, she really did, but she couldn't seem to master their carefree, no-worries attitude.
Not when the worries kept piling up.
The phone stopped ringing before her machine picked up.
Blowing out a relieved sigh, shaking off her sense of impending doom, Harley looked down at her coveralls. It was a good day, relatively speaking, as she had only one grease stain streaked down a thigh and another on her bare arm. Not bad. She could probably get it off with fingernail polish remover. Lifting her spoon, she used it as a mirror. She wasn't vain. She knew she had an okay shape thanks to a decent metabolism, but seeing as she wasn't all that into makeup or fashion, she rarely did anything to accent her attributes. She took a quick inventory of her face and realized she'd spoken too soon about not being all that filthy, since she had another grease streak over her forehead.
Good thing she didn't have a date tonight.
Hey, look at that. Another silver lining to the crap that was her life.
The sorry truth was, she'd had only two dates in recent memory. Both with Nolan, her friend and boss. True, one of those dates had been more of an accident than anything else when she'd had to change out his alternator and drive him into South Shore for a meeting. But still, it was two dates more than she'd had in at least six months.
Tonight would have been their third night out, which would have been great because it was his turn to buy dinner, except he'd gotten stuck in Placerville and wouldn't be home until too late.
But if things were as really, really hot between them as she'd claimed to TJ, "too late" wouldn't have been a problem, a little voice inside her said.
There are so many sparks between me and Nolan, our clothes catch fire every time we're near each other.
God. She'd actually said those words out loud to TJ, who'd smiled that smile, the one that gave her goose bumps, as he'd whispered "liar."
Arrogant, cocky ass.
But he was one gorgeous arrogant, cocky ass.
She let out a shuddery sigh, the kind only good chocolate or a good-looking guy could cause and continued to eat her ice cream. When the knock came, she stared at her door, then slowly moved to look through the peephole.
It was the gorgeous ass in person, looking a little hot and tired, as if, like her, he'd just come in from a long day. She remained still in indecision, blowing out a sigh when he merely arched a brow at her.
She said nothing when she opened the door, which wasn't polite, but she wasn't feeling polite. She was feeling out of control, unnerved, and off balance-three things that TJ Wilder probably never felt.
Something else he apparently didn't feel-the need to fill a silence. Instead he stood there, well over six feet of hard muscle and testosterone, doing what he'd been doing all her life without even trying-affecting her brain cells, turning them to mush.
Yes, just looking at him turned her from an educated biologist into a drooling imbecile. It wasn't her fault he'd been blessed by the gene gods. He had a lot of sun-kissed brown hair, wavy and unruly, falling over his forehead, and deep-set, assessing, sharp green eyes that missed exactly nothing. He was tanned from long days in the high-altitude sun spent trekking and guiding across trails that would make a city guy's bowels go weak. And then there was his body, honed to solid, ungiving sinew wrapped in a healthy dose of male.
"Why are you here?" she asked. Not exactly as friendly a greeting as Nolan would have received, but her reasons for not being comfortable with TJ were as complicated as everything else in her life at the moment.
His eyes said he'd registered her tone and was thinking about smiling. "You going to invite me in?"
Ah, he speaks. But no. Hell, no. That would be like inviting in the big bad wolf. She shook her head and simultaneously swallowed another bite of ice cream, which naturally went down the wrong pipe, and as the cold ache exploded behind her eyeballs, she choked.
Stepping in close, way too close for comfort, TJ ran a hand up her back, patting her between the shoulder blades as she coughed and gasped.
"Brain freeze?" he murmured, his hands still on her, which was disconcerting enough, but added to that, he brushed against her with all those tough muscles, the ones that could make a nun ache to touch him, and in spite of her current and regrettable lack of a sexual life, she was certainly no nun. If she were, she'd be excommunicated for the thoughts she was having.
Yeah, she had brain freeze, and not just from the ice cream. "Back up," she wheezed. "Give me space."
He obligingly took a step clear of her, managing to get inside her apartment as he did, because after all, he was a slippery, wily-as-a-fox Wilder. Their ancestors had created the wild, wild west, emphasis on the wild, wild. In fact, it was rumored that the Wilders were responsible for the addition of the second "wild." That tendency had carried down through the generations, each subsequent Wilder doing his best to live up to the name, most ending up in jail or six feet under. Somehow though, the current generation had escaped the worst of the bad genes, or at least outgrown them.
For the most part.
Didn't mean he wasn't up for taking advantage of a situation. "I didn't invite you in, TJ."
He just smiled.
He was built as solid as the mountains that had shaped his life, and frankly had the attitude to go with them-the one that said he could take on whoever and whatever and you could kiss his perfect ass while he did so. She'd seen him do it, back in his hell-raising, misspent youth.
Not that she was going there, to the time when he could have given her a single look and she'd have melted into a puddle at his feet.
Had melted into a puddle at his feet. Not going there.
Unfortunately for her senses, he smelled like the wild Sierras; pine and fresh air, and something even better, something so innately male that her nose twitched for more, seeking out the heat and raw male energy that surrounded him. Since it made her want to lean into him, she shoved in another bite of ice cream instead.
"I saw on Oprah once that women use ice cream as a substitute for sex," he said.
She choked again, and he resumed gliding his big, warm hand up and down her back. "You watch Oprah?"
"No. Annie does, and once I overheard her yelling at the TV that women should have plenty of both sex and ice cream."
That sounded exactly like his Aunt Annie. "Well, I don't need the substitute."
"No?" he murmured, looking amused at her again.
He hadn't taken his hands off her. He still had one rubbing up and down her back, the other low on her belly, holding her upright, which was ridiculous, so she smacked it away. She did her best to ignore the fluttering he'd caused, and the odd need she had to grab him by the shirt, haul him close, and have her merry way with him.
That was what happened to a woman whose last orgasm had come from a battery-operated device instead of a man, a fact she'd admit, oh never. "I was expecting your brother."
"Stone's working on Emma's 'honey do' list at the new medical clinic, so he sent me instead. Said to give you these." He pulled some maps from his back pocket, maps she needed for a field expedition for her research. When she took them out of his hands, he hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his Levi's. He wore a T-shirt layered with an opened button-down that said WILDER ADVENTURES on the pec. His jeans were faded nearly white in the stress spots, of which there were many, nicely encasing his long, powerful legs and lovingly cupping a rather impressive package that was emphasized by the way his fingers dangled on his thighs.
Not that she was looking.
Okay, she was looking, but she couldn't help it. The man oozed sexuality. Apparently some men were issued a handbook at birth on how to make a woman stupid with lust. And he'd had a lot of practice over the years.
She'd watched him do it.
Each of the three Wilder brothers had barely survived their youth, thanks in part to no mom and a mean, son-of-a-bitch father. But by some miracle, the three of them had come out of it alive, and now channeled their energy into Wilder Adventures, where they guided clients on just about any outdoor adventure that could be imagined; heli-skiing, extreme mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, anything.
Though TJ had matured and found success, he still gave off a don't-mess-with-me vibe. Even now, at four in the afternoon, he looked big and bad and tousled enough that he might have just gotten out of bed and wouldn't be averse to going back.
It irritated her. It confused her. And it turned her on, a fact that drove her bat-shit crazy because she was no longer interested in TJ Wilder.
It'd be suicide to still be interested. No one could sustain a crush for fifteen years.
Except, apparently, her. Because deep down, the unsettling truth was that if he so much as directed one of his sleepy, sexy looks her way, her clothes would fall right off.
Wasn't that just her problem. The fact that once upon a time, a very long time ago, at the tail end of TJ's out-of-control youth, the two of them had spent a single night together being just about as intimate as a man and a woman could get. Her first time, but definitely not his first. Neither of them had been exactly legal, and only she'd been sober.
Which meant only she remembered.
Not going there ... never going there again. "Thanks for the maps," she said in a clear invite to leave.
Instead he reached for her spoon and stole a bite of her ice cream.
Bastard. She'd bet her last buck-if she had one-that he wasn't orgasm deprived. Only the orgasm deprived got her ice cream!
"I wanted to talk to you." He licked the spoon with his tongue, flashing straight white teeth, and she remembered what else he liked to do with that mouth.
She dragged her eyes off it and up to his eyes. "About?" she asked suspiciously.
"Not here. I'll buy dinner."
"I don't go out to dinner with the big bad wolf."
He grinned. "Sometimes, Harley, you have to take a risk."
She wasn't real big on risk. Risk tended to end badly for her. Such as staring at her insufficient bank balance. Such as holding two jobs, neither of which was satisfying her. Such as waiting on Nolan to make his move sexually, when she was so overcharged she'd probably explode during her next shower.
Or the next time she leaned against the washer during the spin cycle.
Unable to explain any of that, she turned and started to walk into her kitchen. TJ hooked a finger into the back of her coveralls and halted her progress.
"Let go," she said.
"In a minute. You're off to Desolation Wilderness for a few days."
Her back was plastered to his chest, and it was a damn fine chest. Strong. Broad and warm. "I have to check on the tracking equipment. Several cameras aren't transmitting. Also I'm hoping to catch sight of any of the three core coyote groups that we're tracking. I've got a red, a blue, and a green group scattered through Desolation."
"Hope to catch sight of them?"
"Well, honestly, they're so slippery, even with the GPS system in place I'll settle for signs. DNA."
She heard his smile. "You mean you're going looking for coyote shit."
She sighed. "Why do guys think anything to do with bodily functions is amusing?"
"Because it is."
She rolled her eyes so hard they almost fell out of her head.
"Desolation, Harley? At this time of year?"
His mouth was disconcertingly close to her ear, and his voice, low and husky, had a terrible habit of bringing her deprived body to life. "I have to impress," she said. "I want that research job in Colorado. And besides, it's September. It's the best time of year to go. Only a very small chance of a snowstorm, and not quite hot enough to fry an egg on a rock."
He said nothing to that, and not being good at loaded silences, she squirmed free. "I don't know what the big deal is. You take treks like this all the time. You just got back from two months in Alaska."
"It's my job."
Right. She was just a mechanic and a part-time research biologist, used to being either under a car or behind a computer. She got that.
But she wanted a shot at being more. She wanted to say goodbye to coveralls forever, good-bye to needing a degreaser in the shower. She wanted to be excited about something, passionate. Dammit, she wanted to stop feeling like a hamster on the wheel and live.
Unfortunately, most of her internship consisted of staring at a computer screen. Hell, all of her internship consisted of staring at a computer screen. "All I have to do is fix two cameras," she said. The cameras were vital to the study. Luckily, coyotes were creatures of habit, and territorial for life. They made a den and tended to stay in a very careful ten-mile radius of that den, even taking the same path of travel along a fixed route on a daily basis. This allowed the remote cameras to give humans a slice of coyote life.
When the cameras were functioning, that is. Which meant field trip. She'd be hiking into the northwestern slope of Desolation, a hundred-square-mile federal wilderness area west of Lake Tahoe. True, it was some of the toughest, most rugged, isolated land in the country. Most of it was roadless, trail-less, and devoid of logging and grazing.
But she'd be getting out from behind her laptop.
"I get why you've been asked to do this," TJ said. "You're a cheap resource."
"You're also sharp, intuitive, and probably the best intern they've ever had."
While she processed that, both the compliments and the warm fuzzies it sent skittering through her, he went on. "The question is why do you want to do this? Why not just skip the internship and apply directly for the job you want?"
Excerpted from Instant Temptation by Jill Shalvis Copyright © 2010 by Jill Shalvis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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