Read an Excerpt
Into the Fire
A Hot Nights Novel
By Amanda Usen, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Lewis Pollak, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Amanda Usen
All rights reserved.
Lila slipped away from the crowded graduation party, carrying her glass of wine out to the empty back porch. She felt ridiculous in her too-small, borrowed cocktail dress and couldn't wait to kick off her uncomfortable heels. How much longer did she have to stay to justify all the work Jenna and Betsy had put into her hair and makeup?
Getting dressed up had sounded like fun, but she couldn't take a deep breath without risking indecent exposure, and her feet were killing her. Unlike her vivacious friends, she was never going to be the life of the party. She was happiest in the kitchen, making the party happen behind the scenes. Or in her dorm room, going over her game plan for the culinary competition tomorrow.
The door opened behind her. Please, God, no more small talk. Pasting a polite grin on her lips, she turned. When Jackson Calabrese smiled back at her, her heart hammered. A blush burned at the roots of her hair and blazed its way down to the ground — just as it did each time she saw him.
He raised a bottle of wine toward her glass. "I brought reinforcements."
"How on earth did you get a bottle of the Margaux?" she stammered.
He shrugged, giving her a wicked grin that made her feel faint. Of course. It was good to be a Calabrese at the Culinary Academy. The president of the school would probably put a case of the priceless wine in Jack's car if he asked.
She took a sip to wet her dry mouth. "Are you ready for the big competition tomorrow?" she asked, figuring she might as well mention the elephant standing on the porch with them.
He grimaced, running a hand through his short dark hair. "I guess."
She had expected him to boast and try to psych her out with trash talk. They were frenemies competing against each other, after all, and most of their class was betting one of them would take the top prize of twenty-five thousand dollars. The last thing she expected was for Jackson Calabrese, golden boy of the Culinary Academy, to sound uncertain. Or was he playing with her? She cocked her head to the side and watched him take a large gulp of wine.
She had no idea.
He tipped his head toward the house and shrugged. "It's hard to be in there pretending I'm not nervous as hell. I'm already having nightmares."
"Why are you nervous? It's not like you need the money. I know that's a tacky thing to say, but I can't imagine you've got student loans to repay." Winning the competition would put a big enough dent in her loans that she might only be in debt for half her life, instead of the whole thing.
He scowled. "No loans, as my father loves to remind me. Just the honor of the entire Calabrese family. The old man doesn't think I'm going to win. In fact, he's sure of it."
"You've got to be kidding me." She rolled her eyes. "Even I think you're going to win."
She raised the glass to her lips, trying to act normal while every nerve tightened with awareness of him. It wasn't easy. Her skin felt taut and tingly, and her mouth watered even after she swallowed. Damn, he was hot — tall, dark, and built like an underwear model. Whereas she was ... not. Every time she passed the pub on her way to one of her part-time jobs, he was in there surrounded by an adoring crowd well stocked with beautiful women from neighboring universities. To top off his lucky lot in life, he was rich, too. Could two people be more opposite? For goodness sake, her father had mortgaged the house to pay for her abandoned art degree, but Jack was so loaded there were buildings on campus named after his family.
He smiled, not the charming grin she'd seen him use on the instructors during class when he was being, well, Jack. This smile was real, and it made her heart beat faster. Snap out of it! Her crush on Jack had been instant, epic, and excruciating, but she couldn't afford to let him distract her tonight. "Oh no, you don't. You're not going to throw me off my game tomorrow by playing on my sympathies. You're not going to get me drunk, either." She set her glass on the porch railing and crossed her arms, glaring at him. "Unlike you, I do have loans to repay. Big ones. You'll have to forgive me for kicking your ass tomorrow."
He didn't react. Actually, he didn't appear to have heard a word she said. His eyes roved over her body, finally settling on her breasts.
"Hey! Up here." She pointed at her eyes. "I'm talking to you."
His gaze snapped to meet hers, and time stopped. His pale green eyes were mesmerizing, and she saw something in them she had never imagined — desire. She stared at him, feeling dizzy.
He stepped closer. "Sorry, did you say something? I was trying to figure out how we could have been in class together for so long without me noticing how beautiful you are. Have you been hiding from me?"
He didn't know the half of it. When she saw him coming, she ducked behind whatever was available, no mean feat considering her curves. Better to hide than to face him, flushed with desire and breathless. In class, it was easier to act normal. She was wearing her uniform, had a game plan, and knew all the right answers.
He set his wine glass next to hers. "Now that I think about it, you always seem to be going the other direction every time I see you. I don't think we've ever had a conversation outside of class before tonight. Why is that?"
Because my panties would start fires around campus. "Absolutely nothing in common?"
"I don't buy it. We've traded the top spot back and forth for two years now. We're both nervous about tomorrow. Obviously, we both love food. We have tons in common. Don't you like me?"
Was he joking? "Seriously? Everybody likes you."
"That's not an answer."
Their eyes locked, and her heart beat so fast she thought it might lunge out of her chest. Her knees weakened, and she leaned back to brace herself against the railing, feeling her cheeks burn. A triumphant grin spread across his face. "You do like me."
"It's not a crime."
He stepped forward, trapping her. "No, but giving me the impression you didn't want anything to do with me is."
"So sue me." She looked away into the darkness, grateful for the early spring breeze that cooled her fiery cheeks. "I'm not your type, Jack. I never had any illusions about something happening between us."
He made a dismissive sound. "You gave off the not interested vibe so hard, I didn't even think about it. Now I'm remembering how much fun it was to square off with you in the kitchen and imagining how we might match up in other ways."
She jerked her gaze back to his. She'd imagined how they might match up a thousand times but had never thought it would happen. He leaned forward. "Want to find out?"
Heat soared through her, and she was certain she would catch fire when he kissed her.
His lips touched hers.
She melted and then turned into pure flame as he wrapped his arms around her, welcoming the instant and all-consuming fire between them. When she felt the flick of his tongue against her upper lip, she opened her mouth, inviting him deeper. For long moments they explored each other, and she exhilarated in his touch, loving the firm caress of his fingers on her aching breasts and delighting in the impatient grasp of his hands on her ass as he pulled her closer. "A perfect fit. So damn hot, and right under my nose all this time. No more hiding."
His teeth grazed her throat, and the sharp sting thrilled her. Would any of the other party guests see them making out on the porch? She didn't care. She had wanted this for so long, and it was actually happening.
"This is silly," he muttered.
She froze, eyes shut tight. She should have known it was too good to be true. Guys like Jack didn't need girls like her.
He lifted his head. "I don't suppose you want to get out of here?"
She opened her eyes and found his cool green gaze just as hot as it had been before he kissed her. He wanted her, really and truly. Unmistakable evidence of his desire was cradled against her belly, but it was hard to shake off her doubts. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea. We're competing against each other tomorrow, and we have to be up really early."
He cocked an eyebrow. "I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight, are you?"
"Probably not," she admitted. Even if she hadn't been nervous about the competition, now she'd be lying awake thinking of him.
"I can think of many pleasurable ways to not sleep ... together. And I may have been slow to notice your killer body and beautiful smile, but I've always been aware of your mad cooking skills. I bet your game plan for tomorrow is mapped out minute by minute, isn't it?"
She nodded slowly. "Is yours?"
"Of course." He bent to nibble her neck. "We're both prepared, and I think working off some nervous energy will be good for us." His lips cruised south. When the tip of his tongue dipped between her breasts, her reservations disintegrated, no match for the need igniting in her core. She didn't care about tomorrow; she wanted tonight. "Your place or mine?"
"Do you have a roommate?"
She nodded. It was cheaper to share dorm costs.
"My place then. I want you all to myself."
* * *
Anticipation shot through her, and she grabbed her purse and followed him around the side of the house to his car. The ride to his apartment was short but seemed to take forever. His hand clasped hers, caressing her fingers until she felt his touch everywhere. When they got inside, he locked the door and pulled her into his arms. His hands molded her curves while his lips slanted over her mouth. The bold thrust of his tongue against hers made her feel equally brave, and she loosened the knot on his tie, eager to uncover the body she'd fantasized about touching. He walked her backward down the hall, never losing contact with her mouth, as she swiftly unbuttoned his shirt.
They went through an open door, and he flicked on a light. "Turnabout's fair play." She tensed as he turned her around. That light was bright and would highlight every flaw. She clutched the fabric to her chest as he eased the zipper of her dress down to her waist and nudged the straps off her shoulders. "Any chance we can turn the light off?"
"Why would you want to do that?"
She glanced over her shoulder and gave him an eye roll. He grinned and tugged at her dress. She held on. "Some of us don't spend as much time at the gym as other people."
"Some of us don't care." He turned her to face him, trapping her dress between them. The neckline gaped, and the way he looked at her breasts made her nipples tighten. "Your curves are hot. I want to see them, touch them ... taste them. If I have to turn the light off, I will, but I'd much rather leave it on."
The sincerity in his voice was unmistakable and empowering, giving her the courage to let the dress fall slowly to her waist. His gaze grew fierce, and color swept over his cheeks. Her breath caught in her throat as he bent to kiss his way down her body. He kneeled to tug her dress over her hips. "Gorgeous," he whispered, caressing her bare thighs, and she believed him.
"Lights on." She stepped out of her heels and left the dress on the floor.
"Good decision." He stood and lowered her to the bed. They both sighed as he settled on top of her, the weight of him sending a hot burst of pleasure through her. He shifted to the side. She clutched at his shoulders, not wanting any space between them, but he caught her hands and pressed them to the bed, brushing a soft kiss across her lips. "Let me enjoy this amazing body. I've got plans for you."
How could she say no to that? She grew boneless as he kissed her again, this time lingering, tasting every corner of her mouth. Her breath came in pants as she imagined what else he might do with his tongue. His hands were busy stroking her breasts, belly, and hips. He thrust one knee between her thighs, easing the ache and making her sob from relief until he began to lick his way across her tender breasts. When he teased her nipple through her lace bra, she whimpered, wordlessly begging him to suck harder and give her more of the intense sensations that were making her simultaneously want to climb the walls and lie still so he wouldn't stop. His fingers hovered over the front clasp of her bra, and she nodded.
He popped the catch and helped her struggle out of it, leaving her in her panties. She forgot her half-formed desire to reach for cover when he shrugged out of his shirt and tie. Her mouth watered, and her fingers tingled. She stared greedily at his broad chest, the sleek muscles of his arms, and his rock-hard abs while he made short work of his pants, shoes, and socks. Definitely a good decision. The man was a god, and if they'd turned out the light, she wouldn't have been able to see all the places she wanted to touch and taste, either. She held her breath as he shucked his boxers, revealing hot, hard flesh.
Then he was on her again, and he felt even better than he looked. He bent his head to her breasts, tormenting her nipples with his tongue, moving from one to the other, while his hands stroked and squeezed her. The sensations shot straight to her clit, and she groaned, pulling his mouth tighter against her breast. With a soft chuckle, he stretched out beside her, propping his head on one arm and smiling down at her as he traced the top edge of her panties with one finger. She sucked in a harsh breath as his hand slipped beneath the fabric to circle the center of her, making her desperate and needy. Slowly, he pressed one finger inside, capturing her whimper with his lips as she clenched around him, and then he moved lower, scattering kisses across her belly. When he tugged her panties down, she lifted her hips, her modesty long gone. At the first touch of his tongue, she screamed, shamelessly thrusting her hips toward his mouth. Pleasure flowed over her, a hot cascade, and she surrendered, climaxing so hard her legs closed around him, and she felt the rough scrape of his five o'clock shadow against her inner thighs. His movements slowed, but didn't stop, an intimate kiss that urged her to seek more pleasure.
Her pulse was a drumbeat as she tugged him up over her. The heat in his gaze seared her, and his urgency filled her with greed. More — she wanted more of him.
"Hang on." He reached into the bedside drawer to get a condom. He swiftly rolled it into place. As he entered her, she stroked her hands over his back and wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him close. His harsh gasp filled her with satisfaction. She gripped him tight, pulling him down for a kiss and tasting herself on his lips. He cradled her shoulders with his forearms, holding her in place, making her feel utterly secure as he rocked her higher and harder with his hips. Over and over he thrust into her, a rainbow of fire bursting in her center and spreading outward. He shouted, clutching her impossibly closer and burying his face in her neck as they shuddered together.
Gradually she came back to earth and eased her hold on him. He lifted his head, and the tender intensity in his gaze sent aftershocks rippling through her. "Hold that thought." He slid away from her and headed toward the bathroom. She watched him go, marveling at his muscled back and his truly perfect ass. While he was gone, she indulged in a long stretch, resisting the urge to pinch herself. Quickly, she crawled under the covers, not wanting to put her dress back on but also not wanting to be quite so naked when he returned. Would he want her to stay?
Her question was answered when he slid into bed and spooned her. His hand cupped her breast, and his lips brushed the back of her neck. She shivered in delight. It was hard to believe she was with Jack, who used to make her so nervous. Cocooned in his incredibly soft sheets, with his strong arms wrapped around her, she was more comfortable than she'd ever been in her life.
"God, I feel great," he said echoing her thoughts. "I wish we could start cooking right now. My food would be awesome."
She cast a teasing glance over her shoulder. "You'd certainly get high marks from the judges if you served it naked."
Excerpted from Into the Fire by Amanda Usen, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Lewis Pollak, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Amanda Usen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.