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Hot breath created a steamy dampness on her neck, challenging the summer heat for dominance Her nipples awakened to tingling life under the attention of his roaming hands She tightened her thighs, trapping his hips, a moan building in her throat
Heidi Joblowski arched her back against the cool sheets and slid her hands down to cup Jesse's bottom, holding him close.
He instantly stiffened against her, his body quaking.
Not again. Not yet.
Heidi bit her bottom lip, praying that this wasn't it. That Jesse wasn't finished.
He collapsed against her.
The moan turned into a groan.
"Mmm," he hummed, kissing her neck several times and then kissing her mouth. "That was good. You were good."
Apparently she was too good. He'd reached climax before she was even halfway up the ladder, leaving her hanging from the rungs with no hope of his helping her over. Because she knew that no matter what she said, what she did, he was done.
And she wasn't even close.
"What?" he said when she kissed him back with moderate enthusiasm. "Oh, no. Did I do it again?"
Heidi took a deep breath, trying to unwind her coiled muscles. "When I said 'quickie,' I didn't mean it in a literal sense. I meant 'no foreplay necessary.' But an orgasm would have been nice."
He chuckled into her hair. "I'm sorry, Heidi."
She stretched her neck, figuring she could see to herself in the shower. After all, it was three o'clock on a busy Saturday afternoon in June and she certainly hadn't expected more. Had hoped for more, especially since they'd spoken several times lately about Jesse's habit of not waiting for her before diving over theorgasmic edge.
Of course, all it usually took for Jesse was a gentle blow in his ear and a squeeze of her thighs and he was a goner.
Therein lay the problem.
"It's the place, I think," he said, smoothing her hair back from her face. "It's strange having sex in Professor Tanner's place."
"It's not his place, it's mine. At least for the summer while I'm renting it from him."
Well, she was actually house-sitting, as well. Watering Tanner's plants, taking care of his garden, forwarding his mail to him while he was in Belgium for the next couple of months. A perfect set-up, really. She got the type of privacy with Jesse that she wanted and that they couldn't have at the apartment he shared with two friends, and all she had to do was take care of the house as if it were her own. Perfect.
Only it wasn't working as well as she'd hoped.
Jesse turned on his dazzling megawatt grin. "Do you want to try again?"
Heidi quickly reached for another condom on the nightstand.
A knock at the front door thwarted her intentions.
Jesse kissed her. "I'll make it up to you, Hi. I promise."
She languidly snaked her arms around his neck and tunneled her fingers into his thick, dark hair. "At this rate, you'll owe me well into the next century," she whispered.
His chuckle made her smile. "So be it." He kissed her deeply again before pushing off to jump into his jeans sans underwear. "I can come up with worse debts."
So could she.
Heidi propped herself up on her elbows, watching Jesse Gilbred's fine male form as he got dressed. His tousled hair dipped low over his brow. His slender, whipcord-taut muscles moved and rippled with his actions. His green eyes twinkled at her mischievously.
It was a sight of which she'd never tire. She'd met Jesse when they'd been little more than kids in high school and had remained smitten with him ever since. He'd been the captain of the football team, she'd been the quiet, studious girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Even when he'd left Fantasy, Michigan, to attend college in the east, they'd maintained a long-distance relationship, with Jesse returning at least one weekend a month to see her. It had been a long two years, but when he'd graduated and come home for good to work in a managerial capacity at his father's construction company, she'd been there for him, just as she had for the past eight years.
He had been her first. And she intended that he be her last. He was the one she'd built all of her plans around. Well, all but the little detail they encountered every now and again, as they had just now. But they could definitely work on that.
He left the room and Heidi pulled a pillow over her head and gave a muffled moan.
"Hey, how's it hanging, man?" she heard Jesse's voice as he greeted their visitor.
She shifted the pillow to peek at the bedroom door he'd left wide open.
Jesse's best friend entered her line of vision, all blond hair and dark tan. He stared at her, apparently as startled as she was at being caught in this situation.
"Jesse!" she called, yanking the sheet up to her chin and then catapulting off the bed so she could close the door.
Heidi leaned against the wood for long moments, listening to Jesse's laugh and Kyle's awkward apologies.
So much for seeing to her own needs. Whatever lingering desire she felt had been chased away by another man's scorching gaze.
She made out Jesse's words through the wood, "No need to apologize. If a guy can't trust his best friend, who can he trust?"
Heidi gave an eye roll and dropped the sheet, stepping over it on her way to the connecting bath.
Naked as the day she was born.
The ridiculous saying came to Kyle Trapper's mind as he raked his hand through his hair, staring at his friend as if he'd lost a baseball or two on the way to the game.
Kyle had yet to move from where he stood in the middle of the small, well-appointed living room. His gaze wandered back toward the closed bedroom door of its own volition, as if hoping to catch another forbidden glimpse of Heidi's decadent white flesh. He didn't care which part. Whether it was her pert, rose-kissed breasts, her flat, toned stomach, or the trimmed triangle of hair that seemed to point toward the V of her thighs like an erotic arrow.
His friend sat on an armchair pulling on socks and athletic shoes, oblivious to his thoughts. And it was a good thing. If their roles had been reversed, he'd have punched his friend.
"Hell, Jesse, do you let everyone see your girlfriend naked?"
Jesse got up and smacked him on the back. "Only my closest friends."
Kyle was not amused.
"What's your problem? You'd think you'd never seen a woman without her clothes on."
"Never that woman."
Never Jesse's girl.
Jesse grabbed a T-shirt that was hanging on the back of the chair. "How'd you know I was here, anyway?"
Kyle hadn't known. In fact, he hadn't come here for his friend at all. He'd come to talk to Heidi.
He cleared his throat. "Where else would you be?"
His response must have come out gruffer than he'd intended because Jesse paused. "Hey, you never have told me what your problem is with Heidi, but she's one of the most open women I've ever met." He shrugged as he pulled the shirt over his head. "She won't care that you've seen her naked."
"Right. That's why she turned ten shades of red and slammed the door." Kyle rubbed the back of his neck. "And why do you think I have a problem with her?"
Jesse pulled the T-shirt down, revealing the name of a local tavern. "She thinks you don't like her."
That surprised him. At the same time it was cause for relief. If either Jesse or Heidi had a clue about how he really felt well, he didn't think he'd be standing in her rental house right now, about to leave with her boyfriend to play softball.
In fact, he'd probably be run out of the small town on a rail, back to a life that had never held much for him by way of a future.
If you had asked him seven years ago where he'd be now, he would never have guessed south-east Michigan, working as an architect. But that would have been before Jesse was assigned as his roommate at Boston University and his life had changed forever for the better. So much so that he hadn't hesitated when his friend had invited him to come to Fantasy eight months ago and put his architectural talents to good use by working in cooperation with Gilbred Builders. So he'd shut the doors to his own start-up company in Boston and moved to the Midwest.
He'd like to say it had been smooth sailing ever since. But he wasn't much into lying, particularly to himself. Until he'd moved to Fantasy, he'd only spoken to Heidi when she called and Jesse wasn't homecalls he'd enjoyed more than he should have. What he hadn't anticipated was that coming to Fantasy would amplify his lust for a woman he could never have.
If he'd needed a reminder, he'd just gotten it by way of his uncomfortable physical reaction to a mere glimpse of her full-frontal nudity.
And what of his strategy to combat his unwanted emotions by asking her to help him plan a surprise birthday party for Jesse? The idea being that the more time he forced himself to spend around her, the better he'd be able to battle against his attraction to her? Was he kidding himself by thinking that familiarity would erase whatever mysterious factors drew him to her?
But after eight months of careful avoidance and awkward silences whenever their paths crossed, and nights filled with countless cold showers, Kyle knew he had to do something to defuse a situation that was only getting worse instead of better.
"Anyway, we all know you're gay," Jesse said, lightly hitting him in the arm.
"You heard me. I haven't seen you date a single woman since you've come to Fantasy. Back in Boston you were with a girl nearly every night of the week. I figured you'd switched sides and were batting lefty."
Now that was a new one. But, hey, so long as it kept his best friend from learning the truth, let him think what he would.
"I'm joking, man."
Kyle stared at him, realizing that Jesse had expected something else from him. A denial maybe. Or perhaps a mock physical assault.
He made like he was going to slug him.
Jesse laughed and good-naturedly dodged the hit as he grabbed his ball cap. "Come on. We can get in some practice on the field before anyone else gets there."
Jesse opened the front door and walked out. Kyle stood staring at the closed bedroom door for a long moment, feeling as if he owed Heidi an apology. He heard the spray of the shower and swallowed thickly, the sound of the water combining with the memory of her sleekly naked body to create an image he really didn't need.
The blare of a truck horn sounded from the driveway.
Kyle gave the door one last glance and then reluctantly turned away. If he knew what was best for him, he'd keep on going until he was back in Boston and well away from a temptation that had the potential to destroy all the good he'd finally found in life.
The town pub was a popular gathering place all year round, but in the summer, doubly so. Heidi shouted her order to the bartender over the cacophony of voices. Most of the patrons had come from the baseball complex on the edge of town, like her. She peeled off the money to pay for the beer and then juggled the five bottles as she made her way back to the table. Unsurprisingly, she found that Jesse had left his chair and was playing darts with Kyle. He took two beers from her as she passed.
He kissed her cheek but his focus was on the target some ten feet away. She put the remaining beers on the table and sat down next to her friend Nina Leonard.
Actually, Nina was more than a friend. She was Heidi's boss at BMC, the bookstore/music center/café where she'd been working for the past year while she finished her degree at U of M. And Nina was partners in more ways than one with the man sitting on the other side of her, Kevin Weber. The two were due to marry in a couple of months, surprising almost everyone with their rapid courtship. To this day, half the town's population watched Nina's stomach, convinced she must be pregnant.
Heidi knew they were getting married because they were in love.
"When are you going to ask Jesse to stop calling you a pig's name?" Nina asked, quirking a brow at her.
Heidi made a face. "He doesn't mean it that way."
Nina looked at Kevin. He pretended he didn't have a clue what they were talking about.
"Oh, stop it," Heidi said with a laugh.
"Hey, you're the one who pitched a fit when Jesse proposed at the wrong time," Nina reminded her.
Heidi cringed and leaned her forehead against her open palm. "Oh, God, I knew I shouldn't have told you about that."
"If not me, then who?" Nina leaned in closer. "If I wasn't already engaged to Kevin, I'd give Jesse's friend Kyle another look or two."
Heidi gaped at her.
"What? I can look." Nina waggled her fingers. "It's the touching I can't do."
Kevin gave his fiancée a long stare and then slid from the booth, gravitating toward the men playing darts and away from the women talking men.
Heidi watched him go, wondering not for the first time what had gone down at BMC several months ago and why the third partner in the business, Patrick Gauge, had disappeared without explanation. For as long as Heidi had been at the store, she'd believed Nina, Kevin and Gauge were the closest of friends.
Then Gauge had left. And Nina and Kevin had become engaged.
While she wasn't one for gossipwell, not much, anywayHeidi hadn't been able to ignore the rumors surrounding her bosses. While there were several versions of the story, all of them centered around one theme: a steamy love triangle.
Was it true? Heidi didn't know and wouldn't allow herself to ask. But she'd be lying if she said that questioning glances like the one Kevin had just given Nina after her innocent remarks about Kyle didn't make her wonder every now and again.
And just the other day, after a run-in with the new manager of BMC's music department, which Gauge had once overseen, she'd absently said to Nina, "I miss Gauge."
Her friend had gotten a faraway look and whispered, "Me, too."
Now, Nina took a deep pull from her beer bottle. "Tell me again why you refused the ring."
"Would you stop already?" Heidi laughed.
"Okay. Then tell me about this idea of how you want your life to unfold."
"It's a plan."
"Excuse me. Plan." Nina gave her a sidelong glance. "And Jesse's proposal before the appointed time sent everything into a tailspin."
Heidi sighed. "I know. It sounds stupid, doesn't it? I mean, most women would be thrilled to be proposed to at all. Much less by a hot guy like Jesse."