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"Are you okay, baby? Is the rope too tight?"
Hot liquid eased down her inner thighs in response to the words whispered coarsely against her neck.
"No." She paused and drew in a breath. "They're they're not too tight, I mean. I I'm okay." She stammered out the response.
One word and he had her going crazy.
Yasmine's head tossed on the pillow, her lids tightly closed and her breath coming out in hitched puffs of air as she eagerly waited to feel his mouth against hers and his big body blanket her, forcing her farther down on the mattress.
"But you have to tell me, baby."
She shivered as the whispered words feathered along her neck. Her body bowed, arching toward him, desperate to meet his scalding-hot touch.
"Tell you tell you what?" she panted, groaning when he captured the lobe of her ear with his teeth and tugged.
"You know what I want to hear." He licked the side of her neck with his tongue.
She felt his hand skim up her thigh, past her hip, over her waist and up the midline of her body before he cupped one of her breasts in his big hand, strumming his thumb over her nipple until it tightened against his palm.
"Tell me, Yas." He drawled the words against her ear in a voice so deep it sent shivers dancing along her spine. The breath that fanned the hair at her temple made her draw in a ragged breath.
Even as she arched into his embrace, ready to tell him whatever it was he wanted to hear, to end the sensual storm that raced in her body, the same one that had been burning for ten years, a nagging buzz in the distance distracted her, refusing to go away.
In frustration she raised a hand, surprised at the ease with which she removed it from the ropes binding her wrists together, and batted away at thin air, as though to make the noise go away.
It grew louder, more insistent. She opened her mouth, ready to tell him whatever he needed to hear, to tell him how she really felt about him, the way she'd felt about him since the first time she'd met him, when she was no more than a child. Ready to tell him that as much as she'd tried to let go and move on with her life, thoughts of him were always there, in the back of her mind, hovering but the buzz grew so loud and strident Yasmine knew she couldn't ignore it any longer. Her eyes flew open.
With a cry of disappointment and pent-up frustration, she glared up at the ceiling, her heart pounding and sweat trickling down the valley between her breasts.
She didn't have to look around to see if she was alone. She already knew.
She'd had yet another wake-me-up-before-I-go-go dream, featuring none other than Holt Wilde. Another scalding-hot dream where yet again she'd awakened horny, frustrated. And all alone.
"Don't forget that part," she mumbled aloud in self-disgust. "Seems like I've been alone my entire life."
She shook her head in a feeble attempt to dispel the lingering images of the two of them locked in an embrace so hot she felt her cheeks burn. She swallowed deeply, placing her palms over her burning face.
She'd traveled the world, studied with some of the world's best chefs, and now, after her stunning win of a televised major culinary competition, she was able to see her lifelong dream of owning her own upscale restaurant come to life.
Her life now was exactly as she dreamed it would be and more.
She had no time in her life for adolescent dreams. Now wasn't the time to allow ghosts from her past to enter her life. Even if the ghost was six-feet-plus of raw masculinity that had filled enough dreams to last her a lifetime.
At any rate, it wasn't as though she had now or ever occupied his thoughts the way he had hers. The man didn't even know she was alive.
"Time to face the world.seize the moment, and all that jazz," she mumbled, purposely infusing energy and optimism into her voice, reciting her favorite mantra. Even to her own ears, her voice was flat.
Yasmine rose from bed and stuffed her feet inside her slippers before making her way to the bathroom.
Just as she was turning on the showerhead, the phone rang. After glancing at the clock, seeing the early hour, she was seconds away from ignoring it, thinking it was just some telemarketer. Saturday mornings seemed to be their M.O. for calling her, nine times out of ten. But with everything going on in her life over the past few months, she didn't want to chance missing an important call.
Grabbing the bath towel from the hook near the shower door she hastily wrapped it around her body, walked over and snatched up the phone.
"How's my baby girl doing this morning?" A familiar voice spoke into the phone, and with a small smile, Yasmine plopped back down on the sofa that also served as her bed. "I called you earlier, but you weren't home. Did you get my message?"
"I'm doing great, Aunt Lilly, definitely can't complain! And, no, I haven't had a chance to check my voice messages, I'm sorry. How are you?" she answered, a smile on her face.
"I'm fine, baby. And so proud of you I could just about pop! I got the magazine in the mail yesterday and almost hurt myself running around showing everyone my baby!" she enthused, and Yasmine laughed outright.
She'd sent her aunt a copy of a top culinary magazine and the one that sponsored the Top Young Chef competition she'd recently won. That month's issue featured Yasmine on the cover, trophy in hand, along with a two-page spread inside highlighting Yasmine's win of the competition.
"I went to town yesterday, and, baby, I must have bought out every copy of the magazine they had at the local Walmart! I even had one of the articles with your picture framed and mounted!" she said, and Yasmine could hear the pride oozing from her voice.
Yasmine sat back on the bed, her smile growing as she listened to her aunt's glowing praise. She herself was still reeling from it all and was having a hard time believing how her life had changed so dramatically, particularly over the last month.
"Aunt Lilly, half the time I feel like pinching myself to make sure this isn't all some dream," she said, laughing. "I still can't believe it all."
"Well, believe it, baby. You worked hard for it, and deserve every bit of happiness life can give you. I'm happy that I had a small bit to do with that."
"You had more than a little to do with it, Aunt Lilly. I don't know what I would have done without you, during the competition as well as my entire life," she said softly, and both women were silent for a moment.
"Enough about me, how are you doing? Everything going well on the ranch? Anything new and exciting happening?" Yasmine said, injecting a cheerful note into her voice.
"Yes, it's all going well, baby. Same ole, same ole, as they say," Lilly said, lightly laughing before pausing and clearing her throat. "Well, with the exception of planning the wedding."
At that, Yasmine's hand gripped the receiver tighter. "Wedding? What wedding? Who's getting married?" Her stomach fell when her aunt didn't immediately respond, and she sat up straight in the bed, her hand tightening on the phone.
"Who's getting married, Mama Lilly?" she asked, reverting to the name she unconsciously called her aunt whenever she grew upset.
"Nathan is, baby girl," Lily answered softly, knowing what caused Yasmine's reaction.
"Nate?" she asked, surprised.
"I'm as shocked as you are." Lily laughed and continued, "We all are." She went on to fill Yasmine in on the story. As she listened, Yasmine unconsciously blew out a breath of air, closing her eyes, the knot of anxiety in her stomach easing away.
"I hope I'm invited to the wedding," she said hesitantly.
"Of course, Yasmine, you're family!"
There was another short pause. This time she distinctly heard her aunt expel a long breath, making her frown.
"What is it, Aunt Lilly? Spill. What's going on that you're not telling me?"
"Nothing's going on, baby, what are you talking about? I just was thinking, that's all."
Although Yasmine loved her aunt like a mother, there were times when she wanted to scream in frustration when trying to pry something out of her, particularly if it would make her aunt worry. This was one of those times. The fact that her aunt had called her twice in the same day should have alerted Yasmine that something was going on.
"Well, I didn't want to worry you. But it seems as though I'm going to have to have surgery," Lilly finally said, and Yasmine sat straight up, the knot of dread returning, this time for her aunt.
"Surgery? What type of surgery? What do you mean surgery? When? What are you talking about, Aunt Lilly? Why are you just now telling me?" She asked the questions in back-to-back succession.
"Baby, calm down! Listen.it's nothing major, I"
"No big deal? How can you say that? Wha"
"If you would let me finish," Lilly broke in, and Yasmine stopped and drew in a breath.
"Like I said, it's not major. You know how bad my knees are. This time it's my right knee. It's going out on me again. Docs want to give me another knee-joint replacement."
"Another one? You just had that one"
"Fifteen years ago, Yas." Lilly again broke in. "Just a few years before you came to live with me, baby," she said, chuckling softly.
"Oh," Yasmine replied, sitting back on the sofa, her body slumping.
Time had flown by. It seemed like yesterday she'd come to live with her aunt after her parents had dropped her off, unable or unwilling to take her with them as they went off on one of their "grand adventures." Although she missed her parents when she was sent to her aunt's, she'd later be thankful, as Lily had become a second mother to her after her parents died in a plane crash.
Yasmine expelled a long, relieved breath. Although she preferred her aunt didn't have to have any type of surgery, this was one she could handle. "Who's going to take care of your 'boys' while you're recuperating?" she said, and heard Lilly's husky, soft laugh again.
Lilly never made it a secret how much she loved the Wildes or her boys, as most, including Yasmine, referred to them.
After Jed Wilde had adopted the boys formally, he had hired Lilly on as the housekeeper to do light cleaning and to cook for his new family and the ranch hands he employed, as well. Eventually she'd moved in with the family, living in the home with them, and had become much more than an employee. She'd become family.
When Yasmine had shown up on her doorstep after the death of her parents, not only had Lilly welcomed her, so had Jed and his adopted sons.
Lilly had always treated her as though she was the daughter she'd never had, loved and cared for her, fussed at her when she needed it. She was the mother Yasmine had always wanted, and she couldn't have asked for a better parent.
But for her to ask her to come back to the ranch, face Holt again, was something she didn't think she could do, not even for her aunt.
"Baby I need you," Lilly said.
And just like that, she had her.
With a barely suppressed groan, Yasmine agreed.
Yasmine brushed away the hair that had escaped the tight chignon she'd so meticulously created that morning with one hand as she dragged her wheeled suitcase behind her with the other, avoiding passengers as she hurried along the airport terminal.
Her stomach rolled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since early that morning, and that had been nothing more than a bran muffin and a cup of coffee before she headed out to the airport.
But she knew it wasn't the lack of food that was making her stomach grumble or giving her the overall queasy feeling in her gut. No, lack of food had nothing to do with her current state. To say she was on edge was putting it mildly.