Read an Excerpt
Gavin Kavanagh needed a woman. Badly. He wasn't very good at relationships. He was too damn selfish, and he had trust issues. Which meant his only choices for sexual satisfaction were typically one-night stands. Since he was too fastidious to find much pleasure in that, he usually endured months of self-imposed celibacy until the day or the week he finally decided he couldn't stand it anymore, and he cracked.
This time, what tipped him over the edge was being in Vegas. He'd pitched in at the last minute to help out a sick friend by giving an address to several thousand cyber-security experts. Though public speaking didn't bother him, he much preferred to be alone in his man cave back in North Carolina.
Winding his way past noisy slot machines and crowded gaming tables, he headed for the exit, desperate to inhale fresh air and see the sky. He'd been incarcerated in this over-the-top hotel since lunchtime, and it was now almost ten at night.
On the sidewalk, he paused, taking in the garish display of neon and traffic spread before him. Vegas. Land of opportunity and lost dreams. Home of wild bachelor parties, just-past-prime entertainers and the siren lure of the big win.
He could see the appeal. The outrageous city pulsed with an almost tangible energy. If New York was the city that never slept, then Las Vegas was its manic twin. With enough disposable income and plenty of unencumbered time, a man could entertain himself here indefinitely.
But not Gavin Kavanagh. He couldn't wait to go home.
Good lord, Kavanagh. Bullshitting himself was a new low.
It wasn't entirely a lie. He did want to go home. But there was something else he wanted more. The need writhing inside him was a voracious beast, reminding him that he was smack-dab in the land of legal hookers. For a few hundred bucks, the primeval urge to mate with a woman could be appeased.
He wasn't going to do it. What kind of man had to pay for sex? Maybe one who was too much of a curmudgeon to play nice with a decent female? To compliment her dress and ask about her day?
If that was the cost of sex as normal people enjoyed, he was out of luck. Pressing his fingertips to his temples, he winced as a shard of pain lanced its way through his head. He'd been up since 3:00 a.m. to catch a flight out of Asheville. Hell, even with a hooker, he might fall asleep before he could take care of business.
Heaving a sigh, he strode off down the street, trying to avoid looking at scantily clad women and signs for "adult" clubs. It was like putting an alcoholic in the middle of a distillery tour.
Weaving his way among tourists and time-share hawkers, he marveled that no one batted an eye at the occasional eccentrically dressed pedestrian. Perhaps Gavin was the oddity tonight.
He walked swiftly, needing the exercise to clear his head and regain control of his libido. It was almost one in the morning back home in Silver Glen. Exhaustion made him weave on his feet, but he knew he wouldn't sleep unless he was tired to the bone, not as buzzed as he was by the craving to feel a woman's soft skin and curves.
If he had his way, he'd be able to sublimate his sexual desires. He was a loner. Which meant that women either thought they could change him or were a little scared of him.
As the middle child of seven brothers, he had learned to be self-sufficient at an early age. He'd viewed his younger brothers as babies and wanted to avoid their company. His older brothers had been far too cool to tolerate little Gavin hanging around.
Even the community had unwittingly isolated Gavin. The Kavanagh brood had been referred to as the Three MusketeersLiam, Dylan and Aidan and the Three StoogesConor, Patrick and James. Gavin was often overlooked, partly because he didn't make waves.
He liked school. He never got in trouble. And though he grew to six feet in height by the ninth grade and two years later had filled out his gangly frame with muscles, he was often found with his head in a book. He knew how to fight. He could hold his own in a brawl.
But why do that when there were so many more interesting ways to spend his time?
He cut down a side street and followed it several blocks. Then, reversing his original course, he headed toward the hotel. Back here, away from the strip, there were not as many streetlights less activity fewer temptations to do something he might regret later. Unfortunately, he was not the only one to choose this route.
As he drew even with an alley that accommodated delivery trucks, he overheard a heated exchange. Pausing just out of sight, he listened.
The female voice surprised him. This was no place for a woman. She made her displeasure clear. "Leave me alone," she cried. "You can't have everything your way."
Gavin peeked around the corner just as the man put his hands on the woman's shoulders and shook her. The guy was about twice her size. "Stay out of it, Cass," he said. "Or you'll be sorry."
That was enough for Gavin. Hurling himself into the alley, he shouted, "Let go of her."
The petite dark-haired woman struggled, but the man had her wrists now, holding her hands away from his body. Gavin's yell distracted the guy for a split second, enabling the woman to land a blow.
"Ow, damn it."
Gavin seized the opportunity. With one efficient upper-cut to the chin, he caused the bully to stagger backward. The guy was huge and wouldn't have fallen, but his foot slid in loose gravel. He lost his balance and went down hard, his shoulder striking the ground first. He didn't move.
"Hurry," Gavin said, taking the woman's arm and dragging her behind him. "We don't want to be here when he wakes up."
"But what if he's hurt?"
Gavin paused beneath a security light to examine her face with incredulity. "Do you really care?"
Big dark eyes framed in impossibly long lashes stared at him. Small white teeth worried a lower lip that was plump and shiny. "I suppose not," she said quietly. But she glanced over her shoulder nevertheless.
She was not the kind of woman Gavin needed tonight. Innocence framed her in an almost visible aura. His gut responded to that innocence on a visceral level with caveman lust, but he wanted sex that was hard and fast and insane. This sweet young thing was not in his league. He would scare her to death.
Still he couldn't resist the urge to touch her. Tucking her hair behind her ear, he brushed her cheek with his thumb. "You're okay," he said. "I won't let anything happen to you, I swear."
Her gaze clashed with his. He felt as if he knew her somehow, a strange sense of déjà vu as if he had dreamed this moment before.
"You're very kind," she said.
"No. I'm not. But I don't like men who use their size to threaten women." He could have stood there looking at her all night. She made him feel things that confused him. Aroused him.
Dragging his concentration back to the matter at hand, he touched her arm. "We should go now." He urged her along, glad to see that even wearing four-inch heels, she was able to keep up with him. She kept a death grip on the small purse slung over her shoulder. "My car is parked at the hotel," he said. "I can give you a ride home."
"No." The negative was forceful. "He knows where I live."
Hell's bells. "Okay, then. But we need to call the police. You should make a formal complaint."
It was difficult to carry on a conversation when both parties were almost running. And perhaps speed was no longer called for, because there was no sign they were being followed.
"My side hurts," she complained. "And I don't want to involve the police."
Slowing reluctantly, he exhaled as she leaned against a mailbox, her chest heaving.
He tried not to notice her breasts.
"How much farther?" she asked.
He named the hotel in the next block. "Did he hurt you?" Though the man's threat had sounded menacing, Gavin hadn't seen the guy do more than shake the woman, though that was bad enough. The argument had been escalating, however, so no telling what would have happened if Gavin hadn't been around to stop it.
The woman straightened. "I'm fine." Her steady gaze took him in with a head-to-toe inspection that made him mildly uncomfortable. "You could take me to your room," she said. "So I can calm down and catch my breath."
Gavin froze, his nostrils flaring as if he could actually inhale her scent like a wild animal recognizing its mate. "I don't know if that's wise." Was this some kind of sick cosmic test of his character?
"I won't bother you. Unless you want me to," she said with a quick mischievous grin. "But I don't want to be alone right now. Please."
God help him, there was sexual interest in those beautiful eyes. He cleared his throat. "If that's what you want.
This time, as Gavin traversed the acres of gaming floor in his hotel, he barely noticed the crowd. All his focus was on the woman he had rescued. He held her narrow wrist in one hand, sure he could feel the blood pulsing in her veins as he threaded his way through the throng, pulling her behind him. In the elevator he finally had a chance to see her clearly.
While she stared at the carpeted floor, he studied her, his heart thudding, his muscles jerky with leftover adrenaline. Chin-length curly hair somewhere between dark brown and black framed a heart-shaped face. Though she couldn't be more than five foot four at most, she appeared taller thanks to the outrageous shoes.
God, he loved those shoes. He could see her wearing nothing but those shoes as he laid her out on his big soft bed.
Down, boy. He told himself he wouldn't take advantage of her vulnerable state. But he had lied to himself once tonight already.
She was rounded in all the right places, including generous breasts that threatened to spill out of the neckline of her low-cut silver dress. The material was some kind of metallic fabric that sparkled when the lights hit it. Every time she moved, the dress moved with her.
Gavin reeled from the punch of sexual hunger. Any woman would have affected him the same, he told himself. She was nothing special. "What's your name?" he asked.
When she lifted her head and smiled, the hunger intensified. "Cassidy. Cassidy Corelli. My friends call me Cass. And who are you?"
The elevator dinged. Together, they stepped out. Gavin's room was down the hallway and around the corner. He inserted the key card, opened the door and stood back for his guest to enter.
Cassidy surveyed the plush suite with raised eyebrows. "You're either a high roller or somebody very important."
"Not exactly." He sprawled in an armchair, trying to appear relaxed. It was probably not a good idea to let her see the beast that rode him. "I don't gamble. My friend was supposed to do the keynote at a conference here, but he got sick. I'm subbing."
Casually, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, Cassidy slipped off her shoes and went to the minibar. Without waiting for permission, she extracted a soft drink and a jar of macadamia nuts. "Do you mind? I missed dinner, and I'm starving."
"Help yourself." When she took the chair opposite his, he nearly swallowed his tongue. The skirt of her dress was unforgiving. As she curled her legs beneath her, he caught a glimpse of bare thighs all the way to the mother lode.
He swallowed hard. "Do you have a phone, or do you need to use mine?"
She took a swig of soda, managing to look entirely comfortable and yet ladylike. "Why do I need a phone?"
"To call the authorities?" Her artless stonewalling scraped his nerves. Was she deliberately tormenting him?
Cassidy wrinkled her small, perfect nose. "I'm not sure that would be a good idea. This is sort of a family squabble."
His gut tightened. "As in the mob?"
Her jaw dropped. "Good grief, no."
"Are you married to the guy?" She wasn't wearing a ring, but that didn't mean anything. The scene he had interrupted could have been a domestic dispute.
Cassidy stared at him. Her lips were painted the same deep red as her toenails. "I'm not married," she said, enunciating each word carefully. "I don't have a significant other. I'm entirely unencumbered. And I don't have to be anywhere until ten in the morning."
The look she gave him tightened the back of his neck and other body parts. Still, caution won out. "Are you a working girl?" he asked. In Vegas it could be hard to tell. Cassidy Corelli more than lived up to male fantasy, but she seemed awfully young.
She pursed her lips, suddenly looking more like a schoolmarm than a woman for hire. "I work" she muttered, glaring at him. "But not like that. I don't know whether to be insulted or flattered."
"How old are you?" In other circumstances, he would never ask such personal questions, but he also didn't want to contribute to the delinquency of a minor.
"I'm twenty-three," she said flatly, erasing most of his misgivings.
She cocked her head. "Why is that good?"
He gave her a gentle smile. "Because if I follow up on your invitation, I want to make sure I don't end up in jail."
"What invitation?" she asked, feigning innocence, though in those huge expressive eyes, feminine excitement lingered.
His customary distrust of unknown women cautioned him to slow down. But Cassidy was light and warmth and spontaneity, all the things that were missing from his life. He was irresistibly drawn to her vibrant personality like the proverbial moth to a flame. But he'd been burned once badly. So the doubts remained.
"Don't be coy. A woman doesn't outline her relationship status quite so succinctly unless she wants a man to know the score."
"Ah." Cassidy popped a nut into her mouth and chewed it slowly before swallowing and taking another sip of her drink. "Why don't you gamble?" she asked.
The non sequitur caught him off guard. He shrugged. "I'm good at math. But the house always wins. I prefer to control the outcome."
She gave a mock shiver. "So intense. I like that in a man."
"Is that why you were hanging around with Bozo the Bruiser?"
"Trust me," she said. "There's nothing romantic there."
"What were you arguing about?"
"I'd rather not discuss it."
"You're willing to have sex with a stranger, but you won't answer a simple question?"
She tossed her head and stood up, cheeks flushing. "Who said I'm willing to have sex?"
He gazed at her intently, letting her see the arousal that had built since he looked her over in the elevator. "No games, Cass. You tossed out a pretty blatant lure. Stay or go. Your choice."