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Two Week Seduction
By Kathy Lyons, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Katherine Grill
All rights reserved.
Alea Heling froze, her tube of Seduce lipstick an inch from her mouth. She was going to a welcome home party for John O'Donnell, the man she'd been lusting for since tenth grade. He was finally home from the Air Force and she'd have the chance to see if the reality of him lived up to her nearly decade-long fantasy.
But even if she was headed to his party with the idea of seduction, she had to consider her strategy. John didn't like bold colors on her. She'd learned that at sixteen when she'd attempted to attract him with a tight red tank top and a black miniskirt. The thigh-high leather boots had been icing on the Alea cake, or so she'd thought. Instead, he'd called her a tart, spanked her ass, and sent her right back home via her older brother. The humiliation of the moment still made her cheeks burn.
So with a sigh, she put down the lipstick and reached for the pale pink tube of Darling. Instead of letting him see her bad girl self, now relegated to blowout weekends, she changed her curve-hugging tee with the plunging V-neck to a pale yellow blouse that looked stylish with her jeans. She finger combed her short bob with a dark red highlight that made her feel wild, even as she opted for professional black pumps over strappy sandals. There. Her alter ego as a high school teacher. Boring, sedate, proper.
"Alea!" her brother Sam called from the living room of her tiny apartment. "If I'd known you were going to take this long, I wouldn't have offered to pick you up."
"Chill," she shot back. "I'm coming. And here I thought it was lucky that you and John happened to get leave at the same time. How wrong I was." Resisting the urge to make her eye shadow way more dramatic, she grabbed her teacher purse — a massive tote with every office supply known to man in it — and headed out, only to have her brother gasp.
"Who the hell are you and what have you done with my sister?"
He gestured at her outfit. "All you need are pearls and you'd be Nana."
She grimaced, horrified by the idea. Then she reminded herself that was probably the image John preferred. If dressing more maturely fed into that endgame, so be it. "Nana was a class act," she said to her brother.
"Of course she was. But when have you ever said so? I believe your words for her were stuffy, old-fashioned, snobbish —"
"That's our grandmother you're insulting," she huffed.
"No, that's our grandmother you insulted. Before, during, and after every society party we were forced to attend." He straightened up from the couch with a shrug. "Hey, if you want to dress like we're going to dinner with Mom and Dad, then who am I to care? I just thought since we were going to see John you'd be in thigh highs and stripper heels."
"Yeah, when I was sixteen. And you made your opinion on that very clear."
"Why do you think I came over here before the party?"
Alea swallowed, trying to find her way through her emotions.
"Look, Sam, you've been away a long time." Fourteen months, three weeks, and two days, to be exact, since his last leave. Being a fighter pilot wasn't exactly a nine to five job. "It's possible I've grown up since you've been gone. It's possible that I'm not the wild child you remember."
"Whatever, Little Nana," he said.
In response, she slugged his arm. Hard. He didn't even bother to duck. Then he laughed while she rubbed her hand in pain.
"Next time, go for the nuts. It's the only part of a man you're strong enough to hurt."
She glared at him. He had no idea what part of a man she knew how to hurt. But before she could say anything, she remembered if she put her big, bad brother on the floor, she'd likely mess up her sedate-as-Nana makeup.
So instead, she simply glared. "Cool it, or I'll tell everyone to call you pencil dick."
"That would be scary if half the women at the party didn't already know the truth."
* * *
"It's so good to have you back home."
John O'Donnell smiled at his sister as he tossed his bag into the back of her Jeep. His sister rarely needed him to fill in the conversation, even when there were only two of them, so he settled back into his seat as she pulled away from the airport. Five minutes later, he was watching the familiar sights of home roll past the window. Unease gripped his gut.
"I'm not staying," he said. Best get that information out early.
Gail shot him a motherly look. She was only four years older, but she'd been giving him that look since he was in diapers. "Don't make any rash decisions."
"I'm never rash."
"Things are different now. Better. You'll see."
He didn't answer. She meant things were better because their father was gone. The man had died four weeks ago by wrapping his car around a tree. When John had gotten the news, he'd asked three questions. First, had anyone else been hurt? Answer: no, though the tree probably wouldn't survive. Second, was Mom taken care of? Answer: his two older sisters, Gail and Jean, were handling things. Since Gail was a paralegal, she was taking care of the official matters. Jean and her twin toddlers were helping with the emotional.
The third question was a repeat of the second: was Mom taken care of? And by that he meant financially. Answer: no. That was why he was here now. It had taken him weeks to get leave from the Air Force so he could sort through the money and then get the hell out of Florida. There was nothing holding him here and a thousand memories urging him to fly fast and far away.
"Come on, John. I miss my baby bro."
He didn't answer. She commented with a heavy sigh.
"Look, I know you're all big, bad, and surly."
His snort was eloquent.
"But do you think you could attempt to be nice for a bit? Remember, we all love and miss you. Better still, you could pretend to like us back."
He almost spoke, but her words stopped him cold. All? Us? "There better not be a welcome home party."
She winced. It was a quick move, but he was a trained observer. "No welcome home party," she deadpanned.
He groaned. "How many people?"
"Come on, Gail, who? Who is going to leap out at me?"
"No leaping going to happen."
"I'm military. I shoot on reflex."
He waited in silence.
"Really. We all know how you're a killjoy. We know better than to surprise you with good food, friends, and family gathering around."
His sister might be a tough paralegal, but under the right kind of silence, she cracked like an egg. It took thirty-two seconds.
"Don't shoot anyone. It's just a few people."
It could be three people or three thousand, just so long as one petite brunette with a shock of red hair wasn't among them.
She lasted twenty seconds this time.
"Look, they've all been really helpful. Mom's been struggling. Damn, I can't believe you got me to tell."
He shrugged. "I am military security."
"Yeah. Glorified TSA —"
"You did not just say that."
She waved her hand dismissively at him. "Okay, okay. So you're a big guy with an important job."
He was, but clearly that made no impact on his sister.
"You can be nice for one evening. After that, you can go back to your normal surly self."
"I'm not surly," he said. Though even he had to admit his tone could possibly be construed as ... less than nice. It was the Florida air. The humidity brought out the worst in him. "Who's going to be there?"
"You're just going to have to wait and find out."
"Too late. We're here." She pulled the car into the driveway. "And you better act surprised."
"Or what? You'll wake me with a wet rag and an order to go clean the bathroom?"
"Worse," she said in dire tones. "I'll tell Mom you're dying for her special seven bean salad. That you couldn't stop talking about it all the drive home."
Damn. She had him there. "I'll squeal like a girl."
"If only that were true," she said as she put the car in park.
His gut tightened as he looked out on the house he'd grown up in. He saw the peeling paint, the sagging front porch, and his mom's rusted VW bug parked on the grass. But what he saw most of all was his father running after him the day he left for the Air Force. The man was screaming something — the words didn't matter — but the meaning was clear. No son of mine will ever enlist. And the dumb-ass teenager he'd been had responded by proving that he was bigger and stronger. He'd had the man face down in the dirt within seconds. The last time he ever touched his father was to dislocate the man's shoulder before calmly walking to Sam's car and heading off for base training.
That's what he saw when he looked at his childhood home, and the knot of emotions that curdled in his stomach left him physically ill.
"Remember, you're happy to be home," his sister hissed as she grabbed his bag. He reached for it, but she held it away. "Go straight to Mom and hug her tight. For the last week, she's been talking about nothing but you."
He nodded, knowing that he owed his mother that and so much more. But he'd be damned if he squealed no matter what he'd just promised his sister. They walked together up the walk as she continued to give him orders.
"She's looking frail, so don't be surprised. Dad's death was hard on her."
His life had been hard on her. On them all.
"She'll be standing just to the right of the door. When you fake surprised, do it so she can see you."
"At least let me carry my bag," he said, reaching for it again.
"You don't get your stuff back unless you make everyone here think you're in hog heaven to be home."
He glared at her. "Ever think of a career in the military? You'd make a great drill sergeant."
"That's the Marines."
"Smile!" Her last order before she threw open the front door.
He flinched from the sheer volume of the roar. Damn, it felt like a thousand people had just screamed in unison. He blinked as a zillion phones flashed in his face, and then he looked right where his sister had told him to. His mother, grinning from ear to ear, tears already sheening her eyes. And standing right behind her, the damned sexy imp with the shock of red hair.
She found him around midnight. John knew from the jut of her jaw that she was determined to corner him, but it was late and most of the guests had left. A surprising number of people had shown up for his party. High school classmates, though it was nearly ten years since he'd last seen them. Relatives he barely remembered from Christmases past. And a bunch of new neighbors he'd never met, but who all brought casseroles and beer as they shook his hand and thanked him for his service to his country.
It took him about twenty minutes to realize that the party wasn't really for him. It was for his mother, who had somehow managed to nurse most of the neighborhood children even while working double shifts at the hospital to pay for his father's latest business scheme. Time after time, someone shook his hand and told him how wonderful his mother was, how she'd checked in on a broken arm or brought medicine for someone's fever. That she was the local Florence Nightingale, and he couldn't be more honored to have her as his mother.
If only the guest list had been restricted to just those people he would have been happy to grin and bear it. But she was there the whole time, bringing his mother a chair when Mom started to fatigue, handing someone else a beer before picking up an empty paper plate. She played hostess in her butter soft blouse and tight black jeans. She smiled when someone complimented the food. And twice she had laughed — that low, throaty sound that settled in his belly like a hot coal. God, he remembered that laugh. There were whole nights overseas when that laugh had kept him sane. And then there were times like this when the sound of her made him want to throw a chair through a window because she was the one thing he could never have.
And now she was coming toward him just when he'd escaped to the backyard. She carried a plate in one hand and a beer in the other. As he'd just finished his fourth bottle, the last thing he needed was another, but he knew he'd take it. He hadn't the willpower to refuse her. It was only a question of how long he'd hold out.
"Thought you'd like some hors d'oeuvres," she said as she held out the plate. Ritz crackers piled high with Cheez Whiz. "Weren't these your favorites?"
They were. And of course she remembered. "Actually," he drawled, "they were always your favorite."
She set the plate down on the TV tray at his elbow, then collapsed onto the seat beside him. He was leaning forward to take the beer from her hand when she tilted it up to her mouth and took a swig. She grinned at him as he fell back.
"You drink beer?" he asked.
"I started about the same time you did."
She shook her head. "You were fourteen. I was eleven. Sam paid me in beer to keep quiet."
He frowned, trying to remember. Every six-pack had come to them as a five-pack. Now he knew why. "I always thought he drank it himself."
She grinned and took another healthy swig. Pink lips surrounding a dark bottle neck. His gut tightened. How many times had he imagined her lips around him like that?
"So you going to eat these or what?"
He responded as he always did when his dick tried to talk for him. He clenched his jaw and looked somewhere else. In this case, it was across the lawn to the neighbor's swing set. Weeds choked the fence separating the two houses and his mother's lavender shrubs were all but lost amid the crap. He'd have to mow first thing tomorrow, and then he'd think about tackling the weeds.
"I'll take that as a 'or what,'" she said. In his peripheral vision, he watched her grab a cracker and pop it into her mouth. She murmured something low and throaty — a sound that was going to haunt him for the next decade — and then swallowed it all down with another swig of beer. "Ambrosia," she murmured. "Cheez Whiz and beer. Definitely food for the gods."
"I know what ambrosia is," he said, the words escaping through his clenched jaw.
She glanced at him, her brows tightened into a frown. "I never said you didn't. Wow, your sister is right. The military has made you crankier."
If he were talking to Gail, he'd have a smart-ass comeback. But Alea wasn't his sister, and the things he wanted to say to her were forbidden. So he ground his back teeth and thought about house repairs. There was painting, a rickety step out the back door ...
"You know," she said. "I've been working really hard today to make sure your party goes well. I did it for your mom, but the least you can do is say something nice to me. And hey, I brought you snacks."
He looked back at her, guilt making him flush. She had been especially nice to him and his mother. It wasn't her fault that she embodied everything he'd run from as a teen. All those things he wanted but could never have.
"Thank you for your help," he said. His voice was rusty, but clear enough.
She gasped in mock shock. "He speaks! Five words and it wasn't rude!"
Against his will, his lips twitched. She always could make him smile when he least wanted to.
She leaned forward, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "Let's try something else. I know it's dangerous — I mean, your head might explode or something — but I say we risk it. Give me a compliment."
"Fishing?" he drawled.
She tsked. "That wasn't a compliment. You're supposed to say something nice. About me."
He didn't answer. Mostly because he was thinking of all the things he wanted to say. That her skin looked soft and her eyes were a changeable hazel that always kept him guessing. That her tits were round and full, just begging to be nipped. That she was small compared to his six foot three frame, but she had legs long enough to wrap around his waist as he buried himself inside her. And that red hair, a bright red flash of color on her perfect body, was a scream of danger he lusted after.
While those thoughts spun through his mind, her expression soured. With a sigh, she grabbed his empty beer bottle and held it before his eyes. "Say something nice to me and I'll get you another beer."
She shook the bottle a little to grab his attention. It didn't work. He was too busy watching how the breeze pressed her blouse flat against her chest. Her bra had lace, which meant texture, and he wondered what sound she'd make if he tugged it back and forth against her nipples.
"That's a nice b-blouse." Damn it, he'd almost said bra.
Her mouth flattened with a sigh. "I thought you'd like it."
Alea leaned forward as she pushed to her feet. A curl of brown hair tumbled forward, pushing past the tiny gold hoop in her ear to dangle right before him. Without thinking, he grabbed the lock, winding it around his fingers. It wasn't even long enough to pull into his fist. But it was close enough to hold her still. Her eyes widened in surprise and her mouth — those plump, pink lips — formed a perfect O.
Excerpted from Two Week Seduction by Kathy Lyons, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Katherine Grill. 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.
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