Read an Excerpt
Grounds for Seduction
A Seattle Steam Novel
By Shelli Stevens, Heidi Shoham
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Shelli Stevens
All rights reserved.
That settled it. The next person to ask why she had come to the party alone was getting the bowl of guacamole thrown at them.
Madison Phillips squeezed her hand around a diet soda, crushing the can and raising the level of the cola. Her brother stood below a banner proclaiming, Welcome home, Eric!
Her scowl deepened. Not because Eric had returned home from serving in Iraq — she was more than proud of that. No, it was because he had his beautiful girlfriend snuggled under his arm. They looked so in love it made her depressed. There were at least a dozen of them — happy couples spread about and looking like they couldn't wait to get back to the bedroom.
Being the only person without a date, she was like the black sheep of the room and ridiculously self-conscious. But more than that, utterly alone.
"Hi, Madison. Isn't it great to have your brother home?" Her cousin Stacia passed the refreshment table, grabbed a chip, and stuffed it in her mouth. "Hey, where's Bradley?"
Madison glanced at the bowl of guacamole and then back up, forcing a polite smile onto her face as she shrugged. "We're no longer together."
"What?" Her cousin's jaw dropped, her voice rising with unnecessary drama. She leaned forward and stage whispered, "Was it a mutual thing?"
Madison sighed. "No, Stacia. It wasn't a mutual thing. He broke up with me."
"Really? So lame. He should've put a ring on your finger a long time ago."
Madison blinked, her stomach clenching at the fact her cousin had brought up such an awkward subject in a room full of people.
Most of the people in the room had turned toward them with expressions of sympathy.
"And aren't you tactful?" She didn't have the energy to be polite anymore, but she winced as the words left her mouth. "I'm sorry. Excuse me, I just need some air."
She walked away before she could say anything else bitchy.
Seeing all those couples had also brought up the realization of just how long she'd gone without sex. Maybe it had only been two days since Bradley had dumped her, but they hadn't had sex since Valentine's Day. Four months without getting laid at her age should be considered a crime.
"Hey, kid." Eric caught her just before she stepped outside. "Thanks for the party."
Her annoyance faded, replaced by a warm affection for her brother. Ignoring the kid label, she murmured, "It's the least we could do."
"You behave yourself while I was gone? Not doing anything too dangerous or crazy, are you?"
Even after just returning from a war zone, her brother's concerns were about her. He was so damn protective. Always had been.
She lifted an eyebrow. "I'm always on my best behavior, remember?"
"Wait, are we talking about the same Madison Phillips?" He tweaked a strand of her hair. "I worry about you, kid."
"I know you do. And it's very sweet. Have you made the rounds with all the relatives?"
"Most of them. I've been avoiding Stacia, though. Never could handle her."
Her lips twitched into a smile. "Yeah, good call on that one."
"I need to get back to the party. Be inside in about an hour, okay? I've got a surprise."
"All right, have fun." She gave him a quick hug and slipped outside onto the balcony.
She rested her arms on the stone railing and stared out into the night, taking a moment to consider her new status as a single woman. She needed to move on, and fast. What was the saying? The best way to get over someone was to get under someone. Easier said than done, though.
Her thoughts were momentarily distracted by the view in front of her. She'd never get used to it. Her parents' home sat atop Queen Anne Hill and looked out over the Seattle skyline. The buildings twinkled through a clear night, and the Space Needle seemed close enough to touch.
She sighed and inhaled the warm spring air. Her mind turned back to the idea of meeting a man just for fun. Rebound sex. It was a thing. That was if she could actually go through with it. Having casual sex had never been her thing.
But it was inevitable that the next person she tried to sleep with would just turn out to be the transition guy anyway. Why not choose the time and the man and get it over with? She could find someone available, attractive, and with no strings attached.
"You know ... I think I'm gonna do it," she muttered aloud.
She spun from the railing, her eyes widening with surprise as she made out the shape of a man half-hidden in the shadows. He stepped forward into the light, and her breath caught.
Whoever had coined the expression tall, dark, and handsome must've meant this man. His eyes were a coffee shade, the expression in them closed off and unreadable. He had short hair, just a bit browner than his eyes. Even if the trace of accent hadn't colored his voice, his features gave away his Latino heritage. And the body? He had Bradley beat hands down.
Warmth slid through her, and her breath hitched.
Done? She hadn't even gotten started.
If she planned on going through with this, he had to be her man. Gabriel Martinez. Her brother's best friend. Her mind compared the Gabe from several years ago to the man now standing in front of her. He was, without a doubt, a sex god.
A sex god who would be her rebound. Well, if he could be persuaded.
"Am I done with what?" She wet her lips.
"Checking me out."
His voice ran deep with the slightest bit of abrasiveness to it. People knew right away this was a man you didn't want to piss off. Good thing he sounded somewhat amused.
Time to be bold.
"Well, now." She stepped forward and tilted her head, giving him a small smile. "What if I said that you require closer inspection?"
He shook his head and grimaced. "Nice line. Were you always this much of a flirt, Maddie?"
"Sorry. I guess I just haven't seen you in a while, and I'm discovering that being a cop has been good to you." Her gaze drifted down his body again. Tall, muscular, hard. "Very good to you."
He didn't reply but took a drink of the soda in his hand instead.
Doubt pricked at her. Was she way out of her league? He hadn't checked her out once. Madison crossed her arms, feeling a bit self-conscious. It wasn't like she was bad looking. She kept her long brown hair in a trendy cut, adding highlights to bring out the golden flecks in her hazel eyes. Her toned body was the result of several hours a week of spinning classes and strippercize.
She was twenty-five, six years younger than him. It wasn't a tremendous age gap, but in her teen years it had meant that their social circles never crossed. She'd had a crush on him when he'd first moved up to Seattle, but the adoration had ended when he'd begun sporting facial hair and listening to Foo Fighters.
"I was just about to head back inside. Nice to see you again, Maddie." Gabe stepped toward the door.
Tell him to stop, she ordered herself. Ask him out to dinner.
"Nobody calls me Maddie anymore." She winced. Okay, totally blew that one.
"Gotcha." He gave a slight smile and opened the sliding glass door to the house. He sounded almost disappointed when he murmured, "You sure have grown up, haven't you?"
Madison darted forward in her Valentino heels, trying not to trip as she intercepted him at the door.
"I don't know if Eric told you," she began, "but I'm opening up my own espresso shop. The grand opening is Monday morning."
His eyes held the faintest flicker of surprise, "Really? Hmm. Maddie Phillips, the newest coffee entrepreneur."
"Madison. I know, isn't it great?" She laughed, and her attention caught on his hard chest outlined through his Seahawks T-shirt. Swallowing hard as her pulse skipped, she tore her gaze away and fumbled in her purse for a business card and pen.
She scrawled a hurried note on it and handed it to him. "Here's my card. I wrote you a coupon for a free drink. I'll be getting things set up all weekend, so if you drop by, I can make you a practice mocha."
"Ooo La Latté. Nice name." He glanced up from the card and started to hand it back to her. "But I'm not big on coffee —"
"We also have tea," she interrupted, a little more forcefully than necessary. "And hot chocolate. In any case, it's a free beverage. You can't pass that up."
He remained quiet for a moment, then nodded. "You're right, I can't. I'll see if I can drop by."
He tucked the card into the back pocket of his jeans.
"I'm going to need a big, faithful customer base, so I hope you come by often." She touched his arm and felt the bulge of his biceps.
This time, she didn't miss the flicker of sexual awareness in his eyes, and her pulse sped up. This was pretty forward, even for her.
"After all," she continued, her voice husky. "You really should support your best friend's little sister."
His eyes narrowed, and she knew she'd made a massive mistake. Great, Madison. She ground her teeth together. Remind him that you're Eric's little sister.
"You know what? I'm going to grab some of that crab quiche. So yummy. See you this weekend, Gabe." She slid past him, smothering a gasp when her hip brushed his thigh as she opened the door and went back into the house.
* * *
Gabe watched as Madison stepped inside, her hips swinging provocatively. He fisted his hands, determined to not give in to his primal desire to reach out and smack her ass. He shook his head and tried to stop the thoughts that were going where they shouldn't go.
No way was he getting into bed with Eric's little sister. No matter how nice her ass, or how voluptuous her breasts. Breasts that had been just about falling out of that satiny little top under her blazer.
Enough. Gabe shook his head. If you need to get laid, there are plenty of willing women out there. Like Danica down at the station. His mind conjured up the image of the tall redhead and her enormous mouth that put a man's imagination to work. The secretary had made it clear she'd like to sample him in the bedroom. But even if he had been interested — which he wasn't — she'd already slept with half the cops in his precinct.
His gaze drifted through the door, and he spotted Maddie speaking to her dad. She glanced over at the patio. Even though he knew she couldn't see him past the reflection of the glass inside, she raised an eyebrow, and her mouth curved into a slow smile.
Gabe's erection strained against his jeans, and he cursed the unwanted reaction. She'd never shown any interest in him before, so why now? Well, maybe when she was a kid. She'd followed him around for a few years after he'd first moved up here, but that had been an adolescent crush.
They hadn't seen each other in years. She'd gone on a trip to Europe after graduating high school, funded by Mommy and Daddy. It seemed she'd loved Italy so much she'd stayed for a year to work at some café.
Eric adored his sister and bragged about how Maddie knew what she wanted out of life and made sure she got it.
Gabe had agreed with that theory, although taking a somewhat different point of view on how she got it. The girl was flat-out spoiled. Her first car had been a Lexus. When she'd wanted a dog, her parents had one bred for her from a Best in Show winner. And, according to Eric, her prom dress had cost more than some wedding dresses. The fact that she'd gone back to school to get an MBA surprised him, but everything up to that point, and even after, still remained the same.
And now she was back in Seattle. He hadn't seen her in about six years. Six years ago, she'd just been Eric's little sister. Six years ago, she hadn't had those breasts. Now, she was every man's wet dream.
He shook his head. No way was he going to her espresso shop this weekend. It was clear she was offering more than just coffee. He might as well tear up the card now.
The sliding door opened, and Eric stepped out.
"What's going on?" Eric came to stand next to him on the balcony. "I saw you catching up with Madison."
"Yeah." Gabe forced a smile. Were his thoughts written all over his face? The dirty ones running rampant about Maddie? The ones Eric would probably be happy to knock him out over if he knew about them? "I guess she doesn't like to be called Maddie anymore."
Eric laughed and took a swig of his beer. "No, she doesn't. My little sister has grown into a sophisticated lady."
Hmm, and it seemed the sophisticated lady was trying to seduce a cop. Wouldn't be the first time someone had gone after him for sex. But it couldn't happen with Maddie. She was Eric's little sister. He could fantasize all he wanted, but the erection stopped there.
"Are you glad to be back?" he asked, trying to clear his thoughts. "I hear Iraq is a bitch."
Eric shook his head and his smile fell. "It was intense. I haven't decided whether I'll re-enlist next year."
"You don't have to. Four years as an officer in the Army looks pretty good when you're running for Senate."
"That isn't why I joined." Eric gave him a pointed look.
"I know." Gabe thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Sorry. That was uncalled for."
"It's cool." Eric paused. "Hey, I'm going to propose to Lannie tonight after the party. I'd like you to be my best man in our wedding."
"Congratulations. I'd be honored."
He wasn't at all surprised at Eric's news. Eric was the type who wanted to settle down and have kids. To be a loving husband and father, and buy a mansion in Bellevue. Then become a state senator, just like his grandpa had been.
Eric wanted everything that Gabe didn't.
"Thanks. What about you, Gabe? Anyone special on the sideline?"
"God, no." Gabe gave a humorless smile. "Just the occasional fuck here and there."
Eric winced. "It doesn't have to be like that. Maybe if you —"
"No, it does." He sighed. "I'm not trying to be a dick, Eric. But you know me."
Eric stayed silent for a moment, then answered with a quiet, "I'm going to have to disagree. I think you need to stop blaming yourself for something that wasn't your fault. You'll meet someone someday, and it'll all change."
"I doubt it," Gabe replied. "Now enough already. This is your day of celebration. You don't want to spend your second day back in America arguing about my shitty dating life." He headed toward the door. "I'm hungry. Didn't you say your parents were serving some kind of fancy dinner?"
"Salmon with lemon caper sauce." Eric followed him inside.
"What the hell is a caper anyway?"
"I think it's some kind of vegetable. But it sounds damn good. You don't want to know the kind of stuff I was eating in Iraq."
"You're right." Gabe laughed, knowing the tension had passed. "I don't want to know."
* * *
Madison finished arranging the ceramic mugs on a shelf and stood back to admire her work. It was clean, stocked, and ready for the grand opening tomorrow morning. Everything looked amazing, if she did say so herself.
Besides running a standard espresso shop, she also planned to sell local artwork and pottery. She loved the idea of supporting local artists and having something other than espresso to offer.
The shiny black tiles of the floor contrasted with the walls, which were painted a soft jade green. The marble countertops were lined with coffee accessories, along with tulip-filled vases.
And she loved the tables. French-café-inspired, they were glass with black rimming. The chairs had heart-shaped backs, with the same black steel construction as the tables, and soft leather seats.
The leather couch and matching chairs had been a great investment, encouraging those who wanted to linger, perhaps read a book or a magazine, and maybe even buy a second mocha.
Now all I have to do is draw in business. That shouldn't be too hard. She'd arranged to have a dollar-off coupon run in the Seattle Times with an announcement of her grand opening.
Madison glanced at the clock hanging on the wall, an Art Deco antique she'd paid way too much for but looked fabulous.
Her heart sank. Seven already. She'd stayed all day yesterday and too long today as it was. Gabe wasn't going to show. She might as well admit it.
What a disappointment, because she'd made a point of looking ultra-sexy today. Low-rise jeans and a clingy black T-shirt that read They're Real hugged her breasts.
Okay, maybe it was on the suggestive side. But she really wanted this to happen with Gabe. So the word discreet was just going to have to be eliminated from her vocabulary.
She moved toward the door and yelped when a figure stepped up to the glass. Her shoulders relaxed. It was Gabe. Her stomach dipped with nerves as she realized what that meant. Gabe was actually here. He'd shown up.
He gave a light tap on the window and gestured for her to unlock the door.
Nice, Madison, stare at him through a locked door and look like an idiot. She fumbled with the lock on the door and swung it inward.
Excerpted from Grounds for Seduction by Shelli Stevens, Heidi Shoham. Copyright © 2017 Shelli Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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