Four Sensuous Novellas
By Brenda Jackson, Delilah Dawson, Joy King, Maryann Reid
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2006 Brenda Streater Jackson
All rights reserved.
A WEEK LATER
Something made Rory glance up, and he couldn't help inwardly smiling when he did so. Now that his Cat knew what she wanted, she wasn't wasting any time going after it.
She'd known he would be here, at Colin and Melody's party. After all, it was an annual event, this year celebrating the couple's marriage of four years, especially since their families hadn't thought it would last. Colin was the epitome of an introvert, and Mel was as extroverted as one could get.
Another thing Rory couldn't forget was that it was after the party last year, when he'd taken Cat home, and after they'd made passionate love — as passionate as it could get — that she had dumped him. So he guessed in a way tonight marked their anniversary, as well.
Although he wasn't surprised to see her, the impact of her presence jolted him, and he quickly turned back around and tried to focus on the conversation going on with Peyton and a couple of their friends. But still, he had seen enough of her already, and she looked stunning.
Her hair was hanging in soft waves over the creamy skin of her shoulders, and dark brown eyes, a pert nose, and a pair of kissable lips were attached to a gorgeous coffee-colored face. Then there was her body. The dress she was wearing, with a scarf around the middle, placed a lot of emphasis on her tiny waistline and her curvy hips. They were hips he had ridden a number of times. And just thinking about all the positions they'd tried got him all heated inside, and he felt his groin tighten. Damn, if he kept this up, he would have to take a step outside to let the night air cool him off. This was only the second time he'd seen her since their breakup. It hadn't been easy, since they shared a lot of the same friends, but he had worked hard to keep distance between them and had succeeded in doing so.
He met Peyton's gaze. His best friend had seen her, too. They smiled in silent acknowledgment. There was nothing more beautiful than a sexy woman on the prowl for one particular man.
The moment Cat saw Rory standing across the room talking to a bunch of guys, her knees felt wobbly. It didn't matter that his back was to her. She would recognize that gorgeous butt and those sharply defined muscles anywhere, in or out of clothes.
She glanced to the opposite side of the room, met Lisa's eyes, and smiled. Her best friend knew her plans and had even agreed to go along with them, and for that Cat was grateful. Everyone made mistakes, and although a year ago on this very night she had practically made her bed, she refused to just lie in it ... not alone, and not when she could have Rory back in it. As she watched further, Lisa nodded, letting her know that Rory had come alone and hadn't brought the woman he was presently seeing. A bubble of hope swelled in Cat's chest. If Rory hadn't brought his new girlfriend to a party where he knew the majority of his circle of friends would be, maybe things weren't as serious between them as Lisa thought.
Cat shrugged. In a way it didn't matter, since whoever the woman was, she would find out soon enough that Rory was meant for someone else. Unfortunately Cat had been late in realizing that she was meant for him, too. But now that she had and she knew how much she loved him, she wanted him back. And she wouldn't stop until he was back in her life on a permanent basis. All was fair in love and war, and she was on full attack.
Deciding she needed to circulate, she moved around the room, knowing that pretty soon Rory would know she was there. Whether he cared or not was a different story. But she hoped he at least noticed. She had taken extreme care with her appearance tonight and noticed more than one single man (as well as a few married ones) glancing her way, checking her out. Most everyone there she knew since she had known Melody, since high school. Cat had moved back to Birmingham three years ago, after being gone for ten years, and she had met Rory at Lisa and Peyton's wedding. Rory and Peyton's friendship had begun in college, and they had remained the best of friends and were partners in a landscaping business that was doing quite well on a national scale.
From the moment she and Rory had met, the attraction between them was instantaneous, explosive, and passionate. In no time at all, she'd discovered he was a rarity — a combination of good looks and all-around Mr. Nice Guy. She had never given a thought to not dating him, although she'd known that her plans to relocate back home to start a business with Lisa meant a lot of hard work and time-consuming devotion. But no matter how crazy her days got, there had been Rory, who'd kept her nights sane and well balanced. And no matter how good things were between them, she remained focused on her goals and kept sight of her priorities. Their ten-month affair was doing just great ... until he'd mentioned the word marriage.
"Cat, how are you?"
Cat forced herself not to roll her eyes upon hearing the sound of Danielle Stockman's voice. The woman could grate on her last nerve and had always done so, even in high school. Although Danielle and Mel were good friends, Lisa and Cat could barely tolerate her. Danielle's father had been a wealthy attorney around town who'd given his daughter the best. Danielle hadn't hesitated to flaunt what she had to all her classmates, especially those from lower-income families who were less well off.
Cat and Lisa had been labeled have-nots, whose parents could barely make ends meet. And Danielle could never understand why Mel, whose father was Danielle's father's law partner, had made friends with Cat and Lisa, girls not in their social class. Cat could credit people like Danielle for making her so hard-driven to accomplish so much in life: to prove that a McAlister could rise above poverty level and become a success.
Cat turned and plastered a phony smile on her face. "Hello, Danielle. I'm fine. What about you?"
"Umm, I'm fine, too," she said, checking out Cat's outfit. Cat knew it would kill the woman to give her a compliment about how she looked. Instead, she was looking for some fault, which was a typical Danielle way. "Your dress is simply divine, and it's such a beautiful color. But it makes you look —"
"Cat, glad you came, and you look incredible." Mel's comment, as well as her sistah hug, drowned out whatever it was Danielle said or was going to say.
Cat smiled. "You know I wouldn't miss it, and thanks." She glanced around. "It looks like everyone is here."
"Yes, even Rory," Danielle threw out in a snotty tone. "I hear he has a new girlfriend."
Amazingly, Cat managed to hold her smile. "Really? Then I'm happy for him. Now if you two will excuse me, I want to go over there and say hello to Lisa."
Mel squeezed her hand in understanding. No one could tolerate Danielle in large doses. "Okay. Just enjoy yourself and don't forget that me, you, and Lisa have a lunch date next week."
Cat nodded. "I won't."
As she walked over to where Lisa was standing talking to Mr. and Mrs. Combs, Mel's parents, she made it a point to cross Rory's line of vision. She refused to look his way but walked at a pace that would give him a pretty good view. When she reached Lisa, she smiled. There was no way Rory hadn't seen her, which meant she had accomplished the first phase of her plan, and before the night was over, she intended to put the rest into action. She had deliberately caught a cab to the party with the full intention of Rory taking her home. And once they got there ...
"Cathleen, it's good to see you," Mel's mother said, giving her a huge hug. She then received hugs from Mel's father and Lisa, as well. The four of them spent the next fifteen minutes talking about the possibility of Mr. Combs running for mayor next year before Mel's parents got called away.
"Well, what was Rory's reaction when he saw me?" she asked Lisa excitedly once they were alone. She knew her friend had been watching.
Lisa shrugged. "It was hard to tell. He glanced up but then he resumed listening to what the guys were saying."
Cat frowned, disappointed. "You mean his gaze didn't linger?"
Lisa shook her head. "No, sorry, but he seemed more interested in what Robert Hull was saying than in noticing you."
Cat wished Lisa wouldn't be so brutally honest at times, but then that's what made her a special friend. Unlike Danielle, she was genuine and not phony.
"Okay, then, that means I'm going to have to turn up the heat." She looked over in the direction where he'd been standing and saw him open the glass patio door to slip outside. Now was her chance. "Excuse me for a second, Lisa. It's time for me and Mr. Dawkins to come face-to-face, don't you think?"
* * *
Rory Leaned against the brick post and pulled in a shallow breath. He had needed to get out of there to get a grip and to regain control. When Cat had walked by, she had moved with such a sensuous grace that he quickly had to take his eyes off her. But still, through his peripheral vision, he hadn't missed the feminine sway of her hips that had made his groin go tight again. He knew then that he had to escape to the outside before a telltale sign of how much he wanted her began to show.
And his present frame of mind wasn't helping matters. He felt downright horny and had a definite need to get laid. Going without for a year had been murder on his hormones, but he'd refused to get intimate with anyone other than the woman he loved.
But he couldn't go there with Cat even if he wanted to. His future wife had a lesson to learn first, and no matter how much the wait killed him, she would have to accept things on his terms and not on hers. Wanting to have things her way was the reason they were apart now. And he didn't plan to go through this type of separation from her again. Any relationship with Cat meant forever, and she needed to understand that clearly. He needed to be sure she was ready for them to move forward, and he wanted to know what had made her change her mind. If this was nothing more than a spurt of hormonal need, then he wanted no part of it.
Before meeting her, he'd never been involved in a relationship that lasted more than a few months, had never given any thought to falling in love. But he had taken one look at her that day at Peyton and Lisa's wedding, and that rare phenomenon called love had ripped through him. And he'd known she was the one woman for him without them exchanging even a single word.
They dated for four months before they slept together, so although she could turn him on like nobody's business, it hadn't been just sex between them. The sex was better than hot, but then there was also something special about sitting down with her and talking for hours about how his life as a child had been while in and out of foster homes, and sharing information about his workdays. And she had been open about her past, too. He knew she came from a family of six and how her parents had made the ultimate sacrifice of sending all their offspring to college. He'd had nothing against the driving force that pushed her to achieve, and had admired her for it. What he had been against was her willingness to throw away what they'd had because of it.
He heard the patio door opening and hoped to God it wasn't Danielle. The woman had been hitting on him ever since he'd arrived. Didn't she have any shame? he wondered. And what about loyalty? After all, she was also Cat's friend.
"Beautiful night, isn't it?"
The sound of that voice made the erection he'd gotten under control suddenly spring to life again. He was grateful the patio was dark except for one lone light fixture whose beam wasn't hitting him. But still he decided to wait a few seconds before turning around and spoke over his shoulder. "Yes, it is." After a few moments, he slowly turned around. "How have you been, Cat?" he asked smoothly.
Although the light wasn't hitting him, it was hitting her, and he had to forcibly quell his body's response to seeing her and being outside and alone with her. Even from across the distance, he could smell her perfume, a sensuous scent that was uniquely her.
"I've been fine. What about you?"
"It's mid-March, the beginning of spring, our busiest time of the year, but it's all good." After a brief pause, he said, "I understand you and Lisa have moved into your new building. Peyton says it's nice."
"It is. You have to drop by one day, and I'll be glad to give you a tour."
She had no idea that he had dropped by already, and rather recently. "Thanks."
"Rory, I —"
"Well, I'd better go back inside now," he said quickly, not ready for anything else she had to say. The serious look in her eyes communicated what was coming, but as far as he was concerned, a pat apology just wouldn't cut it for him right now. He had suffered for twelve long months.
"It was nice seeing you tonight, Cat, and I'm glad to know you're doing well. I'll be seeing you around."
Not giving her a chance to say anything else, he quickly walked past her and went back inside.
I guess I didn't turn up the heat enough," Cat said quietly, looking into her wineglass. Disappointment etched in every word as she, Melody, and Lisa sat at a table in their favorite restaurant for lunch a few days later.
Lisa and Mel shared a look before Lisa said, grinning, "Oh, I think you did. Mel and I couldn't help noticing when Rory came back that he was turned on as all get-out. That's probably why he left the party so soon."
Cat snapped her head up. "Are the two of you serious?" Hope was in her eyes and her voice.
"Yes, we're serious, Cat, so I wouldn't throw in the towel yet if I were you," Mel said, taking a sip of her own wine. "If nothing else, you proved one thing. Rory is still attracted to you."
"Yes, it definitely appeared that way," Lisa tacked on.
Suddenly in a much better mood, Cat leaned back in her chair and smiled. That was definitely news she'd needed to hear. She had been down in the dumps since seeing him that night. "Now if I can get him to stay in my presence more than five minutes to let him know how I feel. The only way we can really repair our relationship is for us to spend time together. That's the only way I can seek his forgiveness for what I did. I didn't realize just how much I loved him until he wasn't in my life anymore. It seemed like a part of me was missing. I'm sorry it took me almost a year to discover he'd been right all along and that the two of us were meant for each other."
"So what are you going to do now?" Mel asked.
"Think of a way to get him off somewhere, without any interruptions."
Lisa's eyes lit mischievously. "I think I have an idea how you can accomplish that."
"Peyton and Rory have planned a fishing trip to the cabin this coming weekend. What if I come up with a reason for Peyton not to go, which means Rory will be there all alone?"
"Mmm," Cat said thoughtfully, already liking the idea as numerous possibilities flowed through her mind. Then one she didn't like suddenly popped up. "What if he asks his new girlfriend to go with him if Peyton backs out?"
Lisa pursed her lips, considering, and then spoke. "Her name is Shari, and a few weeks ago I asked Rory for her phone number, so I could invite her to do something with me that weekend since he would be away. That would give me the chance to get to know her."
At Cat's glare, Lisa quickly added, "That was before I knew you had come to your senses and wanted him back. Anyway, he said she would be out of town herself that weekend. In that case, I doubt she'll be there."
Cat felt better in knowing that. However if her plan worked, Rory would be faced with making a choice — her or Shari — and Cat was going to make sure she did everything to reconcile things between them. She had actually thought being a success was everything, but now she understood what Rory had tried to make her see. Success wouldn't be there with her on those cold nights, nor was success something she could count on when she needed a friend to talk to. She could tell from their brief conversation that past weekend that Rory had his guard up with her and he would continue to keep it up. She had to try more than ever to breach it.
"Okay," she said, looking at Lisa. "You come up with a reason to keep Peyton at home, and I'll think of a way to make sure this weekend turns out to be one that Rory will remember for a long time."
Mel held up her wineglass. "Here's to getting your man back," she toasted.
Cat laughed and raised her glass along with Mel and Lisa. "Getting Rory back," they all chimed.
THE NEXT DAY
Peyton waited until he knew his wife had pulled out of the drive-way and then called Rory on his cell phone. He smiled. "Hey man, just thought I'd give you a heads-up. Our women are cooking something behind our backs."
Rory, who had been outside cutting his yard, leaned against his kitchen counter after taking a huge gulp of water straight from an icy cold bottle. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because Lisa convinced me not to go fishing with you this weekend," he said smugly. "She wants me to go with her this weekend to visit her cousin in Atlanta."
"And you're giving up fishing for that?"
"Hey, man, what can I say? She put her persuasive skills to work, and before I knew it, I was agreeing to anything she wanted. You can call me weak — I don't give a damn. However, I prefer to be called satisfied instead."
Rory chuckled. "Okay, man, I get the picture."
"You know this is a setup don't you?" Peyton then said. "And how much do you want to bet that Cat is going to show up at the cabin now that I'm out of the picture."
Desire raced through Rory's body. He definitely liked the thought of hanging out with her alone at the cabin for an entire weekend. Yes, it sounded like a setup, and if it was, little did the woman he loved know that he had his own personal agenda. He planned to teach her a lesson that she wouldn't forget.
Cat left work early on Friday to go home and pack, a chore she found easy, since she was taking as little clothing as possible. Although she knew that it would take more than seduction to bring Rory around, she believed when all else failed, hit a man right below the gut.
And she planned to hit hard.
The question of what his initial reaction would be upon seeing her at the door lingered in her mind. Would he get upset and close the door in her face, or would he pull her into his arms and kiss her? The thought of him doing the latter filled her with all kinds of anticipation. She could actually feel the hard demanding mouth on hers, tasting, promising, but more important, surrendering. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Mr. Satisfaction by Brenda Jackson, Delilah Dawson, Joy King, Maryann Reid. Copyright © 2006 Brenda Streater Jackson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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