Handcuffs. A sexy stranger.
What did she do last night?
Med student Stella Holbrook just had the best night of her life meeting a hot, hunky firefighter, making out with him at the roller rink and then engaging in a whole lot of deliciously wicked behavior in a swank hotel room. Only, when she wakes up the next morning, she can't remember a thing
Owen Perkins has no idea how he ended up naked in a bathtub with Stella. All he knows is that while their minds are blank, their bodies definitely remember what happened. All they have to go on are cryptic notes they left for themselves. Piece by piece, they'll uncover the truth about last night one exquisitely sexy moment at a time!
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Stella ran out into the night, Owen right beside her. Hayden and Tony were close on their heels. "I thought that lady was never going to let us leave," she said as they slowed outside the PharmaTest front door.
"Good idea about the camera, Tony," Hayden told him, her smile wide in the fading daylight.
The man fell deeper under her spell, not that he appeared to want to stop himself. "That will be the last time I walk into someplace on the spur of the moment. But then, if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here with you now. And that's something I would regret," he told her, his voice soft and intimate.
Normally something that sweet would make Stella give a mock shudder and say something snarky, like "bring out the chips for that cheese." But one look at the tender and serious expression on Tony's face, and anyone could see he meant exactly what he'd said. It was charming how this tough guy caught her off guard and slipped under her defenses.
Hayden's whole body angled toward Tony. Oh, yeah, she was a goner.
Stella's gaze slid away from the couple and smacked straight into Owen's. His intent hazel eyes were focused solely on her, and Stella's breath stilled. Everything stilled. Hayden's and Tony's soft words faded, the strong Texas wind dwindled, and it was just the two of them, searching for something in each other's eyes.
Okay, sure, those were some pretty over-the-top observations, but this was a very over-the-top moment for her. As a medical student, she worked in fact and science. Feelings rarely counted. They couldn't. But tonight, she wanted to let emotions and feelings and passion blow right past sensibility. She could allow herself that. For tonight.
Only two steps separated her from the wall of his chest. She took those two steps in a heady rush, lifted herself on her toes and brushed her lips across his. Soft and quick. Once. Twice. Testing the waters.
Her heels hit the pavement, and she stared at Owen for a moment.
Plunge right in. The water's fine.
She lifted on the tips of her toes again, ready to explore this sexy man fully. His hands circled around her hips, and his head lowered
"Let's get out of here before clipboard lady comes back," Tony interrupted. "I'll pull my car around."
"That was just getting interesting," Owen said, and smiled down at her, his gaze straying to her lips for a brief second, then returning to her eyes.
She met his smile and nodded.
He lifted a brow. "You want to get out of here? Actually, wait here. I'll go with Tony to get his car. If you change your mind and you're gone when we come back, I'll understand. But"
Owen interrupted his own words by lowering his head and settling his lips on hers. Whereas her kisses had been quick explorations, his kiss was all about sweet persuasion. He traced her upper lip with his tongue, then gently tugged her lower lip into the warmth of his mouth.
She was ready for something more. So much more.
He cupped her cheeks with his hands and slid his tongue into her mouth. Owen urged her to meet his kiss with equal passion, and by his slow, anguished groan, she accomplished just that. His heat surrounded her. His woodsy scent filled her nose. Her nipples hardened and puckered against the soft silk of her bra.
"C'mon, Owen," Tony called.
"I hope you're here when I come back," he whispered against her lips, and then he was walking away from her.
She wasn't usually the kind of lady to ogle a guy's backside. To her, a body wasn't something to gawk at but to examine and study and, on good days, to be amazed by. She loved learning about all the wonderful and incredible things the human body could accomplish, from bringing forth new life to running a marathon to overcoming invasive surgery and disease. Really, a leg was a leg and a chest was a chest.
But with Owen, it was different. She could appreciate the tight package of his ass. Or the roped, caged strength of his arms as he'd held her. And Stella had to laugh at herself because she wanted to examine Owen, all right, just not in the medical sense. Cue the jokes about playing doctor. She raised her arms above her head and spun, laughing and squeezing her eyes shut tight. The heavy night air welcomed her.
"Are you actually twirling?" Hayden asked her.
Stella slowed until she was just moving with a slight sway and glanced over to her fellow escapee. Hayden, also known as her new best friend, frowned at her.
"I don't think I've ever been happy enough to twirl.
Or spin. At least not since I was six. That's kind of sad. What happens to us that we don't want to spin anymore?"
Hayden shrugged. "Life, I guess. I was kind ofjudgey about your spinning a second ago, but now I'm going to join you because we should spin."
And for one perfect moment, they circled in the parking lot, laughing and reconnecting to their six-year-old selves who'd thoughtno, knewthat twirling was perfectly acceptable. Even preferred.
"I'm getting a little dizzy," Stella said. She planted her feet on the concrete until the world around her slowed. Adulthood always snuck in somehow.
"I can't believe I left the study like that. I have always, always done what I was supposed to do," Hayden confided.
"Good for you, then. In fact, you should keep breaking the rules tonight."
"What?" Tony said from behind them. His navy sports car was parked on the street. Owen unfolded his tall frame from the passenger seat and smiled at her. Yep, an onslaught of goofy responses predictably followed.
"Tonight Hayden should do everything she's not supposed to." Tony lifted a brow, acute interest practically radiating from the man. She was happy for her friend that this cute guy was so into her. Tony laced Hayden's fingers through his.
"Cool car. Does the top go down?" she asked as the two of them walked together toward his car.
"And what about you?" Owen asked Stella. "What do you want to do tonight?"
Her skin prickled and sweat broke out on the back of her neck. So this delicious warmth spreading through her was what it felt like. Because if she wasn't mistaken, at this very moment, Stella was the subject of some acute male interest, too. And while Tony was great and all, there was a recklessness about Owen, the kind of wink-at-danger swagger and bring-it-on attitude that made her sit up straight and say "yes, please."
Factor in his sinfully sexy smile and perfectly muscled body, and she was a goner.
You. I want to do you. But it was more than that.
"Tonight I'm living life," she stated. "I'm not going to watch it from the sidelines. I'm going to grab it, feel it and give it a good shake. You see, right now I want to kiss you again, and that's something I never would have done before, and I certainly never would have told you about it. Because kissing a man can lead to way too many feelings and emotions, and I have to keep that kind of stuff contained in order to succeed."
"Who told you that?" he challenged.
"Learned it from the bestmy parents. I've seen way too many people alter their perfectly arranged paths because of sex and relationships. But not me. Never me. My plansdegree, med school, ER, end of story."
"So what do you do when something, or someone, threatens all that perfect planning?" His fingers traced down her arm, diverting her train of thought.
"I slow it down and console myself that if it's meant to be, it will be. Only later." Stella held her breath for a moment. Swallowed. "But with you, I want to make it be. Right. Now."
He crooked his elbow toward her. "Coming with me, then?"
Arm-in-arm, they dove into the backseat of Tony's car like two stars escaping from the paparazzi. She wound up across his lap, her legs tangled with his. And as the sun set outside their window and the dark enveloped them, she twined her fingers behind Owen's neck and his lips found hers.
"Tony, that's it," Hayden said from the front seat.
Owen's lips left hers before their lip-lock could really get started. He kissed her temple instead. "Didn't take long for them to interrupt. What was that, fifteen seconds?" He grumbled against the sensitive skin of her neck and she giggled.
"Shorter." Too short. Stella straightened in the seat and pushed what had to be her very unruly hair from her face. She glanced out the window to find out what Hayden was so excited about. "What's it?" she finally asked, because all she saw were nondescript office buildings and parking lots.
"The first thing I'm not supposed to do," Hayden said, pointing to her right.
Tony slowed and angled the car in front of a long aluminum building with a you-could-see-it-from-anywhere neon sign of a roller skate, flashing in bright green and blue. How had Stella missed that blinding splash of color?
"You're not supposed to roller-skate?" she asked. Stella could come up with half a dozen medical reasons a young woman of reasonable health shouldn't skate, but none of them visibly applied to Hayden.
"Well, it was a long time ago, but my grandparents had some definite ideas of the kind of trouble a girl could get herself into in the darkened corners of a roller rink."
Now that made sense. "All my preteen angst just came flooding back," Stella admitted, awash in fond memories. When makeup was experimental (and forbidden) and her best friend had taught her how to practice kissing on her hand at a slumber party. Everything had seemed so important and boys too complicated.
Actually, not much had changed. Well, except for tonight. This thing with Owen felt anything but complicated, and the only important plan was to live this night fully.
"Girls used to whisper and brag how they made out at the roller rink at school," Hayden confided, her tone a little wistful. She opened the door, and the overhead light popped on, making her blink.
Tony lifted a brow. "You didn't?" he asked her.
She rolled her eyes. "As if my grandparents would ever have permitted that."
He rushed around the car and met her at the door, offering his hand to her like a gallant knight. "Allow me to change that."
"Absolutely," she said, and reached her fingers toward his.
"What about you, Stella? Was kissing at the rink part of your education?" Owen asked as they scrambled out of the car to stand on the sidewalk.
"Maybe," she hedged.
Actually, it hadn't. At a party, she'd been dared to kiss the guy she'd been crushing on and she'd planted the worst kiss in the history of worst kisses on the guy. She'd missed his lips and managed to swipe the side of his nose instead. He'd rolled away to laugh about her with his friends, and she'd ended up borrowing a stranger's phone to call her mom to pick her up from the party early. That was Stella's first official lesson in keeping her emotions to herself, and boys at a distance.
Beside her, Owen crooked his elbow in a gentlemanly move that she was beginning to recognize as his signature. "Let's make it not a maybe," he said.
But maybe she could forget that lesson. At least for the night. With a nod, she hooked her arm through his and they walked inside together. She kind of enjoyed this linking elbows thing they had going. As if they were a team ready to face danger or fun together. Probably both.
The familiar scents of perfume and cologne and the oil used on the wooden floor of the roller rink made her stomach clench for a moment. Her most embarrassing experience had happened at a place just like this, and she preferred not to dwell on emotions that brought her down. The roller rink had never figured into any of her plans past the age of fourteen.
But she also smelled beer and gourmet pretzels. Patrons leaned against the railing surrounding the rink while sipping on martinis and gin and tonics, not sodas and fruit punch. Owen wasn't some teenage boy interested in looking cool to his friends. And Stella definitely knew how to kiss a man now. Besides, she was all about living life tonight, not avoiding it. Roller-skating it was.
They joined Tony and Hayden in the lobby of the rink, where the pair was waiting in line.
Hayden greeted her with a smile. "Stella, it's adult skate night. It's like this night was tailor-made for us."
Tony pulled out his cell phone and they laughed and posed for selfies.
"This light is doing weird things to your hair," Hayden said. "First pink. Then blue."
Stella fluffed her curly locks. "Try to catch one when I look blond."
Finally it was their turn at the register. The guys paid the admission, and the four of them exchanged shoes for skates.
The music pumped, a combination of disco from the seventies, new wave from the eighties and bubblegum pop from the nineties. Their skin was awash in silver patterns from the mirrored balls above their heads and the pulsing strobe lights suspended from the ceiling.
They sat on one of the long carpeted benches that lined the skating area and put on their skates. Hayden and Tony quickly laced up, but Stella's pace was slower so she could take this night all in. She didn't allow herself to break out of her self-restraint that often, so she wanted to really live this momentthe sound of the music and the laughing couples around them, the thump of the bass beneath her socked feet and the steady warmth of Owen's shoulder as he sat beside her.
Hayden gave her a wink as they skated off, and in moments Stella lost the other couple in the crowd on the hardwood roller floor.
Owen didn't seem to be in much of a hurry, either. She snuck a peek at his profile. He looked pensive. "Everything okay?" she asked over the din of the music.
He angled toward her and flashed her that amazing smile of his. The one she'd first noticed in the Pharma-Test waiting room when it had triggered some secret little voice inside her mind that said exactly.
"I'm thinking that the moment I get out on that floor in my skates, any chance of looking cool and impressing the lady I want is definitely out."
Stella couldn't help but laugh. This sexy hunk of a man wanted to impress her, and that made something inside her go all gooey toward him.
The prospect of her carefully honed defenses crumbling should have scared the hell out of her. Her parents had insisted she'd need a tough shell in order to have a life as an ER doctor, so she'd guarded herself from emotion for as long as she could remember.
But tonight she craved more. Her usual choice of guy leaned to the nerdier typethe kind of man who didn't worry so much about appearing cool because he was so far away from that descriptor anyway.
With his wide shoulders and strong arms, Owen probably played sports. His easy confidence around herand, well, everyonesuggested he was the guy who'd always been invited to the popular parties in high school. The kind of guy who saw through girls like her. But not tonight. Owen wanted her, and he wasn't afraid of saying it or showing it.
Maybe he deserved some honesty from her. "But if you don't go out on that floor, how will I ever be able to pretend to fall so that you can catch me?" she asked.