Turn Up the Heat: An Anthology

Turn Up the Heat: An Anthology

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373778386
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Edition description: Original
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 507,267
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Lori Foster is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author with books from a variety of publishers, including Berkley/Jove, Kensington, St. Martin's, Harlequin and Silhouette. Lori has been a recipient of the prestigious RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Fantasy, and for Contemporary Romance. For more about Lori, visit her Web site at www.lorifoster.com.

Christie Ridgway is the award-winning author of over forty-five contemporary romances. Known for stories that make readers laugh and cry, Christie began writing romances in fifth grade. After marrying her college sweetheart and having two sons, she returned to what she loved best—telling stories of strong men and determined women finding happy ever after. She lives in Southern California. Keep up with Christie at www.christieridgway.com.

Victoria Dahl lives with her family in a small town high in the mountains. Her first novel debuted in 2007, and she’s gone on to write seventeen books and novellas in historical, contemporary, and paranormal romance. Victoria's contemporary romance, Talk Me Down, was nominated for both a RWA Rita Award and the National Readers' Choice Award. Since then, her books have been nominated for two more Rita Awards, and she hit the USA Today Bestseller list with the anthology Midnight Kiss.

Read an Excerpt

Rumor had it, she was a virgin. As in, had never had sex. Ever.

Looking at her now, Brendan Carlisle—Brick to those who knew him well—found that hard to believe.

Young, sure.

But not so young she hadn't had time and opportunity to get busy. He figured her to be in her mid-twenties, which would put her at a few years younger than him. Plenty old enough for just about anything. Actually, for everything. Like all those things now crowding his brain and making him twitchy.

Shifting in the booth seat, Brick settled back a little more and continued to study her.

Sweet? Oh, yeah, she was super sweet. Just look at that smile. And the dimples in her velvety cheeks were so damned cute. He'd almost swear her big green eyes sparkled as she spoke to customers and took orders. Polite but engaging. And yeah, really, really sweet.

But sweet enough to remain untouched? Pfft. He'd known plenty of sweet women who loved sex. Sometimes they dragged him off to the bedroom. He'd always adored sexually aggressive women. It was a big turn-on.

But the idea of sexual innocence teased him. He'd never before realized how exciting it might be to be…the first.

Until now. Until he looked at Merrily Loveland.

From the get-go, he'd been drawn to her. For nearly a month he'd been flirting, chatting her up and teasing while keeping things superficial—the way he preferred his relationships to be. He liked to sit back and let women make the first move. Then he would inform them of his intent to stay single, and take it from there.

Merrily hadn't made a move.

She was friendly enough, always gifting him with those dimples and smiles and bright green eyes.

But then, she gifted everyone the same way.

Why would an attractive, lusciously built, friendly woman have remained a virgin?

Lack of interest from guys? No way.

Merrily—God, he loved her name—looked like a stacked elf. Curvy, but still petite. Adorable, but with a sensual heat lurking in her gaze. Bubbly…and yet somehow a little reserved. Religious convictions?

He didn't think so. Not that he'd know how to tell just by engaging in occasional casual conversation with her while ordering lunch. But she had such a ripe look about her that it seemed at odds with any deep religious affiliation.

Waiting for marriage?

If so, then maybe he could convince her that experiencing life was better than waiting.

She finished taking an order and turned to head back to the kitchen. Her silky brown hair, held in a high ponytail, swished back and forth between her shoulder blades with each hurried step she took.

A plain sky-blue T-shirt hugged her upper body, while snug jeans showed off her curvy backside.

Brick shifted again. In the weeks he'd known her, he hadn't pressed her beyond friendly greetings and putting in his lunch order. But how much time could he spend hanging out at the diner before she caught on to his interest?

Was she a virgin? He wanted to find out. He would find out.

And with that decision made, he felt himself stir.

Damn it, around her, he had to constantly fight off a boner. Insane. At twenty-eight, he didn't lack control. But she affected him—and that was reason number one why he'd hesitated to ask her out. A woman with that much influence on his libido could only be trouble. He liked being free of commitments and took great pleasure in answering to no one for anything, being accountable only to himself.

A clingy, marriage-minded woman could put a kink in his lifestyle.

But he could be her first…

Brick shook himself because reason number two—her supposed innocence—was a biggie.

If she was waiting for Mr. Right, or if she had some strong reasons for avoiding intimacy, well…he'd be as wrong for her as wrong could be. He'd ensure she enjoyed herself while in the sack, but afterward, when the spark faded and he walked away.

Yeah, much as he relished the idea of her innocence, he didn't relish the idea of breaking her heart.

Unfortunately, he wasn't into self-torture, and not having her would be pretty torturous, so to hell with it. He'd just have to figure out a way to have it all, and if—

"Hey, Brick. What's up?"

Guilty over the carnality of his thoughts, Brick jumped a good foot. "Damn it," he complained when diners at nearby tables glanced at him. He scowled over the appearance of his good friend, Jesse Baker. "I didn't see you come in."

As he sat opposite Brick in the booth, Jesse scrutinized him. Then he looked back at where Brick had been staring. He saw Merrily bent over a table as she served an older couple, turned back to Brick and grinned. "Taking in the view?"

"I was—but you shouldn't."

"Ho! Are you warning me off? Seriously?"

Brick hated to admit it, but… "Yeah, I am."

"Huh." Jesse eyed him with humor and great interest. "Well, in case you missed it, every guy with a pulse is also taking in the view. Why should I be the only one not to look?"

Brick didn't have to answer because Merrily joined their table, menus in hand. As she leaned over to place a menu in front of him, she said, "I'm so sorry for the wait. What can I get you guys to drink?"

Brick inhaled the scent of her hair and skin and froze as his pulse rushed and a slow heat unfurled. Her nearness affected him like a full-body caress, leaving him in a lust-inspired stupor.

Straightening, she struck a casual stance, one slim brow lifted, a half smile on her mouth, her eyes inquisitive…and Brick knew he was going to get hard.

Jesse eyed him again, snickered at his obvious condition and said, "I'll take a Coke."

"Yeah." His voice was so thick, Brick cleared his throat. Fighting the urge to study her body, he locked his gaze on her face. "Coke, light ice."

"Sure thing, guys. Be right back."

As she sashayed off, he released a pent-up breath.

And Jesse let loose a big guffaw. "What the hell, Brick?"

"Shut up." He tugged at the leg of his jeans, but it didn't help with the restriction of the denim.

"She's hot," Jesse agreed, as if he'd invited comment. "For a virgin, that is."

Eyes closing, Brick fought off the wash of automatic anger. He had no claim on Merrily—and he didn't want a claim.

He just wanted to be first.

So why should Jesse's taunt bother him so much? Easy answer: it shouldn't.

When he felt calm enough, he stared at Jesse and spoke in what he hoped sounded like mere curiosity. "You heard that, too, huh?"

"Yeah." Jesse studied him with tempered humor. "It's an intriguing concept, right? Initiation and all that."

Oh, yeah. Brick shook his head in denial. "You're an ass, Jesse."

"Just being honest. What red-blooded guy wouldn't be drawn to the idea of a woman who looks like she does but is still untouched?"

"Who says she's untouched?" The croak was back in his voice, but he pretended not to hear it. "There're all sorts of things to do that could leave a woman a technical virgin but not really inexperienced." And thinking about those things wouldn't help to cool his engines.

Merrily returned. She set the drinks down and pulled out a notepad and pen from her apron pocket.

And damn it, even that rumpled apron seemed somehow sexy, which was absurd given it was plain old sturdy white cotton.

"What's it gonna be, guys?"

God, such a loaded question.

Jesse, obviously enjoying his predicament, looked at Brick and waited for him to order.

Without touching the menu, Brick said, "Burger, loaded. Fries. And some hot sauce, please."

Her dimples appeared. "I should have known. That's a regular order for you. Maybe I can start using that old cliched line."

The things her smile did to him… "What line is that?"

She struck a pose, then asked, "The usual?"

"Ah." She was so cute. "Could be. I've been eating here forever, but you've worked here for…what? A month now?"

"Just about."

He already knew that, of course. Hell, he could tell her how many days, and if he thought about it, probably how many hours. He'd been a little obsessed since the first day he saw her, and once he heard that virgin business, he'd been lost. "Time flies when you're having fun."

Jesse kicked him under the table. Yeah, that was pretty lame, deserving of a kick.

But she didn't seem to notice. "I like it here. Everyone is so nice. And they've been great about working with me on my hours."

This was the first time she'd deliberately lingered to talk and Brick wanted to take advantage of it. "Meaning?"

She was always there for lunch but barely for the start of the dinner crowd and almost never for breakfast.

"I have classes." The smile widened. "I'm going to be a physical therapist—that is, if I ever get done. It's been slow going so far."

"Yeah?" His elbows on the booth top, absurdly charmed for no apparent reason, Brick leaned forward. "Why the delay?"

"I relocated, and that threw me off for a while, getting settled in and everything. It wasn't easy finding a place that'd take my pets. And the pets, of course, take up some of my time."

"Pets, plural?" So she was an animal lover, too? Nice.

"Two dogs and three cats."

He liked animals, so that didn't faze him. "A regular menagerie."

She laughed, and it was like getting French-kissed by a really hot chick.

"They have very different personalities, and I love them all. They've gotten me through some rough times." Suddenly catching herself, she shook her head—still smiling—and turned to Jesse. "I'm sorry for going on and on. What can I get you?"

As if waking up, Jesse said, "Hmm? Oh. I'll take a BLT and chips, and throw some pickles on the side, will you?"

"You've got it. I'll get this right out to you."

Off she went, with Brick staring after her…until Jesse grabbed his heart and feigned a swoon.

Damn it, it rankled that Jesse had reason to harass him. "Go screw yourself."

Jesse laughed. "You look like a lovesick pup! What the hell, Brick? Mooning over her? Hanging on her every word? I half expected you to slide out of your seat and onto your knees before her."

"I repeat, go screw yourself." But he knew it was true. Even now he had to consciously fight the urge to track her every movement in the restaurant. He didn't do things like that. He didn't get all hung up on a woman. Ever.

Not even a hot little virgin.

And that reminded him… "So where did you hear that virgin stuff?"

With a knowing smile, Jesse shrugged. "I overheard some of the other waitresses talking, and one of them said she heard it from a past boyfriend of hers.''

"Probably jealous," Brick muttered.

"Probably," Jesse agreed. "She's getting more than her fair share of attention."

Something he'd already noticed—and didn't like. "Tips, too." In the small town where they all lived and worked, everyone knew everyone. Brick ran the family-owned hardware store, and Jesse was a carpenter with his own shop. Brick's brother, Evan, worked for the elementary school as a gym teacher, and Evan's wife, Cinder, was a nurse.

Most days, Brick and Jesse met for lunch at the diner because it was just across the street from Brick's store. It served good, homemade food, it was affordable, and it catered to locals by celebrating high school sports and supporting the other businesses.

When Ms. Merrily Loveland started working at the restaurant, everyone noticed, especially everyone male—and the gossip started.

"Where did you hear it?" Jesse asked.

"Couple of bozos came in a few weeks ago to buy paint. One guy said he'd asked her out and was turned down flat. The other said he used to live in the same town with her back in college, only a couple of hours from here."

"Same with the waitress." Jesse shrugged. "I think maybe they were in college at the same time."

"One of the guys claimed she used to be engaged, but when she wouldn't give it up, the guy left her."

"And told everyone about it?" Jesse snorted. "What an ass."

"Yeah." Brick took a big drink of his cola. "The talk went downhill from there." He wouldn't repeat it all because it hadn't been kind, but there'd been insults claiming her to be cold, asexual, even deliberately manipulative, as if she used her innocence as a tool.

"And you didn't throw them both out? Huh. Good for you, Brick." Jesse reached across the booth to slap his shoulder. "I mean, I can see you're pissed about it, so the fact that you actually kept your temper in check—"

As Merrily returned to them, Brick gave a quick shake of his head. But not in time.

While setting their food on the table, she teased, "You have a temper? No way. You're always so nice."

"He would never show that temper to you," Jesse assured her. "But yeah, when warranted, it makes an appearance."

Brick gave him a dirty look. Was he trying to scare her off?

Intrigued, Merrily asked, "Is that why they call you Brick?"

She knew his nickname? Nice. Though they'd chatted casually many times, they hadn't been formally introduced. He'd seen her name on her name tag and used it as most would. Apparently she'd been paying attention when others spoke to him.

"Actually," Jesse said, now on a roll, "he got that name ages ago when he fell off a roof onto his head and was still able to laugh about it."

"Ohmigosh." She stared at Brick in disbelief. "You're serious?"

"Yeah, but it's not as bad as it sounds." He'd strangle Jesse later for bringing that up. "The house was half-built into a hill, so the roof at one end was pretty close to the ground."

"Still."

"I only dropped around ten feet."

"Ten feet?" Her eyes widened again. "And you weren't hurt?"

"Just bruised my pride." He gave a slight grin. "That is, as much pride as a nine-year-old boy can have."

"If you guys were that young, what in the world were you doing on the roof?" Brick felt his neck getting hot.

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