Authors: Mia Zachary
She still couldn’t figure out how her older sister had talked her into playing an active role in this lingerie show. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She remembered a lot of pleading, begging and low-balance checkbook waving.
Camryn had recently ended her career as a haute couture supermodel. A chance meeting with Mason Rowling-Shays, III, heir to the department-store chain, had led to creating her own line of intimate wear, Boudoir Allure Designs. But she’d used what little money she had saved over the years to get the fledgling business off the ground.
Jordan had been more than happy to help her sister coordinate this all-important first presentation. Camryn’s future depended on the success of the show. Then one of the models had to back out at the last minute and her sister was frantic for a replacement.
But Jordan wasn’t about to have her soft curves measured against the willowy size-six mannequins her sister had recruited. She’d compromised by agreeing to circulate through the after-show reception in the modest red peignoir set—modest by comparison with some of Camryn’s other designs.
She still felt exposed in the audacious gown with its low-cut bodice and thigh-high split. Only the hot flush of embarrassment kept her from getting frostbite as she wandered about the Atrium. But she’d never been able to refuse her family anything. So here she was, half-clothed and completely uncomfortable.
Jordan shivered as goose bumps marched along her arms. To counter the record-high temperatures outside, the hotel’s overeager ventilation system blasted air in frigid gusts. The burbling of the indoor fountain mingled with the din of a hundred voices, making it impossible to do more than smile and nod as she moved about the room.
Several magazine editors stopped to admire her outfit. She obediently turned in a tight circle, allowing yet another group of fashionistas to coo over the delicate lace embroidery of her gown. One man wore a press pass and a leering smirk, not bothering to hide the fact that he’d noticed the cold air’s effect through the delicate material.
Jordan tried to pull the edges of the robe across her hardened nipples, but the little cover-up wouldn’t cover a damned thing. With a faltering smile, she settled for crossing her arms over her breasts. The group moved on to critique another outfit and she continued to fulfill her promise to Camryn.
Her sister was, and always would be, the golden ideal she could never attain. Growing up in Camryn’s svelte shadow hadn’t been easy. Chubby and shy, she’d wanted so badly to be included in her sister’s charmed circle but, knowing she could never fit in, had found solace in food.
Any kind of food. Every kind of food.
She often wondered if there’d been a switch at the hospital where she was born. Her parents, sister and two brothers were all attractive, outgoing, charismatic. And then there was her. The ugly duckling in the middle…
Enough was enough. She had to go and put on a real pair of panties. The noise level and the glass of champagne she had drunk for courage had given her a slight headache. The reception didn’t look as if it would be winding down any time soon, but she doubted she’d be missed.
She judged the distance to the makeshift dressing rooms and decided the exit would be closer. With one last glance at her sister, Jordan slipped through the crowd toward the bank of elevators just beyond the doors. The concourse level of the hotel was deserted. Her sequined sandals clicked like castanets as she strode across the marble floor.
Jordan ignored the open stares of two men leaving the one available elevator and stepped inside, shoulders hunched and arms across her cleavage. Though she looked down, concentrating on the pattern of the tile, she couldn’t block the sound of the men’s murmured appraisals of her breasts.
“Wow! Those cups really runneth over.”
“I’d love to cuddle up on her pillows tonight.”
She blushed, both embarrassed and yet a little flattered by the attention. It was always like this, a mixture of shame and pride that left her confused, wishing men wouldn’t stare at her chest. Mercifully, the doors slid shut as she selected the button for the twelfth floor. With a bump and a groan, the elevator began its reluctant ascent. The hotel manager must have made good on his promise to have the problem fixed. No one else got on at the subsequent floors, so she was left alone with her thoughts.
Ever since buying
Fifty Fast Fantasies,
she felt as though her nerve endings had been electrified. Jordan closed her eyes and dared to stroke her hands over the silk covering her sides and down to her hips. The smooth material skimmed her bare flesh, setting off sparks that told her she was in sore need of physical affection. Her whole being seemed to be in a heightened state of awareness. The slightest stimulation made her tingle all the way to her thighs…
She opened her eyes and sighed. Her body was crying out for attention. Her seduction plan just had to work. She and David saw each other at the law firm, of course, and he was warm and caring and friendly. However, friendship and time apart was definitely not what she needed.
Suddenly the elevator jerked to a stop and Jordan fell off her open-backed sandals, bumping her shoulder against the wood-paneled wall. She looked up at the display to find both the number seven and number eight lit. Damn.
She pushed the button for the twelfth floor and waited, but nothing happened. She pressed it again, this time holding it for few seconds. Still nothing. Damn, damn, damn. She started jabbing the buttons for every other floor, one at a time, but they didn’t even light up. Next, she tried pushing them two at a time—whoa.
The whole panel was now glowing like a Christmas tree, but the elevator still didn’t move. Irritation gave way to alarm so she slapped one palm against the knob with the bell symbol printed on it. The shrill clanging echoed in the small space, not a good thing when she already had a headache.
The sound faded to a metallic ringing in her ears as the air conditioner suddenly shut off. Not a bad thing. At least now she wouldn’t freeze to death. She would just plunge to the basement, trapped inside a cold metal box with her boobs hanging out of her sister’s red silk nightgown.
Frantic now, she punched all of the buttons over and over again, searching for a pattern that would
get this damned thing moving!
The elevator jerked again and her shoulders sagged in relief. Then everything went still and silent once more.
Omigod. Omigod. She was alone. Completely alone. In a stalled elevator. With no way out and no way to call for help…
“Help! Somebody. Anybody. Help!”
The phone! Didn’t these things come with phones? Shaking her head for not thinking of it sooner, she fumbled with the small handle until she felt the compartment door release. Jordan lifted the receiver with a shaking hand. She listened for a dial tone, or better yet, another voice.
“Yes! I’m here.” She ignored the break in her voice and gave a nervous laugh. “I mean, I’m stuck. I’m in the elevator near the Atrium, somewhere around the seventh floor.”
“Are you hurt?”
She clenched the phone a little tighter. “No, just a little uneasy.”
“Okay, hon. Fire department’s on the way, but it could take ’em a while to get to you.”
“How long is a while?” she yelped.
“Dunno. Couple of power grids have gone down already and—”
Jordan looked up as the lights overhead flickered once. Twice.
“Looks like we’re next. Just sit tight and relax. Somebody’ll get to you soon as they can.”
Her knees buckled and her legs gave out at the same time the lights did. Relax?
Her fingers went numb, dropping the receiver to dangle from its plastic cord, as reality slapped her in the face. She was alone. Completely alone. In a stalled elevator. With no way out. In the dark.
Don’t panic. There’s no need to panic. She forced a deep, calming breath in through her nose. The elevator would start moving any second now. At any moment. Really soon. Jordan hissed the breath she’d been holding through her clenched teeth.
So much for not panicking.
She gulped, even though her mouth had gone desert-dry. Her heart stammered in her chest as the blood from her head drained into it. Sitting on the floor, the hard marble tiles icy against her almost bare bottom, she gasped for air. What had happened to the air? Suddenly it was stuffy. Warm and stuffy and hard to breathe.
Omigod. Omigod. She was going to suffocate before she plunged to the basement. The more she panicked, the more she hyperventilated. And the more she hyperventilated, the more she feared she would suck all of the remaining oxygen out of the elevator.
She couldn’t see her hands in front of her face as she dropped her head into her palms. Jordan had heard the term “total darkness” before, but never fully understood it until now. Squeezing her eyes shut, the first tears slipped from beneath her lashes.
Fear like she’d never known before—hot, black, airless fear—evaporated her common sense and her crying became hysterical. If she had to die, she didn’t want her twisted broken body to be found wearing a red nightgown and bikini panties.
Jordan considered her last thought. Even terrified and miserable, the irony wasn’t lost on her. She was dressed in intimate wear but had never actually been intimate. Oh, sure, she’d had sex, but it hadn’t been worth repeating. And now she was going to die a semivirgin without ever having a real orgasm.
Omigod, she was going to die.
She cried harder, gulping in hot, stagnant air between sobs. If by some miracle she lived through this, she wasn’t going to waste any more time. She’d have sex and lots of it. She would try every conceivable position. She’d play sex games and buy toys…
Well, maybe not toys. After insisting the bedroom lights stay off the one time she was with David, she probably wasn’t ready for toys.
First, though, she had to get out of here. Wrapping her arms around her knees, she tipped her head back and took a deep, deep breath. “Hellllp!”
“Hang on, ma’am! We’re coming to get you out.”
A voice in the darkness! It sounded like salvation. It sounded like hope. It sounded like a man.
His boots sank into the plush carpeting as he strode past the paler darkness of the hotel-room doors. Danny shifted the weight of the toolbox in his other hand, wishing he could reach up to wipe the sweat from under his helmet. At least he wasn’t in full turnout gear, wearing the heavy Nomex coat and pants. It was hot enough without the hotel’s cooling ventilation.
Beside him, firefighter Mike Cornwall huffed out a breath. “Phew. Weatherman said it’s one hundred five degrees with the heat index. You can’t tell me there’s nothing to this global-warming thing.”
Danny chuckled. “Don’t blame me, I stopped using aerosol years ago. The problem is all those satellites cluttering the skies.”
“Uh-huh. Seems to me you were right there enjoying my digital TV dish last Super Bowl Sunday.”
“Yeah, and you still owe me twenty bucks, Stonewall.” He called him by the nickname Mike’s six-foot-four-frame and dedication to weight lifting had earned him. “I told you not to bet against the Ravens’ running game.”
“Shame it’s too dark to get a look at all those underwear models downstairs. I’ll bet I’d leave with a pocketful of phone numbers.”
Danny snickered. “I’ll take odds against that bet.” They reached the bank of elevators and set down their equipment. He rolled his shoulders.
“Which one is she in, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t know, Mike. We’ll have to open all three.”
Danny pulled out a large ring of keys while Mike shone the flashlight on the call panel to find the manufacturer’s brand. “It’s an Otis Geared Elevonic model.”
“Okay. Let’s start on the left.” As he turned the skeleton key to disengage the locks on the outer doors, he heard a high-pitched shriek coming from the middle elevator.
“Hang on, ma’am! We’re coming to get you out.”
Grabbing a Halligan, Danny pried open the outer doors and then Mike held them apart with a length of rebar in case the power suddenly came back on. A quick sweep with the flashlight revealed the concrete wall and thick cables inside the open shaft. The elevator itself was closer to the seventh floor than the eighth. Only the top two and a half feet of the car were visible.
“Looks like you’ll have to slide in and get her, L.T.”
Danny carefully controlled his reaction, refusing to let it show on his face. “Me? I’m the senior here.”
“Yeah, but since L.T. stands for Lady Target as well as ‘lieutenant,’ you’re the man for the job.”
He’d always wanted to be a fireman. Always. But he’d never consider himself a hero, despite the media calling him one. He was just a guy who cared about doing his job. Right now, though, it required heroic effort to control the chill of dread seeping into his limbs.
“All right. Let’s get it done.”
Danny took off his helmet then helped Mike get the inner doors open and propped. He grabbed the flashlight, got down to floor level and leaned his head over the edge. He shone the light around inside the elevator car and saw the red clad figure huddled in the corner.
“Oh, thank God.”
The woman’s voice quavered as she choked out the words. The gleam of the flashlight revealed a tear-streaked face beneath the hand she used to shield her eyes. Her lush scarlet mouth tilted in a little smile of embarrassed relief. “I wasn’t panicking, though.”
Danny noticed that her voice still sounded weak and smiled a little himself. “I’m sure you weren’t, ma’am. Are you injured? Did you hit your head or anything?”
“No. I’m just a bit s-scared.”
“It’s going to be all right. The heat’s caused a rolling blackout. But I’m going to get you out.” He started to turn away when she called to him.
“I’m not leaving, ma’am. I was just talking to my partner. I’ll be right down to get you.”
“Oh, okay. Not that I panicked.”
“No, ma’am, of course not.” Danny had dealt with a lot of hysterics in his nine years on the job. People were often so relieved and grateful to be rescued that they simply broke down. He wasn’t about to make fun of her, since he didn’t feel that comfortable himself.
He looked up at Mike. “I’ll go down and give her a lift. You help her the rest of the way. She says she’s not hurt, but I’ll check her out just the same.”
“I’m sure you will, L.T.” Mike’s voice had an undercurrent of innuendo as he took the flashlight to hold.
Danny ignored him as he swung his legs into the elevator car, bearing his weight on his forearms. Since this wasn’t a life or death situation, he stole a second to get himself under control. None of the guys at Station 24 knew, not even Mike. A year had passed as if it were only a moment, but that moment was all too fresh in his mind.
Just as he was about to lower himself down, an elderly woman hurried out of one of the hotel rooms down the hall. “My husband! Please help us. He collapsed! He has chest pains and says it feels like another heart attack.”
Mike was training to become an FF4, a firefighter paramedic. He was already grabbing his first-aid kit while he waited for Danny’s response. With many of the city fire trucks assisting Baltimore Oil & Power, generators and manpower were spread thin.
“Go. I’ll handle this. Call for the nearest ambulance and wait for them to take over.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Mike rushed off with the only flashlight, leaving Danny hanging. Literally. The idea of being stuck in the dark, cramped space for even a few minutes wasn’t doing much to alleviate his sweating. But a possible heart attack was more urgent than his problem. Inhaling quietly, he ducked his head to keep from banging it on the elevator ceiling and let himself drop. His stomach lurched as he fell.
Six feet might as well have been a sixty in the darkness…
After hitting the floor, Danny turned his head from side to side, straining his eyes and willing something to come into focus. Suddenly he heard a rustle of movement and the woman collided into him. Without the flashlight, he couldn’t see her. Or anything else.
Her disjointed sobs echoed in the small, hot space, further confusing senses that were denied the capacity of sight. His lungs clenched, struggling to drag breath into their shallow depths. The scar tissue on his back tightened. His pulse accelerated and he fought to steady his pounding heart…
Someone was crying. He could hear muffled weeping, but was too disoriented to identify where it came from. It was pitch-black and impossibly hot. He couldn’t breathe. Dense smoke and the acrid smell of burning fuel choked what little air was left.
He crawled through puddles of water, over jagged metal and broken concrete. The darkness seemed to cave in on him. Then more explosions rocked the floor beneath him, trapping him in what already resembled the lowest level of hell…
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
The woman’s mumbled words brought him back to the present. As she clung to him, Danny welcomed the contact with another living being and instinctively offered the comfort of his arms. Her soft lips nuzzled the side of his neck where she’d buried her face in the crook of his shoulder. He held her tightly, breathing in the floral scent of her hair.
He couldn’t have let her go if he wanted to.
He didn’t know how long they stood holding each other, his sense of time as confused as everything else. But slowly his attention sharpened and he became aware of
He felt the warmth of her body seeping into him and driving away the chill of anxiety. Her full breasts were flattened against his chest, the hardened peaks jutting through his cotton T-shirt. Beneath his hands, he recognized the coarse texture of lace as he soothed his palms down her back.
A nightgown? In the middle of the day? She must be one of the underwear models.
She curled into him, drawing closer when she tightened her hold around his waist. He was extremely cognizant of each place their bodies touched. Her breath warmed his throat and her nearness heated his blood. In an instant, he was rock hard and more than willing to forget where they were.
The air around them pulsed with sexual energy and he knew exactly when she noticed the change. He heard the quick intake of breath. She raised her head, as if she were about to speak, but then her mouth brushed the edge of his and he was lost.
Acting on pure instinct, he captured her lips, coaxing his tongue between them. She tasted like cinnamon; she tasted like sin. His fingers sought to caress her hair, and in doing so released the clip that restrained it. The heavy mass tumbled down to flow around her shoulders. Sexy little moans and whimpers escaped her throat as he held the nape of her neck and deepened the kiss.
She trembled so hard he thought she might collapse in his arms, but instead she shimmied against him in an invitation as old as time. He ran his hands over her curvaceous hips and backside, pressing her forward to feel the effect she had on him. His hands glided up her generous body—he loved a woman he could hold on to—until they reached her silk-covered breasts.
At her gasp of surprise and pleasure, he slipped his fingers inside the nightgown to fondle the warm fullness of her flesh. She moaned as he gently rolled her hardened nipple between his thumb and index finger. Then he bent his head to take one delicate bud inside his mouth. He laved and suckled her breast in rhythm with her soft cries.
She grasped the sides of his face and drew him up until their lips met again. The feel of her tongue exploring the recesses of his mouth sent a wave of desire through his body that crested as an aching pressure in his groin. He stroked his right hand down her torso until he came across the deep split in her gown. He slid his fingers inside to touch the satiny skin beneath the silk. Her thighs parted to allow him greater access while her lips nibbled hungrily on his mouth.
She tugged at his T-shirt, pulling it free from his trousers before she drew her hands over his stomach and up to his chest. The feel of her sensual touch had his own nipples hardening in response. He moved his hand higher under the skirt of her nightgown, lifting the fabric until he could feel the edge of her panties.
He inched his fingers toward the apex of her thighs, felt the damp heat through the material as he rubbed her feminine mound. She rocked her hips back and forth over his hand while his tongue danced with hers. His erection throbbed against his zipper when her wiggling became frenzied. Seconds later, she shuddered, groaning against his shoulder as she climaxed.
Danny grinned into her hair as she tried to catch her breath. Of all the elevators in all the world, he found himself with the most intensely responsive woman he’d ever encountered. Under his shirt, her hands slid down his belly to grope for his belt buckle.
But just as she reached to unzip him, he heard Mike’s voice right above them. “Hey, L.T. I’m back.”
Startled, they jerked apart as if they’d been electrocuted. As the flashlight beam arced lower, Danny fumbled to tuck in his shirt and refasten his pants. The woman hastily adjusted the front of her nightgown and pulled the skirt part back into place.
He raised his voice to draw Mike’s attention. “How’s the guy with the chest pain?”
“The EMTs have him stabilized for transport.”
In the dim light, Danny noted that the woman’s back was toward him. Even without seeing her face, he sensed her embarrassment by the shielding curve of her posture and the low angle of her head. His whisper scarcely carried across the elevator. “Are you okay?”
She nodded but refused to look at him. Despite the lack of ventilation, he felt a distinct chill that was stunning after the heat they’d generated. He could understand it, though. They were strangers, and who knows how far things might have gone if Mike hadn’t returned when he did.
If he got lucky, however, later tonight they could finish what they’d started. Danny moved behind her, keeping his voice low and willing her to turn around. “When can I see you? Where can I find you?”
Her shoulders were hunched, her arms crossed tightly in front of her. She tilted her head and glanced up, as though wondering how close Mike was. She shook her head and didn’t speak.
“All right. Let’s get out of here and then we can talk.” Danny leaned his head back and called up to Mike. “Ready when you are, Stonewall.”
He placed his hands on the woman’s upper arms, ignoring the way she flinched as he guided her toward the front of the elevator car. “I’m going to lift you up so that Mike can catch your hands. Don’t let go of him until you’re all the way out to the floor. Okay?”
She angled her head away, but he heard her whispered acknowledgment. “Okay.”
He grasped her waist, bending his knees as she raised her arms to the light-filled opening. Flexing his thighs, he boosted her toward the ceiling. When he saw that Mike held her securely, he shifted his hands to her bottom, trying to ignore the intimate knowledge that his hands had been under that red silk gown only moments before. He gave a gentle push and waited for Mike to help her the rest of the way.