Authors: Mia Zachary
“So, what do you think?”
Jordan kept her head down as she added more crisp fried vegetables to her plate. “It smells delicious.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know.” She rubbed her chopsticks together to get rid of any splinters.
“Since there’s a genuine attraction between us, it won’t take much to convince your family that we’re a couple.”
“Why would you want to do this?”
He wasn’t sure when the idea had come to him—this morning in her bedroom or this afternoon on the phone with his brother. But now that he’d discovered Jordan’s wild side, he planned to explore it to the fullest.
“After last night, after that kiss in the kitchen, do you really have to ask?”
“So this is some kind of a sexual favor?”
He cocked his head to the side as though considering her question, then nodded. “Yeah.”
She chose a fat, battered shrimp from the tray. “Not that I’m agreeing, but what exactly do you want in return for faking an engagement?”
“You. Anytime. Anyplace. Anyway.”
Jordan made a weird gulping noise, then choked as the shrimp lodged in her throat.
Immediately calling on his training, Danny jumped up and rushed around the dining table. He yanked her to her feet, knocking her chair backward, and wrapped his arms about her midsection. His fist was positioned at her diaphragm, ready to perform the Heimlich maneuver, when she managed to cough the shrimp free by herself.
He didn’t move away, however, steadying her. He liked the way she felt in his arms, the way she leaned into him so that her breast rested against his bicep. As her breathing returned to normal and the bright color drained from her cheeks, she was able to stand on her own.
Her voice was slightly hoarse as she thanked him. “You can let me go now, Danny.”
“Are you sure?” He smiled at her seductively. “You might need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
“My hero,” she said as she eased out of his embrace. “But my dinner’s getting cold and we need to talk about your…your…what the hell was that anyway?”
“A proposal.” As soon as the word left his mouth, he balked. “No, wait, not a proposal. I mean, this isn’t a real engagement. We’ll just be faking for a couple of days.”
“Well, then, let’s call it a proposition.”
Now that was more like what he had in mind, despite her courtroom tone of voice. Fun and games and no commitments. Danny widened his smile and moved to take her into his arms again, but she planted a hand on his chest to stop him.
“How about we use the word
Except that I haven’t agreed to anything yet, Danny.”
Jordan reached down to grab her chair and set it upright. Then she settled onto the seat, leaving him standing there feeling dismissed. Danny sighed and, since she was no longer in danger of asphyxiating, went back to his sushi. He picked up his chopsticks and speared a spicy tuna roll.
“Listen, Jordan, I do want to help you out, but I have to tell you that my motives are purely selfish.” She looked at him in surprise. “I want to be with you again.”
She dropped her focus and squirmed on her seat. But her downward-tilted head couldn’t hide the faintest of smiles. That smile made him resolve to buy his own copy of the
Fifty Fast Fantasies
book he had noticed this morning. Somewhere beneath her polished exterior beat the sensual heart of a woman who had forty-nine more reasons to agree to his plan.
Jordan pushed the tempura around her plate. “So, you’re saying I have to sleep with you to get your help. Why should I? Your brother already said he’d play the part.”
“You don’t have to. But I know you want to.”
Jordan blushed and her tone became defensive. “Could you be any more arrogant?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice the way you look at me? Let’s be honest here. Last night was fantastic. There’s a lot of heat between us, and since we’re both adults, there’s no reason not to enjoy it.”
She sat back and finally looked at him. A slight frown tugged at her mouth. Danny felt the first stirrings of disappointment and waited for her to refuse his offer.
It wasn’t as if he’d never been turned down before but, for once, he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Not from Jordan. Not from a woman so eager to explore her sensuality that she’d buy a guidebook and follow the instructions. After everything they’d already done together, he didn’t think he was rushing her.
“Jordan, why don’t we—”
“Um, excuse me?” Taken aback, he paused with a piece of abalone halfway to his mouth.
“I said, okay. Another night together in exchange for a few performances.”
Her voice sounded resigned, but there was a glimmer of interest in her light brown eyes, which confused him. Did she really want to do this? He sure hoped so. But he had no intention of being a two-night stand.
“Uh-uh. Not just another night. If I’m going to commit to ten days, give or take, then so are you.”
She didn’t answer directly. “Give or take?”
“Baltimore City’s firefighters work on a rotation schedule. I do two nights, then two day shifts followed by four days off.”
“Oh, this won’t work then—”
He chuckled. “Don’t sound so relieved. I don’t have to be back at the station until Sunday afternoon, so I can take David’s place this weekend.”
Jordan had stopped eating a while ago, but her beer glass was almost empty. Funny, he would have figured her for the white-wine type. But alcohol was alcohol when you needed to boost your courage. Even from across the table, he could see the tension in her posture and the rapid rise and fall of her spectacular chest.
“So how about it, Jordan. Are you up for the challenge? A favor in exchange for some fantasies?”
Although bright spots of color appeared on her face, he knew that she wasn’t choking this time, just battling her good-girl conscience.
“We have a
Fridays After Five
behind-the-scenes tour of the National Aquarium tomorrow.”
He felt a grin split his face. It wasn’t, “Okay, Danny. I can’t wait to get you back in bed.” But it was an
just the same.
She continued as if she didn’t notice his triumphant smile. “Saturday is the barbecue at my parents’ house in Annapolis. Monday night we’re going to Obrycki’s for crabs and on Wednesday, the Orioles play the New York Yankees. And, of course, my grandparent’s golden anniversary party is the night of the eighteenth.”
“I work the night shift on Monday, so I can’t join you for crabs. I can probably leave a little early on Wednesday, though, to go to the baseball game.”
Jordan cleared her throat and folded her hands on the table. “That’s only four events so you only get four…encounters.”
Do you have to talk like a lawyer?”
“What’s the problem? Your brother is a lawyer.”
“So are both of my parents and they can’t speak plain English, either.” Danny rested his arm along the back of the dining chair. “Just say I get four sessions of hot, uninhibited fantasy sex. I’ll even let you choose the fantasies, but remember, they’ll have to be spontaneous.”
Jordan stared at him, her brows arching in disbelief. “You were serious about that ‘anytime’ stuff?”
“I’ve got to go.”
She shot to her feet and made a production of clearing the table. The take-out boxes were nested inside of one another before she stacked the empty plates and gathered the linen napkins. Danny caught her arm, preventing her escape to the kitchen. He took the plates from her and set them back on the table.
“Leave the dishes. I’ll take care of them. Right now, I want to know which number comes next.”
“If last night was fantasy number fifteen…” He placed a hand on either of her hips and drew her close. “Then do you want to go up the list—” he slid his palms toward the underside of her breasts “—or work your way down?” He bumped her pelvis to punctuate the question.
Her breath was audible now and he felt her nipples bead against his chest through the fabric of her blouse and his shirt. Moist and pink and slightly parted, her lips begged for his kiss. Her maple syrup-colored eyes darkened as she held his gaze. Jordan’s hands came up to caress his shoulders and her thigh pressed between his, teasing the placket of his jeans. She leaned closer, tilting her head up to whisper in his ear.
“You’ll have to wait to find out. Our ten days don’t start until tomorrow.”
As he read the chapter titles, he didn’t know whether to laugh or drive straight to Jordan’s house. Him Tarzan, You Tempting had possibilities if he could figure out how to rig up some vines. And Hey Lady, Check Your Oil? might be fun if he didn’t mind scratching the hood of his car.
“Can I help you with anything, sir?”
He looked up from the pages to see a kid wearing a store name tag and a smirk. The clerk’s attention darted to the book title and back again. Danny shook his head. “No, thanks. I found what I wanted.”
The kid’s grin got wider as he turned away. “That’s a popular find lately.”
Left alone, he flipped to the next page in the book. Jordan would look great in a French maid’s uniform. He could easily picture her wearing a little black ruffled dress and a short white apron and nothing else. But something told him she hadn’t bought this guidebook looking for adventurous sex.
If he’d guessed right, Jordan just wanted to shed some of her inhibitions. From what David had told him and what he’d observed around her family, she was a quiet, responsible woman who worried too much about what other people thought of her. Even last night, she’d initiated the idea for the Strangers For One Night fantasy but hadn’t carried out all of the details.
Jordan didn’t need props or gimmicks. All she needed was a compassionate lover to encourage her and give her the freedom to be adventurous. Danny looked at the introduction page again and read the words “Be Spontaneous.” He could do that. But what about a woman who color-coded her wardrobe?
He took his copy of
Fifty Fast Fantasies
to the checkout counter and pulled out his wallet.
Jordan swallowed her nervousness and smiled weakly at her mother. “I’m sure he’ll be here.”
The laugh lines that usually surrounded her father’s light brown eyes were absent as he studied her. “If you’re sure we should wait…”
“He’s not even late yet, Daddy.”
“Hmm.” He made a noncommittal noise before wandering over to look at the USS
a World War II submarine anchored near the aquarium.
Mom reached for her hand and gently squeezed her fingers until Jordan looked at her. Though partly attributed to good bone structure, the majority of her mother’s beauty came from a kind heart. Right now, she had an air of sadness. “Your father is only saying that David has had to cancel at the last minute several times before.”
“He’s a criminal attorney, Mom. Sometimes cases or clients require last-minute attention.”
“I just hope that he’s paying enough attention to
” Her lips tightened in a familiar expression of maternal concern. Then her brow cleared and she kissed Jordan’s cheek before she went to join Uncle Matt and Aunt Celeste at the sea lion pool.
Jordan stood alone, willing the tension from her muscles and releasing the breath she held. The sooner she ended this fake engagement, the better. Her parents had been so happy that she was involved with someone, but now, because of her fabrications, they believed her “fiancé” neglected her and didn’t want to meet them. Her anxiety grew as she waited for Danny. She just knew something would happen to reveal her lies.
Jordan stifled a yawn. She’d come straight from the office after a long day and an even longer night. She’d lain in bed until the wee hours, skimming the guidebook and analyzing the feasibility of the most appealing scenarios.
Not that she really believed Danny’s outrageous condition to their agreement. There was no way she was going to give in to what basically constituted blackmail. And yet, she found herself wondering whether she should carry a bag of props around in case the opportunity for Doctors Do Make House-calls came up.
Needless to say, she’d gotten very little sleep the night before, fantasizing about how gorgeous Danny would look in a pair of chaps and a Stetson. She wanted to see him wearing his firefighter uniform, too, since she hadn’t really seen him before. Jordan focused on the man walking toward her and smiled. Danny actually looked best in jeans and a casual shirt.
As Jordan watched him approach, she felt an instant fluttering in her belly followed by a warm rush of desire. How could she ever have mistaken him for his brother, even in the dark? Danny had a relaxed air of masculine confidence that David hadn’t mastered. That self-assurance was evident in his stride, in the set of his broad shoulders and the easy smile lighting his face.
His dark brown eyes met hers and held and she suddenly felt like the only woman in the world. He was looking at her as if she were
woman. The quiver in her belly dropped lower with each step he took to close the distance between them.
Danny slipped his arm around her waist, his fingers stroking her back unseen beneath her jacket. When he leaned down, she didn’t know what to expect and so wasn’t prepared for him to seal his mouth over hers with such intensity.
What was supposed to be a sweet kiss of greeting turned into a declaration of desire when he darted his tongue between her lips. Heat gathered at her core and quickly spread, leaving her off balance and breathless when he pulled away.
She wanted him. Oh, how she wanted him. Right here and right now and… Amusement and understanding mingled in his expression as Danny shot a glance toward her family. Embarrassed, Jordan cleared her throat and faced her parents.
“Mom, Daddy. You remember, uh, David?”
Her father looked bemused, then offered his hand. “Of course, of course. How’s it going?”
“Nice to see you, sir.” Danny nodded to her mother. “How are you, Mrs. Gregory?”
“Fine, thank you.” She eyed his cherry-red knit shirt with a smile. “I thought, coming from work, you’d be in a suit like my daughter.”
Danny didn’t miss a beat as he lied. “I was out of the office this afternoon, so I stopped home to change.”
Afraid to give her parents time to begin a more in-depth conversation, and even more afraid “David” might trip up, Jordan hustled everyone toward the escalator. “Well, it’s just after five o’clock. We should probably start the tour. Ready, everyone?”
“More than ready.” Keisha’s gaze slithered over Danny, a sly smile on her brightly painted mouth as she flipped her perfectly styled hair. She raked a glance over Jordan before looking away. The smirk on her cousin’s face clearly issued a challenge.
Jordan narrowed her eyes at Keisha, then took Danny’s hand as they all went up to the front entrance. The warmth of his skin rushed along her nerves when he gently squeezed her fingers. He quirked an eyebrow and gave her a mischievous grin.
“What about you? Are you ready?”
She gasped. Ready for what? He wouldn’t try “anything” here, would he? Her parents were right in front of them, her aunt and uncle directly behind and Keisha was trying to mold herself to Danny’s other side. She sent him an inquiring glance but his attention was on the sixteen floor-to-ceiling bubble tubes decorating the aquarium’s lobby.
As soon as her father showed his family membership card and signed the others in as his guests, he and her mother headed for the first-floor exhibit hall. They had started to follow when Aunt Celeste touched her arm.
“Where can I powder my nose?”
Jordan pointed to the left. “If you go down that side passageway—”
Danny interrupted. “Why don’t you just show her where it is? We can wait.”
Celeste called out to Jordan’s parents. “Angela! Jackson! We’ll meet you upstairs.”
Jordan continued to escort her aunt to the door of the rest rooms across from the coat check desk. Behind them, Keisha let out an exaggerated sigh of impatience. Uncle Matt cocked his thumb over his shoulder.
“I’m going to the gift shop down the hall there. Just grab me when you’re ready.”
Aunt Celeste frowned. “I won’t be that long, Matthew.”
Her husband all but rolled his eyes. “You’re wearing panty hose in ninety-degree weather. I’ll be in the gift shop.”
Celeste made a face at him then went inside the ladies’ room. Keisha crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, lost in her own sulking thoughts.
Danny held out his hand to Jordan. “Why don’t you take off your suit jacket and I’ll go to the coat check for you.”
“Thank you. It is hot in here.”
He glanced up at the air-conditioning vents and smiled knowingly. Standing behind her, he gallantly helped her remove the lightweight blazer, revealing her sleeveless peach-colored blouse. As she started to turn, Danny caressed her bare arms and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “While you’re in the ladies’ room, why don’t you take off your panties as well?”
She angled her head to hiss at him. “Are you crazy?”
“There is no way—”
He brushed his lips against her earlobe. “We have a verbal contract, counselor.”
Equal parts anxiety and excitement constricted her throat, making her voice sound strangled. “You can’t seriously expect me to—”
From the opposite side of the hall, Keisha snapped at her. “Would you just go already?”
Danny gave her a subtle pat on the bottom. “Don’t take too long, baby. I’m anxious to get started.”
Inside the rest room, Jordan checked to see which stall her aunt was occupying then chose one as far away as possible. She closed the door and stared blindly at the vinyl floor tiles. Was she actually going to do this? Her heart beat erratically in her chest and her fingers trembled.
Jordan reached under her skirt and hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her blue cotton panties. How was she going to become sexy and desirable without being adventurous? The guidebook said sensual, naughty and fun, so that’s what she was going to be, damn it. Wiggling her hips, she slipped them down her legs then leaned over to tug them over her heels. Now, where to put them?
She folded the panties into a small, flat square and jammed them into her purse, grateful she hadn’t followed the current trend of carrying microbags that didn’t have space for more than a wallet and set of keys. She left the stall and went to wash her hands.
Aunt Celeste smiled at her in the mirror as she freshened her lipstick. “That David sure is easy on the eyes. If anyone had told me years ago that you of all people would get yourself such a fine-looking young man, I’d have thought they were crazy.”
Jordan turned away from her aunt’s reflection to snatch a paper towel from the holder. She didn’t believe Celeste meant to hurt her, but somehow she’d managed. With one sentence, she’d reminded Jordan of both her miserable, overweight past and the fact that she didn’t really have a man like “David.”
Celeste ran a comb through her silver hair, unaware of Jordan’s distress. “But look at you now! Just as pretty as you can be and so obviously in love. I’m happy for you, sweetheart.”
Jordan merely smiled.
Celeste cocked her head to one side. “Let’s go look at some fish.”
When she followed her aunt out of the ladies room, the first thing she saw was Keisha’s hand stroking Danny’s arm. Her cousin was flirting for all she was worth, smiling and purring in his ear.
Old feelings of insecurity mingled with an unexpected stab of jealousy. Of course her cousin was the kind of woman Danny would be attracted to. Keisha was slender and sexy and beautiful. Jordan couldn’t compete with her glamorous cousin.
Then she glanced at Danny’s face and realized he looked bored and annoyed. To her surprise, he wasn’t returning Keisha’s interest at all and when he saw her, he sent Jordan a smile so genuine and welcoming that all she could do was stare.
Aunt Celeste snapped, “Now, Keisha, you let that man alone and go get your father.”
Keisha’s expression darkened for a moment but she grudgingly complied.
Celeste let out a long-suffering sigh. “Don’t mind her, you two. For some reason that child has always wanted whatever Jordan had, be it toys or boys.”
Danny put his arm around her and smiled. “Well, she can’t have me. I’m spoken for.”
He glanced down the hall as Uncle Matt and Keisha returned, then brushed a tender kiss on her forehead. Jordan’s heart swelled with gratitude as Aunt Celeste winked at her. Even if this whole thing was a charade, she truly appreciated Danny’s efforts to make their engagement seem real.
Now that the family had regrouped, Jordan led the way toward the first display, Wings in the Water. Danny tugged her hand as they walked across the lobby. “Well?”
“Did you?” He arched one eyebrow as if to ask whether she’d actually taken off her panties.
She sent him an enigmatic smile and didn’t answer.
He nodded smugly. “You didn’t do it.”
Jordan widened her smile.
Danny stared at her in shocked amusement. “You really did? No, you didn’t. Did you?”
She felt little bubbles of delight aching to burst forth into laughter. If she had to anxiously await his next move, wondering if he dared try to seduce her in front of her family, then he could suffer a little bit, too.
Standing on the balcony overlooking a two-hundred-thousand-gallon tank, they watched dozens of kite-shaped stingrays and mantas swoop gracefully around the pool below. Danny rubbed his thumb over her wrist and spoke softly so that only she would hear him.
“They look so fast and
gliding through all of that
A little shudder passed through her body, just as she was sure he’d intended with the sensual emphasis on certain words. Tiny bolts of electric awareness arced between them, making her ever more aware of her state of undress. The seduction had begun.
As they walked toward the escalator to the next level, they passed a large rectangular window with a concrete ledge. Keisha moved up to look inside, turned her head to try to get a better view. “What’s supposed to be in here? I don’t see—”
She jerked back as a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth appeared from the edge of the curved glass wall. The twelve-foot-long sand tiger shark flicked its tail and swam by. Keisha scowled in response to the family’s laughter at her expense.
Staring at the gray nurse and lemon sharks, Danny murmured in her ear. “Something that
is dangerous, but it’s also kind of exciting.”
Jordan laughed softly. “What an ego. You’re not that big.”
He winced and clutched his chest as if she’d wounded him.
Upstairs on level two, they found her parents in the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery. Her father stood patiently by the Alleghany Pond display while her mother looked for painted turtles. Jordan smiled indulgently. Her father had only gotten the aquarium membership as a gift for her mom.