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Authors: Amanda Usen

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Into the Fire

BOOK: Into the Fire
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Amanda Usen

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright ©
2013 by Amanda Usen
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at

Edited by
Alethea Spiridon Hopson & Lewis Pollack

Cover design by Pamela Sinclair

Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-135-0

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition
June 2013

The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: A Christmas Carol;
Burger King; Chef Boyardee; Cleveland Clinic; “Googled”; June Cleaver; Katy Perry; New York Times; Patron; Presbyterian Hospital; St. Germain

For Eldridge Anderson Baker, the man who taught me to love books, believe in magic, and shoot from the heart. Thanks, Dad. You’ll always be my hero.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Lila slipped away from the crowded graduation party, carrying her glass of wine out to the empty back porch. She felt ridiculous in her too-small, borrowed cocktail dress and couldn’t wait to kick off her uncomfortable heels. How much longer did she have to stay to justify all the work Jenna and Betsy had put into her hair and makeup? Getting dressed up had sounded like fun, but she couldn’t take a deep breath without risking indecent exposure, and her feet were killing her. Unlike her vivacious friends, she was never going to be the life of the party. She belonged in the kitchen, making the party happen behind the scenes. Or in her dorm room, going over her game plan for the culinary competition tomorrow.

The door opened behind her.
Please, God, no more small talk.
Pasting a polite smile on her lips, she turned. When Jackson Calabrese smiled back at her, her heart hammered. A blush burned at the roots of her hair and blazed its way down to the ground, just as it did each time she saw him.

He raised a bottle of wine toward her glass. “I brought reinforcements.”

“How on earth did you get a bottle of the Margaux?” she stammered.

He shrugged, giving her a wicked grin that made her feel faint.
Of course.
It was good to be a Calabrese at the Culinary Academy. The president of the school would probably put a case of the priceless wine in Jack’s car if he asked.

She took a sip to wet her dry mouth. “Are you ready for the big competition tomorrow?” she asked, figuring she might as well mention the elephant standing on the porch with them.

He grimaced, running a hand through his short dark hair. “I guess.”

She had expected him to boast and try to psych her out with trash talk. They were competing against each other, after all, and most of their class was betting one of them would take the top prize of twenty-five thousand dollars. The last thing she expected was for Jackson Calabrese, golden boy of the Culinary Academy, to sound uncertain. She cocked her head to the side and watched him take a large gulp of wine.

He tipped his head toward the house and shrugged. “It’s hard to be in there pretending I’m not nervous as hell. I’m already having nightmares.”

“Why are you nervous? It’s not like you need the money. I know that’s a tacky thing to say, but I can’t imagine you’ve got student loans to repay.” Winning the competition would put a big enough dent in her loans that she might only be in debt for half her life, instead of the whole thing.

He scowled. “No loans, as my father loves to remind me. Just the honor of the entire Calabrese family. The old man doesn’t think I’m going to win. In fact, he’s sure of it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She rolled her eyes. “Even I think you’re going to win.”

She raised the glass to her lips to hide a sigh. Her crush on Jack had been instant, epic, and excruciating. He was charming, utterly gorgeous, and so far out of her league it was ridiculous. For goodness sake, her father had mortgaged the house to pay for her abandoned art degree, but Jack was so rich there were buildings here at the school named after his family. Every time she passed the pub on her way to one of her part-time jobs, he was in there surrounded by an adoring crowd well-stocked with beautiful women from neighboring universities. Jack was tall, dark, and built like an underwear model, and she was…not. None of those discrepancies stopped her hormones from doing a mating dance, just like now, but she couldn’t afford to let him distract her tonight.

He smiled—not the charming grin she’d seen him use on the instructors during class when he was being, well…Jack. This smile was real, and it made her heart stop.

“Oh no, you don’t. You’re not going to use the poor little rich boy act to throw me off my game tomorrow. You’re not going to get me drunk, either.” She set her glass on the porch railing and crossed her arms, glaring at him. “Unlike you, I do have loans to repay. Big ones. You’ll have to forgive me for kicking your ass tomorrow.”

He didn’t react. In fact, he didn’t appear to have heard a word she said. His eyes roved over her body, finally settling on her breasts.

“Hey! Up here.” She pointed at her eyes. “I’m talking to you.”

His gaze snapped to meet hers, and time stopped. His pale green eyes were mesmerizing, and she saw something in them she had never imagined—desire. Every nerve in her body zinged to life. “Sorry, did you say something?” He stepped close enough for her to catch his woodsy scent. Her knees weakened, and she leaned back to brace herself against the railing.

“You’ve been hiding from me,” he accused softly.

He didn’t know the half of it. When she saw him coming, she ducked behind whatever was available, no mean feat considering her curves. Better to hide than to face him, flushed with desire and breathless. In class, it was easier to act normal. She was wearing her uniform, had a game plan, and knew all the right answers.

He set his wine glass next to hers. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation outside of class before tonight. Why is that?”

Because my panties would start fires around campus.
“Nothing in common?” she squeaked.

“I don’t buy it. We’ve traded the top spot back and forth for two years now. We’re both nervous about tomorrow. Obviously, we both love food. We have tons in common. Don’t you like me?”

The ridiculous question shocked a chuckle out of her, but he didn’t smile. He seriously needed an answer? For the second time that night, he looked unsure of himself, and it gave her the courage to meet his direct gaze. “I like you. Always have.”

Something that looked like relief flashed across his face. “Excellent.”

He stepped forward, trapping her. She felt the early spring breeze ruffle her hair and the porch railing press into her back. He touched her arms, making her shiver, but she didn’t protest. She waited, watching the distance between them lessen, dead certain she would catch fire when he kissed her.

His lips touched hers.

She melted, going liquid, then turned into pure flame as he wrapped his arms around her. She welcomed the instant and all-consuming heat between them. When she felt the flick of his tongue against her upper lip, she opened her mouth, inviting him deeper. For long moments they explored each other. She exhilarated in his touch, loving the firm caress of his fingers on her aching breasts and delighting in the impatient grasp of his hands on her ass as he pulled her closer. Would any of the other party guests see them making out on the porch? She didn’t care. She had wanted this for so long. She couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

“This is silly,” he muttered.

She froze, eyes shut tight. She should have known it was too good to be true. Guys like Jack didn’t need girls like her. She felt his teeth graze her throat then he lifted his head.

“I don’t suppose you want to get out of here?” he asked.

She opened her eyes and found his cool green gaze just as hot as it had been before he kissed her. He wanted her, really and truly. Unmistakable evidence of his desire was cradled against her belly, and she had ached for him since the moment she saw him. There were many reasons hooking up with Jack was a bad idea, but nothing felt more imperative than deepening the connection between them. “Your place or mine?”

“Do you have a roommate?” he asked.

She nodded. It was cheaper to share dorm costs.

“My place then. I want you all to myself.”

Heat shot through her, and she grabbed her purse and followed him around the side of the house to his car. The ride to his apartment was short, but seemed to take forever. His hand clasped hers, caressing her fingers until she felt his touch everywhere. When they got inside, she noticed he’d brought the bottle of wine with them. “Dutch courage?” she asked lightly.

He shook his head, filling glasses and carrying them into the bedroom. He set them on his dresser. “Waste not, want not. And you’re going to need the hydration.”

His blunt sensuality made her bold. She reached for her zipper then let her dress slide to the floor. She stepped out of her heels. He looked hungry as he lowered her to the bed and stripped off her bra and panties. She slipped buttons from their holes, unbuckling his belt, revealing hot, hard flesh.

They both groaned as he settled on top of her, fitting their bodies together, the weight of him sending a hot burst of pleasure through her.

She clutched at his shoulders as he shifted to the side, not wanting any space between them. He caught her hands and held them over her head, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. “Let me enjoy you.”

No woman on earth would say no to that. She grew boneless as he kissed her again, this time lingering, tasting every corner of her mouth. Her breath came in pants as she imagined what else he might do with his tongue. His hands were busy stroking her breasts, belly, and hips. He thrust one knee between her thighs, easing the ache and making her sob from relief until he began to lick his way across her tender breasts. When he reached her nipple, she whimpered, wordlessly begging him to suck harder and give her more of the intense sensations that were making her simultaneously want to climb the walls and lie still so he wouldn’t stop.

He moved lower, scattering kisses across her belly. When he gripped her thighs, she opened for him, feeling wanton and ready, and at the first touch of his tongue, she screamed, shamelessly thrusting her hips toward his mouth. Pleasure flowed over her, a hot cascade, and she surrendered, climaxing so hard her legs closed around him, and she felt the rough scrape of his five o’clock shadow against her inner thighs. His movements slowed, but didn’t stop, an intimate kiss that urged her to seek more pleasure.

She tugged him up to lie beside her and gave him a slow smile as she prowled over him. Her pulse was a drumbeat as she learned his body with her mouth, tasting his neck, licking her way down his rock-hard abs, and finally pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the inside of his thigh. His harsh gasp filled her with bright satisfaction as she took him in her mouth. She gloried in his taste and the feel of his warm length against her tongue as she sought his rhythm.

Abruptly, he sat up. With one lunge, he flipped her to her back and reached into the bedside drawer to get a condom. He swiftly rolled it into place. His urgency filled her with greed. More, she wanted more of him.

She stroked her hands over his back and wrapped her legs around his waist as he entered her, pulling him close, gripping him tight, tasting herself on his lips. He cradled her shoulders with his forearms, holding her in place, making her feel utterly secure as he rocked her higher and harder with his hips. Over and over he thrust into her, a rainbow of fire bursting in her center and spreading outward. He shouted, clutching her impossibly closer as they shuddered together.

Gradually she came back to earth and eased her hold on him, laughing slightly. He gave her a sexy smile as he slid out of bed and headed toward the bathroom. She watched him go, admiring his muscled back and his truly perfect ass. While he was gone, she indulged in a long stretch, resisting the urge to pinch herself. Quickly, she crawled under the covers, not wanting to put her dress back on but also not wanting to be quite so naked when he returned. Would he want her to stay?

Her question was answered when he slid into bed and spooned her. His hand cupped her breast, and his lips brushed the back of her neck. She shivered in delight. It was hard to believe she was with Jack, who used to make her so nervous. Cocooned in his incredibly soft sheets, with his strong arms wrapped around her, she was more comfortable than she’d ever been in her life.

“God, I feel great,” he echoed her thoughts. “I wish we could start cooking right now. My food would be awesome.”

She cast a teasing glance over her shoulder. “You’d certainly get high marks from the judges if you served it naked.”

“I will if you will. On second thought, I’m glad we don’t have to be anywhere for a while.” He leaned back, pulling her with him until she was half-lying over his body. His hand slipped between her thighs. She made room for him, bemused that she could become aroused again so quickly. A few flicks and strokes and he had her on the edge. His fingers dipped and swirled in a more complicated rhythm, and she gasped, flying hard over the peak.

He cupped her mound as she pulsed against his hand. “Women might be the weaker sex, but your fast recovery time is a definite advantage. I’m jealous.”

It took a second for her jellified brain to process his teasing. With effort, she threw off the covers and rolled to straddle him. “You should be jealous. Women are more flexible, good at thinking on their feet, and very creative.” He didn’t look or feel as if he were in need of any more recovery time, so she asked, “Want me to show you?”

His answer was to reach into the drawer and grab another condom. She took it from him and opened it with her teeth. “We’re efficient.” She rolled it down his length and followed it with her body.

“Determined.” She began to move. This was for him, so she set a swift pace. When he gazed at her bouncing breasts, she grabbed his hands and held them to her chest. Maybe this wasn’t all for him, after all. Pleasure took her up with him, and she drove them both mercilessly, watching his expression tighten and his gaze become fierce. She felt new tremors begin in her body. As he shuddered, he shouted her name, tipping her over the edge. “And fast,” she moaned as she finished with him.

His voice was a rough whisper as she collapsed next to him. “Very good points, but you still don’t stand a chance tomorrow. I might not even let you out of bed. My desire for a Calabrese restaurant and my father’s approval gets weaker with every orgasm. I’m pretty sure I have everything I need right here.”

His hand staked an intimate claim, and she laughed. “You lost me at restaurant, but I understand all about wanting to please a father. Before my dad lost his job, he was working sixty-hour weeks to pay off the loans from an art degree I never finished.” She shifted away from him, uncomfortable at being held so close while she shared something so embarrassing. “I’m on my own now, with massive bills and even bigger loans, so you better watch out, buster.”

BOOK: Into the Fire
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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