Authors: Crystal Jordan
Tags: #contemporary romance;vacation romance;Colorado;artist retreat;outdoor
Gloria heaved a sigh. “Child, you’re going to be the death of me.”
“I love you.” Ruth threw her arms around her grandmother’s thick middle.
“I love you too.” The older woman’s voice went from indulgent to stern in the blink of an eye. “Now go play. Do not run indoors.”
“’Kay!” Ruth pirouetted, then strolled out of the room. As soon as she rounded the corner, the sound of her footsteps increased until she was clearly pelting across the lodge at top speed.
Shaking her head, Gloria sighed again, but then slanted a disgruntled glance at Laurel. “Her parents are off on a second honeymoon, so Ruthie’s spending her summer vacation with me.”
“She’s adorable.” Laurel didn’t have to feign her sincerity.
“Got me wrapped around her pinkie.” Gloria’s slid a fingertip along the edge of a wicked-sharp butcher knife lying on her cutting board. “Don’t think I’m that lenient with anyone but her.”
Keeping her expression suitably solemn, Laurel nodded. “I was under no such illusions.”
“Good. You’re not an idiot. Now, go away.” The older lady flicked her cleaver in a dismissive gesture. “I don’t need you here for another couple of days.”
“Yes, ma’am.” With that, Laurel executed a quick about-face and escaped while she still could.
Once she’d gotten outside—safely beyond Gloria’s hearing—she leaned back against the wall and laughed her ass off.
Damn, she was beautiful.
The thought slammed into Neil as he walked up to the lodge and the sound of her laughter lilted on the breeze. He’d gotten halfway to his cabin and realized he’d forgotten to pick up his paperwork from the printer, so he’d had to come back. Now, he mounted the porch stairs and the sight of her stopped him in his tracks. Last night, he’d thought her pretty, but her laugh, her pure joy, made her exquisite, breathtaking.
It was a dual punch to the chest and groin when she looked up and met his gaze. The mirth faded from her expression, and pure electric attraction sparked between them. His heart thudded against his ribs. Her tongue flicked out to slide along her lower lip, and his cock went rock hard.
Bam, zero to horny in two-point-five seconds.
It was starting to become his automatic response any time she was nearby.
Her voice was low and smoky when she spoke. “Neil.”
“Laurel.” He took the last step up, joining her on the porch. There was still four feet between them, but he felt a magnetic draw toward her. He knew almost nothing about her, but suddenly he wanted to. He shouldn’t, because he suspected knowing more would make him desire her more, but he’d rarely experienced this instantaneous burn of craving for a woman, and never this intensely.
Added to that, she’d dealt with Violet and the awkward mom-just-died moment in a way that actually made his daughter laugh. That never happened. He wouldn’t have guessed it was possible. He’d tried to thank her last night, but there’d been no real way to do that without turning it into the awkward situation he was glad they’d avoided.
Then this morning, she’d gotten Violet to speak in coherent sentences before nine AM. It bordered on miraculous.
Everything about Laurel seemed designed to pique his interest.
She took a breath, lifting her breasts, and he couldn’t help but enjoy the effect. She wasn’t the most endowed woman he’d ever met, but his palms itched to cup the small, pert mounds.
“Honestly, I always thought Graves was a pseudonym to make you sound more horror-y.” She squinted and tilted her head. “Horror-ish?”
So far, he hadn’t been able to predict what might come out of her mouth, and she’d managed to catch him by surprise again.
“Horror-ish,” he replied after a beat of silence, injecting as much certainty into his voice as he could.
Her lips pursed. She sidled to the right, a little closer to him, and stood just in front of the screen door. “You’re sure?”
“I am the writer.” Now he went for wounded dignity. Yep, he was flirting. No, he really shouldn’t, for a million reasons, but she was pretty and funny and fascinating as hell.
“Uh-huh.” That thousand-watt smile of hers flashed. “That means you make shit up for a living.”
“Absolutely.” He winked.
She rocked back on her heels. “I bet Graves made it easy to pick a genre, huh?”
He chuckled and took a step forward. “I never had a publisher ask me to take on a penname, that’s for sure.”
The pounding of footsteps sounded, and then the door slammed open—right into Laurel’s back.
“Sorry!” A piping young voice came from inside. “I need out.”
“Whoops!” Laurel hopped forward to let the girl pass, tripped over a porch floorboard, twisted to try to catch herself, but tumbled against him anyway. She hit him hard enough to force a grunt out of him.
On reflex, he snapped his arms around her and they stumbled sideways a few steps. His butt hit the porch railing, stopping their momentum.
“Sorry again! Are you, like, okay and everything?”
“I’m fine,” Laurel replied. “Go play like your grandma said, Ruth.”
“’Kay…if you’re sure…laters!” After another moment’s hesitation, Ruth skipped around the corner of the lodge, gone in seconds.
Then he was left with an armful of soft, sexy woman. His body registered that fact before his brain did, and he went rock hard. After a moment of stunned silence, a snort of mirth burst out of her, but she froze when her hip shifted against his groin.
Yep, that’s a raging erection, sweetheart.
She wiggled a little, as if to make sure of what she was feeling. He bit back a groan, but her movements did nothing to help the situation. If anything, he grew even harder. Christ, he’d turned into a randy teenager.
Her head tipped back and their gazes collided. An apology was on the tip of his tongue, but the heat in her expression stopped his words. She bit her lip, and her palm settled against his chest. He stared at her lush mouth, wanting to taste her but holding back. They stood there in throbbing silence for long moments, neither moving, neither pushing away. With every breath, the sexual tension between them ratcheted up. His mind told him to let her go because kissing a woman he barely knew was an idiotic idea. His libido didn’t give a damn about the details—it just knew that he craved her with a sharp suddenness that was difficult to deny.
“Oh, what the hell?” A grin kicked up the corner of her mouth, she rose onto tiptoe and kissed him.
He’d been so busy battling with himself that she caught him off-guard. She flicked her tongue out, sliding along the seam of his lips. He groaned and let her in, dueling with her for control of the kiss. This was no tentative seeking, just hot possession. The flavor of her exploded over his taste buds—sweet woman and a hint of coffee. His hands clamped on her hips, turning her so she faced him squarely, and pulled her tight to his body. Their angles and curves fitted beautifully, and his cock pulsed with painful need. His let his palms glide up her back, enjoying the resilient warmth of her skin through her T-shirt.
She arched against him, nipping at his upper lip. He jolted at the sensation, pure lust roaring through his veins. His fingers dove down to curl around her backside, the lush curves filling his hands. So fucking perfect. His breathing sped to ragged gasps, and little mewls broke from her throat. Dear God, she was like pure fire twisting in his arms. He slid his thigh between hers, pulling her tighter against him. She moved on him, grinding down on his leg. He could feel the heat of her through his khakis and her shorts, and it was almost enough to make his head explode.
One part of him couldn’t believe he was dry humping a woman on a porch, where anyone could walk up and see them. Another part of him didn’t want to let her go. Not yet. He mated his tongue with hers, the rhythm matching the thrust and slide of their hips. The friction was too good, too much, and he was embarrassingly close to coming in his pants. When her fingertips circled his nipple, then tweaked the nub, he had to pull back. Otherwise he was going to drag her to the wood floor and take her then and there.
“That was…” She made a little humming noise. “Awesome.”
“I wasn’t expecting…” A rough exhalation spilled out of him. He had no idea how to finish that sentence without insulting her or looking like an utter fool.
“This? Me, neither.” She eased out of his arms and forked her fingers through her teal-streaked hair. “I always love a nice surprise. Don’t you?”
“I can’t complain.” Only a moron would. A kiss that good? Damn. Then again, that hadn’t been just a kiss, had it? He’d been a half-second away from fucking her. Just thinking about it made his still-hard dick pulse.
She opened her mouth to speak, but Violet’s voice cut through their conversation.
“Hey, Dad! I just met the chef’s granddaughter. She’s here all summer too.” Violet mounted the stairs, the same girl who’d slammed into Laurel right on Vi’s heels. “This is Ruth.”
“We bumped into each other,” Laurel replied drily.
“I really am sorry.” The younger girl gave a bashful shrug. “I go everywhere at a run. My dad says I need to, like, join the track and field team when I start middle school next year.”
“That’s awesome.” Vi shrugged. “I’m so not sporty at all.”
“You don’t have to run with me.” Ruth’s pale green eyes twinkled good-naturedly. “Want me to show you the lake? Did you bring your bathing suit?”
“Yes and yes.” Violet brightened. “I love swimming.”
“Sweet. Go change and I’ll meet you back here. Ten minutes?”
She turned to Neil. “Is that cool, Dad?”
“Sure.” It had been a long time since his daughter had done anything spontaneous. Even this residency had been researched to death. Ruth might be a wrecking ball on two legs, but she seemed to tempt Vi into throwing caution aside. He resisted the urge to ask questions about lifeguards or insist on promises to be careful. It was Violet—she’d be far more careful than he would have at her age. “Be in the dining room at noon for lunch.”
He waved them off, and the girls headed in different directions. And that left him alone with Laurel. Should he bring up the kiss again? Let it go and chalk it up to momentary insanity? He knew the second option was the best one, but he didn’t like it. Still, he was an adult and he had responsibilities. Making out with a pretty woman wasn’t on his to-do list. Though he really wished it was. It sounded a hell of a lot more fun than editing a manuscript.
He swallowed. “I…uh…left some paperwork in the business center.”
After a moment of silence, she shook herself. “Oh. Okay.”
There was a hint of disappointment to her words, but her expression was difficult to read. A stab of guilt hit him. He was being an ass, acting as if that crazy kiss hadn’t happened. It wasn’t her fault he couldn’t figure out if he was coming or going any time she was near. He opened his mouth to say something, but she quickly descended the porch stairs.
“I’ll see you around, Graves.” She paused to glance back at him. “If you decide you want to spend the next few hours necking while the kids are occupied, I’ll be sitting under the tree behind my cabin, sketching the scenery. I wouldn’t mind the right kind of interruption.”
And the erection that had begun to subside went from semi to full-blown at the mere mention of getting his hands on her again. A shudder ran through him. “I’m not sure a few hours would be enough for what I have in mind.”
A flush highlighted her cheekbones. “Tease.”
“Not teasing, just honesty.” He blew out a breath. “More honesty…I need to use every free second I have on finishing my writing projects. I have a book that’s overdue to my editor.”
Eyes narrowing, she looked him over. “Am I wrong in assuming you stayed up late last night working? And then got up early this morning?”
“Do I look a little rough around the edges?” He scrubbed a hand over his unshaven chin. He’d bathed, but hadn’t taken the time to shave. He could see the evidence of it along her chin and jaw, a bit of redness. He liked seeing his mark on her way more than he should.
“No, but I don’t mind a little roughness in a man.” Her tone was innocent, but her expression was sinful enough to make his cock throb.
A million ideas flowed through his mind about what she might consider a little rough. At this rate, he’d be taking a cold shower instead of writing.
She made a shooing motion. “Go write, Graves. I’ll catch you later.”
“I might not be that hard to catch.” Now why had he said that? Clearly, he was an idiot. There was no other rational explanation.
A laugh spurted out of her. “I don’t mind an easy man either. I’ll take a rain check.”
With a saucy wink, she strode off, a swing in her hips that made him stare at her ass far too long before he went inside to get his print outs.
He made it back to his cabin and then stood in the middle of the living room, feeling as if the walls were closing in, staring at his laptop. He’d swear the damn thing was glaring at him, taunting him with the crush of deadlines that were threatening to strangle the life out of him. He knew this feeling, knew that writing today would be a struggle, that he’d fight for every single word. He’d made great strides last night and this morning, but he’d wanted more.
“Fuck,” he groaned.
After dropping the sheaf of papers on the coffee table, he went to the bedroom to change into a baggy pair of cargo shorts and grab a notepad and pen. He left a quick note for Vi in case she came back from swimming and wanted to know where he was, and then he pushed out the screen door to walk toward the big tree behind Laurel’s cabin. Yeah, he probably shouldn’t, but he didn’t feel like wrestling with his book today. But the novel wasn’t the only thing he had to work on. Maybe a change of project and a change of scenery would help.
As promised, Laurel was beneath the leafy canopy, sprawled on her stomach on a blanket with a sketchpad. He kicked off his flip-flops and settled next to her, leaning back against the rough trunk.
“Aren’t you supposed to be writing?” She didn’t even look up as she asked the question. Her fingers flew gracefully over the paper, the mountains in the distance taking shape in her drawing. Even though he’d never seen her paintings, what he could see now left no doubt of her talent.