Authors: Crystal Jordan
Tags: #contemporary romance;vacation romance;Colorado;artist retreat;outdoor
About halfway through the meal, Ruth popped up and slipped into the only empty chair. She looked at Laurel for a long moment. “Do you have any tattoos?”
Laurel’s brows rose. “Why would you think that?”
“Grandma said you might. You have neon hair. You have lots of piercings.” Ruth shrugged as if that made it a forgone conclusion that someone like Laurel would have ink.
“I died when I saw her turquoise hair,” Vi chimed in. “Dead. Literally dead.”
“Yeah, her streaks are on point.” Ruth bobbed her chin in a nod. “But…does she have tattoos?”
Both girls looked at Laurel expectantly, but she shook her head.
“Nope, sorry. Not a single tat.”
Ruth looked a little disappointed. “I figured a painter would have cool tattoos. Like, your own painting on your skin.”
“That would be kinda awesome,” Violet noted.
“Sorry, girls. Never going to happen. I’m a total wimp when it comes to pain.”
Neil cocked a brow. “You have a large number of piercings for a pain wimp.”
“One needle and momentary pain. I can handle that. But a really amazing tattoo? That’s lots of needles for hours and hours and hours.” She shuddered, and he was fairly certain she went a little green.
“No pain,” he murmured. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Her dark gaze gleamed, knowing that he was talking about something else entirely than body art. “You do that.”
He was grateful for the cover the table provided because he could imagine a whole lot of ways to provide a lot of pleasure and not a hint of pain.
Ruth turned to Violet, apparently bored with the adults and the lack of tats. “You know there’s a rec room here in the lodge, right? It’s not, like, awesome or anything, but there’s a pool table, ping pong, darts and satellite TV.”
Vi glanced at him, and he nodded his permission. Grinning, she swung back to Ruth. “Let’s see what’s on TV. If it’s boring stuff, we can figure out how to play pool.”
With that, he was summarily abandoned. He should probably be peeved or jealous, but this was the happiest Vi had been in months. Whatever made that happen was a good thing, in his book.
But he could now pick up where his covert conversation with Laurel had left off. “I thought you didn’t mind rough, Ms. No Pain.”
“There’s liking a man with some throw down and then there’s
. I’m into the first one, not the second.” She pursed her lips. “Any man tries to show me his Red Room, and I’m out of there so fast I’ll make his head spin.”
Yep, he never knew what might come out of her mouth. He really liked that about her. “I don’t have a Red Room, or etchings, or anything else weird to show you.”
“A likely story.” Her look was exaggeratedly suspicious. “No mirrors mounted over your bed?”
“Well, not in the cabin, but back home…”
She swatted his arm. “Oh, please.”
“Finish your soup.” He winked and tidied up his tray. As much fun as the sexual banter was, it occurred to him he needed to take care of some parental stuff before he indulged in more personal pleasures.
Doing as he bid, she spooned up the last of her lunch and sat back. “So, what are you up to next, Mr. Deadlines? More script drafting?”
“Eventually.” He tapped his fingers over the tabletop. “I have a feeling I should meet the chef if her granddaughter and my daughter are going to spend the summer as BFFs. It’s good to know what other parents’ or guardians’ ground rules are, see if you’d be okay with your kid around their family. Stuff like that.”
She blinked. “I don’t have any children, so I hadn’t even thought of that. You’re right, of course, but parenthood requires a whole different way of thinking.”
Truer words had never been spoken. “The world is a much scarier place when you have kids, because you see all the dangers to them.”
“I imagine those dangers look even crazier when you’re an expert in horror.” She dabbed a napkin over her mouth, and he suspected she hid a grin.
“I do my best not to be too paranoid.” He poked her side, making her squeak and jerk away. If they weren’t in public, he’d have taken advantage of the physical closeness tickling a woman allowed. He had no doubt where it would lead.
Soon. Very soon.
Laurel grinned as she stared at the computer screen. Her brother had sent a new family photo. It took almost five minutes for the picture to download over the slow internet connection, but the wait was worth it. Her nephew was making such a classic grumpy toddler face that she couldn’t hold back a laugh. God, she adored that kid. She didn’t get to see him often enough. Then again, who did she have to blame for that? No one was keeping her away except herself.
Maybe that was part of the malcontent she’d been feeling before she’d arrived in Colorado. The carefree, rootless lifestyle might be starting to wear on her. Sure, she kept an apartment in San Francisco, and the city wasn’t terribly far from her brother, but she had to be in her apartment for the short distance to matter. But she was as likely to be in Paris, Sydney, Cape Town, New York, Tokyo, or some other city anywhere in the world. At first, it had been a way to avoid her parents nagging her to pursue a real job or marry the kind of man who could keep her in paints for the rest of her life. But then it became her habit. She’d been flitting here and there for so long she’d forgotten what it was like have a home.
What she could or should do to change that, she didn’t know.
Laurel startled at the sound of Gloria’s voice behind her. She swiveled in her seat to look at the older woman. “Yes?”
“That boy forgot his hoodie,” Gloria groused from where she stood in the business center’s doorway. “I don’t have time to track people down when they leave things in my dining room.”
Since there had been several men of various ages in the dining room today, Laurel had no clue who she was talking about. “Which boy?”
“The one you’re hoping to sleep with,” Gloria retorted, shoving Neil’s offending garment in Laurel’s direction. “Why else would I bother telling you about it? Take him the sweatshirt.”
Batting her eyelashes, Laurel took the hoodie. “You’re a nice lady, Gloria. Trying to help me get laid is really going above and beyond the call of duty.”
Gloria snorted, her lips twitching in the glimmer of a smile. “You need Jesus. Get out of here.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Quickly logging out of her email, Laurel did as she was told. She whispered as she passed the older woman, “I’ll see you in a couple of days for my lunch shift. And maybe I won’t just be hoping to sleep with him by then.”
“At this rate, I’ll need to have my prayer mafia dedicate a whole session to you!” Gloria hollered after her.
Laurel giggled all the way down the hall. The crazy characters at The Enclave were going to make this summer amazingly fun. Then again, what else had she expected at a camp full of artistes?
She slung Neil’s sweatshirt over her arm and jogged over to his cabin. The door was open, so she called through the screen, “Knock, knock.”
“Hey!” Violet yelled back. “Come on in.”
Laurel pulled open the screen door and stepped in. Hefting the hoodie in her hand, she skipped a real greeting. “I just wanted to drop this off. You forgot it in the dining room.”
“Thanks.” Neil set his laptop aside, hopped up from the couch and reached for his garment. “Sorry about that. I set it on a counter when Vi almost dumped her tray and forgot to go back for it.”
“That explains why none of us saw it at our table.” She winked at Vi. “Especially our detail fiend.”
His fingers brushed hers when he took his sweatshirt, and a sizzle buzzed over her skin. A wave of goose bumps followed in its wake, making her fight a shiver. She had a sneaking suspicion if she looked down, her nipples would be clearly visible. The fact that his gaze dropped to her breasts for just a moment told her she was right. A tiny smile played around his full lips.
“No problem,” she replied, her voice a little too breathy. She cleared her throat, and turned her attention to Violet, who was hunched over a desk, her brow furrowed. “You look industrious. What are you up to?”
“I’m working on his copy edits.” The teen waved a sheaf of papers in the air, covered in odd squiggles.
Laurel blinked and said slowly, “You’re doing your dad’s copy edits. For his novel. And you’re thirteen.”
“Hey, don’t knock it.” Neil shrugged into the hoodie and resumed his spot on the sofa. “Her grammar skills are better than mine.”
Amusement trickled through Laurel. These two had the most unique father-daughter relationship. “Slave labor?”
“Well, we have a housekeeper at home, so cleaning and dishes and stuff are handled.” He pointed out rationally, “She’s got to earn her allowance somehow.”
“Creative.” She twisted her lips. “And kind of lazy.”
“Hey, I became a parent for a reason. She needs to be well-trained so she can care for me in my old age.”
The man had the driest dark humor, which surprised her because he always looked so serious and somber. He couldn’t be more different than her usual type, yet she couldn’t deny she was wildly attracted to him. After those kisses, she hadn’t been able to get him off her mind. It had been a long time since she’d indulged in an affair, but she was hoping he might be interested. She already knew she was. Maybe it was too sudden, too fast, but her gut instinct had served her well in the past. And it told her that under his solemn exterior, Neil Graves was an explosively amazing lover. She wanted to find out if she was right about that. Their chemistry certainly lent credence to the idea.
A logical side of her brain warned that an affair could go bad before the end of a three-month program and then she’d have the awkward fun of living next door to her ex-lover. But no risk, no reward, right? She wasn’t the sort of woman who was afraid of taking chances, or she’d never have gambled that a career as a painter would pay off. The odds had not been in her favor, yet here she was.
“I think I see a girl running in this direction.” Neil quipped, “Who wants to bet if it’s Ruth?”
Laurel pulled open the screen just as the kid came skidding through the doorway, her springy curls looking even wilder than usual.
“Hey, Violet. My grandma said I could invite you to sleepover at our cabin if you want.” An appealing note entered her voice. “She baked cookies. Big ones.”
“Nice.” Violet tossed the copy edits aside. “These aren’t due until next week. I’ll be totally done before then. Okay, Dad?”
“Sure, go pack a bag. Don’t forget your toothbrush,” he called when she bolted for her room.
The girls were gone in under five minutes, the front door slamming shut behind them, leaving Laurel alone with Neil. For an entire night. Hot damn. She was going to kiss Gloria the next time she saw the crotchety old lady.
A bemused look formed on his face. “We decided the girls could sleepover any time. Apparently, Gloria thought there was no time like the present.”
“And she sent me over here with the sweatshirt right before she sent Ruth to get Violet.” Laurel tugged off the band holding her hair in a ponytail, then kicked aside her sandals. “Gloria’s playing quite the matchmaker tonight.”
“I’ll have to thank her later.” Neil rose and removed his sweatshirt, then toed off his shoes. “And I’d like to invite you for a sleepover.”
“Yes, please.” She untied her shorts and pushed them down over her hips. “You’re done writing for the day?”
The heat in his gaze when he took in her bare legs was enough to scorch, and a throb of want went through her. It took him a long time to answer her question. “I made my projected word count at around dawn this morning. Everything else was bonus.”
“Such a good boy.” She pulled off her shirt and tossed it aside. All she wore was a pair of lacy panties and a matching bra. Not that she really needed a bra with her barely-A-cups, but she liked pretty lingerie as much as the next girl. From the way Neil’s breath sucked in, she had a feeling he liked her pretty lingerie as well. She ran a finger along the waist of her underwear. “You know, I believe in rewarding good behavior.”
“Me too,” he agreed fervently. His T-shirt and cargo shorts were off so quickly she was surprised he didn’t end up with fabric burn.
She stared at his hard cock, outlined starkly by his tight boxer briefs. White-hot lava flowed through her veins, and though they’d only met the day before, she felt like she’d been waiting forever for this moment to arrive. Finally. “Tell me you have condoms.”
“I have a few in my toiletry case, thank God. I checked earlier.” He held out his hand and, when she took it, lifted her palm to kiss and nip at her sensitive flesh.
“A few might not be enough.” Tingles broke down her limbs and moisture flooded her pussy. Wanton need tightened some of her muscles, loosened others, readying her for sex. “I have a feeling a one-night stand isn’t going to satisfy either of us. I can pick up more the next time the van goes into town.”
“More is good.” His lips moved up her arm to her elbow, her shoulder. “So is making very, very sure we’re satisfied.”
He pressed his mouth to her neck, biting down lightly. A quiver of pure desire shook her, and she tilted her head to grant him as much access as he might want. He took advantage, sliding his tongue along the length of her throat. His breath on her skin was hot, and she arched into him, pressing her curves into his harder angles. The feel of his rougher skin against her was an amazing turn-on, the crisp curls on his chest and legs rasping over her flesh.
Tipping her head back, she slipped her arms around his neck, and he took the hint, claiming her lips. The taste of him was exquisite, warm and masculine and uniquely Neil. Their tongues twined, and her heart began to race as her excitement built. Only thin layers of lace and cotton separated them, and his cock pressed insistently at her belly. She twisted, wanting to get even closer, but not wanting to break the kiss.
His palms skimmed down her back, slipping under the waistband of her panties. He palmed her backside, molded the soft globes and ran a finger between them. Then he dipped even further in, teasing flesh that was rarely open for exploration. She squeaked and squirmed, but still pushed closer and let him do whatever he wanted. As taboo as this was, it revved her up even more.
“I think we can get rid of these, don’t you?” He eased her underwear down to her ankles. “Step out of them.”
She did as he bid, reaching behind her to unhook her bra. “I want you naked too.”
“Mmm. In a minute. You have the sweetest ass I have ever seen.” He swatted one cheek, just hard enough to send tingles skipping down her skin. “Too much pain?”
She gasped, shaking her head. “No.”
By stroking his fingertips over that same patch of sensitized flesh, he intensified the feeling, and she quivered. Then he knelt to bite and kiss the other cheek. A sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a moan escaped her. If anything, she grew wetter, needier, greedier for him. She wanted him inside her, plunging deep, making her scream with satisfaction. God, yes. That was exactly what she craved.
Something about her tone must have alerted him that she was done waiting, because he rose and urged her backward onto the sofa. He stripped his boxer briefs off and settled on top of her. The weight of him pressing her down was perfect, and she wrapped her legs around his waist.
“Now. Please. Hurry.” God, was that her voice begging?
“Fuck,” he groaned and wrenched himself away from her, rising to his feet.
“What?” He was stopping? Now? She’d kill him.
“Condom.” He stared down at her for a moment, and then bent to suck her nipple into his mouth. Her body bowed, pushing closer to him, but he pulled back. “Don’t move. Stay just like that.”
She sat up when he came back carrying a handful of rubbers. He dropped all but one on the coffee table and settled beside her to quickly sheath himself. She barely waited for him to be done before she straddled him.
Now, now, now.
That was all she could think, her body ruling the moment.
He held himself steady for her, and she felt the probe of his thick cock. She braced her hands on his broad shoulders, dragging in a steadying breath as she began to sink down on him. The bulbous crest stretched her, and she rocked her hips into him. Up, down, up, down. With each pass, she took more of him. He filled her to the limit, the fit exquisite.
“Laurel.” Her name on his lips was both a curse and a prayer, and a rush of power hit her.
She grinned. “Yes?”
“I…I need…fuck…” His hands bracketed her hips, his grip tight as she began to move on him.
The skin stretched taut over his sharp cheekbones, and his midnight blue gaze was a little wild. He pulled her tighter to him on every downward plunge, as if he couldn’t get close enough or deep enough. The rough hair at his groin stimulated her clit as she ground herself against him. God, it felt good. Amazing. She wanted to hold out, to make it last longer, but didn’t think she could. Her body demanded gratification, and all she could do was ride out the carnal storm.
Sweat slipped down their skin, their gasps and groans echoing in the cabin. She dug her nails into his shoulders, pushing herself to greater speeds. She was so close, so very close to that wicked edge. “Please…please…”
“Come for me.” He smacked her ass again, sending a shockwave of pleasure-pain through her. Her head fell back and she sobbed out her ecstasy, her inner muscles fisting in rhythmic pulses around his thick cock.
The sound he made was like a human volcano erupting, as if all restraints had ripped free. With startling speed, he tumbled her onto the couch, shoved deeper inside her than he’d been before, and began to ride her hard. This was no slow taking, but a swift, rough possession.
And she loved it.
Passion rebuilt, higher and higher. She cinched her legs tight around his hips, lifting into his thrusts. Their skin slapped together, the sound loud and obscene and erotic.
A muscle ticked in his cheek. “I can’t wait.”
He reached between them and thumbed her clit, which was more than enough to send her into orbit again. Her body bowed, a cry breaking from her throat. Her sex milked the length of his dick. He continued moving, racing for his own completion. Each plunge sent aftershocks quaking through her body, dragging her orgasm out forever, so that one blended into the next and she was consumed by the uncontrollable pleasure.