PRIDE AND PREGNANCY
Having worked her way through three husbands, Karleen has pretty much decided she sucks at marriage. So the last thing she needs is for this ohmigod-gorgeous Nordic God to move in next door. . .with his adorable, motherless, four-year-old twin boys. Unfortunately for Karleen, even though she and Troy Lindquist (the aforementioned Nordic God) have absolutely nothing in common, he is very sweet. And funny. And kind. And, yeah, sexy, in a dangerously effortless kind of way. And it’s been four years since his wife died. So she takes pity on him (okay, she caves), but she makes sure – after the sexual haze clears – that the painfully normal, albeit filthy rich entrepreneur notices that her Trailer Park Nouveau decor is nothing at all like his staunchly beige Early American.
That her dysfunctional past is nothing like his uber-middle class one.
Except a few weeks later she discovers she’s carrying a little Nordic prince or princess. Uh. . .oops? And of course, Troy asks her to marry him, because that’s the kind of guy he is. But does she refuse his offer out of pride. . .or the breath-stealing fear of failing once again?
The Home Depot truck was still in Troy’s driveway when he returned, sans children, around ten. Meaning that, he presumed, Karleen was still there, as well. One of those good news, bad news kind of things.
Troy sat in the car for a good ten seconds, his chin crunched in his palm, mentally ticking off all the reasons why he needed to get over this idiotic attraction to the woman. Why acting on some chemically-induced urging was pointless. If not downright stupid.
He glanced back at her pin-wheel-and-stone-critter-infested front yard. The plastic roses stuck incongruously along the base of the front porch. The bird houses. The five million sparkly, twirly things dangling from her porch. And he shuddered. Mightily.
Then he remembered the sight of her fresh out of bed this morning when she’d answered her door, all-rumple-haired and makeup-free, her sleep-graveled voice, and he shuddered again. Even more mightily.
Okay, he thought, getting out of the car and slamming shut the door, so she was cute and sexy and helpful, and she wasn’t holding silver crosses up in front of the kids, but he didn’t know anything about her, except for her penchant for excessive lawn ornamentation and that caution muddied her eyes. And besides, she wasn’t interested, he wasn’t interested (okay, so he was interested, just not that interested), end of discussion, case closed.
He could do this, he thought as he walked inside his open garage and through the maze of boxes and crap he’d yet to figure out what to do with, and there was Karleen, in some kind of flippy little skirt and a soft, hip-grazing sweater practically the color of her skin, and she was wearing a pair of backless, high-heeled shoes that were like sex on a stick, pink ones, with glittery, poufy stuff across the toes, and his mouth went dry. She looked about as substantial as cotton candy.
Only five times tastier.
And she was clearly driving the poor, mountainesque delivery guy insane as she made him put both machines through their paces.
“Okay,” she said as she took the clipboard from him, “I just wanted to be sure, because the last time I got a new washer – not from y’all, but I’m just saying – they didn’t hook it up right and I ended up with a lake on my garage floor. . .oh! Troy! You’re back! Here,” she said, thrusting the clipboard at him. “Just in time to sign,” she said, and that first, full impact of her perfume, the vulnerability trembling at the edges of her self-confidence, nearly shorted out his brain.
He gave the machines a cursory glance to make sure they were indeed the ones he’d bought before scribbling his signature on the bottom of the form. The delivery guy tore off his receipt, said, “Have a good one,” and lumbered off, leaving Troy staring at a pair of control panels clearly modeled after the space shuttle.
Karleen stepped up beside him, her arms crossed. Her perfume nanny-boo-boo’d him. Her still hanging around confused the hell out of him. Way too many whys and whatchagonnadoaboutits? floating around for his comfort. Then she reached out and – there was no other word for it – caressed the front of the washer, sliding two fingers along the smooth, cool porcelain edge, and Troy’s mind went blank.
“I hate to admit this,” she said on a soft rush of air, “but I am having serious appliance envy. My washer’s one step up from a rock in the river.”
“Right now,” Troy said, forcing his attention to the gleaming white appliances in front of him and away from the fragrant blonde at his elbow, “a rock in the river isn’t looking half bad.”
He could feel her bemused, incredulous stare. “Please don’t tell me you’ve never used a washer before.”
“Only three times a week for the past four years,” he muttered. “But believe me, my expertise begins and ends with shove clothes in, dump in detergent, turn machine on, take clothes out.” He squinted at the panel. “I’m guessing I’ll never have to use the delicate cycle.”
“Not unless you’ve got silk boxers.”
“Uh. . .no.”
She giggled, and his insides flipped. “Stick with normal and you’ll probably be okay.”
“Always been my motto,” he said, and turned, and she was far too close, and it had been far too long, and it was far, far too soon to be feeling this far gone.
“How come you’re still here?” he asked softly, and her gaze flicked to his before she shrugged. Just one shoulder. Sadness radiated from her like sound waves.
“Where’re the kids?” she asked.
“Still at the school.” Troy leaned one hip against the dryer, his arms folded over his chest. Watching her not looking at him. Trying like hell to figure out what was going on here. “They wanted to stay for a little while, so I’m picking them up after lunch. If all goes well, they’ll start full-time on Monday. It seems like a great place.”
Another quick glance. A small smile. “Feel better now?”
“A bit. It’s a challenge, doing this on my own. I worry constantly about whether I’m making the right choice.”
Her silence enfolded him, half soothing, half unnerving. “At least you do worry about them.”
“That’s what parents do.”
“Not all parents,” she said, the sadness turning more acidic. Without thinking, he slipped his hand around hers. Her head jerked up, her eyes wide. But not, he thought, particularly surprised.
“Thanks,” he whispered, frozen, staring at her mouth. “For, you know. Being here.”
“No problem,” she said, equally frozen, staring at him staring at her mouth. “Um. . .don’t take this the wrong way, but are you thinkin’ about kissing me?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m thinking about doing a lot more than kissing.”
Outside, birds twittered, breezes blew, gas prices did what gas prices will do. Inside, life-altering decisions hovered on the brink of being made.
“What happened to just wanting to talk?” Karleen finally said.
“Apparently, I’ve moved on.”
The planet hurtled another few thousand miles through space before Karleen at last lifted her hand to trace one long, pale fingernail down his shirt placket.
“So I guess this means we’re gonna have sex.”
Somewhere, way in the back of his buzzing brain, Troy heard a resignation in her voice that, under other circumstances, might have tripped his sympathy-trigger. At the moment, however, the safety on that particular trigger was firmly in place.
As opposed to other triggers, which were cocked and very, very ready.
“That’s bad, isn’t it?” he said. Still not moving. Away, at any rate.
“It sure as heck isn’t good.”
“Because. . .of everything you said.” He lifted one hand, cupping her neck. Her breathing went all shaky. So did his.
“Uh-huh.” She made a funny little sound in her throat when he touched his lips to her forehead.
“One of us should walk away,” he whispered into her hair, which was a lot softer than he’d expected.
“I know,” she said, and tilted her head back, and he lowered his mouth to hers, and his entire body sighed in relief, as though he’d been waiting for this moment for five years instead of five days. He knew it was wrong and foolish and pointless and he didn’t care, didn’t give a damn about anything except that brief shudder of surrender when their mouths met, the soft heat of her tongue against his, the softer, hotter press of her breasts against his chest. And, of course, the ever-popular collision of her pelvis against the aforementioned good-to-go trigger.
In fact, he was enjoying the whole kissing-pressing-colliding thing so much, it took a while before it sank in exactly where all this kissing and pressing and colliding was going on.
“For the record,” he said, “I don’t generally go around seducing women in my garage. Especially ones I’ve only known for less than a week.”
“Somehow,” she said, trickling her fingers down his arms, “I knew that.”
His pulse thudding nicely in several crucial pressure points in his body, he took her face in his hands. “So how come you’re not walking away?”
“Because. . .” Six inches from his face, her breasts rose as she sighed. “I guess I figure, since you have moved on, you may as well doing that moving on with me.”
“O-kay. . .” Troy shook his head, but the ringing was still there. “But why?”
Karleen linked her hands around his neck, toying with the bristley hair at the nape, and little flickers of happiness erupted all over his skin. “Because I can handle this for what it is – a man who’s gone without for too long who needs. . .an outlet. Somebody to take the edge off, to ease you back into things.” She shrugged, and the little flickers flickered more earnestly. “The way I see it, I’m actually doing the women of Albuquerque a favor. So when you go out there for real, you’ll be able to see what you’re actually looking for without sex cloudin’ your brain.”
She had a point. Except that, as murky as things definitely were in the old gray matter, he wasn’t so far gone that he didn’t catch the tiniest hint of self-deprecation in her voice. “How. . .altruistic of you,” he said, letting his hands slide down to cup her sweet little backside.
She snorted. “Not exactly. Because it’s been a while for me, too, so I’m not gonna lie, I want this as bad as you do. But, see, I’m not lookin’ for anything serious, and you’re not lookin’ for somebody like me – and don’t deny it, you know it’s true – so this way, we both get what we need out of the deal. And anyway, we could both tip-toe around this thing for the God-knows-how-long until one or the other of us combusts. . .” Her gaze lowered to his neck, which she stood on tiptoe to – oh, man – lick. “Or,” she murmured, her breath cooling the moist spot, “we could get this out of the way and be done with it.”
He gripped her ribs, bringing her startled gaze up to his. “I’m overdue. Not desperate. Trust me, there’s not going to be anything quick about this.”
One eyebrow arched before, slowly, her mouth stretched into a smile that was pure challenge.
“Guess we’ll have to see about that,” she said, then took him by the hand and led him back to her house, as his garage door groaned closed behind them.
(c) 2007 Reprinted with permission of Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.
· top ·