Diamonds aren't always a girl's best friend. KISS ME SLOWLY takes center stage on Tingle Thursday with a heart pounding excerpt! Check it out.
“Stop touching me.” She slapped his hands away, eyes snapping with fire. “My life was complicated enough, Jon Ryan. I didn’t need you making it worse. Damn you.”
“You had to follow the guy, didn’t you?” Rage at the situation at large zeroed in on her. “For being a so-called genius, that was an idiot move.”
She punched him in the shoulder. “Who is this guy? Why is he shooting at us?
Pain ripped through his left arm and burned down his back. Sharp, burning pain. “If I knew the guy, I’d kick his ass. Stop hitting me.”
She held her fist up to her face and studied the blood that stained her fingers. “You’ve been shot,” she repeated several times before lifting her gaze to his. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were shot?”
“I didn’t know.” He rested the back of his head against the stilt in the shadows of the lifeguard stand. He needed clarity. This entire situation had escalated far beyond his scope of comprehension. None of it made sense.
“How do you not know that you’ve been shot?” She rubbed the blood from her hand over the front of his shirt while looking down the beach and toward the shadows with extra-wide eyes. “I lost my slippers. They’ll look weird on the beach, won’t they? Not many people live on this block, especially not so close. The police will make the connection.” Eyes overly wide and chest heaving beneath the thin cotton material, she pressed her hand against his arm and stared up at him. “Jonathan, we’re out of time.”
Coldness seeped through his bones. Someone had shot him, but he knew instinctively that Grace had been the target. She had the ability to prove his innocence. Someone wanted her out of the picture.
“We’ll circle around back to the office. I’ll call Simon. He can stitch you up.” He could see her mind clicking away behind the fire of her eyes. “Police are the last thing we need right now.”
“Of course. Why in the hell would I want the police at a time like this?” He smacked the stilt behind her head with his right hand. “I’d bet a million dollars that you were his target, not me.”
“No one knows I’m involved with this.” She peeked out from beneath the lifeguard stand.
“Whether you recognize it or not, you and Jerry must have stumbled upon something that could save me. That’s why you’re the target. You got too close.” He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look at him. “Listen to me. This is not a game. A lot of money is at stake. Greed motivates killers every day.”
“Killers?” She blinked at him through the dark. “I hear you, but if we go to the police, then we lose what valuable time we have left. I’ll need to turn what I have over to them and I’m not ready. You’ll be on the news again, this time as someone involved in a shooting.” Her hands gripped the front of his shirt. “I need tonight. Simon can look at your shoulder. He’s a former paramedic. Trust me for one more night, Jonathan.”
Looking at the fear in her eyes, he wondered when he had become a desperate man in need of saving. Heartbeat drummed in his throat.
She stepped away from him and peered into the darkness. “We need to get back to my office. For all we know this is a distraction and he’s in there right now.”
More confused and angry than before, he nodded his reluctant agreement. “And if we find him what are we going to do since the police are out of the question? Hit him with a stapler?”
Unbelievably, she smiled up at him. “We had better move fast. I hear sirens.”
When lights flashed onto the beach, she pulled him toward an alley that wound behind a closed dive shop. Sweat dripped into his eyes. Tremors rippled through his entire body. Once they reached the street, he pulled her back against his chest. He could feel her heart beat racing beneath the thin cotton of her dress and the fall of her breasts against his thumbs.
“Move slow. Don’t draw attention to us,” he whispered against the top of her head.
Two police cars, an ambulance, and a large crowd of onlookers had gathered within minutes. Weaving through the crowd, they managed to slip inside her office unnoticed.
Or at least he hoped they hadn’t been noticed. No sign of his ugly tourist who wasn’t a tourist.
“See if anything has been taken.” He pushed her toward the hall as he locked the front door. “What’s your alarm code?”
She paused at the door of her office and met his gaze down the hallway. Blood from his shoulder had stained one strap of her dress, the skin of her shoulder and the tips of her hair. Sea-green eyes grew stormy as she looked from him to the alarm box to the gathering crowd outside.
“C’mon, Grace, you can change the code tomorrow. We’re in this together now whether we like it or not. We made a choice out there. You need to trust me as much as I trust you.” His finger trembled above the alarm box. He couldn’t believe he had been shot. He couldn’t believe any of this was happening.
“Three-four-six-eight,” she said before disappearing into her private office.
He punched in the numbers before turning off the lights in the front office and lobby. He walked along the hallway, senses on high alert, gaze scanning all spaces for anyone hiding, and turned off every light in his path.
“I locked the doors. Everything looks just like it did when we left.” She grabbed his right arm. “Let’s go upstairs. We need to see how badly you’re hurt.”
Red lights bounced through the darkened office space. The reality of this moment rooted him in place. By not going outside to the police, by not letting the ambulance treat his wound, they were both making a decision.
“Let me go, Grace,” he whispered as more sirens sounded outside. By now he was certain they had found traces of blood in the sand, found her slippers, were searching for them. “No one will ever know about your involvement. I swear. I won’t expect you or Jerry to come forward with what you’ve found. Just get out of town. Forget about me, about this. Go.”
The lights reflected in her eyes. “The evidence…you’ll be arrested.”
“Probably.” He tried to smile but the effort simply was too much. “Let me go. I am sorry…for everything. Past and present. Forget you ever saw me again, Crazy Gracie. Protect yourself.”
“Stop being stupid.” Her hold on his arm tightened. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Running from the police makes us look like we have something to hide.”
“We do have something to hide,” she muttered, her gaze drifted over his shoulder toward the front windows. “We’re in this together now, Jon Ryan. Decision has been made.”
He pulled at the stickiness of his shirt and grimaced at the blood that had trickled to his fist. He noticed then that he had dripped blood on her floor, bloody fingerprints on her alarm box. “Damn it, Grace. I’m bleeding all over the place. I have probably left a blood trail a mile wide that leads directly to your front door.”
“Upstairs.” Her fingers curled through his and pulled him toward her apartment. “Sit.” She shoved him down on the edge of her bed. Sitting beside him, she ran trembling fingers across his shoulder. “Does it hurt?”
“I don’t know, maybe, yes,” he said with complete honesty. Shock pumped adrenaline through his veins.
Frowning, she grabbed her cell phone and ran to the kitchen. He heard her talking first to Simon and then to Jerry before returning with a glass of water that she shoved into his hand. “Drink this, stay hydrated.”
“I’d prefer whiskey.” He drank the water, but couldn’t take his gaze from the blood that stained her. His blood on her. “Dead or jail by Monday. I knew it.”
“You’re not dying.” She tugged his T-shirt over his head. Her eyes snapped with an inner fire that hypnotized him. “If you’re going to be teamed up with me, I need you to fake some optimism.”
Regret washed over him for the things he had never said, for not following through with their plans, for not being the man she had expected him to be, for years of wasting time with if-onlys. Bad timing for regret.
“Bloody mess,” she whispered.
He glanced at the blood dripping down his chest and used his fingers to find the bullet wound that had taken a good chunk out of the top of his left shoulder. He finished the water and carefully set the glass aside while avoiding looking at her face.
Her hands were on him, too, examining his shoulder. When she leaned across him, her breasts brushed against his face. Perfectly round and tan, barely concealed by the plunging green fabric.
God, what he wouldn’t give for a taste. God, what he would give for an ounce of his sanity to return. No time for this kind of thinking. No time.
“Just a graze. You’ll live,” she said. “I have bandages. Simon will be here soon.” She moved like a flash of lightning between the bed and the bathroom. She returned with hands juggling a washcloth and a first-aid kit.
“This will have to do until Simon arrives.” Pressing between his legs, she smoothed the washcloth over his shoulder, chest, arm and back with a tenderness that broke his heart. “You saved my life. You took a bullet that was meant for me. You said it yourself. I was the target.”
“I’m no one’s hero, Grace,” he whispered. “You know that better than anyone, don’t you?”
“You’re not exactly the scrawny teenager I remember, sailor boy.” Her fingers traced down his bare chest, face alive with curiosity. “I keep trying to hate you but end up…not.”
“You have blood on your dress.” He fingered the strap in question that had slipped off her shoulder. “You should probably take it off.”
“Careful. We can’t go there.” Sand clung to her neck and stuck to the tangles in her hair. The light from the bedside lamp shadowed her face.
“I meant change out of it, not…well, maybe I meant take it off. But then we’d be crossing lines that you don’t want to cross.” He let his fingers trail down her arm. “That would be wrong. Terribly wrong.”
“You are nothing but trouble.”
“You always liked trouble.” He rested his right palm against the bed, supporting his weight on his healthy arm.
“Listen carefully to me.” She pressed her finger against his lips. “I’m high on adrenaline, we’re alone, no witnesses, no regrets. One kiss won’t hurt anyone.”
“No witnesses, no regrets…” Heat flooded his veins. “Adrenaline…”
“If I don’t do this now, I’ll hate myself in the morning.”
“You mean you’ll regret it when they lock me up in the morning and throw away the key because you didn’t kiss me one last time?”
“Exactly.” She straddled his lap.
“You weren’t supposed to agree.” He smiled despite the circumstances.
“Shut up, sailor boy. Kiss me.”
She kissed him as if savoring the taste. Her hair fell forward, locking them in a caramel-colored veil of intimacy. Eyes open, they stared at each other as their lips moved against each other’s.
His hands slid up her long thighs, over her panties and pressed against the smoothness of her back. Every stroke of her lips against his awakened pure need in his veins. He no longer cared about what was right or wrong. All he wanted was her mouth on his, his hands on her body and her skin against his.
With a quick yank, she pulled her dress over her head. Breasts bared, she pressed him down on the bed and laughed against his mouth. “This is crossing all kinds of boundaries and breaking every rule I can think of.”
“Just like the old days.” He smiled against her lips. His hands moved over her bared breasts. The pain in his shoulder failed to slow him down. He didn’t know who groaned or if they both did, but the sensation of her flesh filling his palms trumped common sense.
Her bare foot slid over his leg, hands curled into his hair, and body flattened against his. All the anger, the terror and confusion poured from him as he deepened the kiss with an urgency that bordered on desperation. The silky warmth of her mouth erased his pain. Kissing her felt like coming home from an exhausting, lonely journey.
“A kiss…that’s all I wanted,” she muttered against his chin. A shiver quaked through her body when she sighed.
“I want more.”
“Impossible. We can’t.”
“We can do whatever the hell we want, Grace.” Despite the burning pain in his left shoulder, he maneuvered so that his body covered hers. He wanted more than a kiss. He wanted more heat.
“Jonathan…” Caution drummed beneath her tone but her eyes snapped with desire. “We can’t. Too dangerous. We can’t get distracted. Things are complicated enough.”
He dropped his forehead against hers and cursed timing. Her breasts flattened against his bare chest. Skin on skin. Blood on her flesh. Pain in his shoulder.
“I know you’re right, but…I can’t help but want more than a kiss.”
“It’s adrenaline talking. Shock.” She fisted her hands in his hair and held him close. “That’s it. Nothing more.”
“Adrenaline, huh? That’s your theory?” His lips moved over her neck. He felt her squirm, felt her legs part, felt her hips arching toward his. She wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Her hands moved over his back before fisting in his hair and pulling his face away from her skin. “Jonathan…please…stop.”
He curved his hand over the side of her face. Separated by a mere inch and a few pieces of clothing, he wanted more than anything to be inside of her. This close, alone, in the dark, he couldn’t help but remember what it had been like for them as two fumbling teenagers who had felt like immortals.
“And it has nothing to do with the mess you’re in,” she continued as his thumb caressed her cheekbone. “Our story ended over a decade ago. You wrote the ending, remember?”
He kissed her swollen lips as slowly as she had first kissed him. Tenderly. Eyes wide open. He knew she was right. A wall existed around her that he knew he could not break through, not with the limited time they had left.
She pushed against his chest until he rolled from her and stared at the ceiling. Only their breathing could be heard in the loft.
“I have never believed in coincidence,” she whispered. “Someone had to know our history to put my card on your desk. Someone wanted you to come to me. We’re both being set up.”
“No one knew about us. We were too young, haven’t kept in contact. Impossible.” He turned his head and looked at her profile. “Your firm has a reputation for getting to the truth, for being ruthless, for being detached.”
“Exactly.” She turned her head and met his gaze. “We always find the truth. Maybe we were supposed to be the final blow, the ones who turned you in…yet we’re not. Maybe we ended up being a wild card.”
That made more sense than he wanted it to make. His gaze moved from her profile over her bare breasts. With a hard swallow, he forced himself to sit. No longer distracted, he became conscious of the throbbing in his shoulder.
“How did your mother die?” she asked.
“What?” Thoughts jumbled from kissing, touching, theories…now to his mother. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
“How did she die?” She also sat and looked at him through the dark.
“A car accident.” Cold slid over him like an ice storm. “You can’t possibly think…”
“Who hates you, Jon?”
“Damn, you switch gears faster than I can keep up.” He had spent two years sailing halfway around the world and minding his own business. No one had any reason to hate him. He stared at his feet and let his mind run through the possible scenarios that had led him to be sitting in this loft with this woman.
“This isn’t about me,” he whispered, not entirely convinced. “It’s not personal. As for your firm, your reputation speaks for itself.”
“It’s personal. Someone hates you specifically.” She joined him at the edge of the bed, head down and hands gripping the comforter. “I have a hunch that this is worse than you can even imagine.”
“A hunch?” He looked at her bare feet resting next to his on the hardwood floor. “From what I remember, your hunches were usually right. And you have a hunch about my mother’s car accident? Is that what you want to say but aren’t? Someone murdered my mother to get me back in the States? That is insane.”
Her fingers stirred against his without linking. “Jon, don’t let my hunches distract you from the facts. If you know—”
“Her car went off a bridge during a thunderstorm.” He closed his eyes, unable to bear the thought that his mother had been murdered. “Grace…I need to walk out the door and never look back. You need to turn whatever you have over to the authorities and forget the past twenty-four hours. I have a team of lawyers who need to earn their fat retainers.”
He stood abruptly and reached for his discarded shirt. Pain ripped through his left shoulder. To hell with it.
She kicked his bloody shirt out of reach. “You are not wearing a bloody shirt out of here. I have something of Alejandro’s or Jerry usually keeps a change of clothes in his office.”
“Enough, Grace.” He grabbed her elbow and forced her to look at him. Damn, what he wouldn’t give for their lives to have turned out differently. “Let it be.”
“If you were any other client, I would let it go.” Her half-smile and her near nakedness twisted his heart into knots. “You have the two best forensic accountants in Miami working for you who happen to have personal experience with innocent men being framed. Jerry and I won’t let that happen to you.”
“It is very hard for me to concentrate with you standing in front of me nearly naked and talking about forensic accounting.”
“Just don’t go.” She pulled free of his touch and backed toward the bathroom door. “And not because of the kiss or because we used to hook up when we were teenagers, but because I know that you are innocent and I intend to prove it.”
“How do you know that? You’ve had your doubts since last night at my office.”
“Go down to Jerry’s office, it’s the one next to mine.” She pointed at him. “Do not leave. I just need one minute to get myself together. Promise me that you will not leave.”
“I promise I will not leave.” He grinned despite the throbbing burn in his left shoulder, the headache growing behind his eyes, and the ache in his chest that had more to do with regret than anything else. “Mind if I help myself to another drink?”
“Help yourself.” She walked into the bathroom. “Jerry and Simon will be here any minute.”
He indulged in staring at the bright pink panties covering that tight ass he had had squeezed minutes ago and those legs that he wished were wrapped around him rather than walking away.
For a minute, their gaze connected in the reflection. He wondered who had put that business card on his desk and what their intention had been. He wondered if whoever had done it had wanted to steer him toward redemption or condemnation.
VIDEO BOOK TRAILER:
Trapped in a set-up that could have him in jail or dead by Monday, Jonathan Alexander trusts no one in his inner circle. It’s Saturday. His only hope is Grace Dupont, the best forensic accountant in Miami. But there’s a glitch with that idea. She’s also his ex-girlfriend who'd rather watch him drown than throw him a life vest. Going to her feels desperate…because he is.
Grace enjoys seeing Jonathan squirm. On your knees boy, she thinks as he pitches for her help. Always a sucker for the dark-haired-blue-eyed boys, she risks her precariously balanced life of secrets to help him. Helping him slaps a target on her back–she’s the key to proving his innocence and that’s a bad, bad thing.
Tangled up in a whirlwind of conspiracy, murder, million dollar money trails and diamond smuggling, Jonathan and Grace flee to the sea to stall for time to prove his innocence. Romance sizzles beneath Florida Keys’ sunshine. Both scoff at happy endings. Both doubt justice. Both know each kiss could be their last.
VIDEO BOOK TRAILER: