Excerpt from Where He Belongs
"But how will you make the payments?" Wade asked her. "You're dead broke as it is."
Good question. "I can tutor more students."
"The hell you can. You're already exhausted."
"I'm fine. Things aren't as dire as you think." They were worse. Far worse. The sick churning in her stomach grew.
Wade's sharp gaze pinned hers. Silence stretched between them and Erin nibbled her lower lip. She hated lying, especially to Wade. But she couldn't risk telling the truth.
"Lottie looked upset this afternoon," he said slowly.
Her pulse hitched. "I'm sure she was. Norm's death hit us hard."
"She seemed relieved that I was here."
Uneasiness seeped through her belly. "Lottie tends to overreact. I wouldn't pay any attention."
He leaned back, his gaze still riveting hers, and crossed his muscled arms. His black T-shirt stretched across his broad shoulders. For several seconds, he didn't speak.
"You remember when I threw that snowball at the school and broke the window?" he finally asked.
She blinked at the change of topic. "Sure, in the fifth grade."
"And you swore to Mr. Patton that I didn't do it."
"I said I didn't see you do it, which was technically true since I'd bent down to tie my shoe."
His eyes narrowed. "And then there was that time in, what was it, seventh grade? When you insisted I hadn't pulled the fire alarm?"
"You would have been suspended."
"I didn't care."
"Well, I did." She frowned. "So what's your point? That I lie a lot?"
"No, just the opposite. You're way too honest. So it's easy to tell when you're lying."
"Yeah." He leaned forward. His gaze drilled into hers. "Every time you lie, you bite your bottom lip."
She snapped her mouth closed. The blasted man knew her too well. She rose and walked to the sink.
Wade's chair scraped back and suddenly he loomed beside her, his dark eyes far too astute. "So, you care to add anything to that list?"
"There's nothing else to add." She moved to the stove to check the timer.
"How about the truth?"
"I already gave it to you." Her stomach knotting, she grabbed the hot pads and opened the oven. She pulled out her chocolate chip cookies and transferred them to the cooling rack, carefully avoiding his eyes.
Praying he'd let the subject drop, she refilled the cookie sheet, then braved a glance in his direction. He leaned against the counter, his arms crossed. Frustration brewed in his eyes.
"Look," he said. "I'm not the enemy here. I'm only trying to help you."
"I know." And she was protecting him.
"You might as well tell me the truth. I'm not going to let this go."
She knew that, too. But he couldn't force her to talk. "Don't eat too many of these cookies," she warned. "They're for the Fire and Rescue bake sale."
"Hell." Scowling ominously now, he braced his hands on his hips. "That's another thing that bugs me. You work too hard around here. From what I heard at that reception today, you volunteer for everything."
"So?" She slid the cookie sheet into the oven and reset the timer.
"So you're exhausted. You're thin and pale, and you've got circles under your eyes."
"I'll survive." She set the hot pads on the counter. "Besides, I like doing my part in the community."
"Yours and everyone else's."
"I don't do that much."
"No? Let's see what you're doing this month." He held up his hand to count. "First there's the high school Bonanza and this bake sale for the Rescue Squad. Then there's the Thanksgiving food drive, the Christmas toy drive, some fund-raiser for the battered women's shelter--"
"Okay, fine. So I do too much. But I can't let everyone down."
"Why not? I didn't hear anyone at that reception offering to help you back."
"Because they need me. And I'd feel terrible saying no." An edgy, panicked feeling crept through her gut, but she firmly pushed it aside. She didn't need to turn anyone down. She could handle these projects fine.
"And I don't care if they help me or not," she added. "I'm not keeping score."
"Well, maybe you should start." His heated gaze held hers. "When do you have time for fun?"
"Yeah, fun. You know, after you've worked and volunteered, and taken care of your grandmother?"
"You do remember what fun is?"
Oh, yes. Her gaze dropped to his mouth. Kissing Wade had been fun. Thrilling.
And she would love to do it again. She licked her lips, then swallowed hard.
She dragged her gaze back to his. His brown eyes narrowed and darkened. Tension rolled off his body. And he stood perfectly still.
Her pulse leaped with an answering hunger. She wanted to kiss him again, to feel that excitement, that heat rushing through her. That wild desire sizzling her blood.
Somehow, he'd moved closer. Much closer. Her heart hammered when his breath fanned her face. "Was kissing me fun?" he asked, his voice low.
A thrill ran through her. She tried to speak, but failed.
He reached out and cupped her neck, sliding his rough, warm hand down her skin. She shivered at the sparks coursing through her.
His eyes were hard now, dangerous, and she couldn't look away. He grasped her arms and urged her closer. Her heart rioted in her chest.
"Tell me, Erin," he rasped again. "Just how much fun was it?"
She parted her lips, but nothing came out. She dropped her gaze to his mouth, then lifted it helplessly back to his eyes. She felt his intensity, his heat. Her knees grew suddenly weak.
And then he lowered his head and his lips covered hers, hard and warm and seeking. With a moan, she wrapped her arms around his strong neck and surrendered to her desire.
Lord, how she'd ached for this man. She'd longed for him, yearned for him. She'd wanted to touch him and stroke him forever.
She caressed the rough, sexy stubble of his jaw and threaded her hand through his hair. She explored the hard width of his shoulders, marveling at his raw strength.
His tongue stroked her lips, demanding acceptance. She opened gladly, welcoming the sensual invasion. He made a low, deep sound in his throat and sharp pleasure shocked her to her toes.
And she tried to get even closer. She tightened her hold on his neck. His hands roamed her back, her buttocks, sending shivers of pleasure shooting through her. He lifted her slightly and pressed her against his arousal. Heat coiled between her legs, desire so fierce that she moaned.
She wanted him to touch her. Desperately. All over her naked body. To yank off their clothes and absorb him into her skin.
To relive, for one blissful moment, that ecstasy she'd known years ago.
But without warning, he lifted his head. Bereft, she opened her eyes. Her heart thundered. Her head spun. Their breathing rasped loud in the silence.
His gaze burned into hers, almost angry in its intensity. "This doesn't solve a damn thing," he said. He pulled her arms from his neck and stepped back.
Suddenly dizzy, she clutched the counter for balance. Her mind blank, her body throbbing, she watched him cross the kitchen.
At the doorway, he stopped, turned and nailed her with his gaze. "And when we make love," he said, his voice raw, "it's going to be a hell of a lot more than just fun."
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Copyright 2005 by Gail Ellen Barrett. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.