The Heartbreak Kid
|By Alison Kent|
|Publisher||Harlequin Temptation #623|
|Release Month||Feb 1997 (US)|
Caution! High Voltage!
Electrician Sophie North felt as if she'd touched a live wire the first time she laid eyes on Tyler Barnes. That was to be expected, of course.
He had a heartbreaking grin, an incredible body and a thousand watts of cowboy charm. Half the women in Brody, Texas, were out to snag him. But Sophie was just passing through. And she'd sworn never to live her life at the mercy of her own passionate nature.
Nevertheless, every time Tyler came near her, her response was shocking. Which wasn't supposed to be happening.
Lightning was only supposed to strike once!
Sophie spun and walked in the opposite direction. A long two days, nothing. The next forty-eight hours loomed like an eternity. What was it about Tyler Barnes? Why now, when she was stranded in this tiny cabin in the middle of God's country, did she have to feel this strong physical attraction for a man?
By the time she'd rounded the love seat, she'd talked herself back into control. Tyler was standing upright with his shirttail back in place. Now, as long as they both remained controlled and upright forty-eight hours would be no problem.
Tossing the board game onto the cushions of the love seat, he grabbed up his discarded quilt and spread it on the floor. "I've decided on the ante."
This should be good. "And?"
"The winner gets to sleep in the bed. The loser gets stuck with the love seat."
"Tyler, I don't mind sleeping on the love seat. You take the bed." He was taller, broader, and she could always wash his smell out of the sheets later.
Hands at his black silk hips, he cocked one brow. "You give up so easy a guy could get the wrong idea."
Easy? He thought she was going to be easy? Not in this lifetime. "Just set up the board, Dr. Barnes. Let's see what fancy words they taught you in college."
He chuckled and reached for the game. "There's only one thing I love more than a woman's who's easy."
"A woman who makes me work for it," he said, and she couldn't even think to reply.
Cowboy reluctantly gave up his space near the fire and trotted off to the kitchen. Tyler arranged their playing area on the floor in front of the hearth. The firelight worked magic, highlighting strands of mahogany in the darker brown of his hair, casting shadows of his lashes down his cheeks, bathing the resilient skin of his throat in golden tones.
Sophie couldn't help but feel this one hadn't had to work for much of the female attention he'd received in his life. He was a West Texas fantasy waiting to be unwrapped--even if at the moment he was a little too unwrapped for her liking.
Once he'd settled cross-legged on one side of the game, she stepped back into the bedroom, grabbed up a faded floral blanket and tossed it in his lap. "I wouldn't want you to catch cold or anything."
He fingered the pink satin binding and raised his cocky gaze. "I won't need this once the competition heats up."
Sophie sighed. Sooner or later she'd grow inured to his overly confident grin. Or maybe not.
"Keep it." She sat across from Tyler, her back to the love seat, her legs outstretched, her soles flush against the stone hearth. "We'll use the heat from the competition to dry your jeans."
Tyler laughed then. The sound was huge and healthy and playful, and one hundred percent heartbreakingly male. Sophie crossed her ankles, curled her toes in her boots and fought the rising image of what lay underneath the faded floral blanket.
With much battling over the wooden squares, they both picked their letters then drew for position. Sophie won and went first. She studied her selection then laid six letters down to spell wiring.
Tyler frowned. "That was close. One more letter and I'd've had to demand a rematch. Or at least the best two out of three."
"And you thought I was going to be easy." Thank goodness she'd proved him wrong. And proved herself right. She drew out six more letters then added her points. "Rats. I didn't get a pencil or anything to keep score on."
"Hang on." Leaning back, Tyler plucked a pencil stub out of the foot locker and handed her the crumpled gold five hundred dollar bill. Then he spelled lips using the first I of her word.
She felt his gaze on her face as she studied the board and tallied their scores. Felt it still while she recorded the totals on the scrap of gold paper held against her thigh. Felt it even when she'd finished and had no reason not to look up.
So, she did. "What are you looking at?"
"You know, Sophie. When you get serious or, like now, when you're concentrating on what you're doing, you smash your lips together so tight it looks like you'd need a cattle prod to pry them apart."
"I do not," she said, deliberately relaxing her mouth. "And if you're trying to distract me it's not going to work." She showed him the numbers. "I'm already ahead by four points."
"And already as tight as a barbed wire fence. You're going to take all the fun out of game if you don't loosen up. C'mon. Enjoy the fire, the night." He wiggled both brows. "The company."
She rolled her eyes at yet another display of his ego. "Is that the type of sweet talk you used to draw your female opponents attention away from the poker games?"
"They paid attention. They knew exactly when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."
Sophie snorted and spelled siren. "If you marked the cards and they lost on purpose, what was the point of playing the game?"
Tyler took his time selecting his letters. Took even longer answering her question. Finally lifted his long lashes to reveal eyes of glittering green.
"It's called foreplay, Sophie, darlin'."
It was hard to respond with no heartbeat, no pulse, no intake of breath. "Why bother if a trip to this cabin had an obvious result?"
"Why bother?" He didn't try to hide his surprise. He merely shook his head and stretched out on his side, stirred the letters in the box top, moved his index finger in a maddeningly slow figure eight, around and back, around and back. "Don't you know anticipation makes the world go round?"
She set the pencil and paper aside and, feeling every one of her stiff, mechanical movements, got to her knees to punch up the fire. Sparks flew and smoke plumed and she welcomed the warmth on her face. The flush from the fire was acceptable, the heat of innuendo was not.
Nothing about this night was proceeding as planned, but then nothing in her experience had prepared her for Tyler Barnes. He was everything a man could be, everything she'd known she had the strength to resist.
She'd been wrong. He'd rocked her world and she wasn't sure how to slow the momentum.
Because she had to, she sat back and resumed both her scorekeeping position and her determination to keep things light. The first words out of Tyler's mouth blew her dwindling resolve.
"You're doing that thing with your lips again."
She slowly lifted her gaze, ready to recite Sophie's Rules, but the intent in his eyes turned her to warm willing mush.
He reached across and, using the pad of his thumb, separated the seam of her tightly held lips. "But I was wrong. It's not going to take a cattle prod after all."
Sophie didn't dare move, didn't dare lick her lips. He'd left a hint of his taste on her mouth. Resistance followed the wild need to swallow. She didn't want to know his flavor, to remember, to want it again.
Fighting the swelling in her throat, in her breasts, but mostly in her heart, she looked down to the board to see he'd spelled his next word. Neck.
Using his C to spell credit, she looked back to the fire. He'd touched her lips. Her lips, for goodness sake, and she'd heated up as if the flames were licking her skin instead of the logs burning red hot in the grate.
The response was unnerving, unsettling, and worlds removed from what she'd felt during the only serious romances she'd had in her life. Both relationships had been safe and had fizzled without fulfillment. But that helpless sense of failure was nothing compared to the frustration tearing at her now.
The physical response to Tyler burning through her body was erotic, carnal and empowering. It made it impossible to deny, and harder to admit, that her mother's passionate nature was also her own.
"Hey, scorekeeper. You're getting behind."
The pencil shook, but she managed to record the scores. Then, since it was her turn, she spelled edit. And Tyler slipped an E and an A between the ending T's of her last two words.
She could only blink. This time he'd stepped over the line.
Slowly, he shook his head. "Now, don't be going all prickly on me. I was a rancher long before I was a vet. The word teat's about as asexual as you can get."
He was right. Her obviously warped mind was making too much of it--a reaction easy enough to understand. The earlier talk about foreplay had her rattled.
Be honest, Sophie. It's the earlier demonstration of foreplay that has you rattled.
Using the eraser end of the stubby pencil, and using an incredible amount of forced calm, she pointed out his words on the board. "You seem overly obsessed with body parts tonight."
He gave a casual, one-shouldered shrug. "Some body parts deserve obsessing over."
"You mean one pair of lips aren't as good as another?"
"Hell, no. There are some I want to kiss and some I don't."
Ah, a discriminating wolf. She hadn't been witness to much discrimination in her life. It made her curious, dangerously so. "What is your criteria for separating . . ."
"The lips I want to kiss from the ones I don't?"
She nodded, knowing by the flush rising to her face that it was time to punch the fire again.
"They have to be giving. Accepting. And soft." He repeated his earlier gesture and rubbed her willingly parted lips with his thumb. And, when he moved his hand away, firelight glinted off the dampness she'd left on his skin.
"Most of all they have to taste sweet," he said and pressed the moisture to his mouth.
Sophie looked down at the board because she didn't trust herself to look at his thumb. Or his mouth. Or his eyes. With a pit of heat in her belly, she spelled her next word. Barn. He spelled his. Rib. She tallied the scores, her gaze drifting back to the second body part word he'd constructed.
She touched her pencil tip to the N the E the C and the K before bravely--or was it foolishly?--glancing up. "How do you feel about . . ."
"Necks?" he finished for her. Raising up to his hip, he braced his weight on an elbow, drew up one knee and tugged at the pink satin binding of the blanket that had almost slipped to the floor. "Necks are as individual as their owners. For a long time my favorite was dusted with red freckles. Then I liked one that was long and soft as new down.
"But I also like feminine strength. Especially when it's been touched by the sun."
She waited for him to caress the sun-touched strength of her feminine neck, to draw her closer and test the sweet giving softness he'd found on her lips. But he turned his gaze to the board.
She looked down and found the presence of mind to spell ewe.
"Another livestock word?"
Exhaling slowly, she said, "Yeah, a livestock word that just put me way ahead with a double word score."
"Then let's see if I can make use of this triple word square over here. I don't intend to give up my mattress rights so easily."
And while she watched, while the words foreplay and anticipation ran through her mind, while the fire warmed her face and her body hummed with expectant energy, Tyler spelled the word belly.
She barely consoled herself with the fact that he only got the double word score. Belly was a body part she didn't want to hear him talk about--especially with the ache building low and deep in hers.
Turning her full attention back to the game, she stupidly spelled the word girl on belly's second L.
She knew he was waiting, watched his eyes drift from hers to the words they'd spelled and back. She swallowed hard, took in more of his taste and decided that anticipation frightened her more than her mother's blood.
The pause between those two words added an incredible intimacy. He ran his finger over the letters that spelled belly. Then he ran his finger over the letters that spelled girl. "Isn't there something you want to ask me?"
Sophie felt her girl belly quicken and heat. She licked her lips, parted them and wisely answered, "Did you know it's your turn?"
"That wasn't what I was waiting to hear," he said and slowly, one wooden letter at a time, used the final E of her word ewe and built the word seduce.
"No two bellies are alike. Some lay flat, afraid to grow up. Others are gently rounded, a woman's cradle for a man's stomach."
Sophie followed Tyler's gaze and found her palm pressed low on her jeans. She lifted her hand, studied her letters and, heart beating furiously, spelled the word refuse.
Tyler responded by spelling the word why. She didn't even think to object when he used an overturned M for the W.
"I've had a lot of good times in this cabin. But I don't think anything can compare to what's happening tonight."
Hyperventilation was but a breath away. She quickly searched her letters and spelled the word won't.
Tyler's smile faded momentarily, but then he took two letters, laid them on the board and spelled the word yes right on top of another word.
Sophie strained to draw breath to speak. "You can't put a word there."
"I can put anything anywhere I want to." And then he crawled across the board and took her down to the floor on top of her pencil and the crumpled gold bill.