He’s all grown up. She doesn’t stand a chance…
After waving goodbye to her boys for their adventures at sleepaway camp, single mom Carrie Nelson is tempted to do nothing but lay out by the pool and cry—until she comes face-to-face with her neighbors’ grandson. All grown up and oh-so hot, he tempts her to see beyond their age difference and put herself into his very capable hands.
Warning: the hero has a PhD in Swoon. This erotic romance includes two naughty neighbors who tempt each other to ignore all the reasons they shouldn’t…and get lost in all the ways they should.
Release Date: August 31, 2015
Jason Nelson was at the heart of every single one of her bad days.
When they’d met years ago at a drinks party celebrating her parents’ silver anniversary, Carrie had entered his name into her cell as Trouble.
And he’d been trouble—a big guy with a bigger personality wrapped up in a designer suit, slightly graying hair, and a wink she could feel all the way down to her panties.
Shoulda entered him as Your Biggest Mistake. Save Yourself the Heartache. Do Not Answer.
Except, if she’d done that, then she wouldn’t have her boys, and, even on the baddest of her bad days, she was grateful for them. Even if they looked like their father, the troublemaker.
If only she didn’t have to grin and bear it when Jason came around—always infrequently and always disruptively. But grin and bear it she did—today, from the front steps of her house as the boys helped Jason load up their gear in the back of his late-model SUV. She was the perfect mommy this Sunday morning, if you overlooked the fact she’d overslept and Jason had been early (a terrible shock!) so she was standing on the porch in her ratty old-lady robe with crazy hair.
When Kyle accidentally banged his lacrosse stick against the back bumper, Carrie winced, and said a little prayer her ex hadn’t noticed. Her sweet, klutzy Kyle bore the brunt of his dad’s notice, while his twin Carson, so much like their athletically gifted father, skated by on nothing but praise from the paternal quarter.
Flipbuckets, it was hard being a mom. And even harder standing on the porch step watching her boys pack up to be gone for three weeks. Three weeks! It was too long for boys their age to be at sleepaway camp. They were still so little! They needed day camps and afternoons in the pool and kisses on the forehead at bedtime, but Jason had insisted the summer they turned seven that they’d be in the same bunkhouse he’d been in.
He’d also insisted he be the one to drop them off, which was maybe for the best. If Carrie was on her turf, she could probably keep it together long enough to not let them see her cry. If she had to be the one to drive away…
You will keep it together, she told herself, even if you have to maim yourself digging nails into sweaty palms to accomplish it.
Carrie let her gaze drift over the stillness of their street. It was far too late for the exercise crowd to be out, the temperatures already muggy and oppressive, and all the churchgoers were already resting uncomfortably, butts in pews. No one about to witness her utter heartbreak. No, she’d keep it together long enough for one final squish of the boys and a cheerful sendoff.
She waved every now and then, gave a thumbs-up, and ventured a “looking good,” knowing full well her help would only be perceived as interference. And she did her best to keep her boys blissfully unaware of the spiky undercurrents between their parents. Or as much as possible, she mused as she sipped on her coffee. Kids always knew.
Kyle dropped the end of the footlocker he was manfully trying to bear the weight of, and he looked over to her, panicked. She took a step but got tangled in Barkley’s leash, sloshing a little coffee on her feet.
“Dammit, kid, you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing!”
Kid. It burned even hotter than the coffee that had seared her foot. It sounded so nasty to her ears. And it was nasty. Kyle had a name.
When Jason heaved the trunk into the cargo area and turned to tell the boys to get in the car and buckle up, she took the chance to blow them a kiss. They’d said their big goodbyes last night, and she’d stood outside their room listening to their giggles—and a few tearful confessions—until after nine, soaking it all in.
It was going to be so quiet without them.
She hated summers.
Jason sauntered up the path like he owned the damn place. Which he did not. Carrie had bought this sweet little house after the divorce was final. The boys had had their first birthday here, and she’d grown up right alongside of them, fighting for every moment of peace and happiness.
He all but pissed on the crepe myrtles that flanked her front porch, his swagger was so aggressively caveman. It flew all over her that his lazy-hipped walk could stir up so much emotion within her. She’d be damned if Jason Nelson took even a second of that peace from her again.
Well, piddle, she’d have to add a dollar to the swear jar, even though she’d only thought damn, not said it. Rules were rules, though.
And the one time she’d broken them? Trouble. That was what happened when a girl got mixed up with a smooth-talking stranger who promised the stars but handed over a bunch of dirty rocks and lost interest.
The boys are watching, she reminded herself, and straightened to her full height. Pasted on a big smile.
It wasn’t much help, especially since she was draped in her ratty chenille robe. It was short and blue—with mother-flipping stars on it—but she’d had it since college and loved its comfort. She’d meant to be dressed for the day when Jason arrived. Showered, coiffed, and wearing something that made her look like a woman and not a mother. For her sake. Not for his.
He propped a foot up on the stair, barely missing her bare, coffee-sticky foot. Barkley, the traitor, strained and whined to get closer to Jason. Like the boys, she’d gotten full custody of the old mutt, and the fact a man could give up on the dog he’d had for years—
“Now, don’t tell me you’re just going to piddle around the house and weep while the boys are gone.”
He fiddled with the end of the tie on her robe. That, coupled with his smarmy I’ve got your number good ol’ boy tone, would be enough for her to verbally eviscerate him. But with the boys watching from the truck…
She shut him down with a cold smile—the kids couldn’t see her eyes from the curb—and stood her ground. No way would Carrie back up with him holding on to her belt. She’d stopped backing up for him years ago and she damn sure wouldn’t start now.
Fuck, swear jar. Argh! Double fuck.
She might as well throw in a twenty for the day and call it even.
“Oh, I’ve got a few things to keep me busy. The camp has my cell on file; they can reach me anytime. Safe travels.” Carrie arched a brow, and he dropped the frayed chenille.
The air between them glittered with words unspoken. It had been seven years; shouldn’t it be easier to achieve the unruffled I could give a flip—
The sound of a car door slamming from across the street caught their attention.
Kevin Clarke jogged around the front end of his car and went to help Mrs. Atchison out the passenger-side door. She stepped out in a swath of retina-defying pink, and it was only a matter of time before the smell of L’Air du Temps would permeate the neighborhood. Poor Kevin, trapped in a closed space with her. Good thing the drive to church was short.
He was sweet for taking her, for keeping up the routine when his grandparents were out of the country for the summer.
“The neighbor’s boy? Really, Carrie, could you be more of a cliché?”
Her head snapped back as if she’d been on a tight leash and jerked back. But before she could respond, he was bending to give Barkley an absentminded pat then turning to stroll down the walkway without a by-your-leave.
A cliché? What on earth about her was—
The sound of his car door slamming shut startled her, and she moved forward, but he pulled away from the curb without a pause.
No. That wasn’t… he wasn’t…
He’d left before she could say goodbye to the boys!
There was a crash, a tightening somewhere around her ankle, and the air began to swirl.
She couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t—
And then Kevin Clarke was there, running blunt fingertips over her forehead, her neck, her arms.
Her bare legs?
“What are you—” Why couldn’t she focus? And why did it feel like she was talking around a mouthful of marbles?
“Wait a minute, baby, don’t move. I’ve got you.”
His voice was low, and overwhelmingly intimate, and, for a moment, Carrie thought she must be imagining it, because he hadn’t moved his lips. And she’d been watching his mouth, his whole face, really, contort in wildly expressive ways: a grimace that pulled his cheeks back, the way he trapped his bottom lip with his teeth while he winced, and the soft, pouty O they made when he made a sweet shushing sound.
“Shhhhh-shhh-shhh-shhhhhh. Careful. I’ve got you now.”
He was helping her sit up. Why was she on the ground? In a languid ballet, he extricated the leash from around her ankle, dabbed ineffectually at the spilled coffee, and brushed shards of hand-painted ceramic away from her.
She picked up a piece. White with bright blue splotches. Why was the mug Kyle had made her for Mother’s Day this year in pieces?
The soft-focus curtain around her lifted at that thought; it rent, sharp and searing, and oh, God, she hurt everywhere.
The fuzzy head, the throbbing ankle, and the ears that were ringing? Those aches were nothing compared to that void in her chest. It was all too much.
Carrie knew her crying was freaking Kevin out. Could tell he was at a loss with how to handle an inconsolable woman. She was at a loss how to handle herself, too, but stopping the floodgates at this point just wasn’t possible. She needed to get up, get out of here—needed to pull herself together, and oh God, was that blood on her nightgown?
“I don’t think you broke anything. Are you hurt worse than I thought?” He ran his hands back through her hair, massaging her scalp with delicate circles, and she lifted her face to him like he was the sun, radiating warmth and life. “What can I do?”
A thousand thoughts blitzed through that same skull he cradled so tenderly. Most magnificently inappropriate. “Help me up.”
There, that one sounded legit.
She was mortified by the way he hauled her to her feet, like she was incapable of performing the simplest of actions, but when the dizzies hit high and hard, she couldn’t tell if they were from standing up too fast or the feel of his bare, muscled forearms under her fingertips.
Carrie just stood there, fixated on the feel of him beneath her hands, on the hard, ropy muscles that flexed beneath her. And the difference between her pale fingers and the smooth, honey glow of his skin.
The arm that wrapped around her waist sitting just below her breasts.
Holy flipballs, when had Kevin Clarke turned into such a hunk?
He’d been, what, a lanky high school junior when she’d moved in. Or had he been a senior? She couldn’t remember—and it did not really matter—she’d been in full-scale lactating-first-time-single-mother-of-twins mode when she’d moved in. Memories of that year were nothing more than a smudge on the calendar of her life, punctuated by the sweetest joys and the agonies of bone-deep exhaustion. All she could retrieve from her memory bank was the impression of being profoundly grateful when his grandfather voluntold him to mow her yard.
And now… Now he was, well, she didn’t know what he was, but he was not that lanky kid who’d mowed her lawn for a year, the one who featured prominently in Miss Nelda’s stories of boyhood shenanigans. Now, he was a man in pressed navy slacks and a blue Oxford shirt—sleeves rolled up—with a very grownup expression on his face.
An expression that somehow permeated all the layers of her fuzzy mind and body until some synapse fired and made her consciously remove her hands from him and tighten the belt of her robe.
“I’m okay. Thanks, Kevin.”
Even saying his name was an out-of-body experience. He was Kev—Nelda and Bob’s only grandson. But he wasn’t. He was this blue-eyed menace standing in front of her with a layer of thick stubble, and a jaw line like granite, and an off-center cleft in his chin that should’ve ruined everything about his face but only seemed to draw attention to the soft fullness of his bottom lip.
“You sure?” He wet that lip, and she felt the echo of it zinging straight down to her pelvis.
No, she was not sure she was okay, she was fantasizing about his mouth, but how did you explain to a virtual stranger that something in the spill you’d taken on your front porch had somehow changed all the hardwiring in your body so that now all you could think about was wondering what those lips would feel like all over your body?
You couldn’t, she reasoned with herself, especially when she was naked under her robe (okay, and her gown), and standing on the porch on wobbly legs with bed head and coffee breath while her babies had been spirited away for almost a month.
That last should have zapped her out of the sensual spell he somehow wove over her just by looking in her direction. But it didn’t. It just seemed like permission. The boys will be gone. No one will know. Give Kevin the code to the back gate. The Clarkes are out of town. Nobody will know. Do it. Dooooo it.
“Here, let me see you inside,” he continued when she just kept standing there staring at him, thinking wildly inappropriate thoughts.
“No, this really isn’t a good time, Kevin.” She was about half a second away from having a total nervous breakdown—whether from unspent lust or the pain that was starting to work its way up from her ankle, she wasn’t sure.
“Nope. No can do, Ms. Nelson.” He drawled out the Ms. so it sounded like Mizzz, and she was so distracted by his mouth shaping the words that she didn’t object to him not calling her Carrie.
“I’m not a doctor, don’t even play one on TV.” He grinned and she felt dizzy again. “But all my lawyering has taught me you can never be too careful with bumps to the head.”
She took an involuntary step back and hellfire shot up her leg. “You’re an attorney?” It wasn’t as though he’d said he was a minion of the devil, but she’d reacted like he had.
“Well, not yet. Although, technically? I’m sitting for the bar this week.” He slipped a hand down to the small of her back and began to guide her to the door. A sharp whistle brought Barkley to attention, and he lumbered over the threshold ahead of them. “I start my clerkship for Judge Campbell in a few weeks.”
She scrolled through the database of her mind. Judge Campbell was one of her father’s protégés, and therefore ran in the same circles as her ex-husband. “A clerkship in federal court. Wow. You must be hot stuff.”
The moment the words left her lips, she wanted to call them back. Carrie went hot from the top of her head to the tips of her toes she’d painted turquoise last night, and a molten heat pooled between her legs.
“Whoa there, let’s get you inside to the air conditioning. I don’t like that look in your eye.”
“What look in my eye?”
He drew her around to face him fully and pushed a strand of hair back from her temple. Her eyes crossed when he did that. Oh boy.
“The one that says ‘I might puke at any minute.’” He pulled a face and turned her to face to door, but that only made the world go fuzzier. “Though I guess I shouldn’t have said that, because you’re looking a little green—”
A little dry heaving in the potted plants flanking one’s front door never hurt anyone.
Just killed them with embarrassment.
She wiped her dry mouth with the arm of the ratty terrycloth and started flapping the lapels. She was burning alive.
He needed to leave. She needed to get inside before things got worse. Carrie was just worked up, that’s all it was. But if it wasn’t, there was no way she’d let him see “worse” happen.
“I’m just. It’s already so hot. And the boys. It’s just stress…”
“And you just fell ass over teakettle a minute ago, so I repeat, let’s get you inside.”