Learning Curves – Cathryn Fox
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Learning Curves

Book Cover: Learning Curves

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he wins a sexy bet, billionaire Linc Blair can’t wait to get Lauren Neill naked. He’s never gone for her type in the past, and he’s pretty certain it has more to do with her buttoned-up hotness than the nagging sense that something is missing from his life. But when he gets a glimpse of the vulnerable woman beneath the conservative, yet oh-so-sexy clothes, it’s a game changer.

Lauren can’t believe she’s spending a few days with one of sexiest, and most annoying men she’s ever met. But she can’t deny the chemistry between them, and for once in her life she’s letting down her guard so she can explore a different side of herself. The side only Linc brings out in her.

Taking it slow, he unleashes her sexuality and it quickly occurs to him that what started out as a bet for him has become something more. With their weekend nearly over, and her ex showing interest in this new confident version of Lauren, Linc will have to risk it all if he wants to win the game of love.

Excerpt:

Why did he always have to be here?

Lauren Neill stepped into the spacious skybox at the Miami Rays hockey stadium and glared at the man who managed to dig his way under her skin without even trying. Sports Source CEO Lincoln Blair. Linc.

Kill. Me. Now.

He stood there, sexier than should be legal, chatting it up with some pretty blonde. With his attention half on the girl and half on the hockey game between the Rays and the New York Storms, he pushed his hands into his pockets, a slow sexy smile spreading across his far too perfect lips. Normally he dressed conservatively in designer suits that fit his tall, athletic frame to perfection, but for today’s game he wore jeans and a black sweater, which fit tight against those wicked abs of his.

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A soft, involuntary moan slipped out of her throat. Linc in a suit was one thing, but this…well, this laid-back version of the hot as sin, richer than royalty Linc was something else entirely. Talk about raw, orgasmic sex appeal.

What the hell am I doing? Stop staring at him. It had become a habit whenever he was around, which was a lot, since he was best friends with her boss and provided all of the team equipment.

She shouldn’t be drooling over a man who barely spared her a glance. Not that she wanted him to. Because she didn’t, and it irritated the crap out of her that she couldn’t seem to stop herself from looking. Her dislike for Linc grew, even though she honestly had no basis for it. On the few occasions when business had put them together, he’d never been anything but nice, but even when he ignored her he was a distraction. One she didn’t want or need, especially at work, but oh, the naughty thoughts he inspired…

No. Do not go there. Did she have no self-control at all? Gritting her teeth, Lauren pulled her gaze from Linc and turned it toward the crowd, focusing her attention on the activity going on around her.

As an accountant for the Rays, one of the perks was a seat in the skybox. While she seldom took advantage of that little extra, today the Rays were playing against her favorite team, the New York Storms. Unethical to root for the other team? Maybe, but as long as no one caught her, where was the harm?

She glanced around, and as usual, no one seemed to even notice she was there. People chatted and milled about the room, others gathered in small, more intimate groups, their heads bent, deep in conversation. Some watched the game from the floor to ceiling windows as it played out on the ice below, while a few hovered at the bar, preferring the zoom of camera lens and the play by play of commentators as they sipped from a longneck or a glass of something more substantial.

Perched on a barstool amid the sports enthusiasts, with her back to the game, a pretty brunette waved Linc over, trying to steal him away from the blonde who was toying with the sleeve of his sweater. Lauren shook her head. Dim witted moths to a lightbulb—every last one of them. Mr. Sex turned his head toward the brunette and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The movement drew Lauren’s attention to the jeans that hugged the thick muscles of his thighs and curved around his perfect ass like the fitted baseball gloves his company sold by the millions.

The blonde moved away, and he turned Lauren’s way, giving her an eyeful of crotch, but she was far too slow to react. Her gaze flew to his and held for a moment too long. The muscles along his jaw rippled, and those kissable lips of his quirked into a smile. Crap. He’d caught her staring. Again.

He scrubbed his hand over his chin, watching her, then turned and walked to the bar, making his way to the stool the pretty brunette had pushed out for him.

Heat suffused Lauren’s cheeks. Would she never learn? And what had he been waiting for? To see if she’d simper up to him like every other woman in the room? Arrogant asshole. And even as she swore under her breath, tagging him as every kind of womanizing lowlife, her gaze settled on wide shoulders that any linebacker would kill for, then languidly slid down his back, stopping just below his belt.

Stop staring at his ass already!

And there it was. It hit Lauren like a bolt of lightning right between the eyes. She was no better than the other women who panted after Linc, but for one exception…when it came to her, he walked away. Straight to another woman.

Just like her ex. Her lower lip trembled. Was that why she had formed such a dislike for Linc? Had she been projecting her failure to attract and hold the attention of a man onto an innocent bystander? Well, Linc was hardly an innocent in any respect, but still…

Stricken, she tore her gaze away and smoothed her palms over her navy pencil skirt, wiping away the perspiration that had gathered. This couldn’t be. She wasn’t a mean person. She should apologize.

Resolved to make amends, Lauren searched the patrons of the bar until she found Linc, looking over his shoulder at her, a smirk on his lickable lips as he ran his knuckles along the side of the brunette’s arm.

Asshole!

Fueled by her own gullibility, Lauren swung around and searched for somewhere, anywhere to hide until he left. Her glance landed on her best friend Kelli, who, as luck would have it, worked for the owner of the perfect ass. As Linc’s top regional sales manager, Kelli always accompanied Linc to the stadium for his merchandizing meetings, or to catch a hockey game.

Kelli motioned Lauren over to the table she’d commandeered, and when she hesitated, her friend pinched her lips tight and gave her a look that suggested she’d better pick up her damn feet and get over there—pronto—otherwise there’d be hell to pay. Kelli might be a pixie of a thing, but she’d grown up on the streets of Brooklyn and could drop a man to his knees with a single look. Lauren had seen it first hand. The two might have come from different worlds, but after rooming together in college, they were now closer than sisters and always had each other’s backs.

A strand of hair fell from the bun piled on top of Lauren’s head. She tried to shove it back in place but the damn thing wouldn’t stay. Giving up, she jammed it behind her ear and stomped to the table Kelli had grabbed, her new Jimmy Choos clicking on the polished floor as she made her way to her friend.

“What’s the matter with you?” Kelli asked quietly.

Lauren dropped onto the plush, upholstered chair and crossed her legs. “What do you mean?”

“Your face is flushed, and your bun has sprung.”

“Like you have to ask,” she muttered, her foot jiggling like it had a nervous twitch.

“Are those new?” Kelli pointed at Lauren’s feet.

Stretching out her leg, Lauren twisted her ankle around, giving Kelli a better look at the black alligator pumps she’d splurged on—a secret indulgence. “They are. You like?”

“Me love. So, what has Linc done this time?”

Lauren shifted in her chair. Never in a million years would she admit, especially to Kelli, that she might, just a little bit, be attracted to Linc. “He exists. Isn’t that enough?”

“I told you, once you get to know him, he’s really nice.”

Lauren gave an unladylike snort. “Which translates to he’s a complete asshole, but you get used to it.” She slanted Kelli a look. She’d heard the stories. He was a ruthless, take-no-prisoners businessman, and she had no doubt he was just as ethical when it came to women. “No. Thank. You.” She lifted her chin and ran her hands over the lapels of her suit jacket. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve no intention of getting to know him. He’s your boss, not mine.”

“I don’t know, Lauren. I’m beginning to think the tension between you two stems from something else.”

“I hardly think so,” she said, a little too quickly. Dammit, way to give myself away.

Kelli grinned. “She protests too much…me thinks.”

“Well, you’re wrong, Shakespeare. I can’t stand guys like him.” Hot, sexy, can-get-any-woman-he-wants types. And it irked the hell out of her that she couldn’t get him out of her head.

“All I know is the chemistry between you two is explosive.” Kelli peeked at her watch. “What took you so long to get down here? The game is almost over.”

She glanced at the scoreboard, thankful for the change in subject. Her team was down by one. She resisted the urge to shout encouragements. Cheering for the Storms while working for the Rays might not be in her best interest. Her boss, Michael Rock, was a bit of a hard-ass when it came to team loyalty and would likely fire her for what he’d consider an act of treason.

She shrugged. “I had to run some numbers. Michael needed them right away.”

Kelli scoffed. “And you think my boss is a hard-ass. At least he gives me time off to catch a game every now and then.”

Linc appeared at the table with a drink in his hand. How long had he been standing there? Had he overheard any of their conversation? Lauren’s entire body stiffened as he dropped onto the chair next to Kelli without so much as saying hello to her. Oh, so she was back to being the invisible girl now, was she? Jerk.

Then again, why would he really pay any attention to her? Obviously he’d been just waiting for her to look his way when she’d seen him stroking the brunette’s arm. She was, after all, as boring as her clothes, and likely blended in with the ugly beige walls hugging the skybox. Nothing exciting to see here. Move along. Just ask her ex. He’d be quick to set the record straight. What was that he’d said? Sex with her was like drinking day-old champagne…no fizz. Then again her ex was about as exciting as a wet crouton—under-seasoned with no bite.

Linc, however…well, that guy had spice and bite written all over him. Any girl would want to pop him into her mouth and savor every morsel. The sudden image of being on her knees, looking up his long, lean body as he fed her his cock popped into Lauren’s head, and the shocker was, she didn’t find the thought unpleasant at all.

What would sex be like with him?

Would she be able to orgasm with him? Or would she once again fall short, and turn sex into something awkward and stiff?

Maybe I should just start collecting cats now.

“Well?”

Lauren blinked and focused on Kelli, who gave her an odd look from across the table. “What?”

“I asked what was so urgent that it had to be done today?”

Heat again warmed Lauren’s cheeks. These fantasies had to stop, especially with the object of them sitting at the same table. What had they been talking about? Oh, right, running numbers.

“I could have worked on the statements Monday, but you know I have this thing about unfinished business,” she said, explaining her tardiness. It was the accountant in her. “I can’t walk away until I see that healthy bottom line.”

Kelli stared at her for a moment and then shook her head. “Damn girl. You really need to get laid.”

Lauren’s mouth fell open, and she darted a quick glance around to see if anyone had overheard her. From the corner of her eye, she could see Linc’s head slowly turn her way as she zeroed back in on her friend. The skin at the nape of her neck tingled. Oh, God.

He’s staring at me! Swallow me Earth. Now. Do it.

Don’t look. Don’t look.

She looked.

When her gaze met that set of piercing blue eyes, it nearly sucked the oxygen from her lungs. He rested his arm on the table and leaned forward, leaving no doubt that his attention was focused on her. The corner of his mouth quirked, and a dimple formed as his gaze moved over her face. That smirk. God, that smirk. Sexy, dirty, that of a natural born bad boy—a shameless player. Her body burned, no tinder needed. Come on. Weren’t her panties damp enough already?

“What was that about a bottom line?” he asked, his voice laced with humor.

Her stomach squeezed. Why oh why did everything that came out of his mouth sound so sexual? “Nothing,” she said, looking away to focus in on the game below. Dammit, the Rays were pressing.

Kelli’s glance ping-ponged between Lauren and Linc. “I’m going to grab a hot dog and a drink. Anybody want one?” she asked.

Panic burst inside Lauren. Kelli couldn’t leave. She needed a buffer, otherwise she’d have to make conversation with Miami’s hottest, youngest, sexiest billionaire. One who made her mouth go dry and the needy spot between her legs tingle.

Damn him.

“Yeah, grab me one, Kel.” He dipped his head and looked at Lauren. “Would you like a footlong?”

A strange, strangled noise crawled out of her throat. Both Kelli and Linc sat there looking at her like she had two heads. Wait, what? Are you kidding me? How could anyone not think those words were overtly sexual? Ugh. Then again, maybe they weren’t. Maybe her mind was in the gutter because she hadn’t felt a man’s hand on her body, or had a footlong in ages. Or ever.

Kelli was right. She needed to get laid.

She coughed in a feeble effort to cover up her embarrassment as the two continued to watch her. “No, I’m good,” she managed to get out past a tongue gone thick.

As Kelli stood and went to get the refreshments, Lauren also got up from the table and walked to the window. She stepped up to the glass and focused on the game, a difficult task when the king of the one-night stands followed her and was standing so close. The Storms interrupted a pass, and took off down the ice. The puck was passed from center ice to the left-winger, who took a shot, and evened the score.

“Yes!” she hissed before she could catch herself.

“Interesting,” Linc said.

She angled her chin and glanced up at him. “What?”

“I’m pretty sure I just heard you cheering for the other team.”

She tore her gaze from his, denial spilling from her lips. “You’re wrong.”

He moved close, too close. His hand brushed against hers, the warmth of his knuckles curling her toes. Her nipples tightened as she imagined the rough rasp of his fingers skimming over her breast. “Pretty sure I’m not.”

She squared her shoulders and opened her mouth to counter, but his scent…damn, why did he have to smell so good? She breathed him in. Mmm. Warm and earthy, like afternoon sex on the beach. Wait, what was it she wanted to say?

Get it together, Lauren.

“You’re from New York, right? Kelli told me you met in college.”

Why would he be talking about me with Kelli?

“I might be from New York, but I wasn’t cheering for the Storms.” She tapped her temple. “I was just running some numbers in my head, and it excites me when things balance.”

His grin widened, bringing those dimples into play. Dammit, she was so busted.

He arched a brow. “So this is you…excited?”

His warm breath fluttered over her face. “Yeah. This is me, excited.”

“Hmm.”

“What?”

“You’re not even smiling. I mean, most people smile when they’re excited, don’t they?”

“I’m smiling on the inside.”

“Right.” He glanced at the ice and then back at her.

“What?” She stared at him. She had no idea what was going through his head, but she’d grown up with three scheming brothers and knew when a plan was forming. What was he up to?

“How about a bet?”

“I don’t bet.”

His grin was slow, sexy…deliciously filthy. Enough already! “I think you’re going to want to take this one.”

Her body stiffened and she eyed him carefully. “Why?”

“If you don’t, word could get out that a Rays employee was in the skybox rooting for the other team.”

Her heart slammed. Bastard. “You wouldn’t.”

He held his hands out, palms toward her, the image of innocence when he said, “Hey, I’m not saying I would tell.”

She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “What do you want?”

“Bet me.” His gaze dropped to her mouth, that dirty, promising smile of his teasing her sex. “My team against yours.”

What the… Okay, she was pretty damn certain this exchange was sexual. But it didn’t make sense. She wasn’t even his type, and in all the times they crossed paths, he’d barely spoken to her.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked, needing clarification.

“If my team scores before overtime, I win, and you’re mine for the weekend.”

His for the weekend?

Her mind raced with hot, sexy images, like him holding her against the wall while he did depraved, corrupt things to her body. She swallowed. How tempting.

“And if I win?” she asked, sounding far more winded than she would have liked.

“Then I’m yours for the weekend. You can use me any way you want.”

“I do have a toilet that needs to be cleaned.”

He leaned into her and flashed her a feral, merciless smile as his gaze settled on her mouth. “Sure, but I’d rather fuck,” he said, his voice a devious hush orchestrated to fluster her.

Mission accomplished. His dirty words, ones that should have offended, spurred a need deep between her legs, and it was all she could do not to hand herself over to him, to let him own every inch of her for the weekend.

He wanted to fuck her? Seriously? She had to be hallucinating. This couldn’t be happening. Could it?

He looked her dead in the eyes. “Deal?”

She bit her lip before she hissed yes, please.

The clock was ticking down, and the only way she could lose was if the Rays suddenly scored, and no way in hell was that going to happen this late in the game.

Damn shame.

She nodded. “Fine. You’re on.”

They turned to watch the game, and she held her breath as the Rays made a play. Gaze riveted, she watched the action below, but it was hard to concentrate. With the puck in play, her lashes briefly fluttered shut, an attempt to wipe away the erotic visions still dancing in her mind’s eye. I’d rather fuck. When her eyes opened, the Rays’ defense sent the puck down the ice. Cheers erupted in the stadium as it crossed center ice. The Rays’ right wing snagged it and took a shot. It dented the top of the net, and bounced out. The goalie dived, but failed to stop the shot by the winger. He shoots. He scores. Pulling off a last minute win for the Rays—and for Linc.

“Oh my God,” she said, her words tumbling out on a whisper. “I can’t believe it.”

“How does seven sound?”

She turned to find him with an unapologetic and deadly grin on his face. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to smack, or kiss, it off.

“What?” she asked.

“Does seven work for you?”

“Seven?” she asked, her brain working hard to catch up.

“Do you like sushi?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Pack a bag. I’ll pick you up at seven, and we’ll start with sushi.”

Start? Wait. A bag?

“I’ll get your address from Kelli.”

“You’ll get what from me?” Kelli asked as she came back with two hot dogs—one half-eaten. When neither spoke, her gaze bobbed between the two. “Wait, what did I miss?”

Heart racing, Lauren shook her head then slapped away a few tendrils of hair that slipped from her bun.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. “We just…I…”

Linc gestured toward the ice. “We had a friendly bet on the outcome of the game.”

“Really?” Kelli dabbed mustard from her bottom lip and handed Linc his footlong. “It’s not like you to gamble.” She eyed Lauren. “So, I take it you lost.”

Oozing confidence, Linc leaned in, and her gaze flashed to his. “I wouldn’t exactly say that.” His voice was powerful and rough, a clue to the kind of sex he liked.

God, it’s crazy how he makes me feel so…needy.

A small, blissful noise escaped Lauren’s throat as she worked to speak, but since she couldn’t seem to form a coherent sentence, she shut her mouth.

“I don’t understand. Who won?” When they remained silent, Kelli bit into her hot dog, her brow furrowed. She chewed, swallowed, then asked, “What the hell is going on between you two?”

“We…” Linc began, but then someone from the other side of the room called out to him. Linc shifted his focus and nodded to Michael as the Rays’ owner sauntered their way. He turned back to them. “I need to speak with Michael.” He turned to Lauren, his grin cocky, hot as a Miami summer. Her pulse leaped as he dipped his head, his mouth inches from her ear. “And for the record, Lauren. I’d like to think we both won.”

She was pretty sure she won, but what about him? She had no idea how to please a guy like Linc. “I’m pretty sure it’s your loss,” she mumbled without thinking, her gaze going to her feet.

His head jerked back. “What are—?”

“Linc,” Michael said, stepping up to him and giving him a friendly pat to the shoulder. “Lauren, Kelli,” he said, greeting them as well.

They exchanged pleasantries then Kelli said, “If you’ll excuse us.” She shoved her arm through Lauren’s and dragged her to a private spot in the corner. Lauren blindly followed, her legs as shaky as her brain.

Kelli lowered her voice and asked, “What the hell is going on?”

She snuck a glance at Linc and found him watching her—a stare that was dark, explicit and promised no reprieve. Arousal flashed, and she fought off the urge to run to the bathroom to touch herself. She breathed deep, let it out slowly.

“I don’t know,” she said to Kelli. “It all happened so fast. One minute we were watching the game and the next thing I know we were betting on it. Now he won me for the weekend.”

Kelli hissed in a breath, her dark eyes saucer-wide. “Won you?”

“Yeah. Then I think we agreed on seven o’clock, and there was something about sushi, and me packing a bag.”

“Ohmigod, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

She folded her arms and leaned against the wall for support. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Lauren…he wants you. In his bed.” With a wicked, “I told you so” grin, she clapped her hands. Lauren grabbed her arms and lowered them.

“Stop it. He’s watching us.”

“Yeah, I know. Jesus, look at the way he’s staring at you. He’s going to straight up nasty fuck you.” Kelli winked. “Be sure to take your vitamins and get your protein. I think it’s going to be a long, hard weekend sex-a-thon.”

She was sure it was going to be long and hard. And she could pretty much bet he took his woman rough and left her limp. No permission. No forgiveness.

Her pulse leaped with anticipation. “I can’t have sex with him,” she whispered.

“Why the hell not?” she asked, her voice a little too loud.

“Shh…”

Kelli threw her hands out, palms up. “Look, you’re consenting adults, and you need to get laid. So what’s the problem here?”

Oh, just that Linc probably fucks like a god. Wait. What was the problem again? Her glance briefly flitted to Linc’s. Blue eyes met hers, and she tore her gaze away. Oh yeah, right. He was out of her league. How humiliating would it be to bore a guy like Linc. “I just…can’t.”

“Okay, how about this. I dare you.”

“You dare me? What are you, twelve?”

“No, I’m twenty-six, and so are you. And if you don’t do this, you’re going to be brushing cobwebs from between your legs when your next birthday rolls around.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Exactly. And wear that sexy panty set I got you for your last birthday. I bet you haven’t even taken it out of the box. Have you?”

She shook her head, and Kelli rolled her eyes. “Well, pack them.” She thought for a second and then looked at Lauren’s feet. “And take a couple pairs of hot shoes with you, too. Barely there undies and hooker heels drive a guy wild.” Kelli opened her purse, grabbed several condoms and shoved them in Lauren’s bag. “Here, take these, too, and I don’t want any of them to come back with you.”

Lauren stood there, not knowing what to say. It was too mortifying to tell her friend that the one and only man she’d slept with dumped her because she was timid and unresponsive between the sheets. Sexy panties, platform shoes, and a bag full of condoms weren’t going to change that. Since that horrible incident, she’d kept her head down and her mind on her work. She never wanted to go through that embarrassment again.

Kelli turned Lauren toward the door. “Go home. Shave your legs, then let that man fuck the common sense out of you.”

A shove from behind had her moving through the dwindling crowd. Forcing one foot in front of the other, she walked to the door, her mind spinning a million miles an hour. She was an intelligent woman, graduated cum laude, but when it came to sex she… She shook her head, having a hard time wrapping her brain around this unexpected turn of events.

Maybe she could use this opportunity to learn something?

Eyes down, lost in thought, she smacked into something very solid. She bounced back, but a hand reached out to help her. “Sorry,” she said quickly, and glanced up to see none other than her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Maynard, staring at her, his arm draped around his new girlfriend.

Crap. I so do not need this right now. She’d gone two whole months without running into him, and even though they were both going to the same engagement dinner a week from tonight, she’d been hoping never to see him again. But her cousin Gabe—Matthew’s best friend—was the one who’d set them up last year, and since he was family she couldn’t get out of his party.

“Lauren,” Matthew said. “How many times have I told you, you need to watch where you’re going?”

“I didn’t mean…” What the hell? She didn’t need to apologize to him.

He made a tsking sound. “You’re like the absent-minded professor. Always lost in thought. Some things never change.” With a brush of his hand he slicked his hair back, stole a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar, and pulled his girlfriend in closer.

What did I ever see in him?

She was about to excuse herself and step around him when he said, “This is Jessica.”

Lauren forced a smile. The woman smoothed her hand over her long blond curls and flashed a perfect smile.

“Jessica, this is Lauren. You know, Lauren Neill.”

“Oh.” Jessica swayed slightly, the hem on her short, flirty dress swaying as her eyes flitted over Lauren’s clothes. “I should have guessed.”

Even though the once-over made her uncomfortable, it wasn’t in Lauren’s nature to be rude, so she held her hand out. “Nice to meet you, Jessica.”

“You, too,” she said, sandwiching Lauren’s hands between hers and flashing a giant rock that had to cost as much as Matthew’s Porsche.

She sucked in a quick breath and tried to sound normal. “I guess congratulations are in order.”

“Thank you.” Jessica held her hand out and beamed.

Taking the higher road Lauren said, “Your ring is beautiful.”

Jessica snuggled into Matthew, placed her hand on his chest, and in a disgusting display of affection, giggled as she kissed him on the mouth. “My baby is so good to me.”

“That’s because you’re good to me,” he murmured back, giving her a little slap on the ass. She yelped and giggled again.

Okay, you’re having great sex. I get it. No need to rub it in.

Matthew adjusted his tie. “The wedding is at the end of next month. You should come.”

Was he serious? Why the hell would she want to go to his wedding?

“Oh. Thanks but I…uh…have plans.”

Matthew guffawed. “Really?”

The bastard didn’t believe her. She could have plans. She took a breath to compose herself before she kicked him in the shins. If she wasn’t a lady…

“Yes, I have—”

Matthew rolled one shoulder and cut her off. “I’m sure any plans you have can be broken, but I do understand why you wouldn’t want to come. It’s no fun sitting at the singles table.” His gaze left her face and traveled the length of her. “My cousin Frank will be there. You remember Frank don’t you? The boring banker? You two might really hit it off. You both have a lot in common.”

Asshole.

“As a matter of fact, I can’t break my plans. I’ll be away with my boyfriend,” she blurted out.

“There you are.” Linc stepped in between her and Matthew, and she stiffened when he bent and pressed his lips to her temple. Warm breath fanned over her face when he whispered, “Follow my lead.”

“Linc,” she said, realizing he was coming to her rescue. Thank you. Playing along she said, “You surprised me.”

He slid his hand around her waist and pulled her tight against him. Oh wow, that felt nice. “Did you think you could sneak out of here without kissing me good-bye?”

Take that Matthew.

Lauren mimicked Jessica’s giggle. That’s right. She’d taken drama in high school and was a quick study. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

He cupped her chin, his thumb brushing her lower lip. Damn. His touch was incredibly hot. She relaxed into him, and he dropped the hottest, firmest kiss onto her mouth. His tongue coaxed her lips open, then pushed inside. Barbed pleasure spiked through her as he took control. Powerful and rough, demanding and greedy, the man took without asking. She reveled in the taste, relished in the danger.

When he finally broke the kiss, she stood there panting, He inched back, looking as powerful and composed as ever, and said, “You know I’d never make it through the afternoon without kissing you again.”

“Same,” she whispered, desperate for an encore.

She tipped her face up, offering him her mouth, and he bent, taking it again. What the hell am I doing? His lips lightly brushed hers this time, a soft caress that would have sent her to her knees had he not been holding her. When a needy sound caught in her throat, he pulled her tighter and deepened the kiss. Holy hell. She’d been prepared to put on a show but nothing could have prepared her for a kiss like this. Her lids slipped shut. If she was dreaming, she never wanted to wake.

Linc broke the kiss, leaving cold where there was once heat. With her mouth still poised open, her lids flickered, and she found him smiling down at her. Eyes a deeper shade of blue than they’d been moments before moved over her face. She licked her bottom lip, savoring the taste of him.

“So I’ll see you at seven?”

“Can’t wait,” she said, breathlessly.

He straightened and turned, and when he caught her ex staring at him, his mouth agape, Linc gave him a sheepish look and said. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you there.” Linc chuckled and held his hand out. “That’s what she does to me.” Matthew shook Linc’s hand. “I’m Linc Blair.”

“I…I know who you are,” Matthew said, his gaze darting between the two. “I didn’t know…you were seeing each other.”

“That’s because we’ve been keeping it a secret.” He faced Lauren, his gaze suggestive, as he ran the backs of his knuckles over her cheek. A surge of heat moved through her, and if she knew what was good for her, she’d turn and run as fast as she could. “I’m not ready to share this beautiful woman with the world just yet.” He turned his attention to Matthew’s fiancée.

As Matthew continued to stare, Lauren struggled to pull herself together long enough to do the introductions. She cleared her throat. “Linc, this is Jessica.”

Jessica slid her hand into Linc’s. Her blatant appraisal of the man towering over them all brought a scowl to Matthew’s face. “Nice to meet you,” she purred.

Polite, yet not giving Jessica the attention she was so clearly used to, he gave her hand a quick shake and dragged Lauren back into his arms, planting his pelvis firmly against her stomach. “Speaking of tonight, why don’t you wear that blue dress,” Linc said. “You know how much I love that one on you.” He winked. “And off you.”

She chuckled, went up on tiptoe, and pressed her lips to his. “As long as you don’t pop the buttons again when you’re tearing it off me. It took forever to find them on your kitchen floor.”

They were trying to get a reaction out of Matthew, but her words seem to do something to Linc. His nostrils flared, and he bent, purposely putting his mouth near her ear, like his words were meant for her and her alone. “Leave your hair up. I want to be the one to take it down.”

COLLAPSE

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