Friends make the best lovers…
Caroline Rossi needs to reinvent her life. Being a geotechnical engineer hasn’t exactly proved to be a guy magnet. She’s never really had the opportunity to let her hair down and have fun. But when a chance encounter with her big sister’s brother-in-law—millionaire Josh Campbell—leads to a night of unexpected passion, Caroline starts engineering an arrangement that will give them both what they want. She can help Josh with an important real estate project and he can school her in the art of amour. At first Josh balks—but there’s something irresistible about Caroline, something very different from the bombshells he usually dates.
Can the friends with benefits agreement really work? Or are Caroline and Josh playing a dangerous game that may end in heartbreak?
Caroline was shocked to find out that obscenely wealthy Josh’s favorite restaurant wasn’t some snobby, upscale Tribeca eatery, but a pizza place called Nonna’s that had been in the neighborhood for generations. A man named Vinnie owned the shop now, apparently having learned the business from his father, who learned the business from his father. While they waited for the pizza and salad Josh ordered, he and Vinnie joked with each other about which of their favorite baseball teams had the most potential this year.
Sitting on a scrolled iron bench at the front of the shop, Caroline took in the scene around her. The interior of the building was paneled with thick oak boards, giving it a warm and comfortable feel, and the walls were covered with photos of people who must have been patrons here throughout the years. There were a few tables to the side, with the classic red and white tablecloths, for those who decided to eat in. Pushing her glasses up on her nose, Caroline turned her attention to Josh, who was loosening his tie and laughing and looking more handsome than should be legal. He also seemed nice. Genuinely nice.
Where was Mr. Arrogant and Aloof?
When he looked in her direction and flashed a smile, she felt like her insides were turning into jelly. Great—now she was a cliché. A pathetic cliché who was still infatuated with a childhood crush. Josh waved her over and reluctantly she stood, straightened her sweater, and tugged her skirt into place.
He watched her as she closed the distance. Caroline had never been more nervous or conscious of her every move. What did he want?
“Josh, you finally found yourself a real girl.” Vinnie stuck his hand over the top of the glass display case that was filled with delicious looking stuffed breads and pizza slices. “Vinnie Brancato. What’s a nice girl like you doing with a loser like him?”
Caroline didn’t know what to think when Josh rolled his eyes. “Don’t hit on her, Vinnie,” Josh said. “Her brain is bigger than both of ours put together.”
Well, that sucked. She should have been flattered that Josh didn’t want anyone hitting on her, but she was mortified that her brains supposedly put her off-limits. She knew people used to describe her as a nerd, or a geek. Normally, it didn’t bother her. Even though she was proud of her intelligence, it wasn’t exactly the first thing you wanted a guy to notice about you.
But she also couldn’t let the moment pass.
Channeling the type of girls she imagined Josh usually brought to dinner, she took off her glasses, tilted her head to the side and batted her eyelashes at Josh. “Is this better? If I look vacant, will you be more comfortable?”
His eyes narrowed, but Caroline was happy to see it was in amusement and not in anger. Vinnie, on the other hand, let out a deep, booming belly laugh that warmed Caroline from the inside out. He was good people.
“Buddy,” he said. “This one has your number.”
Did she have his number? No. Game aside, Josh was way out of her league. But when she looked at him again, he smiled a genuine smile and Caroline had to grin back. Thank goodness he wasn’t attracted to her like that; she wouldn’t stand a chance.
Vinnie passed a pizza box with a bag balanced on top to Josh, who drew in the aroma of the pizza. It smelled good and Caroline was looking forward to eating. More than anything, she was looking forward to eating with Josh.
His surprising openness was proving to be more entertaining than she ever imagined and Caroline found she was really enjoying his company. He wasn’t acting like the man who usually sat across the dinner table from her at Meg and Jason’s. So, who was he exactly? Meg had a very strong opinion about him, mostly because Josh was close to his parents and they’d caused nothing but trouble. But Caroline always had a different impression of him. It was something deep in her gut that told her he wasn’t like them and she wanted to find out what made him tick. Caroline figured as long as she kept her guard up, fantasy wouldn’t overtake reality.
Josh said goodbye to Vinnie, promising that they’d go to a baseball game when the weather warmed up, and Caroline followed him out of the shop onto Chambers Street. He was going to hang out at a ball game with the guy from the pizzeria?
“How long have you known Vinnie?” she asked.
“A couple of years. Since I moved into the neighborhood.”
“Really?” Caroline couldn’t quite wrap her head around the familiarity between Josh, a millionaire investor, and the pizza guy. There was a real closeness. But she had started to realize that Josh was full of surprises.
“Why do you look shocked? I have friends.”
She looked shocked because she was shocked. She knew he had friends, but assumed they’d be men like him. Rich, good looking, intimidating. “I didn’t think you would be friends with the pizza guy, that’s all. Is he some Wall Street dropout? Did he come back to the family business to save his sanity?”
Josh stopped walking and turned to face her. “What?” The word came out with a laugh, but it wasn’t a funny “ha ha” laugh but one of those “Are you crazy?” laughs. Great.
“Never mind,” Caroline said. Once again her mouth ran faster than her brain. “I do that sometimes. I say things without thinking.”
“You had to be thinking something.”
Caroline considered the man. “I just... I mean...” Looking at her shoes, she said what had been running through her head since they walked into Nonna’s. “I guess it surprises me that your favorite restaurant is a little pizza joint. That you’re friends with, you know, a regular guy. You’re an Ivy League- educated millionaire who grew up in a mansion. I guess I thought you’d be more, I don’t know, more about that kind of life.” He continued to stare at her and a grin teased the corner of his mouth. “I’m sorry. That’s incredibly rude.”
He adjusted the box in his arms and then the smile bloomed. “I guess it’s no different than what you have to deal with. People probably think you’re a geek.”
“Well, much as I try to avoid the obvious, I am a geek,” she said. “I’m a geotechnical engineer. You don’t get much geekier than me.”
Shaking his head, Josh resumed the walk toward his apartment. “But there’s more to you than that. I’m not just about money. Sure, I live the life I want and I’ve had advantages. But I tend to keep it simple. I’m not my brother.”
There was probably some truth in that. Jason and Meg did live a pretty spectacular life, though they claimed to be “normal” people. They were on the A-list for every party and benefit in New York, and she guessed they were as normal as any couple who had a private jet at their disposal. But that didn’t explain Josh.
“You always seemed so distant, so...” She stopped talking before she really insulted him.
“What? Detached? Arrogant? Ruthless, maybe?”
“I wasn’t going to say ruthless.” Crap. There was that insult, but Josh just kept grinning and shaking his head.
“You don’t have a filter, do you?” he asked.
“No. It’s a problem.”
“Nah, it’s great.”
Caroline found keeping up with him was difficult; his legs were long and his stride was naturally deep, producing one step for every two of hers. He had a point about the preconceived notions. She was more than her job; at least she wanted to be. And as proud as she was about the work she was doing, she just couldn’t muster a lot of enthusiasm for engineering. Caroline fought against two things. First was her natural reserve. She wasn’t exactly shy, but she wasn’t outgoing and bold like her siblings. The other worry had to do with her natural proclivity to say the most awkward things ever. Josh’s comment about a lack of filter was pretty accurate. If she wasn’t struck mute, she would more than likely say something completely ridiculous. Social situations were, at best, difficult. When they were worst, curling up in a ball and falling into a deep hole was sometimes a good alternative.
Tonight was different, though. She wasn’t making a complete fool of herself and she’d only said a couple of really silly things, which was amazing considering that just being in Josh’s presence still made her insides quiver. But the Josh she was walking with was very different from the Josh she saw at family functions. The one she grew up adoring.
He possessed the same Nordic-god good looks, and his confidence was palpable, but there was something real about this Josh, something normal. He’d let his guard down tonight, and whether or not Caroline would ever see it again, she was going to enjoy him now.
Josh shortened his stride when he noticed Caroline had to run to keep up. God, she was tiny. Both she and her sister were short, but Caroline’s petite frame made Meg seem like an Amazon. When he turned toward his building she kept walking. Where the hell was she going?
She stopped and looked around, almost in a daze. “What? Oh.” She turned and scooted back and Josh wondered what had caught her attention. So far she seemed more distracted than he’d ever seen her. “I guess I was daydreaming.”
“Anything good?” he asked.
“I love this area. The structures. All the conversions are such a tribute to people who wanted to preserve the old buildings.”
“I feel that way about my apartment. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about it, that’s for sure.”
“I usually come down here when the weather’s warm and just walk around.”
“Yeah? I’ve never seen you.”
“Really? With ten thousand people per square mile you never noticed?” Caroline rolled her eyes and smiled a sweet little smile. It was nice to see her like this, without the overpowering presence of her siblings. This girl had spirit and he liked it.
He was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that he’d known Caroline Rossi for years, but that was probably rooted in the fact that he knew so little about her. And he supposed that was his own fault. Before her family moved off the estate, she was the quiet, skinny kid who looked at him like he was from another planet. At Meg and Jason’s wedding, Caroline stood up for her sister and if he hadn’t been told who she was, he wouldn’t have guessed. The girl she was and the woman she’d become were definitely at odds. There was a vibe about her, a soft, sexy side, that didn’t really mesh with the tongue-tied nerd he used to know. She was still quiet, and reserved, but she’d blossomed into a really serious beauty.
Since then he’d seen her once a month, and this was the first time he’d gotten a read on her personality.
Josh felt himself grin. “It’s not just that you lack a filter; you’re a smart-ass.”
He pressed the code allowing him access to the building and Caroline looked straight up, her eyes like a kid’s at a candy store. It was fun to watch. “You must bring out the best in me,” she said.
“I guess so.” Josh held the door for her and behaved the way his late grandmother would have expected. “Where’s your apartment?”
“West 25th Street.”
He pressed the elevator button as Caroline looked around the spacious lobby. “Nice area. I like Chelsea.”
“Me too.” She glanced up at him. “So, we’re both West Siders? Very hip.”
Josh shook his head. “Tragically hip. We should be wearing black.”
Caroline examined her gray skirt and black sweater and looked back at him, her eyes filled with amusement. “One of us is in uniform.”
Josh laughed. It started low and he felt it rise and bring that great lightness to his head. Who knew Caroline Rossi would be able to make him laugh... especially after the day he’d had dealing with his father.
Caroline had to remind herself to breathe as she walked around Josh’s loft. The space was incredible. Sprawling, with many clues to the industrial past of the building, it was also masculine and elegant. She wandered from room to room, not even thinking to ask him if she could tour the place. It consumed her the minute they walked through the door. Forget the sprawling house in the suburbs that her sister had. This loft, this amazing neighborhood, was where Caroline would want live.
She was in his home office, a cozy space with dark gray walls and floor-to-ceiling glass that had a door leading out to a patio. The fading daylight gave the room a very Zen feel and it took a minute to realize that Josh was standing behind her.
“In the summer, the terrace is the best place to spend an evening,” he said. “There’s a breeze off the river and even with all the city noise, it’s pretty peaceful.”
“I’m sorry I just wandered around. I should have asked, but I couldn’t help myself. This apartment is stunning.”
“I was lucky to find it. It was a wreck when I bought it. The building had been in foreclosure and the interior was a mess.”
“You restored the apartment?”
“The building, actually. It was our first real estate project. We partnered with a contractor and an architect and we’ve all gotten a nice return on the investment. I bought this unit for myself.”
“I should have gone into restoration. I like the artistic side of it, but there was such a demand for my specialty I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. So, now I work with dirt.” Ugh. What was she saying? Dirt? Was she really talking about dirt?
Josh stuffed his hands into his pocket. He’d shed his suit jacket and tie, and had rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt, revealing forearms banded with muscle. Good God.
Ah, there was thirteen-year-old Caroline, again.
But thirteen-year-old Caroline sounded the warning bell, and it was a good thing, too. What the hell was she doing here? She was in Josh Campbell’s apartment. Alone with more than two hundred pounds of walking testosterone. A man who could make her act stupid. It felt like every one of her nerve endings lit up as she looked at him looking at her, and she damn near giggled. Oh, please don’t giggle.
“Let me grab a bottle of wine and we can eat.”
“Oh, right. We’re eating.”
Josh shook his head again and took her elbow, leading her to the gourmet kitchen.
It was long and narrow, but it wasn’t a traditional galley kitchen. There was a strip of an island down the middle and high-end appliances nestled into exposed brick walls. The cabinets were stainless steel and provided a modern contrast to the rough brick. At the far end were more floor-to-ceiling windows and a French door led out to the terrace she saw from Josh’s office. Everything was organized and open and perfect.
She’d died and gone to foodie heaven. “I would love to cook in here,” she whispered.
Josh opened the large Sub-Zero wine storage unit and set two bottles on the granite countertop. “You cook?”
“I love to cook. You?”
“Nah, I don’t cook much. Mostly take-out.”
“How can you have a kitchen like this and not cook? That’s just wrong.”
“I guess, but I don’t know how to cook. I never had to.”
That made sense. He grew up in a house with servants. There wouldn’t be any reason for him to know his way around the kitchen. She on the other hand looked at food like an adventure. Playing with flavors and textures was like painting on a canvas. It was fun and she’d love to have a place like this to experiment.
Josh had grabbed the electric corkscrew and opened a bottle of red wine. He took two oversized wine glasses from a cabinet and before Caroline knew it Josh was passing her a perfectly aerated glass of merlot.
“You are old enough to drink, right Rossi?” He held the glass back for a second.
“Yes, I’m old enough.” Taking the glass, Caroline took a long sip. “I’m twenty-seven—well, almost twenty-eight.”
“A baby.” Josh pulled out plates and utensils, and then the two of them carried everything to the den, where the pizza was already on the table in front of the couch.
“Baby? Yeah, I love that.” Caroline grumbled, sitting when he motioned to the leather sofa.
“Compared to me you are.” Josh was thirty-four. He was born on November 14. Caroline knew the details. Hell, she thought she knew everything about him, but this evening was turning out to be an eye-opener.
“You’re not old, Josh.”
He stopped for a moment and glanced at her. “I feel it. Dealing with all my family shit and all the work shit, I feel a hundred.”
Maybe it was the familiarity, or the fact that he was joking around with her. But Caroline was seeing that his life wasn’t big and bold like Jason and Meg’s. In fact, it seemed he was facing down the Campbell family demons all on his own. He was a big, back-slapping alpha who was gorgeous to look at. But he was also down-to-earth and grounded. She loved the dichotomy—loved that he wasn’t what he seemed any more than she was what she seemed.
She’d always had this vision of Josh, first as the athletic Ivy Leaguer and lately as the efficient, cold CEO. In both roles she imagined he was tough, unforgiving. And the thing was, he might be that way at work. But it appeared that Josh at home was a different guy altogether. He didn’t say much at family dinners, choosing instead to hang out with his and Jason’s niece, Molly, or make small talk with Caroline’s mother.. Josh had been close to his parents until recently, but the relationship had begun to change daily. And since Josh still ran their company, the relationship was stressed. It had to be exhausting for him.
He opened the pizza box and Caroline enjoyed the sight of his hands placing slices of the pie on the plates. Even his hands were gorgeous. “It’s perfect because it’s not too hot,” he said. “I hate it when the cheese slides off.”
Caroline leaned over her plate and took a bite. Immediately, the flavor rushed over her tongue. “Oh, my God.” Words didn’t come easily with a mouthful of pizza, but she couldn’t stay quiet. “This is...”
“It’s good, right?”
Taking a healthy swallow of wine, Josh took another bite and flipped on the TV. He pressed a few buttons and the On-Demand channel flashed on the screen. “Movie?”
Shocked, Caroline swallowed her pizza and contemplated what he had said. He wanted to watch a movie with her? Like spend real time together? “Uh, sure?”
“I don’t like horror and I hate zombies.”
“No zombies? Damn.” He grinned at her. “Superheroes?”
“I’m a geek; I love superheroes.”
Josh made a selection, then settled back into the couch and finished off the first slice of pie. He inhaled it. No polish and sophistication there; he was just a guy.
Sipping her wine, Caroline pondered the situation. It was Friday night, and she was sitting in a multimillion-dollar loft, having pizza and watching a movie with the most gorgeous man in the western hemisphere.
She felt the corner of her mouth twitch as her thoughts shifted to Mel and Mark and the dinner that almost happened.
This was so much better.
There were a few minutes of silence while he consumed his second piece of pizza and she nibbled on hers. He started going for a third piece and stopped, glancing in her direction, his look conveying complete mischief. He must have been an adorable kid.
“You probably think I’m the biggest pig on the planet.”
“I think you’re hungry. Did you eat today?”
“I had a sandwich at my desk around noon. I’ve been working on this project with my father and it’s a train wreck waiting to happen.”
“What kind of project?”
“It’s a development project. We’re new in real estate and I’m not feeling right about this. I understand there’s always risk when you develop a site, but this one is one problem after another.”
Caroline didn’t hesitate. This was totally her thing, and drunk or not, she could make sure he wasn’t getting bad advice from anyone. “Anything I can help you with?”
“Do you know anything about site assessments?”
She grinned and nodded. “I write them all the time. Need help with one?” His eyes opened wide and relief washed over his face. “It was done recently, but I’d relax a little if someone I trusted went over it.”
He trusted her? That was something. She didn’t think he knew anything about her.
“What does your father think?” Will Campbell was a horse’s ass, and completely amoral, but Josh was part of the family firm, so his father’s opinion mattered. Quite frankly, Caroline couldn’t understand why Josh was still associating with him, but if she’d learned anything about Josh over the past hour, it was that he was full of surprises and he probably had his reasons.
“My father thinks this project is all sunshine and rainbows. Which is why I’m worried. I don’t trust him. At all.”
He poured himself another glass of wine and topped hers off. She reminded herself not to drink too much because she was so tired she’d probably fall asleep.
“I’ll look at it for you.” She’d know in the first two minutes if the site was fit for development, and she couldn’t understand why his consultant hadn’t discussed this with him. The technical part of the report should come with some kind of narrative explaining the findings.
“I appreciate it.” He finally took a bite of his third slice. “So you like your job?”
“Nope.” She took a healthy swallow of her wine. “I hate it. Well, I hate the firm I’m with, but I’m good at it, and it pays the bills.”
He sat back, resting his ankle on his knee. “If you hate it why are you doing it?”
Such an easy question for a person who’s always had choices.
“Money. It’s a stable profession, and I’m well paid. I was a math and science whiz; the courses were hard, but I didn’t have any trouble maintaining a 4.0.” She refilled her glass. “I had a big job offer before graduation and my mother was thrilled. I got a master’s and passed my licensing exam last year, so I’m in a really good place.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Don’t get me wrong; I respect the work. It’s important, but it’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for it. Especially now. Like I said, I don’t love my firm.”
Josh polished off his last slice and broke into the garlic knots. She watched, amazed at the amount of food he could pack away. He ate like a seventeen-year-old boy, but damn he was so cute. Caroline fell for Josh when he was a teenager and seeing this glimpse of him made her yearn for the perfect, tragic angst she felt then.
He was her everything then. The last thing she thought of before she went to sleep and the first thing she thought of when she woke up. She felt like she dreamed about him every night.
Sometimes she still did.
“So what do you want to do?”
Caroline stared into her now-empty wine glass. She had to stop drinking so fast. Her mind was a little floaty because two drinks was her strict limit and she’d finished her third in as many hours. Did she want to tell him about her true love? The thing that kept her up late at night, that made her wish she could just up and quit her job?
“I want to write.” Well, there it was.
“Write? Write what?”
“Novels. Romances, in particular.”
He sat back and considered her and when his mouth turned up at the corners, she expected the jab. There was always a jab. You write porn? Oh, you write that? You don’t want to write a real book? Caroline had heard them all, and it was because of reactions like those that she rarely told anyone what she did. She was a member of her local romance writers group, went to conferences and took classes, but the only person who knew she was seriously trying to get published was her roommate. Her family had put the idea down so many times she’d stopped talking about it. Now she’d told Josh and she waited for his first dig.
“That’s awesome,” he said.
Wait. What? “Excuse me?”
“I said it’s awesome. I can’t even imagine writing a book.” He stood suddenly and left the room. When he came back a few minutes later he was carrying the second bottle of wine. Caroline was still stunned at his reaction and didn’t say anything when he filled her wine glass. “That’s amazing. Why are you an engineer? Shouldn’t you have gone to journalism school or become a college professor or something, so you could write?”
“Like I said, I was good at math and science. My mother wanted me to have a secure profession and I always do what I’m told.”
Good God, she was confessing to Josh. She’d had too much wine, was probably a little drunk on his presence alone, and now she was telling him her family woes. She needed to shut up.
Yet, she kept talking.
“It was hard to go against anything my mom wanted after Dad died.”
“But you can do both, right? You have been. I think it’s great.”
“They don’t understand. They call it my hobby.” She looked around and found a box of tissues on the table behind the sofa and she turned and grabbed the whole thing. She pulled one out of the leather -covered box and blew her nose. She was drunk. Her nose was running and her eyes had filled with tears. “It’s not just a hobby.”
Josh reached over and pulled her into the crook of his arm. This night was getting better and better. “Families can suck,” he said. “No matter what I do someone is pissed at me. So, I stopped worrying about what other people thought, and did what I thought was right.”
“It’s good in theory, but I don’t know...”
“Come on. Let’s finish the wine, and watch the movie.”
“I’ve already had too much. I can’t hold my alcohol. Two glasses is my limit.”
“How many have you had?”
“Four. And a half.”
He laughed and filled her glass. “This should be interesting.”
Josh pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. How much wine had he drunk? How long had he been asleep? Checking out the table, he saw the empty pizza box, the tin that held the garlic knots and a completely empty bottle of wine and a second one that was almost there. Considering he was still buzzed, the answer to the wine question was too much. The clock on the fireplace mantle told him the rest. It was almost eleven o’clock and to his right, on her side and curled up with a throw pillow, Caroline was fast asleep.
Her glasses were on the couch next to her and she made a breathy little noise every time she exhaled. Josh did not know what to make of this girl. Growing up, she was always following Meg around. Caroline might have been five when the Rossi family took up residence in the estate manager’s house, but he never really knew her. She was never on his radar.
Now she was on his couch, and when he leaned in he caught a whiff of her scent again. That vanilla and cinnamon smell that made him think of cookies. Warm cookies.
Josh crouched on the floor next to her and placed a hand on her knee. Caroline’s black tights were soft and smooth and as he moved his fingers lightly over the fabric, she stirred, her eyes fluttering open. His blood seemed to hum the minute those gorgeous chocolate-brown eyes blinked at him. Damn.
She was still sleepy, still coming out of the food coma he’d fallen into himself. But unlike him, she didn’t seem concerned about where she was or the time. Josh never expected Caroline’s hand to reach out and stroke his cheek, but when it did, when her gentle touch made his heart beat faster, Josh sensed he was in trouble.
“I like this dream,” she said. Dream?
“You’re talking in this one. You’ve never talked before.” Her voice was thick and sweet and she obviously thought she was dreaming. About him.
“I don’t talk?” He shouldn’t play with her like this, but he couldn’t resist. He kind of felt like he had to be careful. Wouldn’t it be like waking a sleepwalker?
“No, silly,” she whispered.
“What do I do?” He shouldn’t ask. He knew that, but he did anyway.
“You kiss me.”
Whoa. He didn’t expect that. Shit. But without much thought, there was something incredibly appealing about kissing her. Something tempting. And as he looked into her sleepy eyes and took in her full lips, Josh bent toward her and made the dream real.
The brush of her fingers on his face coaxed him into a trance. Kissing her was so easy, so natural, and his libido fired up in record time. He went deeper, letting his hand slide up her leg, under her skirt, caressing her gentle curves and pulling her close. His tongue played over her lips just a little, tasting her, and a voice in the back of his mind asked him what the hell he was doing.
Of course, he didn’t stop. He was just drunk enough that his ability to reason went out the window. Josh was about to slip his hand under her sweater when he heard Caroline gasp.
Opening his eyes, he saw she was staring at him. She was awake. For real. Their lips were touching, but nothing was happening. The tiny sips and gentle pressure had gone, and all he saw in her expression was a combination of fear and embarrassment. Not what he was going for. Not at all.
“Oh, my God.” Yeah, definitely embarrassed. “Oh, my God.” Caroline shot to her feet and circled around to the back of the couch, putting the immense piece of furniture between them.
Josh didn’t know what to say to her, because he knew he’d taken advantage of the situation. But part of him wasn’t sorry about it. Kissing Caroline had been a dream for him too, and this was the last thing Josh expected.
“Why were we kissing?” she asked. Her eyes were wide, darting around the room like she was looking for an escape, and he didn’t know how to answer her.
“Josh? There’s an explanation, right?” Was there one? She looked sleepy and pretty and she thought she was dreaming about him and that Josh had had too much to drink. It was the truth, but was it good enough?
“You, ah... damn.” He didn’t know how he was going to talk to her about this without sounding completely lame. Lame. He never had to make excuses for kissing anyone. But she was different. He should have felt fraternal, protective, but he didn’t. Looking at Caroline’s messy hair, flushed cheeks, and her big, chocolate-colored eyes, Josh didn’t feel brotherly at all. He felt like kissing her again.
It didn’t take a split second for him to move and in a few strides he was on her side of the sofa, hauling her into his arms. Caroline seemed to stop breathing as she looked up at him. He felt her hands against his chest and every inch of her fit snugly against him. She was tiny, but there was a strength in her—something powerful, and he couldn’t understand why he’d never noticed before.
When she finally drew a breath, she spoke. “Are you going to kiss me again, Josh?”
He nodded. Just nodded, because he didn’t know what to say.
“Oh,” she squeaked out. “Okay.”
Her consent, her acceptance, made him smile. It seemed that when she understood that he didn’t see it as a mistake, her embarrassment faded. The truth was, the path they were heading down was not a good one, and Josh should have put on the brakes, taken the blame and taken Caroline home.
He would take her home. At some point.
For now, though, he was going to kiss her again and see where that led.
Caroline thought she was dreaming before, but with Josh’s arms wrapped securely around her she was sure she was still asleep, because this was just too good to be real. But then his lips touched hers and everything caught fire. Yeah, this was plenty real.
Caroline had imagined for years what it would be like to kiss Josh Campbell. She’d dreamed about him and let him take the lead in all her fantasies, but nothing prepared her for the warmth, the strength, the gentleness she was experiencing now. She burned from the inside out. Josh’s hands moved in a rhythm of their own. One hand slipped to her head, and she felt him pull the hair tie that was holding her ponytail. He cradled her head with one hand and let the other settle at the small of her back. He was firm, but so very careful it was almost like he knew.
Caroline froze. He couldn’t know the truth. Could he?
The kiss was a bright light flashing in her mind like a beacon, telling her exactly what she should do. She needed this.
Pulling back, Caroline looked into Josh’s eyes, enjoyed the perfect features of his face. She stroked his cheek because that seemed like just the right thing to do.
“Do you want me to take you home?” His voice was hoarse, raspy, like he was fighting to find the sound.
“No,” she said, shaking her head for good measure.
“No,” she said again before stretching up to leave a trail of kisses along his jaw. Who had taken possession of her? This was not a stuffy, nervous engineer. It was possible the wine had Caroline channeling her inner romance-novel heroine. But it was Josh who lost his breath, and suddenly Caroline relished the power she had as the big man fell victim to the special magic she didn’t know she possessed. This was a heady thing.
“I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything,” he said, and that’s when Caroline knew exactly what she wanted. Pressing closer, she could feel him, feel his hard body, feel his warmth and even though she was scared out of her mind, Caroline decided to leap before she looked.
“Take me to bed.”
Now it was Josh’s turn to freeze. His turn to be nervous. “R-really?” he stammered. “Bed?”
“Yes. Bed. Make love to me, Josh.”
End of Excerpt