Bare It All
April 30, 2013
Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor
A cop’s craving to know more about the woman next door could prove fatal in the steamy new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster.
As the person responsible for taking down a brutal human trafficker, Alice Appleton fears retaliation at every turn. No one knows about her past, which is exactly how she prefers it…until the sexy cop next door comes knocking.
Detective Reese Bareden thinks he knows what makes women tick, but his ever-elusive neighbor keeps him guessing like no other. Is his goal to unmask Alice’s secrets? Or protect her from a dangerous new threat? One thing is certain: their chemistry is a time bomb waiting to explode. And with no one to trust but each other, Reese and Alice are soon drawn into a deadly maze of corruption, intrigue and desire-and into the line of fire….
As she came toward him, Alice’s baby-soft hair hung loose, with silky tendrils drifting over her shoulders. Her big brown eyes, so innocent and yet so aware, watched him intently, the way she always watched him. She smiled and that smile did remarkable things to him. Made him ravenous, when he’d never quite experienced anything like that before. Lust, sure. But such a powerful need? No, never.
Only with Alice.
Very close now, so close the warmth of her touched him all over, she brushed her nose against his jaw, his neck, his ear.
He groaned. Out loud. He heard it, but could barely credit that the sound came from him.
From a gentle nuzzle.
Against his ear.
It was insane, but it took very little from her to get him painfully aroused.
He wanted her mouth on him. He turned his face toward her and he felt her breath. Hot. Then her tongue. Wet.
“Oh… um, Reese?”
She sounded so tentative that he smiled as he reached for her and opened his eyes. His hand encountered dense fur, and the expressive brown eyes staring back at him weren’t Alice’s.
They weren’t even human.
His dog Cash panted at the sign of life. Delighted to have him awake, Cash barked, turned a quick circle, and… licked Reese’s face.
“Shit.” Reese dodged the dog’s sloppy fondness while trying to orient himself. The dream had felt so incredibly real. And so welcome. He shifted – and found himself cramped from head to toe… on a sofa.
Lifting his head, he looked down at himself. He wore only boxers, and as was usually the case when he first awakened, they were tented. Hmmm…
Where had the sheet gone? Ah, over the side of the couch to the floor.
Levering up to one arm, Reese attempted to orient himself – and there stood Alice at the foot of the couch, fully dressed in summer slacks and a sleeveless blouse, her hands locked together in front of her and, yes, her soft brown hair hung loose.
But now, with him wide awake, her hair looked tidy, like Alice, not sexily rumpled as it had in his dream.
She watched him, but those soul-sucking brown eyes weren’t on his face.
They stared with absorbing attention at his morning wood.
Great. Playing kissy-face with his dog was bad enough. Scrambling for the sheet now would only make him look more foolish. He wasn’t used to finding himself in tricky, uncomfortable situations. At least, not with women.
As a police detective, sure, he’d often found himself discomfited by perps, though usually not in boxers while sporting Mahogany.
Alice was many things: a neighbor, an enigma, an irritant and a subtle bombshell.
And obviously, based on that ramped up dream, she was also the current focus of his fantasies.
He cleared his throat. “Up here, Alice.” Her curious gaze rose to his face. “Thank you. Now if you don’t mind, you could turn around a moment. My modesty is beyond compromised, so it doesn’t really matter to me, but with your face already going pink I’m not sure –”
“Of course.” Turning, she gave him her back. Posture stiff. Air uncertain.
That lovely fawn-colored hair fell just beyond her shoulders.
“Sorry about that.” She strode fast and unsteady to the patio door that led to her small deck. She’d left the door open, allowing in a muggy, late-August breeze that teased her beautiful hair.
Given the heat of his interest, air conditioning would have been nice, but since this was Alice’s apartment, and she’d been generous enough to let him crash on her couch, he wouldn’t complain. Much.
“What time is it anyway?” Sitting up, Reese reached for the sheet, but Cash sat on it. The dog watched Reese, his furry ears perked up, his expression hopeful. Reese grinned. After tugging out the sheet and covering himself, he patted the couch beside his thigh. “C’mere, boy.”
The dog bounded up with over-the-moon enthusiasm. Because of the undercover sting they’d just wrapped up, Reese had spent as much time away from Cash as with him – and still he and the dog had bonded.
“It’s a little after one o’clock.”
And she hadn’t awakened him? How long had she been sneaking around the apartment?
How long had he lain there without even a sheet?
He was generally a light sleeper, so either he’d been really out of it, or she was… stealthy.
That thought bothered him, and meshed with other concerns he had about Alice. Her keen observance of everything around her, combined with her cautious air, planted awful background possibilities into his head.
Then there was the way she’d come onto the scene yesterday, a big, loaded gun in her hand…
“Cash hasn’t been out for a few hours. I was trying to lead him through without waking you, but he saw you there on the couch, and then you made… a sound.”
“A sound, huh?” Given the erotic dream, he could just imagine.
“Cash sidetracked to you and –”
“I thought he was you.” When her shoulders stiffened more, Reese felt devilish enough to say, “And I was having this rather sexual dream.”
Wide-eyed with something akin to astonishment, she faced him, stole a peek at his lap, and when she saw he’d bunched the sheet there, she met his gaze. “What do you mean?”
“You and me.” He gestured between them. “And damn, but the dream felt real.” Reese scratched under Cash’s furry chin. “You were near me. Breathing on me.”
Indignation brought her brows together. “Breathing on you?”
Wondering when she’d catch on, he gave a sage, serious nod. “You nuzzled my ear and I felt your hot tongue -”
Backing up fast, she bumped into the screen on the patio door and almost fell through it. After an accusatory scowl at Reese for making her stumble, she checked the screen, saw that it remained in the track, and cleared her throat. “I would never –” She searched for a word and came up empty.
To his surprise, she kept quiet, but her mouth – and her expression – softened.
“No? What a shame.” He gave the dog a few pets, which encouraged him to shower Reese with more affection. “But apparently Cash would.”
Realization dawned. “Oh.” A smile twitched. “You felt Cash trying to wake you, and you thought..?”
“Yeah. Helluva way to start my day. I mean, I’m fond of him, but…” Reese looked her over. “Not that fond.”
“Sure he is.” Reese had only recently gotten the dog, and while he’d never considered himself a pet-lover, he and Cash were getting acclimated – with Alice’s help. “I just don’t want you mistaking my…” He nodded at his lap. “Reaction.”
Though she covered her mouth, a short laugh escaped anyway.
That laugh was as mesmerizing as her smile, and his sheet-covered boner twitched. “Keep it up, and I’ll never get it under control.”
Rather than backing up or blushing again, she chastised him. “Really, Reese. It’s not something to talk about.”
“Not something to be embarrassed over either.” But he sort of was anyway. What was it about Alice that affected him so profoundly – and so physically? “Not to minimize your appeal, but it happens to most guys in the morning.”
“When they awaken, you mean?”
“Yeah. It’s called morning wood, or in this case, afternoon wood, I guess.”
“I see.” She tipped her head to study him. “But when you knocked on my door this morning, you were wide awake, fully dressed and had just finished working.”
He’d also been aroused over the possibility of spending more intimate time with her. Knowing he shouldn’t tell her that – yet – he scrubbed a hand over his tired eyes.
“Yet even then,” she continued, her tone mischievous and teasing, “you had a…um…”
Having her talk about it wasn’t helping. Reese trapped her gaze with his own. “An erection.”
“Yes.” A little too matter-of-factly, she nodded. “You had one then, also.” Though the color in her fair skin intensified, she didn’t look away. “You told me not to worry about it.”
“I know what I said.” God, he wanted to kiss her. If she was any other woman, he would.
But he hadn’t known Alice that long, and what he did know of her kept him from pushing things. Already, thanks to the fiasco the day before, she’d seen the hazards of his job.
Wasn’t every day that murderers and thugs, the very criminals he investigated, showed up on his doorstep. It was even more uncommon for those offenders to get the drop on him. Usually he was great at his job. But yesterday… yeah, he’d suffered a first-class cluster fuck – and Alice had managed to get right in the middle of it.
Maybe that’s why he’d been dreaming of her. She’d been helping out by watching his dog while he and his partner closed in on their quarry, and then when shit went sideways, she’d recognized the deadly situation and sent in reinforcements.
He eyed her understated, prim façade, which hid so much intuition, bravery, and cunning. “You will never have reason to worry about anything with me.”
She was the most curious woman, and that, too, could explain his unaccountable reaction to her. “Just like that, huh?”
“I know you’re honorable.”
Sensible Alice. Of course she was right – he was honorable, most especially where women were concerned. But in the short time they’d known each other, how could she possibly be that confident about his intentions?
So he’d taken in a stray dog – a dog she now adored. So what? He was polite, mannerly, dressed well and had his own proper persona. It meant nothing, and she should realize that.
Yet from what he’d seen so far she had great instincts.
The type of instincts usually honed in the field.