Hot in Here
November 1, 2013
Harlequin Men of Courage
Three smoldering classics from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
Firefighter Harris Black is startled to stumble across nude photos of a woman…and handwritten notes about him. Who is this mystery woman? Harris hires a P.I. to trace her, never suspecting he’s already found her….
Lumberyard owner Buck Boswell prides himself on his way with women-but his prickly neighbor, Sadie Harte, seems immune to his charms. Is she really as aloof as she acts, or can Buck convince her to take a chance on the guy next door?
AN HONORABLE MAN
Lieutenant colonel Hamilton Wulf’s career ambitions cost him the one woman he ever wanted-Liv Avery. Now he’s determined to win back her love…even if it means risking his life.
It was barely six o'clock on that cloudy Saturday morning in Chester, Ohio. The sun struggled to shine without much success as Buck Boswell finished brushing his teeth, then splashed his unshaven face with cold water. Saturday mornings were meant for sleeping in, preferably with a soft, warm female. But for the next few weekends, that was out.
Butch, the little Chihuahua he'd been roped into babysitting for two weeks, was causing a ruckus. For a four-pound dog, he made a lot of noise.
Butch had already been out to do his business - the reason Buck was up so early on a vacation day - so he should have been curled up on his blankets, back to dreaming blissful doggy dreams. For the two days Buck had kept Butch so far, that'd been his routine: up at dawn, out for his morning constitutional, back to bed.
Unfortunately, Buck couldn't do the same. Once Butch woke him, getting back to sleep proved impossible. He was starting his vacation by keeping the hours of his grandpa instead of a thriving bachelor.
Riley, one of his best friends, had asked Buck to sit the dog so he and his wife, Regina , could take a cruise. But Riley hadn't mentioned that Butch rose with the roosters, only to nap again afterward.
Owning his own lumberyard and working sixty-hour weeks as a result hadn't allowed Buck much time to bond with pets. Free time was spent with his friends, his family, and a selection of very nice females.
But being he was the only bachelor left in their close circle of friends, the duty fell on him. And despite his lack of familiarity with the furry creatures, he and Butch got along well enough. So, what had upset Butch enough to cause that mournful sound?
Concerned, Buck dried his face and dropped his towel. Because he slept in the nude, he'd had to pull on underwear when Butch first woke him. In the dark, he'd chosen monkey-print boxers given to him as a joke by Ethan's wife, Rosie. He hadn't bothered to put anything more on yet, so he cautiously poked his head around the corner to see what had Butch riled.
Butch sat at the French doors at the back of Buck's apartment, staring out at the shadowy yard.
"Hey Bud, what's the deal?"
Butch cast him a quick worried look, then went back to staring. Buck strode forward, leaned close for his own peek and narrowed his eyes to see through the hazy morning shadows. A trim figure moved across the high grass.
Figured it had to be a woman who'd have the dog baying like a wolf. Occasionally, Sadie had the same effect on Buck: he didn't understand her; she was unlike other women he knew; and she made him nuts.
Sadie was the most buttoned down, prudish, spinsterish twenty-something woman he had ever seen. To call her plain would be an understatement. But did that stop Buck from being nice to her? No. He even teased her a little, tried flirting some. He was friendly, cordial.
It got him nowhere.
In fact, despite her cold politeness, he thought she actually disliked him. In the three months that she'd been his neighbor, not once had she invited him to her apartment. And when he invited her to join a small get together with his close friends, she refused. She'd chat with him in the yard, or give a passing greeting, but anything remotely indicative of a relationship scared her off, even a relationship as casual as being good friends.
The only time she'd been to his apartment was to ask him not to make so much noise.
It nettled him, that he couldn't get her to warm up to him. Women liked him, damn it. He wasn't an ogre, he had his own business, his mother had taught him manners, and he loved to laugh. Not bad qualities, right?
So, why did Sadie keep him an arm's length away?
The curiosity was getting to him. Not once had he ever seen her with a boyfriend. She never had company either. No one. Not family, not friends.
But she did take in rescue animals. Pitiful creatures with their tails between their legs, their ears down. They'd cower whenever anyone got near. Sadie was patience personified, tender and careful and caring. Too many times, Buck had stood at his door and watched her with a dog or two in the small back yard. He'd open his window so he could hear her soft voice as she cajoled an animal into trusting her.
Broke his heart, it really did. The worst part of it all was that Sadie didn't keep the pets. She helped them, and then found them good homes where they could have the love of a family, a big fenced yard, maybe kids to play with.
Today, however, wasn't the same.
Normally when he saw Sadie, she had on her schoolteacher duds, as Buck liked to think of them. Even while working with the animals in the yard, she wore long shapeless skirts, flat shoes, prim blouses better suited to a maiden aunt than a young woman. Far as Buck knew, she didn't own a pair of jeans. Or shorts. Or, God forbid, a bathing suit.
She always looked buttoned down and standoffish - and it made him nuts wondering what she'd look like in something more revealing. That was the way with men. They always wanted what they couldn't have. For three months, he'd been wanting a peek at prim and proper Ms. Sadie Harte.
Today was his day to have wishes come true.
Mesmerized, intrigued, and a little amused, Buck leaned against the wall and took in the sight before him.
For reasons he couldn't fathom, Sadie was in the yard, running from his lot to her own and back again.
In a thin nightgown.
Now he knew what she slept in. It wasn't the nudity he'd imagined many times over, but the long white gown made of thin cotton would do for future fantasies. The gown was innocent, romantic and hinted at the body beneath.
As Sadie dashed past, his gaze tracked her from the top of her head to her dew-wet feet and back up again. Sleepiness got replaced with sharpened awareness.
If Sadie dressed like that more often, her social calendar would be full.
Had she just woken too? Maybe had a nightmare? They'd talked enough for him to know that Sadie was the sensible sort, not a woman prone to theatrics. Given her wardrobe, she was really modest too. But this morning, she didn't even have on a housecoat.
At that precise moment, early morning sunbeams burst through the clouds, making Sadie's gown less than opaque. Breath caught, Buck took in the sight of a few subtle shadows that hinted at female curves.
The new view was damn interesting. He made note of her narrow waist, her small, high breasts and long thighs. The image of her curled in bed, half-asleep, soft and warm, crowded into his brain.
Butch howled again and scratched at the door, forcing Buck back into the moment.
"Sorry buddy. I don't want you running after her. No reason for you both to look nuts."
Sadie's light brown, baby fine hair danced around her head as she whipped this way and that in a crazed fashion. He'd always wanted to see her with her hair down. Because she usually had it twisted up, Buck hadn't known it was bone straight, shoulder length, or that it had glints of red and gold when the sunlight hit it just right.
Now that he did know, he wondered why she always kept it up. It looked real pretty around her shoulders.
Suddenly, her small bare feet slid in the tall, dew-wet grass, leaving her close to landing on her tush. Her arms did cartwheels in the air. She looked panicked before catching her balance and taking off again.
Buck slid the door open a little so she could hear him, but not wide enough for Butch to get out. "Sadie," he called, hoping to gain her attention without startling her. "Is something wrong?"
Her head jerked in his direction, her chocolate gaze locked on his, and to Buck's surprise, she came barreling toward him. Except for her nose, which had turned pink with the morning chill, her face was pale.
"What the - " Buck braced himself for the unexpected attack.
Screaming, Sadie jerked the door right out of his hand and nearly knocked him over in her haste to get inside. Her wet feet shot out from under her again when she stepped on his tile floor. Buck caught her under the arms, aware of her slight weight and fragile bones. She was such a delicate woman...
Sadie paid him no mind. Immediately, she slammed the door shut again, using enough force to rattle the panes of glass. Panting, nose glued to the glass, she watched the yard as if expecting something momentous.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Buck leaned against the wall and stared down at Sadie. At six-three, he stood taller than a lot of people. He was used to looking down. But Sadie was more petite than most, damn near a foot shorter than him.
And she was in her nightgown. With pretty, sleep-rumpled hair. And small feminine bare feet now wet and dirty with grass stains.
He was still ogling her feet when Sadie jumped. "Ohmigod, there it is! There she is!"
Buck looked over her shoulder - and saw another Chihuahua , way fatter than Butch but not much bigger otherwise. The poor thing was soaked from running in the grass. It was also missing some fur. It had a bald forehead with other bare patches on its belly and behind.
It was about the ugliest little dog Buck had ever seen, and it charged right up to his door, then put both front paws to the glass.
The shocking sound caused Buck to nearly jump out of his underwear. Bewildered, he caught Sadie's upper arm and turned her toward him. "What in the world is wrong with you?"
"No," Buck said reasonably, " Chihuahua . Probably the ugliest Chihuahua I've ever seen, but you apparently agreed to take it in..."
Sadie turned on him, stretched to her tiptoes to glare, and said, "In. Her. Mouth."
Her snarling tone startled him. Buck glanced down at the dog and... ewww.
Right there between the dog's teeth was a chubby, still screeching, red-eyed locust. He shuddered in honest, horrified revulsion. No wonder the dog was losing fur if she kept things like that in her mouth. "Good God, is she going to eat it?"
"I don't know," Sadie wailed while doing a little spastic jig and flapping her hands. "She keeps getting... things , and bringing them home to me. A dead frog, a slimy night crawler, and now this."
The little dog whined around the pulsating bug.
"She wants in," Sadie gasped.
"Over my dead body," Buck said.
Her expression earnest, her tone commanding, Sadie turned to Buck. She even flattened a hand on his chest, which nearly stopped his heart. "Go out there and take it away from her."
Buck stiffened. Of all the things to ask, why did it have to be that ? And she asked it while touching his naked chest with her soft little hand, when he stood in his underwear and her in her nightgown, leaving room for all sorts of possibilities.
He hated to disappoint her, but some things were just impossible. "Sorry, no can do."
Her lips trembled. "Why?"
"I hate locusts."
Her dark doe eyes widened. "But you're a man!"
"Last time I checked, yeah." At least he knew she'd noticed that much. "And stop yelling. You're upsetting the dogs."
Only Butch didn't look upset. He looked... love struck. From the moment the other Chihuahua had appeared, Butch had gone stock-still, his head tilted, his bulgy little eyes wide. Deep in his throat, a low, husky rumble escaped. Close to a whimper, only Butch was all male dog, so no way would Buck accuse him of whimpering.
Maybe Butch had bad eyesight, and didn't realize the other dog was balding. Maybe...
Sadie's hand, still on his chest, curled into a fist, grasping a handful of hair. "She's leaving. You have to go get her."
When Buck just winced, she changed tactics. "Oh please. I can't lose her, but I can't go out there either. I just can't. Not while she has that awful thing in her mouth."
Buck watched the dog trot around the corner. He shook his head, denying the inevitable. "I hate locusts. If it was a spider, no problem at all. A snake, I'm there. But locusts - "
Sadie jerked, nearly removing his chest hair. "She's going to get lost!"
Yeah, she probably would. Disgusted and feeling very put out, Buck gently untangled Sadie's fingers from his chest hair. He leaned down till his nose almost touched hers. "All right. But you owe me."
Her lashes fluttered in incomprehension.
She swallowed, then gave a small nod. "All right."
Satisfied, Buck picked up Butch and handed him to her. "Hold him. I'll be right back."
"Her name is Tish," Sadie explained in a belated effort to be helpful.
Buck crept out, his eyes darting this way and that, his ears alert to the scream of the locust. No sign of the dog. No sign of other neighbors, either, thank God, since he was in his under shorts.
In a ridiculously high voice for a man who weighed two-twenty-five, all of it muscle, he called, "Tish? Come on, sweetie-pie. Heeeere Tish..."