Too Much Temptation
Book 1 in the Brava Brothers Series
Grace Jenkins has had little experience with men—feeling too awkward and insecure to free the passionate woman inside her. But that hasn’t stopped her from dreaming about Noah Harper. Gorgeous, strong and darkly sexy, his rough edge beneath the polish promises no mercy in the bedroom. When Grace learns Noah’s engagement has ended in scandal, she shyly offers him her support and her friendship. But Noah’s looking for something extra…
Noah wants Grace—badly. He wants to possess those curves that go on forever, to savor her sweet innocence, to take her to the limits of white-hot desire. . .again and again. What he doesn’t want is anything more complicated than that, and he knows Grace is a woman who deserves better. Grace, however, knows exactly what she wants–the kind of ecstasy only Noah can give her. Brazenly, she accepts, and Noah promises to make all her secret fantasies come true…
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Too Much Temptation
is Book 1 in the Brava Brothers Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
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Too Much Temptation
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Grace was so furious with herself she felt like spitting. The near torrential rainfall didn’t slow her down as she splashed her way up the sidewalk to Noah’s building, her every step punctuated by a passionate rage. Eight days. Eight hellish days she’d been away, probably when Noah had needed her most. She’d expected to come home to a list of things yet to be done for the wedding, because Agatha did love to give her lists.
Instead, she’d come home to the tail end of an uproar.
She swiped away a tear of fury that mingled with the rain dripping down her cheek. It was always that way. Hurt her, insult her, and she was fine. She’d summon up calm dignity and deal with it. But let her get really mad, and look out – she cried like a baby.
Damn her car for breaking down, damn Agatha for being a hardheaded matriarch, and damn everyone for ever doubting him.
Poor Noah. Poor honorable, loyal Noah.
He needed her.
Spurred on by her convictions, Grace hurried on. She slipped as she jerked the foyer door open and bounded inside onto slick marble tile. She’d have landed on her well padded behind if it wasn’t for Graham, the doorman, catching her arm and wrestling her upright.
“Here now!” Graham said in some surprise, maintaining his hold on her arm as Grace started to dart past.
It took him a moment to recognize her with her hair hanging in long sodden ropes in her face and her clothes saturated through and through, making them baggier than usual. When he did recognize her, his old eyes widened.
“Ms. Jenkins! What in the world are you doing out in this storm?”
Grace forced herself to slow down. “Sorry Graham. Is Noah in?”
“Yes ma’am. He’s with his brother.”
Thank God. Grace would have rather had her visit with Noah in private, without Ben’s audience, but at least Noah was home. Besides, she should have known Ben would be close at hand. He very much respected his brother, and always offered unconditional support.
Grace was relieved that Noah hadn’t been all alone during the ordeal.
“My stupid car broke down a few blocks from here,” she told Graham. “I’ll call triple A from Noah’s.”
“Should I announce you?”
Noah had a standing rule that his family was always welcome. Grace was in no way blood family, but as his grandmother’s personal secretary, Noah granted her the same importance. She’d known Noah for three years. She’d loved him just about that long.
Not that she would ever tell anyone, especially not Noah.
“No, I’ll go on up. But thanks.”
The doorman shook his head as she turned away, probably thinking she had less sense than a turkey to go running through the stormy weather. But she simply hadn’t possessed the patience to wait in her car for a cab. A little rain wouldn’t melt her, and since hearing what Agatha had done yesterday, how she’d treated Noah because of the breakup, Grace had been filled with a driving urgency to reach him, to let him know that at least one person still… what? Still believed in him, still trusted in his innate honor?
The elevator moved so slowly, Grace couldn’t stop tapping her foot, which jiggled drips of rainwater from her body onto the elevator floor. She now stood in a puddle.
The second the doors opened, she leaped out then had to leap back in when she realized it was the wrong floor. The woman getting on gave her a funny look, but said nothing, even when she had to step around the soggy carpeting.
Grace chewed her thumbnail. It was a disgusting habit – as Agatha had often told her – but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
This time she checked the floor before getting off. Every step she took caused her feet to squish inside her pumps and left damp tracks across the carpeting. When she reached Noah’s door, she drew a deep breath to fortify herself, pushed her long wet hair behind her ears, and rapped sharply.
She knocked again, and even pushed the doorbell a few times, but still there was no answer. Refusing to give up, Grace tried the door and found it unlocked. She crept inside, calling out, “Noah?” but no one answered. And then she heard the voices coming from the balcony.
Grace hurried through the apartment, noticing empty beer bottles everywhere, as well as pizza boxes and chip bags thrown about. A mostly empty, dried up container of sour cream and chive dip was half tucked into the sofa cushions.
The cleaning lady would have a fit.
Grace wondered if Noah had thrown a party, if he actually celebrated the breakup. It seemed unlikely. For many years now everyone had expected him and Kara to marry, and then be blissfully happy in their picture perfect lives. The breakup had naturally thrown everyone for a loop, Grace especially.
She finally located him.
Noah sat on the covered balcony with his brother, and together they made such an impressive sight they stole Grace’s breath. Oh boy, there were some outstanding genes running through those two. No wonder Agatha had put her pride aside and sought out her deceased son’s illegitimate offspring. Noah was a man to make anyone proud.
The two brothers were talking, oblivious to Grace’s presence, and she studied them. Their large bare feet were propped on the edge of the railing, getting rained on. Both of them lounged back in chairs, Ben with his tilted on the back legs.
Noah had a long necked bottle of beer dangling between his fingers, his other hand resting limply on his hard abdomen. He wore faded jeans, a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off, and nothing else. His silky, coal black hair was rumpled, his face shadowed with beard stubble. His entire body bespoke weariness.
He was the sexiest, most appealing man she’d ever known.
Even from where Grace stood, she could see the lush length of Noah’s sooty lashes, sinfully long, too extravagant for a man. They lent a striking contrast to an otherwise hard-edged presence.
“To hell with all of ’em,” Ben said. His words were slurred and thick and angry.
Grace tucked in her chin. Uh oh. Ben sounded… drunk. Really drunk.
Like Noah, he seldom imbibed so then this must be a… commiseration-drinking binge? She didn’t really know men well enough to know what their habits might be, but it seemed feasible.
She looked behind her and this time counted the empty beer bottles littering the apartment. Oh Lord! They must have been at it since last night. Had Noah contacted Ben directly after leaving Agatha’s? Had they been drinking ever since?
Wide eyed, Grace turned back to the brothers.
Noah too, sounded slurred when he said, “It took them all by surprise, that’s all.”
“Yeah, so they jump to the conclusion that you’re a heartbreaker. The asses.”
“Heartbreaker?” Noah made a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh, wasn’t quite a curse. “Oh, they had better descriptions than that, believe me. You’d think I jilted her at the altar the way they went on.”
Grace swallowed her choking pain and renewed annoyance. Agatha had told her all about the awful meeting at her house with Noah summoned in to face Kara, along with her mother and father and Agatha herself. He’d stood alone against them, bearing their insults and their blame without defending himself – the same way he’d faced the world most of his life.
They’d jointly called him to account and when Noah had refused to explain why he’d ended the engagement, Agatha had claimed to disown him.
No. Grace curled her arms around the ache in her stomach, the pain in her heart. She would never let that happen. Noah was a part of the family now and he’d damn well stay a part. She’d make Agatha relent. As her personal secretary, she carried some clout.
At least she hoped she did.
“It’s situations like this,” Ben explained, waving his beer for emphasis, “why I don’t submit to her fucking blood tests.”
Noah slanted his younger brother a look. “You know she has to be careful, Ben. In her heart, Agatha knows you’re family, but she’s stubborn and cautious.”
“She should take my mother’s word for it.”
“Yeah. But it would damage her pride to do that.”
“And to hell with anyone else’s pride? Is that it?”
Noah shrugged. “Agatha has more pride than most.”
“Ha! She’s a – ”
“Careful.” Noah narrowed his eyes. “I’m madder than hell at her right now, too, but she’s still my grandmother, your grandmother.”
“Not that she’ll admit.”
Noah ignored that to add, “Just as you’re my brother.”
“Half brother.” Ben lifted the beer and guzzled down the remainder, then belched.
“Whole, half, who gives a rat’s ass? You’re my brother and regardless of any damn blood test, we both know it.”
Grace’s heart expanded in her chest, her throat clogged with emotion. Yes, Ben was Noah’s brother, and Agatha’s grandson. It was there in the shiny black hair he shared with Noah, in the broad shouldered physique, the olive skin tone.
At six feet, four inches, Noah was as impressively tall as his father had been. Ben stood six feet even, but he carried himself the same and their sexy, teasing smiles were identical.
Only the eyes were different. Noah had pale, striking blue eyes that could be either as cold as ice, or hot enough to singe your soul. Ben’s eyes were just the opposite, as black as a sinner’s and equally as wicked. He looked at women and they blushed and stammered in reaction.
Agatha’s son had fathered two sons by two different women, and he hadn’t acknowledged either of them. Likely Agatha wouldn’t have either if her son hadn’t died, leaving her all alone with no other family. But fifteen years ago the private detective she’d hired had found Noah, and now Agatha loved him. Grace was sure of that much, even if Agatha never admitted it. Despite the current disharmony, Noah was her pride and joy.
Though Agatha had been fully appeased with locating one grandson to fill the void in her personal and business life, the detective had also found Ben before the search could be cancelled.
From the first day when Ben had been an irreverent fourteen-year-old rascal, he and Agatha had rubbed each other the wrong way. But Grace knew that eventually Agatha would accept him. How could she not when Ben was so like Noah in the most important ways, proving he was her own flesh and blood?
Problem was, Agatha ruled with an iron fist and often placed her pride above everything else. Ben was his own boss, refusing to submit to the whims of an old woman. Secretly, Grace enjoyed Ben’s rebellion. He infuriated Agatha, which kept her on her toes and sharp-witted.
“We need more beer,” Noah announced, and dropped his empty bottle with a clank onto the balcony’s stone floor.
“You’ll have to get it,” Ben said without moving. “I can barely feel my legs.”
“Wimp.” Noah started to rise with a lusty groan.
“No.” Grace stepped forward, drawing the attention of both men. They slued around in their chairs and stared at her in muddled surprise.
“Hey,” Noah said. Then with some confusion: “Where’d you come from?”
“The front door wasn’t locked.”
Disapproving, Grace said, “I think you’ve both had quite enough to drink.”
The two men shared a look, and Ben grinned. “Ah Gracie, did someone try to drown you, sweetheart?”
“Ha – ha.” She made a face at Ben. He was forever teasing, and usually she liked it. “No, I got caught in the rain.” Self conscious, she pushed her hair behind her ears again. Her sweater stuck to her breasts and her back and her long skirt clung to her plump thighs, her belly. “My stupid car broke down,” she explained, while trying to make herself less noticeable.
Noah straightened, then came to his feet with stiff-legged purpose. “Why the hell didn’t you call me? I’d have picked you up.”
He swayed and Grace lifted a brow. “In your condition? I do believe that’s not only dangerous, but illegal.”
He cupped her chin and leaned closer. “I’d have called a cab for you.”
Just that simple touch on her chin and Grace’s heart was ready to pop. With a shuddering breath, she lifted away from him and busied herself by picking up empty bottles.
All around them, the storm raged, spraying into the balcony every so often, lighting the early evening sky with a brilliant display of electrical energy. The thunder rolled almost continually, rattling the windows, vibrating the floor, which explained why they hadn’t heard her knock.
“It doesn’t matter,” Grace remarked when both men continued to watch her, putting her on edge. “I’m here now.”
She started back into the apartment, aware of them tottering along behind her. “Besides, I was in a hurry.”
Ben propped himself up against a wall. He, too, had on jeans, now wet to the knees, and a polo shirt that fit his broad chest perfectly. His face, throat, and brawny arms were tanned, testifying to the amount of time he spent outdoors and near the pool.
“Yeah?” he asked. “How come?”
Distracted, Grace asked, “How come what?”
“How come you were in such an all-fire hurry?”
The reason for her visit flooded back on Grace and she gasped, almost dropping the bottles. Noah relieved her of several and plopped them onto the dinette table. “Grace? You okay?”
“Ohmigod,” she said, and turned to Noah, grasping his sweatshirt with both hands, holding onto him while she stared up into his handsome face. “I almost forgot when I saw you both sitting out there, looking so cute in your drunken revelry.”
Ben chuckled, muttering, ” Cute ,” under his breath, but Noah shook his head. “Quit pulling on my clothes and tell me what you forgot.”
” Almost forgot.” Then Grace softened with emotion. “Oh, Noah. I am so, so sorry.”
He and Ben shared another look, this one of concern and male speculation. “For what, exactly?”
” For what? For what’s happened, that’s what!” Her hands, curled in his shirt, thumped against his chest in emphasis. “For how Agatha jumped to the wrong conclusions and how everyone is acting and – ”
Noah pressed two big warm fingers against her lips, making her toes curl inside her waterlogged shoes, and her belly curl in sensual delight. “What conclusion did Agatha jump to? And how in hell do you think everyone is treating me?”
His fingers were still over her mouth and Grace swallowed hard, then reached for his thick wrist and gently drew his hand down. Oh Lord, the man made her shake with… with all kinds of things.
“Agatha wrongly assumed you were to blame for the breakup. And from what she told me, Miss Callen’s family was no better.” Grace’s temper ignited anew at her own reminder of how he’d been treated. “You’d think none of them knew you at all!”
Ben pushed away from the wall. His walk was only slightly steadier than the moment before. “You’re saying you don’t blame him?”
Grace whirled on him. “Ben Badwin! You should certainly know better!”
“Hey – ” He held up both hands, on the verge of laughter. ” – I didn’t say I blamed him.”
“Well, I would hope not.”
Noah crossed his arms and propped his hip against the dinette table. He still wavered a little, rocking back and forth. “So who do you blame?”
“Why… no one.” Grace flapped a hand. “Oh, I heard all about Kara weeping and being devastated and all that. Agatha said you’ve humiliated her in front of all of Gillespe by crying off after all the arrangements had been made, and that Kara’s emotionally crushed and may never recover. And I feel horrible for her, I really do.”
Ben laughed again.
“But I know you both must have had your own reasons. At the very least, I know you wouldn’t have crushed her unless you had no other choice.”
Grace squealed when Ben slipped his thick arms around her from behind and lifted her off her feet in a crushing hug. He treated her weight as negligible, and the thought occurred to Grace that for a man of Ben’s size, it might be.
And Noah was even bigger!
Ben’s bear hug so surprised her, Grace’s arms and legs sort of stuck straight out, like a strangled starfish trying to gain balance.
Rainwater squished out of her clothing, then trickled down her body and onto Ben. He put a smacking kiss on the side of her neck, immobilizing Grace with the impulsiveness of it. She could count on one hand the number of times a gorgeous man had kissed her neck.
Heck, she could count with one finger because this time was a first.
Noah continued to study her, scrutinizing her every reaction, which made Ben’s behavior inconsequential. She began to burn, and knew she had to gain control of the situation.
She cast a wary glance at Ben, who, although he released her, continued to grin like a rogue. She looked back at Noah, and way up, to see his expression. His muscled arms were crossed over his chest, his intense blue eyes narrowed, watchful. He looked bemused and something else, perhaps… tender.
“I’d have been here sooner,” Grace told him in a croak, trying to recollect herself. “But I was out of town.”
“I remember,” Noah murmured, still holding her fixed in his gaze. “Agatha had you doing some head hunting, didn’t she?”
“Yes, for a new chef she’d heard about. He agreed to her terms and she, ah, hired him. He starts right away.”
Noah sounded more disgusted than enthused. It had been Noah’s job for years now to do all the hiring. Agatha’s interference often resulted in difficulties that Noah had to deal with.
Grace didn’t want him sidetracked with worries about that now. “But that’s not important.”
“No? What is important?”
Grace chewed her lips, trying to decipher Noah’s mood. He had the most stony, unreadable expression when he chose, and he’d just gone into full conceal mode. He appeared relaxed, unconcerned, no more than curious.
But oh, those silvery blue eyes of his, shadowed by his long thick lashes, continued to burn. And she felt the heat right down to the core of her being. She glanced at Ben, but he just winked, his own brown eyes alight with mischief.
“It’s important,” Grace said, “that you know everyone doesn’t blame you.”
“But everyone does.”
Ben again laced his arms around her and propped his chin on her crown. “Why is that, sugar?”
Oh, please, Grace thought in a bit of a panic, Ben didn’t really think she could talk with him lined up behind her and Noah in front of her? She felt surrounded by testosterone, hemmed in by machismo. Impossible.
It was distracting enough that Ben had a body like a steel statue and was sexy to boot. It was doubly bad that he touched her in ways she’d never been touched before. It more than rattled her.
But while Ben could unsettle her with his dynamic presence, he’d never excited her emotions the way Noah did, never made her alternately hot and cold and so physically aware.
Yet, there Noah stood a mere foot in front of her, bare feet braced apart, dark hair damp from the humidity, eyes as hot as a blue flame. Grace’s heart pattered and she wondered that Ben didn’t feel it.
Then Noah slanted his brother an amused look. “You’re going to make her faint, Ben.”
“That right?” Ben peeked over her shoulder to see Grace’s face. She could feel his breath on her cheek. “You feelin’ faint, honey?”
“Knock it off, Ben.” Noah watched her as if he knew what she felt and even while he smiled at her predicament, he wanted to protect her.
Grace drew a shuddering breath. “I’m, uh, not used to guys touching me.”
Noah’s eyes glittered. “Huh. Now there’s a confession.”
Before Grace could recover from the suggestion in Noah’s tone, Ben saved her by pretending to be shocked. He said, very theatrically, “No! I won’t believe it, Gracie.”
Grace didn’t mind Ben poking fun. Almost every other twenty-five year old woman she knew had left virginity far behind.
Without looking at Noah, she said, “Afraid so.” Then, to try to relieve the tensions, she added, “At least, not big gorgeous sexy guys like yourself.”
“You hittin’ on me?” Ben asked with a teasing grin. He could be such a charming scamp.
“No,” Grace assured him, “because I’d have no idea what to do with you.”
He laughed and shook his head, then touched her cheek before moving away. “She’s all yours, Noah.”
Seeing that smile, Grace gulped.