“Damn, Daniel, where are you?” Karen Barr glanced at her cell phone, hoping to see a message from him. She’d called him before she left her apartment, texted him from the station where she stopped for gas, and had even pulled off the highway a time or two in her attempt to reach him.
Had he changed his mind about this weekend?
Or was the bad weather interfering with his cell phone signal?
As if in answer to her question, the pounding rain increased, pouring water from the sky like an overflowing faucet. The windshield wipers worked in a quick pulsating rhythm. Nevertheless, they still didn’t achieve the task of improving visibility.
Karen flipped the switch to increase the speed and stared at the road ahead. The weatherman had predicted a storm tonight, and for once when she wanted him to be wrong, he was right.
How much farther did she have to go?
The turn off for Daniel’s cabin couldn’t be too far away. She’d caught sight of the old, red barn off to the left a few miles back, so the dirt lane to Daniel’s place had to be close.
She slowed the car, crawling along at a snail’s pace so as not to miss the path. Her headlights reflected off something metallic. She read the weathered sign. Happy.
The outdated tune of “Happy Trails to You” played through her head. Daniel had sung the song the first time he’d brought her here. He said it’d help her remember the way back.
Right, and where the hell was he?
Karen checked her cell phone again, and silently prayed he wasn’t lying in a muddy ditch somewhere. Hopefully, he had simply forgotten to recharge his phone, a particularly annoying habit he seemed to have.
“Damn it, Daniel, when I find you I...”
She didn’t exactly know what she’d do... kiss him?
Pictures of him flashed in her head... his sexy smile, his curly, dark hair with a touch of gray at his temples... the broad width of his shoulders, his trim physique... the round curve of his ass.
“Shit, why do I put myself through this? The man doesn’t see me as anything other than a friend,” Karen grumbled and flipped her blinker on out of habit.
She steered the car onto Happy Trails. The huge trees resembled mighty sentinels. Standing guard along the edge of the road, they blocked the rain with their large limbs. Slowing to avoid the abundant potholes on the gravel path, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel and searched for the end of Daniel’s driveway.
The storm and lack of communication from him had stretched her patience to the breaking point. She longed to be at her final destination and out of the car. “I should’ve never accepted his invitation to spend the weekend with him at his cabin. He can’t let go of the past,” she muttered angrily.
Hell, after her divorce, she gave up everything, her husband of twenty-plus-years, her beautiful country manor home, her cushy job, and her high-society friends. All she’d wanted was a new start—freedom from the endless upper crust parties and social climbing leeches. Thankfully now, her individual concerns were merely for her kids and herself. The infinite hours spent on creating a prominent public image for Carl was in her ex-husband’s trophy wife’s hands.
Unfortunately, Daniel’s world had changed for a different reason. His wife’s death had hit him extremely hard. He’d barely been able to cope and had turned to Karen. They’d worked together for years, and he had no else. His family lived out of the state. She’d tried to help, and they’d grown closer. Now, she wanted even more from him. Could they bridge the gap from friends and become lovers?
The dim light shining up ahead drew her attention. She figured Daniel must have left the porch light on for her. Then why didn’t he return her calls?
Was it his way of keeping her from backing out?
Seeing his new F150 truck in the driveway, she pulled in beside it and gathered her things off the passenger seat. “Daniel Slater, you have some real explaining to do.”
She stashed her keys in her pocket and zipped her nylon jacket closed before she swung open the car door. Rain pelted her as she dashed for the front porch. Splashing through multiple puddles, she skidded to a halt by the oak door. Breathless and feeling completely soaked to the skin, she jabbed at the doorbell. No sound met her ears except the relentless ting of the raindrops hitting the cabin’s tin roof. She pounded on the wooden partition with her fist. “Daniel, let me in.”
Recalling the key he’d given her, she dug into her pocket and pulled out her key ring. The porch light helped her identify the right one, and she inserted it into the lock. With a quick twist of her wrist, she opened the door and stepped onto the gleaming hardwood floor.
A light in the kitchen lit the large open area. The dining room and living room cast in shadows showed no occupants. “Daniel,” she called out and dumped her things on the small table just inside the cabin. She peeled off her wet jacket and dropped it over a hook on the wall before she toed off her muddy sneakers and set them on the plastic mat by the door.
Still not hearing any reply, Karen turned for the stairs leading to the master bedroom, located in the loft above the living room. She noticed the soft glow on the ceiling from a light and decided he must be resting up there. “Damn it, Daniel, if I find you with a young chickadee like I did my ex-husband,” she growled as she trudged up the staircase. “I might be tempted to...”
Her gaze immediately fell on the empty king-size bed. Exasperated by her inability to find him, she quickly scanned the entire room...desk area, open closet, bathroom... the door closed. Light glowed through the seam between the floor and the bottom edge. “Daniel, if you’re in the bathroom come out this minute.”
The entrance opened, and he stood in the doorway.
Problem, he wore only a towel.
Awe, shit... she didn’t need to see his bare chest covered in crisp dark hair, the sculptured muscles of his arms and shoulders, developed pecs, and thick thighs.
Damn, how was she supposed to resist such temptation?
Desire added to the anxiety she’d already experienced on her drive here, lit her anger. “Why the hell didn’t you answer your phone? I’ve been calling and texting you for the last two hours.”
A confused frown passed over his handsome face. Instead of responding, he stepped to the bedside table. He lifted his cell phone and clicked a few buttons.
Unable to contain her impatience, Karen stalked forward.
He glanced up when she grew closer and showed her the phone. “I don’t understand it. I don’t show receiving any messages or calls. The signals must have gotten lost because of the storm.”
She’d suspected as much. Still, she refused to let him off the hook because he could’ve contacted her before he left town. “You should’ve called me. But no...”
Having endured his inability to communicate for months now, she stabbed her finger through the air at him. “You never call. You always expect me to phone you. Well, I’ve had it.”
The distance closed between them and she stood inches from him. Her fingertip tapped his chest. Static electricity sparked between them and her fist unfolded. She stumbled backward.
“Whoa.” Daniel caught her around the waist with one hand and held her close. His phone landed on the bed before he circled his other arm around her. His strong grip held her steady and didn’t allow her to step away. “You’re right. I guess I’m just use to...”
“Don’t say it. I’ve heard it too many times. Sharon might have resented the interruptions, but I’m not her. I’m never in any type of meeting that you could possibly disrupt.” Karen spread her hands over his chest and worked to maintain a smidgen of distance. Nevertheless, with him so near, his warmth surrounding her in a seductive cocoon, she had to fight the urge to melt against him.
“Yes, but if I called you whenever I wanted we’d never get off the phone.” The husky tone of his voice pulled her gaze upward.
Spying the silly grin on his face, she shook her head. “Don’t play with me, Daniel. I was worried that something bad might’ve happened to you.”
He cupped the back of her neck and guided her head to his shoulder. “You worry too much. Nothing’s going to happen to an old dog like me.”
Not wanting to dredge up the painful memories of the car accident that took his wife’s life, Karen remained quiet. No one knew how long they had before they died. A wash of fear rippled through her at the uncertainty of the future. Still, she figured they had another twenty or thirty years left to enjoy. Would he want to waste them away as friends? Or did he want something more?
Hesitant to approach the subject, she rested her cheek against his hard chest and slipped her arms around his trim waist. She drew in a deep breath to calm her racing pulse. The fresh, clean scent of soap that he’d used in his shower filled her senses. Need tingled through her breasts and the tips hardened. The battle to stay quiet concerning her feelings for him rose again to the forefront of her mind.
Should she tell him she wanted more?
Daniel dropped soft kisses onto her temple and whispered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you.” He slipped a hand under her shirt and his fingertips played over her spine.
A shiver of longing rushed through her. For two years, they’d been in this platonic relationship clinging together as a way of recovering from the devastating events in their lives. Now, she wanted to be his lover too. Did he want the same thing?
She lifted her head and met his dark brown gaze. Her argument evaporated beneath his heated stare. Air backed up in her lungs and she stuttered, “Daniel, we, uh, need to talk.”
“Can’t. My tongue has other tasks to achieve.”
The rest of the sentence slid down the back of her throat when he settled his hot, hungry mouth over hers.
Chapter Two - brief teaser
Daniel moaned at his first taste of her. He’d given her brief butterfly kisses before... on the hand or cheek, never her lips. He had avoided touching his mouth to hers for fear of not being able to stop once he got started. Now, he knew he’d made a wise choice because he planned to spend a lifetime enjoying her rich, sweet flavor.
Then her lips parted. He couldn’t resist temptation. For months, he envisioned sliding his tongue deep into her mouth. The reality of the moment was better than any dream. She responded to his teasing stroke by opening wider, giving him free access to savor, explore, and drowning his senses under a tidal wave of sensations.
He tightened his grip and dragged her closer, familiarizing himself with her sensual curves. His hands ran over her back and he unhooked her bra. Her gasp of surprise was quickly followed by her muscles tightening as she clung to him. Each swipe of his tongue fed his arousal, reminding him how long he’d gone without making love to a woman. He had intended to let Karen make the first move, so he’d be sure she wanted him as much as he wanted her. Then she stepped close and his brain diverted his plans.
Take it slow. He reminded himself.
Only his body didn’t want to cooperate. His heart raced, and the pressure gathering in his groin alerted him to the thin barrier covering his crotch. A small tug and he’d be completely naked. Wanting her in the same state of undress, he shoved her T-shirt higher and grazed his fingers over her ribs. He drew a line with his thumbs under her breasts and deepened the kiss, his lips eating at hers.
She moaned and her fingers slid under the edge of the towel at his waist.
His thoughts immediately jumped to the erotic conclusion of having her spread across the bed... his body over hers, his thick erection buried to the hilt inside her hot center. He tore his lips from hers and rested his forehead against hers to regain some sanity. Otherwise, he’d follow through with his desire to rip off her clothes without giving her a moment to catch her breath.
As anxious as he was to make love to her, if he didn’t put the brakes on, he’d rush the moment. He still needed to make sure and hear the words that she wanted the same thing he did. Silently, he vowed to slow things down.
“Daniel.” Karen glared at him. “I hope you intend to finish what you started because if not I might have to...” He read the same hot need in her hazel eyes that was driving him. All the uncertainty he’d been struggling with for the past few months fell away. She wanted him. He didn’t have to traverse the minefield of going from friends to lovers. They were on the same page and were ready to move onto the next phase of their relationship. Dragging in a breath of much needed air, he relaxed.
She smiled and stepped out of his arms. Her wicked fingers tangled in the towel, and she freed the fabric from his waist. The long strip of terry cloth dangled from her fingertips for a brief second before she tossed it away and dropped to her knees.
“Holy shit,” he groaned as he realized her intentions. Afraid if he moved, she’d change her mind. He stood stock-still, frozen in place until she wrapped her soft hands around his length and squeezed lightly.
Every ounce of blood drained from his head to his groin. The amazing intensity had him struggling to keep from spontaneously self-combusting. “Sugar, I’m glad we’re in agreement on what we want but...”
He dug his hands through her silky, auburn locks and fought to gather his control.