By Sandra Brown
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By Sandra Brown
Where There's Smoke
Breath of Scandal
Best Kept Secrets
Slow Heat in Heaven
Classic Love Stories
Words of Silk
Not Even for Love
A Kiss Remembered
Seduction by Design
Tempest in Eden
Love Beyond Reason
A Treasure Worth Seeking
Shadows of Yesterday
The elevator was between floors when it came to a jaw-jolting stop and the lights blinked out. There had been no warning, no grinding down of gears, no forecasting flicker of the lights. Nothing. One minute the cubicle had been moving on its silent descent, the next, its two occupants were engulfed in unrelieved black stillness.
"Uh-oh," the man remarked. He was a New Yorker and accustomed to the practical jokes the city played on the citizens. "Another blackout."
Laney McLeod didn't comment. The man obviously expected her to say something. She could feel him turn and look toward her. But speech and movement were beyond her. She was paralyzed with fear. She rationalized, telling herself that it was her claustrophobia that made the situation so horrifying, that she would survive, that such stark terror was juvenile and bordered on the ridiculous. It didn't help.
"Are you all right?"
No, I'm not all right, she wanted to scream at him. But her vocal cords were frozen. Eight well-manicured nails were digging into two sweating palms. She realized that her eyes were squeezed shut. But forcing them open made no difference; there was no light in the suffocating confines of the apartment building elevator. Her breath was rasping loudly.
"Don't worry. It won't last long."
His calmness infuriated her. Why wasn't he panicked? She wanted to demand if he could guarantee that the power would be restored shortly. These blackouts could last for days, couldn't they?
"I think I'd feel better if you'd say something. You are all right, aren't you?"
She sensed a hand groping in the darkness only seconds before it made contact with her arm. She jumped.
"It's all right." Quickly he withdrew his hand. "Are you claustrophobic?"
Frantically she nodded her head, illogically thinking he could see the motion. He must have sensed it because his voice took on a lulling inflection. "There's nothing to worry about. If the power isn't restored in a matter of minutes, the fire department will be looking for stranded people like us."
She felt the air stir and heard the soft rustling of clothing. "I'm taking off my coat. I suggest you do the same."
When he had boarded the elevator, she'd gotten only a brief impression of gray hair, a tall frame, a slender physique, and clothes too studiously casual not to be outrageously expensive. Not speaking, not making eye contact, she had watched the lighted numbers over the elevator door as they ticked off their descent.
She had known that he watched her for several moments after he got in, though he hadn't spoken either. They had been subject to that universal awkwardness that comes between two strangers sharing an elevator. Eventually his eyes had joined hers counting down the floors of the building. Now she heard his jacket land on the plush carpet.
"Need any help over there?" he asked with forced cheerfulness when she didn't move. He took a step toward the sound of the heavy, irregular panting and raised his hands. He heard her thump against the paneled wall as she backed away from him. He touched her rigid body and tentatively felt his way to her shoulders. "Hey." His voice was silky soft. "Everything's going to be fine." His hands gave her tense shoulders a reassuring squeeze. Then he moved.
"What are you doing?" Laney hadn't thought she could speak until she heard her own gasped question.
"Helping you off with your coat. The hotter you are, the harder you breathe, and the more likely you may start hyperventilating," he said. "My name's Deke, by the way." The suit jacket she had bought at Saks only the day before was eased off and dropped to the floor. "What's your name? Is this a scarf?"
"Laney." She raised leaden hands and fumbled against his fingers. "Yes. It comes off." She unwound the tie from her neck and handed it to him.
"Laney. That's an unusual name. Maybe you should unbutton a few buttons too. I don't think your blouse will allow much ventilation. Silk, isn't it?"
"Very pretty too. Blue, if I remember."
"You're not a New Yorker," he remarked casually. He was working at the cuffs of her blouse, unbuttoning the pearl buttons and rolling the sleeves up her arms.
"No. I've been visiting for a week. I'm due to leave in the morning."
"You were visiting someone in the building?"
"Yes. My college roommate and her husband."
"I see. Now, isn't that more comfortable?" He adjusted her opened collar around her throat. "Would you like to sit down?" He lightly touched her waist with both hands.
Dammit. Deke Sargent cursed himself for moving too fast. Mustn't panic the panicked. The woman was still plastered against the wall as though she were facing a firing squad. She was breathing as though each inhalation were her last. "All right, Laney. You—"
The lights flickered like a strobe, then came on full strength. The gears of the elevator were engaged with a gentle bump, and they were moving again.
Two strangers stared at close range into each other's eyes. Both pairs were dilated. Her face was pale. His was creased with concern.
He smiled crookedly and returned his hands to her shoulders. She looked ready to fly into a million pieces. "There! See? I told you. Everything's back to normal."
Instead of returning his smile, resuming the aloof detachment of a stranger, thanking him for his patience with her silliness and restoring her clothing, she slumped against him. His shirtfront was clutched in tight, damp fists, and she uttered an anguished cry against his chest. He felt her convulsive trembling.
God bless her, she had forced herself to hold on to her composure as long as she could. But when the danger was over, her nerves had given way to her terror of the dark, confining elevator.
They came to a gliding stop at the lobby level. The door whished open. Through the plate glass windows of the lobby, Deke could see people milling about on the sidewalks. The avenue was thronged with traffic halted by inoperative signal lights. Chaos reigned momentarily.
"Mr. Sargent—" the uniformed doorman began, rushing toward the elevator.
"I'm fine, Joe," Deke said brusquely. The last thing this woman needed was to be thrown out on the street in her condition. He didn't want to make any lengthy explanations to the doorman. "I'm going back up."
"Were you in the elevator when—"
"Yes, but I'm fine."
He propped Laney against the wall and leaned backward to press the Door Close button and the one designating the twenty-second floor. The doors closed and they surged upward. The woman had been impervious to it all. She still slumped bonelessly and hiccupped soft sobs.
"You're all right. You're safe. It's okay," Deke murmured as he held her to him. She smelled very good and he liked the feel of her hair on his neck and chin.
The elevator opened onto the hallway of his floor. Splaying a hand wide over her chest to keep her from collapsing, he bent down to pick up their discarded jackets, the tie of her blouse and her handbag. Then he swept her into his arms and against his chest. He carried her down the hall to the corner apartment and set her gently on her feet.
"Almost there," he whispered as he took his key from his pants pocket and inserted it into the lock. The door swung wide. He scooped the woman in his arms again and strode inside, depositing her on a sofa whose deep cushions almost swallowed her.
When he turned to leave, her arms lifted as though imploring him to stay. "I'll be right back." Unthinkingly he brushed a kiss across her forehead. He hurried back to the door and punched a sequence of numbers on his alarm system, which would have gone off in fifteen seconds had he not. Their clothes and her handbag were retrieved from where he had left them in a pile in the hall. He closed and relocked the door, flipped up a switch that turned on the indirect lighting and adjusted the dimmer down. The room was lit with a suffusion of pale gold.
He crossed the room in three long strides and knelt in front of the sofa, taking her hand between his and chafing it. "Laney?" Her eyes were closed, but they came open at her name. "How are you?"
She looked at him blankly. Two large tears rolled down her cheeks. Then she covered her face with her hands and began to sob. "I was so scared. It's stupid, childish, I know. Claustrophobia . . ."
"Shhh." He got off his knees and sat down beside her. He gathered her in his arms, pressed her face into his neck and stroked her hair. "It's over. All over. You're safe." He kissed her temple. He kissed it again. His hand smoothed down her back and she snuggled closer.
Abruptly he pulled away and cleared his throat roughly. "What you need is a brandy."
He sure as hell needed one. He slowly extricated himself from her clinging hands and went to the small wet bar in the corner. As he poured the aromatic liquor into snifters, he watched her. It was as though her tears had cleansed her not only of panic but of energy too. She had turned sideways on the sofa, tucking her feet beneath her hips and resting her cheek against the back cushion.
Of all the damn things, he thought with a wry smile. Deke Sargent rescuing a woman in an elevator? An absolutely gorgeous woman who had to be helplessly carried into his apartment and was at his mercy? He shook his head as he made his way back to the sofa. No one would ever believe it.
What else could he have done? Turned her out on Manhattan streets in the aftermath of a blackout? But what was he going to do with her?
It never occurred to him to start calling other residents in the building in an attempt to locate the friends she had been visiting. Nor did he examine the possessiveness he felt toward her. He recognized it; he just didn't analyze it. But he thought it had something to do with the sweet curve of her hip as she reclined on his couch and the way her honey-blond hair spilled over the tangerine-colored velvet cushions.
"Here, Laney, drink some of this." He sat beside her again and, cupping her head in his hand, raised the fragile snifter to her even more fragile lips. Her lashes fluttered open. Blue eyes, disoriented but no longer haunted, stared at him for a moment before her lips parted and she took a sip of the finest brandy in the world.
Her face didn't testify to its quality: Her features screwed up comically and Deke chuckled softly as she coughed and sputtered. She wasn't sophisticated, though her well-cut raw-silk suit indicated discriminating taste.
"More?" he asked.
She nodded and surprised him by covering his hand with hers and guiding the snifter back to her mouth. She sipped daintily until most of the brandy was gone. Then she leaned her head against the cushions and sighed deeply. The gesture was innocent, but the swell of her breasts beneath the clinging blouse aroused far from innocent desires in Deke.
Setting her glass on the lacquered coffee table, he drank a long sip of his own brandy. Her condition being what it was, it wasn't fair for him to stare, but he had never professed to being anything but human.
He studied her as she lay against the cushions, head thrown back, throat arched and vulnerable, eyes half closed, lips fragrant and moist with expensive brandy. Her face was too angular to be considered beautiful. The nose was a bit too short. Her mouth . . .
Best not to linger too long in consideration of her mouth.
Her neck was long and slender and showed off delicate collarbones. In the triangle between them beat a steady, if a bit rapid, pulse. Her breasts looked soft, natural, touchable, beneath her blouse, but she was wearing a brassiere. He could see hints of weblike lace and satin straps. Her waist was model-thin. Thighs and hips likewise. From what he had seen of her calves, they were well shaped and encased in pale stockings. His palms itched to stroke them. She was wearing beige suede pumps with a butterfly embossed in shiny thread on the vamp.
Even as he watched, she moved the toe of one shoe to the heel of the other and pushed it off. The other shoe followed. They thumped almost soundlessly to the thick carpet. He dragged his eyes from the slender feet back up to her face. She was watching him with a notable lack of curiosity about her surroundings or about him.
"I couldn't breathe." A row of straight white teeth clamped over the trembling lower lip to still it.
He touched her hair, slid his fingers down her cheek. "That's a terrifying sensation, but it's over now."
"It was so dark." Her frail voice gave out on the last word and she squeezed her eyes shut.
Deke moved quickly to enclose her once again in his arms. "You were frightened. I'm sorry."
Her pliant body conformed to his hard one and mentally he groaned because his responded. Suddenly she was not just a woman who needed comfort and understanding: she was a woman who was soft and feminine and who felt better than any woman he had held recently. He spoke her name aloud.
She raised her head. Her eyes were the color of fog rolling in off the ocean. They were wide and pleading. "Hold me."
"I will," he vowed fervently. She seemed satisfied and nestled her face in his neck. When her lips brushed his skin, he felt the contact all the way down to his manhood. "I'll hold you."
Unconsciously he was raining light kisses over her hair and along her cheek. It seemed natural that he place one finger beneath her chin and tilt her head back. His lips grazed hers lightly before they rested on her mouth. He breathed in the aroma of brandy that lingered on her lips. Only a eunuch could have restrained himself. Deke had never been mistaken as such.
His lips pressed hers. He felt her stiffen momentarily, but then she relaxed against him again. He slowly separated her lips with his tongue and ventured inside. At first his investigation was tentative. When she touched his tongue with hers, his control broke. Making a low growling sound in his throat, he became more aggressive. His tongue claimed the sweet cavern of her mouth for its own, touching everywhere, flicking, stroking.
Her hands knotted handfuls of his shirtfront between clenching fingers. Her legs stretched out over his. She purred. God! Was he having some kind of marvelously erotic dream?
His hand coasted down her front, intending to go around her back for a tighter embrace. But her breast was too much of a temptation and he paused to caress it gently. Regretfully he moved his hand away.
"That felt good. Please do it again."
His head sprang up and Laney was impaled with disbelieving green eyes. The women who usually enjoyed his caresses considered themselves sophisticated. They played at sexual games. Every one had a role and spoke the right dialog. Never had Deke heard such an honest, direct request. It wasn't a demand that he perform a certain act for the sole pleasure of his partner, but a softly whispered compliment on his caress and a plea that he continue it.
He watched her face as his hand slipped back up to her breast. He covered it tenderly and began to rub circles over it. Her eyes closed and she released a long sigh, a slight smile curving her incredible mouth. Daringly he let his fingertips close about the nipple. Even through her blouse and brassiere, he felt its response.
"God, Laney," he whispered thickly before he sealed her mouth with his once again. As the kiss intensified, so did his caresses. He explored her body with an inquisitive hand, finding intriguing curves and hollows, loving the rustling sound of their clothing, which somehow made the caresses seem forbidden and therefore more exciting.
Their position on the sofa frustrated him because his movements were restricted. He rose and pulled her to her feet. She swayed and leaned into him heavily. That brought Deke to his senses. If his body hadn't been raging, he would have laughed at himself and the situation.
She was drunk! And not on spontaneous passion, but on about a cup of brandy. Even residual trauma from the blackout couldn't be responsible for the blank expression on her face.
He sighed, calling himself a fool and willing his ardor to cool. "Come on, Laney, I'm putting you to bed." Hands on her shoulders, he pushed himself away from her. He peered into her face and she solemnly nodded assent. Taking her hand, he headed toward the bedroom. Like an obedient child, she followed.
He switched on the light as they went through the door. "Stand here and I'll turn down the bed." He propped her against the doorjamb and crossed to the wide bed, flinging back the blue suede bedspread, tossing decorative pillows helter-skelter into the deep armchair, plumping a pillow for her and smoothing the flawless toast-brown sheets. "Here you go. . . ."
The words died on his lips. She was still by the door. A small pile of clothing was forming around her. She had taken off her blouse, her skirt. As he turned around she was stepping out of a half slip. Stupefied, he watched her peel gossamer pantyhose down legs that could have been insured for their shapeliness. Then she faced him wearing only a flimsy excuse for a brassiere and a pair of panties that she could have saved money by not bothering with. Her body was both svelte and voluptuous.
None of his colleagues would have believed that Deke Sargent could be rendered speechless. But he stood like a gaping adolescent seeing his first naked woman. His mouth went dry. He had been with so many unclothed women, he couldn't begin to count them. He had undressed most of them himself. He was deft. He could rid a lady of her clothes before she even knew what he was about. But this woman had so taken him unaware that for a moment he could only stand and gawk. What mystified him most was that she wasn't trying to entice him. She had merely taken off her clothes.
She smiled at him demurely as she walked past him on her way to the bed. She lay down and trustfully rested her cheek against the pillow.
"No one is gonna believe I turned this down," Deke muttered to himself as he went to the bed. He smiled down at her. "Good night, Laney, whoever you are. Sleep well." He kissed her cheek and, straightening, automatically reached for the bedside light switch and turned it off.
"No!" She bolted upright, taking heaving breaths in the sudden darkness. Her flailing arms groped for him.
"I'm sorry," he said, cursing his own stupidity and sitting down on the bed. His arms went around her and he felt her near nakedness. Every male impulse was instantly aroused.
"Stay with me. You promised," she sobbed. Her arms went around his neck and her breasts flattened against his chest. An image of their ripe fullness and dusky centers was imprinted on his brain. "You said you would hold me."
"Laney," he groaned. His conscience and his body warred. "You don't know—"
He let himself lie down beside her. Only for a minute. Only until she drifts off to sleep, he told himself.
But she held him tight against her and her entreaties were soft and urgent, just loud enough to drown out the protests of his conscience. His hands began to caress with a purpose other than comforting. Her skin was warm beneath his fingertips. His mouth found hers in the darkness and fused with it hotly, wetly.
This was wrong. He didn't know anything about her. She might be married. But he had already checked her finger. She wasn't wearing a ring. That doesn't mean a damn thing, Sargent, he thought.
This could get him into a helluva lot of trouble. Think of the publicity. An enraged husband charging into the apartment at dawn with a SWAT team and photographers.
Warnings were fired at him. Her sweet mouth and the feel of her against him shot them down.
He wasn't above using dirty tricks and machinations to get what he wanted. But he had never taken such blatant advantage of a woman. She was intoxicated and didn't know what she was doing.
He did. And it felt wonderful.
He was a good deal older than she. Fifteen years, maybe.
He would probably burn in hell for this. But what did that matter? He was already on fire.
Laney came awake gradually. She lifted her eyelids once, twice. Yawned. Raised them again lazily.
Then they sprang wide. She was sharing a pillow with a total stranger. The man awoke instantly and whispered to her across the soft linen. "Good morning."
Laney uttered a sharp, startled scream and tried to move away from him. Her legs were tangled with his; her knee—Good Lord! His hand was resting heavily on her breast. She thrashed and kicked until she was able to roll away from him. He stared at her as though she had lost her mind and blinked green eyes that even in her near-hysteria she couldn't fail to notice.
She scrambled to the corner of the bed and huddled, making another trapped-animal sound when she realized she was as naked as he. She clutched the corner of the sheet and hauled it up to her chin.
"Who are you and where am I?" she asked, wide-eyed and breathless. "If you don't give me an explanation immediately, I'm calling the police."
Her threat was laughable and she knew it. She didn't even know where she was, much less where the telephone might be.
"Calm down," he said reasonably, and extended a hand toward her. She flinched and moved farther away from him. He cursed.
"Don't you remember how you got here?"
"No," she said shortly. "I only know I didn't come of my own free will. Who are you?"
- On Sale
- Mar 25, 2014
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Grand Central Publishing