Main Getting Hotter

Getting Hotter

,
0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Year:
2012
Publisher:
Samhain
Language:
english
Series:
Out of Uniform 8
File:
EPUB, 873 KB
Download (epub, 873 KB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
0 comments
 

To post a review, please sign in or sign up
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

Getting Hotter

Language:
english
File:
RAR, 261 KB
0 / 0
2

Garden of the Moon

Language:
english
File:
RAR, 180 KB
0 / 0
Dedication

This one’s for the talented, supportive and amazingly entertaining Vivian Arend. Thanks for putting up with me, Viv!





Chapter One

“C’mon, girl, don’t be hatin’. Just gimme your digits. I promise you won’t regret it.”

Miranda Breslin slammed a bottle of Coors on the counter and flashed a polite smile at the very young, very cocky guy who’d been hitting on her for the past twenty minutes. “Sorry, not interested,” she shouted over the techno beat blaring out of the club’s speakers.

Her persistent suitor rested his elbows on the counter and leaned in close. “Aw, don’t be like that, girl.”

Thanks to the seizure-inducing strobe lights zigging and zagging from every direction, she could only make out bits and pieces of the guy’s appearance—African-American, shaved head, impressive body. But great abs aside, the guy couldn’t have been a day older than twenty-one, and his vocabulary was abysmal. Her six-year-old twins spoke more eloquently than this dude.

“Enjoy the rest of your night,” she said. And then she promptly extricated herself from the situation, untying her short black apron as she moved away.

She was due for a break, but when she saw the crowd gathered at the other end of the counter, she stifled a groan. Alex, the other bartender on duty, clearly had his hands full with a group of inebriated women decked out in shiny clubbing outfits.

When he noticed her retying her apron, he gave a firm shake of the head. “I’ve got this, hon!” he yelled over the deafening music. “Take your break!”

Sidling up to him, she moved her lips close to his ear and said, “You sure you can handle this rush?”

Alex gestured for her to go, his unruffled expression telling her he’d be fine. No surprise—absolutely nothing fazed the guy. She’d only been working at OMG for four months, not long enough to get overly chummy with any of the other bartenders, but she did have a soft spot for Alex, with his spiky blond hair and perpetual laugher.

Rounding the counter, she stepped into the throng of bodies filling ev; ery square inch of the dark nightclub. There was a small employee break room past the restrooms, but getting there required some effort. Since it was Friday night, the club was packed, and she had to push and wiggle her way through the crowd like she was playing an annoying game of Twister. By the time she made it to the back, she was sweaty, annoyed and reeking of the awful cologne one of the men out there must have bathed in.

She’d just neared the break room when someone grabbed her from behind.

“Where you rushing off to, girl? I thought we were connecting.”

Miranda’s shoulders stiffened. She slapped the intrusive hand off her arm and turned to scowl at the guy from the bar. “I told you, I’m not interested.”

“But I am,” he protested, the glazed look in his eyes leaving nothing ambiguous about his level of sobriety.

His gaze rested on the cleavage spilling from her low-cut red tank, then traveled down the length of her legs, bare beneath her black miniskirt. The tank-skirt combo was her “uniform”, and as the intoxicated guy leered at her, she mentally composed a letter to the club’s owner stating all the reasons why female employees should not be asked to dress like ho-bags.

“C’mon, just gimme your digits,” he pleaded.

Jeez, again with the digits? This kid was relentless. Might be time to dust off the old Erin Brockovich speech.

“Look,” she said through clenched teeth, “I’m not—”

A raspy male voice cut in. “Beat it, buddy.”

One second the flirty kid was in front of her, the next he was gone, scurrying away like he was being chased by the cops.

Miranda didn’t need to turn around to know who was standing behind her. While other women might have been overflowing with gratitude, she was just mildly irritated.

“I’m not going to say thank you,” she grumbled. “I already told you I can take care of myself.”

Seth Masterson stepped into view, his metallic gray eyes filled with that mocking glint she’d come to expect. “I know you can.”

She arched her brows. “Yeah? So then why’d you interfere?”

He shrugged. “My way got rid of that moron quicker.”

Despite herself, Miranda found it hard not to laugh. Yep, Seth’s “way” was extremely efficient. All he had to do was level some poor dude with that lethal stare of his, and—poof—the unwanted admirer disappeared. Seth had been pulling this same magician’s act for more than three months now, scaring off any man who dared to flirt with her. What started out as a quick stop-by a couple times a week, just to “check how she was doing”, had become almost a nightly routine. Now when she worked a shift, she was surprised if Seth didn’t show up.

Any other woman might have swooned from all the attention, but Miranda wasn’t one of them. Having her own personal bouncer was more aggravating than comforting. Oh no, Seth Masterson didn’t provide her with even an ounce of comfort. If anything, he achieved the opposite effect, unsettling her with his commanding presence. He had bad boy radiating from every sexy, muscular inch of him, from the perpetual beard growth on his face, to his scruffy dark hair, to the piercing gray eyes that were forever undressing her.

“Like I said, I could’ve handled it. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my dinner break.” She brushed past him and strode into the break room.

Seth, of course, followed her right in. One thing she’d discovered about him? He didn’t play by any rules, a trait she found ironic considering he was in the military, where rules were a way of life.

Sighing, she walked over to the small fridge across the room. She grabbed a bottle of water, uncapped it, and chugged half as she headed for the ratty plaid couch that had seen better days.

Seth lingered near the door, watching her with disapproval. “Dinner is a bottle of water?”

“Dinner was fish sticks and French fries three hours ago. I won’t be hungry for a couple more hours.” She stretched out her legs and stared up at the cracked plaster ceiling, letting out an aggravated breath. “Why do you keep coming by, Seth? You don’t need to check up on me every frickin’ night.”

“I’m not here to check up on you.”

“Oh really? So Missy called off her guard dog?”

“Nope. Mom’s still insisting I keep an eye on you.”

She held back a groan. She loved her former boss to death, but Missy Masterson, God bless her soul, had no idea what she’d unleashed when she’d asked her son to keep tabs on Miranda.

At first, she’d appreciated the gesture—the move from Vegas to California had been jarring, and it was always difficult to adapt to a new city, especially when you didn’t know a single person there. But now that she was more settled, she no longer needed Seth Masterson to hold her hand.

In fact, that was the last thing she wanted. Because another discovery she’d made about the man? When he touched her, she turned into a pile of hot, gooey mush.

“Well, tell Missy that while I appreciate everything she’s done, I’m doing just fine.”

Miranda took another sip of water, then set the bottle on the table by the couch and bent down to unlace her black sneakers. The club owner might demand the female staff display whatever T&A they could, but he didn’t begrudge them comfortable footwear. Still, she’d only been tending bar for three hours and already her feet were killing her.

As she kicked off her shoes and began to massage her right foot, she saw Seth’s gray eyes following the movements of her hands. His expression took on that smoldering gleam, and then he left his perch by the door and approached the couch. His strides were long, predatory.

“Not doing as fine as you claim, huh?” he taunted.

She rolled her eyes. “My feet hurt. My life, on the other hand, is just fine.”

The couch cushions bounced as he flopped down beside her. Instantly, the familiar scent of him wafted in her direction. Aftershave, a hint of pine and the faint traces of smoke. Of course he was a smoker. A bad boy had to have his vices, after all.

She dug her thumbs into the arch of her foot, knowing the ache in her feet didn’t bode well for the rest of the night. She had four hours left in her shift. Four hours of running up and down that bar catering to the Friday-night crowds. And tomorrow she’d be in the dance studio from morning until late afternoon. Her poor feet were definitely going to revolt if she kept this up.

“What’s wrong?”

Seth’s voice interrupted her thoughts. She glanced over, frowning. “Nothing’s wrong.”

“You just groaned. A weary, life-sucks-ass type of groan.”

She blinked. “I did?” When he nodded in confirmation, she let out a sigh. “I was just thinking how I have to be at the studio at ten in the morning tomorrow and how much my feet are going to hate me for it. Tending bar all night and then standing en pointe all day is no piece of cake.”

“No, I imagine it isn’t.”

He sounded genuine, not a hint of condescension in his voice, and Miranda’s eyebrows rose. “Really? You’re not going to roll your eyes and tell me I know nothing about real pain? You know, ’cause I’m not a badass SEAL like you?”

“Trust me, babe, I’ve got nothing but the utmost admiration for dancers. Once when I was a kid, I sat there watching my mom soak her feet after three back-to-back performances.” Seth blanched. “To this day I’m confident in saying that what her feet looked like that night is comparable to any battle wound I’ve come across.”

Miranda burst out laughing. She didn’t doubt it. People often had an idealistic view of dancers as beautiful, magical creatures, but one look at a dancer’s feet and that bubble of perfection was liable to burst. Calluses, blisters, cracked toenails, red, flaking skin…hardly beautiful or magical.

For a moment it surprised her that Seth knew what actually lay behind the curtain, until she remembered that he’d pretty much grown up backstage at the iconic Paradis Theater on the Vegas Strip. His mother had been the star of the show for twenty years before retiring, and now worked as the head choreographer. Missy also happened to be Miranda’s mentor and staunchest supporter; for a girl who’d grown up without a mom, Miranda had been utterly grateful to have someone like Missy in her life. After Miranda’s grandmother died and left her that small inheritance, Missy was the one who encouraged her to buy the dance school in San Diego, and it was the best decision she’d ever made.

“I should get back to work.” She leaned forward to slip into her sneakers, only to jump when she felt Seth’s hand on her arm.

Her breath caught. She found herself going still. It had been so very easy to shrug out of that young guy’s grip in the hall, but here, with Seth, she couldn’t bring herself to push him away.

“How long are we going to fight it, Miranda?” His voice was rough, his expression darkening with what she could only describe as sinful challenge.

She gulped. Ignored the flashes of heat rippling over her flesh. “Fight what?” she asked, feigning ignorance.

He laughed, slow and deep. “You’re really gonna pretend it’s not there? The chemistry between us?”

“We don’t have chemistry.”

And yep, she was a filthy liar. She and Seth Masterson had so much chemistry they could open their own laboratory. Or teach a college science seminar. Or—

He cut into her thoughts once more. “I’ve been very patient up until now. Pretending not to notice the way your nipples get hard whenever I’m around. Acting like it’s the temperature that brings that red flush to your cheeks when we both know it’s pure sexual arousal setting your skin on fire. And don’t get me started on the way you look at me.” His voice grew even raspier. “Those big hazel eyes of yours eat me up like I’m a big, juicy steak, baby.”

Nipples hardening? Check.

Cheeks scorching? Check.

Eating Seth Masterson up with her eyes? Well, she couldn’t tear her gaze from the sensual curve of his mouth or the strong line of his jaw, so yeah, might as well check that off too.

Even though Seth must have noticed all three responses, Miranda decided to keep playing dumb. It was the only way to maintain some semblance of control over a conversation that had swiftly and unexpectedly gotten out of hand.

“Big, juicy steak?” she echoed dryly. “Someone thinks highly of himself.”

He just laughed. “We both know you’re attracted to me.”

“Oh, we both know that, do we?”

“And I’m attracted to you,” he said with a shrug. “But unlike you, I’m not gonna bat my eyelashes like a Disney princess and act like I don’t want to get you naked.”

She swallowed again. Harder this time. Her mouth was so dry she felt like she was swallowing sand, but she didn’t dare reach for her water bottle because she knew Seth would comment and attribute her sudden thirst to the effect he had on her.

“I have to get back to work.” Wiggling out of his grasp, she quickly stumbled to her feet.

But Seth was equally quick. He stood up and caught her around the waist with one muscular arm. He didn’t yank her into him, just rested one hand on the small of her back and used the other to tip her chin up so she had no choice but to look at him.

“Say the word, Miranda.”

Her heart was beating so fast she could barely hear her own voice over the frantic hammering. “What word?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?” she stammered.

He gave that mocking chuckle of his. “That’s the word—yes. And I want you to say it. I want you to give me the green light so I can finally put my hands all over you the way I’ve been fantasizing about for months now.”

“Seth…” It was meant to be a warning, but his name slipped out on a breathy whisper, sounding very much like an invitation.

“Come on, baby, I’ve been such a good boy.” Those gray eyes gleamed with sex and danger. “Put us both out of our misery.”

She stared into those stormy-silver depths, feeling her resolve crumbling. Losing herself in his seductive spell. God, it had been so long since she’d had sex. So long.

Seth aimlessly stroked her lower back. “Miranda…” He trailed off, moistening his bottom lip with the sexy drag of his tongue, and then he leaned in close so that his lips hovered over her ear. “I want to fuck you.”

A shiver ran through her. Oh crap. Oh no, no, no. She was not allowed to get turned on.

Too late.

Okay, she was beyond turned on. The pressure between her legs was unbearable, her nipples so hard they could cut glass, her breathing completely off-kilter.

Enough. She couldn’t keep letting herself respond to this man. Seth was a bad boy to the core. He did what he wanted, when he wanted. He had no sense of decency, no filter that monitored the sarcastic or overtly sexual remarks that came out of his mouth. He wore all black and smoked cigarettes and never shaved. In other words—he was trouble.

And sure, that air of danger he radiated would have turned her on when she was a teenager, but guess what, it was the last thing she wanted nowadays. She’d already thrown her life away for one dangerous bad boy—and she’d gotten knocked up at eighteen as a reward.

The memory of Trent was all it took to banish her rising desire.

Squaring her shoulders, she pushed his hand off her waist and took a step backward. “What you want makes no difference,” she said quietly. “I won’t get involved with you, Seth.”

Resignation fluttered across his face. “What’s your reason this time?”

She set her jaw defiantly. “Same one it always is. I’m a mom.”

When he blanched slightly at the M-word, she let out a wry laugh. Oh, for Pete’s sake, why hadn’t she just led with that instead of letting this conversation drag on for far longer than necessary?

In the four months she’d known Seth, he hadn’t shown the slightest interest in her kids, and if the subject did happen to come up, he usually donned a blank look and acted indifferent to everything she said. She didn’t know why, but for Seth, children seemed to be on par with root canals and canine fashion shows, both of which he’d expressed extreme dislike for.

“I don’t have time to fool around with you,” she went on. “Or anyone, for that matter. Between raising two six-year-olds, working five days a week at the studio and part-time here at the bar, I barely have time to read the paper, let alone have sex.”

To her aggravation, Seth grinned. “That just proves how much you need me.”

“Oh really?”

“If reading a newspaper takes priority over having sex, then clearly you’ve never had your world rocked.”

“I don’t need any rocking in my world. I get motion sickness.” She laced up her sneakers, then headed for the door.

He trailed after her. “Fine, I’ll let this go. If that’s what you want.”

“It is.” A rush of relief flooded her belly. Thank God. Fighting off Seth’s advances the past few months had been much harder than she’d ever admit.

“Don’t look so happy.” He smirked. “I meant I’d let it go for tonight.”

Crap. She should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.

Seth blocked her path before she could open the door, running a hand through his messy hair. His hair was short, but definitely not the military cut every man in San Diego seemed to have. Black locks often fell onto his forehead and curled behind his ears, and she couldn’t count the number of times her fingers had tingled with the urge to smooth back those unruly strands.

“When’s your next shift?” he asked.

“Monday.”

“Eight to close?”

It didn’t surprise her that he knew the exact time of her shift. God knew he came to the club often enough.

“Hey, I have an idea,” she said with a big fake smile. “Maybe you can go somewhere else on Monday. The Tavern or the Sand Bar, maybe Hot Zone—ooh, there’s this new club on 4th that you might like. I heard it attracts a lot of loose young women looking for a good time…”

When she flashed him a how-awesome-is-that look, he simply laughed it off. “I’m not looking for a random lay. Trust me, if I wanted to get laid?” He lowered his voice to a smoky pitch and snapped his fingers. “I could get laid just like that. But see, that’s not what I’m after.”

A sigh lodged in her chest. “What are you after, Seth?”

“You.”

Equal parts arousal and irritation pleaded for her attention. Ignoring both, she released her breath and crossed her arms over her chest. Seth’s gaze immediately rested on her cleavage, more pronounced now that her pose was pushing her breasts up. She promptly let her arms dangle to her sides.

“I don’t have time to play games with you,” she muttered. “I have too much on my plate at the moment, and even if I wasn’t busy, I still wouldn’t say yes. I’m a mother, first and foremost. My kids are my life.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m not asking you to put the rugrats up for adoption, Miranda.”

“No, you’re just asking me to pretend they don’t exist and launch myself into some whirlwind sexual affair with you. How will that even work, Seth? You’re going to sneak into my apartment after I tuck Sophie and Jason in and ravish me while they’re sleeping next door? You’ll pay for a babysitter while you and I go to some sleazy motel?” She shook her head. “For the millionth time, I’m not interested.”

He rewarded her speech with his trademark smirk. “Has anyone ever told you that you look sexy when you lie?”

“What does that even mean?” she mumbled. “Whatever. Don’t answer. In fact, don’t say another word.”

She brushed past him and yanked on the door handle. Out in the hall, the drum and bass bounced off the walls and vibrated beneath her feet. Perching her hands on her hips, she turned to scowl at Seth.

“I’m serious. Quit coming here every night. Quit hitting on me. Quit acting like being my former boss’s son gives you some kind of say in my life.”

As usual, he seemed unfazed by the rejection. Stepping closer, he brought those tempting lips to her ear again, his hot breath fanning over her skin. “See you Monday night, Miranda.”

“Seth—”

Holy crap, had he just licked the shell of her ear? He had. And now his lips were closing over her earlobe.

A jolt of pure desire hit her hard and fast. Before she could lay into him for his sheer presumption, he was moving away.

“You’ve got my cell number,” he reminded her. “Call me when you’re ready.”

When. Not if.

Presumptuous jerk.

As her heart pounded up a storm in her chest, she watched Seth stride off, angry with herself for noticing how incredible his ass looked in those black jeans. Angry at him for walking away without once looking back, while she was standing there like a slack-jawed moron, unable to take her eyes off him.

“Who was that?” The breathy female voice came from the long line in front of the ladies’ room.

Sighing, Miranda met the eyes of a young blonde in a gold micromini and black halter top. “That was our resident troublemaker.”

The blonde grinned. “My kind of trouble. I’d trade my firstborn for even ten minutes with that hottie.”

A few of the other women in line overheard the remark and laughed, but Miranda only managed a weak smile. Being around Seth Masterson was utterly exhausting. She was forever on guard, waiting for his next seductive ambush, steeling herself against the sexual magnetism he possessed in spades.

You have a problem, Miranda Rose Breslin.

God, she totally did, didn’t she? Why was she always attracted to bad boys? Those kinds of men were all well and good in the movies, but in real life, you had a better chance of teaching a dog to send an email than taming a bad boy.

She needed to do something about this silly schoolgirl attraction, pronto. Maybe she ought to lock herself in her bedroom tonight and put her vibrator to good use. A few orgasms and she’d be thinking, Seth who?

Seth Masterson, that’s who, and you’re an idiot if you think your battery-operated boyfriend will make you forget it.

Oh for the love of…was that Seth’s voice in her head?

Wonderful. The man was already shadowing her at work. Haunting her dreams. Starring in her fantasies. And now he was narrating her damn thoughts.

How on earth was she supposed to crush this attraction to dust when even her own subconscious was against her?

With another sigh, Miranda headed back to the main floor of the club. And prayed that the deafening dance beat would pound all thoughts of Seth right out of her head.





Chapter Two

Seth had never felt more on edge as he stalked into the dark townhouse he shared with Dylan Wade. Seeing Miranda on a nightly basis was absolute torture, and tonight had been particularly brutal. Probably because it was the closest he’d ever come to battering through her defenses. He’d seen her pulse jumping in her throat when he’d told her he wanted her. Heard her intake of breath. Witnessed the haze of arousal in her eyes.

She could deny it all she wanted, but Seth knew when a woman was hot for him. And this one was. Big-time.

Which was a damn good thing, because he was hot for her too. He’d wanted Miranda Breslin from the second he’d laid eyes on her. They may have officially met four months ago when he’d helped her move into her new apartment, but he’d already been lusting over the woman for more than a year by then.

First time he’d seen her was backstage at the Paradis, which he pretty much considered his second home. Miranda had been sitting at a vanity table while a makeup artist hovered over her. She’d worn an elaborate costume studded with blue jewels and adorned with peacock feathers. The leotard-like outfit had offered a lot of cleavage and emphasized her long, shapely legs, made even longer and shapelier thanks to her sheer silver stockings and high-heeled dance shoes. She’d yet to put on her feathered headdress, so her long sable-brown hair had been slicked back in a tight bun, drawing his attention to her high cheekbones and intriguing features.

In that moment, Seth had never encountered a more appetizing sight. And yeah, maybe coming off a six-month-long deployment had intensified the punch of lust he’d experienced, but here he was, a year and a half later, and he still hadn’t come close to meeting a woman who turned him on as much as Miranda did.

“You struck out, huh?”

Seth nearly jumped out of his own skin when the deep male voice cut through the silence of the house. He flicked the light switch in the kitchen to find his roommate leaning against the L-shaped counter.

As Seth’s heartbeat steadied, Dylan nonchalantly sipped his glass of water like he had no care in the world.

He also had no stitch of clothing on.

Dylan’s naked body was neither new nor off-putting—Seth had seen enough of it after three years of living with the guy, not to mention all those times they’d tag-teamed chicks. Without batting an eye, he stalked past the blond SEAL and opened the fridge door.

“Judging by the silence, you struck out hard,” Dylan remarked, unconcealed amusement in his voice. “Don’t you think it might be time to give up?”

“Never.” He grabbed a bottle of water and twisted off the cap.

“What is it about that woman that gets your panties in a knot, man?”

He wasn’t in the mood to be harassed, not when his cock ached so badly he could barely stay upright, but just as he was about to offer a sarcastic response, he noticed the genuine curiosity in Dylan’s green eyes. Huh. Weird.

Instead of snapping, Seth simply shrugged. “She yells at me a lot. I kinda dig it.”

Dylan burst out laughing. “I’m not sure what to do with that.”

“Plus, she’s hot as hell. Smart as a whip. Tough as nails. Doesn’t take crap from anyone, especially me.”

And apparently capable of turning him into a sappy loser who stood around at two in the fucking morning, listing his favorite qualities about a woman.

Dylan set his empty glass in the sink. “Is this a mommy complex thing?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I was watching that new talk show today, the one with those two dorky therapists who wear matching glasses. They did a whole segment about men having this subconscious need to marry their mothers. Well, not their mothers, but, you know, chicks who remind them of their moms.”

Seth grinned. “I thought we decided you weren’t gonna watch that crap anymore.”

“I know, but ever since Oprah went off the air, there’s shit-all on TV during the day. I was bored as fuck today.”

“You poor thing.”

“Anyway, it was interesting. And it totally applies to you. Mom’s a showgirl, your new crush is a showgirl…”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not a crush. It’s lust. I want to get her into bed. End of story.”

“Whatever you say.” Dylan strode toward the oak cabinets over the sink, opened one and started rummaging around.

“Besides, Miranda is nothing like my mother. They’re both dancers, but their personalities couldn’t be more different.”

Hell, if Miranda had Missy Masterson’s personality, Seth would run in the opposite direction. He loved his mom to death, but the woman was loud, flighty, and had no sense of tact. She belonged on one of those reality shows where the women got very noisy and said things like “talk to the hand, bee-otch”.

But despite her scatterbrained nature and garish sense of style, Missy was a good mother, a ferocious lioness when it came to her cub, and that loyalty and maternal pride extended to the dancers she now trained, Miranda included.

When his mom had phoned and demanded he keep an eye on Miranda, Seth’s first thought had been hell yeah. Moving to a new city was tough, and he’d been more than ready to show Miranda some Southern California hospitality. Helping her unpack some boxes, taking her out to a dinner or two, and then, if they happened to wind up in bed…well, he sure wouldn’t be complaining. Except there was one thing he hadn’t banked on—her stubborn determination to resist his advances.

And he also hadn’t anticipated the baggage she came with.

Kids.

Two of them.

Christ. Like one wasn’t bad enough.

As he sipped his water, he watched Dylan assemble a baffling collection of items. A box of crackers from the cabinet. A block of cheddar cheese from the fridge. Chocolate syrup. A knife, presumably for the cheese.

“Anyway, if you do have a thing for Miranda because she reminds you of Missy, that’s perfectly healthy,” Dylan said.

Seth let out a sigh. “Do you realize that you have absolutely no credibility right now?”

“Why the hell not?” Dylan added a box of sugar cubes to the growing pile in his hands.

“Because you’re walking around the kitchen with your cock flapping in the wind like the American flag.”

“What can I say? My dick’s a patriot.”

Seth snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure you—okay, seriously, what the fuck are you gonna do with all that stuff?” he demanded as Dylan grabbed a pack of toothpicks and a saltshaker from the cupboard.

His roommate strode toward the kitchen doorway. “Some of this is for eating, the rest is props.”

“Please tell me you have a girl in your room.”

“Duh.”

“Thank God, because I just pictured you drizzling chocolate syrup over your own balls, and almost threw up.”

“Quit fantasizing about my balls. Pervert.” Dylan tossed one final grin over his shoulder before disappearing.

Seth chugged the rest of his water and dropped the empty bottle in the blue recycling bin across the room. He left the kitchen, peeling off his black T-shirt as he made his way to the bathroom. Considering the relentless throbbing down below, he really ought to be taking a cold shower, but when he yanked off his jeans, the erection that popped up and slapped his navel was impossible to ignore.

Screw it. One way or another, he was getting some relief tonight.

Two minutes later, he dunked his head under the shower spray, letting the hot water slide down his face and neck. Rivulets coursed down his chest and dripped onto his hard cock, making it ache even more.

With a strangled groan, Seth leaned forward and rested his right forearm on the tiled wall. Then he brought his left hand to his groin and encircled his stiff shaft. At that first stroke, a shudder of anticipation racked his body.

Christ. He needed this. He hadn’t been with a woman in two months, not since he’d picked up that cute tattooed redhead at a bar after another one of Miranda’s rejections. He’d brought the woman home and screwed her all night long—and yet the encounter had left him entirely unsatisfied. He’d tried again a week later, cozying up to one of the ladies Dylan had come home with, but try as he might, he hadn’t been able to muster up any enthusiasm. Or an erection.

Miranda, damn her, had ruined him for all other women. He needed to fuck her, ASAP, before he completely lost his mojo.

Every muscle in his body tightened as he worked his cock, jacking it in a fast, furious rhythm, moving his hips to match the frantic pace he’d set. Steam filled the shower stall. His breath came out in harsh pants.

An image of Miranda’s tight ass flashed across his mind. Shit, she had a great ass. Looked particularly juicy in a pair of black tights. And her tits… His hand moved faster over his cock, mouth filling with saliva as he pictured those round, perky breasts bouncing beneath her tank top each time she walked up and down the bar counter.

The base of his spine began to tingle, all the blood in his body migrating south to pulse between his legs.

“Fuck,” he mumbled. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He came with a ragged grunt that bounced off the walls. A rush of pleasure flew through him, and his hand went still as hot jets of come shot out of his dick and landed on the tub floor.

After he caught his breath, he uncurled his fist and let his hand fall to his side. Damn it. Not enough. He didn’t feel an ounce of relief. The climax had been good, but his erection refused to subside. Stiff shaft, tight balls and, holy shit, but the anticipation was building again. The pressure that had just been blown to smithereens began to re-form into a knot of sexual desperation that throbbed in his groin.

“Son of a bitch,” he mumbled.

Smothering a groan, he brought his hand back to his dick and got ready for a repeat performance.

Cursing Miranda Breslin the entire time.





“Sorry, honey. I was chatting with my roommate.” Dylan entered his bedroom and flashed his trademark ladies’-man smile at the naked girl in his bed.

The blonde giggled as she studied the various food items in his hands. “You weren’t kidding about the chocolate syrup.”

“I never kid about chocolate syrup.”

He sank on the edge of the bed and dropped the supplies on the patterned bedspread. Next to him, Kelly scooted closer and reached for the plastic Hershey’s bottle. She popped the lid with her red-manicured fingers. “So what do you say, sailor? Feel like getting dirty?”

“Me? Uh-uh, baby doll, you’re the one getting dirty.”

He swiped the bottle from her hand and had her flat on her back in the blink of an eye, eliciting a delighted shriek from her pouty lips. He wrapped his fingers around the bottle, turned it upside down, and squeezed. Chocolate sauce trickled out of the opening and onto Kelly’s bare breasts.

“And you’ll be getting sticky,” he rasped, dipping his head and letting his mouth hover over those delectable double-Ds. The girl was built like a Playboy Bunny, all tits and ass and long golden limbs.

Dylan licked a drop of syrup off the tip of one pearly-pink nipple. “And wet,” he murmured. Another lick. “I think you’ll get pretty wet too.”

With a moan, she grabbed his hand and shoved it between her legs. “Already am,” she said breathlessly.

He trailed his finger along her slick folds, then pushed it into her pussy. He groaned. Yep, she was wet. Very, very wet. He’d been so damn bored all damn day, but this, right now, totally made up for it. No-strings sex with a cute girl who didn’t mind getting a little kinky? Could anyone say living the dream?

Kelly squealed as he grabbed hold of her thighs and shoved them apart. He swiftly lowered his head and brought his mouth to her core, flicking his tongue over her clit, the taste of chocolate and sex infusing his taste buds.

“Mmmm, tastes good,” he murmured, working her tight channel with two fingers while he latched his mouth on that swollen nub and sucked.

Moaning, Kelly rested her hands on his head to keep him in place. Right. Like he was going anywhere.

“More,” she pleaded, rocking her hips faster.

He fingered her harder and rode out the resulting orgasm, his own arousal heightening at the sexy sounds she made and the way she moaned his name, over and over. When she grew still, a sleepy smile stretching across her face, he reached for the condom on the bedside table and tore open the package.

He’d just rolled the latex onto his erection when his cell phone rang.

“Shit,” he said with a sigh. He grabbed the phone and studied the screen, his irritation transforming into a knot of worry. His brother’s number was flashing on the display. And since it was three in the morning, he couldn’t think of any reason Chris would be calling other than to deliver bad news.

With growing alarm, he signaled to Kelly that he needed to take the call, ignored her disappointed look, and pressed the Talk button.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded in lieu of a greeting.

His brother’s answering laughter brought a rush of relief. Chris wouldn’t be laughing if he was calling with bad news.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Chris replied, confirming Dylan’s thoughts. “In fact, everything is very, very right, little brother!”

Loud music and muffled voices in the background made it difficult to hear what Chris was saying, but the guy was slurring, that was for sure.

“Are you drunk?” Dylan asked warily.

Next to him, Kelly slid off the bed and slipped into the white button-down he’d tossed on the chair. “I’m going to use the loo,” she whispered before darting toward the bathroom on the other side of the master bedroom.

“I might be a little drunk,” Chris admitted. “But a man’s gotta bust out the champagne when the woman he loves agrees to marry him!”

Dylan’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach like a body chained to a cement block. Oh shit. Had he misheard, or had Chris really just said—

“I’m engaged!”

Yep, he’d heard right.

“To…uh, Claire?” he had to ask.

More laughter filled his eardrums. “Of course to Claire! Who the hell else would I propose to?”

Um, anyone other than that bitch?

Dylan kept that nasty little thought to himself. His older brother didn’t have a clue that he despised—absolutely despised—Chris’s latest girlfriend. Fuck. Make that fiancée. Chris was actually marrying the woman. That snooty, judgmental, prissy, materialistic woman.

Lord, he’d hated Claire McKinley from the moment he’d met her. Chris had brought her along on his last business trip to San Diego, and the three of them had gone to Dylan’s favorite diner for lunch. Everything about Claire had rubbed him the wrong way—the self-righteous glint in her brown eyes, how she’d turned her nose up at the menu as if diner food was utterly beneath her, the way she’d tapped those French-manicured nails on the table like she was dying of boredom. By the time lunch was over, he’d felt like strangling her, and the next two visits hadn’t gone any better.

He had no idea what his brother saw in that woman. She was attractive enough, sure, but good looks didn’t make up for the whole being-a-total-bitch part.

Show your future sister-in-law some respect…

He blanched as the thought registered. Oh shit. She would be part of the family now.

“So that’s it? Silence? No congratulations?”

Chris sounded so upset that Dylan gulped down a lump of guilt. “Sorry, I was just in shock.” He injected a note of excitement into his tone. “Congrats, man. I can’t believe my big brother is getting married. When’s the big day?”

“We’re thinking December.”

Relief trickled through him. Eight months away. Hopefully Chris would change his mind long before then.

“So I don’t care if you have to beg or bribe every naval officer on the base—you’re getting leave to attend my wedding,” Chris declared. “Can’t have a wedding without the best man, right?”

“You sure you want me standing up there with you? I don’t want to steal your thunder, you know, what with me being so good-looking and all.”

Chris barked out a laugh. “I’m not worried. My future bride only has eyes for me.”

Another blast of music rippled over the extension. It sounded Latin…salsa music?

“Where exactly are you?” Dylan demanded. “Don’t tell me you proposed at a salsa club.”

“No, I proposed at LeBlanc’s,” Chris answered, naming one of the fanciest restaurants in San Francisco. “But Claire wanted to celebrate, so she dragged me here. We’re at that club you and I went to last time you came home.”

Dylan’s eyebrows shot up, even though Chris couldn’t see him. He remembered that particular nightclub catering to a more rowdy crowd, like Dirty Dancing-style shit—and Claire had chosen to go there? Seemed like the last place a goody-two-shoes snob like her would pick to celebrate an engagement.

“Anyway, I couldn’t keep the news to myself, and I knew you’d be up, night owl that you are. We’re going over to Mom’s tomorrow morning to tell her.”

He suppressed a sigh. And ten minutes after Chris and Claire left Shanna Wade’s house, she’d be on the phone with her younger son, demanding to know when he was getting married. Dylan adored his mother, and the two of them had always been close, but no matter how many times he told her he wasn’t ready to settle down, she never seemed to hear him.

“Well, at least this will give Mom something to do, planning the wedding,” he told his brother. “She’s been kind of bored and cranky ever since she quit her job.”

There was a beat. “She was bored and cranky even when she had a job.”

“True.”

“Okay, well, it’s late and I’m ready to forcibly remove Claire from the dance floor and take her home,” Chris said with a touch of exasperation. “Just wanted to share the good news with my baby bro.”

Dylan rolled his eyes. Only a two-year age difference between him and Chris, yet his brother never failed to act the part of the perpetually wiser older sibling.

“Congratulations again,” he said with fake enthusiasm. “Pass that along to Claire, too.”

“I will. Talk soon.”

After they hung up, Dylan turned his head in time to see Kelly saunter out of the bathroom.

“Everything okay?” The mattress bounced as she hopped back on the bed.

“My older brother’s getting married.”

She smiled, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “An impending marriage is typically good news, sailor. You look like someone just died.”

“Something did die,” he grumbled. “My brother’s manhood. Trust me, this chick he’s about to saddle himself with for the rest of his life? She’s god-awful.”

“Speaking of manhood…” Kelly shot a pointed look at his cock, which had gone soft, the condom sagging off the tip.

Great. Now Claire McKinley was destroying his sex life. The way she would destroy Chris’s future.

All right, that was extreme. Chris’s future wasn’t destroyed. And to be fair, Chris had the tendency to be a goody-two-shoes snob himself. There was a reason Dylan didn’t talk to his brother about his sex life. Some of the shit he was into, Chris would never understand, not in a million years.

“How about you put your womanly charms to use and get me nice and ready again?” Dylan drawled, licking his bottom lip as he met Kelly’s blue eyes.

She licked her own lips, already peeling the unused condom off his shaft as she scrambled into position between his legs. She wrapped her lips around the blunt head of his cock, summoning a groan from deep in his chest. He closed his eyes, but not before he saw her reaching for the discarded Hershey’s bottle.

All thoughts of his brother and Claire McKinley flew out of his head. Let Chris make the mistake of his life. Dylan would simply help the guy pick up the pieces later, when it all fell apart.

For now, the only thing he needed to concentrate on was the hot suction of Kelly’s mouth as she sucked chocolate syrup off his dick.





Chapter Three

“In other news,” the Channel 8 news anchor chirped, “the San Diego Zoo welcomed some new residents this morning. Piggy the Lioness gave birth to four healthy cubs. Mother and babies are resting comfortably, and zoo officials hope to reveal the new additions to the public in the next few weeks…”

Miranda tuned out the news report as she stood by the stove, flipping pancakes. Why on earth would anyone name a lioness Piggy? Shaking her head in bafflement, she slid a pancake onto the empty plate on the granite counter.

“Did you hear that, Mom? Piggy had babies!”

She glanced over her shoulder to smile at her daughter, who was sitting at the kitchen table braiding the hair of her favorite doll. “I did hear it,” Miranda confirmed. “What do you say, should we go meet Piggy’s babies?”

“Yeah! Let’s go today!”

“We can’t. Didn’t you hear what the lady on the TV said? Piggy and her cubs are resting right now. We have to wait until the zoo says we can see them.”

Sophie’s bottom lip dropped out in a pout. “Fine.”

Turning off the burners, Miranda carried two plates to the table and placed one in front of Sophie, the other by the empty chair. She headed back to the counter to grab her own plate, then joined Sophie at the table.

“Jase!” she called. “Breakfast!”

When her son didn’t come skidding through the doorway, Miranda frowned. “What’s he up to?” she asked her daughter.

Sophie’s expression was too angelic to be trusted. “I dunno.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Spill, missy. You know I don’t like it when you two keep secrets.”

“But, Mommy, I really don’t know.” Sophie had the nerve to bat her eyelashes, all liquid brown eyes and innocence.

Miranda was used to it. Her twins only loved one other person more than they loved their mom: each other. Whatever bond they’d formed in utero had followed them right out of the womb—they always had each other’s backs, no matter what, and Miranda could swear they possessed the ability to read each other’s minds. Maybe even communicate telepathically. As toddlers, they could be in the same room for hours without saying a single word. They conducted entire conversations with their eyes, and if anyone tried to hurt one of them? The other came running to the rescue.

Normally, she loved the idea that her kids were so intrinsically connected, but at times like these, when one of them was up to no good, it was impossible to get them to turn on each other.

“Soph, if you don’t tell me what Jason is doing, I might have to reconsider giving you a solo in the summer recital…”

Sophie tilted her head pensively, looking far too mature for her six years. “You wouldn’t.” Her voice was matter-of-fact. “Everyone gets a solo in the summer recital and I know you wanna see me do the solo ’cause I heard you tell Ginny that.” She beamed. “And you told Ginny you loved my enfoozeeazim.”

“Enthusiasm,” Miranda corrected, choking down laughter. It figured that Sophie would see through the empty threat. The girl was way too smart for her own good.

“Here I am! Sorry! I was doin’ stuff!”

Jason flew into the room with the same level of intense enfoozeeazim he threw into everything he did. The kid was a bundle of energy and always had been, unlike Sophie, who was more laid-back. Sophie was also capable of extreme focus, which she displayed during ballet class, while Jason’s head was all over the place, bouncing from subject to subject in a whirlwind pace that made Miranda dizzy. Fortunately, his short attention span wasn’t hurting him in school; the twins’ kindergarten teacher assured her both kids were doing well. In fact, their reading and writing levels could even be considered advanced for their age.

“And what kind of stuff were you doing?” Miranda asked as she popped open the cap of the maple syrup bottle. She drew her trademark syrup happy face on Sophie’s pancakes, which made her daughter grin, then did the same for her son, who seemed to be doing his damndest to avoid her gaze.

“Kid stuff, Mom. You wouldn’t understand.”

She bit back another laugh. “Okay, let’s go through the list. Will this stuff make me mad?”

“No,” both twins said immediately.

“Is it dangerous?”

“No.”

“Illegal?”

“No.”

“Will it require me to clean up a huge mess?”

Hesitation.

Miranda sighed. “Come on, guys, you know how much I hate cleaning.”

Sophie giggled. “Cleaning sucks.”

“Sucks,” Jason agreed, reaching for the glass of orange juice by his plate. He chugged the entire thing, then said, “Juice me.”

A laugh flew out of her mouth. “Yes, sir.”

As she poured him another cup of juice, she watched her daughter from the corner of her eye, making sure Sophie was actually eating her food instead of pushing it around on her plate the way she was sometimes prone to do.

“So this mysterious project of yours will only cost me a couple hours of cleaning?”

“We can try ’n clean first,” Sophie offered, oh so gracious. “But if we do a pooey job, you can help.”

“Sounds fair.” She gave her son a pointed look. “If you pour any more syrup on that, you’ll be eating pancake soup. Not to mention guaranteeing a visit to the dentist.”

He hastily put down the syrup bottle. It was the D-word. Worked every time.

“…making its way northward. Hurricane Nora is not expected to hit the West Coast, but there is a chance it will reach California in the form of a tropical storm.”

Miranda turned her attention to the small TV on the far end of the kitchen counter. The screen revealed a complicated-looking weather map with a bunch of squiggly lines that made no sense to her. But the weatherman standing to the side of the map seemed pretty damn excited, animatedly pointing to it as he continued to dole out information.

“Now, most Eastern Pacific hurricanes lose steam as they travel north and their winds are weakened, but this one is expected to have a larger impact than we’re used to, folks. Starting tomorrow afternoon, we can expect powerful winds, torrential rain and extensive coastal, as well as inland, flooding…”

Sophie’s head swiveled to the screen, her fork poised halfway to her mouth. “Oh no! What if we get washed away?”

“We won’t get washed away,” she assured her daughter.

Jason gasped. “What if there’s a big tide wave—”

“Tidal wave,” she corrected.

“—tidal wave, and it whooshes over here and then everything is underwater? How cool would that be?”

“That would not be cool at all,” Miranda replied.

“But we would live under the sea!”

“Like The Little Mermaid,” Sophie piped up. “So cool.”

She decided not to point out that if a tidal wave hit the coast and wiped out Imperial Beach, they’d all be dead, but it was too early in the morning to get all morbid around six-year-olds. Instead, she quickly finished her pancakes, then tidied up the kitchen while the twins ate.

She wasn’t too worried about this impending storm. Everyone kept making such a big deal about this hurricane, but Ms. Nora had been spinning her wheels for days now without dishing out any of the destruction she was supposed to. Miranda had stocked up on supplies the day after the weather network announced the storm was moving north, but she doubted San Diego or its surrounding areas would be affected. You always had to take what the weatherman said with a hundred grains of salt.

After breakfast, she helped the twins get ready, then left them to their own devices while she darted into her own room to shower and change. She slipped into a pair of leggings, a sports bra and a tank top, tied her long hair in a ponytail and shoved her feet into a pair of pink flip-flops. She hadn’t put any effort into her appearance, but it wasn’t like she needed to impress the wannabe ballerinas she’d be spending the day with.

Five minutes later, she and the kids reconvened in the hall—Jason wearing his blue-and-white Little League uniform, Sophie in a cute yellow sundress with her ballet bag slung over her shoulder.

“You guys ready?” Miranda asked with a smile.

“Yeah,” they said in unison.

She cocked her head. “You both used the bathroom like I asked?”

Hesitation.

She sighed and pointed at Jason. “You. Pee. Now.”

The kids broke out into laughter. Jason darted into the washroom, then Sophie took her turn.

As the trio left their small ground-floor apartment, Miranda fixed Jason’s blue baseball cap, then tweaked one of Sophie’s long brown braids. Outside, she ushered them into the older-model, secondhand sedan that had miraculously gotten them here from Vegas without once overheating.

She started the engine while they buckled up. Jason’s baseball practices coincided perfectly with Miranda’s Saturday schedule, and since he was best friends with the coach’s son, he usually went over to their house after practice while Miranda kept Sophie with her at the dance studio. In the evenings, she picked Jason up from his friend’s, and the three of them went to the twins’ favorite pizza place for dinner.

She loved the routine, loved spending time with her kids. She might not have planned to have a baby at eighteen, certainly hadn’t expected to end up with two, but she didn’t regret her decision to keep her babies and raise them alone. Sophie and Jason were her entire life, and they were such good kids.

Come on, baby, I’ve been such a good boy…

Out of nowhere, Seth Masterson’s raspy voice floated into her mind, bringing a shiver to her body.

No. No, no, no.

She had to quit thinking about the man. He had no place in her life, for Pete’s sake.

Her gaze strayed to the rearview mirror, and she spent a few seconds watching the twins chatter to each other in the backseat. For a moment, she tried to imagine Seth sitting next to her. His big, muscular body crammed in the passenger seat, his arm hanging out the open window as he held a cigarette between his fingers.

A sigh got stuck in her throat. No, he didn’t belong in her life. As sexy as he was, and as tempted as she was to remove her Mommy hat for a few hours and enjoy what would undoubtedly be some amazing sex, she couldn’t.

Men like Seth were nothing but trouble. They blew into your life like a hurricane. Lured you in with their bad-boy charm and got you out of your panties. And then they disappeared, leaving a big mess in their wake.

Well, she didn’t need the headache, thank you very much. There was already one storm barreling its way into her life, and it went by the name Nora.

Though she got the feeling that Hurricane Nora didn’t have half the destruction potential that Hurricane Seth was capable of.





Seth and Dylan hopped out of Seth’s Jeep at eight thirty on Sunday morning, striding toward the beach a hundred yards away. They were both bare-chested, wearing shorts, sneakers, and sunglasses that were proving to be unnecessary. The sun had already risen, but the sky was overcast, making Seth wonder if that tropical storm the weather reports kept stressing about would actually make an appearance. He hoped not. He’d been looking forward to a long workout, the more strenuous the better.

When he and Dylan had moved in together three years ago, they’d started working out on the beach every morning, usually with fellow SEALs Cash McCoy and Jackson Ramsey, who rounded out Seth’s circle of friends. Not that he wasn’t buddies with the other men on the team—he was. But letting down his guard and sharing his feelings and all that shit? He only did that around Dylan, Cash and Jackson, which was pretty damn shocking because he’d never really done the whole friendship thing before.

Truth was, he hadn’t had a single male friend growing up. He’d been the loner bad boy who smoked weed and cigarettes and wandered the Strip looking for a fuck or a fight. Raised in a dressing room filled with half-naked women, constantly surrounded by females who, once he got older and grew into his looks, were dying to jump his bones. Needless to say, it had been seriously jarring when he’d enlisted in the navy—suddenly he’d gone from a room inhabited by gorgeous showgirls to a dormitory full of tired, cranky and hungry males forever being screamed at by their commanding officers.

But somehow, he’d grown close to not one, not two, but three of his fellow recruits. And, for some messed-up reason, those three put up with his bullshit and actually gave a damn about him.

“They’re late,” Dylan remarked, glancing up and down the deserted stretch of sand.

Seth shrugged. “McCoy probably couldn’t bear to drag himself out of Jen’s bed. Dude’s whipped, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, but he’s whipped by the sexiest woman on the planet. That’s not really much of a hardship.”

He couldn’t deny that Jen Scott, Cash’s girlfriend, was stunning, but Seth wasn’t into those perfect California-girl good looks. He was drawn to women with interesting faces rather than classically beautiful ones. Like Miranda, with her big hazel eyes, tilted at the corners to give her an exotic feel. The slightly crooked mouth, a tad too generous for her angular jaw. The unusual combination of olive skin and a sprinkle of freckles. To him, Miranda was more appealing than any cover model.

“Whipped is whipped,” he answered with a shrug.

Dylan grinned. “Cut McCoy a break. And you know what? I’m happy for him. He’s in luuuuuurve.”

“Poor bastard.”

“You know, one of these days you’ll fall just as hard, and I’ll be right there, laughing and pointing.”

Seth swallowed a laugh. Yeah, whatever. He didn’t do pansy-ass shit like love. He wasn’t a believer in love at first sight or the idea of “falling” in love, which implied not having a say in the matter. As far as he was concerned, love was a choice. You chose to open yourself up to it, you chose to feel something for the other person, chose to let those emotions develop and grow.

Well, he was choosing not to do any of that crap.

A loud whistle captured his and Dylan’s attention, and they turned around to see Cash and Jackson stalking across the sand.

“Sorry we’re late,” Cash apologized as he bumped fists with Seth, then Dylan. “I, uh, got delayed.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “I bet you did.”

Jackson spoke up in his Texan drawl. “With all the sexercise McCoy’s been gettin’, there’s really no reason for him to even be here.”

“I don’t know, he’s looking kinda flabby,” Dylan countered, his green eyes focusing on Cash’s bare chest. “Someone should send the CO an anonymous letter informing him that McCoy is slacking on his training.”

“Flabby? Uh-uh, I’m in peak physical condition.” Cash smirked. “And it’s okay to be jealous of my intensive sexercise regimen, boys. I won’t think less of you for it.”

That earned him incredulous looks from both Dylan and Jackson, who gave him the finger and proceeded to defend their sexual prowess by listing all the women they’d hooked up with over the past month. As an argument broke out about whether it was quality or quantity that mattered, Seth tuned the boys out. He couldn’t contribute much to the convo, anyway. He hadn’t gotten laid in eons, thanks to one very stubborn former showgirl.

It drove him fucking bonkers that she refused to give in to the attraction sizzling between them. So what if she had a pair of rugrats at home? It wasn’t like parenthood equaled mandatory celibacy. Surely she could set aside some time for a few rounds of hot, sweaty fucking.

And bad idea, thinking about hot, sweaty fucking while surrounded by three other men. As his cock stiffened to half-mast, he pushed all thoughts of Miranda from his head and focused on the tail end of his friends’ dispute.

“After a certain amount of times, sex with the same person becomes that ratty shirt you’ve washed a hundred times,” Dylan was arguing. “Suddenly it’s not so colorful and it doesn’t fit the way it used to and you’re not sure you even like it anymore.”

“Whoa, that’s deep,” Cash said dryly.

“All I’m saying is, quantity eventually kills the quality. So be warned, a few more months and this super-duper sex you’re bragging about? It’ll be nothing but the old Metallica shirt you don’t wear anymore.”

“Jen will never become an old shirt.” Cash’s voice oozed with confidence. “I guarantee it.”

Seth kept his mouth shut, but he was totally with Dylan on this one. Regular sex with the same chick was bound to get dull. At least in his experience.

“Anyway, let’s do this thing.” Cash glanced up at the sky, wary. “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

They’d trained on this beach for years, so the workout that ensued was one Seth could do in his sleep. The sky remained overcast during the four-mile run, but once they hit the water, a light rain began to fall and the water grew choppier. Although the waves were nothing to freak out about, when Cash called out and suggested they head back, nobody protested.

They were a mile out, making their way to shore when all hell broke loose. A crack of thunder exploded in the air. The sky grew darker and darker in a matter of seconds, an onslaught of rain blasting out of those black clouds like water from a broken dam.

Gritting his teeth, Seth concentrated on swimming in a straight line, a damn-near impossible feat when the wind was determined to blow his body right back into the middle of the ocean. He was gasping for air by the time he reached the shore, thoroughly exhausted as he staggered out of the water, Cash hot on his heels.

He heaved himself onto the sand, rain and seawater dripping down his bare chest. Squinting, he studied the angry waves, experiencing a spark of relief when he spotted Dylan’s blond head bobbing in the water, powerful arms slicing through the current.

After Dylan and Jackson made it to shore, the foursome stared at each other for a long moment, then tipped their gazes up at the sky while the rain soaked them to the bone.

“Holy shit balls,” Dylan exclaimed. “It’s the fucking Apocalypse.”

“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” Cash shouted over the wind.

Getting back to their cars proved to be a whole other workout. The rain fell harder and the wind blew faster, providing a wall of resistance each time Seth took a step. The thunder was so loud he couldn’t hear his own thoughts, and each time a bolt of lightning sizzled over the furious ocean, it was easy to see that the waves were gathering in size and speed.

When he finally stumbled up to his Jeep, he let out a breath heavy with relief.

Cash and Jackson raced to the SUV in the neighboring space. As Cash unlocked the driver’s door, he glanced over at Seth. “Text when you get home so I know you made it there alive,” he called.

“Same goes for you two,” Seth called back.

He and Dylan practically dove into the Jeep. Fortunately, the top was up, so they were spared having to drive home in a torrential downpour. Still, they were both soaking wet and cursing up a blue streak as Seth started the engine.

“That came out of nowhere,” he said, shaking his head in amazement.

“Looks like that annoying weatherman was actually right for the first time in his life.” Dylan paused. “He’s probably at the studio, gloating up a storm…ha. Get it? Gloating up a storm… You know, kind of like the storm that’s raging outside this Jeep?”

Seth stared at his friend. “Yeah, I got it the first time you said it, and it wasn’t funny then either.”

He reversed out of the parking space and turned onto the main road, the windshield wipers working so furiously he was surprised they didn’t fly away. Raindrops battered the roof of the car, so loud it was like the Jeep was being hit with an unending stream of golf balls. Luckily, he and Dylan only lived five minutes away. Visibility was totally shot, and the vehicle must have hydroplaned half a dozen times on the short trip home, but Seth got them there in one piece.

He parked in the driveway and killed the engine, then gazed at the scary black chaos beyond the windshield before shooting Dylan a sidelong look. “Ready?”

Dylan sighed. “Yup.”

Seth reached for the door handle. “See you on the other side, brother.”

They both hopped out of the Jeep like their asses were on fire.

The second he was out in the open, Seth was hit by a gust of wind that almost knocked him right off his feet—and for a man who stood at six-three and boasted two hundred pounds of solid muscle, that spoke volumes about the intensity of the wind.

By the time he and Dylan made it through the front door of the house, he was exhausted again. When he took a step, water spilled out of his sneakers and formed a huge puddle on the hardwood floor.

“You think we should board up the windows?” Dylan winced as the wall behind him rattled from the storm’s assault.

“Naah, I think we’ll be fine.” He kicked off his wet shoes. “I’m hopping in the shower.”

He headed for the bathroom, where he stripped off his trunks and turned on the faucet. His shower was quick, just a few minutes under the spray to warm up and wash the salt water off, and then he toweled off and headed to his bedroom. He threw on a pair of gray sweatpants and a black wifebeater, listening to the whine of the wind and the pounding of the rain. Outside his window, the sky had grown even darker, nearly black now. And it was only ten thirty in the morning.

As he stared at the rain streaking the windowpane, a pang of worry tugged on his gut. Shit. It was Sunday. That meant Miranda was teaching at the dance school today. Hopefully she’d looked out the window when she’d woken up this morning and had the sense to cancel the day’s classes.

Maybe he ought to check in, though. Just in case.

Without allowing himself to question his actions, he grabbed his cell phone and dialed Miranda’s number.

He immediately got bumped over to voice mail.

“Miranda, it’s Seth,” he said gruffly. “The weather’s shitty. Call me back.”

Not the most articulate message, but it got the job done. Too bad it didn’t guarantee a speedy response—it took three hours for her to get back to him, and when her voice came over the line, she sounded harried and annoyed.

“I saw your number on my phone,” she snapped. “What do you want, Seth?”

“Wow, remind me never to be concerned about you,” he said sarcastically. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

She had the decency to sound ashamed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped like that. Things are ridiculously crazy here.”

“Where are you?”

“The school.”

Another wave of worry washed over him. “Have you taken a look outside, Miranda? There’s a fucking tropical storm out there. Go home.”

“Trust me, I’m trying,” she said irritably. “I already cancelled the afternoon lessons, but a lot of the kids that were here for the morning classes can’t get in touch with their parents, so I’m trying to organize a carpool.”

“You need help?” He was already marching to the door. “I can be there in fifteen.”

“No, it’s fine. Really, Seth, don’t come here. The other teachers and I can handle it. We just need to bundle up the kids, pack up their stuff, and then we’re getting everyone home. I just can’t leave until Jase gets here.”

“Who’s Jase?”

Her tone took on a bit of an edge. “Jason. My son.”

Right. Her kid. Why did he keep forgetting she had one? Wait, make that two.

Probably because you don’t want to remember.

He ignored the internal taunt. Fine, so he wasn’t particularly thrilled that Miranda had two children, but that slice of misfortune wouldn’t stop him from doing his damndest to get her in bed. He’d already made it clear he wasn’t applying for the position of her baby-daddy, and he also wasn’t going to pretend to like kids just to sleep with the woman. Still, acknowledging the rugrats’ existence couldn’t hurt his cause.

“Your son’s not with you?”

She sounded upset. “No, he was at a friend’s house. The parents are dropping him at the school. They just called to say they’re ten minutes away.”

“Good. Once they arrive, get everyone home. The roads aren’t too bad yet, but the weather reports are saying there’s some risk of flooding.” He paused. “Might be some power outages too. You got candles and flashlights at home?”

“Yes, Seth. I also have canned food and bottled water and something called common sense and basic survival knowledge.” Her sarcasm reverberated through the line.

“Good,” he said again. “Call or text when you get home.”

“If I remember.”

“Don’t fucking give me that. If I don’t hear from you in an hour, I’ll get in my car and—”

“Fine,” she interjected. “I’ll call you.”

With that, she hung up, leaving him staring at the phone in frustration. That woman drove him absolutely insane. So fucking independent, determined to do everything on her own, even when she desperately needed help.

He could see why his mother had worried about Miranda moving out here. The women who danced at the Paradis were like a close-knit family, always looking out for one another. They’d mothered Seth to the point of exasperation when he was a kid, and he knew Miranda had experienced that same maternal attention and sisterly devotion. He also knew she hadn’t once asked any of them for help in the four years she’d worked there.

Now that she’d left the Strip, she was completely on her own, raising two kids alone, and Seth worried that she’d never be able to swallow her pride and seek him out if she was truly in trouble.

Or at least that’s what he thought before the doorbell rang nearly an hour later.

Dylan, who’d been watching the storm coverage on the living room television, glanced at Seth in bewilderment. “Expecting anyone?”

He shook his head, getting a sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to like what he found on his doorstep.

Setting his beer bottle on the pine coffee table, he rose from the couch and headed to the front hall. He’d only intended to open the door a crack, but a gust of wind blew it open, almost smashing him in the face. He stopped it just in time, then took a second to gape at the three bedraggled creatures huddled on the front stoop.

Miranda’s dark hair was drenched, wet strands glued to her forehead and whipping around in the wind. In her leggings and T-shirt, which were soaked, she wasn’t dressed for the weather, but the children plastered to her were. Two of them, wearing matching yellow raincoats with the hoods up, clinging to Miranda’s legs and wobbling each time they got blasted by a rainy gust.

“You just going to stand there or are you going to let us in?” Miranda yelled, her voice tinny amidst the persistent drumbeat of the rain.

Seth blinked, recovering fast. He ushered her and the children inside, then struggled to shut the door. He was yet again drenched, and new puddles were forming on the hardwood.

He focused on Miranda, whose hazel eyes looked a tad wild as she pushed hair off her face.

“You okay?” he demanded. “What happened?”

She blinked a few times. Glanced around the small entrance, as if she couldn’t comprehend what she was doing there. Then she opened her mouth and said, “My apartment is…”

Seth waited. When she didn’t finish the sentence, he sighed. “Your apartment is what?” he prompted.

Miranda wasn’t the one to respond. Rather, it was one of the dark-haired imps by her side, a little girl with pigtails and big brown eyes peeking out of that yellow hood.

“Underwater,” the girl announced.

He furrowed his brows. “What?”

“We live underwater now.”





Chapter Four

“Like The Little Mermaid, ’cept it wasn’t like The Little Mermaid at all,” Sophie explained in dismay. “It was cold and wet and icky and—”

Miranda snapped out of her shocked trance and placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Hush, Soph. I can explain it to Mr. Masterson—”

Seth snorted.

“To Seth,” she amended, meeting his amused gray eyes. “I’m so sorry to just show up like this. I had your address in my phone and I didn’t want to drive all the way back to the school when your house was so much closer. Imperial Beach is closer to Coronado than it is to the city—” Wonderful, now she was giving him a geography lesson. “And I couldn’t call because there was no signal and—” she gulped, trying to collect her composure, “—Ginny and Elsa live in studio apartments and I didn’t want to put them out, but I remember you saying you had a spare room and…”

She was too mortified to keep going, so she stopped talking altogether.

Seth’s voice was oddly gentle. “It’s okay. Tell me what happened when you got home.”

“Our place flooded. I opened the front door to find three feet of water in our hallway.” She gestured to her soaking-wet leggings and ballet flats. “I waded in there to assess the damage…” Her throat closed up, making it hard to continue. “I guess a few sewers overflowed, and there was also something wrong with my building’s gutters—my landlord said something about downspouts draining too close to the foundation.”

Seth’s expression turned grim. “How bad was it?”

“Bad. All four ground-floor apartments flooded, and with the rain not easing up out there, it’s bound to get worse.”

A wave of panic suddenly hit her. Oh God. Their entire life was in that apartment. What the hell was she supposed to do now?

Her landlord, a sweet Italian man named Marco, was already at the building when Miranda and the kids got home. One of the other tenants whose apartment flooded had called him, and although Marco had assured the affected residents that insurance would cover their lost belongings and no one would have to pay for the renovations, that didn’t solve the dilemma of where she and her children were supposed to live for the next week or so. The only people she knew in town were the teachers who worked for her at the dance school, and she didn’t feel comfortable asking any of them for a place to stay.

And she certainly couldn’t stay with Seth. It was bad enough that she was about to ask him to spend the night. But a whole week, maybe more? No way.

Miranda forced herself to gain some control over the panic swirling in her belly and focused on Seth, who was watching her with concern. Funny, he hadn’t made a single smartass remark since she’d showed up. He also hadn’t paid a lick of attention to her kids, who were beginning to whine.

“Mom, my shoes are wet,” Jason said miserably.

“And I want Belinda!” Sophie whimpered.

Miranda stifled a sigh. She wasn’t looking forward to telling Sophie that her favorite doll had been floating in the murky lake that used to be their home.

Rather than answer the twins, she looked imploringly at Seth. “I hate to ask this, but can we…do you mind if we stay here tonight? With you?”

“Mommy, I want Belinda!”

“My feet are cold!”

What could only be described as terror flared in Seth’s normally unfazed expression. She didn’t blame him. The stress of the day was finally taking its toll on the twins, whose voices were increasing in volume.

“I. Want. Belinda.” A sob slipped from Sophie’s trembling lips.

“Seth?” Miranda asked quietly, studying his face.

“Of course you can crash here tonight,” a male voice announced.

A tall, blond man in his late twenties appeared in the hallway, his handsome features creased with displeasure as he glanced at Seth. Then his face relaxed and he squatted down, shooting a big smile at Sophie, who made loud hiccupping sounds as she cried and clutched Miranda’s hand. Even Jason’s eyes were shining with tears, and her son was normally way too macho to cry in public.

“Hey there, squirts,” the blond guy said cheerfully. “Why you all wet? Is it raining out there or something?”

Neither child said a word for a moment, and then Sophie giggled.

“Duh,” Jason said, his tears all but forgotten.

“Weird. I hadn’t noticed. I’m Dylan, by the way. But you can call me Mr. Awesome.”

Sophie giggled again.

Miranda gawked at the gorgeous man—Seth’s roommate, she deduced—grateful for his successful defusing of the tears-and-tantrum bomb that had almost detonated.

“I’m Miranda,” she said, extending her hand in his direction. “And this is Sophie and Jason.”

“Pleasure to meet you, honey.” Dylan leaned in for the handshake. His grip was strong, his palm warm, and his green eyes twinkled with genuine delight as he graciously shook her kids’ hands too, eliciting yet another high-pitched laugh from Sophie.

“Did you see, Mom? We shaked hands! Like grown-ups,” Sophie bubbled.

“Shook hands,” Miranda corrected. “And now how about we get you out of those rain slickers and see if Seth and Dylan would be willing to feed us?”

She was probably being presumptuous, especially since Seth hadn’t said a single word in the past five minutes, but clearly his roommate was okay with her and the twins being here, so technically she didn’t need the green light from Seth. Besides, wasn’t he the one who kept checking up on her and offering to help her out?

Well, he finally got his wish—she needed his help, even though it killed her to admit it. If there was one thing she hated doing, it was relying on other people. For anything. Her friends in Vegas used to tease her about her inability to accept outside assistance. They accused her of being stubborn and proud, but the reason she preferred doing things on her own wasn’t because she didn’t want to feel like a charity case. It was because she didn’t trust anyone but herself to get shit done. She’d placed her faith in far too many people who had let her down, and she refused to be the one left holding the bag ever again.

But at the moment, she had no choice. Her apartment had turned into Atlantis and all of her belongings were most likely destroyed. Her only possessions in the world were the clothes on her back, her purse and the Ford sedan parked in Seth’s driveway, provided it didn’t float away.

“I think we can scrounge up something for us to eat,” Dylan replied, flashing another one of those endearing smiles.

Jeez, the man ought to open up his own charm school. Miranda had never met a more pleasant, likable person, and she’d only known the dude five minutes.

Seth, on the other hand, was the furthest thing from pleasant and likable. He was leaning against the wall, his sweatpants and tank top wet and plastered to his strong body, the expression in his gray eyes as turbulent as the wind shrieking beyond the door. And yet, rather than cower under that harsh gaze, she was inexplicably drawn to it.

Their eyes locked, and for a moment, Miranda’s surroundings faded. She forgot all about how cold she was, how wet and tired and hungry. This was not the time to feel even the slightest bit aroused, yet Seth’s presence coaxed the response from her. He was the sexiest man she’d ever met—tall, muscular, imposing. So blatantly masculine with his scruffy beard and unruly hair, his roped forearms and corded biceps radiating strength.

She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t fantasized about having sex with the man. Because she had. Many, many times.

“Mo-om,” Sophie said in a plaintive voice.

Flustered, Miranda wrenched her gaze away and knelt down to help the twins out of their rain gear. She felt more than saw Seth leave the hallway, and a strange sense of disappointment rippled through her. Along with a jolt of disapproval.

He didn’t want her children here.

That was the only explanation for his distant behavior, and it seriously grated that he hadn’t even taken the time to introduce himself to her kids. For someone who was consistently and relentlessly trying to sleep with her, he was sure going about it the wrong way. Because completely ignoring a pair of wet, shivering six-year-olds? Definitely not the kind of behavior that would make her fall into bed with a man.

Leaving their wet shoes and coats in the hall to dry, Miranda took Sophie and Jason by the hand, and the three of them followed Dylan down the corridor toward the kitchen.





As a peal of children’s laughter drifted into the hallway, Seth cringed and ducked back into his bedroom. It was the third time he’d left his room intending to join everyone in the kitchen, only to change his mind and retreat.

Christ. You’d think he was about to face a pack of rabid dogs rather than two harmless six-year-olds.

Though come to think of it, he’d prefer hanging out with rabid dogs.

Grow a pair, buddy. If you wanna fuck the mom, you’ve gotta be nice to the kiddies.

Only in rare circumstances did he silence his inner man-slut the way he did now. Nice to the kids? Shit, the mere thought of it had him reconsidering his pursuit of Miranda, something he’d invested months’ worth of effort into.

But he didn’t like kids. As politically incorrect as it might be, it was common knowledge to all who knew him, which was why no one expected him to make an appearance at Lieutenant Commander Becker’s house for any Baby Sadie-related events or asked him to babysit John Garrett or Will Charleston’s kids.

Man, he’d never thought he’d say it, but thank God for Dylan. Mr. Awesome had come to the rescue like Mary fucking Poppins flying in with her umbrella, promptly turning a couple of frowns upside down and saving the day.

Seth had seen the gratitude shining on Miranda’s face, and for a second, he’d experienced a burst of envy. No way could he have made those kids laugh like that. If you wanted him to save the day, put an MP5 in his hands and point him in the direction of a terrorist. He wasn’t the kind of man who brought smiles to children’s faces.

A soft knock on the door jarred him from a train of thought that was growing more and more unsettling by the second.

“Yeah?” he called brusquely.

The door opened and Miranda poked her head in. Her expression reflected both concern and irritation. “Dylan said you might have some clothes you can loan me. He’s going to throw our stuff in the dryer.”

“Yeah, I do.” His voice sounded gravelly, so he cleared his throat, adding, “You need something for the rugrats too?”

She stepped into the room, shaking her head. “No, they changed into a couple of Dylan’s T-shirts.” Her lips quirked. “They’re practically drowning in them. Your roommate’s a big guy.”

Seth’s jaw tensed. The note of appreciation in Miranda’s voice raised his hackles and made him take back every nice thought he’d had about Dylan in the past few minutes.

“The big guy couldn’t spare something for you to wear?” Seth said with a bite to his tone.

“He made a cryptic comment about how it wouldn’t be appropriate.” She rolled her eyes. “I get the feeling he thinks it would be treading on your territory if he lets me wear his clothes.”

Damn it. Now he had no choice but to think good thoughts about Dylan again. He even mentally awarded his roommate a gold star for knowing that Seth would absolutely murder him if a single item of Dylan’s clothing so much as touched Miranda’s skin.

“Which is ridiculous,” she went on, locking her gaze with his. “Because you don’t own me, and therefore I can wear whatever I want, regardless of who it belongs to.”

“Maybe,” he agreed. “But tonight?” He strode over to his closet. “Tonight you’re wearing my shirt, babe.”

“I hate it when you call me babe.”

He shot her a grin over his shoulder. “No, you don’t.”

“So now you’re an expert on what I like?”

“Yep.” He tugged a flannel button-down off one of the hangers, then handed it to her.

Miranda reluctantly accepted the garment. She ran her fingers over the well-worn material before looking at him in surprise. “This is soft. And it looks worn.” She lifted one eyebrow. “I thought you were only allowed to wear black. You know, because you’re so darn cool.”

“I can make anything look cool, even flannel. And I don’t only wear black.” To illustrate, he gestured to the fresh pair of gray sweats and white wifebeater he’d changed into.

The way Miranda’s hazel eyes rested on his chest a little too long didn’t go unnoticed.

Neither did the fact that his confidence had returned with full force the second Miranda’s kids were out of sight.

He walked over to the simple wooden dresser under his window and grabbed a pair of black track pants from the bottom drawer, along with thick wool socks. “The pants will be baggy, but there’s a drawstring so at least they won’t fall off.” He paused. “You want some boxers too?”

Her cheeks took on a pinkish hue. “No, it’s okay. Just the pants will do.”

His groin tightened as he wondered whether she planned on going commando. From there, the most mouthwatering image flashed in his mind, one involving Miranda’s bare sex, his track pants, and a whole lotta friction.

“What’s wrong?”

He met her concerned eyes. “Why do you ask?”

“You got this look on your face, like you were in pain. Are you all right?”

A choked laugh slipped out. “I’m fine.”

“What’s so funny?” Suspicion colored her tone.

“You’re completely oblivious to the effect you have on me, aren’t you?”

She let out a startled breath. “What?”

Releasing a breath of his own, he eliminated the distance between them, lifting one arm over Miranda’s shoulder so he could close the bedroom door. Her eyes widened at his nearness, and her cheeks turned redder.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Giving us some privacy.”

Her slender throat dipped as she swallowed. “We don’t need privacy. I wouldn’t mind some, though, so I can change out of these damp clothes.”

“That can wait a few minutes.” He locked his gaze with hers. “You asked if I was in pain. Well, I am.”

She blinked in surprise. “But you just said—”

Before she could finish, he grabbed her hand and placed it directly over the bulge in his sweatpants.

Miranda gasped, her mouth falling open. “What are you…oh my God. Jesus, Seth!”

And yet for all the lady’s protests, she didn’t make a single move to yank her hand away.

Seth’s pulse kicked up a notch, his cock growing even harder beneath Miranda’s palm. She didn’t stroke him. Didn’t cup or caress or move her fingers in the slightest. She just kept her hand over the erection straining against his sweats, her lips parted, her pupils dilated.

“Feel that?” he murmured.

Her gaze slowly met his. She looked almost mesmerized as she nodded.

“That’s what I’ve been walking around with since the moment you moved to town, baby.”

“Seth…” Reluctance crept into her voice. “Stop. Just…stop.”

And then her palm moved. A fraction of an inch. A torturous glide over the hard ridge of his cock.

He groaned softly. “Do that again.”

Her fingers froze. Her expression conveyed shock, as if she truly hadn’t realized what she was doing.

“This is insane,” she mumbled, and then, to his extreme disappointment, she withdrew her hand.

But the sexual awareness zipping back and forth between them refused to dissipate. It thickened the air and made his skin burn with anticipation. Christ, he wanted this woman so badly he couldn’t think straight anymore. Every time he saw her he turned into a sex-crazed caveman whose sole purpose in life was to claim his female.

His gaze focused on her mouth, that sexy mouth he’d been fantasizing about for so long.

“One taste.” The words slipped out before he could stop them, his voice full of gravel.

“W-what?” she stammered.

“Let me have one taste. One kiss.” He brought his hand to her mouth and swept his thumb over her plump bottom lip. The breath she hissed out warmed his fingers. “Please, Miranda.”

Oh Christ, he was actually begging.

Begging to kiss a woman.

If his entire body wasn’t overcome with pure agony, he might have been disgusted with himself, but at the moment, he couldn’t focus on anything other than Miranda. The intoxicating scent of her, vanilla and roses and something soft and feminine. The way her long, damp hair curled at the ends. The fullness of her breasts beneath her T-shirt.

He stroked her lower lip again, then let out another groan when her tongue came out to taste the pad of his thumb. She looked as surprised as he was by her actions.

But he wasn’t complaining. Hell no. He just capitalized on that tiny sign of surrender by cupping her chin and lowering his head to take possession of her mouth.

The kiss rivaled the storm that raged outside the house—powerful and all-consuming. Her lips were soft, warm, and he could feel them trembling as he rubbed his mouth over hers in a fleeting caress. There it was, his one taste, and it wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. Miranda must have agreed, because she didn’t pull away, didn’t protest when he coaxed her lips open with his tongue and licked his way inside.

She let out the sexiest little moan he’d ever heard when their tongues met. He swallowed the sound and angled his head to deepen the kiss, letting their tongues swirl and explore.

The only contact between them was their fused mouths and his hand resting lightly on her jaw. Her arms didn’t come around his neck. His other hand didn’t explore her sweet curves. Their lower bodies didn’t collide.

And yet it was the most erotic kiss of his entire life.

Disappointment slammed into him when Miranda abruptly tore her mouth away. Her hazel eyes shone with arousal and uncertainty, and she was breathing hard, her chest heaving.

“There,” she said. “You got your taste.”

He knew she was trying to sound casual, but her wobbly voice betrayed her.

“And you got yours,” he answered, lifting his eyebrows in challenge. “So let’s hear it.”

To her credit, she met his gaze head-on. “Hear what?”

“Your speech about how you didn’t feel anything, the kiss was no big deal, it doesn’t change your mind about going to bed with me, et cetera, et cetera.”

Miranda sighed. “I’m many things, Seth, but I’m not a liar. I did feel something, and trust me that kiss was a big deal. It was a huge deal, actually.”

She might as well have pulled out a two-by-four and smashed him in the gut, that was how shocked he was by her frank admission. Pure triumph soared through him—only to fizzle out like a wet candle when Miranda kept going.

“But you’re right. It doesn’t change my mind about going to bed with you.” Before he could respond, she spun around and grabbed hold of the doorknob.

“Miranda.”

She went still. “What?” she asked without turning.

“What the hell is it going to take for you to give in to this?” The echo of defeat in his voice surprised him as much as the next question he posed. “What do I have to do to win you over?”

Her back relaxed. Slightly. There was no mistaking her ironic tone as she glanced over her shoulder and said, “For starters? Be nicer to my kids.” Then she slid out the door.

Seth listened to the sound of her footsteps, heard the door of the hall bathroom open and close. He scrubbed both hands through his hair, still feeling winded from that explosive kiss, and now apprehensive, thanks to Miranda’s parting words.

Be nicer to my kids.

Fuck, he should’ve known it would come down to that. He couldn’t blame her, either. Whether he liked it or not, Miranda was a mother. Age-wise, she was young—only twenty-four, if he recalled correctly—but in terms of maturity, she was light-years ahead of other women her age. She took her responsibilities seriously, he knew that, and he was beginning to understand that she was the kind of woman who didn’t do a single thing without thinking it through first.

Which was damn frustrating, because, really, who needed to put this much thought into a casual fling? It wasn’t that difficult—chemistry, sex, good-bye.

In this case, he’d probably need to add “and let’s stay friends” to that list, just in case his mother ever found out; Missy would kick his ass if she discovered he’d pulled his usual love-’em-and-leave-’em act on one of her former dancers. But he had no problem remaining friends with Miranda. He liked her, and they got along. Well, when she wasn’t rejecting him left and right.

So yeah, he could do the whole friendship thing—after he’d had his fill of her in bed.

Be nicer to my kids.

Fine. If it meant finally satisfying his craving for Miranda Breslin, he could totally manage a few cordial words when he was around her children.

Setting his jaw in determination, he left the bedroom and marched into the kitchen, where he found Miranda’s twins sitting at the rectangular table. There was a tall glass of milk in front of each child and a plate of chocolate-chip cookies between them.

Dylan, who was grabbing a beer from the fridge, glanced up at Seth’s arrival. “Want one?” he asked.

Seth nodded and accepted the bottle of Bud. As he twisted off the cap and took a sip, he felt two pairs of eyes watching him. After a second, he shifted his gaze to the table and returned the stare.

No denying that Miranda’s kids were cute. They were carbon copies of their mother, hair the same shade of dark brown, skin the same olive tone, except their eyes were chocolate-brown rather than hazel. The girl exuded a shrewd sort of perceptiveness, her expression more shuttered than her twin’s, whose face was very easy to read.

“What’s on your arm?” the boy asked curiously, those dark eyes glued to the Polynesian design covering Seth’s upper arm.

“It’s a tattoo, dummy,” the girl told her brother in a know-it-all voice.

“I know that,” Jason retorted. “I wanna know what it means.”

“It doesn’t mean anything, kid,” Seth said, then took another gulp of beer. “It’s just a random design.”

“He thinks it makes him look cool,” Dylan explained with a grin as he headed to the table. He sat down next to Jason, leaving one empty chair at the table—the one beside Sophie.

Seth stared at the chair.

So did Miranda’s daughter, before turning to look at him again. He could have sworn he saw a gleam of challenge in her eyes, as if she was daring him to come closer.

Rather than sit down, he leaned against the counter. Call him a coward, but he wasn’t going near that table.

A short silence fell, broken by a boom of thunder that made both children shriek.

“It’s just thunder, guys,” Miranda said from the doorway.

Seth’s mouth turned to sawdust as he watched her enter the kitchen. She was wearing the clothes he’d loaned her—the pants were baggy, as he’d predicted, but he hadn’t expected the shirt to be so big too. With the top two buttons undone, the flannel neckline kept sliding off one of her shoulders, revealing her supple, tanned skin. But it was the no-bra-strap part that transformed his mouth into a sand dune. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath that shirt. Or the pants. Jesus. She was totally naked under there.

Their eyes met briefly, and Seth knew she’d read his dirty thoughts because she blushed before casting her gaze downward.

“I can’t believe how hard it’s raining.” She sank into the unoccupied chair next to her daughter’s. “Let’s just hope the flooding over at our place doesn’t get worse.”

“Did your landlord say how he planned to handle the damage?” Dylan asked, reaching for a chocolate-chip cookie and taking a bite.

“He’s trying to get a professional crew to come in this evening, if possible. If not, then it’ll happen tomorrow morning. They’ll have to pump out the water and shop-vac the place.” Her expression turned grim. “I think the biggest concern is sewage contamination and mold forming.”

She moved her gaze to the sliding door that led to the small backyard. Rivulets of rain streamed down the glass, and in the distance, the sky was a dark, ominous gray. Miranda’s face took on a faraway expression as she started mumbling under her breath.

“Who knows what might be damaged. Insulation, drywall, ceilings, floors…definitely the floors. God, and the furniture and appliances, the carpets and bedding, and our clothes and…”

She was beginning to look green, and Dylan quickly interjected. “No point in worrying about things beyond your control,” he said gently. “Tomorrow you’ll assess the damage and figure out what needs to be done. Tonight, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“You’re right,” she agreed, albeit grudgingly.

“Mom, Sef has a ta-ttoo,” Jason blurted out.

“Seth,” Miranda corrected with a smile. “Remember we were going to try and practice our t-h sounds?”

“Seth,” Jason said slowly. Then he nodded, looking pleased with himself.

“And yes, he does have a tattoo.” She shot Seth a quick look. “Is there a story behind it?”

He shrugged. “Not really.”

“Sure there is,” Dylan said with a grin. “It’s just not kid-appropriate.”

“What’s kid-appoeperit?” Sophie asked.

“Appropriate. And it means that Seth’s story is for grown-ups,” Miranda said firmly.

Sophie twisted around in her chair and stared at Seth with a hint of contempt, as if she blamed him for not being able to hear the story. Jason, on the other hand, merely shrugged it off and reached for another cookie. Okay then. Clearly the girl was the dominant of the two, and the one he needed to watch out for. Good to know, Seth thought. A SEAL always needed to be aware of his enemies, after all.

“So…” Miranda studied the clock on the microwave display. “Huh, it’s only three o’clock. Feels much later. What should we do now?”

Dylan spoke up sheepishly. “Well, I kinda promised the squirts we would watch a movie on Netflix. As long as the power’s still on and the Internet works, we might as well take advantage of it. If that’s okay with you, of course.”

“It’s fine by me.” She turned to her kids. “Any movie ideas?”

As the twins began shouting out film titles Seth had never heard of—how was Puss in Boots age-appropriate? It sounded like porn, for chrissake—he fought the urge to sneak out of the kitchen and hide out in his room again. Sitting around eating cookies and discussing the options for kiddie movie night was not his scene. At all.

But he forced his feet to stay rooted to the tiled floor. If he was going to succeed in finally getting Miranda naked, he needed to prove that he could be around her kids.

Jeez, is she even worth it, bro?

The thought gave him pause. He couldn’t deny that this was getting pretty fucking complicated. He was going to great lengths to get this woman in bed, even willingly spending time with an age demographic he usually avoided like the plague.

So…was she worth it?

He discreetly watched as she got up, laughing at something Sophie had said. As she helped her daughter up to her feet, Miranda’s sable-brown hair, now dry and wavy, fell forward, revealing that bare shoulder he’d been admiring earlier.

A rush of heat coursed through his blood and his cock stirred beneath his sweatpants.

Fuck.

Of course she was worth it.

She was absolutely worth it.





Chapter Five

“Kids asleep?”

Seth’s low voice startled the hell out of her as she shut the guest room door and stepped into the corridor. Miranda’s pulse sped up when she spotted him at the end of the hall. Those magnetic gray eyes were focused on her with such intensity she felt rattled.

“Yeah.” She reluctantly walked toward him, wishing she’d decided to turn in herself. But it was barely eight forty-five and she wasn’t tired. If anything, she was wide awake and would probably stay that way for hours. The more it continued to rain, the higher her stress levels soared.

What would she find when she went home tomorrow? How much of their belongings could she actually salvage? How long would the renovations take? The floors would definitely have to be replaced, but what else?

“Okay, clearly you need this more than I do.”

She snapped out of her thoughts to see Seth holding out a beer bottle.

“Here,” he said gruffly. “This might make you feel better. I can see your brain working overtime. Thinking about the apartment, huh?”

She nodded. After a second, she accepted the bottle and brought it to her lips. As the cold liquid slid down her throat, she suddenly realized that Seth’s mouth had been on the lip of this bottle just seconds ago. Her heart beat a little bit faster. And faster still when the memory of their kiss flew into her head.

Oh God.

The kiss.

She’d tried blocking it from her mind all evening. She’d curled up with the twins on the comfy leather couch in Seth and Dylan’s living room. Laughed at the crazy antics of Shrek and the gang. Munched on the popcorn Dylan had brought out.

She’d hoped that if she pretended the kiss hadn’t happened, she might be able to erase it from her memory, but no such luck. She’d been excruciatingly aware of Seth’s presence all night, even though he’d barely said a word. He’d isolated himself on the sole recliner in the living room and spoke only when spoken to, but she’d felt his gaze burning into the side of her face for the entirety of both movies they’d ended up watching.

Now, that silvery gaze was glued to her again, knowing, mocking, a tad contemplative.

“You hungry?” he asked after the silence between them had dragged on.

She shook her head. “I’m still full from all that spaghetti we had for dinner. Did I even thank Dylan for cooking? I can’t remember if—”

“You thanked him,” Seth cut in. “Twice.”

“Right. Okay. Well.”

She fidgeted with the label of the beer bottle. The condensation had softened the paper, and she found herself slicing her fingernail underneath it and peeling away the corners. For some reason, she was feeling incredibly unsettled in Seth’s presence.

“Where’s Dylan?” she blurted out.

“In the shower.”

“Oh.”

“Should we sit in the living room?” Seth suggested.

“Um. Sure.”

Shit, she had to pull herself together. So what if she could still taste him on her lips? So what if his woodsy, masculine scent drugged her senses every time she inhaled?

So what if his powerful arms looked incredible in that wifebeater?

She trailed after him, clutching the beer bottle so tightly it was a miracle the glass didn’t shatter. Why was she so nervous all of a sudden? She’d been around Seth a hundred times over the past few months and she’d never had a problem before. She’d been perfectly capable of talking to him, interacting with him, sparring with him, shooting down his seductive propositions and resisting the attraction between them.

What had changed? Why did she suddenly feel tongue-tied around him?

The kiss, you idiot. It was the kiss.

“Have a seat. I’ll just grab another beer,” Seth said when they reached the living room.

Miranda settled on the far end of couch and brought both legs up, resting the beer bottle on one knee. She looked around the room, slightly bothered by its lack of…warmth. Judging by this room and the others she’d already seen, Seth and Dylan weren’t concerned with personalizing their surroundings. The furniture in the house was sparse, the white walls devoid of artwork or decoration. Everything served a purpose—couch, flat screen, kitchen table, chairs. It kind of bummed her out, especially when she thought of the painstaking effort she’d gone to in order to make her apartment a cozy place she and the kids could call home. And now it was probably all gone—the furniture and knickknacks and personal touches she’d tried to infuse the place with.

Sighing, she leaned her head against the arm of the sofa. When her shirt slid off her shoulder, she blushed, hoping Seth wouldn’t comment on the fact that she still wore his flannel shirt and track pants even though her clothing had come out of the dryer hours ago. Call her pathetic, but the clothes smelled like him and she liked being surrounded by his heady scent.

But when he walked back into the room a few minutes later, that scent she loved so much held the unmistakable hint of smoke.

“Sorry for taking so long,” he apologized, crossing the hardwood floor with an unopened beer in his hand. “I needed a nicotine fix.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You went outside in the storm?”

“Naah, just opened the sliding door and stood in the kitchen. The rain’s letting up, by the way. And it’s not as windy as it was earlier.”

Rather than sit at the other end of the couch, he plopped that big body on the center cushion, his muscular thigh mere inches from Miranda’s socked feet. Her heart skipped a beat. Crap. Why the heck did he have to sit so close?

She decided to focus on the one thing guaranteed not to turn her on—his smoking habit.

“So, how long have you been trying to give yourself cancer?” she asked politely.

Seth laughed, the husky sound sending a shiver up her spine. “Oh no, gee, please don’t hold back.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He shrugged. “You’re right. It’s a terrible habit. And to answer your question—since I was fourteen.”

“Ah, you rebelled young.” Miranda slanted her head. “I’m surprised Missy let you get away with it.”

“The one thing my mom hates to be called is a hypocrite. Seeing as she’s a chain-smoker herself, she’s not one to lecture her son for doing the same. After she caught me with a cigarette that first time, she yelled at me for all of two minutes, then bummed a smoke off me and lit up.”

He grinned, and her heart did a juvenile little flip. He was so much more attractive when he smiled, so much…safer. Those angular features of his softened, the dangerous glint in his eyes dimmed, and he lost that predatory air.

But she wasn’t foolish enough to believe that beneath Seth’s menacing exterior was a man with an endless supply of smiles and good cheer. Make no mis