OKAY, SO MAYBE I’M A LITTLE NERVOUS, Cat Seabright admitted to herself as she wiped her damp palms on her cotton sundress. Why deny it? What was going to happen in this apartment tonight would, after all, transform her life forever. She hoped.
She leaned on the warm metal railing of the penthouse terrace and stared at the sparkling cityscape of Manhattan’s Upper East Side at night. The spacious top-floor terrace offered a panoramic view of lofty buildings stretching into the distance, all studded with innumerable glowing windows.
Muted sounds of traffic from the street twenty-two floors below competed with the seductive drone of the apartment’s air conditioner behind her. There wasn’t a whiff of breeze to stir the heavy, muggy air. The July heat was nearly as oppressive now, after ten at night, as it had been at high noon.
Cat resisted checking her watch, knowing it had been only about a minute and a half since she’d last done so. He wouldn’t arrive for perhaps another half hour yet—if his plane had landed on time and if he’d managed to get a taxi promptly and if that taxi wasn’t now sitting in snarled traffic on the bridge or in the tunnel. If, if, if.
Just get here, Greg. Get here and let’s just do it before I lose my nerve.
No. She wouldn’t lose her nerve. It would be awkward, certainly, and mechanical, but the end result was what mattered.
As Cat gazed distractedly at the glittering urban landscape, a block of buildings to the north abruptly disappeared—or seemed to as the windows winked into darkness. She straightened and stared, wide-eyed, as the lights in an adjacent cluster of buildings disappeared. Within seconds everything north blinked out as far as she could see, then the West Side in one great swath, and then her own chunk of the city suddenly turned dark.
The air conditioner rumbled to silence as Cat stood frozen. “A blackout,” she whispered. A real, honest-to-goodness New York City blackout! The day’s record heat must have placed the ultimate strain on the city’s power system.
From street level far below came a cacophony of human voices, a faint mumble that swiftly rose in volume. New Yorkers roaring their delight or disgust, or possibly both.
A blackout. No electricity to run the elevator. Which meant Greg would have to climb twenty-two flights of stairs to get to her. That thought had her sputtering with nervous laughter as she turned and made her way across the brick-paved terrace, which felt like a pizza oven under the bare soles of her feet.
Yep, that’s me, she thought, the most alluring babe in New York. A woman any man would traverse the continent for, before cheerfully sprinting up twenty-two flights of stairs. With luggage. There she was, the fairy-tale princess in her forbidding tower, devising a fitting test of endurance for all those princes clamoring for her hand in marriage.
No, not marriage, she reminded herself as she stepped through the doorway into the cool, dark living room and groped her way around the velvet-upholstered sofa. It had taken long enough—thirty-eight years to be precise—but Cat had eventually given up that particular pipe dream. There was only one thing she really wanted out of life, and she’d finally decided she’d waited for it long enough.
Had anyone thought to lay in a few candles here? she wondered, gingerly making her way through the gloom to the small kitchen, barking her shin on the marble coffee table in the process.
What would Nana do if she knew Cat had appropriated the agency’s apartment for the night? And for such a scandalous purpose? She wouldn’t be amused, that was for sure. Cat’s employer was as straitlaced as they came, hence the grandmotherly moniker. One of her first clients had nicknamed Mrs. Amaryllis Littlestone “Nana” and the name had stuck.
Nana would fire Cat if she knew about tonight—end of story. Nana’s “nurturers” were expected to comport themselves in a chaste and dignified manner, in their off hours as well as on assignment.
Up until now, Cat had never had a problem living up to her employer’s exacting standards. She was anything but a hell-raiser, and her pitifully tame love life wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. In the kitchen she felt for a drawer handle and began to carefully paw through corkscrews and chopsticks, blindly hunting for a candle and praying she wouldn’t find a boning knife or an ice pick in the process.
Cat had actually admitted to Greg on the phone that she hadn’t had sex in three years. She still couldn’t decide whether that particular item of information was likely to turn him on or, heaven forbid, earn his pity.
“Oh yeah, that’s what you want to be,” she muttered as she slammed the drawer shut and fumbled for the one next to it, “the kind of woman men sleep with out of pity.”
This one turned out to be the junk drawer, and it bore fruit: a short candle stub, the remnant, no doubt, of some intimate dîner tête à tête. A little more exploring turned up a mostly empty matchbook and a squat, wax-encrusted glass candlestick. She crammed the candle in the holder and touched a lit match to the blackened wick.
“We’re in business—romantic lighting,” she dryly intoned. “Ha ha ha.”
Whatever this night held in store for her, she was pretty certain “romantic” wasn’t part of the equation. Though the experience should shape up as a great story to tell her child someday.
You were conceived on the night of the big New York City blackout. Your daddy had to trudge up twenty-two flights of stairs because he’d promised to try and make a baby with Mommy while Mommy could still make babies.
All right, so maybe she’d stick to the three little pigs. As bedtime stories went, this particular escapade left something to be desired.
Like a husband.
No. She wouldn’t travel that mental road again, and the dead end it inevitably led to. Her two-decade search for Mr. Perfect had been a resounding failure. He didn’t exist. Neither did Mr. Almost Perfect or even Mr. What the Heck It’s Worth a Try.
Brigit claimed Cat’s requirements in a mate were too exacting, that she was holding out for some impossible-to-attain ideal. Cat’s answer was always the same. Considering the alarming divorce rate nowadays, was it possible to be too picky? The last thing Cat wanted to do was subject some innocent child to the emotional meat grinder of divorce, having experienced that particular hell firsthand.
She carried the lit candle into the bedroom and set it on the dresser next to the huge gourmet snack basket wrapped in cellophane. The contents looked tempting—everything from Godiva chocolates to blue corn chips—but she didn’t dare touch it. She had to leave this place precisely the way she’d found it or risk Nana discovering she’d been there.
When she left tomorrow, the agency’s apartment would have been restored to its previous condition, but as for herself…
Cat’s hand drifted to her abdomen. If tonight was a success and she did indeed become pregnant, her job would be forfeit within a few months anyway, once she showed. A pregnant unmarried lady? Not in Nana’s agency. But in the meantime Cat would continue to work and save every nickel toward a house in the suburbs. She had no intention of raising her child in her apartment in Tarrytown, the upper floor of a two-family house. She’d never even considered trying to conceive the baby there, under the watchful eyes and keen ears of her landlady, Mrs. Santangelo.
Selecting a suitable location had been the easy part, and she was certain Nana wouldn’t notice that the spare set of apartment keys was missing from her office before Cat could return them. Selecting a suitable sperm donor, on the other hand…
Thank goodness for Brigit. Her best friend had come through for her. They’d been sitting in the Magnolia Coffee Shop last month, their favorite breakfast spot, discussing Cat’s plight over Belgian waffles and the Magnolia’s bottomless cup of coffee. By that point Brigit had given up trying to persuade her lifelong friend of the foolhardiness of her scheme and they were in the process of vetting candidates for the honor of Chief Inseminator. The guy had to have exemplary genes, but just as important, he had to be willing to stay out of the picture once the deed was done.
One by one they’d crossed off the names Brigit had scrawled on her paper place mat, until only two remained: Cat’s old boyfriend Anton Lind, a confirmed bachelor, and Brigit’s cousin Greg Bannister.
Cat had been tempted to choose Anton, who had the distinction of being the hottest guy she’d ever dated, with his golden Viking beauty and body by Nautilus. Mentally melding her own coppery curls and his pale locks, she envisioned a darling little girl with strawberry blond hair and the pale blue eyes both parents shared. And Anton was convenient. He lived right there in the city. More important, she’d slept with him before. Of course, it had been a long time ago, about four years, but at least he was a known quantity. They had a history.
Which is why she’d ultimately crossed Anton off the list. The last thing she needed was her baby’s biological father running into them at the park, wistfully recalling the relationship they’d once shared, dropping by for unexpected visits. Confirmed bachelor or not, she could see him becoming nostalgic for the good old days and renewing their emotional involvement once they’d made a baby together.
That left Greg, Brigit’s Cute Cousin, which is how Cat had thought of him the one and only time she’d met him, at her and Brigit’s high school graduation. He’d been twenty-two then, tall and handsome, with a confident, easygoing manner so at odds with the blustering immaturity of the boys her own age.
Nevertheless, she hadn’t thought of Greg in twenty years until Brigit had offered him up for stud service.
“He’d do it,” Brigit had stated with confidence. “Greg is the most laid-back guy I know. And I mean, he’s even hotter now than he was back when you met him. If he weren’t my cousin, I’d jump him.”
A one-night stand with the Cute Cousin. Oh my. “He lives in Alaska, right?” Cat had asked.
“Yep. Settled there after college. He’s an engineer, something to do with the oil pipeline. You know,” Brigit had added with a suggestive smirk, “I hear there are a lot more men than women in Alaska. You just know that boy’s gonna be ready for you. He’ll get the job done in one shot.”
After that, the arrangements had been fairly straightforward. Brigit had run the idea past Greg, who did indeed remember Cat. “The redhead with the granny glasses, right?”
I wear contacts now, she’d wanted to tell him, as if that made a difference. The important thing was, he’d agreed to do it. When Brigit had put Cat on the phone, Greg had told her he was scheduled to fly into New York soon, on a date that coincided with Cat’s fertile time of the month, as it turned out. Talk about kismet!
If she didn’t get pregnant tonight, Cat thought, stripping off her sundress and underwear, she was back to square one. Because unless she was willing to fly to Alaska for another try with Greg, an expensive proposition, she’d have to find someone else.
Before getting into the shower, she slipped on her seersucker robe and placed the keys under the welcome mat in front of the apartment door. She was glad now that she’d thought to tell Greg to look for them there in case she didn’t answer the doorbell. If his plane was delayed, she might be asleep when he arrived.
She took a short, cool shower, washing the sweat and grime of the sweltering day off her body. She didn’t linger under the spray, knowing that the building’s water pump was out of commission for the duration of the blackout. The only water available to the upper floors was whatever remained in the rooftop tank.
Cat finished toweling off in the bedroom, staring at the negligee she’d laid out on the bed, wishing she’d packed something less… actually, something more. More fabric, more coverage. More modesty. She sighed deeply. This scrap of deep green silk had been a gift from Brigit, a good-luck token for what Cat’s friend undoubtedly envisioned as a night of unbridled passion. All Brigit had requested in exchange was a full accounting. “I mean, all the juicy details, girl. I want to be able to picture every drop of sweat.”
Imagine, someone getting vicarious thrills hearing about Caitlin Seabright’s love life. “Ha ha ha,” she said, as she lifted the filmy garment and slipped it over her head. It slithered over her body and fell to her ankles with a muted whisper of gossamer silk.
Cat examined her image in the mirrored closet door by candlelight. Flimsy little spaghetti straps were all that held the thing up. A side slit exposed one leg practically to the hipbone. The neckline of the sheer mesh bodice plunged nearly to her navel, secured with a silk cord that crisscrossed through little loops that only went as high as the undersides of her breasts.
She yanked the cord as tight as possible, but the sides of the bodice refused to meet. No doubt that was the intention. She tied a bow under her bust and glanced at her reflection—and blinked in awe.
The corsetlike lacing caused the gown to hug her torso. And it did something truly remarkable to her breasts, which she’d always thought of as, well, pretty unremarkable. It crowded them together and hiked them up until they practically burst out of the skimpy bits of fabric that theoretically were supposed to cover them. Even by candlelight her nipples were clearly visible beneath the sheer dark green mesh.
“I can’t wear this,” Cat whispered. She turned. The side view was equally majestic. “Can I?” She’d never owned a nightgown like this, a garment that had absolutely nothing to do with sleeping. Good grief, what would Greg think of her?
What did he already think of her, a single woman who’d arranged to be impregnated by a virtual stranger? She struck a pose, one hand on her hip. The long slit parted to reveal the entire length of her leg. Tugging off her hair elastic to release her ponytail, she shook her head and watched her wavy red hair fluff around her face, just grazing her bare shoulders.
Cat had never seen herself like this, as some sort of seductress. She couldn’t deny the heady sensation that had her adjusting the gown’s bodice to see just how outrageously provocative she could make herself look.
What would it hurt to play the part, just for one night? she thought, lifting her hair at the nape and watching other parts of herself lift as well. With luck, she wouldn’t even see Greg again after tonight. Did it really matter what he thought of her?
Yes. Anything was better than pity.
“Well, that’s settled, then,” she told her X-rated reflection. “For one night you get to be Delilah.” Then it was on to the glory and glamour of diaper rash and strained peas.
Cat had kept the windows closed as long as possible, trying to hold in the residual coolness, but it was getting warmer by the minute with the air conditioner off. She went around opening them now, letting in the humid outside air and the faraway street noise. She thought she heard the crash of breaking glass, and wondered how much looting damage the morning would reveal. She loved the city, but sometimes she hated it, too.
She flopped onto the queen-size bed, over the quilted bedspread, and grabbed a magazine off the nightstand to fan herself with. Looking down at her supine form, she marveled that everything was as high and perky as when she’d been standing. A miracle of engineering, this nightie. Greg would probably want to study it carefully, she mused, smiling around a yawn. He was, after all, some sort of engineer. Another plus—good gray-matter genes to pass on to Junior.
The candle stub still burned, but there wasn’t enough light to read by. All she had to occupy her mind was her own nervous anticipation. She would have been a fraction cooler without the skimpy negligee, but she drew the line at waiting for Greg in the altogether.
She squirmed, trying to find a comfortable position in the heat. Fighting back another yawn, she let her eyes drift shut, just for a moment.
A FEATHERY SENSATION running up and down Cat’s arm coaxed her to wakefulness. After a while it stopped and she felt fingers on her brow, stroking her hair.
She opened her eyes and came fully awake with a start. A big hand settled on her shoulder, heavy and reassuring. The room was pitch-dark except for the faintest glimmer of moonlight from the wide-open windows. The candle must have burned out while she’d slept.
She could barely see the man sitting next to her on the bed, but her other senses compensated. She detected the warmth radiating from his large body. The subtle, agreeable scent of fresh sweat on clean skin brought to mind all those stairs. A hint of tobacco smoke clung to his clothes.
“I figured you’d want me to wake you.” His voice was a low, rich murmur. “You must’ve dozed off waiting for me.”
She nodded, and realizing he couldn’t see her any better than she could see him, said, “Yeah, I… l guess I did.”
Even though she’d expected him, now that he was actually there, the enormity of what she was about to do became a great weight, paralyzing her.
“Traffic is an unholy mess, with no streetlights and the party animals out in force,” Greg said. “I couldn’t stand inching along, so I ditched the taxi and walked the last few blocks.”
He probably wasn’t even aware he was rubbing her upper arm as he spoke. It was the intimate caress of a friend, not a stranger. Well, this wasn’t the first time they’d met, after all. Cat felt herself relax fractionally, a small miracle considering the nature of this rendezvous and the fact that she was wearing the most brazenly sexual getup Brigit Bannister had been able to find. And Brigit knew where to look.
For the first time, Cat was thankful for the blackout.
“I’m sorry you had to walk up all those stairs,” she said.
Cat sensed he was smiling. She had the distinct impression this man spent a lot of time doing that.
“Not your fault,” he said. “Unless you’re somehow responsible for the blackout?”
She felt herself returning his smile. “Well, I was running the air conditioner.”
“That had to be what did it.” He chuckled, the sound somehow bold and impish at once. Cat knew that if there was a shortage of women in Alaska, it was because they were all flocking to this man.
Tentatively she reached out to touch his face and encountered his jaw, rough with beard stubble.
“You’re trembling,” he said, closing his warm fingers over her icy hands.
Well, what did he expect—nerves of steel? He pressed a tender kiss to the backs of her fingers, then to the tips. She was unprepared for the feel of his mouth, like sun-warmed satin.
The scanty moonlight hinted at bold masculine features and short, dark hair that was a bit unruly on top, as if the waves refused to be tamed. Twenty years ago Greg had worn his hair fairly long, enhancing his boyish good looks. This shorter cut no doubt complemented the rugged maturity the past two decades had carved into his face.
Sensing his eyes on her, she speculated that perhaps Greg possessed better night vision than she. The mattress dipped as his weight shifted. She felt his inquisitive touch on her face, a whisper of sensation tickling her eyelashes. He traced her nose, her mouth, the shape of her chin. His fingers moved to her throat and lower, skimming over her breasts without the slightest hesitation. Cat held her breath, knowing Greg felt the frantic drumming of her heart and wishing she could be as blasé as he. Far from sharing her agitation, he seemed sublimely at ease.
“This is some outfit,” he said, toying with the crisscrossed lacing.
She cleared her throat. “I was hoping you’d like it.”
“I like it. Wish I could see it.” His hand glided down her rib cage to her hip and thigh, treating the rest of her to the same unhurried inspection. The feverish imprint of his fingers seemed to linger everywhere he touched.
Mustering her courage, Cat sat up and moved over, making room for him to stretch out on the bed. She offered a quavery smile, though she knew he couldn’t see it. “Don’t feel you have to spend a lot of time on conversation or, um—” she swallowed hard “—foreplay. We can just, you know, get down to it. If you want.”
For the longest time Greg said nothing. She searched his shadowed features, in vain. Finally he said, “I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
His words struck her like a fist to the gut. “What? You… You don’t want to…?”
“I’m just not into it. Don’t take it personally.”
Humiliation scalded her face and stung her eyes. He’d changed his mind. He’d come all this way, climbed all those stairs, for one purpose only. And now, now that he’d gotten to inspect the woman he was supposed to make a baby with…
“But it’s… it’s all arranged.” Her voice climbed a couple of octaves. “I mean, if we’re not going to have sex, then what am I doing here?” She tugged at the bodice of her negligee in an inane effort to cover herself.
“We both know this wasn’t my idea.” His tone was not unkind, which somehow made it all the harder to bear.
“Yes, well, I’m so sorry to disappoint you. Excuse me.” She started to rise, but he stopped her.
“Hold on. Is that what you think? That I don’t find you desirable?”
“Don’t worry,” she snapped, “I won’t take it personally.” She tried to spring off the bed, but he caught both her arms. She turned her head, unable to face him even in the dark.
“Just so we understand each other,” he said, “it’s not you. It’s the circumstances.” She didn’t respond, and it soon became clear he wouldn’t release her until she did.
At last she said, “The circumstances?”
“I’m accustomed to being the… initiator, I guess you’d say. This sort of thing just goes against my grain. Trust me.” Slowly he trailed one knuckle down her throat and along her freshly minted cleavage. “I find you very desirable.”
The simple caress stole Cat’s breath. She felt her nipples tighten against the silk mesh covering them. Her body’s response shamed her. If Greg truly thought she was so damn desirable, he’d do what he’d come here to do, what he’d promised to do, bizarre “circumstances” notwithstanding. Brigit had described her cousin as the most laid-back guy she knew. He’d said nothing on the phone to indicate he had a problem with the circumstances.
She supposed she should be grateful. At least he wasn’t sleeping with her out of pity!
Cat pushed his hands away. “Look, thanks for the gallant effort, but you don’t have to lie to spare my feelings. I know I’m nothing special.”
“Gallant, huh? Never been accused of that one before.” Without warning he grabbed her hand and brought it to his crotch. Reflexively she tried to pull away, but he held her palm firmly against the distended fly of his jeans.
His erection felt enormous under her hand, as rigid as a wooden club. His fingers wrapped around hers, forcing her to measure the length and breadth of his arousal. For a moment she was too stunned to move, to breathe. Even her heartbeat seemed to falter.
Greg leaned into her, his voice a husky murmur in her ear. “Just so we understand each other.” He placed a soft kiss on her temple. “It’s not you.”
Shaken, Cat pulled her hand away, and this time he let her.
Okay. It definitely wasn’t her.
As that knowledge sank in, she began to experience the same intoxicating sensation she’d felt earlier posing in front of the mirror. The power of her feminine appeal.
This man desired her. His body craved her. It was his mind that was putting up roadblocks. She supposed in his own way he was as uncomfortable with this whole situation as she was. He needed to be made to feel like the—what did he call it? The initiator.
What would Delilah do?
Cat shifted into a comfortable cross-legged position, trying to project a nonchalance she didn’t feel. “I have to admit, in a way, your decision’s a relief,” she said, reaching back with both hands to lift her hair off her neck as she’d practiced in front of the mirror, wishing there were enough light for Greg to appreciate the total effect. “Gosh, is it ever hot in here.”
“Yeah, it is. Why?”
“Why is it a relief? Us not…” He made some sort of hand motion, which she suspected was just crude enough to make her glad she couldn’t see it.
She shrugged and leaned back on her palms. “You know. All the pressure of an arrangement like this, the lack of spontaneity.”
“I mean, talk about sex by the numbers.”
“When we both know you’re not into it,” she said.
“And chances are, I wouldn’t even get aroused.”
“So it’s a big relief,” she said. “I think there’s a pint of Haagen-Dazs melting in the freezer. You want to split it?”
“No. That wouldn’t be a problem,” he said stiffly.
“What wouldn’t be a problem?”
“My being able to get you aroused. No reason to assume that would be a problem. If we were going to do it.”
“Which we aren’t,” she said.
“So we’ll never really know for sure, but that’s neither here nor there. I think it’s mocha chip and I’m not going to let it go to waste.” She scooted around him to the edge of the bed.
His voice held no trace of a smile. “We do know for sure. I know for sure, all right? It wouldn’t be a problem.” His hand bumped her as he spread his arms. “Trust me on this.”
“Sure.” Rising, she muttered under her breath, “If you say so.”
He grabbed her arm as he came to his feet. He was as tall as she remembered. Taller. “What was that?”
“What you just said.”
“I said, ‘sure.’”
“You said, ‘if you say so.’ I heard you.”
“So why are you asking what I said if you heard me? Do you mind?” she said, tugging on her arm.
He didn’t let go. “You don’t think I could do it. You don’t think I could turn you on.”
She pasted on a patient smile, knowing he’d hear it in her voice. “Listen. Whether you could or whether you couldn’t isn’t really relevant, is it? We’re both relieved to have the pressure off. I’d just like to relax with a bowl of ice cream. If that’s all right with you?”
He dropped her arm. “So that’s it, then. You aren’t even curious.”
Her prolonged exhalation was as eloquent as the words that followed. “You know what? Actually, I know you could do it.” She patted his arm, inching in the direction of the ice cream. “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”
Cat didn’t need light to know Greg was gaping in indignation at this blatant attempt to assuage his fragile masculine ego. Outrage rolled off him in waves. But all she heard in his voice was fierce determination as he growled, “Just for the record,” and pulled her into his arms.
His mouth seized hers as his strong fingers splayed over her scalp to hold her still. His other arm banded around her back, crushing her to him. His heat, the scent of his skin, the repressed power in his big, hard body, all went to her head in a dizzying blitz.
Greg kissed her with an intensity that left her reeling. Coaxing her mouth open, he touched his tongue to her lips, her teeth, laying claim without actually penetrating. He was teasing her, she knew he was, forcing a response. She resisted, whimpering with the effort.
Even though this was what she’d wanted, to goad him into action, she was overwhelmed. She’d never been kissed like this. There was no question that Greg was in complete control. She felt like Dr. Frankenstein, at the mercy of the beast she’d created.
His hand slid from her back to her bottom. He caressed her through the silk, testing her shape, lightly squeezing her. The excess of sensation was too much. Her self-control vaporized. She clung to him, greedily returning his kiss, drawing his tongue into her mouth.
Cat heard Greg’s little grunt of satisfaction, and she didn’t care. She didn’t care that he was just trying to prove a point. Her hunger was a rapacious thing, clawing at her from within. She knew only that she needed this—this and more. More of his mouth commanding hers, more of his touch, unapologetically bold as his hands roamed over her in leisurely perusal.
He ended the kiss but didn’t move away, his moist lips a hairbreadth from hers. Their breath mingled in rapid bursts. She looked up, straining her vision, and was rewarded by her first glimpse of his eyes, midnight black and bottomless. Liquid obsidian.
Cat felt a flicker of unease as she stared into those eyes. In the next heartbeat the reason for her discomfort, if one existed, had slipped away from her, as fleeting as the wingbeat of a moth.
“Have I proved my point?” he asked, sounding more winded than after he’d climbed the twenty-two flights of stairs.
“No.” Her voice was as shaky as his. “It was a valiant effort, but…” She shrugged.
“It’s not nice to fib. You want to rethink that?” He brushed his knuckles over her aching, erect nipples.
She grasped his wrists, biting back the moan of pleasure that tried to escape. “Nothing to rethink.”
“I see. Must be the frigid temperature that did this to you,” he said, delicately plucking the stiff peaks that pushed against her thin gown. The pleasure of his touch was so acute it was close to pain. He ignored Cat’s efforts to dislodge his hands.
“That’s not—that’s not definitive proof of anything,” she said.
“Ah. We insist on definitive proof, do we? The scientific method and all that.”
When one large hand slid down her torso, she was ready with an evasive maneuver. He captured both her wrists in one hand and easily held them while he caressed her belly, toying with her sensitive navel through the silk until she squirmed.
“Why can’t you just admit I’m right?” he asked.
When she said nothing, he slid his hand lower, directly between her legs. Cat stopped breathing. The heat and pressure of his hand were maddening.
“If I touched you here, what would I find?” he murmured, lightly fondling her. “Are you wet?”
His voice had a wicked edge to it. He was enjoying tormenting her. Arrogant man.
“You mean you’d take my word for it? Not very scientific.” She parted her legs slightly.
Greg remained motionless for a few heart-stopping seconds, as if considering her wordless invitation. Then his grip tightened on her wrists as his other hand found the hip-high slit in her gown. He drew the material aside.
Cat gasped at his first probing touch. She was beyond wet, beyond ready. She knew the guttural moan that erupted from Greg had nothing to do with triumph at having proved his point. It was an instinctive response, primitive and purely male.
As he deepened his exploration, her mouth opened on a silent cry. Never in her life had she been this aroused. One long finger pushed into her, slowly, and her knees threatened to collapse. He released her wrists and wrapped his arm around her back, supporting her. She grabbed handfuls of his black T-shirt and hung on for dear life as her hips mimicked the hypnotic rhythm of his thrusting finger. Within moments her climax beckoned, just out of reach.
Greg withdrew his hand. Cat failed to restrain a sob of frustration. He trembled slightly as he set her away from him.
Why did he resist it? she wondered. At this point what did it matter who had initiated what? Could his masculine pride be that frail?
She heard his labored breathing, sensed his battle to bring himself under control.
Oh no, you don’t, she thought. Tonight I’m Delilah, and you’re mine.
His voice was gruff. “I’m going to sleep on the sofa.”
Cat reached for the bow closing the front of her gown and released it. She loosened the silk cord and let the bodice slip off her shoulders, leaving her bare to the waist. She experienced a moment of dismay as her breasts, freed from the pneumatic enhancement of the tight gown, settled into their natural contours.
Without giving herself time to reconsider, she closed the distance between them, lifted Greg’s hand, and placed it on her breast. Her apprehension proved ill founded. As much as he’d admired the outrageous negligee, he obviously appreciated the real her even more. His other hand came up and he caressed her with painstaking thoroughness, as if committing every detail to memory: the weight, the shape, the texture of her. His fingers were slightly callused.
Emboldened by a sexual confidence she’d never felt before, Cat wriggled out of the negligee, letting it slide off her hips to puddle on the carpet. She reached for his erection and stroked it through his jeans. Greg’s breath caught. He was even harder than before, if that was possible.
“I don’t know where you came up with this ‘Me Tarzan’ nonsense,” she said, “but it’s getting tiresome. Take off your clothes.”
Her hand froze in midfondle.
He said, “You do it for me.”
Cat smiled in the dark. Greg might have won the battle, but there was no doubt in her mind who won the war.
As she worked on his belt buckle, Greg’s hands glided up her arms to her shoulders. He dropped soft kisses on her forehead along the hairline. One hand slipped to her nape and traced the curve of her spine all the way down, making her shiver.
Cat tugged his T-shirt up and he obligingly lifted his arms so she could pull it off. She tossed it aside and placed her palms on his chest, dragging her nails through crisp hair blanketing a wall of solid muscle. Following the narrowing path of hair down his flat belly to the fly of his jeans, she pulled the zipper tab while nuzzling his corded neck. His hands tangled in her hair as he tipped his head back in mute encouragement.
She hooked her thumbs in his jeans and briefs and pushed them down his long legs. Impatiently he yanked off his sneakers and socks, and kicked away the last of his clothes.
Greg wasted no time backing Cat against the bed. He fell with her onto it and hauled her into the middle. Brusquely he parted her legs, lifted her hips—a rampant, phantasmal demon lover looming over her, unseen.
The strange apprehension she’d felt earlier, when she’d stared into his eyes, returned with a jolt. But there was no time for second thoughts as Greg flexed his hips and pushed into her.
Cat gasped at the stabbing pressure. Her nails gouged his arms. Greg went still, clearly struggling to rein himself in.
“Slow,” she whispered, wondering if he remembered what she’d told him on the phone, that she hadn’t made love in years. She reached up and touched his face, felt the frown lines and the tension as he held himself in check. “Just a little slower,” she said. “It’s been a long time for me.”
Her words seemed to catch him off guard. He started to pull back, started to say something, but the ache had eased and she moved her hips, and whatever he’d wanted to say died on a sharp exhalation.
“Yes,” she breathed, as he sank into her and her body welcomed him, clutched greedily at him. “Oh, yes…”
They receded, came together, and Cat cried out in pure carnal bliss. Had it ever been like this for her? Had she ever felt this stark, stunning pleasure, the overwhelming wonder of it?
No. She would have remembered. This, she would have remembered.
Cat clawed at Greg’s hard waist, feeling the muscles bunch with each powerful thrust. She didn’t recognize herself. She’d never met this thrashing, panting woman, never heard herself utter the blunt words that escaped her now—entreaties, imprecations.
Their bodies slid against each other, slippery with sweat. Greg grabbed the headboard for purchase. The fingers of his other hand dug into her hip. Her body wound tighter with each jackhammer thrust until her climax crested like a wave.
“Greg!” she screamed, and held fast to him as the wave crashed, dragging her tumbling out of herself.
He gripped her tighter, groaning, plunging hard and deep, lost now in his own sprinting finish. Cat felt his pumping release, the hot jet of life deep within.
She lay beneath him, spent, stroking his sweat-slick back. Sluggishly he started to lift his weight off her, but she quashed the gentlemanly impulse by pulling him back down—earning his gratitude, if she interpreted his drowsy little grunt correctly.
It’s done, Cat mused. She could be a mother in nine months. The thought of a baby, her baby, in her arms, at her breast, was so breathtaking, so immense, her chest ached with it. Her eyes stung with it.
With trembling fingers she touched Greg’s face, rendered slack and almost innocent by postcoital inertia. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
“DON’T YELL AT ME, I know I’m late,” Cat said as she scooted into her favorite booth at the Magnolia Coffee Shop.
The good news was the blackout had ended sometime in the middle of the night. The bad news was she’d woken up alone. Which the rational part of her, the part that dreaded the thought of messy entanglements, recognized as a good thing.
While another, insidious little corner of her soul wondered how it would feel to stare into those midnight eyes over cornflakes and coffee. Every morning.
“Well, aren’t you the chipper one,” Brigit said, as the waitress plunked a cut grapefruit half in front of her. “Must’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.”
“Oh yeah.” Cat grinned. “Slept like the dead. Ha ha ha.”
Brigit regarded her quizzically. Darlene, the waitress, poured a cup of coffee for Cat, asked, “Waffle for you, right?” and sauntered away when she nodded.
“What’s with the grapefruit and clear tea?” Cat asked. “You can’t stand either one.”
“It’s back in, the grapefruit diet. The acid burns away fat.” At Cat’s snort of derision, Brigit added, “Or something like that. Listen, Greg asked me to apologize for him. He knows how frustrated you must be after last night.”
Cat choked on her first sip of coffee. “Frustrated? He said that? ‘Frustrated’?”
“I know, understatement of the year. Men!” Brigit hacked at her grapefruit, her nose wrinkling in distaste.
If Greg thought he’d left Cat frustrated, he hadn’t been paying very close attention.
“Listen, I don’t know what he told you,” Cat said, with a silky smile, “but this lady is not frustrated.”
“Semantics.” Brigit shrugged, pushing her dark, overlong bangs off her face. “Disappointed, then.” She took a bite of grapefruit and forced it down with a grimace.
Cat set down her coffee cup. “Exactly what did he tell you?”
“I told you what he told me. And oh yeah, he hopes he’ll get the chance to make it up to you. Ugh, who can eat this stuff?” Brigit tossed her grapefruit spoon on the table. “Darlene!”
“And when did you talk to him, anyway?” Cat demanded.
“Waffle,” Brigit called to the waitress. “Extra syrup. Double bacon on the side. And cappuccino—with chocolate shavings.”
“Did he call you?” Cat asked. “Did he, like, report to you or what?”
“What’re you getting so worked up about? He called to let me know his flight was delayed, for starters, and then routed to Boston because of the blackout. He spent the night in Logan Airport and he’s still there, waiting for a flight out. Greg never made it to New York.”Return to In the Dark