Harlequin Blaze
www.girl-gear . . .
ISBN 0373791240
January 2004

She wanted some fun . . .

gIRL-gEAR vice president Annabel "Poe" Lee needs a change. That means telling her recent fling, Patrick Coffey, that it's over. In theory, it's an easy task. In reality, Patrick's the best lover she's ever had, so saying goodbye is tougher than she'd thought. But it's time to move on, and falling for Patrick isn't in the cards . . . or is it?

He was more than happy to oblige . . .

When Annabel tells Patrick she can't see him anymore, he's not thrilled. He may not be ready for anything more than great sex either, but she's the best thing that's ever happened to him. Since Annabel's letting him stick around for a few more weeks, though, he's determined to show her why it's so good between them - day and night!

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The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Squealing tires brought her head up in time to see, hear and feel a souped-up muscle car roar into the parking lot. She frowned as the classic El Camino pulled in next to her Jaguar with none other than the thug himself behind the wheel. She stood with her keys in her hand and remained unsmiling—not an easy task when Patrick looked like hell on wheels and she knew him so very intimately.

Her stomach fluttered as if defying her efforts at staying unattached, uninvolved. Even her hands trembled, holding her keys as she was, and she clenched her fists tighter. It was her knees, however, that gave her the most trouble. She took a step in reverse, backing smoothly into her car door, telling herself she was simply moving out of harm’s way.

Patrick cut off the engine, turned to her and grinned the biggest, baddest grin she’d ever seen spread over his face. The silver hoop in his ear twinkled, as did his eyes when he pulled his sunshades from his gorgeous face. But it was his expression of boyish delight that was her undoing. This is what he’d looked like before something—or someone—had robbed him of his innocence, Annabel thought dazedly.

She drew in a breath that took far too much effort and gestured toward his car. “What is this?”

“My car.” He climbed out and slammed the heavy door against the equally heavy frame. “Don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”

“Thank God for that,” she said, recognizing, as she did, that no other car would fit him. They shared a definite bring-it-on attitude. “You’ve had this in storage all this time?”

He shook his head, ran his palm lovingly across the bright red roof. “Bought it this morning. Got tired of hitching in your cat there.”

She ground her jaw until her molars ached. “You just went out on the spur of the moment and bought a classic El Camino.”

“Totally restored. A beaut, isn’t she?”

A smile pulled at her pursed lips. “And I’m sure you’ve given her a name?”

That devil’s grin again. “I was thinking of calling her Annie. She’s sleek, sexy—” he waggled his brows “—and hot under the hood.”

Oh, but he was cute. She folded her arms and strove to look stern. “Where did you get the money?”

“Same place I got the money to buy you, sister.”

Hel-lo. “I would like to know.” Patrick made no effort at finding work, yet never lacked for obscene amounts of cash.

His grin vanished, replaced by a slow growing yet visible wariness. “Why?”

“Fine.” She turned back to the task of unlocking her car door. His suspicion shouldn’t have hurt. She hated that it hurt. “Don’t answer me. God forbid I know anything personal about the man who’s fucking me.”

Two more weeks, no, less than that. Ten more days and he would be out of her life. She could easily replace him in her bed . . . she needed him for nothing.

Nothing, she insisted, infuriated at the sudden sting of tears that swore otherwise.

“I’m sorry, Annabel.” His fingers kneaded her neck, rattling her further when she needed to remain cool and detached. When she didn’t answer, he lifted his hand. “Every penny I have is on the up and up. Trust me.”
Her chest constricted. She whipped her gaze to his. “How can I possibly trust you, Patrick, when you still don’t trust me?”

He remained unmoving, unsmiling, poised as if on a precipice between saving himself and sharing what might be enough for her to take him down. When he glanced away, over and beyond the roof of her car, she knew he’d made his decision. Still, his expression remained grim.

“The money is mine, free and clear. There was a bounty on Russell Dega and his band of pirates.” He narrowed his mouth, looked toward her then away. “I would’ve split it with the gang’s informant. But she didn’t make it out alive.”

Oh, God. Dear, God. Intuition told her this was the reason for his lost innocence, the crux of his anger and pent up pain. He was hurt, and dammit, but she did not know how to offer comfort. Sex wouldn’t repair any of Patrick’s damage. Or any of her own.

Her heart began to race; her breathing quickened. Her world turned upside down with the force of what she felt. And so she did the only thing that seemed right. She turned to him and slipped her arms around his ribcage, pressing her palms to the center of his back between his T-shirt and jacket. Her cheek she pressed over his heart that lurched and began to beat as rapidly as hers.

She heard a strangled noise echo in his throat as his arms went around her. They stood like that for two minutes at least, unmoving, focused and close. She was aware of him in ways she’d never before taken time to examine, ways that were physical yet went beyond.

Today she wore flats. Patrick, as always, wore biker boots, putting the top of her head just under his chin. He rested there, so that she felt the grinding force of his jaw. She felt, as well, the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed the rest of the sound she was sure she hadn’t been meant to hear.

A part of her wanted to ask what had happened, who had been the informant and how had she died. But a less munificent part didn’t want to know anything about any other woman who’d shared his affections. She knew this one had in extraordinary circumstances, and her own jealous thoughts made her feel very small.

She tightened her hold, nearly able to number Patrick’s ribs. He was that lean, that spare and hungry, given to no excesses other than often times drink and always in bed. She knew with a clear certainty that he hadn’t been this way . . . before. That he’d been a party boy, rowdy and as benign then as he was dangerous now.

And so as clear as she’d just been with herself about not prying, she went ahead and did. “Tell me about her.”

A laugh that was sarcastic rather than joyous rumbled in his chest. “Six weeks and you’re finally asking details.”

She’d always been curious; she knew no one who wasn’t. But until now, until this moment, she hadn’t been sure she wanted the responsibility of safekeeping his secrets or sharing his pain. Now she had no choice.

Rejecting his tentative trust would kill the last trace of boy inside him, and that she couldn’t do.

She breathed deeply, drawing in his warmth and the heady scent of wildness he exuded. “Tell me about her,” she said with more conviction. “I want to know everything.”