THE SWEETEST TABOO
Harlequin Blaze
Men To Do
ISBN 0373790724
December 2002

THE SWEETEST TABOO
in the anthology
UNDRESSED
ISBN 0373836791
August 2005

Erin Thatcher figures there's no reason she can't have a hot fling with the wrong kind of guy while she waits for Mr. Right to come along. So when she spies a magazine article about Men To Do before saying, "I do," her imagination goes wild! Her sexy but reclusive neighbor is part of her fantasies every night, and now it's time to see what Sebastian is like for real ...

Sebastian Gallo is a man obsessed. A bestselling author, he uses a pseudonym to ensure his privacy, never letting the real world in. But somehow Erin has consumed his thoughts - in his bed, in his shower - to the point where his writing is suffering. He just can't ignore the heat that exists between them whenever they meet ... but can he risk revealing his true self?

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THE SWEETEST TABOO

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UNDRESSED

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BOOKLIST

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

Sebastian Gallo saved the document and shut down his notebook pc. He'd had enough. Deadline or no deadline, he'd had enough. He needed a beer. He needed several. But he'd waited too long to go out.

The bars were closed for the night and now he'd have to put off until tomorrow what he needed to do today-to find a dark corner at Paddington's On Main and watch Erin Thatcher pretend he didn't make her sweat.

He needed to feel that edge, that cutting, biting awareness that he'd learned when living on the streets and honed during his years in lock-up. It was what kept him alive and kept him going. Fueled his high-performance artistry. Jump-started the creative bitch of a muse currently giving him hell.

A hell separate from her usual attempts at rewriting every word he wrote. No, this hell was harsh and demanding, a foot-stomping insistence that he set aside what she considered an unhealthy concentration on the macabre to write the book aching to break free from his heart. That's when he had to remind her that he didn't have a heart-the very reason he and Raleigh Slater got along so well.

Yep, he and Raleigh had more than a thing or two in common, but it was this latest obsession with a mysterious woman that was going to cause the both of them more than a man's fair share of trouble. Raleigh's problem was easily taken care of. Backspace. Delete. And his fictional world was set dead to rights.

The disruption to Sebastian's well-ordered life required more than fancy finger work. He needed sleep but was afraid his mental gears were wound too tightly to shut down. The cigar hadn't helped.

And the music, the blues, usually soothing in a macabre sort of way, had done nothing but speed up the beat of his heart, pumping blood into parts of his body that remained on edge no matter the intensity of his physical work-outs. Or the long hot showers that followed.

He swore he'd heard her voice. After the music had stopped and before he'd put out the cigar and moved away from the window to reread the pages he'd written before restlessness set in. The sound had crashed around him like lightning. White hot electric jolts had nearly taken him out of his skin.

Now, minutes later, he wasn't sure if what he'd heard had been all in his head, a sound from the city street below, or the cry of a woman in the throes of pure bliss

Sebastian laughed under his breath, muttering a curse that had nothing to do with the woman living below him and everything to do with his obsession instead. He shucked off his sweater, scratched the ball of black wool over his chest before tossing it to the floor at the foot of his bed where it skidded up against the clothes he'd worn yesterday and the day before. One of these days he'd have to find time for laundry. And, he cringed, for the dishes in the kitchen sink.

His boots came next, the metal buckles hitting the hardwood floor with a sharp clatter. He released the button fly of his jeans and headed for the shower, stopping only to scratch Redrum behind the ears. The black cat lay curled in a ball of sleep and fur on top of the room's high boy dresser.

At Sebastian's touch, she stretched, yawned and returned to ignoring him which she did so well. He chuckled before leaning down and, in a voice husky and rough from rarely speaking to anyone other than his agent or the cat, purred into her ear.

"Yes, cat. You do your job well." A job that entailed nothing more than reminding him of his invisibility, the condition once a hardship but now a valued commodity.

Redrum's cold shoulder was easy to laugh off without causing Sebastian any grief. Or distracting his creative muse as Erin Thatcher had managed to do. It was all Sebastian's fault that she affected him any way at all. His obsession had actually taken him to the mailroom where he'd discovered her name. She had no idea she'd picked up a stalker, though he, at least, did his stalking in his mind.

Raleigh Slater stalked women between the pages of the NYT best-selling horror novels Sebastian wrote under the Ryder Falco pseudonym. But in Sebastian's world, a solitary existence of his own making, an isolation nothing like the years he'd spent forcibly confined by the courts in juvenile hall, the only real stalking was done by Redrum.

The black cat did her damndest to sneak up on the pigeons that fluttered on and off the loft's windowsill. Rats with wings, to Redrum's way of seeing things. To Sebastian's, too.

Reaching the bathroom enclosure-the dressing area and separate custom-designed shower space nearly half the size of his bedroom, he shucked off his jeans and long-legged briefs, scratching all the body parts needing scratching before stepping beneath the blistering spray that rained down from three separate shower heads on three separate walls.

For the past sixteen years, since his release at age eighteen from the lock-up where he'd spent his formative years, Sebastian had considered his showers as much about relaxation and clearing his mind as about cleaning his body. When he'd finally convinced himself he could deal with permanence, he'd made sure to allow the money and the room for the bathroom he needed to accomplish those goals.

For too many years he'd been allowed but a fifteen minute shower four times a week, a shower shared with other boys considered a threat to society or to self. At least one out of each week's four soap-and-self-defense sessions resulted in a fight, a near riot . . . or worse. Sebastian had managed to escape unscathed and undetected.

Because the day he'd been taken from the street where he'd lived alone since the scrappy age of eleven, he'd made a promise to himself, a promise that he would never look to another human being for security or sustenance or support.

He chuckled to himself, wondering if he'd really been eleven at the time he'd been picked up by social services. Or if he'd been closer to twelve. He'd changed his age with the changes to his body, finally deciding on sixteen when his voice dropped and his balls dropped and the hair on his face began to grow as thick as that in his crotch.

He hadn't given a damn what age the courts declared him. He'd made up his own mind, relying on remembered images of candles and crushed cupcakes and little toy trucks and counted forward.

Even now he had no idea how old he really was. All those ages and dates were as much a part of his imagination as Raleigh Slater.

Or as much as the fictional fantasies he wove of Erin Thatcher.

Sebastian reached for the bar of soap and ran it over his chest and armpits, working up a lather before stepping back beneath the spray to rinse. He kept his eyes closed, the hazy fog so thick he couldn't see much of anything. He could barely even breathe. His skin burned from the stinging heat of the water. And from the mental picture of Erin. A picture of her sharing the heat and the steam. A steam that intensified as blood pulsed through his veins.

He stepped out from under the shower, moved to the back of the spacious enclosure and reached again for the soap. Suds slid down his slick skin, through the hair growing low on his abdomen into the thatch cushioning his sex. His hand was warm and soapy when he took his dick in his hand. He leaned his forehead on the forearm he'd braced on the wall and spread his legs.

Water pummeled his back and his buttocks as he began to stroke away the tension he'd had building for days. Eyes screwed up tight, he imagined Erin on her knees, her short sleek auburn hair slicked back, her big silver-bright eyes looking up into his, her mouth forming the perfect 'O', her lips plump and pink and wrapped around him.

He wanted to get her on her knees. He wanted to see the cherry ripe tips of her breasts pucker and pout. He wanted to know how much of her body she shaved and how her baby bare skin would taste when he sucked her into his mouth.

Sebastian threw back his head and silently roared, straining beneath the release that grabbed hard between his legs and jerked his lower body forward. He thrust hard, thrust repeatedly, spilling himself into the soap-scented steam when he wanted more than anything to spill himself into the welcome warmth of Erin Thatcher's body.