She jumped. Collin hated like hell that he’d startled her when he’d opened the sliding glass patio door. “It’s just us.”
“What are you guys still doing up?”
Were those fresh tears streaking her cheeks? Seeing them sent a shudder through his heart.
Nate followed behind him, carrying a tray with three mugs. He paused in his steps. He got it together quicker than Collin, though.
“It’s freezing out here, or haven’t you noticed?” Nate set the tray on the table. “We brought you some hot chocolate.”
Collin drew close to her, unable to keep his distance, and placed a hand on her shoulder. She hesitated in meeting his gaze. He gave her a soft smile.
“I just got home from work. I guess I woke Nate. We saw you on the patio and were worried. What are you doing out here?” He didn’t say anything about seeing her here the past couple of nights as well.
“I couldn’t…” She paused, not looking at either of them. “Sleep.”
It didn’t take the cop in Collin to know she’d been going to say something else. She was wrapped up in the flannel throw he’d often seen draped over her sofa, the same throw she’d wrapped about herself the last few nights as well. Where the throw had fallen away from her shoulders, he caught a glimpse of a simple hoodie and the straps of a pink tank top. She was wearing the sleep pants that had squeeze me tight
all over them—he swore he’d seen her wear them a million times—and the fuzzy slippers she wore couldn’t possibly be keeping her warm enough. Even he shivered a bit. And he was still clothed. She had to be cold. “Why not?”
“Bad dream,” she answered too quickly to suit him. “I just needed some air.”
“Have some chocolate,” he said, picking up a cup from the tray and handing it to her. “It’ll warm you up and maybe help you sleep.” Nate slid a cup over to him.
Collin saw her hands shake as she gripped the mug. There was definitely something going on. Something more than simple insomnia or Christmas or work. He wanted to tread carefully, but the cop in him came out completely, and he couldn’t help but blurt out the question that plagued him. “What’s going on?”
Again, spoken too quickly to appease him. All it did was raise more red flags. He knew several different ways to get answers out of people, but he didn’t want to resort to interrogation or water torture. He was sure some gentle persuasion and caring would get her to open up. She was putting up roadblocks. He was pretty good at tearing them down. Collin hadn’t worked his way up through the ranks of the police department without having a few tricks of his own when it came to getting answers. But he could see the direct approach wasn’t going to work with her. Not now. Although he might have laughed if the circumstances were different. Ella was, after all, a direct person, at least when it came to her art of landscaping, her greenhouse, and her plant decorating. She knew where only roses would work, where it was best to plant butterfly bushes, where landscape tiles worked better than flagstone. She could not only decorate the entire mall for Christmas, she’d also donate poinsettias to the local school. Hell, she could look at an empty yard and design it in less than a few hours and have it looking magazine perfect in less than a week given the resources. But she couldn’t seem to give him a straight answer right now.
“Right,” he readily agreed with her. “So tell us anyway.” He considered sitting down on a nearby patio chair, but it was covered with a dusting of snow. His goal was to get her inside, not freeze his ass out here any longer than necessary.
“I got a weird note.” She clamped her mouth shut as if the words had tumbled out before she could stop them.
“I can’t talk about it.” She got up with the evident idea of leaving. Nate moved too, and stood in her way, looking in her eyes. Collin could have kissed him.
Collin wished he could have been the one to react, that he could be in Nate’s spot right now, close to Ella. The apprehension he’d heard in her words, her voice, was like a hand clenching his heart. She was the most laid-back person he knew. She loved planting and creating beauty. She had an easy smile. Whatever bothered her struck him and kept him from being able to think and process her dilemma for a moment. If Nate hadn’t stepped in front of her, she’d have gone into her house and disappeared.
“You can talk to us,” Nate said. He reached up and cupped her face just as he’d cupped Collin’s a short time before in the kitchen. He had the touch. Collin knew how soothing his touch was. Years of playing piano and other musical instruments had added strength to his fingers, but Collin knew firsthand how Nate’s empathetic touch could stop the world.
At Nate’s touch, Ella did stop.
For a long moment, Collin watched them. Nate had asked if Collin would be jealous if Nate made love to Ella. Seeing them face each other, Nate’s hand pressed to her cheek, Collin could envision them naked and perfectly beautiful. Nate didn’t need to even touch her with his dick. Hell, he made love to her by looking into her eyes and touching the side of her face. Collin saw a connection. And when he laid his hand back on Ella’s shoulder again, he felt the connection as if the three of them were tied together by some imaginary electrical current. Was he jealous? Hell, no. Far from it. He wanted to watch this special bond they seemed to have. He wanted to share in it and feel every touch of it. He wanted nothing more than to wrap both Ella and Nate in his arms and keep them safe from the world in the shelter of his embrace.
“What did the note say?” Nate never took his gaze from her.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Then tell me what does matter. Tell me what we can do for you.”
“I don’t think you can…” She shrugged as she trailed off.
The moon lent enough light that Collin could see Nate raise his brow in question. Then he offered his familiar, you-can’t-refuse grin.
“How do you know we can’t give it to you if we don’t even know what it is?”
She looked from Nate to Collin and back to Nate. “Because you have each other.”
Nate tossed Collin a glance before he looked back at her. “Yeah? So? What does that have to do with giving you something you need?”
“You’ll think it’s stupid.”
Nate still had his hand on her face. His grin grew. “Only if you tell me what you need is a pet snake.”
She chuckled. Then she tentatively bit her lip. “I need… I would like…a kiss.” Her whispered words gently fell with the softly falling snow.
“Like this?” Nate leaned close and kissed her. It was no different from the kiss Nate had given him moments before in the kitchen. With that kiss, Collin could have given Nate the world. He couldn’t imagine what the kiss was doing for Ella.
Soft, tender, his mouth searching and finding, Nate reached up with his other hand and cupped the other side of her face, holding her in place. He broke the kiss. Then in the same heartbeat, he covered her mouth again.
Collin had felt that kind of kiss. Longing, needing, but giving at the same time. The quiet, subtle searching nature of the kiss seemed to peel away the layers of whatever Ella had buried. As he watched Nate kiss Ella, Collin felt a completeness he’d never known before. The throw she’d wrapped around herself slipped down even farther to reveal her shoulders. He lifted the throw back up to keep her warm. At the same time, he moved her hair aside and circled his thumbs on either side of her neck in a soft caress.
Her flesh was cool and warm at the same time. He felt a shiver move through her. “Is it all right that I touch you like this?”
“Yes,” she murmured between kisses.
Her groan seemed to mix with the silence of the night and came from somewhere very deep within her. Collin wondered if she felt the way his stiff cock pressed against her. The last thing he wanted to do was scare her or add to the apprehension he felt in her, but damn, he wanted her. And Nate. It was strange. He needed Nate, had needed him from the first moment Nate had touched his hand. Now he needed this too. Collin had thought he needed to make love with Ella, and yet watching her with Nate was equally, if not even more, satisfying. He could have stood there all night and felt the softness of her skin and watched Nate make love to her mouth.
“Why did you think we couldn’t kiss you, Ella, or that it was stupid?” Nate asked between kisses as he searched for answers.
Watching them had almost made Collin forget the questions as well.
“The two of you are already a couple and have each other. I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Would you like to join us, be with us?” Collin whispered in her ear.
“I would. But the note said if I had a boyfriend, I’d better get rid of him.” Her words were breathy, as if Nate had the ability to hypnotize her with his touch, with his kiss. But then Collin thought of how Nate could make him forget everything with a touch or a kiss too.
It appeared he affected Ella as well.
Collin suddenly stopped short, all thoughts of kisses and pleasurable feelings forgotten. Did she just say she’d gotten a threatening note? His cop senses went on full alert. Shit. He felt as if he were back in his meeting earlier. Something had been said about a report of threatening notes, but out here in the snow with Ella’s soft scent of something sweet and flowery invading his senses, he couldn’t remember. He bit his tongue to keep from asking any questions and spoiling the mood, the perfect place he and Nate currently had Ella in. Her hair felt like silk beneath his fingers. He placed his lips to her throat, feeling her pulse there. Her skin was so soft. The throw she held wrapped around her fell to the patio deck. He didn’t move to pick it up. He hoped to hell his and Nate’s touches were warming her as she and Nate were setting a fire inside him.
“Where was this note?” Nate asked.
Leave it to Nate to ask the question he wanted to. And how he so effortlessly added it to their erotic foreplay by making it a whisper in the moonlight.
Watching Nate kiss Ella was as erotic to Collin as having Nate kiss him. Nate kissed her as he played his instruments, with purpose and perfection. He made Ella sing without causing her to utter a sound. He hit every note of her lips with precision, just as he did any fine orchestrated piece he played.
Beneath Collin’s hand, Ella’s arm was warm and soft. Nate was hardly touching her body. Just watching the intent way Nate molded his lips to Ella’s left Collin hot. He could only imagine the fire Nate set within her. He leaned down and pressed his lips against her lower neck. With his lips on Ella’s soft flesh and Nate’s kiss on her lips within his sight, Collin was practically coming in his uniform pants, and no one was even touching his rock-hard cock.
The soft, flowery scent of her skin tugged at him. He couldn’t seem to get close enough.
“It was on my truck window when I came out of work.” Her whispered words fell with the hush of the falling snow.
Threatening notes left on her truck, the cop part of his mind compartmentalized. He’d have to check into that when he got to work tomorrow. He was pretty sure he remembered hearing something about that somewhere else. But right now, it was hard to concentrate on anything besides Ella and Nate.
“Tell us what else you want,” Nate whispered.
She shook her head.
“Why not?” Nate never stopped kissing her for longer than a breath or a heartbeat or a few words.
Collin understood how Nate worked. He was going in circles until he got the answers he wanted. He was very subtle in his moves, his questions. Nate kissed her as if he took his time tasting the world’s greatest delicacy.
“Because it’s not right.”
Collin couldn’t remain silent. “What isn’t?”
Nate savored her mouth, leaving her breathless.
“Wanting you,” she panted. “Both of you.”
She opened her eyes as if she’d just awakened from a trance. “I shouldn’t have told you.” Ella tried to pull away from them. “I don’t have the right. It’s not my place.”
Before she could say more, Nate kissed her again. Collin kissed her behind her ear. At the same time, he reached around her into the hoodie and cupped the fullness of her breast. She fit beautifully in his hand. She shivered beneath his touch but didn’t pull away. Damn, he loved the feel of her. While Nate was a damned great lover and left him satisfied as no one else, he’d missed the feel and the taste of a sweet tit. Now her breast filled his hand. Her nipple rolled when he squeezed it. His mouth went dry with the need to have it against his tongue. Patience, he told himself. He needed patience. Grasping his patience and not pressing Ella back against the patio table to bring her nipple to his tongue was not easy. Damn, his dick was so hard it was painful. But they had to take this slow. He hoped he could get lost in her. And in Nate.
“It’s all right, sweetheart,” Nate said, his words broken with light kisses. “We want you with us.”
She stared at him as if he’d sprouted a second head. “Really?”
“We talked about asking you to join us,” Nate told her.
She looked at him as if she still didn’t believe him.
“It’s true, Ella. You do trust me, don’t you?” Collin whispered in her ear. He didn’t want to speak too loud. Nate had managed to place them all in a wonderful bubble with his kisses, and Collin didn’t want to pop it. He could go all night, just watching Nate with her. With each kiss, it was as if she blossomed beneath Nate’s lips. Collin wished it would never end.
“You can trust us, Ella. Always,” Nate put in before another heart-stopping kiss. “And you know we would never hurt you, never lie to you, don’t you?” he breathed.
“Never.” Collin murmured into her ear.
She relaxed against Collin, her side pressed against his chest. She leaned her head on his shoulder. In the stillness, he heard her heart racing. He felt his racing a close second. He thought he felt Nate’s too, even though he wasn’t touching Nate, just feeling him indirectly through Ella.
She broke away from Nate’s kisses long enough to look him in the eye. Then she turned and glanced at Collin over her shoulder. Her cheeks were rosy with cold and moonlight.
“Do you like when we kiss you?” Nate asked.
Maybe Nate should become a cop. He knew the right questions to ask and when. Without thought, Collin reached around Ella with one hand and sent a caress up Nate’s arm. Nate’s welcoming, familiar warmth reached all the way to his heart and mingled with the heat Ella put there.
“Yes, I’ve wanted you both for a long time. I just didn’t know how to approach you.” Again she glanced at Collin over her shoulder. “Either of you or both of you. It was confusing.”
“Why?” Nate asked.
“I’ve never wanted two men at the same time.” She grinned.
Collin took the opportunity to cover her lips with his. She tasted of chocolate and Nate and a sweet, tangy texture that was all Ella. While it was true that he’d kissed her in the past, his kisses had never been anything more than quick, brotherly pecks that didn’t allow for sensory overload. None of those previous kisses had been anything like this. Heat, need, passion, heart-stopping. He understood in an instant Nate’s unrelenting need to kiss her again and again. He danced his tongue over hers and felt a quiver slide through her. Or was it through him? He couldn’t tell.
Nate’s hand on his shoulder was like peanut oil being poured on the fire Ella had started in him. While he knew that if Ella wanted nothing more than kisses, they’d stop, he also knew having her close, seeing her with Nate, and tasting her lips had awakened something in him he’d never known existed. He wanted to take it as far as Ella and Nate would allow.
In doing so, he planned to love the two people in his arms with everything he possessed.