“You look tired.”
At those words, Abby Gaines delivered a glare toward Christian Sanchez, the good-looking Latino man sitting next to her who just happened to be one of her dearest friends.
“Gee, thanks,” Abby replied. “Remind me to return the compliment one day when you start to lose your hair.”
“Don’t you even dare put that out into the universe.” Christian ran a hand through his raven locks. An obviously exaggerated shudder shook his frame. “And here I thought we were friends.”
A chuckle rumbled through the big man sitting next to Christian. “Don’t worry, babe.” Jonah Roberts, Christian’s partner, leaned over and pecked a kiss to the side of Christian’s head. “I’ll still love you, bald or not.” He stayed close to Christian and whispered in the man’s ear, “And I’ll still fuck you through the bed every night too.”
Abby tried to control the blush working its way over her cursed pale skin. She didn’t know if Jonah had intended for her to hear that comment -- the man had a tendency to say inappropriate things sometimes without realizing they were so -- but his words had reached her, and she couldn’t help the slice of envy it cut through her...or the images of two other men it conjured in her mind.
Rodrigo Santiago and Braden Crenshaw.
Abby groaned on the inside. She told herself it was a groan, anyway, and not a moan accompanied by a throb and moisture pooling between her legs.
After going nearly three years without feeling the slightest attraction to any man, Abby had met these two guys ten months ago and could get neither out of her mind.
She hated it. Hated what both men stirred in her, something long dormant, something she would rather not feel. Not the sexual attraction -- she could suppress that well enough. She had successfully been doing so since pretty much the first day she’d met tall, dark Rodrigo, and then a few days later, Detective Crenshaw, with his cool pale green eyes, which Abby suspected hid amazing heat and fire. She could handle a healthy case of lust.
But vulnerability? No. Each man dredged up that uncomfortable sensation individually. When together, they pretty much knocked her on her ass.
Not ever again.
Images from the dreams that had started again a few weeks ago assaulted Abby right where she sat -- sounds of gunshots, the internal scream of cramped muscles from crouching and shivering for an extended period of time, the red stickiness saturating the carpet under her bare feet, the ice-cold feel of her mother’s cheek...
“Abby?” Christian touched her shoulder, and Abby jumped about a foot out of her chair. “Are you okay?”
“You look pale,” Jonah added. He shifted forward on the couch and studied her through a narrowed gaze. “More than normal, I mean.” His jaw immediately clenched. “Sorry. I didn’t say that right.”
Abby reached out and squeezed Jonah’s forearm. “It’s all right. I am tired.” She tried to scrub grit from her eyes that had been there all day. “But I’m fine.”
Christian didn’t look convinced. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been tired a lot lately.”
“I’ve been busy. Have too much on my mind to sleep.” At least that was technically true. “Maybe it’s time to try get to bed early and see if that helps. Thanks for the dinner invitation, guys” -- Abby grabbed her purse off the floor and got to her feet -- “but I think I’m going to pass.” She dipped down and pressed kisses to Christian’s and Jonah’s cheeks. “Tell the boys hi for me.”
Maybe the nightmares would serve one good purpose after all. I don’t have to sit across from Rodrigo and Braden for three hours and pretend I don’t notice every move each of them makes.
Christian shot upright and strode with Abby to his front door. “Wait.”
“You don’t have to go,” Jonah added, towering right behind Christian.
“Yes, I do. It’s not you two.” She gave them each another squeeze. “The truth is, I am exhausted. I accepted your dinner invitation because I love you both but also because I’m avoiding going up to my rooms alone.” She detected only the slightest strain in her voice and was proud of herself for that. “I’m going to have to do it at some point. It might as well be now, when I can maybe lie down and catch up on some sleep. Otherwise, I’m just avoiding it until midnight.”
went off somewhere in the house just then.
“That’s me.” Christian backed down the shotgun hallway toward the kitchen. “The mojo pork is finished. Are you sure you don’t want to stay and eat? You look like you’ve lost a little bit of weight.”
Abby rolled her eyes at Christian and then looked up at Jonah. “Can you go kiss him or something and shut him up for me?”
That flash of life that Christian had told Abby he had fallen in love with appeared in Jonah’s eyes right then. “Will do.” He winked and already started walking backward toward his man. “Talk to you later, sweetheart.”
She hung still for a moment, the front door open at her back, watching as Jonah tugged Christian to him. Jonah took Christian’s mouth with a kiss that had Christian moaning and wrapping his arms around Jonah’s waist in a pair of seconds. As Abby stared, the image of the two men blurred and morphed into a tall Colombian being ravished by an even taller brown-haired man with a badge. Rather than Christian and Jonah, Braden now held Rodrigo’s jaw with a white-tipped grip and ate at his mouth like the man needed it to survive. Rodrigo clung to Braden just as hard and dug his hands into the back of Braden’s jeans, pulling him somehow closer to grind their crotches together. Abby saw the two men kissing, clear as day, in her mind. Then it changed, and she saw herself walking toward them, completely naked. The moment she joined in and they both turned to kiss her, her pussy throbbed and swelled in response right where she stood.
Recently Abby had taken her unwanted attraction to Rodrigo and Braden and, in her thoughts, had them turn that desire onto each other. She’d created some powerful fantasies that had driven her to a handful of insanely intense climaxes, wherein she shouted each man’s name as she came. Apparently she’d done it so many times she was starting to bring that dream out of her bed and into the real world. No more.
I have to get out of here.
She closed the door, spun away, and came face-to-face with the flesh-and-blood versions of her most recent vision.
Holy Mary, full of grace.
Abby almost could not breathe.
A handful of steps ahead of Braden, Rodrigo led the way up the porch, and he was stunning. Abby had spent time with this man for nearly a year now, and she still had trouble swallowing each time she took first sight of him. The man owned his own contracting business. He spent most of his days doing the physical labor of refurbishing houses, and his body showed it. He possessed a near-perfect physique that came from hard work; Abby had seen Rodrigo without a shirt on and could personally attest to the wide shoulders, taut chest, and flat abdomen hidden under his clothes. She’d seen his deeply tanned skin covered in a sheen of perspiration and could picture it, right now, under the button-down shirt, dark brown leather jacket, and jeans he wore.
Abby’s heart rate sped up, and her skin started to heat under her clothes. She jerked her stare away from Rodrigo, to land it on the only other man she found as arresting as she did him.
Braden Crenshaw, with his intense eyes, slightly crooked nose, and stubble-covered jaw, often had Abby thinking about what his already harsh face would look like in the throes of a mind-shattering release. The winter months had taken away some of Braden’s tan, but he still had her pale coloring beat by a mile. He owned an inch or two on Rodrigo’s height, which was no small feat. Standing somewhere around six-feet-three or four, Braden had lanky cowboy legs, right now encased in dark jeans; a lightweight, snug sweater covered a long torso, sinewy shoulders, and swimmer’s arms. A chill hung in the January Florida air but Abby didn’t have to rub herself against Braden to know he would be toasty warm.
She squeezed her hand around the screen door’s handle as both Rodrigo and Braden made it to the porch. Together, they crackled the air around her, and Abby instinctually leaned in to breathe the combined scents of almonds and juniper. She caught herself just seconds before sticking her nose into each man’s nape, and she jerked back, fixing her gaze on her car parked on the side of the road beyond them.
Yeah. I don’t have my game face on firmly enough to handle these guys tonight.
Taking a figurative deep breath, Abby pushed past both men. “Later, boys.” She employed her lightest, brightest tone. “Can’t stay. Have a good night.” She traipsed down the first step.
“Hey.” Rodrigo grabbed her arm but went down with her a couple of steps rather than jerking her back to him. “Where are you running off to, Bit? Scared to sit across from me?” His fingers burned through her sleeve worse than a brand, and Abby felt naked against his onyx gaze. She always did when he looked at her.
“You still haven’t let me finish telling you why you need me to renovate that hellhole of a building of yours,” he added.
Verbal sparring was part of Rodrigo’s MO with her. On most days, it charged Abby up, and she relished getting in his face and giving it back just as good as he gave. Tonight, she thought one good jab from him might take her down in a total knockout.
Can’t let that happen in front of him.
Abby planted her free hand on her hip and glared up at the stubborn man. “My place passes every inspection and has never had a code violation, Rodrigo.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s the best it can be.” Rodrigo shot that statement back to her before she finished speaking his name. “Or its most appealing to your customers.”
“My business does just fine.” Abby tugged against Rodrigo’s hold and heard herself growl. She didn’t tell him how to refurbish and flip houses; he damned well better not think he knew how to sell vintage clothes or design jewelry better than she did. “Thank you very much.”
Rodrigo bared his teeth right back at her. “I wasn’t implying you don’t, Bit, and you fucking well know it.”
“Don’t call me that.” She pulled against his hold again.
Braden stepped closer. With his additional height, plus the fact that he remained on the landing, he towered over Abby and Rodrigo. “Let her go, Santiago.”
Rodrigo flashed those dark eyes up at Braden. “You back off, Crenshaw. You know nothing about this subject.”
This time, Braden wrapped his hand around Rodrigo’s arm. His jade gaze could not have been icier. “Not tonight.” He spoke through clenched teeth. “Let. Her. Go.”
A battle of wills seemed to war between the two men for a half dozen heartbeats, and something new instantaneously ramped up the electrical charge already in the air. The zap of it sent a tremble through Abby. She darted her gaze between Rodrigo and Braden and felt singed by the invisible fire licking between the space of their bodies.
They could kill each other or fuck each other right now. Might not matter which.
Abby gasped as the truth hit her. Whether these men knew it or not -- and she suspected they didn’t -- they wanted each other. Except she’d been with enough men before her dry spell to know about chemistry and could sense when a man had some sexual interest in a woman. She’d gotten that vibe off Rodrigo and Braden both -- toward her. Only now the sparks flying through the air were definitely between these two men.
The image of each of them tangled with her and then wound all around each other, with cries of completion and raw words of encouragement sounding in her ears, took Abby over completely, making her whimper and terrifying her to her core.
I can’t know this about them. Or me. Not right now.
Rodrigo suddenly ripped his hand away from her as if someone had burned him. “I apologize.” He reached out, looking as if he wanted to touch her arm where he’d held it, but then snapped his hand back to his side. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Hearing the slight gruffness in Rodrigo’s tone forced a small smile out of Abby. “You didn’t. I promise. But I have to go.” She touched his arm, hardly daring to brush more than her fingers over the hard muscles, let alone give him a reassuring squeeze. It would have to be enough. “Good night.”
Without waiting for another word, Abby tore down the stairs to her car. As she started the finicky engine, praying that the car would run, she didn’t dare look back at the two men she could feel still watching her from the porch.
Between the nightmares plaguing her again and the fantasies she continued to conjure about herself, Rodrigo, and Braden becoming rapidly more explicit by the day, Abby didn’t know what was real or just her imagination anymore.
What is happening to me?