He kissed her.
THIS WAS SO not a good idea, Gracie thought, even as she wrapped her arms around Riley. She was supposed to be pulling back, staying away from him, being strong and….
Screw it, she thought as she closed her eyes so she could give herself over to his kiss. He smelled good, he felt good and he tasted good. What kind of idiot walked away from that?
His fingers caressed her face even as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss. She parted for him, wanting him inside, claiming her in such a way that she could forget the rest of her world. His tongue brushed against hers, sending shivers shooting down her spine.
The warmth of his body made her want to crawl inside of him and never be cold again. He felt strong, she thought hazily as she rubbed her hands up and down his back. Strong and solid.
Desire ignited—little flames of need that consumed her common sense and left her thinking about possibilities. The desk was big and she would bet there was a lock on the door. No doubt an hour or two in Riley’s arms would cure most of her ills.
She moved closer, rubbing herself against him, wanting them to touch everywhere. Her breasts ached. She wanted him to feel her there, and between her thighs where the need was most intense.
He swore against her mouth, then dropped his hands to her hips where he pulled her against him. He was hard. The realization excited her. She closed her lips around his tongue and sucked gently.
He stiffened, then surged against her. When she released him, he pulled back enough to kiss her jaw, then down her neck. Her skin erupted in goose bumps, her legs began to tremble. If she hadn’t been hanging on to him the overwhelming need would have caused her to collapse.
It was then she felt them—the one thing that had been missing from all her other relationships for as long as she could remember. Sparks.
They erupted like renegade fireworks, arcing through her brain, blinding her and making her want to run for safety. Sparks? With Riley?
She wasn’t sure if she pulled back or he let go, but suddenly there were a good two feet between them.
Her mind raced in a thousand different directions. She felt disoriented, as if she’d been drugged, or had slept too long during the day and couldn’t quite wake up.
“I’m fine,” she said. She turned in a circle, frantically searching for her purse. She spied it under the chair.
“This was a bad idea,” she said as she crouched down to grab it. “Really, really bad. Super bad. Bad, bad, bad.”
“I’m getting that,” he said as she straightened. “You seem a little upset.”
She gave him what she hoped was a bright, happy, I’m-fine smile. “I’m fabulous. Great. Gotta go. You have a good day.”
She practically ran from his office, all the while not wanting to acknowledge the truth.
Sparks. Bright, shiny, glow-in-the-dark sparks.
Not with Riley, she told herself as she hurried to her car and practically threw herself inside. Anyone but Riley. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t even reasonable, and it certainly wasn’t nice.
She tried to put the key in the ignition, but her hands shook too much. Instead she simply leaned her head against her steering wheel and let the irony of the situation wash over her.
After years of less than interesting romantic relationships she’d finally felt the one thing she’d always wanted to feel. Unfortunately, it was with the only single man on the planet she absolutely couldn’t, under any circumstances, ever, ever be with.
Why was she surprised?
RILEY LOOKED through the weekly numbers, but his mind wasn’t on the task. Not with thoughts of Gracie filling his mind and blood filling other parts of his body. She’d gotten to him. Somehow, when he wasn’t looking, she’d managed to squeeze past his defenses and make him curious about her. He wanted to know what she thought, what she liked. He also wanted to see her naked and make love with her, but oddly enough, that was almost less interesting than the rest of it. Which scared the crap out of him.
He couldn’t forget his rules, not to mention his goals. He was passing through this town, biding his time until he could claim his ninety-seven million. No woman was worth forgetting that, not even one as intriguing as Gracie. He didn’t do relationships. Ever. And she was a happily ever after kind of woman.
One who sure knew how to kiss. And she felt damn good in his arms. He smiled as he remembered how she’d rubbed against him. If they’d been anywhere but his office….
“Stop right there,” he told himself. He and Gracie weren’t an option. She was the kind of trouble he didn’t need.
He turned his attention back to the reports and forced himself to concentrate. Thirty minutes later, he finished with his notes. His phone buzzed.
“Sheriff Kendrick here to see you,” Diane said. “Shall I send him in?”
Riley rose and walked around his desk. He hadn’t seen much of Mac since he, Riley, had moved back to Los Lobos. His one-time friend had dropped by to warn him not to make trouble, but since then they hadn’t crossed paths more than a couple of times.
Mac Kendrick walked into the office. He stood a couple of inches taller, wore a sheriff’s uniform and a gun. He was married, happily, Riley had heard. But in his mind, Mac would always be his best friend, the guy he’d gotten in trouble with, had chased girls with and had generally had a hell of a good time with until the night Mac had stolen the judge’s Caddy and taken it on a joyride, only to get caught and hauled into jail.
Mac had never talked about what had happened, but he’d changed then. He’d stopped messing around and had gone into the military. Riley had not only lost his best friend, he’d lost the other half of his family.
“Is this an official visit?” Riley asked as Mac closed the door behind him.
“No.” Mac glanced around the office. “Nice. Never thought I’d see you working behind a desk.”
“Me, either. But it’s not so bad.” He motioned to the two sofas in the corner of the room. “Have a seat.”
Riley waited until Mac had settled before sitting in the wing chair opposite. “What brings you here? Do you need a donation for the sheriff’s retirement fund?”
Mac grinned. “I wouldn’t say no to that, but it’s not why I came to see you.” His steady gaze settled on Riley. “I hear the election is going well.”
“My campaign manager tells me we’re up in the polls.”
“Wilma, the woman who pretty much runs my department, says you’re going to win. She knows that sort of thing.”
“I appreciate the tip and I hope Wilma won’t be insulted if I keep on polling.”
Mac grinned. “I won’t tell her.”
“I’m surprised you’re interested in running for mayor.”
Riley made a mental note to thank Jill Strathern-Kendrick, his attorney, the next time he saw her. Not only had she kept the terms of the will secret from Gracie, her best friend, she kept them from her husband—Sheriff Mac Kendrick.
“I never did like Yardley,” Riley said.
“You’re not alone in that. Maybe change would be a good thing.” Mac glanced around the office. “I thought you’d be moving on for sure, but you’re making your life here.”
“Trying.” Riley didn’t mention that as soon as the election was over, he would be gone.
Mac turned his attention back to him. “It’s been a long time,” he said. “I always felt bad about how things ended.”
Riley touched the faint scar on his upper lip. The one Mac had given him when they’d fought about Mac suddenly wanting to walk the straight and narrow.
“Me, too.” Riley shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”
“Yeah. You want to get a beer sometime?”
The question surprised Riley. He hesitated. Mac wasn’t going to like his plans for the town. But until then…“Sure. You know where I live.”
Mac grinned. “I cruise by on a regular basis to make sure you’re not making trouble.”
“Good to know I’m being protected by Los Lobos’s finest.” Riley looked at his friend. “I’m glad you came by.”
“Me, too. Let’s set up something soon.”
“COME WITH ME,” Alexis said, her voice low.
“No.” Gracie grabbed her headset and clicked it into her cell phone so she could keep working on her gum paste leaves. She quickly drew in the veins and point on the tiny leaf, then draped it over a cornstarch-dusted former to dry in a curved shape.
“Please. Just go with me. That’s all I’m asking. Do you want me to beg?”
Gracie heard the tears in her sister’s voice and tried to stay strong, but it was tough. She wasn’t cut out to say no to people, especially not to someone who was family. Even if the relationship seemed to only run one way.
“I want you to leave me out of this,” Gracie said, although she could feel herself weakening.
“I swear there’s something going on. I know I’ve been crazy before, accusing Zeke of things and I’m running low on credits with you. I’m the boy who cried wolf, but I swear there’s a wolf in my house now.”
Gracie couldn’t help smiling. “If I remember my preschool reading, I believe the wolf was in with the sheep.”
“Whatever. You know what I mean.”
She did. Her humor faded. “Alexis, you put me in a really bad position. Mom is convinced I’m turning back into stalker girl. My picture’s on the front page of the newspaper and the legend of the ‘Gracie Chronicles’ is alive and well.”
“I know. I’m so, so sorry. Please. Just come with me. You don’t have to say anything. Just hover in the background and give me moral support. If he’s really not there, I’ll need your emotional support.”
Gracie shook her head and stabbed the leaf she’d been forming. She knew she was going to regret this, but she couldn’t seem to say the N word again. “Fine. What time do you want me to pick you up?”
“THE NUMBERS aren’t just good,” Zeke said with a grin. “They’re amazing. If the election were held tomorrow, I doubt Yardley’s own mother would vote for him.”
Riley reached for his beer. “What happened?”
“Near as I can tell…Gracie. Your numbers shot up after that picture of the two of you in the paper. Along with the old articles about her crush and what she did to get her man.”
Riley shook his head. The world was a twisted place. “So they love me now because of Gracie.”
“They love you because Gracie loves you. Or she did. Everyone enjoys a good romance. Los Lobos wants yours with Gracie to work out.”
“There is no romance.”
Zeke raised his eyebrows. “You might want to get to work on that.”
Riley looked at his campaign manager. “Let’s make this really clear. I’m not faking a relationship with Gracie for the sake of votes.”
Riley kept his gaze steady. Eventually Zeke turned away.
“But if you were seen together, around town, that would be okay.”
Riley swallowed the rest of his beer. Talk about a strange situation. He’d gone slowly, doing his best to win over the good citizens of Los Lobos. He’d let them get used to him being around. He’d bought candy for Little League, sponsored the new jerseys, supported the local high school football team and the girl’s basketball team. He’d sent the church band to some damn parade in Italy, and he’d done it all with a smile. Now they wanted him to have a relationship with Gracie to prove himself.
Why did the idea bother him? Spending time with her wasn’t a hardship. He liked her and he wanted her in his bed. He should be grateful his plan was coming together and he would soon be in possession of his uncle’s bank and the ninety-seven million dollars.