is about to buy herself a gigolo.”
Madeline Turner, who’d been signing a foot-tall stack of
documents at her desk, dropped her pen, leaving a blot of black
ink on the second quarter Profit and Loss Statement from a
major local firm. Looking up, she could muster no surprise when
she realized her sharp-toned visitor was her older half sister,
Tabitha, looking as enraged as she sounded.
Enraged…but beautiful, as always. The stunning fashion plate
had inherited all her mother’s tall and slender genes, blond hair and
elegance, which suited her lifestyle to a T. Madeline, meanwhile,
had been gifted with their father’s more short and round frame, plus
her late mother’s nearly black hair; dark, laughing eyes and dim-
ples. Which did
suit her lifestyle as a nose-to-the-grindstone
bank manager to an R or a squiggly S, much less to a T.
Tabitha tossed her designer handbag onto an empty chair and
kicked the door shut with the heel of one pointy-toed, five-
hundred-dollar shoe. “Maddy, did you hear me?”
“I think the construction workers twenty floors down heard
you,” Madeline mumbled, wondering why Tabitha always had
to be so damned melodramatic. Something else she’d inherited
from her jet-setting mother.
“The money-grubbing witch is going to cheat on our father.”
Considering Tabitha had cheated on one of her husbands
one of her fiancés, Maddy figured her sister had better jump off
12 Slow Hands
that moral high ground upon which she was perched before it
crumbled out from underneath her. Still she frowned, not happy
with the news that their father’s newest wife—his fourth—was
already looking around for more adventure than her older
husband could provide.
Tabby might loathe Deborah, but Maddy had never had
anything against her. The woman wasn’t exactly warmth personi-
fied, especially not to her adult stepdaughters, but she was a lot
better than some of the alternatives. Their father could have
married a twenty-five-year old…someone younger than Maddy
or her sister. At least Deborah, aside from being in her forties,
was well-spoken, graceful and successful. She had once run her
own successful ballroom dancing studio—that’s where she’d
met Maddy’s father—and seemed to make him happy, first as a
dance partner, now as a wife.
So she really hoped Tabby was wrong. “How do you know
“I got it straight from Bitsy Wellington.”
Their stepmother’s best gal pal. “Why would she tell
“Well, you know Bitsy. She can never resist causing trouble.”
True. The woman was completely toxic.
“Besides, she wants the man for herself. He’s some European
gigolo being auctioned off at that Give A Kid A Christmas
charity gig at the InterContinental tomorrow night.”
A gigolo being sold to benefit a children’s charity. There was
some serious irony in that. Leave it to the Ladies Who Lunch of
Chicago to come up with the idea of buying a stud to raise
money for a worthy cause. And then, to compete over him.
Tabitha lowered herself to one of the chairs across from
Maddy’s broad desk, sniffing slightly at the messy files strewn
across it. Her big sister liked the money that came from the bank
their great-grandfather had founded several decades ago. She just
didn’t particularly like the stench of work that came along with it.
Sometimes Maddy wondered if one of them had been
adopted. Or found on a doorstep. They had
little in common
with each other, physically as well as everything else.
In personality, she was told she was a lot like her mother,
Jason Turner’s second wife, who’d died when Maddy was four.
Supposedly, though he never spoke of her, Jason had mourned
her greatly. Which could explain why her sister always harassed
Maddy about being their father’s favorite.
Maybe it was just that they had more in common. Aside from
looking more like Jason than Tabby did, Maddy was also blessed
with his quick mind, one fascinated by banking and finance. She
also had the work ethic to run the business that had been in the
family for generations.
That didn’t mean Tabitha hadn’t gotten something from their
father, too—his fickleness. Maddy seemed to be the only Turner
who didn’t fall in and out of love as frequently as the networks
changed their Friday night lineup.
“We have to
“About the little cheater, that’s what!”
Maddy sighed, lowered her pen, and leaned back in her chair.
“But she hasn’t cheated yet, has she?”
“No…and we’re going to make damn sure she doesn’t.”
Frankly, her sister’s attitude came as a surprise. Consider-
ing how strongly Tabitha disliked their father’s new wife,
Maddy would have figured Tabitha would want Deborah to
cheat, and get
. Her father would tolerate a lot when it
came to his wives—spending money, demanding attention and
throwing tantrums. But he would never tolerate being cheated
on. As a few of his former loves could certainly attest. Tabitha’s
“I’m surprised you haven’t hired a detective to follow her and
get the goods yourself.”
14 Slow Hands
Tabitha frowned, shifting her pretty blue eyes away to study
her perfectly manicured nails.
“You have? Jesus, Tabby…”
“Look, it was stupid, and I changed my mind almost right
away. I don’t want to catch the bitch cheating.”
Her sister finally lifted her eyes, and in them was a hint of
genuineness, an emotion Tabitha didn’t often let the world see,
but which Maddy knew lurked beneath her sister’s polished,
shiny, brittle surface. “He loves her, Mad. Really loves her and
she makes him so happy. It’s like he’s twenty years younger.”
She swallowed, murmuring, “I don’t want him hurt.
Wow. That stunned her. So much that she couldn’t reply for
a minute. Because while she completely understood the senti-
ment—and felt the same way—she wouldn’t have expected it
Then she remembered the one area where she and her sister were
absolutely, one hundred percent alike: in their love for their father.
She lowered her pen to her desk, finally giving her sister her
undivided attention. “Okay. What do you propose we do?”
Tabitha dissembled for a moment, glancing around the room,
at the few framed photos on Maddy’s bookshelf—all family—
at the plants in the corner and the view of the Chicago skyline
out the window.
She wasn’t going to like this, Maddy knew. Tabitha had the
same look she’d had when they were nine and twelve and her
big sister had suggested they “borrow” their new stepmother’s—
wife three’s—Dior gowns to play house. And Maddy had the
same reaction—the similar twitch in her temple and the sweati-
ness in her palms she’d experienced on that day.
One thing was sure…sweat wouldn’t wash any better out of
her Chanel suit
than it had out of Dior
Her sister finally met her stare, appearing almost defiant.
“It’s simple, really.”
The twitching intensified. The moisture on her palms could
water the office plants for a week. “Oh?”
“Yes. She can’t cheat on our father with the guy if somebody
outbids her.” With a smile that showed off the twenty-thousand-
dollar smile their father had bestowed upon his oldest daughter,
buy the gigolo.”
had faced death dozens of times
since he’d started working with Chicago FD’s 4th Battalion five
years ago. He’d responded to fires and shootings, to brawls and
domestic abuse calls. To riots and hostage standoffs. He’d treated
heart attacks, drowning victims and people two steps past death
who’d miraculously taken three steps back into existence.
He’d once talked a whacked-out druggie into letting him take
his injured girlfriend—whom said druggie had stabbed—out of
their house for emergency treatment. And he’d then gotten
chewed out by his lieutenant for not following protocol by
waiting for the Chicago P.D. to handle it. Right—as if he was
going to let her die.
None of those situations had intimidated him.
But this? This scared the hell out of him.
“Why did I ever agree to get involved with this?” he muttered.
One reason. Because he owed his lieutenant big and his lieu-
tenant owed the chief big and the chief’s wife loved this particu-
lar pet charity. End of story. Which was why two of his buddies
from the battalion had already taken their turns under the spot-
“I’ve been asking myself the same thing,” a stranger’s voice
Jake tugged helplessly at the bow tie that was choking him
16 Slow Hands
and glanced at Bachelor Number Eighteen, the one right before
. The other man looked just about as happy to be here as Jake,
which was saying a lot. Because Jake would just as soon give
CPR to a toothless octogenarian with halitosis than stand up on
stage and be bid on by a bunch of rich, horny women with way
too much time on their hands and too little self-respect. Or self-
feel better about it,” he said, trying to convince
himself more than the other final few “bachelors” waiting for
their turn on the block. “It is for a good cause, right? So I suffer
a few minutes’ embarrassment and a bad date. It’s worth it.”
Number Twenty offered a jaded smile as he leaned indolently
against a column in the backstage area that had been set up for
this evening’s event. The guy looked almost bored, and Jake
envied him his calm. “What, you don’t enjoy having women
‘paying’ for your services?” The voice held amusement, and a
hint of a foreign accent, possibly Irish.
Maybe European dudes were more at ease playing meat-on-
parade. But this all-American rescue worker most definitely was
Number twenty smiled as he checked his sleeves, the gold
sheen of expensive cuff links flashing beneath the obviously
pricey, tailored tux. Jake would lay money it was not rented.
“It can be…entertaining.” This guy’s suit and demeanor said
he had money enough to donate to worthy causes on his own.
But the longish hair scooped back into a black ponytail said he
also liked to live dangerously.
So did Jake. But he got quite enough thrills out of putting his
ass on the line at emergency scenes, thank you very much. He
didn’t particularly want to put it out there to be appraised, pinched,
ogled or catcalled over by a bunch of strange women.
The other man continued. “Besides, as you said, it’s for a good
Right. Good cause. Kids. I like kids. Don’t have any, don’t
really want any for a few more years, but they’re cute in a long-
distance way. As long as they’re not sticking raisins up their
noses or falling down into sewer drains or following the family
cat up a tree.
Okay, so maybe he didn’t like kids so much. Not enough to
go through this humiliation.
Then he thought about his own baby niece and twin nephews.
There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make sure they remained
the safe, healthy munchkins they were.
Damn. He was going to have to go through with it.
Tugging again at the too-tight collar of his own rent-a-tux,
Jake peered through a crease in the black cloth curtains, eyeing
the audience. The elegant ballroom was packed with round,
white-draped tables, around which sat dozens of women in
gowns and shimmery cocktail dresses. Laughter and gossip
reigned supreme as they tossed back fruity Cosmos or sparkling
champagne. They all watched hungrily, calling out bawdy sug-
gestions as the raucous bidding continued for Bachelor Seven-
teen, who was currently center stage.
Well, all except one. A brunette who stood about ten feet away
from the curtain he was peeking through. She drew his eye as
he scanned the crowd…then drew it again. And this time, he let
his gaze linger.
She was almost shadowed by one of the giant standing spot-
lights, which cast gaudy, unforgiving pools of light on the spec-
tacle occurring on the stage. But what he saw of her was
definitely enough to pique his interest.
First because she had some wicked curves. She wasn’t a tall
stick figure in a little black dress like half the women here.
Instead she was petite, very rounded with the kind of full
curves—generous hips and lush breasts revealed in a low-cut,
silky blue dress—that weren’t currently fashionable but made his
18 Slow Hands
heart pick up its pace and his recently dormant cock come awake
in his pants.
Nor did she have bottled blond hair swept up in a complicated
hairdo like the other half of the audience. No, hers was dark and
thick, with long curls that fell in disarray past her shoulders. The
look was wildly seductive, as if she’d just left her bed rather than
an exclusive Michigan Avenue beauty salon.
Earthy, sultry, not at all restrained. The woman was sexy in a
way that women didn’t seem to
themselves to be sexy
Her looks, however, merely started the fire in his gut. Her un-
touchable, out-of-place demeanor stoked it until it almost
The brunette wasn’t laughing it up with her rich gal pals, or
tossing back Manhattans while turning her hand to make sure
her diamond rings showed to their greatest flashy advantage. In
fact, if he had to guess, he’d say she looked almost disapprov-
ing, even tense. He couldn’t see her face very well, though he
got a glimpse of a stiff little jaw, lifted up in visible determina-
tion. And her back was military straight.
He sensed she was keeping it that way intentionally, as if she
didn’t dare let her guard down lest she be distracted from
whatever mission she’d set for herself.
As if realizing she was being watched, the woman glanced
around, turning her head enough to cast her face in a bit of light
spilling off the stage. Enough to highlight the creamy skin, the
curve of her cheek, the fullness of her lips and the dark flash of her
Jake’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. Though she
couldn’t possibly see him and was in no way mirroring his
reaction, hers did the same.
She clenched out of visible concentration that seemed to swirl
around her, creating a no-fly zone between her and everyone else
in the room.
He clenched out of pure lust.
He hadn’t had sex in a while—not since breaking up with a
woman he’d been dating last winter. And nobody had as much
as given him a quickened pulse rate since. Not the women he met
at the station. Not the ones he helped. Not the nurses at the
hospital. Not the hot girl who’d moved in upstairs from him, the
one who’d already locked herself out three times just so she’d
have an excuse to ask for his help.
This stranger? She’d given him a hard-on from ten feet away.
She looked around the room again, watchful, her gaze
passing without hesitation over the crease in the drapes behind
which he stood.
She couldn’t possibly have heard the mental order, yet she
narrowed her eyes, focusing again on the drapes concealing him.
He couldn’t help repeating the silent appeal, trying to
remember all the stuff one of his sisters had said about that
dumb book she’d been obsessed with lately. About how the
universe would grant you what you want if you just visualized
it hard enough.
Oh, it was easy to come up with some fast-and-hot visualiza-
tions right now.
“You want to know my biggest fear?” said Number Eighteen,
a blond-haired surfer-looking guy who said he worked as a
stockbroker. “What if whoever wins me pays like fifty bucks? I
mean, how humiliating would that be when the richest women
in Chicago are all drooling like a pack of stray dogs eyeing a
butcher shop window out there?”
Mr. Polished European guy laughed softly at the very thought
of that even being a possibility for him. Jake, however, immedi-
ately understood the stockbroker’s worries.
20 Slow Hands
Geez. He’d thought being bid on would be a humiliation. But
not being bid on? “Get me out of here.”
“Too late,” said a perky voice belonging to the young woman
who was stage-managing tonight’s events. She glanced at the
blond pretty boy. “You’re on. They’re reading the introduction
right now.” Then she pointed the tip of her pencil at Jake. “And
you’re right behind him, Nineteen.”
Nineteen. That’s how they’d addressed him from the moment
he’d checked in at the event desk and had been whisked to a
private dressing room with all the other saps whose bosses,
friends, siblings, mothers or coworkers had talked them into
Jake glanced through the slit in the drapes again, whispering,
He could easily envision nineteen things he’d say to the
brunette when they met. Nineteen ways to bring about that
meeting. The nineteen minutes it would take to run out from
behind the curtain, grab her hand and drag her to his place. The
number of times he wanted to make love to her and the number
of positions he wanted to do it.
Jake jerked his attention back toward the stage manager who
was watching him with an expectant—yet slightly exasperated—
look. He’d obviously been visualizing for several minutes. “The
guy before you is done.”
“What’d he go for?” Jake couldn’t help asking.
Thirty-five. Oh, God, thirty-five bucks? He’d whip out his
checkbook and pay ten times that if he could get out of this. Then
he’d go straight out and introduce himself to the brunette in
,” the woman added, obviously reading
He could barely scrape up
times that amount, and if he had
ten times it in his checking account, he sure as hell wouldn’t be
living in a one-bedroom apartment over a flower shop in Hyde Park.
“They’re reading your bio right now, so we need to move
quickly,” Miss Pencil Tapper said, actually reaching out to grasp
his arm. She must know he wanted to bolt. He doubted he was
the first to feel that way tonight.
“Fine, fine,” he muttered, not even listening to the announcer,
whose voice was droning through the hotel sound system. He let
go of the black drape curtain, regret making his fingers glide
against it for a moment longer than necessary. Then he was
being pushed onto the stage, blinded by a spotlight, deafened by
the roar of a hundred tipsy women.
This must be what those Chippendales dudes felt like. The
thought of doing this dressed in leather cowboy chaps and
nothing else was enough to make his stomach heave.
“Who’s going to start the bidding?”
“Five hundred!” someone yelled.
Okay. It was a start. Five hundred…that was a worthy
donation. That’d buy a lot of Christmas presents for needy kids.
Like, you know, a hundred games of Go Fish or whatever that
crap sold for now. But, man, it sounded pathetic considering the
pretty boy stockbroker went for seven times that much.
The numbers started flying at a dizzying speed, and Jake
couldn’t keep up with them for a while. Not until a loud, deter-
mined female voice cut through the catcalls to shout, “Five
Everyone fell silent for an infinitesimal moment. Jake
included. He didn’t know what the highest bachelor had sold for,
but at least he wasn’t going to be rock bottom.
22 Slow Hands
“We have a bid of five thousand dollars for this excellent
cause,” the auctioneer preened. “And I imagine our handsome
bachelor will be worth every penny of it.”
Ahh, the joy of being pimped by a fat guy with sweaty jowls
and a smarmy smile.
The searing heat of the spotlight suddenly left his face. Jake
watched as the large, golden circle washed over the crowd,
turning to illuminate the woman who’d ignored auction protocol
by upping the ante so dramatically.
Jake held his breath, something in his brain telling him it had
been her. The brunette. The one he couldn’t stop thinking about
had heard his mental 911 call.
The spotlight finally came to rest on the top of a very blond
The middle-aged woman trying to look ten years younger sat
at one of the exclusive, reserved tables up front, with a few other
equally jaded-looking upper crusters. She smiled, well pleased
with herself for having silenced the entire room.
But the complacent silence didn’t last for long. Because
suddenly, as if they all had one voice, her three companions
jumped into the fray.
It went on for at least a minute, until Jake’s head was spinning.
These crazy rich females were willing to lay out what amounted
to a down payment on a house to go to dinner and a ball game
with him? Insane.
It’s for a good cause
. True, but damned if he wasn’t getting
tired of hearing that refrain in his head.
The figure had hit eight thousand, the blonde and her three
friends laughing as they tossed it higher and higher like a volley-
ball being lobbed over a net. Jake had hated volleyball ever since
he’d been an oversize, clumsy fourth grader who always got picked
last for the team in gym. And he especially hated
Though the bidding women were laughing, their amusement
held a hint of malice and their smiles were tight. They might have
started this as a game, but now their competitive spirits were rising.
He didn’t know how long it might have gone on, if he’d con-
tinued to be nibbled at in one-hundred dollar bites. Suddenly the
whole room froze again. Because another voice—from the other
side of the ballroom—shouted, silencing the three bidding crows.
“Twenty-five thousand dollars.”
Jake visualized it, asked the Fates to be kind, then followed
And for once, he realized, his loopy kid sister was right. He’d
asked, and the universe had answered. Because the winning
bidder was his beautiful brunette.
be made out?”
OW SHOULD THE CHECK
Her pen perched above her open checkbook, Maddy lifted an
expectant brow, having finally reached the front of the checkout
line for tonight’s auction. It was her bad luck that her bachelor
had been second to last in the event. If he’d been one of the earlier
“prizes,” she would have been able to pay the fee and escape
early, without running the risk that she’d actually have to face
her legally purchased slab of beefcake.
That was the last thing she wanted. She’d done what she’d
set out to do—what Tabitha had guilted her into doing. She’d
stopped her stepmother from hooking up with another man, at
least for tonight. And, at least, with that particular man.
Judging by the look on her stepmother’s face, she’d had ab-
solutely no idea any of her husband’s family members had been
in the audience. When she’d seen Maddy from across the
crowded room, Deborah Turner had paled, her eyes had widened
in shocked guilt, and she’d rushed out, her nasty, troublemaking
best friend Bitsy close behind her.
Too bad Maddy hadn’t been outbid at that point. She could
have saved herself twenty-five thousand dollars. Because, while
she hadn’t dated in a while, she most certainly was not desper-
ate enough to actually take advantage of the “prize” she’d just
won. If he’d been a regular bachelor? Perhaps. But knowing he
was a gigolo who prostituted himself?
It’s for a good cause
, she reminded herself, knowing her
family’s charitable foundation, which she managed, always sup-
ported the worthy children’s program anyway.
“I am in a bit of a hurry,” she prodded, offering the harried-
looking woman running the payment desk a smile to take any
sting from her words. “This really is a wonderful program and
I’m so glad to be able to support it,” she added, meaning it. “But
I do have another engagement.”
That wasn’t exactly untrue. She did have a standing engage-
ment with her remote control and the latest disc from her
Season 2 DVD set. Better that than sticking around and
actually having to converse with a man who accepted money
from bored, lonely, rich women.
“You won bachelor number…”
“Nineteen,” Maddy supplied, not likely to forget him anytime
soon. Oh, she might have no respect for the man, especially
because her stepmother had wanted to cheat with him. But he
was so damned gorgeous. Even his photograph in the auction
program hadn’t prepared her to see him in the flesh.
She’d been expecting some kind of skinny, pasty, girlie kind
of man like the character in
. She had not
imagined anything like those shoulders, which were about the
width of a small bus, or the bulked-up chest straining against the
fabric of his tux. Nor the thick dark hair, cut short enough to
tempt a woman to do some finger tangling while not drawing one
bit of attention away from the slashing brows, the prominent
cheekbones, the stubborn chin.
He was all man. Nothing like what she’d expected. Although,
she had to admit, her ideas
been based on movie references
and her own interactions with weaker-willed men who used
Don’t even go there
, a voice in her head reminded her.
“You can make the check out to Give A Kid A Christmas,”
the attractive, dark-haired woman behind the counter said. She
26 Slow Hands
offered Maddy a grateful smile. “And thank you so much. Yours
was the most generous donation of the night.”
“I’m sure it’ll be put to good use.”
“Absolutely,” the woman said. She gestured toward the
nearest door. “By the way, we’ve set up a private reception down
the hall, for our winning bidders and our bachelors to meet. You
know, to break the ice before any private, um…meetings.”
was more like it.
Addressing the check, Maddy merely smiled politely, not
replying. Then, giving the woman her payment and taking a tax
receipt in return, she deliberately swung around and walked in
the opposite direction.
She’d done her job. Now she needed to get out of here. She’d
come in late—having been tipped off by Tabitha that her target
would be auctioned off second to last. She hadn’t seen anyone
she knew, other than her stepmother and the woman’s friends.
Hopefully, she could escape without any further public exposure
of her foray into the flesh trade.
She almost made it. She was mere feet from the closest
ballroom exit when she was stopped by a movable wall dis-
guised as a tuxedo shirt.
Her heart leaped in her chest, thudding in excitement, even
as she mentally cursed the bad luck. Because Number Nineteen
had tracked her down.
“Hello,” the wall murmured. “I’m Jake Wallace.”
Maddy growled a little, annoyed at herself for feeling an imme-
diate tingle at the warmth emanating off the solid man now blocking
her path. And for leaning forward the tiniest bit and breathing a bit
deeper to catch a better whiff of his warm, spicy scent.
“I know we’re supposed to be meeting in the reception
room,” he added, “but I’d rather head to the hotel bar, too, if
that’s where you were going. I don’t think I could stand another
hour with that crowd.”
Funny that he already knew, somehow, that Maddy was not
of “that crowd.” Oh, she fit in financially,
she had the family
connections and pedigree to mix with the best of Chicago society.
But she didn’t like them, didn’t feel comfortable with them, pre-
ferring to listen to Tabitha’s cutting first-person reports rather than
experience the flighty world of the rich-and-shameless person-
ally. Her social interactions usually centered around business—
fund-raisers, executive dinners. Certainly not hot-body auctions.
“That is where you were going, right? You weren’t trying to
ditch me.” It wasn’t a question and his tone held a hint of
laughter. She didn’t think his amusement was caused by conceit,
but rather the incongruity of a woman paying twenty-five thou-
sand dollars to spend an evening with a man and then walking
out the door without ever meeting him.
kind of crazy.
“I, uh…the ladies’ room,” she mumbled, hating herself for let-
ting the inane excuse cross her lips the very moment she uttered
it. Ladies’ room indeed. Deborah, her socially impeccable—if
potentially adulterous—stepmother, would be flaring her nostrils
she wasn’t cowering somewhere, wondering
if Maddy was going to rat her out for trying to buy her way into
this man’s arms.
He cleared his throat. “It’s that way.”
His arm moved, the hand gesturing back the way Maddy had
just come. That hand was darkly tanned, strong, with neat blunt
fingernails and not a hint of kept-man elegance. They looked like
a worker’s hands. And suddenly several parts of Maddy’s body
went a little spastic at the thought of being
Not being the tallest woman in the world, Maddy had been
able to keep her attention squarely focused straight ahead, as if
minutely interested in the design of the buttons on his shirt.
Since she’d been sucked in by his hands, though, she figured she
might as well muster up the courage to confront the rest of him.
28 Slow Hands
She could do it. She was woman. Hear her roar.
All she could manage as she lifted her gaze, however, was a
The chest was, as she already knew, huge and strong. The throat
tanned, the neck corded with muscle. His strong jaw jutted in classic
male determination. His face was freshly shaved, she’d imagined,
for tonight’s event, but already displayed a hint of swarthiness that
would provide the tiniest frisson of roughness if their cheeks met.
Even if she acknowledged how physically attractive he was,
she still would never again take up with a man who couldn’t keep
his pants zipped. She’d been down that road before.
handsome. His thick hair was cut short, and had
looked lighter when he was up on stage, being paraded around
like a prime bit of horseflesh for sale. Now, up close, she realized
it was a dark brown, but shot with hints of gold here and there
that said he likely spent a lot of time outside. Probably sailing
around in yachts owned by rich women, hitting the clubs in
Monaco or cruising the Mediterranean. Doing the types of things
people in her social circle took for granted, too.
None of which interested
Except, maybe, lounging under the sun on a clear blue sea.
She might not like the ennui and shallowness that often came
with extreme wealth, but she wasn’t stupid. She enjoyed an oc-
casional luxury as much as the next silver spoon girl. And a
summer day spent sailing on her father’s thirty-three-foot cutter
was one of her few genuine indulgences.
“Why don’t you let me escort you?” he added, finally
breaking the silence.
“I’m afraid I was just leaving,” she admitted, knowing she
needed to end this now, before he offered to lead her to the
closest ladies’ room. Maybe even escort her inside…and do her
in the lavish vestibule.
Oh, God, what a fantasy.
She cleared her throat. “It’s a work night.”
Finally allowing herself to meet his gaze directly, all remaining
words dried up in Maddy’s mouth. Because those eyes, which she
hadn’t been able to see clearly from the audience, were a dark, warm
brown, so friendly and approachable, open and engaging that it was
impossible to imagine this man was anything but an all-American
boy-next-door. Albeit the handsomest one she’d ever met.
There was merriment in those eyes, and warmth and friend-
liness. Not jaded awareness, not arrogance. Just…niceness. And
pure laid-back sex appeal.
That didn’t fit what she knew about the man. Not one bit.
“Work?” he asked, sounding as though he’d never heard the
Well, maybe he hadn’t. Maddy lifted her chin, ignoring those
eyes, that half smile on his sensual mouth, and forced herself to
remember who this brown-eyed, kind-looking hottie really was.
A man for sale.
“Yes. Work,” she snapped. “I came here to support a charity.
I’ve done it, and now I’m leaving.”
He put a hand out, touching her elbow lightly, though not
trying to restrain her. But all the same, the touch was binding,
rooting her where she stood.
“Look, I have the feeling we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot
somehow. I’d really like to go sit down somewhere, not as part
of our ‘date’ but just so I can thank you for bidding on me.” He
shook his head, smiled slightly and rubbed a hand across his
strong jaw, the slide of his fingers rasping the tiniest bit across
his very faint five-o’clock shadow. “You saved me from being
the cheapest guy of the night.”
“As if that was going to happen.”
“You never know. That stockbroker guy was offering a
weekend getaway upstate.”
30 Slow Hands
“What were you offering?” she asked, only out of curiosity.
out of genuine interest. Definitely not.
Shrugging, he admitted, “A home game at Wrigley Field
followed by wings and beer at a pub.”
Maddy’s eyebrows went up.
“You didn’t know that when you shelled out twenty-five
She shook her head, muttering, “I don’t think it would have
Not one bit. Because neither Bitsy Wellington, or Maddy’s
stepmother would ever have let that ball game evening happen. The
date would have begun and ended tonight, right in one of the
thousand lavish hotel rooms above their heads. Despite being
much older than this man, Deborah had the money, the looks and
the charm to make sure she got exactly what she wanted. Whether
Jake Wallace had really intended a “normal” date with the winner
To Maddy, though, a Major League ball game sounded wonder-
ful. She’d never been to a professional game, relying on ESPN and
pay-per-view channels to satisfy her innate—if secret, given its less-
than-spoiled-little-rich-girl image—love of sports. Especially sports
that took place on a diamond and involved a bat and a ball.
So borrow Dad’s box seats. Because you
“You see why I was expecting the worst. I mean, if somebody
had gotten me for twenty bucks, my sisters would never have let
me hear the end of it.”
She couldn’t prevent a trill of amused laughter from escaping
her lips at the very thought of this man getting out of here for
such a paltry amount. He probably charged that much per minute.
He watched her laugh, those soft, dreamy eyes resting on her
lips, his own curling up at the edges in response. “You’ve got
She clamped her lips tight, silently ordering her cheeks to
“Made for a five-year-old’s face or a baby’s bottom.”
He shook his head. “Uh-uh. A beautiful woman’s.”
Maddy quivered at that. Though she knew the man was prob-
ably schooled at such come-ons, and made a practice of making
every woman feel beautiful and desirable, she couldn’t help the
warm flow of pleasure surging through her veins. Because he
His lips quirked. “Uh, by that I meant a beautiful woman’s
, of course.”
Remembering the second part of her comment, she inwardly
groaned, mortified at having given the man such an easy opening.
“You really are stunning,” he murmured, not handing her a
line, not at all sleazy. Just confident of what he said. “A dark and
vibrant flame next to all those icy princesses.”
Maddy swallowed. It wasn’t possible that he
reputation—was it? No. He couldn’t. He was using his wiles, his
tricks of the trade, telling her what he thought she wanted to hear,
like any good professional. Because far from being the vibrant
“flame,” she was known as the coldest businesswoman in Chicago.
Did he really see her so differently?
“You looked entirely
from up on that stage…the only
woman who did.”
Okay, boy-next-door or not, the man was good at getting
around a woman’s defenses with that sexy-smooth delivery. Too
good. Especially since she knew there was no way she could
have him. Just the thought of what might have happened between
him and her stepmother had she not prevented it was enough to
make her stomach turn.
32 Slow Hands
Besides, never again would she be with someone who had sex
with more partners in a month than she’d had in her lifetime.
Been there, done that. Her ex simply had not gotten paid for it.
He hadn’t needed to. He’d quite enjoyed giving it away for free
to any woman he’d met.
Well…she had to give this Jake some credit. At least he was
honest and open about what he was.
That, however, was as much as she was willing to concede.
“I have to go.”
“Oh, come on,” he urged, “please don’t. You’ve got to at least
let me buy you a beer for saving me from utter humiliation in
front of that bloodthirsty crowd.”
“And from your sisters.”
“Who are absolutely merciless.”
His tone said he didn’t care, that there was a genuine fondness
between him and his siblings. Well, Maddy understood that.
Though she might have little to nothing in common with Tabby,
that didn’t mean she didn’t love her. She understood the concept
of loving someone even if you didn’t completely understand them.
If not, she’d never have survived this many years in her own family.
“I have one of those.”
She nodded. “And she’s also pretty merciless. Especially
about getting her own way.”
“I somehow suspect you can hold your own.”
“I always found that hanging their bras out their bedroom
windows was an effective deterrent to future harassment.”
Maddy couldn’t help chuckling again, unable to keep a smile
off her face, dimple exposure or not. “I don’t know that Tabitha’s
ever owned one,” she replied, thinking of her sister’s willowy,
graceful figure. Tabby was Gwyneth Paltrow slender all the way.
While Maddy was more on the Catherine Zeta Jones side.
He glanced down, probably not even aware he was doing it.
The glance was quick, not offensive, probably almost reflex
considering the need to check out a woman’s breasts seemed
inbred into male genes.
His gaze rose to her face, but not so quickly that she didn’t
see the way his jaw flexed and his eyes narrowed, shining with
dark intensity and appreciation, all traces of that easygoing good
Hers disappeared, as well. Not to be replaced by anger…but
by pure physical awareness. The roam of his stare over her body
affected her just as thoroughly as a real touch from anyone else
Sometimes, she didn’t mind so much being the more curva-
ceous of the Turner sisters. Tabitha had the runway model shape
and maintained it by eating as much as a three-day-old sparrow.
Maddy, meanwhile, bordered on voluptuous, from her more than
ample breasts to her small waist and downright generous hips, and
fought every potato chip and cheesecake urge to keep it that way.
Her body might play hell with her wardrobe, ruling out any
cute little backless sundress or strapless gowns, which Tabby had
by the roomful. But right now, at this moment, she couldn’t
bring herself to care. And it was all because of the heat in this
sexy man’s eyes and the almost audible quality of his next,
slowly indrawn breath.
That was lust she saw there. Pure and undisguised, unhidden
by social demands or proper breeding that insisted it wasn’t
polite to visibly covet a woman.
He was coveting. She was being coveted. They were both
caught in the tension of it.
Though her mind knew better, her body couldn’t help re-
sponding. Beneath the silky dress, her skin puckered, tiny
goose bumps rising on the deep V of her cleavage, her nipples
tightening to jut against the lace of her bra. Her pulse fluttered
34 Slow Hands
in her throat, and the breaths she managed to inhale were
shallow. Each was filled with the warmth of him and the dark,
masculine scent of his body, which had edged to within inches
of her own.
All from a look. What in God’s name might happen to her if
he ever laid a hand on her?
“Please say yes,” he murmured. “For no other reason than that
you want to.”
His tone remained light, not demanding, not intense, despite
the look in his eyes and the static in the air between them. As if
he knew that coming on too strong might scare her off.
And suddenly, it was working. Her verbal defenses had been
firmly in place at the start, but now…well, now she’d actually
allowed herself to see him as a person—a very sexy person—
rather than just the instrument her stepmother had intended to
use to hurt her father.
If he’d played the lothario, Maddy would already have been
out of here. But he hadn’t. He’d merely sounded friendly, en-
gaging, and oh
tempting. While he spoke of polite things like
his family, his eyes did all the more intimate talking. He
her, yet managed to remain genuine and self-deprecating. Not
at all like the male prostitute he was.
Suddenly remembering what else Tabby had told her about
the man, and the glimpse she’d had at the auction program, she
said, “You don’t have an accent!”
“Am I supposed to?”
She clenched her lips shut, wishing she’d thought to learn a
bit more about what she was up against tonight. Tabitha had given
her the bare bones and Maddy had raced into the plan. Typical
story. Just the way it was when they were kids and Tabby had been
Lucy holding the ball while Charlie Brown Maddy ran down the
field to kick it,
she was going to end up on her ass.
“I should have made her do it herself,” Maddy muttered,
though she knew that would have been a very bad idea. Even
Tabitha had known better.
Maddy could be trusted to avoid a sexy gigolo. Hopefully. Her
sister could not. And Tabby seemed truly determined to make
her next marriage—which was scheduled for its high society
kickoff in a few weeks—work. She would
have been able
to keep her perfectly manicured fingers off this hunk.
But Maddy could. And she would. Any moment now. As
soon as her heart slowed down and her body came off orange
alert and went back down to at least yellow.
“Nothing.” Maddy stared at him, searching for something in
his expression, a hint that a predator lurked beneath his oh-so-
sexy, laid-back, nice-guy appearance. There must be something—
malice, greed, or lasciviousness—behind the open, honest interest
in his stare. Just because she hadn’t seen it, didn’t mean it wasn’t
to be more to him than she was seeing. And she
almost wished she had time to find it.
Maybe if she’d been introduced to him at a cocktail party or
met him at the bank, she’d allow herself to fall for the sexy,
charming, friendly demeanor and let herself be seduced by the
want in his eyes. She would try to get to know him better, and
let him know his physical interest was most definitely recipro-
But one undeniable truth prevented that.
If she had not been tipped off and come here tonight to prevent
it, the man standing in front of her would probably be upstairs
having sex with her father’s wife right this minute.
And that was the end of her waffling. Again repulsed by the
very idea, Maddy took a step away, removing her arm from his
touch, and the rest of her from the force field of sexiness encom-
passing the man like a cloak. She was immune, damn it. Mentally
36 Slow Hands
and, now, because of the harsh truth she’d just forced herself to
Maddy pasted the cordial but not exactly friendly, expression
on her face she used daily when running interference between
her father and the sycophants constantly hitting him up. “Really,
Mr. Wallace, there’s no wrong foot. You don’t owe me a thing.
I’m glad I was able to keep you from the ridicule of your sisters.”
With a deliberately rueful smile, she thought of how she’d ended
up here tonight and admitted, “They can definitely be annoying.”
“Okay then. So we’ll have a drink while we compare our
crazy families, make our plans and check out the sports page for
the next home game.” Frowning, he added, “You
a Cubs fan,
“I think it’s illegal not to be around here.”
“Meaning there’s nothing stopping us from going out.”
“If I told you I liked the Cardinals, would that get this ridicu-
lous idea out of your head?” He lifted a hand to his chest, his
jaw opening in horror. Which made her laugh again. “Kidding.”
“You’d go that far to avoid going out with me?” he asked, his
voice growing quiet, his smile fading. As if her answer really
mattered to him…as if he
Shaking her head, Maddy stepped around him, taking that
first all-important step toward the door. And away from Mr.
Superstud. “It’s not about going out with you. I had my own rea-
sons for being here tonight, and they didn’t include a date. So
you are completely off the hook.”
“But the money…”
“Was for the children.”
And for my father
. “There’s no quid
pro quo in this.” Even if five minutes ago all her most feminine
parts had been demanding that she get at least a little bit of quid
and a whole lot of quo for being so…
That was a good word for it. Their brief conversation hadn’t
aroused her quite to the level of blatant physical desire. But it had
most definitely awakened her to the possibilities. Especially
because she suddenly realized that as well as being physically at-
tracted to him, she could also truly like this warm, amusing man.
Oh, there were
. They were
possibilities. Her most feminine parts
would have to be happy watching hot doctors having affairs at
Telling herself she would not regret this in the morning, but
wondering how she’d make it through the long, lonely night
ahead without fantasizing about how she
have spent it—
she murmured “Goodbye,” and walked out of his life.
, so he knew better than to try to change
AKE HAD THREE SISTERS
a woman’s mind when she had definitely made it up. And the
sexy brunette in the silky blue dress had most assuredly made
up her mind to leave. Funny, though…he had the feeling she’d
decided to ditch him before she’d ever bid on him.
Which, frankly, made him feel a lot better. Because her dis-
interest was not personal. He just needed to make sure that her
Because there was no way that pert little dismissal and the
sashay of her curvy hips out the ballroom door was the end of
their relationship. Uh-uh. She’d been sexy and mysterious, aloof
and unattainable from behind that black curtain. Now that he’d
seen those stormy brown eyes, heard that whiskey-toned voice
and caught a glimpse of her beautiful smile and those adorable
dimples, he found her not only sexy and earthy but also almost
And no longer unattainable. He had a legitimate reason to find
her. A good reason. He owed her what he’d promised and he
never welshed on a deal.
Jake didn’t even consider following her. He didn’t need to.
Chicago might be a big city, but the world in which the über-
38 Slow Hands
wealthy lived was a small, incestuous one. He could find out who
she was with a few well-placed questions at the reception going
on down the hall.
The problem was, he really didn’t want to venture into that
reception. He’d escaped the clutches of the catcalling rich bitches
and he had no desire to fall into them again. Fortunately, he didn’t
“Excuse me,” he said as he strode toward the checkout desk. It
was almost deserted now, with just a few last volunteers counting
cash, sorting checks and cleaning up after the flesh-spending-
“Yes?” an attractive brunette replied. Jake recognized her as
the woman who ran the charity organization benefiting from
tonight’s auction—the Give A Kid A Christmas thing that pro-
vided traditional holiday seasons for families living in Chicago’s
abused women shelters. Noelle something. She’d been earnest
and friendly, a little harried, but not coolly amused and assess-
ing the way some of the auction organizers had been when he’d
“I must be brain-dead,” he said, offering her a smile. “But I
somehow let the woman who won the date with me get away
without making our final plans. And I don’t know how to get in
touch with her.”
The woman frowned. “What was her name?”
Sticky one. Jake thought about bullshitting some more, then
decided honesty was probably the best way to go. If the brunette
felt sorry for him at having been bought and then dumped like
yesterday’s garbage, she might be more forthcoming with the in-
formation he wanted.
“To be honest? She didn’t give it to me. I think she got cold
feet, even after laying out twenty-five grand.”
Recognition washed over the woman’s face. “Ah, yes, I
remember her.” As if wanting to console him, she added, “She
did say she had to be somewhere else. I’m sure she was in a hurry
and didn’t realize she hadn’t given you her name and number.”
“That must have been it. I’d really appreciate your help,
“Right,” she replied. “Noelle Santori.” Turning her attention
toward the money she’d been counting, she added, “She won’t be
hard to find. There was only one check made out in that amount
The woman riffled through a stack of checks piled inside the
metal strongbox, plucked one out and said, “Aha!” Then she
frowned. “Uh-oh, it’s a foundation, not a personal check. Her
name’s not printed on here, and her signature is a little…messy.”
“Her name is Madeline Turner,” a woman behind him said.
Jake swung around and saw a slender, attractive blonde, watch-
ing him with hooded speculation. He didn’t know her, as far as
he could tell. She might have been one of the horny, diamond-
laden princesses bidding fast and hard during the auction. Or she
might not. The spotlights hadn’t allowed him a close enough look
to be certain.
“Here,” the blonde said, handing him a business card. “Maddy
works at a bank downtown. That’s the address.” She gave him a
thorough once-over, assessing him as if he was a six-foot-three
lobster in a fancy restaurant’s tank. And she was very hungry for
some surf and turf.
Finally, she sighed and crossed her arms. “I’m sure it was an
oversight, her leaving without getting what she came here for.
So you be sure to look her up.” She turned away, tugging her
weather-inappropriate stole tighter around her shoulders. As she
walked away, he caught one final whisper. “You might just be
an answer to a prayer.”
, there’s someone to see you.”
Madeline looked up from her desk as her administrative as-
sistant, Ella, peeked around the partially open door to her office.
Being addressed as Miss Turner tipped her off to her young
employee’s unusually somber mood. Most times, the efficient-
but-bubbly young woman would have buzzed her, reminded her
of an appointment, then snapped a quick, naughty joke. Ella
liked nothing better than leaving Madeline with an inappropri-
ate grin on her face as some staid business visitor entered her
This time, though, Ella sounded subdued, almost awed, and
wore a facial expression to match.
“Oh, damn, is it the congressman again? I told him we weren’t
increasing his line of credit.”
The other woman shook her head slowly. “Nope. A stranger.”
Clearing her throat, she blinked a few times, as if trying to physi-
cally shake off her dazed mood. After a few seconds, she grinned.
And when she began speaking in a rush, Maddy realized her
assistant was back in the building.
“Look, I just have to say, if this is a sales guy running a scam
and he doesn’t
know you and doesn’t
have an ap-
pointment, I will so totally take him off your hands. I’ll whisk him
out of here, no problem. Show him the door, follow him out, go
somewhere private and whip him into shape. Give him a good,
stern talking-to about coming by without appointments.” Her
expression verging between lustful and hopeful, she added, “It
would probably take hours and hours. Maybe the whole weekend.”
Ella wasn’t exactly the most professional bank employee in
the world, but she was by no means flighty. Which meant
whoever Maddy’s visitor was, he had to be someone capable of
turning a normal, levelheaded young woman into a jazzed-up,
sexed-up, babbling twit.
“Oh, hell,” she whispered, knowing who was standing right
outside her door. Only one man she’d met recently was capable
of sucking every brain cell from a woman’s head within two
minutes of meeting her.
Considering she’d dreamed about him for the past two
inspired dreams of her being the
filling in a triple decker McSteamy, McDreamy and McGigolo
sandwich—she should be feeling McPanicked and McCornered.
He’d almost surely be able to read the guilty embarrassment on
her face the moment he spotted her.
Somehow, though, she could only muster anticipation and ex-
citement. But she knew that all he’d see on her face was interest
and admiration that he’d tracked her down—and sought her
“Show him in,” she murmured, knowing she had about thirty
seconds, the time it would take Ella to walk out and Number
Nineteen to walk in. Just enough time to touch her hair, smooth
her blouse and cross her legs.
She uncrossed them and slid her chair under her desk as soon
as he entered. Her skirt wasn’t
short. It was perfectly business-
like, in fact. But the pose seemed a little too blatant… inviting. As
if she wanted to encourage him sexually, letting him know he’d
been all she’d had on her mind since the moment she’d met him.
That she did, and he
didn’t change her decision to go for
professional rather than come-hither.
42 Slow Hands
“Hi,” he said. “Found ya.”
“So you did, Mr. Wallace.”
“Nice to see you again…Miss
” He glanced around her
cluttered office, at the shelves laden with books and files and the
stack of documents awaiting her signature in her in-box. Then
he gazed past her at the window overlooking the city, one of the
best views in the high-rise building. Whistling, he murmured, “I
guess you do have a real job.”
“What made you think I didn’t?”
He met her stare, saying nothing.
“Okay,” she acknowledged with a grudging smile. “I don’t
suppose many of the bidders from the auction work on much
more than their tans.”
“But you don’t have one. Meaning you obviously work too
“It could be that I’m naturally pale-skinned and prone to
burning.” And that she hadn’t had one of those lazy summer days
on her father’s boat since
summer. She was going to have to
“I somehow suspect you spend twelve hours a day in here and
just wave at the sun from your window as it goes by.”
Smart man. And one who was right now making himself at
home, sitting in a chair opposite her desk without being asked.
Her office almost seemed to shrink around him, as if his big body
had sucked up all the spare particles of air, leaving the two of
them cloaked tightly in intimacy.
Thank God for the desk. If it hadn’t been between them,
Maddy might have been tempted to slide her chair closer, until
their knees touched. Or their thighs. Or their mouths.
“Why’d you ditch me?”
“Why did you pursue me?”
“Ha. I asked you a complicated question and you asked me
a very simple one.” He grinned. “I tracked you down because I
owe you a date and I am not a welsher.”
That was all. He wasn’t a welsher. Well, didn’t she just feel
special, like an average everyday poker player waiting for a five-
“Now, your turn.”
“It isn’t necessarily complicated.” She arched a brow and
managed a bored tone. “Maybe I ditched you because I wasn’t
His grin still confident, he immediately dispelled that pos-
sibility. “Twenty-five thousand bucks is a whole lot of disinterest.”
“It’s for a worthy cause.”
“So why didn’t you bid on somebody else early in the evening
and get out right away?”
“What makes you think I didn’t? Maybe you were my
second-to-the-last chance to make a difference, so I made an
“You didn’t bid on anybody else.” He leaned toward her
desk, dropping his elbows on its surface. “Admit it.” The posi-
tion sent muscle surging against cotton as his casual, washed-
out T-shirt hugged his arms. The flexing of his tanned skin
against the black fabric was almost impossible to tear her gaze
away from. She honestly didn’t think she’d ever seen a more
powerfully built man in person.
She knew she’d never slept with one.
Most of the men Maddy had had sex with had been wiry
young college guys who wanted any female they could get—
especially wealthy, heiress females—or pale, soft businessmen
she met in her usual circle. Those men—men like Oliver, her
ex-lover, whom she’d kicked out of her life a year and a half
ago—were generally toned from their weekend tennis game or
occasional golf tournaments. Or, in Oliver’s case, from his
frequent ski trips with his “best friend” Roddy.
44 Slow Hands
That Roddy had been a nickname for Rhonda, a twenty-year-
old ski bunny, had been something he’d failed to mention. Maddy
had found out the hard way when she’d decided to surprise him
one weekend. She’d found Oliver in his room, engaging in some
serious downhill action with the snow ho.
There were no skis involved, but his pole had been getting
quite a workout.
She thrust away the memory, acknowledging that in the
several months she’d dated the man, she’d
looked at him
and immediately lusted the way she did with the guy sitting on
the other side of her desk. Jake Wallace had the kind of massive,
rock-solid body women dreamed existed but never expected to
see in real life.
And she coveted it. As
been coveting the other night.
“I don’t think you bid on anyone else,” he murmured,
speaking softly, as if aware she’d been struck a little brainless.
“I was watching you from behind the curtain for a long time.”
Feeling a bubble of air lodge in the center of her throat,
Maddy struggled to swallow it down, but couldn’t quite manage
He had been watching her. Watching.
. With all the tall,
elegant, skinny women in the room,
caught his eye…and
had apparently kept it.
In some contexts, hearing a man saying he’d been “watching
her” could creep a woman out. But this didn’t. Just the way his
hungry stare hadn’t the night they’d met.
Instead, once again, he appeared so…honest. Open about his
feelings. Jake sounded both confident and almost surprised by his
own admission, as if he hadn’t meant to reveal his immediate
interest in her, even though his presence here in her office confirmed
He’s a pro at making women feel this way
, a small voice in
her head reminded her.
“I even started asking the universe to let you be the one to win
me,” he admitted.
Startled into laughter, Maddy knew exactly what he meant.
Tabitha had recently been touting the brilliance of the same self-
help bestseller. She swore it was the reason she’d landed her
latest fiancé, a well-known Chicago hotelier, who was nice, a bit
dull, but richer than an oil baron.
“You don’t strike me as the type who needs any
it comes to winning over a woman, Mr. Wallace.”
“I obviously needed to find out one secret…your identity.”
“Fortunately, like Cinderella, you left a clue behind.”
“I think I had both shoes on my feet when I got home.”
“Your check. With your signature.”
Frowning, she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
“They gave you my check?”
“Just a quick peek. Then a helpful stranger told me the rest
of what I needed to know.”
of the stranger.
Honestly, though, considering she was edgy and excited, her
pulse a little fast, her heart beating a little hard, maybe it
a kindness. Maddy hadn’t dated anyone in a long time. The last
scene with her ex had burned itself on her brain and left her skep-
tical of the sweet promises of
man. Oliver’s final words—
when he’d insisted they could still be a great team with her
money and his family connections, with no messy, intimate
“emotions” attached—had replayed in her mind many times
She was a suitable candidate for the position of Oliver’s wife,
with an acceptable pedigree and lots of cash. A great business
prospect. Nothing more.
“Everybody knows everybody in your circle, huh?”
46 Slow Hands
“It’s the world’s biggest small pond.”
“You’ve no idea.”
“So come swim outside the reef with me. You might not be
surrounded by your colorful, tropical kind, but sometimes us
plain old trout can be entertaining.”
Maddy couldn’t help chuckling again. The man was just cute.
As if he could be plain old
. “You know, lately, I’ve been
sticking to the shallows.”
“Double yawn. Come on, take a chance.”
Uh-uh. The shallows suited her fine. Here she could safely
ignore any thoughts of her personal life. Along with working
insane hours, she’d been dealing with the usual family crises, in-
cluding Tabby’s upcoming wedding. The social functions she
attended were more a matter of courtesy and professionalism
than pleasure and the men she met at them always fell into two
camps—the boring and proper, or the greedy, who saw dollar
signs on her forehead.
The first type could never catch her interest. The second made
her skin crawl. None of them could ever make her consider
swimming out into those romance waters again. She just wasn’t
Yes. Until now. This man had slowed her down, made her
think, made her aware of herself for the first time in ages. For
that, at least, she owed him thanks. Because though she still had
no intention of letting anything happen between her and a paid
companion, she had at least begun to wonder if she should accept
a few more invitations, get out more and perhaps meet someone
get her heart tripping and her palms damp. And
maybe even her panties.
She’d guard her heart, set out for some physical satisfaction
and never let herself be hurt. As long as she went into it with that
in mind, it could be possible for her to have some kind of sex
“No,” she whispered. Not with him. Because, while his career
might actually be a benefit, given the no-strings, pleasure-only
kind of affair she suddenly had in mind, her reaction to him was
already way too personal, too strong and intimate for her to feel
comfortable. He made her laugh, he made her blush, he made
her palms sweat. And she could not be one hundred percent sure
his feelings were genuine and not merely evidence of how good
he was at what he did.
Ergo, he was out of the question as a potential easy, sex-
“No?” he said, obviously hearing her whisper. “You really
mean that?” Before she could say yes, he quickly continued.
“Because even if you didn’t set out to buy a date and you were
only supporting the charity,” he said, sounding as though he
only half believed that, “I did
go into it that way. I agreed to
a date and I’m trying to live up to my end of the bargain here.”
“I made a promise to the organizers of the auction and my
promise is like my handshake. My dad would clobber me if I
didn’t stand by either one of them. So that’s what I am going to
Whether you like it or not
. He didn’t say the words. But she
heard them just the same.
Maddy noted the challenge, realized he was throwing down
a gauntlet, daring her to
live up to her end of the bargain. And
her competitive spirit rose. She might have been raised in a
mansion, but the owner of that mansion had been Jason Turner,
who had his financial hands spread over half the city and his
fingers touching the other half. He kept them there by shrewd-
ness and sheer will. Something else she’d inherited from her dad.
48 Slow Hands
She suspected their fathers would get along well.
“All right then,” she said, meeting his stare, “so will I.”
“You won’t regret it,” he said, his eyes darkening even
further as he stared at her, raking his gaze from her hair to her
cheek, then to her mouth and her throat in a look more appre-
ciative than predatory.
She already regretted it. How had she let herself be dared into
She opened her mouth to lay down a few ground rules for their
“date.” It would be brief, platonic and completely romance-free,
without question. She fully intended to meet him at the ball field
and leave immediately after the last out of the night. And that
would be the end of it.
No touching. No sexy looks. None of those cute jokes that
made the stupid dimples on her face put in an appearance. And
from here on out, her palms were staying dry. So were her private
Before she could say anything, however, they were both
startled by the sudden opening of Maddy’s office door.
“Maddy, I need to talk to you about…oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t
know you had an appointment. Your secretary’s not outside and
your calendar was clear.”
Maddy leaped from her seat so quickly her chair went sliding
backward against the wall. Her father had just entered the room,
carrying a folder and wearing his “We have a problem” look that
usually meant they were skipping lunch.
He quickly forgot his problem though, as he stared curiously
at Jake Wallace. Maybe because nobody had been on her elec-
tronic appointment calendar. Maybe because the dark-haired
man was smiling too intimately to be a client looking for a loan.
Maybe because Maddy was so flustered. Or maybe because the
heated tension in her office was about as thick as the stack of
her father’s prenups and divorce notices.
Which was pretty damn thick.
“Dad!” she said, wondering how her day could have gone
downhill so rapidly. No more words came out of her mouth. Her
brain had just emptied, probably because the whole reason she’d
attended the bachelor auction was to keep her father’s wife out
Jake stood, saving her from having to say anything. But when
he spoke, Maddy wondered whether he’d done her any favors at
“I’m not an appointment,” he said, smiling at her father, com-
fortable and at ease as he rose to extend his hand. “I’m Madeline’s
date, and I’m here to take her to lunch.”
your father likes me.”
Jake didn’t have to hear the annoyed, huffy little sound
Madeline Turner made to know she wasn’t happy about that. He
could still picture the mortification on her face when her father,
the very well-known Jason Turner, had practically pushed her out
the door with her lunch “date” after offering Jake a hearty hand-
shake and a broad smile.
Funny, he’d have thought coming face-to-face with one of the
wealthiest men in Chicago would have been at least slightly in-
timidating. Jason Turner might not be known nationwide, but
there wasn’t a person in Chicago who hadn’t heard of the rich
philanthropist, a man who was as well-known for his charitable
works as for his stormy love life.
Jake hadn’t been intimidated, though. Maybe it was because
he’d seen enough accident scenes, helped enough crime victims,
responded to enough tragedies, that he realized all the money in
the world didn’t mean a damn thing when it came to stopping a
bullet or avoiding flying through the windshield of a car.
Everyone bled the same—red. There was no such thing as
blue blood. Which was, perhaps, why he also felt entirely at ease
50 Slow Hands
in his pursuit of Madeline Turner, who the society pages liked
to call the Ice Queen of the Financial District. He’d found that
out in the two days since the auction. He’d been doing some
Personally, she wasn’t a bit icy. Confident and a little un-
reachable? Sure. But not cold.
Professionally? Well, he really didn’t give a damn what she
was like behind that fancy desk at work. He didn’t want her for
her connections to a major Chicago bank. He wanted her for the
excitement he’d felt in his gut from the moment he’d peered at
her from behind the black drapes at the auction the other night.
And he wanted to know what had been behind her tension and
her determination, which hadn’t been able to disguise her innate
“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said as they reached the
corner of Madison and State, heading for the closest lunch café.
“Despite his business reputation, my father is a hopeless
romantic, who’d love to see me settle down. He’d be happy if an
intoxicated mime in full makeup came to take me to lunch, as
long as he was single and breathing.”
“I hate mimes.”
“I mean, what kind of kid thinks ‘Gee, when I grow up, I
wanna paint my face and annoy people for a living.’”
She raised a droll brow. “One who wants to be a clown?”
“I think I’d feel better if my kid said he wanted to be a lawyer.”
“Perish the thought,” she said with an exaggerated shudder.
“I’ve never seen a drunk one, though. That might be enter-
“You obviously don’t lunch at the Chicago Club with all the
rest of the high-priced defense attorneys.”
“I meant the mime,” he explained, enjoying sparring with her,
liking the smart comebacks and that smile lurking on her mouth.
What he most wanted now was a full frontal attack of those
gorgeous dimples and that light laugh he just knew was hiding
behind the twitching lips and the twinkling eyes.
“Watching them fall and not be able to get up in their invisible
box might be fun.”
It finally worked, he got her to relax. “You’re right.” A tiny
grin appeared, finally widening into that brilliant smile, complete
with a flash of those dimples. God, she had the kind of smile that
could stop traffic. She was absolutely made for it.
Among other things.
Feeling even more confident about his sneaky way of getting
her to have lunch with him, he took her arm as the light changed.
Instinct. Good manners toward females had been hammered into
him from the time he was old enough to understand what the
put the seat down
One good thing—she didn’t flinch. A second one—she didn’t
pull away, either. It was something, at least.
“So your dad’s a real romantic, huh?” The image didn’t quite
fit with the “ruthless mogul” the papers made him out to be.
“Don’t go there.”
“His romantic track record’s not exactly one for the books.
Yet he still wants everything to be roses and fairy tales, true love
all around, as impossible as that may be.”
They crossed the street with the rest of the streaming flow of
humanity. On a sunny summer afternoon,
outside to bask in the sunlight. And many of them did it at Mil-
lennium Park. That was where he intended to take Madeline after
they grabbed a take-out lunch. He sensed she wasn’t the picnick-
ing type, especially in the middle of a workday, but he intended
to try to convince her, anyway.
“Why is it impossible?” he asked as they stepped onto the
52 Slow Hands
“What?” she asked, glancing up at him in confusion, obvi-
ously having forgotten what she’d just said.
That said a lot. Mainly that she didn’t think about love very
often. He tucked the realization away, knowing he’d have to get
to know this woman bit by bit, piece by piece, because that was
all she was going to allow until she let her guard down.
“Why is falling in love impossible?”
She sighed as they continued walking. “
in love isn’t
the problem,” she murmured. “It’s the staying in love part that I
don’t have much faith in.”
“I have two parents, four grandparents, and about fifty aunts,
uncles, cousins and friends who’d say you’re wrong about that.”
She finally turned to really look at him, a hard, skeptical glint
appearing in those big brown eyes. That was when he knew—
the woman had been burned. Badly. The realization made some-
thing twist inside him, deep down, to the nice-guy core who
detested the jerks who hurt women.
“And I have a father, a sister, a couple of former stepmoth-
ers, several cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who say I’m right.”
He gaped. “Not a single successful marriage in the bunch?”
Her gaze shifted, her lashes lowering over suddenly sad eyes.
“My parents were supposedly happy.”
Confused, he waited for her to continue.
“My mother died when I was very young. My father once said
the years he spent with her were the most blissful of his life.”
“So it is possible.”
“They were only married for five years before she got sick.”
“God, you’re a pessimist.”
“And you’re an optimist?”
“Hell, yes. My glass may only hold beer instead of cham-
pagne, but it’s almost always half full.”
Jake had seen too much sadness and tragedy in his work to
let himself feel anything but intensely grateful for all the good
things in his life. His family, the great childhood, his job, his
And now…well, now, maybe Madeline Turner. If only she’d
let him get close enough to find out.
“So, what do you want to grab for lunch?” he asked, still not
telling her he intended to get her to the park so she could unwind,
unbend, maybe let her guard down a little.
He wanted to see the breeze off the lake blowing in her hair.
Wanted to see another genuine smile, maybe even a flash of un-
guarded interest, as he’d seen in her eyes earlier in her office.
Just like the flash that she had obviously seen the other night
when they’d met.
Women hated being objectified, he knew that. And Jake had
never—ever—treated any woman like a sexy body with a head
stuck on it. But pausing to appreciate the soft, mouthwatering
curves on this particular one had been as instinctive to him as
drawing in his next breath of fresh June air.
She’d noticed. He’d noticed her noticing. Even now his
hands tightened and his mouth hungered at the thought of
watching her shimmy out of that glittering blue cocktail dress
she’d had on.
He’d wager she’d been wearing something very black, very
sinful underneath it. The thought of exactly what that
might have looked like against the unbelievably lush curves of her
body had been enough to keep his imagination racing and his libido
roaring throughout the long, sleepless night after she’d left.
He sensed tonight wouldn’t be much better, though she
couldn’t look more different than she had then. Today, dressed
in her businesswoman’s armor—a tailored light blue suit, silky
blouse, skirt short enough to show a stunning pair of legs, but
not so short that she’d send a man into cardiac arrest—she looked
entirely in control. Every hint of the sexy, almost-impulsive
woman who’d cut through all the bullshit games and bid a small
54 Slow Hands
fortune for an evening with him was gone. She had been replaced
by a smooth, impeccably mannered businesswoman.
The completely unflappable professional was still incredibly
hot. And the idea of
smoothing her, tempting her into forgetting
her manners and her reserve and going wild—with
had his pants fitting a little tighter than they’d been this morning.
She was a contradiction…ice maiden and sexy, earthy woman
in midnight-blue. He wanted them both. Badly.
“We really don’t have to continue this facade.”
“This…impromptu lunch. Obviously you were startled into
making the offer when my father showed up.”
He grinned. “The best part was that you were startled into ac-
Her face flushed the tiniest bit, but she waved a hand, as if
shooing a pesky little insect—or that pesky little detail—away.
“Whatever the case, my father’s office is on the twentieth floor.
He’s not watching to make sure we really are going on a date.”
“Don’t consider it a date,” he conceded. “Let’s call it a
lunch meeting. Just a casual get-together so we can figure out
Her back stiffened. “
not a real date, either.”
“What would you call it?”
“A planned meeting.”
“Sounds cold. What about a shared experience between two
“We’re not friends.”
“Maybe we will be by the time we go out.” Today would,
hopefully, be the start of that.
“Let’s call it a…business arrangement.”
“Business arrangement?” He couldn’t help snorting a laugh,
wondering if she had any idea what she was implying. “You
know, in some circles, a woman paying a huge sum of money
for a man to take her out, saying she wanted a
, could be construed as something very naughty.”
She stopped, turning her head to look up at him. Behind
them, an impatient businessman humphed but followed the pe-
destrian traffic as it immediately separated into two streams
and went around them. Her dark eyes flashed almost black,
despite the brightness of the June day. “There’s nothing
naughty about this, Mr. Wallace. I’m not in the market for
Well, he certainly hoped not. Not only because he sure wasn’t
up for playing any reverse
games, but also because
there was no way this woman would ever need to pay a man to
spend time with her.
man would want to be with Maddy, des-
pite the tall, self-protective wall of ice she kept firmly in place
around herself. And not just for her money or her background,
or for the beautiful exterior package.
There was a smiling, laughing, earthy and passionate woman
lurking inside her. He knew it. “Of course not.”
She went on as if she hadn’t heard him. “I went to that auction
because I wanted to give some needy kids a good Christmas.
Having to share an evening with you was entirely incidental.”
Lifting one brow, he had to ask, “Why couldn’t you just mail
Her mouth opened, but quickly snapped closed again. And for
the first time since he’d laid eyes on her from behind that curtain,
Jake realized the woman was completely flustered. Speechless.
gotten the best of her.
But he didn’t revel in it. Instead of tormenting her with it, Jake
merely took her arm, and resumed their walk, glancing occasion-
ally at her face and seeing by the way her lips moved that she
was mentally composing a cutting retort. Even though it was far
too late to make one.
Jake couldn’t keep a tiny smile from his mouth. Damn, he was
56 Slow Hands
going to enjoy watching this woman lose her self-protective
shell, even if he took a few hits in the process.
Maddy Turner was most definitely worth it.
of bubbles in a bathroom awash with can-
YING IN A DEEP TUB
dlelight that night, Maddy tried to empty her mind. She slowly
sipped from a glass of wine and let the water ease away her
cares and worries, hoping one of her greatest pleasures would
distract her from the thoughts running rampant through her
head. She’d been soaking for a half hour, adding hot water
when it became lukewarm, nursing the glass so she wouldn’t
have to step out too early.
Her mind, however, wasn’t cooperating. Instead it kept going
over the lunch she’d shared with Jake today.
It was lunch. Just a planning meeting, as he said. Didn’t
mean a thing and their ball game date on Tuesday would be
exactly the same way.
“Liar,” she murmured, sinking deeper, watching the way the
slick water caressed the curves of her breasts, making her skin
shimmer and gleam in the candlelight.
It had been far more than just a business meeting. First off,
most of her business meetings did not take place on a bench in
the park surrounded by happy Chicagoans. Nor did they usually
entail her actually
anything rather than grabbing a protein
bar on her way to the next appointment.
She’d never have imagined such a thing, but he hadn’t given
her a chance to refuse. He’d led her where he wanted her to go,
as easily as he’d taken her arm to usher her across the street.
58 Slow Hands
Maddy wasn’t used to letting any man take the lead. But
while she’d never admit it out loud, she had
“Almost?” she whispered. “When did you become such a liar?”
Jake could have been a jerk after teasing her into silence
about mailing a check rather than attending the auction. But he
hadn’t been. He’d made her relax. He’d made her smile. Made
all her inhibitions disappear, at least for a little while.
She had no answer. She only knew that all these hours later,
even after returning to the bank for meetings and endless paper-
work, she hadn’t been able to forget the way his hand had felt
on her arm, and the solidness of his body against hers as they’d
sat on that park bench.
That’s not the only place you wanted his hand
No, it wasn’t. Blowing at a bubble on the puckered tip of her
breast, she reached up and lightly brushed it away, acknowledg-
ing, at least here in the privacy of her bathroom, how much she
wanted the hand on her body to be Jake’s. Her fingers were
slender and soft, smooth and easy as they slid down, beneath the
water, gliding across her wet skin. His were big and strong and
would feel deliciously rough.
,” she whispered, closing her eyes as she
touched herself even more intimately.
In her mind, though, the touch was all his. And within
moments, the possibilities playing in her mind had her thrusting
against her own fingers, longing to be filled but taking the only
form of pleasure she could manage at the moment. Maddy
sighed, gasped, stroked the lips of her sex and the hard nub of
flesh at the top of it, wondering how on earth she’d gone for so
long without a man’s hands on her.
“Not just any man’s,” she reminded herself. There was only
one pair of hands she wanted. One mouth. One body. One person
she visualized as she spiraled toward a climax.
The tension built like a carefully tended fire before erupting
in a soft wave of pleasure that had her shaking and gasping for
breath, even as she whispered one word, over and over.
She hadn’t even floated back to earth when she was inter-
rupted by a stark ringing sound. Maddy sat bolt upright, her hand
flying instinctively to the receiver.
She’d thought it incredibly silly to have a phone in the
bathroom when she’d bought this condo last year. Looking back,
however, she knew it was a good thing. She did enjoy her baths.
“How did it go? Have you done him yet?”
Tabby. She should have known. She’d lay money her father
had pronounced it to the world when she’d left for a lunch date
today. Sinking back down in the water, she replied, “It was
Tabby had already pumped her for all the details of the bach-
elor auction, calling her late the night it had taken place. Maddy
had somehow managed to remain noncommittal, pretending it had
gone as planned and she hadn’t been affected by her
“Maddy? Come on, spill. You did have lunch with that dark-
haired, dark-eyed stud from the auction, didn’t you?”
“How do you know what he looks like?”
Her sister made a dismissive sound. “You probably described
him really well on the phone.”
Possible, though Maddy remembered trying to be extremely
nondescriptive and brief, not wanting to ever think about Jake
Wallace again after that night. But she supposed she could have
waxed a little poetic about the guy, under Tabby’s relentless
But something in her sister’s tone—a note of mischief, of
amusement—made her suspect it wasn’t true. “I don’t think I de-
scribed him that well.”
60 Slow Hands
And suddenly she figured it out. Gasping, she sat straight up
in the tub again, nearly dropping the phone into the mountain of
bubbles. “You were there!”
“Don’t be ridiculous…”
“You came to the auction. Despite all your claims about how
you couldn’t be trusted and I had to be the one to do it, you
“Well, I couldn’t very well send you up against a profes-
sional without making sure you were okay.”
Against a professional… Mmm, she could think of worse
places to be than up against that man’s rock-hard body. Espe-
cially after having experienced what just
could make her feel.
“After all, you are my baby sister.”
That was about one layer too thick. “Bullshit. I bet you were
the one who told him how to find me, even after I intentionally
left without giving him my name.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And don’t try to claim you were looking out for me,” Maddy
added. “You were dying of curiosity.”
As usual, when busted, Tabitha didn’t even try to act repen-
tant. “Well, it’s not every day all the rich bitches of this town go
into heat over the same hound dog.”
“He’s not a…” She quickly bit her tongue, not wanting to give
Tabby any more ammunition.
Too late. “Whoa-ho! You’re falling for him!”
“Of course I’m not.”
“But you want him.”
“Of course I do.” Maddy wasn’t one to prevaricate, either.
“So what’s the problem? Take him. You are in such desper-
ate need of getting laid you might as well be wearing a Please
Take Me sign.”
“Charming. Do you kiss your fiancé with that mouth?”
“My future husband is very proper. He hasn’t yet learned of
the miraculous things I can do with my mouth,” Tabby said with
a catlike purr. “But seriously, you know you want to have sex
with that guy.”
“Any woman would,” she admitted.
“Of course they would. He’s gorgeous. It really is a good thing
I talked you into doing it. I wouldn’t have been able to walk out
of the hotel without at least a little taste.”
A little taste. Sounded yummy. Only, she knew it wouldn’t
be nearly enough. That would be like offering a four-year-old a
little taste of his own birthday cake.
“And I really can’t afford one more broken engagement. I’ll
get a reputation.”
“You love your reputation. And so do all the men who want
to be the one to make you settle down.”
Tabby chuckled. “Maybe.” Then she lowered her voice,
sounding serious—tender—for a change. “But I really don’t
want to do anything to risk losing Brad. He…he calms me.
Settles me. And I think he’s exactly what I need.”
That explained a lot. Honestly, Maddy had wondered about
Tabby’s latest choice in husband. Because, though he was ex-
tremely wealthy, Tabby’s soon-to-be-hubby was average looking
and staid compared to the other men she’d been involved with.
“You might be right,” Maddy murmured, smiling at the
thought of her wild-child sibling truly settling down.
The serious, tender sister quickly disappeared. “Maybe you
can bring the stud-muffin to the wedding. Wouldn’t Deborah just
choke on her chateaubriand?”
Shaking her head, Maddy said, “I’m hanging up now.”
“Fine. But remember to call me after your date. You are going,
Hating to admit it, she said, “Tuesday afternoon.”
62 Slow Hands
“And hopefully it will last into Wednesday morning. Call me
just as soon as he leaves. I want to know—”
But before Tabby could finish, Maddy hung up the phone.
Shaking her head, she sank back down into the cooling tub of
water, now wanting the rapidly disappearing bubbles to wash
away her irritation.
Her first time in ages doing something to take the edge off and
she got busted. Absolutely the only thing that could have been
worse would have been if Jake had been the one who’d called.
Then she thought about it. Jake calling while she’d been
touching herself. Whispers on the phone. Shared fantasies. Secret
And she reached for the handle, sending another stream of
hot, steamy water into the tub.
“gentleman” who had been pounded into
HE INTRINSIC INNER
Jake’s personality since he was a kid rebelled at meeting Maddy
for their date, rather than going to her place and knocking on her
door. There had been a rule growing up in his house—dates, es-
pecially first dates, came inside and got the full family third
degree, or nobody went anywhere. More than one of his sisters’
boyfriends had been introduced to their father while he was
wearing his camouflage hunting gear and cleaning his shotgun.
coming to the door was worse, as one of his younger
sister Jenny’s boyfriends could attest. The first time he’d tried
beeping from his car, their father had gone outside, reached in
through the passenger side window and attached The Club to the
pimple-faced teenager’s steering wheel.
He wondered what his old man would make of Maddy Turner.
He didn’t wonder for long. Hell, nobody in his family was judg-
mental. They’d see past the name and the family connection to
the woman beneath.
Just as Jake had.
They judged a person by his or her character, not their bank
balance. And a good character meant being courteous…bringing
flowers for a date, knocking, holding doors.
None of which he was allowed to do today.
But when he saw Maddy leaning against a sporty little car in
the commuter parking lot where they’d arranged to meet, he
forgot about that concern. A smile slowly widened his lips as he
studied her, head to toe, acknowledging that the woman looked
even better in cute-knee length pants, a hot pink tank top and a
ball cap with her ponytail hanging out the hole in the back than
she had in her silky blue cocktail dress.
“See?” she said as he parked beside her and got out of his
pickup. “I do own something other than a suit or an evening
Right. He’d wager the sleeveless top came from one of those
high-end shops on the Magnificent Mile and had probably cost
as much as Jake spent on clothes in a month. It was too decep-
tively simple to actually be cheap.
Simple…but way sexy.
“You look very cute.”
Wrong thing to say. Her lips twisted the tiniest bit.
“I mean, very pretty.”
“I was going for girl-next-door.”
“Sure. You look just like the girl who lives next door to Bill
“Are you going to harass me about being rich all day?”
“Well, it’s better than being harassed for being poor, isn’t it?”
“As if you’d know anything about that?”
They hadn’t really talked much about his family, beyond him
admitting it was big, so he didn’t take offense. “Believe me, I
grew up strictly blue collar, middle class. My family never lived
in the lap of luxury. More like the lap of just-enough-to-get-by.”
64 Slow Hands
She stared at him, her lips slightly pursed, as if assessing the
truth of his words. “Which probably gave you the drive to
succeed, to be financially stable on your own, no matter what
you had to do to make it happen.”
He chuckled. If he’d wanted money, he would have gone on
to medical school, as he’d considered doing after college. Para-
medics weren’t exactly rolling in the green stuff. “My job’s not
what you’d consider—”
She put her hand up, palm out. “I don’t want to hear the gory
details about your
. We’re keeping this entirely impersonal,
Touchy, touchy. But he let her get away with it. Aside from
the fact that some people truly were squeamish about medical
be gory—Maddy had put that wall back up
in place around herself. He had to slowly ease his way over it as
he had the other day when they’d gone for their picnic lunch.
With small, easy steps.
Seeing a tiny price tag still hanging from the side of her
brightly colored ball cap, he reached up and tugged it free. “Went
She snagged the corner of that full bottom lip between her
teeth. “It’s my first professional game,” she whispered. “I wanted
to look the part.”
“Your first ball game? Are you kidding?” Suddenly realizing
something, he murmured, “I’m sorry, if you’re really not inter-
ested, we could do something else.”
“No way! I love baseball. But I never got the chance to go
see a game in person.”
“I’m surprised your bank doesn’t have a box.”
“We do. But that’s so…removed from everything. I can just
as easily sit in my living room and watch it on TV. If I’m going
in person, I want to sit in the stands, and eat peanuts and drink
beer, glare at drunks spitting in the next row and yell at the ump
when he makes a bad call.”
Yep. Pretty typical ball game, in Jake’s experience. “Well,
then, I think you bid on the right man.”
She shifted her eyes away, mumbling something.
“Nothing.” Then she glanced at his pickup. “Do you want to
take my car? You can drive.”
“Sorry. I don’t drive chick cars.” He headed for the passen-
ger seat instead. “But I guess it won’t kill my reputation to be
seen riding in one.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll warn you to keep your head down
when we’re coming up to any crowded intersection. We wouldn’t
want to damage your…reputation.”
She got in beside him, and in the close confines of the tiny
car, he suddenly noticed the sweet, light fragrance of her skin.
The fruity scent of her hair. And the earthier scent of pure,
He was, quite simply, unable to resist her any longer.
She had reached for the ignition, but paused, turning to give
him her full attention. “Yes?”
“I know this isn’t exactly protocol for a first date. But I
can’t help it.”
“Help this,” he whispered. And without another word, he
leaned over, caressed her smooth cheek with the tips of his
fingers, and covered her beautiful, soft lips with his own.
She tensed for the slightest moment, then, with a little sigh
of acceptance, relaxed. The tension left her jaw, the stiffness
departed from her mouth, and she parted her lips slightly, to share
a warm breath with him.
Jake inhaled it, tasting her, letting himself be filled by her
66 Slow Hands
essence. The kiss remained light, sweet, innocent. They were
joined only by the softest brush of lips and scrape of his fingers
on her cheek. And he knew that despite how desperately he
wanted to sink his tongue into her for a fuller taste, he couldn’t
deny himself the sweetness of this simple, innocent pleasure.
Finally, when he no longer trusted himself to keep it simple
and innocent, he slowly pulled away. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry you kissed me?” she whispered, blinking a few times
as if she’d just awakened from a dream.
He shook his head. “Sorry I had to stop.”
He shifted in his seat, trying to stretch his long legs in the
cramped front seat, wondering if she’d noticed how much
the fit was now that he’d let himself give in to the need to taste
her. Especially the fit of his jeans.
to be a friendly kiss hello.”
“Aren’t those usually on the cheek?”
“I think they’re usually in the air an inch from the cheek in
your social set, aren’t they?”
She nodded, her choppy, audible breaths finally slowing as
she, too, returned to normal. “Yes.” Then, not meeting his eye,
she added, “But I think I like your way better.”
was everything Maddy had dreamed it would
be. Her twenty-five thousand dollars had bought her nosebleed
seats at a game the Cubs were about to lose. But it didn’t matter.
She was so excited to be in the crowd, experiencing live Major
League Baseball the way she’d always imagined it would be, that
she simply didn’t care.
Jake treated her like the girl-next-door she’d proclaimed
herself to be. And he—despite his supposedly international up-
bringing, which she’d seen absolutely
evidence of since
they’d met—was playing the role of all-American boy as if he’d
invented it. It was hard to believe he was anything other than a
normal, hardworking guy from any small town, rather than a paid
escort competed over by rich women.
Maybe Tabby made a mistake
No. It wasn’t a mistake. She’d told Maddy the exact number,
and their stepmother and her cronies had bid like wild women
on Bachelor Number Nineteen. Plus, from what Maddy remem-
bered about his bio in the program, it had said he liked to travel
the world in search of beautiful women and sexy adventures.
Not quite like the guy cheering on the home team beside her.
So he obviously wore a different persona depending on the situa-
tion. She honestly didn’t know, however, which was the real man.
“Want some peanuts?” he asked, already flagging down a
“I think that was on my list of requirements for today,” she
Jake grinned, put an icy-cold beer in her hand, and glared
down anyone around them who got too close with their wildly
gesticulating arms and elbows.
He also kept up a running commentary on the game, explain-
ing all the plays. She let him. It seemed such an innate man
thing—the need to explain sports to the little woman—that she
didn’t have the heart to tell him she’d been a star of her college
fast-pitch softball team. She’d even thought about going further
with it and shooting for the national team.
Maddy might be soft from several years working in the
bank, but she’d once been pretty damned athletic. She’d even
considered breast reduction surgery. Sport bras did not do much
to help a woman with a D cup. Her teammates used to joke that
one day, if she bounced too much as she ran, she’d knock
Maddy had given up her Olympic hopes when her father had
gone through his last divorce, from his third wife. Maddy had
68 Slow Hands
been so worried about him, she’d decided to go home after
graduation, rather than pursue that dream.
Which meant her breasts were safe. And prominent enough
to draw the gawking attention of a few guys around her. She’d
heard the comments from a creep sitting behind her for the last
half hour, but was quite adept at ignoring them. She’d had lots
Jake, however, had not.
After the slurred voice behind her got loud enough for Jake
to hear it over the crowd, he leaped to his feet, turned around and
thrust an angry finger into the drunk man’s face. “Didn’t your
mother ever teach you to keep your eyes to your own damn self
and your fat mouth closed?” he snapped.
The foulmouthed fan, a heavyset, sweaty guy with red cheeks
and beer-scented breath, rose, too, swaying on his feet. “Hey
man, she’s hot.”
“She’s also not deaf,” Maddy murmured, turning in her seat
to watch. She’d be damned if she would rise to her feet to prevent
the jackass from leering down her shirt some more. It wasn’t low-
cut. And she didn’t have a single thing to be ashamed of.
“You’re hot,” the guy repeated as he gaped from above.
“So you said.”
Despite the crudeness she’d heard from the stranger before
Jake had caught on and launched at him, she remained more
annoyed than offended. Leave it to a breast-obsessed little boy
wearing men’s triple-X sized clothing to ruin her lovely afternoon.
It wasn’t as though she’d never experienced it before. A
woman with her build had to either get used to men treating her
like a walking pair of breasts or spend her entire life in a constant
state of annoyance.
He gave Maddy a bleary smile, still oblivious to the depth of
Jake’s anger. “Bet if you flash ’em, the camera’ll focus in on ya
and put ya up on the big screen.”
“Oh, and I live for just such a moment.”
“You must not like your teeth very much, buddy,” Jake
snapped. “Keep talking and you’re going to be saying goodbye
to quite a few of them.”
Maddy had become adept at retaliating against offensive men,
even if, quite often, her put-downs went right over their imbe-
cilic heads. “Please, Jake, let it go,” she added. “I’m quite sure
that in the world of this gentleman’s favorite show,
, he’s behaving with absolutely perfect gentility.”
my favorite show!”
Uh-huh. Right over his poor wee imbecilic head.
She almost laughed—until she realized Jake was not merely
angry, he was downright furious. Rage flashed behind his eyes
and his tightly clenched body seemed ready to lash out. He
appeared capable of real violence, all because some stupid drunk
had opened his mouth.
The stupid drunk was apparently too far gone to realize he
was about two inches from death-by-enraged-gigolo. “They’re
real, ain’t they?”
“Sit down,” Maddy snapped, finally starting to lose her
patience. She grabbed Jake’s arm, stopping him midgrowl as he
began to climb over the back of his seat. “You, too. Before you
get us all thrown out.”
She kept her hand on his arm, her nails digging in tight, de-
termined to handle this situation herself. Without violence.
Though, she had to admit, a teeny, tiny part of her liked how pro-
tective Jake was, even if she usually had absolutely no use for
such blatant displays of testosterone.
“You. Sit. I mean it,” she ordered the intoxicated stranger,
pointing to his seat.
The man sat.
“Now, I’m quite certain that somewhere in your beer-sodden
70 Slow Hands
brain, you believe I’m flattered by your eloquently worded…
.” Maddy didn’t have to raise her voice to make sure
she was being heard. All around them, conversations had quieted,
and she didn’t think a single spectator in their section was
watching what was going on down in the field. The showdown
here was apparently much more interesting.
“However, while I’m sure you are a man who possesses many
admirable porcine qualities, as you can see, I
here in the
company of another gentleman. And neither of us appreciates
your attentions. Will you please, therefore, refrain from com-
menting further and allow us to get back to the game?”
The man’s mouth fell open. “What’d she say?”
The embarrassed-looking man next to him—his friend who’d
made no effort to provide backup to the drunk—muttered, “I’m
pretty sure she told you to shut the hell up.”
“Yeah,” someone else said. “So please do us all a favor and
“Oh,” the drunk said, finally glancing around and realizing
what a spectacle he’d made of himself. If Maddy had railed at
him, he probably wouldn’t have backed down. As it was, though,
her calm, courteous reply made him look an absolute fool. And
he wasn’t too drunk to realize it.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“Thank you.” Maddy smiled and nodded politely, then turned
back around to face the field, putting a definite end to the inter-
action. It was the top of the ninth and things were getting inter-
esting. She wasn’t going to waste another moment of the
beautiful day on a blithering fool.
She didn’t even glance over as Jake slowly dropped back into
his seat beside her. “I can take care of myself, you know,” she
murmured, watching the field.
“Yeah, I noticed.” Jake leaned closer, near enough for her to
feel the warmth of his breath on her hair. Not to mention the way
his shoulders shook with laughter. His anger had disappeared as
quickly as steam off a bathroom mirror. “Correct me if I’m
wrong…did you just call him a pig?”
“I’m certain I don’t know what you mean.”
“Uh-huh. Sure you don’t.”
Still chuckling, Jake casually dropped his big, solid hand
onto her thigh, above her knee, and squeezed it. Not exactly the
most erogenous zone on her body, but still, every molecule inside
her leaped to attention. Her blood roared in her veins at the feel
of that strong, warm touch, and she was completely incapable
of stopping the visual images that flooded her mind.
Maddy’s skin tingled beneath the soft fabric of her capris at
the thought of him sliding that touch higher, caressing her all the
way up her thigh as he kissed her again, just as he had in the car.
Slow, sweet…then deeper, harder. Wetter and faster.
She wanted him to kiss her in every way a man could kiss a
woman. And in every place on her body.
God, she was a wreck. Yet he seemed completely unaffected,
still smiling that easygoing smile. “Remind me never to get on
your bad side. I’m slightly more literate than our friend back
there. And I do believe that tongue of yours could draw blood if
the person actually understood what the hell you were saying.”
Maddy tried to force her heart to slow its rapid pace, striving
for the same nonchalance Jake obviously felt about his casually
possessive touch on her leg.
She didn’t succeed. Her pulse still raced, her breaths grew fast
and uneven. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from the strong,
deeply tanned fingers starkly outlined against her clothing.
Then, thank heaven, she was saved. Because with the bases
loaded, the next player at bat hit one out of the park. The entire
stadium roared, rising to its feet as if one huge, sinuous being,
Maddy and Jake among them.
72 Slow Hands
Whoever that player was, she could kiss him, she really could.
Because somehow, during the euphoric celebrations of the home
team’s victory, she managed to calm down and put all her pro-
tective gear firmly back in place.
, she reminded herself. Their date was almost
done, then she could forget about this day, forget about him.
Seeing the way he’d been completely unaffected by a simple
touch that had left her breathless had reminded her of just who
she was dealing with her. This man dealt in intimate touches and
was completely unaffected by them.
She, however, was not, and would never be. Which meant she
needed to put an end to this ridiculous date. And get back to her
regularly scheduled life.
and pitted oak table at a popular downtown
ITTING AT A GOUGED
pub that evening, Jake watched carefully for the first sign that
Maddy wasn’t enjoying herself. So far, he’d seen absolutely
nothing. Not even her run-in with the obnoxious drunk at the
stadium had affected her.
He still wanted to laugh when he thought about it. He’d seen
women erupt on rude men, had witnessed his baby sister throw
a glass vase at her boyfriend’s head. But he’d never seen one
completely emasculate a guy with her mouth…without the idiot
ever even realizing it.
“I can’t believe I’m eating like this.”
They’d been munching on chicken wings and a mountain of
nachos. And to his surprise, Maddy had opted for beer, sharing
a half pitcher with him, instead of some sweet, girlie drink. She
seemed relaxed. If not outright laughing, she at least smiled
more than once.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. I don’t think they even serve
salads here, unless they’re topped with deep-fried chicken and
a mountain of cheese.”
One fine, delicate brow arched and she stared at him with
quiet reproach, though a hint of a smile lurked on her beautiful
mouth. “What are you suggesting, Jake? That I should only be
74 Slow Hands
He backpedaled, holding up a quick, defensive hand. Damn,
how could guys avoid these basic traps women always set out
for them? “No way.” Grinning, he added, “Just seems like the
only things my sisters ever ordered. God forbid one of them
should ever have taken a bite out of a hamburger, especially if
one of their boyfriends was around.”
“It’s a female thing.” She sighed heavily, as if accepting some-
thing that was inevitable. “Not just the instinct to watch what we
eat, so we can look like what all the media images
should look like. There’s also a need to eat lightly in front of men,
as if we need to assure them we’re on top of things and will never
“When secretly you’re all dying for wings and nachos?”
She licked her lips, then smacked them together before
reaching for another. “Yes. Any of your sisters married?”
“The oldest, with three kids—twin boys and a girl. And Blair,
who’s a year older than me, is engaged.”
“Uh-huh. Watch her at the wedding reception. She’s going to
bite into the first piece of cake she’s had since she decided he
, and will look like she’s already had her first orgasm
of the night.”
Knowing his big sister, Maddy was probably right. Then the
orgasm part of her statement kicked in and he coughed into his fist.
She didn’t even seem to notice. “Which is why most new
wives gain a few pounds in the first year of marriage, not includ-
ing the weight of the rock on their hand.”
“So should I be flattered that you’re on your fourth wing? You
don’t need to worry about impressing me?” He wondered what
she’d say if she knew he was more impressed by her adorable
honesty and the way she licked the tips of her fingers after each
“Exactly. Because this is not a legitimate date.”
“What if it was?”
She snorted an inelegant laugh that sounded completely
unlike her, but incredibly cute. “Then I would have asked for a
bread stick and a glass of water.”
this one. “With lemon!”
“Of course. Natural diuretic.” She wagged her eyebrows, a
very un-Maddylike move. “You’re good.”
“Hello, three sisters?”
Goodness, you do get a lot of torment.”
She had no idea. The older two used to dress him up as a baby
doll and play with him when they were kids. Usually choosing
to dress him as a girl. Not that he was about to tell
“What if I wanted it to be?” he asked.
“Wanted it to be what?”
Knowing he was pushing it, but realizing he had an opening
provided by the beer or two, which had helped her loosen up, he
plunged forward. “A real date.”
She shook her head, dipping the appetizer into a tiny dish of
blue cheese dressing. “Not an option.”
Wow, talk about shooting a guy down without a moment’s
hesitation. But Jake didn’t worry…the night was young. He had
a few hours to change her mind.
Besides, he knew where she worked. She’d soon find out
that he didn’t give up on something he wanted quite that easily.
And he most definitely wanted her. More with every minute
He risked a quick, appreciative look across the table at her
curvy figure, so incredibly sexy in her hot pink top. “By the way,
in my opinion you don’t have a
to worry about.”
“Ha. I have huge breasts, short legs, what my father likes to
call my late mother’s ‘childbearing hips’ and a big backside.”
As if any man would complain about a single one of those
76 Slow Hands
things? Was she for real? “Honey from where I’m sitting, you
are just about perfect.”
“From where you’re sitting, you can’t
the extra fifteen
pounds that couldn’t be removed from my body by a plastic surgeon
using an industrial Shop-Vac instead of a liposuction machine.”
He barked a quick laugh. “You’re not going to get an agree-
ment from any man alive on that score, Madeline Turner. You
are shaped exactly the way a woman should be shaped.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, disbelief ringing clearly in her voice.
“Tell that to the Chicago Club set who have replica Paris fashion
models on their arms.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said firmly, not allowing her to argue it.
Thinking about what she’d said, he added, “And if you let some
quack touch you I’ll have to hunt him down and put a hurt on him.”
“Are you always so aggressive?”
“Are you always so hard on yourself?”
That appeared to shock her. Maddy’s mouth dropped open, as
if he’d accused her of having an extra limb. “Hard on myself?
I’ve got a well-known reputation as a self-confident ice queen.”
“Maybe in the financial world.” He reached across the table
and smoothed back a long, silky strand of hair that had escaped
her ponytail, touching her cheek lightly in the process. “Not in
the real one.”
Maddy froze for a moment, allowing the brief caress. Then,
as he could have predicted, she carefully slid away from it, as if
realizing she’d been getting far too comfortable around him.
Now she was putting that distance back—that wall.
He didn’t take it personally. Especially because he had
realized something—the separation wasn’t just between her and
him, but between her and
As if she constantly had to
keep a shield in place to prevent anyone from getting too close.
Or from getting too obnoxious, like the guy at the ballpark,
whom she had so easily put in his place.
He knew from experience that the absolute worst thing to do
with a woman who already had her guard up was to try to
stampede through it. Which was why he’d downplayed that casual
touch at the stadium. Jeez, he’d meant to offer her a way-to-go
squeeze but had ended up completely dumbstruck by the way the
simple brush of his hand against her leg had made him feel.
Awed. Hot. Out of his mind hungry.
And he’d had to pretend he’d felt absolutely
. Or risk
adding to the armor he’d finally begun to slowly chip away.
“I have plenty of self-confidence. Just because I don’t appear
on the social pages with a different man every week doesn’t
mean I don’t know I’m moderately attractive.”
Attractive didn’t even begin to describe her.
“I don’t have the time or the energy for any of that romantic
“So who was he?” he asked, not even looking into her eyes
as he reached for his beer.
“Who was who?”
“The guy who gave you such a negative outlook on love.”
He wondered for a moment if she would take offense, but her
soft laughter told him she hadn’t. “Uh, remember who you’re
talking to? Jason Turner’s daughter sitting over here?”
Jake had brought his mug to his mouth but hadn’t yet sipped.
He slowly lowered it. “Your father is the one who convinced you
you’re better off being alone?”
“For the most part.” Her eyes shifted, she wasn’t telling the
whole story, but at least she was opening up a little.
He wasn’t willing to risk her shutting down by pushing into
areas she didn’t want to discuss. Still, she’d brought it up—
again. She’d mentioned her father’s romantic issues during their
walk. “Just because he’s had some bad luck?”
“I’ve seen my father fall in and out of love so many times
the word has simply lost its meaning. I’ve come to realize he’s
78 Slow Hands
in love with being in love.” Her mouth twisted. “Then there’s
Tabby, my sister.”
The name hinted at what she was probably like. “Older or
“Older. Divorced once, on her second engagement since. She
hasn’t quite nailed down that true love thing, either, though not
for lack of trying. A lot.”
“And what about Madeline?”
“Not even a chance you’re wrong about that, huh?”
She shook her head. “Nope. Not worth it.”
He pointed to her glass. “It’s more than half-full.”
She pointed to his. “Yours is almost empty.”
“Easily remedied.” Reaching for the half pitcher, he topped
up his mug. “See? It’s all in your perspective.”
Maddy frowned, though he’d swear he saw a hint of un-
guarded humor in her eyes. It was quickly gone and her manner
returned to aloof, unaffected, unmoved. “Perspective doesn’t
change fact. And I really don’t know why we’re even talking
about this. We’re here, together, because of a charity obligation,
not out of any real interest or—” her voice faltered for the first
“Speak for yourself.”
Her pulse fluttered visibly in her throat.
attracted to you.” He knew he risked scaring
her off again, but could be nothing but honest. There was no way
he could allow her to go on believing he was only here because she’d
bid on him at some charity event. “In case that kiss earlier didn’t
clue you in, let me give it to you straight. I have wanted you since
I spotted you from behind the curtains the other night at the auction.”
For the second time since he’d known her, Jake had managed
to shock Maddy speechless. She stared at him, blinking a few
times, her mouth open but no sounds coming out.
Why the hell she should be surprised, he had no idea. She had
to have seen the lust in his eyes the night they met, before he’d
realized she wouldn’t appreciate any kind of obvious come-ons
and gotten himself under control. And the woman was sexy
enough to make a ninety-year-old beg his doctor for a year’s
supply of Viagra.
Yet she seemed entirely oblivious to it.
Color washed through her beautiful cheeks. Maddy’s lips
parted as she breathed across them. Even from across the table,
he could see the way her chest moved with each deep inhalation.
His body reacted. The lazy hunger that had been flowing
through his veins focused in tighter, right in his crotch. “You
can’t tell me you didn’t realize it.”
She swallowed, shaking her head. “I did. But I just assumed
you were being…that you were used to making women feel like
you wanted them, because, you know, I’d bid so much.” Regain-
ing some confidence, she leaned over and accused him with one
hard stare. “You haven’t looked at me
way all day today.”
“Did you not notice that I almost tore a guy’s head off because
looked at you
“That’s different. He was drunk and stupid and…”
“I’m not a pig. I’m a gentleman.” Tension snapping between
them, he leaned closer, keeping his voice low and intimate.
Raking a hot glance over her, he admitted, “And a gentleman
doesn’t come right out on a first date and tell a woman he wants
to smother her beautiful nipples in sugar and then suck every bit
of sweetness right out of her until she’s begging to be taken.”
She gasped, but he was too far gone. Both his mouth…and
his body, which was now rock-hard beneath the table.
“And it wouldn’t have been terribly polite of me to tell you
I’ve been wondering all day what color panties you have on.
80 Slow Hands
Whether it’s a thong, whether the curves of your ass are really
as round and sweet as I think they are.”
“Or that if I fell into your incredible breasts and smothered
to death, I’d die with a smile on my face.”
“Or that when I touched your leg this afternoon, all I could
think of was how slim your thighs are. How easily my hands
would wrap around them. How amazing it would be to lift them
over my shoulders, getting the best possible angle so I could
plunge into you,
and fill you so completely you feel like
you’re gonna break in half.”
“Holy shit,” someone said.
It wasn’t her.
Sanity returned as he realized their waitress stood beside the
table, wide-eyed, pink-cheeked. And all ears. “Wow, hot stuff,
if she says no, you can have my number!”
The young woman appeared entirely serious. Which didn’t
help things, judging by the way the woman sitting across from
him narrowed her eyes and clenched her arms tightly around her
chest. Small wonder…he’d verbally molested her in front of
witnesses. Some gentleman.
“We’re finished,” she snapped, almost launching herself to
her feet. She threw a fistful of cash down on the table, ignoring
the waitress, who still watched them, and not sparing Jake
She didn’t even wait for him, or look to see if he was follow-
ing. Instead, without another word, she wove her way through
the crowd toward the door, not looking left or right, her dark
ponytail bouncing against her stiff shoulders with every step.
Oh, God, had he ever screwed this up.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled to the waitress.
Jake closed his eyes and shook his head, about as embarrassed
as he’d ever been in his life. Heaven help him if his sisters—or
worse, his father—ever heard about this. Talk about not treating
a lady right. He’d blown it, starting with the sex talk that had been
overheard, and ending with her throwing down a small fortune
to pay for dinner, when he would
have let her pick up the
Wanting to crawl out of the place, he settled for a fast walk.
He hit the front door with both palms and strode outside, half
expecting to see Maddy’s taillights as she zipped her tiny
sports car out of the parking lot, dumping his butt right here
at the bar.
But her car remained on the far side of the lot, where she’d
parked it. He hadn’t gotten more than a half-dozen steps toward
it in the warm evening air when he was grabbed. Two hands
bunched in the front of his T-shirt and pushed him. Jake stumbled
over his own feet until he was backed against the dark, shadowy
side of the old brick building.
“Shut up.” Her eyes sparked and her breathing was choppy
as she glared up at him. She looked ready to hit him.
Instead, she did something far more unexpected. She threw
her arms around his neck, pressed that hot body against his, and
caught his mouth in a deep, hard kiss.
She wasn’t angry. The ice princess was on fire.
She kissed the taste out of his mouth, thrusting her tongue
against his wildly as she tangled her fingers in the hair at the nape
of his neck. Jake instinctively dropped his hands, reaching for
the round curves of the ass he’d been admiring since they met.
Cupping those curves, he savored the softness, squeezing her
lightly. He was going to love holding her cheeks tightly when
she was naked and on top of him. Plunging down onto him, over
and over until he lost his mind and exploded inside her.
82 Slow Hands
Tugging her up for a nicer fit, he rocked into her, letting her
feel his throbbing erection, getting off at the pleasure of sex
against sex, despite their clothes.
She whimpered, ground back, tilted her hips against him to
bring her heat directly against the seam straining to hold back
his cock. Groaning, running her hands frantically over his shoul-
ders and chest now, she continued to play wildly in his mouth.
Her soft lips molded to every millimeter of his, her tongue
ravaged his as if she was hungry enough to devour him whole.
Finally, she drew away, gasping for breath, but not stopping.
Oh, no, she merely moved her mouth to his neck, tasting the
sweat he knew had gathered there, kissing her way frantically
to the hollow of his throat, even biting lightly.
“I want you so much.”
“Did you really mean those things you said inside?”
He spun her around, backing her against the building now,
taking control. “Hell,
It was crazy—they were outside, in a public place, it wasn’t
even ten o’clock and anyone could walk out of the bar at any
minute. But he didn’t care. If he didn’t get more of her, he’d die.
Simply blow up and die.
“This really is…personal? Just about attraction, nothing
else?” she asked, watching him intently, as if still needing to be
“Maddy, I don’t give a damn where we met, who you are, or
that you bid on me for some charity. I have wanted you since the
moment I set eyes on you.”
She nodded slowly, letting her eyes drift closed, silently
giving her assent.
“Don’t stop me,” he whispered hoarsely as he tugged her
ponytail holder off and ran his fingers through that thick, dark
hair, spreading it across her shoulders. He tasted her soft earlobe,
moving slowly down the long line of her delicate neck, nibbling
lightly, savoring the unique flavors of skin and woman.
“Stopping you isn’t even a consideration.”
Soon he was breathing down the front of her shirt, his lips
scraping the vulnerable skin just above the seam. Unable to re-
sist, he nudged the fabric down enough to gain access, groaning
when he saw a hint of her breasts rising above the edge of a hot
to go further. Running the tip of his tongue across
that deep line of cleavage, he grabbed her hips when she
started to sag.
“More.” He didn’t ask, didn’t think, didn’t hesitate. He merely
reached for the bottom of her shirt and began to tug it up. He
was dying to touch her, hold her, suck her.
She whimpered when he slid his hand inside the bra, cupping
her, tugging the incredibly soft, warm mound free of its contain-
ment. Then he could only look at her, wondering if he’d ever seen
a more beautiful woman—with her head thrown back, eyes wild,
hair a tangled brown mass. Her lips were wet, her mouth open,
and her full, gorgeous breast was topped by a puckered pink
nipple that begged to be tasted.
“No sugar handy,” he mumbled, “but I know you’re sweet
Then he confirmed it, covering the taut tip with his mouth and
sucking, quick, hard, not sure which of them was more shocked
by the pleasure of it.
God knows how far he might have taken it…they were both that
far gone. But a car suddenly turned into the parking lot, washing
the outside entrance with light. It spilled to within a foot of where
they stood as the vehicle turned into a corner parking spot.
84 Slow Hands
“Help me,” she snapped, desperately trying to yank her bra
back in place.
He did, pushing her hands out of the way and, with regret,
covering those incredible curves. Edging around, he blocked
the view of her body with his own. If anybody did spy them, all
they’d see was a couple kissing in the shadows.
A trio of laughing young women passed within a few feet of
them, exchanging loud, knowing whispers. Once they were gone,
he stared down at a still wide-eyed Maddy and offered her a slow,
knowing smile. “You ready to get out of here?”
She nibbled on her bottom lip for a split second, nearly giving
him a heart attack as he feared she was getting cold feet.
He should have known better. Because, with pure, sexual de-
termination on her face, she grabbed his hand and dragged him
to her car. “You drive,” she snapped. “I know you don’t like chick
cars, but my legs are shaking too much.”
She tossed him the keys, which he caught in midair. Opening
the passenger side door for her, he helped her in, bending low
to ask, “Where are we going?”
She muttered an uptown address.
“I don’t think that’s where we left my truck.” He didn’t know
why he got such a kick out of teasing her, especially because,
honestly, if she walked away from him now, he’d have to go
douse himself in liquid hydrogen to cool off.
“It’s my place. It’s close. I have an
bed and an in-
He smiled slowly. “I’m catching the vision.”
“My bathtub could fit three people.”
“Sorry, Ms. Turner, not into anything kinky.” When her eyes
widened, he took pity and grinned. “I’m sure we can make full
use of it, just the two of us.”
“Good.” She ran the tip of one finger across his bottom lip.
“Now get in and
having regrets, or at least second thoughts. But
HE SHOULD BE
as they drove into the night—Jake’s foot riding a little heavier on
the gas pedal than hers usually did—she could only anticipate.
He wanted her. Just
her. Those dark eyes hadn’t been
appraising her worth; he hadn’t been using any tried-and-true lines
of seduction that had worked on the many women in his past.
Hadn’t for one second made her feel that she was nothing but a
client to him. But he
made her feel absolutely dizzy with desire.
Her reservations had begun to dissipate when he’d thrown that
line about dipping her nipples in sugar. By the time he’d gotten to
the breaking her in half part, she’d been practically stuck to her
Unable to wait, she reached over and dropped her hand onto
“Uh-uh,” he growled.
She ignored him, sliding her hand higher. But before she
could capture the bulging prize she desperately wanted to trace
with her fingertips, he dropped his hand over hers and squeezed.
“You don’t want me to touch you?” she whispered, knowing
the words were untrue. Despite the shadowy interior of the car, she
just how much he wanted her touch. And, judging by the
way he’d felt when pressed against her, he had a lot to be touched.
She shivered in her seat.
“Hell, yes, I want you to touch me.”
She twisted more, her other hand reaching for his hip. He
couldn’t stop her…couldn’t drive no-handed.
at the risk of both of us getting killed.” He glanced
over, serious, almost pleading with her to back off. “Please,
babe, we’ll be there soon, I promise. I’ve seen way too many
street wrecks to even consider doing something so unsafe,
despite how much I’m dying to feel your hands on me.”
86 Slow Hands
Babe. No one had ever called her that. She suspected she
should be insulted by it, as a modern, independent woman. But
she wasn’t. Especially not when he’d also admitted his blatant
need in that thick, hungry tone.
“I want to spend the night inside your tight little body, not a
hospital emergency room.”
“Wow,” she muttered, collapsing into her seat. Blunt he may
be, but the man
knew how to use words to their best
Voiceless, she merely nodded.
One of her hands remained on his leg, covered by his. Jake
slowly lifted it to his lips. Pressing a soft kiss on her fingers, he
said, “I’ll make it up to you. I plan to make you feel incredible
all night long.”
All night long
. Oh, goodness. His tone had been sultry and full
of promise. Her whole body was already on edge, thrumming and
alive from that crazy-hot encounter outside the pub. Now, with his
sweet whisper washing over her, she went almost gooey with
But not so gooey that she didn’t realize she had one remain-
ing coherent brain cell, which hissed a final word of caution in
, he’d said. He wouldn’t do something unsafe.
God, she hadn’t even thought about the safe sex aspect of this
crazy, impulsive decision. She, who thought her way around every
problem at least a dozen times before committing to a response,
had skipped right past the inherent dangers of his profession. She’d
agreed to let a man who had sex for money pleasure her all night
long, without a thought of her own physical well-being until now.
How did one handle this type of situation? It wasn’t as if she’d
ever encountered it, or heard of a guidebook describing how
someone made sure a hired lover wasn’t carrying around any
nasty reminders of previous
Then she thought about it. Oliver had cheated on her, not only
with the snow ho, but with many others. Or so she’d heard after
they broke up.
She knew guys who’d had sex with dozens of girls in high
school and college. Sometimes they even proudly offered differ-
ent colored bracelets to the girls they scored with, so the easier
ones could advertise just how far they were willing to go—and
thereby get more dates. More meaningless sexual partners.
had only ever had a half-dozen or so lovers
didn’t mean everyone else in her circle had. Many, she sus-
pected, probably had as much experience as a pro like Jake did.
Some even more.
Her sister included.
So she decided to treat him as she would any other potential
“We have to use protection. I have condoms at my place.”
His eyes widened and he glanced over at her, his handsome
face—hard-planed, masculine, magnificent—spotlighted by the
headlights of cars in the distance.
“I mean, it’s not that I don’t trust you. But in this day and age…”
“I’m not offended.”
He returned his focus to the road. “Just so we’re clear, I’m
also not hiding any unpleasant conditions. I have to get routine
physicals, it’s part of the job, and I am entirely healthy.”
She didn’t really want to talk about his job, or even think
This is personal
, she reminded herself. So she simply
replied, “Great.” Then, since fair was fair, added, “For the record,
I’m absolutely fine, too.”
88 Slow Hands
He grinned and winked, breaking the awkward moment.
“Yes, indeed, you are, Ms. Turner. Absolutely
Then there was nothing left. No barriers. No excuses. No
doubts. They’d reached her building and he was pulling into her
private parking space in the underground garage. Their next stop
would be the elevator, and then her penthouse apartment.
After that, a night in the arms of the kind of lover women
competed for. Dreamed about.
And for this one night, he was entirely hers.
the exclusive high-rise building, and had
HOUGH HE RECOGNIZED
been warned by Maddy’s comments about her bed and her bathtub,
Jake hadn’t really been prepared for the opulence of her home.
First of all, only in movies had he ever seen keyed elevators
that opened directly into private apartments. He didn’t think they
Not that he’d really been paying attention until the doors had
quietly swished open with a subdued ding. Because from the
moment they’d gotten into the elevator down in the garage, he’d had
his hand on Maddy’s soft ass and his mouth on the side of her neck.
The scent of her warm brown hair and her sweet skin had in-
toxicated him and he’d been unable to resist moving behind her,
grinding into her, reaching around to press his hand onto her
stomach and pull her hard against him.
been distracted then. She’d lifted her arm behind
her to drape it around his neck, holding him in place. Arching
back against his erection, she’d groaned with a kind of raw,
primal pleasure that told him she might just like this particular
position with her clothes
That could definitely be arranged, though not until he’d had
her face-to-face, breath-to-breath first. He wanted to watch her
eyes as he slowly sank into her, wanted to feel her gasps, hear
the little hitch in her throat as she whimpered at how good it felt.
90 Slow Hands
After that…well, he couldn’t even begin to list the ways he
wanted this woman.
He’d envisioned most of them on the way up. Then they’d
reached her floor, the doors had opened, and he felt as though
he’d stepped into a designer furniture store where Oprah shopped
up on the Magnificent Mile.
The entryway was tiled with what he’d speculate was Italian
marble, not that he’d ever seen it. But he doubted they’d allow
the fake stuff in this building.
Tall, graceful vases with a profusion of perfectly placed,
enormous white flowers stood on either side of the foyer, provid-
ing an almost snowy, winter welcome. Right in the middle of June.
Beyond lay a plushly carpeted, sunken living area. More vases
and flowers stood sentry throughout. Big, gold-leaf framed mirrors
sent his own reflection back to him a dozen times. Several pieces
of expensive-looking, froufrou art were on display, discreetly
placed fixtures flooding them with light from just the right angle.
A huge white leather sofa looked too pristine to sit on, and
he’d probably have to sell his truck to replace the marble-topped
coffee table if he dared leave a drink ring on it.
The place was unbelievably elegant. Dripping with expensive
furnishings. Beautiful. Rich-looking.
And about as cold a room as he’d ever seen.
Entirely suitable for the ice princess of the financial district. But
not for the woman who’d grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him
up against the wall outside that pub to kiss the lips right off his face.
Maddy was watching him, having stepped inside ahead of
him to punch a few buttons on a security alarm panel. There was
a glimmer of hesitation in her expression, as if she really cared
what he thought about her home.
she’d care about the
opinion of a blue-collar rescue worker, whose single piece of art
in his apartment was an eight-by-ten framed picture of a Dalma-
tian on a fire truck, he had no idea.
She wrapped her arms around her waist and stared at the
room, obviously noting his unenthusiastic response. “My sister
decorated it for me,” she whispered. “I just don’t have the knack
for that sort of thing. Or the vision.”
That figured. From what he’d heard so far, he had absolutely
no interest in ever meeting the sister. Especially not if she envi-
when she looked at Maddy, whom she obviously did
not really know at all.
“Great view,” he mumbled, meaning that. She did have an
amazing view of the magnificently lit Chicago skyline. One
entire wall of windows ran the width of the living room, laying
out the city below as if he was looking at a galaxy of stars from
She perked up, smiling broadly. “Isn’t it? That’s why I bought
it. Well, that and the bathroom.”
Bought it. She
this icy masterpiece. Not her father,
not her family. She didn’t just rent it. The woman he’d taken
out for wings and beer had enough money to actually
a place like this.
He’d known that. Logically, he’d known. Still, the meaning
of it had at last completely sunk in.
His feet suddenly felt leaden. For the first time since the
moment they’d met, Jake felt the slightest bit intimidated. Uneasy
at the stark, irrefutable evidence of how different they were.
There was no way he could keep up with this. Nor would he
ever even want to try.
He threw off the momentary uneasiness. Tomorrow, maybe
he’d think about how unsuited they were for one another. Tonight,
well, they were perfectly suited in the only way that
tered. He’d could definitely keep up with her in other ways.
92 Slow Hands
Starting in her bedroom.
“Nothing.” He gave her a wolfish smile. “So where is this
“Hey, none of that kinky stuff,” she reminded him with a
saucy wink. Then she turned and sashayed down the hall, kicking
her cute, strappy sandals off her feet midstride, as if not wanting
to waste time once they reached the bed.
He followed, not in any hurry, because they had all night, but
still unable to stop himself from lifting his shirt over his head
and tossing it to the floor with her shoes.
She led him into a darkened room, flipped on the light, and
spun around to gauge his reaction. But when she saw him
standing there in just his soft, low-slung jeans, she froze as if
she’d never seen a man’s body before.
“Oh, my God.”
The sexy woman actually licked her lips while her gaze
greedily roamed over his bare chest and shoulders. She looked
even hungrier than she had when their waitress had deposited a
pile of nachos in front of her tonight.
“I never imagined,” she whispered, lifting her hand toward
him. She didn’t step closer, merely scraping the tip of one
finger down his throat, until reaching the hollow of his throat.
There it remained, connected by the tiniest strand of static-
charged air to his raging pulse. “I’ve never seen a more beau-
Jake half groaned and half laughed.
“I mean it. You’re beautiful. You should be on display some-
where, dipped in bronze. You’re so hard, so strong.” She ran her
hand down his chest, letting her pink-tinged nails rake lightly
across his abs. She didn’t pause, caressing him until she reached
the waistband of his jeans, which hung low on his hips. Visibly
swallowing, she added, “Yet so lean, too.”
“You’re killing me. You know this, right?”
She ignored him. “I’d pictured…when I went to the auction,
I’d figured you’d be skinny. Elegant. Not…not like
He barked a harsh laugh. Skinny he was not. And elegant he’d
never tried to be. “I work out sometimes. Not out of vanity, out
There was no way Jake would put somebody’s life at risk by
letting himself get too out of shape to do his job. He lifted gurneys—
usually with heavy bodies on them—every single day. He squeezed
into small spaces in collapsed buildings, he often hauled around
some backbreakingly heavy equipment. Those things mattered—
possibly enough to be the difference between life and death to an
injured person. Staying in top physical condition was an absolute
requirement for his own safety and for that of others.
“Is it a necessity that your shoulders are as broad as my legs
He chuckled, glancing down at those delicate, sexy legs, in
such perfect proportion to the rest of her, despite her claim that
they were too short. “I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.” Then
he reached for her hips, cupped them and drew her close. “But
I’m willing to examine them, up close and personal, just to make
“I’d hate to ask such a sacrifice of you.”
“What can I say? I’m a nice guy.”
Maddy, who’d been inching closer as they engaged in the
light, verbal foreplay, tilted her head back and watched him
intently. “You are, aren’t you.”
“You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.”
She shook her head. “You’re a contradiction, that’s all. I don’t
know that I understand you.”
“Understand this.” He said nothing more, bending down to
cover her mouth with his. Slipping his hands into her hair to cup
her head, he licked her lips, demanding access.
Maddy opened for him, her tongue meeting with his in a
94 Slow Hands
warm, slow exploration. Different from the crazy-hot kiss outside
the pub. Different…but just as good.
Their bodies melted together in fluid grace, rather than
heated, crazed grinding. Her softness cradled every hard place
on him, molding to his chest, his groin, his thighs. Every delicate
curve offered warmth and welcome and pure feminine invitation.
“Jake…” she whispered against his mouth, though he knew
she had nothing to say. Nothing that really needed to be said.
They’d talked a lot since they’d met. Now it was time for their
bodies to do all the communicating.
Reaching for the bottom of her pink top, Jake tugged it free
of her waistband, sliding it up with agonizing restraint. He didn’t
look, didn’t trust himself to
her yet and not completely lose
control. He concentrated instead on kissing her temple, tracing
her high cheekbone with his mouth, kissing his way to the lobe
of her ear. And continuing to pull that fabric up, inch by inch,
allowing only the tips of his fingers the pleasure of contact with
her warm, soft skin.
She was gasping, her choppy breaths hitting his neck as she
twisted against his hands. “Please.”
“Mmm, hmm,” he replied, not giving her the frenzy she
wanted. She might have been calling the shots back outside the
pub. But for now, their first time, he was taking control.
He liked it slow. And intended to make her slow down, too.
He wanted Maddy to accept every ounce of pleasure he could
give her rather than rushing them both directly toward that pre-
cipice and leaping over it.
“You have the softest skin I have ever felt,” he murmured.
“Yours is rough,” she whispered, her voice throaty, hungry.
Rubbing her face against his lightly grizzled jaw, she shivered
and added, “Deliciously rough.”
“Not too rough for your cheek?”
She shook her head, wordless, mindless, as if afraid to distract
him from the unhurried, steady progress he was making with her
shirt. He’d reached the bottom edges of her bra now. Remem-
bering their earlier encounter, his mind flooded with the image
of that hot pink lace barely covering those magnificent mounds
and luscious, taut nipples.
“Not too rough for your neck, either?” He moved there,
kissing his way down her throat, pressing his mouth to the
She shook her head again. Lifting her hands to his head, she
twined her fingers in his hair. Jake edged away just enough to
smooth her top all the way up, his palms skimming against the
sides of her breasts, then all the way along her upraised arms. He
disentangled the fabric from her long, thick hair, then tossed it
Looking down at her, he muttered a silent prayer for strength,
picturing the endless ways he wanted to savor these twin things
of beauty, barely contained by their lacy covering. Oh,
“What about here?” he asked, easing down her body. “Too
rough here, sweetheart?” He slowly dropped to his knees in front
of her, letting his mouth skim past the very center of the pretty,
frilly bra until he reached the vulnerable skin of her midriff.
She hitched a sigh. It turned into a moan when Jake rubbed
his cheek there, licking at the tender, pale spot where hot pink
lace met hot creamy woman.
“Good. So I’m guessing this is okay, too.” He edged lower,
kissing his way down her belly, dipping his tongue into the small
indentation for a taste, then going down to her waistband. She
made no effort to stop him as he unbuttoned, unzipped, then
pushed her pants down, letting his cheek come in contact with
more of her body as it was revealed.
96 Slow Hands
More than okay for him. Especially as he drew back enough
to watch her cropped pants fall away. That left her clad in a mini-
scule pair of panties. A patch of pink fabric danced over the dark
curls he saw shadowed between her legs, and a thin, lacy string
looped over each full hip.
He rubbed and nibbled and licked his way along them, around
to her hip, almost groaning as he saw how little there was in the
back. Little? Make that nothing.
Thong. Oh yeah
He had to reach out and touch with his hands, cupping her
full cheeks and squeezing. “Incredible. Don’t you
hear you say you want to change this body again.”
The way her legs shook and her hips moved in tiny, nearly
imperceptible thrusts told him what she wanted. More intimate
touches. More intimate kisses.
Still clasping her bottom, he tugged her closer, tilting her
pelvis so his mouth scraped against the front of her panties. He
inhaled her, breathed across her, amazed at the softness of the
curls against his lips, looking delicate and so pretty, even through
“Oh, God, please,” she groaned.
He could give her what she wanted. Could easily nudge aside
the elastic, dip his tongue, swirl it low. Could already imagine
the way she’d writhe when he caressed the throbbing nub of flesh
at the top of her mound. Could almost taste the warm, womanly
essence he was inhaling with every deep breath. He desperately
wanted to lick into the lips of her sex and drink deeply of her,
knowing it would take a long time to quench his thirst.
But that would be getting ahead of the game.
So, instead, he began working his way back up. “Now that
we’re sure I don’t need to shave, where were we?”
She whimpered, shaking as he passed by her most erogenous
spots. “I take it back, you’re not a nice guy,” she said in a broken
whisper. “You’re just being mean now.”
“Oh, Maddy, I’m not mean.” Now standing directly in front
of her, he tenderly stroked her face and brushed a soft kiss on
her mouth. “I’m just very,
Without another word, he bent over and picked her up, carry-
ing her effortlessly to the huge bed that dominated her room. And
began to show her how very patient he could be.
. And living. Flying. Spinning. Both crying
ADDY WAS DYING
in frustration and shouting in pure delight as she climaxed again
and again. Over the next hour, as Jake—with his incredible
mouth, his miraculous hands—continued to touch, kiss, taste
every inch of her body, she found herself unable to do a single
thing but enjoy it.
Rational thoughts drifted away. There was only sensation.
No decision to arch up when his tongue scraped across her nipple,
just a primal need to have him suckle her again. No conscious
awareness that he intended to make the most intimate love to her
with his mouth, just the shocking delight of it when his tongue
slipped between her wet folds and unerringly delved into her
“Oh, God, again?” she groaned, disbelieving as the pressure
built, then roared into heat that rushed to every other part of her.
She had not known she was physically capable of such con-
tinuous delight. The waves kept coming, relentlessly, like the
pounding of the surf on a shore during a wild winter storm.
They built, took her high, threw her over the crest into wild
orgasm. Then eased back down, only to start building all over
again with a stroke here or a kiss there.
She understood now. Why women fought over him.
The man had to be the world’s greatest lover.
“I think I have to be in you now, Maddy.”
98 Slow Hands
“I’d say it’s about damn time,” she gasped. “But I’d be lying
if I didn’t admit I’ve loved every single minute.”
“I know.” No cockiness. Just pure, sultry self-confidence.
He slid up her body, finally unfastening his jeans and pushing
them off his hips as he moved over her. She kissed him, licking
into his mouth, tasting herself on his tongue but not giving a damn.
But she was not about to let him sheathe himself with one of
the condoms she’d grabbed from the bedside table without at
least a little reciprocation. Maddy had been dying to experience
some of what he’d done. To touch, to stroke, to
him at the
very least. He had ruthlessly stopped her every previous effort
to do so in his determination to please her.
Now, the incredible willpower seemed to have finally left him.
He was almost beyond rational thought, too.
Maddy pushed him onto his back, rolling up to kneel beside
him, staring at the immense golden chest, the wiry hair surround-
ing his nipples. It trailed in a thin line down his flat stomach, dis-
appearing beneath the waistband of his tight boxer briefs.
“Oh my,” she whispered, seeing the big bulge in the middle
of those briefs. She’d certainly felt the power of him pressed
against her, but her eyes hadn’t yet experienced the pleasure. Nor
had her hands. Or her mouth.
That was about to change.
She reached out, tentatively, touching a spot of wetness on
the fabric. Almost dazed with need, she brought her finger to her
tongue and tasted it.
“I don’t want to hear one word out of you,” she warned
sternly. “Not a single word.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Laughter danced in his eyes, but didn’t spill
from his mouth. No, his mouth was too busy emitting a deep,
guttural groan as Maddy reached down and tugged at the briefs.
She was careful, cautious when pulling them out and down.
Maddy wanted that magnificent erection revealed to her as de-
liberately, slowly and seductively as her breasts had been to him.
As if she was opening some very special, beautifully wrapped
present that was going to make her incredibly happy.
Well, wasn’t she?
Her hand shook as the side of her pinky brushed against the
smooth, incredibly soft skin beneath the cotton. Some anticipa-
tory devil made her close her eyes, wanting to delay the delicious
moment of exposure.
When she’d finally pulled the boxers all the way to his hips,
Jake lifted up a little and pushed them down and off himself.
And Maddy finally opened her eyes.
“Oh, Jake,” she whispered, unable to contain a tiny gasp of
surprise. Not just because of how incredibly hard—aroused,
throbbing and proud—he was, but at the pure masculine beauty
of him. Still kneeling at his hip, she smiled—almost purred,
really—as she stared greedily at the velvet-skinned member.
Her last lover had been incredibly long and thin
ing his extreme length made any kind of skill unnecessary.
Jake, well, he was something else
. He might not have
the inordinate length, but she should have expected, given the
breadth of his shoulders and chest, that the man would be unbe-
lievably thick in other places, too.
Soon he’d be doing exactly as he’d promised earlier—filling
her so completely she’d wonder if she was going to break in half.
They seemed to have skipped past the basics of a new sexual
relationship, as Maddy understood them. Which meant she didn’t
have to wait until the second or third time they slept together to
do what she was just dying to do. Reaching out, she stroked him,
one long caress along the back of his erection, then delicately
touched the taut sacs beneath.
He hissed. She remained undeterred. Spreading her hand
100 Slow Hands
wide, she encircled as much of him as she could, then slowly
moved closer, her mouth going wet with hunger.
“Not a word,” she reminded him.
Then there was no more talking, just the sensation of her lips
sliding over the smooth round head, her tongue moistening him
enough so she could take a little more. And a little more after
Not oblivious to his clenched fists or the rock-hard muscles
in his stomach, that said he was fighting very hard to remain in
control, Maddy showed no mercy.
She liked how he tasted. She liked how he felt in her mouth.
She liked the scrape of his hard-yet-soft flesh against the insides
of her cheeks, and the tiny groan he made when she took him
all the way, as deep as he could possibly go.
That was when he lost it.
Without another word, Jake pushed her away. He grabbed
her by the shoulders and yanked her up, flipping her on her
back so fast, she didn’t even have time to process the change
“Uh-uh. I don’t think so.”
Maddy put on an intentional pout, liking that she’d driven him
to such desperation. “But I was having fun.”
“You can have more of that kind of fun later. I’m not coming
in your mouth. I want to do it inside your body.”
“My mouth’s part of my body…”
He thrust a thick, hard finger into her dripping sex, making
her gasp and arch hard against his hand. “
I want to be here.”
Another finger joined it, and he moved them in and out, slowly
making love to her…preparing her. “Right now, I think I need to
be inside you more than I need to live until my thirtieth birthday.”
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she murmured, “Well,
we can’t have you not surviving your twenties.”
Leslie Kelly 101
Jake kissed her, hard and deep, then grabbed the condom which
he’d already torn open. She reached to help him, but he pushed
her hand away. “Don’t push me, babe, I’m holding on by a thread.”
“Does that mean it’s going to be over really quickly?” she
asked, unable to hide a hint of worry.
Rather than take offense, Jake threw his head back and
laughed. “Hell, no. It means that once I’m in you, you can’t
torment me anymore.”
“Torment you?” She arched a brow. “Was that what I was
“Yeah, babe, it was, and you know it. You were trying to
drive me wild, and oh, it was definitely working.”
“And being inside you is
going to drive me wild,” he
admitted. “But there, at least, I can stay very still.” His whiskey
tone promised incredible delights, seducing her word by word.
“I can indulge in the feel of you wrapped around me. Not
moving, just savoring.”
“Not moving?” The idea of trying to remain still when
was inside her was beyond comprehension.
“Not a muscle,” he growled. “Not until I feel capable of
Getting started. Oh, my. As if she hadn’t already had more
orgasms in the past hour than she’d had during her entire rela-
tionship with her ex.
He pushed her legs apart—far enough apart to accommodate
the breadth of him, and Maddy arched up, opening herself in
welcome. Maybe a teeny, tiny bit tentative.
As if knowing, Jake kissed her tenderly, whispering soft
words against her mouth that relaxed her, telling her he’d never
do anything to hurt her.
Slowly, with more of that unbelievable restraint he seemed
to have by the barrel, he eased into her. Just the tip of his heat,
102 Slow Hands
then an inch more, and even more after that. Until, finally, he
plunged deep, drawing a deep, guttural gasp from both of them.
Just as he’d promised, he filled her completely.
She whimpered, needing to move, overwhelmed by how damn
it felt. Her muscles reacted, squeezed, milked him deep
“Wait,” he growled.
“I’m not moving,” she protested in her own defense.
“The hell you’re not.”
She squeezed again, helpless against her body’s instinctive
This time, he didn’t order her to stop, he merely distracted her
by lowering a hand between them. Tweaking and toying with her
throbbing clit, he brought all her focus there. Filled by him, covered
by him, touched by him, everything came together once more and
within moments he had her crying out as she came again.
“Mmm,” he groaned, his eyes closed, obviously feeling the
involuntary clench of every muscle she had.
Finally, when she’d begun to feel somewhat sane again,
Jake pulled out, slowly, slid back, just as slowly, going a little
deeper, stretching her a little wider, driving her out of what was
left of her mind.
“Now, Maddy,” he whispered hoarsely, sounding as if he was
finally letting himself go completely, “now we’re getting started.”
nothing more than to spend a whole
AKE WOULD HAVE LOVED
day in bed with Maddy. But very early the next morning, after
a full night of the most intense lovemaking of his life, he glanced
at the clock by her bed and knew he had to go. His shift started
in two hours and he still had to flag down a cab to get him back
to the lot where he’d left his truck. Then he’d need to rush home,
shower and grab his gear.
Besides, Maddy had already taken yesterday afternoon off for
the game. He doubted he could cajole another day of hooky
from work out of the woman, despite how desperately she needed
He hated to wake her, but he certainly wasn’t going to leave
without saying goodbye. Knowing he shouldn’t delay, he still
couldn’t force himself to do anything but watch her sleep for just
a little while longer.
Maddy’s long lashes rested on her cheeks, her beautiful, kiss-
reddened lips were parted as she drew in slow, even breaths. The
sun had begun to rise, glints of light appearing on the horizon
laid out beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows of her bedroom. As
he watched her slumber, long rays of brilliant golden sunshine
gradually traveled across the room, falling onto the bed. It caught
the highlights in her hair and spotlighted her beautiful face.
No ice queen this. She looked as warm and sensual as a
104 Slow Hands
“Maddy?” he whispered, leaning over to brush a soft kiss on
the corner of her mouth. “I’ve got to go.”
She went from a deep sleep to full wakefulness in an instant,
her eyes flying open. Staring at the ceiling, he could almost see
the wheels churning in her brain as she put together the
memories of all the wild and wicked things they’d done together
the night before.
Finally, licking her lips, she turned her head to look at him.
“Expecting somebody else?” he asked with a laugh.
He bent to kiss her good-morning, but Maddy slipped away
before he could do it. She scooted to the edge of the bed, stood,
then glanced down at her naked body.
She wore nothing but sunlight
Unfortunately, she didn’t wear it for long. Grabbing a silky
robe from her dresser, she yanked it on. She tied the sash tightly
around her waist, crossed her arms and clenched the fabric in her
fists, still not sparing him a glance.
Maddy was obviously suffering a case of morning-after em-
barrassment. For that reason, he didn’t have the heart to tease
her about covering up what he’d seen a whole lot of the night
Finally she spoke. “I, uh, have to get ready for work.” Ges-
turing toward the hallway, she added, “There’s another bathroom
right down the hall, if you’d like to take a shower, too.”
Jake frowned, realizing this wasn’t just a case of misplaced
shyness. Maddy was trying desperately to get everything back
under control, to put her life back in its natural order. She’d sur-
rendered that control—in fact, allowed some serious
last night, giving herself over to him, body and mind. Now, in
the clear light of morning, she wanted it back.
All of it.
“I’ll take one at home,” he murmured, honestly not knowing
Leslie Kelly 105
how to proceed. For the first time since he’d met her, he was at
a loss as to how to deal with this woman.
Then he remembered his parents, grandparents and all the
other successful couples he’d ever known. They had one thing
in common—the ability to give and take. To be in charge, and
to step back. Ebb and flow.
He’d had his way last night. Maybe it was time to let her have
hers, even if it meant allowing her to start building those barriers
around herself once more.
He could get past them again. Last night had proved it.
Suddenly appearing stricken, Maddy said, “Oh, I just remem-
bered, we left your truck…”
“It’s not a problem. I’ll hail a cab to take me over to the lot.”
He wondered for a second if she’d tell him not to bother.
Okay. Interlude definitely over. Time to get out, let her get
her head together and start planning for next time.
“When can I see you again?”
She clenched the robe tighter. “Again?”
“Never heard of a second date?”
“Ours wasn’t exactly a typical first one for me.”
He couldn’t prevent a confident smile. “I sure hope not.”
Maddy’s chin went up. “Was it for
He didn’t even hesitate. “Not a chance. Last night was…well,
something I never expected. But it’s something I’m very thankful
for.” Glancing at the clock, he muttered a curse and hunted
around on the floor for his clothes. “I really do have to go,
though. There are people counting on me.”
He found his things and began to dress, finally looking back
at her, to see her frozen in the same spot, her face pale, her eyes
narrowed, as if she’d been glaring at him behind his back. “Are
you mad about something?” he asked, dropping his jeans and
106 Slow Hands
“No. Don’t be silly. The sun’s a little blinding, that’s all.”
She cleared her throat. “Go on, finish dressing, we’ve both got
places to be.”
Something was seriously wrong. And if he hadn’t already
played on his lieutenant’s mercy to get a schedule change yes-
terday to attend the game, he’d seriously consider trying to find
someone to cover for him. As it was, he didn’t have that option.
Ninety minutes left. Damn.
He stepped into the jeans, yanking them up. “Let’s get
together…day after tomorrow?”
“You’re busy until then, I assume?” Talk about icy-toned.
“Yeah. Booked solid for the next forty-eight hours.” He had
a twenty-four-hour shift, then a twelve, with on-call time in
between. The last thing he wanted was to get busy doing some-
thing incredible with this woman and get called out, having to
leave her high and dry. And him high and
“I’ll take you to dinner.” Suddenly remembering what had
happened at the pub, Jake reached into his back pocket and
pulled out his wallet. “Speaking of which, I need to pay you back
for last night. Some gentleman I am.”
She waved an airy hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not some macho he-man, okay?” he said, “But you
shelled out twenty-five thousand dollars and the least I can do
is cover some wings and beer.”
Maddy’s smile was tight and it did not soften her beautiful
brown eyes one bit. “That wasn’t the
you could do. You did
a whole lot more than that last night for my twenty-five thousand
dollars. So let’s call it even.”
It took him a second to catch her meaning, and when he did,
Jake couldn’t stop a half-amused, half-annoyed grunt. “Uh, it’s
flattering that you think I might be worth it, but you didn’t pay
me all that money so I’d spend last night in your bed.”
Leslie Kelly 107
“No, I paid a charity.”
For a night in bed with him
. She didn’t say it. The implica-
tion was clear.
He chalked up her belligerence to her own uncertainty and
didn’t call her on the fact that she’d just backhandedly called him
a male prostitute. “You’re being ridiculous.”
you spend last night in my bed?”
Yeesh, the woman had some seriously selective memory. Good
thing he suspected she was worth this much effort. “Because, as I
already told you, I
you. Period. End of story.”
And I still do
“Okay.” Nodding and lifting her chin, she admitted, “I wanted
you, too. But now that’s over, and I really think we should quit
while we’re ahead.”
His jaw dropped. “What?”
“Last night was lovely, Jake. But I don’t think we’ll be seeing
each other again.”
He had had enough of giving Maddy her space. Walking the
few feet it took to get to her, he took her chin in his hand, forcing
her to look at him. “What the hell is wrong?”
She jerked away. “Nothing’s wrong. I just can’t deal with this.
With the…difficulties of this situation. So we need to end it here
and now.” Finally uncrossing her arms, she ran a weary hand over
her eyes. “I can’t imagine seeing you under…
“Well, Jesus, I hope not. I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. Then she stiffened again. “But
I can’t see you personally, either. Because, as much as I might
I’m modern and hip and can handle anything, that would end
up bothering me, too.”
There was that pessimistic streak. He’d been wondering when
it would return. The woman had been covered by it for so long,
he was surprised she’d been able to get out from under the weight
of her disdain for romance long enough to go to bed with him.
108 Slow Hands
“Goodbye, Jake,” she said, not even giving him a chance to
respond. Instead, she spun around, walked into her bathroom and
shut the door firmly behind her.
Give it up. Come back for round three
But he didn’t listen to the voice in his head. Not this time.
Instead, he finished dressing, put on his boots, then knocked on
the bathroom door. “I’m leaving now. But I want you to know,
this isn’t over.”
Hearing the shower go on inside, he knocked harder.
“Damn it, Maddy, at least tell me you’ll talk to me about this
in a few days.”
She didn’t come out. But she did answer. And what she said
shocked Jake so much he couldn’t make his brain work for
several long seconds.
“No. I can’t do it. Once was enough. I can’t go to bed with
you again, wondering whose bed you just left, and how much
she paid you to be there.”
“I’m not criticizing you for the way you live, but frankly, Jake,
I can’t afford you. Financially, yes. Emotionally, however, I
don’t have that kind of currency to spend. Now please leave.”
He stared at the door, his jaw falling open, staggering back into
her room until his legs hit the bed. He collapsed onto it, still stunned.
The woman thought he had sex for money. Despite what he’d
said about wanting her from first sight, she truly believed he’d
spent last night here as some kind of sick, twisted payoff for the
cash she’d shelled out at the auction. She’d completely ignored
everything he’d said, everything they’d shared. She hadn’t trusted
that he’d actually felt something real and genuine for her.
“What the hell kind of world do you live in, lady?” he muttered
under his breath, still staring at the closed door. Then he glanced
around the room—done in white and silver—cold and icy like the
rest of the place. And remembered the kind of world she lived in.
Leslie Kelly 109
One where anything could be bought for a price…including
people, including sex. Where love didn’t exist, or at least, didn’t last.
One that absolutely had no place for somebody like him.
explain this to me? You had the best night of
AN YOU PLEASE
your life with a dreamboat of a man who could give lessons to
the god of love, and you told him you never wanted to see him
again. Does that about sum it up?”
Maddy cast a quick glance around the quiet, upscale restau-
rant a few blocks from the bank. It was empty except for a few
late-lunch–early-Friday-happy-hour patrons, none of whom, for-
tunately, appeared to have overheard Tabitha’s way-too-personal
She still glared at her sister, who, as usual, was impeccably
dressed, perfectly groomed, not an ash-blond hair out of place.
And looking every bit as put-together as Maddy felt torn apart.
“Yes. That sums it up very well, to me and every other person
in the place.”
Tabby rolled her eyes, entirely unrepentant. “I think the stork
mixed you up with a nun’s baby at birth.” The incongruity of that
statement didn’t seem to occur to her older sibling, who shook
her head, reached into her expensive purse and retrieved a
jeweled cigarette case. “You’re just too demure to be my sister.”
“Uh, madam?” a voice said from beside the table. The obse-
quious maître d’ had appeared like a vapor. “I’m afraid you
cannot smoke here.”
Tabby audibly growled, put the case away and muttered
behind the retreating man’s stiff back. “Can’t smoke around
Bradley, can’t smoke in public….” Then she snapped her long,
red-tinted nails against the pristine white tablecloth, tapping out
a beat in visible irritation. “Tell me why not.”
“Why can’t you smoke? Aside from it being horribly un-
110 Slow Hands
“Why you can’t be with him,” Tabby growled, not fooled one
bit. And she was even more pissy now that she couldn’t light up.
Maddy started with the obvious. “Well, he
“So? You’re telling me most of the women we know haven’t
essentially prostituted themselves by trading sex for the right size
diamond on their finger?”
“You included?” Maddy asked, hoping her sister was not
marrying for the wrong reason. Again.
“Money has nothing to do with why I’m marrying Bradley.”
Tabitha’s tone was sharp. “I love him. Besides, you and I both
know I don’t need his money, and he doesn’t need mine.”
That was one reason Maddy had high hopes for her sister’s
next marriage. There was no obvious reason—beyond com-
patibility and real emotion—for the couple to wed. “True.”
“The point is, people trade commodities all the time.
Money for property. Stocks for liquid assets. Sex for marriage.
Look at my mother—off on some yacht in the Mediterranean
with her latest. Do you know she’s not even coming home for
Having met Tabitha’s mother more than a few times while
growing up, Maddy could muster no surprise. Sympathy, yes.
But no surprise.
“Anyway,” Tabitha continued, returning to the subject at hand,
far beyond any ability to be hurt by her neglectful mother. “Why
not a hot affair for a few bucks?”
She tried to put it in perspective for her sister. “Have you
noticed that I’ve never bought a used car?”
“As if you’d need to,” Tabitha replied, not getting the point.
Remaining patient, Maddy bit out, “I don’t particularly care
to take another nighttime spin with someone who’s piling on the
mileage with other drivers during the day.”
“Ahh, I get it. That is a little, um, distasteful,” Tabitha
admitted. Grimacing, she continued. “Imagine if Bitsy Welling-
Leslie Kelly 111
ton or one of those old collagen-injected, stapled-together
wicked witches tracked him down.”
Thank God her sister hadn’t mentioned their stepmother’s
name. That mental image was enough to make Maddy nauseous.
“But certainly you’re not naive enough to think men don’t
sleep around.” Squinting her nose in disgust, Tabitha added,
“You certainly should have learned that much from that bastard
“I did. But it’s not just the physical squeamishness. I actu-
ally like Jake. Maybe I like him too much,” Maddy admitted,
angry both at herself for voicing the words, and at Tabby for
“Oh.” Her sister’s expression softened. “I see.”
Maddy believed she did.
“It’s not the ick factor. It would be too
be with him one day,” Tabitha mused, “knowing he might have
been with someone else the night before.”
Exactly. Painful. Uncomfortable. Too much to take.
Maddy was a strong woman, but she was not
had already developed feelings for Jake in the brief time they’d
, she forced herself to remember.
Well, and lustful ones, she had to concede.
But with just those—
feelings—it had still horrified her
to think of him leaving her home Wednesday morning to go spend
forty-eight hours with another woman due to a previous booking.
How much worse it might be if she continued to see him, she
couldn’t imagine. Which was why she was still certain she’d
made the right decision in sending him away. Even if, at least
physically, she’d been regretting it ever since.
Her mind had been one hundred percent responsible for the
plan. But her body was still pretty unhappy about it.
“Maybe he’d give it up for you.”
112 Slow Hands
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why should he? He’s known me for less
than ten days.”
Tabitha pursed her lips slightly, then lifted her hand and
rubbed her chin. Maddy recognized the look. It was what got her
into this mess in the first place. “No.”
“No to whatever scheme you’ve come up with.”
“You wound me.”
“You have dragon scales in place of skin, Tab. You can’t be
“I can if I’m struck through the heart.” That should have
come across as earnest and sincere, but Maddy knew her sister
well enough to hear the note of jaded amusement.
“Well, I don’t have scales or protective armor around
heart, either. So I’m not risking it.”
Not now. Not ever again
“Think of it logically—what would you be risking if you got
involved with him
“Uh, humiliation, jealousy?”
Tabby got to the point. “But those things wouldn’t be an issue
if he wasn’t seeing anybody else.”
“We’ve been over this already. I’m not going to ask a man I’ve
known for less than two weeks to change his whole life for me.”
Not only because it was too much to ask, but because she
already knew he’d say no. Any reasonable person would resist
a major life change like that this early in a relationship. Unless
they were really—
—head over heels in love.
Which didn’t describe her and Jake Wallace.
Legs over shoulders in lust? Absolutely. But nothing more.
Not a chance.
“So don’t ask him to change a thing.” Tabitha reached for her
wineglass and smiled like the proverbial Cheshire chat. “Just hire
Maddy had taken a sip of her own, but Tabby’s comment
Leslie Kelly 113
nearly made her spew it out. “What?” Noting the attention her
yelped response had garnered, she leaned over the table and
kept her voice low. “Are you insane?”
“Are you telling me you can’t afford it? Come on, you have
the money. Call him up, ask him how much he’d charge to be
exclusive for, say, one month.”
“Then take that month and use it to see what happens. You
either get him out of your system, or you find out the two of you
really can develop something meaningful.”
“Meaningful enough to…”
Tabby finished the thought. “To see if he’d be willing to
make a permanent
change.” Her sister reached across
the table, covering Maddy’s hand and squeezing it gently, with
tenderness that always lurked beneath the surface but was so
rarely shown. “And to see if you can finally let yourself believe
in love again.”
“Love,” Maddy said with a snort. That wasn’t even part of this
whole situation. She’d said she
Jake, not that she was
falling in love with him. She wasn’t
going to fall in love with
anyone again. Everyone else in her family had that emotion well
taken care of.
Lust…well, lust she could handle. And liking. And maybe
some more of the fun she sensed she could have with Jake
Wallace. As for the rest—him quitting his “career” for her?
Crazy. Madness. Absolutely out of the question.
But for some reason, during the drive home and the long
night that followed, Maddy could not get her sister’s sugges-
tion out of her mind. And she was still considering it when
she woke up the next day.
and Jake still hadn’t quite gotten
T HAD BEEN THREE FULL DAYS
over his anger—and his confusion—about what had happened with
114 Slow Hands
Maddy Wednesday. He’d gone over it again and again. Replayed
every moment, every conversation, every look, every touch.
When, he wondered, had she decided he was the kind of man
who could be bought?
She had to be jaded beyond belief. Normal people’s minds
there for no reason. Which should have been
enough to make it easy to live with the fact that they’d never see
each other again. But instead, it made him pretty damn angry.
Angry—and even sad for her at having become so hard because
of her unusual family life.
He was trying determinedly to forget about her. Not success-
fully, but giving it his best shot. Which was why he’d put his all
into this morning’s game.
On Saturday mornings, he liked to play baseball with a couple
of guys from work. Whoever was off duty met up at a local
park—near the station so the on-call guys could join them once
in a while.
They’d just finished five innings, with Jake playing third
base, before calling it quits because of the already blazing heat
of the day and the noon shift change. As he headed toward the
benches for his stuff, his cell phone rang. He grabbed it from the
side buttoned pocket of his shorts and glanced at the caller ID,
but didn’t recognize the number.
“Wallace,” he barked into it. He tilted his head to hold the
phone in the crook of his shoulder while he bagged his stuff and
waved to a couple of the guys heading back to the station house.
A feminine throat clearing was the only response at first.
And he’d recognize that feminine throat anywhere.
“Yes. Did I interrupt you? I can call back.”
“It’s fine,” he said, wishing he didn’t automatically go on full
alert at the sound of her voice.
He’d been caught off guard, that was all. He hadn’t expected
Leslie Kelly 115
to ever hear from her again. That—and the strenuous game—ex-
plained his thudding heart and shortness of breath. Nothing else.
“I wondered if we could meet.”
The thudding doubled. Then he focused on her words.
“Why? You made things pretty clear the other day about
where we stood.”
“I regret that,” she said coolly, sounding not the least bit
contrite. The ice queen at her iciest. “And I do apologize.”
“I have, however, had a change of heart.” Finally her tone
faltered, a chink of uncertainty appearing in her fully armored
voice. “I may have been a bit too…hasty when I said I didn’t
want to see you again.”
He should tell her to get lost. To take her money, her ice cave
disguised as a home and her really twisted assumptions about
him and take a hike.
He didn’t. Maybe because of that tiny note of uncertainty.
Maybe because of the way her hair had looked spread across her
pillow in the dawn’s first light the other morning. Or the way
those dimples flashed every time she genuinely smiled.
He could refuse the ice queen.
But he couldn’t refuse the Maddy he’d made love to. The one
who was no longer breathing into the phone, as if her breath had
been trapped in her lungs and she was holding it close, waiting
for his answer. Uncertain. Unsure.
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’d like to get together. To…talk things over. I might have a
solution to our situation.”
“Fine.” She breathed again, audibly. And he smiled a little.
“We’ll talk. We definitely have some things to clear up.”
Starting with the whole ridiculous notion she had that he’d
116 Slow Hands
slept with her only because she’d put out a whole bunch of
Weren’t hookers—male or female—supposed to actually
the money they earned?
He almost laughed at the thought, but didn’t. Not while
Maddy was still trying to carefully set up a meeting without re-
vealing how anxious she truly was.
did not get the woman. But he would. Very soon.
“Are you free this afternoon?” she asked.
“Wonderful. I, uh…was thinking of taking the boat out. Do
you like being on the water?”
The only time he’d been on a boat had been one of those
offshore casino ships during a trip to Florida a few years ago.
He’d been seasick and had gotten a headache from the constant
dings of the slot machines.
“Yeah, love it.”
Stupid. She’s not going to let her guard down
if you’re heaving over the side.
But it was too late. He’d already agreed, and quickly made a
note of the location of the boat, docked at the DuSable Harbor
marina. He had an hour to get there. Then he’d find out exactly
what kind of
Ms. Madeline Turner had for their
Jake had one, too. A three-pronged one.
Him telling her she was an idiot to think her money had
anything to do with his feelings for her. Her shutting up and be-
lieving it. And them getting naked.
Sounded like a great solution to him.
ADDY HAD ALREADY BEEN
called Jake on Saturday. The decision to ask him to come with
her this afternoon had been an impromptu one. Well, mostly.
She’d intended to call him, having thought all night about her
sister’s suggestion. At the very least, she wanted to feel him out
about the possibility of working “exclusively” for her.
But she hadn’t intended to take him out on the water. That
had been spontaneous. And also a little sneaky.
It wouldn’t be easy for him to laugh in her face and walk away
at the very idea if they were a few miles from shore. Not unless
he was a really good swimmer.
“My God, I’m turning into my sister,” she whispered,
knowing Tabitha would approve of the manipulative tactics.
She’d probably also approve of Maddy’s attire. Though she
hadn’t dressed with Jake in mind when she’d made the decision
to take the boat out today, she wore a devastatingly skimpy fire-
engine red bikini beneath her shorts and tank top.
She usually took the cutter out alone, despite her father’s
frequent protests. But she was able to handle herself on the lake.
And when out there alone, she liked to sunbathe without wearing
even as much as that skimpy little bathing suit.
How much fun would it be to do it with someone else?
She’d readied the sails and finished preparations when she
saw him walking up the dock toward her. Waving, she called, “I
see you found it okay.”
118 Slow Hands
“Uh-huh.” He gestured toward the side, where
was lovingly painted in large, script letters. “I like the name.”
“My mother’s,” she murmured.
Jake nodded, making no weak, inane, “I’m sorry for your
loss” comment like so many people made when they learned
she’d lost her mother at such a young age. She liked that about
him. One of many things she liked about him.
He looked over the cutter again, from the cabin up to the top
of the mast, obviously taken aback by its size. “Do I have to ask
for permission to come aboard?”
“You don’t have to. Permission
Then he was there, beside her, all tan and masculine, wearing
a loose-fitting T-shirt, swim trunks and leather flip-flops. He even
had beautiful legs and
for a man.
She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing, waiting for
some sign from him. Was he angry? Curious? Optimistic?
When he finally did speak, she realized she hadn’t even come
close to guessing his mood.
“I’m glad you called,” he murmured, tenderly scraping his
lips across her temple. “Really glad.”
And just like that, with his sweet touch and his sweeter words,
she knew she couldn’t trick him, couldn’t get him out so far that
he’d have no choice but to listen to her offer. Nor could she just
seduce him into agreement by stripping off her shorts and top
and laying herself out like a curvy appetizer.
She had to come clean.
“Jake, I think you already know me enough to realize how
difficult this is for me.”
“Mmm, hmm.” And he wasn’t making it any easier, simply
waiting for her to continue.
“The thing is,” she murmured, smoothing her hands nervously
over her white sailor shorts, telling herself she was
Leslie Kelly 119
sweaty palm prints there. “I really would like to spend more time
“Ditto. I’d like to spend more time with you, too.”
She smiled, but didn’t relax yet. “Only, I
spending time with…anyone else.”
He tilted a head, confusion evident on his face. “What do you
Well, in for a penny, as they said. Taking a deep breath,
Maddy rushed into it, prepared to lay out her well-thought-out
reasons for her outrageous suggestion. “This is probably going
to sound strange and demanding, but the truth is, I’d like to hire
you, full-time. I know you’re a professional, and you’re
good at what you do.”
Oh, so very good.
“And judging by the
number of women fighting over you at the auction, you probably
stay just as busy as you want and never lack for…clients.”
His eyes widened. That was all. So she hurried on, logically
explaining her needs, her inhibitions, her conditions, her desires.
She spoke quickly, not looking at him, keeping her attention
somewhere over his right shoulder, at the horizon, her voice
almost tripping over itself as she rushed to get it all out before
she lost her nerve.
“So you see,” she said, finally reaching the conclusion of what
she hoped was a persuasive, reasonable speech. “It really makes
sense for both of us. You’ll make your usual fee—whatever that
is, I’m sure I can afford it. And I’ll have a companion without any
messy, silly feelings or jealousies coming into play. We’ll enjoy
each other for a month and walk away satisfied.”
Or…maybe not. Maybe neither one of them would want to
walk away. Maybe they’d actually decide they liked one another
enough to continue seeing one another—sleeping together—
without her having to
more time. And with him
to see anyone else.
Not falling in love, never that, but at least falling into a rela-
120 Slow Hands
tionship built on mutual attraction and genuine desire. Rather
than mutual attraction and genuine greed.
But she didn’t say that, not wanting to scare the man off
before he’d even had a chance to consider her offer.
He was obviously thinking about it now. Thinking carefully.
Jake’s brown eyes were narrowed in concentration, his mouth
grimly set, his jaw tight, but not flexing with anger. That was
something at least. He merely appeared intense, as if looking at
this situation from every angle, the way she had.
“Let me make sure I understand,” he said, his voice gravelly
and thick. “You would like to pay me a large sum of money to
have sex with you for the next thirty days.”
me,” she clarified.
“Right. Sex with
of sex. All
She couldn’t be blushing. She hadn’t blushed since she was
a twelve-year-old whose budding figure had attracted the very
verbal notice of the boys in her class. It was merely the heat of
the summer day hitting her cheeks. God,
let her not be
blushing, not now that she’d come this far.
“Well, not just sex.”
But mostly sex
. She thought quickly,
scrambling for other duties he could fulfill, to make the whole
thing worth his while and to convince him that she wasn’t just
asking out of the selfish, helpless want that had filled her from
the moment they’d met.
She lit upon the perfect thing. “My sister’s wedding! It’s in
two weeks, and I desperately need an escort. You can be my date.
That’s within your purview, isn’t it?”
He tsked-tsked lightly. “Buying another date with me, hmm?”
“Well, you are a paid escort, right? Isn’t that your usual job title?
You’d actually be
me, rather than, well, you know, just…”
That was very crude. It was also very exciting, almost dan-
Leslie Kelly 121
gerous. She’d never had a man treat her with anything but gen-
tlemanly restraint, but she sensed that, if she wanted to let him,
Jake could be much more aggressive—
“But I suppose I could live with being arm candy for a
He’d be a perfect escort, tall and strong and utterly magnifi-
cent in a tux, she knew.
think about Tabby laughing her ass off over
this, or about Deborah choking on her chateaubriand. There was
too much at stake right now. Even more than Maddy had sus-
pected, given the way she could barely breathe.
“So, what do you say? You’d be doing me an enormous favor,”
she insisted, hoping she wasn’t babbling. “You already know as
well as I do that I have no use for the typical games—romance
and love and such. I’m a businesswoman and this is a business
proposal I’m making.”
“Strictly business. That’s the only way you want it.”
Gulping, she nodded. It wasn’t exactly a lie.
If she and Jake decided at the end of their thirty days that there
was more to this than lust, maybe she’d find her way clear to at
least consider dipping her toes in romance waters again. Maybe.
Really, when she thought about it, this was the perfect way
to build up to that—with no risk. No embarrassment. No scenes
or breakups. It was like getting to test-drive a sporty little
Mercedes for a month without getting her heart set on the pretty
pink color. Without expecting it to possibly look as good to her
in thirty days as it did the day she’d first set eyes on it.
And without letting anybody else behind the wheel until she’d
figured out if she could afford it.
“So, constant wild sex and a date to a wedding for…how much?”
Constant wild sex…
think, damn it
. She quickly named a
figure off the top of her head, figuring he had to make at
what a top executive at the bank would make. But she suddenly
122 Slow Hands
remembered that before she had stepped into the fray at the
auction, the bid had been over five thousand dollars for one
with the man. Thinking of that, and how incredibly he’d made
love to her, she worried she’d offered far too little.
He didn’t respond by so much as the quirk of a muscle.
“If that’s not enough…”
“It’s enough,” he snapped. “Let me ask you something,
Maddy. Why do you think…” He cleared his throat, started
again. “How is it that you
so much about me? I mean, about
who I am and what I
“My sister told me.”
“Gotta love that sister of yours. How’d
“One of the auction sponsors told her about the infamous
male escort, and Tabby found out in advance what number you’d
be. And, of course, the bio in the program fit.” Smiling ruefully,
she added, “I’m afraid it wouldn’t take much for the rich women
of this town to ferret you out.”
“The bio,” he murmured, rubbing his hand against his jaw.
“What did it say again?”
“I don’t remember exactly. Just something about you being
a world traveler, someone who appreciates fine wine and beau-
tiful women. It also claimed that you were European. But I’ve
decided that must just be part of your character—the role you
play. Because if you’re anything but a beer-drinking all-
American boy, I’m Mary Poppins.”
“Busted, Mary,” he muttered, “I guess you’re too smart for
me.” He crossed his arms over his big chest, still leaving her
hanging, not responding to her offer. She wondered if he liked
to torture bunnies in his spare time, too.
“One more question. If you were set on buying my
why did you run out on me the night of the auction without even
telling me your name? Did you get cold feet?” He sounded
almost hopeful, for some reason, as if this answer was more im-
Leslie Kelly 123
portant than anything else. “Did you have a change of heart
about doing something so…reckless?”
She shook her head, not sure how much to admit. Especially
since he might be meeting her family members—her father and
his wife—at Tabitha’s wedding.
That, however, was the real problem. She couldn’t let him
walk into such a situation unprepared and unaware. “I wasn’t
buying you for myself.”
He closed his eyes slowly, his lips moving as he mumbled
under his breath.
“What was that?”
“I was counting to ten.”
“Never mind.” His tone weary, he asked, “Who were you
Maddy twisted her hands, leaning against the back of the
captain’s chair and gazed around. Her father used to love this
boat—but his new wife didn’t like to sail. And Deborah had
made it clear that she also didn’t like her husband going out on
the water in a vessel named for another woman, even one who
had died years and years ago.
“Let me guess. It was your sister’s idea.”
“How did you know that?”
“Intuition. So how come she didn’t do it herself?”
“She didn’t want to cheat on her fiancé.”
The eyes closed again. The mouth moved. She’d swear she
could make out the words
before he looked at
her once more. “How noble of her.”
She was going about this all wrong, nervousness making her
skip around the point instead of getting right to it. So she bit the
bullet. She told him—just enough to make him understand how
important this was, important enough to make her take chances
she’d never have chosen to take.
124 Slow Hands
When she’d finished telling him about her father, his new
wife, as well as Bitsy Wellington and her crowd, she concluded,
“So there was no intention by either me, or by Tabby, to do
anything other than make sure your services were not engaged
by our father’s wife.” A bit grudgingly, she added, “Only Tabby
didn’t trust herself not to remain entirely
about the whole
thing. And I did.”
Jake didn’t close his eyes this time. He didn’t mumble, he
didn’t count. And he stopped doing that clenching thing with his
jaw. The broad shoulders relaxed just a bit, and, if she looked
hard, she thought she might see the edges of his mouth twitch
up in the tiniest smile.
“I see. And everything that happened afterward—you and
me—was because you couldn’t trust yourself after all?”
Ah. Now she knew why he was looking so relaxed. Because
he’d figured her out. He’d seen through all the rest and come to
the most important point.
“Yes.” She lifted a hand and placed it on his chest, right
above his strongly beating heart. “Everything we shared after-
ward happened because I was attracted to you. I
And I still do.”
He moved closer, until their bodies brushed lightly, the warm
summer air only an inch wide between them. Laughing softly,
he reached up and stroked her hair. “Oh, Maddy, you crazy
woman. How can you be so smart and yet so totally
She remained stiff, not melting into him as her instincts were
telling her to. Was he saying yes? Or no?
“I’m not taking your money.”
“Oh, yes, you are.You must. I absolutely insist, or it’s no deal.”
His hand hovered in the air, close to her hair, no longer
touching her. “You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do. I brought my checkbook and I intend to pay you
up front the minute you agree.”
Leslie Kelly 125
“You’re telling me that if I don’t say yes, you won’t ever see
me again? You’ll buy me…but you won’t date me? Do you have
any idea how insane that sounds?”
She did. It
insane and so far out of character for her, she
hardly even recognized herself.
But that didn’t change her mind. Maddy needed to set the
boundaries, the protective ground rules that would let her get out
of this in thirty days with her heart and her pride intact if things
didn’t work out. As, she already suspected given her history, they
“It’s this way or no way, Jake,” she said, her tone firm, her
back ramrod stiff. He was now talking to the tough negotiator.
The ice queen.
She kind of ruined the moment by adding, “I’m not looking
for a…a boyfriend.”
He gave her a gesturing look.
“Or even a real lover.”
“We’re lovers, babe.”
“Business associates with benefits.”
He threw his head back and laughed, which made the thick
muscles in his neck quiver and brought Maddy’s attention to the
beads of sweat gathering in the hollow of his throat. Oh, how she
wanted to sample it. And then sample everything else.
But she still didn’t have his answer.
“I couldn’t be at your beck and call 24-7,” he warned. “I have
other obligations. Quite a full schedule.” Obviously seeing her
frown, he clarified. “Of course, if we were to come to an agree-
ment, I’d guarantee that none of those other
ever involve sexual contact with anyone else. Otherwise, a lot
of my time has to be my own. And that
Of course he had a private life, everyone did. She already
knew he had a family,
. And maybe he really did
126 Slow Hands
have other clients that he “escorted” without any of the naughty
goings-on. She could live with that…she hoped.
“Also, just so we’re clear,
I agree to this
you won’t be calling all the shots.” He raked a hot stare across
her, from her windblown hair, down to the clingy top, which
outlined the red bikini beneath. “You might be paying for my un-
divided attention when we’re together. But how I choose to
that attention is up to me.”
Maddy shivered lightly, despite the warmth of the day. The
words might have been cool, but the look in his eyes was hot.
hot. And she knew he was telling her he’d be the one in
charge in the bedroom.
Well. She’d bow to the expert on that. She’d be insane not
to, especially after the amazing things he’d done to her
Tuesday night. “Also agreed,” she managed to whisper, already
feeling weak in the knees at the thought of him
“One last point.”
“If I’m not seeing anyone else, you’re not either.”
That surprised her, considering she hadn’t had so much as a
date in more than a year, not until Jake. It also surprised her that
he’d care. She wondered if he had started feeling the crazy mix
of emotions toward her that she already felt for him. The question
also definitely reiterated that he would not be merely an
Maddy nodded slowly. “Okay. Does that mean…”
“Yeah, I guess it does.” He reached for her again, sliding his
fingers into her hair, cupping her head, then dragging her forward
until her body was crushed against his. “You’ve got a deal,
Madeline Turner,” he whispered.
Then he covered her mouth with his…and sealed that deal
with an earth-shattering kiss.
Leslie Kelly 127
Maddy the truth right away. A
GOOD MAN WOULD HAVE TOLD
noble man would have stopped her before she’d ever made her
offer. A kind man would have taken pity and not tormented her
with questions and conditions while she awaited his answer.
And a gentleman would have absolutely refused.
Jake considered himself good. At least a little noble. Pretty
kind, especially to the injured and helpless. And definitely a
gentleman, given his upbringing.
But he’d kept his big mouth shut. He had, in fact, forced
himself not to laugh as Ms. Madeline Turner “bought” him for
the next thirty days.
Oh, he hadn’t been laughing at first. The idea that he’d been
mistaken for a male hooker—well, that still burned. If it
hadn’t resulted in him ending up with this amazing—strong-
yet-vulnerable, demure-yet-sexy, icy-and-blazing-hot-woman—
he’d probably be pretty damned furious. As it was, he definitely
had something to say to the auction people, who’d apparently
gotten his information mixed up with that of some Euro-trash
gigolo. Possibly even the Irish-sounding guy who’d gone on
the block immediately after him.
Hmm…he wondered what that dude—billed as the Chicago
firefighter offering beer and baseball—had gone for. And how
Mr. Smooth had felt about it.
At that, he really did laugh.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Maddy asked, obviously hearing him as
they skimmed across the surface of the clear, calm water. The
sun beat down from above, yet with the speed of the wind in the
sails, and the rush of air moving past, he didn’t feel the heat.
Well, unless he looked at
Maddy had taken off her shirt and wore just a pair of soft
white shorts and a flaming red bikini top that couldn’t possibly
manage to hold in all her curves at once. Good thing she hadn’t
done it while they were docked. There probably would have
128 Slow Hands
been a yacht traffic jam caused by all the sailors ogling her as
they sailed out of the marina.
He’d thanked the universe more than once today, even if he
wasn’t entirely sure what the hell the universe was up to, given
the crazy situation in which he’d suddenly found himself.
“You really love this, don’t you?” he asked, watching her turn
her face into the wind and let it blow her hair in a long, billow-
ing stream of lush brown behind her.
Here on the water, she seemed fully in her element, com-
pletely caught up in what she was doing. Obviously the woman
knew her way around this vessel and she had unerringly led
them far from shore. She’d given him orders, and he’d followed,
not sure which was sexier—her amazing body, or the way she
barked commands, so sure she was in charge.
Maybe of the boat. Nothing else.
“I do. How about you? Feeling all right?” she asked. “I know
some people get a little seasick.”
“I’m fine.” Jake wasn’t stupid—he’d grabbed some motion
sickness pills on the way to the marina.
Eyes on the horizon, Maddy absently lifted her hands and
caught her hair between them, twisting it and tucking it into a
loose bun at her nape. Every move was smooth and fluid, as
elegant and graceful as the
Jake couldn’t help it. He reached out and ran his fingers
through the silky strand veil, pulling it back down.
“I like seeing the wind blow through your hair,” he ex-
She licked her lips, but didn’t protest. “Oh.”
The hair stayed down.
They continued traveling for another hour, not really talking,
Leslie Kelly 129
not really needing to. Jake suspected they were both still replay-
ing the conversation they’d had back on shore. What they’d
agreed to. What it had meant and where it would lead. Not just
in thirty days…but now.
She’d hired him. But that had nothing to do with the fanta-
sies playing in his mind. Fantasies about laying her down on a
thick towel, plucking the strings of her bikini and revealing her
magnificent body to the wide-open sky. And his hungry gaze.
Being in bed with her the other night had been fantastic.
Plunging into her beneath the brilliant sun, feeling the heat on
his back that couldn’t rival the heat in her tight channel, would
be absolutely mind-blowing.
Though he couldn’t exactly see, because of her dark sun-
glasses, he felt sure Maddy was watching him. She stole several
long glances at him, especially when he pulled his own shirt off
and let the sun warm his bare skin.
With her stare affecting him as powerfully as a touch, he sus-
pected her visions—fantasies—mirrored his.
He didn’t say a thing, didn’t suggest they stop, didn’t tell her
how much he wanted her. Instead he let them both think on it
awhile. Build it. Anticipate it.
They’d be dying for it when the time came.
And that time seemed to be now. Maddy wordlessly adjusted
the sails to slow their speed. “Are you hungry?” she asked, not
even looking in his direction. “I brought some lunch. We could
stop for a while to eat.”
Stop for a while. ’Bout damn time. “Put it on autopilot and
busy ourselves some other way, you mean?”
Her laugh was thin. Weak and breathy. “Uh…something like
that.” She nodded toward the cabin. “There’s a bag on the
counter, and another in the fridge. Would you mind getting
Jake did as she asked, awed once again that the cabin of this
130 Slow Hands
boat was bigger than the living room in his small apartment. And
more richly furnished. There was a large, comfortable-looking
bed, but it didn’t tempt him. Not yet. He wanted to have Maddy
on the hard planking of the deck, the only ceiling above them a
vivid blue one streaked with golden sunshine.
“Got it?” she called from above.
“Coming.” He glanced into the bag on the counter, spying
fresh bread, fancy crackers…and a box of condoms. “Oh, I’m
Retrieving a bag of cheese and fruit from the fridge, plus an icy
bottle of champagne and two glasses, he brought everything up on
deck. When he spied the name on the label and the pricy brand of
cheese, he whistled. “You do sail prepared.” Putting the food down
on a small table between two lounge chairs, he murmured, “You
must have been pretty sure I’d say yes to your proposal.”
“Actually,” she admitted, “I had originally planned to whisk
you out here onto the water and ply you with food and alcohol
before I asked you.”
Her amusing, matter-of-fact tone took the sting out of her sur-
prisingly honest confession. “If you’d taken off those shorts, it
probably would have worked.”
Laughing softly, Maddy reached for the button at her waist
and unfastened it. A quick flick of her fingers and the cotton
fabric fell to puddle at her feet, and was then kicked away.
“Oh, God,” he whispered, pushing his sunglasses onto the top
of his head with his index finger. Then he could only stare in vo-
racious hunger at the curve of her hips, the line of her thighs, the
hollow above her groin where the fabric of her bikini ended. Not
at all stick-thin, she was just so damned womanly, curvy and soft,
made to cushion a man in welcome.
The woman simply took his breath away.
would have worked,” he finally muttered.
Maddy reached into the bag, grabbed a grape and popped it
Leslie Kelly 131
into her mouth. Sighing in pleasure at the cool sweetness, she
took another one, licking the juice that squirted from it off her
lips, then sat in one of the lounge chairs. She stretched out like
a cat in a pool of warm sunshine. “I know. But I couldn’t go
through with it.”
He couldn’t take his eyes off her long enough to ask why.
She explained anyway. “I wanted you to really think about
my idea, not be seduced into accepting it.” She offered him an
impish smile. “If you’d said no, however, I might just have
shanghaied you and tried to change your mind.”
“If I had said no, I’d have deserved to be struck dead on the
spot.” Jake sat on the end of her chair, ignoring his own. “You
really thought I’d refuse?”
“You almost did. Didn’t you.”
Yeah. He almost had. At least until the whole story had come
out and he’d begun to understand
Maddy had been treating
him like a gigolo. Then he’d been amused and ready to tell her
the truth—that he was a simple paramedic and that being with
her for the next thirty days, or thirty years, he’d begun to suspect,
would be entirely his pleasure.
Her bald refusal to even consider letting him close without
paying him, however, had quickly squelched that idea. He didn’t
entirely understand her reasoning, but he had at least a suspicion
about what was driving her.
Maddy’s self-protective walls had been built brick by brick
with the help of her father and her hard-edged sister, not to
mention all the jaded people she’d been surrounded with all her
life. Then there was whatever secret hurt she’d suffered in a past
relationship—he knew there was one. She hadn’t opened up
about it yet, but he didn’t doubt she’d been burned. Badly.
So she was protecting herself. In the only way she knew how.
She was hiding behind the wall built of her money and her icy
reputation, keeping him on the other side. Not about to genuinely
132 Slow Hands
trust anyone enough to try a real relationship—especially not
someone she thought was a damned male whore.
If she set the boundaries, went in expecting no emotion, no
true feelings, she couldn’t be hurt.
God, his heart ached for her. He wanted to take her into his
arms and hold her, assure her that not every man was like the
ones she’d known before. Let her know she could trust him—
that he was
who she thought he was, not by a long shot.
Part of him suspected she’d be relieved, happy, willing to
accept that he was an average guy who was falling for her.
Another part of him feared she’d shove him off the boat…and
out of her life for good.
Jake wasn’t about to take that chance. And
was why he’d
gone along with the insanity.
“I didn’t. And I’m here,” he finally said, thrusting away the
momentary guilt about not opening up to her. He would…soon.
Just as soon as he’d convinced her to give him a shot—a real
one—and made sure she knew he would never intentionally hurt
She pulled her sunglasses off as she leaned toward him. Jake
met her halfway, brushing his mouth across hers, tasting a bit of
the grape juice on her lips. Deepening the kiss, he tasted a bit
more, swirling his tongue against hers, falling right back into that
deep well of warm, sensual pleasure he’d been missing since
Maddy shifted a little in the lounge chair, but he didn’t realize
she’d reached around to untie her bikini top until it fell into her
lap. He sat back, watching the sun warm her breasts. She appeared
almost pagan, despite the fragile paleness of her skin. “You’re
doing more than waving hello to the sun out your window today.”
“Yes, I am.” She smiled, obviously also remembering their
conversation in her office.
Leslie Kelly 133
He reached for the bottle of sunscreen they’d both applied
earlier. “You’d better let me help you put more lotion on. I
couldn’t even imagine you getting sunburned here.”
much for thinking about my well-being,” she
replied sweetly, a hint of wickedness in her eyes.
Jake squeezed a small handful of the milky white fluid into
one palm, then rubbed both hands together to spread it between
them. Inhaling the tropical scents of citrus and coconut, he
reached out and touched her breast, smoothing the protective
coating over her sensitive skin. Maddy’s head dropped back, her
mouth opening on a deep, sensual sigh. “Mmm.”
Her nipples grew taut as he lotioned her, and he allowed
himself a few pleasurable strokes, tweaking the puckered skin that
demanded his attention. “Jake,” she whimpered, “please, more.”
“I’m not quite finished.” He kept on stroking lightly, not
giving her the more urgent caress he knew she was dying for.
The woman really needed to learn patience.
Reaching again for the bottle, he started over again on her
other breast. But this time, once he was sure he’d protected every
luscious inch, he bent low, close enough to scrape his tongue
across the rock-hard tip.
She jerked. “Yes!”
Still cupping her, caressing her, loving the complete absence
of friction the lotion provided, Jake gently sucked her into his
mouth. Soft at first, he increased the tension when she arched
up against him, demanding it.
“Oh, please,” she groaned, twining her hands in his hair as
he went back and forth, kissing, laving, suckling her hard enough
to draw a series of shocked gasps from her mouth.
Knowing the arms of the chaise lounge would soon get in the
way, Jake let Maddy go long enough to toss a large, colorful
beach towel down onto the deck. Jake rose to his feet, reached
for her hand and tugged her up, too.
134 Slow Hands
Rather than leading her to the towel right away, however, he
began kissing his way down her body, much as he had the other
night, until he was on his knees in front of her. This time,
however, when he reached the fabric of her string bikini, he did
not veer away. Catching the elastic in his fingers, he pushed it
down, nibbling his way all the way down to the juncture of her
thighs, rubbing his lips against the soft thatch between them.
Her hands fell to his shoulders. She made no effort to pull
away. They’d come much too far for those kinds of inhibitions.
“Taste me, please,” she said.
Taste her? He intended to devour her.
He was smiling in pure hunger as he spied the glistening
pearl of flesh half-concealed by her soft curls. Still smiling, he
dipped close, flicked his tongue out. Her nails clenched into his
muscles and she groaned.
Reaching for her calf, Jake gently encircled it with his hand,
lifting her foot onto the seat of the lounge she’d just vacated.
Opening her for his most intimate dining pleasure.
Maddy groaned, the sound low and desperate. “I think the
ground would be shaking even if we were on dry land.”
Holding her by the hips to keep her steady, Jake tilted her
closer, right where he wanted her, and explored her pretty, slick
folds with his mouth. As he’d expected, she nearly buckled at
the sensation, but he kept her steady, completely in control. And
he didn’t relent, just kept pleasuring her until he heard her cry
out her climax a few moments later.
“Beautiful,” he murmured against her thigh, watching as she
shook from the power of it.
He let go of her hips, pulled her down and onto her back on
the deck. She stretched again, easing this way and that, her body
warm and pliant and, he would suspect, still pulsing from her
Usually he liked to go very, very, slow, but right now, Jake
Leslie Kelly 135
wanted to share the moment, to be part of her deep pleasure. So
he pushed his trunks down, not even kicking them all the way
off. Using his teeth to tear open one of the condoms he’d brought
up from the galley, he sheathed himself and moved between
Maddy’s legs. Her eyes remained closed, her mouth open, her
entire body flush with satisfaction.
And Jake joined right in. Pushing into her. Watching the way
her hungry smile widened, and her brown eyes opened to stare
up at him as his cock filled her, stretched her, mated with her.
He drove home. Hard. She thrust up to meet him. Hard.
As he’d expected, the afternoon sun sent blazing heat into his
back, but it couldn’t compare to the heat of Maddy’s steamy,
clenched core. She squeezed him from within, holding on so
tightly he felt wrapped in a fist of the softest, smoothest velvet.
A cooling breeze washed over them, providing relief. Soft
waves lapped against the side of the boat, making it rock beneath
them. Gently. Up and down. Setting a natural rhythm to which
they both began a slow, sultry dance.
Maddy’s breaths grew choppy, her cheeks flushed with color.
Between deep, lazy thrusts, she said, “You know, I really do like
the way you pay attention.”
He didn’t follow at first, then suddenly remembered the terms
of their deal. His demand that he be the one to call the shots—
as he saw fit.
“Good. Because I am an attentive guy.”
Wanting to see her beautiful face above him, her brown hair
haloed by sunshine, he wrapped an arm around her and scooped
her against him. He rolled onto his back, settling her onto his
groin without ever losing their deep connection.
“Mmm,” she said, lifting her hands to her hair, scooping it
back, holding it off her neck to cool her skin.
She remained still, sitting straight up on him and not moving,
visibly savoring the new position. Jake reached for her breasts,
136 Slow Hands
stroking and playing with her nipples while Maddy began to ride
him. With restraint he didn’t know she possessed, she pulled up
until he almost slid out of her entirely. He actually felt the cool
breeze blowing on his wet cock, before she slid back down to
wrap him in her warmth once again.
“You’ve learned the value of slowing down,” he murmured,
unable to prevent a smile as he watched her.
Maddy nodded. “Mmm, hmm. I’m a fast learner.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
Maybe she’d be open to learning a few more things from him.
Things that had nothing to do with moments like this—moments
of pure sensual bliss. Perhaps she’d someday allow him to teach
her a little more about relationships, romance, the human heart.
Maybe even the existence of love.
He had thirty days in which to try. And so far, Jake thought
he was off to a pretty good start.
, Maddy remembered what it was
VER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS
like to be a woman. A sensual—sexual—woman. Rather than a
bank drone, a dutiful daughter, a supportive sister.
She and Jake had spent the entire weekend together, staying
out on the boat Saturday night rather than coming in to shore.
were, he’d at least had Saturday and
Sunday free. They’d sailed and laughed, talked and made exqui-
site love. But on Monday, he’d disappeared again, saying he’d
be busy for the next two days—another forty-eight hour com-
mitment—and promised to see her in a few days.
She’d forced herself not to think about where he was, who
he was with and what he was doing. Jake had given his word
that he’d have no sexual contact with anyone else, but that
didn’t mean he wasn’t
anyone else. Professionally. Or
Lord, she hadn’t even asked him if he was involved in any
kind of relationship. She’d focused solely on his, um,
Let it go
, she’d reminded herself many times. No way would
he have agreed to the terms if he was seriously involved with
another woman. Besides, there was nothing she could do,
anyway. She simply had to trust him.
Honestly, she did. The man had taken her check, which had
both relieved her and broken her heart a little. Mainly, though,
it had been a relief, because it had sealed their bargain. While
138 Slow Hands
trusting any man was not easy for her, especially after Oliver,
have confidence in her business judgment.
He’d stick to his end of the deal. She knew it.
how she managed to get through the forty-eight
hours without driving herself crazy wondering if he was on the
arm of some rich old hag like Bitsy Wellington, explaining that
he couldn’t provide any more
Fortunately, all those worries had disappeared on Wednesday
night. He’d shown up at her door with a new-release DVD, a big
bag filled with popcorn, Lemonheads, Gummi Bears and other
movie-theater type candy, and informed her they were having a
Since she’d answered the door in nothing but an emerald-
green teddy, however, he’d decided the date could wait.
They’d made love right on the living room floor and they’d
been wild, rolling helplessly across the carpet, absolutely rav-
enous for one another. Maddy had, as usual, been surprised by
both his patience and his stamina, not sure where the man got
his strength. Eventually they’d ended up right in front of the
windows overlooking the twinkling lights of the city.
He’d taken her from behind, the two of them kneeling in
front of all that glass and all those stars, an enormous orange
moon hanging like a paper cutout right above them.
Talk about wanting to howl at the night like a wild, untamed
creature. When she saw the handprints all over the windows
the next day, she’d decided untamed had been a very good de-
There’d been two full nights of laughter and whispered con-
versation and sexual bliss, then another two nights of secretive
silence. Until now. It was Sunday again, and she was driving to
meet him at a local restaurant.
He’d offered to come over. But they’d both known from the
other night that if she allowed that, they wouldn’t eat anything
Leslie Kelly 139
until morning. Well, except each other, that is. And frankly,
while that thought was incredibly appealing, she was starving
for real food and her kitchen was, as usual, pretty empty.
Besides, they had all night. For now, she just wanted to enjoy
his company, in public, as if they were any other couple.
“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered to the skeptical voice in her head
as she entered the restaurant promptly at seven o’clock, her gaze
traveling the crowded establishment in search of his familiar
broad shoulders and short, thick hair.
She hadn’t even realized he’d been standing in the vestibule
until he’d stepped beside her and touched her arm.
“Hi yourself.” Despite the crowd, he bent and brushed a gentle
kiss across her lips. When it ended, instead of pulling away, he
brushed his nose against hers in a sweet, tender gesture—an
Eskimo kiss, she remembered from her childhood, having dim
memories of sharing them with her mother. She melted a little
on the spot.
“Shall we get a table?”
“Absolutely! I’m famished.”
“That mean you’re not having a salad?”
Maddy elbowed him in the ribs as they approached the host
ess station to request a table. Before they reached it, however,
Jake’s cell phone rang. “I’ll turn it off,” he muttered, “I’m not
on call tonight….”
Maddy put her hand up to stop him from saying anything further.
She did not want to know about his “on call” time. “It’s okay.”
“Uh-oh,” he said, reading the number. “I probably should
Maddy smiled at the hostess, requesting a table for two while
Jake stepped to the corner to take the call. Trying not to listen,
140 Slow Hands
she couldn’t help overhearing a few snippets of the conversation.
Words like “sweetie” and “honey, it’ll be okay, you know I’m
here for you,” making her ears perk up as if she were James
Bond’s partner in spying.
The words were bad enough. The soft, gentle tone, however,
truly bothered her. She did not like to think of him using
voice with any other woman. And she had no doubt it
another woman he was talking to.
“You know, why don’t you give that table to someone else?”
she told the hostess, her back stiffening. She’d lost her appetite.
“That’s a good idea,” Jake said, snapping his phone closed and
giving her a grateful look as he returned to her side.
Huh. She wondered how grateful he’d be if she took the phone
from his fingers and pitched it into the restaurant’s tropical fish tank.
“We’ve got to go.”
“We?” Her brow arching, she added, “Are you sure you don’t
need to go alone? I’m quite capable of seeing myself home—I
have my own car.”
He shook his head, taking her arm to lead her outside. “No,
I’m not letting you get away, I’ve been looking forward to this
date since I left your place Friday morning.” He opened the door
for her, waited while she exited, and followed her out into the
night. “It shouldn’t take long.” Frowning, he added, “I hope.”
“Look, Jake, I know this is just business and everything, but
if you have to go deal with one of your other…clients…I’d
really prefer not to go along for the ride. I’m not the type of
woman who’ll wait in the car while you dash inside and explain
to Mrs. Robinson that you can’t be at her beck and call tonight.”
He froze, his jaw dropping open. Which was when she
realized she’d made a big mistake. “I thought…I mean…”
“You honestly thought I was going to take you along while I
went to meet a
“You were so
on the phone, I assumed…”
Leslie Kelly 141
“It was my baby sister, Jenny. She just had a big fight with
her boyfriend. He drove away and stranded her down at the
Navy Pier. She was bawling her eyes out and asked me to come
get her and take her back to her dorm.”
Jake shook his head, disappointment so clear in his expression
she could almost feel it washing over her. “I’m
sorry. I can be
such a bitch.” She swallowed and stepped toward her own car.
“Why don’t I go home and you can call me later…if you want to.”
Grabbing her arm, Jake stopped her, stepping in close and
cupping her face in his hand. He pressed a quick, hard kiss on her
lips. “Shut up. Just drive me there. My truck’s not big enough, and
you, at least, have that little backseat. We’ll take care of Jenny, then
go back to your place.” His eyes narrowed and he kissed her again,
licking roughly at her tongue, then muttering against her lips,
“And I’ll pay you back for your lack of faith in me.”
So relieved that she hadn’t ruined their evening completely,
she smiled tremulously. They got in the car, Maddy behind the
wheel, as she started the engine and backed out of the parking
lot. Before they’d even reached the street, her good mood had
returned. “How are you going to pay me back?”
“I’m going to torture you,” he replied, his tone bored, his at-
tention out the window.
He finally looked over, his eyes shimmering in the light
thrown off the car’s dashboard. “I know it drives you crazy when
I go slow. Well, tonight, I’m going so slow you’ll think I’m
Her thighs quivered. “Monster.”
“Yeah. That’s me.” He dropped a hand on her thigh. “Drive
quick, okay? She sounded pretty upset.”
“You said this is the youngest one? How old is she?”
“Twenty. There’s an eight-year gap between her and me. My
older sisters and I call her the accident.”
142 Slow Hands
Hmm…that made him twenty-eight. Just her age.
“Funny that she called you, rather than one of your sisters,”
she mused. Whenever Tabitha had a breakup, she always showed
up at Maddy’s place with a bottle of tequila and a thousand
dollars’ worth of cosmetics from Sephora, for the “girl’s night”
she needed to get over it.
“She’s embarrassed. My sisters can’t stand the guy she’s been
dating and they’ll say ‘I told you so.’And my parents would hold
it against him, if and when they do get back together. Which,
knowing Jenny, will probably be soon.”
Her father was exactly the same way. The one time they’d run
into Oliver after he’d done Maddy so wrong, her dad had called
him a scum-sucking, lowlife, bootlicking coward. For starters.
Maddy had stopped his tirade. Eventually.
“But you like the guy?”
“Hell, no. He’s a lazy punk and I can’t stand him.”
“Then why did she call you?”
doesn’t know I can’t stand him. I know how to
keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.”
“Unlike your sisters—women—is that what you mean?” she
asked, not really offended but enjoying putting him on the spot.
Not that he ever stayed there for long.
“Your words. Not mine. Speaking of which—I don’t have to
ask you to keep the details of our, uh, arrangement, private, do
I? My family doesn’t know about…”
“Enough said.” She wasn’t bothered by the question. Of
course, he had to be sure. Besides, he didn’t sound as though he
was truly worried she’d out him as a hooker to his kid sister. “I’m
just your dinner date.” The words provided her a good opening
to do a little sneaky prying, and she wasn’t about to let it go.
“They won’t think it’s strange, uh, you being with me? I mean,
you don’t have anyone they usually see you with?”
He saw right through her. As usual. Laughing softly and
Leslie Kelly 143
tucking her hair behind one ear, he murmured, “I haven’t been
involved with anyone for a long time.”
Why it so relieved her that he hadn’t had a girlfriend, she
didn’t want to think about.
“And Maddy? You’re more than just my dinner date,” he
whispered. “Much more.”
Keeping her eyes on the road, Maddy couldn’t help smiling
a tiny bit, if only on the inside.
Because Jake was already ever-so-much-more to her, too.
HY ARE GUYS
“Like I’ve always said, babe. A.M.A.S.,” Jake replied. “All
Men Are Scum.”
“You’re not!” Jenny scooted up from the tiny backseat, her
elbows on her knees as she leaned between him and Maddy.
“He’s not, right?”
“Definitely not,” Maddy replied, entering the conversation for
the first time.
Not that she could have gotten a word in before now. They’d
picked up Jenny ten minutes ago. From the moment she’d gotten
into the car, she’d been crying and blowing her nose into a Taco
Bell napkin she dug out of her purse. Then babbling and raging,
explaining the fight—something about a girl named Liz and a
party and a kiss—and generally acting like the high-strung
twenty-year-old she was.
Maddy had remained quiet, driving, making occasional com-
miserating noises and frowning in sympathy with the slightly
hysterical young woman she’d never laid eyes on before. She was
calm and reasonable, totally in control, as always, but warm, too.
Well, almost always in control. He’d definitely made her lose
it on a few occasions. And he could hardly wait to do so again.
“Who are you, anyway?” Jenny asked, finally distracted from
her tale of woe. “Is this your car? It’s wicked sweet. Jake, is she
144 Slow Hands
your girlfriend? How long have you been together?” She sighed
deeply, the melodrama oozing out. “Oh, God, I interrupted your
date, didn’t I? Why is he
She threw herself back into her seat.
“This is Madeline Turner…I introduced you when you got in,
remember?” Jake asked, unable to hide his amusement.
Jenny just sniffed. “Sorry. Wasn’t listening.”
“It’s all right,” Maddy said. “I’m glad to meet you, but I’m
very sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
“They certainly do.” Maddy cast him a quick, apologetic
glance and clarified. “Some of them.”
“Not Jake, I know,” said his baby sister. “He’s a doll. I think
it’s having sisters. In my opinion, every woman should end up with
a man who had sisters. They drain all the assholeness out of him
while he’s growing up and make him learn to treat a woman right.”
Maddy chuckled. “There’s no denying your brother is a per-
fect gentleman.” Pursing her lips, she added, “And you know,
come to think of it,
ex was an only child.”
“You see?” Jenny exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.
“So is Toby.”
Toby being he of the great assholeness.
But Jake was more interested in hearing about Maddy’s ex.
This was the first time she’d mentioned him, though he’d
strongly suspected the guy’s actions left some major damage.
Had he been a lover? Fiancé? He couldn’t even contemplate
the idea that someone else might have actually put a wedding
ring on her beautiful finger and then let her get away.
Jenny was fine, already showing more interest in the car than
in the boyfriend who would be texting her and asking for for-
giveness within a few hours, he was quite sure. He wanted to
know more about Maddy. “So, tell me more about this ex.”
Leslie Kelly 145
“Oh-ho, haven’t gotten that far in the relationship, huh? Just
sex talk, no ex-talk?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve threatened your life,” Jake
said, not even turning around to glare at his sister. His words were
menacing enough. “Now be quiet or I’ll call Heather and Blair
and sic them on you tonight.”
Jenny stiffened, definitely fearing the combined threat of
their two older sisters, complete busybodies, both of them.
“Sorry. Go ahead, Maddy.”
“Go ahead with what?” she asked, obviously distracted by the
sibling bickering. With only one sister—and a snooty, preten-
tious, pushy one at that, judging by what he’d heard about her—
Jake doubted Maddy had much experience with the playfully
cutthroat world of sibling disputes.
“The ex. What was he, a cheat?” Jenny asked.
Jake didn’t scold her, because that was exactly the question
he wanted to ask, but hadn’t dared to.
Maddy sighed softly. “Oh, yes. Oliver was most definitely a
Jenny gasped. “Oh, God, did he cheat on you with a
That startled a shocked laugh out of their driver. “No, why
on earth would you ask that?”
“Well, come on, I mean,
Only a parent who’s just
for a gay son would come up with that name!”
Jake snorted, quickly hiding his laughter when Maddy swept
a sidelong glance his way. Her tiny frown told him she’d seen
“Well, as far as I know, he confined his cheating to snow
bunnies and cocktail waitresses.”
“But you’re so hot. Why would any guy do that?”
Maddy shifted in her seat, as always, not accepting that she
was a beautiful, desirable woman. “He liked tall, rail-thin,
146 Slow Hands
“Then it sounds to me like he should have been with an albino
greyhound,” Jake snapped, completely despising the unknown
Oliver. “Because he’s only fit to be with his own kind…dogs.”
“I totally agree. You are so much better than that,” Jenny said,
whether out of loyalty to Maddy because she was with Jake, or
because she liked her—or her car—or simply out of a go-girl-
Maybe all of the above.
“I think it was a combination of immaturity, selfishness and
greed,” Maddy admitted, her voice low, almost as if she was
speaking to herself. “I am sure he liked my connections and my
family money more than me.”
“She’s rich?” Jenny piped in.
“Shut up, Jen.”
His sister shut up.
“But he was a spoiled rich kid who took what he wanted when
he wanted it. While he very briefly thought he wanted me, he ob-
viously changed his mind and moved on…without clueing me in.”
“How’d you find out?”
Jake hadn’t asked, Jenny had. Again he did not tell her to shut
up, because he wanted to know the answer. He couldn’t possibly
have asked—he was too busy keeping his jaw clamped shut and
his body tightly pressed against the passenger seat, so damned
furious at the lousy prick who’d hurt Maddy he couldn’t even
Maddy glanced into the rearview mirror, seeming to meet his
sister’s eyes. “He went on a ski trip and I decided to ‘surprise’
him by coming up to join him. He was surprised all right.”
“Eww! Did you walk in when they were…”
“Jenny,” Jake snapped, “that’s a little too personal.”
“Sorry. Man, I’m ready to run out of hope altogether. If it can
happen to you, it can totally happen to anyone.”
The Maddy he’d met a few weeks ago—the hard, brittle
Leslie Kelly 147
one—probably would have nodded in agreement. The cool
woman he’d walked with to the park, who’d slammed the very
idea of lasting love as being a fantasy might have warned his
baby sister about being cautious, staying slightly separate from
anyone to avoid getting hurt.
Instead, she surprised him. “You know, looking back, it was
just as well. He definitely wasn’t the man for me.”
Ah, progress. At least she was conceding there might exist
such a creature—a man for her.
“And I know it wasn’t my fault and that not every man would
behave that way. It was his own weakness of character.”
“So I’ve finally come to the point where I can let it go and
forget about him.” Then, grunting she added, “Which is fine,
except for the fact that he is still in my social circle, and I do see
him once in a while.”
“Is he going to be at the wedding?” Jake asked, already re-
lishing the prospect.
“God, I should hope not. My father would lose his mind. I
think he was more furious about what Oliver did than I was. And
if Dad didn’t clean the floor with him, Tabitha would eviscerate
him with a salad fork.” Glancing again at Jenny in the mirror,
she explained, “My older sister is getting married on Saturday
and Jake is escorting me.”
“You an escort to a rich wedding, huh?” Jenny snorted, open-
ing her mouth to say something else.
Fearing it might be something along the lines of, “What are you
going to wear, your paramedic uniform?” he quickly interrupted.
“Maybe Maddy will return the favor and come with me to Blair’s.”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me. Have you seen the bridesmaid dresses
she finally decided on?” Sticking her index finger into her mouth
and making retching noises, the twenty-year-old made her opinion
of them clear. Then she asked Maddy, “Are you a bridesmaid?”
148 Slow Hands
“Did your sister pick out the monkey-butt-ugliest dresses in
the store? Talk about hideous—ruffled and frilly baby’s-ass-
peach things. They look more like something I would have worn
to my third birthday party.”
Soft, lyrical laughter spilled from Maddy’s mouth. “No,
actually the dress I’m wearing is beautiful…for someone built
“Meaning I’m going to have to duct tape myself to fit into it
to hold it up. I haven’t worn a strapless, backless dress since
I reached puberty.”
“That sister of yours…” Jake muttered.
“Hey, it’s her wedding,” Maddy said with a shrug. “I honestly
don’t care, and it is a very pretty dress. I’ll just try not to breathe.
And I definitely won’t be bending over. It’s far too revealing for
someone with my, um, figure.”
Hmm…he could hardly wait to see it. What might be demure
on one of those stick-thin, leggy blondes her ex had so desired
would be downright sinful on a woman like Maddy. How any
man could have preferred anyone else when he’d had this woman
in his life, he simply had no idea.
Men who cheated pissed him off as a matter of principle. But
one who’d cheated on
Well, this sonofabitch Oliver was just
lucky he wasn’t coming to the wedding.
“I bet you’ll look totally wicked,” Jenny said. “While I’m
going to look like Dora the Explorer in her party dress.”
“Totally wicked,” Jake murmured, already smiling at the
“No comments, you.”
In the backseat, Jenny stopped talking, and began to avidly
stare down at the cell phone in her hand. The texting must have
commenced. Knowing his sister was fully occupied now, Jake
Leslie Kelly 149
still kept his voice low. “I’ll be happy to keep an eye on you,
make sure everything stays in place.”
“Mmm, hmm,” Maddy said, sotto voce, watching his sister
in the backseat.
“She wouldn’t notice if a tidal wave came off the lake unless
it filled the car and took that stupid phone out of her hands.”
“Then I guess you’d better tell me where I’m going,” Maddy
murmured, nodding toward the sign as they entered the campus
of the university Jenny attended. “Which one is her dorm?”
Jake pointed to a nearby building, and by the time they’d
parked outside it, Jenny had a big grin on her face. Whatever
Toby-the-asshole had said in his text messages had obviously
mollified her. She’d forgiven him.
Until next week.
They got out to say goodbye to his little sister, who gave both
of them enthusiastic bear hugs for coming to her rescue. Maddy,
who didn’t seem the type to appreciate being hugged by a
complete stranger, still had a smile on her face as they got back
in the car to leave.
“I like her.”
“She liked you, too.”
“I don’t ever remember being that young and energetic.”
“I disagree. You seemed like an energetic powerhouse the
other night. And that day on the boat. And the night of the
Maddy, who hadn’t seemed to be the type to even know what
teasing was a few weeks ago, gave it right back to him. “Well, I
fear my batteries might have run completely dry. It’s going to
take something pretty spectacular to charge them again.”
He was up for the job. “Good. Then let’s head back to your
place and I’ll do everything I can to…spark a charge.”
“Are you saying you want to plug something in?”
Jake barked a quick laugh. “You do know you’re teasing me,
150 Slow Hands
right? That this is called banter. You’re flirting with me and
you’re not talking in that snooty voice you used to use. And thank
God you’re not or calling me
for fantasizing about you
in that bridesmaid dress.”
She didn’t respond at first, merely appearing to think about
his words. He wondered if he should have said anything at all.
The changes coming over Maddy were visible to him—maybe
they hadn’t been to her.
Maybe she hadn’t yet acknowledged, even in her own mind,
that she was opening up to him. Trusting him. Letting down her
guard and being the woman he’d sensed was there, beneath the
surface, all along.
From her warmth toward his sister, her men-suck commisera-
tion, her bridesmaid talk, her openness about her bad breakup,
hell, even accepting a hug without the slightest wince, Maddy
was as unlike the woman he’d spoken with in her office that day
as he was unlike…well, the gigolo she’d taken him for.
Maybe it’s time to end this
. It was definitely something to
“I suppose I should thank you,” she said softly. “I’ve been
pretty cold and hard since the…incident…with Oliver.” Nibbling
lightly on her bottom lip, she added, “I wasn’t always the ice
Jake reached over and touched her cheek, lightly, briefly.
really the ice queen.”
Maddy nodded, still pensive, serious. Maybe even thinking
some of the same things he’d been thinking. If she continued to
think that way, she might very well be ready to hear what it was
he had to tell her.
Soon. Hopefully very soon.
“You know…” he said, changing the subject to the other one
that was foremost on his mind. “Thinking of you in that brides-
maid dress you were talking about has suddenly got me anxious
Leslie Kelly 151
for a preview. Let’s go back to your place so you can model it
for me.” He made no attempt to disguise his wolfish tone or true,
“What about dinner?”
Jake merely leaned back in the seat, stretching his long legs
out as far as he could in the small car. “I suddenly prefer to dine
in. Do you have anything…appetizing at your place?”
“Are we bantering again?”
“I think we are. Bantering, flirting, exchanging innuendo.”
“Well then.” She appeared to think about it, tapping the tip
of her finger on her cheek. “Hmm. I believe there are still a few
Lemonheads and some popcorn…”
just dine on me.”
Exactly the kind of dinner he had in mind.
“But first, we’ve got to clear something up, mister. You
haven’t cashed that check I gave you.” She sounded accusing.
“You peeking in my wallet again?”
“I do manage a bank, you know.”
“You’d better not even be
of trying to tear it up or
hand it back to me at the end of our thirty days.”
“Maddy, come on, I don’t need your money.”
“Tough,” she snapped. “We had a deal, so you cash it. Do
whatever you want with the money, invest it, pay Jenny’s tuition,
give it to charity for all I care. But fair’s fair.” Her lips curved
up the tiniest bit. “I’m not a welsher.”
Ah, now he understood the amusement. He’d used the exact
terms when seeking her out at the bank.
“You’ll do it?”
He should have expected this, he really should have. If Maddy
was genuinely changing, letting her heart open up, she had to be
scared to death. The first thing she’d do is try to get things back
152 Slow Hands
under control, protect herself, just in case. Personally, he believed
they’d gone too far for her to do it—that genie was out of the
bottle. She could not stop smiling at him, exchanging warm
looks and sexy conversations any more than he could.
But she could remind them both of why they’d gotten into
this. And that was exactly what she was doing.
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered.
“All right, yes, I promise,” he agreed, knowing that no, he
could not tell her the truth yet. Not while she still felt the need
to make sure she had an easy way out at the end of their month
together, just in case.
Besides, she’d certainly made no comments about them
sticking together beyond that. She hadn’t verbally expressed
any genuine feelings for him at all. Which meant she might not
quite be ready to continue what they were doing without the
stupid “arrangement” giving her the protection something deep
in her psyche required her to have.
It appeared that while it might be good for the soul, confes-
yet be good for his relationship with the woman
he was falling in love with.
So his mouth would stay shut. Even if his heart was wide-open.
before Tabitha’s wedding was shaping up to be
HIS LAST WEEK
a crazy one and by Tuesday afternoon, Maddy was already com-
pletely exhausted. Not only because she’d had two long,
glorious—and sleepless—nights in Jake’s arms, but also because
of the typical prewedding hysteria every family experienced.
Tabby was a mess. The bride had been worrying herself into
a frenzy about the weather, the caterer, the vows, the rings.
She’d second-guessed the brand of champagne, argued with the
wedding planner and was stewing over her honeymoon trous-
seau. Not to mention, she was starving herself to fit into her
size two dress.
Maddy had worn a size two once. When she
Still, she didn’t envy her sister one bit right now, and wouldn’t
change places with her for the world. Except, perhaps for one thing.
She did wonder what it might be like to be loved so deeply
by a man.
Her sister’s fiancé must love Tabby madly. It was the only ex-
planation for why he’d put up with the antics of someone so
totally unlike himself. Why he’d be drawn to his complete
opposite. Love like that sounded
Who was she kidding? Being loved like that by a wonderful
man sounded utterly amazing. Especially if the man was Jake.
. She had no business thinking that way, but the fanta-
sies kept creeping up on her at the oddest times. Especially after
154 Slow Hands
she gave in and finally allowed herself to admit—after their con-
versation in the car Sunday night—that she
he’d pointed out. He simply didn’t realize how
She’d fallen in love with him. Against all her own cautionary
advice and better judgment, her walls had dropped and her heart
While a big part of her wanted to tell him, another part—the
sensible part—had known she couldn’t. Not until their deal was
finished, their thirty days up. After that, if Jake stayed, it would
be for personal reasons only. She couldn’t use her feelings to
pressure him in any way.
And that was why she’d demanded that he cash that stupid
check. They had to keep their arrangement, if only to make sure
that whatever happened afterward, happened because he felt as
deeply for her as she did for him.
“In love,” she whispered under her breath Tuesday afternoon,
after daydreaming her way through an executive meeting led by
The ice queen had completely melted for a gigolo. Wouldn’t
the tabloids adore that.
“What did you say?” her father asked, obviously hearing her
words, since only the two of them remained. The meeting had
wrapped up a few minutes ago.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just thinking about the wedding.”
“Of course, who isn’t?”
Their father had been preening in his role of father of the
bride, while also going over every detail with his keen business-
man’s eye…as well as inviting anyone he felt like asking. He
had, in fact, extended two verbal invitations this very day.
“You know, Tabby’s going to kill you. If those two Califor-
nia businessmen come this weekend, you’re going to throw off
her seating plans.”
Leslie Kelly 155
Her father frowned, thought about it, then winked. “I’ll
Their father was no dummy. He had absolutely no illusions
about how his oldest daughter felt about his young wife. Yet he
still managed to keep his sense of humor about it.
Tabby was right. He really did seem happy. So maybe he did
genuinely love the woman.
Good grief, she must be turning into a complete mush-bag be-
lieving in all this true love involving
“Do you really think our girl’s going to be happy with that
stick-in-the-mud Bradley?” her father asked, putting words to a
question Maddy had considered a few times herself.
“She seems to be. She says he calms her.”
Her father shrugged, not appearing convinced. “Calms her…
or bores her?” Then he frowned. “I have heard rumors that he’s
a very rigid, strict man.”
Knowing her sister, he would not stay that way for long. “It’ll
be fine. Besides, you know Tabby. She has no problem calling
something off if it’s not going to work out. And she’s determined
to go through with it.”
He sighed, obviously remembering the money he’d paid for
past engagements…and one lavish wedding. “So far.” The way
he glanced at the documents in his hands did not disguise his
overly innocent tone when he asked, “And what about you,
sweetheart? Is that handsome, dark-haired fellow escorting
“You can’t blame me for being curious. He seems like a good
“He is a good sort,” she admitted, hearing a completely unfa-
miliar soft, mushy tone in her own voice. “In fact, he’s wonderful.”
Her father dropped his papers, reached for her and gave
Maddy a quick hug, kissing her temple. “I can’t tell you how
156 Slow Hands
thrilled I am to hear you say that.” His eyes were suspiciously
moist when he pulled away. “I want you to be happy, Madeline.
to see you giving someone else a chance after
what that vile bastard Oliver did.”
One way to get her father riled up and send his blood pressure
through the roof was to talk about her ex. “Forget him Dad, he’s
. And yes, Jake is escorting me this weekend.” Though
she didn’t want to get her father’s hopes up about Maddy actually
being involved in a real relationship—given Jake’s profession—
she did like seeing the shadow of worry disappear from his eyes.
“I think you’ll like him.”
“I think I already do,” he murmured, touching her cheek with
sweet tenderness. “He brought that beautiful smile back to your
face and the warm sparkle in your eyes. I’ve missed seeing them
in the past eighteen months.” He stared at her for a moment, as
if memorizing her features, though he’d seen her nearly every
day for her entire twenty-eight years. “You are so lovely, my
dear,” he mumbled, that moisture appearing in his eyes again.
Her father was behaving in a most un-Jason-Turner-like
fashion today. Loving he may be—maudlin and sentimental he
was not. This upcoming wedding must have really gotten him
thinking, and worrying, about Maddy’s single state.
“Love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too.” And as quickly as his odd mood had come
over him, he shook it off and pointed an index finger at her.
“Now, don’t forget this evening. You know I’m counting on you
to keep the peace.”
Her usual role in the family.
“I won’t forget,” she murmured, wishing she
Her father had insisted on one last “family” dinner before
things got too crazy. Which meant she’d be seeing her step-
mother, the only person who did
seem to be going insane with
wedding preparations, or to even be involved with them at all.
Leslie Kelly 157
The woman had been avoiding her—and Tabitha, too—as if
they both carried the Ebola virus. Maddy suspected she was too
embarrassed to face her stepdaughters, having to know that they
were both fully aware of why she’d been at that auction.
Tonight, though, Deborah could no longer escape. Neither,
unfortunately, could Maddy or her sister.
Absolutely the only good thing about the evening, in Maddy’s
opinion, was that she would have the chance to warn her step-
mother about who her escort would be, both at the rehearsal
dinner and the wedding.
She didn’t merely want to avoid any embarrassing moments
that her father might pick up on. She also didn’t want Jake sub-
jected to any whispered come-ons. Frankly, the way she was
feeling, if her stepmother made a move on the man Maddy had
come to consider hers, she’d rip the woman’s hair out by its
platinum blond roots.
So much for the ice queen.
some extra shifts to make up for the time off
AVING TO PICK UP
he’d need to escort Maddy both to tonight’s rehearsal dinner and
tomorrow afternoon’s wedding, Jake found himself missing her
like crazy after only the few days they’d spent apart. It was as if
she was a drug to which he’d become completely addicted. And
honestly, he’d never felt like that about anyone before in his life.
“You’re losing it, man,” he muttered that morning as he filled
out some paperwork for a patient he and his partner had just
brought in to the hospital. “Absolutely losing it.”
And damn, didn’t it feel fine. As long as, sooner or later,
Maddy “lost it,” too.
Seventy-two hours. That was far too long. He hadn’t seen
her since Tuesday morning, when she’d taken him back to his
truck. It had been parked outside the same restaurant where
to dine Sunday night—before Jenny’s interrup-
158 Slow Hands
tion. They’d rescheduled for Monday, and had actually
managed to complete an entire date. A
one, filled with
laughter and good food, and more of that flirtatious banter
Maddy seemed to want to try out—and was getting very good
at. She was so adorably sexy to watch as she let her inhibi-
tions fall away, one by one.
Speaking of sexy, that bridesmaid dress… Whew! While it had
definitely lived up to all his heated expectations, he’d found
himself dreading her actually wearing it to the wedding. He wasn’t
sure he was ready for the way other men were going to look at
her, whether she believed that or not. The last thing he wanted to
do was go off on a jealous rant in the middle of the fancy yacht
club reception because some rich dickhead high on one-too-many
glasses of champagne looked at her the wrong way.
She can take care of herself
, he forced himself to acknowl-
edge, remembering the drunk at the ball game.
“You finished?” the admitting nurse asked, interrupting his
heated musings. Jeez, it wasn’t often he got distracted from his
job, especially with a case as serious as this one.
Maybe it was
this case was such a serious one. And
because of the way the victim’s wife had looked when she’d
arrived here a few minutes ago.
Utterly and completely terrified.
Madeline Turner might not have seen a lot of true love in her
lifetime, but oh, God, did it exist. Jake saw it every day—saw
the anguish and the heartbreak that came with the thought of los-
ing someone who was so deeply loved that their partner couldn’t
imagine life going on without them. Like the wife from this
“Yeah, I’m done,” he muttered. “Hope the guy makes it.”
The patient he and his partner, Raoul, had brought in was a
shooting victim, injured in an apparent home invasion. He’d
been found unconscious on the floor of his own house. A
Leslie Kelly 159
neighbor had heard the shots and called 911. Jake and Raoul had
arrived right behind the police and Jake’s hands had been the first
on the wounded man’s bloody chest.
“I think he will.”
Good. The guy was middle-aged, had a nice home and a loving
wife who’d apparently just left for work when it had happened.
He deserved a hell of a lot better than to die for opening his front
door to the wrong stranger.
Though they needed to get back to the station, he and Raoul
stuck around, both to keep an eye on the man’s condition and
because they’d already been told they’d probably have to give a
statement to the police. This suspect was apparently one nasty
character and the cops wanted him bad.
Raoul had gone to secure the truck and to radio the station
that they were going to stay for a few minutes. Grabbing himself
a cup of coffee from the lounge, Jake hung around the E.R. in-
formation desk, watching the clock, hoping the team of detec-
tives showed up soon. There were EMTs back at the station, but
he was the only actual paramedic on today.
Finally, a stocky, solid woman with short, iron-gray hair and
a no-nonsense attitude approached him. “You Wallace?”
“Detective Harriet Stiles.” She flashed a badge. “My partner
spotted yours out in the truck and he’s taking his statement.”
She began asking questions, routine stuff. Jake only wished
he could actually be of some help. He spoke clearly and con-
cisely, telling what little he knew, since he hadn’t seen the as-
sailant, just the victim lying on the floor.
When he finished, Detective Stiles nodded and snapped her
“All done?” a man’s voice asked the officer.
Jake glanced up and saw that a dark-haired guy, solidly built,
a few inches shorter than him, had joined them.
160 Slow Hands
“Looks like it. You?”
“Mr. Wallace, this is my partner, Detective Santori,” the first
officer told Jake.
“Good to meet you. Huh…Santori. That name is familiar.”
The other man laughed softly. “There are a
Jake suddenly remembered how he knew the name. The
woman from the charity—the one who’d tried to help him track
down Madeline. She’d been named Santori.
“I met a woman—Nicole Santori, maybe? It was at a charity
auction a few weeks ago.”
The other man stiffened, his jaw jutting out the tiniest bit. “Are
you talking about my
Noelle? She founded the Give A Kid
A Christmas program.”
Suddenly realizing why the other man had tensed—since the
wife had, he recalled, been very pretty—Jake put both hands up,
in a universal no-harm, no-foul gesture. “Hey, no offense. I was
only asking because I wanted to try to get a message to her.
There was a major printing mix-up that night with the program.”
Santori visibly relaxed. “She won’t be happy to hear that.”
“Look, it turned out okay—in fact, great—on my end.”
“Spoken like a man in love,” said Detective Stiles with a low
snort. She didn’t exactly look like the romantic type.
Hell, he probably was wearing some kind of sappy, guy-in-
love grin. Frankly, though, Jake didn’t give a crap. He
“Like I said, I’m fine. But I don’t know how the bachelor who
was mistaken for me—and got my bio—is feeling about it.
Whoever ‘won’ him was expecting a blue collar rescue worker.
And, uh, I really
think that’s who she got.”
“I see,” Santori said. His brown eyes twinkled. Noting the
laugh lines on the detective’s face, Jake sensed he was pretty laid-
back, when he wasn’t going all alpha in claiming his wife.
Leslie Kelly 161
“Noelle told me about a few of the more high-maintenance guys
who showed up that night.”
Jake had no idea whether the real gigolo was high-maintenance
or not. He only knew he probably wasn’t the kind of man who’d
offer a woman baseball and beer. So whoever he’d ended up with
probably had quite a surprise on her hands.
“Anyway, I just wanted her to have a heads-up. We were
numbers nineteen and twenty, I think.”
“Got it. Thanks for letting me know, I’ll be sure to pass it
along.” He extended his hand, and Jake shook it. “Good to meet
you…Wallace, was it?”
“Well, I know my wife was thrilled at the money earned that
night. It went a long way toward helping meet her annual goal.”
He grinned. “From the sound of it, you guys really went through
Groaning, Jake confirmed that. “You have no idea. I now
know what a brownie at a Weight Watchers meeting feels like.”
Both the officers were grinning as they murmured their good-
byes and turned to leave, though Jake knew their smiles wouldn’t
remain during the very long day ahead of them.
Before they’d gotten more than a few steps away, Jake re-
membered something. Something big. “Wait!” Reaching into his
back pocket, he retrieved his wallet, digging out the folded piece
of paper he’d stuck in there the day he and Maddy had gone
she didn’t care what he did with the money….
“I have another contribution to make,” he said, not hesitating
for one second in doing what he knew was the right thing. He
had, after all, promised her. “Can you get it to your wife?”
Borrowing a pen, Jake unfolded the check, looking at it for
the very first time. He immediately realized what a good thing
162 Slow Hands
it was that he hadn’t lost the thing, because Maddy had filled out
the amount, but not the name. As if she wasn’t sure whether he
used a different one for “business” or was trying to hide the
income. Great. The woman either thought he was a tax dodger
or that he’d incorporated himself in the sex trade.
Then again, considering she thought he was a gigolo, he
guessed he shouldn’t be surprised.
Writing the name of the charity and grinning when he pic-
tured Noelle Santori’s face, he passed the check over. The de-
tective took it and prepared to carelessly stuff it in his pocket.
“Uh…you might want to put that in your wallet or something.”
“Oh?” Santori finally glanced at the front of the thing, noted
the number of zeroes, and muttered, “Holy shit.”
“I sure hope so. What kind of rat-brained idiot would try to
pass off a bad check for needy kids to a cop?”
“I have been accused of being many things, but never a rat-
The partner, who’d peeked over Santori’s shoulder at the
check herself, whistled. “Nice.”
Very nice. Very worthwhile. And now that the check had been
lifted from his pocket, Jake felt
he’d lost thirty pounds.
Or thirty thousand.
started at seven, with the dinner taking
HE WEDDING REHEARSAL
place right afterward at a nice restaurant in one of the hotels owned
by the groom’s family. It was now five. They should be leaving
any minute to get there, given Friday rush hour traffic in the city.
Instead, the minute Jake walked out of the elevator and into
her place, Maddy jumped on him. Literally. She flew into his
arms, wrapped her legs around his waist and began pressing
wild, frantic kisses on his mouth.
Leslie Kelly 163
“I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered when she paused
to take a breath—and let him take one.
“Ditto.” Holding her around the waist with one arm, cupping
her bottom with the other hand, he strode straight down the hall
toward her bedroom. He kissed her jaw, the side of her neck. “We
might be late.”
“Tabby’s never been on time for a thing in her life,” Maddy
replied, letting her silky, short bathrobe slip off her shoulders and
down her arms. She could have gotten dressed for their evening,
as Jake—in a dark blue suit and crisp white dress shirt and tie—
had. Instead, as she’d begun pulling on the lingerie she’d bought
to wear beneath her new cocktail dress, she’d only been able to
picture Jake taking it off her. And so, she hadn’t bothered to
finish dressing. “She was an hour late to her first wedding.”
Reaching her bedroom, Jake tossed her onto the middle of her
bed, watching with glittering, heated avarice as the robe fell
completely down, revealing her black lace bra, black garter belt
and sheer stockings.
“Then I guess Tabby won’t mind if we’re just a few minutes
late to her rehearsal.”
Maddy lay back on the bed, one leg straight down, the other
bent at the knee in invitation. With one hand resting on her
stomach, the other brushing through long strands of her loose
hair, she gave him a wicked glance that left no doubt about what
she wanted. “
a few minutes?”
“After three and a half days without you, I want at least that
long inside you,” Jake muttered as he took his jacket off and
tossed it onto a chair. “Can we skip tonight altogether?”
She shook her head. “I wish. But I’m the maid of honor,
“So we…get a little satisfaction now, then come back here
tonight and I’ll do you until we have to leave tomorrow for
164 Slow Hands
She shivered at the roughness in his tone, which spoke of his
ravenous need. “Deal.”
Jake loosened the tie next, taking a whole lot longer than such
a simple chore should take.
You’re going way too slow.”
“I said a
satisfaction. Not an infinitesimal amount.”
Just her luck. Even when desperate, the man had agoniz-
“Hurry up,” she ordered, writhing on the bed.
“Not a chance. We’re not so pressed for time that I’ll rush
through something I’ve been fantasizing about for days.”
Fantasizing about her when they weren’t together? That was
nice to hear. But it didn’t exactly do anything about the mad heat
spiraling through her entire body. “Haven’t you ever heard of a
“Yeah. And I want one. Maybe tomorrow, at the reception.”
His eyebrows wagged. “Want to meet me in the coatroom?”
Oh, he was wicked. So wicked. Just the thought of it sent a
thousand more hot tendrils of electricity straight between her thighs.
“That’s incredibly tempting,” she admitted, meaning it. “But
knowing how hard it’s going to be to get myself secure in my
dress, I don’t know that I’ll be up for taking it off in the middle
of the big event.”
He reached for the top button of his dress shirt, unfastening
it with slow deliberation before moving on, watching her watch
him. “I’d be there to help you get…put back together.”
After he sent her flying apart, no doubt.
“Unless you’re going to pack a crowbar in your tux to squeeze
everything back in, and strong tape to hold it all in place, I think
that’ll be impossible.” As it was, she’d had to buy some ridicu-
lous sticky contraptions that were supposed to give her some
support. The thought of gluing plastic film to her breasts seemed
utterly ridiculous, and she already dreaded it.
Leslie Kelly 165
The alternative, however, was worse. No way was she going
“Maybe I don’t want you wearing that dress around other
guys.” A frown tugged that handsome brow down and he’d
Jealous? Was that even possible? A little thrill of excitement
at the thought of it made her heart roll. “They’ll
it. You’ll be
the only one
seeing it when I take it off.”
“I suppose that’ll have to do.” He stared at her legs. The hose.
The garter belt. The tiny black panties. “Getting back to our
quickie. Maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about your dress.
Wear what you have on now.” Smiling with pure heat, he added,
the panties. I’ll lift your gown and take you right up
against the wall of the closet, daring you not to scream.”
She groaned, her legs clenching, ready to scream right now.
“I’d lose that dare.”
He seemed oblivious to her agony, still taking his own sweet
time, arousing her word after word, look after look, not having
even touched her since he dropped her onto the bed. But at least
he resumed working on those double-damned buttons.
Picturing the interlude he’d proposed, she murmured, “Can
you imagine trying to walk out of that coat closet into the recep-
tion and act normally afterward?”
“You’re going to be doing it tonight at the dinner.”
Confused, Maddy merely stared.
A look of such tenderness appeared on Jake’s face, it took her
breath away to think it was directed at her. “Oh, honey, you have
no idea how you look after we’ve made love. You wear your hap-
piness on your face for hours afterward.”
Good Lord. Such sweet words
. Had any man ever touched
her with just a whisper the way this one had?
Easy to answer. Absolutely not.
“Tonight at the rehearsal you’re going to have that soft smile
166 Slow Hands
on your face and that glow in your eyes. Your skin will be flushed
and you’ll be a little slow and dreamy in your movements, like
your body is there, but every other part of you—heart, mind and
Maddy closed her eyes, not wanting him to see what she sus-
pected lurked in them. The sheen of tears—and a whole lot of
genuine emotion. Maybe even the love that she’d finally ac-
knowledged, if only to herself, that she felt for the man.
Finally feeling capable of speaking—and looking at him—
she opened them again. “Jake, I am so glad I met you.”
“Me, too,” he admitted.
Their stares met, exchanging unspoken emotion, and in
that moment, Maddy knew their relationship had just moved
up to something else. She wasn’t sure what. Just something.
And, to her complete surprise, she wasn’t utterly terrified by
But there was no time to dwell on it now. Certainly not
enough time for them to drag it out and talk about it.
Pursing her lips, Maddy focused her attention on his still-
clothed body. “Ahem. Back to our time limits? If you don’t get
out of those clothes, I’m going to rip them off you.”
“Then I’d have nothing to wear tonight,” he said with a teasing
shrug. “So I guess you’ll have to be patient.”
How could the man drive her so completely mad, yet still
remain so in control, just now getting around to pulling his dress
shirt off and tossing it aside? Here she was laid out like a
playmate, with the figure and the fantasy lingerie to back
it up, and the guy hadn’t even unfastened his belt.
I can do to make you go faster?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe I should start without you.”
“Maybe you should.”
That was a challenge. And maybe even a sexy plea.
Leslie Kelly 167
Maddy accepted, sliding her hand up, letting her fingertips
ease a slow, lazy path across her constrained breasts. She rubbed
one nipple, already hard and sensitive against the black lace.
Then she tugged one bra strap down, releasing her own sensi-
tive mound for his perusal and her own touch.
He growled. And maybe the belt slid through the hoops of his
trousers a teensy bit faster.
“Mmm,” she murmured, sliding two fingers against her
nipple, toying with it, plucking lightly.
Wanting to see more of that desperate want on his expression,
she lowered the other bra strap, then twisted the bra around and
unfastened it completely.
“You take my breath away every time I look at you,” he whis-
pered, devouring her with that gaze.
But the man still had his damn pants on.
“You know what I’ve always wanted to try, Jake?” she asked,
toying with both peaks now.
“I’m afraid to ask.”
Knowing how fascinated he was by her breasts, he had
reason to be.
She sat up, scooted to the edge of the bed and let her stocking-
clad legs part to wrap around his. The roughness of his trousers
against the silkiness of the lingerie ratcheted up the level of
sensation. Rough and soft, sweet and spicy.
Maddy reached for Jake’s waistband, unbuttoned it, then
slowly lowered his zipper. His rock-hard erection arched against
her hand, but he didn’t stop her. Instead, he watched with hooded
eyes as if wondering what she was up to.
She’d pleasured him with her mouth many times and knew
he loved it. She also knew it was what he expected.
It wasn’t what he was going to get.
Tugging his briefs down and pushing them, with the trousers,
over Jake’s lean hips and butt, Maddy breathed lightly on that silky
168 Slow Hands
skin. But rather than taste him, she wiggled closer. Close enough
for her nipples to brush against the fine hairs on his stomach, to
feel the ragged pulse as his blood raged through his veins.
“Good God,” he said with a groan, finally understanding
Reaching around to clench his taut butt, Maddy hugged him
closer, smothering his erection between her full breasts, making
a nice, soft, warm channel for him. He was helpless to resist, his
muscles flexing in her hands, his pelvis tilting, his staff gliding
against her body as if he was buried inside her.
“Maddy,” he groaned. He twined his fingers in her hair and
she looked up at him, wetting her lips, groaning in pleasure as
he continued his slow, lazy thrusts.
“I never imagined how good this could feel,” she whispered,
admitting she was trying something new.
That realization seemed to make him grow even more
engorged against her, and he threw his head back, the cords of
muscle standing out in his neck.
Maddy wasn’t entirely sure how far this kind of thing could
go. Knowing Jake, he wasn’t anywhere near coming. Nor was
she selfless enough to give up truly having him inside her. But
she did like it. A lot. She especially liked that he was visibly
losing a little of that infamous control, his hands clenched tightly
in her hair, his breath coming in short gasps.
“Gotta have the real thing, babe,” he muttered, dropping his
hand to her shoulders and pushing her onto her back.
“I wish you would,” she whispered, wanting him desperately.
But instead of pushing her farther back on the bed and climb-
ing on top of her, Jake remained standing between her parted
thighs. He grabbed a condom out of his pants pocket, opened it
and put it on between one breath and the next.
Unfastening her garters with a few easy flicks of his fingers,
Leslie Kelly 169
he reached for her panties and tugged them down, tossing them
out of his way, then sliding his fingers into her silky wet body.
He seemed to lose the last vestiges of control at finding her
already fully aroused and ready to take him. “I can’t believe I’m
doing this without giving you more,” he said, sounding on the
verge of desperation.
me,” she groaned.
He didn’t make her beg again. Jake lifted her legs completely
until her calves rested on his huge, bare shoulders. Holding her
hips and lifting her wet, tender core toward him, he plunged into
her with sudden, shocking force.
Maddy screamed at the power of it, so filled by him she didn’t
think she’d ever feel whole again if he stopped making love to her.
He froze. “Maddy? You okay?”
One hand moved to her face, his thumb tracing her parted lips.
She bit it lightly, already rocking up toward him, greedily de-
manding more as he began to pull away. “As long as you’re not
stopping, I am just fine.”
“Then I guess I’m not stopping.”
He pulled out, thrust again, the firmness of the floor beneath
his feet giving him incredible control. Maddy was helpless to do
anything but love every stroke, to gasp when he went fast, to
whimper when he slowed down.
And finally, when he reached between their bodies and
caressed her swollen clit, to cry out her release moments before
he attained his.
Only then did he scoot her back and fall on top of her, both
of them falling into a sudden and unexpected sleep, still joined
in every single way.
. Quite a bit late, considering they’d fallen
HEY WERE LATE
asleep and hadn’t awoken until twenty minutes before the rehear-
sal start time. Jake had made up as much time as he could behind
the wheel of Maddy’s car, but they still pulled into the church
parking lot not a minute before seven forty-five.
“Oh, damn,” Maddy whispered, seeing all the cars. Then, in
a hopeful tone, she added, “I don’t see Tabby’s convertible.
Maybe she’s not here yet.”
Or maybe she’d ridden with her father, her fiancé, or any
other member of the bridal party, he thought. Not that he said so
When they got inside and saw Maddy’s very anxious father
rushing toward them with an expectant expression, he figured
Maddy had been right.
“Is Tabitha with you?”
“No, she’s not.” Maddy glanced toward the group of people
clustered at the front of the church, then back at the closed doors
through which they’d just come.
“Please tell me your sister isn’t going to do this again.”
“Again?” Jake whispered before remembering the previous
wedding, and the previous broken engagement. Or engage-
“Have you called her?” Maddy asked.
“I have. Everybody has.”
Leslie Kelly 171
“He was late, too,” Jason Turner said. Finally noticing Jake’s
presence, the man offered him a friendly smile, appearing
pleased to see Maddy on his arm, despite his anxiety. “He arrived
fifteen minutes ago and went right into the minister’s office
without talking to anyone, not even his parents.”
Sounded unusual. Jake’s senses went on alert. But when he
heard the door behind them open, and saw the relieved look on
Jason Turner’s face—and on Maddy’s—he figured maybe his in-
stincts were slightly off. This time.
“I’m so sorry!” exclaimed the bride, a tall, slim blonde, who
looked about as much like Maddy as
resembled George of the
Jungle—the cartoon one. “There was an issue with the lobster
for tomorrow, then I had to deal with some problems with the
fountains and the fireworks.”
Yeesh. Lobster, fountains and fireworks. Was this a wedding
or a state dinner?
here?” she asked, her tone hardening.
“Yes, of course,” her father said, taking her arm to lead her
to the front of the church. “Don’t worry, he was late, too.”
“I know,” the woman said.
Seeing the way Tabitha’s spine stiffened, her shoulders
squared and her head came up, as if she was preparing herself
for an ordeal, he couldn’t help wondering at the not-so-happy
bride’s mood. It seemed to be more than simply annoyance.
Neither her father nor her sister, who both appeared relieved,
even noticed. Especially not when the bride swept toward the
front of the church, expecting—and getting—the small crowd
to part in front of her.
Yeah. About what he’d anticipated, from all Maddy had said.
Tabby seemed to be exactly the self-absorbed woman he’d
pictured. She’d probably kept everyone waiting intentionally,
just so she could make her grand entrance.
172 Slow Hands
Throughout the brief rehearsal, though, as he watched from
the back of the church, he began to wonder about those strained
undercurrents he couldn’t help noticing. Not from everyone.
Maddy seemed fine—more than fine, in fact. She was beautiful,
still flushed from the love they’d made, as he’d known she would
be. She also appeared genuinely happy for her sister, and made
a stunning picture as she walked down the aisle.
that put in his head. Even if being here,
among all these rich people who probably made his annual salary
in a day, should have him running the other way.
Damn it, they could work it out. He loved Maddy. He suspected
she loved him, too. That was all that mattered—it was the
that mattered. He just needed to keep reminding himself of it.
Though Jake’s attention remained on the woman he’d escorted
here tonight, he definitely felt some vibes coming off the engaged
couple. Tabitha’s laughter seemed almost too bright, her mood
more forced than joyous. And the groom had little or nothing to
say at all.
Yeah. There were definitely some undercurrents going on,
though maybe they were only visible to an outsider who didn’t
have anything at stake in tomorrow’s high-society event.
In the car, on the way to the dinner, he voiced his observa-
tions to Maddy.
“What? Are you kidding? Tabitha’s very happy.”
That hadn’t seemed like happiness to him. Then again, maybe
for Maddy’s sister, the tight smile was typical, maybe her eyes
never sparkled, and the slight droop to her shoulders was a result
of fatigue from wedding mania.
But he doubted it.
“I can’t believe I forgot to even introduce you,” she said,
sounding genuinely distressed. “I’ll rectify that as soon as we get
to the hotel.”
The one owned by the groom’s father. He remembered that
Leslie Kelly 173
tidbit. “Yeah, be sure to point out your stepmother, too, okay? I
want to make sure I’m ready to deal with her…just in case.”
“I told you, I already warned her you’d be there.”
She had, on the way to the church. Fortunately, it hadn’t been
an issue then, because the stepmother of the bride hadn’t both-
ered to attend. Another tidbit that caused the bride’s mouth to
tighten. Deborah was, however, per Maddy’s father, definitely
going to be at dinner.
“She and I didn’t have time to talk for more than a few min-
utes the other night, but I put her on notice.” Maddy’s mouth
tightened. “There’s no way she’s going to say anything my dad
might overhear. That would put her in some serious trouble.”
“I know,” he mumbled, though his mind had already shifted
gears. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about Maddy’s stepmother,
beyond the fact that he wouldn’t want Jason Turner, whom he
already liked, hurt in any way.
Nor did he give a damn what anybody else—the stepmother,
or any of the spoiled, rich socialites who might show up at the
wedding tomorrow and remember him from the auction—
thought of him. They could consider him the biggest boy toy in
the world. It didn’t matter. Only one person’s opinion mattered
and she was sitting right beside him.
Maddy deserved the truth; he had known that for days. But it
had never been more clear to him than those moments before he’d
made love to her tonight, when their eyes had met and they’d
silently said the words that neither of them had dared to voice out
He loved her. There were no more caveats, no more qualifi-
cations, no more maybes. He couldn’t hide behind the protec-
tive, halfhearted idea that he was “falling for her” or that he
they could have something, or that he
love her. He did love her. Period.
174 Slow Hands
And her expression tonight, not to mention every moment
they’d shared in the past several days, told him she loved him,
too. Whether she loved him enough to get over the fact that he’d
let her believe a lie, he didn’t know. All he knew was that,
feeling the way he did, he couldn’t continue something he found
so morally dishonest. Even though they were almost to the hotel
and there was really no time, he found he could no longer
continue the charade. He couldn’t walk into that dinner filled
with her family and friends under such dishonest terms.
“I need to talk to you, Maddy,” he murmured, his eyes on the
road. “Before we get there, you have to know a few things.”
She stiffened in her seat. He didn’t have to see to know it, the
air in the car changed with her sudden tension. God love the
woman, she was so used to having the rug yanked out from
under her, she’d probably been steeling herself for something to
happen. Something bad.
He tried to keep things light at first. “I hope you have
money in your account, because your check is going to clear
your bank any day.”
She let out her breath in an audible whoosh, which, consid-
ering she’d just gone through a whole lot of money, said a lot
about how dark her expectations had been. “Okay.” Laughing
lightly, she added, “It’s certainly not going to bounce.”
“Be sure you hold on to the canceled check. You’re
going to need it come tax time.”
“Why?” Her hand moved to his leg. “Do they allow deduc-
tions for, uh,
He covered her fingers with his, lifting them to his mouth to
press a kiss there. “No. Because I signed it over to the Give A
Kid A Christmas people.”
Her fingers tensed against his mouth, but she didn’t pull away.
Oh, sweet Maddy.
He knew what she was thinking, what she was
wondering. Should she be angry? Should she be hopeful?
Leslie Kelly 175
“I told you to do whatever you wanted with it.” She didn’t
sound cold, merely alert, knowing, already, that there was more.
“There’s no way in hell I’d take money to be with you.”
He cut her off. “Let me clarify. There’s no way I’d ever take
money to be with
woman. But especially not you.”
At that, she did pull her hand away. They’d reached a stop-
light a few blocks from the hotel, and he chanced a glance at her.
Maddy was watching, her brow furrowed in confusion, her body
tense. “I’m not following you.”
So he told her. “I’m not who you think I am. I don’t know
how it happened, but somebody messed up at that auction. I’m
not bachelor nineteen, I’m number twenty.”
“I mean, I know I
nineteenth. But it wasn’t my bio that
was printed beneath my picture in the program. It wasn’t my life.
I’m not the man you went there that night to find.” Ignoring the
fact that the light had turned green, he urged her to understand.
It took her a few seconds. When understanding did wash over
her, it did so instantaneously, and she gasped out loud, her jaw
falling open. “Oh, my God.”
“I mistook you for…”
“Is your name Jake Wallace?” She still sounded dazed.
“Of course. I am the man you’ve gotten to know since that
night. The only thing you don’t know is that I’m a paramedic
for the city of Chicago…not an ‘international playboy and
lover of women.’”
Or a hooker
Behind them, someone honked a horn, and he finally acknowl-
176 Slow Hands
edged that he’d been holding up traffic. He eased forward, spying
the tall, high-rise hotel just ahead of them. Maddy remained
silent, slumped back in her seat as he pulled into the parking
garage rather than heading for the valet stand.
They weren’t finished. They’d been late to the rehearsal, they
could be late to dinner, as well.
Maddy waited until they were tucked into a small-car spot in
the basement garage before she came back at him with the ac-
cusation he’d been expecting. “You lied to me.”
“I know.” He had no defense.
“You let me believe it. Let me make a fool of myself and
assume horrible things about you.”
He reached for her, but she jerked away. “I
. But not from
the very beginning. Call me dense, but it wasn’t until I went to
meet you at the boat, and you explained how you ‘knew’ every-
thing about me that I realized what the hell was going on.”
Finally appearing more anguished than angry, she murmured,
“I’m so sorry. God, how horribly offensive. How demanding and
spoiled I must have sounded.”
“Believe me, that first morning, those things you said…I was
about as mad as I’ve ever been in my life. Not to mention stunned
when you put forth your proposal that day on the boat. Right up
until you told me who you assumed I was, and why.”
“And then? What happened then?” she asked, coming to the
most important part. The part where he’d have to make her
understand why he’d done it,
make her believe in his genuine
But before he could open his mouth to say a single word,
someone tapped on the passenger side window. Surprised, Jake
and Maddy both looked out and saw the bride herself, nibbling
the corner of her mouth, looking unsure and unhappy and utterly
unlike a woman about to marry the man of her dreams.
“Damn,” he said. “We need to finish this conversation.”
Leslie Kelly 177
“Can you tell her we need a few more minutes?”
Maddy pushed the button and lowered her window. “Hi,
Tabby. Can you give us—”
“I need to talk to you.”
Oh, boy. He sensed the bride was about to confess something.
She looked jittery and nervous, obviously upset, more on edge
than she’d been at the church.
“I am so sorry, Maddy, but there are two people upstairs who
going to want to see.” She glanced across the car,
saw Jake, gave him a brief smile, then focused on her sister
again. “I could wring my future father-in-law’s neck. I’ve been
watching for your car so I could give you a heads-up. I’m really
glad you guys decided to park down here so we have a minute.”
“What’s wrong? Who is upstairs?”
“I know. She was having dinner in the restaurant. I guess she
knows Bradley’s family. Anyway, Mr. Kent spotted her, and
invited her to join the party, which, of course, delighted Deborah.”
Maddy glanced at Jake. “Bitsy is one of my stepmother’s
cronies. She, uh, was there.
“Oh, this just gets better and better,” he mumbled.
“No, it gets worse,” Tabitha snapped. “Because Bitsy wasn’t
alone. She was with a date, the old skank. None of us realized
who it was until they’d sat down. I told Bradley to get rid of
them.” She shook her head. “But he said Bitsy’s family and his
had been friends for years and he wouldn’t do something so
rude.” She looked away. “Not even when I begged him to.”
Jake sensed Tabby was hurt by her fiancé’s refusal to back
her up—which made him actually start to like her, maybe a
little. At least for looking out for Maddy. The one thing he
get yet was who this unwanted second person was.
178 Slow Hands
“I bet the witch did it on purpose,” Tabitha muttered. “I can’t
imagine she didn’t know our rehearsal dinner was being held
here. And there is absolutely nothing she likes better than stirring
up trouble and sitting back to watch the explosion.”
Maddy was obviously losing patience. “Did what? Who is she
with, Tabby? Would you just spit it out?”
“It’s Oliver, Maddy. He and Bitsy are sitting right upstairs in
the restaurant, where everyone is waiting for you—both of you—
to join us.”
toward the elevator a few minutes later, after
AKE LED HER
Tabitha’s shocking announcement, Maddy felt him silently
offering support, even though he, himself, was tense and angry,
obviously ready for trouble and spoiling for a fight.
“I know you probably don’t want me around right now,” he
said, his tone gravelly, his jaw stiff. “But I’m not letting you walk
into the lion’s den alone. We’ll finish our conversation the minute
He’d been keeping his voice low, to prevent Tabby, who
walked a few feet ahead of them, from overhearing.
“I do want you around, Jake.”
So much it scares me
She admitted it to herself—but not yet to him. She couldn’t
give him that much power, not yet, not until they had finished
their conversation. Though she suspected he’d assume she
wanted him there for support, tonight, that wasn’t it.
She just wanted him in her life. Despite everything.
of everything. Because Maddy could
not deny that, while mortified and angry, she was also more than
a little relieved that Jake
stuck around for money. He had
never, in fact, taken money from any woman. And falling hard
for a great guy who saved people was a whole lot easier on her
heart than falling for one who had sex for cash.
Maybe he really could be the man of her dreams.
Leslie Kelly 179
But he’s also a man who lied. So don’t get your hopes up.
“I can hardly wait to see this bastard.”
“I don’t give a damn about Oliver. He’s nothing.” Frowning,
she added, “And don’t for one minute think you need to ‘protect
me.’The man is not worth the breath it would take to tell him off.”
“We’ll see,” he muttered.
The act was still kind of cute, if entirely unnecessary.
Maddy could handle her ex. She could handle just about anything.
Except Jake walking away from her. Especially before she’d
found out everything she needed to know.
“You doing okay?”
He wasn’t referring to Oliver and they both knew it.
“I still want an explanation,” she whispered. “And we will
have that conversation. But I can’t hate you when the whole thing
started because of my stupid family dramas and a complete mis-
It was true. She was humiliated that he’d let her believe she’d
“bought” him for a month. She definitely wanted to know why.
But how could she stay angry when he’d made her happier in
the past two weeks than she’d ever been in her life?
Seeing her sister reach the elevator and impatiently punch the
up button, Maddy put a hand on Jake’s sleeve, stopping him, and
turned to look up at him. He watched her with tender eyes, a
He hadn’t said it. He hadn’t claimed that’s what had driven
him to pose as—oh, God, she still couldn’t believe the whole
nightmarish mix-up had happened—a gigolo. This wonderful,
funny, thoughtful, laid-back all-American family guy. What in
the hell had she been smoking to believe his supposed vocation
for one minute once she’d gotten to know him?
Once she’d started to love him.
“Thank you for telling me the truth. For not waiting until the
end of the thirty days.”
180 Slow Hands
“I’m sorry I waited thirteen,” he admitted. Jake lifted a hand
to her face. He touched her cheek, brushed his fingers through
her hair, even rubbed the side of his thumb along her eyebrow,
as if wanting to memorize it. “Thank you for not kicking me out
of your life. I…”
“Are you two going to stand there and make out or are you
Maddy sighed heavily, saw her impatient sister peering at
them from inside the elevator, holding the door open with one
slim hand, and forced a smile. “Tonight,” she told him as they
resumed walking. “Tonight, everything comes out. No more
secrets. Then we see what we’re going to do about it.”
For the first time since he’d started talking in the car, Jake
appeared relaxed. Maybe even hopeful. “That’s a date.”
Then they walked into the elevator. Tabby’s frown said she
was still furious. Suspecting Tabby was hurt that Bradley hadn’t
backed her up, on this, of all nights, Maddy acknowledged
exactly what they were facing upstairs.
Her sneaky, cheating, lying ex wasn’t such a big deal, at least
not for her. But there were also a few women who thought the
man holding her arm was a hot body for sale.
“What a night,” she said as the elevator rose.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“I don’t suppose you’d forgive me if I bailed, huh?” she
To her surprise, her sister’s expression wasn’t immediately in-
dignant. Instead, Tabitha said, “I want you there. But I will under-
stand if you’re not able to handle the drama. I’d bolt, in your shoes.”
“Oh, she can handle it. We can both handle it,” Jake said. He
dropped an arm across Maddy’s shoulders and tugged her close,
asserting his claim and announcing his protection. He smiled
down at her. “We’d just rather not expend the energy dealing with
people who mean absolutely nothing to us.”
Leslie Kelly 181
“I like him,” Tabby said, smiling what looked like her first
real smile all evening.
Considering her sister had been her partner in crime, Maddy
figured she should know the truth, too. “By the way…Jake is not
who we—the world, the women at that auction—thought he was.”
Her sister smirked, not believing it.
“Doesn’t matter, babe,” Jake said.
“Yes, it does.” Maddy continued, her no-nonsense tone finally
getting her sister’s attention. “There was a printing error in the
programs. I think the ‘international playboy’ was the man who
came last. Jake’s a paramedic. A completely not-for-sale-at-any-
price rescue worker.” She smiled up at him, shocked at how
wonderful it felt to say the words out loud. To acknowledge the
truth, and indulge in the feelings it engendered.
“Oh, my God,” Tabby said, “you’re serious.” Her blue eyes
grew wide as saucers. “You mean…you offered…he’s not a…”
“No,” Jake said. “Definitely not.”
sorry.” Then she gave him a once-over. “You could
be, though. You have to admit that.”
Laughing, he brushed off the assessment. “Forget it, no
apology necessary. I suspect being mistaken for some male
hooker might have been the best thing that ever happened to me.”
And to her.
She’d fallen in love with him when she’d thought he had a
string of rich women following him around. Knowing he was a
good-natured hero, well, just about every doubt she’d had about
him had disappeared from her mind.
. There was, of course, still that tiny whisper in the
back of her brain, reminding her that she
better than to
believe in true love or happily ever after. Despite the fact that,
right now at least, she felt surrounded by it.
Tabby loved her fiancé and he loved her. Dad loved his wife—
okay, she didn’t quite fit in the example because, as far as Maddy
182 Slow Hands
was concerned, Deborah was a bitch who didn’t deserve him. But
hopefully the woman had now been “scared straight” by her
close call at the auction.
She hoped so. Her father certainly seemed to love the woman.
He’d shown no signs that his attention was waning, even though
they’d been married for a year and had dated for four years
So maybe all the Turners were changing. Every one of them.
Maybe even her.
They’d reached the lobby floor, and as Tabby led them out of
the elevator, Maddy saw into the arched opening of the private
room in the restaurant, and stiffened. Oliver was a rotten jerk to
be here, when he knew she’d be coming. And she could not even
fathom what her father must be feeling, knowing how utterly
furious he became at even the mention of her ex’s name.
“It’ll be fine,” Jake reminded her in a whisper.
“I won’t let him bother you.”
“I don’t give a damn about him,” she muttered. “But if Bitsy
Wellington puts a hand on you I might chop it off with a steak knife.”
He threw his head back and laughed, all good humor and mas-
culine sexiness, as they entered the restaurant.
Everyone stopped talking. Every older person—her father,
her aunts, family friends—smiled, probably thinking Maddy
had found the right man at last. And every single woman in the
place almost certainly envied her.
She kept her arm wrapped tightly in his, silently staking her
They were welcomed with a round of introductions, then
quickly seated just before the dinner began. Breathing a sigh of
relief that things had gone smoothly so far, Maddy took note of
every detail, especially the layout of the room.
She strongly suspected there’d been some rearranging going
Leslie Kelly 183
on before they’d arrived. She and Jake were not seated with the
bridal party, but rather at a side table with a few family friends.
One of her cousins and her husband sat near Maddy’s father, in
the direct line of sight of Bitsy and Oliver’s table.
Oh, yes. Somebody had switched the name cards. Thank
Unfortunately, there had been no way out for Tabby, who cast
such obvious glares at Oliver that it was amazing he hadn’t had
the sense—not to mention courtesy—to get up and leave. Then
again, he certainly hadn’t displayed either of those traits before
tonight…why start now?
“I wonder how Dad’s holding up,” she whispered, her gaze
continuing to return to the older man. He appeared fine on the
surface, smiling and exchanging small talk with the parents of
the groom. But Maddy had seen him cast more than a few hard
stares in her ex’s direction, and every time he did, his face went
a shade redder.
“He doesn’t look great,” Jake replied. Then, his eyes narrow-
ing, he craned his neck to peer around the small sea of people
separating them from the head table. “The blonde, beside him,
is that your stepmother?”
“In the flesh.” Did that sound
“She looks familiar.”
“She tried to buy you, remember?”
“It’s something else…. Oh, God, now I remember.” Jake
leaned closer, obviously realizing his loud pronouncement had
caught the attention of a few people around them. “She’s the one
who told me how to find you.”
Maddy didn’t understand.
“That night, after you left, I was trying to track you down. I
told you a woman told me your name and where you worked.”
Are you kidding? I figured it was Tabby!”
“It was Deborah, definitely.”
184 Slow Hands
How unexpected. Maybe pure embarrassment had led to the
older woman’s actions. It was the only explanation Maddy could
come up with.
Glancing at the head table, she noted the stiff way her step-
mother sat at her father’s side. Deborah lifted her glass, stared
into the ruby red-wine within it, then tossed it back, gesturing
to the waiter for another.
So unhappy. So very unhappy.
Much, she had to admit, as her sister looked. Tabby, a few
seats down, had a tight, forced smile on her lips. And while her
chair was close to Bradley’s, they didn’t touch. Not at all.
“What the hell is going on here?” she whispered.
“I don’t know. I just know she told me how to find you, So
even though she tried to buy me like a side of beef, I’m ready to
kiss the woman.”
Maddy put her hand on Jake’s forearm, which rested on the
edge of the table. Smiling at one of the bridesmaids, who’d stared
over in curiosity from the head table, Maddy warned, under her
breath, “Do and you might be on the receiving end of that steak
“Jealousy? That’s a good sign, right?”
Maybe it was.
“I can’t wait to get out of here,” he admitted, and she knew
he was not referring to the oddly tense celebration. “This is
almost over, right?”
The waiters had cleared away the dinner dishes and were
bringing dessert. The toasts and speeches had occurred before
they’d arrived, and the wedding party gifts had been opened. So
yes, thankfully, it was almost over. There hadn’t been a single
opportunity for Oliver or Bitsy to speak to them. If Maddy had
her way, they’d be out of here before the two unwelcome guests
ever got the chance.
Leslie Kelly 185
For a few minutes, Maddy
she’d have her way. As
dessert ended and everyone prepared to leave, an impromptu re-
ceiving line formed at the exit. Tabby and her fiancé, as well as
both sets of parents, were thanking their guests. The milling crowd,
in no hurry to leave, lingered over each goodbye, blocking the door.
Groaning at the delay—for several reasons—Maddy re-
mained silent as they edged closer to escape. Finally, there were
only a few people between them and her father, who was at the
closest end of the line. “Almost there,” she whispered.
But they didn’t make it. “Not going to even say hello?”
Maddy’s back stiffened. She forced herself to pretend she
hadn’t heard, focused only on her father’s face…not to mention
the damned door.
Jake, however, did not. With his arm curved possessively
around her waist, he glanced over his shoulder at the other man.
“No. She’s not. So shove off, will you?”
A grin tickling her lips, Maddy stepped closer, tempted to just
push past the well-wishers and leave. Tabby would understand.
But she wouldn’t let this jerk force her out of her own sister’s
“Oh, come on, Maddy, this is childish.”
Feeling Jake tense, she murmured, “Forget it, he’s not worth
Though as tall, her ex didn’t even approach Jake’s massive
build. Which just proved he was a moron for what he did next.
“Jesus, Maddy, you won’t even face me? Are you going to
hide behind this hired stud all night?”
Gasping, she spun around, taking in both the sneer on Oliver’s
handsome face…and the spiteful amusement on Bitsy Welling-
ton’s. Obviously the woman—at least ten years Oliver’s senior—
had gotten what she came for. Nasty drama.
“Babe, like you said, he’s not worth it,” Jake murmured, putting
186 Slow Hands
a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t let him use me to get to you.” He
raked a cold stare over Oliver’s impeccably clad form. “I don’t
give a shit what a lying, cheating little prick like this thinks.”
Behind her, Maddy heard someone cough, or choke or laugh.
Dad. He’d heard. He’d edged closer. And he liked what Jake had
had to say.
Oh, God, what if he’d heard all of it?
“You’re right,” she whispered quickly, tugging at Jake’s arm.
They needed to get out of here. Now. “Let’s go.”
“You’re the hired help, so keep your mouth shut,” Oliver
said to Jake.
have been drinking—he was flushed and there
was a definite slur in his voice. Not to mention that he seemed
to have lost his own sense of self-preservation if he didn’t notice
that Jake, despite his casually insulting tone before, was holding
his temper in check by the merest sliver.
Still oblivious to the danger, Oliver added, “Come on, Maddy,
you could at least talk to me. I didn’t know I’d screwed you up
so badly that you’d have to
for it ever since. If I’d known
you were that much in love with me, I’d have tried harder to make
you forgive me.”
Jake snapped. With an audible growl, he stepped away from
Maddy, grabbing Oliver by the front of his jacket. “Let’s go.
Outside. Right now.”
Bitsy shrieked, apparently realizing the vicious games she
played could occasionally turn around and bite her on the ass.
Others in the room froze and stared at the spectacle. Maddy
couldn’t even find her vocal cords to stop what was about to
happen, partly because she was reeling from Oliver’s offensive
accusation and partly because she was stunned at the raw
violence dripping off the sweetest, most tender man she knew.
“Get your hands off me. She pays you to screw her, not to
“You sonofabitch…” Jake’s arm flew back in preparation, but
Leslie Kelly 187
before he could land a punch, another man had pushed between
his fist and Oliver’s face.
“Young man, you are the most rude, disgusting, foul little
rodent I’ve ever met,” Jason Turner yelled, his face reddening,
spittle flying off his lips. “How dare you say such things about
“Maybe because they’re true? Just ask her. Ask if she’s not
standing beside the male whore your own wife tried to nail not
three weeks ago.”
Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no!
Everything had spun out of control so quickly, Maddy hadn’t
even had time to process it. Her father’s face was beet-red, his
breath coming in hoarse gasps. Jake dived for Oliver, sending
them both rolling to the floor, fists flying. Deborah came
running, screaming at Bitsy, who cowered away. Tabby came,
too, looking ready to kick Oliver’s face in if Jake botched the
job. Fat chance that. The groom grabbed the bride, hissing at her
that she was embarrassing him, and his parents hurried over to
watch in offended horror.
But Maddy had eyes only for her father,
“Dad?” she whispered, reaching for him, watching his breaths
grow choppier, his face grow redder.
Jason waved her off with a weak gesture, then his left arm fell
to his side, his fingers spasming as his shoulder slumped. He
lifted his other hand toward his chest, bending over double at the
waist, audibly struggling to breathe.
“Daddy!” she yelled, grabbing for him as he began to fall.
Those not paying attention to the brawl began to whisper in
worry as Maddy collapsed with her gray-haired father to the
floor. She knelt beside him, touching his flushed face…suddenly
realizing he was no longer gasping for breath.
No breath at all.
188 Slow Hands
Her sister spun around, finally realizing what had happened.
She threw off her fiancé’s restraining hand and sprinted over.
Deborah, too, her eyes widened in shock, her mouth hanging
open in horror, knelt by her husband’s side, oblivious to her
designer dress and their audience. “Somebody do something.
Call an ambulance, hurry,” she wailed.
Maddy jerked her head up, tears coursing down her cheeks
as the image of her father’s breathless, lifeless form imprinted
itself on her brain. Her eyes found Jake’s, locked on him, not
needing to say a word.
He didn’t hesitate. “Everyone get out of the way,” he shouted,
shoving his way over and dropping to his knees.
“Don’t touch him,” Deborah said. “You’ll make it worse.”
Jake ignored her, ripping Maddy’s father’s shirt open, straight
down the front, leaning down to listen to his chest.
“Does he know what he’s doing?”
“Yes,” Maddy assured the other woman. “This is what he
job. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” Then she
looked at Jake, already tilting her father’s head back, blowing
puffs of air into his mouth, then fisting his hands to administer
compressions to the older man’s chest.
“Please…” she whispered, for his ears alone.
She couldn’t form any more words, nor did she need to. Jake
understood, it went without saying.
There was absolutely nothing he wouldn’t do to save her
procedures by rote, as well as being friendly
with one of the guys on the rescue crew, Jake knew he would be
able to keep Jason Turner’s loved ones a lot more informed than
the average family. So there was no way he was leaving them.
No way he was leaving
Not when she so obviously needed him.
He drove all three Turner women to the hospital, in Mr.
Turner’s car. He’d expected to drive Maddy and her step-
mother—but he’d been genuinely surprised by Tabby’s decision
to ride with them, as well.
If she were his fiancée, he wouldn’t have let her leave his side.
He’d have been holding her, reassuring her that everything would
be all right—exactly as he’d been doing for Maddy since the on-
duty rescuers had arrived and taken over. Instead, from what he’d
heard, Tabby’s fiancé had been anything but supportive. He had,
in fact, ordered her to calm down. The frowning man had actually
her for her hysterical behavior toward the asshole who’d
caused all of this—Oliver—who she’d lunged at after the am-
bulance crew had wheeled her father out of the restaurant.
Jake understood Tabitha’s actions.
understand the groom’s reaction.
In the same position, Maddy might have retreated behind her
icy, self-protective wall, but Tabitha had not. She’d screamed at
her fiancé, shrieking that he was partially responsible for what
190 Slow Hands
had happened. She’d refused to ride with him, climbing in beside
a tearful Deborah and a white-lipped Maddy instead.
“He’ll be all right, won’t he? Please say he’ll be all right,”
Deborah said from the backseat. She’d been repeating those words
in some variation since the moment Jake had pulled into traffic,
driving fast, ignoring the speed limit as much as he safely could.
“I’m sure he will,” he replied, again. “He had constant CPR
from almost the second his heart stopped. The EMTs were able
to immediately defibrillate him back into a rhythm and he had
a decent pulse by the time they pulled out.”
A thready one…not that he told them that. Because any pulse
was better than if Jason Turner hadn’t responded to defib at all
and had to undergo CPR all the way to the hospital.
“Thank God,” Deborah whispered.
“Yeah. But no thanks to
,” Tabby snapped.
Jake sucked in a slow breath. He’d been expecting this—
waiting for the moment when it would start. Maddy had been
silent, her lips moving as if she were saying quiet prayers for her
father. Tabby’s shock had worn off—now she was looking for
someone to blame. Make that someone
to blame, consider-
ing she’d already told off Oliver and yelled at her husband-to-be.
Man, was the woman unlike her sister.
“Tabitha, please don’t,” Maddy murmured from the front
seat. Jake reached over and took her hand, squeezing it. He
didn’t want her going through any more stress right now.
He seconded her plea. “It’s not the time.”
the time? After she buries him under the ground and
puts on widow’s black to go out and do her whoring around?”
“Shut up,” Deborah said wearily. “I don’t have to explain
myself to you. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, you mean, my father
grab his chest and have a
heart attack because he found out his loving wife of one year was
screwing around on him?”
Leslie Kelly 191
“It’s not her fault,” Maddy mumbled. “Dad can’t stand the
sight of Oliver. He was working himself up into a frenzy without
a single word about Deborah.”
Knowing Maddy, too, had to resent her stepmother, Jake
found himself surprised by the defense. Then again, Maddy
knew her sister better than anyone. Probably the only way to
calm Tabitha down was to try to deflate her righteous anger.
“Bullshit. He didn’t keel over until after Oliver announced to
the entire room that Deborah was a cheat.”
“He knows,” Deborah murmured, still sounding tired—and
not interested in fighting.
Maddy turned in her seat.
“Not that I’m a cheat. I’m not.” With indescribable pain in
her voice she added, “But he told me to feel free to become one.”
She met Jake’s stare in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry, I under-
stand there was a mistake about your identity.” Then she dropped
her gaze. “Besides, it’s not like I would have gone through with
it. I saw the way you looked at him, Maddy.”
“You told him where to find me,” she murmured from the pas-
The woman shrugged. “What can I say? Hopeless romantic,
that’s me.” Then she spoiled it, adding, “I know your father’s
been worried about you. You’re all he
talks about. Madeline
this, and Madeline that.”
There was a hard note in her voice, though why she’d display
more anger toward the quiet, crying stepdaughter than to the
bitchy, screeching one, Jake couldn’t possibly say.
“I hoped that if you found someone, got busy with some kind
of personal life, maybe it would be one less thing he’d have to stress
over. I was hoping he’d stop the incessant
So her goal hadn’t been exactly selfless.
“You are so full of it,” Tabby snapped. “Don’t believe a word
of it, Mad, this is all a pack of lies.”
192 Slow Hands
a liar. I am a forty-four-year-old woman who hasn’t
had sex in months, whose husband encouraged her to go out and
get it somewhere else because he’s no longer interested.”
Whoa, this conversation he did
want to be party to. Not
that he had any way to escape from it.
Judging by Maddy’s wide eyes and pale complexion, he
didn’t think she wanted to hear it, either. Now that the words had
started, though, Deborah didn’t seem in any hurry to shut her
mouth. “Do you know what it’s like to try to keep up the happy
wife front when your father doesn’t want to touch me?”
“You’re crazy,” Tabby said.
“It’s true,” Deborah told her. “The last time we had sex, he
called me by another woman’s name. And because I had the foolish,
soft heartedness to be hurt by it, he’s decided we shouldn’t even
bother trying to have
kind of marriage.”
“He loves you,” Maddy whispered.
, he doesn’t.” Now there was no mistaking the
dislike coming from the woman’s mouth. Again, directed at
Maddy rather than Tabitha, who’d just called her a nutcase. “He
said he did, but
to be in love with someone is
same as loving them. Your father has nothing in his heart for me
beyond affection. He wants only companionship and an occa-
sional dance partner.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I thought
it would be enough, a friendly but loveless marriage.” Sighing
deeply, she added, “Hell, maybe I thought I could change him,
even though no other woman has been able to.”
Maddy’s eyes, already wet from previously shed tears,
blinked rapidly. As if unaware she was doing it, she slid her
fingers from his, clenching her hands in her lap.
He took no offense. Sex talk about a parent was bad enough.
Hearing that parent might actually be so cold, loveless—well,
he didn’t even want to think what it might be like. For Maddy
or for her sister.
Leslie Kelly 193
“So don’t go judging me,” Deborah continued. He glanced in
the rearview mirror, seeing that she was again talking to Tabitha.
“Not when you’re about to do the same thing.”
“I don’t know you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do, dear. Please don’t pretend I’m wrong. I
know what a couple pretending to be in love looks like. You and
Bradley don’t love each other. At least, in my marriage,
us is in love.”
“Tabby?” Madeline whispered, this time turning all the way
around in her seat. She looked as though she’d been hit—
again—for the dozenth time in an hour. The heartbreak he saw
in her eyes hit
again, too. “That’s not true. You love him.
You do, don’t you?”
Silence. When Jake cast a look back, he saw Tabitha staring
stonily at her sister, tears still on her cheeks—ones she had shed
for her father. Not any fresh ones for herself and the future she
“You told me…”
“I thought I loved him,” the older Turner sister replied. “I
wanted to. Mainly because I thought
and I’d be crazy
not to feel the same way.” She glanced out the window. “His
family business isn’t doing well and he needs money. He told
me two days ago—said it wasn’t
for him to marry me
without telling me about his financial situation.”
Maddy didn’t appear ready to concede the point. “Okay. He
should have come clean sooner, but he
tell you. So he does
love you, and wants you to be together on open, honest terms.”
Her sister laughed softly. So, from the sound of it, did her
stepmother. As if the two of them knew something basic, some-
thing undeniable, something Maddy hadn’t yet figured out.
Goddamn it, if he had his way, she’d
figure it out. Or
at least never believe it. Not what he sensed they were trying
to tell her.
194 Slow Hands
“No, he was just afraid I’d find out after the wedding and
divorce him. He called me into a meeting with his parents where
they all informed me it would be a wonderful match, that they
found me eminently suitable, despite my, how did his mother call
it? My high-spiritedness.” She sniffed and Jake didn’t have to
look in the mirror again to see her tears.
“That witch,” Maddy snapped. “And Bradley—he’s a coward.”
“Just a man,” Deborah murmured. “Like any other man.”
Oh, by all means, ignore me. I’m not here
“I wasn’t happy about the dishonesty.”
“Can’t imagine why not,” the older woman murmured. “Who
wouldn’t want a relationship based on lies?”
“Shut up,” Tabby snarled.
Maddy interceded again. “Why didn’t you end things?
you really love him?”
“No. But I conceded the point. I obviously can’t trust my own
emotions. And a logical, well-thought-out marriage sounded
like a very good proposition to me. It still does.”
“It’s not,” Deborah interjected.
“I’m talking to my
Oh, how he hoped the claws didn’t come out again.
Maddy shook her head. “Oh, no, Tabby you
you’re not going through with this.”
Before she could answer, they reached the hospital. Every
woman in the car leaned forward, wearing expressions of fear
and anxiety. Jake
pulled into the emergency entrance, by
habit, but remembered, at the last minute, to go to the front. “Go
on inside,” he told them. “I’ll park and meet you.”
Maddy barely spared him a glance. She still appeared shell-
shocked, stunned from the revelations from their short but infor-
mative car ride.
He was worried about Jason Turner. Very worried. Right now,
however, he could throttle the man’s wife and daughter for
Leslie Kelly 195
having aired their personal dramas—and man-hate—on the night
when he and Maddy had reached their own crisis point.
Before she got out of the car, he grabbed her hand, silently
urging her to be strong. To not give in to the pessimism that had
just been dumped on her head. “Maddy, I…”
“Thank you for driving us,” she said, her eyes averted, her
voice calm. “I have to go.”
He didn’t like her mood. Not one bit. But there was nothing
he could do. Not now, not until she’d found out whether her
father was going to live or die.
After that, however, he intended to finish the conversation
they’d started before dinner. And to reverse any damage the two
other women in her family had caused.
one of the longest of Maddy’s life. She, Tabitha
HAT NIGHT WAS
and Deborah shared an uneasy truce in the hospital waiting
room, while her father went into surgery.
A double bypass. And they hadn’t even realized there was a
single thing wrong with him, beyond occasional high blood
Fortunately, Jake kept them informed about what was hap-
pening. He served as a liaison between the medical staff and the
family. Not to mention a comforting presence for Maddy.
She didn’t, however, allow herself to lean on him
Because even while racked with worry for her father, she
couldn’t stop replaying the conversation on the ride over here.
The awful revelations, the sadness, the bitterness.
All the happy thoughts she’d had twelve hours ago about
how the Turners seemed to finally have come out from under
their unlucky-in-love-curse…. Look at them now. Tabby and her
father both freely admitting they weren’t in love with the people
they’d pledged—or planned to pledge—to love until death. What
in heaven’s name was
with her family?
196 Slow Hands
And was it also wrong with
Bradley was with them. He’d arrived shortly after they had.
Despite being a jackass, in her opinion, he’d at least offered
whatever comfort he could to Tabby. Not exactly warm, he hadn’t
been a disapproving, judgmental cold fish, either.
Well, maybe a disapproving one, at least when he’d
introduced to Jake. But the judgmental glint had finally disap-
peared from his eye.
“Hopefully the word will get out to everyone else, too,” she
told Jake when they had a private moment. “I’ll do my best to
make sure everyone knows Bitsy and Oliver were crazy. Con-
sidering everyone saw you save my father’s life, only a fool
would believe the story, anyway.”
Which said a lot about Bradley, who
still believed it until
confronted with a truth he couldn’t deny—Jake’s friendly inter-
action with the hospital staff, who knew him by name and by
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t care.”
“I do. My family has done enough damage to you.” She heard
her own stiff, formal tone and half hated herself for it. But she
couldn’t bring herself to ease up. Because while part of her wanted
desperately to just lean on him, fall into his arms and take
whatever comfort he could offer, emotionally, she couldn’t risk
He opened his mouth to argue, as if realizing she’d begun to
draw away from him, to retreat behind the barrier that had safely
guarded her heart for so long, but the door to the waiting room
was suddenly pushed in. Spying the surgeon, one of the best in
the city—who’d come to the hospital immediately when he’d
found out about her father—they all leaped to their feet.
“The procedure went very well. While I don’t want to be pre-
mature, I do think it’s safe to say Mr. Turner is well on the road
Leslie Kelly 197
Those were all the words Maddy heard before slowly sinking
back to her seat. The others hung avidly on every instruction,
every detail the physician would provide. She didn’t. She instead
sent up thankful prayer after thankful prayer, wondering if her
own personal guardian angel—the mother she’d always
imagined was watching over her—had been listening.
Hearing they could not take turns visiting for several hours,
they all decided to head home for what was left of the night. Only
an hour or two of darkness remained. Soon it would be the dawn
of Tabitha’s long-awaited wedding day.
God, how life could change in an instant.
One of Deborah’s friends—not Bitsy, the woman didn’t have
a death wish—had shown up and offered to drive her. And
Tabitha left with her fiancé—obviously they had some decisions
to make about the wedding.
Frankly, Maddy hoped her sister canceled the thing for good,
rather than just postponing it until after their father recovered. But
she sensed Tabby wouldn’t. One way or another, Tabby would
probably marry the man. Because, despite loathing Deborah
enough to ignore her advice, Tabby would go through it.
Her sister seemed ready to believe there was no such thing as
true love. And more, that maybe there was even something
wrong with her—something wrong with
of them—that made
them genuinely incapable of sustaining the emotion.
Maddy could have told her differently. Because she had ab-
solutely no doubt she was in love with Jake.
. That was the problem. She loved him
As for tomorrow? Well, despite her hopes and her dreams and
her wishes over the past few weeks, she had remembered the
truth—she didn’t believe in tomorrows and happily ever afters
and love that lasted a lifetime.
Yes, she loved him right this minute. But next year? Five years
from now? Had anyone she’d
known loved a lifetime?
198 Slow Hands
No. They hadn’t. Maybe in Jake’s world, not in hers. And the
man was just too good to have to live with that uncertainty.
Which left her with only one horrible, heartbreaking option.
“You okay?” he asked after a long, quiet drive back to her
building. The streets were deserted and the silence inside the car
had been even louder than the one out of it.
“I’m fine,” she said once he’d parked in her reserved spot.
“Thank you for being there.”
“I guess I should let you get upstairs and get some sleep. Want
me to come back and pick you up later this morning to take you
to the hospital?”
A simple question. The one he
ask, however, was the one
they were both contemplating.
Did she want him to leave at all?
“Jake, tell me why you agreed to let me ‘hire’ you for thirty
days. Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
He smiled gently, reaching over to brush her hair back from
her weary, tear-sore eyes. “Well, first, because you flat-out
said you wouldn’t have anything to do with me if I didn’t take
“But also because I knew you’d never give me a chance to just
date you like a normal guy. You’d have to keep control…guard
yourself. Keep on pretending you were that untouchable ice queen.”
He sounded so tender, so loving, despite describing her with
a term she hadn’t even thought of in reference to herself in days.
“I saw a chance to see if something real could happen between
us, and I took it, fully intending to tell you the truth as soon as
I thought you were ready to hear it.”
“Today.” She glanced at the dashboard clock. “Yesterday.”
“Well, I don’t know that I thought you were ready. But I did
decide I needed to get it out in the open. I couldn’t go on with
it anymore, not once I was sure how I felt about you.”
Maddy held her breath, wanting to stop him, afraid to hear
Leslie Kelly 199
the words. More afraid not to hear them—to never hear them
come out of this man’s mouth at all.
She’d regret that until the day she died.
“I love you,” he murmured, lightly touching her cheek, turn-
ing her face to make sure she met his eye. “I love you, Madeline,
and I’m sorry I was dishonest.”
She merely watched. She couldn’t give the words back to him,
even though they were screaming a chorus in her brain.
“Tonight was bad and I know what you’re thinking. That you
can’t trust me, that maybe I lied to you for the same reasons
Bradley lied to Tabitha, and came clean for the same reasons,
too. But it isn’t true. I
There she stopped him. He was in no way like her sister’s
fiancé. She put her hand up, covering his mouth with her finger-
tips. “No. I don’t think you’re anything like him. I believe you.”
She couldn’t deny him the rest of what she owed him. “And I
forgive you. I know you didn’t set out to make a fool of me, or
hurt me in any way.”
He hesitated, still waiting, so sexy-yet-vulnerable, holding out
for the words she was not going to offer him.
They wouldn’t come. Not now, not ever. Not when she had
the power to hurt him…tomorrow, next year. And not when she
knew she could be crushed into unrelenting sorrow for the re-
mainder of her life if he ever did the one thing that could most
hurt her, too—stop loving her.
“I forgive you, Jake. But I don’t want to see you again.”
at the hospital by 10 a.m. on
ONSIDERING SHE WAS BACK
Saturday, Maddy might as well have stayed there. If she hadn’t
left, if she’d just curled up on the lumpy sofa to wait until visit-
ing hours, perhaps she could have delayed the inevitable moment
when she’d had to rip her own heart out. Because that’s what
she’d done with every word she’d said to Jake in the predawn
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, rubbing her hands over her
weary eyes as she watched the clock in the hospital waiting area.
Her father was allowed two brief visits per hour, starting at
eleven. She was the first of her family to arrive, and she could
have come in a little later. But what was the point? It wasn’t as
if she’d slept, nor had she been doing anything at home that she
couldn’t do here. Worrying. Crying. Regretting.
If her fears about her father hadn’t kept her brain from
emptying and her eyes from closing in the cold darkness of her
room, her heartache over pushing Jake away would definitely
have done the trick, anyway.
He hadn’t been pushed easily. He’d tried hard to dissuade her
from doing what they both knew she didn’t really
But in the end, with tears streaming down her face as she
admitted she was too tired, too frightened and too confused to
think straight, he’d let it go. Let her have her way.
Let her shove him out of her life.
Leslie Kelly 201
Maddy was no fool. She knew he’d only left because he, too,
was worried about her father—and Maddy’s own state of mind.
If not for that, she figured they’d still be down in the parking
garage below her building, arguing about whether or not he
really loved her—and would keep loving her.
And whether or not she could allow him to.
Funny, the one thing he hadn’t even questioned had been
feelings. He took her love for him as an utter certainty, though
the words had never come out of her mouth.
It didn’t matter. There was no hiding how she felt. From him,
from either of them. “But that’s today,” she reminded herself as
she watched the clock ease closer to eleven.
Tomorrow, well, her heart could prove to be as fickle and ar-
bitrary as everyone else’s in her family. And Jake deserved more
than that. So much more.
She loved him too much to ever want to hurt him that way.
hurt every minute of every day for the rest of her life.
“You’re here!” a woman’s voice said.
Half fearing it would be Deborah, Maddy couldn’t help
sighing in relief when she saw Tabby’s pinched, pale face.
Rising, she took her sister in her arms and hugged her close,
looking over her shoulder into the corridor beyond to make sure
she had come alone. “Are you all right?”
Tabby nodded. “Fine.”
They drew apart. “You don’t look fine.”
“Well, hell, of course I’m not fine. Are you?”
Maddy shook her head. “But he’s going to be all right.”
“I know.” Tabby reached into her designer purse and plucked
out a wad of tissues, offering one to Maddy taking one and then
wiping under her own eyes. “Can you imagine? Puffy eyes in
my wedding pictures?”
Maddy’s jaw dropped open. “What are you talking about?”
Tabby lifted her chin, her lips quivering, then straightening
202 Slow Hands
into a calm line. “Bradley and his family want to proceed with
the wedding this afternoon.”
“No, you can’t do that!”
“They say it’s exactly what Daddy would want.”
They were probably correct. But that didn’t make it right.
“They also pointed out, quite correctly, that everything is
paid for, food prepared, flowers in place. Dozens of relatives
have already come in from out of town. And that Dad’s own
surgeon said he was going to be fine. He just won’t be able to
walk me down the aisle…this time.”
Somehow, Maddy had the feeling Tabby was re-
peating verbatim words someone else had said to her. And she
suddenly wanted to hit that someone for dumping such
pressure—and guilt—on her sister’s slim shoulders.
marry him.” The words had left Maddy’s mouth
without her brain becoming involved in the decision. Her sister
hadn’t asked for her advice—but she gave it anyway, unable to
stop herself. “You know he won’t make you happy. You know
you don’t love him.”
“I loved my first husband, and I have loved men since. Maybe
marrying someone I don’t love is exactly the right thing to do.”
She ran a weary hand over her face, looking every bit as ex-
hausted as Maddy felt. “It’s for the best, Mad. I’m just not cut
out for it, falling in love and staying in love. My father’s daughter,
How could she argue that, when Maddy had tossed Jake out
of her life for the same reason?
Before she could say any more, though, Tabitha glanced at
the clock. “Come on, let’s go. She can’t bitch about us going in
first if she didn’t bother to show up on time.”
Maddy didn’t even have to ask who
was. It was 11 a.m.,
Deborah wasn’t here, and nobody would keep them from their
Leslie Kelly 203
Reaching his room and gingerly pushing the door open,
Maddy held her breath. She expected him to look near death.
Pale and exhausted, weak, stuck with wires and probes and sur-
rounded by machines.
stuck with wires and probes and surrounded by
machines, and he did look tired and pale…but not at all on the
verge of death. Instead, as he saw them standing in the doorway,
he smiled and slowly lifted a hand. “My girls.”
They flew to his side and cried like babies. Both of them. The
Ice Queen and the Rich Bitch, sitting on either side of their
father, holding his hands and sobbing their eyes out.
Which he quickly got bored with. “Enough. I’m fine. Stop or
you’ll soak my sheets. If the nurses think I wet this bed, I’ll never
be able to show my face at a hospital fund-raiser again.”
Sniffling, Maddy managed a smile.
“What’s going on? I’m dying for news,” he said, trying to
sound normal, though his weakness was underscored by the
softness of his voice and the lines of fatigue and pain on his face.
“Everything’s fine,” Maddy said.
“Absolutely fine,” her sister agreed.
Tabby stared at him, and Maddy read the anguish there.
“You are going through with it, aren’t you? Don’t you dare
let this—” her father waved to his own limp body “—stop you
from proceeding.” Then, looking up at the ceiling, rather than at
the bride, he added, “
you really want to marry him at all, that
Tabby sucked in a surprised breath. Maddy, who’d known her
father had been having doubts, did not.
feel free to use your old man’s weak ticker as
an excuse to get out of the whole mess.”
Tabitha just stared, her eyes huge in her pale face, not saying
a single word.
204 Slow Hands
Dad didn’t push it. “Poor Deborah, she’s not here?”
“I’m sure she’ll be here any minute,” Maddy said. “We just
took advantage of the fact that we beat her by a few seconds.”
“She was very worried,” Tabby admitted, albeit grudgingly.
“I’m sure she was.” Closing his eyes and sinking deeper into
the pillow, he mumbled, “Don’t judge her…I’ve been quite
unkind to that woman.”
Remembering what their stepmother had said—about how
her husband had encouraged her to go have an affair—Maddy
could only exchange a stricken glance with Tabitha.
“Shh, it’s okay.” Tabby stroked her father’s thinning gray
“I don’t love her, you see.” His eyes closed, his words drifting
into little more than a whisper, as if he was speaking more to
himself than to them. “I’m not sure who said it, but it’s true. The
only thing worse than being in a loveless marriage is being in
one where there is love on only one side. You’d think I’d have
learned that by now.”
“Stop it. She knew what she was doing,” Maddy said, more
worried about her father’s health than her stepmother’s emotions.
capable of love, Dad. Just look at
no doubt in Tabby’s mind, or in mine, that you love us every bit
as much as we love you.”
A different kind of love—but she wouldn’t allow her father
to wallow in self-recrimination, not when he needed to recover.
Her words seemed to surprise him. His eyes flew open. “Oh,
of course I’m capable of love, darling.” His frail hands slid across
the thin hospital blanket, so he could grasp his hands around one
of each of his daughters’. “I have loved greatly.”
“That’s the problem, you see,” he added, his fingers loosen-
ing, as if the effort to clench their hands was too much. “Like many
Leslie Kelly 205
others in my family—your grandmother, who lived alone for
decades, my brother, always looking for the one he foolishly let
get away—I’m at the mercy of my own heart.” He lightly tapped
his chest. “Which is, perhaps, a bit weaker than I’d supposed.”
“What are you saying?” Tabby asked, in visible confusion.
He smiled up at his oldest daughter, who shared his bright
blue eyes. “I cared for your mother, but we were young. Neither
of us went into it for the right reasons.”
Tabitha nodded, conceding the point. “I know.”
“And I quite enjoyed many relationships with others over the
years.” Then he glanced at Maddy and his eyes moistened, as if
tears were threatening. “But the truth is, we Turners are only
capable of one
Maddy sucked in a breath. She’d never heard her father talk
this way, not in her entire twenty-eight years. And while for a
brief moment, she wondered if his medication had confused
him, she had to acknowledge that his gaze was clear; his voice—
though weak—held certainty and conviction.
“It’s a blessing and a curse in our family, but it’s true. We can
only manage it once. One great love, never to be forgotten, never
to be replaced, not even if we end up entirely alone.” He reached
up and brushed his shaking hand across Maddy’s cheek. “You
break my heart and you fill it, every time I look into your eyes
and see her there.”
And suddenly she understood the words he was saying. The
truth he’d never admitted before. Her father wasn’t guilty of
loving too briefly, or too shallowly.
The greatest tragedy of his life was in having loved
he could never say goodbye.
“You’re doomed, I’m afraid, both of you. So be vigilant,
listen to your heart,” he said, sighing deeply. “And when you do,
savor every moment, don’t waste a second of it. I pray you won’t
be like me. I found the other half of my heart and have spent
206 Slow Hands
twenty-four years trying to fill the time until I can be with her
Tears flowed freely down Maddy’s face. Of all the moments
in her life when she’d regretted having lost her mother, this was
the most poignant.
Their father reached for Tabby’s hand again, regarding her
with sad eyes. “You’ve found the wrong one, darling…again and
again, trying so hard and hoping each time will be better than
the last.” Then he turned his attention to Maddy. “And you, my
sweet girl, have closed yourself off completely, never allowing
yourself to believe you’ll
find the right one.”
“Oh, Dad,” Maddy whispered, her heart breaking for him
more with every word he spoke.
There was, she knew, one gift she could give him, to help ease
his worry, perhaps to help him heal. Just one secret…but the most
important one of Maddy’s life. “You’re wrong, you know.”
He merely waited.
“I’ve already found him,” she said, then bent to press a soft
kiss on his forehead.
He stared at her, seeing the truth there. “I’m so glad,” he
whispered. “So very glad.” Then he fell asleep, looking comfort-
able and relaxed as his breathing continued evenly, steadily.
Maddy and her sister stared at their father, then across his bed
at each other. The shock and grief for the long, lonely years their
father had endured had to have been written just as clearly on
Maddy’s face as it was on Tabitha’s. And, from both of them,
maybe even sadness for the women who’d hoped to refill the vast
empty wells of his heart that, to this day, mourned for Mag-
A nurse intruded, informing them their time was up. They
rose in unison; each bent to kiss their father’s cheek before
walking out of the room together.
“I’ve got to go,” Tabby murmured, her voice having lost that
Leslie Kelly 207
anxiety—the sadness and guilt she’d been carrying when she’d
arrived here this morning. “I have a wedding to cancel and a
fiancé to jilt.”
Unable to stop herself from smiling, Maddy grabbed her sister’s
hand. “Me, too. I’ve got three words to say to an amazing man.”
The love of her life. She no longer had a single doubt about
it. And she would make sure he didn’t, either.
, somebody’s here to see you!”
Jake looked up from the medical kit he’d been restocking in
the supply room, surprised that one of the guys had come back
here looking for him. He wasn’t even supposed to be on duty
today. He’d taken the day off for a woman who didn’t trust him
enough to let him escort her to a family wedding, much less to
love her. But staring at the four walls of his apartment had soon
driven him batty and he’d come to the station house, determined
to do a little restocking and catch up on some paperwork.
“Who is it?”
The guy, one of the newer firefighters, wagged his eyebrows.
And Jake knew.
He shoved the case of sterile bandages he’d been holding back
into the storage closet, slammed the door shut, and strode out to the
front of the station. Maddy stood right outside, her beautiful, dark
hair shimmering in the brilliant June sunshine. Her arms wrapped
around her waist, she was dressed, not in her wickedly sexy brides-
maid dress, but in a simple jean skirt and brightly colored blouse.
The wedding, he figured, must have been postponed. No
surprise there. He couldn’t imagine his own sister going through
with her wedding if something happened to their father. But given
the identity of the bride and groom, he hadn’t been entirely sure.
“Hey,” he said when he reached her side. “You all right?”
She tilted her head back and looked up at him, a gentle smile
widening those beautiful lips. “I’m fine.”
208 Slow Hands
Then they fell silent. She’d come here to say something—he
didn’t have it in him to work up the hope that it could be something
he truly wanted to hear. That she was wrong—so wrong—to put
those self-protective walls around herself again. That she knew
he’d never hurt her and was ready to admit she loved him, too.
But she said nothing.
“I guess the wedding’s been postponed?”
She shook her head.
“Oh. Do you, uh, still need an escort?”
“Yes,” she murmured, then cleared her throat. “Yes. I need
He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I left my tux back
at my apartment.” Glancing at his watch, he said, “Look, I’ll go
get it and…”
“No,” she said, putting her hand over his mouth to shut him
up. “I don’t need an escort to a wedding. It hasn’t been post-
poned. Tabby called it off. For good.”
Sounded like one of the smartest things that sister of hers
had ever done.
Maddy traced the tip of her finger over his lips, then his jaw
and on down his neck before confessing, “But I still want the next
fourteen days you owe me.”
“And then I want fourteen
The ground lurched beneath his feet. Or maybe it was just his
heart flipping around in his chest. Because that had sounded an
awful lot like…
“What I need is an escort for
I want to be on your arm
forever, Jake, and I want you on mine,” Maddy admitted, all
attempts to protect herself, evaporating under the bright summer
sky. “I want you sleeping beside me and waking up beside me.
Leslie Kelly 209
Walking with me, and holding me. Laughing with me, crying with
me, and keeping me from ever freezing up into
woman,” he said. “I loved her from the beginning.
And I love
one, too. I love every part of you, Madeline Turner.”
Stepping closer, until her body brushed his, she sent all his
nerve endings on alert, filling his head with her sweet scent and
his ears with her tender words. “I love you, too.”
Her whisper sent the world spinning again, everything falling
into place, exactly where it belonged. Right and perfect and all
he’d ever dreamed of.
Maddy rose on tiptoe. “I love you so much and I don’t ever
want to lose you.” She smiled, such a sweet, heartbreaking smile.
“I’ve finally allowed myself to believe it.”
“I’m so glad,” he whispered, bending to brush a soft kiss on
her lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him
back, her tongue mating with his, oblivious to time and place and
anybody around them.
When the kiss finally ended, she didn’t pull away, remaining
wrapped in his embrace. “You should know, I won’t ever let you
go. Even if the world ended tomorrow and we never saw each
I will never let you go.
She didn’t have to explain. He understood completely. They
were joined now. Through emotion and words and soon, he
knew, through vows and family. Joined for life.
“Maddy, didn’t you learn that the night we met?” he asked
with a teasing kiss to her jaw. “I’ll never let you get away from
me, either.” Then all teasing faded. “I promise you.”
“Well, then, I guess we have a deal,” she said. Her eyes
twinkled with merriment and utter happiness. “Because I know
you’re not a welsher.”
He tilted his head back and laughed up at the sky. He was
happier than he’d ever been, more sure of the two of them being
together than of anything he’d ever done.
210 Slow Hands
And he was grateful—
grateful—to Fate, or whoever it
was that had made
the man she’d chosen that night.
The one she’d chosen for life.
* * * * *