Security expert Beckett Tate has met his match in colleague Gia Sinclair. He longs to run his hands over each and every one of her lush curves. She’s wicked smart and wicked hot. He’s given her time to get used to the idea of “them,” but her time is up and he’s ready to go all in on claiming what’s his.
Despite her love of all things girlie, Gia’s no typical Southern belle. She’s built her skills and reputation in a field normally dominated by men, and now she has a kick-ass career she loves. She certainly doesn’t need a man to take care of her—especially not one who’s pure alpha. Still, Beckett’s the one man who can satisfy the desires she’s hidden under her tough exterior, and she’s hooked.
Letting Beckett take the lead in the bedroom comes naturally to Gia—not constantly proving herself to him professionally is more of a struggle. And when someone attacks her character and career, Gia and Beckett will have to find a balance: her willingness to let go just a little, with his trust in her abilities and his deep, primal need to protect his woman.
A Sneak Peek…
Beckett hammered on the women’s restroom door hard enough the hinges protested and the beat-up doorknob rattle. Even with the racket he’d created, the sound barely registered against the party now in full swing in the main bar. “Darya, open the goddamn door.”
“Man, if you bust that door down over a drunk woman Jace will give you shit for months.” Not the least bit concerned with Beckett’s aggression, Knox leaned a shoulder against the wall beside the restroom door and crossed his arms. “Just chill. Darya can handle Gia no problem.”
Darya manhandling one seriously shitfaced woman wasn’t the problem. It was the guilt presently using his conscience for a punching bag that was causing him issues. Not that he was gonna clue Knox or anyone else into that little tidbit. “Did you see how much fucking tequila she drank? Hell, I couldn’t drink that much and I’ve got a solid 120 pounds on her.”
“Yeah, that was whacked. Never seen her go for the booze that heavy before. But you gotta admit, she’s a friendly drunk.”
That was an understatement. She’d forgone their private table in the back of the bar in favor of making a whole new slew of friends up front. Within thirty minutes, every damned biker in the place had not only fallen in love, but was giving her their undivided attention. Hence, the reason he’d flat out lied to Katy about a security crisis and got her a private car to take her home so he could stay close to Gia. It was either that, or break every man’s neck before he left the bar.
The bathroom door swung open with a groan, and Darya propped it with one high-heel shod foot. The glare she aimed at Beckett might have made him feel bad on any other night, but all he could process at the sight of Gia upright and somewhat healthy was solid relief. Her eyes were glazed over and the arm she had anchored around Darya was the only thing keeping her vertical, but her cheeks were flush and her goofy smile promised she was feeling zero pain.
“I had enough on my hands without you banging on the door every five seconds,” Darya said, her Russian accent a whole lot stronger than normal and weighted with a good amount of frustration.
“I was worried.” Beckett moved in to peel Gia off her and take her weight himself.
Darya held up a hand and stopped him before he could manage the task. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m getting her home and staying with her until she sleeps this off.”
“No, you’re not. I promised her I’d take care of her.”
Knox picked that moment to stop grinning at the two of them and straightened from the wall. “I think it was somewhere between the fifth and sixth shot. There were also muttered vows I couldn’t quite make out, but I thought I heard killing anyone with a set of balls, so I’d tread carefully, brother.”
And there it was. Proof he’d seriously fucked up. “She’s pissed at me. I caused it, so I need to make it right.”
The way Darya pursed her mouth—a mix of anger and pure feminine justification—confirmed his suspicions without a single word spoken.
Knox on the other hand, was clueless. “Whoa. How the hell’d you cause anything?” His gaze cut to Gia. “What’d I miss?”
Gia picked that moment to surface from her happy daze and frowned at Beckett. “He cock blocked me.” The furrow between her brows deepened as she tried to focus on Knox. “Or is that only when a guy does it to another guy? Oh, wait!” She smiled up at Darya. “It’s a clam jam!”
Darya laughed at that and shifted her stance to better juggle Gia’s wavering balance. “Bush whacked!”
“Clitoference!” Gia volleyed back.
“And now we know what was taking so long in the bathroom.” Knox waved Darya out of the bathroom. “Come on, angel. We’ll split the difference on everyone’s sense of fair play. You drive Gia’s car home. I’ll follow you in my car, and Beckett can haul Gia home in his.”
“But I promised her.”
“And Gia’s already puked once. Where do you want her puke the next time? Her car, or Beckett’s?”
“Beckett’s,” Gia answered with a solemnity only a drunk person could manage. “Definitely Beckett’s.”
The grin Darya shot Beckett should have terrified him. Hell, just thinking about anyone hurling in his ‘Vette would have made him cry like a school girl under normal circumstances, but at least he’d be able to keep Gia in touching distance until he knew she was safe. “See? We’ve got a plan. Now, come on, gorgeous. Let’s get you home.”
He moved in to pick her up, but Gia staggered out of reaching distance. “You’re not carrying me. I’m not a wimp.”
Translation: Even in her drunken state she was still keyed into the fact that a load of their peers were still blowing off steam. Hard to blame her, though. The guys always gave her a hard time. A fact that had pushed him to nearly punching half of them at one time or another. “You’re not a wimp. Just gonna move in close to help you keep your balance. That’s all. No one’s gonna suspect a thing.”
She tightened her hand on the vanity and gave him a distrusting look. “You promise?”
Knox chuckled. “Just for the record, Beck was never a Scout. Although, he did booby trap some tents for a few guys who teased him in sixth grade.”
“You’re not helping,” Darya murmured, but reached out to guide Gia to Beckett. “Come on, girlfriend. Time to get you home.”
In the end, getting her to his car was far less of a fire drill than he’d anticipated. Whether it was years of keeping herself on guard within a male dominated profession or sheer stubbornness that allowed her to mask how blotto she was, he couldn’t say. But by the time they hit the first stoplight on Lower Greenville, she was lights out, her temple resting against passenger window and her dark hair spilling soft around her pretty face.
God, she was a walking contradiction. Petite, curvy and incredibly soft on the eyes, she was the type of woman a man instinctively wanted to protect. A classic southern belle. But she could hand most men their ass before they’d had so much as a chance to say, “Excuse me, ma’am.” The whole dichotomy turned him the fuck on like no one’s business. A fact he’d tried for years to ignore, but kept losing ground.
He never should have interfered between her and Judd. He’d never once seen her hook up with a guy, let alone someone they worked with, but when he’d walked into the main bar and seen Judd’s hand on her hip, he’d nearly lost his shit. Which was stupid, really. A woman like Gia would never go for a guy like him. Even if he wanted a relationship, he’d done enough digging on her background to know her family was insanely well-heeled in Atlanta society. Add to that her stellar—albeit off the beaten path—education, she could land just about any man she wanted.
Definitely not the type of woman who’d want a man only a high school education who’d made their life mostly on street smarts.
With Darya and Knox trailing behind him, he navigated the upscale neighborhood to her townhouse and parked his ‘Vette out front. What the three-story structures lacked in landscaping, they more than made up for in curb appeal, the whole brick and stonework combo somehow making the place look like an old-English suburb. He’d barely known Gia a few weeks when the one she ended up purchasing had gone on the market, but it had been one of the few times he’d truly seen such openly displayed joy around those she worked with.
He’d barely made it around the back of his car to get Gia out of the front seat before Darya was beside him and handing over Gia’s purse and keys. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? You’re not exactly Mr. Observant where she’s concerned.”
Something about the tone of Darya’s voice and word choice pricked his attention enough he paused before picking Gia up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Too quickly, Darya’s gaze sliced to Knox still waiting behind the wheel of his Audi in the parking lot.
She shrugged, but still didn’t meet his stare for a few beats. As if she had to take the extra time to either formulate her words, or make damned sure she schooled her expression. “I’m just saying…men don’t always see the things women do.”
Huffing, she shook her head and dipped her head toward Gia, still out cold. “Just take care of her. And for once, really pay attention.” With that, she spun and sashayed off back to Knox, the click of her high heels ricocheting off the concrete between the tall buildings.
As light as she was, getting Gia in the house was a breeze, and thanks to Knox, her alarm didn’t pose a problem either. Thank God, he’d actually convinced her to let his company be the one to install the system when she’d moved in. Otherwise, he’d have had a whole different set of problems to juggle.
Soft lamplight spilled from the corner of the living room, so Beckett aimed that direction and laid Gia out on the couch. Once settled, he crouched beside her and smoothed her hair away from her face.
The impact hit him instantly, the soft and silky strands jolting his amplified need for touch into high gear and tempting him like a junkie on a four-day dry spell. As out as she was, he could probably take advantage for hours. Let his fingers toy with the long strands and sample the skin on her face and neck.
Rather than give into the impulse, he braced one hand on the couch above her head. The fabric was nowhere near as luxurious as her hair, but it was soft like the chairs he kept at his place and kept him from giving into touching where he shouldn’t.
That was the thing about people like him. Touch was everything. The thing he needed to stay in balance and keep his head and impulses in check. While his sensory processing disorder—or SPD—wasn’t as debilitating as it was for some people, he’d sure as hell learned not to underestimate it.
He leaned in and lowered his voice, knowing full well she probably wouldn’t hear or understand a word he said. “How about you chill here for a bit, gorgeous. Let me go get things ready for you upstairs.”
Gia moaned and rolled to one side, tucking her hands beneath her cheek.
He couldn’t help but chuckle. The pose was cute. Totally innocent and sweet. Which meant she’d be mortified if she had any clue he’d seen it. “I’m gonna take that for a yes.”
Forcing himself to stand and move away from her, he made his way to the staircase at the back of the first floor. She’d made a lot of changes to the place since the last time he’d seen it. When they’d first installed her security system, the townhouse had been empty and about as bland as a saltine cracker. Now, it was decked out in comforting grays and a greenish-blue color that reminded him of ocean water over a powder white beach. The furniture ran more to the contemporary side of things, but without being cold and uptight. Totally classy, just like Gia.
Hustling to the master bedroom on the second floor, he flipped on the light, expecting to find more of the same—and stopped hard in his tracks. To say the décor in her room was a shock was an understatement. Yeah, he knew Gia could put the girl in girly when she needed to, but he’d never in a million years expected her private space to be anywhere near this feminine.
Where she’d stuck to neutral colors everywhere else, the basics for this room were white and a pink. And not the brash, oh-my-God-my-eyes-are-blinded pink, but a soft ballet color that encouraged you to take a load off and linger a while. Especially the bedspread. He’d be damned if he had any clue what kind of fabric it was—something silky that could have passed for an exotic animal’s coat if it wasn’t pink. He combed his fingers through the fluffy surface, all too easily picturing Gia spread out naked on top of it.
He shook his head to clear the image and peeled back the comforter, only to find innocent white sheets that looked as soft as the ones he kept at home. Oh, yeah. Totally an invitation to let his mind go about a hundred different places it had no business going.
Fisting his hand to keep from sampling the surface, he took two unsteady steps backwards.
Focus, dumbass. She needs clothes. Not you perving out in her bedroom.
One glimpse in the top drawer of her dresser was enough to have him slamming it shut as fast as he’d opened it. Unfortunately, his eager brain had clocked the lacy bras and panties neatly tucked inside. Gia might be fond of pale colors in her bedroom, but clearly, she was open to racier, bolder stuff against her skin. “And Darya says I’m not observant. Fuck that.”
He yanked open the next drawer. And the next. “Come on. She’s gotta have T-shirts somewhere.”
On the bottom drawer, he got his answer—but it wasn’t T-shirts. Nope. The tiniest badass of the century was a silk nightie girl. A bit of an addict really given the number he had to choose from.
For a second, he just stared down at the contents, his fingers and his imagination all too eager to dive in.
He deserved this torture. Truly, he did.
Yeah? And you’d be cool with Judd being the one slipping in-between those sheets? Not to mention between Gia’s thighs?
Oh, hell no. That mother fucker rubbed Beckett all kinds of wrong. From his Malibu looks, to his suave bullshit routine, Judd was all window dressing and no substance. Or at least that was Beck’s take on the man.
He exhaled slow and ran his fingers along the pristine white nightie on the top of the pile. He could do this. He could absolutely do this. And if he was lucky, his dick might calm the hell down sometime before the next century.
A moan sounded from downstairs followed by unsteady footsteps on the hardwood floors.
“Gia?” He tossed the nightie on the bed and hauled ass downstairs.
Sure enough, his walking talking fantasy was on her feet and weaving toward the stairs, an almost comical focus marking the features on her face.
“Girl, what are you doing up? I told you to sit tight.”
At the sound of his voice, she halted so fast she almost fell over. She caught herself, though, and frowned up at him like she couldn’t figure out who he was, or which of the three versions of him she should talk to. “Why are you in my house?”
Guess that answered if she knew who he was. “Because you’re hammered and I’m the one that put you on the fast track to getting there, so I’m on puke patrol.”
As if the mere mention of the word stirred her stomach, she tucked her chin in a little and swallowed hard. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Yeah, I don’t doubt it.” He moved in quick and swept her up in his arms.
She floundered for a minute, but finally settled one arm around his shoulders. “What are you doing?”
“Taking the express,” he said covering the stairs faster than was probably wise with a drunk woman in his arms. “Figured that was better than adding clean up detail to tonight’s agenda.”
He was two steps into her room and on track for the master bath when she spoke, the desperation in it pushing him to move faster. “Beckett…”
“Yeah, gorgeous. We got this.”
He made it with one retch to spare, barely getting her hair pulled out of the way before she let loose. Not that she had much left in her stomach after round one at Trident.
The weird part? It didn’t bother him. Not in the slightest. Granted it’d been years since Knox had pulled a bender worthy of talking to Ralphie on the big white telephone, but watching Knox in the same situation had always made Beckett want to hurl himself. With Gia, he was fine. Like taking care of her was a privilege instead of something to endure.
The second the muscles in her shoulders eased and she sat back on her ass, he let her hair go and nabbed a washcloth out of the cabinet. “Feel better?”
She moaned, pulled her knees up in front of her and crossed her arms on her knees, resting her forehead on top of them.
“Ah, it’s not that bad.” He crouched beside her and wiped her mouth, grateful the green-around-the-gills tint to her skin had been replaced with a healthy flush. “You think you can stand up long enough to rinse out your mouth?”
“I think so.”
Surprisingly, that part went somewhat easy, routine kicking in and taking over when she reached for a toothbrush. At least, things stayed fine so long as he stayed planted behind her and held her steady. Otherwise, she tended to sway like a drunk pirate top deck in the middle of a hurricane.
She tapped her toothbrush on the counter, wiped her mouth with a fresh washcloth and met his eyes in the mirror. “I can’t believe I just puked in front of you.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re not gonna remember it in the morning anyway, so I’ll swear I never saw a thing.”
As soon as he said it, his scheming mind pointed out just how a drunken dark spot on her memory could keep buried all kinds of details. Like, for instance, finding out if her lips were as soft as they were full, and what her eyes looked like after a long hard kiss.
He pressed closer, the thoughts alone enough to create their own gravitational pull. God, she was tiny. Firm, but still giving in all the right places. Even her scent sucked him in, a mix of crisp ocean air and sultry nights on a beach.
Her head dropped back against his chest, but her eyes were closed. “Sleepy.”
Not fighting temptation like him. Nowhere even close.
Which means you need to rein your shit in and do your girl a solid.
Although, how he was gonna do either one getting her into that nightie he still hadn’t figured out. “Right. Time to get you in bed.” Opting for the faster route, he swept her up and got her settled on the edge of the bed. “You think you can get yourself changed?”
She clocked the nightie on top of her comforter, paused for at least a seven-second delay, then frowned up at him. “‘Course.”
There she was. Undoubtedly the most indomitable woman he’d ever met—even three sheets to the wind. Rather than cup the side of her face and sample her skin the way he wanted to, he straightened and forced himself back a step. “Atta girl. I’m gonna wait out in the hall, but if you need me, you just give me a shout.”
Clearly, getting into bed was a huge priority, because she was tugging at what had once been a crisp, tailored white button down before he could turn for the door.
What felt like twenty, but was probably only five minutes later, the shuffles and indelicate grunts coming from the bedroom grew silent. “G?”
No answer. Not so much as a heavy sigh.
“Gorgeous, you done?” When she still didn’t answer, he peeked around the door frame, only to grab ahold of the wood just to balance himself from the visual punch that greeted him. “Fuck, baby. You tryin’ to kill me?”
Of course, she wouldn’t answer. Couldn’t since she was out cold and stretched out on the comforter. With her dark hair, white nightie, and creamy skin against the pale pink surface, she was every man’s fantasy centerfold come to life. And with the way the silk draped high on her hip, he was pretty damned sure the nightie was the only thing she had on.
Don’t go there, Beck. She’s a friend. Nothing more, nothing less.
He killed all the lights save a small one in the bathroom and tried to blank his thoughts the way he did at the gym. Unfortunately, the image of the blank white wall he relied on to clear the clutter in his head kept shifting to white silk and the possibility of what lay beneath it.
Standing beside the bed, he pumped his fists, the need to touch burning his palms. Yeah, the slick fabric would help center him. Would ease the agitation he’d fought since the second he’d seen Gia leaning into Judd. But the real drive was pure primal need. A demand to claim her. Take her. Mark her so thorough and deep she wouldn’t be able to ignore him ever again.
He leaned over, pried the covers he’d partially peeled back out from under her dead weight and dragged them up over her legs.
She opened her eyes and her words came thick with sleep and wonder. “You’re in my room.”
He liked that look on her. Her eyelids heavy over soulful dark eyes. He’d give a lot to see them that way when she’d remember it. Preferably after a long night spent doing everything except sleep. “Better me than Judd.”
“No, not Judd.” She smiled, a soft wistful one as her eyes slipped closed. “Judd’s not who I want.”
“Yeah? You could have fooled me.” He sat next to her on the bed, careful not to jostle her too much. No easy task considering his bulk. He gave into temptation and smoothed the backs of his knuckles along her jawline, the delicate sensation drawing everything inside him to laser focus.
He shouldn’t ask. Shouldn’t take advantage, but the question pushed free despite the minute blip from his conscience. “Who’d you want to go home with?”
Her eyes opened and the raw vulnerability in her soft gaze nearly cut him in half. “You.”
His lungs stopped working.
Hell, he was pretty sure his heart had kicked it, too. Or maybe it was just a case of his ears giving up the ghost after one too many of Axel’s concert venues. “You don’t mean that.”
“Shhh.” She scrunched her eyes closed for a second and nearly missed pressing her fingers to his lips. “It’s my dream. Don’t mess it up.”
He caught her wrist before she could pull her hand away and dragged his thumb across her palm. “You think this is a dream?”
She chuckled. A low, dirty and delicious sound best relegated to moments where no clothes were involved. “Oh, I know it is.” Mirroring the touch he’d given her, she grazed her fingertips along his jawline and cocked her head on the pillow, a soft sigh slipping past her lips. “You don’t at me like that in real life. Only in my dreams.”
He couldn’t think.
Didn’t want to for fear of losing the way she kept touching him. Letting her hand drifted down to his shoulder and arm and the covetous way her gaze followed behind it.
“I don’t want to wake up.” A whispered confession that hit him square in the solar plexus. Truth offered from unknowing lips.
Taking advantage of that truth considering the way he’d earned it was a shit move. An act Gia would not only kick his ass for at some point, but would probably try to cut his nuts off for just for fun.
But fuck if he was going to ignore it. Not when the holy grail of women had just drawn a great big X on the path to every fantasy he’d nursed for three years.
He stretched out beside her and tucked her as close as the sheets and comforter between them would allow, guiding her head so it rested on his chest. He’d sleep for shit like this, if he even slept at all, but no way was he pausing to shuck his clothes like he normally did. Not if it meant letting her go. Not until he’d had time to formulate what to do with his newfound knowledge.
Men don’t always see the things women do.
Darya had all but whacked him over the head with her words. Had told him to pull his head out of his head and pay attention. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how he’d missed it. Couldn’t mesh the way Gia acted around him with her words tonight. But if it was the truth…
He smoothed his hand up and down her spine, thinking. Remembering countless details over the time they’d known each other. She always kept her distance. Kept things polite and professional, yet friendly.
But she watched him. He’d felt it. Caught her on several occasions, but he’d thought it was just her being observant. He waited for her breathing to even out before he trusted himself to speak. “Gia?”
In way of an answer, she snuggled closer and set free a contented, “Hmmm?”
“I’ve always seen you.” He speared his fingers through her hair and savored the weight of it. The summery scent and cool slickness against his knuckles. “And I want you to wake up. I want your eyes wide open and your thoughts crystal clear the next time you see me.” His grip tightened against her scalp, conviction pushing the words free in an almost violent surge. “Because your days of dreaming are over.”