This is an excerpt from the story Scarlet and the Sheriff, available from eRedSage here.
Feeling a bit shy, Scarlet finally opened the door and stepped into the bedroom.
Rand squatted in front of the fireplace, prodding the logs with a long iron poker. He wore faded black sweat pants riding low on his hips and a gray t-shirt that clung lovingly to his chest. Yum.
He looked up at her. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah.” Her wet bangs fell across her eye. “Thanks for everything.” She looked down at herself. “I hope I’m decent.”
“Unfortunately, you are.” He smiled. “That shirt could cover you two times over.”
Yeah, it could, and that was the problem. She felt loose and naked and somehow open under the baggy t-shirt he'd lent her.
She gestured with the hairbrush. “I couldn’t open the industrial strength packaging.”
He held out his hand. “Come on over and I’ll brush your hair for you.”
She walked slowly toward him, knowing there was a catch somewhere in the casual invitation. A smart woman wouldn’t get within twenty feet of a man who looked so warm and tough and…and just plain desirable. A careful woman would ask him to leave, or, at a bare minimum, would maintain her distance. She watched him sit down on the butter yellow chaise angled in front of the fire. He leaned against the back, spread his legs to either side of the chaise and patted the seat in front of him.
“I promise not to bite,” he said, his lips curving in a half smile. “Let me take care of you for a few minutes.”
Ah, hell, she’d never been careful. What was the point of starting now? She kept moving toward the chaise as if she had no will of her own. It would feel so good to sit in front of the snapping fire, warm and cozy at last, and have her hair brushed. She sat down, leaving several inches between them. Rand leaned forward, grasped the hairbrush from her nerveless fingers, and lightly gripped her shoulders.
“You need to move back just a bit,” he said, tugging her gently, “so I can reach you.”
He didn’t force her into contact with him, though she could feel his heat and smell his clean male scent. She heard the packaging rip open and then he began brushing.
Ahhh, he’d learned well from someone. Long, gentle strokes that massaged her scalp all the way from the top of her head to her neck. Immediately, she began to relax, feeling the long tension of the day seep out of her.
They were both silent, the crackle of the fire and the patter of rain the only sounds accenting the peace of the moment. She closed her eyes, succumbing to the drugging pleasure of his touch.
Rand drew the brush slowly through her hair, resisting the urge to fling the hairbrush on the floor and pull her against himself. The fire threw up a flame of light and the table lamp he’d turned on glowed softly beside them. He could see the outline of her breasts beneath the thin t-shirt and her long bare legs stretched out in front of her as if placed there solely to tease him.
Perfect temptation, right here in his arms. He stirred, trying to ease the ache in his balls. But there was no point in trying to delude himself. He’d wanted her since the minute he’d seen her standing on that hot sidewalk, blowing her bangs out of her eyes and glaring at that trucker. She might not be the woman he’d been thinking about looking for now that he was at least temporarily settled in his hometown. Certainly, she was not relationship material. He doubted if she’d said an honest word to him since they’d met. But his body didn’t care. She was pure sex, no strings attached, just a few minutes away from writhing beneath him if he could find the right lever.
If only she hadn’t accepted his offer to stay here under the terms of no sex. He had to honor her refusal. No matter what it cost him.
Of course, she’d already kissed him. If he could steal a few more kisses, that wouldn’t be violating the agreement, would it?
He placed the hairbrush silently on the table, leaned forward and rested his hands on her shoulders.
“What happened to your engagement, Scarlet?” With women, talk was always a useful distraction.
“Ummm…” She hesitated, as if speech were an effort. “We weren’t compatible, that’s all.”
“Why not?” He moved his hands to the naked skin between her shirt and her shiny hair. He rubbed slowly and gently. Nothing to alarm her.
“He was a lawyer. Successful. And I’m not the trophy wife type, y’know? 2.4 kids, blonde ponytail, a body too thin to cast a shadow.”
He laughed. “No, you have the body that makes a man pinch himself to see if he’s dreaming.”
“Hey!” But her voice was languorous, and she smiled, her eyes still closed. “I’ll pinch you if you don’t behave.”
“I’m behaving, Scarlet.” Though he was not. His hands probed deeply, massaging her shoulders, trailing over her neck, raising goose bumps that told him as clearly as words that she reacted to his touch. He took note of everything, the way she tilted her head forward to allow him better access, the way her hands were relaxed on the chaise, the way her legs had fallen slightly open. Her rose scent teased him, a feminine contrast to the burning fire.
“Did this successful lawyer give you the bruise on your face?” He had to mention it, though he was damned if he knew why.
She clapped a hand to her cheek and her whole body stiffened. “That…that must be from the car wreck,” she said.
Another lie. But typical. Women rarely wanted to admit to abuse. Rand willed his own hands to relax as he continued massaging her neck. “Just in case it was a man,” he said, forcing the words out around the knot of anger in his throat, “don’t ever see him again. A man who hits a woman once will do it again.”
She didn’t say anything and he pressed on, unsure why he felt so protective of her, but damnit, he did. “Promise?”
“Okay. If you keep on doing what you’re doing, I’ll promise never to let a man hit me.” She stretched under his probing fingers. “Again.”
He barely caught the murmured word, but anger flared anew at her whispered admission. He knew it had cost her to say that, after trying to brush off his question with her light words. If he ever saw the son of a bitch who’d mark a woman like this, the guy would be lucky to keep his balls. But for now, all he could do was try to make her feel good and maybe steal that kiss that was teasing him with its promise.
She stirred a bit as he moved his long fingers around to her front and stroked the delicate bones that supported her neck. She brushed her cheek against the back of his hand. “You’ve got magic fingers, Rand. Why aren’t you married?”
“In Chicago, the job owned me. Long hours. Odd hours. And to be honest, I didn’t see any need to settle down.”
Then he could’ve kicked himself for his honesty. No woman wanted to hear that a man found sex and other women easy to come by.
“Aren’t things different here in Lovestruck?”
“Yeah.” He brushed his hands over her soft skin. “No sex.” Shit, where had that come from? It was the truth, but he didn’t need to advertise it.
“Lost your touch, have you?”
“I don’t know,” he murmured. He let his hands drift down to the tops of her breasts. “What do you think?”
“Ummm.” Did she arch her back just a little? “I think if you wanted a woman, you’d have one.”
“It’s not so easy when you’re Sheriff in a small town.” He kept his hands moving, slowly. He rubbed the sides of her breasts, and down to her waist.
“The badge is that heavy, huh?” She sounded a little breathless.
“I always have to worry what people think. Being a role model is sort of an understood part of the job description. Which isn’t necessarily bad. It’s kind of fun having the kids looking up to you. But the flip side is, you have to be someone worth looking up to. You don’t want little boys looking at a cop and saying, yeah, I’ll be just like him when I grow up. Running around town, using women.” He flattened his hands on her stomach. “So if there are easy women in town, I can’t pursue them.”
“Surely you could have women without using them.”
“Women don’t seem to see it that way too often. As soon as you have sex, they start getting expectations about a relationship.” He paused, pressing lightly against her stomach, his hands tense. “And if you don’t want that, watch out. You’re using them.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“Hey, if we have consensual sex that we both enjoy, how am I using them?”
“You are. You just don’t understand.”
He chuckled. “Nope. I don’t. But I have to live by it here.”
“Well, better you than me,” she murmured, her eyes drifting closed again. “I’m definitely not a model citizen.”
Oh, he knew that. But didn’t care at all. Not when she was lying here almost naked in his arms, her tight little nipples pressed against his t-shirt as if begging for his attention. He ran his hands down the side of her hips, learning her shape without touching anything vital. She wriggled back against him, and he hugged her close, careful not to force her against his erection. He wanted her to feel…cherished, not mauled.
“I seem to be developing quite an interest in a girl who doesn’t follow the rules,” he said. He leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck, gently at first, just testing her response. She sighed and dropped her head forward. He added his teeth, nipping her where her exposed neck met her shoulders. She moaned, and his hands moved automatically to cover her breasts. For a long moment, he pressed his palms against them while continuing to kiss her neck. Then he began playing with them, running his fingertips over her nipples, then pinching them upright as her back stiffened, and her breath panted from her lips.
Her growing arousal stoked his own desire.
But his discomfort rose at the same time. He’d made an agreement with himself that he wouldn’t try to do more than kiss her. Yet here he sat, his hands full of her breasts, his heart thundering with need. And a sense of urgency rode him. She wouldn’t be in town long, surely not long enough for him to have his fill of her. So he had to make the most of whatever time they had together. It could be just this one night.
“Scarlet.” He turned her in his arms. “Honey.” Not such a stretch, from one name to the next. But her eyes peeked open at the endearment, and she turned and gazed into his face, her brown eyes unblinking.
“That’s why you’re seducing me,” she whispered. “I’m just passing through town. No expectations. No fodder for the gossip mill.”
“Negative,” he murmured. He threaded his fingers through her hair and began massaging her scalp. “I’ve been wanting you since I first laid eyes on you. Yelling at that trucker because he couldn’t keep his eyes off you. I knew exactly how the poor sucker felt.”
“I wasn’t yelling at him.” Her voice had a low, dreamy quality, and Rand knew she was ready to fall like a perfectly ripe peach.
He leaned close, so he could whisper in her ear. “And with every outrageous statement you’ve made since, I only wanted you more.”
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