Excerpt From Dangerous Indulgence
“You have to give me the recipe for your blueberry muffins!” Margaret begged as she took a crumbling bite.
“If I do that, how will I ever sell any?” I said with a grin.
“Fine,” she said with a wink, dropping a couple of dollar bills into the tip jar. “One of these days, young lady, I’m going to figure out what that secret ingredient is though.”
I winked at her. “It’s love—don’t you know that?”
The elderly woman rolled her eyes at me and laughed as she left the bakery. I smiled when the next customer in line stepped forward. Rugged and handsome, he was new to the area. At least new to me. I’d only been there for five years, so I was still largely considered an outsider. He was fresh, though, working in the city and living somewhere in town for the past few weeks. There was something about him that made my heart race. A blush rose to my cheeks.
“The usual, Peyton?”
“You know it.”
I grinned and turned away from him, trying to hide the beads of sweat that had started at my hairline. He always made me feel like my skin was on fire, a towering man with strong Irish features and kind eyes. I couldn’t resist fantasizing about him late at night. On the days when he didn’t come into my small bakery, I felt like a sheep without a shepherd. Pouring his coffee and adding an ample amount of chocolate shavings, I quickly snapped on the lid and handed him the cup.
“Extra chocolate?” he asked with an easy grin.
I nodded, looking down at the register and entering his total. He handed me a five, as he always did. Our hands touched briefly, sending small chills of desire coursing through my body. It had been too long since I’d known the touch of a man beyond Peyton’s passing graze. Every weekday, it was the same routine, and this Friday was no different. He waited until the touch was over, the change safely nestled in his hand, before dropping it into the tip jar.
“Keep the change. You always give me extra chocolate for free.”
I nodded. “Thanks. Big plans for the weekend?”
“Not yet. How about yourself?”
“Nope, just the usual. This place doesn’t run itself. I like to spend the weekends getting it cleaned up. Makes things easier during the week when the rush hits.”
He looked around at the empty storefront. He didn’t know that most of my customers ordered online and had the baked goods delivered. How could he know that when we never talked beyond the counter? I wondered how it would feel to have his hand linger longer than a few seconds. I could almost feel his gruff beard as it bristled against my neck, moving lower down my body.
“So . . .?” he said, catching my attention.
“So, what?” I shot back, unaware that he’d been talking to me.
He raised an eyebrow. “I was just wondering why you always give me a little extra. I’m sure the tip doesn’t cover the cost.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You just look like you need a little sweetening up.”
He smiled and turned away. I loved watching him leave, his skin-tight jeans showing off his perfectly sculpted backside. It was a view that I would never get tired of. I did hate it when he left, though, especially on Fridays. It meant that I’d have to go through the next two days without seeing him. With a sigh, I turned my attention back to the waiting cookie batter on the counter and reminded myself again that I had to get a boyfriend.
“Hey,” said Peyton.
I spun around instantly, and he was already at the counter again. “Is everything okay?”
“Perfect,” he said with a sly smile. “I was just wondering if you have plans tonight. I’ve heard there’s a great jazz band playing in the city.”
“Really?” I said enthusiastically.
“Well, I don’t know if they’re really that good, but we can find out together,” he said playfully.
“Right,” I muttered. “Yes. I would love to go with you.”
“Great, pick you up here after you close?”
This was going to be my first date in at least a year, and if my body was any indication of how I felt about him, it wouldn’t be the last. I needed some time to pick out an outfit and take care of my personal things. Plus, I needed time to think about Peyton as a person. Was I really ready to take a chance again? The last relationship I was in had left deep and vibrant scars on my heart.
“How about eight? Is that too late?”
Peyton grinned. “Band doesn’t go on till nine. We can eat there and skip dinner.”
I watched him go again, praying the day would pass by quickly. When my part-time help came in at noon and I left to go to the bank, I stopped at my house and dug through my closet. Everything that I owned was outdated. I didn’t have any of the usual feminine staples. No little black dresses or frilly lace negligees graced my closet. With a dramatic sigh, I stormed out of my small house and hopped back into my car. I needed to go shopping.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered to myself. “This is a terrible idea.”
I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Though I didn’t look half bad in the tight leather dress, I had other reasons to be worried about starting a relationship. Reasons that were deeper and darker than anyone I knew in this town could imagine. The last conversation I’d had as ‘Brandi’ played through my mind as I finished putting on my makeup.
The stranger who had driven me to Dumont, Maine looked like all the other agents I’d met. They shared the same blank expressions, looking at me only when they were forced to. One of them had explained it early on—the less I knew about them, and vise versa, the safer it was for everyone. That’s how life worked when you were on the run.
“This is your new identity,” he’d whispered as he handed me a manila folder. “You need to forget everything about your former life. Forget about Brandi.”
“How do you do that? Just forget someone that you were for your entire life?” I’d asked, young and naive.
“You learn to do it. Otherwise, you’ll slip up, and I promise that the men hunting you will find you. We can only offer you protection up to this point. After this, it’s up to you to bury your past.”
“Thanks,” I muttered sarcastically. “So, that’s it? I’m just supposed to start over?”
“We’ve given you a severance package and a new identity in exchange for your cooperation. What more did you think you would get?”
I shrugged. “A friendly face, maybe?”
He shook his head. “Then get a dog. With two grand in unmarked bills, you should be able to buy a few companions.”
“Are all of you agents so cold and careless?”
He barely glanced in my direction as he hit the Door Unlock button, signaling that the conversation was over. “Lady, you’re lucky to be getting any help at all. I’ve seen people on the run for a decade before getting anywhere. You’ve got it made. Just be grateful and get out.”
“You’re an asshole,” I hissed.
He shrugged. “That’s life—have a good one.”
“I can’t believe you’re with the government. You have no heart,” I muttered.
Unable to sit there without crying any longer, I’d left the vehicle, and the agent had sped away just as the tears started to fall. I hadn’t bought a dog, a stripper, or anything else. Instead, I’d bought a rundown, boarded-up home and storefront, spending years of my life making it into what it was now. But now, that could all be threatened. Peyton was wonderful, too sweet to be a hitman. I knew that at some point in my life, I would have to take a risk. There was no one better than Peyton to venture into those uncharted waters with.
I gave myself one final glance in the mirror before heading to my car. As I drove the few short miles to the bakery, I tried to keep my confidence up. He liked me and it was just a date. I parked around the back in my usual spot, and to my surprise, he was already there waiting for me. My heart started to flip as he stepped from his car and shot me another stunning smile. I knew that he was dangerous in that second, but I didn’t care. I wanted every part of him and nothing was going to stop me from fulfilling that need.
I’d spent weeks watching her, wondering if it were possible that she was the one I was looking for. When I finally worked up the nerve to ask her out, I’d left the small bakery shaking with anticipation. If she were the one I’d been tracking, then the shaking made sense. If she wasn’t and my emotions were starting to get in the way of work, we would have problems. The late-night date I’d planned was just for her. She seemed like the type of woman who liked jazz. I sure as hell wasn’t driving back into the city for my sake.
I held open her car door and let my eyes travel down the skin-tight dress that she was wearing. No underwear outlined her perfectly toned ass, making my cock jerk. When she was safely inside, I walked around the back of the car. I was taking my time getting back into the driver’s seat and praying that the boner she’d created would go down some.
“You look amazing,” I said honestly as I climbed in.
A red flush reached her cheek, bringing back the hard-on in my pants. I shifted uncomfortably and looked away from her, focusing on the road as we pulled away from the storefront. An awkward silence started to settle between us, and I knew if I wanted a second date, I would need to say something. I couldn’t really come out and ask her if she was Collins’s ex. She would run in an instant. Plus, if she wasn’t the woman I was hunting, I’d ruin any chance I had of getting lucky later. It had been too long to run the risk.
“Thank you. You look nice too,” she muttered. “So, you like jazz? You don’t seem like the type.”
“I’m not,” I blurted out. “I thought you would like it though.”
She smiled. “That was very thoughtful of you. I don’t really care what we do though. I’m just excited you asked me out.”
I raised an eyebrow. She was honest. That was rare in my line of work. “Really? So you don’t have your heart set on jazz tonight?”
She shook her head. “Nope. I do know a little dive bar on the edge of town. The beer is warm but the food is good.”
“Sounds perfect,” I said.
I hoped that the bar wasn’t too low-class. I was no snob, but the last thing I wanted was to run into someone who knew me for who I really was. It was just on the edge of town, like she’d said. Instantly, I was at ease. Her idea of a dive bar was more like a small mom and pop restaurant. I saw no motorcycles parked outside, and I let out a sigh of relief. She looked at me with a questioning gaze and I quickly thought of an excuse.
“I was worried it would be a biker bar or something,” I said. I winced at my words. What the hell was my problem? I couldn’t seem to lie to her and it was going to get me in some serious trouble.
Her face paled. “A biker bar?”
I cleared my throat and smiled at her. “In that dress, I’d be fighting men off you left and right. That’s no way to spend a first date.”
“Oh!” she said, her warm laughter filling the car. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that. I don’t go to bars like that.”
“Yeah? You don’t like bikers?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t like getting hit on. It always makes me feel uneasy.”
“Well, I hit on you, and you didn’t seem to mind.”
“You’re different,” she whispered softly. “I liked it when you hit on me and when you asked me out.”
“I’m glad. I didn’t want to find a new coffee shop,” I said with a playful wink.
“We can’t have that. So, what do you do in the city?”
I had to think fast. Too much honesty could get us both killed. “I mostly just run numbers. It’s really more of a desk job, but here recently, I’ve been out in the field a little more.”
“That’s vague,” she muttered.
“I’m sorry.” I frowned. “It’s just a boring job. I work in imports and exports. All sorts of stuff, whatever comes in from overseas.”
“Nothing illegal, I hope?”
“Do I look like the criminal type?”
She shook her head. “No. But they come in all shapes and sizes.”
“What about you? Have you owned the bakery long?”
She shrugged. “Some days, it feels like I’ve been there forever. Other days, it’s new and fascinating all over again.”
“And you gave me crap about being vague.”
Rosa laughed. “I’m not sure . . . a few years now? It took some time to get the money together. Before that, I just kind of flitted from one job to the next.”
A few years, I mused. She fit the timeline perfectly, but I struggled to think that the sweet girl sitting next to me could ever be tangled up with Collins and his men. “What about before that? Are you from the area?”
“I’ve lived here since I was born,” she said softly.
Something about the tone of her voice hinted at sadness. I liked to think that I was pretty good at reading people, and she just didn’t fit the mafia type. Still, I never would have thought my own sister would get tangled up with mafia men, but she did, and now she was gone. The woman I was hunting would know about Shannon, and I needed answers. Until I was sure one way or the other, I would just have to keep digging.
“This is it,” she said, her mood seeming to lighten as the small diner came into view. “I hope you like it. It’s really a great place. Very low-key.”
“If you like it, then I’m sure I’ll love it. You seem to have great taste,” I said, laying on the charm.
She rolled her eyes. “You sure do know how to lay it on thick, don’t you?”
Winking, I parked the car and jogged to get the passenger door before she could open it. We’d parked around the side of the small restaurant where the light barely touched. She stepped out and leaned against the car for a second. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she didn’t want to eat, at least not the cuisine that the elderly couple I’d seen in the window would be serving. My job was simple. I was just supposed to get to know her—with no physical contact—but when she bit her lip, my morals flew out the window.
Stepping closer to her, I placed a hand on either side of her, pinning her between myself and the car. Her chest was heaving up and down, making her breasts quiver. I could have watched her there in the dim light all night without touching her, just taking in her rare beauty. Her raven hair hung loose around her face, accentuating her perfectly plump lips and emerald eyes. Every Irish bone in my body was set on fire as I watched her wiggle under my steady gaze.
“You really are something—do you know that?”
She nodded. “I don’t feel much like eating anymore.”
I stepped closer. Our bodies pressed together as my lips brushed against hers. Her breath caught in her chest as my cock pressed against her warm body. The thin fabric of her dress did little to hide her desire for me. As her nipples grew hard and poked through the material, I groaned in pleasure. She trailed her fingers up my arms until they cradled my face. When she pulled my lips down into a crushing kiss, I lost all control I had over the situation.
Time seemed to slip away, and I forgot that we were still standing in a dimly-lit parking lot. I pulled her body against my own, thumbing her hips and sliding my hands down her ass. As I suspected, she was wearing nothing under the thin sheath. I slid my hands back around to the front of her dress, letting one brave hand slide between us and trail up the inside of her thigh.
If I didn’t stop soon, I knew that I would take her right there in the parking lot as our tongues intertwined and darted between our mouths. She bit my lower lip as I pulled away and nibbled playfully on her earlobe. Her nails dug into my arms as I tried to keep myself under control. Every sigh of pleasure that slipped past her lips sent me into another frenzy of desire.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said in a heavy voice. “I don’t care where we go. I just want to get you alone.”
She nodded breathlessly. “Let’s go to my place. I need you.”
With those final words, I knew that I was hers to control. I would do anything to keep her wrapped in my arms.