Tempted (Alex Kennedy #1) : chap 1
Light and shadow painted him. On little cat feet, like the fog, I crept toward the bed. Tug-tugging, I slid the covers off to reveal his body.
I liked to watch him sleep, despite the way it sometimes made me want to pinch myself to prove I wasn’t dreaming. That this was my husband, my house, my life. Our perfect life. That there were good things to be had in the world, and I had them.
James stirred without waking. I crept closer to stand over him. The sight of him, all long, muscled limbs and smooth, sun-burnished skin, curled my fingers in anticipation of touching him. I held off, not wanting to wake him. I wanted to watch him for a while.
Awake, James was rarely still. Only dreaming did he loosen, soften, melt. If it was harder to believe he belonged to me when he was sleeping, it was also easier to remember how much I loved him.
Oh, I played a good game of confidence. I wore the ring and answered to the name Mrs. James Kinney. I even had the driver’s license and credit cards to prove I had the right to the name. Most of the time, our marriage was so matter-of-fact I couldn’t have disbelieved it if I’d wanted to, not when it came time to do the laundry and buy groceries, or clean the toilets, when I packed his lunches or folded his socks before putting them away. Then our marriage was solid and substantial. Granite. But sometimes, like when I watched him sleeping, the rock turned out to be limestone, easily dissolved by the slow-dripping water of my doubts.
Sunshine filtered through the tree outside our window and dappled him in all the spots I wanted to kiss. The twin dark circles of his nipples, the ridges of his ribs made sharper as he flung a hand over his head, the soft patch of hair furring his belly and meshing with the thatch between his legs. Everything about him was long and lean. Hidden strength. James looked thin, sometimes even breakable, but underneath he was all muscle. He had large, callus-fingered hands, used to working but perfectly suited for playing, too.
I was more interested in the playing as I bent over him to blow a puff of breath across his lips. Fast as sin, he grabbed me. He could pin both my wrists with one hand, and he did, pulling me onto the bed and rolling on top of me. James settled between my thighs, the only thing between us the thin fabric of my summer-weight nightgown. He was already getting hard.
“What were you doing?”
“Watching you sleep.”
James pushed my hands above my head, stretching me. It hurt a little, but then that’s what makes the pleasure so much sweeter. His free hand inched up the hem of my nightgown and found my bare thigh.
His fingertips grazed the curls between my legs as he spoke. “Why were you watching me sleep?”
“Because I like to,” I told him just before his questing fingers made me inhale sharply.
“Do I want to know why you like to watch me sleep?” His grin tipped the corners of his mouth. Smug. His fingertip settled against me, but he didn’t move it yet. “Anne?”
I laughed. “No. Probably not.”
“I didn’t think so.”
He lowered his mouth to mine but didn’t kiss me. I craned my neck, seeking to meet his lips, but James kept them a breath apart. His finger began the slow circling he knew well would drive me crazy. I felt heat and hardness on my hip, but with my hands still held fast in his grip, I could only wiggle in protest.
“Tell me what you want me to do to you.”
James had eyes of summer-sky blue, ringed with deep navy. The contrast could be startling. The dark fringe of his lashes swept down as his eyes narrowed. He licked his lips.
“Everywhere….” My reply trailed off into a sigh and then a startled gasp when he stroked me again.
I wouldn’t, not at first, though I knew sooner or later he’d have me doing what he wanted. He always did. It helped that I usually wanted what he wanted me to want. We were well matched in that way.
James bit down into the sensitive spot where my neck met my shoulder. “Say it.”
Instead, I writhed under his touch. His finger dipped inside me, then out, swirling gently when I wanted him to press harder. Teasing me.
“Anne,” James said seriously. “Tell me you want me to lick your cunt.”
I used to hate that word until I learned its power. It’s what men call women who have bested them. It’s what women call each other when we want to wound. Bitch has become something of a badge of pride, but cunt still sounds dirty and harsh, and it always will.
Unless we take it back.
I said what he wanted me to say. My voice was hoarse but not weak. I looked into my husband’s eyes, gone dark with lust. “I want you to put your face between my legs and make me come.”
For one moment, he didn’t move. Against my hip, his heat and hardness shifted and grew. I saw the pulse beat in his throat. Then he blinked slowly, and the smug smile spread across his mouth. “I love it when you say that.”
“I love it when you do it,” I murmured.
Then there was no more talking, because he moved down my body and lifted my nightgown to put his mouth exactly where I told him I wanted it. He licked me for a long time, until I shuddered and cried out, and then he slid up again to fill me and fucked me until we both came with shouts that sounded like prayers.
The telephone’s jangling interrupted the postcoital laziness to which we’d succumbed. The Sunday edition of the Sandusky Register, spread out on the bed, crinkled and rustled as James leaned over me to grab the phone from its cradle. I took the chance to lick his skin as he did, sneaking a nibble that made him jump and laugh as he answered.
“This better be good,” he said into the phone.
A pause. I gave him a curious look over the lifestyles section. He was grinning.
“You son of a bitch!” James settled back against the headboard, his naked knees pulled up. “What are you doing? Where the hell are you?”
I tried catching his eye but the conversation had immersed him. James is an intense butterfly, flitting from focus to focus and giving each his undivided attention. It’s flattering when it’s you. Not so charming when it isn’t.
“You lucky son of a bitch.” James sounded almost envious, and my curiosity was piqued even more. Generally, James was the object of admiration among his peers, the one with the newest toys. “I thought you were in Singapore.”
I knew, then, who had disrupted our Sunday afternoon lassitude. It had to be Alex Kennedy. I looked back to my paper, listening while James talked. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting in the newspaper. I didn’t really care about the latest summer fashion or what cars were trendy this year. I cared even less about burglaries and politics, however, so I scanned the columns of text and discovered I’d been ahead of my time in painting my bedroom pale melon the year before. Apparently it was the season’s hot new color.
Listening to only one side of a conversation is like putting together a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box. I listened to James talking to his best friend from junior high school with only the barest comprehension and frame of reference to help me assemble the pieces. I knew my husband as well and intimately as any one person can know another, but I didn’t know Alex at all.
“Yeah, yeah. Of course you did. You always do.”
The keen admiration was back, along with an eagerness new to me. I glanced at James. His face was alight with glee and something else. Something almost poignant. Despite having what could be a somewhat narrow focus on his own priorities, James was unafraid to be happy for someone else’s fortune. He was, however, rarely impressed. Or intimidated. Now he looked a bit of both, and I forgot about the vapidity of pale melon altogether to listen to him speak.
“Ah, get out, man, you’d rule the fucking world if you wanted.”
I blinked. The sincere, almost puppyish tone was as new to me as the look on his face. This was startling. A bit disturbing. It was the way a boy speaks to a woman he’s convinced he loves, even though he knows she’ll never give him a second look.
“Yeah, same here.” Laughter, low and somewhat secret, crept out of him. Not his usual guffaw. “Fucking-A man, that’s great. I’m glad to hear it.”
Another pause while he listened. I watched him rub the curving white scar just above his heart, his fingers tracing the line of it, over and over, absently. I’d seen him do that before, rubbing that scar like a talisman when he was tired or upset or excited. Sometimes it was brief, a passing touch like he was flicking a crumb from his shirt. Other times, like this, the stroke-stroke of his fingers took on an almost hypnotic pace. I could be mesmerized watching James run his fingers along that scar, which sometimes looks like a half-moon, or a bite, or a frown or a rainbow.
James’s brow creased. “No. Really? What were they thinking? That sucks, Alex. Really fucking sucks. Fuck, man, I’m sorry.”
From elation to sorrow in half a second. This too was unusual from my husband, who might move easily from focus to focus but always managed to maintain his emotional stability. His syntax had changed during his conversation, reverting a little. I’m no prude about bad language, but he was saying fuck an awful lot.
In the next instant his face brightened. He sat up, bent knees going straight. The sunshine of his smile burst from behind the storm clouds of a moment before.
“Yeah? Right on! Fucking-A! You got it, man! That’s fan-fucking-tastic!”
At this I could no longer hide my expression of surprise, but James didn’t notice. He was bouncing a little, shaking the bed so the
“When? Great! That’s…yeah, yeah…of course. It’ll be fine. It’ll be great. Of course I’m sure!” His glance flicked toward me, but I was certain he didn’t actually see me. His mind was too taken up with whatever was happening in Singapore. “Can’t wait! Yeah. Just let me know. Bye, man. See you.”
With that, he thumbed the disconnect button and settled back against the headboard with a grin so broad and vibrant it looked a bit maniacal. I waited for him to speak, to share with me the piece of brilliant news that had so excited him. I waited quite a bit longer than I expected to.
Just as I was about to ask, James turned to me. He kissed me hard, his fingers tangling in my hair. His mouth bruised mine a little, and I winced.
“Guess what?” He answered before I had time to reply. “Alex’s company just got bought out by a much larger corporation. He’s like a fucking millionaire now.”
What I knew of Alex Kennedy could fit on one side of a sheet of notebook paper. I knew he worked overseas in the Asian market and had since before I’d met James. He’d been unable to attend our wedding but had sent an elegant gift that must have been exorbitantly expensive. I knew he’d been James’s best friend since the eighth grade, and that they’d had a falling-out when they were both twenty-one. I’d always had the feeling the rift had never fully been repaired, but then, men’s relationships are so different from women’s. If James barely spoke to his friend, that didn’t mean they hadn’t forgiven each other for whatever it was that had driven them apart.
“Wow. Really? A millionaire?”
James shrugged, fingers tightening again in my hair before he sat back against the headboard. “The guy’s a fucking genius, Anne. You don’t even know.”
I didn’t know. “That’s good news, then. For him.”
He frowned, running a hand through dark hair already tipped blond, though the summer had barely begun. “Yeah, but the bastards who bought him out have decided they don’t want him part of the company any longer. He’s out of a job.”
“Does a millionaire need to work?”
James gave me a look that said I clearly didn’t get it. “Just because you don’t have to do something doesn’t mean you don’t want to. Anyway, Alex is done with Singapore. He’s coming home.”
His voice trailed off at the last, sounding almost wistful for the barest second before he looked at me with another grin. “I invited him for a visit. He said he’ll probably stay for a few weeks while he puts together his next business.”
“A few weeks? Here?” I didn’t mean to sound unwelcoming, but…
“Yeah.” James’s grin was small and secret, for himself. “It’ll be great. You’ll love Alex, babe. I know you will.”
He looked at me and was, for an instant, a man I didn’t know. He reached for my hand, linking our fingers before he took them to his lips and kissed the back of my hand. His mouth caressed my skin, and he looked up at me over the top of his kiss, his blue eyes dark with excitement.
But not for me.
I was Evelyn and Frank Kinney’s only daughter-in-law. Though my reception into the family had been chilly when James and I were dating and through our engagement, once I became a Kinney, I was treated like a Kinney. Evelyn and Frank had taken me into the bosom of the Kinney clan, and like quicksand, once I was so enfolded there was little I could do to escape.
We all got along well enough, for the most part. James’s sisters Margaret and Molly were several years older than us, both married with children. I didn’t have much in common with them aside from our gender, and though they were careful to include me in every “girls’ night” party they had with their mother, we weren’t close. It didn’t seem to matter.
Typically, James didn’t notice the superficiality of my relationship with his mother and sisters, and that was fine with me. It was all fine with me, that veneer. The shiny reflection that kept anyone from seeing what was underneath, the eddies and currents and depths of the truth. It was, after all, what I was used to.
It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Mrs. Kinney had…expectations.
Where we were going. What we were doing. How we were doing it and how much it cost. She wanted to know it all and was not contented with the knowing. She always had to know more.
It took me a few months of frigid phone calls to figure out that if James wasn’t going to divulge the details, I would have to. Since she was the one who’d raised him to believe the world revolved around him, I thought she’d have figured out it was her own fault he didn’t realize it revolved around her. James didn’t seem to mind displeasing his mother, but I did. James shrugged off his mother’s frequent fits of martyrdom, but I couldn’t stand the forced silences or the thinly veiled comments about respect or the comparisons to Molly and Margaret, who didn’t sneeze without holding out the tissue for Mrs. Kinney to see the color of the snot. James didn’t care, but I did, so meeting Mrs. Kinney’s expectations became one more peace for me to keep.
“I wish your mother would stop asking me when I’m going to give ‘the gang’ someone new to play with.” I said this in a perfectly calm voice that could have shattered glass.
James glanced at me before fixing his attention back at the road, where late spring rain had made the roads slick. “When did she say that?”
Of course he hadn’t noticed. James had long ago perfected the art of tuning out his mother. She talked, he nodded. She was satisfied. He was oblivious.
“When doesn’t she say it?” I crossed my arms over my chest, staring ahead through the rivulets of water turning the windshield into a piece of abstract art.
He was silent as we drove, an admirable talent of his. Knowing when to be silent. It was something his mother could have learned, I thought vehemently. Tears pricked the back of my throat, but I swallowed them down.
“She doesn’t mean anything by it,” he said finally as he pulled into our drive. The wind had gotten stronger as we neared the lake, and the pine trees in our yard whipped angry branches.
“She does mean something by it, that’s the problem. She knows exactly what she’s saying and she plays it off with that little simpering laugh, like she’s making a joke, but she’s not.”
“Anne…” James sighed and turned to me as he keyed off the ignition. The headlights went dark and I blinked, eyes adjusting. The patter of rain on the roof seemed much louder with darkness surrounding it. “Don’t get so upset.”
I turned in my seat to face him. “She always asks, James. Every time we’re together. It’s getting a little old, that’s all.”
His hand caressed my shoulder and tugged down the length of my braid. “She wants us to have kids—what’s wrong with that?”
I said nothing. James took his hand back. I could see him now, a faint silhouette, the flash of his eyes in the hint of light from across the water. Cedar Point Amusement Park still glimmered despite the rain and the line of cars streaming off the causeway.
“Chill, Anne. Don’t make such a big deal—”
I cut him off by opening my door. The cold rain felt good on my heated cheeks. I tipped my face to the sky, closing my eyes, pretending the wetness on my cheeks was only rain. James got out of the car. His heat embraced me before his arm went around my shoulder.
“Come inside. You’re getting soaked.”
I let him lead me inside, but I didn’t talk to him. I went straight to our bathroom and turned on the hot water of the shower. I left my clothes in a pile and when the room had filled with steam I stepped into the tub and beneath the water that substituted for the rain outside.
That’s where he found me, my head bent to let the hot water stream over my neck and back, working on the tension. I’d untied the braid, and my hair hung down over my breasts in kinked strands.
My eyes were closed, but the brief chill as he opened the glass door told me he was there seconds before I felt his arms around me. James held me against his chest. It took seconds for his skin to heat beneath the water. I pressed my face to his skin, hot and wet, and let him hold me.
We said nothing for a while as the shower caressed us both. His fingers traced my spine, up and down, the way he sometimes traced his scar. Water pooled in the space between my cheek and his chest, burning my eye. I had to move away to let it drain.
“Hey.” James waited until I’d looked up. “Don’t be upset. I can’t stand it when you get so upset.”
I wanted to explain to him that being upset once in a while wasn’t such a bad thing, but I didn’t. That a smile could be as painful as a scream. “She makes me so angry.”
His hand stroked my hair. He didn’t know, not really. I’m not sure a man can ever understand the complicated matter of feminine relationships. He didn’t want to understand it. James preferred the surface, too.
“She never asks you.” I tilted my face to look at him. Water splashed, making me blink.
“That’s because she knows I won’t have an answer.” He traced my eyebrow with one fingertip. “She knows you’re the one in charge.”
“Why am I the one in charge?” I demanded, but I already knew the answer.
It was easy for him, being blameless. “Because you’re so good at it.”
I frowned and pushed away from him to reach for the shampoo. “I just wish she’d lay off.”
“So tell her.”
I sighed and turned. “Yeah.
He shrugged and held out his hand for a handful of shampoo, too. “So she’ll get a little pissy.”
What I wanted was him to be the one to tell his mother to back off, but I knew that wouldn’t happen. He, the son who could do no wrong, didn’t care if he made his parents angry. It wasn’t his issue. So, impotent and knowing it was my own fault, I swallowed my anger and concentrated on washing my hair. “We’re going to run out of hot water.”
The stream was already becoming tepid. We washed quickly, sharing the body sponge and the shower gel, our fingers tickling and doing more than just cleaning. James reached to pull the lever, shutting off the water, and I grabbed two thick towels from the stack in the closet next to the shower. I handed him one, but before I could use my own, he’d grabbed my wrist and tugged me toward him.
“C’mere, baby. Don’t be upset.”
It was hard to stay mad at him. James might be perfectly content in the knowledge he could do no wrong, but that allowed him to be all the more generous with his affections. He dried me carefully, squeezing the extra wetness from the length of my hair and patting my body. His towel-covered hands stroked my back, my sides, behind my knees. Between my legs. On his knees in front of me, he lifted each foot and dried it. When he set the towel aside, my heart was already thumping faster. I expected my skin, already flushed from the shower’s heat, to give off steam of its own. James put his hands on my hips and drew me gently closer.
When he kissed the small patch of curls between my thighs, I stuttered a sigh. He pulled me still closer, hands drifting around to cup my buttocks and hold me in place while his tongue crept out to flick my clitoris. One, two light licks and I bit my lip against a louder groan.
I looked down at his dark head. His strong thighs, covered with coarse dark hair, bunched with muscle as he knelt. The thick mass of hair surrounding his thickening penis was in stark contrast to the smooth hairlessness of his ass and chest, only the slightest hint of hair on his lower belly. He leaned in again to kiss me tenderly. His tongue stroked, lips caressed, breath tantalized.
Any woman who doesn’t feel the power she wields when a man kneels in front of her to worship her pussy must be lying to herself. I put my hand on the back of James’s head. His mouth worked my flesh with eager finesse, urging me to rock my hips forward. Tension coiled low in my belly. His hands moved on my ass, drawing circles I echoed in the shift of my pelvis.
When my thighs started to shake, he used his hands to move me one half turn, until I could lean against the edge of the claw-foot tub. The cold metal should have sizzled when my flesh met it. The curved lip bit with slight discomfort into my rear, but as James, still kneeling, spread my legs wider and dove into my pussy with his mouth and fingers, I didn’t care about anything else.
He moaned under his breath when he slid a finger inside me. I groaned when he added a second. James was a lover with a slow hand, just like the song. An easy touch.
I hadn’t always known how to respond to him. His slow and easy caress failed me in the beginning. I hadn’t expected anything else. I’d gone to bed with James because we’d been dating for a couple months and because he expected it, and because I didn’t want to disappoint him. I didn’t go to bed with him because I thought he could make me come.
Now he licked me slowly as he moved inside me, fingers curved just slightly to stroke the spongy bump of my G-spot. I gripped the bathtub, my back arched, thighs spread wide. In pain. Not caring. Later my fingers would be stiff and aching from holding on so tight, and my ass would be bisected with a red indentation from the tub’s metal lip, but now, with James between my legs, the pleasure overtook everything else.
The first time we went to bed together, he didn’t ask me if I’d come. Nor the second, not the third. Two months after we started, this time in the bed of a hotel room we’d taken for the weekend without telling anyone where we were going, he paused in kissing me to put his hand over my center.
“What do you want me to do?” His question was spoken low, but matter-of-factly, without boasting.
I’d been with boys who assumed a few moments of fingering were enough to send me into ecstasy. Going to bed with them had meant nothing, left no effect on me. Faking pleasure had become the shiny surface of sex with them, and I preferred it that way. It made it easier to find ways to break up with them by making them think it had been their idea all along.
James asked sincerely, clearly understanding that what he’d been doing so far didn’t work for me, though I’d never said so. He stroked my clit and labia gently, tickling. He looked down into my eyes.
“What do I do to make you come?”
I could have smiled and cooed, told him he was perfect in bed, the best lover I’d ever had. I could have lied to him, and a month later I’d have found a way to make him believe he didn’t want to see me any longer. I think I even meant to. I’ve never been sure why I didn’t, why looking up into James’s distinctive eyes made me say instead, “I don’t know.”
It was also a lie, but a more honest dishonesty than telling him he was doing everything right would have been. I’d opened my mouth to his kiss, but James didn’t kiss me. He looked thoughtful, his hand moving in slow circles over my thighs and belly, dipping down every so often to caress my clitoris.
“I love you, Anne,” he said then. It was the first time he’d ever said it, though he was not the first boy to ever tell me. “I want to make you happy. Let me.”
I wasn’t convinced I could do any such thing, but I smiled. He smiled. He bent to kiss me, his lips whisper-soft on mine. His hand moved, slow and easy.
James had spent an hour licking and kissing and stroking. I hadn’t resisted or protested, content to let him do what he wanted. Until, at last, unable to resist, my body had surprised me and pleasure overtook everything else.
I wept the first time he made me come. Not in sorrow. With utter release. Relief. James had given me an orgasm, but I hadn’t lost myself in him. I still knew who I was. I could say I loved him and mean it, and it didn’t consume me. I didn’t have to be afraid of drowning in him.
Now James shifted in front of me, his mouth leaving my flesh for a moment. The respite made me gasp and moan, the pleasure made more intense when he returned his tongue to me. His fingers stretched me. I wanted more. His hand closed around his cock and pumped it.
“I can feel how close you are.” His voice was hoarse and a bit muffled against me. “I want you to come.”
I could have, with a moment or two more of him licking me, but I was greedy. “I want you inside me.”
“Stand up. Turn around.”
I did. It had taken me a while to learn how to respond to James, but since then he’d learned more about me, too. His hands grabbed my hips as I gripped the side of the tub. I bent forward, offering myself to him.
James slid inside me all the way. A cry leaked from my throat. He moved, thrusting with slow and easy precision. My cunt felt swollen, embracing his erection, taking him all the way into my body. Sparks of pleasure radiated from my clitoris and ran up and down my belly and thighs, down to my toes curling in the bathroom rug.
My orgasm hovered, waiting for just the right moment to crash over me. I held my breath. I pushed back against him, and the wet slap of my ass against his belly made me groan. My hair hung down on either side of my face. I closed my eyes against the distracting sight of the spider that had committed hara-kiri on the bottom of the tub.
James’s hands clutched my hips harder. His fingertips pushed the solidness of bone. His thumbs dimpled soft flesh. His cock filled me. I slid a hand down to roll a finger against my swollen clit and couldn’t stop the low moans from sputtering out of me.
The phone rang.
My eyes flew open and our rhythm faltered momentarily. His penis banged the rim of my womb with a sudden pain that made me inhale sharply before we recovered. The phone rang again, a jangling distraction that had undone my concentration.
“Almost there, baby,” James muttered, regaining the pace.
Another ring. I tensed but James brought me back to him with a hand on my shoulder. His fingers gripped and tugged, close to my throat. They pressed the beat of my pulse. His other hand slid in front of me to replace mine, and he rubbed my clit without mercy. Taking me closer.
The answering machine clicked on. I didn’t want to listen. I stuttered on the brink. I closed my eyes again. Put my head down. Gripped the sides of the tub and pushed my ass back toward him, opening myself.
“Jamie,” said a voice like slow, dripping caramel. “Sorry to call so late, man, but I lost my watch. Dunno what time it is.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. James grunted, thrusting harder. I drew in another breath and fought light-headedness. My clit pulsed under his fingertip.
“Anyway, jus’ wanted to give you a call, let you know when I’d be getting in.” Laughter like a secret curled out of the phone speaker. Its owner sounded drunk or high or maybe just exhausted. His voice was deep and rich and languid. He sounded like sex. “I’m heading out now, man, gonna hit a few more clubs before I leave. Call me on the cell, brother. You know the number.”
Behind me, James let out a low, breathy moan. His fingers raked my back and sent me tumbling into a climax fierce enough to make bright colors flash behind my closed lids.
“And Jamie,” said the voice, dipping even lower, a secret-sharing voice. “It’ll be great to see you, man. Love you, brother. I’m out.”
James shouted. I shuddered. We came together, saying nothing, listening to Alex Kennedy speaking from the other side of the world.