Skin Tight excerpt

People have gladdened me with their reaction to Foster. He’s the toughest hero I’ve ever written (in the sense that he’s closed and difficult), mostly because he feels he has nothing to live for. It’s not angst; it’s blackest despair. He was tough as hell to write, and I was over halfway through the book before his inner landscape lightened even a little bit. He will break your heart, and then kiss it better. We don’t call him BatPunisherMan for nothing.

This is a year after their first encounter in Vegas. Without further ado, one of my favorite scenes:

“Thanks for an…interesting evening.” Mia stood beside her car, poised to climb in and drive away. She badly needed a respite from him and his mixed messages. In the best of circumstances, she’d never been good at reading men, never been skilled at deciding when they were sincere and when they were just using her.

She already knew this man was a liar. Why was she still standing here?

They’d both parked in the side lot, so like a gentleman, he’d walked her to her car. Shadows pooled here, the streetlights lining the drive more than forty yards away. People could see them from inside the restaurant, but they would glimpse only dim figures. She took comfort in the fact that he could hardly toss her over his shoulder and carry her off.

Now she just needed to get through the farewells and get home to someone else’s cat. Mia found the prospect depressing.

“Does that mean it’s over?”

If only he didn’t have a face like a broken plaster saint, rough and chipped but full of heart-breaking beauty. She could imagine him standing watch over a chapel by nights, all icy marble and immovable lines. Only the fierce argent of his eyes gave lie to the indifference of his pose, propped against her car.

“Yes.” Though she tried to make her voice sound firm and certain, she noticed a little waver in the middle of the word.

Unfortunately, so did he. “I promised you a ride in my G37.”

“Technically, you didn’t. You teased me with the prospect of one, as I recall.”

He studied her with nerve-wracking intensity. “How ungallant of me. Surely you must let me make it up to you?”

She’d never excelled at mating games. They made her feel stupid, a rare sensation, to be sure. In her professional life, Mia preferred facts and figures. In her personal life, she took her romance in the form of tragic poetry, where she could let someone else’s pain wash over her without risking her own heart. One such disaster had been enough.

“What do you want?” she burst out, losing patience with him.

He stilled, a sleek silhouette in the moonlight that turned his eyes to quicksilver. Mia had the feeling he would slip as readily through her hands, should she try to hold him. “Do you really want me to answer that?”

She took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes.”

“I want to take you home and strip you naked,” he said deliberately. “I want to tie you down, so you can’t get away and then I want to—”

“Enough,” she whispered, sick. “If you’re just going to make fun of me, forget it.”

His brows arched. “You don’t believe me?”

“I’m not the sort of woman who inspires sexual obsession.”

“And I’m not the sort of man who develops them,” he murmured. “But you have me dreaming about the taste of your skin nonetheless.”

She managed a laugh. “God, you’re such a liar. Just stop already. Whatever you want, you’re not seducing it out of me.”

He stepped into her space then. His hands framed her hips, drawing her up against him in a movement more intimate than a kiss. At first she felt only the warmth of him, and then the world flickered. It was as if he skimmed her few romantic entanglements and plucked a thread at random. For a few seconds, he was Mark Rigby, her college sweetheart, and deliciously aroused, eager as he’d been only in the early days of their relationship.

But this was too bittersweet a fantasy to hold her—the reality of Mark’s abandonment was too indelible for her to dive into a dream where he stayed. Once, she’d thought they were meant for each other. She’d scrawled their names in endless loops, believing the alliteration a sign. But his words still echoed in her head: Mia, I’m sorry. You’re just… I don’t know. You think too much. You have no spontaneity. When I look at you, I see our future scheduled to the last second and it scares the shit out of me. I like you, but you take away the magic. I need someone who doesn’t need to be in control all the time.

Someone like Valerie.

It wasn’t Mark’s fault. The lack lay in her. He was happily married with three kids, and a mortgage. He could commit, perfectly capable of loving someone. Just not her.

The truth could never been changed, no matter what weird ability this man carried. Since she knew what to do now, Mia thought her way past the illusion. She broke it carefully into pieces and cast it away. Within a few heartbeats, she saw his real face again and felt his arousal. That much was true, at least.

She saw the instant he realized. Mia gazed squarely into his eyes, her gaze roving over his features. I see you. She didn’t say it aloud, but she might as well have. A shudder worked through him. He skimmed his hands up to the indent of her waist, where his fingers splayed wide. Mia let him tilt her body, pressing her back against the car door.

“When I touch you, I stop caring about anything else. There’s only you, looking up at me. Don’t dismiss that. Don’t take it from me because… it’s never happened before. It can go no further, or everything is lost, but just for this moment, let me pretend it can.”

“I never liked playing make-believe,” she said unsteadily, fighting the urge to rock against him. “It’s better to accept things as they are.”

Mia imagined the picture they presented to anyone glancing out the window: his body pinning her against the car, and hers, yielding. The idea of anyone witnessing this moment sent a rush of furtive desire cascading through her veins. Tiny pinpricks of heat gathered at the lee of her legs, urging her to move.

“Who did this to you?” he whispered tenderly. “What made you afraid of dreams?”

Life, she wanted to say, but the answer sounded too sad to speak aloud. It seemed too close to self-pity; she loathed how easily he found her vulnerabilities. She stared up at him, sad and shaken, more naked than if he had stripped her and tied her to his bed.

Somehow he read the truth in her face, and his mouth curved into a melancholy smile. “No wonder my curse cannot keep you. I should take you home with me, for who could match a man without a heart better than the woman who cannot dream?”

The gentle gibe ignited her. Instead of shrinking back, she pressed into him. Mia stretched on tiptoes, her mouth a whisper from his. “Do you ever do anything but talk?”

Just a taste.

I’m sending you off into the weekend with something to leave you hungry for more. Want to know what I’ve been working on? Let me wet your whistle.

Here’s a taste of My Valentine:

Beatrice opened her chamber door to find him waiting with an impatient look. After slipping inside and bolting the door behind him, he kissed her with a helpless need that left her breathless. If he didn’t want her, he had missed his calling on the stage.

“Long day,” he said when they came up for air. “Not unpleasant, but long. I missed you.”

She fought the smile that revealed her feelings too clearly. “Did you?”

“You know I did.” His arms came around her fully and he buried his face in her hair. Beatrice felt him breathing in her scent and felt glad she’d asked her maid to add a few drops of lavender oil to her bath, hours ago now. “You smell like heaven.”

She was new enough to the business of having a lover that her cheeks heated. Since he’d won her already, he didn’t need to ply her with sweet words. Turning her cheek against the soft lawn of his nightshirt, she could only appreciate his finesse.

“What would a man like you know about heaven?” The words were meant in a coquettish manner, but she’d never mastered the inflection. Instead they sounded vaguely accusing, the last thing she wanted. She didn’t wish to argue with him on their first night together, not when it would set the tone for what came after.

“Not much,” he said quietly. “Just the time I spend with you.”

As always, he humbled her with his candor. She was not used to men who spoke their minds. She had lived her life in the company of people who thought honesty ought to be avoided, truth best cloaked in inconsequential words.

She inhaled sharply and then let her breath out in an aching sigh. “You are too good to be true.”

Things that appeared so usually were. But Beatrice could not bring herself to break things off between them for fear of consequences or future pain. She wanted to live as she had so rarely done — in the moment.

A haunted look crept across his face. “Hardly.”

Tonight she wouldn’t think about his secrets, or the fact that this affair was likely doomed to end badly. Beatrice wanted him in her bed. Wanted to see his face beside hers on the pillow, and know she could keep him until the first fingers of dawn stole over the windowsill. Then he would need to creep back to his own bed, a necessity that would likely chafe his pride.

How long could he bear to live like this? How long before she awoke to find him gone? None of her doubt showed in her smile as she tugged on his hand.

“Come to bed,” she said. “I would feel you close ere I sleep.”

His fingers wound around hers, warm and fast. “Only that?”

The implication shamed her. She found it hard to speak through a suddenly clotted throat, for she did not want to be yet another of his society ladies who made him feel like a thing to be used. And surely she should feel ashamed of the lambent heat that stirred like a gentle iron taken to a dying fire.

She wanted him; she could not deny that. And yet she did not like to admit it.

Instead she climbed up onto the bed and then pulled the bed curtains.

“If you wish,” she managed to say as she climbed beneath the light coverlet.

The window beyond stood slightly ajar, permitting the assorted scents of a spring night to filter through. In the shaded dark, he seemed more sensual ghost than man, a dream lover come to steal her good sense and possibly her soul as well. Not for the first time, Beatrice thought he was truly too beautiful to be real.

He lay down beside her in her husband’s place, though James had never shared this bed, never slept at Granville House. Because he did not immediately touch her, she knew something was wrong. Ren had seemed pleased to greet her at the door, so she must have erred in some fashion.

“I am your servant,” he said at last. “Does it matter what I wish?”

So that was bothering him again. His pride chafed at taking his living from her coffers, even if it provided the only solution to their mutual desire.

“Yes. If you don’t want to…” Her voice faltered. “Be with me. Tonight or any other, then return to your quarters. I do not command you to…service me, as if you were a horse I put to pasture with a mare.” Beatrice hesitated, and then the next words slipped out beyond volition. “I thought you wanted me.”

Stupid, she was so stupid. Now that he had a position in her household, teaching her daughter — what in the world possessed her to do such a thing, putting Mattie at risk for such an infatuation — he would break things off. It made perfect sense. Since her daughter had taken such a liking to him, she could hardly fire him, but she could warn the butler to watch their new tutor very closely–

“I do,” he breathed then. “So much it scares the hell out of me. Because now, for the first time in years, I have something to lose. I want to make love to you like they do in fairy tales, Triss. And I’m afraid I don’t know how.” He barked out a laugh that was somehow devoid of humor. “Absurd, isn’t it? I’ve been with so many women, but I don’t know think I know anything at all about being with someone like you.”

The knot eased out of her chest. Dear God, she might be falling in love with him. Each word he spoke nudged her a little closer to the brink, and it felt like dying, so much dread and uncertainty tethered to the tenuous hope that beyond the pain might lie something beautiful and bright.

“Just kiss me,” she whispered. “We have years to sort the rest out.”

Then he rolled toward her with a muffled moan, arms reaching for her. His heat seared through the thin fabric of their nightclothes. She wanted to learn the lines of his face as a woman who never saw so clearly with her eyes, wanted to trace his features with a potter’s fingers. There was such artistry in his making, even if he had no hand in it.

His mouth took hers in quiet demand, not fierce, but knowing. He nuzzled, nibbled, and toyed with her lips until she gasped. She’d never known such wickedly lovely kisses existed, sweet and sinful, the way he tasted her.

Beatrice couldn’t resist touching her tongue to his, an unintentional tease. He made a sound in his throat and rolled, drawing her on top of him.

You like? It seems even more bittersweet because they do not, in fact, have years. They have merely days.