Fiona Lannigan loved to shop. She especially loved to shop for lingerie. Luckily, her good friends, Chantel and Angel Chandler, owned Fallen Angels, the best lingerie store in Whiskey River. One of them always let her know when a new shipment had come in. Today she had some time before her next client’s appointment to see what delightful new lingerie the Chandlers had for her to browse through.
It was a weakness, she admitted. But it didn’t border on obsession. She just liked pretty things. Especially pretty things that lay next to her skin. So sue her.
Fiona pushed open the door and stepped inside, appreciative as always of the décor of the shop. Feminine and tastefully sexy was a hallmark of Fallen Angels. The atmosphere was light and airy with the wares displayed on tables, hangers and mannequins and the scent something floral and spicy rather than sweet.
“Just in time,” Chantel, the older said. “You beat the Valentine’s Day rush.”
“Have I ever told you I love you?” Fiona asked, heading straight for the matching panties and bra sets.
“Every time you come in,” her friend said. “We have some beautiful camisole sets, too.”
“I really shouldn’t,” Fiona said. “I have so many but I can’t resist.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t, obviously,” Fiona said, and laughed.
“Are you all set for the big Valentine’s Day dance?” Chantel asked.
The Whiskey River Valentine’s Day dance was a tradition started many years before, when single men and women were few and far between. Every single person in town had their name tossed into a hat and was matched randomly with a person of the opposite sex. The drawing was held at the beginning of the dance, and the two people who matched were each other’s date for the evening.
Fiona shuddered, remembering the year before. “I’m going to have the flu.”
“You’d better not. Angel and I are the match coordinators this year.”
“Damn. I forgot about that.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you get someone good.” Chantel smirked and added, “I know just the person.”
“No thanks,” Fiona said, remembering all the men her friends had tried to set her up with. “I’ll take my chances with a random match.” To distract Chantel, she grabbed a pale pink cami set and held the hanger under her chin. “What do you think?”
Chantel considered her for a moment. “You look like cotton candy. It washes you out.”
“I like cotton candy,” Fiona said.
“So do I, but not to wear. Here,” she said, handing her an emerald green set. “You need vibrant colors.”
Fiona looked in the mirror as she held it up against her. “I hate when you’re right. Fine, ring it up. And these, too,” she said, adding a couple of bra and panty sets and to the pile. She looked at her watch. “I’ve got a meeting but I’ll be back later to see what else is new.”
Late that afternoon, Fiona decided to look at her purchases again before going back by Fallen Angels. She’d been in a hurry when she bought them and there was at least one set she thought she could live without. None of her partners at the law offices of Gamble, Lannigan and Ford were in, so she was alone in the office. Ryder Ford and his wife, Addison, their new junior partner, had left early. Johnny Gamble was off somewhere and who knew when he’d return. She’d let their new paralegal have a long lunch after her clients left.
When she, Johnny and Ryder had formed their partnership a number of years before, they’d converted an old house in the heart of town into the law offices of their firm. Fiona liked being alone in the offices. In fact, she liked being alone period.
Taking each item out of the bag, she carefully unwrapped the paper and laid each one out on her desk. The emerald green camisole was a definite. She liked both the bra and panty sets, but on closer inspection she realized the bra of one of them was a style she didn’t like. She hadn’t noticed in the store. With the panties dangling from her hand, she held the other bra up against her chest. Siren red. Very Valentine’s Day.
“Who’s the lucky man?”
Startled, she whirled around to see Johnny Gamble lounging in her doorway. “You scared me to death. I didn’t hear you come in.” Damn it. Johnny was the last person she wanted to find her displaying her lingerie.
“Obviously.” He strolled over to her and picked up the camisole from her desk. “Very pretty. I repeat, who’s the lucky man?”
Realizing she was still holding the bra against her boobs, she hastily dropped her hand. Crap, she was blushing. How dumb was that? “Wouldn’t you like to know.” Lame, Fiona. Very lame.
He sent her a speculative look. “That’s a good color on you,” he said, waving a hand at the red bra and panties still in her hand.
A vignette popped into her mind, involving Johnny and her and a very sexy red bra and panties. Do not go there.
He grinned at her. That sexy smile kicked up at the corner of his mouth. The mouth that, in her weaker moments, she fantasized about kissing. Again. She hoped like hell he couldn’t read her mind, but she wouldn’t put it past him. Was she imagining the heat in his gaze?
She and Johnny had never been romantically involved. They worked together and their careers were too important to each of them to chance messing up a good thing. Not that she hadn’t thought about it on occasion.
Not that something hadn’t almost happened on several occasions. The latest just last week. They had worked late and Johnny had picked up Chinese take out, she remembered. And wine. Which they’d agreed didn’t mix with business, but he’d done it anyway. And of course, she’d drunk it anyway. Before long they were telling each other worst date ever stories, their work forgotten.
“You have sweet and sour sauce on your face,” Johnny said.
Fiona touched her cheek with her tongue. “Did that get it?”
She repeated it on the other side. “Now?”
He shook his head, smiling. Green eyes sparkling, he touched his thumb to the corner of her mouth. And then he licked his thumb. “Tasty. Very tasty.”
Fiona felt an electric zing at his words and action. A reaction no other man had drawn from her in a long, long, time.
This was all Johnny’s fault. Ever since that damn kiss under the mistletoe she couldn’t look at him the same. And he knew it.
“Third time’s the charm,” Johnny said, looking at her intently. “Who’s the lucky man?”
“There is no man. At the moment.” He knew she wasn’t dating anyone. Why bother to lie?
“Now that, darlin’, is a terrible shame.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky tomorrow night and find Mr. Right at the dance,” Johnny said. That would be a mixed blessing for him. Fiona was a crackerjack. Smart as a whip and she played a wicked game of poker, but, and this was the big problem as far as he saw it—she was too damned hot.
Johnny had learned the hard way that he wasn’t the settling down kind, but then, neither was Fiona. Still, they worked together, which meant things could get sticky if they got together and then parted ways.
“Doubtful,” Fiona said. “I love the tradition but there is a part of me that doesn’t really believe that anything lasting can come out of meeting a man at a dance and falling for him.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Johnny said.
“Kissing your boss in a tornado closet and falling in love,” Johnny said, mentioning the way their partner, Ryder, and his new wife, Addison, had gotten together.
“Indeed. Somehow I think this is different.”
“Not if you are wearing that under your clothes,” he said.
“I always wear pretty lingerie, Johnny,” she said. “So far nothing magical has happened.”
“Maybe that’s because you have more no trespassing signs than an abandoned building,” he said. What was her deal? And why was he looking at Fiona and thinking of romance and not poker or business? He knew the answer. Damned wine and dinner had changed the way he saw her. Or rather reminded him very fiercely that she’d never been only a co-worker.
From the moment she’d walked into his contracts class at the law school of the University of Texas, he’d been under her spell. Those long legs of hers and the short skirts she wore at work had kept him fully entrenched in the fantasy of someday until that night…one kiss. He had hung some mistletoe in the office and that was his downfall. He groaned.
“Nothing,” he said. No way was he admitting that she’d tasted like the holidays that night. Eggnog and cinnamon and she smelled like home. Their lips had met and he’d forgotten to keep it casual, that they were partners; all he’d wanted was to toss her over his shoulder and carry her into his office and make love to her on his desk.
But he’d pulled back and since then…well, things had been damned awkward for him. It was one thing to lust after a woman he was casually acquainted with, another entirely to be looking at Fiona and her cursed lingerie set and seeing her in his mind. Just that red balconette bra and those silky matching panties. Her thick blonde hair hanging around her shoulders and those pouty lips of hers beckoning him closer, calling his name…
“Huh?” he asked, not really paying attention.
“Snap out of it, Gamble. Carmen just buzzed to say your two o’clock is here.”
Johnny took a step closer to Fiona and reached around her to hit the intercom button on her phone. “Hey, Carmen, will you put them in the conference room and offer them a drink? I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
He disconnected the intercom but stayed where he was, close to Fiona. Her perfume was flowery and womanly. It did nothing to quell the desire he felt for her. It simply fanned the flames.
“Are you wearing that to the dance?” he asked.
“None of your business,” she said.
“Fair enough. I just…”
“Just what? You’re the one who said that we had to work together and mistletoe kisses and wine in the office were mistakes,” she reminded him.
He still felt that way. He’d let one woman into his life and that had been a mistake. He hadn’t been cut out for domesticity more than ten years ago and he was honest enough to admit that though he’d matured and grown as a lawyer, as a man he still didn’t feel ready for that. And he knew that dating Fiona didn’t mean marriage but there was something about her that had always made him want more. Much more.
“I did,” Johnny said. “Your mouth has a way of making me forget.”
Her lips parted as she tipped her head back. “How does it do that?”
“By making me remember how good it felt under mine,” he said.
“Maybe it was the alcohol,” she said.
“No, it was you,” he admitted.
He put his hand on her shoulder, caught a tendril of her silky hair between his thumb and forefinger and then lowered his head. The kiss was meant to be soft and light but a zing arched between them and he groaned as his blood started to flow heavier in his veins and his groin responded.
Her lips parted under his and his tongue slid in to taste her. It definitely hadn’t been the alcohol that had enticed him. It was Fiona.
Suddenly he realized the problem was that he’d been denying the both of them this. They wanted each other and he’d never been a coward about anything else.
He lifted his head, rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip. “What do you say to a little wager?”
“I’m game,” she said; her cheeks had a pretty pink flush on them.
“If you don’t meet Mr. Right tomorrow night at the ball, we give it a shot,” he said.
“A shot? Stop with the romance or I’ll melt into a puddle,” she said, stepping back to put some distance between them.
“Do you need romance?” he asked.
“If you have to ask then you’re not the man I thought you were,” she said.
“I can bring the romance but I don’t really know Fiona the woman, just the hard-as-nails attorney.”
“If you can’t handle the challenge…”
He threw his head back and laughed, then pulled her into his arms and kissed her hard and quick. He heard someone clearing his throat. He lifted his head and let Fiona’s hair drop from his fingers, stepping away from her to greet the intruder.
“Damn, son, I know that we have a pretty open fraternization policy in the office, but you are meeting the Cole brothers and they aren’t patient men,” Ryder said from the doorway.
“Mind your own business, Ford,” Fiona said. “Johnny, get back to work.”
Fiona moved behind her desk, all-professional now. She had tucked her lingerie back into the bag and chewed on her lower lip briefly.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, walking toward the door. “Oh, and Fiona?”
“Yes?” she asked one eyebrow arched at him.
Johnny shook hands with the Cole brothers as they left the office. He stood on the porch looking down the street at Whiskey River. It was a small town with a lot of charm. He’d settled here because of Ryder. Though he’d grown up here, Johnny had left young and never planned on coming back. But Ryder had been persuasive. He had connections to the town, was related to the founding family and they had agreed that opening a law firm in a growing town was a good idea. Fiona joined them not long after they opened.
He’d never been tied to a place or people prior to his return to Whiskey River. That was part of the reason he had been respecting Fiona’s no trespassing signs about a physical relationship. He didn’t want to screw up one of the few healthy relationships in his life. He heard footsteps behind him, glanced over his shoulder and nodded at Addison.
“You okay?” she asked, adjusting her purse strap on her shoulder.
“Yeah. Just enjoying the view of Whiskey River,” he said.
“It’s different on this side of town,” Addison said.
She’d grown up over the river in a rough section of town called The Barrels. Her brother was a cop and Addison had just become their newest junior partner. A position she’d earned with her intelligence and drive, not by marrying Ryder, though she’d done that too.
“I bet. Where are you off to?”
“Fallen Angels,” she said.
“Valentine’s Day must be a boon in sales for those two.”
“Probably. But I like to go there a couple of times a month. Keeps things exciting at home.”
Johnny chuckled. “Ryder is a lucky man.”
She winked at him. “Seems fair since I’m a lucky woman.”
She gave him a wave as she walked down the street toward her car. He wanted what Ryder and Addison had found. He was happy for them. Loved seeing what they had together…they were partners in life, law and love. He went back inside the offices and heard Fiona’s voice down the hall. It brushed over his senses like sinking into a hot bath after a long day. It relaxed him, soothed him in a way.
But that didn’t mean she was the one for him. Or that they could have anything together. The last time he’d jumped into a long-term relationship it had ended badly. So badly that even now, more than ten years later, he was still leery of having another serious relationship.
He’d proven to himself that he really wasn’t ready for it. The idea of it had been great. The actual living with one woman hadn’t been.
“Want to go over to Booze’s and shoot some pool?” Ryder asked coming out of his office. He had his leather briefcase in one hand and his keys in the other.
“Sure. You meeting your cousins?”
“Yes. All of them,” he said, referring to the Kellys and the Blues. “It’s ladies; night so that means the women are all gathering out at the ranch to do women things. That’s what Nick said, anyway.”
“What’s wrong with women things?” Fiona asked coming out of her office. She was packed up for the day as well.
“Nothing. They just sound mysterious to me,” Ryder said.
“There is something about a gathering of women to make a smart man cautious,” Johnny said.
“So are you including yourself in that group?” Fiona asked with a wink.
“Hell, darlin’, you know I am,” he said to her. “You joining the Kelly women?”
“I am. I’m meeting Addison in town and then we are going together.”
“She was very secretive about whatever she is doing in town,” Ryder said.
“Valentine’s Day is two days away, Ryder, don’t mess up your first one as a married man,” Fiona said.
He gave her an offended look and Johnny had to fight not to smile at it.
“As if. I know romance,” Ryder said.
Johnny chuckled and Fiona joined in. “I hope you mean more than a frozen pizza and a bottle of good wine,” she told Ryder. “Wasn’t that your famous seduction technique?”
“It was. I’ve moved on to something more sophisticated. Taking a note out of Johnny’s book,” Ryder said with a nod at Johnny.
“Really?” Turning to Johnny, Fiona asked, “What do you do that works so well?”
“I can’t describe it, you’d have to experience it,” Johnny said, deadly serious. He didn’t have one patterned move. Romance, he found, came out of his relationship with the woman he was with. And doing something that made her feel cherished and special.
Fiona flushed. Johnny had a few ideas of what he’d do for her, but it was only if…
“Lucky girl,” Fiona said.
There it was again.
He wanted that luck with her, he realized.
Fiona said goodbye to both of them and walked out of the office and Johnny could only watch her leave. She had a world-class backside and the way she moved was so sensual. He imagined her in that sexy lingerie that she’d purchased over at Fallen Angels and nothing else. Walking toward him.
“So Booze’s?” Ryder asked.
“Huh?” Johnny took a moment to get back to reality. “Yeah. I have to send an email and then I’ll lock up and meet you over there.”
Ryder left and Johnny finished his work, powering down his computer before joining the other men over at Booze’s. Booze’s had been around since its namesake’s time. Over the years it had been updated but the feel of the place remained the same. The polished wood mahogany bar dominated the main room. Huge mirrors lined the wall behind it, with glass shelves reaching almost to the ceiling. The shelves were full of liquor bottles and wine bottles, not to mention mementos from times past.
There were pictures on the walls, also dating back to the town’s beginnings. Pictures of Booze and his family were prominent, as well as other citizens from the distant and recent past, along with images of oil wells, cattle drives and horse roundups. The town had a rich and varied history, most of which Johnny was familiar with. Whiskey River embraced its history.
There were more than a few barflies who gave him beckoning smiles but he just shook his head. There was only one woman he was interested in and she was out at the Kelly Ranch doing something mysterious.
End of Excerpt