"First word that comes to mind when I read something by Roni Loren? Utterly ruined. In a good way. After reading something as heart-wrenching, devastating and completely out of my comfort zone, I keep coming back for more. There's just no safe word with Roni Loren's books." --Kati at Romancing Rakes For the Love of Romance book blog
MELT INTO YOU
2013 RITA® Finalist for Best Contemporary Romance!
Book 2 - Loving on the Edge
Her first love has returned, and he's brought a friend...
After running away from home and the boy who broke her heart, Evan Kennedy has kick-started the perfect new life with her celebrity fiancé. So what if said fiancé prefers guys? She knew the deal. And with her ticket to The Ranch, an exclusive resort where any fantasy can be satisfied, she knows she can find someone to fulfill her less-than-traditional desires on the side.
She just never expected that man to be Jace Austin, her old heart-breaker—all grown up, hard-bodied, and holding out a collar. She knows it’s probably a world-class bad idea—especially since Jace has brought along his buddy Andre, who’s every bit as irresistible. But if they can stick to the no-strings rules, so can she.
Too bad Jace has never been so good with rules. Evan is convinced “forever” is a word used only in greeting cards, but Jace and Andre have one last fantasy of hers left to fulfill. It’s time to go big or go home. And neither man has ever been a fan of going home.
Released: July 3, 2012
READ CHAPTER 1
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2012 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group
*18 and over only*
Evan Kennedy swigged the last of the tequila from the mini-bottle as her fiancé’s moans of pleasure drifted through the wall behind her. She set the bottle down and sank back onto the bed, curling her pillow around her ears. This was torture—absolute Geneva Convention–worthy stuff. Next time they stayed in a hotel, she would make sure the suite had two bedrooms that didn’t share a wall.
How was she supposed to sleep with that kind of erotic soundtrack in the background? Especially when the only company she had in her room was the hotel’s mini-bar and a subpar selection of cable stations.
The heavy thudding of a headboard banging against the wall started up, rattling the three empty bottles on her bedside table. Oh, the guys were on their game tonight—obviously celebrating the good news they’d all gotten earlier in the evening. No telling how long their show would go on. With a heavy sigh, she threw the comforter off her legs and climbed out of the bed, happy to find she only wavered slightly.
She needed air. Or at least some place where two happy lovers weren’t sharing passionate, wall-rattling sex while she lay in bed alone.
She yanked on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, then tucked the last mini-bottle of tequila into her pocket. The bars downstairs would be closed by now, and although she rarely drank, tonight she had the urge to get comfortably numb. She just had to make sure not to run into any of the people here for her and Daniel’s couples’ seminar. That certainly wouldn’t reflect well on the company. And the last thing she felt like doing was getting into a row with Daniel about “professional image.”
After running a brush through her hair, she stepped out of her bedroom and threw one last glance at Daniel’s closed door. The moans had turned to dueling male grunts. Clearly both parties were having a good time. An unexpected pang of sadness hit her in the gut, and her eyes burned as if tears were going to flow.
What in the world? Her hand went to her cheek, but of course no actual tears were there. She never cried. But that burning was the first sign she’d had in years that she was still physically capable of tears.
She shook her head. Maybe it was the tequila.
And the close quarters.
A walk would help.
She shut the door with a soft snick and made her way down to the lobby. As expected, things were quiet. The overnight desk clerk glanced up at her with disinterested eyes. She gave him a quick smile and turned in the opposite direction to head toward the pool and the beach beyond.
She slipped through the exit door, and the warm Gulf breeze wrapped around her, lifting her mood a bit. She closed her eyes and inhaled the salty air, letting it fill her lungs and hoping it would clear her head. But as soon as she opened her eyes again, the glowing swimming pool seemed to tilt in front of her. Whoa. Maybe she had overestimated her liquor tolerance. Three shots of tequila might have been two too many. She grabbed on to the back of a nearby lounge chair to steady herself.
Evan focused on the dark expanse of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance, waiting for the spinning in her head to stop. She just needed to make it to the beach, sit down in the sand, and get her normally iron-clad defenses back in place so she could return upstairs with a smile on her face. She didn’t need the guys seeing her this way. They’d want to sit down and talk about feelings and shit. And really, she just didn’t want to go there. The last thing she needed right now was for Daniel to put on his therapist hat with her.
After a few more fortifying breaths, she straightened her spine and made her way slowly around the edge of the pool and to the wooden stairs that led down to the beach. Almost there. But when she reached for the gate, the latch didn’t give. “What the—?”
She looked down and sighed at the sign attached to the weather-beaten wood. Private Beach—Closed: midnight to 6 a.m. No lifeguard on duty.
She stared longingly at the crashing waves, the peaceful solitude of the beach calling to her like a siren song. She peeked over her shoulder at the hotel’s main building. There weren’t any security cameras out here. Who would know? And Daniel had brought a hell of a lot of business to the hotel this weekend with the conference, so even if someone caught her, she doubted they would do more than politely direct her back to her room.
Without giving it more thought, she planted a foot on the lowest railing and draped her other leg over the top, making sure to keep two hands securely on the fence so her head wouldn’t start whirling again. She hoped no one was watching because she was sure she was executing the maneuver with the grace of a walrus, but at least she didn’t topple down the stairs. Score.
After a careful walk down the steps, she kicked off her flip-flops and curled her toes into the cool sand. Ahh, yes, so worth the rule-breaking.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the clouds far off on the horizon blinked with lightning. Damn, she should’ve brought her camera. The new lens she’d bought would’ve been perfect to catch the display. She moved closer to the water, stepping past the rows of hotel lounge chairs and closed umbrellas and not stopping until the spray from the crashing waves hit her face and the taste of salt alighted on her tongue.
The tide pooled around her feet, soaking the bottom of her jeans and sending a little chill through her. She rubbed her arms and glanced down the beach, taking in the deserted shoreline that stretched along the length of South Padre Island. The moonlight had turned the normally colorful view into silver sand and black water, but even in the darkness, she could tell she was alone on her three a.m. adventure.
No surprise there. People didn’t come on vacation to wander around alone half-drunk in the middle of the night. No, the people in those beautifully appointed hotels lining the beach were cuddled up to their loved ones right now, sleeping off a fun day. Or, like Daniel, having crazy monkey sex with their lovers. Lucky bastards.
Normally, that knowledge wouldn’t bother her. She’d made her decisions, had created a good life for herself. For the first time, she was with someone who loved her—even if that love was only platonic. But for some reason, a hollow ache had rooted solidly in her chest tonight. And paired with the heated need that had settled between her thighs after listening to an hour of lovemaking, she was dangerously close to feeling sorry for herself.
Her fists balled. No way. Screw that. The alcohol had to be what was making her feel this way. She just needed to sober up.
She looked down at the water swirling around her ankles. A dunk in the surf would probably snap her into sobriety pretty quickly. But walking back through the hotel in dripping wet clothes wasn’t exactly wise, especially when she wasn’t supposed to be on the beach in the first place.
She gave the shore another quick scan, then shrugged. Oh, what the hell.
Evan stepped back from the water long enough to shimmy out of her jeans and T-shirt and tossed the clothes where the water’s edge wouldn’t reach. Despite the warm night breeze, her nipples beaded beneath her bra and goose bumps rose on her skin. A little zip of adrenaline went through her. Man, how long had it been since she’d done something like this, stepped outside the lines a little? She’d almost forgotten what it felt like.
To hell with the pity party. She was on a gorgeous beach and had the whole damn thing to herself. No more whining. She made her way back toward the waves and took her time submerging herself, determined to enjoy the luxury of owning this little piece of ocean for the night.
The water lapped at her as she moved further into the surf—bathing her legs, sliding up her thighs, soaking her panties. Mmm. The gulf was deliciously warm against her skin, caressing the dormant parts of her to full sensual awareness. Her hands cupped the water and drew it up and over her breasts, soaking her bra and the tightening buds underneath. A shudder went through her.
She wanted to sink into the salty depths and allow the sensations to take over, to wash away the dark emotions that had claimed her tonight. But even in her buzzed state, she knew tequila and swimming weren’t good bedfellows. So, she stopped when the waves crested at her chest and settled in to watch the light show on the horizon.
The distant storm had moved a bit closer, and though it still wasn’t near enough to be a threat, the view of the flashing sky was breathtaking. She wanted to kick herself for not bringing her camera. She’d had so little time for her photography since she’d gone on this seminar tour with Daniel she was beginning to worry she’d forgotten how to do it. Hopefully, when they returned to Dallas after this last stop, she could dedicate some time to her neglected studio.
With a sigh, she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and dipped her hair into the water. Maybe that’s why she was in such a funk. She’d spent the last few months supporting Daniel’s passion and ignoring hers. She’d signed up for it, and the venture had turned out to be lucrative for them both, but it definitely didn’t feed the part of her soul that slipping behind a camera did. That part was downright starved.
Thunder rumbled closer this time. Reluctantly, she drifted back a few feet. It was probably time to get out. The alcohol-induced fog in her head was clearing, and based on the sudden uptick in wind, the storm would be on top of her in the next few minutes. But before she could take another step, pain—sharp and sudden—shot up her thigh.
She yelped and jolted backward, her arms flailing before she crashed into the water and went under. Saltwater filled her mouth, silencing her shout, and a burning sensation wrapped around her thigh and radiated outward.
Disoriented, she scrambled for solid footing, trying to get back to the surface. She knew she couldn’t have fallen into deep water, but the writhing pain and the knowledge that she was out there alone had panic edging in. She spread her arms in an attempt to tread water and finally felt sand against her toes. But just as she tried to push off, twin bands of heat wrapped around her upper arms and her entire body was propelled upward.
When her face broke the surface of the water, she sucked in a large gulp of air, half-coughing, half-choking. She kicked frantically, trying to make sure she didn’t get dragged back under.
“Stop fighting or you’re going to drown us both.” The rumbling male voice came from behind her, and the grip on her arms tightened. “We’ve got to get out of the undertow.”
Her heart jumped into her throat, but she forced herself to stop struggling so the stranger could help. His breath was warm on her neck as he pulled them both backward, but he didn’t say another word. The water seemed to be fighting their progress, and the man adjusted his hold until he had his arms hooked beneath her armpits. She wanted to tell him to let her go, that she knew how to swim, but her thigh was burning like a swarm of wasps had attacked it and her head was spinning again.
A few hard-fought minutes later, packed sand scraped against her heels, and she sucked in a deep sigh of relief. The man dragged her another few feet until they reached dry land, then set her down and kneeled next to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his broad chest heaving beneath his soaked T-shirt.
She lifted her gaze to the concerned eyes staring down at her, an odd sense of déjà vu washing over her. “I, uh . . .”
“I heard you scream. Are you hurt?” He touched the side of her head, evaluating her.
She wet her lips. “My leg . . . Something stung me . . . I lost my balance.”
He glanced down the length of her—the mostly naked length of her. Shit. She shot up into a sitting position and scooted backward, but his hand locked over her knee as he stared down at her upper thigh, which was still burning like she’d roasted it over an open fire.
“Damn, it got you good.”
“What are you talking about?” She tried to jerk her leg from beneath his grip, but he held her firm as he examined her.
“Jellyfish,” he said, frowning at her. “Your whole thigh is striped. That must hurt like a sonofabitch.”
She stared down at the red tentacle-shaped lines around her thigh. “Well, it doesn’t feel awesome.”
He chuckled, the rich sound seeming to vibrate from deep within his chest, and something stirred in the back of her brain. He climbed to his feet. “Here, let me help.”
“Don’t you dare pee on me,” she said, the words slipping out before she could rethink them.
He tilted his head back in a full laugh this time, the sound echoing down the beach.
She cringed. “I’m sorry, I—”
He raised a hand, his eyes still lit with humor. “Don’t worry. The urine thing is just an urban myth. And I’m definitely not going to ruin my ‘just saved pretty girl from drowning’ hero status by taking a leak on you. I’m not that stupid.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, a hero, huh? So this is all a big pick-up routine? Find drowning girls and ride in on your white horse?”
“Absolutely.” He grabbed the hem of his T-shirt and pulled it off, revealing miles of taut skin, sinewy muscle, and tribal-style ink running across his shoulder and down one arm, rendering her momentarily speechless. Water dripped off his soaked hair—which looked to be blond, though it was hard to tell in the moonlight—and slipped down his now bare chest. Her gaze locked on the tiny droplets, tracking their path down to the band of his shorts until they disappeared. Oh, blessed Lord.
He cleared his throat, no doubt catching her in her perusal, and squatted next to her. His hand slipped under her knee. “Here, seawater actually helps the sting. Let me wrap this around your leg, and then we can go to my room. We’ll get you feeling better.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh, really. Might want to tap the brakes there, Rico Suave. Despite my state of undress, I don’t just go to strangers’ hotel rooms. I’m not quite that easy.”
Dimples appeared as he fought a smile. “Oh, not quite that easy, but easy. Duly noted.”
She shot him a withering look.
“For the record, that’s not why I was inviting you to my room. Although, I promise that certainly would distract you from the pain. But all I mean is my roommate is Mr. Prepared. He keeps a first-aid kit for the beach and always has a bottle of vinegar in it. It will help deactivate the venom.”
She frowned. Two grown men on a beach vacation together? Great, not another good-looking guy who preferred other good-looking guys. Not that she was looking for anything to happen anyway. He was a stranger. An extremely pinup-worthy stranger. But still. In her sexually deprived state, a little flirting could be almost as satisfying as an orgasm. Almost.
With gentle hands, he bent her leg and wrapped his wet T-shirt around her thigh. His focus was on the task at hand, but she didn’t miss the sneaky sidelong glance toward her open thighs, where her wet panties were probably revealing every detail of what lay beneath.
She cleared her throat, and his gaze darted back to her leg, but the corner of his mouth tugged up a bit.
Well, well, maybe not so gay.
Her body heated at the thought, even though her brain knew that, straight or gay, she wasn’t going to do anything with her rescuer. “So how long were you out here? I thought I was alone.”
He glanced up as he draped the shirt around her leg a second time. “I was here the whole time.” He crooked a thumb behind him. “Was sitting in one of the lounge chairs on the far end. I thought you saw me when you looked down the beach, but I guess not.”
“You could’ve said something, you know.”
He gave her an unrepentant grin. “If a beautiful woman wants to go for a naked swim, who am I to intervene?”
“Very gentlemanly of you.”
“Hey, never said I was a gentleman. Just a hero.”
“Right,” she said, her tone dry.
He tucked the end of the shirt underneath the first layer, securing it. “Is that too tight?”
“No, it’s actually helping the burning a little.”
“Hold on.” He climbed to his feet and jogged a little ways down the beach, grabbed something from one of the lounge chairs, then walked over to where she had left her clothes and picked up those as well. When he returned he held out her T-shirt. “Go ahead and put this on. You’re not going to be able to put on the jeans, but you can wrap my beach towel around your waist.”
“Thanks.” She took her shirt and towel from him, pulled the first over her head, then got to her feet and knotted the beach towel around her hips. She tilted her head up to smile at him. “So, Mr. Humble Hero, you have a name?”
He stuck out his hand. “It’s Jace.”
Her body froze, the world seeming to tip off balance for a moment. Had she heard right? She stared at him for a moment, taking in every nuance of his face, the earlier whispers of déjà vu now becoming shouts.
Was it really him? His hair was longer, his body harder and more mature, the green in his eyes more wary, but the resemblance was there. It’d been years—twelve actually. The nineteen-year-old boy she’d known had become a man. “Jace Austin?”
Oh, shit. The recognition that flashed in the woman’s blue eyes had Jace dropping his hand. This chick knew him? He frantically flipped through his mental Rolodex, starting with the girls-I’ve-slept-with file.
When they’d locked gazes earlier, he’d felt a nudge of familiarity but had dismissed it. Surely, he’d remember this dark-haired beauty, especially if he had gotten the privilege of touching that lush little body. But something about her was poking at the recesses of his mind.
He rubbed the back of his neck and offered an apologetic smile. “Uh, yeah. Jace Austin. I’m sorry, have we met?”
She flinched a bit—the move subtle, but not lost on him. Damn, well now he felt like a jackass. Had they slept together?
She recovered quickly, the corner of her mouth tilting up. “Don’t worry. I’m sure I look a little different than I did at sixteen. Especially without that god-awful bottle red hair and eyebrow piercing.”
Sixteen? Red hair? The flashing list of names in his head suddenly flipped back over a decade and landed on one he hadn’t thought about in years. One he’d purposely tried to block out. No, couldn’t be. “Evangeline?”
She shrugged and looked out at the water, the wind whipping her hair around and disguising her expression. “It’s Evan now. I stopped using my full name a long time ago.”
“Wow, I don’t even know what to say,” he said, shaking his head. “You look great. I’m so glad to see that you’re . . .” Okay. Alive.“Here.”
She turned back toward him and smiled, though it didn’t light her face the way the earlier smiles had. “It’s good to see you, too. But, if you don’t mind, before we go down memory lane, how ’bout that vinegar?”
“Oh, right,” he said, his mind still whirling. “Follow me.”
And she needn’t worry. The last thing he was going to do was initiate any reminiscing. No, some things were better left buried. And how he’d destroyed the girl he’d sworn to look out for was A-number-one on that list.