Main Hotter Than Ever

Hotter Than Ever

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Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
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Out of Uniform 9
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Dylan fans, this one is for you!


Three Months Ago

“Your friend looked wrecked,” Claire McKinley said as she followed her future brother-in-law into the darkened front hall of his townhouse. She bent down to unlace her sneakers, feeling Dylan Wade’s green-eyed gaze boring into the top of her head.

She expected him to make a bitchy remark, inform her that his friend’s state of mind was none of her beeswax, but he did none of the above.

“Sophie taking off like that really shook him up. Shook me up too,” Dylan confessed.

“Yeah, me too. I keep thinking about what would’ve happened if we hadn’t found her…” She shuddered. “Oh God. Imagine losing a child.”

The silence that followed was surprisingly free of tension. Weird. Since the moment they’d met, she and Dylan could barely be in the same room without sniping at each other, but almost losing that little girl at the carnival had been so very sobering. Tonight, Claire had witnessed a different side to Dylan. He’d been focused, self-assured, calm under pressure. Which was double weird, because normally he was a cocky, antagonistic asshole, pardon her French.

He was still watching her, even as he kicked off his boots and shrugged out of his blue button-down shirt, which left him in a snug white T-shirt and cargo pants. Claire couldn’t help herself—she swept her gaze over his handsome face and incredible body, so hard and muscular and annoyingly drool-worthy. Chris was in great shape too, but there was something thrilling to be had from the knowledge that Dylan’s ripped six-pack came from bona-fide SEAL ass-kicking, and not the gym that Chris visited three times a week.

Your fiancé’s brother…

The little reminder jolted her out of her thoughts. Oh for heaven’s sake, she had no business admiring this man’s chest, no matter how deliciously ripped it was.

She cleared her throat. “Anyway, I’m going to bed.”

“At nine o’clock? Gee, dear, did all the excitement get to you?”

Claire frowned. Of course. She should have known he couldn’t;  maintain the cordial act for long. “Annnnnd he’s back.”

“You know you missed me.”

His roguish grin succeeded in raising her hackles—and making her heart skip a beat. She ignored the latter response and took a step toward the doorway.

“Missed the smartass remarks and not-so-veiled barbs about my character? Sorry, can’t say that I have. Good night, Dylan.”

“’Night, honey.”

Her back stiffened. She’d told him on more than one occasion how much she despised it when he called her honey. She was not this man’s honey.

As she stalked down the darkened corridor, a flash of silver winked up at her, drawing her gaze to the two-carat princess-cut diamond on her fourth finger. The engagement ring Christopher James Wade had slipped onto her finger nearly five months ago. Usually the sight of that gorgeous sparkling ring brought a smile to her lips. Tonight it just pissed her off. Chris had pissed her off. He’d convinced her to join him on this overnight visit to San Diego, promising they’d spend some time together after he wrapped up his meetings, but what had he done instead? Deposited her on his brother’s doorstep and abandoned her to hang out at a country club with his colleagues.

Cut him some slack. He’s got a lot on his plate.

Claire forced her muscles to relax. She entered the guest bedroom and sat on the edge of the double bed, releasing a weary breath. Chris did have a lot of headaches to deal with. For the past year and a half, he’d been working his butt off to fix the mess his mother had made.

The mess that Chris’s brother couldn’t be bothered to help clean up.

Anger rippled through her as she dwelled on the sheer selfishness of that. She understood that Dylan was serving their country, but he couldn’t be bothered to offer some assistance? Maybe send some money home every now and then? Someone ought to give that jerk a real tongue-lashing.

What’s stopping you?

Claire’s brows dipped in angry contemplation. Why shouldn’t she confront Dylan? After all, Chris refused to do it. He insisted that as the man of the house, it was his responsibility to take care of their mother, not Dylan’s. But enough was enough. She’d promised Chris she wouldn’t interfere, but her fiancé wouldn’t be killing himself at work if his brother would just step up and carry some of the load.

Setting her jaw, she stood up and marched out of the guest room, but when she heard the murmur of male voices coming from the front hall, she stopped in her tracks. Crap. Chris must be back. She couldn’t tell his brother off in front of him.

Especially when he’d explicitly ordered her to stay out of it.

She was about to turn around and abandon the plan when she heard a loud thump, as if something—or someone—had slammed into a wall. Fighting a flicker of apprehension, she crept forward. All the lights were off, and the house’s layout was still unfamiliar to her, making her feel disoriented as she tiptoed her way back to the main entrance. She rounded a corner, peered at the shadowy doorway—and froze.

Holy fucking shit.

Claire’s jaw fell open. Eyes widened. Brain kicked into overdrive, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

Clearly she was hallucinating.

Right. She had to be. Because no way was she witnessing Dylan kissing another man.

She blinked a few times, but the scene in front of her didn’t disappear in a puff of hallucination smoke. There he was. Dylan Wade, her fiancé’s infuriatingly sexy, self-absorbed brother.

Kissing another man.

Claire blinked again, focused on the dark-haired guy whose lips were glued to Dylan’s. She couldn’t see his face, but his body was equally hard and incredible, and the two men were going at it like they had one minute left to live and they planned on making every last second count.

The punch of lust that hit her was completely unexpected. But…oh sweet Lord, shock and confusion aside, this might actually be the hottest thing she’d ever seen in her life.

“You sleep with anyone else this summer?” The question came from Dylan’s visitor. Or, Dylan’s…lover?

Her thighs clenched at the thought.

“Yes.” Dylan’s raspy voice sent a shiver running through her and shot Claire up to a new level of arousal.

She shrank back into the shadows, ordering herself to walk away, to respect their privacy, to duck into her room and make herself come like right now, but she couldn’t tear her gaze off the two men. Their voices lowered for several moments, making it difficult to hear, so she studied their body language instead. The stranger had one hand on Dylan’s broad chest, the other behind Dylan’s neck. Dylan’s right palm rested on the other man’s shoulder, his left one idly stroking the man’s hip, and when they kissed again, the flash of tongue she glimpsed made her bite back a moan.

That moan damn near slipped out when the man spun Dylan around and pressed his groin against the SEAL’s ass.

A second later, Claire’s entire body went up in flames as she watched Dylan reverse positions so the dark-haired man was the one facing the wall now.

Her senses went on overload. She had no idea what to focus on. Their words? Their mouths? Their bodies?

She was so close to exploding she could barely think straight. She couldn’t believe she was watching her fiancé’s brother making out with another man, and suddenly a hundred questions started buzzing through her head.

Was Dylan gay?

Did Chris know?

Why was she so turned on?

The sound of a door clicking shut jarred her back to the present.

Dylan’s friend—lover?—was gone. The blond SEAL flicked the deadbolt, then turned around with a grin on his face.

A grin that dissolved the second he spotted Claire.

Their gazes locked. She could see the wariness swimming in his eyes.

Claire gulped. “I…”

Her gaze swiftly dropped to her feet. Oh man. What did one even say in a situation like this?

She opened her mouth and tried again. “I…” After a beat, she raised her head and met his gaze head-on. “I won’t say anything to Chris.”

Then she darted away before he could respond.

I won’t say anything to Chris?

She wanted to kick herself as she hurried back to the guest room. That was the best she could come up with?

In her defense, she was still too stunned to hold any sort of coherent conversation at the moment. Her heart continued to beat in a frantic rhythm, her mouth was drier than the Sahara, and her clit was actually aching. Pulsing. One touch away from orgasm. If she brought her hand between her legs right now, she would literally self-combust.

The bad girl in her wanted to let it happen. To picture Dylan’s tongue in that hottie’s mouth, slide her hand inside her panties and enjoy the results, but she forced herself to derail that train of crazy.

This was Chris’s brother. Chris’s gay brother? The same questions flashed through her mind again, but there was one in particular she couldn’t seem to let go of.

Why didn’t she and Chris have that? The passion. The intensity. That need to consume each other.

Dylan and his dark-haired stranger had craved each other on a primal level Claire had never experienced—or dreamed possible.

She sucked in a shaky breath, unable to erase those dirty images from her head. She wondered if she ought to go and talk to Dylan about it, actually talk instead of blurting out a random promise and sprinting away. But she couldn’t force her legs to carry her to the door. She and Dylan might have called a brief cease-fire tonight at the carnival, but they weren’t friends, and she got the feeling he wouldn’t appreciate her poking her nose in his business.

The best thing to do was pretend she hadn’t seen what she’d seen. Never mention it to Dylan again. Never think about it.

And never, ever masturbate while thinking about it.

A shudder racked her body, and it took Claire a moment to realize that her hand, of its own volition, had slid beneath the waistband of her Capris. And her fingers were already sneaking their way inside her panties…

After a beat of indecision, she decided to give her fingers permission to continue. One time wouldn’t hurt, she assured herself.

Just one little indulgence.

And then she’d pretend tonight never happened.

Chapter One

Present Day

“You have to tell her I can’t marry her.”

Dylan Wade gaped at his older brother. Okay. Well. That was not what he’d expected to hear when Chris had summoned him to the elegant suite of the sprawling mansion that housed the Marin Hills Golf Club.

It took a second for him to snap out of his shock. “Yeah, right. Very funny, Chris.” He managed a hasty laugh and clapped his brother on the arm. “Come on, pal, it’s time to go. The ceremony starts in—”

“The ceremony isn’t going to start,” Chris interrupted with frazzled green eyes. He shoved Dylan’s hand away and made a wild dash for the wet bar across the room.

Dylan watched in dismay as his brother picked up a glass, poured whiskey all the way to the rim, and slugged back half of it in one gulp.

“I can’t marry her. I can’t do it. You have to go tell her!”

Shit. Chris had crazy-person eyes. And crazy-person hands—he was gesturing wildly, even with the hand holding the glass, and his frenzied movements caused the amber-colored liquid to slosh onto the rich burgundy carpet beneath Chris’s black leather wingtips.

It was becoming painfully clear that Chris was not joking around.

“Put the whiskey down,” Dylan said quietly.

His brother ignored the order and swallowed another mouthful.

With a sigh, he marched over and forcibly grabbed the glass from Chris’s shaky fingers. The suite had a dressing area on one side of the room and a living area on the other, which offered a set of leather armchairs situated in front of an enormous stone fireplace. Dylan promptly dragged Chris over to one of the chairs and forced him to sit.

“What’s going on? Why can’t you marry Claire?” Rather than sit, he crossed his arms and loomed over his brother.

“Because she’s not the right woman for me.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

He tamped down the retort before it could pop out of his mouth. But come on, Chris was only reaching that conclusion now?

Dylan had known from day one that Claire McKinley wasn’t right for his brother. He’d been hoping Chris would eventually see it too, but he hadn’t expected it to happen ten minutes before the couple’s frickin’ wedding. And it wasn’t just a small, private gathering that could easily be disbanded if Chris was actually serious about all this. This was an expensive, showy affair that would unleash waves and waves of gossip if the ceremony were cancelled. The senior partner of Chris’s law firm had graciously rented out the country club for the day so the couple could marry there. There were five hundred people waiting in that banquet hall, including Dylan’s mother, Shanna, who was over the moon about welcoming a daughter into their family.

Shit. His mom was going to be crushed.

“I’ve been deluding myself for months,” Chris was saying, his voice lined with so much misery that Dylan felt a pang of sympathy for the guy. “I kept telling myself that I’d made the right decision by asking her to marry me. Claire’s smart, she’s successful, she’s beautiful. But she’s got a lot of flaws too, and…I thought…”

Dylan sank into the other armchair. “You thought what?”

“That she would change.” Chris shrugged helplessly. “I was hoping she’d eventually start acting like…I don’t know, like the woman I wanted her to be.”

“For fuck’s sake, Chris, you were waiting around hoping your fiancée’s entire personality would change?”

It also didn’t escape him that his brother hadn’t said a word about love. Not even once. But he decided not to point that out.

“I’m an idiot, okay?” Chris dragged a hand through his perfectly groomed blond hair. “Deep down I knew it wasn’t right, but I kept telling myself I had to go through with it. The invitations were already sent out, and Mom was so excited, and then Lowenstein booked us the Lavender Ballroom at the frickin’ Marin Hills Golf Club as a wedding gift—I couldn’t exactly tell the senior partner of my firm, hey, no thanks, the wedding is off.”

Chris’s breathing grew labored. He was visibly trembling now, and Dylan had never seen his brother’s face so pale before.

“I should have listened to Maxwell,” Chris muttered. “He told me she wasn’t a good enough prospect, he—”

“Wait a minute, what?”

“Pres Maxwell—he’s one of the associates at the firm. He and his wife are members here—they’re the ones who nominated Claire and me for membership—and last weekend we had lunch with them. I played a few rounds with Pres and the boys, and Claire spent some time with the other wives.” Chris’s lips tightened. “I don’t know what was said exactly, but Pres pulled me aside on Monday morning and said that Claire told the women some personal details about her past. And they weren’t respectable details, if you know what I mean.”

Dylan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He sometimes forgot what a prude his brother was.

“Okay, so she talked to the country club ladies about sex. Are you telling me that’s why you’re breaking it off?”

His brother’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “I told you why I’m doing this, Dylan. That was just one example of how she’s not a good match for me.” Chris abruptly shot to his feet. “I can’t marry her. I can’t be with a woman who doesn’t respect me.”

“Who says she doesn’t?”

“There’s a lot more you don’t know,” Chris said darkly. “Unlike Claire, I’m not going to talk out of turn. Our personal shit and certain indiscretions aren’t anybody’s business but ours. Just trust me when I say that I need to end this.”

Dylan narrowed his eyes. “Are you saying she fucked around on you?”

“I’m not saying anything.” Now those green eyes were imploring him, shining with fear. “You’ve got to tell her the wedding is cancelled.”

“I’m not breaking up with your bride for you, damn it.”

“But you’re the best man,” Chris protested. “And you’re my brother.”

“As your best man, I’m in charge of holding on to the rings and standing next to you at the altar. As your brother, I’m responsible for supporting you and clapping politely when you kiss the bride. Neither of those roles requires me to call off your fucking wedding!”

“Please, Dyl. I can’t do it. I don’t want to hurt her.”

Dylan’s jaw fell open. “Dumping her five minutes before your wedding is going to hurt her. You realize that, right?”

“I know. But…goddammit! If that friend of hers was here, she could be the one to talk to Claire, but Dr. Dyke couldn’t be bothered to fly in, so—”

“Whoa,” Dylan interrupted, an edge to his voice. “Uncool, dude.”

Chris’s expression conveyed a flicker of remorse. “Shit. I’m sorry. That was rude. I’m just so irritated that her so-called best friend skipped the wedding.”

Maybe she knew there’d never be a wedding.

Dylan bit back the snippy remark. “Well, Claire’s BFF isn’t here to do your dirty work, and I won’t do it either. You have to talk to her, bro. You have to clean up your own mess.”

The panic that erupted in Chris’s eyes would have been comical if it weren’t so infuriating. “Dylan—”

“I mean it. You can’t dump this on anyone else, no matter how painful and uncomfortable it’s going to be. You’re a thirty-two-year-old man, Chris. You can’t ask me to break up with Claire for you.”

After a long moment of silence, Chris’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I know. You’re right.”

An enormous weight lifted off Dylan’s chest. Finally, his brother was seeing reason.

“Talk to her,” he said gently. “Tell her everything you’re feeling, man. Maybe you two can work through it and the wedding will go on as scheduled.”

“It won’t.” Chris drew a deep breath, then smoothed out the front of his black suit jacket. “The partners will understand, right?” he said, sounding desperate.

Disapproval stiffened Dylan’s muscles. Was Chris seriously concerned about how his law firm’s partners would react instead of worrying about how his jilted bride was going to feel? Wow. His brother had always been a tad self-absorbed and slightly pretentious, but at the moment, Dylan didn’t recognize the man in front of him.

“Forget about the partners,” he ordered. “Focus on your fiancée. Go find Claire. Now.”

With a quick nod, Chris turned around and left the room.

Battling his disbelief, Dylan took a moment to collect his composure. Shit. This was a complete clusterfuck. Should he find his mother and fill her in? Or should he wait until he knew for certain whether the wedding was off?

No, he ought to get his mom. If anything, she could at least be there to offer Claire some comfort after Chris dropped his bomb.

He was still stressed as hell as he marched out the door and down the pristine white-marble floor in the hallway. He’d just rounded the corner when he heard the click of high heels.

Speak of the devil—his mother was bounding toward him, her teal dress fluttering around her ankles with each quick step she took.

Dylan met her halfway, shaking his head in aggravation. “Thank God you’re here. We’ve got a bit of a situation.”

Shanna Wade’s green eyes were the same pale shade as her sons’ and swimming with the same shock Dylan was currently feeling.

“Dylan,” she said in a grim voice, “can you please explain why your brother just asked me to tell all the guests to go home?”

His heart dropped to the pit of his stomach like a sinking rock. “He did what?”

“He told me to make an announcement that there won’t be a wedding.” She hesitated. “He said you were responsible for telling Claire.”

Dylan’s shoulders tensed. “What? Where is he now?”

His mom’s voice trembled. “He left.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

For once, Shanna didn’t reprimand him for dropping an F-bomb. “He went out the back. I was too flustered and confused to stop him, and then when I finally snapped out of it and ran outside, he was already driving away.”

Chris, you fucking asshole.

Fury whipped through him, along with a wad of disgust that knotted around his insides. He couldn’t believe this. Chris had actually fled without telling Claire McKinley it was over. His brother had actually pulled an Elvis and left the fucking building.

“What do we do?”

His mom’s frantic demand penetrated his enraged thoughts. Taking a calming breath, Dylan reached for her hand and found that it was icy cold. He squeezed her delicate fingers and met her confused expression.

“You’re going to have to make the announcement,” he said softly. “Tell everyone there won’t be a wedding today.”

She looked panicked. “And say what? That my son got cold feet?”

“No. Don’t give any details. Just say the bride and groom had a change of heart, and the decision was mutual.”

Tears filled Shanna’s eyes. “Oh my God. How is this happening? Will you come with me?”

“I can’t. I have something else to take care of.”

“What are you doing?”

“What Chris was too much of a coward to do.” Dylan’s jaw tightened with anger. “I’m going to break up with his bride.”

“Do I look okay?” Biting her lip, Claire stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror. The butterflies in her stomach were flying around in crazy circles, making it difficult to focus on the vision in white staring back at her.

“Okay? You look more than okay, sweetie. You look beautiful.” Nora McKinley appeared in the mirror, her brown eyes gleaming with pride and sparkling with unshed tears.

A queasy feeling tickled Claire’s belly. “Mom…”

“I mean it. You’re beautiful, inside and out.” Nora sniffled. “You’re the most wonderful daughter a mother could ever ask for, and I’m so very proud of you.”

Claire’s teeth sank harder into her bottom lip.

“Oh, sweetie, don’t cry. You’ll ruin your makeup.”

She hadn’t even noticed the moisture welling up in her eyes, but that did explain why her reflection was blurry all of a sudden.

She blinked away the tears and turned to face her mother, who looked gorgeous and elegant in a peach-colored empire-cut dress that stopped just below her knees. Nora’s auburn hair was pulled back in a neat chignon, and with her perfect complexion and naturally red lips, Claire’s fifty-three-year-old mother didn’t look a day over forty.

“What’s going on, Claire? Are you nervous?”

“Yes.” She gulped. “But that’s normal, right? People get nervous before their wedding, don’t they?”

”Of course. It’s a perfectly normal response,” Nora said in a gentle tone. “Lots of brides get jittery right before the ceremony.”

”I wish Nat was here,” Claire murmured.

Her mother let out a soft sigh. “I know you’re upset that Natasha couldn’t be here, but you can’t dwell on that. Do you want me to get Michelle? Your maid of honor should really be here to help you get ready.”

”No, it’s all right. I just…I think I need a moment alone. Do you mind?”

A wrinkle appeared on Nora’s forehead, but she didn’t object to the request. “Of course not.” She stepped closer and gently stroked Claire’s cheek. “Michelle and I will come get you when it’s time.”

The second her mother was gone, Claire slid down to the carpeted floor in a pile of white lace.

Was this normal? The nerves, the shaky hands and damp palms? When she was a little girl, she’d constantly fantasized about her wedding, imagined how elated she’d be when the big day finally came. Cold feet had never been part of the fantasy.

And neither had a full-blown panic attack.

The bodice of her dress suddenly felt too tight, making it impossible to breathe, and her hands were shaking so hard she had to dig her fingers into her thighs to still the erratic trembling.

Oh boy, this was bad. Heart racing, forehead dotted with sweat, palms tingling. Her wild gaze darted around the beautiful room, taking in the wood-paneled walls and expensive carpeting, the commanding fireplace and elegant furniture, the scent of money and leather hanging in the air.

Nothing about this felt right. She shouldn’t be getting ready in this fancy room. There shouldn’t be five hundred strangers in that ballroom waiting to watch her get married. And her best friend in the whole world should be standing up at the altar with her, not some random coworker Claire had been forced to ask because her groom refused to accommodate Natasha’s schedule. Since Nat went overseas for three months out of every year as part of a foreign-aid program run by the hospital where she worked as an ER resident, there had been no way for her to fly back to San Francisco for the wedding, which meant that Claire’s best friend of twenty-three years—hell, her only friend—couldn’t be her maid of honor.

Claire had been more than willing to push the date to the spring if it meant having Nat by her side, but Chris’s boss had sprung the Lavender Ballroom gift on them out of nowhere and Chris had insisted it would be rude to turn him down.

He’s changed.

The thought slunk into Claire’s head like a stray animal, but she forced herself to shoo it away.

Chris hadn’t changed. He was just under a ton of pressure. His position at Lowenstein and Tate was stressful, and it didn’t help matters that half his paycheck went to help his mother. Stress like that took its toll on a man.

Does stress also turn men into pretentious, inflexible, judgmental strangers?

She pushed aside the mocking thought. Enough. She had to snap out of this. She’d fallen in love with Chris for so many reasons—his work ethic, his passion to help others, his dry humor.

He might be acting…different lately, but once his mother’s finances were in order and his workload eased slightly, he’d go back to being the man she’d fallen for.


A knock on the door derailed her internal train of panic and confusion. God, if that was Michelle coming to pretend they were best buds and that Claire hadn’t asked her to be maid of honor out of sheer pathetic desperation, then she was literally going to scream.

There was another sharp knock. “Claire, it’s Dylan. Can I come in?”

Crap. Dylan Wade was the last person she wanted to see right now. Actually, he was the last person she wanted to see anytime, but as his knocking became more persistent, she reluctantly walked over to the door and flung it open.

“What do you want, Dylan?”

“Listen,” he began, “I need to—holy fuck.”

The awe and embarrassment that tinged his voice caught her by complete surprise. “What?” she said warily.

Dylan stepped into the suite. His green eyes were glued to her, and the reverent expression on his handsome face was completely unexpected.

“Wow,” he breathed. “Claire, you look…wow…you look so beautiful.”

It took a few dumbfounded seconds for her to fathom that he wasn’t being sarcastic. Since he’d never looked at her with anything other than annoyance or scorn, his visible appreciation compelled her to glance at the mirror again and really study her reflection this time.

A different woman was looking back at her, a woman in a gorgeous satin-and-lace gown with a sweetheart neckline, full skirt and short train. Her auburn hair was arranged in long, flowing waves, slightly pulled back with tiny white flowers threaded through it. Her minimal, shimmery makeup gave her skin a radiant glow, and the heirloom diamond bracelet around her wrist caught the light and sparkled whenever she moved.

God, she did look beautiful.

The realization dimmed some of her panic. If Dylan, a man who disliked her, could appreciate the way she looked right now, then clearly she was about to knock her groom’s socks off.

“Thanks,” she said, keeping her gaze on her reflection.

“Um…” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I came by because I needed to tell you…uh…”

The agitation in his normally confident tone had her turning to face him. Okay, weird. Dylan was shifting around as if he couldn’t get comfortable. His hands slid into the pockets of his black trousers, then back out. His black dress shoes tapped the carpet a couple of times, and then he edged backward toward the door, his expression downright pained.

For the first time in three months, Claire was able to look at Dylan without blushing or visualizing the intensely erotic scene she’d witnessed between him and—nope, not going there.

She shoved the memory right out of her head and focused on the odd tension thickening the space between them.

“What’s going on, Dylan?” Fear darted through her. “Is everything okay? Is Chris all right?”

“He’s fine,” Dylan said quickly.

“Then what is it?”

He shuffled awkwardly, raking a hand through his short blond hair.

“Look,” he started, his voice a tad hoarse, “Chris is…um…aw shit, there’s no easy way to say this, okay? So I’m just going to do it, and I want you to know that doing this brings me no pleasure. You and me…we don’t really get along, and then there was that whole visit thing and…you know, what you saw at my place…which you never brought up again, and I’m really grateful for that, by the way—”

“Oh for the love of God,” she interrupted. “Quit babbling and say what you came here to say.”

“Chris left.”

Claire blinked. “What?”

“He left.” Misery flashed across Dylan’s face. “He couldn’t go through with the wedding. He…uh, he doesn’t think you two are right for each other.”

Shock slammed into her, so powerful she nearly keeled over.

Chris was calling off the wedding?

A rush of humiliation joined the unwavering shock. Oh God. The groom backing out at the last minute was definitely not part of her childhood fantasy.

As tears filled her eyes again, she looked at Dylan with dismay. “I can’t believe this.”

He looked upset. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be the one telling you this. My brother is a bastard for running away, and I promise you, I tried to get him to do the right thing. I told him it was his responsibility to talk to you, but I guess he thought it would be too painful or something.”

“Wait a minute,” she burst out, as something suddenly registered. “What do you mean, he left?”

Dylan’s throat jumped as he gulped. “He left. As in, no longer here.”

“You mean he left the country club?” Her mouth dropped open. “He just drove away?”

There was a quick nod.

Her pulse careened into cardiac-arrest territory, her throat tightening with horror when she realized what that meant. “He’s going to make me face all those guests by myself?” Her breathing went shallow. “I’m the one who has to tell everyone there won’t be a wedding?”

Shock flitted through Dylan’s eyes. “What? No, of course not. Don’t worry, my mom will make the announcement.”

Agony and embarrassment heated her cheeks as she pictured Dylan’s sweet mother getting up there in front of hundreds of strangers and telling them they’d wasted their time in coming here.

“You can’t put that on Shanna,” she moaned. “Oh God. This is so humiliating!”

“Claire. Hey, calm down, honey. Take a deep breath.”

She ignored him, her brain continuing to run over all the mortifying implications of Chris’s cowardice.

“I have to tell my parents,” she mumbled between unsteady breaths. “And Father Thomas. Oh gosh, do you think Frank Lowenstein will expect us to reimburse him for renting out the Lavender Ballroom?”

Her hands started shaking again. More and more thoughts flew into her head. “My boss is out there, and all my colleagues. I can’t go out there and have everyone feeling sorry for me.” Her gaze darted toward the mirror again. “Oh shit, I can’t be wearing this gown when they see me.”

The next few minutes were a blur of irrationality, a heart-pounding, panic-induced daze that somehow ended with Claire’s wedding dress turning into a pool of fabric at her feet. She had no recollection of getting undressed—and apparently no sense of modesty, either—but suddenly she was wearing nothing but a strapless white bra and matching thong, completely on display for her runaway groom’s brother.

And yet when it finally dawned on her that she’d just stripped down to her underwear, she couldn’t even dwell on the fresh round of embarrassment because a new realization had swooped into her head.

“Where am I supposed to go?” she said miserably. “Is Chris at our apartment?”

Dylan looked utterly disoriented, his green eyes moving from her nearly naked body, to the discarded wedding gown, then up to her face. “I don’t know,” he sputtered. “Look. Claire. You’re freaking out and you need to dial it down, okay?”

“Where am I supposed to go?” she repeated, raising her voice over the loud drumming of her heart. “I don’t even have a car! My parents drove. Oh shit, my parents. They’ll want to take me home. I can’t go home with them, Dylan! They’ll hover over me and my mom will stuff me with cookies because she thinks cookies are the solution for all of life’s troubles, and—”

A sharp sting on her cheek made her head jerk up.

She blinked in shock and reached up to rub away the pain. “Did you just slap me?”

Dylan’s perfectly sculpted jaw tensed. “No, I flicked you.”

“You flicked me?”

“Yes.” He moved closer and gripped both her shoulders. “Get it together, McKinley. My brother is the asshole in this equation, okay? My mom is handling the guests, so there’s no reason for you to go out there at all. You don’t need to face your boss or coworkers, and if you’re not ready to talk to your parents, then you don’t have to. And fuck all those country club jerks from Chris’s firm. You don’t owe them any explanations. Understand?”

She nodded, feeling numb.

“But you’re right,” Dylan went on. “Chris is probably at the apartment, so maybe going back there isn’t a good idea at the moment. Unless you’re ready to get the big talk over with?”

She shook her head. Talking to Chris was definitely on her agenda, but not now. As furious as she was that he’d taken off instead of handling the situation like an adult, she couldn’t deal with him right now. Not until she got far, far away from this stupid country club and made sense of her muddled thoughts.

“I guess I can go to a hotel,” she said in a tired voice. “Can you drop me off?”

Without waiting for his response, she hurried toward the suitcase and carry-on she’d left beside the door. She and Chris had been scheduled to leave for their honeymoon immediately following the reception, so her bags were already packed and waiting.

She kept her back to Dylan, rooting around in her suitcase and pulling out the first item of clothing she found, which happened to be a bright blue sundress. She yanked the dress over her head and smoothed it down her body, not caring that you could see the white band of her bra, thanks to the dress’s backless halter style, or that the skirt was indecently short. This dress had been meant for Aruba, the first stop on their three-week honeymoon.

Except there wouldn’t be a honeymoon. Or a wedding.

“I can’t believe he just left,” she whispered.

The warm hand on her bare shoulder made her jump. “I really am sorry,” came Dylan’s husky voice.

Claire couldn’t help a derisive snort. “No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Bullshit.” For the first time since Dylan arrived to drop his bomb, hot tears stung her eyes. “You’re loving every second of this. You hate me and you probably think I had it coming, huh?”

Now he sounded irritated. “That’s not what I think at all, Claire.”

Sarcasm dripped from her voice. “Sure, Dylan, because you were dying for me to be your sister-in-law. Well, congrats, you won’t ever have to see me again after today, so just do me a favor and stuff your sorries in a sack, okay? All I want from you right now is to help me carry this stupid suitcase and drive me to a hotel.” Her lips tightened. “Do you think you can handle that, soldier?”

A muscle in his jaw twitched, his green eyes flashing with resentment, but the hard look quickly faded into resignation. With a curt nod, he picked up her suitcase and said, “I can handle that.”

Chapter Two

“Mom, I promise you, I’m okay. What? No, I swear, I left of my own free will. I just couldn’t face all those people… I know, but…maybe he was right, okay? Maybe getting married would’ve been a mistake.”

Keeping his eyes on the road, Dylan listened to Claire’s side of the conversation. Despite himself, he experienced a twinge of admiration that even in the face of Chris’s betrayal, she was still protecting him. She had every right to curse Chris until she was blue in the face. Every right to scream and throw things and burn all of his belongings in a ritualistic trashcan fire. But rather than paint Chris as the villain, she was practically defending his decision. Dylan couldn’t help but feel grudgingly impressed.

“Please tell Shanna how grateful I am that she dealt with the guests and the club manager, and tell her I’ll call her tonight, okay?”

Dylan’s shoulders stiffened at the sound of his mother’s name. He hadn’t given her the heads-up before sneaking Claire out of the mansion, and he knew she’d be furious about his desertion, especially with Chris gone too.

But what else was he supposed to do? His first priority had been to get Claire out of that country club. The woman had been seconds away from a full-blown breakdown.

His mouth went dry as the memory of Claire stripping out of her wedding dress flew into his head, and now a different part of his anatomy was stiffening. No denying it—Claire McKinley was a damn sexy woman. All that tousled auburn hair, those X-rated curves, the fuck-me red lips…the woman was designed to get a man nice and hard. To make matters worse, her big brown eyes gave her that perpetually vulnerable look that triggered a man’s hero complex, should he have one. And Dylan, unfortunately, had suffered from a serious case of hero his entire life. He’d never been able to walk away from a damsel in distress, and protecting Claire from the embarrassment and questions that awaited her in that ballroom had been instinctual.

“Please don’t argue with me about this,” Claire was saying softly. “I really want to be alone for a bit.” She paused. “I know you do, but I need some space. I’ll call you from the hotel, okay?”

The second she hung up, the iPhone in her hand started to vibrate. And vibrate. And vibrate some more.

“Oh sweet Jesus, I’m getting like a million text messages,” she muttered.

Dylan glanced over and saw the frustration glimmering in her eyes. “Your mom and dad?”

“Yep, along with my boss, maid of honor, cousins, coworkers.”

“They all have a ton of questions, huh?”

“Duh.” She made a sound of exasperation. “I’m turning it off. This is ridiculous.”

She swiped her finger over the touch screen, then dropped the phone in the cup holder of Dylan’s rental.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she mumbled. “My parents are freaking out.”

“So’s my mom. You’re not the only one with a thousand incoming texts.” He tapped the front pocket of his trousers, where he’d tucked his cell phone. “My leg is going numb from all that vibrating.”

“My mother said the guests are gone, and the catering staff packed everything up. She’s going to take all the food home with her, since it’s already been paid for.” Her voice cracked. “Oh, and my dad won’t let me pay him back.”

Dylan fought a pang of sympathy. He’d never understood why the bride’s family was expected to foot the bill for the wedding. Chris’s boss may have arranged for the venue, but the McKinleys had taken care of everything else—food, flowers, string quartet. Judging by how tasteful and beautiful the ballroom had looked, Dylan suspected financing the shindig had been pretty costly for Claire’s parents. He felt bad for them. They’d seemed like really nice people, and his brother had completely screwed them over by running out on their daughter.

“I guess I should text Chris and let him know which hotel I’ll be—what the hell, Dylan? Where are you taking me?”

That she hadn’t noticed their destination until now spoke volumes about her state of mind. As the airport became visible in the distance, he felt Claire’s amber-colored eyes boring into his cheek.

“Where are we going?” she asked in a tight voice.

“The Coast Guard Air Station.” He flicked the turn signal and changed lanes, then sped off the freeway exit ramp.

“Why on earth are we going there?”

“We’re catching a ride with a buddy of mine. He’s a Coast Guard pilot.”

“A ride? A ride to where?”

“I’m taking you back to San Diego with me.”

Silence descended over the interior of the SUV. He snuck a peek at Claire and found her looking at him like he’d just told her he was a closet Backstreet Boys fan or something. The mixture of confusion and horror on her face was almost comical.

He was pretty confused himself. What the hell was he doing taking Claire home with him? He didn’t even like the woman. In fact, for the past year and a half he’d actively been rooting for Chris to come to his senses and dump her.

So really, what he needed to do was drop her at a hotel, high-five Chris for seeing the light, and forget Claire McKinley ever existed.

Except…in a complete twist of insanity, his brother had suddenly soared to the top of Dylan’s shit list. After the despicable—not to mention dishonorable—way Chris had behaved, Dylan was firmly on Team Claire in this fucked-up situation.

He couldn’t believe Chris had run away like that. No, he couldn’t understand it. As a SEAL, Dylan met challenges head-on, even when those challenges were terrifying or painful or guaranteed to bring some discomfort.

Well, he refused to abandon Claire the way his brother had. He might not be the woman’s biggest fan, but she didn’t deserve to have everyone pitying her, or whispering about her, or worse, laughing behind her back. Since Chris and Claire had all the same friends, and with her one non-mutual friend out of town, Dylan knew she wouldn’t find much of a support system here in the Bay Area.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Claire grumbled. “Take me to a hotel.”

He stayed on route, driving right past three airport hotels, which solicited a string of curses from the woman beside him.

Dylan raised his eyebrows. “Shit, McKinley, you sound like a character from an HBO show. Where the hell did you learn some of those phrases?”

For a second, humor danced in her eyes. “HBO.” The amusement promptly faded. “I’m serious, Dylan, I don’t want to go to San Diego.”

“I really think you should,” he said gently. “At least for a night or two.”

“Oh, you think I should, huh? Because you magically know what’s best for me, is that it?”

“You said so yourself. You need space.” He shrugged. “Well, you ain’t gonna get it here, honey. You’ll be alone at that hotel for an hour, two hours tops, and then your parents will weasel the location out of you and swoop in with the sympathy parade.” When she didn’t answer, he shot her a pointed look. “You know I’m right.”

“Maybe, but—”

“And I know your best friend is in South America—”

“Sierra Leone—”

“—which means you can’t cry on her shoulder, so—”

Now she was the one interrupting him. “So you want me to cry on your shoulder? No thanks, pal.”

As the gate for the Coast Guard station came into view, Dylan abruptly pulled over to the side of the road.

“What now?” Claire demanded angrily. “Are you kicking me out of the car?”

“What the hell are you talking about? Why would I—” He stopped talking and sucked in a calming breath. How did this woman always manage to rile him up?

He exhaled in a measured pace. “Look, you have three options.”

“Oh really?”

Her mocking tone brought another rush of irritation, which he forced himself to ignore. Hell, she was allowed to be a bitch today. Getting ditched on her wedding day definitely gave her a free pass.

“Option one,” he announced. “You go to a hotel and prepare yourself for the sympathy parade.”

Unhappiness washed over Claire’s face.

“Option two, you go home and get the confrontation with Chris out of the way.”

Her delicate jaw tensed.

“Option three, you hop on the chopper with me, crash at my place for a day or two, and when you feel up to dealing with all this, you come home.”

Your place?

The little voice gave him pause. Shit, technically he ought to be consulting his roommate before he—

Roommate? the voice interrupted, sarcastic now.

He fought a spark of aggravation. Okay, fine, Aidan Rhodes was much more than a roommate.

As Claire sat there in silence, visibly pondering the choices he’d given her, Dylan fished his cell phone out of his pocket.

He’d planned on shooting a discreet text Aidan’s way to let him know they might have some company, but Claire spoke up before he could.

“No. I don’t run away from my problems,” she said firmly. “Maybe that’s yours and Chris’s MO, but not mine.”

His nostrils flared at the accusation. “I don’t know where you’re getting your intel, honey, but I don’t run from my problems. Never have, never will.”

“Either way, I can’t just leave town. I’ll regroup for a couple of hours at the hotel, and then talk to Chris.”

As if on cue, Dylan’s phone buzzed in his hand.

Chris’s number flashed on the screen.

“Speak of the devil,” he told her.

The wounded look in her big brown eyes triggered the urge to pull her into his arms, but he pushed the crazy idea aside. He didn’t blame her for looking so hurt, though—Chris should be calling his bride right now, not his brother.

“What are you waiting for?” she muttered. “Answer it.”

Dylan raised the phone to his ear, but he didn’t greet his brother with even an ounce of warmth. “What do you want?”

There was a pause, followed by a remorseful sigh. “You’re angry.”

“No fucking kidding.”

“Dylan…look, I know you’re pissed at me and I’m so sorry I ran away like that. I took the coward’s way out and I feel like a total ass, okay?”

“No, not okay. Nothing you did today was okay, Chris.”

Another breath filled the line. “I’m sorry. I really am. And I promise you I’m going to make this right. I’ll make it right with Claire, and with Mom, and the partners, and most of all, you. But first, I need you to do one more thing for me.”

Incredulity lodged in his throat. “Are you serious? After everything that went down today, you have the nerve to ask for another favor?”

Next to him, Claire made a harsh sound of disdain, and a quick glance at the passenger seat revealed she was eyeing him warily. Actually, no, she was eyeing his phone. The way she’d curled her hands into fists and pressed them on her thighs told Dylan she was trying to stop herself from grabbing the cell out of his hand.

And speaking of thighs…he couldn’t help but notice that her dress had ridden up, revealing her smooth, pale skin that he couldn’t seem to quit staring at…

Disgusted with himself, he yanked his gaze off those firm thighs, hoping she hadn’t noticed him checking out her legs.

“I just need you to pass along a message,” Chris pleaded in his ear.

“To who?” Dylan said suspiciously.


He almost blurted out that Claire was sitting right next to him, but he swallowed the confession. He got the feeling Chris might panic and hang up if he knew she was there.

“What’s the message?” he asked in a curt voice.

“Tell her I’m sorry. I know I owe her an explanation and I promise to give her one. Just…not now. Tell her we’ll talk when I get back.”

Dylan’s spine went rigid. “Get back from where?”

“Aruba. I’m leaving for the airport now.”

For the life of him, Dylan couldn’t formulate a single response. As shock and disgust pounded into him, he was tempted to whip his phone out the window just so he wouldn’t have to hear his brother’s voice anymore.

Chris, however, seemed oblivious to the waves of hostility radiating over the line.

“I know it sounds heartless, but the trip’s already been paid for and it’s nonrefundable. Aruba was first on our itinerary, and I’m definitely heading there, but I don’t know yet if I’ll do London and Paris like we’d planned.” A pause. “Claire’s welcome to use her ticket too, I suppose, but I think that would be awkward for the both of us, so I’d recommend she not do that.”

The rage bubbling in Dylan’s gut was so uncharacteristic it caught him by surprise. He didn’t get this angry. Ever. He was usually calm under pressure, cool, collected, in complete fucking control of himself.

But at this very moment, he wanted to murder his own brother.

Straight-up murder him.

Releasing a slow breath, he shifted his head so he didn’t have to see Claire’s dark expression in his peripheral vision. “You’re unbelievable,” he hissed into the phone. “Right now, in this moment? I can’t believe we’re even related. I’m so fucking ashamed of you.”


Chris’s outraged gasp only pissed Dylan off even more. “Don’t worry, I’ll pass your message along, big brother,” he snapped. “And now I’m going to hang up before I say something I might regret.”

Proving he didn’t make idle threats, he punched the end button and tossed his phone in the cup holder, where it rattled against Claire’s discarded iPhone.

The anger refused to abate. His vision was a sea of red, his hands gripping the steering wheel so tight his knuckles had turned white, but the alternative was punching the damn dashboard, and he wasn’t in the mood to have an airbag deploy in his face. Jesus fucking Christ. This entire day had been a fucking nightmare, and it just kept getting worse and worse.

“What did he say?”

Claire’s cautious voice broke through the haze of fury. For a second he was tempted to lie, but he couldn’t bring himself to cover for his brother. Chris didn’t deserve any clemency, not after everything he’d done.

“He said he’s sorry and he’ll talk to you when he gets back,” Dylan reported through gritted teeth.

She went quiet. Her confused expression soon gave way to horror as understanding dawned. “He’s going on our honeymoon?”

Dylan nodded.

“He’s going on our fucking honeymoon?”

Her chest heaved from her labored breathing, drawing his gaze to her ample cleavage. And proving that he had zero decorum, his inner manwhore refused to let him overlook the fact that this woman had great tits. No, spectacular tits.

“Oh my God. Who does that?” Claire exclaimed. “I can’t believe I was going to marry such an insensitive ass!”

Dylan shifted in discomfort when he noticed the tears filling her eyes. Fortunately, the moisture clinging to her long lashes didn’t spill over. If she started crying, he knew he’d have no choice but to take her in his arms, and he was determined to avoid that. Just because he was helping her out didn’t mean they were best buds or anything.

“Well, on the bright side, your apartment is free,” he said feebly.

She gave a vicious shake of the head. “I can’t go back there. If I see anything that reminds me of Chris right now…”

She didn’t finish that sentence, but Dylan could fill in the blanks. “So what do you want to do?” he asked her.

Two teardrops broke free from those thick eyelashes and streamed down her flawless ivory cheeks. “Number three,” she mumbled. “I choose option three.”

A couple hours later, Claire turned to Dylan in confusion as their taxi came to a stop in front of a modern high-rise with an endless amount of windows sparkling in the afternoon sunlight.

“Where are we?” she asked suspiciously. “I thought we were going to your place.”

He leaned forward and handed the driver some cash, then reached for the door handle. “This is my place.”

“Since when?” Claire wrinkled her brow. The last time she and Chris came to visit, Dylan had been living in a house in Coronado with his teammate Seth, a scruffy badass SEAL with a chip on his shoulder.

“Since about a month ago,” he answered.

They got out of the cab and Dylan rounded the vehicle to grab their bags from the trunk. It was just past three o’clock, and the sun was so bright Claire squinted to avoid being blinded and wished she hadn’t shoved her sunglasses into her carry-on. She couldn’t believe how warm it was, especially for December. On the plus side, she happened to be wearing a sundress so thin she may as well be naked.

On the minus side, the barely-there dress had resulted in an hour-and-a-half-long helicopter ride in which Dylan’s green eyes had been glued to her breasts.

Which was perplexing, because…he was gay, right? She still couldn’t figure it out, but the memory of Dylan’s tongue in another man’s mouth was completely incongruous to the way he’d been ogling her on the chopper.

And speaking of perplexing, what the hell had compelled her to come back to San Diego with this man? Clearly she’d suffered a mental breakdown after hearing that Chris was leaving town, but by the time common sense decided to make a return, they’d already been landing on the helipad of San Diego’s Coast Guard base.

After the taxi sped off, Dylan lugged their bags toward the glass doors at the building’s entrance. He didn’t turn around to see if she was following, but he did call out a mocking, “You coming?”

She trailed after him, still mystified by their surroundings. How on earth could Dylan afford to live here? This building was way too luxurious for a SEAL’s salary. They stepped into a beautiful lobby with dark oak furniture, cream-colored carpeting, and tasteful artwork on the walls, and were immediately greeted by the uniformed security guard sitting behind a spacious counter.

Dylan smiled and nodded at the bulky African-American man, then introduced Claire as his houseguest. The fact that the guard wrote down her name told Claire that security was taken seriously in this building.

Her flip-flops snapped against the lush carpet as she and Dylan headed toward a corridor to their left. She winced at each snap snap, feeling way too underdressed. It didn’t help that Dylan still wore the crisp black suit he’d donned for the wedding, which made her skimpy dress and plastic shoes look even more out of place.

“This place is so fancy,” she whispered. “How can you afford to live here alone?”

“Always so concerned with finances, aren’t you?”

The contempt in his voice raised her hackles. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Dylan pressed the elevator button. “Nothing at all,” he said vaguely. “And to answer your question, I don’t live alone.”

Ding. The elevator opened with a chime and he strode into it without elaborating.

Claire hurried in after him. “You’re still living with Seth then?”


His response was casual, but the shuttered look on his handsome face answered her next question. He lived with the dark-haired man. The man he’d been kissing that night.

Heat flooded her cheeks, and to her extreme embarrassment, she experienced a spark of arousal. Damn it! She wasn’t allowed to get turned on by it anymore. She’d been trying so hard to stifle that reaction these last couple of months.

But now that the proverbial door had more or less been opened, she found herself walking right through it.

“So. Um.” She swallowed. “Are we ever going to talk about what happened back in September?”

Dylan shrugged. “There’s nothing to talk about. You walked in on a private moment between me and Aidan. No biggie.”

“Aidan? Is that his name?”


The elevator continued its ascent, the numbers on the electronic panel rapidly flashing before stopping on the number 15.

The doors dinged open.

“Listen,” Dylan said as they stepped into a wide hallway, “I really do appreciate that you didn’t say anything to Chris or my mom about what you saw that night.”

She arched a brow. “And yet you insist the whole thing was no biggie.”

“It’s not. To me, anyway.” His eyes went somber. “But it would be a big deal for them. Chris, especially. My brother is very…conservative.”

“I know.” Claire swallowed again. “My best friend is a lesbian, and, well, Chris has never been openly negative, but I don’t think he likes her very much.”

“Yeah, he’s a bit of a homophobe,” Dylan admitted in a pained voice. “There’s a whole thing behind it, but I don’t want to get into that. Just know I’m grateful that you kept quiet.”

They lingered in the middle of the hall, eyeing each other carefully. Claire realized this was the first time in a year and a half that she and Dylan had had a conversation that lacked any hostile undertones.

Might be pushing her luck, but she figured she should capitalize on the cease-fire. “So you and Aidan…you’re…together?” she asked curiously.

He sighed. “It’s complicated.”

She could only imagine. Dylan didn’t just have his family’s prejudice to worry about—he was also a navy officer, and no matter how progressive the military claimed to be these days, Claire knew his sexual orientation would probably never be fully accepted. And who knew what circumstances the dark-haired stranger—Aidan, she amended—had to contend with.

Sympathy tugged at her heart, an emotion she didn’t normally feel in Dylan’s presence. Usually she couldn’t look past his arrogant, selfish exterior, but she had to admit, he’d been pretty sweet today. Whisking her out of the country club, bringing her home with him so she could lick her wounds in peace. She hadn’t asked him to do any of that, and she still couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t sided with his brother in all this.

“Anyway, my mom and Chris know that Aidan is my roommate, but not that—”

“—you share a room,” she finished wryly.

Dylan shrugged again. “Actually, we don’t.”

She furrowed her brows. “Why not?”

“Like I said, it’s complicated.”

A hundred more questions bit at her tongue, but he didn’t give her the chance to voice them. He was walking off again, leaving her to stare at his retreating back—and his butt. Because really, she couldn’t not stare at his butt, so taut and delicious in those snug trousers. And his body was so damn big he made her feel miniature in comparison. Broad shoulders, arms that rippled with power, long legs, a lean yet muscular torso, and of course, that amazing butt.

No doubt about it, Dylan Wade was sexy. And he banked on that sexiness, using it to get whatever he wanted—well, at least according to Chris.

Then again, Chris’s credibility was on shaky ground considering he was on his way to Aruba to cash in on the honeymoon her parents had paid for.

Choking down the bitterness coating her throat, Claire followed Dylan to a door at the very end of the hall, then waited as he pulled out a set of keys and stuck one in the lock.

A moment later, they walked into the apartment, Claire feeling slightly apprehensive as she examined the surprisingly large front hall. Actually, nothing surprising about it. Of course the apartments in this fancy-pants building would be huge.

Since Dylan kicked off his shoes, she did too, and beautiful dark hardwood spanned beneath her bare feet as they ventured deeper into the apartment. The front hall widened and spilled into an enormous open-concept space with floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a view of the city skyline.

“Wow,” she blurted out. “This place is incredible.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet.” Dylan dropped her suitcases and his small black duffel on the floor, then swept an arm out and gave her a quick verbal tour. “Living room, dining room. Kitchen’s over there, and the bedrooms are down that hall.”

Claire’s gaze took everything in—the masculine furnishings in the living room and heavy-duty entertainment system, the sleek electric fireplace, the French doors leading out to a sprawling stone terrace. She shifted her gaze and studied the low wall that separated the living and dining area from a big, modern kitchen with gleaming stainless-steel appliances and a black granite counter.

And just like Dylan’s old place, this one was also neat as a pin, which only supported her belief that military men were the cleanest on the planet.

She opened her mouth to rave about the apartment a bit more, but the sound of footsteps interrupted. Claire turned her head in time to see Dylan’s roommate step out of the corridor.

A pair of unbelievably sexy dimples appeared in his cheeks as he swept his dark eyes over the new arrivals. “Fastest wedding ever, huh?”

Claire was at a loss for words over his sheer hotness, and far too fascinated by the man walking toward them. She’d only caught shadowy glimpses of him back in September, and now she was kind of grateful for that, because if she’d known what this man looked like? He would have haunted her fantasies.

He was as handsome as Dylan, but in a darker, more sensual way. He had olive skin and short dark hair, a pair of intense chocolate-brown eyes, and a bare chest that made her mouth water. Yep, bare. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, so her gaze got to experience every sculpted muscle and the tight ridges of his six-pack. Not to mention the tantalizing glimpses of his hip bones, which were revealed by black sweatpants that rode low and told her he was definitely going commando.

The lust that slammed into her was insane. Absolutely insane. Her nipples went rock-hard and her thighs clenched as X-rated images flashed through her mind. She wanted to put her mouth all over this man. She wanted to lick his collarbone and his pecs and his abdomen, and then she wanted to sink to her knees, pull out his cock and lick that too.

As their eyes locked, something hot and primal rippled through her. She got the feeling he knew exactly what she’d been envisioning, and the notion made her blush and break the eye contact.

“Seriously, what happened?” Dylan’s roommate asked. “Your text told me nothing.”

Dylan raked a hand through his blond hair, looking frustrated. “Yeah, I didn’t want to get into it via text. This is Claire McKinley, by the way. Claire, my roommate, Aidan Rhodes.”

Aidan’s dark eyes flickered with intrigue. “The bride. Interesting. But no groom.”

Claire met his gaze again. “The groom decided he didn’t want to marry me so he left without telling me.”

He looked startled. “What do you mean, without telling you?”

“Oh, don’t worry, he recruited his brother to dump me. I suppose that’s better than nothing.” The bitterness in her tone belied the smile she’d attempted.

Those magnetic eyes softened with sympathy. “I’m sorry. That must have been tough for you.” He turned to Dylan. “You didn’t need to stay with your mother?”

“I wanted to get Claire outta there. I’ll call my mom in a bit.”

Claire’s heart skipped a beat at the knowledge that Dylan had put her first, but her response was so infuriating it resulted in making her crabby again. “I’m sure you have more questions,” she told Aidan, “but can one of you direct me to the washroom first? And maybe a room where I can get changed?”

The latter request directed both men’s eyes to the dress clinging to her body like plastic wrap. When those hot male gazes rested on her chest, Claire experienced another baffling moment of were-they-or-weren’t-they. Gay, that was. Because from the hungry way they were staring at her breasts, she would bet on were not.

“You can stay in my room,” Dylan finally said.

“I can’t take your room,” she protested. “Where will you sleep?”

She regretted the question the second it exited her mouth. Her cheeks scorched again, burning hotter when she spotted the smirk on Aidan’s mouth.

“I’ll sleep in the office.” Dylan picked up her bags. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”

She took a step after him, then paused awkwardly and looked at Aidan. “It’s really nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.” He still wore that secretive little smirk, but after a beat it faded into a frown. “And I really am sorry about your wedding.”

“Thanks,” she murmured before trailing after Dylan.

He led her into a bedroom with dark-blue walls, a neatly made double bed, and modern, black-painted furniture. Other than a stack of books and magazines on the bedside table and the bulletin board on the closet door, the room lacked any personal touches. It smelled like Dylan, though, that woodsy, masculine scent that had filled her nostrils during the entire helicopter ride.

“Do you mind giving me some time alone?” she asked after he deposited her suitcase and carry-on near the foot of the bed. “I want to shower and call my parents, and maybe lie down for a little while.”

“No problem.” He headed for the doorway, then lingered there. “Are you hungry? Do you want me to whip up something for you to eat?”

She blinked in surprise. “You cook?”

Annoyance flickered in his green eyes. “Yes, I cook.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

She felt like he was making a jab in there somewhere, but his tone was light and his expression veiled, so she decided not to push it. “Anyway, I’m not hungry. My appetite left me around the same time Chris did.”

Dylan let out a breath. “I’m sorry you’ve had such a shitty day, Claire.”

“Yeah, me too.”

They both went quiet for a moment, and then he cleared his throat. “Okay, well, let me know if you need anything. I’m gonna fill Aidan in on what happened and then deal with my mom.”

“Thank you for everything you did today,” she said, shifting uneasily.

“No prob,” he said before sliding out the door.

Once she was alone, Claire sat on the edge of the mattress and ran her fingers over the soft, navy-blue comforter. She felt uncomfortable being here, in Dylan’s space, in Dylan’s home, yet somehow it felt oddly appropriate. This entire day had been a nightmare, so why not finish it out in the company of a man she hated?

Dislike, a voice corrected.

Yeah, hate might be too strong a word, Claire had to concede. She still didn’t approve of his behavior or the way he’d abandoned his family, but she couldn’t deny that he’d been decent today.

Sighing, she reached into her purse and found her phone. A moment later, she had a tally that made her gawk—forty-two text messages, twenty-one voice mail messages, twenty-four missed calls. Didn’t bode well for her email, which was her preferred method of communication.

She only bothered responding to the messages from her parents and her boss, reminding the former that she’d requested space, and thanking the latter for the reassurance that Claire still had the next three weeks off, honeymoon or no honeymoon.

After she pressed send, she checked the world clock app on her phone and nearly wept with joy when she realized she could now call Natasha and actually receive an answer. Long-distance charges be damned, she dialed Nat’s number and prayed her friend was still awake.

When Natasha’s voice blared over the line, the tears Claire had been holding back all day erupted like a volcanic explosion.

“Oh my God, I knew you’d get cold feet!” her best friend exclaimed before Claire even had a chance to say hello. “Don’t worry, I wrote up a little speech just in case. Hold on, hon, let me go find it.”

Claire laughed through her tears. “Don’t bother. It’s already done.”

“What’s already done? The ceremony?”

“The relationship.”

“Wait. What?”

A breath shuddered out. “Chris and I didn’t get married. He called it off.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“Nope,” she said glumly.

There was a long pause, and then a heavy sigh reverberated over the extension. “Start from the beginning.”

It took ten minutes to tell Natasha everything, and she finished by reluctantly admitting that Dylan had been a good friend to her today, a confession that elicited a laugh from her friend.

“So the asshole brother ended up being the good guy, and the good guy ended up being the asshole,” Natasha mused.

“Oh, like you’re surprised. You’ve never liked Chris.”

“Not really, no,” Natasha said frankly. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t support your decision to marry him. As long as you were happy, I was happy. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know.” She sniffled. “I feel like such a loser, Nat. Like one of those chicks from a bad rom com who gets left at the altar.”

“I knew the dude was a pompous jerk, but disappearing like that? That’s fucking bullshit.”

“I know.” She hesitated. “But…”

Natasha’s tone sharpened. “But what? And don’t tell me you’re thinking of forgiving the asshole!”

“No, it’s not that. I’m furious with him, I really am, but there was this moment earlier… It was right after Dylan told me that Chris was gone. I was shocked and hurt and embarrassed, but a part of me also felt…relief. God, Nat, I was actually kind of relieved I didn’t have to marry him.”

“That’s because he wasn’t right for you. I tried to tell you when you first started dating him, remember?”

“He was different then,” she protested.

“Uh-uh, no way. The man was a phony, Claire. I knew it from the moment I met him. He was too slick, and his stories about helping others and wanting to make a difference were pure BS.”

“What does that say about me then? For not seeing it?”

“It says you’re a good person with a big heart,” Natasha said quietly. “I think Chris told you everything you wanted to hear, and you believed it because you always try to see the best in people.”

“Maybe,” she murmured.

“But the fact that you felt relief today says it all, hon. Deep down you must have known it wasn’t right.”

“I guess. I just wish it didn’t have to end in such a humiliating way.” She sighed. “Shit, I’m really not looking forward to seeing him and listening to his excuses. I’m pretty sure it’ll take all my willpower not to slap him.”

“Don’t fight the urge. The bastard deserves a good slapping. I can’t believe he went to Aruba! Who does that?”

“I know, right?”

“Selfish dick.”

The outrage in her friend’s voice made Claire laugh, and the giddy sound was only confirmation that she would be lost without Natasha. They’d known each other since they were five years old, attended the same schools all the way through to high school graduation, and although their paths had branched off when Natasha enrolled in med school and Claire went for her MBA, the two of them had remained close.

Claire still remembered the day Natasha had come out to her as a lesbian, back when they were seventeen years old. Natasha had been so worried things would change between them, that Claire would freak out and pull away, but the confession had only strengthened their bond. Claire had wanted so desperately for Chris to love Nat as much as she did, but he’d never warmed up to her best friend, and now she had to wonder if that had been a warning sign all along.

“Seriously, though, how are you doing?”

Natasha’s soft inquiry cut into her troubled thoughts. “I’m fine,” she said truthfully. “But…shit, I’m so embarrassed. I’m dreading having to explain to everyone why we cancelled the wedding.”

“You don’t have to explain a damn thing. You and Chris broke up. End of story.”

She laughed again. “My parents will want more details than that.”

“Fine, you can give Nora and Ron the deets. But nobody else needs an in-depth explanation. They can mind their own business.” Natasha paused. “I really wish I could fly home and be there for you, do something to cheer you up.”

“You’ve already done a lot.”

“Well, I want to do more. I promise you, the second the plane touches down on the runway a couple of months from now, I’m picking you up, bringing you to my place and giving you an epic cheer-up session. We can get really tipsy, sing some awful karaoke and dye our hair blonde just like we did after Sandy dumped me. Deal?”

Claire grinned. “Deal.”

They spoke for a few more minutes, but it was nearly midnight in Sierra Leone, and when Natasha confessed she’d been up for the past thirty-eight hours working at the clinic, Claire felt so guilty she practically forced her friend to hang up.

Dropping the phone on the bed, she went over to her suitcase and unzipped it. Her plan was to take off this flimsy honeymoon dress, put on some comfy clothes, and reflect on this day from hell, but when she heard a clinking sound in her bag, the plan promptly changed.

She reached between the stacks of clothes and pulled out the bottle of Lagavulin single-malt scotch, which sold for three hundred bucks a pop. She didn’t normally buy such expensive liquor, but she’d wanted to surprise Chris on their honeymoon and toast to their marriage with his favorite brand.

As she traced the edges of the bottle’s label, she thought about the plan of action Natasha had just outlined. Getting tipsy sounded pretty damn appealing…but who said she had to wait until March? At the moment, she couldn’t think of anything better than getting a little wonky in the head and not thinking about this disastrous day for a little while.

With a decisive nod, she started to untwist the bottle cap, then froze when she heard muted footsteps coming from the hallway. She expected a knock on the door, but it didn’t come. Instead, another door opened and closed, and then there was nothing but silence.

Her face grew hot as she pictured Dylan and Aidan alone in a bedroom together. Embracing. Or maybe doing more than embracing…

She quickly banished the wicked thought before it put down roots and sprouted a whole bunch of dirty images in her head.

But as she opened the Lagavulin bottle and brought it to her lips, she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in the other room.

Chapter Three

Aidan followed Dylan into the master bedroom, noting the rigid set of his roommate’s shoulders—and was that guilt in those deep green eyes? Clearly it was, because the second the door closed, Dylan lobbed an apology in his direction.

“I’m sorry, man.”

Aidan wrinkled his forehead. “For what?”

“For bringing Claire here without warning.”

Dylan dragged both hands through his dirty-blond hair before shrugging out of his black suit jacket. He tossed it on the king-sized bed, then loosened his slate-gray tie, yanked it off and threw that aside too.

Aidan’s gaze tracked the movement of Dylan’s long, callused fingers as they unbuttoned the top two buttons of his white dress shirt. Then the SEAL let out a weary groan and stretched his arms over his head, causing the muscles on that broad chest to flex in the hottest possible way.

The sudden, all-consuming arousal that seized Aidan’s body no longer startled him. He’d been attracted to both sexes for as long as he could remember, but his attraction to Dylan surpassed anything he’d ever experienced. He was addicted to the man, craved him on a whole other level, and no matter how many times he fed the addiction, no matter how many mind-blowing releases they gave each other, he constantly wanted more.

Snapping out of it, he leaned against the tall dresser and watched as Dylan flopped down on the bed. “You don’t have to be sorry. You did the right thing getting her out of town.” He hesitated. “Did Chris seriously just leave without telling her the wedding was off?”


“Wow.” Aidan searched his vocabulary for an adjective with some tact, but in the end, he couldn’t control what came out. “Your brother’s a fucking asshole, man.”

“No kidding.” Dylan shook his head a few times, looking both angry and amazed. “He just left. I get that he was panicking—”

“No excuse.”

“—and that he didn’t want to hurt her—”

“No excuse.”

“—but that’s no excuse,” Dylan said, rolling his eyes.

Aidan offered a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I should have let you finish. But yeah, your brother needed to man up and talk to Claire. He planned on marrying the girl, for fuck’s sake. He owed it to her to tell her what was on his mind instead of dumping her via messenger and running away.”

“I know, but I couldn’t stop him. He pretended he was going to see her, and then he took off and left me holding the bag. And the messed-up thing? I think he made the right call. Not the running away part, but canceling the wedding. He and Claire were all wrong for each other.”

“Regardless, she didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.”

“Of course not.” Dylan’s green eyes darkened with displeasure. “But that doesn’t mean I want to spend the next few days holding her hand and wiping her tears and telling her everything’s gonna be okay.”

“You don’t want to, but you will.”

The SEAL’s eyebrows lifted in challenge. “Oh, I will, huh?”

“Yup. Because unlike your brother, you are not an asshole. You’re a good guy, and we both know you have a major hero complex. So no matter how much you dislike the woman—who, by the way, is smoking hot, bro—you’re going to be there for her, just like you were this morning.” Crossing his arms, Aidan slanted his head to the side. “Am I wrong?”

After a moment, a defeated sigh rumbled out of Dylan’s chest. “No, you’re not wrong. Claire can stay for as long as she likes.” He faltered. “That is, if it’s okay with you.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? This is your place too. You can invite whoever you want over.”

“But this is much more than me inviting a chick over for an evening of dinner and fucking. She’d be a houseguest. A snooty, bitchy, annoying houseguest.”

“She doesn’t seem that bad.”

“Trust me, she is. She’s a snob.”

Aidan furrowed his brows, slightly perplexed by the note of scorn in Dylan’s voice. He’d known the man for a couple of years, had been living with him for more than a month, and this was the first time he’d heard Dylan speak about someone else with such distaste.

It made absolutely no sense. Dylan loved everyone. And everyone loved him right back. Men, women, children, pets—every living creature that came into contact with Dylan Wade adored him within minutes. Aidan had never met anyone more charming or likable, not to mention genuine, so to hear Mr. Congeniality throw insults Claire’s way was more than a little bewildering.

Dylan must have picked up on the cloud of doubt in the air, because his tone grew defensive. “You don’t know her the way I do. She’s obsessed with money, for one. Every time I’ve seen her she’s taken bitchy cheap shots about how I’m not rolling in the dough, or she’s gone on and on about Chris and his corporate job. Oh, and she has zero respect for my mother.”

Aidan frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“She made some shitty comments last year about how housewife doesn’t count as a real job. We argued about it.”

“I see.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I’m just wondering…are you sure your animosity toward her doesn’t stem from the fact that she caught us making out?”

“What? Of course not.”

The look of surprise on Dylan’s face made him laugh. “I’m not judging you, man. I know you don’t want your family to know about us, and Claire knowing makes her somewhat of a…a threat?”

“Trust me, she’s not a threat. And it’s not that I don’t want my family to know,” Dylan said in a tired voice. “I’d just like to figure out what this is before I attempt to explain it to someone else.”

Aidan totally seconded that. He had no idea what “this” was, either. Yeah, Dylan turned him on like nobody’s business, but they were also friends. Best friends. And that’s what troubled him the most. Sex always complicated matters, and the last thing he wanted was to lose Dylan’s friendship. He valued it way too much to give it up.

At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to give up the sexual nature of their relationship, even when the practical side of him knew they couldn’t have a future. A real one, with the whole happily-ever-after part.

As much as it sucked, they weren’t enough for each other and they both knew it.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t take advantage of the time they had left.

“I missed you,” he said gruffly, moving away from the dresser.

“I was only gone for a day.” The teasing look gave way to a sheepish smile. “But I missed you too.”

Dylan got to his feet at Aidan’s approach, and a second later, their mouths found each other without hesitation. It was a fleeting kiss, a feather-light brush of their lips—or at least it was before Dylan angled his head and deepened the contact.

The moment that hot, wet tongue slid into Aidan’s mouth, he was a goner. No stopping this kiss, no controlling the way his dick turned to granite and tried to poke right out of his sweats.

“Fuck, I totally missed you,” Dylan muttered.

Their tongues tangled, breaths mingled, and it wasn’t long before Aidan clapped his hands on Dylan’s trim hips and jerked the man’s lower body to his. At the feel of a telltale erection pressing into his thigh, he let out a hoarse moan, then slid one hand to cup the tantalizing bulge.

“Mmmm, probably not a good idea,” Dylan said ruefully, but the way he thrust into Aidan’s palm told a different story.

“Great idea,” Aidan murmured back.

He stroked the hard outline of that long, thick cock, chuckling when the SEAL’s head lolled to the side in pleasure.

“Always feels so good when you touch me,” Dylan mumbled.

Applying more pressure, he palmed that stiff erection, then brought his mouth to the other man’s neck and sucked on that hot male flesh.

Dylan jerked in surprise before groaning with approval. His hips continued to move, seeking contact, but Aidan abruptly dropped his hand.

“Seriously?” Dylan choked out. “You initiate a handjob and don’t follow through? Cocktease.”

“Oh, come on, we both know you want a lot more than my hand.”

With a mocking smile, he pushed the other man toward the bed. When the back of Dylan’s knees hit the edge of the mattress, Aidan gave him a shove and forced him into a sitting position.

A second later, he dropped to his knees.

“Aidan…what are you doing?”

“You really need to ask?” He reached for Dylan’s waistband, and then the metallic sound of a zipper opening echoed in the room.

“What if Claire knocks on the door?”

“Then we tell her we’ll be right out, you tuck your cock back into your pants, and we finish this later.”

With that said, he yanked on Dylan’s trousers and boxer-briefs, and grinned at the erection that eagerly sprang up to greet him.

“You know, you don’t have to give me a BJ to cheer me up,” Dylan rasped. “I wasn’t the one who got left at the altar.”

The bead of precome glistening on the mushroom head of Dylan’s cock made Aidan lick his lips, but he didn’t make a move to claim his prize just yet. “You want me to stop?” he challenged.

“God, no.”

“Okay then.”

With a grin, he wrapped his fingers around the root of that hard shaft and gave it a leisurely pump.

A shudder rocked Dylan’s body. “More,” he ordered. “Give me your mouth.”

The husky demand sent a dark thrill up Aidan’s spine. Same way he didn’t understand every other aspect of their relationship, he also didn’t get their sexual dynamic. With his past male lovers, he was the one making the demands, the one taking control of the encounter. With Dylan, they both took the role of aggressor, a fact that confused the shit out of him. He didn’t like letting anyone else call the shots in the bedroom, yet for some reason, he allowed Dylan the privilege.

Of course, he got to call the shots right back, which meant that Dylan’s commands often went unanswered.

“You’ll get my mouth when I decide to give it to you,” Aidan replied.

To punctuate that, he continued to jack Dylan off in languid, borderline-bored strokes that soon had the other man swearing in frustration.

More moisture bubbled at the tip of that stiff cock, which was pulsating in Aidan’s hand, throbbing in time to Dylan’s erratic heartbeat.

When he tipped his head back and saw the sheer agony reflecting in Dylan’s eyes, he decided to have some mercy. Keeping their gazes locked, he leaned in and wrapped his lips around the engorged head.

“Oh Jesus,” Dylan croaked. “Oh, that’s good.”

Good was a fucking understatement. Good didn’t even do justice to the way Aidan felt when he was sucking this man’s dick. He loved every second of the act. Loved feeling that thick cock pulsing in his mouth. Loved the way Dylan’s hands tangled in his hair. The way Dylan moaned right before he came all over his tongue.

“I need it hard and fast. Let me fuck your mouth, Aid.”

“Not yet,” he said with a chuckle, and then he licked the salty drop pooling at the tip of Dylan’s cock.

He flicked his tongue over the little slit for a few seconds, then licked his way down the length of the rock-hard shaft, eliciting a harsh curse from the man he was in the process of teasing.

Sure enough, Dylan had caught on to what Aidan was doing. “Fucking tease,” the SEAL grumbled.

He rolled his eyes. “Right, like you don’t do the same damn thing to me every time you suck me off.”

“I don’t tease. I just take my time,” Dylan protested. “Can you blame me for being thorough?”

The man raised a valid point. Aidan had a great appreciation for Dylan’s thoroughness in the bedroom, that was for sure.

As lust seized his groin, he ignored his painfully hard erection and refocused on the task at hand. This time he didn’t torment. Didn’t go slow, didn’t build up to anything.

He simply took Dylan’s cock into his mouth and sucked hard.

“Fuck. Fuck, just like that, man. Faster.”

Aidan quickened the tempo, moving his mouth up and down, tightening the suction with each upstroke.

“Goddammit, more.”

His soft laughter vibrated against Dylan’s dick. He brought his hand into play, using his fist and his mouth to pump and suck Dylan to a new level of pleasure, while the fingers of his free hand found the man’s tight sac and squeezed it hard.

A sharp pain jolted through him as Dylan fisted his hair and brought his head closer, thrusting so hard and so deep Aidan suddenly had a cock prodding at the back of his throat. He relaxed his jaw and went into deep-throat mode, loving the taste and feel of this man’s dick consuming his mouth. His own erection ached inside his sweatpants, pleading for relief, craving release.

“Yeah, that’s it. Like that.” Dylan rocked his hips, fingers tangled in Aidan’s hair, tugging much harder than usual.

It was rare to see the man lose his cool like this, the hair-pulling and the desperate noises and the frantic thrust of his hips. Aidan knew today’s wedding fiasco must have upset him much more than he’d let on, and so he ceded control and let Dylan fuck his mouth, giving the man what he wanted, what he needed.

“Play with my ass,” Dylan moaned. “Now, Aid.”

Without hesitation he dipped his finger into the saliva dripping down the shaft and pushed it into Dylan’s ass. The second his finger breached that tight ring of muscle, Dylan let out a strangled cry and went still.

“Fuck. Fuck.”

The first jets of come spurted in the back of Aidan’s throat. A tidal wave of lust, combined with a hefty dose of male satisfaction, coursed through his blood. He swallowed heartily as Dylan shuddered in climax, while his own cock throbbed with pent-up need and angrily demanded attention.

Twenty seconds and several ragged breaths later, Dylan pulled out of Aidan’s mouth and fell back on his elbows. “Damn,” he mumbled. “I needed that.”

Aidan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before getting to his feet. “I know you did.”

A pair of green eyes suddenly focused on his crotch. “You haven’t asked me to return the favor.”

He shrugged. “Because this wasn’t for me. It was for you. And now I’m going to stop you before that hero complex of yours kicks in and tries to rescue me from a case of blue balls, because I really think we should check on our guest.”

The reminder immediately killed the mood, bringing a gloomy expression to his roommate’s face. “Crap, I totally forgot she was here.”

“I didn’t.” Aidan hesitated. “I mentioned that she’s smoking hot, right?”

Dylan’s jaw tensed. “Yeah, you did, but you can forget about it, man. She won’t be the filling in a Dylan-and-Aidan sandwich, so get that idea out of your head.”

He masked his disappointment. Dylan’s outright refusal was definitely not the response he’d been looking for. Today was the first time Aidan had met Claire McKinley, and when he’d walked into the living room and finally laid eyes on the woman Dylan had been bitching about for months, he’d been floored by how gorgeous she was. With her smooth flawless skin, rosy cheeks and enormous brown eyes, she looked like a porcelain doll. But below the neck, she was a different kind of doll. The kind you found at a sex shop, all tits and ass and endless curves.

“Aw, shit, I know that look,” Dylan chided. “I mean it, Aid, banish the thought. Forget the fact that I don’t like her, okay? She almost married my brother this morning. Think of how frickin’ incestuous that would feel if I took her to bed.”

Aidan snorted. “And you having slept with Cash’s girl isn’t incestuous? Plus, if you think about all the other chicks you and Cash, or you and Seth, tag-teamed in the past, that’s a lot of bed bunnies to have in common with other men.”

“Don’t care. We’re not fucking her.”

“We, huh?”

Dylan looked uncertain for a second. “Well, shit, me, I guess. You can do whatever the hell you want.”

“I’d never sleep with someone unless I had your blessing,” Aidan said softly. “That was our agreement, remember? Besides…”

He trailed off, but Dylan didn’t let it slide. “Besides what?”

After a moment, he gave a little shrug, feeling embarrassed. “I prefer it when you’re there. It makes the sex better, for some messed-up reason.”

“I know what you mean.” Dylan sounded perturbed. “Why is that? And why…” Now he was the one stalling.

“Why what?” Aidan prompted.

“Why can’t we stick to the whole one-on-one thing, just you and me?”

He had no answer for that, but it was the same question that had been plaguing him for months. Although Dylan had moved in last month after his lease with Seth Masterson elapsed in mid-November, he and Aidan had been sleeping together since the beginning of September. More than three months now, yet they couldn’t seem to last more than a week having sex with only each other. They both loved women too damn much, and eventually they ended up going out, meeting a beautiful, willing woman, and bringing her home.

“I don’t know,” he finally responded. “And I’m not sure tonight is the night to try to figure it out.”

Dylan nodded. “You’re probably right.”

“I think Notre Dame is playing this afternoon. Wanna catch a bit of the game?” Aidan said lightly.


Just like that, the tension in the air dissolved like a teaspoon of sugar in water. At least on the surface. Inside, Aidan was still troubled, still thinking about all the times he and Dylan had had a warm female body nestled between them.

It was during those moments, when he was running his fingers over a woman’s sweet curves and listening to her throaty moans of pleasure, that Aidan was reminded of how much he needed a woman in his life.

But…he needed Dylan too.

He just had no idea how to reconcile those two conflicting needs.

Chapter Four

Claire emerged from the bedroom later that evening and realized she was a lot tipsier than she’d thought. Like swaying-on-her-feet tipsy. How weird. She hadn’t felt drunk when she’d been sprawled on Dylan’s bed, nursing that Lagavulin bottle, but evidently she’d misjudged her sobriety level.

Everything seemed to be spinning as she made her way down the hall, so the first thing she did when she entered the living room was collapse in the black recliner before the floor gave way under her feet.

It wasn’t until she heard someone clear his throat that she noticed Dylan and Aidan sitting together on one of the L-shaped leather couches. Both men were staring at her. Aidan with amusement. Dylan, disapproval.

“Are you drunk?” the latter demanded.

“No,” she said belligerently. Her gaze moved to the enormous flat screen mounted to the wall, which was turned to a football game with the volume down. “Oooh, is Tom Brady playing? I wouldn’t mind me some eye candy.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Dylan grumbled. “You’re drunk.”

“I am not.”

“And FYI, this is a college game,” Aidan piped up. “No Brady, I’m afraid.”

She pouted, but football didn’t stay on her mind for long. She was suddenly far more interested in the two men on the couch. Aidan, unfortunately, had put on a shirt, but on the bright side, it was a sleeveless basketball jersey that revealed his muscular arms. Dylan had changed out of his suit and into sweats and a white wifebeater, which also showcased his arms.

“You guys have great arms,” she declared.

Aidan grinned.

Dylan scowled. “Where did you even get the booze? Don’t tell me you packed some in your suitcase.”

“Actually, I did. It was a surprise for Chris. His favorite scotch so we could toast to our happiness.”

Her response softened some of the hard edges in his expression. “Shit. Sorry. I guess you’re entitled to get sloshed after what happened today.”

“Gee, Dylan, thanks so much for giving me permission. I felt so wrong drinking without your blessing. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said graciously. “By the way, you can go ahead and be as sarcastic as you want. You get a free pass tonight.”

“Really?” She feigned delight. “So I can verbally abuse you without repercussions?”


“Golly gee, how wonderful.”

Aidan snickered, then reached for the remote and flicked off the television. When Dylan uttered a protest, the dark-haired man shrugged and said, “You two are way more entertaining than this football game. So please, keep going, this is a lot of fu—um, probably not a good idea to sit like that, sweetheart.”

It took Claire a second to grasp that he was talking to her. She’d just drawn her legs up so she could sit cross-legged, and when she glanced down, Aidan’s warning suddenly made sense. Since she was still wearing the skimpy beach dress, and with her legs positioned the way they were, both men had a perfect view of her lacy white panties.

“Oh,” she blurted out. “I forgot to change into comfy clothes.” She paused in thought. “No, wait. I did take off my bra.”

“I can see that.” The heat that filled Aidan’s dark eyes was almost hypnotic. He was staring at her chest like he wanted to devour her whole, and her nipples instantly responded to his hungry appraisal, hardening and poking against the fabric of her dress.

He wanted her.

The notion caused a thrill to shoot through her. Maybe the alcohol was messing with her head, but a man didn’t look at a woman the way Aidan was looking at her unless he wanted her, right?

She could have sworn she heard Dylan murmur, “Don’t even think about it”, but she was too busy maintaining the heated eye contact with Dylan’s roommate, whose sensual mouth now donned a tiny smirk.

“So let’s get to it,” Aidan told her.

A jolt of desire streaked through her, and she felt her already flushed face turning redder. Was he suggesting what she thought he was suggesting?

“I want to hear you abuse Dylan for a while,” he clarified.

The disappointment that flooded her belly was laughable. Okay, she really was drunk. Of course Aidan wasn’t propositioning her, a woman he’d met mere hours ago. And she was probably misinterpreting his lustful expression too.

“Or we can feed the lady,” Dylan spoke up, his tone wry. “Because I’m pretty sure she just downed a shit-ton of liquor on an empty stomach.”

“I did,” Claire confirmed with a broad smile.

To her surprise, Dylan actually laughed. “Not something to be proud of, honey. Trust me, you’ll regret it in the morning.” Now he sighed. “I’ll fix you up something small. Maybe a sandwich?”

When he started to get up, she waved for him to stay put. “I’ll eat in a bit, and don’t worry, I’ll feed myself. I feel bad making you wait on me.”

“Like I said, you’ve got a free pass. My brother was a total dick to you today.”

Stretching her legs out, Claire stared at her red-polished toes and wiggled them around. “Hey,” she said absently, “I’m not seeing double anymore. I have ten toes again.”

She shifted her head and met Dylan’s eyes. He had the most gorgeous eyes, she decided. They were the palest shade of green she’d ever seen, so vivid they looked photoshopped. Chris’s eyes were also green, but darker, and definitely not as pretty.

“You think your brother was right to end it, huh?” she said slowly. “You don’t think it would have worked out between us.”

Dylan went quiet for a moment. “Yes,” he finally replied. “I don’t think it would’ve worked.”

“You might be right about that.” Claire paused, reluctant, then went on. “My friend Natasha said the same thing. She thinks that deep down, I knew it too.”

“Did you?” Dylan asked roughly.

She hesitated again. “Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, I’m upset, but…not as upset as I thought I’d be.”

Before he could question the response, she staggered to her feet and turned to Aidan. “I think I want that sandwich now. Do you mind if I rummage around in your kitchen?”

“Poor girl,” Aidan murmured as the two men watched Claire’s face disappear behind the refrigerator door. “I still can’t believe Chris recruited you to cancel his wedding.”

Dylan frowned. “It definitely wasn’t his finest moment.”

“It was a dick move.”

There was no arguing that. Hell, even Dylan’s mother agreed that Chris had done a seriously crappy thing today. When Dylan had called her earlier to apologize, Shanna had still been horrified by her eldest son’s behavior, but fortunately, she hadn’t been angry at her youngest for taking off too. She insisted Dylan had done the right thing by getting Claire out of town—apparently everyone they knew was whispering about the wedding and stirring up a gossip storm of massive proportions.

A loud thump sounded from the kitchen, followed by a cheerful yell from Claire. “No worries! Just dropped the mayo container. It’s plastic so it didn’t break!”

The glum tone she’d used only moments ago was gone, the delight in her voice unmistakable.

Dylan tried very hard not to grin. He had to admit, drunk Claire was a lot more fun than sober Claire.

Next to him, Aidan didn’t bother hiding his grin, which ignited the cycle of irritation all over again.

Aidan was attracted to Claire.

Dylan could see it plain as day, and he didn’t like it one damn bit. It had nothing to do with jealousy, either. He and Aidan brought women home all the time, so watching his roommate fuck someone else wasn’t anything new or scandalous.

No, it was Aidan’s attraction to this woman that bugged him. He didn’t want Claire fooling Aidan the way she’d fooled Chris, making him believe she was someone special, someone sweet and wonderful, when in reality she was a materialistic snob who liked to belittle women who weren’t as career-oriented as she was.

Chillax, buddy.

Realizing his chest had tightened with resentment, he inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm himself, then glanced over at his roommate.

Okay, enough with the roommate bullshit, he told himself.

His lover.

Aidan Rhodes was his lover.

The memory of Aidan’s lips stretched wide around his cock sent a bolt of lust straight to Dylan’s groin. Christ, he really had needed that. He’d left for San Francisco yesterday morning and was back in San Diego less than forty-eight hours later, but he felt like he’d been gone for months. Sitting through that rehearsal dinner last night, getting all gussied up this morning, informing the bride her groom was gone…shit like that took its toll on a man.

Needless to say, he was happy to be home, and to him, home was San Diego. He may have been born and raised in Marin County, but he’d always felt so out of place there. The people in his neighborhood were uber-conservative, the kids from his high school preppy as hell, and that kind of stifling, judgmental environment was definitely not ideal for a guy who loved cock as much as he loved pussy.

“Aw, he’s still mad at me.”

Claire’s voice jerked Dylan out of a train of thought that had been going nowhere fast.

“I’m not mad,” he muttered. “I’m mostly annoyed, and kinda tired. It’s been a long day.”

“No kidding.” She flopped down in the recliner and balanced her plate on her thighs, then picked up her sandwich and took a big bite.

His gaze instantly gravitated to her mouth, rosy red and shaped like a cupid’s bow. Each time he looked at her pouty lips, he imagined them wrapped around a man’s dick. Those were definitely blowjob lips, all right.

As usual, Dylan found himself checking out the rest of her, and as usual, his cock liked the view. Claire McKinley was so fucking hot it was actually kind of infuriating. She’d removed all the little white flowers from her hair and now those reddish-brown waves cascaded over one shoulder, glinting like burnished copper in the light spilling down from the ceiling fixture. And that dress. Christ, couldn’t she put something else on? The material was so thin he could see every curve and indentation of her body, and her braless state pretty much ensured that he and Aidan wouldn’t be tearing their gazes from those puckered nipples anytime soon.

With that smoking-hot body and the alcohol-induced blush on her cheeks, she made such a tempting picture that Dylan’s mouth actually watered, and he hastily had to remind himself of all the reasons why he shouldn’t be thinking about screwing her.

One—she was his brother’s ex-fiancée.

Two—he didn’t like her.

Three…okay, well, he couldn’t think of a third off the top of his head, but the first two reasons were more than enough.

“I’m tired too,” Claire said between mouthfuls. “But at least I have the next three weeks off. I can’t remember the last time I had one week off, let alone three.”

The sofa cushions dipped as Aidan leaned forward to grab his Coke can from the glass coffee table. He took a sip, watching Claire in curiosity. “What is it you do for a living?”

She chewed and swallowed before answering, and Dylan suddenly noticed the kind of sandwich she’d prepared. “No jam?” he asked warily.

“Nope. I don’t like jam.”

“Neither do I.”

They looked at each other for a few seconds, neither one speaking. Then Claire turned to address Aidan. “Anyway, I work at a consulting firm.”

“Cool. What does that mean exactly? What do you do there?”

A huge grin filled her face. “Consult.”

She looked so proud with her answer Dylan couldn’t help but laugh. So did Aidan, who took another sip of his soda and said, “Care to elaborate?”

She shoved the last piece of bread into her mouth, then set her plate on the table and got comfortable again. “My firm helps organizations operate more efficiently, in terms of overhead or management or certain protocols. Basically I visit a company and conduct an analysis of their internal workings, and then I tell them how they can do better.”

“Sounds interesting.” Aidan looked impressed.

“Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s boring.”

Aidan laughed and glanced over at Dylan. “Hey, look at that, you two have another thing in common.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” he asked suspiciously.

“You’re both capable of holding serious, articulate conversations even when you’re drunk as skunks.”

“Hey,” Claire protested, “I’m not drunk as skunks. I mean, as a skunk.” Her dainty eyebrows knitted together. “Wait, do skunks get drunk? Why is that even a phrase?”

“Because it rhymes?” Aidan suggested.

She pursed her lips in thought, then nodded. “Yes, that makes sense.”

Another burst of involuntary laughter flew out of Dylan’s mouth.

Shit. H