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Spring Rain

Jaci Burton


  An Ellora’s Cave Publication, May 2005

  Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.

  1056 Home Avenue

  Akron, OH 44310-3502

  ISBN MS Reader (LIT) ISBN # 1-4199-0241-5

  Other available formats (no ISBNs are assigned):

  Adobe (PDF), Rocketbook (RB), Mobipocket (PRC) & HTML

  SPRING RAIN Copyright © 2005 JACI BURTON

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.

  This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. They are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.

  Edited by Briana St. James.

  Cover art by Syneca.

  Spring Rain

  Jaci Burton


  To my wonderful friend Lora Leigh. I can never thank you enough for your insights about this book. You made it better, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Your friendship and counsel mean more to me than anything.

  To all the readers who asked about Spring Rain, and who have commented on the Storm For All Seasons series, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your enthusiasm keeps me excited about my work and I’m thrilled you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

  To Mel and Patti, who always read for me and tell me what they think. Thank you for taking the time to read my books and give your opinions.

  To my editor, Briana St James, for everything you’ve done for me.

  For Aidan and Lissa, Max and Shannon, Logan and Sophie and finally, Kaitlyn and Brett—thank you for the wonderful adventure. I’ll miss you all so much!

  And, as always, to Charlie, for giving me the time to do what I love, for encouraging me, editing for me, and most importantly, for loving me. I couldn’t do this without you. I love you.

  Chapter One

  Kaitlyn Storm felt like a voyeur.

  Standing outside Belle Saisons, Brett McGregor’s art gallery, she watched him through the picture window, her heart climbing into her throat and nearly strangling her. He stood with his back to her, leaning over the counter talking to Marie, the receptionist. Tailored black slacks hugged his firm ass, the white shirt clinging to his muscular back. Her throat went dry. She licked her lips, suddenly very thirsty. Only one thing could quench her thirst. One thing she couldn’t have.

  Why did he always make her feel like she was seventeen again, tongue-tied and in the first throes of lust? That was a long time ago.

  But the feelings had never gone away. Just looking at him tightened her nipples and made her wet. She should have long ago outgrown her teenage crush. After all, he’d married someone else, though he was a widower now. But he had been and always would be a friend of the Storm family and her brother Aidan’s best friend, too.

  He was also the one man she’d wanted with a hunger that refused to dissipate, despite the years and life events that had kept them apart.

  He’d kept them apart, but she never could figure out why. Even at seventeen she’d tasted the hunger in his kiss, the way he’d crushed her against him in desperation, as if he wanted to devour her right on the spot. But then he’d pushed her away, and had left. Married someone else. Even six years after the accident resulting in his wife Amanda’s death, he still avoided her.

  She shook her head and forced the unwanted thoughts away. Business. She was here on business and nothing more. Lusting after a man who obviously didn’t want you was a lesson in futility.

  He walked through the double doors leading into the gallery. Inhaling sharply to calm the butterflies in her stomach, she swung open the front door, the soft tinkling of the little bell a welcoming reminder of the many times she’d heard that sound over the years. Recognizing Marie at the front desk, she waved and stopped there first, engaging the woman in quick catch-up conversation before heading back toward the gallery.

  She moved through the double doors and down the long hallway toward the gallery. Polished wood floors shone like brand new, the white walls deliberately stark to take nothing away from the art hung there. She paused to examine an oil painting of her favorite French Quarter patisserie. Art was her passion, the only thing other than her job as Events Coordinator for the Rising Storm Hotel that made her breath catch and her heart race.

  This painting caught her eye more than others. The sharp reds and whites of the awning sparkled under a midday summer sun. Casually dressed patrons sat at tiny round tables. Matching black wrought iron chairs peppered the fenced-off exterior the occupants of the chairs sipping café au lait and eating French confectionaries that made her mouth water. She imagined that first bite into her favorite warm pastry, powdered sugar flying off the flaky crust and into her mouth. Sweet, warm filling would burst from the center of the confection and slide over her tongue, the molten, sugary cream like an orgasm for her taste buds. She sighed, licked her lips and made a promise to herself to eat there tomorrow morning.

  “Makes you hungry just looking at it, doesn’t it?”

  Startled, she whipped around at the sound of Brett’s deep voice.

  No, it wasn’t the pastries. He made her hungry, made her pussy weep with need, her womb tighten, her nipples harden and her mouth water for a taste of him. Ten-year-old memories of being hauled against his chest and kissed with a passion she hadn’t known existed still flamed so deep it was like she’d been branded. His one kiss had burned a memory into her brain cells that refused to go away.

  How could it? Some men exuded sex. Brett McGregor was one of them. And he teased her with it, tantalized her with potent male sexuality that he held just outside her reach, dangling it like the proverbial carrot. Pretended he had no sexual interest in her when she knew damn well he did. Men like him should be outlawed.

  And she had no business staring at him this way, had no business allowing her body to light up like a bonfire just from looking at him.

  Then again, he had no business being so damn sexy he took her breath away. He had no business letting his dark brown hair grow a little too long, making her itch to brush it away from his face. He had no business having eyes the color of aged whiskey, the kind that burned a hole through a woman’s clothes when he looked at her. He had no business having a perfect six-foot frame chiseled in all the right places. He had no business making her crazy like this for all these years.

  She was getting tired of playing this game.

  Using her anger as a shield, she arched a brow. “Well, you’re still alive after all,” she said, forcing calm into her voice, pasting a polite, businesslike smile on her face.

  He arched a brow and offered a half-smile. “Was there ever any doubt?”

  Even his voice sounded like sex by candlelight.

  “You’ve broken three appointments in the past two weeks. The art council fundraiser is drawing near and I need your input, since you are the fundraising chairman and in charge of this event.”

  “Isn’t that why I hired you in the first place? To take care of all the details so I wouldn’t have to?”

  Cheap shot, but she wasn’t going to fall for it. “Yes. But unless you want me to make up the guest list for you among other things I have no business doing, you’ll give me some of your time.”

  “Blackmail? Kait, I didn’t know you had it in you.” He arched a brow and offered a half-smile, that boyish grin never failing to have a profound effect on her libido. Her heart fluttered and her nipples hardened. She pulled her jacket across her breasts.

  Really, Kaitlyn, you’ve got to get a grip.

  “Come on. We’ll talk in my office.” He motioned her toward the open doorway down the hall, forcing her to step in front of him, directing her
by resting his hand on the small of her back. She shivered, tendrils of desire snaking up her spine. She hurried forward, breaking the contact, wondering if he did that on purpose to unnerve her.

  As she moved ahead of him, she wondered if he watched her ass when she walked like she watched his? If he did, would he get hard like she got wet? God, did she really want to know the answer to those questions? Staying focused on business was difficult enough.

  She stepped into the office, sat and watched as he rounded the desk, unable to resist a quick peek at his ass.

  “You really don’t need my input for all that stuff,” he said, seating himself. “I write the checks. You do all the detail work. That’s why I selected the Rising Storm for the fundraiser. You’re the best event coordinator in the state, Kaitlyn.”

  She wasn’t about to let his compliments sway her. “There are things you need to decide, Brett. I have a list. A really long list. The menu hasn’t been selected, nor have the hors d’oeuvres. You need to choose one of the three champagne choices I faxed over last week and give me a final head count so I can make the table arrangements. You still haven’t selected what music you’d like to have, or where you’d like the auction items displayed. I don’t have a list of items being auctioned. And I’m not going to make those kind of monetary or event decisions without your input. So I’d suggest, if you really want this fundraiser to happen at the Rising Storm, you’d better clear your calendar for the next two weeks. We have a lot to do.”

  He grimaced. “I knew I should never have agreed to chair the art council fundraising committee.”

  “So not my problem. We’re stuck with each other.” Why did she have to work with Brett? She’d just gotten to the point where she could exist knowing he lived in the same city, and fortunately they only ran into each other on occasion. But the next two weeks would be a lesson in self-discipline for her. Unless she decided to chuck all efforts at being polite and straddle him across his chair, rocking her pussy against him until he grabbed a freaking clue that she wanted him.

  His half-lidded eyes and full lips both compelled and frustrated the hell out of her. For years he’d given her mixed signals, just like he did now. He avoided her like the plague, then turned those sexy brown eyes on her like he wanted to eat her alive. Then again maybe it was all in her imagination.

  “I can give you this now,” he said, handing over a printout. “This is the inventory list of the art we’ll be showcasing.”

  Grateful for the distraction from her thoughts, she reached for the list, trying to calm her trembling hands. Arousal was beating her down, making her weak and jittery. God, she really needed sex. Too bad the one and only man she craved it with wasn’t the least bit interested.

  She scanned the list, unable to mask her surprise as she read it. “Brett, there’s nothing of yours on here.”

  He looked away for a moment, his jaw clenching before he relaxed and turned back to her. “I don’t paint anymore.”

  She shivered at the cold tone, but refused to let him freeze her out. “Again, why not?” She knew she should let it go. Why did she even care anyway? But she couldn’t. Not when there was even a tiny glimmer of hope left.

  He inhaled sharply and shot her a glare. “I’m too busy running the gallery.”

  “You’ve owned this gallery since you graduated college, Brett. And you used to be able to do both. That’s a flimsy excuse if I ever heard one.”

  “Let it go, Kaitlyn.”

  She ignored his angry tone, beginning to feel the frustration that always came up when she was around him. “I’m not going to let it go. I love your work. Everyone loves your work. Hell, even you love it. Or you used to.” Maybe that was the problem. Maybe he didn’t love it anymore. No. That she refused to believe. Brett exuded passion, in both his work and the way he looked at her. He always had. She still saw it in his eyes, flaring with heat whenever he shot her a glance.

  He might not want to want her, but he did want her. And she knew he felt the same way about his art.

  His lips tightened as fury flared in his eyes, then disappeared just as quickly. “Art isn’t something you just do because people want you to.” He stood and stepped to the door, the light and passion gone from his eyes, replaced by a void of dead space that she knew she couldn’t reach. “I’ll make myself available whenever you need me.”

  “Right. Just like you’ve been making yourself available since we started this project.” Since he’d first kissed her ten years ago. Yeah, like “available” was even in his vocabulary. He’d long ago put a Do Not Trespass sign on his heart. Then again, when had she ever obeyed the rules?

  “I said I would and I will.” He leaned against the doorway, a lazy, bored expression on his face as he waited for her to leave.

  She’d just been dismissed. But instead of anger, pain lanced her heart. She rose, knowing she’d continue to fight this war with him, but realizing she hadn’t won this round. God, she hated always being on the losing end with Brett. “Fine. When can you meet me at the hotel?”

  “I’ll call you.”

  “I don’t think so. I need a date and time. Now.” No way was he going to slip through her fingers again.

  Sighing, he walked to his desk and flipped open his desk calendar, giving her a few seconds to ogle his butt again. She resisted the urge to groan at her wayward thoughts, careful to have her eyes focused at his eye level when he turned around again.

  When he turned, that fire was present in his eyes again, but this time it was checked anger. She knew she pushed his buttons, knew she had pissed him off. But dammit, how could she let him give up something that filled his soul with joy? How could she care about him but allow the light of his soul to wither up and die? She couldn’t. She wouldn’t allow it to happen.

  “I have a meeting here at six. Is seven too late?” His voice laced with sarcasm.

  “Seven is fine. How about my office?” She crossed her arms and arched her brow, letting him know that this time she wasn’t going to let him evade her.

  “I hate offices. How about dinner instead?”

  Dinner? Holy hell, where had that come from? He could barely stand to be in the same room with her, and now he’d asked her out to dinner? She almost fell back in shock.

  Business, Kaitlyn. It’s just business. He hadn’t invited her to bed, he’d just taken her up on her dare to make good on his promise.

  Okay, she needed to get out of here and settle her nerves, regroup before they met again. “Dinner it is. Would you like to eat at the hotel?”

  “That’ll be fine.” He stepped to the door and opened it. “Now I need to get to work, if you don’t mind.”

  Oh, no. She wouldn’t let him hurt her. Refusing to be affected by his coldly abrupt dismissal, she cast him a glaring smile that didn’t quite reach her heart and strolled slowly from the office, hoping he lingered in the hall and watched the sway of her ass all the way to the gallery doors.

  Round one might be yours, Brett McGregor, but I don’t concede defeat so easily. I hope you’re prepared for war, because that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

  Brett was transfixed by the sultry motion of Kaitlyn’s hips as she walked down the hall, unable to shake himself out of this state of immobility until she completely disappeared through the double doors without another look in his direction.

  Dammit to hell! He adjusted his aching crotch and shut the door to his office, sliding into his chair and palming his hard cock through his pants.

  She was out to kill him. Not only was she infuriatingly stubborn, she also had to stroll in here smelling like a fresh spring day, the little bracelets on her wrists jingling with a soft melody.

  One look at her, one whiff of her sweet springtime scent and he was shaking like a junkie in need of a fix. All he could think about was her. How she looked in her red flowery suit, her full breasts outlined against the jacket. His fingers itched to trace the line of her suit and slide his hands inside her jacket to cup her firm flesh. A
few wisps of raven hair brushed against her heart-shaped face, no lipstick marring the perfection of her full lips. His thoughts had gone south and his dick had shot up at the visual of grasping that ponytail while her sweet mouth sucked on his cock.

  Even worse was the soft sound of her voice—melodic and incredibly mesmerizing. Five minutes with her and he’d been so rock-hard he’d had to hide behind his desk until he could wrestle control over his libido.

  And then she pushed. And she pushed. Like a relentless dog attacking a bone, she gnawed at his patience and growled incessantly until he wanted to cover his mouth over hers just to get her to shut up about the art.

  There were things she didn’t know. Bad, really bad things about him. Hell, maybe if he told her the truth about the night Amanda died, she’d turn tail and run. If she knew what was good for her, she would. And that’s what he wanted, wasn’t it?

  God, he was a mess. For ten long years he’d avoided Kaitlyn Storm. He’d forced his feelings for her out of his mind, knowing that if he acted on his desire for her he’d only bring disaster to her life. She’d been too sweet, too innocent, too blatantly in love with him to ever think of taking advantage of her. Hell, she’d been a kid back then.

  She hadn’t kissed him like a kid, though. Ten years after their one and only kiss he could still taste her; her mouth fresh and sweet like the first drop of rain in the springtime, filled with innocence.

  Innocence. He snorted and shook his head. He’d been long past innocence by then. By the time he was twenty he was already in deep shit and sinking fast. No matter how much he wanted her, he couldn’t have her. Then, or now. If he’d been smart he’d have left Amanda alone too. Married her for all the wrong reasons. And she thought she could save him, just like Kaitlyn thought now.

  He was long past saving. And he’d learned his lessons the hard way. He’d never hurt Kait like he’d hurt Amanda. Kaitlyn was a friend. No, more than that. She was his best friend’s little sister and that’s all she’d ever be.