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Her Perfect Stranger

Jill Shalvis

  “There is no ‘this.’”

  Corrine said it with a finality she didn’t feel.

  Mike ran a finger over her jaw, down her throat to the base of her neck, where her pulse had taken off. “Liar,” he chided softly as her nipples beaded and thrust against the material of her shirt.

  “There can’t be a this,” she whispered.

  “Oh, there’s definitely a this.” His finger continued its path over her collarbone to her shoulder, nudging the edge of her tank top off it. Stepping even closer, he dipped his head and nipped at the skin he’d exposed, while his fingers continued their seductive assault on her senses.

  “How can you ignore me?” He dipped his head so that she could feel his breath on her skin. “After what we shared?”

  “It was…just…sex,” she panted as he dragged that clever mouth back up her throat now, feasting as he went, his fingers toying with the edging of her top and the curve of her breast.

  “Yeah. Sex. Great sex.”

  Dear Reader,

  I love reading THE WRONG BED books within Temptation. Writing them is a dream come true, and so was Her Perfect Stranger, a book that haunted me from day one until I finished.

  Ever done something you regret? Commander Corrine Atkinson, the heroine in this story, does when she succumbs to a sexy, gorgeous stranger rather than face a stormy night alone. Yet the most incredible, erotic night of her life turns into a nightmare when she’s introduced to her new copilot…the very stranger she’d been with only the night before.

  I’ve pitted two confident, dynamic, strong-willed (read: stubborn) people together, both of whom think their life is too full for love. They both learn how wrong they are. How lonely they are.

  And how easy it is to fall hard in crazy love in spite of themselves.

  Happy reading,

  Jill Shalvis

  Books by Jill Shalvis




















  Jill Shalvis

  To Bruce and Leslie, for all your expertise, patience and, most of all, friendship. Without you, this book wouldn’t have happened. Thank you.


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13



  HE’D NEVER FORGET his first glimpse of her. Or his second. She walked in as if she owned the place, and in spite of the chaos around him, Mike Wright’s gaze went straight to her.

  It was all indelibly imprinted on his mind: the harsh storm outside pounding against the fogged windows of the hotel’s pub; the lights flickering overhead as the electricity spiked with the repeated thunder and lightning; the loud strains of Bruce Springsteen blaring from the speakers mounted on the walls; and the even louder voices of the crowd around him talking, laughing, flirting.

  He’d been preoccupied, thinking about the reason he was in Huntsville, Alabama, in the first place—his life’s work, flying space-shuttle missions. The primary pilot of STS-124 had broken his leg parachuting and the first team backup had contacted hepatitis. All of which left Mike, once the secondary backup, as primary. He’d been called home from Russia, where he’d been on loan from NASA to the Russian space agency for the past decade.

  Mike loved being an astronaut, loved his testosterone-run life. But he loved women, too. All of them, all shapes and sizes and colors and temperaments, and everything else faded away the moment she stepped foot into the place—the storm, the crowd, the noise, everything.

  She was wet. Drenched, actually, her dark, dark hair plastered to her head, her clothes molded to her body.

  Another poor, unsuspecting victim of Huntsville’s weather.

  He could empathize, having just come from Russia’s much more predictable climate. But this woman didn’t look like anyone’s poor, unsuspecting victim, not with all that attitude, fire and rage spitting from her eyes.

  Drenched and inconvenienced, Mike guessed. And furious because of it. Amused, he watched as she pressed on through the thick crowd, and in spite of her petite stature, people moved out of her way.

  It might have been the fact she was a woman, when most of the patrons were men. On-the-prowl men at that. But Mike thought it was most likely her queen-to-peasant look, which was icily effective.

  She worked her way closer, heading directly toward the bar, and by coincidence, him.

  “Something hot,” she demanded of the bartender, setting one hand down on the bar as she dropped her bag, establishing a spot for herself where there was none to be had. She looked to both sides, left then right, clearly expecting someone to get off a stool so she could sit.

  Grinning now, Mike rose. “Please,” he said, gesturing for her to take over his seat.

  “Thank you.” As if she wasn’t dripping a river of sleet and rain onto the floor, she sat and tossed back her hair. When the bartender slid what looked like an Irish coffee in her direction, she nodded her head regally and sipped. And then sighed. Sinfully. Her shoulders relaxed slightly, as if she’d just dropped the weight of the world.

  After a good long moment she appeared to realize Mike was still standing next to her. Her dark-blue eyes were cool and assessing, in direct contrast to her wet, incredibly lush, incredibly sexy body.

  “No coat?” he asked, referring to the fact that she wore only a black, long-sleeved silky blouse and skirt, both of which were so wet they couldn’t have been tighter if she’d painted them on. What should have been a very conservative, businesslike outfit became outrageously erotic, especially given that she had a body that could make a grown man drop to his knees and beg.

  “Someone stole it at the airport.” She grimaced. “I hate airports. Let’s just say this is a day better forgotten all around.”

  She didn’t have the Southern drawl of the people around him. Another misplaced traveler, he thought, just like him. “Got caught by surprise in the storm, did you?”

  “Yes, and I hate surprises.”

  Her voice was as cool as her eyes. Low and slightly husky. But combined with all those feminine curves, she became one irresistible contradiction. Fire and ice. Tough, yet sexy as hell.

  Though Mike had planned to have only one beer, which he’d already had, before going up to his room and crashing for the night in preparation of the crazy week ahead, he didn’t budge. And when the guy behind him vacated his barstool, Mike took it for himself.

  “Don’t bother,” the woman said without even looking at him as she continued to sip her drink, staring directly ahead.

  Mike made himself comfortable, which included smiling at the pretty female bartender. “Don’t bother what?”

  “Trying to charm me out of my panties.”

  Mike laughed. This woman was truly sexy as hell, gorgeous as sin, cool and regal, and funny. A rarity. “Now why would I try do to that?” he
asked innocently, though now that she’d planted the thought, he could think of nothing else.

  “Why? Hmm. Maybe because I have breasts? I don’t know.” She shrugged. “It’s a male genetic disorder, I guess.”

  Mike laughed. “You mean I can’t help myself? That’s a handy excuse, indeed.”

  She looked at him then, a hint of a smile on her lips. “That’s right. As a man, you can’t help your self, you’re just a helpless slave to your body’s cravings. Will that help you sleep at night?”

  “Oh, yes. Thank you.” Mike cocked his head and studied her. She was warming up, no doubt thanks to her drink. There was a blush to her cheeks now, and when she crossed her legs—remarkably well-toned legs, he couldn’t help but notice—they appeared to be drying nicely.

  “To be quite honest,” he said. “I hadn’t entertained the notion of charming you out of your panties at all.”

  She slanted him a doubtful glance.

  “Really.” He lifted his hands in an innocent gesture. “Before you came, I was just going up to bed.”

  “Don’t let me stop you.”

  But she did. Everything about her stopped him cold, and it wasn’t just that her nipples were pressing against the material of her blouse, or that her skirt clung to her perfectly rounded hips. It wasn’t just that she smelled like heaven and sin all in one, or that he knew instinctively that her skin would be soft and creamy and in need of being warmed up by his hands and mouth. He couldn’t name exactly what kept him there watching her, why she fascinated him so.

  Everything in his home country fascinated him, and he enjoyed being back after so long away, even given the work ahead of him. He needed lengthy training for the upcoming mission, training that would keep him busy day and night until launch, only four months off now. He’d be far from his own place, which happened to be a suitcase more often than not these days. In fact, he was no longer certain where home really was. He and his four brothers were close, but they were also scattered across the globe, in various military branches. So was his father.

  His mother, a native Russian, had died when Mike—named Mikhail by her—was very young, which was probably why, when he’d had the chance to go to Russia after his stint in the Air Force, he’d jumped at it, wanting to understand the heritage he’d missed. He’d welcomed the opportunity to stay there, in the cosmonaut space program, working on the International Space Station. It was a lifestyle he loved, but he suddenly realized how isolated from female companionship he’d been lately.

  A sharp bolt of lightning startled the large, noisy bar into an instant of collective silence. Thunder rolled immediately on its tail, and after another instant of stunned quiet, the room went back to its dull roar.

  The woman next to him pushed her drink away and sighed. She shivered once, then crossed her arms. “Well. Back to work.”

  Yeah, he should be working, too. He had plenty of reading to do. From now until launch, he’d be living and sleeping this mission, running like crazy to catch up with his crew—whom he’d not yet met—and who’d been training together for a year and a half already. He looked forward to meeting everyone involved, but at the moment, as the woman next to him shivered again, work and everything that went with it were far from his mind. “You have business at this hour?” he asked, slipping out of his jacket and putting it around her shoulders. “What do you do?”

  Those midnight-blue eyes shot his hands a sharp glance, causing him to lift them from her shoulders. “I have some reading to catch up on,” she said, snuggling deeper into his jacket. “Thanks for the coat.”


  “I don’t really care to discuss it.”

  “Touchy about work,” he said with an agreeable nod. “Duly noted.”


  “How about your name? Are you touchy about that, too?”

  Reaching once more for her drink, she tossed her head back as she downed the last of it, then licked her lips in an uncalculated, outrageously sexy move that made Mike want to groan. “Tonight,” she eventually said, her full, bottom lip wet now from her own tongue, “I’m touchy about everything.” But she made no move to get up. “I don’t want to talk about my job, my name, my life. I don’t want to talk about politics or headlines.” She lifted those amazing eyes to his. “Still want to have a conversation with me or have I scared you off yet?”

  There was more than a little dare in her expression, and Mike, the youngest of four boys in a military family, had never, not once in his life, walked away from a dare.

  Lightning struck just then, and when the thunder came right on its heels, everyone in the room oohed and aahed.

  Not the woman sitting next to him, though. Her gaze remained intense and direct and right on his, so that he hardly noticed the ruckus going on outside. He did, however, notice the growing crowd, as more people made their way in from the storm. Which was fine by him, as it forced him slightly closer to the woman still waiting for his answer.

  “I don’t scare easily,” he eventually said.

  “I’m losing my touch then.”

  “Tell me your name.”


  “I feel the need to call you something.”

  “Fine. Call me Lola.” She lifted a brow in what might have been either self-deprecation or wry humor. “Yes, tonight Lola will do.”

  Oh, definitely, she was warming up. Her skin was glowing and rosy. And her hair was starting to curl as it dried, with little wisps falling in her face even though she kept shoving them back.

  “Usually men quake in their boots when I walk by,” she noted casually. “I have quite the reputation for being terrifying at work.”

  “Ah, but we’re not talking about work, remember? And not your real name, or life, or politics, or headlines.”

  At her own words repeated back, her lips curved. “You’re not a local. You don’t have the slow Southern ways. And you don’t have the accent, either, that lazy, drawn-out way of speaking that makes so many women want to swoon.”

  He sent her a lazy, drawn-out smile and drawled in a perfect imitation of an Alabama local, “I can make up the accent, if it’d make you swoon.”

  “Is it real?”

  “The smile? Or the accent?”


  “Are you trying to charm me out of my panties?”

  “You have quite a memory,” she said, but smiled at her own expense. “I’ll have to quit giving you things to make fun of me with.”

  “I wasn’t making fun,” Mike assured her. “Much.”

  “Hmm.” She studied him with a sidelong glance. “You’ve very neatly avoided telling me if you’re a local or not.”

  “Maybe your need for anonymity tonight goes both ways.” Without thinking, he lifted a hand and stroked her cheek.

  At the contact, she went utterly still, as if his touch had stunned her every bit as much as it had stunned him. And it had stunned him. He’d touched plenty of women in his life, some he’d known no longer than he’d known her, but never had his entire body quivered at that touch as it did now.

  She searched his gaze long and hard, as if assessing him for something very important. Maybe…honesty?

  He was being honest. Here, amid the crowd, sitting with the most arresting woman in the place, he didn’t want to think about work, either. He didn’t want to think about anything other than what he was doing, which was enjoying the company of a beautiful stranger.

  She seemed to come to a conclusion about him. She nodded thoughtfully, then uncrossed her legs. Her stockings made the most arresting silk-on-silk sound, and for the longest moment he couldn’t get his mind wrapped around anything but the thought of what her legs would feel like without the stockings. “Another drink?” he asked.

  “That’s how a good number of the people in here are going to get in trouble tonight.” She glanced around. “Look at those women. Lonely. Drinking. Easy prey for all those men watching them.”

  “Maybe they want to be prey.”

  A sigh escaped her, a sound of…longing? “Yes,” she said, so softly he had to lean closer. “Maybe so. Maybe they don’t know how to just go after what they need, even if it’s not practical.”

  “Are we talking about sex?” He grinned as she raised an eyebrow. “Because really, sex can be quite practical. It’s a great stress reliever, for one. And spectacular exercise. Not to mention it’s just a feel-good sort of thing.”

  Her lips quirked. “You’re speaking from experience, of course.”

  “Oh, no. A man should never kiss and tell.”

  That made her laugh, and she looked surprised at the rusty sound, as if she didn’t do it often. “I need to get a room,” she decided, slapping her palm on the bar as she reached for the bag she’d dropped at her feet. “There was a crowd at the front desk before.”

  He glanced at the very large—and getting larger by the moment—throng of people. “You don’t have a room yet?”

  “No, I wanted to get warm before standing in line.”

  Which was the last thing she said before the lights went out.

  “DON’T PANIC,” came the low, unbearably sexy voice of her perfect stranger. “I’ve got you.”

  And he did. He’d slid off his bar stool to stand right beside her, his hand reaching for hers. Corrine could feel the heat of him, the strength in the tall, leanly muscled body that she’d been trying not to notice since he’d first spoken to her.

  He wasn’t her type.

  Which was damn laughable, because it had been so long, she didn’t actually remember what her type was. At work, a man with a cocky, knowing smile and such a laid-back manner would drive her crazy.

  But here it was the opposite.

  At work she was serious, intense, and…okay, a perfectionist. She freely admitted that. She wasn’t a sexual creature, not at all. In fact, working as a woman in a man’s world, she tended to ignore her sexuality and the needs that went along with it, for long periods of time.