Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

All I Want, Page 2

Jill Shalvis

  enough to escape the humiliation, but probably not. Dammit. She’d kissed a perfect stranger, just accosted him on her doorstep. And . . . now her chest hurt. Maybe an impending heart attack would explain her behavior. Holding her chest, she used her other hand to point at him to stay. “I just need a minute,” she said.

  And then slammed the door in his face.

  Behind her, in the living room, a brick fell from the ancient old fireplace. It did that every time she slammed the door. She’d tried to get someone out here to fix it but the contractor had wanted her to promise her firstborn, so she’d just decided not to slam the door anymore.

  But she kept forgetting. Note to self: Stop kissing strangers, and stop slamming the door. She ran to the kitchen, where she’d left her cell phone, and pounded out her brother’s number.

  “Yo,” Wyatt said in greeting. “Hear you’re going out with some dentist guy tonight. Watch where he puts his hands. You don’t know where they’ve been.”

  Oh, for God’s sake. Her siblings gossiped like a pair of old ladies. “You’re a veterinarian,” she pointed out. “God knows how many worse places your hands are all day long. Maybe I should tell Emily to watch where you put your hands.”

  Wyatt just laughed. Since Emily—the love of his life—was also a vet, it had been an idle threat and they both knew it.

  Zoe sucked in a deep breath. “Listen, about your friend, the one who’s coming to stay—”

  “Yeah, Darcy told you he’s coming early?”

  “Uh-huh,” she said with what she thought was a perfectly even voice.

  But Wyatt had been seeing right through her for years. He was the only one who could. “Zoe,” he said in his most annoying brother voice. “You’re going to be nice. You promised. At least until I get back to Sunshine.”

  “Yeah,” she said, and grimaced. “About that . . .” She closed her eyes. “I might be a little short on nice as it turns out.” Try hoochie-mama on for size . . .

  “Shit, Zoe. He’s there already? What did you do?”

  “Hey, I didn’t do anything.” Well, except kiss him.

  And then slam the door on his nose . . .

  Crap. “So . . . just how good a friend is this guy again?”

  “Very,” Wyatt said. “We met in college when we were bartenders at the same place. On my first night, we got jumped at closing by five drunk assholes. Parker saved my ass. Haven’t gotten to see him in years, though, so don’t chase him away before I get home.”

  She grimaced again. “Gotta go.”


  She disconnected. “Oops,” she said. “My bad.” She glanced at herself in the microwave glass door. “Go make nice,” she told her reflection. She turned to do just that, stopping to grab one of the cooling chocolate chip cookies she’d baked earlier. She was a great cook but she’d never been much of a baker. Determined to change that, she’d used one of her grandma’s recipes—Zoe’s first-ever batch that wasn’t from the grocery store’s frozen aisle. She took a bite . . . and nearly gagged. They tasted like baking soda.

  She spit the disgusting thing out in the sink and rinsed it down. Okay, so her baking needed a lot more work.

  And maybe your attitude.

  Brushing the crumbs from her hands, she went back to the living room. She let out a heavy breath and once again opened the front door.

  Parker was crouched low, chuckling over Oreo, who’d stayed outside with her new roommate and was sniffing at the guy’s proffered hand.

  “He’s not much for new people,” Zoe warned. “And especially not much for men. He’s a rescue and—”

  And nothing because Oreo jumped into Parker’s arms and licked Parker’s chin.


  Parker winced as he lowered Oreo back to the ground, but the pained expression vanished so fast Zoe wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it. “Are you hurt?”

  “Cracked a few ribs a couple of weeks ago,” he said lightly. “Still a little sore, that’s all.”

  “How did you do that?”

  “Wrangling some big-game poachers.”

  She stared at him. “Is that code for none of your business?”

  “I don’t talk in code.” Mr. Mysterious rose to his feet, Oreo in his arms like he weighed nothing instead of one hundred pounds of tubby Bernese mountain dog.

  “Careful,” she said. “You’ll hurt those ribs.”

  “I’m fine.”

  The statement was so alpha male to the core that she laughed. “Of course, you’re fine. You’re a man. Good to know you’re all equally pigheaded.”

  Not insulted in the least, he grinned. “You have us all figured out, then?”

  “Not that much to figure out,” she said.

  Those sharp green eyes held hers. “Maybe I’ll surprise you.”

  The words brought a quiver to her long-neglected lady parts, but she was pretty confident he couldn’t surprise her. But then he let Oreo lick his face again.

  “A real watchdog you’ve got here,” he said fondly, and set Oreo down with one last body rub.

  Well, damn, she thought reluctantly. She had to give him at least a few brownie points for loving up on her big old silly dog. “Yeah,” she said. “He’s a real killer.” She slid the killer a long look.

  Oreo pretended not to see it, which only served to prove her point about men . . .

  “So,” Parker said straightening. “Can I come in yet or do you want to slam the door on my nose again?”

  She felt her cheeks flush but met his gaze.

  He held it prisoner with his warm, patient one and waited her out.

  Great, he was also a man who knew the value of silence. She’d never met anyone like him, that was for sure. “You can come in,” she said, deciding to pretend that the past few moments had never happened, hoping that he’d already forgotten them.

  Denial wasn’t just a river in Egypt . . .


  Parker James followed the pretty—and crazy—brunette into the house, his lips still tingling from the touch of hers. He wondered about the missing dentist and why she’d kiss the guy if she’d never even met him—not that it mattered to him.

  He’d reaped the benefits. And now he was left to wonder if his insta-attraction to her was thanks to the surprising welcome, or the universe’s way of messing with him since she was his old buddy Wyatt’s sister. Hell, maybe it was just one of life’s little mysteries.

  “Help yourself in here,” Zoe said when they’d entered the kitchen. She turned to face him and for the briefest of beats her eyes flicked to his mouth and he knew she was thinking about the kiss, too.

  “Thanks,” he said. “But I probably won’t be around much.”

  “Wyatt said you’re on vacay. What brings a guy to Sunshine, Idaho, for a vacation?”

  Much more than he was willing to share, starting with the fact that forced leave would’ve been far more accurate than vacay. “Peace and quiet,” he said.

  She looked at him from fathomless light brown eyes that appeared to be as good at hiding her thoughts as his own were. Good for her. She was interesting, his temporary landlord, he’d give her that.

  And she tasted good, too.

  “Wyatt also says that you work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” she said, watching him carefully. “And that you travel around a lot.”

  Close enough, he supposed, even if it was an understatement on all counts. He was actually a supervisory special agent, or RAC—Resident Agent in Charge. It was his division’s duty to enforce the many federal conservation laws in place to protect endangered species and other forms of wildlife. He did so by investigating and infiltrating wildlife trafficking rings, illegal guiding operations, and all matter of assorted other criminal groups.

  Since that often meant going undercover for cases that ranged from a simple buy-bust transaction to multi-month undercover stings, it was his usual MO to leave out the details. “Yep, I’m at the USFW service,” was all he said. Besides, this w
as just small talk, casual chatter. She might as well have said, Nice weather we’re having.

  Except that he didn’t feel casual with her and he suspected it had something to do with the way she was still looking at him with those honey-colored eyes that inexplicably drew him when he didn’t want to be drawn.

  Did she feel it, too?

  Did it matter? No, he decided, it didn’t. Whatever the odd tension between them, nothing was going to happen. So he met her gaze calmly and coolly, usually a pretty clear indication that he didn’t want to be engaged in further conversation, but his heart wasn’t in it.

  And it didn’t matter anyway, because unlike most everyone else, she completely ignored the look, pushing for more information. “So you what?” she asked. “Keep hunters and fishermen in line, making sure no one exceeds their license quota, that sort of thing?”

  He could appreciate her nosiness. He really could. He himself was nosy as hell, but he never spilled his guts, no matter how good a woman tasted. And she smelled good, too, like chocolate chip cookies, so he made some vague sound of agreement to her assessment of the job she’d described, a job that was genuinely important.

  It just wasn’t his job.

  “What about poachers?” she asked, not giving up. “People are always getting arrested for poaching in Idaho.” She paused. “You mentioned wrangling some big-game poachers.”

  So she tasted good and she was sharp.

  He made another low hum of vague agreement because she was right, poaching was a problem. In fact, the man he was currently hunting had started out poaching and had made millions on his illegal gains.

  Not that he was going to share with the class.

  “You Fish and Wildlife guys have a reputation for being real hardasses,” she said. “You a hardass, Parker?”

  “The hardest,” he said.

  That got him a smile. “It’s a good thing, the job you do,” she said, surprising him. “We’d lose a lot of species to extinction without you.”

  Aw, hell. Now he felt like a dick for misleading her, but he still kept his silence. She didn’t need to know that he had a reputation for being one of the toughest wildlife criminal investigators in the country—something he’d proven the hard way with his badge and gun. Officially he worked out of the D.C. office, but the truth was he was actually rarely there.

  He’d arrested people who’d smuggled ivory, skins, rhino horns, parrots, and rare reptiles from all over the world. Big-game poachers had become his trophies in federal court. In one case he’d arrested a cheetah poacher who’d smuggled illegal hides from Africa into the United States. He’d located and stopped eagle poachers who were using traps, bullets, and poisons to kill the birds for their feathers. His cases had halted illegal use of endangered-species body parts in Chinese medicine from New York to San Francisco.

  Fact was, over his career he’d worked hundreds of cases for wildlife—each of them unique, all-consuming, and dangerous. As a result, he’d lost more than one decent relationship with a woman to the job, and most of his family. And this latest job hadn’t proved to be any different—none of which he wanted to talk about.

  Zoe looked at him for a long minute and then blessedly changed the subject. “So when you are around,” she said, “do you cook?”

  He smiled at the hopeful tone in her voice. “Yes, but only when I’m trying to get laid.”

  She snorted and then turned away, clearly over him.

  He told himself that worked for him. Completely. Socializing wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Hadn’t been for three weeks now. Getting hit by a truck full of big-game poachers making their getaway had put a real kink in his life plan. But since it had nearly put a kink in his life period, he wasn’t complaining.


  And he’d caught the bad guys. Or some of them anyway, though their ringleader, Tripp Carver, aka the Butcher, had eluded him—which the slippery son of a bitch had been doing for three long years now.

  A fact that infuriated Parker beyond reason.

  Around him, the kitchen smelled delicious, and his gaze locked in on the plate of cookies on the far counter. Homemade cookies. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had homemade anything, and like Pavlov’s dog he migrated over there, passing an open laundry room on the way. In the doorway hung the only thing that could have taken his eyes off the cookies—a row of enticingly lacy and silky things in all colors and textures.

  Damn. They were hot as hell, especially when he pictured them on the leggy brunette trying to ignore him every bit as much as he was trying to ignore her.

  But then she caught where his gaze had gone and gasped in clear horror at the sight, as if she’d completely forgotten the things were there. To his dismay, she started snatching down the panties and bras, shoving them into a basket.

  “Sorry,” she said, grabbing something black and lacy. “It’s been a hectic week.”

  “No apologies necessary.” His voice sounded rough and husky to his own ears, but his brain was very busy picturing her in that black and lacy number and it was messing with his entire equilibrium in a big way.

  “It’s laundry day,” she said, her cheeks red as she hugged the basket to herself. “The dryer’s harsh on delicates.”

  “I’ll remember that. I’ll be sure to hang all my delicates,” he said.

  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like laughing so much in such a short period of time. Not surprising as the entire first part of the year he’d been on a joint task force between the Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stuck in a courtroom testifying on a case for two months. For most of that time he’d alternated between wanting to bash his head against the wall in frustration at the snail’s pace of the case and yearning to get back in the field, back to doing what he did best—sniffing out the asshats of the animal world.

  Which was why he’d landed here in Sunshine. But all that had been set aside in his brain at the sight of the hot undies.

  Now that they’d been stuffed away, he was back to the cookies. Mouth watering, he snagged one. “These smell amazing.”

  “Wait!” she cried, and then froze because it was too late, he’d popped the cookie into his mouth.

  He froze, too, because it was possible he’d never tasted a worse chocolate chip cookie, not even in the history of ever. He managed not to choke on it, barely. Normally he didn’t care much what people thought of him, but Zoe was kind enough to let a perfect stranger stay in her house simply because her brother had asked.

  And also, she was hot and so were her undies, so he very carefully chewed and swallowed manfully when what he really wanted was to spit that crap out. And it was crap. Bad crap.

  “So, what do you think?” she asked.

  Ah, shit. He hated when a woman asked him that, or anything to do with his opinion, like did her pants make her look fat, or was her haircut okay, or did her cookies suck . . . because deep down she already knew the truth.

  He could lie. He was good at lying, real good. But though he couldn’t have explained why to save his own life, he didn’t want to lie to Zoe. “Too much baking soda,” he said.

  She tightened her lips.

  “You want me to go now, right?” he asked.

  She let out a low laugh. “No, I want to throw away the cookies.”

  He laughed, too. “Probably a good idea.”

  “Yeah.” She eyeballed the tray. “I just wish I’d done that before you ate one and found out I suck at baking.”

  “Your secret’s safe with me,” he said.

  “I swear I’m an excellent cook. I just never mastered baking, is all.”


  “No, really.”

  “Hey, whatever you say.”

  She laughed again. “You’re . . .”

  A dick. An asshole. He’d heard it all before.