Four play, p.20
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       Four Play, p.20

           Maya Banks

  tried that, too,” Jeremy confessed.

  “Hey, I mowed my lawn shirtless for a month, then struck up conversations with her, hoping she’d look. Her gaze stayed glued above my neck.”

  Rhys was a fireman and spent nearly all his downtime pumping iron. If Kels was going to be wowed by some guy’s body, it would be Rhys’s.

  Tucker retrieved the cooler, then opened the freezer in her garage and started dumping in bags of ice. The others joined in.

  “I’ve been her confidant, her shoulder to cry on, her prom date when hers dumped her at the last minute . . . None of that did me any good either.”

  “You knew David. What was he like?” Jeremy spoke in low tones. Always. Yet his voice carried the snap of subtle demand.

  “Easygoing. Big sense of humor. Kind of a wandering spirit.”

  “That leaves me out,” Jeremy brooded as he began to toss beers, wine coolers, water, and soft drinks into the cooler.

  “But her boyfriend prior to that was a successful guy who owned a few jewelry stores. Flashy dresser. Of course, he was an asshole, too. I don’t think she would put you in that mold or you wouldn’t be here,” he told Jeremy, then wondered why he was trying to make the competition feel better.

  Truth was, he liked both Jeremy and Rhys. And it felt good to finally be talking about the elephant in the room.

  They finished icing down the drinks in relative quiet, but Tucker’s brain was working overtime. A glance at Jeremy—whose brain never stopped—proved Kelsey’s boss was lost in his own ruminations, too.

  Until he spoke. “Would all of you agree that we’d rather see Kelsey happy with one of us than some bastard who might mistreat her?”

  Tucker hesitated, then glanced at Rhys. Finally, they both nodded. Yeah, he’d hate like hell to let her go, but if he couldn’t have her, he’d at least be happier knowing that she was with someone who wanted her, had genuine feelings for her, would take care of her.

  “Me, too,” Jeremy offered. “I think Tucker is right, gentlemen. What we need is a plan.”


  Tucker laughed at Rhys’s confusion. The firefighter was a great guy . . . but Rhys and a plan combined as well as gasoline and margarita mix.

  “We’ve got to find out what’s in her head.” And her heart, Tucker decided. But they had to start small. Forever and ever amen, picket fence, and two point two kids was a lofty place to begin. First, they had to know what she wanted in a date, in a lover. Who, if anyone, was on her mind.

  “How?” Jeremy asked, getting right to the heart of the problem as usual. “Does she keep a diary?”

  “Not that I know of . . . but it’s not as if Kels tells me everything.” Tucker shrugged, lamenting that fact.

  “She might have a journal. No doubt she’s capable of writing more than a grocery list,” Rhys drawled.

  “Kels is a bit private. I’m not sure she’d write her feelings down.”

  “Maybe because she is private, she’d be more likely to pour her feelings out on paper than to another human being.” Jeremy pinned his gaze on Tucker. “Or does she have some really close girlfriend I don’t know about?”

  “No. To her, most women like shopping and gossip and those Grey’s Anatomy-type shows, which she hates.”

  Rhys frowned. “Yeah. Not Kelsey’s style.”

  “So now what?” Tucker ran his hand through his unruly hair.

  “Could you have one of those best friend heart-to-hearts?”

  “Yeah.” Rhys warmed to the subject. “See if she’ll spill.”

  “Tried that. She blushed and said that talking to me about her fantasies and her ultimate man was crossing the friend line. I told her it was because I was seeking a girlfriend and wanted her advice. She was sure that her wants wouldn’t necessarily match anyone else’s and ended the conversation.”


  “Exactly. There must be some way to trip her up or persuade her into a tell-all mood so we can learn what she wants and who she has feelings for,” Jeremy murmured.

  “Get her drunk?”

  Tucker reached over and swatted Rhys on the head. “No, you idiot. Something that won’t have her puking or give her a headache. You know Kels doesn’t handle her liquor well. I’d rather try something less sneaky.”

  When Tucker reached down to lift one half of the enormous cooler by a handle, Rhys lifted the other. “I would too, brother, but the up-and-up isn’t working.”

  Jeremy held the garage door open. “He’s right.”

  “What are you suggesting?” Tucker asked. “Seducing her?”

  “Tried that.” Jeremy sighed as they traversed the house, cooler in hand. “She sidestepped me, then set me up on a blind date with a Barbie who had an equally plastic personality.”

  “I tried, too.” Rhys lowered the cooler by the back door, then glanced out at Kelsey, who stood in the shade, face raised to the sky, eyes closed, basking in the sun. “She giggled and started making jokes about firemen who think with their hose.”

  “I can’t seduce her,” Tucker admitted. “First, I’m not a ladies’ man, and second, I’d lose her. She thinks of me as someone she can rely on—”

  “Which is why you’re stuck in the friend zone, dude,” Rhys chastised. “You’ve never tried to make her see you as a man?”

  “I kissed her once.”

  “Yeah?” That got Rhys’s attention.

  “But we were thirteen, and her comment afterward was that Josh Smith kissed better.”

  Rhys doubled over with laughter. Even single-minded Jeremy cracked a smile.

  “What we need is evidence.”

  Golden brow raised, Rhys glared at Jeremy. “Spoken like an attorney.”

  “I am one; sue me.” The attorney smiled, and something about his eyes reminded Tucker why the guy billed out at two grand an hour. Suddenly, he shot Rhys a cunning stare. “You firemen have interesting ways of gaining access to a house, right?”

  Rhys rolled his eyes. “Yes, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.”

  “I have a key, guys,” Tucker offered.

  “Give it to him,” Jeremy snapped. “I’m going to call Kelsey after the party, make up some emergency. You”—he stared at Rhys—“are going to sneak in. Look around, in that monster closet of hers, through her home office. . . See if she keeps a journal or mementos or has written anything personal on her laptop. Check her correspondence, her voice mails. Scroll through her recent calls and see if she’s reached out to anyone.”

  “I don’t know, dude . . . It seems so invasive. What about her privacy? What if she catches me?”

  Jeremy’s stare lost what little levity it had. He looked as if he were resisting grabbing Rhys by the shirt and shaking some sense into him. “Be careful, and she won’t. Just get us some information or we’ll all be stuck in this hell indefinitely.”

  Rhys sighed. “Fuck.”

  “Call both of us as soon as you’ve finished your reconnaissance.” Jeremy directed. “Then collectively we’ll decide the best course of action, regardless of what you find, agreed?”

  “Count me in.”

  Tucker hesitated. He didn’t like spying on Kels. He didn’t like lying to her or invading her privacy . . . but he also didn’t like being cut off from the woman he adored. He hadn’t made any progress with her since that chaste tweener kiss. Fifteen years later, maybe it was time to try something new.

  Hoping like hell he didn’t regret this, he handed Rhys Kelsey’s house key.


  The party had been pure torture. Labor Day festivities, cold beer, and good friends aside, the sight of Kelsey in a bloodred bikini had nearly been Rhys’s undoing. The pale swells of her breasts nearly spilling out of her top, that ridiculously small waist above outrageously lush hips and thighs . . . Damn, he got hard all over again just thinking about her.

  Too bad he wasn’t the only one hard for Kelsey. Rhys grimaced. Tucker’s feelings for her were deep and true and abiding, and J
eremy, a man everyone knew played for keeps, intended to make her his submissive. Still, Rhys refused to be strong-armed out of Kelsey’s life by loyalty or authority. He burned for her every bit as much as the others.

  Soon, he would make her see that. Somehow.

  Jeremy might have provided a plan so they could learn Kelsey’s feelings. Tucker might have provided the key so they could research what might be in her heart. But Rhys intended to take full advantage of the opportunity to make her his own.

  He’d sneaked away during the party earlier and done something designed to ensure that Kelsey would call Rhys tonight after her pretend assignment from her boss, then invite him inside. All he had to do was wait.

  Pacing his bedroom, he stared out the window again—straight into Kelsey’s. His beautiful neighbor never closed her blinds, thank God.

  Finally, she entered the room and stripped off her cover-up. The bikini top came next, then the bottoms—and she stood blessedly bare. And gorgeous.

  Rhys wished like hell that walls, windows, and fences didn’t separate them. He’d kill to see that beautiful skin up close. Touch it.

  But to achieve his personal mission, he had to serve the collective one first. Quickly, he sent a text to Jeremy:

  Everyone is finally gone. Call her now.

  Less than thirty seconds later, Kelsey jumped, threw the cover-up over her head, and darted back down the hall.

  A minute later, Rhys was quiet as he opened her front door with Tucker’s key and slipped inside, locking it behind him. Yeah, he should probably wait to see if Jeremy could get her out of the house on this “errand,” but impatience chafed. Besides, to leave, Kelsey would have to change clothes . . . which meant she would get naked first. He couldn’t bypass the opportunity to see her up close and personal.

  Once inside, Rhys heard Kelsey on the phone, pacing the kitchen. The deferential tones she used with Jeremy set his teeth on edge.

  “I’ve had too much to drink to drive to the office tonight, sir, but I promise I’ll be in early and finish proofing that brief for you.”

  A moment later, she added, “I had two more margaritas after you left.” Then, “I didn’t realize you’d need my help tonight.” She sighed. “I realize that’s not good for me. I’m sorry, sir.”

  Kelsey fidgeted. “No, I don’t have lunch plans.” Another pause. “My job is to help you however I can, sir. I’ll plan on attending the meeting with you. Do you need me to make lunch reservations?”

  Rhys grimaced at Kelsey’s tone. She sounded breathless, almost aroused. Her boss liked to tie women up and order them around. On one hand, it bothered him. His independent Kelsey into that? Really? On the other hand, the thought of seeing Kelsey bound and ready to take whatever he wanted to give her excited the hell out of him. He liked the vision better without Jeremy in it.

  Sighing, Rhys shoved the thought aside and crept through the foyer, past the living room, circling the back of the dining room, then peeking his head around the corner into the kitchen and den. He was in luck; Kelsey was looking out the French doors into her shadowed backyard, submissively responding to yet another of Jeremy Beck’s commands.


  He’d worry about her boss later. After all, she might be intrigued by Jeremy, but she hadn’t let him touch her. Maybe she didn’t have any real feelings for the guy and simply reacted instinctively to the command in a boss’s voice. He hoped like hell that deference didn’t mean anything.

  Rhys entered her darkened hallway, then crept to her guest room/home office and shut the door behind him.

  Her computer hummed quietly. A quick search of her files revealed nothing more than a few tax records, her playlists, family photos, and mostly work-related e-mails. She was still logged into her Facebook account, but her wall held greetings from a handful of high school friends wishing her a happy Labor Day. Nothing from a lover.

  Next, Rhys picked up her cell phone, which sat beside her laptop. He scanned her recent incoming and outgoing calls. Her mother, her aunt, her cousin, Jeremy, Tucker, and himself, period. If she had a lover, she wasn’t communicating with him, and that wasn’t Kelsey’s style.

  Shit. Now what? Maybe she kept a journal. He looked around the little room, rummaged through her desk drawers. Other than bills and house papers, they were empty. Maybe the diary was in her bedroom . . .

  Tiptoeing across the hall, Rhys could hear Kelsey murmuring something in more of those worshipful tones that made him grit his teeth. Lucky bastard, Jeremy.

  With a shake of his head, Rhys slipped into Kelsey’s private domain and spied her little red bikini on the pale carpet. His cock hardened in a painful rush. She’d looked fabulous in it, laughing, playing hostess, so natural and unaware of how gorgeous she looked with dancing dark eyes and her riot of brownish-red curls. He knew she looked even better without the bikini.

  “No, sir. Really, I’m tipsy. And tired. I promise I’ll be in early.”

  Damn it, Jeremy hadn’t been able to get her out of the house. So now his time was really limited. Rhys forced himself to focus.

  He looked across her dresser, scattered with car keys, jewelry, and other knickknacks. Nothing that stood out. Her rumpled bed was unmade, her tiny nightstand covered by a little lamp, a candle, and what looked like a fairly racy romance. Did that cover have a woman with more than one guy on the front?

  As he reached for it, he heard Kelsey say, “Yes, I know you’ll reprimand me, sir. Whatever you feel is necessary, I understand.” She paused. “Good night.”

  Then she slammed the phone in its cradle and began stomping down the hall, her footsteps echoing across the hardwood floors.

  Hide! He hustled into the shadowed confines of her walk-in closet and scrambled behind her dresses along the back wall, praying she wouldn’t find him before he could get out. Otherwise, he’d have to have a good explanation for being here. Which he didn’t. And there would be hell to pay.

  Kelsey entered her bedroom with a shaky sigh and darted straight for her nightstand. Through the crack in the door, he could see her wrench open a drawer. She withdrew a pair of rumpled paper bags and tore into them. As she extracted the items, Rhys clenched his fists to hold in his groan.

  Her battery-operated rabbit and a slender, curved vibrator.

  She was going to masturbate. Fuck!

  Plopping her items on the bed, Kelsey tore off her cover-up, put her iPod buds in her ears, switched the MP3 player on, then lay down. Her skin looked so flawless and fair against the dark sheets. Her breathing picked up, lifting her chest with each inhalation, her hard nipples stabbing the air. Rhys got hard all over again. Yes, he loved watching her through her window, but to be mere feet away from her? Surely, he’d spontaneously combust.

  Before moving next door to Kelsey, he’d preferred tall, skinny girls with straight hair and sun-kissed skin. One look at Kelsey and he’d barely looked at another woman. When he’d met her, heard her laugh, experienced her warmth, he’d been a goner.

  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Time to call the others for a backup plan. It went against his grain to let the others in on her private moments, many of which he’d watched from his bedroom window, dick in hand . . . but he might not get out of Kelsey’s house undetected without their help. Damn it.

  He hit Tucker’s speed dial. Not a second later, her friend picked up. “What did you find?”

  “Hang on a second,” he whispered, not knowing how loud her iPod might be.

  Then he flipped over and dialed Jeremy, who answered immediately. “Well?”

  Rhys conferenced the men in together. “I didn’t find anything helpful, and now, she’s masturbating. I’m hiding in her closet, trying to figure out how in the hell I’m going to get out without getting caught. Ideas?”

  “Masturbating?” Tucker choked.

  “Yeah. She’s naked on the bed with her sex toys. And she looks flaming hot.”

  “Goddammit,” Jeremy growled. “Don’t look at her.”

Bite me,” Rhys tossed back. “She’s ten feet in front of me. Of
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