More than want you, p.18
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       More Than Want You, p.18
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  Oh, that’s it. Despite paying a small fortune for her makeover, I’m going to kill Keeley the moment we get home. I stare across the bar at her. She’s smiling and looking so damn happy. I put that expression on her face. My stupidity and sheer lack of talent are making her downright gleeful.

  Okay, I’ll suck it up this once.

  I’m worried she’s assigned me a song that requires fast thinking, like Eminem. Or worse, chosen something damn near impossible, in the neighborhood of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

  Instead, when the monitor lights up, I see a song title scroll across my screen. “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Wasn’t this was one of my Granddad’s favorites? I think…yeah. It reminds me of summer, of sneaking ice cream past Grandma and into the barn for an afternoon treat, of good times with a good man. Maybe if I focus on my fond memories of tinkering with the old guy, I can get through this.

  After the whiny opening notes, the words on the screen flash and it’s clear I’m supposed to start singing. I don’t really remember the melody or cadence. Hell, I barely remember the song at all. Somehow I make it through the first couple of lines, but I can’t disguise how badly I suck. Not a single note is on pitch. I look to Keeley for help. I know I should be a good sport and all, but I’m really not equipped to make an ass of myself in public. Say what you want about the male ego, but this kind of torment is making my insides curdle and my balls shrivel.

  I’m so focused on how tragic my singing must be on everyone’s eardrums that I miss the next line altogether. She makes a hand gesture at me, and I look at the monitor. I’m behind. Damn it. The words flashing are blurry. I’m sweating. My fingers are tingling as I try to hold the mic. Why can’t I breathe?

  As the tune fills my ears, my brain kicks in. It seems kinda familiar, so I pick up again and sing something about the whine before managing most of the next line. But when I gear up to belt out the last word in the verse, I vaguely recall the note is much higher than my limited range can handle. If I even try this, my voice will crack like a thirteen-year-old boy’s.

  I fall silent. More panic grips me. The sweat is coming faster. My heart chugs uncontrollably. I’m getting dizzy now and brace myself on the deejay’s table. I look to Keeley for help.

  She grabs her stuff and runs up to save me. But by the time she makes it to the stage, I’m blinking at the audience like an idiot. I’m trying to get it together but the words seem to be scrolling even faster across the screen. I swear to fuck my knees have locked and I’m about to pass out.

  Suddenly, she’s beside me, purse dangling from one shoulder, her other arm around my waist. She takes the mic from my hand and starts singing about needing and wanting me for all time.

  I always thought this song was nonsensical. But hearing it for the first time in easily two decades—with Keeley’s voice dripping emotion—I’m experiencing these lyrics through a whole new filter. When did this seemingly stupid cowboy song get so damn yearning and full of devotion? So poignant?

  Keeley manages to salvage this musical train wreck, though singing an octave higher than I’ve ever heard the song. After another verse, I can finally breathe again. My vision is righting itself. She’s solid beside me—a rock. I’m good. I even chime in a word here or there. Then the chorus comes around to rip my chest open again. The gut-churning lyrics roll through my head.

  Suddenly, the lights come up. I hear applause. The crowd is lauding Keeley, but I feel enormously better that it’s over.

  She grabs my hand and leads me back to the table, takes care of the drinks, and guides me to the car. “Keys?”

  “I got it.”

  “You don’t.” Keeley shakes her head. “You look white as a polar bear.”

  I open my mouth to argue but stumble over my own two feet trying to reach the car door. “Fuck.”

  “You were saying?”

  With a huff, I hand over my keys. “Do you know where you’re going?”

  “Of course. Sit back.”

  She escorts me to the passenger’s side and helps me sit. A moment later, she’s next to me, starting the engine. I’ve never been a passenger in my own car. It’s not a feeling I like.

  As she pulls away, I’m glad the top to the SUV is down. The wind whipping across my face is both helpful and sobering. “I don’t know what happened back there.”

  “I think you had something between stage fright and a panic attack.”

  That’s ridiculous. “I don’t have panic attacks.”

  “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. My mom had them for the first few years after my dad died. You’re just wound up…and emotionally closed off. When you try to tamp your emotions down, sometimes the body can’t adjust and this happens.”

  I want to call bullshit. I don’t have emotions.

  On the other hand, this has happened before. One time, a few years back, I even woke out of a deep sleep feeling like I couldn’t breathe or must be having a heart attack. I called 911, and the paramedics took me to the hospital. I was shocked when they told me nothing was wrong with me. I’d had an “episode,” whatever that means. They prescribed me a few tablets of something I couldn’t pronounce. I was supposed to take one if it happened again and call if the symptoms persisted. I didn’t need another pill for months, then one night I was on the couch watching a horror flick… I got wound up. It had to be the movie, right? I thought so, and I took a pill, but it made me so sleepy I was conked out for twelve hours. The hangover the next day made me feel like a zombie. I flushed the rest of the prescription down the toilet.

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  Her face softens as she grabs my hand. “It’s not abnormal. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need to be aware of yourself. And I hate to sound like a broken record, but meditation would help. Really.”

  I shake my head. “I’ll be fine.”

  Keeley doesn’t seem thrilled by my pronouncement but lets it go. “I give you a lot of props for getting on stage and trying at all. The first time I sang in public, I was so nervous my voice shook. I thought I was going to throw up.”

  Despite the awful night, having Keeley beside me is soothing me. Her story lightens my mood. “I relate.”

  “Sorry I put you in a position to be uncomfortable. You poked. I teased back. I didn’t think it would upset you.”

  I hear her sincerity. I squeeze her hand in return. “Thanks. I…um, missed you last night.”

  The admission comes out of nowhere, and before I can cover it up with a joke or try to change the meaning, she glances my way. “I missed you, too.”

  Hell, I think she’s serious. Suddenly, the employer-employee barrier that she put in place a couple of weeks ago isn’t so impenetrable. I sense her breathless thoughts, almost as if they’re a tangible thing between us.

  Silence stretches across the next two minutes as she pulls into the lot and drives toward my unit. Some invisible tug is pulling us closer together. I’m fantasizing about the moment I have her upstairs, alone, behind my closed door. I’m so ready to be with her in every way I can.

  Keeley presses the button to lift the top on the SUV, then rushes out of the cab. I do the same, and she locks the car door. We meet again at the front of the vehicle and stop. Stare. Breathe. Does she feel this weird rush, too? Like she can’t wait until we’re alone? Like she’s impatient for me to hold and touch her? Like she’s eager for me to strip her down and make love to her all night?

  I could swear she does, and I can’t take the wait anymore. I tug on her hand and dash for the stairs. She’s right behind me, heels clacking as she runs up the flight and sprints down the hall with me, all the way to the front door.

  With trembling hands, I shove the key in the lock. It takes a few tries, but the door finally opens. I fling it against the wall and nudge her inside. As I follow, Keeley tosses her stuff on the bar. I secure the door behind us. Then I turn to her.

  Her back is against the wall. Her breaths are heavy between us. She’s sta
ring at me with hunger, eating me up with her eyes.

  Fuck yeah.

  I come closer, one deliberate pace at a time. I feel this moment in every nerve of my body. I’ve been waiting to touch her for what feels like an eternity. I’ve fallen asleep to memories of her taste on my tongue, her cries in my ears, her naked body filling my head. My chest tightens. My gut clenches. I’m so focused on Keeley that nothing else registers. I don’t give a fuck if this building burns down around me.

  I want this woman more than I’ve wanted just about anything or anyone in my life.

  There’s a gravity in the air, tense and sharp, as I press against her, brace my forearm on the wall above her head, and cup her hip with my free hand. Her head falls back as she meets my gaze. I hear her panting breaths.

  She wants me, too.

  Thank God.

  “You going to stop me?” I ask.

  “This isn’t smart.”

  Probably not. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

  She licks her lips nervously. Everything in my body clenches at the sight.

  “Try me. See what I do.”

  I don’t even know what she’s conveying, just that she’s all but dared me to kiss her. I can’t let that pass. I refuse to stop trying to take her for my own.

  I tug on her hip. I lean my entire body against her. She holds her breath, waiting. Her lids slide shut. Her lips part.

  I’m toast.

  As I finally lay my mouth over hers, a groan slips out.

  Fuck me, she’s every bit as soft and sweet as I remember. I crush my lips against hers. But that’s not enough Keeley for me. I need more. I need deeper. I need everything.

  So I nudge her mouth open, slip inside. And I lose myself utterly. This woman is going to be my downfall. Right now, I just don’t care.

  No one has ever felt this perfect to me.

  She tilts her head to offer more of herself and grabs my shirt. As she clings to my shoulders, Keeley yanks me closer until her every curve is plastered against my body. She sucks in a breath, and I feel her heart racing in time with mine. The sound is gonging in my ears. She’s potent, and I’m high on her. I don’t ever want to come down.

  Her tongue slides against mine, a dance, a tease, a caress. I hear her little catch of breath, followed by a desperate moan in her throat.

  I want to hear more of that sound. As I’m sliding inside her and telling her how beautiful she is. Yeah. I want that now.

  Screw all pretense of being cool and in control. I slide her skirt up her thighs, then hoist her up, bracing her against the wall. I spread her legs and fit my body between them. Heat radiates from her pussy. Her panties are damp. I want to tear them off so badly I’m about to lose my mind.

  She clutches at my hair and grips me tightly with her thighs as the kiss goes on. I feel as dizzy as I was on stage, but it’s all good now. The sensation is totally swarming my head. Sweating, blood jetting, heart chugging—the works. But no anxiety, just full-throttle, unstoppable arousal.

  I lift my head long enough to catch my breath and make sure she’s with me. “Keeley, sunshine… Tell me you want this. That you want me.”

  She has to confess. I need to hear her say it.

  Slowly, her lids open. She focuses on me, her blue eyes so dilated and hypnotizing and searching. No idea what she’s looking for, but it’s all I can do to stand still and hope she finds what she’s seeking in me.

  Suddenly, the emergency chime on my phone dings. I’d ignore it, but only two people know how to ring that roof-is-on-fire peal. They both work for me and they know not to freak me out unless the situation is critical.

  “What is that?” she asks.

  “The worst possible fucking timing ever,” I snarl as I back away and wrench the phone out of my pocket. With a press of a button, I answer. “What?”

  “Um…Maxon?”

  It’s Britta. She sounds unsure, but I hear a note of excitement in her voice.

  “Yes.” I’m trying not to tear her head off in case it’s really important, but Keeley is watching me intently, her thumb caressing my jaw and neck, then sliding into my shirt.

  I close my eyes. Shit. I can’t concentrate with her hands on me.

  “Sorry it’s late. I had to run back to the office to pick up some photocopies I need for the Barnes closing first thing tomorrow. We had a voice mail.”

  We have them just about every day. I wish she’d get to the point. “And?”

  “I tried to text you but… Are you sitting? If you’re not, you should. George Stowe called. He wants to hear your pitch this coming Friday at noon.”

  That shocking pronouncement whacks my short attention span into shape. “Really? Did he say anything else?”

  “Just that he’d looked you up and realized that he should at least give you a listen. Of course, he’s also hearing Griff. The afternoon before you. He was upfront about that. But…we have a decent chance.”

  “Absolutely.” I know the next words out of her mouth, though: our strategy isn’t ready. “Get to the office as soon as you can tomorrow. We need to get this bitch nailed down.”

  “I’ve already planned ahead. Makaio is going to take Jamie to daycare on his way to work, so I don’t have to worry about doing it after I get the Barnes escrow wrapped. I’ll call Rob and let him know, too.” She pauses. “Do you think we can get this done right? I doubt a bunch of words and a solid preso will be enough.”

  My assistant is a damn smart woman. Of course it won’t be. I’ll have to out-Griff my competition.

  I glance at Keeley. I’m glad I’ve already got a plan in place. I just have to find the balls to tempt my brother with her.

  Shit.

  “We’ll figure it out,” I assure Britta, hoping that’s true. “What the fuck time is it in Vermont now?”

  “Six thirty in the morning. But his voice mail says he’s an early riser, so you can call after seven his time.”

  “I’ll ring him up in thirty minutes, let him know we’re in.”

  “Thanks. I know that means staying up late.” Britta hesitates. “But I’m hoping the payoff is worth sacrificing a little sleep.”

  Absolutely. “Landing this listing is worth sacrificing everything.”

  A little gasp draws my attention to Keeley. She overheard my exchange with Britta. And obviously she’s taking it the wrong way.

  Or is she?

  The gorgeous redhead in my arms is the key to this plot. The bait. My sacrifice. I’ve had the passing thought once or twice that going down this path will most likely mean giving her up, but there’s no avoiding that ugly reality now. She’s made it clear that she won’t pretend to have the hots for my brother while having a fling with me.

  She rips out of my embrace and sends me a stare I can only describe as crestfallen. God, it’s like a stab in the gut.

  “Keeley…sunshine.”

  She doesn’t heed me. Instead, she whirls around to storm out of the kitchen. My heart drops.

  “I have to go.” I rush to hang up the phone, but Keeley has already marched into the living room. I follow. “Come back. Let’s talk.”

  She flips me off. “Not much more to say than that.”

  I groan. “Sunshine, don’t do this.”

  “Do what, be angry that you’d rather put business above whatever we could have?” She tosses her hands in the air. “This is my fault. I really let myself believe you weren’t the mercenary asshole I thought you were when we met.”

  “I’m not.” Well, not completely.

  Keeley goes on as if I didn’t say a word. “I should have known better.”

  “You shouldn’t. I mean, I want to be with you,” I insist, but she’s still stomping away from me.

  “No, you want to bang me,” she calls over her shoulder.

  I can’t tell her that’s not true. But it’s also not the whole truth.

  “Damn it, will you sit down and listen to me?

 
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