He was home early.
Megan Banks stole a peek out the window as the motor of his SUV shut off, and her breath seized in her throat when she caught glimpse of him. There he was: the man of her dreams. Her every dream. Her every want.
Her eyes greedily took in his form as he stepped out of his car, the tailored cut of his suit molding to his broad shoulders, his muscles bulging under the fabric of his pants as he strolled over to the house. Cody.
A watery sensation spread down her thighs as she realized Cody would be here, in his room, any minute. And he’d see that she was here, too. Almost naked. Oh, God.
“Hellooow? Meg? Meg—you still there?”
The voice from her cell phone snapped her back to attention, and her heart began to thunder in her ears. “Yes! Yes, I’m still here. He’s just pulled into his driveway. He’ll walk in any minute.”
“Okay, don’t freak out and stick to the plan,” her friend Paige Rivers, voice of reason, said. “Just relax, look gorgeous, and whatever happens: stick to the plan.”
Oh my God, I’m really going through with this…
Megan’s stomach twisted painfully. Her plan had been so simple, initially.
When she’d driven on her way to his place: simple.
When she’d surveyed it in bed, alone, in the cloak of obscurity: simple.
But it sounded so complicated and impossible now.
Her knuckles knotted painfully as she gripped her cell phone. “Remind me why I’m wearing only my bra and panties under my coat please,” she hissed urgently. “Remind me why I’m doing this now, before he walks in through that door.” And I make a complete and total fool of myself.
“You’re seducing him,” Paige said sternly, “because he won’t.”
“But if only I gave him a little more time—” Meg began.
“Time for what, Meg? You’ve been friends your whole lives and although you can’t seem to date each other, neither of you dates anyone else.”
“Still, that doesn’t mean the plan is sound enough to—”
“Oh, it’s sound all right. And it’s happening—as soon as he comes in,” Paige decreed.
A thick ball of nerves and emotion piled up in Megan’s throat, and suddenly she wanted to wail at the injustices of the world.
There were a thousand reasons behind her seduction, but only one that made her hesitate. She wanted him to do it. Him, the man of her dreams, to break down, and seduce her. “But if he truly wanted me, he’d have done something about it already. I wouldn’t need to break into his home dressed like a—I look like a slut, Paige!”
“Meg—I’ve seen the way he stares at you, and I’m surprised your hair hasn’t caught fire yet. Can’t you see why Cody’s always protective towards you—he wants you. In some part of his labyrinth of a mind, he thinks you’re his. But if the guy has some hang-ups about not being good enough for you, then you’re going to have to show him you don’t care!”
A pang of longing struck her as all the years of pent-up wanting washed over her. All those looks he gave her, all those smiles.
Did any of them mean anything other than friendship?
Every single night, Megan replayed the ways that cornflower blue gaze of his looked at her. She wondered: was that a little heat in his eyes today? Was his smile a little higher on one end? When he grazed my elbow with his, did he mean to? But if he did, why did he pull back?
And even when she was 99.9% certain she’d seen a spark of something wonderfully heated in his eyes, she would end up shaking her head for the same reason.
If he’d wanted her, a man like Cody would not hesitate. Not for an instant.
He was a leader, a charger by nature, a doer. One of the city’s top Homicide Detectives and one that lived for the chase.
No. Cody Nordstrom was not one to stand by idle and let what he wanted get away. If he’d had wanted her…he’d have caught you long ago, Megan Banks.
A weight of sadness settled over her shoulders at the realization. “He doesn’t want me, Paige. He thinks I’m still just a young girl. He’ll always see me like that fourteen year old girl that walked in on…” No. Why oh why had she thought about that awful day right now?
“He won’t see you as a little girl if he sees you naked, so stop with the pity party. Just take off your coat, seduce him, and let him come to terms with it later. Zach loves it when he comes home to find me partially dressed.”
“But Zach’s your husband,” Meg countered.
“He didn’t used to be,” her friend shot back, and she hung up.
Right. Okay. She could do this. She was here already. Had successfully mastered some of the most difficult parts like ‘breaking in’—although, technically, the door had only needed a little nudge. Still, she was in his bedroom this evening and she was going to do it.
Megan Banks was going to seduce Cody Nordstrom. Oh, God.
Searching the trembling depths of her for courage, she tossed both her coat and phone to the chair by the sindow and nervously ran her hands down her curly blonde hair to make sure it wasn’t sticking out or doing something weird. Six years – six years of being ignored – and oh, yes, Megan had been counting ever since that day she’d seen him at the cemetery. She’d been counting every second since he’d returned.
Well— The counting ends tonight.
Listening for the front door and trying to stop her tummy from quaking, Megan waited, all the while trying not to imagine the enormity of what she was about to do, of what it would mean: to fail to seduce the tall, blond hunk who made her heart race, her mouth water, her insides twist with unfulfilled desire. She tried not to think that the world would end if she failed, and that she’d rather the earth swallow her up if Cody didn’t respond like she was hoping, praying, that he would.
Megan loved him.
She loved him so bad that it ached most of the time.
She loved his hard-boned face. His cool personality. And the way his wide white smiles hid the somberness of his thoughts.
She loved his arresting features and his tanned hands, how big and thick those hands were, and how effortlessly he handled a gun with them.
She loved the way he dressed, and how his suits were always so dark and sharp and contrasted beautifully with the blond of his hair. And she loved those snowy white shirts that were at all times matched with a tie that would kick any other cops ties’ asses.
Most of all, she loved his stubbornness and his determination, and the way he protected her like she was the only thing the world had of value.
She thought of him day and night, and every evening prayed that one day, one day soon, those cool blue eyes that twinkled with humor when he teased her would become hot and dark with desire for her.
He’d looked at her like that before, like he wanted her, when they first met as teens.
His family had just moved in, and Megan had bumped into him as he helped download their truck.
He had seemed stunned at his first sight of her, and he’d stared for what felt like minutes, all while keeping a big box balanced on his shoulders. Then he’d smiled crookedly and said, “I’m Cody,” while an identical-looking fifteen-year-old with eyes not-quite-as-intense stood looking on. He’d jerked his head toward that boy, too. “He’s Ivan.”
They were identical.
Except, maybe, the way they looked at her. One, with hot, friendly blue eyes. The other…with dull, shuttered ones.
“How can people tell you apart?” She’d surveyed them back then, trying to determine their differences.
But Cody had flashed her such an amazing smile, she felt like he—the one with the box and the gaze that made her toes curl—had just become the center of her universe. “That’s the fun part: they can’t.”
He’d made her laugh that day. But when she introduced herself as their next door neighbor and offered him help unloading boxes, he’d shaken his tousled blond head and said, “Nah, We’ve got it. Thanks though.”
But Megan had wanted to talk to him, could not make herself go home to her boring little room and her boring homework, so she’d grabbed a duffel anyway and helped lug it inside.
That had been the mark of their friendship.
Cody would always deny anything Megan offered, like he was too much of a gentleman to take something from her, but she always seemed to know what he really meant and gave it anyway. Until they fought that day long ago and she came storming back to his house only to find Ivan…
The memory of the grisly scene made her heart stop. It had been surreal, like out of a Freddy Krueger movie. Megan had been so shocked and appalled she’d just stood there as Cody brought himself to ask, to demand of his sixteen year old brother, “What have you done!”
She didn’t cry that day. Not when she saw the motionless bodies, Ivan toss the weapon aside and break into a run. She didn’t cry at the funeral of Cody’s parents either.
But Megan Banks cried the day they took Cody away from her.
She kept each and every letter she received from him during the years, and sent back letters of her own that confessed to how scared she was at night—she was certain that his brother Ivan would do something horrible to her family, too.
For years the police had searched and failed to find him, but Cody vowed to her that he would.
But the years passed, the letters stopped coming, and one accidental day while at the cemetery, Megan found herself staring into the shiny blond head of that somber boy to whom she’d confessed her every fear and weakness to. Except now he was a man, and he hardly seemed to remember her.
He didn’t say much when she came over to say hi, but then it’s not like she had much to say, either. Her heart had been fluttering so hard she could barely remember what she’d said, or what he’d said back, she only remembered how fast she’d been back in her car, alone, and brokenhearted.
He also seemed to be haunted by that event, for he appeared on her doorstep and said he had three things to tell her: He’d joined the Phoenix Police Department, he’d captured his parent’s killer, and she didn’t need to be scared anymore—he’d be around if she needed him.
If it’s possible to lose your heart twice to the same person, then that was her second, and last, time, she fell in love with Cody Nordstrom.
But while her nightmares of murders were replaced by unsettling fantasies of her and Cody, the unsuspecting man-of-her-dreams had been treating her like sister, friend, and nun for the past couple of years.
She’d been patiently waiting, wasting away the best years of her life while Cody saved the world from scumbags like his brother. She’d hoped that he would notice she wasn’t a little girl anymore, but he never did, so tonight, she’d put it all out on the table and seduce him.
She nervously glanced down at herself—sexy red heels, sheer leopard thong, matching sheer leopard bra, hair perfectly mussed for that just-got-tumbled look—or in this case tumble-me-now look—plus lip gloss that matched her stilettos…a total transformation from the usual cardigans and jeans with ballet flats.
Cody might not even realize it was her. Oh, no, please please let him get turned on when he sees me.
Meg backed from the bedroom door when she heard a sound downstairs, her heart pounding in anticipation, her palms sweating. The front door creaked and, just as quickly, slammed shut. She tensed when she heard him below—
Legally HotHis voice. Deep and lush, even from afar it stroked her insides, the sensual baritone a warm caress to her very soul. Her heart skittered as she realized parking a couple of houses away in order not to spoil the surprise had been a big mistake—the guy was a detective and he rarely missed a thing. Obviously while he’d been out there, surveying the streets before coming into the house, he’d spotted her Altima by the Ellison’s home.
Spurring herself into action, Megan quickly rushed across the room and jumped on the bed, assuming a sexy pose.
“Nice tie,” she would say when he appeared at the door, recalling a movie that happened to be a favorite of hers, but no no no, she always admired his ties and she should look for variety.
How about something forthright and sexy and innocent-sounding. Something like; ‘Do you like my new panties, Cody?’
Her pulse skipped as she imagined his eyes, blue as cornflowers, go dark with arousal when he realized she had transformed from the girl next door—literally—to a real woman. Laid out right on his bed for him to feast upon. Would he finally take a bite?
Her ears strained to hear his footsteps on the stairs, but seconds passed, and they didn’t come.
Frowning, Megan stumbled out of bed as she heard puttering in the kitchen. She peered through the door, and saw lights from below. She also thought she heard the microwave. Great. Just perfect. She’d have to either go down there in her underwear, or put on her coat and get cooked in it while he stuffed himself, or just wait by the bed. As planned.
She went back to the bed, wondering if he’d sounded tired and not necessarily happy when he’d said her name. This was the first hour of his first day of a long-deserved vacation.
Should she have waited until tomorrow?
Or maybe never?
Maybe he’s not happy, genius. Invasion of personal space and all that.
She frowned. Well, had he not left the door practically open? A hardass detective like him, always leaving home on the rush, never locking up—was that even logical? Protect-the-others-while-I-happily-get-myself-killed was probably Cody Nordstrom’s motto.
She sighed drearily and then readjusted herself along the length of the mattress, plumped up his pillow behind her head and tried to relax.
Cody was far from perfect—under every joke lay a troubled man.
But her troubled little body just adored her troubled man, and she’d like to think that she understood him better than most.
He felt responsible for what his brother did all those years ago, and because of that, Cody didn’t know that he was a higher caliber man than most.
He was one of the best homicide detectives the force had ever seen, but when it came to his personal life, he could stare at something and just not see what stood before him. Now, Megan would do anything to finally be seen. Even strip.
Be sexy, she thought as she stretched out over the bed in a way she hoped would flatter her plain, none-too-curvy figure.
She was dying for him to get up here and let her put his rough-hewn, pretty-boy, Armani-ad face between her hands and kiss those lips she dreamed about for the first time, when she heard squeeeeeach from the closet door.
Frowning, Megan raised her head and sat up straighter, when a flash of movement in the shadowed interior caught eye.
Her heart stopped. The fear was so overwhelming that it paralyzed her. Ice started to build, chilling her skin, her hands, her feet, her brain. Once again, she became statuesque as a shockingly familiar face materialized.
Lungs burning for air that could not make it past her throat, Megan stared into the darkness, a part of her numbed mind screaming at her to move, do something, because someone was staring back at her.
She had been so wound up in her plan, she had not realized she was not alone. Something was inside Cody’s room. Something, some monster, seemed to have been waiting, had been watching her, intent in doing–what?
An image of fifteen years ago, of Cody’s brother standing over his parents dead bodies assailed her, and like she had back then, she remained frozen with fear as the figure stepped out of the shadows.
Panic gripped her by the throat, blocking out the commands of her mind for her to run run run, overpowering her so that she could do nothing, think nothing, only see him coming…
“No,” she croaked helplessly, starting to scramble back against the headboard.
“Shhhhh,” he said, and the fact that he was speaking to her only alarmed her further.
She’d never been so scared in her life. Not even that time long ago, because that time she’d been a girl, and at first she’d thought that what she’d witnessed was a dream. Now she knew for a fact that some little boys did kill their parents.
She knew that the man she had grown to love spent his days hunting down the scum of the earth, all of whom had taken someone’s life, just like his brother.
Life was not pink anymore in her eyes, and it had not been pink for a long, long time …this shadow…this criminal…coming toward her was REAL. He was real and he was closer and he was talking to her!
Her every nightmare, her nightmare of being murdered, of dying a stupid virgin, was real.
Her kicked into action as she opened her mouth wide, panic and fear tangling together for a voice, tumbling to form a big, loud “HEELP MEEE!!!” that the entire world would be able to hear, or at the very least, Cody her hero, but a black rag came over her nose, and she had no time to scream.