Tempted by Love – Jennifer Ryan

Walk away. Now! The other way. Stop walking! Turn around before it’s too late! Jay ignored the commands in his head, too tempted by some other, deeper part of him and the beauty staring into her glass at the bar to override good sense and self-preservation. She’s your two best friends’ sister!!! Even that didn’t halt his steps. Since she arrived yesterday at the lodge for both her brothers’ weddings, every time Alina drew his eye—far too often for his comfort considering his connection to her brothers—she seemed happy, vibrant even. So why the sadness in her eyes? Caden married Mia just hours ago. Family and friends, like him, celebrated the couple’s nuptials after the lovely garden ceremony with dinner and dancing. Alina enjoyed herself through all of it, socializing with her parents, brothers, and other family. The friendship between her and Caden’s wife, Mia, and Beck’s fiancée, Ashley, seemed genuine and growing closer. As the party ended and everyone went back to their rooms to rest before Beck and Ashley’s wedding tomorrow, he’d snuck out onto the terrace to take yet another work call. He never expected to come back in and find Alina alone, and looking lonely, at the bar. He should go up to his room and leave her be. A smart man would, but he took a seat beside her, waved a signal to the bartender to bring him what she was having, then tried to wipe that forlorn look off her beautiful face. “You’re not losing your brothers, you’re gaining two sisters. As I see it, they’ve got those guys wrapped around their little fingers, so it’s three to two against your brothers now.

” The stupid statement earned him a halfhearted smile. “Actually, I’m the only girl and the youngest, so I’m pretty much a spoiled brat and already get everything I want.” Her lips turned down into another thoughtful frown. “Mostly.” Jay nodded his thanks to the bartender for the double whiskey. “Well, spoiled is one thing, brat is another.” Alina pinched her lips into an adorable pout. “I don’t know how they did it. Those two.” She shook her head.

“I mean, seriously. I thought they’d be single forever, or at least take another ten years before figuring out work wasn’t more important than having a life.” He had a couple years on her oldest brother, Caden, and nearly ten years on her. She probably thought him ancient. He still hadn’t taken the plunge, or even come close. “But somehow in the midst of the chaos that is their lives, they each found the perfect person. I can’t even find a guy who can manage to show up on time, put his phone down for a real conversation, and doesn’t think a text is as good as a phone call.” “Any guy who thinks he’s got something better to do than talk to you isn’t worth your time.” Alina rolled her eyes at that bland platitude. Jay had ignored the beeps and pings coming from his cell phone since he sat down, alerting him that even if he was taking a few days’ vacation the bad guys weren’t.

His work continued—and demanded his attention—even this late at night. Right now, the dark-haired beauty sitting next to him had his full attention. He sipped his drink, surprised by the smooth warmth of it instead of the burn down his throat he expected. Alina had great taste in whiskey. He’d had a couple of beers and toasted the happy couple with champagne at the reception, but now wished he’d been drinking with Alina the whole day. She liked the good stuff. “Trust me, there will come a time when a guy takes one look at you and he’ll know what I know, what you already know, that you’re a woman worth holding on to.” The outstanding whiskey hadn’t loosened his tongue enough to make him spill that truth. He wanted her to know it. Her head came up and her gaze finally left the drink she’d been staring at for the last five minutes and met his.

Her head tipped to the side as she studied his face and looked deep into his eyes. “How do you know? We’ve barely spent any time together.” “I’ve been to dozens of birthdays, holidays, and dinner parties with your brothers. We’ve done the small talk thing on many occasions. But I’ve really gotten to know you through your brothers. They talk about you all the time. For all their teasing and grumpy attitudes when you tell them what to do, they adore you. They’re so proud of you for all your accomplishments. You graduated top of your class, earned your bachelor’s degree in three years, completed the Pharm.D program with honors.

” Her eyes widened with shock that he knew that much about her. “How’s the new job? Is your boss still giving you trouble?” Caden and Beck both appreciated the married man who had taken Alina under his wing at work, but grumbled about his overly affectionate way with Alina. If they saw Jay with her now, they’d send him up to his room. Alone. In their eyes, no one was good enough for their sister. He got a kick out of hearing how they gave every guy she’d ever brought around a thorough once-over and stern warning. The guy who could stand up to them just might be the guy who kept her. Jay didn’t move. He liked her company. “You mean, is he still ‘in love’ with me?” Thanks to the air quotes, he didn’t think she believed her boss was really in love with her, just harmlessly infatuated.

“Who isn’t in love with you?” he teased and earned another sweet smile. “You charm everyone around you with your friendliness with those you know and open acceptance of newcomers.” “Yet we’ve barely shared more than pleasant chitchat.” True. “In my line of work, observation is key.” Her blue-gray eyes sharpened on him. “And you’ve been watching me.” Busted. He couldn’t deny it. From the moment he arrived and joined the wedding festivities, he’d been unable to do anything else.

All of a sudden, she drew him like a flame in the night. He didn’t know why. She was the same attractive woman he’d seen before, but something changed inside him when he spotted her laughing with her soon-to-be sisters-in-law in the lobby. To him, she glowed brighter than the brides-to-be. Her laugh punched him in the gut and lightened his mood all at the same time. He’d wanted in on the joke and to laugh with her. He couldn’t remember the last time he laughed like that. He sipped his drink and tried to tell himself he didn’t see the interest in her eyes he’d seen in many other women’s sultry looks. He failed at convincing himself because Alina looked more like a desirable woman tonight than his buddies’ baby sister. He needed to rein in the growing desire to reach out and touch her to see if her golden skin was as soft as it looked.

Maybe he’d had one too many drinks. The whiskey loosened his tongue and cracked open the door on his libido. He’d vowed to stay single until he could devote more than one night here and there with many nights in between to a woman. It wasn’t fair to leave any woman to wonder if he’d fallen off the face of the earth or just got buried under paperwork. His job had become his life. And just like Alina, he wondered if the kind of friendship, love, and connection Caden and Beck had found would ever be his. “Don’t worry, Alina, you’ve got plenty of time to settle down. Enjoy this next part of your life now that you’re done with school and finally living your life the way you want. You’ve got a great job, friends, and a family who supports you. The perfect guy will come along.

” She might have time, but he was creeping ever closer to his forties and that dreaded point where people wondered what the hell was wrong with him that he hadn’t found someone to share his life. He hadn’t even had a long-time girlfriend in the last few years. He didn’t trust anyone and was always looking for their angle. In his experience, nobody liked that, especially a woman he was trying to date. This past year, he’d felt time slipping by along with the dreams he’d had for the wife, kids, and home he’d always thought he’d have someday. His somedays were running out faster than he’d ever imagined. Reading the change in his mood, Alina settled her hand over his on the bar. The warmth of her skin sank into him and spread like a living thing through his system. The sadness faded from her eyes as that sultry look she gave him earlier took over again. “My brothers both said they never saw Mia and Ashley coming.

Maybe we should stop looking for love and enjoy the company we’re with. Love will either find us, or not.” “I’ve had a lot of not. It can be fun, too.” For a little while, because it never lasted. Alina picked up her drink, but kept her other hand over his. He took his glass in his free hand and clinked it with hers. “To the most beautiful company I’ve had in a long time.” Alina tossed back the last big swallow. He did the same.

The warmth from the whiskey spreading through his system was nothing compared to the heat in her eyes. The next round led to two more as conversation easily flowed. At some point, he turned on the stool toward her and her gorgeous legs ended up between his. They shared some embarrassing but funny stories about their lives. He told her about one particularly strange breakup that had her reaching out and placing her hand on his face. “She seriously broke up with you because your smile is just a tad lopsided?” The frown didn’t match the mirth in her bright eyes. “You should have seen her place. Don’t ask me why I noticed, but every switch plate in her house had the screw heads with the lines perfectly vertical to match the up and down switches. Attention to detail is one thing, but that’s just bizarre. Seriously, who has the time to do that? Everything was straight lines, pictures and knickknacks perfectly centered, everything symmetrical.

” “Except your face.” He thought it had more to do with him being late to every date or canceling altogether because of work. Alina brushed her thumb over his lips and burst out laughing. He wanted her to dip that thumb in his mouth so he could suck it and turn that sweet giggle into a seductive moan. “That is the craziest reason ever to break up with such a handsome man.” “You think I’m handsome?” She tipped her drink to her lips, then brought it down just enough to stare at him over the rim. “You know you’re gorgeous.” She took a sip, then gave him a sexy grin. “Even with your crooked smile.” “Doesn’t matter.

I don’t use it much.” She set her glass down and leaned in. The silly moment turned serious. “You should. It looks good on you.” He found himself leaning in to kiss her, but pulled back when he remembered he’d sat down to cheer up a friend—who was strictly hands-off if he wanted to live the next time he saw Caden and Beck. “Worst breakup?” he asked to get them back to having fun and to cool the heat building between them. “Well, it’s not a breakup, but one guy didn’t know how to take no for an answer.” Jay narrowed his eyes, angry some guy came on to her and didn’t keep his hands to himself. She read the look and waved her hands back and forth in front of him.

“It’s not like that. He just didn’t know when to quit. He asked me out practically every day at school. He was inventive, if not silly.” “Silly put you off. You’re smart, hardworking, honest. You want a guy who—” “Isn’t a perpetual child,” she finished for him. “We were in college. I wanted maturity. He wanted to play high school pranks.

” That intrigued him. “Like what?” “We had to dissect a cadaver.” He scrunched his nose in distaste. “You did that?” “Not my favorite, but yes. So, I opened his chest and discovered the heart missing. The joker popped up on the other side of the table and held the heart out to me and said, ‘My heart belongs to you.’” Jay groaned and rolled his eyes. “Ah, that’s bad. Terrible.” He laughed with Alina and it felt damn good to let loose for once.

“Corny as hell and the perfect example of what I’d been dealing with with that guy. Totally not serious about anything.” “And you turned him down flat again.” “I spread the cadaver’s chest wide, looked inside, and said, ‘Yep, some guys don’t have a heart.’” Jay feigned being wounded and touched his hand to his chest. “Hey, we all have hearts. It’s just some of us don’t know how to use them.” He dropped his hand back to his thigh. “Are you sure?” Alina leaned in, put her hand on his chest, and the sweet smell of her and a shock of electricity shot through him. His heart stopped for a second, then triple-timed it against his ribs.

For a moment, time stopped. Their gazes locked and held for one second, two, three. He fell into the depths of longing in her eyes and nearly lost himself. With their faces inches apart, he leaned in so close he smelled the whiskey on her lips and felt her shallow breath warm his skin. A millisecond from losing his mind and kissing her, the overhead lights went out. They broke apart like the band pulling them together snapped. The lights around the back of the bar, highlighting the bottles of booze, bathed them in a soft glow. “It’s twenty minutes past closing,” the bartender announced with a knowing grin. Alina reached for the check, but Jay snapped it up. “My treat.

I can’t remember a better evening.” He truly meant it. Their eyes locked. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” Lost in Alina and the feelings he shouldn’t have clouding his mind and making his heart beat in that strange rhythm that seemed to keep time to whatever it was about her that drew him in deeper and deeper by the moment, he forgot to sign the check until the bartender cleared his throat. He left the guy a huge tip for giving him the extra twenty minutes with this beautiful woman. Self-preservation kicked in. He took the hand she’d used to touch him time and again over the last few hours, stood, and brought her off the stool. “Time to go.

” He didn’t know what else to say, but he needed to get out of there before things went too far. They left the empty bar. God knows if anyone from the wedding party had come in or if they’d had the place to themselves the whole time. He both cared and didn’t give a damn if anyone saw them. He’d blow it off as two friends passing the time if it got back to Caden and Beck. He held Alina’s soft hand. She used her free one to punch the button for the elevator. Tipsy—okay, drunk—she swayed on her four-inch heels. He steadied her with an arm around her shoulders as they walked into the elevator. She hit the button for the fourth floor.

The cozy lodge Caden and Beck rented out for the weddings wasn’t huge, but it boasted some of the nicest rustic-chic rooms for those who wanted an elegant country retreat. They stood at the back of the elevator, side by side, leaning against the wall, hands clasped tight. He’d see her to her room like a gentleman. Then he’d go back down to his room and sleep alone like every other night since God-knows-how-long-now. Alina tilted her head to the side and glanced up at him, her blue-gray eyes soft and alluring. “I don’t want tonight to end.” Neither do I. The part of his brain that told him this wasn’t a good idea got drowned out by the buzz of lust that swept through him. Don’t do this! You’re crazy! Ignoring that voice and overrated reason, he leaned forward, hit the button for the third floor, and drew Alina around in front of him. “My room’s closer.

” Those were the last words he got out before he finally satisfied his curiosity and the demand of his body and kissed her. The second his lips touched hers, fire shot through him. He cupped her face, pulled her up to her toes, and sank his tongue deep into her mouth. Her hands slipped into his jacket, around his sides, and up his back. Her body pressed to his and her belly rubbed against his hard cock. She moaned. He let loose and kissed her again. The elevator doors opened with a soft ding. She backed out the door. He had no choice but to follow if he wanted to keep tasting her sweet mouth.

She put her hand on his chest and pushed, breaking the kiss. “Which room?” She looked down the hallway in one direction, then the other. It took him a second to get his bearings, but once he did, he took her hand and practically dragged her down the hall to his room. She traipsed after him giggling. At his door, he put his finger to his lips. “Shh. Someone will see us.” “You mean hear us.” She laughed again. He shook his whiskey-soaked head, put the key card in the lock, and shoved the door open and Alina inside.

She backed up through the sitting area toward the bedroom, kicking off one of her shoes along the way. He pushed the door shut at his back and stalked her, feeling very much like the animal inside of him that wanted to be unleashed to get his hands on her. She stopped at the foot of the bed, turned, dropped her sparkling purse, and stared at him over her shoulder, silently and provocatively inviting him to slide the zipper down the back of her killer dress. He’d get to it. First, he stopped behind her with his chest pressed to her back and slid his hands over her shoulders, down her arms in a soft sweep of fingertips, then dipped his hands under her arms and around her sides and up her belly and ribs to cup her full breasts. Her hands went up and reached over the back of his neck until her fingers combed through his hair. Her hard nipples pressed into his palms as he squeezed her breasts and kissed a trail down her neck to the curve of her shoulder. Every taste of her skin, the rock of her rump against his hard cock, the intoxicating scent of her, made him want her more with each passing second. Impatient to see all of her, he unzipped the satin dress. He shucked off his jacket and threw it aside.

The tie he’d loosened at the bar followed. She dropped the front of the dress down her arms and pushed it over her hips with an ass wiggle that made his dick twitch with anticipation. She kicked the pool of blue away along with her other shoe. He undid his shirt cuffs and several more buttons down the front, then reached back and pulled the whole thing over his head and sent it sailing to the floor. Alina turned to him and stared at his bare chest, lust and admiration in her eyes. He held back the impulse to flex. Barely. His gaze roamed down her beautiful face to her lace-covered breasts. She reached behind her, undid the bra clasp, and tossed the thing, smiling mischievously when he growled low in his throat and moved toward her again, wanting to get his hands and mouth on those pinktipped breasts begging for his attention. She backed up and fell on the bed, her breasts bouncing as she scooted back.

He almost laughed, but the sight of all that creamy skin, soft curves, and her welcoming smile tightened his chest and shut off his brain to speech because all he wanted to do was devour. The gorgeous goddess lay on the white blanket, a shapely silhouette of golden skin. Like gravity, she pulled him in. He drew closer, leaned over, planted his hands on either side of her hips, and kissed her belly, his bottom lip grazing her dark blue panties. She sighed and melted into the bed. He licked his way up to her belly button and circled it with his tongue before traveling back down, taking the lace in his teeth and tugging the panties down her gorgeous legs. She drew her legs up and to the side, raised her arms to her head, and raked her fingers through her long, dark hair, spreading it over the white bed. Stunned by her beauty, his heart slammed into his ribs. His mind lost all thought but one. Sexy perfection.

He stood at the end of the bed with her panties hanging from his mouth and undid the belt at his waist and kicked off his shoes. Her eyes smoldered as she watched him undo the button, slide the zipper down, slip his hands inside his boxer briefs at his sides, and push his pants and underwear down his legs all at once. Socks went flying a split second before he stood before her naked, his cock standing up, hard as rock. Her eyes blazed. He tugged the panties out of his mouth and rubbed them down his chest, over his dick, and tossed them away. Her hips rocked back into the white cloud of blankets, then up. An invitation if he’d ever seen one. He crawled up the bed and Alina and laid his body over hers. She cradled him between her thighs and rubbed her slick center against his aching cock. He wanted this one moment to feel her against him, skin to skin, soft to his hard, before he got the condom.

He sank down and kissed her softly, then pressed back up on his hands and stared down at her in the soft light coming through the window sheers from the hotel garden lights glowing outside. She took his breath away. “You are so beautiful.”

.

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