"Behind Closed Doors was fun to write. I was cheering Cleo on in her efforts to win Jack, but bless his code of honour, he simply wouldn’t cooperate. But love comes when you least expect it…
Behind Closed Doorsis my third category romance, and the first one to be published. I owe that success to Romance Writers of New Zealand’s Great Beginnings contest. Click here for a list of my contest placings."
Mills & Boon UK ~ June 2011 ~ Paradise Nights Anthology
Six years ago Cleo Honeywell longed for Jack Devlin to look her way. Being sixteen didn’t stop her from trying to prove that she was a woman - with disastrous results. She hasn’t seen him since that night.
Now Jack’s back in Melbourne to settle his father’s estate. Years ago he made the young Cleo off-limits, now she’s rekindling every forbidden fantasy. But she’s still off-limits - his secret will shatter her innocent perception of family, love and life forever.
Jack wasn’t sure how many drinks he’d consumed but it annoyed the heck out of him that Scott was still ostensibly sober when they arrived home. He’d always been able to drink Scotty under the table. A side-effect of surgery? He patted his dressing; at least the booze had dulled the ache in his shoulder, if nowhere else.
The house loomed ahead in the sweep of headlights. What the hell time was it? Apart from the security light which winked on as the taxi approached, the house was in darkness.
He hauled himself out, and swaying a little, stared up at the second storey windows. One in particular. The warm evening breeze stirred the leaves and caressed his face. The way Cleo had caressed his cheek this afternoon.
She must be in bed. He imagined that compact little body warming the sheets, hair spread like a golden fan, and fantasised a moment about what she’d be wearing. Silk, lace, cotton? Or nothing at all.
His whole body went tight as a bow string. Did she sprawl; those slender, creamy arms and legs tangling with the linen, or did she like to curl up? He wished he didn’t want to know.
He dug in his pocket for his keys as he made his winding way up the path. No stars tonight. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The air was thick and still. Then he gazed up at her window again. “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Scott’s eyes followed. “Not a good idea, my intoxicated friend.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“I know I’m right. Can you make it upstairs yourself? The traditional way?”
“Sure. Just like old times, eh?”
“You got it.”
“Later.” Jack raised a hand in farewell as he leaned against the verandah’s stone pillar and watched Scott climb into the cab and disappear down the drive and into the night. Yep, just like old times.
Except… This afternoon everything had changed. Jack sucked in a lungful of the heat-drenched evening to clear the alcohol-induced haze. The one thing that hadn’t changed was how he felt about Cleo. Always that gut-churning, heart-grabbing reaction, an ache so familiar it had become a part of him. He fumbled the key in the lock.
And seeing her again… the instinctive urge to reach out and touch that petal-soft skin, to drag her against him and bury his nose in all that fragrant hair, hadn’t faded.
It had just grown stronger.
He heard a rustle in the bushes as he opened the door. “Evening, Cont…Constantine,” he managed around a rubber tongue. “An evening out with the ladies?”
Con prowled over and wound his way once around Jack’s legs before shooting inside. Jack thumbed on the hall light to see his way upstairs and followed the huge furry shape. Con stopped at Cleo’s room, flicked his tail, obviously irritated to find the door shut.
“You and me both,” Jack muttered. She must have taken a shower — he could smell the fresh scent on the air mixed with the familiar smells of polish and wood.
The light in the stairwell threw long shadows down the hall. He was intoxicated enough to consider opening her door and finding out if his fantasy about her preferred sleeping position was true, but — sadly — not intoxicated enough to carry through. So he stood a moment breathing in her fragrance while Con sat watching the door, his mismatched eyes expectant.
“If I can’t, you can’t,” he told Con. No way was he going to open that door, even for a cat. Especially not for a cat. Royally ticked off, Con rose and stalked on down the hall, tail bristling.
“Okay, time for bed.” The floor board creaked beneath him. Leaning against the wall, he toed off his shoes. “Ssh. Mustn’t wake Cle…”
The almost inaudible click of the door froze him in place. The door opened and a cloud of tousled hair glinted in the light, then an elegant bare shoulder.
Holding his breath, he watched from behind while thousands of forbidden thoughts played through his mind, all of which involved that bare flesh. Starting with sliding his hand under that skinny strap and easing it down…
“Bastard,” he heard her mutter quietly. Then she turned his way.
She wore a tiny pair of pale panties that flared at the hem, exposing the tops of her smooth, creamy legs, and a matching top which stretched over her breasts like opaque cling wrap. In the soft yellow light the colour blended with her skin, making her appear naked. God help him.
Her hand flew to her throat. “Jack! What are you doing here?” She didn’t look pleased to see him.
He thought he felt a grin spread over his face. Or a grimace. “Loitering?” When she simply gaped at him, he straightened — or tried to. “Chain me to your bed. Make me confess, I—”
“Shut up, Jack,” she said, between clenched teeth. “If you have to bring your playmates here, at least have the decency to keep it discreet.”
He frowned. “Say what?”
“The woman you brought home with you.” She glanced up and down the hallway. “The one you were talking to.”
“The one I…Uh…Con. I was talking to Con.” Perhaps that’s why his tongue felt thick and furry.
On cue, the fluffy feline padded out of Jack’s room towards them.
“Oh.” She flushed and lowered her head. “There you are, you naughty boy,” she said as Con disappeared into her room. She raised her eyes to Jack’s. “I apologise…I shouldn’t have jumped all over you like that…”
All over you. “Like honey over hot fudge.”
Had he lost control of that thick, furry tongue too? “Nothing. No need to apologise, s’okay.” He took a step, tripped on his own damn shoes that he’d forgotten he’d removed. Uh-oh. Fighting inevitability, he stumbled forward, trapping her against the wall. Her breasts collided with his chest. Her eyes flew to his, wide and almost green in the light. He could see the pretty pulse beating fast against her throat, matching his.
His hands had connected with her shoulders. He wanted to slide them down her arms, to feel that warm, silky skin and the firm muscles beneath, to watch her eyes widen with awareness while he did, but opted for the wall on either side of her head.
He should step away now, go to his room, but it was as if he were encased in stone. He sucked in air, immersing himself in the fragrance. “You smell like a garden.”
“Can’t say the same for you, you smell like a brewery.” Her breath whispered over his skin. His gaze dropped to her full, sensuous lips, slightly parted. She remained as she was as if waiting.
Thunder rolled across the sky. Through the open window in her room a layer of humidity swamped them, making her skin dewy and slick.
She moved oh-so-subtly, so that he felt her nipples rise like two little beads against his shirt. And felt the hot, liquid slide towards total meltdown. Sweat broke out on his brow, his arms were beginning to tremble. Her mouth was a whisper away. He was hard and hot and only human.
That first contact was like laying his lips on a live wire. The sensation sizzled along nerve endings and spun through his head. He tangled his hands in her hair like he’d always imagined doing, let the silky strands caress his fingers, and shifted nearer.
In response, she moved her hips lightly against him, a soft noise coming from her throat, like a purr. He felt her mouth soften and give and took instant advantage, plunging deep, dancing his tongue over hers.
He’d known how she’d taste without the bitterness of anger. Exquisite. Sweet, dark and rich, like the imported cherry liqueur his father kept for special occasions.
This is what he’d wanted all these years. What he’d never found with any other woman. That connection, the rightness.
Then he couldn’t think, didn’t want to analyse. His thumbs moved to her face, exploring the satin softness of the skin beneath her jaw, her neck, the little hollow above her collarbone where her pulse jittered.
He felt her arms slide around his waist, the heat of her hands burning a trail up his spine as she stroked him. She shifted, arching toward him.
Wanting more, his own hands slid lower, over soft cotton and feminine curves. His thumbs whisked over taut nipples beneath the cling of fabric. With something close to reverence he filled his palms with the firm but luscious weight of her breasts.
Her quick intake of breath, the moan from her throat brought him up and out of the grip of his sensual haze. What in hell was he doing? Clutching for some shred of sanity, he jerked himself away. His lungs burned, his lips were on fire. And his rock-hard erection throbbed like a wound.
She blinked at the sudden movement, those thick gold lashes sweeping her cheeks, then stared up at him, eyes glazed. Something dark and passionate simmered in their depths, and something more: Shock.
And no wonder. The scene was like an old movie rerun. Except that this time he’d not stopped at a kiss; he’d groped her like a randy teenager. His drink-hazed mind rejected the knowledge that she’d done her own groping.
Cleo. The kid who’d smeared jam on his bike when she’d been too young to ride with him, the one whose knee he’d tended when she’d sneaked out to road test that same bike.
The girl who’d always been there, in his life, in his thoughts. The girl he’d never been able to touch.
And he still couldn’t touch her because he’d made a promise to himself.
Because they were shaking, he lowered his hands, forced them into fists at his sides. Took a step away. Futile to hope she hadn’t felt his arousal.
She wouldn’t know it went so much deeper than sex — after all, he’d done it before with much the same result. Pain clawed viciously around his heart. “I’m sorry.”
Pathetic. He wasn’t sorry. Already he wanted to do it again.
Her eyes widened and the limpid pools hardened to glacial ice. The mouth which he’d all but devoured, thinned. Then one hand shot up and he felt the sharp sting of her palm against his cheek.
The slap echoed like a gunshot in the muggy stillness. Then she hugged her shoulders as she backed towards her bedroom doorway. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, her lips still glistening from their kiss, trembled.
She flapped a hand and he had to stop himself from reaching for her. “Just so you know,” she said, her voice husky, breaking. “That’s for the apology.”
Before he could get his head around her words the door slammed shut, rattling the trio of watercolours on the wall.
He stood watching it a moment, rubbing the hot, stinging spot on his cheek. The apology?
He’d changed their relationship yet again. One thing hadn’t changed: his feelings towards her. But now, whenever he looked at those lips, he’d remember how they’d felt in the bloom of passion.
And want it again.
Scott was right. Jack Devlin was going to hate himself in the morning.
* * *
Cleo sagged against her door. She barely registered the flash of lightning through the window. Barely noticed the first big drops of rain plopping on the leaves outside.
Her whole body felt as if it were on a knife’s edge. Weak, helpless, burning… She lifted trembling fingers to her mouth and a whimper escaped. Oh, she burned all right, from the tingling in her still kiss-sensitive lips to the wave of liquid heat low in her belly, to the soles of her bare feet.
He’d wanted her. He’d wanted her as a man wants a woman. She’d seen it in his eyes, smouldering and ready to ignite. She’d felt it in his unsteady breathing, the way he’d tensed his muscles as he leaned into her.
And most telling of all: he’d been big and hard and all male. She might not be too familiar with male arousal but she’d known exactly what she’d felt nudging her belly. She shivered at the thought of that impatient masculine part of him sliding inside her.
And the memory of his hot, restless hands cupping her — her breasts felt full and heavy beneath her pyjama top. Her nipples, still tight and erect, prickled.
Her jaw tightened. The impact of what he’d done seeped through the heat haze and her anger resurfaced. He’d apologised. He’d denied what they had, denied both of them.
He’d lifted that lid on her Pandora’s box, shown her the delights inside then slammed it shut. And apologised.
How dare he! The jerk. Was he sorry because he was drunk or because he’d kissed her?
She hadn’t waited to find out. She’d had control over that small action at least. But the rest… Her breath whooshed out. Unable to think beyond the moment, she’d been all but molten metal in his hands, letting him mould her to his will with his clever fingers, his mouth, his body…
She needed to lie down.
Her legs felt weak as she crossed to the bed. The inside of her thighs felt chafed, sensitised from the rough weave of Jack’s trousers.
Con swatted an impatient paw when she pushed at him, and stalked to the foot of the bed — typical male, wanting it all his way.
Punching the pillow, she flopped backwards and lay in the murky evening-scented stillness, gazed at the ceiling. “I’ve got news for you, Jack. Tomorrow you pay.”
Me winning RWA's Australian Romantic Book of the Year (short category).