Gracie pulled up to the Donovan family’s brick bungalow and turned off the ignition. The modest house was located in a tight-knit neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and looked nearly identical to all the other bungalows lining the street, except for the brightly colored balloons next to the door.
She got out of the car and walked up the steps. Today’s event was at Shannon Donovan’s house. The mother of the groom had wanted a close-family-andfriends celebration before the official engagement party tonight. Gracie blew out a deep breath. Another day with the Donovan clan, and a new opportunity to change her ways with the professor.
As she’d been here before, she knocked on the door and then walked in.
An explosion was followed by a sound of rapid machine-gun fire, so loud it had to shake the plaster off the walls of the small foyer. Gracie peered into the small living room to find James playing a video game with a chubby, angel-faced boy around twelve or thirteen.
Neither of them glanced in her direction.
Controller in hand, James’s attention was riveted on the flat-screen television. The line of his jaw was hard, his cheekbones defined, as he concentrated on the game.
“Flank him. Go. Go. Go,” James yelled, gesturing wildly with his controller.
Gracie had never seen him so animated before. The sight was riveting.
The boy’s arms flailed as his thumbs frantically worked across the controller. “To your left.”
One of the guys in military garb on the screen moved and James said, “You’ve got it, take the shot.”
The other animated soldier dropped to one knee and shot, filling the screen with the splatter of blood and brains flying through the air before the screen cut to another scene.
“Yes!” The boy whooped, his face alight with the thrill of virtual victory.
“Did you see his head explode?” James grinned, leaning back on the floral brocade couch. The feminine fabric highlighted the masculinity of his face, the broadness of his shoulders in a black waffle-knit shirt.
Gracie couldn’t help but be charmed at the excited expression the professor wore. She’d never seen him look so carefree or unreserved.
The boy looked at James with complete adoration, a sweet smile on his round face. “That was awesome.”
Gracie stepped into the room and leaned against the doorframe, finally making her presence known so she wouldn’t be caught gawking. “That was some impressive splatter.”
They looked at her.
James’s gaze flickered over her body. “Gracie.”
She fought the urge to stiffen at his cool tone. It was a casual brunch, so she wore jeans and a black scoop-neck knit top that highlighted her blond hair and curves. She’d made damn sure she looked good, covering the shadows under her eyes with concealer.
“Professor,” she returned before beaming at the boy. His mouth hung open as he gaped at her. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
James’s mouth quirked as he noticed the boy’s stunned expression. Gracie thought she detected an eye roll but she couldn’t be sure.
James jostled the kid out of his daze and said, “Gracie Roberts, this is my cousin, Declan.”
Gracie walked over and stuck out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Declan.”
The boy turned scarlet as his sweaty palm slid into hers. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Gracie waved. “Ha, ma’am makes me feel like I’m a hundred years old. Call me Gracie.” She jutted her chin toward the television. “Nice shooting. Maybe later you can show me how it’s done.”
Declan flushed an even deeper shade of red, jerking his gaze toward the professor. “James did all the hard stuff.”
Gracie shrugged. “From what I saw you delivered the kill shot.”
James smiled at her, a real smile, one that flashed the mysterious dimple, and Gracie’s heart gave a hard lurch. In a split second, like the sudden strike of lightning, she saw it. The sun streamed through the window, highlighting the gold in his hair, and she saw the man she’d been refusing to acknowledge since she’d met him. The one everyone else saw. The man Lindsey Lord looked at like a god and Cecilia thought sexy.
The man who called to some deep, secret place inside her. The attraction that pulled at her while she focused instead on all the things about him that irritated her. The world swung and she blinked, taking a step back.
The smile transformed into concern and he stood, walking toward her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded even as a swell of heat washed through her.
No. No. No. Not him. Anyone but him. He was all wrong for her. He was her best friend’s brother. He was secure and stable.
He was coming closer. Too close. Awareness flared, impossible to ignore.
He was going to touch her. A second later he gripped her arm and she gasped. “You’re as white as a sheet.”
A jolt of electricity shot up her arm. He was one of those solid-relationship guys who mowed the lawn and had five-year plans. She straightened and squared her shoulders. “I’m fine.”
He didn’t eat carbs! Or sugar! Flour was a part of her life. She was a baker.
His forehead creased. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice too breathless. He needed to stop touching her. She needed space to get a handle on this. She blurted the first thing that popped into her head. “I have the cake in my truck.”
His hand dropped away and she could finally breathe. “I can go get it.”
James’s black shirt stretched over his broad chest. Her fingers twitched as a startling visual of tracing her hands over the lines of all those muscles filled her mind.
Oh no. Where was his geek-wear? She needed a pair of chinos, stat. She cleared her throat. “It’s a two-man job; you’ll need help.”
He nodded. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look a little shaky.”
“I’m great. Just tired.” Her gaze snagged on his mouth, his full mouth, but instead of focusing on what a horrible kisser he’d be, she could see it. Feel his mouth moving over hers. She sucked in a breath. “I’m used to sleeping in my own bed.”
Expression filled with disbelief, he was clearly perplexed by her behavior. He started to say something, but Evan came in and his mouth snapped shut.
He stepped away.
Out of the corner of her vision, she saw James’s face smooth over into the cool remoteness he always seemed to wear whenever she was around.
“There she is.” Evan bounded over to her and swept her up in his powerful arms, giving her a big smacking kiss on the lips. “How’s my favorite girl?”
Thankful for the distraction from her troubling thoughts, she laughed and swatted the pro football player and resident wild-child away, relaxing into the easy flirtation. “Ah, if only I could believe you, but after last week’s game you told that pretty reporter with the red hair the same thing.”
“But with you I mean it.” Evan grinned down at her. At six-five he was built like a Greek god crossed with, well, a pro football player. With the Donovan family’s green eyes and dark brown hair, he was about as gorgeous as a man could be. Considered one of the best wide receivers in the game, he was a media favorite, with all his crazy antics and a new supermodel every week.
He loved to flirt, and she flirted right back. “You’re a liar, but I still love you.”
Since they’d met he’d made it plenty clear he’d take her to bed without even the slightest encouragement. He’d whispered outrageous things in her ear. Hugged her. Teased her. They’d gotten drunk together on more than one occasion, and yet she’d never given him the opportunity to make a move. Why?
He was a hot-as-hell, wild, testosterone-soaked, NFL Pro Bowl-er. Women lined up for a chance to be in his bed. So what the hell was wrong with her? Sure, it would be a fling, because there’s no way Evan was a settlingdown kind of guy, but he’d be the best kind of fling. They’d have fantastic, sweaty sex and still be friends the next morning. So why hadn’t she jumped at the chance to get between the sheets with the notorious Evan Donovan?
She turned and her gaze collided with James’s. His arms were crossed, his expression had turned stormy, and his jaw was firmed into a hard line.
Heat spiked across her skin and her belly jumped. Cecilia was right.
It was because of him.
Jennifer Dawson grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from DePaul University with a degree in psychology. She met her husband at the public library while they were studying. To this day she still maintains she was NOT checking him out. Now, over twenty years later, they’re married and living in a suburb right outside of Chicago with two awesome kids and a crazy dog.Despite going through a light FM, poem writing phase in high school, Jennifer never grew up wanting to be a writer (she had more practical aspirations of being an international super spy). Then one day, suffering from boredom and disgruntled with a book she’d been reading, she decided to put pen to paper. The rest, as they say, is history.
These days Jennifer can be found sitting behind her computer, writing her next novel, chasing after her kids, keeping an ever watchful eye on her ever growing to-do list, and NOT checking out her husband.