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Thank you to everyone that entered #TemptedToWrite, it was a fabulous competition with a very high standard of entry! The judges, Heidi Rice, Charlotte Phillips and Joss Wood, definitely had a tough time deciding who was the winner, but after long deliberation, they decided it was Kara Marshall and her story 'Law and Disorder' that would take the crown. They loved Kara's author voice and unique style of storytelling. A special mention must also go to M.A Grant and her story Melting the Ice Queen, which finished 2nd in the competition, and Kellie Watkinson, who finished 3rd with Diving In. Both fantastic stories and we can't wait to read more from both of you in the near future!So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce our #TemptedToWrite winner...sit back and enjoy, Kara Marshall and 'Law and Disorder'...
LAW AND DISORDER
LIAR! TWO-TIMER !!!!
The letters were bold, brash and scrawled angrily over the bonnet of the shiny silver sports car.
She finished the last letter with an angry flourish and nodded her approval. That should do it!
Petty? Maybe. Satisfying? Definitely.
And, okay, she knew it was wrong to deface someone else’s property, but venting her anger—her jealous, maddening, all-consuming anger—was making her feel just a teeny bit better. I mean, how dare he? How dare that sneaky, slightly balding creep ditch her, Carly Jenkins, for a …? What? For a fake-tanned, fake-boobed, peroxide blonde . . . floozy!! And that was being kind—to both of them.
She would never forgive him.
N. E. V. E. R.
So he more than deserved a little revenge graffiti over his precious pride and joy. The car he obviously loved more than he loved her. But then, like most of the men in her life, he clearly didn’t care that he had let her down. BIG-TIME. You’d think by now she’d have learnt her lesson. But oh, no, here she was again—hurt, humiliated and reduced to breaking the law! A new low even for her.
Luckily he’d decided to park up the side alley of the hip club they’d both coincidentally been at this evening. Inferno was the place to be seen, but unfortunately she’d ended up seeing things that had shocked her to her core—her boyfriend in a steamy clinch with another girl being one of them. She thought she’d been seeing things—thought the wine had already rocketed to her head—but oh, no, there he’d been, her precious boyfriend, dirty dancing as if he was Patrick Swayze on heat, for all and sundry to see.
Carly’s jaw had bounced resoundingly off the floor. Surely this couldn’t be James, who never danced—James who'd coined the expression ‘two left feet’—up there bumping and grinding like the best of them. As if he wasn’t supposed to be working late doing overtime so that he could treat them both to a much-deserved weekend away. The only thing she deserved was a long-overdue kick up the rear for believing his drivel in the first place. But nobody was going to put this Baby in a corner.
Yes, she’d enjoyed seeing his total shock when she’d confronted him on the dance floor, but after the initial blustering he’d actually tried to brazen it out, making excuses to try and blame her. If only she wasn’t a workaholic, so defiantly independent, had been a better girlfriend… Blah, blah, blah. As she’d stood with her mouth hanging open it had turned out that slimy little James was quite an expert at the blame game, firmly laying the fault for their failed relationship at her apparent feet of clay.
A sudden spurt of anger almost made her lose her already unsteady footing. She shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine, but tonight she’d needed something to dilute her embarrassment, to bolster her courage, How was she going to face everyone after what had just happened—i.e. public humiliation at its finest ?
‘Hey! What do you think you're doing?’
The hand holding the crimson lipstick froze at the sound of a furious male voice and Carly slowly turned round—with the help of a steadying wing mirror.
Uh-oh, this wasn’t good. This wasn't good at all.
‘Um, isn’t it obvious?’
She forced herself to take a leaf out of James’s book and appear brazen, trying to focus on the irate stranger silhouetted in the street light, staring as if she’d lost her mind. And perhaps he had a point?
‘I’m teaching my two-timing boyfriend…oops, sorry, ex- boyfriend a lesson. Yes, sirree, I’m treating his precious car with the same respect he has just shown me in that stupid club—’ She ended the sentence with a large hiccup and a grand gesture towards the offending vehicle.
‘That’s all very well, but this isn’t his car.’
‘Excuse me?’ She frowned in confusion, her gaze darting between Mr Angry and the scarlet graffiti, which was looking more garish by the second. ‘I’m sorry what did you just say?’ Her ears must be playing tricks.
‘It can’t be his car because it’s mine.’ He waved towards the top-of-the-range BMW, clearly incredulous at the sight before him. And no wonder.
‘What? Are you sure?’ Nothing seemed to be making much sense tonight.
Carly slumped against the very car she’d been doing her best to deface and forced herself to meet the accusing gaze of the most gorgeous guy ever. Except—hold on a minute— there seemed to be two of him, clad in identical dark suits, white shirts and roughly loosened silk ties. Suddenly things were looking up…or maybe not. She could feel the reverberating tension in the night air as she blinked hard, then blinked again. Okay, he was back to one guy—one dark-haired, blue-eyed stud muffin extraordinaire. And he looked far from impressed.
But where had he sprung from? He strongly resembled an extra from an Armani photo shoot, with finely honed cheekbones, a granite jaw and the obligatory midnight stubble, but—and it wasn’t just her imagination—there was definitely steam coming out of his perfectly formed ears. Could ears be sexy? Surprisingly, his were.
‘That brand-new BMW, which cost me an arm and a leg only last week, is definitely my car. And it appears to be covered in bright red lipstick.’
‘It’s Sexy Scarlet, actually.’
The pause was long and loaded.
‘Hmm, it’s sexy all right.’
Suddenly those mesmerising blue eyes weren’t looking anywhere near the lipstick graffiti. Instead they were slowly travelling down her length, from her rather dishevelled dark hair, past her little black dress, which was currently feeling much too short, to end at her favourite three-inch heels—the same heels she was having serious problems balancing in. She loved wearing party shoes—not that she often got the chance. Maybe that was an excuse for her current lack of balance… It was either that or the rather large glass of wine she’d managed to sink since her mortifying show-down with James Cooke, aka the boyfriend from hell.
This mess was his fault. His and the Pinot. She should have known better. On both fronts.
However, this revelation wasn’t going to get her out of what was becoming a very sticky situation. Mr Gorgeous was looking decidedly hacked off—and who could blame him? She’d just defaced his car with some pretty nasty insults, ruining her favourite lipstick in the process. Not one of her finest hours.
‘I’m so sorry, but it looks just like his… Well, maybe yours is bigger, now that I think about it.’ She shook her head, trying to clear the cloud of confusion.
‘Pity you didn’t do that before letting loose with the malicious make-up.’
‘I really am sorry—but he just got me so angry! He was all over some blonde floozy on the dance floor…it was downright humiliating.’ Cheeks flushed with indignation, she heard her voice quiver as her earlier bravado faded like a deflated balloon. ‘He knows I love to dance, and he’s never, ever danced with me—not once—’
‘The guy is obviously a first-class idiot.’
Ben took a step towards the damsel in distress, acknowledging the pain in her large green eyes, the forced smile, the lips trembling with pent-up emotion. She looked like a little girl who’d lost her favourite doll, and just like that his anger fizzled out as another emotion took its place. Desire, searing and hot, hit him like a bolt from the blue. Her ex was a total fool to have messed this little firecracker about. Okay, she’d made a right mess of his car, but underneath the dishevelled hair and enormous panda eyes she was absolutely gorgeous. That said, the little-girl-lost analogy didn’t apply to the rest of her. Her body was definitely all-woman—soft and luscious in a skimpy black dress that did nothing to hide some mighty fine curves and legs that were smooth and breathtakingly endless. Even if she was like a young deer, wobbling in those ridiculous heels.
‘I can’t believe I did that, but he just got me so wound up. Please—let me try and clean it off…’
She fumbled for a packet of tissues and began to rub vigorously at the graffiti, drawing his keen gaze to her jiggling cleavage.
When had good, hard elbow grease become so jaw-droppingly sexy? All that back and forth was quite something to behold, and as her generous breasts continued their merry dance under the sheer fabric Ben had to swallow hard as his breath caught in his throat. This girl was downright gorgeous—and a serious threat to his peace of mind.
‘Um, really, there’s no need. I’ll get it washed tomorrow.’
Car forgotten, he couldn’t tear his gaze away, and when she stretched over the bonnet to expose the merest glimpse of black lace panties his heart almost stopped. He felt like grabbing that stupid lipstick and scribbling a damn sight more on the car, just to keep her busy for as long as possible. What a way to finish a hectic day. Despite everything he couldn’t help a grin lighting up his tired face. Only the gabble of approaching voices momentarily distracted him—and her too.
‘I don’t believe it! That’s them—James and his floozy. And they’re heading this way—oh, no!’ She crouched behind the car, SAS-style.
The panic in her voice forced Ben to look round and see a very drunk couple, staggering along the street, wrapped firmly around each other. Yep, his first observation was correct—obviously a couple of idiots.
‘And he’s still all over her—has he no shame?’
‘Don’t let them bother you. They’re not worth it .’ He could sense her distress and, surprisingly, it was getting to him.
‘But they are bothering me. Look—he has his hand on her backside. How tacky!’ The two spots of indignant colour on her cheeks deepened and the shimmer of unshed tears made her green eyes glitter. ‘He clearly doesn’t care that he’s totally humiliated me. What a pig!’
‘He’s an idiot—ignore him.’ Ben felt a tug in his gut at her obvious discomfort, and a quick look at the two-timing ex only confused him further. The guy was clearly an arrogant sod who didn’t care a jot about anyone’s feelings but his own. What had a little cracker like her ever seen in him? And as for his companion… Blonde floozy was probably being complimentary. There really was no accounting for taste.
‘How can I ignore him? Or them? I want to slap his smug face but I can’t face him—not like this.’ Eyes wide, she straightened up, grabbing Ben's arm to hide behind his broad frame.
‘Don’t let him see me.’ She peeked over his shoulder and immediately ducked back down. ‘They are coming this way. What will I do?’
Her frantic gaze met his while her teeth gnawed anxiously at her lower lip.
‘You’ll show him two can play at that game.’ He swore softly under his breath before impulsively covering those trembling lips with his own. Lips that were soft, sweet and too tempting to resist.
What are you doing? a voice screamed in his head. Five minutes ago this girl was wrecking your car! She could be a bunny-boiler, for all you know!
But she was also cute, sexy, and more than a little bit irresistible. An intriguing mix of innocence and passion.
Initially she stiffened against him, before her lips softened and she began to kiss him back eagerly, while her hands grabbed the front of his shirt in an effort to steady herself. Almost instantly the kiss deepened, and her hand crept up to tangle in his dark hair. It was her soft moan of enjoyment that was his undoing as sensation, basic and consuming, washed over him. He breathed in her tantalising scent, feeling her shift slightly as she moved closer to mould against him. His hardness against her luscious softness. A perfect fit.
But had he lost his mind? He didn’t kiss complete strangers in the street—well, not since he’d been a hormone-fuelled teenager who’d had more girls than hot dinners. But those days were long gone, and since starting out on his own he’d scarcely had time for himself, never mind a relationship or even a date! He'd worked long and hard to get where he was and a girlfriend simply didn't figure in his plans. And, okay, he’d always been a sucker for waifs and strays—but this was ridiculous! Ridiculous, yet enjoyable. In fact he’d forgotten just how enjoyable it could be.
Giving in to the inevitable, he urgently pulled her closer, one hand clasping her head while the other ran the length of her spine, stopping just shy of her pert backside as he enjoyed every centimetre of that luscious softness under the sheer fabric of her dress. It had been too long since he’d been this close to a woman, never mind one as sexy as her. His hand moved up to cup her cheek, his fingers stroking downwards to the silky skin of her exposed nape, where he could feel her pulse hammering at the same frantic rate as his own. With another little moan she quivered and pressed her lips harder against his. The heat between them was blistering, hungry, reckless—
Uh-oh, he was in trouble. Big trouble.
Ben felt every last morsel of self-restraint slowly slip away as her fingers tightened against the lapels of his jacket, allowing her to reach up on tiptoes to deepen their kiss—and what a kiss it was. They were devouring each other, revelling in sensations that were unexpected, passionate, sizzling—
‘Carly! Where are you?’
An anxious female voice broke them apart, both breathing heavily and totally bewildered by what had just happened. But that was it—what had just happened? Something? Everything? Nothing?
‘Carly! Are you there?’
‘That’s my friend Susie. She’ll be wondering where I am.’ Clearly disorientated, she looked round wildly, then forced herself to meet his questioning gaze.
‘Carly? Come on, it’s time to go.’
The voice was getting closer and more insistent.
‘Coming, Susie! Look, I’m sorry about your car…’ Instinctively she reached out to clasp his hand, her touch feather-light.
‘Ben. My name is Ben.’
‘Sorry, Ben, I really need to go. But thanks for rescuing me.’
She smiled shyly, reaching up to kiss him chastely on the cheek, a world away from their recent passion.
‘It was my pleasure.’ And it truly had been.
It sounded as if Susie was beginning to lose patience.
She paused, obviously torn, her gaze locked with his, bold now as she leant in to kiss him again, hard and fast on the lips, before releasing his hand and bolting into the darkness.
A slightly bemused, totally speechless Ben watched her disappear into the gloom. Had that really happened? Or, work-weary and exhausted, had he merely dreamt it all?
No, his tingling lips and the tantalising remnants of her perfume proved she was very real. So who was the mysterious Carly anyway? He leant back against the car and almost stood on something in the process.
‘What on earth—?’ He stooped down and picked up her discarded lipstick. Sexy Scarlet—the colour daubed on his car and fixed firmly in his mind as a reminder of the intriguing woman who’d been wearing it.
With a wry shake of his head Ben dropped the lipstick into his suit jacket and climbed into the driver’s seat. The mysterious Carly had disappeared into the night like Cinderella after the ball and, while he was certainly no Prince Charming, he couldn’t help but hope he would see her again. She intrigued him, piqued a spark of interest that he hadn’t felt in quite a while. But apart from a searing kiss he knew nothing about her—and just how was he going to remedy that?
What was that incessant banging? Had Bob the Builder broken into her office or did she have a monster of a hangover? Carly suspected it was the latter. Unfortunately.
What on earth had she been thinking last night? But then that was part of the problem—she hadn't been thinking. She'd been drinking. Too much. And to be honest this thumping head just wasn’t worth the hassle. But then it wasn’t every day a girl got spectacularly humiliated in front of her friends.
Why did she always pick the same sort of guys? Self-centred losers who wouldn’t know the meaning of respect and commitment if it came up and bit them on the bum!
She’d never been a big believer in Happy Ever After, and now she knew for sure it was a load of old bunkum. Men should be avoided at all costs. Yet what about the mysterious stranger who’d unexpectedly come to her rescue? He was mouth-wateringly delicious but had there really been any need to eat the face off him up a dark alley?
She’d acted like a madwoman, but in her defence she’d been tipsy, hurt, emotional …and he’d been so damn sexy and in the right place at the right time. In fact she should have shaken his hand and thanked him. 1. For the steamiest kiss she’d had in for ever, and 2. For making her realise she clearly wasn’t that into James if she’d enjoyed smooching another guy scarcely half an hour after their break-up.
But what did that sort of crazy behaviour say about her? It said that she should remain steadfastly single, that was what.
Shame she didn’t know who her hero was, but perhaps this way he’d always be her iconic knight in shining armour—the one guy who hadn’t spectacularly let her down.
‘Carly, are you even awake? Come on, we’re needed downstairs. Charlie Prescott is back in and he's kicking off again.’
Her colleague Paul opened the office door and indicated for her to follow him.
‘Back again? What is wrong with that guy?’ With a weary sigh Carly levered herself away from the desk and followed Paul downstairs, every step a monumental effort. ‘Remind me never to drink again.’
‘Yes, I heard about last night's fiasco with James. But listen, Carly, that guy is a prat. You deserve so much better. Can't you pick a nice guy who knows how to treat you right?’
‘Ah, Paul, I didn’t realise you were such an old softie!’ She couldn't help but feel touched by her colleague’s brusque defence of her.
‘You’re a nice girl, but can I just say that your taste in men is awful? First there was creepy Craig from Vice, and then James the Gigolo—and those two are probably the best of a bad bunch.’ The look of disgust on his face said it all.
‘I agree. I think maybe I should retire from the dating scene for a while.’ She was without doubt a relationship disaster. but that didn't excuse her behaviour last night.
Vandalising cars? Throwing a drink over James and his floozy? And her pièce de resistance? Snogging a sexy stranger who’d appeared out of the night as if by magic? She who never lost control. Never took a risk. And yet, draped over that fancy BMW, she’d totally lost it! Her mind and every last vestige of common sense!
Passionately kissing a random stranger in a dimly-lit alley… A stupid thing to do on so many levels. And she didn’t even know…Ben. Was that even his name? Whoever he was, she’d probably never set eyes on him again—which was probably just as well. What would she say? Or, more worryingly, what would she do? Because when he’d touched her... Oh, yes, when he’d touched her… She’d felt excited, alive, consumed by the moment…
Enough! She was here to work, and she could already hear Charlie causing havoc down the corridor.
‘He's obviously off his head again—probably craving his next fix. Has anyone called the duty doctor?’
‘He's already here.’
A tall, broad-shouldered man in a beautifully cut dark suit turned from the enquiry desk and Carly nearly fell over right there and then. Instead she settled for a cartoon stare of eyes popping and mouth hanging open. No—no, it couldn’t be him. She blinked hard and blinked again. No, the view hadn’t changed and her eyes weren’t playing tricks. It was him.
The mind-blowing kisser.
Looking professional, sharp and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Again. But what on earth was he doing here, in the foyer of a police station? She was officially confused. Either that or hallucinating? Too little sleep and too much Pinot Grigio could probably do that to a girl. Deep breath and professional smile needed ASAP.
Huh? Was he seeing things? What on earth was she doing here? Miss Lipstick—the very lipstick he currently had in his pocket, the same one he’d been fiddling with all morning, wondering how he could track down its elusive owner. He’d been shocked by how much he did want to track her down, to discover more about the mischievously sexy female who’d defaced his car and haunted his dreams so thoroughly last night. And his fairy godmother must be on duty today because here, as if by the power of his imagination—his vivid, wild, downright dirty imagination—she was right in front of him. His very own Cinderella, but a thousand times more sexy.
In a police uniform. What was that all about? This wasn’t April Fool’s Day, was it? And she didn’t look like your typical tacky strippergram, so…?
This situation was bizarre in the extreme. Only a few hours earlier he’d been ogling her lacy knickers after she'd vandalised his car, and now she was here, standing in front of him in full uniform, with that wild dark hair pulled back in a severe bun and covered by a police cap. Was all that black coffee at breakfast playing with his mind, or were his continual fourteen-hour working days finally catching up with him?
No—none of the above. Because when his eyes met hers—those wide, mesmerising, sea-green eyes, clouded with a large chunk of wariness—he felt all the intensity of their brief encounter last night and knew she was feeling it too. No matter how stiff and starchy she tried to appear.
‘Carly, this is Ben Hastings—one of the new duty doctors. Thanks for coming, Doc. As you can hear, our friend Charlie might need something to calm him down.’
Her face was priceless as her colleague introduced them and, okay, while he much preferred the sexy civvies of last night, he had to admit that a woman in a uniform could be a distinct turn-on. All that prim, starchy tailoring hiding what he knew to be a host of delicious curves. It was like waiting to open his favourite birthday present, knowing there was something fabulous underneath the plain wrapping paper. And then there was the burning question of where she kept her handcuffs… Now, that was an image and a half!
‘Carly is one of our best young sergeants. I'll leave you in her capable hands while I go and get Charlie's file, and then you can check him out in the medical room.’
Paul was already heading towards the door. Carly kept her gaze fixed firmly on the clock on the wall—anywhere but on the man before her. How could she focus on work when all she could think about was how their kiss had rocked her world?
When the door closed Carly and Ben were left alone in the silent office. Now, this was a situation to put a capital A into awkward. It was so silent she could hear the much-studied clock ticking relentlessly in the background.
‘So you’re a police officer?’
He was the one to finally break the prolonged silence.
‘And you’re the new duty doctor?’
They clearly shared a gift for stating the obvious.
‘Guilty as charged. But I certainly didn’t expect to bump into the gorgeous copper who was defacing my car last night. I somehow don’t think that was standard police procedure.’ His wide grin tempered the teasing accusation.
‘I know. I’m sorry about that. This is so embarrassing. Obviously I can in no way condone breaking the law. It was a serious error of judgement and I don’t know what came over me. Is your car okay? At least let me pay to get it cleaned…’ She knew she was gabbling but couldn't seem to help herself.
‘I’m winding you up. My car is sorted—I got it washed first thing.’ He stopped in front of her, those sky-blue eyes genuinely concerned. ‘But are you okay? You were clearly upset. If you don’t mind me saying, that boyfriend of yours is a right prat. I think you probably had a lucky escape.’
Distracted by the sheer male presence of him standing so close, she somehow managed a small grin. ‘Ex-boyfriend, if you don’t mind. And, yes, my ego is a bit bruised but I’m basically fine. Nobody likes getting dumped, especially in public, but to be honest I agree with you. Sorry for dragging you into all that, though. I’m sure you think me a right nutcase!’
‘Not at all. Let’s just say you were provoked!’
Ever the gentleman, he was quick to jump to her defence.
‘You are very understanding, but I hope I wasn’t too badly behaved. I’ve never done anything like that before.’
‘I can believe it.’ He slowly looked her up and down in the prim and proper police uniform and shook his head in disbelief. Him lusting after a policewoman?
Maybe it was in the genes? His mum was a lawyer, his dad a criminal barrister, and neither of them had ever fully got over the fact that he'd picked medicine over law. He'd always been the odd one out, but if he showed up with a policewoman as a girlfriend they would be more than thrilled. Not that it was ever likely to happen. In Carly Jenkins he recognised a fellow workaholic and, to be honest, that sort of half-baked liaison wasn't for him. It might seem old-fashioned, but when he was ready for a relationship he yearned for the real deal— not one slotted in between surgery, on-call rotas, plus whatever anti-social shift she happened to be working.
And anyway the timing couldn't be worse. At the moment building a medical practice with his mate Max plus his duty as a police doctor was keeping him more than busy. He hardly had time for himself, never mind someone else, so the last thing he needed was a relationship already doomed to failure. Which was why, as gorgeous and tempting as she was, Sergeant Carly Jenkins could never be anything more than a pleasant distraction—someone to flirt with light-heartedly.
Well, that was the theory.
‘Hey, don’t worry about last night. I was glad to help. Think of me as your knight in shining armour, always there to help a damsel in distress.’
‘Well, thanks again. You are very understanding.’ She felt awkward, embarrassed, not knowing where to put herself.
‘You’re welcome. And before I forget, I’ve something for you.’
He rummaged in his trouser pocket, drawing her eyes like a magnet. Did those trousers have to be so well cut, with tailoring that left very little to the imagination? In fact he was looking mighty fine, from the top of his short dark hair to the expensive leather brogues on his feet, and for the first time ever Carly was struggling to concentrate on her job—a situation that made her more than a little nervous.
As a policewoman she always knew where she was—safe, secure, sensible… So why did this guy rattle her so much? She’d come across plenty of other equally gorgeous guys who’d left her cold.
But there was nothing cold about Ben Hastings. In fact one glance from those clear azure eyes and she was steaming hot, her pulse skittering, her heart racing… Why, even the very palms of her hands were sweating as she watched him slowly take a step towards her.
‘One Sexy Scarlet lipstick. Do you want to bag it for evidence?’
He dangled it teasingly in front of her and she had to struggle with the urge to reach out and touch him.
‘Only if you want to press charges against me.’ She smiled nervously, half joking, fully panicking just in case he did. ‘I would offer to dust if for prints, but there would only be yours and mine—’
‘Hmm…yours and mine? I like the sound of that combination.’
He raised an enquiring eyebrow and Carly could feel the heat returning to her cheeks with a vengeance. She cleared her throat, trying to think of a suitable retort, but her mind was empty—empty save for illicit thoughts about him.
‘I’ll let you away with it…just this once.’
He was enjoying her discomfort. Enjoying the fact that she found him just as disturbing as he found her.
It wasn’t charges he currently wanted to press against her as she stood there, cute as a button, in her prim police cap. Cute, yet smoking hot at the same time.
‘I can promise it will not happen again. It’s not exactly proper police behaviour, and on that note I think we need to get back to Charlie Prescott. Just to fill you in, he's a drug addict and repeat offender—as you'll see from his file.’ With a concentrated effort she managed to return their exchange to a more professional footing. ‘Let’s go and see if Paul is ready for you.’
They were both reaching for the door when their fingers touched, and the merest brush of skin was enough to send a jolt of energy zinging through her. She looked up, shocked to find his face so close to her own, her eyes more or less level with those full sculpted lips. Lips that had tasted hers…lips that had made her feel on fire from head to toe…lips she would love to feel against her own …teasing, nibbling, exploring—
Subconsciously she swayed towards him, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek, feel the heat radiating from his body… No stop! What on earth was she doing?
Carly jumped back as if she'd just been shot. Was she actually considering kissing him again, here and now? In the middle of her place of work? Where someone could walk in at any time? Didn’t that sort of ridiculous behaviour only happen in the movies? It certainly couldn’t be happening to a mega-sensible police woman like her. She absolutely wouldn't let it.
Dragging in a shaky breath, she smoothed her hair back underneath her cap and gave herself a stern talking to. She only needed two words: Remember James?
At the end of the day she had to work with Ben Hastings and remain professional. And if she kissed him again she wasn’t sure she could do that. Who was she trying to kid? After the explosiveness of their unexpected first meeting she knew she’d end up putty in his hands, with every last good intention thrown out of the window.
‘Charlie's waiting for you in the medical room when you're ready, Doc.’
Paul popping his head round the door was just the excuse she needed to grab some much needed breathing space.
‘Coming now. It was nice to meet you again, Sergeant Jenkins.’ Ben's tone was brisk and business-like as he extended his right hand.
It was the briefest of handshakes but enough to spark that familiar shiver of sensation dancing through her tense body. So last night hadn’t been a fluke. She was intensely attracted to her new colleague, pure and simple, and that spelt trouble. Business and pleasure didn’t mix—and she had the emotional scars to prove it. But had she the will power to walk away? That was a question she simply didn't have the answer to.
What a week. Ben finished writing up the last patient's notes and pushed himself away from his desk.
‘Are you heading home now?’ His partner Max popped his head round the door, car keys already in hand.
‘Soon. I've a few loose ends to tie up here first.’ He wearily indicated the pile of papers still on his desk.
‘You've worked late every evening this week. Isn't it time for a little fun?’
When he heard the word fun Ben immediately thought of a certain gorgeous policewoman, with her wide sexy smile, her throaty laugh, those bewitching green eyes. And the rest. She'd dominated his increasingly X-rated dreams since that fateful night up the alley, but what was the point of it all? She was a colleague at his new job— a job he'd worked his backside off to get—and there was no way he was prepared to jeopardise that. So by rights she should be out of bounds, and he was out of order for pining after her like a lovesick puppy in the first place.
The problem was that she wasn't just lovely to look at. Sergeant Jenkins had a sunny, attractive personality to match. Bumping into her at the police station a few times over the past week, he'd shared a friendly cuppa or two with her and come to realise she was great company and very good at her job. She also had a secret stash of chocolate digestives she was willing to share, so what more could a guy want? If he was in the market for a girlfriend. And he personally wasn't, was he?
‘I need to check over this police report and then I'm done.’
‘It's getting late. You can finish the report tomorrow. Do you want to join Sarah and I for dinner? We are going to that place near the hospital for a curry.’
‘So she has a night off?’ Max's fiancée was a dedicated ER doctor who worked even longer hours than they did.
‘Yes—at last.’ Max couldn't quite hide his delight.
‘If you don't mind me asking, how do you manage to have a successful relationship when you both work every hour under the sun? Doesn't it put a strain on things?’ Ben was suddenly very keen to hear the answer to his unexpected query. But why his sudden interest in relationship advice?
‘Sometimes. But we work hard to make it work. We want to be together, we both know the score, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes. I love her and she's worth every minute. Simple.’
‘I don't doubt that she is. I just don't know if I could make the same sacrifices you two do.’
He'd watched his parents put their careers before each other and their kids for years, had seen the damage it had caused—hell, he'd felt it first-hand— and didn't want to end up making the same mistakes. Which was why it always seemed easier to be on his own. He'd thought being married to his career might be enough, but now he wasn't so sure.
‘You could for the right girl, and when you meet her you'll move heaven and earth to make it work, believe me. Now, come on—grab your coat. We've a curry and a few bottles of Cobra to enjoy.’
Max headed out with a thoughtful Ben trailing behind. Somehow recently his priorities seemed to have shifted. More and more he'd found himself increasingly fed up with the tedium of it all. He loved his job, but surely there had to be more to life than this? Perhaps he needed a date with a pretty girl? A little light relief from his grinding routine? But could that girl ever be Carly? He liked her, he really did—on so many levels—but she also scared him. Terrified him, in fact. Carly equalled complications. Complications he could well do without. Because with her he had an ominous feeling it might end up an all or nothing scenario. And while he didn't want the ‘nothing’ option, he seriously doubted he was ready for the ‘all’. So what did he want?
Carly rubbed her eyes and wearily shut down the computer. She was officially knackered after trawling through hours of surveillance tapes—a tedious job, but at least it kept her out of the way of a certain hunky doctor. Was it her imagination or was fate dealing her a low blow? Every second criminal they arrested seemed to be in need of medical attention—the pregnant shoplifter who'd fainted, the drunk who'd fallen and hit his head. Even poor Charlie had put in another stellar, strung-out appearance. And each time Ben had come to the rescue: professional, friendly and drop-dead gorgeous.
The staff loved him, his patients adored him, and she was falling more and more under his spell with every cup of tea they shared in the busy staff canteen. And they seemed to share a lot more—from similar tastes in films and music to food, wine and even the same wacky jokes that no one else even cracked a smile at. But on the flipside they worked together, she was off men—there were a hundred and one reasons why she couldn’t risk getting more involved. However, that didn’t stop her mind constantly wandering to forbidden thoughts of him. Deliciously naughty memories of that hard muscled body pressed intimately against her own, his strong arms steadying her, protecting her... And then he’d kissed her … Kissed her as she’d never been kissed before—thoroughly, and with such feeling that her knees had almost buckled beneath her. A kiss from Ben Hastings should come with a health warning: Potent, addictive and bad for your peace of mind. Proceed with caution!
‘Are you still here, Carly? No home to go to?’ Her boss stopped at her desk, coat over his arm and car keys at the ready. ‘It’s late and you’ve been staring at that screen for hours. Go home and catch up on some sleep.’
‘Okay, sir, I’m heading off now.’ To an empty flat, a microwave dinner and some mindless TV. Whoopee, she could hardly wait!
It had been a long, boring day, and not surprisingly the thought of the frozen lasagne waiting at home wasn’t doing anything to cheer her up. It didn't help that her flatmate Susie was out on yet another hot date, having a great time with a guy she'd met last month and fallen for hard. Carly was happy for her friend, but she couldn't ignore the tiny flicker of jealousy that gnawed at her insides. Why couldn't things be that straightforward for her? A nice guy, a fun date, no stress, no hassle, no fuss?
With a weary sigh she tidied her desk, turning the lights off as she shrugged into her coat and headed out the door.
‘See you tomorrow, Martin.’
Wearily she waved at the officer on the front desk and pushed the station door open—only to slam-dunk straight into someone coming the other way. Someone taller, broader and decidedly immoveable. Bam! The unexpected impact forced the air from her lungs, causing Carly to raise her hands and steady herself, dropping her handbag in the process.
‘Oh, no, I’m so sorry—I wasn’t looking where I was going!’
Flustered and apologetic, she quickly stooped down to retrieve the myriad displaced items, gasping in horror when she saw what had spilled out all over the floor. This couldn’t be happening. Not here, not now! But Martin’s snort of laughter from somewhere behind her proved that indeed it was.
‘No need to apologise. Allow me to help.’
That deep, smooth voice sounded horrifyingly familiar, and Carly didn’t need to look up from under her tousled hair to know that the feet and legs before her belonged to a certain Ben Hastings.
Ben Hastings—her secret crush and the best kisser she’d ever met.
The tantalising citrus scent of his aftershave teased her nostrils as he crouched beside her, looking good enough to eat as he reached for her discarded things. Things that had no place on the floor of A police station.
‘Here—let me help. Yours, I believe?’
No, no, no! She closed her eyes in disbelief before reluctantly meeting his amused gaze and nodding mutely. She could feel the telltale flush of embarrassment sweeping up her neck onto her cheeks, which were flaming hotter by the second. With a steadying breath she forced herself to glance quickly at the items clearly displayed in the palm of his hand. A packet of coloured condoms, a tube of chocolate body paint and a red lace thong. Really?
Please let the ground open up and swallow her.
Now. This minute.
Before she actually died of shame in the foyer of the police station.
And then the gorgeous Dr Hastings would have to pronounce her a goner.
Cause of death? Fatal mortification by sex toys.
Carly didn’t know where to look, but with no obliging bolthole she had no option but to reach out tentatively and take the offending items, hastily shoving them back into her bag before anyone else walked by and compounded her misery. The silence lengthened while her mind raced furiously for an excuse. Okay, if in doubt do what the majority of suspects do and deny.
‘It’s not how it looks. I bought them for my friend’s hen night and totally forgot about them. They’re not mine, honestly…’ She lamely tailed off, biting her lip, the humiliation almost killing her.
They had been for Evie’s hen night and she had bought them— just for a laugh, mind, she had no intention of ever using them. And at least the bride had already eaten the sweetie G-string, disposing of a further incriminating piece of evidence. She should be grateful for small mercies—and Evie’s sweet tooth…
‘If you say so.’ His infuriating grin was getting wider as he watched her squirm.
This was what he loved about Carly. Underneath the safe and sensible police façade she had an unexpected fun side, just waiting to burst out.
‘So what does chocolate body paint taste like, anyway?’
His gaze was teasing and suggestive and she just knew he was struggling to contain his mirth.
‘Um…chocolate? Not that I’ve used it, of course.’ The telltale rash of embarrassment was now spreading at a rate of knots down her neck and beyond. She’d never be able to eat a spoonful of chocolate spread again without thinking of him.
‘Me neither, but I’m willing to try anything once.’
Carly opened her mouth but no words came out as she struggled with that tantalising image. Whoa! Stop right there! She needed to get a grip—and fast. What must he think of her? A drunken vandal and an Ann Summers addict? How could she expect him to take her seriously after this?
And she needed him to take her seriously. She wanted him to like and respect her—two things James obviously never had, and look how that had ended up.
Straightening, she hoisted the offending bag onto her shoulder and forced a grimace of a smile. ‘So what brings you down here anyway?’
He chuckled at her blatant change of subject but, taking pity, decided to let it go.
‘I've a report to drop in—that overdose case Paul asked me to look at.’ And if he was being honest he’d wanted to see her again, despite all the reasons why he probably shouldn't.
‘Thanks. I’ll leave it at the desk for him to pick up tomorrow.’
Doing her best to appear efficient, she quickly dropped the envelope into the mail tray, studiously avoiding Martin’s lewd smile and dirty wink. Just great. This little incident would provide fodder for hours of relentless teasing in the staff canteen. She would never hear the end of it.
‘Goodnight, Martin, see you in the morning.’ She tried her best to brazen it out before nervously walking back to where Ben was patiently waiting, looking every bit the smart professional in a suit that had probably cost more than her week’s wages. Meanwhile she was looking a right fright, with her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and her face free of any make-up. And that was before she even started on the dowdy police uniform. Flattering, it definitely wasn’t.
‘Are you heading home now?’ Ben gallantly opened the door and ushered her into the cool night air, his hand at her back burning through her work shirt, causing her skin to tingle and forcing her to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and stop herself stumbling as flashes of hot lust shot through her.
‘Yes, it’s been a long day.’ She nodded, drinking in the sheer appeal of his lazy smile, simply relieved to be out of the confines of the station, inhaling a lungful of cool fresh air to calm her jittery nerves.
‘Have you eaten?’
‘No, I’ve a frozen lasagne waiting at home. Jealous?’
‘Not exactly.’ Those dark blue eyes met hers and a frisson of something indefinable sizzled between them. ‘Do you—?’
‘Hey, Ben, I'm glad I caught you. Can I run something by you?’
The duty sergeant shouting from the doorway effectively put a halt to their conversation and with a frustrated sigh Ben waved his consent.
‘Duty calls, I'm afraid.’
‘Well, I'm heading off before they rope me into something too. I'll be seeing you, Ben.’
With a look of regret Carly headed towards her car, inexplicably disappointed that their chat had been so abruptly cut short. What had he been going to ask her? It could be any one of a million things and now she'd never know.
Feeling somewhat disgruntled, Carly pulled out of the car park and decided to make a couple of stops on the way home. She was tired, fed up, and there was no way she was going home to a microwaved ready meal. When a girl felt this low there was only one thing for it—or maybe two. A nice bottle of wine and a curry from her favourite Indian might just put a smile back on her face. It was certainly worth a try.
Twenty minutes later she'd picked the perfect bottle of wine: a deep, fruity Shiraz in place of her usual Pinot Grigio. She didn't know what had come over her lately but increasingly she was feeling like a change, a break from her usual routine. If she started with a new wine, who knew where it might lead? Maybe a whole new outlook on life? For now she was hitting The Jharna, her favourite curry house, but what to have? Chicken tikka Balti? Naan and rice? Maybe even a few poppadoms to really push the boat out?
‘Great minds clearly think alike. Either that or you’re officially stalking me.’
She’d been so intent on her deliberations she'd almost bumped straight into Dr Ben McDreamy for the second time in less than an hour.
He was leaning against the counter, tie loosened, hair a little dishevelled, and looking good enough to eat as he studied the menu. Carly stopped dead and swallowed hard, not sure what to do next. The urge to turn on her heel and flee from the confusing feelings he invariably aroused was almost overwhelming, but she was hungry. Starving, in fact. And when he looked at her with those deep blue eyes she felt as if this was exactly where she wanted to be.
Rightly or wrongly she wanted to see him, talk to him, get to know him better. And that was only the clean version…
‘Ben! What are you doing here?’
‘Same as you, probably—ordering a curry.’
He smiled deep into her eyes, obviously delighted to bump into her again so soon, and Carly had to admit to feeling exactly the same way, no matter what her conscience said to the contrary.
‘The curries here are fantastic.’ Her eyes scanned the menu in preference to devouring him, yet he still managed to get her hormones all aflutter.
‘Yes, my friend Max introduced me to this place last week and the food is delicious. There's so much to choose from. What do you fancy?’
Now she was getting giddy, and was simply relieved she hadn’t said the words out loud. Suppressing a giggle, she buried her nose back in the menu and pretended to study the comprehensive range of house specialities on offer. All this suppressed sexual tension must be getting to her—she needed to get a grip.
‘Um, I fancy something different—so not Balti. What do you recommend?’
‘It’s all good. How hot do you like it?’
Scorching. Hot enough to melt that chocolate body paint!
Carly couldn’t help an unladylike snort at the deliciously naughty image which had popped unbidden into her mind, earning her an enquiring lift of his dark eyebrow.
‘So that’s hot, then?’
Instinctively they both knew that nobody was talking about curry.
‘A lady never tells,’ she replied, more breathlessly than she’d intended.
‘Good to know.’ His grin was wide and predatory.
Emerald-green eyes locked on cobalt blue, with no one daring to look away as the room temperature notched up a few degrees. So much for getting a grip.
Lost in the moment, Carly could feel her breathing quickening, could feel the throb of her pulse rumble relentlessly through her entire being. While he, on the other hand, looked cool, calm and collected. Or maybe not. On closer inspection there was the slightest flush along his cheekbones, and a tiny muscle in his cheek seemed to beat in time with her racing heart. A shocking wave of relief washed over her. It was okay—he felt it too. This ludicrous, over-the-top crush.
She wasn’t the only one losing her mind and struggling to contain her self-control. But did that make things better—or worse?
Their gazes continued to duel, with suppressed desire, until after a long, loaded pause they both suddenly burst out laughing. Loud, free, releasing laughter—much to the consternation of the approaching waiter, who was looking from one to the other bemusedly.
‘Are you ready to order or do you need a few more minutes?’
‘Why don’t you order for both of us?’ Carly could barely contain her giggles as Ben somehow managed to blurt out his choice of dishes, coupled with a selection of rice and freshly baked naan bread. The smell of which was already making Carly’s mouth water.
She watched him chatting with the waiter, fascinated by the play of emotions across his face. There was no denying it: Ben Hastings was gorgeous, funny and very good company. And, most importantly, on some basic level they seemed to click. He helped her to relax, allowed her to be herself—because with him she felt she could chat about anything. Ridiculous, really, when they barely knew each other—and yet with him she didn’t have to be the perfectly groomed girlfriend, the fun-loving friend, the ultra-professional police officer. With him she was no one else but Carly Jenkins. With him she could simply be…
‘Here's your food. Enjoy.’ The waiter returned with a bulging bag full of delights and Ben immediately reached for his wallet.
‘No, Ben, really—let me pay for my half.’
‘No chance, Carly. I'm buying dinner. Now, where do you want to eat it? Your place or mine?’
He was clearly not taking no for an answer. His directness left her momentarily lost for words.
‘I’m not sure that would be appropriate…’ As a last-ditch attempt at being sensible she somehow forced out the words of caution while her mind was screaming, Yes, yes, yes!
‘But why? I have this big bag of food and I need you to help me eat it.’
‘Um…’ She moistened her lips, continuing to chew nervously on the lower one whilst struggling with her inner demons. Why not? Why on earth not? What had happened to trying new things and taking chances? All very well in theory, but the reality was scarily different. ‘We've only known each other a few weeks and we work together—wouldn't it be a little awkward?’
‘I like you Carly. A lot. And to be honest I feel like I've known you for years. But I’m only suggesting sharing a curry—anything else would be totally up to you.’
His gaze was open, honest and direct as he watched the conflicting emotions flash across her face. Could she put her money where her mouth was and take a chance?
She wanted to agree, oh, so much, and instinctively knew he would be the perfect gentleman—nothing at all like slimy James. But it was her own wayward feelings she was worried about. Somehow around him she struggled to maintain her usually rigid self-control, allowing herself to think and feel things she had no business feeling. Smooching him passionately over the bonnet of his vandalised car was a case in point. But, hey, it had been memorable—and then some.
‘So what do you say?’ He nodded at the steaming bag of food, then back to her, patiently waiting for an answer.
‘I say I've a bottle of wine in my car so let’s go to mine.’ She gabbled the words out before her nerve failed her. She was brave, confident and sure in her job—now she simply had to apply the same traits to her personal life. James and all the other losers she'd been with needed to be put firmly in the past, where they belonged. Now it was time to live for the present and look to the future. Starting with good food, good wine and excellent company.
‘Your wish is my command. Now, let’s go.’ He grabbed her hand and headed quickly for the door before she had a chance to change to her mind. Although that was never going to happen. Not now, when this felt so right.
‘You can follow me home—this is my car.’ She stopped by her little white Mini, leaning against the driver's door as she hunted in her bag for keys. ‘Not as fancy as your BMW, but I love it.’
‘I love it too. Cheeky and cute—just like you.’ He ran his hand along the roof in appreciation. ‘I'm parked down the street. Keep an eye out for me and drive slow. I've a feeling you might be a girl racer, given half a chance.’
‘As if I'd ever break the law or the speed limit!’ Triumphantly she finally located the keys in the very bottom of her bag. ‘Oh, and Ben…?’
He stopped as she suddenly grabbed his free arm and pulled him close, eagerly seeking his mouth in a searing kiss.
‘I like you too.’
She whispered the words against his lips before kissing him again, even harder this time. Passion flared deep and burning as she pushed him against her car and deepened the kiss, leaning into his hard and unyielding body while his arms immediately engulfed her in a crushing embrace.
‘I'm glad you came to my rescue that night.’
She pulled back to look searchingly into his face, satisfied by the depth of response gleaming in his midnight eyes.
This was it, time to lay her cards on the table. She was done analysing and agonising. She refused to let past mistakes hold her back. Ben had exploded into her life like a breath of fresh air and she wasn't going to risk missing her chance with him. She was a police officer who dealt in cold, hard facts. And the fact was that she liked him and he liked her. A lot. Time to kick back and see where this punch-in-the-gut passion took them. And for the first time in a long time she was actually feeling excited about what lay ahead.
‘Not half as glad as I am.’ His words were heartfelt as he hugged her tightly. ‘And here we are again: in the dark, kissing against a car. Back where it all started.’
The curry and the wine could wait. Ben pulled Carly even closer and continued their kiss, oblivious to anything and everything else. Max had hit the nail on the head. With the right girl none of the other stuff mattered. But Carly mattered, what was developing between them mattered, and he could no more walk away from her now than he could stop breathing.
‘Come on—we've curry, wine and the rest of the night to enjoy.’ He reluctantly stepped back and pushed her gently towards her car.
‘And I've a tube of chocolate body paint for dessert. See you at mine.’
She closed the driver's door and blew him a kiss through the window to rocket his racing pulse even higher.
‘I'm right behind you.’
He fumbled for his keys and took off at a sprint. This was the start of something new, exciting and irresistible, and he couldn't wait to see what would happen next. Although with sexy Sergeant Jenkins in his arms he had a feeling life would never be dull!