Reece Hutton conducts his life between the covers – of books and beds. A librarian by day, in the evenings he’s a man whose tastes are anything but vanilla. So when local writer Daniel Cross appears in the library one afternoon with the aim of doing some research, Reece has a hard time not noticing how attractive he is, or what feels like chemistry between them. They exchange a few words and Daniel’s business card, an interlude which Reece puts down to networking rather than flirtation.
After all, he has his girlfriend Georgia to go home to and her best friend: a threesome to help his birthday go literally with a bang. Reece, being a gentleman (most of the time), has no objection to returning the favour, especially as his new friend Daniel seems all too willing to be their third for the evening. Georgia sees their triangle as nothing more than a temporary bit of fun but Reece…? He’ll eventually have to own up to breaking the unwritten rules of their relationship or close the book on a growing attraction to Daniel.
* * * * *
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* * * * *
Cradling the receiver, I groaned. Another meaningless phone call from another staff member in another department calling the wrong desk about a problem I couldn’t help them with.
Someone cleared his throat on the other side of the counter. “Excuse me?”
Throwing “Just leave your books there and I’ll see to them,” his way, my breath caught for an instant as I looked up. For a moment I believed I’d been accosted by a diabolical visitation rather than a patron.
“I wonder if you could help me.” He slipped off his shades. Unusual to see someone wear shades indoors, and if the glass, mirrors, and white-tiled floors of the library’s reception area didn’t gleam so much, I’d have thought he was a pretentious tosser.
What I was supposed to make of the narrowest of black lines on his lower lids I didn’t know, but evidently the kind of ‘someone’ to wear shades to the library was the kind of guy who also wore eyeliner.
His lips twitched, probably in response to my raised eyebrows. “I assume the library has WiFi?”
WiFi. Come on, Hutton. You know the answer to this one. “Yes. Yes, it does.” I’d worked in the city’s Central Library for over six months now; the answer should have come to me a lot quicker than that, but something had done a Ctrl+A, Delete on my brain.
“Is there a charge for it?”
“No, it’s free. You just connect to the guest network and you’re in. The reception’s probably best over there—” I’d barely finished pointing when he interrupted.
“I’d prefer to work in this department; much quieter.” He grinned, and I wondered if it was the sterile decor of the foyer to my right, with light streaming in through the glass ceiling, that made his teeth gleam. “Too much foot traffic and too many conversations going on over there.” He gave a short burst of laughter and shrugged. His black leather jacket squeaked in protest, strained by the weight of his laptop bag slung over one shoulder. He pushed a pile of hardbacks toward me and stood back, stroking his jaw.
It was just quiet enough for me to hear the scritch scratch of palm on stubble.
“Right, well, I’ll take care of these, then,” I said, averting my gaze. The unflinching nature of his eye contact made me uncomfortable. Wordlessly he said yes, I wear eyeliner and I’m confident enough to make unbroken eye contact too. There was a forceful element to his presence, as if in looking at me, he tried to force me to look back at him. I bet he’d never considered not being the centre of attention in his life.
Laughing under my breath at my reaction to a total stranger, I reached for the top book of the pile before glancing up, and he flinched. Turned his back and headed for the study area right at the back of General Lending.
I must have run the scanner over the books’ bar codes but didn’t hear the first four beeps, so accustomed was I to the routine nature of the job. I’d changed employers, moving over from the city’s university in search of better pay and more sociable hours. The drudge work wasn’t much different, except now I dealt with members of the public as opposed to students alone. There was more variety to the people I got to speak to each day, and sometimes that was good, sometimes bad.
Lifting my gaze, I looked in the direction the dark-eyed Angel of Death had headed. He wasn’t in my line of sight anymore, but I shivered like a guilty thing surprised.
Hutton, for God’s sake, get a grip.
One more book to return, and when the scanner beeped, I looked at the computer screen. No overdue books in this eclectic collection checked out by Daniel Cross.
So that’s his name.
“Did you see that?” my colleague Katie asked on her return, looking away from me and craning her neck to see the back of the room.
“What?” Feigning disinterest, I gathered Mr. Cross’s books into one pile again.
“That tall drink of…” Slipping behind the counter, she lowered her voice to just above a whisper. “That tall drink of water who’s just set up his laptop.”
“Oh him,” I drawled. “Well, Katie, if I were a woman or a gay guy, I might pay attention. But as I’m not…” I shrugged and pretended I’d never been naked in bed with another man before. “I tend not to notice when other men walk in.”
She tutted loudly—for a librarian. “Ugh. You’re no fun.”
“What you mean is,” I said, backing away, “I’m not a girl you can gossip with. Well, I need to put these”—I hoisted the books in my arms, shuffling them almost—”back over there.” And I nodded in the general direction of a random shelf unit. “So you’ll just have to man the telephones yourself.”
“Goddamn it, Reece, if I have to deal with another drunk guy who spends half an hour swearing up and down he knew Dostoevsky when he was a lad, I’ll—”
“Have fun.” I winked and turned my back, shoulders shaking with barely suppressed laughter.
This guy was better read than I was, judging by the spines of the novels I reshelved, and I worked here. Still, if he was hanging out in a library with a laptop, perhaps it was in his job description to be a bookworm. A reviewer maybe, or a writer of some sort?
Not expecting to find anything of note, I scanned the C shelves, looking for his name, finding nothing. Just because the guy had a laptop didn’t mean he was a writer, and even if he was a writer, that didn’t make him a novelist. Hell, maybe he was just killing time between jobs and the laptop was for playing games. I could always check the computerised catalogue later to see if we had anything of his in, but again, that was on the assumption he was a published author and an author of novels at that.
I caught sight—not that I was looking—of someone unmistakably Daniel raising both hands, and I wondered if he was about to run his fingers through his hair. No, just a two-arm stretch. Of course. Those mussed-up strands were obviously designed to look careless and messy, but he’d probably spent an absolute age on getting them right this morning.
Jesus, Hutton. You never notice these things.
But notice them I did, reasoning a man who left the house wearing even the narrowest smudges of eyeliner behind shades was the type to spend ages in front of the mirror arranging each strand of hair with minute precision.
I had no reason to go anywhere near his desk, littered with his shades, a notepad, pens, and, of course, the laptop. No reason at all, but that was exactly what I did.
“Work or play?” I asked, aiming for casual. Thank God for that. An opening line that doesn’t make you sound like an idiot.
Wait. Opening line?
“Huh?” He clasped his hands behind his head, craned his neck as if working out a kink. “Oh. This. Yeah, work. Deadline.”
“You’re a writer? I wondered.”
“Yep. I usually work at home, but I had to get out. It’s driving me mad, staring at the four walls and a blank computer screen.”
“Good Christ, no. I don’t believe in all that shit.” He laughed, and from anyone else such laughter would resound with mockery, but from him—this mysterious Daniel Cross—it merely said, Me? I’m above all that. “Just an excuse used by lazy gits who prefer talking about not writing than actually getting their arse in the chair and fingers on the keyboard.” He shrugged. “Sometimes it takes a bit more work to get the words out, but they’re always there. I shake things up from time to time. Change of scenery. Figured I’d get the chance to do some work here. Who knows?”
“Sorry. I—” Didn’t mean to disturb you. But I did. I took a faltering step back.
“No, no. Please.” He waved a dismissive hand and sat forward, leaning in to his laptop. “I wasn’t complaining about your interruption. I’m not in the zone yet anyway. Just kicking a few ideas around.”
“If you don’t mind me asking…” I felt like a nervous schoolboy. “What do you write?”
“Novels. Well, two so far. That is, one’s published and the other’s out soon.” He chuckled, looked down at his hands and up at me again. “Working on the first draft of my next one. Got some short stories out there too. Magazine articles here and there.”
“You’re, like, a published author, then?”
I could have sworn his cheeks coloured before he answered. “Well, yes, I am.”
“I wonder if we have your book in stock.” I frowned, recalling my cursory, fruitless search minutes before.
“See, this is where I fail. I’m supposed to whore my books out to all and sundry, but it feels too much like I’m”—elbows on the desk, he buried his face in his palms for a few seconds and, when he reemerged, took a deep breath—”bragging.”
“It’s not bragging if someone asks, is it? If it makes you feel any better, I’ll buy it instead of checking it out of the library. That way when the royalties start rolling in, I’ll own one of the stitches in your Ferrari’s upholstery.” Ugh, Hutton. What is up with you?
He shook his head. “No, no, don’t do that. Uh, I don’t usually do this, but I’m assuming you’re something of a bookworm? Unless this is just a job to you? Anyway.” He lowered his gaze for a moment. Shyly.
I cocked my head to study him while he spoke. Yes, study. He had a face that begged to be looked at.
“I could give you one of my author copies. On one condition.”
“Which is?” I lifted my eyebrows. Ten minutes ago, I’d had no idea who this guy was. And yet now we were about to enter into some sort of bargain? Agreement? Whatever it was, the conversation wouldn’t end here. Thank God. And the relief pulsed through me like the dying echoes of panic.
“If you hate it, you must let me know.”
“Then we’ll definitely have to keep in touch,” I blurted out, relief performing a one-eighty and again becoming panic. Fuck. What did I just say?
He grinned. “Oh I haven’t”—he held out a hand—”introduced myself. Daniel Cross.”
“Yes, I know.” I bit my lip. “I mean, when I checked your books back in, your name showed on the computer screen.” I stared at his hand for a second and realised what I was supposed to do. “Oh. I’m Reece.” Nervous of taking his hand, I did so anyway, and his was a warm, confident handshake without being forceful. I couldn’t wait to let go and, at the same time, didn’t want to.
“Reece. I assume you have a surname, Reece?”
Yes. I know I do. Somewhere in my brain, it’s… Now wait. Gimme a minute… “Hutton. Reece Hutton.”
“Pleased to meet you, Reece Hutton.” Daniel Cross winked and only then let go of my hand, began to search through the pockets of his jacket, flung over the back of his chair. “Now where did I…? I know I had them somewhere. Ah, found one.”
I looked at the card he handed me, flipped it over, read the details. “You have a business card?”
“Well.” He had the good grace to look bashful. “Sometimes it pays to get shameless if you’ve just about talked someone into reading your book. Send me a text or an e-mail. I’ll get a copy to you.”
“Makes sense to have a card. Publicity and all that. You might end up snowed under with fan mail, though, if you hand these out.”
“Or e-mails telling me what a shitty writer I am, who’s got no business being anywhere near word-processing software.”
“People say that?” I asked, tucking the card into my back pocket, steadying my hand there.
“Maybe not in so many words. I get complimentary e-mails at times. But you can get one hundred nice ones, and it’s the ‘you suck cheesy donkey balls’ email you remember most.” Eyes losing focus, he shook his head. “Still. You put your work out there in the public domain, you gotta take the rough with the smooth.” Glancing sideways, he winked. “The royalty cheques soften the blow, though.”
Not even remotely less jittery now than when I’d touched him, I swallowed back a knot of nerves and in so doing, cleared the way for my attention—as well as a tangle of arousal—to shoot straight to my groin. “I’d better get back to work. Leave you to it.” He winked at you, Hutton. Get a fucking grip. Just a wink. Taking a few steps, I retreated but didn’t show my back to him yet. I didn’t want to, but I’d need to pretty damn soon if I was going to maintain some semblance of dignity and professionalism.
“Don’t forget to text me; I’ll get the book to you.”
“Sure. I’ll be in touch.” I turned, headed for the short flight of stairs leading down to the main body of the room again, and, heart thundering, looked over my shoulder before seeking sanctuary on the altar of the main desk.
Yes. Daniel Cross was still looking.
And I was still having trouble breathing.
* * * * *
I arrived home that evening to banging and clattering in the kitchen. As I’d been working late, Georgia had agreed to let herself in with the spare set of keys and start on dinner.
“Start on dinner” involved swearing at the cupboards for not being in the right place or containing whichever pot or pan she sought.
I hung up my jacket and leaned against the kitchen door frame, arms crossed. “This is what I like to see.”
“What, the little woman getting dinner on the table? Where the fuck did you leave the olive oil?”
“Me? I didn’t use it last. You made that stir-fry and—there, try that cupboard; no, the—see? There it is. And the day you’re anyone’s ‘little woman’—” I couldn’t finish the sentence. The thought was too comical. “Although a welcome-home kiss? That I wouldn’t object to.”
“Not until you say the magic words.” Looking over her shoulder, she winked.
“What? ‘Hi, honey, I’m home’?” Grinning, I crossed the room and slipped a hand round her waist and pulled her back toward me.
“Mr. Hutton. Is that a gun in your pocket—”
“No; I am just pleased to see you.”
Dropping the knife on the chopping board, she laughed. “And I didn’t even have to wear the apron and stilettos this time.”
“Oh God.” I groaned into her neck, thankful her messy blonde ponytail meant I could taste her skin all the sooner.
She wiped her hands on a tea towel and turned around to face me. “Wait till you hear my news.”
“Do tell.” I had a clue but wanted to hear it from her.
“I met Sarah during my lunch break today.”
Round about the time I was shooting the breeze with—”Go on.”
“As women do when they get together.” I brushed her fringe back off her face, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, worked my other hand underneath the hem of her blouse. It was hard to be in the same room as Georgia Lawrence and not touch her. It’d always been like that, since the first night. Introduced at a party and boom, two hours later, naked. Admittedly not in the room in which we’d met; that would have been a bit much, even by our liberal standards. We’d had the decency to go back to my place first, but from an eight o’clock “Hey, I’m Reece” to her screaming that very name took a couple of hours and a taxi ride home. Nice work, Hutton.
“And I think you’ll like what we said.”
“Hmm?” I murmured, still distracted by the low vee of her neckline. Nuzzling into her neck, I worked at the top button, just to deepen that neckline and make the view even more—
“Reece. Are you listening? ‘Cause I really think you’ll like this.”
“I’d like it even more if you had fewer clothes on.”
“Reece!” Georgia smacked my hand away, laughing when I put it right back where it had been, working at another button. “I spoke to Sarah at lunchtime.” She sighed when I undid the last button and pulled her blouse open.
“And?” Running my fingertips over the swell of her breast, I waited for the catch in her throat and—there. Caught breath and I had her attention. “You were saying?”
“It’s hard to keep my mind on the conversation when you’re doing that.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You were telling me about Sarah.” Even pushing the cup of her bra aside, letting my palm touch the nipple as I cupped Georgia’s breast made me harder. God, I wanted her. I didn’t know what had gotten into me, but whatever it was, I liked it. It wasn’t even the thought of Georgia and Sarah discussing what they’d met up to discuss; I’d been turned on before I got home.
Maybe that was it. I’d known this conversation was coming. I’d known the time of confirmation or denial was soon.
“She said yes.”
My hand still on Georgia’s breast, I flinched, fingers contracting momentarily. “She said…?” The nipple hardened between my thumb and forefinger. “She said yes?” Cradling Georgia’s face in both hands, I kissed her, and straightaway our tongues met, not bothering with gentle overtures, just desperate, deep kisses, which came with familiarity and the certainty this was going to be fucking hot.
Pulling away, Georgia managed to mutter, “She did,” before kissing me again and hooking her leg round mine.
“I really have no idea what I did to deserve a woman like you, you know,” I murmured against her neck. Her skin was so soft and warm, I could touch her for hours without getting bored.
“You must have been a dirty pervert in a former life.”
“Works for me.” I listened for the gasp as I worked a fingertip past the edge of her thong; she always wore the briefest slivers of underwear, thank God. “Christ, you’re wet.”
“Former life and—oh God, Reece.” Georgia pushed against me, and my finger slipped inside easily. And another. “And this one.”
“You must have been thinking of me before I got home.”
“I was thinking of you and Sarah.”
Instant arousal jolted through me like electricity. “Fucking hell, Geo. You’re…”
“Well, we have to do something to make your birthday go with a bang.”
“It will that, all right.” It took reserves of self-control I didn’t know I had to move slowly, to stroke her from the inside and listen to the quiet gasps heaving her chest. She tried to resist pushing back against me; I knew it. And failed. With only two fingers moving against her G-spot, I was in control, her hips following me every time I threatened to withdraw.
“Don’t stop.” Georgia gripped my arm, held it steady, and tried to push against me harder, but I resisted, moving away as she came forward. “Reece.”
Laughing quietly, I let my breath whisper over her skin, the curve where her neck became shoulder. “If we get too carried away, I might have to take you into the bedroom and fuck you.”
“Then do it.” Her voice, absent of hesitation, sent a wave of anticipation rippling up my spine. “I dare you.”
Withdrawing my fingers from her pussy, I gave her clit the merest hint of pressure with the heel of my hand, smiling in triumph when she gasped. “Ask nicely.”
“I said…” Drawing her earlobe between my lips, I nipped it gently, just enough to make her flinch. “I said, ask nicely. I want you to remember your manners.”
“Once more with feeling, Miss Lawrence.” I circled her clit with one finger, not touching it, just promising to. But not yet. “Please what?”
“Please. I want you to just—” She gulped. “I want you to fuck me. Now.”
“With pleasure.” I didn’t even look behind me, just hauled her by the wrist to the bedroom, shut the door, and threw her up against it. “Christ, I’ve been thinking about you all day.” No you haven’t. “I was desperate to get home tonight,” I breathed, all but tearing her blouse off and dropping it beside us. No you weren’t. You were busy. No, not busy. Occupied.
“God, Reece.” Georgia grabbed me by the waist and pulled me against her. “What is with you?”
“Are you complaining?” I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this hard, this desperate to get inside her, this keen to prove something. “Turn around.” Hands on her waist, I made her obey. “Hands flat against the door.”
Turning her head to the side, she laughed. “What are you gonna do? Arrest me?”
“You want me to cuff you?”
All I got in reply was a quiet, seductive moan.
“Now. Hands. Against the door.”
Her left hand came up, nails clicking against the hard wood. Then her right. “Now what?”
“Stay where you are. No. Movement. Don’t move an inch.” Christ, she was gorgeous. So willing, so compliant, so eager to please, so fucking dirty. And mine. I helped her off with her thong, pulling it past her knees, and she kicked it off completely. “Remember what I said? Don’t move. No peeking. Stay. Where. You. Are.” Resting my hands on her hips, I kissed her neck once before backing away, smiling when she flinched.
Her head inclined ever so slightly. She didn’t break the rules, but she did shudder when I opened the bedside cabinet drawer.
“See?” I pointed out. “Nothing more ominous than this.” And I said nothing more, letting the silence emphasise the tearing foil when it came.
In seconds I had my belt and zip undone and the condom on, wondering how the hell I managed it so quickly with shaking hands. I hadn’t wanted her this badly in a while. It was always good between us, but this went way beyond need. This was desperation.
“Shh.” One hand on her waist, I pulled her back, worked the tip of my cock inside her, just an inch, waiting for the—
There. “Christ, you are ready for me, aren’t you? You’re so fucking wet I could just slide my cock all the way in.”
She pushed back, but I held her steady.
I murmured against the back of her neck, “Oh no you don’t. Stay still.” And I gave her more. But didn’t go deep. Not yet. “God, I love the sounds you make. I just wish I had the…” Gulping, I closed my eyes, pulled back, fucked her a little deeper. “I wish I had the self-control to draw this out even longer so I could make you moan a bit louder.”
Catching the scent of her shampoo, I looked at her hair, still up in that messy ponytail tangled around my hand, and I gave it a tug to hear her gasp.
“But I can’t. Fucking. Wait that long.” I slammed every last inch of my cock into her so hard the air whooshed out of my lungs in one throaty growl. “Jesus, Georgia. Fucking hell, this. Is. I can’t—” Burying my head in the side of her neck, every thrust forcing a gasp out of her and breath I didn’t know I had out of me, I fucked her as hard and deep as I could at this angle.
“Jesus, Georgia, I can’t—”
“What is it, baby? I’m gonna—” Oh God, don’t ask me to stop. Don’t tell me to stop, not now when I’m—
Just hearing her say that one word did me in. My knees threatened to buckle, and I braced myself with one hand on her hip, the other against the door, above hers. “Oh fuck. Say that again.”
“Fuck me harder, Reece.” She tightened her pussy around my cock, almost pulled me in deeper, and I could live for a thousand years and never work out how she did that.
“That’s fucking perfect. God, I’m coming, baby. I can’t. Fucking. Wait.” Blinded by the force of my orgasm, I came, roaring as if pained, legs nearly collapsing under me, but somehow I managed to stay upright, though shaking. “Sorry. Sorry, I just couldn’t wait.” I eased myself out of her, shifted my weight from one foot to the other to see if I was capable of—literally—standing on my own two feet. “I’ll make it up to you. Just let me get rid of the—”
“I know what you were doing.”
I jerked my head up.
She didn’t move. “You were thinking of someone else, weren’t you?”
My blood turned to ice water. Not trusting myself to speak, I waited for her to break the silence.
“Come on, Reece. After the conversation we’ve just had?”
A second’s delay, waiting for the penny to drop. “Oh. Oh.”
“You thought I wouldn’t realise?” This time she turned her head as far as she could, looking over her shoulder. “You won’t have to pretend it’s someone else for very long. Just wait till your birthday.”
My blood, still cold but now tainted with guilt—or relief—flowed again.
Of course. She thought—
“If you’re like that on your birthday, well, God help the two of us. Actually, no. God help all three of us.”
“Yes. God help us,” I murmured and kissed her neck, screwing my eyes shut against the phantom of my conscience. “I wasn’t thinking of any other woman, Georgia. Just you. Only you.”