Count down to Nine Kinds of Naughty...
February Book of the Month
There was always this moment, right at the top, when everything in the world went still. Dane Huntley closed his eyes and drew in a nice, deep lungful of clear Adirondack air. No smog and no climate control. No expectations or demands.
Fuck. It was better than anything—better than sex and better than a pretty little sub on her knees at his feet. He opened his eyes to bright blue skies and dark evergreens spanning out for miles. Water rushing beneath his feet and nowhere to go but down, down, down.
His blood sang as he clapped his hands together and tugged on the rope. Loud enough to be heard over the roaring in his ears, he crowed, “Let’s do this shit.”
His buddies behind him on the bridge whooped and hollered, goading him on, but it all blurred out. There was just his pulse and the breeze and the sun on his skin, and it was perfect.
One last deep breath. In. Out.
The wood of the platform shuddered with his every pounding step. You had to get just the right running start, and he’d done this jump enough times before. He hit the mark an inch from the edge and put all his will into it.
And it was even better than the moment back there at the top.
He spun in the air, tucking his legs up tight to his chest before spreading out into a dive, nose-down. The sheer rock and scrabble and trees to either side of the river flew past him, wind rushing into his lungs, filling him, making his heart go crazy behind his ribs. Screaming just to hear it echo back, he hurtled toward the ground. He was this tiny insignificant speck, and he was the most powerful fucking being on this planet, invincible, unstoppable, unkillable.
The cord might as well have snapped. Was that what Jake had thought? Right before—
And Dane had flown a plane in a full three-sixty spiral before without ever feeling his stomach so much as twist. For half a second, he tasted his breakfast, though, and he swallowed hard. Nope. No way. He leapt off a goddamn bridge headfirst to lose this shit—not to gain it. He usually craved control, but this was the one place in the world where he let it go. Apparently, he’d let go of a little too much.
Pushing everything else away, he forced himself to look, to breathe, but it wasn’t the same. He was already slowing, the cord around his ankle doing its job and the exact opposite of what he wanted it to do. The water below surged to meet him, but the illusion had shattered. Before he knew it, he was rising again, floating up through the air. Drifting.
If there were anything but sky to beat his head against, he would.
Because this was how it always went. Jake and his fucking heroics had taken everything from Dane, and there wasn’t a place on this earth the pain couldn’t reach him, no matter how far he ran or how hard he played. One bad step and a lungful of smoke, and Dane had lost his chance to do what he wanted with his own damn life. He’d lost that big Montana sky.
And he’d lost his brother. His best friend.
The cord hit the other end of its limit. He bounced back and forth a few more times, the motion damping out. Hiding the expression on his face, he used his core to jackknife from the waist, shooting the double thumbs-up sign at his guys. They hauled him to the top again, and he bumped shoulders and fists before bending to unhook his ankles from their strapping. One of the dudes caught his eye for a second too long, but Dane shook his head. Shrugging, the other guy looked away.
By the time they’d all had their turn, the sun was more than halfway through its arc. A couple of the guys were making motions as if to pack up, and it was like that moment in the middle of his jump when Dane had almost lost it. His throat gave a threatening ripple.
He wasn’t ready to be done.
“Hey,” he said. “Anybody wanna make a run at Buck Hollow?”
It was a solid hour’s hike from here, and then there’d be the time it took to get set up. Another two hours from there to the car once they’d all jumped. It’d be tight, but they could fit it in before it got too dark.
Glances darted back and forth, doubtful faces peering at him, and the clawing in his chest went sharp.
“I don’t know, man,” someone said. “I got work tomorrow—”
“Fuck work.” Dane spat the words.
And it didn’t make sense. He had a good job—a great job. It paid awesome. The perks were out of this world.
For a second, he couldn’t stop thinking about one particular perk. Lexie. A hot little number with fire in her stare and an ass that wouldn’t quit. Long legs and perfect tits. Steel in her spine and a hidden softness to her he’d caught only the barest glimpses of.
He wanted to see if she’d purr for him. If he could manage to pull the giant stick out of her ass with a crowbar—or with a couple of nice, heavy swats or a flick of his crop.
Fat chance of her ever letting him, of course. At least as long as she was still his boss—a couple of years younger than his twenty-six and already on her way to running the world. And seemingly intent on taking him with her.
His gut twisted all over again, the vise around his ribs squeezing hard.
Fuck work. Fuck the life his brother had left him with. Fuck his mother’s shitty house in Queens and fuck his boss. The idea of going back to it all, of going inside and putting on that goddamn suit and breathing stale, recycled air for another week . . .
He hefted his pack onto his shoulder and jerked his head toward the pass that would take them even farther from their cars. “So?” He said it like a challenge and like the most desperate kind of plea. “Who’s with me?”
More uncertain glances. Then, finally. “Okay.”
One head nodded and then another, and all the air rushed out of him in a whoosh.
“Okay,” he said. Clapping the nearest guy on the shoulder, he repeated it, but like a lifeline.
Like the single strand of cord tied tight around his ankles. The only thread between him and a watery death a thousand feet below.
He breathed out hard. “Okay.”
One more climb and one more jump. A handful more hours between him and the rest of the week, and he was so grateful for them he could have cried. Instead, he hitched his pack a little higher. Turning toward the trail, he led the way.
“Okay, so here’s the thing. I have a theory, and I just need you to tell me if I’m right or wrong.”
Alexis Bellamy didn’t even have to look up from her work. She’d know her brother Rylan’s voice anywhere. “Hmm?”
“When did you get in this morning?”
What did that have to do with anything? She glanced at the clock in the corner of her screen. It was just past nine. “A couple of hours ago.” She shrugged. “It’s Monday. I got a late start.”
“Uh-huh. You realize that most people don’t get here until, like, now, right?”
“I’m not most people.”
“Clearly. So here’s my theory. I think you never actually go home.” Rylan summarily dropped himself down onto the couch on the other side of her new office, and she winced internally in sympathy. It was the kind of furniture meant to keep unwanted visitors from staying too long: pretty as hell but hard as a rock. Sure enough, he made a pained sound and groaned. “Ugh. Never mind. I take it back. No way you sleep on this thing.”
Hiding her smirk, she kept on scrolling through her inbox. “Maybe I just don’t sleep.”
She and her brother had been having this conversation since they were both in school. He liked to harp on her for working too hard, and she liked to ignore him. She tapped at a report she’d been waiting on. Interesting—profits in their European division were stalling out worse than she’d anticipated.
“Have you looked at the new numbers yet this morning?” she asked.
“No.” There was a duh to the tone of his voice. “Because I, unlike you, went to my nice comfortable house and slept in my nice comfortable bed—”
“—next to your nice, comfortable fiancée, I know, I know.”
The words were said in jest, but they left a hint of a bitter aftertaste on her tongue. Made a knot of tension form between her shoulder blades.
It wasn’t as if she begrudged her brother his newfound happiness and stability. She liked Kate, and she liked the two of them together even more.
And yet. There was something about just how sickeningly happy they were that made the hollow place where her own glaring lack of a personal life was supposed to be get all twisted up inside.
The emptiness positively howled when her assistant, Dane, walked into the room.
With a single, rapping knock, the man strode through her doorway, dark hair just the right amount of mussed, his perfect jaw on display, skin clean-shaven and smooth. He always looked good, but the suit he wore today showed off the breadth of his shoulders even more eloquently than usual. As he came to a stop the requisite three feet from her desk, he dominated her view, blocking out her brother, the windows—hell, the sun.
He was just so big. This tall mountain of a man that God himself must have poured into expertly tailored menswear just for her.
She had to sit on her hands and clench her jaw against the urge to reach out and touch him.
Thing was, she’d seen the way he looked at her, and it matched the way she tried so damn hard not to look at him. He’d been respectful to a fault, never pressing. The electric charge in the air between them sparked and flared, but he maintained the distance she had asked of him.
Because for all that she was pretty sure he’d welcome her advances, she wasn’t going down that road again. She’d worked too hard to build her reputation. People around here might never see her as more than Daddy’s little girl, but damn if she was risking any more of her credibility on another office dalliance.
Especially not when the last one had been so stupid. When it had ended so spectacularly.
“Ms. Bellamy,” Dane said, then nodded at Rylan. “Mr. Bellamy.”
He was ever so slightly out of breath, and she frowned. Looking at him more closely, she caught the tiny details she’d overlooked in the face of all . . . that. The couple of hairs out of place and the spot he’d missed beneath his jaw. She glanced at the clock again and gave him a pointed look. “You’re late.”
“My apologies, ma’am. Won’t happen again.”
“I should hope not.”
He was normally meticulously punctual, arriving early and staying late at her request, but Monday mornings were the exception to the rule. She might have to start keeping better track of that.
Clapping his hands together, Rylan rose from her couch. “Well, then. I’ll let you two get to work. Status meeting at eleven?”
“We’ll be there.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Maybe you’ll even have time to read your reports before then.”
“Nice, comfortable bed,” he teased, taking his leave.
And she almost missed it, but out of the corner of her eye, she caught the way Dane’s nostrils flared at just the mention of a bed. Heat shimmered beneath her skin at his reaction. At the way his gaze went immediately, unerringly to her.
For half a second, their eyes locked.
Jeanette Grey’s erotically charged NINE KINDS OF NAUGHTY is out 7th February!