Too Hot to Handle

by Aleah Barley

She was playing with fire…

Honey Moore has made her pledge: no more stealing cars and no more lusting after Jack Ogden. But when an arsonist torches her house and chases her all over Los Angeles, she’s forced to throw herself on Jack’s mercy. No one will look for a convicted felon in an LAPD detective’s apartment, right?

…and he didn’t want to get burned.

Jack doesn’t need a woman like Honey in his life. She might be sexy, but trouble follows her everywhere. But it’s hard to walk away from someone who lives at full throttle—and even harder to keep her safe. Now he’ll have to sacrifice everything to protect Honey from the arsonist determined to kill her.

 

Information:

Title: Too Hot to Handle
Author: Aleah Barley
Genre: Category – Contemporary
Length: 212 pages
ISBN 978-1-62266-925-7
Release Date: May 2012
Imprint: Indulgence
 

 
 
 

Excerpt:

© 2012 Aleah Barley

Chapter One

Jack Ogden unlocked the heavy-duty dead bolt on his apartment door and pressed his muscular shoulder against swollen wood, which stuck in the summer heat. The door opened with a sharp jerk that radiated down his arm.

It hurt. Everything hurt.

He was getting old. At thirty, he’d lost the ability to bounce back from a beating. Ten years earlier, he’d been a professional boxer, making a living getting punched in the face. Scraped knuckles and bruised skin. Now all it took was one bar fight to knock him flat on his ass.

He needed a cold beer, some hot food, and about two weeks in bed.

As he stepped over the threshold, his gun slipped out of his shoulder holster into his right hand—the motion practiced, reflexive, an automatic response to some signal he couldn’t place or interpret.

“This is the police,” he called out, pushing the door closed behind him. “And I’m not in the mood.”

Pounding music came up through the floor from the dance club below. Classic rock tonight. Friday. Darkness pooled at the doorway, but light shone at the far end of the hall. Someone was in his apartment. Someone who’d heard about his injury. If they thought entering the apartment while he was injured would save them from his wrath, they were about to find out just how wrong they’d been.

Moving fast, he slipped down the length of the hallway. Common sense said he should wait outside and call for backup, but he’d left common sense behind him an hour ago when he’d checked out of the hospital against his doctors’ advice. If he called for backup, he’d spend the next six hours listening to his commanding officer chew his head off for leaving the hospital without permission. Then someone would call his sister.

He’d rather be dead.

Jack kept moving, letting a surge of adrenaline carry his bruised body into the apartment’s combination living room and kitchen, where the intruder had turned on a light. His eyes swept the room, taking in the familiar blue couch, the big picture windows, the battered kitchen table, and the open freezer door.

His gaze stopped on the panties. They were blue cotton embroidered with shiny circles, and they were wrapped around the heart-shaped ass of a woman bending down to look in his side-by-side freezer.

He’d always been a breast man, but there was something about those multicolored polka dots that made him think he’d been neglecting a vital portion of the female anatomy. Her legs were good, too—long and muscular, just the way he liked them.

She had bare feet. The sight made his breath catch in his throat. Bare feet were for the young and innocent. He really hoped she wasn’t planning to kill him.

“Put your hands up.”

The woman stood, but she didn’t turn around. Her white cotton T-shirt dropped down to skim across those polka dots.

Not polka dots. Lollipops. His heart slammed against his rib cage. Whether this was a reaction to the adrenaline still racing through his veins or the lust washing over him in waves, he couldn’t say.

“Where’s your ice cream?” she asked.

The question was simple, direct, and completely disingenuous. He wanted to ask her what the hell she was doing in his apartment, but when he opened his mouth, different words came out. “I don’t have any ice cream.”

“What kind of a man doesn’t have ice cream?” She closed the freezer door and reached up to snag the box of cookies Jack kept on top of his refrigerator. “If I gain a million pounds, it’s your fault.”

That didn’t make any sense. The blood loss was obviously affecting his mind. “Cookies make you gain weight, but ice cream doesn’t?”

“Ice cream is cold. Your body burns calories to heat it up.”

“That’s insane.” Maybe the blood loss was affecting her mind.

Jack stared at the woman’s back. She probably wouldn’t be talking about ice cream if she were planning to kill him. Whoever she was.

He took a few steps forward and set the gun down on the table between them. There was something about her. Standing upright, she was a slightly built thing, much shorter than his solid six foot two. And her hair…a glistening reddish-gold that shone in the flickering light from the street.

Jack knew that hair. It was bright, fiery, but cool to the touch. Always flying everywhere, getting in the way, and then she’d let out a soft sigh before putting it up in a loose ponytail.

“Honey?”

When she didn’t correct him, he let out a long breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. The woman was all kinds of trouble, but she wasn’t a killer. He’d seen her arrest record. Hell, he’d added to it.

“Honey Moore, shouldn’t you be in jail?”

A sharp laugh. “Time off for bad behavior.” She turned around to face him straight on. Wide-set emerald eyes and rosy, bee-stung lips. He remembered those lips, soft and luscious. Permanently pursed, like she was waiting for a kiss. They tasted like cherry cola—or they had the last time he’d kissed her. Cherry cola and fresh-cut fries from the concession stand at the drive-in movie theater.

He’d been sixteen years old, and she’d laughed about it afterward like kissing him was the funniest thing in the world. That night, they’d been two dumb kids who’d snuck in to watch the latest spy thriller. He couldn’t remember what the movie had been, but her hair had smelled like oranges, and her sweater had been soft to the touch.

Honey leaned against the wall, snagging a cookie from the box and devouring it in two neat bites. “Want one?” Her pose against the wall made her back arch and her plump, firm breasts strain against the plain white T-shirt. He wondered if she knew what she was doing.

Probably.

If he were feeling better, he’d take the time to think about that. To wonder what her end game was. At the moment, he just wanted her gone.

Downstairs, the music stopped. The DJ introduced a new song. Jack couldn’t understand what the man was saying, but he recognized the opening chords. Bruce Springsteen. The song took him back to late summer evenings spent listening to music down by the lake, blasting boom box speakers until the neighbors complained. Guns for hire. Dancing in the dark.

Jack swayed. With the adrenaline rush dying down, the pain was coming back. He’d be better off if Honey killed him. Then he wouldn’t have to feel the bruises developing all over his body. The doctor who’d stitched him up had told him he didn’t need a cast, but he definitely shouldn’t be carrying heavy weights with a sprained wrist. Did a gun count as a heavy weight?

He took a deep breath, wincing when the force of air in his lungs made his chest tighten. “Breaking and entering. I could arrest you. Again.”

“Go ahead. Grand theft cookie.” She took another bite. “That’s a career-making bust.”

“Sweetheart, I already have a career. I’m a decorated officer. Any more promotions, and I have to start doing fancy paperwork.” He leaned forward, bracing himself against the kitchen table to keep from toppling over. “Arresting you again would be fun.”

Honey Moore. The youngest in a long line of petty criminals, experts at boosting cars and causing riots in confined spaces. Her cousin made book. Her only uncle who wasn’t in jail or on the run was trying to make a legitimate go of things with a brewery somewhere off Valley Vista.

It had been years since he and Honey had talked, but he couldn’t imagine much had changed in her life. Once a thug, always a thug.

“I’ve got cause,” he added. “I don’t remember giving you a spare key.”

Honey snorted. “Spare keys are for little girls.”

“You want to tell me how you got in here?”

“Not really.”

Bold and brassy—that was Honey. She’d always been too loud, too headstrong, and too damn wild. A rough-and-tumble kid who’d grown up in one of the worst parts of Los Angeles, Honey had transferred to Black Palm Park Academy for high school. She’d been a scholarship student with a chip on her shoulder and too much to prove, and he’d been the reigning teen king of Black Palm Park, an exclusive Malibu enclave built around a country club and a private school.

They’d dated for a week and a half before she’d let him kiss her on the mouth. A real kiss, with tongue and hands tugging hurriedly at her sweater. He must have done something wrong, though, because the next morning at school, she’d told him to go to hell.

After that, things had gone south fast. They’d fought like cats and dogs. He’d called her a name. She’d retaliated with a well-placed quip. A few practical jokes, and someone had ended up with their hair dyed electric blue. It might have been him.

She’d always known what to say to twist the knife in his side, and he could never retaliate. Not when he was supposed to be the good one, the responsible one.

“You’re not looking so good, Jack.” Honey took one step forward, then another. She moved around the table, hips swinging, until she was standing less than a foot away. The only thing separating them was the box of cookies. Four inches of cardboard that could be crushed by one small step forward.

Reaching up, she rested her hand lightly on his cheek. Her fingers were cool from rifling through his freezer. When she spoke, he could feel her breath hot against his skin. “What happened to your face?”

“My face?”

It had been a long time since he’d been so close to a woman. For all the complex emotions she brought bubbling to the surface, Honey was warm, soft, and sexy. Her proximity made him dizzy.

He wasn’t sixteen years old anymore. His boyish charms had been replaced with hard-won experience. Women liked him. If he kissed Honey again, she wouldn’t be laughing. There wouldn’t be enough air left in her to laugh.

“I ran into a door.”

“A door?” Her tone was dry, incredulous.

“Yeah, my sister’s ex-door and all his little door friends.” He didn’t want to think about Carlos or Jessica. He was too busy thinking about the way Honey’s perky breasts were moving unbound under her plain white T-shirt. Too busy trying to figure out how much it would hurt to run his hands over her breasts, to kiss the soft curve of her neck, to have her pressed eagerly against him.

It would probably be worth it.

“Can I have one of those cookies?” Jack didn’t wait for an answer. They were his cookies in his house. He reached down, plucking a cookie from the box between them. Another inch, and they’d be touching. Closer than that, and they’d be kissing.

Kissing Honey Moore. What was he thinking? The woman was definitely up to something. The few times they’d seen each other since high school, their relationship had run hot and cold. Sometimes, she’d been friendly—sweet, even—and sometimes she’d been vicious.

Arresting her at her cousin’s wedding had probably been a mistake, but she shouldn’t have hot-wired his patrol car to make a beer run.

Now, here she was. Acting like they were old friends.

“What do you want from me?”

“You’ve got a mighty high opinion of yourself,” Honey said. “I don’t want anything from you.”

For a moment they stood there, face to face. Held in place by some force he didn’t dare recognize. It was a competition, one he’d fight to the death before acknowledging.

Honey blinked first. Two steps backward, and she knocked into a tall kitchen stool. She sat down hard, the awkward motion serving to acknowledge what he already knew. She’d lost. Her body folded inward on itself until she was smaller than he remembered. Her tongue darted out, moistening her lips. Emitting a short sigh, she glanced away.

He polished off the cookie, then cleared his throat, wincing as the action made his head spin. He wasn’t up for this.

Hell, he wasn’t up for anything.

He should be in a nice comfy bed with a fluffy pillow, satin sheets, and a wooden top. Nail the cover down, stick a giant rock on top, and throw a party. He was done. Finished. A dead man walking.

“What the hell are you doing here?” A rude question—at least, by his mother’s standards—but Jack didn’t care. There was no logical reason for Honey Moore to be in his apartment, drawing him closer with every flutter of long lashes closing over green eyes, every breath expelled between raspberry lips.

A flip of Honey’s hair, a bitter laugh. “Someone burned my house down.” The statement was calm, quiet.

He didn’t believe it for a minute.

After a long pause, she said, “Someone was chasing me. I couldn’t think of any other place to go.” Her eyes were bright, her jaw clenched. Defiant. She was waiting for him to tell her to leave.

Jack’s hands clenched into fists while he considered his options. Tossing her out on her ass was tempting, very tempting. He didn’t want to fight over a story as fake as a three-dollar bill. Not tonight. He didn’t have the energy. “You know, I’ve always liked you—”

“Thank you.”

“‘Liked’ might not be the right word. ‘Tolerated.’” He let out a long breath, blowing air over the top of his lip. “I tolerated your pranks. I tolerated the way you toyed with me. Teased me. I put up with all of you, right up until the minute you went too far and decided that my police car was a toy—”

“Do you have a point?”

“I’d be happy to see you under normal circumstances,” Jack said. “But not tonight.” Not with a split lip, a stitched-up gash in the middle of his chest, and bruised ribs. Bruised everything. “Why did you come here?”

“Why not?” A shrug. “I can go if you want, but I’d like to take a shower first.”

A shower. Jack almost laughed. Nothing in his life was that simple. She was keeping something from him, but that was nothing new.

Part of him wanted to forget the bruises, to push, to interrogate her until she broke down and told him what was really going on.

Mostly, he didn’t care. He was a man. She was a woman. Damaged or whole, he wanted to wrap his arms around her and take her to bed.

But growing up in Black Palm Park, the oldest son of a family that had stood in the political spotlight for generations, Jack had learned how to be a gentleman. His mother had taught him to be loyal, honest, and true. To never take advantage of a woman. Hitting on Honey Moore while she was in his kitchen, confused and vulnerable, wearing only a borrowed shirt and a pair of panties with lollipops on them, would be taking advantage.

“Make yourself at home.” The words were quiet, earnest, and they left him drained, incapable of getting to bed. It took everything he had to keep himself upright until she retreated to the bathroom, her hips swaying back and forth tantalizingly underneath the white T-shirt.

He stumbled forward, collapsing onto the couch.

For a moment, Bruce Springsteen’s voice was overshadowed by the shuddering of old pipes being forced into service. Then the song was back, the dull pounding of its beat slowing down before another lyric started up. Had the conversation only taken a few minutes? It had felt like an eternity.

What a night. What a weekend—and it would only get worse. His sister was going to tear him apart when she found out he’d gotten in a bar fight with her cheating asshole of an ex. He didn’t regret it, though. Carlos was a schmuck.

His boss would probably help Jessica with the beat down. LAPD detectives were not supposed to go around getting in fights. Especially not with rich, powerful men like Carlos who had the governor’s private number on speed dial.

Jack didn’t care about politics. All he wanted was to be a cop. A good cop.

But six months earlier, he’d been part of a team chasing down a child killer in Brentwood. They’d found the man covered in the blood of his victims. By the time the killer arrived at Central Booking, he’d also been covered in bruises.

Jack didn’t know who’d done it, and he didn’t much care. The fact was Internal Affairs had a file on him now. One more incident and the Rat Squad would be up his butt with a microscope. They’d look at every arrest he’d ever made, every shooting he’d ever been in, and while they were at it, they’d probably suspend him.

He couldn’t imagine anything worse.

His sister and the brass were problems that he’d have to deal with in the morning. He had something more important to think about. Honey Moore was in his shower, warm water pounding over her bare skin.

Standing there in his antique bathtub, she’d have to choose between getting out of the shower to retrieve a washcloth from the closet in the hall or using the bar of soap as it was. He hoped she used the bar. He liked the thought of the hard piece of soap making her body slippery, coating her breasts with white residue before she moved it down across her belly. Would she pause for a second, feeling the pressure of the soap and her own hand between her thighs? Maybe even thinking about him for a long moment before moving on?

A bolt of lust made his hands shake. He lifted his legs up onto the overstuffed couch. One ankle banged against the couch arm, and he winced in pain.

The noise of the shower filled his head. The sound was soothing, like one of those white noise machines that helps people sleep. Jack could use some sleep. Anything to keep his mind off Honey. But it was a lot more pleasurable to think about Honey…

His eyes slowly flickered closed, and he fell into unconsciousness.

 

 

Chapter Two

Honey Moore woke with pounding in her head and a curse on her lips.

“Damn it all to hell.”

At eighteen, she’d sworn on a stack of bibles she was done lusting after Jack Ogden. It hadn’t been easy getting over him. The man was tall, dark, and handsome, with a soft laugh that could light her blood on fire. He wore combed cotton T-shirts that stretched tight across his broad shoulders, blue jeans that had gone threadbare at the knees, and an occasional sweet smile that melted her insides.

With that brown, curly hair, those bowed lips, he might have been too handsome—almost pretty—if it weren’t for the inevitable scarring around a nose that had been broken one too many times.

Looks weren’t everything. He also had a rough voice like crushed velvet, a catalogue of steamy expressions, and gentlemanly manners he’d learned in the cradle.

But she’d made her decision. Sworn her pledge. No more wanting Jack.

Waking up with his hand nestled between her knees was a setback.

Time for an intervention. “All right, Honey,” she whispered. “Stand up. Get off this couch and leave.”

The rough pad of his thumb scraped over the soft inner skin of her thigh. He was sound asleep. The future political dynamo would never make a move like that while he was awake, no matter how much Honey might like him to.

It was damn annoying. Sometimes she wanted to hit him in the head with a wrench, just to see what his response would be. He’d probably look at her with those soulful blue eyes, shake his head, and let out a soft sigh.

“Deep breaths,” she said. “Easy, girl.”

Jack’s thumb massaged her thigh idly, the circular motion stoking an ancient fire inside her. She sucked air into her mouth, trying to cool down her blood.

It didn’t help.

Going to sleep next to him had been a bad move. Not that she’d slept much the night before—she’d spent most of it tossing restlessly, worried she was going to fall off the side of the narrow couch. Worried that the person who’d burned down her house would come after her.

The only thing she hadn’t thought to worry about was Jack’s intentions.

She turned over on her other side to face him. High cheekbones, tanned skin, and curved lips that were perpetually twisted downward.

At least, that was what she’d always thought.

Asleep, the man was all smiles. There wasn’t a line of anger or tension in his body. Her stomach tightened in surprise. All this time, she’d known he was a good man. Everyone in Black Palm Park knew that. She hadn’t known he was happy.

Honey settled against him, her head falling into the crook of his arm. There was something comfortingly reassuring about the feel of Jack’s body against hers. Hard muscles and warmth. He made her feel safe, even if he did look like something the cat dragged in.

His arm tightened around her waist, capturing her. Pulling her against him. If they got any closer, she’d need birth control.

Heart pounding, she darted forward to brush her lips against his cheek. The pressure on her waist changed. It was still solid, but this time his hand clenched into a fist, bunching her T-shirt up around her waist.

Long fingers brushed over her back.

Her skin tingled everywhere his hand touched her. Heat roared through her body before settling low in her belly.

She rocked forward against him, her eyes flickering shut. There was no history biting at her heels, no past to trip them up. All she was feeling was the inevitable chemical reaction that came from too many hormones and not enough clothes. Man and woman.

His hand dipped down beneath the elastic band of her panties, and Honey came crashing back to earth. Jack Ogden wasn’t just any man. She wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. Not if she could help it.

“Jack.”

He murmured quietly. He was probably dreaming about a supermodel, a famous actress, or Anne Green, the perky lawyer who’d captained the cheerleading squad so many years earlier.

Not her. Never her.

“Jack.” A second time, louder now.

His mouth descended on hers. The kiss was rough, urgent. Her teeth nicked his lip. She melted into him, accepting the coppery taste of his blood in her mouth. One kiss followed another. He kissed her with his eyes wide open, their color a deep blue like the ocean on a clear day.

The most honorable man in a city of millions had his hand splayed across her back, and he knew exactly what he was doing. That knowledge got her blood pumping. He began to kiss his way down her neck, and a soft moan escaped her lips.

“Good morning.” Pearly teeth nipped at her collarbone playfully before he pulled away. “You always talk to yourself like that?”

“Only when I’ve got no one better to talk to.”

“You didn’t have to sleep with me.”

“I didn’t sleep with you—”

Collapsed on the couch the night before, Jack had looked tired, vulnerable. His body had rolled sideways and—without thinking—she’d lunged forward to catch him, pushing him back into the middle of the couch. Then he’d tried rolling over a second time.

Not good at all.

The man had been completely exhausted. If she’d left him by himself, he’d have been sleeping on the floor in a couple of minutes. She hadn’t seen his injuries, but judging by the way he’d been holding himself, they were bad. The last thing he’d needed was another fall and a night spent on a hard surface.

But getting him into bed hadn’t been a possibility. Jack was a big man. Tall, muscular, and heavy. Capable of putting the pressure on her hips that she’d always desired. She liked digging her nails into a solid set of shoulders. Just thinking about it was enough to make her hungry, eager.

Standing there the night before, trying to decide what to do next, she’d ended up climbing onto the couch beside him. It definitely wasn’t how she’d imagined spending the night with him. Still, it had been nice to lay next to Jack.

Especially when he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her in tight. His grip warm and reassuring, telling her that she was still alive.

“I didn’t sleep with you,” Honey repeated. Her cheeks flushed a bright red. “It didn’t happen.”

Face to face, it was hard to remember why she’d turned him away in the first place. He was exactly her type. “You ever wonder what would have happened if we’d stayed together?” she asked. “It never would have worked. Ten bucks says we would have burned out within the month. Chemistry like that’s explosive, and—”

Jack was staring at her, shock in his eyes.

“Maybe not.” Honey chewed her bottom lip. “Maybe we’d have dated for all those years, gotten married, and had two-point-five kids. Maybe everything would be different—maybe the world would have been destroyed by an asteroid years ago.”

She’d made her decision in high school, and now she needed to stick with it.

But her long fingers tangled reflexively in Jack’s rich chocolate brown curls. In the dim light from the far window, his hair was so dark, almost black, and it gave him a dashing look. The busted lip didn’t hurt, either.

All bruised and battered, he didn’t look like the proud owner of a detective’s shield—a man who’d made her life a living hell. He looked like one of the charming thugs from her part of town.

His hair was soft to the touch, tight curls that kinked at the end. Nothing like her frizzy red hair. She could smell his shampoo, something expensive and manly. It smelled like sex, pure and simple.

“Want to tell me what the hell you’re doing in my house?”

Ah, bitter and confrontational. That was more like the Jack Ogden she knew and disliked. He had been grumpy the day they met, and his temper hadn’t improved in the years since. If she’d been anyone else, she might have been offended. As it was, she was relieved. Everything was back to normal.

More or less. There was still the small matter of his hand on her ass.

“I told you. My house burned down last night.”

“I wouldn’t call that a house.”

He’d grown up in a mansion on top of a damn mountain. The house she’d inherited from her grandfather might be a piece of 1950s tract housing with the structural integrity of a cardboard box, but it was still her home. Or it had been, until the night before.

“Home is where the heart’s at,” she announced in a singsong. “Except in my case, home is a burnt-out piece of crud.”

She’d lived in that house her entire life, and now it was gone.

She’d never go home again. Honey started shaking. Her mouth opened, forcing air down into her lungs. It didn’t help.

One moment, the room was quiet, comforting, and the next second, uncontrollable sobs wracked her body. Jack’s embrace was the only thing tethering to her reality, and even that wasn’t enough. All she could think about was the stench of burned plastic. Her lungs tightened in response to the remembered burn.

Friday night had been nothing special. She should have been at home in her pajamas eating tomato soup from a can and yellow cheese sandwiches, watching sitcoms on TV. Only, her cousin Brody had called her in desperation. One favor, that was all he wanted—a ride home from his girlfriend’s house in North Hollywood. When she finally got to him, he was standing naked on the side of Ventura Boulevard, trying—but failing—to protect his dignity with a cell phone and a neon-orange traffic cone.

The fire must have been set just after she left, because it had already died down when she got home. The firefighters were standing on the corner sharing a pack of cigarettes and a thermos of coffee.

She should have been in the house.

If Brody had waited ten more minutes before calling, she’d probably be dead. Burnt to a crisp, along with her stuff. Her cousin was a low-down, dirty dog, but she owed him a big fat “thank you.” If it weren’t for his philandering ways, she’d be a dead woman. Killed by the same fire that had turned her house into rubble.

The sun had risen outside, and she was still in one piece. Standing in front of her ruined house the night before, she’d been gripped by a fear like ice in her veins, a certain knowledge that she wouldn’t last the night.

But now here she was. With Jack.

His palm moved down her back, soothing. “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

“You think I’m overreacting?” He hadn’t seen the fire’s bright embers glowing in the evening light.

His headlights hadn’t lit up the car parked at the end of her block, illuminating the man who’d stuck around to make sure she didn’t make it out alive. Driving a boxy sedan with high-intensity lights, the arsonist had gunned the engine, and then he’d chased her old truck to hell and back.

After she’d lost the sedan, she’d ditched her truck at a Walmart parking lot, caught a bus over the Sepulveda Pass, and gone to the one place where she’d thought she’d be safe. The one place where she’d known no one would look for her.

“My house burned down, and I don’t know why.”

“Come on, Honey, you’re a smart girl.” A familiar cynical edge colored Jack’s voice. “You must have plenty of enemies. Did you finally take something worth stealing?”

“I didn’t do anything.” Honey sucked in a deep breath. “I’m not a thief.”

“It’s called ‘grand theft auto.’ Not ‘grand I’m-just-taking-it-for-a-spin-around-the-block auto.’”

Honey flinched. Her reputation was a burden. It was also well-deserved. When she was younger, she’d stolen anything with wheels. But she hadn’t stolen a car in a long time. Not since she’d spent a year and a half with her room and board provided by the Los Angeles County Correctional Facility. Eighteen months that she could have spent taking care of the people who depended on her.

“If that’s what you really think, then maybe I shouldn’t have come here.” Honey jerked away, sitting up. “I thought you’d help me. Even if you’re not my friend, you’re still a cop.”

“Damn it, Honey.” Jack reached out, tugging her back down into his arms. His voice softened. “All right. You’re not a thief. What do you do?”

“I’m a mechanic.” She chose her words carefully, eager to make Jack understand. Things had changed. “These days, I fix cars. I don’t steal them.”

“With your record?”

“Right, my record.” Honey crossed her arms defensively. “After all, I’m just a car thief—a felon with a prison record. Thanks for that, by the way.”

“Nothing you didn’t deserve.”

“Sure.” He was right. She’d stolen his car. She’d also gone to prison and paid her debt to society. “It’s my garage. I don’t get as much work as I’d like, not in my part of town, but I’m my own boss. I’m honest. I don’t overcharge on parts, I don’t gouge on service. I can do things with an engine you wouldn’t believe. It’s all about classic American muscle.”

He gave her a sly smile, almost apologetic. “That’s one place where we agree.”

Honey bit back a grin. With their bodies pressed against each other, she could feel every inch of Jack’s classic American muscle. The night before, she’d figured that a borrowed T-shirt would be more modest than her “I’m Sexy and I Know It” pajamas, but she probably should have left on the plaid flannel short-shorts.

His blue eyes suddenly went dark, wary amusement giving way to desire, and his hands started moving down her back. Honey’s entire world narrowed to a point. Everything would be all right as long as he kept touching her.

Then she was kissing him again. This time, she was the aggressor. Every movement was harsh, rough—an act of desperation.

Sex wasn’t something she took lightly. Her reputation might be less than sterling, but the truth was that she’d never slept with someone until the third date, and she’d run off her last boyfriend two years ago.

For a bad girl, she was usually pretty good. But right now, she wanted to tear Jack’s clothes off and screw him silly. Her hands moved down to fumble with his belt buckle. If she could feel him inside of her, penetrating her to her core, she’d know that everything was going to be okay.

“Honey.” He freed his mouth from hers. “Honey, what are you doing?”

“Okay, that’s not exactly the response I was hoping for.” All she needed was a little cooperation. The hard flesh she could feel nestled against her belly told her he wanted her enough to play along. “Are you really turning me down?” she teased.

Jack stilled her hands. “Yes.”

She felt like she’d been slapped.

Outside, birds were singing, and people were going on with their lives as if nothing had changed. For them, it hadn’t. For her, nothing would ever be the same. Not with the only home she’d ever had burned to the ground and Jack’s kiss still warm on her lips. Not with his rejection ringing in her ears.

“Look, Honey—”

The scraping of metal on metal interrupted him. A key clicked in the lock. The apartment’s door swung open with a bang.

Even injured, Jack’s instincts were good. Strong arms wrapped around her waist, and he rolled sideways hard, pushing himself over her and onto the ground. He landed first, his body hitting the floor with a loud thud. She ended up sprawled awkwardly on top of his torso. “What the hell—”

Jack’s hand clapped over her mouth, preventing her from completing the question.