PERFECT FOR THE BEACH


By Lori Foster Janelle Denison Erin McCarthy Mary Janice Davidson Kayla Perrin Morgan Leigh

KENSINGTON BOOKS

Copyright © 2004 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7582-0773-5

Contents

SOME LIKE IT HOT by Lori Foster..........................7
ONE WILDE WEEKEND by Janelle Denison.....................53
BLUE CRUSH by Erin McCarthy..............................99
MY THIEF by Mary Janice Davidson.........................149
HOT AND BOTHERED by Kayla Perrin.........................189
MURPHY'S LAW by Morgan Leigh.............................245


Chapter One

Harsh sunlight found its way through the miniblinds on the window in exam room four. Though it was well after six, there were no clouds and no breeze to offer relief from the ninety-degree day. Saturday and Sunday promised to be just as stifling. Cary Rupert peeled off his requisite white coat, loosened his tie, and opened the top button of his dress shirt with a sigh.

Maybe the heat could account for his adult patients being so cranky, as well as the incessant whining of his younger patients. Appointments had run two hours over; nothing serious-a summer cold, sunburn, poison ivy rash. Cary was more than ready to head home. He wanted an easy chair, a cold drink, and a smiling, willing woman.

Hell yeah, he'd take all three. Didn't matter where he got the first two, but the third was a specific craving for one elusive woman. Maybe today he'd finally get lucky.

Leaving his office assistant and two nurses to lock up, Cary stepped outside, a man on a mission. Immediately, he was struck with a wave of hot, humid air. He reached into his breast pocket and fished out his reflective sunglasses for the short walk across the lot to the complex next door, where his best friend, Axel Dean, had an office and where the woman of his dreams worked.

Last year he and Axel had leased space side by side in the new medical complex. As a general practitioner, Cary saw patients of all ages, with just about every ailment under the sun. Axel had specialized as an OB-GYN, so he had only female clientele with the occasional husband or boyfriend stranded in the waiting room. A few spaces down were an ENT and a plastic surgeon. Other various businesses unrelated to medicine filled the complex, and not too many yards away, a Hooters restaurant kept a packed parking lot.

There were no men waiting in Axel's outer office on this late Friday. Cary had no sooner removed his glasses and taken a breath of the air-conditioned lobby air before Axel stuck his head out. "I'll be out of here in ten minutes. You wanna do dinner?"

In doctor mode, Axel was a different person. Serious. Concerned. Attentive to his patients' every word.

Away from the job, he became a complete hedonist, hysterically funny, and the world's biggest ladies' man. Cary liked him a lot. "Sure thing." Cary cleared his throat and tried to sound casual. "I'll just gab at Nora till you're ready."

Axel rolled his eyes as if he'd expected no less. "She's filing papers in the back," he said, then pointed a finger. "Don't distract her too much. She needs to finish up before she heads home." He ducked back into the hallway and disappeared into an exam room.

Cary's heart beat a little faster in anticipation. From the day he met Nora Chilton eleven months ago, she'd always had that effect on him. She stood five feet, six inches tall, had light brown hair, and kept her soft brown eyes shielded behind librarian-type glasses. Physically, there was nothing to drive a man into a frenzy of lust. But ... sometimes these things didn't make sense, they just were.

He'd been frenzied from jump, and it just kept getting worse, not better. When she smiled, his abdomen clenched as if accepting a punch. Once she'd assisted a pregnant woman to her car, and her gentleness had his pulse tripping. Seeing her in quiet conversation with an expectant father made him tense in what felt too damn much like jealousy. And watching her work, her head bent in just that way, her brows puckered in concentration, caused a slow burn. He loved the way she moved, the gracefulness of her hands, her studious expression behind her glasses.

Five times now he'd asked her out. Five times, she'd declined.

He wanted her, damn it.

She wanted to remain friendly associates.

Sooner or later, Cary knew he'd wear her down, but until then, his life had been filled with frustration of the sexual and emotional kind. Lately, he'd turned down so many other women that Axel was starting to give him funny looks. But he didn't want anyone else. He wanted Nora.

Hands deep in his pants pockets, Cary approached the room where his quarry worked. Nora wasn't alone. Before he'd reached the open doorway, Cary heard her chatting with another female. He stuck his head inside and noticed an older woman running a fax machine.

"Hello."

Both women looked up. The older woman smiled. Nora flushed. "Dr. Rupert."

"Cary," he told her, a little peeved that Nora continued to insist on such formality when they were in the office. For crying out loud, there were no patients around, no one to be offended by the fact that they knew each other. Even as he scowled at her, he absorbed her every word. He loved her voice. It was deep and sexy, and she had this crooked way of smiling when she spoke ...

Nora turned to her coworker to make hasty introductions. "Liza Welch, this is Dr. Rupert. He has an office next door." And with a mere glance at Cary, "Liza started with us a week ago."

Liza reached out. "Nice to meet you, Cary."

He smiled. At least she got it right. "Same here, Liza."

She started to say more, but Nora adjusted her glasses and stepped forward. "Can I help you with something?"

Cary stared into those big brown eyes and was lost. He'd meant to just chitchat. He'd meant to just visit her. Instead, he murmured low, "Have dinner with me."

Nora blinked at his husky tone, blushed-and shook her head. "No, I can't. I have work to do."

"Axel's a slave driver." He took two steps into the small room, his gaze glued to hers. "You have to eat. I want the company. Your company." And then softer, coaxing, "Have dinner with me."

Her lips parted. Her breath stuttered. And a file slipped right out of her hands, scattering papers everywhere.

Cary backed up a step.

"Oh damn!" Frantic, Nora dropped to her knees to gather the papers. Cary stared at the top of her head. Her hair was cut in short wispy curls that look adorable and exposed her nape-a nape he wanted to touch and kiss. She was dressed in a shapeless white nurse's uniform, and somehow even that looked sexy, despite the rubber-soled shoes.

Jesus, he had it bad.

He knelt down to help.

At his nearness, Nora rushed into speech, turning him down once again. "Really, Dr. Rupert." She snatched a paper right out of his hand. "I'm so busy and I don't have time to talk right now. It's going to take me forever to sort this again."

Insulted, Cary pushed back to his feet. She stood, too, the mangled papers clutched to her chest. She looked pugnacious and put out and so damn cute, it irritated him.

"I'm sorry I interrupted." In a huff, he stalked out.

To hell with it. He wouldn't ask her again. Of course, he'd told himself that before, but whenever he saw her, the invitation just came out of his mouth, without his permission, without coherent intent from him. She muddled him and made him hot and destroyed his ego with her persistent cold shoulder.

When he didn't hit on her, she was as pleasant as could be. But let him even hint that he wanted more than friendship, and she shot him down real fast.

Cary had his head lowered, chewing over his turbulent thoughts, when he literally ran into Axel.

"Whoa." Axel, tall and strong and equally stubborn, stumbled back into a wall. "Where the hell are you going?"

Cary slashed a hand through the air. "Out."

"Out?"

Shit. He didn't want Axel in his private business, privy to his turmoil. They shared a lot, but not that, not rejection. Axel never got rejected, which guaranteed he'd find Cary's situation entertaining and fodder for endless prodding.

Cary thought fast and came up with a lame but plausible excuse. "I'm going to start my car so it can cool off. It must be like an oven inside with this damned heat wave."

"Great idea." Axel thwacked him on the shoulder, hard enough to be retaliation for the way Cary ran into him moments earlier. "Grab my keys out of my office and start mine, too, will you? I'll be ready in just a couple of minutes, I swear."

"Why not?" Cary turned around and retraced his steps to reach Axel's office. He was glaring toward the room where Nora and the other woman worked when, as he got closer, he heard their voices, and this time the conversation was much more ... titillating.

"Why in the world would you turn a stud-muffin like that down?" Liza demanded.

Stud muffin? Cary flattened himself against the wall beside the door.

"I have to work."

"Yeah, right," Liza said. "And I'm a nun. You'll have to tell that tale to someone younger or dumber than me, because honey, I've been around the block."

Cary could hear the smile in Nora's tone when she replied. "You're only fifty, not a wizened hundred."

"Fifty is a lot of years to watch human nature. That young buck scares you."

"No."

"Yes," Liza insisted. "And I'm nosy enough to want to know why."

He scared Nora? Ears cocked like a bloodhound, Cary waited to hear more.

Nora's sigh of exasperation was extreme. Papers rustled, the fax machine dialed. "I'm widowed."

Widowed! But she was in her mid-twenties-too young to be married, much less widowed.

Liza snorted. "I know, but you're very much alive."

How come Liza knew, but no one had ever told him?

"And," Liza continued, "given the way Cary was looking at you, it's for sure you'd have a great time if you just gave him a chance."

"A good time, maybe. But I want what I had. A husband, not a lover. The promise of home and hearth, not just sex." Nora sighed. "And I want kids."

Chuckling, Liza said, "Now, I may have just met him, but that young man looked more than potent enough to give you a dozen babies if you want them."

Cary's eyes nearly crossed. Babies? With Nora? He thought of her pregnant, maybe breast-feeding, holding an infant that looked like him or her or both.

"Capable, sure, but willing?"

Hell yeah.

"Maybe you should ask him," Liza suggested.

Yeah, ask me. Ask me.

"No need. If you'd ever heard the way Cary goes on about children, you'd know how he feels on that subject. After a long day of treating them, he makes it clear how glad he is not to have any of his own."

Liza was undaunted by that fact. "So until you meet this paragon of husband material, why not have some fun with the willing doctor?"

Cary held his breath. The silence stretched out so long, he almost suffocated himself.

Then, in a small voice, Nora said, "What if I fall in love with him? No, Liza, I'm serious. I'm not the type to have an affair. I was a virgin when I married, and I haven't been with anyone since."

"You're kidding, right?" Liza's tone sounded disbelieving. "When did your husband die?"

"Two years ago. We were married only six months. Not long enough. I miss him still."

Heart in his throat, Cary moved to stand in the open doorway. Liza had just reached for Nora and embraced her. "Shame on me for bringing it all back up. I'm sorry."

Cary stared at Nora and said, "I'm not."

The file fell out of her hands again.

Liza laughed and shook a finger at Cary. "You've had your ear to the wall, haven't you?"

"More or less." He wouldn't lie about it. He may have been a reprobate-almost as bad as Axel-but he would never lie to Nora.

"Well, you two go on and talk it out." Liza winked at Cary. "I'll get this file put away."

Before she could react to that suggestion, Cary wrapped his fingers around Nora's upper arm. She was stiff, silent. "Good idea."

"No." Belatedly, Nora found her voice, although it was little more than a whisper. She pulled back, but Cary already had her through the doorway. He'd been headed to Axel's office, so he continued on his way there, urging Nora inside and shutting the thick door behind them.

He turned to face her, considered everything he wanted to say. But she was just standing there, her arms folded over her middle, her soft mouth trembling, her cheeks hot. And he jumped the gun.

He kissed her.

Nora didn't have time to react. She'd done her best to block out his warm masculine scent, to ignore how fine he looked with his shirtsleeves rolled up and his tie loose. His visual appeal got to her every time, but she'd been resisting it for almost a year now. His brown hair, shades darker than her own, was immaculately trimmed but always disheveled in a very boyish way. His green eyes were teasing and they made her feel both lighthearted and needy.

She'd been prepared to hear his coaxing voice, to withstand the intensity of his warm appraisal.

But she hadn't even considered a kiss. At least not now, not in the office. God knew she'd spent too many nights imagining what it'd be like, but she'd assumed it'd never happen.

It happened now. And the second his warm, firm mouth touched hers, coherent thought evaporated. Her mind felt sluggish, her skin far too sensitive, while her heart pounded fast and hard, making her struggle for breath. Mercy!

It wasn't an invasive kiss. It was gentle and sweet, soft and lingering. Her toes curled.

Cary hovered so close she didn't dare open her eyes or she'd be caught. They shared breath. His scent wrapped around her. His body heat added to the heat of the day and her own turbulence.

"Nora," he whispered, and his big hand curled around her nape, caressing, keeping her close. His palm was hot, too. Everything about the man sizzled. "Kiss me back."

She drew a stuttering breath. "I ..." Don't know how. No, she couldn't say something that stupid. But it had been so many years, the memories of kissing had long since faded. The need remained, but the mechanics were vague. "I'm sorry."

His forehead touched hers, displacing her glasses. "I'm not giving up."

She almost laughed. For the length of time she'd known Cary, he'd been gently persistent, crawling under her skin and into her dreams, and not a day went by that she didn't think of him. During the week, he found one reason or another to come to the office and talk with her. At every social event, he sought her out. "I know."

"I do so like kids."

That sudden disclosure startled her. "What?"

He raised his head, gave her a long look, then straightened her glasses with a small smile. "When I bitch about it, that's just exhaustion talking. If I didn't love kids, I wouldn't work so hard to keep them healthy."

Heat rushed into her face. "You said plain as day you didn't want any."

He rolled one shoulder. "Men say that crap all the time. It's nothing, just hot air meant to bloat our images as bachelors." Then, more firmly, "I want kids. Someday." And softly, "With the right woman."

Why did he have to look at her like that while saying such a thing? Nora tried to back up, but her shoulder blades were already touching the door.

Continues...


Excerpted from PERFECT FOR THE BEACH by Lori Foster Janelle Denison Erin McCarthy Mary Janice Davidson Kayla Perrin Morgan Leigh Copyright © 2004 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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