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 ~ Available October 27, 2009 from Avon HarperCollins ~ 

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      He was driving a small Mercedes coupe now, all black, inside and out. The leather seats were soft as butter, and heated. As we drove down Moreland I stared out the window at my store, Handbags and Gladrags, and saw it as others might see it: a funky little store with a color-changing Christmas tree in the window, looking cheerful but lonely on a chilly December night.

      “I meant it when I said I missed you, you know.” Sammy was watching the road, having made no threatening moves. He’d held the door open for me as I’d gotten in, but seemed careful not to touch me, which I appreciated. I felt trapped, manipulated, and extremely nervous—we were enclosed in a cocoon of silence and privacy, when I knew better than to be alone with him. It was past midnight, and I was in a car with Satan himself, the universe's original bad boy, and the sexiest fallen angel to ever fall to earth.

      “I’m sure you’ve had plenty of other souls to torment,” I said lightly, hoping bravado would get me through the few blocks to my house. He hadn’t asked for directions, I’d noticed, making a right turn without my prompting.

      “Torment.” He laughed. “What do you know of torment, Nicki?”

      I didn’t answer.

      “Torment is wanting something very badly, yet knowing you can’t have it,” he said. “Torment is loving someone, knowing you can never be together.”

      “Love,” I countered. “What do you know of love, Sammy?”

      He shot me a sideways grin. “Your tongue gets no less sharp when you’re tipsy and overwhelmed. What does it take to be licked with it instead of flayed with it?”

      His attempt to shock me failed, except for a tiny little tingle in my nether regions that no one needed to know about. “Don’t start with me,” I said, reaching for my purse. “I’ve still got my pepper spray.”

      Even in the dark I could see him smiling. “Why on earth do you keep threatening me with pepper spray? We both know you’re not going to use it, and even if you did, it wouldn’t hurt me. I come from a very hot climate, remember?”

      A weak joke, but one that made me smile a little in the dark.

      “I love peppers, in fact. The hotter the better. I know a great Mexican place in midtown. May I take you there some time?”

      Stunned, I just looked at him. “Did you… did you just ask me on a date?”

      I couldn’t read his expression—he was concentrating on the road, but his shrug spoke volumes. “What if I did?” he asked.

      “I can’t go out with you!” To my relief, he’d just turned onto my street. I could see the streetlight in front of my house, and there was my house itself, front porch light gleaming. Dad set it up on a timer years ago, just for nights like these.

      As if there ever were any nights like these.

      “Why not?” He’d reached the driveway and pulled in, putting the car in park. Shifting so he faced me in the seat, he asked me directly, “Is it because you want me as much as I want you? Because you burn for me like I burn for you?”

      Shocked, I had a hard time formulating an answer beyond an automatic “No!”

      “Who’s the liar now,” he whispered. He reached a hand toward my face, slowly, while I sat frozen, a mouse hypnotized by a cobra. “You’re afraid that if I touched you, just once, the way I want to touch you, you’d burst into flame.” His fingers came close, so close to my cheek, but he held back.

      “Don’t,” I whispered, completely unnecessarily. His scent was familiar to me now: pomegranates, chocolate, rumpled sheets made of silk.

      “Admit it,” he murmured, holding my eye. The porch light gleamed in his short blond curls. “Just admit it. That’s all I ask.”

      “Yes,” I whispered, shakily. Admitting it was not the same as acting on it. “But you’d burn me to a cinder, and laugh while you did it.”

      His face drew nearer, while my heart beat a crazy tattoo. “You know all my secrets,” he murmured, “all my limitations. You know I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

      His breath smelled of cloves, and I couldn’t help but remember that kiss… that one kiss he’d claimed as a forfeit when last I saw him. I’d tried for months not to think of it, but the moment came rushing back—the breathless, expectant swoop of a roller coaster, the faintest brush of his tongue against mine.

      “You want me,” he said, low in his throat. His blue eyes gleamed in the darkness, and his presence filled the car: potently male, simmering with juices and brimming with heat. “I know you do.” A sexy curl of a lip as he drew closer. “I can smell it. You smell so sweet, little Nicki… so very, very sweet…”

      A sharp rapping on window behind me made me jerk as if stung. Sammy pulled back as we both heard an angry male voice say, “Open the door, Nicki. What the hell is going on?”

      It was Joe, who’d evidently been waiting at my house for God knows how long.

      It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that I was in deep shit.


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