Aisling Gallagher took a deep breath to control her nerves. Just because her entire world had fallen apart, didn’t mean she had to ruin her friend’s event.
Tansy Cheveyo was hosting an open house of the Döva Science Labs she’d built in Sacramento. Not that Tansy wanted any limelight, but the open house would bring in funds for new projects and experiments. That was what her friend was passionate about.
Aisling was glad she’d taken on the job of fixing up the interior of Döva by herself rather than with the company. At least Allen Stenhouse hadn’t been able to steal that from her. He’d already taken her dad’s business and the legacy that was supposed to be hers.
Everything she owned currently sat in her truck and she no longer had a home. But she had her tools, her photo albums, and her dignity.
At least she’d found a dress suitable for the open house. Sleeveless and black, it was the only dress she owned and she’d worn it on every occasion she’d needed one.
Including her dad’s funeral. One month ago, today.
Aisling closed her eyes again. Deep breaths.
Keep moving forward, Aisling, there’s sunny skies ahead.
Her dad’s words echoed in her head and she tried her best to believe him. She just wasn’t convinced sunny skies were in her future.
Finally, she sucked in another breath and grabbed her purse. She exited the truck and patted Buffy on the hood. “I won’t be long. Then we’ll figure out where we’re going next.”
Aisling felt naked without her ball cap on, but that didn’t quite match the dress code.
Tansy hated fancy events, too, but her brother and foster-brothers had convinced her that a hoity-toity event would bring the attention of investors and Tansy needed those if she was going to make the world better.
Tansy was brilliant but quiet. She’d much rather play with prosthetics and improving crop systems for third world countries than dress up to host an event.
Aisling would rather refurbish a rocking chair or an old Victorian house in need of love. But she’d do this for Tansy who had turned into friend rather than client.
Inside the building, Aisling accepted a glass of sparkling wine. Locally grown and organically raised, no doubt. No plastic decorations or balloons for Tansy, but flowers in clear glass vases were everywhere.
Döva had been an old warehouse at one time. Too small for modern warehouses, Tansy had bought it to refurbish rather than building new. She’d also installed solar panels and converted it to be as eco-friendly as possible. Aisling loved the mix of old and new. The wood gleamed and the glass shone.
Pride in this project filled her up and gave her the courage to start all over again on her own.
Now, she only had to find Tansy and then she could head out before her feet complained too much about the heels she wore.
Graham Buchanan didn’t mind dressing up once in a while, but he really hated the shoes. Work boots were more comfortable any day of the week.
But, his buddy’s little sister was trying to get the rich and loaded to invest in some truly impressive science labs. Graham liked the forward-thinking of the projects he’d seen and heard about so far. Eliminating global fossil fuel dependancy was important. Electric vehicles were just the start.
The wine was good, the food incredible, but Graham struggled to keep a smile on his face. Small talk was even more of a challenge. Any day other than this one and he’d be fine. But not today.
In only a few hours, it would be a new day. A day that didn’t reach into his gut and try to yank it out through his nose. Hard to believe it had been five years. It still sliced him to the marrow. Always would. He had to keep his brain out of the past for another hour, then he could leave.
Graham looked around for one of his friends, but he’d somehow ended up in a room with strangers. This lab was about all things mechanical and electrical. Fascinating things for him most days, but not enough to keep his attention today.
He turned to leave and stumbled like a cartoon character. The woman was stunning. Beyond stunning.
Glorious red hair tumbled over her shoulders. She was tall and curvy. Her dress didn’t have sleeves and her toned arms did crazy things to his libido. She worried her bottom lip as she searched the room.
Her eyes moved toward him. She obviously wasn’t searching for him, so he should have looked away. But he didn’t. He watched until her eyes locked on his. And stayed.
Lust rammed into his system, overwhelming everything else. For a long moment, they simply stared at each other across the room.
The connection was almost tangible, like a wire sending electricity from him to her and back again. He wouldn’t have been shocked to hear it crackle out a warning to everyone.
When he took a step toward her, the woman’s eyes flared, but she didn’t move away. He walked closer, moving around people, never breaking eye contact.
She didn’t move, barely blinked.
When he was close enough, he lifted his wine glass and tapped hers gently, still keeping their gazes locked. “Red, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Her face flushed and her eyes widened further even as a brow rose and her lips quirked. “Good line. That work often?”
Graham laughed. “Never tried it before. It’s never been true before.”
That earned him a full-out smile. “You’re good, Jolly.”
He grinned. Having his lame nickname game tossed back in his face was fun. He usually got Tower or Stretch. No one dared to call him the Jolly Green Giant.
Graham studied her. “Are you a scientist?”
Red huffed out a little laugh. “Not even close.”
“Princess? Swimsuit model?”
She rolled her eyes and laughed.
“Astronaut? Spy? Farmer?”
Her smile grew wide enough to show a cute-as-hell dimple in one cheek. He wanted to lick it.
“How about you, Jolly. Are you a scientist?”
“Prince? Swimsuit model?”
It was his turn to laugh.
“Acrobat? Christmas card designer? Lumberjack?”
Laughing, he tapped her glass again. The shadows of the day receded and he could breathe.
Aisling couldn’t believe she was laughing and flirting with this handsome stranger. His suit fit his muscular frame like a glove.
His eyes were deep and dark, with shadows. Shadows that echoed the ones she had drifting through her. This man knew loss.
He struggled. And he needed a break from it. As did she.
Aisling knew all of this without any of it being voiced.
They chatted while people moved around them, and they finally drifted to a bench in the lobby. They hadn’t exchanged names. Deliberately.
She’d never been this daring in her life. But she wanted a night away from her life. She wanted to feel cherished and safe. This man provided both.
Aisling had worked with far more men than women in her life and she could read a scumbag at a hundred yards. Slimy men didn’t hide themselves very well.
Jolly was a good man. Decent. Hot as the fires of Mordor, but in a good way. Her body tingled with need every time he brushed her skin, whether it was his fingers or his arm.
Aisling had never had a one-night stand, and had never had sex with a guy when she didn’t even know his name. But she wanted to do both tonight.
He was sweet and funny. The chemistry bubbled on a full boil. Her body tingled in all the best places.
Sacramento was a big city. She never had to see him again. That reminded her that she was leaving town. She had nothing to stay for. And nowhere to stay.
“You okay, Red?”
She looked up to find him frowning at her.
He reached to brush her lips with his thumb. “This mouth shouldn’t be frowning. Is everything all right?”
Not even close. Nothing in her life was right.
Except for Jolly.
He was right. For now, for the night.
“And what is it this mouth should be doing?”
Her words had the desired effect. Heat flared in Jolly’s eyes. Without breaking eye contact with her, he took their empty glasses and set them on the table.
He stood and held out his hand for hers. “Shall we?”
Aisling’s practical mind shouted otherwise, but she was tired of being practical. Tired of having everything fall apart around her. Tired of being alone.
She let the heat flaring between them warm her up, then she placed her hand in Jolly’s.
He pulled her to her feet and brought her right into his space.
At her whispered words, Jolly’s eyes brightened and he tucked her into his side and they headed out the door.
Graham tried to slide the key card through the slot in his hotel room door for the second time. His hand was shaking like an old engine with toasted spark plugs.
Red gripped his free hand like it was the only thing keeping her safe. Her soft breath panted in his ear. She was as turned on as he was.
And that was making him wild.
Finally the light blinked green and Graham shoved open the door as Red laughed and crowded through the door with him.
Their lips crashed together as they twirled into the room until Red was pressed back against the door.
Her hands looped around his neck, pulling him closer.
Knowing he was in a greedy, forceful mood, he planted his forearms on the door on either side of her head. Once he got his hands on her, he wasn’t sure how the hell he was going to go slow.
And he had to.
He was only getting one night with this incredible woman and he was going to enjoy every single minute. So was she. “I’m going to make you come in a dozen ways and I’m going to start here.” He kissed her temple, then trailed his lips down her hairline, nibbling at her ear along the way.
“Then I’ll move to here. And here.” He kept murmuring as he moved his lips along the edge of her dress, over those strong arms, down her curves and all the way down to her feet in the sexy strappy shoes.
So far, he’d only touched her with his lips and yet Red was trembling. Everywhere.
He knelt on the ground and finally touched her with his hands, tracing his finger along the shoe straps. Sparks jumped from her skin, charging him with the very best kind of energy. “Change of plan. Let’s start here. I think it’ll be more fun to work my way back up this delicious body, stopping at every curve along the way.”
A whimper of pure need slipped through those delicious lips, and everything inside Graham roared with need.
Aisling’s entire body trembled. Trembled.
She was used to being in control of her body. Used to trusting it to do all the things she needed to do to keep up with the men who never expected a woman to be of any use on a construction site or in a woodworking shop.
But she had no control now. Not a single sliver of it.
Every last part of her body was in Jolly’s control. It should have been scary or made her feel vulnerable. It had the opposite effect.
Jolly was strong and tall. Gorgeous and charming. All of that strength and charm was focused on her. On making her feel pleasure. On making her explode with it.
She felt feminine and powerful.
His tongue and lips trailed up her legs, finding erogenous zones she didn’t know she had. Her ankle bone, toes, behind her knee, inner thigh. Oh, her inner thigh.
Jolly used his teeth to lift the hem of her dress and the soft scrape of his teeth against her skin nearly sent her over the edge.
His chuckle sent shivers over, under, and through her skin. “Red, you are glorious.”
And then he was up on his feet and devouring her mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue.
Need. So much need.
When she dropped her head back against the door, his lips moved to her ear and neck.
“Hands up, Red.”
Her body was slow and lethargic to follow the instruction. Jolly smiled into her skin and then lifted her arms.
Her dress slid up over her head and disappeared.
Before she had time to feel exposed, he let out a soft whistle. “You are breathtaking, Red. Every damn inch of you. I’m going to worship all of those inches.”
His hands went to her breasts and brushed over her bra. Her nipples reacted to his touch and he swore. Then he lowered his head to take her breast into his mouth, bra and all.
The sensations consumed her and she couldn’t keep in the gasps and pleas.
While his mouth was busy driving her wild, his hand dipped into her panties and then into her. His rough fingers knew just where to touch, just how to stroke.
The orgasm sent her rocketing. Everything in her body responded as waves of pleasure roared through her. Devoured her.
She was breathing hard when she managed to open her eyes to find Jolly’s smiling at her. “Fucking gorgeous. You ready for more, Red?”
She managed a nod, and in seconds, he was naked and sheathed with a condom. The speed spoke of desperation and she knew exactly how he felt.
His body was strong and beautiful. Muscles showed everywhere. Long and lean. Hard in all the right places. She wanted to touch, wanted to kiss and lick. Later.
“Now, Jolly. Now.”
“As you wish, my lady.”
Then he boosted her up and slid into her in one smooth move. He eased her back against the door and for a long moment, they simply breathed and locked gazes.
She squeezed her body around him and he sucked in air. Then his smile turned predatory. “Ready to fly again, Red?”
She’d never orgasmed twice so closely together, but she didn’t have a single doubt that she was about to do that. Her body was already building and he hadn’t done more than give her time to adjust to him inside her.
His mouth crushed to hers again and then he started to move.
He broke the kiss and those deep, dark eyes watched her again as he adjusted the pace and the angle, looking to give her the most pleasure.
When she gasped and felt her body start to spiral again, he grinned. “That’s it. Fly, Red, fly.”
And she flew.
Graham watched Red breathe.
Her lips were softly curved in sleep and he hoped she was dreaming of him. Of the night they’d just experienced.
They’d been insatiable.
Time after time they’d come together. She’d had five orgasms and he’d come twice before they even made it to the bed.
Then the chair. The shower. Back to the bed.
Now, Red was deep asleep and Graham couldn’t find that peace.
The guilt was back and it was winning.
On the anniversary of Jenny’s death, he’d found this woman. This woman he couldn’t get enough of even after hours and hours of incredible sex.
He wanted to find out her name. Find out where she’d got the calluses on her hands. Find out what caused the grief he’d seen lurking in the shadows of her eyes.
But he couldn’t.
He had nothing to offer.
It had been five years and he was still a broken mess.
Graham rose from the bed and gathered their clothes. He placed Red’s on the chair and put his in his duffel bag. Instead of the suit he’d worn the night before, he pulled on jeans and a t-shirt.
It only took a few minutes to pack. Red didn’t stir.
Half of him was relieved.
The other half wanted to go back into the bed and wake her up with his tongue.
Nothing had ever tasted as sweet as Red.
Which is something he shouldn’t be thinking when he should be mourning Jenny.
He was scum.
Red was better off without him.
Graham refused to let his feet return to the bed, refused to touch that glorious hair one more time.
Instead he drank in her image, committing it to memory.
He doubted he’d need to bother. Red had imprinted herself on his brain. This night would be one that he’d remember again and again.
When he should be thinking of his former fiancée.
With a last look, Graham opened the door. “Thanks, Red. It was a hell of night. Maybe one day we’ll meet again.”
And he slipped out the door.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this bonus scene to the Small Town Heroes (Midnight Security) Romantic Suspense series!
The next book in the series, Built Of Flames, spotlights Isabella and Mitch.