What would you do if your murdered fiance returned as a ghost? Caught between worlds, Shane Weston isn't ready to let Sierra go, yet staying with her is keeping her trapped in the past. Alex Blaine is alive and ready to do whatever it takes to snap her out of her funk. Sierra Daniels never thought she'd be in a love triangle with a ghost, yet letting either of them go is more complicated than she'd imagined.
Sufficiently warm and dry, Alexander looked through his bag for a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt. He couldn't shake the idea that something was really off about Sierra. Maybe they weren't friends, but working together so closely over the past year had familiarized him with her moods. In the past hour while he thawed out, he thought about the real reason he'd followed her from the studio after her tantrum. Although he didn't quite know how to define it, he cared about her even if she did know how to push all of his buttons—or maybe because of it.
He needed to tell her about knowing Shane.
Hungry, he decided to help himself to whatever she had in the kitchen. His flight from Los Angeles had been rocky and the drive on the road from hell had sapped his energy.
Annoyed at the anxiety rustling beneath his skin, he slammed open a few cabinets before finding a box of pancake mix. Nothing made sense anymore. Not the loss of his best friend in Nicaragua, his sudden career change, the fact that his family thought he needed serious therapy, or that he felt guilty as hell for not telling her that he'd known her murdered fiancé. Fuck it all.
"You make a lot of noise," she said as she crept up behind him on bare feet. "What are you doing?"
"Making pancakes." He motioned to the skillet in front of him.
"So it is. That's early for us, isn't it? We've pulled a lot of all-nighters together, what's one more?" He poured milk into the bowl in front of him. "I thought you'd gone to sleep."
"Couldn't sleep, too much thinking."
"I can relate to that." He grinned over his shoulder, hoping to relax her again and maybe coax out another smile.
She'd changed into pajama pants and a t-shirt, too, in the hour she'd been locked behind closed doors. They almost looked like a pair. He tried to ignore how her breasts looked beneath the thin material. Damn it, did she abandon bras when out of the office? Crazy or not, she looked like sex personified.
His dick twitched to life. He shifted his hips to hide the sudden tenting of his pants.
Just stir the damn mix and ignore her. She's harder to handle than a box of angry rattlesnakes. Stay focused on work. Only. Work.
"I might quit the show."
Her admission stilled his hands. "What do you mean?"
"Quit. You know...leave. End it all."
Alex dropped the wooden spoon and faced her. "What in the hell are you talking about? You want to quit a hit series that you helped create? Why would you do that?"
"I can't write anymore, not like I used to. I don't give a damn. It's useless." She folded her arms across her chest, which only drew his focus squarely on the nipples poking against the material.
"What is wrong with you? Is this all because of your grief about your ex? He died, not you. Are you going to let one shitty thing in your life define you? Is that it?"
Her lower lip trembled, but her eyes spit fire at him. "Who the hell do you think you are anyway? You come up here uninvited, spew out your opinions on my life, make goddamn pancakes in my kitchen, and I'm supposed to accept it all? Why? We work together; we're not friends."
He squinted at her, sick of this never-ending day. He'd spent good money on a last minute airline ticket to Lake Tahoe, had trekked through blinding snow, and wasn't in the mood to have a heart-to-heart. He wanted to eat and sleep. That's it.
"We're not friends, huh? I've spent more time with you than anyone else this past year," he said.
"That's pitiful. You probably shouldn't tell people that story." She motioned toward his t-shirt. "What happened to you anyway? To your chest? What tore you up like that?"
"That's a story I only tell my friends. What do you care?" He turned away from her, hating that she'd seen the result of his torture.
She paced behind him, her restless energy eating up the small space. "I don't like you being here."
"You've made that clear." He poured some batter into the skillet and pretended not to care that she'd acted horrified at the sight of his naked chest.
"Why is it so important to you that I stay on as head writer? You'd be in line to take it over. That's what you've wanted, isn't it? I went a little nuts today. I'm surprised Charlie hasn't had my credentials revoked at the studio."
"Yeah, there's no denying you overreacted." His lips twitched at the memory of her meltdown. She had merely said—yelled—what the rest of them had been thinking.
"I don't understand why you care so much about what I do or what's going on with me." She kept up with her pacing. "I hate that you pulled some strings or whatever it is you did to find out where I went. If you're such a clever federal agent—"
"Former agent," he corrected out of habit.
"Then what do you care about some screenwriter with a bad attitude? I'm no one's favorite person anymore."
He spread his arms wide and motioned toward their surroundings. "Can we make the best of this instead of overanalyzing? As for not being anyone's favorite person anymore, that's not true. I don't want you to quit. You can't."
She slammed her fist against the counter next to his hip and glared at him. "You need me more than I need you, that's why you really followed me up here. If I quit the show, I'll be fine. Is that what this is really about? You're afraid they'll revamp the entire writing team because of me, right? The show is all you have, all you know because you quit the Drug Enforcement Agency for reasons you like to keep secret. What happened? Did you get fired? Did the heat get to be too much for you so you left before you got hurt?"
"Wow, you really are a bitch."
"Yes, I am."
"Or maybe that's what you want people to think so they leave you alone to wallow in your misery."
"What do you know about it?"
Damn it, she pissed him off like no other human on the planet.
"I'll show you what I know about it." He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and yanked it up to mid-chest to show her the scars and burns zigzagging across his chest and abdomen. "I was tortured in Nicaragua, left to die in the jungle while my partner and best friend bled out next to me. I guess you could say that all made me reevaluate how I wanted to live the rest of my life. People have accused me of wallowing, too, but they can all go fuck themselves because they have no idea what I'm thinking."
He yanked his shirt back down, immediately hating his confession. A good-looking man, he had used his charm to get him places during his undercover work. He'd used his appearance as an asset and it had always gotten the job done. What vanity remained made him hide his bare chest from anyone and everyone. Hell, he even wore a t-shirt or a rash guard at the beach these days. He never spoke about that with anyone and had no idea why he'd needed her to know he hadn't slinked off like some coward.
She took a step back, anger transitioning to regret. "I'm sorry. I'm...I didn't mean it."
"You push all my damn buttons and I don't know why, but I sure as hell know you can't give up." He grabbed her forearm when she tried to retreat and made her look at him. Maybe this wasn't the best way to tell her, but he'd never been one to pass up an opportunity. "The same people who killed Shane tried to kill me on the same day. We were working together...Shane and me."
"What?" Eyes wide, she met his gaze.
"Yeah, I knew your ex, but I didn't know he was your ex until after we were working together. I had been consulting—"
"What is this? Why are you saying this to me?" She yanked her hand free and backed up until she hit the wall.
"I worked with him on that case. I was his expert witness, but I swear to God I didn't know your connection to him until after I started with the show." He followed, unwilling to stop now. He'd come here to hash out their differences and save their careers. Maybe it was time she heard the hard truth.
"You're cruel. Stop this."
"Maybe I am a coward because I quit the agency, but I'd always wanted to write. The opportunity fell into my lap, that's true. I didn't work my ass off for it like you did. I didn't want to die in a jungle face down in the mud with nothing to show for it besides my mother receiving condolences at my funeral. Fuck that." He had her pinned against the wall, noticed the fire in her eyes and the balled fists at her sides, but he couldn't stop now.
"You knew Shane, worked with me all of this time, and said nothing. Why?"
"Because you're like a borderline insane person. Don't you notice how people walk around you like they're on eggshells? You snap at everyone, retreat into silence in your office when you're not on a rampage, and then...you look so damn sad all of the time." He stepped back, hating himself for pushing her and not knowing the right thing to do.
She frowned, but didn't make a move to leave. "Do I really?"
"Do you really what? Go on rampages, scare people, or look sad all of the time?" He grinned at her question, knowing full well what grief felt like.
"All of the above, I guess," she whispered before looking away from his face.
"Yeah, you do. I've heard stories about you, though. I hear you used to be a really fun person to know, although I see no evidence to support that."
"He died...not me," she repeated with a twist of her lips while staring down at her feet. "Do you know how many times I've heard that? Everyone says that to me. He died, not you. Repeat. No one gets it. I don't want to live like this, trapped in numbness."
He sighed, realizing that maybe he'd gone too far. Maybe he'd wanted to shock her, he didn't know. Too late now. He'd not only crossed a line, he'd bulldozed over it.
"I know grief sucks, Sierra. I know it's been rough for you.""I'm not a borderline insane person." When her bottom lip trembled, he felt like the biggest ass on planet earth.
"Yeah, right. I'm sure every person currently in a mental institution says the same thing." He couldn't look away from her face. Ever since he'd met her, he'd thought her beauty eluded any stereotype.
Her lips twisted into a crooked grin that pulled at his heartstrings. "You didn't happen to bring a straightjacket with you, did you?"
The idea of restraining her turned him on in ways he had denied himself for far too long. "You are a walking contradiction, has anyone told you that before? One minute I want to throttle you and the next," he shook his head and turned away from her, "it's a shame, that's all."
She grabbed his wrist and closed the space between them in one stride. "I want to feel again, I do."
He looked down at her, torn between lust and fear. He wanted to fuck her. Hard. Make her feel him inside of her for days. Relieve his frustration at the same time. Expend all of this manic energy.
Without saying another word, she stood on her tiptoes and mashed her mouth against his. The soft breasts he'd been fantasizing about pressed into his chest and he ached to touch them.
"You don't know what you're doing," he said because he knew he needed to warn her. His self-control bordered on paper-thin and he'd been jacking off to fantasies of her for months.
"You're real," she said against his lips. "I need a good dose of reality. Isn't that why you came here? To wake me up?"
"Wake you up, yes; not fuck you blind."
"But that's what you want to do, isn't it? It wouldn't be the first time we crossed that line."
"Alex...We both want the same thing. It's just sex, who cares? Fuck me." She flicked her tongue over his lips.
"You've lost your mind."
"You'll hate me afterward, just like last time."
"I hate you now so you have nothing to lose."
One look into those blue eyes of hers and he knew he'd do whatever she asked. Lunatic or not, her body had been made for a man's hands.
Hands beneath her ass, he lifted her to the counter and ground his mouth against hers in a kiss meant to punish as well as satisfy his lust. He tugged at the hem of her pajama pants, anxious to prove her wrong about everything, especially him.
Her hand slid over his hard cock while her feet slid up the back of his thighs. Desperation transmitted through her kiss, but he didn't care. Maybe they were both desperate to connect with another human. Their one night stand six months ago had kept him tossing and turning every night since wanting to ask her about it or thinking about going on a date with someone else; but he'd remained behind closed doors masturbating to fantasies of the exact woman who now held his dick in her palm.
Without hesitation, he yanked the t-shirt over her head and feasted his eyes on her naked breasts. He cupped each one before bending to kiss her neck. She tasted like vanilla and wine. He liked the combination.
Her toes looped into the back of his pants and edged them down past his bare ass. Her hand increased its rhythm over his erection with an urgency that matched his own.
"Fuck me, Alex," she muttered against the top of his head.
He rolled his tongue over her hard nipple, skimmed his teeth across it, until she squirmed with need beneath him. One hand remained on the other breast while he sucked at her flesh. His other hand pulled at her pants as she wiggled her hips until they fell free.
Without pulling his mouth from her breast, he slipped two fingers inside her wetness. "Damn, you're so hot."
"I need you inside me." She yanked at his hair and brought his face up to hers. "Fuck me now like you've never fucked anyone else."
Oh, he'd fuck her hard. If that's what she needed, that's what he'd give her. He thrust inside her, pushing deep into her wet tightness until he felt the tip of his penis up against her cervix.
He shoved his tongue into her mouth as he rammed his cock into her cunt, going as deep as he could go, filling her to capacity.
Her nails sank into his shoulders, holding on tight. The heels of her feet dug into his ass, holding him tight.
Her tongue slid against his. Their mouths devoured one another as if they'd been long starved for the taste of another human being.
He broke the kiss long enough to look down at the weight of her breasts jiggling up and down as they rocked against each other.
"Deeper," she said, hands squeezing his ass.
Surrendering to the sensation of her pussy clenching around his girth, he plunged harder and deeper until he felt he would surely break her in two.
Her abrupt laugh shouted through the room as her entire body shuddered with ecstasy. He came then, holding her as close as two people could ever be, and buried his face into her neck.
He rested there for a minute, listening to his own heartbeat drown out all other senses.
"You're definitely real, better than a wine bottle or any dildo I've ever had," she said against the side of his face, her hands stroking his hair. "Damn, I'm not sure I can walk after that."
"You say such strange yet fascinating things." He grinned against her shoulder before lifting his head to look into her eyes. He pushed his hands into her hair and held her still. All of his life had consisted of one-night stands or temporary relationships. Undercover DEA agents didn't have a good track record with long-term personal commitments and the Los Angeles crowd didn't handle scars well so he'd been focused on work—and her—for too long. Not that this would be more than what it was—a hard fuck to prove he was 'real', whatever that meant.
Face flushed with sexual satisfaction and eyes alive with curiosity, she slid her feet down the back of his thighs and smiled. "That was unexpected."
"We both needed a good release." He caressed her cheekbones with his thumbs. "I think I'll get back to making those pancakes. I'm starving."
She blinked a minute before laughing again. He hadn't seen her laugh like this until now. Genuine, unguarded amusement transformed her face from beautiful to stunning.
He took another long look at her bare breasts, stroked his fingers over them, and slipped himself from her. He liked that she let him look at her without bothering to rush to get dressed. He slid his hands from her breasts over her flat abdomen before moving them along her thighs.
"You're so beautiful."
She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and held him when he would have stepped away. Amusement slipped from her eyes and he wished he could bring it back. For about thirty seconds, he'd glimpsed the woman she must have been before tragedy had dimmed her light.
"I'm not crazy. I'm not," she said.
"Jury's still out on that."
A one time fuck wouldn't be enough, he knew that with a certainty that reignited his desire. Now that he'd had a taste of her, he needed more and that could be dangerous for both of them. He doubted either would be considered 'stable' by the masses and to label their volatile relationship as complicated would be an understatement.
Smoke wafted from the skillet where one pancake had burnt to a crisp. Sighing, he tossed onto a plate before focusing on the batter.
His heartbeat slammed against his ribcage and his body hummed from the orgasm. Every move he made felt like dragging limbs through water, heavy and warm.
She moved from the counter and dressed in silence while he washed his hands.
"I'm sorry about what I said," he muttered before picking up the wooden spoon to resume his pancake making.
"About what? Me being a crazy bitch or about Shane being dead and not me?" She reached around him for a glass from the cabinet, careful not to touch him, but he noticed the shaking of her hands.
He closed his eyes and sighed. "Sierra..."
"It's okay. Really. I get it. I know what people say, nothing you told me was a surprise." She washed her hands before reaching into the freezer for ice. Her long hair fell back around her shoulders. Once again, he realized she'd put her shirt on inside out.
"It would help your image if you knew how to dress yourself." He poured more pancake batter onto the skillet and tried to ignore the primal urge to toss her over his shoulder and carry her to the bedroom.
A crash from the living room startled them both. The framed picture from above the fireplace lay on the floor, the glass shattered.
She moved around him, squatted above the mess, and shoved her hands through her hair. "Oh, my God. What have I done?"
"How did it fall?" He looked beneath the counter for a trashcan.
"I'm haunted," she whispered without looking away from the mess. "I see him everywhere. He was here earlier, with me. I could touch him, hear him," she looked over her shoulder, eyes shrouded with pain, "I'm not crazy, I'm not. Shane haunts me."
He froze and met her gaze. She believed what she said, every word of it. He could see the truth in her eyes. Swallowing the words he wanted to say, he exhaled a slow breath.
Nerves still amped up from sex, he rubbed the center of his chest with a closed fist. In front of him sat the most beautiful, passionate, talented woman he'd ever known, but he feared that no one would ever break whatever bond she shared with her deceased fiancé, that she had trapped herself in despair. If that turned out to be true, that would be the tragedy.
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