Jeremy Sunn stood next to the gazebo in the middle of the park and glanced around the festival to be sure no one saw him where he normally wouldn’t be. Not on a Sunday off. Working undercover required patience, persistence, and… popcorn. He tossed a fluffy kernel into the air and caught the buttery delight in his mouth then eyed the Greek water-maiden statue.
The one he’d been lusting over for the past hour.
More like three weeks.
He’d staked out a lot of things in his undercover career with the BAD—Bureau of American Defense—agency, but never a woman for purely personal interest.
No one at the Festival of Emperors paid attention to him, probably because he’d dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt instead of period clothing. Roman soldiers and women in togas hustled around trying to buy up the last deals of the day. The mid-July event drew traffic from across metro Atlanta to the historic square in Marietta.
And no one strolling past the water maiden in the last hour had noticed why that one statue was different from the other three, besides being the only female sculpture.
But he did.
Beneath all that caked-on makeup beat the live heart of a flesh-and-blood woman. One he had to get an answer from before heading back to work on Tuesday.
Hell of a way to squander his last day off for a while and ancient history wasn’t his forte, but he lived only a mile away and she
was worth standing here waiting for the festival to end. He hoped.
A simple yes or no.
One answer had the power to… eat a hole in his gut.
Sweat trickled down his neck but he couldn’t be as hot as that water maiden posed silently amid three massive concrete sculptures of Greek gods.
CeCe Caprice just pretended to be a statue. She could go for hours without moving a muscle when she performed.
He could attest to how hard she trained daily at his gym in Marietta. Yep, every inch of that shapely body wrapped in a toga and posed with a baby doll also coated in white plaster was very much a living, breathing human… and one hot female.
That he couldn’t touch, damn it.
Correction. Wouldn’t touch. Not if he found out she really had meant to give him a “back off” signal yesterday after spending the afternoon planting some damn flowers in her yard.
At least, that’s how he’d read her odd reaction when he asked her out to dinner. Now he was starting to wonder if he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion when she hadn’t actually said the word “no.”
He’d never pressed a woman for anything so he’d backed off. Quick. Then regretted it when he missed her for the past twenty-four hours. He’d gotten used to sharing iced tea on her patio for the best part of three weeks, had never spent that much time just talking to a woman. The females he met were only interested in what he intended to do to their naked bodies.
But CeCe had hung on his words. And laughed at his jokes.
He hadn’t even kissed her or had dinner with her.
Twenty-four hours of no iced tea, no talking, and no smiles. He missed her. Couldn’t get her out of his mind for one day.
A woman had never spun him inside out like this.
Lust used to be fun, and short-lived. Not obsessive.
Three weeks at home recuperating from a leg wound—a souvenir of his last mission—hadn’t turned out anything like he’d expected. Limping to his mailbox the first day at home he’d expected nothing more exciting than his standard fan mail from bill collectors.
When the screen door on the rental house next to his burst open and CeCe strolled down her driveway, the first thing he’d noticed was the sweet belly button winking at him between a red half shirt and white shorts.
He’d thought one of his teammates from BAD had sent him a get-well-soon girl. No way could that little bombshell be his honest to God next-door neighbor.
His luck had never run that
But she was indeed a new addition to the neighborhood. For the first time since moving there he regretted having to leave as soon as he healed.
CeCe had destroyed any operating brain cells he’d possessed the minute she smiled at him. Blue eyes had sparkled bright as sapphires tossed up in blazing sunshine. Every time she turned her head, he fought the urge to touch the wavy auburn hair that brushed her shoulders.
He woke up at night thinking about that thick mass spread across a pillow. His pillow. His bed.
But CeCe wasn’t the kind of woman you spent a couple of steamy nights with then walked away. He’d be the first to admit he came by women easily only because the women he met saw him as nothing more than a short-term sexual buzz. Something to hold them over until the real thing came along. He’d accepted that for years as a trade-off for not having to spend his life entirely alone.
Hell, he wasn’t long-term material. Not with his criminal history or his current occupation that required going back to prison on a regular basis.
And it wasn’t like he could tell a woman he got arrested and thrown in the joint as part of his job description for BAD.
Which was why he should be looking for fast, fun, and forgettable instead of waiting to talk to CeCe here, the one place she couldn’t disappear in her house and ignore him. He’d tried to do the same, to forget CeCe, but he’d spent three amazing weeks pretending he had a normal life because a sweet young woman shared iced tea and talked to him. She made him want a normal life. He just didn’t know how to go about making it happen. Of all the women who had climbed in his bed, he’d never desired one like he wanted CeCe, and he hadn’t even held her in his arms. Spending time with her felt too damned good not to try again to ask her out. To try to keep her.
No mission had turned his gut inside out like this.
He officially went back to work undercover in two days. Before that happened he would know where he stood with her. Had she turned down the date because she’d really
had plans with her brother or because she wouldn’t date a neighbor?
He only wanted a date. A dinner, movie… hell, he didn’t know. Anything. Something.
But if CeCe told him no today he’d respect her decision and walk away… then ask BAD to relocate his residence while he was gone on the next mission so he wouldn’t have to face coming home to find another man on her patio.
Popcorn crackled inside the bag he crushed in his fist.
Damn it, he’d never been in knots over a woman before.
“Hey, J!” a familiar male voice yelled.
Jeremy groaned. What the hell was Blade doing here? He stepped away from the side of the gazebo he’d been leaning against and turned to find Blade covering the fifty feet between them with long strides. Most people thought the skinny six-foot, four-inch guy got his name from having a body that moved through crowds like a black knife slicing water, not because he’d carried a switchblade since grade school.
After being busted in a chop shop raid and doing a stint in prison, Blade returned home to start a legitimate body shop business. Rehabilitating a cat not to hunt mice would be more realistic, but he’d been straight for a year and swore he was going to stay on this side of the law. His Denzel Washington smile, charismatic tongue, and ever present sense of humor drew women faster than bees to a hive.
Jeremy met him when they landed in the same cellblock in a Florida correctional institute after Jeremy got picked up for possession of stolen goods. BAD planted the merchandise and dropped the dime on him via a snitch so Jeremy could expose the identity of a nasty guy who had tortured and murdered three teens who refused to steal for him.
A dirty, but rewarding, job most days.
“Whatcha doing here?” Blade glided up in blue jeans and a red T-shirt sporting a motorcycle design. “This ain’t your playground, dog.”
“Boning up on ancient history.” Jeremy peeked at his water maiden to make sure CeCe hadn’t come out of her comatose state yet, but she hadn’t so much as blinked.
“Speaking of boners, I got something right up your alley.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“But it’s what you’re thinkin’ about.”
“How do you figure that?” Jeremy crossed his arms.
“Your eyes are open.” Blade broke out a grin that destroyed any chance of staying pissed off at him.
Labeling Blade a “close friend” stretched the definition only because a true friend gave unconditional trust. Jeremy had learned at birth that anyone, even family, would eventually turn their back on you.
However, when it came to extending trust to someone other than Jeremy’s teammates in BAD, Blade was that rare exception.
“Now that we’ve determined your state of mind,” Blade continued with his line of trash talk. “Glad I spotted you. I got a sizzlin’-hot babe you don’t wanna miss, right over there.”
Jeremy looked in the direction Blade hooked his thumb over his shoulder. Two voluptuous smiling beauties dressed in costume were walking toward them through the middle of the park.
“Who’re they?” Jeremy hoped his unchecked irritation hadn’t come through, but introducing him to any woman right now was really bad timing. The last thing he needed was for CeCe to come out of her trance and see him flirting with another female.
But Blade noticed the smallest things sometimes and Jeremy wasn’t ready to let him know about his infatuation with CeCe.
“That black diamond in the Cleopa...