AGentlemanintheStreet_web

This book stands alone, however Akira did make a brief (and dirty, of course) appearance in Book 3 of the Bedroom Games Series. 

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Shameless. That’s what she was.

Billionaire businesswoman Akira Mori can get anything and anyone her heart desires. Anyone, that is, except for a certain aloof author who has been dominating her dreams for over a decade. Accustomed to Jacob Campbell’s stern disapproval, Akira has turned provocation into an art, using every trick in her arsenal to keep the man from guessing the depth of her filthy fantasies.

Shameless. That’s what she made him.

Since the moment the sexy, sultry socialite sidled up to him years ago, there hasn’t been a time when Jacob didn’t crave Akira. But as guardian to his younger siblings, responsibility has controlled his life. Confining his darkest desires to secret, stolen moments maintains his carefully disciplined world…but a cold bed is the price he pays.

A single touch is all it takes for their simmering need to explode. As secrets and fears are stripped away one by one, shame becomes a thing of the past. They find themselves becoming addicted to each other, in bed and out—a frightening prospect for a man just learning to live…and a woman who thinks she doesn’t know how to love.

Chapter One

Akira Mori was partial to a certain kind of man: the kind you fucked raw and dirty until your voice was hoarse and your skin slick with sweat. The location wasn’t important—up against a brick wall, in the back of a car, on a kitchen island…

Jacob Campbell is not that kind of man.

Bullshit. Every man could be that kind of man. Or at least that was what she wanted to believe, when she was currently eyeing a delightfully sweaty and half-naked Jacob.

The late-afternoon sun flirted with smooth, tan skin. Muscles flexed and danced as he raised an ax and brought it down in a rhythmic cadence. Wide shoulders tapered to a narrow waist. His abs were flat and ridged with muscle, his chest powerful and shiny with sweat. Worn jeans hung low on his hips, revealing a thin line of paler skin.

Had she ever seen him without a shirt? No, she didn’t think so. Thank God for small favors or she would have forgotten long ago their contentious relationship didn’t allow for tracing that tan line below his hipbones with her tongue.

If he came out to the sticks to bare it all like this regularly, she would happily sacrifice the two-thousand-dollar high heels currently sinking into the dirt to play voyeur.

In theory, at least. She shifted, conscious of the mud clinging to her precious babies.

He won’t thank you for your appreciation.

She pushed the thought aside. Tight-lipped disapproval would come soon enough. Akira leaned back against the tree behind her, the better to settle in for the show.

How did he get an ass like that sitting around writing books? She had a desk job too. Even with her predisposition to slimness and inability to sit still, she had to work out like a fiend not to succumb to office spread.

He brought the ax down with a loud thwack and left it there, leaning over to pick up a bottle of water from a nearby stump. He turned, and she was treated to a view of his profile. Too-long dark brown hair tangled around his face. His throat worked as he swallowed the water. He’d grown a beard since she’d last seen him. She hated stubble burn, but he looked so good with facial hair she could not imagine minding some scrapes on her inner thighs.

She must have made some sort of noise; his head lifted. There was too much distance between them, but she knew his hazel eyes would darken to the same color as the leaves on the trees the instant he caught sight of her.

It always took her a second to collect herself when he turned his stare on her, a brief instant to remember what role she needed to play. She assured herself time and again he would never spot that smidgen of vulnerability. No one could.

Better she laugh and taunt and outrageously flirt to the point of irritation. Better he think her an empty-headed, useless, sex-crazed twit than guess the mortifying truth: she’d wanted this man for over a dozen years.

He was the first to end their staring contest and move, capping the water bottle. She clenched her hands behind her as he walked toward her, letting the rough bark scrape her sensitive knuckles.

Get ready. Shields in place. Ice ran through her veins and steel grafted to her spine.

He stopped a foot away from her. It was rare for her to find a man taller than her, especially when she was wearing her high heels, but Jacob easily topped her. If she extended her arm, she’d be able to touch him, run her fingers over his deliciously muscular stomach.

She worked up her most blinding smile, the one that could stop traffic and launch a thousand ships, that could destroy a man or make him feel a thousand feet tall. “Hello, Brother Jacob.”

Chapter Two

Jacob stared at her for a long minute. She refused to fidget or quail. The bark of the tree was harsh and unrelenting. The action hidden from his sight, she dug her hands harder against it, welcoming the shot of pain.

When he finally spoke, his voice was low and gravelly, as if he hadn’t used it for a while. “I’ve told you not to call me that.”

“I apologize. Though it hurts when you rebuff my familial overtures. You are so difficult, Jacob.”

A muscle under his eye twitched. She couldn’t even utter his given name without paining him, but he would sound crazy and unreasonable if he snapped at her about that. And crazy was her role to play.

Without another word, he walked away. She checked herself from hurrying to keep up with his long strides, partially because Akira Mori hurried after no man, and partially because she was physically incapable of hurrying anywhere in her high heels and pencil skirt.

She ran her gaze over his naked, muscular back, his tight ass. Besides, the view was pretty good from here.

He spoke over his shoulder. “My father was married to your mother for three minutes over fourteen years ago. Doesn’t make me your brother.”

What a logical man. She delighted in twisting logic. “A year, brother. They were married a year. But can you put a time limit on the bonds of family?”

Was that a pile of crap on the ground? Ew. Distracted, she didn’t realize he had stopped until she ran smack into him. For an instant, she inhaled clean, warm male. Her hands went to his narrow hips in an automatic move to steady herself.

Before she could make contact, he pivoted and recoiled. “Don’t…touch me.”

Ice. Steel. The desire froze where it started. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she responded, every word razor sharp.

“I never do.” With that cryptic mutter, he dismissed her, his giant strides eating the distance to his cabin. His heavy boots thudded on the plank steps before he disappeared inside.

This isn’t worth it.

Akira looked around the clearing filled with nature and birds and trees and crap, and considered abandoning her mission. What was the point, really? This was a long shot, and her eyes were gritty from lack of sleep.

She’d been forced to put in a surprise-but-totally-planned appearance at her Vegas club the night before in light of some dipping numbers. An appearance, in her line of work, took a lot of fucking energy. It meant four-inch heels, a dress so short she had to keep a constant eye out for inadvertently flashing paparazzo (purposeful flashing was okay), and faking drinking shot after shot so she could ensure patrons had a good time and buzz was generated while she kept a clear head. Partying all night and hopping a flight in the wee hours of the morning had been far easier in her twenties.

She should be working right now to make up for the time she’d missed yesterday. Or better yet, curled up in front of a fire while the gloomy San Francisco fog rolled in. Or best, curled around a guy who wanted to touch her.

She didn’t need to be in the middle of fucking nowhere with a man who hated her, who had never been able to linger long in her presence. Hadn’t she endured enough of that attitude from her real family?

Well. Most of her family.

She gritted her teeth. There it was. The reason there would be no bed or fire or fiery bedmate for her, not until she’d chased down every lead in her hunt for her grandmother’s lost legacy. Uttering a vicious curse under her breath, she made her way to the porch, keeping a wary eye on the ground for surprises.

“Yoo-hoo,” she called out, putting as much annoying cheer into her greeting as she could muster. Play your role. “If you’re naked, put your pants on.” She finished on a mutter, letting the screen door shut behind her, “Or don’t.”

Maybe he was naked—the sound of running water came from the other room. Mmm. If half-naked Jacob made her lightheaded, what would the full monty do to her? She allowed herself a moment to linger over that image before shaking her head.

The cabin was tiny, with one slightly ajar door presumably leading to a bedroom and bathroom. Everything else was laid out in front of her: a bare-bones kitchen, a sagging couch, and a two-person breakfast table tucked away in the corner. No television, but a shiny, thin laptop sat on the linoleum counter.

Tall piles of newspapers sat in a corner. Who on earth read the newspaper anymore? Jacob, that’s who. She kept a twenty-four-hour news station on mute all day at work, and checked her tweet stream for the latest goings-on.

The place was clean and well-maintained, but she had to suppress a shudder. The closest she’d come to camping was when she’d organized a corporate retreat at a glamping site, which mostly consisted of creatively built structures that allowed tenants to feel like they were enjoying nature while still appreciating the comforts of home.

She loved nature. Except it had so many creepy-crawlies and animals and things that made her sneeze. Peering out at it from a fully equipped yurt was far preferable to wallowing in it. You got WiFi in the yurt.

“I like your couch,” she commented. “Orange is my favorite color.”

No response.

At a loss for entertainment, she prowled the room until she came to the bookshelf, which was crammed tight with mystery and horror novels. None of Jacob’s books lined the shelves. Made sense. He was far too perfect and humble to have them displayed all over the place. She bet they were properly tucked away in his home office.

Idly, she pulled a novel off the shelf and perused the back of it. The water in the other room shut off. “I didn’t realize you knew how to chop wood,” she said, pitching her voice so he could hear her through the thin walls. “You know, I bet if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you would do really well with that ax and all. I bet you have a whole host of survival skills up your sleeve.” She pushed the book back in and ran her finger along the dust-free shelf, until she came to a framed photo. A younger but still solemn Jacob in the center, his arms around two smiling teens and a pigtailed little girl.

Jacob had been twenty-two when their parents had united for their brief marriage. He was older in this photo, maybe twenty-four? Yes, that was about how old he had been when his father had died and he’d taken custody of his siblings. She remembered, because she’d been regaled with the news of Jacob’s sense of responsibility when she called her mother to tell her she was posing for Playboy.

Akira cleared her throat and put the frame back, adjusting it so it sat at the same angle as when she’d found it. “I doubt I’d do so well. In a zombie apocalypse, I mean. No weapons and no survival skills. Though I imagine I would be excellent at looting.” She paused. “I can’t guarantee I would only loot necessities, especially when every store would be open and mine for the taking. But proper footwear is important. I could be a ninja with the right pair of shoes.” Too bad he wasn’t in the room, so she could shift and draw his attention to her legs in the navy heels she was wearing. She didn’t consider her legs her finest feature, but she made the best of what she’d been given.

As if he would be swayed by something as simple as a pair of nice gams. Moron.

Suck it up, buttercup.

“I assume I can come running to you for help when—” Her words cut off when he reentered the room pulling a white T-shirt over his head in that sexy way sexy men sexily pulled T-shirts on. He wore the same jeans, but he had washed up even if he hadn’t showered; his hair was damp at the ends.

He glided to the kitchen, surprisingly quiet for such a large man. “What do you want, Akira?”

The way Jacob said her name…well, it almost made her forget she hated it with the passion of a thousand suns.

“What makes you think I want something?” she hedged. “Can’t I come see my favorite brother?”

His shoulders tightened, and he reached for the coffee maker, his motions economical. Like a sexy robot. “Call me your brother one more time,” he said quietly, “and I will carry you to your car and put you inside it.”

No, that wasn’t a seductive threat at all. Not when it was delivered in that measured, deliberate way.

She really wasn’t imagining he’d sound the same when he was threatening to spank her.

Nope.

Her fingers itched to rip those casual clothes off him and see how long he remained in control when she was trailing her lips down his belly. She curled her fingers into her palm. “Relax, Jacob.”

He grunted. “How did you find me here?”

An easier question. “I went to your house. Kati pointed me in the right direction.”

His brow furrowed. He measured grounds into the coffee maker. Hesitated. Measured out more. “You talked to Kati?”

“Yeah.” He was overprotective of all his siblings, but he had raised Kati since she was five. He was particularly overbearing when it came to his little girl.

Not that the scowling, surly seventeen-year-old who had answered his door a few hours ago needed much protection, Akira thought. That girl would make it just fine on her own. “Relax. I only exchanged a few sentences with her. There was hardly any time to corrupt her with foul language or my vast sexual experience.”

He closed the coffee tin harder than it warranted. “She’s supposed to be at a friend’s house this weekend. It’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t leave her alone.”

Oops. Sorry, Kati. She hoped the kid had some cover story in place, if she was pulling one over on her guardian. “I’m sure she has a good reason for being there,” she said lamely.

Jacob drew out a cell phone and glanced at the display. “I’ll have to go down the road to catch a signal.” The coffee perked in the pot while Jacob’s scowl grew darker.

Privately, Akira thought seventeen was plenty old enough to be left alone at home, but it wasn’t like she’d had a healthy adolescence for any kind of frame of reference. At seventeen, she’d pretty much been on her own for years. “I didn’t hear any kind of raucous party going on, if it helps.”

“She’s not the type to throw a party.”

She’s not the type. She’s not like you, was what he meant. Men, so dumb. So consumed with classifying women into types to satisfy their own sense of comfort.

Suddenly, Akira hoped young Kati was engaging in all sorts of debauchery this weekend with her brother gone. Don’t be a type, girl.

“Maybe she was delayed,” she offered.

“Maybe.” A frown played over his face.

She sighed and reached into her purse for the lifeline she was rarely without. A quick peek at the display reassured her she had one weak bar for a signal. “Here. You can try mine. It gets reception everywhere.”

Jacob paused. “Oh. Okay. Thanks.” Their fingers brushed when he accepted the phone. An electric zing traveled up her arm.

He seemed oblivious, already moving a few steps away and punching in a number. He shot her a quick look over his shoulder, and she pretended great interest in the coffeepot.

His voice dropped two octaves. “Kati-cat.”

Kati-cat? Oh, poor child.

“Did something happen? Why are you still at the house?”

This super kind, caressing tone had definitely never been directed her way. Not that she was jealous of his sister. That would be weird, given all the non-sisterly feelings she harbored toward him.

The coffee maker sputtered, and she eyed it warily. She had a restaurant-quality espresso maker at home, but she employed people to operate it.

It’s a pot with liquid in it. She could manage this.

“Mm-hmm. So when is Kristen picking you up then?”

There were only three overhead cupboards, so she located the collection of chipped mugs quickly. She withdrew a sufficiently manly blue mug, and then eyed a fetching pink one with daisies on it.

Hell, he’d made enough for both of them.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe I should come home.”

Out of his sight with her head poked into the fridge, she rolled her eyes. Poor, poor child. She grabbed the gallon of milk and plunked it on the counter next to the mugs.

“Okay, okay. Ah. No. I don’t have a signal. It’s Akira’s phone.”

The burst of excited chatter on the other end of the line was loud enough for Akira to hear. She raised an eyebrow as he cast her a discomfited glance and moved into the other room, shutting the door.

Good thing the walls were so thin in these cheaply made cabins. She only had to tiptoe over and plaster herself against the door to eavesdrop, and his muffled words came through loud and clear. “Kati, calm down. No, I don’t know why she’s here. No. No.”

Silence. Then, “Well, why did you tell her where the cabin is?”

More quiet. A long-suffering sigh. “She’s smart. I’m sure that’s all she needed to figure it out.”

At least he acknowledged she was smart. She would ignore the sigh.

“Relax. You don’t need to worry about me. I can handle Akira.”

The hell he could. Akira sniffed. Men didn’t handle her.

There was no warning before the door opened. Startled, she pitched forward, steadied by a strong grip on her biceps. His eyes grew wide before he hastily righted her, his surprise morphing into discontent. “Of course she’s not here to cause trouble.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. She would happily cause trouble. However, there was a fine line she needed to walk right now between pissing him off so much he kicked her out and maintaining the arm’s-length distance that kept him safely away from her squishiest parts.

It would be easier to keep him at arm’s length if his hand hadn’t remained wrapped around her arm. Why had she not worn long sleeves?

He spoke into the phone, but his gaze burned into Akira. “Have fun at Kristen’s, and I want you to contact me immediately if anything changes. I’ll go down the road and check my messages every couple of hours.” He hung up and glared at her. “Are you eavesdropping?”

“That’s kind of a dumb question,” she pointed out. “What else would I have been doing, checking for termites?”

Another gusty sigh left him. They were getting annoying.

He sidestepped her, heading back to the kitchenette.

“Um.” She glanced pointedly at her upper arm. “As much as I enjoy being dragged around, could you maybe lighten your grip a little?”

He looked down and pulled away as if she’d scalded him, backpedaling until he bumped against the counter. His cheeks flushed a dull red. “Sorry. I’m, uh. I didn’t realize.”

She massaged her arm. It tingled where he’d touched her.

“Here.” He handed her the phone. There was no brushing of fingers this time. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

He hesitated before speaking, every word dragged out of him. “Do you…want some coffee?”

Ask him what you came to ask him and leave.

But she was the one who had pulled out two mugs. A pink mug no less. “Sure. Black.”

He poured the coffee and passed it over the counter. Akira grabbed the mug and took a bracing sip, her eye twitching at the hit of caffeine. Did Jacob ever sleep?

“Too strong for you?”

His tone was carefully neutral, but damned if she’d give him a single reason to feel superior. Trying to hide her grimace, she placed the mug on the counter. “Nope. I— Wait, is that skim milk? I didn’t realize. I love skim milk in my coffee.”

“Do you?”

“It’s my favorite.” She poured in a dollop of watery milk, until the liquid turned creamy brown. “Kati okay?” she asked when it was clear he wasn’t going to be forthcoming.

He gave a terse nod. “She had a change of plans. Going to another friends tonight, but she won’t be picked up until much later.”

Yeah, right, Akira thought cynically. “See? Told you there was a good reason.”

“She also said she didn’t tell you where this place was.”

“She didn’t. Don’t blame the kid for my superior deductive reasoning skills.”

“You said she told you.”

“She said you were on a writing retreat at your cabin. You’ve mentioned in interviews the general location of your cabin. It took about an hour to search the property records, and another hour to drive out here.” She tsked. “Really, you ought to be more careful. Bad enough you don’t write under a pen name. Any overzealous fan could find you.” Or an overzealous socialite turned businesswoman.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” He drank his coffee, and she did the same, though the milk hadn’t helped the taste of the drink much. The silence stretched between them.

“So.”

“So.”

He rolled his shoulders. “It’s been a while.”

Akira eyed him warily. They weren’t adept at small talk. Thrust with a cutting remark, parry with a cold comment, duck heavy silence. That was their MO.

What the hell. “Yeah. Six months, right?” Six months and eight days since her mother’s funeral. She vaguely remembered Jacob and his siblings attending, but she’d been out of it.

She and the Campbells had been the closest thing to family her mother had had left, but there’d been lots of friends and acquaintances to pack the church. Akira’s father hadn’t come, because Akira’d refused to allow entrance to the camera crew hovering around him 24/7. Even without the cameras, she didn’t think she would have permitted him to show up. The woman deserved to not have her first husband, a man she’d utterly despised, at her funeral.

Before that, Akira hadn’t seen Jacob in well over a year, since she had decided to stop inflicting her presence on her mother. So it had been a while.

“Sounds right.” He shifted. “It’s strange without Mei. I didn’t realize she was such a big part of my family’s life until she was gone.”

Akira nodded, though she couldn’t quite empathize. Mei had lived a comparatively quiet life after she’d divorced Akira’s father, but she had enjoyed socializing with non-Moris. Though Mei and Jacob’s father, Harvey, had divorced quickly, their parting had been mutual and surprisingly non-acrimonious. The Campbell siblings had been welcome guests on most holidays and special occasions. Occasions for which Akira’s presence had been demanded but begrudged.

Did she miss her mother? Akira hadn’t known her well enough to miss her, and at the end, being around the woman had only led to sadness and guilt. She’d missed her chance at any degree of closure, though. She’d missed the chance to request absolution for being so fucking unlovable.

Jacob’s eyes shifted to stare at a point to the right of her head. “The funeral was beautiful.”

The funeral had been little more than a blur, coming a mere four days after her mother’s unexpected death. Unexpected to her, that is. She hadn’t known Mei had suffered a series of small strokes in the months leading up to her last days.

Jacob, on the other hand, had visited her mother regularly on her sickbed.

“Thanks. She planned it all before she died.”

His lips softened. “I thought it was very tasteful.”

Akira’s funeral wouldn’t be tasteful. There would be firecrackers and alcohol and beautiful men weeping. “Incredibly tasteful.”

Jacob placed his half-full mug on the counter. His dark lashes hid his eyes. “I was going to call or something at some point. See how you were doing. But it’s been so crazy with Kati’s senior year and the boys launching their new business…”

Startled, her mouth dropped open. Jacob had considered checking in on her? As if she were some normal person who might be affected by her mother’s death and not the sociopath he probably considered her to be? “Oh. No. I mean, that’s fine. I wouldn’t have expected that from you.”

His lips twisted. “I figured. But, you know, I should have, since…”

“Since you’re such a good brother?” she retorted, before she could catch herself. Wincing, she raised her hand to stave off the storm cloud gathering on his face. His beautiful, beautiful face. “Sorry. Sorry.” She was sorry. It had been instinct to counteract the unexpected kindness of his intention to check in on her with a verbal shove.

“What brings you here?”

There. He was back to being Mr. Stiff. Happy?

No.

But this was better. It had gotten a little too touchy-feely there, and with all this talk about her mother…well, she needed a wall between them. It protected all her softest parts.

Suddenly weary, she massaged the back of her neck. “This is, actually, about my mother. And a gift she may have given you.”

“The bequest?”

Akira had been expecting her mother to leave the Campbell family a sizable sum, but her will had only bequeathed a hundred thousand dollars to be split between the four siblings. Mei Mori hadn’t been born rich, but at eighteen she’d had the distinct misfortune to stumble directly into the path of Hiro Mori, who, smitten, had not signed a prenup. Mei could have taken the sizable fortune she received in the divorce settlement and sat on it, but the woman had been a crafty investor and had more than doubled it over her lifetime. In light of the rest of her estate, a hundred grand was a drop in the bucket.

Then again, Akira bet Mei knew Jacob would balk at a huge sum of money. Her mother had once proudly told her Jacob was determined to make it on his own, though she had offered to help them more than once.

This information had been imparted, of course, to imply Akira had done nothing but take advantage of the silver spoon she’d been born with.

“No, not the bequest.” Most of her mother’s estate had gone to charity, with the remainder to Akira.

Akira had wanted only one thing. “We finished cataloging her possessions this week, and there’s one item missing. It was last seen seven months before her death. Six months before her death, she started refusing to see everyone except her household staff and a few select friends.” She paused for a beat. “You and your siblings were part of that small group.”

It took a few seconds for realization to dawn. He straightened, and suddenly the kitchen felt even tinier. “Are you asking if I took something from a dying woman?”

“No, of course not.” Please, Jacob would never steal. The man didn’t know how to deviate from the straight-and-narrow path. He was physically incapable of sin.

What a miserable existence.

“I was there in the capacity of friendship,” he said coldly. “She was lonely at the end. Not to manipulate her into…what, handing over her jewels?”

Lonely because her own daughter didn’t visit her. No, she refused to feel guilty about that. Her presence would have only made Mei more miserable. “I’m not implying there was a single element of coercion.” She raised her hands. “Look. I didn’t come here to fight or ogle your ass—”

Jacob’s head snapped back. “Ogle my…”

“Oh, shut up,” she retorted, out of patience. “You know very well it’s a first-class ass. What do you do, do squats all day? Never mind, don’t answer.”

“Trust me,” he said grimly, “I wasn’t planning to.”

“I came because the item looks like nothing more than a wood box. Well crafted, about a foot square. A design on the sides. No one would steal it, and it’s probably the only gift she could give you that you would take because it doesn’t look expensive.”

“You think she gave me a box?”

Akira sighed. Her feet hurt. Her head ached. She was sleep deprived and tired, and his wide, steady shoulders were right there.

It took every ounce of energy for her to continue speaking. She was unable to think anymore, perilously close to dropping her shields. “It was my grandmother’s. There is no price I wouldn’t pay to get it back.” There. She’d handed him every single ounce of bargaining power.

Jacob had stilled, and he watched her far too carefully for her peace of mind. His tone was quiet when he spoke. “Mei didn’t give me anything.”

“What about your siblings?”

“I would know. They would tell me. We’re close.”

Akira flinched from the last two words, though she knew he didn’t intend it as a dig about her lack of closeness with her own family.

She had developed a sense to recognize when people were lying to her, a skill that served her well when negotiating with men who assumed she was an empty-headed doll. Truth. It rang in every syllable of those sentences.

Defeat tasted like ashes in her mouth.

The rage she had managed to control for too many years rose inside of her. Her damned mother. Holding Hana’s box over her head like a carrot since her grandmother had died unexpectedly. Behave, and I’ll give you the box. Behave, and I’ll give you your legacy.

You should have behaved.

Well, she hadn’t. And the hope she’d had, that finally, finally she could recover it, was dashed, because there was no place left to look.

It was gone.

If she opened her mouth, she would cry or wail, and Akira Mori did not break down. Not ever.

She inclined her head and carefully placed her half-full coffee mug on the counter. She turned and managed to make it to the exit, barely registering Jacob’s presence behind her until a heavy palm shut the door she had opened a crack. “Akira. Are you okay?”

He was so big and warm behind her. All she had to do was lean back, and she could absorb his heat into her. She craved it.

That’s why you can’t have it. It was dangerous to lust after someone so fruitlessly. Hadn’t she learned all about wanting the unattainable with her family? Constant rejection took its toll. It chipped away at your soul, made you doubt yourself. It hurt. “Yes, I’m fine.”

He had to lean down to catch her breathy answer. His beard scraped her temple. “You don’t look well. I don’t know if you should drive.”

She suppressed a shudder. Brother Jacob. So good. So honorable to everyone, even a woman he found repugnant.

She could snap her fingers and have anything she wanted in the world. But she couldn’t have her legacy. She couldn’t have her mother, eager to forgive her and love her. And she couldn’t have him.

Funny how they were the things she wanted the most.

Dangerous. This was far too dangerous.

So get rid of him.

That she was adept at. And if she stole a little something for herself in the process, he would never know.

She placed her hand on the arm he had extended in front of her, trapping her in the cabin with him. Coarse dark hair sprinkled his forearm, scraping her knuckles, which were raw from the tree bark earlier. “So eager to keep me here?”

“Don’t twist my words.”

Pure, perfect Jacob. “I wouldn’t mind staying.” Her fingers smoothed over the curve of his massive biceps. She tended to gravitate toward slender, elegantly lean men. In comparison, Jacob was a brute who could snap her in two. “Especially if you promise to entertain me.”

He had stiffened behind her. “Akira—”

The warning in his voice only made her bolder, desperate to gain control. “We could go back outside, and you can take off your shirt. I liked watching you chop wood.” She leaned back until she was cradled against his chest. His thick thighs surrounded hers.

She couldn’t quell the shudder that went through her. In all the long years they had been acquaintances, this was the most physical contact they had ever shared. Immediately, she knew she had made a terrible miscalculation.

Because this was delicious.

She wanted to stay like this forever. But he would shove her away. Any second now. So she would enjoy it for the few short moments she was going to get.

Jacob exhaled, long and low, shifting behind her so his cock nestled directly against her ass, sending a thrill up her spine. Was it possible Jacob was semihard for her? Unable to help herself, she moved her hips, rocking back against that tantalizingly thick bulge.

He started to curse but cut himself off. She wanted him to curse. She wanted him to be bad, as bad as her. She wanted to corrupt him, stain his pure soul, stamp the imprint of her nastiness on him.

“Yeah,” she murmured. “Let’s go outside. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? I could show you all the things I was thinking about doing to you when I was watching you. All the ways I would touch and lick every part of you.” Akira squeezed his biceps. Her other hand went behind her and grasped his hip, which gave an imperceptible jerk, grinding his semihard cock into her ass. “You like that?” She slid her hand down his big thigh. “I could start at the top and work my way down. Or maybe…maybe you’d prefer I started at the bottom.”

His chest expanded behind her, and she gave a grim smile of victory, stroking his thigh down and then up again. Letting him imagine how it would feel if it were his cock. “I think you would. Maybe I should get on my knees so I can be thorough.”

They stood in silence for a charged minute, during which Akira thought maybe…maybe…

“Stop it.” His voice was harsh, furious. Though she had been prepared for it, the rejection sliced through her, leaving a bloody wound. Jacob’s hand fell away from the door. There was a tug on her scalp as he jerked away, her hair caught in the bristle of his beard.

Her lips twisted, and she spoke through the haze of lust, fatigue and anger clouding her brain as she opened the door. “See you around, Brother Jacob.”