(Previously titled Veiled Desire)
Look, but don’t touch…
Leyla Karimi can’t keep her eyes off the hunky guy living in the house behind her. How couldany woman resist ogling Dr. Mason Barrett, especially when he makes it so easy by parading around in his skin and skivvies?
If it was only their age difference, she would have made a move a long time ago. Except Mason is more than a neighbor. He’s her baby brother’s oldest friend. It’s not like they can have a casual fling and walk away in the morning.
Mason’s been doing a little lusting—okay a lot—for quite some time. When he catches Leyla peeking, it’s a sure sign she could finally be ready to heat up his nights with loving. One taste of her lips, though, and he doesn’t want a “little” of anything. He wants it all.
Unwilling to jeopardize a lifetime of friendship for a one-night stand, Leyla is reluctant to throw caution to the wind. When he’s kissing her senseless, though, it’s hard to remember all the reasons why she should hold back…
Warning: Contains a hot hero who doesn’t mind baring it all in the name of love, a heroine who doesn’t settle for less, a sweet romance, steamy sex in a car and more good lovin’ in bed.
Leyla Karimi didn’t believe in Cupid, but she figured there had to be some mischievous mystic force at work in the universe. After all, something had forced her to purchase a home that practically butted patio to patio with the home behind hers. Something had induced her baby brother’s best friend to rent the other house a few months ago. Something very pressing must have kept him from buying blinds.
Yes, some mischievous force had to be tinkering away somewhere in the universe. Because nothing else could explain why she had decided to come sit on her porch swing to unwind after the hectic day. And nothing could explain why she was currently staring at Mason Barrett’s almost naked body with more than a little bit of lust.
Okay, a lot of lust.
She cocked her head to the side, trying to think past the pounding refrain ofohmyGodhelookssofine running through her brain. Objectively, she’d realized for years that Mason was no longer the chubby ten-year-old who had once tagged along behind her very mature fourteen-year-old self all those years ago. In a couple of private moments, she’d even admitted that he’d turned into a very attractive man. Who was she kidding? Tall, blond, chiseled and muscular, he was a very hot man. And a couple of private moments may not be precisely accurate. More like every time they hung out. Which, since he’d moved in, had been like every other day.
He stood with his back to her, one hand raised to hold his cell phone at his ear. She had no idea who he was talking to, and frankly she didn’t care. His white boxer-briefs highlighted the tan of his skin. His back was lovely, wide and strong, tapering down from broad shoulders. She appreciated a sexy back as much as the next woman.
Her contacts were dry. With every blink, a smidgeon of sanity returned to her brain.
Oh my God, what are you doing?
She glanced around in a panic, but there was no one around to point their finger at her. The high fences running the sides of her and Mason’s property kept everyone else’s eyes away.
Horrified shame stung her cheeks, more so than the usual I-can’t-believe-I-just-imagined-Mason-licking-my-fill-in-the-blank sheepishness. It didn’t matter that only a few minutes had passed since Mason had come into her field of vision. It didn’t matter that she’d seen him in swim trunks at the pool or the beach. This was different. Hell, sometimes she stripped down as soon as she came home, especially on unseasonably warm Florida evenings like tonight. How would she feel if she knew Mason had looked at her in just her panties?
Her stomach flip-flopped, and she pressed a hand against it. Clearly, a bad question.
It was the holiday, she told herself with real desperation. Valentine’s Day was just around the corner. When one worked in a lingerie shop, hearts and flowers were crammed down one’s throat since January. She hadn’t been with a man in years. The time was ripe to be thinking about all sorts of crazy things. Even about a man who had been a part of her life forever. A man who thought of her as a sister. A man she could never, ever attempt a relationship with, because if it combusted, it would not only affect her, but her brother as well.
Never, ever. Right? Come on, conscience, don’t let me down now.
In her imagination, her haloed conscience shrugged. Don’t look at me, sweetie. Have you seen his ass?
He was gesturing with his hands and pacing now, like Leyla knew he was wont to do when he was in the middle of a discussion. Each time he moved, the muscles in his thighs tightened and released, his buttocks following in tandem. He raked his hand through his short blond hair, and his biceps and chest did a pretty dance. It was like watching poetry in flesh. The thick bulge at the crotch of his shorts made her breathless, and she willed that waistband to slip just a little lower, over that bulge and down to the floor…
She was so caught up in the fantasy that it took her a second to realize he wasn’t moving anymore, his body half turned toward the sliding glass door.
Oh God. Had he seen her?
She shrank back against the chair and slammed her eyes shut in a childish bid to render herself invisible. She couldn’t bear it if he had seen her ogling him. He and Sasha would tease her for life. She would totally deserve it. After all, this was Mason. He was just a baby.
Her conscience whipped a nail file out and began working on her manicure. Twenty-seven is not a baby.
Well, maybe not, and if he were anyone else, a four-year age gap probably wouldn’t bother her. But he’d grown up in her home. She should consider him a brother.
Um, there isn’t a single drop of blood between you.
Stop helping me justify this.
She held her breath and waited for his deep, laughing voice to break the silence of the quiet suburban street.
When she became a little lightheaded from lack of oxygen, she peeked out, confused. The evening was quiet, his living room empty. Where had he gone? Leyla let out a soft groan. Had he gone to tell Sasha that his cougar of a big sister had become a Peeping Tom?
As if the fates wanted to disprove her theory, Mason sauntered back into view from the kitchen, no longer on the phone. He had a beer clutched in his hand, and he took a swig of it. Like a puppet on a string, she mindlessly groped for the beer she’d left on the small glass table next to her and swallowed a gulp of her own forgotten beverage. She didn’t have to be able to see his label to know it was the same brand as hers. They were similar in a lot of their likes. Instead of the now-warm, slightly flat taste of the ale in her mouth, she imagined it tasted the way his might—icy cold, bubbly and refreshing.
He didn’t look like a man who was outraged over a privacy violation. He looked relaxed, comfortable in his own skin as he sat on his big leather couch and rested his beer on his knee. Had he not seen her? The lights were off in her house and on the patio. The moonlight was minimal. Could she be so lucky?
He reached down next to him on the couch and picked up something. His phone, she realized. He pushed a couple of buttons and held it to his ear.
The vibration of her cell phone made her jump. She stared down at the innocently buzzing phone on the seat in dismay. Was this how he was going to bust her then? Would he start teasing her when she picked it up?
She could ignore it, but he’d torment her more the next time he saw her. There was no way she could avoid him forever. With a gulp, she picked up the little black phone and pressed the talk button. “Hello?” Her voice was timid. She swallowed and tried again. “Hello.”
“Hey, Leyla. Still at work?”
Was it her imagination or was his voice huskier and lower than usual? It tripped over her nerve endings like it never had before. Mason had one seriously sexy voice to go with his seriously sexy bod.
You’re just the queen of noticing stuff tonight, aren’t you?
The rest of his words sank in, and she blinked. Still at work? Oh God, had he not seen her at all?
Answer. She needed to answer him. She couldn’t lie. But if she said she was home, he might glance over, and he might see her, ’cause his eyes might have adjusted to the dark, and there were way too many mights in that scenario for her peace of mind. “Just leaving,” she lied.
“I figured. I guess all the last-minute yahoos are going to be out in full force ’til the holiday, huh?”
She made an affirmative noise.
“You must be beat. I know I am.”
Poor man. She could rub his shoulders for him. Or something else.
Leyla leaned back against her chair. She was beyond redemption.
To distract herself from the way the lamplight played over his shoulders, she spoke. “Rough day?”
“The E.R. was crazy today. Residency sucks.”
She didn’t have to think to respond with her automatic reply. “One more year, then you get to be the big doctor.”
She could hear the smile in his voice. It was weird also seeing it on his face. He was in profile, so she couldn’t see his dimples flashing, but she’d seen them so many times, she knew exactly how those adorable little indentations would appear next to his mouth. “Thanks. What would I do without you?”
Well, for one, you wouldn’t have someone ogling your body through your curtainless window.
She sighed. “I have no idea.”
He stood and stretched, and she inhaled. He stopped. “What?”
“Hmmm. Listen, I’m glad I caught you before you got too crazy with the holiday.” He set his beer on the coffee table and walked to his bedroom. She could barely pay attention to his words and his back at the same time.
“Yeah. Are you doing anything that night?”
“Silly. Valentine’s Day.”
Well, I could get a couple of drinks and spend the evening watching you walk around half naked. That would be exciting. Pathetic. “No. No plans. Yet,” she tacked on, since she didn’t want to sound completely lonely. His bedroom faced her as well, and look at that, no blinds there either. It was like he was choreographing this show for her viewing pleasure. He flipped on the lights and walked across the room to disappear into the bathroom. The sound of water rushing came over the phone. “Sorry for the noise. I’m about to get in the shower.”
Water, slicking over all that golden skin. His hands, soaping up his chest and then lower, washing his thick, long…
She had to swallow. “That’s fine.”
He reemerged from the bathroom. Cradling the phone at his ear, he crossed to the bureau and removed his watch, laying it on the surface, face up. The man was careless with practically every one of his possessions, but not his late father’s wristwatch. “You want to hang out?” His hands dropped to his hips. He hooked his thumbs through the waistband of his boxers. “It would be fun.”
Her eyes were glued on those innocent-looking thumbs. “Huh?”
“What’s up with you tonight? It’s like you’re not really with me.”
Oh she was with him. He had no idea how with him she was. His thumbs toyed with the comfort-stretch waistband. He turned further in profile. God, was his penis…bigger?
She was breathing quicker, and she covered the mouthpiece to disguise it. Yes. Not like she had measured it earlier, but that bulge was definitely larger. As she watched, it seemed to grow. Surely that wasn’t her imagination.
It wasn’t because he was on the phone with her. Men got hard all the time, for all kinds of crazy reasons.
“Leyla? Talk to me, sweetheart.”
She barely registered the out-of-character endearment. He could have been reciting the dictionary. The husky undertone to his voice undid her, made her squeeze her legs together in arousal and need.
Her breath caught as he started to lower the briefs. It was like her own personal peep show. First he unveiled the dip of his groin, the widening of his body hair from the thin blond trail, the tight curve of his ass, the ruddy head of his…
Leyla slammed her eyes shut. Oh God. What was wrong with her? It was one thing to ogle him in underwear, another thing to see him naked. Without his permission or his knowledge. She’d completely taken advantage of him.
Her body, though, didn’t care. She’d been aroused before, seeing him without his shirt or pants on. Now she was ready to combust. Her nipples were hard, the weight of her bra and shirt chafing against them. Her panties were soaked. If she brushed her fingers against herself, she’d probably come.
“I-I have to go, Mason.”
“Baby, you didn’t answer me.”
Baby? And he’d called her sweetheart before. That wasn’t…right. Except for “buddy” or “pal”, they’d never called each other anything but their names.
Whatever. Perhaps he was thinking of someone else. “Answer you about what?”
Laughter was in his voice. “About hanging out. Maybe dinner. I know the holiday itself isn’t as crazy for you as the days before. I thought it would be fun, to spend time together.”
She screwed her eyes shut tighter, since every instinct was screaming at her to open wide and look her fill at a butt-naked Mason. “Dinner?” Nothing earth-shattering in that. Since he’d moved so close to her, they’d gone out together quite often, to grab burgers or Chinese. She’d even played escort to a couple of his work events with him. Funny, she’d always thought Mason had his share of female company, but she never saw anyone around.
“Are you feeling okay?”
No, I’m confused, horny, and my vagina’s about to explode. How are you doing? “Yes. I’m fine.”
Even though she knew he had no romantic intentions toward her, Leyla’s heart went a little pitter pat to think of spending Valentine’s Day with Mason. Even if they went to a diner or something, they’d still be surrounded by hearts and flowers and reminders of love. She’d have to endure sitting across from Mason, with the guilty knowledge of what his body looked like under his casual jeans and T-shirt. Wanting what was under those clothes. Joy. “I don’t know.”
“What? Come on. Please?” His voice dropped to an intimate level. “You’re not doing anything. I’m not doing anything. Sasha’s got plans. Why shouldn’t we spend the evening together?”
“I’ll be alone, otherwise.”
Nothing could have swayed her, except for that hint of very real loneliness she heard in his voice—the same longing she had been feeling lately, the more time she spent with him. “I-I guess…”
“Aren’t you supposed to be showering?” she asked, more than a little desperately.
He paused and then a minute later, she heard the shower running again. She peeked, just in time to catch a glimpse of taut flesh through the bathroom door before it closed. “Yup. Water’s hot. So I’ll see you in a few days. I’m pulling a couple extra shifts this week, so I may not catch you before then. Take care of yourself, okay? Don’t work too hard.”
She wasn’t quite sure what she mumbled back to him, but they each hung up. Dropping her still half-full beer on the patio table, she stumbled like a zombie back into her house. Closing and locking the sliding glass doors behind her, she collapsed against the glass. In the dark, her entire living room suddenly looked different. She felt like the world had tilted, like everything had changed.
Her fingers were going to be busy tonight.