Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard


  “Don’t tell me I’m crazy!” she shouted, putting her finger over the nozzle to narrow the opening and thus get more force, and distance. “I’ve had it with people blaming me for everything!” She got him in the face again. “I’m so damn sick of you, and Shelley, and David, and everyone at work, and all the stupid reporters, and BooBoo shredding my cushions! I’m fed up, do you hear?”

  He abruptly switched tactics, from evade to attack. He came in low, like a linebacker, not trying to evade the blast of water she aimed at him. About half a second too late, she tried to dodge to the side. His shoulder crashed into her midriff, the impact driving her back against the Viper. Quick as a snake striking, he snatched the water hose from her grip. She lunged for the hose, and he wrestled her back into place, pinning her to the Viper with his weight.

  They were both breathing hard. He was soaking wet from head to toe, water leaching out of his clothes into hers until she was almost as wet as he. She glared up at him, and he glared down at her, their noses only a few inches apart.

  Water was clinging to his lashes. “You sprayed me,” he accused, as if he couldn’t believe she had done such a thing.

  “You scared me,” she accused in return. “It was an accident.”

  “That was when you sprayed me the first time. You did it on purpose the second time.”

  She nodded.

  “And you said ‘shit’ and ‘damn.’ You owe me fifty cents.”

  “I’m putting in a new rule. You can’t incite me to riot, then fine me for rioting.”

  “You’re welshing on me?” he asked in disbelief.

  “You bet. It’s all your fault.”

  “How’s that?”

  “You deliberately scared me, and don’t try to deny it. That makes the first word your fault.” She gave an experimental wiggle, trying to slide out from under the pressure of his weight. Damn, he was heavy, and about as unyielding as the sheet metal behind her.

  He squelched her escape attempt by settling even more heavily against her. Water from his clothes dripped down her legs.

  “What about the second one?”

  “You said f—” She caught herself. “My two words added together aren’t nearly as bad as your one word.”

  “What, they have a points system now?”

  She gave him a withering look. “The point is, I wouldn’t have said either word if (a) you hadn’t scared me and (b) you hadn’t cussed at me first.”

  “If we’re assigning blame here, I wouldn’t have cussed if you hadn’t sprayed me.”

  “And I wouldn’t have sprayed you if you hadn’t scared me. See, I told you it was all your fault,” she said triumphantly, tilting her chin at him.

  He took a deep breath. The movement of his chest flattened her breasts even more than they already were, making her abruptly aware of her nipples. Her nipples were acutely aware of him. Uh-oh. Her eyes widened in sudden alarm.

  He was looking down at her with an unreadable expression. “Let me go,” she said, more nervous than she cared to reveal.

  “No.”

  “No!” she repeated. “You can’t say no. It’s against the law to hold me against my will.”

  “I’m not holding you against your will; I’m holding you against your car.”

  “By force!”

  He shrugged an admission. He didn’t seem very alarmed at the prospect of violating any laws against manhandling neighbors.

  “Let me go,” she said again.

  “I can’t.”

  She eyed him suspiciously. “Why not?” Actually, she was afraid she knew why not. “Why not” had been growing in his wet jeans for a few minutes now. She was doing her dead level best to ignore it, and from the waist up—except for her rebellious nipples—she was mostly succeeding. From the waist down, she was an abject failure.

  “Because I’m going to do something I’ll regret.” He shook his head, as if he didn’t understand it himself. “I still don’t have a whip and chair, but what the hell, I’ll risk it.”

  “Wait,” she squeaked, but it was too late.

  His dark head dipped.

  The late afternoon spun away. From somewhere up the street she heard a child shriek with laughter. A car drove by. The faint sound of hedge clippers drifted to her ears. All of that seemed very far away and disconnected from reality. What was real was Sam’s mouth on hers, his tongue tangling with hers, the warm male scent of his body in her nostrils and filling her lungs. And his taste—oh, his taste. He tasted like chocolate, as if he had just eaten a Hershey bar. She wanted to devour him.

  She realized she was clutching fistfuls of wet cotton fabric. One at a time, without breaking the kiss, he peeled her hands off his shirt and tucked them around his neck, allowing him to settle more completely against her, from knee to shoulder.

  How could just a kiss arouse her so totally? But it wasn’t just a kiss; he used his entire body, rubbing his chest against her nipples until the friction made them stand out, hard and aching, moving the bulge of his erection against her stomach with a slow, subtle rhythm that was nevertheless as powerful as a sea surge.

  Jaine heard the wild, smothered sound that erupted from her throat, and she tried to climb him, tried to get high enough to position that bulge where it would do the most good. She was burning hot, dying with heat, half-mad from the sudden onslaught of sexual need and frustration.

  He was still holding the water hose in one hand. He locked both arms around her and lifted her the few inches needed. The stream of water arced wildly, splattering BooBoo and making him jump up with an outraged hiss, then splashing against the car and wetting them even more. She didn’t care. His tongue was in her mouth, and her legs were wrapped around his hips and that bulge was right where she wanted it.

  He moved—another of those subtle, rolling thrusts—and she damn near climaxed right there. Her nails bit into his back, and she made a guttural sound, arching in his arms.

  He tore his mouth free from hers. He was panting, the expression in his eyes hot and wild. “Let’s go inside,” he said, the words so low and rough they were almost unintelligible, not much more than a growl.

  “No,” she moaned. “Don’t stop!” Oh, God, she was close, so close. She arched against him again.

  “Jesus Christ!” He closed his eyes, his expression savage with lust barely restrained. “Jaine, I can’t fuck you out here. We have to go inside.”

  Fuck? Inside?

  Oh my God, she was about to do it with him and she wasn’t on the pill yet!

  “Wait!” she yelled in panic, pushing against his shoulders, uncoiling her legs from around his hips and kicking wildly “Stop! Let me go!”

  “Stop?” he said in outraged disbelief. “You said ‘don’t stop’ just a second ago.”

  “I changed my mind.” She was still pushing on his shoulders. She was still accomplishing exactly nothing.

  “You can’t change your mind!” He sounded desperate now.

  “Yes, I can.”

  “Do you have herpes?”

  “No.”

  “Syphilis?”

  “No.”

  “Gonorrhea?”

  “No.”

  “AIDS?”

  “No!”

  “Then you can’t change your mind.”

  “What I have is a ripe egg.” That was probably a lie. Almost positively a lie. She would probably start her period tomorrow, so the little ovum was long past viability, but she didn’t take chances with potential offspring. If any life was left in the bundle of DNA, Sam’s sperm would jump-start it. Some things were just a given.

  The ripe-egg news gave him pause. He thought about it. Offered: “I can use a condom.”

  She gave him a withering look. At least, she hoped it withered him. So far, he was remarkably unwithered. “Condoms have only about a ninety to ninety-four percent success rate. That means, at best, their fail rate is six percent.”

  “Hey, those are good odds.”

  Another withering look. ??
?Oh, yeah? Can you imagine what would happen if even one of your little marauders jumped my girl?”

  “They’d tie up and fight like two wildcats in a sack.”

  “Yeah. Like we just did.”

  He looked horrified. He released her and stepped back. “They’d be in the sack before they even introduced themselves.”

  “We’ve never introduced ourselves,” she felt compelled to point out.

  “Shit.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m Sam Donovan.”

  “I know who you are. Mrs. Kulavich told me. I’m Jaine Bright.”

  “I know. She told me. She even told me how you spell your name.”

  Now, how on earth had Mrs. Kulavich known that? “It was supposed to be Janine,” she explained. “But the first n got left off the birth certificate form, and Mom decided she liked it that way.” Jaine wished she had been a Janine. “Shelley,” “David,” “Janine”; the names all fit. Jaine was a wild card, the odd one out.

  “I like ‘Jaine’ better,” he said. “It suits you. You aren’t a Janine.”

  Yeah, she thought morosely. That was the problem.

  “So what’s this problem you’re having with … who was it? Oh, yeah. Shelley, David, everyone at work, the reporters, and BooBoo. Why are you having trouble with reporters?”

  She was impressed by his memory. She couldn’t have rattled off a list of names that had been shouted at her while she was being sprayed with cold water.

  “Shelley is my older sister. She’s mad at me because Mom asked me to baby-sit BooBoo and she wanted the honor herself. David’s my brother. He’s mad at me because Dad asked me instead of David to baby-sit his car. You know who BooBoo is.”

  He looked over her shoulder. “He’s the cat on your car.”

  “On my—” She whirled in horror. BooBoo was pussyfooting across the Viper’s hood. She snatched him off before he had time to evade, and indignantly returned him to the house. Then she rushed back to the Viper and bent down to inspect the hood for even the tiniest scratch.

  “Don’t guess you like a cat on your car either,” Sam said smugly.

  She tried out another withering look on him, though she had noticed the egg news had done a good job of withering him anyway. “There’s no comparison between my car and yours,” she growled, then gave the empty driveway a startled look. No brown Pontiac. But here was Sam. “Where is your car?”

  “The Pontiac isn’t mine. It belongs to the city.”

  She felt weak with relief. Thank God. It would have been a serious blow to her self-esteem if she’d slept with the owner of that wreck. On the other hand, maybe she needed the Pontiac as a mental brake on her sexual impulses. If it had been sitting there, the preceding episode probably wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.

  “Then how did you get home?” she asked, looking around.

  “I keep my truck parked in the garage. Keeps the dust and pollen and bird deposits off it.”

  “Truck? What kind of truck?”

  “Chevy.”

  “Four-wheel drive?” He looked like a four-wheel-drive kind of guy.

  He gave her a superior sneer. “Is there any other kind?”

  “Oh, man,” she sighed. “Can I see it?”

  “Not until we finish our negotiations.”

  “Negotiations?”

  “Yeah. About when we’re going to finish what we just started.”

  Her mouth fell open. “You mean you aren’t going to let me see your truck until I agree to have sex with you?”

  “You got it.”

  “You’re crazy if you think I want to see your truck that bad!” she shouted.

  “It’s red.”

  “Oh, man,” she whined.

  He crossed his arms. “Put up or shut up.”

  “Don’t you mean ‘put out’?”

  “I said we’d negotiate a date. I didn’t say we’d do it now. You couldn’t pay me to go anywhere near your egg.”

  She gave him a speculative look. “I’ll show you my power plant if you’ll show me your truck.”

  He shook his head. “No deal.”

  She never told anyone about her dad’s car. For all her friends knew, he was simply paranoid about the family sedan. But it was a bargaining chip to top all bargaining chips, the ace in the hole, the guaranteed result-getter. Besides, Sam was a cop; it probably wouldn’t hurt to have him in the loop, so he would know that her garage needed protecting at all times. The car was insured for a fortune, but it was also irreplaceable.

  “I’ll let you see my dad’s car if you let me see your truck,” she said slyly.

  Despite himself, he looked interested. Probably her expression told him that her dad’s car was out of the ordinary.

  “What kind is it?”

  She shrugged. “I don’t say the words out in public.”

  He leaned down and offered his ear to her. “Whisper them.”

  She put her mouth against his ear and felt faint from the warm male scent that wafted to her nostrils again. She whispered two words.

  He straightened so abruptly he bumped her nose. “Ouch!” She rubbed the aching tip.

  “Let me see it,” he said hoarsely.

  She crossed her arms, mimicking his earlier position. “Do we have a deal? You see my dad’s car, and I see your truck?”

  “Hell, you can drive my truck!” He turned and looked at her garage as if it were the Holy Grail. “It’s in there?”

  “Safe and secure.”

  “It’s an original? Not a kit?”

  “Original.”

  “Man,” he breathed, already striding to the garage.

  “I’ll get the key” She dashed inside for the key to the padlock, and returned to find him waiting impatiently.

  “Be careful and open the door just enough to slide through,” she cautioned. “I don’t want it seen from the street.”

  “Yeah, yeah.” He took the key from her and inserted it in the padlock.

  They entered the dark garage, and Jaine fumbled for the light switch. The overheads came on, illuminating the low-slung, tarp-covered hump.

  “How did he get it?” Sam asked in a half whisper, as if he were in church. He reached for the edge of the tarp.

  “He was on the development team.”

  He gave her a sharp look. “Your dad is Lyle Bright?”

  She nodded an admission.

  “Man,” he sighed, and lifted the tarp.

  A low moan broke from his throat.

  She knew how he felt. She always felt a little breathless herself when she looked at the car, and she had grown up with it.

  It wasn’t particularly flashy. The automobile paints back then hadn’t had the shine of today’s paints. It was a kind of silvery gray, spare, without the luxuries so taken for granted by today’s consumer. There wasn’t a cup holder in sight.

  “Man,” he said again, bending to look at the instrumentation. He was careful not to touch the car. Most people, ninety-nine out of a hundred, couldn’t have resisted. Some would have been brash enough to swing a leg over the low frame and slide into the driver’s seat. Sam treated the car with the reverence it deserved, and an odd sensation squeezed her heart. She felt a little light-headed, and everything in the garage began to fade out of focus except for his face. She concentrated on breathing, blinking fast, and in a moment the world clicked back into place.

  Wow. What was that all about?

  He re-covered the car as tenderly as a mother covers a sleeping infant. Wordlessly he fished his keys out of his jeans pocket and held them out to her.

  She took them, then looked down at her clothes. “I’m wet.”

  “I know,” he replied. “I’ve been looking at your nipples.”

  Her mouth fell open, and she quickly clamped her hands over the pertinent portions of her wet T-shirt. “Why didn’t you say something?” she demanded hotly.

  He made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat. “What, you think I’m crazy?”

  “It wou
ld serve you right if I drove your truck without changing clothes!”

  He shrugged. “After you let me see this, plus your nipples, I guess I owe you.”

  She started to argue that she hadn’t let him see her nipples, that he had looked without her permission; then she remembered that she had seen a lot more than his nipples that morning and decided not to bring up the subject.

  Like he was going to give her the choice. “Besides,” he pointed out, “you saw my cock. That has to be worth more points than nipples.”

  “Hah,” she said. “Value is in the eye of the beholder. And I did tell you to cover up, if you’ll remember.”

  “After you’d watched for how long?”

  “Only long enough to call Mrs. Kulavich and get your number,” she said self-righteously, because it was the truth. So what if she’d had to chat with Mrs. Kulavich for a minute? “And you didn’t seem to think it was important enough to cover up. No, you waved it around like you were starting a race with it.”

  “I was enticing you.”

  “You were not! You didn’t know I was looking.”

  He arched an eyebrow.

  She threw the keys back at him. “I wouldn’t drive your truck now if you begged me! It probably has cooties in it! You lech, you disgusting … disgusting penis-waver—”

  He fielded the keys with one hand. “Are you saying you weren’t enticed?”

  She started to tell him she hadn’t felt even a twinge of enticement, but her tongue refused to utter what would have been the biggest lie of her life.

  He smirked. “Thought so.”

  There was only one way to recover the upper hand. Jaine put her hands on her hips, letting her nipples thrust against the thin wet layers of bra and T-shirt. Like a laser-guided missile, his gaze homed in on the front of her shirt. She saw him swallow.

  “You don’t play fair,” he said thickly.

  She smirked in retaliation for his smirk. “Remember that,” she said, and turned to leave the garage.

  He slipped past her. “I go first,” he said. “I want to see you stepping into the sunlight.”

  Her hands clamped back in position over her breasts.

  “Spoilsport,” he muttered, and slid sideways through the narrow opening. He stepped back inside so abruptly she collided with him.

 
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