Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

  “Good. I’d hate to disturb … what’s his name? BooBoo? What the hell kind of name for a cat is BooBoo?”

  “Don’t blame me; blame my mother.”

  “A cat should have a name it can live up to. Naming him BooBoo is like naming your son Alice. BooBoo shoulda been named Tiger, or Romeo—”

  Jaine shook her head. “Romeo’s out.”

  “You mean he’s—?”

  She nodded.

  “In that case, I guess BooBoo’s a pretty good name for him, though BooHoo would be more appropriate.”

  She had to hold her ribs really, really tight to keep from bursting into more laughter. “You’re such a guy.”

  “What the hell did you want me to be, a ballerina?”

  No, she didn’t want him to be anything except what he was. No one else had ever made excitement fizz along her veins like champagne, and that was quite an achievement, considering that a week ago they hadn’t exchanged anything except insults. Only two days had passed since their first kiss, two days that had seemed like an eternity because there hadn’t been any more kisses until she grabbed his ears at the supermarket and pulled him down to her level.

  “How’s your egg?” he asked, lids heavy over his dark eyes, and she knew his thoughts weren’t far from hers.

  “History,” she replied.

  “Then let’s go to bed.”

  “You think all you have to do is say, ‘Let’s go to bed,’ and I’ll fall over on my back?” she asked indignantly.

  “No, I hoped I’d have a chance to do a bit more than that before you fell over on your back.”

  “I’m not falling anywhere.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I’m having my period.” Funny, she couldn’t remember ever saying that to a man before, especially without even a twinge of self-consciousness.

  His brows snapped down. “You’re what?” he asked in growing anger.

  “Having my period. Menstruating. Maybe you’ve heard about it. It’s when—”

  “I have two sisters; I think I know a little about periods. And one of the things I know is that the egg is fertile roughly in the middle of the cycle, not close to the end!”

  Busted. Jaine pursed her lips. “Okay so I lied. There’s always a slight chance the timing is off, and I wasn’t willing to take that chance, all right?”

  It evidently wasn’t all right. “You stopped me,” he groaned, closing his eyes as if he were in acute pain. “I was damn near dying, and you stopped me.”

  “You make it sound on a level with treason.”

  He opened his eyes, glaring at her. “What about now?”

  He was about as romantic as a rock, she thought, so why was she so turned on? “Your idea of foreplay is probably ‘You awake?’” she grumbled.

  He made an impatient gesture. “What about now?”


  “Jeez!” He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes again. “What’s wrong with now?”

  “I told you, I’m having my period.”


  “So … no.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I don’t want to!” she yelled. “Give me a break!”

  He sighed. “I get it. PMS.”

  “PMS is before, you idiot.”

  “That’s what you say. Ask any man and you’ll hear a different story.”

  “Like they’re experts,” she scoffed.

  “Honey, the only experts in PMS are men. That’s why men are so good at fighting wars; they learned Escape and Evade at home.”

  She thought about throwing a frying pan at him, but BooBoo was in the line of fire, and anyway, she would have to find a frying pan first.

  He grinned at the expression on her face. “Know why PMS is called PMS?”

  “Don’t you dare,” she threatened. “Only women can tell PMS jokes.”

  “Because ‘mad cow disease’ was already taken.”

  Forget the frying pan. She looked around for a knife. “Get out of my house.”

  He put BooBoo on the floor and stood up, evidently ready to Escape and Evade. “Settle down,” he said, putting the chair between them.

  “Settle down, my ass! Damn it, where’s my butcher knife?” She looked around in frustration. If she had only lived here longer, she would know where she had put everything!

  He came out from behind the chair, around the table, and had a firm grip on both her wrists before she could remember which drawer held her cutting knives. “You owe me fifty cents,” he said, grinning down at her as he pulled her against him.

  “Don’t hold your breath! I told you I wouldn’t pay when it’s your fault.” She blew her bangs out of her eyes so she could glare at him more effectively.

  He bent his head and kissed her.

  Time stood still again. He must have released her wrists, because her arms slid around his neck. His mouth was hot and hungry, and he kissed the way no man should kiss and still be allowed to run free. His scent was as warm and musky as sex, filling her lungs, permeating her skin. He put one big hand on her bottom and lifted her off her feet, aligning their bodies more completely, groin to groin.

  The long skirt hampered her, preventing her from wrapping her legs around him. Jaine arched in frustration, almost ready to cry. “We can’t,” she whispered when he raised his mouth a fraction of an inch.

  “We can do other things,” he murmured in reply, sitting down with her across his lap, tilted back across his supporting arm. Deftly he slipped his hand inside the scooped neckline of her sweater.

  She closed her eyes in delight as his rough palm scraped over her nipple. He exhaled, a long, sighing sound; then it was as if they both held their breath as his hand shaped itself over her breast, learning her size and softness, the texture of her skin.

  In silence he withdrew his hand and pulled the sweater off over her head, then deftly unclipped her bra and pushed it off her shoulders to fall to the floor.

  She lay half-naked across his lap, her breath coming fast and shallow as she watched him looking at her. She knew her own breasts, but what were they like from a man’s point of view? They weren’t big, but were firm and upright. Her nipples were small and pinkish-brown, velvety soft and delicate compared to the rough fingertip he used to lightly circle one, making the aureole pucker even more tightly.

  Pleasure speared through her, making her clench her legs tightly together to contain it.

  He lifted her, arching her even more across his arm, and bent his head to her breasts.

  He was gentle, totally without haste. She was stunned by his caution now, given his rapacious kisses. He nuzzled his face against the underside of her breasts, kissing the curves, licking gently at her nipples until they were reddened and so tight they couldn’t possibly get any tighter. When he finally began sucking her with slow, firm pressure, she was so ready it was as if he had touched her with a live wire. She couldn’t control her body, couldn’t stop herself from arching wildly in his arms; her heart was thundering, her pulse racing so fast she was dizzy.

  She was helpless; she would have done virtually anything he wanted. When he stopped, it was by his own willpower, not hers. She could feel him shaking, his strong, powerful body quaking against her as if he were chilled, though his skin was hot to the touch. He sat her upright and pressed his forehead to hers, his eyes squeezed shut and his hands roughly stroking her hips, her bare back.

  “If I ever get inside you,” he said in a strained tone, “I’ll last, like, two seconds. Maybe.”

  She was crazy. She had to be, because two seconds of Sam sounded better than anything else she could bring to mind right now. She stared at him with glazed eyes and ripe, swollen mouth. She wanted those two seconds. She wanted them bad.

  He looked down at her breasts and made a sound halfway between a whine and a groan. Muttering a curse, he leaned down and snagged her sweater from the floor, pressing it to her chest. “Maybe you’d better put this back on.”

e I should,” she said, and her voice sounded drugged even to herself. Her arms didn’t seem to be working; they remained twined around Sam’s neck.

  “Either you put on the sweater, or we go to the bedroom.”

  That wasn’t much of a threat, she thought, when every cell in her body was saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” As long as she could keep her mouth from saying it, she was holding her own, but she was beginning to have serious doubts about holding him off for even a couple of days, much less a couple of weeks the way she had planned. Torturing him didn’t sound like nearly as much fun as it had before, because now she knew just how much she would also be torturing herself.

  He stuffed her arms inside the sweater and pulled it over her head, jerking the fabric into place. The sweater was inside out, she saw, but who cared? She didn’t.

  “You’re trying to kill me,” he accused. “I’m going to make you pay, too.”

  “How?” she asked with interest, leaning against him. The same thing that was wrong with her arms was also wrong with her spine; it wouldn’t hold her upright.

  “Instead of that half hour of thrusting time you claim you want, I’m going to stop at twenty-nine minutes.”

  She snickered. “I thought you were holding out for two seconds.”

  “That’s just the first time. The second time we’re going to set the sheets on fire.”

  It behooved her, she thought, to get off his lap. His erection was like an iron bar prodding her hip, and talking about sex wasn’t helping any. If she really, really didn’t want to go to bed with him now, she should get up. But she really, really did want to go to bed with him, and only a small portion of her brain was still cautious.

  That small portion, however, was insistent. She had learned the hard way not to assume happily-ever-after would happen for her, and just because they were hot for each other didn’t mean there was anything between them other than sex.

  She cleared her throat. “I should get up, shouldn’t I?”

  “If you have to move at all, do it slowly.”

  “That close, huh?”

  “Just call me Mount Etna.”

  “Who’s Edna?”

  He laughed, as she had intended, but the sound was strained. Gingerly she eased off his lap. He winced and awkwardly climbed to his feet. The front of his pants looked deformed, the way it was tented out. Jaine tried not to stare.

  “Tell me about your family,” she blurted.

  “What?” He looked as if he was having trouble following the change of subject.

  “Your family. Tell me about them.”


  “To get your mind off… you know.” She indicated the “you know” in question. “You said you have two sisters.”

  “And four brothers.”

  She blinked. “Seven. Wow.”

  “Yeah. Unfortunately, my oldest sister, Dorothy, was the third child. My folks kept trying to have another girl so she wouldn’t be the only one. They had three more boys trying to get Doro a sister.”

  “Where are you in the lineup?”


  “Are you a close family?”

  “Fairly close. We all live here in the state except for Angie, the baby. She goes to college in Chicago.”

  The diversion had worked; he looked a little more relaxed than he had a moment before, though his gaze still had a tendency to settle on her braless breasts. To give him something to do, she poured another glass of iced tea and handed it to him.

  “Have you ever been married?”

  “Once, about ten years ago.”

  “What happened?”

  “Nosy, aren’t you?” he said. “She didn’t like being a cop’s wife; I didn’t like being a bitch’s husband. End of story. She split for the West Coast as soon as the papers were signed. What about you?”

  “Nosy, aren’t you?” she threw back at him, then hesitated. “Do you think I’m a bitch?” God knows she hadn’t always been on her best behavior with him. Come to think of it, she’d never been on her best behavior with him.

  “Nah. You’re damn scary, but you aren’t a bitch.”

  “Gee, thanks,” she muttered; then, because fair was fair, she said, “No, I’ve never been married, but I’ve been engaged three times.”

  He paused with the glass halfway to his mouth and gave her a startled look. “Three times?”

  She nodded. “I guess I’m not very good at the man-woman stuff.”

  His gaze went back to her breasts. “Oh, I don’t know. You’re doing pretty good at keeping me interested.”

  “So maybe you’re a mutant.” She shrugged helplessly. “My second fiancé decided he was still in love with an ex-girlfriend, who I guess wasn’t all that ex, but I don’t know what happened with the other two.”

  He snorted. “They were probably scared.”

  “Scared!” For some reason, that hurt, just a little. She felt her lower lip wobble. “I’m not that bad, am I?”

  “Worse,” he said cheerfully. “You’re hell on wheels. You’re just lucky I like hot rods. Now, if you’ll put your clothes on right side out, I’ll take you out to dinner. How does a burger sound?”

  “I’d rather have Chinese,” she said as she went down the short hall to her bedroom.


  He muttered the reply, but she heard him anyway, and she was smiling as she closed her bedroom door and pulled off the red sweater. Since he liked hot rods, she was going to show him just how fast she could go. The problem was, he had to catch her.


  Corin couldn’t sleep. He got out of bed and turned on the light in the bathroom, checking in the mirror to make certain he was still there. The face that stared back at him was that of a stranger, but the eyes were familiar. He had seen those eyes look back at him for most of his life, but sometimes he was gone and they didn’t see him.

  An array of yellow medicine bottles were lined up, according to size, on the vanity so he would see them every day when he got up and remember to take his medication. It had been several days now—he couldn’t remember exactly how many—since he had taken the pills. He could see himself now, but when he took the pills, his thinking got clouded and he faded away in the mist.

  It was better, they had told him, if he stayed in the mist, hidden away. The pills worked so well that sometimes he even forgot he was there. But there was always a sense of something wrong, as if the universe were askew, and now he knew what it was. The pills might hide him, but they couldn’t make him go away.

  He hadn’t been able to sleep since he stopped taking the pills. Oh, he dozed, but real sleep eluded him. Sometimes he felt as if he were shaking apart inside, though when he held out his hands, they were steady. Was there something addictive in the pills? Had they lied to him? He didn’t want to be a drug addict; addiction was a sign of weakness, his mother had always told him. He couldn’t be addicted because he couldn’t be weak. He had to be strong, he had to be perfect.

  He heard an echo of her voice in his head. “My perfect little man,” she had called him, stroking his cheek.

  Whenever he failed her, whenever he was less than perfect, her wrath had been so overwhelming his world would threaten to come apart at the seams. He would do anything to keep from disappointing his mother, but he had kept an awful secret from her: sometimes he had deliberately transgressed, just a little, so she would punish him. Even now the thought of those punishments sent a thrill through him. She would have been so disappointed if she had guessed his secret delight, so he had always struggled to keep his pleasure hidden.

  Sometimes he missed her so much. She always knew just what to do.

  She would know, for instance, what to do about those four bitches who mocked him with their list for being perfect. As if they knew what perfection was! He knew. His mother had known. He had always tried so hard to be her perfect little man, her perfect son, but he had always fallen short, even on those times when he wasn’t misbehaving just a little, on purpose, so s
he would punish him. He had always known there was an imperfection in him that he would never be able to correct, that he always disappointed his mother on a basic level just by being.

  They thought they were so smart, the four bitches—he liked the way that sounded, the Four Bitches, like some perverted Roman deity. The Furies, the Graces, the Bitches. They tried to play it cute, hiding their identities by using A, B, C, and D instead of their names. There was one in particular he hated, the one who said, “If a man isn’t perfect, he should try harder.” What did they know? Had they ever tried to measure up to a standard so impossibly high only perfection could meet it, and fallen short every day of their lives? Had they?

  Did they know what it was like for him to try and try, yet know deep inside he was going to fail, until finally he learned to enjoy the punishment because that was the only way he could live with it? Did they know?

  Bitches like them didn’t deserve to live.

  He could feel that inner shaking again, and he wrapped his arms around himself, holding himself together. It was their fault he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about them, about what they said.

  Which one was it? Was it that bleached blonde, Marci Dean, who swished her ass in front of all the men like she was some goddess and they were nothing but dogs who would come running whenever she wanted? He had heard she would sleep with anyone who asked, but that most of the time she beat them to the punch. His mother would have been appalled at such trashy behavior.

  “Some people don’t deserve to live.”

  He could hear her whisper inside his head, the way she often did when he didn’t take the pills. He wasn’t the only one who disappeared when he took the medication the way they instructed; Mother disappeared, too. Maybe they went away together. He didn’t know, but he hoped so. Maybe she punished him for taking the pills and making her disappear. Maybe that was why he took the pills, so he and Mother could go away and … No, that wasn’t right. When he took the pills, it was as if he didn’t exist.

  He felt the thought slipping away from him. All he knew was that he didn’t want to take the pills. He wanted to find out which bitch was which. That sounded funny so he repeated it to himself, and silently laughed. Which bitch was which. That was good.

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