Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard


  He lifted the arm covering his eyes and turned his head to glare at her. “I knew you were trouble the first time I saw you.”

  “What do you mean, trouble?” She sat up, glaring back at him. “I am not trouble! I’m a very nice person except when I have to deal with jerks!”

  “You’re the worst kind of trouble,” he snapped. “You’re marrying trouble.”

  Considering three men had already found better things to do than marry her, that wasn’t the most tactful comment he could have made. It was especially hurtful coming from a man who had just given her three explosive orgasms. She snatched up the pillow and whacked him on the head with it, then bolted out of bed.

  “I can take care of that problem for you,” she said, fuming as she searched the dark bedroom for her bra and shirt. Damn it, where was the light switch? “Since I’m so much trouble, I’ll stay on my side of the driveway and you can stay the hell on your side of the driveway!” She was shouting by the time she was finished. There—that white blur might be her bra. She swooped down on it and picked it up, but it was a sock. A smelly sock. She threw it at him. He swatted it aside and lunged out of bed, reaching for her.

  “What did you do with my damn clothes!” she bellowed at him, evading his outstretched hand and storming around the room in the dark. “And where’s the damn light switch?”

  “Would you settle down!” he said, sounding suspiciously as if he were snorting with laughter.

  He was laughing at her. Tears stung her eyes. “Hell, no, I won’t settle down!” she shouted, and swung toward the door. “You can keep the damn clothes, I’ll walk home naked before I stay here with you another minute, you insensitive jerk—”

  A hard-muscled arm locked around her waist and sent her airborne. She shrieked, arms flailing; then she bounced on the bed and the air left her lungs with a “whoof.”

  She had time to suck in just a little air before Sam landed on her, his heavy weight flattening her and forcing another exhalation. He was laughing as he subdued her with ridiculous ease; in five seconds flat she couldn’t wiggle anything.

  To her astonishment and rage, she discovered he had another erection; it throbbed against her closed thighs. If he thought she would open her legs for him again after—

  He shifted, expertly pressed with his knee, and her legs opened anyway. Another shift and he slid smoothly inside her, and she wanted to scream because he felt so good and she loved him and he was a jerk. Her lousy luck with men was still holding.

  She burst into tears.

  “Ah, babe, don’t cry,” he said soothingly, moving gently inside her.

  “I will if I want to,” she sobbed as she clung to him.

  “I love you, Jaine Bright. Will you marry me?”

  “No way in hell!”

  “You have to. You owe me your next paycheck for all the cussing you’ve done tonight. You won’t have to pay up if we get married.”

  “There’s no rule like that.”

  “I just made one.” He framed her head with his big hands and stroked her cheeks with his thumbs, wiping away the tears.

  “You said shit.”

  “What else is a man supposed to say when he sees his glorious bachelor days coming to a swift and ignominious end?”

  “You’ve been married before.”

  “Yeah, but that didn’t count. I was too young to know what I was doing. I thought fucking was the same as loving.”

  She wished he would be still. How could he carry on a conversation while doing what he was doing to her? No—she wished he would shut up, and keep doing exactly what he was doing, except maybe a little faster. And a little harder.

  He kissed her temple, her jaw, the almost-dent in her chin. “I always heard that sex was different with a woman you loved, but I didn’t believe it. Sex was sex. Then I got inside you and it was like sticking my cock in an electrical outlet.”

  “Oh. Was that what all that shaking and yelling was about?” She sniffled, but she was paying attention.

  “Smart-ass. Yeah, that’s what it was about, not that I was the only one doing some shaking and yelling. It was different. Hotter. Stronger. And when it was over, I wanted to do it all over again.”

  “You did do it all over again.”

  “That proves it, then. For God’s sake, I’ve already come twice and here I am hard again. That’s either a fucking miracle, no pun intended, or it’s love.” He kissed her mouth, slowly and deeply, using his tongue. “Watching you throw a temper tantrum always gets me hard.”

  “I don’t throw tantrums. Why is it when a man gets mad, he’s aaangry, but when a woman gets mad, it’s just a tantrum?” She paused, struck by what he’d said. “Always?”

  “Always. Like when you knocked over my trash can, then yelled at me and poked me in the chest.”

  “You were hard?” she asked in astonishment.

  “As a rock.”

  She said wonderingly, “Well, son of a b—gun.”

  “So answer my question.”

  She opened her mouth to say “yes,” but caution made her remind him, “I don’t do really well with engagements. Gives the guy too much time to think.”

  “I’m skipping the engagement part. We’re not getting engaged; we’ll just get married.”

  “In that case, yes, I’ll marry you.” She turned her face into his throat and inhaled the heat and scent of his body, thinking that if the perfumers of the world could bottle whatever it was Sam had, the female population would be in perpetual heat.

  He growled in frustration. “Because you love me?” he prompted.

  She smiled, her lips moving against his skin. “Crazy, wild, absolutely, insanely in love with you,” she affirmed.

  “We’ll get married next week.”

  “I can’t do that!” she said in horror, drawing back to stare up at him as he loomed over her, slowly moving back and forth, back and forth, like seaweed floating on the tide.

  “Why the hell not?”

  “Because my parents won’t be back from vacation for … I’ve lost count of the days. About three weeks, I think.”

  “Can’t they come home early? Where are they, anyway?”

  “Touring Europe. And this is Mom’s dream vacation, because Dad has Parkinson’s, and even though the medication really helps, he’s gotten a little worse lately and she was afraid this would be their last chance. He was always too busy before he retired to get away for that length of time, so this is special to both of them, you know?”

  “Okay okay We’ll do it the day after they get home.”

  “Mom won’t even be unpacked!”

  “Tough. Since we aren’t getting engaged, we can’t do the big church wedding thing—”

  “Thank God,” she said feelingly She had gone through that experience with number two, the bastard, with all the expense and planning and trouble, only to have him back out at the last minute.

  He heaved a sigh of relief, as if he had been afraid she would say she wanted a big wedding. “We’ll have everything ready to go. All your parents will have to do is show up.”

  Jaine had been doing a really good job concentrating on the conversation while he was doing what he was doing, and she was impressed out of her skull that he could keep up his side of the conversation under these circumstances, but her body suddenly reached the point of no return. She gasped, her hips rising convulsively against him.

  “We’ll talk later!” she said hoarsely, grabbed his butt, and pulled him hard into her.

  They didn’t talk at all for quite a while.

  Jaine stirred, yawning. She would have been content to lie in his arms all night long, but a sudden thought made her bolt upright. “BooBoo!”

  Sam made a noise halfway between a grunt and a groan. “What?”

  “BooBoo. He must be starving! I can’t believe I forgot about him.” She scrambled out of bed. “Where’s the light switch? And why don’t you have any bedside lamps?”

  “Beside the door, right side. Why wou
ld I need bedside lamps?”

  “For reading.” She swept her hand along the wall, found the switch, and flipped it up. Bright light flooded the room.

  Sam shielded his eyes, blinking, then flopped over on his stomach. “I read in the living room.”

  Her own eyes took a minute to adjust. When they did, her pupils widened at the wreck they had made of the bed. The covers were twisted and hanging off, the pillows were—where were the pillows?—and the bottom sheet was pulled free at one corner and wadded in the middle of the bed. “Holy cow,” she said in astonishment, then shook herself and looked around for her clothes.

  Sam opened his eyes and propped up on one elbow, his dark eyes both sleepy and intent as he watched her search the room. She found her shirt tangled in the bedcovers. She got down on her knees to peer under the bed for her bra; he scooted closer so he’d have a better view of her backside waving in the air.

  “How on earth did it get under the bed?” she fussed, dragging the bra out of its hiding place.

  “Crawled,” he suggested.

  She gave him a quick grin and looked around. “And my pants are …?”

  “In the living room.”

  She went into the living room, turned on a lamp, and was in the process of untangling her pants when Sam wandered in, stark naked and carrying a pair of sneakers. Jaine didn’t bother with her bra, but slipped into her panties, then pulled on her shirt and pants. Sam stepped into his jeans and pulled them up, then sat down and put on the sneakers.

  “Where are you going?” she asked.

  “Walking you to your door.”

  She opened her mouth to say that wasn’t necessary; then she remembered it was necessary, at least for now. She put on her shoes, stuffed her bra in her purse, then gathered up her shopping bags. Sam slid his pistol out of its holster, holding it in his right hand. “Give me your key and stay behind me,” he said.

  She dug her key chain out of her purse, selected the house key for him, and handed it over.

  The rain had stopped, leaving the night warm and humid. Crickets chirped, and at the end of the street the corner light wore a misty halo. They crossed both driveways and went up the steps to the kitchen door. Sam tucked the pistol in his waistband while he unlocked the door; then he returned the keys to her and drew the pistol once more. He opened the door, reached inside, and flipped on the light switch.

  He uttered a vicious curse. Jaine blinked at the destruction illuminated by the overhead light, then she screamed, “BooBoo!” and tried to lunge past Sam. He blocked her with an out-thrust arm, turning so that his big body barred the entrance. “Go to my house and call nine-one-one,” he barked. “Now!”

  “But BooBoo—”

  “Go!” he yelled, giving her a shove that almost sent her flying off the stoop. Then he wheeled and stepped into the house.

  He was a cop; she had to trust him in this. Her teeth chattering, she ran back to his house and into the kitchen, where she knew he had a cordless. Grabbing it up, she punched the talk button, then 911.

  “Where are you calling from?” The voice was impersonal and almost uninterested.

  “Uh—next door.” Jaine closed her eyes. “I mean, I’m calling from my next door neighbor’s. My house has been ransacked.” She gave her own address. “My neighbor is a cop, and he’s going through the house right now.” Carrying the phone, she walked out on the front porch, staring across the driveways at her little house, where lights now blazed from two of the windows. As she watched, the light in her bedroom came on. “He’s armed—”

  “Who is?” The dispatcher sounded suddenly alarmed.

  “My neighbor is! Tell the police if they see a half-naked man with a gun, don’t shoot, he’s one of them!” She took a deep breath, her heart pounding so hard she thought she would be sick. “I’m going over there.”

  “No! Ma’am, don’t go over there. If your neighbor is a policeman, stay out of his way Ma’am, are you listening?”

  “I’m here.” She didn’t say she was listening. Her hand was shaking, clattering the phone against her teeth.

  “Stay on the phone, ma’am, so I can keep the responding officers up-to-date on the status. Units have already been dispatched to your address; they’ll be there in a few minutes. Just be patient, please.”

  She couldn’t be patient, but she could be sensible. She waited on the porch, tears tracking down her face as she stared unblinkingly at her own house, where Sam was methodically searching it and putting his life in danger every time he entered a room. She didn’t dare think about BooBoo. The dispatcher said something else but she had stopped listening, though she did make a noise to let the woman know she was still there. In the distance she could hear the shrill of sirens.

  Sam stepped out on the kitchen stoop, BooBoo cradled in his left arm.

  “BooBoo!” Jaine threw down the phone and ran across to them. Sam let her take the cat from him, then he tucked the pistol in his waistband.

  “Whoever did it didn’t hang around,” he said, putting his arm around her and urging her back toward his house.

  With BooBoo safe and disgruntled in her arms, she dug in her heels. “I want to see—”

  “Not yet. Let the techs do their job first, maybe find something that will give us a clue who this bastard is.”

  “You went in—”

  “And I was careful not to disturb anything,” he said, exasperated. “Come on, let’s sit down. The guys will be here in a minute.”

  She remembered that she had thrown the phone aside. She picked it up and handed it to him. “Nine-one-one is still on the line.”

  He put it to his ear, but kept a firm grip on her while he succinctly outlined the situation and said the house was clear, then disconnected. He put both arms around Jaine—and BooBoo—and held her close.

  “Where did you find BooBoo?”

  “He was hiding under that shelf thing in the hallway.”

  She stroked the cat’s head, so grateful he was all right that she almost cried again. Her mom would never forgive her if anything happened to BooBoo.

  “Do you think it was him?” she asked Sam, her voice low.

  He was silent for a moment. The sirens were much closer now, the sound growing louder and louder in the still night air. As two cars turned the corner onto their street, Sam said, “I can’t afford not to think it.”

  twenty-two

  Lights were coming on up and down the street, heads poking out of doors, as Sam and Jaine went to meet the patrolmen. “Detective Donovan,” said one of the patrolmen, grinning. “So you’re the half-naked man we were told not to shoot.”

  Sam scowled down at Jaine. She cuddled BooBoo closer. “You’re carrying a pistol,” she explained. “I didn’t want them to shoot you by mistake.”

  Sadie and George Kulavich came down their sidewalk and stood peering at the flashing lights. They were both wearing robes over their nightclothes; Mr. Kulavich wore bedroom slippers, but Mrs. Kulavich had put on rain boots. Mrs. Kulavich craned her neck, then came closer. Across the street, Jaine could see Mrs. Holland come out her front door.

  Sam heaved a sigh. “I checked the house,” he said to the patrolmen. “It’s been trashed, but no one is in there. You guys take over while I go put on a shirt.”

  Mrs. Kulavich had edged close enough to hear him. She beamed at him. “Don’t bother on my account,” she said.

  “Sadie!” Mr. Kulavich said in rebuke.

  “Oh, hush, George! I’m old, not dead!”

  “I’ll remind you of that the next time I want to watch the Playboy Channel,” he growled.

  Sam coughed and strode into his house, keeping his pistol held low against his leg so their bright-eyed old neighbors wouldn’t spot it and get too excited.

  Jaine became aware of the speculation in the neighbors’ eyes as they studied her. She remembered that she hadn’t put on her bra, and her silk shirt probably made that fairly obvious. She didn’t look down to check, just kept BooBoo cradled to her chest.
She didn’t reach up to check her hair, either, because she knew it was a mess. The rain had wet it, then she had wallowed in bed with Sam for a couple of hours; it was probably sticking out in spikes. Given Sam’s state of undress … well. She imagined the conclusion they were jumping to was pretty damn accurate.

  Thinking about the neighbors was easier than thinking about her house.

  After her first horrifying glimpse of the kitchen, she didn’t know if she wanted to see the rest of the house. This, coming so soon after the trauma of Marci’s death, was almost more than she could bear, so she concentrated on other things, such as the way Mrs. Kulavich winked at her when Sam came out of the house wearing a neat oxford shirt with the tails tucked into his jeans and his badge clipped to his belt. She wondered if he had put on underwear.

  “Are you official?” she asked, eyeing the badge.

  “Might as well be. I’m on the scene, and we’re all on call after eleven.”

  She gaped at him. “After elev—what time is it, anyway?”

  “Almost midnight.”

  “Poor BooBoo,” she said in horror. “Could you try to find some of his food and let me have a can, so I can feed him?”

  Sam looked down at her, the expression in his dark eyes telling her he knew she was avoiding facing the reality about her house, but also saying that he understood. “Okay, I’ll find something for him.” He glanced over at Mrs. Kulavich. “Sadie, why don’t you and Eleanor take Jaine in my house and put on a pot of coffee, okay?”

  “Of course, dear.”

  With Mrs. Kulavich and Mrs. Holland flanking her, Jaine went back inside Sam’s house and into the kitchen. She put BooBoo down and looked around with interest, since this was the first time she had seen much of the house. Before, they hadn’t bothered to turn on a light until she was getting dressed, so she had seen the bedroom and the living room, both of which were furnished with only the essentials. The kitchen, like hers, had a small table and four chairs occupying one end of it, and the stove was about twenty years old. The refrigerator, though, looked brand new, and so did the coffeemaker. Sam had his priorities.

  Mrs. Kulavich efficiently prepared the coffee and turned on the machine. Jaine became aware of a pressing need. “Um … do you know where the bathroom is?”

 
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