How did that old song go? If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with
Not that Tess Gentry actually loved a man. But lust? Definitely. When the itch hit, she found a man to scratch it. Maybe that small kernel of emptiness in the pit of her stomach never reached fulfillment, but at least her body felt sated, if only temporarily. And with the massive amount of prickling going on lately, if she didn't get a hold of a male soon, she just might spontaneously combust into a smoldering pile of ash.
Which was why she'd accepted Matt's invitation to visit one of the local bars in town. Who better to assuage this unprecedented ache then a man she'd not only grown up with, but dated in high school?
Unfortunately, it wasn't happening. She couldn't even work up enough interest to, well, be interested. It was like ordering a nice, thick, juicy rib-eye and getting a plate full of Spam.
What had she been thinking? She'd vowed no more senseless sex. After years of hopping from one man to another, hoping to ease the restless hungry that threatened her long-learned composure, she promised the next time would only be with the right man, and that man most definitely wasn't Matt West. The right man made her tingle with just a look, made her heart leap every time she saw him, and frankly, that wasn't Matt. Mostly his touch just made her want to throw up.
His hands felt wrong, he smelled wrong and for some reason a feeling of guilt crashed over her. Try as she might, she could not get Caleb Bennett, the brawny and too hot sheriff of Woodcliff, Colorado, out of her head.
Now that Caleb popped back in her brain -- again -- she couldn't help but remember the first time they'd met.
Just over a week ago Tess had pulled her new Nissan Pathfinder to a halt outside her mom's house and was struck dumb at the sight that greeted her.
An astonishingly handsome man straightened and turned from the trunk of her mother's car, grocery bags in hand. Faded jeans hugged his hips and muscled thighs. A long-sleeved flannel shirt was tucked into his pants, baring a gun to Tess's view, giving her a shock until she realized a badge was also clipped to his waist.. A narrow face emphasized strong bones stretched taut under golden tanned skin. Soft lines fanned out from his dark, deep-set eyes, giving her the uncomfortable feeling of drowning. At that moment, with his intent gaze directed at her, a welcoming smile on his face, the wind picked up, catching his dark brown hair and ruffling it against his collar.
She'd sucked in a hard breath, her palms going damp with nerves. Unused to feeling uneasy, Tess had, in her defense, acted cooler than normal, even causing her mom's brow to raise in question. She'd worked long and hard to control herself and her responses, to never give in to her temper and dark desires. Those urges were locked down tight, impenetrable.
Then Caleb touched her hand and the jolt of electricity nearly fried all her nerve endings. She could feel her internal locks breaking, and something sinful and decadent sprang free, shocking the hell out of her. When his nostrils flared and his eyes widened, melting into a deep amber of predatory intent, Tess realized he was a wolf. One of those possessive, fickle, and chauvinistic wolves she'd grown up and lived among for the first eighteen years of her life. Her father was one of the worst, until he divorced her mother and ran off with his new found mate.
After that devastation Tess began to erect barriers, showing only what she wanted the world to see and never what truly churned deep inside. She became a cool, sophisticated young woman who knew what she wanted and didn't bother with the rest. As soon as she'd graduated high school she'd fled, seeking a life that did not include shapeshifters..
Then just a few months back, her mother, Ruth, had been diagnosed with a brain aneurism and stalled on having surgery. Tess and her sister, Kaylie, coordinated a quick trip home to talk with their mom, confer with doctors and set a date. Shortly after, Tess made the decision to quit her job as a model instead of taking a leave of absence. She sold her upscale condo in New York, along with most of her belongings, and moved home to care for her mom..
The choice to leave the modeling industry she'd worked in for the last seven years hadn't been as difficult as she'd thought. Though at twenty-eight she still had a few good years left, being wanted for her face and body had become tiresome and more than a little aggravating. Physicality was only part of her makeup and she wanted more. Always that urge wrestled in her chest to seek out that unidentified something that would sate her, whether it was physical, intellectual or spiritual, and she was tired of settling.
Now without the long hours of travel, work and superficially socializing to provide a distraction, she was going crazy. She was bored, edgy, and worried about her mother's health and her own sanity. She needed to figure out her own future and at the same time stomp this irritating arousal into submission before she exploded.
She sighed, imagining Caleb's clear chocolate-brown eyes and felt a responding warmth creep up her body. Then she shook her head hard because Caleb wasn't the right man either. He couldn't be. The sheriff was a wolf. Albeit a gorgeously built hunk of male virility that made all of Tess's girl parts stand up and praise the Lord, but he still turned furry once a month. Fate could be so cruel.
With a sigh of frustration, Tess opened her eyes and stared out the driver's side window. Matt, aka Spam, mistook the sound for encouragement and moved his hand to cover her breast. He gripped the soft mound of flesh hard enough to make her wince.
"Matt, stop," Tess said firmly and pushed hard on his shoulders. "I can't."
The cloth seat of his Camry groaned as Matt shifted and pulled back. His boyishly handsome face was flushed with arousal but his eyes narrowed with impatience. "What the hell are you talking about? You came out with me knowing full well what I expected."
She frowned. Evidently they both had thought the same thing only Tess couldn't follow through. Now she had to finagle a way out without hurting Matt's feelings. " I'm just not ready, Matt. I'm sorry..."she began in a calm tone but he cut her off.
"Sorry? You're sorry and that's supposed to be acceptable?"
She eyed him warily for a moment. "It is acceptable for either party to say no".
"Since you're the one saying no, of course you'd spout that nonsense. But I know what you really want so don't try and deny it. You want my dick."
Her mouth dropped open. "Jesus Matt. We've known each other for twenty years. You know I'm not a tease."
"This isn't new to you Tess. We've been together before."
She could feel the cold cloak of protection wrap her in familiar detachment. "That was in high school. Taking my virginity then doesn't give you the right to attack me now."
His face tightened, twisting his passable features into bitter resolve. "You left me. You owe me another chance."
"You idiot." The angrier she got, the colder she felt. Her hazel eyes turned hard and icy. "You were too busy making the rounds with every willing female for me to owe you anything."
He sneered, and it wasn't pretty. "Is that what this is? Some sort of punishment for cheating on you?"
"No, Matt. This is about right here and now. This is about me telling you no."
He grabbed her wrists and yanked roughly. "I don't think so. I've heard the stories about you, and I know how insatiable you were in high school. We both know you're going to put out so drop the act."
This was more than alcohol and pride talking, it was plain stupidity.
Before she could formulate a response, or palm-in-the-nose offensive action, the driver's side door was thrown open. A massive hand reached down, clamped around Matt's neck and tossed him out of the car in one blurring motion.
Tess was left eyeing the torso and legs of a big male dressed in jeans, flannel top, and gun holster. She grimaced. She didn't need to see the sheriff's badge clipped to his waist to know that muscled physique.
"Get out of the car, Tess." The words that came from his unseen mouth were quiet and measured. Either he thought she was drunk, or he was pissed. From the guttural tone she was going with the latter.
Pursing her lips in resolve, she took a moment to gather her composure. Then she snatched her purse from the floorboard and swung her legs out of the car.
"Good evening, Sheriff," she said smoothly as she eyed him over the roof of the car.
The moon gave off enough light to reveal large hands clenched into fists. Twin muscles ticked madly in his strong jaw. Anything else she might have added stuck in the back of her throat. Who knew brown eyes could look so cold? They practically drilled into the back of her skull. "Get in the truck." The air steamed with his breath.
At his command she narrowed her eyes. When she didn't move fast enough, he growled. "Now."
She straightened to her full height, an impressive five feet eleven inches. "I think I'll walk from here." The road she stood on was in fact part of her very long driveway. Although the outside temperature hit near freezing, the exercise and self-berating would keep her warm.
A moan cut into the silent night and Tess moved around the car to see Matt sitting on the snowy ground, rubbing a hand over shoulder. "What the hell, Sheriff?"
Never taking his eyes off Tess, Caleb answered. "Go home, Matt, and be glad I don't haul you in for attempted rape."
"What?" Matt blinked at Caleb and then up at Tess.
"You heard me." The tone was so cold that Tess was amazed icicles didn't form around the sheriff's lips. "Leave before I change my mind." He stabbed a finger at Tess, pointed to his truck and then stalked to the driver's side.
Very briefly she thought about ignoring his directive and taking off on foot, but the idea of him coming after her and possibly throwing her over his shoulder made her cringe. That would just be the icing on the cake of humiliation.
Just to be difficult, knowing from experience that shifters had little patience, she gave one long look down her road before walking to Caleb's truck.
As she climbed in Matt's voice reached her ears in a disgruntled whine. "Tess, how could you?"
Caleb shot a deadly glare at the man as he shifted into drive and peeled out.
The cab was warm and quiet and full of the sheriff's scent, much like a forest after a rainstorm. It wrapped her in a sensual embrace, making her palms damp. She wanted to drown in his scent, rub her body along his until he covered her, filled her thick and full, until she could no longer think and only feel. Her heart raced at the erotic thoughts.
What is wrong with me?
She squeezed her thighs together, trying to hold back the instant arousal a moment too late. Her panties were already damp, damn it. She managed enough spit to swallow and prayed for a casual tone. "Thank you for the ride home."
Leather creaked and she caught his gloved hands tightening on the steering wheel. "What the hell were you thinking?"
She kept her eyes forward. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Being with West?"
"I simply went out with an old friend." No way was she going to tell Caleb of her original intentions to use Matt as a substitute for Caleb. She felt stupid enough as it was.
"Oh, really? And is that how old friend's treat each other?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. "I can take care of myself."
"It sure didn't look like it to me."