Nothing could be that good. Stacy pushed herself up against the headboard of the bed and raked her fingers through her hair, exhaling all of the air from her lungs. She hoped someone had gotten the number of the freight train that just knocked her totally senseless. There had to be a law. And it better be a felony.
Closing her eyes, Stacy leaned her head back against the cool smooth wood of the headboard, puffing her cheeks as she panted for breath and blinked her eyes.
If that was typical sex with this guy, then, mama lock the door and throw away the key.
She needed a cigarette: one of those long cigarettes in an even longer, classy cigarette holder with the smoke curling languidly, almost seductively up into the air. Didn't the great stars of the cinema always celebrate terrific sex by lighting up a cigarette afterwards? Geez, where was a prop man when you needed one? Stacy's vision blurred in the darkened hotel room as an image formed in her mind.
One arm casually tossed behind her head, her flowing blonde hair in careful disarray, Stacy placed the imaginary cigarette holder between her full, red, luscious lips and sucked gently, raising one eyebrow seductively at her paramour. Tossing the feather boa nonchalantly across her bare breasts, she blew a line of perfect heart-shaped smoke rings at him. "Peel me a grape, boy toy," she moaned hoarsely in her best Mae West imitation.
The illusion was so real that Stacy could almost smell the smoke. Opening her eyes, she sniffed. She did smell smoke. Startled, she patted the twisted bedding around her. Had their sex been so hot that they'd actually started the mattress on fire?
Jostled by her frantic movements, he seemed to struggle to open one eye and peer up at her from where he'd collapsed on the bed beside her. She couldn't help but sigh as she smiled down at him, even though she continued to pat around seeking the source of the smoke, now lightly visible in the room.
The heck with the smoke, Stacy decided as she looked at the long line of his back, his muscles gently bunching as he attempted to push himself up. She'd believed that after what they'd just accomplished she'd be satiated for life, but just looking at his dark, handsome face with those wonderfully punishing lips brought fresh desire to her core.
The smoke wasn't that thick yet, and she'd already made sure it wasn't actually coming from the bed. With only one goal in mind, she threw herself under his stretched arms, brought her arms up around his neck and captured his lips with hers. She felt him tense over her, then slowly he lowered himself as he began returning her kiss with renewed vigor. He growled deeply in this throat as he leaned on his elbows, giving freedom to his hands to slide over her breasts, molding them with his fingers while his thumbs brushed lightly against her nipples.
Stacy entwined her fingers in his long black hair as she raised her knees to his sides, welcoming him to come in for another visit. At the back of her mind, it shocked her that she could actually be so wanton, so uninhibited, so brazen. Even more than shock, the notion delighted her. There hadn't been that many men with whom she'd been intimate with in the past, and none of them had been able to bring out the primitive, base need to possess and be possessed the way this man did.
She could feel his length, hard and probing against her. He was a physical oddity...he had three feet, but only the one now probing toward her core was at least twelve inches long. Stacy remembered when she'd first glimpsed at it shyly. Had it only been a couple of hours ago now? Her first thought had been that no way was his "tab A" going to fit into her "slot B." Nature, of course, had proved accommodating. They fit together perfectly.
Already, Stacy could feel the pressure of her need rising in anticipation of the climax she knew he'd give her. The first time, she'd literally seen skyrockets burst in all their Technicolor glory in fiery reds, oranges and yellows as Doris Day crooned "Que Sera Sera." The second time, Luke hit the trigger and the Death Star exploded as she soared above the chaos. The third time, trains had collided in the sepia tones of a silent movie, as she lay tied to the tracks between them wonderfully helpless to even move out of their way
This time, Stacy was already imagining Kurt Russell running toward the fire truck as every bell, whistle and siren screamed out its warning. This was going to be a five-bell fire, calling on all her resources just to survive the ecstasy.
A pounding reached her ears. Nobody pounded on anything--well, except maybe each other--in Backdraft. Where was that pounding coming from?
"Everybody out!" called the voice through the door. "We've got a fire on the twelfth floor. No need to panic, just get out and get out fast!"
Before she could even groan in frustration, he was rolling off her. She pushed herself up on the bed and watched as he scrambled around on the floor, gathering up her clothes and tossing them at her. Her blouse hit her square in the face right after her bra had sailed over her head. Stacy shrugged--so much for propriety. She pulled on her blouse and started buttoning it, casually reaching out and fielding her undies and skirt with one hand as they nearly flew past her.
The thickening smoke in the room hastened her movements. She jumped off the bed, tossing her undies in the same direction her bra had flown. She slid into her skirt, watching him cross to the bathroom. Moments later, he reappeared, holding two drenched towels.
Stacy picked up her purse and shoes from the floor and headed for the door.
"Don't you think you better put something on? We wouldn't want anything vital burned off? And the sight of that is sure to cause heart attacks and envy," she shouted over the din of the alarms, pointing to his midsection with her purse.
He tossed her one of the towels and nodded. He grabbed his suit from the floor, stepping into it and pulling it up around his waist. He slid his arms into the sleeves and pulled the zipper up to his chin, before pulling the attached cap up over his head. Grabbing the towel and his briefcase, he headed toward the door, where Stacy was waiting for him.
In the ecstasy, glow and excitement of their lovemaking, Stacy had almost forgotten that she'd been seduced by a six-foot-plus pink rabbit. But, there he was in all his fuzzy glory.
"Put that towel over your nose and mouth and keep it there," he ordered in a deep, bass voice. "And if the smoke is too heavy in the hall, drop to the floor and crawl to the exit."
Stacy obeyed, following him out into the mass hysteria of the hallway. It was crowded with people fleeing the upper floors and seeking the quickest route down and out of the hotel. Bunny-boy reached back and grabbed her hand, pulling her in his wake as he moved quickly down the hall toward the stairway. The smoke was rolling over her head, thickening even as she repeatedly glanced up at it. She tightened her grasp on his hand as the people surging around them seemed determined to tear them apart.
She might have laughed at this if it were part of a movie. No one, in their haste to seek sanctuary from the fire, even seemed to notice that there was a tall, pink rabbit in their midst. But, she knew this was no laughing matter. The thicker the smoke became, the more hysterical the crowd around her became. Pushing. Shoving. Elbowing. Anything was fair game as each seemed single-minded in their determination to be one of the first out of the hotel.
Finally, they pushed through the door to the stairway. Like a herd of stampeding cattle, Stacy and the Bunny were propelled along, unable to stop even if they'd wanted to do something so stupid. Down one flight. Down the next. Even through the wet towel, Stacy was finding it difficult to breathe and kept nearly losing her grasp on his hand. Always, he reached back, tightened his hold and pulled her on. Down another flight. And another. The herd was increasing in size each floor they descended. A mass of moving humanity with but a single thought: survival. She couldn't recall that there'd been this kind of mass exodus in "The Towering Inferno." Then again, with the exception of Paul Newman, she couldn't quite recall if anyone else survived. Just a second...did he even survive?
Down two more flights of stairs. It was worse than a marathon. Stacy just wasn't in shape for this, but the ever-moving crowd wouldn't let her stop even for a second. Finally, they surged through the last doorway directly into a hallway leading to the lobby. The nearness of the safety of the street outside seemed to drive the mob even crazier. More shoving. More pushing. Only now it was worse.
As they were headed out, dozens of yellow-garbed firemen were streaming toward them, carrying all sorts of vicious, fire fighting apparatus. In a danse macabre, the rescuers pirouetted around those seeking rescue, raising axes and pikes over their heads. She glanced to her left just as a fireman accidentally jostled an elderly man who was grasping his chest. The man fell to the ground, just as another wave of people flew from the stairway door.
Without thinking of her own safety, Stacy let go of the Bunny's hand and turned. She jumped over the fallen man and stood facing the sea of panic-stricken people surging toward her. She didn't know what to do. It was likely that they'd just plow her over, trampling both of them to dust in their haste to get out.
Ripping the towel away from her face, Stacy bravely raised her hand toward them. "Stop!" she screamed at the top of her lung, praying that she'd be heard over the sirens and the screams. Amazingly, the crowd seemed to divide, coursing around each side of her. She took a glance behind her, seeing a paramedic kneeling beside the stricken man. With a sigh of relief, she turned back toward the crowd.
"Oh, crap," Stacy groaned, as she saw the man, fully resembling the biggest, meanest football player she'd ever seen, charging straight toward her. Protecting a briefcase tucked in front of him with one arm with his head down as he charged, he caught her square in the jaw with the arm he had extended to clear the field on his way to a touchdown out the front door of the hotel.
The impact caused Stacy to back-flip over both the stricken man and the paramedic. She landed roughly on the carpet, feeling its fibers burning her backside as she skidded to a halt against one of the couches in the lobby.
She shook her head, willing the double vision to retract. Instantly, another paramedic was at her side, pulling a small flashlight from his pocket.
"You okay," he hollered, shining the flashlight in her eyes.
She shook her head again. "Did you get the license number off that truck that just hit me?" she asked haltingly, as the darkness closing in on her mercifully made that damned shining light disappear.
He felt like a damned fool standing behind the hastily erected cordon intended to keep people back from the front of the hotel. If it was one thing Sam Jensen hated, it was feeling like a fool. He'd made it his life's mission to never appear foolish or awkward. And now he was both.
A bunny costume. It was ludicrous. He'd never wanted to wear it. Had only agreed because the town council was just sure that it would impress the travel agents attending this convention and bring visitors to the annual Easter Festival at Summer's Landing. At least the damn thing was warm enough to keep him comfortable outside in the slushy street on a January day in Chicago.
But, the council hadn't counted on the airline losing his luggage. And they'd never expected that some idiot bellhop would take the clothes he'd worn on the flight to Chicago for cleaning while he was down at the convention's reception chatting up the giggling female travel agents and having to listen to every crude rabbit joke guffawed over by the male agents. And when he knew he couldn't take it any longer and had returned to his room to change back into the clothes that he'd worn when he'd left home that morning, he discovered his jeans and sweatshirt were missing. Two phone calls and he'd discovered they were merrily agitating in the hotel's laundry room. Apologies and regrets meant nothing when it also meant that he'd have to return to the reception in that costume.
Yet, it had been upon his return that he'd seen her. Anger had lit her face, as she'd stood talking to some old guy with a bowling ball gut extending over his belt. It wasn't the belt holding up the guy's pants. The suspenders that he continually kept plucking away from his chest only to allow to snap back performed that function.
Whatever this guy had told her must have really been irritating. Though he couldn't hear their conversation, he could tell by the dangerous glint in her eyes and the heightened color in her cheeks that she was beyond anger. She evidently was listing off something, because with each thing she said, one long finger poked itself right in the guy's gut.
Sam told himself that he shouldn't be standing there, just staring at what was obviously a private moment between the two, but something compelled him to keep studying the exchange. It wasn't that she appeared all that differently than any of the dozens of other women in the room, all stylishly fitted out in tailored suits of various colors. Power dressing in the big city.
Evidently, she was attempting to control her emotions. She'd quit punching the guy with her finger and was standing with her arms wrapped around herself, impatiently tapping the toe of one red, stiletto shoe and shaking her head. If there was any truth to the notion of body language, hers wasn't just speaking; it was screaming at the top of its lungs.
As if she sensed that he was watching them, she glanced over at him. It was then that he saw what really set her apart from the other women in the room. She was stunningly beautiful with a face that would stop traffic. The electricity in that one glance sent a shock from the top of his floppy pink ears to the toes of his floppy bunny feet. The sensation was as if they'd slapped the paddles to his chest and sent ten thousand volts humming through his body, straight to his heart.
And it was over all too soon. The moment dissolved as she turned her attention back to the old guy. Whatever he'd said must have been shocking because she'd actually taken a step back. The shock hadn't lasted long. He watched as she'd reached forward, grabbed both suspenders in one hand and pulled back as far as they would extend. Elastic only has so much resilience. The suspenders snapped, breaking at the clasps fastened to his pants. As they began to fall toward the floor, she released the suspenders, reached forward and twisted the guy's nose.
Sam couldn't stop himself from laughing. In fact, he was still laughing as she spun on her toe and headed straight for him. She paused only briefly as she passed him.
"Hey there, Thumper," she'd called, low and husky. "Buy a girl a drink?"
"Umm...sure," he'd gulped, following her glance back toward the man she'd left, now frantically attempting to pull up his pants and tuck his shirt back in. Sam glanced at her. She raised her chin and looked defiantly back at her victim, as she slid her arm through his.
"Ice queen, indeed," she'd muttered. "Lower my standards. Bull..." Then she'd turned and smiled at him. The transformation dazzled him. "Let's go to the bar. I'm sure they have vintage carrot juice on ice."
Again Sam searched the crowd as the few remaining guests and employees pushed their way out of the building. She had to be here somewhere. Unfortunately, with a couple of hundred travel agents all dressed in the same bright red power suit, it was hard to tell them apart. Instead, he tried to concentrate only on those with blonde flowing hair--natural as he'd discovered. That cut the number down to dozens. And it seemed none of them wanted to turn toward him so he could see their face.
It didn't matter. He'd stand here until he found her. She was his, and he'd never rest until he convinced her of that notion. What they'd shared that afternoon in his room was like lightning. It never struck twice in exactly the same place or the same way. No two bodies could move in such exquisite harmony toward incredible fulfillment that weren't destined to be joined for all time. This was whom he'd waited for, while he'd endured the countless number of women back home who'd tried to entice him into their beds with the notion of luring him to the altar. Unfortunately, these had been the same women who'd ridiculed and laughed at him in school, too tall and too awkward to appear as anything but a fool to them.
Using his six-foot, five-inch height to its best advantage, Sam stood on his tiptoes again scanning the crowd for some sight of her. Impatience flooded his mind. He wanted to find her, get her away from here and convince her that love at first sight wasn't only possible, it was reality--at least when it came to them.
"Sir...sir, you're going to have to move aside. We have some people we need to transport to the hospital," an ambulance driver said, moving aside one of the sawhorses that formed the barricade.
Reluctantly, Sam stepped aside, barely glancing down as two paramedics wheeled a gurney past him. An elderly man, from the look of it, covered with a white sheet and with an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. Poor guy. Probably too much stress because of the fire.
Again, he scanned the crowd milling about behind the corridor while he kept glancing back at the doors of the hotel. Red suit. Long blonde hair. It nearly formed a mantra he repeated as he searched and searched the crowd. Two more paramedics pushed a gurney through the doors of the hotel. Another body draped with a white sheet, but this one had some sort of contraption fastened around their head. Poor soul. Probably trampled in the stampede and suffering head and neck injuries. It looked as if the paramedics needed to stabilize the victim's spine for the trip to the hospital.
As the gurney passed, Sam glanced down, cringing at what he saw. What little he could see of the person's face was swollen nearly beyond looking human and deeply bruised black and blue. He shook his head and glanced down. One hand dangled limply from under the sheet. Long, graceful fingers, each nail precisely manicured and painted red. A woman...even worse luck.
All thought of the woman on the gurney fled Sam's mind as he walked away, moving through the crowd as he searched for her, the woman of his destiny.
Her? She had to have a name, but names were the last things on their minds after they'd met. He'd believed he'd have all the time in the world to learn everything about her. He'd decided that as they reached the bar earlier. She stopped outside the door and looked up at him.
"Oh, the hell with a drink. Take me to your hutch, bunny boy. I'm in the mood for a bit of bunny hoppin'," she'd said, pulling him with her as she walked to the bank of elevators.
Normally, Sam wouldn't have appreciated the way she'd maneuvered him straight to his hotel room, solely for the purpose of what was probably only mindless, revenge sex. It was obvious that she'd only picked him just to irritate the guy who'd made her angry. This was not, however, a normal situation for Sam. Sure, he'd known his share of women. What guy these days reached thirty-three without having at least some experience? But, in some instinctive way, he knew that she wasn't the sort who easily fell into bed with anyone who obliged her needs.
The emotions still no doubt raging through her from her confrontation earlier was the motivation that led her to come on to him, he'd decided in the silent ride in the elevator up to his floor. He'd fully expected her to back out of her invitation once they were behind closed doors, and he would have honorably remembered his manners and allowed that. Of course, he'd also make sure that she'd give him the opportunity to become better acquainted.
Sam planned it all out carefully. They'd sit in his room and chat while they waited for his clothes to be returned from the laundry and then he'd take her out to dinner. As he slid the card through the lock on the door of his room, he was already planning to extend his trip to Chicago long enough to convince her that they were destined to be together. Summer's Landing could wait. His job as mayor was mostly ceremonial anyway. And as the owner of his own hardware store, he could afford to give himself a vacation if he wanted.
Yet, when they stepped into his room, she'd grabbed him and kissed him hard on the lips, almost as if she was proving something to herself. His lips still tingled from that first kiss, so electrifying that he wanted to memorize the feeling and never forget it.
Just as suddenly, she pushed him away, falling back against the wall and gasping for breath. He'd never forget that look in her eyes, a mix of surprise and delight.
"I can't do this," she'd said. "I'm not like this normally. I'm not a wham bam...
"Oh, damn...," she moaned and grabbed him again. "Maybe I am."
From that moment on, all he knew was the need of wanting to know more--of her body, her taste, her essence. It seemed the consummation of everything he'd been waiting his entire life for.
Standing on his tiptoes, Sam tried looking at each face. Searching and searching for the only face he wanted to see every day for the rest of his life. And if he had to stand on Michigan Avenue in a rabbit costume for the rest of his life, he'd find her.
Kayla reached over and twisted the plastic bracelet into view. "Yep, it says Anastasia Romanov Monroe. Funny, you don't look like my sister, though."
Stacy groaned, bringing her hand up to gently prod the swelling on her face. "He could have been a tight end for the Bulls. Kayla, he was huge." Her hand dropped as she peered at the bracelet. "Now why the heck did they have to put that on there?"
"Because it's your name, silly. Hey, at least you were named after the mysterious daughter of the czar of Russia. Look what they did to me...named after a character on a soap opera."
"That's only because it was Dad's turn to pick a name. You know how hooked on 'Days' he was back then." Stacy sighed. It was familiar territory between the sisters, neither thrilled with the names given them at birth. "Could have been worse. Either one of us could have been the youngest. How'd you like to go through life with what they picked for poor Rosie? Remember that was mom's time for obsessing over Italian movie directors. Rosselini Fellini Monroe. Now that's a handle."
"Ah, yes, her Italian period, preceded by her French era and followed by her present obsession with all things English," Kayla sighed, pushing Stacy's legs over to perch on the edge of the hospital bed. "You know, all it would take is a phone call and they'd fly back from London on the next jet."
"I know. But, Rosie has her heart set on attending Oxford. It must be her 'all things English' period, too. And I'll be fine. The bruises are already fading and the swelling's gone down bunches. I'll be out of here before you know it." Stacy smoothed the cool white sheet over her stomach and smiled. "And I can't wait to get home. If I could tap my heels together three times, I'd be there now."
"Don't rush it. Double concussions are nothing to take lightly. Besides, you won't be able to start looking for a new job until you begin resembling something human again anyway."
Stacy groaned and pulled the sheets up over her face. "Don't remind me. At least I won't have to start looking right away."
"So, Gruenwald came through? I'm surprised."
Stacy blew the sheet away from her face. "He didn't have a choice. There's a check for my full severance pay in the stand. Does the term sexual harassment come to mind? He knew he was out of line the other day threatening to fire me if I didn't slip away with him upstairs. Hell, I thought I was there to enjoy a convention, not that I would have anyway. But, I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed the feel of his grubby fingers on my fair skin."
There had been other hands, though. Gentle, strong hands who'd taken the raw materials of potential and sculpted them into a full feeling, fully giving woman of passion.
Stacy pushed the sheet away from her face and looked seriously at her sister. "Kay, I need to talk about something that did happen that day, though."
"Let's see, harassed and fired by your boss. Caught in a huge fire at the hotel. Knocked senseless by a halfback while trying to save a heart attack victim. Gee, which thing would you like to discuss?" Kay laughed softly.
"It was a tight end and it's none of those things." Stacy bit her bottom lip. "Kay, I know you're going to find this just as impossible as I have, but I think I fell in love that day."
She watched as Kay's mouth dropped open. A second later, her sister was grabbing her in a tight hug and bouncing on the bed.
"That's terrific, sis. You mean after kissing all those frogs that you finally found a prince?" Kay pushed Stacy back against the pillows, as she grinned ear to ear.
"Errr...well, actually, it was more like finding Peter Cottontail," Stacy admitted. "But, even if I...well, even if I ever saw him again, I'd never be able to face him. He has to have the worst impression of me in the world."
"Stacy, you're nuts. You're beautiful, friendly, smart, well-educated. Why would anyone form a bad impression of you?"
Stacy closed her eyes. Total honesty, even with the unconditional love of her sister, was never easy when she knew she'd done an incredibly stupid thing. Still, if confession was good for the soul, her soul was in for a total cleansing.
"Oh, maybe because I pulled him out of the reception, dragged him to his room, tripped and beat him to the floor in all of ten minutes," she admitted.
"Oooh," Kayla whistled. "Nice girls don't do that. Didn't you learn anything at Miss Bristol's School for Girls?"
"Oh, hello. I've lived nearly thirty years as a gleaming example of Miss Bristol's code of ethics for nice girls. Hell, I could probably be her poster child."
"Stacy, this is your sister. You're not going to tell me that you were a virgin until your great fall from grace."
"No, I wasn't. I'm not quite as pure as the driven snow. I've occasionally drifted. But, I'm not usually the sort to see a bunny and hop him first chance I get." Stacy looked out of the window at the gray sky.
"Bunny? You've lost me."
Stacy looked back at Kay. "Okay, Gruenwald hits on me. I tell him to take a long walk off a short pier preferably wearing a cement overcoat. Gruenwald starts punching all my buttons. First, he says that I'm a rich bitch who wouldn't know a good lay if it wiggled in her face. Real nice, huh? Then, he accuses me of being an 'ice maiden' who thinks that real men aren't good enough for me."
"Bozo the Buffoon said that! And you allowed him to live?"
Stacy giggled. "Well, let's just say he exposed himself for what he really is...a pig. I sort of helped that a little. But, it made me so damned angry that I wasn't thinking straight. I guess I wanted to prove to him that it wasn't all men, just him. So, I picked the least likely guy I'd ever be seen with right under Gruenwald's pudgy round nose to show him."
"And this is the guy you fell in love with? Was the sex that good?"
"Well, I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow description, if that's what you're asking. Pardon the pun. And the sex was not only the best sex I've ever had, it seems like the only sex I've ever had. Whatever fumbling around I did before was nothing--I repeat--nothing in comparison to this. I have never felt so connected in my life. Connected with myself. With him. Heck, with the entire universe."
"And this is bad how? Oh, I get it...the bunny references. What's wrong? Does the guy have these huge buckteeth or something? That's what orthodontists are for..."
"No, he's total jazz. He's Liam Neeson, Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson all rolled into one, with the charm of Cary Grant and humor of Robin Williams."
"Then just why was he the least likely guy anyone would ever expect to see you with?"
"Outside of the movie 'Harvey,' have you ever seen a better than six foot tall rabbit?" Stacy asked, again biting her lower lip. "He was dressed in a fuzzy pink bunny suit complete with floppy ears. There was a kid's birthday party down the hall from the reception. I think he probably just sort of stumbled in there by mistake."
Kayla threw her head back and laughed. "You know what they say, Stacy...Once you've done a rabbit, you've got a bad habit. What's the matter? Wasn't once enough?"
"Try three...no three and a half times. And Kayla, every time was better than the last. I kid you not."
"Umm, not to sound redundant here...but what's the problem. The guy's not surgically sewn into the suit is he?"
"It's not like he's got a bunny fixation, is it?"
"Oh, I understand. He's got a Mama Bunny and a litter of little ones at home...Oh gee."
"No. At least I don't think he does. I really don't know. See, the problem, Kayla, is the fact that I've fallen in love with this wonderful man and I know nothing about him. Kayla, I don't even know his name."