Title: Wicked Exposure
Series: Wicked Exposure, Book 1
Author: Katana Collins
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Romance
Nothing left to hide…
Sam McCloskey gripped the steering wheel with such force, he swore his fingers would have blisters when he finally released his hold. He had caught glimpses of Jessie at Cass’s funeral, but he had barely noticed how much she’d matured in the last ten years. All he saw the day of the service were the silent tears streaming down her face. The way her long, black eyelashes spiked around her amber eyes. Eyes that now bore experience, passion, and seduction rather than immaturity and childlike rebellion. And those tears—the way her chest quivered with silent sobs—it splintered a crack right into his stone heart. There were only two other times in their lives he had seen those tears spill down her face. Once was the first time she fell off her bike when they were kids. The second was her parents’ funeral.
His stomach lurched at the memory of her parents and he quickly pushed them away. Back into the recesses of his mind. There was no time or place in his life right now for regrets. Could he have handled shit better back when they were fifteen and her parents died? Of course. But, come on, he was fifteen. And cutting her off as a friend was better than her finding out the truth.
Why, oh why he thought that chasing her down the sidewalk today was a good idea was beyond him. Maybe it was a flash of momentary insanity. Or maybe he was lulled in by the sight of her graceful body running down the docks. Her svelte, lean muscles clenched from under that tight, white T-shirt. A shirt that he suspected looked completely conservative on a hanger in her closet—but on Jessie? Christ, it was practically X-rated; sheer and barely reaching above her navel. The strip of skin revealed there was taut, leading his eyes down to long, muscled legs. Runner’s legs.
“Dude! What’s the big deal?” Matt’s voice spiraled him back into the present. “It’s her job back home—and we need a new photographer. At least until we find someone more permanent.” Matt reached into the Tim Hortons bag, pulling out a crème-filled something or other and biting in. His eyes rolled back, and he let his head fall onto the headrest. With a mouth full of half-chewed food, he smacked his lips and gave a contented sigh. “Besides—if she has a job, there’s the chance she might decide to stick around for a while. Maybe even stay for good. Ever think about that?”
Sam raked a hand down his face, the skin smooth from his morning shave. He had thought of that. And that was exactly why he couldn’t let her get settled here. Not with a job. Not with a home. Nothing. And he certainly couldn’t tell Matt his reasons for not wanting to work beside Jessica “Wild” Walters. It was the one and only request Cass had of him before she died. Get Jessie out of Portland as quickly as possible.
“Jessie doesn’t want this coastal life. She made that perfectly clear years ago. She’d be miserable. New York was always her goal.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Matt said, wiping powder from his goatee. “Women hit a certain age and BAM! The only booties they want are the kinds that go on a baby’s feet. Less bars, more children.”
Sam snorted. That might be true of most women—but Jess was anything but typical. “Somehow, I doubt that’s Jessie’s intentions. She just needs to keep her head down and stay out of trouble.” Yeah fucking right.
“Wild Walters staying out of trouble? We’re talking about the same girl here, right?” Matt chuckled.
“Yeah,” Sam groaned. He’d barely spent ten minutes with the woman and already he was so hard he was piercing the base of the steering wheel. What the fuck was he thinking, inviting her to dinner? He shook his head back into reality. It was a tactic— that was it. He needed to get into Cass’s house. And a dinner with Jessie and maybe an invitation for coffee at her place after was a surefire way to get in the door.
He gulped. She looked so lost. So hollow. Those brown eyes of hers were once filled with electricity. But today, she looked vacant. And maybe—just maybe, he truly wanted to catch up with her. Make sure she was okay. A long breath pushed past his lips as he remembered how she made her way toward him at the graduation party years ago. Her stride had been slow, confident. Hella sexy. She was wearing some little halter dress that barely covered anything and she paused before him, a nearly empty bottle of something sweet and alcoholic in hand. Despite the fact that he was nearly a whole head taller than her, she dropped a shoulder confidently, fisted his shirt, and pulled his face down to hers. Pausing just before their mouths touched, she whispered, “I don’t want to hear any objections. This is happening. Tonight.”
Why the hell she would come on to him after what he did to her was far beyond his understanding. And as he was about to stop her—push her to arm’s length—she kissed him. She kissed him in a way that he never knew a kiss could be. Firm, but soft. Wet, but not sloppy. Her tongue thrust into his mouth and he groaned, lifting her onto his hips.
“Jessie,” he said. “Maybe we shouldn’t—”
“Shut up,” she moaned into his mouth. “And take me upstairs.”
And despite the warning signals that fired off in his brain, he did just that. Their one and only time together.
“Whatchya smilin’ about over there?” Matt asked with his own knowing grin.
“Your mom,” Sam shot back.
“Hooohooo!” Matt clapped his hands, laughing. “You’ve still got it bad for Jessie, huh? I knew it. I told Kelly and she told me there was no way, but I knew—”
“I do not have it bad for Jess. Hell, I barely know her anymore!”
“Uh-huh. Look at yourself, man. You’re beet red. I’ve never seen you blush at anything! Whatever happened to you two, anyway? You were best friends for years. Every girl wanted to be Jessie and every guy would have killed to have been in your shoes. It always seemed logical that you woulda ended up together.”
Sam sighed, pulling into the gas station. What happened to them? It was far too fucking complicated. And if he couldn’t explain to Jessie why he walked away, he sure as hell couldn’t tell Matt. Sam had a dark side, that’s what happened. A side to him that he couldn’t fucking forgive himself for, let alone ask another woman to forgive as well. But that night, that one night after graduation, hope sparked inside of him like a piece of flint catching a flame. But before the fire could set, Jess had tamped it out, leaving him alone and never looking back. But now, here she was, back in Portland; in her hometown where everything probably reminded her of her parents’ deaths and all that she had lost. Now with Cass’s death? Sam knew when Jessie left this time—it was for good. Nothing tied her to this town anymore. Sam’s chest tightened at the thought and yet—maybe that was exactly how it should be.
Jess opened the door to her sister’s home, stripping her layers as she walked to the upstairs bathroom. Fucking Sam. Did he think she couldn’t handle the job? The job she’d been doing for six years now in New York. Or was he afraid what would happen if they worked with each other? As if she was some horny teen who couldn’t keep her wits about her with him at her side.
Jess grunted, stomping around the guest room. Sam McCloskey, you are hot, but not that hot.
She passed Cass’s bedroom, the door still open from that morning. Jess swallowed and ducked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. She turned the water on and stepped into the steaming hot shower.
Maybe she should tell Sam about her sister’s stash. As a detective, he might be able to help. Jess snorted, sudsing up her hair. Sam’s idea of helping was playing protector. No—not protector— controller. Besides, whatever was going on in Cass’s life before she died couldn’t have been good. If there was one thing Jess had learned at the NYPD, it was that no one has a fake passport and stacks of cash for any legit reason. Whatever Cass had been into was bad news. Jess swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d be damned if she was gonna let anyone tarnish her sister’s legacy. Nope. She couldn’t tell Sam a damn thing. Not yet, at least.
An image of all that money in stacks below the floor flashed in her mind and she shifted under the steady stream of water. That was a shitload of money. Simply having it under this same roof with her was enough to cause Jess sleepless nights. What the hell are you supposed to do when you find stacks of cash in a dead family member’s home? The sudden burn for answers flared within her and Jess scrubbed the bar of soap over her body. As though this action would wash clean all that had happened in the last two weeks.
The water pattered across her heated flesh and she closed her eyes as the rivers of water streamed down her breasts and stomach. She fell against the tiled wall, letting her head rest there.
The last night she ever saw Sam was their graduation party. They were eighteen years old and she was still a virgin. Begrudgingly so. And of all the people in the world, she didn’t want to lose it drunkenly to some douchebag in college. No, she wanted someone she cared about. And despite the crazy three years she and Sam had had, she knew he still cared about her.
She had worn a blue pleather miniskirt and a halter top—instead of the sweet summer dress Cass had bought for her. Her sister had been furious; embarrassed. All the other families had lovely photos of their kids posing demurely. Cass had a picture of Jessie giving the middle finger to everyone as she received her diploma. Cass screamed at her after the ceremony, telling her to get the hell out of the house that night and not come back until morning, something Jess had already planned on doing, regardless.Jess closed her eyes, remembering the feel of his hands on her soft skin. The way he tugged her skirt down and untied her top. He had always been a guy who knew what he wanted; he was her first kiss where she felt as though it was actually a man kissing her and not some teenage boy fumbling up her shirt. He was direct, but not pushy. Confident, not arrogant. And Jess had wanted every bit of him. She’d wanted him for four years and every time he ignored her passing glances in the hallway— every time he left a party she had arrived to—it chipped away at her already broken heart. Until finally it was unfixable. But that night—it was his party. He couldn’t leave his own damn party. And Jess was determined to convince him. To look him in the eyes and do exactly what she had wanted to do for four years. And with a little bit of liquid courage, she was able to do just that graduation night. Jess kept her eyes closed, trailing her hand down her body as her mind wandered back to that night...
Kensington © 2015 Katana Collins
Katana Collins splits her time evenly between photographing boudoir portraits and writing steam-your-glasses romances. In addition to navigating life as a small business owner, a first-time homeowner, and a newlywed, she is the author of the Soul Stripper trilogy and the graphic novel Cafe Racer, co-written with her husband Sean Murphy. She and her comic book artist husband commute back and forth as they please between Brooklyn and Portland, Maine, with their ever-growing family of rescue animals. She can usually be found hunched over her laptop in a cafe, guzzling gallons of coffee, and wearing fabulous (albeit sometimes impractical) shoes.