"Stupid question," Carter said self-derisively. "That's fiction. Anything can happen that you say happens."
He gave his mind free rein. Had he been Gregory, the hero, instead of Carter Madison, a decent enough fellow who usually obeyed his conscience, he'd have followed the winsome Ms. Fairchild into her kitchen. The moment he saw her nipples straining against the front of her robe, he'd have reached across the table and covered one with his palm, massaging it with a slow, measured circular motion until it was as round and hard as a pearl.
This is lunacy, Carter, his conscience warned him. It doesn't matter. This is fantasy, that's all, his libido argued back. Besides you can't be hanged for what you're thinking.
Gregory would have swept the table clear with one fell swoop of his hand, grabbed her up and--
No, no, no. That's got no finesse. No class.
The floor? Too cold. Again, no class.
Wait, I've got it! He'd have slowly drawn her to her feet. She'd have been shy, reluctant, and put up a temporary show of resistance. But as soon as his lips met hers, she'd have molded against him. His arms would have closed tight around her. Kissing her intimately, sliding his tongue into her mouth like a sword into its sheath, he'd have backed them to the counter, where he'd have lifted her up. She would have murmured a sigh of protest when he untied the robe, but she would have allowed it. Then slowly his hands would part it and he'd see...the yellow nightgown that was probably as chaste and ugly as the robe.
"Dammit," Carter said aloud and cursed himself. He dug into his eyesockets with the heels of his hands, determined to concentrate on Gregory and his problems, but Carter's problem was throbbing beneath his tight jeans and wouldn't be ignored.
This is your fantasy, you fool. Pretend there was no nightgown. Pretend she was...
Then slowly his hands would part it and he'd see...her naked breasts, heaving with longing, tipped with coral nipples that responded to the merest breath of stimulation. He'd touch them as he continued kissing her. Stroke them. Tease them. Then he'd lower his head and take one into his mouth and suck it gently. She'd be virtually wild by now, making low guttural noises in her throat, and curling her legs around him. And when he drew back and outlined the button shape of her nipple with the tip of his tongue, she'd reach for--
"What!?" he shouted as he cannoned out of his chair, knocking it over along with the stack of papers that flew in every direction when he spun around. He practically broke the stem of his eyeglasses when he whipped them off.
Sloan was standing just inside the door, a large silver tray covered with a cloth balanced on one hand, her other still gripping the doorknob as though his fierce response had welded it there.
She wet her lips in the nervously reflexive way he was coming to recognize. He tried to blink eyes dilated with passion back into focus, tried to capture lost breath that remained elusive, and tried to pretend that his loins still weren't on fire. He also tried to pretend that he wasn't base enough to bring a lady like Sloan Fairchild into a sordid, lewd fantasy. He succeeded at none of those endeavors.
"I...I knocked," she said in a high, timid voice.
"I'm sorry, Sloan. I was...uh...deep in thought. Here, let me." He took long strides toward the door and a spasm of regret crossed his face when he saw her flinch with precaution. He attempted to lighten the situation. "I guess I scared you to death, yelling like that. I apologize again."
"When you didn't answer my knock, I got worried and..."
He relieved her of the tray, but he didn't move away. Instead they stood like statues in the frame of the doorway and stared at each other. That wariness was still in her eyes and his originally sunny mood clouded to become as gloomy as the day.
He could fantasize all he wanted to, but the reality wouldn't go away. He was engaged to a woman and two little boys who needed him. He'd never had passionate fantasies about Alicia, but they shared a different kind of love. Perhaps it was the safest kind. It certainly didn't bring one from the height of bliss to the pits of despair in a matter of seconds.
Love? What the hell was he talking about? He'd been reading too many of his own books. Love didn't happen this quickly. Sometimes it took years to develop between two people. But as he saw the confusion swirling in the smoky depths of Sloan's eyes, he knew she had been poleaxed, too. God only knew what they were going to do about it.
"You'd better eat this while it's hot." She indicated the tray with a nod of her head. When he hadn't answered her knock, why hadn't she gone back downstairs and tried again later? Possibly he would have pulled on a shirt by then. As it was, all he wore now was a pair of jeans. The sight of his naked chest was doing nothing to eliminate the vertigo she'd been subjected to since she first saw him.
He turned away and she let loose the pent-up breath she'd been holding. She was glad she could no longer see that wide chest forested with dark, curly hair. It swirled over the contoured muscles and lay sleek and glossy against the plain of his stomach and then tapered to a fine satiny line down into his pants.
"No," she said too loudly and too quickly. He was pulling on a shirt, thank God. His back had been smooth, the muscles rippling beneath tanned skin. It had been almost as tempting to touch as his chest. At his surprised look, she tempered her reply. "No, thank you. The other guests are in the dining room. I have to be on hand if they need something."
"And I don't deserve the same attention?"
The arching brow that couldn't seem to keep still no matter what the mood was dancing with mirth. He was teasing her, being deliberately provoking, and her frazzled nerves couldn't handle it. "Yes," she said with a touch of asperity. "But it should be obvious that I can't be two places at once and since they are six and you are one, majority rules. You requested the tray in your room. Maybe you should reconsider next time. And, I don't think my other guests would like the idea of their hostess sharing a room with a single male guest. I'll be back later to pick up the tray."
She was convinced that she hadn't slammed the door behind her, but the rattle of the windows said otherwise. "This is all Alicia's fault," she muttered as she smoothed her prim chignon with her hand in the classic gesture of a distressed woman trying to regain her composure. She vowed with each step down the stairs that she'd throttle her friend the next time she saw her.
What was wrong with Alicia? Was she dense? To send a man who looked like Carter to a woman, any woman, was lunacy. Didn't she know he'd attract women like fish to bait? And no matter how good a friend Sloan was, and no matter how dull and dependable and trustworthy she was, she wasn't dead. And that's the only kind of woman who could be immune to Carter Madison's appeal.