“I told you, Liam. I play by house rules, and this is my house, so my rules.”
He stared her down. “What if someone doesn’t like your rules?”
She shrugged. “I can be flexible. Can you?”
No. Not on this. They weren’t talking about cards or making food. They were talking about something dangerous. Something they both wanted, but he knew he could never have. Friendship was all he could offer Julie, no matter how much more he wanted.
“We have standard fitness tests every six months. Flexibility isn’t a requirement of the FBI.”
Her smile faltered before she burst out laughing. “Oh, Liam. You’re hopeless. Fine, we’ll play by your rules. For now.” She winked. “Go set up the movie. I’ll get the popcorn.”
She moved off to the panty, and he beat a hasty retreat to the sanctity of the living room.
The words sounded like a threat, a very tempting one. He grabbed the remote, flipping the TV on. Scrubbing one hand down his face, he groaned. How the hell would he survive two weeks alone with this woman? He knew one thing, Ryder’s water heater would be getting zero use. For the next two weeks, there would be nothing but cold showers in his future.
The beeping of the microwave echoed from the kitchen. Moments later, Julie came into the room with a bowl of fluffy white popcorn. She sat on the couch, patting the seat next to her.
“Come on FBI man. Time to get our movie on.”
He glanced at the couch—which had never seemed small until this very moment—and the tempting woman sitting on it. A hot flush of sweat broke out all along his body.
Oh yeah, there would be many, many cold showers for the next two weeks.
“I thought I’d head into town after I brush down Wind Chaser.” She patted the horse affectionately on the neck. “Wanna come? We could grab dinner. Maybe catch a movie at the drive-in.”
That sounded speciously like a date. Number one on the “things not to do with Julie Ryder” list. His mind brought up an image of her riding again, bouncing up and down—okay, maybe not number one, but it was on there.
Her smile dimmed at his hesitation. “I mean unless you have other things to do. I’m sorry. I kind of just showed up and usurped your vacation time. You probably had a whole list of things you were planning on doing.”
Yeah, if that list included wallowing in self-pity and trying to figure out his life now that he might not be a field agent. Sure, big fat freaking list.
“No. You didn’t ruin anything. I really just planned on taking it easy.”
The beautiful smile returned and damned if he wasn’t glad to see it.
“Great! No better way to relax than dinner and a show. Ooooh, and we can stop at the shop for cupcakes.” She winked. “I’m on the “free cupcakes for life” list.”
It still felt like a date, but he was sure she didn’t mean it that way. She might flirt with him jokingly, but that was just her personality. Julie was friendly with everyone. He knew she kind of had a crush on him when they first met, but that was years ago. Now, he was sure she just liked to mess with him. Like cheating at cards and calling it “house rules.” Silly things like that. It was part of the dynamic of their friendship.
“Sounds good. Who can turn down free cupcakes?” Friends went to dinner and movies together all the time. No big deal. That’s all this was—no matter how much the raging hard-on in his pants wished otherwise.
“Just let me brush down Wind Chaser and change.” She tapped her heels against the horse. “I’ll be ready in about an hour.”
Liam watched the large animal lumber toward the barn. Dinner, movies, and dessert with a woman who tempted him like no other. The very same woman who was so off limits it wasn’t even funny.
“What the hell did I get myself into?”
It was going to be a very, very long night.
Reaching out, she grabbed his hand in hers. “Do I have nightmares every now and then? Yes, who wouldn’t? But I’m okay. I can go to work, run errands, even drive my hog down 225 on a sunny day.”
Eye’s shutting in a wince, he groaned. “Okay, first of all, don’t say hog. You sound ridiculous.”
“I do not! That’s what us bikers call our rides.”
“You’re not in a biker gang. You’re a lawyer who bought a very ill-advised motorcycle in a state that—may I point out—cannot accommodate bipedal vehicles half the year.”
“I like to think of it as half a year of good riding.”
He shook his head. “Optimist.”
“Pessimist,” she shot back with a grin.
He felt his lips curl in an answering grin. This, right here, was why he enjoyed spending time with Julie so much. She had such a playful way of engaging people, such an upbeat attitude. No one could be sad around her; it just wasn’t possible. That’s why it killed him whenever he saw her jubilant spirit torn down.
“Does your brother know about your hog?”
Her gaze narrowed. “No, he does not, and if you tell him, I swear I will strap you down on Wind Chaser and send her on the highest mountain trail I can find.”
“Your secret is safe with me, but for the record, I don’t think you should be riding around on something so dangerous.” The first time she told him of her vehicle purchase he nearly drove up to Aspen to take the thing from her. There was a reason doctors called them donor mobiles. He shuddered, imagining her riding one.
Scratch that. Picturing Julie clad all in leather, straddling a huge, vibrating beast of a bike between her legs did not make him shudder. It made him hot, horny, and frustrated. Knowing what could happen to her on one of those things…that terrified him.
“Ugh, if it were up to you and Jake, I’d never have any fun.”
“We’re just looking out for you. It’s our job.”
Arching one perfectly plucked brow, she leaned forward, invading his personal space. “No, it’s Jake’s job to look after me. He’s my brother. You are—”
“Your brother’s best friend,” he quickly interrupted. “Plus, I’m older than you, so I have to look out for you.”
Her gaze studied him for a moment. He shifted uncomfortably under her probing scrutiny.
“You know, Liam. Those excuses are sounding weaker and weaker every time.”
She inched forward, going up on her knees until she was so close he could feel her soft, warm breath on his face. The tiny freckles on her nose were so close he could count them. Fifteen, he knew there were fifteen because, idiot that he was, he’d been counting them for years.
“You’re not that much older than me, and just because I’m someone’s sister does not mean I’m not a woman.” Her hands snaked around his neck. “A woman with needs and desires.”
Title: Love on the Forbidden Side
Author: Mariah Ankenman
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Assistant District Attorney Julie Ryder plans to hide out at her brother’s ranch house in Peak Town, Colorado after a killer she put away escapes. Hoping for a little peace and quiet, what she gets instead is hot and bothered when she discovers the good sheriff is gone, and his sexy best friend is house-sitting.
FBI agent Liam Graham is on medical leave after a career-jeopardizing injury. He’s taking the time to rethink his professional choices while watching his buddy’s place, but he never expected to watch the guy’s sister, too. Julie is a fiery ball of sweet temptation he’s been denying himself for years. When she finally reveals the real reason for her visit to Peak Town, Liam does everything in his power to keep her safe. But with his focus on protecting her body, Liam fears he may lose his heart.
~ Author Bio ~
RWA® Golden Heart® Nominated author Mariah Ankenman began writing at the tender age of five. Her first book “George and the Green Glob” received high praise from her mother. Many years, and green glob stories later, Mariah received a playwriting degree from the University of Wyoming. After a few years in Hollywood, working in “the biz,” she came home to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. When she’s not writing Mariah loves to read, crochet, and play her ukulele. She loves to hear from readers.
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