Her fantasy men, p.1
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       Her Fantasy Men, p.1

          
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  CHAPTER | ONE

  “Which one of you lucky bastards is nailing Kelsey?” Rhys Adams leaned against the back of the sofa, beer in hand, and glanced at the other two men. “It isn’t me, and she glows too much to be going without.”

  Jeremy Beck raised a dark brow. “I assumed it was one of you, since she’s put me firmly in the boss category.”

  Tucker Hall eyed the object of their mutual desire through the window as she bustled around the patio table, setting the last of the party favors in place. She wore another of those long, summery skirts that hid her lush ass. But in deference to the early September heat, she’d donned a little white tank top that hugged the ripe curves of her breasts. Sunlight poured golden over her pale skin and mahogany curls. Kels was like something out of time, one of those women who could have modeled for the masters of oil and canvas long ago. Just a glance at her made his dick stiff. Fantasies of her on her back, legs splayed for him, could make him come in record time.

  “I guess Tucker is the lucky winner,” Rhys groused.

  “Me?” He jerked his gaze back to the other guys. “No. I’m stuck in the friend zone, man. She put me there when we were four, and I haven’t been out since.”

  “At least she’s put you two in a category,” Rhys complained. “I don’t think she knows I’m alive half the time unless she runs out of coffee or needs me to fix her cantankerous bathtub. Then she needs a good neighbor.”

  A collective quiet settled over the trio as they all contemplated the question that Jeremy finally voiced. “Who, then?”

  “No one at night,” Rhys offered. “I’ve got sweet views inside her bedroom.”

  And he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of them, Tucker would bet. Unscrupulous but lucky bastard.

  “She’s always home and always alone,” he went on. “Unless you count battery-operated boyfriends.”

  “You’ve seen her masturbate?” Jeremy nearly came out of his chair.

  Tucker nearly came, period.

  Rhys smiled. “Oh, yeah. Our Kelsey has a healthy sex drive.” His smile took a nosedive. “She’s just not getting any from me, at least not while she’s at home. At the office? Nooners, maybe?”

  Jeremy shook his head. “No. I keep her busy, half because I can’t stand the thought she could get laid at lunch, and I wouldn’t be participating.”

  “The only time she disappears is to go to your place,” Rhys pointed out to Tucker, his look expectant.

  “I swear, as much as I’d love to lie, we watch action flicks together, but we’re not making any action. I’ve tried a hundred times to think of ways I could bring sex up without ruining the friendship—or having her laugh in my face. So far, I’m striking out.”

  Silence lingered. Tucker bet that, individually, the trio had often wondered who Kelsey shared that sweet body with. Frankly, his money had been on Jeremy. Tall, dark, handsome, rich, intense . . . What woman wouldn’t want that? Except Kels had never been a typical woman. She liked Stallone movies, football, and beer. In the same week, she might also salsa dance, buy a Coach purse, and then attend a lecture at the local college about the discovery of new black holes in the universe. She was always a puzzle.

  This was the first time they’d ever discussed their mutual desire for Kelsey. Sure, he’d known the other two were hard for her. Rhys practically followed her with his tongue dragging the floor, and Jeremy watched her with those sharp, dark eyes that missed nothing. Like the others, he’d assumed one of them was Kelsey’s lover. Unless someone was lying, this conversation gave him a lot of hope.

  “So ...” Rhys started. “If she’s not doing the horizontal mambo with her best friend, her boss, or her neighbor, who the hell is she fucking?”

  The answer came to Tucker like a comet through his brain. He drowned the sizzle it roused with a long swallow of beer. Or tried to. Nothing doused his need for Kels.

  “No one,” he said finally. “She was twenty-one when she lost her virginity.”

  Tucker remembered it vividly, though he’d really like to forget. Alex the smooth talker had finally persuaded her onto her back by lying about his feelings for her. Kelsey had called Tucker in furious tears when she’d discovered that his feelings only lasted as long as the orgasm and extended to the next coed a week later. His Kels never gave herself easily, and since Alex, she never did unless she was sure. As far as he knew, she’d had only one other lover, David, the musician she’d nearly married. Close call, that. But Tucker couldn’t fault her. He’d genuinely liked David, even if he’d been jealous as hell. Kelsey had been the one to decide that twenty-three was too young to get married. David, at thirty, hadn’t wanted to wait. They parted, no harm, no foul. She even exchanged Christmas cards with David and his wife.

  Many tried to get into Kelsey’s panties. She took none of them seriously. He, Jeremy, and Rhys were good examples.

  “Yeah, she doesn’t sleep around that I can see,” Rhys agreed.

  “She’s never so much as flirted with anyone at the office.”

  “And that leaves us where?” Rhys asked.

  “Fucked, and not in the pleasant way.” Tucker sighed. “Plan, anyone?”

  Kelsey Rose Rena cast a nervous glance inside the living room. Her guys were talking intently. They’d all been a part of her life for at least the last three years, so they knew each other. Were even friends . . . of a sort. But she’d bet none of them had a clue how she felt about them all. She feared their reaction if they did.

  Thank God this party would be under way soon. Let someone else wade through the testosterone in her living room. Once it had started getting thick, she’d had to dash outside. It was either that or overheat.

  “Need help, Kels?” Tucker stuck his head out the French doors.

  That wild wavy brown hair of his made her hands itch to trim it, run her fingers through it. But his blue eyes melted her every time. He had the biggest heart—and the sexiest smile she’d ever seen.

  “I’m good. But could you guys find that cooler in the garage and ice down the drinks in the fridge?”

  “Will do.” He hesitated. “You okay?”

  She avoided his gaze. If she looked at him—at any of them—no telling what her eyes would reveal. Jeremy would be furious, Tucker hurt, and Rhys . . . he’d figure it out as he went.

  Focused on the plastic flatware she set on her patio table, Kelsey murmured, “Great. When people start coming in, just send them out back.”

  Tucker sighed. Something was off with him, with all of the guys. It wasn’t football season yet, so no one’s favorite team had lost recently. Tucker never let work stress him out. She wondered if he was having girlfriend trouble . . . then decided she didn’t want to know.

  The door shut, and she breathed a sigh of relief. If she could just make it through the afternoon with those three, then shoo them out after the party, she could escape to her fantasy life. At least four hours to go. Damn! She glanced at her watch and started counting . . .

  “Anything?” Jeremy asked as soon as he shut the door.

  “Nah, man. She’s in her own world.” One that didn’t include them. Tucker resisted the urge to curse.

  “What do you think she wants in a man?” Rhys asked.

  “If I were an expert, I wouldn’t be telling you. I’d be dating her myself.”

  Jeremy nodded. “She doesn’t seem to care about money. God knows, I tried that route.”

  “Nope.” Tucker grabbed another beer, then headed for the garage, motioning the others to join him. “She’s more than comfortable with her ability to make her own money.”

  “She’s also not impressed by anything with a fast engine. I tried that, too,” Jeremy confessed.

  “Hey, I mowed my lawn shirtless for a month, then struck up conversations with her, hoping she’d look. Her gaze stayed glued above my neck.”

  Rhys was a fireman and spent nearly all his downtime pumping iron. If Kels was going to be wowed by some guy’s body, it would be Rhys’s.

  Tucker retrieved the cooler, then opened the freezer in her garage and started dumping in bags of ice. The others joined in.

  “I’ve been her confidant, her shoulder to cry on, her prom date when hers dumped her at the last minute . . . None of that did me any good either.”

  “You knew David. What was he like?” Jeremy spoke in low tones. Always. Yet his voice carried the snap of subtle demand.

  “Easygoing. Big sense of humor. Kind of a wandering spirit.”

  “That leaves me out,” Jeremy brooded as he began to toss beers, wine coolers, water, and soft drinks into the cooler.

  “But her boyfriend prior to that was a successful guy who owned a few jewelry stores. Flashy dresser. Of course, he was an asshole, too. I don’t think she would put you in that mold or you wouldn’t be here,” he told Jeremy, then wondered why he was trying to make the competition feel better.

  Truth was, he liked both Jeremy and Rhys. And it felt good to finally be talking about the elephant in the room.

  They finished icing down the drinks in relative quiet, but Tucker’s brain was working overtime. A glance at Jeremy—whose brain never stopped—proved Kelsey’s boss was lost in his own ruminations, too.

  Until he spoke. “Would all of you agree that we’d rather see Kelsey happy with one of us than some bastard who might mistreat her?”

  Tucker hesitated, then glanced at Rhys. Finally, they both nodded. Yeah, he’d hate like hell to let her go, but if he couldn’t have her, he’d at least be happier knowing that she was with someone who wanted her, had genuine feelings for her, would take care of her.

  “Me, too,” Jeremy offered. “I think Tucker is right, gentlemen. What we need is a plan.”

  “Plan?”

  Tucker laughed at Rhys’s confusion. The firefighter was a great guy . . . but Rhys and a plan combined as well as gasoline and margarita mix.

  “We’ve got to find out what’s in her head.” And her heart, Tucker decided. But they had to start small. Forever and ever amen, picket fence, and two point two kids was a lofty place to begin. First, they had to know what she wanted in a date, in a lover. Who, if anyone, was on her mind.

  “How?” Jeremy asked, getting right to the heart of the problem as usual. “Does she keep a diary?”

  “Not that I know of . . . but it’s not as if Kels tells me everything.” Tucker shrugged, lamenting that fact.

  “She might have a journal. No doubt she’s capable of writing more than a grocery list,” Rhys drawled.

  “Kels is a bit private. I’m not sure she’d write her feelings down.”

  “Maybe because she is private, she’d be more likely to pour her feelings out on paper than to another human being.” Jeremy pinned his gaze on Tucker. “Or does she have some really close girlfriend I don’t know about?”

  “No. To her, most women like shopping and gossip and those Grey’s Anatomy-type shows, which she hates.”

  Rhys frowned. “Yeah. Not Kelsey’s style.”

  “So now what?” Tucker ran his hand through his unruly hair.

  “Could you have one of those best friend heart-to-hearts?”

  “Yeah.” Rhys warmed to the subject. “See if she’ll spill.”

  “Tried that. She blushed and said that talking to me about her fantasies and her ultimate man was crossing the friend line. I told her it was because I was seeking a girlfriend and wanted her advice. She was sure that her wants wouldn’t necessarily match anyone else’s and ended the conversation.”

  “Damn.”

  “Exactly. There must be some way to trip her up or persuade her into a tell-all mood so we can learn what she wants and who she has feelings for,” Jeremy murmured.

  “Get her drunk?”

  Tucker reached over and swatted Rhys on the head. “No, you idiot. Something that won’t have her puking or give her a headache. You know Kels doesn’t handle her liquor well. I’d rather try something less sneaky.”

  When Tucker reached down to lift one half of the enormous cooler by a handle, Rhys lifted the other. “I would too, brother, but the up-and-up isn’t working.”

  Jeremy held the garage door open. “He’s right.”

  “What are you suggesting?” Tucker asked. “Seducing her?”

  “Tried that.” Jeremy sighed as they traversed the house, cooler in hand. “She sidestepped me, then set me up on a blind date with a Barbie who had an equally plastic personality.”

  “I tried, too.” Rhys lowered the cooler by the back door, then glanced out at Kelsey, who stood in the shade, face raised to the sky, eyes closed, basking in the sun. “She giggled and started making jokes about firemen who think with their hose.”

  “I can’t seduce her,” Tucker admitted. “First, I’m not a ladies’ man, and second, I’d lose her. She thinks of me as someone she can rely on—”

  “Which is why you’re stuck in the friend zone, dude,” Rhys chastised. “You’ve never tried to make her see you as a man?”

  “I kissed her once.”

  “Yeah?” That got Rhys’s attention.

  “But we were thirteen, and her comment afterward was that Josh Smith kissed better.”

  Rhys doubled over with laughter. Even single-minded Jeremy cracked a smile.

  “What we need is evidence.”

  Golden brow raised, Rhys glared at Jeremy. “Spoken like an attorney.”

  “I am one; sue me.” The attorney smiled, and something about his eyes reminded Tucker why the guy billed out at two grand an hour. Suddenly, he shot Rhys a cunning stare. “You firemen have interesting ways of gaining access to a house, right?”

  Rhys rolled his eyes. “Yes, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.”

  “I have a key, guys,” Tucker offered.

  “Give it to him,” Jeremy snapped. “I’m going to call Kelsey after the party, make up some emergency. You”—he stared at Rhys—“are going to sneak in. Look around, in that monster closet of hers, through her home office. . . See if she keeps a journal or mementos or has written anything personal on her laptop. Check her correspondence, her voice mails. Scroll through her recent calls and see if she’s reached out to anyone.”

  “I don’t know, dude . . . It seems so invasive. What about her privacy? What if she catches me?”

  Jeremy’s stare lost what little levity it had. He looked as if he were resisting grabbing Rhys by the shirt and shaking some sense into him. “Be careful, and she won’t. Just get us some information or we’ll all be stuck in this hell indefinitely.”

  Rhys sighed. “Fuck.”

  “Call both of us as soon as you’ve finished your reconnaissance.” Jeremy directed. “Then collectively we’ll decide the best course of action, regardless of what you find, agreed?”

  “Count me in.”

  Tucker hesitated. He didn’t like spying on Kels. He didn’t like lying to her or invading her privacy . . . but he also didn’t like being cut off from the woman he adored. He hadn’t made any progress with her since that chaste tweener kiss. Fifteen years later, maybe it was time to try something new.

  Hoping like hell he didn’t regret this, he handed Rhys Kelsey’s house key.

  CHAPTER | TWO

  The party had been pure torture. Labor Day festivities, cold beer, and good friends aside, the sight of Kelsey in a bloodred bikini had nearly been Rhys’s undoing. The pale swells of her breasts nearly spilling out of her top, that ridiculously small waist above outrageously lush hips and thighs . . . Damn, he got
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