Her fantasy men, p.9
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       Her Fantasy Men, p.9

           Shayla Black
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  a future, how deep Rhys’s feelings for her were.

  On Friday evening, she and Tucker had fallen asleep on the couch after making love. She’d awakened to moonlight streaming into the sunporch, Tucker’s light snoring, and confusion whirling in her head.

  She was going to have to choose between these men.

  Holding in a sob, she’d extricated herself from Tucker’s embrace, grabbed her purse, and thrown herself in her car, driving to . . . hell, she wasn’t sure where. Vaguely, she remembered checking into a low-budget motel, thanking God she had enough cash to avoid using her credit card. Jeremy and Rhys both had enough contacts to track her down if she put herself “on the grid.” The little town had been way off the interstate and had an old Dairy Queen and a ragtag collection of mom-and-pop restaurants. After the sun had fallen and the sky opened up in a downpour, Kelsey had figured here was as good as anywhere.

  Along the way, she’d acquired a bottle of wine and a half-stale sandwich. After sleeping all night and most of the day, Kelsey had awakened—and still had no clue what to do. The wine had been a bad solution. Now, she wished she’d eaten the lousy ham on rye before chugging the Burgundy.

  No, she wished she hadn’t complicated her life by sleeping with all three of her fantasy men. Nothing would ever be the same again.

  Downing another hefty swallow of the tart wine, she glanced at her phone again as it rang. Tucker. Five minutes ago, it had been Jeremy. Rhys about ten minutes before that.

  Staring at the faux-wicker headboard and cheap plastic nightstand, Kelsey sighed. What the hell was she going to do?

  She picked up her phone, fondling it. Then she pressed her lips together. She’d have to face them at some point. Maybe . . . maybe they could find some way to forget the sex and just go back to the friendship.

  After accessing her voice mail, Kelsey held the phone to her ear, her stomach jumping and stuttering. She had twenty new messages since last night.

  “Kelsey, baby,” Rhys’s voice coaxed, making her remember him naked and passionate and perfect. “You okay? I’m home and would love to see you. I was hoping we could call my parents together and tell them about our engage—”


  “It’s Jeremy. Avoiding me by sending e-mails to explain your absence is unacceptable. That’s a punishable offense, and I definitely have something in mind.” Kelsey remembered very well, and hated herself for the arrow of heat that pierced her. “If something troubles you, tell me. As we speak, I’m looking for the lingerie we discussed. I’ve cleared tomorrow to shop for engage—”


  “Where are you, Kels?” Tucker’s concerned voice wrenched at her heart. “I woke up and you were gone, honey. I know you’re scared and confused, but it’s going to be fine. I can’t wait to tell our parents that we’re engage—”


  Shaking her head, Kelsey closed her eyes. Utter disaster. They all thought she was going to marry them. It kinda followed, right? They apparently loved her—who knew?—and she loved them. She’d made love with each of them, and they all knew she wasn’t the kind of girl who could give her body without giving her heart. Of course, each assumed she was going to marry him.

  “Kelsey Rena, you’re being a bad girl, disappearing like this,” Jeremy snapped . . . but he sounded concerned, almost desperate. “Call me. This silence isn’t like you, and—”


  “Baby, I’m on for another forty-eight starting Sunday night.” Rhys sounded choked. “I, um, talked to Tucker. He told me . . . everything. I still love you. Guess you’re confused. We should talk and—”


  A heavy sigh she immediately knew belonged to Tucker came through the phone, then, “Kels, you can’t keep avoiding me—us—forever.”


  Yeah? What would happen if she didn’t? If she tried to resume her life, nothing good would come of it. She didn’t have the strength to resist them all, and if she picked one . . . the other two would tempt her, pull on her heartstrings. She’d hurt them already far too much with her behavior, and that wasn’t acceptable.

  Damn, why had she let passion get the better of her and thrown such caution to the wind?

  “Kelsey, honey, this is Aunt Mary. Do you have a punch bowl we can borrow for the shower? Mine has a crack in it, and I don’t know that I’ll have time to find another.”

  Frowning against her headache, she deleted the message and made a mental note to run her punch bowl over to her aunt’s house.

  “Ms. Rena, this is Dave Garrison.”

  Again? She sighed. Why couldn’t any man in her life take no for an answer?

  Because you’d actually have to say no first.

  “I’m going to call you every day until you say yes,” he vowed. “This Miami job is a great opportunity. I’ll give you run of the office. You can organize it however you like.”

  Kelsey’s lifted her finger over the delete button . . . but lingered, rather than pressed.

  “Whatever Beck is paying you, I’ll increase it by twenty-five percent and pay ten thousand dollars of your moving expenses. I need you here yesterday. I know Beck is easier on the eyes, but I’m less of a bastard to work for.” He hesitated. “Call me. Day. Night. You have my number.”

  Biting her lip, Kelsey deleted that message too.

  “You fucked Tucker too!” Jeremy roared two seconds later. “You’d better get your pretty ass back here so I can paddle it and remind you who you belong to. When I’m done, you’ll know—”


  More voice mails followed from all the guys, all angry and confused. Hurt. She hit delete.

  What was she going to do? Naturally, they’d all want any woman they cared about to themselves. She’d been raised to believe one man, one woman. Marriage. Together forever.

  The feelings she had now tested all that—to the limit.

  After she finished deleting all the voice mails and hung up, Kelsey took another swig of the wine and paced. She had to make decisions, and fast. Her men—scratch that; Rhys, Jeremy, and Tucker—deserved answers.

  She glanced at the time. Nine-twenty. An hour later in Florida.

  Kelsey chewed on a ragged fingernail. Her life had come to the fork in the road. Now she had to find the right path.

  With a deep breath, she picked up the phone.

  The sun cast long shadows when Kelsey drove up her street and pulled into her driveway—next to Jeremy’s Jaguar and behind Tucker’s blue pickup.

  They were all here.

  Her headache would have to take second fiddle to talking to the guys. She owed them an explanation. Time to grow a spine and stop hiding in a motel room like a fugitive.

  Kelsey parked the car, sighed, then climbed out. Dread pitted her stomach. Yes, she needed to do this, but it was going to be a long evening, no doubt.

  As soon as she opened the car door, they all rushed out of the house, Rhys using his physical prowess to dart to the front of the pack. Jeremy barreled right behind him, jaw clenched, fire in his eyes. Tucker hung back, giving her a bit of space. He paused halfway up the sidewalk and held up a hand in greeting.

  Swallowing a lump, she waved back—right before Rhys grabbed her up in his arms.

  “Oomph!” she grunted as he crushed her against his hard body and pinned her to the side of her little Honda. In his bear hug, she felt his caring surround her. Kelsey clutched his shoulders, almost afraid to let go.

  “You’re going to crack her damn ribs.” Jeremy elbowed Rhys, who quickly released her. Her boss snapped her up, pulling against his taut body. “Definitely another spanking,” he whispered hotly in her ear. “Do you know how worried I’ve been?”

  Yeah, she had a pretty good idea, and it just made her feel guilty all over again. She probably didn’t deserve this sort of caring from not just one, but three wonderful men. Shame slithered through her. She’d shared herself with each of them—bad enough—but then she’d run off without explanation.
  Time to do the right thing.

  “Thank you for your concern. I never meant to worry you.”

  Jeremy pierced her with dark eyes that vowed all kinds of sensual torture once they were alone. He followed it up with a wild kiss. Instantly, he sank deep, all the way to her heart, her soul. The male flavor of him, now so familiar and dear, cascaded over her, igniting the yearning inside her.

  With a sob, she wrenched away and ran toward the house. Tucker blocked her path, but he stood open, waiting. On any other day, she would have run right into those arms and sobbed against his chest, but now . . . she knew every contour of that chest, the way he felt deep inside her. Their strictly platonic friendship was totally over, because she couldn’t look at him as anything other than a virile lover—her lover—ever again.

  Instead of rushing to him, she cupped his cheek and tried to repress her tears as she made her way to the front door.

  “Come inside.” Her voice trembled. “All of you. We have to talk.”

  “Damn straight.” Rhys looked at the other two, then back to her. “Why, Kelsey? Why did you do it?”

  Do them, he meant.

  Jeremy was on her heels a second later. “To say I was unhappy that you took Rhys as a lover before coming to me is an understatement. The fact you slept with Tucker afterward makes me wonder if you just don’t feel a damn thing for me.”

  Valid questions. How the hell could she explain this tangle of love, lust, yearning, need, comfort, and fear?

  “Why was I last, Kels?” Tucker spoke so softly, she almost didn’t hear. Almost. In a way, she wished she hadn’t, but she’d created this situation. Now she had to stop taking the coward’s way out.

  “Because you were last to find me during my weak moments. That didn’t make it any less special to me. At all.” Damn it, she could barely hold back the tears. “Come inside. I’ll explain everything.” Somehow.

  On shaking legs, she mounted the steps and dragged herself into the house. Instantly, she saw they’d kept vigil here. A pizza box with one slice left sat open across the kitchen table. An empty bottle of scotch explained the extra glare in Jeremy’s expression. A dozen crushed cans of beer sat in the recycle box beside the counter, with a few more on the counter. Someone had left a pillow and blanket on the couch, and she’d bet money her two guest beds were rumpled beyond recognition.

  “How long have you been here?”

  The guys all exchanged glances before Rhys spoke. “Since yesterday at noon. I checked your house earlier—”

  “You had no key.” But Tucker did. She sent him a questioning stare.

  He shrugged. “We were worried, Kels. When you left your parents’ house. I had no way of knowing if you were okay.”

  She sighed. It was true. For all they knew, she could have been in a car accident. God knew her driving as she’d fled Austin to her little two-bit hideaway hadn’t been great. Hard to see through a downpour of both rain and tears.

  If she was going to be mad at anyone, it was herself.

  “Thank you all for caring.” Slowly, she sat at the kitchen table. The headache from her hangover tried to reassert itself.

  When she rubbed at her head, Rhys grabbed a bottle of water and handed it to her. Tucker followed with two ibuprofen and a frown.

  “You have that look like you’ve been drinking wine,” Tucker muttered. “It always hurts you.”

  Bless him for knowing and caring. God knew she didn’t deserve it after the way she’d behaved.

  Before she could say anything, Jeremy slid behind her and rubbed his talented hands up the tense muscles of her neck and shoulders. She groaned.

  “Those little noises are giving me a hard-on, sweetheart,” he whispered.

  She noticed that Rhys and Tucker had edged closer, too. And she was sitting in the corner with no escape route. The testosterone overload was about to bowl her over.

  “Sit,” she barked at them. And didn’t say a word until they’d all complied.

  Jeremy was the last to do so—no surprise since he was used to giving the orders. But finally they all sat around her little round table, so close she could reach out and touch any of them. So far away she felt as if she’d never touch them again.

  “I can only say this once.” Damn it, her voice was already beginning to shake. She drew in a fortifying breath. “I love all of you. Rhys, your teasing and helping hands with anything that breaks in this house got my attention. You about killed me with the physical fitness kick, but I feel so much better now. You cared enough to keep badgering me. I love our movie nights and the way you make me look forward to every day. You’ve really taught me the true meaning of turning negatives into positives.”

  “I love you too, baby. I just want to marry—”

  “Let me finish.” She turned her gaze to Jeremy . . . and melted under the flare of those blazing dark eyes. “You were lust at first sight for me.”

  “Same here.”

  Kelsey had known that, but acknowledged him with a nod. “I assumed, though, that I’d be working for a demanding womanizer and it would be easy to fall out of lust. I got the demanding part right. But you were also surprisingly patient, teaching me more than I would have ever learned about the law otherwise. You praised me when I got it right, pushed me harder when I didn’t. Somehow, over the years, you made me embrace myself and my curves. I gained confidence and loved sparring mentally with you. I’m richer for knowing you.”

  Jeremy stood. “Goddammit, that sounds like a good-bye speech. You can’t just leave. I’ve never allowed myself to love anyone until you.”

  And the fact he’d admitted that in front of Rhys and Tucker told Kelsey exactly how serious he was. Her stomach clenched again, and she fought off fresh tears.

  She took another deep breath, then turned to Tucker. “I could never describe all that you mean to me. The quickest way to tell you how much I value you is to say that I’ve known all my life that if I fell, you’d catch me. No hesitation. No questions asked. You know me all the way down to my soul and still like what you see. That’s worth more than anything in this world.”

  Tucker tensed. “Kels, don’t go. We can work this out.”

  “We can’t,” she argued, then dissolved into a sob. “I’ve wronged all of you. And still, you want me to choose among you. I can’t do it. All of you mean the world to me. If I tried to choose one, I—”

  God, how could she confess her worst nightmare—and her greatest fantasy?

  “You’re saying you couldn’t be faithful?” Jeremy quirked a dark brow, seething just under his unreadable façade.

  “I’m saying I can’t give up two of you in favor of one. It’s unfair to all of us. If I committed to one of you, you’d always wonder about my feelings for the others. You’re all stubborn, so I know the two I didn’t choose would have a difficult time moving on.”

  “I’d respect your decision,” Tucker vowed.

  But he looked like the words alone cost him so much pain. To stand by if she married Rhys or Jeremy . . . no, it would destroy a lifetime of friendship now that they’d become so much more to each other.

  “I don’t want to put you in that position. Or me. I’m weak where you’re all concerned.”

  “Fuck!” Rhys yelled. “That’s so damn unfair, Kelsey. I made love to you first. That’s got to mean something.”

  “It means you were first to catch me at a moment too vulnerable to say no. Since I first started fantasizing about you all, I feared it was only a matter of time before I couldn’t say no anymore. And I was right.” She sniffled. “So, on the way home today, I called a real estate agent, who’s coming later to talk about the possibility of listing my house. I’m flying to Miami to talk to Garrison tomorrow.”

  “No!” Rhys and Tucker shouted.

  “Goddamn, Garrison!” Jeremy snarled.

  The job was hers if she wanted it. For as long as Jeremy’s rival had been trying to lure her away to work for him, they all
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