Stimulated, Book 1
Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2016, Lexxie Couper.
All rights reserved.
“You know they’re going to call the big guys in for this, don’t you?”
Sliding her fingers over the smooth, solid length gripped firmly in her left hand, Phoebe Masters flicked a sideward glance at the tall streak of stunning blondeness beside her and bit back a sigh. “I don’t want the big guys.”
The blonde—a.k.a. Sami Charlton, a.k.a. BFE (Best Friend Extraordinaire), a.k.a. Australia’s most successful female motocross rider—let out a chuckle. “I don’t think you’ll have a choice, Pheebster. Your studio’s been gutted. With a fire this bad you know they’re going to call in the investigation team. If Dad was alive he’d tell you the same thing.”
Phoebe’s stomach lurched and she ground her teeth. Damn it, when she’d upped and moved from Newcastle to the utterly parochial, completely charming historical village of Morpeth six months ago, she’d planned to never see the investigation team again.
“And I don’t believe for a second that you don’t want to see them.”
Sami’s calm statement made Phoebe’s pulse pound just a little harder in her neck. She bit back another sigh. Here she was, standing in the smoking, charred remains of what was once her studio, the place she spent every day blowing molten glass into artworks of stunning beauty, with the acrid, wholly jarring stench of scorched wood and wet timber stinging her sinuses with every breath. Reminding her with no uncertainty that everything she held dear and valuable was destroyed—and she was thinking about Damon Hunt and William Bradley.
“I don’t want to see them,” she grumbled, glaring at the object she gripped in her hand, the only thing salvageable in the heartbreaking mess. A long, thick shard of glass that, thanks to the fire, now looked like a massive, slightly demented glass dildo.
The gruff male voice behind Phoebe made her jump, the glass length almost slipping from her fingers as she did so. She pulled a face, wrapping her fingers tighter around the accidental dildo like it was her one and only life preserver. “No one.”
“The investigation team from Newcastle,” Sami said to the elderly man now standing on Phoebe’s left. “This has to be arson. There’s no other explanation for such an accelerated burn of materials designed to withstand high temperatures, don’t you think?”
The old bloke’s wiry salt-and-pepper eyebrows rose up his creased forehead and he tugged at his somewhat scruffy firefighter’s uniform with calloused hands. “And what would you be knowin’ about arson and accelerated burn, missy?”
Phoebe let out the sigh she’d been holding back for the last five minutes or so. “Captain Kilgour,” she placed her fingers lightly on the prickly old firefighter’s arm, “this is my best friend, Sami. Sami’s dad was the commander of the Newcastle District Fire Investigation Unit.” She turned and gave Sami a pointed look. “Sami, this is Keith Kilgour, the captain of Morpeth’s fire brigade.”
Kilgour squinted at Sami. “Was?”
Sami nodded. “Was.”
Phoebe knew her best friend wasn’t going to expand on her answer. The death of her father in a house fire still hurt Sami deeply.
Kilgour’s eyes narrowed even further before he returned his attention to Phoebe. “Well, much as I hate the idea of those upstart buggers from the city coming here and tellin’ me my business, the young missy is right. There’s somethin’ about the feel of the place I don’t like.” He sucked in his checks and smacked his lips. “It tastes wrong.”
Sami nodded. “Too bloody right.”
Phoebe frowned, ignoring the fluttering little knot in her belly at the “upstart buggers from the city” coming anywhere near her. “So what you’re telling me,” she grumbled, crossing her arms over her breasts, “is I can’t start cleaning up until the investigation team—”
“William and Damon,” Sami interjected.
Phoebe gave her a scowl. Damn, she was one for providing details today. “Until the Newcastle team come up and—”
“Work their magic,” Sami finished for her, a grin playing with the corners of her lip-glossed mouth.
Phoebe scowled harder. Were it not for Captain Kilgour standing beside them, Sami would be finding herself the recipient of a bloody good punch to the arm. Work their magic? Under no circumstances were Will Bradley and Damon Hunt working any kind of magic on her again. Ever.
“That’s right, Ms. Masters,” Captain Kilgour agreed, giving Phoebe what she suspected was supposed to be a reassuring smile. “The Newcastle boys will need to take a look at this before you can touch it.”
Phoebe let out a shaky sigh. Damn it.
“I could take a look around, Dad.”
A younger version of Keith Kilgour, dressed in a pristine firefighter’s uniform that almost—almost—hid a paunch and narrow shoulders, sidled his way over the charred mess, giving Phoebe a wide smile as he plucked the glass shaft from her hands. Blue eyes tried hard to hold hers, the effort lost when Captain Kilgour barked out a laugh.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Harvey. You barely passed the last fire science and behavior training course.”
Harvey Kilgour’s fleshy cheeks glowed red and Phoebe suppressed a need to shuffle her feet. Since moving to Morpeth, she’d more than once had to decline Harvey’s eager invitations to coffee, lunch, dinner, breakfast, a trip to the local drive-in. Six months of being “courted” by Harvey. And that was the word he used whenever he asked her out, courted, as if their relationship was anything more than determined suitor and non-interested recipient. Several rejections later and he still hadn’t taken the hint. Still, seeing him get shot down by his father was a touch uncomfortable.
It wasn’t that Harvey was grotesque or repulsive; he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed quite personable in a slightly desperate, puppy-dog kind of way. He was polite, charming, had an old-fashioned sense of propriety and an almost boyish innocence about him. He’d turned up with handpicked flowers a few times, had offered to fix anything in her home or studio if needed. When she’d come down with that very nasty dose of the flu, he’d arrived at her door with a steaming boiler of vegetable soup so bloody delicious it was all she could do not to run her fingers around the inside of the pot when it was all gone. Soup he’d made. How could she say no to a guy like that?
How indeed? But she had. Often.
For reasons she couldn’t put her finger on, something in her belly told her to stay away from Harvey—or at least keep him at arms’ length. Something that made her feel…unsettled.
What? More unsettled than the way Damon Hunt and William Bradley make you feel? Is that even possible?
Yeah, but that unsettled had nothing to do with an inexplicable discomfort and everything to do with two tall, dark, sarcastic and alpha-to-the-extreme men awakening sexual longings she couldn’t deny no matter how hard she tried.
A shiver rippled up her spine and before she could shut it out, a flash of memory blinded her…
William’s towering form, buck naked and completely aroused, his dark blond hair a tousled mess, his eyes glinting with hunger as Damon impaled her on his equally impressive cock. Damon’s full lips traveling over her throat, his strong hands squeezing her backside, her moans of rapture a familiar soundtrack to a weekend spent—
“Better go write the report—”
“Can I walk you to the—”
“Time I hit the road—”
Phoebe blinked, the cacophony of voices jerking her from the wholly unsettling memory. Her heart pounding too hard for her liking, she looked at Sami, for the moment needing to focus on one thing, one speaker—and her best friend was the least…vexing. “You’re going?”
Sami pulled a face. “Yeah, I know. I suck. But I have a photo shoot with Inside Motor-Sport magazine this afternoon and a meeting with my agent in less than three hours.”
Phoebe shot her watch a quick glance. With the way her best friend rode the classic Ducati she loved like a…well, a lover, Sami would make it back to Sydney with time to spare, as long as she wasn’t arrested for speeding.
“Okay,” Phoebe grumbled, turning completely to the Amazonian blonde to give her a hug. “Next time come up for longer than just a night.”
Sami squeezed her back. “Hey, if some prick hadn’t burned your studio down I’d be mooching off you for brekkie and you’d be wishing I’d hurry the hell up and go home.”
Phoebe chuckled. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Sami flashed the kind of grin that made her the darling of the motocross world—cheeky, sexy and very, very devilish. “Of course I am. Say g’day to Damon and Will for me.”
Phoebe’s belly flip-flopped. “Bugger off with you, Charlton.”
With another squeeze, this one a tad gentler, Sami turned on her heel and strode from the blackened mess of Phoebe’s studio, hips swaying. “Better still,” she tossed over her shoulder, swinging her helmet beside her leg like a schoolgirl swings her school bag, “give them both a kiss.”
“A kiss?” Captain Kilgour’s voice sounded mortified.
Phoebe bit back a sigh and, turning from the sight of her friend’s departing leather-clad form, gave the firefighter a placating smile. “She’s kidding.”
Harvey laughed, slapping his dad on the back. “Of course she is, Dad. Why would Phoebe want to kiss the arson investigators?”
Warmth crept up Phoebe’s neck and over her cheeks and, unable to stop herself, she pressed her thighs together, the sudden flush of tension tickling her labia, making her want to groan. Why would she want to kiss the arson investigators? She wouldn’t. Especially when those two men were Damon Hunt and William Bradley.
* * * *
“Head’s up, Tiny, we’ve got a job.”
William Bradley spun on his desk stool to glare at the tall man crossing the room toward him. “How many times do I have to tell you not to call me Tiny?”
Damon laughed, dropping into the low, beat-up couch sitting in the middle of their cramped office. “Well, seeing as it’s been eight years now since I first met you, I’m guessin’…” he affected a pensive expression, crossing his ankles on the cluttered coffee table and lacing his fingers behind his head, “a lot. Besides, you’re a short-arse. What else am I going to call you?”
Will shook his head and rolled his eyes, giving his partner an exasperated look. “I’m two inches shorter than you.”
Damon held out a hand. “There you go. Short-arse.”
“You’re six foot three!”
Damon grinned. “My point exactly.”
Will threw a tennis ball at him. “Yeah, yeah, Stretch. Tell me about the job.”
“You’re going to love this. It’s in Morpeth.”
Every muscle in Will’s body tensed. He drew in a slow breath, leaning forward on his stool. “Morpeth?”
Damon gave him a single nod, his brown gaze steady.
Will pulled in another breath. Morpeth. The village pretending to be a town north of Newcastle was populated by entrenched, born-in-the-blood locals and artisans inspired by the timeless beauty of the place. Not the kind of place an arson investigator usually found himself. But then, he’d felt an almost palpable urge to jump in his car and drive north more than once since a particular artisan took up residence.
Damn, his heart shouldn’t be thumping as hard as it was.
He narrowed his eyes, refusing to acknowledge how dry his mouth had become. “What’s the job?”
If possible, his partner’s eyes grew mischievous and intense. “Investigating a suspicious fire that destroyed an art studio.”
Will’s heart thumped harder. “What kind of art studio.”
Damon’s lips curled. “A glassblower’s art studio.”
“I take it by the smile on your face the artist wasn’t in the studio when it went up?”
Damon shook his head. “Not according to the report from one Captain Keith Kilgour of the Morpeth Bush Fire Brigade. The owner of the studio was, to quote Captain Kilgour, ‘extremely agitated and reluctant to notify the Newcastle Arson Investigation team’, end quote. Reading between the lines, I suspect Kilgour wonders if the artist is pulling an insurance job.”
The wind left Will’s lungs in a gush. He slumped back on his stool, dragging his hands through his hair. Fuck. He’d spent the last six months doing everything to convince himself what he and Damon had shared with a certain glass artist now living in Morpeth was nothing more than a weekend fling. He’d tried his hardest but now, here he was—palms sweaty just thinking about the possibility of seeing her again, of more than seeing her, when he should be thinking of nothing else but a fire scene.
Easier said than done when Phoebe Masters was involved. Bloody frustrating pain-in-the-arse woman. Knowing her, the moment they walked into her studio she’d walk out the other door.
But what if she’s happy to see you? It’s been six months since she left. Six months to forget how monumentally you and Damon fucked-up the last time all of you were together. What if she’s calmed down? Changed her mind?
Damon cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re thinking one of two things, Tiny, and both are going to send you crazy.”
Will’s own eyebrows rose up his forehead, his gut churning. “What are they exactly, Stretch?”
Damon returned his feet to the floor and leaned forward on the couch, resting his elbows on his knees. “One, the second we cross the threshold of Phoebe’s studio, she’s going to throw herself at us and beg us to pick up where we last left off—in bed together, fucking each other senseless.”
It wasn’t just Will’s stomach that reacted to Damon’s first scenario—his balls and dick tightened, the image his friend painted affecting him with the subtle blow of a sledgehammer.
“Or two,” Damon went on, his stare locked hard on Will’s face. “She’s going to tell us to fuck off.”
The sledgehammer slammed into Will’s gut again. Damn Damon and his keen insight into the human mind. Made for a bloody brilliant arson investigator, a great boss; made for a bloody annoying best mate.
The man studying him hadn’t started out his best friend but somewhere over the last eight years of working together, that’s exactly what he’d become. Which meant Damon knew just about everything going on in Will’s life, and was involved in just about everything going on in his life as well. Sometimes Will had to wonder if that was a good thing. He bit back a curse. “And how did you arrive at those options, boss?”
Damon gave him a wry grin. “’Cause I thought the same fucking things the second I read Phoebe’s name on the report.”
The confession jerked a humored snort from Will. “So much for being the detached wankers Phoebe accused us of being the day she left.”
Damon laughed. “No, she accused you of being a detached wanker. She called me a flippant, indifferent arsehole.”
Will scrubbed at his face with his hands. “She’s not going to be happy to see us, is she?”
Damon laughed again. “After the way we behaved? Not at all.”
“So what do we do?”
Damon flashed him a broad grin. “Hope to fucking God we can change her mind.”
“You better believe it.”
“She told us what we did together was never going to happen again.”
“That after the pair of us blew it off as a simple been-there-done-that fuck-fest instead of acknowledging what it really was, the pair of us could kiss her arse goodbye.”
Damon laughed a third time, the sound far more deprecating than any Will had heard from his friend before. “Be our charming, lovable selves?”
Will rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that’s going to work.”
“It worked the last time.”
“Until she accused us of being indifferent arseholes and detached wankers the night before she moved to a whole other town.”
Taking my heart with her.
A heavy pressure squeezed Will’s chest at the thought. That’s exactly what had happened. None of them—neither he, nor Damon nor Phoebe—had anticipated a night out for drinks to celebrate Phoebe’s new, dedicated studio in Morpeth would turn into a weekend in bed together. But it had. Three years of knowing each other, of relaxed flirting, friendly banter and good-humored mocking over other boyfriends or girlfriends had unexpectedly and surprisingly led them to a situation so unbe-fucking-lievable, the shock had sent them all for a spin.
A bloody big spin. Because Will knew after two mind-blowing days and two equally mind-blowing nights of watching his mate fuck Phoebe, of fucking her while his mate watched, of all three of them fucking each other at the same time, that two days and two nights wasn’t enough. He’d had no idea what Phoebe expected after the weekend ended, but he knew what he wanted—more. And he knew Damon wanted more as well. Not just sex, but…more.
It had scared the shit out of Will, big time. The knowledge that he was prepared to commit to a relationship society deemed unacceptable with his two best friends left him reeling. And even though Damon hadn’t admitted it at first, it had scared the shit out of him as well. So they’d acted like it was nothing, like it was just a bonk to say adios. By the time he’d seen the truth in Phoebe’s eyes, the proof that she wanted more than just a goodbye fuck, that her silence was wounded embarrassment, it was too late. They’d brushed off something incredible and swept Phoebe’s heart away with it. Dickheads.
“We were chicken-shit cowards the last time.”
For a second time, Damon’s unexpected confession made Will snort. “Ain’t that the truth.”
“So this time, we’re not. We don’t pretend otherwise. We don’t pretend the whole thing is just a same-old, same-old.”
“And how are we going to do that? Considering she doesn’t want jack-shit to do with us?”
Damon flashed a grin—the same grin Will had seen him use more than once when on the scent of an arson, the grin that said I have you in my sights, buddy, and you are going down.
“We hit her with both barrels and let her know without a doubt what we want…”
Phoebe heard the solid thud of a car door slamming outside her gutted studio, a second before she heard another one. Her heart, obviously into the whole “slamming” notion, decided to join in and slam into her throat.
She let out a ragged, strangled breath, every nerve-ending in her body thrumming with charged tension. They were here. Shit, they were here.
She jolted to her feet, dragging her fingers through her hair.
And then plonked down onto the charred work stool again, gnawing on her thumbnail. She had no idea how to proceed with the next…the next… Hell, how long were they going to be here? How long did it take to decide whether a fire was an act of arson? An hour? A day?
A day. Jesus, how would she survive a day in Damon and Will’s collective presence?
The pit of her belly fluttered, or was it the junction of her thighs? She couldn’t tell. She was so freaking flustered she didn’t know what part of her body was reacting to the men’s arrival.
Yes, you do, Pheebs. You’re just trying to pretend you don’t. You’re turned-on. Already. Just the thought of being in the same room as Will and Damon, of seeing their towering, hard bodies, of hearing their deep voices, smelling their subtle aftershave, is making your sex throb and pulse like a—
She ground her teeth. Damn it. She wasn’t turned-on. Nothing was throbbing and pulsing, thank you very much. She wasn’t that stupid. Yes, they’d all shared something she couldn’t hope to describe, but as it had turned out, she was the only one who’d been emotionally moved by it. Getting excited about Damon and Will turning up at her door now was just plain idiocy. She wouldn’t have it.
Rising to her feet again, Phoebe ran her hands over her clothes—her favorite pair of faded jeans and a T-shirt depicting Leonardo Da Vinci’s face covered by the slimy facehugger from the film Alien. She wasn’t going to let the two arson investigators know how unsettled she was. They would see the woman they first met all those years ago at a Newcastle school fair, where she’d been demonstrating glassblowing techniques and they were answering questions on home fire safety and letting little kids sound the fire engine’s siren. A woman in control of herself, relaxed, a touch left-of-center and far too busy being a successful artist to waste time being distracted by two gorgeous, sexy-arsed—
Someone knocked on her studio’s blackened, buckled door.
Her mouth went dry. “Oh boy.”
She stared at the door. Took a deep breath—and coughed it out again as the acrid taste of burnt word, metal and plastic poured down her throat, past her slamming heart and into her lungs.
Tears leaked from her eyes and she sucked in another breath—and coughed more.
Oh lovely, now they’re going to think I was crying. Brilliant. Bloody brill—
The knock came again, louder this time. Like a fist pounding the smoke-painted door. “Phoebe?” a deep voice called from the other side. Damon. “Phoebe, are you okay?”
She spluttered out a “yes”. It sounded like a hiccupping cat meowing.
Oh, freaking great. She stumbled forward a step, trying not to tumble over the black corpses of what only yesterday were her favorite work chair and drafting board. Tears leaked from her squinted eyes.
“Phoebe?” A different voice this time. Will’s. Deep and loud and worried. “What’s going on?”
“C-c-coming!” she choked. She sounded like a strangled cat this time.
She took another step and kicked a pile of damp, gray mush she guessed had once been her polishing rags. “Shit!”
Of course, that word left her constricting, burning throat quite clearly, didn’t it?
“What the fuck is going on in there?” Damon shouted, followed by another fist-pound on the door. She glanced at it through stinging, tear-blurred eyes, wondering how it was withstanding such a beating. She remembered all too well the massive strength in Damon’s arms. And Will’s as well. The heavy door rattled in its frame, buckled to the point she’d barely been able to lock it.
Damn, why had she come through the back door? If she’d already muscled open the front door, none of this would be—
“Open the fucking door, Pheebs.”
“Coming!” she snapped. Just as she slammed her shin (Jesus, is slamming the action de jour or what?) into what was probably her tool chest, pre-fire. “Damn it!” she yelped, struggling to stop her fall forward even as smoke-tainted air rushed back down her throat.
And she burst out coughing again; wheezing, gasping coughs that covered her cheeks in tears.
Oh this is just freaking awesome.
“Fuck this.” Will’s growl barely reached her ears through the door and over her hitching coughing fit. What did reach her ears, however, was the loud bang as her door slammed open (great, more slamming), revealing Damon Hunt and William Bradley in a shower of splintered wood.
They both stood gaping at her for a split second, both tall, both dominating the doorway, both too damn sexy for words…
And then she was coughing again, stumbling backward, her pulse thumping at the force of just how goddamn perfect they were, how much she’d missed them.
They were beside her before she knew it, two sets of warm, strong hands curling around her arms and pressing to her back. “How long have you been sitting here breathing this shit, Masters?” Damon demanded.
“Way to go with the gentle approach, Stretch,” Will snarled.
She coughed again, eyes squeezed shut. She wasn’t ready to open them. Jesus, her heart was still competing with all the other slamming of the day—this time doing its best to slam its way out of her chest. Damon Hunt and Will Bradley were touching her. Again.
She was a goner.
“Hey, if the woman’s been sitting here all morning waiting for us to show up, she’s got a lungful of smoke and charcoal dust and carcinogenic shit,” Damon pointed out. “She should know better.”
“I—” she began, trying to straighten.
“Cool it, Damon,” Will growled. “You’re scaring the artist.” His hand smoothed up Phoebe’s back to rest beneath the heavy mass of hair at her nape. She should have tied it up in a ponytail; both men loved her hair down and free. What had she been thinking, leaving it out?
“Scaring the artist? This is the same woman who took on that Hells Angel in the pub only a year ago, remember? I don’t think—”
“And she’s been living in Morpeth,” Damon raged. “Who knows how soft and arty-fartsy she’s got since—”
“Arty-fartsy?” Phoebe yanked herself free of their hold, stomping back a few steps to glare at them both, hot anger replacing the confused terror in her chest. “Who the hell do you think you’re calling…”
She faded off, unable to miss their wide grins. Their wide, cheeky, oh-god-how-she’d-missed-them grins. They’d been baiting her.
“Good to see village life hasn’t softened you up, Masters,” Damon said with a smirk, the sinful curl of his lips making Phoebe’s pussy constrict.
“Still, it looks like you’ve forgotten how to breathe properly,” Will noted, his milk-chocolate-brown eyes seeming to glint with mirth. “I’d say too much fresh air getting into your lungs, but then, you’re standing amongst a charcoal pit, so that can’t be it.”
Both went silent, waiting for her to say something.
She couldn’t think of a word. Not one.
How ‘bout, “kiss me, now”?
“Hello Damon, William.” She nodded at them, keeping her voice as calm and formal as she could. Not easy, given that her pussy was tingling from all the vivid memories her brain was feeding her body about the two men before her. Damn brain. What the hell did it know?
Damon cocked a straight, dark eyebrow at her, crossing his sublimely muscled arms over a chest she knew for a fact was equally as sublime. “Hello, Phoebe,” he mocked, his voice just as calm and formal as hers.
Beside him, Will rolled his eyes. “Pheebs.” He gave her a steady look and she had to bite the inside of her lip to stop herself from stepping toward him. Toward them both. They’d made themselves pretty clear six months ago. She wasn’t going to be foolish enough to let them play with her heartstrings again.
They could play with your body, though? Surely just one more time? Or twice? Three times? For old times’ sake? Maybe four—
Damon cast a slow inspection around her studio before turning his gaze back on her. “So, someone been playing with matches, I see? Tsk tsk, didn’t you know little girls who play with fire get burned?”
“Bloody hell, Damon.” William rolled his eyes again, stepping away from Damon with a shake of his head. “Do you think you could be any more lame?”
Damon laughed. “Probably. If I tried hard enough.”
Phoebe stood frozen, watching them both. Goddamn it, she’d thought she’d braced herself for this, for their unique brand of disarming charm and humor. But no, it seemed she’d been a complete failure. Listening to them bounce insults off each other was the closest thing to foreplay she could think of without involving any physical activity. It had always been this way—they goofed around, she laughed at their sarcastic wit and when they parted, she’d go back to her home with a stupid grin on her face and gooey warmth in her soul.
It wasn’t until their weekend together that she realized it was the two men making her so goddamn euphoric, of course. When that realization hit her, it was too late.
She ground her teeth. No. She wasn’t going to be foolish. Not again. It had hurt too much getting over them the first time.
She tilted her chin and straightened her shoulders, swallowing the lump in her throat before licking her lips. “Is there anything I can tell you about the fire?” she asked, shoving her hands in her hip pockets. “Any questions you need me to answer?”
William and Damon passed a quick glance between them. A tension settled over Damon’s body, his jaw bunching a second before William shook his head. “Not at the moment, Pheebs,” Will answered, turning back to her. “We’ll have to go over this place with a fine-tooth comb, however. Is your mobile number still the same? We can call you when we’re finished.”
Prickling disappointment crept through her. They were asking her to go away.
Of course they are, Masters. Isn’t this what you wanted? To not have anything to do with them again? What did you think they were going to do? Ask you to strip naked and become the filling in a manwich?
“Yes,” she blurted out.
Her cheeks filled with heat and she blinked. Jesus, what was she doing?
Both William’s and Damon’s eyebrows pulled into slight frowns. “Phoebe?” Damon took a step toward her, his size-fourteen foot somehow silent on the charred and littered floor. “We—”
“Will call you when we’re done,” William finished, cutting him off.
For a brief moment—the time it took Phoebe’s heart to thump twice in her chest—it looked as if Damon was going to ignore his partner. Damon was the senior investigator after all, and three years older than Will, but then the man nodded, his expression becoming set. “Don’t leave town,” he uttered, the grumbled command nothing like his normal humor-laced voice.
She laughed, a nervous little hiccup of sound. “What would you do? Track me down and drag me back?”
Fresh heat flooded Phoebe’s face. Her eyes widened. Had she really said that?
Damon’s nostrils flared, his dark eyes locking on hers.
“Yes, Pheebs,” William’s steady voice played over her wrought senses, “we would.”
She jerked her stare to his, her pulse pounding.
Then why hadn’t you before?
The question sliced into her soul.
With a nod, she turned and left. Eager to be gone from the depressing remains of her burnt-out studio.
Aching for the two men inside it who she’d sworn she never wanted to see again.
* * * *
Damon stared at his best friend. “What. The fuck. Was that?”
“That was a train wreck,” Will answered, walking across the blackened debris to crouch beside a particularly charred pile of rubble.
Damon shook his head, watching his partner inspect the rubble with a keen, practiced eye. “Why didn’t we just corner her like we’d discussed on the drive up and show her exactly what we had in mind?” He drew his own well-studied inspection over Phoebe’s gutted studio, the sight depressing him on a level he couldn’t indulge. When he turned his attention to a fire scene, it had to be as an indifferent investigator, not a worried…whatever the hell he was to Phoebe at the moment. “You saw the look in her eyes when she saw us,” he said instead, turning back to Will. “Well, after she stopped coughing, that was. She wants us as much as we want her.”
Will poked at the pile of charred debris with a finger before standing and giving Damon a nod. “I did, and you’re right. But think, Damon. Her studio has been destroyed. She’s pretty bloody highly strung right now. The last thing she needs is two horny blokes coming on hard and fast.” He narrowed his eyes, his hands coming to rest on his hips. “Besides, take a breath for me, a deep breath, and tell me what you smell.”
Damon narrowed his own eyes, staring at his partner as he did just that. The acrid, almost sour stench of burnt materials flowed over his olfactory system, a distinctive odor of destruction his brain, after thirteen years as a firefighter and arson investigator, catalogued without conscious thought. With the next breath, however, he tuned out everything in his mind—his concern for Phoebe, his desire for a past once had, his longing for a future few dared hope for—and focused solely on the smell and taste of the air in the studio.
Burnt wood and glass, melted plastics, sodden charcoal, smoke-painted metal, all smells he expected to detect in the fire of a glassblower’s studio. And something else. Something…wrong.
He’d been in the Newcastle studio Phoebe had shared with another artist many times before she’d moved; knew quite well her working practices. She was an “archaic” artist, which meant she worked with the traditional glassblowing materials and techniques the ancient Romans used—three furnaces used to melt and heat the glass, naturally derived pigments to color it, metal blow pipes and marble and steel benches.
He drew another breath, through his nose and mouth, tasting the air as well as smelling it…
And his gut dropped. “Ethyl Alcohol.”
Will’s jaw bunched. “An accelerant. Easily mistaken for the smell of alcoholic beverages. But we both know Phoebe’s stance on alcohol so it’s not the smell of wine or spirits she may have kept in the studio.”
Damon ground his teeth at Will’s words. He remembered all too well Phoebe’s revelation a year ago about her abusive drunkard of a father who had no qualms beating his wife and only child. Phoebe, as a result, almost never drank.
He ran his stare over the blackened chaos around him, his hands balling into fists. “So the fire was deliberately set.”
Will nodded, his expression unreadable, his body tense.
Damon’s chest squeezed. Hard. “You’re not thinking Phoebe did it?” He couldn’t believe that. He wouldn’t. Despite what the Morpeth fire captain had put in his report, Damon wouldn’t believe Phoebe had torched her own studio.
Will dragged his fingers through his hair. “No. For three reasons. One, she loves her art more than she loves life, we both know that. Two, Sami’s father. After years of her best friend’s dad being the closest thing to a real father Pheebs had, she would know a structural fire like this meant an investigation.” He stopped.
Damon studied him, not liking the pause at all. “And three?”
Will let out a ragged sigh. “She would know we would be the ones sent to investigate. And as much desire as I saw in her eyes, I also saw hurt. A lot of it. Hurt and mistrust. She wasn’t happy to see us, didn’t want to see us, and it had nothing to do with the fire.”
Damon drove his nails into his palms. “You’re right. Jesus, she even told Captain Kilgour she didn’t want us up here. Fuck it.”
Will didn’t need to nod; his eyes said it all. Phoebe hadn’t set her studio alight, which could only mean someone else had intentionally and maliciously started the fire and destroyed her studio.
Why? Who would do that? And to what end? A knot formed in Damon’s gut, a bloody tight and convoluted knot he recognized well. Fear. It had been a long time since he’d experienced the emotion, and the last time had involved Phoebe Masters as well. That time, however, had nothing to do with a possible threat against her life and everything to do with an entirely different emotion overwhelming him.
You can’t think about that now, Damo. For the moment, you’ve got to be nothing else but an arson investigator. Not a man too dumb-shit stupid to admit when he was falling in love.
He huffed out a breath, casting the burnt-out shell of Phoebe’s studio another slow inspection. “We won’t tell her. Not until we know who started it and why.”
One of Will’s eyebrows cocked. “You think that’s wise?”
Damon snorted. “No. But that’s the call I’m making. As Senior Investigator.”
“As Senior Investigator?” Will narrowed his eyes. “Not as the guy who came up here with the goal of seducing Phoebe back into his bed?”
The question made Damon growl. “As both. And I’m not the only one who wants her back in his bed, am I?” He withdrew his keys from the hip pocket of his jeans and tossed them to Will. “Now shut the fuck up, Tiny, and go get our kits from the car.”
Will snatched the keys from midair. “Yes, boss.”
Despite the wholly disturbing discovery they’d just made, Damon laughed. “Yeah, remember that later when I’m telling you where to put that dick of yours.”
Will grinned. “As long as it’s not inside you.”
Damon laughed again. “Oh no. It’ll be inside a certain glass artist we both know.”
Will’s grin turned wry. “That’s if she’ll have us.”
The knot in Damon’s gut rolled. “She will,” he said. But he wasn’t sure.
And that scared the shit out of him more than anything.
It was no use. She was officially screwed.
Phoebe stopped pacing the converted mechanic’s garage that was her home and dropped herself into the old, worn armchair she’d only five minutes ago flung herself from. She should be worried about her destroyed studio. She should be worried about her materials and supplies and all the works she’d lost in the fire, all the tools and equipment now damaged beyond repair by the flames. She should be freaking out about how the fire started.
Instead, she was obsessing over the naked want she couldn’t miss seeing in Damon’s and William’s eyes.
She scrunched up her face and gnawed on her thumbnail, staring at the large abstract sculpture sitting on the floor in front of the window opposite her. She’d only finished the artwork the day before yesterday, a commissioned job for the Prime Minister that would soon be collected by courier. Thank God she’d brought it home with her to photograph, otherwise it would’ve been destroyed along with the rest of her studio.
She let out a sigh around her thumb. She was exceedingly proud of the evocative piece. Tall and elegant, the twin glass columns stood pressed together, two blown forms of black glass manipulated to the brink of shattering and yet still dominating the space they held with irrefutable power. When she’d created it she’d done so purely from the heart, with no pre-planned conception of how it was going to finish. Looking at it now, she couldn’t help but wonder if somewhere along the line it had become prophetic.
The two forms, one darker in its blackness and slightly taller than the other, could be Damon and Will.
“You jinxed yourself, Masters.” She glared at the artwork. “You bloody well blew them into existence and now they’re out there in your studio picking over the remains of what was once your life.”
Jesus, how melodramatic can you be?
She curled her lip, glaring some more at the sculpture. “Very. Example, only two hours ago you were holding a scorched piece of glass in your hand and referring to it as an accidental dildo. How’s that for melodramatic?”
Actually, if you take into account you created an artwork that was meant to represent the mystery of forever that instead embodies the two men who forever changed your most secret fantasies, I’d say the accidental dildo was Freudian.
With a groan, she flung herself from the armchair. Again. And paced the area of the converted garage designated as her living room. Again.
Ten paces to the left. Spin. Ten paces to the right.
She chewed on her thumbnail some more. She shot the glass sculpture—until about a minute ago titled Untitled Time, now more likely due the title Oh Fuck, Why Can’t I Get Them Out of My Fucking Head?—a glance over her shoulder. Her sex twinged with unsubtle insistence over the twin shapes.
She came to a halt, nowhere near the armchair this time, and closed her eyes, pulling a deep breath. Of course, her brain told her she could smell Damon and William on the air. They had, after all, held her, their fingers wrapping around her arms as she was coughing, their thighs so close to her hips she wanted to whimper—would have whimpered if she hadn’t been so asphyxiated by burnt studio air. In the six months since she’d left Newcastle, she’d imagined their smell on every item of clothing she owned, no matter how many times said item had been drowned in a washing machine. It was only natural her deluded, pathetic, lovelorn brain would tell her their smell lingered on her flesh now. Clean, distinctive, evoking memories of days and nights in their arms, their bodies moving over hers, inside hers, their mouths on her throat, her lips, her breasts, her—
The word fell from her lips on a whisper.
That was the answer. Sex.
The two men in her studio, less than a mile away from where she stood now, had awakened in her a sexual appetite she hadn’t been prepared for. Her stupid heart—to match her stupid brain, it seemed—had insisted what she’d been feeling for them was love, but it wasn’t. It was just sexual fantasy stuff to the extreme. What woman didn’t want to be made love to—no, no, wrong word—fucked by two hot, sexy guys at once? They’d awoken in her that fantasy and she’d buggered off before she got that fantasy out of her system. That was all.
One more night in Damon’s and William’s arms, in bed with them, and she would have been able to move on. One more night of fucking and it wouldn’t have mattered they didn’t want what she’d thought she’d wanted—a happy-ever-after, bucking-society’s-convention threesome.
All she needed to do was sleep with them one more time and they would be out of her system. For good. And she could get back to the important things in life—blowing artworks that didn’t make her think of Damon Hunt and William Bradley, and freaking out about how her studio had become a showpiece symbolizing the dangerous force of fire.
One more night of being fucked by them both. That’s all she needed.
One more. Just one more and she was over them.
Before she could tell the scoffing little voice in her head to shut the hell up, someone knocked on her door.
Her belly flipped-flopped. Twice, in fact.
Hurrying across the room, she curled her fingers around the handle of the massive sliding panel door, swallowed once, and pulled it to the right. Opening her home to Damon and William.
Except it wasn’t.
Harvey Kilgour smiled at her, a nervous, sheepish smile, his firefighter’s uniform replaced with crisp, unfaded blue jeans and a T-shirt that said “Han Shot First”. He dipped his head a little, looking for all the world like an oversized, slightly balding eight-year-old. “I’ve been worried about you, Phoebe.”
She blinked, her heart still thumping with excited nerves over who she’d anticipated seeing on her threshold. “Err…”
“I wanted to ask if you’d like me to take you to lunch,” he hurried on, cheeks pink, his gaze once again fighting to stay on her face. “I know you must be upset about the fire, but you have to keep your energy levels up when in times of stress and the Cressida’s Riverview Café gives me free garlic bread for being a firefighter.”
Phoebe blinked again, her fingers still gripping the door handle. “I—”
“And after lunch, I can come back to your studio and look around,” Harvey continued, the words almost falling over each other, “to see if I can find what caused the fire. Maybe help you with the cleanup. Two hands are better than one, they always say, and if I stay through to dinner we could order in Chinese and then finish cleaning after we’ve—”
“It’s okay, Harvey,” she blurted, a prickling heat climbing up the back of her neck. “Thank you, but I’m fine. Besides, we probably shouldn’t do anything to my studio until Will and Damon…until the arson officers are finished investigating.”
A scowl flickered over Harvey’s face, there and gone in less than a heartbeat. He fidgeted, his knuckles white as he shoved his fists into his jeans pockets. Phoebe bit back a sigh. She felt bad always saying no to him, she really did. He was sweet and genuinely nervous. It mustn’t have been easy, plucking up the courage to put himself out there considering all the times she’d refused him, but she couldn’t say yes. It would be unfair. Especially when she’d just decided to sleep with—
Damon appeared behind Harvey, Will joining him, both men dwarfing the Morpeth firefighter, both regarding her with unreadable, ambiguous expressions.
Phoebe’s pulse tried to thump its way out of her neck. Her heart tried to beat it by smashing up into her throat. She parted her lips, and then caught her bottom one with her teeth.
Harvey frowned. “Phoebe?” He took a step toward her, his fingers brushing her wrist. “Are you okay? Do you want to lie down? Where’s your bed? Let me walk you to it and—”
“I think Phoebe needs some comfort from an old friend,” Damon stated. His voice was low and laced with mirth. Or anger. She couldn’t tell. Either way, it made Harvey jump, his whole body flinching as he jerked around to stare up at them.
“Or two,” Will finished, giving the shorter man a steady gaze.
It was Harvey’s turn to “err”. The sound left him like a rattling buzz saw, his cheeks growing redder by the second.
“Harvey.” Phoebe placed her hand on his arm, feeling his nervous pain. The way her own nerves were running amuck at the sight of the two men, she understood completely how Harvey felt. Of course, Harvey’s nerves most likely had little to do with the constant, impatient longing twitching between his thighs. At least, she assumed it didn’t. “This is Damon Hunt and William Bradley, the arson investigators from Newcastle.”
For a split second, Phoebe thought Harvey was going to launch himself at Damon and Will and tear them limb from limb. His nostrils flared, his jaw bunched and she could have sworn she heard a low growl rumble deep in his chest.
And then he was ducking his head and shuffling backward, eyes jumping around their sockets like agitated insects, looking everywhere but at her and Damon and Will. “Sorry,” he mumbled, face now almost a brilliant shade of vermillion. “I have…” His gaze flicked to hers for a beat. “I have stuff…work to do.”
Without another word, shoulders hunched, face glowing, he fled. There was no other word to describe the way he moved away from Phoebe’s door and the two men standing in it.
Phoebe scowled at Damon. “The guy you just scared the crap out of.”
Damon’s eyebrows shot up. “What did we do?”
She opened her mouth. And closed it again. What did they do to make Harvey bolt? “You didn’t have to…to…” She pulled a face. “Be so tall.”
Will burst out laughing. “True. How dare you be taller than Harvey, boss.”
Damon grinned. “It’s what I get for eating all my Wheaties as a kid, Tiny.”
Phoebe’s heart thumped hard, just to remind her how much she enjoyed their banter, and how much she missed it. “Oh shut up, you two.”
Both men turned their grins on her, Damon stepping closer to lean his elbow on the metal doorway. “It’s not our fault, Phoebe. After not seeing you for six months, do you really think we’re going to stand by and let another man attempt to take you out?”
Phoebe’s pulse skyrocketed into rabid flight at Damon’s question. Or maybe it was at the blazing, unquestionable hunger in his eyes. Or the way he leaned closer to her, his warmth licking at her body, his stare holding her prisoner. Her pussy constricted.
“When what we really want to do is take you,” he continued.
She licked her lips. “Where?”
Moving with fluid grace, Will slid around her body, his hands smoothing over her belly and down to cup her hips. “Right here,” he murmured, his lips brushing her temple.
As if that was the signal, Damon destroyed the minute distance between them. “Right now,” he finished. His hands reached up to frame her face, his mouth claiming hers with all the forceful dominance she remembered oh so well.
He drove her back into Will’s hard body, his hands still holding her face as his tongue plunged into her mouth. Will’s hands dragged up her body to capture her breasts, pinching her nipples—rock-hard and straining against her bra and shirt—with gentle pressure.
She moaned into Damon’s mouth, sliding her palms between their bodies, pushing him.
There was something she needed to say. Something she needed to tell them both. Wasn’t there?
Damon didn’t budge, his mouth slanting over hers, his tongue swiping at her lips, her teeth. Taking possession of her tongue with hungry demand. He pressed his body closer to hers, the rigid length of his erection trapped in his jeans impossible to miss against her belly. As was Will’s equally commanding arousal grinding against the cheeks of her butt.
“Jesus, I’ve never forgotten how good this feels,” Will murmured in her ear, his lips like hot velvet on her flesh. “How good you feel, Pheebs.”
Her head swam. The pulsing in her pussy grew faster, a constricting throb that stole her breath. She moaned into Damon’s kiss again, snaking her arms up around his neck. The move lifted her breasts to his chest, her nipples scraping at its hard plane, and shards of intoxicating pleasure shot through her. She’d never forgotten how good this felt either. Both men pleasuring her—kissing her, holding her, treating her like she was their sole reason for existing as they brought her to climax after climax after climax…
“Remember how good this felt?” Will whispered, his palms smoothing up her rib cage, between her and Damon’s torsos to capture her breasts. His fingers splayed over them, framing her nipples through the material of her shirt in a teasing caress.
She did. She’d relived it over and over again, every time she lay on her bed. Every time she withdrew her vibrator from its case, she fed her tormented arousal with the memory of Will and Damon making love to her.
God help her, she’d never forget.
Will pinched her nipples between his fingers, squeezing her breasts with gentle force, his mouth traveling over the column of her neck as Damon continued to kiss her senseless. A two-fold attack she was defenseless against.
She whimpered, wriggling her arse harder against Will’s denim-trapped cock as she wrapped one leg around Damon’s thigh.
“Fuck me, Masters,” Damon groaned against her mouth, his hands burying in her hair. “I want to be inside you. We both want to be inside you.”
I want you both inside me too. Now.
The words never left her lips. How could they, when Damon was kissing her again with such savage need?
Will massaged her breasts, his cock—so long and hard despite the constriction of his jeans—stroking the crevice of her backside. He caught her earlobe with his teeth, giving the plump little pad of flesh a nip. “Did I ever tell you how fucking hot I get watching Damon fuck your mouth with his tongue?”
His question sent a shudder of tension through Phoebe. She moaned, clinging to Damon as Will dragged one hand down her belly to the waistline of her jeans. His fingers played with the button there, and she couldn’t stop her jolting buck when he popped it undone.
Her convulsive move tore Damon’s lips from hers and she sucked in a breath, and another as his mouth moved to her throat, sucking with painful force just below her jawline.
Concentrated pleasure speared through her. Sinking into the junction of her thighs. “Oh…”
Whatever else she was going to say—yes, yes, please—was lost to her as Will pressed a hand to the side of her face, turned her head to his and took her mouth in a greedy kiss.
His tongue delved past her lips, its action echoed by his fingers dipping beneath her now open fly—God, when did that happen?—to delve between her pussy’s folds.
Damon’s hands worked their way to her arse, cupping and squeezing each cheek through her jeans for a punishing moment before snaring the back of her raised leg and yanking it higher. Her sex spread wider and Will’s fingers plunged deeper, wriggling inside her with a mastery that made her whimper into his mouth.
“Tell me how wet she is, Will.”
Phoebe’s heart thumped faster at Damon’s groaned order. And faster still when Will broke their kiss and raised his face to his friends.
“Wet and tight and hot, Stretch. So wet a man would drown in her pleasure.”
“I want to be that man.” Damon’s lips roamed her throat. “I want to sink to my knees and bury my face in her cunt and let her cream flow down my throat.”
“Do it.” The command left Phoebe on a ragged breath. She arched her body, driving her pussy harder against Will’s wriggling fingers, toward Damon’s insistent erection. “Do it now. I can’t wait.”
Damon’s low chuckle vibrated against the side of her neck. “Perhaps we should close the door first?”
The question made Phoebe start and, for the first time since Damon’s lips crushed hers, she remembered where they were—standing in the open doorway of her converted garage for anyone who walked past to see.
And in a village the size of Morpeth, “anyone” could quite literally walk past at any second. Walk past and see her leg wrapped around one man’s hips with another man’s hand buried between her thighs. Walk past and see her lips wet from their kisses. Walk past and hear her moans of desperate need.
“Perhaps,” Will answered, his fingers slipping from her sodden slit just enough to stroke the swollen nub of her clit before plunging back inside her. “Unless Pheebs wants to leave it open?”
An exquisite thrill shot through Phoebe at the very notion. Her sex pulsed, her nipples pinching tight.
“Jesus, Stretch,” Will groaned, “the way her cunt just squeezed my fingers, I think she does.”
“N-no…” She shook her head, her lips parting. She did. A part of her did. So much. A wanton part of her wanted just that. The idea of being caught as Damon and William pleasured her was so freaking arousing she felt giddy and weak from it. But this was Morpeth, population eight hundred and ninety-one. Her home and place of employment. When Damon and Will went back to Newcastle—as they would—she would still be here.
When they go back? But you don’t want them to go back.
The thought squirmed in her chest, cold and unsettling.
“No,” she said again, more firm this time. “Not in the doorway.” She pushed at Damon’s chest, really pushed at it, detangling herself from their arms. Will’s fingers slipped from her pussy, dragging over her clit as she pulled away from them. The contact sent a shudder through her and she bit back a cry—of dismay and pleasure.
“Listen,” she began, taking a step backward from the door, away from them both. “There’s something we need to get clear.”
Damon threw Will a quick look, both men standing motionless in the gaping entry. “What’s that, Masters?”
She swallowed at the tone of his voice. She’d heard it before. If a tiger about to go for the kill could form human speech, that’s what Damon would sound like. Menacing arrogance and confident determination.
Phoebe licked her lips, staring first at him and then Will. Goddamn it, why did they have to look at her with such smoldering intensity? Why did they have to be so bloody gorgeous? So freaking…sexy?
Will cocked an eyebrow, crossing his arms, the fingers oh so recently deep within her pussy glistening with her juices. “Pheebs?”
She straightened her shoulders. Licked her lips again. “Just sex. Just once. And after that, you’re both out of my life. Understood?”
Damon’s eyes narrowed. “Those your conditions, are they?”
She nodded. “I’ve only just healed my heart from…from before. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to fuck you both again. And I don’t lie, so that’s my offer. Just sex. Just once. And then I never want to see either of you again.”
She tilted her chin, ignoring the wholly disturbing word.
Damon crossed his arms. “What if we tell you we don’t agree?”
“Then you have to leave now. Give your report to Captain Kilgour on your way out of town.”
A low chuckle rumbled in Damon’s chest. “No.”
Phoebe sucked in a swift breath. “No?”
“I think,” Will said, his stare holding her still, “what Stretch is trying to say, is the negotiations can take place after.”
For an answer, Will reached behind him and slide the door closed, the solid thud of metal coming to rest against metal like a clap of thunder.
Phoebe’s heart decided it was time to do some slamming again. Straight against her breastbone.