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Ethan’s soft laugh brushed along Charlie’s spine, and he slid his hands down to her bottom, tilting her hips and giving her a better feel of him. All over, her skin heated.
He must have seen her reaction, because he let loose a low groan. “Baby. Your face.” Glancing away, he put a bit of distance between their bodies. “Tell me something to get my mind off what I want to do to you all night long.”
His obvious need jolted through her, followed by another wash of heat. God, she desired this man.
“Charlotte…” he said, low and tortured.
“Sorry, sorry,” she answered, trying to think. “Um…culaccino.”
“Wait a minute.” His eyes narrowed. “That sounds dirty.”
She laughed. “It’s the circle left on a table by a wet glass.”
He considered. “Okay, I feel slightly less combustible now.”
“Good,” she stepped away from him, “as long as you can relight that fire tomorrow night.” She gave him an especially lascivious once-over, very un-serious and un-butlerlike, lingering on his crotch.
He groaned again, then snatched her arm to drag her close once more. Instead of kissing her, though, he just stared into her eyes.
“Age-otori,” he murmured.
“Which means?” she asked, smiling.
“Wait, not that one. That one’s Japanese for looking worse after a haircut.”
She laughed. “Have you been on the internet again?”
“Yes,” he said. “I want to impress you.” Then he touched his lips to her forehead to again. “I meant to say forelsket. It’s Norwegian—and I’m likely butchering the pronunciation.”
“Is that a fish dish?” she guessed.
He shook his head. “Look it up later.”
Then he moved off toward Wells, who was coming awake after his short cat nap.
Charlie managed to make it until night, alone in her cozy bungalow, before doing a search on the word forelsket. She expected to find it was something funny. Or maybe something a little bit filthy.
That raw, sexual side of Ethan had come as an exciting surprise.
Her lips were curved in anticipation as the results scrolled onto her screen. When she read the definition, she fell onto her bed, her world rocked.
Forelsket described the giddy exhilaration one feels when beginning to fall in love.
Did Ethan mean…
Her head reeled and her stomach roiled too.
Surely he didn’t mean it. He’d told her he’d had his love of a lifetime—Michelle. That his marriage to Charlie would be a practical arrangement between two people with a fierce attraction to each other.
But either way, she was beginning to realize that her lie of omission could too easily become a wedge between them—one capable of destroying the exact thing she wanted to build.
Oh, God. Did this mean she was going to have to find a way to tell Ethan the truth?
Being butler to a widower and single father is a dream job in more ways than one for Charlotte â€œCharlieâ€ Emerson. She helps keep businessman Ethan Archerâ€™s household running without a hitch and enjoys every minute she has with his six-year-old son, Wells. But as time passes, the situation feels alarmingly intimate and when her heart starts beating faster each time Ethan steps through the door, Charlie must exert rigid control over her feelings.
With her secret, falling in love would be all kinds of badâ€¦
Ethan Archer values the woman who keeps his life in order and cares so much for his motherless boy. He and Charlie act in harmony with each other and itâ€™s not hard to picture them as a little familyâ€¦in fact, itâ€™s so easy, one reckless night he proposes a marriage of convenience.
What will he do if Charlie says yes? And worse, what if she tells him no?
Charlie returned to the kitchen to deal with the dishes and restore the pots and pans to their proper place. She liked tidiness and order in all things—emotions included. Emmaline sometimes accused her of capping off her feelings, and Charlie didn’t disagree. Or find anything wrong with it.
“In my book,” she murmured to herself now, “compartmentalizing isn’t a sin.”
“What’s not a sin?” a masculine voice questioned.
Charlie whirled around, instant heat crawling up her throat and cheeks. “Um, hi, Ethan.” Her boss had been on a business trip for the past couple of weeks. Why hadn’t she taken the time to change into something other than cropped leggings and a matching T-shirt? When was the last time she’d brushed her hair?
He smiled, softening the lines of his lean and handsome face. At their first meeting, he’d claimed to be “on the dark side of thirty-five” but she’d met younger men who didn’t come close to his level of attractiveness.
“Charlotte,” he said now.
She pretended to scowl at him and told herself that she found his use of her full name—he was the only one who ever did use it—irksome. It made her feel too…feminine, and she was supposed to merely be a functional feature in his life. A Charlie.
His laughter was low, almost intimate. “On occasion, I must.”
Ignoring the traitorous pleasure she felt in his presence, she busied herself with refolding a kitchen towel. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“You were lost in thought.” A heavy pause. “Something about sinning?”
At the amused and inquisitive tone, she glanced up at him. He looked back, one dark eyebrow winged up and the hint of a smile on his firm lips. A shiver tried working its way down her spine, but she ruthlessly held back the sensation.
“It was nothing,” she said.
“I’m disappointed to hear that.” He laughed again, sounding slightly chagrined. “For a moment I thought one of us was breaking out of our rut.”
Christie Ridgway is a California native and author of fifty contemporary romances. A six-time RITA finalist and USA Today bestselling author, she writes award-winning, emotional reads starring determined heroines and the men who can’t help but love them. Christie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, went to college in Santa Barbara, and now is married to the sweetheart she met there.
She started off as a technical writer and moved on to computer programming before having two sons and pursuing the dream she’d held since childhood–writing romance novels. Her first book stars a hero who was a former professional surfer and since then she’s written about businessmen, TV stars, soldiers, journalists, vintners, race car drivers, and horror novelists. What her heroes have in common is their resistance to love and their hardest of falls when they finally do find their right woman.