Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 22

This is why he didn’t cook. This is why restaurants existed.

How did people do this? The house had been cleaned, groceries purchased, candles lit – and he was exhausted. Then, rather than a nap, he had to start cooking – and it’s damn good he did – because the prep had taken the rest of the afternoon. Luke kissed any chance of relaxation goodbye after his attempt at picking up his bedroom. It didn’t help that he kept imagining Grace in it with him. He wasn’t necessarily planning on them ending up there, but he’d be lying to himself – and mother nature – if he claimed he hadn’t imagined what it would be like having Grace beneath him at least one hundred times since they met.

Now here he was with his sleeves rolled up, sweating his ass off in the kitchen, trying to make something called coq au vin. Why would he think that was remotely possible? And why, he asked himself, did he decided to make this? Because Mave was an asshole.

“Make coq au vin,” Luke mumbled to himself, “It’ll impress the girl, he said. She’ll be head over heels before dessert, he said. What a dick.”

At least he had the sense to buy some of those awesome crème brûlées from the Bistro for dessert. So, he was confident in precisely one thing they would eat that night.

He’d drenched the chicken in wine, chopped the vegetables, cooked the bacon, seared the chicken, sautéed the onion and garlic, and loaded it all into a giant pot his mom had gotten him years ago. It might have been the first time using it, but the smells coming from it were pretty damn good if he said so himself.

Luke eyed the recipe and what seemed to be step number thirty-five and cursed Julia Child for her existence. It might not be appropriate to drink before your date arrived but, desperate times. Grace would arrive in about twenty minutes, he assessed, as he snagged the left-over wine that hadn’t been used on the chicken and started pouring his glass. Quick and effective.

The living and dining rooms were the cleanest, and if he admitted it, the prettiest it had ever been. At the Bistro, Aimeé had given him some simple, attainable, advice: flowers and candles on the table. He’d done a little extra and added some little – what did they call them? Votives – to the coffee table and mantle, too. The piney, musky, fireside scent he’d picked out for the candles didn’t seem too girlie – it was even a bit manly, he thought.

The knock on the door came too early. Luke’s stomach flipped, a mixture of nervousness and anticipation. Well, he thought as he took a sip, he was as ready as he was ever going to be. A deep breath and he swung open the door.

“Wow.” It was all his brain could process. She was unreal.

“Wow, yourself,” came her sultry response.

“I just…would it be too forward if I-” Luke hesitated for only a moment before he stepped toward her. With his free hand he cupped side of her face and touched his lips to hers. Her fragrance filled him. Her lips were soft. The combination nearly killed him.

It was simple and sweet, but Grace felt every part of her body heat in response. When Luke pulled his head away ever so slightly, he grinned, and her knees felt weak.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” she replied softly. And with that, she knew she was his. She was falling for him in a way she never knew was possible. She had never experienced this kind of attraction before – and was becoming certain she never would with another man again.

Luke didn’t take the bottle from her hand. Instead, he held out his hand for her free one. Their fingers laced as they had the night they met, and he led her through the door.

The clean, dark lines of the condo were all man. Gray walls wrapped around an open kitchen, dining, and living room. Grace had noted on the elevator that she was brought to the top floor. She just hadn’t realized she’d be on the entire top floor. Windows surrounded her and, for reasons other than sleeping with Luke, she wanted to relish this room in the morning as the sun came up. She could imagine the pink and orange rays reflecting and bouncing off the Minneapolis skyline.

As her gaze traveled from corner to corner, she saw the candles glowing around the room. A vase was overflowing with a mixture of white flowers and big leafy greens. It was precious. And romantic. It was, she mused, something she would have done. It was beautiful.

“It’s perfect in here. I love every detail. And that smell.” Grace turned and started for the kitchen. “It is heavenly. What is that?”

Maybe he wouldn’t kill Mave after all, he thought, noting the impressed tone of her voice as she peered into the oven.

“It’s called coq au vin. And not at all spelled like it sounds. Google made me feel slightly inferior when it suggested the correct spelling.”

“Who cares how it’s spelled,” she said as she wandered farther into the kitchen. “With a smell like that, it can be spelled however it wants. You made this?”

“I did. But I feel I should confess, not a whole lot normally happens in this kitchen aside from takeout, reheats, and frozen pizza.”

“I had you for a takeout kind of guy,” Grace said, curving the edge of her lip up ever so wryly. “I should warn you, I tend to try and use my kitchen as much as I can. Usually, for new recipes – not all of them work out,” she admitted, recalling some of her failed experiments. “But I like moving around after work in my own space. I love my home, and I love being in it. It’s my comfort. And, I don’t feel bad about pouring a nice glass of wine while I’m at it.”

He could imagine her there. Casually moving about. Long hair tied back. Relaxed. Dicing, stirring, sipping. She always seemed casual, or at ease, when he imagined her. Did she say ‘warn me’ as in…

“Warn me?” Luke asked as he handed her a glass of wine from the bottle she’d set on the island. “As in, you’re warning me, so I know what I’m getting myself into? As in, you might be interested?”

The smart way he spoke amused her, and she wondered if there would come a time when he would stop trying to charm her. There was only one way to find out.

“As in, you are very interesting to me,” she demurred, her eyes sparkling.

“Interesting enough to continue to date me?”

“I think I would like to date you,” Grace confirmed, nodding agreement to herself as much as Luke, sipping her wine.

“Do you dance?”

Grace eyed him curiously, one eyebrow raised. “Is it a dating prerequisite?”

“No.” He moved to her, set her wine on the counter, and pulled her in. “I just needed an excuse to get close to you.”

There was no music, but she didn’t need any. Luke swayed, and she followed.

Grace leaned back to look at him when he pulled her hand in to gently press his lips to it. The hand resting on her lower back was sending goosebumps up and down the length of her body. She’d never wish a man to be indecent or too forward, but at this moment she longed for him to make a move. She wanted his hand to inch its way up and down. Lust was taking her over. She wanted him to feel what she was feeling. How was he able to be this close and not want?

Grace moved her body into his, her curves pressing against him.

The swaying movements slowed, and his eyes darkened as they looked into hers.

“Grace.” His voice was throaty and low.

“Luke.”

“I’m not going to be able to keep my gentlemanly control if we keep at this.”

“It was your idea.” She pressed closer yet and felt his control waning, her need pulsing inside.

“I haven’t had a bad idea yet,” he whispered, his breath on her neck.

He let her hand go only to surround her entirely with his arms. When their lips met, their bodies were already melted together. She so willing to give and he willing to take.

Her lips tasted like wine as he slowly savored them. He fought to move slowly as she gently nibbled his lip. The groan came from his growing need for her, and his hands followed. They roamed her back and teasingly down her body. He wanted more. He wanted all of her. If they didn’t stop now, he’d lose all of his control. And most of his dignity.

Grace’s heart raced, and the ache deep within her throbbed as she felt his hand slide toward her crease just below her bottom. Dangerously close to the center of the ache.

Her sultry moan yearned for him.

At the sexy sound, control was lost, and his dignity be damned. Luke paused for just a moment to look at her to see any sign of hesitation in her eyes. All he saw was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was staring back at him, radiating confidence mixed with desire. Her grin, a sensual victory she’d won. It was all the confirmation he needed.

His lips crashed into hers, devouring, taking. When she parted, his tongue sought.

Desire matched desire. His arms tightened around her, engulfing her in his need, driving her hunger and yearning to places she’d never known. She wanted him, needed him to give her release.

Grace’s hand hunted for the buttons of his shirt as she rushed to remove the barrier.

As she worked, his lips found her neck and feasted on the delicate angles that led to her chest. Where the deep-v of her sweater blocked his way to the crease, he slid his hands beneath it, grazing her soft skin as he lifted it from her slim, silky body.

Luke stared. Had to take her in. She was a vision. The light pale of her skin matching the lace that covered the small, supple rounds of her breasts.

She let him stare as she removed his shirt, one arm after the other. Her hands were warm with desire as she loosened the button and zipper of his jeans and slid them down. He couldn’t touch, not yet. Watching her body move and sway had him entranced as she removed her own jeans and let them fall to the floor.

The air was thick between them, and he parted it with a step to her. His hands rounded the curves of her body, drew the lines from her breasts to her hips. Then soft kisses replaced the trail of heat from his hands as they moved. When her body felt the need to arch, she leaned her head back and yearned for him to be inside of her. She parted her legs and braced against the island, her vivid eyes and racing heart pleading for him to enter.

When Luke’s body straightened his face leveled with hers, he caressed and held the delicate edges of her face and brought his forehead to hers, he breathlessly whispered to her, “Let me take you upstairs.”

Grace’s fingertips grazed his chest and down his torso until they found the edge of his briefs. Two fingers played beneath the band, skimming too close for any control. She slid the briefs down, and he bound to freedom. Her warm hands skimmed, feeling the bumps they left in their wake as they maneuvered around, pulling him closer. They teased and tantalized, ignoring his words and the offering of a more comfortable setting. When she found him in her hands, she leaned in, so his most sensitive part grazed the texture of the cream lace. Her head tilted up, and she whispered in return.

“Luke, I want you now.” Confidence and hunger strained her soft voice.

It was a fierce craving he’d never known; never knew could exist. Luke was hypnotized by her movements, bewitched by her voice, and straining for control with every move she made.

“Grace,” was all he said as he lifted her to the counter. Her hands dove into his hair and pulled him into a frenzied kiss. Her fire filled his hands, and the damp he felt as his hand slid between her outmatched his restraint. He couldn’t wait a moment longer. Luke slid the soft, cream-colored lace aside and filled her in a hard, demanding thrust.

Their moans of pleasure encouraged and reassured the heavy, quickening pace. There would be a time for slow, fragile love-making, but it wasn’t now. The yearning was simply too much.

“Faster.” Grace begged, needing more.

Luke obeyed and their bodies collided in miraculous pleasure. The rhythm and pace excruciating; the sensations, unimaginable.

His eyes fought to watch her, but the ecstasy coursing through his veins clouded his vision in a lust-filled haze. The insurmountable gratification was nearly too much as he plummeted into the deepest part of her.

Grace felt her need building and building. He filled her until she required release. At her peak, she let go – and the explosion of pleasure ripped through her.

The wet sensation engulfed him, and he came gloriously. Relief flooded his body in sweet liberation.

“Wow,” Grace said when she could finally speak again, mimicking the words she’d heard when he met her at the door.

“Right back at you.”

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