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Installment III

Something Extra for My Readers

So many of you have asked for more of tough-talking pastry chef Violet’s romance with her sexy organic farmer, Jonathan! I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately, too. So here’s the third installment in their ongoing love story. It will make a lot more sense if you read “Spring Fever” and “Too Hot to Handle” first! And this isn’t the end of their journey, either, so check back for more updates.

Three weeks later . . . after the events of “Too Hot to Handle”

It never failed.

Violet’s cell phone buzzed in the pocket of her white apron the instant she stuck her hands in a mass of warm, sticky bread dough.

After swearing loud enough to have the garde-manger chef, Milo, give her an appreciative thumbs up, and fumbling to get it up to her ear and switched on without gumming up the keypad, she was a little out of breath.


“Hi there.”

The rich, gravelly voice melted her irritation faster than superfine sugar crystals in a saucepan of hot water.

“Wild Man. I wasn’t sure I was gonna hear from you tonight.”

She glanced at the clock. It was late, especially considering they’d both put in full days—her in the kitchen of the newly opened restaurant, Market, and him at his vendor stand in the Union Square Greenmarket. And her apartment was only across Central Park, not an hour and a half upstate.

Excitement tingled through her like the buzz from a bite of really excellent dark chocolate. Maybe tonight was the night! He’d stop dragging this out and accept her offer of a place to spend the night . . . and all that came with it. Violet felt the temperature around her rise at least five degrees, just thinking about it.

But before she could ask him back to her place, he said, “I thought if you were close to being done, I’d meet you in half an hour or so at that coffee shop you like. The one with the ripped up velvet armchairs spilling stuffing out of the cushions.”

A shiver roughened her skin as the temperature dropped quickly back to normal.

“Mad Madam Mim’s,” she said woodenly. “Seventy-third and Amsterdam.”

“That’s the one.” He didn’t seem to have noticed the sudden chill in the air.

His oblivious cheerfulness tipped her annoyance sharply into real anger.

“Yeah, I’ll see you there,” she said shortly. “Bye.”

Dropping the phone onto her pastry board with a clatter, Violet took a deep breath and tried to be rational.

But rationality had never really been her area of expertise.

Enough was enough.

Plunging her hands back into the focaccia dough, she gathered it up and slammed it back down, startling a jump out of the ferrety little dude who’d arrived that morning from the Academy of Culinary Arts.

Not that it took much to startle the new guy, she’d noticed, but still, Violet grimaced a quick apology and plunged her floured hands back into the sticky dough. A thick, warm scent rose up from the oily mound, oddly pleasant and satisfying.

Which was pretty much the only satisfaction Violet was getting, these days. Hence the Hulk-smash style of kneading.

If she weren’t so frustrated, she’d have to laugh. She, Violet Porter, pastry chef, party animal, single gal extraordinaire, had a boyfriend—and yet, the dry spell that had been her sex life for the last few months was as Sahara-like as ever.

She scowled down at the dough as if it had said something filthy about her mother, a nice lady living in Hoboken who would probably be thrilled to know her only daughter had finally settled down, except Violet had never felt more unsettled in her life—and she wasn’t a hundred percent on the whole boyfriend thing, either.

Like, did she have one or not?

The one thing she’d always loved about baking was that it didn’t leave a lot of empty time and brain space for rumination. The exactitude of measurements, the strict techniques and rules, the perfect chemistry of it all didn’t lend itself to daydreaming through her daily kitchen tasks.

Except kneading bread. There was something about the repetitive motions. The well worn rhythm of her hands as she threw her whole body into the moves was a crank that wound up her mind and got it going like a mill grinding wheat into flour.

Today’s topic of choice was the dreaded “b” word.

Exhibit A: Since that fateful day three weeks ago when she’d met a hot-ass farmer by the name of Jonathan Wildman, they’d seen each other no fewer than a half a dozen times. Okay, seven. Give or take. If she counted that first night when he’d royally pissed her off by going all White Knight and rescuing her from a situation she’d had totally under control, thanks ever so, and then she’d punished him by ruthlessly making out with him in her workplace.

Which Violet totally counted. Especially since it was the last time they’d kissed.

So. Seven times. Seven dates, if you wanted to get all technical about it, which was kind of the point of this whole exercise, so Violet forced herself to think the word “dates” without flinching, and moved on.

Exhibit B: Due to circumstances totally beyond her control, like the restaurant opening and being a slamming success, and the pressing need for stuff like sleep and the occasional shower, Violet hadn’t had time to go to the bars she usually went to, or to meet up with any random, hot guys.

Without meaning to, she’d entered into an entirely unfamiliar state: total chastity.

Which meant this thing with Wildman was exclusive.

On her end, at least.

On his end, too, she was betting. She didn’t want to ask, because if he wasn’t seeing other people, he’d get that hurt little glimmer in his patient gray eyes, as if he couldn’t believe she’d even pose the question.

And if he was seeing other people . . . well. Violet would just rather not think about that.

That alone was enough to piss her off. Why should she care? She never had before. Easy come, easy go—that was pretty much her motto with men.

Unless he really was her boyfriend.

In which case, there was still a problem, because even if the new Jonathan-centric motto became easy come, easy . . . stay, or something, there was an important element missing from the relationship.

As in, the first part of the motto. About the coming. None of which Violet had been doing in the last month.

“I think it’s dead.”

The amused Southern drawl came from behind her. Without turning her head, Violet knew exactly who it was. Only one member of the Market crew had that blend of bourbon, magnolias, and wraparound verandas in his voice.

“What do you want?” she snapped, shoulders so tense they radiated pain up her neck and into the back of her skull.

“Meow,” Grant said, mild as milk. He sauntered around to the other side of the wood block table to give her an arched brow. “How do you know I’m not curious about your dough-choking technique? You don’t know. I might be having dough problems of my own. I might be looking to lay a smackdown on some naughty baguette.”

Violet looked down at her hands where they were clenched tightly around two fistfuls of dough, and laughed. It was next to impossible to be pissy around Grant Holloway.

That was his special gift—the smoothing of troubled waters. A fairly useful quality in a restaurant manager, as it turned out.

“Sorry,” she said, giving him the same grimace she’d flashed the culinary student earlier and making a conscious effort to relax her fingers.

“Rough day at the office?” he asked with a sympathetic smile.

Violet smiled back. She couldn’t help it. Grant was just so . . . Grant, with his blonde hair, sky blue eyes, and wide, bright grin lighting up Violet’s back corner pastry station.

“Oh, you know. Just thinking. I know, always dangerous.”

“Okay. I wanted to come say ‘hey’—I couldn’t believe it when Adam said you were still here.” That was one of her favorite things about Grant. He never pushed.

She also liked that he worked front of the house, instead of in the kitchen. It made it easier, somehow, to be friends. Even though Grant was tight with the executive chef, Adam Temple, and the sous chef, Frankie Boyd, Violet didn’t feel any big need to prove herself to him.

Grabbing her favorite scraper, Violet managed to get all of her extremely well kneaded dough into a waiting plastic tub. As she snapped the lid down and grabbed a marker to write the time and type of dough, she gave Grant the easy explanation. “The focaccia needs to rise overnight, so I came in to pound it down and get it going.”

“Mmm,” Grant said, hitching one slim black trouser-clad hip up on the counter behind him. “I witnessed the pounding. If you need an alibi later, you can totally count on me.”

“Thanks, man. You’ll be my one call from jail, I promise.”

“Oh?” He blinked innocently. Too innocently. “You mean you wouldn’t call your sexy farmer?”

Violet groaned. “So much for you not being a pushy bastard. I take it back, I don’t love you best.”

“Of course not.” Grant smirked knowingly, his drawl taking on a Garth Brooksy-only-annoying singsong quality. “You love Jonathan.”

Violet’s stiff fingers froze on the lid of the plastic tub. Appalled, she bought herself a moment by heaving it off the board and stowing it on the shelf underneath.

“Shut it, you.” She rubbed her hands together, smears of focaccia dough rolling into tiny balls against her palms. Grant was right there with a damp white side towel, and she had to fight to scowl at him as she scrubbed the terrycloth over her sticky skin. “It’s only been three weeks.”

“Which is about two and seven eighths times longer than any other relationship you’ve had since I’ve known you.”

“I’ve only been at Market for two months! We just opened two weeks ago! You don’t know everything about me.” Violet knew she was protesting too stridently, and it sounded weak, even to her.

It clearly sounded weak to Grant, too, who gave her a pitying look. “Honey child,” he said. “Exactly whom are you trying to kid, here?”

Violet hid the defeated slump of her shoulders by putting all her attention on picking apart the knot of apron strings at her waist. She wore a white chef’s jacket, like everyone else in the kitchen (except Frankie, whose uniform tended more toward t-shirts featuring obscene slogans and/or punk icons) but Violet liked to cover her whites with a long blue apron, with handy pockets in the front for holding a whisk or spatula. Today she’d looped the strings around so she could tie them in the front, and the resulting snarl was a convenient way of avoiding Grant’s all-seeing gaze.

“I’m not kidding anyone,” she said. “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“You don’t even know what ‘it’ is, do you?”

Huffing in frustration, Violet ripped at the knot and only succeeded in pulling it tighter. “Maybe I just don’t have your obsession with labels and definitions. Does it have to be anything in particular? Can’t it just be what it is?”

“Oh, come on.” Grant’s pity morphed into skepticism with one arch of a dark blond brow. “If you enjoyed ambiguity so much, you wouldn’t be taking out your confusion on that poor bread dough. For goodness sakes, let me help you with that before you make it any worse.”

Violet stared up at the ceiling in humiliated silence as Grant’s dexterous fingers went to work on the knot. “I feel like such an idiot,” she whispered.

“Don’t sweat it, hon, everybody gets themselves into a bit of a tangle, every now and then. There. See? All better.”

Violet dredged up a smile for Grant as she slipped the apron off over her head. “Thanks, sweetie. But I wasn’t talking about the knotted strings.”

Grant smiled back. “Neither was I.”

“Um, right,” Violet said, retreating quickly toward the door that led downstairs to the employee locker room. Grant walked with her, apparently on a mission to make her talk about stuff she didn’t want to examine. “Anyway, you’re my hero—I was starting to be afraid I’d have to wear this thing on my date tonight.”

And there, she thought with grim satisfaction. Didn’t even stammer on the word “date.”

“You’re seeing Wildman tonight?” Grant checked his slim silver watch while holding the locker room door for her. Ever the gentleman. “It’s after ten.”

“Yeah, well. He doesn’t seem to mind making the long drive upstate in the wee hours.” Violet shrugged out of her flour-streaked whites and black checked pants without bothering to turn her back on Grant. She didn’t happen to have the anatomical bits that interested him, but even if he were a hundred percent ladies’ man, she wouldn’t have hidden. When she first started working in restaurants, she’d quickly realized that the women who went to the bathroom to change into their street clothes were always treated as exactly that—women. No thanks. A few seconds of exposure were more than worth the tradeoff when her kitchen colleagues started seeing her as just one of the guys.

Grant put his hands on his hips, an interested glint sparking to life in his eyes. “You mean he’s not staying over? This gets more interesting every minute.”

Violet slammed her locker door with perhaps more force than strictly necessary, and bent to lace up her black canvas high-tops. “Nope. He hasn’t even been to my apartment yet.”

“Where do you meet him?”

“Around.” She finger combed her short cap of hair, wishing she had a mirror. On second thought, after a whole night working in the kitchen? It was probably a mercy not to know what she looked like. “Coffee shops mostly. A bookstore, once.”

“So . . . you haven’t—?” Grant raised both brows expectantly, and Violet gritted her teeth.

“We’ve been talking,” she said. “A lot.”

“Nice,” was Grant’s opinion. “He’s taking his time. I like this one. Yes.” He nodded decisively. “I approve.”

“Well, I don’t,” Violet groused, snatching up her bag and stuffing her dirty work clothes into it.

“Oh.” Grant sounded disappointed. “He’s boring, huh?”

“No,” she admitted, fiddling with the bag’s persnickety zipper. “Actually, I like the talking. He’s funny, and sweet. And hearing about his life—it’s like the freaking Waltons, or something, so calm and nice. Which should be boring, but it just isn’t.”

“Sounds like you guys talk about him a lot.” Grant sounded critical.

“That’s not true,” Violet protested. “He asks all about me, says he wants to know everything. Which, I don’t know how interesting that could be, but we never seem to run out of things to say. And we laugh a lot.”

“Then what’s the problem? He sounds practically perfect in every way.”

I miss the scorching hot kisses.

And beneath that thought lay another, darker bit of knowledge, one that ached like a broken finger when she pressed on it.

If he’s never going to have sex with me—what the hell’s gonna keep him coming around?

“There’s no problem,” she declared, slinging her bag over her shoulder and settling the wide strap across her chest. “I’m being a whiny little bitch—ignore me. It’s late; I need a cappuccino, a substandard pastry, and an hour of nice conversation. I’ll be better tomorrow.”

Determined to stuff down her frustrations and have a good time tonight, Violet marched over to the heavy metal door and yanked it open. Before she could step into the hall, however, Grant’s quiet voice stopped her.

“Honey. You know that the fact he’s taking this slow is a good thing. Right?”

“Of course I know that.” Violet couldn’t help the snap in her voice. She knew slow was good, intellectually. She read Cosmo at the dentist’s office like everyone else.

“It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you. My bet would be it’s the exact opposite. But he wants more than you’re used to giving—and that scares you. But if you’re getting impatient . . . well. I never would’ve pegged you for the kind of woman who sits around waiting for things to happen.”

Violet felt his words pierce to the heart of the swirling mass of bewildered self-doubt lodged in her chest, sliding in sharp and smooth as a toothpick into the center of a just-baked cake.

She didn’t turn around to face him, couldn’t bear to let him see whatever expression was on her face. It was everything she could do to draw in a breath and reply.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Grant.” The steadiness of her own voice was a source of intense pride, just then. “Have a good night.”

“You too, hon. And hey, while you’re doing all that talking tonight—maybe consider telling him what’s going on in your head? Just a suggestion.”

Violet made her escape before Grant could make any more devastating comments, the comparatively cool air of the basement hallway feeling chilly against her heated cheeks.

By the time she’d made it up the stairs to street level, she’d made a decision.

Flicking specks of drying bread dough off the keypad, Violet hit the “1” button and tried not to think about the fact that this particular phone number was first on her speed dial.

“Hey, Wild Man,” she said. “Change of plans. Can you meet me at the corner of 82nd and 2nd?”

After a short pause, he replied, “Sure. I’m on my way now. What’s on the Upper East Side?”

Taking a deep breath in, Violet let it out slowly before she replied. “My place. We need to talk.”

Grant was right. She wasn’t sure what it was about Jonathan that had made everything about this whole situation so bewildering, including her own reactions to it, but it didn’t really matter in the end.

Violet was done waiting. It was time to take charge.


We need to talk.

Some of the most dreaded words in the English language.

Jonathan swallowed a plaintive cry of “But we’ve been talking! We do nothing but talk!” and said instead, “Okay, I’ll see you there. Want me to pick anything up on the way?”

“Nah, I’ve got coffee there, if we want some. See you in about twenty minutes.”

She hung up before he could say anything else, which was another sign, if he’d needed one, that there was definitely something going on.

Maneuvering his big produce delivery van across two lanes of traffic to make a right turn on a crosstown street wasn’t a picnic, but Jonathan had been getting a lot of practice at city driving.

This time of night, traffic moved along at a fairly good clip, but cabbies and commuters weren’t in the kind of frantic hurry that took hold at rush hour. And it helped that Jonathan’s ride was bigger than anything else on the road, barring city buses.

So the drive up to 82nd and 2nd gave him plenty of time to rack his brains for anything he might have done wrong, or anything that might’ve gone wrong to put that strained, serious tone in Violet’s voice. Try as he might, the drive was over before he could come up with an answer.

After circling a couple of blocks looking for parking on the street, he finally lucked out with a spot up by 84th, in front of a German butcher. Wedging the van in took a few minutes, a minor spot of cursing, and some seriously deft wheel handling, but he got it done.

Locking the empty van behind him, Jonathan glanced up and down the street at all the people out and about, thankful that he’d managed to sell all his product at the Union Square Greenmarket that morning. This far over, the Upper East Side wasn’t quite the peaceful, tree-lined avenues of white marbled privilege he’d always associated with the neighborhood.

Not that it was a shit hole, he mused as he dodged yet another band of hooting, shouting, laughing young guys as they migrated from one loud, packed bar to another. Crowded restaurants dotted 2nd Avenue, their outdoor seating areas spilling chatter and the clinking of plates and silverware onto the sidewalk.

There was a distinctly eastern European flavor to the street, too, Jonathan noticed. The butcher he’d parked in front of was far from the only German establishment, and as he walked back the two blocks to meet up with Violet, he passed a Polish bakery and a Russian tea room.

His phone beeped with a text message alert. Pulling it from his back pocket, he flipped it open and read:

[R u here? Northeast corner]

Turning in a slow circle, Jonathan scanned the bustling sidewalks and finally spotted the bright gold of Violet’s hair. She was across the street in front of a pharmacy, illuminated by the harsh fluorescent light from the drugstore’s sign.

As he jogged through a break in the traffic, Jonathan didn’t take his eyes off her.

Something was definitely up. Violet’s free, easy air had been replaced by a stiff tension. Her straight, almost defensive stance made Jonathan nervous, but when he glanced up to her eyes, they were clear.

She didn’t look mad or upset, exactly. So that was good. The change in their safe little routine? Not so good.

Jonathan liked routine. He liked knowing what to expect and how to prepare himself. He’d made a choice weeks ago about how he wanted to proceed with Violet, and against all odds, his own inclinations, and her unbelievably unfair sexiness, he’d managed to stick to the plan.

No sex. Not until she’d forgotten the way her so-called relationships usually went, and stopped comparing Jonathan to the parade of losers she’d mentioned in casual conversation, the ones who’d stomped through her life before he showed up. Those idiots were too focused on immediate gratification, the urgency of their need for her, to see the big picture.

So far, Jonathan had managed not to be an idiot.

But that was in impersonal coffee shops and public places. In Violet’s own space, surrounded by things that looked like her, and smelled like her, things she touched all the time . . . Jonathan swallowed.

This was going to be trickier.

“Hey there,” she said, and she stretched up on her tip-toes to give him a kiss. Jonathan leaned down to make it easier for her, aware, as always, of the difference in their heights. She was such a little thing.

But not a delicate flower, despite her name and stature, as she proved a moment later by snaking one shockingly strong hand behind his neck and deepening the kiss.

Her soft, hot tongue pushed into his mouth, lighting him on fire, and Jonathan forgot that they were on a busy street corner. He forgot the plan. He forgot everything but the slick dance of their mouths together, the sugar-sweet taste of her lips, the electrifying press of her body against his.

Violet made a frustrated noise that vibrated against his lips. He moaned, and she attempted to climb his body like a pumpkin vine twining up a field post.

Jonathan caught the warm, satisfying weight of her against him, sliding his hands around her waist and loving the way his long fingers spanned the curves of her hips and over the swell of her ass.

She was easier to pick up than a hay bale, and a lot more fun.

They both moaned when her slim thighs went around him, rubbing them together in the best possible ways. The way she writhed made Jonathan stagger a step to one side, the top of his head threatening to blow right off, until his shoulder bumped into a cold, bright surface. His eyes flew open at the thump, and the muffled shout that followed it.

Blinking his eyes clear of the kiss fog Violet so effortlessly created, Jonathan realized he’d blundered them into the plate glass window of the drug store. Inside the store, the blue-smocked pharmacist scowled and banged the flat of his hand against the window, mouthing the words, “Get a room.”

Violet tore her mouth away from Jonathan, who’d gone slack in embarrassment, and shouted, “I’ve got a room, asshole. It’s right upstairs.” She pointed triumphantly at the apartment building above the pharmacy, then hopped out of Jonathan’s arms and straightened the strap of her black messenger bag. “Come on,” she said, only a little breathless. “Let’s go in before that guy calls the Morality Police.”

As the fog lifted and Jonathan’s brain started getting enough blood to function once more, he realized just how far he’d let things go.

And he’d thought being in public would keep them safe.

Before he could decide if that was an argument in favor of going upstairs to Violet’s apartment, she had the door unlocked and was tugging him forward into a narrow hall and up a flight of stairs covered in cracked linoleum.

Everything looked very dirty to Jonathan, which didn’t bother him—a good patch of rich, brown soil was one of the prettiest things on earth—but this was more like run down and not all that well kept up.

He frowned at the way the stickers proclaiming Violet’s apartment “#3F” were peeling off the door, and the way Violet had to rattle her key in the deadlock to get it to turn over, with a rough squawk that grated down his spine.

“Who’s your landlord?” Jonathan believed in taking care of things; a well-made tool or piece of equipment would last forever if you treated it right. He couldn’t believe apartment buildings in Manhattan were all that different.

Violet grimaced and pointed at the floor. “Miss Manners, down there. Guy’s a real tool, never calls anyone back if they need repairs or whatever.”

Jonathan stared. He wanted to ask what the heck she was doing living in this dump, but even in his head, that sounded rude. He cleared his throat.

Violet clearly understood what he meant by that, because she rolled her eyes and said, “I know, I know. It’s a hell hole. But take a look at this!”

With a flourish, she threw the door wide and ushered Jonathan into . . . a tiny kitchen. He blinked. There were short hallways on either side, one that appeared to lead to a bathroom, and the other to a sort of sitting area. But it was the miniscule kitchen that Violet strode into with a proud, expectant look on her face.

“Isn’t it great?” She turned in a circle, arms out to encompass the four-burner gas stovetop and oven, the square foot of counter space, the five narrow overhead cabinets, which were painted a bright, shocking green.

“Yes,” Jonathan said, as decisively as he could. “Great.”

It was about a third of the size of the kitchen in his family’s farmhouse, and felt completely different from that open, airy room with its windows looking out on the smaller barn and the back fields.

Strange, to look at Violet, so at home in this tiny, cramped space. For the first time, Jonathan felt how different their lives were, how incompatible, like a fist to the gut.

Violet gave him the complete tour of the kitchen, which lasted about two minutes. He had an easier time oohing and ahhing over her collection of well used, well loved copper baking pans than he had with anything else so far.

“My mom’s got a set just like this,” he said, picking up a shiny, heart-shaped pastry mold. “Only she hangs hers on the wall, like art.”

“I couldn’t hang mine; I’d scratch the wall to shit taking them down and baking in them all the time.”

Jonathan glanced reflexively at the walls. He wasn’t sure anyone would notice a stray scratch or two.

He looked back at Violet, kneeling on the scuffed kitchen floor to stow her treasured pots and pans in the cabinet under the sink, and he couldn’t help picturing her in the farmhouse kitchen, instead, beautiful golden light pouring in from the setting sun, gilding her hair with a radiant glow.

The image in his head was as clear as the swimming hole high up in the hills behind his house, and just as painful in its beauty and elusiveness.

Could Violet Porter, quintessential party girl and New York pastry chef, ever really be happy with the quiet life of a farmer’s wife?

Jonathan took a breath so deep his head spun. What the hell was he thinking about?

“There, all done. Why is it so much easier to pull the pans out than to fit them back in the cabinets?” Violet got to her feet, dusting off the knees of her cargo pants.

She turned, and Jonathan didn’t react quickly enough. Not that there was a lot of room to maneuver, but still, he would’ve liked to avoid being pressed quite so closely to the woman he wanted more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life—who also happened to be the one woman he was afraid he could never have.

If there were two people whose outlooks on everything from life to love were more different than his and Violet’s, Jonathan had never met them. If he were smart, he’d run before he got sucked any deeper into the dream of a life he was pretty sure Violet Porter would never want.

But even knowing how wide the field between them stretched, he couldn’t help the way his body jumped to attention at the nearness of hers.

“I thought you said we needed to talk.” Was that strangled groan really his voice?

Violet took that last step, the one that brought her full, round breasts against his chest, and turned her face up to his. Her eyes were shining, glazed with the same heated desire coursing through Jonathan’s veins.

“Here’s the thing,” she breathed, eyes locked on his mouth. “I want you to want me.”

Jonathan swallowed. “I do. God, so much.”

A spasm of need tightened her face, drawing her cheekbones in and giving her a sharp, hungry look. “Then what the fuck are you waiting for?”

Her growl roughed over his skin, making him shiver. She leaned in, smelling like vanilla and sugar and cream, and Jonathan was only human.

He broke. Hard.

Running his hands up her back, mapping the wings of her shoulder blades and the strong, lean musculature of her shoulders, Jonathan speared his fingers into her short blonde hair and crashed his mouth down on hers.

Too rough, too fast, too much—the words beat at the back of his brain, but his brain wasn’t in charge right now, and it was frighteningly easy to throw a lifetime of caution right out the window. Not that Violet was complaining. No, the way her arms wound around him like vines, the way her mouth softened and yielded to the force of his kiss, the way it felt against his chest when a moan vibrated through her . . .

She wanted this. And nothing he did seemed to be too much for her. When he bent her back over his arm to get a better angle for the kiss, she clung to him and hooked a leg behind his thigh, pushing up into his hold.

When he pushed her against the peeling paint of her apartment wall, she dug her fingers into his shoulders and met his mouth with a fierce fervor of her own. The sharp nip of her teeth sent a shudder of lust racing to his core, all of the blood in his body draining into his cock in a dizzying rush.

Suddenly, he needed to lean against Violet and the wall just to keep his balance.

He lifted his head to gasp in a breath and blinked as Violet took the opportunity to attack his neck with strong, sucking kisses that he knew would leave marks. And the idea of it, that she was marking him as hers, unmistakably and with such gusto, ripped through the last of Jonathan’s restraint.

Falling to his knees in front of her, Jonathan hooked his thumbs in the waistband of her khakis and thanked the good lord for loose-fitting pants as they slid over her round hips and down her smooth thighs with barely a tug, leaving him face to face with the scrap of navy blue lace and satin covering her mound.

Violet made a muffled noise he couldn’t interpret. Jonathan looked up through the haze of passion to see her eyes shining, cheeks as red as candied apples, and a grin peeking out from behind the hand she’d clapped over her own mouth.

She cleared her throat, dropping her hand. “The walls are paper thin,” she explained.

“Then you’d better put that hand back over your mouth,” he growled, staring up at her. “Because I’m about to make you scream.”

“Oh, God.” Her head hit the wall behind her with an audible “thunk” as she closed her eyes and tilted her face to the stained white ceiling.

Jonathan took that as permission to proceed.

Shifting his knees on the hard flooring, he spread his thighs to bring him lower, but even with her standing, he still had to bend over to get his mouth on the warm, fragrant satin of her underwear. It was surprisingly feminine, this underwear, like a secret clue to the softness inside his tough, trash-talking pastry chef.

He liked it. Wasn’t ready to get rid of it yet. So he licked her through it, dampening the material with his tongue and searching for the taste of her most intimate place. She trembled against his mouth, rubbing lace against his lips in a way that made him wonder what it felt like for her, with that same lace rubbing against much wetter and more sensitive parts.

It felt pretty good, if her quiet gasps and tensing thighs were any indication. Smiling, Jonathan dove back down to her softness, using his tongue and lips and even the sharp edge of his teeth to pull different reactions from Violet’s throat.

Damn the neighbors and the Morality Police, he thought. He wanted to hear more.

Slipping his fingers under the wispy side strings of the underwear, Jonathan slowly peeled the panties down and revealed the pretty, trim triangle of dark gold curls, crisp and inviting.

He loved doing this. Not that he did it all that often—he didn’t have probably half the experience Violet had. Which was a little weird, if he thought about it, so he just didn’t think about it much. But no matter how many men she’d been with, or what kinds of crazy advanced, experimental stuff she’d tried with them, Jonathan knew for a fact that he was good at this.

The key, he thought, was true enjoyment. He loved everything about it, the slick way her petal-like folds opened under his mouth, the salt sweet taste of her, the change in her breath and sounds when he curled the tip of tongue just right.

It was exactly like coaxing a plant back to health, a combination of delicate, deft touches and strong pulls at the roots. You had to listen and be aware that every move mattered.

Every stroke built upon itself, layering sensation over sensation until the pitch of Violet’s moans couldn’t be muffled by the press of her palm, and her hips thrashed under his steadying touch. When it broke over her finally, she screamed, high and thin, and Jonathan glanced up to see the look on her face.

Transported. Ecstatic. Flushed and beautiful and completely his. His iron-hard cock gave a deep throb, trapped painfully in his jeans, but Jonathan ignored it with the ease of practice. It wasn’t in charge here; it wasn’t what was important.

What was important was the way Violet sagged against the wall, lashes fluttering closed over her brown eyes and a cat-in-a-cream-pot smile curving her swollen red lips.

Important was her sigh, and the weak flex of her fingers through his hair when he knelt up and rubbed his face on the soft cotton of her twisted tank top.

“That was exactly what I needed.” Her breathing hadn’t slowed to normal yet, and Jonathan savored the gasping quality of her words. “Come on up here and let me return the favor.”

Jonathan stood, his knees creaking a little. Damn, that floor was hard. Plus, he’d been up before five that morning to make the drive into the city, and he wasn’t eighteen anymore.

Not that his cock seemed to know that. It was raging hard, aching as if he’d wrapped his fist around it way too tight. It wanted nothing more than to sink into the wet fire Jonathan’s mouth had stoked to life between Violet’s legs, to go deep and mark her as his, the way her mouth had sucked signs of possession into his neck.

With a groan, Jonathan bent his head to take Violet’s mouth in a hard, fast kiss. She opened to him lazily, still floating, and her easy yielding made Jonathan’s heart pound in his chest. His back twinged, and he had to straighten up for a second, just to stretch it.

Violet laughed, and he winked at her. “I’m a farmer, honey. Aches and pains come with the territory.”

Her eyes went heavy lidded and sultry. “I bet I can help you forget about them.”

This was the moment. Jonathan squeezed his eyes shut and fought for the cool, calm center of himself, the part that knew it wasn’t time, that if he gave in to his desires now, he’d lose her in the long run.

That thought was better than a dousing in cold water. Finally able to breathe again, Jonathan managed to step back and give her a real smile.

“Every ache was worth it to see you like this. Soft and sated is a good look for you, and it’s enough for me. For now.”

The seductive smile slid off her face. “What?”

Jonathan took another step back. “It’s getting late, and I’ve got a long drive back to the farm.”

“You’re leaving? Without even . . .” Her sharp hand gesture toward his half-hard dick must have made her realize she was still standing against the wall with her pants around her knees, because she bent and pulled them up quickly, twisting her clothes into place with a jerk.

“That was all for you,” he told her. “But believe me, I got something out of it, too. You were gorgeous.”

That seemed to ease some of the tension that had entered her shoulders. “So you do want me,” she said, then frowned. Maybe it hadn’t come out as decisively as she’d meant it to.

Either way, he hurried to reassure her. “I want you so bad, my hands are shaking. I want you so bad; it’s been a month since I slept through the night without at least one dream about you. I want you so bad, I can barely breathe.”

“Then why?” Her cheeks were flushing again, with anger this time, Jonathan thought. “What’s with all this—are you jerking me around? Because I’m here. I want you, you want me, that’s all I need to know. So let’s just fucking do it already!”

The harsh frustration in her voice scored furrows through his hard-won patience like a backhoe through soil.

“No,” he ground out through locked jaws. “Not yet.”

“I don’t get it.” She shook her head, crossing her arms over her stomach protectively. “You come on all hot and heavy, like you can’t get enough, then all we do is talk. Every other guy I’ve ever been with . . .”

“That’s exactly why.” Jonathan’s rib cage felt like it was crushing his heart. “I don’t want to be like any other guy to you. The other guys you bring here, the ones you told me about who’re all so easy and mean nothing—I know that’s what you’re used to, what you say you want. But I want more.”

“I don’t.”

Her whisper tightened the cage around Jonathan’s heart until he thought it would burst. “You don’t want more?”

She shook her head, her eyes dark with some unreadable emotion. “No, that’s not what I . . . I meant, I don’t bring guys home. Here. You’re the first. The only.”

Satisfaction shot through him like sunlight bursting through the high branches of a tall tree. The constriction in his chest released, and Jonathan smiled. He knew what it had cost her to admit that.

Jonathan was used to the slow, steady, sometimes unpredictable rhythms of growing things; he could recognize progress when he saw it.

And like a tender shoot poking its head out of the soil in the springtime, Violet watched him, wary of any hint of killing frost.

He gave her his warmth, moving in close enough to cradle the side of her head in his palm. His skin was so tan and dark against her peach-skinned cheek. “You want more this time, too.” It was important to say it. Acknowledge it.

She nodded once, which he decided was close enough, especially considering the way her chest hitched against his. He rewarded her with a gentle kiss, and she settled under the soft brush of lips. The kiss she gave back to him was full of tentative new intimacy that deepened as confidence seeped back into her.

Desire flooded him again, stiffening every sinew, but it was easier this time to ride it out. They had the beginnings of an understanding. He could wait.

Just like he wouldn’t rush the seasons or the harvest, Jonathan would wait for Violet. She was worth it.




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