Holding on TighterWicked Lovers, Book 12
Mixing business with pleasure can be a dangerous proposition…
Jolie Quinn is a woman in charge. Her no-nonsense attitude has made her a rising star in the fashion world and her brand a household name among the Dallas elite. Nothing will stop her from achieving her goals—not even the gorgeous British security contractor who seems just as interested in seeing her personal assets as he is in protecting her professional ones.
After a tragedy left him broken, Heath Powell made a rule of staying unattached. But Jolie challenges him in a way he can’t ignore, and he isn’t used to backing down from a confrontation—especially when the reward for winning could feel so good. As passion blazes between them, the stubborn, confident beauty arouses more than his desire. She touches his heart.
When a mysterious enemy threatens Jolie and her company, Heath is the only person Jolie can trust to help. But working with him to save her business might put her dangerously at risk of falling in love…
Wicked Lovers SERIES
“Do we have a problem, Ms. Quinn? I can’t imagine another reason you followed me here for the obvious purpose of delivering a dressing down that apparently couldn’t wait until morning.”
A ragtag band took the small stage then, and he had to shout so she could hear over the music. A couple of people lingering near the stairs nursed their beers and watched intently. “Come outside with me.”
She turned and headed for the door. Her sixth sense told her that Heath wasn’t following. When she whirled back, sure enough, he leaned against the banister, watching her with a dissecting stare.
Jolie marched back in his direction and tossed her hands in the air. “I know you speak English.”
“The Queen’s English, thank you.”
His condescension about being British and obviously better annoyed her, too. She tried to put a lid on her temper and focus on Karis. In her head, she kept hearing him remind his temporary honey about her three orgasms and wondering how good he must be in order to get that reaction from a stranger in fifteen minutes.
Totally not important. “Will you please follow me outside so we can have a civilized discussion that doesn’t require shouting at one another?”
“Of course. But I suspect, given your agitation, there will be shouting, regardless.” With an acerbic smile, he gestured her toward the door.
Jolie resisted the urge to huff and threaded her way through the crowd. He would not get the better of her.
Once outside, she headed away from the parking lot, putting a few dozen feet between them and anyone loitering outside. Heath followed, watching their surroundings as she paused at the opening of an alley.
He shoved his hands in his pockets as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “I hope you’re here about a security issue.”
“Stay away from my sister,” she warned.
He frowned, looking genuinely perplexed. “Your sister?”
Heath barely responded. His brows gathered, but he gave no other reaction. “I’m aware of your sister’s name. I’m merely expressing surprise that you think I’m . . . what? Sexually interested in her?”
“That’s exactly what I think. I watched you work over the young blonde in the bar. It didn’t take you long. A glass of wine, a few well-placed words, a soft caress, and she was yours.”
“Why does that bother you, Ms. Quinn?”
“You’re targeting Karis because you pick the doe-eyed girls too naive to know why they shouldn’t spread their legs for a playboy like you.” She scoffed. “You didn’t even challenge yourself with tonight’s conquest.”
“I’m fascinated by your unsolicited opinion of my character,” he drawled, letting her know he was anything but. “What’s prompted this charming discourse? Do you always tell those in your employ what you think of their personal lives or are you making a special exception for me because you think I intend to debauch your sister?”
“Leave Karis alone. It’s against Betti’s policy to date another member of the staff.”
“I did read the guidelines you provided. But I’m guessing your rationale for this conversation is more personal.”
“Fine. She’s got some breathless adoration for you. Karis is looking for a grand romance, and she’s likely to pin her foolish hopes on the first man who makes her feel protected and treasured. I doubt you want that.”
“Her attitude bothers you,” he observed, studying her like a bug he’d pinned to a corkboard.
She bristled. “Women shouldn’t be looking for someone to ‘complete’ them; they should be a complete person by themselves. And you prey on women with those misguided fantasies, don’t you?”
“I provide single women with mutual, if temporary, companionship and pleasure.”
“That’s as misleading as calling tooth extraction without Novocain ‘natural dental care.’”
He cocked his head at her. “You have some unsubstantiated notion that I’m mad for your sister, so you followed me after hours and saw me find a woman with whom I chose to spend a few pleasurable moments. Therefore, you’ve branded me a sociopathic predator. That’s quite a leap.”
Jolie had watched men behave this way her whole life. “I merely understand you, Mr. Powell. I see past the gentlemanly facade to the manwhore beneath. You must have loved your last position, guarding the pretty body of that world-famous director’s daughter. How fabulous for you that she paid for everything in your life while you enjoyed the fringe benefit of taking her to bed.”
That finally riled him.
“I never touched Mystery Mullins once.” His eyes narrowed in furious warning. “Don’t speak when you know absolutely nothing about either of us or the situation.”
As much as Jolie hated to believe him, Heath’s biting reply convinced her he’d told the truth. Fine, she’d drop that accusation. But she refused to let up about Karis until Heath agreed to leave the girl alone.
“All right. But I won’t have you targeting my sister. I expect you to tell her tomorrow that those flowers you sent to soften her up were a token of your . . . professional esteem. Pick a reason. I don’t care what you say as long as you gently discourage her.”
Nothing overt gave away a change in Heath’s demeanor but Jolie felt his surprise. “I did not send your sister flowers.”
“Red tulips. I saw them on her desk earlier. She told me you left them for her. And now she likes you. Stop romancing her.”
He leaned in, and she saw the faint hint of a scar bisecting his stubbled cheek. “You just witnessed my version of romance. If I want a woman, I don’t bother with flowers, merely a condom. Your sister is utterly, one-hundred-percent safe from my attentions. You have my word.”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“I’ve given you no reason to doubt me, Ms. Quinn.” He studied her with a cynical gaze. “This is about you. Why are you hostile? Did a former flame tell you he would fulfill your little-girl dreams, then leave you broken hearted?”
“I don’t believe in love, especially in it lasting. Karis is another story, and I’m intensely protective.”
“Clearly. But I genuinely have no interest in your sister.”
He said the words with all sincerity. Jolie weighed them. Maybe . . . Karis had misunderstood who had given her the flowers or why. Or she had wanted to believe they were from Heath so she’d convinced herself of that. It was even possible that, somewhere in Karis’s offbeat brain, she’d wanted to see how her older sister would react to the idea of her in a relationship with the man Jolie had the hots for.
Heath Powell might be experienced, calculating, and totally male, but he’d come highly recommended as a security consultant from people she trusted. Her gut told her that— at least in this instance— he wasn’t a liar.
“Excuse me for a second.” She whipped out her phone and texted Karis.
Are you sure Heath gave you the flowers? Did he leave a card?
Her sister replied almost immediately. The card wasn’t signed, just said that he thinks about me day and night, and he doesn’t care who disapproves. Who else could it be?
So you don’t know for sure that Heath sent them? She wrote back.
Jolie tucked her phone away with a sigh. Mortification rolled through her in a hot flush. She’d have to apologize, damn it. “Apparently my sister isn’t sure now who sent the flowers. I’m sorry that I accused you and disturbed your evening. Good night.”
She whirled around and headed for her car. God, she’d all but jumped down his throat, and Jolie felt ridiculous for not asking Karis more questions before she confronted Heath. She never went to any meeting unprepared, damn it.
“Wait.” Heath grabbed her arm.
Something electric arced between them, and she gritted her teeth against the sizzle.
The reaction made her even more prickly. “What?”
“Since we’re off the clock and we’ve clearly set aside our working relationship for the moment, I think it’s only right that I have the chance to say what I think of you.”
She swallowed. If he was this hip to give her his opinion after she’d hurled a bunch of insults at him, she couldn’t expect anything but ugly. Jolie sighed. It sucked but she’d earned it. “I’m listening.”
“Excellent.” He released her, his fingers curling into a fist as he began walking around her, studying her, drawing conclusions. “You don’t trust men and that runs deep. It colors your decisions and prejudices everything you say to me. If you’ve never been in love, then your deep-seeded distrust must come from the lack of any stable father figure in your childhood.”
“Thanks, Freud,” she snapped.
Heath jerked back to face her and leaned in so close their noses nearly touched. “Am I wrong?”
She refused to stroll down that memory lane. “Does it matter?”
“I daresay it does. But we’ll come back to that. If you were merely mistrustful of men, you would have waited until tomorrow and delivered a well-placed warning to keep me away from your sister. Instead, you came after me. And when you found me with another woman, your temper flared. If I merely lived up to your expectations of being a womanizing prick, that shouldn’t make you angry at all, simply smug at being right. But you were livid. I doubt all that displeasure is on your sister’s behalf. In fact, I suspect, Ms. Quinn, that you have more than a passing interest in me. You were jealous.”
Apprehension raced through her veins. He was uncomfortably close to the truth. “You’re egotistical.”
“But I’m right.” He gave her a tight smile. “For the record, if I intended to disregard policy and pursue a woman in the office, I wouldn’t bother with your sister. As you say, she’s naive and provides no challenge. But you . . . You would be far more interesting. Pretty, strong, smart, not easily bendable. Color me intrigued.”
She tensed. “I’m your boss.”
“Temporarily. We’re both adults. Surely neither of us are prone to torrid emotional attachments. We could keep business separate from personal, couldn’t we?”
Normally, she’d say yes. But working with him constantly buzzing around her, asking questions, and watching her every move had already dented her focus. “I have no intention of becoming your next conquest.”
“I never planned to pursue you.”
Jolie wondered why, then dismissed the question as she buttoned her red coat. “Perfect. There’s nothing left to say except I’m sorry for intruding on your evening. I hope we can forget this by morning.”
She had to get out of here. She’d overplayed her hand and needed to regroup, to think about how to treat him tomorrow. The last thing she wanted was for Heath Powell to decide she was a challenge he should convert into his next bed partner after all. Normally, the sexual urges of a man wouldn’t concern her unless she was interested.
If so, she found a way to have him for a night or two, then ended it.
Something told her that nothing with Heath would ever be that simple.
But when Jolie turned her back on him and headed for the parking lot, he snaked an arm around her middle and pulled her against his big, steely body. “I never planned to pursue you . . . but I’ve changed my mind.”
Top Pick! “This was a fast paced read with lots of action… Well written… I thoroughly enjoyed the whirlwind romance and steamy encounters with some sinister mystery driving everything forward.”
-Night Owl Reviews
5 Stars! “A truly breath catching and heart racing romance! A romantic suspense that will catch your blood on fire!”
– Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads
5 Stars! “This was a five-star read all the way, with a dominant, overprotective male, a smart, feisty heroine, a complex plot that featured mystery, romance, and adventure.”
– Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
5 Stars! “Holding On Tighter will give you all the feels!”
– Dirty South Books
5 Stars! “I have loved every book, every character [in the Wicked Lovers series]… Right down to hot MI5 agent Heath Powell and the sassy, control driven, fire cracker, Jolie Quinn. For being the last book in the series, this was done right, with two stand out characters.”
– Knotty Girl Reviews
A Rating! “The book was fast paced and exciting…”
– Red Hot Books
“The story itself is brilliantly written… It’s an addicting, sexy romance that’s guaranteed to please.”
– Ever After Book Reviews Blog
“Holding on Tighter is a great addition to this series.”
– Romance Between the Sheets
“Holding on Tighter is a sexy battle of wills as they fight to stay one step ahead. Ms. Black provided great characters and enough surprises to keep you engaged.”
– Harlequin Junkies
“I loved this installment of the Wicked Lovers series.”
– Book Savvy Babe
“… a wickedly delightful read.”
– Romance Junkies
“Wow…holy moly page melting hotness.”
– Books, Chocolate, and Lip Gloss
“Holding on Tighter was a…mix of suspense and romance. As the final book, it also brings everybody full circle with a fun yet bittersweet ending that should satisfy long time readers of the series and entice new readers to check the series out!”
– Bambi Unbridled
“Surely one you don’t want to miss…”
– Books and Boys Book Blog
“…A passionate story of betrayal, revenge, romance and love. Entertaining and captivating…dynamic and spirited…intimate and sensual.”
– The Reading Café