Brazen eBook: Page1
Maya Banks (2007)
To “Mom” because I think you’re too cool. My request for adoption was real, by the way.
Jasmine Quinn stared at the email message in her inbox and smiled as she read the text.
Of course you can come home. And about damn time, too. We’ve missed you, Jaz. You shouldn’t even feel you had to ask. I’ve already booked your flight into Houston. Your confirmation numbers are below. I’ll meet you at the airport.
Home. She stood up from her desk and shut the laptop before moving to the window overlooking the beautiful Parisian skyline. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower gleamed and twinkled with a thousand lights.
She loved it here, and she’d miss it, but she loved it back home on the Texas ranch more. Even if she hadn’t considered that she’d return when she left a year ago. She stepped out onto her small balcony, and breathed deeply as the late spring air blew over her face.
Zane and Seth. She couldn’t wait to see them. It had been painful to stay away from them for the last year. So many times she’d nearly caved, picked up the phone and asked to come back home. But going back to a place where she’d be reminded of her feelings for both men on a daily basis and having to cope with never having a chance with either had made going back impossible. Until now.
Now? She was going back with a purpose.
When she arrived in Paris, she’d been defeated. Heartbroken and convinced she’d never get over the painful dilemma she left behind. Cherisse had changed her outlook, changed so many things about Jasmine’s way of thinking. It was because of Cherisse that Jasmine was taking a chance.
She wouldn’t go home the same little girl Zane and Seth had looked out for after that disastrous night in Houston so many years ago. A light shudder worked over her shoulders as she revisited her past shame.
No, she’d go home a sophisticated, mature woman. One who knew what she wanted and exactly what she had to do to get it. After a year away, Zane and Seth would see beyond their overprotective tendencies and see her. A living, breathing woman with adult needs. She needed them. She needed what they could give her. And somehow she knew that they needed her just as much.
Jasmine reached back to unclip her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. She dragged her fingers through the strands and tucked the layered bangs behind her ears as she stood waiting for the line of passengers in front of her to disembark. She twitched with impatience and tapped her foot accordingly.
She shoved her thumbs into her jeans’ pockets and looked down at the waistband that barely cleared the top of her pelvis. The shirt she’d chosen to wear bared a three-inch strip of her abdomen and teasingly bared more when she moved her arms upward.
Yeah, she’d chosen her outfit carefully. She wanted to knock Zane’s socks off. It would help to get a reaction from him before she had to face Seth at the ranch. Seth was going to be a harder sell, of that she had no doubt.
He was the oldest, the responsible brother. Zane was the younger, more laid-back sibling. He’d flirted shamelessly with her in the past, but it had never gone beyond idle teasing. She was going to change that come hell or high water.
Finally the line moved and she surged ahead, anxious to see Zane after so long. She strode up the long ramp and finally burst into the terminal. She didn’t waste any time. She skirted around the people milling about and headed for the security checkpoint where she knew Zane would be waiting.
As she traveled down the small exit corridor, anticipation quickened her stride. When she stepped out of the hallway, she stopped and stared around, her heart beating an anxious rhythm. Then she saw him.
She sucked in her breath and tried to control the urge to run pell-mell and throw herself into his arms. She drank in the sight of him. A curl of heat untwisted in her stomach, fanning out until she felt warm all over. If she thought she was attracted to him before, the reality of seeing him for the first time in a year hit her square in the hormones.
He stood staring at her, a smile carved into his handsome face. He hadn’t changed a damn bit.
His midnight black hair fell to his shoulders, a slight curl making it unruly. A diamond stud glinted in his left ear. He wore a tight T-shirt that stretched across bulging biceps and a hard, muscled chest. Wrapped around his upper arm, between the upper and lower muscle, was an intricately woven tattoo. A pair of deer antlers interrupted the circular flow of the band. It was the same graphic that was branded into the metal arch over the driveway to Sweetwater Ranch.
Zane’s blue eyes twinkled in welcome, and when he opened his arms, she forgot all about not throwing herself at him. She felt the sting of tears at her lids. She was home. She flew across the crowded room and launched herself at him.
He caught her with a chuckle and palmed her ass as she wrapped her legs around his waist.
“Gee, Jaz, one would think you missed me.”
Following her instincts, and her desire, she ignored his outburst and pressed her lips to his. He stiffened in surprise, his hands tightening on her behind.
For the briefest of moments he returned her kiss, allowing his mouth to work hot over hers. It was a bolt to her system, a welcome flood of desire.
One of his hands slid up her back, resting against her spine. She shivered at the feel of his palm against her bare skin. His tongue brushed over the curve of her mouth before he tore his lips away. He stared at her, his eyes wide with shock and something else. Lust. He blinked rapidly and eased her body down his until her feet hit the floor with a thud.
Behind him, the sound of a throat clearing caught her attention.
It was then that she saw him. Seth. Standing behind his brother. Had he been there the whole time? Why hadn’t she seen him before now?
A groan worked from her stomach into her throat. She hadn't known he was coming. Zane hadn't told her.
She swallowed and looked up at him, her mouth gone dry from the hard frown he gave her. He closely resembled Zane. He still wore his hair cut short, but it was the same silky black as his brother’s. His eyes were the same intense blue, and the tattoo on his arm was an exact match to Zane’s. But she knew Seth wouldn’t be caught dead with any piercings.
Where Zane gave the appearance of being easygoing and laid back, Seth was his polar opposite—ultra responsible and brooding, seriousness etched into every facet of his face.
“Hello, Seth,” she said nervously.
He looked curiously between her and Zane. It didn’t help that Zane shuffled from foot to foot and wore an expression that screamed “guilty as hell”.
“Ah, why don’t we go see about your luggage, Jaz?” Zane asked.
“Do I get a hug?” she asked Seth in a husky voice.
He hesitated for a split second before opening his arms to her. She walked into his chest, curling her arms around his waist. She buried her nose in his shirt and closed her eyes.
This was coming home. For a year, she’d ached for him. Missed him. Yearned to be back home and in his arms. And finally she was here.
A current of electricity flowed between them, something that had been absent in the past. She could feel his quick intake of breath, as if his realization of her was sudden and unexpected.
After a second, his hand crept up to stroke her hair. He kissed the top of her head. “I missed you, little bit.”
It was something he’d called her plenty of times in the past, but now it irritated her.
She pulled away, frowning at him. “Little bit?”
He grinned. “You’re still a little bit of a thing. You barely reach my chest.”
She clenched her teeth together in annoyance. He was already putting distance between them. Already labeling her as the little girl he was used to. Maybe it made him more comfortable, but she didn’t give a damn about his comfort. She wanted him to burn the way she burned. Want the way she wanted.
She turned to Zane easing her jaw as she smiled at him. “Let’s go get my luggage. I can’t wait to get home.”
“We’re not immediately going home,” Seth said.
She shot him a sideways glance. “No?”
He shook his head. “I’ve reserved hotel rooms for us. It’s too late to start back now. You’re no doubt tired from your flight. We can go home in the morning.”
She nodded then quickened her step to catch up with Zane. He slid an arm around her shoulders as she leaned into him.
“I missed you, Jaz,” Zane said. “It’s damn quiet at the ranch without you.”
She elbowed him in the side.
“You’ve sure grown up, little girl,” he continued. His eyes raked up and down her body.
She suppressed a smug grin. Yeah, he’d noticed. She’d bet anything he was still reeling from the kiss she’d given him.
“Well, I can’t stay a little kid forever,” she said lightly.
Beside her, Seth frowned. She shot him a questioning stare, but he looked away.
They approached the carousel where her luggage was going to be. A large crowd of people lined the conveyor belt as the bags started to spill out the end. Seth laid his fingers on her arm.
“Wait here. Zane and I will get your stuff.”
She watched as the two men pushed through the crowd until they came to a stop beside the carousel. Women and men alike stared at them. They were arresting characters, wild and formidable looking. In the beginning, she’d spent a lot of time staring at them too, never sure whether they were the good guys or the bad.
They had a confident, self-assured look that they wore like a second skin. It bordered on arrogance, but Seth wasn’t so much arrogant as he was convinced.
Her stomach tightened in appreciation when Zane bent over to read the luggage tag on one of her suitcases. His jeans pulled across his ass, molding to every contour. The denim encased thick, muscular thighs. When he stood up again and lifted her suitcase over the side, the muscles in his arms bulged and rippled the thin T-shirt he wore.
Ten minutes and several suitcases later, both men returned to where she was standing.
“Damn, Jaz, I don’t remember you bringing this much shit with you to Paris,” Zane complained.
She laughed. “That’s because I bought most of it while I was there. Here, I’ll take some of them.”
“We’ll get them,” Seth said.
She looked up at him, and for a moment, their gazes locked. She didn’t try to hide the hunger she knew must be reflected in her stare. Fire briefly flamed in Seth’s eyes before he turned away.
“Let’s go,” he muttered.
After piling all her luggage into Seth’s extra cab truck, they got in and navigated to I-10 West. Thirty minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of a hotel, and Seth hopped out to check them in.
Zane and Jasmine got out and Zane piled as much of her luggage as he could fit into the cab of the truck. She snagged an overnight case with the things she’d need for their hotel stay then walked into the hotel behind Zane.
As they approached the desk, Seth turned around, holding two envelopes containing keys.
“I booked two rooms. They’re adjoining.”
He handed Jasmine her key.
Jasmine followed the two men to the elevator, still staring at the card in her hand. Separate rooms, huh. When they’d seen her off to Paris a year before, he hadn’t concerned himself with getting her a separate room. He’d booked a suite.
They got off the elevator and walked several feet down the hallway before Seth stopped and dug for his key. She looked at her own envelope for her room number and moved a few steps past them to the next door.
“See you in the morning,” Seth said as his gaze followed her.
She smiled and gave a small wave before entering her room. She shut the door behind her and tossed her bag aside. Dismissed and not even home for an hour yet. On one hand, she supposed it was better that he hadn’t booked one room. He obviously saw her as a threat to the way things had always been between them. Which meant he recognized her as a desirable woman and not a child.
“Or maybe he just doesn’t want to see you make a fool of yourself,” she muttered as she flopped down on the bed.
She’d give them fifteen minutes, and then she was going in. She changed into one of Seth’s old football shirts she’d taken with her to Paris. It was modest enough, hanging to her knees. She didn’t want to be blatant. Subtlety would get her a lot further. If the imprint of her nipples could be seen through the shirt, oh well. She wasn’t going to sleep in a bra.
Checking her watch, she walked over to the adjoining door and knocked softly. When Zane opened it, standing there in just his jeans, she nearly swallowed her tongue. Lordy but the man had a chest that made her want to slobber.
She breezed past him, not giving him a chance to object to her being there. She sat on one of the beds with a slight bounce and looked over at Zane.
“It’s kind of lonely over there. I haven’t seen you guys in a year.”
Zane smiled and sauntered back over to the bed. “Want to watch some TV with us for a while?”
She beamed back at him and promptly pulled back the covers and curled underneath.
A few seconds later, the bathroom door opened and Seth strode out with just a towel around his waist. As much as she wanted to pretend indifference, as much as she’d have loved to look away and play it cool, her eyes traveled up his body until they rested on his hard abdomen. The towel dangled precariously low. Just a half inch lower and she’d get a peek of the dark hair she knew resided there.
Seth looked up and uttered a surprised oath when he saw her lying in the bed.
“Jesus Christ, Zane, you should have told me she was in here.”
He hauled the towel up higher and stalked back into the bathroom.
She raised wide, innocent eyes to Zane. “What’s his problem?”
“Turn your head, Jaz, let me get into my shorts,” Zane directed, ignoring her question.
She sighed and turned her face away. Seconds later, the bed dipped and Zane crawled up beside her. He reclined, propping his elbow on the pillow next to her.
“Now suppose you tell me what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours,” he drawled.
She gave him her best confused look. “I missed you guys,” she said huskily. “You didn’t miss me?”
He arched an eyebrow at her, and she watched the battle play across his face. He was clearly trying to decide if she was playing a game or if she was just being the same girl they always knew.
“Of course we did,” he soothed.
“You don’t act like it,” she muttered. “What’s up Seth’s ass anyway?”
He opened his mouth to speak then shut it again. Finally he shook his head. “Come here, Jaz,” he said.
She didn’t hesitate. She rolled over and scooted her back into his chest until she was snuggled into his arms. As his warmth bled through her skin, she sighed in contentment.
“Glad to be home?”
She nodded. “I loved Paris, but I was ready to come back home to Texas.”
She sighed again when his fingers tangled in her hair, gently pulling downward as he brushed the strands.
The bathroom door opened and Seth came out again, this time fully clothed. He frowned when he saw Jasmine hugged up tight against Zane. She pretended to ignore him, focusing instead on the TV.
He seemed to battle over whether or not to object to her presence. She watched from the corner of her eye as he looked at her. With a slight shake of his head, he walked over to his bed.
Feeling like she’d won this round, she smiled to herself and burrowed deeper under the covers. She was tired. Exhausted, actually. But she didn’t want to spend her first night back alone.
She could feel Zane’s heartbeat against her back, and it soothed her. Made her feel safe. It felt like home.
As she wiggled closer still into the shelter of his body, her behind brushed against the vee of his legs. For a moment, she paused. Then she felt the hardness against the curve of her ass.
Zane must have registered her awareness, because he jerked away and rolled out of the bed. She felt the loss of their closeness keenly and, for the first time, regretted the attraction between them.
Zane strode into the bathroom and closed the door behind him with a bang.
Seth watched Jasmine’s eyes close as she succumbed to sleep. His brother still remained in the bathroom after his exit over fifteen minutes ago.
She was beautiful. Achingly so. It shamed him that he couldn’t look at her without feeling a surge of lust. He ran a hand through his hair and stood up, a weary sigh escaping him. He yanked back his covers and picked the remote up to turn off the TV.
What the hell was he going to do? He reclined on the bed, leaving the blankets at his feet. The year she’d been away had been a blessing and a curse all rolled into one.
He’d missed her. Missed everything about her. But at the same time, he’d been relieved not to have to face her on a daily basis.
He looked up to see Zane walk cautiously out of the bathroom. His brother shot a look at the bed and relaxed when he saw Jasmine sleeping.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Seth demanded in a low tone.
“Nothing,” Zane growled.
Seth raised an eyebrow.
Zane sighed and sat on the edge of Seth’s bed.
“I can’t touch her without getting a hard-on,” he admitted.
“Then don’t fucking touch her,” Seth said, anger spilling into his voice. He swallowed then lowered his voice so as not to wake Jasmine. “I mean what did you expect? You were practically on top of her in the bed. She isn’t a little girl anymore, Zane. That shit’s got to stop.”
Zane’s eyes glittered with irritation. “I don’t need a goddamn lecture from you. Do you have any idea how hard it is not to touch her when she’s constantly close to me, hugging me, snuggling? Jesus. It wasn’t like this before she left. I never had a problem with her affection, and I damn sure don’t want to hurt her feelings now. How the hell is she supposed to understand what’s going on? It’s not her fault she’s turned into a drop-dead gorgeous woman that I can’t even look at without wanting to fuck.”
Seth surged forward, his fists clenched. “Shut the hell up, Zane.” His harsh whisper exploded over the room and both men looked over at Jasmine. Seth leaned in closer to his brother. “I’m warning you. Cool it. And stay the hell away from her. We didn’t bring her home to be our fuck toy. She is strictly off-limits.”
Zane looked at him, a mixture of hurt and surprise in his blue eyes. “Is that what you think of me? You think I’d disrespect her like that? Hell, Seth, we’ve been taking care of her for six years. Do you honestly think I’d do anything to hurt her?”
Seth blew out his breath in frustration. No way he’d admit to having the same difficulties around Jasmine. No way he’d tell Zane that within hours of her return, he was already struggling with the same dark thoughts that had plagued him for years.
“No, man, I don’t think anything like that. I know you love her. We both love her. Which is why we’re going to stay the fuck away from her. It’s our job to take care of her and see that she’s happy.”
“Agreed,” Zane said. But even as his brother spoke, he glanced sideways at Jasmine, and Seth could see the raw hunger in his eyes.
Fuck. He could feel it too. It ate at him, but his hunger had gone on a lot longer. Now that she was back, he was on fire. The days ahead were going to be the most difficult he’d ever face.
“Let’s get some sleep,” Seth said wearily. “We’ve got a long drive tomorrow. Maybe you should take her room.”