Undenied eBook: Page1

Maya Banks (2007)




  Chapter One

  Wes Hoffman pulled into the parking lot of Zack’s Bar and Grill and killed the engine. It was awfully crowded for a Thursday night.

  As he walked closer to the door, he could hear raucous laughter from inside. When he actually stepped into the bar, he winced as a set of girly shrieks from hell pierced his eardrums.

  He glanced around the room to see a hoard of females clustered in the corner. Ah hell, he’d stumbled into a girls’ night out? And not just any girls’ night out. These looked to be hellions.

  His eyebrows lifted when one of them plunked down her drink and climbed on top of the table amidst hoots and shouts of encouragement from her friends. She proceeded to do a loud rendition of a twangy country song before one of the other girls coaxed her down.

  Wes headed for the bar in full retreat mode. Zack slid a cold bottle toward him as he plopped onto a barstool.

  “Thanks,” he said as he raised the bottle to his lips. Then he nodded in the direction of the chaos. “What the fuck is going on tonight?”

  Zack chuckled and flipped his towel over his shoulder. “Bachelorette party.”

  Wes groaned. “Say no more.”

  “What brings you out tonight, anyway?” Zack asked as he resumed pouring a round of drinks. “You’re usually over at Jeremy’s your nights off.”

  “They’ve all turned into a bunch of damn pussies,” Wes grumbled.

  Zack burst out laughing. “I assume you’re talking about the female influence on the male members of your circle?”

  Wes took a long chug of the beer. “Got it in one. Babies, wives…” He shook his head. “And then I come here expecting a nice quiet drink and find a bunch of screaming women.”

  Zack laughed again. “You sound down on the fairer sex, my friend.”

  Wes grinned. “Oh no, I wouldn’t badmouth them. I love them far too much for that. I’m just pissed because everyone I know is at home getting laid, and I’m sitting here bitching to you like a goddamn old man.”

  Zack inclined his head in the direction of the ruckus. “Plenty of women over there.”

  Wes snorted. “I don’t do about-to-become-attached women.”

  “They aren’t all getting married. Just one.”

  “Which one?” Wes asked as he swiveled on his barstool.

  “The blonde sitting by the redhead over in the corner. Ah hell, is that lingerie they’re breaking out?”

  “Looks like it,” Wes said as his gaze swept over the group. He stopped on one and stared for a long moment, studying her profile. There was something about her.

  “Who’s the brunette on the end?” he asked Zack. “The one wearing the cowboy hat. I swear I’ve seen her somewhere before.”

  “Dunno. The bride-to-be said she had a lot of out-of-towners coming in for the wedding.”

  Wes continued to stare, the niggling growing stronger. Where had he seen her? As he sat watching her, she turned in his direction. Their eyes locked and a burst of recognition hit him directly in the chest.

  Her eyes widened in surprise and then she smiled. She rose and began making her way toward him.

  Heat rushed up his neck as humiliation set in. Fuck me. Oh Lord, anyone but Payton Ricci. He stood, nearly knocking his beer over in his haste to be as far away from there as possible.

  “Wes Hoffman?”

  Her voice, husky and sweet, only added to his guilt.

  And then she launched herself at him. One minute she was standing just a few feet away and the next she was in his arms, legs wrapped around his waist.

  “It is you!” she exclaimed.

  One hand clapped on top of the straw cowboy hat she wore, and the other curled around his neck, holding on for dear life. Then she yanked off the hat and tossed it onto the bar before she planted her lips on his.

  He registered a hot, needy mouth, but his shock and embarrassment were too great for him to do anything but stand there wishing the earth could open up and swallow him.

  Finally she pulled away and slid down his body until her feet hit the floor. She cocked her head to the side, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “Do you not remember me?”

  He cleared his throat. On one hand he wanted to plead ignorance, but then she’d no doubt explain just how they knew each other, and he really didn’t need the details all over again. On the other hand, he had no desire to hurt her feelings. He’d already done enough damage to her.

  “Of course I remember you, Payton.” He even managed what he hoped was a sincere smile.

  “I can’t believe you’re still here, I mean living here. I figured you’d have left right after high school. Didn’t you have a scholarship to A&M to play ball?”

  Her enthusiasm discomfited him. Why was she being so damn nice to him? He eased awkwardly back onto the barstool and motioned for Zack.

  Zack walked over, a smirk on his face that Wes wanted to wipe off with a well-placed fist.

  “Can I get you a drink?” Wes asked, not really knowing what else to say to a woman he’d never expected to see again.

  She bounced onto the stool next to him and flashed her dynamite smile at Zack, who promptly melted into a pile of slush. Damn fool.

  “I’ll take a water,” she said.

  She turned back to Wes, a million questions burning in her eyes. “Well? Tell me about you. What are you doing these days?”

  His tongue felt thick in his mouth. Like he’d just swallowed a cup of sawdust.

  She looked beautiful, but then she’d always been gorgeous. The years had been good to her—how long had it been? Eleven? Twelve years? Good God, it had been twelve years. She’d been sixteen then. Sweet, innocent and so very beautiful.

  She hadn’t changed much. Not now when he soaked in her appearance up close and personal. She still had a sparkle about her, something that inexplicably drew him to her, just like it had twelve years ago.

  “Wes? Are you all right?”

  He blinked and opened his mouth to try and say something to smooth over the awkwardness of the situation, but damned if he knew what to say. Sorry? Apologize for hurting her? Apologize for being a clumsy, inexperienced dumbass?

  “I’m fine,” he mumbled. He looked around…for what, help? He met Zack’s gaze, sure panic was etched in his features.

  Zack glanced curiously back at him, nodded once in silent understanding then reached for the phone under the counter. A few seconds later, Wes’s cell phone rang.

  Wes yanked up his phone, knowing when he answered there wouldn’t be anyone on the other end, but he gripped the receiver like a lifeline.

  “Yeah,” he said shortly. He waited an appropriate amount of time before saying, “Okay, I’ll be right in.”

  He closed the phone and donned an expression of regret. “That was the station. I’m a local cop. They need me to come in. I’ll, uh, catch you another time.”

  “Oh,” she said. “Well, it was nice to see you again.” She flashed a smile that didn’t quite reach to her eyes, eyes that reflected suspicion.

  “Uh, yeah, you too,” Wes hedged. He nodded in Zack’s direction. “Thanks, man. I’ll see you later.”

  He turned tail and all but ran the hell out of the bar. When he reached the outside, he sucked in several breaths, trying to rid himself of the embarrassment blazing a torch over his face.

  Bless Zack for resorting to the oldest trick in their repertoire. It wasn’t something they’d done in a long time, the last when a very drunk, very married woman had come on to Wes. He definitely owed Zack for this one, and he’d be more than happy to pay up.

  Payton sighed and turned her attention to Zack. She pinned him with her stare and arched one eyebrow. “Slick move if I do say so myself.”

  His eyes widened in exaggerated surprise.

  She
snorted. “Don’t play innocent with me. Come on. That has to be one of the lamest tricks ever. You guys were so obvious, a blind man could have ratted you out.”

  He chuckled but had the grace to look abashed.

  “So what’s his problem?” she asked as she stared again at the doorway Wes had fled out of. “I mean it wasn’t like I threatened to rape him.”

  Zack shrugged. “Honestly? I have no clue. I’ve never seen him act like that. I was kinda hoping you could clue me in. How do you two know each other anyway?”

  The soft echo of a memory, a much younger, innocent memory whispered across her mind. “I knew him in high school.”

  “That’s all? I was sure by the way he was acting that you were some crazed felon he’d arrested before.”

  “Yeah, you’d think,” she murmured.

  “Can I get you something stronger than water?” he offered. “My treat to make up for the dirty trick I pulled.”

  She smiled. “Thanks, but no. I’m stuck driving all these lunatics home after they’ve gotten too drunk to remember their names.”

  He turned to acknowledge another customer who’d walked up to the bar, but then he looked back at her again. “I don’t know what was up Wes’s ass tonight, but he’s really a good guy. Couldn’t ask for better.”

  “I’ll remember that,” she said dryly.

  She swung around on her stool and leaned against the bar, glass of water in hand. She sipped idly as she watched her girlfriends laugh and whoop it up.

  Wes Hoffman. After all these years. And lordy but he’d grown up well. As much as he sent her hormones buzzing when she was sixteen, her adult girly parts were all a-tingle from a simple glance.

  When she’d driven into town, she’d wondered about him. Wondered if she’d run into him or if he’d long since left the small town they’d grown up in. But here he was, a cop, apparently still quite rooted in the community.

  Had she turned out so awful? Had the idea of seeing her again been so horrible that he’d tucked tail and run at first sight? Because that’s exactly what he’d done, and the expression on his face when he’d seen her… Well, it couldn’t exactly be classified as priceless.

  She sniffed in irritation. She might not be a playboy centerfold, but she wasn’t paper bag ugly either. And she knew damn well she had a decent body. Never had a man run from her like Wes Hoffman just had.

  The more she thought about it, the more pissed she got. Was that any way to react to someone you hadn’t seen in twelve years? Would a Hey, nice to see you be too much to ask for?

  Jerk. Gorgeous, hunky jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. God, she was a sucker for a man with a goatee. It had bristled across her lips when she kissed him. Okay, well maybe she shouldn’t have kissed him, but again, she’d never gotten any complaints before.

  Face it, Payton, you were way too damned pushy and you scared him away.

  She huffed again and let out a long sigh. Oh well, c’est la vie and all that jazz. She wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

  “Paaayyton!”

  She grinned as the group of rowdy girls yelled at her from across the room. She turned, grabbed her cowboy hat and slapped it back on her head. Hell, she was here to have a good time. Piss on Wes Hoffman.

  Chapter Two

  “Do I suck in bed?”

  Gracie Forsythe choked on her tea and coughed as she set the glass on the kitchen counter.

  “What? Wes, are you smoking some funky weed or something?”

  Wes sighed. He’d known this wouldn’t go over well. Not only was he further humiliated by airing his insecurities, but if Luke came back before he finished the conversation with Gracie, Wes would never live this down.

  “Do I suck in bed?” he repeated.

  “No. Now do you mind telling me what precipitated that question?”

  “Okay, so I don’t suck, but am I any good?” he asked, ignoring her question.

  Gracie cocked her head then circled around the island to stand in front of where he was slouched against the sink. “What’s going on with you, Wes? Where on earth would you get the idea that you’re a lousy lay?”

  He growled in frustration. He didn’t have all night to have this conversation with her. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up. His best friend’s wife probably wasn’t the best source for boosting his sexual ego even if she was in a position to judge. And well, she was as much his best friend as Luke was.

  “Gracie, will you just answer the question instead of peppering me with more?”

  Her eyes softened and she leaned back against the island so they faced each other. “Wes, the night we had our threesome was honestly the best sex I’ve had in my life. I couldn’t have asked for better lovers than you and Luke.”

  He shifted uncomfortably at her intense perusal.

  “So you going to tell me what brought this up or are you going to make me play dirty?”

  “Play dirty?” he asked, though he was afraid to find out what she meant. Gracie could be downright evil when provoked.

  “Well, I’m pretty sure you don’t want Luke to know about this little conversation.” She arched one brow. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have waited until he left to get more beer. Nor would you have declined to go with him.”

  “You wouldn’t.”

  She batted her eyelashes innocently. “Wouldn’t I? I would in a heartbeat. This has got to be downright juicy, and I’ll do what I have to in order to pry the goods out of you.”

  He snorted in disgust. “Luke so didn’t know what he was getting into with you.”

  Her eyes twinkled and a smile hovered over her full lips. “Oh, I don’t think you’ll hear him complaining.” She crossed her arms over her chest and eyed him. “Okay, so spill it. Did you make it with some chick who thought you were the worst guy she’d ever fucked?”

  Despite his discomfort, he couldn’t help but laugh at Gracie’s bluntness. It was what he liked best about her. And why he’d decided to come to her with his problem. She liked to joke, but he knew when it came down to it, she’d never rat him out. She was too loyal.

  “It’s kind of a long story,” he said with a heavy sigh.

  She made a show of checking her watch. “Well, you better abbreviate it. I figure we have ten minutes tops before Luke gets back.”

  Suddenly he regretted his impulsive decision to talk to Gracie about Payton. It seemed ridiculous and could only add to his embarrassment. Quite frankly, he’d be happy for no one to ever know, and he’d be even happier if Payton hadn’t shown up out of the blue after twelve years. Twelve years in which he’d put the past firmly behind him, only to have it pushed back into his face with one chance encounter.

  “Wes,” Gracie said softly. “Whatever it is that’s bothering you, you can tell me. You know that. Hell, you saw me through one of the most awkward moments of my life. I wanted to drop dead of embarrassment when I waltzed into the kitchen at the cabin, half-naked, only to find you standing there looking at me.”

  He grinned at that memory. “Ahh, my first glimpse of the infamous nipple rings.”

  Gracie blushed, which only caused him to grin wider. She planted a fist in his gut, and he doubled over laughing.

  “Okay, okay.” He straightened his body and took a deep breath. “You’re going to think this is ridiculous, but I went over to Zack’s to get a beer. There was some wild bachelorette party going on. I was checking out the girls, and I saw someone I know. Well, knew anyway. Then she saw me.”

  “Run screaming in the other direction?” Gracie asked.

  “No, that’s the thing. She runs over to me and leaps into my arms and plants a huge kiss on me.”

  Gracie frowned. “Was she butt ugly?”

  “No, not at all. She’s…well, she’s hot. Gorgeous hot. I mean one of those women a man is just drawn to.”

  “Okay, so what’s the problem?”

  “I love women. No secret there. And I haven’t exactly had the sex life of a monk.”

  Gracie snorted ind
elicately.

  “Shut up,” he growled.

  She giggled and gestured for him to carry on.

  “By all rights I should have been all sorts of turned-on. I mean I had a handful of luscious woman in my arms. She’s kissing me. Her breasts, gorgeous breasts by the way, were all pressed up against me. And…”

  “And?” Gracie prompted.

  “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I think I may have lost an inch or two, my dick shriveled so quick. I think it may have gone into permanent hiding.”

  Gracie pressed her lips tight together and her body shook with silent laughter. “Uhm, Wes, you could stand to lose an inch or two and still be better off than most of the male population.”

  Heat slid up his neck much like nails on a chalkboard.

  “Okay, I’ll strive to be more serious. Hard, though, when you give me openings like that,” she cracked. “So how, pray tell, did this dick shriveling incident lead you to the conclusion that you must suck in bed?”

  “Well, there’s more to the story,” he said grudgingly.

  “Aha, so now we get to the good part.”

  “Shut up, Gracie.”

  She held her hands up in surrender. “Continue on.”

  He raised his fingers to his hair then slid them down the back of his head to his neck. “Do you remember Payton Ricci from high school? She was two years behind us.”

  Gracie scrunched her face into a thoughtful expression. “Huh uh, doesn’t ring a bell.”

  “Well, I had a major crush on her the summer after my senior year. We, uhm, well we had sex. I was her first.” He winced at the memory. “To make a long story short, it was a disaster. I hurt her. To date, it has to go down as one of the most awkward moments of my life.”

  Gracie’s lips formed an O. “And Payton is the chick from the bar tonight?”

  He nodded.

  “And you can’t get past the fact that you once had disastrous sex together?”

  “Evidently not,” he muttered. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve spent the last twelve years agonizing over it, but when I saw her, all I could remember is the look on her face, her crying out and the tears afterward. I felt like complete shit then, and I feel like complete shit now.”

  A light of understanding blazed in Gracie’s eyes. “Wes, was that what all that stuff was about at the cabin? You seemed overly concerned that you’d hurt me.”

  He didn’t say anything, but then he didn’t have to.

  She pursed her lips and blew out a long breath. “Wow. I don’t know what to say. I can understand why you feel bad, but damn, she was a virgin. Despite what a whole host of romance books might tell you—okay, me, since I’m sure you aren’t reading them—the first time for a woman is often a combination of messy and uncomfortable. Throw in a more-endowed-than-average guy, and you get even more messy and uncomfortable.”

  “What was your first time like?” he asked, unable to resist his curiosity. And maybe he needed for her to say it had been as awful as it had to have been for Payton.

  She chuckled. “Forgettable. That’s the experience in a nutshell. A few kisses, he touched my boobs, got between my legs and ten seconds later it was all over with.”

  He cringed. “That sounds eerily familiar, but damn it, I’d never seen that much female flesh up close and personal. I’m not even sure I made it all the way in before I went off like a damn machine gun.”