Can’t Help Loving You excerpt

“I need you to move in with me.”

Rafe looked down into Lillian’s flushed face and wondered what rabbit hole he’d managed to fall into today. Less than an hour had passed since she’d all but slammed a door in his face, both figuratively and literally, and pretty much told him to go to hell. Now here she was, standing outside his apartment, looking just a little bit drunk, and asking him to move in with her.

No, correction. Telling him to move in with her.

Let the weirdness begin.

“Come again?” he asked. Maybe he’d heard her wrong. It was the only logical explanation.

“I need you to move in with me.”

Huh.

Deciding to play along and see where the weirdness led, Rafe leaned one shoulder against the doorjamb, arms crossed. “Wow, this is so sudden. Are you sure we’re not moving too fast? We wouldn’t want to do anything we’d regret.”

“What?”

“I mean, we hardly know each other, and living together is such a big step.”

“What?”

Rafe wasn’t sure if it was the wine he could smell sweetening her breath or something else that had her all flustered and out of sorts. But it was obvious his teasing was sailing right over her head. Lillian was definitely off her usual game.

Rafe, on the other hand, was enjoying the hell out of himself. The little minx had been tormenting him for months. Sexy winks, blowing kisses, chipping away at the control he forced himself to hold onto whenever she was around. It felt good to have the shoe on the other foot for a change, even if he didn’t have a clue what was going on.

“What are you talking about?” Lillian shook her head. “Never mind. We don’t have time. We have to go.”

“Go where?”

“To my apartment.” She gave him a look of immense frustration. “Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

“Yes, but damned if I understand any of it.” Rafe was pretty sure she gave a little growl at that. He bit back a grin. “Why don’t you start at the beginning and explain why you feel the sudden urge to shack up?”

“I don’t have time to explain it all, but my mother is upstairs, right this second, and if I don’t produce you in the next few minutes, she’s going to think I was lying and first thing tomorrow she’s going to show up with her bags because she thinks I’m all alone, and I love my mother, I swear I do, but I can’t have her move in with me, it would be a complete and utter disaster, so I need you to come with me now to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Rafe had heard rambling, confusing explanations before, but Lillian would give an auctioneer a run for his money in the say-it-all-in-one-breath department. This time he was the one to say, “What?”

“Please, Rafe.” Lillian stepped closer and placed her hands on his crossed forearms as she looked up at him. “I need your help.”

The heat of her hands burned against his bare skin. It traveled up his arms and shot straight south, causing an immediate and unwelcome problem that made him glad she was too focused on his face to notice. Hopefully. He straightened from the doorjamb, hoping it would make her drop her hands, but she tightened her grip as though afraid he was going to get away.

Please.”

He still wasn’t sure what she was asking him to do, but when she looked at him with those melted-chocolate eyes and pleaded in that low, throaty voice, it was impossible to say no. This was different from Peter manipulating him earlier in the day by playing the brother card. This was pure, unconscious sex appeal.

Thinking about Lillian’s brother turned out to be the antidote to Rafe’s inconvenient arousal. It didn’t, however, stop him from enjoying the feel of her soft hands on him.

“Okay, I’ll help.”

Lillian sagged in relief. “Thank you.” Recovering, she tugged at his arm. “Come on, we have to hurry.”

“Okay, okay, wait a second.” After a quick check to make sure he’d turned off the oven he’d been about to throw one of his mother’s care-package-slash-guilt-trip heat-and-eat meals into for dinner, Rafe grabbed his keys and locked the apartment.

“Come on.” Lillian practically danced in the hallway as he double-checked the door out of habit.

“You know, you look a lot like my little cousin when she has to pee when you do that,” he commented, accepting the swat she gave him on his arm as due justice for the jibe. “I’ll need a little more information before we get up there,” he added as she dragged him toward the elevator.

He spent the very short ride up to the fourth floor listening to Lillian’s semi-coherent explanation again for why they needed to convince her mother that the two of them were all but living together. Parts of it actually made some sense. But he got the impression that Lillian hadn’t thought things all the way through before she wove her little web of lies, and that one of those sticky strands was going to pull loose at the most inopportune time and strangle them both.

He slowed his steps as they walked to her door so he could watch her without her knowing it. She was wearing a pair of slouchy sweatpants and a simple top that covered her impressive cleavage right up to her neck. It was so opposite of what he was used to seeing her wear that it made him curious about what else was different about her in private from the very flamboyant face she showed to the world.

She paused at the door and looked back to give him an impatient look. Hands on hips, she tapped her foot at him. Rafe wanted to burst out laughing. She was freaking adorable.

It was the tapping that made him notice she was wearing nothing but socks on her feet. It had to be the first time—ever—he’d seen her without a pair of those killer heels. Without the additional height, she was forced to tip her head back a little when he stopped beside her.

“You know what to say, right?” she asked.

Not a clue. “I’ll follow your lead.”

That seemed to satisfy her. Visibly steeling herself, Lillian unlocked the door and went inside. Rafe followed, closing the door and, assuming his role, placed his hand lightly on her back as they walked. She jumped in surprise. Judging by the way her lips were pursed as she rose from the couch, he had a bad feeling Lillian’s mother had noticed. Or maybe she just wasn’t thrilled to be coming face-to-face with the man who was sleeping with her daughter.

Supposedly sleeping with her daughter.

“Mom, you remember Rafael Delgado, don’t you?” Lillian asked.

“Of course.” Patricia smiled and offered her hand. “Peter’s friend from the police force. How nice to see you again, Rafael.”

“Just Rafe is fine, Mrs. Beaumont.” Rafe shook her cool, smooth hand with a careful grip. “It’s nice to see you too.”

He noticed that she didn’t invite him to call her Patricia.

Rather than retake her previous spot, Mrs. Beaumont moved to one of the chairs, leaving the couch for himself and Lillian. Once more placing his hand on Lillian’s back as they moved around the coffee table to sit, he could feel her heart racing like a hunted doe. At least she didn’t flinch this time.

“I have to admit, I was a bit surprised when my daughter told me about the two of you,” Patricia said, settling back into the cushy chair for what was certain to be a long, uncomfortable interrogation.

Not as surprised as I was.

Rafe had always liked Patricia Beaumont. She’d been very warm and welcoming to him whenever Peter had invited him to family functions over the years. Somewhere in her early fifties, she was one of those rare women who looked her age and didn’t seem to mind one bit. Her light brown hair showed a few touches of silver at the temples; the laugh lines around her eyes hadn’t been erased by a shot or a scalpel. She wasn’t a ravishing beauty, but there was a classic elegance to her that blended well with the maternal warmth she normally exuded toward everyone.

A warmth that was sadly in short supply as she waited for him to explain himself.

Taking the assertive approach rather than the passive, Rafe asked, “And why is that?”

“Well, for one thing, she hasn’t mentioned she was seeing anyone special.”

“Does she always tell you who she’s dating?”

A small frown formed. “Well, no, not always. But this is a little different, wouldn’t you say? Since according to her you’re practically living together?”

“That might be overstating it a bit,” Rafe said, picking his words with care, “but I’d say that the amount of time we spend in each other’s company and what we do with it is our private business, wouldn’t you?”

“Not when my daughter’s safety is at issue.”

Rafe had to give Patricia credit, she wasn’t just being a nosy mom. She was showing honest concern about Lillian’s wellbeing. Which would make it a lot harder to get her to buy into this poorly constructed lie.

“Mrs. Beaumont, I promise you that your daughter’s safety is of the utmost importance to me,” Rafe said, with total sincerity. “It wouldn’t matter if we were dating or not. I’d still do whatever it took to keep her safe.” That, at least, was the absolute truth.

Patricia was just starting to look appeased by his declaration when he made the mistake of reaching over and putting his hand on top of Lillian’s where it lay on her leg. As she had before, Lillian started at his touch before recovering and giving Rafe a weak smile. But the damage was done. The hint of suspicion was back in Patricia’s eyes, and the small bit of trust he’d built with her was gone with one quick twitch.

They needed to fix this, fast. Rafe grasped Lillian’s hand and stood. “Would you excuse us for a second, please?” Not waiting for an answer, he tugged Lillian to her feet and all but dragged her toward the kitchen. That was too open to the living room, offering no privacy, so he continued down the hall to the first bedroom and pulled her inside.

“She’s not buying it,” Lillian moaned, shooting a look over her shoulder toward the open door as though expecting to see her mother following them.

“Of course, she’s not,” Rafe replied. “Not when you keep acting like I’ve hit you with a Taser every time I touch you.”

“I don’t!”

“You do, but I think we can fix that. We just need to get this out of the way.” Before he could think too much and talk himself out of it, he tugged her closer and pressed his mouth to hers. Her lips were soft and passive, but her whole body went stiff with shock. And yet, she didn’t try to pull away. Encouraged, he moved his lips over hers with gentle pressure, keeping the kiss easy and nonthreatening. Finally, he lifted his head, ending the kiss with a soft sigh.

Opening eyes that she’d closed at some point during the kiss, Lillian looked at him with a mixture of shock and, if he wasn’t deluding himself, a spark of sexual interest.

“Why did you do that?” she whispered.

“So you’d be more comfortable, and stop jumping every time I touch you.”

“Oh.”

“And,” he added, feeling the need to be honest, “because I wanted to.”

Oh.”

Before he could ask if he needed to apologize, Lillian slid her arms up over his shoulders and around his neck.

“What if I want to, too?” she asked. “That’s only fair, right?” Without waiting for an answer, she put her lips to his.

For a second, the kiss was as chaste as the first, a pleasant press of lips and nothing else. And then it was so much more. Heat flashed through Rafe’s body as her lips parted. Her teeth tugged on his lower lip until he let her in, her tongue darting in to tease at his, encouraging him to play.

With a groan, Rafe pulled Lillian up against him in a tight embrace, the feel of her in his arms stoking the flames of passion higher and faster. Too high and too fast, some rational part of him cautioned. But months, no years of wanting and not having her had pushed him far beyond the point of good sense. He sank into the kiss with every unfulfilled desire leading the charge, and was greedily satisfied when the response he got from her was just as wild and unrestrained.

He wondered how difficult it would be to get them both to the bed without breaking the kiss when the sound of a throat being cleared sliced through the haze of lust like a bucket of ice water.

Lillian must not have heard it. When he lifted his mouth from hers, she made a sound of dissatisfaction and chased him, managing to land another quick kiss before she caught on to Rafe’s attempt to hold her off. Her breath hitched as she figured out what he already knew. “Mom,” she choked out weakly.

Angry with himself for letting what was supposed to be a simple kiss get so out of hand, Rafe struggled to collect himself as he turned to face Lillian’s mother, who was hovering in the open doorway behind them. “Mrs. Beaumont, I’m sorry. We were…” There was no good way to finish that sentence.

To his surprise, Patricia waved a hand and smiled. Smiled.

“Don’t worry about it, Rafe. And please, call me Patricia.”

“Uh, all right.”

“Good.” Still smiling, Patricia said, “I think I’ve found out everything I needed to know here. I’ll just see myself out.”

“Let me walk you to the door,” Lillian said.

Patricia smile turned a bit wicked. “No need to interrupt what you’re doing. I know the way.” She looked at Rafe, her gaze sharp. “Take care of my baby.”

“I plan to.” It was a promise he intended to keep.

As her mother disappeared down the hallway, Lillian collapsed against Rafe’s chest with a mortified groan. “Oh, my God.” The muffled words were followed by a small snort of laughter. “That was…”

“Embarrassing?” Because there was still something humiliating about being caught necking by your parents, no matter how old you were.

“To like the millionth degree.” Lillian picked her head up and looked at him. “I am so sorry I dragged you into this.”

“I’m not,” he replied, wondering if Lillian even realized how sexy she looked at that minute, her breasts pressing against him, her face tipped up with those reddened lips practically begging for another kiss. Or ten.

Fuck.

He needed to leave before he crossed a line he’d regret come morning.

“Now that your mother’s gone, I should probably get going too,” he said. But he didn’t move. Couldn’t move. Not yet. Not when this was all he was ever going to have. He wanted to soak up the heady experience of touching Lillian Beaumont for just one more second.

“Do you have to?”

“Yeah. I think I do.” He swallowed hard and reached for her arms to set her away.

“What if I don’t want you to?”

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