Amanda Usen Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast, and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. They live in Western New York with their three children, one gerbil, four fish, a Russian tortoise, and a beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found reading a book and trying to get out of cooking dinner..
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The Hot Nights series follows the romantic adventures of three friends after they graduate from culinary school and head off for NYC, Venice Beach, and New Orleans. While I was writing the series, several vivid secondary characters inspired my imagination. The first among them was Ned, Jack’s brother from INTO THE FIRE. He’s a black sheep rock star who has a friends-with-benefits arrangement with Marie, Jack’s former babysitter and the owner of a glamorous pastry shop called Drink Your Dessert. Marie wants more from Ned, but life is complicated. One of these days, I’ll have to finish their story and help them sort it out. Until then…here’s a wicked taste of another Hot Nights couple…
Countdown to the Kiss
A Hot Nights New Year
Marie couldn’t be happier for the bride and groom, but if they didn’t hurry up and cut the goddamn cake, she was going to do it for them. Having the cake ceremony right after midnight guaranteed a sweet start to the New Year, but the clock was ticking and her nerves were running out of time. So far she’d managed to keep to the kitchen. But every time she emerged to check on the dessert table—or grab another drink—her heart raced so fast she felt like she needed a crash cart. She could barely get air into her lungs, and even though she hated herself for doing it, she searched the room for Ned.
Old habits died hard, and Ned Calabrese was more than a habit, he was an addiction, one she’d had for more than half of her life. She woke up in the morning looking forward to his next visit. She drifted to sleep at night missing the rough touch of his guitar string-callused fingertips stroking her hip and her breasts, their mingled scent of sugar and sex, and the way he always woke hard and hungry for her. His absence was a constant in her life, but she deserved more than a few booty calls a year, damn it. They were friends—always had been—with benefits, of course. Great benefits. Amazing fucking benefits. A low ache started between her thighs and spread like wildfire through her veins until the surface of her skin felt like one big, hot, throb, burning for him.
Maybe her luck would hold out, and his plane would stay on the tarmac in Ft. Lauderdale, grounded by the storm. Was that too much to ask? Did the groom really need his brother at the reception? He’d already missed the ceremony, and she just needed another hour, two hours tops, to break down the wedding cake, serve it up to Lila and Jack’s three hundred wedding guests, and make her escape.
Noise swelled in the ballroom, the unmistakable sound of females becoming aware of a rock star in their midst. Her pulse jackknifed, and she raised her glass to her lips for courage only to have ice bump against her teeth. Empty. Crap. The kitchen doors swung open and she tensed, tempted for a split-second to duck under the table.
“There’s my girl, hiding in the kitchen, as usual.” Ned stood in the doorway. Over his shoulder, she could see his bodyguards, holding back the crowd as the door swung shut behind him.
Her eyes skated desperately over him, drinking him in, soaking up the sight of his unruly black hair, perfect for grabbing, sexy dark green eyes that reminded her of moss on slate, broad shoulders roped with so much hard muscle it was difficult to believe he was an artist. Ned Calabrese was a double threat: he could sing your panties off and back up the hot promises of his songs with a body that could go all night. With her. It was what they did best.
She closed her eyes to block out his alluring image, reaching deep for the determination she knew was there…somewhere. I deserve more than a few weekends a year. But she couldn’t muster her resolve, and it didn’t matter whether she could see him or not. He was in the room; she could feel him, smell him, and taste him, just from memory. Her mouth watered, and her core tingled. She clenched, so wet she knew he could easily slip inside her right now, and her mind filled with the fantasy of him putting her on the table, lifting the skirt of the blood red vintage Versace she’d worn for him, untying the bows that held her miniscule panties on her hips, and taking what had always been his.
“I can’t do this.” The words slid from her mouth on a moan as he hauled her against his chest, lifting her into the air. Instantly, her arms went around his neck. His hands gripped her thighs, helping her lock her legs around his waist. When her back hit the wall, he buried his face in her neck and groaned. “I know. Jack just told me it’s time to cut the cake. This place is crawling with chefs. Why do they need you? I just got here. I need you more.” He pressed evidence of his desire between her thighs and thrust agaist her, making fireworks burst before her eyes.
She latched on to the excuse like a drowning woman would grab a river log, sucking air and all but climbing over his shoulder to put some space between them. “No one is cutting my cake but me. I told your brother I’d revoke his free pass at Drink Your Dessert if they did more than cut one piece to share.”
A drum roll sounded in the other room. Voices began to chant a countdown. All of her scrambling had only managed to put a few inches between their chests. His grip tightened, and he throbbed between her thighs. “We’ve got ten seconds, at least. I’ve missed you so much, it probably won’t even take that long.”
If he got inside her, she’d never hold out. Resisting him was like giving up chocolate. Hell, worse. Giving up butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, too. Giving up everything.
She whimpered. “No.”
“Fine, be that way.” He swung her away from the wall and set her down on the table, just as she’d imagined. “But you won’t deny me a kiss at midnight, will you?”
No, she wouldn’t deny him that. She wanted one last kiss to remember. He stepped between her legs, raising her dress to accommodate his hips, hands coasting over every curve as if renewing a claim.
Four…three…two… His hands gentled, and he took her lips, not fast and hard as she had expected, but with infinite tenderness, and her mouth fell open under his slow assault. Their tongues touched and caressed, connecting their breath. His hands cupped her shoulders, stroking awareness through every nerve ending. Her heart swelled. She loved this man—always had.
Dimly, she heard the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” and the racket of horns and noisemakers, but then all she could hear was Ned, whispering seductive promises against her lips. Her body eagerly welcomed him home, and they rocked together, giving and taking in a dance they had perfected over the years. “I love you, Marie. God, I missed you so damn much.”
Hot pleasure flooded her, and she pulled him closer. “I know you do.” A tear slipped down her cheek, and she tasted it on his lips. Abruptly, she knew she wasn’t going to let him go. Not for a second. She didn’t give a hoot about the cake anymore. They could hack it up with a meat cleaver for all she cared. She’d nearly broken her heart tonight, and Ned was right. Anyone could cut the cake. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I thought you’d never ask.” He was closer to the truth than he knew, and that made her kiss him even more desperately, clutch him more tightly as he maneuvered them out the back door of the kitchen to the staff elevator they always used when he was in town and staying here at The Plaza. Another set of guards was waiting outside the door and followed them, forcing them to part for the short ride to his suite, but she was used to that. Ned would be hers again once they got into the room, all hers, as he always was when they were alone.
The door shut behind them. Locked. Her zipper slid down her back, quickly followed by her dress. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and he unraveled her panties as he steered her into the bedroom and onto the bed. He didn’t take off his clothes, only rearranged enough fabric to connect them, and every empty place in her heart disappeared as he slid inside. Capturing her gaze, he began to move, and they shared a smile. Euphoria shimmered through her as he hit her favorite spot and settled into a rhythm that made her toes curl, her fingers dig into the duvet, and every muscle in her body seize with delirious bliss. It was always like this. Hot and perfect. Necessary.
She wasn’t giving him up until the pain of being alone outweighed the paradise of being with him again. She wasn’t there. Not yet. She wrapped her legs around his and held on for the ride. Maybe next year…
He's every fantasy she's ever had...
Betsy Mouton knows that easy doesn't last forever. She's working her butt off to launch the Last Call Café so her family can leave the New Orleans bar business—and its heartaches—behind forever. That is, until the hottest one-night-stand of her life shows up next door, twice as uncompromising and two million times hotter, offering to buy the bar and send the Moutons to Easy Street.
Hotelier Quinton James has never forgotten the unbelievably hot night he and Betsy shared. Never forgotten how beautifully she submitted to him, or how he found the only peace he's ever known in her arms. Now that Betsy is the only thing standing in the way of his new hotel, she's the one in control. But there's more at stake than her cafe or laying their past to rest—Quin wants a future. With her. All he has to do is convince her...one sensual command at a time.He’s every fantasy she’s ever had...
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