"It might be smart for you and Jack to have a practice kiss." Elissa stuffed the kerchief back into her pocket. "So it'll look real."
Lucy glanced at Jack, who was watching her. She couldn't tell if his expression was disquiet at his distaste for the idea or if he was feeling sorry for her, knowing she was unhappy about it. Whichever, he looked far from delighted.
"Practice makes perfect," Helen said cheerfully.
"You're all as nutty as pecan pie." Lucy's voice was low and uneven.
"Oh, Lucy, it's Jack, remember," Elissa reminded. "You've kissed Jack before. A thousand times."
Shocked, she swung to stare at her eldest sister. "But notnot on the lips! Not like a lover!"
Elissa shrugged. "Details."
"Minor details," Helen echoed.
"Oh, please!" Lucy cut in, suddenly light-headed. She swallowed, going hot all over. Apparently her blush had now traveled the length and breadth of her body. She slowly faced Jack, disbelieving. "Youyou don't agree with this plan. You don't think we should actually kiss?"
He grinned at her and she relaxed, positive he was about to agree with her. "You don't have to say it like it's a prison sentence, Luce." She frowned, confused. That didn't sound as though he were agreeing with her. His perusal was steady. When he shrugged, her hopes were dashed. "It might not be a bad idea," he added softly. "If a kiss does become necessary and you stiffen up, then Stadler will know we're faking. And he'll have won."
"Kiss her, Jack," Elissa said. "I have to get back to the inn. I'm interviewing for a new maid."
Jack lifted a brow in a resigned gesture that was blatantly teasing. "Elissa has to get back."
She eyed the ceiling. "This is silly. We won't have to kiss."
"I bet that's why Stadler's still here." Elissa snapped her fingers, looking as though she'd had a revelation. "That's got to be it. He hasn't seen any physical displays of affection between you two and he's suspicious. The man's shrewd, you have to say that for him."
Lucy exhaled, suddenly freezing cold. It was weird how the air-conditioning in this place was so untrustworthy. One second she was boiling and the next she was shivering. "Okay, okay." She gave up, shaking her head in surrender. "Let's get it over with."
Jack chuckled. "Now there's a turn-on."
She eyed him narrowly. "Don't kid. I'm not in a very good mood."
He made an apologetic face. "Sorry." Stepping closer, he placed his hands on her shoulders and leaned toward her, then stopped, clearly sensing her resistance in her rigid stance. "Ready?"
"You're not going to kiss her like that are you?" Dismay rang in Helen's voice. "You could stick a grand piano between you two. Take her in your arms, Jack."
Lucy twisted to eye her sister. "Do you mind?"
Helen shrugged indifferently. "Are you going to play a piano duet, or kiss? That's all I want to know?"
"I'm afraid I can't play the piano." Jack's joking admission ruffled Lucy's hair, drawing her gaze. He grinned his encouragement as his arms slid around her, tugging her into his lean body. The feel of him was a shocka pleasant one, some small part of her brain concededbut a shock, nevertheless. Unable to help herself, she went as stiff as wood.
"Lucy" he urged, his mouth brushing against her temple. "Don't fight me. This won't hurt."
She heard a sound, an odd, high-pitched gurgling, and realized it was coming from her own throat. A giggle? She pulled her lips between her teeth, mortified. She didn't feel like laughing, so where had that come from?
Now it was Jack's turn to stiffen. He pulled away. "Something funny?"
She shook her head, embarrassed to hear the hysterical tittering fill the air, again.
"Are you tickling her, Jack?" Helen asked, sounding confused.
He frowned at Lucy, his eyes flickering with frustration. "Luce, if you can't do this"
"I can" She giggled, then clamped her mouth shut to staunch the flow of inappropriate laughter. "I'm sorry," she whispered, sucking her lips between her teeth. The very idea of kissing a man, even Jack, in front of so many gawking people was taking a toll on her tattered emotions. Laughter rumbled in her chest and she cleared her throat to quell it.
"Oh, fine," Jack grumbled.
She shook her head as if to say she was gathering herself and would be ready in a second. She cleared her throat and forced herself to mold her body into his. A new hysterical giggled threatened and she choked on it.
He smelled nice, like Jack, and somehow that helped. Her limbs responded, calmed, her body easing further into his.
"That's better." His face tilted down, his lips shifting closer to hers.
"Lift your chin a little."
Squeezing her eyes shut she angled her face upward. She expected him to kiss her and braced for it. But nothing happened. She opened her eyes and found herself staring up into narrowed, cinnamon eyes. "Lucy, I'll need your lips for this."
She frowned in mystification, then with a start realized her lips were still firmly planted between her teeth. She groaned. "Sorry"
"Good grief, Lucy, get hold of yourself," Elissa said. "It's a kiss not oral surgery."
Burning with humiliation, Lucy met Jack's gaze. Something about the way his eyes were flashing made him seem the tiniest bit angry. She didn't have time to wonder at the cause, for at that instant his mouth covered hers, taking bold possession, his hands locking against her spine and crushing her against his hardness.
She'd expected his kiss to be soft, gentle, brotherly, but she'd been wrong. His mouth moving against hers was all-consuminga sizzling, wordless seduction that seemed to say, "Open your lips to me, Lucy. Let me explore, tempt, drive you wild." The scandalous message was so loud, so clear, she felt a lurch in her breast. Her eyes popped wide. Her arms became ramrods against his chest and she pushed frantically, stumbling backwards. "What was that?" she demanded breathlessly.
He straightened, his brow furrowed. "If you don't know, then I wasn't doing it right." His remark held a suggestion of huskiness. "Was it that bad?"
It wasn't bad! Her mind screamed. It was far from bad! It was--it was... "It was bad! Very bad!" she lied. She stormed out of the room, upset, disconcerted. How dare she feel anything in Jack's kiss? He was like family.
From the book MARRIED BY MISTAKE!, by Renee Roszel
Published by Harlequin books S.A. Copyright © 1998 by Renee Roszel
Publication Date (USA), January 1998, ISBN 0-373-03488-1 (UK ISBN 0-263-80724-X)
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