Noah Benningfield was a man who understood temptation.
That’s all there was to it.
He’d spent a good seven years all but stuck inside a bottle, and when he wasn’t stuck inside a bottle he’d been happily trapped inside a woman.
Sometimes he’d done both. No, often he’d done both.
The demons that had chased after him were called guilt and grief and no amount of alcohol could silence their voices for long. No woman could ease the ache for any longer than it took to bring her to climax.
Nothing brought him any kind of peace during those dark, awful years.
Noah … just trust me.… Those words whispered to him during the long, miserable nights and the only thing that silenced the voice of a girl long gone was another drink or sometimes the arms of whatever female was willing to let him crawl into bed with her.
Trust … that hadn’t ever been the problem. Trust. That was what had led him down this path. He’d trusted a girl, one he’d loved more than life itself. Trusted her … and twenty years later blood-drenched screams still haunted his dreams.
Trying to hide from those dreams sent him spiraling down a one-way road to nowhere, fueled by booze, losing himself in the arms of whichever female would take him. That had lasted seven years. By the time he pulled himself out of that hole, he’d already lived a lifetime of regrets.
Now, at thirty-seven, he still had to fight the demons of grief and guilt and he sometimes still woke from blood-drenched dreams, the sound of a desperate scream echoing in his ears. They weren’t as bad now. He could go days, sometimes even weeks, without the nightmares.
He’d settled into a blank, grey existence.
It was empty. It was easy. It was safe.
All until he’d taken this job.
A job that landed him in the middle of hell.
A job that landed him in the middle of Temptation City.
Both at the same time. The stress was something he didn’t need.
It wasn’t even eight o’clock, but he was already on the site for the biggest job he was currently dealing with. Rehabbing the old Frampton place.
Pulling to a stop in front of the old Frampton house, he tried to silence the whisper of her voice, dancing in the back of his mind.
Just trust me.…
It was a twist in the gut. The blistering, white-hot heat of the late summer sun beat down on him, but he felt chilled. A cold little bead of sweat rolled down his spine.
It had been twenty years since his girlfriend Lana had come out here. Nobody knew why. Not even him. Plenty of people had suspicions. Even he had some, although nobody in town would have believed him. Not that he cared.
All that really mattered, in the end, was that she was out here that night. And that was the last time anybody saw her, as she walked down this street, toward this very house. Inside, on one window, they found a set of her fingerprints, smeared and bloodied.
There were a few other sets of fingerprints—one belonging to David Sutter—and another partial, but it couldn’t be matched.
There was also blood. On the porch. In the kitchen.
A broken piece of jewelry—found near the stone wall that bordered the property. It had been a dog tag–styled necklace, belonging to David Sutter.
Not much evidence, but that was all anybody ever found.
Eying the looming shadow of the Frampton house, Noah blew out a breath and wondered if he could get done what needed to be done. Now.
The door opened and the breath was just knocked out of him.
Trinity Ewing. Mistress and ruler of Temptation City. Every muscle in his body clenched, while the blood in his brain started a slow, steady journey south. Hunger, hot and potent, punched through him as the woman saw him and smiled.
“Coward,” he muttered as he forced himself to climb out of the truck.
Trinity, the new owner of the old Frampton place, probably had no idea that she had taken the starring role in most of his dreams for the past week. The kind of dreams he hadn’t had in far too long. The first one had caught him off-guard—he didn’t dream about women, didn’t think about women, people in general, not in a personal sense.
He got through each day by just … easing through life. It was simple. It was easy. It was safe.
Noah had existed in a fog, a grey, colorless fog.
That grey fog no longer existed.
One look, that was all it had taken for the quiet, grey existence to just … disappear. It hadn’t evaporated. That was a slow thing, wasn’t it? No, this was like it sizzled away in a heated rush the second her misty grey eyes had connected with his.
Now everything was fused with hot, vibrant color and the world felt alive again.He felt alive, his body pulsing with needs he’d ignored for more years than he cared to recall. It was wonderful and it was awful and it was driving him nuts.
All the more reason for him to get this job done, so he could get his butt out of Temptation City.
That was the plan. It was a good plan, too.
He watched as the door opened yet again and a pint-sized tornado with a head of messy yellow curls came tearing outside and down the sidewalk.
Despite himself, he grinned. He braced himself, shifting automatically so preparing for the brunt of Micah Ewing’s full-body tackle-hug on his hip. Once, he hadn’t been prepared. Once. Only once. It had been enough. The kid’s head was solid as a rock and right on level with a sensitive part of Noah’s anatomy. He wasted his time, though … this morning, Micah stopped a few feet away, eyes wide and locked on Noah’s face.
“Mama cussed this morning.”
Trinity scowled, a flush rising up her neck to paint her cheeks pink. “Micah, get your tail back inside and finish breakfast.”
Micah spun around and held up a mangled piece of toast. “I got it with me.” As if to prove he wasn’t going to waste that bit of bread, he shoved it in his mouth and then turned back around to stare at Noah as he chewed. “She’s going to yell at you, too.”
Noah ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I think I ate my breakfast … at the table, even.”
“Not about your breakfast. It’s about the water. I heard her in the bathroom, talking about the stupid shower—that’s what she called it—then the water came on and she screamed and started cussing.”
* * *
Trinity just wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. Right there.
Noah Benningfield, a man who was probably just about the sexiest creature she’d ever seen, stood there with Micah and he was grinning down at her precocious child like he’d never seen anybody so entertaining. The grin made the deep grooves in his cheeks even more apparent and he stood there, arms folded over a wide chest, the muscles in his arms bulging under the short sleeves of his faded blue T-shirt.
He was so mouthwatering, it hurt to look at him.
And the way he smiled at her son made her heart ache. Noah looked at Micah like he was the most amazing, amusing child he’d ever come across.
Trinity had to admit, Micah amused and amazed her often.
But did he have to mention the shower thing?
She might laugh about it. Later. She could remember Micah’s big eyes, peering around the door at her as she fought with the shower, trying not to get her boobs, her belly, every last inch of her, burned.
The damn shower had gone from lukewarm—yuck—to scalding her skin off in the blink of an eye.Just her luck, Micah had come in while she was wrestling with the shower, with trying to keep the towel wrapped around her, and she’d sat there explaining to him thatno, she shouldn’t have said those words and absolutely he wasn’t allowed to say them.
She and Micah had reached a compromise—the one her dad had started using after Micah had picked up onhis cussing. The swear jar.
Now she had a mason jar sitting on the counter with a quarter in it. Micah already wanted to use the quarter to buy bubble gum.
She’d forgotten Noah was coming out early today to check on the progress, and of course she looked like complete crap. If it was any other man, she wouldn’t even think twice about standing there talking to him—she’d made that promise to herself when she left New York, and her ex, behind.
But Noah Benningfield made her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth and her hands got all sweaty just thinking about him. They’d met just a few short weeks ago, saw each other in passing while he set up everything for the renovations on her house.
A few meetings here and there, a few phone calls. Not much, right? So why did she keep waking up hot and sweaty from all of those dreams? The hottest, dirtiest dreams, where he ran those rough, calloused hands over her, where he pressed his lips to her neck, skimmed them down, down, down …
Her mouth went dry as she thought about the most recent dream, the one that had sent her into the shower, seeking some sort of release. Instead, she’d gotten her boobs burned and her son had poked his head in when he heard her cussing.
Noah hadn’t done anything to encourage her. Well, except for being beautiful. Kind. The “beautiful” part she could probably handle. The “kind” part … that was a little harder. If he’d been an asshole, she could write him off.
Instead, he was decent and funny and he treated her son better than Micah’s own dad had treated him. Noah made her smile and he made her blood heat just by being in the same room with her. She didn’t even know how many months of this she had to look forward to, and she didn’t know if her libido could handle it.
She should have gone with the other general contractor the Realtor had mentioned. He’d had a picture on his Web site. He was in his sixties or thereabouts. He had a snowy white beard. If he wore red, he’d be mistaken for Santa Claus. She wouldn’t lie awake at night fantasizing about the slow, lazy way he talked or the slow, lazy way he moved. Or the way his hands looked as he gestured at this part of the house or that. The shade of those surreal blue eyes or the way they crinkled at the corners when he smiled.
She should have gone with the other guy.
But she hadn’t. Noah had been able to knock the price down more than a little since some of the smaller projects he was taking on himself. He was starting on those tomorrow with a crew of older teenagers. The company he’d reached out to do the projects he’d taken on couldn’t fit it in for several weeks and these weren’t anything that could be left alone, so Noah, his beautiful hands and his more agreeable schedule won out.
Noah’s laugh drew her attention back to what was happening and she mentally kicked herself.Fantasize later—and she would. Focus now.
Micah was rocking on the back of his heels and grinning up at Noah, a perfectly angelic smile on his sweet little face. Her apprehension grew. Micah looked his most innocent when he was up to his absolutely most mischievous.
“She did.” Micah looked over at her. “I heard her. The water got all hot on her and she screamedreally loud and then she cussed.”
“Micah.” She planted her hands on her hips. “Don’t you have anything better to do than go running around telling people what I did this morning?”
Micah stared at her guilelessly. “No. She said she cussed ’cuz the water got too hot.”
She bit back a groan.
From the corner of her eye she saw a grin curving Noah’s mouth. He reached out and ruffled Micah’s hair. “You know, I’d probably get pretty mad if I was taking a shower and the water got all hot and burnedme.”
“Would you cuss?” Micah’s eyes rounded as he stared up at Noah. There was something near adulation in those eyes.
It made her heart hurt to see the hero worship in her son’s eyes. It was understandable, but it was still a blow to her heart. Next to his grandfather, Noah was the only man who’d ever shown Micah any real kindness. Practically a stranger, but the man made Micah feel good. Noah made Micah laugh and talked to him like … well, like he mattered. His own father hadn’t done that. Maybe that was why she put up with these bizarre conversations more than she should.
Curling a hand over Micah’s shoulder, she squeezed lightly. “Come on, buddy. You don’t go asking people stuff like that.”
“But I wanna know.” He poked his lip out. “You tell me if I want to know something, I have to ask.”
Noah laughed, and the sound, deep and amused, rolled out of him, echoing around them. “The kid has a point. But no, I doubt I’d cuss. I’d probably be really surprised, though. Pretty mad if the water went from warm to hot in the blink of an eye while I was showering.”
Trinity fought the urge to fan herself. She’d just gone from warm to hot herself … all because Noah had to make her go think about him in the damn shower. Water sliding over that beautiful body of his. Warm water, sluicing down, sliding down, soap slicking over his flesh.
“It could burn your penis!” Micah practically shouted, and then he started to giggle.
She swallowed, hard, as a band threatened to constrict around her chest. Now she had to think aboutNoah and showering and his damn penis. Oh, hell. She blew out a slow, careful breath and glanced at Noah out of the corner of her eye. Forcing herself to breathe, she managed to say, “Micah, that’s enough.”
“Would you cuss if you got burnt there?” Micah asked. Obviously, he didn’t see the warning on her face. Of course not. He was too busy thinking penises. Boys and their toys—she’d already learned that a male’s fascination with the penis started pretty young.
“Ignore him,” she said to Noah.
He was a little red in the face, but the grin on his lips was echoed in his eyes. “He does come up with the craziest questions.”
“I’m trying to decide if it’s a Micah thing or a boy thing or a child thing.” Before Micah could come up with anything else, she shifted her attention to Noah. “You know why the hot water keeps jumping up and down like that? It’s the second time it’s happened. I thought you said the hot-water heater was in okay condition.”
Under the faded material of his T-shirt, broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. “It might not have anything to do with the hot-water heater … probably doesn’t. I’ll take another look at it while I’m here and see if I can’t get the plumber to move things up a little. It could be a simple solution, though—obviously Micah wasn’t in the downstairs bathroom, flushing the toilet, since he … ah, overheard you. But other things can cause the problem besides the water heater, and sometimes it’s an easy fix.”
“An easy fix?” She eyed him warily. “Just how easy?”
“Easier than you think.” He smiled and grabbed a few more things from his truck. “Won’t even cost that much, but I need to poke around first and see if I’m right.”
Trinity sighed and looked up at the house. She’d known this was going to be a costly mess. But she’d also seen the house, looked at pictures of the pretty little town, the river that rolled so lazily by. She’d felt it, deep inside. She belonged here. This was someplace she needed to be. She just felt a weird little click.
Of course, it was possible she was insane, because when she saw Noah for the first time she’d felt the same damnclick.
She’d looked at him and it was like, There you are. Where have you been?
She felt like she’d been waiting her whole life for him, only she hadn’t realized it until the very second their gazes locked.
Yeah, it was very likely she’d lost her mind.
Copyright © 2014 by Shiloh Walker
Excerpt from Sweeter Than Sin copyright © 2014 by Shiloh Walker