“I’m leaving, that’s what,” Harlow said. Determined words, snotty tone. She attempted to wrench herself from Beck’s grip.
“Oh, no.” Beck merely tightened his hold. “We’re going to have a glass of sweet tea while you two crazy kids get to know each other better.”
Harlow anchored her hands on her hips. “You know what? You’re right. We are going to get to know each other. But your presence is unnecessary, Beck. Leave.”
“Not gonna happen.”
“We don’t need—”
He cut her off, whispering, “If you and West get married and live happily ever after, you’ll have to get used to having me around.”
She snapped her mouth shut, then lifted her chin and grumbled, “That’s a very sad point.” She flashed a too-bright smile at West and eased into the chair Jase had vacated. “I’m game if you are.”
Beck vibrated with irritation as he carried a pitcher of tea and three glasses to the table and settled between the pair. “My girl here has certain ideas about the kind of man she wants to end up with,” he explained, “and I’d like to know if the two of you are compatible.”
Understanding dawned on West’s features, a smile nearly breaking free. He cleared his throat and donned his most uncaring expression. “Sure. Whatever.”
Beck poured the tea, handed out the glasses, and Harlow clutched hers as if it were a lifeline.
“Kick us off, sweet pea,” he said. “Tell my good buddy Lincoln—that’s his first name, in case you didn’t know—a little about yourself.”
“Well.” There was a slight tremor in her voice. “I’m twenty-six, and I’ve never been married.”
“Would you like a medal?” West muttered, while staring down at his cell phone, playing one of the games he’d created.
She glared at Beck, but he merely arched a brow.
Don’t make plans with men you don’t know.
“Yes, actually, I would like a medal, considering I’m hot but don’t realize it, which makes me even hotter.” The tremor had vanished, the snotty attitude firmly in its place. “It’s a miracle no one’s snatched me up. But then, most men are idiots, so…”
West smiled, realized his mistake, and glowered at his screen.
Beck braced elbows on the table. “You’re suggesting outward beauty is all that matters.”
“Hardly. My personality is hot, too. But Beck, darling.” Sugary-sweet tone now. Too sweet. “You aren’t part of this get-to-know-you session, even though you insist on being a total third wheel, so do us all a favor and zip your stupid lips.”
Then, she dismissed him. Looking to West, she traced her fingertips over the collar of her shirt, so feminine Beck’s every masculine instinct growled, hungry for the next meal. “So. Lincoln. How old are you?”
West played the video game a little longer before deigning to answer. “I’m twenty-eight, but I’ve got the stamina of an eighty-year-old coma victim. Horrible lover. Even worse cuddler.”
“Well, those skills can be taught,” she said, reaching over to caress his shoulder. “Anyway, you’re quite young to be so successful. It’s impressive.”
It was impressive. Beck wasn’t sure where he would have ended up without the guy.
West shrugged. “I work hard,” he said, then added, “probably too hard. I tend to ignore the people in my life. Especially women.”
“Well, I understand how taxing such a busy work schedule can be, and I commend you for it.” She gave his shoulder another caress, and Beck almost jerked the two apart. “I hope the lucky ladies in your life are as understanding as I am.”
“I guess,” West said and shrugged again.
“Wow, just look at these muscles, West. You are amazingly strong, aren’t you?” She cast another narrowed glance Beck’s way, presumably to make sure he was watching as she scooted her chair closer to West’s. “You know,” she said, the tip of her finger toying with the rim of West’s glass. When she caught a bead of condensation, she brought it to her lips and sucked, causing Beck’s groin to twitch behind his zipper. “I have a skill of my own, but it’s quite naughty.”
West glanced up, phone forgotten. “Do tell.”
“Yes. Do.” Beck simmered with renewed anger—even more desire. He smoothed a lock of hair from Harlow’s face. One touch, but he was greedy for more.
Her breath caught, but she leaned away from him, getting closer and closer to West, until her mouth was poised at the shell of his ear. In a husky voice low enough to be considered a whisper but loud enough for Beck to overhear, she said, “I’m super good at parking.”
Stick a fork in me. I’m done. Done with the conversation. Done with watching the object of his obsession doing her rock-solid best to arouse another male. “West doesn’t need to hear about that. Let’s go—”
“Even boys from two counties over dreamed of making out with me in the backseat of their trucks,” she continued with an effortless sensuality. “I’m very bendy.”
Beck slammed his glass on the table, tea sloshing over the sides of the rim. “Harlow here is looking to settle down forever,” he barked. “She thinks you’d make an awesome groom.”
“Marriage?” West sneered with distaste. “Me? Hell, no. Never.”
“He’s all for others tying the knot, but when it comes to himself he thinks the Newlywed Game should be called the Dig Your Own Grave game,” Beck explained, relaxing now that the conversation had taken a new direction.
Harlow unveiled a brittle smile. “Maybe you just haven’t met the right person, Lincoln. You don’t mind if I call you Lincoln, do you?”
“Call me whatever you like, but I have met the right person.” His voice cracked. “She died.” He stood, his chair skidding behind him, and strode out of the kitchen.
Harlow rounded on Beck, all hint of supple, willing female gone. “I hope you’re happy with yourself. You did this.”
“Yes, you.” The words were nothing more than a hiss. “You wanted me to know I can’t win the affections of anyone else, that I’m stuck with you, destined to be your newest conquest.”
“Stuck with me?” he snarled.
“Yeah, that’s right. You aren’t the prize you think you are, Beck Ockley, but maybe West is. Maybe he’s worth fighting for. Maybe, unlike you, he has a heart and the ability to care for someone other than himself.”
“I have a heart. I care.”
She didn’t seem to hear him, plowing ahead. “You know, there are plenty of guys in town. Why focus all my efforts on just one? I’m sure lots of guys would like a chance to get to know the new me. I can bring them back to my RV—”
“—and practice being married, just the way you suggested.”
Beck would burn the RV to ash first.
Too far gone to fight his sense of possession, he hooked his foot around the bottom of her chair and forced her chair closer, closer still. Their thighs touched, and she gasped, perhaps at the force he’d used, perhaps with a desire of her own.
He grabbed her by the waist and easily hefted her onto the table, on his feet and between her legs a second later, glaring down at her.
“I want you, and it’s past time I showed you how much. You’ll keep your sweet ass parked on this table and you’ll show me your skills. Me. No one else.” And then his hand was cupping the back of her neck, drawing her forward.