“HEY DAWGS…how y’all doin’? This is KSXX comin’ to you live from the heart of Manhattan. I’m Callie Ryder, your late-night host for all things hot and sensual.” The woman’s smoky amber voice oozed pure honey from the Bose stereo speakers in the black leather dashboard.
Luke Cardasian sat in the passenger seat of the Humvee that his older brother, Zack, had just purchased for their family-owned security firm. Restlessly, he drummed his fingers against the armrest, breathing in the new car smell. Luke didn’t approve of his brother’s extravagant expenditure, but he had to admit, the Hummer made quite a statement. Rather guiltily, he admired the way the powerful vehicle made him feel.
Strong, in control, invincible.
“Tonight,” whispered the lady deejay, “we’re discussing hard-ons.”
Startled, Luke stared at the radio. He was convinced that he must have heard the woman incorrectly. “How to get ’em, how to keep ’em, and what to do with them once you’ve got ’em. Come on my radio, peeps, pick up those telephones and call me. Let’s talk erections.”
Let’s talk erections?
“What’s that garbage you’re listening to,” he growled at Zack.
Luke had been out of the country for the last six years guiding aid workers and journalists through the war-torn country of Limbasa, where he’d spent much of his childhood. And even before he’d gone to Limbasa, he’d been in the navy for four years and stationed at various ports of call around the world. He hadn’t lived in the U.S. for any extended length of time since he was eighteen and he’d forgotten exactly how liberated the American media could be. Talk about culture shock.
He’d returned home—just as the war in Limbasa was winding to a close—to help Zack run the family business after a heart attack had forced their father into early retirement and that’s exactly what he was going to do. No matter how much trouble he was having adjusting.
“Get out. You’ve never heard the Midnight Ryder?” Zack asked.
“How could I?’ he said. “I’ve only been home three days.”
Zack tisked his tongue. “You’ve been away too long, bro. Here’s my recommendation if you want to shake the Limbasa desert off your feet and get back into the swing of things. Let your hair grow out of that buzz cut, start paying attention to what’s popular and, for crying out loud, buy some new clothes.”
“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?” Luke glanced down at his black T-shirt, green camouflage pants and black leather combat boots. His clothes said he meant business. “We are running a security firm.”
“And the clients want a bodyguard, not a guerilla freedom fighter. You look like you’re armed for hand-to-hand combat with the modern world.”
“Maybe it’s the other way around,” Luke muttered defensively. “And it’s the modern world that’s armed for combat with me. Women are talking about erections on the radio for crying out loud.”
“And that’s bad because…?”
“It’s just not in good taste.”
Zack shook his head. “Face facts, you’re too damned rigid for your own good. Loosen up on the principles, will ya? For the sake of our clients, if not for me.”
It wasn’t the first time they’d had this disagreement. He and his brother were opposites in almost every way. Luke was serious, reliable and self-disciplined. Whereas easily swayed Zack could always see both sides of an issue, and he often relied on a joke or a quick smile to get himself out of trouble.
They had both been born in the United States but when Zack was six and Luke was four, their father, a former military attaché, had been sent to Limbasa. They had lived there for ten years until Dad’s career brought the family stateside again. When Luke was in high school, his father had retired from the military and started his own security business in Manhattan.
Like their father, Luke placed a high value on both honor and idealism. That was why the navy had been such a perfect fit for him. Then later, when Mukasi Umbasi, a childhood friend of his from Limbasa, had called with the horror stories about starvation and land mines and other war atrocities, Luke knew he had to return to the country where he’d spent so much of his life and help out those kind, loving people any way he could.
Zack was more like their peacemaking mother, who saw the best in everyone whether they deserved her generosity or not. And while Luke admired his older brother’s ability to take life as he found it, he was worried they would clash in their approach to business. Luke already felt Zack was profligate, as evidenced by the purchase of the Humvee. Zack on the other hand had accused Luke of being tightfisted and having no zest for life.
He had plenty of zest. He just didn’t go crazy buying stuff he didn’t really need.
“How can one possibly be too principled?” Luke asked.
“By expecting everyone else to live up to your unrealistic standards. We’re not all like you,” Zack said. “Nor do we want to be.”
Luke let the comment slide. He had other things to think about. Like his first bodyguard assignment that he was starting that evening.
Zack hadn’t given him many details about the job. All Luke knew was that he’d be guarding an author on her book tour. Apparently, the writer had been receiving disturbing stalker-type mail from a disgruntled fan and her business manager had hired Cardasian Personal Security Services as a prophylactic measure.
So here they were, on their way to meet the author because Luke had wanted to get a feel for the woman’s security needs before leaving tomorrow on their flight to Los Angeles. Zack had told him that the writer was an insomniac who worked offbeat hours and that was why they were meeting her so late. Her night owl habits suited Luke just fine. He often had difficulty sleeping as well.
Ah yes. Work.
This was exactly what he needed to keep his mind off the fact that he hadn’t had sex in more years than he cared to count. A job, an assignment, something to focus his attention on.
As they drove through Times Square, Luke glanced up to see a photograph of a slender young woman with short, spiky, fire-engine-red hair poised high above the traffic. She was dressed in a black leather miniskirt, see-through black lace blouse, thigh-high, four-inch-heeled black vinyl boots and lots of silver jewelry. Her bright, intelligent eyes were ringed with far too much black eye shadow and her slick wet lips were as red as her hair.
And Luke could not pry his gaze away from her as the Hummer idled at the stoplight. She exuded a raw sexuality that leaped right off the billboard. In the picture she was seated on a stool in front of a microphone, her legs spread wide and three fingers splayed across her open mouth. The coy expression on her gamine face suggested that she’d just blurted out something scandalous.
While she was pretending wide-eyed shock at her own audacious statement, you could tell by the naughty twinkle in her chocolate-brown eyes that she was anything but remorseful.
The bold lettering above her head declared: Callie Ryder Gives Shockingly Good Sex.
This then was the woman from the radio talk show.
In his opinion, the sign was in appalling taste. They were overexposing Callie’s assets and hinting that she was a wanton woman. He supposed that was the point. Stir up controversy, lure in listeners.
What bothered him the most, however, was his body’s immediate and rather forceful response to the manipulative advertisement. His gut clenched, his pulse rate accelerated and he felt a hard pressure build inside him. He must be in bad shape, lusting after a woman on a billboard.
What in the hell was the matter with him? Why was he so turned on? She was nothing more than a superficial Madison Avenue image and the exact opposite of the type of woman he was normally attracted to. Luke preferred sweet-natured, full-figured brunettes, not scrappy, ultrathin women whose hair color did not even occur in nature.
“Now she’s some kind of firecracker,” Zack commented, gazing up at the billboard for so long the driver in the vehicle behind them leaned hard on the car horn.
“Don’t you have a fiancée?” Luke asked, sneaking one last look over his shoulder as they motored from Times Square.
“Hey, just because I’m getting married doesn’t mean I’m dead. I can still appreciate talent.” Zack grinned. “Besides, who do you think got me hooked on the Midnight Ryder?”
“Belinda likes this junk?”
“Just listen.” Zack dialed up the volume. Luke rolled his eyes.
“Hello, Gina from Queens,” Callie greeted her caller. “What’s up in your life?”
“It’s about my boyfriend, but…it’s kinda embarrassing.” The woman’s sharp New York accent clashed in dramatic contrast to Callie’s languid, Southern drawl.
“Honey,” Callie murmured, “it’s just sex. Let’s talk about it.”
Luke shook his head. Call him old-fashioned, but he had never understood how so many people could take sex so lightly. Intimacy had consequences and you’d better be prepared to deal with them before you jumped into bed with a stranger, otherwise you could end up getting hurt.
“Does your boyfriend have trouble achieving an erection?” Callie asked.
“Nooo,” Gina said.
“He just doesn’t last long, is that it?”
“Uh…er…well,” Gina stammered. “I don’t really know.”
“How can you not know?” “He’s twenty-five and he’s never been with a woman and he’s afraid to…um…you know…have sex with me.”
“And why is your boyfriend afraid?” Callie murmured to Gina from Queens in a sexy tone that sent unexpected tingles slithering straight up Luke’s spine.
“Well, I’m the experienced one and he’s scared he won’t be able to please me like my previous lovers,” Gina replied.
“Do you have the same fears?”
“Yeah.” Gina hesitated. “Kinda…so what can we do to get over this hump?”
“You mean besides humping?” Callie teased.
Luke winced but Gina laughed. “I really like the guy, but I’m about ready to call it quits. We’ve been dating for over two months and we’re no closer to having sex than we were on the first date. My friends think there’s something wrong with him if he’s a twenty-five-year-old virgin. They want me to dump him.”
“No, no, Gina,” Callie said. Luke heard the excitement in her voice escalating as she spoke, and it corresponded with his own arousal. “I think it’s really sort of sweet that your boyfriend has waited until he’s emotionally ready before diving into sex. More men should be so self-aware. You don’t seem to realize what a terrific prospect you have on your hands.”
Luke arched an eyebrow. He was surprised that a woman who spoke so frankly about intimate sexual matters hadn’t immediately condemned the poor sap for not having been born an accomplished lover. Grudgingly he adjusted his estimation of Callie Ryder. But just by an inch, which still put her a rung below door-to-door salesmen.
“Whadda ya mean?” Gina asked suspiciously. “I don’t understand.”
“You have a golden opportunity to teach your guy how you like to be pleasured,” Callie explained. “He’s a clean slate. He has no bad habits to break. No expectations to shatter.”
“Hmm. That is true. I never thought about it that way.”
“Next time you’re making out, take his hand in yours and use his fingers to trace a road map over your body. Linger where you want him to linger. Skim where you want him to skim. Show that man exactly how to trip your trigger.”
Even though he was trying not to let Callie’s sultry tone suck him in, Luke couldn’t deny the heated rush of sensation filling him as he imagined tracing his hand over her erogenous zones.
“But won’t me taking charge like that make him feel, uh…well, emasculated?”
“Which is worse? Your boyfriend feeling emasculated or you feeling horny?”
“Seriously, all joking aside,” Callie continued, “you’ll need to proceed with tender consideration and kindness.”
“Please, tell me how?”
“Don’t be demanding or judgmental of his current technique. He is doing the best he knows how and men do tend to have delicate egos when it comes to their prowess in bed. Light a few candles, dress up in a naughty outfit, slip on some sexy music and lead him where you want him to go.”
“But I’m not so sure I can be that bold. I’m not you, Callie.”
“Of course you can. Make a role-playing game of it. Indulge your secret fantasies.”
“Like how?” Gina asked.
“Imagine if you will a beautiful courtesan. She’s intelligent, elegant and dynamite in bed. She could have her pick of any number of powerful men who lust after her, but they only care about sating their own needs. What our hungry courtesan yearns for is a man who quakes at the very thought of fulfilling her every sensuous desire.” Callie spun her web, luring listeners into her erotic world with whiskey-voiced cheekiness. Clearly the woman was enjoying her own tale.
“Our courtesan loves to be in control. So she eschews the older lovers who long to possess her because she is a woman who refuses to be owned. Instead, she favors the strapping young stable man who works in the livery.”
Luke moistened his lips which had gone suddenly dry.
“She likes how he blushes whenever she says something shocking,” Callie went on. “She appreciates the way his dark serious eyes follow her as she mounts her unruly stallion. She particularly enjoys his rich, masculine scent.”
Luke felt his body blaze hot in all the right places as this X-rated Scheherazade swept him away. If he were home alone right now he would doubtlessly be taking matters into his own hand. He stifled a groan, irritated because he was so darned susceptible.
He disapproved of her bawdy talk show at the very same time he was inexplicably drawn to her outrageousness. He wished he could be so imaginative, so spontaneous, so free.
But how did a guy learn to go against his very nature?
Zack nudged him in the ribs with his elbow. “Didn’t I tell you she was good?”
“The courtesan decides she must have this naive young man as her lover,” Callie murmured. “In the dead of night, she puts on a sexy crimson dressing gown made of the finest satin and slips off to the stables bent on seducing him.”
The sound engineer in the control room cued suggestive boom-shaka-boom-shaka-boom music to accompany Callie’s titillating tale.
“Our courtesan finds the stable man stripped naked to the waist, tossing fresh hay into the horse stalls. He takes one long look at her and his eyes widen with nervousness as his manhood hardens with pure, unadulterated lust. He knows this is wrong, but he can’t stop his body’s reaction.”
Luke squirmed. Too much. Too much. Too much. Unnerved, he ached to reach over and snap off the radio, but his fingers refused to unfurl themselves from the clenched fists resting solidly against his tensed thighs.
He was in that barn.
He was that weak-kneed liveryman, and in his mind, the saucy courtesan was none other than the shocking Callie Ryder.
His blood pumped in his ears, pumped through his veins, pumped, pumped in his groin.
Pump, pump, pump.
“She steps across the wooden floor.” Creaking noises issued from the sound engineer’s mixing board. Creak, creak, creak.
“And she reaches out to trace her fingers over the lines and planes of his hard, sweaty chest. The room smells of leather and man and hay and horses,” Callie said huskily. “Her bosom heaves. Her blood is boiling. Her passion erupting with stark, feral need.”
Luke could see the entire scene as sharply as if he were watching a film. Startled, he realized Callie was getting off on the fantasy of mentoring an inexperienced lover, just as he was getting off on the idea of being tutored by a lusty, knowledgeable woman.
“And then they are making love, tearing off each other’s clothes. Making, molding, melting, squeezing, slapping, sucking life into their bodies. Feeling the richness of their souls as they become one. Joined, melded, fused.” Callie was almost panting as she breathed the final word.
Sweet, sweet, sweet.
He visualized it all. The courtesan, the stable man. She was her and he was him and they were in a sweaty tangle of arms and legs and lips and skin.
Luke gulped, battling back his arousal. Stop thinking about sex!
But he could not.
The more he tried to stop, the clearer he saw her. Her firm high breasts, her luscious lips, her long lean legs.
Luke clamped his mouth closed and shifted uncomfortably. The caller from Queens could have been speaking about him. While he wasn’t a virgin, he wasn’t exactly notching bedposts, either. He’d been so focused on his work in Limbasa there had never been much time or opportunity for romance.
Even when he’d taken R and R in Italy and Switzerland, Luke had avoided sexual encounters. He knew it wouldn’t have been fair to either himself or a potential partner to get involved in a long-distance relationship. And he had simply never been the kind of guy who went in for sex whenever and wherever. He just didn’t see the point.
So he’d waited.
Maybe a lot of men wouldn’t understand his patience, but Luke had always sensed that when the right woman came along, he would know it.
Turning his head, he stared out the window at the crush of heavy foot traffic and faked like he wasn’t listening to the radio program. Having grown up in two distinctly different countries, he never felt as if he belonged to either one. Too liberated for Limbasa, too inhibited for America. For most of his life he’d felt as if he was on the outside looking in. A misfit.
It was eleven-thirty on a Friday night and Broadway was awash in an eclectic assortment of people. From well-dressed theatergoers trying to grab a taxi. To the hip young party crowd on the prowl. To swing-shift workers hitting the clubs for a nightcap before going home. The city throbbed with energy.