Thirteen years earlier
NEWLY MINTED air force Second Lieutenant Daniel Corben fisted his hand around the black velvet ring box in the pocket of the dress blues he’d worn to his graduation ceremony at the University of Texas. All he could think about was ditching his adoring family so he could be alone with Taylor.
Taylor Milton, twenty, red-haired, a regal beauty. She stood near the end of the reception hall of the ROTC building in a white dress so thin he could see the shape of her thighs through the gauzy material. She gave him a come-hither smile, then coyly dipped her head, but she never took her eyes off him.
His throat constricted and his groin squeezed.
What a woman.
Just looking at her—tall, curvy, sassy and smart—caused his heart to chug as though he was running track. He couldn’t help noticing that every masculine gaze in the place landed on her. Taylor was the kind of woman who commanded attention.
And she belonged to him.
Smugness swelled his chest. He tightened his grip on the box containing the three-quarter-carat diamond solitaire set in platinum and gold that he’d bought that morning. In two weeks he would report to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at the Bethesda Medical Center near Washington, D.C., to start his medical school training.
But he wanted his ring on Taylor’s finger before he left. He wished he could afford something bigger. As it was, he’d drained his savings account to pay for it. He knew she could buy her own ring worth ten times as much as this one and he felt a little insecure about that. Still, he was giving her his all. The very best he could do. He was certain she’d appreciate that. He would promise her that after he was through medical school, he’d buy her a proper diamond.
Daniel’s mother reached up to brush a hand over his shoulder, her eyes misting with tears. “I’m so proud of you,” she murmured.
“Aw, Mom, don’t cry.”
His mother swiped at her face and smiled widely. “They’re happy tears.”
“Keeping up family tradition.” His father thumped him on the back with a hammy palm. “You’re a true Corben, son. Following in the footsteps of history.”
“All my friends think you’re hot.” His sixteen-year-old sister Jenna giggled. “An airman and a doctor. Oo-la-la.”
“I’m not a doctor yet,” Daniel reminded her. His family tended to get carried away with military medicine. “I’ve got four years of medical school, an internship and a residency ahead of me.”
“But you’re on your way,” said his grandfather, retired air force Colonel Dr. Daniel Walter Corben, Senior, who was also best friends with a former Surgeon General. “Just stay true to your objectives, hold the course. You’ll make it.”
“We’ve got dinner reservations at the Rivera,” his mother said. “We’d better get a move on. Are you riding with us or taking your car?”
“Um, Mom…” Daniel began, realizing that what he was about to say was going to go over like a cast-iron balloon. “I’m afraid I’ve got other plans.”
A frown creased his mother’s forehead as she tracked his gaze to Taylor. She pressed her lips into a tight line. “Of course you do. How presumptuous of me to assume you’d spend the evening of your college graduation with your family.”
“Pamela.” His father took his mother’s elbow. “Daniel is an adult. He has other plans. Let it go.”
No one suggested that Taylor join them. Daniel didn’t miss the slight. He knew what his family thought about his girlfriend, but for the first time in his life he didn’t let their opinion sway him. “We’ll go out tomorrow,” he promised. “My treat.”
His mother turned away, shoulders slumping, her feelings hurt. He took a deep breath.
They disliked Taylor because she was flamboyant, impulsive, opinionated and passionate about the things she believed in. They warned him that a woman like Taylor would be a liability for a career military officer who had to toe the line and be part of a team. He needed a wife who could do the same. Taylor spoke her mind when a proper military wife would find a discreet way to get her point across. She didn’t kowtow to everyone and the military was all about kowtowing.
During the short time he’d known her, Taylor had been arrested when a campus protest against the policies of the White House had gotten out of hand, ended up on probation for a streaking stunt gone awry and she’d written an inflammatory letter to the local newspaper espousing her liberal views—his parents were staunch conservatives—and she wasn’t about to back down.
But her passionate nature was one of the things he loved most about her. She had a mind of her own and she wasn’t afraid to use it and she really didn’t care what other people thought of her. He’d never expected to fall in love with someone his parents disapproved of, but it had happened and he wasn’t going to apologize.
His father shot him a look that said, Give your mother some time. She’ll come around, and then he escorted her from the reception hall.
After his family departed, Daniel turned to find Taylor standing in front of him, a naughty twinkle in her eye. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” She grinned.
For a moment they just stood there looking, lost in each other’s eyes.
“Come on,” she said, reaching out to take his hand. “I have a surprise.”
He sank his hand in hers and let her lead him through the crowd of military graduates and out the back exit. The woman was a force of nature, impossible to resist.
She took him up the back stairs of the ROTC building.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“No questions,” she said in a mysterious voice that sent anticipation jolting up his spine.
Daniel watched her butt sway as they climbed, past the second, the third, the fourth floors, the fifth, apparently headed for the roof. Her high heels tapped seductively against the cement. The sight of her firm fanny moving beneath the thin cotton material of her dress heated his dick as surely as the caress of her hand.
No way was he going off to D.C. leaving Taylor in Texas to finish up her odd double major in theatre and human biology without at least getting engaged. They belonged together and he wanted everyone to know it.
The stairwell was warm, airless, and so was Daniel’s brain.
Four months they’d known each other, having met at a campus mixer. Not long enough, most people might say. But in his heart, he knew she was the one. And it wasn’t just the sex, although the sex was spectacular. He’d never known anyone as uninhibited in bed—or out of it for that matter—as his Taylor. They’d made love in every position conceivable. She gave as good as she got. Hell, she gave better than she got.
He wanted her so badly his entire body ached. He wanted her naked.
Of course if it was up to him, he’d keep her naked 24-7. Taylor however, liked to role-play. She enjoyed props and costumes. He’d seen her in a French maid’s outfit and a nurse’s uniform and a belly dancer’s getup with tiny cymbals on her fingers. But what appealed to him most was her soft bare skin, porcelain white in its naked perfection.
She pushed through the door leading to the roof and stopped just long enough to toss him a seductive look over her shoulder. Her long red hair moved, tumbling around her shoulders like a fiery waterfall. She gave him a sly wink. “Close your eyes.”
“Just do it.” “Do you know how hard it is to take my eyes off you?”
“I hope it’s hard,” she purred. “Close your eyes. Don’t worry, I won’t let you trip over anything. You do trust me, don’t you?”
Reluctantly, Daniel obeyed.
Taylor squeezed his hand and walked him forward. He heard the gritty material of the flat roof crunch beneath the soles of his polished black dress shoes, felt the balmy spring breeze on his cheeks.
He knew she had a seduction plan. Taylor loved seducing him and he loved being seduced by her scenarios. He wondered what she had up her sleeve tonight. What was going to take place on that rooftop? He licked his lips, anticipating.
Some might say he was sex-obsessed, but he’d never been that way before. Not even when he was a teenager. He’d always been so focused on his goal. The air force. Becoming a doctor. Following the family tradition of military M.D. set by his grandfather in the M.A.S.H. units of the Korean War and continued by his dad in Vietnam.
And then he’d met Taylor.
They’d made love the night they’d met in the coat closet at the mixer and he’d certainly never done anything like that before.
“I’m a bad girl,” she’d whispered in his ear, just before she’d nibbled it. “Are you sure a good soldier like you can handle someone like me?”
“Airman,” he’d corrected, and she’d just laughed.
Remembering hardened his dick. Daniel grinned. He’d done far more than handle her, and he wanted to do it again.
“Okay, you can open your eyes,” she said and let go of his hand. “Ta-da.”
Daniel blinked. There in the middle of the rooftop—in a circle of lighted candles scented with the smell of vanilla—sat a four-poster bed adorned with throw pillows.
“You’ve conquered ROTC,” she said and stepped toward him. “You’ve reached the top of this world. I’m going to give you the best send-off any second lieutenant heading for medical school at Bethesda ever got.”
He was stunned she’d gone to so much trouble for him. “Taylor, how did you—”
“Shh.” She laid an index finger against his lips. “No talking. The time for talking has passed.”
Daniel growled low in his throat, all primal man, wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her up tight against him. God, she was so wonderful and he loved her so much. He couldn’t begin to describe what he was feeling. He was just going to have to show her.
He kissed her. Hard and hot and frantic. She laughed and the sound shot electricity straight to his dick.
Heedlessly, he grabbed the hem of her dress and pulled the thing over her head.
Taylor gasped and her eyes lit up with delight. She wriggled in his arms, the lace of her pink bra scratching lightly across the muscles of his chest. The strip of her matching pink thong panties stretched against her pale, shaved skin resembled a sassy silk tongue.
She reached for his hat, whisking it from his head, her fingertips grazing his forehead in the process. She hooked the hat on one corner of the four-poster bed, and then she came back to undo the herringbone twill tie knotted at his throat. His pulse throbbed beneath the heat of her palm.
Daniel took a deep, steadying breath and placed his hand over hers. He wanted her. Damn, how he wanted her. But reason was telling him this wasn’t the time or the place. He was going to ask her to marry him tonight and he wanted to be in charge of the seduction.
“She’s a thunder stealer, that one,” his grandfather had said to him the first and only time Daniel had brought Taylor home for dinner. “Don’t get too attached. She’s too bold and impulsive to make a good military wife.”
Yes, she was bold and spontaneous and uninhibited, but those were the qualities he admired most in her. So how could he fault her for being herself?
Daniel could have his pick of women. He knew that. Women loved military men and doctors and he’d inherited the strong Corben jaw and his mother’s royal-blue eyes. He’d never had a bit of trouble getting dates. But this was the first time he’d ever been so consumed by a woman. None of them had turned him inside out the way Taylor did.
She was fire and passion and unpredictability and that was damned tempting to a man who lived a regimented life.
“What is it?” she whispered. Her lips were painted a stimulating shade of red.
“I’m taking it from here,” he told her, whipping off his jacket and tie and recklessly dropping them to the ground before bending to scoop her into his arms.
The moon was out, fat and round, framing the bed in a spotlight of white. Taylor smelled exotic—spicy, piquant, striking. There was nothing ordinary or demure about her.
“We don’t dislike Taylor,” his dad had told him earlier when they’d spied Taylor in the reception-hall crowd. “She’s just not the girl for you, son. You two come from completely different worlds.”
It was true. He came from a dedicated career military family. She hailed from privileged high society and yet, they fitted together. How could their pairing be a mistake when it felt so right?
Her head was thrown back, her smooth creamy neck exposed, her hair trailing down the side of his forearm as he carried her to the bed. Her body was both firm and soft and totally womanly. One of her breasts rested against his bicep as he arranged her gently on the bed.
He stepped back, his eyes drinking her in. She lowered her eyelids halfway and gave him her naughtiest expression. What the woman could do to him with a simple glance left him speechless.
And what he wouldn’t give to be able to capture this special moment. Lock it in a bottle. Seal it in a time capsule. Emotions twisted through him. Joy, pride, lust, excitement.
She positioned herself on her side, the pink thong riding high on her hip. Daniel’s gaze honed in on the sleek curve of her hip. She ran a hand through her hair, tousling the long, loose curls. One strand fell across her eye, adding to her sexual mystique.
Taylor tucked the errant tendril behind one ear and batted her eyelashes. Her deep, chocolate-brown gaze snagged his, languid as syrup. “Are you going to stand there all night, doctor? Or are you going to quell my fever?”
Marry me, he should have said.
But the moment wasn’t right for the words and the ring was in the pocket of his jacket dropped on the ground several feet away.
He grinned instead. “You are so, so hot.”
That’s romantic, Corben. Way to set the mood.
This evening wasn’t going the way he’d planned. He’d meant to take her to their favorite sneak-away spot at the lake, open a bottle of chilled champagne, get down on one knee and ask her to be his wife for the rest of their lives. But he’d lost control of the situation and now they were up here on the roof of the ROTC building, everything on her terms.
She’s an heiress. She’s used to getting what she wants when she wants it.
Was that such a bad thing? According to his mother it was, but Daniel saw her daring self-confidence as a good thing. She was so alive, so free, so sure of herself. Being with her made him feel the same way about himself.
Taylor’s dark-eyed gaze misted with lust. She flicked out her tongue to lick her lips and Daniel forgot about everything except his driving need to sink deeply into her lush body.
She held out her arms. “Why are you standing way over there?”
Growling, he came toward her.
He had one knee on the bed when she reached up with the flat of her bare foot and pressed it against his chest, halting his progress. The sight of her toes, painted to match her bra and panties shot his desire into overload.
“I’m going to wear you out, lieutenant. The way you’ve never been worn out before. Are you prepared for that?” Her sultry laugh skipped across his eardrums. Helplessly his dick stiffened against the zipper of his uniform pants, anxious to escape confinement.
“Are you prepared for that?” He narrowed his eyes as she curled her toes into his muscles.
“Oh, yeah,” she murmured. “I’m making sure our last night is one to remember.”
“As if you could forget me,” he teased, his eyes locking on to hers, his hand going to his belt buckle as he toed off his shoes.
“What was your name again?” she teased right back.
Immediately he flashed to himself in Washington, D.C., and Taylor here on the UT campus. Surrounded by men. He gulped.
Ask her to marry you now.
She dropped her foot, curled up to a sitting position and reached for his zipper.
“Yeah, baby,” she cooed as her fingers tugged down the zipper. “That’s my big man.”
His gaze slid straight through the cleavage of that pink lace bra. She had such gorgeous tits. Perfect size. Full and round and real, but not too big. Just right. Everything about her was just right. He couldn’t help reaching out to cup them at the same second as she jerked his pants down his legs.
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