Curvy Lucy Cardann lives a mundane life. The most exciting thing to happen to her in years is Artemis Shaw leasing the apartment above her bakery. The British man is an ebony enigma she’d like to undress…um, unwrap. Yes, definitely unwrap. Or maybe undress…definitely undress.
Her boring life changes the night she drops by her mysterious tenant’s place and interrupts a masked man with a gun. The burglary leads to the revelation of royal secrets, hidden identities, and sexy confessions. And some undressing. Okay, lots of undressing.
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Lucy Cardann paused for a moment outside Artemis Shaw’s door, smoothing back strands of caramel-brown that had escaped the tight chignon she’d fastened that morning. That was long ago, and she knew she still looked like what she was—a curvy woman who had spent all day baking—even after freshening up in the bakery’s bathroom and changing into the spare sweater she’d brought.
At least the clinging lilac cashmere highlighted her girls to best advantage. Why couldn’t she be one of the curvy women who were blessed with a heavenly rack instead of small breasts? It wouldn’t be so bad if they were at least perky, but only standing on her head would make them defy gravity.
She bit back a giggle that was part nervousness and part amusement at the mental image of her standing on her head. That was a feat she had never managed, even in high school gym class, when she had been her thinnest, which was still a long way from svelte.
As she had advised herself all day, she repeated mentally that it was no big deal to drop by Artemis’s apartment with those cranberry scones he liked. She only made them every few months, and it was a courtesy to hold back a half-dozen for her tenant. There was no reason to be nervous about delivering a thoughtful gift.
And if it gave her an opportunity to ogle the finest specimen of manhood Britain ever produced, well that was just a bonus. Artemis wouldn’t realize she was bringing scones on the pretext of absorbing some eye candy of the dark chocolate variety.
Or maybe he would realize it, and he would confess he wanted her as much as she wanted him, that two years as the tenant of his curvy American landlady had made him ravenous for her voluptuous body. Maybe the mysterious ebony hunk would ravish her on that lumpy sofa that had been part of the furnished décor.
She knew precisely how uncomfortable it could be, since she had slept on it many nights while starting the bakery, resisting the urge to invest in a proper bed for the little space when she was saving for a nice two-bedroom house half a block from the bakery.
Two years ago, she’d had enough saved for the house due to the success of the bakery, so she had advertised the apartment. After going through three tenants in five months, Artemis had been a dream come true. Quiet, neat, and polite, he could have been the poster child for proper renters’ behavior.
Unfortunately, in two years, she still knew next-to-nothing about him. Lucy wasn’t even sure what he did for a living. He had put Freelance Security Consultant on his application, but his vague explanation hadn’t done anything to clarify what that meant. He’d resisted any attempts for more clarification over the first few months of his tenancy, and she had dropped the issue.
She knew Artemis was in his late-thirties, never seemed to date—men or women—and was intelligent. The few times they interacted monthly, he was always articulate and insightful. They’d had many delightful conversations, and it was only after she analyzed them later that she realized she had still learned nothing about him.
Artemis Shaw was an ebony enigma she would love to undress…um, unwrap. Definitely unwrap. And undress. Why deny herself the pleasure of both? Her generous hips and soft tummy were testament to her belief that life was too short to deny yourself what you really wanted.
Except she had yet to figure out a way to get Artemis to realize he was what she wanted. Or if he had realized, he was clearly not interested and remained politely oblivious to discourage her while avoiding embarrassing her.
Being a curvy girl with confidence issues was hell sometimes. At twenty-nine, she was finally fine in her own skin and had grown to love her body, but she still had trouble believing any man might. Especially if he was a dark-skinned, muscular man standing halfway between six and seven-feet and looked like he could break any woman in half—or support her against the wall while giving her a lusty fuck.
Lucy blinked away that thought, not wanting to spend her time in Artemis’s presence with sodden panties and wanton thoughts that might flit across her expressive face despite her best suppression efforts. With another deep breath, she tightened her hold on the plastic tray of scones and lifted her hand to knock on the worn wooden door.
A thump was the only response. She waited for the door to open, but quiet reined. Finally, feeling pushy, she knocked again. When a choked, guttural sound met her second knock, concern spread through her. In her mind’s eye, she could picture the strong and capable Artemis felled by a pretzel. He might be choking to death this very minute and needing assistance. If she ignored her worries and walked away, she might be leaving him to die on the floor of a second-rate apartment whose best feature was the free bakery smells that wafted upward during the day.
Lucy tapped again more firmly. “Artemis? Are you all right? Do you require assistance?” Upon receiving no response, she bit her lip indecisively for a second before setting down the tray of scones and fishing in her purse for her key ring. It took little time to find the one for his apartment, and she slid the key into the lock. “I’m coming in unless you tell me not to.” After counting to three, she turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door with a creak.
Half-expecting to see Artemis sprawled on the floor from that misdirected pretzel, it was a bigger shock to find a man hanging half in and half out the window. Her mind refused to process the dark clothes and ski mask for a second, and she gaped at him. “What in the world are you doing?”
“Hanging out for my health, lady.” He had a rough Brooklyn accent. “What the hell do you think? I’m stuck. Help me outta here, and no one has to get hurt.”
Feeling as delayed as the rising process for liege waffles, her mind spun. “But what are you doing on the windowsill?”
“For fuck’s sake, lady, get your fat ass over here and push me through.”
She scowled at him, crossing her arms across her petite breasts. “There’s no need to be rude.” It suddenly clicked what his presence meant. “Are you a robber?”
“Something like that. Get me free.”
Lucy snorted. “As if. I’m calling the police, and you’ll go right where you belong.” She fumbled in her purse for the phone that seemed to be deliberately eluding her. Only a sinister snick had her freezing in her search for the device and lifting her head. She swallowed audibly at the sight of a gun pointed in her direction.
Her first impulse was to laugh. Was that hysteria or the simple fact the man was lodged halfway out the stuck window of the second-floor apartment, awkwardly pointing a gun at her?
“Help me out.”
Lucy wasn’t sure what she would have done, but she didn’t have to do anything. Like she was some pathetic damsel in distress, her black knight came into the apartment with a flourish to rescue her. Instead of a sword, he wielded a seriously scary-looking handgun that seemed out-of-place in his hand. No, that wasn’t right. He was eerily at ease with the weapon, but it was incongruous with the version of Artemis she knew.
“Lucy, go into my bedroom and lock the door. Stay in there until I come for you. Do you understand?”
As always, his deep voice with its crisp English accent made her knees weak, though a hefty dose of fear inspired the reaction too. She’d never heard that firm, controlled, and cold-edged tone issue from him. He was almost as much a stranger as the man hanging halfway out the window.
“Now, Lucy.” He brought a cell phone to his ear as he spoke without looking at her.
He didn’t raise his voice, but she couldn’t help responding to the note of authority. It annoyed her even as her core tingled at the aura of command surrounding the object of her secret lust. With a small grunt to show her displeasure at his highhandedness, she marched toward his room.
Lucy slipped inside and almost closed the door, leaving it open a crack to hear the conversation.
“Alpha-Bravo-Tango-One-One-Two requesting assistance. Possible home invasion. Send a team to the bakery. Interrogation…detainment… Yes, motives are unclear.”
As he hung up, she quietly closed the door the rest of the way and engaged the lock, while her mind repeated the words he’d spoken. Analyzing and dissecting them, she could only conclude they sounded like military or cop jargon. Who exactly was her tenant, and what had he dragged her into?
As soon as he came to spring her from this self-imposed prison, she was going to confront him and demand an explanation. Lucy vowed she wouldn’t let his chocolate-brown eyes or chiseled abs—not that she’d actually seen them, but a thin T-shirt could only hide so much deliciousness—detract her from learning the truth. If she didn’t like his explanation, she was going to kick him out, even if he was the best tenant she’d ever had.
And the best eye candy.
With a long sigh, Lucy settled onto his bed and readied for the wait. It couldn’t take too long to arrest a burglar, right?