Her mother must be thrilled.
Rachel wasn't. Not at 2:00 a.m. Not after driving half the night with her two children sleeping in the back seat of a rental truck. Desperation and caffeine were the only things keeping her going. At this moment a naked Brad Pitt couldn't have thrilled her.
Heart sinking, she regarded the long, well-muscled body tenting the flowered sheets. What on earth was she supposed to do now? She couldn't put her kids to bed in that firetrap of a spare bedroom. She couldn't even see the room's twin beds beneath the piled cartons. A hotel room-even if she were willing to drag the children another half hour down the road, which she was not-was beyond her means. And waking her mother... No, she couldn't cope with her mother right now.
Bad enough that the break-in had forced her home. She certainly wasn't explaining it to her mother in the middle of the night, as if she were some teenager caught sneaking in after curfew.
The only solution, the only practical, adult solution, was to rouse this naked stranger and oust him from the only available bed. Any minute now an accusing Lindsey and a sleepy-eyed Chris would come stumbling up the stairs, and she needed a place to put them.
She cleared her throat. "Excuse me?"
He didn't stir.
She took a cautious step forward. "Hello?"
The stranger shifted onto his back, revealing a threequarter profile that could have made Penelope abandon her weaving or Juliet forget poor Romeo. A muscled chest, its nudity emphasized by a perfect pattern of dark hair, stretched above the sheet. A small gold hoop like a pirate's winked from his exposed earlobe.
He was young, she noted. Her stomach sank to join her heart in her neatly tied running shoes. Young, unshaven and outrageously good-looking. Oh, help. What was her mother thinking?
She pressed her lips together, light-headed from hunger and trembling with fatigue. After Carmine Bilotti's threats, she should be able to take one half naked stranger in stride.
She opened the door wider, hoping the light from the hall might wake him. It sliced through the room and fell across the pillow.
The man in her bed opened his eyes. His dark gaze jolted her heartbeat. And then a slow smile curved his wide mouth and he dropped his head back onto the pillow.
"Sweet Mother in Heaven, please don't let me be dreaming." He raised his hand, stopping Rachel's interruption before she could get properly started. "Or if this is a dream," he continued, "then don't let me wake up. Amen."
"More like a nightmare," Rachel muttered. Control, she reminded herself. There was no point in antagonizing the man. "Please wake up."
"Okay." He propped himself up on one elbow. Mercifully, the sheet stayed in place. She bit her lip. Just how naked was he?
"What can I do for you, beautiful?" he asked. "And if you need suggestions, let me tell you, I am here to help."
Help. Right. Like she could believe that. But she was encouraged by his cheerful offer, all the same.
"Gee, thanks," she said. "Look, I realize it's the middle of the night and all, but would you mind moving to the couch?"
He rubbed his unshaven chin. "Not to disoblige a lady, but why?"
"Well, because I sort of need the bed."
"I'm sort of in need of it myself. I've been working all day."
"I've been driving all night."
"In that case..." He slanted her a smile that promised... oh, wicked things "You're welcome to join me."
For one crazy moment she was tempted to do exactly that, to slip into the warm nest of sheets and hot forgetfulness of sex. She must be losing her mind. From sleep deprivation or stress or something.
"No. Thank you," she added politely. "The bed is for my children."
His eyebrows lifted. His gaze traveled past her to the hall. "And they are...?"
"Downstairs. In the truck."
That broad palm scrubbed his face again. "And you are...?"
"Rachel Fuller." Clearly the name meant nothing to him. She sighed again. "Myra's daughter."
"Rachel? You're Rachel?" Dropping his hand, he inspected her again, reminding her sharply that she was sweaty and grungy and wrinkled. "I thought you weren't due for a couple of days yet."
She lifted her chin. "I didn't think my mother set a time limit on her invitation."
He grinned. "I thought you'd be older."
She dredged a wry smile from somewhere. "I'm ancient," she told him. It felt true. "And very, very tired. And I have two tired, cranky children. So, if you really wouldn't mind, Mr....?"
"Sean. Sean MacNeill." He curled up effortlessly, bunching the sheet at his waist, and extended his big hand.
Rachel took it, feeling the ridiculousness of the formal gesture in the face of her snarled nerves and his near nudity. His grip was sure and strong, his palm calloused. A scar ran across the knuckle of his thumb. He tugged on their joined hands, bringing her face down to his level.
Rachel blinked as his warm breath skated across her mouth. He smelled like toothpaste, like soap and sleep and man.
"Welcome home, Rachel Fuller."
His warm lips brushed her cheek.
She felt the bristle of his beard, the softness of his lips. Despite her surprise, under her indignation, her stomach gave a quick, undisciplined thump. Alarmed, she pushed against the smooth curve of his shoulder. He released her instantly.
"Get up," she commanded, panicked by the threat to her control.
"Yes, ma'am. As soon as you turn your back. Unless..." His hand hovered above the sheet at his waist "You'd like to watch?"
Maybe. Oh, Lord. She really was losing her mind. Turning her back, she said in her most daunting schoolteacher's voice, "I hardly think that's appropriate."
She heard the squeak of the mattress behind her, the rustle of sheets. "Just welcoming you home."
He meant the kiss. "That wasn't just inappropriate. That was uncalled for."
Something-a belt buckle?-clanked as he tugged on his jeans. She listened for the reassuring rasp of his zipper, her face hot in the dark. It was unbearably intimate, listening to this large stranger dress behind her.
"Seemed to fit the circumstances to me," he remarked. "Most times a woman wakes me up in the middle of the night, she expects a hell of a lot more than a kiss."