BRING IT

Prologue

Nothing could be finer than a run in Carolina in the moooorrrrniiiinggg...

James Stone hummed the slightly altered lyrics under his breath as he barreled past "Rainbow Row" on East Bay Street, an easy six-mile course that jumpstarted his morning routine without him busting a nut. In downtown Charleston, his blood pumping fast, he dodged cars, zigzagged around pedestrians, narrowly avoided a few bikers hogging the road.

Man, he was stoked. Despite the heavy traffic congestion, his size twelve feet ate up the pavement. Two seconds under his personal best time, he was flying. Soaring. Fucking invincible. No one and nothing could touch him or bring him back down to earth. What a rush! In the zone, his stride long and true, his runner's high cresting, the mellow euphoria better than any damn street drug, he rounded the corner onto the eastern end of Broad Street...

And hit the wall. Hard.

Wiped out, his sturdy legs kicked out from under him, he just about landed flat on his ass. After catching his eye, the pretty blonde tour guide then proceeded to blow him away. No intention on her part. Oblivious to her impact on him, unaware of his damn existence, she continued lecturing her group of tourists in front of the majestic facade of the Old Exchange.

Hell of a nerve. After stomping all over his neatly planned morning schedule, she kept right on keeping on, taking care of business. The woman who sucker-punched him didn't even know he was alive.

So much for his invincibility. So much for being above it all. So much for his inflated self-importance.

Love at first sight was for fools and songwriters. But horny happened. Is that what this was -- just another random hard-on?

He hoped so. But, honest to Christ, the pit of his stomach told him otherwise. The thumping drum in his chest joined in and said, Wake up, fool! It's all over for you. Life as you knew it just came crashing to an end.

Not without a fight, it hadn't.

He'd earned his street cred, and he wasn't going down for the last count with only a piss and a whimper. Anything or anyone pushed James Stone, and James Stone pushed back.

He battled the urge to give in. Battled the urge to cave. He was not sweeping her up into his arms and taking off someplace. Anyplace. Who the hell cared where? So long as they were together, that was all that mattered.

James grimaced. Fighting the urge wasn't exactly working out here. On to plan B.

As this was all about the tour guide, he tried shaking her. But even from half a block away, she held his attention and wouldn't let go.

Her animated mouth. Lush and soft, a delicate shade of pink that matched the faint color blushing across her cheekbones.

Her trim figure. Though not full anywhere, her slight build still did it for him everywhere, from north to south. Amazing, considering his prior track record. He liked his ladies to have a little substance, and a whole lot of booty. She had neither, but what she did have was enough to keep his interest sparked.

Her pale hair fluttered around her determined pale jaw as she spoke. He couldn't figure out which adjective -- pale or determined -- got the most play.

Man, his susceptibility to her worried him.

She had this air of mystery about her. Then again, her dark shades might've contributed to the element of suspense. Why the hell was she wearing sunglasses, anyway? The day was overcast. Besides, he wanted to see her eyes, dammit.

And hear her better. As in every word she had to say. Her enthusiastic way of speaking had him hanging on to her every syllable.

What. The. Fuck. Okay, now he had gone way too far. Overboard, as a matter of fact.

He snorted. Who was he trying to smoke here? He couldn't tell if she was enthusiastic or not. In the middle of all this honking-ass traffic and at this distance, her tone of voice got lost.

The thing was, the pretty tour guide made him want to hear what she had to say, and that was the whole damn point. Wanting to capture every part of her, including her words, including the color of her eyes, including everything he didn't know about her, was the deal breaker. That was when he knew the turn-on wasn't entirely superficial. That was when he knew his interest had substance. That was when he knew his hard-on wasn't only a result of flash. That was when he knew he could stop struggling, because, man, he had already lost. She'd taken him out of the game.

Temporarily.

A few more days in the city, after all, and a jet would wing him back home to Boston. And this was only animal magnetism. Right? An instinct no more complicated than simple biology. At the very most, the attraction was chemistry. The spontaneous combustible kind. Philosophically speaking, his yang wanted to make sweet music with her yin.

He wouldn't object to getting some, either. Inside his boxers, his best bud had started to twitch.

Familiar territory. He'd been over this same geography once or twice before. Not recently. Not so long ago, either, that he'd forgotten the lay of the land.

Or how to land the lay.

The truth was, he remembered all too well what did it for him. And she did. He'd already admitted as much to himself.

So as not to lose sight of her, James circled the street. A slow back and forth pace. Hardly breaking a sweat, he jogged, his sneakers barely leaving rubber as he chased his own tail, 'round and 'round. In his thoughts, also performing a circular motion, the blonde tour guide moved under him in bed.

That sexy image broke his face into a big puppy-dog grin.

He had him a case, all right. A real bad case. And it made no damn kind of sense. He was too hardcore smart and too urban tough for a sweet Mint Julep like her. No fucking way should Miss Southern Belle be messing with the head of a Northern brutha.

Wait! Hold on. What if she was already taken? What if some lucky fuck of a white boy had already scoped her out, scooped her up, and made her his own?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, without any sort of warning, his lungs shut down on him. He couldn't breathe worth shit. Maybe if he walked it off, shook out his muscles, the stitch in his side would let up and he'd be able to catch him some air.

Cool-down stretches forgotten, he stalled, gasping, feeling the burn clean down to his soul, as the soles of his feet glued themselves to the sidewalk across from the Old Exchange, the building where the tour guide just so happened to be giving her talk. Up close and personal, he could now pick up her vibe, loud and clear.

It was beautiful. She was beautiful. And sassy.

Curves played their role. Tits and ass and endless legs had their place. But sass? When a woman had all that going on plus an almost indescribable, nearly undeniable, something else, too, a man's dick stood up and took notice.

That extra something was passion.

Nothing but nothing turned him on faster than a woman all wrapped up in a passion about something. Made him wonder if she'd wrap herself around him just as passionately. Made him speculate if she'd welcome him into her body, clench her legs around his heaving back, holding him to her, as he pounded his hot juice into her.

That did it. Hell, he was over. Finished. Going nowhere. The shiny window of a gift shop confirmed his assessment. There he slumped, mirrored in plate glass, a black man bent at the waist, his hands on his knees, his tongue hanging out, coveting a woman he shouldn't want, a woman destined to be very, very, inconvenient, if not downright impossible, for him to have. There he panted, damn near seven feet of righteous ambition, stymied by the call of forbidden pussy.

Come on, James! Put it in gear. You're bigger than this. Get your junk together, man, and leave. Just go.

But he couldn't get it together. Couldn't run away. Couldn't walk away. Couldn't trot his ass away, no way. Couldn't crawl away, neither. Not without knowing if he stood a chance.

You slay me, woman.

His pulse hammering, he turned away from his reflection in the gift store window. From somewhere deep within himself he pulled out enough guts to narrow his gaze on the tour guide's expressive storyteller's hands.

No wedding band encircled her ring finger.

Funny how fast his breathing had improved.

Next, he read her Bumble Bee Tour badge.

Laura Jean Beaumont.

Even her name made him squirm. Those three names rolled off his Northern tongue, all smooth, like butter left out in the sun. Hot. Hot. Hot.

Finally, he concentrated on her words. The traffic swallowed up most of them, but what he could hear sounded like a damn love poem to historical architecture.

So, moldy old buildings were Laura Jean's passion, eh?

James had only just finished thinking that this must be his day for coincidences because, coincidentally, he happened to dig buildings from bygone eras, too, when some loudmouthed passerby planted his slick-ass self behind the tour guide and proceeded to hassle her.

Catcalls. Whistles. Echoing her sentences. Generally making like an all-around nuisance of himself so she couldn't get on with her lecture.

Rude punk. What was the guy's problem, anyway?

James had to hand it to her, Laura Jean held her own. Not backing down, keeping her poise, she swiveled to face Slick.

"Sir," she began, notching up her voice, but only enough to be heard above the traffic, "these people are here to learn the story behind this historically relevant structure. Please stop the disruption and move on."

After putting Slick politely in his place, Laura Jean directed her group of tourists up the steps into the Old Exchange, while she walked around the right-hand side of the building.

Alone.

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