"Jayla? What are you doing in New Orleans?"
A gasp of surprise and recognition slipped from Jayla
Cole's lips when she quickly turned around. Her gaze
immediately connected with that of the tall, dark and
dangerously handsome man towering over her as they stood
in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in the beautiful French
There stood Storm Westmoreland. The man had the reputation
of being able to talk the panties off any woman who caught
his interest. According to what she'd heard, even though
Storm sported a clean-cut, all-American-kind-ofa-guy
image, he was a master at providing pleasure without
promises of forever. The word was that he had the uncanny
ability to turn any female's fantasy into reality and had
created many memories that were too incredible to forget.
Many women considered him the "Perfect Storm."
He was also a man who, for ten years, had avoided her like
"I arrived in town a couple of days ago to attend the
International Organization for Business Communicators
convention," she heard herself saying, while trying not to
be captivated by the deep darkness of his eyes, the
sensual fullness of his lips or the diamond stud he wore
in his left ear. And if all that weren't bad enough, there
was his skin tone that was the color of semi-sweet
chocolate, hair that was cut low and neatly trimmed on his
head and the sexiest pair of dimples.
He was dressed in a pair of khakis and a pullover shirt
that accentuated his solid frame. His chest was broad and
his butt was as tight as she remembered. He always looked
good in anything he wore. Her heart accelerated at the
memory of her mischievous teenage years when she'd once
caught him off guard by boldly brushing up against him.
She had thought she'd died and gone to heaven that day.And
just like then, Storm was still more than just handsome —
he was drop-dead, make-you-want-to-scream, gorgeous.
"What about you?" she decided to ask. "What are you doing
in New Orleans?"
"I was here for the International Association of Fire
She nodded, doing a remarkable job of switching her
attention from his strong male features to his words. "I
read about your promotion in the newspapers. Dad would
have been proud of you, Storm."
She saw the sadness that immediately appeared in his eyes
and understood why. He hadn't gotten over her father's
death, either. In fact, the last time she had seen Storm
had been at her father's funeral six months ago. He did,
however, on occasion call to see how she was doing. Adam
Cole had been Storm's first fire captain when he had
joined the squad at twenty, over twelve years ago. Her
father always thought of Storm as the son he'd never had.
She would never forget the first time her dad had brought
him to dinner when she was sixteen. Storm had made quite
an impression on her. Not caring that there was a six-year
difference in their ages, she'd had a big-time crush on
him and would never forget how she had gone out of her way
to make him notice her. But no matter how much she'd
tried, he never did. And now as she thought back, some of
her tactics had been rather outrageous as well as
embarrassing. Thank goodness Storm had taken all of her
antics in stride and had rebuffed her advances in a
genteel way. Now, at twenty-six, she was ten years older
and wiser, and she could admit something she had refused
to admit then. The man was not her type and was totally
out of her league.
"So, how long will you be in The Big Easy?" he asked,
breaking once again into her thoughts.
"I'll be here for the rest of the week. The conference
ended today, but I've made plans to stick around until
Sunday to take in the sights. I haven't been to New
Orleans in over five years."
He smiled and it was a smile that made her insides feel
jittery. "I was here a couple of years ago and totally
enjoyed myself," he said.
She couldn't help wondering if he'd come with a woman or
if he'd made the trip with his brothers. Everyone who'd
lived in the Atlanta area for an extended period of time
was familiar with the Westmoreland brothers —
Dare, Thorn, Stone, Chase and Storm. Their only sister,
Delaney, who was the youngest of the siblings, had made
news a couple years ago when she married a desert sheikh
from the Middle East.
Dare Westmoreland was a sheriff in a suburb of Atlanta
called College Park; Thorn was well-known nationally for
the motorcycles he raced and built; Stone, who wrote under
the pen name of Rock Mason, was a national bestselling
author of action-thriller novels and Chase, Storm's
fraternal twin, owned a soul-food restaurant in downtown
"So how long do you plan on staying?" she asked.
"My meeting ended today. Like you, I plan on staying until
Sunday to take in the sights and to eat my fill of Cajun
His words had sounded so husky and sexy she could actually
feel her throat tighten.
"How would you like to join me for dinner?"
Jayla blinked, not sure she had heard him correctly.
He gave her what had to be his Perfect Storm sexy
smile. "I said how would you like to join me for dinner? I
haven't seen you since Adam's funeral, and although we've
talked briefly on the phone a couple of times since then,
I'd love to sit and chat with you to see how you've been
A part of her flinched inside. His words reminded her of
the promise he had made to her father before he'd died —
that if she ever needed anything, he would be there for
her. She didn't relish the thought of another domineering
man in her life, especially one who reminded her so much
of her father. The reason Storm and Adam Cole had gotten
along so well was because they'd thought a lot
alike. "Thanks for the offer, but I've already made plans
for later," she said, lying through her teeth.
It seemed that turning down his offer didn't faze him one
bit. He merely shrugged his shoulders before checking his
watch. "All right, but if you change your mind give me a
call. I'm in Room 536."
"Thanks, I'll do that."
He looked at her and smiled. "It was good seeing you
again, Jayla, and if you ever need anything don't hesitate
to call me."
If he really believed she would call him, then he didn't
know her at all, Jayla quickly thought. Her father may
have thought of Storm as a son, but she'd never considered
him a brother. In her mind, he had been the guy who could
make her all hot and bothered; the guy who was the perfect
figment of a teenage girl's imagination. He had been real,
bigger than life and for two solid years before leaving
Atlanta to attend college, he had been the one person who
had consumed all of her thoughts.
When she returned home four years ago, she had still found
him totally irresistible, but it didn't take long to
realize that he still wouldn't give her the time of day.
"And it was good seeing you again, too, Storm. Just in
case we don't run into each other again while we're here,
I hope you have a safe trip back to Atlanta," she said,
hoping she sounded a lot more excited than she actually
"And I ditto that for you," he said. He surprised her when
he grasped her fingers and held them firmly. She'd
shivered for a second before she could stop herself. His
touch had been like a shock. She couldn't help noticing
how strong his hand was, and his gaze was deep and intent.
She remembered another time their gazes had connected in
such a way. It had been last year, when the men at the
fire station had given her father a surprise birthday
party. She distinctively remembered Storm standing across
the room talking to someone and then suddenly turning,
locking his gaze with hers as if he were actually seeing
her for the first time. The episode had been brief, but
earth-tilting for her nonetheless.
"Your father was a very special man, Jayla, and he meant a
lot to me," he said softly before releasing his grip and
taking a step back.
She nodded, putting how intense Storm's nearness made her
feel to the back of her mind while holding back the tears
that always flooded her eyes whenever she thought of
losing her father to pancreatic cancer. He had died within
three months of the condition being diagnosed.
Although while growing up she had thought he was too
authoritative at times, he had been a loving father. "And
you meant a lot to him, as well, Storm," she said, through
the tightness in her throat. "You were the son he never
She watched him inhale deeply and knew that her words had
"Promise that if you ever need anything that you'll call
She sighed, knowing she would have to lie to him for a
second time that day. "I will, Storm."
Evidently satisfied with her answer, he turned and walked
away. She watched, transfixed, trying to ignore how the
solid muscles of his body yielded beneath the material of
his shirt and pants. The last thought that came into her
mind before he stepped into the elevator was that he
certainly did have a great-looking butt. * * *
When the elevator door swooshed shut, Storm leaned back
against the back wall to get his bearings. Seeing Jayla
Cole had had one hell of an effect on him. She had been
cute and adorable at sixteen, but over the years she had
grown into the most breathtaking creature he'd ever set
his eyes on.
"Jayla." He said her name softly, drawing out the sound
with a deep, husky sigh. He would never forget the time
Adam had invited him to dinner to celebrate Jayla's return
to Atlanta from college. It was supposed to have been a
very simple and quiet affair and had ended up being far
from it. He had walked into the house and felt as if
someone had punched him in the stomach. The air had
miraculously been sucked from his lungs.
Jayla had become a woman, a very beautiful and desirable
woman, and the only thing that had kept him from adding
her to his To Do list was the deep respect he'd had for
her father. But that hadn't kept her from occasionally
creeping into his dreams at night or from being the lone
person on his Would Definitely Do If I Could list.
He sighed deeply. She had the most luscious pair of
whiskey-colored eyes he'd ever seen, medium brown hair
that shimmered with strands of golden highlights and skin
the color of creamy cocoa. He thought the entire
combination went far beyond classic beauty. And he hadn't
been able to ignore just how good her body looked in the
shorts and tank top she'd been wearing and how great she'd
smelled. He hadn't recognized the fragrance and he'd
thought he knew them all.
She had actually trembled when he'd reached out and
touched her hand. He'd felt it and her responsiveness to
his touch had given his body a jump-start. It had taken
everything within him to pretend he wasn't affected by
her. Since he was thirty-two, he calculated that Jayla was
now twenty-six. She was now a full-grown woman. All woman.
But still there was something about her that radiated an
innocence he'd seldom found in women her age. It was her
innocence that confused him most. He was an ace at
figuring out women, but there was something about her that
left him a bit mystified and he couldn't shake the
feeling. But one thing he was certain about — as far as he
was concerned, Jayla was still off-limits.
Maybe it had been a blessing that she'd turned down his
invitation to dinner. The last thing he needed was to
share a meal with her. In fact, spending any amount of
time with her would only be asking for trouble,
considering his attraction to her. He released a moan, a
deep throaty sound, and realized that the only thing that
had changed with the situation was that Adam was no longer
alive to serve as a buffer and a constant reminder of the
one woman he could not have.