Authors: Kate Davies
“You made it!” Tess broke away from the group gathered around the entrance to the high school and gave Bree a quick squeeze. “I thought you weren’t going to come today.”
“I wasn’t planning to,” she said, looking around, “but Ben went to a movie with his friend from school, and...”
Tess’s eyes widened, staring over Bree’s shoulder. “And?”
Bree looked around. Marc had just gotten out of his car.
“I can’t believe he’s here.” She stiffened, stepping away from Tess. Her hands clenched into fists.
Marc walked up to them, his expression grim. “Bree.”
Tess crossed her arms over her chest, looking back and forth between the two of them. “What the hell is going on?”
Marc didn’t even look at her. “No offense, Tess, but that’s none of your business.”
“Do you even know me?” She shook her head. “Never mind. Bree, you can fill me in later. I have to get the tour started.”
“I can help with that,” Bree said, while Marc said at the same time, “I think we need to talk.”
“Not during the tour,” Tess said. “Or at least do me a favor and remember the no-bloodshed rule.” She walked away, glancing back a couple of times as she joined the high school principal at the entryway.
“You want to talk?” Bree whispered fiercely, glaring at him. “Fine. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about how you started a screaming fight in front of Ben.”
“If I remember correctly, you were right there with me, sweetheart,” he gritted out from between clenched teeth.
“Well, apparently you bring out the worst in me,” she said.
“I guess that goes for both of us.”
She shook her head. “Having you meet Ben was a mistake.”
“No.” He pointed at her. “Preventing me from meeting Ben until now was a mistake.”
Bree threw up her hands. “Did you see how upset he was? My son was traumatized!”
“Okay, one, he is
son. And two, I highly doubt he’s scarred for life. So his parents argued. He’ll get over it.”
“Really? And you know this because of your years of experience with children?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re throwing my lack of parenting experience in my face? Whose responsibility is that, by the way?”
She could feel herself flush. “I just meant...”
“I know what you meant.”
Tess clapped her hands, drawing the crowd’s attention. “We’re about ready to start, so if everyone could gather a little closer, we can tell you the schedule for the visit.”
Marc swept a hand forward. “After you.”
And as they walked toward their classmates, Bree wondered again just what she was getting herself into.
* * *
First fighting in front of Ben, now arguing twenty feet away from a big group of their former classmates.
They were sure handling this situation well, weren’t they?
Marc grimaced as he followed Bree into the high school. In his daily life, he’d become adept at keeping his personal feelings at bay. But in this situation, he felt like all of his emotions were hovering at the surface, waiting to break free.
Anger, frustration, sadness, lust.
He imagined a little red light flashing above his head, shrieking out a warning.
It was stupid, really. He certainly didn’t need something sexual complicating things between the two of them. They were hopelessly tangled already. And how could he be drawn to her still, considering what she’d done?
Marc blinked as the crowd stopped and everyone looked around. What had happened to his high school?
The wall between the hallways was gone. The office space had been opened up and expanded. Even the cafeteria was reorganized.
And they hadn’t even left the entryway yet.
“We did a major remodel about five years ago,” the principal was saying, starting to lead them down to the science wing. At least Marc thought that was where they were going. With the way the building looked now, he couldn’t be sure.
“For the record, I’m sorry,” Bree whispered as they followed the group ahead of them. “I shouldn’t blame you for not having experience with kids.”
Marc sighed. Time to man up and do the right thing. He placed a hand on Bree’s arm, stopping her from following the rest of the group. “I’m sorry, too,” he said.
She waited, her mouth a thin line.
“I should not have started that conversation where Ben could hear us. It wasn’t fair to him.”
Bree nodded. “We both should have been more aware of where we were, and who was listening,” she said. “It wasn’t just your fault.”
“Truce?” He held out his hand to shake, and after a brief hesitation, she took it.
Her hand was warm and dry, and a shiver of electricity ran through him at the innocent touch.
Gritting his teeth, he stepped back. “Okay, then. Let’s get this over with.”
Maybe it wasn’t the best attitude for the day, but considering how he’d felt after seeing her standing there at the front of the school, it was about as good as he could manage.
The voice of the principal, still leading the tour, echoed back to them through the wide hallway. “The pod concept wasn’t working for the types of classes we were offering, so we brought in an architectural firm and—”
“Are you even paying attention?” Bree rolled her eyes. “You’ve got that look on your face.”
“What look?” He frowned.
“That one. The ‘why are you wasting my time, you moron’ look. I saw it every day our senior year.”
“You did not,” he protested. “I was a good student.”
“Of course you were. But you can’t deny that you had short-timer’s disease. Itching to get out of high school as soon as possible and get started with your life.”
His life. Their life, together. Funny how things could change in the space of a few days.
The principal was still yammering away, something about green remodeling and state awards. The group followed him around the corner to the left, leaving Marc and Bree behind.
He looked around. “So, the one area of the school they didn’t renovate is this hallway, huh?”
“Looks like it.” She shook her head. “Wasn’t your locker down here somewhere?”
“Huh. I wonder...”
Walking over, he tested out his old locker combination, raising an eyebrow when it clicked open.
“How the hell did you remember that?” Bree was staring at him in the dimness of the hallway. “I can’t remember my debit card PIN half the time.”
“I don’t know,” he said, tugging open the door. Ignoring the current occupant’s belongings, he slid his hand along the inside top edge of the locker. “Just have a good memory for things like that. I think the better question is, why the hell is the combination still the same? You’d think they would change it once in a while, for security’s sake.”
His fingers caught on the tiny package he’d left there the week before graduation—the week before their big fight. Closing his hand around it, he slipped it out of the locker.
He’d been so confident, so sure in the strength of their relationship. To think that just days later, everything would be rubble at his feet.
“Marc?” Bree stepped closer, the scent of her shampoo wrapping around him. “What’s wrong?”
Nothing. Everything. With a muffled growl, he slid his arm around her waist and pulled her into him.
She gasped, her mouth opening, and he swept his tongue inside. Even ten years later, he still recognized the softness of her lips, the little groan that escaped her before she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back.
This was no innocent peck between old friends. This was heat and desire and passion, tongues stroking, teeth nipping, breath panting. They were two strong-willed people, fighting for dominance. He slid one hand down her back to cup her ass, tugging her hips forward until their bodies met from shoulder to knee. His hard cock pressed into the softness of her belly.
In response, she slipped one foot between his, arching into him. She gripped the back of his head, her nails scoring sharp little stings in his scalp. Her teeth nipped at his mouth.
It was anger and lust, white-hot and clear as glass. It was every emotion he’d felt since last night rolled into one.
Turning her, he backed her blindly into the locker bank. Urging her leg up, he wrapped it around his waist, rocking into her in a steady rhythm that built and built. Her head dropped back, banging against the metal locker with a hollow thunk.
He ripped his mouth away from hers, sliding his lips down her cheek to her jawline, feathering over the column of her neck, until he reached the sensitive spot where her pulse raced right under the skin. He mouthed over it, grimly satisfied at her gasping cry. Then he latched on and sucked.
Bree whimpered brokenly, tilting her head back to the side to give him better access, until he pulled away.
Already he could see the redness rising on her pale skin.
She was marked, where anyone could see.
It shouldn’t please him as much as it did.
He stepped back, giving her space to move. She blinked up at him, her expression dazed, as she wiped her hand across her face. “What...I don’t...”
Marc cut her off. “We’d better join the rest of the group.”
“Uh, yeah.” She laughed nervously. “Sure. I bet Tess is wondering where we wandered off to.”
They left the hallway in silence.
Marc hung back as Bree hurried to join the tour group. He needed to get a handle on his thoughts. Clearly, he was still attracted to Bree. They had a long history, which was hard to set aside. And apparently those still impacted him despite the anger and hurt over finding out she’d kept the news of their child from him all these years.
So did he hate her? Want her? Both? Something in between?
He didn’t know. And this “time out” he’d called earlier today had only managed to complicate things even more.
Tess was at the entryway table when Bree arrived at the ballroom.
She’d come home from the school tour more confused than she had been before. After the kiss in the hallway, she was on even shakier ground when it came to Marc than she’d ever felt before.
The couple in front of her finished with their name badges and walked into the ballroom, leaving Bree standing in front of Tess.
“Well?” Tess leaned forward, her voice low. Bree wasn’t sure why, since there was no one else around at the moment. “Where did you two disappear this afternoon?”
Dammit. She’d been sure no one had noticed.
“Just, um, looking around.”
Tess eyed her knowingly. “Sure.”
“It was a great tour,” Bree said a little desperately.
Tess waved off the compliment. “But seriously, you and Marc?”
“There is no me-and-Marc,” Bree snapped. “He came over to meet Ben, we talked, we both went to the tour. Separately. And he’s not with me now. I don’t even know if he’s planning to come tonight. For the last time, we’re not together.”
Tess looked at her sideways. “If you say so. But he met Ben, huh? How did it go?”
“Really?” Tess looked genuinely shocked.
“Well.” Bree shrugged. “It was fine until we got into a screaming match over everything, and Ben overheard us.”
“Oh, God. Is he okay?”
“He was upset, but I don’t think he put two and two together. All he got out of it was that an old friend of mine came by, and we got into a fight. Which is bad enough, if you ask me.”
“Why didn’t you tell him that Marc is his father?”
Bree looked away. “Too soon.”
Tess sighed. “Nine years is too soon?” Bree shot her a look, and she raised her hands in surrender. “Withdrawn.”
“We’ll tell him. Really. I just couldn’t do it yet.”
Tess leaned forward, compassion in her eyes. “And are you okay?”
“Hell, no.” She looked around. “But I will be. I have to be. For everyone’s sake.”
Tess nodded. “I want to hear all about it, but I have to finish up here first.”
“Of course. And I should go in.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Tess dug into her bag and pulled out a compact. “But I’d recommend a trip to the bathroom first.”
Tess motioned to her own neck.
“Oh my God.” Bree could feel her face flame. “It’s that noticeable?”
Tess nodded. “Which I why I totally don’t believe you about Marc.”
“I should leave.” Bree looked for the nearest exit. The whole fight-or-flight thing was kicking into high gear.
“No, you shouldn’t.” Tess stood up and took her by the shoulders. “You should go put on some concealer, walk into the ballroom with your head high, and have a glass of wine. Kelsey and I will be in there soon.”
“Okay, fine. But just for you.” Bree picked up her name tag, sighed and started toward the bathroom.
Halfway there, she turned around. “Is Marc here?”
Bree heaved a sigh of relief.
“But he will be. He called in his reservation this afternoon.”
She’d better get that glass of wine, and soon.
* * *
Bree was sitting on the far edge of the room, not very well hidden by the potted plant.
She hadn’t seen him yet, so he watched her for a moment.
Since joining the army, he’d learned to make decisions and stick with them. Study the situation, gather the facts, make a choice and move forward. No wishy-washy “can’t make up my mind” crap. Indecisiveness could get you killed.
But this situation—damn.
He had no clue.
Off to the right, a couple of the guys he used to play baseball with were sitting with their wives and/or girlfriends. Beyond their table, he recognized some people from his senior-year classes. But no one he had been particularly close to.
Or maybe that was just time and distance talking. He’d had friends, good ones, in school and out. This had been home for a couple of years, at least.
How had it been so easy for him to walk away without a backward glance?
Someone came up behind him and clapped him on the back. “How are you doing, man?”
Marc smiled at Rafael. “About as good as can be expected, thanks.”
Rafael winced. “That bad, huh? Come on, let me buy you a drink.”
He headed to the bar without waiting for a response. Marc shook his head and followed.
Marc nodded, and Rafael ordered two. Then they took their beers and sat at the nearest empty table.
“So, about last night.”
Marc snorted. “We put on quite a show, didn’t we?”
“I’m sorry, man. I really thought you knew.”
He waved off Rafael’s apology. “Everyone did. I do wish I’d had a clue before Bree blurted it out like that. Wouldn’t have felt so blindsided.”
“Understandable.” They drank in companionable silence for a moment. “So, have you met him?”
“Ben?” Marc nodded. “Great kid.”
“Yeah, he is. I coach his Little League team.”
Little League. Marc smiled politely. He could have been Ben’s coach.
He could have been so many things, if he’d only been given the chance.
Over Rafael’s shoulder, he could see Bree at her table. Tess had joined her, along with a blonde he knew had to be Kelsey. Next to Kelsey was Nathan, their class’s resident science nerd and all-around brilliant guy.
Back in high school, that had been his crew. He couldn’t even count how many times they’d hung out together, watching movies in Kelsey’s basement, piling into his car for a late-night burger run, getting group pictures taken at every dance.
Now it was ten years later, they were still connected, and he was the stranger. It was like she’d gotten all their friends in the breakup.
But to be honest, he hadn’t fought for them, either.
He and Bree had ended, and two weeks later he was on a plane to boot camp. And he’d never looked back.
“So what are you going to do now?” Rafael took a long drink of his beer, eyeing Marc over the bottle. “You moving back, or what?”
“I already have, sort of,” Marc said. “Stationed at McChord.”
Marc nodded. “I’ve missed nine years of Ben’s life. I have no intention of missing any more.”
“That’s good,” Rafael said. “He deserves a dad. And hey, you’ve been missed, man. It’ll be good to have you around again.”
He had a feeling it was going to be good being around, as well.
Thanking him for the beer and conversation, Marc stood as Rafael left to rejoin his wife at their table. He tossed a casual wave at his former teammates, smiled at a couple familiar faces as they walked by.
Bree and her friends—his friends, too, or at least they had been—still hadn’t noticed him.
Beer in hand, he leaned against the post and looked his fill.
She’d changed outfits again.
Her hair was slicked back in a complicated style that should have looked severe and schoolmarm-ish, but instead gave her a sophisticated air. She wore a little slip of a black dress, with high heels and hose and, holy hell, she looked hot.
Right now, he should be walking the other way. He should be too overwhelmed with anger and recrimination to feel anything else.
Instead, he was fighting off the urge to pull her into the nearest closet and slide one hand up her thigh, like he had on prom night.
Come to think of it, that had been in this very building, although like the high school it had changed a lot. But he was pretty sure if he looked closely enough, he could find that coat closet again.
And bring Bree with him...
No. What was wrong with him? How could he still want her so much?
That was the problem when it came to Bree. No matter how complicated and painful the situation, he never once stopped wanting her.
The hotel manager was at Bree’s table now, and after a brief conversation Tess got up and hurried away with him. Probably some disaster in the kitchen. Then Kelsey and the guy next to her got up to dance.
Bree was alone. Beer in hand, he headed over. Might as well get this over with.
* * *
“You’re crap at hiding.”
Bree looked up. Marc was standing at the edge of the table.
“May I join you?” He didn’t wait for her to answer, just pulled out a chair and dropped into it. “I’m wiped out.”
He just gave her a look.
“You know what? I retract that statement.” She lifted her glass in a salute, then finished off the last of her wine. “Your bad night’s sleep totally trumps mine.”
He snorted. “I don’t think it’s a competition.”
“If you say so.” She looked around. Kelsey and Nathan were dancing, and who the hell knew where Tess and Jeremy had run off to.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
She started to say no, then thought, why the hell not?
“Sure. But only if I can get the next round.”
He tipped his head in agreement, or maybe it was just to humor her; at this point she couldn’t be quite sure. Raising a hand, he flagged down one of the waiters and placed their order. Then they sat there, in awkward silence, as the man walked back to the bar.
“We’re going to have to talk about it, you know,” he said finally, looking at her.
Bree swallowed. “No, we really don’t.”
She looked away.
The waiter returned with their drinks, and Marc handled the transaction while Bree studiously avoided looking at either of them. Where the hell was Tess?
“Your wine.” The wineglass slid into her view, his strong fingers wrapped around the stem of the glass.
She stood abruptly, almost knocking over her chair. “I have to go.”
“To the bathroom,” she blurted out, grabbing her purse as she stepped away. “Just to the bathroom.”
“Okay.” His voice was skeptical. If she had risked a glance at his face, she was sure his expression mirrored it.
She didn’t blame him, really. But right now, she needed to get out of this room.
Nathan and Kelsey were still swaying together as she skirted the dance floor, oblivious to everyone around them. She smiled to herself and hurried on.
Outside the hall, the temperature was a good fifteen degrees cooler. The noise of the crowd receded, leaving only the pounding of her pulse and the shallow rapid breaths she couldn’t quite suppress.
Her heels clicked on the tiled flooring, her purse bumping against her side with every step. She pushed the bathroom door open and went inside.
Turning on the faucet to full-on cold, she held her palms under the spray until she had enough to splash on her face.
The shock of the cold water against her overheated skin was a welcome change from the suffocating heat of the ballroom. She splashed her face again and again, until water dripped off the end of her nose and she was halfway to calm again.
Bree drew in a deep breath and let it out again, trying to still her racing thoughts. All he wanted to do was talk. She could manage that. She owed him at least that.
The door to the bathroom opened, and a tall blonde walked in. She gave Bree a quick smile as she headed over to the next sink. “Enjoying the reunion?”
Bree shrugged. “It’s been an experience, that’s for sure.”
The other woman took out a mascara and leaned forward, staring straight into the mirror as she touched up her lashes. “I know what you mean. It feels like just yesterday since we graduated. And on the other hand, I feel like everyone has changed so much.”
Bree nodded. She pulled a handful of paper towels out of the holder and went to work repairing the damage to her makeup caused by the water. “I feel so much older than someone who graduated ten years ago,” she said.
“Well, you certainly don’t look it.” Her sink partner gave her a quick wink through the mirror. “And it’s so good to see you two back together again. It wasn’t just in the yearbook that you were the cutest couple. We all thought you’d end up married before anyone else in the class.”
“Oh, we’re not...” Bree swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat.
She’d thought so, too.
She’d thought a lot of things that turned out not to be true.
“Have fun!” The classmate whose name she still couldn’t remember breezed on out of the bathroom, leaving Bree to consider dunking her whole head into a sinkful of cold water.
Not that it would do her any good.
Wadding up the paper towels, she tossed them in the garbage, glared at her reflection in the mirror and headed for the door. She couldn’t hide in here any longer.
No matter how tempting the idea.
* * *
The table was empty when she walked back into the ballroom.
Even Kelsey’s purse was gone. She looked at the dance floor and yep, Nathan and Kelsey were no longer there.
She had her suspicions about where they’d ended up.
Tess wasn’t back yet, either, which wasn’t surprising, given that this was the biggest event of the weekend, planning-wise, and the rest of the reunion committee was a vast wasteland of uselessness.
There were probably multiple fires that needed to be put out at any given time.
She glanced around. There he was, sitting with some guys who’d been on the varsity baseball team with him.
That was good. He was reconnecting, seeing his friends again. Maybe it would put him in a better mood for this talk he insisted that they needed to have.
Or maybe it would convince him how much he’d missed over the years, and how much he wanted to make up for lost time.
Sitting down with a thud, she took a long drink of her wine. It was surprisingly good for a house red, so she had some more. And a little more.
And whoops, what do you know, her glass was empty. Maybe she should get another.
Flagging down the nearest waiter, she asked for a refill. Or he could just leave the bottle on the table.
A little liquid courage never hurt anyone.
* * *
By the time Marc excused himself from the baseball team’s table and returned to Bree’s, his high school sweetheart was well on her way to drunk.
Raising an eyebrow at the almost-empty bottle in front of her, he took the seat opposite and leaned back.