Authors: Leslie Johnson
Tags: #Firefighter Romance
“The moving truck will be here within an hour and—”
“I thought you said she lost everything in a fire. What could she possibly have that requires a moving truck?” Ryan set his coffee on the counter and rummaged around in the cupboard until he found a box of mini-muffins. He opened them and popped one into his mouth, offering some to Jim.
“She used the insurance money to buy new furniture, but they accidentally delivered it to her sister’s house instead of here.”
Ryan chewed and swallowed another muffin. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. He had to know. “So, what’s her name anyway?”
“Jessie. Jessie Taylor.”
Ryan almost choked on his muffin. He coughed until his face was red and his eyes were watering. Jim had to be mistaken. There was no way in hell Jessie, his Jess, was moving in next door. It just wasn’t possible.
“You know her?” Jim asked with a raised brow and a smile.
Taking a drink of his coffee, Ryan nodded. “Yeah, I know her.” He refused to say any more about it though. They finished their coffees, filling the time with idle chit chat. Ryan couldn’t believe Jess was moving in next door. All those years he’d been hoping and praying he’d run into her, to be given another opportunity to make her understand just how much she meant to him. Three years of nothing. Then a week ago, he pulled her out of a burning house, and now she was going to be his neighbor. Fate had a really twisted sense of humor.
He hadn’t recognized her when he’d scooped her out of bed and carried her out of the house that night. Even when he’d handed her off to the EMT’s, he still hadn’t realized. It wasn’t until she came up to him and thanked him that he knew. And it had taken every ounce of self-control he possessed not to wrap her up in his arms and hold onto her for dear life. When he watched her walk away it had really hit him. He could’ve lost her. She could’ve died in that fire. The thought shook him to his core.
If he hadn’t been on duty, he would’ve offered to drive her to her sister’s house or even take her back to his place. But he couldn’t. And knowing she was leaving, knowing she was once again walking out of his life, well, it had been extremely hard to let her go. He thanked God that he was going to get to see her again.
“Moving truck is here,” Jim said a while later. Ryan had taken a shower and shaved, scoffing at himself for taking this much effort.
Ryan’s heart took off like a runaway train. This was it. Jess was here! “Give me a minute and I’ll meet you over there.” Jim left and Ryan went to his room. He yanked on a shirt and slipped his feet into his sneakers. Then he went into the bathroom and sprayed on some cologne, just for good measure. When he arrived next door, he found Jim carrying boxes inside the house. A fat, hairy man sat behind the wheel of the moving truck. There was no sign of Jess.
Ryan grabbed a couple of boxes and went inside. He set them on the floor, went back outside, got a few more and brought them in. Between the two of them, it took less than an hour to unload the moving truck. Jess didn’t have a lot of belongings, but the furniture she did have was heavy. “That’s it,” Ryan said, taking off his shirt and wiping his face with it. It wasn’t even noon yet, and it was blistering hot out.
“I got some cold beer at my place,” Jim said. “We can throw some burgers on the grill.”
Ryan’s stomach growled at the mention of food, his muffins having long deserted him. “Sounds good to me.” He reached for the doorknob at the same time the door swung open, bringing him face-to-face with Jess, who had a pizza box in one hand and a twelve pack of beer in the other. She was wearing a pair of short denim shorts, flip flops, and a tank top with a bra that pushed her breasts up into tempting little mounds. Her sleek black hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her big brown eyes were outlined with a touch of makeup. Her lips were shiny. He wondered if she still used the same lip gloss that tasted like exotic fruit. If he had his way, he’d find out before the day was over.
Her lips worked up and down for a few moments as she attempted to get her brain and mouth to cooperate. “Ryan?”
“Hello, Jess.” He flung his shirt over his shoulder and smiled. God, she was breathtaking. He wanted to grab her, pin her against the wall, and take out three years of sexual longing on her.
“What… what… oh my goodness. What are you doing here?” she asked, still stuttering and stumbling on her words.
Before he could respond, Jim popped into the living area. “Oh, hey, Jessie, glad you made it. Did you have any problems finding the place?”
“Uh, no, thank you. I brought lunch.” Ryan stepped out of the way and she entered. “Wow. You guys have been busy. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Pizza and beer is a good start.” Jim took the food from her and set it on top of one of the boxes. He reached in, grabbed the largest slice and took a big bite.
Jess laughed and Ryan thought his heart was going to rupture in his chest. She had such a melodic laugh. It had always done funny things to him to hear it. He remembered the way she used to giggle when he kissed her neck. She’d squirm and try to push him away, but he’d be relentless until he made his way to her lips. She would graze her fingernails along the nape of his neck and he’d tremble from her touch. He was getting hard just thinking about it. Damn. The woman was still under his skin.
“So, you never did answer me, Ryan. What are you doing here?”
Her mixed signals had him on edge. He was getting the feeling that she wasn’t happy to see him. Her eyes told him otherwise.
“Oh, Ryan? He’s your neighbor,” Jim answered for him as he finished his pizza. He was reaching for another slice just as his phone started ringing. “Damn. Excuse me,” he said, digging his cell phone from his pocket and stepping out the front door with it.
“Is that true?”
“Yes, I live in the little white house to the right.” He shoved his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t act impulsively and try to touch her, because Lord knows that’s all he could think about at the moment.
She took a deep breath. “Well, neighbor, thanks for moving all my stuff.”
“No problem.” He raked his gaze over her body, devouring every inch of her, until the sight of her was seared in his memory. “Do you need help with anything else?”
Jess looked around. “You can stay and help me eat this pizza.”
Ryan smiled. He was starving and desperate to spend as much time with her as possible, so he agreed. Taking a slice, he took a bite and sat on the couch. She also took a slice and sat beside him. They ate in silence. Ryan’s mind raced with things he wanted to say to her, questions he wanted to ask, and things he wanted to do. She’d broken his heart, just leaving him with a note. He’d tried to move on, tried to forget about her and honestly thought he had.
She broke the silence first. “How have you been?”
“Good. I’m finally getting serious about my photography.”
She smiled and his resolve cracked. He reached over and stroked her cheek with his knuckles. “I’ve missed you, Jess.”
Jess abruptly stood, as if he’d pinched her or something. “Please...”
Ryan stood. “I’m sorry.” He’d said too much too soon. “I’ll go so you can unpack. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Then he left.
essie busied herself with unpacking, hoping it would keep her mind off Ryan. No such luck. Her nerves were rattled. Had she known Ryan was going to be her neighbor, she never would’ve signed the lease. Oh who was she kidding? If she had known, she would’ve moved in four days ago. He’d looked so good when she’d arrived—shirtless, sweaty, his hair all mussed up.
She fanned herself with her hand, then went through the house, opening every window, hoping to get some air moving. Little chance of that happening considering there wasn’t a breeze outside. She wet a washcloth with cold water and wiped the back of her neck with it. Nothing seemed to be helping. She was so damn sweaty, her bra was sticking to her in the most uncomfortable way. “To hell with this.” Jessie took it off and tossed it on the floor in the corner.
She stood in the middle of the living room with her hands on her hips, looking around, regretting not taking her sister’s offer to help unpack. But Jessie wanted to prove to her family that she could make it on her own. The photograph she’d taken of the lake caught her eye. It was the lake where her family’s beach house was located. The same summer she’d met Ryan and had the hottest love affair of her life. That summer had changed her life.
Jessie picked up the enlarged framed photograph and admired it. Just looking at it brought back so many memories. She closed her eyes. She swore she could hear the call of the seagulls, the sound of the waves, the cool evening air caressing her face, and the unmistakable scent of Ryan’s cologne. They’d shared their first kiss on that beach. For as long as she lived, she’d never forget that kiss. Ryan had been so gentle. He’d whispered her name moments before he’d slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. She opened her eyes and shook the memory from her mind. Daydreaming about what she used to have with Ryan was only going to make her realize how lonely her life was. No use in going down that road.
The picture would go on the wall behind the couch so every time she walked into the room she could see it. She set it down and dug out her hammer and a nail. “Damn it,” she muttered. No step stool. What could she use to stand on? Standing on the couch cushions wouldn’t give her enough height. She stacked a few boxes and stood on those. They wobbled beneath her weight, but she managed to get the nail in the wall. She leaned down and reached for the frame, stretching until she was able to get her hands on it. Suddenly, her foot went through the box and she felt herself falling backward, unable to do anything to stop it. She mentally braced herself for the landing that never came.
A strong pair of arms wrapped around her, catching her before her body hit the floor. She knew instantly who it was because only one man in the world had ever made her feel that safe. “Ryan,” she whispered.
“What on earth are you doing?” His voice was low and husky; his breath hot against her ear.
“I was trying to hang a picture and fell.” His arms were still firmly around her, and he showed no signs of letting go. She was surprisingly okay with that. It felt good to be in his arms again. It felt like home to her.
“It looks like you were attempting a death defying stunt. I’m glad I stopped by; just wanted to see if you needed any help. I saw you teetering on the edge and rushed in.” He chuckled softly. “Sorry I didn’t knock.”
“I didn’t have a stepstool,” she mumbled lamely. Her heart was beating so hard, it was a miracle it hadn’t broken a rib. Could he tell how nervous she was? Jessie licked her lips in anticipation of a kiss that she hoped would come. “You can let go of me now.” Not really, because if he did she’d go tumbling to the floor. At the moment, the only thing supporting her was him. Her feet were still in the box and her entire upper body was leaning against his chest.
“What if I don’t want to?”
She swore she felt his heart rate increase and his breathing slow. “What do you want then?”
He lifted her feet from the box and set her on the floor, turning her in his arms so that she was facing him. “The same thing I’ve wanted every day for the last three years. You.”
Before she could respond or react, Ryan’s mouth was covering hers. His tongue licked over her lips until they parted, granting him access. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, her fingernails stroking back and forth across his neck and into his hair. God, his hair was so soft. An image of him kissing his way down her naked body, his hair tickling her bare skin, flashed in her mind, and she moaned into his mouth at the memory. Lord, the things he could do to her. The pleasure he gave was unselfish and intense.
Ryan palmed the back of her head, a handful of her hair bunched between his fingers, and he deepened the kiss. His tongue dueled and danced with hers—first in a frenzy of need and then in a slow, savory simmer. He backed her up until her body was pinned between him and the wall. The feel of his erection pressing against her was unmistakable. One of his hands was on her hip; the other snaked up her body, under her tank top and cupped her breast.
One flick of his thumb across her nipple, and she was awash in a flurry of erotic sensations. His touch had always ignited a fire deep inside her that would smolder until she couldn’t take anymore. Then she’d erupt, burning both of them alive. All those years, and he still had this power over her body. Only it was stronger now, more fervent, their desire for each other all-consuming. Ryan’s mouth left hers, and he trailed kisses along her jaw and down her throat. He stopped long enough to pull her shirt over her head before resuming his heated kiss. His tongue licked from her throat down to the valley between her breasts then over to her nipple.
Jessie inhaled sharply, her body arching toward him as he drew her nipple into his mouth. “Oh, God, Ryan.” She gripped his head with both her hands, his silky smooth hair caressing her fingers, and she held him to her breast, luxuriating in the feel of his hot mouth on her flesh. God, it felt so good, too good. It terrified her how much power he had over her, how she was so willing to give herself to him so completely and without question. They hadn’t even really talked. And they needed to. They had to clear the air about what happened three years ago. She reached for him in an attempt to drag him to his feet, to put an end to this before it went any further, but all she managed to do was get him to take his shirt off.
She coursed her trembling fingers over his bare chest. If her eyes had been open, they would’ve rolled back in their sockets. How could she have forgotten how fabulous his chest was? Smooth skin pulled taut across his broad shoulders, muscle stacked upon muscle, firm pecs that begged for her touch—sweet Lord she wanted to lick and touch and kiss every inch of him. His mouth was on hers again, kissing her with a hungry demand, his hands kneading her breasts. She knew from the way he kissed her that they were racing toward the point of no return. And why not? That entire summer they’d spent together, not once had she ever denied him. If he wanted her, she gave herself to him and vice versa. She didn’t want to deny him now either, but she knew that jumping into bed with him would be bad for both of them. There were too many unresolved issues and feelings.