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Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby

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BOOK: Lady's Man
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Annie blinked and peered up at him, her heart tripping a beat.

“My dad,” he explained. “It’s just a private memorial. They never found his body.”

Annie stared at the plaque. “What happened?”

“Hugo. At least that’s what we believe. He left a message for my mother that he was driving out and would meet her at my place in Raleigh the next morning. I don’t think he ever left Folly.”

Annie shook her head. “Why would he do that?”

Jamie sighed. “He was diagnosed with terminal cancer about a year before Hugo … his health was deteriorating. I don’t think he wanted mom to see him waste away. He wasn’t the sort of guy to put a gun to his head and Hugo offered him an easy out. I think he wanted to make certain none of us came after him and I’m pretty sure he hid in the house and rode out the storm.”

Annie didn’t know what to say.

“Like I said … his body was never found. But this was my way of giving myself closure. I haven’t even been here since I had my private memorial … so you, see, I think I understand how you feel.”

Annie’s eyes stung. “I’m honored you would share this place with my grandmother. She would have loved it here.”

“You never know, Annie. Maybe this is exactly where your grandmother wanted to be. Sometimes, I believe the Universe steers us in the right direction ...”

He reached out to place a hand behind her back. “Ready?”

Annie nodded. Somehow, knowing that they shared this in common gave her the necessary strength. She chose a place not far from Jamie’s father’s tree and just as with a Band-Aid, she thought, no hesitation, she had to do it.

Silence was their only prayer as she removed the urn from its satchel. Jamie stepped out of her way when she broke the sealed container. Her heart racing wildly, she closed her eyes and tossed the ashes into the air. When she opened her eyes, for just an instant, a cloud of gray seemed to congregate before her—a final farewell form—and then it dissipated, scattering into the wind.

For a long moment, Annie just stared at the beauty of the wetlands, feeling acutely her grandmother’s presence.

But the surprising thing was … she didn’t feel alone.

She peered up at Jamie. He opened his arms and she went into them eagerly, holding him tightly. “I’ll make her a plaque,” he said soberly. “You can pick a tree.”

Annie nodded and peered up at him. “Thank you, Jamie. Thank you for sharing your home and your vacation. Thank you for sharing the story about your father. Thank you for sharing his resting place with my grandmother. Thank you for everything!” She gave him a heartfelt squeeze.

She couldn’t recall a single moment when she’d felt this close to another human being aside from her grandmother.

He tightened his embrace protectively and Annie felt her eyes burn. “All I did was listen, Annie. When the Universe talks, I pay attention.” He bent his head close to hers and said quietly, “Funny thing is … the closer you listen, the more it seems to say.”

Annie swallowed. For the third time, their lips were so close she could feel the heat emanating from them. Her heart beat a little faster. She lifted herself on tiptoes, daring to brush her lips against his. This time, he leaned in without hesitation, closing his warm mouth over hers, sliding his tongue between her lips. Annie accepted him, wanting him, needing him.

In that meadow, with the warm breeze encircling them, the scent of the marsh surrounding them and the sun shining down on their shoulders, they shared the most tender, sweetest caress of the lips. All other kisses from her lifetime paled in comparison. It lasted for what seemed an eternity, and then she felt their parting acutely and decided that even an eternity in his arms wasn’t nearly long enough.

Words caught in her throat.

He gave her a gentle squeeze, put his arm around her shoulders and walked her back to the boat.

 

                        

 

That night, Annie awakened to the sound of rain pattering her window.

That scent of sulfur she had come to associate with the salt marsh was pungent and strong. For the rest of her life she would associate that scent with her grandmother … with this place … with Jamie.

The bed was empty and she could hear Lady whining at the door downstairs.

Two more days before it was time go. She was shocked to realize how close she felt to a man who less than a week before had been a complete stranger. The thought of leaving him gave her strange pangs of regret.

This moment, the image of her grandmother’s face in her mind was as palpable as the scent of the salt marsh.

About a week before she’d died, her grandmother had held her hand, squeezed it and said, “I don’t regret anything, Annie! Not one thing! It’s true what they say … it’s never the things you did that haunt you most … it’s the things you didn’t do, but wish you had.”

At the time, Annie had thought it was her grandmother’s way of reassuring her that she’d had a full life, that she was ready to go, but this instant, as she lay there listening to Lady’s insistent whines, it seemed more of a warning.

For once, she listened to that inner voice and got up to go downstairs. Lady peered up at her guiltily as she descended the stairs in bare feet.

“Traitor,” Annie whispered, but there was a smile in her voice. She opened the door and Lady peered up at her with a question in her eyes. “Go on,” she whispered conspiratorially.

Lady didn’t need further encouragement. It was dark, but Annie didn’t need light to see where she had gone.

The same place Annie was going now.

Pushing open Jamie’s already cracked door, Annie watched for just a few seconds as Lady jumped into his bed. With his back to her, he scooted to give her room.

Annie took a deep breath and followed Lady into the room.

Jamie seemed to sense her presence. He turned groggily and sat up, peering through the shadows. “Annie?”

“Is there room for one more?”

He ran fingers sleepily through his hair. “Are you OK?”

Annie wasn’t sure how to respond. “I think so. Maybe. I don’t know.”

There was a long stretch of silence as he seemed to contemplate her request. “I’m not wearing clothes,” he said finally.

Annie smiled privately. “We
are
in a clothing optional zone,” she allowed.

He chuckled. “Right. Come on in.”

She didn’t hesitate. She crawled over Lady to the other side of Jamie and laid her head down on his pillow, curling up next to him. “I needed a warm body and Lady abandoned me hours ago to pine over you at the bottom of the stairs.”

He adjusted his covers and pulled them over both of them, drawing her closer. “I see … and any warm body will do?”

Annie laughed softly. “Not quite.”

“Good answer!” he said and she could hear the approval in his voice. “Is it your grandmother?”

Annie slid an arm around his chest. “In a way.” But not really, and yet she couldn’t get the words out to tell him that it was more about him and the prospect of leaving Folly.

It’s never the things you did that haunt you most …

Rolling over, she kissed him firmly on the lips. He slid strong arms around her, kissing her back.

Grunting in complaint, Lady jumped off the bed and found a quiet spot on the floor free from unwelcome nudges. She lay down with an exaggerated sigh.

Jamie stroked Annie’s hair. “I think someone’s a little jealous.”

“Too bad,” Annie said, emboldened by the moment. She slid a leg over his thighs and kissed him again, wanting nothing more than to make love to him.

This time, he resisted her advance, placing a hand between her breasts and gently pushing her back. “Annie,” he said soberly. “That’s one way I
never
throw caution to the wind.”

Confusion swirled through her head. “Are you telling me no?”

His hand shifted slightly to the right, cupping her breast and Annie held her breath. But his words were not in tune with his actions. “I’m saying … maybe later. I’ve had my fill of one-night stands and I don’t want you to sleep with me just because we’re both here.”

“Then why are you holding my breast in your hand?”

He hesitated only a moment and said huskily, “Because I’m admiring perfection.” He kneaded gently, flicking his thumb across her nipple over her T-shirt and Annie moaned. Her skin burned, aching for more.

She groaned, needing to feel him deep inside her. “Jamie,” she whispered seductively. “We might never have another chance …”

He didn’t remove his hand from her breasts. In fact, he slid one hand behind her head and drew her head down, touching his lips to hers while he caressed her breast. “In that case, we definitely shouldn’t do this …”

Every inch of Annie’s body ached. Confusion and desire fogged her brain. She couldn’t remember the last time she needed a man to touch her, love her. “But the point of the journey is the journey itself, right?” This minute, she wanted only to feel her naked breasts against the heat of his body. Her heart beat painfully as she slid her hand over his chest, his belly and then cradled the proof of his desire in her hand. His mouth might be saying no, but his body was saying yes. Annie wasn’t above a little persuasion. She stroked him firmly. “Don’t you feel the need to use this?”

She heard him swallow hard. “No.”

“Liar,” she whispered feverishly, and kissed his chin, his cheek, his mouth, his nose …

“Right now … I’m just enjoying the feel of your hand … and appreciating the mystery of what it feels like to be inside you.”

She nibbled his ear, pressing her breasts more firmly against his hand and shifted so she was sitting astride him, undulating softly. She peered down at him coyly. “It doesn’t have to remain a mystery.”

His body grew hard beneath her and his voice sounded a little more guttural when he finally answered. “Yes, it does.” He took her hand and slid it up to his chest, pinning it there. “Go to sleep, Annie.” Then he shifted her from atop him, making room for her at his side.

Annie sighed and shuttered.

Her body felt like it was on fire as she lay back upon the bed, feeling his strong heartbeat beneath her palm. Confusion wove cobwebs through her thoughts. She lay there trying to determine exactly what had happened and why he had rejected her. She had practically thrown herself at him, used all her powers of seduction. She knew he was attracted to her—the proof had been right there in her hand, thick and hard—and he wasn’t exactly shy.

So why?

Sleep eluded her … so did the answers.

For the longest time, his heart continued to pound beneath her fingertips, unwavering in its tempo and then, as it slowed, she finally drifted to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

 

Annie awoke in Jamie’s bed, but he wasn’t in it. In his place was a hefty yellow dog curled up in his warm spot. Sometime after he’d gone, Lady must have crawled back into bed and settled in beside her.

Lady sighed and she smiled to herself. Apparently, they were both pining over the same man. Amazing how easily Jamie had wormed his way into both their hearts.

When she saw his board was gone, she presumed he was surfing and after getting dressed and wolfing down a few of the leftover sandwiches, she and Lady made their way out to the Washout to watch him surf.

She sat on the beach and studied the surfers from afar. It was crowded and difficult to make out faces at this distance. She was there nearly an hour when she realized Jamie wasn’t on the beach yet.

With the wind kicking up the waves, she was certain he would want to surf, and thought maybe she knew why he was compelled to do it. Right here at the Washout, somehow, he connected with his father. This is probably where he felt his dad’s presence the most and he eulogized him by surfing the waves.

Annie could sort of relate in a sense.

The desire to rent the beach house on Folly had been an almost tangible need. In a way, it was as though, as Jamie had said, the Universe was speaking to her and she had been compelled to listen. It was a voice he seemed far more in tune with … but she had to wonder whether he always interpreted it correctly. She had really needed him last night and he pushed her away, despite the fact that he had been the one to pursue her since the moment they met.

Yesterday … on the island … he told her he hadn’t been back to that place since his private memorial to his father. He stated it pretty matter of factly, without any visible sign of emotion aside from his concern for her, and she couldn’t help but wonder what sort of emotions swirled just beneath the surface of his skin. He didn’t seem to let many through.

Anger, maybe …

BOOK: Lady's Man
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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