Authors: Toni Blake
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General
As she listened to his car drive away a moment later, she realized she was looking forward to Miss Ellie’s party. Sort of.
A lot of people in Destiny, especially the older residents, were…weirdly stuck in another time. A comforting time. But also a time when…divorce was frowned upon, for any reason—even a cheating husband, she suspected. And she was pretty sure most of them would have heart attacks if they knew what she’d done in the woods last night.
She’d cooked herself a hamburger and a baked potato on the gas grill on the back patio and sat outside at the picnic table to eat, despite the remaining heat that hadn’t waned at day’s end. Afterward, she wandered over the soft grass in bare feet to an old swing hanging from a maple tree in the side yard, and from there, she’d peered out across the lake, quiet and smooth as glass at that time of the evening, appreciating the peaceful view. She’d glanced over into Miss Ellie’s garden, across the empty green space that sat between their homes, and drank in the profusion of color. She’d listened to birds singing in the trees.
As night had begun to fall, she’d thought longingly of her telescope, but pushed it aside, telling herself that maybe he’d…mail it back to her or something. Of course, that would require him going to a post office. Being seen. Just as bringing it here to leave on her doorstep as she’d hoped earlier would also do. But…maybe he’d be decent enough to get it back to her some other way. She
to keep telling herself that, since she just couldn’t accept losing it the way she had.
Now she sat curled on the couch in a butter yellow
and jogging pants, the old afghan pulled half over her since the air was going full force again, eating a chocolate chip cookie, and watching some crime show on TV.
Just as the guy on TV, a detective, crept through a dark warehouse where he suspected a crazy burglar was hiding out—a knock came on Jenny’s back door and sent her nearly leaping out of her skin.
Catching her breath, she set her cookie aside and rose to answer, except—who on earth would come to the
A serial killer, she thought.
Or maybe her father, she decided more realistically. He’d come to the back door
So she flipped on the outdoor light,
pulled open the door—to find Mick Brody standing on the other side.
The next best thing to a killer. Or the worst.
She nearly lost her breath—from shock or pure animal magnetism, she wasn’t sure.
That fast, in an instant, she knew Sue Ann was right about why she’d had sex with him. Because he stood in the light now. And he was hot as hell.
His thick, dark hair needed a trim, and the sight of the stubble on his jaw made her remember how it had lightly abraded her chin when he kissed her, and later, grazed across the sensitive flesh of her breasts. Her nipples were already hard—she just knew it—and she wasn’t wearing a bra. Oh God.
“Why are you at my back door?”
“I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m not in town, remember?” His dark eyebrows knit. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“Of course not,” she lied. Then dropped her gaze to see with huge relief that he carried the waterproof bag containing her telescope.
“Can you get out of the way?”
“Out of the way?” she asked, taken aback.
But it wasn’t enough to keep him from arrogantly pushing past her into the house. “I’m coming in.”
Oh boy. This wasn’t good. This was…scary. She was thrilled to get her telescope back, but…
“Um, wait,” she said, yet it was too late for that, since Mick Brody was already standing in her kitchen. “
are you coming in? I mean, I see you brought my telescope, which I appreciate, but…”
He spoke low but potent. “I’m just not sure you understand, pussycat, exactly how important it is that you keep my little secret.”
She blinked up at him, aware that he now stood dangerously close to her. She felt his nearness in every cell of her body, all of which began to tingle in response. “I do. I promise. I really do.”
He replied simply, surely. “I don’t believe you.”
She let out a sigh, part of her drinking in the well-defined muscles on his arms, a tattoo she couldn’t quite see because the sleeve of his T-shirt hid it, and the lock of wayward hair arcing down onto his forehead—but another part of her thinking,
I have to get him out of here!
In fact, she suspected she was almost as anxious to get him off
family’s property as he’d been to get her off
last night. “Well, I can’t help that,” she argued. “And what exactly is it you think you’re going to accomplish by coming into my house late at night anyway? Uninvited, I might add.”
Still standing agonizingly near, Mick Brody used one bent finger to lift her chin, bringing their gazes together. “I’m going to convince you.”
Sometimes I think we’re alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the prospect is staggering!
Arthur C. Clarke
ick looked around the small but tidy home as he lowered the big plastic bag gently to the kitchen table. It was pretty much what he expected—it felt warm, cozy. Not too much bigger than his old family house across the lake, but it felt a world away. It
a world away. The décor wasn’t modern, but that didn’t matter—somehow he sensed
between these walls. Something he hadn’t had too much experience with.
When he turned to face Jenny Tolliver again, she looked a little afraid of him. It wasn’t a surprise—he’d gotten that look most of his
and for a good long while, he’d earned it. And he
her to be a little afraid of him right now, so this was probably good. Still, for some reason, it bothered him. That he was making such a pretty woman look so troubled. He didn’t usually care much what people thought of him, but right now, Jenny Tolliver was making him feel like an ogre.
Of course, not all of his thoughts were so honorable. Her nipples jutted prettily at the little top she wore, making him remember having them in his hands, his mouth.
By the time he lifted his gaze from her chest back to her face, he was half-hard and burning up inside, despite the air-conditioning in the house. Her eyes said she’d seen where he’d been looking, and that she
It was almost enough to make him forget why he was here and close the distance between them and do what he’d done last night. He’d never been so physically drawn to a woman on sight, and at the moment all he could think of—that fast—was taking her back into his arms, pressing into those sweet, soft curves, and doing what came naturally.
Yet that’s when Jenny Tolliver broke the spell, looking nervously away to say, “Would you like some iced tea?”
Damn—he was barging into her house late at night, and she was offering him tea? He almost said no, but it had been a hot, muggy trip across the lake in the metal rowboat he’d found still stashed in a half-fallen-down shed behind the old house. “Uh, sure,” he said.
“May as well have a seat,” she suggested, motioning to the table, her tone reminding him that despite the tea, she hadn’t invited him here. And that got him back in his right mind.
Pulling out a chair, he settled at the small wooden table, taking in the quaint wicker basket of napkins to one side, along with the ceramic salt and pepper shakers designed in the shape of mallard ducks. “Listen,” he said, still not quite sure how to convince her, but he knew he had to. “I know I was a hard-ass last night.”
“Yeah, you could say that,” she replied, not looking at him as she reached in the refrigerator to pull out a glass pitcher with lemon slices painted on the side. It gave him a chance to notice her round ass, softly hugged by a pair of sweatpants. And just like with her breasts, the sight made him remember having that ass in his hands, molding it, using it to pull her into his lap. God, they’d been hot together.
“Thing is,” he made himself go on, “I didn’t have a choice. And when I say you can’t tell anybody about me…” He stopped, out of words, and the truth was, he just didn’t
any good way to convince her, damn it. And though his early life had taught him to convince people by threats, he didn’t think that had worked last night, so it probably wasn’t the best way tonight, either.
Desperate but not letting it show, he tried a different appeal—honesty. Plain, blatant honesty. “It’s
no one finds out I’m here.
important. I can’t tell you why, and I know you don’t have any reason to help me, but it’s almost…a matter of life and death.”
This made her turn to look at him, pitcher in hand. “Yours?”
He gave his head a slight shake. “Not exactly.”
“Don’t ask any more questions about it, okay? I can’t answer them.”
Looking wary, undecided, she passed him a tall, narrow glass painted with flowers and filled with iced tea. Their fingertips touched as she handed it off. “Look, I said I wouldn’t tell. But the fact that you felt the need to come all the way over here to make sure I don’t…”
She trailed off, and he could read her thoughts. He was making such a big deal of it that it fueled her curiosity. Yet just trusting her not to say anything after last night hadn’t made sense, either. “Well, I brought your stuff, too,” he pointed out, even though that had mostly been an excuse.
“Thank you for that.” He thought she might sit down at the table with him, but instead, she leaned back against the counter across the room. “I was worried about it when I realized I’d forgotten it. It’s important to me.”
He just nodded,
broached a topic he’d been curious about since last night. “I thought you moved away.”
“Why are you back?”
She bit her lip, still looking wary and like she didn’t want to answer the question. Finally, she said, “I got divorced.”
“Oh.” He hadn’t even known she’d gotten
Then, without considering it, he asked, “Why?”
She took the sort of deep breath that made her chest rise and fall visibly, which he enjoyed—but he tried not to stare directly at her breasts this time.
“He, um, cheated on me. With a younger woman. Who I worked with closely. It was pretty awful.” She finished by biting her lip and looking like she wished she hadn’t said so much.
“Damn,” he murmured. Why the hell would any sane man cheat on someone so gorgeous? He’d never been married, never even thought about it, but he heard himself mutter what he was thinking. “Stupid guy.”
To his surprise, the words softened her expression just slightly—although she lowered her gaze to whisper, “Thanks.” Then she looked back at him. “I thought you’d moved away, too. I thought your whole family was gone.”
“We were. Are,” he corrected. “Except me.”
“What are you doing back?”
“None of your business.”
She tilted her head as if trying to tempt him. “I told you
secret. You can’t tell me yours?”
“Nope. And I didn’t exactly twist your arm—you didn’t
to say why you were back. You could have told me to go to hell, like last night. Or just lied about it.”
She shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me. I’m not the lying type.”
worried him. “Well, you’d
lie—about me being in town.” The words came out harsher, louder, than he’d intended, more like the guy he’d been before leaving Destiny.
But she didn’t seem startled, only said, “Relax. That’s not lying—it’s just not bringing something up. I’m much better at that.”
“Good.” He took a long drink of iced tea and let it calm him down. There’d been plenty to worry about
Jenny Tolliver had shown up in his woods, and now it seemed multiplied. This whole damn thing had him on edge.
edge that he didn’t notice when she suddenly started looking uncomfortable again. “Something I
need to bring up, though, since you’re here…”
Damn—what now? “What is it?” he asked.
“Um, about last night.” A pretty blush spread across her cheeks, and he supposed that meant this had something to do with sex. “We didn’t use…you know, a condom.”
. It had hit him after she’d gone. In the moment, though, he’d been…blinded. By Jenny Tolliver. And hard, hot lust. “Yeah, I know. Afraid I didn’t have one on me. Wasn’t expecting to find a girl in my woods.”
She blushed some more and ventured, “Are you…safe? Should I worry?”
He felt stupid for not realizing until this moment that
Jenny Tolliver would worry about being with a guy like
He hadn’t worried about her
having an instinctive feeling that she was as clean and pure as any snow-white virgin. “Pretty safe,” he told her. “I mean, I can’t say I never slipped up before, but not since I was young.”
She nodded. “Good. And so you know, I got checked out after I found out Terrence was cheating and I’m fine.”
He’d already known that without asking. That she’d have dashed out to get checked. And that she was fine. “Thanks,” he said anyway. “And…thanks for not telling anybody about me. Because you’re not going to, right?”
Now she planted her fists on her hips and rolled her eyes, clearly trying to appear irritated, but looking cute as hell instead. “I said I wouldn’t, didn’t I? How many times do I have to promise?”
He felt himself wanting to smile at her, just a little, but he held it in. “Until I completely believe you.”
Another huff of aggravation left her. “When will
“I’m not sure yet. So…I might be back. Just to check in. Just to make sure. To remind you how serious I am.”
At this, she crossed her arms and let out another disbelieving sigh. “I
that already—trust me.”
He couldn’t help it this time—it made him laugh. “Am I that rotten to be around?”
She’d been rolling her eyes some more, yet now narrowed her gaze on him. “Not really. Not tonight anyway. But this is just like fifth grade all over again.”
He raised his eyebrows, still mildly amused. “Fifth grade?”
“When I was in the fifth grade, I stumbled upon three scary girls in my class smoking behind the school at recess one day. To make sure I didn’t tell on them, they decided to stick to me like glue—at recess, lunch, gym class—anytime they could. An intimidation tactic.”
Despite himself, he cast a soft grin, thinking of innocent little Jenny being forced to hang with the tough girls. “Did you ever tell on them?”
“Then I guess it worked,” he said, pushing to his feet and stepping close to her. “Don’t tell anybody about
, either, pussycat. I’ll be seeing you soon.”
And with that, he used one bent finger to lift her chin,
brushed his mouth ever-so-lightly across hers, just before walking out the door.
“Stay close to the dock, honey,” Sue Ann called to her little girl, Sophie, a miniature version of her, now floating in
Then Sue Ann stretched out in her lounge chair next to Jenny’s and said, “Wow, this is just like old times. Except that there’s another one of us now, and she’s short.”
laid her head back, soaking up the sun in last year’s two-piece swimsuit, the one she’d bought for the trip she and Terrence had taken to the
. But her mind wasn’t on Terrence, or the
. Her mind was on Mick Brody.
In fact, just glancing across the lake to the woods that hid his home, to the trees that shrouded the place where they’d had sex, made her hot in a way she couldn’t attribute to the sun.
“By the way,” she said, “crisis averted.” This was the first time they’d had a chance to chat privately since Sue Ann and Sophie had shown up a few minutes ago.
“Which crisis exactly?”
Good question, Jenny supposed—depending upon how you looked at it, there
more than just one. “I got my telescope back.”
Sue Ann stopped in mid–sunscreen application to stare at her. “How, pray tell?”
Jenny glanced over as if it were no biggie. “Mick brought it to me last night.”
Sue Ann tipped her head back. “Ah, I see.
So we’re on a first name basis now.”
“Well, I did sleep with the guy,” she said—softly, so Sophie wouldn’t overhear. Fortunately, the boom box was playing and Sophie was splashing around in the water.
“It didn’t sound like sleeping to
” Sue Ann quipped.
And Jenny couldn’t help giggling a bit in response.
To which Sue Ann said, “My, aren’t we girlishly lighthearted today.”
Jenny couldn’t deny it. For some reason, she felt better than she had in…well, she couldn’t remember how long. She wasn’t sure why, but decided to credit it to the averted crisis. “Well, I have my telescope back now.”
“And I know you love that thing, but I’ve never seen it make you…
Jenny crossed her arms and made a face. “I’m not
“Uh-huh, sure. So…did you get a better look at him this time? Did he look good?”
Jenny ignored the sarcasm and blew out a long breath in reply. “Um,
“Still has that sexy olive complexion?”
“And that dark, silky hair?”
Sue Ann leaned forward slightly in her chair. “Muscles? Are there muscles?”
Jenny’s stomach was getting a little fluttery just remembering. “
yeah, there are muscles. Not big, bodybuilder muscles. But just, you
ones. Although I knew that already. You don’t have to