Authors: Mari Carr & Jayne Rylon
She watched him attempt a difficult shot, studying his face in his distraction. As he concentrated, she pondered how much he’d changed over the years. When she was younger, Jade had considered Liam one of the grown-ups. After all, she’d only been sixteen when they met, and he’d seemed practically ancient at twenty-one.
Now that she was twenty-four, she understood that he’d been young the night they’d met in the cemetery too. “Do you ever wonder where you’d be right now if Celia hadn’t died?”
Liam froze, his gaze lifting to her face. “Where did that question come from?”
She lifted one shoulder. She didn’t have a clue, but she wasn’t willing to back away. Liam was an open book with her—except on the topic of Celia. No matter how many questions she’d asked about the woman over the years, Liam always found a way to dodge the conversation. “Don’t you think twenty-one was sort of young to get married? I mean, I’m twenty-four and that’s the last thing on my mind.”
“I thought forever wasn’t on your mind at all. You always say it’s not for you, that you’re never enduring that sort of long-term commitment.”
“I’m not. And you’re changing the subject. As always.”
Liam stood up slowly, leaning his hip against the pool table. She stood on the opposite side. Even the distance between them wasn’t enough to quench the fire she felt igniting.
“I’m not really sure how to answer that. When I proposed to Celia, there wasn’t a question in my mind. I was one hundred percent certain I was doing the right thing. That I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.”
Jade hated the part of her that was actually hurt by his words. Jealousy?
“Of course, now—at the ripe old age of twenty-nine—I can’t imagine ever being so sure of something. There’s a confidence in youth that definitely fades with time.”
“You miss her.” It wasn’t a question. She knew he did. Saw it in the way he disappeared inside himself whenever Celia’s name was mentioned.
He nodded. “Yeah. I miss her. And I wonder from time to time where I’d be if she were still here. But those kinds of thoughts can drive you crazy if you dwell on them.”
Jade understood that. Vivi had said something similar once when Jade mentioned JD, had wished that cancer hadn’t taken her grandfather before she’d had the chance to meet him.
And God knew Jade had suffered too many sleepless nights as she considered her life with George in it. If he’d lived, how different would she be? Would she still be this tomboy or would she be softer? Sometimes she felt as if she’d tried to assume both the daughter and son roles, feeling sad that her father had never gotten his boy. As a result, she’d taken up fishing and shooting guns and riding motorcycles in an attempt to fill that void. Would she have chosen to do those things if George had lived?
She shook the wayward thoughts from her mind. “Did you ever play pool with Celia?”
Liam laughed and shook his head. “Nope. I never did, and I’m pretty sure Celia would have hated Spurs.”
Jade reared back, shocked. While she knew the place was a dive and on any given day she wanted to punch at least a dozen of the patrons in the mouth for just being annoying in general, Jade truly loved Spurs. “Why?”
“Are you sure you want to hear about this?”
She nodded. “Yeah. If you’re comfortable talking about it.”
Liam didn’t reply immediately and she expected him to shut her down once again. Then he released a long sigh. “Maybe it’s time I did talk about her.”
Liam rested the cue against a sidewall and pulled out a chair at one of the few tables in the room. He gestured for her to join him, so she did. “Celia and I were pretty young when we were together. She’d only turned twenty-one a couple of months before she died. Bars weren’t part of our dating scene.”
“She didn’t come here on her twenty-first birthday?” Jade had been at the front door of Spurs the second Bruce unlocked it on the day she was finally deemed old enough to drink. Bruce had taken one look at her, rolled his eyes and muttered something about retiring early. Then he’d poured her a beer from the ancient keg and slid it across the bar to her, declaring it was on the house. Jade knew at that moment she’d found her place.
Liam shook his head. “Hell no, she didn’t come here. She made me drive her all the way over to that dance club in Clarke called Genesis.”
Jade crinkled her nose. “Why the hell would she want to go there? That place is packed to the rafters with a bunch of tools all listening to deafening techno music and drinking those fruity daiquiris that cost a small fortune and have practically no alcohol in them.”
Liam leaned back in his chair, kicking his feet out straight in front of him as he crossed them at the ankles. “Yep. That’s an accurate description and that’s where we went. A big group of her friends met us there. I crawled into bed after I got home that night and could still see those blinding, flashing lights when I closed my eyes. Woke up with a migraine at three a.m.”
“Sounds like hell.”
Liam shrugged. “It wasn’t that bad. Not my favorite place, but we had a good time. Celia was more interested in going somewhere that let her get all glammed up. She spent hours doing her makeup, fixing her hair. She’d bought this sexy-as-sin leather miniskirt.”
From what Jade had learned over the years about Celia Woods, she’d come to realize she and Liam’s fiancée were polar opposites. Celia had attended beauty school prior to her death, intent on working in the Compton Pass hair salon, and had been Homecoming Queen during her senior year. “I bet she looked pretty.”
That same odd feeling of resentment clawed its way to the surface. She was definitely jealous of a dead woman.
Liam didn’t respond. Instead, he studied her face intently as Jade fought to school her features. When Liam sat up straighter, then moved his chair closer to hers, she knew she’d failed. Again.
pretty. But so are you, Jade.”
Jade snorted, then winced at the decidedly unattractive sound.
Liam placed his finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him. What was wrong with her? She’d never put value on physical appearance. Never needed a man to tell her she was beautiful. She liked herself and she didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about her.
So why was she sitting here, dying for Liam’s approval of her looks and feeling inadequate in comparison to Celia?
Liam reached between her legs and Jade felt her eyes drifting shut, hoping he’d touch her, give her some sort of relief. She’d managed to overcome her arousal during the game, but the second they’d claimed their places at the table, it had returned with a vengeance.
Unfortunately, Liam didn’t touch her at all. Instead, he reached under her chair and pulled it closer to him, so close that her knees bumped against the wooden frame of his seat. Liam lifted her legs and tugged them over his outstretched thighs. Then he pulled her chair even closer.
Liam’s hand returned to her face, stroking her cheek, dragging his fingers along her jaw. “I think you’re one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known.”
His words triggered something unfamiliar—unwanted—inside her, so she reverted to character. “Flattery won’t get you in my pants.”
“Why haven’t you ever fallen in love?”
His question pierced. “How do you know I haven’t?”
He continued to caress her face. “Because I’ve known you since you were sixteen. I watched you push away at least half a dozen boys from school until eventually no one else bothered to come around. Since high school, you’ve indulged in the occasional hookups, but nothing else. So unless you’re involved in some steamy, torrid online affair I don’t know about, I’d say it’s pretty obvious you’ve never given your heart to anyone.”
“I’m just not interested. I’ve got enough bullshit to deal with in my day-to-day life without having to put up with some redneck trying to tell me what to do.”
“What are you afraid of, Jade?”
She reared back and tried to put some distance between them, but Liam gripped her upper thighs, holding her legs in place on his. She didn’t bother to resist. She’d discovered plenty of new things about him lately—the main one being his sheer power over her. It was heady and exciting, enticing.
“Stop trying to get away every time the conversation takes a turn you don’t like.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Fine. You want to talk about all this mushy-gushy shit? Why haven’t you seriously dated anyone since Celia?”
“I haven’t met anyone I want to date, to commit to.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
Liam shook his head. “No. It’s not. I’ve opened myself up to that emotion before. I’ve let myself fall in love.”
“You were a kid, Liam, playing a grown-up game. Are you even sure that’s what it was? It could have just been lust.”
Liam’s face hardened. “I loved Celia. And I did want to marry her. I would have stood at that altar. I would have said
and I would have meant it.”
“Well then, you’re lucky. I’ve never looked at anyone and seen forever. Can we call this subject closed and finish up in here? It’s getting late.” Jade was anxious to put some distance between them and this conversation. They were touching on subjects that made her uncomfortable. And sad.
“The game’s over, Jade.”
“No.” Liam’s hands tightened on her thighs before moving along the inside in slow, gentle rubs. Jade’s chest seized when his fingers began working to free her from her jeans. She couldn’t handle this. Him.
“You can’t claim a prize you didn’t win.” Her voice gave her away, the sound too breathless. Hungry.
Liam unbuttoned her pants, lowered the zipper. “Then stop me.”
Jade didn’t move, offered no resistance as he lifted her ass and tugged the denim and her panties down. He slipped one of her tennis shoes off, freeing her leg from the material, while leaving them dangling from the other ankle. The entire action took mere seconds.
“How am I supposed to stop you? You’re stronger than me.”
He scowled. “You know better than that, Jade. You wanna stop me? Then do it. Tell me no and it all ends.” Before she could say anything, he spread her legs apart even wider, his hands reaching for her pussy.
Jade hissed in a harsh breath when his finger grazed her clit. The gentle stroke wasn’t enough for her and her eyes drifted closed as she waited for—silently willed—him to go on.
“Open your eyes.”
She lifted her eyelids, saw that he’d leaned forward. His face was inches from hers. Her heart raced. Liam was handsome, kind, sexy, and offering her everything she wanted. Her resistance melted.
“Kiss me, Ja—”
She moved the scant distance needed, her lips on his before he finished speaking her name. Jade held him to her, her hands stroking his hair as he sucked her tongue into his mouth. His hands rested on her upper thighs. She tried to wiggle closer, hoping to encourage him to continue his exploration.
Liam’s grip on her legs tightened, an unspoken command for her to hold still. Jade forced herself to remain motionless. She tried to focus on the incredible kiss he was offering, but it was pointless. She was past the point of no return.
She pulled away. “Touch me.”
Liam studied her face. “If we start this, Jade, the decision’s made. No backtracking. It’s going to be me, you and a bed for the next two months.”
She licked her lips and tried to pull his face back to hers, hoping to evade his demand.
Liam stopped her. “Say yes. We’re not taking one more step until you tell me yes.”
His expression was resolute. He wouldn’t make another move unless she agreed. Jade closed her eyes, hoping that by blinding herself to Liam’s gorgeous brown eyes, his chiseled jaw, his sexy body, she’d find some way to refuse.
Shit. Who was she kidding? It really was game over.
She’d told Liam she wanted to break free of the rut she was stuck in, to go wild and she’d meant every word. Liam was offering her a dream…without strings. Clearly the heat of this summer really had gone to her head if she was seriously considering saying no.
She opened her eyes and captured Liam’s gaze. Let him read the answer in her expression.
She was pleased when he smiled. “It’s about time you got here.”
She laughed. “I haven’t quite been myself the past few weeks, have I?”
“It would appear you’ve turned a corner.”
Jade nodded. “Oh yeah. I’m back. And ready.”
“Everything you’re offering, cowboy.”
Liam didn’t hesitate. Didn’t ask if she was certain. He knew her well enough to know she didn’t mince words, didn’t hem and haw once her mind was made up. And hers was.
“Tonight I’m giving you a sample. Tomorrow—the whole enchilada.” He pushed two fingers inside her pussy. “Jesus, Jade.”
She was wet. Hot. Hungry. He’d put her in this state weeks earlier with just a kiss, and the condition had only grown worse with each passing day. She grinned at his reverent tone. It was nice to know she hadn’t been suffering alone.