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Authors: Soraya Lane

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BOOK: The Returning Hero
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“So why are you still here?” Her voice was so low she wondered if he’d even heard what she’d said.

“Because I’ve never forgotten how I felt that night I first met you, and how I felt every time I saw you with Sam over the past six years. Every single goddamn time, Jamie.”

She’d be lying if she didn’t admit to always liking him, too. Because the truth was, she’d never forgotten how she felt the night they’d met, either. And they’d always been so comfortable with one another, so easy.

“And how do you feel now?” she asked, feeling brave and needing to know how he honestly felt about her right now.

He reached for one of her hands, turned it so her palm was facing up and stroked his fingers across her skin before closing his hand over hers. “Honestly?”

Jamie nodded, needing to know, to hear what he had to say.

“I wish to hell I didn’t feel so damn guilty, but my feelings for you haven’t changed, and I don’t think they ever will. No matter how many times I tell myself that it’s wrong, all the reasons I have for it
to be wrong
, I can’t change how I feel.”

Which meant the ball was in her court. It was up to her to decide where this conversation was going, what would happen next. And just because she wanted something to happen, didn’t mean she was ready for it.

“I…” Her voice trailed off. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything,” he said. “Just don’t say anything, or forget I ever told you, if you need to. I don’t want things to be weird between us, but I couldn’t keep this to myself any longer.”

“Do you ever think about what might have happened? What could have been if I hadn’t met Sam, if you’d found me before then?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper. “Even the day before I met him, that could have changed everything.”

“All the time,” he said straight back. “I know things would have been different, but I was too slow to find you. We can’t look back, Jamie. Trust me, I’ve been doing it for years and it’s done nothing but infuriate me.”

Jamie knew he wasn’t going to make the first move—to him she was still Sam’s wife,
forbidden
, out of bounds. He’d as good as told her that Sam had been the brother he never had, part of his surrogate family. But this was Brett. This was a man she’d loved as a friend for years, a man she could trust, and a man who was making her heart race like it hadn’t in so long. A man whose arms,
lips
, she’d dreamed of; whose touch she’d often fantasized about. It was something she’d never admitted, but it was true.

She pulled her hand away from his and stood up, then slowly walked around the table to stand in front of him. She watched as he pushed back his chair a little, so he was facing her, the expression on his face hard to read. But his body language was more than obvious, telling her that he wanted her to come closer, that he wasn’t going to say no. That he was ready and waiting for her to make a move.

Jamie moistened her lips, eyes on his as she closed the distance between them, arms hanging at her sides as she stared down at the man in front of her. She was going to bend down, had intended on sitting on his lap, but suddenly her confidence was waning. She wanted to be the confident, brazen woman who knew what to do and didn’t hesitate, but it wasn’t something she’d ever had to do before, especially after years of being with the same man.

Brett made it easier for her. He pushed up to his feet and now stared down at her, a good head or more taller than she was. Jamie placed her hands on his chest, feeling the heat of his body, the muscles of his body, through her palms. But it was nothing compared to the heat in his gaze.

She could hear her heart beating, her breath coming out in shallow bursts, but she wasn’t going to back down, wasn’t going to pull away when she was the one who’d started this. Brett was standing still, arms at his sides, but when she leaned into him, tilted her face up to him, his arms came up to circle around her waist and hold her.

They both hesitated, until her gaze hit his lips—his full, tempting mouth—and she suddenly couldn’t wait any longer. Jamie stretched up, on tiptoes, lips meeting Brett’s in a soft, luscious kiss that had her wrapping her arms around his neck to lock him in place.

She relaxed into him as he drew her closer, tucked tight against his big, warm body. Everything he’d just told her was running through her head, sending goose pimples down her arms and back at the thought of him wanting her all these years. And if she were honest, maybe she’d always felt the same, it just hadn’t been something she would have ever acted upon. Until now.

“Jamie, are you sure about this?” Brett murmured, lips brushing hers as he spoke.

She nodded, arms still looped around his neck, and gazed up at him even though she was flushing all the way to her toes at the way he was looking back at her. Just because she was nervous didn’t mean she wanted to shy away from how she was feeling—she wanted to enjoy it. Ever since Sam had died, she’d been lost, sad, alone. Brett was making her feel alive in ways she hardly remembered. It was like she’d become an old spinster, and now she was…well, now there was a fire back in her belly. It might have been wrong in so many ways, but at this moment, it was also right.

Jamie moaned as Brett kissed her again, his lips moving softly and then with more urgency, making her want to rip his clothes off him where he stood. She was conflicted, part of her unsure about being with another man, but the other part…? Maybe it was the wine giving her confidence, but Jamie wanted Brett like she hadn’t wanted anything in a long time. And she’d barely consumed a glass, anyway.

She pushed up his T-shirt, wanting to touch his skin, but his hands left her waist and closed around her elbows, stopping her.

“Hey,” she whispered, mouth still firm against his.

“No,” he said back, and she could feel his smile against her mouth.

Jamie dropped her hands, took a step back. “I’m sorry, I thought…”

He collected her hands and put them firmly back on his body, his arms looped around her waist again, and he tugged her closer.

“You thought right, I just think we need to take this slow,” he said, mouth murmuring against hers. “Let’s not rush into anything we could regret.”

* * *

Brett tucked a finger beneath Jamie’s chin, tilting it so she was looking up at him again. He could see the confusion swimming in her gaze and he didn’t like that he was the cause of it.

“Sweetheart, you mean too much to me for us to ruin our friendship in one night. I’m trying to be the good guy here, and there are only so many times I’m capable of saying no.”

She looked embarrassed. “You’re, ah, right. I mean…”

He’d known Jamie a long time and he’d never heard her stutter, or be lost for words. But then he’d never been intimate with her, either.

“Jamie, look at me,” he said, voice husky as he stared into her blue eyes.

She obliged, eyes finally locked back on his like she’d given in to the fact that she needed to watch him back.

“I meant everything I said, but I’m not even sure we should be doing this,” he confessed. “I just don’t want you to have any regrets.”

Jamie sighed. “I know. You’re right. It’s just…” She blew out another breath. “Well, it’s hard and confusing, but it also just seems natural. Like we’re supposed to be doing this. It should feel wrong but it doesn’t.”

Brett smiled and dropped a slow kiss to her lips. “Don’t take my being a gentleman as not wanting you, okay? Because if I had it my way I’d be dragging you to your bed and not letting you out of it until morning.” He kept his lips only inches from Jamie’s, teasing her. “Or maybe the next few days.”

They both laughed, and he wrapped his arms around her for a proper hug, holding her tight. Brett inhaled the fresh orange scent of her shampoo, enjoyed the softness of her silky hair against his face, the feel of her slender body against his. He wasn’t lying about wanting her, but he was also between a rock and a hard place.

Sam had been his best bud. He’d have taken a bullet for him, and if it had been a choice, he would have traded places with him in a heartbeat if Sam could have been alive to come home to Jamie. But now that he was here, with a lonely widow he’d been in love with for longer than he cared to admit, walking away, resisting her, was proving to be more difficult that he could have ever imagined. All he knew right now was that he was in love with a woman who should still be off-limits to him. And instead, he’d almost been at second base with her, and he’d had to stop things before they went a lot further, and fast. So much for being in control of his feelings.

“What do you say we head inside? Call it a night?” he suggested, even though it was the exact opposite of what he wanted to be doing. To what he was thinking.

Jamie nodded against his shoulder, but she wasn’t letting go. Her arms were tight around him, face nestled against his neck.

“Am I a terrible wife?”

Her words were so low, such a whisper, that he wondered if she’d even meant him to hear them.

“You were a great wife, Jamie. But if you don’t want something to happen here, it’s your call.” He wouldn’t push her, and if she said no, then that would be the end of whatever had just happened between them. “I’ll be here for you no matter what, okay? I want you to do what feels right for you. And I don’t want us to do anything without thinking it through properly.”

She didn’t say anything, just kept holding on to him. When she finally stepped back, her hand came up to his face, warm against his cheek.

“You’re a good man, Brett Palmer,” she said, tears swimming in her eyes as she smiled up at him.
“The best
.

Brett just watched her, jaw clamped tight as he looked into her eyes. She was more than just a beautiful woman to him—she was a friend; she was Sam’s widow; she was the woman he’d lusted after for weeks until he’d seen her in the arms of another man, then wondered every what-if about since. And now she was the woman he could have a chance with.
A second chance with
.

He cleared his throat, unsure of what she was trying to say. Was she letting him down softly, or the complete opposite?

“I think you’re right, we need to call it a night,” she said, her hand falling away as she stepped backward.

Brett nodded, but he quickly reached for her fingers before she moved too far, squeezing them before letting go.

“I’m going to stay out here a while,” he told her, “clear my head a bit.”

She grinned. “If you need any help with that, there’s still almost half a bottle of wine sitting there.”

He gave her a mock salute, smiling as she laughed and walked backward.

“‘Night, Brett,” she called out. “Oh, and thanks for the most delicious dinner I’ve ever eaten. You would have made your mama proud.”

“Good night, Jamie,” he said.

He watched as she glanced at Bear sitting under the table, but she didn’t call out to him.

“You keep him for company,” she said. “Just make sure he comes in before you go to bed.”

Brett didn’t take his eyes from her figure until she’d disappeared inside the house, and once she did, he poured himself a large glass of wine and sat down on the deck beside the dog. He would have preferred a beer, but wine would have to do.

“Do you think he’d kill me?” Brett asked the dog.

Bear raised his head and whined.

“Yeah, I know.” Brett gave his head a rub before using that same hand to prop himself up. “He’d probably give me a black eye.”

Sam wouldn’t begrudge either of them happiness, but he’d only been gone six months and already Brett was moving in on his girl. And Jamie was more than Sam’s girl, she’d been his
wife
. But he’d stood back once to let them be happy, done the right thing, and now maybe it was his turn. If something happened between them, if she really wanted it, then he wasn’t going to push her away. Because he couldn’t. And there was a part of him that thought maybe he finally deserved to be happy after everything he’d survived, that he needed to stop blaming himself for every bad thing that had happened in his life. That maybe he needed to accept that something good could happen to him….

The noise was deafening. The boom that hit his ears, the explosion, was still echoing in his head, until it started to ring—a high pitch that seemed to get louder and louder, and it was the only thing he could hear.

He picked himself up, staggered backward like he’d lost his balance, and realized his leash was still hanging from his hand. Only there was no dog attached.

He looked around him, tried to call out to his dog, but he couldn’t hear his own voice. Then he saw the fur, parts of his dog’s body. He was screaming but he still couldn’t hear himself, just knew his mouth was open and his throat was raw, even as tears fell down his cheeks.

Sam. He couldn’t see Sam either. He yelled out, spinning around and staggering, feet colliding. And then he realized Sam was gone. That the men back at the 4x4 were waving to him, he could see their mouths moving, and then he saw Bear. Sam’s dog. He was dragging his leg, falling over, but Brett wasn’t going to leave him. Couldn’t leave him.

Then everything went black as arms reached out to him and he crashed to the ground….

Brett lay back on the deck and stared at the sky, trying so hard to fight the memories, to push them away and not go back to that dark place. There was nothing he could have done for Sam, he knew that. But he could do something about Jamie—he just had to figure out whether the right thing for her was having him around, or the exact opposite.

It would have been so easy for him to stop her from going to bed, to have asked her to stay with him for a while. It would be almost as easy for him to follow her, to take her hand and tell her how he really felt, tell her what he wanted, see if she wanted the same without offering her time to think about it. But something was holding him back, and he knew it probably always would.

Because no matter how good that kiss had been, no matter how much he wanted her in his arms, she wasn’t his to want. She still wore her wedding ring, and she still loved her husband. So no matter what she might think or feel right now, he
needed
to give her time. Time to figure out what she wanted. He’d told her the truth, and now he just had to wait.

BOOK: The Returning Hero
6.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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