My First, My Last

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My First, My Last

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Fate has kept them apart for twenty years.
Their roads never crossed and the stars didn’t align, until now…

Matured, more experienced, pierced, tattooed and hot as hell, Adrian steps back into Mia’s life to reclaim his first love.

And the moment she sees him she can’t even remember her own name.

Adrian Reed had always remained in Mia’s heart. After all, he was her first boyfriend and the man she’d lost her virginity to, but that was twenty years ago. His sudden appearance at a bar, on a girls night out, has Mia acting like the fifteen year old girl she was when they parted.

Life now is not as simple as it was twenty years ago. With two kids, a hopeful ex-husband and new insecurities, Mia finds opening up to a new relationship challenging, yet she’s captivated by the man who once held her heart more than she had ever been before.

Will she give her first love another chance, or will she push him away, this time for good?

Warning: My First, My Last is a contemporary adult romance intended for mature audiences. It has no cliffhangers and a HEA ending.

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Chapter 1

It had been twenty years, almost to the day, since I’d seen him on the other side of the world. Literally. He lived in Europe, I lived in Toronto. So imagine my surprise when the man I’d lost my virginity to stood less than three feet away from me, in a bar, on my girls’ night out.

Somebody please pinch me!

With my mouth slightly open, I took him in: the same velvety smell of sandalwood, the same lopsided smile, the same green eyes, but definitely a different body. His rock solid form stretched the fabric over his skin. The piercing in his brow—well, that was new too, and hotter than hell. And that thorn tattoo peeking from under his short-sleeved shirt led my gaze to the biceps as I wondered what else he was hiding there. What other new curves had developed under his clothes? The lean posture in front of me was that of a mature, muscled, confident man; definitely not the way I remembered Adrian Reed from when we’d dated. Had it really been that long? And why exactly was my heart pounding, trying to break free from my ribcage? The cold and hot flashes hitting my chest and the sweat running down my back made me wonder whether menopause was knocking on my door. No, I was definitely too young for that.

Maybe it wasn’t him? It couldn’t be. I wasn’t a big drinker, but the two drinks I’d had tonight were perhaps playing with my mind. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but if what I saw was true – if this was Adrian – a simple skim of his fingers could crumble me to pieces.

“Hi, Thumbelina.”

Yup, it was him. No one else had called me by that nickname, ever. And with those two words, my whole world collapsed and rebuilt in an instant.

And no, Thumbelina wasn’t my name. My mother could be crazy at times, but she wasn’t that crazy. But for the love of God, why couldn’t I remember my name?

Speak! my brain ordered, but my mouth didn’t listen. I should have trusted my instinct that I’d recognize him even after ten drinks. After all, the only guys I’d dated after we’d separated had to smell like him or look like him or walk like him. That’s right—we’d separated, not broken up, because neither of us really wanted it, we’d had no choice. We lived on two different continents. Distance was an enemy neither of us had conquered, until now.

And now my first boyfriend, lover, and best friend was sitting in front of me, looking more gorgeous than I remembered. Warmth coursed through my body. His chiseled jaw appeared more defined. His hair was a bit shorter, though still long enough to lightly fall to the left side. The disheveled strands lay in deeper valleys as if he’d just combed his fingers through. The cut suited him much better than the cross between punk and mullet he’d had when I’d met him. Adrian now had a mature look about him that still held a spark of youth. His green eyes were deeper than emeralds, holding daring and excitement. He carried himself with purpose, like he knew exactly what his surprise visit was doing to me—and God, was it ever doing some wonderful things to my body.

OMG! What’s he thinking about me? Was my hair OK? Makeup? What about the dumbfounded look I must have had on my face?

“Drink some water, please.” He pushed a glass toward me. His voice was deeper, and perhaps more dangerous, which made all those nerves from being noticed by a hot guy weave through my body in exciting tingles. It was a feeling I hadn’t had in years.

Beads of moisture dripped down the glass, but I couldn’t move. We sat in a booth across from each other. I couldn’t quite remember how we’d got there. A swirl of commotion drifted around me along with a few explanations of who he was to my stunned friends, who’d later want every detail of our conversation. My best friend Isabelle had guided me by the elbow to sit down—at least, I thought that was how I’d ended up sitting. She’d come with me out of town tonight to visit old friends who were now sitting in the booth behind me, probably listening.

My pulse raced through my veins like a tsunami. Could buried feelings from that long ago really rekindle within seconds? The way my body reacted to him reminded me of the way it had twenty years ago: flustered and needy, tingling with the anticipation of a simple touch, blood coursing through my veins as if I had an accelerating pump attached to an artery. That part of my heart I’d stashed him away in opened up the moment I saw him, letting him take it all, all over again.

Sounds began to slowly come back to me. People chatting, glasses clinking, and his deep breathing. The movement of his broad chest from across the table only reminded me of times when I lay my head on it, right in the midst of a field of blooming poppies. As my mind wandered, I couldn’t stop staring at him and finally took a sip of my water, my hand visibly shaking. Setting the glass aside, I desperately tried to feed my own lungs. But breathing him in was a mistake. The intoxicating smell and a bit too much air made the room spin again.

“Hi,” I finally said.

His mouth curved up in a smile as if I’d just said the most wonderful thing in the world.

“Are you okay, T?” He leaned forward and reached out to take my hand, but hesitated. I was glad he did because I wasn’t sure what I’d do if he touched me. Actually, I probably would have fainted. This was all too much and not enough at the same time. What I needed now was his strong arms around me. I needed to forget the time that had passed. I needed my friend from the past to whom I’d bare my soul. Instead, I got a hot-off-the-skillet man sitting in front of me as though he were tonight’s appetizer.

Was that how I’d thought of him back then? I didn’t think so. At that time, he’d been mine and I’d been his: two stupid kids in love, breathing each other’s scents, eating each other’s food, touching each other to discover the meaning of first pleasure. Yet despite the twenty years, the butterflies in my stomach fluttered their wings as if it had all only happened yesterday.

A few giggles from the women, whom at the moment I regretted calling my friends, sounded from behind me. They were acting like nosy bitches, but could I blame them? Now that I could actually focus, I understood their childish gestures and sounds of lip smacking. Had they been doing it the entire time? I knew I couldn’t have a conversation with Adrian here. There was too much to say, and I didn’t quite know where to begin.

“Let’s take a walk,” I whispered, standing up.

“OK, T.”

And as he stood up beside me, I remembered why he’d called me that silly nickname in the first place. His height still dominated me. My chin was even with his chest, the way it had been twenty years ago when I’d had to look up to see his face or stand on my toes to touch my lips to his. Even now, after having worked as a Pilates instructor, my body was petite compared to his well-developed physique. I’d already imagined the rippled fields of bunched-up muscles. The thin t-shirt he wore was tight enough to show tautness I wanted to play with.

I couldn’t think about his body now, not that way.

“Will you be okay?” Isabelle asked. “You really know him?”

I smiled at my friend’s genuine concern, but if there was anyone in the world I felt safe with, it was Adrian.

“Yes, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Mia, you’re over one hundred kilometers away from home, and I don’t think you should drive.”

“I’ll drive her home,” Adrian said.

I knew he’d say that.

“I’ll be fine, Isabelle.” I hugged my friend and focused back on Adrian.

His gentle touch to the small of my back guided me outside. The gesture felt so welcome I couldn’t believe how such a simple skim of his fingers could make me feel so good and so happy. And to top it off, we would finally get a chance to be alone and try to catch up on the past twenty years.

Chapter 2

Outside, the warm air swayed the tree branches in a delicate motion. Doubting he knew his way around the port, I led us both. How had he even found me? I no longer lived here. In fact, my home was in another city. But this was the neighborhood I’d grown up in.

A block away, Lake Ontario reflected the high moon. With direct access via boardwalk by the river, this was the perfect place to find some peace.

The wind stirred the straightened strands of my hair. At the time we dated I’d been a blonde; now I was a brunette. Did he like it? Why did it feel so important whether he did?

Adrian walked right at my side in silence. What did you say after so many years? I wasn’t sure I’d know what to say even if his visit hadn’t been a surprise. Was he visiting? Why was he here? Why now?

A flock of geese sat on the lawn at the left side of the boardwalk, their heads tucked underneath the wings. To my right, yachts and boats of various sizes bopped on the gentle waves of the Credit River. The quiet clinks of masts and their metal clips echoed like a melody. Above, stars shone like they’d come out just for us, especially for tonight. The scenery seemed too familiar to one I recalled from years ago. Perhaps because he was here with me?

The night we’d made that dreadful decision to part, we’d stood on the bridge that separated my aunt’s house and his. A short walk through an apple orchard and up the hill, and I’d be home. It had felt like home, at least. That was the second summer I visited my aunt in Europe, and it was mine and Adrian’s second and last vacation together. Life couldn’t have been more perfect if I’d lived there forever. But of course it wasn’t my home. Just like any other night we’d stood there, our arms clasped over the railing, still touching. I’d been watching the stream below when he’d asked me to look up at the sky.

“We’ll see the same stars, the same sun and sky, but we’ll still be so far apart.”

I remembered thinking how good it felt to have the universe in common, as if it would somehow connect us. But the universe was even bigger than the world—a world in which we’d been kept apart for twenty years. What was I thinking? I’d known surviving this separation would break me, tear me apart. I couldn’t go back the next summer. I needed to work so I could pay for university. He understood. He always had. And so we split in hope that one day our paths would cross once again.

And now our paths had crossed. He was here, so close to me, yet so far away. The echo of our steps blended with the splash of waves breaking against the river’s banks. Adrian’s arm brushed mine, and my heart stilled. The gentle touch of his skin on mine scattered through my whole body as he took my hand into his, interlacing our fingers. My palm drowned in his big hand, yet so naturally belonged there. And we kept walking, as if it was twenty years earlier, hand in hand, until we’d reached the boardwalk’s end and sat quietly on a bench.

The river here weaved into Lake Ontario.

“Should I have called?” he asked.

“You think?” I chuckled, looking ahead into the black abyss.

“You haven’t changed a bit.”

“I think I have. So have you.” I turned my head and eyed him from the bottom up. My mouth watered. He knew he was good-looking, and it’d be a lie if I tried to hide the way he affected me. That sizzling electricity bounced off him to tease my nipples and mouth and parts of my body that hadn’t been touched by a man in such a long time. But I didn’t expect him to return the favor.

He scanned me thoroughly, resting on my cleavage a bit longer. And in that moment, I remembered how my breasts used to get lost in his hands. How he’d massaged them, seemingly never able to get enough. How my nipples became erect within seconds of his starving gaze—the way they had now. But that was before I’d had kids. Now my healthy rack needed extra support to stay up.

“Well, in that department, definitely for the better.” His eyes held that devilish spark of a determined man.

And with that one sexy look he gave me, I was ready to succumb to any of his requests—and I darn hoped they’d be as hot as hell, maybe even a little dirty.

Darkness covered the inevitable pink shade on my cheeks. Not that it mattered. Adrian had always made me feel comfortable in an uncomfortable way.

His lips parted slightly as if he wanted to say something, but restrained himself. Was he as nervous about this as I was? I leaned my head back, looking up into the clear night. It was rare to see so many stars here. The city lights usually polluted the sky, but the boardwalk took us out far enough toward the lake that most of the city remained behind us.

“It’s our universe,” he said as if reading my mind.

“It is ours, isn’t it? And you found me.”

“Every time I looked up into the sky I thought of you, especially the Little Dipper.” He pointed toward the constellation.

“Why the Little Dipper?”

“Because you’re my little Thumbelina, and the Little Dipper is… little.” His voice quivered.

I giggled. Why did I feel fifteen again? Did I sound stupid? And why in the world was I so aware of his every move and breath and every blink of an eye? As corny as he sounded, I loved that he referred to me as his. Our hands were still stuck together. I wasn’t sure whether I could let him go again—ever. Just the thought of it crushed my heart.

“You laugh the same way.” He let go of my hand. My heart panicked for a moment, but when he wrapped his arm around me and pulled me into his side, I could have melted.

He still made me feel the same way – exhilarated and happy and like I could fly up into the night sky to grab any star I wanted. But I needed to come back to Earth, at least for a moment.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“Does it matter?”

“No,” I lied, and he knew it too. We looked at each other at the same time. The easy grin on his face told me he was enjoying my curiosity, and he finally gave in.

“Your mother.”

“My mother knows you’re here?”

“Yes.”

“And she told you where to find me?”

“Yes.”

It shouldn’t have surprised me. She was a romantic at heart who’d lost her true love, my father, too soon. I could already imagine the details she’d want of tonight, and I so wasn’t ready to share them. Not with anyone—at least not until I understood what was happening to make my heart dance with such wonderful happiness.

“I’m married,” I said, wondering what he’d do with that piece of information.

He laughed. “You’re divorced. I wouldn’t be here if you were married.”

“Who told you?”

He looked at me as if I was kidding. I guessed living in a metropolis made one forget what it was like to live in a village of three hundred. And my cousins, whom I’d visited for the summer when I’d met Adrian on the other side of the world, had big mouths. Of course Adrian knew what had happened in my life. After all, they were all friends.

“And it took you a year to find me?” I teased.

“Life, responsibilities. It’s not as simple as I’d like it to be.”

“Are you married?” I asked.

“Nope. You know I wouldn’t be here if I was.”

The relief put a smile on my face and I pinched my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Of course he wasn’t married. Adrian would never see me if he was. He wasn’t the type to cheat or cause drama. And my cousins would have spilled the beans to me about his marriage just like they had to him about my divorce.

“Why are you here?”

He took a deep breath and lowered his gaze to his feet. Boy, did he have big feet! Stop it! I promised to slap myself later for being so silly.

“Fate. Second chances. Because I can’t stand living without you anymore. I can’t stop asking myself all those what ifs. What if we’d stayed together, what if I hadn’t been with someone else when you came back that one summer? What if I’d kept writing after I didn’t hear from you? All the what ifs I’ve collected through my life. A bagful, you could say. I’ve got one of them answered at least: what if she tells me to leave right away?”

I smiled at that, because those words would never leave my mouth.

“What if there’s nothing there between us and what if it’s been too long to remember what we once had? Yet sitting here with you right now, these questions don’t seem to matter. Nothing matters when you’re near me. You make long trips seem short, time nonexistent, the desperation inside me eases to comfort, and life is now worth living.”

I stared at him, hoping that the whimper I’d heard leave my mouth wasn’t loud. The moon glistened in his eyes, lightening their green hue, and the silence between us buzzed in my ears.

“Even if I don’t get to see you again, tonight was worth it—completely. But I want to stay here and fight for you, fight for us. If you’ll let me, that is.”

Don’t stop talking, please don’t stop talking because if you do I’m afraid I’ll wake up and the night will take you away from me again. I wanted to tell him how grateful I was for him being here, how much he meant to me and still affected me, and how it seemed that no time had passed between us. A blind person could feel the raw emotions still connecting us. There would always be something—no time or distance could ever wipe away the memories of what we once had. They were locked in my brain and my heart. Instead, I just stared at him, drinking in the man he’d become, wondering what troubles he’d gone through in his life, wishing I could have erased the time that has kept us apart.

I needed Adrian to understand how much I wished I’d written back and stayed in touch, but couldn’t. If I had, I wouldn’t have given Dan, my ex-husband, a chance. It would be like saying I regretted my marriage, two beautiful kids, and a happy life for the most part. And I couldn’t do that. That would be a lie. I didn’t regret any of those things.

I lowered my head.

“Just say the word, and I’ll disappear.”

The pain in his voice shook through my whole body. “No!” My voice was not my own, but that of a fifteen-year-old girl trying to hold onto the love of her life. At least, the first love. “I’m glad you’re here. It’s just a lot to take in all at once. So much has happened…”

“I know. I’ve been working up the courage to see you for two weeks now. Two, long sleepless weeks.”

That was when I noticed the darker shadows under his eyes, barely visible in the night’s natural light.

“Are you here permanently?” I asked, afraid to hear what he’d say.

“It depends. I’d like to be. If the stars align, I’ll stay.”

What did that mean? Did I have any say in it? Did his decision depend on my opinion?

“I have an opportunity to sell my business and start up a new one here.”

“Oh.” I didn’t dare ask how solid that opportunity was because I wasn’t ready for his answer. Could I even hope he’d stay longer – like forever? What would happen if he did? It wasn’t just me who would be affected, it was my kids – and my ex-husband, who still held onto hope we’d get back together. I needed time to think. There was no space in my life to recklessly throw myself at him, the way I’d imagined since the moment he showed up. My instinct told me to tie myself to Adrian with thick chains. Instead, I decided to move onto a safer topic.

“How is your son?”

Both his brows rose in that sexy way. The one with that barbell piercing lifted a bit higher. Adrian’s expressions hadn’t changed a bit… and neither had the way his gaze, the dimple in his chin, and that crooked smile made time slow down for me. I could stare at him all night.

“It works both ways with my cousins.” I shrugged.

Of course I knew his boy was a teen and that Adrian had never married. But as far as the relationship he had with his son’s mother, I had no clue what was going on. Plenty of couples lived happily without marriage. How important was she in his life?

“Matt is in college now, studying automotive design. He loves sports cars and astronomy. He’s taller than me already. This kid grows like bread on yeast. That’s what happens when you play around when you’re young. Your kids grow up and remind you of youth through their lives.”

The pride in Adrian’s voice beamed. And I clearly remembered what we’d done when we were young—only that it felt good and right. It was a wonder I hadn’t ended up with a bun in the oven myself. We’d been like two little rabbits in springtime.

“You’re quiet,” Adrian said. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“How it could have been us.”

“Yeah, it could have, couldn’t it? How old are yours now?”

“Ten and twelve. Jonathan loves skateboarding; Christa’s more creative. She does gymnastics and karate. They’re absolutely in love with their Xbox, and I can’t believe I’m about to be a mother of a teenager.”

“I’m sure you’re a great mother. And it’s not as bad as it sounds. Just be honest with them.”

“Sounds like you’ve had a few chats with Matt.”

“If I hadn’t, I’d be a grandfather.”

I chuckled. “You sure don’t look like one.”

He took a deep breath before exhaling. This was it. Whatever he wanted to say to me, it would be now. “I want us to have another chance. Do you think it’s possible?”

As much as I needed to think, I’d known my decision the moment I saw him at that bar. Deep inside, I’d hoped he was here for me—for us. And the truth of the matter was that there was no way I could let him go now. He had to know that. If he went back on that plane, I’d crumble. No matter what, I had to give us the chance he was asking for.

“Are you asking me out?” I teased.

Chuckling, he rubbed his palm along my bare arm. “Yes, T. I’m asking you out.”

“It would be complicated,” I said.

“I can do complicated as long as you’re willing.”

“Okay.”

It was so easy to give in and agree to anything Adrian would say. I’d never considered seeing anyone after my divorce. It had only been a year. I wasn’t ready, and didn’t want to; but Adrian wasn’t just anyone. And if I said no to him, I’d regret it until death. Saying no wasn’t an option, and we both knew it. This decision was made in my heart before I even spoke.

A stampede of everything passed through me from the head down. And I mean everything. Shivers, excitement, nerves, possibilities. What if it worked out? What if it didn’t? What would I tell Dan, my ex-husband? We still had a close relationship, which had its own bag of emotions tied to it. We’d been working well with the schedule and the kids. How would they react? Should I even tell them? When?

“C’mere.” Adrian tightened his arm around me, pulling me to his side, and kissed the top of my head. The comfort was too perfect: as if we hadn’t been apart for more than a day. I breathed him in, losing myself to the paralyzing scent I’d missed so much. I could stay like this forever. “Don’t over think it. We’ll take it slow, one step at a time.”

He still knows me so well.

Except as much as I hated to admit it, my body wanted it all—now. I wanted to talk to him until dawn, and then some more the next day. I needed to touch his lips with my fingers and admire the dimple in his chin when he grinned. The desire to explore his skin with my hands to feel how his body had changed tingled in my palms. The need to be close to him, as close as possible, was almost too much to stand. Yet the reality that it could actually happen and what it meant scared me. I hadn’t been with a man other than Dan for years. And even before then, I could count my partners on one hand. Besides, I was no longer a silly teen who could explore the sexual world. At this age, I should know what I was doing, shouldn’t I? What if he was disappointed? What if I couldn’t live up to his expectations?

“Are you busy tomorrow?” Adrian brought me back to the present.

“It’s Dan’s weekend with the kids. They’re going to a water park.”

“So if I pick you up at nine in the morning, will that be okay?”

“Yes, sounds good. I assume you know where I live.” I wondered how in the world my mother had held onto a secret this big, but she’d probably just kept herself busy with the next item on the bucket list she’d vowed to fulfill. And now that she knew Adrian was back in my life, I wondered how long it would be before she grilled me.

“Your mother gave me the address,” he confirmed. “You’ll need to wear something comfortable.”

How was it so easy to talk to him and to be sitting beside him? I’d often imagined what it would be like seeing him again, and my flamboyant imagination had drifted to beach settings where we ran toward each other along the shoreline and I threw myself into his arms. OK, so perhaps I’d inherited some of my mother’s romantic personality. But this was real, he was here in the flesh, and I couldn’t have been happier.

“Are you gonna tell me where we’re going?”

“No, but you’ll love it.” Adrian squeezed my hand, and then leaned in even closer. For a moment I thought he would kiss me, but he only brushed his lips against the tip of my nose, his warm breath curling around my face. And thank God that was all. I wasn’t ready to feel his lips, because I thought I’d never let them go.

He hadn’t seen me or talked to me in twenty years, yet he was so confident. I knew I would love no matter where we went, because I would be with him. Finally, with the man who had once held the key to my heart.

Chapter 3

Dan’s car was parked in the driveway. When Adrian pulled away in his Jeep into the darkness, I stared after the tail lights until they disappeared. Wishing I could have that spunk from my youth to say take me with you, I let go of a long-held breath. The reality of it was that Adrian had stepped into my life at a time when I’d only just begun to feel comfortable as a single mother. The expectations and new responsibilities that came with a divorce had had my head spinning for months, as I’d doubted whether divorcing Dan was the right choice. My failed marriage haunted me for months. I barely ate or slept, struggling to accept it was all over. Was I making the right decision for my family? Should I have put my own feelings aside, and for the sake of our children, stay with a man whom I could no longer trust?

My gaze drifted to the red Miata in front of my house. I hated everything about that car: its color, sleek curves, and speed – especially the speed. A tight knot twisted in my stomach. I opened the side gate and crossed along the path into my back yard.

Sitting in a lounge chair, I stretched my feet out. Crickets chirped in the distance, somewhat camouflaging the croaking frogs in the nearby pond. Here, the peaceful neighborhood covered the turmoil inside me. My heart rate had surged since the moment I saw him. The hormones I thought had died after my divorce were waking up. An odd rush of anticipation for the unknown filled my veins, but was that what I really wanted? I was so used to my predictable and calm lifestyle. Adrian had just turned my entire world upside down—or perhaps it would finally be the right side up?

I took a deep breath in, and country air filled my lungs. I crept inside through the back door. The house smelled of pizza and popcorn, which meant a fun movie night for my kids and their father. I lowered my purse to the kitchen counter, nearly knocking an empty beer bottle to the floor.

Shit!

I stashed it in the recycling bin where four other bottles had been thrown out.

Frowning, I tiptoed upstairs and headed for the kids’ bedrooms. The crisp sheets I’d set this morning were still made the same way as when I’d left. Light snoring drew me to my bedroom. The nightlight illuminated two replicas of my ex-husband, and their father right in the middle. They slept with their mouths open. I neared one end of the bed and kissed my daughter, whispering, “You’re my everything,” and then walked around the bed to the other side to kiss my son. “I love you, monkey,” I said in a low voice. As I lifted my head, a warm grasp around my wrist startled me.

“No kiss for me?” The low growl from Dan couldn’t be mistaken. We’d hooked up a few times after the divorce, before I’d discovered the world of self-pleasure and wonderful adult toys. But tonight Dan’s swooning wouldn’t work. He’d always had a way of weaseling right back into my heart, but with my emotions riding on a roller coaster, I had to ensure I was buckled in tight. Tonight, having been exposed to lust from the past, I was as horny as could be. Seeing Dan in my bed, which we both used to occupy, sent a familiar heat between my legs. There were too many memories in this bedroom, of him and me and us when things were good. Actually, things had always been good in the sex department, and I couldn’t deny my body still reacted the same way to his touch as it had years ago. But sex wasn’t enough to keep us together.

“I’m exhausted, Dan,” I replied.

“Did something happen?” he asked, lifting his head.

“Shh, you’ll wake the kids.”

I pulled the duvet over my daughter, who had a habit of kicking it off during the night, and went downstairs. Usually Dan would go back to his home at this time, but since they had a day at the water park tomorrow, he was supposed to be staying in the guest bedroom overnight.

I made a cup of chamomile tea and plopped down on the window seat in my family room. Looking out the bay window into the darkness, I watched the lightning bugs dance in the night. How had my life become so confusing in the span of a couple of hours?

“Are you okay?”

I jumped up at Dan’s whisper. My ex was never this quiet and respectful when others were sleeping. It was one of my pet peeves. What was up with him sneaking up on me like that?

“I don’t know. I ran into someone today.”

“Oh-oh. Sounds like I have some competition.” He plopped down on the other side of the window.

“How did you know?”

“You get that crease on your forehead when you’re thinking about someone special.”

I took another sip. “And since when are you competition?”

“I still feel like you’re mine.”

“Don’t do this to me, Dan. You know I’m not.”

“I know. But it hurts to know there may be another man in your life.”

How in the world was he so perceptive?

“I don’t want to hurt you, but we both knew that was a possibility when we divorced. You must have been with other women.” Before, I’d never wanted to know; but now, perhaps knowing he had would justify my seeing Adrian. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel guilty for allowing my heart to go into overdrive for a man who was not my children’s father.

“I’ve been on dates, but nothing serious. Somehow they never measure up to you.”

My cheeks heated. “There is no me, Dan. You know we can’t go through this. The only things we did well are the two sleeping bugs upstairs.”

“Not the only thing, as I recall. Making them was a blast too.” He leaned forward and took a sip of my tea.

And here we were, back to sex again.

I exhaled loudly. Perhaps this was a mistake, and I wasn’t as ready to move on as I thought I was. Divorcing was one thing, but actually having someone else other than Dan in my and the kids’ lives was another.

“What was it like when you went on a date after we… you know, separated?”

“You’re asking the wrong person, Mia. I was an asshole who cheated on you, so going out on a date after that wasn’t that big of a deal. Wait… are you saying you haven’t been out on a date with anyone else?”

“You know I haven’t. Between work and kids and life, there’s never been time to meet anyone.”

“So, what do you do to relieve yourself?” That grin on his face didn’t go unnoticed. No wonder women turned their heads all the time—they had even when we were married and he wore that wedding band around his finger.

I rolled my eyes. “Seriously?”

“It will make my night better.”

“Dan, I’m serious. How did you know you were ready?”

“I didn’t. You take a chance and follow your gut. I don’t expect you or me to be alone for the rest of our lives. I mean, we’ll always have a connection because of Christa and Jonathan, but a parental connection is much different than a relationship. You know that.”

“When did you get all smart?” I chuckled.

“When it was too late and I’d made too many mistakes.”

His words were meant to comfort me, I knew that, but I couldn’t help that clenching feeling around my heart. It was on nights like these, when we were not only parents but also friends, that I doubted whether I’d made the right decision. I lowered my head between my knees. And of course he knew immediately what that meant.

“Hey, don’t cry. I hate it when you cry.” He took me into his arms. The hold was comfortable and so familiar. This was the only embrace I’d ever wanted on our good days; perhaps because I’d made myself forget about the other pair of soothing arms for so long, ones that before now had been too far away.

“I’m just confused.” I pulled a sniffle through my nose.

“Do you want to join us at the water park tomorrow? The kids would love that.”

And now I felt like he was using my weakness against me. The kids. How could I say no to spending a day with them together as a family? Except we weren’t the kind of family we used to be. After a few days, arguments would ensue, and I hated fighting, especially in front of the children. But Dan didn’t know I had plans tomorrow. The offer was genuine, not intended to hurt me.

“I have a date tomorrow.” Shit! Couldn’t I have said plans?

His face twisted as if I’d just stabbed him in the heart with a rusted knife.

“So that’s why you’re all emotional. I was beginning to think it was that time of the month again.”

I slapped him lightly on his thigh. “Don’t be a jerk. I’ve never had a mental breakdown because of PMS.” Which of course was a big fat lie. I’d thrown Dan out of the house once for no reason—at least I couldn’t recall the reason now.

“Oh, well. I guess we’ll catch you in the evening then.”

I wondered if he was probing whether it was an overnight date. I didn’t owe him an explanation. On my weekends, I could have left the house altogether and not come back until Sunday night, but I wanted to ensure the kids had as close to a normal life as possible, with both parents, and I had always stuck around. Especially on Sundays when we made an effort to go to church together no matter whose weekend it was. Sometimes it seemed we were still the loving family we had been in the beginning, but what went on when the doors closed was nothing close to the Brady Bunch. For that reason alone, I was glad we’d separated; with as much respect as I could muster after the public humiliation of Dan’s cheating.

“Yeah, I’ll see you in the evening, but don’t wait up.” Was I twisting the knife now? I couldn’t help gloating.

“No problem.” He put his hands under his head, leaning back against the window. And if I had to bet, I’d say he did that on purpose. He knew damn well what that vulnerable position did to me. Right now, with his arms stretched up lifting the triangle of his pelvis above his pajama bottoms, I remembered why I’d fallen for him in the first place. His hardness still hadn’t gone down since I’d woken him up, and he wasn’t ashamed of it at all. Nights like these, when we were together, made everything at home seem perfect.

Unexpected warmth pooled in my panties and I shot off the seat. If I didn’t get some ‘me time,’ I’d be in trouble.

“Stay with the kids tonight. I’ll use the guest room,” I said.

“Want me to show you where it is?” Both his brows rose up and down at the same time.

I wanted to say yes, just to get rid of the brewing want inside me. Adrian had rekindled all those primitive desires I’d forced into nonexistence, and all I wanted was sex. Dirty and reckless fucking sex. And if I didn’t get any soon, I was afraid I’d settle for the first human with a dick; which at the moment would only complicate and destroy my life.

I shook my head, trying to get rid of the stupid thoughts, thankful that Dan was no Professor Xavier.

While Dan was a hot ex-husband who would always remain in my life, I couldn’t lead him on. I wouldn’t allow my physical needs to guide me. I knew what I needed, but until I figured out what I wanted, the only sex I was going to have was with my vibrator or the pulsing showerhead in my tub.

“As you wish.” Dan grinned in that irresistible way that made me want to get lost in his lips, and for his lips to get lost on my body.

I left the room feeling more confused than before. Why couldn’t I think of my ex-husband as an ex? Why couldn’t I hate him the way I had that day over two years ago when the news of his infidelity hit me? He’d crushed me, yet I’d been able to stand back up and put myself together. But he’d changed since then. I’d seen it myself. Dan devoted more time to our kids and appeared kinder than when we were married.

But if there was one thing I knew, it was that you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks. And though Dan was no puppy, he sure was acting like he belonged in a circus.

Chapter 4

The morning sun shone through the window. I could barely open my eyes as the kids kissed me goodbye at seven in the morning, and Dan managed to plant a wet one on my lips. The sneaky kiss aggravated me. The musk of his cologne lingered on my cheek from the deliberate pull of his freshly shaved skin on mine. It was as if he’d left his scent on me on purpose, like a dog. He’d be happy if I was thinking about him on my date with someone else. I quickly jumped into the shower to get rid of his manly scent.

By eight I rushed downstairs to grab a quick bite. A finely set breakfast waited for me on the kitchen counter, and a vase full of roses from our garden was propped in the middle. I pressed my lips together, forcing the emerging smile back. Dan had never done anything without wanting something in return, and I was beginning to wonder what it was exactly that he was expecting. A click on the pre-programmed coffee machine sounded. It appeared my ex-husband had flawlessly timed my morning, and he wasn’t even there.

“What time did you get up at to do this?” I said to myself.

An odd sensation of being loved and cared for passed through me. Dan had never been the one to cook breakfast for the family on the weekend or do the dishes without being asked. And now the kitchen was cleaned without a trace of the kids having eaten breakfast, which I knew they had by the missing eggs in the fridge. It was as if I was living in someone else’s house.

With ten minutes to spare, I sat in the living room. My back might as well have been prodded with a metal rod because my spine felt just as stiff. Bopping my knees, I gripped the cushions on the couch. Hot and cold sweats flew from my head to my toes. If this continued I’d have to take another shower. And I didn’t want to change. I’d spent enough time last night thinking about what I’d wear today. The white tank top with a crocheted olive camisole was comfortable and trendy, at least in my eyes. This morning, first-date nerves rolled through my entire body. I wiped off my clammy hands on my shorts, shaking them out when the doorbell rang.

Nearly tripping over my feet, I ran to the front, stopped, took in a deep breath, and opened the door.

And there he was. At six foot two, Adrian couldn’t have looked hotter. He wore a plain golf shirt and khaki shorts, so different from the Metallica and Sex Pistols t-shirts I’d been used to seeing him in when we’d dated. His freshly washed hair, fluffy in the breeze, smelled of apples and mint. My eyes drew lower to the single daisy he held in his hand.

Wow! Just wow!

Of course Adrian had remembered that daisies had always been my favorite flower. When the full smell of him hit me, my limbs turned into jelly. And I wasn’t sure whether it was his cologne or soap or breath mints that combined into his scent, but I wanted to bottle it up and save it for myself forever.

How long had we been standing here just staring at each other? Or was it just me thinking time had slowed down?

“Hi,” I finally said, feeling my insides do flip flops right under my shirt.

“Good morning.” Adrian handed me the daisy and leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. His lips left a hot mark on my skin, nearly lighting it on fire and searing through my entire body. And in that moment I was no longer a mother but without a doubt a single woman ready to jump in feet first.

“All ready?” he asked.

I grabbed my purse and locked the door. He took my hand, interlacing our fingers as if it were a normal thing for us to do, and led me to his car. Holding his hand like that was the next best thing to kissing him. As the thought of his lush lips on mine crossed my mind, my body flushed with another wave of heat. It had only been a few minutes and I was ready to combust on the spot. How in the world could I go through the day feeling so high on him? Adrian was much better than that first sip of my morning coffee, and I was sure the taste of him exceeded the best Italian latte.

Stop it! I thought.

“Good morning, Mia!” My next-door neighbor sat on her porch the same way she did each morning, petting Snowflake, her black Persian cat. The old lady, who had outlived everyone in her family, had the most awesome sense of humor.

“Good morning, Mrs. Mayfield.” I waved.

“Who you got under your arm there?” she asked.

“This is a friend of mine, Adrian.”

“Looks like a fine young man. You treat her right, Adrian.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He waved and I swore she blushed. Mrs. Mayfield was loved by all the neighbors. On Thanksgiving, she baked pumpkin pies for everyone on our street, and then there were the gingerbread cookies for Christmas you could die for.

“Are you gonna tell me where we’re going?” I asked.

“You never liked surprises, did you?” He opened the passenger door to his Jeep. This gentleman thing he kept doing was new to me, and I really, really loved it. After so many years with Dan who chose to forget about those things, I was beginning to feel like I’d stepped into some kind of a fairy tale.

Would Adrian forget them one day too? Feeling the sudden pressure of an unknown future, I shook the thought off and promised myself to enjoy the day for what it was—a simple date.

“I do like them. I’m just a bit impatient.”

“So am I, but some things are worth waiting for.” His gaze penetrated me to the core, and that one simple statement said so much.

Wiping my hands on my shorts again, I buckled my seatbelt and felt a new surge of nerves pulse through me.

“Are you all right?” Adrian reached for my hand and uncoiled my fingers. “You were gripping your seatbelt last night too. Are you having second thoughts about this?”

“No, it’s just that I hate driving. And this is a new car…” The smell of the upholstery and its interior reminded me of that dreadful day.

“I’m a pretty good driver, T.”

“I know. I was in a car accident fourteen years ago. My father picked up our new car earlier that day, and we were driving to my mom’s work from a night shift to show it off when a drunk driver hit us.”

“Ah, T. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right. I think my father swerved to the right last minute to take the impact on his side. It saved my life… but took his. Since then, driving anywhere isn’t on my list of favorite things to do.”

Adrian frowned for a moment. “Should I pick you up on a motorcycle next time?”

As exciting as it sounded, I wasn’t sure whether I was ready for something like that—or maybe it was just the kind of more adventurous side I’d never thought to explore.

“No.” I laughed. “It will pass in a few moments. I’m just being stupid about it.”

“You’re being very normal about it. If it helps, we’re not going far. Ten minutes tops.”

“Yeah, it does help.”

“Let’s go then.” Adrian turned on the ignition, and the hybrid hummed under his touch.

We drove north in silence. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk, but I had always preferred driving like this. It made concentrating on the road ahead easier. It felt safer. Dan, on the other hand, would blast music until the neighbors in the next province could hear it. Adrian seemed to respect the silent drive as much as I did.

Since I lived on the outskirts of town, the farmhouses appeared within minutes. Yellow fields of wheat and the first bundles of rolled hay decorated the landscape. I lowered down the window at the same time Adrian turned off the air conditioning. A fresh breath of country air filled me. The smells and scenery reminded me of when I was young, visiting my aunt, playing hide-and-seek with my cousins in the fields of corn, Adrian chasing me between the stalks. Even the slight hint of manure didn’t bother me, not then and not now. It had always been my dream to live out in the country.

Unexpected vibrations underneath my seat startled me. I grasped the sides of the seat as my gaze flew to Adrian. He held onto the steering wheel, struggling to control the car’s momentum, easing his foot off the gas and slowing down.

“It’s all right, T. We’re fine. I think I may have a flat tire.” Adrian pulled over to the side road and walked to the front of the car.

“Shit!” I saw him run his hand through his hair and pull on his chin. He sure was acting like it was much more than a flat, and so I stepped out as he just stood there.

“It’s a flat tire,” I confirmed.

“I know.”

“So, let’s change it.”

He lowered his hands to his hips, looked from the front of the car to me, and then back to the car again, uncertainty guiding his every move.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never changed a tire before.”

“I haven’t. Matt has.”

“Your son.”

Adrian shrugged. “He loved these things.”

“Well, then, lucky for us, I have,” I said moving toward the trunk, “My father would change his for winter ones every December, then go back to the regular ones in the spring. I loved watching him work in the garage.” The memory of my dad brought a warm feeling to my chest. “But I’ll need your muscle to help.”

“Hey, you can use me any way you want, T.”

I looked back over my shoulder, at first uncertain how to reply, but I finally winked saying, “I’ll remember that.”

With my guidance, for the first time in his life, Adrian changed a flat tire. The pride once he’d finished was something close to walking up on stage at your graduation. How could a man as successful as Adrian have gone through life without even changing one tire? Matt couldn’t have always helped. What about before, then? Did he never find the need? I found learning about the Adrian standing in front of me, as compared to how I’d imagined him, fascinating.

Half an hour later we turned onto a side road, and after a few miles, down a lane leading to a two-story farmhouse with a picket fence. A porch wrapped around the front and to one side. The windows were open at their full width, and white curtains blew out from inside the house. The three dormer windows in the attic on the rooftop held potted plants. Rose bushes were scattered in no particular pattern on the front lawn, their colorful blooms climbing toward the sky.

Adrian parked the car on the freshly mowed grass under a lonely apple tree at the front. The fruits were ripened and red, their sweet scent permeating the air. Adrian opened my door and reached for me to join him. I stepped out of the car. The need to remove my shoes and feel the fresh cut green strands tickled my feet.

High-pitched barking from inside the house stopped me in one spot. And when the small Chihuahua jumped out of the window, I hopped on the hood of the Jeep like a professional acrobat and stood there on my toes.

I wasn’t afraid of dogs, but one had bitten me when Adrian had brought me to his house for the first time when we’d dated. And this little one was identical. Did dogs live this long?

“Get him away!”

“T, it’s not the same dog,” he laughed. “Rocky, c’mere.”

“You gave him the same name?”

“Yes, but I promise this one’s friendly.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

“Last time I was a stupid boy who wanted to impress a girl. Please, trust me.” He extended his hand toward me.

Rocky barked, running around the car and Adrian. I waited until he swallowed the foam collecting at the side of his mouth before I moved. The little pitbull-wannabe showed his teeth, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he could tear up a calf.

“If he bites me, I will not be responsible for wringing his neck,” I warned, but Rocky kept his ground with the threatening barks and fang-like teeth. Okay, they weren’t really fangs, but I was convinced he could do just as much damage as a wolf—if not more.

As soon as I stepped off the car, I collided with Adrian’s hard body and the rest of the world ceased to exist, including the Chihuahua. Even if I wanted to escape, there was no way out of his arms. His strong hold pressed me against his stone chest. The thin fabric separating us might as well have not existed. We’d come a long way – from continents apart – to only a removable sheet of material between us. Our hearts pounded into each other. Adrian’s sweet tic-tac breath and that stimulating scent I wanted to bottle up filled me.

I tilted my head, looking up into his deep green eyes. His head blocked the sun behind him, and the light shone around his silhouette, shading my face at the same time. His parted lips were so close. It was just us, the same way we were twenty years ago, mesmerized by each other. As if no time had passed and we hadn’t missed a day apart. I swore I’d just traveled back in time, to under that apple tree in my aunt’s orchard, waiting for that first kiss from my first boyfriend and my first love.

Except this time, my body wanted more than a kiss. It needed him much deeper and rougher than it had so long ago. Right now, no parent or relative could stop us from being together. I breathed him in, holding onto his arms with my hands, drawing them over his taut chest up to his neck. Adrian’s full hands supported me, his fingers more urgently tracing my spine upward, insistently pressing in.

“I want to kiss you,” Adrian said. “Really, badly want to kiss you.” His mouth hovered above mine, the vibrating words tickling my skin and hot breath swiping my lips.

“Okay.”

“But Rocky is humping my leg.” He lowered his gaze to the dog gripping him below.

I chuckled, and the world came back into focus as Adrian gently let me go. He crouched down and Rocky jumped up on his lap, like the pup was the only one who could have him.

“You just wait until a lady visits you,” he scolded the Chihuahua. “I’ll fasten a chastity belt on her and we’ll see who’s the boss.”

But Rocky just jumped up and licked his face playfully.

“I think he’s into guys,” I laughed.

“No, he’ll just hump anything.” Adrian stood back up, setting the dog down.

“Men.” I shook my head as Rocky begun assaulting one of his chew toys. “They want to mark everything as theirs.”

“I wish that were true.” Adrian took my hand. The intention of his words sprinkled through me with warmth. Every nerve inside me responded to his touch, and my heart went off its regular pattern again.

“Wait, do you live here?” I asked. So far I’d assumed Adrian was staying at a hotel.

“Yes. The property belongs to a friend of mine. I’m taking care of it while he’s tending to his sick parents in the US. Come.” He led me toward the house.

I hadn’t been aware Adrian knew anyone around these areas. In fact, I had always selfishly assumed I was the only one he knew in Canada.

“We’re spending most of the day outside, and I need to use the bathroom. Unless you want to pee in the bushes, I suggest you do too.”

“It’s never stopped you before.” I chuckled. Teenage boys on the farm seemed to pee in every nook and corner, as if they were marking their territory like Rocky.

“I’m not the boy you remember, T. And if you wanna see me with my pants down, all you have to do is ask.” He winked with a lopsided grin.

And there it was: that dangerous and exciting look in his eyes, full of the promises and adventures I longed for. If Adrian had changed, it wasn’t that much. That part of him that had excited me and made me fall in love remained.

On our way inside, I noted the field of yellow wheat to the side and I froze. The swaying stalks took me back twenty years again. In the middle of the field, we’d lain there on a blanket looking up into the night sky. Our arms and hands were the only parts of our bodies touching – at least until we worked up the nerve to make the first move. Lightning bugs twinkled in the sky, and we finally turned our heads inward. The make-out session lasted hours. His hands explored my body and mine his until we were both naked, for the first time connecting in every way a man and a woman could.

Chills flew through me and I shivered. It definitely didn’t feel like it’s been twenty years since we’d made love for the first time.

“You remember,” Adrian whispered. His husky voice was thick with lust as he stood behind me. I leaned back against his tall frame. His tanned arms wrapped around me. I held onto them, gripping tighter as the memory revived itself in my mind, swelling my breasts and tingling with anticipation between my legs. The feeling of him inside me so many years ago was still fresh. A yearning for this man surged through my veins.

“Of course I do,” I replied and without thinking slid my cheek along his bare arm and kissed it. “It was one of the most amazing days of my life.”

“Me too.”

“Even if we didn’t know what we were doing.” I added. We hadn’t cared about the night-crawlers, bugs, or the three dozen mosquito bites I’d counted on my arms, legs, and ass the next day. All I remembered was happiness and the fear that everyone could read what had happened between us the night before. But no one had. It was just me, him, and millions of stars in the sky.

He squeezed me tighter. “I’m sure we’ve learned a thing or two since then.” Adrian’s voice was raspy. He breathed heavily against my cheek, the tempo of his chest moving me back and forth.

“I’m sure we have.” I snuggled deeper against his chest. Adrian’s excitement poked my lower back, but he seemed so at ease having me in his arms, it felt perfect. He was still the same man who wasn’t ashamed of what he felt around me.

“Wanna share your secrets?” His mouth brushed my ear and I closed my eyes. The warm breath whispered down my neck and chest. I’d forgotten how sensitive that part of my body was.

“On a first date? I’m not that easy.”

“Except this is not our first date,” he reminded me.

“Well, then, maybe if you play your cards right I’ll teach you a thing or two.” I pushed his arms off and ran toward the house.

Adrian caught up to me in seconds and tackled me from behind onto the soft grass footing. We rolled around until his weight restrained my motion and he lay on top of me, hovering, just like that night. His thigh rested between mine, slightly spreading my legs. His hands slid over my hips, up along my silhouette, brushing the curve of my breast, and up to my face. As he lifted my chin with his finger, my breath stilled as I saw that boy who wanted to kiss me again.

My body became glued to his in more places every second, molding itself into his curves, his muscles filling my valleys. Adrian’s other hand swept a loose strand of my hair away from my eyes and lingered at the side of my face. His thumb smoothed over my cheek.

I drew my hands up his arms, holding on for my life, fearing this moment would slip away the way he had twenty years ago.

The tips of our noses connected. Our breaths mingled. He hesitated, and I parted my lips invitingly, closing my eyes, breathing him in, waiting. The touch was gentle at first, our lips barely moving. The delicate skim of his mouth on my bottom lip became more defined and deliberate. It was just as warm and much more demanding. I let his tongue dip in and explore my mouth, reaching deeper into his as well, wanting to remember how natural it felt to kiss him. Not too wide, but deep. He pressed harder into me: his lips, his body, his everything, and I melted like butter in the middle of a hot muffin. And I was his, and only his. Lost in his bear arms, I floated away from Earth to explore those constellations that had always connected us. The world spun beneath us, taking me to that euphoric state where nothing except for the warmth of his lips and the feel of his skin mattered. A rush of pure need coursed to my breasts, and desire swelled in my core. My fingers pulled through his soft hair, and when he drew his tongue along my gums before gently biting my upper lip, I moaned into him, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. No one had ever kissed me with the same raw passion that Adrian had. I couldn’t quite remember how long this lasted, because it simply didn’t matter.

Stinky dog breath near our faces forced us apart.

“Rocky, go hump your duck,” Adrian scolded.

I narrowed my brows.

“He has a rubber duck,” he explained. Adrian drew his finger along my bottom lip. “I’ve been wanting to do that since…”

“…since you saw me?”

“No, since the moment I let you leave, twenty years ago.”

Wow.

“And I’d wait another hundred if I had to,” he whispered against my mouth, swiping a stray drop from the corner of my eye. I hadn’t realized my emotions were consuming me beyond my ability to control a few tears.

“You’re a patient man.”

He shook his head. “Only when it comes to you, T. Believe me, sometimes I wish I’d moved faster.”

“Don’t. This is good.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

My cheeks heated. I wasn’t sure what was going on inside my body, but I was glad my panties weren’t made out of paper. They’d either disintegrate from the wetness there or burn from the heat between my legs. How could one small kiss make a woman feel so much?

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