Authors: C A Vincent
Alicia squealed as Nate caught up to her and wrapped his arms around her. Damn, but it felt good to be held. Common sense told her to be worried. She barely knew him and he was way too bold. But then, a little boldness was refreshing. Knowing straight up he wanted her meant there would be no pretence, no games. And she would be lying if she said his obvious attraction bothered her. It had been much too long since a man paid her the kind of attention Nate Langston was.
You’re beautiful. Get over it
.’ The words played through her mind as he held her and growled into her ear.
“Watch sappy movies, shop… It’s all the same. If it will make you happy, I’ll do it. And I promise not to complain about how long you’re taking to decide over which of the exact same thing you should buy. I’ll even – ”
She shuddered. Being in his arms with his low voice in her ear made her achy and needy all over. Her own attraction was riding her hard as Nate stopped talking suddenly and loosened his hold. Though she was still in the circle of his arms, she felt like he’d just run the few yards back to where they’d started. Confused, she turned to face him.
“I – Sorry. I’ll eventually figure out when to back the hell off,” he muttered. He looked – contrite – and more than a little – uncertain? For such an outspoken man to wear such an expression confounded her.
What the – ?
“I – You don’t have to – ” Her face practically burst into flames as she looked up at him. She realized she was just about to tell him he didn’t have to back off. Only minutes ago, she’d been giving him heck for allowing his desire to show. What the hell was she doing?
“Oh God. I am all over the place,” she groaned. “I – I’m the one who should be sorry. ‘Slow down.’ Don’t slow down.’ ‘Chase me.’ ‘Don’t let me see how much you want me.’ ‘Want me.’ I seriously need to make up my freaking mind. Suffice it to say, I’m – What?”
Nate was coughing and spluttering all of a sudden. Now he was looking – shocked. Alicia replayed everything she’d just said in her mind and realized exactly how much she’d revealed. Mortified, she looked everywhere but up into his face. If not for the fact he was so close, she would have hugged herself.
He probably thinks you’re a complete nut bar,
she thought, scowling down at the sand.
Unexpectedly, he took her face in his hands and turned it upward so she was forced to look at him. He looked – relieved? Before she could comment, he planted a sweet and not completely unsexy kiss on her forehead. He might have even whispered “Thank you” but she was too surprised by the kiss.
Then there was the fact she was suddenly finding it difficult to fully comprehend anything beyond the fact he was oh-so-gently touching her. Alicia wanted nothing more than to have him bring the kiss he’d just given her down south toward her mouth. The desire was so strong, she very nearly tilted her face up further. Thankfully, logic took over before she made a complete ass of herself.
No you don’t,
her subconscious told her. It went on to nag her about falling for strangers and having her heart broken when the week was up. Alicia tried to quell the voice with no success. With a reluctant sigh, she stepped back.
“The voice of reason prevails?” he asked, catching her by surprise again.
“Are you sure you’re not a mind reader?” she asked, scowling.
“Nope. Simply intuitive. On occasion, that is,” he answered, turning toward the boardwalk. He took her hand and they started walking as he continued. “I’ve been doubting my abilities more often than not lately. It’s a big, messy story which I’m not in the mood to rehash right now, So I’ll just guess at what is going through your mind and you’ll tell me if I’m right.”
Alicia waited to hear what Nate would say, wondering at the “big, messy story”. She suspected a break-up, possibly even one which fell into the “nasty” range. Her subconscious screamed at her to say her goodbyes. The last thing she needed was to end up being a rebound fling.
But you won’t be his any-kind of fling if you keep your distance,
the voice of logic, firmly trapped in her head, for now, ranted.
No more games. No more touching. And for God’s sake, when he looks at you with those ‘I want to eat you up’ eyes of his, LOOK AWAY!
Her face flaming, she just barely managed to pull herself back to the moment before Nate went into his incredibly accurate explanation for her reluctance.
“You, Alicia Danvers, are worried you’ll fall madly, hopelessly in love with me during the short time we’re here together. And who can blame you? I’m told I’m a very loveable guy. This, of course, will mean a broken heart when we both go our separate ways. You would rather not live through that kind of pain and so are working to convince yourself spending time with me is a very bad idea. Am I right?”
“‘Madly, hopelessly’ huh?” she asked with a chuckle. He affected a mock-hurt expression which made her laugh outright. Grinning, she added, “Similar thoughts did cross my mind. Despite our rather – abrupt – meeting, you’ve been sweet and – ”
“ – kind and considerate and not at all manly. Shall we go and get our nails done. It’s been ages since I’ve had a pedi,” Nate cut in, affecting a lisp. Alicia howled with laughter. Then, sensing he was actually upset, she stopped walking and stood in front of him, blocking his path.
“You know how I feel. I’m sure I made myself more than clear during my blurt back there. The thing is, I don’t do flings, Nate. I can’t just give myself to someone on a whim. Having said that, I do still want to get to know you. Is it possible for us to simply ‘hang out’ without our respective libidos getting in the way, or should we just say ‘goodbye’ now?”
Alicia waited with bated breath for Nate’s answer. She would be sad if he decided they should walk away from one another, but at this point, her heart wasn’t engaged. Only her hormones, and they could be dealt with later, in the privacy of her hotel room. Sure, she’d be curious and wonder about him from time to time, but it was a far cry from developing feelings for him then having them shredded when he went back to his work and she went home to –
The thought of what did and didn’t await her when she got home was enough to knock the wind right out of her sails, budding friendship or no budding friendship. Alicia resolutely pushed thoughts of her lack of employment from her mind as she waited for Nate’s answer. * *
Nothing says ‘wimpy male’ like insulting yourself in front of a beautiful woman,
he thought as he looked into Alicia’s face.
And what the hell was with the lisp? Thank Christ she laughed!
Still, she wasn’t stupid. She’d heard the bitterness in his voice when he went “gay” on her. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have stopped him. Then there was the look in her eyes as she waited for his answer. It clearly said – Nope. There was nothing clear about it. She was as confused as he was.
The realization gave him some comfort as he considered both her question and how desperately he wanted to kiss her. Was he deluding himself into thinking they’d be able to keep things platonic? Did he want to, or was he intending on following through with his original plan to seduce her?
Conscience and lust fought a nasty fight. Should he just tell her about Liz? Maybe if she knew she’d end up being the “rebound” sex, she would decide things for them both and walk away. He mentally shook his head. The emotions involved were still too raw. He blew out a sigh, deciding on a plan of action and feeling guilty as hell for it.
“I won’t lie,” he said quietly. “It will be difficult to fight this chemistry between us. And after the back and forth we just had, I can’t make promises. I will, however, make an honest effort to respect your wishes.” There. Now the ball was in her court. His conscience was also somewhat appeased because he hadn’t made a bunch of empty promises.
Alicia walked backward in front of him. They continued like this in silence for quite a stretch and he began to wonder if she was going to respond.
“Thank you. I can’t ask for anything more. You still up for shopping?”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Nate had to laugh. There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes which told him he was about to regret his earlier offer. He was too happy to be worried, though. Not only was he going to be able to spend more time with her, but they’d reached the end of the beach and she was just about to stumble backwards onto the first step up to the boardwalk. Far be it from him to keep the chips from falling where they may. Or the Alicia, for that matter.
Just as he’d anticipated, she started to fall backward when her heel snagged on the first wooden step. Nate caught her easily and brought her gently up against him. Her sweet, clean scent was intoxicating and the startled gasp she let loose as his arms wrapped around her made him want to nuzzle her neck, just so he could hear it again. He held back, barely, as an embarrassed blush blossomed over her face.
“You said – ” she began in a ragged whisper, her color deepening.
“I would make an honest effort to respect your wishes. I didn’t say I’d let you fall and get hurt,” he cut in. Then, because he just couldn’t help himself, he brushed a soft kiss over her mouth. Before she could react, he lifted her bodily onto the next step, catching her off balance yet again. Then he turned her away from him. Forced to continue up the stairs or risk looking foolish, Alicia started moving.
When she reached the top of the stairs, Alicia turned to look into Nate’s face. Unsurprisingly, he looked more than a little pleased with himself. He gestured toward a row of shopping stalls, saying, “After you”.
Suddenly, she realized she was completely uninterested in shopping after being held in his arms. And the kiss… It was so brief, so sweet, yet promised a world of –
. Once again, the voice of reason screamed at her to run. Like nearly every other time before, she ignored it. How could she not, when the feel of his arms around her was so fresh in her mind? And his scent… It was all she could do to keep from turning and leaning into him, just so she could take a deep, intoxicating breath.
Who the hell am I kidding?
she thought, walking slightly ahead of him.
I wouldn’t be able to resist, even if he pulls back and starts behaving like the perfect gentleman. Maybe I need to not be such a “good girl” and have wild, monkey sex with him. Then he’ll be out of my system and I’ll be out of his and we can go our separate ways all the sooner.
Without really seeing, she
stopped at the first booth they came to, knowing damn well things weren’t going to play out that way. She just wasn’t built that way.
With a frustrated sigh, Alicia tried to focus on the beaded jewellery in front of her. It was damn near impossible to do, what with his being right behind her. At one point, he placed his hand in the small of her back and leaned around her to finger a particularly ugly necklace. The desire to turn into his arms and have him hold her was so strong she had to grip the table to resist.
“No?” he asked innocently, a hungry fire burning in his eyes. Add to it the almost feral smile turning up the corners of his mouth and she realized that though he would “respect” her wishes, he would likely do everything in his power to change her mind as to what those wishes were. Nate saw the moment this realization dawned and his smile widened. It became something primal and made her heart race. Need blossomed deep down in her belly.
Alicia knew she should just walk away, but the pull of his gaze as it roamed slowly over her face, as though he were considering all the spots upon which to brush more soft kisses, kept her where she was. Then, before her lust-addled brain could put more than a couple of syllables together, he turned her gently toward the next stall. His hands, big and strong, were placed innocently on her lower back and on her arm.
With a desperation which scared her, Alicia wanted them elsewhere. This was a bad thing. A very bad thing. Did she run though? No. Despite the insistent voice in her head telling her she should, she stayed with him. It was incredibly foolish and careless of her, but the possibility of throwing caution to the wind and just
with this man was becoming more and more tempting by the moment.
“Men’s walking sticks and accessories?” he asked. Alicia jerked, not seeing the wares being sold at the second stall until Nate spoke. Knowing she was normally more observant than this, she turned to look into his face, expecting to see a triumphant gleam in his eyes. And it was there, of course. What she didn’t expect was the healthy dose of uncertainty mixed in with it.
“Too much?” he whispered, steering her away toward a food vendor. He even sounded unsure, despite his earlier success at knocking her completely off balance. The sudden change from suave seducer to uneasy, nervous man tugged hard at her heart strings. To her surprise, there was also a desire coursing through her to beat the crap out of the person who’d knocked his ego off its pegs. It was then and only then Alicia realized she was in a world of trouble.
“So, yesterday’s excursion through the shops was – Whoa!” Nate stopped dead in his tracks and took Alicia in. She looked more stunning than he remembered. His stomach did an odd little flip, which he attempted to attribute to the fact it was empty. The voice in the back of his mind called “bullshit”, loud and clear. There was something very different about her this morning.