Authors: Nina Harrington
“Looking for excitement in life?”
She grinned at him. “Always.”
“No desire to go back to Savannah?”
He might have heard a tiny snort from Marnie. “None. I like being
Savannah, but I don't want to
there. Does that make sense?”
“Sure.” He wasn't entirely sure it did, but he agreed nonetheless.
They walked quietly for another moment, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Finally Marnie said, “Thanks for hanging out with me tonight. It was fun.”
“It was, and you're welcome.”
“I'm kinda sorry I didn't get a chance to know you better when you and Reese were...well, before. We could've been friends.”
There was such a sigh in her voice that he wanted to laugh. Except that she seemed serious. “And we can't be now?”
“I think it might be awkward and uncomfortableâfor everyone.” She looked at her feet for a moment, then back up at him. “But anywayâand regardless of what you said earlierâI am sorry you and Reese didn't work out.”
And so was he. Theirs hadn't been a great love match like Marnie sang praises of, but it had been stable. Secure. Solid. “Thanks. We made a great team. But Reese loves Mason.”
“But you said love isn't a good reason to get married.” He couldn't see it, but he knew she was rolling her eyes.
“I said it wasn't the
reason to get married, but it's especially a bad idea when one of the parties loves someone
. I think I knew all along that something wasn't quite right, but getting married seemed like the thing to do at the time, and you get to a point of no return pretty quickly. I was almost glad when Mason showed up and finally forced Reese's hand.” That was true, too. If Reese really needed that kind of relationship to be happy, he wasn't the man to give it to her.
“So you're really okay about it?”
“Are you asking me if I'm over Reese?”
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
He nearly laughed. That was something very few people had the nerve to ask to his face. “Reese and I were friends and we're still friends. But I'm not carrying a torch for her.”
“That is a ridiculously reasonable and mature statement, all things considered.”
He shrugged. “It's for the best. If you can't go into a marriage knowing absolutely sure it's the right choice, then you shouldn't do it. It won't end well.”
Marnie laughed, but it was bitter sounding. “I actually agree with you on that.”
She nodded. “I witnessed that in my brother's marriage. I encouraged them both to go through with itâand by âencouraged,' I really mean âbrowbeat'âand they were very unhappy until the day the divorce was final. It pretty much ruined my relationship with his wife, Missy, who I'd known most of my life and considered a dear friend, and it didn't help things between me and Carter, either.”
He'd noticed the distance between Carter and Marnie. They'd barely spoken to each other all day, and the ride from the courthouse to the restaurant had been heavy from the tension hanging between them.
She patted his arm. “For both your sakes, I'm glad you figured it out before it was too late.” Shaking her head, she smiled crookedly at him. “One could wish you two had figured that out
people bought non-returnable bridesmaids' dresses, though.”
“I thought Reese picked dresses you all could wear again.”
Marnie snorted. “That's a lie all brides tell themselves and their bridesmaids. I've been in more weddings than I can count and I've never worn a bridesmaid's dress twice.”
“My apologies. I'll keep that in mind for next time.”
“Next time? Jumping right back into the saddle, are you?”
“I wouldn't exactly call it jumping, but I do plan to get married at some point. Don't you?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe. One day. A very long time from now, though.”
“Not such a romantic after all, then.”
“Just picky. And not at all in any rush.”
“Me, neither,” he clarified, “but I think I'm getting to a point in my life where I'd like to have that stability.”
“Stability?” Marnie laughed. “That's so romantic, I just might swoon.”
Her heel caught in a grate and Marnie stumbled. He grabbed her arm to steady her as she regained her balance. “I didn't know you meant that literally.”
“Don't sass me, mister.”
Just to be safe, he offered her his arm and tucked her hand in.
Marnie shot him a look like she was sizing him up for something. Then she sighed. “While I swore I would never get involved in someone else's love life ever again, I will break that vow long enough to offer you one piece of advice.”
He'd had plenty of advice, but he'd humor her. “And that would be?”
“When courting a lady, I'd avoid mentioning your philosophy about how marriage is more about a solid partnership than love and the importance of stability.”
“And why is that?”
“Because it sounds ridiculously antiquated. Like a woman's value lies solely in her ability to be the perfect helpmate to her husband. You might as well just barter with her father for land and cattle, too.”
How'd she get
? There was definitely bitterness under that statement. It seemed far safer, though, to just let it pass rather than open up a subject he had no idea how touchy she might be about it. He wasn't a therapist. He nodded. “Noted.”
But Marnie was warming to her subject. “WomenâI won't say all, but mostâwant some passion and excitement in a relationship. Something to get the heart pumping and the nerves sparking. A woman wants to be desired, not judged and rated on how successful a partnership it will make.”
Partly just to goad her, he shook his head sadly. “Passion is highly overrated.”
“You do realize I run a foundation for victims of domestic violence, right? I think many of them would trade passion and excitement for stability and peace.”
“You're twisting the definition of passion. Just because it
go bad, that doesn't mean it
. Or that there's something inherently wrong with it.”
“Maybe you should spend less time at the foundation and more time finding a woman who makes your heart beat fast just to be near her.”
“I thought you were only going to offer
piece of advice,” he teased.
Marnie paused and turned to face him. Those blue eyes were laughing as she rose onto her tiptoes and grabbed his shoulders earnestly. “I believe you have layers, Dylan Brookes. Discover them.
them. Find that passion and the woman who brings it out of you.”
She was close, very close, her lips only inches from his, and her light citrus scent filled his nose. Something in the air around them shifted, and Marnie swallowed hard. Then she released his shoulders and stepped back.
Clearing her throat, she pointed to a nondescript door nearby. “That's my stop. Thanks for walking with me.”
There was that strange feeling of disappointment again, only this time it held an edge he hadn't expected. “You're welcome, Marnie.”
“Um...if you just go up to the end of the block, you shouldn't have any problem hailing a taxi.”
The comfortable camaraderie had turned awkward and was only getting worse. “I'll be fine.”
With a bright, but maybe slightly forced, smile, Marnie held out her hand. “Good night, Dylan.”
He took hold of it, and like he'd done with any number of female friends, leaned in to kiss her cheek lightly. He'd done the maneuver hundreds of times, but instead of landing on her cheek, somehow his lips landed on hers.
There was a brief moment of frozen shock, but Marnie didn't pull away. Instead, her mouth softened and she leaned in to him, tightening her grip on his hand. Her lips were smooth and warm and the kiss sent a bolt of fire straight through him.
That edge made total sense now. He'd been
to kiss her. Since forever, it seemed. And
feeling was more of a surprise than the kiss itself.
The world seemed to contract, until there was nothing else except the taste of Marnie and the feel of her body molded against his like she'd been custom-made only for him. That light scent of her perfume filled his lungs with each breath, and his hands tangled in the soft silk of her hair, holding her in place as his mouth devoured hers.
He heard Marnie's low moan, a nearly primal sound that reverberated through him, bringing every nerve in his body to life to beg for more of her touch, her taste. That response was new, as if Marnie was the first and last woman he'd ever get to touch. It put a sharp, almost desperate edge on the desire slicing through him, but it felt so good he only wanted more.
He didn't understand why or how Marnie could do this to him, but he didn't really care, either.
That kiss went on and on, until they were both gasping for air and his heart felt like it was pounding through his chest. His whole body felt hard and tight, and it took willpower he didn't know he had to break the kiss and set Marnie back on slightly unstable legs instead of pushing her up against the metal door and losing himself in her.
Marnie's eyes were wide and dark, her lips slightly swollen and moist. She gave herself a small shake and then blew out her breath. “Well.”
What she meant by that, he had no idea, as his blood wasn't exactly circulating in the direction of his brain at the moment, and his mind was full of images and ideas that might scare Marnie if she knew.
“Um...” she began, only to stop and clear her throat. “I'm sure that Sven has a bottle of...um...” She paused again to swallow. “Something that probably needs drinking.”
Her hand was shaking as she reached out to toy with the button of his shirt. His skin was hot; it should have scorched her just from proximity. Those big blue eyes met his, and what he saw there nearly brought him to his knees.
“Would you like to come up for a nightcap?”
BLAME IT ON THE CHAMPAGNE
Copyright Â© 2013 by Nina Harrington
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