Authors: Jessica Gray
Hazel’s feet touched the ground, and she was thankful he kept hold of her while her feet and legs decided to cooperate.
The sexy stranger had simply carried her out of the water. And instead of being embarrassed or awkward, she’d felt so good.
She’d felt safe in his arms, so much so she’d actually laid her head on his shoulder, like a little child.
During this short moment, all had been right in her world. No sorrows. No worry. No stress.
When was the last time she’d been sorrow-free? She searched her memory to find a moment like that, and it occurred to her it had been a long time.
A very long time.
No, she hadn’t been sorrow-free since her mother became sick. Two and a half years ago. She shut down those thoughts; she was too tired, too cold to go down that road.
His soothing voice broke through her thoughts. “I haven’t seen you around here before. Where are you staying?”
She shook her head into his shoulder and clung tighter to him. Despite wretchedly freezing, she could feel heat rushing through her body when she noticed her tight nipples crushing against his chest. No doubt he felt them as well.
Of course her nipples were tight from the cold—right? But then, why did long-forgotten parts of her body react to his nearness in a way she wasn’t prepared or even willing to acknowledge?
Ethan didn’t seem to notice her discomfiture and hugged her closer, while he continued speaking. “You need to change into dry clothes and warm up. Where can I take you?”
Excellent question. Where? To my car?
Hazel had arrived in Sandy Beach a few hours previously, with nothing more than two suitcases and twenty-five dollars in her pocket.
She’d left her hometown to escape the memories of her mother. Escape the pain. And to start over with a new life. A life of being alone. Of having no one but herself to take care of.
Here, in the tourist town of Sandy Beach she’d find a new job and get her life back on track. But for now, she just needed a place to hunker down for the night.
Truck it is.
It wouldn’t be the first time she’d spent the night in the back of the old beat-up Toyota. The red paint had long since faded across the hood, the once white decorative stripes were barely visible, and the only thing good about the vehicle were the tires.
The interior was cracked vinyl, but Hazel had tucked a blanket around the bench seat, providing both comfort and relief from the bite of the vinyl seats. As far as homes went, it wasn’t much to be proud of, but it would have to do.
At least until she got her first paycheck, from the new job she was hopefully going to secure tomorrow. Hazel was a hairdresser and a darn good one at that.
She’d come to Sandy Beach, figuring that since it was a tourist place, she’d be sure to find something quickly. She hoped. It had to be a devil’s deal if none of the hair salons where she’d arranged for an interview tomorrow would offer her a job.
“Hazel?” Ethan’s voice asked again. “Where are you staying?”
“I… uhm, well… I haven’t…”
He looked at her with those dark chocolate eyes, so full of worry and tenderness, and she had the strangest urge to simply hand over the reins to her life to this virtual stranger and ask,
Please make everything alright.
Like she had done with her mother, when she was still a kid. Her mother would have stroked her hair and answered, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, everything will be alright.”
But she couldn’t do that now. Not since that fateful day, when she wasn’t a kid anymore and her mother had told her she was sick. With cancer. That day had changed her whole life. And nothing had been alright anymore after that day.
With her mother gone, she was now alone in this world.
His soft velvety voice brought her back to the present. “You don’t have a place to stay, do you?”
“No, I mean yes. Of course I do. It’s just I arrived here a few hours ago and haven’t had the time to look for a hotel room yet. But I’ll do so right now.”
“Looking like a wet cat and shivering like hell? You think this is a good idea?” An amused smile tugged at his lips, but his voice remained soft and caring. Too caring. Too sexy.
Why on earth did her stupid insides heat up at the sound of his voice?
She struggled to put some distance between them, but her shaky legs almost gave way under her. Every cell in her body ached and felt icy.
She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t even think of the words to say. His presence had caused her mind to go completely blank.
As if he sensed her difficulty, he softened his voice. “Where’s your suitcase?”
“In my car,” she managed through chattering teeth.
He smiled at her in encouragement. “And where’s your car?”
“Down there,” She pointed behind her and his mouth broke into a heartwarming grin. What exactly was so funny about her comment?
“I doubt that, because there’s only water for miles on end.”
She turned around and realized she’d lost her orientation. Again. She was so bad at directions. Her classmates had always teased her that she would lose her way on an open football field.
Eyes cast to the ground to hide the blush rising on her cheeks, she said, “I parked it somewhere along the beach. It can’t be difficult to find.”
Ethan bent over and picked up his socks and shoes. “You’re right, it can’t. Sandy Beach is a small place.” He sat down on a nearby fence post and put on his shoes before suggesting, “Why don’t I bring you back to my place so you can take a hot shower and change into some dry clothes?”
She shuddered at the thought of her, naked in his shower.
I’m not that kind of girl. Or am I? What kind of girl am I anyways…?
She had no earthly idea. She’d not had to be a
of girl for so long, she wasn’t sure where she fit now.
He must have seen her shudder and immediately rushed to explain himself. “Hazel, I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to help.”
She nodded with wide eyes glued to him. Right at that very moment, she wouldn’t have minded if he wanted to strip her bare and have his way with her.
She would have been willing to give him all the dirty things he might want to do with her. Right here on the beach, and again in his apartment, and forever.
Her thoughts surprised her. She hadn’t had sex in two and a half years. From the day when her mother had gotten her diagnosis, until her last dying breath, Hazel had been too occupied with taking care of her mother to even think about dating.
When she didn’t answer him, he offered another suggestion. “If you prefer, I could take you to my mother’s place. Would that be okay?”
How sweet of him.
She shuddered again, this time from the cold and the sense of loss at the idea he would leave her with his mother. No. She wanted to at least feel his presence some more.
“No. It’s alright. I mean. If you don’t mind. I’ll be gone before I can be a bother for you.”
Ethan was bothered alright. In fact, he’d never been more hot and bothered by a woman. That in itself was a shocker to him. Ethan was a womanizer and made no apologies for the fact.
But the emotions Hazel evoked in him involved more than the places below his waistline; they reached right inside his chest, involving his heart. And his soul.
He’d watched his brothers and sisters fall head over heels in love, and he’d been the first one to make jokes about it. His brothers were as bad as he was, and he’d believed it was a silly phase they were going through. But then he’d watched in growing disbelief as they’d completely changed their way of thinking about relationships.
Did I miss out on something?
The notion love at first sight had never convinced him. It had seemed –ridiculous. But a few minutes ago he’d learned it wasn’t. He loved this woman, whom he’d met minutes ago.
That thought sent pangs of anticipation, joy, and fear though his body. Ethan was threatened with getting lost in a thousand sensations too confusing to grasp.
He looked into Hazel’s sweet face and noticed she was watching him with a questioning look on her face. He replayed her last words and hurried to assure her she wasn’t a bother.
“Hazel, you’re no bother at all. Now, can you describe the place where you parked your car?” He frankly couldn’t get his head around the idea anyone could lose track of where they were. Not on the beach.
“Uhm… well, there were some tall grasses, and a little patch of gravel. I think it was a parking area…”
Ethan smiled and hopped off the fence post. “I know that place. Come on, it’s this way.”
She was still shivering, but he didn’t trust himself to touch her again until he gained control of himself. Ten minutes later they rounded a curve and he saw an old shabby pickup sitting in the turnout. “Is that your truck?” Hazel didn’t seem like the kind of girl who drove a truck.
Hazel nodded, her teeth chattering loudly enough for him to hear.
“Can you drive?” Ethan asked.
She nodded and produced an ignition key from her pocket. “I’m fine, just a little cold.”
“My place is just at the end of town. Get back on this road and just follow it along the lake until you come to the dead end. The road will turn left, and my house is at the end of the road.”
“Okay,” she nodded. She fumbled with the key, and he reached over and helped steady her shaky hand, keeping hold of it until she had turned the vehicle on. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye and whispered, “Thanks.”
He hopped into the truck besides her and repeated his directions while she drove, and five minutes later she was pulling her dilapidated truck into his driveway.
“Suitcases?” he asked, sliding from the truck and shutting the door.
“In the back.”
Ethan opened the door on the bed topper and saw two battered suitcases lying in the back. “Do you need both of these?”
“If you don’t mind…” she said, avoiding his eyes.
“Hazel, I wouldn’t offer if I did mind.” He wanted to take her into his arms, but instead grabbed her suitcases by the handles and pulled them from the truck bed.
He shut the door and then carried them up to the front door of his house, opened the door and proceeded through the house, down the hallway, stopping at a very large bathroom. Then he turned to Hazel, who had followed him without saying a word.
His heart was squeezed at the sight of her, lost and still in her wet clothes.
“The shower’s right there.” He opened up a closet and pulled out several towels, setting them on the counter. “Is there anything else you need?”
Hazel glanced at him and then shook her head and said in a shy voice, “No. This is more than enough. Thank you.”
“Good. Take your time in the shower and warm up.” He exited the bathroom, taking in her appearance once last time before he headed for the master bedroom.
He stripped off his wet clothing, then grabbed the towel he’d used this morning and rubbed his legs briskly to warm up.
When he heard the shower kick on, he no longer felt cold. His mind instantly filled with images of her undressing, slipping that white blouse over her head, and stripping the jeans down her toned calves. With those images in his mind, his body came to life.
Great. Now I’m hard
But he liked her too much to give in to his carnal desires and rush into the bathroom with her. Try as he might, Ethan couldn’t get control of his mind and with every sound that came from the bathroom, he imagined her corresponding actions.
The glass shower door closed – he saw her naked body stepping into the hot water of the shower.
Ethan sat down on the edge of the bed as every part of his body hardened painfully. When the sound of flowing water stopped, his mind went wild and he envisioned what was happening just down the hallway. Her hands rubbing soap over her stomach, reaching up to cup her enticing breasts…
He shook himself from the fantasy, slightly disturbed over his lack of self-control. By God, he was a grown man and not some hormone-driven teenager. He dressed in a fresh pair of dark jeans and a fir-green t-shirt.
His hair received a rub with the towel and a quick finger comb. On the way out, he caught a glance in the mirror and saw the five o’clock shadow, but with her in the bathroom, there was nothing he could do about it right now.
Then he walked over to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water, which he swallowed in one big gulp. His growling stomach reminded him it was already past dinner time; he opened up the fridge and his eyes landed on the pan of lasagna his sister Allison had left for him the day before.
He sent a short “thank you” toward his sister, who was a fabulous cook. A million times better than he would ever be. Her lasagna would play the leading part in his plan to convince Allison to stay. He put the pan into the microwave and set the timer.
After setting the table for two and with nothing more to do than wait, he paused for a moment, and listened for sounds from the bathroom. When he heard the water turn off, his imagination kicked into overdrive once again.
His bath towels, being rubbed across her naked, wet body. A searing pain stabbed his heart. He wanted to be the one rubbing her gorgeous body, caressing her smooth and silky skin. Drying her off, warming her up, touching her in the most intimate places. Sending shivers of pleasure across her skin, seducing moans of desire from her mouth.
He snorted and shook his head in derision.
I am not jealous of a bath towel!
Besides, she didn’t seem like the type of girl to sleep with and then toss to the side.
But if he told the truth, that was the only kind of girl he had experience with. The ones for one night. Hot and fierce sex. No strings attached. Never in his life had he pursued a long-term relationship, and he didn’t have the slightest clue how to go about that.
What if everything I do and say is wrong?
Thankfully the sound of the bathroom door opening and closing stopped his train of thoughts. A few seconds later, she appeared at the entrance to the kitchen and took his breath away. Just like that.
She’s so fricking gorgeous.
Her waist-length dark ebony hair was down and dry, flying around her like a wild mane with every step she took towards him.
He drank in her appearance. She’d changed into another pair of skin-tight white leggings, ones that contrasted beautifully with her ebony hair and tanned skin. Her red blouse featured an extravagant double ruffle down the front, and ruffled cuffs. It looked to be made of silk, and he tried to imagine any other woman he knew wearing that same blouse.
They would look hideous and ridiculous all at the same time. But on Hazel, the blouse was perfect. It gave her a romantic yet adventurous air, like… a pirate? No, more like Carmen in the opera by Georges Bizet.
His eyes danced down the double ruffle and then back up, pausing when he came to the deep vee of the neckline. His breath hitched when his eyes stayed glued to the two most gorgeous breasts he’d ever seen.
Breasts he wanted to fill his palms with, flick his tongue over and take into his mouth, drawing sensual moans from her lungs. He believed – no he knew – she would feel and taste awesome, and her body would be a perfect match to his when she molded herself around him and he entered her in the most delicious ways.
She cleared her throat and he realized he’d been caught staring at her chest.
“Is something wrong? Did I forget a button?” she asked, her sweet voice stirring him back to a state of painful arousal.
He tore his eyes away from her breasts and locked eyes with her, before he said in a gravelly voice, “No. There’s nothing wrong with you. Forgive me. I was staring, because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Hazel blushed and turned away from him. Before she could walk out on him, he threw down his trump card, “I was just warming up some lasagna; would you like to join me? You must be hungry.”
She looked uncertain. “I shouldn’t bother you any longer. I should be going…”
No, you shouldn’t, sweetheart.
The kitchen filled with the delicious smells of freshly baked lasagna, and he flashed her his most charming grin and said, “Smell that? This is probably the best lasagna you’ll eat in your life. My sister makes food that is out of this world. You don’t want to miss this. Stay and eat with me? Please?”