Authors: Olivia Jaymes
Tags: #Comtemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Short Read, #Military, #Kindle World, #Applewood, #Chicago, #FBI, #Career, #Nephew, #Nurse, #Deceased Sister, #Emotional, #Second Chance, #Emptiness, #Lifetime, #Family, #Care, #Years, #Adult, #Erotic
“I’M ALL FINISHED up in the bedroom. That only leaves the table you want built for the back porch.”
Cal was wiping his hands on a towel as he joined her in the dining room of the haunted house. Mika was at the table putting the finishing touches on some throw pillows for the parlor. She’d tried to keep her distance from Cal all week but he kept finding reasons to talk to her about this and that. Nothing of real importance but it still all seemed perfectly legitimate.
But it was still awkward as hell.
After the kiss they’d shared she simply didn’t know how she was supposed to act. She’d had a week to think it over and she wasn’t any closer to sorting out her emotions. All she knew was she still had feelings for Cal. Strong feelings that weren’t going to fade away on their own. They hadn’t after all this time so it looked like they were here to stay.
Now the only question was what was she prepared to do about it?
Mika was a woman who valued bravery and right now she wasn’t a shining example. Her heart was crying out for one more chance with Cal and her head was in a semi-permanent state of muddle. It didn’t make for the best combination.
“I can’t believe how quickly you’ve worked through that list. I thought it would take twice as long.”
Mika congratulated herself on how normal she sounded and not like the confused, sleep deprived woman she actually was at this moment. She handed him a bottle of water from the cooler at her feet, their fingers brushing just long enough to send a bolt of electricity straight up her arm and down to her already fluttering stomach.
“I like to keep busy. Dad doesn’t have much work these days.”
“Is he going to retire soon?”
Cal sat down in a folding chair with a soft groan. “I hope so, but he likes to stay busy so I guess a carpentry job every now and then isn’t such a terrible thing. It’s big jobs like this that I don’t think he should be doing.”
The haunted house was a huge job and Cal had donated every bit of his labor. It was above and beyond the call of duty, especially since he didn’t call Applewood home any longer.
A small factoid she needed to remember.
“I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
She cursed silently as her voice sounded more breathless than she intended.
“You would have managed. You always have before.” He tipped the bottle back and drained the last of the icy liquid. “Where’s Alex tonight? I thought he was going to help me stain those chairs.”
Mika plucked at a thread on her sweater. “He’s, um, he’s with Charlotte and her kids. He’s spending the night. Then tomorrow night they’ll stay at our house. We switch off so the boys can spend time together.”
Cal’s brows shot up and Mika’s heart beat a little faster. Since they’d bared their souls they hadn’t been alone – truly alone – but they were now. All the other volunteers had wandered off to their homes.
“I’m sure he and Kenny will have fun. So what do you have planned for your evening alone?”
Mika shrugged carelessly as if there wasn’t a wall of living, breathing tension between them at the moment.
“Probably a hot bath and some pizza. Maybe read a good book.”
Mika hadn’t sat down long enough to read a book in years. She’d been too busy being mother and father to a little boy that needed both while making a living at the same time.
“How about dinner and a movie?”
It was her turn to look surprised. She had to consciously close her mouth as it was hanging open with shock.
Did he just ask her out on a date?
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Cal.”
“Why? Because we kissed the other night and you liked it? Well, I liked it too. I liked it so much I think we should do it again.”
She wasn’t prepared for this.
“I didn’t like it.”
That only made Cal grin and laugh because they both knew she was a big, fat liar. She’d loved that kiss and had been thinking about it constantly since it had happened.
“You’re lucky lightning is busy elsewhere, sweetheart, or you’d be fried. Now let’s try this again. Would you like to go out tonight?”
“No,” she mumbled, shoving papers willy-nilly into her bag and trying not to look him in the eyes. She needed to get the hell out of here because she was starting to feel weak. “I need to go home.”
to go home. You
to face the fact that there’s still something between us. Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out what it is?”
Mika slapped her purse down on the table, anger and frustration bubbling just underneath the surface as she held on to her temper by a thread. “You are such an arrogant ass. You think no woman can resist you.”
Cal shook his head and stepped closer so she had to look up at him. “Not in the least. The fact is I’m not such a great bargain right now. A man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Unemployed to boot. That’s hardly irresistible. But I haven’t stopped thinking about that kiss and I think you’ve done the same thing. I don’t know where this might lead but I know that I want to follow where it goes. Tell me you don’t feel the same.”
“So what if I do? I know how this ends, Cal. I was there the last time, remember?”
“Not this time,” Cal growled, wrapping an arm around her and yanking her close. Their bodies were melded together and she was swamped with his heady scent, her senses almost drunk. “I’ve thought a lot about us and there’s nothing for me back in Chicago. I’m staying put this time.”
With every fiber of her being she wanted to believe him. It would all be like a fairytale with her, Cal, and Alex living happily ever after in a home with a white picket fence.
She didn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore.
“You’ve rented the house for three months.”
His smile widened and his arms tightened around her, their lips so close. “Sometimes I forget how news travels around here. It doesn’t make any difference though. I’ve done a lot of thinking and I’ve decided to stay.”
“You could never be happy here.”
“The old me couldn’t but I’ve changed, sweetheart. Already I feel less stressed and happier than I have in a long time. It’s over with the FBI and I know it. I’ll be lucky if they don’t throw me out on my ass.”
“So you’ll take me as a consolation prize?”
The words came out more bitter than she’d planned but there was still too much anger in her heart to believe his sweet words.
“I’ll take you as my second chance at happiness. I blew the first but I’m hoping you’ll want to try again. What we have is rare and I realize that now. I think you know it too.”
“When did you come to that conclusion?”
His large hand, callused and rough, cupped her cheek. “This morning, actually. I might be a little slow on the uptake but once I get there I’m all in. Now I’ll ask again. Will you go out to dinner with me?”
“No,” she said again but it didn’t have the force of the first one. He was looking at her with an expression of longing that she’d almost forgotten. “No.”
“Coward,” he whispered in her ear, his breath caressing her skin and sending sparks straight to her toes.
“Challenging me isn’t going to work. And I’m not a coward.”
“That’s the damn truth. The woman I knew wouldn’t have run from this, Mika. She wouldn’t run away from her feelings. That’s one of the things I loved about her. Her innate honesty. You were the first one to say I love you. You were courageous and I thought you were the most amazing woman I’d ever known. Hell, I still do.”
How was she supposed to stay strong when all she wanted to do was collapse in his arms? It wasn’t fair and it pissed her off but he was right about one thing. She’d changed since she became Alex’s mother. She’d become a shadow of her former self, playing it safe at all times and eschewing risk. It hadn’t happened overnight but here she was a real wimp. The kind of woman who could bore herself to tears.
“Fine. Just dinner.”
“And a movie,” he pressed but she shook her head in exasperation. He’d always been like this. Give the man an inch and he thought he was a ruler.
“Maybe a movie. Don’t push me, Cal. I can easily just go home and eat in front of the television by myself.”
“Okay, you win. Dinner and maybe a movie.”
“What did you have in mind? The diner?”
Cal’s arms loosened and he stepped back and began packing away his tools one by one. “Actually I heard about that new steak house in Virginia Beach and I’ve been wanting to try it. Are you game?”
He knew very well she loved a well-cooked filet with a baked potato on the side. Her answer was a given.
“Then I definitely need to change.” She looked down at her faded blue jeans and white blouse, already second-guessing the entire evening. “Is that okay?”
“Of course. I can’t go like this either. Why don’t I pick you up in about an hour?”
Like a date. With kisses and stuff. She was such an idiot. Cal made her do things she wouldn’t normally do.
“An hour,” she echoed, grabbing up her things and making her way toward the car. She didn’t want to think about how unwise the entire idea was. “I’ll be ready.”
As ready as she’d ever be.
CAL RAN HIS finger around his collar again as he and Mika sipped their coffee. They were sitting in the new steakhouse in Virginia Beach after enjoying a delicious meal and excellent service. The restaurant had certainly lived up to its hype and he and Mika had managed to keep the conversation light and friendly for most of the meal.
He was still nervous as hell. Everything he wanted was riding on this so the pressure was on. He’d always thrived on the adrenaline but the sweat pooling at the back of his neck was no joke. This tiny woman held his future happiness in her hands.
She was nervous too.
She fidgeted in her chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs while she jangled her foot to some beat that only she could hear. Now that dinner was drawing to an end she was playing with her spoon, her gaze riveted to the flatware as if it was the first utensil she’d ever seen in her life.
“So what do you think about a movie? I’ll let you choose. They have them all here in Virginia Beach.”
The Applewood cinema only showed two movies at a time and they were whatever Sam’s wife enjoyed, which meant they were usually chick flicks of some sort where someone dies in the end and everyone cries. Not a car chase, alien, or superhero to be found.
“It’s kind of late.”
Mika still didn’t look up, needlessly stirring her coffee, the china clinking with every turn of the spoon.
Cal quickly checked his watch and grinned. “It’s nine o’clock. That’s not late unless you’re Alex’s age. We’re all grown up and we can stay out when it’s not a school night.”
Mika finally looked up at him a reluctant smile on her lips. “I’m usually passed out on the couch by nine-thirty. It’s funny because I used to be such a night owl.”
Laughing, he remembered a few crabby, cranky mornings but he’d always known the way to get on her good side. “I never could convince you that the sunrise was something worth getting up for. You once threw your alarm clock at me when we were going fishing.”
“Why do fish get up so early anyway?” Mika wrinkled her nose and Cal had to quell the urge to kiss her right here at the table in front of all the other patrons.
“I doubt they have a big social life so they probably go to bed early.”
Mika tapped her chin in thought. “I think they probably do. They swim around in schools so they’re always socializing. I bet fish are all extroverts.”
This was more like the woman he’d left behind. Zany. Challenging. Gorgeous.
When he’d picked her up tonight he’d had to put his tongue back in his head. Dressed in a little black dress that skimmed her thighs and showed just a hint of cleavage, she looked mouth-wateringly beautiful. She’d left her auburn hair down and all he could think about was running his fingers through those silky strands.
“I know what you’re doing, sweetheart. You’re trying to distract me from the original question. Do you want to go see a movie?”
“No,” she sighed, setting her spoon down on the saucer with a clatter. “I want to go to the beach. I haven’t been in ages. Will you take me?”
Moonlight, sand, and Mika frolicking on the shore. Hell yes, he’d take her. Then he’d kiss her under that moon and remind her of all the good things they’d had together.
* * *
THE WATER WAS cold.
Mika danced in the soft sand as the waves lapped at her toes. Giggling as the foam tickled the soles of her feet, she reached out to grab Cal’s arm and pull him in with her. They’d both taken off their shoes but mostly he’d stood there watching her act like a crazy loon.
It had been so damn long since she’d had…fun.
No worries in sight and nothing but the night ahead. Alex was safely with Charlotte. The haunted house was ahead of schedule. Even the term papers she’d assigned had been read and graded. There wasn’t a speed bump in sight.
“Christ on a unicycle,” Cal hissed as another wave crashed into their legs. “This water is like ice. Now I know why we only came here in the summer.”
“It’s not that bad,” she protested, pulling him deeper until the water reached their knees. Well, her knees. He was much taller. “It’s refreshing.”
The full moon hung overhead and she could clearly make out his scandalized features. “If this is only refreshing you might like to take a dip into Lake Michigan in January. You’d love it.”
Digging her toes into the sand, she closed her eyes and felt the in and out pull of the tide plus the gentle breeze on her face. She hadn’t felt so alive in years and a huge part of it was this man.
She wanted to be the person she used to be.
She wanted to do that with Cal.
Mika opened her eyes and stepped closer to Cal before grabbing his shirt with both hands, the material bunched in between her fingers. She tugged on the fabric until they were almost nose to nose. This was the most important question of her life and she needed the answer. She couldn’t wait to figure it out at some later date. It was now or never.
“Are you really staying in Applewood? Don’t bullshit me, Cal. Tell me the truth. Are you staying?”
She’d practically shouted but thank the gods there wasn’t anyone around. She couldn’t drag her gaze away and they simply stood there for a long time looking into one another’s eyes. She hoped he could see that she needed to know the truth and nothing but the truth.
“Yes,” he finally said, his voice deep but still soft in the silence. “I’m staying. Applewood is home and so are you. I had a long talk with my mother on Sunday and she set me straight about a lot of things. I may not know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life but I know that I want you in it.”
Mika wanted desperately to believe. Cal had evoked so many emotions in her since the day he’d walked back into her life. It was as if she’d been asleep for years but was now awakened, seeing everything clearly. So many mistakes, so many hurts. Was she arrogant to think they could wipe that away and start again?
“You’re not sure about me, are you? I’ve never lied to you, Mika. In the past I never said that I’d stay. I never made you a promise I couldn’t keep. So when I say to you now that I’m not going anywhere I’m telling the God’s honest truth. Will you trust me?” Cal asked, his fingers tracing her jaw and taking her breath away. She’d been alone way too long and had missed his strong hands. “Maybe this will remind you that you can.”
His lips were on hers and she gripped his shoulders as the world spun on its axis. The very breath seemed to be sucked from her body even as her heart sounded in her ears like a timpani. This was what she’d pushed out of her mind, told herself she didn’t need.
Pleasure and warmth rushed through her veins as one of his hands slid up her ribcage to cup her breast. His thumb strummed the already hard nipple poking through the lace of her bra and the thin material of her dress. She pressed herself closer, wanting to feel every muscled inch of him against her own body. Right now he was everything and her world had narrowed to only the two of them on this deserted strip of beach.
His arm slid under her knees and she felt herself lifted out of the water and carried to the blanket he’d pulled from the back of his truck earlier. Dragging his lips away, he set her down gently before lying on top of her, his arms taking his weight and effectively caging her in.
She wouldn’t have moved for the world.
The second kiss was completely different than the first. Cal took his time exploring every nook and cranny of her mouth as if they had eternity to just lie here under the stars and ignore the rest of the heartless, demanding world.
She slid her hands down his spine, feeling the muscles move and bunch under her palms. She pressed butterfly kisses to his jaw before blazing a trail down the cord of his neck, his pulse strong under her lips. His skin tasted slightly salty and she let her tongue lazily lap at the flesh until he groaned. His mouth and tongue glided down to her collarbone before beginning a sensual foray to the swell of her breast. His tongue snaked out and slid under the neckline of her dress and the lace of her bra, just skimming the edge of a pebbled bud.
Awash in sensation, she arched her back to give him more access as her hands continued their journey to catalog his every response to her touch, each moan and whisper amping her desire up that much higher.
She’d missed this and even if he left tomorrow she couldn’t be sad that she’d experienced it.
One more time.
* * *
MIKA’S SKIN FELT like the finest satin and he greedily slid his hand under the skirt of her dress, up the warm flesh of her thigh. He brushed his fingers over her mound and then played with the lace elastic waistband of her panties, knowing she loved it when he teased her a little.
She moved restlessly underneath him and he chuckled at her impatience when she nipped at the cord of his neck, molding her soft curves to his hard body. It had simply been way too long since the last time he’d touched and held her this way. He must have been crazy to ever leave and he sure as hell wouldn’t do it again. His career hadn’t given him a fraction of the satisfaction ten minutes in her company had.
A white hot flame built in his abdomen as he kissed, licked, and nipped every inch of exposed flesh. Her lips tasted of wine and chocolate mousse and he couldn’t get enough of her sweetness.
His fingertips sensuously glided over the spot where her hip met her thigh and she moaned as he tickled the skin before sliding up under the edge of her cotton panties. His thumb caressed the pearl between her legs while he eased one finger into her tight channel, already slick and hot. Her hips rolled as Cal found the sensitive spot deep inside that he knew so well and he slowly moved his finger in a circular motion while his thumb did the same on her swollen bud.
The catch of her breath and the trembling of her legs told Cal without any doubt that Mika was teetering on the edge. He added a second finger and Mika sobbed as her climax took over. Her tight walls clenched on his hand and he could feel the waves of her completion along with her panting breath. As Mika came down to earth she whispered his name in a soft voice that twisted his heart, hard and cruel. He’d never leave her again. Being with her like this was what had been missing from his life.
Scratch that. He hadn’t had a life. He’d had an existence.
Cal held her, neither of them speaking for a long time until her hand wandered down his torso and rested on his hard length. Sucking in a tortured breath, he jerked away from her questing fingers and lifted them to his lips.
“Easy, sweetheart. Tonight is for you.”
As solid steel and it fucking hurt, but he knew deep down that she wasn’t ready for them to do more than this. She wasn’t convinced of his sincerity. Right now this was her libido doing all the talking.
“I am but it won’t kill me to wait. The cold, hard fact is you still don’t believe me, do you? You think I still might leave. Until you can trust that what I say is the truth I don’t think we should take this any further.”
Mika slowly sat up and pulled her knees to her chest in a protective gesture. He’d guessed correctly. She wasn’t there yet. She still couldn’t believe in him and what was between them.
“I want to believe you,” she finally said, her chin resting on her knees. “Nothing has been the same since you left.”
“For me either and I plan to spend the next few weeks proving that to you. I want you to trust me again.” He played with a strand of her silky hair, tickling her cute nose. “I need you to.”
“How do you propose to do that?”
Mika reached out and captured his hand with hers, their fingers entwined. She looked wonderfully mussed, her hair tousled and her lips swollen from their kisses. The neckline of her dress was slightly askew and it made him want to press her back onto the grass and continue what they’d started.
But he didn’t do it. Instead he chuckled and placed a kiss in the center of her palm before placing it on his heart where she could feel its heavy thud.
“I courted you once and won your love so I think I might be able to do it again. When was the last time a man made a fuss over you, Mika Adams? I’m going to bring you flowers, hold your hand, and steal kisses on your front porch swing. I’m going to let the whole town know that you’re my girl. Will you let me do that? Will you let me earn your trust again?”
He held his breath as she gazed steadily into his eyes. Even in the dim light he could see the emotions flit across her features. First fear, then want, and finally hope.
“Yes, although I have to admit it’s been a long time since I was courted. I may have forgotten how to act. You might need to take it easy on me in the beginning.”
“Easy,” he scoffed, a smile blooming on his face. “Baby, prepare to be wowed and wooed.”
He had a mission and it was only the most important of his life.