Authors: Cari Quinn
Tags: #Erotic Contemporary
Copyright © February 2011 by Cari Quinn
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Editor: Jana J. Hanson
Cover Artist: Valerie Tibbs
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* * *
She had a choice to make. To go or to stay. To have an incredible adventure or to stay snuggled in the soulless crypt of her comfort zone.
Fighting back a grin, Rachel Cooper sipped her iced tea.
Well, well, aren’t we
being melodramatic tonight.
Not that a bit of melodrama wasn‟t called for in circumstances such as these.
The unknown beckoned, via a cream square of linen stock that weighed down her ancient designer bag like a not-so-metaphorical rock. As she made the rounds at Stacia Winter‟s outdoor summer soiree, she resisted checking to make sure it hadn‟t been whisked away by an errant breeze or a malfunctioning clasp.
That little sucker wasn‟t escaping. No way, no how.
She hadn‟t expected the surprise run-in last month with her high school sweetheart to yield anything more than a few pleasant tingles. After all, Ryan had only been home for a short time and she‟d bumped into him at the lone grocery store in Calvin Bay, California, on the day he was due to leave. He‟d still been the three Ds: dark, deceitful, and damn hot, but she‟d believed their quick convo by the beer cooler would be the extent of their reunion.
Until the mail had arrived three days ago.
If she accepted the invitation to visit him in New York, would she be taking a gigantic step backward? Her mind said yes. The rest of her was much more ambivalent.
Such a trip required boundaries. If she made it clear that this journey into the past was for pleasure-seeking purposes only, dashed with a bit of closure, then what harm could be caused by a two-week jaunt to the city that never slept?
Besides, she hadn‟t had a vacation in forever. Or sex. The importance of that particular one-two punch couldn‟t be overstated.
Smothering another grin, Rachel let her gaze roam over the guests clustered around Stacia‟s enormous pool. Most of them wore virtually nothing in the oppressive August heat, but she knew each wisp of silk and swatch of spandex had cost more than she earned in a month as a middle school music teacher. Squarely stationed amid that pastel sea stood the solitary roadblock to her no-holds-barred vacation sex.
She‟d met Shawn mere moments after leaving the womb, thanks to the Coopers‟ and Griffins‟ lifelong friendship. To Rachel, the word “cult” sometimes seemed a more apt description of the close relationship the families shared.
They vacationed together, had adjacent compounds, and whenever their respective businesses overlapped—the Griffins owned an architecture firm known throughout the West Coast, and the Coopers published
mag for tony fashionistas this side of the Pacific—they employed each other‟s firms exclusively.
Following that grand tradition, Shawn had become her best friend before she‟d had a chance to consider whether it was what she truly wanted. Her elder by eighteen months, he‟d simply always been in her life.
She could recognize his spicy cologne at fifty paces, and if she closed her eyes, imagining his arms encircling her waist centered her faster than any fictitious happy place. He‟d been by her side, and she by his, through the best and worst of what life had dealt them.
Taking a slow sip of her drink, she narrowed her eyes to peruse the snug cut of Shawn‟s pleated gray trousers. Best friend or not, the guy had a drool-worthy behind. Hell, she wasn‟t blind, was she?
Shawn‟s surfer-god looks were enhanced by the inside-of-a-seashell smoothness being born into oodles of money had granted him. He‟d inherited his feline green eyes and golden hair from his mother and his laserlike focus from his father, CEO of Griffin Industries, LLC. But where he‟d gotten his ability to soothe her tempestuous moods, she‟d never know.
Though Shawn nodded at whatever Stacia whispered in his ear, his gaze sought Rachel‟s. Such was their way. She‟d always thought an invisible cord connected them, binding them to each other in a manner no one else could understand.
What he would
understand, however, were her plans to go to New York.
She‟d yet to decide if she‟d kept Ryan‟s invitation a secret because she‟d known Shawn would disapprove, or because she sensed he was right.
As tempting as the past could be, going back represented more than a chance to add a new epilogue to the ending of her relationship with Ryan. She just might get her heart chipped again.
One way or another.
She smiled at the intriguingly unfamiliar man who had appeared at her side.
“Hi. Do we know each other?”
“No, but I know of you.” He gave her a cocky smile, one that went well with his reflective sunglasses. “Want to dance?”
She took the mystery man‟s tanned forearm, her gaze again connecting with Shawn‟s. Ignoring the sudden quickening of her heartbeat, she let her partner steer her into the music.
He was watching her again.
If he were being honest, Shawn could admit he‟d spent a great deal of his thirty years watching Rachel. But he wasn‟t a stalker. Alas, no, he was her closest friend, which in some ways was even worse.
She wasn‟t gorgeous in the conventional California sense. Her curves, currently displayed in a black jersey dress, were a shade too generous, her dark hair a tad too unruly as it cascaded over her sun-kissed shoulders. Her eyes weren‟t a tranquil blue, but an intense, snapping brown that made any other color seem bland in comparison.
He‟d been in love with her for, oh, half a dozen years or so, and in serious infatuation even before that.
But Rachel wasn‟t in love with him. Instead, she‟d chosen to give her love—or its nearest statistical equivalent—to a number of their town‟s eligible men. And now, while Shawn sipped his Grey Goose martini at the latest in the long string of parties that had dotted his summer, she danced with bachelor number thirty-five.
He‟d cajoled her to come with him to this thing, but she wasn‟t dancing with him. Nope. She preferred to dance with the first himbo who twirled the pretty pink umbrella in her mixed drink.
Maybe she teased guys as easily as she breathed, but she didn‟t sleep with most of the men she dated. Nah, his Rachel never held back the deets when it came to her conquests.
Or at least she hadn‟t before the last couple months. Lately, she‟d been reticent to discuss anything deeper than which movie they should rent.
Hell, it wasn‟t like he actually wanted to hear about her lovers. Not that he hadn‟t had a couple of his own in the recent past, mainly to make it seem like he wasn‟t some lovesick jerk following around a woman who viewed him as the only guy she could watch chick flicks with.
He hated chick flicks, but what was he supposed to do? Thus far, tearing up the sheets hadn‟t been on the table.
“You planning on sitting here brooding all night?” Rachel grabbed the seat beside him, then the drink out of his hand. He‟d saved her his olive, which she snagged off the tiny sword with a slick lip roll that made him shift uncomfortably in his Armani suit. “Not that it doesn‟t work.”
“What works?” Shawn motioned to a passing waiter. Almost immediately, another martini was in his hand and Rachel was again after his olive.
“The whole broody male thing. That dangerous, leave-me-alone aura paired with a dark gray suit that fits like a wet dream.” She laughed at his swift glance in her direction. “No wonder none of the women dare approach you.”
He took back his martini. Damned if she didn‟t set his cock twitching with every flirtatious swish of her tongue over her mouth. “You did.”
“You don‟t scare me.” Leaning in, Rachel tangled her nails in his blond hair and tugged. “I‟ve seen you naked, remember?”
“That was thirteen years ago.” He edged back, hoping to avoid picking up her scent on his clothes. She always smelled of coconuts and sun-warmed tanning lotion, an irresistible combination to a man who‟d grown up with the Pacific practically in his backyard. “And I‟ll remind you, you interrupted me in the middle of a cold shower.”