Read The Drifter Online

Authors: Kate Hoffmann

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The Drifter (4 page)

BOOK: The Drifter
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There wasn’t much use fighting it. And if he had any doubts about her need for him, they were banished the moment she stripped off his shirt and tossed it aside. Charlie cupped her face in his hands, molding her mouth against his as her hands wandered over his hair. They stumbled backward, kicking off their shoes along the way.

It had been a while since he’d gotten naked with a woman, so his reaction to her touch was immediate and intense. He tugged off her jacket, then drew her camisole over her head. When she brushed up against him, Charlie’s breath caught in his throat, the friction causing him to grow even harder.

He steered her toward the leather sofa in the center of the living room. “Tell me you want this,” he whispered against her mouth. He didn’t want any misunderstandings.

“Yes,” she breathed. She grabbed his hand and placed it on her breast, pushing aside the satiny fabric until he touched bare skin. Charlie rubbed his thumb across her nipple, bringing it to a hard peak.

He remembered her body so well and the way
she reacted to his touch had been burned into his brain. Maybe he’d always known he’d come back, that what they’d shared would be revisited one day. That’s why he hadn’t forgotten her or the way her skin felt beneath his touch.

Spanning her waist with his hands, Charlie pulled her along toward the bedroom, both of them bumping into furniture along the way. But when she cried out, he stopped. Evie bent over at the waist and moaned. “Ow, ow, ow.”

“What is it?”

“I stubbed my toe. Ow. Oh, I think it’s broken.”

Charlie fumbled for the light. When he flipped it on, he found her sitting on the floor, holding her foot, her eyes watering. He squatted down beside her. “Let me see,” he said.

She looked up at him, her pretty face etched in a grimace of pain. “No.”

He gently pried her fingers away, then lifted her foot to examine it. “Wiggle your toe,” he ordered.

She winced, then did as he asked. Gently, he rubbed the hurt away, then drew her foot to his lips and kissed her toe. “Better?”

“No,” she said.

He kissed it again. “Now?”

“I think the gods are telling us that we shouldn’t do this.”

Charlie scooped her up into his arms, then straightened. Compared to the backpack he’d hauled
up mountainsides, she was as light as a feather. He nuzzled her neck. “I think the gods have better things to worry about than us,” he murmured.

He carried her into the dark bedroom and set her on the bed, then stretched out beside her, pushing her back into the pillows. Furrowing his hands through her hair, he kissed her, taking time to calm her fears. “Better?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied in a breathless voice.

He found the clasp of her bra and unhooked it, then brushed it aside. Her body hadn’t changed much in five years, though she’d become a bit curvier. He liked the way she looked, like a woman who occasionally enjoyed a good meal. Charlie had never cared for obsessively thin women or those who used too much makeup or dressed provocatively. In truth, for the past five years, he’d been looking for someone exactly like Eve.

Slowly, they both shed the remainder of their clothes, each item tossed to the floor to make way for a more detailed exploration. Everywhere he touched was perfection, soft and yielding, warm flesh beneath silken skin.

He rolled on top of her, bracing his hands on either side of her body. The heat of his erection pressed against her thighs and she shifted, pulling her legs up along his hips. Charlie held his breath, fighting the urge to slip inside of her.

With a low moan, he trailed a line of kisses from
her shoulder to her breast, taking time to caress her nipple with his tongue. Then he moved lower still, to her belly and then to the damp spot between her legs.

Though they’d done all this before, he hadn’t remembered this overwhelming need to please her. This time, he was looking for more than just a physical connection, more than ultimate release. He wanted to possess not just her body, but her heart and her soul.

She was wet already and she guided him to the spot, her fingers tangling in his hair. The moment he touched her with his tongue, she cried out in surprise, her hands clutching, her body twisting.

Charlie waited, then began again, slowly teasing her toward the edge then bringing her back again. He was interested only in her pleasure, in her release. But as he drew her closer, he felt his own need being driven by her response.

She murmured his name, pushing him away. “I want to feel you inside me,” she said. Charlie didn’t need to be asked twice. He reached for the drawer of the bedside table and retrieved a box of condoms. After tearing a packet open with nervous fingers, he sheathed himself. But he decided to continue what he’d started.

Slowly and deliberately, he caressed her with his tongue and when he was sure she couldn’t last any
longer, he moved up along her body until he was buried deep within her.

It took only one stroke before she dissolved into her orgasm, her body first arching, and then shuddering in her release. He felt her spasms and a moment later, Charlie joined her, waves of pleasure washing over him until he was lost in the intensity of their coupling.

They rode the crest for what seemed like forever. And when they were both completely spent, Charlie rolled off of her, pulling her body against his. She pressed a kiss to the center of his chest and he inhaled the sweet scent of her hair.

“How is your toe?” he asked.

“What toe?” she murmured, with a soft giggle.

“Hmm. I think we’ve come up with a cure for stubbed toes.” He drew back and looked down into her face, filling in the details that the dark room did not allow. “So what are we going to do about this? Because I want to spend a lot more time with you.”

“Naked?” she asked.

“Yes. But clothed, too.”

“How long are you going to stay this time?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“A week?”

“At least,” Charlie said. Was that all she wanted of him? Just a week? It didn’t seem like enough time. But he could give her at least that. And maybe, after a week, she’d want another and another.

“Right now, I think I could stay here for a year. Maybe ten or twenty.”

She brushed her lips against his. “Don’t make any promises you can’t keep,” she whispered.

Maybe it was time he started making promises, Charlie mused. If he wanted someone to share his life, then he had to be willing to give something in return. And no matter how he looked at it, Eve belonged in his life. Now he’d just have to convince her.

 

E
VE OPENED HER EYES
, rubbing the sleep from them as she peered at her surroundings. This wasn’t her bedroom. It took a moment for her to remember where she was—Charlie’s house. They’d spent the night together and sometime in the hours before dawn, she’d fallen asleep.

She rolled over to find Charlie’s half of the bed cold and empty. The scent of bacon and coffee hung in the air and she could hear noise coming from the kitchen. Eve grabbed his shirt from the floor and pulled it over her naked body, then got to her feet.

She found him standing in front of the stove, dressed in a faded pair of jeans and nothing more. “What are you doing?” she asked before stifling a yawn.

“Making breakfast,” Charlie said, glancing over his shoulder. “Are you hungry?”

She stood next to him and stared at the bacon
draining on top of a paper towel. “Not for that. Do you know what’s in bacon? You might as well just swallow a handful of deadly chemicals.”

“I love bacon,” Charlie said. “Everything tastes better with bacon.” An English muffin popped out of the toaster. He slathered it with butter and honey and offered it to her. “No chemicals in this. All natural, whole grain.”

She reluctantly took a bite. “Well, Bacon Boy, I’m proud of you. Are the eggs in that omelet from free-range chickens?”

“I don’t know. The chickens weren’t hanging out at the store so I didn’t have a chance to ask. Are you really going to be that fussy and ruin my efforts here?”

Eve sighed, realizing there was a proper time to stand on her soapbox and a time to kick it aside. “Sorry. But when I’m doing the cooking, I’m going to make sure you eat healthy.”

“Does that mean that when I’m doing the cooking, you’ll eat unhealthy?” he asked, waving a piece of bacon in front of her face. “Tempted?”

“It takes a lot more than bacon to tempt me,” she said before taking another bite of the muffin.

Charlie grabbed her hand and took a bite of the muffin, then grinned. “You were tempted last night.”

She felt a blush warm her cheeks. “That was different. What you were offering was…healthy…and
natural. Low in cholesterol and calories, and high on fun. If bacon had as much to offer, maybe I’d start sleeping with a slab under my pillow.”

“I’m not sure I could give up meat,” he said, taking a bite of the bacon. “I’m a guy. We need protein or we can’t function. And don’t tell me I can get protein from tofu or those sprouty things.”

“You should at least stick to fish. And chicken, maybe.”

He flipped the omelet he was cooking, then cut it in half and slid the pieces onto two plates. “Veggies and cheese inside.”

“When did you learn to cook?” she asked as she grabbed a fork.

“I’ve always known how to cook. My mom worked full-time after my dad died. Me and my sister and brother were left to take care of ourselves. Lena did the cleaning, Ben took care of the yard and I cooked.” He handed her a pepper grinder. “As I recall, the last time we were together, we didn’t think a whole lot about food.”

“We’re more mature now,” she teased. “We have our priorities in order.” She took a bite of her omelet. “You never told me much about your family.” In fact, she’d never asked. Their first relationship had been all about sex. She’d always thought they’d have time to get to know each other. “How old were you when your dad died?”

“Ten,” he said. “He was a good man. He worked
really hard and we didn’t see much of him. He traveled a lot on business.”

“Is that why you’re always chasing bigger and better adventures?”

“What do you mean?”

“Were you running from your own mortality?”

“I don’t know,” he said, as if taken aback by the notion. “Maybe. Someone else told me the same thing.”

“Men do that,” she said. “That’s why they cheat on their wives. To make themselves feel young and virile. Climbing a mountain will do the same thing. You get addicted to the thrill.” She sighed softly, then turned her attention back to her omelet.

“I gotta tell you, last night was pretty thrilling.”

Eve looked up to see him staring at her. A shiver skittered through her as she remembered all that had passed between them. “For me, too. It’s…It’s been a while. Really, a long while. Too long.”

“For me, too.”

“Two years?” she asked.

He drew in a deep breath, then shook his head. “Not quite that long.”

“So you thought I’d be a sure thing?” she asked.

“No,” he said, his tone adamant.

“What did you have planned when you stopped by the restaurant?”

“A drink and some conversation. But it seems like we always get distracted when we’re together.”

“I’m not surprised we ended up in bed,” she said.

“We never really had an end to things five years ago.”

“We didn’t? I thought you marrying Dave put a nice tidy period at the end of it.”

“I married Dave because—”

“Matt,” he corrected.

“I know!” Eve cried. “I just thought it was easier to go along. Which is exactly what I did with Matt. He seemed like the easy choice,” she said. “The path of least resistance. You would have been the difficult choice. Besides, you just disappeared in the middle of the night. I didn’t have to choose. You did that for me.”

“Well, I won’t be doing that again,” Charlie said. He stepped around the counter and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her into a long, deep kiss. “I’m sticking around for a while.” He tugged her toward the hall. “Come on, I want you back in my bed. We need to work up an appetite for lunch.”

“I have to be at the restaurant in an hour,” she protested. But her resistance was weak at best. She had a staff of kitchen help who knew exactly what to do to prepare for the lunch crowd. And Lily would be there to supervise. She deserved a day off every now and then.

He wrapped his arms around her thighs and picked her up. “I’ll have you there in forty-five minutes,” he
teased. “Or six hours. Depending upon how good I am.”

There was no doubt about his skills in the bedroom, she mused. And six hours sounded like just about the right amount of time to satisfy all her cravings. They’d enjoy a sexual feast now and she’d deal with the famine later.

3

H
E HEARD THE KEY IN THE LOCK
and Charlie smiled. He and Evie had spent the last three nights together and this would make a fourth. Though their nights began late, usually around midnight, they could afford to sleep in. Eve usually left for the restaurant at eleven.

“I’m in here,” he called when he heard her footsteps heading toward the kitchen. A few moments later, she appeared at the end of the sofa, a bag slung over her shoulder. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the bag.

“I’m tired of rushing home to shower and grab fresh clothes in the morning. So I brought a few things along. If you have a problem with that, then tough.”

Charlie grinned. “No problem. But we should probably set some ground rules if you’re planning to move in.”

“I’m not moving in. I’m just visiting. Both you and I know that this is a short-term thing.”

“You could move in,” he said. “It would make things more convenient.” There was a time in his life when he never would have made a suggestion like that, but now, the prospect of having Evie with him full-time had distinct advantages.

“No. I think we’re fine the way things are.” She dropped her bag on the floor, then sat down next to him on the sofa. “What are you doing?”

“Putting together a slide presentation on the seven summits. I’m doing a couple of lectures at the university next week.”

“So that’s why you came back,” she said. “It wasn’t for me.”

“No. Not technically. But when I accepted the job, I knew I might see you again.”

“Show me,” Evie said, pointing to the computer. “I’d like to see what took you away from me the first time.”

Over the next two hours, Charlie went through the photos he’d compiled, explaining the challenges of each climb and the significance in his quest. They opened a bottle of wine and curled up together, the computer resting on his lap and Evie tucked beneath his arm.

When it was over, she took a deep breath and sighed. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “You risk
your life. People die. They freeze to death or fall. For what?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I used to believe that it was about the challenge, facing nature head-on and coming out the winner. Conquering my environment. You do it, too. I’ve seen you in the kitchen. When things seem to be the most chaotic, you get this look on your face. This determination to overcome anything that fate throws in your way.”

“No,” she said. “There’s no comparison. My life doesn’t hang in the balance because of a cheese soufflé. Weren’t you scared you might die out there?”

“No,” he said. “I never thought about it.”

“Maybe that’s because you didn’t have something to live for,” she said.

“Maybe,” he murmured.

She was right. If he’d had a wife and kids, he wouldn’t have had the nerve to risk his life. Even now, after just a few days with Evie, the stakes were suddenly so much higher. Though he didn’t have her—not yet—there was the possibility he might have her sometime. And that was enough to keep him on level ground.

“And it’s not all that dangerous,” he said. “It is if you make stupid decisions. But if you’re smart, the odds are pretty good you’ll get up and down safely.”

“So, what’s next?” she asked.

“I thought maybe you’d like a bath,” Charlie re plied. “You always take a shower before bed. I thought a bath might be nice.”

“I meant, where are you going next?”

“I know what you meant. I don’t know. I’m just thinking about a bath right now.”

“You just want me to take my clothes off,” she said.

“I could take them off for you if you don’t want to,” he suggested.

“Go ahead,” she murmured. “I’m too tired to move.”

He pulled her to her feet and led her to the bathroom. As he filled the tub, Charlie slowly undressed her. He loved the way her body moved beneath his touch, always seeking the warmth of his hands. He’d become incredibly possessive over the past few days, almost jealous of the time she’d spent with her ex.

As he skimmed her jeans down over her hips, she wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes. He took his time as he came back up, smoothing his palms over her hips and torso. Though he’d grown familiar with her curves, her body never failed to intrigue him.

He wanted to know about the tiny scar on her knee and why she always painted her toes red but left her fingernails untouched. He wanted to analyze the patterns of freckles on her arms and memorize the
scent of her hair. Would these things ever begin to bore him? Or would he always find things to intrigue him?

When she was completely naked, he helped her into the tub, then sat on the floor beside it. “This is wonderful,” she murmured, sinking into the hot water. “I never take baths.”

“Maybe you should start,” he said, smoothing his hand over her damp shoulder.

“It’s relaxing,” she said, her eyes closing and her lips parting slightly. He watched her as she drifted off to sleep, her body relaxing completely and her features growing soft and girlish. Charlie couldn’t remember ever feeling this content. He wasn’t thinking about where he had to be next or what he had to do to get there. He wanted to be here with Eve, to fall asleep with her in his arms and to wake up to the sight of her pretty face.

“God, you’re really losing it,” he murmured, smoothing a strand of hair out of her eyes. This was crazy. Something had happened to him on that mountaintop. The lack of oxygen had scrambled his brain. He was actually imagining he’d fallen in love with Eve.

He stared at her face, at the features that had quickly become so familiar to him. Something was driving him forward, pushing him to learn more, to
deepen their relationship just to see where it took them both.

Maybe this was just another adventure, he mused, another environment to conquer. But what then? Would he move on? Would she turn into just another conquest? God, he didn’t want to hurt her. Though she wouldn’t admit it, his leaving five years ago had changed the course of her life—and not necessarily for the better.

He was determined not to make a mess of this a second time. When and if he left, it would be her decision, not his. For now, he’d stay as long she wanted him.

“Evie?” Charlie smoothed a palm over her cheek. “Sweetheart, wake up.”

She opened her eyes and smiled. “Did I fall asleep?”

Charlie nodded. Hell, what did he expect? She hadn’t had more than four or five hours’ sleep the past three nights and she’d put in a full day of work after each. Maybe it was time to spend the night sleeping. “Come on, let’s put you to bed.” He helped her out of the tub then grabbed a towel from the basket and wrapped it around her. She followed him to the bedroom, stumbling over her own feet along the way.

When he pulled back the covers, she crawled beneath them and moaned softly. Charlie quickly stripped off his clothes and lay down behind her, tucking her body into the curve of his.

He expected her to drift off, but instead she moved against him until he was fully aroused. They didn’t speak, but it was clear what she wanted. And when he sheathed himself and gently pushed inside her, she moaned softly. It wasn’t like their previous encounters in the bedroom—wild and passionate, desperate.

This was gentle, almost soothing. For a long time, he barely moved, enjoying the warmth that surrounded him. To Charlie’s surprise, he found himself dancing perilously close to the edge, the power of his release relegated to his mind rather than his body.

Reaching around, he touched her, slipping his fingers between her folds and caressing that spot that made her crazy with need. She arched back against him, resting her hand on his hip. And when the spasms rocked her body, it was more than enough to send him over the edge.

They didn’t say a word to each other, yet Charlie was aware of a silent pact that they’d made with each other. Her body was his refuge, a secret place he’d found that no one else could share, a place where he could lay his soul bare without fears or doubts.

Evie had given him that gift and with it came a grave responsibility. Her happiness had become inextricably intertwined with his. They were no longer two separate people. They had a relationship now, a bond that couldn’t easily be broken.

He closed his eyes and nuzzled his face into the hair at her nape. Was he feeling the first stirrings of
love? Or was he merely trying to convince himself that he was capable of experiencing that emotion?

In the end, it didn’t matter. Everything would become much clearer with time. And Charlie had more than enough time to invest in the woman lying next to him.

 

“Y
OU NEED DECENT FOOTWEAR
,” he said, staring into the window of the outdoor equipment store. “If we’re going to do any hiking, you have to have boots. Come on, let’s go inside and get you a pair.”

Charlie grabbed Eve’s hand and she reluctantly followed him inside. He’d become particularly obsessed with taking her hiking and Eve had to wonder what was behind the obsession. She had been quite content to spend the previous week in bed, but Charlie seemed to be growing less interested in marathon sex and more interested in…exercise.

Eve wondered if this was just a prelude to the inevitable, a way to ease her into the notion of him leaving again. Though his first lecture at the university was scheduled for the end of the week, and the second four days later, it was conceivable he could pack his bags and leave the moment he was finished.

Eve had to prepare herself for that eventuality. And though she’d done her best to maintain an indifferent attitude about the future, she knew their parting would come with at least a small amount of pain.

She’d grown used to having him near, to coming
home to him each night, to exhausting herself in his arms before she fell asleep. It would be so simple to fall in love with Charlie Templeton, if she’d only allow herself that luxury. But Eve had learned a few things from her failed marriage, the most important being never to depend upon a man for her happiness.

Charlie picked up a hiking boot from a display and handed it to her. “These are the best,” he said. “I have a pair. They’re easy to break in and they’re waterproof.”

“Why would they have to be waterproof? We’re not going hiking if it rains.”

“We may have to walk through streams,” he said. “And if your feet get damp, they get cold and you get blisters. Believe me, dry feet are important.”

“These boots weigh a ton,” she said.

“They’re sturdy. You can’t hike in Birkenstocks,” he said. “Or those silly plastic clogs you wear in the kitchen.”

“Why do we have to hike at all? There are perfectly decent sidewalks all over Boulder. We could just…stroll,” Eve said.

“Nope. We’re going to get some real exercise. You’re feeding me far too much and I have to work it off. Since I want to spend as much time as possible with you, I figure you can come along and get some exercise, too.”

“I hate exercise,” Eve said.

“For someone who is so conscious about what you eat, you don’t do a very good job with the rest of the equation.” He turned to the salesperson, a petite college student with a nose ring. “We’d like to see these in a size…”

“Seven,” Eve said.

“Bring us a seven and a half, too,” Charlie added. “You should wear heavy socks with them.”

Eve sat down on a nearby bench and kicked off her Birkenstocks. “You know, I eat well because I hate to exercise. I’ve had to make compromises.”

Charlie sat down next to her, wrapped his arm around her neck and kissed the top of her head. “You’ll like it. I promise. I’ll make it fun. We’ll go camping. And you can cook over an open fire. Won’t that be a challenge?”

Eve had been so busy at work the past weekend, she and Charlie hadn’t had much time together beyond their time in bed. But carving out hours in the day for recreation seemed a bit strange—and a waste of what little time they had left. But she’d given him a peek into her world at the restaurant. Maybe he was interested in doing the same. His world was the great outdoors.

Since the moment she’d set eyes on him again, Eve felt as though the connection they’d made five years ago had survived their time apart. Everything felt comfortable and easy with Charlie. And there was no denying the sex was good.

But she’d fooled herself once before with Matt, imagining that everything was perfect between them, only to discover that she’d been wrong all along. She’d have to try harder to maintain her objectivity with Charlie, especially when he was doing everything in his power to charm her.

“I thought we could leave tomorrow afternoon,” he said.

“Leave?”

“We’ll drive up into the mountains. I know a beautiful spot to camp, right by a lakeshore. It’s about a two-hour hike in. We’ll spend the night and then hike back out in the morning.”

“I have to work,” Eve said.

“Come on,” he replied. “You know as well as I do that the restaurant can do without you for a night. It’s a Tuesday. No one eats out on a Tuesday.” He leaned closer. “Have you ever had sex in the great outdoors?”

“No,” she said. “Have you?”

“No,” he said.

“You are such a liar.”

“Eve, when I’m with you, everything feels like the first time.”

There wasn’t much she could say to that, Eve mused. She knew exactly how he felt. When they were together, her past experiences with men seemed to fade away until her only memories were of Charlie. “Good answer,” she said.

The salesperson handed Charlie two shoeboxes and he removed the larger pair and strung the laces through the hooks and eyes. Then he retrieved a pair of wool socks from a nearby rack and slipped them on her bare feet.

Eve watched as he tucked her foot inside the right boot and laced it up. This was his world, she mused. She was comfortable with knives and graters and small electric appliances, the smells and sounds of the kitchen. Charlie lived in a different world, a world of skies and streams, fresh air and rocky ground.

“How do they feel?” he asked after he’d laced up the second boot.

“Like I’m wearing cement overshoes,” Eve replied, rising to her feet. “And they’re so attractive.”

BOOK: The Drifter
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