Read The Drifter Online

Authors: Kate Hoffmann

Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Adult, #Romance - General, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance

The Drifter (9 page)

BOOK: The Drifter
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There was a third option. She could let herself in, take off all her clothes and wait in his bed. If he just remembered how good it was between them, then he’d have to see how misplaced his anger was.

Eve leaned up against the tree, wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the chill in the air. There would come a point when sex couldn’t fix every problem they had. Maybe they were at that point now. Maybe it was just best to let it go, before either of them invested too much.

Still, no matter what happened in the future, Eve wanted to set things straight in the present. She stepped back out on the sidewalk and headed in the direction of Charlie’s house. Now that he’d had a chance to calm down, maybe he’d listen to her side of the story.

The house was dark as she walked up the front steps to the porch. There was always a key hidden on a string behind the mailbox, but Eve decided to knock. She held her arm out, then hesitated, knowing she ought to decide what to say first. The sight of Charlie usually rendered her unable to think clearly.

“Tell him you’re sorry,” she murmured. “And that it was a long time ago, before you really knew him.”

She reached out again, but then another thought occurred to her. She really shouldn’t have to apologize. After all, Charlie had admitted he had behaved like an ass. And nothing she’d written on the Web site was untrue.

Gathering her resolve, Eve rapped on the door, then waited. She listened for sounds inside, but heard nothing. Pressing her hands to the glass in the door, she peered into the darkness. Maybe he’d already gone to bed. Or maybe he hadn’t come home at all.

She grabbed the key from its spot and unlocked the door, then slowly pushed it open. Her eyes adjusted to the light and she walked into the living room. Eve’s breath caught as she saw him, sitting on the floor, his back against the leather sofa.

“You didn’t answer,” she murmured.

6

H
E CLOSED HIS EYES,
the sound of her voice sending a sweet surge of desire through his body. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise, the feelings he had for Eve were more than just superficial. She’d managed to wiggle her way into his life, carving out a place in his heart that would be left empty if she abandoned him.

But she’d made her feelings very clear. She wasn’t interested in anything beyond a sexual relationship. What they shared in bed was incredibly powerful. Yet the past few nights, he’d found himself searching for more, a closeness that could only come with complete honesty.

“Listen, I know you’re angry,” she began. “But you have to understand how hurt I was. And it really wasn’t about you, it was about Matt. I wrote all of that after the divorce hearing, after fighting with him over money, after learning about all the cheating.”

She slowly crossed the room and sat down beside him. Even from a few feet away, he could feel the warmth of her body, smell the scent of her shampoo. Charlie clenched his fingers into fists, trying to fight the impulse to yank her into his arms and kiss her. Kissing her would set everything right again, at least for the moment. And it would probably evolve into a full-scale seduction, which would make them both forget the anger between them.

Sex had always been the answer for him. Whatever ailment he wanted to cure, finding a warm and willing woman was the first prescription he took. But he sensed that they’d moved past using sex as a salve.

When he touched her, it meant something more than just a means to eventual release. Every caress had become a promise, every kiss a silent question. What did it all mean? Was he really falling in love?

Charlie glanced over at Eve. She sat silently beside him, staring into the cold fireplace. “I’m not angry at you,” he said. “I’m mad at myself. I thought I had things exactly how I wanted them. And now, I realize I didn’t know what I wanted.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” she said, turning to face him. Her fingertips smoothed over his lips and she leaned forward to kiss him. “I don’t want to fight with you.”

Charlie slipped his fingers through the hair at her nape and pulled her toward him for a long, deep kiss. He searched for her taste, that wonderful sweetness
that had become as addictive as a drug to him. And when he found it, Charlie felt himself relax, as if his last care in the world had suddenly dissolved.

Eve’s hands moved to the buttons of his shirt and it took her only a few seconds before she was pushing it off his shoulders and smoothing her palms over his torso. If her taste wasn’t enough to fire his passion, then her touch was. She knew his body so well, all the most sensitive spots, the places she’d claimed as her own.

Charlie didn’t know how they’d managed to shed their clothes. He was only aware of her naked flesh beneath his hands. Before he knew it, they were both undressed and lying on the rug in the middle of the room.

Her fingers encircled his cock, stroking slowly, teasing him to full arousal. He kept his mind occupied with a slow trail of kisses from the base of her throat to her breasts and then back again. His release was already so close…The need to let go was building up inside him.

When she sat up and straddled his hips, he thought that she was ready to join him. But slowly, she drifted lower, her lips pressed against his chest and then his belly and then beyond.

A raw moan tore from his throat as she took him in her mouth. He used to look on this act as just a means to an end, the perfect orgasm. But with Eve, Charlie felt as if she were testing his need, forcing
him to be vulnerable to the feel of her lips and tongue on his shaft.

He could surrender to her, completely and with out hesitation. Though they’d only been together ten days and nights, it felt like longer, as if the trust they shared had grown over time. Charlie felt his breath quicken in response to her pace and he fought back the need to surrender. Still, Eve grew more deter mined, each stroke, each caress bringing him closer to the edge.

There would come a time, when he was alone in his tent on the side of some distant mountain, when he’d remember every detail of this. When the mere recollection would send him over the edge. For now, he had real pleasure, not imagined.

“I’m so close,” he murmured.

“What do you want?” Eve asked, looking up at him with a lazy smile. “Do you want me to stop?”

Charlie nodded. But when a frown wrinkled her brow he chuckled softly. “I want you to stop that and start something else.” Gently, he grabbed her arms and drew her alongside him. And then, holding on to her waist, he rolled on top of her and buried himself to the hilt.

It happened so quickly, the shift of power, his cock sliding inside her, that she gasped. Slowly, he began to move, her warmth enveloping him until he lost the ability to think. Instinct took over and they grasped
at each other, as if they were both unable to get close enough.

And then, she was there, at the edge one moment and dissolving into spasms the next. Charlie arched against her and let himself go, each thrust taking him to a more perfect place.

When they’d both regained their breath, Charlie stretched out beside her, throwing his leg over her thighs and his arm around her waist. It had all happened so quickly. He was used to taking more time with her.

He waited for the contentment to set in, waited for that long, slow descent into complete relaxation. But it didn’t come. Just like on Everest, he felt incomplete. There were words on the tip of his tongue, words that needed to be said, but Charlie was afraid that telling her how he really felt might drive her away for good.

He sat up and ran his hands through his hair. Her hand smoothed down his back. “That was nice,” she murmured.

Glancing back at her, he forced a smile.
I love you.
Why was that so difficult to say? Was it because he wasn’t sure of the truth of his words? These feelings roiling around inside of him were strange and unfamiliar. If it wasn’t love, then it was probably insanity.

“Come on,” he murmured. “Let’s go to bed. The sooner this day ends, the better.” He took her hand
and helped her to her feet, then followed her into his bedroom, his hands resting on her shoulders.

When they curled up beneath the covers, Eve fell asleep almost immediately. But Charlie was too restless to sleep. His mind was spinning, searching for a tiny bit of clarity.

He’d always prided himself on his ability to master any situation. There was that time he’d fallen into a crevice while climbing Mt. Rainier. And the avalanche he’d ridden down the side of a mountain in Utah while skiing. And the broken wrist he’d suffered three days into a wilderness hike in Arizona. He’d known exactly how to survive.

But this was different. Nothing in his life had prepared him for the onslaught of emotion, the highs and lows that seemed to toss him about like a rogue wave. His father had died before Charlie had really even recognized his parents’ relationship. He should have learned about love from watching them.

Instead, he saw how his mother struggled, raising a family alone. She hadn’t dated, hadn’t even socialized with men after her husband’s death. Charlie had once asked her why she hadn’t tried to find someone else. She’d given him an odd look and said, “There was only one man for me,” she’d said. “And for as long as I live, I will love him.”

At the time, Charlie had idealized his mother’s loyalty, made it into something much more than it was. But as he grew older, he saw how truly lonely
she was. How much she missed the man she’d married. He could only imagine what they’d shared, only guess at the relationship they’d built together.

As an adult, Charlie never let himself feel that kind of loneliness. Instead, he consoled himself with an endless string of beautiful women, all of them willing to tell him what an incredible lover he was, what a great time they’d had.

Charlie rolled onto his side and stared at Evie’s face. Her palms were pressed together and resting between the pillow and her cheek. This was the way she slept, all tidy and perfect. All the little things that he’d come to know about her—the expert technique she employed to peel an apple, the funny wrinkle in her nose when she brushed her teeth, the careful way she folded her bath towel.

Would these be the things he missed if he left? Charlie pushed up, swinging his legs off the edge of the bed. He wouldn’t know unless he actually got away, took some time to put all of this in perspective.

“Oh, God,” he murmured, rubbing his eyes with his fingertips. Making decisions used to be so much easier when he was on his own. Now, every decision seemed to be more crucial, filled with hidden twists and traps. Charlie grabbed a pair of jeans from a nearby chair and pulled them on, then tugged a T-shirt over his head.

He found his shoes under the sofa and his car keys
on the dining room table. Charlie grabbed a pen and scribbled a note to Eve, then took it back into the bedroom, laying it on his pillow.

He wasn’t sure how much time he needed. Maybe a day. Maybe two. He had another presentation at the university on Tuesday. By then, he ought to know how he really felt. He’d either hop a plane for the job on Everest or ask Eve to move in with him permanently.

Charlie grabbed his jacket on the way back through the living room, then slipped out the front door into the predawn darkness. He had his cell phone. He’d text her later today and try to explain. Until then, he’d just see where the road took him.

 

E
VE OPENED HER EYES
, squinting to see the clock on the bedside table. Charlie’s half of the bed was empty as usual. He was an early riser, even though he stayed up until she returned from the restaurant. He seemed to need so much less sleep than she did.

He usually got up shortly after dawn and took a long run, then had coffee at his favorite spot downtown, before walking home with the paper and a coffee for her. It had become a bit of a routine, changed daily by the kind of pastry he brought along with the coffee.

Eve pushed up on her elbow. It was nearly nine. He was usually back by now. She noticed the note on his pillow, then smiled. “Sweet,” she murmured.
She grabbed the small piece of paper and rubbed her eyes before attempting to decipher his scrawl.

“I’m sorry. I had to go,” she read. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon. Love you.” Eve frowned. “Love you,” she repeated. What was that supposed to mean? Had he just scribbled it as a quick end to his note? Or had he worried over the last line?

Eve shook her head. There was absolutely no reason to analyze the sentiment. The two words were merely a way of expressing affection. She crawled out of bed and wrapped the quilt around her body, then wandered out into the living room, searching for the smell of her morning coffee.

But to her surprise, Charlie wasn’t there, in his usual spot on the sofa, the newspaper spread out in front of him. Eve frowned, then walked to the front door and pulled it open. He wasn’t on the porch either.

An odd feeling settled in her stomach. His backpack was gone. His hiking boots, which usually sat beside the door, were also gone. She hurried to the kitchen, then looked out the window above the sink. The SUV was gone. She retrieved the note and reread it.

Wide-awake and with a few more facts to consider, Eve realized that the note could be read a different way. He wasn’t just running out for coffee. Charlie was gone, the same way he’d left five years ago, only this time, he’d managed to leave a note.

Eve sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at his scrawl. She’d known this was coming. Sooner or later, he was bound to get restless. She drew a long breath, then let it out slowly, fighting back a sob. How long would he be gone this time? A month? A year?

Eve flopped back on the bed and put her arm over her eyes. No, he couldn’t be gone for good, she thought to herself. He still had another lecture to do at the university. A sigh of relief slipped from her lips. He was just getting away for a while, taking a break. He just needed time to himself.

A knock sounded on the front door and a moment later, the bell rang. She found a pair of his jeans tossed over the end of the bed and pulled them on, then grabbed her shirt as she passed through the living room. A young man was standing on the opposite side of the door, an envelope in his hand.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m from Dunbar Travel. Are you…” He paused and grinned. “You don’t look like Charlie Templeton.”

“I’m not. But he lives here.”

“All right,” he said. “Sign for these.”

“What are they?” she asked, as she scribbled her name in his receipt book.

“Tickets,” he said. “The itinerary is in the envelope.”

She closed the door behind him, then crossed to the couch and sat down, tucking her feet beneath
her. The envelope was open. If he was planning to surprise her with a trip, then she wanted to know so she could arrange her schedule. But there was another possibility—he was planning his escape.

Eve set the envelope down next to her as if it had burned her fingers. But after a minute of staring at it, she couldn’t deny her curiosity any longer. She picked it up and pulled out the contents. “Denver to Boston,” she murmured. She pulled out a second ticket. “Boston to London to New Delhi to Katmandu,” she read. “Tickets for one.”

He was due to leave at the end of next week. The flight to London was dated for a week after that. It didn’t matter where he was now or whether he’d be back. In the end, Charlie was leaving the country again.

 

“Y
OU’RE HERE EARLY
,” Lily said. “Usually you don’t get in before eleven. Not that I’m complaining. I’m glad you finally have a social life.”

“Well, you’ll be disappointed to know that it’s all coming to an end. Charlie is gone.”

“Gone?” Lily frowned. “Where?”

“I don’t know. He just disappeared this morning. Said he’d be back soon. And then, some kid delivered plane tickets to his house. He’s taking off in a week for…where is Katmandu? Morocco?”

“I think it’s in Nepal,” Lily said. “Or maybe Tibet?”

“Even worse,” Eve said with a dry laugh. “That won’t be an overnight trip.” She strode to the sink and washed her hands, then grabbed an apron. A sharp knife and a big bowl of onions was all she really needed to work off her frustration.

BOOK: The Drifter
11.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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