Authors: Jane Porter
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
His dark gaze narrowed, swept the house, the porch. “I’ve been here, to this house, before.”
“I sat there,” he said, pointing to the right of the covered columned porch with its jumble of painted wicker furniture and antique rocking chairs.
Kit saw the old pieces through his eyes. Mom never replaced old furniture and so every couple of years Sarah or Meg would spray-paint the wicker and add fresh cushions, striving to give the porch the look of shabby chic rather than thrift-store leftovers.
“On that little couch,” he added, nodding at the wicker love seat that could use fresh paint now, “but it was aqua not white.”
The wicker set had been a darker aqua, almost teal, in the late eighties and early nineties. Aqua paint paired with peach floral
cushions. Back then, a massive grapevine wreath with silk colored flowers and seashells had hung on the wall. It was supposed to look French Country. Kit nodded, masking her surprise. “It
“Had lemonade.” The corner of his firm mouth lifted. “Your friend or sister or whoever it was wanted me to spike it. But I didn’t have any vodka on me.”
So he’d met Bree. They’d probably partied together. Maybe even slept together. Kit tried not to feel judgmental. Brianna wasn’t exactly promiscuous, but she’d certainly enjoyed sex. “Sounds like my sister. So how did you meet Bree?”
He shook his head. “That wasn’t her name.”
“No.” His forehead creased and a straight inky lock of hair fell forward. Impatiently he pushed it back, behind his ear. “She was dark blond, very tan, tall, great body. Killed it playing beach volleyball.”
Kit’s heart fell.
. He hooked up with Sarah? Sarah liked to flirt, but she’d never been easy. “That’s my younger sister. Sarah.”
“Sarah. That’s it.” His frown cleared. “So did she become a lawyer?”
“But she did graduate from UCLA?”
“Yes.” Kit hesitated, wanting to understand the nature of his relationship with Sarah, but not at all comfortable imagining him with her baby sister. “Did you two…date?”
“No. She was into my friend, and I was the wingman. Was
supposed to keep her girlfriend happy but I can’t even tell you what she looked like.”
“Who was your friend?”
Kit shook her head. She didn’t know him.
“Charlie worked at that pizza place on the beach one summer,” he said, shifting his weight, folding his arms across his chest, and Kit’s attention went to his big chest before dropping to his lean hips.
It took her a second to realize she was staring at the bulge at his crotch. She flushed and jerked her head up. “Pizza My Heart,” she said faintly, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
“Yeah. I noticed it’s still here in town.”
She nodded, unwilling to think about anything but Pizza My Heart, a Capitola institution. When she was growing up, some of the most gorgeous guys on the face of the planet worked there, and, of course, they had every girl in Northern California eating out of their hands. Kit had no idea that Sarah had been one of them, but then Kit had gone off to college and Sarah had finished growing up without all her big sisters hovering around.
“So can I help you with something, Mr.…” Her voice trailed off as she realized she didn’t even know his name. “Mr.…?”
His lips curved in a slow amused smile. “No mister. It’s Jude. And I just wanted to talk to you. Haven’t been back in a long time.”
“Sarah’s married now,” Kit said flatly. “A mom of two.”
“Not interested in Sarah. Wanted to talk to you.”
He laughed softly and his teeth flashed white. “Why not? I don’t often meet women like you.”
“Go to church and you might.”
Laughing under his breath, he shook his head. “My mom would love you.”
Kit didn’t trust herself to answer. He was beautiful and unpredictable and dressed all in black, which scared the hell out of her.
“Want to go get coffee?” he asked.
“Coffee?” she repeated.
“Yes. It’s a beverage. Some people drink it hot. Others like it cold.”
His humor surprised her and she swiftly looked up into his face. Dark eyes. Crooked smile. He was funny. Sexy. Engaging. Alarming. Seriously alarming in his black leather and heavy combat boots.
Curiosity and desire warred with common sense. She wanted to talk to him. Was seriously tempted to get that cup of coffee. But she was also the girl who’d made some dreadful decisions when it came to men. According to Bree, Kit totally lacked the self-preservation gene. And apparently that was a really bad gene to miss.
Now she struggled to see past Jude’s leather and biker boots, but there was nothing soft or pretty or malleable in his long hair, hard chin, and dark eyes. She couldn’t manage him. He’d be calling the shots. And that wouldn’t be a good thing. Not for her. “I shouldn’t,” she said. “I’m here with friends. We’re hanging out, doing girl things.”
“You can’t sneak away for half an hour?”
He would use the phrase
He was that kind of guy. And yet Kit was truly tempted. She didn’t even know why she was tempted. He wasn’t her type. She preferred clean-cut, educated, corporate.
As if sensing her indecision, he added, “We’d just go across the street to Toots. It’s safe. Public. Not even a two-minute walk.” He nodded, indicating the door. “Which should reassure your friend hiding back there with a butcher knife that my intentions are honorable.”
Kit jerked around, expecting to see Polly with a meat cleaver in her hand. Instead, Polly was clutching a spatula, wielding it as if it were a sword. “What are you doing?” Kit hissed.
Polly’s mouth compressed. “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.”
“I’m not worried, and put the spatula down. You’re not Michael from
“I’m not going anywhere until he’s gone.” Polly’s voice dropped even lower. “Good God, he looks like a Colombian drug lord.”
Kit was mortified. Polly was impossible and embarrassing but also her very best friend. She just hoped Jude didn’t hear her. Blushing, she turned back to Jude. “It’s just a spatula,” she said awkwardly.
For a moment he was silent, his dark gaze shuttered. “Not Colombian,” he said. “But close. French, English, and Choctaw.”
“That’s not close,” Kit said.
His smile didn’t reach his eyes this time. “I know, but some people don’t know the difference between a peace pipe and a baggie of cocaine.”
Kit flushed. He didn’t like Polly. Fair enough. Polly didn’t like him. But at least Kit had been right about the whole
-Jacob-werewolf vibe. Jude was part Native American. Choctaw. Oklahoma Territory and the infamous Trail of Tears.
Kit struggled to think of something to say but couldn’t. In the end she apologized. Again. “Sorry. And I don’t think I can do coffee today.”
Jude’s dark eyes rested on her hot face. For a moment he said nothing, then shrugged. “Maybe another time,” he said. Then, with a nod, he headed down the steps, back across the lawn to where he’d left his bike.
Kit couldn’t take her eyes off him. Jude had a long, careless stride that fit his long hair and black embroidered vest. He walked like he didn’t care what others thought, and before she could regret
letting him go, she stepped inside the house and closed the door, moving to the window to watch him slip on his helmet, start his bike, and take off.
“Good riddance,” Polly said, joining her at the window. “He was a total druggie scumbag.”
“No, he wasn’t.”
“Yes, he was.”
“He was a friend of Sarah’s.”
“He wasn’t her friend. He probably stalked her.”
“I’m serious. Were you really considering going with him for coffee?”
Polly’s features tightened in disgust.
“He’s actually nicer than he looks,” Kit said, defending Jude even though she didn’t need to. He was gone. He wouldn’t be back. Problem solved.
“No, he’s not. And this is where your romance novels get you in trouble. That guy isn’t one of your wounded heroes. You do not find him appealing. He isn’t interesting. You can’t save him. He’s hard-core. Mean. Didn’t you see those tattoos?”
“Kit, they were all over his arm and then there was one on his neck—”
“He had long sleeves and I didn’t see anything on his neck.”
“Because his hair was hiding it most of the time, but it was there, and it was ugly. It was one of those gang symbols. He’s dangerous, Kit. He’s not a good guy.”
Kit shook her head and sank down in the rattan chair she’d been sitting in earlier grading papers. “I think you’re being a little harsh.”
“And you’re naive.” Polly perched on the edge of the old coffee table, facing Kit. “And I love you, you know I do, but you’ve got
to wise up. Men totally take advantage of you. You let them walk all over you, and I’m sick of assholes breaking your heart.”
Polly was right, and she didn’t even know half of it, Kit thought, pulling her fuzzy oatmeal sweater over her legs. “It’s not like I enjoy being hurt.”
“Maybe not, but as Meg has even said, you’re a magnet for losers. You draw them to you as if you’ve got this massive beacon over your head, lighting up the sky, announcing that you’re sensitive and compassionate and have absolutely no common sense, no self-esteem, and no boundaries whatsoever.”
Kit grimaced. “I’m not that bad.”
“Pretty damn close.” Polly glared at her. “The problem is that you are so good, Kit. And sweet. You’re the most selfless, giving person I know. But unfortunately, men see this as a weakness and they’ll just use you, and abuse you—”
“You don’t mean men, plural,” Kit interrupted, grateful Polly knew nothing about her date with Parker in December. “You mean Richard. And I’m in total agreement that he wasn’t good for me, and that I’m in a better place now without him—”
“It took you ten years to see that!”
“Because I didn’t want to see it. I wanted it to work. I wanted him to be the one.” Kit plucked at her sweater, teasing a loose thread before looking up at Polly. “I
. It was laziness. I was stupid. But I just hate dating so much. I’m so bad at it.” But just talking about this made her think of Parker, and she’d been successful at blocking out the date for weeks, but she was remembering it now, far too clearly.
She’d told only one person about the date and that was her sister Brianna, because Brianna might be hard on Meg, but she’d never been tough on Kit. If anything, she was always protecting Kit, and maybe that’s because they were fraternal twins.
But the date with Parker had been bad from the beginning. Like her other dates that fall, she’d met Parker on Love.com and she
wasn’t sure how he stumbled across her profile, but he had, and he’d sent her a message saying he thought her photo was adorable—was it recent, and did she really look like that?—and he hoped to hear from her soon.
Kit was a little thrown by the way he’d asked questions about her photo, seemed so shallow, but at the same time she understood. Many of the men she’d met on Love.com had padded their height, or changed their weight, or even used a decade-old photo from a time when they had no paunch and far more hair. She’d told herself that Parker just wanted to know if she was being real. Honest. She told herself that she appreciated his directness and his lack of guile. And so she answered him that the photo was taken just months ago, at the end of the summer, and she could send him a more recent one if he wanted.
He wanted. So Kit sent him one from Thanksgiving at her parents’ house, cropping out her sisters.
Parker answered immediately, saying she was stunning, a fresh-faced Rita Hayworth, and he couldn’t wait to get to know her.
Instead of doing all the preliminary coffees, Kit agreed to dinner. She’d agreed in a moment of impulsiveness and it was a mistake. The entire date had been a giant mistake.
He’d had a forceful manner communicating via e-mail and text messages, but he was even more domineering in person. He talked a lot about his career during dinner, about his power and success. They left the restaurant and he suggested a nightcap. They were walking at the time, and Kit had no idea he meant to take her home, but his apartment was close by and they ended up there.
Yet another mistake.
Inside his apartment everything changed. He became surly and aggressive. He wanted sex. Kit told him she wouldn’t, that she didn’t, not unless she was in a committed relationship. Parker cornered her in his living room, accusing her of playing him, leading
him on. What kind of woman did that? What kind of woman treated a man this way?
Kit tried to make her way to his door. He blocked it, pushed her back. She struggled to reach her phone in her purse. He tossed her purse across the room. And then he grabbed her, his hand at the base of her throat. Looking into his face, Kit didn’t even recognize him anymore. He wasn’t the date from dinner. He was someone else. Someone violent, someone frightening.
With Parker’s hand at her throat, she could think of only one thing—and that was to do what she had to do to get out.
She’d been hurt badly once before and her survival instinct screamed to life, telling her that the most important thing now was to keep him calm so he wouldn’t strike her, strangle her, rape her.
She didn’t want to be raped. Couldn’t be raped. And so, even as Parker ripped her blouse open, she did everything she could to soothe him, to deflect his anger and aggression. It worked. When he took her, he wasn’t violent. He acted like a lover. She let him believe they were making love. It wasn’t making love, though, and as soon as she could escape, she did, racing out his door, running down the steps of his apartment, hailing a cab as she pulled her coat closed over her torn blouse.
She didn’t cry in the cab. Didn’t cry in the shower. Didn’t cry the next day.
Kit couldn’t. She was too ashamed of herself, too sickened by what had happened. A little voice in her head said she was easy and bad and deserved what she got because she didn’t fight Parker harder. And then another voice whispered that it was okay to do what she did, because she did what she needed to do to be safe, to survive.