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Authors: Jennifer Haymore

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BOOK: The Reunion
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“We’re not too tired,” Rebecca said. “I wouldn’t miss one of your famous dinners for the world, Jake.”

There was another round of kisses and hugs and handshaking, and then Rebecca grabbed Tyler’s hand and led him off, leaving the rest of them staring after her.

Everyone was silent for several moments, each of them buried in their own thoughts. There were six of them here now. Only Matt was missing—he was still in spring training but would be arriving tomorrow with his fiancée.

No one mentioned the pilot going with Rebecca to her room, though Jake’s brows were still raised and Will had chuckled as soon as the door closed behind the two of them. By the gleam in Ella’s eyes, Zoey knew she planned to drag Rebecca away later and get the whole scoop.

And then there was Nathan.

He’d arrived with the group and had stood at least five feet away from Zoey ever since he’d come into the house, but awareness of him prickled her skin.

She kept sending covert glances his way. He looked good—damn him. He always looked so good. And he seemed to look better every year. He’d always been gorgeous—with shaggy dark-blond hair, a tall, lean but powerful body that reminded her of a tennis player’s, and beautiful blue eyes that brought to mind the skies over Sugar Cay.

He must fit in perfectly to his life in California with his surfer-boy good looks.

Don’t let this be awkward. Please, please. No awkwardness.

But things were always awkward between her and Nathan. Ever since their split in the spring of their senior year of college, when he’d chosen to go off to Stanford to get his MBA and Zoey decided to stay in the East Coast and become a teacher. She’d been with Nathan Richards for two years. She’d thought he was
the one
. But she’d chosen to stay and he’d chosen to walk away. And she’d never really gotten over him, as much as she’d tried—and she’d tried really,
really
hard.

She knew on an academic level that her inability to get over him translated into her being a pain in the ass whenever she was around him. She tried to control it but usually failed. The bubbling resentment was always there, but he hadn’t helped with the string of women he’d dated after her, then rubbing Oksana in her face.

Before she’d gotten onto the plane in DC, she’d promised herself she wouldn’t get worked up in his presence. But now, just looking at him made all these feelings well up inside her…and the only way she knew how to cover them up was with annoyance and irritation.

She felt his cool blue gaze on her, and turned to look up at him.

He nodded at her. “Zoey. Glad you decided to come.”

She bit back her first reaction, which was to ask him what the hell he meant by that. Did he think she was afraid of him? That she’d sacrifice the once-a-year opportunity to see her best friends in the world just to avoid him? No way. She gave him a tight smile.

“Glad you decided to come too, Nathan. It’s good to see you.”

“You too. You look…” There was a long pause. “Nice.”

She cocked a brow at that. Nice? She glanced down at herself. She was wearing frayed jean shorts and a fitted cotton tee. What did he mean by
nice
?

She forced herself to shrug it off. “You too.”

That definitely wasn’t a lie. He wore faded blue jeans that encased his perfect butt just so and an unbuttoned blue shirt over a tight tee. Stylish but casual. Understated.

“Thanks.” There was an edge of gruffness in his voice that reminded her of things she still couldn’t wipe from her mind. Nathan naked. Nathan’s hands on her. Nathan gazing at her like he wanted to devour her…

But right now, he was dressed, she reminded herself firmly, and he would remain so, at least in her presence. His “casual” outfit had probably cost more than she made in a week. Not that the way Nathan dressed was anything special in a place like Sugar Cay. All her friends were stinking rich—Jake most of all. He owned an
island
, for goodness’ sake. Every once in a while, a surreal pang still stabbed her in the chest when she thought about all their wealth.

She felt her friends’ wary eyes on her and Nathan. All of them knew exactly what had gone down between him and Zoey three years ago, and no one had really taken sides, so it had become awkward at times.

Then they all started talking at once.

“I’m going to go check on dinner,” Jake said.

“I need a shower,” Will announced.

Ella turned to Zoey. “Do you want to go for a walk before it starts to rain?”

Jake wheeled around and headed toward the kitchen. Will took off in the opposite direction toward the curving staircase.

Zoey inhaled a relieved breath. A walk sounded perfect. She needed air. Because being in a room with Nathan, no matter how big the room was, made her feel stifled and short of breath.

“Sure,” she told Ella gratefully, “a walk sounds great.”

“I’ll go too,” Nathan announced.

Wonder-freaking-ful.
It was all Zoey could do not to audibly grind her teeth.

 

* * * *

 

Nate should have taken Will’s lead and headed to the shower. Then he should have turned the cold on full blast. Because seeing Zoey Hansen for the first time in a year was like a punch in the gut. How was it even possible that she got sexier every year? She was amazing, with her thick black curls and wide gray-blue eyes that snapped with irritation whenever she happened to look anywhere near his direction.

Why did her irritability turn him on so much?

It wasn’t a difficult question to answer. It was because it meant she cared. Her indifference would have been a hell of a lot harder to take. But her irritation with him—if it was the only thing he could get from her, he’d take it. Happily.

So when he saw the muscle ticking in her jaw after he said he’d join her and Ella on their walk, he smiled to himself.

He really was an asshole, but he couldn’t help it, damn it.

They left the house and turned toward the beach. Dark, nasty-looking clouds rolled in the distance, and rain crashed so hard into the ocean the horizon blurred.

“We don’t have much time,” he commented.

“You could always go back to the house if you’re afraid of getting wet,” Zoey said.

“Not afraid, babe. Just wouldn’t want you to catch a chill.”

Walking between them, probably deliberately in case Zoey decided she wanted to claw his eyes out, Ella let out a breath. “No one’s catching a chill. Let’s just walk the beach and get back to the house before it starts pouring.”

Ah, Ella. Ever the peacemaker. Sometimes the referee.

Zoey was the one to change the subject. “It’s so pretty here this time of day. I’ve missed the sunsets.”

“Me too,” Ella said. “Too bad we won’t be getting much of one today.”

Nate kept quiet. He’d missed Sugar Cay a lot this past year, but for a different reason than they did. He missed it because it was the only place he could see Zoey anymore. Weeks ago, this annual trip to Sugar Cay had begun to occupy his thoughts, take his attention off everything that he needed to do.

It wasn’t because of the secluded location, the palm trees, the brilliant white sand, or even the fact that his closest friends would all be here. It was because of the short, sexy fireball of a woman on the other side of Ella.

They walked onto the beach. Nate kept his shoes on, but both women took their sandals off to bury their toes into the sand.

“There’s nothing in the world like the sand at Sugar Cay,” Ella said, her voice ripe with appreciation. “So soft and silky…”

Zoey just sighed and closed her eyes. The look of pleasure that crossed her face was one Nate knew well. Too well. The two of them had been so hot together… It was always a wild ride between the sheets for them. He was surprised they hadn’t ever set the bed on fire.

He had to look away from her. But his body tightened at the memory anyway.

Shit. It wasn’t like he could throw himself at her, as much as he wanted to. Not after all this time. She hated him. She’d probably laugh in his face.

Hell, she might even have a boyfriend.

“So, do you have a boyfriend?” he asked as they started strolling down the beach.

Both women’s gazes snapped to him.

“Uh,” Ella said, “who? Me or Zoey?”

“Both of you, of course,” he said smoothly. Or what he hoped was smoothly. “It sucks being all the way across the country from my best friends—”

He heard a subtle, sarcastic snort from Zoey’s direction.

“—because I don’t get to keep up with you as much as I’d like.”

Ella sighed. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’ve dated around the past few months, but no one’s stuck.”

“That’s too bad,” Nate said sympathetically. There was a long silence. When Zoey didn’t volunteer her answer, he said, mega casually, “What about you, Zo?”

Shit. That hadn’t come out as casual as he hoped. His voice sounded tight. Hopeful.

He felt like a wuss. Clearly being around her too much was going to turn him into a girl.

“No boyfriend,” she clipped out.

Good. That was very, very good. He breathed a silent sigh of relief.

“You know what’s really weird?” Ella said. “We’re all single this year. Well, except Matt.”

“And Matt’s engaged,” Zoey said. “That is so hard to believe.”

“No kidding,” Nate added. “Out of all of us, I’d expect him to be the last to settle down.”

“No way,” Zoey said dryly. “That would be you.”

Nate eyed her around Ella. “Why do you say that?”

She turned away from him to gaze out over the distant water, which was getting rough, the breeze whipping up whitecaps as if in anticipation of the rain.

Nate stopped walking. “No, really. Why do you say that?”

Ella stopped too, giving him a pleading look. But he crossed his arms over his chest and stood firm. Heaving a sigh, Zoey slowed as well, turning to look at him over her shoulder. “Because, Nathan, you’re a player.”

“What?”

She started ticking names off on her fingers, each name cracking out like a BB gunshot. “Sarah. Melissa. Fatima. Angela. Kate. Tyra. And those were just the year we broke up. I would go on, but I lost track of all of them.”

He gaped at her. Jesus. She’d just listed the six girls he’d dated after her. Starting with Sarah… That poor girl. He’d been so messed up. Not ready to be thrown into a new relationship when he was still in love with Zoey. The rest—he could hardly remember them. He doubted he’d have been able to recall all their names, especially in order like that.

Ella groaned. “Can we just walk, guys?”

He ignored her, kept his gaze on Zoey. “I’m not a player, Zo.” Not anymore, anyway.

Nah, there was more to it than that. He’d given up on finding something real. Because he knew where to find it—across the country being a heroine to a bunch of underprivileged kids. And she had given up on him years ago.

Zoey shrugged and started walking again. Casting one last pleading look in his direction, Ella rushed after her.

Nate stood still for a couple of seconds, watching them. Ella was blond and willowy and pretty—she looked like the kind of girl you’d see lounging around in a bikini on a billionaire’s yacht. Nate had actually seen her doing that more than once.

But Zoey… She was small and compact. Her dark, almost-black hair tangled down her back in wild curls. The way she looked, the way she dressed, the way she acted, even the way she thought about things, was so different from most of the girls who ran in his and Ella’s sphere.

It all made Zoey that much more appealing to him. And as he watched her walk away, his blood heated. Her ass… He’d always loved it. It had substance. She had curves to make a man go crazy, and the way her hips swayed as she walked across the sand was so sexy… He wanted to catch up to her, grab her arm, spin her around, and kiss her until she forgot how much she hated him. Until she forgot everything but the feel of his hands on her.

Clenching his fists at his sides, he strode forward, catching up to them after a few seconds. Engaged in conversation, they ignored him as he drew up beside Ella. They had moved on from the topic of his man-whoring and were talking about Zoey’s job.

“So I have this one kid, Michael. He’s eleven years old, right?” Zoey’s voice was animated. “And I don’t know how many foster homes he’s lived in, but he’s so smart, Ell. And such a talented artist. He’s up for adoption, technically, but, you know, most parents want babies or toddlers. He’s eleven…and…” Zoey trailed off, shaking her head.

“What happens to kids like that?” Ella asked, true curiosity in her voice. Ella was sweet and kind, but she was sheltered to the point of ridiculousness. She’d lived in the lap of luxury since the day of her birth.

“Nothing good, usually.” Zoey let out a shuddering breath. “I feel like I’m making a difference with him, you know? He’s reading at grade level, and he’s a whiz in math, and his art is amazing. But…” She shrugged, helpless. “What can I do? How can I be a lasting influence? How can I give him enough love to sustain him? The truth is, I can’t. And it breaks my heart.”

“But he’ll remember you. We all remember our best teachers, right? You’ll always influence him, Zoey, even when you’re not teaching him every day.”

He looked at Ella with a raised brow. She always surprised him by being wiser than anyone would predict after taking a look at her.

Zoey had been skirting the edge of the water, and now she took a slight turn and walked in until the ocean lapped at her ankles. Still wearing shoes, Nate hung back. But she spoke loudly enough for him to hear. “I’ve always wanted kids,” she said. “But these days I’m thinking I don’t want biological children. I want a couple of kids like Michael. Older kids who’ve never had the stability of a home or a family. I want to give someone a home and a family.” She sighed deeply. “Well, someday,” she amended. “When I’ve saved some money, and I’m more settled and in a position to have a kid.”

Something tightened in Nate’s chest. He’d always accused her of being a bleeding heart, and she was. But it wasn’t an act for her like it was with most do-gooders he’d met. She threw her heart and soul into making a difference in the world.

BOOK: The Reunion
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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