Authors: Jennifer Haymore
They’d talked about kids…a long time ago, when they’d both believed they had forever. They’d both wanted children. But her change of heart—her plan to adopt older children instead of having her own—didn’t surprise him. It was so
“You’re such a good person,” Ella told her. There was a grave seriousness in her voice as she said it.
Zoey laughed out loud. “Seriously? I’m sarcastic and snappish and rude. Just ask Nathan.” She threw her hand back, gesturing at him.
He gazed at her. Smooth olive-toned skin, a button of a nose, a heart-shaped face, and those gray-blue eyes that challenged him at every turn.
Sarcastic, snappish, rude, and sexy as hell.
a good person.
He’d realized a few months ago that, as much as he tried to pretend otherwise, he was in love with her. Truth was, he’d never fallen
of love with her.
He wanted her. And as he stood there gazing at her, his decision was cemented. He’d thought about it a lot over the past several months. Now that they were finally here, together on Sugar Cay, he was going to fight for her.
It would be a battle, he knew, and he could end up bloody and maimed.
But if he won… Having her back would be the sweetest victory of his life.
As he stood there staring at Zoey, the rain came. It didn’t start with a sprinkle or slow, fat drops like most rainstorms did. It was a deluge, a sudden pounding that stung the exposed areas of his skin, obscured visibility, and drenched him in the space of a few seconds.
Zoey shrieked. Ella grabbed Zoey’s hand and tugged her out of the water. As they emerged through the curtain of rain onto the dry sand, Ella took hold of Nate’s hand, and the three of them took off running.
The women laughed and squealed all the way back to the house, but Nate didn’t—he was too deep in thought. In schemes and plans.
The battle to win Zoey back would start tonight. He hoped she was ready.
Dinner was always quite the affair in Sugar Cay. The friends sat around a huge walnut table in the dining room while being served delicious gourmet food and sharing bottles of wine and great conversation. The formality of it was always a surprise to Zoey. The crystal chandeliers, the silver place settings, the exquisite china, the bouquets of birds of paradise, orchids, and lilies… It was overwhelmingly beautiful. And so out of her league.
But it was nice too. Comforting in a way she’d never really understood until she’d experienced the dinners here. Her parents had never been much for sit-down dinners when she was growing up, but evidently it had been a big deal in Jake and Ella’s house, because while Jake was pretty casual about breakfast and lunch while they were on his island, he always insisted they eat together around the table at dinner.
Tonight’s main dish was tequila-marinated mahi mahi with quinoa and grilled vegetables. It was the best meal Zoey had had in a long time, and as everyone talked animatedly about Rebecca’s plane-crash adventure, she ate with relish. When the server asked her if she wanted seconds, she nodded.
As the woman walked away to fetch the food for her, she felt the heat of someone’s gaze from across the table. Nathan’s gaze. She swung her head to look at him, cocking a sarcastic brow. “Yes?”
“Hungry?” he asked in a low voice.
“What’s it to you if I am?”
His lips curved in a slow smile that increased her heartbeat as if she’d just run a mile. That smile—it made her recall all the naughty things he used to do to her with his mouth.
She’d tried to forget. God knew she’d tried. But sometimes she’d still wake up at night shuddering from a dream of him using that wicked mouth on her.
She reached for her wine, then, reconsidering, she moved her hand to her water glass. She took a healthy swallow as he said, “I like a woman who can eat.”
She nearly spit her water all over her plate, but she managed to contain it, only choking a little. Her accelerated heartbeat sent all the blood rushing straight to her face, and her cheeks grew hot.
He’d always liked to watch her eat. He’d loved to feed her in bed. He even included food in their sex play sometimes. She’d never really understood his fascination with her and eating, but it had never bothered her. In fact, she’d found it sweet and even hot. That she could be herself around him and eat like a horse or drink like a fish and have him actually
it—that was unique about him.
“Oh, I thought you were over your food fetish,” she said. “Considering Oksana and all.”
His expression went tight, and Zoey realized most of the room’s attention had turned to them.
Zoey hid her wince. Damn it, that had been a low blow. Even for her. Oksana had been about six feet tall, blond, Russian, and thin as a board. Her clothes had hung on her like she was a hanger, not a person.
Every time Zoey had seen Oksana and Nathan go into their bedroom, she’d felt like an elephant were standing on her chest. It had been crazy painful to see them together, even over a year after she and Nate had broken up. Even though she’d dated guys since him, even gone to bed with a couple of them, she’d given up on all of them pretty quickly. None of them could compare to what she’d had with Nathan.
But she shouldn’t have thrown that in his face. Not now, and not in front of everyone. She knew better.
She opened her mouth, and as she was scrambling for something to say to soften her last statement, Will came to her rescue.
“Hey, Zo, Ella told me you were thinking about buying a house.”
Thank God. Nathan turned to Will, his brows raised.
“Well…” She sighed. If only she could afford a house in DC on a teacher’s salary. “Not a house, exactly. But I’m hoping to find a condo to buy over the summer. It’s been a goal of mine to get out of Crappy Apartment.”
The rest of them gave her odd looks, but she didn’t mind. She got it—they didn’t understand her nickname for her apartment because they just didn’t relate to the concept of crappy apartments. They’d never had crappy anythings.
“Where were you thinking of buying?” Nathan asked.
“There’s a cute one-bedroom I have my eye on in Columbia Heights.”
Nathan’s nose wrinkled. It actually wrinkled! She widened her eyes at him. “What’s wrong with Columbia Heights?”
“You shouldn’t move there.”
He’d gone and done it. He’d turned into an unbearable snob.
“Why the hell not?”
“Seriously?” Nathan said. “Crime rate, for one. It’s too high.”
“Too high for what? Columbia Heights is a great neighborhood. And the place I’m looking at is near 16
Street. You do realize Crappy Apartment is over on L Street.”
Nathan pressed his lips together into a flat, thin line. He tended to do that when he was really annoyed. “I heard,” he said tightly. “But you should look into Crestwood. Or Cleveland Park. Less crime there, and they’re both relatively close to your school.”
Like she could ever afford anything in either of those places. He was so out of touch with her life. “I think Columbia Heights is a better neighborhood for me. I like it there.”
“Are you kidding? Columbia Heights isn’t a better neighborhood for anyone.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Really? Was he really going to take this where she didn’t want to go in front of all their friends?
He held her gaze steadily.
Apparently, he was.
“You do realize I’m a teacher, right? Teacher’s income and all?”
The server set another dish of mahi mahi in front of her, and she looked down at it, her stomach twisting. She’d completely lost her appetite.
“Crestwood isn’t that expensive.”
She looked back up at Nathan, her face still hot, her eyes burning. “It’s way out of my price range, Nathan.”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, as if he knew anything about real estate prices in DC. “There really are some good deals to be found.”
She cocked a brow. “Really? And you discovered these ‘good deals’ how, exactly, from California?”
“I just know, babe. It’d be a better place for you to live. I guarantee it.”
She did grind her teeth then. And she stared daggers at him. Because, dammit, he’d lost the right to call her “babe” years ago.
The housekeeper came in and whispered something to Rebecca. Rebecca stood. “I…have to go,” she said. “Excuse me.” And she bolted out of the dining room.
Zoey glanced at Jake, who sat frozen, his fork halfway to his mouth. Slowly he lowered it. He looked at the rest of them and shrugged. “Must be something to do with Tyler.”
Tyler? Oh, Rebecca’s pilot. Right. He hadn’t been at dinner. After all that raging chemistry between Tyler and Rebecca earlier, Zoey had expected him to show up at some point, even though over drinks in the living room, Rebecca had said he was phoning people from the NTSB about the crash. The housekeeper must have given her a message from him.
Rebecca had the right idea, though. Zoey was done. She’d had a long day—a long month, actually. She’d lost her appetite. And she’d dealt with Nathan too much in too short a time period. She needed space. She turned to Ella. “You were right earlier, when you said I looked tired. I’m beat. I think I need to head to bed.”
A crease appeared between Ella’s brows. “Really? You sure? It’s only eight thirty. And how am I going to play poker without you? Are you going to leave me to the sharks?”
She gave the men—the
—firm looks. “Be nice to her,” she admonished, as if she were talking to one of her fifth graders. “She’s a beginner.”
Which was a total lie. Ella could take any of these guys out, any given day.
Jake gave a low snort, but Will nodded and murmured, “Of course,” in a silky way neither she nor Ella believed. Nathan didn’t answer at all.
She turned to Jake. “Thanks for dinner, Jake.” She looked at the table in general. “I’ll see you all in the morning, okay? And, Will, I am definitely taking you up on that snorkeling date, but only if it stops raining. And after the massage Ell, Rebecca, and I have planned.” She winked at him, then rose, putting her expensive linen napkin on the table, and strode through the double doors after Rebecca.
And until the doors swung shut behind her, she felt the heat of Nathan’s gaze prickling down her spine.
* * * *
He wasn’t going to let her get off that easily. No way, no how.
Nate tried not to be obvious about it. He finished dinner, had dessert, then went into the living room with everyone else. When Will suggested starting a game of poker, however, Nate shook his head. “Not this time, man.”
Will gazed at him speculatively. “Long day?”
“Very. The adrenaline rush over what happened to Rebecca’s plane, the trip to Tortola…”
…Seeing Zoey. Being near Zoey. Fighting with Zoey…
“Yeah. I get it.” Smirking, Will turned away. “See you in the morning, then.”
Nate said his good nights to everyone else, then went upstairs. He strode past his bedroom door and went two doors down. He didn’t knock. He just opened the door, knowing she wouldn’t be sleeping.
She’d been curled up on the bed reading, but she jumped about two feet in the air when the door flew open. “Jeez!” she shouted. Then she scowled at him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh…shit. I thought this was my room.” Nate raised his hand in an apologetic gesture. “I’m sorry. ’Night, Zo.”
He backed up, pretending to start to leave.
“Stop right there, Nathan.”
He stopped right there.
“You’re lying to me.” She slid off the bed and stalked toward him. She was wearing blue cotton pajama shorts and a tight little shirt—no bra. But he wouldn’t be caught staring. Nope. He dragged his focus up to her eyes. She walked past him and closed the door with a snap, then turned to face him, arms crossed over her chest, hiding those perfect breasts. “Tell me why you barged into my room.”
He stared at her until their eyes locked. Then he said, very slowly and deliberately, “I wanted to see you.”
Her hands went to her hips. “Okay. Great. You’ve seen me. Good night.”
“I’ve seen you,” he said quietly. “But it’s not enough. I don’t want to stop seeing you. Don’t you get it?”
She looked at him inquisitively, then shook her head in a brisk movement. “Nope. Don’t get it.”
“Sure you do.”
“You’re not making any sense. You want to see me more? What does that even mean? Here on Sugar Cay? After we leave Sugar Cay? What?”
“Here. And after too.”
“Even if I agreed to that—which I won’t—how’s that going to work, exactly? We live on different sides of the country.”
“One thing at a time, Zo. Here first.
“Oh, I get it. You want to continue our argument from dinner? Fine. That was completely uncalled for, Nathan.”
“What was uncalled for?”
“Bringing everyone’s attention to my poverty.”
“Bringing everyone’s atten— Wha…?”
“Yes, I really appreciate it. They don’t think of it, you know. Not usually. They think of me as one of them, as a part of the group, and it might be selfish of me, but I like the sense of belonging I feel with my friends—
friends. So you come in and announce loud and clear that we’re not in the same league—that I’m the one true outsider in the group, that I work my butt off in a low-income neighborhood and I live in one not that much better. So nice of you to remind everyone of my lower social status. Thank you for that.”
“Shit, Zo.” He pushed his hand over his head, fingers threading through his hair until he squeezed the back of his neck. “I didn’t mean to do that. You know I didn’t.”
“How would I know anything about you, Nathan? We’ve hardly talked in almost three years.”
I’m not like that. Don’t you remember when we first started going out how weird you felt to be with me?” He narrowed his eyes. “I told you then that shit didn’t matter to me. At all. I didn’t care how much money you had, but I was damn attracted how hard you worked to get where you were. I don’t care how much money you have now, but I’m
proud of all that you do for your kids.”