Authors: Jennifer Haymore
She seemed taken aback by the forcefulness of his tone, her expression going slack for a few seconds. Then the edge of her lips quirked up in the tiniest hint of a smile. “Do you really mean that?”
“Hell, yeah, I mean it.”
Her expression softened, and then he saw it. One tiny spark of heat in her gray-blue eyes.
He was lost. Arousal shot through him, so powerful he froze in place, because if he moved an inch, it would only be to stalk toward her. To wrap his arms around her and show her exactly how much he’d missed her.
“God, Nathan,” she murmured, her voice low and ragged.
He gazed at her.
“I…” She pressed her lips together and shook her head firmly. Whatever had been about to come out of her mouth was something she wasn’t ready to say.
He wouldn’t push her to say those words. Not yet. Though he was tempted—so damn tempted—to ask if she missed him like he missed her. If she dreamed about him like he dreamed about her. If she regretted everything that had happened between them senior year…like he did.
She took a step backward, breaking the moment. “How’s Stanford?”
He took a second to orient himself to the coolness of her voice, and then he shrugged. “Good, I think. I graduated last year, you know. I’m not on campus often anymore.”
“Ah,” she said cryptically. She wandered across the room, continuing to speak. “Ella said you were working for United Bank.”
as if she’d just swallowed an unpleasant taste of some foreign mystery food. “Do you like it?”
He smiled at her. “It’s work. I’ve learned a lot. But it’s nothing like what you do.”
That was definitely the truth. His days revolved around numbers—big ones. Assets, liabilities, profits and margins, and risk analyses. Things that were as far from Zoey and her kids as day was from night.
She pushed open the gauzy curtain and gazed out the window into the darkness, her fingers curling around the sill. “Do you love it as much as you thought you would?”
He leaned back against the wall beside the door, crossing his arms over his chest. “No, Zo,” he said quietly. “It’s not my passion like your job is for you.”
“Do you think it could be someday?”
“Yes, I do. Someday.” His lips twisted. She’d see his sarcasm if she was looking in his direction. “The potential future windfalls are a huge motivating factor.”
She snorted. “Not for me.”
“There are different kinds of windfalls in my job.”
She made a small noise of amusement. “Still, do you realize I make a larger annual salary than my dad did in his whole life?”
He shook his head. That was sort of astonishing. “No,” he said. “I didn’t know that.”
“He’s proud of me now. Considers me a huge success. It’s funny how people see the world depending on their preconceived notions and experiences, isn’t it?”
“I guess… But I know better than to do that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sure. I learned it in college. You taught me that you didn’t have to have money to be ambitious or successful, or a go-getter, or smart as hell.”
“You think I’m those things?”
“I’ve always thought you were those things,” he said. “All of them.”
She gazed out the window. It was dark outside, and rain pelted against the glass. “If you think those things about someone, and if you think those are good things, then why leave them behind?” she asked, so softly he had to strain to hear her.
“A lot of reasons.” Nate pushed off the wall and went to stand beside her. He took a second, just breathing her in, just feeling her close to him. He hadn’t been this close to her, not really, in years. Usually, one of their friends served as a buffer, like Ella had today. “Most of them stupid.”
He released a puff of laughter. Of course Zoey wouldn’t let him off easy. “Such as not knowing how good you have it until it’s slipped away. Such as not wanting to think about the fact that there are equally prestigious schools on the eastern side of the country. Such as being flat-out stubborn.” He said the last with a steady look into her eyes.
“You weren’t stubborn,” she said quietly. “I was.”
He nodded in agreement. Because she was right. He’d asked her to come with him, and she’d said no. “There are kids in California just like there are in DC.”
“My family is in Baltimore.”
“Mine is in the Bay Area.”
She looked down at her fingers clutching the windowsill. “I don’t want to rehash all this. We both know what happened. Why it happened.”
“Yeah, you’re right. We do.”
They stood in silence, staring at the darkened windowpane, listening to the rain pattering against the glass. Seconds ticked into minutes.
God, how he’d missed this. The way they talked to each other. The way they could be quiet together, each of them lost in thought. The way he felt when he was next to her, like he was close to a treasure he wanted to hold on to forever.
He’d missed those feelings in the past three years.
Finally, he spoke, his voice crackling like a piece of dry paper about to catch on fire. “I didn’t love her, you know.”
She looked at him in surprise. “Who?”
“Ah. Her. That doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure you loved sleeping with her, though. She was very beautiful. Probably a tigress in bed.” Her voice was light, but there was no mistaking the bitterness.
God, no. He pressed his forehead against the coolness of the windowpane. “No. That was never much fun either.”
“Really.” He paused for a beat, then asked, “What about Mitch?”
He wasn’t looking at her, but he felt her startle, just a barest shudder of movement. She took a moment to recover, then asked, “How do you know about Mitch?”
“Ella and Rebecca told me about him before you showed up at the reunion last year. They said you’d been going out for a while but had just broken up a week or so before our gathering. They met him. They said he was nice.”
“Nice was a good word for Mitch,” she said. “Yes.
She turned toward him just as he pulled his head back from the window to look at her. “You’re not nice, Nathan. I have lots of words for you, and none of them are
“Yeah? What are your words for me?”
“In the last few years, not many of them have been good,” she said, her voice dry. “Most prevalent is the three-letter one that rhymes with crass.”
He snorted. “Yeah. No doubt.” Especially after he’d paraded Oksana around Sugar Cay two years ago. He couldn’t blame her. Even a year after the fact, their breakup had still been raw for him, so maybe it had been for her as well. What the hell had he been thinking?
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s mine. I call you an ass for doing something I wouldn’t even blink twice at Matt doing. Because it was you. Because…” Her voice dwindled, and he turned fully to her.
“Because even after all that time…I still…had feelings for you. I…still thought of you as…as mine.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “God. I am such a freaking idiot.”
The empty hole that had gaped in Nate’s chest for the past three years filled with something sweet. Something
. Right there, as he was facing her.
“You’re not an idiot, babe,” he said.
“Yeah. I am.”
“No, you’re not. Because…” And he pushed the words out slowly but forcefully, his voice almost shaking. Because they were probably the truest words he’d said to her in three long years. “I still have feelings for you too.”
Zoey’s head was spinning. She felt weak and dizzy, but at the same time, something powerful rushed through her. Something that made her feel open and vulnerable but strong at the same time.
She gazed up at Nate. He was much taller than her. At five-three, she’d always thought of herself as short, but Nate stood a full foot taller, and he made her feel tiny. Yet never weak. Being around him always made her feel strong and decisive.
Now was one of those times. The look he was giving her was one she hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was self-assured and dead serious, yet there was the slightest edge of uncertainty in the depths of his clear blue gaze. She wouldn’t have recognized that vulnerability if she hadn’t once known him so well she’d had a hard time discerning where she’d ended and where he began.
She’d loved him so much.
She’d pushed that love into a faraway corner of herself and locked it up. But he’d always held the key. And now he was turning it, unlocking all those feelings she’d so successfully hidden away and making them threaten to burst free.
That was what scared the hell out of her.
She didn’t want to be afraid. There was only one way to push the fear aside, and that was to throw herself into the moment. The desire to be closer to him was so strong, and she didn’t want to fight it anymore.
Reaching up, she wrapped her arms around Nathan’s neck. She pulled him toward her, tilting her head up.
He came to her willingly, easily, slipping his arms around her waist and tugging her to him, locking her against him. And when their lips met, a deep shudder ran through her entire body. Because that soft mouth caressing hers was Nathan’s. Nobody had ever kissed her like Nathan. He possessed the most sensual, most erotic set of lips she’d ever known. Soft, warm, smooth. Every millimeter of flesh they touched sparked with heat and desire.
She moaned and pulled him closer, deeper. He was warmth and eroticism and peace that she hadn’t had for three long, painful years. “Nathan…”
He didn’t respond, just kissed her harder, his fingers finding the bottom of her cami and sliding up underneath it. His hands were big and rough and masculine, and she nearly groaned with the touch of his fingertips on her sensitive skin. For a long time, he had touched her only in her dreams, and that was nothing as real or as immediate or as sexy as this.
Need surged through her, pulsing and strong. She tugged his shirt from his jeans and slid her hands up his stomach, feeling every muscle and ridge as her fingertips traveled upward. He clearly hadn’t stopped working out. In fact, he felt bigger and stronger than he’d been in college.
Every last trace of the boy he’d once been was gone. This was a man kissing her. A virile, strong man, who, by the feel of him pushing against her, wanted her very much.
As she wanted him.
He swept her up into his arms. She kept her arms wrapped around him, not breaking away, still kissing him as if she never wanted to let him go, and she didn’t. His taste, his presence, it was all too powerful to ignore. He surrounded her, carried her, protected her. She needed this. Her life was solitary and lonely. Just having him touch her like this made her feel like she wasn’t so alone.
She made a little whimpering noise, and he laid her on the bed, coming down over her, never releasing her lips, rubbing his body against her, making her feel small and feminine, and oh so powerful.
He pulled her cami up, and she let him tug it over her head. He stared at her for a long moment before meeting her gaze. “God, Zoey,” he choked out. “You’re so damn perfect.”
She tugged at his shirt, and he reached back and tore it over his head. She stared at him…
“You’ve been working out?” she managed in a wispy breath of voice.
An understatement, definitely. His muscles rippled with every breath he took. He was gorgeous. Amazing. She tore her gaze from his six-pack to look up at his face.
“Are you using me, Nathan?” She said it with a hint of humor…but honestly, where was this going? She could live with him using her, because then she’d be using him too, and that would be okay. It would be something she could understand, something she could grasp on to. If he meant it to be more…
His eyelids slipped shut, and he answered without looking at her, his voice a quiet rasp. “Zo…I want you so bad. I’ve dreamed about this. About touching you, feeling you…being with you. For so long.”
She could have said those exact words. He was so in tune with her, it was uncanny.
“I want you,” he murmured. “I want to feel you close around me, taking me. Accepting me.”
Accepting him—in any definition of the word—was something she hadn’t done in a long time. She stared at him, at the vulnerability creeping into his expression, and wondered if that was what he truly wanted. Her acceptance.
After all that had happened between them, that was going to be a difficult thing for her to grant him. But for now…just for tonight…yes, she could do it. She could give up that protective part of herself that held her aloof from him.
She sighed, long and low. She wanted to be filled by him. She wanted to take him inside her, bring him pleasure, be pleasured by him.
“Okay,” she said in the slightest of whispers.
He reared up, one of his hands going to the top of her shorts. He undid the button, pulled down the zipper, then tugged on the waistband. She lifted her hips, letting him pull them down her legs until they were completely off. She wasn’t wearing underwear under her PJs. She was naked.
She lay there under the heat of his gaze for a long moment, then she rasped out, “Your turn.”
He rolled off her, and she felt cold and alone as he divested himself of his jeans and boxers. Then he turned back to her, his body strong and solid, the muscles in his torso rippling. She held out her arms, and he went into them.
He touched her everywhere, his hands stroking down her sides, over her breasts and belly, cupping her cheek and neck and combing into her hair. When his hand slipped between her legs, she was already so wet, his fingers slipped easily into her liquid heat, and he stroked her until she was panting, her breaths punctuated by little moans of pleasure. She was close, moving desperately against his fingers, poised on the edge of orgasm, when he drew back.
She made a noise of frustration and tried to push his hand back between her legs, but every muscle in his body was taut, stiff as he resisted, his palm cupping the back of her thigh.