Click on image to enlarge.
by Jayelle Drewry
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: What happens when you play with fire? You get burned. Dating Ethan James was risky, but it was a risk Sophia was willing to take. The heat and passion blazed between them hotter than the sun. Sophia was sure she had found the one. So sure, she told him she loved him--only to watch him turn and walk away. Love 'em and leave 'em. It was just for fun. A few dates, a few laughs. The way Ethan saw it, he and Sophia were friends with benefits. At least they were headed for the benefits part, until Sophia had to go and ruin everything by falling in love. So he did what any other sane bachelor would do, he cut his losses and left. You don't know what you got until it's gone. It didn't take Ethan long to realize he'd made the biggest mistake of his life. When he walked away from Sophia, he left his heart behind. Now he needs regain her trust and show her that loving Sophia was the best thing that ever happened to him.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010
18 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [105 KB]
Reading time: 66-93 min.
"Hey, Sophie! Where are you?" A cheerful voice sang out, echoing down the hall into the hot, stuffy closet where Sophia worked.
Bent over a large cardboard box, Sophia Love ignored the call. This was supposed to be her lunch break. Instead, she was unpacking medical supplies. A chore her partner had conveniently forgotten to do.
"What?" Her voice was slightly muffled, which was a good thing. She had a hard time keeping the irritation out of her voice. Damn it! Jami should have done this this morning!
"Sophia!" The voice came closer.
Damn. She cursed under her breath. Obviously she'd done an excellent job masking her ire, or if she hadn't, it hadn't deterred Jami, her best friend and partner in Indian Path Animal Hospital. Straightening from the box of gauze, she looked up just in time to see a bright redhead pop around the closet door.
"There you are! Aren't you going to eat?"
Sighing, Sophia held up a roll of gauze and gave her friend a pointed look.
"Oops." Jami bit her lip, a contrite look on her face. "Sorry." Almost immediately, her expression shifted back to its normal happy mode. "I'll finish unpacking after lunch. Just stop and come grab a bite to eat."
Dusting off her hands, Sophia looked around the closet. "Okay."
Following Jami's bouncing red curls into the hall, she headed to the back of the building, to the tiny room that made up their "lounge." An old, scarred table, four chairs, an ancient refrigerator, and a rolling cart with a microwave on top swamped the room, making it almost impossible to move around. Jami's lunch was on the table, along with a scattered newspaper. Jami plopped down, while Sophia put her lunch, a Lean Cuisine, in the microwave.
"Hey, what's your sign?"
"Pisces, why?" Turning, she watched Jami thumb through the paper. "Oh no, don't tell me you've started reading the horoscopes."
"Sure, why not? Some people believe in astrology." Jami bobbed her brows up and down. "Destiny." Her attempt to mimic a Jamaican accent was horrible.
Rolling her eyes, Sophia snorted. "I don't."
"For someone not to believe in it, you sure did know your sign off the top of your head. No hesitation there."
"Yeah, well, everybody in America knows their sign."
"Still, horoscopes are a lot of fun to read. Want me to read yours?"
Leaning against the refrigerator, waiting for her lunch to warm, Sophia shrugged. Sometimes it was just easier to give in to Jami. "Sure."
"The Daily Single." Jami paused and shot a sly grin at her. "That's you," she said before continuing. "There's a time for hesitation, and there's a time for action--guess what time it is when it comes to romance? That's right, time to get off your behind and make a move--it doesn't even matter in which direction." Looking up at Sophia, she waggled her brows. "Sounds like you'll be going to Lori's tonight."
"Maybe." The microwave dinged and she turned to get her lunch. Gingerly holding the steaming carton, Sophia sat down and began to eat. Hoping to end the conversation, she concentrated on the dinner in front of her.
"I know why you don't want to go. You're afraid. Afraid you'll run into Ethan and he'll have a date."
"I am not! I could care less where he goes or who he goes with. He's a free agent and so am I."
Inside she cringed. Liar, liar, pants on fire. That was exactly why she didn't want to go. Sure it was one thing to see him out on the town. It was totally another thing to see him with a date at a mutual friend's party.
"Prove it. Go."
"I don't have to prove a damn thing." She should never have told Jami about Ethan's recent call. Big mistake. Two months ago, when she'd come into the office, depressed and crying, it had been Jami's shoulder she'd cried on. It had been Jami who'd cussed Ethan for a cowardly dirtbag. But after a few phone calls and a couple of flower deliveries, Jami was ready to let bygones be bygones.
Jami started clucking, sounding amazingly like the animal she imitated.
"Sticks and stones... There's nothing you can say or do to convince me to go over to Lori's just to prove to you I don't care if I run into Ethan."
Jami shrugged carelessly. "Whatever. You can lie to me, but how long are you going to lie to yourself?"
After that pointed question, the conversation shifted to mundane topics. But the seed had taken root, and like a sore tooth, it worried Sophia for the rest of the day. Haunting her. She'd told Jami she had nothing to prove. She was wrong. She did need to prove something. To herself. She needed to prove she was over him. That she didn't care if he dated a hundred women and went home with a hundred more. It was time, as her Aunt Bea was wont to say, time to grow up and put on her big girl pants.
Floodlights lit up the yard and house, giving it a warm, welcoming glow. Loud thumping music, with an undertone of laughing and talking, drifted in the air. Peering over the fence, Sophia saw a group of bathing suit-clad guys around a large gas grill, arguing good-naturedly. Other small groups of men and women were spread throughout the backyard.
Standing on the outside, looking in--it wasn't something she was used to doing. Friendly, good-natured, with an easygoing, affectionate personality, she didn't lack for friendship. But here she was, hiding in the shadows.
She should be in there instead of hiding in the shadows that surrounded the backyard. Before dating Ethan she would have been. If only she could go back in time. She would slap herself silly for even thinking about saying yes when he'd asked her out. She'd known he was the love 'em and leave type. Hell, she'd teased him about his revolving bedroom door. She should have been content to be his girl pal. But no, she had given into temptation. Gambled on the possibility that he saw her as something more than good time. Instead, she'd lost her heart and a friend.
Biting her lip, she scanned the yard. "Damn," she whispered. Jami wasn't here yet. Stepping back into the shadows, she chewed on her thumbnail as she contemplated going back to her car and waiting for her friend.
Yet, she didn't move. She had to know. Unable to resist, heart pounding with trepidation, she peeped over the fence again, looking this time for Ethan. Was she going to have to face him? And if so, was he alone or did he have a date?
Gnawing her lower lip she scanned the crowd.
Please don't be here. Please don't be here.
She slumped back against the fence. Eyes closed, her blood pounded in her ears, drowning out the sounds of the party going on a few feet away. Strangely, disappointment rather than relief washed over her. After gearing herself to see him, to talk to him, to watch him with a date, the knowledge that he wasn't there was a letdown. It felt as if she'd crashed after riding an intense wave of adrenaline.
She was embarrassed. Damn it. Was she going to hide the rest of her life because she'd gotten her heart broken? No. What was she, a woman or a chicken? The sounds of Jami's clucks echoed in her mind, and she stiffened her spine. She was not a chicken and she refused to hide in the shadows any longer. Putting her hand on the latch, she opened the gate to let herself into the backyard.
Gravel crunched behind her. Pasting a smile on her lips, she turned to see who it was. Maybe it was Jami. Chicken or not, she really didn't want to walk in alone. Her smile froze. Her heart stuttered before it began a mad gallop in her chest. Every bit of the pep talk she'd just given herself fell to the wayside. The urge to run, to hide, overwhelmed her. Yet she did nothing, freezing like a rabbit with a hawk circling overhead.
Ethan moved toward her, stalking her as if she were prey. He didn't stop until his chest was within inches of hers. His heat, his intensity swept over her. She shuddered, whether in fear or lust she couldn't tell. His cologne, subtle, clean and crisp, overwhelmed her, awakening other senses and tactile memories. Her nipples tightened and butterflies fluttered in her stomach.
Her gaze level with his neck, she studied his throat, absently noting his rapid pulse. Could he be nervous? The thought intrigued her.
She clenched her hands into fists so that she wouldn't reach out, touch him, placate the strong emotions he felt. Her mind fought her heart. She either needed to slay him with words or kiss him. Pride won, she did neither.
Reluctantly, unable to resist the pull of his gaze, she looked up. His face was cast in shadows. She didn't need any light to know that his chestnut hair would be a little too long and beginning to curl around his face and collar. Or that his dark eyes would have a sexy smolder. She knew every rugged inch of that face. Every silken lock of hair on his hard head.
Licking her lips, she spoke first. "Ethan." Her voice lacked its customary lilt, but she'd at least gotten the words out past the choking lump in her throat.
"Sophia. I'm happy to see you here. You're a hard woman to get a hold of."
His voice washed over her. The timbre, deep and sexy, was whiskey smooth and just as intoxicating. Even after six months of silence, the sound still had the ability to thrill her, send tingles of excitement racing through her.
Fighting its effect, she managed a small careless shrug. "I've been busy."
"Really?" Even as he nodded his acceptance of her excuse, his tone said she lied.
"Work's been hectic."
"Too hectic to return my phone calls? Too busy to call and let me know you got the flowers?"
Her neck flushed with embarrassment. He hadn't sent the flowers until she had refused to return his calls. No doubt he'd thought that good manners would have her calling him. Good manners be damned. She hadn't called. "Yeah, I--"
"You're avoiding me."
No shit, Sherlock. She'd made a point of not being available to him since he'd dumped her. What was he thinking? That she would fall back into being his buddy?
"No. No, that's not it at all. I didn't return your calls because as far as I am concerned we have nothing to say to one another." Calm, cool, impersonal. Wow, she was impressing herself.
Leaning forward, he planted a hand on the fence beside her head. Sophia's heart jumped into her throat. Suddenly her self-control was shaky. If he leaned any closer, it would shatter like the thin facade it was.
"I think we do. I think there are a lot of things we need to say." His warm breath brushed her cheek. She swallowed a moan. The flesh between her thighs warmed. His voice could still make her cream. "Things I need to say. That you need to hear."
She needed to hear? She snapped out of her lust-induced trance. Well, too damn bad. The thought floated across her mind. He had plenty of fucking time to talk to her two months ago, when she still wanted to talk.
"Ethan, I don't want to have this conversation with you. I came here to talk and laugh with friends, not rehash old business." This was exactly one of the many reasons she'd wanted to skip this party! Damn Jami and her clucking!
"Old business? Is that how you see us?" He tilted his head, his eyes studying her face.
Bad word choice on his part. Trepidation and nerves were replaced by a healthy dose of anger. Us. Us! As if they had ever been anywhere close to that. She had thought of them as us, as a couple. Yep, she'd thought that right up until he'd dropped her like a fucking rock.
Then, last week out of the blue, he'd left a message on her answering machine. And again a few days later. She hadn't returned his calls. A dozen peach-colored roses had followed. The card simply stating, Call me.
As if. She'd done all her calling months ago. When he'd first pulled his disappearing act, she'd tried to call him, left messages on his answering machine at home and with his secretary at his office. When she'd tried his cell phone, she'd been automatically directed to his voice mail. She'd left messages there too. All she got had been silence. Nothing. That had cut her to the bone. Slow she might be, but stupid she wasn't. She'd finally gotten the message and hadn't called him again.
"Us? Us? There is no us. There never was an us. We went out on a few dates, had a few laughs. That doesn't make us an item!" She could feel the threat of tears. Sophia stopped and forced herself to breathe, afraid that if she continued she'd start screaming like a banshee. The music from the pool party was drowning her out now. Before too much longer, that wouldn't be the case. When upset or angry inevitably her voice would grow louder and louder, and then, as her mother like to say, the waterworks would begin.
Instead of replying, Ethan cupped the back of her head and, fisting her hair, pulled her forward to cover her mouth with his. The action was so quick, so unexpected, she didn't have time to prepare, time to protect herself.
Shock and outrage kept her stiff--for a couple of seconds. Thoughts of stopping him, pulling away, biting him, slapping him, disappeared under the slick glide of his tongue. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him to her. His taste, sweet and spicy, flooded her senses. It was like offering water to a woman dying of thirst.
The kiss was rough, violent, hard and full of frustration and pent-up desire. Slanting his head, Ethan nipped her lower lip, demanding entrance. She gave it to him, opening her mouth and welcoming the thrust of his tongue.
Letting go of his neck, she locked her hands in his hair as their tongues dueled. She held tightly to him. Wanting, needing more. More. Her fingers twisted in his hair, locking him to her, and she returned his kiss with bruising force.
Tearing his mouth away from hers, he scattered kisses across her face and down her throat. His lips were a hot brand along her skin, leaving a burning imprint in their wake. He found her pulse and lightly bit down on the throbbing vein. It stung. It aroused. Her pussy tingled and moistened. Squeezing her thighs together against the erotic pain, she moaned as the passion between them escalated.
"I missed you." His words were muffled. She wasn't sure she'd heard him right. Didn't care in the heat of the moment. All she wanted was another taste. Dipping her head down, she caught his earlobe between her teeth in a gentle grip.
The hand at the back of her head tightened. Using his hold in her hair, he pulled her head back. "Sophia, look at me." She opened her eyes with some difficulty. Her lids felt weighted. Her vision blurred.
"Let's get out of here," he whispered, his tone husky with passion. His face was tight with desire.
It wasn't a question, it was a demand. It would be so easy to follow. To simply let go and go home with him. To give in to her desire.
A slight breeze wafted in night air and cool on her hot skin. The haze of desire dissipated from Sophia's mind. Her gaze cleared enough to meet his smoldering stare.
"No." Dropping her arms from around his neck, she turned her head in a silent demand that he loosened his hold of her hair. Instead, he tightened it. His determined look bore into her.
The need to put some distance between them clawed at her. Tonight had shown her just how weak she was. One kiss and she was clinging to him like a vine. One small taste and she was ready to spread her legs for him, the last two months forgotten in the heat of desire. Damn, she needed to stay away from this man. She was bad news for her self-control, worse for her heart. Wedging her arms between them, she pushed against the rock solid surface of his chest. He didn't so much as budge.
"Let. Me. Go." She spoke through clenched teeth; narrowing her eyes she matched his steely gaze with one of her own.
A heartbeat in time. Then another. For a moment she didn't think he was going to do it. He loosened his grip, and Sophia slipped from his arms. Taking a step back, she crossed her arms protectively over her chest. "I'm not going anywhere with you." The statement was for her as much as for him. If he kissed her like that again, she wasn't sure her willpower would hold out.
"Why not?" He looked baffled.
No doubt he thought she was crazy not to go home and fall into his bed. She half agreed with him. Maybe a night in his bed would exorcise him from her mind, her heart. Get him out of her system if not her heart. She was tempted ... for a millisecond.
"Just because you want something doesn't mean it's good for you or that you should have it. I'm not the one with the motto 'if it feels good, do it.' Nor do I follow the old saying, easy come easy go. Pun intended. That would be you."
His face seem to pale, but she couldn't be sure, it could be the shadows. A paled expression would suggest some sort of feelings that was more than lust. Feelings she knew damn well he didn't have.
Sophia tightened her jaw and straightened her spine. Waiting for his next words. He stared at her in silence. Hmm. He had none. What a surprise. That was it, then.
Stepping past him, she walked calmly to her car. She didn't look back to see if he watched her. Didn't need to. She could feel him watching her.
At least this time she was the one walking away.