Author:H.M. Ward

chapter 3

I glance back at the restaurant, worried that my date will come through those doors at any second. Eager to leave, I glance at Peter and ask, “Would you like a ride home?”

Peter nods and says, “That’d be great.”

I grin. A girlish giggle bubbles up inside me and I swallow it whole. I’m going to be alone with a gorgeous guy in my car! I can’t feel my brain. It left my body during that kiss.

Peter follows me across the parking lot and back to my car. We both slip inside and I start the engine. I navigate my way through the parking lot and when I pull out onto the road, I ask, “Which way?”

He smiles at me sheepishly. “I don’t know. I just got here.” The smile on his face is stunning. He looks so boyish and perfect.

I laugh and glance at him. “You don’t know where you live?”

“I know where I live. I just don’t know where it is in relation to here. I just moved here.”

“Oh, how long have you been in town?”

Peter smiles sheepishly. “A few weeks, but this is my first time over here. The town is sprawling. I admit that I didn’t pay attention on the way over, and my sense of direction is less than stellar. I’ve been using the GPS in my car to get around. I start a new job tomorrow and ran out to grab something to eat. Fast food was getting old. I heard about this place and decided to try it. Then, I met you and the rest is history.” Peter has an easy way about him. He leans back into the seat and looks out the window. He points east and says, “I think I live that way.”

I can’t stop laughing. “The dump is that way. There’s nothing else over there.”

Peter’s dark brows pull together as he looks out the window and then back at me. “Are you sure? I thought the apartment looked rather nice when I left.” He leans forward and looks out the window. It’s dark. The sky is inky with the normal spattering of white stars. The only décor on the sides of the road are mesquite trees that jut up from the ground like bony fingers and brittle, dried-out, grass.

Pulling out, I ask, “What’s the name of your apartment complex?” I try to drive slowly so I won’t miss the on-ramp, if I need to hop on the highway.

“It’s called Ridgewood, or something like that. It’s across the street from the college.” Peter’s looking at me. I can feel his eyes on the side of my face. I don’t mean to, but I pull my bottom lip into my mouth again and nibble on it. The heat from his gaze makes me nervous. When he speaks, his voice is so deep that it sends ripples through me. “Keep doing that and I’m going to kiss you.”

“We’re driving,” I say, and look over at him, freeing my lip.

“I didn’t say it was smart. I just said I’d have to do it. Your lips are amazing, and when you do that it makes me want to nibble them, too.” Heat spreads across my cheeks, along with an insane smile. Peter grins at me. “How cute. You blush.”

“Shut up,” I laugh, waiting for my cherry red cheeks to go away.

“No, it’s sweet. I like it.”

He stops talking, as we pull into his parking lot. Peter lives about five minutes from the restaurant. It was probably the first thing he saw when he came into town.

“Which one?” I ask, trying to decide which way to turn. The complex is huge. Some of my friends live over here since it has a volleyball court, a club house, and a pool. Me and Millie live in the dorms and can only dream of an apartment like these.

“That way.” He points, and I drive around to the back of the complex. Peter presses his lips together into a thin line and then looks back at me. “Do you want to come inside for a cup of coffee?”

I stare at him for a moment. Damn, he’s so beautiful. I want to get to know him better, but I can’t tell what he’s asking for and it’s late. I’m not into one-night stands, and I have enough issues when it comes to guys. Besides, I want someone to be mine when we go all the way. I sound like a high school student. Or a 50’s remnant. Maybe we can go steady, too, and that would be groovy. My mind is all over the place.

Mid-freakout, I glance at him. “Is that code for sex or are we really having coffee?”

Peter laughs and feigns shock, putting his hand over his chest. “My God! Is that why all those women at Starbucks keep trying to have coffee with me?”

I slap his shoulder and shake my head. The smile on my face hasn’t faded since we got in the car. I pull into a parking spot and we both get out. I follow him to the second floor because I can’t let him think that I don’t want his coffee, not after that whole Starbucks comment. We chat about nothing and he teases me more. I tease back. It feels natural. It’s not fake and I’m not scared. I’m so sick of being alone all the time. One event set my life on a different course. I want to change it back. I want to pull out of this nose-dive and get on with things. I’m damaged goods and I know it.

Peter reaches into his pocket and fishes out his keys. I watch him as he does it. His shoulders are strong and muscular. They lead into a hard torso with a trim waist. I think about running my fingers over his stomach, and feeling my fingertips trace the taut muscles.

Peter looks back at me as he opens the door. He smiles, like he knows what I was thinking about, and says, “After you.”

I step inside his apartment and see boxes everywhere. Some are unpacked, but most have the tops torn open, as though he was looking for something before he ran out the door. “Welcome to my shabby abode.”

“It’s not shabby. And it’s so much nicer than the dump. You just need to unpack.” I glance around. There’s a couch shoved against the wall. Peter walks into a little kitchen off the living area and starts the coffee.

“Are you hungry?” he calls to me. “Did you get to eat anything? You looked pissed when you walked out. I’m guessing that you didn’t get a chance.” Peter’s standing in the doorway. I turn toward him. He noticed a lot more than I thought.

“It’s okay. The coffee’s fine.”

“Ah, coffee,” he says, and winks at me.

“Not like that! Oh my God, you’re so...” I laugh and navigate my way through the boxes to the couch.

Sticking his head out of the kitchen, he holds onto the wall and says, “So what? So lovable? So manly? So sexy? So—”

“So irritating!” Of course I don’t mean it. Every time I stop smiling, he lights me up again like a Christmas tree.

“Ah. I was hoping you were going to say ‘so sexy—totally beddable.’ I could live with that.” He winks and disappears back into the kitchen. Before I can reply, he tells me, “Well, I have some cold cuts in here. I’ll bring you a sandwich. Just give me a second.” I hear him moving around and decide not to protest. I am hungry. I didn’t get to eat anything except that wine, and wine as dinner usually isn’t a good plan.

I make myself comfortable on his couch, kick off my heels, pull my feet under me, and curl into the arm of the couch. It smells like him. I rest my face against the soft suede and breathe the scent in. It’s musky and masculine. God, he smells good. If couches were sexy, this one would be a cover model. Pressing my nose to the arm, I inhale deeply.

Peter chooses that moment to reappear, plate in hand, and stops. He’s staring at me with an amusedly shocked expression on his face. “Are you sniffing my couch?”

“No!” I sit up fast, too fast. I panic. He’s staring at me like I’m a freak. I probably am, I mean I was snorting the guy’s couch. I need a diversion. Anything. I reach into my brain and pull out the only thing that’s there.

Using my best bedroom voice, I wink at him and ask “Can I distract you with some coffee?”

Peter’s face glows when he laughs. He takes the few steps forward and hands me the plate. I gratefully take it. For a brief moment, I consider pulling the sandwich apart and hiding behind the bread. The way Peter is looking at me doesn’t help the rosy glow on my face. I got caught sniffing his couch. God, I can’t think of anything worse than that. He probably thinks I escaped from the asylum.

We stay quiet too long, which makes me nervous. Between bites, I ask him the basics. “So, you don’t sound like a hick, but I can’t tell where you’re from.”

“Connecticut. Yankee-ville, same as you, little Miss Jersey.”

“You moved down here for work?”

Peter nods. “Yeah. It was time for a change of pace.” He looks away from me when he says it, his eyes dropping to the floor. There’s more there, something heavy, but I don’t press him. “This place came up on the grid, and I thought Texas would be different, so I went for it and managed to piss off my entire family. That was a bonus.” He tilts his head at me before sitting down on the couch.

“Yeah, my family was mad when I came down here, too. They gave me the old Italian guilt about abandoning my family... Like they can’t function without me?” I bite my sandwich and shake my head. “My family is so tight that none of us can breathe without someone else knowing about it. I was glad to get out of there. I needed space.” I finish the sandwich and look for a spot to put the plate.

“I know what you mean.” Peter smiles at me and takes the plate from my hand. “Honestly, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to down here that I get along with. Everyone else seems as if they escaped from a movie set.”

“I know, right? I said that to Millie when I first moved down here. Actually, I said it to a group of people. Millie was the only one who laughed, which made her quality friend material. The rest of the people scowled at me.”

“Millie is the girl that came to get you from my table?” Peter asks, before he goes into the kitchen to grab the coffee.

I nod. When he walks back out of the kitchen, I ask, “Hey, what were you planning on doing when I figured out that you weren’t my blind date?”

Peter brings me a cup of coffee and sits down next to me again. “I didn’t know you thought you were on a blind date. I figured it out when you did, maybe a second sooner. The look on your face was so adorable. I’m glad you stopped and said something when you came outside.” Peter looks at me over the top of his mug as he sips his coffee. Those blue eyes are intoxicating. I can’t stop staring at him.

We talk about nothing for a while longer, until I put my cup down on a box next to me. The entire time we chat, I feel pulled to him. There’s something there, something about him that holds onto me and connects deeper than I’ve connected with anyone—and for some reason I’m not afraid. I don’t know what it is, exactly.

Peter has an easy way about him. That smile lights up his entire face when he flashes it at me. Yet, there’s a haunted look behind his eyes, like his life has been harder than he lets on. I sense it in him. Like calls to like and my life has been anything but easy. When I find another person who has that fragile, battered, spirit, I instantly relate. The thing is, there aren’t that many of them. I don’t know if other people lay down and die when things go wrong or they harden so much they’re no longer alive. I refuse to bend, refuse to turn to stone. The pain in my life won’t destroy me. I won’t let it. I see the same conviction in his eyes and hear it in his voice. There’s something he left behind, someone who scarred him. The pleasantries, that cocky grin and those dazzling eyes, try to hide it from me, but I know it’s there. He’s damaged like me. It pulls me to him in a way that’s too powerful to ignore.

Peter reaches past me and sets his empty cup on the same box. His arm brushes against mine as he does. I breathe him in. God, he smells good. That pull between us gets even stronger. When he straightens, we’re sitting very close. Peter’s sapphire eyes lock with mine and my stomach goes into a free fall. This is it. I can feel it. I can sleep with this guy and erase the last one. I’ve already come this far. It’s a few more steps, a few more minutes. I can do this. I can.

Besides, the guy makes me feel as though I can actually be with him. I want to touch him, which is so strange. I haven’t felt like this in a really long time. It’s as if he brought me back to life. And right now, it’s all I can do to sit here and not thrust my fingers into his hair. I want to feel him against me. I want that kiss on his lips, the one that he’s been teasing me with all night. Peter’s breath crosses my cheek when he exhales. It’s warm and perfect. My heart races faster as he moves closer to me. His eyes study my face, taking in every detail. Nerves twist my stomach in giddy anticipation.

Peter lifts his hands and strokes his fingers along one side of my face, gently caressing my cheek. My eyes close in response, and I lean into his hand. Every part of me flutters to life. My voice is caught in my throat. I can’t speak. I feel the tension building between us and I’m going to melt. I want to melt. I want to stop thinking for a while, I want to move on with my life and lose myself in his kiss. This is so weird for me, but I don’t pull away. I force myself forward.

Heat shoots through my body and I feel myself inching toward him, wanting to taste his kiss, wanting to hold him against me. Peter’s fingers brush my hair away from my face, and he dips his head and covers my lips with his. I suck in a jagged breath, unable to hide how much he affects me. Peter’s bottom lip brushes against mine. He kisses me softly, hesitantly at first. Each kiss is slow and tentative, wanting to know if I want more. Nipping my bottom lip with his teeth, Peter kisses me and I respond. I lean into him and press my mouth roughly against his. I feel his tongue brush the seam of my lips, asking for them to part. He sweeps against them lightly once, twice, and I open my mouth. Brushing his tongue along the curves of my mouth, Peter kisses me deeper. I moan, leaning into him, not wanting it to stop. Every part of my body is burning up. Every bit of me is hyper-sensitive to his touch. As his hands touch my skin, I feel lighter, like I’m floating.

I press myself closer to Peter, and trail my fingers up his back, feeling the curves of his toned body. Peter’s hands respond by drifting lower to my waist and slipping under the hem of my shirt. When he touches me, it feels good. My pulse races. I can’t slow it. I can’t hide my rapid breaths or what he’s doing to me. Peter’s touch sets me on fire. I pull him down on top of me, and we lay back on his couch. His lips don’t stop and neither do mine.

I’ve never responded this way before. I’ve had hot kisses before, but this isn’t the same. This is a connection that runs deeper. His kiss shoots through me like an arrow, catching on the anchor that weighs down my soul. There are few times that I’m certain of anything, and now is one of them. Peter Granz is different. Everything from his touch to his voice draws me to him.

My fingers work at the buttons on his shirt. When I push back the fabric, it falls to the floor to reveal a chiseled chest and rock hard abs. I gasp, and run my fingers over the contours of his body. Peter watches me as I slide my hand across his chest and trail my fingers down to his stomach. When I hit his waistband, I slow my hand and glance at his eyes.

“You’re beautiful,” he breathes. Lowering his head, Peter dips and presses a slow kiss to my neck. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensations shooting through my body. His hands move over the bodice of my dress, slowly testing how far he can go. When his palm brushes over my breast, I moan into his ear. My hips push into his and I can feel how hard he is, how much he wants me.

Peter’s kisses trail down my neck, leaving a hot wake behind. His mouth is so hot. Every time he presses a kiss to my skin, my back lifts off the couch. I can’t stay still. Everything he does makes me respond. My hands find his back and sweep over his muscles. They’re so tense, so hard. Peter shifts his weight, moving one leg to the side. Watching me, he touches the neckline of my dress, slowly pushing the shoulder strap down. Breathing slow and deep, I watch him. His eyes darken as he looks at me. His fingers gently pull the other strap until it comes loose. I feel his eyes on me. I know that I want this. Peter slips down the top of my dress.

I’m wearing a sheer black bra. He can see everything. Peter’s eyes drink me in as though he could never get enough, before lowering his head to my breast. His lips move over the fabric at first, teasing me, making my nipples so hard that they ache. Rational thought has left my body. I’m moaning beneath him, pressing myself against him. This feels right and I want this. I want to feel his lips on me. I want to feel his tongue flick against me. I moan and tangle my hands in his dark hair. My back arches and thrusts me harder against his mouth. Peter’s hands move to my straps. He slips off one strap and exposes the soft skin beneath.

Peter kisses my bare shoulder. His mouth drifts lower, burning a path of hot kisses to my breast. I feel his hand, hot and heavy, pass over the curves. He holds me for a moment, feeling me against his hand. Peter’s thumb brushes my nipple making my hips move on their own. Breathing hard, I say his name, begging him to kiss me, to touch me there. His lips brush against my skin and I melt. My entire body responds to him. Every inch of me is on fire, hot, wanting—no needing—him. Peter kisses and nips me until I’m lost in a thick haze of lust. My hips rock against his, wanting more.

That’s when he lowers a hand to my leg and traces his finger slowly up my inner thigh. My legs fall open. I suck in a breath, wanting his hand to slip under my dress, to that hot spot between my legs. Peter moves slowly, watching me. His hand brushes over the outside of my panties, touching me lightly. The movement makes me crazy. I can’t stand the way Peter teases me, how he watches me like he knows what he’s doing to me. My nails find his forearms and scratch. It’s as if that action breaks what’s left of Peter’s self-control, and in seconds he’s on top of me, pressing me harder into the couch. His hand is between my legs and his lips are on my breast. I writhe against his hand, with a thousand different sensations shooting through my body.

Everything is perfect until a startlingly loud sound breaks the spell. The phone in the kitchen rings, echoing in the empty apartment. Peter stops moving. The jarring noise won’t end. It keeps ringing and ringing. Peter sighs into my shoulder. We’re both still for a moment, until he pushes up.

Peter sits on the end of the couch, ignoring the phone, and rubs his face in his hands. Breathing hard, he says, “I’m sorry, Sidney, but I can’t do this.”

Something inside me shatters when he says it. I don’t understand what’s happening. Instead of explaining, Peter stands and turns away from me. I can’t see his face. His bare back faces me with every muscle tense. Peter puts his hands on top of his head and sighs loudly, looking up at the ceiling before turning back to me. My heart stops when he looks at me. If I thought he was hot before, he is so much hotter now. Every curve of his chest is chiseled like a piece of art. But those eyes, those haunted blue eyes, make me transfixed. I stare at him, not knowing what he’s thinking or why.

The phone stops ringing. The silence is thick. It floods the apartment in a wave. I can’t breathe. Peter picks up his shirt and slips it back on. As he does that, I fix my bra strap and my dress, concealing myself.

I feel so hot, and so nervous. I want to know why he pushed me away. I’ve never had a guy do this before. I feel foolish to have done so much with him and then have him react like this. I wonder if I did something wrong. I glance at his back. He’s standing across from me, out of arm’s reach. “I’m sorry, Peter. I didn’t think things would go that way. I really came up here to talk to you.”

I mean every word I say. I had no intention of sleeping with him, but once his lips were on me, I wanted to feel something for a while, something besides the normal unending pain and remorse that flows through my veins. It would have been a moment to lose myself and forget everything, a chance to move on.

I’m greedy. I took too much. I should have said no. I should have responded like a normal girl and been shy about it. The thing is, I’m not normal. Too many things have happened. Knots twist me up inside. I can’t look at him.

Peter’s eyes search my face. I feel his gaze on me but I don’t look up. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Peter’s gaze falls to the floor. “I know. Coffee...” It seems as though he’s going to say more, but he doesn’t. Peter glances up at me from under his brow for a second.

My stomach sinks into my shoes. Panic, guilt, and fury are mixing together, making me feel sick. Peter doesn’t look up. He doesn’t say anything else.

The silence between us is clanging furiously. I have to leave. Every part of me wants to run. Humiliation doesn’t look good on me. I try to smile, but it feels wrong. My jaw is stiff.

I can’t think of anything else to tell him—anything to make it better—so I grab my purse and say, “Thanks for the sandwich.” The last word comes out dripping with innuendo that I didn’t mean. My voice caught in my throat at the wrong time. Horrified, I look up at him.

A bashful look slips across Peter’s face. Oh my god. I didn’t see it before, but he’s shy. There’s a trace of a wary boy left in this man. I think I may die. He’s perfect. He’s perfect and he’s pushing me away.

Peter regains his confident composure and locks the shy part away. He leans in and kisses my cheek. “Thanks for everything.”

We say a few other things, but the feeling to hold onto him doesn’t subside. It’s hard to leave. I feel as though I hurt him somehow, but I can’t stay. Not after this. It’s not the kind of thing I can recover from. And if I see him again, we won’t be friends. There won’t be a second chance after this. He’s seen too much of me, and his tossing my ass out isn’t something I want to repeat. I follow Peter to the door. He doesn’t say anything else. I turn toward him, look up at his face with my lips parted. My question is all over my face even though I don’t ask.

Peter’s gaze cuts to the side. Fine. He won’t even look at me. Whatever. I resist the urge to chew him out and stomp down the stairs like a mad elephant. Peter walks out and stands on the landing until I’m safe inside my car. I drive away without looking back.