Ignited by Passion, page 16
“So, how long will you be in The Big Easy?” he asked, breaking once again into her thoughts.
“I’ll be here for the rest of the week. The conference ended today, but I’ve made plans to stick around until Sun day to take in the sights. I haven’t been to New Orleans in over five years.”
He smiled and it was a smile that made her insides feel jittery. “I was here a couple of years ago and totally enjoyed myself,” he said.
She couldn’t help wondering if he’d come with a woman or if he’d made the trip with his brothers. Everyone who’d lived in the Atlanta area for an extended period of time was familiar with the Westmoreland brothers—Dare, Thorn, Stone, Chase and Storm. Their only sister, Delaney, who was the youngest of the siblings, had made news a couple years ago when she married a desert sheikh from the Middle East.
Dare Westmoreland was a sheriff in a suburb of Atlanta called College Park; Thorn was well-known nationally for the motorcycles he raced and built; Stone, who wrote under the pen name of Rock Mason, was a national bestselling author of action-thriller novels and Chase, Storm’s fraternal twin, owned a soul-food restaurant in downtown Atlanta.
“So how long do you plan on staying?” she asked.
“My meeting ended today. Like you, I plan on staying until Sunday to take in the sights and to eat my fill of Cajun food.”
His words had sounded so husky and sexy she could actually feel her throat tighten.
“How would you like to join me for dinner?”
Jayla blinked, not sure she had heard him correctly. “Excuse me?”
He gave her what had to be his Perfect Storm sexy smile. “I said how would you like to join me for dinner? I haven’t seen you since Adam’s funeral, and although we’ve talked briefly on the phone a couple of times since then, I’d love to sit and chat with you to see how you’ve been doing.”
A part of her flinched inside. His words reminded her of the promise he had made to her father before he’d died—that if she ever needed anything, he would be there for her. She didn’t relish the thought of another domineering man in her life, especially one who reminded her so much of her father. The reason Storm and Adam Cole had gotten along so well was because they’d thought a lot alike.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ve already made plans for later,” she said, lying through her teeth.
It seemed that turning down his offer didn’t faze him one bit. He merely shrugged his shoulders before checking his watch. “All right, but if you change your mind give me a call. I’m in Room 536.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that.”
He looked at her and smiled. “It was good seeing you again, Jayla, and if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to call me.”
If he really believed she would call him, then he didn’t know her at all, Jayla quickly thought. Her father may have thought of Storm as a son, but she’d never considered him a brother. In her mind, he had been the guy who could make her all hot and bothered; the guy who was the perfect figment of a teenage girl’s imagination. He had been real, bigger than life and for two solid years before leaving Atlanta to attend college, he had been the one person who had consumed all of her thoughts.
When she returned home four years ago, she had still found him totally irresistible, but it didn’t take long to realize that he still wouldn’t give her the time of day.
“And it was good seeing you again, too, Storm. Just in case we don’t run into each other again while we’re here, I hope you have a safe trip back to Atlanta,” she said, hoping she sounded a lot more excited than she actually felt.
“And I ditto that for you,” he said. He surprised her when he grasped her fingers and held them firmly. She’d shivered for a second before she could stop herself. His touch had been like a shock. She couldn’t help noticing how strong his hand was, and his gaze was deep and in tent.
She remembered another time their gazes had connected in such a way. It had been last year, when the men at the fire station had given her father a surprise birthday party. She distinctively remembered Storm standing across the room talking to someone and then suddenly turning, locking his gaze with hers as if he were actually seeing her for the first time. The episode had been brief, but earth-tilting for her nonetheless.
“Your father was a very special man, Jayla, and he meant a lot to me,” he said softly before releasing his grip and taking a step back.
She nodded, putting how intense Storm’s nearness made her feel to the back of her mind while holding back the tears that always flooded her eyes whenever she thought of losing her father to pancreatic cancer. He had died within three months of the condition being diagnosed.
Although while growing up she had thought he was too authoritative at times, he had been a loving father. “And you meant a lot to him, as well, Storm,” she said, through the tightness in her throat. “You were the son he never had.”
She watched him inhale deeply and knew that her words had touched him.
“Promise that if you ever need anything that you’ll call me.”
She sighed, knowing she would have to lie to him for a second time that day. “I will, Storm.”
Evidently satisfied with her answer, he turned and walked away. She watched, transfixed, trying to ignore how the solid muscles of his body yielded beneath the material of his shirt and pants. The last thought that came into her mind before he stepped into the elevator was that he certainly did have a great-looking butt.
When the elevator door swooshed shut, Storm leaned back against the back wall to get his bearings. Seeing Jayla Cole had had one hell of an effect on him. She had been cute and adorable at sixteen, but over the years she had grown into the most breathtaking creature he’d ever set his eyes on.
“Jayla.” He said her name softly, drawing out the sound with a deep, husky sigh. He would never forget the time Adam had invited him to dinner to celebrate Jayla’s return to Atlanta from college. It was supposed to have been a very simple and quiet affair and had ended up being far from it. He had walked into the house and felt as if some one had punched him in the stomach. The air had miraculously been sucked from his lungs.
Jayla had become a woman, a very beautiful and desirable woman, and the only thing that had kept him from adding her to his To Do list was the deep respect he’d had for her father. But that hadn’t kept her from occasionally creeping into his dreams at night or from being the lone person on his Would Definitely Do If I Could list.
He sighed deeply. She had the most luscious pair of whiskey-colored eyes he’d ever seen, medium brown hair that shimmered with strands of golden highlights and skin the color of creamy cocoa. He thought the entire combination went far beyond classic beauty. And he hadn’t been able to ignore just how good her body looked in the shorts and tank top she’d been wearing and how great she’d smelled. He hadn’t recognized the fragrance and he’d thought he knew them all.
She had actually trembled when he’d reached out and touched her hand. He’d felt it and her responsiveness to his touch had given his body a jump-start. It had taken every thing within him to pretend he wasn’t affected by her. Since he was thirty-two, he calculated that Jayla was now twenty-six. She was now a full-grown woman. All woman. But still there was something about her that radiated an innocence he’d seldom found in women her age. It was her innocence that confused him most. He was an ace at figuring out women, but there was something about her that left him a bit mystified and he couldn’t shake the feeling. But one thing he was certain about—as far as he was concerned, Jayla was still off-limits.
Maybe it had been a blessing that she’d turned down his invitation to dinner. The last thing he needed was to share a meal with her. In fact, spending any amount of time with her would only be asking for trouble, considering his at traction to her. He released a moan, a deep throaty sound, and realized that the only thing that had changed with the situation was that Adam was no longer alive to serve as a buffer and a constant reminder of the one woman he could not ha
Just thinking about Jayla sent a jolt of desire straight from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, leaving an aching throb in his midsection. Storm rubbed a hand down his face. Nothing had changed. The woman was still too much temptation. She’d been a handful while growing up; Adam had been faced with the challenge of raising his daughter alone after his wife died, when Jayla was ten.
Adam had been a strict father, too strict at times, Storm thought, but he’d wanted to keep his daughter safe and not allow her to get into the kind of trouble other teenagers were getting into. But Adam had also been a loving and caring father and had always placed Jayla first in his life. Storm had always admired the man for that.
Storm’s thoughts went back to Jayla and the outfit she was wearing. It hadn’t been blatantly sexy, but it had definitely captured his interest. But that was as far as he would allow it to go, he thought with a resigned sigh. Jayla was definitely not his type.
He enjoyed his freedom-loving ways too much and no matter what anyone thought, he knew the main reason he lived a stress-free life was because of his active sex life. In his line of business, you needed an outlet when things got too overbearing. And as long as he was responsible and made sure all his encounters didn’t involve any health risks, he would continue to engage in the pleasures of sex.
Okay, so he would admit that he was a man with commitment issues, thanks to Nicole Brown. So what if it had been fifteen years, there were some things a man didn’t forget and rejection was one of them.
He and Nicole had dated during his senior year in high school and had even talked about getting married when he finished college. He would never forget the night he had told Nicole that his future plans had changed. He decided that, unlike his brothers, he didn’t want to go to college. Instead, he wanted to stay in Atlanta and attend the Fire fighters Academy. Nicole hadn’t wasted any time in telling him what she thought about his plans. A man without a college education could not provide adequately for a family, she’d told him, and had broken up with him that same night.
He had loved her and her rejection had hurt. It had also taught him a very valuable lesson. Keep your heart to your self. You could have sex for sex’s sake, but love and marriage would never be part of the mix. So what if his uncle Corey, who had pledged to remain a bachelor for life, as well as his older brothers Dare, Thorn and Stone, had all gotten married in less than a year? That didn’t mean he or his twin Chase would follow in their footsteps.
His thoughts shifted back to Nicole. He had seen her at a class reunion a few years back and had been grateful things had ended between them when they had. After three marriages, she was still looking for what she considered the perfect man with a good education and plenty of money. She had been surprised to learn that because fire fighters made it a point to constantly study to improve their job performance and prepare for promotional exams, he had eventually gone to college, taking classes at night to earn a bachelor’s degree in fire science and later a master’s degree in public administration.
His thoughts left Nicole and went back to Jayla. He remembered when she had left Atlanta to attend a college in the north. Adam had wanted her to stay closer to home, but had relented and let her go. Adam would keep him updated on how well she was doing in school. He’d always been the proud father and when she had graduated at the top of her class, Adam had taken all the men in his squad out to celebrate. That had been four years ago….
The chiming of the elevator interrupted his reverie. The elevator opened on his floor and Storm stepped out. He had reached the conclusion that, incredible-looking or not, the last woman he would want to become involved with was Jayla Cole. But once again he thought about how she looked downstairs in the lobby. Incredible. Simply incredible…
The next morning, Jayla leaned back in her chair at the hotel restaurant, sipped her orange juice and smiled brightly. The call she had received before leaving her hotel room had made her very happy. Ecstatic was more like it.
The fertility clinic had called to let her know that everything had checked out and they had found a sperm donor whose profile met all of her requirements. There was a possibility they could schedule the procedure in less than a month.
She felt downright giddy at the thought of having a child. Her mother had died when she was ten, and her father’s recent death had left her suffering with occasional bouts of loneliness. She had been an only child; she never had a sibling to share that special closeness with and now more than ever she wanted a child to love and to add special meaning to her life.
At first, she had looked at the pool of guys she had dated over the past couple of years, but for the most part they left a lot to be desired—they’d been either too over bearing or too overboring. So she’d decided to try a fertility clinic. After doing a load of research she had moved ahead with the preliminary paper work. Now in less than two months, she would take the first steps in becoming a new mother. A huge smile touched her lips. She couldn’t wait to hold her baby in her arms. Her precious little one would have chocolate-colored skin, dark eyes, curvy full lips, cute dimples and…
“Good morning, Jayla. You seem to be in a rather good mood this morning.”
Jayla looked up and met Storm’s gaze. Although she had decided to avoid him for the remainder of her time in New Orleans, she wasn’t upset that they had run into each other again so soon. She was too elated with life to let anything or anyone dampen her spirits today.
“I am in a good mood, Storm. I just received some wonderful news,” she said smiling brightly. She saw the curiosity in his eyes, but knew he was too well-mannered to ask her for any details. And she had no intention of sharing her plans with him. Her decision to venture into single parenthood was personal and private. She hadn’t shared it with anyone, not even Lisa, her best friend from work.
“Mind if I join you?”
Her smile widened. “Yes, have a seat.”
She watched as he sat down and noticed his outfit complemented his physique just as it had the day before. He definitely looked good in a pair of cutoff jeans and a T-shirt that said Firefighters Are Hot.
“So what are you having this morning?” he asked, glancing over at her plate.
“Buffet. And everything is delicious.”
He nodded. “Umm, I think I’ll try it myself.”
No sooner had he said the last word, a waiter appeared and Storm informed the man that he would be having the buffet. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said standing.
Jayla watched as he made his way across the room to where the buffet was set up. She couldn’t help but watch him. She knew there was no way she could feel guilty about being drawn to him, since she had always been attracted to him. And at least she wasn’t the only one, she thought, glancing around and seeing that a number of ad miring women had turned to check him out. However, it appeared he was more interested in filling his plate than in all the attention he was getting.
Jayla blinked when she suddenly realized something. Storm’s features were identical to those she had requested when she’d filled out the questionnaire for the fertility clinic. If the clinic filled her request to the letter, the donor whose sperm she would receive would favor Storm and her baby would almost be his clone.
She shook her head, not believing what she’d subconsciously done. When she blinked again, she noticed that Storm had caught her staring at him, lifted his brow in question and then stared back at her.
Jayla’s heart thudded in her chest as she watched as he crossed the room back to her with a plate filled to capacity. “Okay, what’d I do?” he asked sitting down. “You were staring at me like I’d suddenly grown an extra nose or something.”
This time, Jayla had to force herself to smile. “No, you’re fine. I just couldn’t help but notice how much food you were piling on your plate,” she said instead of telling him the real reason she’d been staring.
He chuckled. “Hey, I’m a growing boy. All my bro
Jayla took another sip of orange juice. She had met his brothers a while back and remembered all four of them being in excellent shape. If they routinely ate that much food, they must also work out…a lot. “Your parents must have had one heck of a grocery bill.”
“They did, and while we were growing up my mom didn’t work outside of the home, so it was up to my dad to bring home the bacon. And not once did he complain about the amount of money being spent on food. That’s the way I want it in my household if I ever marry.”
Jayla lifted a brow after taking another sip of orange juice. “What?”
“I don’t want my wife to work outside of the home.”
Jayla gazed at him as she set down her glass. She had heard that very thing from several people who knew him. It was no secret that when Storm Westmoreland married, he would select a domestic diva.
“I have deep admiration and respect for any woman who works inside the home raising her family,” she said truthfully.
His features showed signs of surprise. “You do?”
“Yes, raising a family is a full-time job.”
He leaned back in his chair and studied her for a moment before asking, “So you would do it? You would be a stay-at-home-mom?”
He sat up straight. “But you just said that you—”
“Admired women who did it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would do it. I believe I can handle a career and motherhood and chose to have both.”
“It won’t be easy.”
Other author's books:
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