Ignited by Passion, page 17
Jayla chuckled as she pushed aside her plate. “Nothing about being a parent is easy, Storm, whether you work in the home or outside the home. The most important thing is making sure the child is loved and well taken care of. Now if you will excuse me, I think I will try some of that fruit.”
Storm watched as she stood and crossed the room. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he had decided to stay away from her because she was too much of a temptation? When he had walked into the restaurant, he had sensed her presence even before he had actually seen her. Then he had glanced around and his gaze had locked in on her sitting alone at a table, drinking her orange juice with a huge smile on her face, completely oblivious to anyone and any thing around her. Even now, he couldn’t help but wonder what had put her in such a good mood.
He took a sip of his coffee, thinking she evidently didn’t want him to know since she hadn’t shared whatever it was with him. Electricity shot through him as he continued to watch as she put an assortment of fruit into a bowl. He liked the outfit she was wearing, a fuchsia sundress with spaghetti straps and a pair of flat sandals on her feet. She had gorgeous legs, and her hair flowed around her shoulders, emphasizing her beauty from every angle. She looked the very image of sexiness and at the same time she looked comfortable and ready for the New Orleans heat that was normal for a September day.
“The food in this place is good,” she said returning to the table and digging into the different fruits she had brought back with her.
He lifted his dark head and his stomach tightened as he watched her slip a slice of pineapple into her mouth and relish it as if it were the best thing she’d ever eaten. She chewed very slowly while his gaze stayed glued to her mouth, finding the entire ordeal fascinating as well as arousing.
“So, what are you plans for today?”
Her question reeled him back in. He set his fork down and leaned back in his chair. He met her gaze, or at least tried to, without lowering it to her mouth again. “Take in the sights. I checked with the person at the concierge’s desk and he suggested I do the Gray Line bus tour.”
Jayla smiled brightly. “Hey, he gave me the same suggestion. Do you want to do it together?”
Innocent as it was, he wished she hadn’t invited him to join her sightseeing expedition in precisely those words. Do it together. A totally different scenario than what she was proposing popped into his head and he was having a hard time getting it out of there. “You sure you don’t mind the company?” he asked searching her face. Although he got very few, he recognized a brush-off when he got one and yesterday, after asking her to dinner, she had definitely given him the brush-off.
“No, I’d love the company.”
He wondered what had changed her mood. Evidently the news she’d received had turned the snotty Jayla of last night into Miss Congeniality this morning.
“So what do you say, Mr. Fireman? Shall we hit the streets?”
Hitting the sheets was more to his liking, but he immediately reminded himself just who she was and that she was still off-limits. “Sure. I think it would be fun.” As long as we keep things simple, he wanted to add but didn’t.
She chuckled, a low, sexy sound, as she leaned forward. “And that’s what I need, Storm, some honest-to-goodness fun.”
He looked at her for a moment, then suddenly understood. The past six months had to have been hard. She and her father had been extremely close, so no doubt the loneliness was finally getting to her.
A jolt of protectiveness shot through him. Hadn’t he promised Adam that he would look after her? Besides, if anyone could show her how to have fun, he could. Because of his attraction to her, over the years he had basically tried to avoid her. Now it seemed that doing so had robbed him of the chance to get to know her better. Maybe it was time that he took the first step to rectify the situation so that a relationship, one of friendship only, could develop between them.
Having fun with a woman without the involvement of sex would be something new for him, but he was willing to try it. Since there was no way the two of them could ever be serious, he saw nothing wrong with letting his guard down and having a good time. “Then I will give you a day of fun, Jayla Cole,” he said and meaning every word.
A smile touched the corners of his mouth. “And who knows? You just might surprise yourself and have so much fun, you may not ever want to get serious again.”
A rush of excitement shot through Jayla’s bloodstream when the bus made another stop on its tour. This time to board the Steamboat Natchez for a cruise along the Mississippi River. So far, she and Storm had taken a carriage ride through the French Quarter, a tour of the swamps and visited a number of magnificently restored mansions and courtyards.
The Natchez was a beautiful replica of the steamboats that once cruised the Mississippi. Jayla stood at the railing appreciating the majestic beauty of the river and all the historical landmarks as they navigated its muddy waters. She was very much aware of the man standing beside her. During the boat ride, Storm had kept her amused by telling her interesting tidbits of information about riverboats.
As he talked, she tipped her head and studied him, let ting eyes that were hidden behind the dark lenses of her sunglasses roam over him. She enjoyed looking at him as much as she enjoyed listening to him. Soft jazz was flowing through several speakers that were located on the lower deck and the sound of the boat gliding through the water had a relaxing effect on Jayla.
When Storm fell silent for a few moments, Jayla figured she needed to say something to assure him that he had her full attention, which he definitely did. “How do you know so much about riverboats?” she asked, genuinely curious. She watched his lips curve into a smile and a flutter went through her stomach.
“Mainly because of my cousin Ian,” he replied as he absently flicked a strand of hair away from her face. “A few years ago, he and some investor friends of his decided to buy a beauty of a riverboat. It’s over four hundred feet long and ninety feet high, and equipped with enough staterooms to hold over four hundred passengers.”
“Wow! Where does it go?”
Storm leaned back against the rail and placed his hands in the pockets of his shorts. “Ian’s riverboat, The Delta Princess, departs from Memphis on ten-day excursions along the Mississippi with stops in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg and Natchez. His crew provides first-class service and the food he serves on board is excellent. In the beginning, business was slow, but now he has reservations booked well over a year in advance. It didn’t take him long to figure out what would be a drawing card.”
Jayla lifted a brow. “What?”
“Gambling. You’d be surprised how many people have money they figure is worth losing if there’s a chance that they might win more.”
Jayla could believe that. A couple of years ago, she and Lisa had taken a trip to Vegas and had seen first hand just how hungry to win some people were.
When there was another lull in the conversation, she turned away from him to look out over the river once more. It was peaceful, nothing like the tempest that was raging through her at the moment. Storm had kept his word. She’d had more fun today with him than she’d had in a long time. He possessed a fun-loving attitude that had spilled over to her. There were times when he had shared a joke with her that had her laughing so hard she actually thought something inside her body would break. It had felt good to laugh, and she was glad she’d been able to laugh with him.
She tried to think of the last time she had laughed with a man and recalled that it had been with her father. Even during his final days, when she’d known that pain had racked his body, he’d been able to tell a good joke every now and then. She heaved a small sigh. She missed her father so much. Because he had kept such a tight rein on her, she had been a rebellious teen while growing up. It was only when she’d returned from college that she had allowed herself to form that special father-daughter relationship with him.
After his death, at the encouragement of the officia
“So what are your plans for later?”
Storm’s question invaded her thoughts and she tipped her head to look over at him. “My plans for later?”
“Yes. Yesterday, I invited you to join me for dinner and you turned me down, saying you’d already made plans. Today, I’m hoping to ask early enough so that I’ll catch you before you make other arrangements.”
Jayla sighed. She knew her mind needed a reality check, but she wasn’t ready to give it one. Spending the day with Storm had been nice; it had been fun and definitely what she’d needed. But she didn’t need to spend her evening with him as well. The only thing the two of them had in common was the fact they both loved and respected her father. That would be the common link they would always share. But spending more time with Storm would only reawaken all those old feelings of attraction she had always had for him.
She took off her sunglasses, met his gaze directly and immediately wished she hadn’t. His eyes were dark, so dark you could barely see the pupils. The jolt that passed through her was so startling she had to remind herself to breathe.
“I was wondering when you were going to stop hiding behind these,” he said, taking the sunglasses out of her hand when she was about to put them back on. He gave her a cocky smile. “But I didn’t mind you checking me out.”
Jayla couldn’t hide the blush that darkened her cheeks. Nor could she resist easing her lips into a smile. So he’d known she had been looking him over. “I guess it probably gets rather annoying to you after a while, doesn’t it?”
He arched a brow. “What?”
“Women constantly checking you out.”
He smiled again. “Not really. Usually I beat them to the punch and check them out, so by the time they decide they’re interested, I know whether or not I am.”
A grin tilted the corners of Jayla’s lips. “Umm, such arrogance.” She took her sunglasses from him and put them back on, preferring her shield.
“Instead of arrogance, I see it as not wasting time,” he said simply. “I guess you can say I weed out those who won’t make the cut.”
Jayla sighed deeply and struggled with good judgment as to whether to ask her next question. Although she may have struggled with it, curiosity got the best of her. She couldn’t help but ask, “So, did I make the cut?”
For a moment, she thought he would not answer. Then he leaned forward, pulled off her sunglasses and met her gaze. “With flying colors, Jayla Cole. I’m a hot-blooded man and would be telling a lie if I said I didn’t find you attractive. But then, on the other hand, I have to respect who you’ll always be to me.”
Jayla had to resist grinding her teeth in frustration. She doubted he realized that he’d hit a sore spot with her. Not because she was Adam Cole’s daughter, but because being her father’s daughter had been the reason Storm had always kept his distance from her. A part of her had gotten over his rejection years ago, but still, it downright infuriated her that he had labeled her as “hands off” because of his relationship with her father.
She watched as he pointedly checked his watch, as if to signal their topic of conversation was now over. “You never did say whether or not you had plans for later.”
Jayla almost reached out to snatch her sunglasses from his hand again, then changed her mind. Instead, she decided to have a little fun with him. She stepped close to him, reached out and took hold of the front of his shirt. “Why, Storm? What do you have in mind for later?” she asked, in a very suggestive tone of voice.
She watched as he studied her features with a well-practiced eye before he said, “Dinner.”
She pressed a little closer to him. “Dinner? That’s it?”
He glanced around. There were only a handful of people about. Most had gone up on deck to listen to the live jazz band that was performing. His gaze returned to hers. “Yes, that’s it. Unless…”
She lifted a brow. “Unless what?” she asked, then watched as his mouth curved into a smile. A very sexy smile.
“Unless you want me to toss you into the river to cool off.”
Jayla blinked. His smile was gone and the dark eyes staring at her were serious. She stared back, willing him to get the message she was sending with her eyes. His words had ticked her off. “Do you think I need to cool off, Storm?”
The smile that returned to his lips came slow, but it came nonetheless. “I think you need to behave, brat,” he said, playfully tweaking her nose.
She frowned. Those were the same words he had spoken to her ten years earlier when she had made that pass at him. She knew he’d been as right then as he was now, but, dammit, it really annoyed her that he was still using her father as an excuse to keep her at arm’s length. A part of her knew it was ludicrous for her to be upset, especially when she should probably be grateful, considering his “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” reputation.
His Don Juan exploits were legendary. Even so, a part of her hated his refusal to acknowledge she was not a child any longer. She was a full-grown woman and it was up to her to decide whom she was interested in and whom she wanted a relationship with. After all, pretty soon she would be a woman with the responsibility of raising a child alone.
“So, what about dinner, Jayla?”
Time seemed to stop as Jayla considered her options. On the one hand, having dinner with him was a really bad idea. She sure didn’t need someone like Storm in her life, especially with her plans with the fertility clinic and her future as a single mom a definite go. That’s what the rational part of her brain was trying to get through to her. On the other hand, there was that irrational part, the one that resented him for being all knowing and too damn caring. That part of her head said that one little dinner would do no harm. She knew she should leave well enough alone, but part of her just couldn’t.
She met his gaze. “I’ll think about it.” And without saying anything else, she took her sunglasses from his hand and walked away.
Storm shook his head as he watched Jayla stroll across the deck. She’d had a lot of nerve asking if she made the cut, as if she hadn’t felt the sparks that had flown between them yesterday as well as most of the morning. Fortunately for him, it was an attraction that he could control. But he had to admit that when she had pretended to come on to him a few moments ago, he had almost broken out in a sweat.
He remembered her teen years. During that time Adam had described her as headstrong, free-spirited and an in dependent thinker. It seemed not much about her had changed.
Storm watched as she moved around the tables that were filled to capacity with an assortment of food and knew he had to rethink his relationship with her. A lot about Jayla had changed and he was looking his fill, taking all those changes in at that very moment.
He couldn’t remember the last time any woman had got ten his attention the way Jayla had. She didn’t know how close she’d come to getting a kiss from him when she had molded her body to his. His gaze had latched on to her lips. They had looked so soft that he’d wanted to find out for himself just how soft and kissable they were.
He sighed. Her ploy had been no more than teasing, but his body was still reeling from the effects. However, no matter what, he had to keep her best interests at heart, even if she didn’t know what her best interests were and even if it killed him.
Why couldn’t he keep his eyes off her? Hadn’t he decided she was off-limits? He glanced away and tried to focus on the beauty of the river as the riverboat continued to move through it. It was a beautiful September day and he had
He wondered if she was romantically involved with anyone. He recalled Adam mentioning once that he felt she was too nitpicky when it came to men and that she would never meet the “perfect man” that met her satisfaction. That conversation has taken place years ago and Storm couldn’t help wondering if her attitude had changed. Had she found someone? Something or someone had definitely had her smiling when he’d first seen her at breakfast that morning. All she’d said was that she had just received some wonderful news, news she hadn’t bothered sharing with him. Did the news have anything to do with a lover?
“Storm, don’t you want something to eat?”
The sound of her voice grabbed his attention and he glanced back over to her, met her gaze and had to swallow. The hue of her eyes seemed to pull him to her. And he didn’t want to think about her mouth, a mouth that now contained a pulse-stopping smile. It seems the feathers he had ruffled earlier were now all smoothed. When he didn’t answer quickly enough, she quirked a brow and asked, “Well, do you?”
He fought the urge to tell her yes, that he was hungry, but what he wanted had nothing to do with food. Instead of saying anything, he strolled over to join her at the table and took the plate she offered him. “Yes. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. You might want to try these, they’re good,” she said popping a Cajun cheese ball into her mouth.
Storm’s breath hitched. He watched her chew, seeing her mouth barely moving. He quickly decided it wouldn’t be that way if they were to kiss. He definitely intended to get a lot of movement out of that mouth. He continued to stare at her mouth for a moment and then sighed. Thinking about kissing her was not the way to go. He needed to concentrate on sharing a platonic relationship with her and nothing more,
“If you eat enough of these, there might not have to be a later.”
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