Cuff me, p.10
Cuff Me, page 10
Ten seconds later she was knocking on Vincent’s door.
“I came to save you—” she started to say the second the door opened.
And then she broke off.
And stared some more.
Vincent Moretti was shirtless.
Jill didn’t trust herself to speak.
Because the only word her dazed mind seemed to be able to come up with was mouthwatering.
He hadn’t meant to open the door without a shirt.
But taking in Jill’s stunned expression, he was glad that he had.
Call it payback for her raunchy sex comment at Elena’s party that had kept him up for more nights than he cared to admit.
Jill still hadn’t lifted her eyes from his torso, and he put his hand on the doorjamb, leaning just slightly.
When her eyes finally met his, he was wearing an all-out grin.
“Why are you… panting?” she asked.
Why are you? he wanted to ask back.
Instead he shrugged. “Doing some push-ups.”
“You do those every night?” she asked.
“And every morning.”
Actually, his twice-daily workouts were usually a good deal more than push-ups, but he was in a tiny-ass motel room. He did what he could.
“Huh.” Her eyes drifted lower again.
He smirked. “Can I help you with something, Henley?”
There was a very satisfying pause, and Vincent felt his grin grow wider.
She pointed to her room. “My TV’s not working.”
Damn. Not what he was hoping she’d say.
“Ah. What room are they moving you to?” he asked, assuming she was stopping by to tell him of her relocation.
And then she ducked, slipping under the barricade his arm had made across the doorway and entering his hotel room.
“Um, okay.” He shut the door and turned to face her.
She’d already found the remote on the nightstand and wiggled it at him. “You mind?”
“You’re watching TV here?”
“Why not? If you need to finish your push-ups, I’ll promise not to watch.”
“Really,” he said dryly.
“Nope.” She grinned. “Not really. Seriously, Moretti, that’s an impressive upper body you’ve been hiding from me all this time.”
“I’d be happy to implement shirtless Saturdays if you are.”
“Eh, you’re getting the bad end of the bargain there, my friend. The only exercise I do on a daily basis is lifting beverages to my face. Coffee in the morning, wine in the evenings—”
Vin tuned out her rambling. He was too busy picturing shirtless Jill, and somehow he didn’t think he’d be disappointed.
Jill was slim, yes, and her small breasts were not exactly the type to land the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, but Vincent had never been a boobs guy.
He liked his women on the smaller end of the spectrum, liked when he could lift them, hold their tight, perfect ass in his hands as he…
The TV turned on and his dirty thoughts scattered.
“I guess you’re staying then,” he muttered.
“It wasn’t really ever up for negotiation,” she said, her mouth full of M&M’s as she flipped through the stations.
“Thought you ‘couldn’t possibly eat’?” he said.
She shot him a patient look before patting the mattress next to her. “Come watch this stupid movie with me. It’ll help ease your bad mood.”
He glanced at the TV. “Isn’t this Transformers, or something equally awful?”
She wiggled her eyebrows at him. “You know you want to.”
And in spite of himself, he did.
Not the movie so much, but the idea of relaxing beside someone else, even if it was in a shitty little motel room with no clean clothes and a fucking blizzard outside, held a strange appeal.
Vincent walked around the bed and sat beside her, both of them propped against the headboard. And he realized he was wrong. It wasn’t relaxing beside someone that appealed.
It was relaxing beside Jill.
She glanced over at him, then did a double take before bouncing off the bed and grabbing his undershirt from the chair in the corner where he’d set it.
Jill flung it at him, and he caught it just before it whacked him in the face.
“Put that on,” she ordered.
“I usually go to bed shirtless,” he said, flexing just to mess with her.
“And I usually watch TV pantless,” she shot back.
Vin lifted an eyebrow. “I’m game if you’re game.”
She pointed at him. “Get dressed, Moretti.”
He complied, but only because an annoying thought cropped up. “Did you talk to Tom?”
Jill was in the process of flinging herself on the bed, but she faltered a little at that. “You sure are concerned with the state of my relationship.”
“Just making conversation,” he muttered, turning his attention back to the TV. It was commercials.
“Since when?” she asked, pressing the issue. “Since when have you ‘just made conversation’ with anyone?”
There was a sharper-than-usual edge to her voice, and Vincent scooted down so he was lying on his side of the bed, head propped on his hand, facing her. “What’s going on, Henley? You’re testy.”
She fished out an M&M, started to lift it to her mouth, and then frowned at it.
“Everything okay?” he asked, tongue in his cheek. This disgruntled version of Jill was kind of… cute.
“I don’t like the brown ones,” she said, as though this were completely reasonable.
She held it out to him between two fingers, and Vincent surprised them both by leaning forward and nipping it out of her fingers with his mouth.
The lips-to-fingers contact was brief. A second at most, but he felt it in his gut. Heard it in her intake of breath.
Vin lifted his eyes to hers, but the second he did, she looked back at the M&M’s bag, shaking it violently until she found a blue one.
She rattled the bag again, going at it like a raccoon with a take-out bag, and he reached out, touched her hand. “Jill?”
Abruptly she dropped the bag of candy and scooted down until she was flat on her back on the bed. She flung both arms over her face, the crook of her crossed elbows hiding her eyes.
He didn’t ask her what was up. Didn’t push. Just sat and waited. She was still for several minutes, and then she rolled over onto her side to face him, propping her head on her hand, mimicking his position.
“Do you think I’m making a mistake?”
His chest clenched. Don’t ask me that.
But her gaze was level, her voice steady. She really wanted to know. Wanted his opinion.
He fished an M&M out of the bag—a brown one—to stall. “I assume that we’re talking about your shotgun wedding?”
“What’s going on? Trouble in paradise?”
“Not really,” she said, glancing down at the bed. “We’re not fighting. It’s just… we never see each other.”
“Which sucks,” he said slowly. “But plenty of couples make long-distance work, at least in the short term.”
“Yeah, because you know so much about couples,” she said crankily.
“It’ll get better,” he forced himself to say. “Just throw yourself into the wedding planning. Remind yourself all the reasons that these tough months are worth it.”
Jill smiled. “I think you might be the first guy in history to tell a woman to throw herself into wedding planning.”
“Yeah well… I’m not the one you’re marrying, now am I? I won’t have to deal with the worst of it.”
He intentionally kept his voice light, but her smile dimmed, just a little, before she seemed to force herself to recover. “Very true. And yet you will have to see me every day, so you just remember
“That last one, I’m down with,” he said.
She smiled, and he smiled back. “You sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“Sure. Just been getting a lot of the jitters lately,” she said, rolling herself into a seated position and crossing her legs on the bed.
“Movie’s back,” she said, reaching for the remote and turning it up.
The conversation was apparently over. Usually it was him finding ways to stop talking, but tonight, he wanted to keep the conversation going. He wanted to know more about what was going on with her and Tom.
Wanted to hear more about these second thoughts she was having.
Instead, he reached for a candy bar and tore it open with his teeth as he turned his attention toward the noisy, brainless, yet fully entertaining movie.
Forty minutes later the credits started rolling and Vin waited for Jill to turn the channel.
And waited… and waited…
He broke off when he glanced over and saw her. She was sound asleep.
Vincent gently pulled the remote out from under her hand and turned down the volume, thoroughly amused when he heard gentle snores coming out of his partner.
Jill Henley snored. How…
It was cute.
He grinned to himself, reaching for his phone so he could capture it on video and use it for some good-natured blackmail in the future, only to find that his thumb didn’t hit Record like he meant it to.
Instead he found himself putting the phone away.
And then he looked at her. It was probably creepy, a man staring at a sleeping woman who was not his wife or girlfriend, but he couldn’t look away.
Jill looked younger than her age, even when awake. She had a girlish face and figure that gave her a perpetual twenty-three look, something he knew she loathed and loved in waves.
But sleeping, she looked… womanly.
Not old, not haggard, but as though she held all of the secrets of the world in her dreams; secrets only she knew.
Secrets that he wanted to beg her to share.
She made a smacking sound with her mouth and then rolled onto her side, one hand sliding up under her cheek, the other…
The other reached out toward him.
He froze, staring down at her small hand where it lay between them on the bed.
She hadn’t been reaching for him, obviously. She was asleep. Didn’t know that he was there.
And yet, he suddenly found it hard to swallow. Found it hard to look away from her pointy little nose, and the way a few strands of straight blond hair escaped her ponytail to lay against her cheek.
Before he realized what he was doing, he slid his hand along the bed until his fingertips were millimeters from hers.
And then he touched her hand. Just softly. His fingertip against her knuckle, the rough pad of his finger against her smooth skin.
He allowed himself to linger, just for a moment, his finger tracing each of hers. Drawing circles on the back of her hand.
Vincent wanted to flip her hand over. Wanted to touch his fingers to the nerve endings of her palm. Wanted to press his lips there. Wanted to lever himself over her, and—
Vincent pulled his hand back. Slowly.
He squeezed his eyes shut.
The touch had been almost nothing—it was less than chaste.
And yet he thought of it, long, long into the night.
“What’s up?” Jill asked, not looking up from where she was carefully chopping an onion. Maria Moretti had always made this look easy, but Jill had nearly taken off the tip of her middle finger.
“Are you aware that you have eight different types of pasta in here?”
“Um, you try being practically adopted by the Morettis and not come to think of it as a food group.”
Tom kissed the side of her head as he passed her from the pantry on his way to the fridge. “They’re lucky to have you.”
Jill smiled and rolled her eyes. “Biased much?”
Tom was too busy peering into her fridge, debating white wine options. “Annnnnd, every last white is Italian. Another Moretti influence?”
She gave him a quick glance, searching for any sign of irritation, but saw only amusement.
“They’re all good, I promise. Even the ones you’ve never heard of.”
He glanced at her and lifted an eyebrow. “Oh, I’ve heard of all of them.”
Jill snorted and set the knife aside. The onion was close enough to chopped. “You’re such a snob.”
“Didn’t hear you whining about my wine prowess while I was verbally dueling every sommelier in Florida,” Tom said, pulling out a bottle as he wiggled his eyebrows.
“What, do you guys draw corkscrews at dawn on your yacht?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said as he searched her cupboards for wineglasses. “We never drink before noon on my yacht.”
Jill accepted the glass he handed her, and he clinked their glasses together. “To my second time in your apartment,” he said warmly.
She smiled and tried to ignore the implication behind his teasing words.
She was going to marry a man who’d been in her apartment twice. A man who hadn’t known what cupboard she kept her wineglasses in, a man who hadn’t even been the slightest bit irritable despite the fact that his plane had sat on the tarmac for two hours, a man who…
Jill paused as she was sipping her wine. “Tom, you don’t really have a yacht, do you?”
He smiled, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “Do you really want me to answer that?”
Oh God. He had a yacht. She was marrying a man with a yacht.
Tom glanced down at the massacre on her cutting board before flicking at a too-big piece of onion. He gave the barely minced garlic a skeptical look.
“Mmm?” The wine was delicious as she wanted it to be.
“How deft are your cooking skills?”
“You really want me to answer that?” she asked, repeating his earlier question.
He bent his knees slightly and captured her mouth for a kiss. “Want me to take over?”
She pulled back from the kiss. “You own a yacht and you cook?”
Tom winked. “Did I mention I can best most sommeliers at wine trivia?”
Jill shook her head. “What are you doing with me? I had Captain Crunch for breakfast. Out of the box. Later I found a piece between my boobs where it had fallen into my bra.”
He hooked a finger into her shirt and pretended to take a look. “Still there?”
She batted his hand away. “My point is, you’re so far out of my league.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m crazy about you,” he said, ushering her aside. “Now step aside, drink your wine, and let me make you something fabulous.”
Jill did as she was told, hoisting herself onto her kitchen counter as she watched Tom chop the onion into more manageable pieces.
This was her life. This, right here, was going to be the rest of her life. Sipping wine with Tom at the end of the day while he cooked for her.
The thought was… nice.
And if somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if it shouldn’t be nicer, she ignored it.
“So how’s the case coming along?” he asked as he made easy work of the onion and moved on to the garlic.
“Ugh. Stagnant,” she said.
There was a vibrating news alert sounding from her purse, and she leaned across the counter, fishing her phone out as she took another sip of wine.
She bit her lip when she saw that the text was from Vin.
Ordered Chinese. You want?
For one horrible, terrible moment, Jill wanted nothing more than to respond and say yes.
What was with that?
And she wanted to leave all that to go have mediocre takeout with a man who’d probably either want to review crime scene photos or watch a game while they ate?
No. No, she didn’t want that.
This was where she belonged. With a man who was good at conversation, and good at kissing, and good at being nice…
Still, she regretted not telling Vin that Tom was coming into town for the weekend. She’d meant to. It was just… she didn’t like talking to Vincent about Tom, any more than she liked talking to Tom about Vin.
It was like they were two parts of her life that she wanted to keep as separate as possible, and had no idea why.
Or maybe she had every idea why, which is why she couldn’t let herself think about it.
“So, my sister’s cousin is a real estate broker in Chicago,” Tom said, oblivious to Jill’s turmoil. “She said we’re looking at the perfect time to move. There are a bunch of brand-new buildings going up near the lake. Which will be brutal in winter, of course, but that’s why we’ll have a place in Florida as a getaway.”
“I’ll still have to work in winter,” she said with a bit more bite than she intended.
He looked up. “Yeah. I know.”
“The option to get away to a nicer climate sounds nice,” she said, softening her tone. “Maybe I can save up vacation time.”
“And if not, we’ll hunker down in Chicago and drink red wine in front of the fire,” he said. “Maybe binge on whatever show’s the next Netflix rage.”
Jill’s mind happily entered the cozy picture he described. It was everything she’d ever wanted. Someone to cuddle with on the couch, watching crappy TV with excellent wine… maybe even a foot rub. Maybe Vin would suggest ordering extra cheese on the pizza, and she’d pretend to protest because it was too fattening, and—
Jill sat up a little straighter. Wait. Whoa.
How had her partner entered that picture?
He’d be back here in New York when she and Tom were in Chicago. Not like he’d be stopping by any longer, and there certainly wouldn’t be any cuddling since she’d be married.
Jill glanced down at her phone, where Vincent’s text sat unresponded to.
That sad text combined with her strange, out-of-place vision made her chest ache.
by Lauren Layne / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes