Unplanned love a love in.., p.13

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 13

 

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel
 


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  His head shot up. “Who’s there?”

  “Relax, Bob. It’s only me.”

  He chuckled and put his guitar down as he stood up. She reached his porch and her eyes scanned his body from his head to his toes. He wore a pair of dark, loose sweatpants, a light gray sweater that hugged his biceps and, despite the cold, he was barefoot, which was… sexy was the first word that came to mind. When had she ever put feet and sexy in the same sentence? But even his feet were sexy, damn him.

  She chalked it up to the silly feelings that the night out with Ellie’s family had caused her. It had to be that. She was going to say hello, commend him on his singing, and go back to her car. Easy, right?

  “What are you doing here, creeping up on me?”

  She rolled her eyes. Annoying was good. Annoying was safe. “I wasn’t creeping up on you. I was walking and heard the guitar. You have a great voice. You should sing more.”

  He shook his head, then leaned with his elbows on the wooden railing, staring at her. “Nah, I leave it to Scott. I’m not comfortable singing in front of an audience.”

  She walked up the two steps, feeling slightly intimidated by the height disparity, but she was careful to keep a safe distance between them. She didn’t trust herself around him these days—least of all tonight.

  “You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. A dark curl fell across his face, partly shading his eye. He blew air out of the side of his mouth and, well, she found that gesture sexy, too. She was a mess. “Are you doing some night jogging?”

  She shook the silly fantasies from her head, one of which was about her hand brushing that curl away from his face, tucking it behind his ear, and resting her palm on his scrubby cheek. She lifted her stiletto-clad foot. “In these?”

  He laughed. “You’re weird, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”

  She let out an annoyed huff, even though her lips curved in a smile. “I went to dinner with Ellie, Adam, and Sophie to Mamma Maria. We got home twenty minutes ago, but I thought I’d go for a drive. I felt claustrophobic in the cottage.”

  “Small-town life is getting on your last nerve already, huh?” He grinned. Surprisingly, the answer was no. Not yet, anyway. But she didn’t say it out loud. “Or maybe dinner didn’t go well?” She frowned at his comment, and he smiled. “If you took a look at your face now, you’d understand.”

  He leaned with his back against the porch railing and crossed his legs at his ankles. Her eyes were drawn to his feet. Mmh. His feet were definitely sexy.

  She shrugged. “It was actually a lovely dinner, and I had a good time. But it made me think about my life—about life in general, and I sort of got upset.”

  He folded his arms and the fabric of his sweater strained, drawing her attention to his broad chest and muscular arms. Sexy arms.

  Ugh, Charli, stop it!

  “What’s upset you? You want to get married, too?”

  “Ew, no!” She shuddered, and he laughed. Even his laugh was sexy. Against her better judgment, she took a step closer to him and wrapped an arm around one of the wooden poles that supported the roof, leaning her head against it. “I feel… now that Ellie has Adam and Sophie, and soon her own baby, she doesn’t need me anymore. We’ve been friends since the first day of our freshman year. Even after she moved here, we told each other everything. After Adam kissed her, she called me and told me everything about her feelings for him. And when he proposed, I was the first person she called. The fact that she asked me to be her maid of honor and organize her wedding meant the world to me.” She sighed and looked up at the dark sky. “But when we were at the restaurant tonight, I saw something different in her. The way they seemed to be gravitating around each other was beautiful and romantic, but it made me understand she doesn’t need me anymore. When she has a problem now, she can speak about it with Adam. She won’t need to pick up the phone and call me to get help. And soon she’ll be too busy with her new family to have time for me.”

  “Don’t say that. Ellie couldn’t wait for you to get here—it was all she talked about in the weeks leading up to the wedding.”

  She shrugged. “She has a new life now, and I feel like mine is at a stalemate. I don’t know what I want, what I should do. I feel… completely alone.” She shook her head and tried to pull herself together when she realized her tone was getting whiny. “Not that I’m an orphaned kind of alone, but my family is in Texas and I’m here. Going home now would feel like a failure. Sure, it would be easier to take my father’s financial help, but it would just serve to prove my grandmother right about the fact that a woman needs a man to support her.” She rocked on her heels and interlocked her fingers around the beam. “I just want to show my grandmother I can make it on my own, that I can be the creator of my own success.”

  She bit her bottom lip, wondering why she’d told him so much about herself and her private family matters. He was barely more than a stranger after all. When she looked at him, she was expecting to see a frown on his face, maybe even judgment. She’d thought he’d roll his eyes and ask her to leave. Instead, his stare was soft, and a cute, lopsided smile curled his lips.

  “Well, I won’t judge you for your need to feel independent and have a job. I come from a hard-working family, so I understand where you’re coming from,” he said, his voice unusually gentle. “But I think you’re exaggerating when you say Ellie doesn’t need you anymore. Everybody needs friends, whether they’re married or single. No matter how much you love your partner, you will always need friends. You’ve been Ellie’s best friend for years, and from what little I know of her, she’s loyal.”

  “I know she is.” Charli shrugged. “Maybe having too much time on my hands is messing with my head.”

  “How about some hot chocolate?” He asked out of the blue. Charli lifted an eyebrow. “Doesn’t chocolate cure everything? That’s what Lauren says to me all the time. I guess it’s either that or rum.”

  She laughed at that. “I think if I had to choose, I’d probably go for hot chocolate. Also considering I’m driving.”

  He smiled. “Yeah, and because you’re a lightweight when it comes to alcohol consumption.”

  Charli frowned but he just laughed and spun around, picking up his guitar and tilting his head toward the door. “So, you up for hot chocolate then?”

  She nodded. “Only if you have marshmallows.”

  “Of course I do. Come on.”

  * * *

  He opened the door and she followed. She’d been here before, when she woke up in his bed the day after the wedding, but that time she hadn’t stayed long, and she’d been so embarrassed and eager to leave, she hadn’t taken the time to look around. They say you can really tell a lot about a person from the home they live in, so she studied the interior of the house. The living room had to be the biggest space in the house, just like she expected from a man. A three-seater leather couch with two leather recliners at each side were positioned in front of a light gray stone wall that took up the central part of the main wall, with a modern fireplace built in its center. On both sides of the stone wall were two recessed wooden bookcases, and a flat TV screen was in the one on the right, while the shelves on the left were filled with books, DVDs, and CDs, as well as some framed photographs. The homey feeling, coupled with the neat and tidy ambiance, made her assume that he wasn’t the messy kind of bachelor, one of those who needed a woman to clean up after him, just like Lousy Pig was.

  She followed him into the kitchen when she realized she’d been left behind. He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of milk, then reached into a cabinet to pull out cocoa and a bag of marshmallows.

  “Here,” he said, handing her the marshmallows. “You can cut them into small chunks. I only have the big ones from the last time I babysat Sophie and we made s’mores on the fire. It was her first time, and Adam was a bit mad that I was the one who’d introduced her to them.”

  He handed her a knife and turne
d his back to her to prepare the hot chocolate. She sat on a barstool at the wooden counter and tried to imagine him roasting marshmallows on the fire, teaching his niece how to make s’mores, laughing with her. Something lit up inside her chest—a weird kind of warmth she had never felt. She stared entranced at his broad back and her eyes traveled slowly down, until they settled on his firm bottom underneath those loose sweatpants. She blinked away another unwanted sexy vision that involved Kean and her, and focused on the knife in her hand. She didn’t need to chop a finger off because she’d been fantasizing over a butt—no matter how drool-worthy it looked. Because, well, it did look extremely pinchable. But she needed all of her fingers, thank you very much.

  Kean glanced over his shoulder, while he kept stirring the milk and cocoa in the pot. Her cheeks heated when a knowing smile appeared on his lips. Great, she’d been caught ogling him. She pulled a handful of marshmallows out of the bag and concentrated on chopping them, trying to look nonchalant.

  “So, um… do you babysit a lot?” Okay, perhaps it was a lame opening to a new conversation, but it was all she’d been able to come up with to avoid blurting out the words that had been on the tip of her tongue and that sounded something like, “Did you work out a lot to get those muscles, or did you just win the lottery in the genetics department?”—which may have sounded a tad out of place.

  “Not as much as I’d like to. And I guess it will be even less now that Adam won’t need us to look after her when he’s at work,” he said, returning his attention to the pot. “Sophie’s a bubble of energy and she can be a handful at times, but I love spending time with her. She brings out the kid in me.”

  Charli chuckled. “She is quite adorable.”

  Even though the mere sight of kids made her squirm in her seat, she had to admit it was impossible not to love Adam’s daughter. Charli had spent a lot of time with her lately, attending tea parties sitting next to Bugs, Sophie’s stuffed bunny, or to Anna and Elsa, the dolls that, after Sophie’s detailed explanation, Charli had learned were characters from a famous Disney movie. She’d also become Sophie’s favorite client at the hair salon in her bedroom, and although Charli had felt uneasy at first, she had quickly developed an inexplicable bond with the little girl, something that had caught her by surprise. Perhaps she wouldn’t be such a disastrous aunt after all.

  “I’m happy Adam has found Ellie. She’s just what he and Sophie needed. My niece has never really had a mother figure in her life, and I couldn’t have asked for a better stepmother for her.”

  “Ellie’s a natural with kids,” Charli said, reaching into the bag for more marshmallows. “Sophie is in very good hands.”

  “And so is Adam.” He turned the gas knob off and reached for two mugs on a wooden shelf above the sink, then proceeded to fill them with the steaming chocolate. He handed one to her and sat on the barstool right next to her. The air temporarily got sucked out of the room as he invaded her personal space when he reached over for the chunks of marshmallows she’d managed to cut, despite the handsome distraction. “He’s already found love twice, and both times he’s hit the jackpot. I can’t deny I am a little jealous, you know?”

  He brought the mug to his lips and blew on it. She couldn’t stop her eyes from following the lucky mug. She envied that mug, right now. She wanted to be that mug. She shook the thought away and reached for the marshmallows, dumping an exaggerated quantity into the mug. Kean chuckled, and she looked up at him.

  “Sweet tooth or just a need for comfort food?” His right eyebrow was quirked and a corner of his lips was tilted in a grin. She wanted to kiss that grin off. She gave an inward eye-roll. What was wrong with her tonight? Was the pervy ghost back?

  “Both, I guess.” She brought the mug to her lips, shrugging. When the liquid burned her tongue, she let out an embarrassing yelp. She’d been too hypnotized by his dark gaze to remember that the drink was hot.

  He laughed. “Sorry. I didn’t think I’d have to remind you to blow on it, like I do with Sophie.”

  Her eyes filled with tears as she tried to put on a very nonchalant, it-was-nothing kind of smile. Her attempt failed miserably, especially when he reached for her mug and blew on it like he would do with a kid. The sting on her tongue mixed with the embarrassment that burned her cheeks. She shouldn’t have agreed to stay. She shouldn’t even have stopped her car here. If she’d been trying to impress him—not that she had been—she was sure to have done a very poor job. And her stupid, traitorous eyes couldn’t stop staring at his lips, even through the veil of tears.

  “There. You should be okay now.” He placed the mug in front of her again, picked up his own and, after blowing on it, he drank. A marshmallow mustache covered his top lip, and she had to stop her hand from reaching out and wiping it away with her thumb. Again, all kinds of sexy scenarios involving marshmallows and chocolate played in her mind. Maybe she was delirious or suffering from some kind of food poisoning–induced hallucinations. There couldn’t be any other explanation for her behavior. “Are you going to drink that, or do you plan on staring at my mouth all night?”

  Somebody please kill her now.

  The annoying smirk on his face brought things into the right perspective.

  “Pull your head out of the gutter, Bob. I was staring at your mouth because you have a marshmallow mustache.”

  She wanted to pat her shoulder to commend herself for the smart comeback. Banter was good. If they started bickering, all those stupid thoughts and visions would go away.

  He licked his upper lip, and she wanted to groan. Couldn’t he just have used a napkin instead?

  She took a long swig from her mug, mainly to keep her mind focused on something else that wasn’t his mouth. And just how much she wanted to taste it.

  “Mmh, this is just what I needed. Chocolate does cure everything.” She raised her gaze and her eyes locked with his. Dark as the chocolate she was sipping, they pierced right through her, heating her up more than the drink had. They scorched her. He blinked, and for a second she wondered whether she’d imagined the heat she thought she’d seen there. He lifted his hand and reached for her face. Her breath hitched in her throat. Was he feeling the same pull as she was? Should she move away? Or should she give in to the insane attraction she wasn’t supposed to be feeling? She resisted the instinct to close her eyes and held his gaze. His thumb swiped across her upper lip, and the whole fantasy screeched to a halt, like a pin on an old record.

  “Mustache doesn’t look good on you.” And just like that, the magic moment ended. Phew, just in time.

  “Um, thanks.” She lifted her mug again, but felt self-conscious as he stared at her with a smug smile. Her temper flared, like it always did when he made fun of her or teased her. “What?” she asked, frowning.

  He shrugged, taking another sip of his drink. His tongue darted out again to make sure he had no mustache. And again, she felt like groaning. And squirming on the seat. Because that was the effect he had on her these days, for whatever inexplicable reason.

  “Why did you come here tonight?” His tone was serious, his gaze intense. Yes, she needed to squirm. Perhaps she should leave. And take a cold shower when she got home.

  “Um, I told you. I was driving by and heard the guitar—”

  “From the car.” It wasn’t a question. The skeptical tone indicated he knew she wasn’t being completely honest right now.

  She rolled her eyes. Surely he could cut her some slack now? “After I got out of the car, of course.”

  “And why did you stop here? You said you wanted to go for a drive, but you got out of the car and walked up to my house.” He rested his chin on his palm and stared at her more intensely. “The truth, Charli.”

  Could she play dumb? He raised an eyebrow at her hesitation. Okay, maybe not.

  “I don’t know.” That wasn’t a lie. Not completely. “I just wanted to walk and figured here would be safer than all alone on the beach.” And that was a tiny white lie, but who would tell?
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  “And this had nothing to do with the fact I live here, right?”

  She laughed, but instead of an ironic chuckle it came out as a squeak. She cleared her throat. “Big head, have we? No, I thought everyone would be asleep. Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning on spending the night with you.”

  Uh, that didn’t come out right.

  He chuckled, and her cheeks flushed again. Ugh, he was so irritating at times. But so sexy, too.

  “Not sure if I should feel offended or flattered.”

  “Down, boy. That’s not what I meant.”

  His smirk grew broader even as he hid his mouth behind his mug. “You sure?”

  “Positive.” Her tone didn’t sound convinced, but she hoped he’d believe her anyway. “I didn’t know what I expected to find out here. I guess I just wanted somewhere quiet where I could think. I was feeling pretty miserable when we got home from the restaurant. The walls of the cottage closed in on me as I realized Ellie didn’t need me anymore—that nobody needed me.”

  “Don’t say that.”

  He put his mug on the counter and lifted his hand again, but this time it wasn’t to wipe her lip. This time, his big, slightly calloused hand stroked the side of her face ever so gently. When it settled on her cheek, she couldn’t help leaning into it as her eyes fluttered closed on instinct. It had been so long since someone had touched her with so much tenderness.

  “Charli.” His voice was low and deep, and it made her belly quiver. Was it even possible to have such a physical reaction to just the sound of her own name? She should probably go now, before she did something stupid like closing the distance and kissing him, wrapping her arms around his strong body, straddling him on that barstool and…

  “Look at me.”

  Instinct told her that once her eyes locked with his, she’d be gone—too far gone into the moment to pull back without consequences. But she did what he asked anyway. She opened her eyes and looked at him. His lazy smile and the gentle look in his eyes all but melted her heart, as well as her reservations and doubts. She was attracted to him. Damn him and those dark eyes.

 
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