TILL I KISSED YOU Excerpt
Her eyes adjusted slowly, and she kept her gaze on her feet to avoid roots and rocks and mole trails. The falling-down dugout was even darker. She pulled her phone out and used the light to find the board. It was her board, and she wanted it.
Putting her phone to the side, she grasped the board and pulled. Nothing budged. Of course, Sawyer would pick the one board that had stood the test of time. She banged on the board with a palm-sized rock to no avail. Considering the wood, she ran her fingers over the inscription, inspiration flashing. Her trowel.
She turned around. A dark mass of a man stood at the exit. Her heart ramped from normal to frenzied so fast she felt lightheaded. Before she could pull in a deep breath to scream, the figure spoke.
“What the hell are you doing out here, Regan Lovell?”
Sawyer. With blatant accusation in his voice. Not that she could blame him. She had gotten a little tipsy and spray-painted Tomatoes Rule, Crayfish Drool across his freshly painted, yellow-bricked wall along River Street not two months earlier. Not so far-fetched he would believe she was up to no good. Actually, she would prefer him to think that over the truth.
“I’m just . . . messing around.”
“I heard banging.”
“Did you?” An uncomfortable laugh escaped, which only compounded her air of guilt. She took a step closer to him to distance herself from the message.
“Are you looking to steal something?” His voice had softened and lost its accusatory edge.
She hesitated, sensing he knew exactly why she was there. She’d given herself away the afternoon he’d finally revealed its location. “It’s not stealing. It belongs to me.”
“It belongs to the city even if it is falling apart.”
“It was written to me, and I want it.” The vehemence in her voice took her aback and she tried to mitigate the emotion. “I mean, you know, whatever. It’s just that it’s been a thorn in my side for a while. And I want it gone.”
“What are you going to do with it?” He took a step toward her.
He huffed, but she couldn’t see him well enough to categorize it as amusement or disgust. “You want to wipe me out of your memories, don’t you?”
Sometimes she wished she could do just that. Then it wouldn’t hurt so bad when she thought about him. He could be the leader of a neighboring town and that’s all. Not a former lover who still inflamed her and made her long for unattainable things.
She kept silent. Any answer would reveal too much.
“Are you going to pretend last night never happened?” he asked.
She took a quick breath and matched what sounded like hurt feelings with equal amounts of defensiveness. “You were the one pretending.”
He took a step closer. She held her ground even though one of her feet slid backward on the dirt floor. “It’s almost like it was a dream, isn’t it?”
At least he hadn’t said “nightmare.” She rubbed her lips together. He took another step. The heat of his body and fresh scent enveloped her. He’d showered recently. Maybe he’d worked late. Maybe his hair was still damp. Maybe the stubble from the night before was growing into a beard.
“It was dark and secluded and we were kind of forced into one another. It had nothing to do with you and me. Just like the night of the rabbits. It was the situation, right?” Why had she asked instead of stated? And why had she mentioned the night he had pressed her into the sweet-smelling grass and left her a puddle of lustful confusion?
“Exactly. It’s dark and secluded now too.” Another step and his chest grazed hers. She lifted her face toward his, every nerve ending straining for him.
“It is that. And we’re close.”
“How do we keep managing to get ourselves into these dark and secluded situations?” He circled her nape with his hand. It was all the encouragement her body needed. She pitched into him, her arms rising to circle his shoulders. Her fingers wound in his damp hair, the faint scent of his shampoo niggling at her memories. It was the same one he’d always used even though he could probably afford a salon brand. Practical, solid, sexy Sawyer.
His lips coasted from her temple to her jaw, laying small kisses along the way. She arched against him, turning her head in search of his mouth. Finally, he kissed her. A stuttering sigh escaped her on contact.
His one hand tightened on her nape while the other coasted down to cup and knead her backside. She whimpered, the noise coming unbidden from her throat. His tongue made gentle forays inside of her mouth, twining with hers. She sucked his bottom lip into her mouth and nipped it. He pulled back with a growly sound that veered humorous.
“You missed this haven’t you, baby? I’ll bet none of those Mississippi boys made you feel like this.”
His words were a dunk in the ice-cold waters of reality. She had spent too long getting him out of her system to regress over one short summer. Pushing off his chest drove her pelvis into his, and she nearly succumbed to temptation. His hard length pressed into her.
The truth was she had missed him. Terribly. Not only physically, but the emotional connection that sparked so readily between them. She twisted against him and he let her go, leaving her stumbling backward two steps before she caught her balance.
Her lips felt swollen and tender and craved more. “This is crazy.”
Sawyer tried to calm the storm raging in his body. She was right. One slipup that she had chosen to ignore afterward was one thing. Twice made it seem planned or deliberate or inevitable.
He wouldn’t lie to himself and say that he wasn’t a little hurt she’d acted unaffected by their epic make-out session in the closet. If the cops had busted them, he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to summon anything resembling regret, much less an apology. That kiss had been brewing all summer. Unfortunately, instead of sating his thirst for her, a desperation like a man wandering the desert in search of an oasis had taken hold of him.
Thank goodness she assumed his interest was purely physical and hadn’t guessed why he’d run across her two nights in a row. Sleep had been elusive for weeks. Only a drive-by verifying that she was home and safe settled him down. Last night, seeing her car parked in front of her shop so late had settled a hollow worry in his stomach. Seeing her sneaking through the dark had made him want to alternatively shake some sense into her and laugh. Regan Lovell was something else.
And tonight her truck had been gone, leaving him to grip the steering wheel too tight and drive too fast on his search for her. After scouring downtown Cottonbloom, Mississippi, and finding no trace, he had resigned himself to either no sleep back in his bed or watching her house until she was safely home. The anxiety and protectiveness wasn’t entirely foreign. It was part of the stew of emotions she’d incited when they were young.
“You’re right. Crazy. This festival has obviously screwed with our ability to make rational decisions. We’ll either end up in bed together or committed by Labor Day.” He froze, trying to pretend the words had only scrolled through his head and hadn’t actually come out of his mouth.
“We’re not going to end up in bed together.” Her voice wavered, but he couldn’t pin an emotion to it. Her eyes were wide and her lips still parted. She ran her tongue along her bottom lip for the second time. Crazy. He was being driven crazy. By her.
“Of course we’re not. I was joking. Here, if you want that board so bad, I’ll get it for you.”
“I can see it.” He gave it a yank from the top, feeling it give a fraction.
She chuffed. “I forgot you can see in the dark.”
He tugged twice more before the wood splintered where it met the frame of what was once a bench. What came away was a three-foot-long narrow board. He could make out the pen marks but not the actual words. Better really that she take it and burn it. End it.
If the written history of them was destroyed, did that mean it would cease to exist? Would she laugh at him if he insisted on keeping the splintered piece of wood? Would she guess at the sickness that had invaded him over the summer? A sickness that kept her constantly on his mind and in his worries.
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