Authors: Elizabeth Palmer
Tags: #romance, #contemporary
“I hate to say this — I
hate to say this — but I was a late bloomer.”
The laugh she was expecting didn’t come. “A bloom worth waiting for,” he said.
laugh. “Is that the best you’ve got?”
A furrow appeared on his forehead. “Did that sound like a line? You’ll have to forgive me, I’m out of practice. In fact, I’ve never been any good at this.”
Coming from a broad-shouldered, six-foot-tall man with altar-boy curls, his disclaimer sounded even more like a line. Unless he really had been locked up somewhere? And what exactly was the “this” he’d never been good at?
“Umm, Jake, I don’t know very much about you …”
“No, but I know a lot about
.” He took a step closer, and she turned her body away from the railing so they were face-to-face. His eyes were so intensely focused on hers, she felt like he could see inside her.
“You’ve just seen me do the news. You don’t really
me.” It was amazing how many people thought they did, but she didn’t expect that from this man.
He shook his head, like a teacher who was disappointed with his student’s answer. “No, it isn’t that. It’s your eyes, those incredible blue eyes. I see a passion for life in them, and I know you’re someone who puts your whole heart into everything you do.”
She closed her eyes then, afraid he would see she’d put her whole heart into her work for ten years, and was now feeling empty and alone on what should have been a night of celebration. His lips touched hers, so gently at first she had to reopen her eyes to see if it was happening. Then she closed them again and yielded to his kiss, wondering if Jake might be the man who could fill that emptiness.
“Listen,” she said, when the kiss ended and she caught her breath, “I have to go inside and mingle. But if you’d like to give me a ride home later …”
Violet didn’t go home with men she’d just met. But his uncle was a pillar of the community, and she’d promised Seth she’d be more spontaneous. Promise or no promise, she wanted to be with this man tonight. Without even the thinnest layer of silk between them.
He seemed surprised, and delighted. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
His hesitation touched her. Instead of answering she kissed him, rising up on tiptoe and breathing in his masculine sunshine-and-sweat scent. The second kiss, which sent an electric shock through the center of her body, was both a promise and a dare.
Violet reeled when Jake released her, struggling to stay on her feet. She wondered just how long she’d have to make small talk before it would be polite for her to leave her own party. As she walked back through the door to the ballroom with him behind her, she felt his fingers caress the base of her spine, and then slip lower. When he squeezed the rounded flesh there, she decided she didn’t give a hoot about good manners.
• • •
Jake hovered on the periphery of the ballroom and watched as Violet laughed and chatted with a group of her friends. How soon could he expect her to give him the signal she was ready to leave? He decided to move to the bar. A strong drink in his hand might keep it from shaking.
“Give me the best single-malt Scotch you have.”
“Put it on my tab, John.”
Jake, recognizing Richard-the-anchorman’s unaccented speech from the nightly news he watched whenever he visited Matt, turned to him with a smile.
“Thanks. I’ll return the favor someday.”
Richard took a swallow of his drink and turned his head in Violet’s direction. It wasn’t lost on Jake that he knew exactly where to find her.
“It’s like that, is it?” Considering what had just transpired out on the balcony, Jake doubted very much the two were a couple, but the other man’s desire was written all over him.
Richard shook his head, his expression mournful. “I’ve tried, but she won’t date a coworker. I haven’t told her yet, but I had an interview with a cable channel in Boston yesterday. I’ve always wanted to be a producer, and if I’m nearby but not working with her, I’m sure I’ll have a chance. We’re perfect together.”
As the two men watched, Violet moved on to another group of well-wishers. She tugged at a strand of her glossy black hair that had escaped from her up-do, and Jake envisioned himself pulling out the pins and letting it fall over her creamy skin. As he imagined the feel of it against his own skin, he gulped down a mouthful of the Scotch and choked.
Richard clapped him on the back, much harder than necessary. “Is this a good idea, old man?” He cut his eyes toward Violet, so there was no doubt what he meant.
He blurted out the truth. “No.”
When his uncle asked him if he wanted to tag along to the party and meet his “dream girl,” he couldn’t resist. They’d often joked about the fact that Jake
to watch the WWIC news whenever he was in Wickham; Matt would tell him to put his tongue back in his mouth. There was something so sweet and innocent, and yet at the same time so sexy, about her. Would the reality of Violet in the flesh be a disappointment?
In any case, there had been no thought — certainly no
— of anything beyond a few hours of flirtation. But Violet had
been a disappointment, and she had invited him to extend the evening. Jake never said no to delightful and unexpected opportunities, or to women as attractive as Violet.
Richard misunderstood Jake’s negative reply. He nodded, satisfied. “Good. The last thing she needs is someone like you messing up her life.”
Violet had moved closer to the bar, and Jake heard her tell someone she needed to make a phone call. It was the moment he’d been anticipating ever since they returned from the balcony — the signal.
He downed the rest of his drink and thumped the unlucky anchorman on the back. “Thanks for the drink, Rayburn, but I have to run.” Since he didn’t plan to take it, he didn’t thank him for his advice.
• • •
Unlocking the door to her apartment thirty minutes later, Violet felt a moment of uncertainty. Did this need to happen tonight? Jake lived in Boston; they would be able to see each other after she moved. Maybe she would even be sober. But then he leaned up against her back and kissed the exposed nape of her neck, and she thought she would melt into a puddle on the floor. When she turned to him with the key still in the lock so she could feel his length against the front of her, he pushed his tongue into her mouth again and her doubts disappeared.
“Inside … ” she gasped.
After turning on a light in the entryway, she led the way around the stacks of boxes to the bedroom where she’d slept alone for more than two years, ever since the breakup of her last, brief relationship. Once she reached the bed she turned to him, wanting to leave the next move up to him.
“You’re lovely.” She could feel his hand tremble as he slid the zipper down at the back of her dress. It dropped to the floor in one fluid motion, leaving her naked except for lacy black panties and her shoes.
As he had earlier on the dance floor, he put his arm around her back and pulled her to him. This time there was no polite space between them. He was still fully dressed, and the roughness of his clothing against her naked skin was incredibly exciting. Even so, she reached up and undid the black bow tie, sliding her other hand inside his jacket at the same time and slipping it off his shoulder.
He joined in her efforts to remove his clothes, beginning with undoing his belt, but it was a slow process because of frequent stops to slide his hands over her breasts and bottom. Her nipples were stiff from the touch of his fingers, and she was more ready than she’d ever been. Had been ready, in fact, ever since that second kiss on the terrace. She couldn’t wait for him to discover the effect he’d had on her.
Before he was fully naked himself, he yanked her panties down below her knees and guided her backward until she was sitting on the edge of the bed. Kneeling in front of her, he slid them down as far as her ankles, removed both her shoes, and pulled the scrap of black lace over her feet.
“This is no longer a formal affair, and I’m feeling overdressed.” He stood and began to unbutton his shirt with what she considered agonizing slowness. When he sat on the edge of the bed with his back to her to remove his shoes and socks, she leaned over and caressed the back of his neck. As soon as his hands were free, she grasped the collar of his shirt and slid it down and off his arms, revealing a tanned, well-muscled back with a patch of whiter, ridged and puckered skin covering most of his right shoulder blade. It appeared to be a scar from a bad burn, but she knew this wasn’t the time or place to ask him about it.
He stood again and stripped off his remaining clothes, then turned and faced her. She was pleased to see he looked as good without the tuxedo as he’d looked in it. Finally he grinned and bent over her, tantalizing her with a probing kiss while maintaining a strangers-on-the-dance-floor distance between their naked bodies.
“Are you trying to make me beg?” she managed to gasp when the kiss ended.
His own breathing was ragged. “I didn’t expect this to happen, and I’m not exactly… prepared.”
“Prepared?” She felt like her head was full of champagne bubbles. What was he talking about?
“Do you have protection?”
“Oh!” She dragged herself to the head of the bed and slid open the drawer to her nightstand. Shoved way in the back, there was a strip of condoms.
“Thank God,” he said, accepting them like a prize and ripping one open. “Otherwise I might have been tempted to do something foolish.”
Tell me about it
. Then she — either spontaneously or foolishly, she wasn’t sure which — opened her arms, her legs, and her heart to a man she’d just met.
• • •
Violet woke up with a mouth full of cotton in a head that felt like it belonged to someone else. She sat up gingerly and reached for the glass of tepid water on her nightstand, knocking Jake’s watch to the floor in the process.
. She smiled through her pain at the memory of last night. The first time they’d made love had been frantic and fast, but the second — and the third — had surpassed any expectation of sexual bliss she’d ever had, as orgasm after orgasm rippled through her.
She heard the water running and realized Jake was in the shower. Would it, she wondered, be too forward of her to join him? The thought made her smile. After last night, nothing seemed off limits. But the shower came to a stop before she could act on her impulse.
After retrieving the watch and gulping down the glass of water, she slipped out of bed and pulled on the robe she’d left draped over her bedroom chair. She removed one or two hairpins still clinging to her disheveled hair, and brushed it out in front of the bureau.
“In that kimono, with your dark hair down, you look like a princess. It’s a good thing I didn’t walk in before you belted the sash.” He’d come out of the bathroom with his curly hair still damp from the shower, and was rolling up the sleeves on last night’s white dress shirt.
“That’s a good thing?” She opened her arms to him, but his embrace lasted only seconds. Sighing, he kissed her forehead and let her go.
She handed him the watch, which he slid onto his wrist. Had she misunderstood something last night? It had been the beginning of something special, she was sure of it. Now he was acting like he couldn’t wait to leave. Her heart lurched in her chest. What if he was
? Why hadn’t she asked more questions?
“I have to get back to my brother’s place in Boston. My flight isn’t until midnight, but I still have packing to do.”
Had he said something to her about a trip? Maybe he was going away on a book promotion. Or was he in a hurry to get out of there because last night hadn’t meant anything to him?
“Jake, I just want to say I don’t sleep with men I’ve just met … ”
He put his arms around her, and this time he held on. “I know. But of course we only had the one night, and we had to grab the opportunity. It’s making this difficult, though. I’ve never minded before.”
“Leaving the States. I feel like a soldier, going off to war and leaving the world’s prettiest girl at home.”
She pulled away. Barefoot, it was even more difficult to meet his eyes. “Jake, where exactly are you going?”
“Russia for six months, then straight to Tibet for six more.” He frowned. “But you knew that, right? Richard knew what I do and I thought you did too … ”
She rubbed her aching temples and sank down onto the rumpled bed. “I’m sorry, I probably should know what you wrote, but I’ve been preoccupied with the job change.”
He got down on his knees in front of her. “Violet, I’m the one who should be sorry. I feel like I’ve taken advantage of you. I’m not really a writer, I’m a photojournalist. The book I just finished is called
An American in South Africa
. I immerse myself in the day-to-day life of a place for six months or a year, and then I work with my editor for a few months, choosing the pictures and writing the text. It’s what I’ve been doing in Boston this spring.”
“Oh.” This is what comes of being spontaneous, she told herself. You find the man you think could be Mr. Right, have the best sex of your life, and then find out he’s a globe-trotting adventurer. Worse than her father, who had been constantly on the road with his band while she was growing up, eventually resulting in the break-up of her parents’ marriage. She had pictured an author as someone who was always home, pounding the keyboard in his office down the hall. This was worse, even, than if he’d been married.
“‘Oh’? That’s all you have to say?”
Jake’s distress was genuine, she knew. He believed she’d been fully aware last night was going to be a one-night stand, or at best a same-time-next-year scenario.
“Listen, there’s been no harm done here.” She forced herself to smile. “Last night was great. Not my usual style, I admit, but fun. Nobody needs to be sorry.” She didn’t tell him it had seemed like so much more than
to her at the time.