Authors: Cathie Linz
Tags: #Romance, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Pennsylvania, #Single Women, #Contemporary, #General, #Sociologists, #Fiction, #Love Stories
“Really? Her date, huh? Sounds serious. How long have you two been seeing each other?”
Since when had her normally nonverbal dad turned into Mr. Chatty? He hadn’t questioned her high school date to the prom this much.
Wait, she hadn’t gone to prom.
“We haven’t been seeing each other for that long,” Jake replied, “but your daughter made a big impression on me the first time we met.”
“She did, huh?”
“Call me Bob.” Her dad held out his hand, which Jake shook without wincing.
Emma knew her dad had the fierce handshake of a former Marine. He’d taught her as a kid to have a firm handshake and not a wimpy girly one that was like a dead fish. And when she’d get it right, he’d beam with pride. As he had when she’d graduated from college.
He’d been so proud.
Those were fond memories, not scary ones.
A majority of her memories were good, which was why that momentary flash of cowering in the corner was so disconcerting to her. She thought she’d come to terms with her past. It was her present that was giving her fits.
“Nice to meet you, Bob,” Jake said.
“Well, if everything’s okay here, I guess I’ll leave you two alone then,” Jake said.
“Why not come in for a spell?” her dad said.
Emma looked over her shoulder at her dad as if he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had. He never invited people in. He was not a people person. What was going on here?
“Invite the man in, Sweet Pea,” her dad instructed.
“I, uh . . . would you like to come inside?” Hardly the most heartfelt of invitations, but hey, she was still wobbly on her emotional pins.
“Come on, Jake, we won’t take no for an answer,” her dad answered.
And so it was that Emma unlocked her door and ushered the two men inside while mentally hoping she hadn’t left anything in plain view that she shouldn’t have. The small size of the studio apartment required her to be tidy. A quick scan of the room reassured her that the only messy place was the dining table she was using as a desk, where papers and books were spread out.
“And I thought the mobile home was small.” Her dad shook his head. “I’ve seen RVs bigger than this.”
“It’s not that bad. I like it. Can I get either of you something to drink? I’ve only got Dr Pepper.
The fridge doesn’t hold much and I wasn’t expecting company.”
“Nothing for me,” her dad said.
“I’m fine,” Jake concurred.
Her dad gingerly sat on the futon, as if expecting it to collapse beneath his weight. “Your mom sent me over here to find out why you wouldn’t stay with us at home.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “I already told her I’ve rented this place for the summer while I do my work here. The research grant I got will cover the rent.”
“Yeah, well, you know how your mom is.” He looked around the room. “It doesn’t seem like the flea-bitten hovel she made it out to be.”
“She hasn’t even seen it,” Emma protested.
“You know how mothers are. Right, Jake?”
He just shrugged. Something about his expression caught Emma’s attention and made her wonder at the momentary flash of emotion there. It was there and gone so quickly she couldn’t even completely identify what it was—pain or anger?
“So are you from around here, Jake?” her dad asked.
“No, but I’m enjoying my time in Rock Creek.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a bartender at Nick’s Tavern.”
Her dad was not impressed. Emma was tempted to tell him that Jake was an extreme sports athlete, but it wasn’t her place to reveal that information. And Jake chose not to, which didn’t surprise her. She was surprised by the way he managed to change the subject, getting her dad to talk about himself.
“Uh-oh.” Her dad glanced at his watch half an hour later. “I’ve got to go pick up your mom.” He gave Emma a quick hug before hurrying out.
Emma closed the door after him and returned to the futon to face Jake, who stayed behind.
“I’m sorry for overreacting the way I did, screaming like that.”
“Something happened to you, didn’t it?” he said quietly.
“With my dad?” Emma shook her head vehemently. “No, no, nothing like that.”
“Not because of my dad.” There was a moment of silence before she admitted, “Look, something happened back in Boston a few months ago. I was mugged. I was walking home after dinner out one night when this guy with a knife came out of nowhere. I wasn’t raped or anything.” Although she might have been had a neighbor not shown up and scared the assailant away. “He shoved me to the ground and took off with my purse. I signed up for self-defense classes the next day.”
“Which you clearly excelled at, judging by the way you handled Roy in the bar.”
“I’m not proud of that moment. I shouldn’t have resorted to violence. It was just a knee-jerk response.”
“Like you screaming when you saw your dad.”
“I didn’t know who it was when I screamed. I just saw a figure coming at me out of the corner of my eye and again I had a knee-jerk reaction. Please don’t say anything about this to my family. I
haven’t told them about the mugging.”
“I don’t want them worrying about me off in the big city of Boston on my own. I’ve always been the reliable daughter. The one that doesn’t get in trouble.”
He studied her for a moment. She wondered what he saw. Was he trying to read her mind or her soul? Could he tell how conflicted she was inside? How deeply she wanted him?
Finally he spoke. “I won’t say anything.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“How much do you appreciate it?” His deep voice turned husky as he gently tugged her down onto the futon beside him. Cupping her cheek, he softly asked, “Are you afraid of me? Do I spook you?”
How should she answer that? On one level he did spook her. Not that she was afraid he’d physically injure her or attack her. She was nervous about the powerful attraction he held for her.
Yet he also had the strange ability to make her feel gloriously alive.
Jake brushed his index finger over her bottom lip. “You’re safe with me.”
“You don’t feel safe?” He lingered a mere inch from her mouth, waiting for her reaction.
Emma wished he’d just kiss her and get it over with instead of tempting her this way, building the anticipation to unbearable heights until she leaned forward and placed her lips against his.
Making the first move wasn’t like her, but she didn’t care. They were kissing and that’s all that mattered at the moment. She was consumed by the reality of his mouth on hers, of his tongue caressing hers as he took her face between his hands and kissed her fiercely.
There was nothing safe about their kiss. Its intoxicating potency sent a tremor of excitement through her. His lips were warm and bold as he tested and tasted each corner of her mouth and the full softness in between.
That first kiss on her fire escape hadn’t been a fluke. Jake wasn’t just an exceptional first kisser.
He was a damn fine kisser, period. She’d never been convinced of the pleasures to be had from French kisses, but his expert tutelage made her a total convert.
The ever-fluid interplay of his tongue against hers was wickedly blissful. He devoured her with a forceful need. His mouth slanted ravenously atop hers, consuming all that was within her parted lips.
It took Emma several moments to realize the sound wasn’t her heart pounding in her ears. The pounding was coming from her front door.
“Come on, Emma, I know you’re in there,” Leena yelled. “Open up!”
“Ignore her and she’ll go away,” Jake said, nibbling on her throat.
Emma wished that were true, but knew it wasn’t. She reluctantly moved away. The spell was broken. For now . . . “You don’t know my sister. She’s very persistent.”
“Emma!” Leena yelled again.
Not in the best of moods, Emma marched over and yanked open the door. “What?”
“How could you?”
Emma bit her bottom lip, the one that Jake had just been kissing. How did her sister know she’d been making out with Jake? Had their dad suspected something and sent Leena to check up on her?
“How could I what?” Emma asked carefully.
ring any bells?”
“I had no idea you were into naked firemen,” Jake noted from the futon, where he eyed Emma with wicked speculation.
“I don’t . . . I’m not!” Emma sputtered.
“Not her. Our sister Sue Ellen. At the bridal shower tomorrow.”
“You’re having naked firemen coming to your bridal shower?” His dark eyebrows rose.
“Sounds like quite a party.”
“Thanks for stopping by, Jake.” Emma sent him a look. “I don’t want to keep you.”
“I’m not in any hurry,” he said, settling himself more comfortably.
Emma narrowed her eyes at him. “My sister and I need to share some girl talk. In private.”
He nodded knowingly. “To talk about the naked firemen.”
“Among other things.” She tugged him to his feet, no easy task given the fact that he had to be six foot two of muscular male who enjoyed making trouble. He seemed to also enjoy her attempts to get rid of him.
“You’re not telling me you want me to leave, are you?” He pretended to look hurt.
He gave her a head to toe once-over that was hotter than the surface of the sun. “We’ll finish this later.” Reaching out, he tucked a wayward strand of her hair behind her ear before ambling out.
“Are you crazy?” Leena demanded.
“Probably,” Emma muttered, closing the door after him before turning to face Leena.
“How could you tell Sue Ellen to post pictures of naked firemen at the shower tomorrow?”
“I didn’t tell her what to put up. She was upset because she thought your table was going to look better than hers—”
“She’s right. It will.”
“—so I told her that she should make her table her own.”
“Great. Just great. So what are you going to do about this mess?”
“Yes, you.” Leena pointed at her. “You’re the one offering dumb advice.”
“It wasn’t dumb, and I’m getting tired of being in the middle of this competition between you and Sue Ellen.”
Leena responded by bursting into tears.
Sue Ellen might turn on the waterworks at the drop of a hat, but Leena rarely did. Emma felt awful for making her cry. “I’m sorry.”
Leena just cried harder.
Emma was getting desperate. “I’ll talk to Sue Ellen. Get her to put up something noncontroversial.
Like pictures of sunflowers or something.”
Leena hiccupped, her tears slowing, her face red. She wasn’t a pretty crier.
“Here, sit down.” Emma led her to the futon. “Can I get you a glass of water? Or Dr Pepper? I know. How about Cherry Garcia ice cream? It’s your favorite, right?”
“Okay then.” Emma retrieved the carton and two spoons and a box of tissues. They were just about to dig into the creamy dessert when there was a knock on the door.
Emma opened it to find Sue Ellen there. “I decided against the naked firemen,” she said as she walked inside. “I’m not sure that Donny’s mom would approve. And Leena has a nun coming.”
“Cole’s aunt is a nun,” Leena reminded Emma.
“Right.” Emma got another spoon.
She turned to find her sisters sitting side by side on the futon, digging into the Cherry Garcia together and waving their spoons as they brainstormed for an alternate photo display for Sue Ellen’s table. Watching them, Emma felt a pang of . . . was it jealousy?
Leena had always been closer to Emma than to Sue Ellen. For one thing, they were closer in age, only two years apart. And while neither of her sisters really got her, Leena was the one Emma had talked to throughout their teenage years. Leena was the one who’d shared Emma’s passion for Johnny Depp, who hadn’t mocked her even though Emma was the only one in her freshman high school class who wasn’t a fan of
Beverly Hills, 90210
. Leena was the one who’d encouraged Emma to take the job in Boston. To be her own woman and stand on her own two feet.
The newfound bond between Leena and Sue Ellen was unexpected and disconcerting.
Emma realized it was childish to feel threatened by this change in the sisterly dynamic.
Rock Creek wasn’t the only thing going through a change. Emma’s own family was also going through a transformation. Her sisters would be married women soon. And they were both pregnant.
Naturally they’d share a special connection during this time.
Suck it up, Em. Get over it.
She pulled over a folding chair. There wasn’t enough room on the couch for all three of them. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Emma just sat there and watched her siblings.
Leena was wearing jeans and a flowing empire-waist top with her customary elan. Sue Ellen was wearing blue cropped pants and a red knit top filled with tiny white stars, which were repeated on her neatly manicured fingernails. Leena had a beautiful French manicure.
Emma looked down at her own unvarnished nails, her khaki shorts, and blue polo shirt.
“You need to go to Mai’s Nails,” Leena told Emma. “Before the shower tomorrow. Come on, we’ll go now. My treat.”
“I’ll wait for you here,” Sue Ellen said, hunkering down with the carton of ice cream. “I’m eating for two now.”
“Two, not thirty-two,” Leena said, taking the carton away, or trying to. Sue Ellen wasn’t about to surrender easily.
“Dad’s back,” Emma said.
The news distracted her sisters enough that Emma was able to grab the carton and scoop out the remaining spoonful of ice cream for herself.
“Did he say anything about giving me away?” Sue Ellen asked.
“No.” Emma scraped the spoon around the carton. “Was he supposed to?”
“Did he say anything about the wedding?” Sue Ellen asked.
“Only indirectly.” Emma tossed the totally empty carton into the garbage.
Emma admitted, “Jake told him he was my date.”
“Your date? Jake? Did we know this?” Sue Ellen asked.
“Jake was here when I arrived,” Leena said.
Sue Ellen licked her already clean spoon. “The guy moves fast.”