Then he slid his mouth to the very corner of hers and was rewarded by the clutch of her hands on his shirt. Having her hold on to him like this, like he was her only anchor, sent a bolt of lust straight through him. “Leah,” he murmured, hearing the surprise in his own voice, feeling the heat course through him as he finally—God, finally—covered her mouth with his.
Her lips parted for him eagerly, and he groaned, drowning in the erotic collision of her hot tongue and chilled, wet body.
Serious trouble. He was in serious trouble.
Because he had a taste of her now, a damn good taste, and it was better than he could have imagined, making him want the rest of her. With his fingers still in her hair, he pulled her in tighter, slanting his mouth across hers for more. She moved with him, into him, making the connection all the sweeter.
No. Sweet wasn’t the right word.
Hot. She was so hot she was turning him inside out. And then she made another of those soft, surrendering sighs deep in her throat, the sound slaying him. She still had a death grip on his shirt and had managed to catch a few chest hairs while she was at it. He didn’t care. Sliding a hand beneath his sweatshirt, he cupped her ass over her wet bikini bottoms, rocking into her.
She had to feel what this was doing to him. And given that she was breathing like she was running out of air, and still holding onto him tightly enough to bruise, she also had to know where this was going.
Kevin “woofed” softly, an I’m-tired-of-being-ignored woof. Jack waved at him to shut it and then kissed Leah some more, sinking deeper into her taste, her softness, her scent, all while wondering how the hell she could drive him crazy and make him ache at the same time. It was a feat that totally wrecked his equilibrium. Maybe it was just the kiss. Because holy shit, the kiss. He still had a handful of her sweet ass and he squeezed, wanting more. But they were outside and the night’s temp was quickly dropping. She was wet, trembling with the chill, and there was absolutely nowhere to go with this. Not here, not now. He’d had no business kissing her like he had an endgame, and knowing it, he regretfully pulled back.
She blinked as if waking up from a dream. “What—” She cleared her throat. “What was that?”
“Insanity. It’s going around.”
She rolled her eyes but staggered a step as if her equilibrium was off too, giving him some grim satisfaction.
Kevin whined again, and Jack gave him the evil eye. Kevin sighed and sat.
Leah touched her lips as if to hold in the taste of him. “I’m sorry,” she finally said.
“Putting you in the position of having to pretend to like me.”
Ah, hell. He drew a deep breath. Pretending wasn’t his strong suit, and he could have said so. He could have also said that he liked her for real. But he wasn’t going to. He’d been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and he wasn’t interested in a repeat performance. In fact, if he was going to pretend anything, it was going to be about not liking her. “Leah—” He broke off when Kevin nudged him in the gut and whined again. “What?” Jack asked him. “What’s the matter?”
Kevin hunched and unloaded a mountain of poop. “Oh, for—” Before Jack could finish that sentence, Kevin shifted over a few feet and hunched again.
“Holy cow.” Leah covered her nose. “What the hell are you feeding him?”
“Everything.” Jack went to his truck for a shovel. He’d just tossed the bag into one of the trash receptacles when Kevin hunched again.
“Are you kidding me?” Jack demanded.
Kevin panted happily. Clearly feeling fifty pounds lighter, the dog pawed at the sand with his back legs, head proudly lifted as he then pranced toward the truck as if he were king.
Leah was still standing there looking shell-shocked.
“I know,” Jack said. “It’s bad. Breathe through your mouth. It helps.”
She did just that, pulling his sweatshirt up over her mouth so all he could see was her eyes. It didn’t matter. He had the taste of her on his tongue, the feel of her body still in his palms. He wanted to drag her up against him and plunder. Talk about bad ideas. “It’s late,” he said.
“Is that what you would have told your date tonight when she invited you in at the end of the night? That it was late?”
No. He’d have had her naked before midnight.
Naked and happy.
But this was Leah…and he tried really hard to not think about Leah naked.
Or naked and happy…
Except lately, he seemed to be doing nothing but.
Ever since she’d sprung this whole relationship thing on him, he’d thought of little else, and it was slowly driving him over the edge.
But he could get over that.
Or at least he could try.
Except now there was also this, her, in a little, itty-bitty, black bikini and his sweatshirt coming down to her mid-thighs, looking like his greatest fantasy come to life, and he didn’t think he could handle any pretense at all. “Leah—”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, backing away. “You know what? Let’s not discuss this like rational human beings. Clearly we can’t do that.”
And in his sweatshirt and an air of righteousness, she headed to her car.
Leah yanked open her driver’s door, but before she could slide in, Jack caught up with her, caging her in with one hand on the roof and one on the opened door. “Hold up,” he said.
She turned to face him. “Move, Jack.”
“I don’t think so.” His voice was calm as always, but there was an undercurrent now, the slightest tension. Which, coming from Jack, was tantamount to being wildly upset.
She didn’t care.
All she knew was that he’d just kissed her, really kissed her. And it’d been so amazing that she’d lost herself in him, in a big way. He’d taken her in his strong, warm arms, and in that moment nothing else had existed. Not her fears, her screwups, her uncertainty, nothing.
How did he do that? Take her so far out of herself?
Even more shocking was watching him take care of his mom, Kevin, everyone around him, including her. The thought temporarily had all her bones melting and her good parts waking up and doing a boogie dance of happiness because she’d actually—gasp—felt something.
But Jack didn’t want to feel anything for her. He didn’t even want to pretend.
Her gut clenched because this was her fault. She’d wanted things to be different this time. The people here in Lucky Harbor, unlike her stupid school and show, mattered. Her grandma mattered. Her friends mattered. Jack mattered.
Picturing failing any of them, her chest tightened into a ball of anxiety and blocked her air passage.
“Leah.” Still holding on to her, Jack pulled the hood of the sweatshirt up over her wet hair, then dipped down to look into her eyes. “It’s not a rejection.”
She braced herself to hold his gaze, but her throat was tight because it sure as hell felt like one. Which was only fitting, since she’d done the same to him. It’d been a long time, but sometimes it felt like yesterday.
It’d been her high school graduation, and there’d been alcohol involved. The party had turned a little crazy, and she’d gotten herself in over her head.
Jack had been her white knight, taking her home, sneaking her into bed before her dad could catch sight of her.
Leah had jokingly pulled Jack down over the top of her and said he should give her what she’d been looking for. He’d looked into her eyes, and with all his nineteen-year-old cockiness, told her if she’d been sober he’d be happy to show her exactly what she’d been looking for, and that he would ruin her for all other men while he was at it.
In the way of stupidly intoxicated seventeen-year-old girls, she’d brazenly told him that she’d be sober tomorrow, and she expected him to make good on that promise.
The next night had come, but she’d been too afraid to go through with it because what if she blew it? What if she didn’t have enough experience to interest him? What if she didn’t turn him on?
But most important, he’d dumped every girl he’d ever been with. Did she want to be that girl, the one who lost him over one night?
So she’d choked. Panicked.
He’d never given her any indication of minding either way, so she’d figured no harm, no foul. She’d done the right thing because their friendship had been the most valuable thing in her life.
And she hadn’t been willing to risk it.
Even as young and foolish as she’d been, she’d known that much. She’d much rather be in his life as his friend than in his past as an ex.
Now she’d risked all that with her lie to Dee.
“It’s not a rejection,” he repeated. “It’s a time-out. We’re just going to our own corners to think.” He paused. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand. I understand I’m such a bad idea that you need to think.”
“No. We’re a bad idea.”
In her mind there was no difference, and she tried to slip into her car, but again he held on, pressing her into the door, cupping her face, and tilting it to his. At his touch, her body softened. Ached. She had to close her eyes against the unexpected onslaught of emotions.
“Leah. Look at me. Please.”
It was the “please” that did it, softly but authoritatively uttered. Incapable of not responding, she did as he asked and met his gaze.
He ran a hand over his face and rolled his shoulders in an apparent attempt to assuage his weariness. It was such an unconsciously sexy move that it was hard to concentrate on the matter at hand. Which was that she was mad. And maybe hurt.
“You’re one of the most important people in my life,” he said. “I can’t pretend things with you. I tried that already.”
And she’d hurt him. She honestly hadn’t realized that she even could, and she still wasn’t quite sure that she believed it now. Jack Harper wasn’t one to pine over anyone. “I’m sorry I got you into this,” she said with real regret. “So sorry. But I think now we should try to see it through.” She couldn’t have said why she needed to so badly. “For your mom, Jack.”
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