She was standing close enough to reach out and put her hands on either side of his jaw, which was liberally dusted with dark stubble. Close enough to lean in to kiss him, too. She was shocked by a crystal-clear vision of Rafe yanking her bikini off and dropping it onto her kitchen floor while she lay naked across her counter and he did deliciously dangerous things to every inch of her body.
Brooke teetered there, right on the edge between giving him a kiss and running. But in the end, though she could all but taste him on her lips, a lifetime of choosing safe over wild had her taking a step back instead of forward.
Jesus Christ, when had Brooke turned into Marilyn Monroe?
Twenty years ago she’d been a cute kid. But now? Hell, now she was every single one of his dirtiest fantasies come to life.
Rafe pushed away from the kitchen island and moved to the window. It was a thousand times smarter to focus on the stunning scenery—and the fact that the lake house he’d just spent a boatload of money on was a total freakin’ mess—rather than the stunning woman currently in her bedroom down the hall stripping off the little triangles of fabric barely covering her lush br**sts and hips. Yet even as he took in the pinks and oranges of the setting sun in the sky over the lake, a sunset even more beautiful than he’d remembered from his childhood, all it did was make him think about Brooke again...and how she was also a thousand times more beautiful than he’d ever thought she’d become.
He’d done some pretty stupid things in his life. Sleeping with that ex-client, for instance. But it would be a thousand times stupider to sleep with the girl next door. Especially one as sweet and as innocent as he suspected Brooke had to be, even as an adult.
And particularly when he now needed to stay with her because his own house would be completely uninhabitable for at least a week.
She’d been a pretty little girl, but six years had been a big age difference when he was fourteen and she was eight. She’d been digging with plastic shovels in the sand with Mia while he’d been out causing trouble with his brothers.
What a difference eighteen years made. One hell of a difference, giving her a set of curves that had made him practically swallow his tongue when he’d looked at her and realized who she was. He could still see the cute girl she’d been in the pure sweetness of her smile and her big, guileless green eyes. For all their surface beauty, the women he was used to dealing with looked older than their years. Whereas Brooke, who he seriously doubted had even a hundredth of the financial advantages of his clients, looked happy and lighthearted.
Which was exactly why he couldn’t screw around with her. Of course they’d be friends like they’d always been, but he wouldn’t make the mistake of letting himself touch her again...even if she had the softest skin he could ever remember feeling beneath his fingertips.
Fact was, staying this close to temptation was a bad idea. A really, really bad one. But he couldn’t figure out a way to explain the potential perils of their situation without making her think he was the world’s biggest d-bag. Which was exactly what he’d sound like if he said, I’m afraid I’m going to lose control and convince you to do dirty things with me that you’ll hate me for in the morning.
He could only imagine the way her pretty expression would fill with disgust as she wondered exactly what those dirty things were...
He was so focused on trying to force his lust-filled visions away that he didn’t hear her come back into the room until she said, "You must be starved after riding here from Seattle." She’d changed out of her super-sexy bikini into dark leggings and a hip-length long-sleeved shirt that should have made it easier to forget how gorgeous she was, but only made a guy wonder more about the soft skin just beneath the fabric.
For years he’d watched women calculate their worth for the highest bidder and then wonder why it all didn’t work out with the CEO they’d snared via that calculation. It was second nature for him to assume that Brooke knew exactly what she was doing to him.
But nothing about the way she’d behaved since that first moment spoke of calculation. She hadn’t faked the pleasure in her eyes at seeing him again, nor had she thrown herself into his arms to try to turn him on...even if that’s exactly what had happened. And clearly, she hadn’t worn the little string bikini for his benefit, either, since she couldn’t have known he’d show up at the lake tonight.
As she walked into the kitchen and took out a battered recipe book that he vaguely remembered belonging to her grandmother, he offered, "What can I help with?"
She waved him over to the bar stool on the other side of her kitchen island. "Finishing your beer."
Rafe couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so comfortable and so on edge with a woman at the same time. Of course, the edge was only there because he was a pig who couldn’t turn off his libido for three seconds around an old friend.
He took a seat at the kitchen counter and finally noticed the big stainless-steel bowls drying by the sink. "What are those for?"
"Chocolate." She smiled at him, a beautiful smile that did nearly as many strange things to his insides as her curves did. "I make truffles for a living."
"You and your grandmother were always making chocolate," he remembered, hating the way the light in her eyes dulled when he brought up her grandparents.
"It was her favorite hobby. Mine, too," she said with a small smile as she clearly worked to push away her grief. She ran her fingertips over the homemade wood cover on the old recipe book. "My grandfather made this for my grandmother by hand and even etched in their initials in this heart on the front. I’ve been meaning to take it somewhere to see if I can get this crack fixed, but I haven’t wanted to actually let it out of my sight for long enough to let anyone touch it." She opened the book and showed him a truffle recipe in her grandmother’s handwriting. "After my grandparents passed away, I decided to move here and turn her dream into a reality for both of us. Every day as I’m making my truffles, I think about the daily ritual we had of eating one perfect piece of homemade chocolate." Her eyes grew even softer. "That initial taste of it on my tongue. That slow melt that felt like it was awakening my entire body. The decadent, sumptuous taste that lingered."