“Gracie, you can’t.”
She raised her mouth, swallowed the champagne, then tilted her head. “Technically, I can.”
“Okay, yeah. I’m begging you not to.”
She gave a heavy sigh. “Oh, all right. What would you prefer?”
“Me inside of you.”
Her blue eyes widened slightly as she smiled. “I guess. If you insist.”
He reached for the nightstand and pulled open the top drawer. “Want to stay in control or want me to take you?”
She laughed. “I think I’d like to be taken.”
“Consider it done.”
He grabbed a condom and quickly slipped it on. When she stretched out next to him, he turned toward her and gathered her in his arms.
They kissed. She tasted faintly of champagne and mostly of herself. He claimed her, even as he stroked his hands all over her body.
She was sensitive, squirming as he brushed his fingers across her tight nipples. She was wet, moaning as he slipped his fingers between her thighs. She parted instantly and even though he’d thought to make it last longer, he couldn’t help shifting so that he could kneel between her legs and push his way home.
As he plunged inside of her, she tightened around him. Her arms drew him closer. He drove in as deeply as he could, losing himself in the slick heat. He withdrew, then pushed inside again. This time he felt a quickening to the tightness, a tension in her muscles.
He braced himself, then bent down and kissed her mouth even as he began the steady rhythmic thrusting designed to take them both over the edge. She wrapped her legs around his hips and held him in place. Her hands grabbed for his butt and pulled him in deeper.
Faster and faster, pushing, reaching, needing, plunging until he felt her shatter beneath him. She broke the kiss and gasped for air, then screamed his name. As the contractions pulsed through her, he let go, shuddering as his climax claimed him and her body milked every drop of pleasure from him.
LATER, when they were both lying curled up together under the covers, he buried his fingers in her hair and kissed her forehead.
“It’s late,” he said. “Want to sleep here?”
She stirred, lifting her hair from his shoulder and blinking sleepily. “You don’t strike me as the sleepover type.”
“I’m making an exception.”
She put her head back and closed her eyes. “That would be nice. But get me up early so I can head out before your neighbors wake up.”
“I thought you hated morning.”
“I do, but I don’t want to make things worse for you.”
He rubbed his other hand along her bare back. “It’s fine,” he said. “You don’t have to get up early for me.”
She spoke slowly, as if barely able to stay awake. He squeezed her.
“Go to sleep.”
Her breathing slowed.
Riley reached up and turned off the light, then pulled the covers around them both. He stared up at the dark ceiling.
She’d been right. He wasn’t a sleepover kind of guy. Considering all that was happening right now, including the fact that Gracie might be pregnant, he should be running for the hills. Funny how he didn’t want to.
He wanted to stay right where he was—with her.
He continued to stroke her back, then moved higher to play with the ends of her hair. Had he ever spent the night with a woman before? Had he ever let one stay with him? He frowned as he tried to remember, then decided it hadn’t happened since his brief marriage to Pam.
Why now? Why Gracie? He didn’t have any answers. Or maybe he didn’t want to find them.
GRACIE WOKE UP as she usually did, slowly and with a great appreciation for having slept well. She stretched, rolled over and found herself in an unfamiliar bed.
“That can’t be good,” she said as she raised herself into a sitting position and pushed her hair out of her face. She spotted a note on the pillow next to hers and as she reached for it, memories flooded back.
“My mistake. It was better than good,” she said with a smile. “It was amazing.”
Riley sure knew how to make a woman’s toes curl, she thought as she flopped back on the mattress and read the note.
“I had an early meeting and didn’t want to wake you. There’s coffee downstairs. Help yourself. Last night was great. Thanks.”
She rubbed her thumb across the plain white paper, as if by touching it she could touch the man himself.
But there was no warm skin, no sexy scent, nothing but the memory of what they’d done together and it was a poor substitute for the real thing.
She rolled on her side and faced the spot where he’d slept. “Now what?” she asked aloud as she ran her fingers across the mussed sheets. Where did they go from here and what did they do when they got there? Who was this man who knew how to touch her heart and her soul?
Her stomach clenched. For once the tension had nothing to do with acid or even the thought she might be pregnant. Instead, it was all about her growing feelings for Riley.
“I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t fall for him.”
He was her past. He was the root of every humiliation she’d suffered for years. To get involved with him now would be….
She closed her eyes and heard her mother’s voice telling her how everyone was laughing at her. She was the butt of jokes. Gracie winced at the thought. She wasn’t willing to go through that again. Not when—
“Wait a minute.” She sat up and stared at the opposite wall. “This is my life. Not my mother’s. Not anyone else’s. Mine. I decide.”
Okay. That sounded very self-actualized. Now what? If she wasn’t going to live to please faceless strangers or her mother, what was she going to do?
“See it through,” she said firmly. She had no idea what was happening with Riley, what she felt for him or what he felt for her, but she would see it through. If there was something there, she wanted to know. If this was just some twisted trip down memory lane, then she had to know that as well. One way or another, she would figure it all out. Even if she found herself brokenhearted at the end, it beat spending the rest of her life always wondering.
FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES later a freshly showered and dressed Gracie left her house with the intent of stopping by Jill’s office. As of last count there had been eight messages from her friend. She wanted to reassure Jill that she was fine and maybe tell her a little of what had been happening. Since the mayor had announced the details of her private life to the whole town it seemed silly to try to keep secrets from her best friend.
As she turned at the stop sign, she noticed how close she was to her mom’s house. Maybe she should swing by there and get her daily dose of stern talking-to. After that, she would tell her mother that while she loved her and appreciated her advice, she had to make her own choices. Right now she wanted to pursue things with Riley. Maybe it was a mistake, but the mistake was hers to make. If her family couldn’t support that, she would do her best to understand.
“That sounds really powerful,” she told herself as she pulled in front of the familiar two-story house. She had a feeling that actual rejection by her family would be pretty painful. It didn’t seem to matter how badly they treated her, she kept coming back for more.
As she walked up toward the front door, she noticed Vivian’s car parked in the driveway. Oh, joy, Gracie thought. A two for one.
She raised her hand to knock, then saw the door was partially ajar. She pushed it open as she called out, “Hi. It’s me.”
Silence followed her announcement.
She heard a sound from the back of the house and headed in that direction. As she entered the long hallway, she could hear voices.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” her mother said, sounding more than a little angry. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I don’t know why you’re so upset,” Vivian grumbled.
“I’m upset because this wedding is costing thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Gracie stopped in the middle of the hall. She wasn’t sure if she should announce herself again or simply leave.
“I’m helping with my wedding dress,” Vivian said.
“It’s over three thousand dollars. To date your contribution is all of two hundred. Honey, I want you to be happy and have the wedding of your dreams, but you can’t keep canceling it.”
“I know. It’s just Tom was really mean last night. I don’t think I can be with him.”
“Fine. If you want to cancel the wedding today, we will. But know that it’s over. I’m not doing this anymore. As it is, I’ll be out nearly five thousand dollars, and that’s just for deposits. I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve taken out a mortgage on the house to pay for this. I can put the rest of the money back, but where am I supposed to get the five thousand dollars I’ve just lost? I didn’t mind when it was for your wedding, but I won’t just waste the money because you can’t make up your mind.”
Gracie took a step back. She didn’t want to hear any of this.
Why on earth would her mother take out a home loan to pay for a wedding? That sounded crazy, especially with Vivian not being sure about what she wanted. Between the expensive wedding gown, the country club location and the formal dinner, Gracie would bet the total bill would be well over twenty-five thousand dollars. You could practically put a kid through college for that.
“Mom, no!” Vivian began to cry. “I’m sorry. I know I’m making this hard. I don’t want you to have to lose money and I know the wedding is too expensive. I’ll work harder. I will. And I’ll go talk to Tom. We’ll work it out. Don’t cancel the wedding. Please?”
Her mother sighed. “All right. But no more games. There’s too much at stake.”
Gracie turned and quietly walked out of the house. She didn’t want to intrude on a private moment between mother and daughter and she didn’t agree with what they were doing.
While she understood her mother’s reluctance to give up the deposit money for a wedding that wasn’t happening, she didn’t agree with getting married just to have a wedding. Vivian and Tom seemed to break up every fifteen minutes. That didn’t bode well for their future together.
“Not my rock to carry,” Gracie muttered to herself as she got in her car and drove toward Jill’s. But even as she tried to put the conversation behind her, she felt sad for the sense of being an outsider. The closeness she’d once felt with her mother and her sisters was gone forever, which meant she was well and truly on her own.
RILEY FOUND himself enjoying his day at the bank. After his night with Gracie he could easily ignore the stares and whispers of his employees. Let ’em talk—he knew the truth and in the end, he would win this battle.
Not that Zeke agreed.
“We’re in big trouble,” his campaign manager said as he paced in his office. “I’ll have new numbers by this afternoon, but they’re not going to be good.” Zeke stopped in front of his desk and stared at him. “Everyone loved you for romancing Gracie and they’ll hate you just as much for treating her badly.”
“It sure sounds like it.”
Thanks to Yardley. Riley leaned back in his chair. “My personal life….”
“Shit.” Zeke glared at him. “Dammit, Riley, if you had to get an itch scratched couldn’t you have picked some other—”
Riley was out of his chair before the other man finished his sentence. He reached across the desk, grabbed Zeke by the tie and twisted the fabric to tighten it around Zeke’s neck.
“Don’t talk about her that way,” Riley said in a low voice.