When I heard the knock on the front door, I groaned, resisting the urge to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.
I knew who was out there and I did not want to speak to her.
I was feeling delicate after the previous night’s escapade and the last thing I needed was to have my mother’s judgey eyes on me or to hear the reprimanding voice she always used when she told me what a mess I was making of my life. I swear to God, my mother wouldn’t be satisfied until I was as bitter and miserable as she was.
My mom hadn’t always been so cynical and resentful, but she’d changed fundamentally after my father left her when I was thirteen—so much so she was barely recognizable anymore. Now, she rarely had a good word to say about anyone or anything—especially me. Nothing I ever did was good enough and rather than try to please her as I used to when I was younger, I went out of my way to piss her off. I don’t know why exactly, probably because I was angry at her for checking out of our lives after my father left.
She knocked again. I pulled the covers back with a roll of my eyes then sat up—a little faster than I probably should have. The room spun and my stomach churned violently, so I grabbed hold of the nightstand to steady myself and waited for the sudden bout of nausea to pass. I considered lying back down again, but, that wouldn’t have washed with my mother—she would know I was home because of the motorcycle club member who was currently standing guard in my front yard.
A few weeks ago, my brother, Luke, had been kidnapped and tortured by a couple of heavies who worked for a drug dealer named Steele. The men had been caught and arrested, but Coop, Luke’s club president had insisted that Luke’s family be put under protection in case there was some form of retaliation. It was good to know I was safe and had someone looking out for me, of course, but seriously inconvenient when I wanted to pretend I wasn’t home.
My mother wouldn’t stop the incessant knocking until I got up to answer the damn door.
I grabbed the glass of water from my nightstand then drank it back, finishing every last drop. After I got to my feet, I headed, all be it a little unsteadily, out into the living room to get the door. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror over the fireplace and the sight that peered back at me was the stuff horror movies were made of.
My hair looked as if I was suffering from the effects of an electric shock. It stuck out at every angle except down where it should have been. I was still in last night’s make-up, too. My eyes had a certain panda quality about them. I’d seen an old Johnny Depp movie once called Edward Scissorhands and yeah, I was the blonde, female version. Minus the scissors. I pulled open the door, squinting into the early morning sunshine and waited for the inevitable tirade.
Only the tirade didn’t come because my mother wasn’t the person standing outside the door.
Ethan Smith stood there. Or Sheriff Smith as he was also known. To me, however, he was simply Ethan, my older brother’s friend and the man I happened to be crushing on.
My mouth fell open and heat rose in my cheeks.
It would be fair to say that Ethan had appeared in a few of my fantasies over the years. Sexual fantasies, naturally. He was just so big and strong manly with dark hair and even darker soulful eyes. And of course, since he’d become the sheriff, he had an air of authority about him that made me want to climb him like a tree.
I seriously considered slamming the door in his face, but the damage had been done. Ethan had already seen me looking like The Swamp Thing so there was nothing left for me to do but shrug and own it.
I opened the door wider then ushered him inside.
His gaze started at the top of my head then worked its way down my body. When his eyes widened, I looked down at myself and realized I was wearing a tiny little slip of a nightgown that didn’t leave much to the imagination. In fact, it was pretty much see-through so it left nothing to the imagination at all.
“Nice hair,” he said as he strode past me and into my living room. “I can see you were going for the wild, untamed look today. You’re rocking it.”
I closed the door then turned to face him, choosing to ignore the sarcastic comment and smug grin on his face.
“I need coffee,” I declared. “Want a cup?”
When he shook his head, I shrugged then strode into the open plan kitchen and switched on the coffee machine. I felt a bit wobbly so I leaned back against the counter top to give me something to hold onto and tried to act casual.
“This isn’t a social call, exactly,” Ethan said, scrubbing a hand over the stubble on his chin.
I narrowed my eyes and stared at him evenly. “So why are you here, exactly?”
I pulled down a clean mug out of the cupboard while I waited for him to form his reply.
Finally, he let out a long sigh then lifted his gaze to meet mine. “I’m here because I saw you coming out of The Tavern last night with Johnny Richards.”
I scrunched my brow in confusion. “And?”
I’d been dancing with Johnny all night and, on little more than a whim, I’d decided to go home with him. Johnny had been trying to bed me for months and I’d finally relented. It hadn’t been one of the best decisions I’d ever made and it certainly would never be repeated. The experience had been less than memorable.
Ethan blew out a breath of exasperation. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say about it? Are you insane? What the hell do you think you’re doing going out in town on your own?”
“I wasn’t on my own,” I argued. “I was with Johnny Richards.”
Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. I’d been out with one of my old friends, Serena Bryson, but I didn’t tell Ethan that, in part, because I didn’t think it was any of his business what I did or who I did it with, but also because I got this weird satisfaction out of winding him up.
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Right. You were with Johnny Richards. Who you picked up in The Tavern. After you went there. Alone. Is this a joke to you? Just three weeks ago, your brother was kidnapped and tortured for Chrissake. Have you forgotten that already?”
I was getting seriously annoyed with his attitude now. Did he honestly think I would forget something like that? I put my hands on my hips and glared at him.
“Of course I haven’t forgotten that and no, this is not a joke to me! What do you want me to do, Ethan, just hide away in this house forever? I’m not going to do that. I won’t stop living my life the way I want to.”
“I’m not suggesting you curl up and die,” he snapped. “I’m suggesting that you start using some common sense. Your lifestyle is going to get you into trouble one of these days. Can’t you see that?”
“My lifestyle?” I repeated, furious now. “What exactly are you referring to? Am I having just a little too much fun for you? Would you rather I ran off and joined a convent?”
“We got to your brother in time,” he continued as if I hadn’t heard me or at least chose to ignore what I’d said. “We were lucky. What if we’re not as lucky the next time? What if they get you and there’s no one around to save you?”
“Look, I get it, okay? I do. I know how serious this is.”
“Do you?” he said, “Because you’re not acting like it.”
“Damn it, Ethan, I know, okay? And I promise that I’ll be more careful in the future. I won’t go anywhere on my own and I won’t have any more fun, how’s that?”
“Now you’re being obstinate.” He heaved a sigh. “When are you going to take a leaf out of your friends’ books and find yourself a good man?”
I glared at him. “I can get a man any time I damn well want one. I...”
“I’m talking about love and affection. A relationship, not a five minute fuck.”
“Actually, it was more like ten and trust me, I’m more than satisfied with my life the way it is.”
He leaned in close and got this weirdly intense look in his eyes. “If ten minutes is all it takes to satisfy you then what would you do if you had a real man in your bed who wanted to fuck you all night?”
I sucked in a sharp breath, surprised, not only by his sudden suggestiveness but by the abrupt shift in the conversation. I’d never known Ethan to be as bold. Was it my imagination or was he flirting with me? Two could play at that game.
“I don’t know what I’d do,” I replied. “But it would be fun to find out. Let me know if you find a man like that and I’ll be all over him like a rash.”
A strange sort of light gleamed in Ethan’s eyes that I found utterly mesmerizing and I was powerless to look away. As his gaze held strong, my breath started to come faster.
I was moments away from closing the distance between us and kissing him like I wanted to when a loud knock sounded on the front door, breaking me out of my reverie and ending the unexpected yet welcome connection between us. God damn it. How inconvenient.
I tore my gaze away then went to answer the door. As I pulled it open, my mother’s disapproving gaze roamed over me before she brushed past me and into the room. When she caught sight of Ethan, she froze, a shocked expression on her face. It took less than a full second for her judgey eyes to get even judgier.
“What’s going on?” she asked in a snippy tone as she looked between Ethan and me with a heavy dose of suspicion.
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell her to mind her own damn business and remind her that I was a grown woman who could do exactly as she pleased. I even opened my mouth to say it, but then Ethan caught the look on my face and stepped forward quickly, reaching out to shake my mother’s hand.
“Mrs. Chase,” he greeted politely. “It’s lovely to see you again. I just called by to check on Andrea. I wanted to see how she was doing.”
My mom narrowed her eyes, looking between us with evident mistrust.
“How she was doing?” My mother snorted. “She wasn’t the one kidnapped and tortured, her brother was. Why wouldn’t she be okay?”
When I noticed Ethan’s annoyed expression, I caught his gaze and gave an imperceptible shake of my head. There was nothing he could say that would get through to her, but plenty that would annoy her and seeing as I’d be the person she’d take it out on, it would be better to just let the subject drop.
“Mom, I just brewed some coffee,” I said. “Would you like a cup?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve had two cups this morning already.”
I shrugged. “Well, I need one.”
I went back into the kitchen and poured out a cup. “Ethan? You change your mind about that coffee?”
“No thanks, I need to get going. I’ve got some FBI agents coming by the station to talk to me. I just wanted to call by and touch base.”
My mother made a sound of derision which we both ignored.
I put down my coffee cup then followed him to the door. I glanced at my mom on the way past and I swear to God, her snotty expression was the only excuse I could think of as to why I did what I did next.
Ethan was halfway out the door when I grabbed his arm and pulled him back in. Before he had time to object, I pressed my lips against his and gave him a long, lingering kiss. Plastering my body to his, I pushed my tongue into his mouth then kissed him as if my life depended on it. I half expected him to push me away, but he didn’t. I thanked everything that was holy when he kissed me back and I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine the little growly sound he made right before his tongue snaked out to meet mine and he deepened the kiss.
I was struggling for air, but the kiss was so damn good that I never wanted it to end. Unfortunately, it had to or I would have passed out from lack of oxygen. I leaned my head back and grinned at the shocked expression on his face.
“Thank you for last night,” I said in a voice loud enough for my mother to overhear. “You were amazing.”
Just as he started to scowl, I added, “We’ll have to do it again, soon, okay? Bye!”
I pushed him outside then threw the door closed with a thud.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I announced before my mom could voice her displeasure at what she’d just witnessed.
I headed into my bedroom with purpose and closed the door quietly behind me. I would have burst out laughing if I hadn’t been certain that my mom would hear it. Instead, I grinned like a fool as I went into my bathroom and switched on the shower.
I’d always found Ethan Smith attractive, but now there was something else about him that I liked.
He could kiss.
And I mean, really kiss.
I had no doubt that I’d still be thinking about it when I climbed into bed that night and probably for many more nights to come.
What I was interested to discover was if Ethan would be thinking about the kiss, too.
I certainly hoped so.
I liked the idea of him imagining us together in that way.
I liked it a lot.
Probably more than I should.