“GO,” I URGED my boss, Sadie, out the door. “I can handle this place and your guy is waiting for you.” I pointed to where her boyfriend, Ezra, lingered outside the store with two coffees in his hands. Beyond him, several people snapped photos of him on their cellphones. That might’ve been weird if it weren’t for the fact that he was a member of the band Willow Creek.
“Are you sure?” Sadie asked, worrying her lip between her teeth.
“Positive.” I nodded my head, resolute. “You need to finish packing so you can move back in with your man.” I bumped her hip with mine. I was lucky that my “boss” had become one of my best friends.
She swished her brown hair over one shoulder and rolled up the sleeves of her shirt. “I can’t believe I let him talk me into moving back in with him. My contract on my apartment isn’t even up. But I swear that boy could sweet talk me into an orgasm.” She shook her head, smiling at him through the glass door.
I snorted and moved behind the counter. “I’m fine here,” I told her¸ “the store closes in an hour and I’ve closed it by myself plenty of times.”
She straightened her shoulders and nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry for being such a worrier.”
“This store is your life, so I get it.”
She grabbed me into a hug and said a quick goodbye before running outside to join Ezra. I watched as she kissed his cheek and took one of the coffees. He saw me watching and waved before they got into his SUV.
Since the end of the day was nearing not many people strolled inside. So I busied myself with straightening racks and refolding clothes. That way I might be able to go straight to the babysitter’s house and pick up my daughter. I hated that I couldn’t be a stay at home mom like I’d always dreamed of, but at least I was making things work.
Outside a continued commotion had me turning to look. My face fell into a glare and I stormed forward and out the door.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled at the guy who had been skateboarding by the store—several times might I add—and was now attempting to slide against the metal bench outside the door.
The guy’s back was to me as he slid off the bench, his skateboard landing on the concrete sidewalk with a clank.
He kicked the skateboard up and held it in his hand and turned around to face me.
The air was stolen out of my lungs when my eyes connected with his baby blues.
I hadn’t recognized him from behind with a baseball cap worn backwards obscuring his hair.
But there was no mistaking those eyes, or those angled cheekbones, and definitely not the wry half-smile he wore so well.
“Hayes.” His name fell from my lips as a gasp. I’d been doing my best to avoid him the last two months. I’d ignored his texts, phone calls, and I’d even been avoiding gatherings Sadie invited me to because I was afraid I might run into him. I hadn’t wanted to see him after the passionate night we shared at his band mate’s wedding. It shouldn’t have happened, and I figured Hayes, being a known player, would be content to let that night be added to his countless list of others. I’d been wrong. The guy was relentless. Now he was here, right in front of me, and I couldn’t run away.
“Arden.” A smirk lifted his lips when he said my name. The way it rolled off his tongue sent a shiver down my spine.
“What are you doing here?”
He turned his head slightly to the side and removed his hat, scratching at his head before replacing it. He held up a hand, ticking a list off on his fingers. “Well, you’ve ignored my phone calls, my texts, and even my handwritten letter. Do you have any idea how long I slaved over those heartfelt words?”
My brows furrowed together. “It said: ‘Stop ignoring me’. How is that heartfelt?”
He snapped his fingers together. “Ha! So you did read it!” Straightening, he towered above me and I felt slightly intimidated beneath his looming height. “So now I have stooped to showing up at your job in the hopes of having an actual conversation face to face.” He nodded towards the store. “You’re closing soon, right?”
“Perfect.” He strode past me and into the store.
I sighed heavily, my shoulders sagging.
I’d managed to avoid Hayes for two months and now my time was up.
I followed after him and looked at the time on the clock hanging above the register. One minute until closing. It figured.
I turned back around and locked the door, flipping the sign to CLOSED, and shutting the blinds.
It was all done in an effort to distract myself from Hayes’ potent presence.
The feel of his lips on my naked skin.
The searing warmth of his gaze.
The smooth glide of his fingers.
I was tempted to open the door and go running, but I was wearing heels, and something told me Hayes wasn’t going to let me get away so easily anymore.
I forced myself to face him and saw that he was standing by the counter with his hip leaned casually against it, and his strong arms were crossed over his chest.
My heart pulsed in my throat as his eyes swam all over my body, lingering on my breasts, lips, and finally connecting with my stare.
Silence stretched endlessly between us. I licked my suddenly dry lips and his eyes narrowed on my mouth. The sexual tension roaring between us was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. Even in our better days my ex-husband—Todd—and I had never had this kind of chemistry.
Tapping his lips, he finally spoke. “I never expected you to be one to fuck and duck.”
“You know…fuck and duck. Where you fuck and then duck away like a coward.” He didn’t say the words with anger, just a resigned irritation.
I flinched, wringing my hands together. “I don’t know what to say.”
He grinned, leaning more fully against the counter and crossing his feet. “I know, how about you say, ‘I’m sorry, Hayes. Let’s go on a date.’”
I coughed on my own saliva, gasping for air. “You want to go on a date with me?”
He nodded. “Yes, I believe that’s what I said.”
“But…but…but you’re you.” I floundered, my whole body shaking from shock. “You’re Joshua Hayes, Willow Creek guitar player, and also a major player when it comes to women. I read magazines, Joshua.”
“Ooh, bringing out the first name.” He grinned, rubbing his hands together. “Yes, I am both of those things…or was, because I’m not much of a player anymore. I’m a changed man.”
I snorted in disbelief and rolled my eyes.
He started forward and in three long strides he’d closed the distance between us. He grasped my chin, sending a jolt through my body, and lifted my head so I was forced to look at him.
“Don’t roll those pretty whiskey colored eyes at me or I’ll have to spank you.”
Why did my whole body have to clench with desire at his words? And from the glimmer in his eyes he noticed.
He gently stroked his fingers against my cheek and a soft sigh passed through my parted lips.
“You like it when I touch you.” His thumb brushed my bottom lip and his eyes darkened.
I was frozen. Every word I’d ever learned flew from my mind and I was left with nothing but the ability to pull air into my lungs and notice the way my skin prickled where he touched me.
I’d tried so hard to pretend for the last two months that there was nothing between us, nothing more than a one-night stand at least. But all of my pretending had been in vain because there was no denying the electricity that pulsed between us. It was magnetic, sucking all of the energy from the room into our orbit.
Air rushed back into my lungs when his hand fell away and he took step back, distancing himself.
Immediately I ached for his touch and I silently scolded myself for being so weak.
I pulled in a lungful of air and tried to gather my scattered thoughts.
“Why are you here?” That seemed like a safe enough question.
“I’m pretty sure I already answered that when I said we should go on a date.” He crossed his arms over his lean chest, the material of his shirt pulling taut over his muscles. Muscles I’d spent a night running my tongue over. I really needed to stop thinking about that night if I was going to keep a clear head.
I shook my head. “I meant, why are you here after all of this time? Why not give up? I read magazines and I watch TV so I know you have no shortage on admirers and I know that you also use them to your full advantage.”
His lips twitched with laughter. “You sound jealous.”
I snorted. “Hardly.”
He bit his lip to hide a grin and fuck me if it wasn’t the hottest lip bite I’d ever seen. Jeez, my lady parts were going nuts in his presence. It’s not like I could really blame them. Not only was Hayes gorgeous, but he was the first man I’d been with since my husband left me. A toddler didn’t give me much time to date.
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on the state of your jealousy.” He smirked, looking me up and down like something in my posture gave me away.
Deciding to move things along I brushed past him and strode into the back. “You’re making me late and I have to pick up my daughter.”
He trailed behind me, his sneakers squeaking on the concrete floors. “How is Mia?” His voice sounded soft, almost hesitant. I turned to look at him and saw that his shoulders were slumped and he was toeing the ground.
Hayes had bonded with my daughter when we went on a vacation together—not the two of us alone, of course, but when he and his band mates went on vacation with their girls. Sadie invited me and Hayes had immediately hit it off with Mia. My daughter didn’t like most people, so it had surprised me that she took so readily to Hayes. I believed it had something to do with his carefree attitude and easy going smile. It was hard not to like the guy. But that’s exactly what I’d spent the last two months trying to accomplish.
“She’s good,” I finally answered. “She’ll be four soon. December fourteenth.”
“Would it be okay if I got her a present?” He asked.
“Uh…” I was surprised he’d even offer. He wasn’t her father, and he wasn’t anything to me. “If you want to.”
“I do,” he replied quickly. “Anyway, about that date…”
“Oh, right.” I rolled my eyes and he clucked his tongue, reaching out to capture my hand in his.
“What did I tell you about rolling those eyes at me?”
I swallowed thickly, my throat dry.
Before I could respond he let go of my hand and trailed his fingers down my cheek. “Like I was saying, tomorrow is my birthday and I want you to be my date.”
“But I have Mia.” My protests were weak as my eyes fluttered closed and I found my back pressed into the wall. I felt his nose glide against my neck and his lips briefly touched the spot where my pulse jumped erratically. When I opened my eyes he’d taken a step back and my body felt cold without his touch. His blue eyes sparkled with the knowledge of what he was doing to me.
“Bring her. Something tells me she might like what we have planned.”
“She’s three,” I stated. “Do you really want a three-year-old at your birthday party?”
“Absolutely,” he nodded, “she’ll fit right in with Maddox.”
I laughed at the mention of his band’s erratic drummer. Sobering, I shrugged, “Why do you want us at your party?”
“Because,” his voice lowered to a husky whisper, “I like you. A lot. You’re beautiful, and funny, and nice, and you have a wonderful daughter who thinks I’m fucking awesome, and if she thinks I’m awesome then so should you.” He chuckled, the sound of his laughter filling my body with warmth.
“So, I should base all my judgments on what my daughter thinks?”
“Absolutely,” he nodded, “she’s smart like her mom.”
Now it was my turn to nod. I snapped my fingers together. “I see what you did there. You’re good.”
He grinned. “Does this mean you’ll come?”
He looked so earnest when he asked the question and I felt bad for how I’d avoided him. “Fine, I’ll be there, but it’s not a date.”
He clapped his hands together and did some kind of happy dance. There was a lot of hip thrusting involved.
“This might not be a date,” he started, staring down at me with determination swimming in his eyes, “but I will get you to go on a real date with me. I’m going to prove to you that there’s more to me than you think.”
“And how are you going to do that?” My brows rose in interest.
His lips lifted in a smirk. “One day at a time.”