Authors: Eva Grayson
© 2016 by Favor Ford Publishing
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ur lips are
mere inches apart, and then suddenly they’re touching. Cole doesn’t move a muscle at first, lets me dictate the action, but I can feel him coiled. His mouth opens and I find mine opening in response, and then his tongue slides along my upper lip.
The electric zing from that simple touch sends bolts straight to my nipples and clit. I gasp in a breath, and Cole takes the opportunity to slant his mouth over mine.
His hand darts out to slam my body against him. The heat of his skin scorches me through our shirts, and my nipples are tight buds, my breasts swollen, my pussy pounding. The light scent of his cologne is weaving around me, creating a spell.
I’m intoxicated by this kiss.
And Cole…holy shit, can he kiss. He drinks from my mouth like he’s owning me, and I cling to his shoulders, though my hands want to roam everywhere. Our bodies are locked tight, our breaths panting into each other’s mouths. He tastes of beer and his tongue touches mine, and every time he strokes inside my mouth, I have this urge to straddle his powerful thighs and grind against him.
I don’t know how long we kiss. I stop caring, just lose myself in his taste, the feel of his firm fingers gripping my waist, keeping me in place. Cole groans and his other hand reaches up to cup the back of my head. I wrap my arms around his neck.
I need to be closer.
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. I’m savvy. I have the experience to pull this project off and make it amazing. I’m— Shit, I’m five minutes late to our morning meeting.
I grab my papers, fling my office door open, and dart across the floor toward the corner conference room, where everyone is already waiting for me. A tray of buttery pastries tempts me momentarily from the center of the table, but I rip my gaze away from them and offer an apologetic smile to my boss, Dane.
From his position at the head of the table, he cocks a dark brow. “Thank you for joining us, Lauren.” His voice is low and even as always, but I can hear the hint of irritation under the words.
My face burns. Dane is a fair boss but a bit of a hard ass, and he doesn’t like tardiness. “Sorry,” I say, shuffling to the empty seat near the end of the table. I don’t bother offering up an excuse for why I’m late. It doesn’t matter.
Emme, my assistant, gives me an apologetic smile. I shake my head and flash a quick grin at her in response. It’s not her fault I’m late—she knocked on my door ten minutes ago to remind me about the meeting, but I got caught up in finishing the last touches for the specs I’m working on. It has to be perfect.
We discuss old business for the first twenty minutes or so. Carl, as usual, won’t stop interrupting Dane with his opinion on everything, and I find my mind wandering as I gaze around the table. Dane’s new personal assistant, Carlita, clacks away on her tablet to take notes. She’s an older woman, a little on the quiet side, but I like her. She’s professional and no-nonsense, exactly what Dane needs. Not that Emme did a bad job or anything when she was working with him. She’s been a great assistant to me, a real help for this project. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe she and Dane are together. But I have to admit, he’s been a lot more laidback and friendly in the last few months since they became exclusive. She’s been a good influence on him.
“Lauren?” Dane is saying, and I blink, pulled out of my meandering thoughts into the topic at hand. “How is the redesign for Mickey’s Pub going?”
I shuffle through my papers to find my notes. “It’s going great so far. I’m going to send the design to Bart for review and approval, and then I’ll contact the client and show them my redesign.”
He gives a curt, approving nod. “Sounds good. I’d like to see it before you send it to them, as well.”
“No prob, boss.”
Dane moves on to Carl, asking him how progress on one of his accounts is going. At the sound of Carl’s nasal drone, the way he keeps smoothing the hair over his balding spot, how his shirt buttons are gaping over his belly, I find myself fighting the urge to roll my eyes. He goes on for a good minute about how much the client
everything he’s doing, blah blah blah.
I feel pretty confident that my clients Mickey and Xander Halloway—my best friend Cole’s father and older brother, respectively—are going to love what I’ve done. I’ve given them exactly what they’ve asked for. Cole’s dad bought the bar just before Cole enlisted in the army ten years ago, and while it’s been doing better than they dared to hope, they’re ready to take business to the next level and draw a younger, hipper clientele. Enter moi. The two men want to expand the kitchen, redesign the layout of the main level, and add a patio area onto the back.
I can’t wait to hear what they think of my specs. I want everything to go right; they’re practically family to me. I’ve known them seventeen years, after all.
Which reminds me, I should send Cole a text later and see what that asshole is up to. He’s been MIA lately. Actually, since he left the army about six months ago, I haven’t talked much to him. Funny how we were in better communication when we were thousands of miles and an ocean apart.
“Any other new business?” Dane asks.
Carl goes to open his mouth, but I shoot him a glare. For once, he takes the hint and stays quiet. We all just want to get out of here and go to lunch, but Carl will keep us in this room another half-hour as he pontificates about why we need to go after this business or that client, and how he’s “just the man to do it.”
Dane stands and tells us the meeting is adjourned, and we shuffle out behind him.
“I can’t wait to hear what the architect thinks about the design for Mickey’s Pub,” Emme says as she sidles up to me. Her smile is wide, and her light, curly hair is pinned back in a loose twist. Dane’s been good for her too, now that I think about it. She’s much more open and assertive, friendlier, less withdrawn. I remember how quiet and shy she was when she first started working here.
“You’ve been a huge help on this,” I tell her in earnest. “Your ideas on how to use that patio to maximize its limited space were great. I love the idea of putting a round fireplace in the middle and building the tables in a concentric pattern from it.” And I know Xander’s dad will love that too, since he wanted a fireplace out there, one of his specific requests.
Her cheeks flush. “It’s no big deal.” But I can see the pleasure from my compliments reflected in her sparkling eyes. “So, we still on for tonight? I’m looking forward to a margarita or two.”
“Or three,” I tease.
Since Emme and I started talking late last year, we’ve gone out regularly, at least a couple of times a month. I’ve even hung out with her and Dane once or twice, though I admit, watching the two of them together is hard. The way he looks at her, like she’s the one he’s been longing for for so long…it makes me ache for that love I’ve never had.
It’s also kinda awkward being a third wheel when I can see the desire building between them as the night progresses. The small touches, the heated stares. Their attraction is potent, to say the least.
The last time Emme and I went out, after we had a few margaritas at what we’ve come to think of as “our girls’ night out place,” she confessed to me how she and Dane had started their relationship. That she’d written about him in a secret journal and he’d accidentally seen it. I would have died if I’d been her, probably would have quit my job on the spot, but it looks like it all worked out for them in the end.
“Okay, I’ll see you tonight at One Tequila,” she says, then spins on her heel and heads to her desk, right by my small office.
I close my door behind me and sink into my plush chair, stare down at the specs I’ve drawn with care. This isn’t my first project, but it’s personal for me. Cole’s family has been good to me, has always made me feel loved and welcomed, and the fact that they trust me enough to design and manage the renovation of their pride and joy humbles me, fills me with pride. I won’t fail them.
I scan the docs and email them to Dane and then Bart, our architect, and lean back in my chair for a moment, close my eyes, rub the back of my neck. I’ve been putting in a lot of late nights to get this done on schedule. I’m so looking forward to relaxing tonight.
I grab my phone and bring up the texting app, firing off a message to Cole.
Hey, jerk. Where the hell have you been? You’re not answering my texts. Have you fallen in a well? Should I send help? Beer? Answer me when you get a sec, or suffer the consequences.
With a chuckle, I hit send.
Cole isn’t normally this unresponsive to my messages. He must be busy at work or something. Now that spring is here, his job down in Charlotte, North Carolina at the construction site—where he started working after retiring from the army—is likely kicking into full gear. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, way too long. Maybe I can plan a road trip down there. I make a mental note to ask him when he’s free later this spring, or if he’s going to be coming home soon. I miss him so much.
You’d think after all this time that I’d be used to him being gone, but there’s still this hole in my life that nothing else can fill but my best friend. I love Emme, but she doesn’t understand me the way Cole does. Our history has tied us together in a way nothing can compare to.
Shoving aside my sad thoughts, I draft an email to Xander and Mickey, letting them know the specs are getting a final review. I ask them when they’re available to meet with me to go over my ideas. Then I lean back in my chair once again and try to swallow down the nervous flutters in my belly.
!” Emme says, clinking her margarita against mine. She takes a sip and sighs in pleasure. “This is divine.”
I do the same, closing my eyes and savoring the drink’s delicate peach flavor. “I swear, One Tequila has the best margaritas on the planet.”
Every month they feature a special margarita, plus a different dinner special every Tuesday that complements that drink. I should suggest to Xander and his father that they try something like that. Mickey’s Pub has a couple of good bartenders who could come up with unique drink offerings. Having a special dinner menu once a week might not be as overwhelming as offering a unique meal every day.
Something brushes against my bare left arm, and I turn to see a dark-haired guy in a gray business suit settling into the bar stool beside me. “Sorry,” he murmurs, his eyes raking down to my chest then back up to my face, a grin spreading across his mouth. “These seats are packed so tightly beside each other. Hard to maneuver.” He doesn’t look the least bit sorry, though. Definitely a player.
“It’s fine,” I say, giving him a smile back and then turning to face Emme again. Hopefully he’ll get the hint.
She and I continue talking for a minute, deciding what appetizer we want to share, when there’s a deliberate tap on my shoulder. Emme’s brow arches and a smirk crooks on her lips.
I glance over my shoulder to see the guy leaning toward me. An expensive cologne wafts to my nostrils.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he says. His brown eyes are fixed on me, and without looking away he raises his hand to flag down the bartender.
I lift my glass. “Have one, but thanks.”
Emme elbows me. I know she’s thinking I should take the offered drink, since more than once she’s heard me whine about the crappy, infrequent dates I’ve been on lately, but something about his smarminess isn’t sitting right with me. Plus I’m here to spend time with her, not troll for dick.
Unfazed, he presses, “Surely you’re not stopping at one for the night?”
My phone vibrates on top of the bar. Saved by a text message. A quick glance down shows it’s from Cole. “I don’t think my boyfriend would approve,” I blatantly lie, waving my phone at him. “But thank you.” With that, I spin away from him again.
Emme looks like she wants to giggle, but to her credit she keeps a straight face. “So when am I going to meet this boyfriend, by the way? I’ve heard so much about him. He sounds like a catch.”
“Knock it off,” I whisper with a laugh. “It’s just Cole. Gimme one sec, please—I haven’t heard from him in days and I was starting to get worried.”
“Take your time,” she says. “I’m going to inhale this margarita.”
I swipe the message open. It’s a close-up picture of Cole’s face, him holding a beer beside his head. The accompanying text reads:
I crawled out of the well and found my own beer. Sorry for being MIA—I am a jerk and I own it. Let’s catch up tmrw okay? Lots to talk about.
“Who the hell is that hottie?” Emme asks.
“What? That’s just Cole,” I say, blinking. Well, I guess he is looking pretty nice. His hair has grown out on the top, but he’s kept the sides clipped tight. And the golden lighting is rather flattering to him.
Sure, objectively speaking I’m aware that Cole is considered very handsome these days. Maybe even gorgeous—but that’s not how I see him. Or maybe that’s just not how I’ve allowed myself to see him…
“You made it sound before like Cole was just some guy. But this man is ridiculously hot,” Emme continues. “His eyes are to die for. How the hell did you make it through high school without tapping that?” Emme narrows her eyes as she looks at me. “Is he not into the ladies or something?”
I can’t help the laugh that bursts from me. “What? No, it just isn’t like that with Cole and me. I’ve known him since sixth grade. Nothing happening with him—way too much history. We’re like brother and sister.”
Except that one time where we almost kissed…
Emme’s brow rises in a knowing look. “Your emotions are all over your face. I can tell you’re thinking of something quite un-sisterly about him.”
I put my phone back on the bar top and swat her arm. “Knock it off. So when are you and Dane moving in together?”
Her eyes narrow, but I can see her soften a touch at the mention of Dane. “Stop changing the subject.”
I press forward, relieved to be on the offensive now. “I’m surprised you guys aren’t living together yet, the way you’re almost attached at the hip.”
She sighs. “I really do love him. And I think we’re going to make that move soon. We’ve talked about it a couple of times. Plus my brother is gaining more independence, and he’s ready to live on his own.”
“That’s great,” I say with enthusiasm. Emme has filled me in a little on her brother’s car accident and subsequent depression due to his partial arm amputation. It’s good to hear he’s starting to feel better emotionally and mentally.
We move on to talking about this and that, nothing in particular. Order a couple of appetizers. The whole time, I try to not think about her words about Cole, and the memory it evoked.
Right before Cole was about to head out to boot camp, we got together to drink some cheap Moscato he’d snuck from his mom’s supply, as he often did. We were lying back in the grass, staring up at the stars, drinking wine and talking about how nervous he was to join the army. But this was his chance to get out from under his mom’s thumb, because she was over-the-top protective. While I was scared for him to go, I understood he needed to find freedom.
As we got buzzed on the wine, moonlight spilling down on us, warm breezes fluttering across our skin, there was…a moment between us. Some kind of a weird vibe that came out of nowhere. A shift in energy. A sudden awareness of each other not as friends, but as sexual beings.
Something we’d never experienced before.
His gaze dropped to my lips, then darted back to my eyes. He pressed closer and whispered my name, the word little more than a breath; I could smell the sweetness of the wine on his mouth. And I remember my alcohol-saturated brain wondering, why have he and I never tried dating? Or even kissing?