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Authors: Kelly Jamieson

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BOOK: Worth Waiting For
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“I’ll walk you there.”

The sun was lower now but still warm. The sidewalk was less crowded and traffic on the street had thinned. As they walked side by side, she had the weirdest urge to take his arm, as if it was a natural thing to link hers with his and lean into him, as if her body still recognized him and was drawn to him. She had to fight the feeling.

They stopped at her beat-up little Mazda. “Three-fifteen Fig Street,” she told him reluctantly, unlocking her door. He nodded, and she left him there as she drove off.

Would he even show up? Maybe this was just some plot to humiliate her all over again.

Don’t think like that
. That was the old Ainslie thinking, the one who never truly believed Griff could care about her, be faithful to her. He had given her reasons to doubt him, no doubt about it, but she hadn’t been the most self-confident person when they met. She hadn’t needed reasons to doubt her ability to attract a guy like him and keep him; she could invent those all on her own.

But no longer. If he didn’t show up, that was fine with her. She’d order the pizza she’d planned to, take that long bath with a glass of wine, then dive into the book she’d bought last weekend and never got a chance to read.

She’d just rolled to a stop in her driveway when he pulled in behind her.
Okay, no worries about him not showing up.

She waited for him at the front door after unlocking it.

“Nice place,” he said. “I like it.”

“Thanks.”

The small California Craftsman-style bungalow had lots of character, which meant it needed lots of work. She’d done some rehab on the outside with paint and flowers, but inside was a work in progress.

“I’ll just go change.” She set down her purse. “Have a seat. I won’t be long.”

She waved a hand toward the small living room to the right of the foyer and marched into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. She slumped back against it and closed her eyes.

What the hell was this? Could this really be happening?

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Sucking a big, long breath, Ainslie straightened and hurried into the small bathroom off her bedroom, fighting the fierce fluttering in her belly. She washed her face, then took her hair out of the ponytail. She wished she could shower and wash her hair, but there was no time for that. So, she brushed her hair out long and straight and touched up her make-up, wanting to look her best, although her shaking hands made it difficult.

She changed from her work clothes—plain, straight black skirt, grey silk blouse and low-heeled pumps—into a pair of low-rise jeans and a silky camisole top, sliding her feet into high sandals. She was small and needed all the height she could get around Griff.

She studied herself in the mirror. Well, it wasn’t the glamorous, aloof image she wanted to present, but it was the best she was going to get right now. What difference did it make anyway? She was what she was. She pressed a hand to her stomach. She could do this.
A casual, let’s-catch-up dinner with an old friend.

When she went back to the living room, Griff stood gazing out the window. Built on the side of a hill, her house had a view of the city and the ocean in the distance.

“This is gorgeous, Ains.” He turned at her approach. Then he checked her out, and she melted. A little bit.
Damn.
The frank appreciation in his eyes was gratifying, even though she didn’t want it to be. She did
not
want to care about what he thought of her.

But it did matter, apparently, because his smile and the gleam in his dark blue eyes made her feel good.

“You look gorgeous, too. Still. It’s kind of amazing how little you’ve changed. Your hair is longer.” He reached out and touched her hair, tugging one long strand.

Her body quivered with awareness and she nodded mutely. She went warm and soft inside and her nipples tingled at the admiration in his eyes. “Let’s go,” she said, voice tight.

He followed her out and she walked toward his car parked in her driveway. Whoa. A Lamborghini Gallardo. He must have done better than “okay” with his business ventures.

“Nice car.” She slanted him a look. He unlocked the door with a click of the remote control and opened it for her.

“Thanks. It’s kind of fun.”

“You and your toys.”

She slid in, and he walked around to the driver’s seat. It wasn’t a big car and his presence filled the space, making her feel squeezed. It was hard to breath.

He laughed. “Yeah, I still like toys.”

“They’ve gotten a bit more expensive.”

“Yeah, I guess they have.” And that was all he said about that. She was dying to know more, but kept quiet.

He drove down to Ocean Boulevard, cruising past the beach with its paved walkway and smooth sand stretching down to the Pacific. The low sun glinted off the waves and a few colorful sailboats dotted the blue swells.

“Will we get into Margarita’s?” he asked. “It’s probably busy on a Friday night and they don’t take reservations.”

“Who knows? We may have to wait a bit, but that’s okay.”

They lucked out and were shown to a table right away.

“I’m glad this place is still here,” he said, once they sat. “I used to like coming here.”

They’d been pretty strapped for cash in those days, so dinner out in a nice restaurant wasn’t something they’d done very often, but this had been a favorite place. Nice, but not too pricy. She eyed his casual but expensive clothes and thought about the Lamborghini. Maybe this was a little beneath him now.

They ordered drinks to start with. Griff set his menu aside, apparently in no hurry to order. She focused on breathing, feeling self-conscious and aware of her body. He kept looking at her with hot eyes, and she wished she’d chosen clothing that didn’t show as much of her bare shoulders and arms.

She rubbed her arms. It wasn’t just feeling self-conscious, though. His gaze made her shiver with something else. Her lower belly quivered with nerves and excitement. Even earlier, at Delmar’s, the way he’d looked at her had melted her. He’d been so attentive and interested. There was something so…flattering, so captivating about that look.

“I like your house,” he said again. “It looks like you’ve done some work to it.”

She nodded. “It was a bit of a fixer-upper. Real estate is pretty pricy here, but it was a good deal. Though, yeah, it needed work. Still does. I’ve fixed up the outside and I had all the hardwood floors redone. I painted some rooms, but others need major renovations.”

“It’s hard to be patient when you want it all done at once.”

“That’s true.” She paused. “Where do you live?”

“Near Malibu. I bought a house on the beach after I sold my business.”

“Ah. A house on the beach. That must be nice.”

“I love it. I love the ocean and I can grab my surfboard any time and hit the waves.”

“You must have done
very
well when you sold your business. A Lamborghini, a beach house…wow.”

He grinned. “Can’t complain.”

She pressed her lips together, trying not to smile back at him, but not entirely successful. She couldn’t manipulate him into bragging, apparently. Strangely, that made her happy. She couldn’t stand people who tried to impress with money and possessions.

Ten years fell away, and they talked and laughed, sharing memories and new stories. They talked about lots of things and it was easy. Was that surprising—or not really?

When their dinners arrived, Ainslie picked at her meal, not super hungry, eating bits of this and that while they talked. When she glanced at her watch, her mouth fell open. “Oh, my God, it’s after ten o’clock!”

“So? In a rush to get home? Let’s go for a walk on the pier.”

“I should go.” She had to say that. She reminded herself she should be mad at him—if not, she was letting him off the hook for what he’d done way too easily. But what did it matter? They’d probably never see each other again and it would be nice to end things on an upbeat note, rather than hating him like she had for the past ten years.

What had happened, happened and there was no going back. She’d survived, and, in fact, she’d come through it all stronger and better. In fact, if everything happened for a reason, like she believed, it was better that things had turned out the way they had.

If she and Griff had stayed together, whether they’d moved to LA, or he’d visited, she would have stayed needy and clingy, and they would have made each other miserable. She never would have had the strength to deal with the setback she’d experienced at medical school or the resolve to make the best of that situation. And when her mother no longer relied on her for everything, she would have transferred that co-dependence to Griff and that would have smothered him.

It was a startling realization.

They strolled in silence through the warm darkness down to the beach. There were still lots of people around enjoying the patios and little seaside shops that spilled their light into the dark evening through open doors. Again, the urge to take his hand was almost irresistible. She thrust her hands in the pockets of her jeans as they walked.

“I miss this place,” Griff said. “It has such a different vibe. So casual and laid back. LA is not like this.”

“No, I guess not. What is it like? Is your life stressful?”

“It was when I was in business for myself. Working for Tagasha was a blast. They try to encourage creativity by making work fun. When I started my own business, I thought it would be even better, but it turned out to be incredibly stressful. But it was such a rush, too…challenging.”

“You always needed a challenge.” She smiled.

“Yeah. Selling the business was another kind of stress. It was like selling my baby…it was mine, something I’d worked on so hard, for so long. I didn’t want someone else controlling it.”

“So why did you do it?”

He thought about it. “Well, I guess it was just because I needed a new challenge. When I thought about the things I wanted to do, it didn’t fit with the business, so it was time to move on.”

She couldn’t help but admire the success he’d had. It wasn’t surprising. He was scary-smart when it came to technology and had the creativity to come up with original ideas. She’d laughed at his love of electronic games, how he had to have every new game and every new game player, whether hand-held or a console hooked up to the big television that he’d saved for months to buy. What money he hadn’t spent on her, he’d spent on toys.

“Sounds like you’ve done well.”

He stopped walking and turned to face her. The moonlight cast his dark face in a glow and his eyes were serious as he looked at her. “Yeah. In some ways I’ve done well. I’ve accomplished my goals and I’ve been lucky enough to have goals. But…”

“But…what?”

His gaze brushed her like a caress. Their bodies so close they were almost touching, it took all her willpower to keep herself from swaying toward him, to feel that big, hard body next to hers once more. Her breasts ached to feel him press against them.

He reached out and wound a piece of her hair around a finger. “I have friends,” he told her a bit obscurely.

“That’s good,” she said, a little mystified. “That’s important.”

He nodded, still looking at the strand of hair, rubbing it. His warmth was drawing her like a magnet. This was so not good. She tried to take a step back, but his fingers tightened in her hair, holding her there. She watched him.

“Family’s important, too,” he said. “I kind of want a family.”

What was he saying? What did that have to do with her?

“Tell me about your mother.”

“Oh. Well, soon after you left, she met this guy…his name is George Foster. He’s a very nice man. He’s a lawyer. Kind of old-fashioned and chauvinistic, but then, so is my mom. You know how she fell apart after my dad died.”

“You were what…sixteen when he died?”

“Seventeen. She was totally reliant on him for everything and then she transferred that all to me. I was just a kid and I was a mess myself.” She shook her head. “But helping her helped me get through it all. And you know the rest.”

He knew the story of how, in her own need to be needed, she’d enabled her mother in her unhealthy dependence.

“Anyway, it still amazes me that she found someone and fell in love again. He looks after her and he loves it.”

“Was it hard for you to let him take over?”

She laughed. “You know me too well. It was devastating. All of a sudden, nobody needed me any more.”

“That can’t be true.”

“Well, I did come to realize that. I had friends who were great. Abby was so supportive, and all those psychology classes came in handy. She really helped me see how much healthier it was for my mom and me to be apart. Now, I don’t know how healthy it is for her to be so dependent on George, but that’s not my problem.”

“Wow. That’s quite a statement.”

“I know. Believe me, I know.” She gave a little laugh. “Anyway, it was very eye-opening for me and also showed me what kind of relationship I
don’t
want with a man.”

This time he did glide his big, warm hand down her bare arm, sending all kind of quivering tingles through her, and her hand slid into his in a natural fit that felt so familiar, so right. He walked on and she forced her legs to move, giving her hand a little tug to remove it from his. But he wouldn’t let go, pulling her closer.

They walked out onto the pier and stood at the wooden railing looking out at the dark ocean rolling and shifting far beneath them. Griff kept hold of her hand and it was all she could do keep herself from throwing herself into his arms. He pulled her against him, releasing her only to slip his arm around her waist, holding her close.

Oh, God.

The heat of his body enveloped her, his muscles firm and strong against her. She barely topped his shoulder, even in her heels, and his size both comforted and intimidated. She couldn’t stop it, but images flashed through her mind—Griff naked, holding her, doing things to her that made all her inner muscles clench with excitement and throb with heat. She almost moaned aloud.

“There’s something about the ocean,” he said. “I could never move far away from it.”

“I know. I love it, too. But it’s scary.”

He looked down at her, smiling. “Scary?”

“It’s so huge and powerful.” She shrugged, feeling silly.

“That’s true. You have to respect it.” He didn’t laugh at her or make fun of her, and she exhaled with relief. Eventually, they turned and headed back to the beach.

“I should go home,” she said again.

This time he nodded. “Um….can I ask a huge favor?”

She tensed a bit, not sure what was coming. “You can ask.”

“I don’t have a place to stay and I don’t feel like driving back to LA at this time of night.”

She was silent. Was he asking to stay at her place? That was
so
not a good idea.

“You could find a hotel.” There was no way he’d find a room there on a summer Friday night this late.

“You know I’d never find a hotel room.”

BOOK: Worth Waiting For
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