Ashleigh knew she shouldn't be here. She shouldn't be anywhere near Hunter Hamilton. Yet there she was—the proverbial moth to the flame. She shouldn't stay. Okay, maybe only ten minutes, twenty max, then she'd head out. Perhaps by then her mother would be in bed and Ashleigh wouldn't have to see her again tonight. The only reason she was here in the first place was so she could avoid her mother. There was no other reason.
She followed Hunter as he walked through the front doors, across a mosaic of tiles and straight out a wall of sliding doors onto an expansive paved patio. It surrounded a black-bottom pool that overlooked the beach and the ocean. On the far side of the pool was an in-ground hot tub that spilled into the pool. Next to it, a pumice stone firepit surrounded by a long sofa and outdoor chairs outfitted with deep, plush cushions to invite any visitor. With the flick of a button, the flames in the firepit burst to life and illuminated the surroundings.
"Nice." Really nice. She walked past the stone pool house complete with gable roof and lead-glass windows. "This is amazing."
"Thank you. We've been working hard on it. The owner has a very specific vision of what he wanted his outdoor paradise to look like. You should have seen this place when we started."
"I'm sure the owners will love it. I don't think I've ever seen an outdoor space more inviting. If I lived here, I'd never even go into the house." She sat down on the sofa and looked at the full moon hanging in the sky. Its reflection shimmered across the ocean's surface. She took a deep breath of the salty air and felt all the day's tension drain from her, relaxing her shoulders. "I forgot how beautiful it is out here. The light and the ocean is so different from the Pacific."
"This is one of my favorite places to relax." Hunter sank into one of the chairs across from her.
"I can see why. Your clients must trust you a lot."
"We've become… friends."
She stared at the bubbling water in the spa. "Nice friends."
"You want to get in the hot tub? There are extra swimsuits in the pool house."
Temptation prodded her. A hot soak did sound good. Maybe too good. But she wasn't about to let her guard down around Hunter. She'd made that mistake once. She wouldn't repeat it. "Some other time, maybe." Though even that was a lie.
"Mmm, I promised you food and drink," he said, and suddenly jumped up from his chair.
She opened her mouth to tell him she should probably get going, but he was already moving toward a long covered bar built along one side of the pool house.
"Just give me a minute," he said with a smile. A smile that moved something inside her.
Despite her reservations, she nodded. While he opened the built-in refrigerator, she looked out at the beach below them. She should go. Her parents' house was only a short walk up the beach. But she didn't leave—in fact, she didn't move at all. As if Hunter's presence had paralyzed her, robbing her of her free will. As if she were still the love-struck nineteen-year-old from so many years ago.
Even more reason to go.
Moments later, he emerged with a tray of goodies. She watched him as he walked toward her. Handsome, dark, and definitely a danger to her heart. She'd thought that the pain he'd caused her had killed every thread of affection she'd ever had for him. Apparently, certain things were hard to kill.
"I wasn't sure what you wanted, so I got a little bit of everything." He set down the tray on the low table. It was filled with cheese and crackers, olives and nuts, and her favorite—chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Coincidence? Or did he remember?
"Lovely," she murmured.
"Red or white?" He gestured toward two bottles on the bar.
"Red." Maybe that was what she needed—a glass of wine to help her relax. Hunter poured her a glass of the Cabernet, and she stole a macadamia nut and popped it into her mouth.
As she took the glass from him, she looked into his eyes, dark in the dim light, yet she knew they'd be hazel in the sunshine. She took in the line of his jaw, the fine stubble that darkened his face and made him look irresistibly sexy. Yes, he was the same man who'd broken her heart. But who was he really? Fourteen years ago, he'd turned his back on her and walked away. At first, she hadn't understood why. His promise of going to California with her, of leaving the East Coast and never looking back, had been so easily broken. All it had taken was a large enough check. One issued by her mother.
Why had he taken the money after all she'd given him? Her love, her virginity. Had it meant nothing to him? Even now, the pain was still palpable. But she'd learned to push it back into the dark recesses of her heart. She couldn't allow the past to haunt her any longer. She was done with that. Done with it all.
Then why are you sitting here?
To avoid my mother.
She took a deep drink of her wine, trying to drown out the voices in her head. For a moment, it worked, but she knew the voices would come back. They always did.
"Everyone's talking about your new movie," Hunter said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Do you like it?"
"The movie? Or acting?" More small talk.
"All of the above."
"I do." She looked into his eyes. "Most people act, hiding who they really are, what they really want. I just get paid to do it."
He flinched almost imperceptibly. Had she hit a nerve?
"Leigh," she said. "No one calls me Ashleigh anymore."
"Okay, Leigh," he said, then hesitated.
"I want to explain, even though there really is no justification. I… I should have come to you, told you—"
"Let's not rehash the past," she said quickly. She took another sip of her wine. She couldn't bear how much she wanted to hear his excuses, to forgive him. To move closer. And at the same time, she didn't want to hear it, didn't want to have confirmed what she already knew.
She had to stay strong around him, no matter how attractive he was. She couldn't allow herself to fall for him again. Because today he was a man, not the boy she'd left behind, and therefore ultimately more dangerous to her heart. His chest was more defined, his neck and shoulders broader. And those arms…
Warmth hiccupped in her chest. She looked away, focusing her eyes on the foamy crest of the waves instead, and not on the way the soft cotton of his shirt fell across the hard planes of his chest, the rock-hard biceps. No matter how much she longed to touch them, to touch him, to draw her fingers across the smooth lines and linger on the hardness beneath.
What if she did to him what he'd done to her? Play with his feelings, enjoy his body, spend the night making sweet love to the man, then leave him in her dust? Turnabout was fair play, wasn't it? The thought tempted her and sent tingles of excitement moving through her blood. But only for a moment. Then her brain kicked in, making her realize how dangerous such a game would be. Too dangerous to contemplate.
"You look tired." His voice caressed her senses.
"I am. Long day. Hard flight."
She glanced away, fighting the growing need.
"How do you like the West Coast?"
"I like it. It's different. More relaxed. Warmer, brighter." Which you would know firsthand, if you'd come with me. She swallowed the bitter words. Way too much water under that bridge.
He leaned toward her, clasping his hands now. Strong hands. Large hands. She could almost remember what they felt like—rough against her soft skin, yet gentle at the same time. She caught him watching her with those dark, passionate eyes. Did he know what she was thinking? How much she hated him, yet wanted him at the same time? Was she that transparent? She hoped not. Though he'd always been able to easily read her. But she'd been a girl then. A silly schoolgirl with everything to lose.
She dropped her gaze to the fire, watching the flames dance.
"It's chilly, I'll go get us some blankets," he suddenly said, and stood. "Eat some more."
She did, devouring more nuts and olives. A blanket did sound good. She leaned back on the long couch and rested her head against the pillow. She would let her eyes slip closed for just a moment, and then soon, she would leave. She heard the sound of Hunter heading into the pool house, and allowed her mind to remember…
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish