Promised the second part of today’s excerpt, and here it is. A bit later in Chapter 3, still at Willow’s house, but after lunch, this time from Willow’s POV. She’s on just as many pins and needles as Hunter is. 🙂 Enjoy!
How could I ever have thought I cared a fig for Evan Ashe, or anyone else? No one has ever made me feel the way Hunter Painter does. Every single day of my life has been lost in sleep-walking, waiting, waiting, waiting.
She shoved that thought away. “Would you like to see the herb garden first?”
“Of course,” she said, with a self-conscious laugh. “I never can seem to do things by halves. I’ve made several garden areas, and then there’s a path through the trees, down to a little stream. What would you like to see?”
“Everything. Show me everything.”
She studied his face to be sure he really meant it. He looked serious. “Okay, let’s start over there.” Pointing to the side yard, she headed to her favorite bed.
Following traditional design, Willow had laid out her main herb garden as a large rectangle, with narrow brick paths that separated it into sections for each herb. Miniature purple coneflowers, her favorite butterfly plant, made a colorful, sweet-scented border around the entire garden. They strolled through the paths, sipping their iced tea, while Willow explained a bit about the uses of each plant. Hunter followed along, nodding, and making the occasional comment, as though he was truly interested.
I have no idea what I’m even saying. I can’t believe this could possibly interest him. Here we are, Hunter Painter and I, after all these years. Walking around my garden, and I don’t even know what I’m saying. God, if he stands any closer to me, I’m going to do something stupid, like touch him.
She turned toward Hunter as she talked, and was lost in his gaze for a heartbeat. Her voice died away. Struck by the notion that those clear, gray eyes could see straight into her soul, her mind went blank. Heat rushed up her neck and into her cheeks, and she glanced away, afraid he would know how she felt.
“Well, that’s about it for the herb garden. Do you want to see the butterfly garden?”
Just ‘yes.’ That was Hunter. If it wasn’t necessary to get his point across, he didn’t say it. And the less he said, the more she rattled on. “It’s on the other side of the house. Not that far, really … just across the yard, I mean.”
When they passed her patio, he set his empty glass down on the flagstones, and once again, she was intensely aware of him as he followed her. “Well, here it is. Some of the flowers are the same as the herb garden, but lots of others are here just because butterflies like them, though there won’t be many around until it’s a bit warmer.”
She couldn’t seem to stop chattering. “Hummingbirds like most of these, too.”
Again, she felt him close behind her. If she turned, she’d be almost touching him, and it was more than she wanted to think about. Being this close to him made her heart race, and she was worried he’d hear it in her voice. Needing to put some space between them, she stepped to the end of the bed where a mirrored gazing ball rested atop a pedestal.
“I don’t like a lot of cutesy garden art, but I do love this vintage gazing ball. It came from a hotel in Ormond Beach.” She stood in front of it, trying to stop thinking about touching him.
Maybe we should just go back inside. Somehow he’s too close out here, without the table between us. Inside was easier.
Her eyes were glued to the silvery gazing ball, when she saw Hunter’s reflection swim into view, sharp and clear in the mirrored surface. His expression was unguarded as he watched her, and filled with a desperate longing she recognized immediately. His gaze shifted to the reflection and caught hers. It was as though all pretense had been stripped away, and they were each exposed to the other.
Willow’s heart began to pound even harder, and her breath quickened. She turned as if in a trance, and the glass of tea slid from her fingers and dropped into the grass, unnoticed.
He was so close—mere inches away—and any remaining idea of resistance evaporated like morning dew. Cupping the palm of her hand against the warm skin of his cheek, she felt him tremble … watched his eyes close … heard his breath catch. She stood on tiptoe, brushing her lips against his, and the trance was broken.
With a strangled sound, Hunter crushed her against him, taking control of the kiss, turning it into something she’d never felt before. He was like a starving man, swallowing her whole, groaning into her mouth. When her legs buckled, he followed her to the ground, kneeling with her, never breaking the kiss. His fingers slid into her hair on each side of her face, and impossibly, the kiss grew even more intense. Frantic and gasping, he kissed her, over and over—lips, face, eyelids, neck—and she responded, repeating his name again and again, “Hunter … Hunter.”
His face buried against her neck, breath hot on her skin, he whispered. “Willow. Oh, my God, Willow.” She felt his teeth against her collarbone, little bites, as he tasted her. “God. I want you so much. Just you. Always you, Willow. All these long years, and I still want you.”
He groaned again, his lips working back up the slender column of her neck, finding her mouth once more. She buried her fingers in his hair, and the image of those soft, brown curls against his pale neck flashed through her mind. She wanted to lie beside him on the grass and make love to him right there in her garden, but he moved, jerking roughly away from her, and scrambling to his feet. He stared at her, eyes wide with shock, chest heaving.
Confused, she rose as well. “Hunter? What’s wrong?”
“Sorry, Willow. Never should’ve done that. Have to go now. Sorry for everything. Shouldn’t have come.” He spun on his heel and fled, racing around the side of the house to the front yard, leaving Willow standing in her garden, wondering where things had gone wrong.
When she heard his truck start up and drive away, she felt the rejection like a slap in the face. Stumbling back to her kitchen, she sat down at the table, put her head down on her arms, and cried.
Finding Hunter available for download on Amazon. Print version coming soon.