Pulling out all the stops as we head into the weekend. Decided to share an entire chapter! We last saw Hunter racing for home, leaving a shocked and miserable Willow behind, after a shared kiss in the garden that rocked her world. Willow, probably my strongest female character to date, is not going to settle for something like that, without an explanation. This is what ensues. (Note: Hunter does have reasons for his deep-seated fear of starting a relationship with Willow. But his resistance is giving way.)
Bounced awake, I hold my head against the constant pain.
An arm reaches across me, opens the door.
Sorry, he says, wrinkling his nose.
You gotta get out now …
~ Traveling Man ~
Saturday, December 29, 2012
HUNTER GROANED, PULLING his feather pillow over his head not only to block out the world, but just in case he started shouting in frustration.
What the hell happened? What the bloody hell just happened? Everything was fine. It was going better than I ever thought it would, and then suddenly it all went crazy. She kissed me! Why the hell did she kiss me? How the hell was I supposed to resist that?
The memory of that kiss rocketed into him so hot and fast, it scorched a path through his soul. Never in his life had a kiss transported him that way. He could still feel her mouth under his, sweet and yielding, and burning like fire. The raspberry scent of her hair lingered on his hands, and he would never, ever forget the taste of her skin. Every nerve ending in his body felt burned raw from the experience—so sensitive, the slightest breeze sliding over it would cause unbearable pain.
But somewhere in his torment, he also remembered how she had responded to him, moaning into that kiss, and whispering his name over and over as they clung to each other. She wanted him, too, a concept that had never once seemed a possibility in all the years he had loved her.
Doesn’t make it any better, does it, you stupid fool? Still never gonna happen. You don’t belong with Willow Greene, and nothing’s going to change that. All you’re doing here is torturing yourself.
He swore into his pillow. “’Take a chance,’ Gunn said. ‘Call her up,’ Gunn said. I’m gonna find that bastard and pound him to death with one of his own cameras!”
That image distracted him from his woes for about thirty seconds, and then he slid even deeper into the hole of misery he’d dug for himself.
Never gonna leave this room again. Can’t be trusted to go out into the real world and behave like a person with a single, functioning brain cell. Just gonna have my meals delivered right here, and Dad can walk Biscuit. I’ll tell him I’m sick—and keep telling him that for the rest of my life.
A sudden rap on the bedroom door interrupted his maudlin thoughts. “Hunter? Are you awake?”
“Yeah, Dad. You can come in.”
His father stuck his head in the door. “Sorry to bother you, son, but … well … there’s a young lady down here says she wants to talk to you.”
Horrified, Hunter bolted upright. “What? What’re you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this pretty little thing at the front door, says she has to talk to you. Real long hair, sweet smile, named … um …”
Hunter smacked his head. “Willow.”
His dad nodded. “That’s it. You wanna come down?”
“No! Did you already tell her I’m here?”
“Well, sure. Should I be lying to young ladies who are looking for you?”
“Yes! I mean, no, not generally. Just this one.”
“You do something to her, Hunter?”
“No, of course not. Well, not like you mean. It’s just … aw, it’s complicated, Dad. Can you just tell her I wasn’t up here, or I’m asleep, or I’m sick, or I’ve gone to China? Something? I’m not coming down there!”
His dad gave him a disapproving look. “Okay. Have it your way, but no, I’m not gonna lie to this little gal. I’m just gonna go tell her you don’t want to see her.”
Flinging himself back down on the bed, Hunter growled in frustration. “Fine. If that’s what you want to do, do it. I’m still not coming down.” He clamped the pillow back over his face, and refused to say anything else.
His dad sighed, closed the door a little too hard, and stomped down the stairs.
Two minutes later, Hunter heard a tap, and the sound of the door opening again.
This time, he didn’t bother to lift the pillow. “Did she go away?”
“No, I didn’t go away, Hunter. And I’m not going to.”
Once again, Hunter bolted to a sitting position. He dropped his pillow and stared at Willow, mouth agape. “Willow! You can’t just walk into my room. It’s … you … this isn’t …”
“Oh stop, Hunter. I’m here. And you and I are going to talk.”
He opened his mouth to protest again, but Willow was having none of it. “Don’t bother blustering around and ordering me out. I’m not going.”
Swinging his feet to the floor, he leaned his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands, groaning. “This can’t be happening. You are not here in my room. My father did not let you walk up here. I’m having a nightmare.”
He heard the scrape of wood on the floor and peeked through his fingers. Willow was dragging his desk chair to the bedside. She positioned it directly in front of him, sat down, then reached out and gently pulled his hands away from his face.
“Hunter, look at me. Please?”
His heart lurched. She was touching him again. How was it that he had managed to never once touch Willow Greene in more than sixteen years, and now it was happening every forty-five minutes? He stared at her hands, small and pale against his, then gave up, and raised his eyes an inch at a time, until he met hers.
Willow’s eyes were a shade of green Hunter had never been able to describe, though he had tried, in poem after poem. There was a depth to them—a mystery that spoke of age-old secrets—and they added to the sense of magic he always felt in her presence. But now, her eyes flashed with frustration and impatience, and he’d earned it. He’d just never expected her to call him out on it.
His breath puffed out in resignation. “Okay. Looking at you now, Willow. Why’re you here?”
“Why am I here? Are you really asking me that, Hunter? You come to my house, have lunch with me, walk around my garden, kiss me like I’ve never been kissed in all my life, jump back like you’ve been burned, and take off for home without a word of explanation, and now, you ask me why I’m here?”
Her eyes flashed green fire. “Do you think I fall down on the ground with every good-looking guy who stops by my house? If so, you are sadly mistaken. Why do you think I’m here, Hunter?”
“Damned if I know. Didn’t expect it, for sure. Oh, and by the way, you kissed me, remember?”
“Oh, I just started it. You took over pretty quickly, as I recall, and you weren’t shy about it, either. Nor were you complaining.”
Heat crept up his neck and into his cheeks. “Reckon that’s fair. Forgot myself, is all. You can’t go kissing on a man, and not have him react, you know. Shouldn’t be doing that, Willow.”
“Don’t you dare lecture me on kissing, Hunter Painter! I’ve kissed and been kissed before, for your information. What happened today was altogether different. I know it and you do, too. You look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t feel something happening.”
He tried. He really did, but his eyes skittered off to one side and then the other, looking at everything in the room except back into Willow’s. He knew with absolute certainty that looking into her eyes would be a fatal mistake. He’d be lost in those depths, and nothing would ever be the same again.
He was studying the nightstand when he felt her hand on his cheek. She turned his face back to hers. “I mean it, Hunter. Tell me that kiss meant nothing to you.”
“It was just a kiss, Willow,” he whispered, staring at the tip of her nose.
“My eyes, Hunter. Look at my eyes.”
He groaned again, painfully aware it sounded more like a whine, then locked his eyes with hers, and tried once more. “It was … it was just …”
She leaned closer. “If it was just a kiss, you won’t mind trying it again.” Before his befuddled mind could process her words, her lips were on his, and the whole world flipped upside down.
His mind shrieked, No, no, no! Don’t do this. Leave. Run away! But his body betrayed him, yet again. His arms moved of their own volition, pulling Willow close, one hand sliding up behind her neck and the other sliding down, around her waist.
She held his face between her hands, sighing into his mouth as she kissed him. He was drowning in that maddening scent rising from her—mint, and raspberries, and over it all, something cool and sweet, which was Willow, alone.
The kiss was desperate and hungry, and grew deeper as Hunter fell back onto the bed again, this time pulling Willow down with him. She rolled on top, and he ran his hands up and down her back, feeling the warmth of her through the soft cotton blouse she wore. His common sense long gone, Hunter slid one hand under the blouse and skimmed it up the smooth, bare skin of her back. She whimpered against his mouth, threading her hands into his hair and, impossibly, kissing him even deeper.
God, he wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life, and all his good intentions were standing off in a corner somewhere, laughing at him. Letting her go—pushing her away—was no longer an option.
Willow broke the kiss and lifted her head just enough to look down at him. Her eyes were glassy with desire, and he saw that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. It was all wrong—and all right—at the same time. He couldn’t find the words to tell her they had to stop, and he didn’t even care. Right or wrong, he would burn in hell forever if she would kiss him like that again.
Her mouth curved up in a triumphant smile. “I knew it,” she murmured. “You want me, too.”
“Of course I want you, Willow. No way not to, especially after a kiss like that.”
“It’s more than that, though.” She frowned then, uncertain. “Isn’t it? It’s not just wanting sex. It’s more, isn’t it?”
Lying to her crossed his mind, but he couldn’t pull those words together, either. He was too far gone now, lost in the magic of those wide, green eyes. “Yes. It’s more. It’s always been more.”
Willow made a little sound, barely louder than a sigh. “Kiss me again, Hunter. Show me how much more it is.”
She slanted her mouth across his, and Hunter forgot everything but the feel, and taste, and smell of her. Moaning, he rolled over, pinning her beneath him, her small body borne down by the weight of his.
He buried his face in that warm curve between her neck and her shoulder, whispering between tiny kisses. “Willow, oh, God, Willow … is this really happening? Tell me I’m not dreaming.”
Her hands were everywhere—on the back of his neck, in his hair, on the side of his face—her touch light as a feather, soft as silk. “If you’re dreaming, I am, too, and it’s just like I always thought it would be, only I can’t get enough of the feel of you.”
Propping himself up on his elbows, he took in her face, delicate and pale, and her spill of silver hair spread across his pillow. “How is this happening, Willow? How is it you’re lying in my bed under me, and looking at me with those eyes full of green fire, telling me it’s like you thought it would be? When? When were you thinking about something like this?”
Willow brushed his hair out of his eyes, and caressed the side of his face. She frowned in concentration, as she traced the tip of her forefinger over his straight brows, down his nose, and across his bottom lip.
“I can’t really remember when I wasn’t thinking about something like this. Ever since we met, Hunter, it was always you in my thoughts.”
A strangled sound escaped him, as he rolled onto his side, pulling her along with him. He lay facing her, running his fingers through her hair, and shaking his head in wonder. “You were thinking about me? Oh, my God. You were thinking about me, and I never really saw another girl, once I laid eyes on you.”
“Why didn’t you ever call me? Why did you never even look at me, or say more than three words to me?”
“Mostly scared, Willow. Just too scared. We come from two different worlds. You were rich. So popular. All the big wheels in school chasing you. I was a dirt-poor country boy in hand-me-down jeans. That weird ol’ Hunter Painter. Head in the clouds. Too scared to even sit at the same lunch table with you.”
Her eyes filled with tears, and she drew his face closer, kissed him again, then pulled back. “Well, weren’t we a pair of idiots? Didn’t you ever notice that I never went out with any of those big wheels from high school more than once or twice?”
“Figured you liked playing the field. Being popular. Not tied down.”
“Wrong. It was just that there was never one of them that made me feel the way being near you did. I’ve measured every man I’ve ever met by that same yardstick, Hunter, and they’ve all been lacking. You’ve always been the only one I ever wanted. And now, here it is fifteen years after high school, and we’re just having that first kiss, that moment of discovery.”
Hunter had quit listening. His mind was stuck on one line.
“Stop. Go back. I’ve always been the only one you ever wanted?” He held his breath, sure he had misunderstood.
Her eyes spoke the truth. Willow Greene wanted him. Willow had always wanted him. All the long years he had dreamed of her and wanted her, she had been dreaming of him, too. The irony of the situation was overwhelming. Hunter pulled her tight against his chest, warm and perfect against him.
He kissed the top of her head. “Don’t even know what to say to that, Willow. Never thought once … never even imagined … such a thing. All these years, we could have had something. God. What a terrible waste.” But even as he spoke, a voice deep inside was still trying to warn him this was wrong. He shut it out, focusing only on the woman in his arms.
“No point in going there, Hunter. We can’t undo what’s past. Don’t even think about it. Think about now. Think about this.” She kissed him again, and every thought in his head evaporated in a blinding rush of desire.
He wanted to see her, all of her. Touch her, kiss her, taste her, make love to her endlessly, in every way a man could love a woman. His hand slipped under her blouse again, and he caressed the smooth skin of her back, feeling her delicate bones under his fingers. Sliding his hand to the front, he cupped her breast under the silky fabric of her bra.
Willow whimpered at his touch, whispering little endearments to him. “Yes, yes, yes. Oh, my God, Hunter. I want you so much.”
Hunter froze, gasping for breath as he broke away from her embrace. “We have to stop, Willow.”
She closed her eyes, still trembling with desire, but struggling to speak. “Stop because you’re going to run from me again? Or stop because this isn’t the time and place?”
“Yeah. That one. Can’t make love to you in this bed, in this house, with my father and mother downstairs. I want to. More than anything in the world. But not here.”
“Come back to my house with me, then. Please, Hunter? I think I might die of internal combustion if you don’t.”
Smiling, he brushed her hair back from her face. “You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. Hair tangled on my pillow, eyes gone smoky …” He leaned his forehead against hers, a long, shuddering breath pouring out of him. “Still isn’t right, but damned if I can help it anymore. Yes. Let’s go back to your house, Willow. I don’t think I can live without this.”
He stood, holding out his hand to her, and she took it, staring into his eyes with fierce intensity as he pulled her to her feet.
“Don’t be telling me this isn’t right, Hunter. Nothing has ever felt this right in my whole life.”
Willow smoothed her hair back into place, and tucked in her blouse. She stood on tiptoe and kissed Hunter again, then smiled. “Don’t be long. I’ve waited years for you.”
And then she disappeared down the stairs. He heard her say goodbye to his dad, and watched from the window, as she pulled her car out of the drive.
Ten minutes later, he was in his truck, heading for Willow’s little cottage, and wondering if he’d truly lost his mind, altogether. Along the way, he rethought at least part of his earlier anger. Maybe he wouldn’t beat Gunnar Wolfe to death with his camera, after all.
Finding Hunter available for download on Amazon. Print version coming soon.