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My first instinct was to bolt, and the nearest hiding place was the bathroom. I made it in record time before either Joe or Rhiannon had time to react. I locked the door and slumped against it with a gasp.
The first knock on the door was loud and right beside my ear. I jumped a little.
“Lil-ly,” Rhiannon chided through the thick door. “Come out Lil, and we’ll talk about this.”
My knees gave out and I slid down to sit on the floor with an unladylike thump. I could hear the low rumble of Joe’s voice, but from my side of the door I couldn’t understand what he was saying to her.
Another knock sounded, a little gentler than the first. “There’s coffee honey, and breakfast. Please come out.” I’d never heard Rhiannon sound so pleasant and it grated on my nerves.
The bathroom floor was chilly and I rewrapped myself in the blanket I was wearing so that it covered my feet. The image of Rhi and Joe kissing was emblazoned on the back of my brain and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was somehow wrong, that everything was wrong. It seemed like everything in my life had gone haywire in little less than a week. Half of me wanted to go back five days, back to Friday night with the girls, and refuse their idea of going up to the bar to talk to the handsome stranger. If I hadn’t done that none of the rest of this would have happened
The other half of me though seemed to know better. It was the half that wouldn’t let me forget about the startling green of Adam’s eyes, or the way his kisses made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, or just how nice it had been to go home to the farm for dinner, or even how passionate a kiss I’d interrupted between Joe and Rhiannon; I hadn’t expected that of my big brother. I seriously doubt he ever kissed Charlene McMillan like that.
My sigh was loud and echoed in the empty, cold bathroom. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the low murmur of voices from the kitchen. Rhi must have moved away from the door because only the deep timbre of Joe’s voice penetrated into the bathroom, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. It didn’t seem long before I heard the front door open and close.
I quickly tiptoed to the window that looked down over the driveway. Rhiannon’s car was parked there, behind mine; I hadn’t noticed it the night before in the dark. Joe opened the car door for her, and hungrily watched her fold her long legs inside the car before he leaned down to give her a lingering kiss. From my vantage point I could see the contented smiles on both their faces and jealousy stabbed through me painfully. Just why the hell did life seem to be so simple for them?
Joe stood there in his boxers and t-shirt and watched Rhi pull away. He gave a long whistle of satisfaction before rounding the corner of the building to come back upstairs. I could hear him taking the stairs two at a time and his good mood must have evaporated with the climb because he banged aggressively on the bathroom door.
“Get the hell out of there, Lilly. Now.”
I wrapped myself up tighter in the afghan and tested out an expression of hurt and betrayal on my reflection in the mirror over the sink. It took a few tries before I found the right combination.
“I’m telling you Lilly – open the damn door or I’ll break it down. We need to talk.”
I reached for the doorknob at about the same time as Joe began knocking again and when I jerked open the door I think I caught him by surprise. He pasted on a scowl and pointed at one of the chairs at my kitchen table. “Sit.”
I moved past him as gracefully as possible while wrapped in miles of blanket and settled myself with my chin held high. To be honest I wasn’t really sure what it was I felt about Joe and Rhiannon. The whole thing was just too surreal. Was I mad? Upset? Betrayed? Both of them were adults and both meant a great deal to me. I should be happy for them, shouldn’t I?
They’d known each other distantly through me for almost a decade. Back in university, I’d brought Rhiannon home to the farm for holidays and long weekends when she couldn’t make it home to her Dad’s in Halifax and didn’t want to be left in the dorm alone. After he passed away a few years ago, she still attended the occasional Tanner family function since even Rhi wouldn’t willingly choose to spend Christmas alone. I suppose if she bumped into Joe in the grocery store or at the bank they’d exchange a few pleasantries like acquaintances should, but I never would have guessed that something like this could exist between them. As far as I knew, man-hungry Rhiannon had never looked at Joe twice. Maybe she’d slept with every other available man on the Island and was simply going to sleep with all my brothers in chronological order before she started in on the married men and the clergy.
Joe brought the coffee pot, the sugar bowl, the cream, and two mugs to the table and poured us each a cup of coffee before he sat himself across from me.
“Drink it,” he muttered. “If you’ve got half the headache kaçak iddaa I do this morning, you’ll be thankful for it. I don’t know what they put in that rye at Mac’s, but it’s deadly.”
I tried not to smile. I was feeling a bit hung-over, but would never admit it. The coffee did smell incredibly good though, so I fixed it with plenty of sugar and a dollop of cream and settled back to hear what Joe had to say for himself.
He must have known I was waiting for an explanation because he quickly morphed from angry to sheepish, to almost contrite.
“I guess Rhi was driving by last night and saw all the lights on in the apartment, so she decided to stop. She’d already tried to call a few times, but of course I wasn’t going to answer your phone.”
My big brother fiddled with his mug of coffee, rolling it back and forth between his large hands. I watched him and kept quiet.
“She certainly wasn’t expecting me. She thought you were home from your date and she wanted to know how things went with your Adam fellow. Well, I invited her in and we got to talkin’—” Joe looked up at me and actually had the audacity to blush.
“Look Lilly, I’m not going to apologize for what we did. I don’t figure either Rhiannon or I should. Maybe the timing wasn’t right and for that I guess I am a little sorry, but we haven’t done anything wrong by each other or by you. We’re grown-ups and we don’t need your permission.”
Something about the speech seemed a little rehearsed and I wondered how late the two of them had lain awake last night and gone over what they were going to say to me. I guess I should have been thankful that they didn’t decide to hide it from me, to protect me from it. I should have been glad for that, but for what seemed like the millionth time in less than a week I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.
“Are you mad?” Joe asked, sounding very much like a little boy who’d been caught sneaking cookies from the jar.
I shook my head. “No,” I said when I finally could get my tongue to form words. “I’m not mad. I’m not… anything. I’m just… numb.”
Joe laughed. “You and me both, Lilly. I’ve always dreamt but—” he shrugged his wide shoulders as if trying to dismiss the blush which crept back into his face. For a moment I thought he might say something else, but he just sort of let the silence hang there between us.
At that moment, I wished I was better at snappy comebacks, but I couldn’t seem to find one. I reached for my purse and fished out the keys to Joe’s truck and passed them to him. He eyed me warily as I stood.
“I’m going to take a shower and go to work,” I said, forming each word carefully; my head felt like it was underwater, everything seemed sluggish and slow. “Dad will be expecting you for chores soon.”
Joe nodded. “Please tell me you’re not mad at us, Lilly. We don’t want you to be upset.”
We. Joe and Rhiannon. It didn’t seem possible. I knew Rhiannon as well as anyone and she was sure to toss him aside when she tired of him, just as she had every other man she’d ever been with. I think her record for consecutive dates with the same man was less than ten.
“I’m not upset, Joe,” I promised as I crossed to the bathroom and opened the door. “But I think you need to think about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.”
Joe’s expression was confused.
“Just go ahead and ask her how many men she’s slept with,” I suggested. I closed the door and started up the shower and when I was finished, he was gone.
For once I was thankful for the hurried, stressful, time-sensitive nature of my job. Articles and deadlines kept me pretty much occupied for the rest of the week, although I let the parolee story lay dormant in the file on my desk. I couldn’t even conceive of researching it. In between writing other articles, I spent my time avoiding my boss, Sterling, and Rhiannon, at turns. Both had taken to hounding me at every possible opportunity, Sterling out of hopes that I’d gotten somewhere on the parolee story, and Rhiannon with hopes that I’d come to my senses about her and Joe.
Truth was the passing of time didn’t make my feelings about Joe and Rhi any clearer to me. I still couldn’t have said whether I was upset, happy for them, or merely resigned to the happenings which were ultimately beyond my control. What I really wanted was someone to talk the whole thing over with; in my mind Adam was the perfect candidate, but we’d promised ourselves a few days apart for some time to think. I couldn’t speak with Adele about Rhi and Joe, since she’d inexplicably taken their side. I missed Adam and Friday couldn’t come soon enough.
He said he’d call, and I spent the entire day on Friday jumping with a combination of nerves and excitement every time my phone rang. But five o’clock rolled around and still I hadn’t heard from him, so I went home a little dejected to an empty answering machine and a silent phone. By eight I was fighting back the tears and had consumed almost kaçak bahis an entire pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. By ten I’d drifted off to a fitful sleep; my mind’s eye peppered with frantic images of Adam’s eyes, the tempting curve of his lips, and Rhiannon kissing Joe in my kitchen. I tossed and turned. I barely slept.
I thought I dreamt the knock on my door at first, and it took a moment to register that it wasn’t in fact a figment of my imagination. I threw my robe on and scrambled for my glasses and when I threw open the door I almost launched myself at Adam, I was so relieved to see him. Pride held me back though. He looked exhausted and when he stepped into the light of my kitchen I could see he was still wearing his work clothes, spattered with cooking messes too numerous to quantify.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out, before I could even begin to question him. “It was crazy at the restaurant tonight, and I couldn’t get off early, couldn’t even get to the phone.”
“It’s okay,” I replied automatically, forgetting in an instant the hours of agonized waiting and the pint of ice cream. I couldn’t believe how good it felt just to see him again.
“No, it’s not okay,” Adam admitted with a sheepish grin. “I hate being late for things, hate not keeping my word. It won’t happen again.”
I took a step towards him and laid my hand on his arm. “If its work related, trust me, I understand.”
His smile was breathtaking. How could I have forgotten how handsome he was since I’d last seen him? It made my chest ache.
When Adam leaned down to kiss me it was if the rest of the world ceased to exist. Nothing else mattered but the increasingly aggressive slide of his lips and tongue against my own, the heat of his body pressed against mine, the possessive clutch of his hands to the back of my head. The kiss made my knees sag and my insides twist.
When we finally broke apart I smiled up at him, content for a while to just to be with him; I could almost forget all the other problems in my life when he touched me. Or at least, I thought I could, until I got a good whiff of him.
I wrinkled my nose as I took a step back, taking in once more the grease-spattered and sauce-stained state of his chef’s whites. He smelled of grilled meat, garlic, and sweat
Adam caught the meaning behind my expression and laughed. “I told you, it was busy.”
“I guess so,” I teased, plucking at the hem of his sleeve which seemed to be the only clean spot on him. “What you do, swim in the stuff?”
He grinned. “What can I say? I’m a messy cook! Can I borrow your shower?”
The thought of Adam, tall, lean, naked, wet, and soapy in my shower made my mouth water. I might even have moaned out loud. “Do you want company?” I offered.
Adam reached forward and pulled playfully at the tie holding my robe closed. “Lilly, normally I’d take you up on that, but right now I’m so damned exhausted I doubt I would be much fun. What I really want is a nice, short, very hot shower and then to crawl into bed with you. I’d rather be horizontal than vertical, if you don’t mind.”
I laughed. “Not at all, take your time.” I led him to the bathroom, showed him how the controls on my shower worked, and dug him up a clean towel before I left him to do his thing. In the meantime, I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and curl up in bed to wait for him.
All I could think about as I waited was Adam in the shower. If I’d known him better I would have snuck in the bathroom to take a peek, but as it was I let him have his privacy. In my mind’s eye though, I could imagine the curtain of water sliding over his skin, undulating over him like the dark, curving lines of his tattoos. Eyes closed, head thrown back, every muscle sinking into relaxation as the heat and pressure of the water worked against his tired body.
Adam had promised a short shower, but it seemed like it took forever.
When he finally did appear, he was wearing only a fluffy yellow towel wrapped low around his lean hips. He propped himself against the door frame into my bedroom with his arms crossed over his chest and smiled down at me curled up on the bed. I could feel the flush bloom across my cheeks as I watched him watch me. How could he have any idea how amazingly, breathtakingly handsome he was?
“What are you thinking?” he murmured as he grinned cockily at me.
I tried to shrug off my lusty thoughts but knew my blush betrayed me. More than half-naked and still slightly damp from the shower, just the sight of Adam standing there overloaded my brain. My tongue wouldn’t work. Words wouldn’t come. My hand trembled and Adam moved swiftly forward to take the glass of red wine from me before I spilled it. He grinned and sniffed inquiringly, before he took a sip.
“Shiraz?” he asked. I nodded.
I wrinkled my nose and Adam laughed. “Australian,” I corrected. I moved over so he could sit down on the bed beside me. He leaned against the pillow and sipped again at the illegal bahis glass of wine. His bright green eyes closed and he sighed happily.
“This is what’s missing,” he said when I curled up against him and rested my head against his shoulder. “Coming home to a hot shower, a nice glass of wine, and a beautiful woman. This is what’s been missing in my life.”
There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that, so I kept quiet.
Adam passed the almost empty glass of wine back to me and I finished it off with a few long sips. He shucked off the towel and burrowed under the blankets in one swift, graceful movement that afforded me only the slightest peek at him and my pout of disappointment made him laugh.
“Forgive me if I’m tired, Lil? It’s been a long week.” Adam lay back against the pillow and stretched his arms over his head with another sigh. “I’ve barely slept all week and it’s been insanely busy at the restaurant. I feel run ragged.”
I flicked off the light, pulled off my robe, and settled under the sheets beside him, laughing as Adam echoed my earlier noise of frustration when he only saw a brief glimpse of my body.
“Why haven’t you been sleeping?” I asked as I snuggled up next to Adam. He wormed his arm beneath my head and I pressed my nose into the warmth of his neck and sighed contentedly, which garnered another deep laugh from him.
“Thinking too hard, I guess.”
“About?” I prompted. I was endlessly, almost restlessly, curious to know what went on in his head.
He turned his chin slightly so he could look at me in the light which filtered in my window from the streetlamps outside. “You. Me. This,” he said huskily.
I waited, hoping more was coming.
“It’s funny, Lilly. You and me. It’s funny. I don’t really remember what I said to you at the bar a week ago, what line I used to make you laugh up at me, to smile at me like you did. I don’t even remember how we decided to leave together. All I could think about was how nice you smelled, how soft your hands were, how blue your eyes were up close, how much I wanted to kiss you, to take you to bed and make love to you. I don’t have very good luck with women. I still can’t believe my luck with you.”
He paused. I could feel him playing with a tendril of my hair, winding it around his fingers again and again, worrying at it. It took a great deal for me to lie perfectly still and let Adam continue when he felt he was ready.
“I used to lay awake at night and think about moments like this. I was scared I’d never have one again. That was the thing I feared most about what I’d done; it wasn’t being incarcerated that scared me, or even that I was capable of doing something to put me there, it was the fear that once I was out, no woman was ever going to look me in the eye again, trust me, want me, see any sort of future with me. I can’t change what I did and it’s been a difficult battle fighting the shadow of it, even now. I thought I could escape it by moving here, but it follows me everywhere.”
My hand moved up to settle on Adam’s chest. I could feel the rhythm of his heartbeat, steady and reassuring.
“The way you looked at me the other night at the restaurant just about killed me Lilly. I knew you knew; how could anything else put that look in your eyes? And I was angry. Not at you for feeling that way, how could you feel anything different? But because it was my fault for making the mistakes that I did and for being the reason you felt that way and looked at me the way you did.”
I could feel the tension of Adam’s muscles beneath my hand, his whole body wound taut, waiting.
“When you walked out of the restaurant the other night, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” he confessed.
I buried my face deeper into Adam’s neck. “Oh, Adam,” I said, my sadness muffled against his salty, faintly soap-scented skin.
“I’ve never been more surprised in my life than when you walked around the corner of my yard. I had to pinch myself to be sure it was you and not just my imagination.” His fingers moved down the curl he’d been playing with to brush against my neck. “I didn’t know what to say, what I should do. I wanted to kiss you so badly; it was all I could think about, as if that would fix things! As if I could just take you to bed and make you forget you knew anything about me, anything but what we were together, what we could be.”
He stalled and still I lay silent, quieter than I’d ever been in my life, although a million questions crowded at my lips.
“What made you come back?” Adam asked finally.
“Joe,” I replied instantly. “And my own guilty conscience.”
I didn’t need to see Adam’s face to know his eyebrows had flown up. “Joe?”
I explained what I’d done when I’d left the restaurant, everything Joe and I had talked about, everything I’d thought, felt, considered over the past week. Adam listened patiently, as I’d listened to him, so quiet and still, that only the too-quick rise and fall of his chest beneath my hand, and the constant brush of his fingers through my hair, hinted that he hadn’t fallen asleep.
“What a fucked up world this is,” Adam concluded with a wry laugh once I’d finished telling my side of the story
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