Begin the Journey…
Ash has it all: fame, fortune, and the adoration of screaming fans, but the constant parties and endless string of one-night stands have taken their toll. He’s tired of cheap women and meaningless sex. He wants something real and someone to hold on to. But how can he find a woman who sees the real him, instead of the rock star he’s become?
His answer might lie with the sassy Dr. Summers. When sparks ignite between them, Ash is intrigued. When she has no idea who he is, he’s fascinated. When she runs following a little innocent flirting, he can’t resist. Ash is in full pursuit, because something tells him this woman is worth the chase.
There’s only one problem. When he catches her, the demons of her past might be too much for even a rock legend to handle.
Left me breathless! ~ Such a beautifully turbulent story. Blew my expectations away!
What a crazy whirlwind of a storyline. Tons of fun, loads of sexy…this is most assuredly an author to watch…
Rachel Bound by Books
So many emotions, so many feels., I can hardly contain myself.. Ellie did a great job of putting me right there in the thick of it. I felt like I was part of this cray crew ~
Rough Draft Book Blog
This book will suck you in from the beginning, and take you on an amazing adventure. I laughed, I cried, and I. fell in love with Ash and Skye.
Escape inside your next great read!
A little peek inside…
A carefree energy flowed between Skye and Ash while the miles disappeared behind them.
Skye’s heart thumped when their gazes caught. A touch sent her flying. His laughter loosened the tight grip she held on her emotions.
She offered to share the driving, but Ash refused to let her handle his baby. They split every expense right down the middle, except when they stopped at a secondhand store to buy Ash clothes for the trip.
Standing beside the Jeep, Skye stretched up on her tiptoes, gravel crunching beneath her feet, and threw her arms around his neck. Passion simmered between them with a growing desire for something more. As she pulled him down, the smile slipped from his lips, only to be replaced with a lusty smirk.
“Skye,” he breathed out.
“Shut up, and kiss me,” she said, letting her lips meet his.
The moment of contact short-circuited her brain. A low groan escaped him as he wrapped a hand around her waist, obliterating any free space between their bodies. His chest expanded with each pull of his breath. His hips molded against hers, his legs shifting to support their weight. His tongue skimmed along her upper lip—licking, tasting, and teasing. When she opened for him, he bit playfully at her lower lip.
He rocked his hips, pressing his erection against her. “Feel what you do to me? You’re going to drive me crazy.” His fingers traced the line of her jaw. “Stay here while I buy some clothes. And, while you’re thinking about that kiss, I’d love if you’d think about what defines sex.” He gave her a wink. “Because there are lots of definitions.”
“Yeah, I want to know where the line is…so I can make sure I don’t cross it.” He shrugged. “I mean, we’ve already established kissing is on the table and this”—he traced the outline of her breast—“but we never settled on where I had to stop.”
She bit her lower lip and held back a groan, unwilling to let him see how much he affected her. “Do we really have to talk about this now?”
“Better now than later.”
When he cupped her breast, she turned, slapping away his hand. “Ash!”
“Was that a yes or a no?”
He laughed. The sun glinted in his eyes, flashing a beautiful shade of green. “Still not sure if that’s a yes or a no.”
She crossed her arms under her breasts. How far was she willing to let things go?
With Spencer’s jealous streak, she’d already crossed the line with the kissing, but this wasn’t about Spencer—at least, not anymore. The only way to know if Spencer should remain in her life was to see if another future might be possible.
That wasn’t really true though. She didn’t need a backup man or someone found on the rebound. Skye needed to focus on her health, find happiness without a man, and maybe even reevaluate her life’s goals.
But damn if Ash wasn’t hot…
“Can we discuss this somewhere else?” she asked.
His arms crossed, mirroring hers, and his brows lifted. “I’m the one standing here with a hard-on and no sex stretching out ahead of me for days. I’m cool with that. But I want to know how much I can touch you.”
His lip twitched when she didn’t answer. Then, his eyes narrowed, making him look positively sinful.
He stepped close and whispered in her ear, “I want to know if I can kiss your breasts, lick your pussy, and finger you until you come.” He took a step back and smiled down at her, looking entirely too pleased.
She wanted every bit of what he was offering—his lips on her nipples, maybe even his tongue down there. If he performed as well as he kissed, dear Lord, that spelled trouble.
Still, her body was what it was—broken and shattered. She could give him a blow job or even fuck him, and he would be happily satisfied. But for him to breach her defenses, draw pleasure from her body, that possibility had her stomach churning in knots.
He kissed her cheek. “Think about it while I go buy these pajamas you insist I wear.”
Several minutes later, he exited with a gently used backpack stuffed full of clothes.
Soon, they were back on the interstate, heavy metal streaming through the radio. He tried several times to delve into her past, but she would steer him away from her childhood every time.
He showed great interest in her job, and she talked about that with enthusiasm. He spoke very little about what he did for a living, clamming up with the same tight-lipped silence she showed with her childhood. It wasn’t a problem because they found plenty of other things to talk about, like what kinds of food to buy for the cabin.
They stopped at a local market and argued, once again, about splitting the bill.
Late that evening, long after dusk, they drove up the tree-lined dirt road to Bob’s small cabin. The aroma of pine needles infiltrated the air, fresh and clean, filled with the promise of new beginnings. The moon peeked out between the trees. Bare trunks and branches stretched out into the night as the quiet of evening settled over them.
Ash parked and then handed her a flashlight from the glove box.
Skye found the key to the cabin under the mat and unlocked the door. The chill from outside followed her into the small one-room cabin. He placed their bags on the bed, and then went back to grab the groceries. The place had a country kitchen, a circular pine dinner table with two chairs, and a sitting nook filled with a love seat. Rustic end tables bracketed the love seat. A door led to a bathroom with a tiny shower enclosure. The cabin was cozy, quaint, and very cold.
“There must be a heater,” Ash said after returning with the food. “I’ll see if there’s a switch.”
“Bob likes to keep things rustic. The fireplace is our sole heat source, but he said there should be plenty of firewood lying about.”
Compared to the photos Bob had shown her, the cabin was so much smaller in person—as was the bed she would be sharing with Ash.
Her phone buzzed with a text from Forest.
WTF, my summer Skye? UR crazy! Text me every 8 hrs, or I’m sending the cops! In the woods with a stranger? And you have a fiancé? Prenup! What? So confused. If I wasn’t stuck on a boat in the GD Pacific, I’d throttle you.
Well, at least he still cared.
She texted a reply, letting him know she’d arrived.
Her attention moved to the bed. If they didn’t get the heat sorted out, they could cuddle, and while kissing and a little petting was fine, she didn’t want anything else. He’d realize how fucked in the head she really was, and she wasn’t ready to watch him run from the mess which was her life.
Spencer claimed she was frigid. Her body worked fine. It was the memories an orgasm brought that would destroy any chance for intimacy.
If Ash touched her? If he tried to make her come?
Memories of her abuse surfaced. Pressing a hand to her mouth, she gagged as her stomach turned.
“Hey”—Ash returned with a load of wood—“I found something to burn.”
She heard his words but couldn’t process what he’d said, lost in the beginnings of a flashback.
The firewood clattered to the floor as Ash rushed to her side. “Are you all right?”
Ignoring him, she ran to the bathroom, barely making it before her stomach heaved.
Ash followed. “Skye?”
She slammed the door.
Images of her foster father leering over her while she was tied, spread-eagle, swam in her mind as she emptied the contents of her stomach. She curled into a ball, hugging her knees, while tears streamed down her cheeks. It’d been years since she had a meltdown. Why now?
Her clinical mind analyzed and dissected the problem from the viewpoint of a physician. What she needed was a psychiatrist, someone who could fix the messed up signals shooting to her brain. During medical school, residency, and now attending in the emergency department, she hadn’t had time to see a shrink. Not to mention, there was the risk of what psychoanalysis might reveal or the secrets she needed to hide.
What a horrible beginning to her time with Ash and after such a wonderful drive, too.
She scrubbed tears off her cheeks. Her voice trembled as she responded to Ash, “I’ll be out in a minute.”
His palm dragged against the wood on the other side of the door, and it made her heart lurch. Even now, he was reaching out to comfort her.
Spencer had always tried a more direct approach, never realizing he forced her in the same way she’d been violated in the past. Not that it was entirely his fault. She’d never shared with him why her body would grow cold with his touch. She didn’t want to share that with anyone. Unlike Ash, who gave her space, Spencer would have yanked the door open and pulled her into his arms, exactly the last place she needed to be.
“Please,” she begged, “give me a minute. Start the fire.” She leaned against the door, opposite of where she thought his hand might be, and closed her eyes. Please, leave. Don’t be like Spencer. Don’t bully your way inside.
His hand scraped against the wood. The floorboards creaked under his weight as he walked to the fireplace.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Speaking low enough that Ash couldn’t overhear, she chastised herself, “Skye Summers, get it together.”
She rinsed her mouth, and then she splashed cold water on her face. “You can do this.” And, with those words of encouragement, she opened the bathroom door.
Ash turned at the sound of the hinges, a look of relief etched on his face. He started to come to her but stopped mid step, giving her the space she needed. A piece of her fell in love with him for that.
“It’s late,” he said. “I figured we’d turn in for the night.”
He’d already changed into a pair of gray pajama bottoms and a black T-shirt. A fire blazed in the hearth, and all the lights had been turned off. He had the bed turned down. On one side, the comforter and sheets had been pulled back. On the other, he had placed a blanket over the comforter.
“I hope the sleeping arrangements are okay,” he said. “I’ll sleep on top. I don’t trust myself to get under the covers with you. Better safe than sorry that way.”
God, she loved the way he stared at her. He had an intensity that would steal her breath every time. Even better, he honored her wishes and had given her space.
“No worries. But if you’re done in there…” He held up his toothbrush and toothpaste.
“Go ahead. I need to find mine.”
He disappeared into the bathroom, leaving her alone. She flicked on a light to search her bag for her toiletry kit and noticed one item had been left in the Jeep. She went outside to get his guitar. All day, she’d been dying to hear him play, and before she went to sleep, she wanted a song.
She changed into pink sweats and turned the lights off. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, she balanced his guitar case over her lap.
When he exited the bathroom, she asked, “Will you play for me?”
In the flickering light of the fire, his expression was buried in shadows. Gently, he picked the case up and set it on the small table in the kitchen. He turned and breathed out a long, deep sigh. “Not tonight. I’m pretty beat.”
The clock on the wall showed a few minutes past midnight. Had she scared him off with that little freak-out? Maybe he felt trapped with a crazy woman in a cabin in the woods.
She tried not to let her disappointment show, projecting as much cheer into her voice as possible. “Maybe you can play something in the morning while I make breakfast?”
His lips thinned, nearly curved at the corners, but failed to find his signature smile. “Sure, babe. That sounds great. I’m just tired from the drive, and my head hurts.”
She jumped up. “Are you okay?”
Spencer had punched him, and Ash could have a concussion. Her fingers itched to shine a light in his eyes and examine his pupils, but she refrained. Like he’d said, he was probably fatigued from the drive.
Ash put a hand to his temple. “I took some Tylenol, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to call it a night.”
Her eyes followed each languid step of his as he moved in front of the fire. He poked the logs to the back, added a few more, and put the fire screen in place.
“That should keep us warm until morning.” He moved to the bed and stretched out his long form on top of the comforter, pulling the extra blanket over, but his toes poked out at the end.
“Your feet are going to get cold.” A quick search of the cabin, and she found another blanket. After laying it on top of him, she crawled under the covers. “Do you feel okay?”
His eyes pinched with pain. “It’s only a headache.”
He lifted up, leaned over, and pressed his lips against her brow. The velvety-soft touch skimmed across her skin, searing her with his kiss.
“Good night, babe.”
She gripped his shoulder. “Good night, Ash.”
Flickering firelight cast shadows over the ceiling as she clutched the blankets around her neck. All concerns over whether Ash would adhere to his promise settled within moments as he turned his back toward her and faced away. She listened to his breathing, waiting for him to fall asleep.
Thirty minutes later, the telltale glow of a cell phone lit up his side of the bed.
“Ash,” she whispered, “are you awake?”
He rolled over. “Yeah, can’t sleep. Sorry, did I keep you up?”
“Is it your headache?”
“No. I’ve got a song brewing in my head.”
He lifted the phone. “I’m trying to get it down, so I don’t forget it.”
She sat up. “You won’t bother me if you want to work on it. I’m not sleepy.”
He glanced at her, eyes narrowing. “Earlier, when you…was it me? Did I do something?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. When you were in the bathroom, it felt like I’d done something wrong.”
“You’re going to hate this, but it’s—”
He threw his head back and laughed, interrupting her. “Let me guess. It’s complicated?” His signature smile made a triumphant return.
She put a hand on his arm to reassure him. “You’re getting to know me too well.”
He rolled out of bed. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to work this melody out. When I get a song in my head, I can get crazy if I don’t write it down. Will it bother you? I’ll be quiet.”
“I’d love to hear you play.” She’d never known a composer before. It’d be cool to listen to a song come to life.
“This isn’t so much…playing. It’s more messing around with what’s trying to get out of my head.”
Her belly churned with excitement. She pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll read. You won’t even know I’m here.” She made a shooing motion. “Go. Create. Make music.”
Ash bit at his lower lip, looking a bit uneasy, almost shy about it.
Maybe he wasn’t that good, and having her watch made him self-conscious. The problem with a one-room cabin in the woods was the definite lack of privacy. Nothing she could do about that. If Ash had issues with others listening to his music, he needed to get a new career.
She turned her cell phone on and thumbed to the beginning of a new book. Out of the corner of her eye, she peeked at him pulling his guitar out of the case.
He gave a wink. “She’s not as scary as she looks.”
“I thought your Jeep was your baby.”
He held up the guitar. “This is my baby. I’ve had her since I was fourteen.”
His fingers pressed down on the neck, and his thumb strummed out a tune. The cabin filled with a glorious full-bodied sound. His eyes closed as he picked out a series of notes.
Her jaw dropped. Ash was better than good. Damn amazing was more like it.
She forgot all about her book as he warmed up. He picked out notes and melodies and fingered chords from famous metal bands, but never played an entire song.
He merged with the guitar, the two of them becoming one unified being.
Watching him play transported her to a different world. She had never heard anything so majestic.
Ash was sex and power, all wrapped up in one glorious package, but with that guitar wrapped in his hands, he became a force of beauty. He made her head spin and other parts of her throb.
At some point, the warm-up stopped. Familiar notes and melodies of rock bands ended as new sounds emerged. A gasp escaped her lips. This was all him, and it was brilliant.
His creation developed in stages as he shaped the notes into being, each iteration morphing them into something wonderful. Notes coalesced into melodies as she listened. Chords bridged complexities, becoming a landscape of power, drawing images from her mind.
Wasn’t this what he’d described during their drive?
She closed her eyes, allowing the sound to wash over her, delving into the crevices of her mind, carrying her to an alternate plane. Dancing in a different world, where anything was possible, she existed in a reality where love took root in her heart, blossomed, and transformed her into something stronger, prouder, indestructible.
It was insane.
It was creative brilliance.
He made her feel like she had the ability to take on the world, and she soared in the grip of a love so intense that nothing could touch her. Nothing could hurt her. She was safe and cherished in the arms of her chosen love.
His music carried her into a dreamscape of hope and empowerment where Ash’s voice lifted in song.
As Skye approached the coffee shop, two black Hummers pulled up alongside the curb. The drivers jumped out and rushed around their respective vehicles to open the passenger doors. Five men spilled out, two from the lead vehicle and three from the rear, laughing and joking, shoving one another toward the entrance. Despite the frigid temperature, they wore nothing but T-shirts and beat-up blue jeans.
Two ladies with snow-white hair approached the shop as well. Unlike the men, the women were hunched in their heavy jackets with scarves wrapped tightly around their necks as they shivered against the cold. The men scampered around the women, yanked on the door, and filed inside. The last man, tall and slender, kept the door from slamming shut while the women ducked under his arm.
Skye hurried to catch the door and snagged her toe on the uneven sidewalk. The man steadied her, gripping her arm. He stared down, his eyes a piercing forest green.
“Well, hello, beautiful.” A cocksure smile brought a mischievous twinkle to those eyes.
Skye shrugged herself free. Spencer’s betrayal was too fresh, and her emotions were too raw for her to engage in any sort of flirtation.
With an unfriendly glare, she said, “Thank you.”
Skye gripped her backpack and moved quickly over the threshold to the back of the line. The invigorating aroma of brewed coffee washed over her, and she breathed deep. The welcoming warmth dispelled her chill, and she shrugged off her backpack, unzipped her heavy coat, and draped it over her arm.
The men from the Hummers had taken over her favorite corner by the fire, filling the plush leather couches with their large frames as well as the one chair she generally claimed as her own. They sprawled out, like they owned the entire store, taking up more room than they needed, despite the morning rush.
The place was packed with a standing-room-only crowd. Couples and singles buried their noses in their cell phones and tablets. A few people worked on laptops. And, sprinkled here and there, the rare newspaper or book found itself clutched in the hands of a reader engrossed in the magic of the printed word.
Skye basked in the normalcy of the pleasant atmosphere and let her shoulders drop as she exhaled in a desperate effort to keep herself together.
She glanced at the clock hanging behind the barista station. If she got her cocoa and left immediately, she could take the early train. Her boss would appreciate her relieving him a few minutes early.
Boisterous laughter exploded from the corner by the fire. By their casual postures and open expressions the men were more than simply good friends. They teased one another in a nonstop barrage of verbal put-downs and animated conversation, acting like frat boys but appearing a few years older than the standard college crowd. The decibel level of that part of the room rose at least ten points.
They sported a variety of hairstyles from a close-cut buzz to rocker-style long hair. One with curly dark hair caught her staring and winked. She couldn’t see the one who had held the door.
The elderly women moved to the front of the line, and Skye shuffled behind them.
One of the women spoke, and her jowls wobbled with her shaky enunciation. “Frieda, can you see the menu? I don’t want any of that fancy stuff.”
Her friend obliged and read the drink choices out loud.
Skye waited for the women to navigate the menu, and her thoughts turned to Spencer’s clenching ass while he pumped into the unknown woman sprawled on his bed, the same bed where he’d made love to Skye the night before. An upwelling of indignation surged forth, seeking an outlet, but she found none.
The barista called out a name, something Skye didn’t catch, and placed a cup on the counter. The man who’d held the door claimed the steaming beverage and returned to his friends as the two older women completed their order. They settled the bill after arguing over whose turn it was to pay.
Skye took a step forward as they moved off, still twittering about the bill.
The barista called out, “Bent, Bash, Spike, and Noodles,” and placed four cups on the counter.
Odd names. Maybe they were in a fraternity?
Skye ordered and paid for her cocoa with the remaining balance left on a gift card Spencer had given her six months ago on her birthday. She wasn’t sad to see the card go. She was eager to rid herself of all things Spencer. She stepped back to wait.
While the men lounged, the elderly women wobbled, bracing themselves against a counter behind one of the couches. The men propped their legs on the coffee tables, laughing and joking. Not one of them offered their seats.
Maybe it was the rock sitting in her pocket or the men’s rude behavior, but an acute hatred of all things male burst forth, finally finding that outlet. Skye rolled her shoulders and stiffened her spine. She marched to the corner, dropped her backpack on the floor, and slapped the closest asshole on the back of his head.
“Get up,” she said with more fury than intended. “Since when was it okay to run over old ladies and make them stand while you sit? Give up your damn seat!”
“What the fuck?” The tall one who’d held the door for her glanced up.
Skye jutted her chin forward and met the intensity of his gaze. Emerald green sparked and then shifted to follow her finger pointing toward the women. Frieda struggled to sip her coffee, fine tremors shaking her hand. Liquid sloshed over the rim, covering her hand and spilling onto the counter.
Skye poked his shoulder, a growl growing in her throat. “Get your sorry ass off the couch, and let them sit.”
The buff one with curly hair, who’d winked at her, gave an indignant snort. “Pretty girl, do you have any idea who you’re talking to?”
She put fists to her hips and lifted her chin. “Five men without a brain between them. Does it matter?” His mouth opened, but before he could speak, she held up a hand. “Seems to me you think being somebody is more important than good manners.”
She turned her attention back to the one who’d held the door. The tattoo on his neck, a web with a dragon, distracted her. She shook her head and refocused her anger. “Do you even realize your friends practically knocked down those poor ladies in their rush to get inside?”
A beefy man with piercings in his brows, nose, and lips shifted on the couch. “It’s fucking cold outside.”
“And you think those ladies were warm and toasty?” She lifted her jacket. “Newfangled invention, wiseass. It’s called a jacket. You’ll be surprised at the amazing warming properties it has.”
The green-eyed hunk snorted a laugh.
She pointed at each of the men in turn. “Did your mothers fail to teach you common courtesy? How would you feel if someone made your grandmother stand? Were you assholes raised by wolves?”
Green eyes huffed another laugh. He unfolded a lean body full of muscle to tower over her diminutive frame. He had the trim body of a swimmer with broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. He stood entirely too close for her comfort, but she held her ground, which forced her to look up into his handsome and somehow familiar face. Her pulse jumped, but she refused to be intimidated by his size.
“Wolves? Not exactly. My mother did, however, teach me that a true lady never swore.” He laughed, filling the air with a soft, velvety thrum.
Damn, what a voice. Male, deep. Nice. Really nice and layered with tonal qualities she’d never experienced before.
Her broken heart stirred in the strangest way, probably latching on to the wrong thing.
Her cheeks burned with the insult, and she readied herself to give him another piece of her mind. But, first, she had to meet the power of his impossibly green eyes. They barely looked real, but she’d peeled enough cosmetic contacts out of other people’s eyes to know a natural green when she saw it.
And, now, she was staring. She lowered her gaze to the tattoo covering the entirety of his neck—a spiderweb with a dragon perched in the center, clutching a blackbird in its claw.
She endured the full force of his intoxicating scent—woodsy spice mingled with the aroma of coffee—and paused to admire him. The man was a potent combination of sight, smell, and sound.
A smirk tilted the corner of his lips, and a twinkle danced in his eyes. The cocky bastard knew the effect he was having on her. His stance broadened, and he puffed out his chest. She took a step back and regrouped, clearing her throat, before pointing again to the women.
He lifted his chin at his friend with all the piercings. “Get up, Spike.”
“Damn it, Ash.” Spike sipped from his cup. “Just when I was getting cozy, too.” But the big man rose and stepped over to the opposite couch. He took a seat on the armrest.
Spike’s hard gaze latched on to Skye. She shifted her attention back to Ash and his stunning eyes.
Ash called out to Frieda and her friend, gesturing to the vacated seats, “Ladies, it has come to my attention that we have been exceedingly rude. Please, have a seat.” His mouth twitched into a smile as he glanced at Skye. Taking the women’s cups, he stepped out of the way while they settled themselves.
The barista called out Skye’s name and set her hot cocoa on the counter. What a perfect opportunity to make an exit. Skye collected her drink and left the coffee shop in a daze. Although trained in defense, she hated altercations, yet she’d faced down five strangers because Spencer had stirred her anger.
An icy gust beat at her as she headed to the Metro. A few blocks later, stairs led down into the subway and welcomed the morning commuters. She clutched her drink as she hurried down the steps to merge into the crowd.
Something felt off, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She patted her scrubs and felt the diamond safe in her pocket. Her lanyard with her badge swung around her neck. She tucked it back inside her heavy coat, but she sensed she had forgotten something. It was probably just her nerves.
Someone behind her called out, “Miss!”
Skye pivoted, surprised to see Ash jogging in her direction. His white T-shirt was pulled taut across the muscles of his chest.
What was he doing? Whatever it was, she wasn’t in the mood to engage in a conversation with the arrogant bastard.
Turning back, she ignored him and followed the flow of the crowd.
“Hey!” His voice resonated down the escalator.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw he’d quickened his stride.
“What the fuck?” Annoyance salted the deep timbre of his voice, so like an arrogant prick.
Very much like Spencer.
“Come back here,” he called out.
His feet pounded atop the concrete floor, and Skye did what she always did when a man confronted her.
Skye pushed past the morning Metro commuters and fumbled for the lanyard at her neck, not interested in dealing with Ash.
Along with the bundled travelers, the frigid wind spilled down the long escalators heading into the DC Metro. A true feat of engineering, the warren of Metro lines and the cavernous design of the platforms kept the busy subway system of the nation’s capital one of the cleanest among large metropolitan cities.
Why was he chasing her? The last thing she needed was some cocksure asshole trying to pick her up.
“Goddamn it. Stop!” Ash yelled.
She ignored him and fished out her Metro pass, but then his hand fell on her shoulder, yanking her to a stop.
With a yelp, she reached for his wrist—or tried to. She’d forgotten about her drink. The top popped off, and hot cocoa spewed directly toward his chest. The steaming liquid splattered across his taut white cotton shirt. Many of those passing by gawked, but as a whole, the crowd parted around them.
“Oh my God!” The empty paper cup tumbled to the floor, more hot cocoa flying, and Skye shook out her hand.
Droplets splattered his jeans and the tops of his Converse sneakers. The tail end of the dark chocolaty goodness coated his hand as well as his shirt.
“Fuck.” He pulled the fabric away from his chest.
Only then did she notice her backpack slung over his shoulder. Her attention shifted from the brown stain on his shirt to the hot cocoa dripping off his hand and back to her bag.
“I’m so sorry.” She prayed the liquid had cooled enough not to scald him.
His nose scrunched. “What the fuck is this?” He leveled the full intensity of his gaze on her. Then, he sniffed his shirt. “That’s not coffee.”
The wet T-shirt outlined a six-pack beneath the fabric, and she couldn’t help but stare.
“Isn’t that a kiddie drink?”
“I like it,” she said with a huff.
“Whatever.” He thrust her bag forward. “You left this.”
She tried to take her bag, but his grip stayed firm.
Ash closed the distance between them. “Why did you run?”
The combination of cocoa and his scent did strange things to her insides. There was no rational answer for why she’d run, so she shook her head and tugged on her bag, but he didn’t let go. Instead, the tip of his finger lifted her chin, and forced her to meet the most amazing eyes.
Emerald irises flecked with gold pulsed with a magnetism that drew her in. Dark hair curled over his forehead and swept to the side. His hair framed a strong jaw and square chin peppered with a day’s growth of beard. Her mouth dropped as her attention dipped downward to the expanse of hot cocoa drenching his shirt.
“Give me my bag.”
“What? No, thank-you?” Ash’s eyes sparked with mischief. “And, here I thought I was the one who was raised by wolves and lacked all manners. You know, I didn’t have to brave the cold to chase you down. I could have left your bag there for you to find later, but I figured you might need it.” His brow arched. “Call it my good deed for the day.”
Her eyes flicked to the passersby bundled in wool jackets, scarves, and mittens while he wore nothing but a shirt and jeans. There went that burning in her cheeks again—part thank-you, part guilty shame, part hello, good-looking. Now that her drink saturated his shirt—well, wet T-shirts weren’t just for men to admire.
“I appreciate it. More than you know.”
He rubbed his neck. “You know, it’s been a really long time since anyone’s had the balls to call me out on anything, let alone call me an ass. And I can’t remember the last time a woman ran away from me.”
“Yeah, well, about that…” She couldn’t believe she’d done it either. If it weren’t for all those volatile feelings regarding Spencer, she never would’ve lashed out. Conflict avoidance had been branded into her from a very young age. It was the best way to survive.
He brushed aside her hair and gave a fractional shake of his head. “Don’t.”
Skye jerked back, not comfortable with such an intimate gesture. “Don’t what?”
“Who said I was going to apologize?”
He scrunched his forehead. “Well, you should. You were rude.”
There was a quality about him she couldn’t ignore. When Ash smiled, he lifted her up inside.
“You just told me not to. Besides, you deserved it.” Then, she laughed, playfully punching him on the chest, violating his personal space the same way he had hers.
Holy shit, had she just done that?
“You and your friends were acting like asses, and I was just calling you out on it.”
His hand flew to his chest, as if her words had wounded him. “Point taken. I guess we’ve just kind of gotten used to…” His words trailed off as he released her bag, giving her an opportunity to step back and place distance between them.
She needed that. His proximity was disarming. His smile truly was a thing of beauty. With his good looks and killer smile, he probably got away with a lot, but she wasn’t going to let him use his charm against her.
He breathed out a long sigh and glanced at the escalators and then back down at his shirt. “Sorry about your coffee—um, kiddie drink.”
“It’s not a kiddie drink. It’s hot cocoa. I don’t like coffee.”
“Will you let me buy you another? I feel like I owe you one.”
“Owe me? I ruined your shirt. Let me pay to get it cleaned.” She unzipped the leather pouch hanging from the lanyard and dug out a twenty.
He pushed her hand away. “I’ve got plenty of shirts.”
“But no jackets? You know, it’s below freezing. Most people wear more than a T-shirt in DC during the wintertime.”
“We were stopping for a cup of coffee, not planning on taking a stroll—thus the whole running into the store before freezing our asses off.” He gave another wink and rubbed his hands on his jeans. “Sure I can’t buy you a drink?”
“I have to get to work.”
He seemed to consider the situation and then nodded. “It’s definitely warmer in here than out there.” He looked at the ticket machines. “Maybe I can ride with you and buy you one at the other end? How do these things work?”
“Seriously? You’ve never bought a pass before?”
His lips curved at the corners. “Nope.”
“Come on, I’ll show you how this works.”
He followed her to the banks of ticket machines and fished out change from his pockets for the fare to her stop.
“There’s a place that sells coffee at my stop, and I can buy you a shirt there, too.”
“No worries.” He waved off her offer.
She placed a hand on a firm bicep and paused to take a breath. “I insist. I pay for what I break.”
He laughed. “Shirt’s not broken, babe. Just smells like chocolate.”
She rolled her eyes. “Nevertheless, I’m buying you a shirt. It’s the least I can do.”
“And I’m buying your damn kiddie drink.”
When Skye protested, he put an arm around her waist and drew her in. He pressed his lips to the top of her head. The gesture may have been sweet and innocent, but her head spun with the intimacy of that kiss. She held her breath until he let her go.
Ash’s Metro pass popped out of the machine, and he bent to retrieve it, releasing her in the process. She stared at the way the denim of his jeans hung low on his ass and then averted her gaze before he caught her staring again.
She led him toward the turnstile. What the hell was she doing?
With a wave of her commuter pass over the scanner, the red circle turned to a green arrow, letting her through. He followed, whistling a hauntingly familiar tune.
She had no idea what she was doing, but she didn’t really want to think about it.
He certainly was attentive as they moved through the crowds. He stood beside her on the escalator and even placed a hand on the small of her back when they boarded the train. She didn’t know what she had done to deserve such kindness, but perhaps the universe was trying to even out its karmic balance for the crap it had thrown her way with Spencer. And she didn’t feel guilty about being with another man, needing a distraction from the image of skinny female legs wrapped around Spencer’s hips.
Ash leaned over and whispered into her ear, “Where’s this coffee shop?”
People moved around them, exiting the Metro and dispersing into the underground shopping area. She glanced at her cell phone. Still twenty minutes until her shift.
“We should get you a clean shirt first.” She led him to a shop selling tourist shirts and rock-band tees.
As she fished through a pile of shirts, he studied the crowd. Several young girls openly stared, but she could understand that. The guy was drop-dead gorgeous.
His lips twitched into a frown, and he grabbed a ball cap from a rack. He put it on as she pulled out a black T-shirt and held it up.
“What do you think of this one?”
He laughed. “Seriously? The Bangles? An eighties girl band? Is this some form of punishment? Or did you pick that one in honor of today being ‘Manic Monday’?” He picked up a pair of sunglasses with mirrored lenses and put them on.
She turned the shirt around and scanned the front. Heat rose to her cheeks. “Sorry. I wasn’t looking at the band’s name.” She glanced up and snorted. “You’re worried about wearing a Bangles T-shirt with those glasses?”
He took the offending shirt from her hands. With a flip and tuck, he had it folded and placed back in the stack. “What’s wrong with the glasses? Besides, I want a souvenir.”
He wasn’t local. The tension in her spine eased, and her shoulders loosened. She relaxed enough to smile and was willing to flirt a little, knowing he wouldn’t be around for long.
He pointed to a shirt in the window. “How about that one?”
She glanced at the T-shirt emblazoned with the words Angel Fire and the band’s iconic logo. “You want that one?”
“I was wondering what you thought of it.”
“The shirt or the band?”
Angel Fire definitely wasn’t an eighties girl band. They were hard rock to the core. And the shirt would look good on him. It was black with the outline of a guitar sporting angel wings on fire, an iconic picture from one of the most popular rock bands in recent history.
She pulled out an extra-large shirt and held it up to his chest to check the size. His eyes widened.
“Do you want it or not?” She lowered the shirt. “What’s the matter? You picked it out.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” He shook his head, a dark furrow etched between heavy brows. His eyes were hidden to her, buried behind the stupid mirrored lenses.
“Yes. I ruined your shirt. Honestly though, I need to get going.” She pulled out her cell phone and checked the screen. “My shift starts in ten minutes.” She lifted the shirt. “Yes or no? Bangles or Angel Fire?” She found another one. “Or what about Metallica?”
He laughed. “I’m definitely an Angel Fire man. Although Metallica rocks.”
“Good.” She took the Angel Fire shirt to the cashier and pulled out her credit card from the lanyard at her neck.
“You’re not like most girls,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
Ash pointed at the lanyard. “That’s a pretty odd-looking purse.”
“Well, when you work in a hospital, purses don’t work. You learn to keep what you need close at hand.”
He grabbed the lanyard, and his fingers brushed against her breast. It was a quick motion, but was it intentional?
He took a closer look at her ID while the cashier rung up the sale. “Skye. Pretty name.” He looked over the top of the glasses. “You’re a nurse?”
Typical. “Really? I’m female, so that’s what you assume?” She pointed to the two letters after her name. “MD. That means doctor. I hate stereotypes.” She waited for his apology.
The cashier finished her sale and rung up Ash’s ball cap and ugly glasses. He paid cash and wore them out of the shop after pulling off the tags. “I’m full of charm today, aren’t I?”
She couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face, but her laughter died in her throat when he pulled off the soiled shirt and tossed it in the trash. Holy hell, six-pack anyone? A woman walking past stared as well. The unfortunate woman was so focused on Ash’s bare chest that she plowed into the trash can in front of her. Skye smothered a laugh.
Ash took the bag from her hand and fished out the Angel Fire T-shirt. In the blink of an eye, all that glorious flesh was covered by black cotton and a guitar with flaming wings.
“Now, tell me where this coffee shop is, and I’ll buy you that drink.”
“Sorry. Time’s up. Gotta go.”
It was a shame they didn’t have more time.
“Can’t you be a few minutes late?”
“I don’t like being late. Besides, after a twelve-hour shift, you’re pretty beat. It’s nice when your relief shows up early.”
“Well, at least let me walk you there.”
Skye nodded because she really wasn’t ready to see him go.
He led her through the underground mall and up to street level, and then he pulled up short as Forest Skye Memorial Hospital dominated the landscape.
She had to tug him forward. “Come on. I work in the emergency department.”
“Damn, that place is huge.” The behemoth structure of metal and glass glittered in the early morning light.
“It opened less than four years ago. Took seven years to build. I was in the first group of residents who trained here, and now, I’m on the staff.”
Ash pulled at her lanyard and checked her badge. His gaze darted to the glowing hospital signage and dipped back to her name. “Forest Skye Memorial Hospital. Any relation?”
Skye blurted one mild, “Ha!” and tossed her head back. Her cheeks flushed, and she pulled him along the sidewalk, unwilling to answer that question. “Come on. It’s freezing.”
She enjoyed the way his hand enveloped hers but frowned as a gust of chilled air swirled around them. The hairs on his arms stood on end although he didn’t seem otherwise affected by the cold.
“I should have bought you a sweatshirt.”
He tugged her close. “You can keep me warm.”
“You don’t have to walk me to work.” But if she were honest with herself, she wasn’t ready to let him go. A few more minutes of his captivating smile would make the rest of her day so much better.
“I know, but I want to.”
Normally, she would have pulled away. Ash was a stranger, but there was an easiness between them, a familiarity she hadn’t experienced in a long time. And it was cold, the perfect excuse to snuggle into the warmth of his body.
He brought her to the doors of the emergency department and pulled up short, giving a low whistle. “Big place.”
Empty ambulances filled two of the five loading bays. She pulled him over to the staff entrance, an awning sheltering them from the cold. With a practiced flick of her badge, she activated the exterior security lock that opened the outer set of doors. She gestured for him to follow her inside to the small antechamber.
For a moment, the world narrowed down to the two of them. One set of doors led to the frigid world outside. The other set would take her into the chaos of one of the country’s busiest trauma centers. But, for now, they were alone. Sadly, their time was almost at an end. She tried to memorize the planes of his face and the hard angle of his jaw.
He pressed the pad of his thumb against her lower lip. “I feel bad about your drink.”
Her knees nearly bucked, weakened under the press of that thumb. He had found a way inside her private bubble, and the way he took her in with those mesmerizing eyes made her world tilt and tremble.
When he cupped her jaw, her stomach tumbled. Pressing her palm to her belly did nothing to calm the riot going on in there.
And then it happened. His eyes shifted between her mouth and her eyes, and he leaned in for a kiss.
The writing is superb the characters are well developed and the story flowed to the point where I couldn’t put it down. ~ Pattie’s Book Place