I try not to trip in my five inch black stilettos as I turn away from the mirror and slowly walk around the room, running my hand over the exercise equipment. The guy who let me in here couldn’t keep his eyes off of my legs, so I can only hope it has the same affect on Collin. I need him unfocused and seething with lust so he’ll give me a chance to talk before he throws me out on my ass. Considering he hasn’t returned any of my calls this week, I’m pretty sure it’s going to take everything in my limited arsenal of seduction to get him to listen to me right now.

My plan of attack didn’t really make it beyond what I would wear when I showed up at the firehouse. Everything I want to say to him is a jumbled mess in my mind and I pray to God it doesn’t get even more screwed up the minute I see him again.

I can’t count the number of times Collin made me trip over my words when we were teenagers. He was the cutest guy in our school, incredibly sweet, smart and funny and I never fully wrapped my head around the fact that he chose me to be his girlfriend. Two years together didn’t cure me of my nerves where he was concerned. Now, after having taken him inside my body and sharing something so shockingly intimate, those nerves feels a thousand times stronger. I want him to see me as something more than the teenage girl he once knew or the woman who fucked him within days of finding him again. I want him to know me and I want him to like the person that I’ve become. I know I’m completely contradicting myself by coming over here with the intention of seducing him to get what I want, but I don’t have it in me right now to care. There’s nothing I won’t do to make him understand.

I’m standing in front of a speaker that’s roughly the size of a coffee table, wondering about boys and their need to blast music so loud the windows rattle as they work out, when I hear the door on the other side of the room squeak open. I look up at the mirror in front of me and, just like the other day, my eyes meet Collin’s in the reflection. His eyes widen in surprise when he sees me and I catch a faint glimpse of appreciation in his eyes as they roam over my legs before it’s hidden behind a mask of irritation.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

He stops short in the doorway, stubbornly refusing to come any closer, and his voice thunders across the room. I try not to cringe at the venom in it as I slowly turn around to face him.

“You haven’t returned any of my calls.”

My voice comes out raspy and shaky and I silently will my nerves to go the fuck away as I clear my throat.

“I’m pretty sure we have nothing to say to each other. Feel free to let yourself out,” he tells me as he turns to leave.

My determination begins to wilt under his quick dismissal. Maybe this wasn’t meant to be. Maybe he’s decided the baggage that comes along with me is more than he’s willing to take on. Maybe…

No. To hell with maybe. I’ve spent seventeen years building a life on fucking maybes.

As I stand there watching him walk away from me, I huff out the breath I’m holding and remember who the hell I am. I’m not this woman any more, this woman who sits in silence and lets life happen all around her. I’ve spent years keeping my feelings inside and not standing up for myself. I’m not about to take ten steps back when I finally feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

“So, you’re just going to walk away like a coward?” I shout to his retreating back.

I watch as his footsteps falter and the muscles in his shoulders tighten. I hit a nerve by calling him a coward and I know it. A man who races into burning buildings on a daily basis is anything but a coward. Even back in high school Collin was courageous and strong, always the first to fight for what he believed in, and the years apart haven’t changed that. If anything, following his dreams and doing what he was always meant to do only amplified the characteristics he was born with. He’s a proud man who knows exactly who he is. There is no way he’s going to walk out that door without trying to prove me wrong.

He slowly turns around and stares at me. “You’re calling ME a coward? That’s rich coming from you.”

His voice is low but filled with enough heated anger to burn this place to the ground.

I take a deep breath and place my hands on my hips, standing tall and swallowing all my pride.

“I’m sorry about what happened last week. It was a complicated situation and I needed to handle it how I saw fit. I’m sorry if that hurt you or you felt like I was pushing you away.”

He laughs cynically and crosses his arms across his broad chest. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, sweetheart, OR what I’m feeling.”

“That’s just it! I DON’T know anything about you!” I fire back. “What was I supposed to do? Just take a chance on something when I have no idea what’s going on in your head?”

He takes a few steps in my direction and stops again. “Don’t make this out to be more than it is. You got what you wanted: the perfect payback for your loving husband. Now you can go back to living in your perfect little home with your perfect little life and you can push me out of your mind like you have for seventeen years.”

I don’t let his words upset me, mostly because I can see the hurt written all over his face. Collin wanted me to pick him. He wanted me to throw Jordan out and choose him. He has no idea how much I wanted to do just that—or how much I regret allowing fear to hold me back.

“You think my life was perfect?” I argue. “It was a mess. From almost the very beginning, it was all a lie. I did think about you. I thought about you so much it made me question everything I thought was right. I didn’t ask you to leave because I didn’t want more time with you. Think about it. There’s no way Jordan would have listened to anything I had to say with you standing right there, ready to beat his ass if he said something wrong. You have no idea how much I wanted you to stay, how much I wanted to drag you back to my bed and forget about the outside world.”

Collin’s arms drop to his sides and he stalks towards me, stopping when there are only a few feet separating us.

“If you wanted me so fucking much, explain why it took you five days to come here, making me wonder if it meant absolutely nothing to you. I don’t like feeling like a chump, Finnley.”

I reach my hands out to him and he flinches, but I don’t let that bother me. I keep moving until my hands are flat against his chest and I can feel his heart beating against my palms.

“I left you ten messages,” I remind him. “I should have come to you sooner, I know that. I didn’t stay away to torture you or to make you question what we shared. I did it to protect you.”

Collin narrows his eyes and bites out, “I’m not afraid of fucking Jordan Castillo.”

I manage to tamp down my irritation over his macho bullshit. “I wasn’t insinuating you are. Besides, this has fuck all to do with Jordan. I was trying to protect you from me.”

Collin stares at me, clearly confused, so I explain. “This is all new for me. I’ve slept with one man my entire life. One. I needed to get my head on straight and make sure I didn’t just do it to get back at Jordan. I needed to make sure that what I felt didn’t go away as soon as I wasn’t in the same room with you. You cloud my judgment, Collin. You make me feel alive for the first time in years and that scares the hell out of me.”

He sighs and I can see the fight he’s waging within himself slowly start to die away.

“Also, I needed to do something I never thought I would have to do. It took a little longer than I thought it would, but it was important to do it before I came to you.”

He gives me that adorably befuddled look yet again and I move closer.

“God, this is so embarrassing,” I mutter, looking away from him.

I see his hand move out of the corner of my eye and, seconds later, I feel his fingers on my chin. I don’t resist when he turns my face back to his, his eyes imploring me to keep going.

I rush through the most important part of my explanation in one breath. “Jordan and I never used condoms. I was on the pill and obviously I never thought my husband would be a cheating sack of shit. He fucked around on me, Collin, and I had to get tested before I talked to you again. I needed to be sure that I hadn’t done something to hurt you. I would never be able to live with myself if I knew I put you in harm’s way without even knowing it. I’m clean, by the way. Phina is a phlebotomist and she was able to put a rush on the blood draw. So, aside from a complete mistrust of men and a failed marriage, at least that asshole didn’t leave anything else behind when I kicked his ass to the curb.”

Collin is quiet for so long that I’m a little afraid I freaked him out with my babble. I had to put everything on the table, though, because he deserves to know the truth. I don’t want any lies between us. I’ve dealt with that enough in my life.

“Are you really done with him?” Collin finally asks quietly, breaking the silence.

“I’ve been done with him for more years than I care to count. I’ve spent my life doing what I thought was right instead of doing what I wanted. I don’t want to live like that anymore,” I tell him honestly.

He leans his body into mine without touching me.

“What do you want, Finnley?”

I take a deep breath and lay it all on the line.

“You. I just want you, but it scares the hell out of me,” I whisper.

He moves forward until the toes of his boots are touching the toes of my heels. Bringing his arms up, he cups my face in his large hands and I feel like I can finally breathe again. One week without him and I missed his touch, I missed his closeness.

“What are you so afraid of?”

I look up into his bright blue eyes and I wonder how it’s possible to feel such a strong connection with someone in such a short amount of time. Years and distance separated us for so long, but right now, being close to him, feeling his hands on my skin, makes it feel like we were never apart—that my marriage with Jordan was just a dream and Collin has always been my reality.

“This, all of this,” I tell him. “I’m scared by how much I need you even though I barely know you anymore. I spent seventeen years with someone I thought I knew and look how that turned out.”

He chuckles and shakes his head at me. “Lee, you’ve always known me. You’re the only one who ever really has.”

I shake my head right back at him and scoff. “It’s been a long time, Collin. I might have known everything about you back then, but it’s all a mystery to me now. I know your mom was a manager of Hills Department Store, your favorite Nintendo game was Super Mario Brothers, you listened to ‘Closer’ by Nine Inch Nails on repeat in your piece of shit Ford Escort and you always ordered mint chocolate chip ice cream when we went to the Dairy Twist. We’re thirty-three years old and the things I knew about you are still written in the diary I kept when I was fifteen, but they really don’t do much for me at this point in time. We’ve spent almost two decades apart and I have no idea who you are now.”

Collin leans forward, resting his forehead against mine.

“My mom is retired from Hills and is happy to stay home and annoy my father on a daily basis, I prefer Grand Theft Auto over Super Mario Brothers because the graphics kick ass, I still order mint chocolate chip every time I go to the Dairy Twist, I still watch Full Metal Jacket at least once a month, I root for the Seattle Seahawks now because the Cowboys turned into a bunch of showboating assholes, I drive a red Chevy Tahoe for work and a black Ford F-250 for personal use, and D.J. is still my best friend, even though he was the one who convinced me to break up with you in a note. In thirty-three years of living, Lee, that’s the only fucking thing I’ve ever regret.”

He pulls his face back and looks down at me. “I’m an open book, Lee. If you want to know something, all you have to do is ask. I know this is fast and everything about it is fucking insane, but everything about it also feels right. I have thought about you every single day for seventeen years. I don’t know where this thing is going with us and I know you’ve got some personal shit you’re working through, but I’m not going anywhere. I will never lie to you, Lee. If you trust anything that I’ve said, please, just trust that.”

He stands here staring at me, pleading with me to trust him and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I trusted him fully from the minute he said hello at Slammers.

“I just have one more question,” I tell him softly, my arms sliding around his waist and pulling him closer.

“I told you, I’m an open book. Ask me anything.”

Standing up on my toes, I brush my lips against his and speak softly against his mouth. “You didn’t say anything about Nine Inch Nails. I never told you this, but I got a little turned on every time you played that CD. I still get hot when I hear it.”

He smirks down at me, dropping his hands from my face and moving them to my hips. Pushing lightly, he walks us backwards until the backs of my legs bump into the huge speaker on the floor right behind me.

I grab onto his forearms as he eases me down until my ass is planted on top of the speaker, my skirt inching up as I sit, displaying the tops of my lace thigh highs.

“Fuck me, are you wearing garters?” he asks with a growl in his voice.

I answer him by leaning back on my hands and spreading my legs, forcing the material of my skirt to ride a little higher and the black garters hooked to the lace against my thighs to peek out beneath it.

I watch his Adam’s apple bob in his throat as he swallows thickly while he stares down at my legs.

“Don’t move,” he tells me as he starts to back away.




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