Ch. 16 Missed Calls and Messages

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Beth breathed into his mouth as she kissed him, and he fisted the hair at her nape.

Strange images ran through his head – waterfalls, coconuts and spiced rum. The gentle trade winds flitted over his skin the way he silently begged her fingers to discover him.

Beyond the parking lot, cars rumbled down the highway, scarcely noticed until one driver honked its horn and a man yelled, "Wooo-hooo!"

The noise seeped through his mind's haze.

I'm crossing lines like a drunk driver and someone's going to get hurt.

Russell drew away from Beth slowly, reluctant to let her go. An ache spread from his chest to his loins, crushing him with its strength. He blocked it, though, coming to his senses. This was not something he could allow.

She was flushed and had the same daze in her eyes as from earlier.

"Sorry about that," he said. "I'm not sure how that happened. I didn't mean to....I won't..." He shook his head at a loss for words, dropping his hands.

"You're sorry for kissing me?"

"I didn't mean to."

"Is that true?" she asked.

"Yes. I'm sorry," he replied nodding.

"It's a true story that you were still a sucker for rainbows at fifteen?" she asked.

He smiled and tried not to laugh. But when she smiled, he cupped her face and found himself kissing her again, greedily, with an intensity that would have scared the hell out of him if he had let himself think about it. There were no thoughts, though; only the urgency of her lips answering his need, the feel of her jawbone moving under his palms and moist, velvet skin at his fingertips.

He wanted her. He wanted to banish all other men from her life and memory, leaving only himself imprinted in her heart and soul.

But he was still bound to Erica, broken and bleeding in his arms.

"Oh, sorry," he gasped, lifting his head. "I'm so sorry. This can't happen, I am so sorry. We need, I need to keep this on a friendship basis. I can't do this." He stepped away.

She swayed sideways, losing his support when he set her free so quickly. She blinked, surprise and more than a little anger apparent in her expression. "Friendship basis? Like friends with benefits basis?"

"No. Strictly friends. I don't want to do anything we'll regret."

"I'm confused," she said. She looked confused, frowning and shaking her head. "You kissed me. You kissed me twice and then you say 'sorry, let's keep this friendly?' Is that what you really want?"

God, no. "Yes," he said. "I'm sorry for the mixed signals, but you are a beautiful woman and I lost my head there for a moment. But what I need is for us to just be friends. No benefits, just friends."

"Oh. Well, that clears everything up. Thanks." She pressed her lips together and stalked off to the car.

Russell unlocked it for her and got in behind the wheel, but not before briefly considering giving her the keys and promising to vanish from her life forever. They still had work to do that day.


Beth kept her gaze firmly on the tropical scenery, but had no clue what she was actually seeing. Only Russell's lips locked to hers stuck on repeat in her mind. He had kissed her and for a minute there, the world had been wonderful.

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