“Mind if I get a refill?”
Jennifer rolled her eyes at Clay but slid the pitcher toward him. “Be my guest.” She turned to leave. The less time she spent near him, the easier it would be to get through the next week.
“Do you realize everyone is making bets on how long it will take before you slap me?”
She arched a brow at him and leaned her hip against the table. “Really? Who has five minutes?”
“I think that would be me.” A smile curved his lips. It made him look younger and less cynical. He was always so damn handsome when he smiled.
She forced herself to look away, busying herself with shifting the food on the table and stacking empty bowls. “Then I’ll wait a few more minutes so someone I like wins the money.” She gripped the edge of a half-empty bowl of potato salad.
He tried to hide the frown that furrowed his brow and turned his lips down again. It only lasted a second before he grinned and shot a glance at her brothers, still seated near Mike’s trailer. “Come on, Jen. How can you say you don’t like me?” He moved a step closer to her, his fingers toying at the side of the bowl, over hers.
Her gaze bounced from their hands to his green eyes. “It’s real easy. I. Don’t. Like. You.” She made sure to enunciate every word. Why couldn’t he get the hint? She didn’t want anything to do with him, not now, not ever again.
Jen pulled her hand from under his, but he took a step closer, his gaze holding her own. “You used to be friendlier,” he pointed out.
“And you used to be charming.”
Clay straightened his shoulders and took another step toward her as she backed away. “I’m still charming, with people who aren’t antagonistic.”
How dare he insinuate that she was being antagonistic? Okay, well, maybe she was, but he deserved every bit of resentment she directed at him. The man left her lying in his bed after proposing and never gave her any explanation for his departure. She narrowed her eyes for a moment before she allowed a sweet smile to curve her lips.
“I’m so sorry, Clay. I didn’t mean to be so hostile.” She reached again for the potato salad. “You’re right, I used to be friendlier. Let’s start again. I’m Jen,” she said, thrusting her right hand out.
He eyed her suspiciously but took the bait, curling his fingers around her hand. “I’m Clay. Jen, do you realize you have the most amazing eyes?” He flirted with her.
“Thank you.” She gave him her most engaging smile and leaned toward him. “Tell me, Clay, who had the bet that I’d dump potato salad on your head?”
He barely opened his mouth before she upended the plastic bowl over him. Bits of mayonnaise, carrots, and potatoes dripped down his face, and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing out loud as she quickly moved from his reach. Clay swiped at the mess on his face, flinging it from his hands to the ground. She heard the laughter from her brothers behind her and looked over at them.
“Next time, don’t make bets about me.” She shoved the bowl into Clay’s chest. “And the three of you can clean up this mess. I’m leaving.”
Clay grabbed her arm, and she spun on him, wildly swinging her purse at his head and jerking her arm from his grasp. “Don’t touch me.”
He easily caught the purse in his hand and dropped it at his feet as he pulled her into his arms. “What do you have in that thing? Bricks?”
“Let go of me, Clay,” she said through gritted teeth, twisting, trying to release herself from his grasp.
“Only if you let me explain.”
Every inch of her that was in contact with him burned with icy flames. The heat of his hands on her arms sent warmth running down her spine to melt her limbs and ignite the desire pooling in her belly. She wanted to push him away, to run to her trailer and stay there until he went back to wherever he’d been hiding, but when her eyes met his, pleading with her to listen to him, she couldn’t deny herself just one more moment with him. How was she supposed to keep hating him when her body wouldn’t follow her commands?
“You have five minutes.” One for each year she hadn’t heard from him. He released her cautiously. She walked back to the truck, knowing he would follow, and flipped the tailgate down. She hopped up on it, letting her legs dangle. When he sighed and scrubbed a hand over his jaw, she quirked a brow. “Time’s ticking Clay. Start talking.”
“You know, for someone who seems to think she has everything figured out better than the rest of us, you sure can be irresponsible. What were you thinking going into that bar?”
Jen almost let her mouth fall open at the audacity of his accusation. She bit the inside of her cheek until the metallic taste of blood forced her to stop.
She jumped from the back of the truck. “That was some explanation. I can’t believe I waited this long for it.”
Clay’s fingers circled her wrist as she started to walk away. “I have at least three minutes left.”
He pulled her back toward him, drawing her against his chest as one arm circled around her waist. His other hand buried into her long hair, and she gasped in surprise as his mouth found hers. Her body betrayed her again, melting against him as her bones seemed to turn to molten lava. Her fingers dug into the muscles of his shoulders, but she wasn’t sure if it was to keep her balance or because she couldn’t resist touching him. His mouth was gentle, in spite of their argument, as if he wanted to savor this kiss, to taste her, to force the memories of the tenderness they’d once shared to the surface. Clay nipped at her lower lip, testing her resolve, and when she didn’t protest, he plunged ahead. His tongue swept against hers as she slid her hands over his shoulders before curling her fingers around the nape of his neck, twining into his hair.
Clay’s lips trailed over her cheek and jaw. “I’ve missed you, Jen. You have no idea how much.”
“In that big of a hurry to kiss me?”
She rolled her eyes. “It will be a cold day in hell before I kiss you.”
Clay lips curved upward. “Ah, but that was the bet. You kiss me. Not the other way around.” He saw her pale as she realized he was right; he’d chosen the words for the bet deliberately. He knew she’d been suspicious, but she obviously hadn’t expected this.
Standing up, he took a step toward her. “You sure you wouldn’t rather talk a little bit more, maybe tell me what was bothering you earlier? You know, keep stalling?”
She clenched her jaw, her eyes darkening, and he knew he’d hit the bull’s-eye. He wasn’t certain whether the look in her eyes was desire or anger, but he felt the sizzle down his back at the thought of finding out. It didn’t take much to imagine how right it felt to kiss her, how she could make his blood boil with need, make him want to lock them both in a room and throw away the key. As long as he was with her, the rest of the world could be damned.
“Fine.” She walked up to him, pulling her hat from her head, her hips swaying slightly in the feminine way she had about her and stood on tiptoe to press a kiss to his cheek, bracing herself with a hand on his shoulder. “There, debt paid until dinner.”
He inhaled the sweet scent of her, like honey and sunshine in early summer. He reached for her hand, his fingers winding around her wrist. “That wasn’t a kiss and you know it.”
His gaze bore into hers, making sure she knew exactly what he was doing. His arm wound around her waist, pulling her against him, her curves molding against every hard plane of him. He ducked his head toward her, stealing her breath, his lips finding hers. He meant to tease her, to remind her of what they’d shared—what they could again—but as soon as his mouth met hers, his self-control disappeared. His hand slid up her spine, his fingers curling against the back of her head as his tongue sought hers, branding her. Her hands, braced between them only moments before, gripped at his shoulders, silently pleading for more.
Clay’s body answered her yearning with his own, the torment driving him mad. He wanted her, here and now, on the grass at the edge of the water, in the lake. Hell, he’d lie on the rocks as long as it meant she would continue touching him. His entire body was aflame, as if the spark of desire he’d carried for her the last five years had exploded into an inferno, consuming him. His hands couldn’t stop moving, wanting to touch every inch of her, from her velvety smooth cheek to the satiny skin of her waist under her shirt, where his thumbs ran along the edge of her bra. His mouth moved to the hollow of her neck, dipping to taste the arching column of her throat as her head fell back into his hand. His entire body throbbed with need, aching to be surrounded by her.
Her hands slipped under the sides of his shirt, her fingertips trailing over his ribs, tickling him even as it made him groan with longing. She tugged at the material, and he jerked it off, following with her shirt, throwing them to the side. Jennifer’s fingers dug into the muscles of his back, pressing her breasts against him. He could feel her nipples, hard even through her bra, against his chest. Clay wanted to stop and take time to look at her, to see the curves that hadn’t been there before, but he was too afraid she would remember who he was, what he’d done, and leave him standing here, alone and broken. He needed her and right now. With her in his arms, he couldn’t remember why he’d ever thought leaving her was a good idea. Nothing had ever satisfied him the way loving her had. It was a mistake to have left her when she offered him every part of her—body and soul.
“I was hoping to find you out here.”
Jennifer stared at him, silently, not sure whether she wanted to move toward him or run away. It didn’t really matter, since she couldn’t seem to get her feet moving anyway. His eyes seemed to glow from within, but she didn’t want to name the emotion she could easily read on his face. Her brain finally connected the synapses to get her legs to react, and she took a step backward.
Where are you going?
She didn’t know and she didn’t care. Right now, all she wanted was to not be caught by the longing in his eyes that warned her he was about to kiss her again.
“Jen, don’t. Don’t run away from me.” She heard the pleading note in his voice, but instead of feeling sympathetic, something in her snapped.
“I’m not the one who runs, Clay. That’s you.”
She was grateful for the horse tied in the aisle and ducked behind the mare, putting more distance between them. She set the bucket on the ground and reached for a curry comb, rubbing the animal down. “I don’t have anything to run from. You’re the one with one woman waiting in the house for you while you chase me down in the barn.” She hoped he could see the fury in her eyes, the pent-up anger at his betrayal that was flooding her body.
He moved around the back of the horse, as quick as a rattlesnake strike, and grabbed her hand, turning her to face him. “I left because I had to. I wasn’t running.”
She didn’t want to hear his excuses or his lies. The venom that had been festering in her for the last five years poured into her blood, seeping from the wound that had never healed in her heart. She threw the comb into the bucket and shoved him away from her. The movement did little to give her the space she needed to move away, and Clay grasped her other wrist, holding her immobile. She thrashed against him, her hands slipping away from his, fists pounding against his chest and shoulders until he wound his fingers through hers, holding her hands trapped behind her. Clay pulled her against the wall of his chest. Her breath came in short pants. Tears she hadn’t realized were falling wet her lips as he held her hostage. She gritted her teeth together, trying not to notice the heat emanating from his body, scorching hers. Regret for the past replaced the anger; need made way for a new kind of agony. She didn’t want to feel his thumbs loosen their hold and begin tracing circles against her palms, which were still held behind her back. She didn’t want to see the way his eyes had turned dark and hot, pained, and tortured—the same way she felt inside.