Home > Once in a Lifetime (Lucky Harbor #9)(17)

Once in a Lifetime (Lucky Harbor #9)(17)
Jill Shalvis

He studied her a moment. “We got along just fine in the past hour, I’d say.”

She felt the blush race up her face. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I suppose I do. Do we need to talk about it?”

“Hell, no.”

He looked relieved. “We said this wasn’t going to change anything,” he said. “We both got what we wanted.”

“Yeah,” she said. But what if she suddenly couldn’t remember what she’d wanted?

And suddenly, he wasn’t looking so relieved. He was looking…wary. “Did you change your mind, Aubrey?”

“No.” Not that she would admit it anyway, not even over the threat of death and dismemberment.

“Good,” he said with quiet steel. “Because I don’t want a committed relationship.”

“Ever?”

He hesitated. “Not any time soon, anyway.”

She absorbed the unexpected shock of disappointment, and, she hoped, kept it from her face. “Then we’re good.”

He paused again, as if searching that statement for honesty. “I locked the shop before I came up here,” he said. “The flower shop and bakery are long closed.” He smiled, his voice light and teasing when he added, “So no worries. No one could have heard you.”

Oh, hell, no, he didn’t just say that. She opened her mouth to tell him that they’d both been loud, but she shut it again.

Because he was right. She’d been the noisy one.

Damn. She should really have orgasms with other people more often. She moved from the bathroom to the door of her loft and not so subtly opened it for him to leave.

Ben looked amused but didn’t say one word as he crossed the room. As he came up even with her, he cupped her jaw and planted one hell of a kiss on her. If she hadn’t still been trembling from what they’d just done, she’d have pushed him away. But as it was, she had to fight her limbs, which wanted to cling to him like Saran Wrap.

Lifting his head, he sent her one last look of wicked promise, and then he was gone.

Alone, she shut and locked her door and then leaned back against it. What had she just done? There was really only one man in town who had the power to hurt her. And she’d just had sex with him.

Chapter 13

Ben dreamed about Aubrey writhing in ecstasy in his arms. Best dream ever. He was late getting out of bed, but it was worth it, he thought, hitting the road running as he headed along the harbor. The icy ocean air—so cold it felt like hell had frozen over—sucked the breath from his lungs, but the discomfort was nothing compared to what he’d felt in some of the places he’d been.

Sam was waiting for him at the pier, running in place, his breath puffing out in little white clouds. “Thought maybe you weren’t coming,” he said, and looked Ben over carefully. “Rough night?”

Yeah, not exactly. “I’m good,” Ben said. And he was. Possibly a little too good.

Sam let it go, and they ran hard, as usual. No words necessary.

An hour later, Ben was in the bookstore when Aubrey stormed in with eyes flashing, boots clicking as she moved across the floor, anger coming off her in waves. She was wearing yet another businessy dress, this one made of soft, sweater-like material that covered her from chin to knee but nicely hugged the curves he now knew intimately.

He was pretty damn sure he should have been over her enough not to get hard at the sight of her. “What’s up?” he asked.

Like he didn’t know…

“My car won’t start,” she said animatedly, furious and beautiful. “Something happened to it overnight.”

Yeah. He’d happened to it. He’d pulled the coil wire late the night before after a drink with Luke. The coil wire was still in his pocket, as a matter of fact.

Aubrey stalked across the store, straight to Ben’s still-steaming to-go cup of coffee, which Leah had poured for him. She drank from it as though it were her lifeline.

All without making eye contact with him. “Black. Blech.” She sighed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t afford a mechanic.”

She wasn’t going to need one.

“It’s always something,” she said, sounding tired. Frustrated. At the end of her rope.

Still not looking at him directly.

Another man might have felt guilty as hell, but Ben told himself he wasn’t another man. He wanted to know what she was up to, what was wrong, and he’d meant it when he’d said he wanted to know if she was okay. And yeah, after last night, he was more curious than ever. There was no better way to figure her out than to drive her around. “Where do you need to go?” he asked.

She looked down at her phone, thumbing through screens with dizzying speed.

He put a hand on her. “It can’t be far,” he said. “You need to open the store in an hour and a half, right?”

She finally looked at him and then blushed. He figured that was the “wild monkey sex,” as she’d called it. The best wild monkey bathroom sex he’d ever had. “Do you need a ride?” he asked.

“No,” she said quickly. Too quickly.

“Look at you, lying so early in the morning.”

She blew out a breath. “Okay, so I have a few…errands to run.”

“I’ll take you.”

She drank some more of his coffee and just stared at him. “Why would you do that?” she finally asked.

Because he was a jerk. “It’s the neighborly thing to do,” he settled on.

“We’re not neighbors.”

“Okay, it’s the thing to do for someone who screamed your name as she came.”

She sputtered. “I so did not scream your name.”

“The mirror practically shattered,” he said.

“I can’t believe—that is just so rude of you to say.”

“I loved it,” he said simply, and watched as a good amount of her defensiveness drained away. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s hit the road. I’ve got an errand, too. The stain came in for your shelves. Oh, and I need to buy more condoms.”

“You do not need more condoms. Remember? We decided we were a one-time thing—” Then she seemed to finally catch his drift and realized, belatedly, that he was just yanking her chain. “Shut up,” she said.

He gave her a slow, long, hot look, and the last of her temper appeared to vanish. She squirmed a little bit, and with that little telltale move, made his entire day—though he couldn’t have said why to save his life.

“What are you going to do while I’m…doing my stuff?” she asked suspiciously.

“I’ve got my own stuff to do in the truck while I wait.”

“Yeah?” she asked. “Like what?”

He pulled out his phone. “Like kicking Jack’s ass on a game we’re playing.”

“Call of Duty, or something equally alpha and macho?”

“Something like that,” he said.

She finished his coffee and handed him the empty cup. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s go. I need to hit the grocery store first.”

Two minutes later they were on the road, huddled up to the heater vents in his truck.

“You need a newer vehicle,” she said, squinting through the foggy windshield.

“Shh!” He lovingly stroked the dash of the truck. “Don’t listen to her, baby. You’re perfect just as you are.”

Aubrey rolled her eyes. “A little attached, are we?”

“Very,” he said. “This was my uncle Jack’s truck, you know.”

She glanced at him. “No, I didn’t know.”

“I helped him rebuild her.”

“He died while fighting a fire, right?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Ben and Jack junior had been fourteen at the time. It had devastated the both of them—Jack, who’d lost his dad, and Ben, who’d lost the only father figure he’d ever known. His aunt Dee had given Ben the truck, though officially he’d had to wait several years to be old enough to drive it.

Unofficially, though, he and Jack had used it to make more than a few illegal and illicit late-night trips. The truck had seen him through some pretty hairy times. He’d never get rid of it.

“That must have been a terrible loss for you,” Aubrey said quietly.

It hadn’t been his first loss, and even at age fourteen, he’d known shit happened. But yeah, it’d sucked hard. “I had Dee,” he said. “She kept me on the straight and narrow.” Even when he’d only added to her grief, she’d never given up on him.

“I’ve met her,” Aubrey said. “She’s a wonderful woman. Strong, too.”

Ben smiled. “She had to be to keep a rein on Jack and me.”

“I bet,” Aubrey said on a soft laugh. “I can only imagine the holy terrors you guys must have been. Are you in contact with your parents at all?”

“No.” And what went unsaid was that his dad refused visitors and he didn’t even know where his mom was.

Aubrey turned from him, looking out her passenger-side window. “I was raised mostly by my mom,” she said quietly. “She was twenty-one when she had me. My dad was a few years older, but still not ready for a family—though he took my sister in the divorce.”

Ben glanced over at her, but she still wasn’t looking at him. “They split you up like two pieces of furniture?” he asked.

“Yep,” she said lightly, but the tenseness in her shoulders gave her away.

“And you don’t see him much, right?” he asked.

“No.” She shrugged. “He’s pretty busy,” she said. “He has two new daughters now.”

“And a puppy.” He paused. “And a dollhouse.”

She turned her head and met his gaze, looking surprised that he remembered.

Didn’t people listen to her? Care about her? He hated the idea that it was probably far more likely that she rarely opened up and let anyone listen to her. “Parents can really suck,” he said.

She choked out a short laugh. “Yeah.”

The coil wire in his front pocket was starting to weigh him down now, big-time, but he pulled up to the grocery store.

“Be right back,” she said.

Good as her word, five minutes later she was back with a mysterious brown bag, and then directed him to a town house complex. “Be right back,” she said again.

When she reappeared a few minutes later, he once again slid his phone away and looked at her.

“What?” she asked. “Do I have something in my teeth?”

“Can’t tell unless you smile.”

She flashed him a very fake smile, and he made a big show of looking at her teeth. “Perfect,” he said, and flashed her a real smile. “Are you going to cross a name off your list?”

She studied him a moment. “Not yet.”

He looked at the town house she’d just come from. “Who lives there?”

“Carla. My sister.”

“You bring your sister groceries?”

Aubrey shrugged, a little embarrassed, he thought. “She’s a resident at the hospital and working crazy hours,” she said. “She’s exhausted and doesn’t have time to do stuff like get food.”

“That’s…sweet of you.”

She looked at him. “You and I both know I’m not sweet.”

It was true that he’d never thought of her as particularly sweet, but he was beginning to change his mind. “Your boots are wet.”

“I watered her plants.”

Yeah, he was definitely changing his mind about her. “Where to now?” he asked.

She hesitated.

“We can just sit here if you’d rather.”

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