The Way You Look Tonight / Page 5

Page 5


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Author: Bella Andre


Fact was, staying this close to temptation was a bad idea. A really, really bad one. But he couldn’t figure out a way to explain the potential perils of their situation without making her think he was the world’s biggest d-bag. Which was exactly what he’d sound like if he said, I’m afraid I’m going to lose control and convince you to do dirty things with me that you’ll hate me for in the morning.


He could only imagine the way her pretty expression would fill with disgust as she wondered exactly what those dirty things were...


He was so focused on trying to force his lust-filled visions away that he didn’t hear her come back into the room until she said, "You must be starved after riding here from Seattle." She’d changed out of her super-sexy bikini into dark leggings and a hip-length long-sleeved shirt that should have made it easier to forget how gorgeous she was, but only made a guy wonder more about the soft skin just beneath the fabric.


For years he’d watched women calculate their worth for the highest bidder and then wonder why it all didn’t work out with the CEO they’d snared via that calculation. It was second nature for him to assume that Brooke knew exactly what she was doing to him.


But nothing about the way she’d behaved since that first moment spoke of calculation. She hadn’t faked the pleasure in her eyes at seeing him again, nor had she thrown herself into his arms to try to turn him on...even if that’s exactly what had happened. And clearly, she hadn’t worn the little string bikini for his benefit, either, since she couldn’t have known he’d show up at the lake tonight.


As she walked into the kitchen and took out a battered recipe book that he vaguely remembered belonging to her grandmother, he offered, "What can I help with?"


She waved him over to the bar stool on the other side of her kitchen island. "Finishing your beer."


Rafe couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so comfortable and so on edge with a woman at the same time. Of course, the edge was only there because he was a pig who couldn’t turn off his libido for three seconds around an old friend.


He took a seat at the kitchen counter and finally noticed the big stainless-steel bowls drying by the sink. "What are those for?"


"Chocolate." She smiled at him, a beautiful smile that did nearly as many strange things to his insides as her curves did. "I make truffles for a living."


"You and your grandmother were always making chocolate," he remembered, hating the way the light in her eyes dulled when he brought up her grandparents.


"It was her favorite hobby. Mine, too," she said with a small smile as she clearly worked to push away her grief. She ran her fingertips over the homemade wood cover on the old recipe book. "My grandfather made this for my grandmother by hand and even etched in their initials in this heart on the front. I’ve been meaning to take it somewhere to see if I can get this crack fixed, but I haven’t wanted to actually let it out of my sight for long enough to let anyone touch it." She opened the book and showed him a truffle recipe in her grandmother’s handwriting. "After my grandparents passed away, I decided to move here and turn her dream into a reality for both of us. Every day as I’m making my truffles, I think about the daily ritual we had of eating one perfect piece of homemade chocolate." Her eyes grew even softer. "That initial taste of it on my tongue. That slow melt that felt like it was awakening my entire body. The decadent, sumptuous taste that lingered."


Just hearing Brooke talk about eating chocolate was the most sensual experience of his life. And as she turned to pull eggs out of the fridge and flour from a nearby cupboard to make the pasta she’d promised him a short while earlier, Rafe had to work like crazy to get his body and brain to obey his order to back the hell off of wanting her.


"What—" He had to clear the lust from his throat. "What were you doing before and where?"


"Human resources in Boston."


He thought about that for a second and decided that, while human resources should have fit with Brooke’s naturally cheerful personality, he couldn’t see her in an office building wearing a tailored suit. Her laughter would have been stifled by four walls and forced air.


"You can only imagine how thrilled my parents were when I decided to chuck in my climb up the corporate ladder for truffles. Evidently they didn’t send me to an expensive college to make candy for a living," she said with a laugh before leaning forward as if she had a secret to share. "They don’t even like chocolate. Can you believe it?"


All he had to do was lean in a couple of inches, and he could have kissed her. Just pressed his lips to hers to see if she tasted as good as she looked.


"That’s crazy," he said, but he wasn’t talking about her parents not eating carbs. No, he was reminding himself that kissing the incredibly sweet girl next door was nuts.


"You like it, don’t you?" Her voice now held a husky tone that reverberated right to his groin.


Idiot that he was, he couldn’t make himself look away from her big green eyes. "Like what?"


As her full lips parted again, he nearly lost hold of his control when she said, "Chocolate."


Knowing he’d give away his lust if he spoke again, he nodded instead.


Unfortunately, when she smiled at him, it did just what the huskiness in her voice had. "Good. Then maybe you can be my taste tester this summer for the new recipes I’m working on."


Rafe could easily picture Brooke holding out a chocolate-covered fingertip for him to taste. Of course, in his vision she also happened to be completely naked. His mouth watered, his groin hardened further, and he had to pick up his beer and down it in one long gulp before he could answer her.


"I don’t know anything about chocolate."


"Actually, it’s better if you don’t. There’s nothing worse than an overeducated palate trying to dissect everything. I don’t care about prestige or awards. All I care about is bringing people pleasure."


Just the word pleasure from her gorgeous mouth had him as turned on as he could ever remember being. Again it struck him that any other woman would have been doing this to arouse him on purpose. But Brooke was simply beginning to roll her pasta dough through the pasta machine, looking bright and pretty in her grandparents’ kitchen.


What the hell was wrong with him, thinking there had been anything she’d said or done so far tonight that was meant to turn him on? All this time he’d thought he was better than those rich assholes he investigated who thought with their dicks and screwed anything they could get their hands on. But he couldn’t even be friends with a pretty girl without mentally stripping her naked.


"In fact," she said, "the best way to do a taste test is blindfolded." Giving him a playful glance, she reached into a kitchen drawer and held up a clean kitchen towel. "This would probably work if you’re game to try a few of my new chocolate recipes later tonight."


Rafe immediately shook his head. "I’m happy to try out your new recipes, but I won’t wear a blindfold."


"Oh," she said as she carefully put the towel back into the drawer. "Okay."


How could he explain to her that he didn’t trust anyone enough anymore to willingly let them take away one of his senses? Figuring it was best to change the subject at this point, he said, "Last I knew, you were an eight-year-old who swam like a fish." Somehow he needed to remember to look at her as that little girl, rather than the gorgeous woman she’d become.


"And you were a fourteen-year-old boy who got into more trouble than anyone else." He was glad to see her smile come back so quickly. "I’ll bet you still do."


Her question should have been light, but the idea of getting into trouble with her had his body heating back up in all the places he’d been trying to force to cool down.


Focus. That’s what being this close to Brooke was going to be about. Holding focus on anything except how pretty she was, how soft her skin looked, how sweet her mouth would taste, how surprisingly sensual it was watching her manipulate the pasta with her bare hands...


What the hell had they been talking about? Oh yeah, what they’d been up to during the past eighteen years. Rather than answering her question about trouble, while ignoring the slight burn from the scar across his ribs that proved he hadn’t yet learned how to walk away from it, he asked, "Where do you sell your chocolates? Do you have a store in town?"


She shook her head. "I supply boxes to local grocery and gift stores. But," she added with a smile that held obvious pride and excitement, "I just took on a new partner who will be opening a retail store in Seattle."


Rafe knew better than to stick his nose into someone else’s personal life or business affairs unless they’d hired him to do just that—no one wanted advice they hadn’t asked for—but Brooke was a friend. And he couldn’t stand the thought of her being taken advantage of.


"Congratulations. What kind of things is your partner taking care of?"


"All the financial stuff," she said, as if it were no big deal that she’d turned her money over to someone else’s care. "Distribution channels. Packaging. Running the retail store."


"You trust her that much?"


"Him," she clarified, before adding, "And yes, he was a colleague of my father’s at Harvard, and has a great reputation in the food retail world. Why wouldn’t I trust him?"


Rafe could think of a hundred possible reasons, but before he could start laying them out one by one, she began to slide the spaghetti strands into a pot of water she’d put on to boil and asked, "Now that you’ve heard my long and winding story, tell me all about yours."


"I run a private investigation agency."


"I should have guessed that," she said with a wide smile. "Talk about the perfect job for you."


"What makes you think it’s perfect for me?"


She gave him a strange look, as though she couldn’t believe he was asking her that. "Whenever we played hide-and-seek, you always won, because you were able to put together clues no one else could."


"That’s just a kids game, Brooke. And you were always giggling and giving yourself away."


Her laughter—all grown up now and layered with sensuality he couldn’t manage to miss—washed over him. "You haven’t forgotten your nickname, have you?"


"No, but I was hoping you had."


"Not a chance, Tracker."


He groaned. "Remind me to strangle Mia the next time I see her for ever coming up with that."


"I’m sure no one outside of your family and mine knew it," she assured him, "although no one has ever forgotten the way you found that scared little boy in the mountains."


His parents had just told them they were losing the lake house. Rafe had escaped to the mountains to try to run off the painful thought of losing the one place that truly felt like home to him. He’d found the local search and rescue crew trying to locate a missing boy whose family was on vacation at the lake. As far as they knew, the kid had been chasing after his dog when he left their rental house. The dog came back home, but the boy didn’t. The crew had been afraid that the skinny five-year-old wouldn’t make it through the night in his T-shirt and shorts. Young enough to run, and to keep running after as many dead ends as he needed to, Rafe had used his tracking skills to locate the little boy. Forty-five minutes later, he’d found the kid shivering with dried tear tracks on his cheeks.


"Being a P.I. in Seattle seems like the grown-up version of what you always used to do."


Rafe had spent his life watching people ignore every clue around them. But Brooke, it seemed, didn’t miss a single one. Which also meant it was unlikely that she’d missed his clear attraction to her.


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