Holiday wishes, p.7
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       Holiday Wishes, p.7

         Part #4.5 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  floor behind him, along with the sheet.

  His smile was badass wicked and filled with trouble as he put a knee on the bed and began to crawl toward her with nefarious intent in his sharp gaze.

  With another squeak, she started to scramble to the edge of the bed but then stopped. What was she doing? She wanted him to catch her. So she waited until he was close and then she pounced on him, pushing him down to the bed and claiming the victor’s spot.

  His hands at her hips, he smiled up at her. “You think you’ve got me?”

  She took his hands in hers and flattened them above his head, stretching herself along the length of him. Still holding him down, her gaze locked on his, she lifted up and took him inside her body. “I know I do.”

  “Oh fuck, Lotti.” He arched up into her, his neck corded, his face a mask of intense pleasure. “You do, you’ve got me. Do with me whatever you want.”

  So she did.

  Chapter Eight

  A few hours later, Sean stood in the large living room of the B&B, taking in the room with a narrowed eye. Christmas on crack, check. Candles everywhere, check. Chairs pulled from every room in the house arranged with an aisle for Pru to walk toward Finn, check. Music softly playing from a wireless speaker that was Bluetoothed to his phone, check.

  There was no electricity, but they didn’t need it. Outside, rain drummed steadily against the old Victorian, adding to the ambiance.

  “What do you think?” Lotti asked at his side, sounding nervous.

  He turned to her and shook his head with a low laugh. “I think it’s perfect.”

  Her smile was warm and relieved, and the vise that had been around his heart since this morning when he’d realized the craziest thing—that he was falling for her all over again—tightened.

  The roads were being cleared even as they stood here. Estimated time of opening was tomorrow morning. This meant that at best he had twenty-four hours to make her start to fall too.

  “It all looks good,” she said. “You pulled it off.”

  “We pulled it off.”

  She turned to him, her smile fading, but before she could speak, Finn came up the makeshift aisle. He was in dress pants and a slate gray button down—the same that he’d worn to the bachelor/bachelorette party. Looking uncharacteristically nervous, he fussed with his tie until it was crooked.

  “Here,” Sean said and knocked his brother’s hands away. “I’ve got it. What the hell’s wrong with you?” he asked when he realized Finn was sweating. “You wanted this.”

  “Still do,” Finn said. “More than I want anything else in the entire world.” His serious gaze met Sean’s. “This is the most important thing I’ll ever do.”

  And that was why he was nervous, Sean realized. “Hey man, you got this. And I’ve got you. So no worries.”

  Finn let out a long, shaky exhale and nodded. “Thanks.”

  Sean turned to Lotti and found her studying him with a look he’d never seen before, like maybe she was proud of him. He had to admit, he didn’t hate that.

  “And shouldn’t you be the anxious one?” Finn asked Sean. “You’re the guy who has to marry us. All I’ve gotta do is say ‘I do.’”

  “True,” Sean said.

  “I mean it’s you who has to make sure it all happens here today,” Finn went on. “That nothing goes wrong, that it’s absolutely perfect. So . . . are you? Nervous?”

  Well he was now. “How hard can it be?” he asked with what he hoped was a calm voice. No need to share with the class that he was shaking in his boots. “Take this ring, I thee wed, cherish and obey, yadda yadda, right?” he asked.

  Finn laughed. “Dude, if you put ‘obey’ in the vows, Pru’s going to kill you where you stand.”

  “Oh, I had it for your part of the vows, not hers.”

  Finn grabbed him in a headlock and they tussled for a minute, like old times.

  And then, less than a half an hour later, Archer was walking Pru down the aisle toward Finn. Seeing the love shining so brilliantly between the two of them after saying “with the power invested in me by GetOrdained.com, Finn, kiss your bride!” Watching as they laughed and Pru jumped into Finn’s arms while everyone hugged. Sean knew he’d never forget a minute of this trip.

  Lotti came up to his side and he looked at her. Huh. She was proud of him. “You were amazing,” she said.

  He didn’t quite feel amazing. He felt . . . something he couldn’t quite define. Not that there was time to think because they all moved back the furniture, kicked up the music, danced, drank, and ate.

  And then danced, drank, and ate some more.

  Watching, feeling oddly enough a little bit like he was on the outside looking in, Sean realized what was wrong.

  He was lonely, even while surrounded by the people who meant the most to him in the world. How that could be the case, he honestly had no idea. He picked up the bottle of Corona in front of him and took a long pull. It’d been years since he’d been intoxicated, but tonight was definitely the end of a long dry spell. He smiled as Finn and Pru made their way around the makeshift dance floor. He’d never seen Finn so happy.

  Never.

  They made a great couple, appreciating and recognizing what they had, what they’d worked so hard for. It was their night and no one deserved it more.

  Sean’s eyes searched out Lotti for the thousandth time. She wore a midnight colored dress, short and molded perfectly to her soft curves and showing off some gorgeous legs that he wanted wrapped around him. She’d started out the evening with her hair carefully twisted at the back of her head. Some of it had escaped. Tendrils framed her flushed face and fell over her bare shoulders and back, teasing her skin.

  She was so beautiful she made his chest hurt. But ever since the ceremony, during which she had adorably teared up, she’d been different. Holding herself back.

  The rancher from next door had showed up a few minutes ago with another case of beer that he’d found in his back refrigerator. Lotti was talking to him, thanking him, a soft smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

  It didn’t matter how many times Sean saw her smile, he still felt the pleasure from it like it was the first time, back at that football game . . . He’d had no right to touch her that night, but he had.

  He had even less right to touch her now. He’d had his chance and he’d walked away from her.

  Man, he’d been such a stupid sixteen-year-old punk.

  But God, he hoped like hell that second chances were really a thing as he finished off his beer and made his way over to her. This wasn’t going to be on the top ten list of the smartest things he’d ever done, but at that moment he didn’t care.

  Archer stepped into his path. “Whatcha doing?”

  “Nothing,” Sean said.

  “Nothing, or you’re about to go interrupt a really great woman from getting a dance invite?”

  Sean met Archer’s gaze and Archer went brows up. “We’re leaving here soon enough,” Archer said.

  Like Sean didn’t know. “And?”

  “And . . . don’t needlessly complicate things for her.”

  Sean looked over at Lotti, who was smiling up into the rancher’s face. “Archer?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Remember when you needlessly complicated Elle’s life?”

  Archer sighed.

  “Just tell me this—what would you have done if I’d tried to stop you?” Sean asked.

  Archer conceded gracefully. “Probably taken out a few of your front teeth.” He backed up a step, hands in the air, signaling that Sean should carry on as he planned.

  So Sean once again headed toward Lotti. He’d made his life about freedom and no complications. But he’d been fighting a restlessness, an aching loneliness for a while now. He hadn’t known what to do about it, but he knew now.

  He walked up to Lotti and the rancher just in time to hear the guy ask her to dance. “Can I cut in?” Sean asked, not that he was going to take no for an answer.

/>   The rancher’s gaze slid first to Lotti, who was still just staring up at Sean, before nodding curtly and stepping away from her.

  Sean took Lotti’s hand and brought her to the dance floor. Her eyes were guarded and she felt a little stiff in his arms as he pulled her in close for the slow song.

  “You had all night to ask me to dance,” she said. “Why did you pick that very moment?”

  “Why are you already distancing yourself from me?” he asked instead of responding to the question for which he didn’t have any good answer to give. “I haven’t even left yet.”

  “But you’re going to,” she said.

  Yeah. She had him there. He pulled her in close, drinking in her familiar scent, molding his body to hers so that he felt the exact second she melted into him. When she sighed, he knew he wasn’t alone in this, no matter what she wanted him to believe. They had something, something deep and meaningful and everlasting. Running a hand down the length of her back, he closed his eyes to savor the feel of her bare skin beneath his fingers.

  “Sean?”

  He opened his eyes and realized every gaze in the room was on them. He slid them all a hard look that said mind your own fucking business for once and led Lotti over to a more secluded part of the room, on the other side of the huge Christmas tree, where he could continue to hold on to her without their avid audience.

  “So about the distance thing,” he said.

  “We’re not going there,” she said. “You’re leaving. The end.”

  He looked into her eyes. “Are you saying you have no interest in letting me be a part of your life?”

  “But see, that’s just it. You’re not a part of my life,” she said. “You’re a fantasy. One that’s about to go poof and vanish.”

  “It doesn’t have to be like that, Lotti.”

  She gave him a get real look. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”

  Okay, he deserved her disbelief and probably a lot more. But he knew this wasn’t about him, or even her feelings for him. “You’ve got cold feet again,” he said. “And no one would blame you for that, Lotti. No one. But—”

  “I’ve always rushed too fast,” she said. “Rushed to my happily ever after, and it’s never worked out for me.”

  “It only takes one,” he said.

  She stared at him like he’d lost his mind. “Stop doing this.”

  “Stop doing what? Wanting you? Wanting you to want me?”

  “It was just a weekend.”

  He looked into her eyes and saw old hurts and new fears. Fears that he might hurt her . . . again. Legitimate. He leaned in and touched his mouth to the shell of her ear. “It feels like a lot more than a weekend,” he confessed.

  She didn’t say anything to this but she did settle in against him eventually relaxing in his arms. After that he let the beat of the music carry them. He felt ridiculous when he started to dread the end of the song. He didn’t want to lose the physical contact, and as if maybe she felt the same, her hands tightened around his neck and she pressed her face into his throat.

  “I’m sorry, Lotti,” he said. “So damned sorry for what I did to you.”

  “No, I was messed up, thinking that my first lover was The One. No sixteen-year-old boy could’ve lived up to my expectations. Hell, even now, no one could. In fact . . .” She shook her head. “I make sure they can’t. My fiancé . . .”

  “I know,” he said. “He was an ass too. Leaving you a week before your wedding—”

  “It was my fault, Sean.”

  “No. No way.”

  “Yes way,” she said. She grimaced and shook her head. “I kept changing the date of the wedding, pushing it back. It was my way of sabotaging. It’s what I do, I push people away. And I’m good at it, Sean.” She stepped back, and he could see in her eyes it was more than the song ending.

  They were ending before they’d even gotten started. “Wait,” he said. “What happened to eating the cookies, to reading books for pleasure, to singing in the rain and jumping into the puddles?” He paused until she met his gaze. “What happened to falling in love with a blast from your past?”

  “I . . . I never said that last part. Sean—”

  He could see in her eyes what she was about to say. “Lotti, don’t—”

  “I promised myself I’d start learning from the mistakes of my past instead of repeating them.” And then she stepped out of his arms and walked away.

  Just as he’d once done to her.

  The next morning dawned gray and dark, but nothing was falling out of the sky at least. Sean reached for his phone and checked the weather and roads.

  The worst of the storm had passed. The roads were a mess, many still impassable but they were starting to slowly let people through. They could get out.

  And sure enough, an hour later, Sean stood watching as his friends loaded up the van. He had his bag packed, but he wasn’t ready to leave.

  He wasn’t ever going to be ready to leave.

  Determined to tell Lotti that very thing, he turned to go find her—but she was right there, a nervous smile curving her mouth. “Can I talk to you for a sec?” she asked.

  “You can talk to me for as long as you want.” Forever, he thought. Talk to me forever so I don’t have to leave.

  She swallowed hard and looked down at her clipboard. “Well, I’ve been thinking.”

  “Which explains the smoke coming out of your ears.”

  She let out a low laugh. “Yeah. I do tend to overthink things. I like to obsess over every decision until it’s nearly impossible to make. Which is why I’m changing things up.” She met his gaze. “I overthought this weekend.”

  Unable to help himself, he closed the distance between them and cupped her jaw. “There’s nothing to overthink. What we shared here was a second chance, and I don’t intend to let it pass us by.” He leaned in and kissed her. “I want to see you again, Lotti. As soon as you’ll let me. I’m going to call. Text. Email. FaceTime. Whatever it takes to show you I’m serious. We’re only forty minutes away from each other. That’s nothing. Nothing,” he repeated, setting a finger over her lips when she opened her mouth. “And I know you have no reason at all to believe me, to believe in me, but it’s okay. All I need is some time to show you.”

  She took a gentle nip out of his finger. “I want to see you again too.”

  His heart leapt. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah and . . . well, I sort of I have a confession.” She pulled a piece of paper from her clipboard. Her Cabo itinerary. “I thought we could rebook my flights,” she said. “And add a plus one because I was hoping you’d come with. I mean, I know your brother just got married so you’re undoubtedly in charge of the pub when you get back, so we can time it so that it works out for everyone. If you’re interested . . .”

  He had to pause because the emotion and relief and hope that flooded him took away his ability to speak for a second.

  “I mean, I know it’s a big deal to go on vacay together when we hardly know each other, but it doesn’t have to be any sort of pressure or anything,” she said softly, letting him see the emotion and hope in her eyes. But there were nerves too. She was worried he’d say no.

  “Yes,” he said.

  “Yes, you’re okay with no pressure or yes to—”

  “Yes to all of it,” he said. “Everything. Whatever you want.” And then he sealed the vow with a kiss.

  Epilogue

 
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