I didn’t tell anyone I was reading this book. I was so excited to discover a new author to me that I was fearful I’d jinx it. And to just say that this book was a pleasant surprise would be a mild understatement—it not only introduced me to this author’s beautifully crafted prose, but it also pushed my mind to live this story with the characters, to travel this tortuous journey with each one of them, and to lose myself in the many what-ifs a story like this cannot help but spark. I loved this book so much and that is why I am so excited to share with you one of my favourite chapters from this story (you’ll know why when you read it). Enjoy!
Ten and a Quarter Months Ago
“Hi,” I call over my shoulder.
The screen door slams before his voice whispers over my cheek. “Aren’t you getting eaten alive out here?” His lips land softly on my skin. He lets them linger like he’s breathing me in after a long, hard day and I’m the only balm that can soothe away the grit. I allow myself to concentrate only on that feeling and nothing else until he takes them away. When he does, I feel a little sad. I want them back.
“A little,” I reply, slapping one that just took a vial full of blood from my thigh.
The mosquitos are horrible this year. We had more than double the rain we normally get in the spring. The fields had standing water for weeks, which not only caused delays getting the crops planted, but was the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos the size of fists. The county wanted to crop dust some of the worst spots with an organophosphate insecticide to try to control them, but they were met with huge opposition by not only farmers but a band of mothers who “don’t want their kids getting cancer in five years from the chemicals that will end up in our drinking water.”
My opinion is we’re all going to die of something, so just spray the fuckers so we can all enjoy the outdoors with the little time we have left. But in the end, they didn’t. I’ve now been outside all of ten minutes and have half a dozen bites.
“I tried that new organic repellent MaryLou was going on about.” She wouldn’t shut up about it until I did.
“Yeah?” He chuckles as I shoo another flying, bloodsucking fiend away. “How’s that working out for you?”
I crane my neck to look at my husband and practically melt with the adoration I see shining down at me. It makes my eyes burn a little. Kael grabs my hand, bringing it to his smiling lips as I say, “I’m going back to cancer-inducing deet.”
He full-on laughs before kissing my cheek, announcing, “Your mom stopped by my office today.”
I groan. Of course she did. When she doesn’t get her way from me, she goes straight to Kael. I’ve been avoiding her for the past two weeks. I know what she wants and I can’t stomach the thought.
Three weeks have passed since Killian visited me at the bakery. Jilly ignores me, as usual, except if she needs something. And my mother? Well, either she can’t sense the tension between the four of us when we’re together or she just plain doesn’t care. I would vote for the latter. So a family dinner to celebrate Jilly’s little declaration is the last thing I want to do.
“Let me guess. I’ve been trying to reach Maverick. She’s ignoring me, as usual. I thought perhaps you could talk some sense into her. You always can,” I mock my mother in her superior-sounding voice.
He slides into the seat beside me with ease. He’s still all dressed from work in his pants and button down, tie dangling undone. He must be dying of heat.
“Pretty much sums up our conversation.”
I stay quiet. A quick flash of yellow from the yard draws my attention. By the time I look, it’s gone. Then it appears again slightly to the left.
Fireflies. I love fireflies. Used to catch jarfuls of them when I was a kid. Then I would release them the next day because I felt bad living while they slowly died.
“You can’t ignore her forever, Mavs. We need to go.”
“I don’t want to.” Dammit, I want to add, but don’t. I will sound like a spoiled brat if I do.
“It’s important to your mom, Swan,” he says.
I watch more fireflies wave their mating calls to the others for a while before I answer. Vivian DeSoto has accomplished her goal. I give. She has Kael on her side and I don’t want to disappoint Kael. Things have been good between us for the past few weeks. I feel like for the first time I’m really trying. “When?”
Swiveling my head his way, I smile softly. Inside, though, I’m anxious. I don’t think I’m ready to see Killian again yet. I need more time. That fucking cord is so thick I need an oil drill to chew through it. Maybe we should move to Texas. “Okay. If that’s what you want.”
“I think it will be nice.”
“Nice?” A brow crooks. Dinner with my family is the opposite of nice. I will have to listen to my daddy drone on about how I could run DSC someday if I just come back. He’ll be subtler than my mother, though, who will just put it out there that I’m better than baking loaves of bread all day. And then I’ll have to pretend to be happy for my sister when I’m anything but.
“Fine. Tolerable. They want to invite my parents, too.”
“Really.” I make it a statement, but it’s more of a question. The DeSotos and the Shepards were once an inseparable duo. They worked together. Vacationed together. Spent weekends together. Both of our mothers were active in the church and so many committees I lost count.
Then when Arnie Shepard retired a couple of years ago, they sort of drifted apart. Arnie and Eilish Shepard started spending half the year in Florida at their retirement home and when they were home, it seemed they always had something else to do. I feel bad for my parents. It’s almost as if they lost their best friends of thirty years. “I didn’t know they were back yet.”
“They get back Saturday.” He looks happy.
Every family has its issues. The Shepards are no different. His relationship with his father has been strained for the last few years, although he won’t talk much about it. But Kael loves his mother like no man I’ve ever seen. He hates it when she’s gone for so long.
“Good. I’m looking forward to seeing them.” I always felt more comfortable around Kael’s parents than my own, anyway. Eilish, a sassy Irish redhead, loves me like a daughter. She accepts me for who I am and what I want to do. Next week, I know I’ll get a call from her. She will insist I bring her an entire box of éclairs and croissants. Then she’ll make her famous slow-roasted corned beef, a mound of boxty, which is a fancy Irish potato cake, and we’ll sit in the gazebo and gorge ourselves on carbs. My mother hasn’t touched a carb in twelve years.
“Do you want to call her or should I?”
I take a breath in until my stomach bulges. Then I blow it out, taking my time. “I will. I’ll get the ass-ripping over with before Sunday.”
Kael chuckles. When I slap another mosquito, he asks, “Want me to grab that bug spray and a couple of beers?”
“Sure. Sounds great.”
Five minutes later he returns to our back porch, sporting nothing but a pair of baggy black gym shorts. Two bottles of Michelob Ultra hang in one hand, bug spray in the other.
He sets the beers down on the whitewashed wooden table between our two Adirondack chairs but doesn’t open them yet. Then he goes about spraying himself with the repellent, slowly running the mist over one arm before switching hands and doing the next. I sit back and watch him as he generously covers his torso before working his way down one thigh.
He’s like Killian in so many ways, but I realize those ways are only superficial. They both share the same square jawline and chiseled cheekbones. Their eye color is only a shade or two different, with Kael’s being lighter, but their hair color is exact. Kael’s a couple inches taller than Killian. He’s leaner, though, whereas Killian is a little more brawny.
But where Killian is ruthless, Kael is compassionate. Kael is outgoing and chatty, Killian more reserved. He’s serious to Kael’s fun-loving personality. And where Killian would apparently do anything for himself, Kael would do anything for me.
I think back to the day he followed me to my lake. Well, Old Man Riley’s lake, but I quickly thought of it as mine. We had an understanding, Old Man Riley and I. He wasn’t nearly the monster everyone created. He was just a lonely old man whose wife had died ten years earlier.
So when I stumbled across him in the woods one day, I couldn’t breathe. He was hunched over a mewling animal and for a split second I thought all of the rumors around town about him were true. I thought for sure I was dead along with the animal he was butchering. But then our eyes connected and I knew none of the rumors were to be believed. He motioned me over to help him free a baby red fox who had been caught in an illegal hunting snare.
It turned out Old Man Riley, or William as he asked me to call him, was a quirky, misunderstood, loveable man who revered animals as much as I did. He took that fox back to his home and nursed it back to health before letting it loose again. Then he showed me his lake. Said besides his Lilly, his dead wife, I was the only one who knew about it, although that wasn’t entirely true.
Kael thought he was doing a good job of being stealthy that day—the day he followed me. I’d already spotted him behind the shed, waiting for me. I thought about trying to lose him. I could have, but I didn’t. I knew it was only a matter of time before he found out anyway.
I laughed to myself the entire way. It sounded like a herd of elephants was pounding behind me. I don’t think the deaf could have missed him. When we got to the lake, I knew he stood behind the safety of the leaves and brush, watching me. He never came out. He was patient until I was ready to leave and followed me back out. He never brought that day up. But every time I went to that spot, I sensed him there…following…protecting me, I guess. It was as if he knew I wasn’t ready to share. He was okay with that, something I appreciated greatly.
Then the next summer, I broke my leg when I wiped out on my bike. I wasn’t bedridden, but I certainly couldn’t trudge the mile it took to get to my private paradise. I cried and cried and everyone thought it was because I was in pain. I was, but the pain wasn’t in my leg, it was in my heart. Only Kael knew the real reason.
Charlotte had laid eggs. Nine of them. And they were just about to hatch when I had my accident.
Kael never said a word. But two days later he came back with pictures. Then, without my even asking, he went to my lake every single day that summer to check on the eggs, reporting back when they’d hatched. And along with Old Man Riley, they built protective fencing around the nest, trying to guard the cygnets when they were at their most vulnerable to predators. In the end, only two of the nine made it. But I’m not sure any would have had it not been for Kael watching over them.
Over the years, there were countless acts of selfless kindness just like this one. And I think maybe I’ve taken them for granted. Kael Shepard loves me—has loved me—like no other man ever has. Even Killian. Especially Killian.
I just never saw it because someone else’s aura was blinding me.
Now, as I watch him struggle to get the backs of his legs, I know I should offer to help, but I don’t. I’m frozen to my seat, gaping at his raw masculinity. I marvel as he moves with beauty and grace, his taut muscles fluid underneath tanned skin. My mouth waters a bit. I don’t think it’s for beer.
Then I do something I should have done a long time ago. From the very first time I said yes to a real “date” with Kael Shepard only a mere eight months ago.
I take my friend hat off and put on one of a woman instead.
And when I do that…when I open that door I’ve had sealed shut by another man for twenty-six years and view him through an entirely new lens, what I see astounds me. Floors me, actually.
My body suddenly feels weak and needy.
My core is starting to sizzle, and it’s not because it’s almost ninety degrees today.
It’s because of Kael.
It’s almost as if I’m seeing my husband for the very first time as the unparalleled male specimen he truly is.
He’s beautiful. Knee-weakening beautiful, if I’m totally honest. He’s not ripped like those guys you see in muscle magazines. His thighs are powerful, but lean. His skin holds the healthy glow of summer’s rays. He doesn’t have six-pack abs like romance novelists write about. He is defined, though, and I easily see the outline of muscles that lie just beneath his taut flesh.
His stomach flexes and his bicep bulges when he brings his arm overhead and tries to get his back. I must make a noise because all of a sudden he’s looking at me, and his grin gets bigger and wider the longer he stares.
“What?” I ask him all breathless like.
That earns me a chuckle. It sounds more like the sexy rumble of a motorcycle revving in the distance. “I like that way you’re looking at me, Swan.”
That nickname. Hot damn it gets sexier every time he says it in the way that means he wants me naked.
“Yeah? How is that?” I lean my head all the way back and rest it against my chair. I bring my legs up, crossing them Indian style. As I’m wearing another sundress, the way I’m now sitting gives Kael a clear view of my panties. They’re nude and benign everyday underwear, but you’d think I was wearing a crotchless pair of lacies by the way storm clouds have swept into his eyes. I feel the burn of them making me hotter, wetter. I think he sees it, too, because he lets his gaze leisurely travel back up my body as if he’s out for a Sunday drive.
It stops. Lingers on my breasts. One…two…three beats. Now they ache, too. Throb. My nipples feel ultrasensitive pressing against the thin cotton material. I swear I feel each individual thread. My tongue pushes out to moisten my now-dry lips. He zeroes in on that and swallows hard. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down a couple of times.
How did I never notice how tingly that makes me?
When our eyes finally reconnect, something different—new—sparks between us. And if I didn’t feel the heat of his want from the ten feet that separate us, I’d certainly see it from the six-person tent now pitched in his shorts.
“What way am I looking at you?” I prompt again, letting my eyes fall purposefully to the hardness which now seems to strain for me.
The sound of the metal can meeting the wood beneath his feet doesn’t even faze me. He strides—no, ambles—with the grace of a jaguar to where I’m waiting for his answer. Desperately wanting it. Spreading his legs wide, he bends, props his knees against my chair. Then his palms meet the armrests and he leans down until his nose is a whisper away from mine. My eyes have to strain to keep him in focus, that’s how close he is.
“It’s the way I’ve imagined you looking at me my entire life, Maverick.”
God in heaven. Chills just spread over the entire length of me.
“How…how is that?” I rasp, squirming wildly underneath the pin of his stare. I’m so unbelievably turned on right now.
The mint of his breath washes me in desire before his croaked words sink in. “With hungry eyes.”
Holy merciful Mary.
I am nowhere near hungry. I’m famished. Ravenous. I could eat a horse, I’m so starved for him right now. It’s an unfamiliar, yet heady feeling.
I don’t want to let it end.
Reaching out, I let my nail scrape over his stiffness. Just once. Slow. Root to tip. The sharp breath he sucks in makes me shudder, scalp to pinky toe. His half-lidded gaze burns me with equal parts love and lust. I haven’t done this for him yet. He’s too much of a gentleman to ask and I’ve still had my head buried firmly in the murky sea of denial that we would, in fact, end up here.
Silently, he encourages me, but also gives me an out if that’s what I want. As always, he’s leaving the decision about how far we go squarely in my hands.
And tonight, I want to give him what he’s always given freely of.
Eyes screwed firmly to his, I grip his upper thigh, my thumb right on the inside of his groin. When I move it a half inch, teasing his arousal, his lips part and my name falls out on a hoarse whisper. Feeling 100 percent in control, I drag the meat of his leg through my hand as I make my way down until I feel the stickiness of his flesh. He’s sweating. So am I. I don’t even notice the bugs feasting on me anymore. I have my own meal I’m after.
I work my way back up, now under his shorts, until the prize I’m chasing comes just into reach. Then I falter.
Sweet Lord of Lords.
Kael’s mouth parts and the gravel in his voice stirs when he says, “Don’t stop now.” It sounds like a command, but it’s not. He’s begging. He never begs. I love it.
“What about the neighbors?” I tease. Our house is in the city limits. The lot is bigger than most and the old maple and ash trees that line either side give us immense privacy. But if Helena Winters, the eighty-one-year-old widow to our right, decides she needs to prune the flower bed butting up against our adjoining fence, there’s a broken board where she could possibly get an eyeful. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s tried to spy.
A devious expression now plays on my husband’s lips. “I think Helena could use a lesson or two in snooping around, don’t you?”
I laugh at the same time he gasps when I close my fist around his massive erection and squeeze. “I couldn’t agree more.”
He’s now standing tall. My face is nearly level with his groin. Instead of pulling his shorts down, I move the black fabric of one leg up toward his waist. His cock springs free. His thick fingers wrap around the loose material, keeping it from interfering with us. I slide my hand down the steel rod encased in velvet and squeeze the base.
Time decelerates. Just a bit.
I draw in a short breath. For some reason I’m nervous.
The look in his eyes says it all. Fucking do it. Please.
It’s all I need.
I let my attention drop and whimper a little when I take him in. He’s like crack for the visual senses. Intoxicating. Heavy. Weeping. Pulsing madly in my hand already. When I swipe a thumb over the creamy drops already collecting on the tip and massage it around, his head falls back on a loud, long, pleading groan.
Then my head dips forward. Earthy man and chemicals assault my nose. My mouth opens then closes around him. His eyes roll. My tongue swirls. A hand finds my hair and weaves inside my haphazard bun. I suck and pull him to the back of my throat. He curses over and over.
I do it all again, this time cupping his balls ever so slightly. I roll them gently between my fingers…then make sure my lips securely cover my teeth as I drag them back up his long length.
I run the tip of my tongue through his slit, moaning when more salty flavor gushes onto it. I feel the vibration of it all the way to the hand gripping the base of his shaft. I twist that hand. Then the one in my scalp does the same. It stings but feels unbelievable.
I’m so wet right now, I’ll leave a stain on the chair. My jaw is sore already from his thick breadth. And the throbbing between my own legs feels like a drum beating in time with my own heartbeat.
He slips a finger under my chin and gently tugs up so my eyes lift. They lock tight to his. He wants this connection. Needs it, maybe.
Okay. Fine by me.
I watch him watch me.
I like it more than I remember ever liking it before.
Go on, he silently urges.
Nothing will stop me, I quietly convey.
“You look so fucking incredible with my cock sunk in your mouth, Swan. So good. I feel like I’m dreaming.” The last part is so wistful, I want to cry. More than ever I want him to feel good. Feel loved.
My head bobs faster. I suck until my cheeks hollow. Until I feel him swell. Until I know he’s close. He takes over, then. Picks up the pace and I let him. He fucks my mouth as if he owns me. In that moment, he does. I’m all his.
“Oh, fuck, yes. Like that.”
He’s there, pulsating inside my mouth. He tries to pull away. I won’t let him. I run my free hand up his backside, grip, and hold him to me. He reads my intentions, telling him it’s okay to let go.
With one more uncontrolled thrust in so far I nearly gag, he does.
On a low rumble, he comes. Empties himself on my tongue, down my throat. I swallow. And swallow again. Until every drop of him has been consumed and his soft chanting stops.
After his last shudder, I release him from my mouth with a soft pop, wishing it wasn’t over already. His shorts fall all the way back down, but still tent because he’s not all the way soft yet.
I work my jaw back and forth a bit to ease the slight ache. Wanting to reach down and relieve the one lurking in my very center, too, but I don’t. This was all about Kael, who is currently hunched over me. Panting, leaning his forehead against his forearm, which is propped against the brand new siding we had installed two weeks before the wedding. I lay my head all the way back and gaze up at him, a small smile on my face. One that he immediately mirrors.
He reaches down to stroke my cheek. It’s tender. Pure idolization. The fact his hand trembles slightly makes my grin all that much bigger. My heart feels soft and squishy.
“I think I heard rustling in the bushes over there,” I tell him. I’m not sure if I did or not, but I feel positively giddy right now. I feel like twirling outside with my arms out and my head flung back during a thunderstorm. I just worshiped my husband with everything in me, but more than that…I didn’t think about Killian one time. For the first time in the last six months that I’ve been intimate with Kael, not one thought strayed to him. It feels good to see a pinprick of light through the shroud of darkness I’ve been sunk in. To finally take a real breath that doesn’t feel completely tainted by him.
“You did, huh?” His chuckle is still breathy. It makes my blood hum. I feel powerful.
“I think we gave her a show.”
His eyes flutter over to the fence then back to me. That smirk kills me. “I think it’s a show I’d like to experience again.”
“Yeah,” he tells me softly, sobering a little.
“Then we will,” I promise, my mood matching his.
Taking a step back, he holds out a hand, palm up. “Come.”
“Where?” I ask, setting mine in it.
He easily hauls me up into his arms. “Shower. Then a healthy dose of calamine lotion for those welts you have all over you.”
“Oh.” Why does that make me feel slightly disappointed?
“And then,” he whispers against my stretched, swollen lips, “I’m going to spend the entire evening making love to my incredibly sexy wife.”
My smile returns. “Aren’t you hungry?” Kael still works for my father. A couple years ago he was promoted to cocounsel. He puts in long, grueling hours sometimes. It’s now almost eight thirty and he’s only been home about half an hour. I doubt he’s eaten.
“Absolutely starved, Swan.” He wags his eyebrows up and down, making me giggle. He scoops me up in his arms and I squeal all the way inside knowing this is a new beginning for us.