At the blast of her screeching alarm, Anna popped her eyes open, then squeezed them shut against the grainy feeling behind her eyelids. Her heart pounded a staccato rhythm in her throat and she slammed her fist down on the offensive noisemaker. As soon as her heart slowed to a less agitated rate, she kicked the covers off and climbed out of bed, heading in the general direction of the bathroom and a shower.
She turned on the water to let it warm and squinted at her face in the mirror. A little makeup would probably cover the shadows under her eyes, but she wasn’t sure what would cover the emotional shadows.
You have yourself to blame. You knew he was trouble when you saw him on the bridge.
“Oh, shut up,” she mumbled into the empty room, as she opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the bottle of eye drops. The red and blue label on the white plastic bottle had begun to peel and the expiration date was smeared into illegibility. When had she used them last? Unable to remember, Anna dropped the bottle into the trash can unused. She’d survive.
And isn’t that what you’ve been doing anyway?
After she stepped into the shower, Anna stood still for several minutes just letting the soothing heat rush over her, willing exhausted muscles to move the way they had been designed to move. When her body no longer ached from the tension of a poor—and short— night’s sleep, she picked up her sweet pea scented body wash.
She descended the stairs after she’d finished her shower and dressed herself, following the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. Upon passing the living room, she noted that James looked incredibly comfortable lounging on her sofa, munching on a toaster pastry and reading the newspaper he must have gotten off her front porch.
Just make yourself at home, buddy. What the hell?
But she stood there for a while, enjoying the way his ruffled hair fell onto his forehead, the way his powerful broad shoulders filled out the hockey jersey, the way she could see the muscles in his shoulders ripple when he moved.
“You are in serious need of a grocery store,” James murmured without taking his eyes from the newspaper he was reading. He popped the last bite of the pastry in his mouth and chewed slowly, then meticulously folded the newspaper and set it on the sofa next to him and connected his gaze with her open-mouthed stare. “I left you one chocolate pastry and one called wild berry.”
Anna barely felt recharged after her short sleep. But James looked rejuvenated. She shook her head to clear it, and continued to the kitchen without answering, wondering if she had dreamed the previous night’s conversation. But no, when she looked in the kitchen sink, the two mugs were still there, soaking.
“Oh, thank God!” she breathed, when her gaze fell on the nearly full pot of coffee.
“Not the morning person, are you?” commented James from the doorway behind her.
Anna angled her head and peered at James through eyes that were just barely willing to stay open. “Not when the night before ended only four hours ago. But I thought I was doing okay. Did you get a perkiness infusion?” She slipped a cup off the shelf and filled it with the aromatic dark liquid.
“Just coffee and a toaster pastry, sweetheart.” He sent her a cocky grin as he limped toward the sink, moving with a bit more ease than he had the night before.
“Must have been a lot of coffee,” Anna grumbled under her breath, hunting along the counter for the sugar bowl.
“One cup!” He downed the last swallow in his mug at the sink, then lifted the pot and poured himself another cup. “Honest.” His warm smile nearly undid her.
Anna’s heart panged and she wished with sudden fierceness that this could be the reality. Two people heading in a similar direction in life, sharing morning banter over coffee.
But that’s not how it is, and you’d better remember it, girlfriend.
Anna sighed, knowing there were more things to get out into the open. “Okay, it’s obvious we can both keep this up all morning until we go our separate ways. But since someone has to address the elephant in the room—”
Laughter bubbled from his mouth along with a trickle of coffee as Garrett struggled not to choke on it. “I’m sorry?” he asked, when he could breathe again. “Did you just say there’s an elephant in the room?”
Anna’s eyes narrowed and Garrett realized he was batting zero for two. Any minute she would probably get ticked enough to stalk off. Which, he had to admit, had been his original goal. When he left, he’d rather think of her irate and spitting fire than sad and broken. But the thought of deliberately provoking her to that end made him miserable, he discovered, with an unfamiliar twinge in his heart.
“It’s a metaphor,” explained Anna slowly and deliberately. “A metaphor is a word or phrase that means something different from what you actually say. In this case, it applies to an obvious problem no one wants to discuss. It’s there, getting in the way.”
She leveled her stare on him and Garrett registered the angst, the curiosity…and what might have been hurt. Oh yeah, he knew what a metaphor was. But there weren’t enough pretty words in the world to make what he had to do—leave Anna—any easier. Especially since he didn’t dare tell her the truth about his identity.
Anna cleared her throat. “I thought I would bring it up so we can get it out of the way. So…this is me…bringing it up.”
Garrett found himself moving without conscious thought. His eyes never left her lips as she spoke, but while he registered she was talking, he stopped hearing the words. He approached slowly, knowing he had to claim one taste of those lips before he cut out. The urge to touch her was relentless, and when he crowded her against the kitchen counter, he tunneled his hand into her damp hair. Garrett cupped the back of Anna’s head and drew her toward him, hesitating for the briefest of instants before closing his mouth over hers, inhaling her last word.
Anna gave herself over to his kiss with a soft moan. Leaning into his embrace, she molded her soft curves against him and clung to his shoulders with her hands before wrapping her arms around his neck. When he retreated an inch, she followed, her breathing ragged. A needy whimper escaped her lips and Garrett absorbed the sound with a sense of wonder. he’d never experienced awe at the feel of a woman in his arms before. Her warmth reached out to him, searing where she touched, and making his body ache with longing where she didn’t.
Garrett drew back again, slowly, his gaze locked on hers. Anna’s eyes swirled with flecks of shining silver and smoky gray. This time, it was Garrett who couldn’t contain the groan as he bent to take her lips again. He ran both of his hands down the length of her body to the small of her back, pressing her against him and grinding just a little bit to show her exactly how aroused he’d become. “This is the real elephant in the room,” he murmured against her lips. Then he spanned her waist, lifted her, and set her on the counter in front of him. He nuzzled her breasts through her thin sweater and was rewarded by a shudder that wracked her body. “And we both know it.”
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