“Hey, you stupid ass. Is your phone broken?”
Those are the first words I hear when I enter my workplace for the first time in a week. I turn around and raise an eyebrow at my colleague as he approaches. “It’s good to see you too, Daniel.”
He stands in front of me and pats my shoulder with a laugh. “Sorry. Welcome back. How have you been?”
I shrug. “Okay considering the circumstances.” I lean closer to him and lower my voice. “Was he here?”
Daniel shakes his head with a sigh. “No. It’s been quiet. Business was as usual – nothing out of the ordinary. And Howard has been hiding in his office.”
“So he hasn’t said anything?”
“Not to me. I don’t know if he talked to anyone.” He takes a deep breath. “He’s in his office doing paperwork. I guess you came to see him?”
I nod and turn to go to the back of the bar, but Daniel holds me back. “Wait! As you never called me back – are you coming to my party this Saturday?”
I slap my forehead. “Oh, yeah. I forgot. I’m not sure yet.”
He arches a questioning eyebrow at me. “Come on. Are you gonna pass on a little fun in the whirlpool with some drinks and lots of pretty ladies?” he asks me with a wink. “That sure will help you take your mind off things.”
I roll my eyes with a chuckle. My friend knows me. But for some strange reason, the prospect of sitting next to a hot blonde in a whirlpool with a drink in hand doesn’t sound as appealing as it used to. “I’ll let you know, okay?” I tell him as I finally make my way to Howard’s office.
I knock on his door and enter after he tells me to come in. He glances at me and points to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit,” he tells me. “I’ll just finish this real quick.”
I do as I’m told, and while I wait, I look around the office. My gaze falls on a picture of Howard and his wife, Cathy, from a couple of years ago. It sits on his desk like a mocking reminder of the fact that it will never be like that again. They look so happy, and my heart sinks. The odds are against Cathy, who is fighting breast cancer. And the medical bills are an additional burden for Howard, which means it comes to no surprise he is considering Jackson’s offer as it certainly involves a lot of money.
With a deep sigh, my boss throws the pen on top of the papers he was working on and leans back in his chair. “Aaron,” he says with a half smile. “How are you?”
“Good. Have you made a decision yet?”
Howard chuckles. “Not beating around the bush, as usual.” He rubs his chin with another sigh. “No, I haven’t. And I will wait until the last minute.” He leans forward and rests his elbows on the desk. “I know you don’t approve,” he comments on the frown on my face. “But please, try to put yourself in my place. My wife is my priority right now.”
I nod with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I rub my chest as guilt creeps up on me because I can’t grasp how tough making this decision must be for him. “How’s Cathy?” I ask.
“Not too good. She’s going back to the hospital for her next chemo on Tuesday.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmur with furrowed brows.
He tilts his head and studies me for a moment. He stares at me intently when he finally says, “I need you to come back on Monday. I will accompany Cathy and be by her side as much as possible, and you will make sure things run smoothly here at the bar. You have four more days to get your act together and stop letting thoughts about Jackson distract you. You need to keep your cool. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, I can,” I tell him with a curt nod.
“Don’t let him get to you. If I see it’s not working, I’ll send you home for the rest of the summer.” He gives me a look that tells me we’re done for now.
I ignore the discomfort that thoughts about Jackson still entail and get up from the chair. “Fair enough,” I say as I walk to the door. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
Howard dismisses me with a wave and a warm smile. On my way out of the bar, I signal to Daniel that I’ll call him; I feel too edgy to talk to him now. There’s only one thing I want, and that as soon as possible.
I need my distraction.
The mere thought of seeing Kaitlyn calms my nerves. Even though I told her to call me when she’s ready to see me, I can’t wait. I have to talk to her because when I’m with her, my mind is at ease. In one short week, she’s become my calm anchor.
I know I was a teasing bastard last night, but I craved a reaction from her. And I had to leave when I got it because my last bit of self-control was about to vanish into thin air. I was seconds away from delivering my threat and throwing her on that kitchen table. I knew I was attracted to her before we went out to eat, but when it became more than obvious how she reciprocated that attraction, it was pure torture to keep my hands off her. The only thing that held me back was knowing that a quickie on some table isn’t what she wants – and most definitely not what she deserves.
I walk up to her house with the intention to apologize – and bribing her with more of the delicious ice cream I brought with me. She doesn’t answer her door, so I walk over to my dad’s house because with today’s heat, using the pool is the most sensible thing to do. I sneak through the quiet house and realize my father’s not at home, and when I walk through the French doors into the garden, I breathe a sigh of relief.
Kaitlyn sits at the edge of the pool with her feet dangling in the water and a notepad resting on her thighs, wearing that tiny pink bikini again. She’s so deep in thought that she doesn’t hear me approach, and she flinches when I hold the sundae in front of her face. She looks at the ice cream in my hand and after that, narrows her eyes at me. ”Uhm, hey,” she mutters. “What’s this?” She points to the sundae.
“My olive branch to you. I’m sorry about last night.” I kick off my shoes and sit down beside her.
She attaches the pen to the notepad and throws it on the lounger behind us before she takes the sundae from me and mumbles, “Thanks.”
For the next few minutes, we enjoy the cold dessert in comfortable silence. When Kaitlyn is done, she turns to me. “So you’re gonna buy me ice cream every time you want to apologize?”
I snort. ”Of course not. There are so many other possibilities like chocolate, flowers, a fancy dinner, beer...”
She gasps and hits my arms as she mutters an “Unbelievable” under her breath. With a laugh, I take the empty cup from her and place it behind me with mine.
"Anyways,” she says with a deep breath as she pats her stomach. “That was delicious. Thank you. Apology accepted. And I apologize too,” she adds and lowers her head to look at her hands, which rest on her thighs. “I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you. You were right; you didn’t act any differently last night.”
“Still, I shouldn’t have teased you like that.”
She shrugs and lifts her gaze. “Yeah, that was kinda mean,” she whispers.
I bite my lips to suppress a grin. “I’m sorry,” I whisper back. I lean a little closer to her, and as a response, she leans in as well. She fixes her big, brown eyes on me, and I’m sure they will land on my lips at any moment. Just like that, the tension, which was in the air between us last night, is back full force. A warm feeling spreads in my chest as she stares at me expectantly and a specific need becomes evident on her face. But instead of kissing her, which is the one thing I want to do, I place my hand on the small of her back and push her into the pool, where she lands with a shriek.
When she resurfaces, she gasps for air as she wipes the water and her hair from her face. “What the fuck, Aaron?!” she yells at me. “Are you kidding me?! What was that for?”
“To cool down a little.” With a laugh, I get up to take off my shirt and shorts and jump in, too, splashing her in the process. She shrieks again, and I am met with a death stare when I reemerge next to her.
She crosses her arms in front of her chest, which inadvertently draws my attention to her full breasts. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to go swimming on a full stomach?”
Fortunately, I snap out of my fascination for the sexy view in front of me before I lose it completely – and just in time to catch the hint of a smile on her lips. “Don’t worry,” I say as I move a step closer to her, and as expected, she takes a step away from me, and her back hits the edge of the pool. “I’m not gonna let you drown.”
“What a comforting thought,” she says before she draws in a sharp breath because I take another step closer to her. I’m not too sure what it is about her that generates a need in me to push her buttons – along with this other need to be near her. And now that she stands in front of me all wet in her sexy bikini, this need mixes with a carnal desire that evokes particularly dirty thoughts.
Her whole body tenses when we’re almost touching, but something in her gaze changes. She wants it, but I’m not sure she’s ready to let go.
And then she licks her lips, and I can hardly hold back a growl. I guess I have to push her a little further to get what I want. “I told you I wouldn’t kiss you unless you begged for it, Sugar,” I say with a provocative smirk.
She narrows her eyes at me. “And I told you I don’t beg, Munchkin,” she mutters before she runs her hands over my chest and up into my hair, where she buries her fingers. That alone makes my body come alive. Adrenaline rushes through my veins, causing my heartbeat to accelerate. But I’m entirely done for when she pulls my face closer so her lips can reach mine in the sweetest and softest kiss I’ve ever shared with a woman. But it’s only sweet and soft for a moment or two because when she moans and leans into me, I deepen the kiss. Our tongues meet, and my restraint is out the window. I press her harder against the edge of the pool, and my hands explore the bare skin on her waist and lower back.
I soon realize that a pool isn’t the best place for a make-out session. I run my lips along her jaw so I can breathe in her ear, “Even though I like you all wet – do you want to go somewhere more comfortable?”
She moans and drops her forehead to my shoulder. “You’re killing me,” she mumbles.
I chuckle, and she lifts her head to nod. Without another word, we get out of the pool. She dries herself off, piles her wet hair on top of her head in a messy bun, and puts on her shorts and t-shirt, while I wrap a towel around my waist so I can take off my boxers and put my shorts back on. No need to flash her yet. Kaitlyn watches me with wide-eyes and flushed cheeks, and I chuckle. “Let’s go,” I say as I take her hand and pull her after me all the way over to her house, where we’ll have more privacy. I don’t need my dad walking in on us while doing what I hope she’ll let me do to her.