Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 27

The cool rain and wind splatted and whooshed on the windows. It seemed to try with all its might to break inside. Grace stood on the other side, in the warmth and quiet, next to the fire. The scent of salty pizza dough, parmesan, garlic, and fresh basil wafted throughout the house.

Luke, as it turned out, loved pizza and whatever kind of red, white, amber, or brown drink it came served with. He was a human – a living, breathing human – after all. Grace grinned at the texted response she’d received to her pizza-preferences question earlier that day and unfolded her arms to take a sip of her own red-colored drink.

A car service pulled up, framed by her window, and she looked out. Luke was laughing, head back, in the passenger seat of the car. Luke talked with the driver, or exchanged good-byes, she couldn’t tell, then they shook hands, and he was running toward her door.

Grace started to head for the door when Luke saw her through the window and stopped. She mirrored his pause on the other side of the glass. In the middle of the rain, he stood, staring at her.

Luke lifted a dripping hand, waved, and sent her the most handsome, drenched grin she’d ever seen. He mouthed hello, and she felt her hand cover her heart in an instinctive reaction to it skipping a beat.

Then and there, for all of the unknown reasons, and the too little time they’d spent together, Grace fell in love. He defied her logic, her reason, and the countless other failed attempts at love.

__

“This is the best night of my life.”

Luke murmured the words as he looked out the same window he’d been standing outside of just hours earlier. She was a picture of perfection in her loose checkered flannel, slightly baggy jeans, and hair tied back. As he had stood on the curb, he could see the lines of her face, the shadow of angled cheekbones, even through the haze of rain.

“The best?” Grace walked to him from the kitchen. “I’d like to do a quick run-through of your history of ‘bests’ to believe that.”

She stood next to him and looked out.

“The best,” he emphasized. “And it wouldn’t take long. Nothing compares to the way I feel when I’m around you. There’s never been anybody I’ve felt this way about.”

Luke couldn’t believe how comfortable he felt being open with her – not that he could help the words that seemed to spew from his mouth when he was around her. Grace had that effect on him. He needed – and wanted – to explain to her how she made him feel.

Luke turned to face her.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he asked, taking her free hand in his.

“I can’t say I have any plans.” She had figured she’d sleep in, maybe do another torturous-but-necessary three-mile run with the girls – followed, of course, by the reward of coffee – but nothing was set in stone.

“What would you say if I asked you to come away with me this weekend?” Luke asked, looking into her eyes.

The tilt of her head showed intrigue and a trace of mischief.

“I’d say Casey has me watching too many crime shows to wonder if this is the part where you kill me and ‘nobody saw it coming.’” She said the last part with her rabbit-eared fingers making quotation marks.

Luke barely kept the beer he’d just sipped in his mouth. A snort, rather than liquid, came out, and he supposed in the long run that was better.

“I really didn’t see that coming,” he said, laughing and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Of all the practice attempts I made asking you to come with me, I have to say, not one of your responses came close to that.”

“That is surprisingly comforting.” She liked being unpredictable, being able to surprise him. And knowing she wouldn’t find her way to the local news wasn’t bad either.

“And I guess, unless you think my grandma will bore you to death, you’re probably safe.”

“You’re taking me on a romantic getaway…to your grandma’s house?” Grace said, laughing skeptically, but touched by the fact that he clearly loved his family. That kind of close-knit family was exactly what she was searching for in life.

He thought about it.

“Though I didn’t mention the romance, now that you say it like that, yes. Absolutely. Romantic getaway to Grandma’s.”

“Then I’m in.” Grace grinned.

“You’re in!” Luke clutched her face with both hands and kissed her.

He didn’t have long enough to appreciate his next thought, the happy realization that he could kiss her anytime he wanted, before the warmth seeped in and desire started to take over.

Luke held the kiss while he danced her to the mantle, where he set down his drink and took hers to do the same. Her willingness for him to gently move her across the room was intoxicating. She’d let him take the lead, but he knew who was really in charge.

With her hands now free, they ran through his hair, pulling him closer as they maneuvered and finessed their way across his back.

His own hands found the delicate skin beneath her shirt and circled around her narrow middle. He lifted her ever so slightly, forcing their bodies to align, sensitive parts rubbing, the sensation of pressure touching in all the right, longing places.

Grace leaned into his ear and whispered, “Follow me.”

When she tried to part, Luke held her close and lifted her up, her legs wrapped around his body, her yearning at the opening, causing a low, lusty moan. He walked to the stairs and headed up.

Their lips came together in a long and excruciatingly slow, passionate caress. At the top of the stairs, he turned and looked at the next flight.

“Okay, now I’ll follow you.”

Grace’s head fell back as he set her down. With a breathy laugh, she said, “Since you might be a bit tired, let me help you with my clothes. Grace turned and slowly undressed as she walked up the flight.

He watched, amazed, as clothing dropped to the stairs with each new step, draping the discarded garments over the railing.

“Are you coming?” she asked with a suggestive smile.

“Probably too soon,” he said, his words matter-of-fact.

Her throaty, seductive, chuckle turned to a shriek when he darted after her, taking the steps two at a time. He caught her as they reached the bedroom door and he lifted her around him once more to walk through.

This time, it wasn’t gentle. Their bodies collided with a force that had Grace wishing he was inside her, hammering, pummeling. The frantic race to discard his clothes only increased the desire, the need, their craving for one another.

Grace bent and slid his jeans and briefs to the floor in one fluid motion. On her way back to standing, her hand encircled him as her mouth sought his.

“Grace,” he groaned, thick and foggy with blinding need. She was driving him over the edge.

She pushed away and walked to the bed. When she gracefully sat, he knew all fight for control was lost as he watched her lithe body lay back and open. Ready for him to come to her.

Luke walked to her, leaned to kiss her, and trailed desperate kisses down her neck. He paused only to take her breast with his mouth and tease her nipple with his warm tongue. Luke moved down, agonizingly, slowly, taking care to appreciate every silky inch of her soft skin. His kisses left the sensation of warm wet, followed by a damp chill on the inside of her tender thigh, but he didn’t stop there.

Grace sighed shakily as the fire inside burned and her body prepared to erupt.

He laid a lazy trail down her legs to her ankles and lifted her feet gently as he climbed onto the bed. He paused only for a moment, her hands covered his, as he held her legs high, and drove into her. Then he drove them both over the exhilarating edge.

__

It wasn’t an obnoxious snore, it was a low, hearty grumble. Though, she smiled, at this point she probably would have thought a loud, booming snarl would have been cute, too.

Grace peeled the covers back and gently slid out of bed, trying her best not to wake Luke. She made it to the bathroom before she turned at the sound of his rustling in bed and smacked her elbow on the door frame.

“Shit,” she whispered, trying to hold in a squeal while holding her elbow.

“What time is it?” Luke’s groggy voice questioned from behind her.

“Sorry, it’s just before five. Sleep, it’s early.”

Grace turned, shook her elbow out, and returned to her mission of finding sweatpants and a sweatshirt to cover up. She paused in front of the intricate floor-length mirror. It leaned heavily on and almost covered the entire back wall of her bathroom. It was way too much, and a little too over the top for the space, but it was just right.

Grace looked at herself. She felt tender in all the right places. They had crashed, stroked, caressed, and plummeted together. Her body felt the beautiful ache lingering. She’d never felt it before, but now she understood what women meant when they said he made me feel beautiful. It wasn’t necessarily what he had done, but rather what she’d allowed to happen. She’d let herself let go. Let him ravage. Let him love. And it was glorious and powerful combination.

A shadow walked up behind her as she admired herself. She felt Luke’s arm fold around her, enveloping her from behind.

Grace leaned her head back, letting her naked body sink into his as his rough hands slid adoringly, lightly, over her breasts. And over her hips, torturously close to her moistening center. She felt him hard, pressing against her back. She closed her eyes at the sensation and prayed she would always feel this way.

“I thought I said sleep,” she teased, her breath faint and quickening.

“I thought I saw the most beautiful woman in the doorway,” Luke said as he kissed her neck and the side of her cheek. He nestled in and slowly began to sway.

As they moved, one arm held her as the other wandered. Stroking, searching. The rough fingertips tantalized her, lightly scraping as they moved. They lingered as they found their way back to her supple mounds and made a leisurely path down her torso. From behind, Luke found her mouth when her head turned to his. They kissed, their movements like a boozy dance, drunk with seduction. His roaming hand found her most sensitive spot, still aching from their night together, and drove her deliriously to another pleasurable release.

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