“All right folks, time to slow it down for all those lovebirds out there.”
Amanda Jones groaned, walking quickly toward a set of French doors as the lilting melody of a classic love song echoed through the room. People paired off, easy laughter and the haunting tones following her onto the terrace overlooking the lake. The moon rose above the distant horizon, glinting off the water in a sparkling array of light.
She stared at the shoreline, watching the waves lap against the rocky beach. The music drowned out the sound of the water, but the rhythmic motion seemed to match the rise and fall of the song, as if the ripples were following along.
She inhaled, drinking in the sweet scent of roses mixed with the telltale aroma of summer rain, as clouds built in the sky. Soon, they'd block out the welcoming glow, blanketing the land in ebony darkness. Her chest tightened as the song faded, another breaking up the momentary void. Christ. This one was worse than the first. It'd been their song. The one she'd played endlessly until there'd been no more tears left to cry. The one she'd never forget—just like him.
She sighed, asking herself for the hundredth time why she'd agreed to come to the wedding. Come home. Her muscles tensed at the word. This wasn't home. Hadn't been since her father had died. She'd only agreed to come back to watch her little sister get married, even though she'd sworn she'd never return. Never again be a pawn for her stepmother's agenda. But then Trixie had called, her voice thick with tears, and Amanda had jumped on a train—returned to the one place she'd thought she'd finally escaped from.
“Thought I'd find you hiding out here.”
The gravelly voice made her jump, and she spun, staring into deep-brown eyes as the edges crinkled with laughter. An easy smile lifted his perfectly full lips as he moved toward her, stopping an arm's length away.
He glanced over her shoulder, nodding at the lake. “Don't think I'll ever tire of looking at that shoreline.”
She stared up at him, trying to make her tongue form his name, but only a raspy breath escaped. Somehow, she'd managed to avoid him all day, which hadn't been an easy feat considering his family was catering the wedding—a fact Trixie had conveniently neglected to tell her. Amanda had lost track of how many times she'd had to dodge behind a couple, or a flower arrangement, to avoid bumping into him as he'd carried around trays of hor d'oeuvres. He'd always been a whiz in the kitchen, despite the fact he'd never had any formal training.
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. God, he was even more handsome than she remembered, any hint of boyhood long gone. Now, he was all planes and angles, the obvious strength of his muscles showing through his shirt. His messy brown hair was longer than it'd been when they'd been together, the tousled locks teasing both his eyes and his collar. And the slight shadow along his jaw gave him a rugged edge she was certain melted panties on sight.
He arched a brow at her silence, and her stomach fluttered as heat suffused her cheeks. All her dodging just to get trapped on the terrace because she'd let her guard down over a couple of sappy love songs.
“Tongue-tied, sweetheart? That, I wasn't expecting. At least, not from a U.S. Federal Marshal.”
A surge of anger bled through her surprise. She crossed her arms over her chest, tapping her foot on the stone. “Brogan Keller. And for the record, I'm not hiding. I'm enjoying the view.”
“Really? So all those times you avoided me today? Not to mention skipping out on the slow songs…or was it just a particular song you're running from? Either way, I find it hard to believe it's all just to stare at the lake?”
Of course, he'd noticed. She'd been foolish to think he hadn't.
She squared her shoulders, dragging her gaze up to meet his, wondering if he'd always been that tall. “Among other things. I see you went into the family business, after all. What happened to becoming a corporate lawyer?”
Brogan shrugged. “I started school, but…my dad got sick, and my brother needed help. He's great at running a business but is a mess in the kitchen. Not much for the physical side of things. I swear the guy can't boil water without burning it. Besides, I missed working with my hands. Life's too short to do something you don't love.”
Her chest tightened, and she hated the shiver of jealousy that wove down her spine. Knowing he was happy shouldn't hurt the way it did. “You always did make a mean stack of pancakes. And the hor d'oeuvres were amazing.”
“I thought you were too busy ducking behind other couples to taste them.”
She broke eye contact. Wedding or not, she never should have ventured back. Not when she knew she'd bring year's worth of emotional baggage with her.
Brogan sighed. “I won't lie. I was shocked you actually showed up. I thought Hell had to freeze over before you came back here?”
“Trust me. I never planned on coming back.” She backed up, leaning against the railing as she put some much-needed distance between them. “But then Trixie called and…” She blew out a rough breath, fluttering the strands of hair around her face. “I never could say no to her. But don't worry, I'll be gone the moment she gets into that limousine.”
“So, it's back to running.”
“Call it whatever you want. I think of it as keeping my sanity. Avoiding bloodshed, seeing as I'm armed, now.” She glanced at the open doors, watching the dancers glide around the floor. “I don't belong here.”
Brogan released a weary breath, turning to lean against the rail beside her. “You have just as much right to be here as anyone else. Your father—”
“Is dead. Any ties I had to this place died with him. My stepmother and her new boy toy haven't so much as said hello to me since I arrived this morning. If it weren't for Trixie…”
Amanda turned away. God, what was it about this place, about him, that made her emotions so hard to keep in check? Made her usual defenses slip away? Hell, she dealt with felons for a living. Surely, she could man up to her family for twenty-four hours.
Brogan nudged her. “Why come, then, when you knew it'd be like this? Trixie would have understood. All you had to do was lie. Tell her you had a case—”
“She's my sister. And don't start in with the whole half-sister bullshit. She's the only good thing that ever came out of my father marrying that monster. I wasn't about to abandon her on the one day she needed someone in her corner. Did you know her mother tried to break them up? Claimed her fiancé had a record…was only interested in Trixie's money.”
“Why do I have the feeling you used your connections to prove your stepmother wrong?”
“Because I did. Ethical or not. Turns out Ryan's big dark secret was that he got hauled off to jail once during an anti-terrorism protest. Spent a few hours in custody before being released. And the man has more than enough of his own money. My stepmother just couldn't stand the thought of losing control over Trixie. Of losing access to her funds.”
Brogan merely nodded as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “You look good.”
She glanced at him. “You don't have to make small talk, Brog. Or pretend you want to be around me, though, you definitely get the gold star for initiating first contact. But there's no point in keeping up the ruse when we both know the truth.”
He clenched his jaw, a hint of blush staining his cheeks. “The truth? Which truth is that, because as far as I'm concerned, I gave you exactly what you wanted—freedom.”
“Is that what you call it? Because I seem to recall asking you to move out to Virginia with me. You're the one who turned me down.”
His eyes narrowed as he spun to face her, all semblance of composure gone. “What the hell are you talking about? I showed up at the train station. In fact, I fucking sat there all day. You're the one who never showed up, sweetheart. But I got the letter you left for me at the ticket booth.” He shoved his fingers through his hair. “Shit, I still have it.”
Amanda took a step back only to have him snag her arms.
He tugged her against him, lowering his face until it hovered an inch from hers. “After everything we shared, the battles we fought to be together, I think I deserved more than a fucking note and a one-way ticket to California.”
He released her, pacing away before spinning. “It's been four years. The least you can do is finally tell me why.” He inched closer. “Who was it?”
Amanda shook her head, trying to grasp onto anything he was saying. “What are you talking about? There was never anyone else. And what letter? We were supposed to meet at the bus station.”
“We agreed on the train station.”
“Until you changed the location that morning. I got your text. Something about my stepmother finding out and you wanting to avoid a scene. I went to the damn bus depot. You can imagine my surprise when your best friend Jacob was there instead of you. He told me that you'd sent him there to let me down easy. That you didn't want to have to face me. Said you'd had a change of heart, and that you couldn't pass up the scholarship at Berkley just so I could go on some vision quest to find my father's killer. That you just didn't love me enough.”
And god, how that had stung. Still did.
Brogan took another step, fists clenched at his side, his muscles straining against the cotton fabric. “This isn't funny, sweetheart. All I want is an answer, not some elaborate lie to make yourself feel better about fucking me over.”
“You were the one who fucked me over, babe. So if you're looking for the truth, I suggest you find a mirror.”
She spun on her heel, taking the stone steps off to her right. After burying her feelings all this time, just being around Brogan was enough to make the air feel heavy, pushing on her lungs until simply breathing was a near impossible feat. She ran across the grass, not stopping until she reached the lake. The steady wash of the waves against the rocks matched the frantic beating of her heart, and she closed her eyes in an attempt to calm down.
A hand locked around her shoulder, yanking her back then spinning her around. Her balance shifted, and she tumbled backwards before Brogan grabbed her, pulling her against his chest. Her hands connected with hard muscle, the heady scent of his cologne surrounding her. She tried not to breathe it in, but it seemed to seep through her skin until she could taste it. Taste him.
“Shit, Amanda, are you trying to kill yourself?”
“And let you fall? Do you want me to go to jail for injuring a federal officer?”
“What I want is for you to leave me the hell alone.”
“Not until you tell me what's going on.” He eased back. “Tell me why you're still lying to me.”
“What lie? I've never lied to you.”
“I didn't send you a text. Never sent Jacob to meet you.”
“Of course, you did. He was there at the station. Waiting for me. He said you…” She let the words die on her tongue as she slowly turned and gazed up to the house. Pieces started falling together, the raw clarity of them making her stomach heave in protest. “Oh my god.”
Some of the color bleached from his face as he followed her gaze. “Shit. You didn't write that letter, did you?”
She shook her head, drawing in a few shaky breaths as tears clogged her throat. “She set us up. Probably paid Jacob off to text me, then delete the message from your phone. What did he care? It was easy money. All he had to do was meet me at the station and lie about you wanting a fresh start. Then, I'm betting she wrote the letter herself. Damn it. I should have called—I've tried a thousand times since—but I was just so hurt…so damn embarrassed that I'd read it all wrong. That I'd loved you more.”
“Explains why I never saw that jerk again. But why? She wanted you gone, so, why interfere?”
“To punish me. I'm the reason my father died. He was out that night looking for me. If I hadn't snuck out to see you…”
Brogan drew her in close, this time holding her gently in his arms. “It wasn't your fault. He was just collateral damage in a robbery gone wrong. You have to know that, by now.”
“She blames me. She'll always blame me. When Dad died, all she got was the house and the grounds. She lost control of the majority of his money. It went to us, instead of her. And that was a far worse fate than living a lie as his wife.”
He sighed, using one hand to lift her chin. “So, you were going to meet me that day?”
“Of course, I was going to meet you. God, Brog…you were the one. You'll always be the one. I never—”
He cut her off as his lips claimed hers, the firm slide of his skin over hers making her head feel fuzzy. She gave him control, relying on him to hold her up as the world collapsed around them, narrowing into the silky press of his mouth, the way one of his hands tangled in her hair, releasing it from the clips she'd worked so hard to get straight. The mass fell across her shoulders, his hum of approval nearly taking her to her knees when he finally pulled back. His warm breath caressed her cheek as he kept her close, his forehead resting on hers.
She fisted her hands in his shirt, anchoring herself. “But—surely, you're with someone. After all this time…”
He chuckled, smoothing his free hand down her side to rest on the curve of her ass. “I tried, but…couldn't seem to get this feisty federal marshal out of my head. Though, I do have a cat. Your turn.”
“I just told you, you'll always be the one. Do you really think I'd say that if I were with anyone? So, no. No one.”
“Well, this certainly changes the nature of this meeting. Sounds like we have some talking to do.”
She moistened her lips, then tiptoed up to give his lower one a light nip. “Talking? I'm standing here saying I never stopped loving you, and you want to talk?”
His brown eyes darkened as he dipped down and picked her up. “By talking, I mean I want to hear you scream my name.”
Brogan Keller smiled at Amanda's startled gasp as he juggled her against his chest. Her hands wrapped around his neck, her delicate fingers teasing his collar before sinking into his hair. She nuzzled his chin, the warm slide of her lips against his flesh sending a jolt of arousal straight to his cock. It hardened against his fly, making the simple feat of walking nearly impossible.
He glanced at the mansion, watching shadows cross in front of the glaring lights as dancers continued to circle the floor. Snippets of music drifted along the stiff breeze, but not enough to recognize which song was playing. Amanda hummed against his skin, sending a cascade of goosebumps down his arms.
“Christ, sweetheart. I'm not going to make it to the service entrance if you keep kissing me like that.”
Her throaty chuckle wrapped around his balls and squeezed tight. “There's always the gazebo.”
Brogan stumbled to a halt, snapping his head toward the building off to their left. Lights hung from the rafters, reflecting the wooden beams onto the water below. While it wasn't exactly private, it was out of the direct line of sight from the house enough no one would be able to see them without venturing down to the lake. And with the reception in full swing, he doubted anyone would come this far. Not with the first splattering of rain just starting to fall. He changed directions, striding purposely toward the hut.
Amanda stiffened in his arms, twisting slightly. Her auburn hair brushed against his skin, and he couldn't wait to gather it in his hands, again. “Um, Brog, I was just kidding. We're kind of out in the open here, and—”
He jogged up the few short steps, placing her on her feet. God, had she always been this small, her head rising to just above his chin, even in her heels? She looked as if a strong wind could topple her, though, he knew she was all wildcat inside. And he'd bet his ass she'd only gotten tougher with all her training.
“Are you trying to tell me that the idea of getting caught, of being watched, doesn't excite you? Because, damn, sweetheart, I can smell your need from here. Your nipples are practically poking through that sinful dress you're wearing, and I bet if I slip my hand up that split in the side, you'll be soaking through your panties.”
Her breath shuddered as she seemed to swallow with effort, before a stunning smile lifted her mouth. She glanced at the house then leaned against his chest, grazing her nails down the side of his neck. “That would imply I'm wearing some.”
He backed her up until she bumped into one of the lounge chairs positioned off to the side. She clutched at him as she teetered on the edge of balance before allowing him to lower her onto the woven surface.
He tsked, going to his knees in front of her. “Did you really think I'd let you fall? That might be grounds for a spanking.”
Her strangled moan had his cock pulsing inside his pants. If he wasn't careful, he'd come long before they'd even started. And he'd waited—fantasized—about making love to her, again, too many times to screw up their first encounter.
He grinned, trailing his fingers down her thighs, lightly scratching her skin once he'd reached the hem of her dress. “Sounds as if that isn't a threat. Were you holding out on me before? Have a few kinks you never explored?”
A tremor worked through her limbs as he slowly slipped off her shoes, admiring the easy symmetry of her feet. “We were young. I wasn't sure what I liked. Damn…”
Her voice faded into another throaty moan as he smoothed his hands along the inside of her legs this time, pushing up her dress as he reached her knees. She lifted her ass slightly, allowing him to shove the fabric over her hips. The last splash of moonlight just visible beneath the clouds reflected off her skin, baring her to his gaze. Pale, soft flesh covered her taut muscles, not an inch of hair marring the silky lips of her pussy.
Brogan clenched his jaw, resisting the urge to bury his face between her thighs without so much as touching her first. “Christ. Wasn't expecting you to be bare. Makes me wonder how smooth your skin will feel against my tongue.”
“Keep talking like that, and everything's going to feel insanely quick.”
“Got nothing but time where you're concerned.” He skimmed one finger through her folds, moaning at the slippery slide of juices. “Oh, sweetheart. You're more than soaking. And with all this smooth skin…you're lucky it's not dripping down your thighs.”
Her head connected with the fabric of the chair as he swirled the warm essence around her clit then slid back and inched inside her. She reached for him, anchoring one hand in his hair as the other locked around the neckline of his shirt, tugging on the material until he thought it might rip. Not that he cared. He'd ruin a thousand shirts for a chance to love her.
Love. He'd spent so much time trying to banish every memory they'd ever shared from his mind that the very concept she might still love him seemed surreal. If it weren't for the intermittent sting of his scalp as she flexed her fingers in his hair, he might have convinced himself he was dreaming. That simply seeing her had sent him headlong into some kind of psychotic break.
But there was no denying the soft glide of her skin, the heady fragrance of her arousal as he dipped down, breathing in the mix of musk and perfume. He moistened his lips, preparing for that first taste of honeyed spice as he licked his way along her cleft.
Amanda inhaled, her breath stalling as she canted her hips, any reservations she might have had about being out in the open obviously a distant thought with the way she tried to grind her pussy against his face. Her clit quivered beneath his tongue, her sex already trembling around his finger.
He sucked at the nub, then retreated, smiling at her disgruntled huff. “Easy, sweetheart. You're already vibrating.”
The chair squeaked as she shifted on it. “Do you know how long I've dreamt of this? How many times I've come picturing you just like this? Please, Brog. You can tease me next time.”
Brogan didn't know if it was the desperation in her voice, or the honesty—the image of her fingering herself to visions of him, or the simple admission that there would be a “next time”—but whatever the cause, he knew he wouldn't be able to deny her.
He shook his head in mock defeat. “You don't fight fair, Marshal.”
“Fair doesn't get the man. And I'm always supposed to get my man.”
“I think that's the Mounties, but…I'll let it slide this one time. Fine, you win. But mark my words…” He surged forward, his mouth softly brushing hers. “This is just the beginning.”
She nodded, her deep-green eyes rolling back as he accentuated his point with a firm thrust of his fingers into her sex, hitting her G-spot in the process. More juice spilled along his fingers, and he couldn't stop from diving back down, lapping at her sweet essence.
Her thighs flexed around his shoulders, her hands attempting to hold him in place. He grinned against her flesh, knowing she'd feel it, then attacked her cleft, licking and sucking as he pumped her channel, the wet sounds of his thrusts mixing with a sudden roll of thunder overhead. Amanda tensed then relaxed, apparently too far gone to care if they got caught in a storm. She murmured something that sounded like his name, her chest heaving as her breathing kicked up.
He increased the pressure, adding a third finger when she stiffened against him, her legs squeezing his torso. Her abdominal muscles twitched a moment before she broke, his name rising clearly above the sound of the rain on the wooden roof. Brogan drew out her orgasm, sucking on her flesh until she tugged on his hair.
“Brog. God, please, I need you. Inside me. I…”
He glanced up at her, her juice still coating his mouth. Flashes of lightning illuminated the flush on her skin, the deep green of her eyes. Her hair sat in a mass of tangles around her head, some bobby pins from earlier sticking up in all directions. Christ, she'd never looked more beautiful.
He rose onto his feet, snaking a hand around her waist. She moved willingly as he flipped her around, getting her to brace her weight on her knees as he bent her over the back of the chair.
Brogan shoved down his pants, freeing one leg so he could slide in behind her, wedging her knees farther apart as he settled his dick near her ass. He reached for his wallet, the foil packet crinkling in his palm as he let the leather billfold fall, not caring where it landed.
Amanda moaned at the harsh ripping sound that echoed around them, wiggling against his cock as he sheathed it inside the condom. He gave one cheek a sharp smack, grinning at the way she jumped then melted against him, presenting her ass for more.
Brogan slid his hand up her spine, tracing the pattern on her dress before grazing a line up her neck and into her hair. He locked his fingers around the silky strands, tugging her head back slightly. Her breathy hum was all the approval he needed.
Smooth skin flexed beneath his other palm as he rubbed her buttocks. “I agree. You deserve far more than one tiny spank. All this time, believing I'd changed my mind.” He tsked again. “How many more, sweetheart?”
Her jaw clenched when he tightened his hold in her hair, increasing the pressure as she glanced back at him. She looked more than lust-dazed, and he vowed he'd spend the rest of his life doing everything he could to have her look at him that way, again. To be the man who brought her to brink then tipped her over. To be her safe place to fall.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times, before she finally seemed able to talk. “Four. Four more.”
“One for every year we've been apart. I think that's reasonable.” He skimmed his fingers across her ass, loving how the muscles twitched in anticipation. “Let's have you count.”
He lifted his hand, catching her gaze before allowing it to connect firmly with her flesh. Her entire body jerked, a strangled cry lighting the air. Brogan waited, once again, meeting her gaze when it finally focused on him.
Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips before she managed a raspy, “One.”
“Good, girl. Three more to go.”
She nodded, her head tilting back at the next whack. She barely got the word, “Two,” out before she shouted his name as his hand connected, again. Her skin warmed beneath his palm, the red hue vivid in the next flash of light. Amanda's chin dipped forward, her entire body shuddering.
Brogan curled over her, brushing his lips along her shoulder. “What was that, sweetheart? I didn't quite hear you.”
She whimpered, grinding her ass against his cock. “Three. God, I need—”
“I'll give you exactly what you need, once we're finished here. Ready?”
He didn't wait for her to nod, just levered back then spanked her flesh one last time. She convulsed around his hold, and he knew she was on the verge of climaxing. He sighed in defeat, positioning himself then thrusting forward before she'd even managed to voice the last number.
The single word resonated around him as Amanda unraveled in his arms, his firm entrance setting her off. Rhythmic contractions squeezed his shaft, the warm rush of her release unhinging his control. He palmed her hip, holding her tight as he pounded into her, the metal arms on the chair creaking with every stroke. He pulled on her hair, lifting her upright until her hands fisted the edge of the chair, and her body skimmed his.
He grunted, the new angle increasing the pressure along his cock. “Oh, sweetheart. That's how I want you. Firm against me, your body rippling around my dick.” He released her hair, locking that arm across her chest. “I want you to come, again, for me. I want you to never forget who holds your heart. Who loves you.”
She cried out, hot tears splashing along his forearm as she spasmed, again. He mouthed her shoulder through her dress as his release burned a path down his spine, coiling in his balls before shooting forward. He teetered on the edge, still pumping his hips, then he was coming, emptying into the condom as he jerked against her ass. Thunder echoed overhead, the light spray of rain cooling his skin as the wind blew across the lake.
Hard pants racked his chest as Brogan slowly descended, shifting his grip to the armrest to avoid tipping them over when he feared he'd simply collapse on top of his girl. He smiled at the thought. The words felt right. Better than right.
Amanda sighed, easing into his arms once he'd pulled free and turned them around. She cuddled against his chest, their combined weight squeaking the chair. “God, I hope this damn thing doesn't just collapse.”
“I'd be worried, but…got everything I need right here in my arms. Nothing else matters.”
She inhaled, glancing up at him. “You always did have charm to spare.”
“This isn't the charm talking. And I sure as shit hope this wasn't just a one-off for you.”
She pushed off him, quickly standing. She took a few stumbling steps to one side as she adjusted her dress, finally spinning back to face him. “A one-off? I tell you I'm still in love with you, that I never, truly got over you—hell, that I haven't had more than one-night stands because no one has ever remotely measured up to you—and you think this might be a one-off?”
Brogan laughed as he gained his feet, taking a moment to right his pants and collect his wallet. “I knew all that training would only make you even more badass.” He covered the few feet between them, grabbing her hands and holding them against his chest. “I realize saying I love you in the midst of sex isn't the benchmark you'd hoped for, but…doesn't make it any less true. You stole my heart the first time you smiled at me when you were seventeen. Haven't gotten it back, yet. I'm just…trying to figure out where we go from here, because I want there to be a future for us.”
He tucked some of her hair behind her ear, smiling when it flopped back into her face. “I never wanted to lose you. Have spent the past four years trying to make you a distant memory, and all it took was one kiss, and I've fallen all over, again.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “See? Charm.” She squeezed his hands. “I want a future, too. I can put in for a transfer—”
“You'd do that? But…” He glanced around. “I thought you hated it here.”
“Here, as in this house, yeah. But here, with you? I'd love that.”
“Me, too. See, I was right before. We do have some talking to do, because I don't care what it takes. We'll make this work.” He stepped back, extending his hand to her. “Come home with me?”
A devious grin captured her lips as she glanced at the mansion. “On one condition.”
He arched his brow in question.
“Bribe the band to play our song one more time…then promise we'll never come back.”
They say you can never go home, and Amanda Jones couldn't agree more. But even she couldn't miss her little sister's wedding. Running into Brogan wasn't part of her plan. And when the music starts to play, will she run, or see what happens during the haunting melody of their song?
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