Leigh is ecstatic.
“But what was she doing at Clayton’s?” Her curiosity oozes through the phone. I’m in the depths of the stockroom, trying to keep my voice casual.
“She was in the area.”
“I think that is one huge coincidence, Jadey. You don’t think she was there to see you?” My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. The dull, disappointing reality is that she was here on business.
“She was visiting the farming division of WSU. She’s funding some research,” I mutter.
“Oh right. She’s given the department a $2.5 million grant.” Wow.
“How do you know this?”
“Jade, I’m a journalist, and I’ve written a profile on the woman. It’s my job to know this.”
“Okay, Carl Bernstein, keep your hair on. So do you want these photos?”
“Of course I do. The question is, who’s going to do them and where.”
“We could ask her where. She says she’s staying in the area.”
“You can contact her?”
“I have her cell phone number.”
“The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelorette in Washington State just gave you her cell phone number?”
“Er … yes.”
“Jade! She likes you. No doubt about it.” Her tone is emphatic.
“Leigh, she’s just trying to be nice.” But even as I say the words, I know they’re not true—Perrie Edwards doesn’t do nice. She does polite, maybe. And a small, quiet voice whispers, Perhaps Leigh is right. My scalp prickles at the idea that maybe, just maybe, she might like me. After all, she did say she was glad Leigh didn’t do the interview. I hug myself with quiet glee, rocking from side to side, entertaining the possibility that she might like me. Leigh brings me back to the now.
“I don’t know who we’ll get to do the shoot. Levi, our regular photographer, can’t. He’s home in Idaho Falls for the weekend. He’ll be pissed that he blew an opportunity to photograph one of America’s leading entrepreneurs.”
“Hmm … What about Sam?”
“Great idea! You ask him—he’ll do anything for you. Then call Edwards and find out where she wants us.” Leigh is irritatingly cavalier about Sam.
“I think you should call.”
“Who, Sam?” Leigh scoffs.
“Jade, you’re the one with the relationship.”
“Relationship?” I squeak at her, my voice rising several octaves. “I barely know the woman.”
“At least you’ve met her,” she says bitterly. “And it looks like she wants to know you better. Jade, just call her,” she snaps and hangs up. She is so bossy sometimes. I frown at my cell, sticking my tongue out at it.
I’m just leaving a message for Sam when Harry enters the stockroom looking for sandpaper.
“We’re kind of busy out there, Jade,” he says without acrimony.
“Yeah, um, sorry,” I mutter, turning to leave.
“So, how come you know Perrie Edwards?” Harry’s voice is unconvincingly nonchalant.
“I had to interview her for our student newspaper. Leigh wasn’t well.” I shrug, trying to sound casual and doing no better than him.
“Perrie Edwards in Clayton’s. Go figure,” Harry snorts, amazed. He shakes his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, want to grab a drink or something this evening?”
Whenever he’s home he asks me on a date, and I always say no. It’s a ritual. I’ve never considered it a good idea to date the boss’s brother, and besides, Harry is cute in a wholesome all-American boy-next-door kind of way, but he’s no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Edwards? my subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised. I slap her down.
“Don’t you have a family dinner or something for your brother?”
“Maybe some other time, Harry. I need to study tonight. I have my finals next week.”
“Jadey, one of these days you’ll say yes.” He smiles as I escape to the store floor.
“But I do places, Jade, not people,” Sam groans.
“Sam, please?” I beg. I pace the living room of our apartment, clutching my cell and staring out the window at the fading evening light.
“Give me that phone.” Leigh grabs the handset from me, tossing her silken black hair over her shoulder.
“Listen here, Samuel Craske, if you want our newspaper to cover the opening of your show, you’ll do this shoot for us tomorrow, capiche?” Leigh can be awesomely tough. “Good. Jade will call back with the location and the call time. We’ll see you tomorrow.” She snaps my cell phone off.
“Sorted. All we need to do now is decide where and when. Call her.”
She holds the phone out to me. My stomach twists. “Call Edwards, now!”
I scowl at her and reach into my back pocket for the business card. I take a deep, steadying breath, and with shaking fingers, I dial the number.
She answers on the second ring. Her tone is clipped, calm, and cold.
“Er … Ms. Edwards? It’s Jade Thirlwall.” I don’t recognize my own voice, I’m so nervous. There’s a brief pause. Inside I’m quaking.
“Miss Thirlwall. How nice to hear from you.” Her voice has changed. She’s surprised, I think, and she sounds so … warm—seductive even. My breath hitches, and I flush. I’m suddenly conscious that Leigh Anne is staring at me, her mouth open, and I dart into the kitchen to avoid her unwanted scrutiny.
“Um—we’d like to go ahead with the photo shoot for the article.” Breathe, Jade, breathe. My lungs drag in a hasty breath. “Tomorrow, if that’s okay. Where would be convenient for you?”
I can almost hear her sphinxlike smile through the phone.
“I’m staying at the Heathman in Portland. Shall we say nine
thirty tomorrow morning?”
“Okay, we’ll see you there.” I am all gushing and breathy—like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the state of Washington.
“I look forward to it, Miss Thirlwall.” I visualize the wicked gleam in her eyes. How can she make seven little words hold so much tantalizing promise? I hang up. Leigh is in the kitchen, and she’s staring at me with a look of complete and utter consternation on her face.
“Jade Amelia Thirlwall. You like her! I’ve never seen or heard you so … so … affected by anyone before. You’re actually blushing.”
“Oh, Leigh, you know I blush all the time. It’s an occupational hazard with me. Don’t be ridiculous,” I snap. She blinks at me with surprise—I very rarely have hissy fits—and I briefly relent. “I just find her … intimidating, that’s all.”
“Heathman, that figures,” mutters Leigh. “I’ll give the manager a call and negotiate a space for the shoot.”
“I’ll make supper. Then I need to study.” I cannot hide my irritation with her as I open one of the cupboards to make supper.
I am restless that night, tossing and turning, dreaming of smoky blue eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places. I wake twice in the night, my heart pounding. Oh, I’m going to look just great tomorrow with so little sleep, I scold myself. I punch my pillow and try to settle.
The Heathman is nestled in the heart of downtown Portland. Its impressive brown stone edifice was completed just in time for the crash of the late 1920s. Sam, Travis, and I are traveling in my Beetle, and Leigh is in her CLK, since we can’t all fit in my car. Travis is Sam’s friend and gopher, here to help out with the lighting. Leigh has managed to acquire the use of a room at the Heathman free of charge for the morning in exchange for a credit in the article. When she explains at reception that we’re here to photograph Perrie Edwards, CEO, we are instantly upgraded to a suite. Just a regular-sized suite, however, as apparently Ms. Edwards is already occupying the largest one in the building. An over-keen marketing executive shows us up to the suite—he’s terribly young and very nervous for some reason. I suspect Leigh’s beauty and commanding manner disarm him, because he’s putty in her hands. The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished.
It’s nine. We have half an hour to set up. Leigh is in full flow.
“Sam, I think we’ll shoot against that wall, do you agree?” She doesn’t wait for his reply. “Travis, clear the chairs. Jade, could you ask housekeeping to bring up some refreshments? And let Edwards know where we are.”
Yes, mistress. She is so domineering. I roll my eyes but do as I’m told.
Half an hour later, Perrie Edwards walks into our suite.
Holy crap! She’s wearing a white button-up, open at the collar, and grey flannel pants that hang from her hips. Her hair is still damp from a shower. My mouth goes dry looking at her … she’s so freaking hot. Edwards is followed into the suite by a man in his mid-thirties, all buzz cut and stubble in a sharp dark suit and tie who stands silently in the corner. His hazel eyes watch us impassively.
“Miss Thirlwall, we meet again.” Edwards extends her hand, and I shake it, blinking rapidly. As I touch her hand, I’m aware of that delicious current running right through me, lighting me up, making me blush, and I’m sure my erratic breathing must be audible.
“Ms. Edwards, this is Leigh Anne Pinnock,” I mutter, waving a hand toward Leigh, who comes forward, looking her squarely in the eye.
“The tenacious Miss Pinnock. How do you do?” She gives her a small smile, looking genuinely amused. “I trust you’re feeling better? Jade said you were unwell last week.”
“I’m fine, thank you, Ms. Edwards.” She shakes her hand firmly without batting an eyelid. I remind myself that Leigh has been to the best private schools in Washington. Her family has money, and she’s grown up confident and sure of her place in the world. She doesn’t take any crap. I am in awe of her.
“Thank you for taking the time to do this.” Leigh gives her a polite, professional smile.
“It’s a pleasure,” she answers, turning her gaze on me, and I flush again. Damn it.
“This is Samuel Craske, our photographer,” I say, grinning at Sam, who smiles with affection back at me. His eyes cool when he looks from me to Edwards.
“Ms. Edwards.” He nods.
“Mr. Craske.” Edwards expression changes, too, as she appraises Sam.
“Where would you like me?” Edwards asks him. Her tone sounds vaguely threatening. But Leigh is not about to let Sam run the show.
“Ms. Edwards—if you could sit here, please? Be careful of the lighting cables. And then we’ll do a few standing, too.” She directs her to a chair set up against the wall.
Travis switches on the lights, momentarily blinding Edwards, and mutters an apology. Then Travis and I stand back and watch as Sam proceeds to snap away. He takes several photographs handheld, asking Edwards to turn this way, then that, to move her arm, then put it down again. Moving to the tripod, Sam takes several more, while Edwards sits and poses, patiently and naturally, for about twenty minutes. My wish has come true: I can stand and admire Edwards from not so afar. Twice our eyes lock, and I have to tear myself away from her cloudy gaze.
“Enough sitting.” Leigh wades in again. “Standing, Ms. Edwards?” she asks.
She stands, and Travis scurries in to remove the chair. The shutter on Sam’s Nikon starts clicking again.
“I think we have enough,” Sam announces five minutes later.
“Great,” says Leigh. “Thank you again, Ms. Edwards.” She shakes her hand, as does Sam.
“I look forward to reading the article, Miss Pinnock,” murmurs Edwards, and turns to me, standing by the door. “Will you walk with me, Miss Thirlwall?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say, completely thrown. I glance anxiously at Leigh, who shrugs at me. I notice Sam scowling behind her.
“Good day to you all,” says Edwards as she opens the door, standing aside to allow me out first.
Holy hell … what’s this about? What does she want? I pause in the hotel corridor, fidgeting nervously as Edwards emerges from the room followed by Mr. Buzz Cut in his sharp suit.
“I’ll call you, David,” she murmurs to Buzz Cut. David wanders back down the corridor, and Edwards turns her burning blue gaze to me. Crap … have I done something wrong?
“I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning.”
My heart slams into my mouth. A date?
Perrie Edwards is asking me on a date. She’s asking if you want a coffee. Maybe she thinks you haven’t woken up yet, my subconscious whines at me in a sneering mood again. I clear my throat, trying to control my nerves.
“I have to drive everyone home,” I murmur apologetically, twisting my hands and fingers in front of me.
“David,” she calls, making me jump. David, who had been retreating down the corridor, turns and heads back toward us.
“Are they based at the university?” Edwards asks, her voice soft and inquiring. I nod, too stunned to speak.
“David can take them. He’s my driver. We have a large 4x4 here, so he’ll be able to take the equipment, too.”
“Ms. Edwards?” David asks when he reaches us, giving nothing away.
“Please, can you drive the photographer, his assistant, and Miss Pinnock back home?”
“Certainly, ma’am,” David replies.
“There. Now can you join me for coffee?” Edwards smiles as if it’s a done deal.
“Um—Ms. Edwards, er—this really … look, David doesn’t have to drive them home.” I flash a brief look at David, who remains stoically impassive. “I’ll swap vehicles with Leigh, if you give me a moment.”
Edwards smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile. Oh my … She opens the door of the suite so I can go in. I scoot around her to reenter the room, finding Leigh in deep discussion with Sam.
“Jade, I think she definitely likes you,” she says with no preamble whatsoever. Sam glares at me with disapproval. “But I don’t trust her,” she adds. I raise my hand up in the hope that she’ll stop talking. By some miracle, she does.
“Leigh, if you take Wanda, can I take your car?”
“Perrie Edwards has asked me to go for coffee with her.”
Her mouth pops open. Speechless Leigh! I savor the moment. She grabs me by my arm and drags me into the bedroom that’s off the living area of the suite.
“Jade, there’s something about her.” Her tone is full of warning. “She’s gorgeous, I agree, but I think she’s dangerous. Especially for someone like you.”
“What do you mean, someone like me?” I demand, affronted.
“An innocent like you, Jadey. You know what I mean,” she says a little irritated. I flush.
“Leigh, it’s just coffee. I’m starting my exams this week, and I need to study, so I won’t be long.”
She purses her lips as if considering my request. Finally, she fishes her car keys out of her pocket and hands them to me. I hand her mine.
“I’ll see you later. Don’t be long, or I’ll send out search and rescue.”
“Thanks.” I hug her.
I emerge from the suite to find Perrie Edwards waiting, leaning up against the wall, looking like a model in a pose for some glossy high-end magazine.
“Okay, let’s do coffee,” I murmur, flushing a beet red.
“After you, Miss Thirlwall.” She stands up straight, holding her hand out for me to go first. I make my way down the corridor, my knees shaky, my stomach full of butterflies, and my heart in my mouth thumping a dramatic, uneven beat. I am going to have coffee with Perrie Edwards … and I hate coffee.
We walk together down the wide hotel corridor to the elevators. What should I say to her? My mind is suddenly paralyzed with apprehension. What are we going to talk about? What on Earth do I have in common with her? Her soft, warm voice startles me from my reverie.
“How long have you known Leigh Anne Pinnock?”
Oh, an easy question for starters.
“Since our freshman year. She’s a good friend.”
“Hmm,” she replies noncommittally. What is she thinking?
At the elevators, she presses the call button, and the bell rings almost immediately. The doors slide open, revealing a young couple in a passionate embrace inside. Surprised and embarrassed, they jump apart, staring guiltily in every direction but ours. Edwards and I step into the elevator.
I am struggling to maintain a straight face, so I gaze down at the floor, feeling my cheeks turning pink. When I peek up at Edwards through my lashes, she has a hint of a smile on her lips, but it’s very hard to tell. The young couple says nothing, and we travel down to the first floor in embarrassed silence. We don’t even have bland piped elevator music to distract us.
The doors open and, much to my surprise, Edwards takes my hand, clasping it with her long, cool fingers. I feel the current run through me, and my already rapid heartbeat accelerates. As she leads me out of the elevator, we can hear the suppressed giggles of the couple erupting behind us. Edwards grins.
“What is it about elevators?” she mutters.
We cross the expansive, bustling lobby of the hotel toward the entrance, but Edwards avoids the revolving door, and I wonder if that’s because she’d have to let go of my hand.
Outside, it’s a mild May Sunday. The sun is shining and the traffic is light. Edwards turns left and strolls to the corner, where we wait for the crosswalk to change. She’s still holding my hand. I’m in the street, and Perrie Edwards is holding my hand. No one has ever held my hand. I feel giddy, and I tingle all over. I attempt to smother the ridiculous grin that threatens to split my face in two. Try to be cool, Jade, my subconscious implores me. The green man appears, and we’re off again.
We walk four blocks before we reach the Portland Coffee House, where Edwards releases me to hold the door open so I can step inside.
“Why don’t you choose a table while I get the drinks? What would you like?” she asks, polite as ever.
“I’ll have … um—English Breakfast tea, bag out.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“I’m not keen on coffee.”
“Okay, bag out tea. Sugar?”
For a moment, I’m stunned, thinking it’s an endearment, but fortunately my subconscious kicks in with pursed lips. No, stupid—do you take sugar?
“No thanks.” I stare down at my knotted fingers.
“Anything to eat?”
“No thank you.” I shake my head, and she heads to the counter.
I surreptitiously gaze at her from beneath my lashes as she stands in line waiting to be served. I could watch her all day … she’s tall, slim, and the way those pants hang from her hips … Oh my. Once or twice she runs her long, graceful fingers through her now dry but still lustrous hair. Hmm … I’d like to do that. The thought comes unbidden into my mind, and my face flames. I bite my lip and stare down at my hands again, not liking where my wayward thoughts are headed.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Edwards is back, startling me.
I go crimson. I was just thinking about running my fingers through your hair and wondering if it would feel soft to touch. I shake my head. She’s carrying a tray, which she sets down on the small, round birch-veneer table. She hands me a cup and saucer, a small teapot, and a side plate bearing a lone teabag labeled TWININGS ENGLISH BREAKFAST—my favorite. She has a coffee that bears a wonderful leaf pattern imprinted in the milk. How do they do that? I wonder idly. She’s also bought herself a blueberry muffin. Putting the tray aside, she sits opposite me and crosses her long legs. She looks so comfortable, so at ease with her body, I envy her. Here’s me, all gawky and uncoordinated, barely able to get from A to B without falling flat on my face.
“Your thoughts?” she prompts me.
“This is my favorite tea.” My voice is quiet, breathy. I simply can’t believe I’m sitting opposite Perrie Edwards in a coffee shop in Portland. She frowns. She knows I’m hiding something. I pop the teabag into the teapot and almost immediately fish it out again with my teaspoon. As I place the used teabag back on the side plate, she cocks her head, gazing quizzically at me.
“I like my tea black and weak,” I mutter as an explanation.
“I see. Is he your boyfriend?”
Whoa … What?
“The photographer. Samuel Craske.”
I laugh, nervous but curious. What gave her that impression?
“No. Sam’s a good friend of mine, that’s all. Why did you think he was my boyfriend?”
“The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” Her gaze holds mine. She’s so unnerving. I want to look away but I’m caught—spellbound.
“He’s more like family,” I whisper.
Edwards nods, seemingly satisfied with my response, and glances down at her blueberry muffin. Her long fingers deftly peel back the paper, and I watch, fascinated.
“Do you want some?” she asks, and that amused, secret smile is back.
“No thanks.” I frown and stare down at my hands again.
“And the boy I met yesterday, at the store. He’s not your boyfriend?”
“No. Harry’s just a friend. I told you yesterday.” Oh, this is getting silly. “Why do you ask?”
“You seem nervous around people.”
Holy crap, that’s personal. I’m just nervous around you, Edwards.
“I find you intimidating.” I flush scarlet, but mentally pat myself on the back for my candor, and gaze at my hands again. I hear her sharp intake of breath.
“You should find me intimidating.” She nods. “You’re very honest. Please don’t look down. I like to see your face.”
Oh. I glance at her, and she gives me an encouraging but wry smile.
“It gives me some sort of clue what you might be thinking,” she breathes. “You’re a mystery, Miss Thirlwall.”
“There’s nothing mysterious about me.”
“I think you’re very self-contained,” she murmurs.
Am I? Wow … how am I managing that? This is bewildering. Me, self-contained? No way.
“Except when you blush, of course, which is often. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about.” She pops a small piece of muffin into her mouth and starts to chew it slowly, not taking her eyes off me. And as if on cue, I blush. Crap!
“Do you always make such personal observations?”
“I hadn’t realized I was. Have I offended you?” She sounds surprised.
“No,” I answer truthfully.
“But you’re very high-handed.”
She raises her eyebrows and, if I’m not mistaken, flushes slightly, too.
“I’m used to getting my own way, Jade,” she murmurs. “In all things.”
“I don’t doubt it. Why haven’t you asked me to call you by your first name?” I’m surprised by my audacity. Why has this conversation become so serious? This isn’t going the way I thought it was going to go. I can’t believe I’m feeling so antagonistic toward her. It’s like she’s trying to warn me off.
“The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends. That’s the way I like it.”
Oh. She still hasn’t said, “Call me Perrie.” She is a control freak, there’s no other explanation, and part of me is thinking maybe it would have been better if Leigh had interviewed her. Two control freaks together. Plus, of course, she’s intimidating like all the women in Edwards’ office. And she’s beautiful, my subconscious reminds me. I don’t like the idea of Perrie and Leigh. I take a sip of my tea, and Edwards eats another small piece of her muffin.
“Are you an only child?” she asks.
Whoa … she keeps changing direction.
“Tell me about your parents.”
Why does she want to know this? It’s so dull.
“My mom lives in Georgia with her new husband, Tim. My stepdad lives in Montesano.”
“My father died when I was a baby.”
“I’m sorry,” she mutters, and a fleeting, troubled look crosses her face.
“I don’t remember him.”
“And your mother remarried?”
“You could say that.”
She frowns at me.
“You’re not giving much away, are you?” she says dryly, rubbing
her chin as if in deep thought.
“Neither are you.”
“You’ve interviewed me once already, and I can recollect some quite probing questions then.” She smirks at me.
Holy shit. She’s remembering the “gay” question. Once again, I’m mortified. In years to come, I know I’ll need intensive therapy to not feel this embarrassed every time I recall the moment. I start babbling about my mother—anything to block that memory.
“My mom is wonderful. She’s an incurable romantic. She’s currently on her fourth husband.”
Perrie raises her eyebrows in surprise.
“I miss her,” I continue. “She has Tim now. I just hope he can keep an eye on her and pick up the pieces when her harebrained schemes don’t go as planned.” I smile fondly. I haven’t seen my mom for so long. Perrie is watching me intently, taking occasional sips of her coffee. I really shouldn’t look at her mouth. It’s unsettling.
“Do you get along with your stepfather?”
“Of course. I grew up with him. He’s the only father I know.”
“And what’s he like?”
“James? He’s … taciturn.”
“That’s it?” Edwards asks, surprised.
I shrug. What does this woman expect? My life story?
“Taciturn like his stepdaughter,” Edwards prompts.
I refrain from rolling my eyes at her.
“He likes soccer—European soccer especially—and bowling, and fly-fishing, and making furniture. He’s a carpenter. Ex-army.” I sigh.
“You lived with him?”
“Yes. My mom met Husband Number Three when I was fifteen. I stayed with James.”
She frowns as if she doesn’t understand.
“You didn’t want to live with your mom?” she asks.
This really is none of her business.
“Husband Number Three lived in Texas. My home was in Montesano. And … you know, my mom was newly married.” I stop. My mom never talks about Husband Number Three. Where is Edwards going with this? This is none of her business. Two can play at this game.
“Tell me about your parents,” I ask.
“My dad’s a lawyer, my mom is a pediatrician. They live in Seattle.”
Oh … she’s had an affluent upbringing. And I wonder about a successful couple who adopts three kids, and one of them turns into a beautiful woman who takes on the business world and conquers it single-handed. What drove her to be that way? Her folks must be proud.
“What do your siblings do?”
“Jonnie is in construction, and my little sister is in Paris, studying cookery under some renowned French chef.” Her eyes cloud with irritation. She doesn’t want to talk about her family or herself.
“I hear Paris is lovely,” I murmur. Why doesn’t she want to talk about her family? Is it because she’s adopted?
“It’s beautiful. Have you been?” she asks, her irritation forgotten.
“I’ve never left mainland USA.” So now we’re back to banalities. What is she hiding?
“Would you like to go?”
“To Paris?” I squeak. This has thrown me—who wouldn’t want to go to Paris? “Of course,” I concede. “But it’s England that I’d really like to visit.”
She cocks her head to one side, running her index finger across her lower lip … oh my.
I blink rapidly. Concentrate, Thirlwall.
“It’s the home of Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy. I’d like to see the places that inspired those people to write such wonderful books.”
All this talk of literary greats reminds me that I should be studying. I glance at my watch. “I’d better go. I have to study.”
“For your exams?”
“Yes. They start Tuesday.”
“Where’s Miss Pinnock’s car?”
“In the hotel parking lot.”
“I’ll walk you back.”
“Thank you for the tea, Ms. Edwards.”
She smiles her odd I’ve-got-a-whopping-big-secret smile.
“You’re welcome, Jade. It’s my pleasure. Come,” she commands, and holds her hand out to me. I take it, bemused, and follow her out of the coffee shop.
We stroll back to the hotel, and I’d like to say it’s in companionable silence. She at least looks her usual calm, collected self. As for me, I’m desperately trying to gauge how our little coffee morning has gone. I feel like I’ve been interviewed for a job, but I’m not sure what for.
“Do you always wear jeans?” she asks out of the blue.
She nods. We’re back at the intersection, across the road from the hotel. My mind is reeling. What an odd question … And I’m aware that our time together is limited. This is it. This was it, and I’ve completely blown it, I know. Perhaps she has someone.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” I blurt out. Holy crap—I just said that out loud?
Her lips quirk up in a half smile, and she peers down at me.
“No, Jade. Men are not my forte,” she says softly.
Oh … so she is gay! Maybe I have a chance with her.
“A girlfriend, then?” I ask, a bit too hopeful.
She shakes her head lightly. “I don’t do the girlfriend thing.”
What does that mean? For a moment, I think she’s going to follow up with some explanation, some clue to this cryptic statement—but she doesn’t. I have to go. I have to try to reassemble my thoughts. I have to get away from her. I walk forward, and I trip, stumbling headlong into the road.
“Shit, Jade!” Edwards cries. She tugs the hand that she’s holding so hard that I fall back against her just as a cyclist whips past, narrowly missing me, heading the wrong way up this one-way street.
It all happens so fast—one minute I’m falling, the next I’m in her arms and she’s holding me tightly against her chest. I inhale her clean, wholesome scent. She smells of freshly laundered linen and some expensive body wash. It’s intoxicating. I inhale deeply.
“Are you okay?” she whispers. She has one arm around me, clasping me to her, while the fingers of her other hand softly trace my face, gently probing, examining me. Her thumb brushes my lower lip, and her breath hitches. She’s staring into my eyes, and I hold her anxious, burning gaze for a moment, or maybe it’s forever … but eventually, my attention is drawn to her beautiful mouth. And for the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed. I want to feel her mouth on mine.———————————————- 25+ notes for the next chapter