Bedded Then Wed(10)

By: Heidi Betts

A beat passed while he held her gaze, then he nodded. “You’re right. You can make your own decisions.”

He took another bite of pie and washed it down with a gulp of coffee. “The thing is, I’m not the type to have a one-night stand with a neighbor and childhood friend. It feels…sleazy.”

Her eyes narrowed in warning. He wasn’t calling her sleazy or even what had passed between them, she knew that. But it was a close thing, and in her current mood she wasn’t sure she was willing to split hairs.

“My point is,” he continued, “I think maybe we should keep seeing each other. See where it leads.”

Of all the things he might have said, that shocked her the most. It also made her heartbeat—which had slowed to a crawl at the direction the conversation was taking—speed up and thump against her rib cage.

She swallowed hard, praying she wasn’t hearing things. “Excuse me?”

“I think we should…date. Go out a couple of times and see what happens.”

It was half-true, anyway. But the suggestion wasn’t driven by interest as much as nobility. And, he admitted, guilt.

In the two weeks since the Fourth of July picnic…since they’d made love in the loft of her father’s barn…he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her.

Partly because the sex had been incredible and every fiber of his being wanted to be with her again. And partly because she was his neighbor, a friend since childhood. They’d gone through school together. Climbed trees and ridden horses together. Survived the prom and graduation and the death of a parent—her mother, who had been a second mother to him as well—together.

She wasn’t some casual acquaintance to be used to slake his lust. Even if it had been four long, lonely years since he’d been with a woman.

So far, this was the best solution he could come up with. His personal code of honor wouldn’t allow him to just walk away and pretend that night had never happened. That might be all right for a stranger he’d met in a bar, but he couldn’t treat Emma that way.

Emma deserved better.

Using her for a one-night stand was unacceptable. But dating her for a while wasn’t.

Nothing would come of it, he knew. Nothing could ever come of it, and he didn’t want it to. But if they dated for a while and then split up, he could justify having slept with her.

And he wouldn’t sleep with her again, that was a promise.

Even if the memory of kissing her, touching her soft skin, heated his blood and tightened his trousers across his groin.

He’d known Emma all his life, but this was the first time he’d been distracted by her as a woman. The first time he’d noticed how sexy and attractive she was.

Physically, she was the opposite of Suzanne in every way. Where Suzanne had an hourglass figure, with full breasts and wide hips, Emma was proportionally well-balanced. Small, but still shapely.

Her hair was more strawberry-blond than peroxide-blond; her look more natural than painted on; her clothes stylish but comfortable, rather than skin-tight and meant to attract attention.

She certainly had succeeded at catching his attention, and not a day went by that he didn’t regret it.

“So?” He took a swig of coffee to wash down the last of his pie, taking note that Emma had yet to touch hers. “What do you say?”

What could she say? What should she say?

This had to be the most bizarre date invitation she’d ever received. And if it were coming from anyone other than Mitch, she’d have probably laughed the poor guy out of the restaurant.

But it was Mitch, which left her torn.

Did she accept because her feminine heart had dreamed of this moment a million times? Or did she turn him down because she suspected the offer stemmed more from guilt than an actual interest in seeing her socially?

Wrapping her fingers around the mug of still-warm coffee in front of her, she lifted it to her mouth and took a sip, buying herself a little more time.

But in the end, she knew what her decision would be. Knew that her heart and her sense of possibility would drive her to at least see where things could lead.

Maybe it would lead only to a couple of dates, dinner or a movie. Or maybe it would lead to more—to Mitch realizing he’d never belonged with Suzanne, but with a woman more like Emma. If she was lucky, with Emma herself.

The sensible side of her brain knew it was too much to hope for, but she was willing to take a chance. It was a small one, after all, and if things did work out, the payoff would be big. Everything she’d ever dreamed of.

And if it didn’t, she was the only person who would ever know her wishes had been for more than a casual relationship. She was the only one who would be hurt.