Side by side, heart touching heart, until the day he left without a word. After fifteen years, he’s come back to the street, to the memories of the girl he loved passionately, and the terrible secrets of the house he hated. There was only one place he’d held heaven in his arms. She had been the angel who shielded him from his living hell and the tree house their safe haven. The tree house still stood, but would her love have survived his abandonment after all these years, even if he’d had no other choice?
“May I come in, Jo?”
A spasm of pain clutched at her. If she let him in she would never get rid of his presence in this house. She would always feel him, and it scared her because she had thought, for just a moment, when she considered tearing down the tree house, that she might be free of his memory once and for all.
And then he showed up at her door, as though someone, somewhere didn’t want her to forget. Why her? Didn’t she have a right to find some peace in her life? Someone to share her life with? Who wanted her as he hadn’t? Why dredge up the past? Now?
But something had her pushing the screen door open and moving back from the doorway as he stepped inside. She closed the door and led him down the hallway and into the front room.
“Please, sit down. Would you like some coffee?” Such a polite enquiry. It dropped into the uneasy years of silence between them. A dark chasm of time that had stretched year after year, always leaving her standing at the edge of an emptiness she couldn’t run fast enough to escape.
He unzipped his jacket and sat down. The dark jeans molded tightly over his muscular thighs. “Coffee would be nice.” She watched as he surveyed the room. “It’s the way I remember it.”
She nodded and swiftly left the room, hurrying into the kitchen. With one hand she clutched at her fluttery, spasming stomach as she gripped the edge of the Formica counter with the other.
His scent clung to her, the powerful male scent she remembered. It infused and permeated her skin, sinking deep inside her. The ache of longing reduced her to a mass of quivering nerves.
Taking long, deep breaths, she attempted to steady herself. She couldn’t allow him to see what his presence in this house was doing to her.
She reached under the cupboard and pulled out a tray. Luckily, she’d just made a pot of coffee. She grabbed the blue and white ceramic sugar bowl and cream pitcher setting next to the coffee pot, then pulled out a couple of spoons from a drawer. Opening the cupboard door next to the sink, she pulled down two matching cups and saucers and placed them on the tray. She had to use both hands to pour the coffee without splashing it all over the tray.
Another spasm of pain gripped her as she looked at the coffee cups. There had been a time when she’d known everything about his likes and dislikes. Tears rose to her eyes. When did he start drinking coffee? Did he use cream and sugar? Or did he drink it black? Did he have a wife or a lover who knew the mature man in the other room as she had once known the boy?
Her hands shook as she tried to pick up the tray and she had to set it back down. She looked out the window, and her focus caught the tree house in the distance.
She wanted to run as far and fast as she could. She didn’t want to be faced with the polite conversation of two strangers who no longer knew each other.
More deep breaths.
“Can I take that for you?”
If she hadn’t been leaning against the counter, she probably would have fallen to the blue tile floor when her knees gave out at the sound of the voice close behind her.
She released the tray and shifted to the side, but couldn’t get the courage up to turn to face him. Not just yet.
“Yes, thank you. You can put in on the coffee table. I’ll be right in.” Her voice didn’t hold the cool firmness she would have liked. It was husky and tight, quivering with suppressed tears. She didn’t know if she could go through with this. She should just tell him to leave.
His arm brushed against hers as he reached for the tray. She couldn’t help but glance at his hands as they gripped the curved edges. Bronzed with short dark hairs, long fingers curled to lift the tray.
Hands—she remembered his hands—remembered the taste of them. Heady need swirled inside her. The sunny late summer day they’d gone to pick wild blackberries. They’d brought the pail back to the tree house and shared the succulent berries, feeding each other as they talked about the future they planned to share.
As she straddled across his lap, she’d licked the sweet juice from each of his fingers, sucking them into her mouth, swiping her tongue across the palm. His groan of frustrated desire had filled the small room, and the heat had begun to rise as the late summer sun reached a zenith in the sky.
She’d seen the bulge in his pants, and been filled with such feminine power in the knowledge that he wanted her.
But he hadn’t taken her. He’d pulled her closer and started suckling her fingers. He hadn’t touched her pussy that day, yet she’d come hard from the erotic stroking of his tongue, from the press of his groin against hers, and her desire to consummate their love.
Their passion for each other had been so very strong back then. How had it all gone so wrong?
He walked into the living room, and she turned away from the sight of the tree house and the memories associated with it, to follow him.
She watched as he picked up one of the cups and sat back down in the chair. No cream or sugar. She tucked the memory away.
Walking around the coffee table, she sat on the edge of the couch and picked up the other cup, adding a hint of cream and a spoonful of sugar. She stirred the coffee and finally looked across at him.
“Why are you here, Reed? After all this time?”