Returning to Madison hurts. I thought Iíd left my past behind, but the past goes on living. I carry it inside of me, itís a piece of me. People have marked me in indelible ways and I drag the shreds of my soul behind me, trying to put my pieces back together. Iím not the Amber I used to be. I fly under the radar, try to be invisible.
It doesn't always work. Drawing attention scares me. It always spells trouble. Returning to my home town is a last ditch effort to lay my demons to rest and start anew, for good this time.
Meeting Jesse Lee wasnít in the plan. Yet here he is with his heart-stopping, sexy grin, handsome like a god, shining bright. Heís full of life, full of heat, packing the energy of a thousand suns in his gaze and muscular body. Jesse burns, and the pain of being near him is sweet.
But heís foiling my plans. Itís hard to remain a ghost when heís around. Hard to avoid his attention, to remain invisible. He sees me, really sees me, and behind his bright radiance, I can see shadows from his own past crowding in. Heís swimming hard to stay afloat even as he reaches for me.
What is he afraid of? And how can he save me from drowning when he canít even save himself?
I turn on him, hands on my hips. ìWhat do you want?î
ìThat sounds like a trick question.î He winks.
ìDoes it? You barged in here and you think asking you what you want is a trick question?î
ìHey now. I didnít barge in here. You opened the door.î He lifts his hands much like Kayla did. I think I scare people.
Good. Better them than me.
ìYouíre an ass.î
He grins. ìAnd a fine one, too.î
Oh dear God. ìYouíre a dick.î
He nods solemnly, but his eyes dip to my cleavage and darken to forest green. ìA big, big dick.î
Crap, I walked right into this one, didnít I? Of course, Iíve always had trouble recognizing plays on words and jokes. I should be upset. Heís teasing me, and teasing, in my book, is a prelude to hurting me.
But the smile lingering on his full lips takes the sting away, and whatís more, itís hot. Way too hot. Heat rushes to my face, flames licking my cheeks, and a pulse starts between my legs.
This is so not happening. ìStop being such a jerk.î
ìYou say that affectionately.î Heís somehow moved closer to me while I was busy self-combusting and his scent engulfs me, something hot, spicy and heady like mulled wine. ìLike that pet name you gave me.î
What? I stare at the dark brows over his intense eyes, the faint stubble on that square jaw, that mouth andÖ Oh God. Iíve lost the thread. I tear my gaze from his face, glancing down at his bare arms. One of them is heavily inked with swirling colors and a snake.
A cobra, I think, done in red and green, curling on his thick bicep. And underneath the riot of colored ink swathing his arm from shoulder to wrist, faint crisscrossing lines catch my eyes, some thin and some thick, dark and raised.
His voice startles me. ìThis place sure looks different when itís not full of people.î
ìLike what, empty?î
He chuckles, warm and delicious like a treacle of melted hot chocolate. ìLike, nice.î
ìAlthough thereís no blonde wrapped around you and no sucking involved?î
He chokes and bends over hacking.
ìYouÖî He shakes his head as he straightens, and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. ìShit.î
Yeah, Iím not only antisocial, I also donít have any control over my mouth. Double whammy. Who wouldnít want to be around me?
ìSo what do you want?î Might as well get this over with so we can both go on our separate ways ñ he, back to his blonde and the sucking, and me, to my room and my beads.
He flinches, a barely there twitch that has me wondering if I even saw it. ìI lostÖ something. A leather wrist band. I canít find it since the party here, and I thought to ask in case you saw it anywhere.î
I remember seeing the band on his arm that night. ìIt was an old thing, wasnít it?î Old, worn and starting to fray.
ìItísÖî He rubs his forehead, frowning. ìItís important to me.î
Heís been an ass. Sort of. Heís been pushy. Kind of. He scares me.
But the uncertainty is back in his eyes, and now I know I didnít imagine it. And although Iím not sure what to do with it, this glimpse beneath the sunny surface that defines Jesse Lee, I wishÖ I wish I could. I wish I had the courage to prod and break the brittle skin, the scab over a wound I can only guess at.
ìI havenít seen it,î I say, and his jaw tightens. This bracelet really seems important to him. ìBut Iíll look around. Weíre still cleaning after the party from hell.î
ìThanks.î His mouth quirks. He shifts back and leans against the wall, and I try hard not to notice how good he looks in a faded green T-shirt and low-slung dark jeans, not to stare at the bulge between his legs.
Oh God, Iím checking out his package. Crap, no wayÖ
Jo Raven writes New Adult erotic contemporary romance. She loves sexy bad boys and strong-willed heroines, and divides her time between writing and reading. When not cooking up plots, she putters in her cluttered kitchen and dreams of traveling to India and Japan.