Take a Chance, Page 2Abbi Glines
I just watched him. What was I supposed to say to him?
“Harlow,” he said, leaning closer to me. I could feel his warm breath on my skin.
“Yes,” I choked out, watching him closely as he moved toward me.
“I think about you. I dream about you,” he said in a husky whisper against my ear. I shivered and felt my grip on my chicken loosen. God, please don’t let me dump my food on myself.
“You’re too sweet for me, but damned if I care,” he said, then pressed a kiss to the skin under my ear. “I don’t want you to hate me. I want you to forgive me for being with Nan. It’s over.”
The reminder of Nan was enough to snap me out of my trance, and I jumped up from the bed and walked across the room to stand far enough away that I felt safe.
I didn’t look back at Grant. I kept my back to him and stared out the window. Maybe he would just leave. I felt my face grow hot. I had let him get so close. I had let him kiss my neck. What was I thinking?
“I shouldn’t have said her name,” he said in a defeated tone. He was perceptive. “Will you tell me what I can do to prove to you that I don’t want Nan? That she was a moment of insanity and weakness? I was being a guy and she was there. I made a mistake.”
He wanted me to forgive him about as much as I wanted to be able to forget Nan. I liked Grant. No . . . I fantasized about Grant. Since he’d cornered me at Rush and Blaire’s wedding reception he had made it into my nightly fantasies. Even if he was someone I was afraid to trust. I liked looking at him. I liked hearing his voice. I liked the way he smelled and the sound of his laugh. The way his mouth curled up on one side when he was amused. I also liked the tattoos I saw peeking out of the collar of his shirt. I wanted to know what they looked like.
“Can I have a chance? One to prove I’m not like Nan. I’m a pretty damn good friend. I just need you to give me a break.”
I was typically a forgiving person. My grandmother had taught me to forgive. She had raised me to be a kind person and reminded me that everyone deserved a second chance. One day I might need a second chance myself.
I turned around and looked at Grant. He was still sitting on my bed. The dark blue T-shirt he was wearing fit his arms tightly and outlined the ripples on his chest. It also highlighted the color of his eyes. How was someone supposed to not trust him? “I’d like to be your friend,” I said. I wasn’t sure what else to say.
That crooked grin appeared. “You would? You’re going to forgive me?”
I nodded and made myself take a step back toward the bed. “Yes. But don’t . . . don’t . . . do that again.” I said, reaching up and touching the skin that still tingled from his lips.
Grant let out a defeated sigh and nodded. “That’s gonna be hard, but I won’t. Not until you ask me.” He stopped and patted the spot where I had been sitting. I walked over and sat back down. Grant leaned forward. “But Harlow,” he said.
His sexy male scent made me want to inhale deeply. “Yes?” I asked, hoping he wasn’t about to touch me again. I seemed to forget myself when he did.
“You will ask me,” he replied.
I opened my mouth to argue, but before I could he stuck a piece of honey chicken in my mouth. “Don’t say it. I’ll just get to say I told you so when you ask me. And I really hate to gloat. Especially to a girl I want to make smile, not slap me.”
I managed to chew the chicken before the laughter bubbled up and escaped. He really was adorable. What he didn’t realize was I could never give in. It wasn’t fair to him. He didn’t know the truth and I didn’t want him to know. It changed how people looked at me. I couldn’t stand the idea of Grant looking at me the way others had.
I hadn’t seen her since the night I got the call about Jace. The night I’d . . . the night I’d taken her virginity. She’d been a virgin. I hadn’t expected that. It had been a first for me, too. I had never slept with a virgin before. Something about it affected me deeper than I was comfortable with. Even though I knew I wasn’t ready for commitment in any form, I had wanted to stake a claim. I often wondered if that would have sent me running the next day, even if I hadn’t gotten the call from Tripp.
And finally, here she was. No longer kept from me by her father, or whoever else had made sure I didn’t get near her.
“Last night. It was you,” she said, simply.
I took in her pajamas and felt like cursing and slamming my fist through the wall. I wasn’t a violent guy. I never lost my cool, but right now I was close to it. Harlow was here. She’d heard me and Nan. Holy hell!
“You haven’t called. I didn’t realize.” She stopped talking and shook her head. I couldn’t find the right words. There weren’t any. I had no explanation for this that she would understand. I watched as she put the milk back in the fridge and closed the door. She kept her head down and didn’t look up again before walking around the counter and toward the door. I had to say something. I had to explain myself. I had fucking called. They never let me talk to her when I called the house. She never answered my damn calls when I called her phone. But, fuck, she didn’t deserve this. Not when she’d trusted me with something as precious as her innocence.
“I guess it’s me who gets to say I told you so this time,” she said in a quiet voice before walking past me. The weight on my chest felt like someone had set a thousand bricks on it. I clenched my hands into fists and closed my eyes. What had I done? And why? Why was I letting Nan fuck up my life?
Why the hell had I drunk so much damn whiskey last night? I would have never come here had I been sober. And Harlow . . . Harlow . . . why was Harlow here? I turned and looked back toward the staircase. A door clicked closed. There was no slamming or yelling with Harlow. She wasn’t that way. Any other woman would have cursed me and possibly slapped me then stormed up the stairs and slammed her door. But not Harlow. That made this even worse. If that was possible.
Two months and three and a half weeks ago . . .
Harlow stepped out of the house, looking unsure of herself. It had taken me twenty minutes to convince her to swim with me. She had made up all kinds of excuses. But I was pretty damn persuasive when I wanted to be. The oversized Slacker Demon concert T-shirt she was wearing covered up whatever swimsuit she’d finally put on. I had been waiting on her for half an hour. I was almost ready to go up to her room and pull her out here myself. I had just gotten back to L.A. a few hours ago. Being in Rosemary was hard when all I could think about was Harlow’s sweet smile. I was anxious to be near her.
“About time. I thought you were gonna make me swim alone,” I said, standing up from the lounger I had been reclining on while waiting.
Harlow blushed. “I’m sorry it took me so long.”
As if she needed to apologize. There was no way a man could be even remotely annoyed with her. It was impossible. She was too damn sweet and innocently sexy, which was screwing with my head. There was no way she was that innocent. She was in college. She had to have dated before. In high school the guys would have been all over her.
“You’re here now. Let’s swim. It’s warm out here today.”
Harlow reached for the hem of her shirt and I considered diving in and not watching her take it off. It would be the polite thing to do, but hell if I could convince my eyes that looking away was the best idea. They were zoned in on her every move.
We had been . . . I wasn’t sure what we had been doing. This was the strangest relationship—if you could call it that—I had ever been in. Harlow was letting me get closer every day but she still kept up her barriers. I hadn’t managed to get my lips near her skin again.
My eyes drank in her long legs as the T-shirt slowly lifted, revealing a simple high-necked one-piece white bathing suit. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a girl my age in a one-piece swimsuit. But it was white. Holy fuck. I felt myself harden as my eyes traveled up from her legs to the nipple I could clearly see pebbled beneath the fabric.
turned and dove into the water before I scared the hell out of her. I swam the length of the pool before coming up for air and turning to look at her. She was walking down into the pool through the sloping entrance. Damn, she was perfect. She lifted her eyes and smiled at me. It was a good thing my reaction to her was hidden under the water.
Once she was far enough in that the water touched her shoulders, she seemed to relax. Having her body on display made her nervous. It had been all over her face. I couldn’t figure out why. It was like throwing me a challenge. I wanted her body completely on display for me. And I wanted her to like it. To want it.
“Come on, pretty girl. Come swim with the big boys,” I teased. Her mouth puckered up in a frown. She didn’t like me calling her pretty girl. Her reaction to it only made me want to do it more.
“I don’t trust the big boys,” she replied. Her head tilted to the side and she raised one eyebrow.
Chuckling to myself, I couldn’t remember a time in my life that one female had entertained me so much. “Are you scared?”
Her eyebrows snapped together this time and I laughed harder. If you wanted Harlow to do something, then taunting her was the way to go. She didn’t back down from a dare or a threat. There was a silent toughness in her that you didn’t know existed until you spent time with her. “My pretty girl is getting all fired up. Come get me.”
Harlow let out a small growl of frustration. “Stop calling me that.”
“No,” was my only reply.
“You drive me crazy.”
I closed some of the space between us. “I drive most girls crazy, babe. It’s what I do. And they like it.”
A grin tugged at her lips but she was trying very hard to hold her frown. “I can’t imagine why they would like it.”
I stopped when I got a couple of inches from her body. “Same reason you like it. I’m so damn sexy, you can’t stay away.”
Harlow let out a laugh this time. “Is that so? If I recall, it’s you who keeps showing up at my house. I’m not the one unable to stay away.”
She had a point. I had just flown all the way back here from Florida just to see her. I reached out and rested my hand on her hip. Her whole body went rigid under my touch. “Okay, so maybe I can’t seem to stay away, but you keep letting me in the house, pretty girl.”
Harlow sighed. “Guess you got me there.”
“So, see, I’m sexy and irresistible.”
Harlow started to say something then stopped.
“You decide not to argue with me?” I asked, stepping close enough to her that our bodies were almost touching. One move and her breasts would brush up against my chest.
“What are you doing?” she asked. Her breathing was fast, and the nervous look in her eyes reminded me of a frightened deer.
“Just getting closer. You make me want to get closer.”
Harlow took a deep breath and she glanced down at our bodies before looking back up at me. “I don’t think friends do this,” she said.
I pulled her up against my body, holding her hips firmly in both my hands. “They don’t. But I don’t think about my friends the way I think about you, either. Tell me you aren’t attracted to me. Tell me you don’t think about touching me or getting close to me.”
If she said she didn’t, I would back away. It would be hard, but I’d back away. I would give her the room she needed. I just wanted to hear her say she didn’t want me, because I damn well wanted her.
“I’m not sure . . . I don’t think . . . what I want is irrelevant. You and Nan . . .”
“Me and Nan are over. There is no me and Nan. But there is a me and you. Even if you don’t want to admit it, it’s there.”
“I’m nothing like Nan.”
“You think I don’t know that? Damn, girl, if you were like Nan I wouldn’t be here. I ended things with Nan because she’s poison. You’re everything she isn’t.”
Harlow’s body began to slowly ease under my touch. I moved my thumbs against her waist in small circles, gently. “Most guys like me because of my dad. I keep my distance. I don’t want to be a status symbol.”
A sharp pain shot through my chest at her vulnerable words. Damn. Rush had lived with this same problem, but he hadn’t been a girl. He’d been a guy who didn’t care. He hadn’t been looking for someone to want him just for him. Not until Blaire. Thinking about a guy using sweet Harlow just to get near her father pissed me off. If I could hunt down every bastard that had hurt her I would.
I lifted my hand and tilted her chin up so that she was looking me directly in the eyes. I wanted her to see I was serious. I wanted her to believe me. “Never would I use you to get near your dad. I’ve known Kiro all my life. Rush is my best friend. I’m not starstruck by the members or lifestyle of Slacker Demon. This is all about you. I want you. Just you, Harlow. Just you.”
Tears prickled her big hazel eyes and she blinked rapidly. Had no one ever told her that?
“Will you kiss me now?” she whispered.
Damn. I felt like I was in junior high school again with my first crush. Five simple words from her and she had my hands trembling. I never expected her to ask me that. I wasn’t giving her time to change her mind, either. Covering her soft lips with mine was like nirvana. She tasted so damn sweet. It was one of the reasons I’d started calling her sweet girl.
I licked her bottom lip because I couldn’t get enough of her before exploring her mouth. Taking in her heat. Feeling her press her body against mine and her hands tangle in my hair. I was keeping her. I would do whatever I had to do to keep her. Hell, I’d move to L.A. if I had to. I wasn’t letting her go. For the first time in my life I felt home.
“I told you so,” I whispered against her lips before claiming her mouth again.
He had only called once after his friend had drowned. He’d been drunk and hadn’t made much sense. I had hoped he would call again the next day, but he hadn’t. I knew he was grieving and I decided it was a sign from God that he was fixing things. I had messed it up and allowed Grant to get close to me, and I hadn’t told him. I was lucky he never really cared for me. I had thought he did, and for a moment I let myself live in that fantasy.
I knew better now. The sweet words he’d spoken had all been a ploy, and they had all worked on me. I had taken them hook, line, and sinker. If I could take back that night, I would. I wasn’t going to romanticize it anymore. I had given him a part of myself I couldn’t get back. He had taken my virginity and run. For once I had let myself pretend.
I sat on the bed and stared out the window at the gulf outside. This was going to be an even tougher nine months than I’d first imagined. Not only did I have to deal with Nan, but I had to deal with Grant and Nan. I wouldn’t let it hurt me. I was stronger than that. Grant had taken my virginity but I had already been robbed of my innocence. Loving Jeremiah Duke had done that to me. I’d thought he loved me; I had thought he was my forever. He was so attentive and sweet. He carried my books at school and treated me with such care. I had told him the truth and he had pretended it didn’t matter.
Then I’d found him behind the bleachers after his football practice with Nikki Sharp’s cheerleading skirt pulled up and his shorts pulled down as he screwed her up against the cement wall. That had been it for me. I realized then that I was just Kiro’s daughter, and I was broken. I was only wanted for my social status. Nothing about me was special. That’s all guys saw when they looked at me.
He had been different. I hadn’t been Kiro’s daughter to him. I’d just been a challenge. Once he got the goods, he was done. My grandmama had always warned me about guys like him. She’d be so let down if she could see me now. I shook my head. I couldn’t think about that. It only made me feel worse. I was a survivor and I didn’t dwell on things. Feeling sorry for myself never got me anywhere. It wasn’t something I did. Wherever I was and whatever situation I was put in, I survived. I was good at it. Grandmama
always said, “Girl, you better hold that head up high and don’t let ’em see you fall. You show ’em the steel in that spine. I ain’t raisin’ a spoiled princess. I’m raisin’ a woman. A hard-working, self-sufficient, ‘don’t need no man’ woman. You hear me?” Never once did she act like there was anything wrong with me. She believed I was whole. I was fine. And at times I believed it, too.
Standing back up, I went to take a shower. I would get ready and go to the club and play tennis. They had a tennis pro there whom I could work with. Then I would play a round of golf. I would fill my days with things I could do without friends. Maybe even lie out at the club’s pool. I was going to make it through this.
Two months and three weeks ago . . .
The morning after Grant had kissed me in the pool, he was gone. The way he’d acted after kissing me had been strange. I wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he had just regretted it and didn’t know how to get away from me. Waking up the next morning without Grant there had answered that question.
Dad was also gone. He hadn’t come home from his latest party binge, but then I wasn’t surprised by that. Grant’s running off had hurt me. I hated that I felt anything for him. Kissing him had been a mistake. I wasn’t his type. I never wanted to be his type. Nan was not someone a sane person would desire to be with.
Locking myself up in my room to read didn’t sound as appealing as it had before Grant. Instead, I threw myself into tennis and swimming. I pushed all thoughts of Grant’s face out of my mind the best that I could. Someone should’ve put a warning label on his lips: Beware, don’t touch. They were hard to forget.
Three days after Grant had disappeared, I was outside swimming. Today I had successfully managed to push all thoughts of Grant to the back of my mind. So when my head broke the water to find Grant Carter standing there, looking down at me, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things or if he was really there.
I pushed my wet hair back and wiped the water from my eyes. Then I opened them again, and there he stood. Still there.