Dream of You, Page 3J. Lynn
I turned on the light in the kitchen and went straight to the fridge. Diets be damned. I picked up a can of Coke, popped the lid, and nearly drank all of it while the fridge door was still open, throwing out cold air.
“God,” I whispered, lowering the can slowly as I closed the fridge door. “Tonight…”
There were no words.
I turned around and walked out of the kitchen, carrying my can of soda and purse with me. As I walked back through the dining area, my gaze fell over the framed photos nailed to the wall. When I moved in, it had taken me nearly two years to hang those portraits.
Some were easier than others. Like the picture of me and the girls from college, standing in Times Square, or the really terrible college graduation photo. For some reason, I ended up looking cross-eyed in it. Most people would want to hide the photo, but it made me laugh.
It had made Kevin laugh.
My gaze tracked over to the photo of my parents. It had been taken in their home, in the kitchen I’d grown up in. It had been Thanksgiving morning and Dad had snuck up on Mom, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind. Both were smiling happily.
They passed away in a car accident my second year of college. It had been a huge blow, shattering. Dealing with the loss of both parents at once had been nearly impossible, but naïvely, I had believed that would be the only real loss I’d suffer. I mean, come on, what was the statistical probability of losing another loved one to something as unfair and unpredictable as another car accident?
The only photo I had hanging of Kevin was the one of him standing alone at our wedding, dressed in the tux he’d rented from a cheap wedding shop in town. It was outside, in the bright July sun, and he was more golden than blond. I loved this photo so much because it captured the warmth in his brown eyes.
That was Kevin. Always warm. Always welcoming. He was the kind of person who never met a stranger. I pressed my lips together as I stared at his boyishly handsome face. As the months had turned into years, it became harder and harder to pull his features from memory alone. The same with my parents. There were days when all of them would appear in my mind as clear as day, while other days they were nothing more than a ghost.
I’d loved Kevin. I still did. And I missed him. We had been high school sweethearts, and he’d been the only man I’d been with. Looking back, I knew we didn’t have the kind of passion that curled the toes or woke you up in the middle of the night, wet and ready, and we were simply…familiar with one another, but we loved each other.
And I didn’t regret a second I spent with him.
I just regretted the moments afterward because I knew that Kevin would’ve wanted me to move on, to find someone else to love. He wouldn’t want me to be alone.
My throat clogged and I briefly squeezed my eyes shut against the rush of tears. Holding it together, I trudged on, heading upstairs. There were three bedrooms, but one of them was barely large enough to hold a bed, so it had become my office. Which was perfect because the room faced the backyard and the garden down below, enabling me to procrastinate for hours when I should be working.
I passed the tiny hallway bedroom and entered the master at the front of the townhouse. The room was spacious, complete with its walk-in closet and attached master bath. The Jacuzzi tub had become my best friend forever since I moved in.
Flipping on the nightstand light, I walked my purse over to the dove-gray sitting chair near the door. I dug my phone out and then plugged it into the charger on the nightstand. All I wanted to do was plop face first onto the bed, but I went into the bathroom and peeled off my clothes. I started to dump them in the laundry basket, but instead, I rolled them up in a ball, panties and bra included, to take down to the trash in the morning. I didn’t want to wear the clothing again, let alone see it.
Tired, I cranked the water up and waited with my back to the mirror above the sink for the water to heat up to near scalding temps, the way I liked it.
I tried not to look at myself in the mirror when I was completely nude.
I didn’t like to see my reflection.
I wasn’t…comfortable with it.
It wasn’t the tiny dimples or the roundness of certain parts of my body that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t physical. Or maybe it was, because I hadn’t felt…attached to my own skin in a while. I knew that sounded crazy, but it was almost like I no longer even knew my own body. It was something that I wore. I wasn’t intimate with it beyond using my trusty vibrator every so often. Maybe I’d just gone too long without intimacy.
And tonight, for the first time in years, I actually felt something when Colton had touched my chin. And how sad was that? The guy had touched my chin and that was the closest to physical interaction I’d gotten since Kevin.
This was the last thing I wanted to think about tonight. My body ached as if I had overexerted myself as I stepped under the steady spray. The shower felt like the longest of my life and slipping on the worn Penn State shirt and thin, cotton shorts was literally a chore.
Finally, after what felt like forever, I was in bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the silently spinning ceiling fan and I couldn’t stop thinking about the man who died tonight. Did he have a family? A wife who was going to be getting that horrific knock on the door? Did he have kids? Were his parents still alive and would soon be burying their son? Would they ever catch the man responsible?
Did I have something to fear?
Reaching over, I picked up the remote and turned the TV on, keeping the volume low, but it did nothing to stop the steady stream of thoughts.
I’d seen someone die.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I rolled over onto my side and for the first time in years, I cried myself to sleep.
* * * *
The following morning, I stood directly in front of my coffee maker, bleary-eyed and impatient as I waited for pure happiness to stop percolating. All I’d managed to do so far was scoop up my hair and toss it up in a messy twist, but already, shorter strands were either slipping free or sticking out in every direction.
In other words, I looked like a hot mess, but I really didn’t care as I poured the steaming coffee into a cup halfway full of sugar, and I still stood there, taking my first drink, my second, and my third as the cool tile seeped through my bare feet.
Well, sleeping past eight a.m. nowadays was sleeping in. It was close to nine before I dragged myself out of bed. It wasn’t that big of a deal. The only thing I had planned later in the day was to meet up with Jillian Lima for dinner.
Jillian and I met each other at a book signing in the city. She was almost ten years younger than me, but the age difference had quickly evaporated. Jillian was a hard cookie to crack. She was almost debilitating shy, but love of books crosses all barriers. We bonded over our favorite authors and themes, and once she discovered what I did for a living, she started to open up.
For the last year, we met every Saturday night to discuss books over dinner. Sometimes we’d grab a movie or head to the bookstore, and I was going to miss her. In the spring, she would be transferring to a college in West Virginia. I still didn’t know why she was doing that. That was a little nugget of info I couldn’t wiggle out of her.
I’d just topped off my cup of coffee when the doorbell rang, surprising me. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Leaving the cup on the counter, I padded across the floor and peered out the front window, but since there were always cars I didn’t recognize parked out front, that made no difference. Rolling my eyes, I reached for the door handle, cursing the fact that there wasn’t a peephole in the door.
My jaw unhinged on a sharp inhale, and the ability to form comprehensive thoughts fled.
Colton Anders, in all his blue-eyed babe glory, stood on my stoop. “Good morning, Abby.”
I was beyond responding.
He stood there with a medium-size pink box in one hand and the other shoved in the pocket of his trousers. The five-o’clock
shadow was heavier, giving him a rough edge that my sleep-fogged mind found incredibly sexy.
Okay. I would find that sexy anytime.
He was dressed as he was the night before, and I had the distinct impression he hadn’t been to bed yet, which really wasn’t fair, because how could he look this good without sleeping?
One side of his lips curled up, revealing the left-sided dimple. “Can I…come in? I brought crepes with me.”
“You like crepes, right? You have to like them,” he added, grinning. “Everyone loves crepes and these are the shit. They are rolled in cinnamon and brown sugar.”
“I…I thoroughly enjoy them.” My ass also thoroughly enjoyed them. Moving back, I stepped aside. “How do you know where I live?”
Colton stepped in, his chin dipped down. I wasn’t a small lady, coming in at five foot eight, but standing next to him, I felt small, delicate even, and that was an odd feeling. “It was on your statement. I probably should’ve called first, but I was on my way home from the station and your house was on the way. So was the bakery.”
I didn’t know what to say as I closed the door behind him, but my heart was pounding in my chest and my stomach was wiggling in a weird way, sort of like the way I’d seen described a thousand times. Butterflies. But more powerful. Like large birds of prey or pterodactyls. “You live nearby?”
His grin spread. “I live over on Plymouth Road.”
That was nowhere near my house. The butterflies increased. “Oh. In the apartments over there?”
He nodded. “Did I wake you?”
“No. I…” That was about when I realized that I was wearing nothing but a pair of sleep shorts and an old shirt that pretty much hid nothing. I didn’t even need to look down to know that my nipples were most likely noticeable. And my thighs? Oh, dear God.
“I smell coffee though,” he said, glancing toward the kitchen. “So I’m guessing not?”
He spoke as if he hadn’t noticed I had some major headlights and chub rub going on, but then again, why would someone like Colton even notice that in the first place? My attention flipped to the stairway. A huge part of me wanted to rush upstairs and throw a Snuggie on. Or at least a bra.
I really needed to put a bra on.
“No. You didn’t wake me up,” I said, glancing back at him. The air suddenly punched out of my lungs.
Colton was so not looking at my face.
He was looking below the shoulders, his gaze lingering in some areas longer than others. Like at the edge of my shorts and then across the chest, as if he were committing the words Penn State to memory. A tingle buzzed to the tips of my breasts. His gaze gradually drifted up to my face and those blue eyes…they reminded me of the core of a flame. Heat blossomed deep inside me, infiltrating my veins. The intensity of it was shocking.
So much so I stepped back. “I’m going to…I’ll be right back.”
That half grin remained in place. “Mind if I help myself to the coffee?”
“No. Not at all.” I edged toward the stairwell. “Help away.”
Spinning around, I dashed up the stairs and into my bedroom. Once inside, I pressed my palms to my warm cheeks. “Oh my God.”
I headed into the bathroom and saw, thank God, that my face wasn’t blood red, but my cheeks were flushed and my hazel eyes, more brown than green, seemed bright. Feverish. Turning on the cold water, I bent over and quickly splashed it over my face. Oh goodness, I had only ever read about men staring at women in a way that it felt like a physical touch before. I hadn’t really believed it possible.
Straightening, I grabbed my toothbrush and quickly got down to business, all the while trying to get a grip on reality. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Colton was here because of what happened last night. There could be no other reason, so I needed to keep my overactive imagination where it belonged, at work. Yes, it was odd that he’d just pop over, but maybe he felt like he needed to tell me in person. And the checking me out? Maybe he was just reading my shirt.
Okay. That was stupid. He had definitely been looking at my breasts, but he was a dude and I was a chick, so these things happened.
Especially when you were nipply and you weren’t wearing a bra.
I grabbed a bra and a pair of yoga pants I’d never in my entire life ever worn while doing yoga. I quickly re-twisted my hair and then resisted the urge to put makeup on. At this point, if I went back downstairs with a peachy glow and to die for lashes, it would be way too obvious.
I couldn’t believe Colton Anders had seen me braless before I had my first full cup of coffee. What is my life?
Ignoring the near constant flutter in the pit of my stomach, I headed back downstairs. What I saw had the weirdest, bittersweet feel to it.
Colton had placed the box of crepes on the dining table and moved my cup of coffee to the seat catty-corner to where he was sitting, at the head of the table. A fresh cup of coffee was placed in front of him. There were even plates and he’d found my napkins. And utensils.
It was so…familiar, and again, intimate.
“How are you hanging in there after last night?” he asked without looking up.
“Okay, I guess. I mean, I’m trying not to think about it.” Except that was a terrible lie. It was almost all I thought about last night.
He glanced up and the side of his lips quirked up. “I must say, I sort of liked what you were wearing before more.”
My cheeks flushed red as I made my way to the table. “You must be exhausted then.”
One eyebrow arched. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m never too tired to appreciate the beauty of a woman who just woke up and is still walking around in the clothes she slept in.”
I sat down, eyeing him like he was a foreign species. “I didn’t know you were a charmer.”
“More like an outrageous flirt,” he corrected, opening the box of crepes. “Obviously I’m not very good at it.”
Clasping my hands in my lap, all I could do was watch him pluck up a crepe and plop it down on my plate. Was he saying he was trying to flirt with me? That was definitely not typical detective protocol.
Well, not outside romance novels.
“I’m still shocked that it was you when I walked into the office last night. God. How many years has it been? Too many.” He moved on, picking up another crepe and placing it on his plate. “I really am sorry to hear about Kevin. The one thing I’ve learned over and over is that life is not guaranteed. Ever.”
“That’s true.” I glanced at the crepe. It looked delish, but nerves were conquering my appetite. “It’s hard to deal with and move on, but you do, even when there are a lot of moments when you don’t think that’ll happen.”
“And you have?” He picked up a knife and fork, cutting into the crepe. “You’ve moved on?”
“I…” The question caught me off guard, and I glanced at the photo of Kevin. “It was four years ago and I…I will always love him, but I have…I have closed that chapter of my life.”
His gaze flicked to mine and he didn’t look away as he lifted a piece of crepe to his mouth. He ate it with pure enjoyment, as if it was the first and last piece of food he’d ever devoured, and I couldn’t help but think if he ate food with such gusto, what he was like eating—
I cut that thought off and quickly turned my attention to my plate. Oh my God, what was wrong with me? Why I was thinking about Colton eating…well, definitely not food. Then again, who wouldn’t think about that when they saw him and those lush lips?
“So what have you been up to, Abby?”
My chin jerked up as my heart turned over heavily. “I graduated from Penn State. Um, I worked in New York at a publishing house.”
His brows flew up. “Really? That’s impressive.”
I shrugged a shoulder. “Well, it was not an easy job to get. I had to put my time in. Luckily, I was able to spend a summer in
terning while in college. It helped open connections, but I was still an assistant editor by the time I left. Kevin worked at a different publishing house. He made senior editor in record time. Of course.”
“Why?” He was almost done with his crepe.
I smiled faintly. “The publishing industry sure loves their boys.”
“Interesting. I didn’t know that.” He paused. “And you left after Kevin passed away?”
I nodded. “I just…well, I wasn’t a fan of the city. Even Philadelphia has nothing on New York. It was so damn expensive and I didn’t see a point in staying there afterward.”
He picked up a second crepe. “And do you still work as an editor?”
“Freelance.” I reached up, tugging a strand of hair that came loose back and behind my ear. “I still freelance for publishers and for indies.”
“Indies?” Genuine curiosity colored his tone.
“Independent authors—those who don’t work with a publisher. Right now I’m working on Jamie McGuire’s new novel. It’s called Other Lives, and it’s freaking fantastic. Sometimes my job is hard, though.”
“Why? Dealing with authors?”
I laughed. “All the authors I’ve worked with have been great. Like Jamie? She’s one hell of a firecracker, but she’s a sweetheart. But sometimes I just suck at remembering this is a job. Like I need to be paying close attention, but I get caught up in the story and the next thing I know I have to go back and reread an entire chapter. I’m hoping she hires me for her next Maddox Brother’s book. I’m a huge…” I laughed, a bit self-consciously. “Sorry. I can be a bit of a fan girl.”
I bit down on my lip. “There’s nothing more amazing than seeing a book you’ve worked on get talked about and loved or when it hits a list. You feel like you’re a part of something bigger.”
Colton was grinning as he watched me closely. “You really love your job.”