This week’s theme is Vacation…All I Ever Wanted. Friday I’m in Love begins with my heroine falling into a bit of a depression. She decides to get out of town and ends up staying with some friends. Little does she know Ewan Collins has plans for her seven-day vacation that are going to heat up her bed and change her life.
Natalie looked up and found Ewan Collins standing beside her table. “Was there a two-for-one deal on that line somewhere and I missed it? I’m gonna tell you what I just told Sky. Nothing’s wrong with me. Now get lost.”
He smiled and ignored her request, claiming the seat Sky had vacated. She steadfastly ignored the heat suddenly permeating her skin at his proximity. It was always the same any time he was within five feet of her. Her body went into serious overdrive. She resisted the urge to fan herself and blamed it on a hot flash. Early onset menopause. Sure. That could be it.
“You’ve been moping around all day. It’s a party, and you’ve done nothing but sit and nurse the same glass of wine. So I’ll repeat my question. What the hell is up with you?”
Natalie scowled. Ewan had been a thorn in her side since the night they’d met—the night of Sky’s final concert with his previous group, The Universe. Though they’d spent less than a month’s worth of days together in the past three years, she typically spent weeks thinking about him and their conversations after each visit. His pursuit of her had been relentless, but she had to give him points for persistence.
“You know,” she said, deciding evasion was her best bet. “I just don’t get you.”
He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “That’s because I’m an enigma. Even my own family doesn’t know what to make of me.”
She ignored his jest. “I’m fairly certain I’ve made my feelings for you clear. Have I not?” She had him age-wise by nearly a decade and to say she was typically a total bitch whenever they were together was probably putting it lightly.
Ewan nodded. “If you mean telling me get lost, go fuck myself and you are the most annoying man I’ve ever met, then yes, I think all of that was pretty straightforward.”
“And yet here you sit.” She gestured at him, letting her irritation show.
“That’s because I know you don’t mean any of that.”
She raised one eyebrow. “I don’t?”
He shook his head. “Your words say go away, but your eyes say come closer.” He punctuated that inane comment by leaning toward her. She tried to force her body to move away or, at the very least, shove his ass out of the booth, but found herself trying to covertly sneak a sniff of his scent. She wasn’t sure what it was about his smell that attracted her so. She could detect the slight odor of the beer he’d been drinking on his breath. And damn, if she didn’t feel her mouth watering for a taste.
“This is insane,” she muttered to herself, surprised when his grin grew.
“Nope. It’s chemistry.”
“I’m too old for you.” It was her standard fallback line. The one she’d used time after time to push him away.
He rested his forehead against hers intimately and again she wondered why she never tore into him for his inappropriate familiarity. They didn’t know each other well enough for him to crowd her personal space like this, and yet, she never resisted when he grabbed her hand to hold, never shrugged him off when he wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulder.
“I’m twenty-six to your thirty-four. Eight years, Nat. That’s all. That excuse is lame. Why don’t you try to find a new one?”
“How about I’m not interested?”
He smiled. “Well, now you’re just lying.”
She scowled and moved her face away from his, frustration growing in her chest. “It is taking every ounce of strength in my body not to throw you through a wall right now.”
He laughed and put his arm against the back of the booth, caging her in. “Oh babydoll. I’d love to see that.”
She knew her threat was empty. While she was nearly five foot nine, the top of her head barely cleared his shoulders when they were standing. Unlike his brothers—who were built like goliath football players, Ewan was lankier, his build reminding her more of a basketball player. A basketball player with rock-hard abs and muscular arms that could hold a woman against a wall and—
She closed her eyes and forced the naughty fantasy away. Damn man was starring in more of her wet dreams lately than Gerard Butler. She cleared her throat and gave him a narrow-eyed scowl. “Babydoll is a sexist term and I find it highly offensive.”
“No you don’t.”
She clenched her fists and fought the urge to strike him. “Stop telling me what I think!”
“You finished dodging the subject at hand?”
She threw in the towel. She didn’t have the energy for this. “I’m just tired.” Her answer was weak, but it wasn’t entirely untrue. She was averaging five hours of restless sleep a night, if she was lucky.
“Why are you tired?”
She closed her eyes and prayed for patience. This was how conversations with Ewan went. He asked a question, she answered, and then he asked more.
“I was reading a really sexy book last night and spent half the night masturbating with my vibrator. All those amazing orgasms can really take it out of you, you know?” She hoped her smartass comment would embarrass him, shut him up.
She should have known better.
“Shit, Nat. I wish you would have waited. I’m going to be downstairs from you tonight. I can fuck you a helluva lot better than a lousy piece of plastic.”
She’d been given Tristan’s old room on the third floor to sleep in while she was staying with the family, but sleep didn’t seem to be something she was going to be doing much of, especially not after the sexy seed Ewan had just planted.
“In your dreams, kiddo. I don’t play with children,” she said, although she wasn’t all that concerned that he was younger.
For one thing, he didn’t act young, but she supposed that was because he’d been responsible—along with his sister, Keira—for running the restaurant side of his family’s business since graduating from college. Teagan raved about his management abilities and smooth administration. The fun, sexually explicit banter he engaged in with Natalie seemed to be the exception, rather than the norm, and she got the feeling the rest of his family saw him as serious, responsible, staid.
“Thought you weren’t gonna play the age card again?”
“Old habits die hard.”
“You’re quiet today, distant. Why do I get the feeling it’s more than fatigue?”
“I would think you’d be glad I’m quiet. I mean, it’s not as if there’s ever been any love lost between us. You and I are like—”
He looked so genuinely shocked she stopped midsentence, the words oil and water dying on her tongue.
“No love lost? I’m crazy about you, Nat. You must know that?”
She laughed. “You really are going to have to give up this schoolboy crush. I’ve been nothing but a bitch to you since day one.”
He grasped her hand and she looked at him in surprise. “I haven’t been a boy in a long time, babydoll. And I’m more than man enough to deal with you and your so-called bitchiness.”
She wished her body hadn’t heard those words. The second he uttered more than man enough, her nipples went on red alert and she was a bit worried about the sudden dampness in her panties. She tried to tug her hand out of his grip, but he refused to relinquish it. “Listen, hotshot—”
“Save it, Nat. Why are you depressed?”
She panicked at his words. “I’m not depressed. I don’t get depressed. Ever.” Her words came out far too loud and she watched him study her face intently. She bit her lower lip, realizing Ewan Collins was far too observant when it came to her. He was also cutting too close to the core. Honesty seemed her best bet. “I’m thirty-four years old and I have fuck-all to show for my life.”
Ewan frowned. “That’s not true. You own and operate an incredibly successful photography studio in Palm Springs. You’re one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met. Your pictures are beautiful.”
She was taken aback by his praise, surprised he’d seen enough of her work to judge. “How do you know that?”
“I check out your website on occasion, plus Teagan is always emailing us pictures you’ve taken of her and Sky. You have an amazing eye.”
“Yeah, that’s me. The queen of composition, lighting, shading. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire life behind the lens of a camera.”
Ewan lightly caressed the skin on the back of her neck and she marveled at how comforting the simple gesture was. “You sound like you’re questioning your career choice.”
“Do I?” she asked. “That’s not my intention. I love my job. But sometimes I feel like that’s all there is to me. I’m defined by a freaking camera.”
“That’s not true. I know Sky and Teagan consider you their friend, not their photographer.”
“I know that. It’s just…” She paused, trying to find a way to express the dark thoughts that had been plaguing her since her birthday. “It’s just…I’m never in any of the pictures.”
His eyebrows creased and she knew he was confused by her comment. She tried to clarify. “I’m not really sure what I have to show for my life. Hell, I’m not sure I’ve lived a life. I stand on the sidelines of every event, snapping picture after picture of other people living, celebrating, doing something. God, doing anything.” Her voice betrayed her frustration and she took a breath, tried to calm down when she noticed Tris Collins glance up at her from the bar.
Ewan rubbed her hand, his other arm still draped around her, and she felt wholly surrounded by his presence. “What did you hope to have achieved by now that you haven’t?”
His question caught her off-guard. She’d spent months commiserating over her lost youth, never once thinking about what it was she was grieving. And with one simple question, Ewan had thrown her for a loop…again. “Well, I don’t know exactly. I’ve been to hundreds of weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries. I’ve seen thousands of people celebrating events with loved ones. I’ve never done anything worth celebrating and even if I did, I wouldn’t have anybody to commemorate it with. I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t generally have one of those personalities people flock to.”
“Prickly?” he asked, though she knew his comment wasn’t a question.
“No, not prickly. Strong-willed, self-assured, independent.” She struggled to find those three words.
“Opinionated, arrogant, bitchy. Got it.”
She opened her mouth to lambaste him and then closed it again. He was right. There was no debating the truth.
“Damn,” he muttered. “You are down and out. No snappy comeback, Nat?”
She shook her head.
“I sort of got the impression you were happy on your own. You always say people are an annoyance you don’t have time for.”
She looked around the room briefly, wondering how she always got into these conversations with Ewan. He always made her say too much, tell too many secrets she never intended to reveal. “That’s true. I guess maybe sometimes I think it might be nice to have a friend. Someone normal and not obnoxious. Someone who doesn’t get their feelings easily hurt when I tell them they suck.”
He laughed and she realized her requirements for a friend did sound pretty pathetic. “Isn’t that Sky?” he asked.
“It was—I mean, is. It’s just, he’s got Teagan now and, well…things are different.”
Ewan smiled and she felt a flash of anger spark. Here she was unloading all her misery, confessing things she’d never told another living soul, and he was giving her that stupid, annoying, lopsided grin.
She scowled. “Glad you find this all so funny. Get away from my table.”
He moved closer and she fought to hold on to her annoyance. God, men as handsome as Ewan Collins should be illegal.
“I’m not laughing at you, babydoll. I’m just glad your problem is so easily solved.”
She looked at him, confused. She’d spent months feeling sorry for herself, trying to find a way out of her funk, and nothing had presented itself. Even leaving town for a change of scenery, a change of company hadn’t helped.
She studied Ewan’s confident face and realized that if anyone could solve her problem, it was probably him. Why she felt that way, she couldn’t say. There was simply something deep inside her that said trust him.
“Show me the way.” Her request was softly spoken, but Ewan heard it.
“How long are you staying here?” he asked.
“A week.” It was Saturday afternoon and she had a flight booked to return to Palm Springs early in the morning the following Saturday.
Ewan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Seven days. It’s a little tight, but we can manage.”
“I’m going to teach you a lesson a day. Seven lessons you can live by so you never feel this way again. You, Natalie Miller, are about to get a life.”
Why don’t you take a vacation with these authors as well?