Authors: Juliet Chastain
Tags: #Erotic Romance
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Juliet Chastain
Cover Artist: Victoria Miller
Editor: Spencer Freeman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
Hunched over his computer, Nicholas Barberis logged onto his e-mail and checked his flight confirmation. Again. And the hotel reservation. Again. Yep, there it was, spelled out on the screen. He’d fly out on Friday afternoon and return Sunday morning. And he was booked into the best suite in the Hotel Aurelia.
Once again he pulled out the invitation and checked the date. He knew he was being ridiculous. He flew all over the world, for heaven’s sake, and never behaved like this. He never double-checked times or dates no matter how important the meeting or the people involved. He paid his assistant well to take care of details like this, and she always did—flawlessly. She’d been her usual efficient self when he’d asked her to book him into the sole hotel in the tiny, back-of-beyond town of Aurelia, Ohio. She knew he had been born and bred there. In fact, anyone who was into multi-player video games or who paid attention to business news knew that. But the third time he’d asked her to confirm his itinerary, she’d looked at him funny. So now he closed the door to his office and checked it himself.
Then he pulled out the invitation to his high school reunion. Studied it for the umpteenth time. And the note from Jay Bunter, reunion chairman, that had come with it:
Hey Barberis, my best bud, I sure hope to see you at the dinner dance. I know you and I have so much to talk about.
Nicholas shook his head and thought back to all the times Jay and his crew made his life a living hell, pushing him around and making fun of the fact that his clothes were off-brand.
“I’ve got nothing I care to discuss with you.” He tore the note in two.
He didn’t give a damn about those guys. Or the girls who’d looked at him funny and giggled when he walked by in the school halls. He tore the note some more and threw the pieces in the wastebasket. He was an adult now, and if they still thought him a weirdo he didn’t care. He wasn’t going back to see them; he was going to the class reunion for one reason and one reason only: to see
, Dana Mitchell.
He’d been in love with Dana since he’d first met her the day she toddled over to him and asked him to join her next door in her sandbox. She’d been a cute, plump four-year-old then. Now, years later, his feelings for her were unchanged.
He opened up her last e-mail. He knew it by heart but he read it anyway.
Hey, Nicholas, you going to the reunion? I’ll go if you go. I want to see if everyone in our class—except you—was really as horrible as I remember them.
It didn’t sound like she was particularly anxious to see him. So he typed,
Yeah, I’d like to check that out myself. See you there.
He’d thought it over and added,
How about lunch on Saturday?
She replied immediately.
Okay. And here’s my cell number in case we can’t connect.
He grimaced and ran his fingers through his hair. It had been years since he’d heard her voice. When the Mitchells first moved away, he couldn’t afford a cell phone, so they’d e-mailed each other—he’d had to do it from a computer at the library. Once he could afford his own phone, he waited patiently for the time Dana would say they should call each other. Somehow that had never happened. He sighed. Perhaps she hadn’t wanted to talk...
At least she hadn’t turned his lunch invitation down. His fingers itched to reply that he couldn’t wait to see her. To ask her to have dinner with him Friday, breakfast Saturday, and could they get together on Sunday? He’d be happy to change his schedule. But he refrained. He’d always been very careful not to e-mail her more often than she e-mailed him. And to keep his messages brief. He didn’t want to appear too anxious, too needy. Didn’t want to let her know that he lived for her e-mails. Didn’t want to show how much he cared.
Yeah, he could have—maybe
have—gone to see her in Baltimore once he could afford the plane fare. He groaned at the memory. He’d been too shy. Couldn’t figure how to simply appear on her doorstep with no excuse beyond that he was still crazy in love with her, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
It wasn’t that he was lonely now; his world was very different from the wretched one he’d endured in high school. He glanced through some of his other personal e-mails, smiled at the notes from friends wanting to get together, telling him about a great band or a new video game he might not have heard of.
And the e-mails from women—here was someone introducing herself, telling him they had all sorts of things in common, from a fondness for the Black Keys to thinking Will Wright was the greatest game designer on the planet. Whoever she was, she had obviously read the article about him in
The New York Times
. She repeated every detail in the same words as the reporter who had wheedled the personal information out of him.
He sighed. Read another e-mail and shook his head. Sexual favors from someone he didn’t even remember meeting wasn’t something he wanted. Looked like he’d have to change his personal e-mail address again.
Now that he wasn’t so scrawny and poor, it seemed like half the women he met wanted to jump into bed with him. And that included some of the most beautiful women in the world. He had to admit, for several years it had felt great to have women after him, and he’d taken plenty of advantage of that, thoroughly enjoying himself in such attractive company. But the truth was, he really only wanted one woman. Even though they hadn’t seen one another in seven years, they’d been faithful pen pals the whole time, sharing their thoughts and many of the details of their days. They’d shared plenty of their feelings too—except he’d kept his love for her to himself, always waiting, hoping, she’d give him some hint that she felt the same way he did.
He didn’t care what Dana looked or sounded like now; he was perfectly clear how he felt about her. He loved her more than anything, and that’s all that mattered.
If by some miracle things felt right—and he hoped with all his heart that they would—he would ask her to marry him. If she didn’t feel the way he did, well, he wouldn’t embarrass her by proposing. They could go on e-mailing each other every day or two and he would have to settle for that.
Dana opened her suitcase and took out the outfit she had bought to wear to the class reunion dinner and dance tomorrow night. She put it on and studied herself in the mirror. Serious brown eyes belied her curly, blonde hair. Her friends told her she was pretty. She shrugged thinking of it. Yeah, she looked pretty good, she thought. She’d outgrown the bad skin and outrun the fat that had helped make her teen years in Aurelia miserable.
The dress showed off her curvy figure, but maybe the salmon color was too sober. Maybe she should have chosen a livelier color. Maybe... She sighed. It didn’t matter what she wore because all eyes would be on Patti Malone, queen of the prom and the heart’s desire of nearly every boy at Aurelia High. Dana wondered if Patti was still the same breathtakingly beautiful, mean, self-satisfied bitch she’d been in school.
She reminded herself that the only person she wanted to impress was Nicholas, and he wasn’t the kind of person to care about her appearance. After all, he had liked her when she was a plain, fat girl with bad skin. Nicholas liked her for her. Still, she wanted more. She wanted him to find her desirable, someone he would love. Someone he would want to take to bed. She couldn’t help imagining herself in his arms as he whispered that he’d longed for this moment.
She hadn’t seen him for years, although she would have liked to, but she hadn’t dared suggest it since she’d seen in the paper that he was the chief designer at one of the most successful video gaming companies in the world, and the Internet was full of talk about him and his games. She smiled, thinking about how he’d patiently taught her to play Nintendo, how they’d designed their own world on her dad’s computer, and how, when they needed a break, they’d go to the Dairy Queen and share a small cone of plain chocolate.
Nicholas was probably way out of her league now, but maybe because he was funny-looking and shy, and they’d been best friends forever, she had a fighting chance.
She’d always seen him so clearly in her mind’s eye, which was why she’d never thought to ask for a photo. Now it suddenly occurred to her that he might have changed so much she wouldn’t recognize him. He’d told her that he was now six-two. He must be a really scrawny scarecrow. She smiled at the thought. Not that his appearance mattered. He was her best friend. Even if they only stayed in touch via e-mail.
“Fact is, I love him,” she said to the mirror. “Fact is, I hope to hell that he will fall madly in love with me.” She frowned. “Another fact is that I’m terrified of seeing him again. It’s been so long—what if we don’t even like each other in person? What if all my dreaming about him all these years is just a silly fantasy?”
She told herself to stop worrying.
There’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
She took off the dress and hung it up. Then she slipped out of the heels and pulled on jeans, her old boots, and a thick sweater to run over to the sub shop and pick up something for dinner.
She left her room and summoned the elevator. When it opened, there he was.
Only this was no tall, gawky scarecrow. Although he wore the same kind of flannel shirt he always used to wear, this one fit his broad shoulders perfectly. Her gaze travelled south to his jeans, which showed off his slim hips and muscular thighs that strained the fabric. He had the same inscrutable, piercing green eyes and the same dark hair, which had obviously been cut by someone more skilled than his mother. And somehow he’d grown into that straight nose and generous mouth. He’d become a hunk.
“N-N-Nicholas?” she stammered.
The man nodded. They stared at each other. The door began to close. He stepped forward and must have pushed the button because the door slid open again.
“Hello, Dana,” he said. His voice was lower than she remembered. Sexy. She shivered.
“Oh! Hi,” she managed to say.
“Are you going down?”
“Oh, er, yes, yes I am.” Could she be any more idiotic? And how could he have become that gorgeous? Perhaps, if he’d looked more like the awkward geeky kid she remembered, she could have handled this better. If he were still like that kid, she would have thrown her arms around him. Told him how thrilled she was to see him. But not this mind-blowingly attractive man.
“What a surprise to see you,” she managed to say in what she hoped was a normal voice. Hoping he couldn’t hear the loud beating of her heart, she stepped into the elevator.
“But I e-mailed you that I was coming.”
“Well, I mean, here in the elevator...”
“Yes,” he said seriously. “That is a surprise. I didn’t expect to meet up this way.”
“I, um, I thought I’d go to the sub shop. Pick up something for dinner.”
He smiled. “A coincidence. I was going to do the same. How about if we go out somewhere instead?”
“I’m up for that.” God! Would she be able to get even a tiny morsel down in the presence of the god-like creature her friend had become? She would have to say goodbye to her dreams—her fantasies—about him. No way the wildly successful, total babe he’d become would fall for an ordinary woman like herself.
“How about Harvey’s across the street?”
“I guess,” she said. Could she not think of anything brighter?
“I saw the lights were on when I got into town an hour or so ago. I’ve never eaten there,” he said.
“Me neither,” she said. “I hear it’s really expensive.”
Oh god, I didn’t need to say that—he’s stinking rich now, and I can manage if we split the bill.
“Let’s give it a try, my treat.”