Authors: Annabel Wolfe
“You need to let go.” It was said gently and well meant, but a day too late. Whenever the information was released that Jack was alive, everyone would be looking at her, wondering what she was going to do, and she didn’t have a clue herself, so that was going to be interesting.
“I need to really think about things,” she equivocated, setting down her glass. “Life isn’t quite as black and white as I first imagined before Jack left. I suppose I thought I’d meet someone and fall in love and that would be that. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Who can say you can’t fall in love twice?”
As if to emphasize that thought, the system over the restaurant intercom started playing a song on just that theme—older tune, but applicable.
Yes, she’d fallen in love twice. No doubt about it.
How to handle it was another question. The last thing she wanted was to come between Eric and Jack. Yes, she’d mourned Jack, but she had no illusions, Eric had mourned as well, probably as deeply. Romantic love was not the same as friendship, but emotion can’t be measured or put in a neat compartment.
Especially for her. Now.
Quietly, she agreed, “I am not saying it isn’t possible—not at all. I’m just saying that Eric and I have something we need to work out.”
Her sister regarded her over the rim of her glass. “As in?”
She said succinctly, “Jack.”
“As you just pointed out, I loved him.” So true. Still true.
She’d slept with him. Just last night.
It had been…intense, but everything about Jack was that way. In bed, Eric was entirely different. Gentle, taking his time, lingering over every touch, every heated whisper, deft, thorough and oh-so sexy. He’d waited so patiently for that first time, not pressuring her though she knew he wanted to take that next step, and when she did finally invite him to stay the night, in the morning she’d had no regrets.
She still didn’t, but it was suddenly very complicated. In essence, she’d cheated on them both, but it didn’t really feel that way. With Eric she’d thought Jack was gone, and last night, well, she hadn’t been given much time to think about it. Even if she had…
It was doubtful she would have said no.
“So you really think it is possible to be in love with two men at the same time?” She gazed at her sister, finally giving up and pushing her plate aside as an indication she was finished trying to pretend to eat.
“Of course,” Cadence said promptly, nodding, swirling her spoon in her tea glass. “I have two children. If we have a third, and Roger is still talking about trying for a boy, I’ll love that child just as much as I do the other two. If, God forbid, it happened to be twins, same thing. I know you’re still in love with Jack, but”—she stopped, and went on gently—“but he’s gone. You can be in love with Eric too, Nick. I’ve seen you two together. It’s good.” She grinned in an obvious effort to lighten the tenor of the conversation. “And he’s a hottie, let’s face it.”
Yes, he was, but Jack was no longer out of the picture. He was back, bigger than life in a way only Jack could be, and she had no idea what to do.
“Thanks for the pep talk,” she murmured as the waitress came by and swept her full plate away.
“For what it’s worth, if Eric asks the big question, I say you tell him yes.”
“I doubt I’m ready to make the decision,” Nicole responded and picked up the bill. An understatement. “I’m buying today. Compensation for the therapy session.”
“I invited you,” Cadence protested.
“Yeah, well I have a feeling I might need another one of these sessions with Dr. Cadence, so you can buy next time.” Nicole set her credit card on the slip.
“Is there something wrong?” Cadence looked at her curiously. “You’re right, you seem very distracted today. You have been ever since I picked you up.”
Wrong? She wasn’t sure if that was how to put it.
Right? She wasn’t sure if that was accurate either.
Jack had gone on missions. Lots of them. Gotten the orders, been sent out over deserts and jungles, and known the enemy was there.
Life and death for his country.
But this was
The really stupid part of it was that it was Eric’s life too, and it might be a contradiction, but he was concerned for them both.
A car pulled into the drive, alerting him that the dynamic was about to change. Again.
He could deal. He was trained to think on his feet.
Of course, he thought, a woman was a more complicated proposition than taking an enemy camp or infiltrating a high-security outpost.
When Nicole came through the door he was in the kitchen, sitting in the same chair as when she had left, reading the newspaper. He hadn’t had that luxury in quite a while. The quiet house too, clean and cool, with its pretty furniture and pictures on the walls, was more foreign to him than a barren stretch of blistering desert.
Getting politely to his feet, he asked, “Have fun?”
“So it wasn’t a dream after all,” she said, her voice modulated and low, her gaze holding his. “The entire time I kept thinking that I was suffering from some sort of delusion.”
“I’m real.” He grinned crookedly. “Maybe you remember last night.”
“I remember.” Her return smile was poignant. “Where’s Eric?”
“He went home to unpack. Said he’s been in Phoenix on business for ten days. Besides, we drank the two beers you had, so he is going to pick up more.”
Her face, so achingly beautiful to him, revealed her tension, as did the set of her shoulders. She rested her back against the counter. “He’s coming back?”
Jack nodded and tried to decide if that was a relief for her or not. “He’s not about to walk away from you, Nikki.”
She blinked and took in a deep breath. “I keep thinking I should apologize to you for some reason, but then again, I am not sure what for.”
He sure as hell had been thinking about the situation. “I have the advantage of expecting to walk back into a complicated mess. I’m going to guess my parents sold my car and got rid of everything else in my apartment. There’s nothing quite like being homeless and driving a rental.”
He admired the soft swing of her honey hair as she shook her head. “I think most of it is in a storage unit. Your mother couldn’t stand to go through it. She and I tried, but…it was too hard. We’ve been putting off trying to go back to it. As for your car, your cousin Donny bought it.”
To relieve the mood, he theatrically groaned over the loss of his ’69 convertible mustang. Cherry condition, new paintjob, the works. It did pain him a little actually, but he’d been resigned to it. “That asshole. He always wanted that car, and the minute I’m dead he—”
“You were gone for thirteen months,” she interrupted, her eyes suddenly luminous with tears. “And officially dead for eight. Eight months doesn’t sound like forever, but it can be, trust me.”
“I don’t have to take your word for it.” He ached to take her in his arms but stayed put by sheer force of will. “I lived it too. Wondering about you, not able to as much as call, and not having loads of fun where I was, either. Maybe I should have become a stockbroker or something.”
“That’s not you.”
True enough. He’d reached that conclusion himself a long time ago. “What is the definition of Jack Templeton?” He finally moved toward her, not predatory exactly, but with definite intent, going around the table. “I can give you a few hints. He’s damned glad to be back in this great country. He’s in love with a very beautiful woman, and he’s fully aware that his sudden reappearance has shaken her world.” He reached out and did nothing more than skim his fingertips across her smooth cheek.
And she turned her face and kissed his palm.
It happened to be the sexiest thing in the world.
With a low groan he pulled her into his arms and lowered his head to kiss her. Not like the night before when he’d done it with all the repressed passion of missing the hell out of her for so long, with every ounce of frustrated longing and desire he’d felt when he was away. But softly, tenderly, a gentle dance of tongue on tongue, his hand sliding down her throat, the backs of his fingers tracing that feminine curve.
When he lifted his head, he said in a timbre that was lower than his usual tone, “I don’t want to turn your life upside down. I just…
Her laugh was more of a hiccup. “Trust you to make it sound simple. Eric and I…”
When she trailed off he finished for her. “Are lovers. I get that, believe me. I got it the minute he let himself into this house and called your name and I saw your face. I guess if I’d paid more attention to your comment about birth control, I might have wondered, but I was a little distracted having you naked in my arms.”
She nodded. “If I’d known—”
“You didn’t.” Jack lightly touched her again and then moved away. Some distance was a good idea. He really wanted to pick her up in his arms and take her to the bedroom for a repeat performance of last night, but thinking with his dick was ill advised right now. This needed to be handled the right way. “I’m not even exactly jealous. Of the time he spent with you that I didn’t, yes.” He looked at her directly. “Like I said before, at least it’s Eric.”
It was difficult to decide if she was relieved or should be upset that Jack was handling her defection—well, wrong word since she technically didn’t have him to defect from or so she thought at the time—into someone else’s bed with equanimity.
Not that she wanted male outrage and the resulting fallout.
But, truth be told, she’d expected it. She was glad they weren’t at each other’s throats when she thought about it, but all of this was a bit overwhelming. Plus, she needed to talk to Eric…
Somewhere, a cell phone started ringing. Jack’s head lifted and he glanced over his shoulder toward the bedroom, but he didn’t move to answer it. “I recognize the ring. Press conference is set,” he said coolly, looking at her with inscrutable eyes. “I’ll get another call when it is over. I guess I can see my parents tonight. Or at least by tomorrow. Can I stay if they don’t get it on the news tonight?”
The deep flutter in her stomach was undeniable. It didn’t help he looked so outrageously gorgeous with his tousled dark hair and those compelling gray eyes.
“Of course.” Her voice was slightly hoarse. “Did you ever think I would say no? Jack, please.”
“I love you. Always did.”
,” she was able to say right back with complete honesty. “But it isn’t as simple as before you left.”
His smile was a faint curve of his lips. “Babe, I’m not sure it was all that simple then.”
She smiled. “True enough.”
phone hadn’t gone off then, the ring also recognizable, she wasn’t sure what they might have said to each other, but that ring was Eric. Nicole went to retrieve her purse to answer it. “Hi.”
“Hi. How was Cadence?”
“Fine. I—” She stopped.
“You?” He gently prodded.
“I’m not sure what to say. To you or to Jack.”
“I don’t know that you really have to say anything right now, Nikki. I thought maybe I’d stop and pick up three steaks and some stuff for a salad. Does that sound good to you?”
She’d definitely not gotten as far as thinking about dinner. Lunch hadn’t exactly been a success. “The three of us?”
“I haven’t seen you in ten days and it’s my impression Jack is going to be around for at least another night, so yes, the three of us. Unless you want to be alone with him.”
Asked so directly she had no idea—once again—what to say, so she took a moment. She was fairly sure it had cost him to make that offer. “I don’t know what I want.” The words were quiet and honest. “But I missed you too.”
“No one is asking you to make any kind of a decision this minute. Not me, and I don’t think Jack will either. You want me to get potatoes too?”
“I think I have some.”
“Okay. See you in a bit.”
She touched her phone to end the call and glanced up to see Jack leaning against the doorjamb, an amused look on his face. “I take it a candlelight dinner for two isn’t happening. Eric has always known exactly how to go after a goal with a singular purpose. I’m not surprised. In some ways, I’d guess I know him better than you do.”
That was probably true. Nicole registered the irony of it, but at the moment, she wasn’t exactly laughing. “What did you two talk about while I was gone?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “We caught up a little. And don’t worry, walked around the subject of you for the most part.”
“For the most part; what does that mean?”
“I don’t think either of us knows how to approach this, so we just didn’t.”
That sounded typically male to her. “He’s bringing steaks for dinner.”
“That sounds great. I’ve eaten some pretty interesting food this past year and very rarely, when I was told it was steak, do I think that was what it actually was.”
Her throat tightened. “Jack.”
“I’m just glad to be home.”
But will you leave again?
It was the question she didn’t want to ask, the elephant in the room. She didn’t even want to
about that right now.