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Authors: Annabel Wolfe

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BOOK: Gone
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He wanted her to have absolutely no regrets.

She came with a low, breathless cry, her spine arching, and he kept her there on that peak until she shifted away in an unspoken signal it was too much, her beautiful body still quivering.

Eric moved between her open legs, took his rigid cock in his hand and guided himself into paradise. Nicole moaned as he entered her, and her inner muscles tightened around his erection with tantalizing pressure, the sensation exquisite.

“It feels so good,” he whispered on a groan, pushing deep until he was fully inside her, looking into her eyes.

“Eric.” Her palms slid down his back in a sensual glide that kicked the pleasure up another notch.

Hard to believe that was even possible.

He began to move slowly in long withdrawals and inward thrusts, wanting to take her with him if possible, but he was so primed he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to wait. Luckily, they’d been good in bed from that first time, their bodies fitting together with a natural sort of communion, no awkwardness or tension, and her responsiveness was a potent aphrodisiac.

So was, he’d discovered, making love to a woman you were actually
in
love with. Sex was great, but it could be something even better, a higher experience than just a mind-blowing orgasm.

“Oh…oh.” Nicole’s thighs tightened around his hips, and she rocked against him, her eyes drifting shut, the erect tips of her breasts brushing his chest as she began to tremble in his arms.

That was all it took—he stopped fighting it and rode the wave of her climax as it crested into his, the force of his ejaculation powerful enough the world exploded, disintegrated, splintered into a million tiny pieces.

Panting, replete, they lay twined together, damp skin to damp skin, his weight balanced on top of her, his fingers smoothing her hair. He kissed her temple, her feathery brows, the tip of her nose, and smiled. “This is my favorite place to be in the whole world.”

She didn’t return his smile, just briefly closed her eyes.

“Let me guess,” he said with a hint of wry amusement in his tone. “You’ve heard something very similar from Jack. He and I have always thought right along the same exact lines. I suppose that is why we’re in love with the same woman.”

“I honestly don’t know how to respond. I can’t believe that I just…that we just…and last night I…” She bit her lip and trailed off.

Eric eased free and propped himself on one elbow, studying her face. His hand smoothed her hip. “Sweetheart, if you are thinking you aren’t that kind of girl, you aren’t, and this doesn’t make you one either. We are intelligent, responsible, consenting adults. If it was anyone but Jack, I’d feel differently, trust me, but—” He stopped and gave a low laugh. “I’m taking it from your expression he said that about me too.”

“Something similar,” she admitted.

“I’m not surprised. He knows he couldn’t expect to just waltz back into your life, shock the hell out of you and have everything be the same.” Eric leaned forward and kissed her lightly. “I bet he said that too.”

 

 

Jack had wondered if the subject would come up once the tears were done, the disbelief satisfied, the questions—most of them unanswered but still asked—over. The house looked achingly the same, the maple cabinets that his grandfather had made by hand in the kitchen polished as usual, the old table where he’d done his homework exactly as it had been his whole life, the faint hint of cinnamon always in the air because his mother loved to bake. This morning it had evidently been a coffee cake drizzled with her famous icing, a recipe she refused to share with anyone. She’d made him eat two pieces almost the minute she registered he was a little thinner than when she saw him last, and he didn’t have the heart to refuse.

Both of his parents looked the same, but somehow older. Not physically, but as if they had aged in some inexplicable way, and he felt responsible. He suspected it had a lot to do with grief, and maybe now, shock.

His father picked up his cup of coffee with a hand that trembled slightly. “I’ve got a pool table now in the basement. Want to play a game? You were always pestering me to get one and I finally did.”

“Sure.” He gathered it was an offer for the two of them to talk without his mother present, and the way she was hovering, though it was exactly what Jack expected, that sounded good.

“Madeline, why don’t you go to bed,” his father said gently as he rose. “He’ll still be here in the morning, and you look tired.”

She didn’t look tired, she looked exhausted, and Jack suspected most of it was emotional. She’d been crying off and on ever since he walked in the front door. “I’m going to put fresh sheets on his bed first.”

“Thanks.” He got up and went over to kiss her cheek.

She sniffled. “Like I’d ever let anyone in my house sleep on sheets that weren’t freshly washed.”

He touched her damp cheek. “Not for that, Mom.”

She hugged him tightly. “I still can’t believe you’re here.”

He waited a minute and then gently disengaged himself. “I am here and just as happy as you are. Get some sleep, okay? I’ve been dreaming of your pancakes. Do you suppose that’s on the menu for breakfast?”

“Of course.”

With a misty smile, she headed for the linen closet and Jack followed his father down the stairs to the basement. When he was in high school they’d remodeled the space, and he had good memories of helping his dad hang drywall and paint. At an auction they’d stumbled across an old scratched and stained bar for sale from a defunct restaurant. Restored painstakingly, it was really a showpiece, glossy and dark, and Jack had many a party down there—some of which his parents knew nothing about—while he was in college. But the space was huge, and yes, he had suggested more than once that his father invest in a pool table.

“That’s a beauty,” he said admiringly. “Slate. Wow. How the hell did you get it down here?”

“Eric called a couple of your buddies. They took care of it for me. Took it all apart and put it back together once it was down here. Pick up a cue.”

“That was good of him.” Jack casually selected one from the rack mounted on the wall.

His father racked up the balls. His voice was quiet. “He took the news about as hard as we did, Jack.”

That he believed. First of all, he knew how hard it would have been for
him
if their positions had been reversed. Secondly, he’d seen his friend’s face when he’d realized he was there, alive and well, in Nicole’s kitchen. There had been incredulous joy and not a glimmer of resentment as far as Jack could tell, and if the position they were in was incredibly complicated, at least it wasn’t hostile.

His father went on, obviously searching for the words. “Nicole was heartbroken. I worried about her and so did your mother.”

“And so did Eric, evidently,” Jack said dryly. “I already know what you are trying to tell me, so relax. I wasn’t supposed to see anyone until given permission but I think you will understand I disregarded orders and went straight from the plane to her house last night. Well, technically, it was this morning, but very early this morning.”

His father stood there and said nothing, just holding his pool cue, his expression concerned. “I understand they’ve gotten pretty serious but that does not mean she ever forgot you, son.”

“Do you think I expected her to shut herself up in a nunnery?”

Not hardly, not a beautiful young woman like her, and he expected that right this moment, she was with Eric, and
with
was the operative word. Janssen could be damned persuasive.

They were probably really good together, and as long as she didn’t tell
him
to get lost, Jack honestly didn’t care.

Making her choose would be the mistake of a lifetime.

He shook his head. “This will all work out, one way or another. Right now the last thing she needs is a bunch of people asking her what she’s going to do, so let’s just drop the subject. I haven’t even been back for twenty-fours quite yet. She’s totally off balance. For the record, the first thing she said was to beg me to call you, but I’d risked enough as it was. Luckily the notification came through pretty fast or I might have gotten into trouble.”

“Fine, I’ll leave your personal life for you to manage, but you sure are favoring one leg. Can you tell me where and how you acquired that limp?”

“Where? No. How, yes. It’s a long story but I can only give you the short version. I’ll tell it while we play. You want to break or should I go ahead?”

Chapter Seven

Cadence was the first caller at eleven the next morning. Without even a greeting, she said, “Now I think I get why you were acting so strange yesterday. Nick, oh my God, Jack is still alive.”

Nicole smoothed her finger down the edge of her laptop and inspected it for dust, of which there was none since she carried it with her constantly. “Yes, I know.”

“Everything we talked about at lunch makes a lot more sense to me now.”

She gazed abstractly out the window. “How did you find out?”

“Mrs. Templeton called Mom.”

That figured, but though she hadn’t anticipated this would be an easy day anyway, that feeling seemed to exponentially increase. “I guess that’s better than if I had to do it.”

“I really do not know what advice to give you at this moment.” There was clear sympathy in her sister’s voice. “I’m wildly happy for you, and yet…well, needless to say this won’t be the easiest time in your life. Does Eric know?”

“He does. Like everyone else, he’s happy, Cadence. No, he’s happier than most people because he and Jack are best friends.”

There was a silence before her sister spoke. “I think that’s true. No, I know that’s true, but what happens now?”

This was not going to be the first time she would have to field this question. Most people would not ask so directly, but Cadence was…well, she was Cadence, and her sister.

“How would I know?” Nicole got up and went to the cabinet and took out a glass, and then went to the refrigerator to get out some lemonade. She poured, just waiting.

“I get you,” her sister said after a moment. “I’m going to leave this alone. But if you need to talk to someone again, Dr. Cadence is always in her office.”

Nicole couldn’t help but give a weak laugh. “All right. Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind. The support is appreciated.”

“It’s wonderful news.”

Having Jack back? It was. Wonderfully complicated, but
wonderful
.

“Thanks for warning me the word is out.”

“Hey, hang in there.”

Nicole slowly pressed end and sat in relative silence. Someone was mowing their lawn, the distant hum of the tractor muted since she had the doors closed and the air on. This was going to be a long day. She could feel it.

It was ironic that when she heard someone pull into her drive a few minutes later she wondered which one of them it was—Jack returning Eric’s car, or Eric bringing hers back since he’d gone home to shower and change clothes.

It proved to be Jack, wearing an old Purdue T-shirt and faded jeans, sauntering up to the front door with that slight hitch in his usual walk that was a reminder of his injury, his gray eyes clear and direct. “Hi.”

“Hi.” She opened the screen door in unspoken invitation, wishing she could stop the slight blush that heated her face. If he asked her if Eric had spent the night, she would tell him the truth. She was a terrible liar anyway, but she hoped he just
wouldn’t
ask.

It was clear she must be losing her mind and she was worried she would feel regret and embarrassment this morning spending a night with one man and with another the next but it wasn’t nearly as pronounced as she’d thought it would be.

She was genuinely in love with both of them.

“How did it go?”

He put his hand on the door so she could precede him. “Well enough. At least this morning my mother was over the crying. I know, I know, tears of joy and all that, but I guess I’m your typical male and I hate to see a woman cry.”

“I guess she called my mother. Cadence told me. I’m afraid my sister figured out pretty quickly that you’d already been to see me before we had lunch yesterday. I don’t think I was very successful in acting like everything was perfectly normal.”

He caught her wrist, stopping her in the foyer and tugging her around to face him. “Hey, babe, I’m sorry.” There was a hint of apology in his eyes. “I can only imagine what it would feel like to lose you.”

Wordlessly she gazed back.

His grin surfaced then, softening the moment. “Can I take you to lunch? Word of warning, you’ll have to provide the transportation. I need to go shopping for a vehicle here in the next few days but I have to arrange to be officially alive again before I can legally purchase something like a car.”

The change in subject was welcome enough. “Eric has my car, actually.”

“Let’s give him a call then and have him meet us at the restaurant. After lunch, you two can swap cars and I was hoping one of you would take me back to my folks’, which is kind of a hike, I know, but my dad is going to loan me his truck until I find what I want.”

It was clear he wasn’t going to ask about whether or not Eric had stayed over. He was even, apparently, inviting him to lunch.

BOOK: Gone
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