Four months later…
Leslie stood in her kitchen chopping vegetables for a salad, moving her feet and hips to the beat of the music that drummed through the radio. Jake leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest, watching her. They’d been nearly inseparable since their first meeting at the coffee shop. It had been months since that day, and he hadn’t tired of watching her. She stirred his body like no one else.
On silent feet, he closed the distance and slipped his arms around her waist.
Leslie gasped. “Jake, geeze, you scared me. How long have you been here? I didn’t here you come in.”
He leaned down and inhaled her citrus scented hair. “Not long,” he said, and kissed the side of her neck, once, twice, until Leslie relaxed into him. “I was just watching you. You were dancing and it was very enticing.” He ground his erection lightly into her backside; a side effect that always plagued him in her presence. He’d yet to sate this ever growing need for her—all of her.
“I want you, Leslie,” he breathed in her ear.
She tensed and he eased away. He’d given her time and space. They’d spent many days and nights in each other’s arms, doing nothing more than talking and holding. She always pulled away, and he let her without hesitation. Never did he want her to feel pressured, because over the past few months of getting to know one anther, he found he’d fallen in love with her. Now he yearned to have more.
“Leslie, please don’t push me away.” The plea came out quiet and strained.
“I’m trying, Jake, I really am.”
“Are you?” he snapped. It wasn’t only about sex. Granted it did put a strain on him wanting her so badly, yet holding back. But Leslie held herself at a distance, both emotionally and sexually. He wanted more from her. Hell, he wanted all of her.
The hurt in Leslie’s eyes all but undid him. He didn’t want to hurt her, but damn it, she was hurting him in the process.
Leslie turned on her heel and walked into the living room.
“Don’t ignore this. Talk to me,” Jake said from behind her.
“Maybe I’m not ready for this, Jake.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but-”
“Damn it, Leslie!” He cut her off and violently speared his fingers through his hair. “Turn around and look at me.” His words released sharper than he meant and she flinched.
She turned and yelled, “What do you want from me?” Her hands and teeth clenched, waiting for his reply.
He stared at her, his own rising temper evident in the ticking of his jaw. “What do I want?” His voice calmed. “I want you to open your eyes. Leslie, quit being afraid.”
“What do you mean? Just say whatever it is you mean!”
“Damn it! Look at me. See me. That’s what I want. I want you to see me. I want you to want me.” Sadness stole over his features. His shoulders slumped. He walked to the front door and rested his hand on the knob. His eyes welled with tears, but he forced them away. Quietly, he added, “Me, Leslie. Charlie is gone. He isn’t coming back. But I’m here.”
Leslie’s knees nearly gave out. Inside she wailed not to let him go but could not bring voice to the plea. She knew the rightness of his words.
With his head down, Jake added, “And I love you.”
Stunned to the deepest reaches of herself, she stood motionless as if time stopped. However, Jake was not affected. He turned the knob, opened the door and left. Just like that, he was gone. Just like Charlie—gone.
Her knees did give out then. She sank to the floor. Her chest quivered. She tried desperately to control the turbulence of emotions. The truth of his words hurt her more than anything. She was afraid and a coward.
Sensing a weight upon her chest, she brought her hand up and gripped the pendant in her fist. Her head snapped up. He wasn’t gone like Charlie. He was alive and well, and he loved her, and, oh, God, she loved him, too. What a fool she was. She realized that the numbness she’d walked around with since Charlie died no longer resided within her, and hadn’t since their first encounter at the coffee shop. Jake brought her back to life, fed her soul, strengthening it with his friendship, his kindness. And his love.
Darting to her feet, she raced to the door. She hoped she wasn’t too late. Leslie flung the door open with such force it ricocheted off the closet that protruded beside it.
She was too late. Jake had already pulled out of the driveway. She watched him disappear in the distance, growing smaller and smaller on the long straight road before her.
“Please, don’t leave,” she said in the empty silence around her. Unable to hold back her tears, they spilled down her cheeks, a tidal wave of emotions. Her chest quaked with her indrawn breath. A sob escaped her parted lips.
“I love you, too,” she whispered in the air.
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