But he was starting to think that wasn’t going to happen.
Jade cooked Sam dinner that night. She waited until her second glass of wine kicked in to ask. “Why are you really here?”
He smiled at her, as always utterly at ease in his skin. Which, given how handsome he was, couldn’t have been too difficult. “Thought maybe you missed me,” he said.
“Hard to, when you call me every day.”
“Every two days, tops.”
She shook her head, having to admit it was good to see him. “You know I’m coming back. You didn’t have to show up.”
“Sandy crashed the computer system.”
“You flew here to tell me that? Aren’t you busy? Don’t you have any patients to see? Who’s in charge?”
“See? We need you.” He smiled. “Had frequent-flier mileage and a day off.”
“We both know that Sandy’s actually more qualified than me,” Jade said. “She’s a CPA.” Sandy had been promoted from accounts manager, where she’d worked only part-time because she liked being home with her kids.
Everyone was happy with her work performance, though Jade’s family complained that she had the personality of a pencil. “There’s no way she crashed the computer system.”
“Okay, she didn’t,” Sam admitted. “But she did leave coffee rings on your desk. Your pencils are homeless. And she doesn’t use spreadsheets. She scribbles her notes on sticky pads and slaps them everywhere. It’s raining yellow sticky notes.”
Jade opened her mouth, then shut it again. “Some people don’t find spreadsheets all that effective.”
There was a beat of disbelieving silence from Sam on this. “Okay, who are you and what have you done with my favorite cousin?”
“Your only cousin.”
“I mean you didn’t even comment about the pencils. The pencils, Jade, are all over your desk every night. There’s no organization. And she’s not filing daily either, she’s—”
Jade tried to ignore the pencils, but it took an embarrassing amount of effort. “I am coming back, Sam. By the first, as I promised you.”
He was quiet a minute, his gaze reflective as he looked around at her loft. “But you’re happy here.”
She paused. “I am.”
“You look it. You look good, Jade. Not like your old-self good but different good. Maybe even better good.”
She didn’t know what to do with that so she picked up the wine bottle and refilled both their glasses.
“You going to ever tell me about him?” Sam asked quietly.
Sam gave her an impressive eye roll. “The guy who had his hands all over you who.”
“He . . . I . . .” She blew out a breath and shook her head. “No.” Dell was hers, and maybe she’d blown it with him in more ways than one, but if nothing else she’d forever have the memory of how he’d given her life back to her.
“He means something to you,” Sam said.
He meant everything to her. “How do you know he’s not just a wild fling?”
“You don’t do wild flings. You don’t do anything without your entire heart and soul.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, “do me a favor and don’t let that secret out of the bag.”
Sympathy and worry filled his eyes now, and he opened his mouth, but she jabbed a finger in his direction. “Don’t do that. Don’t suddenly start feeling bad for badgering me to come back.”
“If I badgered—”
“Okay, when I badgered, it was because I thought you were alone. I didn’t want you to be alone.”
She sighed. “It’s a done deal. I’ve given notice to my landlord.”
“And your boss?”
“And my boss,” she said as evenly as she could, ignoring the little pang to her heart at the thought of leaving Dell. “But this was always a temp position. A service will fill it for him with no problem.”
“No. No buts. And no second-guessing or regrets. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that neither of those things does anyone any good.”
On Sunday, Jade took Sam to the airport and went into work. She did that sometimes, went into the office to catch up on paperwork or clean up. She couldn’t help herself. She went straight to her desk, pulled up her to-do-atwork list and got to it.
One of the things she wanted to do before she left Sunshine was upgrade Dell’s computer system, so that things would run smoothly when she was gone. It was a perfect day for it, so she called Dell’s cell just to make sure he wasn’t going to be trying to access the system remotely.
When he answered, he sounded breathless and in a hurry, and then she remembered: he was still up north.
Melinda’s ranch was up north.
“Connelly,” he said again.
Clearly he hadn’t looked at the caller ID. Jade paused, thinking about all the reasons why he’d be breathless and too harried to look at the screen. The number-one item was because he was in Melinda’s bed.
God. A root canal without drugs would be preferable to this, and her thumb hovered over the End button.
“Hello?” There was some rustling noise, then, “Jade?”
Great. Now he looks at the ID screen.
“Jade, you there?”
“Yes.” She winced. “Listen, sorry to interrupt. Forget I called.” She disconnected and tossed her phone into her purse. From the depths, it began to vibrate so she grabbed her entire purse and shoved it into a drawer where she couldn’t hear it anymore.
That night, Dell and Adam were sparring in Dell’s basement gym. They were going at each other street style, no rules, fighting dirty.
It suited Dell’s mood. He’d been gone for three days, attending to his ranch accounts, working around the clock. He’d been getting in the chopper with Brady when Jade had called and then hung up on him. There’d been something in her voice that he hadn’t liked, but she’d ignored his subsequent calls. By the time he’d gotten back to Sunshine, she was nowhere to be found. He’d tried the office, her place, Lilah’s . . .
Finally, he’d left her a “Jade, call me now” message, born out of sheer frustration.
She hadn’t called.
He and Adam were pretty evenly matched until the sound of soft footsteps coming down the stairs caught Dell’s attention. He turned his head to see Jade in a fuzzy sweater, gauzy short skirt, and those boots of hers that always corroded all common sense. He opened his mouth to greet her and found himself eating the mat. When he could gasp some air into his lungs, he rolled to his back.
Adam was gone.
Jade was on her knees at his side. Actually, there were two Jades.
No, three. Dell closed his eyes. “Where did he go?”
“Home. Said he didn’t want to embarrass you when you tried to retaliate and got your ass kicked for the second time.”
Jesus. “I’ll kill him later.” With care, he got to his knees and then stood up, pulling her with him. No way in hell was she getting away. “Want to tell me what that was about earlier?”
“No. I want you to show me that move. The one Adam just flattened you with.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say flatten exactly. I—”
“It’s a rough one—”
He showed her. He had to do it several times, it was a complicated move. Each time she hit the mat and was slower to get up. “Jade—”
Determination and grit blared from her every pore. No fear, no hesitation, just as he’d taught her himself. So damn if he’d tell her she’d had enough. They went over it again.
And again she landed on her back. But this time she stayed down, eyes closed, face pale and damp.
Goddammit. Dell swore and dropped to his knees at her side, planting a hand on either side of her hips. “Jade. Jade, talk to me, are you—”
With both hands she pushed hard, right into the crook of his elbows.
With a surprised “oomph” his arms collapsed and he fell over the top of her. “Christ, Jade. I’m sorry, I—”
She brought her knee up. Not hard or fast enough to hurt him but only because she held back. Purposely. Protecting the goods, he pressed her flat, holding her there with his body and regarded her warily. “You’re mad at me.”
“Well, give the doctor an A plus.”
Yeah, she was right. It’d taken him long enough. Slowly, aware that she could absolutely unman him if she wanted, he pulled back and sat up. “What did I do?”
“You’re breathing, aren’t you?”
He paused. “Is this about the other day at the center? Because you’re the one who said that this was just sex,” he reminded her grimly.
She narrowed her eyes.
No, not about that. Apparently he was the only one brooding about that. Pretty f**king pathetic given that the just sex thing had always been his own MO.
“This isn’t about the other day.”
He mentally hit rewind on the past few days. He’d flown up north. Worked his ass off. Stayed in a hotel with Brady, which had pissed off Melinda, but he hadn’t wanted to be with her. Not that he could explain why when she’d asked. Hell, he couldn’t even explain it to himself. Being with Melinda had always been great. Fun. Easy. No strings attached—his favorite way to have sex.
But when she’d leaned into kiss him, he’d yearned for a different set of arms and a touch that turned on his mind as well as his body. “Jade, you’re going to have to give me a hint.”
“Okay, you’re spoiled and egotistical and annoying.” She fisted her hands in his shirt. He figured she was going to shove him farther away but she hauled him back down over her. “And you’re an orgasm hog.”
He choked. “What—”
“Yeah. And I really, really, really want to hate you, but I can’t. I’m going to settle for intense dislike.”
He shook his head, trying to loosen some reason, because either he’d had his clock more royally cleaned by Adam than he’d thought, or she’d gone off the deep end. “I’ll cop to the spoiled, egotistical, annoying accusations. But back to that orgasm thing—”
“God, you are such a . . . guy! That’s all you heard, right? Orgasm? I mean you just slept with Melinda and you still—”
“Okay, whoa.” He shook his head and laughed. In hindsight, that might have been a mistake because Jade turned wildcat beneath him. He actually nearly lost his grip on her because she and that damn effective knee nearly took out his entire future line of Connelly’s. “What the fuck, Jade.”
“You’re the one who keeps telling me to hit the groin area. I’ve never had angry sex, but I want to have it now.”
He shook his head, trying to both focus and hold her down at the same time. Not easy. Good to know he’d been successful at teaching her to fight. He might have taken pride in that except he was very busy trying to protect himself and not hurt her in the process. He shoved a leg between hers and she countered by wrapping one of hers around his waist to try to roll him. He could feel every inch of her plastered up against him. If he wasn’t so confused, he’d be turned on as hell.
No, scratch that. Even with the confusion, he was turned on as hell. “You think I slept with Melinda . . .”
“I don’t care.” She was breathing heavy, still struggling beneath him. “You don’t do relationships, so why should I care?” She nipped his jaw with her teeth, eyes hot and clearly pissed off, which for some sick reason really worked for him. “Jade—”
“Don’t talk. There’s no talking in angry sex.”
Right. Because angry or not, this was just sex. But then she squeezed his ass at the same time she bit his lower lip, and his dick bypassed his brain, going instantly hard as a rock. “Jade, I’m all sweaty.”
“Don’t care about that, either.”
He felt like he’d been clubbed over the head. Everything about her said Furious-but-Aroused Female and while he stared at her, suddenly so turned on himself he could hardly breathe, she hauled him down to her and kissed him, shutting down the rest of his remaining operating brain cells.
Jade hadn’t come here for this, for Dell’s amazing mouth on hers, his hands on her body, the rough rumble of a very sexy, very turned-on man as he tried to eat her alive.
Oh, wait. She totally had.
Maybe after three long days of stewing about some of the things they’d said, on top of months and months of denying her feelings for him, all while pretending that what was happening between them wasn’t really happening, her body had taken over her brain.
And though she’d been the one to instigate the kiss, Dell had certainly taken over, capturing her lips in a long, deep sensual kiss that had melted all her bones. She was still flat on her back on the mat with him holding her down when she heard herself moan. He straightened his arms, pulling back an inch to stare at her.
She wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but evidently he found it in her expression because then he was kissing her again; hot open-mouth kisses along her jaw to her neck.
She moaned again and gripped him tighter, shifting her head to the side to give him better access, which he took, nibbling at the base of her throat before sucking the skin there into his mouth. It was as if he’d pulled a cord weaved through her very center and her h*ps thrust against his.