Read Chapter 9 before you continue…
Elaina wanted to look anywhere but into Matthew’s curious green eyes. Yet, he held her gaze steadfast, determined not to let her slip past his interrogation. And what was to be her answer? Was she to tell him how Brooke had destroyed their friendship when she had never expressly told anyone else? Was she to confess that after being so excruciatingly betrayed by her own best friend, she had been unable to trust herself to open her heart to anyone who was not immediate family? And even if she chose to divulge this information, what would his reaction be? He was Brooke’s close friend and Elaina was only getting to know him. The knowledge she could unleash may pose him a conflict of interest, in the center of which, she certainly did not want to be. She wanted something from him that was to be of an entirely opposite effect and revealing her painful secret could only hinder that objective. Now that she was finally ready to submit to a romantic diversion, she could not allow anything to sabotage her opportunity.
Partial truth it is, she decided. “The ranch keeps me busy.”
Matthew looked the skeptic. “That’s it? The ranch keeps you busy?” Elaina nodded and he continued with, “You don’t work during the night. How hard can it be to schedule in a date once in a while?”
“Unfortunately, most men tend to expect you to maintain a relationship if you date them and that takes time and effort. Time and effort, which I’d rather focus on my work.”
“And my being from out of state removes the dilemma of a long-term relationship, is that it?”
Matthew was scowling so Elaina chose the mode she usually employed to avoid strained situations. Cockiness. “That and the fact that you wore me down. Kind of lassoed me into submission.”
Matthew looked most displeased. “That doesn’t say much about my charm or other attractive traits, does it?”
Elaina inclined her head to the right and smiled at him slyly. “You also have mystery working for you, if that makes you feel any better. It’s kinda hard working up attraction for guys you’ve known all your life. You certainly have the edge there.”
Matthew seemed slightly mollified but still not ready to accept her answer completely. “I still think you’re not telling me something.”
“Well, you’ll just have to live with what I am telling you for now, won’t you? Shall we move on to dessert?” Elaina changed the subject with all the finesse of a woman who would not accept any more challenges.
Matthew seemed almost ready to pursue the subject further but nodded instead, obviously knowing when to accept defeat. “Dessert is my favorite part of dinner. What’s good on the menu?”
Two slices of lemon tart and a jovial discussion about the merits and demerits of romantic comedies during the drive back saw them to the front porch of the Coreys’ house. It was not very late and the porch light was on. Elaina found herself wondering about the possible location of everyone in her family even as Matthew took her hands in his and leaned in to kiss her. And then she leaned into the kiss herself, only to have him pull away too quickly. As far as a first date kiss went, Elaina suspected it was rather tame and was slightly disappointed that Matthew had been showing so much restraint despite the sexual innuendoes that had laced their conversation throughout the evening. That slightly insecure conscience reared its head again, as she wondered if his less than passionate goodnight kiss was any indication to how much he enjoyed their date.
As if reading her mind, he leaned back and looked into her eyes with concern. “What is it?”
Elaina shook her head. “Nothing.”
“No, it’s not ‘nothing’. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Elaina smiled self-consciously, trying to sound brave as she answered. “I was just wondering if you had a good time tonight.”
Matthew smiled back and seemed to visibly relax before her. “Is that all? I had a great time tonight. The movie was good, the food was great, the conversation sparkling. I had fun talking to you.”
Elaina wanted to feel reassured but it was not easy. That afternoon Matthew had been all over her during their kiss and suddenly tonight that passion seemed to have diminished. Something had to be amiss. But she was not confident enough to broach the subject.
Matthew, however, had already proved his sensitivity to the emotions of others and his senses had not deserted him now. He took a step closer and wrapped his arms around her waist to pull her against him. “Tell me what’s bothering you, Elaina,” said he gravely, meaning business.
Elaina hesitated but then decided that it was best to be forward where Matthew was concerned. He would never let it go until she answered him anyway. “Well, it’s just that after this afternoon, I had expected that our dinner would lead up to… you know?” She could not say it aloud and looked up at him imploringly to fill in the blank.
Matthew’s eyes darkened with the same intensity she had witnessed all the previous times when he had been about to kiss her. “So you were expecting that we would make love tonight after the date?”
Elaina nodded and averted her eyes to concentrate on the Crocodile logo embroidered on the left breast of his polo shirt. She began tracing its stitches with her index finger.
“Does that mean that I missed a really good opportunity by being a gentleman when I brought you back tonight?”
His voice sounded hoarse with need and Elaina felt a thrill shoot way below her lower abdomen as his growing arousal bumped against her stomach. Her eyes fluttered up to meet his just as his mouth was swooping down on hers.
“Damn,” he exclaimed softly before he closed his mouth over her lips and sucked her into the kind of kiss a man gave a woman when overcome by lust.
Elaina met him measure for measure. She traced his lower lips with her tongue before nibbling it and heard him groan with pleasure. In response, he lowered his hands until they were cupping her bottom and he raised her until her hips were crushed against his and she was left in no doubt about how much he enjoyed being with her or what exactly he wanted to do. His mouth mated with hers the way he wanted their bodies to mate.
After what seemed like an eon, he broke their kiss and looked into her glazed eyes through a haze of his own and asked, “Is it too late to restart our date? Maybe we can hop back in the pickup and go someplace where we can take care of the rest of this business?” His breathing was ragged and his voice sounded harsh. That she could raise such desire in him made her feel powerful. A smile curled the corner of her mouth and she had just opened her mouth to answer when the front door crashed open.
Both Elaina and Matthew’s heads whirled around to see who it was and found Hayden standing in the doorway, looking as guarded as a mother hen. “Oh! You are back,” said her older brother, stating the obvious as though he had happened upon them accidentally. But she could see the shifty look in his eyes as he watched them. Realizing that she was still tangled in an intimate embrace with Matthew, she felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment and began pulling herself away. She felt Matthew’s arms tighten around her before he reluctantly relinquished his hold and stepped back.
“Yes, we’re back,” answered Elaina stiffly. Exactly what her brother was playing at spying on her she did not know but she would get to the bottom of this at the first opportunity she managed to get him alone. “Were you going somewhere?”
Hayden looked blank. “Going somewhere?”
Elaina narrowed her eyes. “You practically burst through the door. You must’ve been headed somewhere.”
Hayden looked like a caught deer but quickly recovered with a frown. “I was just heading for the kitchen to get myself a glass of water and passed by the front door when I heard noises outside and came to check,” answered he gruffly. “You guys are back a little early from your date, aren’t you?”
Elaina drew herself straighter. “Well, actually our date isn’t over. We were just thinking about heading back out.” From the corner of her eyes, she saw Matthew whip his head to look at her.
Hayden seemed to visibly deflate. “Heading back out? Where to?”
Elaina frowned. “We haven’t decided yet. Drive around for a while maybe.”
After a reluctant pause, during which her brother looked as though he wanted to advise them against the plan, he stepped back into the house and began closing the door. “I’ll let you get back on your date then.”
As the door shut, Elaina breathed in relief, even as she contemplated how awkward it was going to be with Matthew now.
But Matthew of course was a grab-a-bull-by-its-horn kind of guy. “That was definitely peculiar. Is he like this about all your dates or am I just someone special?”
Elaina shrugged. “I don’t date frequently enough to test that hypothesis, remember? But you’re probably a special case anyway.”
Another shrug. “Hayden doesn’t warm up to strangers very quickly.”
“I picked that up when we met.” He cocked his head to look into her eyes. “I also remember the same characteristic applying to you.”
There was that mysterious smile toying with his mouth and she felt a thrill flare through her body again. “But I seem to warm up faster.”
Matthew’s right hand snaked out, cupping her hip possessively, and jerked her to him. His left hand curled around the back of her neck, the fingers slipping into her hair as his thumb tilted her face up to him. “For which, I’m very grateful.”
He kissed her softly, as though sipping nectar from her lips. It was not fiery like his usual kisses nor restrained like the one he gave her when they first returned from their date. It was gentle and slow but no less spellbinding. She felt as though she were slipping into a world where only the two of them existed. Her brother’s intrusion which had occurred only a few moments ago lay forgotten as though it had never happened. Matthew was a terrific kisser no matter which tempo he chose to kiss in and she discovered another facet to physical communication.
As he pulled back to look into her eyes, she saw that his face was as flushed as hers felt. Clearing his throat, he struggled to find his voice. “About what you said before to Hayden – we are heading back out again, right?”
Elaina smiled ruefully. “I really wish we could but it would be very odd if I went back out with you tonight after you just returned me from our date.”
Matthew shook his head and swallowed his frustration even as he stepped away from her. “I was afraid you might say that. It’s best I head back then, since you obviously won’t be putting out tonight.”
Elaina’s jaw dropped and she braced her hands against her hips, looking thoroughly outraged. “Is that all you want from me?”
“It is a prerogative.” He had the galls to grin.
She raised her chin huffily and looked down her nose at him. “Well, that’s just dandy because that’s all I want from you, too.”
He arched an eyebrow to clearly show his disbelief before he added, “I also need a shower to cool down the hopes you raised in me with all this kissing. And the sooner I get back to the McKennas’, the sooner I get my shower and the sooner I may fall asleep. And that will mean the quicker tomorrow morning will come and I can come back and continue pursuing you until I can get you exactly where I want you, which is under me, over me, and in any other position as long as we’re bodily attached.”
He had a way with words that kept her lusting, which was a new feeling altogether. She watched as he walked to the car and waved as he pulled out of their drive. As the taillight of the pickup faded into the night, she turned back to the front door and let herself into the house. She maybe way out of her league but she had the feeling that she was in for one of the most exciting experiences of her life.
Read Chapter 11