Authors: Vanessa Holland
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction
BOUND TO YOU
Bound To You © 2011 by Vanessa Holland
All right reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This novel is a work of fiction. All of the events, characters, names and locales depicted in this novel are entirely fictitious, or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations.
BOUND TO YOU
by Vanessa Holland
Jenna Morgan led the way across the park, walking a bit too fast for Ethan’s little legs. She couldn’t take her eyes off the heart-stopping sight ahead.
Brianna’s blond ponytail bobbed as she hurried along across the grass. “Slow down, Jen,” her younger sister complained. “What’s the rush?”
Jenna slowed to pick up her toddler son and make sure he was still bright-eyed and happy to be at the park for this impromptu outing. The sun was still high, but the sky partly cloudy and the heat and humidity they’d been dealing with lately had eased making for a pleasant afternoon. The park was active with people.
Fighting her own excitement, she led the trio toward a large sugar maple and spread the blanket on the grass.
Ashley, her oldest friend, and one of the few people who knew the truth, had called Jenna at work with the news.
Sam Strickland was back in town.
Jenna had rushed home from work, slowing only to change clothes, throw together a picnic basket, and load her family into the car. She wasn’t sure what she had planned. She only needed to see him again.
And there he was. He had really returned and was hanging out with his friends and family, playing soccer on the field.
A sensation like fingers trailing up her spine came over Jenna as she stared at him, trying to convince herself that this was no dream, no hallucination.
He hadn’t changed much. He’d cut his hair to just above the shoulders, and shaved the stubble he used to wear to look sexy and drive all the girls wild. His little tricks had worked - he’d been the sexiest guy this town had ever seen. Also, the most charming.
Why don’t we go over near the playground so Ethan can play,” Brianna suggested, frowning at the spot Jenna had chosen.
Let’s eat first.” Jenna sat without taking her eyes off the muscled chest and arms of the only man she’d ever loved. “Right here.”
Brianna gave her a nudge. “Hey, let go. I’m starving. Why are you acting so weird?”
Jenna looked down and saw that she was still clutching the picnic basket handle - her fingers pressed so tightly together she had to force them apart.
Embarrassed, she focused on her family and this afternoon of fun she’d promised her son. She settled Ethan on her lap and offered him a box of juice to get him started while they set out the food.
See that guy there,” Jenna directed. “Black gym shorts, no shirt, dark hair.”
They all look like that,” Bri said. “Well, half of them do. The other half is wearing shirts.”
The one standing right in front of you with his hands on his hips.”
Brianna shielded her eyes and found Sam among the others. “Yeah.” Then when Jenna didn’t respond, and bit her bottom lip, Brianna took another look. “Oh! You mean….” Brianna looked back and forth between Ethan and the mystery man on the field. “Oh. It’s him?”
Oh my gosh.” Then Bri slapped Jenna’s arm. “No wonder Ethan’s so cute. He’s gorgeous. I thought he moved… somewhere. You said he moved away.”
Letting out a heavy sigh, Jenna gave in to the irresistible urge and watched Sam. He’d stopped running to rest, breathing heavily with his hands on his hips, squinting in the sunlight that gleamed off his sweaty chest, his hair soaked to near black. “I never thought I’d see him again.”
Absently, Brianna handed Jenna a sandwich. “So… what now? Are you gonna tell him?”
I don’t know.” She unwrapped the sandwich and held a triangle to Ethan’s mouth. He shook his head and pushed off her lap to look in the basket for something better. Something round with chocolate chips in it, most likely. Jenna barely managed to close the basket before he could spot such a treat. “Eat real food first, sweetie.”
Ethan dropped a little fist on the basket lid and frowned with that
, the one that always made Jenna’s heart leap, the one
that certainly hadn’t come from her family. She’d seen that frown before, crinkling the brow of the handsomest man around. The one on the playing field shoving his own teammates out of the way to kick the soccer ball.
The one who had made so many empty promises.
Wait to tell him later,” Bri said. “He’s here with all his family and people.” The horde took up the entire east edge of the field, monopolizing five picnic tables. “We had some Stricklands in school. The girls are okay. I used to be friends once with Autumn Strickland way back in elementary. But the guys are kind of wild and aggressive.”
Jenna focused on her sister. “What are you saying? Did they do anything to you?”
No, that’s just what I’ve heard. They’ll wait and gang up on you when you least expect it. And then they make sure you can’t prove it was them. But I don’t mess with anybody.” Bri smiled one of her bright smiles. “That’s why everybody loves me.”
Jenna stared back out to the field. “Sam’s not scary. “He’s just a… liar.”
The ball soared past a bearded goalie and bounced off the net.
Sam beat his chest then strutted across the grass with his arms raised in victory. Cocky enough to shout demands for praise from the sideline. He was still outgoing and cheerful. Still as solid and well proportioned as she remembered. More so, even, now that he’d fully matured into a man of twenty-eight. Her dreams hadn’t been doing him justice lately. She’d almost forgotten.
Look at him,” Jenna muttered. “He thinks he’s Tarzan.”
Arrogant jerk,” her sister faithfully agreed. “C’mere, Ethan, and I’ll feed you. Your mama’s busy.”
But Jenna could barely hear anything but the sounds of rushing waves in her ears. He was back, he was here, and he was standing just fifty yards away, stopping to rest and take a drink of…. She squinted to see. He was drinking a soft drink of some sort, not a beer. He pushed containers of food aside and sat down on a picnic table, casually scanning the park.
The cobalt blue eyes she remembered so well gazed everywhere but in the direction he should have been looking, if he’d had any sense of the child he’d sired. Ethan’s presence was always on her skin, like a soft buzz. She knew when he was near, and when he wasn’t. Sam couldn’t even sense his own flesh and blood at fifty yards.
Jenna continued to watch Sam as he stepped up beside a pretty young woman holding a baby on her hip. He draped his arm around the woman’s shoulders and tousled the baby’s feathery dark hair. Unexpectedly, Jenna’s stomach clenched at the same moment a thought occurred to her. What if he was married now, with a child of his own? One he claimed and saw every day. What if he shared that woman’s bed at night?
She couldn’t bear to watch, mentally kicking herself for caring, and tried to take a bite of her tuna sandwich, but it was a mistake. She couldn’t swallow past the stubborn lump in her throat. Almost choking, she reached for Ethan’s juice, and then choked on the juice.
Why don’t we go sit by the playground,” Bri suggested, while Jenna coughed. “Or better yet, Ethan, why don’t we go by ourselves and let your mama think. I’ll just put a little treat in my pocket for later.”
Ethan’s musical “bye-bye” sang in Jenna’s ears and faded into the background as her gaze drifted back across the field to see him,
return to the game with new vigor, leaving the could-be mother of his second child to smile after him.
Ethan was older than that baby, Jenna thought with a strange sense of satisfaction. Ethan was two years old and that baby was no more than a year old.
Ethan had arrived first.
On the field, there was a mass collision of sweaty men and the ball flew out to the side, soaring in Jenna’s direction. Laughter from the Strickland clan roared through the park as bodies groaned and rolled on the grass, and Sam broke free, jogging toward the ball that had just bounced off the tree to her left.
He was jogging right toward her.
Sweat instantly broke out all over her body and she froze, desperately trying to think of what to do, how to act. Too many conflicting emotions and thoughts almost sent her into fight or flight mode as he jogged close, seeing her now.
She hugged her knees and tried to appear casual, trying not to bring attention to herself - all the while so aware of his presence, his energy, his gaze, she could barely breathe. She wasn’t ready for this, she realized, now that it was too late to run for cover.
He picked up the soccer ball and walked slowly toward her. Oh, the sight of him was too much. She’d dreamed of his face for too long, waited too long for him to return. She hated him too much, and still loved him… too much.
Hey, I know you,” he said, standing by the corner of the blanket where she couldn’t help but look up at him. “Don’t I?”
Sam frowned with the same thoughtful, curious frown she saw on her son’s face at least once a day. Ethan had even given her the famous frown on his debut into the world, when she had held him in her arms for the very first time. The beautiful child they had created forever linked her to this man. How surreal it felt to be having this conversation with him. How infuriating.
He didn’t even remember her!
She’d been one of a dozen… dozens, just as she’d suspected during those long, painful nine months. She was nothing to him but a vague memory.
We’ve met,” she answered, relieved that her voice sounded almost normal. She tried to look at him but it was too much. He was too handsome, too perfectly handsome, with a glint of renegade in his dark blue eyes.
I’m just kidding, Jen,” he said, smiling now. “How’ve you been?”
Her pride prickled and she sent him an annoyed glance. “Super. How about yourself?”
Me? I’m great.”
Of course he was
He stood there smiling, tossing the ball back and forth in his large hands, letting his gaze survey her perpetually white legs, her bare arms, and what he could peek of her chest. Finally, he seemed to remember she had eyes and grinned seductively at her. “It’s too pretty to be sitting all alone over here. Come sit with us. Most of my family is here. Come meet them.”
Yeah, right! First, she wanted to see if pigs could fly. He didn’t appear to be wearing a jetpack. “I’m here with my sister and… someone else.”
His family shouted for the ball and he dropkicked it to the field. She thought he would follow, but he stayed and frowned again, that same pondering frown that made Jenna’s blood pump. He rested his hands on his hips.
He seemed to be standing ten feet tall, the clouds drifting just above his head. He shifted and crossed his arms, drawing her gaze to the muscles that bulged at his biceps, and then to the defined pecs and the thin layer of brown hair that angled down his tanned chest toward rippled stomach muscles and….
During the thousands of times she’d imagined this moment never had she imagined he’d be bare-chested. She’d known that life wasn’t fair, and this proved it.
Sweat trickled down the side of her face and she quickly swept it away with her finger, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Sure you don’t wanna come over? They’re starting some burgers and dogs, I think.”
She tried to keep her eyes forward, fighting the urge to glance at him, and failing. “We brought our own food, thank you.”