Read Can't Stand the Heat? Online

Authors: Margaret Watson

Tags: #Going Back

Can't Stand the Heat? (10 page)

“You’re only trying to make me change my mind.”

“Believe me, Jen.” He bit down lightly on the tendon in her neck, and she shuddered. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the other night.”

She couldn’t tell him she hadn’t forgotten, either. It would make her too vulnerable. “It was nothing, Walker.” She tried to ease away from him.

“Let’s test that theory.” He lifted her hair from her nape, and her skin prickled where he’d touched her. He pressed a kiss below her ear, and she bit her lip.

His chest was hard against her back, and his heat surrounded her, even through the layers of clothing. The detergent he’d used to launder his shirt smelled like the air after a rain. The sweater he wore over it was as soft as a child’s blanket.

His hands were still on her abdomen, and his thighs pressed into hers. He enveloped her in a cocoon of sensuality.

“Do you feel the chemistry?” he whispered into her ear.

God help her, she did.

He pulled slowly at her T-shirt, tugging it out of her jeans. “It was like this before.” Cool air feathered across her abdomen. “Remember?”

“No.” She drew in a breath when he slid his hand beneath the thin cotton and trailed one finger over her skin.

“Really?” He suckled her neck lightly as his fingers drifted higher. “Are you sure?”

“Ye-ess.” She couldn’t hold back the tiny sound that erupted from her throat when he brushed her nipple. She tried to turn, to face him, but his other arm tightened around her, holding her in place.

“What would I have to do to make you admit there’s something between us?” He licked her earlobe, then grazed it with his teeth. “This?” He stroked her stomach, making her skin quiver. “This?” He pushed her bra up, then cupped one breast in his hand. His thumb circled, getting closer and closer. “Tell me, Jen.”

She wanted to tell him to touch her. Admit that she wanted him. She bit her lip to keep from opening her mouth. To stop herself from begging.

“You’re tough, Jen,” he said into her hair. She thought she felt him smile. “But you’re only tough on the outside. On the inside…” He touched her, finally, and her legs trembled. “You’re soft. Tender. Delicious.”

The hand holding her breast dropped down, and she heard the snap of her jeans opening, the rasp of the zipper lowering. “I know exactly where you’re the softest.”

He burrowed beneath her jeans, beneath her underwear, until he curled his hand around her, cupping her intimately. His other hand held her breast.

He kept her pressed against him. Possessing her. She moved in his arms, desperate for more, and had to swallow a cry when his fingers slid over her. “Tell me you want me.”


“Tell me, Jen.”

His fingers glided over her again, and her hips moved in response. When he touched her nipple with his other hand, squeezed it gently between his fingers, she exploded. Her release swept through her, making her cry out.

He held her, kissing her neck as the tremors crested and receded and finally eased. Legs weak and trembling, arms shaking, she turned and put her arms around his neck.

He eased away from her and took a step back.

Aching, needing to hold him, she said, “What are you doing? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Why? Didn’t you enjoy it?”

“It was pretty one-sided, wasn’t it?”

“Had to be.” He zipped up her jeans. “No condoms. We don’t want to make another baby.”

He was so cool. So unruffled.

So detached.

“Why, Walker?”

“You wanted me.” He stared at her for a long moment, then took another step back. “Good night, Jen.”

The storm door clicked softly behind him. She watched until he was out of sight.

She sank onto the love seat, her legs still wobbly. It was a few minutes before the fog cleared. Before her breathing returned to normal, the heat in her body subsided. Finally, she took a deep, shaky breath.

He’d used her.

Just like she’d used him back in high school.

Not to get her to do something for him, but to make a point.

Was this how Walker had felt after that little session in high school? Used? Aching? Hollow inside?

She owed him for that.

But she wasn’t going to sacrifice Nick to pay her penance.

he’d unleashed the night before, Walker cornered the bike too sharply. Why had he touched her?
Because he was a fool.

Wanting her, he’d only made himself more vulnerable.

A car honked at him, and he snapped his attention back to the road.

He rounded another corner and squeezed the brakes. His inattention had brought him to the place he’d been so carefully avoiding.

The high school.

Kids milled around the front door and mingled in the parking lot. Their day must have just ended.

As he passed the stadium, he heard the sound of kids shouting and cheering. He slowed when he saw the crowd gathered in a circle behind the scoreboard. Back in his day, it had been a popular place for fights. Apparently, the tradition was going strong, because two boys in the center of the group were a blur of motion.

The crowd shifted for a moment, and he saw a dark-haired boy swing wildly. The other kid’s head snapped back when the fist connected with his face. Blood poured out of his nose.

It was Nick.

Before he realized what he was doing, Walker swerved to the side of the road and dropped his bike. The shouting and cheering faltered, then faded as he pushed through the teens. “Get lost,” he snarled, and they melted away. Only Nick and the other boy remained, wrestling on the ground.

Walker grabbed both by the back of their shirts and yanked them apart. “Stop it!”

“Let me go!” The unknown kid twisted, and Walker released Nick so he could hold on with both hands.

“Not until you settle down.” He held the boy’s shirt until he finally stopped struggling. Walker looked at Nick, who was wiping his bleeding nose with his sleeve. “What’s going on?”


He let the other boy go. The kid glanced at Walker, and his eyes widened. His gaze darted furtively toward the stadium, then he took off running.

“Running away like a little girl, Boyd?” Nick yelled after him, his voice thick with blood. “Chickenshit!”

He swiped his hand across his face again, smearing another streak of blood on his sleeve. Walker pulled a wad of tissues out of his jersey, and Nick jammed them against his face.

“What were you fighting about?” Walker asked.

“Boyd’s an asshole,” he said, his voice muffled by the tissues.

Walker caught a glimpse of movement beneath the bleachers. Two more kids. “Do you two want to explain to me what was going on?”

Neither teen moved, then the smaller one strode out from the shadows. “It wasn’t Nick’s fault.” It was a girl with short, choppy blond hair, a pointed little face and big brown eyes. “Boyd started it.”

This had to be Stevie. “Stevie Melton?”

She lifted her chin. “Nick was…he was…” She bit down on her lip. “He was protecting me.”

Nick moved the tissues away from his nose. “Boyd was shoving her, said he needed weed.” He stepped closer to Stevie, but didn’t touch her. “He ordered her to bring some tomorrow. I told him to get lost.”

Dave finally emerged. “Boyd swung first. Dude had no choice. He had to fight.”

What was Walker doing in this stew of teenage testosterone? What did he know about handling kids this age? “Maybe you should have told a teacher about this.”

Nick snorted. “Right.”

Walker was being sucked into these teens’ lives, and felt a moment of panic. He’d just wanted to find out if Nick was his son. That was all.

But back in high school, he would have done exactly the same thing if someone had been pushing Jen around. “So what are you going to do next time this happens?” And there would be a next time. With bullies, there always was.

Dave and Nick glanced at each other, and Dave smiled. “Dude, Boyd knew who he—” he jerked his head toward Walker “—was. A lot of the guys did. You’re going to be, like, the most chilling guy in school. Boyd is gonna leave us alone.”

Nick lifted one shoulder. “Whatever. I can take care of her.”

“I can take care of myself, you dorks,” Stevie said. She gave Dave a sharp elbow in the gut. “Way to back up your friend in a fight.”

Dave clutched his stomach. “Nick told me to stay with you.”

What was Walker supposed to do now? He wasn’t responsible for these kids. But Stevie’s prickly toughness and Nick’s fiercely protective expression wouldn’t let him walk away. “Figure out how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“There’s always another asshole.”

“That’s probably true,” Walker said. “But you need a strategy.”

He was good at strategies.

He should probably tell Nick that fighting never solved anything. That he, Stevie and Dave should have walked away. That’s what a responsible par…
would do. But Walker was proud of Nick. He’d done what he thought he should do, and likely considered the bloody nose a badge of honor.

Walker didn’t think Jen would view it that way.

“Get cleaned up before your mother sees you.”

The boy grimaced. “Mom and Tommy are probably at baseball practice by now. I can wash my shirt before she gets home.” Nick looked around fruitlessly for a garbage can. He glanced at the No Littering sign, then wadded the tissues into a tight ball.

Walker hesitated, then held out his hand. He stuffed the mess into his pocket.

“Get some ice on your nose, too.” Walker studied Stevie, who was chewing on her lip and bouncing on her toes. Like a small bird, she was poised to bolt.

Thank goodness Dave and Nick had been with her.

Walker was usually uncomfortable with his celebrity, but today he would use it shamelessly. “Is there a place where kids gather after school?”

“The Cherry Tree.”

So that hadn’t changed since Walker’s high-school days. “Before we go home, let’s stop in and get a soda. And some ice for Nick’s nose. All of us. I’ll tell you guys that I’ll be giving out invitations to attend the first showing of
. And I’ll make it clear that you three are in charge of the guest list.” The booths were so close together he was bound to be overheard.

He could see the wheels turn in Nick’s head. The kid smiled slowly. “That would be awesome, man.”

slipped in the back door of Nick’s house, the sweat from Walker’s bike ride had long since dried and had begun to itch. The day had gotten colder, too, and he was anxious to take a shower. But he’d promised Nick he’d help him clean up.
The enticing aroma of roasting meat followed them down the stairs into the basement. “Your mom’s cooking smells amazing.”

“She’s probably testing another recipe.” Nick flicked on the light and headed for the washer and dryer against the wall. In one corner of the basement a small room had been framed out. The door was open and he saw two beds, with posters on the wall around them. On the other side, someone had laid a rug, strung some lights and made a desk out of a door and two bookcases. Two chairs sat in front of it, one at either end.

“Testing a recipe for what?”

“For her new restaurant. We’re her guinea pigs.”

Jen was opening a restaurant?

Nick stood at the sink, rinsing the blood out of his shirt.

“Your mom is going to find out about the fight, you know,” Walker told him.

“Are you gonna tell her?”

Was he? That would be the responsible thing to do. The adult thing. Walker studied the dials on the washing machine. “When did these things get so complicated?”

“You don’t know how to turn it on, do you?” Nick’s voice was incredulous.

Walker shrugged. “How tough can it be?”

The teen opened a cabinet above the sink, pulled out a bottle and sprayed the remaining faint bloodstains on the shirt. Then he added detergent and turned the machine on. “Man, you design all those awesome games and you can’t even do the laundry? What a loser!”

Nick shot him a look to see if he’d overstepped a line. Walker smothered a grin. “That’s me. Laundry loser.”

“My mom says you have to know how to take care of yourself.” He grimaced. “She even makes me cook.”

“Good for her,” Walker said. “You want to eat, you should be able to cook.”

“Hey, did you tell her about the deal with Stevie and Dave and me?” Nick asked, as if it was an afterthought. As if it didn’t matter to him one way or another.

“Not yet.” He doubted she’d want to listen to him. “I’m just trying to figure out the best way to bring it up.”

“Maybe you could tell her about the fight, too, and calm her down. Explain why it had to happen.”

Now Walker was supposed to be the go-between? Take Nick’s case to his mother?

The way a father would?

Panic shot through him.
I wanted to know if he’s my son. Am I going to act like a father?

“I think it would be better if you told her.”

“Hell, no.” Nick looked at him out of the corner of his eye, judging his reaction to the swearing. “She doesn’t understand guy stuff. And she likes you, so she wouldn’t be mad at you.”

She liked him? Right.

“And you like her.”

You have no idea, kid.
“I’ll see how it goes when I tell her about Stevie and Dave, okay?”

“Better do it soon,” Nick said, scowling. “I’ll be in deep shit if she finds out from one of the other kids’ parents.”

“I’ll try.” This had been Walker’s idea. He was the one who wanted to get to know Nick. He hadn’t understood what that meant. The messiness. The complications.

So what was he going to do if Nick
his kid? Would he get involved in his life?

Nick would be family.

And what if he
his father? Was he just going to walk away from Otter Tail and Nick?

And Jen?

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