Read Can't Stand the Heat? Online

Authors: Margaret Watson

Tags: #Going Back

Can't Stand the Heat? (6 page)

,” she said easily, “but I don’t want a ride home. I like to walk after I work.” She shrugged on her jacket and began to weave her way through the crowd.
He threw a bill on the bar, watching as she waved at someone in the band. The woman playing drums waved a stick back at her and the guitar players nodded. Then Jen pushed through the door and disappeared.

Walker grabbed his jacket off the hook on the wall and followed her. She was already half a block ahead of him.

She’d shoved her hands into her pockets. As he came up behind her, she looked over her hunched shoulder.

“Walker. What are you doing?”

“Walking you home, since you don’t want a ride.”

“I’ve been finding my way home for a long time.”

“Then I’ll just keep you company.” He edged a little closer. “Looks like you’re cold.”

Her shoulders relaxed and she took her hands out of her pockets. “I’m fine.”

The air was crisp and chilly, a typical late April evening in northern Wisconsin. A few clouds scudded across the sky, and millions of stars twinkled above them. He’d forgotten about the nights up here. A person could breathe beneath a sky like that.

“Go back to the pub, Walker. You can harass me all you want, but I won’t agree to a DNA test.”

“How about the pictures? Will you look at them?”

“Fine.” She stopped. “Let me see them.”

“I don’t have them yet.”

She resumed walking. “Talk to me when you do.”

“Nick is going to find me, you know. He wants to talk gaming with me. It would be easier if you didn’t forbid him to spend time with me.”

“Easier for who? You? It’s not my job to simplify your life.”

“Easier for Nick. Do you want him sneaking around?”

“He wouldn’t do that.” But there was no conviction in her voice.

“It doesn’t take a genius to guess that he will.”

“You don’t know my son, Walker.”

“I understand fifteen-year-old boys. I used to be one.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” He smiled to himself. Her first concession. There would be more. The first one was always the hardest to get.

She crossed the street without looking at him. “Go back to the Harp. I’m not going to cave because you’re following me home.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “I don’t like being pressured. You push me, I’ll push back.”

“I’ll consider myself warned. Why don’t you tell me about yourself while we walk home?”

“There’s nothing I’m interested in sharing.”

“Really? Not one single detail?” She looked at him, and beneath the wariness, he thought he saw anticipation. Was she attracted to him?

“No. And why would you care?”

“You’re the mother of my son. Of course I want to find out who you are.”

She clenched the strap of her purse. “No, I’m not.”

Could he make her more nervous? Nervous people sometimes blurted out things they hadn’t meant to say.

He shortened the distance between them. The pulse jumped in her throat, and he watched, fascinated. They were so close to the stores that the dark windows of the flower shop they were passing reflected her pale skin and huge eyes.

The sleeves of their coats brushed with a whisper of sound. She moved sideways.

“Careful.” He took her arm and steered her past a flowerpot in front of the bookstore. “Don’t want you to trip.”

She pulled away from him. “Thanks. I know my way around Otter Tail.” But she spoiled the effect by stumbling on a crooked piece of the sidewalk.

“Something bothering you?”

She nudged him with her elbow until there was air between them. “Other than a psycho jerk threatening to tell Nick he’s really not Tony’s son, you mean?”

Grinning, Walker slipped his arm through hers. When she tried to pull away, he pressed her elbow against his side. “I don’t want you to stumble again.”

“Let go of me, Walker.” She wrenched her arm out of his and swung around to face him. “I’ve had my fill of this.”

Behind her, he saw movement at the other end of an alley. Three figures ran past, glancing toward them before they disappeared. One faltered, then recovered and kept going.

Walker stared down the alley. What was he doing out at this time of night?

And did Jen know he wasn’t at home?

Walker would bet any amount of money she didn’t. She’d just told him Nick wouldn’t sneak around.

A responsible person would tell Jen her son was out late at night.

According to Jen, Walker wasn’t responsible for Nick.

Jen had taken advantage of his hesitation and moved several steps ahead. He smiled when he saw her arms plastered to the sides of her body. It looked as if she didn’t want to be touched again.

“I’m just making conversation.”

“If you wanted conversation, you should have stayed at the Harp. There were plenty of people who wanted to talk to you,” she said.

“No, they didn’t. They wanted to talk to the owner of GeekBoy. Hoping I’d buy their drinks.”

“That’s really cynical.” She glanced at him. “People in Otter Tail aren’t like that.”

He shrugged. “Everyone is. It doesn’t bother me anymore.” He expected it now—he’d seen calculation on too many faces in the past several years.

She slowed. “You must have some real friends. People who don’t want anything from you.”

“Of course I do. Quinn. I came up here for his wedding, didn’t I? And Kirit Patel. He’s GeekBoy’s vice president. We met when I was a hungry wannabe. Before I sold my first game.”

There was silence. “Is that all?” she finally asked.

“Of course not. What do you want? A written list?”

“That’s really sad,” she said softly. “I don’t know what I’d do without my friends.”

She sounded as if she felt sorry for him. Him. Millionaire success story.

He had the perfect life—a job he loved and enough money to do whatever he wanted. How had she managed to put him on the defensive? It was none of her business how he lived his life.

They were on Parkside now, where her parents’ house was located. He’d be damned if he’d take pity from Jen Summers.

“Do you really think I have such a lonely life?” He grabbed her wrist to stop her, then slid his hand lower, until their palms pressed together. Her hand was a little dry, as if she’d washed it too often.

She jerked away, but not before he felt her fingers tremble.

“You’re the one who said ‘lonely.’ Not me.”

He’d been alone most of his life, even when he was growing up. His mother had been bewildered by him. His father had been interested in Walker only as an extension of himself. Someone to continue the family fishing business.

“Quiet isn’t lonely. I need calm when I design my games.”

“Okay. Your life is exactly the way you want it.” She darted a look at him, and he had no trouble reading her expression.
Except in this. You don’t control me. Or Nick.

As if he’d conjured him out of the air, a figure darted across the street behind Jen, headed for the house. Nick. Was he planning on walking in the door right in front of his mother?

Jen began to turn, and Walker tugged her arm. He had to delay her. “How about you? Are you happy?”

“My life is perfect.”

“So there’s nothing missing?”

“Nothing I can’t live without.”

Nick was creeping around the side of the house, watching them until he disappeared from sight. If Jen went in now, she’d discover him.

Walker drew her closer. He was just supplying cover for Nick. That’s all.

Then she put her hands on his chest, and he forgot all about Nick.

? As Walker pulled her to him, Jen put her hands on his jacket to shove him away. The smell of leather surrounded her. She’d always been a sucker for leather.
His heat burned into her, even through the thick coat.
Move. Now.

But she didn’t move. Neither did he.

He stared down at her, and she couldn’t look away. She pushed at him, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“This isn’t…” He swallowed. “It’s not…”

“No. It isn’t.” She pushed again. “Get away from me.”

get away from
I don’t want you,” he muttered.

“I don’t want you, either.” She dropped her hands and tried to step back, but he grabbed them and put them back on his chest, covering them with his. Pressing her fingers into him.

He shook his head, as if to clear it. Then one corner of his mouth lifted. “What the hell.”

When his lips met hers, warm and firm and tasting faintly of bitter Lienie, she froze.

But when he touched the seam of her lips with his tongue, stroking gently, desire stirred. And when he nipped her bottom lip, then soothed it, all the passion she hadn’t felt for the past two years washed over her in a huge wave. Drowning her in need. In want. She threw her arms around his neck and opened her mouth to him.

Walker shuddered. He wasn’t the whip-lean boy she’d held so long ago. Now his chest was hard with muscle and his legs were strong against hers. His hands roamed her back restlessly, stroking her from her neck to her hips, gliding over her curves. He lingered on her right hip, just below her waist. Did he remember the tiny tattoo of the sun and moon he’d found so fascinating?

Memories exploded in her head. The way he’d tasted back then, like spearmint chewing gum. The way he’d touched her, as if she was infinitely precious. The care he’d taken with her, the sweetness that she’d never felt before or since.

The way her muscles had turned to jelly when he’d kissed her.

He urged her backward until her shoulders touched a tree, the bark bumpy against her spine. Then he slid a leg between hers and cupped her face in his hands, still kissing her.

His fingers tangled in her hair and her ponytail holder went flying. Then he buried his face in the heavy mass of it over her neck, inhaling deeply. She turned her head blindly, wanting his mouth on hers again.

She was burrowing beneath his jacket, desperate to touch his skin, when the headlights of a car flashed past. A horn honked, and someone yelled out the window, “Get a room!”

She shoved him away. He let her go slowly, as if he couldn’t bear to stop touching her. Finally, he dropped his hands, breathing as heavily as she was.

They stared at one another for a long moment. Then he thrust his fingers through his hair. “Holy hell.”

, staring at him, her body still throbbing. “What was that?” she managed to say.
His eyes were dark and shadowed and he breathed too fast. But he shrugged. “Last time I checked, it was called a kiss.”

Right. Mr. Cool.
“If you think you can seduce me into giving you what you want, forget it. I’m not that gullible.”

“You think that’s what I’m doing? Like you seduced me in high school to get what you wanted?”

She sucked in a sharp breath. His barb was well-aimed, and it struck deep. Made it impossible to speak.

“Doesn’t feel very good, does it?”

Her stomach churned. “No. It doesn’t.” She looked at the house, only a few yards away. A refuge. “I’m sorry about what I did. It was horrible and wrong and mean. If I could go back in time and change things, I would. I can’t. But I’m not that girl anymore.”

He clenched his jaw and slapped the tree. “You skated, didn’t you? So what is there for you to regret?”

“You think I got off scot-free?” The pain of her divorce was still a fresh wound, but there was no way she’d tell him what had happened between her and Tony. “I paid a price, too.”

He sighed. “It was a kiss, Jen. That’s all. It wasn’t the first step in my master plan for world domination. I wasn’t thinking about…Nick or high school or anything else.”

Which meant he was. He’d probably sensed her weakness and pounced. He was the kind of opponent who looked for any opening.

Why had she kissed him back?

She didn’t want to think about that. Didn’t want to think about the irony of being attracted to Walker. “Fine. Just a kiss. Already forgotten.” She wished.

“Right.” He looked over her shoulder at the house. “Looks like everyone’s sleeping in there.”

“They better be.”

A tiny smile curled his mouth. “Do you want me to walk you the rest of the way? You look a little…unsettled.”

“I can walk up the steps myself,” she said, pleased at the coolness in her voice. “I’m perfectly all right.”

She turned and hurried up the stairs to the porch. She felt him watching her.

It took her three tries before she got the key in the lock.

the folder of pictures and the spreadsheet and sipped her coffee. She shuddered. It was cold and too bitter to drink. But it reminded her to add a coffee machine to the growing list of equipment she’d need for her restaurant.

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