There was a glint of something in Jayden’s eyes she couldn’t really place. But she was too intent on calming her racing heart to think much about that.
Could he read her? The thought terrified her.
She watched a small smile appear on his face, brightening his brown eyes. With the radiant light from the chandelier in the den, she could see traces of green in his light brown eyes. He wasn’t even the best-looking guy she’d ever seen but he had a boyishness to him. A simple love for life and people. A carefreeness. Mix that with those eyes and chestnut brown hair that would probably still be wet and soft should she reach over and touch it…
She took in a deep breath and met his gaze. His small smile turned into a lopsided grin that made him look a lot more like Eric. Oh God. He could read her.
“Look, we both know what’s going on here.” He tried to sound serious, but the look in his eyes told her he was enjoying this. That he was mocking her.
She faced him, trying to appear confident.
“Yes, we do. I’m obviously in need of a hot cocoa refill. You want any?” She made to get up but Jayden’s hand landed softly on hers. Somehow keeping her seated although her insides screamed, ‘run’. He stared at her with the sweetest look that only he could pull off. And she probably could’ve right about melted – had his eyes not been filled with compassion as well. Did he pity her?
She removed her hand from under his.
“Ok, there’s a lot of things that have been left unsaid.”
She stared hard at him, defenses going up. Fearing he would bring up their almost-kiss from last week Saturday.
“There’s obviously something between us.” He cocked his head to the side. “Don’t you think?” It sounded like a trick question.
Man, the guy had nerves. She’ll give him that.
She gave him her most confused look. “Something going on? Like how?”
His grin widened and then he smirked and fixed her with a knowing look. He could read right through her pretense. Jerk. She wanted to reach over and slap that smirk off his face. And then maybe kiss him. Or she could slap herself instead. Heaven knows, she needed it. What was wrong with her? She had to snap out of this. Yes, she did. And she would. Yet her eyes still managed to find their way to his lips. This – the whole spur of the moment inviting him over thing – was a terrible terrible mistake. Because now that he was here, so close, smelling like shampoo and looking like some kind of model, there was very little she could do to protect herself from…herself. Was she suffering from loneliness? Was that it? Or was he really that attractive?
Oh boy. She’d been staring at his lips too long. She quickly looked away and met his eyes.
He still had on that darn compassionate smile. Except what came out of his mouth didn’t portray any compassion.
“You obviously have a thing for me.”
Her mouth almost dropped open. The jerk! No tact at all.
“Wow.” She pretended to take in a deep breath. “It’s hard to breathe in here when your gigantic ego is sucking up all the air.”
He chuckled, amused. “Deny it.” He smirked. “I dare you.”
“Nah, I think I’d rather feed your starved ego. It obviously needs the boost.”
He smiled, obviously enjoying himself. “Don’t worry, Kim. You can console yourself with the thought that you’re not the first. I’m just…too awesome.”
Her mouth hung open at the ridiculousness that he was. “What? I do not have a thing for you, OK?”
Her declaration only widened his grin.
“Fluttering lashes. Remember the theory? About when you lie?”
“You’re a child.”
“I think what we established a couple of weeks ago was babyish? Or was it babish? I can’t quite remember.”
She threw the closest cushion in his face. He laughed and threw it right back at her. She grabbed another cushion and hit him with it, the perfect way to rid herself of her embarrassment. Jayden grabbed a cushion of his own and blocked her hits at first. Then when he saw she grew tired, he smirked and took his turn. She found herself laughing as she tried scooting away from him. She shrunk back on the couch, shrieking for him to stop. When he did, she lay with her back on the couch, his two arms caging her on either side. She had no choice but to look at him, his face directly over hers.
He smiled sweetly at her.
Her heart hammered in its cage.
This would’ve been romantic. Or something like that, if she wasn’t embarrassed out of her mind.
He leaned closer.
She shut her eyes.
“Kim, I’m not gonna kiss you.”
And it took every ounce of willpower he could muster not to. He was an imbecile. That much was clear. An imbecile to have found himself in this situation. An imbecile for wanting to kiss her. An imbecile for not kissing her. And a bigger imbecile for doing this to her all over again.
Kim’s eyes fluttered open. The fire burning in the fireplace cast a golden glow over her that almost hid her embarrassment. But he saw it. The look in her eyes. The same look she’d had on when he’d walked out after he almost kissed her last Saturday. He was the biggest jerk on the planet. He couldn’t keep doing this to her. What was it they said about mixed signals?
He swallowed, willing himself to concentrate. Willing himself not to change his mind and close the gap between their lips.
“Thing is, there’s a sort of obvious chemistry between us…”
Her lips parted – no doubt, she attempted to deny it. He continued before she could speak.
“But it goes both ways.” His voice lowered at the confession.
“I don’t have a thing for you.” She stubbornly looked past him.
She was cute – that much he could easily admit to himself – when she was obviously lying while trying to suppress her frustration. Her eyes narrowed and her jaw set. It was just plain cute. He smiled. He couldn’t even help it.
“Kim, I know you’re not completely indifferent to me. I can read all the signs. But it’s perfectly fine. It means you still have a pulse.”
Her eyes flashed in anger.
He smirked. He was enjoying taunting her a little too much.
“I mean, take last Saturday for instance…”
Her eyes widened and she glared at him. She sat up so fast, he wasn’t expecting it. Her face came up so close to his that they both seemed to freeze for a second. His heart picked up speed.
Kim didn’t back away, instead she continued to glare at him. “Oh, you really want to bring that up, do you?”
“I think it’s about time. I mean, you seemed pretty ticked about me walking out.”
With the way she stared at him, he was pretty sure she wanted to strangle him.
“I was ticked? What? You were the one who ignored me after that! What was that about?” She paused, glaring. “What is wrong with you, Jayden Finnegan?”
Question of the day.
He took her in, forcing his eyes not to linger on her lips and slightly backed away on the couch. He was playing with fire. And if he didn’t do something fast, he would get burned.
“Me ignoring you, had nothing to do with you. I was mad at myself for walking out.” He might as well be honest.
She stared hard at him. In a matter of seconds, her defenses seemed to be flaking off. “Then why did you?”
He tilted his head to the side and couldn’t help giving her a weary smile. He shut his eyes and rubbed them. “Let’s imagine I’d stayed, Kim. What would’ve happened?”
He didn’t hear her speak. He opened his eyes to see her staring at her fingers.
“Kissing me wouldn’t have been so bad. Who knows, you might’ve liked it.” She met his gaze with a challenge in her own. She was teasing him. He hid a smile away.
“Ok, after the kiss, then what? Do we pretend as if nothing happened? Do I apologize and tell you I wasn’t thinking? Do things get awkward?”
She met his eyes. “You’re thinking too much.”
“I don’t play games, Kim.” After a long pause, he sighed. “I’m sorry I ignored you. I couldn’t deal with the fact that I’d walked out on you like that and possibly hurt your feelings. But walking out seemed like the reasonable thing to do.”
She said nothing.
He turned his full attention to her and waited until she was looking at him. “Listen Kim, the day I ran into you in the forest, I told you you were stunningly beautiful. Because you are. And I find you really attractive. But that’s it. A whole lot of attraction....”
She stared hard at him, eyes narrowing. “You’re saying beyond the physical, there’s nothing to like about me?”
“I’m saying beyond the physical, I hardly know you. You hardly know me. We don’t even fit. You’re not into photographers…remember?” He attempted a smile. One she didn’t return.
“And to be honest, I like us the way we are. I don’t want to spoil this; the light banter and the silly jokes…” Man, that sounded lame even to him.
“Wow. This sure is awkward.” She rolled her eyes.
He smiled. “For what it's worth, I really did want to kiss you on Saturday.” A sheepish shy grin spread across his face. “And that day I ran into you in the forest.” In spite of the embarrassment pouring over him, he found he could hold her gaze.
Kim raised a brow. “Reallyyyy…” her voice dragged as if for emphasis.
“Hey…I wouldn’t let it go to your head now, Ms. Hart.”
Kim shook her head. “No, no. ‘Fraid that can’t happen, Mr. Finnegan. Your over-inflated ego is still taking up all the room in here.”
Jayden couldn’t help himself, he burst out laughing and she joined in.
“Are we good?” Kim played with her perfectly manicured nails. She looked up and searched his eyes.
He nodded. “Definitely. No more awkward situations. Strictly professional from now on. No kiss. No flirting.”
She grinned. “I can’t promise that last one. I’m pretty good at games.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Ms. Hart.”
“If you can keep up, Mr. Finnegan.”
They were silent for a long time and Jayden started to feel himself drift into sleep.
“Do you think she’s happy?” Kim’s voice from close by drew his eyes slightly open. He almost didn’t remember where he was.
“Raelynn.” Kim’s voice shuddered. He opened his eyes to see the tears in her own. Her eyes were swollen. She’d been crying.
“Come here.” He laid back on the couch and drew her close to him so that she lay beside him, her head on his chest and her tears dampening the fabric of his sweatshirt. He picked up the blanket and covered them both. “She was a pretty happy person. I’m sure she’s happy now.” He tried to keep his voice steady.
“I keep thinking. When she saw the car coming…did she know she would die? Was she afraid? What went through her mind? And why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I feel anything? Don’t twins know that kind of stuff? Maybe I wasn’t a good enough sister to her. I should’ve insisted she come away with Mum and I for the weekend. Why didn’t I? And what was she doing walking out in the foggy night? Raelynn was more sensible than that.” She burst into incontrollable sobs, her face buried in his shoulder.
Jayden put an arm around her, lost for words. His insides knotted and his throat constricted.
When he thought she’d fallen asleep, he heard her say, “He or she is still out there. The person who hit Lynn is still out there. What if they’re never caught?” And then she cried softly into his shoulder again.
All he could do was pray for her. Pray she would have peace. He’d thought she was hurting…but this? Seeing her sob like this? His chest tightened painfully. He couldn’t imagine what state she’d be in if she’d had to spend the night alone in this house.
When she finally fell asleep, he slid off the couch, took the plates they’d had dinner with to the kitchen, grabbed more blankets folded together in the den and slept on the floor. He could get in his car and drive home. But the thought of leaving her alone in that state made his gut twist violently and dread wash over him.
No. He wasn’t going anywhere.