Big hands gripped her shoulders again and turned her back around. Then she felt rough, thick fingers gently tug at the scarf until her face was completely uncovered, or at least most of it was. Curls still clung to her eyelashes and errant wool fibers remained plastered to her Chapsticked lips.
She finally looked up at him. What the hell. She couldn’t possibly be more mortified around him now than she had been during pretty much every waking, breathing moment of her adolescence, could she?
Any latent, exceedingly selfish hopes she might have harbored that time and age had been unkind to him were extinguished with that one simple glance. He was … beautiful. He’d always been beautiful. Thick, chestnut-brown hair that was forever in need of a trim topped a pair of always twinkling eyes the color of Maine evergreens, and a ready grin set between a strong jaw and sharp cheekbones. Only now, age and time had somehow transformed him into a man who was more rugged, more handsome, more genuinely, heart-grippingly sexy. The kind of sexy a thirteen-year-old couldn’t even begin to appreciate, but the thirty-two-year-old woman standing before him could all too well.
His body was as ruggedly appealing as his face, with broad shoulders to match those wide palms, and the kind of muscles roping his arms and biceps that even the green plaid wool jacket he had on over a faded red hoodie did little to hide and everything to enhance. She didn’t dare look lower. Didn’t have to. He’d always been athletic and agile despite his size. Looking at those long legs and perfectly muscled thighs wasn’t necessary. She imagined them anyway, remembering far too many summers spent watching him and Logan from her bedroom window as they played pick-up basketball at the hoop mounted to the front of the carriage house, in nothing more than gym shorts and gleaming, honey-gold skin.
It seemed so unfair, she thought, even as she drank in the sight of him like a woman who’d been in the desert since, well, since the summer of her eighth grade graduation. Which was when he’d left town, and her unrequited love, in the unnoticed and seriously pathetic dust.
“Hello, Ben,” she said, seeing the wisps of wool still clinging to her lips dance briefly in the warm, dry air. She wanted to close her eyes. Hell, she wanted to dig a hole to China. Instead, she forced herself to maintain eye contact. Adult. Mature. Not thirteen. Not stupidly pining for a guy who never once thought of you as anything but his best friend’s annoying, bratty kid sister.
At the moment, however, he looked sincerely happy to see her. That shouldn’t have made her knees knock. Or her thighs clench.
“I didn’t know you were back in town,” he said.
“That makes two of us,” she said, thinking that her heart had to be pounding against her chest so hard, if she looked down, she’d surely see a cartoon version of it pumping out through her coat. Her fireplug red, down-filled coat.
Her karma clearly didn’t include things like having the sexier-than-ever Ben Campbell reenter her life when she had on cute yoga pants and was in some innocent but super suggestive pose that had him immediately wondering why in the hell he’d never noticed her before.
“You, uh …” He made a brief motion toward her mouth, and then that gleaming white grin flashed. “Either you’ve been slimed by your scarf, or you have a very unfortunate fungal issue. Either way—” He reached past her to nimbly snag a napkin from the holder she’d half buried under her satchel. “Here,” he said, offering it to her.
Aaaaand humiliation complete. Forever thirteen. Ah well, what the hell. Might as well own it. She tugged off her gloves with her probably wool-coated teeth, then took the proffered napkin. “Thanks,” she said, and turned to put her gloves on the marble countertop and do the best she could without benefit of a mirror to de-fungi herself. Turning back around, she crumpled the napkin in her hand and gave him a wry smile. “Better?”
“Mostly,” he said.
She went stock-still again when, teasing grin still firmly in place, he stepped closer, bowed his head, and gazed ever-so-intently at her mouth. She had no idea how her legs held her upright as every one of her adolescent fantasies came screaming back to mind, but in a far—far—more adult fashion. Surely, he couldn’t mean to—
He brought his hand up—not to cup her cheek so he could lower his lips to hers—but to pluck away the few remaining fibers that still clung to her lips.
What did it say that the tips of his fingers brushing her lips elicited a far greater response from her body than the last man she’d actually gotten naked with? Nothing positive, she was sure. About her, or about poor, couldn’t-find-an-erogenous-zone-if-it-was- staring-him-in-the-face Charlie. Which, sadly for them both, one rather universally well-known zone had been.
“Now you’re good,” he said, smiling again as he stepped back.
No, not really, she thought. But you sure are. She swallowed against a throat that was suddenly a dry wasteland, while other parts of her were … decidedly not. Oh, so, very, very good.
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About the Author
USA Today bestselling author of the Cupcake Club Romance series, Donna Kauffman has seen her books reviewed in venues ranging from Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal to Entertainment Weekly and Cosmopolitan. She lives just outside of DC in the lovely Virginia countryside, where she is presently trying to makeover her newly empty nest into something that doesn’t have to accommodate piles of sports equipment falling out of her coat closet (okay, out of every closet…and under every bed….), size 13 cleats and sweaty uniforms cluttering her foyer (and stairwell, and laundry room, and…), and a kitchen that should have come with a traffic light. And a pantry monitor. (Anyone with a clever idea on how to repurpose lacrosse sticks into matching reading lamps, she’s all ears!) When she’s not stripping paint, varnishing an old auction house find, or trying to avoid bodily injury with her latest power tool purchase, she loves to hear from readers!