Prelude to a Love Story

KATRINA’S FIRST DREAM

Her hands rest on the worn wooden rail of the bridge.

And she feels him next to her.

She closes her eyes to focus on his warmth.

Her heart swells. It’s been so long since she’s felt this. So many years.

Yearning fills her emptiness.

She trembles with need, so she commands her arm to reach for him. To touch. But her hand remains on the rail against her will.

She can’t move.

Her throat is tight, locked, preventing speech. Her heart thumps as she battles her muscles. In vain. She can’t turn to find his eyes or hug him. She can’t tell him she’s missed him or do anything but be aware he’s next to her. And she’s frozen.

Tears find their way down her cheeks.

And she feels it.

He knows.

His warmth leaves her side and places itself behind her, enveloping her back…neck…arms…hands. Long-known protective warmth.

And all she can do is feel.

Strong hands rest next to hers on the worn wooden rail. Aaron’s hands. Just a sliver away. One on each side.

His body grazes hers, teasing her. She’d give anything to lose herself in his chest.

But she can’t move.

And she doesn’t know why he’s here.

She doesn’t know how they ended up in this place.

She doesn’t know where this place is.

But she knows one thing for certain.

She longs to stay like this. Forever.

AWAKENING

No.

She kept her eyes closed in an effort to retrieve the dream, but it was no use. He was gone.

Heart still pounding, she slid her hand down her pelvis and pressed into her desire. He’d left her full, wanting more.

She rolled to her side and wiped tears on her pillow as memories of pulled pigtails and playground chases swept through her.

Feelings bubbled deep inside where she’d kept them locked tight.

As she wiped another tear, she counted the years.

Fourteen.

The memory stabbed her. Aaron’s faltering smile and gracious acceptance. Her disbelief she’d said those words.

A book closed because of Connor.

A book shelved because of her.

Fourteen years.

She managed to place her mind on the bridge, but his warmth was nowhere to be found. Oh, why must dreams die?

She rolled to her belly to give herself a good stretch when a chuckle sneaked out of her. The pulled pigtails. He did that a lot, didn’t he?

Memories of youthful imaginings evoked her smile.

Memories of what might have been.

KATRINA’S SECOND DREAM

All is shades of black and white except the bright blues watching her.

Gaze fixed on his, she places her palms on the park bench and presses down, forcing her shoulders back and breasts out. She smiles when his eyes blaze in reply. She’d give a wink, but he’s not looking at her face. No. Those bright blues are drinking in the length of her legs.

Anticipation swirls inside her.

His sturdy jawline is dressed in a sharp five o’clock shadow. Sexy masculinity at its best, that shadow is calling her. So she uncrosses her bare legs and stands, a movement he mirrors from the park bench across from hers.

Eyes tracing a line from her ankle to breast, he approaches, igniting her heart in the most fantastic way. As he draws closer, his gaze locks on her collarbone. Hunger is there. Intense hunger, which pulses through her veins.

Her breath comes faster.

Want tears through her when his chest brushes hers. The shadow still calls, so she commands her arm to pull it to her flesh, but she’s locked, frozen.

Damn it. Not again.

Lust pleads for his lips to seize her. But they don’t. They don’t even graze.

They hover.

His breath caresses the skin below her ear, torturing her with awareness that Aaron Keller’s lips are a heartbreaking sliver from her neck.

And she can’t touch him.

..

REMEMBERING

She shoved sweaty covers aside and sat, her breath quick from the encounter.

Vision still alive in her imagination, she savored his eyes. She’d forgotten the allure; gentle and protective with long lashes begging for intimacy. Oh yes. Butterflies twirled and flipped inside as they had years ago when fantasies of Aaron Keller were her favorite occupation.

Shit.

Fantasies of a man she couldn’t have were the last thing she needed. But…

That sexy five o’clock shadow. Sensations of his barely-there lips haunted her neck in the most delicious way, sending a rush of blood to her favorite place. Pleasure pulsed through her.

It was ridiculous.

There was no reason to be thinking about Aaron Keller.

He was a closed book collecting dust on a shelf.

But if she could have her way, she’d pull the book, dust it off, and dive in.

She gave her long hair a tug. Stop it. He was married. She couldn’t go there. Ever.

But what if…

Maybe they’d…

Jake groaned, letting her know his morning stretch was imminent, so she slid out of bed and stole over to the sheer curtains where morning sun penetrated the weave to caress her nakedness. She smiled as she tugged them aside. A sexy dream of Aaron was the perfect way to start a beautiful day. Dreams of Stevens were nothing compared—

That was it.

Stevens. The man who had potential. It was around a year ago she’d caught him in the act. Her heart sank. He must’ve been the trigger.

Damn.

Well…she’d take any dreams of Aaron she could get.

After all, he might have loved her if she’d…

Refusing to let sorrow for lost chances dampen a glorious morning, she went into her closet and got ready for a run with the only male besides Aaron who’d never let her down.

Jake trotted alongside as she went downstairs and out into crisp country air.

KATRINA’S THIRD DREAM

[MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY]

Her feet nestle in sand along the great lake’s edge where waves curl and flip, licking her ankles. Water begs her sweltering body to dive in, but she doesn’t want to cool off. Not yet. Sunlight forces her gaze to seek shade. Given there are neither trees nor umbrellas nearby, she looks down.

Oh my. Sheer red fabric clings to her sweaty breasts, which are plumper than usual. A see-through sundress over nothing. Hell, she looks hotter than she feels. And that’s something.

It seems she’s alone on a beach under a clear sky at noon. Free to do as she wishes, she takes a deep breath, draw up the red fabric, and slips fingers between her swollen folds. Her touch is warm, welcoming, so her pussy slides against it. As if it’s been ages, her heart pulses faster in giddy anticipation for this unexpected opportunity. An orgasmic treat under the sky.

Her most precious part contracts against her fingers as she drops to her knees on the shore. The lake splashes her, soaking her dress so it defines her nipples, bellybutton, and hips, as she teases her clit into an erection. Blood rushes through her, filling her loins as she works her way toward pleasure.

Breath coming faster, she grinds into her hand, leans back, and opens her chest to the sky. Her long hair grazes sand as excitement climbs toward the sun. Everything is white-hot, so she throws herself into pleasure. Sliding two fingers in, she rocks to a rhythm so intense it sends her blood toward the point of no return. She spreads her knees wide, falls to her back, and presses her pelvis toward the sky. Her fingertip delivers stimulation so sweet her clit needs more. And more. Until… Oh fuck. At the mercy of convulsions, her neck arches, forcing the crown of her head into the sand.

Heat rockets across her skin. Apparently, she’s not alone.

Breath unsteady, she slides her wet fingers up her pelvis…and rolls to her belly. Propping herself on her elbows, she watches Aaron Keller stare at her with a gaze fiery enough to light the sun. She’s not sure why he’s wearing jeans in this heat, but she doesn’t care. Jeans don’t matter when ripped abs and pecs are part of his attire. Barefoot and beautiful, he’s lying on a beach towel not twenty feet away. A delicious circumstance.

She pushes herself to standing and prepares to brush off, but there’s no need. Her glistening skin is covered only by a sparkling red bikini. She scans the beach, but there’s not a sundress in sight. She bites her lip. Maybe he prefers a bikini.

He’s propped on one elbow, watching her. Determined to touch this time, she strides toward him. Eagerness propels her, moving her quicker than intended, and next thing she knows she’s at his side. Thrill of proximity tempts her to straddle him, but she doesn’t; instead, she plants her left foot an inch from his elbow, making it clear she welcomes his everything.

When he leans toward her left leg and looks up the length, her pussy decides she wants another turn. His eyes plead for what she wants to give him, and her heart replies with a skip of excitement. This is it.

She commands herself to kneel. To touch. But she can’t, damn it.

She’s frozen. Again.

She watches his gaze caress her legs. Her pelvis. Her face. Driving the need to fill herself with the cock hiding behind that zipper.

Yes. Aaron Keller’s gaze is making her ache…for him.

KATRINA’S FOURTH DREAM

Aaron has her enclosed against a car door, his body so close to hers they dance on the edge of full contact. Everything is hot and naked.

Aware she’s dreaming, she commands her arms to embrace him, but they won’t. She’s helpless. She can neither pull herself into him nor look anywhere but at his lips; parted and wet, they implore her to taste and let him savor her. If only they could. Fate is determined to drive her crazy by stirring the fire of frustration that’s been growing inside her these past couple of months.

Cravings pulse through her veins, impelling her to do naughty things to this beautiful man. Oh, how she yearns to meld their carnal impulses. They’re poised for a kiss but don’t. Inability to move is now a sensation of resistance. A delicious restraint. An insanity that vibrates through her. Every bit of him is pulling her toward an ecstasy designed for them. An erotic burn. Slow and intoxicating. Oh yes. She’ll wait like this forever and die in their exquisite flame.

PROMISES

“They’re flowers, not fish.” Marina took the hose, turned off the valve, and then dropped it on the lawn. “You need to tell me what’s up, Katrina, because in the past thirty minutes, I’ve witnessed you overfill Jake’s water dish, trip over your shovel, and drown your impatiens.”

“They’ll be fine.” Heart beating fast over her distracted stupidity, Katrina tipped the large bowl-shaped planter to drain excess water, and then lugged it from her porch to the lawn where July sun would dry the soil.

“What’s going on?”

Katrina straightened up and faced her mother, the most perceptive woman she knew. Sweat glistened on Marina’s brow while the breeze teased her long graying pony tail. A picture of Katrina in thirty years.

Marina tugged off her gardening gloves, sat on the bottom porch step, and then patted the spot next to her, welcoming Katrina to sit. “You’re not a klutz and you’re an ace gardener. Today you’re not you. Why?”

Katrina took a seat next to her mother and looked into her eyes. “Remember when you finally kicked out dad?”

“You’re thinking about your father?”

Katrina shook her head. “Back when you announced your decision to get divorced, I made myself a promise. I swore I’d work hard to achieve four things.” She gestured to Jake. “The easiest one sits at your feet. Own a German Shepherd to kept me safe.”

As if he knew she was speaking of him, Jake turned his head to watch her, his tongue lolling in efforts to cool himself.

“Two of the achievements were more work,” she continued. “I became a doctor and I own my own home. No man necessary.”

Warm smile reaching her eyes, Marina said, “You’re my intelligent, driven daughter. You’ve done well. Look at this property.” She waved her hand at Katrina’s acreage.

Katrina smiled at the crop of blue salvia dressing up her rock bed. Her gaze followed the rocks to the edge where red petunias lived.

Red.

Her mind flitted to the beach, the red bikini, and him, which sent her heart into flutters. He was her favorite distraction, just like when they were kids. Only now her fantasies were all grown up, full of muscles and heat and wanting. Given she was no longer a schoolgirl, she didn’t get to see him. Ever. But his continual presence in her thoughts was—

“I’m waiting for number four.” Marina stroked Jake’s head, which was resting on her knee.

Katrina drew a deep breath and released it along with some tension. “I promised myself one more thing, but it was a little girl’s dream. Silly, really, because its accomplishment relied on someone other than me.”

“Oooo. Did you hear that, Jake? A little girl’s silly dream.”

Jake perked up and looked at them.

Marina winked. “Silly dreams tend to be the most worthwhile.”

Another deep breath. “My fourth promise was to marry a man who’d never hurt me.”

“Well, I don’t see anything silly about that. After everything your father did, it’s the most sensible thing in the world.”

“But I picked Aaron Keller.”

Understanding lifted Marina’s countenance. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in ages.” Her eyes sparkled as if in celebration of renewed hope for her still-single 34-year-old daughter.

“Nothing’s going on, Mom.” Katrina’s reached over to stroke Jake’s head. “Of all my goals, that was the irrational one. A nonsense fantasy.”

“No. Not nonsense. He asked you out.”

Memory of that moment twisted the void left by Connor.

If she’d said yes to Aaron…

The void pulsed against her heart.

Aaron never had a chance to see how far she’d come because she’d never given him the opportunity.

Marina nudged her. “What’s got you thinking about Aaron?”

Warmth flowed through her core, reminding her of details best kept private. “After I found out he was married, I blocked him out of my mind. I swear I haven’t thought of him in years. I’ve been focused on work and my property. My life. But all of a sudden, a few months ago, I started having dreams of being with him. Vivid dreams. Intimate dreams.” Tears for ridiculous hopes pressed into her eyes.

“Ah.” Marina chuckled. “Aaron Keller strikes again. You know what this means, don’t you?”

Katrina nodded. “But I’m not ready to know. If he’s divorced, there’ll be baggage. If he’s still married, I’ll be disappointed again, which will hurt. If he’s dead, I’ll be devastated. I don’t want baggage or hurt or devastation. I want to be happy like I am right now. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Disappointment darkened Marina’s eyes. “Katrina…you’re wrong. I don’t regret anything. I loved your father and he gave me you and that goofball brother of yours. And because of his way, as upsetting as it was, you became a very strong woman. But you can’t keep hiding behind independence. You are ready to know. You are ready to deal with baggage and hurt and devastation because you’ve already done all that. And you’ve prevailed.” She squeezed Katrina’s hand. “Look. Him. Up.”

Tears blinked out of Katrina’s eyes.

Her heart was ready. It was crying for her to find out.

But her body…

Her mind…

She wiped away a tear.

Fear never goes away.

KATRINA’S FAVORITE DREAM

Autumn haze surrounds her.

Grasses blow in a breeze she cannot feel, their seedheads nodding as if in favor of her presence; tall and unruly, they tickle her hands as she walks a dirt path toward an unknown destination.

All is quiet as she ambles through open fields punctuated here and there by massive oaks. Warm and woodsy country air fills her lungs, empowering her with the strength only nature can provide.

Now Aaron’s presence makes itself known. His warmth is close and her heart squeezes with longing.

He’s walking next to her.

She attempts to take his hand in hers, but her arm won’t obey. As usual, she cannot touch him. But she sees his strong profile as he watches the path. Their path. And she feels his energy, his gentle confidence, accompany her every step.

A strength unlike any other blossoms inside her.

In this moment, Aaron Keller is hers. Her partner. A life force meant for her.

As they walk, a powerful, heady drive consumes her. She will conquer everything: The darkest of moments. The wildest of dreams. The fiercest of passions.

Heart full and head light, she believes in the impossible. A world of wonder and hope and happiness fills her. She revels in the exquisite buoyancy of childlike belief as they walk these grassy fields.

Then their destination becomes clear.

Her heart tightens its rhythm as they approach the faded structure. Weathered wood clings to memories long forgotten, a defiance that must have prevented its collapse. When they step through the doorway, the scent of hay fills her with sadness. Their time is ending.

Her throat constricts when his eyes meet hers. Beautiful and blue. Intimate and whole. Full of power and peace.

His gaze holds her…into their goodbye.