My hands rest on the worn wooden rail of the bridge.
And I feel him next to me.
I close my eyes to focus on his warmth.
My heart swells. It’s been so long since I’ve felt this. So many years.
Yearning fills my emptiness.
I tremble with need, so I command my arm to reach for him. To touch. But my hand remains on the rail against my will.
I can’t move.
My throat is tight, locked, preventing speech. My heart thumps as I battle my muscles. In vain. I can’t turn to find his eyes or hug him. I can’t tell him I’ve missed him or do anything but be aware he’s next to me. And I’m frozen.
Tears find their way down my cheeks.
And I feel it.
His warmth leaves my side and places itself behind me, enveloping my back…neck…arms…hands. Long-known protective warmth.
And all I can do is feel.
Strong hands rest next to mine on the worn wooden rail. Aaron’s hands. Just a sliver away. One on each side.
His body grazes mine, teasing me. I’d give anything to lose myself in his chest.
But I can’t move.
And I don’t know why he’s here.
I don’t know how we ended up in this place.
I don’t know where this place is.
But I know one thing for certain.
I long to stay like this. Forever.
I keep my eyes closed in an effort to retrieve the dream, but it’s no use. He’s gone.
Heart still pounding, I slide my hand down my pelvis and press into my desire. He’s left me full, wanting more.
I roll to my side and wipe tears on my pillow as memories of pulled pigtails and playground chases flit through me.
Feelings bubble deep inside where I’ve kept them locked tight.
As I wipe another tear, I count the years.
The memory stabs me. Aaron’s faltering smile and gracious acceptance. My disbelief I’d said those words.
A book closed because of Connor.
A book shelved because of her.
I manage to place my mind on the bridge, but his warmth is nowhere to be found. Oh, why must dreams die?
I roll to my belly to give myself a good stretch when a chuckle sneaks out of me. The pulled pigtails. He did that a lot, didn’t he?
Memories of youthful imaginings evoke my smile.
Memories of what might have been.
All is shades of black and white except the bright blues watching me.
Gaze fixed on his, I place my palms on the park bench and press down, forcing my shoulders back and breasts out. I smile when his eyes blaze in reply. I’d give a wink, but he’s not looking at my face. No. Those bright blues are drinking in the length of my legs.
Anticipation swirls inside me.
His sturdy jawline is dressed in a sharp five o’clock shadow. Sexy masculinity at its best, that shadow is calling me. So I uncross my bare legs and stand, a movement he mirrors from the park bench across from mine.
Eyes tracing a line from my ankle to breast, he approaches, igniting my heart in the most fantastic way. As he draws closer, his gaze locks on my collarbone. Hunger is there. Intense hunger, which pulses through my veins.
My breath comes faster.
Want tears through me when his chest brushes mine. The shadow still calls, so I command my arm to pull it to my flesh, but I’m locked, frozen.
Damn it. Not again.
Lust pleads for his lips to seize me. But they don’t. They don’t even graze.
His breath caresses the skin below my ear, torturing me with awareness that Aaron Keller’s lips are a heartbreaking sliver from my neck.
And I can’t touch him.
I shove sweaty covers aside and sit, my breath quick from the encounter.
Gotta love a wet dream.
Vision still alive in my imagination, I savor his eyes. I’d forgotten the allure; gentle and protective with long lashes begging for intimacy. Oh yes. Butterflies twirl and flip inside as they had years ago when fantasies of Aaron Keller were my favorite occupation.
Shit. Fantasies of a man I can’t have are the last thing I need right now. But…
That sexy five o’clock shadow. Sensations of his barely-there lips haunt my neck in the most delicious way, sending a rush of blood to my favorite place. Pleasure pulses through me.
This is ridiculous. There’s no reason to be thinking about Aaron Keller. He’s a closed book collecting dust on a shelf. But if I could have my way, I’d pull the book, dust it off, and dive in.
I give my long hair a tug. Stop it. He’s married. I can’t go there. Ever.
But what if…
Jake groans, letting me know his morning stretch is imminent, so I slide out of bed and steal over to the sheer curtains where morning sun penetrates the weave to caress my nakedness. I smile as I tug them aside. A sexy dream of Aaron is the perfect way to start a beautiful day. Dreams of Stevens are nothing compared—
Stevens. The man who had potential. It was around this time last year I’d caught him in the act. My heart sinks. He must be the trigger.
Well…I’ll take any dreams of Aaron I can get.
After all, he might have loved me if I’d…
Refusing to let sorrow for lost chances dampen this glorious morning, I head into my closet and get ready for a run with the only male besides Aaron who’s never let me down.
Jake trots alongside as I head downstairs and out into crisp country air.
[MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY]
My feet nestle in sand along the great lake’s edge where waves curl and flip, licking my ankles. Water begs my sweltering body to dive in, but I don’t want to cool off. Not yet. Sunlight forces my gaze to seek shade. Given there are neither trees nor umbrellas nearby, I look down.
Oh my. Sheer red fabric clings to my sweaty breasts, which are plumper than usual. A see-through sundress over nothing. Hell, I look hotter than I feel. And that’s something.
It seems I’m alone on a beach under a clear sky at noon. Free to do as I wish, I take a deep breath, draw up the red fabric, and slip fingers between my swollen folds. My touch is warm, welcoming, so my pussy slides against it. As if it’s been ages, my heart pulses faster in giddy anticipation for this unexpected opportunity. An orgasmic treat under the sky.
My most precious part contracts against my fingers as I drop to my knees on the shore. The lake splashes me, soaking my dress so it defines my nipples, bellybutton, and hips, as I tease my clit into an erection. Blood rushes through me, filling my loins as I work my way toward pleasure. Oh man, this feels…
Breath coming faster, I grind into my hand, lean back, and open my chest to the sky. My long hair grazes sand as excitement climbs toward the sun. Everything is white-hot, pressing me to seek relief, so I throw myself into pleasure. Sliding two fingers in, I rock to a rhythm so intense it sends my blood toward the point of no return. I spread my knees wide, fall to my back, and press my pelvis toward the sky. My fingertip delivers stimulation so sweet my clit needs more. More. And more. Until… Oh fuck. At the mercy of convulsions, my neck arches, forcing the crown of my head into the sand.
Heat rockets across my skin. Apparently, I’m not alone.
Breath unsteady, I slide my wet fingers up my pelvis…slowly…and roll to my belly. Propping myself on my elbows, I watch Aaron Keller stare at me with eyes fiery enough to light the sun. I’m not sure why he’s wearing jeans in this heat, but I don’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 from me. A delicious circumstance.
I push myself to standing and prepare to brush off, but there’s no need. My glistening skin is covered only by a sparkling red bikini. I scan the beach, but there’s not a sundress in sight. I bite my lip. Maybe he prefers a bikini.
He’s propped on one elbow, watching me. Determined to touch this time, I stride toward him. Eagerness propels me, moving me quicker than intended, and next thing I know I’m at his side. Thrill of proximity tempts me to straddle him, but I don’t; instead, I plant my left foot an inch from his elbow, making it clear I welcome his everything.
When he leans toward my left leg and looks up the length of me, my pussy decides she wants another turn. His eyes plead for what I want to give him, and my heart replies with a skip of excitement. This is it.
I command myself to kneel. To touch. But I can’t, damn it.
I’m frozen. Again.
I watch his gaze caress my legs. My pelvis. My face. Driving the need to fill myself with the cock hiding behind that zipper.
Yes. Aaron Keller’s gaze is making me ache…for him.
Aaron has me enclosed against a car door, his body so close to mine we dance on the edge of full contact. Everything is hot and naked.
Aware I’m dreaming, I command my arms to embrace him, but they won’t. I’m helpless. I can neither pull myself into him nor look anywhere but at his lips; parted and wet, they implore me to taste and let him savor me. If only we could. Fate is determined to drive me crazy by stirring the fire of frustration that’s been growing inside me these past few months.
Cravings pulse through my veins, impelling me to do naughty things to this beautiful man. Oh, how I yearn to meld our carnal impulses. We’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 me. Every bit of him is pulling me toward an ecstasy designed for us. An erotic burn. Slow and intoxicating. Oh yes. I’ll wait like this forever and die in our exquisite flame.
“They’re flowers, not fish.” Mom takes the hose from me, turns off the valve, then drops 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 my distracted stupidity, I tip the large bowl-shaped planter to drain excess water then lug it from my porch to the lawn where July sun will dry the soil.
“What’s going on?”
I straighten up and face my mother, the most perceptive woman I know. Sweat glistens on her brow while the breeze teases her long graying pony tail. A picture of me in thirty years.
She tugs off her gardening gloves, sits on the bottom step of my porch, then pats the spot next to her, welcoming me to sit. “You’re not a klutz and you’re an ace gardener. Today you’re not you. Why?”
When I take a seat next to her, she places her hand on my thigh and squeezes. I look into her eyes. “Remember when you finally kicked out dad?”
“You’re thinking about your father?”
I press my hand into hers, offering comfort. “Back when you announced your decision to get divorced, I made myself a promise. I swore I’d work hard to achieve four things.” I gesture to Jake. “The easiest one sits at your feet. Own a German Shepherd to keep me safe.”
As if he knows I’m speaking of him, Jake turns his head to watch me, his tongue lolling in efforts to cool himself.
“Two of the achievements were more work,” I continue. “I became a doctor and I own my own home. No man necessary.”
Warm smile reaching her eyes, Mom says, “You’re my intelligent, driven daughter. You’ve done well. Look at this property.” She waves her hand at my acreage.
I smile at the crop of blue salvia dressing up my rock bed. My gaze follows the rocks to the edge where red petunias live.
My mind flits to the beach, the red bikini, and him, sending my heart into flutters. He’s my favorite distraction, just like when we were kids. Only now my fantasies are all grown up, full of muscles and heat and wanting. Given I’m no longer a schoolgirl, I don’t get to see him. Ever. But his continual presence in my thoughts is—
“I’m waiting for number four.” Mom strokes Jake’s head, which is now resting on her knee.
I draw a deep breath and release 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 perks up and looks at Mom then me.
Mom winks. “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 lifts her countenance. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in ages.” Her eyes sparkle as if in celebration of renewed hope for her still-single 35-year-old daughter.
“Nothing’s going on, Mom.” I reach 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 twists the void left by Connor.
If I’d said yes to Aaron…
The void pulses against my heart.
Aaron never had a chance to see how far I’d come because I’d never given him the opportunity.
Mom nudges me with her elbow. “What’s got you thinking about Aaron?”
Warmth flows through my core, reminding me 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 press into my eyes.
“Ah.” She chuckles. “Aaron Keller strikes again. You know what this means, don’t you?”
I nod. “But I’m not ready to know. If he’s divorced, there’ll be baggage. If he’s 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 darkens her eyes, then she interlaces her fingers with mine. My mother. Strong Marina Lopez. My rock.
“Katrina…” She strokes my skin under her thumb. “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 squeezes my hand. “Look. Him. Up.”
Tears blink out of my eyes.
My heart is ready. It’s crying for me to find out.
But my body…
I wipe away a tear.
Fear never goes away.
KATRINA’S FAVORITE DREAM
Autumn haze surrounds me.
Grasses blow in a breeze I cannot feel, their seedheads nodding as if in favor of my presence; tall and unruly, they tickle my hands as I walk a dirt path toward an unknown destination.
All is quiet as I amble through open fields punctuated here and there by massive oaks. Warm and woodsy country air fills my lungs, empowering me with the strength only nature can provide.
Now Aaron’s presence makes itself known. His warmth is close and my heart squeezes with longing.
He’s walking next to me.
I attempt to take his hand in mine, but my arm won’t obey. As usual, I cannot touch him. But I see his strong profile as he watches the path. Our path. And I feel his energy, his gentle confidence, accompany my every step.
A strength unlike any other blossoms inside me.
In this moment, Aaron Keller is mine. My partner. A life force meant for me.
As we walk, a powerful, heady drive consumes me. I will conquer everything: The darkest of moments. The wildest of dreams. The fiercest of passions.
Heart full and head light, I believe in the impossible. A world of wonder and hope and happiness fills me. I revel in the exquisite buoyancy of childlike belief as we walk these grassy fields.
Then our destination becomes clear.
My heart tightens its rhythm as we approach the faded structure. Weathered wood clings to memories long forgotten, a defiance that must have prevented its collapse. When we step through the doorway, the scent of hay fills me with sadness. Our time is ending.
My throat constricts when his eyes meet mine. Beautiful and blue. Intimate and whole. Full of power and peace.
His gaze holds me…into our goodbye.