“Ginger, how did this happen?” I encompass the laptop with a wave.
“Derek got a call from the photography contest people last night. Someone from the Claymore Inn was trying to get in touch with us. We assumed it was you, but—”
“It was Shane Claymore.” Derek scrutinizes me closely, ever the cop and overprotective brother-in-law. “He asked if we had a laptop, which I did, since I’ve been working from the hospital. I downloaded the program he sent me…and here we are. So who is he?”
I sigh at the loaded question, just as the scribbled notes scattered around the desk catch my attention. Phone numbers and names I recognize from the photography contest. Derek’s cell phone number. Shane had done quite a lot of work to arrange this chance for me to see my sister, my niece. I remember the circles under his eyes and frown.
“I’m not sure who he is,” I say to myself, forgetting for the moment Derek and Ginger can hear me. My attention snaps back to them. “Listen, take care of my beautiful goddaughter. And Derek, make sure my sister gets some sleep,” I add, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt he’ll follow through. “I miss you guys, dammit. I’ll call soon.”
Ginger is becoming distracted as the baby begins to fuss. Derek stands up at the side of the bed, holding a diaper and a glass of water, looking prepared for anything. “Bye, Wip. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Oh, that narrows it down,” I respond, but my sarcasm is lost on them. “Bye, guys.”
I close the laptop and take a deep breath. My chest feels heavy with a multitude of messy emotions. Gratitude, surprise, love…a touch of melancholy. I close my eyes to regain my bearings, but all I can see is Shane, the one who made the last five unexpected, amazing minutes of my life possible. To some people, a few phone calls wouldn’t be a big deal. To me, it’s huge.
I don’t think anymore. I just get up and leave the office. It’s obvious where I’m going, but I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get there.
As soon as I push through the hallway door and enter the pub, I see him standing behind the bar. I see no one else in the pub, and a quick glance tells me Faith is outside, waiting for me on the sidewalk in front of the inn. The sound of the swinging door alerts him to my presence and his back stiffens a little, but he doesn’t turn, just continuing to clean the bar with a white cloth. Even though he doesn’t acknowledge me, my steps don’t falter, I don’t pause on my way behind the bar.
When I’m a few yards away, Shane turns. “Look, don’t make a big thing out of—” He cuts himself off when he glimpses my expression. Then he drops the rag and meets me halfway. I’m caught up in his arms a second later, legs wrapped snugly around his waist. Shane grips my bottom with one big hand and buries the other in my hair, searching my eyes. I’m not ready to let him see everything, so I pull his head down to mine. And kiss him for all I’m worth.
I angle my mouth across his, encouraged by his ragged groan. When his teeth rake over my lower lip, my thighs tighten around his hips, and I deepen the kiss further. For the first time, I’m kissing him without a single reservation, and the effect of that freedom is devastating. Blood pounds in my temples, aches form in places I didn’t know could ache from a kiss. The hand on my bottom is urging me closer, causing my control to desert me.
Shane senses the shift in me, the end of my restraint. I can tell because he pulls back, shhing against my lips. “As much as I’d love to take you on this bloody bar, Willa, this isn’t how I want you the first time.” He brushes his mouth across my cheek to my ear. “There’ll be a time for this. Soon. Feel me, love.” His hips rolls beneath mine. “That’s a promise.”
After a few breaths, I nod, forcing my thighs to loosen so my body can slide down his harder one. Shane steadies me with a firm hand on my shoulder, but nothing can stop what’s taking place inside of me. Swallowing hard, I meet his blue gaze. “What you did…thank you.”
“I need you to understand something.” He tips my chin up. “I didn’t do it so to encourage your decision one way or the other. I need that to be clear.”
“Okay,” I whisper, unable to question his sincerity when he’s looking at me with such intensity. “Why did you do it?”
He goes still, and then his hand slips from my face. “Maybe I know what it’s like. The guilt over not being there when someone needs you.”
More than anything, I want to question him further, but Faith raps on the window. Immediately, I step back, ducking my head. Not because I’m ashamed, but because it’s a moment taking place between us and I don’t want someone else to witness it.
“Whatever the reason you did it…” I shrug helplessly. “I won’t ever forget it. When I go home…forty years from now when you’ve forgotten me, I’ll remember. Okay? Thank you.”
I don’t wait for Shane’s response, but turn quickly and leave the pub before I give into the temptation to throw myself back into his arms.
“Are you shagging my brother, then?”
My first sip of orange juice gets stuck in my throat. Pedestrians veer around me as I choke and sputter like an ass**le on the sidewalk. It’s not a planned or convenient stall tactic, but at least my coughing fit gives me time to formulate a decent answer to Faith’s innocently posed question. There are two ways I could handle this, I figure. Tell her the truth, which is no and leave out the fact that shagging Shane is beginning to seem like an idea on par with the invention of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Or I could put on my big girl panties and be completely honest.
“I’m thinking about it.”
Faith tilts her head and I can tell she’s now seeing me through a different lens. The girl-who-wants-to-shag-my-brother lens. I’ve had quite a bit of experience with something similar, since every man with a pair of eyes has wanted to sleep with my sister at some point. In the beginning, it was uncomfortable knowledge to have, but you learn to control the gagging after a while. In Faith’s case, I’m willing to bet she has encountered her fair share of girls looking to get the inside track on Shane. Since I know what that feels like, my first obstacle will be to make damn certain she knows I won’t be needling her for pointers on how to secure Shane’s undying love. I don’t want it.
“You know, he’s leaving.”
I nod and sip my juice. “So am I.”
She stares at some point beyond my shoulder. “He always leaves.”
I don’t know how to respond to that. I’m afraid if I push, she’ll think I’m digging for information. This casual-shagging business is difficult to navigate.
“So it’s just an affair?”
I swallow a laugh. “I don’t know if I’d call it an affair, since nothing’s happened. Also, we’re not actors in an old-timey movie.”
“What would you call it?”
Faith starts walking again and I move to catch up with her. When I feel a little surge of panic at the possibility she doesn’t want any more to do with me, I realize I’ve already come to consider Faith a friend. Dammit, she’s found a way to creep in, just like Shane told me she would. “Does this bother you, because if it does—”