Anything For SashaSamantha Lucas
Sasha has lived a meager existence in a small town full of dark secrets. Her only reprieve and happiness was found in the arms of a stranger. A stranger whose face she can’t forget and whose memory calls to her night after night. She forced herself to forget him, and everything they shared, until he showed up to find her and make her remember.
Matthew spent one blissful night with a woman whose name he can’t even remember. Yet he can’t forget her. Still, no one could have predicted the sequence of events that would await him when he goes back to find her.
A quest for answers in a small town where everyone has secrets requires more than Matthew can handle alone.
With the help of West, Frannie and Nick, Matthew determines to win the heart of the woman who already owns his. Sasha has no idea that Matthew will do anything for her, and he just might have to in order to win her heart and soul forever.
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“Shut your mouth, you’ll catch flies.”
Sasha’s jaw snapped shut, but he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Although she figured beautiful wasn’t a term used for a man--still, he was. All blond curls and blue eyes. In all her life, she’d never seen anyone like him.
“I’m sure he’s just passin’ through, sweetheart. They always are.”
Verbena’s words penetrated her haze, and she tried to check her dreamy romantic side, but something about this man made her think he just might take her with him.
“You gonna go wait on him?”
Verbena’s voice came to her like a dream she heard through a tunnel.
“He winked at me.” Her dream-like state ending, her violet eyes brightened as she gazed down at the older waitress. “Did you see it?”
“No, honey, ‘fraid I missed it. Now go take the man’s order before Luther comes out front and reads you the riot act for lazin’ ‘bout.”
Sasha picked up a menu, straightened the skirt of the peach-colored uniform, tried to quell the butterflies that were attacking her quite viciously and headed for the booth at the far end of the diner where the stranger sat waiting.
“Hey.” Hearing the breathless quality of her own voice caused her to inwardly cringe. “You needin’ a menu?”
She held it out to him, but didn’t loosen her grip when he tried to take it. She was caught in the grasp of the powder-blue eyes that held her future. She was certain of it now.
“Oh, sorry.” She smiled, realizing her mistake, and released the menu. “Can I get you some coffee?”
“That would be nice. Thank you.”
She grinned like a schoolgirl and ran to get his coffee. Her stomach was doing flip flops and her hands were literally shaking. He had the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen. It lit up his entire face until his eyes actually sparkled. For the first time, she actually understood what that expression meant. Prior to this moment, she had thought it just a quaint figure of speech. She had to push away a squall of girlish giggles when she saw his dimples for the first time.
Carefully carrying the pot and cup back to him, she wasn’t sure which would be the safer way to go with her unsteady hands. Should she place the cup down on the table, then fill, or have to carry the full cup across the diner? She hoped she hadn’t made the wrong choice, but the slight chance she’d pour hot coffee all over him wasn’t something she was willing to risk.
“Shasta?” He motioned towards her nametag with his head while she filled his cup. “Is that your name, sweetheart?”
She shrugged in reply. “That’s what everybody calls me.”
His oh-so-sexy lopsided grin should have been declared a lethal weapon, because Sasha felt herself grow weak at the sight of it. She also started feeling reckless, which was not at all like her ... well, not since Julian anyway.
“Okay, but is that your name?”
“It don’t matter. Are you ready to order, sir?”
She hated that she had to turn on the ice she was so famous for. She reckoned it was his own fault, though. Part habit and part defense, it came naturally these days, but his digging around her name made her go on the defensive.
“Okay, message received.” He looked down at the menu. “What do you suggest?”
“A finer dining establishment.”
He laughed, but she’d spoken with complete sincerity. She could tell he wasn’t the truck stop type. His laughter, however, put her back at ease and brought on that heavy dose of lust again that she’d been feeling from the moment he first walked through the door.
“Anything wrong with the cheeseburger?”
“Nope. Not a thing. You want fries or rings with it?” She placed her hand on her hip and considered him with her head cocked to one side. “Or are you one of them salad types?”
He leaned forward on his elbows, bringing himself closer to her. His spicy scent made it necessary for her to close her eyes in order to regain her equilibrium.
“Now sweetheart, if I were a salad type, why on earth would I have ordered a burger?” Mischief twinkled in his eyes, his expression rendering the question flirtatious rather than sarcastic. She almost wished it hadn’t. She knew how to deal with sarcasm--charm was another story completely.
“Uh.” It was all that would come out. Horrified, she grabbed his menu and raced toward the kitchen, hearing him call out to her as she retreated that fries would be fine. In the relative privacy of the kitchen, she pounded her forehead carefully with closed fists.
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!”
“Honey, have you got that couple on five? They want their check.”
She looked up and caught the last glimpse of Verbena’s graying ponytail fly through the kitchen door back into the dining room.
Okay, Sasha, now what are you going to do?
She couldn’t think of anything right off the bat, so she brought the check out to table five, took a new order and cleaned out the pie case while waiting on his burger to be done. Occasionally she snatched glimpses of him as he read a magazine article, paying her absolutely no attention whatsoever. Finally his food was up and she steadied her hands the best she could before taking his order to him.
“Your burger.” She laid the plate on the table and motioned to his half-empty cup. “Can I get you a refill?”
“Mmm-hmm, thanks.” He lifted the top of the bun off the burger. “This doesn’t look so bad.”
“I had Earl use the fresh beef,” she whispered conspiratorially with a smile.
“I’ll be eternally grateful, I’m sure.” They shared a private laugh for just a moment, and then she went for the coffeepot.
“Can I get you anything else right now?”
She watched the most curious things flit across his face and resonate in his eyes. She figured he was deciding, so she waited--not that prolonging her time in his presence was a hardship by any means.
Her heart stopped. He looked over his shoulder at Verbena, who’d been eyeing him since he walked in as if she’d seen his face that morning on a wanted poster, then looked back up at her.
“Can you sit, or will that get you in trouble?”
She’d get in trouble--all kinds of trouble--and she knew it. Especially if anyone saw her, but she didn’t care about any of that right now. She bit the corner of her lower lip.
“I’ll sit.” She instantly had second thoughts and added, “But just for a sec.”
He pushed his plate towards her, smiling that killer smile again.
“I’ll take what I can get. You want some of my fries?”
She raised both her eyebrows at him.
“Are you kidding? I couldn’t get Earl to change the oil.”
Though she tried to squelch her nerves, they were doing a serious number on her stomach. She felt all breathy and off balance. It was a foreign thing for her. Maybe it was just because she hadn’t known him since childhood, but whatever it was, it was deliciously new and different--and quite addictive.
“I don't want to get you in any trouble.”
“It’ll be okay.” After a pause, she looked straight into his eyes. “For a second.”
Something flared in his eyes and he quickly looked away from her, but not before that look sent heat through her entire body. She knew her existence, what was possible for her in life and what wasn’t, but he made her want to dream wild and crazy things. He also inspired desires that she never allowed herself to feel. That made him both incredibly potent and incredibly dangerous. Somehow it also made him all the more desirable.
“You know, I should go anyway.”
Sasha’s heart fell. They hadn’t even had a chance to talk. He hadn’t eaten. She had to catch her breath before being able to ask him.
He stood up and started pulling bills from his wallet. She stood in front of him furiously trying to figure out a way to keep him there, even for just a little bit longer. He handed her the bills.
“You keep the rest.”
His voice was strangely thick and his hand slowed as it touched hers in passing her the cash. She felt an incredible spark when it grazed her own. She had the nearly uncontrollable urge to press it to her lips. He must have been thinking along the same lines, because he brought his hand up to her cheek and rubbed the backs of his fingers against it. Sasha thought she might fall. She casually leaned against the table. His next words shocked her.
“You’re so very young.”
She blinked her best weapons at him, only this time it wasn’t on purpose as she’d been known to do so many other times to get what she wanted. This time it was in sheer bewilderment.
“I don't have to be.”
She knew it sounded stupid. It sounded desperate, but she was desperate. Desperate for him not to leave. But as she stood there partially stunned, he did just that. Her heart took the hit hard.
Verbena came up beside her, arms full of dishes. “They never stick around, honey. It’s better that he left before he could take your heart with him.”
Sasha sank back into the booth and absently put a fry in her mouth.
Too late. He just did.
* * * *
Six months later
“Holy Shit!” Matthew leapt for cover behind the bed of his new black pickup. “What the hell are you thinking of, West?”
“I think that I’m making up to Frannie for spoiling Thanksgiving for her last year.”
West took another shot at the target, and then turned around just as Matthew was poking his head back up.
“Making it up to her or not, just put that thing down.”
He motioned at the bow and arrow West had vaguely pointed in his direction. After witnessing West’s skill with the thing, that was as close as he wanted to get. West took one last shot at the target, missing so horribly that Matthew had cause to wonder if his friend didn’t need his eyes checked.
“Damn.” West put the bow in the truck bed. “Come up from there, you idiot.”
“Self-preservation is not idiocy.” Matthew straightened his shirt and dusted the dirt off his jeans from where he’d hit the ground. “What the heck are you doing with that thing, anyway?”
West picked up the bow again, looked askance at it, and tossed it back in the truck bed.
“It’s a Songer family tradition to hunt the Thanksgiving dinner. All the men hunt for wild game and the women grow the vegetables all year.” His expression turned wistful. “Frannie grew pumpkins. You should have seen her, nine months pregnant, standing over that pumpkin patch as if it was the most important thing in the whole world.”
Matthew hopped up on the tailgate, running his hand along his beard, which was really no more than a few days’ growth. “That woman of yours is something else...”
West’s beaming face shouted to the world that he loved Frannie more than anything in existence, but Matthew knew it firsthand from watching the two of them together.
“...but hunting?” Matthew raised one judgmental eyebrow at his friend as the smile fell from West’s face.
“I know, but at least they’re not going out with high powered rifles, telescopic scopes and a big tub full of ice and gin.”
Matthew snorted. “Woulda made it interesting, though, ya gotta admit.”
Leveling a sardonic glare at his friend, West started with a defense of his new family. “It’s nice. They try to have a traditional Thanksgiving and for the second year running, I actually have something to be thankful for. This year, I intend to celebrate it the way Frannie wants to.”
West looked at Matthew with a sparkle that always seemed to be there nowadays.
“You going to your mom’s?” West moved up on the tailgate and said with a knowing grin, “Bet you’re missing him a whole bunch.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
The gathering at Matthew’s parents’ house would certainly be small in comparison to the Songer celebration. Just his parents, his aunt, maybe a cousin or two in attendance, and his reason for smiling--the only reason he was looking forward to the holiday--William, Matthew’s only son.
Matthew had raised him alone for fifteen of the boy’s seventeen years, but when he was fifteen, the child had had the audacity to want to go away to a prestigious boarding school for his last two years of high school. Now that William had gone back for his senior year, Matthew was left feeling adrift again. Empty Nest Syndrome had hit him harder than he would care to admit.
“So what are you doing out here, anyway?” West turned an expectant expression on his friend.
That was a good question. Matthew had gotten in his truck and just started driving. Before he knew it, he was crossing into West Virginia and knew exactly where he was headed. The big yellow house that West had bought for Frannie as a wedding present, where his two close friends lived.
He shrugged, not about to let West know that his sentimental side had kicked into high gear.
“Nick was out of town.”
West made an obvious attempt to look dejected, then smiled with knowing eyes.
Matthew felt the weight of six months resting heavily on his back. Six months he’d been worrying and wondering what to do, without saying a word to a soul about his dilemma. He’d always been the parent, it seemed. Not only to William, but to West and Nick, as well. It was only Frannie who didn’t look to him to be her hero, probably because she had her own in West. It made his relationship with her refreshingly different and immensely comfortable. He loved her very much for it and often felt like she played mother to his father over West and Nick--and even William, at times. Regardless of how happy he was for West, he found himself terribly jealous at the same time.
“I suppose,” Matthew muttered, not certain of how honest he wanted to be.
“You suppose? I know that look. It’s the one that kept staring back at me after I met Frannie. So who is she?”
Matthew let out a long breath and scratched the side of his head while avoiding eye contact at all cost and finally admitted, “I haven’t the faintest clue.”
Long brown hair, violet eyes, sweet smile.
“You don't know?”
West raised a brow to him. Matthew could see in his eyes that his friend thought he was finally cracking up. Mathew bet he’d been wondering for years when it was going to happen. They’d been friends since college and been through all the highs and lows life throws at you. West had been there when he met, fell for and knocked up Kate. West had also been by his side when he made the toughest decision of his life and married her.
West had also been there when she snuck off in the night, leaving two year old William behind.
Matthew scraped his palms on his jeans like he wanted to lacerate the skin. The only thing that gave an outward appearance of the agitation he was feeling was the faint tic of a muscle beneath where one of his dimples usually resided. He needed to tell this story to someone and if he was truthful, this was exactly why he’d come here.
“Six months ago, I was feeling a little bit listless.” He stopped and blew out a breath. “Aw, hell, I’ve been listless ever since William set his mind on that damn boarding school of his.” He looked at West with wide-eyed horror. “I have no life outside that boy.”
West laughed, and then sobered. Matthew thought he’d remembered his own baby girl and realized that maybe it wasn’t quite so funny, after all.
“Okay, but tell me about this woman. Is she somebody from D.C.?”
Matthew picked some straw off one of West’s fallen arrows. “No. Georgia, I think.”
West shook his head. “Okay, I think maybe you’d better start at the beginning.”
Matthew slid back into the truck bed until his back rested against the cab. West followed. “I suppose you’re right.” He stopped and pointed an accusing finger at him. “But don't you dare laugh at me. I stood beside you through the whole Frannie thing.”
“I won’t laugh.”
Placated temporarily, Matthew went back to staring at his legs, slowly beginning to tell a story he wasn’t proud of. “I was feeling listless, like I said, so I took a road trip. Wasn’t sure where I was headed, but I didn’t want any company other than my own self-pity, I knew that much. That’s why I didn’t come here. I kept on going south until I hit this little bitty town, I think somewhere in Georgia.”
He let out another breath, settling in to his story.
“I met this girl, first at a truck stop.” He looked at West. “She was working there, cute little brunette, but young. Way too young for my tastes.” His eyes went back to his pant legs and that bit of straw he was twisting.
“She was sweet, and I could tell she liked me, but I wasn’t looking for company, not even for the night. So I paid my bill and let it go. Later that night I was at what I think the locals called a honky-tonk...”
West burst out laughing. The evil look Matthew shot him should have been enough to silence him but apparently wasn’t. He held up a hand for mercy and slowly started catching his breath. Matthew was not amused.
“Oh man, I’m sorry.” A few more chuckles came out before he sobered. “But come on, seriously? Mr. Suit-and-Tie in a honky-tonk?”
“Yeah, yeah, real funny. But it was the only place around to get a drink, and I needed one pretty bad by then. That girl at the truck stop had me spellbound. I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to hold her, to touch her, undress her and do things to her that are probably illegal in at least twelve states. It was either the honky-tonk, or the truck stop and then my motel room. I thought the honky-tonk the wiser choice at the time.”
West, who had completely sobered now, turned a bit towards Matthew and rested his elbow on his knee.
“Okay, so you were tying one on at the...” a mere twitch of his lips was all that gave away his amusement at the situation this time. “...honky-tonk. Go on.” He gestured with his hand for Matthew to continue. After a prolonged stare obviously intended to warn West’s humor away--which only seemed to have the opposite effect--he continued.
“After I’d had a few I, uh...” He bit the inside of his jaw, his eyes persistently on the floor of the truck bed. “...looked up to see her standing there.”
“Miss Truck Stop?” It sounded like a question, but West’s tone said it was a rhetorical one, so Matthew merely nodded.
“I was too far gone for good decision making, so I remember very little after that. I remember dancing...”
He supposed you could call what they had done dancing, in loose terms. They were vertical, anyway.
The sound of smothered laughter rent the fall air. West got another evil grin shot his way, but by this time Matthew knew it was no use. Besides, if the shoe had been on the other foot, he’d be rolling on the ground by now.
“I woke up the next morning in my motel room, naked, with her in my arms.”
“What did you do?”
Matthew dropped his forehead into his palm. His voice laden with self-contempt, he replied, “I got dressed, snuck out and never looked back.”
They sat quietly for a while as the late fall afternoon turned to dusk. West packed up the rest of his arrows, looking back at the target that held none. In an apparent attempt to lighten the mood, he asked, “Do you think I should round up all the ones I shot?”
Matthew gave him a sad half-smile. “We’d be out here half the night.”
West climbed back up into the truck bed, rocking back on his haunches. “So what are you going to do now?”
Matthew shook his head. “I told her at one point I thought she was beautiful. Do you know what she said to me?”
West only shook his head.
“She said that she had unusual eyes, and that a lot of men had confused that for beauty.” He picked at the straw some more. “She was right about one thing, though. Those eyes...” He looked up at West. “Her eyes are the most peculiar shade of violet and she’s got the thickest black lashes surrounding them. All natural, no cosmetics, either. I see those eyes in my sleep, every single night.”
West settled back in beside him. “The way I see it, the decision’s already made. So I’ll give you the push you need. In the mood for a road trip?”
Matthew look up, his heart laced with guarded hope. “It’s nearly Thanksgiving. You miss another one, and Frannie’ll take that baby and leave you.”
“Frannie and Sarah aren’t going anywhere. Besides, we’ll be back long before dinner hits the table.”
One of Matthew’s famous crooked grins slid over his face. “But maybe not before you miss the hunting?”
West slid out the truck bed. “My Frannie’s a romantic.” Matthew slammed the tailgate into place and the men climbed in the truck. “And for some reason she’s got a soft spot for you.” The truck began bouncing along the rutted dirt road. “I’m sure she won’t mind one bit.”
* * * *
“Westly Dean Hollins, if you miss another Thanksgiving, I will never forgive you as long as I live!”
West took Frannie into his arms and kissed the side of her neck in the spot he knew disengaged her higher brain functions, but she wasn’t going to give in that easy.
“This is for Matthew. He may have found the woman he’s been looking for all his life. You wouldn’t want to deny him that, would you?” He pulled back, looking intently into her eyes.
“Knock off the puppy eyes, West. He’s waited six months to look for this girl. What’s another week going to matter?” She pulled away from him, making an attempt to fold the laundry she’d dumped on the bed earlier.
“Come on, sweetness. We’ll be back on Wednesday night, Thursday morning at the latest. It’s not that far of a drive.”
Frannie swallowed her tears. She’d hoped the weepiness would abate after the baby was born, but Sarah was nearly five months old and it hadn’t happened yet. She walked back toward West. “This holiday is important to me. It’s the first one with Sarah, and the first one you’ll spend with us as a family.” She let him snuggle her back into his arms. “I love Matthew, I do. And I want him to be happy.” She looked up into his eyes, her own shining with tears. “Is it terrible that I just don't want it at my own expense?”
He gently kissed her forehead. “Sweetheart, it won’t be. That I promise you. I’ll be back. Thanksgiving is almost a full week away, so we’ve got plenty of time.”
“It’s five days,” Frannie argued. West knew she hated how pouty she sounded at times like this.
He brushed the hair from her eyes. “I love you, Frances Louise.”
She sucked in air in a gasp. “You promised!”
“As did you, my love.” He ran his index finger down her nose and she realized she had indeed used his full name only moments ago. The entire scene causing her to relax, she even laughed.
“I truly do want Matthew to be happy. I’m sorry I’m being so selfish.”
“Sweetheart, with what we went through last year, you have a right to be a little prickly about this particular holiday. And you’re right, it will be Sarah’s first, but I promise I’ll be back, even if I have to dump Matthew’s butt and come back myself. Please say you’re okay with it.”
She rubbed the shooting pain away from her forehead, only to have West run his finger over it next, soothing it further. He placed a soft, slow kiss on her lips, which really wasn’t fair, because he knew she couldn’t think straight when he kissed her.
“All right. Go. Find Matthew’s mystery woman.” She held her finger at his nose. “But if you’re not back here no later than eleven-thirty Thursday morning, I’ll never forgive you, Westly Dean.”
He laughed, pulling her tighter into a more passionate embrace. Soon he had maneuvered her to the bed and the last thing she heard him say before making love to the woman of his dreams was, “I love you ... Frances Louise.”
* * * *
“Hand me those chips, would ya?”
Matthew looked behind him at the display. “The jalapeno ones?”
He piled the bag of chips on top of the array of other snack foods that they’d purchased, along with their two sixty-four ounce sodas, while the clerk gave them the total.
Safely back in the truck, food safely tucked in the behind the seats, and the drinks--not fitting the cup holders--safely stowed between their legs, they hit the road again.
“Back on I81 South? Then straight on into Knoxville and on down to Georgia?”
Staring out the window, Matthew answered without thinking.
What if he couldn’t find her again? Worse, what was he going to do if he did find her again? Fuck her senseless was the first renegade thought that sprung to mind, but he ruthlessly shoved it aside, sadly not before his body took note and adequately started adjusting to the thought. He in turn adjusted in his seat.
“Rip open that bag of cookies, would you?”
Without questioning, he grabbed for the cream-stuffed cookies and handed the open package to West. They’d been friends for nearly twenty years and knew each other like brothers.
“We shoulda picked up Nick on the way,” West yelled over the radio blaring Green Day. With him it was either Pavarotti or Metallica. Matthew’s tastes ran more towards jazz, but he could tolerate just about anything. Shouting back over the stereo, he said, “He couldn’t make it. He’s in California doing that political thing for his family.”
West visibly cringed. Matthew popped one of the cookies in his mouth.
“Don't tell me you don't have a new view of family since Frannie’s gotten her hands on you.”
“I suppose I do, but those stiff political luncheons his mom always gave still make me break out in hives just thinking about them.”
Matthew laughed good and hard.
“Maybe that’s because you were always causing trouble at them.”
They drove on in shared silence for a while, enjoying the weather as it got warmer the further south they went.
“So when I turn off the highway, where then?”
Matthew was lost in thought and it took him a minute to re-formulate the question in his mind.
“Uh, I don't know exactly. It was a little middle-of-nowhere place, either just over the border into Georgia, or right before. But I’ll know it when I see it.”
West drove on in blind faith, but when the radio clicked off a little while later, Matthew knew his reprieve had ended. He blew out a breath and looked at West.
“You want to know, don't you?”
“Well, considering I suffered the wrath of my wife over this, I think I’m due.”
Matthew lifted one side of his mouth into a lopsided grin. “Was she really that mad?”
West shot him a sideways glance with one brow raised. “She called me Westly Dean.”
Matthew recoiled in mock horror. “Ouch. Bet that left a mark.”
“Mm-hm, so you owe me.” He laughed without much humor.
“There’s not much to tell, not much I remember.” Which wasn’t at all true. He couldn’t clearly remember everything about that night, but he remembered a lot of it, and he did remember everything that happened before he got drunk.
“Then tell what you do know, like her name.”
Even the thought made him smile. “I gather it’s not Shasta, but that’s all I really know.”
West was looking at him as if he were crazy, then turned his eyes back to the long road stretching out in front of them. Matthew got lost in his memories and before long was talking without even realizing it. “She had the cutest southern accent, you know?”
“Since we’re heading south, I could have guessed that much.”
West’s dry tone barely registered on Matthew, who was too busy anticipating a possible reunion with the girl he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about for months. A woman whose image filled his thoughts day and night and fueled erotic dreams every night since he’d met her. More, a woman he worried about. Wanted to protect and keep safe. The yearning was almost unbearable at times and he had no idea why it should be that way.
“I’ve been dating, you know.”
West said nothing, so he continued.
Matthew watched West bite the side of his jaw so hard that it must have drawn blood. He gave his friend a pat on the shoulder.
“Thanks for not laughing.”
Pain echoed in that sound. Matthew found himself wanting to laugh now. Instead, he went back to the subject at hand.
“It’s hard, you know? I’m thirty-eight years old and I have a nearly grown son. I work all the time, mostly with other men, and I have absolutely no social life now that I don't have William around.”
He sighed heavily.
“After I got back from Georgia, I was desperate to find... something, I don't know.”
West was quiet for a while before asking, “So how’s it working? The dating?”
Matthew’s initial reaction was a heavy groan, but then he more realistically stated, “It’s a good way to meet women as lonely as I am who want to have sex, but...” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the statement. He wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to finish it anyway--they aren’t her?--possibly.
“But you’re looking for more than a roll in the hay?”
Flashes of her raced across his mind.
I’m looking for her.
“I suppose so. It was fine when William was little, or even still at home, because I had all my attention focused on him anyway, but it’s just so damn lonely now.”
West glanced at Matthew, then back out at the road.
“Matthew, it seems to me that you’ve always been lonely.”
“Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot, West.”
Matthew turned back to the window.
“No, I mean even in college, you were always looking for The One. I remember one time you told me you wanted your heart to connect with someone’s in a permanent lock, one you couldn’t get away from no matter how hard you tried. Do you have any idea how jealous I was that you even believed it was possible? As long as I’ve known you, that’s what you’ve been looking for.”
The words rolled over Matthew like shrapnel, digging out hunks of his flesh along their way. West was right. He’d been like that since he was a kid. He’d had such a great example of unity from his parents and knew how lucky they felt to have one another. He wanted that. He hated himself for bringing William up without two loving parents as a foundation. Kate had never been his heart’s mate. He knew it at the time; he was even more sure of it by the time she walked out. Even though he’d never really loved her, he never expected her to leave, either. He felt like the worst parent in the world for not providing a mother for his son. It was just such a basic, simple thing, but he couldn’t do it. “I don't think it exists.”
“I have it with Frannie.”
What was he supposed to say to that? He knew West and Frannie had it. He knew his parents had it. Why couldn’t he have it? After another long, slow breath, he uttered almost without thought, “That night, when she was loving me... I felt like she gave me a piece of herself. I can’t explain it better than that.”
West looked out over the horizon. “I think you damn well explained it perfectly.”
* * * *
“You sure this is it?”
Matthew sat in the truck staring at the diner. “Yeah, this is it.”
They sat for another few minutes, and then West broke the silence. “Well, are we going in, or what?”
He sat motionless, then blurted out, “It was just sex, a crazy sexual attraction, that’s all.” He tried very hard to force himself to believe that was true, because he wasn’t sure what he’d do if he had to face the actual truth of it--that he’d left a piece of himself with her, as well.
“If it was just sex, why did you run?”
His head snapped in West’s direction. “What?”
West shook his head and repeated, “If it was just sex, why didn’t you stay the next morning and partake of it again in the sober light of day? Why’d you run away? I mean, the little lady seemed to have no objections to giving it away to a perfect stranger. I suppose...”
The truck door slammed hard, Matthew furiously paced a trail around the truck while pounding his fist into his palm. West got out of the truck and came up beside him.
“That’s what I thought.”
“I oughta hit you.”
“I want to hit you.”
West ducked as the fist tried to connect with his chin.
“Didn’t say I’d let you, though. Now come on, let’s go in and get your woman.”
Matthew’s rage dissipated instantly.
“She’s not my woman.”
Even as he said it, he saw her head pass by the window and everything else seemed to melt away. He remembered kissing her outside the bar. He remembered her warm soft body cuddling up next to him. Remembered that first brush of his fingers against her breasts, the first moment he tasted her, lying against her, skin to skin. He remembered loving her so deeply and so completely that it scared the hell out of him, and he knew that that was why he ran.
“She can’t be more than twenty-five, twenty-eight maybe, but I think I’m pushing it at twenty-eight.”
“And we’re only going in to have some coffee.” West put his arm around Matthew’s shoulders and led him to the front door. “And give her the opportunity of throwing it in your face.”
Matthew’s steps stopped dead, the bottom fell out of his stomach. West dragged him the last of the way. When they walked inside the diner one thing became very clear as both men stood cemented to the linoleum.
“Uh, Matthew.” Neither of them could take their eyes off the young woman. “Was she pregnant before you slept with her?”