The day wasn’t too bad. Despite the fact that the air had a bite, the sky was clear and blue. She’d had a nice lunch, stopped by to see her mom on the way back to her shop and Christmas was coming. Not only was it a good time of year for her business but white and colored lights decorated the light posts and shop windows. Charity smiled with some amount of satisfaction because she’d nearly finished with all her shopping. Even better, she’d just found a gorgeous menorah to sit in the front window of her shop because Hanukkah was so close to Christmas this year she’d be able to celebrate both holidays at the same time. Nothing like feeling you’d checked off more items on the never-ending personal to-do list.
As she turned the corner to head back to her shop she caught sight of Gabriel Bettencourt leaning against his truck, all long and sexy. And her day just got even better. Mmm! Dark sunglasses shaded his eyes, and the beard and just-a-bit-too-long hair gave him an edge that thrilled everything right down to her toes. Charity’s pulse sped as she took him in and pretended that just friends was just fine with her. Stupid pretending. All she really wanted to do was jump on him, knock him down and find out if that night eight years ago was a fluke.
She took her time approaching him, content to look her fill until he noticed her. Her fingers tightened on the lapels of the wool coat she wore, fighting against the always present desire to reach out and run her fingers through that black, shoulder-length hair.
He was dark and hot and she wanted to eat him with a spoon. Only, well it wasn’t ever going to happen again and she needed to accept it. Someday anyway.
“Hey, Gabe, whatcha up to?” she said, sounding confident and nonchalant as she walked past.
“Charity.” He reached up and removed the sunglasses, looking her up and down. At the blatantly sensual perusal her hormones threw a party. Man was she pathetic. A smile tipped the corner of his mouth. “Just waiting for my mom. She’s picking up bread for the nine hundred relatives showing up for dinner tonight. What are you up to?”
She moved close to him out of a sheer perverse need to see if he’d react. They’d been playing this game for years now and at this point, Charity wasn’t sure if it was real or all in her head.
“Coming back from lunch. Going to work now. Just took this way because I stopped in to say hello to my mom at the bank. And look at my reward for being a good daughter. I get to see tall, dark and delicious standing here in the winter sunshine.” She winked, meaning it. “Oh, Gabriel, you should give all this up and run away with me.”
He turned his head and they stood so very close. She drew in a deep breath, hoping for just a small touch but just barely missed. His eyes were brown, the color of dark chocolate and she knew that they went nearly black just after a kiss. Right then, they were pretty dark and she wondered if he’d kiss her. She doubted it. He never did.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with me if you had me.”
He said it like a joke but it really just made her mad. She took a step back. “I’ve had you, Gabriel, remember?” Moving back to the sidewalk, she gave him a glance over her shoulder. Pig. “I need to get back to work. Have fun with your bread.”
She slammed back into the store and her assistant Faith—and yes, Faith and Charity, they got the joke so please don’t ask where Hope is or someone will kick you—looked up, raising a brow.
“I don’t know why I bother,” Charity muttered, hanging her coat up.
“With what?” Faith asked, looking through some new stock that’d come in the day before. “Oh, nice.” She held up a sweater and Charity nodded absently.
“Shut up. God. There you stand all tall, dark and gorgeous and you talk that way. Pffft. Men love you.”
“Sometimes.” She shrugged. The truth was, the specter of that one, disastrous night with Gabriel eight years before haunted her. It wasn’t like she hadn’t had good sex since. Or she shouldn’t say “since” because once they’d gotten naked it hadn’t been good sex at all. Gabriel was all steamy and sexy and sort of dark and broody. She’d heard rumors of how hot and commanding he was in bed but with her? So very not.
Was it her? Had he been all into it and then saw her naked and wanted to run? He only went through the motions—stilted and totally unsatisfying motions—because he was already naked?
Gah. She should just stop thinking about it. There wasn’t a damned thing to garner from this obsessive nitpicking of one experience she’d had eight years ago. There’d been four men between then and now and they’d all been very good in bed and had seemed to be into what she did. She knew she wasn’t a dud in bed, but in her heart of hearts, she hated the idea that Gabe was horribly turned off by her when she was so hot for him. He ran hot and cold! Some days he would give her one of those sexy looks like he wanted to do her brains out and others he put all that into other women.
She’d have given up on him if she thought it was a game but Gabriel wasn’t like that. Aside from all the sexual tension, they had a good friendship. She’d known him all her life and she liked him. More than that, she wanted him and had for more than just those eight years. Charity had wanted Gabriel Bettencourt for as long as she could remember. Having one small taste of him only made not having him hurt more.
Before she could discuss any of it with Faith, the store filled up with customers, it was coming up on Christmas after all and while many students from the university had gone home on break, there was a sizable local population out looking for holiday gifts and hot red sweaters to wear to impress recalcitrant men.