Hard to Love Page 4

MacKenzie raised her glass in the air, as if to toast herself. “Best idea ever!” She signaled the waitress and asked for a round of shots for the table. “Patron okay?”

I nodded my indifference. Mostly I just wanted to know what Alexa was thinking right at that moment and what exactly she had told her friends about me.

The shots arrived and I took the glass from Alexa’s fumbling fingertips. “No more for you, cupcake.” I downed both my shot and hers, one after the other, the liquor burning on its way down.

She pouted, and took a sip of the water I pushed in front of her. But as we watched each other, her lips parted and her breaths grew faster. She leaned forward in interest, a shaky smile on her lips that grew bolder with each passing second. A bark of laughter from her friend Tyson surprised us all. “Are you fucking kidding me? This guy? No. Alexa, if you’re really going to do this, it should be me. Not some guy you don’t even know, who probably has God-knows-what kind of diseases.”

Alexa swallowed visibly. As insane as this idea was, it was her decision. I forced my mouth shut, and kept my face composed. A low wave of nerves rolling through my stomach told me I wanted this—I wanted her—more than I had any right to.

“Okay,” she squeaked. “Just let me think.” She pressed her fingers to her temples.

An unexpected surge of protectiveness sprung up inside me, and I found myself holding my breath.

MacKenzie shook her head. “Lex, please, please, I beg of you, on behalf of women everywhere. Have hot, kinky sex with the porn star. Tyson will always be around.” She waved in his direction and he narrowed his eyes at her.

One thing was clear as day to me. Tyson had feelings for her. Real feelings. I should probably stop cock-blocking the poor bastard, but the look in Alexa’s eyes told me she didn’t return his feelings. Not one bit. Her eyes wandered down my chest again and she bit her lip. Her cheeks flushed pink. She was growing turned on by just the thought of being with me. Fuck, I was going to get hard right here if she didn’t stop looking at me like that.

Tyson set his drink down. “Come on, Lex, this isn’t you. You play things safe. You’re not going to do…him” he tipped his head toward me “and we all know it.”

She frowned and pulled her bottom lip into her mouth, considering his words. “I’m sick of everyone thinking I’m Miss Goody Two-shoes, with my perfect grades, and days of the week panties. You know what? I have my Wednesdays on today—it’s Saturday—and that’s a pretty sad way of rebelling, huh?”

Days of the week? Damn, picturing her in her panties was doing nothing to tame my overactive libido.

“Well forget that! I’m doing this.” Alexa straightened her shoulders, which pushed her tits out. That little tank top she was wearing left very little to the imagination. And fuck it to hell, her nipples were hard. That protective surge I’d felt earlier was back, nagging at me more insistently. I would not stand back and let just anyone touch that pretty little pussy of hers. I’d kick Tyson’s ass to keep him away from her if I had to. Which wouldn’t be difficult, considering I was ready to knock his teeth in if he looked at her like that again.

“Lex?” Tyson asked, his voice soft and pleading.

Alexa’s eyes were back on mine, drinking me in. She just sat there blinking up at me, waiting expectantly. Oh fuck, I was going to hell.

“Fuck it, I’ll do it myself,” I growled.

Her swift intake of breath at my declaration made the hair on the back of my neck stand. I swallowed roughly. “But not tonight. You’ve had too much to drink.”

Her mouth dropped open in surprise.

“Do you have a pen?” I motioned to MacKenzie’s giant purse sitting on the table. She jumped into action, rooting around inside and seconds later, thrust a pen toward me. I reached across the table and turned over Alexa’s arm, brushing the soft flesh with my thumb. Her skin was as soft as I’d imagined, and the sensation stopped me in my tracks for a second. “If you still want to tomorrow, and I doubt you will, sweetheart, meet me here.” I scribbled the address along her inner arm, tossed some bills on the table and left.

Chapter 4


“Alexa.” My mother’s disapproving tone demanded my attention. She tapped a red lacquered nail against the table. “You look a mess. I hope your night out with your friends was worth it.”

I straightened the sundress around my knees, and shifted in my seat. Though my memories of the night before were somewhat foggy, a slow smile crossed my lips. It was everything a twenty-first birthday was supposed to be. And this morning, I’d had the hangover from hell to prove it.

She dug through her purse, offering me a compact. “You need some concealer.” The only thing my mother criticized more than my poor manners were my looks, and though applying makeup in public would have typically earned me an exasperated sigh, apparently things were dreadful enough that immediate intervention was warranted. That and I guess being tucked back in the tall booth of a dim restaurant wasn’t exactly public.

I took her compact and flipped it open, inspecting my appearance. There were dark circles under my eyes, and my hair hung limply around my face since I hadn’t had time this morning to dry it. I twisted it into a low, loose bun and secured it with a few pins dug from the bottom of my purse. Then I swiped some of the concealer under my eyes until I was satisfied it was the best I could do.

“That’s better,” my mother said, holding out her hand to retrieve the compact.

We were waiting for my father to arrive, and so far he was an entire seven minutes late. I was sure he’d get an earful about it later. My mother had chosen the restaurant –a high-end steakhouse. I was never much of a meat eater, but she and my dad were on a high-protein diet. I scanned the menu for something that didn’t make me want to hurl. I decided on a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp.

My father arrived, slipping into the booth beside my mother and offering her a chaste peck on the cheek in apology. “Sorry I’m late. Business meeting ran over.” He reached across the table and gave my hand a squeeze.

I nodded. “It’s okay, Daddy.”

I knew my dad had a stressful job. He was a partner at an accounting firm and worked hard to give me and my mother everything and then some. I couldn’t be mad at him for being a few minutes late to a lunch I didn’t want to be at either.

My stomach was still queasy from last night, and I nibbled on bread and sipped my water while my parents discussed the upgrades they had planned to our vacation home in Aspen. My mind wandered to last night’s events. Oh, all right, directly back to Cade. This morning while I’d stood under the steaming hot spray of the shower, scrubbing his address from my forearm, I couldn’t help but remember his sexy, challenging smile.

Seriously, who in the hell arranges a meeting to lose their virginity? It wasn’t like I was actually going to go through with having sex with a porn star, and a complete stranger at that. God, was that insane or what? I really needed to keep MacKenzie on a tighter leash. This was all her doing. When I remembered the look she gave me when I admitted that I was a virgin, I shuddered. Even Tyson had jumped in, saying he’d be happy to make me a woman himself. Too bad there was zero attraction there. He was a nice guy, and I knew he’d do anything for me—but that? No thanks. It’d be like kissing my brother. Gross.

The look on Cade’s face at hearing Ty step up to the plate was pure anger, and when his eyes flashed to mine they were filled with something else… Longing? No. I couldn’t think about the possibility of desire in Cade’s expression. That had me shuddering for an entirely different reason.

But what was etched most deeply into my memory was the smug look on his face, the certainty that I wouldn’t have the guts to show up today.

That, coupled with my mother’s disapproving glances and not-so-subtle hints about setting me up with Peter Wyndham III were enough to convince me. Even though I’d scrubbed away every trace of his writing from my skin, I remembered the address. 715 Evergreen Terrace.

Not that I was actually going to go. God, could you imagine? Sorry, Mom and Dad, I have to cut this horrendous lunch short to go meet a porn star so I can lose my virginity. Ha! I choked on my water at the absurdity.

The few bites of solid food in my stomach and multiple glasses of iced water had returned me to my former self. I would go to Cade—but only to tell him off. Who the hell did he think he was? Offering his services like it was a total inconvenience for him, but still agreeing to take my virginity? I shuddered. He was about to get an earful.

My parents insisted on dessert, since it was my birthday after all, so I forced down several bites of cheesecake before saying goodbye to my parents. Once they were gone, I made my way to the restroom inside the restaurant and scanned my appearance in the full-length mirror. I adjusted the spaghetti straps of the form-fitting, cream-colored sundress and smoothed the fabric over my hips. Everything about my look, from the coral gloss on my lips to my French-pedicured feet encased in gold designer sandals ensured Cade would understand I was way out of his league. Satisfied I looked as good as I could manage on a hangover I straightened my shoulders and grabbed my handbag. This had nothing to do with seeing Cade again, and everything to do with letting him see what he’d never have.

When I pulled up in front of 715 Evergreen Terrace, I figured there had to be some sort of mistake. He’d probably given me a fake address, since I doubted Cade, the porn-star hottie lived in this suburban, middle-class neighborhood.

I put my car into park and switched off the engine. The house itself was small, but neat and tidy, its white siding freshly painted. A row of trimmed hedges bordered the small yard.

A black pick-up truck was parked in the driveway, but other than that, there was no telling if anyone was home. I checked my appearance in the rearview mirror one last time, took a deep breath and left the safety of my car before I chickened out completely.

I didn’t get very far. A school bus had stopped on the corner, letting off a small army of children. The noisy kids scattered in different directions, parading home along the streets and sidewalks, but my attention was momentarily captured by a bright-eyed little girl, smaller than all the rest, who hobbled her way past me with the help of a tiny walker. She spared me a curious glance, but continued on, her eyes shining with determination.

“Caden!” she called, struggling to make her legs carry her in the direction of the house, where Cade had appeared on the front lawn. He crossed the last few feet separating them and lifted her easily from the ground, the walker momentarily left aside.

“How was school, baby girl?” He planted a kiss in her blonde curls before lowering her to the ground.

“It was good. I colored a picture of a butterfly for you today.”

“Yeah? That sounds real nice. Is it in your backpack?”

She nodded, her curls bouncing as she did so. The pink backpack was nearly as big as she was. I thought maybe he’d take the bag from her shoulders, or help her up the ramp that led up to the porch, but he just looked on proudly as her little figure slowly shuffled upward, pushing the walker out in front of her with each step.

The little girl had captured Cade’s complete attention and he’d yet to even notice me.

“Cade?” My voice sounded shaky and uneven even to my own ears.

He spun around and looked at me, still waiting by my car at the curb. “Alexa?” Confusion etched into his features, creasing his brow.

Shit. I so should not have come. All my earlier venom about wanting to tell him off had evaporated at watching him with the little girl.

I watched as he connected the dots in his head, and the surprised expression on his face disappeared, a slow smile curving his lips. “So you really want to go through with it, do you?”

And the venom was back. I marched across the yard, stopping just in front of him, and jabbed my finger into his chest. “I’m not here to have sex with you, you sleazebag. You didn’t think I’d show, so I only came here to prove you wrong.”

The front door opened and the little girl peeked out. “Caden?” Her voice was full of questions and her eyes widened at the sight of me so close to Cade. I dropped my hand from his chest and stepped back. It was hard to be mad at him when such a sweet little girl obviously adored him.

“It’s okay, Lily. Go on back in the house. I’ll be in to help you with your stretches in just a minute.”

She scratched her belly and sighed. “Can you make me a peanut butter and jelly?”

He chuckled. “Sure will. Go turn on your ‘toons for a minute.”

“M’kay!” she called happily, closing the door behind her as she disappeared inside.

“Is she…yours?”

He ran a hand across his hair and blew out a frustrated breath. “Lily’s my sister, but I have full custody. I have since she was three.”

“Oh.” He was raising his little sister? I took a step back at the weight of this new information. The strong bond between them was undeniable. “Is it scoliosis?” I asked softly.

“Spina bifida,” he said, his eyes far away.

“Oh,” I said again. I knew it was a crippling childhood disease that left the spine twisted and often affected the legs, but not much else. “I’m sorry.”

“We manage,” he bit out.

“I can see that. Look, I’m sorry. Why don’t we just forget I ever came here?” I wanted to take another step back, to disappear entirely, but I remained where I was, fighting the urge to run.

“Why did you come here?” His gaze sparked with curiosity, the challenge in his tone unmistakable.

His eyes raked over my skin, and sent a brief chill skittering down my spine. I cursed myself for wearing this damn sundress and for how much skin was showing. My breasts pressed against the thin cotton fabric, reminding me this dress didn’t accommodate for a bra and left me feeling a little too on display. I hated how his mere presence left me off balance and reeling.

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