Hard to Love Page 8


“You’ll want to shave everything—thoroughly—he’s used to those girls in the videos, and you won’t find a speck of hair anywhere on them.”

I rolled my eyes. This was her advice? I wasn’t about to shave off all my pubic hair just to appease a man. Was I?

“I’ve got to get back to work.” I tossed the cup into the trash and stuffed the last bite of bagel into my mouth.


Why I’d agreed to a date with Peter Wyndham III today was beyond me. It was a moment of weakness—my mom had caught me coming off the high of spending time with Cade, and I’d agreed.

I’d first met Peter at last year’s Christmas party at my dad’s office. The same party where they’d paraded me around like a prized possession since the day I turned eighteen. As if I wanted a fat, bloated accountant for a husband. Thankfully Peter had been different. He was twenty-four, fresh out of business school, and felt just as out of place with the middle-aged accountants and their spouses as I did.

We’d spent the evening sitting on a balcony, me with his suit coat draped across my bare shoulders talking about our favorite college courses—mine, philosophy, and his, economics.

My parents had been delighted to see us hit it off. He was a prized catch in their eyes, everything they wanted for me—a white male aged twenty to thirty, good genetics, well-bred, from an upper-middle-class New Hampshire family. Wholesome as a glass of milk. And just as exciting.

Their excitement alone caused me to squirm. I’d avoided his calls and their feeble attempts to set us up for the better part of six months. Which was why I found it baffling that I was currently curling my hair, and ironing my navy shirtdress, getting ready for my date.

We’d made plans to play tennis at the country club where both he and my father were members. I packed my tennis outfit into my large purse, which MacKenzie had named the Mary Poppins bag and went to wait for Peter.

When he pulled up in his sleek silver Lexus, I jogged out to meet him. Peter emerged from the car, all gelled blonde hair and straight white teeth indicating years of orthodontia. He met me at the car door, dressed casually in jeans and a button-up shirt and kissed the back of my hand before helping me inside the car. The rich smell of leather enveloped me and I settled back in my seat.

Something about Peter was familiar, like a pair of worn-in jeans, or your comfy flip flops, but nothing about his presence—and certainly not his kiss—brought me anywhere close to fireworks. More like tolerable indifference. Cade on the other hand…well, my nipples pebbled at the mere thought of him.

After an uninspired tennis match, which he’d predictably let me win, we had lunch on the spacious stone patio at the club. I ordered a champagne strawberry salad and Peter the truffle risotto. We sipped sparkling water while we ate and Peter told elaborate stories designed to impress me. He began with adventures on his father’s sailboat, crazy parties with his friends from prep school, and finally his career ambitions—to make partner by the age of thirty-five. Never once did he ask about mine. Or anything about me, really. I found my mind wandering to Cade and Lily. I wondered what they did on the weekends. I imagined chocolate-chip-pancake breakfasts eaten in pajamas while watching cartoons. The thought made me smile. I couldn’t help the occasional glances down at my watch, counting down the minutes until this date was over and I could go see Cade and Lily.

After our date, Peter walked me out to my car, opening the door while I settled in to the driver’s seat.

“That was fun. We should do it again. My family does this wine tour every fall, you should come.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, then pulled my car door closed.

Chapter 11


I got home from work just moments before six. Ian’s younger sister, Sophia, who was nineteen and taking classes at the nearby community college often babysat for me and had been here since three to see Lily off the bus.

I wandered inside and found Lily eating dinner at the table, and Sophia sitting with her, filing her nails.

“Caden!” Lily dropped her fork and was in my arms in seconds.

“Did you do your exercises?” I kissed the top of her head.

“Not yet. Me and Sophia were playin’.”

I frowned at Sophia. She shrugged and mumbled an apology, rising up to greet me with a hug. “Mmm, someone smells good.” She buried her nose in my neck.

“Don’t. I have a…date coming over.” After work, I’d gotten in a quick workout with Ian and showered at the gym before coming home.

“You? A date?” Sophia narrowed her eyes in disbelief. “You don’t date. Lord knows I’ve been trying to get you to ask me out for years.”

“Sophia…” I gently steered her away by her shoulders, adding some distance between us. “You know Ian would have my balls if I laid so much as a finger on you.” Which was entirely true, but it was more than that. Sophia had grown in to a beautiful young woman, the problem was, when I looked at her, I still saw the gangly ten-year-old girl whose Barbie dolls regularly became Ian’s and my prisoners of war.

“We could work around that and you know it. Ian isn’t the boss of me.” Sophia smiled, batting her eyelashes, resting her hand on my forearm. Oh, I definitely knew sure she’d be more than happy to work around it.

She’d been trying for months to get me to notice her, cleaning my house in her tiny cut-off shorts, and offering to watch Lily for me at any time of the day or night. And even though I knew her motives, I let her do it. If that made me a dick, then so be it. I wasn’t about to refuse her help. We both knew I needed it, though I’m sure she held on to hope I’d change my mind about her. About us.

“Finish your dinner, Lily. I have company coming over tonight.”

“Is Lexa comin’ back?” Lily’s face broke out into a grin when I nodded.

“Who’s Lexa?”

Who was Alexa? That was a very good question. A girl I had no shot in hell with in real life. A girl who had the face of an angel and the body to rival any porn star. Someone sweet to my sister and probably capable of destroying my heart in the process. “Just a friend,” I said.

Sophia rolled her eyes. “Uh huh, friend my ass.” She slapped a palm over her mouth. “I meant bottom.” She looked down at Lily who was now giggling. “I’ll clean up for you a little. Go get ready for your date, stud.” She slapped me on the ass.

“Thanks, Soph.” I shuffled off to the laundry room, dropping my damp gym clothes into the washer. “Did you pick up your room, Lils?” I called from down the hall. I tried as much as possible to treat her like a regular kid. I wanted her to grow up independent and self-reliant, not thinking she was any different than anyone else, or incapable of taking care of herself. After all, the day would come when I wouldn’t be there to help her. And that was something I didn’t even want to think about.

I heard her scamper off to her room and I smiled to myself as I started the washer.

When I walked into the living room Sophia had thrown her hair up in a ponytail and had shed her baggy sweatshirt, leaving her in a skin-tight T-shirt and pair of jeans. She was flitting around the house, dusting the living room, picking up stray items and generally making the house presentable.

I had a feeling she was only sticking around to size up the girl I supposedly had a date with. I wasn’t even sure this was a date. I didn’t know what had prompted me to say that. Maybe because I knew Alexa wasn’t the kind of girl you screwed around with casually.

A knock at the front door sent a prickle down the back of my neck, raising the hair there and lighting all my senses in anticipation.

Sophia jogged to the door, but I stopped her from opening it. “Let me.”

She stepped back and placed her hands on her hips. “Of course.”

I shook my head and took a deep breath, then pulled open the door. Alexa looked stunning. She wore a short-sleeved navy-blue dress that hugged her curves, and fell just above her knees. Her legs were tanned and tone, and ended in sexy feet encased in a pair of silver sandals. She looked sexy and innocent all at once. “Come in.” I stepped back to allow her inside. Sophia cleared her throat from behind me, and I dragged my gaze from Alexa.

“This is Sophia—a friend of mine and Lily’s,” I gestured to the young woman. It didn’t escape my notice that she and Alexa were having a strange staring contest, sizing each other up. “Sophia was just leaving. Thanks for today, Soph.”

A smile crept across her lips, a smug look on her face. “Same time tomorrow?”

“No, I’ve got it covered. Besides, I don’t like you missing class to take care of Lily for me.”

She grabbed her purse and sweatshirt from the couch and secured her bag across her body. “Caden James, you know I’d do just about anything for you.” She smiled at me wickedly. It wasn’t lost on me that she was trying to imply, for Alexa’s sake, there was more to our friendship. There wasn’t. Never had been, never would be, despite how much she tried to tempt me.

Once Sophia was gone, Alexa fidgeted nervously in the entryway, playing with the strap of her purse. I took her by the shoulders. “Hey, she’s my best friend’s little sister. That’s all. Okay?”

She nodded obediently, her voice barely a whisper, “Okay.” She stepped out of her strappy heels, leaving her several inches shorter and followed me inside.

Lily came clattering down the hall just then and Alexa dropped to her knees to encase her in a giant hug. Lily chattered on about her day and Alexa nodded and giggled, pausing to ask questions. It was startling to see how much Lily looked up to Alexa already. It was sweet and at the same time concerning. If Alexa didn’t stick around, I knew I’d have one heartbroken little girl on my hands.

I asked Alexa if she was okay if we got Lily settled in for the night, and she nodded and then went to help Lily with her stretches. Alexa sat on the floor with Lily, showing her a couple of new ways to stretch her back and legs. The build-up of watching Alexa was like a slow torture, the lingering glances, the casual brushes against her skin, and finally we were tucking Lily into bed.

Alexa followed me down the hallway toward the living room. I watched her take a tentative step toward where I was seated on the couch. All the oxygen was sucked from the room, the air thick with tension, now that our pint-sized chaperone was soundly asleep.

Having her here with me—with Lily—was fucking with my head. I couldn’t even begin to understand her motives.

Alexa fidgeted in the doorway, as if pausing for my inspection. Her dress ended just above her knees, and my gaze traveled up and down her bare legs.

“You look nice.” My voice was gruff.

“I had a date.”

She’d been on a date today and the asshole had let her leave? Dressed like that? Her bare legs were toned and tan, her toenails painted pale pink. She was stunning.

“Come here,” I instructed.

She obeyed, crossing the room to stand in front of me, her wide eyes cast down to meet mine. I trailed a single fingertip over the back of her bare leg, and felt her shudder under my touch.

“So tell me about this date you had.” I continued lazily stroking the soft flesh behind her knee.

She swallowed and drew a deep breath. “He took me to his country club for tennis and then lunch on the terrace.”

“And now you’re here slumming it with me?” I felt her knees lock to keep herself steady. “I don’t do roses and candles and country clubs. Dates with me wouldn’t involve tennis.” I wasn’t sure quite why I was pushing her, only that I wanted her honesty, so I supplied her with the same treatment.

“No?” she challenged, finding her voice, however faint.

“No, cupcake. I’m more of a beer and hot wings, and sex in the cab of my truck kind of guy.” She sucked in a quick intake of breath and her knees trembled. I wrapped both hands around the backs of her legs to keep her from collapsing. “But for you I could probably make an exception.” Her gaze held mine and the air grew thicker around us.

“But what if I like that beer and hot wings idea?” she challenged.

I noted that she conveniently left out the part about sex, and I knew I shouldn’t, but damn, I wanted to see her reaction. “I meant the exception would be that instead of my truck, I’d want you spread out in my bed where I could fuck you properly.”

She let out a soft whimper and her legs gave out completely. I hauled her onto my lap, rather than letting her collapse in a heap on the floor.

“I’ve got you,” I breathed against her hair. Her heart was fucking pounding, and I could see her pulse thrumming against her neck. It was a major turn on. I tilted her chin, pulling her in until her lips met mine and I softly kissed her. “Tell me what you want, Alexa.”

“I can’t.”

I frowned. “Can’t or won’t?” She swallowed and looked down. We were going to have to work on that. Bur first things first. “Let’s eat something.” I moved her from my lap so she was seated next to me on the couch. “Shall we stay in or I could try and find a babysitter to come over…”

“Let’s stay in.”

“I usually order out after I put Lily to bed. What would you like?”

“Whatever you usually have is fine.”

“Well there’s always beers and chicken wings…” I grinned and raised an eyebrow. This was so not a beer and wings kind of girl.

But without missing a beat, she smiled and nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

“Are you okay with some heat?”

She nodded, ignoring the innuendo. “Just as long as it’s not too spicy.”

“I think you can handle it.” I met her eyes and held them. Her big blue eyes widened and met mine. The sweet way she didn’t back down and her sincere curiosity about this thing between us stirred something inside me.

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