Just This Once (Last Frontier Lodge #3)(6)

By: J.H. Croix

She glanced at the clock. “Okay. You sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all.” He didn’t wait for her to reconsider and put his car in gear and slowly pulled off the side of the highway.

Once they were on the way north, he glanced to the side. Becca was no longer plastered against the door. Her shoulders had relaxed, and she leaned back in the passenger seat, curling her feet up under her knees. He elected to keep conversation casual. He sensed if he referenced their kiss or anything he’d said afterwards, she might shut down. The rainy drive passed swiftly. The lights of Bellingham glimmered through the rain. Aidan had been to her parents’ home a number of times, so he made his way there on memory. When he pulled up in the circular drive, he cut his lights and climbed out quickly. Becca wore a rueful smile when he opened the passenger side door.

“You just love opening doors, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “My mother was old-fashioned. She insisted on manners.”

She nodded and climbed out, stretching as she stood. He snagged her bag from the back and walked by her side to the front door. The rain fell around them. Her eyes were tired. He sensed the only reason she wasn’t her usual prickly self with him was she was too tired for it and her defenses were down. A surge of protectiveness washed through him. He hated that ever since her asshole of a fiancée had dumped her, she’d become bitter and prickly like a cactus if anyone got too close.

She looked up at him, her lashes spiky from the rain.

“Can I stop by tomorrow?”

She nodded. He didn’t wait and dipped his head to catch her lips. He wanted more, so much more, than the quick kiss he allowed himself. Somehow, he’d managed to bumble his way through his impulsive kiss with her earlier, and he didn’t want to push too far, too fast with her. She was well-defended and with good reason. Her lips were so soft and supple, he almost lost his hold on the thin thread of control he had. He forced himself to step back. “I’ll call you.”

Chapter 3

Becca woke late, so late the sun was high in the sky and filling the guest room at her parents’ house with bright light. She kicked the covers off and shuffled into the bathroom. As she stood under the steaming hot water, her mind replayed Aidan’s kiss last night. She kept trying to convince herself she must have imagined how earthshaking it was, but her body betrayed her. Merely thinking about it sent heat spiraling through her. She tried to force her thoughts off of him, but her mind was stubborn and kept leaping back on the track that was dedicated solely to Aidan now. She bounced between the hot memory of what it felt like to have his lips on her skin and what he said afterwards. Did he really say he’d wanted to kiss her for too damn long? She must have imagined that. Every time she tried to dismiss it as an overwrought, erroneous memory, her heart and body clamored otherwise.

Annoyed, she dressed quickly and headed down the hallway to the kitchen. After all five of their children had grown up and moved out, the Hamilton’s had wisely sold the sprawling home they owned outside of Seattle and relocated to Bellingham. Their home was situated on a small rise on the outskirts of the city with a view of Bellingham Bay. The hallway opened into an expansive living room and kitchen. Becca’s mother, Jill, was putting dishes away in the kitchen. Becca strode to her side and gave her mother a quick squeeze around the shoulders.

“Hey Mom, I made it!”

Jill glanced over and smiled. Her mother’s dark hair was shot through with silver streaks. She kept it short though its tendency to curl won out no matter its length. Her face was framed with wispy curls. “I heard you come in last night, but figured it was best to let you get to bed. Glad you made it. Where’s your car?” Jill put the last plate away and handed Becca a mug from the cabinet. “Coffee’s fresh,” she offered, gesturing to the coffee pot nearby.

Becca filled her mug and took a welcome sip. “You make the best coffee.” She took another swallow before leaning against the counter. “When I last saw my car, it was on its side in a ditch.”

Jill’s hand flew to her mouth. “What happened? Are you okay? Why didn’t you call us?”

“Slow down, Mom. As you can see, I’m fine. My shoulder’s a little sore, but that’s it. I wasn’t too far north of Seattle when a car swerved into my lane. A little bump, and I ended up in the ditch. Before I had a chance to call anyone, Aidan showed up. He was on his way to spend the weekend at Ellie’s.”

Saying his name aloud sent a curl of anticipation through her. Dammit, she did not need this right now. She’d sworn off men for good reason. She didn’t need to fall for Aidan McNamara. Maybe he wanted to kiss her, but everything about his life screamed permanent bachelor. He worked nearly all the time and, as far as she knew, he kept his relationships strictly casual. She forced her mind back to the moment. Her mother was saying something, and she’d lost track.

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