But fate and circumstance throw them together again and the fire that raged between them at eighteen is even hotter now. The burn is inevitable. But there are forces at play, people on the periphery of their lives whose agenda goes far beyond just keeping them apart… they want Mia dead and will stop at nothing to make that happen.
“Did you see anyone at the scene? Any other vehicles?” she asked.
“No. I drove up and saw the churned up mud and broken light covers where you hit the guardrail. If it hadn’t been for that—.” He stopped to take a sip of his own whiskey. When he continued, his voice was deeper, gruffer. “You drive too fast, Mia. You always have. You hit that curve like a bat out of hell. If I hadn’t come along, hadn’t realized you’d been on that road right in front of me, you would have died there.”
Her blood ran cold. He said it so matter of factly. It was true. She knew that. But it didn’t change the fact that she hadn’t been alone on that road, and her car hadn’t gone into the creek without someone else forcing her over the edge. “I do drive too fast… but I only swerved and lost control because of the other car, Bennett!”
“I know,” he said softly.
“It was a big black SUV… I’m not really sure what kind. With all those bars on the front of it,” she continued on, not quite processing that he’d agreed with her.
“The deer guard.” The words were supplied in an even tone, no censure, not disbelief.
“Yes,” she replied adamantly. “I rounded the bend and it was parked in a way that it blocked both lanes!”
“I believe you,” he said. “You don’t have to convince me that it happened that way.”
She stopped then, drew a deep breath and stared at him in stunned disbelief. “You believe me?”
“Yes. I saw the glass and plastic where your headlights got busted in… Directly in line with where your back wheels went over the edge. It’s not possible for you to have simultaneously damaged the front and back end of your car in a single car accident before the rollover.”
“It was deliberate,” she said softly.
“Maybe they just panicked,” he offered.
“I need another drink,” she said.
Bennett refilled her glass.
“Someone tried to kill me, Bennett,” she stated it emphatically. “I’m not imagining that… they waited for me on that road!”
“Why would someone do that, Mia? No one has any reason to hate you that badly,” he shot back before draining his glass.
“You do,” she finished quietly.
His eyes widened for a second in surprise, before narrowing in anger. “You come into my fucking house and accuse me of something like that?”
She shook her head. “No. I wasn’t accusing you… I know you’d never do anything like that. But it’s true, Bennett… you do have every reason to hate me.”
He settled back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest, muscles rippling and bunching beneath the open plaid shirt. “I don’t hate you, Mia… I’ve tried to. I’ve tried to every damn day of my life, and I just can’t.”
She set her glass on the counter. Her hand was trembling too much to hold on to it. “Do you need to hate me, Bennett? Clearly whatever was between us hasn’t kept you from having a very active love life!”
He leaned his head back against the cabinet door and stared up at the ceiling as if praying for strength, or possibly patience. “That’s not how it works. I was’t the one who stood you up.”
She glanced beyond the kitchen and into the living room, where new and decidedly feminine curtains hung over the window behind the couch. “It looks like you’ve managed okay… You and Lacey.”
His eyebrow shot up. “You really wanna go there? We’ve not been together for ten years! Should I have waited, Mia?”
“No,” she said quickly. “And I didn’t mean it like that, Bennett! … Yes, I did, but I know I don’t have the right. I’m jealous and not just because you’re with someone else, but because…You’ve made a life for yourself. And… I’m still doing the same thing I was at eighteen. Taking care of Mama, handling the distillery tours and—.” She stopped speaking abruptly, the unfinished words hanging between them.
The silence was heavy, laden with the anticipation of what went unsaid between them, the tension building until it was unbearable. It was Bennett who finally snapped. “And what, Mia? For the love of God, just say it!”
“And thinking about you. All the time,” she replied. “At this point, I should be nothing more than a distant memory to you, and you’re on my mind all the time.”
He smiled, but there was no humor in it. It was a bitter and self-deprecating twist of his beautiful mouth. “Not so distant. I see you in town. I see your car speeding up and down this road. I hear your name whispered by every gossip in town as I walk past them… People in this town remember everything. They remember us. And so do I.”
She had memories of her own. His mouth on hers, his hands on her body. They’d been greedy then with the newness of it all, just a couple of inexperienced kids with more hormones than skill. Of course, Bennett was more experienced now, but more than that, the heat that burned between them then was still there. Dating wasn’t a part of her life. There was no time for it. With taking care of her mother and her job at the distillery, it was almost like time had stopped for her that summer. He’d gone on with his life, at least somewhat, and she was in the same rut she’d always been in.
The mistake she’d made in coming there was glaring. Panic hit her, sinking into her gut like a twisting knife. Seeing him, being close enough to him to smell him, to touch him, it was an epic error in judgement on her part. Nothing in this world could hurt her as much as the man in front of her. The first time had been bad enough. To go through it all again when the outcome couldn’t be any different was just more than she could contemplate. “I should go,” she managed. “Coming here was a mistake.”
She whirled and headed for the door and was halfway there when he caught her. One of his large hands snaked out and captured her undamaged wrist, closing over it and tugging her back to him. “You’re right. I know you’re right… and I don’t fucking care.”
With her chest close to his, her head just below his chin, his arms slid around her. It was like breathing, the most natural thing in the world. She leaned into him, savoring the heat, the hard press of him against her. “I cannot even count the number of ways in which this is a bad idea… There’s no way this ends well, Bennett.”
“Never say never,” he advised softly.
“Highly unlikely, then,” she amended.
“Lots of things are unlikely, oh wise one. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen.” His voice was little more than a deep murmur, his lips brushing against her forehead as he spoke. He held her gently, tenderly. It was something she’d missed so much it wasn’t even possible to put into words. Even then, the heat was there, arcing between them, taking on a life of its own.
“Like what?” she asked. Her skin burned beneath his hand like he’d set her on fire. With nothing more than a touch, it raged for him.
“You… standing here in my kitchen for starters.”
“I’m blaming my lapse in judgement on painkillers.” The statement was flippant, but the quavering of her voice and the slight hitch to her breathing told the truth. There was nothing casual about what was happening between them. It was life or death.
“Why is it a mistake?” he demanded as he pulled her a little closer to him.
All the reasons fled along with the fear. With the heat of his body against hers, his breath warm on her skin, she couldn’t pull them to mind anymore. She could see the fine sheen of sweat on his skin from where he’d been working. Her breath caught as she looked up. His eyes weren’t locked on hers. Instead, they were locked on her mouth. He looked at her lips as if he wanted to bite into her and in that moment, she would have let him.
“Mia,” he murmured. It was the last thing that was said between them. He descended upon her, his lips on hers as his hands slid upward to tangle in the fall of her hair.
It was a gentle kiss. She didn’t doubt for a moment that Bennett was aware of every injury and mindful not to hurt her. That was just who he was. But as his mouth moved over hers in a kiss that was achingly tender, her body burned for him. When he captured her bottom lip between his, she melted against him. His arms closed around her pulling her even closer, until she was firmly pressed against the hard wall of his chest. She could feel him everywhere.
Then his hands slid downward, cupping her behind, pressing their bodies even more tightly together. The blatant evidence of his desire was unmistakable and her body responded to it insistently. She wanted him. She wanted him with a desperation that she couldn’t even articulate.
The dog whined then, butting his large head between them and demanding to be given the lion’s share of the attention. Breathless, aching, desperate, and more than a little embarrassed that she’d fallen so easily into Bennett’s arms, Mia backed away from him.
“What are we doing, Bennett?” The question was anguished, reflecting the war that raged inside her between the desire to have what she wanted and the need to do what was best for everyone.
“We’re doing what we want for a change,” he replied. “I don’t know why you bailed on me that night. I may never know… but there’s one thing I’m sure of, Mia.”
“Whatever your reason for not showing up,” he said firmly. “It wasn’t because you don’t want me—because you don’t want us.”
Forcing herself to move away from him completely, Mia disentangled herself from his arms. She couldn’t think clearly when he touched her, obviously. “Wanting something doesn’t mean you should have it.”“That’s a fine rule for children… It doesn’t fly with me. I’m a grown man, and God knows you’re a grown woman. Nobody, Mia, and I mean nobody, ought to have a say in what happens between us except us.”