Keeping Secrets (MF)
[BookStrand Contemporary Romance]
Jake has nothing to offer Frankie, but he can't keep away. He has to see her one more time. To know she's moved on. And she has. She's now a single mother, running a successful business, and still hating Jake for letting her down so badly. Until she sets eyes on him.
Jake is still way too sexy for his own good, or hers. And after twelve years, Frankie's hormones are suddenly out of control.
But Jake knows she's strictly off limits. His past still haunts him and the deal he once made is in danger. Secrets he's kept from her for twelve, long years threaten to destroy any relationship they might ever have.
"We all have secrets at some time or another. But what happens if they're so big that keeping them leads to as much suffering and pain as telling them? Damned if we do, yet damned if we don't. It was this intriguing thought that led to writing Keeping Secrets." ~ Cindy ~
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
4.5 Pixies: "Keeping Secrets is a wonderful story that will keep you engrossed until the finish. This book has a little of everything in it. We have two people who fell in love at a young age, made promises and dreamed of a future together and then, in a blink of an eye, they're torn apart by her parents. I was excited to see these two meet up again, to see what kind of sparks would fly or what bad things would happen. This was my favorite part of the entire story.
I really enjoyed watching Frankie and Jake fight for their lives together, also, seeing Frankie and her parents interact. Her father never forgave her for some of the stuff she did as a teenager, and he throws it in her face whenever he can. Now he has to take it like a man and I loved it. Keeping Secrets by Cindy Crane is a must read. I am looking forward to seeing what she writes next." -- Becky Gaede, Dark Angel Reviews
4 Stars: "Keeping Secrets is a delightful love story. My favorite character was Debs. Cindy Crane offers readers a story that is life-like. Fans of romance will enjoy Keeping Secrets by Cindy Crane." -- Review Your Book
4 Books: "This is a story of two people with very different backgrounds. Jake and Frankie belong together, but the shadows and secrets of the past present an almost insurmountable barrier to their happiness. The author, Cindy Crane, is careful not to divulge those secrets until close to the end and kept me on the edge of my seat. I enjoyed the sights and scenes in Frankie's old neighborhood, as well as the minor characters who were her friends. Ms. Crane takes us on a journey through the rough streets to find the love that Frankie believed she had lost forever. A moving tale of courage and perseverance, and well worth reading." -- The Long and The Short of It - Romance Review
Then he spotted her by the bar. She was laughing. Her mouth curled into a perfect arc, revealing her lovely white teeth. Her cheeks were like two perfect rosy apples beneath eyes that twinkled with open pleasure as she tilted her head in such a familiar way, enjoying the conversation with those around her.
She was as lovely as ever.
His heart leapt and his pulse quickened afresh as he excused himself, pushing through the bodies until he was standing by her. Her clean scent invaded his senses—fresh shampoo and musky body lotion, tickling his nose and throat. It sent shivers of excitement down his spine and up into his scalp until even the hairs on his head prickled with outrageous delight.
“I’ll get that,” he said huskily, the words whispering softly across her cheek and ear.
Frankie froze as she felt his breath drift gently across her skin, caressing every cell, stimulating every nerve ending. The hairs at the base of her skull stood to attention, sending a wave of anticipation throughout her entire body. Even her toes tingled.
She swallowed hard, the words sticking in her throat, her vocal chords paralysed. She just raised her lovely eyes to look at him, her companion at the bar immediately forgotten. Jake smiled down at her, and she caught her bottom lip with her teeth. Twelve years, and the feeling, flooding her senses, was so familiar it might have been only yesterday.
Squelchy liquid turned her stomach to mush and trickled into her legs, making her grab the edge of the bar. She steadied herself as he ordered himself an orange juice and grasped the two glasses in hands that looked just too deliciously familiar: long, straight fingers with tips so sensual they used to drive her into frenzied need with every stroke as they travelled round her body. She could barely breathe. After every vow she’d ever made, her body was betraying her big time, dragging every basic, lustful need from the depths of their prison.
Thank goodness there was a free table with a couple of chairs. She wasn’t sure she was steady enough on her feet to have a civil conversation.
In fact, she wasn’t sure she was ready for any conversation.
He had no right to look the way he did after all this time.
He was way too sexy for his own good.
He’d filled out well. He’d matured; his shoulders broader, his chest wider. But the sooty lashes framing his dark brown eyes were just as she remembered. Gorgeous, sexy, come-to-bed eyes that had scoured her body, burned into her soul, thrilled her with their passion, their desire, until she’d been barely able to breathe.
Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
Tendrils of heat were snaking around her insides, spreading outwards, her skin flushing. The tips of her breasts tingled with expectation and lust. Twelve years and he still did it for her.
“You look good, he complimented. His smile was a half-smile, tentative, trying to control the uneven thud of his heartbeat with a display of confidence that almost didn’t work. He knew she hated him, had told him so in the last letter he opened. He still had it, had them all but for the final three he returned unopened. He’d never found the courage to throw then away.
But she still wasn’t talking. She was still probably deciding when to slap his face, call him unforgivable names and to humiliate him in front of everyone here. And she’d deserve every bit of revenge she could muster.
But she didn’t. She removed her jacket instead.
His heart fluttered in expectation.
At least she was intending to stay awhile.
“Thanks, so do you.” Relieved her voice had finally found its way back. She spoke calmly, more calmly than she felt. Her skin was on fire and she needed to cool off.
Slipping her jacket onto the chair back, she twisted her body round, her silky chemise clinging like a second skin. It moulded to her rounded breasts, revealing the delicate white lace of her bra, clearly visible through the fabric. It left little to the imagination, as the prickling quiver of desire squeezed their tips into tight little buds.
Jake caught his breath. She was gorgeous then. And she was gorgeous now; her figure matured into full womanhood, making her more desirable than ever. His eyes were drawn to the dark cleft between her breasts where he used to run his fingers before trailing them down the hollow and underneath their fullness, so that his hands could cup and stroke them.
A familiar tightening squeezed at his groin. He took a deep breath to control his growing desire at just seeing her here.
“And how’s life been treating you?” he asked as steadily as his pounding heart would allow.
“Very well, actually,” she replied brightly—too brightly, considering how he’d treated her. Her mind was all over the place and she took another gulp from the wine glass, glad of the numbing effect it was having. With the storm of conflicting emotions raging inside, she was in serious danger of either exploding in anger and recrimination or dissolving into a gibbering wreck.
Damn Carly for inviting him.
“Carly told me you have your own business.”
Frankie nodded, taking another swig from her glass.
“Dress shop. I design a lot of what I sell too.”
He gave a nod of acknowledgement, impressed by her success.
“And have you designed what you’re wearing?” His question sounded trite, forced, his calm slowly disintegrating.
“Just the jacket and skirt.”
“They look good—especially on you.” That was better—more relaxed, paying her a compliment.
But if he thought he could charm his way back into her good books, he had another think coming. Frankie had had twelve years to decide what a rat he was. But as she swallowed another mouthful of wine, any resemblance he might have borne to that squeaky creature with its pointy nose and even pointier teeth were as far removed from her mind as they could be, because Jake’s nose was just the right shape—strong and straight, except for that cute little twist at its tip.
Frankie dreamily remembered the hours she’d spent kissing it before moving on to those lips that still looked as luscious as ever. They were smiling at her now, stretching across those lovely teeth that had nibbled their way around her body, exploring every patch of skin and teasing every erogenous zone she possessed.
God, her body had been full of them. And the tingling got tinglier as Frankie felt her breasts swelling, her nipples tightening further, drawing his eyes unashamedly towards them again. She wished she’d not taken off her jacket.
“Can I get you another?”
“Drink.” He indicated her glass.
She looked down.
Jesus. It was empty already. At this rate she’d be legless. Good job she’d left the car at the hotel after all.
But one more wouldn’t hurt. At least it might help get her through this—blur her vision a little while she was trying to forget how she also used to kiss and stroke that cute little dimple playing at the corner of his mouth every time he smiled. Or the way she used to curl her fingers into that thick mop of dark brown hair.
“I’ll get these,” she said, searching for her purse, still afraid to meet his gaze full on in case he saw the panic, or the lust, hidden in her own.
But he was already up and gone before she had time to protest. So she tried relaxing back in the chair instead, crossing her legs and trying to still the manic swinging of her foot.
Shit. She was so bloody twitchy.
She uncrossed her legs and crossed them the other way. Her other foot started dancing about.
Damn. He was making her so bloody twitchy.
How could he still look so blasted dishy after all this time? Why couldn’t he have developed a beer gut? Overdosed on take-aways or something?
Anything but look so damned sexy.
The only thing that had kept her going, after finally accepting that he’d abandoned her, was thinking he’d probably gotten himself shacked up with some druggie of a tart with a good dose of clap. That he’d produced a brood of kids that made his life a total misery while watching TV at the end of the day, shrouded in a haze of cigarette smoke.
And speaking of haze, Frankie was suddenly aware of a very big haze crowding in on her. The room seemed to be shimmering a little more than it had been. And she suspected there was more to it than just the pulsating disco. Maybe it was the way her eyeballs were suddenly trying to plait themselves.
Well, one good thing about that, she thought illogically: at least she wasn’t going to have to worry about meeting his eyes anymore. Hers were too busy rolling round her eye sockets.
Jake plonked the glass in front of her, making her jump. Her nerves were in full twitch again. This was definitely going to be her last drink of the night. She’d had the odd binge now and again, but right now she needed to keep a reasonably clear head, especially as Jake was drawing his chair closer to hers. The volume of music seemed to have gone up another twenty decibels, and they were going to struggle to hear each other without either shouting or leaning just a little too intimately into each other. And she didn’t need to lean in to feel the heat emanating from him—too close, and she might just burn him with hers.
“Aren’t you having a proper drink?” she shouted over the noise as he picked up his orange juice. Or whatever it was he’d bought when he first arrived.
“I don’t drink,” he explained. “At least, very rarely.”
“You don’t!” In her newly developed state of tipsiness, she couldn’t believe anyone could abstain from alcohol.
“No.” He shook his head. “I saw firsthand what alcohol did to my father.”
Ah, yes. She’d forgotten about his father—never without a bottle of something in his hand.
“Mmm!” She nodded knowingly. “How is he?”
Not that she really cared. He used to scare her to death with his boozy breath and unkempt appearance. Jake had tried his best to keep him clean, but he was always onto a losing battle. Grey bristles had covered the chin of his thin, wasted face and an unclean aroma was always rising from his creased, dirty clothes.
She’d only ever been back to their flat once while he was there, and that had been enough. Along with everything else she remembered about him, he’d tried touching her up while she’d been washing some pots in the sink. The thought of the drunk’s hand sliding up her skirt still made her feel sick. What a disgusting man.
“He died five years ago.”
Frankie felt sick again, this time for thinking such mean thoughts. Frankie remembered Jake dealing with the whole incident brilliantly. He was firm but calm and his father couldn’t remember much of it anyway. But he never tried it on again—though she made certain he never got the chance.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, almost guiltily.
“Don’t be.” Jake shrugged indifferently, taking another sip of his orange juice. “Kindest thing that happened, really. He did it to himself.”
Nevertheless, Frankie felt an onrush of emotion and had to fight the urge to lay a comforting hand over his. He might be acting hard, but he forgot she knew him—knew the real Jake. And the man had been his father.
And having fought the urge successfully, she took comfort from her glass of wine instead—again.
“So how about you, then? Not married?” That was the first thing he’d spotted. No wedding ring.
She shook her head. “Never found the need.” Especially as the only man she’d ever wanted was sitting in front of her. ‘You?’
Keep it polite. Cool. Don’t let him see what a state you’re in.
Anymore—had she heard right?
Frankie’s heart squeezed painfully.
Dumped her and then found somebody else.
God, how that hurt; she’d cried buckets, and the bastard hadn’t had any qualms about replacing her. How could he? After all he’d promised.
“It lasted a couple of years,” he explained—needed to explain. “She went off with her boss. They’d been screwing around for months. I don’t know how I never noticed.” Probably because he’d still been too busy trying to forget Frankie—even after all that time. But now wasn’t the time to tell her.
Good. Frankie didn’t feel a smidgeon of pity. She hoped it was horrible, painful, making him realise what it was like to have his heart broken.
“Any kids?” she asked civilly, trying hard not to slur her words. This was definitely her last glass. In fact, she oughtn’t to be drinking this one, but she was past taking responsibility now—especially with that little revelation.
“No, thank goodness.” He meant thank goodness there were no children to complicate matters, to be passed between two warring parents. ‘You?’
It just sort of came out. Stupid question—Frankie was far too sensible for that. He was just making civil conversation, trying desperately not to dissolve into the gibbering wreck threatening to burst its way out of its rigid coating called self-preservation. Every muscle taut, coiled like springs. Once sprung, there was no telling what might happen.
“Yes,” she answered, watching his double-take. He wasn’t expecting that. Then she added pointedly, “Thank goodness.”
She thought he’d meant he didn’t care for kids.
“How many?” he asked. He was still polite, calm, despite the shock she’d just given him.
“Just the one—Deborah. Debs.”
So, she’d gotten over him, after all; and he’d been riddled with guilt for so long.
“How old is she?”
“Eleven?” He almost choked, his eyebrows nearly hitting the ceiling. He’d expected her to say three or four, maybe even seven, but not—eleven.
Frankie watched his brain go into overdrive, working out the dates; his brow drawing together, trying to do the maths. But they’d always been so careful.
She put him out of his misery. “Don’t bother with the calculations. She’s not yours.” She met his eyes coolly, as though it was every day you had this sort of conversation with an ex.
Jake didn’t know whether to be relieved or not.
She’d obviously not missed him at all.
Frankie glanced away, suddenly conscious of a gnawing desire to explain things too. “After we moved, I went off the rails altogether.” The drink had loosened her tongue, and she was pulling no punches. “Everything my father had worried would happen, happened. Then I found out I was pregnant. I kept it secret for a long time. I knew my father would go ape. I also think I was trying to deny what was happening to me. But as it so happens, it was probably the best thing. And Mum and Dad love Debs to bits.”
The words just tumbled out of her mouth, surprising her with how easy it was to tell him.
“What about her father?” he asked tentatively. He wished the knife wasn’t twisting quite so painfully in his chest, but he had to know.
Frankie took another gulp of wine.
“He doesn’t even know she exists. In fact, truth is, I don’t know even know who he is.” She lowered her eyes, suddenly unable to meet Jake’s. She was embarrassed at her unexpected revelation, yet still needed to elaborate further. “I told you I went off the rails. I slept around. Only they weren’t as considerate as you. I learned the hard way. I suppose I was lucky I didn’t end up with anything worse than a baby.”
Jake couldn’t speak, unable to find the words. This was too much for even him to take in. This wasn’t what he’d come to hear. He thought she might have missed him—badly—as he had her. He was ready to accept she still hated him after all the plans they’d made; that she hated him for abandoning her. But this? It seemed like she’d wasted no time at all in moving on.
So what had the letters been about, then? Had they just been a game to make him feel guilty? Were they about revenge?
“I learned my lesson, though,” she continued. Her tongue was running away with itself now—too much wine—and now she’d started, she couldn’t stop. “I was a bit more discerning after that. I didn’t get much pleasure out of it—just Debs.”
She wished he wasn’t looking at her in such dismay, as though she’d just broken his heart. He didn’t have a heart. He’d never answered her calls or her letters because he’d changed his number, moved, never telling her where. So why was he looking so hurt, so puzzled by her confessions? Those dark eyes slightly narrowed; those lovely eyebrows pulled up in pained disbelief; she couldn’t bear it.
She stretched out a hand and placed her open palm gently against his cheek. The rough stubble grazed her tender skin, a touch so familiar, she wanted to lay it there longer and stroke it. Her voice cracked, her cover finally blown.
“You were a hard act to follow.”
Jake’s heart thumped painfully in his chest. Despite the bravado she was displaying, she must have been so hurt. He knew she was. Didn’t her letters tell him so?
He swallowed down hard on the enormous lump now threatening to choke him. She’d been so young, and him too, unable to fulfil the promises he’d made. He placed his own hand over hers.
His skin, rough and calloused, brushed against her skin. And the shiver of excitement stalking his body from her touch now busied itself travelling back to hers.
Frankie’s breath shortened, her pupils dilating, her body a tangle of nerve endings.
God, after all this time he still excited her.
She couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t fight the turmoil any longer, her body shuddering helplessly at his touch. She reached forward, oblivious to those around her, and placed her mouth on his.
His lips, soft and malleable, gave against hers for a second before reacting. Then he pressed harder, matching her own urgency, tasting them, opening them as his tongue slipped between her teeth. And as their tongues danced in slow, rhythmic ritual, the music and noise were dispatched to the far reaches of the room.
Opening his eyes, his gaze burned deep into her.
Frankie sprang back and gulped in air. What the hell was she playing at? She’d just confessed to behaving like a slag. And now she was throwing herself back at him. After all she’d told herself, she wasn’t over him at all.