Calum Brooks cursed under his breath as Lacey disappeared, bracing his hands on his knees as he inhaled deeply, trying to regain his equilibrium. He’d spent a decade getting over Lacey Mayer, and now she was back, proving all of his hard-won composure was just an illusion. All it took was one look from her to bring all the old feelings roaring back to life.
From the moment he met Lacey, he’d been under her spell. Even when everything else in his life was going to hell, all he’d needed was one smile from her to make the world make sense again. The happiest day of his life had been the day she agreed to go out with him.
With Lacey at his side, it hadn’t mattered that he already had a reputation for being a hell-raiser, because that reputation meant that no one messed with his shy little bookworm. All that mattered was that Lacey wasn’t afraid of him, and he’d dedicated himself to bringing her out of her shell and teaching her to have fun. She’d been a serious teenager, and there was no more noble goal than making her laugh.
Calum groaned as he set to work putting away the day’s shipment, relying on the chill of the walk-in refrigerator to cool him down as the memories assailed him. Although she’d pretended to disapprove of his antics, the sparkle in her blue eyes gave her away every time. She loved it when he teased her into letting her wild side out, and he could remember the first day they cut class to go skinny-dipping at the lake as vividly as if it had happened yesterday.
She’d been shy at first, relying on her long auburn curls to hide her body from him, but eventually she’d relaxed, sluicing through the water like a porpoise and twining herself around him when he tried to dunk her. They’d made love in the soft moss on the shore, the sunshine drying their bodies as they moved together, and Calum had been sure that he’d found his happy ending.
In the end, it had lasted only three years, but he never regretted dogging his classes his first senior year so he could repeat the grade and graduate with Lacey. College was out of the question for him, but she’d been at the top of the class, and he’d been genuinely proud when Berkeley accepted her. It would do her good to spread her wings and fly, even if she was flying away from him. There were phones and computers to get them through the long months of separation, and then she’d come home for winter break and again for summer break, and at the end of four years, they’d never have to be separated again. He could be patient if a life with Lacey was the reward.
With the shipment put away, Calum shifted his attention to prepping for the night’s dinner service, the steady rhythm of chopping vegetables steadying his nerves. It wasn’t until Lacey left for California that he realized how much he depended on her. Without her smile and company to soothe him, he’d gone completely off the rails, drinking too much, fighting too much, and spending more than a few nights behind bars. With her, his mean streak had been kept in check so as not to scare her, but without her, he’d had nothing to anchor him.
The phone calls that he’d expected to live for had been a form of torture. Hearing Lacey’s voice when he couldn’t be with her was agonizing. He couldn’t confess his sins for fear of disappointing her, and hearing about the fun she was having and the friends she was making at Berkeley had been more than he could bear. Terrified that he’d snap and beg her to come back home, he’d started avoiding her calls. Lacey needed to concentrate on her studies without worrying about him. When she came home for winter break, he’d be able to drown in her.
Except Lacey never came home.
He spent four years working menial jobs and trying not to do anything stupid enough to kill him, biding his time until she graduated. Surely, she’d come home to him once her schooling was over, but as spring turned into summer and then to fall, it became clear that she wasn’t coming back.
It took Calum months to accept the truth—Lacey had forgotten him. He’d gone on a week-long bender after that, culminating in a fight over nothing with a tattooed man twice his size. To this day, Calum had a feeling that he’d been hoping Mike would kill him when he picked the fight, but instead they’d bashed each other around for an hour before falling to talking in the companionable way drunks did. Mike was the sous chef at a restaurant that needed a dishwasher, and for lack of anything better to do, Calum had taken the job.
It wasn’t an overstatement to say that learning to cook saved his life. For the first time, he had something productive to do with his time. He learned how to be part of a team, and wearing himself out chopping parsnips was far healthier than finding things to punch. For a normal person, the grueling hours would have been a drawback, but Calum was invariably the first person to arrive and the last person to leave. The more he worked, the less time he had to think, and he’d slowly found himself sloughing off his rough edges and growing up.
He cut his hair and traded in his leather jacket for a sweater vest, indicating through his appearance that he’d changed, and slowly the people of Laketown stopped crossing the street to get away from him. With sheer determination, he built himself a life, leaving his past behind him. He wasn’t that angry young man anymore. He’d even quit drinking.
And now Lacey Mayer was back in town.
Lacey’s eyes danced as she ran her hands over his chest, her fingers tugging playfully at his sparse chest hair, but her smile was soft. She was looking at him like she still loved him, and Calum let himself believe that this was real. A delicate scrape of her nails over his sides had him hissing in pleasure, and Lacey’s smile grew.
“Still like that? What about this?”
She found his nipples and pinched hard, rolling the tight buds between her index fingers and thumbs. Calum howled as the sensation shot through him, going straight to his groin.
When Lacey ground herself against his straining cock, he snapped. “My turn again.”
Grabbing her around the waist, he flung her off of him and onto the mattress hard enough to bounce. Lacey’s eyes went wide at his rough handling, but there was no hint of fear in her expression, and that was encouragement enough for him. Calum caught hold of her knees and yanked her forward until her hips were on the very edge of the bed before he slid to the floor so he could kneel between her thighs.
Over the years, he’d refined his technique, but with Lacey’s glistening folds only inches away, his mind was utterly blank. Instead, he simply buried his face against her, lapping for all he was worth as Lacey keened and clutched at his head, holding him in place. Even if she’d tried to push him away, Calum wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop. For years he’d been dying of thirst, but now he had Lacey to quench him, and he planned to drown in her.
It wasn’t until she let out a strangled cry, her thighs quivering as she climaxed, that Calum felt some of his sanity returning. He’d made her scream for him, and that did more for his state of mind than any words ever could. No woman could fake that kind of reaction, which meant that Lacey still felt their connection as keenly as he did.
Feeling more assured, he slowed down, sliding his tongue deliberately through her folds in an effort to relearn all of her most sensitive places.
“You can’t be serious,” Lacey gasped as he teased her clitoris with lazy circles.
“Complaining?” he asked idly, relishing her moan as his lips moved against her slick skin.
“I want you in me.” Her words trailed off into a sigh as he laved her with long strokes of his tongue.
“Later.” Under normal circumstances, Calum considered this act little more than an appetizer before the main course, but this time it was different. He was surrounded by Lacey, her flavor on his tongue and her cries ringing in his ears, and even if all he got out of this encounter was this, he’d be perfectly content. All he wanted was to hear her scream for him again.
He teased her for as long as he could bear it, never staying in one place long enough to give her satisfaction, until she moaned in protest. “Calum, please…”
If she was going to ask so nicely, he couldn’t deny her. Smirking to himself, he centered his licks on the place where she wanted him the most, gradually picking up speed until Lacey’s hips were rocking helplessly, pleading with him to push her over the edge. Only then did he slide two fingers into her tight depths, shuddering with the pleasure of having at least one part of himself buried inside of her.
Lacey shrieked at the penetration, her garbled cries the sweetest sound he’d ever heard. Unable to tear himself away, Calum kept lapping at her, determined to give her as much pleasure as he could. No other man could do this for her. No other man could please her this much.
“You can’t—! I don’t—oh God, Calum!” Lacey let out a scream that he knew he’d hear in his dreams for the rest of eternity as he took her over the edge for a third time. Only the feeling of her hands pushing weakly at his shoulders convinced him to stop.
He lifted his head reluctantly, meeting her dazed blue eyes as she panted for breath, her hair damp with perspiration. Holding her gaze, he deliberately licked his wet lips, still hungry for the taste of her, and Lacey’s eyes fluttered shut as she let out a moan.
“Miss me?” He pressed a tender kiss to her inner thigh.
Lacey sat up and slipped off the bed to nuzzle into his embrace. “More than you know.”
Even with her naked and sated in his arms, the words still sent a jolt of anger through him. If she’d missed him, she had a funny way of showing it. Before he could call her out on her disappearing act, she reached down to cup him through his trousers, calling his attention to just how hard he was. In his quest to please her, he’d barely noticed, but the light touch had him grinding his teeth in an effort not to thrust into her hand.
“You still have too many clothes on,” she chided, and he could feel her smiling against his throat.
“You should do something about that.”