Taking a look inside the intense and epic second chance romance,
Dancing Barefoot, on this frisky Friday!
Well, that could have gone better. She could have avoided the bookstore, but no, the Queen of Self-Sabotage had to not only go inside, she also had to find him. Like the information from the employee hadn’t been enough to make her look like an idiot, no, she had to basically beg him to have a drink with her and mention a do-over. What the hell had she been thinking? Pitiful.
A do-over? Had those words actually come out of her mouth?
She hesitated outside the rowdy bar. McDougal’s had been her hangout back in college. Same group of friends, actually. What would Jacques think of that? He would probably think it reinforced the theory he had about her life.
That trip to Italy after graduate school and internship had been her reward to herself for being disciplined all of those years. She had gone there to be reckless and embrace life for a while, but her position at the architecture firm had already been secured. A person simply didn't abandon those kinds of opportunities. She had had student loans to pay...still did. Not everyone could indulge wanderlust and whims like Jacques Sinclair.
A headache hummed behind her eyes.
You're such a liar and a fraud. You never intended to stay here. You came back because of your mother, but you'd intended on returning to Jacques, Italy, and an entirely different life. But you got stuck. Stop lying to yourself and everyone else. You screwed up, hurt him, and gave up on your art. Now deal with it like a grown woman who just landed the biggest project of your chosen career. Suck it up. Intentions from five years ago no longer matter.
She rolled her shoulders back, exhaled a long breath, walked through the door and waved to her friends who waited at a high table along the edge of the bar.
“I didn’t think you’d make it,” Sela shouted above the drone of the music, nodding to the chair beside her. “What took you so long?”
“I stopped at that old bookstore, the one across from Boston Commons with the coffee shop attached to it.” She dropped the messenger bag onto the chair and filled a glass with beer. She wished it were stronger—a shot of anything, especially if it had flames, would be good. She wanted to get drunk, stinking drunk. “Let’s do shots. We need to celebrate. Sincore chose my design!”
Jane whooped and motioned for Marc to join them. “Is there a corner office in your future?”
“Corner? Probably not. I’ll settle for an office with a door, though.” She smiled and looked through the crowd for a waitress. Maybe she would try tequila first and then ask for something on fire. She wanted to see something burn.
“What’d you buy? I love that old bookstore, haven't been there in ages, though, hasn't it gone with more of the Indie authors?” Without waiting for an answer, Sela searched the bag, platinum blonde hair shielding her profile as she snooped. She yanked out the book and turned it over in her hands.
“It’s Jacques Sinclair's book of photographs,” she said.
"Jacques Sinclair? The Jacques? The Belgian photographer you were head over heels for?" Sela flipped through the pages before lingering over the front cover. “My God, honey. Is this you? You’re naked.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She downed her beer in one gulp.
“I didn’t know you were into photography.” Jane leaned over Sela’s shoulder. “Or should I say pornography?”
“She’s not. She’s into photographers.” Sela paged through the book. “Looks like he’s into you, too. Damn. How many pictures of you are in here? Did you sign a release for all of these?”
Oh, God, there were more? She grimaced. Release form? Nope, but she had posed willingly—almost eagerly. It had turned her on. Jacques had had a way of turning everything into foreplay. She squirmed in her seat thinking about it.
“Did someone say pornography?” Marc slipped into a chair beside her and slipped his hand over her thigh beneath the table. "You took your time getting here."
She moved her leg away from his touch. "I made a detour."
"We're celebrating her soon-to-be-promotion," Sela said.
"Sincore made a decision?" Marc leaned close, face a fraction from hers.
Not for the first time, she wished she could feel for him what she'd felt for Jacques. He fit most women's ideal of the perfect man from his looks to his brains and all things in between. But there had always been something missing, a disconnect.
"They did, yes." She caught her lower lip between her teeth, unwilling to burst his confident bubble he'd been engulfed in all day.
"They picked your design, didn't they?" Although his smile didn't falter, the expression in his eyes hardened. "I guess I'm buying. Congratulations, Mori."
"You worked hard for it, I know. I'm sincere in my congratulations."
"I know you are." She grinned, they had been friends far too long to hold grudges.
She watched him walk away and suddenly felt exhausted from her emotional day. Too much had happened in too short of a time period. All she wanted to do was escape behind closed doors for the rest of the weekend.
“Tell us about the book.” Jane scooted over into the chair Marc had vacated.
“Tell us about the photographer.” Sela studied Jacques’s picture. “Damn, he's sexy as sin.” She held it up for Jane to see. “Can you believe she left him and Italy to come back here?”
Jane grabbed the book from Sela and whistled. “I don’t think I can be friends with you anymore, Jessie, if you have such poor judgment.”
“Me either,” Sela said. “What were you thinking?”
“Let's not rehash all of that, it's over and done.” She poured another glass of beer.
“What’s wrong?” Sela asked, wide almond eyes forever observant.
“I just saw him, he hates me, that's that.” She spun the now empty glass between her fingertips.
“Jacques Sinclair is in Boston? Your Jacques? What do you mean you saw him? Did you talk to him?”
"I shouldn't have said anything." She shifted in the chair, unable to be comfortable. “He’s not my Jacques, for the record. He made that clear.”
“And he saw me. That’s it. We talked…a little. I didn’t know what to say.”
“I suppose you didn’t.”
"I asked for a do-over. Those exact words. He stared at me like I'd gone crazy, maybe I am, I don't know. A do-over. Who says that? I'm about to be made an associate partner in one of the premier architecture firms in New England and I blurted out the words 'do over' like a kid playing a game in elementary school. What the hell was I thinking?" Again, she shoved her hands through her hair and looked at her friends for support.
They stared back. Silent. Mouths open. Eyes wide.
"Yeah, I know. It's embarrassing, right?" She looked between each of them, hoping they'd somehow make it better
"I'm shocked," Sela said. "Do you?"
"Do I what?" she asked, scanning the crowd for a sign of Marc who was taking far too long with the alcohol.
"Want a second chance?" Jane leaned close. "Do you want him back? Do you miss him? Do you wish you'd stayed in Italy?"
She looked at the cover of his book, and rubbed her thumb over the title. She had been so in love with Jacques, Italy, art, life, and love itself. Every day had felt like an overdose of euphoria, but that day had been different. That day had been the day she had decided to stay. He may think she lied then but...at the time she had meant it.
“I wasn’t the person he wanted me to be. I’m still not. That sums it up, I guess.” She spun the now empty glass around on the table.
“You aren’t making any sense.” Jane grabbed the glass before it spun off the edge.
“Don’t you see?” Frustration clawed inside her skull. “It wouldn’t have worked out. We wanted different things from life. He lives like some kind of nomad. Can you see me living like that? No roots. No plan. You know how I am. I need...this. There’s nothing wrong with stability, is there?”
“Then why are we talking about him?” Sela, the human lie detector, looked at her with eyes that declared I-See-Right-Through-You.
“Sela, you need to lighten up. She’s had a shock.” Jane touched her arm. “What would you do if Bill showed up in your courtroom one day?”
“Bill.” Sela snorted and rolled her eyes. “He wouldn’t dare.”
“Jacques is having a showing at Miranda’s gallery, can you believe that? Next week. He’s having dinner with her right now.” Her gaze landed on Marc who balanced a tray full of shots as he walked toward their table.
“I don’t know why you’re sitting here instead of texting Miranda to find out where she’s having dinner.” Sela pulled her cell phone from her purse.
“You want me to stalk him?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t be stalking him. A stalker is some scary loner. I’ll go with you,” Sela’s smile widened, “and I’m a respected assistant district attorney. No one would accuse us of stalking.”
“Forget that you know any of this.” She watched Marc stop and talk to a cute blonde.
“You can’t ignore that he’s here,” Jane said. “I agree with Sela. You said you wanted a do-over and you don't say those kinds of things. It must mean something. Let’s find out where he’s at...you can buy him a drink.”
“I saw him, he made it clear he hates me, and that’s that.” Her fingers toyed with the ring that should have been her wedding ring...could have been. She caught her lower lip between her teeth.
“You’re not convincing me. You should see yourself right now, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Sela said.
“It feels like I have.” The silent scream returned to claw at the inside of her throat. Restlessness curled beneath her skin. "This is stupid. Let's not talk about it anymore. It's not a big deal. My soon-to-be-promotion is a big deal, let's focus on that. How was your day?"
“Not as exciting as yours. I sat second chair on an identity theft ring trial," Sela said while texting Miranda. "We need to find out where they're having dinner."
“Let it go, I said.” An ache throbbed in her chest.
“Why do you look so guilty? What exactly happened between the two of you that you're not telling us?” Sela snapped her gaze to hers.
"This isn't up for debate." She looked away from Sela and smiled at Jane, a high school counselor, and asked, "How was your week? Any teen dramas you care to share with us?"
Marc sat the tray on the table with an elaborate flourish. “Tequila shots for my ladies.”
“Aren’t you having one?” she asked, but he had already abandoned them for a cute blonde.
She watched Marc work his magic with the other woman and couldn't help but think of their long relationship and the secrets they kept for one another. When had life become so complicated?
The tequila burned her throat more than she had expected. She coughed and shook her head. No. Wrong move. She needed to get drunk at home. Alone. That way when she made an idiot of herself no one would witness it.
“I need to go. Long day.” Without waiting for a response, she pushed away from the table, grabbed her things, and bolted out the door.
This time she opted for a taxi over a walk. A little buzzed, she stepped over a mountain bike leaning haphazardly across the stairs.
The building had been divided into four apartments, with the two upstairs boasting a second floor. She had turned her top floor into an art studio and workspace. She'd inherited the entire place from her grandmother and used the rent from the tenants to cover the upkeep. Many people encouraged her to sell it and move someplace more modern with less hassle, but her grandmother had been the one good thing about her childhood and she couldn't imagine letting the building go.
Opening the door, she kicked off her shoes, dropped her bag where she stood and left a trail of clothing on the hardwood floor leading to the bedroom. Never known for tidiness behind closed doors, she dug through her closet floor until she found a pair of sweatpants splattered with paint and a neon pink tank top with a frayed hem.
Barefoot and comfortable, she walked to the kitchen and poured herself a tall glass of ice water. Everything familiar now felt foreign. The blue walls she had painted years ago, framed artwork of her own creation, photographs of friends lining the tables, the oversized red chair she had had since college…all of it seemed out-of-place. Even standing in the kitchen felt wrong. Her skin trembled with discomfort, as if her bones no longer fit her skeleton.
Too tired to sleep and too rattled to relax, she grabbed a bottle of wine and jogged up the stairs to the second story. This had been Sela's domain during their roommate days. She'd been in graduate school while Sela had gone to law school. Now it was her sacred space, her art space. She stared at the painting she'd hung over a battered sofa she'd found years ago in an alley, now covered with a worn blue blanket. She'd painted that same scene dozens of times, maybe more. It depicted the apartment she'd shared with Jacques...the disheveled bed showing a man's leg dangling from between the sheets, his torso exposed, face hidden by an arm, low ceiling fan in the foreground, light flooding in from the windows.
Of course no visitors knew who the man was or that she painted from memory. Much of her life operated on a 'need to know' basis.
"I need to move on, let go, that's my problem," she muttered without looking away from the scene. "I'm pitiful, holding on to a time in my life that's long over."
Taking a long swig from the bottle of wine, she turned her back on the painting and walked toward her easel that stood in front of a wide bay window that faced an alley and rested directly beneath a skylight.
Emotions raging, she flicked on the stereo and faced the empty canvas on the easel. At the first stroke, she lost herself in the act of creation. Painting brought her peace.
The buzz from the front intercom startled her back to reality. She blinked, at first unsure if she had heard the sound. Darkness had crept through the room without her noticing the passing of time. The buzzer came again, long and insistent.
Rubbing hands over the splattered pants, she jogged down the stairs. The floor tipped beneath her feet from a combination of too much wine combined with beer and tequila.
“If this is you, Marc, I’m really not up for company,” she said into the intercom.
“Does that apply to all guests or only Marc?” The accent and deep voice could only belong to one man...Jacques Sinclair. Here. Now.
She dropped her forehead against the plaster wall and squeezed her eyes closed. Without saying a word, she buzzed him in and dragged her feet toward the door. Maybe the alcohol would help...oh, who was she kidding? This would be another fiasco ala Jessica.
With each thud of his feet against the stairs, she flinched. Opening the door, she watched him ascend. He met her gaze without breaking stride. She bit her bottom lip and scanned him from head to toe, her heart twisting with remorse. A familiar leather jacket—she remembered them buying it together in Florence—scarred boots that he'd always worn, same jeans and shirt from earlier, the man oozed familiarity and sex appeal.
“Were you painting?” He hesitated in the doorway, hands shoved in the back pockets of his jeans, expression cautious as he studied her.
Hand still on the doorframe, she swayed backward and gnawed her bottom lip. “I thought you said we didn’t have anything left to say.”
He rocked back on his heels, eyes narrowing to slits. “Maybe I was wrong.”
“Maybe?” Goosebumps rose on her skin while his gaze skimmed her body.
“I didn’t think you painted anymore.” He squinted as if trying to figure out a mystery.
“Just playing around.” She glanced down at the form fitting tank top. No bra. Oh well. He had seen her looking a lot worse, and a lot better, in a lot less. “Come inside. The place is a mess.”
“Organized on the outside but a mess behind closed doors. A contradiction.”
“I’m a woman of mystery.” She walked ahead of him and gathered the clothes scattered across the floor. “Let me pick these up. Make yourself at home…or…well, there’s beer in the ‘fridge if you want one.”
“Is this the same Marc I met in Florence? Are you two together now?” He lingered at the threshold, uncertainty shadowing his face.
“We were friends then, we're friends now. It's nothing more,” she answered as she walked toward her bedroom.
She tossed the clothes onto the bed and closed the door behind her. Anxiety wracked her body. Alone, she pressed her palm against the wall and took several deep breaths to steady herself.
“Jessica?” he called after a few minutes of silence.
“Right here.” She forced one foot in front of the other and walked to the kitchen. “Want a beer? I've got an open bottle of wine upstairs, I can get it.”
"That would be good, thank you." He tossed his jacket onto the chair full of her belongings. He strolled around the living room as if taking inventory; gaze scanned everything from the books on the mantel to the paintings on the walls to the scattered photographs on the tables.
Music from the upstairs studio drifted down to them. He held an 8 x 10 photograph of herself as a twenty-seven year old, hair falling past her shoulders, laughing from pure happiness, leaning against his motorcycle, arms outstretched against the backdrop of the Florence skyline. He placed it back without comment.
She had no idea what to say, why he was here, or how he had her address. Beer bottles in each hand, she walked to him.
He smiled over his shoulder. His dimples appeared, reminding of her why she had fallen so hard for him in the first place. The man simply had a way about him...a natural charm that almost hypnotized a woman into submission. “You did these paintings, didn’t you? Are you showing them?”
“You’re looking at the gallery.” Careful not to touch him, she handed him a beer.
“What do you mean?”
“Art’s a hobby, that’s all.”
“So you gave that up, too?”
“I didn’t give it up. Look at me, I’m covered with it.” She stared at his mouth and wondered who had the right to kiss him, who made him laugh, who wrapped her fingers in the thickness of his hair.
“Miranda mentioned you have a horde of paintings stashed away here, said she would like to show them. Why don’t—”
“You mentioned me to Miranda?” The symphony returned for an encore performance beneath her ribcage.
“Yes. I told her that you and I lived together in Florence.”
She stopped pacing. “You told her we lived together?”
“Is that a secret?” His eyes narrowed as he watched her response.
“No, I just…I don’t talk about that summer to anyone.” She flattened her back against the opposite wall from him, needing the space.
He stared at her from across the room for several long minutes before speaking. “You shouldn’t hide your work. It's meant to be shared.”
“You were my biggest fan.” A small smile touched her lips. “My only fan.”
“I’m confused.” He mirrored her action from across the room, beer bottle dangled from his fingertips. “Earlier I thought you had turned into a stranger, now I come here and you look almost the same as I remembered. Who is the real you?”
“The real me? Seriously? You sound like a New Age workshop leader.” Every inch of her quivered beneath his gaze. “You need to go.”
“Why are you afraid of me? You look terrified.”
She stroked her throat with trembling fingers, closed her eyes and remembered the trapped feeling from the office. Once again, a silent scream welled in her throat and demanded escape. Instead, she opened her eyes and looked at the floor.
“You need to go,” she managed to whisper.
“You’re the one who wanted to talk.”
She met his gaze with all the fire and frustration of the day. “And you’re the one who put my picture on the cover of your book and came to Boston for a gallery exhibit. You had to know I would find out somehow. Now here you are pacing around my home like you’re some avant-garde artist when you’re just as much a sell-out as I am. Gallery openings and book signings for the elusive Jacques Sinclair. I don’t remember you talking about those dreams while we played pretend in Florence.”
“Played pretend? Is that how you remember it?”
Confused at the anger she felt when all she truly wanted was to know him again…she had missed him so desperately…missed his friendship, missed his face, missed his voice…yet now she ached to smash this beer bottle against the wall. She regretted wanting to get drunk in the first place. All of this was wrong and she didn't know how to make it right.
“Why are you here? I thought you no longer gave a damn about me.” Alcohol made her bold.
He shrugged, his gaze roaming around the room.
“How did you find my address? I am not listed, I—”
“I kept it from some things you left behind in Florence.” He looked at the hardwood floor at his feet. “I brought it with me, took a chance you hadn't moved.”
Knowing that he had planned on seeing her, had kept her address for all of these years, weakened her knees. Confusion spun through her mind like a tornado.
“How did you know I would still be here?” With halting steps, she walked into the kitchen. Dizziness rocked her. She needed food.
He followed. “This is what you wanted, am I right? Roots. Security. Predictability.”
“You’ve kept this address for five years?” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Why didn’t—”
“I needed to see for myself.”
“See what for yourself?”
“I needed to know that you lied about everything, including who you really were. Now I’m even more confused. Seeing you like this... it’s as if I walked through a time warp or something. You look the same, you’re painting, you’re up in the middle of the night, music is going...but earlier you...I don’t know what to think.” He combed his hands through his hair and closed his eyes.
“This isn’t fair. You act like I deliberately tricked you. I didn’t.” Loaf of bread in hand, she faced him. “What were you going to do with that address? Ambush me after work? Did I spoil your plan?”
“Yes, actually, you did.” His grin played havoc with her senses. When he opened his eyes, his gaze locked on hers. “You are always ruining my plans.”
“Five years,” she whispered without looking away. “Long time.”
“Did you mean what you said?” he asked. “About thinking about Italy, about our apartment?”
“About thinking about you, you mean?” She ripped her gaze from his. Alcohol may have made her brave but not stupid. She had to be careful about how she answered this question. “Yes, I meant it. I...I wish I...”
“Wish what?” He stepped closer. "What did you mean by wanting a do-over?"
She shrugged off the tingling sensation skittering across her skin. “It doesn’t matter. I never should have said that, forget it.”
He leaned his hip against the counter. He muttered something in French, just like he used to do back in the day when he didn’t want her to understand.
“I still haven’t learned it,” she whispered as she stared inside the refrigerator. “I always wanted to learn French so I’d understand your secrets. You and Ava used to have the most entertaining fights, screaming French at each other. So dramatic. And then Simone would get into the act...ugh...I hated her. How is Ava, by the way? I read a blurb about her in the New York Times. I saw she had a spot in New York's fashion week this past February. How exciting for her. Ava Sinclair Originals has come a long way from that apartment in Florence where we cut patterns while sitting on the floor."
He reached around her for another beer. His arm grazed hers. Their gaze met.
Silence saturated the room.
Longing pulled at her to say more, but all she could do was hold the refrigerator door open and blink like a moron.
“We have all come a long way since that old apartment building in Florence, haven't we? Success all around, ” he said after minutes had passed.
Finding it difficult to breathe, she forced herself to speak from sheer will. “I thought about calling her after I read the article, but everything had gotten so mixed up. I wouldn't have known where to begin.”
He sipped his drink and studied her as if she had just landed from another planet.
“We were close,” she said because she didn’t know what else to say. “I wasn’t sure she would appreciate hearing from me, though, so...I didn’t.”
Their apartment had been the center of the universe that long summer. People had come and gone, crashed on their sofa for days. Every night had been a party—sometimes mild but often wild. No one had had any cares. Life had been simple.
He smiled down at his feet. “For awhile this afternoon, I wondered if she had set this up somehow, pulled the strings with the gallery to arrange it so we would run into one another, but I cannot find the link. I think it is too much of a coincidence that the only gallery where I am having an exhibit is not only blocks from your apartment, but is owned by a friend of yours.”
Well, that would fit Ava’s MO. She slammed the bread onto the counter. She needed to eat. Now. With her head spinning from alcohol and Jacques’s confusing presence, she needed food.
“And Carter? Are you two still friends?” Diverting the conversation to his family and friends seemed like safer ground than their relationship, at least until she had food in her stomach.
Tell him why it all got so screwed up. Tell him that you never intended to leave him, that you went back too late and he'd already left. Tell him that life got in the way and you were stuck. Explain. Get it over with, just say it. She slapped cheese onto the bread without looking up. It was too late for words. What good would they do?
“Would that surprise you if we were?” He sat the beer bottle on the counter before walking toward the hallway. Like a caged animal, he prowled. “I know you think I’m too nomadic for relationships.”
“I don't want to fight with you, I really don't.”
“Just making a statement.” Arms folded across his chest, he shrugged as he looked down the hallway toward her bedroom. “Yes, we’re still friends. Don’t you want to ask about Simone?”
“God, no,” she groaned. “I could care less about her.”
“I thought you would be married to some safe accountant or stock broker, someone more suitable than a vagabond like me.” He grabbed the sandwich from her, his eyes hard and scrutinizing. “You're in your thirties now. As far as plans go, isn’t there a nice man and a house with a picket fence in your near future? And what is it called in the States? The PTA?”
God, he knew how to piss her off. He couldn’t simply keep the small talk light. He had to go in for the kill.
“Congratulations on your career, Jacques. Must be thrilling.” She ripped off a piece of her sandwich and shoved it into her mouth without looking away from his eyes.
“Exciting as hell.”
“Traveling the world, a new woman with a flick of your finger. Must me damn exhilarating.” She turned her back on him to pour herself a glass of water. No more alcohol. Not for a few days minimum.
“The women are the best part. I can’t keep them out of my bed.”
“Must get tiring, all that sex and travel.”
He said nothing. When she turned, he had walked from the kitchen and stood staring up the stairs toward the music. The expression on his face was more curious than angry.
She thought of the drawing above the sofa and knew she didn't want him to see it. If he saw the easel, the paintings, the wine bottle...he'd know how screwed up she'd become.
“Do you remember the first meal I made you?” she asked to divert his attention away from the upstairs.
He grinned without looking at her. “A pastrami sandwich on fresh baked bread from the market down the street.”
“We had every window open to get some air because it was so damn hot our clothes were sticking to our skin.”
“So we took them off.” He moved up the stairs, his gaze locked on something above.
“We drank an entire bottle of wine.” Her breath caught in her throat as she followed, sandwiches in hand.
“We had gelato for dessert.” Thumbs in the loops of his jeans, he stood at the top of the stairs. “If I remember right, that gelato cooled us off in creative and erotic ways.”
She studied the way the material of his shirt stretched across his back. “Must be why I crave Italian from time to time.”
Energy snapped off him as he moved toward the tattered sofa and muttered beneath his breath.
“Still muttering and pacing,” she whispered. “I swore that when I saw you again I’d be cool and sophisticated, that I’d have all the right words.”
“You planned on seeing me again?” He stared at the painting hanging on the wall, his body rigid.
“Hoped.” She dragged her gaze to his face. “I need to explain why I left.”
“Is there really an excuse for leaving your fiancé without even a goodbye or a fuck you?” He frowned again, his eyes full of confusion when he met her gaze.
“It wasn't like that,” she whispered.
“How come you never looked back? Not once did you look back.” He closed the space between them with two slow steps. “You left me like I meant nothing to you. When I got home, you had disappeared. Vanished. Now there's all of this...a painting of our place here, pictures of Florence in your living room, you're wearing my ring...but you never looked back, you never contacted me."
“I had responsibilities, no choices.” Regret rolled through her.
“You had a choice.”
“No, I didn’t.” All of the reasons that had seemed important felt insignificant now. "I went back," she admitted without looking at him, "but you were gone. I'd waited too long, other people were in the apartment, all of my things were gone, Luca didn't have any answers. You were nowhere to be found. Who abandoned whom, isn't that the real question? You couldn't wait? I asked you to wait."
"What do you mean you went back? When? You never asked me to wait...What are you talking about?"
"About a month later...you were gone."
"A month? That's impossible. You're lying." He stalked toward her until her back collided with her easel. His hands gripped the top of the canvas, arms pinned her where she stood. “I haven’t wanted to remember you in a very long time.”
“I suppose not.”
“But I have.”
“Are you happy?”
“What do you mean?” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Did you make the right choice? Leaving me? Leaving our life together? Tell me you’re happy and I’ll walk out of your life forever.”
“What does it matter? I can’t undo it.”
"But you tried to undo it, if you're telling me the truth. You went back."
"It doesn't matter anymore. You said it yourself. We're successful people, our lives moved on for the better." She wished she hadn't admitted going back to Italy looking for him. It made her sound pitiful and weak.
“So you have no regrets, is that what you're saying?”
“Of course I have regrets, but so what? What good does that do us?”
“That’s why I came here tonight, to see…”
“See what? I’ve done what I said I would do." Pride forced her head high. “I’m up for associate partner at my firm. I’m a good—no, great—architect.”
“You’re lying. You’re not happy.” His hand framed the side of her face, forcing her to look at him. “I see it in your face. It’s like you’ve died. You're living in the past, which tells me you're not that thrilled with the present.”
“When did you get so mean?” Too tired to fight, tears blurred her eyes. “Get out. Enough insults for one day. Just go.”
“Why are you still wearing my ring?” His voice was low and powerful in the small room.
“Why do you?”
“My ring.” Dark blond hair covered his left eye when he bent forward, only a breath away from her face. “Why are you wearing it? Does it mean anything to you or do you simply think it’s pretty?”
“Please go.” She flattened her hands against his chest, but wished she hadn’t. The feel of his hard body beneath her hands liquefied her bones.
He slammed his hand against the canvas, knocking it to the floor behind her. “You just left. One day we’re living together, talking about creating a future, and then you disappeared.”
Her lungs deflated like air from a balloon. Breathing ceased. "I needed to come back here to—”
“To be safe? To do the right thing?” He had her backed against the easel. “You vanished.”
“You had my address. I didn’t disappear.”
“You let me go without a word.”
“I said I was sorry.” Every inch of her quaked with restrained emotion. “Leave now. Go. Good luck with your exhibit, with your life, all of it. Just get the hell out of my home.”
“Do you know why I brought your address with me? Do you?”
“You wanted to tell me off, right? That’s why you came here, to hurt me.”
“I wanted to show you how much I don’t care.”
“Doesn’t that show me how much you really do care?” She lifted her chin, determined not to cry.
A fraction of an inch separated their bodies. She dragged her gaze over the opened buttons of his shirt, over his neck, over his lips until resting on the deep green of his eyes. Damn, the man rocked the word 'sexy'.
Boldness replaced caution.
Standing on tiptoes, she smoothed her hands along the front of his chest. Touching him again was like coming home from a long, exhausting journey.
He shook his head once as if trying to clear his mind. Only once. He stared at her lips. His hands curled around her forearms, but he didn’t push her away.
“Kiss me,” she whispered against his mouth.
“No.” He slid his hands up her arms before cupping the back of her head.
"I dare you."
"I know you want to."
"Now who's the liar?" she asked, her teeth tugging at his lower lip.
Their mouths met in a kiss that melted her skin like candle wax, turning them into one being, one entity consumed by desire. To hell with the consequences. She needed this, needed him, here and now. Passion overrode all other thought or senses. Her hands stroked his back, kneading and searching. Every sense was alive with his touch, with his kiss. The need for him was an ache that burned deep. Hot. Necessary. Urgent. Primal.
God, she had missed this, missed him.
They fell against the easel, knocking the canvas and paint in every direction. A tangle of limbs, they made eye contact for a moment, chests heaving, breathing labored.
He ripped her tank top in two and tossed the material aside. He looked down at her naked torso, a wicked grin on his face before squeezing her breasts, claiming them, and devouring her mouth with an intensity that bordered on decadent.
She yanked his shirt free from his jeans and shoved it high on his chest, needing his skin against hers more than she'd ever needed anything in life. Clothes fell away, bread crushed beneath their bodies, wine spilled from an overturned bottle at their feet.
"This is wrong," he muttered against her skin.
"Right. Always right with us." She sank her fingernails into his shoulders.
"What the lady wants, the lady gets," he said, a predatory gleam in his eyes.
His hands worked at pushing her yoga pants over her hips while his mouth claimed her breast.
She looped her toes in the waistband of his underwear and yanked them over his thighs. Her hands sought his erection while her back arched with every stroke of his hands and every lick of his tongue.
He ground himself inside her with the intensity of repressed rage. Her legs wrapped around his hips, holding him as close as possible as he plunged deep inside her.
Sex had never been tame with him, but this was animalistic. This was raw. Teeth sank into skin. Nails scraped against each other's bodies. They rolled together, locked as one being. Streaks of yellow and red paint lined their faces, stuck in their hair, no one cared.
Waves of pleasure rolled through her veins like a tsunami until all strength left her body. She laughed, breathless, as her mouth sought his again in a kiss filled with satisfaction and surprise.
"Is this what you meant by a do-over?" He shoved his hands through her hair, palms framing her face, and stared into her eyes. His chest rose and fell against hers.
"Not exactly but it'll do," she whispered, still out of breath, heartbeat slamming like a caged bird's wings inside her chest.
His mouth sucked on her lower lip, tongue teased hers. "I don't know what to do with you, Jessica Moriarty."
"You've always known exactly what to do with me, Jacques Sinclair." She repeated the words they'd always said to one another. She dipped her finger into the wet yellow paint on the canvas beneath his head before smearing it across his chin and over his mouth.
He grabbed her hand, linked his fingers with hers and stared into her eyes. Laughter faded. “This shouldn't have happened. I lost control, I always lose control around you.”
He rolled away and stared at the ceiling. Then he stood and pulled a piece of cheese from where it had stuck to his shoulder. Without looking at her, he dressed.
Rattled from the sex and his reaction, she stumbled to standing, grabbed the blanket from the sofa and wrapped it around herself. Man, she was on a roll today with fucking up her life.
He walked down the stairs without saying a word.
She returned to the kitchen to find him still waiting. She'd hoped he'd gone.
Back against the wall, he finished buttoning his shirt. He hadn't bothered to wipe the streaks of paint from his face and hair; then again, neither had she. When he lifted his gaze to hers, he looked agonized.
"I didn't intend on that. I should go," he said.
“Stay. Don't go.”
She wanted to scream, stomp her foot like a child, fall to her knees…anything to make him stay.
“There is someone else, Jess. Life moved on without you, things happened. Mistakes, a lot of mistakes, things I cannot undo.” His quiet words sliced her heart into a million pieces. “I came here for answers, to understand. I didn't intend to rip your clothes off. I only wanted to understand why you left me. That’s all.”
“And now you understand?”
“No,” he shook his head, a slight grin curving his lips, “but I accept that I will never understand.”
She rubbed the palm of her hand over her face. Of course he had someone else. She had discarded him like a used napkin.
“You're serious with this woman? What you said about the different women all the time was just to hurt me, right?”
“Yes to both questions.”
A chasm ripped through the room, creating a space larger than the ocean that had once separated them. She felt the loss of him again, more powerful, more poignant than before.
“I wish it wasn’t like this between us…”
“I’m still the same man you left in Italy. The reasons you left haven’t changed. I’m a gypsy at heart, never in one place longer than six months or so.” He looked at the matching ring on his finger and blew out a long breath.
"You don't know my reasons, you only think you do. I went back..." Warm tears fell despite her resolve not to cry.
"I can't believe you went back." He shook his head. "You have no idea how that would have changed things and I can't think about the what-ifs. It's too late now. All of this has been a horrible mistake."
She winced at that and gripped the blanket tighter around her body. “Please leave. Your girlfriend must be wondering what the hell you’re doing.” She hugged her arms across her chest and tapped her foot against the floor. “Please leave, Jacques.”
“Are you happy? Tell me that you love being an architect. Tell me that you don’t love me anymore—that you never did. Tell me that you are content.” With every word, his face mirrored the agony she felt. “Tell me that you have no regrets, that you are happy with your life as it is now.”
“My life is damn near perfect.” She forced a smile. “Partnership is in sight, remember? Corner office here I come. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It’s a fucking love fest.”
“It is time I let this go then.” With a quick movement, he pulled the ring from his finger and laid it on the back of the red chair.
She stared at the ring against the faded fabric. “Please don’t leave it. Like you said, it’s yours.”
“Keep it, throw it away, it no longer matters to me. Be well, bella.” Door open, he hesitated at the threshold and looked around the room before meeting her gaze again.
Bella. The word hung in the air as they stared at one another, the language of Italy dancing in her memory and tugging at her heart.
“Caro…” she whispered.
Without another look back, he closed the door behind him.
She listened to the fall of his footsteps on the stairs, the outside door opening and closing, and folded his ring into her palm. She pressed the closed fist against lips still swollen from his kiss. Silent tears streaked her face.
"What have I done?" Back against the door, she slid to the floor. The question she asked had no answer. Even she didn't know if she meant the past or the present; conflicting emotions meshed together in her brain like the various paint streaks staining her skin.
From the back cover...
Naked photographs plastered on a book cover remind Jessica Moriarty that the past isn't as dead as she'd assumed. Her carefully constructed life as an architect on the fast track to partnership is threatened by a love she'd abandoned five years ago when responsibilities had trumped dreams.
World-renowned photographer, Jacques Sinclair, could have chosen anywhere in the world for his book signing and photography exhibit, but he'd come to Boston to shake things up. He wanted answers, but they aren't what he expected.
Reunions aren't always happy—sometimes they stir up unwanted pain and forgotten passion. As Jacques and Jessica stumble their way back to one another for a second chance at love, they're ensnared in a web of conspiracy, manipulation, and sabotage designed to keep them apart. Will they be able to break free of the ties that bind them to seize the love of a lifetime? Or will the pressure to conform rip them apart forever?
**This is the conclusion of the two part Dancing Barefoot series and can be read as a stand-alone. However, to get the full impact of the love story, the author recommends reading book one, In Between (permanently .99 as an intro to the series).**
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also writes five different blogs, volunteers for children's literacy, and advocates for suicide awareness. In addition, she is a professional editor and mother of two extraordinary human beings. She currently lives in a small cabin high in the Rocky Mountains where she is completely aware of how lucky she is. To find out more about her books, please visit http://www.amberleaeaston.com.