Undenied eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2007)


  Gracie laughed and put her hand on his arm. “Wes, you’re being way too hard on yourself. You were eighteen. Most eighteen-year-olds haven’t climbed the ranks to considerate-lover status yet. I’d say you more than made up for it in the years since.”

  “I just wish A. she hadn’t popped out of nowhere, and B. she hadn’t been so nice or acted like she was so damn glad to see me. I was more than happy to keep that incident out of my mind. No guy likes to have his sexual failures shoved under his nose.”

  “But she didn’t shove it under your nose. You said she acted genuinely glad to see you. Have you thought maybe the experience was far more traumatic for you than it was for her?”

  “Gracie, I hurt her. A girl’s first time shouldn’t be like that. I made her cry, for God’s sake.”

  “All I’m saying is that, in all likelihood, she views that experience much the same as most women do. Not great but not the end of the world.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I know. I just picture all her girlfriends asking who I am. And then she says, oh that was the dumbass I gave my virginity to, the dumbass who had as much finesse as a toad.”

  Gracie lost all control and started laughing. “So this boils down to your fragile male ego. You don’t want it to get out that you weren’t always a god in bed.”

  “I fail to see what’s so damn funny,” he muttered.

  “Let me be the first to burst your bubble, stud.” Her eyes twinkled in devilish merriment, and he knew without a doubt she was having way too much fun at his expense. “A lot of guys suck in bed. They don’t think they do. Ask them and they’re God’s gift to women. Ask women and you get a whole different story. I know. I’ve been through enough losers. Oh, they all thought they were the world’s greatest lover, but for the most part, it was all I could do not to fall asleep during their version of foreplay, which usually consisted of ‘suck my dick’.”

  He gave her a wounded look. Damn heifer wasn’t doing anything to reassure him here. “You just said that I didn’t suck in bed.”

  “No, you don’t, but it doesn’t hurt for you to think you do. No doubt it’ll make you more determined to impress your next woman when it comes time to get between the sheets.”

  “Bitch. You’re supposed to tell me what a great lay I am and that what happened twelve years ago was a freak incident.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that what I’ve spent the last ten minutes telling you?”

  He sighed again.

  She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, and for a moment, all he really wanted to do was take her to bed. They had great chemistry, and if anyone could reestablish his confidence it was Gracie.

  “Give yourself a break, Wes,” she murmured as she pulled away. She put a hand to his cheek and rubbed her thumb over his goatee. “Chances are you won’t even see her again.”

  He reached up and put his hand over hers then turned her palm over to kiss the exposed skin. “Thanks, Gracie. You’re the best. I mean that.”

  The door from the garage opened and Luke Forsythe shouldered his way in carrying a case of beer and a bag of ice.

  Gracie’s face lit up, and Wes let her fingers fall from his.

  Luke dropped the ice on the floor and heaved the beer onto the island. He bent over to kiss Gracie then glanced up at Wes. “Am I interrupting an intimate moment here?” he asked with barely suppressed amusement.

  “Not unless you guys are surprising me with another threesome,” Gracie said cheekily as she winked at Wes.

  Wes laughed and shook his head. God, he loved this woman. He could never ask for better friends than her and Luke. Whatever his reservations had been in the beginning about a threesome causing awkwardness in the relationship, they were gone now. Nothing had changed between them, and if anything, they were closer.

  “I was just giving Wes some chick advice,” she said. “Butthead needed it.”

  Luke shook his head. “Not even going to ask.” He nodded at Wes as Gracie snuggled into his side. “Well? We gonna stand around the kitchen all night having chick talk or are we going to drink some beer and watch the fight?”

  Chapter Three

  Payton wrapped her fingers around the steering wheel and sat staring at Wes Hoffman’s house. Why in the world she was sitting here in his driveway the day after he’d given her the most blatant brush-off was beyond her. Maybe she was a masochist. Or maybe she just wanted to know what the hell had inspired such a frantic retreat.

  She certainly hadn’t come to town looking for him, but now that she’d seen him again, her curiosity was eating her alive.

  He’d fascinated her as a teenager, but the adult version, the gorgeous man he’d grown up to be, well, he was downright mouthwatering.

  She searched her memory, remembering the day they’d driven out to the lake, picnic basket in the back of the truck. They’d spread out a blanket by the water and spent a lazy afternoon gazing up at the clouds.

  When evening fell, they’d moved awkwardly closer. He’d kissed her, lightly, searching, sweetly as only a first lover can do.

  She emitted a small sigh as the corners of her lips surged upward. It had been a perfect day. Not unlike today. Beautiful, sunny. Really, even as hot and humid as it got so far south, she wouldn’t trade summers here for anything.

  Her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she pressed back against the seat. She summoned her courage, taking in a deep, steadying breath.

  “Well, you can sit out here all day like a freaking loon, or you can go knock on the door and invite him to lunch.”

  She took in another deep breath, drew up her shoulders then let them fall before she opened the door and hauled herself out of her car.

  He intrigued her. Always had. A soft smile eased her nerves as she headed up the short walkway to the door. No, he wasn’t a boy anymore. She’d figured that out about the time she hit him square in the chest last night. The possibilities his more manly physique presented were definitely appealing.

  “And maybe it’s been too long since you got laid,” she muttered. Although it hadn’t been that long. Certainly not so long that she ought to be panting after the first available male she came across. No, desperation didn’t account for her reaction to Wes Hoffman. She was as attracted to him now as she’d been twelve years ago. In some ways, the attraction was heightened. She’d learned a lot more about sex since she tested the waters at sixteen. She grinned. A whole lot more.

  She flipped her hair over her shoulders, smoothed her hands down her jeans and pushed the button for the doorbell. She looked from side to side and tapped her foot on the concrete porch as she waited for him to answer.

  Then the door opened and Wes’s startled gaze met hers.

  She glanced appreciatively over his physique. He wore a pair of shorts, no shirt, and she couldn’t quite rip her eyes from his well-muscled chest. Not an inch of spare flesh dotted his abdomen. He worked out, and it was obvious.

  “Hi…uh, I wasn’t expecting you,” he said awkwardly.

  She smiled. “I know. Thought I’d drop by and invite you to lunch. Catch up on old times. Stuff like that.”

  Was that panic in his eyes? Guys only got the deer-in-the-headlights look when they got their hand caught in the cookie jar.

  “Are you married?” she demanded.

  He actually looked appalled. “Why the hell would you ask that?”

  She shrugged. “A reasonable assumption given the fact you act as happy to see me as you would a good case of the clap.”

  He choked on his laughter and a grin creased his face. “Sorry. I mean, you just caught me off guard. You’re the last person I expected to see.”

  “So you want to grab lunch?” she asked. “I’m free until later this afternoon, then I have rehearsal dinner shit for the wedding.”

  “Uh—” He broke off and shifted uncomfortably, moving his weight from one foot to another.

  He really was giving her the brush-off. Heat bloomed across her cheeks, but she bit the inside of her
lip to control the tide of embarrassment. Damn, just when she’d convinced herself that there was a perfectly good reason for his flakiness the night before.

  “On second thought, I can see you’d rather endure a trip to the dentist,” she said dryly. She tucked her hair behind her ears and backed toward the edge of the porch. “It was nice seeing you again.”

  She turned and navigated the two small steps to the walkway cutting across the yard when his voice stopped her.

  “Payton, wait.”

  She stopped and slowly turned, giving him a long, measuring stare. He stared back at her, his eyes thoughtful, a hint of regret simmering in the depths.

  “Give me a minute to get dressed, okay?”

  Silence fell between them. She shoved her hands into her jeans pockets and rocked back on her heels. “Okay.”

  Wes watched her for a long second before he turned and went back to his bedroom. She was here. On his doorstep. Inviting him to lunch. And he was acting like a complete chicken shit.

  “Suck it up and take it like a man.” Get this over with. She’ll leave town. It’s just like Gracie said. I’ll probably never see her again.

  He glanced down at his embarrassingly flat shorts. “A lot of help you are,” he muttered. “A drop-dead gorgeous woman throws herself at you and all you can do is lay there like a fucking pussy.”

  God, now he was talking to his dick. What a pansy.

  He yanked on a T-shirt then fumbled for his tennis shoes which were shoved under the bed. Turning to go, he thought better of it and hurried to the bathroom. There, he yanked up a toothbrush and did a quicky job of brushing his teeth. Hell, she might try to kiss him again. Oddly enough, that idea wasn’t as terrifying as it should be.

  As he passed through the living room, he grabbed for the keys on the hook by the door and walked outside. It was hot, but he was already sweating, and he hadn’t even gotten close to her yet.

  He paused at the porch steps and looked at her. Really looked at her. Without all the discomfort her sudden appearance had caused, without the desire to see her vanish into thin air.

  The truth was, she was beautiful. The sweet, young girl he’d known had blossomed into one hell of a gorgeous woman. She seemed confident yet relaxed, and she didn’t seem like a bullshitter.

  She looked up and met his gaze when he neared her. She didn’t immediately smile but then one corner of her mouth lifted and she straightened her stance, one hand on her hip as if she was waiting for him to make the next move. Fair enough—she’d made the first one. And the second.

  “Want to go in my truck?” he asked.

  “Sure, just let me get my purse.”

  He waited as she retrieved her bag from her car, then opened the passenger side door of his truck for her. She moved past him in a soft swirl of floral-scented air. She reached for the door handle, and he gently shut the door behind her before walking around to get in on his side.

  “So where are we going again?” she asked as he backed out of his driveway.

  “This was your idea,” he said. “Where are you taking me?”

  “What are my choices?”

  “Well, you can have a burger, Mexican or barbeque. Unless you want to drive into Beaumont, in which case, you can pick your poison.”

  “We can do Mexican,” she said.

  He drummed his thumbs on the steering wheel as he stopped at the one red light in town. He glanced over to see her staring out her window, her expression one of supreme I don’t give a fuck.

  A few minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. He got out and waited for her in front of the truck then walked behind her inside where they were seated by the hostess.

  A waitress dumped a basket of chips with salsa in front of them and then took their drink order. Wes waited until she’d returned and had taken their food order before relaxing in his chair and glancing up at Payton.

  She munched on a chip, glancing curiously around the room. Then her gaze settled back on him, and for once he didn’t look away. He stared into her pale blue eyes, eyes that currently sparkled with challenge.

  “Why are you so uptight around me?” she asked.

  He blinked. Well, she definitely didn’t have any inhibitions. “Uh…”

  She picked up another chip and dunked it into the salsa. “I can’t figure you out,” she continued. “I catch you looking at me, and I can see the interest, but then the next second, you’re running away so fast, you’re tripping over your feet. Am I that unappealing?”

  “Good Lord, no,” he muttered, still reeling over the direct line she’d taken.

  She arched one eyebrow. “Then what is it? Got something against brunettes?”

  “Honey, I like all women,” he drawled.

  She snorted. “That’s bullshit. If that were true, you and I would have ended up in bed last night instead of you pulling a lame-ass hat trick to escape.”

  He coughed as a piece of chip went down the wrong pipe. He wheezed and reached for his water. A mournful sigh escaped him, and he briefly closed his eyes. Surely this was a guy’s worst nightmare. A gorgeous, vibrant woman offering herself on a silver platter, and his mind and dick weren’t in unison.

  “Payton, you’re a beautiful woman—”

  She held up a hand in annoyance. “Good God, if you’re going to give me that brush-off speech, save it, please. I don’t need you to patronize me. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t hold my ego in your little palm. Yeah, I’m attracted to you, yeah, we have a history, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only guy in the world I’ve ever wanted to sleep with.”

  He scrubbed a hand over his face and groaned. This was such a cluster fuck. “That’s just it, Payton. Our history is what’s the issue here.”

  Confusion darted across her face. “What?”

  He glanced around at the nearby tables, cringing at the idea that he’d be overheard by someone. Then he looked back at Payton who stared at him with a crinkled brow.

  “Can we get out of here? Go somewhere else to have this conversation?”

  “Uh, okay, I guess.”

  He stood abruptly and reached for his wallet. He peeled off a twenty and threw it on the table, not bothering to wait for their food. If he was going to have this come-to-Jesus moment with Payton, he damn sure wasn’t going to do it in a place where he could be overheard by people he had to face on a daily basis.

  He reached for her hand before he thought better of it. She hesitated a brief moment before sliding her fingers into his palm. They walked out of the restaurant, him tugging her behind him in his haste to get out.

  “Where are we going?” she asked as he pulled out of the parking lot.

  “Somewhere private,” he muttered.

  She shrugged and focused her attention out the window as he drove through town and hit the highway north into the country. A few miles out, he turned onto a dirt road leading up to an old logging site.

  “This must be pretty serious,” she said dryly. “Planning to off me and hide the body?”

  He pulled over and cut the engine before turning in his seat to face her. “Very funny. I don’t remember you being such a sarcastic wench.”

  She eyed him angelically, the baby blue eyes a fitting accompaniment to her look of innocence. Though he was fast finding out she wasn’t the sweet little sixteen-year-old he’d known.

  “So why is our history such a big issue?” she asked.

  With her sitting across from him, staring expectantly at him, he suddenly felt like a complete moron. It was obvious that she didn’t have the same hang-ups he did.

  “Payton, I hurt you. Badly. I was clumsy, inconsiderate and I ruined what should have been a terrific experience for you. It was embarrassing as hell, and it’s something I’d just as soon try to forget. When I saw you again, my first instinct was to run as far as I could in the other direction.”

  “You did run in the opposite direction,” she pointed out.

  He huffed in irritation.
Did she take nothing seriously?

  She stared at him a long moment, her face scrunching up more with each passing second. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

  Knowing there was only one way to get his point across with the least amount of chitchat and skirting around the issue, he reached across the seat and grabbed her hand. He guided it between his legs, ignoring her expression of surprise.

  “Let me put it into terms you can’t possibly misunderstand. You feel that? Nothing. I may as well be a fucking eunuch. You’re a gorgeous woman. I should be a walking hard-on around you, instead I’ll likely have to shove my finger up my ass to push my dick back out of hiding.”

  She giggled. First a stifled sound like she was trying valiantly to control her mirth. Then she lost all control and began laughing uncontrollably.

  “I’m glad you find this so damn amusing,” he said through gritted teeth as he released her hand.

  She wiped tears from her eyes then dissolved into laughter again. Wes heaved a long-suffering sigh and stared out the windshield as Payton attempted to collect herself.

  She wheezed a few times then tucked her hair back behind her ear. “Wes, tell me you haven’t been worked up all these years over the time we had sex.”

  He shot her a dirty glance. “Of course I haven’t been hung up on it for the last twelve years. It’s just that, damn it, Payton, I hurt you.”

  The laughter disappeared and her eyes softened. She reached out to touch his arm. “Wes, it was my first time. Of course it hurt. But that’s not what I remember about it.”

  His eyebrows went up. “It’s not? What do you remember then?”

  Her eyes twinkled merrily, and she smiled that sweet smile that made his gut ache.

  “So that’s what all that crap was about last night? You were embarrassed because of what happened between us in high school?”

  “It wasn’t one of my prouder moments,” he defended. “I realize it sounds stupid, but it was pretty humiliating.” He still cringed when he thought too long about it.

  “It’s not stupid. I think it’s sweet,” she said, her smile growing broader.

  Sweet? Hell, he’d almost prefer humiliation.

  Her face took on a dreamy look, and the smile turned wistful. “What I remember is that we were young. I was nervous and excited all at the same time, and you were so sweet and patient with me.”

  Patient? Clearly they were remembering separate events. He’d acted with no finesse, and premature ejaculation didn’t even begin to cover the description of his performance.

  He cleared his throat. “Uhm, Payton, are you sure you’re remembering the time you had sex with me?”

  She laughed. “A girl remembers her first time, and she certainly remembers the guy who was her first.”

  “I wasn’t patient,” he said gruffly.

  “Yes, you were,” she chided. “You were incredibly sweet. You said all the right things. That I was beautiful. You made sure I was with you every step of the way.”

  “I did?”

  She nodded. “I don’t know what kind of messed-up event you remember, but it’s obvious our perceptions of it are very different. Was it the best sex I’ve ever had? No. But it wasn’t a disaster. In fact, for it being my first time, I don’t think it could have been much better.”

  He swallowed the knot in his throat and went for the final humiliating factor. “It was my first time too,” he said grudgingly.

  Her eyes widened in surprise. “Really? I was your first?”

  “Yeah.”

  She smiled. “I think that’s—”

  “If you say sweet, I swear I’ll push you out of the truck,” he growled.

  A peal of laughter rang out. “Okay, I think it’s cool. That better?”

  He smiled for the first time. “I guess you think this is completely ridiculous.”

  She reached over and cupped his cheek in her palm. “I think a lot of things. I think I’m flattered by the fact you were so concerned that you’d hurt me. I think you’ve turned into a great guy, not surprising since I always thought you were positively dreamy.” She winked before continuing on. “But ridiculous? No, I don’t think you’re ridiculous.”

  Her eyes narrowed until they became half-lidded. She viewed him under a veil