What Happens Between Friends

whbf-frontIn Shady Grove – Book Two

Harlequin Superromance – August 2013

ISBN: 978-0-373-71866-5

Friends…with benefits?

For Sadie Nixon, life is one big adventure with something new around the corner. And anytime she needs a break, she can always rely on James Montesano—the best guy she knows. This time when she arrives in Shady Grove, however, something is different. There’s a little extra between her and James that has them crossing the line of friendship into one steamy, no-holds-barred night.

Afterward, no matter how hard she tries, Sadie can’t erase the memories of James that way. He’s so hot, so tempting…. But his life is here and hers isn’t. She needs his friendship, but she doesn’t do commitment. So where does that leave them? Suddenly what happens between friends is more complicated than ever!

EXCERPT

“Thanks, Jamie,” she said. “It means a lot to me that I can always count on you.”

Right. She could always count on him to come to her rescue. That he would be there for her, no matter how long she’d been away, no matter what mess she’d gotten herself into.

He would fix it for her.

Because they were friends. Because he was, by his own admission, a nice guy. He liked being a nice guy. Liked taking care of his family and friends, being there for them when they needed him. Usually.

He would be there for her even though playing knight in shining armor no longer held much appeal. Even though part of him, a large, loud part, screamed at him to let her figure this out on her own. But he couldn’t. She needed help. Needed someone to fix her latest problem. She needed him.

That used to be enough. Now he wanted more.

Elvis crossed over to them, sat next to the coffee table and laid his head on Sadie’s lap.

Another Sadie Nixon conquest.

“What are your plans for him?” James asked.

She stroked Elvis’s head. “I’m not sure. He doesn’t have a collar or tags so I thought the first step would be to look in the paper and call the local animal shelters to see if anyone’s reported him missing.”

“If they didn’t?”

“I’ll worry about that when—if—it happens.”

That was such a Sadie way of doing things, putting things off, never looking ahead or planning for the future. “You’re not keeping him.”

Sadie didn’t keep things. She collected them—friends, strays, strangers. She loved having people around her. She gave them her time and attention and affection and then set them free.

No, she left. Set herself free so she could follow her next impulse, which, since they’d graduated high school fifteen years ago, included several stints in New York—and a memorable part in an off-Broadway production—and various jobs in at least a dozen cities around the U.S.

“I’ll make sure Elvis is healthy—and not missed by some family. If he’s a true stray,” she said, “we’ll find a good home for him.”

We. James shut his eyes. That was right. He’d already agreed to help her find the dog’s owners. How the hell did he get roped into these things?

He knew how. She was used to getting her way. Not that many people argued with her. Hard to disagree with someone who looked like a pixie, was as bright as the morning sun and as cheerful as a singing elf.

Tonight was the first time he remembered her not constantly smiling. Usually she let life’s worries and problems roll off her back—whereas he took on those worries, carried those problems until he could find solutions.

But tonight she’d been different. More subdued. Almost cautious.

He hadn’t liked how down she’d been about her latest venture not working out. Not when she had so much to offer. More than even she knew.

But he couldn’t fault her for the caution. It was time he had more of it in his own life.

Time he put himself first, over his friendship for her, his feelings for her.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay here after all.”

Sadie froze, stared at him as if he’d sprouted two heads and told her he was considering taking on cannibalism as a hobby. “What? Why not?”

Because it was torture being so close to her, being around her. He shouldn’t have to put himself through that just so she could avoid her mother and the issues between them.

He shot to his feet, agitated and antsy and too keyed up to sit still another moment. “I have a lot going on right now.”

Not a lie. He always had a lot going on. Work and family commitments, his position on the Historical Architectural Review Board. And Eddie had asked if he’d be interested in helping him coach Max’s hockey team. He was a busy man. A busy, busy man who didn’t have time to be a masochist.

“And it’s not the best time for me to have a houseguest,” he continued, crossing to stand in front of the windows. He glanced at her. “We’ll still see each other.” Only those visits would be on his terms and held in public venues where there were lots of lights and people, and Sadie was fully dressed.

“I’m really sorry we woke you up,” Sadie said, sounding confused. “I promise, no more night wanderings for either me or Elvis.”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

She tossed up her hands. “Well, obviously I’ve done something to make you mad.”

“I’m not mad.” Though he’d be hard-pressed to explain the roiling emotions inside him. Frustration. Bitterness. A sense of impatience, as if he had an opportunity to do…something with himself. With his life. That he was missing out.

“You’re upset about something. What is it?”

He stared out the windows at the dark night, saw her image in the reflection as she came up behind him. She laid her hand on his upper back. Her touch burned through his shirt, seared his skin.

“You can’t hide it from me, Jamie,” she said, her voice low and husky. Intimate. Too close for his comfort and peace of mind. His willpower. “I know you too well.”

That was laughable. He didn’t dare so much as crack a smile, though. Not if he wanted to keep his thoughts to himself. He may be open with most things, but his secrets were his own.

Sadie wouldn’t agree. She thought that because they were friends they should share every thought that came into their heads. Which was how he knew more than he ever wanted about her thoughts on politics, religion and, worse, every aspect of her relationships with other men.

Even now she watched him with an open expression as if he should simply lay himself bare to her. Rip his soul open and let her see inside his heart.

He turned, his fingers twitching with the need to touch her, really touch her like a man touched a woman. Wishing he could.

Why cant you?

The thought, unbidden and irrational slid through his mind like smoke.

Why couldn’t he have the one thing he’d craved for as long as he could remember? Just a taste of all he’d been missing. She’d leave in a few weeks anyway. Since she wouldn’t be staying here, he could control how often he saw her during those weeks.

And when she left, his life would return to normal.

She’d always left him feeling as if his emotions had been twisted and turned, his thoughts muddled until he couldn’t think straight. Couldn’t think of anything but her.

Always her.

His mother had once described him as a straight line, going from one point to the next without any fuss or muss.

He wanted to add some curves, some angles, to his route.

“I’m not upset,” he said, stepping forward until their bare toes touched. He trailed his finger down the softness of her cheek, had the satisfaction of her eyes going wide with surprise and confusion. “I just think it’s time for a change.”