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It was a perfect September evening. A nearly cloudless sky allowed the stars to sparkle like magic. The white silk tents billowed gently in the breeze as the music drifted around us. I was dancing with the father of the bride. He twirled me around the dance floor while keeping an eye on his radiant daughter, my best friend, Susan.
"So when am I going to dance at your wedding?"
"Geez, Pop. Give a girl a break. Can't you be happy that Susan found someone and leave me out of it?"
"Nope. You're just as much my daughter as she is. Hell, you practically grew up in my house. You two have always been inseparable. What kind of father would I be if I didn't worry about both of my girls?"
"I'm fine Pop, so stop worrying already."
"You, young lady, are too independent for your own good. There's nothing wrong with letting someone take care of you once in a while. You should find a nice young man and settle down. There's plenty here. Just take your pick. That one over there sure is looking you over." Pop flicked his eyes at someone over my shoulder. He turned me slightly so I could see the man in question. "What about him?"
Time appeared to stand still and my blood began to roar in my ears as I saw whom Pop was talking about. There, on the other side of the dance floor, was someone I had thought to never see again. His blue eyes boring into mine, Luke tipped his blonde head in my direction and started towards us. I studied him carefully as he made his way across the dance floor. The years had not changed him much. His hard, angular features were more mature and his tall, lean form had gained some muscle, but he was still the same Luke I remembered.
Luke caught up to us and tapped Pop on the shoulder, "May I cut in?"
"Be my guest."
Pop threw me a cheery wink and handed me over to Luke. As his hand closed over mine, I felt the same jolt I had been trying to forget for several years now. Luke pulled me close, molding my body to his, as he began to lead us around the floor. I breathed in his uniquely male scent and tried to control my pulse.
"How have you been, Cat?" The soft question, just inches from my ear, put butterflies in my stomach as I tried to decide how to answer him.
"Fine, Luke, and you?" I was pleased to note that my voice didn't tremble.
"That's a long story, let's leave it for now. You're still just as beautiful as I remember."
His husky voice sent shivers down my spine. The music stopped just in time to save me from making a response. I moved out of his arms.
"Thanks for the dance, Luke. It was good seeing you again." I turned and started to walk away.
"Cat, wait." His hand slid from my elbow to my upper arm and held me in place. "I'd like to see you again. We have some things to discuss." He tipped my chin up, forcing my eyes to meet his. "Please?"
"No, Luke. It's no use digging up the past."
This time he didn't stop me when I turned to leave. I could feel his eyes follow me as I crossed the dance floor and went into the house. Susan caught up with me just as I found my coat and headed out to my car.
"Hey, where are you going?" She was slightly breathless and more than a little beautiful in her wedding gown.
"Home. It's been a long day."
"Did I just see you talking to Luke Henshaw?"
"You know you did." I could see the tip of one white satin shoe tapping impatiently as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"And you should have told me you invited him to the wedding."
"Would you have come if I did?"
I sighed and thought about it, "No, probably not. Why did you do this to me? I thought you were my friend."
"Oh, Cat, I *am* your friend. That's why I invited him. You two need to settle this and you know it. You're never going to have any peace until you talk to him."
"That is not true. Besides which, shouldn't you be dancing with Michael instead of arguing with me?"
"Yeah, okay. But think about it, please. Luke deserves to know."
Over my dead body, I thought.
I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. It had to be stress because I hadn't had more than a sip of champagne. I made my way carefully to the bathroom for some aspirin. After swallowing two pills, I looked at myself in the mirror. Long, auburn hair, large green eyes surrounded by spiky black lashes, straight nose, high cheekbones; not a bad face overall, but this morning it looked tired. Like that's unusual, I thought. With a sigh, I pulled off my pajamas and climbed in the shower. I had a lot to get done today and standing in front of the mirror wasn't going to make it go any faster.
After starting a load of laundry and loading the dishwasher, I carried a cup of coffee out to the deck to read the morning paper. Ten minutes later I was still staring at the headlines and trying to remember just when it was that I fell in love with Luke Henshaw.
I've known him forever. We were in the same kindergarten class. His twin brother, Logan, had been my second best friend. Luke was always there in the background of my life. Once in awhile we'd end up hanging out together but mostly I spent my time with Susan and Logan. Luke had always been busy with cross-country, basketball, and baseball in high school. If he wasn't working out or studying, he was with his girlfriend, Chrissy.
They were the golden couple: blonde, beautiful, and popular. Luke and Chrissy had started going steady in tenth grade and were practically living together by senior year. That's when it started, I decided, right after graduation.
Everyone was at Susan's house for her graduation party. We had all ended up in the big hay barn, dancing to the radio, and then later playing truth or dare. Why is it you put a group of kids together and truth or dare is the inevitable result? I had managed to stay out of most of the game, but towards the end Logan noticed that I was snuggled up high in the hayloft trying to hide. He had a grand time making me pay for that.
"Hey, Luke," he called, "truth or dare?"
"Dare," was Luke's immediate reply.
Looking straight at me, Logan said, "Climb into the hayloft and spend ten minutes making out with whomever you find up there. I'll give a yell when time's up."
If looks could kill, that damn Logan would have been dog food. Right then I decided he was no longer my friend.
"Hey, no fair!" Chrissy was already bitching.
"Sorry Chris, you know the rules." Luke's tone was apologetic but I could tell he was already moving towards the ladder to the hayloft.
"Well, who's up there?" Cripes, that woman could whine.
"Cat." Logan's tone was smug and superior. Logan *hated* Chrissy and Chrissy *hated* me. He had done it just to irritate both of us. Luke climbed into the loft and sank into the same pile of hay I was using.
"Hey, Cat. Sorry about this, but a dare's a dare."
"Yeah, I know. Just do it."
Luke rolled so that he was draped over one side of me and brushed my hair back from my face. He leaned down and gently captured my lips with his own. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation. I'd had plenty of boyfriends but not one of them made me feel like this. My skin was on fire and my heart was pounding so hard I thought it might leap from my chest. Luke's lips teased and nibbled mine, creating a molten pool of desire in my gut. Might as well enjoy it, I thought, and gently traced his lips with my tongue.
Luke groaned, wrapped both arms around me, and rolled us so that I was sprawled on top of him. His tongue claimed my own as his hands tangled in my long, red hair. I could feel his erection pressing against my crotch and I ground myself against it, causing him to hiss in response. One of his hands moved to my ass, pressing me down against him, while the other went to my breast, his thumb rubbing my nipple to arousal. I moaned in need and attacked his mouth again. I felt like I was drowning in sensation. So this is what it's all about, I thought, now I understand the fuss.
I had just made this connection when Logan yelled, "Time." I lifted my head and rolled off Luke, trying to catch my breath.
"Jesus, Cat. What the hell was that?" His breathing was ragged, his tone laced with wonder.
"Like I know? That's never happened to me before."
"Luke, get down here!" Chrissy was standing at the bottom of the ladder with a very angry look on her face. Luke was still staring at me with a look of confusion.
"Better go, the little woman calls."
"Shit, Cat. If she sees this lump, I'm dead."
"Well, I'd offer to help but you need Chrissy's permission first."
Grumbling about insensitive females, Luke swung himself over the ladder and climbed down to his girlfriend. Yes, I thought, that was when I started to fall in love with Luke Henshaw.
I went to start another load of laundry and heard the doorbell ring. Detouring to the front door, I wondered who it might be. Everyone I know just walks in; no knock, no doorbell. I pulled the door open to find Luke leaning against my front porch railing. He looked just as good in jeans today as he did in the tux last night. He was wearing a tired, sexy smile that made my heart skip a beat.
"What are you doing here?" The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
"Morning, Cat. Mind if I come in?" Luke brushed by me and stepped into the house.
"Please do." My sarcasm brought a wry grin from him.
"I'm sorry, alright? I've had a rotten night. Do you have any coffee?" Luke hadn't shaved and looked like he hadn't slept. I decided to take pity on him.
"Sure, come on back to the kitchen." I poured him a cup and joined him at the kitchen table. "Now are you going to tell me why you're here? And start with how you found out where I live."
"I asked Mr. Reed." Pop. I should have known. "Then I talked with Susan for a few minutes before she and Michael left."
"You talked to Susan? About what?" Full-blown panic was beginning to creep in. What had she told him?
"You." Luke was slouched in the chair, watching me closely.
"What about me?" My belligerent tone was unmistakable. Damn it, I hate it when people talk about me.
"I wanted to know if you're seeing anyone. How you're doing. Susan told me you haven't been with anyone in a long time. Why is that, Cat?"
I shrugged. "I've been busy. Why is this any business of yours?"
Luke scrubbed his face with both hands and dragged them through his hair.
"Catherine, please just drop the attitude and talk to me."
*Nobody* calls me Catherine. I've always been Cat. This was serious. I studied Luke and tried to decide what he wanted.
"Why did you leave me that morning? You could have at least woken me up and said goodbye." His searching gaze had me squirming in my seat.
"Luke, you were headed back to UCLA. I was going back to Penn State. You were still in love with Chrissy. What was the point? It was just a one-time thing between friends. I understood that."
"I was *not* still in love with Chrissy. If you had stuck around a little longer I would have told you that. I tried to contact you a couple of times, but you never called back. Why?"
"I've already answered that. Luke, what's going on here?" I was truly puzzled.
He got up and started to pace. "Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin? I thought you were experienced. You should have told me you weren't."
"Luke, it wasn't deliberate. It just wasn't important. I wasn't exactly thinking rationally at the time." My grin was rueful and for a moment he mirrored it. With a sigh, he shoved his hands into his back pockets and stood lost in thought.
"Cat, for seven years I've been walking around with you in my head. When I go to sleep at night, your laugh echoes around me. When I dream, I see the way you looked when I made love to you that first time. I wake up in the morning and I can smell your scent, feel your body wrapped up in mine. I'm haunted by the memory of you and the night we shared together."
I sat in my kitchen chair, trying not to fall out of it, while I listened to him purge his thoughts. He wasn't finished yet.
"When I got Susan's wedding invitation, I knew I had to come here and see you again. I had to find out if what we had was real or just some fantasy I've built in my head."
Stunned, my thoughts swirling, I tried to come up with a response.
"Luke, I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything at all."
His husky tone should have warned me. I looked up at him and felt my gaze captured in his. His eyes were the darkest blue I've ever seen. I've seen them that shade only one other time, a memory I'd desperately tried to bury.
Mesmerized, I didn't protest when he pulled me to my feet and gathered me against him. Tentatively he brushed my lips with his own, testing my reaction. When I offered no resistance, he settled his mouth firmly on mine. Oh god, I had forgotten how this could affect me. The first touch of his tongue was electric, sending a jolt throughout my body. I moaned and answered his demand with my own. Luke deepened the kiss, molding my curves to him. I felt my nipples pebble against the hard wall of his chest. He groaned my name and bent his head to kiss the pulse throbbing in my neck. My desire was spiraling past the point of no return. I wove my fingers through his hair and forced his mouth back to mine.
"Momma, Momma, look what Grams got me!" Her voice ripped through me. Dimly I heard the front door slam. Shoving Luke from me, I stepped back just in time to catch the blonde angel that hurtled into my arms. I scooped her up and covered her sweet face with kisses as her laughter peeled into the room. I buried my face in her hair and listened with half an ear to her happy chatter as I tried to calm my raging body. I heard the front door slam again and my mother appeared, lugging my daughter's overnight gear.
"Well, this is a surprise." My mother was looking from me to Luke, trying to decide what she had interrupted. The tension in the room was unbearable. Only Emma appeared to be unaffected.
She wiggled against me to be let down. I set her on the floor and watched her march over to Luke. Tiny fists on her hips, she threw her head back and looked him over. Cripes, I knew that pose. I resisted the urge to duck and cover.
"Who're you?" She wasn't the least bit intimidated by Luke's towering height. The belligerent demand was an echo of my own favorite tone.
Luke studied her face carefully then looked at me with a closed, flinty expression. "I'm a friend of your mom." His carefully polite voice did not betray his obvious fury.
She thought that over for a minute and decided to continue the inquisition. "My name's Emma. What's yours?"
He crouched down in front of her. "My name's Luke. What were you showing your mom?"
Emma's smile lit up the room. She just loves to talk about clothes. She put one hand on his knee and patted her chest with the other.
"Grams bought me a new shirt. I picked it out myself."
"It's very pretty."
That was it; he had her hooked. Tell Emma her shirt is pretty and she's putty in your hand.
"Yep. You stayin' for lunch?"
Throwing me a look that clearly promised an accounting, he agreed. "I'd love to."
My mother had waited for an explanation long enough. "Emma, why don't you take Luke outside and show him your new swing-set? I need to talk to your mom a minute."
Emma immediately grabbed Luke's hand and pulled him out the back door, chattering at him the whole time. Mom leveled a look at me. I could tell she had something on her mind. I waited in silence for her to come out with it.
"Catherine Antoinette Thompson, I hope you know what you're doing; for Emma's sake."
Cripes, twice in one day. This was one for the record books. "Mom, don't start. I really don't need you on my case right now."
"I'm not on your case. I just want you to realize that you are not the only one affected by your actions. Cat, I worry about you. You're so damn stubborn and independent. If you want to live your life alone that's your choice, but you have to consider what's best for Emma."
Many years ago I learned that it is just easier to agree with my mother. Her temper was more than a match for my own. Besides that, she was right and I knew it.
"I know, Mom. I promise you I will keep Emma's best interests in mind." She continued to study me. When she decided I was serious, she relented. With a sigh, she kissed me on the cheek and went out the back door to kiss Emma goodbye.
I puttered in the kitchen, trying to get my thoughts in order. When I felt like I was calm again, I went out to the yard to check on Emma and Luke. He was pushing her on the swing. Her infectious, happy laugh brought a smile to my face. I settled in the hammock, watching them play. Luke's smile was open and tender as he watched Emma swing through the air. It was easy to see that he was already falling in love with her. I continued to watch them and remembered the night that Luke and I had spent together.
It was two years after the truth or dare game. The old gang made it a point to get together at the end of each summer just before heading back to college. Logan and Luke were hosting the party that year. Like Susan, they lived on a big farm in the country. A party there wouldn't bother any neighbors. Logan had built a huge bonfire to provide light and warmth. Someone had snuck in some beer and some of the others were getting pretty loud. I have never been much of a drinker so I sat by the fire and watched the others have fun. Luke wandered over and sat down beside me.
"You're pretty quiet tonight. You okay?" Concern touched his features.
"I'm fine. Just a little tired. The strep throat really wore me out." I had taken my last dose of antibiotics just a few hours ago. I felt much better, but I still didn't have a lot of energy.
"Where's Susan? I'm not used to seeing you on your own."
With a rueful smile I explained, "I gave her the strep. We shared a soda before I knew I was sick. She's not too happy with me." He laughed at that.
"Where's Chrissy? I'm not used to seeing you on your own." I deliberately threw his question back at him.
"We're taking a break." His quiet response shocked the hell out of me. "It hasn't been working for a long time now. We've decided to date other people for awhile and see how it goes."
I apologized for bringing it up and he laughed it off. I tried to get him to join the others but he refused. Confused by his actions, I tried to decide why he was sitting there with me. I was used to sitting on the sidelines. Luke was generally the center of attention. Must be the Chrissy situation, I decided.
We spent several hours sitting by the fire, talking quietly and getting to know each other again. Luke talked about UCLA and his hopes for Stanford Law. I told him about Penn State and the graphic arts degree I was working on. We joked around and laughed at the others getting drunk. Eventually, the long day caught up with me and I could feel my eyelids droop. Luke noticed and pulled me to my feet.
"C'mon. You need to get some sleep."
He started walking towards the house. His firm grip on my hand insuring I would follow.
"Luke, wait. What about your parents?"
"They're cool. Chrissy used to stay here all the time." I could tell he regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. "Besides, your honor is safe with me." He grinned in apology.
"Damn, and I was sooo hoping." My tone was joking, but I wasn't kidding. For two years I'd been hoping he'd kiss me again someday. Spending time with him tonight had made me realize I wanted more than a kiss.
He shot me a curious glance and headed into the house. I called my parents so they wouldn't worry and followed Luke upstairs to his room. I'd seen it before but it never failed to surprise me. Luke was a neat-nik; everything in its place, the bed made, his clothes put away. I wondered briefly if he was from another planet. He rummaged around in his dresser and handed me a UCLA tee shirt.
"Here, you can wear this. Why don't you get changed and I'll turn the bed down for you." I took the shirt from him and went to the bathroom to change. When I returned, Luke had the sheets turned down and a glass of water had been placed on the nightstand. I climbed into bed and he started to leave. This was my chance; it was now or never.
"Luke, wait. Where are you going to sleep?"
He stopped and turned to me. "I'm gonna crash in Logan's room."
"You don't have to do that. It's a queen-size bed. There's plenty of room. I don't want to kick you out of your own bed." I held my breath and waited.
His face was amazing to watch. At least three different expressions flitted across it in rapid succession: surprise, hunger, and regret. Finally, he sat down next me and sighed, "Cat, I really don't think that's a good idea."
I looked him straight in the eye. I've never backed down from a challenge and tonight was no different.
He turned his eyes from mine and stared at a spot on the wall. Consternation in his tone, he answered my question. "Because you're my brother's best friend and I don't think I can trust myself to leave you alone. I can still remember the fireworks that went off when I kissed you after graduation. If I join you, I'm going to kiss you again. You and I both know it wouldn't end there."
I slid my hand along his jaw and turned him to face me once more.
"Then lock the door and come to bed. No strings; no regrets."
His eyes darkened to an incredibly deep blue as he realized what I was saying. Without a word he went to the door and locked it.
I sat in the middle of his bed and watched as he calmly stripped, showing me what I had only dreamed about before. His body was athletic and firm, wide in the shoulders, trim in the hips. He was already erect and he hadn't even touched me yet. My heart sped up just looking at him. I reached to remove the shirt I was wearing.
"No. Let me do it."
His husky command stilled my motion. I dropped the hem of my shirt as he joined me in the bed. He touched me as if I were made of glass, delicately tracing the features of my face. The first kiss was a mere whisper of contact that I felt clear to my bones. A gentle tug on my hair tipped my head back, exposing my throat to his questing lips. He explored my neck, leaving a trail of fire in his wake. My small noise of protest was ignored as he moved away. His hands slid under the hem of my shirt and began their own gentle exploration. I moaned when his fingers brushed my nipple. Slowly he raised the shirt and peeled it from my body. My nipples pebbled as I watched his eyes explore my naked form.
"I have never seen anything more beautiful."
His soft gentle words were reflected in his eyes. I felt my feelings for him coalesce and I knew, in that moment my heart was his.
I wrapped one hand around the back of his neck and drew him to me. With a groan he crushed me beneath him. Tenderness was replaced with passion and hunger as our mouths mated wildly. His skin burned under my fingers as I explored his body. He shuddered when I wrapped my hand around his erect length. It felt like velvet steel and I wondered at the contrast. He drove all thought from my head as his mouth played over my breasts. His hands were busy elsewhere, pushing my need higher. What little control I had was shattered into nonexistence as he touched my throbbing clit. I hissed at him in response and forced his mouth back to mine. I opened my legs and ground urgently against him. Recognizing my wordless plea, he positioned himself at my entrance.
He hesitated briefly, "Cat, are you protected?" At my nod, he thrust into me. I wrapped my legs around him, wincing slightly as he tore through my barrier. Buried deep within me, Luke froze and looked at me in stunned amazement.
"Cat?" His soft question was filled with disbelief.
"Luke, don't stop. *Please*"