“‘Wasn’t all that great,’” he was echoing to himself. “Yeah, I’m going to need you to explain that.”
Oh boy. She wracked her brain for a legitimate gripe. “Well it was over pretty fast and—” She broke off when his eyebrows shot up so far they vanished into his hair.
“It was over pretty fast?” he repeated, so obviously stunned at this tidbit that she had to laugh.
“You’re starting to sound like a parrot,” she said.
“Just coming to terms with what an asshole I was back then. But in my defense, I was sixteen and pretty stupid.”
And grieving. She had to give him that. He’d lost both of his parents in a tragic car accident. At the time, she couldn’t imagine the pain he’d been suffering. All she’d wanted to do was take his mind off things.
She was pretty sure she’d done that, at least for a few hours. First, they’d shared some pilfered alcohol, and then he’d kissed her. And oh how good that had felt. Until that night, she’d never gone further than a kiss before. Everything Sean had done had turned her on. Everything. Until he’d tried to slow her down.
But the alcohol had been like liquid courage and she’d been on the very edge of her first social orgasm. Slowing down hadn’t been an option for her and she’d pushed for more. She’d gotten her wish and he’d been sweet and gentle. He’d gone slow, so achingly slow that in the end, she’d been begging him. But they’d been drinking and he hadn’t wanted to go all the way. He’d been worried and concerned for her, but she’d pushed the issue, taking the lead, taking him into her body. He’d been buried deep and trembling with the effort to hold back for her when from the front of her dad’s truck she’d heard her cell phone going off.
She’d been way past curfew.
It’d been the call to bring her out, to dash her with the proverbial bucket of ice water. The fear of her parents finding out what she’d been up to with “the horrible, rotten, no-good O’Riley boy,” and she’d lost her mojo.
Not exactly his fault . . .
“I love you,” she’d whispered and she’d never forget the look of panic on his face. She should’ve suspected it then, but it’d still been such a shock when after she’d moved out of the city he hadn’t followed through with his promise about seeing her, not once. With all her ridiculously young heart she’d wanted forever with him. She’d called, written him letters, and she’d poured her heart out in each and every one. He’d never responded and she’d never seen him again.
In hindsight, she knew they’d been far too young for anything serious. They’d both needed more life experiences and maturity. Not that her heart appreciated the reasoning.
“I can promise you,” he said, “I’ve learned a whole lot since then.”
The words made certain parts of her anatomy quiver, which she ignored. “Whatever you say.” She turned from him and eyeballed the electrical panel. Just as she thought, she’d blown a fuse. She pulled it out and replaced it with one of the spares she had tucked into the panel for just such incidents.
The electricity came back on.
“Impressive,” Sean said.
“What, that a woman might know how to work an electrical panel for her hundred-plus-year-old house?”
“No,” he said. “I know how smart you are. I meant it’s impressive the lengths you’ll go to in order to avoid a real conversation with me.”
She blew out a breath. “There’s nothing left to talk about.”
“I disagree. There’s the matter of the ‘not that good’ thing.”
“Oh for God’s sake!” She turned to face him. “I take it back, all right? I’ll put an ad in craigslist and shout it from the rooftops. Would that make you feel better?”
“No. But getting a chance to make it up to you would.”
“In bed, I’m guessing.”
“Preferably. But a bed isn’t required.”
She stared at him and then had to laugh at his audacity. That was all she needed, to get too close and fall for him again. “Pass, but thanks for the offer.”
“See,” he said. “You did mean it.”
“Look, I’m sorry if you’re insulted by my memory of our one night. But I’m not interested in revisiting it or in having this conversation.” She moved around him and dashed back toward the B&B.
With him right behind her.
They stood inside the foyer and did their best to shake off from the rain. Unfortunately, the foyer was small. Too small, and sharing it with him made it seem to shrink even more. She inadvertently brushed against him removing her jacket and another bolt of awareness zinged her.
Back in high school, Sean had been lanky lean, almost to the point of being too skinny. But he’d filled in since then, big time. There was nothing boy-like about him anymore. The Sean she’d known was now all man.
Tearing her gaze off of him, she hung up her jacket and couldn’t help herself. She dropped her forehead to the wall and banged it a few times. It’d been a long day, and a longer night.
Sean put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” he said softly. “You okay?”
No, dammit. She wasn’t. She lifted her head. “Fine.”
“I’m sorry about that ass-munch who dumped you.”
She found a laugh. “How do you know he was an ass-munch?”
“Because he called you Charlotte.”
She let out another low, rough laugh. Better than tears. “Yes,” she said. “Because that’s my name.”
“You hate being called Charlotte.”
“That’s what I go by these days.”
He held her gaze captive. “Why?”
She shrugged. “It’s more professional, I guess. It’s a woman’s name, not a girl’s.” She inhaled deeply and managed to keep the eye contact, no easy thing to do. He could charm secrets out of a nun. “No one’s called me Lotti in a very long time.”
He surprised her by taking a step toward her, closing the already small distance. “I’m sorry if you’re hurting,” he murmured with a surprising amount of compassion in his voice.
“I’m not.” She paused and let out a breath. “At all, actually. Which is the problem.”
His gaze never left hers. “I’m still sorry. For a lot of things.”
The Sean of old had been a lot of things; wild to the point of being practically feral, as rough and tumble as they came, and way too smart for his own good. Deep in his own head because of his grief, what he hadn’t been was particularly aware of anyone’s pain but his own. “Who are you and what have you done with Sean O’Riley?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Maybe you’re not the only one who grew up.”
She knew that very well could be true, but the odds were against him. And she told herself she didn’t care. She had two days left of work and then she was off for two weeks. Two entire weeks! It’d been forever since she’d had any sort of vacation. As in literally forever. She’d gone right from high school to business school, and from business school to running the B&B for her family.
Her mom had happily retired to hand her over the reins and was on a cruise with her sister for the holidays. Lotti didn’t have any siblings, though she was as close to her cousin Garrett as she would be a brother. But he wasn’t around this Christmas. No one in her family was, so she and her mom had agreed to close the B&B for the next two weeks, allowing Lotti some desperately needed time off. It wasn’t a coincidence that she’d picked this time of year. Last Christmas had been a traumatic nightmare what with her dad’s passing right before and then getting un-engaged right after.