Wait For Me
Melody Ashford stomped into the workshop. It was several degrees cooler inside than out and felt wonderful on her sweat-soaked skin. She’d stalked several miles from Main Street in her small South Carolina town outside Columbia to her boyfriend’s property. Vinny Banks. She wanted to kill him she was so pissed. She would if she could, too, if she weren’t so damned in love with him.
She hadn’t even bothered to grab her car keys when she heard the news he was back in town. The picture off her office wall, oh yes she’d snatched that up, but not the damn keys. That fact, realized as soon as she’d run out of the family hardware store in hurt-filled anger, hadn’t helped her mood any. Rather than go back to face the man who’d brought her the news of Vinny’s return, as well as the customers she’d left staring after her, she just kept walking. She had a very capable couple of employees who would take up the slack in her absence, and while what she’d done was hotheaded and not very responsible, it didn’t concern her as much as confronting Vinny did.
She gave her eyes a second to adjust to the dim interior then found her mark. She drew her arm back and hurled the picture frame across the room. Unfortunately, her target had lightning-quick reflexes and ducked before it could hit him. The wood splintered, the glass shattered and the picture slid away as it struck the wall. “Shit,” she spat.
“Hello, Mel,” he said by way of greeting. His deep, rough voice melted into her. God, she’d missed him.
God, she was pissed at him.
“Oh don’t you hello Mel me, you…you…” She couldn’t find the word she was looking for. This always happened. She’d get so mad that she was unable to say exactly what she was feeling, what she was thinking. It was why she took to throwing things sometimes. It at least got the point across.
But with Vin? Dear heavens, with Vin, it happened all the damn time and she sounded like an idiot. No doubt, looked like one, too. She didn’t want to be tongue-tied and yelling at him. She wanted to be tongue-tied and wrapped around him. This didn’t help her mood any either.
“How’d you know I’d be here?
Mel drew her bottom lip between her teeth and worried the edge. How much should she say? How mad would he be? “D-Dane Thompkins told me.” Her voice sounded small to her ears and she cringed.
Vin chuckled and shook his head. “Ah yes, good ol’ Dane. Good gossips and pot stirrers are always so hard to find. So nice to know I can count on him to excel at it. You two been dating long?”
She stood straight, to her full five foot five inches and braced herself for the argument that was coming. His conversational tone was just a cover for how he really felt and that was fine by her. If he stayed on the other side of the room, she could handle an argument. She sighed almost immediately and deflated a bit in the process. He wouldn’t stay on the other side of the room though. He’d come closer, and closer, until he had her cornered and then all bets would be off and she’d be down that rabbit hole. “That’s none of your business,” she stated with a finality she knew wouldn’t fly with him.
“No?” Vin queried. “Okay.” He turned slowly, and pinned her in place with a hard, heated stare. “Then why are you here?”
And there it was. The challenge. “Why didn’t you’d tell me you were coming home?” The question burst from her without consent. She knew she couldn’t tip her hand so easily, though in all honestly, they both understood why she was standing in his workshop.
“Why would it matter?” His casual stance and calm exterior belied his true feelings on the subject. She was going to be in a heap of trouble if she didn’t stop beating around the proverbial bush.
Instead, she growled in frustration and stomped her foot, for good measure. “Stop doing that. Stop answering everything I say with a question.”
“You’re the one who came in throwing things at my head.” He glanced down and bent to retrieve the photograph that had been in the frame. “You remember the day this was taken? Down at the lake with all our friends? You and me skinny dippin’ late into the night.”
It’d been the first time she’d worn a bathing suit in front of him, the first time they’d really spent any time with people since they’d started seeing each other. She’d thought her curves were too much for the suit, but Vin had thought them just right. He’d made her feel like the most beautiful girl, the sexiest girl. “Of course I remember it. You left a week later for boot camp.”
“It’s my favorite picture of us.”
“Well, now you can have it back.”
Vin shook his head. “Don’t need it. This one is yours. I have a copy in my wallet, but thank you for the gesture.”
“Y-you carry it in your wallet?” Her voice and her heart softened. She didn’t know why his words affected her as much as they did or why the idea even surprised her. He’d been surprising her for years. She should be used to it by now. “Why?”
“Now who’s answering a question with a question,” he remarked before turning his back to her once more. From her vantage point, she could see he was dismantling a gun on the table. “You know why I carry it. Nothing has changed on my end.”
Mel closed her eyes as if somehow that could shield her from the power of his statement. Yes, she did know why. “Why didn’t you tell me you were home?” she asked again.
When he still didn’t respond and kept his back to her, some of her defiance rushed out, leaving her deflated. She clasped her hands together, wringing her fingers around one another, anything to keep from reaching for him. “Vin, please…”
He sighed and braced his weight on the workbench. She’d spent a lot of time on that surface. It was rough and hard and could hold the weight of two full-grown adults without creaking. She and a few of their friends had helped him build it that same summer before he left. She’d been the only one who helped him christen it, though. “I’ve been home all of an hour, Mel. I’ve barely unpacked anything more than my duffel, and as you can see, I haven’t cleaned myself up either. Kinda figured you deserved better than the grime and grease and road dirt.”
“That’s it? An hour? But then how could Dane have known before me?” The last was an inquiry more to herself than to him.
Vin laughed, low and dark and without any humor at all. “I’m gonna guess he saw my bike as I rode through town and couldn’t wait to run over with the news that your prodigal lover had returned. I’m also gonna guess he wanted to see the look on your face, and I wouldn’t put it past him to be waiting just down the lane to see how long it’ll take before you leave here. He’ll want to console you again.”
“Things aren’t like that between us, aren’t that way. He wouldn’t do that.”
“Do what? Wait or want to console? He would. He’s not a stupid man, Mel. He gettin’ it often? He talkin’ marriage? Kids? Pretty white house with a pretty white picket fence?”
“Vin—” She started to speak but he cut her off and talked over her.
“You should take him, baby girl. You should take his ring and his bed and get over me. You clearly want something that I can’t give you yet.”
“That’s not fair and you’re being mean. He hasn’t offered or asked.” In truth, she didn’t want Dane. Never had. They were friends, of a sort. Nothing more or less to her. Dane had always wanted more, but she belonged to Vin. Always would.
Vin’s words were meant to sting, to hurt, to drive her away. She wasn’t falling for it. And that little word that he tossed in at the end? Yet. That one gave her hope. “You could have dropped by Mama’s to see me. She wouldn’t have minded.” She was always eager when it came to Vin. Too eager to see, to touch, to talk to him. Being vulnerable in front of him was always a problem for her because she couldn’t seem to stop. She was strong and independent with everyone else, but with him? No, she was putty around him. “How long are you home for this time?”
“You’re dating another man.” His voice was even. It might be considered neutral to someone not used to him and his moods. Lucky, or unlucky for her, she was one of the few who knew him better than anyone else. Why would—”
“I’m not dating anyone and it does matter. It always matters.”
When he didn’t say anything more, she whispered, “What would you rather me do? Sit around? Count the days and the hours? Mope? Cry? I do those things already, but yes, I go out. I go out with a guy, but it’s not what you think or what you think you might know.” She wanted him to say the words he never uttered but assumed she’d abide by anyway.
“How long have you been dating Dane?” he retorted, purposely ignoring her question. No matter how many times she asked, he could never answer that one. He would expect her to answer his though, especially since she hadn’t taken the out he’d given her. She was just too damn stubborn to take the easy way.
“I keep telling you it’s not like that. How did you know about him anyway? Do you have spies in town, Vin?” Some of her defiance came back and wouldn’t allow her to back down again. “Why does it matter how long you’re home for? Why does it matter if I’m seeing someone? It’s not like you’re here.” She stomped her foot in frustration. Her last statement was a cheap shot and one she shouldn’t have given voice to. She knew why he wasn’t around, at least in general, and it made her look petty.
“No, I’m not here and I don’t want you sad, but you know what…” Vin looked down and shook his head. Just short twitches really, as if he couldn’t quite figure something out. “Dump him.” It was simply stated, unemotional. It wasn’t a command or an ultimatum, but Mel felt the words all the way down to her toes. And he once again, ignored her questions.
She wasn’t the only one who’d tipped her hand though. He was doing it too and there was only one way this ended. Her flat on her back with her legs wrapped around him.
“Vin, c’mon…” He turned and held her with that uncompromising stare that never failed to get to her. His bright eyes, deep set against his dark tanned skin, stood out like blue flames burning through charcoal. If she’d paid attention when he first turned around, she’d have seen the streaks of dirt across his face and neck that were evident to her now.
“If it’s not serious, Mel, if it’s not like that, dump him.” He took a step in her direction and she took a startled step back. He smirked. “That’s what I thought. Go on. Get outta here. I’ll stop in to see you before I head out again.”
He was angry with her, and while he really didn’t have a right to be, she understood why he was. She was his. She’d always been his. “No you won’t,” she accused. “You never do. How long are you home for?” she asked again.
“I’ll come by and see your mama soon too, but tell her I said hi.”
From the moment her mama had met him, he’d been the favorite. Of all the guys Mel had dated over the years, Vin had always been the one her mother liked best. “Stop ignoring what I say.” Then again, he was always her favorite, too.
“It’s for the best, baby. We both know that. Go on now. Run on back to your safe life and safe boyfriend.”
“I’m not some dog for you to order around. Goddammit, Vinny…” She shrank back against the wood frame of the workshop doorway and slapped a hand over her mouth. She’d never cursed at him like that and rarely did she call him Vinny. She’d used that when they were kids and he’d hated it, but allowed her to use it because he liked her. She didn’t think he liked her very much at the moment. At the same time, she didn’t like him very much at that moment either. Loved him, yes. With every fiber of her being.
“Only you could get away with that,” he grumbled. “And no, you’re not some dog to be ordered around and I’ve never treated you as such.”
“Then why do you keep telling me to go on and get?”
“Because it’s how I talk. Because I didn’t have my upbringing drilled out of me at some Ivy League college. And because it is for the best.”
“Just because it’s Dane.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. The late-morning sun was warm on her skin and tendrils of her hair stuck to her neck where she continued to sweat in the Southern heat.
Vinny had an issue with Dane. Not that he didn’t take issue with any man she happened to be dating when he’d show up out of the blue, but Dane was special. The two had never been friends. All the girls wanted Vinny, but settled for Dane. Vinny was the bad boy and Dane had been the All-American and captain of the football team. He was the successful one with a free ride to any college and any life he wanted. Vinny was the wrong side of the tracks, deep-in-the-country boy. He was the brooding one, the quiet one. He was the dark, sexy-as-sin guy who ate the Danes of the world for breakfast then spit them out for lunch. He didn’t have the grades for the free ride so he was military bound, and as far as most of the kids in their town were concerned, military meant dumb.
Vinny was a lot of things, but dumb wasn’t one of them. “For the best is not a good enough answer,” she insisted.
If she had the willpower, she’d walk away from Vin and head back to town, but she didn’t. She was willing to fight for him, for them, for herself and for what she wanted most. To be with Vin. That was all she ever wanted, from the first glimpse of him years ago, she’d only wanted him. If there was kismet or soul mates or Prince Charmings, he was hers. He wasn’t perfect and he sure as hell wasn’t easy, but he held her heart and she knew she’d never get it back.
“What do you want me to say, Mel?” It was one of the few times she’d ever heard a plea in his voice. And he used his nickname for her, which touched her even more. He stood across the room from her, daring her to leave, daring her to stay. She stared him down, refusing to give an inch even though her insides were quaking. He knew why she was there and why she couldn’t leave. “You really want an answer to your questions? Fine.” His voice rose, louder with each subsequent word. He pushed away from the bench and stalked toward her. Black cargo pants rode low on his hips and a gray sleeveless shirt hung loose on his upper body. Unlaced combat boots clomped on the sawdust-covered wood-plank floor beneath his feet, and as he got closer, she could smell grease, dirt, grass, and faint traces of metal. The chain he wore around his neck, his dog tags… He was never without them. He kept his hair cut military short and the heated look in his eyes kept her rooted to the spot.
“Uh, Vin, I…” What the hell was she going to say? She had his attention, just as she’d wanted when she burst in on him, and she couldn’t back down now or he’d know her for a coward. He scared her and tripped her up but he also turned her on like nobody’s business and melted her heart. She’d been half in love with him when they were kids in school. She’d started missing him the day he’d finally gotten his medical clearance letter from the Department of Defense and she’d cried for days when he left for boot camp.
From then on, each time he came home, she was elated and a quivering mass of need. But each time he left, she was little more than a broken mess. This time wouldn’t be any different, but when she’d heard he was home, she couldn’t stay away. When it came to him, self-preservation wasn’t part of her vocabulary.
“No.” The one word was curt, and somehow even shorter than the two letters that made it up. She wasn’t sure what the no was in reference to, but she closed her lips tight. He was a formidable man, and though he never physically hurt her, never would cause her harm, he damn sure excited her.
He stopped in front of her. Up close, she could see he had fresh scars that hadn’t been there the last time he’d been home. His nose had been broken again, too. Ugly scratches and scrapes slashed the side of his neck along with a few jagged cuts leading to his collarbone. She’d even go so far as to bet her next paycheck that he had a new bullet wound or two as well.
“Vinny,” she whispered helplessly. She didn’t know what else to say or do. He was silent as he loomed over her, gazing down with unblinking eyes. She reached out with a trembling hand, and with that lightning-quick reflex she had reluctantly admired earlier, he had her arm in a vise grip and her body slung over his shoulder. “Vin,” she protested, albeit weakly. “Put me down.”
He kicked the workshop door closed and walked with unhurried, measured strides back to the workbench. “Nope.”
“This is ridiculous,” she said into his back. “You can’t just go hauling women around like this.” Though honestly, she got a secret thrill when he manhandled her. It made her feel protected, cared for. Most women she knew would probably think it barbaric, and maybe it was, but it was one of his traits she loved most. She liked his He-Man strength and way of overpowering others. He was a physical man, strong and unbending. It was what had drawn her to him all those years ago and part of what kept her panting after him now.
“I don’t haul women around like this. I haul you around like this.” He set her down on the workbench, but not before he gave her ass a hard, stinging swat. “There’s a difference. And don’t think I don’t know how much you like it.”
“Because it’s me and you,” he answered with finality, and bracketed her between his arms.
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Melody Ashford has been in love with Vinny since she was sixteen. He told her to wait, come back to him when she was legal. Two years later she crawled into his bed and never wanted to crawl out. They spent one blissful summer together, before he left for boot camp and a life in the military.
Vinny comes back to their little South Carolina town as often as he can, then leaves again for parts unknown. The heartache when he departs takes its toll and Melody passes the time with work, friends, and casual companionship from men she’s known all her life.
If Vin were a better man he’d set her free. But it would kill him to let go of the one thing more precious than life…
Their love is volatile, and full of passion. No one has ever touched Melody the way Vinny does, but he’s never said the words, never asked the question that would ensure no one else ever had the right. He’s got secrets and missions he can’t share, and she’s got dreams of a life with him in her bed every night. Can they put both aside and simply love one another until the time is right, or is his request too little too late?
Publisher: Lissa Matthews
Genre: Contemporary /Erotic Romance
Length: 44 pages
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