Sally is an enterprising young woman who is building herself a decent life. Satisfying work, good friends. But she’s never quite gotten over her first love, Fletcher. The boy she’d been in love with so many years ago, spent one fateful night with—and then he was gone. Without a word.
She’s recovered. Moved on. Built a life for herself. Life is good without him.
And then suddenly, he’s back.
She has no plans to see him. There’s no need.
Then a tornado hits the tropical island where she lives. And somehow, she ends up with the last man on earth she wants to be with—Fletcher. Just as the storm grows to a fierce crescendo, threatening not only her but everyone and everything she’s ever loved…
He couldn’t be serious.
The wind rose to a feverish pitch and howled about them, driving debris rudely into their little corner of the world. But for this split second, nothing else existed other than his words. They ricocheted wildly in her mind, mirroring the flotsam and jetsam dancing wildly about them.
Ride this one out…
He was still looking at her. The raw, sensual gaze.
…together? With the man who’d haunted her nights and her fantasies—scorching her ruthlessly, over and over again? He who’d claimed her virginity and her heart years ago, leaving her judgemental of all other men. Because no one else set her crazily on fire like he did…
He pulled the key out of the ignition decisively.
“We better get inside. This thing is building up speed.”
There had to be another way. For her heart—and for their safety’s sake.
“We can’t stay here. Not with…”
Suddenly the piercing shriek of metal screeching on metal split the air. An iron pole tore through the windshield casing with incredible ease, coming straight at her. In a split second Fletch raised his arm and pulled her close hard. Sally lurched sideways and collided with his chest. The rusty metal stopped just shy of her throat and hung there, rattling from the force of the accelerating wind.
“Now do you think we should go?”
She was stunned. If he hadn’t reacted quickly…
Pushing the car door hard against the aggressive wind, Fletch strained to keep it open. Grasping her hand firmly in his, he pulled her out. Then, moving his body in front of her, he bent into the force of the gale.
They ran together, shielding their faces as best they could. Climbing the rickety porch, Sally tugged the wooden door open against the storm. She managed to get inside, with Fletch fast on her heels. The door slammed shut behind them.
Safe. For the moment.
He peered around in the increasing darkness.
“Where’s the safest place in here? Where do you normally hide?”
“The cellar. It’s not reinforced, but it’ll have to do.”
Suddenly, she caught his gaze. She became aware that with the effect of the rain she might as well be naked. Well, he’d seen her naked before. And apparently it was such a draw he’d abandoned his hometown and run as far away as he could. She shivered, reliving it.
“You’re freezing. We have to get you out of that top, and into something dry.”
Something strange in his eyes. Why was he looking at her like he actually…cared?
He hardly knew her anymore. No, not true. In some ways he knew her very well. He had been an amazing lover, who delighted in every inch of her body—every hill and valley and peak. She had thought she’d die of pleasure. The boy who captivated her passions was not only in lust with her, but in love with her.
And then he’d run.
Now he was back, very wet, and standing in her kitchen.
But he didn’t know that the years of his silence had taught her well. Taught her that she couldn’t let anyone hurt her like that—ever again. She knew, from harsh experience, that you didn’t get to keep what you wanted. Or what you’d had, even briefly.
Her sketches had saved her from complete despair. Her bits of local colour, come to life. They were in a huge portfolio upstairs, safe, far from encroaching seawater. They were, quite honestly, her investment in her future. Her lifeline, in every way. Reliable.
She wasn’t going to give her heart to a man again.
Especially not this man.
* * *
He couldn’t believe that he was here with her again. With his Sal.
He’d been looking forward to this first delicious meeting ever since he’d decided to move back. Been planning it, in fact. Then the storm blew up and his schedule went all to hell. He had to get to her fast, appearances be damned.
His boss had exploded over the phone when he detailed that he was on his way—yes, pretty much into the eye of the storm, not away from it. Risking himself after some foolish urge, to make sure someone he’d made love to eight years ago was safe. But he’d had to.
A sudden smash jarred the house above them and suddenly the wind was closer, its train engine roar deafening.
“Shit! Sounds like something smashed through the corner of your house.”
She paled in front of his eyes.
“What is it?”
“My…my portfolio. My sketches. They’re in the dresser upstairs.”
He nodded. She’d always been amazing with her art. Her sketches brought vistas and people to life with a vividness that seemed to leap off the paper.
But… this was a hurricane, and they were just sketches.
“We have to stay safe, Sal. You can always do more sketches later.”
“Not these. They’re… my life’s work. There’s a buyer from New York, and upon delivery, I get enough money to set me up in my own studio. And…help Gram.”
Her grandmother. The woman who had been her only family. No wonder she was so upset.
He made a decision. One that could cost him. But he knew about lost chances and bitterness first hand. He couldn’t let that happen to her, not if he could prevent it.
“You stay here, Sal. I’ll get them.”
Fresh panic in her eyes. Maybe she cared?
“You can’t go. I don’t want you hurt…”
Abruptly, he pulled her close in the darkness. She fit softly and perfectly to him. Her unexpected warmth reminded him of the times that he just couldn’t get out of his blood.
“You go to the cellar. If I’m not down in five minutes, lock it, and wait for this thing to abate. It will.”
With that he turned away and strode towards the staircase and upstairs—where the living cyclone was venting its deadly, unearthly rage.
Thank you to Harlequin for the writing Round Robin and the initial setup of this story.