Clark walked beside her as though in a trance, but his grip on her hand tightened as though he was afraid she would run off. Not a chance. She wanted this and she knew he wanted it, too. And if something was holding him back, she wanted to know what that was.
His disappearance from the public eye and sudden obsession with free-climbing in exotic locales had worried her, not to mention his failure to return her calls. Was he still grieving Catherine's death? He needed someone to talk to—someone he could trust. Could she still be that person? Would she lose her privilege of being his ally and confidant if they slept together? No, nothing had to change. They would still be friends no matter what.
She let them into her condo, and slipped off her high heels with her free hand. "Do you want a glass of wine?"
He looked down at their entwined fingers and frowned as though he hadn't realized he was holding her hand. He slowly relaxed his grip until her hand was freed. "Do you have anything stronger?"
"I have some scotch," she offered.
"That'll do. Thanks." As she headed toward the kitchen, he walked over to the living room and turned in a circle. "You have a nice place here."
She smiled at him from behind the counter. She had an open floor plan so the kitchen and the living room were connected. "Thanks. I decorated it just the way I like it. One of the perks of living alone."
"I'm sorry I wasn't around for you during the divorce," he said softly.
"That's okay. You were there for me before the accident and gave me the courage to leave him." A glimmer of a smile lingered on her lips. "Besides, it was something I needed to do for myself. He was a selfish, abusive bastard, and my only regret is that it took me so long to divorce him."
"I'm still sorry. And you were always too good for him."
"You're biased, my friend."
"I'm just not blind like some people. You're something special, Jeannie. You need someone who could offer you the world."
Her heart clenched tight at his words. He left unsaid that someone wasn't him, but she heard it echo through the room. Picking up the two glasses of scotch, she walked into the living room and handed him his drink. "I don't need someone who could offer me the world."
His dark eyes locked onto hers. "Then who do you need?"
"I need someone who could offer me tonight."
"Is that really all you want?" he asked with something akin to desperation in his eyes.
"Yes, because I know that's all you can offer right now."
"But you deserve so much more than someone like me."
"Someone like you?" She shook her head in disbelief. He was a good man. Any woman would be lucky to have him. "Is it because of Catherine?"
"No." He tilted back his glass and emptied it in one shot. "I don't know."
"Please talk to me, Clark." She drew him to the couch and pulled him down next to her. "I know you're still hurting. Let me help you."
"The car accident… Catherine died because of me," he blurted out, pulling his hand down his face.
"Clark…no. It wasn't your fault." She slid closer to him on the couch and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. "The other car hit you. There was nothing you could do."
"If I'd remained clearheaded and not swerved into that tree, she would be alive today."
"You acted reflexively. That's what happens when another vehicle T-bones you out of nowhere. You can't blame yourself for her death."
"We were…having problems. Things hadn't been the same for a long time, and we'd had another fight that night. It…it was about you. You'd left that asshole the night before the accident, and I'd run to you to help. Catherine…she was jealous of our friendship even though I told her that what you and I had was purely platonic."
"Oh, my God. I'm so sorry, Clark. I trust you more than anyone, and I couldn't think of anyone else to call. I didn't realize she felt that way about us." Then the missing pieces fell into place. "Is that why you shut me out? Is that the issue you were working through?"
"Yes. I was in shock and not thinking straight. Please forgive me," he implored. "And it wasn't your fault. You did the right thing by calling me that night. I just wish I hadn't gotten so frustrated with Catherine. I let her leave the world angry and sad."
"And now you're afraid that being with me will be a betrayal of her memory," Jeannie whispered.
"Yes…but it's not true. What's happening now is between the two of us. We've never felt this way toward each other before."
"If you believe that, you need to let go of your guilt. Can you try?"
"For the first time since the accident, I feel like I can." He turned to look at her, their faces mere inches from each other. "Can you help me?"
"Yes, Clark. Come back to me. I want my friend back."
"But if we do this, would we be risking our friendship?"
"I'm not ready for a serious relationship, but I'm not interested in cheap flings. I would rather be with you. Someone I like and respect. Wouldn't you?"
There was heat in his eyes and he held himself stiff as though to stop himself from reaching out for her. But he didn't need to. She went to him. Jeannie gently cradled his handsome face in her hands and planted a soft, lingering kiss on his mouth.
When he sighed with something like relief and the tension drained from his body, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him like she'd been wanting to for so long. With a groan, Clark swiveled his torso so they were pressed chest to chest and deepened the kiss. Her insides melted as his tongue swept her mouth and slicked against hers.
She unbuttoned his shirt, and his hands came around and slid down the zipper on the back of her sundress. Soon he sat in front of her with his chiseled chest and tight stomach bare for her. She pulled away from him and stared. He was glorious, and she wanted to see the rest of him. But when he knelt in front of her to drag her dress off, leaving her in her lacy lingerie, she had to fight the urge to cover herself. Still, when Clark's eyes burned across her skin, she sat up proudly.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked in a near growl, the muscles in his neck pronounced as he held himself in check.
"Yes. I want you, Clark."
With a helpless, hungry sound, he crushed his mouth against hers again and kissed her without restraint, his hands traveling up and down her body. She shivered against the overload of sensations, and he immediately backed off.
"Are you cold?" he said, rubbing his hands over her arms.
"No. And stop doing that."
"Stop doing what?" He froze on the spot, stopping everything he was doing.
"Stop taking your lips off me."
With a low rumbling chuckle, Clark picked her up in his arms. "Bedroom?"
"That way," she sighed. Damn, he was so sexy. It was dreamy to be carried like she weighed next to nothing.
When they got to their destination, he gently set her down on top of the bed and climbed on next to her. "You are so beautiful."
"So are you," she whispered.
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I'm beautiful?"
"Yes. Didn't you know?"
"Well, you're the first to tell me that." A cocky grin lit up his face. "People usually tell me I'm hot."
She laughed, delighted by his playfulness. She loved that they could be themselves even when they were nearly naked with each other. "That's because you are. Now make love to me, hottie."
His smiling lips met hers in a soft kiss that soon morphed into a passionate possession. She fumbled with his belt. She wanted nothing between them. He took over and efficiently removed his pants and boxers, but before he threw his pants on the floor, he grabbed his wallet from his back pocket and tossed a packet of condoms onto her nightstand.
"You're overdressed," he growled, and proceeded to dispose of her bra and panties. When she was naked, his eyes roamed her body with a feral gleam.
Then there was no more talking.
Log in or create an account to read the next chapter of "Bachelor Auction with Benefits"
Every month we select a new title from one of our authors so that you can discover new stories, locations and genres for free.