Second Chance Under the Stars - Chapter 1

Devi Kolleru stared at the view of the Manhattan skyline visible through the French doors of her hotel room and sighed wistfully. The impromptu weeklong trip to New York City to help one of her closest friends pack up his life had been a much-needed break from her own busy and sometimes boring life in the backwaters of Houston.

But tomorrow, she was going back home. And the fact was she didn’t want to say goodbye to Kiran. Even going through the emotional upheaval of starting his life over after a messy divorce, Kiran was the one man Devi loved spending time with. That hadn’t changed.

Neither had the fact that she’d been in love with him for well over two decades.

Kiran had traveled for most of his twenties and thirties, built a career as a CFO for a major tech firm, bought a house in Manhattan, lived an exciting life, married, gotten divorced and had more adventures than anyone she knew.

She, on the contrary, had remained in the little town near Houston where they’d grown up, content to look after her aging parents, running her old-age day care center, happy with the slice of life she’d made for herself.

Except her life felt empty every time she saw Kiran. It felt incomplete. No one else had ever made her feel like that.

The only saving grace was that, after so many years, she’d gotten damned good at hiding her true feelings from everyone. Pretending that being near him wasn’t a bittersweet torment.

This trip had been to help Kiran stitch his life back together after his divorce eighteen months ago. They’d spent the entire week sorting and discarding and packing away two decades’ worth of his life’s possessions so he could start anew.

The last thing Kiran wanted now was to look at any woman romantically, she was sure. Especially her—who’d always been just a safe, comfortable friend to him.

The sudden silence in the room had her turning and walking toward the very man who was sitting at the small dining table and taking the chair across from him.

After a week of packing up boxes upon boxes, Kiran had decided they’d done enough. They’d gorged on delicious pizza at one of those hole-in-the-wall places only a local would know, whiled the evening away walking around aimlessly in Central Park and, finally, arrived at Devi’s hotel room with a bottle of wine and a thousand thoughts clamoring to be said. At least on her part.

He had been unusually reserved today—even for an intense, introspective kind of guy.

Like right now, he was watching her with that quiet gaze drilling through her. As if he could read her innermost secrets.

Back straight, he had one leg over the other knee. A thick strand of curly hair fell forward on his high forehead. In the last two years, his hair had gone grayer, but of course, it only made him look better. There was more reserve in his eyes and he wasn’t as quick to smile as he’d always been. Not surprisingly, it only gave more depth to the man and Devi found him as annoyingly magnetic as she always had.

“What?” she prompted, noting his dark brown gaze moving over her face with a thoroughness that heated up her cheeks. Something glimmered in his gaze, just out of reach of her understanding.

He shrugged. Out of nowhere, a teal-colored rectangular box appeared in his palm. He slid it across the table, his gaze on her.

Devi stilled outwardly, even as her heart kicked a loud thump against her rib cage. How many times had she imagined such a gesture? How many times had she dreamed a scenario just like this where the iteminside that box would be a diamond ring?

“What’s that?” she asked nervously, trying to rein in her imagination.

“It’s not going to bite you,” Kiran said, with an edge to his tone that had her jerking her head up toward him.

“I know that,” Devi said, a part of her reacting to the quiet emotion in his voice. She’d met up with him once before when his divorce had just been made final. But neither then nor this past week had he displayed this…strange energy he seemed to be giving off right now.

He gave the small box another push with his forefinger.

Devi laced her fingers in her lap as if she could stop them reaching for the box. “It’s not necessary.”

Again, something shone in his eyes that defied comprehension. “It’s a small gesture of gratitude. And not just for jumping on a plane at a moment’s notice and helping me through a hard week.” He stretched out his arm, placing his hand palm up near the box, waiting for hers.

Devi stared at the long fingers and the calloused palm and the corded wrist…waiting for her.

Her heart beating loudly, she placed her hand in his. His grip was firm as he laced his fingers with hers, sending a jolt of electric current through her.

“It’s for more than two decades of steady friendship. It’s for standing by me when I was in desperate need…”

“Being there for you when you’re going through a rough patch is what friendship’s all about.”

“I know that,” he said, turning over her palm and running a finger over the plump veins on the back of her hand. It was an affectionate gesture, she reminded herself, a friendly touch. But every cell in her body yearned for his touch. Her very soul leaped up hungrily, wanting more. “You’ve no idea how much I needed your no-nonsense advice. But I…I should’ve remembered you more in the good times too. I’m so sorry for that.”

Devi shook her head and smiled. “Our lives took us in completely different directions…literally to the opposite ends of the country. I’ve never blamed you for that.”

He nodded, a sudden resolve in his eyes. Tugging at her hand, he pressed a chaste kiss to the back of it. Devi struggled with opposing impulses—of wanting to press her hand harder against his mouth and jerking it away. “I intend to not repeat my mistake.”

She swallowed. “You know where to find me.”

“Also, I’m going to miss you. And not just when I feel sorry for myself and you aren’t here to give it to me straight.”

Devi laughed as he intended her to.

“Now come on, open it.”

She stared at him for a moment longer, her chest tight with a familiar ache and a sort of joy too. Because the man who’d just admitted to making a mistake was the man she’d long ago fallen in love with. Slowly, she opened the box to find a pair of tiny pearl studs with tinier diamonds surrounding them winking at her from a velvet bed.

“I remembered you like pearls and diamonds together,” he said, warm humor in his tone. “The saleswoman kept pushing the big, ostentatious ones at me, but I told her you’d hate those.”

Devi nodded, unable to say anything past the lump in her throat. It had been ages since she’d received a gift from a man. Of course, she knew this wasn’t a romantic gesture. But still, it was from Kiran—and he’d remembered what she liked. For those reasons, she’d always cherish the gift.

Under the guise of putting them on, she stood up and moved toward the mirror over the console table. Her fingers shook as she tried to push her thick, wavy hair aside long enough to hold up the first tiny stud to her ear. After a couple of clumsy attempts, she finally had them both on.

She was about to ask him what he thought when she sensed him behind her. Tall and substantial and so potently masculine…

Her breath seesawed through her chest and throat as their gazes held in the mirror. She was about to tuck her hair behind her ears when his fingers met hers midair, about to do the same thing. Jerking her fingers away, she tried to steady her breathing. It was an action he’d repeated countless number of times when they were growing up.

As a teenager, she’d coveted the stick-straight silky hair her two younger sisters had, berating her uncontrollable curls. Kiran would tug on her curls until the strands stood straight and then release them to see them curl back and then he’d smile and say she had the most beautiful hair…

A fond memory she’d always cherished.

And yet, when he tugged on her hair today, it felt completely different. Maybe it was the heat of his lean, wiry body behind her, beckoning her closer. Maybe it was the warmth of his breath hitting her shoulder blades. Maybe she was once again spinning fantasies out of mundane reality because, well, she’d always been attracted to him.

Being forty-two hadn’t changed the tenor or intensity of her want. If anything, she understood her own body far better now and the need to touch him, to lean into his supple strength, to feel those strong arms wrap around her, to experience the hardness of the entire length of him pressed against her, those long fingers on her naked flesh…was imbued into her very cells. It was an ache she lived with whenever she was near him.

But she’d never felt her cheeks warm at his proximity like this. Or felt that heat uncoil low in her belly, or the urge to press her thighs together so that she could…

“Beautiful,” he whispered.

The curl he’d pulled popped back into place and Devi turned, desperate to cut through the tension before she betrayed herself.

But he was right there…filling her world with his broad shoulders, imbuing the very air she pulled into her lungs with his scent, enticing her all over again with the kind of want she’d learned to write off a long time ago.

“Thank you…” She cleared her throat and tried again. “For these. They’re beautiful. I think I…I have an early flight back home tomorrow, so I’ll say good-night.”

If he wondered why she was suddenly dismissing him, he didn’t show it. “Of course.” His fingers landed on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

It was a perfectly friendly thing, what she did next. Something she’d done hundreds of times before.

She rose up on her toes at the same time as he bent down and her lips, instead of landing on his stubbled cheek, landed somewhere else.

On his warm lips, to be precise.

That first contact was like touching a live wire. Every cell in her body came awake and alert and it was such a shock to her system that she tried to jerk away and the edge of the table hit her in the lower back. He caught her as she rebounded, but the whole thing took no more than two breaths as suddenly her mouth was at the edge of his and she was breathing so hard and then they were kissing…

Devi didn’t know who reached for whom this time. Only that the first accidental press turned into something altogether hungry and his arms were around her waist and she was standing up on eager tiptoes to get to his mouth better and he was kissing her back…

It was like a flame had been turned up in their bodies, and they just couldn’t get close enough, deep enough.

His kiss tasted like wine and chocolate and she felt as though she were standing in front of a roaring fireplace after a bracing walk in the snow.

Her arms went around Kiran’s neck as Devi clung to him while he licked and laved at her mouth, testing, teasing, softly, slowly, so mind-numbingly seductively…

God, she was kissing Kiran and he was kissing her back! She’d waited an eternity for this kiss, and damn it, she was going to make it count.

With an eager growl, Devi nipped at his lower lip, frustrated beyond measure. He groaned and the sound traveled through her, reaching the tips of her entire body, settling deep within. Then he was pushing her against the console table, his tongue flicking against hers, sweeping through her mouth in a caress so carnal that she moaned deep in her throat. He took that sound into himself too, and she was finally pressed up against his hard body. It felt so deliciously good that she rubbed herself against him…

His arousal was a brand of heat against her belly, his hands stroking her back and then lower still as if he was learning her curves, and yet it still wasn’t enough for her.

The shrill chirp of her cell phone fractured the moment as efficiently as if someone had poured ice-cold water over their heads.

Face flaming from how mindlessly she’d rubbed herself against him, Devi pulled away. Her body was still so drugged from the kiss that she stumbled.

With a muffled curse, Kiran caught her.

Devi raised her gaze to his and wished she hadn’t…because shock was written all over his face.

No, shock was an understatement. He looked as if someone had delivered an invisible punch to his gut.

“I’m not sure how that… God, I’m sorry, Devi,” he whispered.

Devi blanched and turned away. It would have hurt less if he’d told her she was the worst kisser in the world. Or maybe not.

Damn it, the entire world felt like it was upside down. Was their friendship now ruined forever? And if by some miracle it wasn’t, how was she supposed to face him after kissing him with such…naked hunger?

Could he read it in her face now—all the feelings she’d bottled up for years?

She turned away from him, as if searching for her cell phone.

“Devi?” he prompted.

“I think you should go,” she said quietly, digging deep inside herself for a reserve of the calm she was so well-known for.


“Stop saying sorry.” That didn’t sound calm at all. “Please, Kiran, you should go,” she repeated, and didn’t turn around until she heard the click of the door behind her.

Devi fell onto her bed with a groan, her fingers tracing the seam of her lips, still feeling the echo of Kiran’s lips, the rasp of his stubble against her jaw… It was a kiss she’d waited a lifetime for.

And it had been so good—knee-meltingly good, in fact.

But Kiran had looked nauseous at the very thought of kissing her—the comfortable, boring old friend.

Devi buried her face in the pillow and fought the urge to text Kiran. What would she say tohim even if she did?

Did you hate the kiss?

Is our friendship ruined forever?