Ford’s body was shaking as he strode back to Elizabeth. “That took everything I had not to punch that conceited jerk in the throat.” He softened his tone and expression as he took her by the shoulders. “Are you okay? He didn’t touch you, did he?”
She shook her head, too stunned by Ford’s reaction to say anything. He was pissed. But was he really this angry because of the way Chad treated her? Or did he just not like the guy in general?
“Shoot,” he said, letting out his breath and scrubbing his hand across the whiskers on his jaw. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said all that. That guy just made me so frickin’ mad. I heard the way he was talking to you, and I couldn’t let that stand.”
“It’s okay. I appreciated it.”
“Did you know he was coming over here?”
“No. I just walked down the stairs, and he was standing in the kitchen. Scared the heck out of me. My phone was in my purse, and he was standing between me and the door. And then the stuff he was saying was really starting to freak me out. I hadn’t really thought about how isolated I would be out in the country.” She pressed a hand to her heart as she imagined what could have happened. “I’ve never had an unwanted man in my house like that. I mean, sure I’ve had my landlord stop by, but he never made leering remarks or insinuated that I should offer him sexual favors for fixing the garbage disposal.”
A growl sounded in the back of Ford’s throat as his hands tightened into fists. “On second thought, I should have punched that guy.”
“No. You handled it just right. Getting him out of the house and discouraging him from coming back was what I was trying to do. He just wasn’t getting the hint from me.”
“That’s what I was trying to do, too.” He frowned. “But I probably shouldn’t have told him I was moving in here. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t. Thinking, I mean. I just reacted. But I didn’t want him thinking you would be out here alone or that he could come back by when I wasn’t here.”
“I appreciate that. And I was doing the same thing by telling him I had a boyfriend.”
Ford’s lips pulled together as he eyed her. “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have a boyfriend?”
A nervous giggle bubbled out of her. Dang. She’d forgotten how many times that had happened to her the last time she’d been with Ford. “No. I do not have a boyfriend.”
She liked the way his lip twitched, as if he were trying not to smile. He cocked an eyebrow and offered her a sheepish grin. “Well, apparently, you do now.”
What the hell had he just done?
Ford was going for funny, trying to make a joke about him now being her boyfriend, but he feared that came out a little more serious sounding than he’d meant for it to.
Especially since Elizabeth’s eyes just went round, and she gave another one of those little giggles that he knew happened when she was nervous.
“At least as far as Chad’s concerned, I mean,” he said, trying to backpedal.
The sparkle in her eyes dimmed a little.
Uh…what was that about?
She was the one who’d walked away…er, make that drove away…from him. After what he’d thought was a spectacular weekend. Without even telling him goodbye. She’d made it pretty clear she was obviously not that interested in him. She hadn’t even given him her number.
Yeah, he probably could have gotten it from Brody. But then he’d have to admit that he’d felt something more for her than he was willing to consider. Even though he’d liked her from pretty much the first minute he’d met her.
She made him laugh. And something about her made him feel like he could be himself around her. And not the grumpy cowboy his brothers were always accusing him of being, but a better, kinder version of himself.
He’d fallen for her that weekend—fallen for her whip-smart sense of humor, her silly giggle, the kindness she’d shown her dog, the goofy way she’d bellyflopped into the water when he’d taken her swimming, and the soft kitten sighs she’d made when he’d pressed his lips to the deliciously smooth skin of her inner thigh. Which meant that it was probably a good thing she had driven away from him without giving him her number. Because she was too good for a guy like him, too sweet, too tender-hearted. He would have only hurt her in the end when he took off running. Which he would do. Because that’s what he always did. Leave before giving anyone a chance to leave him first.
He swallowed as he looked at Elizabeth, all the memories of their weekend now flooding his senses. Memories of her naked and straddling his waist in the bed of his truck, of waking up naked and wrapped around each other, of her naked except for a pair of strappy silver sandals the night of the wedding. Damn. Why did so many of his memories of that weekend have to do with her being naked? And now he couldn’t get the idea of getting her naked again out of his mind.
Bad idea, Lassiter.
Hadn’t he just reminded himself of why she was too good for him? And how he was only going to hurt her?
“I don’t understand. You just said that you think about me…” A hard realization dawned on her, and a knot of shame twisted in her chest. “Oh. I get it. You just don’t think about me like that. Because I’m, you know…” She couldn’t bring herself to say fuller-figured or curvy or any of the other words she used to describe her thicker thighs and wider hips. “I know you’re probably used to being with women who are more like my cousin, the real Elizabeth.”
He frowned. “First of all, you are the real Elizabeth. You’re the one I always wanted to be with. The only reason I agreed when Brody asked me to hang out with his cousin for the weekend was because I’d already met you and liked you. It was his mistake that he was thinking of Liz. Not mine.”
“And also, I do think of you like that. Exactly like that. I think you’re beautiful…” He put his hand on her waist and slid it over her hip. “And your amazing body is what has me thinking about that with you every day and every night.” He frowned and pulled his hand back to scrub it across his head. “But there is no kind of woman I’m used to being with, because I’m not used to being with women long enough to know what kind of woman they are. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m not the guy who stays. I’m the guy that women have fun with, then when things start to get too serious, I cut and run.”
“You mean you leave before someone else can leave you?”
Ford shrugged. “I guess.” He looked away. “Whatever. My point is that I think you’re remarkable. You’re sweet and kind and smart and funny. And so damn beautiful. I’ve never known anyone like you. That’s why I can’t let this really happen between us. Because no one’s ever made me feel like you do, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
“But I will. I know what I do.” He rolled away from her and sat up on the side of the bed.
“Wait,” she said, sitting up next to him and reaching for his hand. She pulled him back around, so he was facing her then pointed to the pendant at her neck. “Do you remember when you gave this to me?”
A sheepish grin played across his lips. “Yeah. I do. And I couldn’t believe it when I saw you wearing it yesterday.”
“You told me that this shooting star was to remind me of the night we watched the meteor shower. Which, by the way, ranks as one of the top ten best nights of my life. But you also said it was to remind me to go for the things that I want and to just do one brave thing at a time.” She pressed her hand to his cheek. “Well, you are what I want. And this is me doing one brave thing. I don’t care about what happened with the other women in your life. I care about us. And tonight. And I guess tomorrow. But I’m not asking you for anything more than that. Just one day at a time.”
She pressed her fingers to his mouth. “No buts. I’m not asking you for any promises. I’m not asking you for a relationship. I’m making changes in my life and taking risks. And this is a risk I’m willing to take. I’m not standing on the sidelines of my life anymore. I’m going for what I want. If it works out, great. If not, at least I tried.”
His brows knit together as if he were in pain as he reached up and touched her cheek. “What if I hurt you?”
She shrugged and drew closer to him. Her voice was a whisper. “What if you do?”
“I couldn’t take it.”
“I can’t take not having your hands on me, your mouth on mine. The ache I feel for you right now hurts way more than the pain you may cause me later.”
He let out another of his anguish-filled sighs as he stared at her, looking into her eyes as if trying to see into the very depths of her.
She held her breath as she waited for him to answer.
He didn’t say anything.
Instead, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, then crushed his mouth against hers. Instead of words, he conveyed his answer by satisfying his earlier desire of filling his hands with her and kissing every part of her.