Well, be still my fucking heart. The organ nearly halted and sprang from his chest. Theodora Lee Scott was a sight for sore eyes, but why the hell wasn’t she in New York? The shotgun in her hand was completely another story. She held it level and steadier than he’d ever seen her hold the thing, aimed straight at his chest just like he’d taught her. One twitch of the finger and Lex was a dead man. He could only imagine what Thea saw in front of her. A man or creature from the lagoon had crawled inside what looked to be her bedroom window and ended up in her kitchen fixing a fucking sandwich. He hadn’t shaved or properly bathed in so long he was sure he looked just as rank as he smelled. Lake water would only go so far.
Shoving the shotgun closer, Thea moved her aim. “I said put your hands up.” Thea’s voice held a slight tremble of fear. No doubt, she’d shoot his ass if she had to, but Lex heard the small quiver and confusion laced within that melodic voice. It’d been damned near ten years since he’d heard it and even longer since he’d had the pleasure of hearing her laughter. Slowly, Lex raised his hands up and over his head. He watched as Thea released a breath and calmed ever so slightly. A smart man would speak up now because she’d at least recognize his voice—remind her of who he was, who he had been … and then tan her hide for having the balls to fall in love with someone else and leave him in her past.
Her eyes darted around, taking in the room and the food on the counter.
“What the hell are you doing here, you damned thief?” Bold words from the woman who’d stolen his ability to breathe every time she so much as looked at him. However, he wasn’t a thief—okay … well, if life gave you lemons—but he’d never steal from family. And that was what Thea and Earl had always been for him. Earl had always been there for him when his father was locked up and his mother out with whatever man was paying for her coke at the time. Old Earl, steady and dependable; sure and strong. Lex knew his mistake the second he’d hopped through the window, anticipation eating him up from the inside out. His first stop once he’d made it back into town should have been Earl’s place—home, but even then, he hadn't expected to see Thea. She had left for college ago with big plans for city living as a journalist or a reporter, a new man at her side and a fat ass rock on her finger. He’d learned her plans had changed and she’d fast tracked her way through medical school.
So, what the hell is she doing here now? At the thought, Lex glanced at her left hand—bare. Oh, shit, what happened to Mr. Three Piece Suit and his diamond? Lex made to reach for the pink and purple treasure Thea had gifted him some fifteen years ago, but the barrel of the shotgun in his face stayed his hand.
Lex cleared his throat, neglect and liquor roughing it up. “Thea … Thea-bear—” Her gasp gave him pause. He caught the slight tremor in her hand and the shotgun wavered and lowered a fraction. He almost smiled at her deepening frown from the use of her nickname. Of course, she was pissed at his ass. He left without a proper good-bye, and after she offered him her virginity, too. She’d run away, red-faced and teary-eyed at his refusal. No man would ever be worthy of lil Thea-bear, especially not uneducated, poor, white trash such as himself. Even so, she’d been a child. Too young to understand the gift she was offering or the fool she was offering it to. Lex took her in from her delectable head to her plum red painted toes. Just as he’d remembered her, she possessed her mother’s striking features. Soft golden eyes the color of amber in sunlight, smooth milk chocolate skin, and a riot of jet black unruly curls atop her head.
Fuck, has she always been this beautiful? He recalled the young child she’d been all those years ago and the young woman she’d grown into as he watched from a distance. Now, in front of him stood a beautiful, mature adult poised with a shotgun aimed to kill. And still, all he could see was her beautiful hour glass figure with a bit more weight on the bottom than top, just as he liked it, the spark of intelligence in her eyes, and the perfect way she held that damned gun just like he’d taught her. She’d protect herself, she’d stay safe even if it meant taking a life.
Lex lowered his arms and shuffled as she in turn took him in. What did she see? He glanced past her at himself in the mirror hanging in the wall. His blond mountain man beard tinted brown from lake water, his tanned, dirt smudged skin, and he for damned sure smelled. His once blue eyes were bloodshot with enough bags beneath them to carry the burdens he supported on his shoulders. Peering down at his clothes, he recoiled at the sight of a moth-eaten T-shirt, muck-crusted pants, and mud caked boots.
Lex glanced up to speak, to come up with some semblance of an apology, but Thea beat him to it.
Wide, golden eyes met his. “Lex? You crazy son of a—”
He chuckled, but the noise from his chest sounded more like a growl. “Watch that sweet little mouth now, Thea-bear. Good girls don’t cuss.” His voice lowered, his body laxer now that he no longer faced death by way of shotgun. Though Thea’s tense posture told him that she was not having it, Lex continued. “What have you been up to, girl? Don’t you have some man waiting for you in a church at the end of an isle?” He smiled, enjoying the slight wrinkle of her lightly freckled nose as she grimaced.
Holding the shotgun with one hand on her hip, she drawled, “Well, look what the dogs dragged in.” Tilting her head forward, she sniffed the air. “Ugh, what the hell? Have you actually been out rolling with dogs?”
He grinned, white teeth gleaming in the night. “Yup.” The sound of sirens blared in the background interrupted anything else he would say. Still, he noticed that she didn’t confirm or deny his questions about her fiancé.
Thea cocked a brow. “That your doing, too?”
“Them sirens? Last I heard rolling with dogs wasn’t illegal?” He shrugged. “But, maybe.” Silence ensued for a moment before she placed the shotgun down on the table beside her.
“Why in the hell are you here stinking to high hell?” He grinned again. “And why did you take care of your teeth and nothing else?” Disdain lit her eyes as she took him in again.
“Aw, Thea-bear,” Lex turned and picked up his abandoned food, “don’t look at me like that.” He hated when she was livid with him and though it was more times than not, Lex had honestly tried to keep Thea happy. Her crush on him in her youth had swayed quite a few of his choices, keeping him on a better path than what was expected of him. What was that saying about a good woman?
“How should I look at you?” With his back to her, he couldn’t read her expressions, but her voice said all—disappointment. “You’ve been gone so long, Lex. I didn’t even recognize you.”
At that he turned.
“Well,” he said around a mouth of turkey and white bread, “how could you?” He gestured to his unkempt body. Lex strolled to a barstool and plopped down. Stuffing more food in his face, he swallowed fast and watched as Thea cleaned up his mess.
Thea closed the jar of mayo and picked up the bag of bread. “And what’s that all about?”
“What’s what all about?” Lex admired her backside as she cleaned. She sure had grown into a beautiful woman, but he’d always expected her to.
She opened the fridge and shoved his mess back inside. Turning around, she crossed her arms over her chest and sighed. “I’m surprised you even remember me it’s been so damned long.”
“Oh,” Lex let his eyes roam her body, “I remember you all right.”
Heat flared to life in her eyes and she fidgeted under his intense perusal. With a spark of anger, she declared, “You don’t recall shit about me.”
“Shit, I remember. I remember you almost got fired for giving me free Colas.” Lex grinned. He'd been poor as hell back then, unable to afford a seventy-five-cent soda with his boys before they'd head up to the lake. Thea had always smiled, a sweet pink blush spreading across her face as he dug through his empty jeans pocket pretending to look for money he knew wasn't there. She'd always push the soda toward him, a conspiratorial smile on her soft lips. She'd been a little beauty back then as well—a mass of dark, springy curls, eyes the color of fresh honey, a slim figure he’d attributed to her tomboy ways, and the sweetest smile a boy had ever seen. But she’d been too young, too unexperienced; she was only twelve to his sixteen. Of course, he’d never looked at her in a sexual way back then, but now as she stood in front of him—tall, voluptuous, and, earlier, ready to blow a hole in his chest with that shotgun—his dick ached.
“A lot of good it did me.” She scowled and propped her hip on the table beside her. Crossing arms over her chest, she glared at him. “Abbot cussed me out nine ways to Sunday. And what happened to you? Not a damn thing. Paw Paw grounded me for two weeks behind that. Yet, you,” she motioned to him, “kept running with the boys, fishing down by the lake while I was stuck in my room the last two weeks of the damn summer.” Lex felt her ire. Those beautiful honey-colored eyes narrowed at him as if they could launch a missile. “After that, you never set foot in the place again.” She didn't know the shit he'd taken from Abbott or even Earl. No one believed that he'd gotten the cola past hawk-eyed Thea. He'd swore up and down he'd stolen the cola, but they all knew better. Thea had been punished and Lex banned from the store.
“Hell, I saw Abbott at the bar earlier.” Lex growled. “That Blackwater bastard is still calling me a thief. Shit, everyone in town knew me and my family were dirt poor. The second Abbot saw me with that soda, he’d come gunning for me, calling me all sorts of names and shit.” He wouldn’t tell her the same thing happened earlier tonight and that that name was pimp.
Thea grunted. “Then they should’ve believed you. They should believe that you would steal it since you didn’t have the fucking money to buy it.”
He had lied to Abbott, telling him he’d stolen the soda to keep Thea out of trouble, but no one got anything past her in that store, and Abbot had known the truth. He’d even sensed there was a crush brewing for Lex in little Thea back then and he aimed to nip it in the bud.
Once Abbott got it in his mind that Thea was showing any favor to Lex, there’d been nothing Lex could do. And admitting he was a coward, he'd been glad Abbott had banned him from the store. He hadn't had the courage to face her again. He'd never take a thing other than food to eat when he'd had nothing.
“You are a damned thief.”
Lex eyed her; her words no doubt had their intended effect. Anger flared to life in his blue gaze.
“I ain't never stolen a thing from you, Thea.” His intense stare bore through her, heating the space between them. “Not now. Not ever.” He slashed a hand through the air.
He watched, confounded as tears formed in her gem-colored eyes. He craved to reach out to her, to hold and soothe her. He loathed her tears; his fear of hurting her was part of the reason he'd left in the middle of the night.
“But you did, Lex. You stole my heart and then left town with it. I haven't been whole since the day you ran away.”
Lex’s head spun. What the hell had she just admitted to him? He always knew she had a little crush on him in the past, but had her feelings grown over time? Was it even possible that his little Thea-bear still loved him? She'd confessed her love for him on a small, pink, heart-shaped piece of paper complete with a check yes if you like me. Lex had found the letter endearing. At that time, he'd been staying with Earl and Thea for two weeks and feared he'd fuck up a good thing if he responded; a warm home and food in his belly caused him to pretend he never received the note. For weeks, Earl tried to figure out Thea's sudden depression, all while Lex feigned ignorance. There was no way he'd ever been or would ever be deserving of her love.
Thea shook her head, tears tracking down her face. “Of course you didn't know. You never noticed me for anything other than Earl’s granddaughter and a free soda dispenser.” He opened his mouth to speak, but was greeted with a towel thrown in his face. “You stink of dirt and liquor. Take a shower and sleep on the couch tonight. I'm sure Earl will be happy to see you in the morning.” Swiping at her eyes, she turned and headed away from him.
He stood, and moved toward her. “Thea, wait—” Thea’s retreating form stopped, yet Lex still felt at a loss for words. “I didn't just leave.” She turned back, the look in her eyes conveying her disbelief. “I mean, I did, but it's more than just that. There was so much more going on, and—”
Holding up a hand to stop him, Thea spoke. “You don't owe me anything, Lex. And you never did.”
She walked away from him, leaving him alone in the dark house. Moonlight streaked the now empty hallway, her lingering sweet scent the only evidence left of her presence.
Dropping the towel, Lex used the wall to keep him upright. Thea admitted her feelings to him again, and now after ten years would he turn her away? Lifting his head, he thumped it into the wall. Again and again he did this until the image of her tear-streaked face vacated his brain. He never meant to hurt her … on the contrary, he meant to protect her from the rumors that would spread if anyone ever got wind that poor white trash such as himself had taken advantage of the beautiful, smart Theodora Lee Scott.
Smart. Pushing away from the wall, Lex made his way down the hallway into the door she disappeared into. Only after he twisted the door knob and pushed the door open did he wonder if there was a man on the other side of that door with her. The absence of a ring on her finger didn’t mean she was single, just that she was no longer engaged. The thought of Thea no longer attached caused his heart to pitter patter like a fucking teen about to get his first damned kiss. Mine! his heart demanded. The stupid thing always wanted what Lex couldn’t have. Calm down, man, that wasn’t a warm and fuzzy greeting she gave you back there. Damned his head for always making sense.
Lex smiled at the sight before him. She sat on her bed, an e-reader in front of her face, a grim line on her lips, and her body encased in a cute pink puffy robe.
Thea lowered the e-reader, and eyes blazing she demanded, “What do you think you are doing?”
Lex couldn’t help but to chuckle at her words. As commanding as they sounded, her bright eyes and gloss-slicked lips called to him. Earlier in the day he'd thought to hire a hooker, his need outweighing common sense. But now as he stood before Thea in her ridiculously pink robe, fuzzy socks, and unruly hair, he'd never been happier to have been celibate for the last two years. While emotions ran amuck in his head, his heart thrummed to life at the sight.
Thea growled. “You trying to stink up the whole place? What? You gonna mark your territory by rubbing your scent everywhere?” She stood, the pink monstrosity of a robe gaping open a little, giving him a small hint of her milk chocolate skin.
His desire flared to life. Lex imagined himself atop her, thrusting deep into her hot, slick channel and licking that sexy spot just above her collarbone, the taste of her passion driving him wild as he pumped into her. Shit, his mind had taken a turn. In the past, he'd turned her down for sex—her age coupled with his station in life a perfect excuse to let her go, trying to do the right thing—but tonight, the lines blurred between the right thing and the thing he wanted most: Thea.
“Yeah, I'm gonna mark my territory.” Entering the room, Lex eyed her as if she were his prey. His gaze leisurely made its way down a delectable body she couldn't hide behind that robe, and plus, he'd already seen her form hugged tight in yoga pants and a T-shirt. She'd no doubt covered up just in case he found his way into her bedroom. As his eyes met hers a spark of long forgone attraction came to life. Even in his disheveled state, his Thea found him attractive. She licked her lips, a nervous habit she'd expressed in the past. Though he sensed her apprehension, he also sensed the underlying current of lust and longing. How long had it been for her? How tight would that sweet little pussy be and how good would it taste? How wet did she get and did she squirt when she came? He’d have to find out. Lex took a step back. Thea’s disappointed frown brought a smile to his lips. She still wanted him, but he couldn't touch her with such dirty hands. Before she was able to speak, whether it was to tell him to fuck off or fuck her, Lex spoke.
“All those years ago when you asked me to make love to you I said no, I knew it hurt you. But not as much as stealing your precious virginity would have. I’ve always had your best interest at heart, even when I was too stupid to know what that meant. But, let me tell you something …” He enjoyed the sight of her breasts rising as she took in each breath. “I’m gonna go in that bathroom, and I’m gonna take a shower, and when I come out I’m going to give you what you asked for all those years ago and more. So, I need you to be on that bed and ready for me when I get back.”
Without waiting for her response or even gauging her reaction, Lex turned and walked out of the room. Shutting the door behind him, he took a deep breath. He knew she wanted this and he damn sure wanted it. Desired it more than a dying man yearned for life. For years, he'd denied her, decided what was best for her without her input, but no longer.
Lex headed to the shower on edge. Tonight, he'd give in to her needs, and his as well.