Deck turned at hearing his name called in a voice he knew but hadn’t heard in years. A voice he liked.
A voice he missed.
A voice that made his blood run hot.
He scanned the relatively busy lunchtime wooden sidewalks of Gnaw Bone and couldn’t spot her.
What he could see was an amazingly beautiful woman walking his way. She was in tight dark wash jeans tucked in stylish high-heeled brown leather boots that went nearly up to her knees, a distressed, feminine, brown leather modified motorcycle jacket with an expensive-looking scarf wrapped loosely around her throat. Her long, gleaming dark brown hair shone in the cold winter Colorado sun, subtle red highlights making an attractive feature stunning. From under a knit cap pulled down to her ears, her hair came out in sleek sheets flowing over her shoulders. Covering her eyes were huge, chic brown-framed sunglasses.
Her full rosy lips were tipped up in a grin.
She stopped two feet in front of him and he stared down at her with surprise as, even in her sunglasses, her face showed fond recognition, warmth and a f**k of a lot more.
But he’d never seen this woman in his life.
And Deck never forgot a face.
But if he did, he would never forget that face.
Or any other part of her.
Then her grin turned into a smile, a dimple he remembered vividly depressed into her right cheek, his surprise switched to out-and-out shock and she leaned into him. Lifting a hand and placing it lightly on his shoulder, her other hand she rested on his chest, she rolled way up on her toes and pressed her cheek to his.
“Jacob,” she murmured, and he could feel her fingertips dig into his shoulder even through his coat.
That name, a name he allowed very few people to use, said in that voice, a voice he missed, sliced through him.
Deck tipped his chin and felt her soft hair slide against the skin on his cheek. His blood still running hot but his chest now felt tight.
“Emme,” he whispered, lifting a hand and wrapping his fingers around the side of her trim waist.
She pulled her head back; he lifted his and their shades locked.
She was still smiling that smile, that cute dimple shooting a flood of piercing memories through his skull. Memories he’d buried.
Memories about Emme.
“It’s been a long time,” she said quietly.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
And it had. Years. Nine of them.
Too long to see Emme again.
“How are you?” she asked, still not moving away.
“Alive,” he answered, that dimple pressed deeper and he knew, if she wasn’t wearing shades, he’d see her unusual light brown eyes dance. He’d made her eyes dance frequently back then. And he hadn’t had to work for it. She just gave it to him. And often.
“Em!” a man’s voice snapped.
Deck’s head came up and Emme moved slightly away, dropping her hands from him as she turned. They both looked at a tall, good-looking, well-built blond man wearing a mountain man uniform of flannel shirt, faded jeans, construction boots and jeans jacket standing three feet away, scowling.
Emme shifted to the man, her dimple gone but her lips still tipped up. She wrapped a hand around his bicep and leaned into him in a familiar way that said it all about who he was to her.
Deck felt that slice through him, too, but this time in a way that did not feel good.
“Dane,” she began, “this is an old friend. Jacob Decker.” She threw a hand out Deck’s way as she lifted her sunglasses to his face. “Jacob, this is Dane McFarland. My, um… well, boyfriend.”
Again, shocked as shit that Emmanuelle Holmes had a boyfriend, but not shocked this slim, stylish, stunning Emme had one, Deck opened his mouth to offer a greeting but McFarland got there before him.
“An old friend?”
Deck felt his body tighten at the man’s terse tone as he watched Emme’s head turn swiftly and her shades lock on her boyfriend’s face. He also noted her grin had faded.
“An old friend,” she stated firmly.
McFarland, not wearing sunglasses—his were shoved up in his hair—took Deck in top to toe through a glower.
He had the wrong idea.
McFarland’s eyes sliced to Emme and what he said next proved Deck right.
“What kind of old friend?”
It was the wrong thing to ask. Deck knew this because, even if a man had suspicions his woman just introduced him to an ex-lover, he should wait until they were alone to call her on it. He also knew this because Emme’s smile was not only gone, her face had grown slightly cold.
“The kind I’d introduce to my boyfriend?” she replied on a question that didn’t quite hide its sarcasm, her smooth alto voice—something among many things he’d always liked about her—having grown nearly as cold as her face.
Emme didn’t take shit from her man.
Dane’s glower subsided, he started to look contrite, but none of the cold left Emme’s face and Deck decided to wade in.
“Let’s start this again,” he stated, offering his hand. “Dane, like Emme said, I’m Jacob Decker. An old friend of Emme’s, just a friend from back in the day. Everyone calls me Deck.”
McFarland’s eyes came to him, dropped to his hand then back to his face when he took Deck’s hand. He squeezed and he did it hard, a challenge, a competition. His ludicrously strong grip saying either he didn’t like his girl having men friends no matter how they came or that he’d noted Deck had three inches on him and likely forty pounds, but he felt he could still take him.
Or it said both.
This guy was a dick.
He was also a moron. Just with the difference in their sizes, any man would be smart enough not to issue that kind of challenge or think he could best Deck. But the fact that those forty pounds Deck had on him were all muscle and McFarland couldn’t miss it made him more of a moron.
And Deck did not like that for Emme.
Unable to do anything but, he squeezed back, saw McFarland’s flinch, felt his hand go slack in reflexive self-preservation in order to save his bones getting crushed, and his point made, Deck let the man’s hand go.
McFarland flexed it twice before shoving it into his pocket.
Emme missed this. She was looking up at Deck.
“What are you doing in Gnaw Bone?” she asked.
“Could ask you the same thing,” he returned.
“I live here now.”
Another shock. Her family was in Denver and they were tight. She didn’t have a shit ton of friends but they were in Denver too. And she was the kind of woman he thought would settle early in a life she found comfortable and stay forever.