Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #canada, #Torfino, #movie stars, #actress, #contemporary erotic romance, #erotic romance, #Hollywood
He must have felt her stare, because he looked up just then. Seeing his face without the camera in front of it took Simone's breath away.
His face was full of perfect contradictions: Prominent and graceful cheekbones sat above coarse stubble, suggesting he hadn't shaved in a few days. His hair—brown and spiky—was tousled and wild, but gave the impression of deliberate unruliness. His eyebrows arched with perfection that would bring a makeup artist to tears, and below their perfect curve, his vivid brown eyes looked out at the world with both intensity
and innocence. Boyish, but rugged. A tattooed bad boy who still called his mother and helped old ladies across the street.
Amidst the stubble, a thin goatee framed his mouth. The corners of his lip curled up into a smile that suggested both shyness and confidence. "Can I help you?" She realized she was staring. Her cheeks burned. "I'm . . . I'm sorry." He laughed, flashing perfect teeth and a dimpled smile. His cheekbones were suddenly even more pronounced above the shadowy stubble. "Nothing to be sorry about." He cocked his head. "I don't think I've ever seen you around here."
With any luck, you've never seen me at all
. "No, no I've never been to Tofino." He stood and extended his hand. "Jason Connor."
"Allyson Bishop," she lied, giving him her middle and maiden names. She shook his hand. She swore his thumb deliberately brushed between her thumb and forefinger, sending a shiver through her. "
No one there but crusty old fishermen and retired tourists
," Anne-Marie had said. Evidently Anne-Marie was unaware of one Jason Connor, whose presence seriously upped the Sexiness Quota of Tofino.
He scratched his neck under the camera strap, briefly revealing a little more of his tattoo. "So what brings you to Tofino?"
I'm supposed to be getting my act together and not getting into bed with anyone, but I
might be willing to make an exception for you, especially if you lick your lips like that again
"Just a vacation." She shifted her weight, not wanting to pursue that topic any further. She looked down by his feet. "What were you shooting?" He glanced down and gave a dismissive shrug. "Oh, just a flower. Nothing out of the ordinary."
She craned her neck and saw what he referred to: a tiny yellow flower nestled amidst the rocks and driftwood. "I probably would've walked right past it." Jason laughed. "I notice a lot of the things people walk past. I make my living that way."
She gestured toward the camera. "You're a professional, then?" He nodded.
Simone's chest tightened.
A photographer, not a paparazzo
, she assured herself. "So, weddings, that sort of thing?"
"God no." He wrinkled his nose. "I shot weddings for two years and swore I'd never do it again."
"I thought most photographers did weddings."
He nodded. "A lot do. But I can't stand them."
"They're stressful as hell," he said. "A friend of mine once said shooting a wedding is like combat photography, but marginally safer." Simone laughed. "So what do you shoot? Besides little yellow flowers on the beach?"
"Nature. Seascapes." His tongue absently touched his upper lip, and, before she realized she was doing it, Simone ran her tongue across her own lip. She cleared her throat. "No people?"
He dropped his gaze for a moment, hesitated. "Not . . . often." She didn't press. He wasn't part of the paparazzi. That was good enough for her. Looking around the beach, she said, "I'm here for a few days. Maybe you can tell me where some of the best views are."
Jason smiled. "Sure." He paused. "Though some of the best require a boat." Another pause. "There's a great place to catch a sunset down the beach." He gestured over his shoulder. "The sun will be going down soon, but you can still make it. I'd be happy to take you there; it's not far."
She returned his smile. "Lead the way."
Jason's mind raced as he walked down the beach with Allyson. He wasn't sure what to make of her.
She looked simultaneously exhausted and lively. In spite of the warm radiance in her smile, her eyes looked heavy with fatigue, her shoulders tight in a way that suggested a tremendous weight on her mind. He wondered what went on behind those deep blue eyes, but didn't pry.
Above all, and to his great surprise, he felt completely at ease with her. They chatted like old friends, casual and unhindered. Their conversation wasn't stilted with pretense and façades the way it often went when two people met, when each answer or comment was carefully considered before spoken in a concerted effort to give a good impression. No, there was an honesty between them.
He stopped from time to time to photograph this or that—a bald eagle on a branch, some scattered rocks that formed an interesting abstract pattern—and couldn't help but notice the way she eyed his camera. When they walked and it just hung loosely around his neck with the lens cap on, she was fine. As soon as he picked it up and took off the lens cap, her spine visibly stiffened.
What he wouldn't have given to take a shot of her. Her face was gorgeous, but her body made his pulse race every time he looked at her. Her waist formed an alluring curve that led his eyes back and forth between the gentle swell of her hips and her breasts. Given half the chance, he couldn't decide if he'd touch her hips or breasts first; both looked like they would fit perfectly in his hands.
He stopped and knelt, pretending to be focused on something on the ground, hoping she couldn't see he was really just pausing to give himself a chance to calm himself down. He prided himself on at least trying to be a gentleman, but his physical response to her wouldn't do much for his credibility.
After a moment, he stood and they kept walking. Up ahead, the old dock came into view. He gestured toward it and said, "There."
She turned in the direction he pointed, and his breath caught as the late afternoon sun highlighted her dark hair with flecks of copper. The wind played with
her hair, rippling through it as if taunting his almost irresistible desire to run his fingers through it.
Jason, Jason, come back to earth
. He took a breath, forcing himself to look away from her.
The dock, a sturdy but weathered holdout from a bygone day, creaked and groaned in time with the waves that lazily lapped at its ancient pylons. Jason rested his forearms on the railing and cradled his camera in his hands to take the weight off his neck. As she joined him, he tried not to pay attention to the lithe "S" curve her body made as she leaned her hip against the railing. It took everything he had not to stare at her, but he forced himself to be a gentleman. He looked out at the water. From the end of the pier, they would have a nearly unobscured view of the sunset.
"You do know where the best views are, don't you?" she said, her voice soft as she looked out at the breathtaking scenery.
Yes, and I'm trying my damnedest not to look at the best view I've seen in a long, long
. He swallowed hard. "Walk around this place with a camera long enough, you start to find all the best seats in the house," he said with a laugh that he hoped masked his nervousness.
She cast an odd glance at the camera, and then looked back out at the water. "I suppose you do. So have you lived in Tofino all your life?" He shook his head. "I came here from Victoria a few years ago and never looked back. After the business took off and I didn't need to be at the gallery all the time."
"You don't have to run the business yourself?"
"Not anymore. My brother handles it."
"He runs the whole thing for you?"
"Well, he's a photographer too." He scratched the back of his neck where his camera strap annoyed him. "But he runs the gallery, does the advertising. He loves that sort of thing." He glanced at her, rolling his eyes. "I think he's nuts, but if that's what floats his boat . . . ."
Jesus, that's a beautiful sound. I wonder what she sounds like when she—no, no, stop it
. She shifted her weight a little, looked at him. "Do you at least have a say in what goes on with the business?"
"Oh of course," he said. "It's just more his forte' than mine. He's more of a businessman than I am. We both take the pictures, but he deals with the nitty gritty crap."
"And sends you a check?" She laughed.
Jason chuckled. "Yeah, pretty much."
She paused for a second. "Are you and your brother close?" He nodded. "Have been since we were kids." He looked at her. "Do you have any siblings?"
A nearly imperceptible flinch flickered across her face, but she shrugged it away.
"A brother and a sister."
"You're not close to them?"
"My brother and I are close." She bit her lip and looked down at waves rolling between the pylons below them. "But my sister and I . . . ." She trailed off. For the first time, the air between them tightened with an uncomfortable silence.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
She shook her head and shrugged. "It's okay. It's a long story, really."
"You don't have to tell it."
"I don't think you'd want to listen to it."
He cleared his throat. "Well, I'll leave that up to you." A splash broke the silence, and they both turned to see an enormous Chinook salmon squirming in the air before crashing back into the water. She laughed. "I could watch them do that all day."
Jason smiled, silently thanking the salmon for its perfect timing. "My brother and I once tried to catch one in a net."
He laughed. "Yeah. We went out in a canoe with a big net, hoping we could catch one in midair."
"Did you get one?"
"No, but we did manage to catch a crab off the bottom." She blinked. "How long was the net?"
"The water's only a few feet deep in some places," he said. "There's a cove a few miles from here where it's only two or three feet. And the Dungeness crabs are right there."
"Really?" She leaned forward, resting her hands on the railing and looking down.
Don't look down her shirt. Don't look down her shirt. Don't
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow, grinning. "Wouldn't it be easier to just wade in and catch one?"
"Sure," he said with a shrug, hoping he wasn't blushing after almost being caught looking at her breasts. "But what fun is that?"
She laughed. The music in her laughter warmed him in spite of the cooling late afternoon air. To his embarrassment, he realized it was warming him in specific places, but she didn't seem to notice. He shifted uncomfortably, turning his hips slightly away from her.
"It is absolutely gorgeous here," she said, gazing out at the still water. "I just can't get over it."
"Beats the hell out of living in a city." He straightened, putting his hands on the railing as he opened his mouth to speak, but he stopped abruptly when his hand landed on top of hers.
His breath caught. So did hers.
They stared at each other for a moment. She swallowed hard. The warmth of her skin was jarring, as if all this time he'd worried she was a figment of his imagination, but the physical contact suddenly made her real.
He realized he hadn't pulled his hand away, but she hadn't moved either.
"I'm sorry," he said, dropping his gaze and moving his hand.
His head snapped up and he met her eyes. "What?"
She wetted her lips, sending a shiver down his spine.
"It's okay." She nodded toward her hand and her momentary brazenness melted into a shy smile.
His heart pounding, he reached for her hand again, touching her softly, hesitating, and then resting his hand over hers. Watching her expression for signs of resistance, he took a breath and closed his fingers around her hand. She moved a little, sending a jolt of panic through him, making him think she meant to pull away, but instead, she turned her hand and returned his gentle grasp.
He took a breath, and, with his free hand, lifted the camera over his head and turned to set it on the pier beside him.
Something in Simone's consciousness screamed at her to stop before she lost control. It was one thing to flirt with him, to look at him and think filthy thoughts. It was another thing entirely to make physical contact and let it continue. That kind of behavior was exactly what she'd come to Tofino to get over.
I don't need this. I can't. I
He released her hand and let his slide across her palm and onto the inside of her wrist. Goosebumps prickled her skin and a shiver ran down her spine. He trailed his fingers along her forearm, the feather-light touch preceding the more insistent warmth of his palm. She wondered if he knew the effect he had on her, but when he paused to make a small circle with the tip of his thumb just inside the crook of her elbow, she knew nothing about his touch was accidental.
She watched his face, noting how his gaze followed his hand while he traced her upper arm and the curve of her shoulder, along her collarbone to her throat, up her neck and into her hair. He seemed intent, as if memorizing her every feature, by both touch and sight. The brush of his fingertips on her scalp sent shivers down her spine.
Stop. Stop. You can't do this. This isn't why you're here
. But she didn't want to stop. Jason raised his other hand and reached for her face, pausing just before his fingertips touched her cheek.
She held his gaze, held her breath, waiting for his touch. When it finally came, she shivered, overwhelmed by the intimacy in that moment. She drew in a long, unsteady breath as his hand drifted to her neck and into her hair. There was no doubt in her mind he was going to kiss her, no possible way he would stop before he did, but he drew it out, as if making his approach with a slowness that was as uncertain as it was calculated and deliberate.
He used the back of his fingers and traced the contour of her jaw and the curve of her neck. His every movement, his every touch ignited fires within her and sent chills all through her body. No man—
—had ever affected her this way, with just a touch. The way her pulse raced. The way her legs shook. The way his hands on her skin sent tremors through her that rivaled what other men did to her clit.
Oh God, if he can do
this I can only imagine what he'd do to my clit
. She gripped the railing for balance, for dear life.