More Than Words
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I nodded, taking another sip of wine. “Just to pay the bills. I’m a translator. That’s what I’m doing in the Loire Valley. I’m working with a team to translate some documents.”
He nodded, tilting his head. “French. Yes, I remember.” He paused. “You were always so smart, Jessie.” There was something in his expression, sort of tender and sort of sad, and it confused me. But then he smiled and the shadows in his eyes melted away. “You did what you said you would do—you moved to Paris. Only, you must not be eating as much chocolate as you planned.” He glanced down my body, his expression appreciative as he raised a brow.
I laughed, a thrill moving through me that he remembered at least some of what we’d talked about; he hadn’t completely forgotten me or the pieces of my heart I’d once shared with him. “I can’t afford to eat much chocolate just yet. That particular dream remains on hold for now.”
He laughed. “We should all have a dream or two.”
I smiled and opened my mouth to say something when a woman in an obscenely tight red dress approached us, draping herself on Callen and shooting me a cool smile. “You about ready for our Jacuzzi date?” she cooed. “I can’t wait to slip out of this dress.”
I tensed, the warm happiness that had filled my heart a moment before turning into cold disappointment. Callen Hayes was not the boy I’d known, and I shouldn’t have forgotten that, even for a moment, even here in this gorgeous room in the Loire Valley, where fate seemed to have once again brought us together. I smiled, hoping it didn’t look as stiff as it felt. “I have to get up to bed anyway. It was nice seeing you again.”
I began to turn away, but Callen grabbed my arm, shaking himself loose of the red-dress girl. “Wait, Jessie. Don’t go yet.” He turned to the girl, who now had an angry scowl on her face. “I’m sorry. I’m going to have to cancel the hot tub. Maybe I’ll see you later.”
She huffed out a breath and crossed her arms over her chest. “You promised,” she whined, “and you owe me.”
Ew. Whatever that meant, I didn’t want to know. I pulled my arm gently out of Callen’s grip. “Really, there’s no need to cancel your plans. I have to turn in. I’m going on a museum tour in the morning, and it starts early.”
There was a tic in Callen’s jaw, but he smiled and nodded. “Can we do dinner while you’re here?”
Red dress was glaring at me and tapping her foot impatiently. A vision of her in the hot tub draped over Callen flashed through my mind. I didn’t like the picture my brain created, but it was a good reminder of why I needed to stay far away from him. I’d already had my heart broken by one womanizing lecher—my father—and I refused to add another to the list. Callen and I had been friends before, and maybe we could be again. It didn’t have to be anything more. But what would be the point? So I could end up with hurt feelings and the definitive knowledge that even if I had meant something to him once, I didn’t now? I’d been reminded twice how Callen viewed women: temporary and disposable. To become even more acquainted with what he’d become was only asking to be hurt. “I don’t think so, but thank you anyway. I hope you enjoy your vacation. Good night.” And with that I turned and walked away, not daring to look back, not even once, taking some small satisfaction in the fact that it was me walking away this time.
Jessie Creswell. My Jessie Creswell. Holy shit. I was still trying to wrap my head around it. Jessie Creswell was the girl I’d kissed on the rooftop in Paris? The girl I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about? Was that the reason for the strange draw I’d had to her? A familiarity that I hadn’t known how to explain? Was it the reason my mind had kept returning to her? I’d always had a special place in my heart for Jessie, and perhaps it was that long-ago closed-off piece of me that had taken notice.
But it felt like … more than that. I just wasn’t sure exactly why or how. Her hair was longer and darker, her freckles barely noticeable, and she obviously didn’t wear braces anymore, but now that I knew who she was, I could see the remnants of the child she’d been. Although other than that echo of recognition, she definitely wasn’t remotely childlike anymore.
Her body was slim yet rounded in all the right places, and I’d had to force myself not to stare at her full, luscious breasts. Jessie Creswell. Goddamn.
The two years I’d spent with her had been the only real childhood I’d had, the only time I’d allowed myself to play, and to lose myself in lands of fantasy, where anything was possible. She had been the only good. And yet that time was riddled with pain, too, and memories I didn’t want to look at, memories I constantly tried to push away.
Fuck, she’d been all I could think about since running into her last night.
I heard the ding of the elevator and stood, my heart picking up speed as I watched to see who got out in the lobby where I … well, where I’d been sort of loitering in a corner for the past hour.
An older couple stepped out, and my heart sank but then lifted again when I spotted Jessie behind them, looking at a pamphlet of some sort held open in her hands. She was dressed in jeans, a loose white top, a pair of sandals, and she had a large purse over one shoulder. Her long brown hair was pulled into a ponytail like the night I’d kissed her in Paris, and she had a pair of sunglasses perched on her head.
She looked up, and I laughed at the startled look on her face, surprise that morphed into something that resembled irritation. “Callen. I wouldn’t have pegged you for an early riser.”
I cleared my throat and fell in beside her as she began walking toward the front desk. “Yes, always. Best part of the day. I never miss, er …” I searched my mind for what happened before noon.
“The sunrise?” she offered, amusement lacing her tone.
She looked at me sideways, clearly skeptical, and I couldn’t help smiling. She was so pretty. Those big hazel eyes, full lips that I knew tasted sweet, and a light scattering of freckles that I could only see when I was close. Very close. I leaned toward her and she leaned away. “What are you doing?”
“Ah … nothing.”
She gave me a suspicious look and then stepped up to the front desk, speaking in rapid French to the man who greeted her. I didn’t understand a word of it. She smiled and turned, and I nodded to the man, catching up to her.
“Where are you off to this morning?” she asked.
She stopped and turned toward me, raising a brow. “Which one?”
I waved my hand toward the front door. “The one down … that way.”
She crossed her arms over her breasts. “Mm-hmm. We’re going on the same one, I’m assuming?”
I shrugged, enjoying this. Enjoying her. I felt … eager. When was the last time I felt eager? “How presumptuous of you. There must be hundreds of museum tours in the area.”
Her lip quirked. “Crafts and exhibits relating to a former abbey from the Middle Ages?”
I pretended to be shocked. “What a coincidence. Fate really seems to keep throwing us together, doesn’t it? I’m fascinated by alleys of the … ages.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Right.” She sighed, her expression becoming serious. She fidgeted as if she might be a little uncomfortable. “Listen, um, Callen … it’s been great seeing you and knowing all you’ve accomplished. But we’ve both changed a lot and I don’t think … well, I just don’t think there’s any reason for us to spend time together. It really wouldn’t come to any good.”
I frowned, drawing back slightly, the unfamiliar rejection hitting me like a smack. “Why not? We were friends once. We enjoyed each other’s company. Why shouldn’t we enjoy it again?”
Her lips thinned, and she looked off behind me for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. When her eyes met mine again, her expression was grim. “It doesn’t seem you’re lacking for … friends. And I’m not interested in any of that. The friendship we shared as children is a sweet memory for me, and I’d like to keep it that way.”