She had a choice to make. To go or to stay. To have an incredible adventure or to stay snuggled in the soulless crypt of her comfort zone.
Fighting back a grin, Rachel Cooper sipped her iced tea. Well, well, aren’t we being melodramatic tonight.
Not that a bit of melodrama wasn"t called for in circumstances such as these.
The unknown beckoned, via a cream square of linen stock that weighed down her ancient designer bag like a not-so-metaphorical rock. As she made the rounds at Stacia Winter"s outdoor summer soiree, she resisted checking to make sure it hadn"t been whisked away by an errant breeze or a malfunctioning clasp.
That little sucker wasn"t escaping. No way, no how.
She hadn"t expected the surprise run-in last month with her high school sweetheart to yield anything more than a few pleasant tingles. After all, Ryan had only been home for a short time and she"d bumped into him at the lone grocery store in Calvin Bay, California, on the day he was due to leave. He"d still been the three Ds: dark, deceitful, and damn hot, but she"d believed their quick convo by the beer cooler would be the extent of their reunion .
Until the mail had arrived three days ago.
If she accepted the invitation to visit him in New York, would she be taking a gigantic step backward? Her mind said yes. The rest of her was much more ambivalent.
Such a trip required boundaries. If she made it clear that this journey into the past was for pleasure-seeking purposes only, dashed with a bit of closure, then what harm could be caused by a two-week jaunt to the city that never slept?
Besides, she hadn"t had a vacation in forever. Or sex. The importance of that particular one-two punch couldn"t be overstated.
Smothering another grin, Rachel let her gaze roam over the guests clustered around Stacia"s enormous pool. Most of them wore virtually nothing in the oppressive August heat, but she knew each wisp of silk and swatch of spandex had cost more than she earned in a month as a middle school music teacher. Squarely stationed amid that pastel sea stood the solitary roadblock to her no-holds-barred vacation sex.
She"d met Shawn mere moments after leaving the womb, thanks to the Coopers" and Griffins" lifelong friendship. To Rachel, the word “cult” sometimes seemed a more apt description of the close relationship the families shared.
They vacationed together, had adjacent compounds, and whenever their respective businesses overlapped—the Griffins owned an architecture firm known throughout the West Coast, and the Coopers published the mag for tony fashionistas this side of the Pacific—they employed each other"s firms exclusively.
Following that grand tradition, Shawn had become her best friend before she"d had a chance to consider whether it was what she truly wanted. Her elder by eighteen months, he"d simply always been in her life.
She could recognize his spicy cologne at fifty paces, and if she closed her eyes, imagining his arms encircling her waist centered her faster than any fictitious happy place. He"d been by her side, and she by his, through the best and worst of what life had dealt them.
Taking a slow sip of her drink, she narrowed her eyes to peruse the snug cut of Shawn"s pleated gray trousers. Best friend or not, the guy had a drool-worthy behind. Hell, she wasn"t blind, was she?
Shawn"s surfer-god looks were enhanced by the inside-of-a-seashell smoothness being born into oodles of money had granted him. He"d inherited his feline green eyes and golden hair from his mother and his laserlike focus from his father, CEO of Griffin Industries, LLC. But where he"d gotten his ability to soothe her tempestuous moods, she"d never know.
Though Shawn nodded at whatever Stacia whispered in his ear, his gaze sought Rachel"s. Such was their way. She"d always thought an invisible cord connected them, binding them to each other in a manner no one else could understand.
What he would never understand, however, were her plans to go to New York.
She"d yet to decide if she"d kept Ryan"s invitation a secret because she"d known Shawn would disapprove, or because she sensed he was right.
As tempting as the past could be, going back represented more than a chance to add a new epilogue to the ending of her relationship with Ryan. She just might get her heart chipped again.
One way or another.
She smiled at the intriguingly unfamiliar man who had appeared at her side.
“Hi. Do we know each other?”
“No, but I know of you.” He gave her a cocky smile, one that went well with his reflective sunglasses. “Want to dance?”
She took the mystery man"s tanned forearm, her gaze again connecting with Shawn"s. Ignoring the sudden quickening of her heartbeat, she let her partner steer her into the music.