Everyone knew Alicia Harrison’s marriage to Ilya Stern wouldn’t last. They’d grown up on a remote stretch of Quarry Street, where there were two houses, two sets of siblings, and eventually, a tangled mess of betrayal, longing, and loss. Tragedy catapulted Allie and Ilya together, but divorce—even as neighbors—has been relatively uncomplicated.
Then Ilya’s brother, Nikolai, comes home for their grandmother’s last days. He’s the guy who teased and fought with Allie, infuriated her, then fled town without a good-bye. Now Niko makes her feel something else entirely—a rush of connection and pure desire that she’s been trying to quench since one secret kiss years ago. Niko’s not sticking around. She’s not going to leave. And after all that’s happened between their families, this can’t be anything more than brief pleasure and a bad idea.
But the lies we tell ourselves can’t compete with the truths our hearts refuse to let go…
Alicia balanced a pan of ravioli and a tuna-noodle casserole against her chest while she tried to open her front door. Food, so much food. Ilya’s kitchen table had groaned with it, and his fridge had been packed to overflowing, the freezer in the garage stuffed full. That’s what people did when you lost someone: they brought food. Babulya had been well loved in the community.
The service had been nice. Alicia had spent a few hours across the street, but too many people had turned to her to act as hostess for a house that was no longer hers. On the day they buried a woman who’d treated her like family, Alicia did not want to be irritated by anyone treating her like she was still Ilya’s wife, but there it was. That niggling, burning annoyance at the number of people who’d asked her where to find the paper plates or plasticware. Or the trash bags when they were being helpful by emptying the garbage can, and she ought to have been grateful for their kindness.
The fact she still knew where to find everything had annoyed her, too. Hell, she’d found an old bottle of her hand lotion in the bottom drawer of the upstairs bathroom. Still half-full. She’d tossed that in the garbage and spent the next fifteen minutes trying hard not to burst into tears.
Now back in her own house, Alicia filled her freezer with food she knew she was never going to eat. She sat down at her kitchen table. She poured herself a glass of iced tea. She checked items off a list one at a time. She moved with stiff joints—robotic—and focused on putting her efforts into action, not emotions, until finally she had no more things to distract her, and she gave herself permission to weep.
No tears came.
Instead, a deep and unsettling exhaustion settled into her with liquid and relentless ease. Filling her up from the inside, it weighted her bones. It scourged her.
The knock on her back door startled her, but the sight of who’d done the knocking surprised her even more. A tendril of embarrassment at being caught in such a melancholy moment twisted inside her. It might’ve been anyone, but of course it was him.
“Hey, sorry to bother you. I brought . . .” Nikolai lifted the casserole in his hands as though in apology. “We didn’t have room for this, either. Sorry.”
“No, don’t be. C’mon in.” She stood aside, too aware of his warmth as he pushed past her. “You can see if there’s any room in the freezer.”
Nikolai fit the casserole into the freezer and closed it. Turned to her. They stared at each other.
“I had to get out of there,” she said quietly.
Nikolai scrubbed a hand over the top of his head and gave her a sideways glance. “Yeah. Me, too. I probably could’ve managed to find a place for that casserole over there somewhere. I really just wanted to get out of the house. I wanted to come over here.”
“It’s quieter here.”
“You’re here,” he said abruptly, then stopped.
Slowly, slowly, something twisted and tangled between them. Did she move? Did he? All Alicia knew was that she was in his arms. The chair she’d been sitting on got knocked over because it had been between them.
Nikolai’s hands were in her hair.
His mouth was on her mouth.
His tongue, oh God, his tongue was sweeping inside with practiced strokes that drew a moan out of her from the very tips of her toes. He shook a little at the sound of it; she noticed that. Also the way his fingers dug deeper into the fall of her hair to tug her head back a little so he could plunder her mouth just a little harder. A little deeper.
She wasn’t sure who’d started the kiss, but she was sure who ended it. With a short, sharp gasp, Alicia stepped backward. One step. She was still within reach, if he wanted to grab her, did she want him to?
The answer, she discovered when she looked at his wet, open mouth, was yes.
The second kiss was softer. Lingering. His hands moved to her hips and settled there, drawing her closer so their bodies pressed against each other. There was no bumping of noses or clashing of teeth. He moved, and she moved with him, in perfect sync.
Both breathing hard, they let the kiss ease away at the same time. She didn’t move out of his embrace this time. She looked up into his face.
“But you . . . you don’t even like me,” she said.
Nikolai smiled in the same lopsided, smart-ass way he always had. “I think it’s pretty obvious, Allie. I do like you. At least a little.”
About the Author
Megan Hart is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. Some of them use a lot of bad words, but most of the other words are okay. Her work has been published in almost every genre, including contemporary fiction, horror, romantic suspense, and erotica. She can’t live without music, the Internet, or the ocean, but she and soda have achieved an amicable uncoupling.