“I’ve never known anyone so uncoordinated in all my life.” Evan laughed as he gripped the handle on the top of Zoe’s backpack. “You’re hopeless,” he said, dragging her none too gently up onto the granite boulder where he’d spent the last five minutes waiting for her.
“Oh, fuck off.” Zoe gained her footing and shoved his hand off her, annoyed by the way everything physical came so easily to him. She turned her back on him and stood facing the valley below, taking in the peaceful scenery so at odds with the tension inside her.
She’d pulled her black hair into a ponytail, and while the cool breeze whipped the ends and rippled across her Nirvana t-shirt, she mentally cursed her older sister for putting her in this situation.
“I’ve heard unrequited love often makes women a bit testy. Now I know it’s true.”
She sneaked a glance at him and snorted in spite of herself. “You wish.” Zoe pulled her water bottle from the side pocket of her bag and popped the top, tilting it to her mouth to take a drink.
He moved in beside her and bumped her shoulder, causing her to lose her grip and send the water dribbling down her chin. Zoe shot him a lethal glare and caught the droplets, wiping her damp fingers on her black leggings. “You did that on purpose.”
His mouth tilted in a half-smile as he turned the full weight of his striking blue eyes on her. “I need to make my own fun. In case you haven’t noticed you’re shitty company.”
“I’m normally delightful. Trust me, it’s you not me.” Zoe watched as the afternoon sun played across his features, wishing he‘d at least show some sign that he was as tired as her. The breeze ruffled his dark hair and his skin glowed with a light sheen of perspiration. He wore khaki shorts and the straps on his backpack stretched his navy tank top across his chest. Her slim figure and petite features always made her feel insignificant standing next to him. She continuously tried to make up for it with a healthy dose of attitude.
“I’ve never seen you as anything other than a smartass,” he said.
“That’s because you’re always around at the time,” she said, slipping her bottle into her backpack. “You bring out the worst in me.”
“Is this a sexual tension thing? If I let you get into my pants will it help improve your mood?” Evan lifted his arms above his head, his eyes remaining on her while he indulged in a leisurely stretch.
“Hmm… no. There are things I want to do to you but none of them would be enjoyable—not for you, anyway.” She hated the fact that she couldn’t stop her attention from drifting to the enticing vision of flat, taut belly revealed by his raised tank top. Her eyes followed the trail of dark hair from his navel to the waistband of his low-slung shorts.
A deep chuckle brought her gaze back to his and she had to steel herself against the humor his knowing smile stirred inside her. “Just checking,” he said. “I’ll take one for the team if I have to. Keep that in mind.”
She rolled her eyes and tried to decide which would be more painful, diving into the valley below or spending another three hours with him. “I honestly don’t think I can take any more of this.”
“Blame your sister,” he said, dropping his arms to his side. “She’s always playing the peacemaker.”
“All the stress of planning the wedding must have finally driven her insane. Anyone can see you and I are never going to get along.” Her sister Paige had begun seeing Evan’s older brother Matt two years ago, becoming engaged to him twelve months later. As the maid of honour at their wedding next week, Zoe had been paired with the best man. Two guesses who that happened to be.
Paige had decided a spur of the moment bonding session in the mountains was just what Zoe and Evan needed to end the hostility between them. So far the idea had turned out to be a complete flop; Zoe couldn’t stop sniping at him and he hadn’t even tried to hold back from needling her during the two hours they’d already spent together.
“Aw, don’t say ‘never’.” He rested his arm across her shoulder and pulled her in against his side. “We’ll be BFFs after this, I just know it.”
Zoe pressed her lips together and tried to keep a straight face. She pushed his arm off her and took a deep breath, forging ahead in an effort to hide her amusement. Evan only let her take the lead for a few minutes before he gripped her shoulders and physically moved her aside so he could pass through. She sighed and tried to focus on the scenery to take her mind off her predicament.
Her pack was a heavy burden at her shoulders, blisters had formed on her toes and sweat trickled down her spine. The trail grew denser and the terrain more challenging the deeper they hiked into the mountains. They hadn’t passed a single person on their journey which only served to make her feel even more isolated. In normal circumstances she had a lot of patience, but her control had begun to slip as the minutes ticked by and her exhaustion grew.
She continued her verbal jousting with Evan, becoming more personal and less tactful as the hike progressed. The main problem she faced now was that her behaviour appeared to annoy her more than it did him. Sometimes he’d reply with a witty comeback, and other times she’d notice his shoulders moving in a silent laugh as he turned his head away.
Zoe was aged twenty-two and Evan twenty-four when they were first introduced at a barbeque thrown by his parents. The intention had been to bring the two families together since Paige and Matt were beginning to get serious. From the moment they met sparks had flown between them, sometimes driven by attraction but more often annoyance. Eighteen months later nothing had really changed—but neither of them had tried all that hard to improve their situation either. Up until now their usual method of dealing with the tension had been avoidance, which didn’t really solve anything.
Zoe released a loud breath and shook her head, knowing what needed to be done. There was nothing like an overly long hike in the fresh mountain air to help bring some clarity to your thinking. For the sake of her sister’s happiness on the big day she had to put more effort into being less… abrasive toward Evan.
Over an hour later they reached a clearing and Evan slipped his arms from his backpack, letting it drop to the ground. He rested against a rock and pulled in air. Zoe wanted to cheer with relief as she slid free from her pack to join him. Even though it was the middle of autumn and the days had begun to cool she felt unusually warm.
A smile hovered at his mouth as he glanced at her. “I only stopped so I could take a break from listening to you wheeze.”
Zoe moved in beside him to share the rock. She let out a breathless laugh, too tired to fight with him. “I’d kiss you in gratitude if I didn’t think you’d hurt me.” She stared at the tree-filled landscape, listening to the wind rustle through the leaves while she braced herself for his reply. When the silence stretched on her gaze shifted back to him. “Why so quiet?” she asked. “No more digs?”
Evan’s body remained facing straight ahead; only his eyes slid in her direction. “We need to stop that.”
She threw a furtive glance his way. “I’ve been thinking the same thing.”
“It’s going to take a lot of effort—more on your part than mine.”
She hummed her agreement, the humour in his tone making her smile. Zoe soaked up the silence with him for a while, losing herself in her thoughts. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like being friends with him now, they’d spent too long as… she didn’t even know what to call the relationship they currently shared. Maybe a truce was the easiest option.
“Say something nice to me,” she finally said, wanting to test him. “I bet you can’t even come up with one thing.”
He pushed off the rock and took a couple of steps away, turning to face her once he’d put some distance between them. He appeared to be thinking it over but it didn’t take him too long to find an answer. “All right,” he said, “even though you dress like a sixteen-year-old skater chick I can tell there’s a hot body hidden somewhere under there.”
She shifted gravel around with the toe of her sneaker and hid her amusement. “Wow, thanks. I guess a backhanded compliment’s better than nothing at all.” Zoe looked up at him, deciding to have a try at this niceness thing herself. “I like your—that bit,” she said pointing to the area between his navel and waistband.
“This?” he asked, lifting the hem of his tank top. She kept her mouth shut and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. He let his top fall back into place and said, “Okay, I’ll admit I also find your sense of humour entertaining.”
Zoe bit the inside of her cheek, enjoying herself. She wanted to draw the moment out even longer but figured she’d be pushing her luck. “I think you’re annoyingly funny sometimes, too,” she finally relented.
He laughed as he bent to pick up her backpack. “Thanks. That’s more than enough for one day. Let’s keep moving before I get all emotional.” He helped her slip into her straps, the gesture so considerate it left her feeling unsure how to respond. She made the wisest decision and just offered a simple thank you. When he’d shouldered his own pack, he tugged her ponytail—a reminder they weren’t quite friends yet—and headed off to begin the rest of their journey.
Zoe stood there for a while longer, feeling hopeful about this new development. A sense of warmth had begun to develop between them that she’d never experienced with him before now. Maybe Paige had been right and spending time in a situation where they couldn’t avoid each other was just what they needed. She’d have to keep an open mind about it all and see where it headed.
His movements distracted her from her thoughts. Zoe’s gaze lowered to his legs and she watched him walk, taking note of the way the muscles shifted beneath his smooth bronzed skin. His shorts were just tight enough for her to get a decent rear view, and once she’d set eyes on him she couldn’t look away.
“You have a nice ass!” she yelled out before she could stop herself.
Evan lifted his arm, did a fist pump above his head and kept trudging on.
“So that’s it, then.” Zoe shoved her backpack into the trunk of her car and lowered the lid. Paige had urged them to travel in one vehicle but there’d only been so much togetherness they were willing to tolerate. Evan had driven himself here and parked alongside her in what was an otherwise empty lot.
Having already stowed his bag he stood with her between their cars to say goodbye. His hands were splayed low on his hips and he regarded her with a friendlier expression than she was used to seeing from him. “Yep. It didn’t turn out too badly after all,” he said.
Her mouth curved with a hesitant smile. “You’re actually an okay person once you stop trying to be so irritating.”
He chuckled as he looked her over. “And you’re pretty good company when you’re too tired to speak.”
She huffed out a laugh and looked away, surprised by how much easier it was to be around him. The last few hours had opened her eyes to the man hidden beneath the antagonistic exterior, and she had to reluctantly admit she liked what she’d discovered. “I hope everything’s going to be okay between us at the wedding now,” she said, meeting his eyes.
Evan leaned past her to open the driver’s side door, resting his arm along the top edge. “If we can manage to find some tape for your mouth to match the colour of your dress I think we’ll be fine.”
She laughed and gave him a playful shove. “I was being serious.”
“Hey.” He let go of the door and grabbed her wrists in defence, holding her at bay. “So was I.”
His patient amusement and the feel of his warm fingers on her skin encouraged a twinge of something intimate and unexpected inside her. She stared at him while he held her, not sure whether she wanted him to pull her closer or release her. Going by the expression on his face she guessed similar thoughts were whirling around in his mind. “I’m done attacking you,” she said, reminding him that he still held her.
“I know. I’m not letting you go just yet.” Evan kept his eyes on her while he tugged her slowly toward him. “I want to show you something.”
Zoe’s gaze narrowed. “What?”
“Relax. Stop looking at me like I’m going to hurt you.” A sliver of space separated their bodies, and she could feel the heat emanating from him. “My brother and I used to beat the crap out of each other when we were younger,” he said. “Our mother always stopped the fighting and made us hug, her theory being that you can’t be angry at someone when you’re hugging them.”
“Your mother’s a hippy. I’m not getting all cuddly with you.”
The sound that came from him was somewhere between a laugh and a growl. “Try it, Zoe. Give me hell later if it doesn’t work.”
Evan released her wrists and slid his hands slowly over the curves of her shoulders. He watched her while he touched her, somehow making the connection more personal. She shivered, and before she could take a bracing breath he drew her into his arms, wrapping her up in a hug so tight, so comforting, that she actually sighed.
Zoe sank into the moment and turned her head to rest her cheek against his chest. Her arms came up to encircle his waist and she held him, immersing herself in his strength and warmth. His heart beat strong and steadily beneath her cheek, his chin resting on the top of her head. She had no idea how long they stood there like that but the feel of his palm stroking her spine, squeezing the back of her neck before it slid down again, felt so good that she didn’t want him to let her go.
She could’ve sworn he placed a soft kiss on her hair before he eventually clasped her arms to pull her back from him. The separation made her want to cry out in protest. Zoe looked up at him, still dazed by the contact.
“Do you feel like arguing with me?” he asked, sweeping his thumbs over her shoulders.
She moistened her lower lip and shook her head, overwhelmed by the tenderness of the moment. Zoe felt like doing something but it had nothing to do with arguing. “I take it back. She was right.” Her body swayed toward him of its own accord. She laughed, uncomfortable with her needs but unwilling to give up the opportunity for more. “You’re good at that. I want another one,” she said.
A look of amusement passed over his features and he tugged her back into his arms without even questioning her. She surprised herself by hugging him tightly and rubbing her cheek against his chest, soaking up the solid heat of him. His hands warmed her back, his fingers flexing against her muscles in a rubbing, massaging motion that had her closing her eyes to savour the touch. Zoe’s own palms moved tentatively over his spine, stroking, soothing.
He located a sore muscle just above her shoulder blade and she arched her back, pressing her body closer. She heard and felt the groan that travelled through him; a responding tingle of excitement hit her deep in her belly. Even though she’d always found him physically attractive she hadn’t been able to see him as anything other than the annoying brother of her sister’s boyfriend. Now she could barely remember what it was about him that had rubbed her up the wrong way.
Evan dipped his head and left a soft kiss on her temple. He kept her snugly against him with one arm while his other hand tilted her chin. She clutched his waist and held her breath as she gazed up at him, wondering what she’d find in his expression.
His blue eyes were intense as they met hers, his jaw clenched while he looked her over. His thumb swept across her lower lip and his mouth tilted in the slightest of smiles. He leaned closer and said in a low voice, “If I knew in the beginning all you needed was one good… hug to make you more agreeable, I would’ve done it when I first met you.”
Zoe scowled at him while trying to hide her smile. Just because there was a chance he might be right didn’t mean she wanted him getting ahead of himself. “You think you can shut me up with a hug?”
“I doubt that’ll keep you quiet. This will, though.” His hand curved around her neck and he pulled her up on her toes to press his mouth to hers.
Her eyes closed and a sigh rippled through her. She grasped his t-shirt and held on. Her heart thudded and her stomach plummeted at the suddenness of it all. One thought filled her mind in that moment: Oh, God… Finally… Finally. The kiss started out slow, his warm, firm lips coaxing hers to respond. She let him pull her along with him, opening her mouth to accept the silky invasion of his tongue. Just the tip flicked over hers then retreated, his hands resuming their arousing caresses up and down her back.
Zoe trembled with a quick shiver, flattening her palms against his chest. She no longer noticed the chill in the air, the tiredness in her bones. Her mind focused entirely on Evan, still reeling at their change in circumstances. She leaned into him. A moan came from her as her arms slid around his neck and her tongue thrust against his. The connection went deeper, the kiss turned wilder. His hands supported her while his mouth took control, guiding, arousing. She couldn’t get close enough. The urge came over her to climb his body and clamp her legs at his waist.
Evan’s fingers wrapped around her ponytail and he broke the kiss to tug her head back. His lips moved over her exposed throat, flicking his tongue here, sucking lightly there and driving her to the point where she wanted to beg him for more. He dipped his tongue into the hollow at the base of her throat and her mouth dropped open. She let out a sigh, neediness growing inside her until it took on a life of its own. She sank her hands into his hair and pulled him up so she could bring his mouth back to hers.
“You’re a good hugger,” she said breathlessly, brushing her lips over his, “and a good kisser. That mouth… I knew you would be.”
His teeth nibbled her earlobe while he gripped her ass and pulled her against him. “Want to see something else I do well?”
Although she heard the humour in his voice his erection was impossible to miss. She knew the offer was a serious one. Desire rolled through her and she laughed when she least expected to want to laugh. “Yeah.”
A husky chuckle vibrated against her throat. “Right here?”
Zoe’s eyes flickered open, sweeping over their surroundings. They were still alone. At this late hour no one would be starting out on a hike. “Yeah,” she repeated.
He groaned and took her mouth again, one hand cradling the back of her head while the other squeezed her ass, grinding her against his erection. He was hard… so hard. She slipped her hand between their bodies and stroked him, her fingertips running along his rigid length. He growled and his tongue swept over hers, his hands growing more demanding. She massaged his cock, wanting to feel his silky skin without any barriers, to find out what it was like to have him—the last man she’d ever expected to actually be with in this way—thrusting inside her, filling her, making her come.
Evan pulled his mouth from hers and spent one breath-stealing second looking into her eyes, then he turned her around and closed the door, pressing her against the car. She’d expected him to drag her into the back seat, now her stomach churned in anticipation. Zoe closed her eyes as his hands slipped under her t-shirt and smoothed over her ribs, roaming upwards to enclose her breasts. She let out a harsh breath, her ass pushing back against him. His hands kneaded her flesh, his thumbs slowly sweeping over her hardened nipples.
Evan leaned down and kissed the back of her neck. His fingers tugged the cups of her bra down, shoving them under her breasts. He teased her nipple with one hand, the other drifting over her stomach to work at the waistband of her leggings.
He dipped his hand inside, slipping his fingers under her panties to discover her wet warmth. The rapid change in movement and the confidence behind his touch had her heart pounding. She pushed back even harder and let out a whimper, needing to feel his cock.
“Jesus, Zoe, you’re so wet.” Evan clasped her breast, teasing her nipple while his fingertips stroked her pussy.
“I need you,” she said. “I need…” She dragged in a breath and leaned her forehead on the car, the cool metal a stark contrast to her flushed skin.
His hand released her breast and he grabbed the hem of her top. “Get rid of this,” he said.
Zoe straightened and tore her t-shirt from her body, dropping it beside her. The haze of desire had her barely able to comprehend what was happening between them. She’d started the day arguing with him and now he had her pinned against her car with her top off and his hand in her panties. “Inside me,” she said. “Put your cock inside me.”
He groaned and gripped the back of her leggings. “Not yet.” He yanked them down with her panties until both dropped to her ankles. She only had a moment to feel exposed before he shocked her again by pushing his hand between her thighs. His fingers slipped into her pussy from behind while his other hand teased her clit from the front.
“Evan!” Her hips jerked and a husky moan tore from her. Her body wanted to push back against one hand and buck forward against the other. His wrist nestled between her legs, his fingers driving slowly into her. Her eyes clenched shut and she felt him kiss her throat. The cool breeze caressed her bare skin.
He circled her clit, teasing and massaging, his strokes firm and thorough. His fingers kept steadily pumping, lifting her to her toes with the pleasure they brought to her. He surrounded her, overwhelmed her. She could smell his clean sweat… feel his strength. He aroused her beyond control.
Zoe pressed her palms to the roof of her car, needing to hang on to something—anything. Her eyes flickered open and she focused on his reflection in the glass. His mouth moved to her jaw where he left soft, damp kisses on her skin.
“I’m going to make you come,” he said, his voice a low rumble beside her ear. “Then I’m going to fuck you hard… right here… outside… where anyone could see you.” He timed his words with the thrust of his fingers, each pump growing in intensity until he had her begging for release.
She lowered one hand to her breast, cupping her flesh, rubbing her nipple. He massaged her clit, caressing the sensitive bud until she just couldn’t take any more. Her hips moved back again and again to meet the slide of his fingers. She bent her head and sucked in air as it came over her. Her body shuddered and her hips lifted from his hand. She moaned, losing herself in the moment until she finally closed her eyes and cried out, “Evan. Oh… my God!”
She nearly collapsed but his arm wrapped around her. Zoe relaxed against him, letting him take her weight as her body shook with the last of her tremors. He groaned and kissed her cheek, his lips lingering. “You might be a pain in the ass but you’re an unbelievably sexy pain in the ass.”
She managed a smile; she would have laughed if she still had her wits about her. Zoe leaned her head on his shoulder and felt his fingers leave her. He kissed her jaw and moved behind her. A few seconds later the sound of a zipper filled the silence and a new wave of desire crashed through her.
She closed her eyes, tilting her hips backwards to welcome the thick glide of his cock. He sank inside her, filling her, letting out a deep sigh as she took him in. His hips rested against her then he drew back and plunged inside her again. “Ohhh… that feels…” Zoe tried to put the words together but they wouldn’t come. “I can’t even speak.”
Evan slipped one arm across the front of her hips, keeping her right where he wanted her. His other hand gathered her wrists together and rested them on the roof of her car. Her breasts flattened against the glass. He leaned on her back, his thrusts gaining intensity. Zoe felt his harsh breaths on her neck, the flex of his fingertips digging into her hip. The sensations were almost too much but she didn’t want him to stop. She wanted the closeness between them to continue on… and on.
His hold on her tightened as his cock plunged inside her. He lowered his head and pressed his lips to her cheek, her throat, his mouth hot and damp on her skin. “Zoe,” he said, his deep voice sounding breathless beside her ear. “Zoe.”
Her eyes drifted open. The way he spoke her name made her stomach flutter. He drove into her so hard that she cried out with every thrust. He kept up the pace for so long that his stamina left her breathless. She braced herself for something that seemed just out of reach, but then without warning it came over her again. Her muscles tensed as it hit her in a rush. She pulsed deep inside, her stomach clenching, her thighs clamping around him. A low scream came from her and she quivered in his arms.
Evan gave her a squeeze and let go of her wrists. He cupped her breast, holding her while his thrusts slowed to a deep grind. Zoe rested her palm over his hand, whispering unintelligible words. He pressed his lips to her cheek and let out a long, shuddering breath as he came inside her.
The only sounds for a while were the wind rustling through the trees and the distant call of a flock of birds. The afternoon had begun to slip into early evening, the shadows lengthening across the ground. Neither of them spoke as he withdrew from her and tucked himself back into his shorts. Zoe felt exposed now the urgency had passed, the cold air sending a shiver through her. She pulled up the cups of her bra and busied herself redressing, trying not to think too much about whether or not she’d get the opportunity to do this again with him. Now she’d experienced a taste of him it only made her want more, much more.
She finally looked up only to discover Evan standing there with his hands in his pockets, watching her with an amused expression. “You’re overthinking this now, aren’t you,” he said.
“No, I’m not.” Zoe smiled at him, refusing to let on what had been going through her mind. “I’m just wondering how you’re going to go about telling my sister that you seduced me and took advantage of me.”
His eyes glimmered with humour as he looked her over. “Some things are best kept quiet. I’d hate to stress out the bride. She has enough to worry about.” He dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers, silencing her with a deep, leisurely kiss. When he eventually pulled away the sweetness of it had her leaning forward for more. He smiled and kissed her again, slipping a hand from his pocket to curve around her neck. This time when he broke the contact he rested his forehead against hers. “I’m giving you fair warning we’ll be doing this again soon… and if you say no I have my ways of convincing you to change your mind.”
Zoe bit her lip to try to contain the happiness that wanted to break free. Despite everything that had occurred between them she still couldn’t resist the temptation to stir him up a little. “No,” she said, her smile issuing a challenge she knew he’d gladly take on.
Zoe stood with the other guests and watched as Matt led Paige through the bridal waltz, the vision of them together under the subtle lighting one of the most romantic she’d ever seen. Paige looked stunning in her strapless white dress with diamonds sparkling at her neck, her auburn hair arranged in a bun. Matt made a handsome figure with his dark hair and charcoal suit. Neither of them could take their eyes off each other.
The wedding and the reception had turned out to be perfect. Everything fell into place just as Zoe had expected it would under the supervision of her well-organised sister. Even the weather had cooperated.
She heard the MC interrupt the music to announce that the best man and maid of honour would now be joining the happy couple on the floor. Just as Zoe turned her head to search for Evan he appeared at her side and held his elbow out for her. No matter how many times she’d seen him today dressed in his suit and crisp white shirt, he still took her breath away. She smiled up at him and linked her arm through his, following him out to the middle of the dance floor.
He took her in his arms, gazing down at her as they danced. The intimacy in his expression would have been impossible to miss for anyone who happened to be watching them. Zoe had given up trying to hide the developing relationship between them now the formalities of the day were over. She’d chosen to just enjoy it for what it was and try not to think too far ahead. They’d spent every night together this past week and the passion they shared in the parking lot had turned out to be only a hint of what was to come.
“I like you in a dress,” he said as he turned with her in his arms.
Zoe wore a strapless berry coloured gown and her hair had been styled similar to Paige’s, sitting off to the side in a low, intricate bun. “So you’ve said about a hundred times. I like you in a suit but that’s not going to happen every day either.”
He raised his brows and gave her a once over. “So this is the first and last time I’ll ever see your legs, apart from when we’re…”
Her eyes widened and she spoke to him in a loud whisper. “Oh, my God. Don’t talk to me like that in front of everyone. They’re all watching!”
“What?” Evan stared at her as if she’d taken him all wrong. He kept his voice low as he continued on. “You have such a dirty mind. That was completely innocent. I was just going to say ‘when we’re fucking’.”
Zoe tipped her head back and laughed, her body swaying toward him. He pulled her closer and wrapped her up in his arms. Even though they were surrounded by family and friends and supposed to still be dancing Evan had a way about him that made her get all caught up in his world and forget about what was going on around her.
He dipped her in his arms, leaning down to press his lips to her throat. She closed her eyes and smiled, realising she couldn’t think of anywhere else that she’d rather be in that moment.