Love Me Raine
A former flame. A convoluted, difficult history.
Tristan is the dangerous complication she hoped to avoid.
Raine is not in the market for romance. Not when she has finally broken free of her last unhealthy entanglement. Especially not when she is struggling to give her daughter the life she deserves.
When Raine encounters Tristan at a party, she drinks one too many and gives in to temptation. Raine convinces herself this hot interlude with her past love was just a fling, and she has to see him again. Everything will be fine.
And it is, until Raine accepts her first big case. When she learns Tristan Riagan has joined the firm, and her boss has assigned him to her team, she panics. Working with this man is fraught with deep desires and intimate secrets that threaten to send her running a second time.
Raine pasted on a smile as she stepped into the room. It seemed surreal that Blake was taking this leap, especially in marrying a woman he’d barely mentioned.
Maybe she should have expected it. It wasn’t as if she narrated the details of her life to him on a regular basis. The distance between her and her law school friend had grown, not only measured by the kilometres between Vancouver and Toronto, but also by their dwindling calls.
She spotted Blake’s familiar figure across the room and waved, weaving her way toward him as he grinned and headed her way.
They met in the middle, Blake hauling her into a crushing bear hug. “You came,” he said as he scooped her up and spun around.
Raine’s cheeks flushed, and she wriggled free the moment he set her onto her feel. Placing her palms against his chest, she pushed him back a step. “I’m happy to see you too.”
The man’s grin widened, and he kissed her cheek. With his hand firmly on her shoulders, he said, “It’s been far too long.”
Five eventful years. “Congrats,” she said. “Where’s the lucky lady?”
“Off visiting.” He motioned over his shoulder, keeping his gaze fixed on her. “No plus one?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to invite him.”
“I suppose not,” Blake said. “What happened with him, anyway?”
She grimaced. “Long story.”
“Another time, then.”
Not likely. The ongoing analysis about the broken relationship continued ad nauseam with both her friend Charlotte and her therapist, leaving her exhausted. I’m over it. Another discussion about Mitch would plunge her those final few inches straight into insanity.
“It’s not unreasonable to think you’ve found someone new,” Blake said.
“Nah. Between a move across the country and starting a new job, I have zero time or energy for romance.”
“That’ll soon change.” He smiled. “Wow, you look amazing, considering.”
“Thanks, I think.” She fought the urge to roll her eyes as she accepted a flute of champagne from a passing server. “Your engagement pictures are beautiful. I’d love to meet Polly.”
“Sure, sure.” He tipped back his glass. “Hey, I’d love to grab lunch one day.”
“Wonderful.” Raine pulled out her phone. “Put in your new number, and I’ll call.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “I’d better call you. Gotta run, but next week, okay?” Blake leaned in, brushing her cheek with his lips. “Good to see you.” He cast another look behind him, then strode away.
Raine frowned, unable to hide her disappointment as he tucked his arm around a petite woman with wavy auburn hair. “Well, glad I came,” she muttered as the woman, who could only be Polly, gave her an icy stare. If that look was any indication, she might not see Blake for months. Perhaps even years. “Nothing ever happened,” she whispered under her breath. She drained her drink, immediately grabbing another from a passing server’s tray.
In some weird way, she’d expected to slip back into her former life, but everything seemed changed. She didn’t even know why she’d even been invited if the bride resented her presence. Sighing, she finished her champagne, ready to call it a night.
“She’s got his ball’s bound tight.”
The familiar voice made Raine turn, her heart pounding as she looked up into entrancing amber eyes. The sight of the dark-haired, six-foot-two, specimen of male beauty practically burst her into flames. Stay strong, stay strong. “Who?” she asked, resisting the urge to fan herself.
“Blake’s fiancée,” Tristan said, motioning toward the happy couple with his champagne flute. “Surprised she allowed him to invite you.”
“He’s not allowed his own guests?”
“Only her specially approved ones.” His wink sent traitorous feelings quivering through her.
“How did you slip through the net?”
“No idea. Must be the quest for additional wedding gifts.” He quirked a brow. “Anyway, she doesn’t need to worry about me swooping in and stealing him away.”
She scrunched her nose. “I’m zero threat.”
“Except,” Tristan said, his lips twitching, “you’re his sexy, single, and undeniably gorgeous law school crush. Tough to compete with the woman who spent all those hours cavorting through the city, sneaking out for midnight snacks, and whatever other mischief you two got into.”
“Bygones. We were only friends, remember?”
“Oh, I sure do, but someone should remind him.” Tristan slipped an arm around her waist, leaning in to whisper, “Blake has the hots for you, or have you forgotten?”
She swayed and steadied herself against his broad chest. His closeness, the masculine scent of him, shook her to the core and brought memories rushing in. She’d forgotten nothing. When she closed her eyes, she still pictured the delicious Tristan Riagan tangled in her sheets. She still longed to caress his scruffy jawline. She still …
She opened her eyes, battling the dangerous tingle between her thighs. No. Keep it in check. “Blake barely spared me two minutes. He’s over it.”
“The looks coming our way say otherwise.”
Raine stretched to peek around Tristan, but he pulled her closer. “What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Managing his expectations,” he said in a low voice, “and those of the groomsmen on the prowl.”
Rolling her eyes, she wriggled free. “Like I need some dude acting the part of big brother.”
“Brother? Me? Fuck, no,” he said, his brows shooting upward, “but Blake’s glaring at me like a jealous boyfriend.”
“I don’t need a protector.” She spun and hurried toward the door. Ah, the irony of Tristan as my white knight. The man was an enticing habit of the worst sort. One moment you thought you’d come out victorious, only to be lured back by the feel-good promise. Even this brief encounter sent a thrill through her, a longing, a burning desire to wrap herself around him and hold on tight. No telling the pathetic state she’d land in if she didn’t run.
She sped up, scarcely making it through the door before he caught her wrist. Spinning, she wrenched herself free of his grasp and clutched her arm to her chest. “Don’t manhandle me.” She straightened and lifted her chin, ready to stare him down.
“Sorry. Sorry.” His raised his hands and stepped back. “Are you okay?”
She closed her eyes, taking a long breath before she shook her head. “It’s fine … I-I …” Hate being grabbed.
Tristan reached out and trickled a warm hand down her arm, pausing to rub her wrist. When she didn’t flinch, he moved closer, pulling her into an embrace. “I’d never hurt you,” he said against her hair.
A shudder swept through her, the words sweet to her ears. Except a pile of old scars were about to be torn wide open. “It’s not that simple.” She longed to share her deepest secrets. To shout her truths to the universe. She shivered, the good and bad of this unexpected opportunity fully dawning on her. “Tristan, there’s—”
“Plenty of time,” he said waving a hand. “Let me buy you a drink to make up for my stupid comment.”
“In there?” She motioned to the door. “Thanks, but I’m not in the mood.”
“Me neither, but there’s a pub down the street.” He swept a hand through his hair. “Please? One drink.”
“It’s never just one.”
“It can be.”
Would it hurt to have a drink with the man and see how his life turned out? Set our past to rest? Even if it could never be that simple? “One,” she said, holding up her index finger, “singular, sole, only. Then I go home. Got it?”
He nodded. “Deal.”
Still, she battled her instinct to run, to keep her secrets locked deep where he’d never find them. Tristan meant something, was important to her, even if she dreaded sharing exactly what he’d given her, or how she treasured their time together. The consequences of letting him into her life might be devastating, tearing everything to shreds.
Raine settled at a table while Tristan headed toward the bar and ordered their drinks.
His broad shoulders and the way his dark hair curled over the collar of his suit jacket kept her staring. Things hadn’t changed much with him, at least on the outside. I must be crazy, courting disaster like this. If she were smarter, she’d have followed her instincts and gone home.
He set her drink in front of her and sat, studying her for several seconds. “To old friends.” He tapped his glass against hers, then leaned back, eyeing her as he sipped his dark ale. “When do you fly home to Toronto?”
Raine fiddled with her napkin, searching for courage. “Vancouver is home.” She focussed on her vodka and cranberry. “How about you?”
“You moved back and didn’t bother to call,” he said softly.
“Did you truly want to hear my voice?”
“It’s amazing to hear your voice,” he said. “I often wonder how you’re doing. How long have you been back?”
“It’s only been a few weeks.” Six, to be exact. “It’s tough starting a new job.”
“Uh huh,” he said in a low voice. “Good thing I ran into you, or I wouldn’t have known.”
She gulped a mouthful of the tart mixture, now regretting her insistence on it being just one drink. A double would go down well, layering nicely over the champagne and dulling some of the pain in her heart. Time to steer this away from dangerous topics. “Where did you say you lived?”
“Victoria. My flight home is on Sunday.”
She digested this information, relieved he lived on Vancouver Island, not in the city. Having a large body of water between them was almost as comforting as having several provinces separating them.
“Sorry about earlier,” he said. “I’m not that kind of guy.”
“Forget about it,” she said, forcing a cheery note into her voice. “So, Blake getting married. Crazy.” She almost missed the fleeting, concerned look he gave her. Trust Tristan to read me better than I’d like.
“Well, he passed the big three-oh last year, so he’s ready to settle down and have kids.”
“Well, that’s one baby shower I won’t be attending.” After the glare from Polly, she figured she’d never be invited.
“Yeah, maybe not.” He chuckled. “How about you? Any plans to settle down? Pop out a couple of babies?”
She twirled a stray wisp of hair around her fingertip. To tell, or not to tell? “Does one simply pop out a baby?” At his sideways look, she said, “I’m fresh out of a relationship. You?”
“Who has time for a wife and kids right now? And no, I’m not involved with anyone.”
Raine filed away his comment about the wife and kids, opting for silence.
“Was the relationship serious?”
Raine blinked against the burn of impending tears. If he only knew. She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat, and shrugged. “Serious enough, I suppose.”
“Want to talk about it?”
She shook her head. Absolutely not. Especially not with you.
“If you ever do …”
No chance! The entire debacle was embarrassing enough without admitting to the traumatic events from the past two years, laying bare her tormented soul to Tristan.
“Is the thought so horrifying?”
Yes? “Not at …” Her cheeks flushed as she registered the tense squeak passing for words. “Some other time?” she whispered.
“Uh huh.” He sighed and pointed at the nearby pool table. “How about a game?”
She looked down at her scarlet cocktail dress, which she’d paired with the designer stilettos purchased with a portion of her signing bonus. “I’m not dressed for it.”
“That’s never stopped you before.” Tristan rose and grabbed two pool cues. “Just a quick game.”
Raine scrunched her nose, but stood and accepted the cue. This scenario felt incredibly familiar. Tristan. One drink. A quick game. Except she vowed this time, the night would end differently. This time, she’d avoid messy entanglements. This time, she’d stay strong against this sexy charmer.
Tristan racked the balls. “Break, Rainey.”
“Stop calling me that.” Eyeing him, she leaned over the table, aware that her dress rode up, revealing her tanned, toned thighs. She lined up the shot as Tristan circled around behind her. That’s it. Take a gooooood look at what you gave up. With a smooth stroke, she sent the balls racing across the felt, grinning at the solid thunks as she sank two stripes.
“Nope. That’s pure skill.” She trailed her fingers along the padded edge, calculating angles before she called her next shot. With one smooth stroke, she sent the cue ball straight and true, sinking another stripe into the left side pocket.
“Mmm.” His low hum of approval caused an involuntary shiver. “You’ve still got it.”
Damn right, I do. The past five years of her life had only made her stronger, and she planned to flaunt it. Her steps to their table were as calculated as those of a model on a catwalk, her hips swaying gently. Don’t look at him. Don’t check his reaction. She downed her drink, again wishing for a double so she could numb the feelings she didn’t want to feel. Still, she’d learned to play with the best of them and not tip her hand. Her burgeoning law career had taught her that much.
Tristan propped himself against the neighbouring pool table, lids lowered, making him difficult to read. “Take your next shot.”
“Don’t rush me.”
He lifted a shoulder, then waved at the bartender, holding up two fingers.
“We agreed.” Raine wagged a finger. “One drink.” But the bartender was already pouring vodka over ice.
Tristan’s lips twitched. “We’re not rushing, right?”
She curled her upper lip, adding a slight eye roll. “You, being presumptuous. Quelle surprise.”
“You’re adorable when you pretend to be annoyed.”
“You’re so transparent,” she muttered as she turned away. If the man thought his taunt would rile her, he was mistaken. She peeked over her shoulder, the tilt of his head and self-satisfied smirk convincing her she’d caught him staring at her ass. After a saucy eyelash flutter, she returned her attention to the table.
Game on, dude. Game. On. Yet her head buzzed, her status as lightweight in the drinking department putting her at a severe disadvantage. She fought for focus, desperate to gain the upper hand with her next move.
“Rainey,” Tristan said, now standing right beside her.
She clutched the cue. The man’s sudden proximity sent her pulse racing, muddling the emotional ping pong match playing out in her head. Get it together. He’ll think you’ve gone nuts.
“Looks like you could use this.” He held out a fresh vodka cranberry. “Calm those jittery nerves.”
Keep breathing, keep breathing. “My nerves are fine, thanks.” She locked her knees to combat the trembling, trying to stay unaffected by the delicious smell of his familiar aftershave. Funny, I didn’t notice that distinct, musky scent before. She sucked down two large mouthfuls of her drink, twitching at the burn. “That’s a generous double.”
Tristan squinted, but slid an arm around her waist. “I’ve got you, Raine. Tell me what you need.”
Her world spun, all the lonely nights and struggles threatening to unravel her alcohol-addled mind. The simple words she dared not utter echoed. You. I need you. She turned, winding an arm around his neck to pull him in for a kiss, tangling her tongue with his. The way he cradled her against him sent a thrill tingling down her spine, the taste of him further weakening her knees.
At first, he kissed her back, but seconds later, he retreated. He removed her arms from his neck, catching her hands and drawing them his chest. “Slow down.”
She cringed, heat flaming its way up her neck and straight into her cheeks. “Sorry. I don’t know what got into me.” Except too much alcohol and a burning desire to relive better days. “I should go.”
“Or stay.” He lifted her chin with one finger, studying her for several seconds. “This is all sorts of crazy.”
Raine felt pinned, the intensity of the hunger in his eyes making her stomach clench. “Yes,” she whispered. She licked her lips, worried he might reject her, yet equally worried he’d accept her unspoken invitation.
He brushed her cheek, leaning in and nipping her bottom lip before he kissed her, deep and slow.
She revelled in his gentleness, his scent, and the heat of his hard body. Desire flared in a way she desperately missed.
A low wolf whistle wrenched her back to her surroundings.
It seemed to do the same for Tristan. He pressed his forehead against hers. “To be continued somewhere private?”
“Hold that thought.” He put the cues on the rack and paid their bill. Moments later, he returned and tugged her toward the door.
This was craziness incarnate. I’d lost my mind. Yet, what would it hurt? It was one night, just one night, and she’d never see him again.
A Steamy Romance from the Love Me Collection.