Brent and I make record time driving back to DC—I pushed my Porsche to the limit and she did not let me down. I refused to stop overnight, so one of us slept in the passenger seat while the other drove. For two men over six feet, sleeping in a Porsche is not conducive to happy fucking dreams, but Brent didn’t complain. He knew it was killing me to be so far away and he put “Ride of the Valkyries” on repeat to help lighten the mood.
I park in front of his townhouse and jog down the block to Sofia’s. As I get closer, I see boxes on her stoop and furniture stationed at her curb. My heart starts to hammer in my chest. Is she moving?
I knock hard on her front door, impatience pushing on my back. The door opens . . . and a giant looks back at me. Literally. Six-five, wide chest, arms like a professional wrestler, and a menacing scowl.
“What do you want?”
And I feel like a ten-year-old kid. “Is Sofia home?”
“Who wants to know?” From shoes to head, his eyes appraise me. Hazel eyes. Eyes I’m intimately familiar with.
I point my finger. “You’re the brother—the one she said could kick my ass. The doctor.” He doesn’t nod, but he also doesn’t say I’m wrong. “I’m . . . your sister and I are . . .” I refuse to call her my friend, ’cause she’s much more than that. So for the first time in my life, I stutter—like a goddamn idiot. “I’m her . . . we’re . . . she told me all about you.”
He crosses his arms, and they grow even larger. “She hasn’t said a word about you.”
Before I can respond, another guy comes to the door—this one more normal size, a little bit shorter than me. He has thick, short brown hair, a friendly smile, and teasing brown eyes—just like Sofia described him.
“Victor, come on, the couch isn’t going to move itself,” he says to Gigantor. Then he notices me. “Hey.”
I hold my hand out, eager to introduce myself to Sofia’s closest brother. “Stanton Shaw. You’re Tomás?”
He shakes my hand and his smile broadens. “That’s right. How are you doing, Stanton? Come on in, Sofia’s told me about you.”
Gigantor steps aside as I walk in. “Why didn’t she tell me all about him?”
Tomás gives his brother a look that I’ve seen on my own brothers’ faces. “’Cause you can’t keep a secret—none of us tell you anything.” Then he smacks me on the back and asks, “Have you come to grovel?”
I chuckle, maybe just a bit nervously. “Yeah. How’d you know?”
“I know my sister.”
“What does he have to grovel for?” Gigantor asks.
“Doesn’t matter,” Tomás tells him. “As long as he’s here.”
Then we walk into the living room—stepping around boxes and furniture. Looks like the tornado hit here instead of Mississippi.
“Sofia felt the place needed a makeover,” Tomás explains. “She gets like that when she’s stressed. So she rallied the troops and here we are.”
In the kitchen I see another dark-haired guy wearing round John Lennon glasses—Lucas, brother number two, I’m guessing. Near the couch is an older but still solidly built man with salt-and-pepper hair.
I walk up to him and hold out my hand. “Hello, Mr. Santos, I’m Stanton Shaw. It’s an honor to meet you.” I pause, trying to think of the right words. “I think your daughter’s an amazing woman, sir.”
He pins me with his stare for a few moments. Then he grins and shakes my hand. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Shaw.”
All heads turn to the woman coming down the stairs. She’s smaller than I’d imagined Sofia’s mother to be, with shoulder-length dark hair and lovely, familiar features. Her eyes settle on me, filled with recognition—and animosity. And I know Tomás isn’t the only member of her family Sofia poured her heart out to.
I approach her, holding out my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Santos, I’m—”
She glances at my hand with disdain and cuts me off—in Portuguese. “Você é um homem estúpido que machucou a minha filha. Se eu tivesse meu caminho, eles nunca iria encontrar o seu corpo.”
It would seem I’m a stupid man, and if she had her way they’d never find my body.
I shake my head. “Estou aqui para fazer isso direito. Sofia significa . . . tudo para mim.” I’m here to make it right. Because Sofia means everything to me.
At least, I hope that’s what I said.
Her eyes flash with surprise.
“Sofia’s been teaching me Portuguese,” I explain with a shrug. “I’m a fast learner.”
A reluctant smile tugs at Mrs. Santos’s lips and her head tilts with begrudging approval. Then she steps aside. “She’s upstairs, in the bedroom, painting.”
I nod. “Thank you, ma’am.”
• • •
I step softly through the open doorway. Her back is to me as she stares at fresh paint on the wall. I take the opportunity to soak her in, like a plant that hasn’t seen the sun in a year. Her hair is pulled up, tiny wisps brushing the sweet-tasting skin below her ear. I take in her delicate shoulders under a red T-shirt, black yoga pants, the elegant curve of her spine that leads down to the luscious swell of her ass—also sweet tasting.
“What do you think, Mamãe?” she asks without turning, her head tilted. “I’m not sure about the yellow; it’s duller than it looked on the swatch.”
“I think it looks like dried dog piss, if you want the truth.”
She whips around, eyes wide like she’s seeing a ghost. “Stanton!” After a moment, she blinks, trying to rein in her surprise. To act casual. “When did you get home?”
But casual can kiss my ass.
“I haven’t been home. I dropped Brent off and came straight here. To you.” Now I eat up the view from the front—those lips, her amazing breasts that I want to rest my head on, the green speckles in her eyes, like precious gems.
I lift my chin toward the paint cans. “What’s that about?”
She looks between me and the cans, nervously. “Redecorating—it felt like I needed a new start.”
I move forward, needing to be closer. And I’ve held back about as much as I’m capable of. “Christ I’ve missed you, Soph. The last two days have felt like forever.”
Her gaze drops to the floor. “I’m sorry I left like I did, but I needed to—”
“No.” I stalk the rest of the way across the room. “You had your chance to talk. You rested your case—now it’s my turn.” I kick a folding chair toward her, and there’s a definite warning in my voice. “So sit down and listen up.”
Her eyes widen, and for a second I think she’s going to argue. But then she does as she’s told.
I stand in front of her. “It started at the softball game, with Amsterdam staring at your ass.”
“Stanton, I told you—”
“Quiet,” I snap, pressing a finger against her now-closed lips. “When I wanted to rip his eyeballs out for lookin’ at your ass, that was the first time it felt like . . . more. It wasn’t my place to tell him not to look at you—but I wanted it to be.”
I push a hand through my hair, trying to explain so she’ll understand. “That’s the real reason why I asked you to come with me—even though I didn’t see it at the time. Because I didn’t want to be away from you—didn’t want to risk losin’ you to someone else. And when I saw you there, in my home—with the people who mean the most to me . . . it got more intense. Wantin’ you, needin’ you, feelin’ so fuckin’ grateful to have you. But it was all screwed up—mixed up with Jenny gettin’ married, feelin’ like I needed to do somethin’ to keep from losin’ her.”
She’s leaning forward, hanging on every word, her eyes breaking my heart—filled with hope and fear. “When I got it sorted out in my head, when I finally had the balls to admit to myself how much you meant to me . . . it was already too late. I didn’t know if there was a chance you felt the same way. I didn’t know how to tell you without it lookin’ like you were just the rebound. And I never wanted you to feel that way—not for a minute.
“Jenny will always be my friend, the mother of the little girl who owns my heart, the first girl I loved.” Then my voice goes scratchy, strangled with emotion. “But you, Sofia . . . I swear, if you let me . . . you will be the last.”
There are tears in her beautiful eyes, rolling down her cheeks. I crouch down in front of her, running my hand over her shoulder, holding the back of her neck. “And I’m so fuckin’ pissed off at you. I want to sit down on that bed, strip you down, and spank your ass till it’s as red as that wall downstairs.”
She hiccups. “P . . . pissed at me? Why?”
“Because you let me hurt you. You never said anythin’. When I think about how it must’ve been for you . . . like a thousand paper cuts.”
I hold her face, brush her tears away with my thumb, because I can’t not touch her a second longer.
She blinks up at me, swallowing a breath. “That was one hell of a closing argument, Stanton.”
I gaze into her eyes. “It’s what I do. So . . . what’s the verdict?”
She runs her fingers through my hair, her expression tender and soft. “The verdict is . . . no.”
I knew it. Never doubted my powers of persuasion for a second. I was sure if I just had the chance to explain, she’d . . . wait.
I lean back. “What the hell do you mean, no? You can’t say no!” Moisture breaks out on my brow and my heart protests in my chest.
She shrugs. “I just did.”
My hands tighten reflexively around her jaw. “What the fuck, Soph? Two days ago, you told me you were in love with me! You don’t fall out of love with someone in two goddamn days!”
“Exactly,” she says in a small voice.
“I don’t under—”
“I’ve watched you pine over another woman for the last week. For months, I’ve heard you talk about Jenny this and Jenny that. And now that she’s unavailable, you suddenly realize I’m the one you love?”
“I haven’t been in love with Jenny for a very long time, Soph. I just didn’t know it until now.” I swallow hard. “You don’t . . . you don’t believe me?”
She touches my face, tracing my jaw, watching her fingers’ path with rapt attention. “I want to. I want to believe you so bad.” Then she withdraws her touch. “But . . . I can’t be your rebound. I won’t. That would break me, Stanton. A week ago, I was okay with having any part of you I could—but I’m not okay with that anymore. I want all of you. For real. And forever.”
I lean closer, looking into her eyes. “Darlin’, you have me. By the heart, by the balls, and any other way you want.”
A smile tugs at her lips as she gazes boldly back at me. “Prove it.”
Teeth scrape my bottom lip as I consider all the glorious ways I can demonstrate what she means to me—over and over again. There’s laughter in my voice when I ask, “Is that a challenge?”
Color rises in her cheeks and the air between us shifts. Growing more intense, more heated—not just with attraction, but with the promise of something deeper. A future. Together.
I pull her closer, and brush my lips against hers, a feather light touch. And I swear to her, “Okay. Then we’ll start over, from the beginnin’. The way we should’ve started. No friends with benefits. I’m goin’ to do it right—take you out to gorgeous places, keep you in for whole weekends. I want you to get dressed up for me so I can take my time undressing you. I want to memorize every inch of your body and hear every thought in your mind. And then you won’t have any doubt that the only woman I want, the only woman I love—is you.”
Sofia leans in, her cheek, her nose skimming my own. Her voice is slightly breathless as she wonders, “So . . . that was you asking me out, right?”
And then her eyes are sparkling. “I’d like to make it clear that I’m totally open to sex on the first date.”
I chuckle. “I was really, really, hopin’ you’d say that.”
Then I press my lips to hers. Her mouth opens, welcoming, her sweet tongue meeting me halfway. I feel her hands gripping my shirt, sliding over my shoulders, up my neck, cupping my jaw. I pull her flush against me, holding her, letting her know with every brush of my fingers, every whispered word that I never want to let go. And I feel the same in her—relief, joy with each sigh, every soft promise. Sofia and I have kissed hundreds of times—but not like this. It’s different. Better.
It’s fucking perfect.
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