There was no way she was going to take her clothes off in a mall food court.
Which made the tables in front of Tacos R Us the perfect place to meet Cody the day after he’d kissed her in her kitchen.
He’d finally kissed her.
There had been so many times she’d thought he wanted to, thought he was thinking about it—too.
But he’d never done it, never given in.
Until last night.
And it had been amazing. And horrible.
Horrible because now she wanted to do it all the time and they could never do it again.
That was why she’d called him to meet her for lunch.
She’d known he’d say yes. They were friends by default. Cody was her brother’s friend from college. She’d met Cody for the first time almost fourteen years ago. If Conner’s little sister—any of Conner’s four younger sisters, actually—had called for lunch, Cody would say sure.
But this wasn’t any old lunch. This was a day-after lunch.
She blew out a breath. She wanted to get this over with. Telling Cody that they couldn’t ever kiss again was going to be one of the hardest things she’d ever done.
Especially if he tried to talk her out of it.
But she had to. She knew it.
Her brother would never go for it. He had a strict rule about his sisters dating his friends and she knew that this rule—well, probably all of his rules—applied especially to her. She was the baby. She was the one he most staunchly protected. Some of it came from the fact that she had still been a little girl—only eleven—when their father had his fatal heart attack and Conner had to step in as father figure to his four sisters. But a lot of it was Olivia’s fault. She, plain and simple, made bad choices when it came to men.
Conner had always had her back. He’d saved her from more than one huge mistake.
But as Cody stepped off the escalator and turned toward her, her breath caught.
Her taste really seemed to be improving.
Cody Madsen was gorgeous—dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, the build of a firefighter who also played football five times a week. But he was also sweet, funny, always polite, always considerate. And he baked kick ass cookies. She was so winning the Christmas cookie contest with his creation.
He was letting her take full credit for it too.
That was the kind of guy Cody was. Everyone knew it. His friends were known as playboys and flirts, but Cody was known as the nice guy.
The only person who didn’t think Cody was perfect was her brother.
But Cody was the youngest Fire Chief in Omaha history. He saved lives for a living.
Whatever he’d done in the past to make Conner wary had to be big.
“Hey,” Cody greeted her.
His deep voice and easy smile really did make her want to take her clothes off. Good thing fast food tacos put a bit of a damper on her sex drive.
She cleared her throat and forced her eyes away from the navy cotton t-shirt that stretched over his shoulders and chest. The firefighter emblem and stitched “House Three” over the left breast reminded her he was taking a break from work to be here. “Hey.”
He pulled out the yellow plastic chair next to her. Next to her. Not across from her. Then he angled it so he was facing her, their knees almost touching.
“Last night was amazing,” he said.
Well, that was one way to start the conversation.
“The cookies turned out great,” she said lightly.
“They did. Almost as great as the kissing. And the breasts.”
She felt both eyebrows go up. “The… breasts?”
“There were a couple of very nice breasts.”
She could tell her cheeks were pink and hot. As was the rest of her body at the reminder of Cody’s hands on said breasts.
She’d tingled in places she hadn’t even known she could tingle.
Who knew her pinky finger could tingle?
Maybe everyone. Maybe she’d just never been kissed like that before.
That was possible.
Again back to the bad taste in men thing.
“We can’t do that again,” she said. Somehow.
Cody gave her a long look, then settled back in the chair, resting his forearm on the table beside him.
“Yeah, you heard me or yeah, you know that’s true?”
He sighed. “Both I guess.”
“You agree, don’t you?” Maybe he’d talk her out of it. Maybe he had a bunch of great reasons why it could still work. Maybe he knew something she didn’t that would help Conner be okay with it. Maybe he’d already talked to Conner and…
At least he didn’t sound happy about it.
“Conner will never be okay with us being together,” she said.
“And I can’t sneak around behind his back.”
“And if it can’t go anywhere, if there’s no future, then I think we should stop it before it starts.”
She blew out a frustrated breath. Which didn’t make any sense. She shouldn’t be frustrated. He was agreeing with her. And she was right.
Still, would it kill him to argue a little? Or to at least say something like…
“I’m sitting in a mall food court, smelling cheap crappy tacos and caramel corn and I still want to pull you onto my lap and touch you until you make those amazing little sounds you made last night.”
Olivia felt her whole body flush. Yeah, something like that.
“And I can’t even watch you shredding that paper napkin without thinking about how it felt to have your hands on me.”
Olivia quickly wadded the napkin up and pushed it away from her. “Co—”
“And I can’t even watch you drink from that straw without remembering how your lips felt and how you taste and how much I want your mouth on other parts of me.”
She also pushed her iced tea away and took a deep breath. “This is a problem.”
He nodded. “It is. Because I’m pretty sure that even sitting here in this plastic chair in a food court with you, complete strangers walking by can tell that there is an electricity between us and I’m barely holding it together,” he said.
She stared at him. Damn.
There was a reason she couldn’t climb into his lap right this second, but she was having a hard time remembering what it was.
“We, um…” She cleared her throat. “We can’t.”
He looked sincerely sad when he nodded this time. “I know.”
“Conner…” She trailed off.
“Yeah, Conner,” Cody said simply.
“So I guess, we just have to play it cool if we see each other,” she said with a shrug, as if that would be a piece of cake.
Cody spread his feet and leaned in, his forearms on his knees. “I don’t think so.”
She blinked. “What?”
“I’m feeling stirred up sitting in the least romantic or intimate place there is,” he said.
She agreed with his assessment of their meeting place. Exactly why she’d chosen it. Though the stirred up thing was definitely happening to her too.
“If we’re together at a barbecue or Conner’s birthday party or even at Trudy’s,” he said, naming the local hangout for the players on their football team and their friends and fans, not to mention most of the staff from St. Anthony’s hospital where Conner worked, “he’s gonna notice something’s going on with us.”
In spite of knowing it was not wise, Olivia liked the sound of that. “You think so?”
“Yes,” Cody said firmly, even as his mouth curled. “I think so.”
“What do we do? Avoid each other?” she hated the sound of that.
He reached out and took her hand. Heat shot from her fingers to her nipples just like that. Yep, Conner was going to be able to see this chemistry. It was like they’d opened Pandora’s box. “I don’t want to do that. For one, it will be nearly impossible. If we refuse to ever be in the same place at the same time he’ll notice that and want to know why.”
She nodded. “I don’t want to do that either.” She shrugged. “I like you. I want to kiss you too, but I also just like you.”
Something flickered in Cody’s eyes and she saw his attention drop to her mouth. “I think maybe we need to make some rules.”
She wet her lips without thinking, then did it again when his pupils dilated.
“Stop it.” His voice was rougher now.
His gaze returned to hers. “No flirting. I can’t take it.”
Darn. She’d barely had time to enjoy flirting with him. But yeah, that was just throwing fuel on the fire. “Okay. I have an idea.”
She took her hand out of his reluctantly. “We’ll be friends.”
“We are friends. I still want to put you up on this table and—”
“Really good friends,” she interrupted before he could finish that thought. And before she could say “oh, yes please.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know how they say that we become desensitized to violence because we see it on tv all the time?” she asked, coming up with the plan and explanation as she went. “We just need to become desensitized to each other. We need to spend more time together, not less. Maybe if we hang out, we’ll realize that the other one isn’t so hot or so great. Maybe you have some really irritating habits that I won’t be able to stand. Or maybe you’ll realize that I’m only interesting when there’s schnapps involved.”
He grinned at that. “You’re only interesting when you’re drunk?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. So what do you say? Be my friend. I’ve never had a really good guy friend. There could be some real advantages to that. And if we’re friends—like I’ll-never-do-anything-to-jeopardize-this-friendship friends—then we won’t act on our attraction. We won’t want to ruin the friendship just for sex.”
He looked at her for a long time, seeming to ponder her suggestion. Finally he nodded. “Okay. What the hell? It’s worth a try. That way we won’t have to try to avoid each other.”
“And you bake,” she said, looking for and finding a few positives. Though it was damned hard to find something that would make not kissing Cody worth it. “I’ve never had anyone who enjoyed baking like I do. And a guy who bakes? Very cool.”
“You can be my beard,” he said.
She laughed. “What?”
“I love to bake, and I’m damned good at it, but the guys on the team and at the station will give me so much shit, I never do it. Now I can do it, and take it in to them, listen to them rave about how great it is, but I’ll tell them you made it.”
She grinned. “I accept. Oh, and,” she said, thinking of something else. “You can be my advisor.”
“What do you mean?”
“I make bad decisions when it comes to men and relationships. As a guy, you can help me see where they’re coming from and help me avoid picking the jerks.”
“You make bad decisions with men?” Cody asked, frowning. “That’s not okay.”
“That’s why I could use an advisor.”
“I accept. Though I’ll be honest, I kind of want to tell you to just never date anyone again.”
She gave him a smile. “That’s probably not realistic.”
She shook her head. “There’s something about me you should know.”
He lifted an eyebrow.
She looked around then leaned in, as if to impart a very deep secret. “I’m a hopeless romantic.”
Cody’s other eyebrow went up. “What’s that mean?”
“I believe in true love. Romance. Soul mates. The whole thing. I watch romantic chic flicks and read romance novels. I love Valentine’s Day. I love love stories. I’m sappy and sentimental and I want it.”
“True love. The big love story.”
He sat looking at her.
Finally she fidgeted. “Stupid, huh?”
He took a deep breath. “No. Not even a little. Which surprises me.”
“From anyone else, it might sound silly, but you sell it, Liv. You make me want to believe in it too.”
She smiled. “Stick around. I’ll show you that true love happens all the time.”
He nodded and leaned back. “Yeah, that might be a problem.”
“I already liked you and found you attractive. Last night you proved that you’re also very hot. And just now you became adorable.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Adorable?”
“In a very good—tempting—way.”
“So if we’re going to hang out and be friends and show Conner that we sincerely like each other and want to spend time together, then we’re going to need some rules.”
“Rules. Okay, like…”
She laughed. “Well, yeah, isn’t that a given?”
“I’m just thinking that it might, at times, be tempting to do it, but I think it’s just going to start a whole bunch of stuff we can’t control. Like New Year’s Eve. We shouldn’t kiss at midnight. And we need to stay away from mistletoe. And no birthday kisses or kissing hello or goodbye.”
Uh, huh. She’d clearly been missing a lot of great opportunities to kiss him in the past. “Yeah, okay, those make sense.”
“And no talking about sex.”
She tipped her head. “Why would we talk about sex?”
“I just think we need to be careful talking about anything that will take our thoughts down a dangerous path. Being around you will be hard enough. I don’t need to take any Cosmo quizzes or give the guy’s perspective on anything sexual or anything.”
“But that’s such a great perk to having a guy friend,” she protested.
“Can’t do it.”
She felt a little thrill at how obviously affected he was. “Fine. What else?”
“No skimpy clothing.” His eyes ran over her from head to toe.
“Short skirts, short shorts, tight jeans.”
“So ugly baggy sweatpants and stained t-shirts only?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes. Please.”
“Well, the same goes for you then. No taking your shirt off to work on my car or something,” she said. She understood what he was saying. The attraction wasn’t going to go away—even with repeat exposure probably—so they needed to avoid things that would make the temptation stronger.
“No drinking when we’re alone together. I don’t need to lose any inhibitions.”
She couldn’t contain her smile at that. He made it seem that he really was going to have to work to resist her. That did a girl’s ego some good. “Deal.”
“Okay, good. So we have a plan.”
“Sounds like it.”
“Then we’re going to sit here, eat crappy tacos together and talk about football. And I’m going to keep my eyes off of your lips and your breasts and your ass. Mostly. Probably.” He sighed. “I’ll keep my hands off your lips, breasts and ass. That I can promise.”
“Darn.” Too late she realized she shouldn’t have let the teasing comment slip.
“That. That’s what we have to avoid,” he said, his eyes hot on her.
“Yeah.” She shifted under his gaze. “But you started it. You can’t talk about my breasts and lips and ass.”
He coughed. “You can’t talk about your breasts, lips and ass either.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
Finally, Olivia asked. “So just friends then?”
He nodded. “Sure. No big deal.”
Right. How hard could it be?
But as she stepped up to Tacos R Us, she was very aware of Cody’s eyes on her ass.
It’s either true love…or the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.
Cody Madsen has stayed away from Olivia Dixon for almost two years—technically. Even though he talks to her every day and sees her every weekend. But there’s no kissing, touching, or telling her how he really feels. Because they’re just friends. Anything more than that would mean crossing the line that Olivia’s older brother—Cody’s best friend—has firmly drawn between them.
Olivia wants what her three sisters have—true love. She could almost believe she’s found it with Cody, if it weren’t for the fact that her brother won’t have it. And he’s never steered her wrong before. Her head is telling her to trust her brother, but her heart won’t let go of Cody.
Her solution? A dating site where she and Cody can each find their “Perfect Pick” once and for all.
But when the site yields some unexpected results, their real feelings come front and center. And they have to decide if it’s worth the risk to cross the line from friendship to love after all.
Warning: Contains a starry-eyed romantic, a wanna-be Knight in Shining Armor, and chocolate chip cookies. A lot of chocolate chip cookies.
Grab it here!