Adam Clayton looked around the photo studio and
asked himself the same question he’d pondered a dozen times in the last half
hour--what on earth was he doing? It was one thing to help out Nick with
paperwork while his buddy was at the hospital about to become a new dad, but
there was no way Adam could actually take the photos for the appointments booked
into Nick’s studio today. He was a stockbroker, for cryin’ out loud, not a
photographer. Or at least he used to be a stockbroker. Now he was a...
dragged his hands through his hair. What exactly was he? Career-wise,
he didn’t know, and it had become increasingly clear to him every day since
leaving Wall Street two months ago that while he’d accomplished his goal of
minimizing the health-threatening stress and anxiety in his life, he didn’t like
not knowing what he was. Who he was. Where his life was heading. For a guy
who’d always defined himself by his career, he now felt like a ship without a
frowned. Surely this disquiet was only temporary. He just needed more time to
get used to being out of the rat race. Still, it was difficult for him not to
have a grasp on things. He’d always been so disciplined, his schedule so
regimented, his time so consumed with work, that he was finding it a real
challenge to throttle back and take it easy.
missed the passion and energy his hectic, frenetic work had inspired. He needed
to find another outlet for that energy and passion--something that would bring
him the same sense of satisfaction but wouldn’t make him face another health
scare like the one he’d recently experienced. Nothing quite as sobering as a
grim-faced cardiologist asking him if he wanted to end up like his father.
Which he sure as hell did not. Lying on that gurney with all those monitors
beeping around him, had been a major wake-up call. He’d realized then and there
that he needed to change his life--now. Not at some nebulous point in
the future. So, two weeks after those stress-induced chest pains had landed him
in the emergency room, one month after his thirtieth birthday, he’d officially
“retired” from Wall Street. He had no intention of becoming a statistic and
leaving behind a young wife and family like his workaholic, stock broker father
Now, with nothing and no one to worry about except himself, he was finally free
to do some of the things he’d always wanted. Things he’d never had the time to
do. Top of the list--three months in Europe. During college, he’d twice
planned to spend the summer trekking around Europe, but on both occasions his
plans had been thwarted. First time courtesy of illness. Talk about a lousy
time to catch mono. Second time...
blew out a deep breath and forced back the barrage of memories that threatened
to sneak out of the place where he kept them carefully locked away. Second time
he’d cancelled because he’d fallen wildly, passionately in love and hadn’t
wanted to spend one minute, let alone the entire summer away from her.
shook his head to dispel the image that rose in his mind’s eye of the laughing,
smiling girl who’d so thoroughly captured his heart that long ago summer. His
gaze fell upon the photo on Nick’s desk. An 8x10 of a smiling Nick and Annie on
their wedding day two years ago, and a wave of undeniable envy washed through
Adam. Maybe he didn’t know what sort of new career he wanted, but one thing he
definitely did know he wanted--the kind of loving, happy relationship Nick and
Annie shared. The same kind his parents had shared...until his father’s death.
But not just yet.
No, first he planned to enjoy this time off--the first he’d had in years, and
indulge in his lifelong dream of seeing the world--at something less than warp
speed. Except for the Caribbean, he’d never traveled outside the United
States. And he’d never been anywhere for more than three days at a time.
Growing up, his family’s vacations had consisted of quick jaunts over two or
three day weekends when the stock exchange was closed. Due to the Clayton
family vacation time constraints, the rule was their destination couldn’t
require more than a three hour flight, or a four hour drive.
Since he was a kid, he’d always wanted to go somewhere far away and stay there
for more than thirty-six hours. Bask in the culture, take his time to explore
the intricacies of a single city. As of yet, it hadn’t happened. With his
crazy work schedule, he hadn’t taken a vacation of any length in more than five
years. Now he had his chance and nothing was going to stop him from snatching
the brass ring he’d waited so long to grab.
Yet, except for his travel plans, he hadn’t made any definite decisions about
what direction he now wished to head. The answer was out there, yet it
frustratingly remained just beyond his reach, whispering that if he just
stretched a little bit further, the solution would come to him. At some point
he’d have to make a decision, but thanks to careful financial planning, that
point wasn’t right now. And with six months left on the lease on his Manhattan
apartment, he didn’t need to worry about moving just yet. Which was good as he
had no idea where he planned to live--other than to know it would no longer be
in fast-paced Manhattan.
So, in the meanwhile, he’d do what the doctor ordered. Rest. Relax. Toss off
his all work, no play persona and embrace the carefree, bachelor lifestyle.
Hook up with a bevy of gorgeous women. Not that he’d lived like a monk
before--but he’d certainly devoted a hell of a lot more time to his job than to
his social life. A few years down the road, after he’d seen the world, made up
for lost dating time and had a new career going, then he’d start looking around
for Ms. Right.
You found her once, his inner voice
chimed in slyly. You had her. But you let her get
The mental picture he’d only moments ago successfully blocked now broke through
his carefully erected barriers and a vivid image of Mallory Altman rose in his
mind, filling him with the same sense of loss and regret the thought of her
Had ten years really passed since they’d first met? Nine years since that
unforgettable summer when their friendship had caught fire and flared into a
steaming love affair? Yes, although when he allowed himself to think about that
summer, the memories remained so clear, so vivid, it didn’t seem possible it had
happened so long ago.
this day, if he closed his eyes, he could still hear her infectious laugh. See
her teasing grin. He’d loved her sense of humor, the magical way she could turn
even the dullest chore into something fun. He’d fallen hard...so hard that the
depth of his feelings had scared the crap out of him. Yeah, he’d had her, but
the timing had been wrong. For both of them.
They’d been too young, his emotions too intense. She’d just turned eighteen and
was headed off to a university hundreds of miles away, while he was only
twenty-one, a new college grad about to start his Wall Street career. When he’d
found himself thinking about forever--about marriage, kids, and a mortgage,
panic swamped him and he suggested they take a break. See other people. She’d
agreed and he’d breathed a huge sigh of relief.
hadn’t taken him long to realize he’d made a mistake, but it had been long
enough for her to find someone else. And to make it clear that Adam was now
“just a friend.” Losing her, realizing that her feelings hadn’t run anywhere
near as deep as his had hurt like a jagged blade through his heart.
They’d briefly run into each other a few times after that, but each time they’d
been involved with other people. He hadn’t seen her in five years. Still, the
image of her gorgeous smile and warm, chocolaty brown eyes remained as vibrant
as ever. The last he’d heard about her had been three years ago when he’d seen
an announcement in the paper that she’d gotten engaged.
odd, unsettling numbness had invaded his chest at the news, and all the memories
he’d so firmly locked away had ambushed him. The first time he’d seen her.
First time he’d touched her. Kissed her. Made love to her. The last time he’d
touched her...and all those touches in between. He’d tortured himself, letting
down his guard to recall those incredible few weeks that had been the happiest
of his life. Then he’d mentally wished her well and forced her from his mind--a
feat he managed fairly well most of the time.
Now, he roughly shoved aside her image. Mallory was the past. His future was
spread before him like a bachelor banquet filled with desirable women, no
strings sex, the European trip he’d always dreamed of, desirable women, and no
strings sex. He’d worked hard and now it was time to decompress and reap some
bell tinkled, indicating that someone had entered the storefront, yanking him
from his reverie. Must be the one o’clock appointment. As Nick had dashed out
this morning after Annie’s call announcing she was in labor, he’d asked Adam to
reschedule the day’s appointments. He’d been able to contact everyone except
the one o’clock and two o’clock slots. Hopefully they’d both be understanding
about the lack of photographer. He didn’t want to lose any customers for Nick
in his absence.
Exiting the studio, he made his way down the short hallway toward the front of
the store. When he entered the main room, he saw a dark haired woman wearing a
sleeveless turquoise dress standing in front of the glass-top counter, her back
“Hi,” he said, striding forward with a smile.
She turned and whatever else he’d planned to say drained from his head as his
footsteps faltered then stopped. And damn, it felt as if his heart did the
same. Her brown eyes widened, and she looked nearly as stunned as he felt. He
wouldn’t have believed she could look better than what his memory conjured up,
but she did. More beautiful. More desirable. More tempting. And real.
How ironic that since timing had played such a pivotal role in their
relationship and its demise that she should walk through the door just when he’d
been thinking about her.
Walking toward her, he cleared his throat to find his voice and spoke words he’d
never thought he’d have the opportunity to say again.
* * * * *
“Bring your knee up a little higher. Ooooh, yeah. Right there.
Altman shifted on the smooth ivory satin sheets, the material cool and slick
against her overheated body. She felt like an overripe peach about to burst
from its too-tight skin. Certainly not the way she’d anticipated feeling this
afternoon. But then, she hadn’t anticipated finding herself in Adam Clayton’s
Even after not seeing him for five years, the sound of his deep, husky voice
still shivered tingles down her spine. Good thing she was laying down, because
her knees felt positively mushy. Yet she’d felt mushy since the moment she’d so
unexpectedly set eyes on him. She couldn’t deny that over the past five years
she’d found herself wondering if or when she might see him again. But never,
not even in her wildest fantasies, had it ever occurred to her that it would
happen like this.
She’d been so stunned to see him she’d barely managed to ask him what he was
doing here, of all places. Left his job on Wall Street, he’d replied, much to
her amazement, and was pitching in at Picture This to help out his best
friend Nick whose wife had gone into labor that morning. There’d been little
time for more conversation--she had a client to see in an hour, and he had
another appointment. Once she’d changed into her lingerie for her boudoir
pictures photo shoot, everything had just moved so quickly, and talking had been
the last thing on her mind.
Still, surely it was only this provocative situation that had her in this
aroused state--and nothing to do with Adam himself. After all, what they’d
shared together was long over. Besides, what woman wouldn’t find herself
aroused by lying on satin sheets, wearing exquisitely expensive silk lingerie
while being photographed by a sexy, gorgeous man?
He’d always been attractive--not handsome in a pretty boy, conventional way--but
in a ruggedly masculine way that made it seem as if he spent all his time
outdoors rather than on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. With his
thick dark hair and deep blue eyes, she’d liked the look of him the instant
she’d laid eyes on him ten years ago.
image flashed in her mind of the first time she’d seen him. She’d been eighteen
and sulky, convinced her life was over because she and her mom had just
relocated--for the sixth time in twelve years--from Chicago to Long Island, New
York, forcing her to attend her upcoming senior year of high school at a new
school. She’d prayed that her mother’s position with the orchestra in Chicago
would last just one more year, but no such luck.
a professional cellist and financially strapped single mother, Emily Altman
moved to whichever city’s orchestra made her the best offer. Because of their
transient lifestyle and the fact that money was forever tight, they’d always
lived in apartments--until the move to Long Island where, as a concession to
Mallory for leaving her friends and steady boyfriend, her mom had splurged and
rented a small house, the first they’d ever lived in. For Mallory, the profound
sense of stability, of permanence, she’d felt at finally living in a house had
almost made up for having to move again. She’d actually considered staying in
Chicago, living with a girlfriend’s family to finish out her last year of high
school, but in the end she just couldn’t let her mom go alone. Since Mallory’s
father had walked away before she was born rather than accept the responsibility
of a pregnant girlfriend, Mallory and her mom had always been the two
musketeers. So she’d packed up and moved. Again. And had met Adam.
He’d been twenty and friendly, home for the summer after completing his junior
year of college. Thanks to his summer job working for a landscaping business,
he’d been mowing the lawn at her house. At the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m. on a
Saturday. She’d been tempted to hurl a shoe out her bedroom window at him, but
then he’d looked up and smiled at her and whammo--suddenly New York
wasn’t looking so bad. A friendship and easy camaraderie had been born. He was
smart, funny, and possessed a work ethic, a drive and ambition she deeply
admired and respected. He’d made her laugh, and had amazed her when he said
he’d lived in the same house his entire life. A year later, their friendship
caught fire, and for a beautiful, brief time, had burned out of control. A
decade after that first meeting, his smile still had the power to affect her.
“Think about what you want to do to your lover,” Adam said softly, jerking her
attention back to the present. He looked at her through the lens of his Nikon
and adjusted the focus. “Think about what you want your lover to do to you.”
memory, sharp and poignant, instantly materialized in Mallory’s mind...of that
incredible summer...of the first time they’d made love. Adam, scooping her up
in his strong arms, his blue eyes hot with want as he carried her to his bed.
She’d wanted so badly to touch him, taste him. And wanted him to do the same to
been a virgin and nervous, expecting awkwardness, but they’d laughed over their
brief fumbles, and then...pure magic. His hands...God, she remembered his hands
so well...large and calloused, skimming down her body, touching her everywhere,
followed by his lips which had proved as magical as his hands. Her hands and
lips exploring him. Hot skin, murmured words, tangled sheets. And the way he’d
looked at her, with such desire, reverence and need as he’d slowly entered her.
She was vaguely aware of the shutter snapping, but all her focus, all her
concentration, was on the memories washing over her. And the fantasy of
experiencing that heat with him again.
that was really...
And damned inconvenient.
closed her eyes and tried to visualize Greg--the man she should be
thinking about. Greg. Her boyfriend. The man for whom she was having these
provocative boudoir pictures taken. Her plan had been to reignite their stalled
love life with a gift of these photos. Yet ever since she’d walked into the
studio and discovered to her shock and consternation that Adam would be taking
the pictures, her fine plan had disintegrated like steam in a wind storm. And
speaking of steam...she felt as if it were pulsing from her every pore.