Dante ended the call and looked down to pick up his coffee from the cup holder. When he pulled his gaze up again, he saw a group of five people dressed in scrubs, chatting as they walked toward the parking lot. Two of them separated from the ranks, leaving three women to walk in the opposite direction. After a few more words, two of the ladies split off, and the remaining woman headed toward a small red sedan.
There was no mistaking that face; this was the woman he’d been looking for. He watched as she maneuvered the car out of the parking lot. When her car was a comfortable distance away, Dante slowly pulled out of his spot to follow. He tracked her vehicle cautiously. There were always two to three cars between them at any given time. When she went through the electronic tag-holder lane to get to the Whitestone Bridge, he aimed his car at the cash lane.
He kept eyes on her all the way to Brooklyn, all the way to a familiar block. He’d been to Crescent Street several times over throughout his life. His right-hand man in Florida had a grandmother who lived on this block.
“It can’t be,” he whispered. “It’s just a coincidence.”
He watched her step out of her car and walk toward a house he could remember standing inside. When she reached the inside of the gate, he slipped inside behind her.
She stumbled at the sound of his voice. Her head snapped around, her gaze clashing with Dante’s. That was when he felt it: That sizzle, that spark of electricity they’d always shared. That fire that was constantly present when they were this close. This wasn’t a coincidence.
“My God, it’s you,” slipped from his lips just before he pulled her into his arms and sealed her lips with his. There was that perfect mix of fire, heat, and vanilla that was always there whenever he’d kissed her in the past. Familiar lips moved under his with a matched urgency. A routine so familiar neither of them had to think about it. Even after six years, their bodies still remembered.
He pulled away from the kiss only to take in the air his burning lungs were demanding. He looked down into the hickory-brown gaze staring back at him and saw the spark of fear there.
“Six years, Sanai. Six fucking years I thought you were dead. Care to explain to me how I managed to get that wrong?”
She tried to step away from him, but he placed a firm hand on her forearm to keep her where she stood.
“Why are you here, Dante? You shouldn’t be here.”
“No.” He shook his finger at her. “The question isn’t why am I here, but how the hell are you here? I saw them bring your body out of that burning building. The cops had to fucking cuff me to keep me from running in there to try to save you. How did we all get that wrong, Sanai? There was a body with your necklace on it. How the hell could you let me think you’d died in that damn fire?”
* * * *
Sanai stood in front of the full-length mirror on the back of her en-suite bathroom door. She smoothed lotion over still shower-damp skin. First her toned thighs, then over her flat stomach and continued the passage of her hands down over the deep curve of her hips. She rubbed her skin lovingly as she continued up her arms, over the firm swell of her breasts, onto her strong shoulders, and eventually her face. She was diligent in keeping her movements steady, forcing her limbs to work despite the shaking she felt so deep within her core. She lifted her hand to the tightly coiled Bantu knots on her head and brushed imaginary loose strands back into place.
“What the hell am I doing?”
Less than ten minutes ago Dante was demanding answers from her. That was almost comical considering his actions were directly responsible for the crazy shit that had taken place in her life. If anyone was owed an explanation, it was her. Too bad the bossy Italian waiting in her living room didn’t see it that way.
He wasn’t going to drop this. Neither was she. The only difference—she was going to fight smart. Standing in the middle of her living room arguing with him wasn’t going to win this for her.
In the middle of Dante’s rant she’d held up a hand and told him, “I’m dirty and tired, and I’m not about to do this until I get clean. If you want answers, you’re going to have to wait fifteen minutes.” He hadn’t liked it, but he’d stepped away and given her the space she needed to exit the room.
She’d believed the few minutes locked away in her bathroom would give her time to get her shit together. Too bad the joke was on her, because standing her alone in this room knowing Dante was waiting for her to explain herself was wreaking havoc on her nerves.
She gave herself a mental reprimand for standing there preening, for stalling. It was Dante, the man who’d nearly cost her everything, including her life. Why the hell should she care what he thought of her after all these years?
She pushed a long sigh out of her lungs and into the air. Who was she fooling? This wasn’t about making sure she looked good in front of company. Well, not entirely, anyway. Yeah, she didn’t want to look like “poor relation” in front of Dante—especially since the last six years had done nothing but enhanced the fine that man wore naturally. But her primping in the mirror had more to do with avoidance than anything else.
“Sanai, you either come out here, or I’m coming in there, but either way, we’re having this conversation now.”
The strong rumble of his voice seemed to vibrate through the wood of the door and into her body. She tensed her muscles, trying to ward against the tremble that sound was igniting.
I am not afraid of him. I did what I had to. I am not afraid of him
Wait, is he inside my room?
She grabbed the knee-length bathrobe hanging on the wall, pulled it on, and tied the sash quickly around her waist. Her suspicions were confirmed when she pulled the door open and saw him sitting comfortably on her bed.
The nerves she’d been battling inside the bathroom gave way to fiery anger, boiling quickly.
“‘Fuck are you doing in here? I left you in the living room,” she barked.
“Forgive me if I didn’t trust you not to disappear through the bathroom window,” he countered quietly.
She walked until she stood directly in front of him, chest heaving, head pounding with the sound of her heart banging against her ribs. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
He stood up, his frame reaching just shy of six feet, solid, with thick muscles straining his shirt, forcing her to take a step back as she looked up at him.
“I’m the fucking man that loved you more than my own life!” he bellowed as he stepped forward, forcing her to backpedal with each step he took. “The man who thought he would die when he found a dead woman burned beyond recognition holding the locket I gave you, the locket you wore every day. I’m the fool that stood over a hole in the ground and cried like a baby at his mother’s tit while a casket holding what I thought were your remains was lowered into it!”
Her back crashed against the hard wall, but she couldn’t stop to worry about the zing of pain spreading against her shoulders and the back of her skull. Unsure of what he’d do, she needed to keep her eyes on him.
The Dante she’d known had never been a violent man—intense with a temper to be wary of, yes, but never violent.
Can you be certain of that six years later?
When she was flat against the wall, he cornered her, both arms caging her as his palms rested on either side of her head. He leaned down closer to her, forcing his eyes to meet hers. “I’m the man who came back to that lonely grave every day for six fucking months, lying curled up on it because it was the only place I could be physically close to you.”
The image of Dante lying in a dark cemetery aching for her tore something in Sanai. He might have been indirectly involved with why she’d left Florida the way she had, but no human being deserved that kind of mental and emotional torture. That was exactly what it was; the rage filling his fixed onyx stare was telling enough. There was so much anger there, anger that only came when you’d lost something irreplaceable.
His pupils were blown, his breathing ragged, large swells of air pushing in and out of his lungs. He wasn’t speaking. She didn’t even think he was capable of speaking any longer, rage vibrating off his trembling frame.
She took a shaky hand and touched the small patch of olive skin on his wrist exposed by his rolled-up sleeves.
“Dante, I…” She swallowed, attempting to think of what to say next. She’d had cause to be angry all these years, much of it focused on him. But she’d never entertained the idea that he’d suffered the way his outburst suggested.
She couldn’t find the words, so she stroked that area of skin with slow, soft movements. She continued her circular strokes until his breathing calmed, until he began to blink away some of the rage clouding his soulful eyes. Until she believed he was seeing her and not his anger at her.
“Dear God… You’re alive,” he whispered. His eyes watered, and tears began to make a slow trek down the sharp angles of his face, joining into a huge drop at the bottom of his squared chin. “I prayed so many times just to be able to touch you again, feel your touch…hear your voice.”
Tentative fingers danced over the edges of her jaw, across her cheeks and forehead, down the wide bridge of her nose. It was such a familiar pattern. Something she should’ve forgotten by now, something that should be deemed insignificant after all this time. It was how he would outline her face in the darkness of her bedroom after they’d made love or when he was waking her up in the morning to make love to her again.
This path was always the same. No matter how many times he’d done it, it was always the same. And then his fingers landed on their final destination—her lips. He traced each of them with a slow, sacred pace, until her entire body was dancing with anticipation.
When her lips opened for him, as they had so many times before, he pushed his thumb inside. His eyes locked with hers, and instinct took over. At least that was what she told herself as she closed her eyes and lips and sucked on the lone digit, tongue swirling around it, laving at it until she heard the tiny but familiar pull of breath he took into his lungs.
As soon as tongue touched skin, she felt the lips of her pussy swell with sensitivity, her desire beginning to pulse, her muscles pulling in an open-and-close motion. How could she be so fucking thirsty for someone she’d claimed to hate all this time?
He pulled his thumb from her mouth and placed it at the junction of her clavicles, allowing it to slide down the darkened line that traveled between her breasts and down her abdomen. He kept sliding that thumb down until it separated the loosely tied belt of her robe and allowed the two satin halves to fall away to her sides. He kept that thumb moving until it dipped inside her belly button, forcing her to draw in a breath to still herself.