On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Miguel Santos leaves his high-powered life behind for a visit to the small town he grew up in… and the high school sweetheart whose wild passion he’s never stopped craving.
Faith Bennett loved Miguel the moment she saw him. But she always knew his future was in New York, while hers was tied to the auto shop that was her close-knit family’s livelihood. Pushing him away nearly broke her, but when he took her heart with him, he left something precious behind.
Now he’s back, demanding her body, her desire, her very soul as retribution for the pain he still carries. He won’t settle for anything less than everything she’s got, but she still can’t leave with him and he still can’t stay, and their past has secrets too explosive to share.
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The smell of motor oil, degreaser, and coolant were among the very few scents in the world that made Miguel Santos’s dick hard enough to drive nails. He blamed that on Faith Bennett. The girl he’d loved with the wild, intense passion only experienced in adolescence. The girl he had slaked all his raging teenage hormones on every chance he could. The girl he’d fully intended to marry and spend the rest of his life spoiling with the sort of expensive gifts, cars, and homes her struggling family couldn’t afford.
…until she’d kicked him to the curb the day after his high school graduation.
Miguel pulled the keys from the ignition of the sleek BMW coupe he’d rented at the airport, then slid out from behind the wheel. He took off his sunglasses and stared at the auto shop in front of him. Bennett and Sons Garage looked better than he’d ever seen it. Fresh tan and forest green paint spoke of steady business, as did the number of cars in the service area. They’d expanded at some point, taking over the lot next door that used to be a paint shop. He’d noted on the drive over that the neighborhood had been revitalized. So much had changed in the twelve years since he’d left Rio Penasquitos. He’d changed.
But his memories of Faith remained the same–fierce and heated. Powerful.
Powerful enough to bring him face-to-face with a woman he’d sworn never to see again. He’d finally accepted that he wasn’t moving forward because part of him was still clinging to the past. Like every other memory from high school, his recollections were stained by the perceived omnipotence of youth and he’d realized what he had to do. He needed to see Faith again, with an experienced man’s eyes, so he could finally cut through the nostalgia and close that chapter of his past.
He headed to the waiting room. Grabbing the metal handle of the glass door, Miguel stepped into the cool air conditioning and smiled absently at those who filled the chairs in the expansive space. A mother was walking her son to the vending machine, an older gentleman was reading a copy of Forbes that just happened to have Miguel’s dad on the cover, and a couple college-age kids were laughing over something they were watching on an iPhone.
“Good news, Mr. Sullivan,” a husky voice called from behind the service counter. “You don’t need a new radiator.”
Miguel froze, his body tensing. He dreamed of that voice sometimes. Relived occasions when it had teased him, taunted him, begged him…
First loves were heady; everyone knew that. But his had been soaked with insanely combustible lust. A desire so hot it had seared into his brain.
He exhaled harshly and got a grip on himself. He’d been a kid then, highly-sexed and blessed with a lush, sensual girlfriend. It would be different now. He had control of his dick and libido.
Faith appeared at the counter, her gaze on her hands as she pulled off the latex gloves she wore while working. She was dressed in a baggy blue jumpsuit and her long, dark hair was clipped up, effectively subduing her sexiest assets.
Miguel’s cock didn’t mind. It thickened and lengthened with rousing appreciation.
Goddammit… She was still hot as hell. Full-lipped, blue-eyed, honey-skinned. A fucking walking wet dream.
Mr. Sullivan set down the issue of Forbes and stood.
“Your radiator hose–” Her gaze caught on Miguel. She paled and reached for the counter.
He stood riveted, rocked by desire so ferocious he could barely string two thoughts together. His brain got as far as him leaping over the counter and dragging her to the floor, then it shorted out.
“Radiator hose sprung a leak?” Mr. Sullivan asked, approaching her.
Faith visibly shook off her shock and glanced at her customer. “Yes. I replaced it and refilled your coolant reservoir. Angela will type up the repair order and check you out.”
She managed a tight smile before pivoting and walking back out of the half-door leading to the service bays.
The last time she’d turned her back to him had been the last time he saw her. She’d slid out of his bed in all her naked glory, her passion-flushed skin on display, her generous curves reigniting the lust she’d sated just a few moments before. Faith fought and fucked with no restraint, and he’d learned to just hang on and enjoy the ride.
“We’ve had a good time together,” she’d said, looking over her shoulder with a cool smile. “I’m sure I’ll miss you now and then after you’re gone.”
Two years together, and she dropped him like a forgettable one-night stand.
He had no idea how long she’d been planning on dumping him. From the beginning? She did it so blithely he knew he’d meant little to her for a while.
Galvanized by his remembered pain, humiliation, and simmering fury, Miguel stepped outside to wait. A moment later, she joined him from the nearest bay, her lips slicked with pinkish gloss. He wondered if she still favored the strawberry-flavored stuff. He used to love nibbling it off her mouth. And seeing the pink stain of it ringing his cock.
“Miguel.” She blew out her breath in a rush. “I didn’t know you were in town.”
“Just pulled in.” Literally. He hadn’t stopped for gas or food, or said hi to his mother, who was expecting him to stay with her. He’d been planning on doing just that, until he saw Faith. Now, he would be getting a hotel room. Clearly just seeing her wasn’t going to do the trick. He’d have to nail her to get the job done, to prove to his infatuated brain and unruly dick that she didn’t have a golden, magical pussy. Sure it had felt that way at seventeen, when he’d had only a half-dozen girls in his sexual history and Faith had been the most precious thing in the world. He was thirty now and he’d had his share of women who knew how to wring a guy out in the sack. He just had to get past comparing new memories to faulty old ones. Similar to remembering an amusement park roller coaster as being wildly exhilarating, only to ride it again as an adult and realize it isn’t all that when you’re three times the size and a lot more jaded.
He’d soon be riding Faith again and gaining the same perspective. If she wasn’t married or attached to a significant other…
His gut knotted. He couldn’t tell by looking at her hand; she didn’t wear rings for safety reasons.
“You came here first?” Her blue eyes gave nothing away. As hot as she was, she was also cool and controlled.
Except when she was beneath him. There had been nothing controlled or cool about her then.
“I thought I’d take you to dinner.” He affected an easy smile. No simple task when he was furiously aroused, his entire body hard with need. “For old time’s sake.”
She looked him over, her gaze raking him from head to toe with a long, leisurely pause on his raging hard-on. He crossed his arms and widened his stance, his jaw clenching as the button-fly of his jeans dug into his straining cock. It fucking killed him that she could still affect him this way. He’d had a lot of beautiful women, but only Faith made him feel like he might die if he didn’t get inside her.
“Take me to dinner?” she repeated. “Or take me to bed?”
“Both.” He refused to feel vulnerable for stating his intentions. Just because he was hot to fuck her didn’t mean she had the power to hurt him. Hiding anything would suggest wariness and he wasn’t going to give her that ammunition. She could shred him just fine without any help. “Or just the latter.”
Her chin lifted. “Do you have a significant other?”
“I wouldn’t be propositioning you if I was.”
He shook his head.
Miguel looked for any sign that his responses pleased or displeased her. She revealed nothing. His dick throbbed in time with the pounding beat of his heart. “You?”
She waved the question off with marked impatience. “Where should I meet you?”
Her desire to have an escape vehicle aggravated him, which he didn’t hide with his curtness. “Mezaluna work for you? I’ll pick you up.”
“It’s gone. The Torettos moved a few years ago. They wanted a quiet little restaurant, so when things got busy around here, they moved on.”
Rio Penasquitos hadn’t even been a spot on the map when he’d left, but it had grown into a quaint tourist destination and vacation spot for the wealthy. That was due in part to his mother, a trophy wife who’d returned to her home town to raise her only child and brought media attention with her. “Why don’t you pick me up at the bed and breakfast,” he challenged, “and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Her foot lifted, her leg moving restlessly. His gaze narrowed on that telltale movement.
“Okay,” she said finally. “What time?”
“Seven?” He remembered the shop closed at five. Expectation thrummed through him, a heated awareness that made a joke of the casual interaction they were pretending this was. Tension was strung tight between them, vibrating in the air with the energy of an approaching thunderstorm.
She wasn’t indifferent to him. He wondered if he’d possibly ruined her, too. Just a little. While he couldn’t imagine any man not taking the time to savor her body for hours, he knew damn well that no one could possibly love her as completely as he once had. Even the man he was today was incapable of that depth of emotion and connection. She’d killed the innocence in him that had made it possible to love a woman without any thought of self-preservation. He’d been wide open when she cut his heart out and scars had formed, creating a thick shield that he couldn’t get past and no woman could get through.
“I’ll see you then.” She backed up toward the garage. “You look good, Miguel.”
“So do you.” Good? She looked edible. His mouth was damn near watering with the anticipation of tasting her again. If there hadn’t been a dozen auto technicians around, he would have kissed off waiting until seven and taken what he wanted now. As it was, there was no conveniently private place on the lot to eat her sweet pussy, which is exactly what he’d do once he got his lips on her.
“I’m glad you came by,” she said softly, holding his gaze.
He bared his teeth in a smile. He didn’t want to be placated. He wanted a rushed dinner followed by unrushed sex that would pale in comparison to his exaggerated recollections. Then he’d leave the past behind where it belonged. “So… did you end up missing me now and then?”
“Sure.” She turned her back to him again. “See you at seven.”
Faith barely made it to the dispatcher’s office before her composure broke. Leaning against her father’s desk, she gasped for breath, her eyes stinging with unshed tears.
Miguel Santos. Even after all these years, his effect on her was like getting hit by a bus.
She looked at her eldest brother filling the doorway. “Hey.”
“John said Miguel was here.”
“Yeah.” It wasn’t fair that his dark sexuality was even more potent now than it had been in high school. He was a businessman, for God’s sake. A “corporate raider,” although he called what he did “activist shareholding.” He should have a paunch. And thinning hair. Instead he was a delectably mature version of the quarterback he’d been in high school. His dark T-shirt hadn’t hidden his beautifully defined biceps or his lean waist. She bet he still had washboard abs and a heavily muscled back. And the rest of him . . .
Jesus. One look at him and she swore she could feel him pushing inside her. She remembered that all too well. The searing pleasure of his entry. The sensation of utter surrender.
Russell stepped into the office, his blue eyes dark with concern. “What did he want?”
Blowing out a shaky breath, she moved to one of the two chairs facing the desk and sat. “Retribution. He tried to play it off, but he was seething. I could feel it from several feet away.”
“Then he’s not over you.” He scrubbed a hand over his shadowed jaw, his gaze thoughtful. “And we all know you never got over him. Maybe this is a second chance.”
“At what? Hurting each other?” She swiped at her wet eyes. Everything was knotted up inside her, making her light-headed and queasy. “His life is in New York. Mine is here in California.”
“Things are different now.” Leaning his hip into the desk, Russell crossed his arms and looked back out the door into the busy service bays. Air tools whirred loudly, drowning out the sound of multiple radios, each playing a different genre to suit the tastes of the auto tech who owned it. “Business is hopping. We’ve got a solid nest egg—”
“I’m not different,” she argued. “I don’t want to raise a family away from my own family. I don’t want to sit in a penthouse apartment, planning dinner parties and waiting for my husband to come home late only to leave early the next morning. I’m not the right girl for that life and Miguel can’t settle for anything less. This isn’t Pretty Woman, Russ. The girl from the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t always end up with the millionaire.”
“You did not just compare yourself to a prostitute.”
“Cinderella, then. That better?”
“Hardly. In any case, Miguel wouldn’t be settling with you,” Russell bit out, bristling with an older brother’s pride. A consummate ladies’ man himself, he didn’t tolerate the same nonchalance in men she dated.
“He wouldn’t be getting this either.” She waved a hand that encompassed her greasy uniform from neck to ankle. “One of the things I’ve always loved about him was his acceptance of me just the way I am. It turns him on that I wrench and get dirty. If I slipped on a pair of heels and a strand of pearls he’d probably need Viagra to fuck me.”
She actually couldn’t imagine Miguel ever needing Viagra for any reason, but—
“Whoa.” Russ held up a hand. “TMI.”
That made her smile briefly. “I have to call Mrs. Santos. Let her know he’s on the way.”
“How long is he in town?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to see him again?”
A hot shiver coursed through her. The sexual ferocity on Miguel’s face had made her wet. It had always been that way between them, their desire simmering below the surface, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation. “Yes. Dinner. Tonight.”
“I’m not sure I feel good about that. If he’s pissed off, I don’t want you anywhere near him.”
Faith’s brows rose. “I’m a grown woman. That’s not your call.”
“You’ve been hurt enough as it is.”
“He’s got a right to be mad, don’t you think?”
Russ stilled. “He knows?”
“No.” She rubbed at the knot of fear and regret in her stomach. “But that doesn’t change anything. It’s his birthday tomorrow. If he wants to ring in the occasion by working out his frustration in the sack, well . . . I really don’t mind. It’s been a long-assed dry spell for me and—”
Covering his ears, her brother was up and out the door in a heartbeat.
She was reaching for the phone when he poked his head back in. “What?” she asked.
“I’ll run point tonight.”
Her love for him swelled and constricted her chest. “You sure?”
“Absolutely. Mom said I’m losing my ‘favorite uncle’ status to Johnny. Can’t have that. I have a rep to maintain.”
Pressing her fingers to her lips, she blew him a kiss. “You can drop him off at Mrs. Santos’s house in the morning before you come in to work. And have I told you lately that you’re the best?”
“I’ve got a nasty right hook, too. You tell Miguel that if he gets out of hand.”