Call Her Mine (Harmony Pointe Book 1)
AURELIA LOOKED LONGINGLY at the muscular arm circling her waist and the large hand cupping her breast over her shirt and promptly closed her eyes, chastising herself for doing it again. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride was beginning to ring too true, and it was all Ben Dalton’s fault. She’d had a ridiculous crush on her Henry Cavill–lookalike best friend for far too long, and it was getting in the way of her life, her thoughts, her everything. Every time she went out with a guy, she compared him to Ben, who looked rugged and yummy in jeans that hugged his thick thighs and perfect ass and could rock a suit like he’d strutted off a runway. He even owned a pair of black-framed glasses he sometimes wore for reading, which took him from Superman to Clark Kent in a heartbeat. What woman wasn’t turned on by a stud in glasses? But it wasn’t just his looks. She quickly bored of every date, waiting for them to be quippy, fun, and unknowingly seductive like Ben. If she wasn’t careful, she’d end up the spinster of Sweetwater, New York. Harmony Pointe, she corrected herself. Though she’d grown up in Sweetwater and moved back to reopen her grandmother’s bookstore and combine it with Ben’s sister Willow’s business, Sweetie Pie Bakery, Aurelia had recently changed directions. In an effort to stop waking up in Friendsville, she’d bought an adorable bookstore with an apartment above it on the corner of Main Street and West Avenue in the next town over, Harmony Pointe.
She allowed herself another minute to enjoy the feel of Ben’s broad chest against her back, his titillating breath warming her neck, and yes, even his morning wood pressing into her bottom. The situation would be sexier if the man-child wrapped around her wasn’t also drooling on her shirt.
That was about all the action she’d ever see from him.
She’d spent the last month swearing she was done doing this with him. But when he’d called her last night and said, “Come on, Rels, hang out with me. I miss you,” that was all it had taken. The way he said Rels always made her stupid heart melt. She’d been called Aurelia since the day she was born—the day her mother had died—by everyone except Ben. He had coined the nickname Rels—or Relsy if he was in a particularly sweet mood—and he only seemed to use it when they were alone. It was ridiculous that a secret nickname could make her feel special, but it did. She knew she was important to him. She was the first person he called to share any kind of news, and they were known in their circle of friends as Ben and Aurelia—always linked, like Ben and Jerry. Two people who seemed to exist as one perfect combination.
Except she didn’t want to be Ben and Jerry.
She wanted to be the perfect combination of man and woman, like Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. The type of couple who had wild, crazy sex and woke up naked, tangled in each other’s sticky body parts, not clothed on a chaise lounge in the middle of Benjamin Unable-to-Commit Dalton’s living room with drool on their shoulders.
She huffed out a breath and peeled his long fingers off her breast, reminding herself this was exactly why she’d taken her grandmother Flossie’s words to heart after her grandfather had passed away last month. She’d heard stories about couples like her grandparents who had been together for more than fifty years dying within weeks of each other, and she’d been petrified that she’d lose her grandmother, too. As they’d driven back to the Long Island assisted-living facility where her grandparents had lived for the past several years, Aurelia had begged her grandmother to move back to Sweetwater and let her care for her. But her bright-eyed grandmother—the woman who had taught her to tie her shoes and speak her mind, the woman who had owned a bookstore in Sweetwater for forty-plus years and instilled a love of all things literary in Aurelia—had said, This isn’t the end of my story, bubbelah. Your grandfather and I could fill a library with books about our love. We had our happily ever after, and we shared a beautiful, spectacular life. But as your grandpa would say, now it’s time to start a new adventure—my next chapter.
Ben murmured, holding Aurelia tighter and pressing his all-too-tempting arousal harder against her jeans, tearing her from the pages of her past—and thrusting her into the going-nowhere scribblings of the present.
She tried to pry his fingers off her again and said, “Time to wake up, Benny boy.”
He groaned, tightening his hold.
“Ben!” she snapped, irritated with herself for falling into her old ways so easily. She’d moved into her apartment above the bookstore two weeks ago in an effort to be in before Ben’s sister Bridgette’s wedding, which had taken place two days ago. That was her deadline for her fresh start, her own new chapter.
I sure screwed that up.
Ben startled awake and peered over her shoulder. “Sorry, Rels. I didn’t mean to grab your boob again.”
Right, you didn’t mean to. Thanks for the reminder. “Whatever.” She sat up, and he hauled her back against his chest, making her laugh despite herself.
“I love waking up with my best bud by my side,” he said. “Even if she is cranky in the morning.”
“I’m not cranky.” She eyed the bottle of tequila on the table and sighed inwardly. She knew better than to drink with Ben. They laughed and drank and always ended up crashing together—never in the way she wanted, despite the fact that he’d bought her a toothbrush for his house months ago. She wondered how he explained that to his one-night stands. She knew he had them, but in truth, she had no idea if they came home with him or if they always did the deed elsewhere. Her stomach sank.
It was time for this to end once and for all. “We can’t drink tequila anymore,” she said adamantly.
“Okay, next time we’ll get Jack and Coke.”
“Maybe we need to stop drinking when we watch movies,” she said half-heartedly, because she loved their comfy, fun evenings. But being friend-zoned with Ben made her feel pathetic, so she said, “I do have a new apartment to inhabit.”
“For the record, as glad as I am that you found such a great investment, I hate that you’re not right around the corner anymore. And you did it all so fast, Rels. One day you’re driving Flossie home, and the next you announce that you’re moving to Harmony Pointe.”
She’d driven through Harmony Pointe on her way back from taking her grandmother home after her grandfather’s funeral, and when she’d stopped at a red light, she’d seen a FOR SALE sign on the door of the corner bookstore, which was called Chapter One. It had felt like a neon sign screaming at her to move on with her life, and she’d made an offer that day.
“Well, apparently all it takes is one call and I’m right back in your living room,” she said, trying not to make too much of his comment.
“Because that’s what friends do. They keep each other company.”
Friends. The greatest buzzkill of all.
He began kneading her shoulders. He had the biggest, strongest hands. Magic hands. She’d fantasized about them slipping beneath her clothing, caressing, groping, and teasing until she was wet and wanting—
“See? You need this in the mornings to take the edge off,” he said in a low voice, snapping her out of her fantasy.
She turned her head to see his face, and her heart stumbled. Ben hadn’t always had the chiseled face of a model. His cheeks had been a little full until he’d hit his twenties, as if his body had refused to give up that last trace of boyishness, especially when he’d smiled. But he’d kept the hint of dimples, and a playful grin never failed to make its way up to his dark eyes. Those seriously sexy eyes could smolder the panties off a woman as easily as they could command a boardroom. She imagined they made him a master negotiator in the bedroom, too. And don’t get her started on his lips . . .
“You’re all tight again,” he said, still rubbing her shoulders.
Reality hit her like a freight train. What was she doing? Her bestie was a venture capitalist and had gotten lucky with investments when he’d first gone to college, and he’d been getting lucky with random women ever since. Except he’d never tried a damn thing with Aurelia, and he’d had plenty of chances.
Then again, she hadn’t tried anything with him, either, and she was no wallflower. Aurelia didn’t exactly shy away from making moves on men. But with Ben, things were different. Complicated. The Daltons were her second family. Ben’s four sisters were her best girlfriends, and then there was this sizzling, teasing, almost-but-not-really thing between her and Ben. Besties. Drinking buddies. Ben and Jerry.
Fuck Ben and Jerry. She wanted to eat whipped cream off his big cone, but not at the risk of losing him as her friend or screwing up her relationship with the rest of his family.
Aaaand that was why she had to leave.
“I’ve got to go.” She tried to pull away, but he dug his fingers into her knotted muscles, releasing tension and drawing a moan from her traitorous lungs.
“Don’t run off,” he coaxed. “I wasn’t kidding. You are my best friend. I trust you with my secrets, and I love who you are.”
Hope bubbled up inside her, and she closed her eyes, glad he couldn’t see her face. Had their time finally come? “Really?”
“Of course,” he said, and she heard the smile in his voice.
That made her feel all sorts of good, and the truth came easily. “I love who you are, too.”
He leaned his chin on her shoulder, his hard chest pressing against her back as he said, “I especially love who you are when you’re making me breakfast.”
“Ugh!” She pushed to her feet, but he snagged her wrist, giving her the puppy-dog eyes she’d never been able to resist. The ones that said, Please don’t leave me. “Ben,” she warned.
“Relsy,” he pleaded.
“I am not making you breakfast. I have to go.” She yanked her hand away and said, “And I’m busy for the next few weeks. Actually, for a lifetime, so . . .” She shoved her feet into her red Converse sneakers and grabbed her purse.
“I seriously have to make my own breakfast?” Ben pushed to his feet and stretched, six-plus feet of hotness towering over her five-two frame. “But you make waffles better than I do.”
“I do a lot of things better than you. Don’t forget to call Aiden back.” Aiden was his business partner. He’d called Ben last night while they were watching a movie and Ben had made her laugh, causing tequila to come out of her nose, which had sent him into hysterics and rendered him unable to answer the call.
“Shit, that’s right.” He grabbed his phone from the table. “He was supposed to set up a meeting with our legal team.”
“For the hotel chain you’re buying?”
“Yeah. Hey, take my sweatshirt. It’s early. You’ll be cold.”
He pulled his sweatshirt over his head and tossed it to her, revealing a dusting of chest hair over muscular pecs and a treasure trail that disappeared beneath the waist of his low-slung jeans. His sweatshirt hit her in the chest and landed at her feet, reminding her she was staring.
Ben laughed. “Nice catch, Rels. Remind me not to pick you for my baseball team.”
“I don’t want to be on your team. You run the bases too slow,” she mumbled as she picked up his sweatshirt and tugged it over her head, inhaling his masculine scent. Even his smell made her nipples stand at attention. “I’m out of here.”
“How about cereal?” he asked with a wink. “I’ll make it.”
“Since when did you become so needy?”
A coy grin slid across his face. “I know that once you’re in my kitchen, there’s no holding back. You won’t let me eat crap when you can make something delicious.”
“Yeah, you should see me in the bedroom.” She felt her eyes bug out. She slammed her mouth closed, unable to believe what she’d said. She stormed through the hallway and out the door, followed by Ben’s laughter—and almost tripped over a basket. She leaned back, holding the door open, and hollered, “I think Willow left you muffins. There’s a basket on your porch.”
“Way to go, Willow,” he said as he strode down the hall. “Let’s see the goods.”
She realized she was staring at his bare chest again and snapped, “I’m taking the biggest muffin,” as if it was his fault he had great pecs and abs she wanted to lick, and bite, and—
He cocked a grin and said, “Take as many as you’d like, but you’ll pay for them later.”
In my dreams.
Ben loved the playful look in Aurelia’s eyes as she tried to come up with a smart-ass response. Her hair was tousled, and her cheeks held the warm glow of sleep. He could tell the moment she gave up on a sassy response, because she raked a hand through her long dark hair, and her eyes drifted from him to the basket. She didn’t usually give up that easily, but hey, at least this gave him a few seconds to appreciate her fine ass as she bent over the basket.
“See? You don’t need me cooking you breakfast.” She gazed over her shoulder at him with a smile that lit up the sky as she lifted the top of the basket and said, “Willow’s got you covered.”
Ben’s heart nearly stopped at the sight of a tiny sleeping baby nestled among blankets in the basket. “Fuck. Me.”
“I . . . um . . . Wha—” She followed his gaze to the baby in the basket and gasped, dropping to her knees beside it. “Holy cow, Ben! It’s a baby!”
He took a step back, as if he couldn’t get away fast enough, and said, “Why is it on my porch?”
“I don’t know!”
“There’s a note. Grab it.” He pointed to an envelope tucked into the side of the blanket. “Whose kid is it?” He looked up and down the street. For what, he wasn’t sure, but he got a twisted, dark feeling in his gut as Aurelia rose to her feet, the color draining from her face.
She handed him the letter with a shaky hand and said, “She’s yours.”
“What? No, it’s not.” He snagged and scanned the typewritten letter. His heart pounded faster with every word. Dear Ben, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I didn’t know where else to turn. I’m not in a position to care for a baby. I hope you can make room in your life for your daughter.
“What the fuck?” He looked down at the baby. “I need to call my lawyer and the cops. This is bullshit. Some crazy bitch wants money or something.”
Aurelia looked at him like he was crazy.
“What?” he snapped.
“I . . .” She swallowed hard and looked down at the baby. “We should get her inside.”
“No, we shouldn’t. We should take it directly to the police station.”
She shook her head, her gaze moving between him and the baby in the basket. “Are you crazy? If she is your baby, do you really want her going into social services? Being cared for by strangers?”
“It’s not mine, Rels.” He grabbed the basket by the handles and said, “Grab the top of the fucking basket. Let’s take care of this.”
She picked up the top and followed him inside. “This is a baby, and pink blankets indicate a girl. She, not it. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get a shirt on, and then we’re going to the police station.” He set down the basket and took his phone from his pocket. “But first I’m calling my attorney.”
“Wait!” She grabbed his wrist, her brows imploring him to listen. “Don’t. Please. Let’s just think for a second.”
He scoffed. “Think? Aurelia, it isn’t mine. Seriously.”