Want. Need. Lust.
Just one more night!
For book editor Veronica Johnson, it’s sheer hell seeing her ex Rafael Velez again. He’s the man she thought she’d be with for a lifetime, and here he is at her best friend’s wedding! How she hates him still! But he has an outrageous proposition: just one more night together! It’s foolish—but achingly tempting. Especially if she walks away without a backward glance, just as he did to her…
VERONICA WAS STARTING to think rereading Wuthering Heights before this trip to Yorkshire hadn’t been such a good idea. She was finding it impossible not to compare Rafael Velez, sitting six pews in front of her, to Heathcliff—who was, of course, a prime asshole, albeit a magnetic one.
And once she’d started down that path, it was inevitable that she’d wonder if that made her some version of Cathy—who, sure, was intriguing, but had been stupid enough to leave the action halfway through the novel by dropping dead of a Heathcliff-inflicted broken heart. And Veronica wasn’t having any of that drop-dead-of-a-broken-heart crap!
In fact, she considered herself to be walking, talking proof that a woman did not drop dead of a broken heart. She hadn’t dropped dead seven years, two months, three weeks and five days ago when Rafael had decided the most appropriate graduation gift he could offer after living with her for three and a half fucking years was to run out on her. And she wasn’t going to drop dead today, despite the bloodlust flushing through every cell in her body just because she could see the back of his damn head!
Nope. No dropping dead allowed.
At least not by her.
If he wanted to drop dead, he was welcome to do so. Not that she’d give him the satisfaction of telling him to drop dead. She might want to pulverize the bastard, but she was a Johnson, and it came naturally to Johnsons to give zero fucks in public.
Well, it came naturally to most Johnsons—others had to work at it.
All right. Okay. Fine. She was the only Johnson who had to work at it.
But she did work at it, and she’d worked at it every day since graduation when that asshole Velez had pulled the rug out from under her.
She’d worked at it even harder from the moment Romy had called to warn her that Rafael would not only be at the wedding but that he’d be bringing the gorgeous, scarlet-haired, only-one-name-required TV soap star Felicity as his plus-one.
Her zero-fuck-giving goal today was to go up to him and Felicity during the wedding reception—not too soon, not too late—and be utterly charming, perfectly sweet, and completely not brokenhearted.
She would just be someone Rafael used to date at college.
A double-divorcée with nothing to prove, she didn’t need to bring a date to wave like a freaking banner of achievement under the nose of anyone who cared enough to look.
Wearing a hot-pink Dior dress, skyscraper Christian Louboutin heels and a coiffure secured with enough pins to set off every metal detector in Leeds Bradford Airport, she had no intention of cowering in the background like some desperate and dateless loser.
Armed with pre-prepared lines she’d rehearsed a few thousand times to ensure their delivery carried just the right tone of dispassionate indifference to indicate she no longer gave a rat’s ass about him. Hello, Rafael. Long time no see. Congratulations on your two bestsellers—they’re in my TBR pile.
And the pièce de résistance? “The look.” Straight out of her mother’s playbook. Veronica had practiced it in the mirror—the eyebrows of destruction, the arched smile.
“The look” would let him know she had no intention of reading his tedious novels, no matter what words to the contrary were issuing from her mouth.
Her mother had given Rafael “the look” the first time she’d met him. Veronica had warned him to expect it, had assured him all boyfriends—hers and her sister Scarlett’s—copped it to test their mettle, so not to take it personally. But Rafael had been only nineteen and laboring under a misapprehension that her family was an all-powerful branch of some de facto American aristocracy, and he’d shivered as though an Arctic wind had blown right through him.
Well, she looked forward to seeing how he handled “the look” now that he was twenty-nine and a ragingly successful author. If she could wring a shiver from him today, she’d be downright thankful he hadn’t proposed to her all those years ago. It would mean he hadn’t deserved her. It would, in short, deliver the coup de grâce to her quest for vengeance—a quest that had seen her block his every attempt to contact her after he’d left her and marry not one but two men who were everything he despised.
Just one unworthy shiver, that’s all she asked. There’d be no need, then, to tear off his head and kick it across the Yorkshire moors—the image of doing which had been giving her an unhealthy degree of satisfaction despite it very obviously signaling she gave way too many fucks. So many fucks. A billion, trillion, gazillion fucking fucks.
And breeeaaaaathe, before she succumbed to that thing Scarlett-the-wonder-therapist had warned her about—vasovagal
syncope. Fancy term for fainting!
Oh shit! Was that what was happening to her? Because that blood-pumping organ in her chest she’d assumed had lapsed into a lifelong coma was palpitating itself back to painful consciousness, her palms were sweating, her skin was prickling and the breath she’d taken in didn’t seem to want to come back out. What had Scarlett said to do? Sit so she wouldn’t fall down? Shut up so she didn’t babble something stupid? Check and check—no better place to be than in a hushed chapel. Oh, and she was supposed to avoid triggers! Which meant she had to stop looking at the back of Rafael’s damn head.
But she couldn’t stop looking.
Only one thing to do: get out.
She darted a look to the right, where she’d already located the closest exit, which she knew led to some famous mausoleum. Surely if a girl was going to pass out, doing it among the dead—who told no tales and certainly weren’t giving any fucks—was the way to go. She could lie on a crypt, faint, recover and be back in time for you-may-kiss-the-bride.
She leaned close to the elderly lady sitting primly beside her in navy blue Yves Saint Laurent and whispered, “Excuse me, I need to make a phone call. May I squeeze past you?”
“Of course,” came the polite reply.
She stood, waiting for room to be made for her to pass, only to watch in horror as Ms. YSL’s navy blue purse, which was large enough to house a medium-size dog, slid off her lap and landed on the floor with a heavy thud.
Maybe that wouldn’t have been such a disaster if not for the tube of mints that escaped its navy leather bondage and rolled out of reach, which occasioned a clearly enunciated little-old-lady “Oh fuck” that made Veronica burst out laughing. Seriously? How could she not laugh when an audible Oh fuck exploded in the anticipatory air of a chapel in an accent so posh it would do the Queen of England proud? Problem was, it was the laugh, the one that came with the distinctive taken-by-surprise-no-time-to-stop-it snort, a laugh Rafael would instantly connect with her because it had always made him laugh. Laugh...and kiss her.
The dominos started falling fast, heads turning row by row toward the commotion.
Any second now Rafael would turn, too, and see her standing like a hot-pink lighthouse complete with silver-domed roof. Vasovagal syncope would overtake her and she’d collapse in a heap, with her legs akimbo and her underwear showing, not at all like a zero-fuck-giving Johnson, and she’d end up in the mausoleum all right—as a corpse, having died of mortification!
It happened quickly—a matter of seconds only—and yet it felt like a slow-motion dream. The sights, sounds, scents of the chapel fading out of her consciousness... Rafael looking over his shoulder...seeing her...putting his hand on Felicity’s shoulder...Felicity turning, staring, intent and curious, obviously knowing exactly who she was.
Bad. Bad, bad, bad.
And then, before Veronica’s heart could take one more staccato rush of beats, Felicity and Rafael looked at each other, something unspoken passed between them, and as one they faced forward again, heads together.
God. God, God, God.
Veronica could hear the whoosh of her pulse in her ears, her breaths huffing in and out, smell her own vanilla scent mingling with the incense in the chapel as heat suffused her.
There was a rustle beside her; she turned mechanically toward it.
“I’m sorry about that,” Ms. Navy Blue said—choosing now to whisper! Her purse was retrieved, her legs slanting to the side. “Is that enough room for you?”
And Veronica’s head cleared. She was in a Yorkshire chapel at the wedding of two of her college besties and she was not going to faint. She was not. Johnsons did not faint in public.
“No, I’m sorry,” Veronica said, resuming her seat and pasting on a nice big smile. “I think I’ve left it too late to make my phone call—the bride’s about to arrive.”
A sound at the main entrance confirmed that this was not, in fact, a lie. Veronica swiveled gratefully toward that sound, and the sight of Romy, incandescently happy on her father’s arm, drove all other thoughts out of her head for a blessed moment.
A pause—then music—and Romy commenced her walk up the aisle, ivory satin swishing around her ankles. The gown was simple, as chic and modern as Romy herself, hugging her generous curves and showing off her most prized possession—her baby bump. Romy had rejected the idea of wearing a veil on the basis it would obscure her view of Matt, and as Romy’s unwavering gaze fixed on the man she’d loved for so long and never thought she’d have, that decision made perfect sense.
Veronica turned to see Matt’s reaction. Love. Joy. And something she hadn’t quite expected: rampant desire. As though he might break free of the whole wedding palaver, stride down the aisle and devour Romy in one hungry bite. Poor Teague—Veronica’s third college bestie, the harassed-looking best man—appeared to be waging a fierce battle to keep Matt in place via a grip on Matt’s coat sleeve, but he gave up when Romy reached Matt’s side. It was obvious nothing was going to stop Matt from hauling Romy into his arms.
As Matt kissed the bride way too early and way, way too passionately, the chapel erupted in laughter and sighs.
Veronica tried to imagine either of her husbands kissing the bride out of sequence and came up blank. Her first husband, Piers, had still been in love with his ex-girlfriend—he hadn’t kept that a secret and he hadn’t cared that Veronica was still in love with Rafael. And marrying Simeon had been about his loneliness and her despair, not love. It was hardly surprising those unions—comfort unions, she called them—weren’t exactly torrid, although both men had given the relationships their best shot, and so had she.
She looked again at Rafael, wondering if the reason she never felt anything warmer than tepid anymore was that she’d expended all the passion she had to give on him in those heated three and a half years of living together. It had been a Molotov cocktail of a relationship. Ardent. Intensely physical. Tempestuous. From the moment their eyes had locked in her freshman year at Capitol U they hadn’t been able to keep their hands off each other.
It was disturbingly easy to imagine Rafael doing to her what Matt was doing to Romy. Easy to imagine her going one better than Romy and wrapping her legs around Rafael’s waist. That would have given Ms. Yves Saint Laurent a real “Oh fuck” moment. It would have shocked Rafael, too, because as passionate as he was in the bedroom, he had a core of decorum she lacked. The kiss—yes. The legs—Veronica, no! Think of your parents!
Well, it was a pointless rumination since Rafael hadn’t proposed the way everyone had expected him to. It would be more relevant to contemplate his wedding to Felicity. A can’t-wait kiss between those two intensely beautiful people would have the whole population of America swooning as they read all about it in the tabloids. Given Felicity’s acting career and Rafael’s extraordinary critical and commercial literary success—the hot new author with a film adaptation already in the works—it would get a great spread in US Weekly even if the nuptials took place in Colombia instead of LA for the sake of Rafael’s beloved grandparents, which he’d always hinted would happen.
Veronica’s own weddings had not been in the tabloids. They’d been lavish New York society affairs, but very private—which was the Johnson way. Planned to the last sprig of baby’s breath by her mother, who’d stepped into the breach because Veronica hadn’t cared enough to plan them for herself. Veronica had just wanted them done, done, over and done...
“Today is a celebration,” the minister said, the formal words reverberating in the chapel. “A celebration of love, of commitment, of friendship, of family, and of two people who are making a choice to be together forever.”
Te amaré por siempre, Verónica.
Those were the last words Rafael had said to her.
I will love you forever.
Fucking, fucking liar.
She was here on her own—and that changed everything.
Rafael wanted to tear his hands through his hair to relieve some of the pressure on his skull, but he couldn’t because she’d see, and she’d guess.
Matt should have told him she’d be on her own. Okay. Unfair. It was his own damn fault Matt hadn’t told him. He’d been so focused on pretending Veronica’s presence—or absence—was immaterial to him that when Matt had cautiously volunteered that she’d sent in her RSVP, he’d laughed it off with a flippant “Too much water under that bridge.”
Matt had instantly dropped the subject. Leaving Rafael to kick himself for not giving a more open-ended response that might have gotten Matt to slip up on the radio silence for once and reveal if she was dating anyone now that her second divorce had gone through.
The only way to find shit like that out about a Johnson was for someone in the know to straight-out tell you. Johnsons didn’t have social media accounts, they didn’t give interviews—at least not the personal kind—and when they were photographed at society events they were polished and PR’d to the hilt, not a hair or a word out of place. End result? Only the easy stuff was out there in cyberspace. Which is how he knew she was working as an acquisitions editor in the Johnson/Charles Book Group (Daddy’s publishing company—no surprise there), which authors she’d signed, and the charities she supported with her ambassadorial presence as well as her dollars. He’d seen photos of her with her husbands at society parties, but no accompanying gossip.
The only romantic gossip he’d ever read about a Johnson involved Veronica’s younger sister, Scarlett—and he’d only discovered that because the guy had been from some backwater town where he’d made the local paper after a drug bust. It had pissed Rafael off because Scarlett dating some lowlife druggie, even temporarily, made a mockery of his own sacrifice in leaving Veronica. Like, what were her parents thinking to let that guy within touching distance?
Digression. The important thing was that he knew nothing about the current state of Veronica’s love life. The fact that she was here solo didn’t mean there wasn’t a boyfriend stashed somewhere, a new fiancé in the wings. It’d be just like her to have turned up alone for no other reason than to play a game with his head, as though she hadn’t tortured him enough.
Veronica: Why would I bring someone, Rafa? I can’t be bothered to make you jealous.
Him: Yeah, well, I haven’t been pining for you, either, and I don’t care that you weren’t pining for me. God damn you to hell, Veronica!
He looked down at his hand, fisted on his thigh. It was vibrating with an unholy mix of impotent lust and outright rage.
Felicity put her hand over that fist. “Stop, Rafa!”
He hissed in a breath. “Don’t call me that.”
“Why not? I’m supposed to be in love with you, aren’t I? And anyway, it’s what your mom calls you.”
“You’re not my mother.”
“I’m not her, you mean.”
He laid a deceptively gentle hush finger over her lips for the benefit of any spectators. “Get your hand off me and shut up.”
Felicity, the brat, sucked the tip of his finger into her mouth.
“Stop it,” he said under his breath.
“How about I kiss you on the mouth?” she whispered back. “See what she thinks of that?”
He didn’t answer. He was too irritated at himself for dragging Felicity over from Los Angeles for a performance now rendered unnecessary.
Felicity craned up to get her mouth close to his unaccommodating ear. To the uninitiated, it probably looked like she was cooing love words but what she actually said was, “How much is Matt worth, anyway? That engagement ring on Romy’s finger’s a whopper—I can see the sparkle from here.”
Rafael’s hand went instantly, instinctively, to the breast pocket of his jacket—where the ring he’d bought Veronica once upon a time, which he always carried with him, was. Nothing like Romy’s ring. Or either of Veronica’s. Thank God he’d spared himself the indignity of producing it all those years ago.
It was exactly the memory he needed to bring him back to the moment. “More than you and I put together times a hundred,” he said.
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “You’re going after her, aren’t you?” she said.
He breathed in. Out. “Yep.”
“Am I going to be able to stop you?”