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So far I, Elodie Dupré, had encountered three kinds of men.
The first was the nice guy whose kisses felt nice but weren’t passionate enough to stop me thinking about all the things I needed to do the next day.
The second was the nice guy I felt zero chemistry with and firmly placed in the friend zone.
The third was the gorgeous, confident, cocky older man who set me ablaze with passion and then left me a pile of ashes while he moved onto the next woman he fancied seducing. The last kind was Douglas Carmichael. A wealthy, handsome businessman I’d met nine years ago at the naïve age of twenty. His maturity and sophistication gave me a false sense of security and I thought what we had would last forever. That was until a week before I discovered I was pregnant he told me he’d met someone else.
My heart was ripped into shreds, and stupidly when I found out I was pregnant I’d hoped it would bring us back together again. It didn’t. But it did something so much better.
Douglas stepped up financially and promised he’d be there for the baby, and he kept to his word on that. However, that was really as far as his interest stretched. I may have stayed devastated and rejected forever if it wasn’t for the moment my little Ellie came into the world. I took one look at her and knew it had all been worth it.
And to my surprise I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with her at first sight. Douglas’s son from a previous relationship was at the hospital that day. I was watching Douglas to see his reaction to Ellie but it was Braden, the handsome little man-child of only eight years old, with his sad eyes and grave demeanor, who captured my attention. As Douglas placed Ellie into Braden’s arms that little boy’s face filled with such wonder, determination and love. I decided then and there that I would make sure he got to see Ellie anytime he wanted.
Gradually, for it would seem he was shy and distrusting of women, I got to know Braden as he got to know Ellie and I discovered so much more about Douglas too. That heartbreak I’d been feeling began to dissipate as I realized how superficial our relationship had been. I didn’t know him at all, and the more I uncovered the more I felt like I’d made a lucky escape.
But I really did miss that heat and passion.
Staring across the dinner table at my date I felt this little ache in my chest. Ellie was eight years old now, and Braden was sixteen. In all the time I’d spent getting to know my kids, falling in love with them, I had yet to find that fourth man. The one who was kind and nice and lit me up inside.
It would seem that was never going to happen for me.
Take my date this evening.
He was intelligent, he was funny, and he was attractive in an understated way, with lovely dark brown eyes that crinkled when he laughed and a strong jawline. He was clean cut, he wore glasses, he wasn’t overly stylish but he wasn’t a bad dresser. He smelled good, and when he’d picked me up for our date he’d brought a children’s book for Ellie because he knew she loved to read.
But my stomach wasn’t a flurry with butterflies, my skin wasn’t tingling and I didn’t want to launch myself across the table and tear off all of his clothes. I know I was a single mother to a precocious eight year old and a stand-in-mum to a sixteen year old boy who happened to be more mature than most of the men I’d attempted to date over the last few years, but that didn’t mean I had to stop wishing for something more. Right?
Oh how I wished Clark Nichols were more.
He was almost perfect for me.
We’d met while in a café just off Forrest Road. My dad had come to visit and was watching Ellie for me so I could have a Sunday to myself. I’d been wandering around, wondering why I’d let Dad talk me into a day by myself since I missed Ellie like mad anytime I was away from her, when I decided to try to relax and enjoy myself. I stopped into the café for a bit of cake and coffee. I’d been turning from the counter, not looking where I was going, and I’d knocked the coffee cup right out of the hand of the guy standing next to me.
It was Clark.
Embarrassed, I’d offered to buy him another drink and to which he replied, ‘only if you sit with me while I drank it’. I didn’t think there was any harm in it and before I knew it I was sitting talking about Ellie, my job as an events organizer, my favorite books, movies, and my overbearing French parents who I loved to bits but thankfully only ever saw once in a blue moon since they moved back to northern France. I discovered Clark was two years younger than me, but he seemed so mature the small age gap didn’t even bother me. He was a post-graduate classical history student at Edinburgh University, he loved Blackadder, thought brandy was pretentious, read the newspaper every day not because he was really interested but because his dad expected him to be up-to-date on current events and always tried to bait him into political debates that exhausted him—his dad sounded obnoxious— and he thought chocolate orange was just plain wrong. I found him endearing, charming and incredibly funny.
Four hours passed while we sat in that café and I laughed and shared stories with Clark like I’d known him my whole life. It was wonderful. I was thinking I’d made a great friend. We agreed to meet up the next week for coffee and this time I brought Ellie. We took her to The Meadows where we kicked a ball around and Clark teased her and talked to her about all different kinds of books. He spun funny stories just for her, and he told her things about history that she soaked up like a little sponge. She found him fascinating. And he was a gem with her, giving her his undivided attention and answering all of her questions with patience and interest.
The next week after that we had coffee again while Braden watched Ellie. I thought our friendship was something really special—or at least had the potential to be—but as our conversation that day neared its end I began to note this look in Clark’s eyes, this deepening attraction. When I told him I had to get back to Ellie he’d asked me out on a date.
He didn’t give me butterflies and I had a suspicion that his kiss would be merely nice because of that lack of chemistry… but he hadn’t flinched from the fact that I was a single mum and he was lovely to Ellie.
That was rare.
So I’d said yes.
And now I wished I hadn’t because it was supremely frustrating to find a man who was this close to perfect.
“You’re not eating your dessert?” Clark noted, his brows drawn together in concern. “Isn’t it good?”
I stared down at the pecan pie. “It’s alright.”
“But you could bake better?” he smiled.
I shrugged. “Well… yes.”
Clark laughed. “I hope I get the chance to try your cooking.”
“Oh God, I’ve probably built it up to be better than it is,” I said with a weak smile. Not that you’ll probably be trying it after all. I so wish I hadn’t agreed to the date. If I hadn’t agreed to the date I could have kept Clark in my life. He had the potential to be the best friend I ever had, and I’d blown it by agreeing to take our relationship somewhere else.
“I doubt that.” He sat back, his fork clattering against his plate. “Why don’t we finish up here? Let’s walk off the food, get some fresh air.”
I agreed and like the gentleman he was he paid for dinner and took my arm to lead me out in the cool spring evening. As we walked north up Thistle Street I began to try to write a speech in my head—one that would hopefully let Clark down easily but not ruin the promise of our friendship.
“I have a surprise,” he said, smiling into my eyes. At least he was a few inches taller than me. I was five nine so it was sometimes difficult to find a man who wasn’t shorter than me when I wore heels. Right now Clark and I were about the same height. My eyes dropped to his mouth. He had such a nice mouth.
For the hundredth time I longed for those bloody butterflies!
Stewing in my frustration I was quiet as Clark led me down Queen Street. We came to a stop outside a gate to East Queen Street Gardens, a little private idyll within the busy city center open only to nearby residents who were keyholders.
Clark produced a key from his blazer and grinned boyishly. “I have friends in high places.”
My eyes grew round with delight. “No?”
He nodded excitedly and opened the gate. “I know it would be better to see this in the daylight but I thought an evening walk might be just as nice. And it’s a bit of a treat really, isn’t it? Every time I pass these gardens I think it’s a shame they’re always so quiet.”
“But beautiful because of it,” I murmured as we ventured in. I stopped and raised an eyebrow in thought. “You didn’t bring me here to murder me, did you?”
“Damn, what gave me away?” he shook his head in dismay. “The dark secluded gardens or have I just got one of those faces?”
I chuckled and relaxed against his side as we walked through the stunningly maintained gardens. There was not another soul about and it felt like we were in a different world even though we could hear the traffic just beyond the railings.
“I hate to potentially ruin the evening but I can’t help but notice you seem a bit preoccupied tonight.”
I didn’t want to tell him I only wanted to be friends after he’d done something as romantic as getting hold of an elusive key to East Queen Street Gardens. I opened my mouth to speak but I didn’t know what to say.
“If you’re worried about Ellie in all this I want you to know I understand that your daughter comes first. You’re a mum, first and foremost, I get that.”
I frowned, not knowing if he was making it worse or better.
“But I like you,” he continued, his voice growing thicker, more rumbly… an attractive kind of rumbly that caused little goosebumps to awaken down my spine. I stared back at him as he gazed at me with an intensity that stunned me. “I like you a hell of a lot, Elodie. I think you’re beautiful and smart and funny and strong… and quite possibly the sexiest woman I’ve ever met.”
My belly flipped and I stumbled to a stop in surprise. My pulse started to race, my cheeks started to burn and I began to feel this hope bubble.
Clark gripped hold of my elbows and drew me tighter against him as he crushed my lips beneath his. Taken aback by the rough, desperation of the kiss, I gasped. Taking it as an invitation, he deepened the kiss, his tongue stroking against mine.
His hands smoothed down my spine, around my waist, sliding upwards until his thumbs brushed the sides of my breasts. I melted into him, my fingers curling into his shirt as heat exploded through me.
All that chemistry I’d been missing boiled over in one breath-stealing, shockingly amazing kiss.
Clark reluctantly broke the kiss so we could catch our breaths. He bent his head, leaning his forehead against mine, his warmth breath puffing against my tingling, swollen lips. “I can’t get you out of my head, woman,” he grumbled, as though I was a nuisance and I couldn’t help but laugh softly. “You think it’s funny,” his voice turned all growly and I felt a streak of lust from my stomach to between my legs. “You’re driving me to distraction. I can’t get through the day without dreaming about sinking deep inside you. You have no idea the things I want to do to you.”
I gasped again. It seemed I didn’t know Clark Nichols as well I as thought. “Tell me,” I whispered.
In the dark of the gardens, Clark set me ablaze with whispered, hot promises and drugging kisses. It wasn’t at all long before I discovered that beneath the well-mannered, funny, sweet man was a passionate, confident lover who saw me as all the different things I always wanted to be seen as—a woman, a mum, a friend, a lover, a confidante… I wasn’t just one thing to him.
I was everything.
And it became clear to me as the following weeks flew by in a mix of nice and sweet, sexy and hot, that Clark Nichols was everything too.
He wasn’t perfect because no one ever was.
But he was perfect for me.
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