Not a Second Chance

Toronto, Book 2

Laura Jardine

 

Chapter 1

The incredible smell wafting out of Temptations made Allison Wong come to a halt. She sighed. It was totally unfair that she had to walk past one of the best bakeries in the city on her way home from work. Unfair because she could not afford the extra calories from croissants and raspberry tarts and twelve—twelve!!—different types of cake. Every day she had to exercise all the self-control she possessed to just walk on by.

Well, almost every day.

A couple times a month—okay, more like once a week—she gave in. And then she spent a good five minutes deciding what to get because, unfortunately, she could not get everything.

If only she was one of those skinny women who could eat whatever they wanted. Like her mother and sister. Why the hell hadn’t she inherited those genes? Totally unfair.

She couldn’t help listing off all the reasons she deserved a nice big slice of cake today. For starters, she’d eaten healthy all week. And there was that surprise visit from her parents she’d had to deal with on Wednesday, plus that horrible date last night with the man she’d met on nomorebaddates.com. She should have known the URL for that dating website was sarcastic. Plus her day at work hadn’t been the greatest, though admittedly it hadn’t been all that bad—she’d had many worse days. Especially at her old job, where she’d regularly worked seventy-hour weeks. But she’d chipped a nail and—

Okay. Now she was really pushing it. Chipping a nail as an excuse to get a slice of cake? She wasn’t usually that pathetic.

She sighed again. Screw it. It was Friday—she deserved a treat, didn’t she? She’d just do an extra-long workout tomorrow.

She walked into the bakery and was overwhelmed by the delicious smell. If only she could live here. Or work here, instead of at a chem lab, which did not smell anywhere near this good. It would be a waste of all her degrees, and she’d probably gain a ton of weight, but otherwise…

“Hi, Allison,” said Eliza, the young brunette behind the counter. “What’ll it be today? Chocolate raspberry cake? Maybe triple chocolate?”

“Just give me a minute.” Or five. Allison smiled and surveyed the options. There were two new cakes: white chocolate passion fruit and quadruple chocolate. Quadruple chocolate? How would that taste any different from triple chocolate? She peered through the glass. They looked exactly the same to her.

“I recommend the white chocolate passion fruit,” Eliza said.

“Okay. I’ll have that. And a small coffee.” Allison didn’t usually drink coffee at five o’clock, but she was going out for dinner and drinks with her friends later and expected it to be a late night.

Yes, given her plans for the evening, she really shouldn’t be at Temptations. Oh well. She’d order a salad and a single glass of wine tonight.

Ha. Like that would happen.

She took a seat at the counter by the window, and a couple of minutes later, Eliza brought over her order. Allison had a tiny bite of cake and closed her eyes in bliss. God, that was so good. No wonder her self-control was crap when it came to this place.

And what was the fun in depriving herself of the things she liked? She would never be thin anyway. A few years ago, she’d eaten nothing but vegetables and chicken breast for five months, and she’d only lost seven pounds. Better to enjoy herself. In moderation, of course.

“Mind if I sit here?” The man had already sat down and shifted his chair close to her, so clearly he thought she wouldn’t mind. He smiled, and there was something about his smile that was just a little creepy. Plus he was a good two decades older than she was.

She turned away and said nothing.

“Oh, come on. I don’t bite.”

Allison wasn’t convinced. He probably did. She stared at her plate, hoping he would get the hint and leave her alone.

“How about I buy you dinner after we’re done here?”

Somebody sure couldn’t read body language. Or maybe he could and had decided to ignore it.

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”

When a woman shot you down, you did not say “Why not?” Allison glanced toward Eliza, but she was busy serving a young couple.

“I like difficult women.” He leaned in close.

It was probably best not to resort to kicking him in the balls quite yet. Maybe she could say she was waiting for her sumo wrestler boyfriend or just tell him to get the fuck away from her.

“I have a boyfriend,” she said. “He’s meeting me here any minute.”

“I don’t believe you.”

My God. What an asshole.

“I’m her boyfriend.”

Allison felt a strong arm curl around her waist. A light kiss on her cheek. From the boyfriend she did not have.

It sure was effective at getting rid of Creepy Guy, who made a beeline for the door, but maybe she’d have to deal with Creepy Guy #2 now. Great. Just what she needed. All she wanted was to eat her damn slice of cake in peace.

She slowly turned toward him, not quite sure what to say. And she was momentarily distracted by the sheer hotness of this guy. He had long blond hair, tied back in a low ponytail—she’d always liked long hair on men. Warm brown eyes. Solid body, big arms. Unlike the other guy, he was about her age, and there was nothing creepy about his smile.

But there was something disturbing about the next words out of his mouth.

“Hi, Allison.”

Because he knew her name, and she didn’t know this guy at all.

“Who are you?” she asked.

He dropped his arm from her waist. “You don’t recognize me? Really?”

She shook her head. “Should I?”

“Considering we dated for quite a while, I think you should.”

There were only a handful of men she’d dated for any length of time that could be called “quite a while.” She went through them quickly in her head. Glenn—no, he was at least six inches shorter than this guy. Arthur—no, he was Asian. Jonathan—no, he had a distinctive scar on his cheek from a freak downhill skiing accident, and another above his eyebrow from a vicious pet hamster. Sidney—

“Sidney Hughes?” she said. “Is that you?”

“I guess you haven’t forgotten me after all.” He slid into the seat next to her. “Can I join you?”

“You appear to have already decided I’ll say yes.” Just like the last guy.

He shrugged and quirked his lips.

Holy shit, when had Sidney gotten so damn hot? He’d filled out a bit in the last decade, and the angles of his face were more striking now. Plus the long hair…But asking her a question when he’d already decided what the answer would be—that was nothing new. One of the many reasons she’d moved across the country without consulting him in the decision.

He was right though: she did want him to stay. She was curious about what had happened to him. A little catch-up, that was all. Any more than five minutes of talking and they’d probably end up strangling each other.

Though he was quite nice to look at. Allison felt an unwanted curl of heat through her body.

“Finished your PhD?” he asked. “Back in Toronto for good?”

She nodded.

“Chemistry, right?”

She nodded again. “So what have you been up to for the past ten years?”

“Not grad school, that’s for sure.”

Yeah, she couldn’t imagine Sidney going to grad school. And even if he wanted to…Well, it was a miracle he’d passed enough courses to get his bachelor’s degree—and that had taken him five years. His grades were terrible.

“So what do you think?” he said. “I’m living in my parents’ basement, spending my days playing online poker and losing all my money?”

She jerked her head. “Of course I don’t think that.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, right.”

“But you have to admit, if I had doubts about you being able to accomplish things, they were quite reasonable doubts. Entirely based on how much work I saw you not doing. On how many exams I saw you fail.”

“School and I were not a good fit. That’s all.” Sidney put his elbow on the counter and rested his cheek against his hand. “If you don’t picture me living with my parents and playing poker all day, what do you picture me doing?”

She sighed. “I don’t want to play this guessing game. Just answer the goddamn question.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Did I not used to swear?” she asked.

“Oh, you used to swear. But only when we were in bed and you—”

“Sidney.” She clenched her jaw. “Enough. I don’t want to hear it.”

“I think you do.”

Fuck. Yes, in the safety of her brain, she swore quite a bit. Now she was picturing the two of them in bed. And although he’d had serious problems getting things done in most aspects of his life, he had no problems getting her off over and over again. Not that he was some amazing sex god who’d totally rocked her world the first time they had sex—though it had been pretty good. But he was the most attentive lover she’d ever had, the guy who’d taken all the time in the world to figure out exactly what she liked.

And now he was sitting beside her. And he was even more attractive than he’d been back then.

“I know what you’re thinking about.” He smirked.

“Thanks for reminding me why we broke up,” she muttered. “You piss the shit out of me.”

He just laughed.

She had a gulp of coffee. “So what are you doing in this bakery?”

“I saw you in the window and decided to say hello. When I came in, you were trying to get rid of some creep, so I thought I’d help.”

“I didn’t need help. I could have handled him myself.”

“I’m sure you could have. But I bet it was faster this way.”

Probably. But she wouldn’t admit that.

“I presume you’re not actually meeting your boyfriend.” He paused. “Do you have one?”

“No.” She had a bite of cake, then pointed at it with her fork. “Here. Get yourself a fork and help me out. I can’t afford all these calories.”

His eyes traveled slowly down her body. It was unnerving, the way he seemed to study every inch of her—her shoulders, her hips, her thighs. He probably wanted something more than a little catching up, and her body flamed at the thought.

“You look pretty good to me,” he said.

She swallowed and looked away. She would not let herself be charmed by him. “If you think you’re going to get lucky—”

“I am?” He leaned toward her slightly.

She gave him a shove. “Just get a damn fork.”

Allison watched him walk to the counter. As in she checked out his ass while pretending not to. It was terribly unfair that he’d gotten more attractive with age. Unlike her. Although he’d said—

No. She would not think like that.

He came back a moment later with a fork and proceeded to take a big bite of cake. She silently fumed at him, even though she wanted someone to take calories away from her.

“I wasn’t saying that to get you into bed,” he said. “Well, not only for that reason. You do look good. Like Christina Hendricks.”

“Hate to break it to you, but you need to have your eyes checked. You must be damn near blind.”

He burst out laughing.

“I’m Asian and she’s white. We look nothing alike.”

“Below the shoulders you do.” He put down his fork and placed a hand on her hip.

She wanted to hit his hand away, but she couldn’t manage to do it. It had been an awfully long time since a man had touched her like this. Yes, that must be the reason. Her body craved physical contact, and it didn’t seem to care that the man offering it was her loser ex-boyfriend.

“She’s not skinny,” Sidney said. “But she has a gorgeous figure.”

“I do not look like her below the shoulders.” She wished she did, though. “Like I said, you need your eyes checked. For starters, she has bigger breasts.”

“If someone other than me said that—”

“Yes, you bug me. Happy?”

“And you like when I touch you, but you wish you didn’t because you’re scared.”

“Why would I be scared?”

He dropped his hand. “You’re right. It’s not like you could be scared it would open up a wound in your heart. You dumped me, and you never loved me anyway.”

Wow, how had they gotten to this already?

But he was right. It wasn’t like she’d felt absolutely nothing for him, but it hadn’t been love. After they broke up, she moped around for three days, but only three days. It hadn’t affected her all that much.

“I have no interest in rehashing our past,” she said, stabbing the cake with her fork.

“Fair enough. We can talk about something else.”

“Yes, maybe you could actually tell me what you do.”

He ignored her, as expected. “Why don’t you eat the rest of the cake? I know you’re concerned about all the calories, but…” The corner of his mouth kicked up. He touched her wrist and leaned in close; she could feel his breath on her cheek. “There are ways we could burn them off.”

Everything but her brain responded with heat to his words. It had been quite a while, after all. More than a year, and that guy had been a miserable experience, so he really shouldn’t count. That must be why her body was on fire.

But her brain thought Sidney was an irritating, presumptuous man, and she ought to pack up the rest of the cake and take it home so she could eat in peace.

“It’s quite a sensible idea,” he said.

She snorted. “Really? Us sleeping together is sensible?”

“Of course. We’re attracted to each other and—”

“You’re assuming a lot.”

He shrugged. “I can tell you’re attracted to me.”

“Cocky,” she muttered. “Just because I thought you were cute a decade ago does not mean I feel the same way now.”

“You keep looking at me and shaking your head, as if you find me irresistible and wish you didn’t.”

“Or as if I think you’re an asshole and am wondering why on earth I’m still sitting beside you.”

“Or that. But let’s just assume you find me irresistible.”

She rolled her eyes. “I find you irritating. Not irresistible.”

“You know it would be good,” he said. “And it wouldn’t dig up any buried feelings since you didn’t have any for me. Plus it would burn off all those calories you’re so worried about. See? It’s a very sensible plan for us to sleep together. Not spend the night together, though. You’d probably stab me in my sleep.”

“I would. And open up a nice big wound in your heart.” She looked at him pointedly. “You sure sleeping together wouldn’t do that to you?”

“Don’t worry about me.”

But he’d loved her. That was ten years ago now, and he had to be over her; still, she wondered if he could have meaningless sex with her, given their past. She wasn’t convinced.

Not that she would waste time worrying about him.

“You’re considering it, aren’t you?” he said.

“No. Of course not.”

It was a little tempting, though. She hated that it was, but it had been a damn long time since she’d had good sex. And she knew it would be good with him, much as it pained her to admit he was right, even to herself.

She had some more cake, and he stared at her mouth as she chewed. Since it was making her self-conscious, she placed her hand on his cheek and turned his face away from her, toward the window.

Which was a terrible idea. Now she was thinking about stroking his cheek with her thumb, and her eyes were drawn to his mouth, to the slight curl of his lips.

Damn. He probably knew exactly what she was thinking about.

Allison dropped her hand from his face and looked out the window. At the people walking by, the traffic, the bubble tea shop across the street. Anything but Sidney. When she was done with that bite of cake, she said, “So what are you up to these days? You still haven’t told me.”

“You just can’t admit you want to sleep with me.”

“I don’t want to sleep with you.”

“Liar.”

“Jerk.”

He held up his hands. “Okay, I’m a jerk. Now admit you’re a liar.”

“After you answer my question. Apparently this is a real problem for you.”

“Fine. I look forward to you telling me you’re a liar, and you can’t wait to tear my clothes off and—”

“We’re in public,” she hissed.

“I can wait until we’re alone.”

“Not going to happen.”

She expected him to tell her otherwise, but he leaned back and said, “I actually did spend a year living in my parents’ basement, playing lots of online poker. But I’m good at it, so I made money.”

“And then?”

“My parents threatened to start charging me rent if I didn’t do something with my life. A lot of rent. But I had a friend who was training to be a welder, and I figured I could do something like that. So I did an apprenticeship and became an electrician.”

“How long did that take?”

“About five years,” he said. “Now I work for a construction company.”

“Do you regret going to university?” she asked.

“Nah. It was a ton of fun.”

She supposed it was if you didn’t do any homework.

“But it was a waste of time, yeah. Life got easier when I stopped thinking I had to be someone I wasn’t.” He grinned. “Now will you tell me you’re a liar?”

“I’m not finished yet. I’m going to assume you’re single, or the things you’ve said to me would be highly inappropriate.”

“And we both know I’m never inappropriate.”

“Exactly.”

Why, why, why did her mind have to jump to images of them doing something very inappropriate? If only she could banish these thoughts to Antarctica. Or Mars. Better yet, Pluto.

She glanced back at Eliza, who gave her a thumbs-up. All Eliza would be able to see was Allison talking to a hot guy. From her view, it would look much better than the reality. The reality was that Allison was having some seriously unwanted thoughts about her ex.

“Yes, I’m single,” he said.

And she would not take advantage of that. “Divorced?”

“No.”

“Any children?”

He laughed.

“I don’t see why that’s funny,” she said. “I remember you wanting children. And I remember us having serious conversations about that sort of thing—all of them instigated by you.”

“You’re the last woman I had those conversations with.” He wasn’t laughing now. No, he looked a little grim. “The last woman I dated for more than a month or two.”

That surprised her. “Was having serious relationships part of you trying to be someone you weren’t?”

“You could say that.”

Liar. When they were together, he’d truly seemed like a relationship kind of guy. But she wouldn’t bring that up—no need to get into this with Sidney. She didn’t need to know any more about his love life. Time to talk about something that had nothing to do with their past.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“Near the lake. You?”

“Close to here.”

“Ah. So it would be easier to go to your place.” He tilted his head, his expression now playful. “Come on, just admit you want to sleep with me.”

“Even if I admit that—”

“Which you will, because you promised you would if I told you about my life.”

“—it doesn’t mean I’ll go home with you.”

“But you’ll take me back to your place.” He crossed his arms and nodded, an irritating smile on his face.

My God, he’s impossible.

“Okay, I admit I lied,” she said, cringing at her words. “I’m sure if we slept together, it would be good. And it’s been quite a while since I had sex, so the idea is rather tempting. But we are not doing it.”

He picked up his fork and pointed at the plate. “Since you won’t let me help you burn off calories, should I eat the rest of your cake?”

“No.” She grabbed the plate away from him. “This is my reward for dealing with you. If it goes to my hips, well, that’s too bad. But I deserve this treat.”

“And here I assumed you were having cake because you’d broken a nail.”

She bit her lip.

“I’m right?” He slapped the table, then tipped his head back and laughed.

“No, you’re wrong. I’m having cake because I’ve had a rough week. And it just turned into a very rough week.”

“Fine. Eat your cake.”

“I will. Don’t watch my mouth while I do it.”

“If you insist. “ He closed his eyes and rested his hands in his lap.

Allison turned toward the window and started on the remaining third of her slice while trying to forget about the man beside her.

And she was having some success until he said, “Want to know what I’m picturing with my eyes closed?”

She glared at him before realizing he couldn’t see her expression. “I’ll pass. And I suggest you think about sunshine and rainbows instead.”

“I’m curious to hear what you believe I’m thinking about.”

“Well, you’re out of luck.”

Allison quietly picked up her cake and coffee. She walked to the back of the bakery and sat down at a table, where she finished her cake without any interruption.

Eliza came over and collected her dishes. “He’s hot.” She glanced toward Sidney. “What’s up with you two?”

“My ex,” Allison said, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. He seemed blissfully unaware that she’d deserted him. “Haven’t seen him in ten years. For good reason.”

Eliza nodded and said nothing more. As she walked back to the counter, Sidney opened his eyes and looked about. He waved at Allison.

She could just leave. Walk out the door and hope she never saw him again.

But she couldn’t seem to haul herself out of the chair as she watched him swagger over to her table, every gorgeous inch of him getting closer and closer. There was some kind of invisible glue working its magic on her ass, some kind of invisible force that would not let her look at anything but him, some strange kind of electricity sending currents of desire down her spine.

This was bad.

“Back corner,” he said. “Interesting choice.”

“As far away from you as I could get.”

“Without actually leaving.” He sat down and shifted his chair close to hers. “Let me help you make the decision.”

“What decision are you—”

His mouth was on hers before she could finish that sentence, his hand on the back of her head, pulling her toward him. His other hand crept up her shoulder to her neck, just above the collar of her shirt. He stroked her bare skin as he brushed his lips over hers, and she closed her eyes and sank into his kiss. But even though it felt damn good, even though her entire body came alive at his touch, she didn’t kiss him back. She just slid her hand onto his knee and let him have his gentle way with her at the back of the bakery, keeping her eyes closed so she couldn’t see who was watching. So she couldn’t see him.

He didn’t kiss her for very long. Just long enough for her to know she had no chance of turning him down.

Irritating, irresistible man.

And he knew it.

“When we go back to your place, do you promise to be an active participant?” he said.

“Yes.” If only she was immune to his charms. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. “But let’s be clear on what’s going to happen. We are going back to my condo to have sex. It has to be quick because I’m having dinner with my friends at seven thirty. And then you will leave, and you will never come back. This will not become a regular thing, the two of us sleeping together.”

“Always so bossy.” He dropped his forehead to hers. “Okay, I promise. But—”

“One more thing. You will talk as little as possible, or you risk getting kicked in the balls. Got it?”

“Perhaps that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” he said, sliding his hand through her hair.

“Then you’re an idiot. You better do as I say.” But she didn’t put much force into her words. In her mind, she was already lying naked on her stomach as he kissed his way down her back.

She couldn’t believe she was going to have sex with Sidney. She clenched her thighs as she imagined him sliding inside, his weight pressing down on her, his tongue tangling with hers.

She better not regret this.

But she probably would.