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“Is it important to you that I like you?” I didn’t mean to be blunt.
“Yes.” His arm brushed mine again, but this time I wasn’t sure it was an accident.
“I’m just one little vote. You probably have the rest of the neighborhood in the bag. The book club was impressed with you.”
I thought he might be digesting my statement. “Every vote counts. Every person matters. You matter.”
We turned at the corner. I could see my driveway ahead. “You sound like an idealist.”
The center of my chest warmed when I heard the sound of his laugh. I wasn’t supposed to feel that when I heard another man laugh. I wasn’t supposed to react at all.
“I’ve been accused of worse. How about an idealist who wants his ideals to become reality?” He ventured a compromise.
I wondered if he and Sarah had conversations like these. Did he try to change her stance on issues? Did he woo her to his side of the fence with charismatic comebacks?
“Yeah. Sounds good.”
“I think I lost you for a second.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking.”
“I aimed too high with gun control, didn’t I? It’s an intense issue.” His expression changed.
“It’s not that.” I couldn’t explain what was happening. I should be able to have a mature conversation with my neighbor. We should be able to stroll on the sidewalk. I should be able to be next to him without thinking about his lips. Lips that smiled like a movie star. Something was changing and I couldn’t stop it.
There was enough light filtering through the crepe myrtles that I could see the muscles tensing in his neck. Had I said something wrong?
The flowerbed that marked the entrance to Paxton’s driveway was a few paces from where we stood. I quickened my step.
“I like talking to you. It’s nice to be able to talk without worrying about the consequences.”
My eyes flashed to his. But there were consequences. Things were happening inside me. My skin was flushed, my nerves vibrating, my pulse thumping hard against the inside of my head. He couldn’t see any of it, but I wasn’t certain he didn’t feel it.
I took a step, forgetting about the lumpy spot in front of his driveway, and almost landed on my face. Paxton gripped my arm, pulling me upward, saving me from landing facedown.
“Whoa there. You ok?”
“God, I’m sorry.” I shook off his hold. “I’m fine. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Stupid roots everywhere.” I noticed the way my arm ached from his grip. It was warm and pulsing. “Good night. Thanks for walking me home.” I wanted to run, speed past him. Run straight out of my skin.
“But, it’s dark. Let me at least drop you off at your door,” he suggested. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
I hesitated. There was a part of me hoping he would offer.
“All right. We can cut through your yard. There’s a short cut.”
I followed Paxton along the driveway, noticing the lights in my house were off. This was late even for Spencer. Maybe he had gone to bed.
We passed the front porch, and I pointed to the path I used earlier that day. I could feel him behind me, taking each step I took. I grabbed one of the stiff magnolia branches and forced it to the side when I felt his hand land on top of mine.
I stopped, frozen with dread, consumed with something I hadn’t felt in years. I held onto the branch, and Paxton held onto my hand, the warmth of his palm starting to heat my skin.
His breath was heavy on my neck. It felt like waves pounding against me, each one eroding the barrier between us. I was afraid to turn around, afraid that if I looked at him I would unravel. As long as I stared at the branch, I was still in control. I couldn’t speak.
With his free hand, he pushed the hair off my neck and blew across the collar of my shirt. My knees wobbled and I gripped tighter on the branch, forcing it to keep me upright.
It was involuntary, but my head reeled back. He stepped closer. I didn’t know who I was. Hiding in the shadows while a man I barely knew touched me, like a woman who was available. A woman who was free to make choices about who touched her. I wasn’t that woman. My life was tied to Spence. Those choices weren’t mine to make, but I was making one. His was breathing freedom across my skin I didn’t know I craved.
His hand canvassed my neck, taking my throat in his palm. He ran a finger down the center, pressing lightly as he crossed my collarbone. I didn’t think I could stand there much longer as his fingertips explored my skin. The cicadas echoing around our yards drowned out the sound of my heavy breath.
I needed to stop this. But I craved it more.
I couldn’t open my eyes when he turned me toward him. If I kept them closed, it was as if I were dreaming. This was all a wine-induced dream. I could tell myself it wasn’t happening. Standing under the branches with a man only hours ago I didn’t know, but was unquestionably drawn to. Pulled in by his voice, the look in his eye, the energy around him. How he managed to be rugged, yet refined. But I knew when his mouth took mine that it was real. I could taste the wine on his tongue and the roughness of his palms as he held my face. I savored the newness of him—our lips moving wildly.
I clutched at his back. The kiss grew hungrier, our moans turning to whimpers as we snatched at the clothes between us. His teeth grazed across my throat, nipping at the soft spots tenderly then cutting in just enough to tease me.
I tensed when I felt his hand slide along my stomach and push my bra out of the way. It was too much. I tried to break away and Paxton hung his head.
“God, I’m sorry,” he whispered.
I shook my head, feeling sick. “We can’t do this. I-I didn’t want you to kiss me. You weren’t supposed to kiss me.” My fists balled at my side.
“I know. I know. It was out of line. I got carried away.” He ran his fingers through his perfect haircut. “I’m sorry. That was idiotic.”
The Magnolia Affair Synopsis:
Audrey Kingston has the perfect life she always wanted. An adoring husband, a beautiful house, book club nights with friends. It was idyllic. It was serene. Until Paxton Tanner, candidate for state senator, moved in next door. Seduced by his undeniable charm, Audrey’s life becomes unrecognizable as she gives in to her impulses. The affair becomes deadly, and she gets tossed into a political scandal that leads all the way to the governor’s office. When love becomes lethal, there’s only one way out.
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T.A. Foster Bio:
T.A. Foster grew up catching rays and waves along the North Carolina Outer Banks and now resides in the state with her husband, three children and canine kiddo.
She has an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a graduate degree in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University. When she’s not chasing her two-legged and four-legged children or trying to escape for date night, you can find her reading, writing, or planning her next beach trip.
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