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"Here we are," Jake said with a sweep of his hand, and Tessa smiled at the beach house.
The white siding, light blue shutters, and gingerbread trim gave it such a charming appearance. A large wraparound porch went all the way across the front, then down the side to the back. The second-story windows were open to the March breeze, which ruffled the white lace curtains.
It was such an adorable place, so peaceful and serene. The sound of ocean waves overrode any street noise as they made their way up the concrete walkway. Impatiens lined the walk and circled the bottom of two palm trees in the yard. Their colors of pink, purple, and white gave the yard a festive flair, and occasionally the wind would catch their scent, sending it her way to enjoy.
"This place is beautiful," she said with a smile.
"Yes, and hopefully safe," Jake said with a smile of his own.
Tessa bit down on her lip as she walked past both of them and stepped into the cottage. She didn't want to believe she was in any real danger. Surely, whoever had the admiral would figure out the launch codes would be changed and that going after her would be a waste of time.
Her high heels clicked on the tile flooring and she quickly kicked them off, letting the cool stone soothe her tired feet. She loved the feel of cool tile beneath her on warm summer days.
"God, I can't wait to hit that beach," she said as she strolled to the massive dining room windows and watched the surf pound against the sand.
"You can go whenever you want, Tess. Just don't go alone," Mitch said from behind her, and she jumped slightly in surprise.
It seemed he could still move around in stealth mode.
"Deal,"she answered over her shoulder. "I hope the two of you brought swimming trunks."
Mitch went to put their suitcases upstairs and Jake moved close to whisper in her ear. His hot breath blew against the side of her neck and her whole body tingled in response. She gasped softly as strong, warm fingers came to rest on her ribs, just below her breasts, making her nipples bead and ache. Even after all this time, he could affect her with a simple touch of his hand, a whispered word.
"I think I would prefer to be naked," he whispered suggestively.
"We're too close to the other houses," she mumbled, but the idea had already made her wet with need.
Jake had always liked the hint of danger when he had sex. He enjoyed exhibitionism and the idea that others could see them. If she were honest with herself, she'd admit she liked it, as well. It gave sex such an air of excitement.
He smiled and placed a soft kiss to her temple. "I've missed you, Tessa. I could kick myself for letting you go."
"Our lives were going in different directions. You had your job and I had my promise to my dad to help him with this project."
"He's a smart man keeping you by his side." Jake's finger moved up and ever so slightly brushed the underside of her breasts.
"I'm all he has since Mom died," she whispered, her body leaning closer to his heat, her back arching just a little. "Jake."
"Bags are upstairs," Mitch said as he came barreling down the stairs.
Jake quickly stepped away from Tessa. She stumbled, missing his heat, his warmth, the support of his arms. Afraid to meet Mitch's stare, she grabbed the door frame and fought the heat of a blush as it moved over her cheeks.
"Did I interrupt something?" Mitch stared at the two of them intently, making her feel incredibly guilty.
"I'm going to head upstairs and change," she mumbled and quickly sped past Mitch and up the stairs.
"It's the room at the back, Tess. You have the master," Mitch yelled after her, but he wasn't sure she heard him. With a frown, he turned back to Jake. "We need to talk, Jake."
"I agree." Jake put his hands on his hips and glared across the room at his friend. "I still love her, Mitch."
"So do I."
The two eyed each carefully, neither willing to back down. This wasn't a good thing. Not at all. Mitch had thought of Tessa often over the years, but until he saw her, he hadn't realized just how much he missed her. Now that she was back, he wasn't sure he could let her go again. But what did that mean for him and Jake?
"There's only one thing to do," Mitch said, then let out a heavy sigh. "Let Tessa decide."
Mitch's lips twitched in wry amusement. "What's the matter? Afraid she'll choose me?"
Jake snorted. "Not likely." He ran a hand through his hair in aggravation and turned to stare out at the ocean.
"We've shared women before, Jake. This should be easy. We both pursue her, seduce her, even sleep with her, and in the end, she decides. Maybe she won't want either one of us."
Jake sighed and ran a hand through his hair again. A movement that was a sure sign he was pissed. He'd be bald if he kept that up. "This is different, Mitch."
"You don't think I know that?" Mitch snapped, then glanced up the stairs to see if Tessa had heard.
With a sigh, he walked over to stand close to Jake so they could talk more quietly.
"I can't believe, as close as we are, we can't do this," Mitch said. "We're like brothers, always have been. We both love her; we both want to make her happy."
Jake rubbed the back of his neck, but kept his gaze on the blue ocean. "So what do we do? Flip a coin to see who fucks her first?"
"That's not funny," Mitch snarled.
"Do you see me laughing?"
"Well," Mitch offered with a shrug. "I dated her first."
"This is ridiculous."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"We should talk to Tessa," Jake said as he narrowed his eyes at Mitch.
"And tell her what? That we both want to make love to her, so which one does she want first?"
"I need to get out of here for a while." Turning, Jake picked up the car keys and headed for the door. "I'm getting groceries; I'll be back later. I've got the cell if you need me."
The door slammed, rattling the windows of the cottage. Damn. He hadn't seen Jake that pissed in years. Mitch stared up toward Tessa's room. She strolled out the door and leaned over the upper railing, her questioning gaze staring down at him. She's probably wondering what all the commotion was about. What should I tell her?
"Where's Jake going?" she asked.
Easy question to answer. "Groceries."
"Oh," she said with a nod and pointed over her shoulder to the door behind her. "I'm going to get in the shower."
"All right. Just don't use all the hot water," Mitch teased.
She grinned down at him, making his insides tense. "No promises."