COLORADO HEARTTHROBS #2
World renowned geoarchaeologist Jackson Whiteside has come home to Colorado to care for his grandmother and teach at CSU…not to rekindle the passionate, but doomed love affair with gramma’s high-spirited neighbor whose memory has haunted him half-way across the globe. But the moment he sees his feisty, melodramatic ex, his cortisol levels spike. And he damn well knows he’s about to unearth more layers of their relationship…whether his neurotransmitters like it or not.
If there’s one thing dancer and dispatch operator Mya Castillo can do well, it’s Tango. But dancing with her feet is one thing…dancing with her heart is another. Especially when she has no choice but to accept her ex— the world’s most unintentionally sexy professor—as her stand-in partner for the biggest performance of her life.
Jack’s two-year scientific immersion has kept a tight lid on his right-brained proclivities, but his irritatingly illogical gut is telling him the attack on Mya’s dance partner jeopardizes more than just her dance studio. It bodes evil toward the woman he still loves beyond reason, so this is one dance he won’t sit out.
A trickle of sweat slid down Jackson’s spine, his tongue like sandpaper in his mouth. Breathe. It was only natural that seeing Mya after all this time would jack his blood levels of adrenaline and cortisol. A purely physiological reaction, and therefore, something that made sense. Hormonal response could be picked apart, compartmentalized, and ultimately ignored.
Still, though, he couldn’t tear his gaze from those narrow, arching brows over her wide, hazel eyes with their thick black lashes. Smooth, caramel skin with the bewitching little mole one inch from the edge of her lips that were always parted in laughter or mockery. That fall of shiny black hair and compact, flexible body that his hands and mouth would remember until the day they put his bones in a box. Her tiny frame was still lean, but more lush somehow. His gaze swept across her breasts pressed snugly against the red, spaghetti-strap tank top.
Her breathing seemed to still. His heart hammered double-time in his chest.
Christ. It’s dopamine.
That’s all that was happening right now. Another neurotransmitter hormone dumped into this biological miasma. How Mya’s beauty could grow even more hypnotic since—and in spite of—the last time he’d seen her was damned irritating. Especially seeing her with Arturo again.
This science of love bullshit was why he’d driven hard into the geosciences instead of straight up archaeology. Archaeology delved into the impact of emotion on people’s lives. Earth sciences, on the other hand, made no emotional demands on his work. And that was exactly how he liked it.
He turned to Rosie to give his neurotransmitters time to cool off. “Gramma, don’t go to any trouble for me. I need to take my gear to the research lab at the university. I don’t know how long it’ll take, so don’t worry about supper.”
“Nonsense! It’s not even noon. You can work for several hours before we eat.” Her eyes twinkled. “I’m so happy you’re home!”
He smiled and wrapped her in a hug, unfortunately turning in the direction where Mya stood with one of her infamous You’re-Going-Down smiles. Great.
When he released Rosie, Mya crossed her arms in front of her, drawing his gaze back to her bewitching cleavage. “Why don’t you take tu abuela with you to CSU while you get settled in? The doctor doesn’t like her to be alone for long stretches of time yet.”
It was a challenge if he’d ever heard one. He really couldn’t blame her. She’d gone over and above to care for his gramma when he and his other family members had been out of state, or in his case, out of the country. Mya did nothing half-way, whether it was dancing, fighting, or fucking. It was what he’d loved best about her even as it simultaneously drove him crazy.
He resisted the urge to look at his watch, wishing those bluish-gray altostratus clouds hovering over the foothills would start dumping buckets of rain so there could be a natural, non-awkward end to this discussion. “I appreciate everything that you, Cole, and Nat have done for Rosie. It means a lot knowing she has neighbors like you who treat her more like family than a friend. I plan to keep close tabs on her, but I don’t know what to expect this afternoon.” He turned from Mya’s raised eyebrow to Rosie. “I don’t want you to get bored or tired, which I would imagine might be the case, at least for today. I promise, I’ll bring you to work with me when I have the lay of the land.”
“How convenient for you,” Mya snapped.
“Don’t start, lobita,” Cole said, starting back up the ladder. Ty, Nat, and Rosie had also quietly dispersed, which was a bad sign. Time to head out. Organizing his tools in his new office would be a good way to decompress. Hopefully, they’d arrived from overseas.
“When someone wants to do something nice like host a welcome-home party for you, it’s bad manners to reject their offer. I would’ve thought spending two years in the Holy Land would’ve amended your lack of social graces.” Mya had drawn closer to him, one hand gathering her long hair into a fist like she always did when gearing up for a fight. Her eyes flashed, and a highly distracting flush had begun to spread across her chest. How far south did that flush ride across her satin skin?
Not your business anymore. Keep your damn distance.
Jack forced his lips to tip upwards. “I will not be influenced by immature attempts to provoke me. My gratitude for your nurturing nature stands, as does my position on bringing Rosie to the university. Being that I have yet to visit the department, however, it would be insensitive of me to bring her into a situation that I cannot predict. Now, good day, Mya.”
Her apparent shock at his stiff formality bought him precious seconds. Gramma’s back door was only five steps away. Five, unbearably long steps. Aaand…
He didn’t make it before Mya lobed her next emotional hand grenade.
“You think you can just come back here and be the hero, but you have no idea how hard this has been on her. Or how run down her house has gotten!”
He swung back around, fully cognizant that his cerebral cortex was losing ground to his limbic system as Mya’s emotional hand grenade exploded. His face, chest, and neck grew hot with feelings that had been ignored for a long time. He closed his eyes and reached for calm.
Ablation, accretion, active layer, alluvial fan, alpha decay…
He ran through more geological terminology, starting with the letter A, feeling his blood pressure begin to normalize. She’d somehow slashed and burned though his shelved emotions in less time than it took him to calibrate a gravimeter using short data sets. He ran both hands through his hair to release some energy. “I left Jordan as soon as I could without jeopardizing my team’s entire project. I’ve accepted a position in CSU’s Geoscience Department so I can take my turn to be near her and so our family can relieve the burden from your family. I also plan to review and repair any electrical work in her house. What else do you want from me, Mya?”
“First of all, Rosie’s never been a burden. To suggest otherwise shows how out of touch you are. Secondly, from what I understand, your position at CSU is only temporary. Not because la universidad doesn’t want to keep you, but because you—like always—can’t commit to anything.”
Low blow. “You delusional little hellion. Do you really want to hash through this again?”
“Anyone for some lemonade?” Rosie called in a falsely bright voice.
Mya’s angry gaze stayed pinned on his. “Rehashing is a waste of time. I have better things to do, hombre.”
She was actually going to walk away now? He grabbed her arm, but she shook him off. “No touching!”
“Fine!” He yelled, totally not recognizing himself, goddammit.
“Yes, fine! Perfecto!” she yelled back several decibels louder.
Neither one moved. From his peripheral vision, he noticed all activity had stopped on the roof and on the patio. It had taken him two years to think he might actually be able to see her again without his heart breaking. Without thinking of all the what-might-have-beens.
And all of twenty minutes to show him how wrong he’d been to think he’d ever be able to look at her beautiful, passionate face and not remember how miserably it had all ended.
I can’t do this with her. Not again. He clenched his teeth, the hollow in his chest expanding unbearably until he finally forced his feet to pivot away just as a scream erupted from Mya’s house.
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