Yours at Midnight
by Robin Bielman
Lyric Whetsone only had eyes for Quinn Sobel’s brother Oliver, until a car crash took Oliver’s life on New Year’s Eve. Then, a moment of shared grief between Quinn and Lyric became something more impassioned, something that frightened Quinn so much he ran from Lyric’s bed and her life, disappearing for four long years.
Now Quinn’s back for another New Year’s Eve, struggling for closure, desperate to leave his grief in the past and make amends with the girl of his dreams.
But Lyric has a secret–one that could drive Quinn from her life forever. Will Quinn run away from the love and acceptance he’s always wanted…or will he claim his New Year’s kiss and make her his at midnight?
© 2012 Robin Bielman
New Year’s might have been a few days away, but Lyric Whetstone had already decided on her resolution: find a man. That night’s dinner with her happily married siblings and still crazy-in-love parents finally convinced her she’d been celibate long enough. She was ready to move on.
The cool night air washed over her as she took the short walk from her parents’ home to the guesthouse they had insisted she make her own. She appreciated that they wanted to keep her close, but their generosity made her feel awful about her secret. Their honesty and openness knew no bounds. Hers, on the other hand, definitely had its limits.
She blinked away those wayward thoughts when an eighty pound hurtling ball of fur raced toward her, tail wagging.
“Teddy.” She braced for his hello. He was at her side every chance he got. Her unofficial guard dog whenever he escaped his house—which was often. She scratched the spot behind his ear that turned him to mush, then led him down the tree-lined sidewalk back to William and Vivian Sobel’s place. White holiday lights strung around the rooftop and windows of their home sparkled as Lyric drew closer.
She shivered as she rang the front doorbell. Leave it to Mother Nature to unleash evening raindrops the size of dimes right as she did her good deed. Even though she’d only come from next door, a more than respectable distance separated the houses, and she was drenched. She put a hand on Teddy’s head and ruffled his wet golden retriever fur. “You really need to time your break outs better,” she said.
The holiday wreath on the front door glittered, bringing back twenty years of memories—starting with her seven-year-old self’s curiosity with the new neighbors. She smiled and touched one of the tiny silver balls just before the door swung open.
And her heart stopped.
Everything inside her froze.
Her worst enemy stood in the doorway in jeans, a light blue T-shirt, and bare feet. “Quinn?”
“Lyric? What are you doing here?”
Not “Hey, Lyric, how are you?” Not “Wow, Lyric, it’s good to see you.” Which really should come as no surprise, and should make her happy.
But all it did was twist her stomach and make it difficult to breathe.
“What are you doing here?” And why did his wavy light brown hair, straight nose, and square jaw have to look so good?
His gaze settled on hers with unwelcome familiarity. Did she look different? Could he tell? “I’m here for a visit.”
For the first time in almost four years. For the first time since their one-night stand. She shook her head. She couldn’t even slightly think about that while standing in front of him when he’d always had this troublesome knack for reading her thoughts and using them to his cruel advantage.
He’d left without the courtesy of a goodbye, a week after his twin brother Oliver died in a New Year’s Eve car crash.
She studied his copper eyes. Her skin tingled as emotions flooded her. They were the exact same color as… “Oh, well, tell your mom and dad I’ve brought Teddy back again.”
Quinn moved his gaze down just in time for Teddy to jump on him. “Whoa. Down, boy.”
Teddy’s wet paws left marks on Quinn’s thin shirt. Lyric stared at his broad chest and wide shoulders. He’d filled out since the last time she saw him.
“What am I supposed to do with him?” Quinn asked, his voice tight.
Teddy sat at Quinn’s feet and looked up at Lyric with wide, pleading eyes.
Lyric remembered the time Quinn had gotten a puppy for his tenth birthday. The dog had taken to Oliver instead, leaving Quinn sad and angry. For weeks after that, Quinn hadn’t given an ounce of affection to the dog—or anyone, for that matter.
“Dry him off with a towel.” She didn’t mean to sound patronizing, but she couldn’t help it.
“You’re soaked, too.” He took in her boots, black pencil skirt, and cream-colored silk blouse, lingering on her chest.
Her cheeks burned. The last time they’d seen each other, he’d seen everything. She’d put aside all the crappy things he’d done to her growing up—the teasing, the mean words, the slights—and fallen into his arms after Oliver’s funeral. It had been the best sex of her life. The best mistake she’d ever made.
She’d thought maybe they could finally be friends. Then he’d left without a word—reaffirming her belief that once an ass, always an ass.
She crossed her arms. “That’s usually what happens when one gets rained on.”
“It’s raining?” He stretched his neck for a better look behind her.
Lyric peeked over her shoulder. It was hard to see in the pitch blackness, but she’d already had enough of Quinn Sobel. “Not anymore. So I’d better hurry and get back home.”
“You’re still living in your parents’ guest house?”
Teddy dropped and stretched out on the Oriental rug covering the marble entryway. Viv would not be happy to find a wet Teddy on her rug. “You’d better grab a towel or get Teddy back to the laundry room before your mom sees him.”
“Hang on a sec, would you?”
Quinn didn’t wait for an answer. Typical. He disappeared down the side hall and returned a few seconds later with two towels from the guest bathroom. Lyric pressed her lips together to stop from smiling. The brown and gold designer towels were the perfect thing to dry a wet, stinky dog.
He handed her a towel. “Mind helping?”
Yes, she minded, but she stepped into the foyer because it was Teddy…and because Quinn had never asked for her help before. Ever. What had gotten into him?
They knelt to dry him off. She looked at Quinn as she worked. He had an odd look on his face, a cross between pain and appreciation.
“Your parents aren’t here, are they?” she asked.
“Did they know you were coming?” Viv had told Lyric’s mom that she wished she knew how to help Quinn. That since his brother’s death he’d completely shut himself off, choosing to leave Northern California and live in New York.
“They did, but Dad got a call that my uncle’s cancer took a turn for the worse. My aunt thought my parents ought to fly out to Michigan right away. I think our paths crossed mid-air.”
“I’m so sorry. When was that?”
So he’d been alone on Christmas. Was alone now. She couldn’t imagine the holidays without family. Lyric took a deep breath. The house smelled cold, empty, sterile. Her heart squeezed. When they were kids, she and Oliver used to tease each other all the time about wanting to switch families. Lyric’s big family came with lots of drama. Oliver’s came with a quiet brother. But as much as she hated all the hoopla, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Especially during this time of year.
“Don’t look so sad,” Quinn said. “I’m perfectly happy by myself.”
“Still don’t need anyone, huh?”
He flinched. He opened his mouth, paused, then sealed his lips with a frown. So now he was censoring himself? Huh.
She stood and handed him the towel. A clap of thunder roared through the airy entryway; a gust of wind swept past the open door. She jumped and practically slammed herself against him, palms pressed to his chest.
His arms went around her, the towel slipping through his fingers. He was warm, and his shirt smelled like fabric softener. The tension in her shoulders relaxed. His muscles went taut beneath her hands.
Lyric froze. They locked eyes.
Getting close to Quinn was a big no-no. She hadn’t forgotten one rotten thing he’d said and done to her. But the one good thing—
Quinn broke the breathless silence by laughing. “You still afraid of the dark, too?”
God, he made her mad. She turned on her heels to leave. She’d pretend she’d never run into him. But then Teddy went on alert and growled at the sharp whistle of wind—and without his company, the night looked pretty damn scary. Maybe she was still afraid of the dark. Quinn really could be a little more considerate and offer to walk her home, but she knew he wouldn’t.
She ground her teeth together and whipped back around. “Come on, Teddy. Let’s get you in bed before I go.”
With his tail wagging, Teddy walked alongside her—past the living room and unlit Christmas tree, toward the kitchen and laundry room. She didn’t know what the hell she was doing. A dark, rainy night was way safer than the man following her. But something kept her in that house. Something she refused to contemplate. Because if she let herself feel anything, she might think about telling him her secret.
“You never answered me about the guesthouse,” Quinn said, his even tone betraying nothing about seeing her again.
She wondered if he really cared, or was just curious.
“The last time I saw you, you were in med school. I figured you’d be doing your residency in some fancy hospital back east by now.”
“Nope.” She blinked extra hard. Thank God he couldn’t see her face. She’d given up her dream of becoming a doctor.
“No, you’re not back east?”
How had he known she’d wanted to leave California and live somewhere that actually had four seasons? She’d never told him. “No, I’m not in residency. I quit med school.”
“What?” he asked, and Lyric pictured his eyes widening. “You had a plan. You always stuck to your plans.”
It unsettled her that he knew that, too. “Sometimes plans change.”
“For the better, I hope.”
Did he have to walk so close behind her that his words floated to her ears like sweet nothings? Yes, she wanted to say.
But then the lights went out.
Quinn halted to give his eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness. The last thing he wanted was to press up against Lyric again. Her body still stirred up desires too strong to think about rationally.
The last time he’d gotten up close and personal with her had been after Oliver’s funeral, when he’d been so filled with pain and grief that he’d selfishly taken her to bed. Anything to feel something other than loss. Yeah, she’d complied, putting aside her dislike for him to ease her own grief. But in the end, that only made him feel worse. Because he’d gotten something he’d always wanted—her—and she’d gotten her second choice. Quinn had always come in second to his brother.
He suspected that was the reason he’d been so unkind to Lyric growing up. She’d only had eyes for his twin brother, never once noticing the affection Quinn’s eyes held for her. Ignorance made guys say and do stupid things to get attention.
A loud thunk, followed by an “Ow!” from Lyric, reminded him where he was.
She didn’t answer. His pulse accelerated. He squinted until he could just make out her shadow near the kitchen counter. With his arms stretched in front of him, he reached for her but didn’t touch.
“I’m fine,” she said, leaning away. “Bumped my head on the corner of the wall, is all.”
“You always so clumsy?”
He did. A few seconds later she muttered, “Are you just going to stand there, or get me some ice?”
Before Quinn went to the fridge he went to the cupboard, where he hoped his parents still kept the candles and matches. Bingo. He lit a slender taper and carried it over to Lyric. Christ, she was pretty in candlelight. Still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Her auburn hair reminded him of the cinnamon sticks his mom would put in his and Oliver’s hot chocolate during the holidays. And her light blue eyes were so clear, they were almost transparent. Like looking into a shallow lake and finding some small treasure at the bottom.
Right now, what he saw in them confused the hell out of him. He’d come home to put to rest the painful memories of his past and apologize for being an ass, but something new lurked in those blue depths. Something he’d never noticed before.
Another roar of thunder sounded. Lyric groaned and turned her head to look out the kitchen window. He wasn’t sure if her discomfort stemmed from the storm, the head injury, or him. He turned away before he might ask or give in to the urge to comfort her.
Teddy nearly tripped him on his way to the freezer. He grumbled and righted himself on the counter before grabbing a bag of frozen peas.
“Here you go.” He handed her the small bag. “Works better than ice.”
She took the bag and held it to her temple. “I know.”
Quinn leaned his backside against the counter. “Want to sit?”
“No. I’ll just hold this for a few minutes before I get out of your way. I’ve got a great idea for you while you’re home. Fix the side gate so Teddy doesn’t sneak out anymore.”
He chuckled. “I’ll get right on that, Miss Bossy Pants.”
“Don’t call me that,” she growled. Or maybe it was Teddy who growled. “I asked you never to call me that again.”
Lyric had asked him to do a lot of things over the years—jump off a bridge, stay away from her, move to China, die—and he couldn’t blame her. Oliver’s friendship with Lyric killed him. He’d lashed out at her, deliberately tried to make her feel bad.
The worst thing about it was how he’d hated his brother for stringing Lyric along. Oliver had gotten whatever and whomever he wanted, and he’d liked having Lyric around just in case. She’d never realized it, but she was second best, too.
“Guess I needed reminding. So, back to your plans. What happened with med school?” He kept his gaze fixed on the cabinet above her head. Direct eye contact seemed to make her uncomfortable. Maybe if he looked elsewhere, she’d speak more freely.
“I, uh, decided to change plans.” Her voice quivered.
“Why do you suddenly care?”
He should just get his apology over with now. Tell her he was sorry for being such a dick and leaving without saying goodbye. Explain that he hadn’t meant for them to be enemies growing up, and ask if maybe, just maybe she could forgive him.
None of that meant he’d changed, exactly. He still preferred solitude. Still had nightmares about that New Year’s Eve night, four years ago. Still believed his brother was the glue that had held his family together. But if he didn’t reconcile some of his past mistakes, he’d go insane.
He’d always cared. He just hadn’t shown it.
“I don’t,” he lied. “Just curious.”
“Oh, okay, then,” she said. “I decided to start my own company. It’s called CARE. C-A-R-E. Comfort. Aid. Remedy. Ease. We offer home health care to anyone who needs it. Most of our clients are the elderly and people who’ve been in serious accidents, but my plan is to expand into services for kids and teenagers, too.”
“That’s a good plan.”
Her smile hit him square in the gut, twisting it into the kind of knot only she could tie. Shit. Seeing her again was harder than he’d thought it would be.
“Are you still traveling all over the world for Noble?” she asked.
“I read an article recently that said fewer college and graduate students are studying the arts, especially foreign language.”
It intrigued him that she knew the name of the company he worked for and seemed interested in his profession. His mom or dad must have mentioned it to her. “That’s true. I think the rising costs of college education are to blame. Means I’ve got job security.”
“I guess you stay pretty busy without much competition.”
“Very. But I enjoy the work, so it doesn’t bother me.”
Noble handled multi-million dollar biotech deals all over the world, and Quinn was their primary translator. Languages were the one thing he’d excelled at as a kid, the one thing he was better at than his brother. It had started in pre-school, when they’d count to ten in Spanish. By fourth grade he’d taught himself French and Italian, too. He couldn’t explain it except to say something just clicked in his brain and made it easy. No one came even close to matching his expertise.
Foreign language had saved him from his loneliness.
Lately, though, he wasn’t sure that was enough.
“I still haven’t forgiven you for the time you humiliated me in Spanish.” Lyric lifted the peas from her forehead. A nice bump swelled above her eyebrow.
She harrumphed. “The time you promised you were telling me how to end my culture speech with a fact about South American soccer, and instead I said our teacher smoked pot and smelled like blue cheese. I got an F and a trip to the principal’s office, and you didn’t say a word.”
“Oh, I said lots of words. You just didn’t understand them because they were in Spanish.”
The pea bag crinkled as she covered the bump again. “You actually did me a favor. My humiliation was so great I switched to sign language, and ended up much happier.”
“See? Who said I never did anything for you?”
“Oliver said he was going to smear blue cheese in your shoes to get you back. Did he?”
In truth? No. In truth, Oliver never said anything bad to or about Lyric, but he never followed through on his promises, either. The hope on Lyric’s face, though, crushed the honest answer on his tongue.
“He did. My feet stank for days, and I had to throw my shoes out.”
She laughed. “Good.”
For a few agonizing seconds, she stared at him. He looked his fill, too, remembering everything they’d done to each other. Her tan complexion glowed with a hint of pink. Her full lips puckered in concentration. He hoped like hell the most prominent memory she had was of the two of them in bed. It certainly replayed in his mind on a weekly basis. At that very moment, he pictured her with perfect clarity, lying underneath him, her eyes ablaze with passion.
“I miss him,” she whispered, breaking into his thoughts.
And just like that, Oliver had come between them once more.