Anybody But Justin

Chances Are, Book 1

Shelli Stevens

Chapter 1

Gabby dove behind a display of cereal boxes and nibbled her bottom lip. She eyed the exit some thirty feet away and wondered if she could ditch her groceries and make it out the door without him spotting her.

Her pulse quickened and she counted to ten before leaning forward just enough to peek around a box of Lucky Charms.

“Gabby?”

She snapped back and winced, glaring at the floor of the market. Damn. He’d seen her. So much for bolting.

Dusty brown leather shoes appeared in her line of vision as he rounded the corner. She lifted her gaze up the length of his tall body, lingering on the broad shoulders beneath his faded flannel shirt.

Her heart fluttered in her chest and she swallowed hard before tilting her head that last inch to meet the blue gaze of her old roommate.

“Justin.” She forced a bright smile and switched the basket of food to her other hand. “Hey. How’ve you been?”

“Been all right.”

His gaze, warm and knowing slid from her head to her toes in a lazy caress that made every damn inch of her body tingle. Irritation pricked and her smile grew more brittle.

And this was why she avoided him, didn’t answer his calls and had basically tried like mad to forget he even existed. If she got within two feet of him, her hormones went on the fritz and her mind went spongy. Which would be fine if it were with any other guy. Anybody but Justin.

“Did you get my messages?”

“I did.” Her gaze slid away again and she felt her cheeks warm in a telltale sign of guilt. “Umm. Sorry, I’ve been crazy busy. I recently stepped up in my position at Second Chances.”

“So I heard.” The note of admiration in his deep voice had her snapping her focus back to his face.

“You heard?”

“Yeah. I’m proud of you.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and the shirt tightened across his chest as a result.

His words sent a rush of pleasure through her, but with her focus once again on his chest, she barely managed an obscure, “You are?”

“Yeah. I keep up on you, Gabby. Even if you don’t pick up the phone when I call.”

“Oh. No. It’s not…” Her blush deepened and she bit her cheek.

“No?” He leaned forward, stretching a hand past her to snag a box of cereal off the shelf behind her. Her gaze locked on the hint of brown stubble on his chin and for a brief second he was so close that she could smell the mixture of soap and man.

Not just any man. Justin man. Gabby swallowed hard, and she felt her nipples tighten and chafe against the cotton bra she wore. Not good. So not good.

“Hey, look, I’ll give you a call later.” The lie came out in a husky rush. “We can catch up. I promised Phoebe I’d stop by the Second Chances home in a little bit. I should get going.”

She moved to step around him, but he blocked her path. Her heart thudded faster. This time when he reached out, it was to touch her. He caught a strawberry blonde braid between his fingers and slid his thumb through the strands.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” he said softly.

It’d be nice if he just held her, period.

Her eyelids started to flutter shut and she swayed toward him. Choking on a gasp, she jerked away. What was she thinking? Was she completely out of her mind?

This was Justin. No. No. And hell no.

“Of course I’ll call. I will.” Her head bobbed in an affirmation that contradicted the decision in her heart.

There was no way she would dial his number tonight. His lips twitched and she saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes. Finally, he gave a short nod and stepped back.

“Great. I’ll…talk to you soon then.”

“Definitely.” She bit her lip and stepped around him, hurrying to the cash register to check out.

His gaze burned into her back and tingles of awareness raced through her body. Her palms were damp as she swiped her debit card.

One last glance back into the store showed Justin had likely disappeared down another aisle to finish his shopping. Thank God. She fished her keys from her purse and rushed to her car.

*

Justin set the cereal back on the shelf and scowled. Hell, he’d only picked it up as a reason to get close to her. If only for a second.

What the hell had happened with Gabby? He hadn’t seen her in six months—since she’d moved out of the house he owned without an explanation.

For two years they’d been roommates and good friends. And then she’d left and cut all contact. What happened?

You know what happened.

He headed back toward the deli, pushing back the memories of that night. The night when everything between them changed. The night that had likely motivated her to move out two weeks later.

Grabbing a pre-made sandwich from the deli, he went up to the register to pay. His gaze drifted out the windows of the grocery, even though she’d left minutes ago.

God, it was good to see her. At first he hadn’t been sure it was her. Then she’d looked up, spotted him and promptly run to hide behind a stack of cereal boxes.

Same old impulsive Gabby. And she was avoiding him. He’d suspected as much since she’d stopped answering his calls and never replied to the messages he left.

He hadn’t realized how much he missed her until a few minutes ago. Until she was standing right in front of him again and it became clear just how much he’d lost that day she’d moved out.

She was the same Gabby he’d loved to hang out with. Cute, quirky and a bigger sports fan than half the guys he knew. He’d ditched more than one night out with the boys to sit back at the house and watch the game with her.

He handed the cashier his money and headed for the exit, stopping to hold the door for an elderly man who approached with a walker.

After the man gave a quick nod of thanks and disappeared into the store, Justin made his way to his truck.

Would she call tonight? Even though she said she would, his gut told him she’d blow him off.

Blow him off. His mind raced with images of that night and what had almost happened between them and the blood stirred hot in his veins.

He clenched his jaw and shook his head. This was bullshit. It was long past time they talked about that night. She was too good of a friend to lose over something so… Hell, who was he kidding? It was hardly trivial.

Tonight they’d talk, he decided firmly, getting into his truck to head back to the construction site. Whether she wanted to or not.

*

Gabby rushed into the office, letting the door swing shut behind her, followed by the reassuring click of the electronic lock.

She made her way down the hall to where she, Phoebe and Delanie shared an office. She couldn’t wait to get back to her desk and get some support from her friends.

She spotted Phoebe’s dark curls bent over a stack of papers. Hearing Gabby’s approach, she looked up and sighed.

“You’re back. Did you bring me anything?”

“Heck yeah, I did. I know what you like.” Gabby tossed the chocolate bar onto her friend’s desk and then went to sit down at hers. “Where’s Delanie?”

“In a meeting. She’ll be out in a few. Thanks for the chocolate, you’re the best.” Phoebe unwrapped the bar and took a bite, closing her eyes and groaning. “I needed this. It’s been a crap day.”

“You’re telling me,” Gabby muttered, and pulled out her grilled chicken breast and potato wedges.

“Hmm. What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing.”

“You brought it up. Don’t ask me to drop it now.” Phoebe’s eyes narrowed and she set down her chocolate. “What happened while you were out?”

Gabby stabbed at the chicken breast with her plastic fork and sighed. “I ran into this guy—my old roommate—at the grocery store.”

“And that’s a bad thing because…”

“Umm. Hmm.” She lifted a potato wedge to her mouth and considered how best to answer that. “We were really good friends.”

“Okay.”

“Like, really close. We hung out all the time, could talk about anything with each other.” She paused and twisted off the lid of her soda. “We even gave each other dating advice and would talk about our sexual relationships and stuff.”

“Yeah, God, I can see why you’re upset that you ran into him,” Phoebe teased.

Gabby rolled her eyes. “I’m not finished, you dork.”

“Evidently. Go on.”

“Anyway. We were roomies for two years. Life was great. Things were perfect…”

“So what happened? He screw you over on rent?”

“No.” Gabby focused her gaze on the bottle of soda. “He just decided he wanted to screw me.”

There was a moment of silence and she lifted her head. Phoebe stared at her with pursed lips and brows drawn together.

“I don’t get it,” she said after a moment.

Gabby shifted in her chair. “Don’t get what?”

“Well, if things were so perfect between you two, why is it a bad thing that you guys fell into that romantic level?”

“Because there is no romantic level with Justin. He’s a player—a serial dater. I mean, he makes Leonardo DiCaprio look like the marrying kind.” Gabby groaned and stabbed at her chicken again. “It never mattered to me, though, because I wasn’t interested in him that way.”

“Or so you thought.”

“Or so I thought,” she agreed, her stomach twisting. “Everything changed the moment he kissed me…”

Phoebe’s expression softened with sympathy. “What caused the change? Why after two years did he suddenly decide to kiss you?”

“I’m sure the bottle of tequila we were knocking back helped a bit.” She shrugged. “We were watching a fantastic Giants game, talking about relationships and stuff…then it just kind of happened.”

“Tequila’s a bitch.”

“Heck yeah, it is.” Gabby gave a soft laugh and pulled the rubber bands from her hair, unthreading her braids.

“You said he tried to have sex with you. Does that mean it didn’t happen?”

“It didn’t happen. I stopped him before he could get my shirt off.” Gabby drew in an unsteady breath. “I’m sorry. That’s probably TMI.”

“Not at all. You know I live secondhand through your love life.”

Gabby leaned back in her chair and gave her friend a considering glance. “You know, you need to date more.”

“We’re not talking about me.”

“Actually, you need to date, period.”

“We’re still not talking about me.” Phoebe shook her head, black curls bouncing as her lips twitched. “So you didn’t have sex. What happened next?”

“Well, things got weird. Like really weird.” She shook her head, letting the loose waves fall over her shoulders. “We wrote the make-out session off to being drunk and never discussed it again. But I couldn’t deal. At all. If he went out on a date, I was nauseous all night. If I thought about him getting it on with another girl—hell, even kissing another girl, I’d about throw up my last meal.”

“Wow. Gabby, you really like this guy.”

“Gabby really likes what guy?” They looked up as Delanie sailed into the room and dropped a file on her desk. She sat down, ran a hand through chin-length blonde hair and lifted an eyebrow. “Come on, don’t hold out on me. What did I miss?”

“Gabby is in lust with her old roommate,” Phoebe murmured. “They made out and then she moved out.”

“Huh.” Delanie leaned back in her chair, crossing one long leg over another.

“Stop it.” Gabby groaned and took another sip of soda. “I had to move out. He owns the house—his grandparents left it to him, so it wasn’t like I was breaking a lease.” She lowered her gaze and picked up another potato, but barely tasted it. “I moved out when he went down to Cabo with some of his buddies for the weekend. I left him a check for my last two months and then split.”

Delanie cocked her head. “What explanation did you give him for leaving early?”

“Explanation?” Gabby snorted and then bit her lip before admitting, “Well, I really didn’t give him one.”

Phoebe winced. “Ouch.”

“Ouch?”

“Well, personally I would have tried to explain. Or something—”

“I know. I didn’t handle it very well. And maybe I should have returned his calls or answered his emails.”

“Wait, you didn’t even answer his emails?” Delanie shook her head.

“I just couldn’t deal with it, okay?”

“Okay, so what happened in the store?” Phoebe prodded and glanced at Delanie and explained, “They ran into each other at the store this afternoon.”

Gabby’s cheeks burned. “Err, I tried to hide. But he saw me. Then, only after promising to call him later, I finally got out of there without looking like too big of an idiot.”

“And are you going to call him?” Delanie asked.

“Hell no.”

“So, apparently you still can’t deal with it,” Phoebe drawled.

“Hey. You just don’t get it. We passed the point of no return. There’s no going back.”

“A little dramatic, don’t you think?” Phoebe murmured.

“I’m not calling him,” Gabby grumbled and shot a defiant glare at Phoebe. “I’m just not. So don’t even try to convince me to, ladies. In fact, let’s just drop the whole subject.”

“Okay.” Phoebe waved her hands in the air and took another bite of her chocolate bar. “I promise, I won’t try to convince you. I’m dropping it.”

“Me too. I need lunch.” Delanie stood up and went to the mini fridge in the corner.

Gabby grunted. Justin had probably gone through a slew of girlfriends in the six months since she’d moved out. The man loved to argue that celibate had the same meaning as celebrate. Which made absolutely no sense.

“I mean, there’s just no point in calling him,” she said to defend herself. “It’d just be weird. And I don’t do weird.”

“Oh, are we still talking about this? Sorry, I thought you said something about dropping it. I must have misunderstood.” Phoebe’s eyes widened in mock innocence and she crinkled her chocolate bar wrapper, tossing it into the waste bin. “I’d say the point would be salvaging two years of friendship you had with this guy.”

“It’s too late.”

“It’s never too late,” Delanie argued, returning to her desk with a yogurt and a sandwich.

“Trust me on this one.” Gabby grabbed the rest of her lunch and went to put it in the fridge, muttering under her breath, “It was too late the minute he touched me.”

Chapter 2

After jerking the ties on her sneakers tight, Gabby straightened and jogged in place. She slapped her palm against the round metal crosswalk button one more time and brushed the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand.

The electric sign switched to indicate it was safe to cross and she sprang forward to resume her steady running pace. Adrenaline rushed through her blood as her feet pounded the pavement and Fergie sang from her iPod.

She’d been running for a half hour and had about another ten minutes. Or, if she went by her playlist, another four songs.

The sun verged on setting and the streets were filled with drivers rushing to get home from work. She drew in a breath of San Francisco air and increased her pace, wanting to push herself the last bit before she turned back toward her apartment.

She closed her eyes for a moment to savor the first few lines of the Pink song that came on. When she opened them, another jogger breached her peripheral vision from behind and she moved to the right to let him pass.

Instead of moving beyond her, he came up beside her and slowed his pace.

What the hell? She frowned and cast a sideways glance his way, then nearly tripped over her own feet.

“Hey.” She read the greeting on Justin’s lips and pressed pause on her phone.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, not slowing her pace.

“Jogging,” he replied, his grin widening. “What are you doing?”

Her pulse quickened and it had nothing to do with the exercise this time.

“You don’t jog,” she pointed out, resenting the fact that she sounded winded and he didn’t. He looked completely at ease and hadn’t even broken a sweat.

“I thought it was a good time to start.” He shrugged and kept pace with her.

“How did you—” she drew in a deep breath, finding it a little difficult to carry on a conversation at this point in her run, “—know I’d be jogging here?”

“I didn’t. It was a long shot. I knew this used to be your standard route, but you could’ve changed.”

Apparently she should’ve changed. Jerking her attention from him, she focused her gaze straight ahead and ground her teeth together.

“We need to talk.”

“I told you I’d call you.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

He’d read her that well, had he? She should have known. “I’m not talking now. I’m running.”

Her jaw clenched and she picked up the pace, hitting play again. Any further conversation he might have tried to make got drowned out by her music.

For a moment, she hoped he’d take the hint and just turn right back around and leave her the heck alone.

Instead, he stayed abreast, continuing to match her steady pace, but made no effort to talk further. She drew in an unsteady breath, silently cursing him out for putting her in this position. Literally.

They were so close, the hard muscles of his arm kept brushing against her shoulder—each touch sending the heat radiating off him straight through her body in tingling waves.

By the time she started to become okay with the fact that he wasn’t leaving, they’d arrived at her apartment.

When she slowed, he did so as well, casting a curious glance at the building beside them. Gabby hit stop again and pulled the earbuds from her ears. Justin braced his hands on his hips, breathing in deeply—finally, he looked a little winded!—and eyed the complex with narrowed eyes. “This your new place?”

“Yeah.” She pulled the rubber band from her hair and redid her ponytail. Leave. Just leave. Please don’t ask—

“Mind if I come up and see it?”

Her chest expanded with the slow breath she drew in, but she forced a small smile. “Not at all. Come on up.”

She turned away from him, her pulse quickening and her mouth drying out. This wasn’t happening. It just couldn’t be. She’d successfully avoided him for months now, hoping he’d take the hint. And yet here he was, about to step foot into her new apartment. She was all too aware of how close he stood behind her as they reached her door, and her fingers trembled as she grabbed her key from the pocket of her shorts.

“You okay there?” His question feathered across her ear and she winced, overshooting the keyhole and scratching the wooden frame.

“I’m fine.” She clenched her teeth and directed the key into its target location with more force than necessary.

With a silent harrumph to celebrate her success, she twisted the handle and pushed the door open.

*

Justin followed her inside, his gaze moving around the average-sized apartment with open curiosity.

Her furnishings were sparse, just the one love seat and kitchen table she’d had when she’d lived at his house. Jesus, it seemed like just yesterday. And, at the same time, it seemed like a millennium.

His gaze followed her as she tossed her keys onto the table and walked to the kitchen.

The soft curve of her ass swished beneath the nylon shorts she wore, her bare, tanned legs stretched out beneath the hem.

He forced himself to look away from her backside, especially once he felt the familiar rush of blood to his dick.

This is Gabby. You know it’s a bad idea. It was a bad idea that one night, and it’s still a bad idea.

Checking out women was hardly anything new for him. He loved women and everything about them. Their softness, the sway of hips in their walk, the smell of them, the enticing sounds they made when he found just the right spot to—

“Do you want some water?”

He blinked and thrust a hand into his hair. “Yeah. Thanks, Gab.”

If he hadn’t been staring at her back, he might have missed the tensing in her shoulder. She sounded normal, uttering a breezy, “No problem.”

His brows drew together and he bit back a sigh. She obviously felt uncomfortable around him. Damn it. Why?

She turned from the sink and left the small kitchen, the glass of water outstretched in her hand. “So, what have you been up to?” she asked, her gaze avoiding his.

The moment he took the glass from her, she moved past him into the living room a few feet away.

“Working.” He followed her to the love seat and sat down. “The normal stuff.”

Partying. Dating entirely too many women, yet spending too many nights alone and missing something. Missing Gabby. She made a barely audible harrumph, but when he glanced up, her expression was carefully blank.

That was odd, she never hid her emotions from him. And yet, from the moment he’d run into her in the store this morning, she’d had one big wall up.

He took a long drink of water and then set the half-empty glass on her coffee table. He stared straight ahead for a moment, debating what to say. He was here in her apartment. Damn it, he needed to say something.

“So, why’d you move out the way you did?”

Gabby spit her water back into her glass and coughed. “Excuse me?”

“You’re stalling. Why can’t you just answer the question?”

“Justin…” She set her glass down on the table next to his and offered an abrupt shrug. “We’d discussed the possibility I’d be moving out—”

“Someday in the nowhere-near future,” he said tersely. “The deal was we’d shake up the living arrangement when one of us got serious with someone we were seeing.”

She gave a soft laugh, but it didn’t hold humor. “Right. And we both know you’re not the type to get serious.”

Tension rolled through his muscles and his jaw flexed. He turned in the seat to look at her. “What does that mean?”

Pink filled her cheeks and she swallowed hard. “Nothing, Justin. I wasn’t being serious.”

“You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it.”

“Look, please forget I said it. I was just kidding.”

But she hadn’t been. At least not entirely. He drew in an unsteady breath, his head swirling with the memories of all the time they’d spent together.

Both of them had dated a lot, had rarely held a relationship that lasted longer than a couple of months.

They’d discussed their dating habits many times. Had laughed about it. And yet, this time she’d flung the words at him as an accusation—there’d been no teasing. His gaze dropped to where her hands were fisted on her lap. Impulsively, he reached out and caught her wrist, sliding his fingers downward to force her hand open again and then holding it. It was a gesture that wasn’t uncommon for them, and yet she attempted to pull her hand free.

“Look at me, Gab.”

Her shoulders rose with the deep breath she dragged in, and then she tilted her head to give him a sideways glance. Her eyes were carefully schooled. He knew that look. She’d come to poker night too many times with the guys for him to not recognize that you won’t get shit out of me look.

“I want you to be completely honest with me,” he said quietly and tightened his grip on her hand—her dainty, soft hand. His brows drew together. Had her hands always been this feminine?

“Okay.” She arched an eyebrow. “Are you going to ask it?”

He shook his head, wondering how the hell she was managing to get him so damn flustered.

“Yeah. I’m gonna ask it,” he said gruffly and then focused his attention on her face again. “Did you move out because of that night?”

The only sign that he’d shocked her was the slight widening of her eyes. But then she narrowed them just as quickly and a sardonic grin slipped across her mouth.

“That night? Ah, Justin, you’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that. We lived together for a couple of years.”

“Damn it, Gab. Don’t pull that crap on me. Anyone else might buy it, but I don’t.” He scowled. “You know exactly which night I’m talking about.”

Her fingers arched against his hand, but he didn’t loosen his grip. The slight smell of sweat from their run lingered in the room, with the overlying scent of her lotion. Some melon thing she’d worn the entire time he’d known her. It had never seemed seductive before, but now…

She lowered her gaze from his and her tongue swept across her bottom lip before retreating safely back into her mouth.

Desire stirred low in his groin and his next breath in wasn’t quite as steady. Jesus. He still wanted her. The idea rocked him to his core.

Bad idea, Justin.

“Are you telling me—” He leaned forward and caught her chin, his face just inches from hers. Very bad idea, Justin. “—that you don’t remember this?”

The need to remind her of that night consumed him. Her eyes widened in trepidation, just before he lowered his mouth down onto hers.

So soft. So sweet.

When she would have pushed him away, he moved his palm to her back and held her still, moving his mouth against hers.

Half a year. How had he gone a half a year without her? And why had it taken two years for them to reach this level of intimacy?

His tongue teased the crease of her mouth open, and then slid inside to taste her.

The angry sound she made morphed into a frustrated moan and finally one of surrender. Her tongue moved out to meet his—almost angry in the bold strokes she made to tease him.

Justin’s blood pounded through his veins. His entire being focused on the smell of her, the press of her breasts against his chest, and the soft sounds she made as she kissed him back. Sounds that alternated between pleasure and frustration.

Her hands slid up to his shoulders to wrap around his neck, pressing her body snugger against his. The scrape of her hardened nipples against his chest sent another rush of blood to his cock, bringing it fully erect. He groaned, grateful for his loose running pants.

He explored her mouth thoroughly, teasing the hidden spots before returning to spar with her tongue. His hands, which had been resting on her waist, slid up her ribcage to just under her breasts.

He barely hesitated before sweeping his thumbs up to stroke over the tight peaks of her breasts. He lifted his lips from hers just a fraction to allow her strangled gasp, before he captured her mouth again.

All rational thoughts on why he’d come here tonight—because it couldn’t have been for this, could it?—abandoned his mind. The need to touch her naked skin, to taste the salty sweet softness of her flesh, swept through him.

He deepened the kiss, caught her nipple between two fingers and pinched, all while easing her onto her back on the couch. It was a move he’d mastered in years of seducing women.

Tonight it failed. Gabby wrenched her mouth from his, shoving him so hard he fell off her and onto the floor. “Stop.”

She scurried off the couch and across the room from him. “What was that, Justin? What the hell was that?”

He winced, picking himself up from the floor. His balls ached and his dick still throbbed with the need to be buried inside her.

Inside…Gabby. Shit. His stomach clenched and he thrust a hand through his hair. Her question was a good one. What the hell had he been doing? Seeking out a repeat performance for the night that had likely killed their friendship?

Feeling like the biggest ass on the planet, he lifted his gaze to look at her. Her nipples were outlined against her tight shirt, her lips swollen, and her eyes held a mix of anger, desire and…fear.

“Gabby—”

“If you set out to prove that I want to screw you silly, then congratulations, Justin.” Her laughter sounded a bit unsteady and she folded her arms in a protective gesture across her breasts. “Fine. I want you. I won’t apologize for that or deny it.”

The air in his lungs refused to leave. His chest tightened. Gabby wanted him too. Gabby—

“But there’s no way in hell I’m going to act on it,” she finished flatly. “Because that would make me stupid.”