Be sure to read Chapter One first (posted February 17th)
A few hours later
Jenny was seated across from one of her best friends, Alex. She had met him the first week she had moved to California about six years ago. Actually, she had literally run into him. As she had walked out of a store in Venice Beach, Alex had been walking down the sidewalk. Jenny had barreled out of the store, not paying attention to where she was going, and had found herself face to chest with Alex.
Jenny and Alex had never dated. They had been too afraid of spoiling their friendship, but Jenny would be lying if she said he wasn’t attractive. Alex was six feet five inches tall, which put him a foot taller than Jenny. He had dark wavy hair and warm brown eyes. He worked out in the same gym as Jenny so she knew for a fact that he was well built.
The day was so beautiful they had decided to eat their lunch out on the patio. Alex had talked her into meeting him in Huntington Beach. He lived nearby so Jenny was fairly certain he would end up talking her into a swim at his place.
Alex owned a small white stucco home with an in-ground pool in the landscaped backyard. There had been many a day that Jenny had spent time by Alex’s pool, sunning herself and swimming in the nice cool water.
“So, how’s work?” Alex asked.
“It’s good. The business is starting to grow so I’ve been making more and more covers. I think we’re up to twenty submissions per day now.”
Jenny nodded. “What about you?”
Alex shrugged. “It’s okay I guess. I had to let a few people go last week so I’ve been doing more of the work myself. I don’t mind being outside, but I’ve gotten spoiled and I prefer having more free time.”
Alex owned his own landscaping business. He’d built it up from scratch about five years ago at Jenny’s insistence. Once she had seen what he could do, she had urged him to make a career out of it. Now, he had twenty employees and a steady stream of customers. He was usually booked for three months solid.
When they finished their lunch, the waitress left the check for them. Jenny and Alex reached for it at the same time, their hands brushing each other.
Alex smiled at her. “You know I’m not about to let you buy your own lunch.”
Jenny rolled her eyes. It was an old argument. “As if I can’t afford a bowl of pasta and a soda!”
Alex laughed. “I know you can, but I asked you to come out here for lunch so I’m paying.”
Jenny sighed. She knew better than to argue. Alex always got his way. “Fine, I know better than to try and dissuade you.”
Alex paid for their meal and walked Jenny outside. He wasn’t ready for the day to end just yet. He knew they were just friends and that she had been seeing someone, but there were times he wished he would have asked her out on a real date.
“How about going to my place for a swim and some dessert?”
Jenny laughed. Alex was so predictable. “I think I can swing that. Actually, my whole day is free.”
Alex gave her a huge grin. “Great! I’ll meet you there. I’m just going to make a quick stop on the way home. Do you have your key?”
“Yes. I’ll probably be out by the pool.”
“Of course, where else would I find a water nymph?”
Jenny laughed. She had always been able to swim like a fish and had loved the water since birth.
They went their separate ways. What they didn’t realize was that they were being watched. Across the street, Seth sat in his car. He hadn’t meant to spy on Jenny, but he had been in the area and had spotted her having lunch with another guy.
Jenny had told him she was meeting a friend for lunch. Was this the friend? Why hadn’t she told him she was meeting a guy? Every time he saw her smile at the other man, his gut clenched. Without realizing what he was doing, he began following her when she drove off in her little green bug.
He was surprised when she stopped outside of a small house two miles from the restaurant. Was she visiting someone else now? Maybe she hadn’t been lying and she really had just met the guy for lunch as friends.
Seth watched Jenny walk up the small walkway to the front door. After fumbling with her key ring a moment, she unlocked the door. What was going on? Why did she have a key to this place and who lived here?
Sliding down in his seat, Seth decided to wait and see what happened. He felt horrible for spying on her, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He was crazy about her, wanted to marry her, and now she was acting suspicious. Surely she wasn’t cheating on him!
Fifteen minutes later, another car pulled into the driveway. The same man from the restaurant climbed out of the black truck and walked up to the door. Opening the door, he went inside and disappeared from Seth’s view.
Seth felt sick and hurt. How could Jenny do this to him? She had just been in his arms last night and now she was meeting another guy? How long had this been going on?
Rolling down his window, he breathed in the fresh air. They weren’t too far from the ocean and he could smell the salt in the air.
Seth sat there for thirty minutes or so. As he was about to start his car, he heard Jenny squeal. The air rushed from his lungs. The only time she made that sound was when she was truly having a good time.
Before he knew what he was doing, Seth was out of the car and walking toward the gate at the back of the property. Amazingly enough, the gate was unlocked. As he pushed it open quietly, he stepped into the lush backyard. The landscaping was amazing. Even more amazing was the sight in front of him.
Jenny was in a pool in a two piece bathing suit with another man’s arms around her. As he swung her around in the water, she squealed with glee. She looked so happy! Seth had a hard time breathing.
Oblivious to the man standing in his yard, Alex tightened his arms around Jenny in a bear hug. Her back was to him and he rested his stubbly chin on her shoulder, which made her squirm even more.
“Alex, cut it out!” Jenny giggled. He knew that her neck was sensitive and the silly man was rubbing his five o’clock shadow against her sensitive skin.
He grinned and kissed her neck before releasing her. “Your wish is my command.”
Jenny turned and splashed him. “You’re such a doofus sometimes.”
Alex laughed. “Only you can get away with calling me that.”
“Oh yeah? And what would happen to someone else?”
Alex got a calculating look in his eye. Uh-oh. Too late, Jenny realized she had issued a challenge without meaning to.
“No, Alex! I didn’t mean it! Alex!”
Jenny shrieked and tried to swim away, but Alex caught her. Pinning her to the side of the pool, he tickled her mercilessly. She was laughing so hard she was crying. As she wiped the tears from her eyes, she spotted Seth standing near the gate.
Pushing against Alex’s chest, Jenny swam to the other end of the pool.
“Seth, what are you doing here?”
Seth glanced between her and Alex. He wasn’t sure what to say or what to do. Part of him wanted to turn tail and run, pretend he hadn’t seen her with another man. The other part, wanted to confront her.
“I was driving through the area and saw you enter the house. When I heard you in the backyard, I thought I would surprise you and meet one of your friends.”
Jenny smiled at him, unaware that anything was wrong. “Well, come on.”
Seth was startled. She actually wanted him to meet her other boyfriend? Was she trying to rip out his heart?
Alex had slowly swum up behind Jenny. Assessing Seth, he knew exactly what the man was thinking. He knew he should correct the situation immediately, but the little devil on his shoulder wouldn’t let him.
Turning, Jenny bumped into Alex. She laughed up at him. “Alex, this is my boyfriend Seth. Seth, this is my friend Alex.”
Seth walked closer, nodding to Alex. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Alex forced a grin. “You too.”
Finally sensing the tension, Jenny glanced between the two uncertainly.
“What’s going on?”
Seth shook his head. Was she really that naïve? “I come in here and see you in the arms of another man. What am I suppose to think Jenny?”
Jenny stepped closer to him. “Seth, please don’t feel that way. Really, Alex and I are just friends. I’ve known him since I moved out here.”
Seth looked at Alex. He could tell the man liked her as more than just a friend. The question was, did Jenny know?
“And you, can you honestly tell me that the two of you are just friends,” Seth asked Alex.
Alex shrugged. “If you’re asking if I’ve ever kissed her, nothing more than a brief peck under the mistletoe.”
Seth knew he should just accept that answer and walk away, but he couldn’t. “Why do I get the feeling you wouldn’t mind it being more than that?”
Jenny was getting angry, something that didn’t happen often. “What’s wrong with you Seth? How dare you come in here and question me and my friend!”
Stalking out of the pool and over to her towel, she wrapped it around herself. “You obviously don’t trust me. Maybe you should just leave.”
Seth opened his mouth to respond, but Jenny had already turned and marched into the house. His anger deflated immediately. What had he done? Why had he pushed? He should have just accepted her answer, smiled, and left them to have fun. But no, he couldn’t do that. Instead, he had to drive away the one person who could make him smile, the only woman he loved.
Before he could make an even bigger ass of himself, he turned and left the backyard. Walking to his car, he decided to give Jenny some space. He’d call her in a day or two and try to make it up to her.
Alex watched Seth go. He should say something; try to patch things up between the couple. Instead, he didn’t move until after the gate had swung shut. Climbing out of the pool, he grabbed his towel and went to check on Jenny.
Stepping into the cool kitchen, he found her sitting at the table, crying. He swallowed, felt like hell for being the cause of her tears. Walking over to her, he placed a hand on her shoulder.
Jenny looked up with tears streaming down her cheeks. She stood and wrapped her arms around Alex, burying her face against his smooth tan chest. She didn’t understand how Seth could be so cruel. Where was the funny, light-hearted man she had come to care so much about?
“I’m sorry, Jenny. Please don’t cry.”
She sniffled. “Why are you sorry?”
“I should have said something, done something… made him stay so you could talk things out. Instead, I let him leave, knowing he had hurt you, knowing that I had done nothing to stop it.”
“It isn’t your fault, Alex. You and I both told him we were just friends. It isn’t your fault that he was suspicious and didn’t believe us.”
Alex sighed. He briefly tightened his arms around Jenny, knowing he was about to screw up their friendship. “It’s more complicated than that Jenny.”
She looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
Alex backed away, ran a hand through his hair, and tried to figure out what to say. “We may have both told Seth that we were just friends, but…”
“But what? Just tell me Alex.”
He looked at her, wondering if it would be for the last time. “We said everything the right way, but there was one thing that I couldn’t help.”
“Alex, you’re killing me. Please just tell me what’s going on.”
“The one that I couldn’t help was the way I look at you.”
Jenny was confused. “The way you look at me?”
Alex looked tortured. How could he tell her that he was the reason her boyfriend had left?
“Don’t you know what an amazing woman you are? You’re funny, beautiful, talented! Seth said the things he did, because he realized that I have feelings for you that go beyond friendship.”
“What?” Jenny was shocked. She slowly sank into her chair. Alex had feelings for her? More than friendship type feelings? This was too much! She didn’t know what to think or what to feel.
“I think it’s best if I leave for now,” she whispered, getting up and heading to the guest room to change her clothes.
Jenny dressed and drove home. Out of habit, she left her bathing suit in the bathroom hamper along with her wet towel. She wasn’t sure if she would be back or not. There was a lot to think about right now.