If Only

Lisa M. Owens

 

Chapter 1

“You know what you need, don’t you? You need to get laid.”

Following the sound of a familiar shout, Bree Sexton turned to face one of her best friends with amusement. It was difficult to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the girls while there were hordes of half-naked men and women dancing and making out on the dance floor, and pulsating rock music blared in your ears. She couldn’t believe she had allowed herself to be dragged out by her two best friends to a bar to celebrate her divorce. She sighed, and then a small, secret smile flittered across her face. She was divorced. She was free to do what she wanted, when she wanted. After five years of pure hell, she was no longer married to the man who had controlled her life for too long. She was free of him once and for all. She had no one to answer to, no one to dictate to her what she should do. No one to hit her when she didn’t follow all his rules.

She had met Bryan Sexton when she was only twenty-five years old. He’d been a generous and considerate man who’d swept her off her feet. He had wined and dined her, making her feel like a fairy-tale princess. He had taken her out to all of the expensive restaurants and bought her jewelry. He had seemed to be in tune to her every thought, feeling, and wish. He had completely won her over.

She had never even suspected the evil that was lurking beneath the surface.

Bree shook her head in disbelief. She had been engaged at the time to her childhood sweetheart, Scott Weston. She had broken up with Scott shortly after meeting Bryan, and to this day, she regretted that decision.

Scott Weston had been the love of her life. They had been friends since elementary school and had dated since their freshman year in high school. The day Scott had proposed was one of the happiest days of her life. He had been everything Bryan wasn’t: he was a good listener, he loved children, and he made her feel like she was cherished and loved. To this day, she couldn’t believe she had been foolish enough to break his heart. A memory of their dating years flashed through her mind.

It was the night of their high school graduation and she had been nervous because she was valedictorian. She was standing at the podium, terrified about the speech she was getting ready to give. She looked around and discovered neither one of her parents had bothered to show up. Tears had filled her eyes, and in that instant, she was terribly and utterly alone. Then she heard her name being called out from the crowd. She looked out over the auditorium full of people, and she saw them. Scott’s family. They were all out there, cheering her on. His sister and brother, and both of his parents, who had given her all the love she had always longed for from her own parents.

Then her gaze found his. Scott. The one person who loved her no matter what. He was sitting with the other graduates in their class, and in front of all of his friends, he blew her a kiss. She blushed when she saw the teasing he was getting from their classmates, but he didn’t seem to care.

“That’s my baby!” he shouted, as loud as he could. “That’s my baby!”

She could still hear the sound of his voice in her mind.

Bree looked over at her friends. They were deep in conversation so she pulled her coat across her shoulders and headed for the exit. She had had enough fun for one night. Now all she wanted to do was to go home, change into her nightgown, and lie down with a good book, preferably a mystery. She wasn’t really in the mood for one of her romance novels tonight.

She tied the belt around her camel-colored coat and wrapped her red scarf around her neck.

She walked out the door at the same time as someone else, and her body pressed against a strange man’s. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she apologized.

“Bree? I can’t believe it’s really you! You look incredible!”

Her breath caught in her throat as she came face-to-face with the man who had been in her thoughts all night. “Hi, Scott,” she whispered. “How are you?”

A warm smile spread across his face as he looked at her. At six-feet-one, he had always towered over her. He was just as good-looking as she remembered, maybe even more. His dark brown hair was tousled, and his chocolate brown eyes gazed into hers. A familiar warmth spread through her body. He still affected her, just like he always had.

“I’m great. Did you hear that I got married?”

Bree’s heart dropped. “No, I hadn’t heard. Congratulations.” She tried to muster up some enthusiasm.

Scott ran a hand through his windblown hair and gave Bree a crooked smile. He held up his left hand for her inspection. “Yeah, been married two years in March. In fact, got a baby due next month.”

“Good. I’m happy for you.” She hoped she sounded convincing.

Apparently she did because he nodded. “Thank you.” He nodded his dark head toward the door. “I’m just on my way out. Do you remember my brother, Luke?” At Bree’s nod, he continued, “He’s getting married, so we all met for a drink after work. They’re having his bachelor party at a club later, but you know me, that’s really not my scene. What are you doing here?”

“Jade and Heather dragged me down here to celebrate my divorce being finalized today.”

Scott frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that, Bree. I want you to know I was never bitter about what happened. I’ll admit I felt hurt and betrayed at first because I really and truly loved you. I had just always hoped you’d find happiness.”

Bree tried to swallow around the lump lodged in her throat. She felt like crying. “Thank you,” she murmured. “You’ll never know how much that means to me.”

He reached over and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her against his muscled chest. She could smell the musky scent of his cologne, and she couldn’t help but grin. Even after all this time, he still used the same cologne he had used back then.

Her hands trembled as she nervously wound her arms around his neck. She was sixteen years old. A dozen thoughts ran through her mind. Should she close her eyes or leave them open? Should she have brushed her teeth again or at least used a breath mint? What if she wasn’t a good kisser? What if she was lousy at it? Would Scott dump her if this kiss didn’t meet his expectations?

Then it was too late for her worries and second thoughts. His fingers reached for a wayward lock of her auburn hair. He wound the errant curl around the delicate shell of her ear. She closed her eyes as the musky scent of his cologne reached her nostrils. His mouth came down to meet hers, and for the first time in her life, Bree Montgomery glimpsed a sliver of heaven.

Kissing her on the forehead, he whispered, “Keep your chin up, gorgeous.” He released her and then looked at his watch. “Oh, I need to get going. I promised Monica I’d pick up some things at the grocery store.” He gave Bree a lopsided grin. “One of those things is a half-gallon of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, and I’ve learned from experience not to keep a pregnant woman from her ice cream.” He gave her another grin as he waved good-bye and then turned and walked away.

Bree stood there for a minute, watching as he walked out of her life. She couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if she had married Scott instead of Bryan. How would her life have been different? Would she have had children by now? Would she and Scott still be together, after all this time? Those thoughts and more weighed heavily on her mind as she headed out of the bar. It had begun to snow, and she wrapped her coat even tighter around her slender frame. She looked around, but there was no one to be found. She couldn’t help herself; she stuck out her tongue, a childish impulse she couldn’t ignore, and then laughed out loud in spite of herself.

She looked both ways before attempting to cross the street. Not seeing any cars, she began to make her way across. Bree was walking cautiously when one of her high heels slipped on a patch of ice. She could feel herself falling, and her breathing quickened as she began to panic, wishing she had waited for her friends before venturing off on her own. One shoe flew off as she landed, her head striking the curb. A sharp pain racked through the back of her skull, causing her to cry out. The last thing she saw was Scott’s face swimming before her eyes, and then her world went black.

* * * *

Bree awoke to a man nipping gently on her earlobe, his tongue stroking the delicate curves. His hot breath blew into her ear, sending shivers up and down her spine. She slowly opened her eyes as a man’s hand stroked her upper thigh, and she sighed happily.

Ooh, I must be dreaming. And it was such a delicious dream, too.

The man’s hand traveled up her thigh and then encircled her flat stomach. Out of the corner of her eyes, Bree could see a dark head pressing against her abdomen. Then she shivered as a tongue laved her belly button, going in and out erotically, making her feel as though her body was on fire. Bryan had never made her feel like this, and she hadn’t even looked yet to see who this stranger was! But she was only dreaming, so what difference did it make?

His hand continued traveling north, lovingly caressing her skin. He reached for her aching breasts, pressing her nipples roughly before he lowered his mouth to suckle them, first one, and then the other. Bree arched in anxious response to his touch. She longed to see his face, but she feared one look would make his magical touch disappear.

She ached all over, wanted his hands to caress her everywhere, and she longed to touch him. She opened her legs as he straddled her. His hair brushed her naked chest as he began kissing her. His tongue was driving her crazy with desire as he placed tender kisses along her neckline. He brushed her hair aside.

His morning stubble stung her delicate skin, but she hungered for more. Just one more touch, just one more taste, and she would awaken from this wonderful dream and find herself in bed, all alone.

“Oh, Bree, baby. What you do to me,” he whispered, his voice husky.

That voice jerked her back to the present. The voice had haunted her dreams for years. The voice of the man she just couldn’t seem to get over.

“Scott,” she whispered. “What am I doing here?”

He looked at her with that lopsided grin that nearly had Bree’s heart leaping out of her chest. Heavens, she loved him so much. She hadn’t realized just how much until now.

Bree grabbed the red satin sheet and pressed it against her naked body, suddenly embarrassed by her wanton display. Scott was married, so what was he doing in bed with her? Unless she was still dreaming…

He was looking at her as though she had lost her mind. And maybe she had. His warm brown eyes appeared to be laughing at her, trying to figure out what made her tick. “What do you mean, Red?”

Her heart seemed to stop. Red. How she had hated his nickname for her, but now, after all this time, somehow it seemed right. It made her feel like she was special. And she never realized how much she had missed that awful nickname and the man who had always called her that. Even when they used to make love, he would sometimes call her that in the throes of passion. She used to get so upset by that, but now it just seemed so trivial.

She shoved him aside when he reached for her. “Are you insane?” she shrieked. “You’re married, for goodness’ sake!” She ran her hand anxiously through her copper hair and glared at him, disbelieving.

Scott raised his hands in silent surrender. “You’re right, you nut.” He reached over and raised her left hand, waving it directly in front of her face. “I’m married to you!” He was practically shouting now, his dark eyes narrowing into slits as he watched her in disbelief. “What the hell is wrong with you? One minute you’re all over me, and the next, you’re staring at me as though I’ve committed a mortal sin!”

Bree was quiet for a long minute, staring in shock at her left hand, at the engagement ring Scott had given her almost seven years ago. The ring she had returned to him after she had broken up with him. And with that ring was the simple silver wedding band she had helped him pick out. It was the wedding set she had adored in the jewelry store as soon as she had seen it. After wearing the huge crater of a diamond Bryan had picked out for her, without her input, she felt a warm tingle at wearing one she had picked out, a ring that meant something, that represented something. Something besides dishonesty, hatred, and misery. This one represented strength and love.

She swallowed hard as she looked over at Scott. His eyes were dark with anger, and she couldn’t blame him. It was as though she had gone back in time; but this time, she had chosen Scott. In his mind, she was accusing him, and he didn’t know why.

Bree gazed over at Scott and whispered, “I have a question to ask you. It’s going to sound strange, but will you answer me?”

Scott’s face transformed right before her eyes. His anger seemed to disappear, and he gave her an insecure smile. “Sure, baby. Unfortunately for me, I can’t seem to stay mad at you.” He frowned, but his eyes were laughing at her. “Which is why you win every fight we have.”

She couldn’t seem to help herself. Even though she knew Scott wasn’t rightfully hers, that in another time, he belonged to another woman, she reached for him, her fingers entwining with his. Her left hand cupped the back of his head as she brought his mouth down to hers. They kissed, and Bree savored each and every second, praying she was really getting a second chance at happiness.

Secretly though, she was afraid he would disappear, and once again she would find herself alone. She broke away from the kiss and cupped his face, immersing herself in his chocolate brown eyes. “Scott,” she questioned, “How old am I?”

He stared at her intently, his deep gaze searching her face for any hint she was joking. Her green gaze was sure and steady. “On Christmas Day, we’ll have been married for two years, and you turned twenty-seven on your last birthday. Remember, we went out and celebrated your birthday and the fact we had gotten a book deal.”

“A book deal? What book deal?”

Scott sighed as he looked at her and grinned. “You and I got a writing contract with Sexton Books. We signed a contract about six months ago, agreeing to publish three books a year for the next five years. Usually, I go to the office and do the illustrating while you stay at home and work on your writing.” Then he gave her a wicked grin. “But today, I might just stay home with my favorite girl.”

She squealed as his muscled body covered hers and rolled her over so she was the one on top. His hand reached over and brushed the auburn curls away from her face. He looked into the depths of her green gaze and whispered, “Do you have any idea how much I love you, Mrs. Bree Weston?”

The sound of his name connected with hers gave her a secret thrill. She knew now what she had been missing all this time. She had unknowingly given up the love of her life. She felt complete for the first time in years. Scott was stroking the contour of her cheek when suddenly she made the connection. She sat up in bed. “Wait a minute.” She looked down at him. “Did you say Sexton Books?”

He rolled over in bed and sighed. “I have a beautiful woman in my bed. A woman who is my wife, and she wants to talk about our job? What is wrong with this picture?” he asked dramatically as he flung his pillow at Bree.

Bree giggled as she snuggled against him. Her lips met his for a quick kiss. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she warned him.

Scott folded his hands behind the back of his dark head as he stared at her. “Try me,” he challenged.

She gazed into his chocolate brown eyes and sighed. “Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She took a deep breath and then continued, “I’m not sure exactly what happened. All I know is last night, I was out with Jade and Heather celebrating my divorce.” She looked over just in time to see Scott raising his eyebrows quizzically.

“Our divorce?” he asked.

Bree shook her head. “No. Last night I was thirty, and when I woke up in your arms this morning, I was twenty-seven.”

The sound of his laughter caught her off guard. She whirled around to face him, only to discover, to her chagrin, he was practically rolling around on their bed.

“Scott,” she yelled. “I’m not joking!”

He snickered and then tried without success to wipe the smile off his face. “Sure, baby. Anything you say.”

She tried to block the sound of his snickering out of her mind as she continued, “The reason I was so curious about Sexton Books is because I was married to Bryan Sexton.”

Scott’s mocking came to an abrupt end.

“I married Bryan after I broke off my engagement to you. He was charming at first, and then after we were married, I realized what a monster he was. He hit me on a regular basis, and he was also emotionally and sexually abusive.” She looked up to meet Scott’s chocolate brown gaze. “He made me feel like I was worthless, like I was nothing. His abusive ways caused me to have three miscarriages. He claimed he wasn’t going to share me with anyone.” Her voice began to shake as she continued, “I finally filed for divorce, and when it was finalized, I felt like a bird being set free from a cage. Jade and Heather took me out to a bar to celebrate, and while I was feeling relieved my marriage was finally over, for some reason, I started thinking about you. You were the one I had let slip away, the one I was meant to be with, but I blew it. I was on my way out of the bar when I literally ran into you.”

He listened intently and then questioned, “How long had it been since we’d seen each other?”

Her eyes met his, looking for a glimmer of amusement in his eyes, but she found none. “Not since the night I called things off between us years before. Your brother, Luke, was getting married, and you had stopped at the bar for a quick drink with the guys. When I ran into you, we exchanged a few words. You told me you had been married for the past two years, and you and your wife were expecting a baby.”

“How can this be, Bree?” Scott asked. “I mean, we have an album full of pictures from our wedding. I can show you the mortgage we signed for this house. And all of a sudden, you’re saying none of that ever happened? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds, baby?”

She nodded, tears blurring her vision. She took a deep breath. “I know it sounds crazy, Scott, and I swear I don’t understand it either. I don’t know what’s happened or why. Maybe fate is giving us a second chance to be together.”

He got a wicked glint in his chocolate brown eyes as he winked suggestively at her. “Maybe we shouldn’t argue with fate.”

She giggled as he tackled her back onto the bed. She grabbed a pillow and caught him square in the face as he pressed his chiseled body against hers. Her laughter subsided as he took her into his arms.

He pressed his mouth against hers, grinning as he opened his mouth to meet hers. Their tongues entwined, their bodies pushed against one another. Her mouth was moist and ready, welcoming him with a need that seemed to overwhelm them both.

Bree’s mouth pressed against his, her heart and soul seeming to go into the kiss. His tongue taunted her, teasing her until she couldn’t take it anymore. She pressed her knee against his hardened manhood as she moaned into his mouth. The sound of Scott’s tortured groan filled her with womanly power. It had been years since she had affected a man in this way. With Bryan, sex had been more of a chore, one of the wifely duties she was expected to perform. It was for his pleasure only; her pleasure hadn’t seemed to matter.

Scott removed the sheet covering Bree’s body, her earlier embarrassment already forgotten. His mouth left hers and traveled downward, kissing her neck.

She felt like she was riding on a roller coaster, his body on hers causing several emotions to come bursting forth. An overwhelming love washed over her, and heat coursed throughout her body.

Then her stomach began to roll and lurch. Quickly, she pushed him away from her as her hand came up to cover her mouth.

Scott looked up at her, confusion etched on his handsome face. “Baby, what’s wrong?” Then he noticed her face was ghostly pale. “Honey, are you okay?”

No longer caring about the fact she was naked, Bree ran into the adjoining bathroom and closed the door. She barely made it in time before she lost anything and everything in her stomach.

* * * *

Scott could hear the sound of her gagging and retching from the bedroom. He knocked gently on the door. “Bree, baby, please open the door.” He turned the doorknob, but to no avail; she had already locked the door. “Bree?”

The sound of her being so sick was nearly his undoing. “Bree, honey, don’t you think you should see a doctor? You’ve been doing this for about a week now, and despite what you may think, I don’t think this is simply a stomach virus.”

Realizing he was running late, Scott had started putting on a stone-washed pair of blue jeans and a navy polo shirt by the time Bree walked back into their bedroom. He looked up, his body tensing when he realized just how pale she was. “Why don’t you go back to bed, baby?” he murmured gently. “You’ve done so much writing lately I’m way behind on my illustrations anyway.”

At her nod, he reached over and touched his mouth to her cheek. His large hands gently caressed her face. “Do me a favor and call the doctor today, okay? I love you, Red. I’ll be home just as soon as I can.”

Scott leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushing a stray curl away from her face. “I’ll try to come home early today. I don’t like the thought of you being alone when you feel so sick. I’ll tell Monica that tomorrow, the two of us are taking the entire day off. Okay?” he questioned.

“Sure, that sounds like fun,” she whispered.

“Okay, baby.” He pressed his lips against Bree’s temple, and then he brushed away some of the crimson hair that had fallen into her emerald eyes. “Get some sleep, baby. I love you.”

*

Bree watched miserably as he walked away, and she longed to call him back, to beg him not to leave her because she was so afraid if he left, he wouldn’t come back. That thought made her feel even worse. Her eyelids began to feel heavy so she closed her eyes and welcomed sleep.

She was awakened by the sound of the telephone ringing. She rolled over in bed and peered at the clock, realizing she had been sleeping for nearly two hours, and remarkably, she felt like a new woman. No more nausea and no more fatigue. She wished now she had gone in to the office with Scott.

Lifting the receiver, she murmured with a yawn, “Hello?”

“Bree, darling, you sound absolutely wretched! Are you still feeling crappy?”

Bree couldn’t help but smile. Heather had been one of her best friends for years, and she had never known her to mince words. She told you like it was, and if you didn’t like it, then tough.

She cleared her throat and then replied, “I was as sick as a dog earlier so I went back to bed. Now I feel like I could eat a horse!”

Heather laughed. “Remember what the doctor said, Bree. She said that was perfectly normal.”

“Doctor?” Bree questioned. “When did I see a doctor?”

“You’re kidding, right? You and I went to see Dr. Sloan yesterday. You didn’t even tell Scott. You said you wanted to know for sure first. What did he say when you told him? Did he flip out?”

Bree stood clutching the telephone in bewilderment. She curled the telephone cord around her little finger. What on earth is Heather babbling about? “Did Scott flip out about what?”

“About you being pregnant!” Heather exclaimed, and Bree dropped the telephone receiver.