A Perfect Match
No man should be forced to endure a baby shower.
Tate Sumner fingered the irregularly shaped piece of cardboard in his pocket. He’d been ordered to mingle until he found the guest whose puzzle piece linked with his, and then they were supposed to mimic the way the pieces fit together with their bodies. Leave it to his matchmaking sister Sandy to turn her baby shower, traditionally a females-only affair, into a dating service. Ha, ha. Hilarious. Not. At thirty-four, he sometimes felt out of sync-too young for marriage and all it entailed, but too old for singles games.
In the last hour he’d worked his way through the crowd without a match and without enthusiasm, although he had to admit, there’d been a few amusing tussles as the mostly single, twenty-something guests linked up. No doubt the free-flowing alcoholic beverages had loosened their inhibitions.
He didn’t overindulge anymore. The hell-raising and skirt-chasing days he’d once enjoyed had come to an abrupt end after a building collapse landed him in the hospital last year, making him realize how short life was. Before that life-changing event, he’d have let one of the blond twins beside him convince him to go home with her tonight. He subtly checked his watch and then shot another glance at the front door. No offense to Tia or Leah, but he’d rather catch the second half of the Braves game.
The doorbell rang. His sister unearthed herself from a pile of torn pastel wrapping paper and waddled to answer as fast as her due-any-day-now pregnant belly would allow. And then she screamed and launched herself at the poor victim on her welcome mat. With his luck the newcomer would be his match, and he’d be making a human puzzle piece out of himself soon. Not an anticipated event.
His sister dragged the visitor into view, and Tate nearly dropped the glass of spiked lemonade someone had forced into his hand. Faith King. He hadn’t seen her since his youngest sister Sandy had married Faith’s brother, David, two years ago. Faith’s strawberry blond hair hung in a smooth, glossy curtain curling just below her jawline. He missed the tangles he’d created during their passionate night after the rehearsal dinner.
Desire kicked him in the gut. They’d torched the sheets that night, so he hadn’t understood the deep freeze Faith had treated him to the next day at the wedding and reception. Sure, he’d expected a little morning-after awkwardness since they’d fallen into bed without the usual get-to-know-you dance, but he’d hoped they’d fill in the gaps during the remainder of the weekend. It hadn’t happened.
Faith had avoided him as if he’d exposed her to something contagious.
And then, in a fit of wounded pride, he’d had a pint too much champagne at the reception, danced with every female present and shot off his mouth with a lousy toast. Yeah, he’d been a real prize. A prize idiot.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” Faith dragged her rolling suitcase over the threshold. “The storm delayed my flight. I didn’t even stop by the hotel. I had the taxi bring me straight here.”
Her slightly husky and somewhat breathless voice sucked Tate right back to their middle-of-the-night tussles. They’d christened his sofa, his bed and even his kitchen counter. For years he’d craved the carefree bachelor life he’d been denied while helping to raise his younger sisters, but in the days preceding Sandy’s wedding Faith had made him want more than one wild weekend. She’d tempted him to forget the promise he’d made to himself to savor the freedom that came with getting his last sister out of the house and finally being responsible for only himself.
“You have men at your baby shower.” Faith scanned the gathering with a frown, and then she spotted him and his wannabe companions. His heart kicked irregularly as her shock-widened blue eyes inspected him from cowlick to boots.
Her lush lips compressed, and her gaze hit his with the same arctic blast he remembered from their final encounter. After seeing off the bride and groom that day, he’d asked Faith for her number. She’d slammed the car door in his face. Her glare tonight indicated they wouldn’t be sharing a fond reunion. The knowledge slid down his spine like a hot cinder.
His sister Sandy wiggled her fingers, motioning Tate forward. He excused himself from the twins and joined his sister. “You remember David’s sister, Faith, don’t you?”
Oh yeah. Every luscious curve of her. He had no trouble recalling Faith’s scent, the silkiness of her skin, her gasps of passion or the hot, wet clench of her body.
“She wanted to be here for her niece’s arrival.” Sandy’s words dragged him back to the present.
He locked gazes with the woman who starred in his dreams far too often. “Faith.”
“Tate.” Her tone could give a man frostbite, but the blush tinting her cheeks confirmed she hadn’t forgotten what had happened between them, either.
“Faith is checking into the Hilltop Inn for a few days. Next week she’s closing on a brand-new house here in Chapel Hill.” Sandy nudged him. “Put her suitcase in my room for now, would you, Tate? And get her a drink, please.”
His heart pumped harder. Faith would be living minutes away in town instead of eight hours away in Atlanta. He offered her his glass. “Here. Take mine. I haven’t touched it, but watch out for the kick. My twisted sister enjoys watching her guests get sloshed while she stays sober.”
Faith extended her hand. Their fingers brushed as she took the drink and current flowed from her fingers to his. Her eyes widened, but quickly filled with wariness.
His sister took Faith’s umbrella and propped it against the wall. “Do you have your puzzle piece?”
Faith blinked and averted her gaze. “Yes. It’s in my purse.”
“Dig it out, introduce yourself to everyone until you find your match. Tate can explain the rules of the game. I need to sit down.” Sandy winced, pressed a hand to her lower back and waddled slowly back to her chair, leaving Tate with Faith in the foyer.
“How are you?” he asked. Faith looked incredible-still curvy in all the right places.
She dug in her leather purse and withdrew the puzzle piece. Tate rocked back on his heels. Interesting. It didn’t take a fireman who spent too many hours of downtime at the station assembling puzzles to see that Faith’s piece was counterpart to the one in his pocket. His impatience with the stupid party game evaporated, and his blood hummed in anticipation of fitting his body to hers.
Coincidence? Or was his sister matchmaking?
“I’m well. Good to see you again, Tate. Excuse me, I need to mingle with the other guests and find my match. Don’t let me keep you from your friends.” She delivered the words in a polite, but chilly, brush-off.
He produced his piece of the puzzle and aligned it with hers. “No need. I’m your man.”
“Match!” shrieked Sandy from the living room, confirming Tate’s matchmaking theory. God bless little sisters. He took back every negative thing he’d ever said about the baby of the family.
“Know what that means, Faith?” He took the tumbler out of her hand and set it on the credenza.
She shifted on her feet and bit her luscious bottom lip. “No.”
“It means we get to simulate the interlocking puzzle pieces with our bodies.” Damn, he couldn’t wait. He barely restrained himself from rubbing his hands in glee.
Scowling, she looked at her piece. It had the jutting male projection, whereas his had the indented female shape. The pieces fit together perfectly-just as he and Faith had that night. A moment passed and then Faith lifted her hands to his shoulders. He cupped her waist, and his heart thumped in expectation of her tongue in his mouth, but then she swiftly lifted her knee toward his groin. He sucked in a swift breath and tensed in anticipation of pain.
She stopped just short of her target. “Need I continue?”