The Rules of Their Red-Hot Reunion by Joss Wood
PASCOSTOODJUSTinside the service door leading to the private dining room, his eyes on Aisha. Thank God Binta’s managers were brilliant at their jobs, because he’d been less than useless since Aisha arrived.
Nobody, before her or since, had managed to distract him the way she did.
Pasco moved to allow a waiter carrying a tray of sushi to pass him and immediately stepped forward again so that he could see her clearly. She stood in a group comprising her mother, two of her four sisters, and two other women who were either aunts or old family friends. Fifteen minutes had passed since she’d joined the group and Aisha had yet to say a word. Judging by her carved-in-stone face and fixed smile, she’d taken a couple of verbal hits and her body language had changed from uncomfortable to I’m-so-over-this.
Anyone who looked closely enough could see the misery in her eyes, her tension. It was in her hunched shoulders and in the way she held her champagne glass in a death grip.
Unlike everyone else, Aisha wasn’t having any fun...
Damn this. He couldn’t stand here and watch her suffer for a minute longer. Turning around, he walked down the short passageway and stepped into the very busy kitchen. He caught the executive chef’s eye. ‘Do you have everything in hand?’ he demanded.
‘Good man. Have you seen Jenna?’ he asked, referring to the senior of the two on-duty managers. He was told she was in the storeroom and Pasco headed in that direction. She walked out of the room as he approached it, her arms full of bottles of rum.
‘We’re having a run on mojitos,’ she cheerfully told him.
‘Excellent,’ he replied. He pushed a hand through his hair, feeling uncomfortable. ‘Would you and Sbu be able to cope if I took off?’
She nodded. ‘Sure.’
‘I’ll be on my phone if you need me.’
Jenna flashed him a smile. ‘Boss, we often run this place on our own. We’re good, I promise.’
He was micromanaging and he knew it. He loved control, having it and wielding it, and stepping back was always difficult to do. But right now, Aisha needed him and this business didn’t. ‘Thanks. Call me—’
‘We won’t,’ Jenna told him as she sauntered away.
Right. Pasco pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and pulled up Aisha’s number. His fingers flew across the screen as he tapped out a message.
You’re not having fun so I’m sending a waiter to you. He’ll escort you to the staff car park where I’ll be waiting. Do not make me come and find you because you know I will.
Aisha stepped into the small car park at the back of Binta to see Pasco lounging against his McLaren Artura, his long legs crossed at the ankles. Her eyes collided with his and she sucked in a deep breath, barely remembering to thank the waiter for showing her the way. He was such a man, Aisha thought, as she walked towards him. Confident, hyper-masculine, alpha to the core. Intelligent, good-looking and ripped, the man had it all. Could she be blamed for her many X-rated fantasies?
Tucking her clutch bag under her arm, she walked across the small car park, her eyes not leaving Pasco’s as he walked around the bonnet of his car to open the passenger door for her.
‘Are you okay?’
She wanted to lie but couldn’t. ‘Better now.’
Aisha settled herself into the passenger seat and moments later Pasco sat beside her. Being with him made her feel stronger and invigorated her. He was like her own custom-made energy drink, a one-of-a-kind battery charger. She turned her head to look at him and found him watching her. Their eyes clashed, collided, neither of them able to look away and tiny fireworks exploded on her skin. After what felt like minutes, she managed a small smile.
‘Aren’t you supposed to be working?’ she asked.
‘Honestly, that place is so well run, I feel like I’m in the way.’
‘It’s not like you to be hands-off,’ Aisha said. In fact, she knew that Pasco never shirked his duties, ever. If he said he was going to do something, then he always followed through. Their marriage was his only failure. The thought made her sad.
‘Binta doesn’t need me, you do.’
Aisha’s eyes widened at his statement. He was putting her before work? What was happening here? ‘I was with my family,’ Aisha stated, keeping her tone light. ‘It wasn’t like I was facing a firing squad.’
‘You hated every bloody minute, Aisha. Don’t try and tell me that you didn’t,’ Pasco muttered, jabbing the start button on his car. The engine roared to life, and she felt its power in her feet, up her spine, deep inside her.
‘I hated every minute,’ Aisha conceded as he pulled out of the car park into the main road. Aisha watched as heads swivelled towards them, and she noticed the pointed fingers and appreciative gazes his fancy car elicited.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked, half turning to face him.
‘Somewhere where we can talk.’ He flashed her a smile as they crawled down the busy road. His smile could power the sun and there was nothing better than feeling it against her skin.
‘Public or private?’ Aisha asked. She shrugged when his head snapped around. ‘C’mon, Pas, we both know that if we go somewhere private, we won’t do any talking.’
Pasco turned his attention back to the road and Aisha saw the tension in his jaw. ‘Public...dammit.’
Ten minutes later, he pulled into a parking space about five hundred metres down the road from Binta. After opening her door for her, he took her hand and led her across the busy street to a small, old-fashioned dusty-pink double-storey house. There were tables on the veranda and servers bustled around like flies on steroids. Pasco ignored the steps leading up the veranda, steered her around the side of the house and up a flight of steel stairs. He pushed a doorbell and after a few seconds, the door clicked open.
An attractive woman dressed in a short black cocktail dress smiled at them. ‘Hello, Pasco.’
‘Busi.’ Pasco dropped a kiss on each of her cheeks before introducing Aisha.
‘Are you busy tonight?’
Busi rocked her hand up and down. ‘Most of the regulars are at a cocktail party at The Vane, so no, not right now. We’ll pick up later.’
Aisha looked across the mostly empty banquettes and tables to absorb the view. Needing to take it all in, she walked away from Pasco and Busi to reach the veranda, taking in the expansive vista of ocean and sky. She had an awesome view of the Lion’s Head and Twelve Apostles mountains, and a stupendous view of the beach.
‘This is amazing,’ she told Pasco when he finally joined her, holding a whisky in one hand and a huge margarita in the other. ‘What is this place?’
Pasco guided her to a comfortable two-seater couch. ‘It’s called The View, for obvious reasons. It’s a cross between a boutique bar and a private club. You have to be a member to come here.’
‘And do you own this too?’
Pasco sent her a slow smile. ‘I don’t. And that’s why I can relax here.’ He lifted his drink and clinked it against her glass. ‘Cheers.’
‘Cheers.’ Aisha took a huge sip of her drink and sighed when the perfect ratio of sweet and sour hit her tongue. She whimpered and wrapped both hands around her glass. ‘God, you have no idea how much I need this.’
‘So what’s the deal with your family?’
She’d been expecting his question, had even thought up a couple of glib responses to divert him. But suddenly, she didn’t want to lie or fudge, she just wanted to tell him the truth.
‘My sisters are all academics, as are my parents. They are very respected scholars and lecture at the university. They are intensely, ridiculously brainy and I am not. They see success in terms of academic achievements, and I let down the side.’
‘That doesn’t make any sense, Aisha. You’re one of the most organised, logical people I’ve ever encountered. And you have a master’s degree.’
‘In business. It’s one of the most common post-graduate programmes around and nothing special. My sisters are doctors and scientists who, as my parents frequently remind me, are making a difference in people’s lives. I do not.’
He stared at her, his expression intense. ‘That’s not all of it.’
No, it wasn’t. Aisha took another sip of her drink and rested her head against the back of the couch. ‘They are so passive-aggressive, Pasco, I can’t deal with them. Sometimes, I just wish they’d yell and scream and get it out, but they don’t, they prod and poke and whinge and whine.’
‘You seem to have a good relationship with Priya.’
‘I do. She never gave me copies of Maths for Dummies for a birthday present, or a framed photograph of my sisters all holding their PhDs. And she was the only one who took my side when...’ She hesitated, not sure if she wanted to tell him about that ugly incident. No, she did want to tell him, she just wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. She and Pasco weren’t good talkers. Lovers, yes. Communicators? Not so much.
‘Tell me, sweetheart.’
She sipped her margarita and half turned to face him, dragging her eyes off the view. But, honestly, looking at Pasco was as good. ‘After I told them that we divorced, it took a long time for them to reach out to me—well, Priya did, but no one else. Anyway, two years later the lines of communication opened up, but it was very obvious that if I was a disappointment before, I’d sunk to new lows.’
She shrugged and blinked away the moisture in her eyes. ‘Five years ago, it was my folks’ fortieth wedding anniversary and I saved up to buy them tickets to visit me in London, as well as a tour of six different cities in Europe. Four-star hotels, private tours, it cost me a freakin’ fortune.’
‘What happened?’ Pasco gently asked, placing his big hand on her thigh. It felt right there, just as it felt right to lay her head on his shoulder.
‘About a month before they were due to leave, Reyka, the sister just older than me, got engaged. And strangely, the only time she could hold the engagement party was smack in the middle of my parents’ trip. I begged her to postpone it. She wanted me to rearrange my parents’ trip, but I couldn’t. I’d already paid for everything and to change dates was incredibly expensive. I just didn’t have the extra money.’
‘How long were they going to be away for?’
Pasco pulled back, frowning. ‘She couldn’t hold off on having the engagement party for a month?’
Aisha shook her head. ‘Apparently not. My two eldest sisters supported her, Priya tried to support me but my parents were forced to choose.’
‘And they chose an engagement party that could’ve been postponed,’ Pasco stated. ‘Wow.’
Aisha sat up and reached for her drink. ‘Tonight was the first we’ve been together as a family for ten years. Judging by the way they behaved, I was never married, Reyka wasn’t a complete bitch and I didn’t lose a whack of money.’
Pasco skimmed his hand over her hair. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘It is what it is.’ Aisha shrugged and tried to smile. She sat back and draped one leg over the other, leaning her shoulder into Pasco’s. For the first time that day, she felt marginally relaxed.
This was a little slice of heaven and she intended to enjoy it. The margarita was cold, the fading sun still warm and a stunning view in front of her. And, for once, she wasn’t surrounded by spreadsheets and lists, stressing about what to do next.
Aisha slid her feet out of her shoes and wiggled her toes, sighed deeply and tipped her head back and closed her eyes. She hadn’t felt this relaxed for...
‘Why did you walk out on us?’
Aisha shot up and spun around to look at him.
Pasco took a sip of his whisky and winced on seeing her shoulders shooting towards her ears. Excellent way of killing the mood, Kildare!
‘Wow, that’s an out-of-the-blue question. Why are you asking me now, ten, nearly eleven years later?’
Because he needed to know, now. Tonight. ‘Why, Aisha? You left me with a goddamn note and nothing else.’
Shame flickered in her eyes, only to be extinguished a second later by annoyance. ‘Pasco, I tried to talk to you! I told you I was unhappy, that I never saw you, that I was lonely.’
‘I was working, Aisha! Trying to create a decent life for us.’
She took a deep breath, and when she spoke, her voice was calm. Well, calmer than his. ‘But that’s the thing, Pasco, you were trying to create a life for me, for us. We should’ve been doing it together. You made all the decisions, you plotted a future for us that I didn’t have a say in, partly because I never saw you and when I did, we rarely talked. We’d make plans, but they always fell through because your work always, always came first. You never made me a priority and I felt like a visitor in your life.’
He stared at her, shocked. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to leave me? Why didn’t you give me a chance to fix it?’
‘Pas, I tried to...so many times. But you always told me you were too tired to talk, you changed the subject, or you seduced me. The few times I did get you to listen, my unhappiness never sank in because your behaviour never changed. You didn’t make the effort to give me what I needed.’ Aisha lifted one shoulder in a helpless shrug. ‘Then you took the job in London without consulting me. It was a massive decision, we were moving to another country, but you made the call...all on your own. That was what broke me, broke us.’
He started to argue, only to realise he didn’t have a decent defence. He’d done exactly that, made the decisions, planned their life, so damn sure he was doing the right thing. His motives, to provide a secure life for them, for the children he’d imagined having with her—for him to be the exact opposite of his feckless, useless father—were good.
But the execution of those plans, he reluctantly admitted, could’ve been better. He could’ve brought her into his confidence more, asked for her input on the plans he’d been making. He’d been so damn arrogant, confident and self-involved.
‘I made so many mistakes with you, Aisha, and for that I’m sorry.’
Shock flashed across her face, and he didn’t blame her, as apologising wasn’t something he often did. Or at all. He pulled a face. ‘I’m happy to take responsibility for the part I played in the destruction of our marriage.’
She gave him a shaky smile, obviously taken aback by his apology. Admittedly, so was he. But while they were on the subject, there was just one more thing he needed to say. ‘But you could’ve at least told me that you were leaving, that you wanted a divorce. You should’ve told me all that to my face.’
To his surprise, Aisha nodded her agreement. ‘Absolutely. That was wrong of me and I’m sorry.’
Her sincere, easy apology rocked him. God, they’d been so young and made so many mistakes: his fuelled by pride and stubbornness, hers by fear, loneliness, and insecurity. Pasco raked a hand through his hair. He caught her eye and tried to smile. ‘So where do we go from here, Aish?’
Aisha placed her hand on his forearm and squeezed. ‘We can’t go back, Pasco, but I’d like us to be friends.’
It was pretty difficult to be her friend when all he wanted was to back her against the wall, press his body into hers and ravish her mouth. Fill his hands with her lovely breasts, her mouth with his tongue. He wanted her to wrap her long legs around his hips, wanted to hear her breathy moan as he slipped inside her heat, capture the sound of his name on her tongue as she flew apart.
Yeah, friends. Much easier said than done.
They watched the sunset and an hour rolled into two, then three as they caught up on the last ten years, silently agreeing to skirt topics touching on their marriage and divorce. He told her about his businesses, about living in New York and London. She told him about her promotion, and how much she wanted the position, her own house, to feel settled. They talked about music and books, touched on politics, and laughed more than they expected.
They ate, sharing a seafood platter and a bottle of wine, and when a cold wind picked up, they moved inside and sat at the bar, Pasco watching as Aisha ate a generous helping of tiramisu. Around eleven, they left the restaurant and dashed across the road to his car, laughing as the wind blew her dress up to her knees and blew her hair into her eyes.
Aisha leaned her head back on the seat as she watched Pasco walk around the bonnet of the car, stopping to slip a homeless man some cash. Then she saw his hand go to the inside pocket of his jacket and he removed his phone. He caught her eyes through the windscreen and held up his finger, asking her to give him a minute.
After nodding, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Despite spending a really lovely evening with Pasco, she had a tension headache behind her eyes. Because Pasco never got sick, she knew he wouldn’t have any paracetamol on him and her stash was in her tote bag, which she’d left at Priya’s place. A stupid move because she knew, from experience, that any time spent with her family resulted in a migraine-like headache.
What a night! She’d known the party would be tough to navigate, but she’d never anticipated having a what-happened-to-us? conversation with Pasco.
She’d certainly never expected him to apologise, and the memory made her feel warm and a little wonderful.
They’d both been wrong, both made mistakes. As an adult, with time between then and now, she could admit that and maybe move on. Honestly, they’d been too young to marry, too impulsive, drunk on desire, and naive in their belief that love could conquer everything.
She was glad they’d addressed the subject, shooed the elephant out of the room. Oh, they both could’ve said more, gone a bit deeper, but they’d covered the important bases. And what would change by doing a deep dive into the past? Precisely nothing.
She wasn’t the same person she was at nineteen—thank God—and she’d seen changes in Pasco as well. Good changes. And wasn’t that the point of life? Growing and changing, acquiring a little more wisdom?
Pasco back then had been balls-to-the-wall, never really slowing down to think, to consider...he’d just set his eyes on a goal and barrelled onward. It seemed to Aisha that Pasco now was more thoughtful, slower to react, to fly off the handle, more considerate. She’d loved him back then, but she liked him today, more than she ever had before.
How far he’d come, how far they’d both come, was yet to be determined, but what couldn’t be denied was their red-hot attraction. They should deny it, ignore it. It would be smarter for them to try and be friends, especially since they needed to cooperate to bring Ro’s vision for her St Urban restaurant to fruition.The problem was she didn’t see Pasco in a friendly way...no, Pasco made her think of intertwined limbs on cool cotton sheets, masculine hands under her bottom as he slid inside her, filling up those empty, hollow, much neglected feminine places that hadn’t seen any action for the longest time. She wanted to feel his lips and teeth on her nipples, his mouth on her stomach. His tongue licking its way down...
Aisha pushed her fingers deeper into her eyes and released a low moan.
Why was her ex the only one who could suck her in like this, who pulled feelings to the surface she didn’t want or require? She didn’t need the complication of wanting him or wondering whether he wanted her back.
She was out of practice with men, she freely admitted that, but she sensed he did want her. Just a little. Or a lot. And...damn. While she wasn’t opposed to the idea of them being friends, it would make life easier, and she liked the notion of them being lovers more. Temporary lovers, she qualified. A couple of nights here and there to scratch the itch, to satisfy her curiosity as to whether her memories lived up to reality.
You’re breaking your stay uninvolved rule, Shetty!
This was madness. She had a hotel and a restaurant to establish, a promotion to earn. She didn’t have the time or the energy for a love affair.
No, love had left the building a long, long time ago.
But as hard as she tried, she couldn’t get the idea of them having a fling out of her head. What would he say if she suggested upgrading their status from friends to friends with temporary benefits? Her stomach fluttered and she knew, just by that small reaction, that this was the worst of ideas. She and Pasco had never been good at simple and she knew that the chance of the situation becoming intensely complicated was high. It was a bad idea, a terrible idea but...
Damn. It was an idea that, like her headache, wouldn’t go away.
Pasco ended his call, slid behind the wheel, and closed his door. He turned to look at her and their eyes collided.
She didn’t hesitate, just went for what she wanted, and it was blindingly obvious by the heat and lust in his eyes that he wanted her right back. He met her in the moment, his mouth as demanding as hers, and the world faded away, her entire existence narrowed to their lips, his warm hand on her hip, the way his tongue slid into her mouth and wound around hers, sending a buzz of anticipation skittering through her.
She wanted him. So much.
Aisha responded without thinking, spearing her fingers into his hair, running her other hand under his shirt collar to find warm, lovely, masculine skin. She felt his groan, revelled in it, and fumbled for the clasp to free her from her seat belt. It finally popped open and she reached for Pasco again, pulling his mouth back to hers. She hadn’t had enough, not nearly enough.
His mouth was hot, spicy with whisky, and she needed more of his heat, his heady scent, to explore his wide, hard body. How had she gone for so long without him? How had she survived without this pleasure, with not having his hands on her body, making her feel heady, wild, intensely female? Pasco’s hand closed over her breast and his thumb swiped her nipple and she pushed off her seat, desperate to get closer. The gear stick pushed into her hip and she cursed the lack of space.
Pasco pulled back suddenly and dropped a curse before running his hand over his face.
‘What?’ Aisha demanded, half sitting and half kneeling, her breath coming in quick, sharp pants.
Pasco’s eyes—hot, wild, and a little feral—met hers. He lifted his hand and created an inch of space between his thumb and index finger. ‘I am this far from taking you here and now.’
‘I’m that far from letting you,’ Aisha admitted. She placed her hand on his hard thigh and released a ragged sigh. ‘The way you kiss, I’d forgotten how good you are.’
‘Ditto, sweetheart.’ Pasco dragged his mouth across hers, but before they could sink into another wild groping session, he placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back into her seat.
Aisha looked at the cars passing them, the pedestrians on the boardwalk, feeling dreamy and very buzzy. Her hand remained on Pasco’s thigh, and she drew patterns on the fabric of his suit trousers with her thumb. God, she loved touching him.
Pasco gripped her hand and held her fingers still. She slowly turned her head to look at him. ‘You don’t like that?’
He half grimaced, half smiled. ‘I like it far too much and I’m trying my damnedest not to move your hand higher.’
There was no doubt about what he wanted. His face was flushed and his eyes blazed with desire. She dropped her eyes to his lap and if she’d had any doubt, the sight of his erection tenting his trousers would’ve filled her in.
‘You want me,’ she murmured, half to herself and half to him.
‘Very damn much,’ Pasco growled, his fingers squeezing hers. ‘I’ve never been one for making love in cramped cars in public areas, but you make me lose my mind.’
Heat and lust sparked through her at his growly words, coated in frustration. He was such a man and knowing he wanted her thrilled her to her core. She felt powerful and feminine and confident and...
Alive. Her heart was racing and her lungs were heaving. And that was just from a hot-as-lava kiss. If he made love to her, she might just melt into a puddle.
It was a chance she was willing to take. Oh, there were a million reasons why this was a bad idea, and tomorrow she’d probably regret her recklessness but right now? Right now she wanted more, she wanted everything he could give her.
Aisha turned in her seat to look at his handsome profile, and her heart skipped a beat. ‘You have a house around here, right?’
His head whipped around to look at her, hope sparking in his eyes. ‘My apartment in Fresnaye is about ten minutes from here if I drive fast.’
‘Floor it, Pas.’
He gently gripped her jaw with his big hand and her eyes slammed into his. ‘If I take you home, you will be naked ten seconds after I get you in my front door, sweetheart.’
She gripped his strong wrist and sent him what she hoped was a seductive smile. ‘Well, I hope so. I wasn’t asking you to take me home to play Scrabble.’
Pasco dropped a hard, open-mouthed kiss on her lips before pulling back and hitting the button to fire up his powerful engine. Backing out of the parking space, he skilfully and quickly navigated the still busy streets to the luxurious suburb of Fresnaye.
He made it to his place in seven minutes.