Colton by Melissa Belle by Melissa Belle - Read Online

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Colton - Melissa Belle

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magic

Chapter One

Skylar

I run down the beach, the cameraman trailing behind me as I chase after Maxwell White, the famous artist who also happens to be an early-morning surfer.

I knew this about him. Which is why, at the crack of dawn for the past three weeks, I’ve been pacing Crane’s Beach in Malibu, waiting for my opportunity. If I can snag this interview, my career will finally take off. For nearly five years, I’ve been toiling away in television media, first as an intern and then clawing my way up to reporter. Not having a single connection in this industry makes building a career in journalism immensely difficult. But this interview with Maxwell is my big break. He’s a party animal, a talented amateur surfer, and an enigma to the general public. He hates anyone with a microphone. But he’s a fucking amazing artist, who paints landscape murals around the city and supposedly donated all the proceeds from his last painting to an elephant rescue organization in Africa. I love animals, and I adore elephants. And I want an exclusive with the man who loves them, too.

Sky! Ted raises his video camera to his eye. There he is!

I look where he’s pointing. Sure enough, Maxwell White, dressed in nothing but a pair of bathing trunks and carrying a multi-colored surfboard underneath his muscular arm, is making his way toward the tumultuous waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. White! I start running, my shoulder bag falling down my arm. Please!

Maxwell doesn’t even glance at me. He just keeps walking, right into the ocean, until he’s waist deep.

Well, two can play this game. Without stopping to think about it, I wade in right after him until my white pantsuit is waterlogged and I can barely drag my legs through the waves. In the background, I vaguely hear Ted screaming at me to return, but I’m a girl on a mission. And my mission is Maxwell White.

Until I get knocked on my ass by a giant wave and washed to shore. I scowl and pull my purse further up on my shoulder. Then, ignoring how cold my soaking wet clothes are making me, I charge forward again.

Only to be brought back to shore by another angry wave.

Maxwell grows further and further away, barely in my sights now. I watch, mesmerized, with the water lapping at my two-inch strappy heels, as he stands up on his board. He tests his balance and rides partway to shore. But then, he drops face down on his stomach, letting the next wave go by.

He looks up, seeming to notice me for the first time. I lift my hand to him, wondering if he’s close enough that I can successfully wade out.

All of my career goals have led me to this moment. Getting my suit wet is nothing if I can score a meeting with Maxwell White.

I walk in until I’m over ankle deep but then jump back as a massive wave crashes at my feet.

As soon as it’s passed, I decide nothing’s going to stop me. This interview will be mine. Maxwell’s to the right of me now, so I need to head for him in a diagonal line.

I step forward decisively, my eyes focused solely on Maxwell. I shift right to avoid a patch of seaweed and then storm toward my goal.

Bam!

I run into a brick wall of muscle. And why does this wall smell vaguely familiar…

I lose my balance, and my bag flies off my shoulder as I fall backward into the ocean. My momentum pulls me partly under the water, and before I can stand up, a wave crashes to shore and hits me smack in the face. I cry out in pain, and the world goes black.

Colton

Fuck.

Lesson number one: Make sure to take my morning beach runs before there’s a crowd.

But I overslept, so I leave the house late and run past a few fans tossing a football around. They beg me to throw them a spiral. I tell them I’m not a quarterback, but one of the guys jogs along next to me anyway, asking me to catch one instead.

Lesson number two: Never catch a pass from someone who’s not your quarterback.

Against my better judgment, I agree to let the guy throw me the ball, and I take off on a light jog down the sand. Out of my periphery, I get a glimpse of a redhead pacing the shoreline up ahead. Her hair is covering the side of her face so I can’t see her profile, but something about her feels familiar. Curious to get a better look, I keep moving closer to her.

She takes a few steps into the water before jumping backward when a wave gets too close. She signals out to sea, and I stare at the lone surfer within a hundred yards of her. That’s Maxwell White, who I’ve seen surfing here before, so I assume the woman must be a fan. I slow my pace as I watch her fight the tide. Her business suit is getting wet, but she presses on, acting as if the Pacific Ocean isn’t enough to dissuade her.

As I watch, my heart surprises me by beating hard in my chest. My heart’s only beat like that for one other woman, who was really only a girl at the time.

Before I can decipher the meaning of it, someone calls my name. I turn around to face the fan. He waves at me to go long, so I jog backward. My sneakers hit water just as the guy fires a pass so ridiculously off the mark I have to jump and twist my body backward to catch the football.

Lesson number three: Look behind you before you come down with the ball so you’re not hit from behind.

Someone slams into me as I land, the football cradled gently in my arms like a baby. I try to shift away, but my momentum is too strong, and it carries me closer to…her. I know immediately it’s the redhead.

She cries out, and I turn around. Her purse sails through the air, safely hitting the sandy beach. Before I can grab her, a wave knocks her down. When she starts to stand up, a second wave absolutely decks her, dragging her further out to sea.

Christ.

Dropping the football in the sand, I rush into the ocean after her.

Skylar

Someone’s kissing me. His mouth is on my mouth, and he’s blowing air into my throat. It’s uncomfortable, almost like—

I spit out ocean water as I sit up sharply and look into the eyes of a man who is decidedly not Maxwell White.

I’ll stay with her, the stranger says in a tone clearly not leaving room for argument.

I cough up more ocean water as Ted puts his hand on the man’s arm, smiles at him like he’s a god, and says that would be wonderful. Before I can tell Ted to stay out of it, he leaves and calls out that he’ll be back.

I keep staring into the stranger’s face, his mouth still mere inches from mine. Those lips look familiar.

Who are you? I ask. And why were you kissing me?

I was administering CPR. His blue eyes crinkle in the sunlight. I wasn’t kissing you. But if that’s what you want…

I look more closely at him. His blond hair’s wild and untamed. He’s shirtless, and his muscled, solid chest is absolutely gorgeous. His dark running shorts hang low on his hips, and he’s wet from the thighs down. It hits me that he got wet because he went into the ocean to save me, and something clenches low in my stomach. I return my attention to his face.

His gaze meets mine, and he studies me curiously like he’s trying to figure something out. His eyes are so blue and mischievous. So is his mouth, which is also sexy as hell, and…fuck. Is that—

Sparky? he says at the same time I call out, Jackass?

He smirks. "I wouldn’t say Jackass, exactly. You were the enemy, after all."

It was a touch football game—a game my brothers forced me to participate in because they were a man short—and you picked me up and threw me over your shoulder so you could move me out of the way. I’m surprised at the venom in my voice. Then, you tried to crush me with that run!

I didn’t try to crush you. It was flag football! I was scoring a touchdown for my team. As I recall, you were a good two feet away from me when I ran by.

His jawline is still strong and determined, and his mouth still doesn’t know when to shut up and be a gentleman. Just two of the reasons Colton Wild drove me into an aroused, frustrated frenzy from the moment we were introduced ten summers ago. Just one of the many reasons I walked away from him when I could and didn’t look back. Except that I never forgot him—that cocky, wild teenaged boy who kissed me like I was his everything and who begged me to stay in touch.

But I didn’t. I gave him the wrong phone number, wrong address, wrong everything. I was a kid, and I was scared—of how big my feelings were for him that hot summer night when we almost gave each other our virginity. But we didn’t. And that chapter in my life is closed—has been closed—for a decade.

Except he’s squatting in front of me on Crane’s Beach in Malibu. Thousands of miles away from Boulder, Colorado where we last saw each other.

I roll my eyes. So you’re just as arrogant now as you were when you were seventeen years old. Good to know that some people never grow up.

Colton’s eyes brighten. You do know you’re soaking wet because you were so gah-gah over a guy that you walked into the sea to try to get his attention. I saw you fangirling him. You’re lucky your purse avoided the wrath of the sea. He reaches behind him and hands me my bag.

Gah-gah? I make a face as I grab my bag out of his hands. You seriously think I want Maxwell White?

Colton’s eyebrow lifts. And you’re telling me my assumption is wrong? Or can you normally walk on water and this particular ocean didn’t fit the bill as you strode into the sea in your hot little pantsuit, certain you’d stay dry and not get all… His voice is laced with heat. Wet and see-through?

I glare at him and cross my arms over my chest. I’m sure I’ve been giving him an eyeful of my boobs—I’m freezing, and my nipples aren’t playing nice. For your information, I’m a reporter. A journalist for WACR-TV’s arts section, ARTWAVE. I’m here to get an interview with Mr. White. This is my job.

That’s awesome. He nods at me in genuine respect. Good for you.

I clear my throat. What’s your job, performing fake CPR on unsuspecting women?

Ha, ha. A lock of overgrown blond hair falls across his forehead, and I resist the urge to touch it. So, guess what I do for a living. Since you know me so well and all.

I put my finger to my lips as if in deep thought. Hmmm. But suddenly, I’m at a loss for words. I have no idea what Colton Wild does for a living. Or if he’s single. Or…swallow…married. What do you do, Colton? I say in a softer voice.

His jaw relaxes. I play football.

Football. Something I know next to nothing about. I try to avoid any kind of sports. I may be a reporter, but my focus has always been on the arts. The world of America’s favorite pastime has been a mystery to me for years. Just the way I like it.

You got to play in college, then, just like you wanted. I smile lightly. That’s great. What do you do now?

I still play. Professionally. His voice reveals a hint of pride, and his cheeks flush.

I stare at him. You’re in the pros?

Five years now. I play for the Cougars, right here in L.A.

His gaze locks with mine. Why am I attracted to this jerk still? Has my body learned nothing since I was a teenager, like how I can’t trust a sinfully hot man who’s looking at me like he wants to strip me bare?

Oh. I flick my hand in the air. Well, you’re such a diva—you must play quarterback.

He chuckles. Good guess, but no. Tight end. Do you know a lot of quarterbacks?

No. But I’m a good judge of character. And I was dragged to a couple of football games in high school—the quarterback always whines for calls and complains about everything. Just like you did when we played.

Colton’s white teeth flash again, this time in a slow, sexy grin. "Well, you got the quarterback part about me wrong. My quarterback is a bit of a diva, though. When you meet Dylan Wild, you’ll know what I mean."

Same last name as you? I cock my head. Is that a coincidence?

Nope. He’s my cousin. Like I said, you can see for yourself what a quarterback’s like.

Well, that’s not going to be happening. I don’t want to spend any time with Colton, or his teammates, or cousins, or anyone in Colton Wild’s hemisphere. In fact, I need to get out of here right the hell now.

Before I can excuse myself, his expression shifts to genuine concern.

Are you sure you’re okay? he asks me. I’m sorry I wasn’t looking. He glances around the beach. The damn fan fled. He must have seen the carnage and taken off.

I have no idea what he means. It wasn’t your fault. I banged into you, I say. Those waves. They’re just…

He nods. That was quite a second swell. I can take you to the hospital to get checked out.

I’m fine. I try to smooth back my hair, a useless attempt since it probably looks like a soaked bird’s nest at this point. Thank you for helping. That was very kind of you. I wasn’t looking where I was going. I was too focused on my goal.

Your goal, huh? Is that what you call Maxwell White?

His tone is teasing, and I immediately feel irritated. It starts like a slow burn in my chest and spreads to the rest of me. Okay, so the burning isn’t just irritation. It’s also this red-hot attraction I’ve always had for Colton. It’s an attraction that still scares the hell out of me.

I stand up slowly, making sure to keep one arm locked over my breasts. It was nice to see you again, Colton.

But he stands with me. Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor? He reaches his hand out and gently—so gently—touches the back of my head.

I flick my eyes to his in alarm.

Shhh. His gaze is tender. It’s okay. I’m just checking for a bump.

I tell him I’ll be okay.

Skylar. Colton’s gaze goes to my chattering teeth. You’re freezing. Come back to my place and warm up. I only live two blocks from here.

I shake my head no, going against Skylar type. I’m pragmatic. I’m logical. And what Colton’s saying makes sense. I am fucking freezing, and at this high-traffic time, my apartment’s over an hour away. But it’s a beautiful day in June, and the Santa Ana winds are making Los Angeles unusually warm. So I tell myself I can take the cold. Beats having to spend any more time this close to Colton Wild. Lord knows what I’ll do if I end up alone with him.

As we walk closer to the water, movement a few feet up from shore catches my eye. I turn to see Ted in conversation with…Maxwell White.

Ted’s overgrown brown hair is a mess from the ocean breeze, but his attire is styled to perfection as usual. His charcoal suit completely clashes with the beach scene around him, but he’s never cared what anyone else thinks. One of the reasons why he’s such a good photographer—he shoots what he likes.

Maxwell looks the epitome of cool, all tanned and with his surfboard under his arm. He looks directly at me as Ted gestures in my direction.

Shit, I murmur, running my fingers through my hair to try to tame it. What a fucking mess.

I’m mortified and suddenly completely unsure of what to do next. Approaching Maxwell under these conditions seems ludicrous.

I barely remember Colton’s still beside me until he speaks in a low voice. Do you want me to introduce you?

I jerk my head toward him. His expression is a mask, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s going on in his mind.

Are you serious? You know Maxwell?

He shrugs. We’ve met at a few events. I’ll smooth things over so you can ask for your interview. Maxwell hates the press as I’m sure you know. But I made a good impression on him. Let me help you out.

Um. I bite my lip. Okay. Thank you. That would be nice.

He puts his left hand on the small of my back, guiding me down the sand. But once we reach Maxwell and Ted, Colton keeps his hand on my back, almost possessively.

Hey, man! Maxwell extends his hand to Colton, who takes it. How are you?

I’m good. You looked great out there. I saw you catch a wave while I was jogging past.

Maxwell grins. Yeah, that would have been an awesome ride. I pulled up on purpose, but I could have rode that wave easily.

Colton nods politely and then turns to me. This is Skylar Rosewood. Skylar’s an old friend. She and I go way back.

Oh, yeah? Maxwell’s eyes roam my soaking wet body assessingly. Have a little accident with the sea gods, love?

I grit my teeth. Nothing a hot shower can’t cure.

What about a shower for two? Maxwell winks.

Excuse me?

I wanted Maxwell to be nice, as kind and gentle as I made him out to be in my head. A lover of elephants should be a gentleman. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that sexist assholes come with the job. They’re part of the terrain like the way a helmet is part of a football game. Or a surfboard is a part of Maxwell White as evidenced by how tightly he’s holding the beautifully painted one underneath his arm. And going all ballistic on said assholes doesn’t win me a lot of interviews.

I let out a long breath. Listen, Mr. White…

Skylar’s a professional journalist for ARTWAVE, Colton says quickly, his eyes turning dark as he fixes them on Maxwell. Care to set up a time to talk with her? On the record?

WACR-TV is looking to do a full-length piece on an artist and his backstory, I jump in. The marketing for it would be top notch, and Ted’s photography is the best. Plus, you get final approval on the list of questions before we go live.

Maxwell runs his hand over his chin. His gaze dips far below my face, and I nearly kick him in the nuts. Finally, I snap my fingers.

Hey! Up here. I point at my eyes until he makes contact.