Sweet Water by Laurie Lewis
College life could not heal the wounds an unstable home life inflicted upon programmer Olivia Morgan, until scholar Hudson Bauer welcomed her, introducing her to his friend, Jeff McAllister, with whom he was developing a college business.
Olivia joined the project, and while she and Hudson dreamed of using their success to improve the world, Jeff set his sights on fortunes and on Olivia. On the most important night of Hudson’s life, Olivia and Jeff eloped, and upon hearing the news, Hudson leaves town, along with the company’s first big contract and Olivia and Jeff’s dreams.
Olivia McAllister now holds billionaire entrepreneur Hudson Bauer responsible for all her losses, including her anemic marriage and the tragic accident that leaves her body battered, and her dreams of a family shattered. In desperate straits, she is forced to accept Hudson’s offer to recuperate at his parents’ empty house on Oregon’s Cannon Beach, but her return to the place where the three friends once summered casts new light on her hasty marriage, and on the enemy she once called friend.
When Hudson offers Olivia a job doing humanitarian work, hope reawakens in her, along with memories of what she and Hudson almost had. But guilt over Jeff’s death leaves Olivia stuck between grief and the possibility of new love, forcing her to decide if she can embrace a future with a man she’s learned to hate, before Hudson walks away for the final time.
After a few frustrating minutes maneuvering the chair around the furniture, she managed to open the door but was wedged at an angle and stuck. With painful effort, she craned her neck and found Hudson and Laurel sitting at the kitchen table, flipping pages in the blue folder that held her discharge instructions.
She studied the intense worry on Hudson’s face, his forehead resting in one hand as the other leafed through the notes. His face was leaner now, covered in dark, manly stubble. A few lines creased the edges of those dark eyes that seemed too intense for the once peaceful collegiate.
She could see the young man she once knew in his upturned nose and in the way he sucked his cheeks in when he was deep in thought. His previous thin, youthful frame was muscled and moved with confidence now. They were the same height—five feet ten inches. Back in their college days, she enjoyed wearing heels and towering over him. He never minded nor did she. He was now the one towering over others in the corporate world. No longer equals, they were worlds apart, brought together only by pity. Or by guilt.
She tried again to dislodge the chair, but the ruckus caught Hudson’s attention. He rose and took a few tentative steps in her direction.
“May I help you?” he asked.
His formal address was uttered with a softness that melted her pride. She nodded.
So much about him was different. So much was yet the same. He had never cared for pretense. Comfortable clothes, serviceable shoes, soap, water, a neat haircut. These were Hudson’s fashion trademarks. His style had evolved.
Hudson leaned over her to maneuver the wheels. The cologne he wore surprised her. Never a fan of guy perfume, as he called it, he acquiesced during a pre-graduation shopping trip to the mall. Olivia made him stop at the men’s fragrance counter so they could test a cologne she found in the fold of a magazine at a doctor’s office—Acqua Di Gio. She raved about the scent, but Hudson “didn’t think it was him.” She knew now that he had been right. This clean and woodsy scent suited him, taking her back to hikes shared with Hudson along the coastal trails, campfires on the beach, and the mingled aroma of woodland air and the sea.
The muscles in his tanned forearms tensed and rippled as he gripped the wheels and forced them to turn. His hands surprised her. They were not the soft, manicured hands she would have expected from a business titan whose daily work involved lunch meetings and business negotiations. They were clean, but calloused, marred by recent scrapes and a few healed scars. Hudson was still a hands-on man.