Sometimes I wanted to be at home, spending time chasing after Kevin. He was older than me—the big brother—and when I was home, I was his shadow. And I also liked being with Tommy, because he was so small and so cute, like a real baby doll I’d played with.
But I didn’t say that, because it had been years since I’d spoken their names out loud, and it had been years since someone else said their names, up until Clyde had over the weekend.
“It was okay,” I said, hurrying on. “It’s not something I think I’d ever do if I had a child.”
“Me neither. I think it causes little girls to focus on the wrong thing—everything being about looks. So that’s something we agree on.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, feeling my belly tighten. It was different lying in bed with Jax and talking about what we agreed on when it came to child rearing.
“What was something you liked doing as a kid that didn’t involve the beauty queen shit?” he asked.
My heart squeezed because I couldn’t answer truthfully. My favorite thing had been hanging with Kevin. I went with the next-best thing. “Playing basketball.”
“Basketball?” The surprise was evident in his voice.
“Yeah, what about you?”
There was no hesitation. None whatsoever. “Pretending like my little sister got on my every damn nerve when in reality I loved when she followed me around, because with her, we were always getting into something.”
My breath caught, and I didn’t know what to be more affected by—the fact that he had a sister or the fact that his relationship with his sister sounded a lot like Kevin and my relationship or what it could’ve been. “You have a sister?” I asked after a few moments.
A heaviness settled in my chest and not that good kind. “Had?”
“Had,” he repeated.
Oh no. I squeezed my eyes. “She’s not with . . . us anymore?”
I rolled onto my back. I didn’t even stop to think about it, and when I turned my head, Jax’s face was inches from mine. “What happened?”
His gaze was on mine. “When she was sixteen, she was in a car accident with her boyfriend. He was speeding and the truck he was driving rolled over. He was killed in the accident and my sis . . . well, she broke her leg and collarbone. So she was in a lot of pain after the accident and not just physical.”
Oh, I had a bad feeling to where this was heading.
A small, sad smile appeared on his full lips. “Jena . . . she was such a cool kid, had bigger balls than most guys I knew. Would ski and BASE jump and skydive, and was constantly giving our parents heart attacks, but after the accident, she changed.”
“How?” I whispered, but the bitter taste in the back of my mouth told me I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Because I was staring at his face, I didn’t see his hand move in the small, dark space between us, but I felt the sweep of his thumb across my lower lip, all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes. “She was given a lot of prescriptions for pain. It started off legit, but she got addicted. I think being high helped her not deal with her grief, you know?”
Oh God, did I ever know. I stared at him, unblinking and whispered, “Yes.”
“The docs eventually cut her off, but she was hooked. She didn’t want to deal, so she moved on to other things—heroin and OxyContin.” His thumb glided over my lower lip again, causing me to shiver. “My parents tried to get her help, but there was no stopping what was coming. I was in boot camp when our mom found her in her bedroom. She’d overdosed. Died sometime during the night.” He drew in a deep breath. “For the longest time, I blamed myself.”
My brows knitted. “Why?”
“I thought maybe if I’d been home, I could’ve stopped her,” he replied. “Hell, a part of me still thinks that.”
“You can’t help people unless they want to be helped,” I told him. “Trust me. I know.”
“I know you do,” came his quiet response. “But that’s some guilt I’ll probably carry with me for a while, if not forever. She was . . . she was my little sister. It was my job to keep her safe.”
“Oh Jax,” I whispered. The knot was bigger in my throat. “I’m so sorry,” I said, and I knew it sounded lame, but I didn’t know what else to say.
His thumb did another pass and then his hand moved away. “There’s nothing you need to apologize for.”
“I know.” A moment passed as I dragged in a deep breath, and then I rolled back onto my other side, facing the closet door again. My heart ached for him and his family and a sister that never had a chance to become anything. We didn’t have the same past. No way. But there was a similarity there. Mom was who she was today because she couldn’t get past the grief and heartache, and I wondered, if Jax knew about the pageants, then did he know about the fire and about Kevin and Tommy? “I’m sorry you lost your sister and what you experienced overseas. You . . . you must be very brave.”
“I think it was more of not wanting to die or to see my friends die than it was being brave.”
That was a very modest thing to say. Since he shared so much with me, I felt like I needed to share something really unknown about me, but it was hard. It took a bit to get my tongue to form the words. “I’m a liar.”
There was a pause and then, “What?”
Even though it was dark, my face filled with blood. “I’m a liar. My friends back home—Teresa and her boyfriend Jase, and Avery and Cam. Cam’s Teresa’s older brother, and him and Avery are like the cutest couple in the world,” I rambled on, nervous. “Cam has a pet tortoise and he got Avery one.”
His body shook with a quiet laugh. “Their turtles are in love?”
“Yep. You can’t help but feel the love when you’re around them; not even the turtles are immune to it.” And I kept going. “Teresa and Jase are like the hottest couple in the world. Seriously. Then there’s Brandon.”
Another moment passed. “Brandon?”
Probably shouldn’t have brought him up. “He’s another friend. He has a girlfriend,” I added quickly and then moved right along. “Anyway, they’re great. They really are, and I love them, but I’ve lied to them. They know nothing about me and I’ve told them so many lies.”
“Babe . . .”
“No. Seriously. I’ve told them that Mom was dead.” When there was silence, I made a face at myself in the dark. “See? That’s a horrible lie. But there was never any chance that they were going to meet her and in a way, she is kind of dead, you know? The drinking and the drugs killed my mom years ago.”
“I see,” he murmured.
I wasn’t sure if he did. “And they think I’m visiting extended family right now.”
“That’s not a lie. Clyde is like family.”
My mouth opened to correct him, but he was right. Huh. “Last semester, I told Teresa I was going home for break and you know what I did, Jax?”
“What?” was his soft reply.
“I stayed in a hotel and ate room service.” When he didn’t respond, I added, “The room service was really good, though.”
“You’re not a liar,” he said after a few moments.
“Um, what part of this convo did you miss? I’ve lied to them. On purpose.” And now that I really talked about it, I felt like a total tool for it.
“You had your reasons, Calla. You weren’t lying to be a bitch or whatever. You didn’t have a great childhood and your relationship with your mom is nonexistent at best. I’m sure your friends would understand if they knew the truth.” He paused. “And everyone has secrets, babe. Not one person is always a hundred percent honest in every single situation. And that goes for your friends.”
I closed my eyes as his words sank in and there was no denying that they helped make me feel a little better about all I’d kept from my friends. “Thank you.”
He didn’t say anything for a few and then he shifted again. His legs were most definitely touching mine. “Calla?”
My breath caught once more. “Yeah?”
After a beat of silence, he asked, “So you think I have great lips?”
“Oh my God,” I groaned, forgetting I’d said that earlier. Jax’s laugh danced over my skin, and just like that, everything felt okay. “I hate you.”
He chuckled again. “No, you don’t.”
The room was dark, so I smiled, and I knew he didn’t see it, but I had a feeling he knew I was smiling and he was right. I didn’t hate him.
“Jax?” I had no idea what he was going to say next.
He touched my hair, or I thought he had. It was so light and so brief, I wasn’t sure, and then he said, “You have to be very brave, too.”
I drew in a soft breath. “About what?”
Jax didn’t answer, and I didn’t push it, because I was afraid he would expand on that statement, and I wasn’t even sure why I was afraid. After a while, I heard his breathing deepen and I knew he was asleep, and I lay beside him, feeling the knot in my chest now. It was a long time before my thoughts settled from what he’d told me, what he’d shared and said. And from everything else I hadn’t told him.
Waking up the second time next to Jax James was like waking up the first time. He was most definitely a cuddler while he slept.
When I finally fell asleep, his thighs were against the back of mine, but it hadn’t been like this. His entire front was flush with my back, and not only that, one of his legs was thrust between mine, and his arm was curled around my waist. Our heads had to be sharing the same pillow because his warm breath stirred the hair along my temple and danced across my cheek.
We were spooning again.
And it felt just as good and as dumb as the last time, but a good kind of dumb. A dumb I wanted to play around in, because his body heat had created this snuggly cocoon I didn’t want to part with, but I remembered what happened last time.
Drawing in a deep breath, I started to basically throw myself away from Jax and off the bed, but that didn’t happen. The moment I moved, the arm on my waist tightened, and suddenly I was rolled onto my back.
Jax tossed his leg over mine and he moved in—no, he snuggled in. When he spoke, his lips brushed the side of my neck, sending a wave of goose bumps across my flush. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Oh wow. His voice, deep and rough with sleep, and mixed with the fact his lips brushed my skin as he spoke, was a wildly alluring combination. My heart skipped, kicking up my pulse.
“I . . . I was getting up.”
“Mmm,” he murmured, sliding his hand across my stomach and up, to where it rested just below my br**sts. I bit down on my lip as a sharp sensation crowded my insides. His hand was way close and if he spread his fingers, his thumb would most definitely be getting some action. “You don’t understand the concept of sleepy time.”
My eyes were wide and fixed on the ceiling. I knew I should move his hand. I didn’t think he could feel any difference in my skin through the borrowed shirt and tank top, but a nervous energy built in my stomach, mingling with a feeling I recognized.
I’d never been laid, sexed up, or whatever. Obviously. But I was as curious as any girl who’d gone through puberty and whatnot, so I’d gotten familiar with my body more than a few times, and I knew what that edginess was zinging through my veins.
“Do you?” he asked.
“I . . .” My tongue stopped moving because that was when his hand moved just the slightest and his fingers spread. His thumb brushed against the under swell of my left breast, and I jerked in reflex. I don’t know if it had to do with the scarring or not, but my left breast was waaay sensitive.
His hand was still after that. Waiting. Instinct told me Jax knew exactly what his thumb had brushed against and now he was waiting to see how I responded. Or maybe he was copping a sleepy feel without realizing.
Jax’s lips brushed a surprisingly hot spot just below my ear, and the air went right out of my lungs. Wow. Okay. He was probably not copping a sleepy feel and knew exactly what he was doing.
I needed to remove his hand.
I needed to get the hell out of this bed.
But I didn’t move.
And whatever answer he was waiting for, he must’ve gotten it. His thumb drifted along the swell of my breast, and my throat dried. Holy hotness, what were we doing?
“Forget about sleepy time,” he said, moving his lips against the skin of my throat again. “I think I like the fact you don’t understand it.”
That thumb went up about half an inch, and I bit down on my lower lip. “Yeah. I like you waking up.”
I had no idea what to say to that, and my lashes were slowly, but surely, lowering, even as my heart was picking up its beat and warmth was invading my body, easing out the tautness in my muscles at the same time it was building a different type of tension.
“You know what’s going on here.” His statement caused my eyes to open wide once more. There was a beat. “Please tell me you understand what’s going down here.”
“Yes,” I whispered, and then I said, “No.”
“Yes and no?” His voice had gotten deeper, rougher. Tingles danced from the tips of my br**sts down to my belly and lower, much lower. “Care to explain?”
“Why?” It was all I could say.