“So where’s Jared?” K.C. asked as she propped her elbows up on the counter and peered down at me.
I rolled my eyes and turned back to the rows of bowling shoes I was putting away. “Well, obviously since I’m working, K.C., he’s not here. We celebrated Valentine’s last night.” I stuffed the shoes into their cubbies, keeping my back to her.
“Mrow! You’re touchy. What’s up?”
Standing up, I dusted off my black pants and turned around to face her. K.C. worked next door at the movie theater, and I’d been working at the bowling alley since November. She made it a point to come in on days when I worked, either on breaks or after her shift. I kind of wondered if she came over in the hopes of seeing someone other than me.
“Nothing.” I shrugged my shoulders and tightened my ponytail. “Jared took Jax out of town with him on family business.” I paused to make air quotes around “family business”. “And I offered to work for Lacey, since she wanted the night off with her boyfriend.” I quickly glanced at K.C. before looking away again, too afraid she’d see my aggravation. “It’s fine.”
“Fine?” She repeated in a flat voice as if confirming she heard me right. Her big green eyes stared at me disbelieving.
“Yes. Fine.” I dismissed her and walked down the aisle behind the counter. I was trying to keep calm. Ever since last fall, I realized I had a –shall we say—anger problem. I took deep breaths, I started yoga, and I tried not jumping to conclusions. Right now, I focused on the thunder of bowling balls charging down their path and the clatter of pins crashing together.
I liked bowling alleys. It was a constant thunderstorm.
I heard K.C. slap her hand down on the counter. “Tatum Brandt. Your boyfriend goes out of town with his whore of a brother—on Valentine’s Day, no less—and you aren’t even slightly aggravated?”
“’Whore?’ That’s pretty harsh.” I smiled and almost laughed, forgetting my anger for a moment.
She was wrong. Jax wasn’t a whore. Not in the way Jared had been, at least.
But he was getting lots of attention.
Now that Jared was off the market, the girls at school welcomed the new Trent with open arms and open…everything. They looked at him like he was a toy—something to play with–and I could tell it pissed Jax off big time.
Jax didn’t like women that were controlling. In the few months he’d lived with Jared and Katherine, I’d only seen him go for the shy ones. The quiet ones.
The good girls.
Kenzie, the pretty and studious vice president, never knew what hit her.
“No,” I continued. “I’m not aggravated with Jared. I trust him. I’m just disappointed. If he says he had to go out of town, then he had to go out of town.”
“Well, he lied to you.” She said matter-of-factly.
I straightened my back, exhaling through my nose. “K.C. Knock it off.”
I looked over at her as she smoothed her long, dark brown hair and adjusted her bowtie—part of her theater uniform.
“I’m telling you…” She nodded. “He lied. He didn’t go out of town on family business.”
“And how do you know?”
She broke out in a huge smile. “Because he’s walking this way.” She almost laughed it out in her excitement, and my eyes went wide as I darted my gaze behind her.
Jared and Jax walked side by side down the red and gold carpet between the lanes and the concessions stands, straight for me.
What the hell?
My whole face tingled, seeing the corner of his mouth turned up in that I-really-want-to-smile-but-I’m-too-cool way that turns me the hell on.
His eyes glowed. My knees went weak.
His dark gray t-shirt draped loosely at the waist but tighter in the chest and arms, and my eyes burned when I realized I wasn’t blinking.
And when he winked at me? Holy shit.
I snap my mouth shut before I start drooling.
Who is this girl? Every damn day I want him more! I’m supposed to be getting tired of him. Bored. Isn’t that how relationships work? We start arguing over our little quirks?
But no. I’m like a stupid, little puppy still panting away over my boyfriend after five months. I ogle him. I fantasize about him. And the little bastard knows it, too. He tries crooking his finger in the lunchroom to get me to come.
I don’t obey, but man, I want to.
“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He hops up on the counter, swings his legs over and jumps down.
“Happy—” His mouth crashes down on mine, cutting me off. His lips are smooth and refreshingly cold from the February chill outside, and I eat up his cinnamon taste. Backing me up, his hands stay on my hips as he guides us through the swinging door to the back room. I barely register Jax’s voice.
And I heard K.C. mumble something about unsupervised children not being allowed in the bowling alley.
Then they were gone. Jared’s breath is in my ear, kissing a trail across my cheek.
“I thought you went out of town.” I closed my eyes, running my hands up his arms.
“On Valentine’s Day?” He puts his nose to mine. “How many times do I have to tell you? Where I go, you go.”
He leans in again, devouring my mouth and taking my ass in both of his hands. As he yanks me into him, our hips come together, and I groan.
Son of a bitch. Everything is warm, and my muscles tingle with a sweat weakness. I have no idea how I’ll get through medical school with Jared around.
I grab the back of his neck and push into him, pressing my lips into his and my body molding to his every curve.
He lifts me up and on the counter, deepening the kiss.
I pull back. “Wait, wait. Don’t get too hot. I’m still working.”
He doesn’t even pause as he starts kissing my neck. “K.C.’s taking your shift,” he whispers. “Well, actually your co-workers are and K.C. will help out. You have two hours before curfew, so you’re coming with me.”
I thread my fingers through his hair. “Where are you taking me? The lake?” Our usual private spot for… privacy.
His head pops up, and he narrows his eyes at me. “No, I’m done with that.” He fists my red necktie—part of my uniform–and wraps it around his hand, slowly bringing us nose to nose. “We’ve been sneaking around for months as if your dad doesn’t know we’re going to find some way to have sex. I’ve had enough.”
Chills spread up my neck and down my arms. I clear my throat. “Jared, I’m sure he knows we’re finding the time. It doesn’t mean he’s going to support it.”
He kisses my nose and between my eyes. “Well, I’m sick of it. My car, your car, my garage last week. Rushing around between the end of school and him getting home from work. It’s ridiculous, and we’re not doing it anymore.”
Okay, now he was scaring me. “So what does that mean?” I pulled back.
He smiled. I mean smiled smiled. To where I actually saw teeth.“It means I’ve got a present for the both of us. Come on.”
He grabbed my hand, and I hopped off the counter.
We drove for a while. Jax had brought his car, opting to stay at the bowling alley, so Jared and I headed to the other side of town. Houses started getting bigger, city lights started getting dimmer, and Jared remained silent, only nodded his head ever so slightly to Alice in Chains’ Would?.
He pulled up the Boss to a huge black gate and punched in a six digit code while my heart started pounding in my ears.
What was all this?
I didn’t ask, but—damn—I was intrigued. We were heading into the Seven Hills community, which I’d heard of but never been and Jared had the gate code?
The drive dipped, and we rode down a well-lit avenue lined in trees and tall hedges protecting the privacy of the houses behind them. Jared slowed and turned into a black brick driveway.
My eyes couldn’t take in everything fast enough. The house—and I use that term loosely—sat bright and huge in front of us. It looked almost French in its architecture, but not over the top in its grandeur. The brickwork was light colored—beige, mauve, off white—while the trim was painted in deep red. Lights were everywhere. On the sides of door, over windows and in a few rooms of the house.
“Jared, whose house is this?” I asked as he pulled onto another driveway off to the side of the house.
“Madoc’s.” He put the car in neutral, set the e-brake and killed the engine “Wait here.”
Climbing out of the car, Jared rounded the front and came over to open my door.
“How did I not know Madoc was this rich?” I mumbled more to myself as he helped me out of the car.
“I think Madoc likes to forget that fact.” He laughed under his breath. He led as we walked hand in hand further along the side of the house. Brick stairs led up the side toward the rear, and I followed behind, completely confused as he pulled keys out of his pocket. I had no idea what was going on, but I had no idea what to ask next.
“This part of the house is closed off from the rest,” Jared said back to me. “There’s another door into this room, but no one comes to this side of the…um..”
“Mansion?” I offered.
“Yeah.” He unlocked the door at top.
We walked in slowly but immediately I felt different. The smell of new things, furniture polish, the leather in a car, and the faint smell of cologne filled my lungs, and I felt warm all over.
Jared turned on the dim overhead lighting and switched on a lamp, all creating a soft glow in the very masculine bedroom. The walls looked freshly painted a very light tan color, the hardwood floors were accented with a spotless beige rug, and the king-seized bed was adorned with pillows big enough for me to lay my body on. A rustic, stone fireplace sat along one wall, and I couldn’t remember ever feeling so safe and comfortable in a room before.
I realized that while I’d been absorbing every nook and cranny, Jared had stopped moving.
“It’s beautiful.” I locked eyes with him. “Almost like a cave.”
He leaned against the dresser, watching me. I shifted my eyes to his left and noticed a picture of us at Homecoming last fall sitting pretty in a black frame.
Wait a minute.
Heading to the chest of drawers, I yanked on one of the handles and spotted some of Jared’s clothes. Opening another drawer, I saw some t-shirts.
I had to force back my smile before I turned to face him. His eyes were waiting, But I could see the smile inside.
“So…” I started, “you have clothes here. And some T-shirts for me. We have keys and a gate code. This is our room, isn’t it?” I guessed.
He inhaled deeply and pushed off the dresser. “Madoc’s parents are always gone, and we’re going to be here a lot this summer with all of his parties. There’s not much I can do about your curfew, but at least now we have our own space. With a lot of privacy and comfort.”
“And a bed,” I added.
“It’s not about that.” He blinked. “Well, it kind of is.”
I met him halfway and wrapped my arms around his waist.
“I’m just done with quickies and sneaking around, Tate. It feels like we’re doing something dirty.”
“Oh, we are,” I waggled my eyebrows and whispered before snatching his bottom lip between my teeth.
He sucked in a breath, and we nibbled at each other in short, soft kisses. Lifting me up, I wrapped my legs around this waist and moved my hands over his shoulders and onto his back.
“Ugh,” he grunted, pinching up his face, and that’s when I noticed the slight ridges and crinkly sound coming from underneath his shirt. It felt like a plastic bag.
“What is that?”
He laughed out his nose. It looked like his teeth were clenching together. “Your other present,” he forced out.
Lifting up his shirt, I pulled it over his head and lost my breath when I saw his shoulder wrapped up in a plastic, black back secured with medical tape.
“Jared!” What the hell was this?
“It’s okay. It’s just a tattoo. Help me take off the wrapping.”
I followed him into the bathroom, and that’s when I saw it.
The rest of the tattoo.
“That’s why I had to come up with a story of being unavailable tonight.,” he explained as I helped him take off the tape and bag, throwing the trash into the sink. “I needed to buy time. Aura was taking longer with the tattoo than I anticipated, and she couldn’t finish until tonight. It took 5 sittings. I was going to surprise you at home, but then you picked up a shift, and I had to get K.C. and your work friends to help get you out of there early.”
Jesus. My mouth went dry, and I could only stand there.
His back was to the bathroom mirror, and I faced him, studying the image in his reflection. It was unmistakable.
It was our tree. Down to the last branch.
The trunk travelled up the right of his back, and then the branches and leaves started spreading out about halfway up. Some of the leaves went over his shoulder and down the back of his arm. It was all in black, and my stomach felt like it sat in my feet.
I could barely speak. “Jared. You’re beautiful.”
Beautiful?I laughed to myself. It wasn’t really the look I was going for, but I guess a tree tattoo wasn’t that badass.
Tate always saw what she wanted to see in me, and I loved it. I still didn’t see the man I wanted when I looked in the mirror, but every day I felt better and better about who I was.
The tree was for her, and it was for me. I wanted my scars covered, and I wanted to take the tree with us to New York in the fall. Aura saw a picture and took no time drawing it up and getting started. It had cost a lot of time away from Tate and some stealth maneuvering, so that she never saw my back, but it worked. Aura saved the last part for today. The part that I wouldn’t be able to hide form Tate that traveled down my arm and over my shoulder. The skin still burned to the touch, but there was no way I was telling her not to touch me tonight.
“Enough talking.” I reached out and grabbed her hip, pulling her to me. “We haven’t showered together since your birthday, and we only have an hour left.”
“Why? Do you have somewhere to be?” She leaned into my ear and whispered. “Because my dad texted two hours ago that he had to hop a plane to Colorado on business until Tuesday.”
My nerves fired, and my eyes widened. “Hell, yes!” I took no time scooping her up and planting a fat kiss right on her mouth.
She pulled back and pointed her finger at me. “You’re not allowed inside the house, though.”
“I don’t want inside the house. I want inside you. Right now and at 2am or whenever the hell I feel like it tonight.”
The idea of waking up next to her in the morning, or—hell—even in the middle of the night, and having what I want right there made me feel all kinds of selfish, but I didn’t care.
I loosened her necktie, and pulled it over her head while she unbuttoned her white dress shirt. In no time at all, she’d shed her bra, too, and I pulled her naked chest against mine, feeling the very familiar fire pool in my dick. I had three levels of horny-ness. 1. Eh, I can if I want to. 2. Wow, I wish Tate was around. 3. Now.
And with Tate naked, it was always a 3.
I unbuttoned her black pants and slipped my hands inside the back, cupping her ass and bringing her to me like glue. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I ignored the slight discomfort on my back. Who the hell cared?
“Are your shots up to date?” I asked in between kisses.
“Yeah,” she gasped out as I took her breast in my hand and nibbled her neck. “Jared. So much time now. What will we do?” she teased, rubbing me through my pants.
I squeezed my eyes shut and hot air poured in and out of my nose.Backing us up, I opened the shower door and turned the knob. Two shower heads sprayed water from both sides, filling the small area with thick steam. I pulled away from her but kept my eyes trained on her panting face. Her cheeks were flushed, and her lips glistened. She’d taken out her ponytail, and I could see her nipple peeking out of her hair. God, she was beautiful.
All fire and passion. All mine.
Yanking off my belt, I tossed it and tore out of the rest of my clothes. She did the same with her pants and backed into the shower, not losing my eyes for minute. I probably looked like the lion stalking its prey, but that wasn’t it. She was the predator luring me in.
Closing the door behind me, I watched her watch me as she leaned against the shower wall, waiting for me. Even though Tate was the one in control, she always let me feel like I was hunting her. I loved that.Pressing the length of my body against hers, every muscle tingled with chills. I was warm and high.
Lifting her leg, I held it at my hip and put my fingers between her legs, rubbing long, slow strokes as I looked down at her. Tate preferred my cock to my fingers inside of her, but she loved to be rubbed.Slow. Always slow.
So slow that I could see the exact moment when her body started to lose control, and it was addictive. Her breathing dipped, and she almost lost eye contact when her lids fluttered.
The water poured around our legs, and the steam made our bodies stick together. The air was thick and hot. I used the tip of my tongue to lick her bottom lip. “Fuck my hand, Tate,” I whispered against her mouth.
She moaned, and her eyes closed as she grasped my shoulders and started rocking herself against my hand. Soft and slow at first. Then the friction started getting harder. She pushed against my palm rougher and faster, more demanding. I felt her wet against my fingers.
She grabbed onto my hand, and I hooked her at the neck, tasting her lips and feeling her orgasm spring up from her throat and echo into mine. She shook and rocked against my hand, slowing down more and more. I swear I could hear her heart pounding.
“Goddamn, Tate,” I gasped out as she shuddered against my body. Pulling up her other knee, I guided her legs around my waist, and pushing her into the wall, I slammed inside of her.
“Ahh,” she cried out again. “Jared,” she whimpered.
I grasped her thighs hard, probably leaving bruises, but she felt so good.
We’d stopped using condoms two months ago. I got tested, she got on birth control, and we never looked back. After that first time without one, there was no way in hell I wanted to go back to using them. Feeling her, not having that barrier between us, was as close to heaven as I’d ever get.
“I like it when you moan my name.” I took her bottom lip between my teeth and drew it out while I slid in and out of her. “You’ve been turning my world upside down for eight years. I can’t get enough of you.”
“Never enough.” She brought her mouth to mine, covering my lips. Her tongue tasted mine and darted out to flick my lip.
I blinked awake in the nearly pitch black room to my phone beeping. Looking at the clock on the bedside of table, I saw that is was just after one in the morning. Tate and I had only been asleep for about an hour.
Grabbing my phone, I opened a text from Jax.
Home, it said.
I smiled to myself, surprised by how much him being safe comforted me and by how quickly he’d come to think of my house as his home.
I had started asking him to check in with me, just to let me know where he was. Since Tate and I had gotten together, Jax and Madoc had grown closer, and who knew what trouble they’d get into together.
I shot a text back. “Madoc?”
“Should be home. He left the bowling alley an hour ago.”
Awesome. At least Tate and I had been asleep by that time, so he wouldn’t have heard anything.
“‘Night.” I texted and put my phone down.
Rolling over and sitting up, I saw that Tate was turned onto her stomach and hugging a pillow underneath her body. She was faced away from me, but I could see the soft moonlight coming through the windows landing across her face and naked back. The sheet sat at her waist. Peering over, I smiled at her relaxed features and swollen lips.
Even though I knew I should just let her sleep, I leaned down on my elbow and ran my other hand up and down her back. I couldn’t not touch her. Like hard candy that I could suck on nonstop or an ice cream cone that I wanted to lick, Tate was food. After only a few months together, there was no part of her body that I didn’t have memorized. I knew that she liked sex in the mornings, that running my fingers through her hair immediately melted her, and that her sweat was the only perfume I wanted her to wear.
Getting up on my hands and one knee, I leaned over her, straightening my other leg over her sleeping ones and began…not leaving her alone. Coming down on her back, I touched the tip of my tongue to her skin and left a moist trail up her spine.
She squirmed. “Baby…” she mumbled, her words muffled by the pillow.
“I want you,” I breathed out, and sliding the sheet down off of her, I opened my mouth and took her ass between my lips and teeth.
“Jared!” she yelped and whipped her head up. “What…?”
But she trailed off when I continued nibbling and kissing, and her head fell back down to the pillow.
“You awake now?” I taunted. I’m sure she heard the smile in my voice.
She sucked in air through her teeth, tensing up her body, looking like she was in pleasure or in pain.
I got my answer when she suddenly squirmed off the bed, and I had to rear back to avoid her kicks as she landed on the floor.
“It’s ticklish,” she squealed. “And it freaks me out.”
My stomach swam with flutters, and I laughed. “I didn’t actually bite you. At least not hard.”
Her eyes darted down to the extreme hardness between my legs, and I raised my eyebrows at her. She looked so cute, legs drawn up to her chest and leaning back on her hands, looking at me like she was ready to run.
“Are you going to take care of this or what?” I gestured to my cock, purposely trying to act like a dick.
What can I say? Tate and I had a weird kind of foreplay.
She pushed herself off of the floor and grabbed the white bed sheet, wrapping it around her body.
“My ass is a “no” area,” she stately firmly, looking at me with her big blue eyes and a lot of fear.
“A “no” area?”
“Yes. Your hands are fine. But not your mouth or…” she stuttered, gesturing up and down my body, “anything else. Got it?”
I smirked, teasing her with mischievous eyes. “What else could I possibly do to you there?”
Her eyes dropped, and she moved her lips left to right, thinking. I chuckled, climbing off the end of the bed and slipping on some black pajama pants I’d left on the floor.
“No part of you is off limits to me, Tatum,” I warned with a grin, and I immediately saw her eyes flare at the mention of her full name that she hated. “Come over here. Now.”
She launched herself across the bed, and bolted for the bathroom. I moved like a bullet, darting after her so she wouldn’t have a chance to lock me out.
“Nooooo,” she screamed and laughed at the same time as I caught her against the sink counter.
This was how Tate and I played. I knew she wouldn’t come when I ordered. She never did. She gave chase, and I always followed.
And she knew I had no intention of trying to put my dick anywhere new on her tonight. I’d never done that before, and that made me happy. Since I hadn’t been able to give Tate my virginity, at least I could say she was my first with that. Someday.
But damn, I loved her excitement and how she kept me on my toes. She breathed hard, looking at me with fire and a challenge in her eyes while she gripped the sheet tightly around her body.
I stepped forward, backing her into the sink counter.
“Absolutely not.” She shook her head, looking at me like I was crazy. “No anal for me.”
I exhaled a laugh. “I’m not asking for anal, moron,” I joked. “I never did. That’s your overactive imagination at work. But I do want something.”
We were chest to chest, and the low counter had to be biting into her thighs, but I didn’t move. Looking down at her flushed face and stormy eyes, I got hard simply breathing in her scent.
Leaning down, I held her head under her ear and devoured her hot neck, feeling her go limp next to me. I took that opportunity to pull the sheet from her body and throw it to the floor.
She had enough time to yell, “Jared!” before I hauled her up and set her down on the counter, securing her arms behind her back.
Maneuvering myself between her legs, I smiled down at her like the cocky asshole I couldn’t help being.
“Jared, seriously? Let me go.” She struggled against my hands, squirming against already hard dick, and I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to steady myself.
She wasn’t really trying to get away either, because I knew I wasn’t holding her that tightly.
“We were in this position once before. Remember?” I asked, our lips almost touching as she looked up at me. “I always wondered what would’ve happened if you hadn’t pushed me away.”
She rolled her eyes. “It had already gone far enough. I should’ve pushed you off immediately.”
I rubbed my nose against hers and let go over hands, placing mine one the counter at her sides. “I’m glad you didn’t. Nothing tasted better than you, and I finally knew what I wanted and needed. It’s what love tastes like.”
Grabbing hold of her, one hand at her neck and one hand on her waist, I brought my mouth down on hers and pulled her against me.
Her knees arched up, and her feet rubbed the backs of my thighs, while her hands slowly roamed. My chest, my back, sliding under the back of my pajama pants…
She pulled back and gasped, “I love you.” And then her mouth was back again. Tate’s chest rubbed against mine, and her hard nipples grazing my skin were like streams of fire trailing to my groin.
Standing up straight and pulling away from her lips, I gently pushed her back on the counter so that her head and shoulders rested against the mirror, and then I dived into her chest, sucking the soft skin of her breasts. Her hands threaded through my hair, her knees reared up, and her back arched as she moaned.
“Now, Jared. Right here.”
Wrapping my hands around her thighs, I pulled her to the edge of the counter and then pushed my pants down over my ass.
Positioning myself at her entrance with one hand and leaning on the mirror behind her head with the other, I looked at her watching me with arched eyebrows. She was rolling her hips against my cock like she couldn’t help herself.
The corner of my mouth turned up. “Love you, too.” And I slipped inside of her, feeling chills erupt over my body as she arched her back again and let out a low moan.
I started slow at first. She was in an awkward position, and I hoped she wasn’t uncomfortable. The set up was great for me, though. I was buried to the hilt, and I bared my teeth as I breathed, fucking loving how good this felt. The counter was the perfect height, and through the mirror I could see her hands gripping my biceps.
With one hand still flat on the mirror and the other at her waist, I upped the pace, faster and faster. She was so damn wet, and I moved in and out her, feeling like I was losing more breath than I was taking in.
“Tate, can I—“
“Faster.” She knew what I was going to ask. “Go faster.” She squeezed her eyes shut, and I let loose, pounding into her and eating up every whimper and gasp of hers like the food it was.
Pumping inside of her, my hips slamming against hers, I groaned at the sweet rush of blood between my legs. Nothing had ever felt as good as this, and I wanted to fuck her until she could barely walk.
Her insides tightened around me, contracting and releasing, and she bit down on her lip.
“Let it out, babe,” I grunted, my head hanging next to my propped up arm and a drop of sweat running down my temple. “You’re so tight. And so damn wet for me. Let me hear you come.”
She cried out, digging her nails into my arms, and I clenched my teeth and sucked in oxygen as we both exploded around each other. Her whole body went rigid, and her breathing turned shallow. Fast and shallow.
My pace slowed as everything inside of me spilled inside of her, and she took everything I had.
We stayed there for a minute, breathing and trying to unclench every muscle, and when I finally opened my eyes, she was looking up at me.
Reaching up, she threading my sweaty hair through her fingers and held it. “No part of me is off limits to you,” she whispered, her voice raspy. “But some things have to happen in due time. Got it?”
A tired smile spread over my face. “Got it.”
I rested my head on Jared’s chest as we lay in bed after the bathroom sex. I was exhausted but not tired for some reason. We’d had sex in the shower, the bed, the bed, the bathroom counter, and I was sure I was going to be in for it again by morning. But still, I wasn’t tired.
“You should talk to Jax,” I told Jared. “He should ask K.C. out.”
I lifted my head and looked up at his still flushed face and damp hair. “He watches her. You see it, don’t you?”
I knew Jared had ordered Jax to leave K.C. alone, and I knew why. K.C. and I weren’t as solid as we used to be, and Jared wanted her at a distance. At least for now.
He shook his head, his chest rising and falling harder under my chin. “K.C. is weak. That’s all Jax is attracted to.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Jax will take her out. He’ll get into her pants eventually. One time. Maybe five times. And then he’ll be gone.” His bitter laugh made the room seem a little colder. “He needs someone genuine. Someone who knows how to love. Someone that’s steel. That’s not K.C. She’d crack under the weight of a feather. I’m not setting up that train wreck.”
He twisted his head to look at me with his eyes pinched up in confusion.
“Madoc? What about him?”
Oh, that’s it.
I threw off the sheet, swung my leg over his body, straddled him, and slammed my fists down on the pillows on both sides of his head. “Madoc covers up everything with a joke or some crazy display. He has nothing that he cares about except you, Jax, and me. What is he going to do at college next year without you?”
He hooded his eyes as if I were being ridiculous. “Tate, Madoc’s fine. I promise. And so is Jax.”
“I hope you’re right,” I stated flatly. “For your sake.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that they don’t stand strong without you. Do you have any idea how much Madoc looks to you for direction? How much Jax relies on you? They’re your responsibility whether you like it or not, and you better take care of them, because they won’t ask you for help.” I lowered my face to his, nose to nose and whispered. “Got it?
I sounded like a threat, and it was supposed to. But he smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”
It pissed me off that Jared didn’t take the lead Madoc and his brother obviously gave him. He watched out for them somewhat but mostly brushed them off, saying that they could take care of themselves. They needed him more than he realized.
And K.C. had issues. I knew what they were, which is why I cut her slack for her behavior. But I also knew that someone like Jax would be good for her. I had my doubts about whether she’d be good for him, but I figured one date wouldn’t hurt.
And Madoc wasn’t okay. He was visibly uncomfortable with anything heartfelt, and he seemed entirely too content with his endless stream of one night stands. I could count on one hand the number of genuine moments I’d had with Madoc. I loved him. But I still felt like I didn’t know him.
“I need a bottle of water. Do you think Madoc would mind if I raided his fridge?” I climbed off Jared and started getting dressed in one of Jared’s T-shirts and his pajama pants.
“I’ll go.” He started to get up.
“No, it’s fine.” I put my hand out to stop him. “I’d like to get a look at this place anyway. Be right back.”
“I need a bottle of water. Do you think Madoc would mind if I raided his fridge?” I climbed off Jared and started getting dressed in one of his T-shirts and his pajama pants.
“I’ll go.” He started to get up.
“No, it’s fine.” I put my hand out to stop him. “I’d like to get a look at this place anyway. Be right back.”
“Just be warned. Madoc might be roaming. I don’t think he sleeps a lot. At night, anyway.”
I slipped out the door and padded down the thickly carpeted hallway, stopping dead in my tracks when I looked up and saw just how long the hallway actually was.
Toffee colored walls were lit up with evenly spaced brown wall sconces, and paintings with gilded frames adorned the spaces between where pieces of furniture sat.
Yeah, furniture in the hallway. That’s how wide it was.
On bare feet, I treaded softly. I had no idea if anyone other than Madoc was home, and I didn’t want to have to explain myself.
I stopped when I came to a break in the hallway. There was the option to either keep going to what looked like more bedrooms or take a right down a flight of stairs to a tiled foyer.
I was about to head down the stairs when I heard music and stopped.
Crap. I curled my toes.
I didn’t want to run into Madoc. Not dressed like this.
But as I twisted my ear to the sound, I knew it was someone playing the piano, and it was coming from downstairs. It could be a recording, I guessed. It was beautiful, and I didn’t know instruments or composers, but it was slow and very soft, almost like a whisper.
Like it was buried somewhere.
Heading down, one slow step at a time, I made another right into another hallway and found myself in the kitchen.
The music was louder now, and I swear I could feel its vibrations under my toes.
Ignoring the refrigerator, I walked around the spacious kitchen with a center island big enough for five of me and saw the door leading to the basement. I knew it was the basement because that’s where the music was coming from.
Cracking the door open, the tinkling notes flooded through, and my heart instantly started pounding with the soft play of the keys that had suddenly picked up pace.
I don’t why I decided to pry, but I was curious if it was Madoc. As far as I knew he didn’t play, but there wasn’t much I did know about him, so I decided to be nosy.
Descending the stairs on light feet, I got about halfway when Madoc came into view. Sure enough, it was him. The “Fallen” tattoo blazed across his upper back, and his blond hair—what I could see—was still styled to perfection.
I almost wanted to laugh. He actually played the piano. I shook my head, wondering why the hell he didn’t talk about this. He was fantastic.
He wore black and white pinstripe pajama pants, and his head was bowed to the keys, moving side to side with the music. Lost and completely real, Madoc caressed the keys gently and slowly, taking his time as if each note he played had a purpose and a soul.
When the rhythm picked up, his body tensed, his muscles flexed, and his hands moved with precision. When the tempo slowed, he looked as gentle as if he were touching a woman.
I leaned against the wall, watching him and wondering.
I wondered why the piano was in the basement, and I wondered why he hid this.
Looking around, I saw everything you’d expect to see in a finished basement. It was decorated almost as posh as the upstairs, except for a completely out of place looking skate ramp between the wall and piano. As far as I knew Madoc didn’t skate, either.
Finishing up the piece, Madoc’s fingers stayed on the keys, frozen as the last note disintegrated into the air.
I started to back my way up the stairs but stopped when he took the sheet music from the rack and almost methodically tore it in half and then put the two pieces together, tearing them in half as well. I narrowed my eyes, watching as he tossed the now ruined music into the trash and then closed the lid to the piano keys.
I turned and crept back up the stairs, sneaking through the door and heading for the refrigerator.
Jared probably didn’t know that Madoc played. I can’t see Madoc sharing something like that, and I wasn’t sure if I would tell Jared. He probably wouldn’t care, and Madoc obviously didn’t want people to know.
The fridge was jam packed with Madoc’s Gatorades and meat. Lots of meat. I found the Evian bottles on the door and quickly took one out, my hands still shaking.
I felt bad for spying on him, but it was too damn interesting. I wanted to know what else he was hiding.
“Need a midnight snack?”
I swung around to find Madoc resting on his forearms and leaning over the island.
I gripped the water bottle to my chest, probably looking guilty.
He smirked and waggled his eyebrows. “I can get you a midnight snack.”
Of course. This was the Madoc I knew.
“I’m not hungry,” I grumbled. “Do you mind?” I held up the water bottle, asking permission.
He waved me off. “What’s mine is yours.”
I closed the refrigerator door and squeezed the bottle, hearing it crack under my fingers.
“Thank you for our room. It was really nice of you,” I offered.And that was true. Madoc was a good guy. He took care of his friends. “No problem.” He nodded. “Just promise me one thing. If Jared ever gets kidnapped by aliens or turned into a zombie, you’re mine, right?”
I smiled, loving how he always worked in his harmless little flirts.
“You got it,” I promised.
Turning to head back up the stairs, I stopped and looked back at him, studying his handsome face.
His half smile told people that he was fine, and his quiet eyes never gave anything away, but I felt like Madoc always had something clawing to get out.
Something like what I saw downstairs.
“I heard piano music,” I said quietly. “You like classical?”
He pushed off the counter, laughing and locking his hands behind his head. “It’s not my style. You know that.”
I don’t why I didn’t tell him that I saw him, but I guess I just wanted to see if he’d lie or be honest for once.
I took a deep breath and braced myself.
“And the skate ramp?” I ventured, knowing that I had indeed just outed myself for spying on him. “Do you not skate either?”
His arms dropped to his side, and his back straightened. The amusement in his flat eyes was gone.
Now he knew that I saw him playing the piano, and it was clearly something he didn’t want people to see.
Rubbing his hands together slowly, he stared at the granite island. “The skate ramp’s not mine,Tate,” he said softly and looked up at me. “It’s just trash.”
Walking back over to the basement door, he didn’t even turn around to look at me. “See you tomorrow, okay?” And then he disappeared back into the basement.
Right then I knew I was right about one thing.
Madoc was not fine.