“Your mom doesn’t hate you. I sat next to her at your arraignment and listened to her cry over you.” He lifted an eyebrow at me and crossed his arms over his chest. I felt my eyes widen and lock on the way the muscles in his biceps bulged and flexed in the new position. “I told my folks I was joining the Army and I wouldn’t see them for at least four years. Neither one of them shed a tear, so I know for a fact that, regardless of what you think, what your mom feels for you isn’t hate.” His tone was harsh as he dropped the surprisingly personal tidbit like a bomb at my feet.
“Your parents weren’t worried about what might happen to you? They weren’t sad to see you go, not knowing when they would see you again?” That seemed impossible to me. My mom often acted fed up and had no problem showing her frustration with me, but she was always there; she always worried about my well-being. I knew she wanted better for me, and I couldn’t get my head around Quaid having parents that weren’t insanely proud of everything he had accomplished, or the man he had become, since enlisting.
“They were mad I was leaving. When I enlisted, they viewed it as a disappointment and a betrayal to everything they taught me and believed in. I know what it looks like when a parent turns their back on you, Avett, and that isn’t what you’re dealing with when it comes to your mom.”
I sucked in a breath at his stark honesty and told myself it would be entirely inappropriate to throw myself at him. He wasn’t the tree in the backyard that I know knew enough not to climb, but something told me if I fell because of him, it would do a lot more damage than a broken arm.
“I’ve never been very good at doing the right thing, Quaid. Years and years of my dad having to pick up the pieces, of him being the one that rode to the rescue …” I shook my head at him and gave him a rueful grin. “It took its toll on my mom, not only because I was always into something I shouldn’t be, but because my dad never hesitated to dive in after me. I knew I was putting strain on their relationship, knew things were tense and that she was unhappy, but it never stopped me from screwing up. That makes me a pretty awful person, no matter how you look at it, Counselor. The evidence is compelling.”
He continued to watch me. Then he was walking towards me and I was walking backwards as he advanced. We kept going until my back was pressed up against the hard wood of the front door and he was all I could see in front of me. He put an arm above my head and I had to tilt my head back to keep eye contact. He was a couple inches away from being pressed fully against me, but every single part of my body felt like it was straining to close that gap. My nipples peaked hard and pointed directly at him; every single inch of my skin pebbled up and practically vibrated as he hovered out of reach.
“The evidence is circumstantial and prejudiced. You say you don’t do the right thing, that you can’t stop even though you know your actions are hurting the people around you, and hurting yourself time and time again. So my question to the defendant is … why? Why do you keep making the wrong choice and keeping hurting yourself and others? What’s the motive?” His breath whispered out and danced across my lips.
I let out a startled little gasp at the touch of it. His words kissed me as his eyes devoured me. Even though zero parts of us were touching, I could feel him all over, including deep down inside of me, where all kinds of feelings were starting to boil and pop under my skin. I couldn’t hold back the urge to touch him anymore, so I lifted my shaking hands and put them on the center of his chest. Rock-hard muscle tensed at the light touch; my knees went a little weak at the contrasting texture of his soft cotton T-shirt and the cold brush from the unbending material of his leather jacket. He wrapped the hand that wasn’t braced over my head around one of my wrists, and for a second I thought he was going to pull my hands off of him. Instead, his thumb found the soft spot on the inside of my wrist, where my pulse was racing, and started to brush back and forth.
“You don’t want to hear my story. Remember?” The words squeaked out as he lowered his head a tiny bit, his pale blue eyes raging like a winter storm as we watched each other unblinkingly.
It was a story I never told to anyone, completely. My story was the opposite of a fairy tale, and I knew there was no way a happy ending was lurking somewhere beyond the ever present dead end. I was shocked that I wanted to tell him, wanted to explain to him, why I did the things I did. I wanted him to understand.
His chin dipped down and suddenly that gap that was separating us was gone. The tips of his boots were touching my bare toes. He dropped my wrist so that his hand could fit its way in the large gap at the side of the overalls and sit on my hip. That was a lot of naked skin his palm landed on and I could see the awareness flare to life in his gaze. Considering my small stature and the size of his hands, if he spread his fingers out he would be both under the edge of my tank top and at the top of my underwear at the same time. God, did I want him to put his hands all over me.
“I find myself wanting a lot of things I shouldn’t want where you’re concerned, Avett.” His head lowered until his lips were separated from mine by nothing more than a whisper. “Like that kiss you tried to give me the other day. I wanted it so bad, which is why I couldn’t take it. I don’t have anything to give back if I take what you’re offering. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how it would feel, or about how you would taste.” He exhaled and it made my lips part and my tongue dart out to try and capture his flavor and essence on the tip of it. I wanted to know how he tasted just as badly as he wanted to know how I tasted. His tone dropped lower, his voice rasping across sharp and pointy things deep inside of him as he told me, “I want the story and the kiss, Avett.” His lips touched mine in a featherlight caress that made time stand still. Made me wonder if I had been born for no other reason than to kiss this man. “You can decide what order they come in.” There was husky humor in his tone, but before he could close the final millimeter of space between us, I pushed on his chest.
“This is a bad idea.” I knew it. I could feel it deep in my bones and the allure of letting go, of doing what I always did, and falling headfirst into disaster, was pulling at me hard. But I was supposed to be changing. I was supposed to actually be sorry, not just saying it and turning around into the next catastrophe. I knew kissing Quaid Jackson was going to lead to all kinds of sorry and sorrow. I knew it as much as I knew I didn’t care and that I was going to kiss him and chase this bad idea until it crashed and burned, like they always did.