Ben stood on his stoop in nothing but navy-blue boxers, looking big, bad, and rumpled. “What the hell?”
“Go back inside,” Jack told him.
“And miss the show?”
“We’re just…working something out.”
Clearly in no hurry, Ben leaned against the doorjamb. “That kind of ‘working something out’ could get you arrested for indecent exposure.”
Jack gave him a look that would have had Leah needing to check her pants, but not Ben.
“Fine,” Ben said. “But you have a bedroom. You might want to think about using it before pictures of you two jumping each other’s bones ends up on Facebook.”
The door shut behind him, and Leah let out a shuddering breath. There was a hum of something coursing through her veins, a combination of things. Fear, which had been present ever since she’d heard the “firefighter down” go out on the scanner. Aching regret, for starting this whole mess in the first place. And lingering anger, which she suspected was really misplaced worry.
And something more.
Whatever Jack wanted to believe, she knew him. Maybe she knew him better than just about anyone else, in spite of all the years they’d spent apart.
He was unhappy. Oh, the stubborn ass would never admit it. Hell, he’d deny it, and this sparked her temper all over again because he was standing there stoic and edgy, the adrenaline still pouring off him in waves.
It made her want to hug him, which was just about as smart as wanting to hug a caged leopard. But that was Leah. Drawn to things that were bad for her. And Jack was bad for her, always had been. Not to her physical well-being, of course. Nothing as simple as that.
Nope, he was lethal to something else—her heart.
Shaking his head, muttering something about needing to be alone now, Jack headed to his garage. Inside was his lovingly restored Indian motorcycle. Shoving on his helmet, he straddled the beast.
And Leah’s heart hitched. After his father had died, there’d been a period of time when Jack had gone feral. Wild. She’d always known when he’d been about to go off and do something stupid because there’d been a certain energy to him, the kind he had now. And oh, how that wild side of him appealed to her. Back then, she’d always begged and pleaded to be a part of that trouble.
He’d never let her, not once.
Looking back, she knew why. He’d been protecting her, in the only way he knew how. And he was still doing it. That’s what the other night had been about, his “rules” about no hurt feelings.
In light of that, she had no explanation for the kiss he’d just laid on her, absolutely none. This was probably because her brain hadn’t kicked back on yet. God knew her body was still trembling in hopeful anticipation.
The thing was, though, she no longer needed protection. She handled herself. And she could handle him too. She wanted to, especially because he had that look in his eyes, the one he got when he was especially tired or angry. It made him seem especially rough around the edges and wary, as if maybe he knew he couldn’t count on his normally sharp senses to keep him functioning. She’d never say so, but she liked him best this way because it proved he wasn’t a superhero at all, but just a man.
Either the fire had gotten to him more than he’d let on or he was worried about his mom. Maybe both. Hell, maybe it was her too. Clearly, he’d intended to get out, go a little crazy, blow off steam. But this time, she wasn’t going to be sent home. Stepping close, she put a hand on his arm. “Take me with you.”
Refusing to be left behind, she simply stepped close and got on the bike behind him. She felt him exhale deeply, but before he could make her get off, she slid her arms around his waist and pressed her face to his back.
And that was absolutely the undoing of the last of her anger because even though he’d showered, he still smelled faintly like smoke, and the reminder of what he did every single day only made her want him all the more.
“Leah.” Gruff. Pissed. His muscles flexed beneath her cheek but she held on, her palms flat against his abs. A wordless response rumbled in his chest—most likely an oath—and then he was reaching up and pulling off his helmet, which he handed back to her.
“No,” she said. “I’m not taking your helmet—”
“Wear it or get off.”
She knew how to pick her battles so she took off her baseball cap, grabbed the helmet, and pulled it down over her head.
“Hold on,” he said.
And then the bike leaped to life beneath his very capable hands. So she did as he’d ordered.
She held on…
In five minutes, Leah and Jack were out on the highway, going fast enough to make her heart pound as they leaned into the S-turns.
Or maybe that was from being plastered up against his back, her legs spread by his hips, every inch of her in contact with his body.
And his body. Holy cow. How had she never been affected by how tough and built he was? Combined with the rumble of the horsepower beneath her, his body had her in a state that only got more and more pronounced the higher they climbed.
There was a cliff on their right now, where far below the Pacific Ocean pitched and rolled, fog lingering in long, silver fingers on the frothy water. The Olympic Mountains stood on their left, tall, majestic, rugged, and wearing their pretty fall colors.
Ahead of them, the road wound its narrow way upward, and Jack steered into the sharp curves. A sign warned them to keep a lookout for unexpected animal crossings. Out here, that could mean deer, bears, anything really. But nothing crossed their path at all, and Leah could feel some of the tension slowly leave Jack.
Half an hour later, the sun was much higher in the sky, and they were up near Beaut Point. A fitting place, as Jack had been the first person to ever bring her here.
She’d been in eighth grade, and the day had sucked. In the girls’ locker room after PE, she’d realized someone had hidden her clothes. Standing there in nothing but her undies, the five mean girls who always made her life a living hell had surrounded her. She’d been tall even back then and had developed breasts early, which she’d hated, just two more ways in which she’d been different from everyone else. She could still feel the heat of embarrassment and shame standing there nearly naked as one of the girls had shoved her.
Leah’d gone down on her ass. Before she could scramble back up again, there’d been the sound of the door slamming open, and the girls had scattered.
And then a shirt had been tossed over her.
When she’d looked up, Jack had stood there, shirtless, scowling at her. “I’ve told you,” he’d said. “Just hit one, any one of them, hard. One time is all you need.”
The next time the girls had surrounded her in the locker room, she’d done just that.
And had gotten suspended for a week.
But the punishment from her father had been far worse. He’d yelled and screamed at her until her ears had been ringing. She’d dared to interrupt the tirade, attempting to tell him that this wasn’t her fault, and he’d slapped her.
Later that next night when she’d crawled out of her bedroom window and into Jack’s, he’d been waiting for her. They’d sneaked into his garage and “borrowed” his mom’s car. They’d come here and then had climbed down to the mouth of the caves and sat watching the stars swirl in the sky far above.
It still ranked as the best night of her teenage years.
Now Jack stopped the bike so they were overlooking the ocean far below. He turned off the engine, and they sat there a moment, still. Not speaking.
Hell, Leah was hardly breathing.
Still locked around Jack like white on rice, she didn’t want to break the spell. Right now, right here in this moment, she wasn’t worried about her grandma. About money. About the bakery. About her future and what the hell she was going to screw up next. She wasn’t worried about anything, in fact. She felt…safe. And maybe content.
Although maybe “content” wasn’t quite right, since her entire body was humming with a sort of anticipation and heat that spoke of the very opposite of content.
She was aroused.
Not sure exactly what Jack was feeling, she started to get off the bike, but he took one of his hands from the handlebars and gently squeezed her fingers, where they were resting low on his abs. “We have a rule in place,” he said.
Right. No one gets hurt because this wasn’t real. “Then why did you kiss me like that? Like you wanted me so badly you couldn’t help yourself?”
He didn’t answer for a long moment. “I don’t want to ruin our friendship,” he said.
“We’ve managed to not ruin anything so far.” She pulled off the helmet and set it behind her. “And we’ve done some pretty stupid stuff.”
“Not yet, we haven’t.”
Her arms went around him again, flattening her hands on his abs, which clenched. Lightly, she let her fingers drift up and down. “I know you, Jack,” she murmured. “I know what you need right now.”
He let out a long breath when her hands drifted up high on his chest, and then low again, just to the loose waistband of his low-riding jeans.
“Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious?” she wondered. “To see what it’d be like between us?”
He made a very male sound, one that told her he’d given it more than a passing thought.
“It’d make our lie to your mom half true,” she said.
“Our lie?” he asked so dryly that she laughed.
“You know what I mean.”
He caught her wandering fingers in his and brought their joined hands up to his mouth, brushing his lips against her knuckles. “I have another rule.”
She dropped her head to his back and laughed again. “Mr. Control. Fine. What’s this new rule?”
Her heart caught. Once, a long time ago, she’d made him that promise, and she’d broken it. She’d never let herself believe that it had really mattered to him, but she could admit that he had reason to doubt her. “I’m good with no promises.”