“He’s our drummer. He’s in rehab right now trying to kick a heroin addiction.” He tried to sound matter-of-fact as he answered, but he could tell from the sympathy that moved in Elise’s eyes that he didn’t succeed.
“How’s he doing?”
He blew out a breath, rubbed a hand across his eyes. “I don’t know. He’s getting clean, but…this isn’t the first time. Who knows how long he’ll be able to keep it up once they let him out.”
“That must be rough.”
“It is. He’s been struggling for a long time—”
“Not for him. For you.”
Quinn froze, his fork halfway to his mouth. “Why for me? I’m not the one with the addiction.”
“No, but you’ve never been one to sit by while your friends suffer.”
“You think I didn’t know? Why you drew that stupid mustache on me or hid my sheet music or put goldfish in my bathtub or any of the other stupid things you did to me through the years? They made me crazy, but I always knew you were doing it to take my mind off the stage fright. To make things easier for me.”
“You’re giving me too much credit.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s your fifth question. When do I get a turn again?”
“Sorry.” She gestured for him to go ahead.
There were a million things he wanted to ask her, but the conversation was already way too heavy. He needed to find a way to lighten it up. So instead of asking what he really wanted to know—how she’d let herself get so damn rundown and fragile—he asked instead, “What’s your favorite dessert?”
She laughed. “Blueberry pie. What’s your favorite color?”
“Green.” The same shade as her eyes. And yes, he was aware that he was turning into an incredible sap. He just didn’t give a damn. “What’s your favorite movie?”
“Good Will Hunting. Who’s your favorite band?”
“Oooh, that’s a tough one.”
“No, it isn’t,” she told him indignantly. “You’re supposed to say Shaken Dirty.”
“Well, that sounds a little egotistical.”
She rolled her eyes. “I think you’ve earned the right.”
“I don’t know about that. So I’m going to go with the Eagles instead. Or Led Zeppelin.” He reached across the table, wiped a drop of sauce off her bottom lip. Elise’s eyes darkened and her tongue darted out, licked across the tip of his finger.
He growled low in his throat. “We could forget dinner and the damn question game and go home.”
She clucked her tongue at him. “Always so impatient.”
“When it comes to getting you into bed? Damn right.”
“See,” Elise said with a laugh. “There you go distracting me and I’m not going to get my last question.”
“All right, fine.” He gestured for her to continue. “What’s your last question?”
For long seconds, she didn’t answer, just stared at him with those eyes of hers that seemed to see right through him. Those eyes that got him hotter, made him harder, than anything or anyone ever had.
Just when he was about to say to hell with the question game, and to hell with dinner, she licked her lips and asked, “Why didn’t you ever call me?”
As soon as the words were out, Elise wanted to take them back. Needed to take them back. But she couldn’t. They were out there, raging between them like a hurricane, and there was nothing to do now but wait. Wait for his answer. Wait to get flattened.
Quinn didn’t answer right away. Instead, he picked up his beer, drained it in one long sip before rolling the bottle around between the elegant cage of his long, musician fingers. And then he just looked at her, his eyes burning into her own until every hair on her body felt like it was standing straight up, every nerve ending she had shocking with heat, with hurt, with need.
The silence stretched between them, taut as a harp string but with none of the beauty, and Elise had just decided that Quinn wasn’t going to answer, when he did.
“I had to leave. I was suffocating.”
“That isn’t what I asked.”
“I couldn’t be what he wanted me to be—”
“That isn’t what I asked,” she said again, more forcefully. “I know why you had to leave. I’ve never once blamed you for going, even the way you did it.”
Something flashed in his eyes then, some emotion she couldn’t quite distinguish before it was gone.
“But I did blame you for not calling me. For not emailing. For just dropping off the face of the earth and not letting me know that you were all right. That you were alive. I did blame you for that.”
“I thought it would be easier.”
“For you, yeah. Absolutely. You got to start a new life and didn’t have to worry about the people you left behind. You got to start over. But the rest of us were still there. Ellington, me. We worried about you. I worried about you.”
“I figured you’d be mad at me for leaving like I did. It’s not like you didn’t have a reason to be. I guess I figured it would be better to just let you get on with your life than to keep being interrupted by me.”
“I loved you. And though you wouldn’t talk to me about it, I knew what he was doing to you. I knew what kind of monster your father was—”
“Bullshit. I saw the bruises. I saw the bruised and twisted fingers you had to play with. And I saw the emptiness in your eyes when no one was looking and the happy façade you wore when people were. I knew, Quinn. I knew. And when you disappeared, there was a part of me that was thrilled you’d gotten away. But there was another part that was terrified that you hadn’t gone anywhere. I was terrified that he had killed you and no one would ever know.”
She choked on a sob, forced it back down. Because she didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to make him feel guilty for what had happened. But she needed him to understand how important he’d been to her. How important he still was. Because she loved him, yes, but because he was an incredible human being. One who would always be loved, always be missed.
Oh, she knew he didn’t understand that—couldn’t, with his father—but she still wanted him to hear it.
“Elise, sweetheart.” He was out of his chair and crouching down beside her own, his hand tightly clasping hers. “It never occurred to me that you would think that. I was drowning in my guilt over what had happened to you. I couldn’t stand that he might hurt you, couldn’t stand the idea of you being sucked into my disaster of a life. You didn’t deserve that, couldn’t want that—”
“You never asked me what I wanted. Because if you did, you would have known that the answer was you. Always you. I loved you. I don’t think you have a clue how much I loved you back then. How much Ellington did. So much of your time was spent dodging your father’s fists and hiding the marks when you couldn’t, that you never understood how amazing you were.”
He shook his head, looked a little sick at her words. It was the last thing she wanted. “Come on,” she told him, pulling his hand to her mouth and pressing a kiss right in the middle of his palm. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What? Right now?”
“Right now. I want to be alone with you.”
For a second, she thought he was going to say no. That he was going to make excuses—they weren’t done with their dinner, the check hadn’t come, they needed to talk more. But she was done talking, done living in the past. She loved Quinn Bradford and she was going to grab onto every second she had with him.
He shook his head, but he stood up, pulled out his wallet. Dropped some bills on the table. Then grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s go,” in a voice gone husky with the same desire, the same warmth, the same love, that was filling her up from the inside out.
They took the long way home, Quinn driving them around the lake on his tricked out Harley while she clung to him, her arms wrapped around his waist and her head pressed against his shoulder.
There was a part of her that wanted to stay like this forever, with the wind in her face, the powerful roar of the motorcycle between her thighs, Quinn’s warmth pressed against her from shoulder to thigh. The road he took her on was beautiful. Dark and winding, but gorgeous in the delicate light cast by the full moon shining above them.
She looked up once, saw the stars that hovered in the midnight sky. They were beautiful, bright and glowing and inviting, so inviting. She wanted to reach up and scoop one out of the sky, wanted to hold it in the palm of her hand and bask in its glow. But that was impossible—of course it was—and for the first time she thought of Quinn’s constellation tattoo. Of what it meant. And even as she held him tight, she couldn’t help wondering if he was just another brilliant star she’d never be able to hold.
The thought made her shiver, though the night air was warm around her, Quinn slowed down enough to ask, “Cold?”
She wasn’t, not really, but agreeing was easier than admitting to what had actually made her shake. At least until a few minutes later when Quinn pulled onto the long driveway that led to his house.
“Already?” she asked, feeling like a little girl whose lollipop had been taken from her.
“You were cold,” he said, pulling his Harley into the garage. “Plus, I was afraid your hand would be hurting. You’ve already missed one pain pill.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not.” He pulled her close, then took her good hand and rested it on his very full, very hard erection. “Having you pressed that closely to me was driving me crazy.”
“Oh, really?” she asked, rubbing him gently through the fabric of his jeans. She relished the way his c**k twitched under her hand, his hips thrusting against her in an effort to increase the stimulation. “And what am I supposed to do about this?”
Quinn smiled, and it was his bad-boy rocker smile, the one that had women all over the world throwing their panties on stage and clawing their way through crowds in a desperate attempt to just touch him. “Do you want me to tell you, or do you think you can figure it out?”
“Oh, I definitely think you should tell me. In very specific detail.” She backed her words up with a twist of her palm that had his breath breaking and his eyes going hazy.
She reveled in his response; at least until he leaned down and whispered in her ear exactly what he wanted her to do. By the time he was done, he wasn’t the only one having trouble breathing.
Elise’s whole body was sore and tingly when she woke up the next morning. Not that that was exactly a surprise after everything she and Quinn had done the night before. Still, it made getting out of bed seem particularly uninviting, especially when she had nothing she actually had to do that day. Nothing but figure out what Quinn’s newest prank was—he always pulled them while she was asleep, the coward—and then decide how she was going to get back at him. And she could totally plot revenge while she was lying in bed.
Except the longer she lay there, the colder she became. And when she reached for the covers, she came away with only air. Which was strange enough to have her sitting up, looking around the room. They weren’t on the bed, weren’t on the floor, weren’t anywhere to be seen at all. Which had her eyes narrowing as she climbed out of bed and tried to figure out what was up. Why would Quinn steal her covers? It didn’t make sense. Once she was up for the day, it wasn’t like she needed sheets and a bedspread, right? Unless…