Page 11

Author: Cora Carmack

“Shit, Max. Why didn’t you tell me you were hurt?”

Her voice was small and uneven when she answered, “I didn’t think it was that bad.”

It may not have been, but the blood had started to congeal, and taking off the coat was going to make her start bleeding again. She shifted, and even that small movement made her groan. I kept one hand on the collar of the coat and placed the other on her shoulder. “See if you can slip your arms out.”

I tried to keep the garment still, but she winced a few times as she maneuvered her arms free. I guided her to lie down on her stomach on the futon.

She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.

“Just rip it off, Cade.”

I knelt beside her and pushed a lock of hair out of her face. She didn’t look nearly as brave as she sounded.

“As much as I like the idea of ripping off your clothes, I think I’d better not.”

Her cheek was pressed flat against the futon, and she was only at half sass as she said, “Your loss.”

I had no doubt about that.

“Hang on a second.”

Her kitchen was as minuscule as the living room. I started opening cabinets, looking for a bowl. Max said, “You know you could just ask and I’ll tell you where to look.”

“It’s more fun this way. Who knows what I’ll find.”

I found a large plastic bowl, and pulled it down. I turned on the tap and waited for it to get warm. I heard her laugh, and then groan on the other side of the couch.

“I hate to break it to you, but you won’t find any dirty little secrets in there. Expired milk, maybe, but that’s about it.”

I filled up the bowl and found a washcloth in a drawer by the sink. I returned to the living room and asked, “Where might I find some of these dirty little secrets, then?”

She smiled and said, “I’m taking those with me to the grave. Sorry, Golden Boy.”

I folded down the top part of the jacket, and she flinched.


“It’s okay,” she whispered.

It didn’t sound okay. I dipped the cloth in the warm water and wrung it out. I said, “Tell you what . . . I’ll trade you a secret for part of my song.”

I squeezed a little bit of water at the area where her skin met the lining of her coat, and started gently pulling it back.

She said, “Deal,” and then swallowed a groan. I added more water, cleansing the skin as carefully as I could. The more I saw of her back the angrier I became. Her skin was already purpling in places, and I felt each scratch as if it was on my own skin. I inhaled sharply, and it felt like my lungs had been filled with fire. I couldn’t see straight through my rage, and I wanted to go straight back to the bar and find that guy. He wasn’t bleeding nearly enough.

I squeezed the washcloth in my fist and said, “Let’s hear a secret then.”

We both needed the distraction.

She took a deep breath and said, “I was a cheerleader in high school.”



You were a what?”

I always enjoyed shocking people with that, and it helped to distract a little bit from the pain.

“You heard me, Golden Boy. I was a cheerleader.”

His hands paused in pulling the jacket from my back, and I was thankful for the reprieve.

“I’m trying to picture it,” he said. “But I just . . .”

He trailed off and I asked, “What? Can’t imagine me in a cheer skirt?”

“No, that’s an image that I can conjure all too easily.”

“Of course you can. Men.” I rolled my eyes, but I didn’t mind so much. There was something empowering about knowing that I could attract a guy like him. Even if he had no idea the crazy he was getting himself into.

“But seriously . . . a cheerleader?”

That seemed like a lifetime ago. A different me.

I hated thinking about the past. Every time I did, I felt heavy, like gravity had doubled and instead of just holding me to the Earth, it flattened me.

I couldn’t explain why, but the words flowed with him. I said, “I spent a long time pretending to be something I wasn’t.”

He started pulling at the material again, and I could feel the stretch of my skin followed by the trickle of fresh blood. He wiped the cloth over the cut tenderly, but my skin was so sensitive. I tried my hardest to keep from flinching when he touched me, but I failed a few times.

“At least you stopped pretending. A lot of people don’t.”

Had I really? I’d just traded one kind of pretending for another.

I needed a distraction . . . from the past and the pain. I clenched my eyelids closed, and said, “Your turn, Golden Boy. Sing for me.”

He dipped the washcloth in the bowl again, and I listened to the droplets falling as he wrung out the rag. The water was warm and soothing on my skin until he started pulling at the material again. I held my breath, and heard him start to sing.

His voice was strong and clear. He sang quietly, but the deep notes rumbled in his chest, and it gave me chills.

“No matter how close, you are always too far

My eyes are drawn everywhere you are.”

His knuckles brushed my bare back, and my muscles tensed and shivered like a plucked guitar string. My breath caught in my throat, and I barely felt him pull my coat the rest of the way off.

He rewet the rag, and I waited for him to start singing again, but he didn’t. He sponged at one scrape, and then another . . . silent.

“Is that all I get?” I asked. It wasn’t nearly enough.

“As bizarre and . . . stimulating your cheertastic confession was, I’m going to need a little bit more before I start baring my soul.”

I could hear the smile in his voice. The greedy bastard.

I gave an exaggerated sigh. “I can’t think of what else to tell you.”

“I believe the word dirty was thrown around earlier.”

I was unnerved by how scared I was at the thought of spilling my secrets to him. Normally, I could care less what people thought of me, but with him it was different.

“I got my first kiss from my babysitter’s son when I was five and he was seven. He kissed me and then pulled my hair.”

He chuckled, and dabbed at a scrape just above the waistline of my skirt.

“We have different definitions of dirty.”

I smirked and added, “To this day, nothing turns me on more than when a guy pulls my hair.”

There was silence above me, and his hand stilled against my back. I would have killed to see his expression.

He cleared his throat, stood, and put a few feet between us.

“Bandages?” he asked.

I’d reduced him to one-word communications.

“Bathroom cabinet. At the end of the hall.”

I bit down on my lip but couldn’t stop the wide smile that stretched across my face. I told myself that there was nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting between Cade and me as long as it didn’t cross beyond that. Mace flirted with other girls all the time. Neither of us was the jealous type, so it was cool. And Cade would be out of my life after tomorrow anyway.

He took several minutes to return to the living room, and by then I’d convinced myself that being here alone with him wasn’t a big deal. Our kiss wasn’t a big deal. The nauseatingly goofy grin on my face wasn’t a big deal. I deserved to relax and loosen up after the day I’d just had.

It was harmless, really.

“I found some ointment, gauze, tape, and scissors. I figured that would be better than individual bandages, since there are so many scratches. The good news is none of them are very deep. There are just a lot of them.”

“Sounds fine. Now where’s the rest of my song?”

He knelt beside me, and I could just see out of the corner of my eye the way his dark hair fell onto his forehead as he bent over me. I closed my eyes as he began rubbing the cool ointment on my skin.

“About that . . .” he began. “I really don’t—”

“Come on, Cade. A deal’s a deal. Besides . . . I’m in pain.”

I lifted my head a little and gave him my best pout over my shoulder.

He glanced up at the ceiling and shook his head. “You’re dangerous.”

I liked danger. And this . . . this was addictive. Making him want me.

It was because it was wrong, because we were so different, that it felt so exhilarating. I laid my cheek against the cushion and closed my eyes, enjoying the luxurious feeling of his fingers coasting across my back.

“You might as well start again from the beginning,” I said. “So I get the full effect.”

It took a while for him to start singing, like he had to talk himself into it. But when he did, his voice was just as intoxicating the second time around. It was rich and resonant, and it rooted into my soul.

“No matter how close, you are always too far

“My eyes are drawn everywhere you are.”

He paused again, and I thought he wouldn’t go on, but then he pitched his voice higher, and I melted at the sound.

“I’m tired of the way we both pretend

Tired of always wanting and never giving in

I can feel it in my skin, see it in your grin

We’re more. We always have been.

“Think of everything we’ve missed.

Every touch and every kiss.

Because we both insist.


They were only words, but their effect on me was just as strong as the kiss we’d shared earlier in the evening. The anticipation of his touch was almost as exquisite as the contact itself. I had to concentrate to keep from arching up into his hands. He began taping gauze across sections of my back, and I lived for the moments when his finger would smooth the tape down and graze my skin.

“Hold your breath and close your eyes

Distract yourself with other guys

It’s no surprise, your defeated sighs

Aren’t you tired of the lies?”

His volume had grown, and I felt nailed down by his words, trapped by his hands. I knew this song wasn’t for me. It couldn’t be. We’d only met today. But just because the song wasn’t for me, didn’t mean it wasn’t about me.

“Think of everything we’ve missed.

Every touch and every kiss.

Because we both insist.


I could feel his breath against my bare skin as he sang, and my whole body tensed. I couldn’t even pretend I wasn’t affected anymore. It took all my concentration just to keep breathing.

“No matter how close, you are always too far

My eyes are drawn everywhere you are.”

He placed the last bandage, smoothed down the tape, then his finger continued on, tracing the line of my spine. My skin broke out in goose bumps, and I tried to smother a moan into the cushion, but he had to have heard.

“I’m done. I won’t ignore.

I won’t pretend or resist.”

His hand settled at the base of my back. The last line was half-sung, half-spoken, and I was half-mad with desire.

“I want more.”



I was playing with fire, touching her like this. My hand was resting just above the curve of her behind, and I swear she arched her hips back into my palm.

My voice was low and rough as I said, “All done.”

If I were a superstitious man, I would think I’d angered Milo’s alcohol gods because I was having a very inconvenient reaction to our closeness.

I moved my hand, and was ready to make a quick getaway, but she sat up and said, “Wait, let me do you.”

I tried to keep a straight face, I really did. But no male in my condition, whether he’s fifteen or fifty, could hear those words and not react.

She rolled her eyes and said, “Your head, Golden boy. The one that’s supposed to do your thinking.”

God, she was so different from Bliss. I could envision completely how this scenario would have happened with her. It would have started with a lot of blushing and mumbling and probably would have ended with something broken or on fire.