Page 13

Author: Cora Carmack


“Max.”


“Oh God,” I whimpered.


His hands traced my jaw, then gripped my face hard.


“Max, are you okay?”


God, yes.


I was so far beyond okay that I couldn’t even string together a sentence.


Hands gripped my shoulders, and the world spun. I opened my eyes, and I was no longer on top. Cade was hovering above me, entirely too far away. I reached a hand out toward his jaw.


That was odd. His stubble was gone. He’d shaved.


I hooked my hand around his neck, and pulled him closer.


He resisted, only for a second, but it was enough to give me pause. I blinked. My mouth was dry, and my head felt foggy.


His eyes were on my lips, and his expression pained. “Max . . .”


He pulled away from me, but I kept my hand wrapped around his neck. His movement pulled me up into a sitting position.


His took me in, and his eyes went dark. He exhaled sharply. “Oh fuck me.”


That was the plan, but his voice sounded strained, not seductive.


He averted his eyes to the ceiling, and plucked my hand from the back of his neck. I pulled my hand free, and let it run down his chest.


He didn’t pull my hand off of him this time, but he said, his voice low and gravelly, “Golden Boy nickname aside, I’m not a saint, Max.”


His body was stiff next to mine. I rubbed at my eyes, and slowly the world started to resurface. I was in my bed. In my apartment. Light filtered in through the window, and Cade was sitting on my bed, fully clothed, staring at the wall like it was Hitler.


Oh holy Hell, I was dreaming. I’d just put the moves on him in my sleep! I covered my mouth with my hand and racked my brain to try to remember if I’d said anything that would give me away.


When the shock wore off, I let my hand drop to my chest, where my fingertips touched bare skin.


I looked down and had to resist the urge to scream.


I WAS NAKED.


Like, gave him a look at my full-tree tattoo, naked.


Like, curl into the fetal position and die of mortification, naked.


I jerked the covers from my waist up to my chin. Beside me, Cade let out a long breath, and his shoulders relaxed.


As calmly as possible I asked, “What is going on?”


Inside, I was anything but calm. Only a sheet and a few measly articles of clothing on his part separated me from him, and my mind was still fogged with dream-induced desire. And to be honest, I was a little offended that he managed to look away.


A small, crazy part of me wanted to drop the sheet again and see how long his resolve could last. Cade pushed himself to his feet, and moved all the way across the room.


He said, “I knocked, but you didn’t answer. I was outside, and I heard you groan. It sounded like you were hurt or sick.” He looked back at me, and now I knew how he’d managed to look away from me . . . guilt. He hadn’t even done anything wrong! I was the one having pervy dreams about him, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. He said, “I swear, the door was unlocked, so I came in to check on you. I swear, I wasn’t trying anything. I’m sorry.”


I wondered if I dropped the sheet now if he would try something. My body was wound so tight, I felt like I’d been dangling off the edge of a cliff for hours. And I wanted him to try something. I shook my head. I was so turned on that just the brush of the sheets against my chest made my breath catch in my throat.


No. Bad Max. You’re with Mace. Focus.


I must have forgotten to set my alarm before I went to bed.


The alarm had been important, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the reason. I looked at Cade, and his eyes focused on the sheet fisted in my hands and held in front of my chest. A chill ran down my back, raising goose bumps. I shifted and may have turned my bare back toward him slightly. I saw his eyes go to the curve of my spine, and he swallowed.


The devil made me do it.


And by devil, I mean my uterus.


He took a step toward me, and I smiled gleefully for a few seconds.


Then I remembered why my alarm had been so important . . . and why he was even here.


Thanksgiving.


Thanksgiving plus my parents.


Thanksgiving plus my parents plus me naked in a room with Cade.


That equaled disaster.


My seduction plan forgotten, I slid off the bed, careful to keep the sheet wrapped around my body. “Shit. What time is it?”


He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Almost nine.”


SHIT.


Right on cue, the buzzer on my apartment rang. I heard my mother call through the door. “Mackenzie, sweetie!”


And then, because I was the dumbass who couldn’t remember to lock her apartment, I heard the door swing open, followed by another “Sweetie?”


It was like one of those God-awful zombie movies, where you can hear them coming and you have nowhere to go. You just have to make peace with getting your brain eaten.


Mom was the zombie, and if she walked in here to find me naked with a boy, even a Golden Boy, both our brains would end up barbecued.


“Um, just a second, Mom!”


Shit. I went to run my hands through my hair, but forgot I was holding a sheet, which then slipped.


Cade made a noise in the back of his throat, and turned away. My hormone-riddled body really liked that sound, but this was not the time!


Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.


I must have uttered at least one of those out loud because Cade said, “It’s okay. I’ll go out and talk with them while you get ready.”


“You don’t understand! If you come out of my room, and then I go take a shower, my parents are going to assume you and I are sleeping together.”


“So don’t take a shower. You look beautiful just how you are.”


His eyes slipped down to take in my sheet, and he didn’t even look sorry. Where had all that guilt gone?


Down girl. Still not the time.


“I smell like smoke and alcohol and sweat, which is just as bad. Plus, bed head looks just like sex hair.”


He stepped up and rested his hands on my shoulders. It was meant to be reassuring, but it was bare skin on bare skin, which didn’t relax me at all. As twisted as it was, something about this whole situation still had me turned on. A small part of me liked that we could get caught, even if there wasn’t really a “we,” and no actual sex had been had.


“I’ll tell them the truth,” he said. “You overslept. I just got here.”


“Yeah. Like they’ll believe that.”


His thumbs stroked my shoulders softly, and my body almost wilted.


“I’ll make them believe. I promise.”


He stepped away like he hadn’t just caressed my bare skin, and I wasn’t naked beneath my sheet. His expression was calm and unreadable. It was like he wasn’t affected at all.


Were some men of a different species? Did they have different DNA that enabled them to be so much better than other guys?


I resisted the urge to drop my sheet again just to get a reaction out of him. I closed my eyes, and nodded. I kept my eyes closed as he slipped out of the room so that I wouldn’t do something stupid. I stood there, frozen and turned on, even after I heard him greet my parents.


It was going to be a long day.


15


Cade


For the second time in this apartment, I had a very awkward problem at a very inappropriate time.


If given the choice between facing Max’s parents like this and jumping into an active volcano, I would have to make a serious pros and cons list.


I took a few seconds to focus, even though I knew a few seconds would never be enough to get the sight of Max out of my head. She was exquisite, and my self-control was a thin line at the moment. Even now, I was fighting the urge to go back in there and kiss her, which was not helping me fight the other problem I had going on.


I shook my head to clear my thoughts, adjusted myself as best I could, and walked down the hall into the living room.


Please God don’t let Max’s mother try to hug me.


Max’s mother gave a shrill squeal when she saw me. “Cade! I didn’t know you were here.”


She was wrestling a turkey out of a cooler, and left it to come toward me for what I could only assume was a hug.


I moved like she was one of the Philadelphia Eagles coming in for a tackle, and darted around her.


“Here, let me get that for you!” I bolted for the turkey in the cooler, and used that as my excuse. I stepped right up to the counter, thankful for the cover that it gave me. When she didn’t call me on it, I breathed a sigh of relief and started trying to free the poultry.


The turkey was squishy and smelled like, well, raw meat. It helped diffuse my issue a little bit.


It was a big bird, and it was a tight fit in the cooler.


Tight fit.


Don’t go there, brain. You were doing so good.


I said the alphabet in my head to distract me as I pried the turkey free. It took a few minutes, but I was almost completely under control by the time I got the bird loose.


“Where do you want it, Mrs. M?”


Mick had just finished piling the last of their things on the kitchen table. It looked like they had brought a whole apartment with them. She grabbed a large pan, and brought it over to the counter beside me.


“Right in here, if you please.”


I did as she asked, then rinsed my hands in the sink.


I still had my coat and scarf on. Time to tell the truth and hope I could sell it. “Mackenzie overslept.” I figured throwing out Max’s real name might help, considering their refusal to call her by her nickname. “I actually just got here a few minutes before you guys.” I unhooked my scarf from my neck, hoping it would lend credence to my story. “She was working late last night, and must have worn herself out.”


Don’t go there either, brain. Focus.


I slipped off my coat, too, and then realized I had no idea where to put it. Did Max have a coat closet? Her parents weren’t wearing theirs. Where had they put them? Our whole story was going to come tumbling down because I didn’t know where to hang my coat. There were two doors that could be closets. Or they could be bathrooms or laundry rooms or who knows what.


“So, Mackenzie is getting dressed now?” Her mother’s brow furrowed, and I imagined her thinking the things Max had been afraid of.


“I think she might be taking a shower, actually. I told her not to worry about it, but I think she wants to look nice for you guys.”


Hopefully she wouldn’t come out in sweatpants or something.


“Do you think she wants to take pictures?” Mrs. Miller’s eyes lit up like Christmas had come early. Ah, well, that seemed to distract her pretty well.


“I think so. It is our first Thanksgiving together, after all. I think it’s something we should commemorate.”


I took a chance and opened one of the doors in the living room. BINGO! Coat closet. Day = saved.


I was sliding my coat on a hanger when Mrs. M attacked me from behind. Her arms went around my middle and squeezed so hard, I thought she was trying to give me the Heimlich.


“I am just so happy you came into Mackenzie’s life. Even after only a few weeks, you’ve had such a wonderful influence on her. She never lets me take pictures of her.”


Well, damn.


Max was going to be furious.


I smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t think I’ve changed her. She was amazing before me, and is amazing now.”


“Mick? Are you listening to this wonderful boy? You could afford to take some lessons from him!”


Mick heaved himself up off the couch and came into the kitchen. “You’re making the rest of us look bad, son.”


“I’m sorry, sir.”


Mrs. M swatted her husband on the arm.


“Don’t you dare listen to him, Cade.”


“Yes, ma’am.”


I sighed. I had a feeling this would be happening a lot today.


I watched Mrs. M putter around the kitchen. I offered to help a few times, but she always waved me off. When she wasn’t cooking, she was decorating Max’s empty apartment. She’d brought throw pillows and afghans and picture frames. I was beginning to understand that Max was the complete opposite of her parents . . . probably because she wanted to be the complete opposite of her parents.

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