Page 9

Author: Cora Carmack


What was that saying—I could die happy? This was so beyond that. I could never be satisfied. I would always want to kiss her again. She was addictive.


“Okay.” Her voice was thick, raspy, and it only made me want her more. “Point proven.”


I laughed into her neck and nipped the curve of her collarbone. Her back arched, and her breasts pressed deliciously against my chest. She was so responsive. Every time I did something she liked, her nails pressed deeper, and her breath caught in her throat. I wanted to make her do that again and again.


“We have to stop,” she said.


Stopping was about as appealing as a bat to the kneecaps, but I did it. I lifted my head from her neck and looked into her dilated eyes. They were wide with shock or fear or something. Whatever it was . . . it wasn’t what I’d hoped to see in her expression. I stepped backward to give her some space.


Then she slapped me.


The sound of it echoed through the empty street, and it took me a few seconds to feel the sting through my buzz. I’d been slapped twice in my entire life, both of them by this gorgeous, maddening girl. Unlike the last one, this one I deserved.


She was taken. When I wasn’t looking at her, that thought was easier to remember.


I blinked, and turned back to her. She had her hands folded over her mouth in shock. She took a deep breath and said, “I am so sorry. I—I shouldn’t have done that.”


I swallowed and put a few more feet between us. “Don’t be sorry. I deserved it.” Logically, I knew that. But all my body knew was that it wanted to be connected to hers again. I could barely think straight for how badly I wanted her.


“I should go.” I returned to the bar door, feeling like all the good of the day had been knocked loose by her slap.


You’re not that guy, Cade. You practically forced yourself on her.


As I pulled open the door, I heard her ask the bouncer for another cigarette. I forced myself to walk inside the bar, to leave her alone. My track record with girls and alcohol was terrible. But one thought kept plaguing my mind.


She kissed me back.


10


Max


My cheeks burned from the cold, and my lips burned from something else as I lit up my next cigarette.


I hadn’t meant to kiss him back.


I think I’d known before he’d ever touched me that he wasn’t gay, but a small part of me wanted the easy out that that would have provided. I wanted him to walk away because I wasn’t sure I would have the willpower to do it myself.


Then he’d kissed me, and I thought . . . a few seconds wouldn’t hurt. Just to kill the curiosity. Just long enough to blame on the alcohol, then we could pretend like it didn’t happen, and I could stop being fascinated by him.


That had been the plan.


But then his hand had tightened in my hair, and I was swept away by my weakness for kisses with a little edge.


It was why I didn’t normally date nice guys. They were just too tame.


This kiss, though, was a paradox. It was sweet and soft, like I would expect a kiss from Golden Boy to be. But every time I’d thought of pushing him away, there had been something—a pull on my hair, a graze of teeth, a press of his hips—that had frayed my thoughts and kept me kissing him. I don’t know how he managed to be soft and rough at the same time, but I had to hand it to him, it was kind of mind-blowing.


It was also the worst idea since Crocs.


I was with Mace. Or I was supposed to be.


God, I was such a screwup.


Mace made sense for me, and I for him. I just had to remember that.


The slap was an overreaction, but there had been a hurricane of emotion wreaking havoc in my chest—lust and fear and guilt—and I had just snapped.


I fumbled with the new cigarette Benny gave me. If I weren’t careful, it would end up on the ground like my last one.


“Should I be going after that guy?” he asked. “I’m a little unclear on your feelings at the moment.”


Join the club.


“No, Benny. But thank you. He’s just a friend. We’re both a little drunk. Nothing to worry about.”


Except I wasn’t drunk. Not really. I had no excuse other than stupidity for my own behavior. Well, that and how hot Cade was. Yep, we should definitely lay the blame on his hotness.


I looked at my watch and balked, I only had about a minute left in my break. I must have kissed him for longer than I thought. Cade joined the very short list of things in life that had that kind of time-bending effect on me. Or more correctly, kissing Cade joined that list.


Benny said, “I’m going to hit the head. You want me to walk you in?”


I took a deep drag and shook my head. “No, I’m good Benny. I’ll go inside in about a minute. Go ahead, I’ll be fine.”


I stayed by the door, finishing my cigarette. It was a pointless exercise. The slow inhale and exhale was doing absolutely nothing to calm me down. I used my heel to dig at a weed that had sprouted up between slabs of concrete. It was amazing how even in the middle of a city—a world of hard stone and cold metal—something living could overcome the obstacles and emerge to see the light of day.


The heavy metal door swung open again, and I was standing too close. It clipped me in the shoulder, and I dropped my second cigarette of the night as I pitched forward.


An arm caught me around the waist before I hit pavement.


“I gotcha, babe.”


The guy reeked of alcohol. He pulled me up and close to his body. His head was shaved, and he had a few tattoos. He might have been my type on the surface, but his arm was tight around my waist in a way that didn’t feel at all appealing or comforting.


I feigned a smile. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m good.”


His eyes were dark, and they left my face to look down at my body. His hand curved around my bare waist, and his thumb traced one of the lines of my tattoo. “I bet you are.”


The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and time seemed to slow down and speed up at the same time. Blood rushed beneath my skin and roared in my ears.


No matter how many times I felt this kind of panic, it managed to catch me by surprise. And each time, I associated it with the night of Alex’s accident. The fear from now mixed and muddled with the fear from then, and I felt the terror building in my throat. One of my arms was pinned to my side, but I maneuvered the left one between us, and pushed at his chest.


“Let me go.”


His breath was warm and cloying against my face. He jerked me in to him, and it bent my hand back, shooting pain through my wrist. I craned my head around, but the street was deserted, and there was no telling when Benny would be back from the bathroom.


“No need to get upset, dolly. We’re just having a little fun.”


“You’re drunk. And I’m not having fun.” I squirmed and bucked against him. He might have been stronger than me, but I would make it hard as hell to hold on to me. “Let me go, asshole!”


I tried to stomp down on his foot, but I couldn’t get enough leverage to do any damage. I screamed again, and he brought a hand up to my throat.


“Would you stop screaming?”


His hand was big enough to wrap all the way around my neck. His fingers tangled in my hair, and his thumb pressed against my windpipe. I tried to swallow but couldn’t. I choked and slid my hand up to claw at his face. He was tall enough that he managed to stay just out of my reach, and I was left scrabbling at his chest. The door to Trestle swung open, and I tried to scream, but it just came out a garbled mess.


I blinked, and my vision went blurry. Then one black spot appeared, followed by another. My chest felt like it was caving in, crumbling.


Then his hand was ripped off of me. Black converged until I couldn’t see anything, burning air rushed into my lungs, and for a few seconds, I felt like I was underwater. Then the air stopped burning, the black left my vision, and I saw Cade grappling with my attacker.


Cade’s fist connected with the bald guy’s face, and a rush of relief swept through me. I coughed and swallowed down gulps of air.


I dragged myself to my feet, and the world flipped upside down and inside out. The air sang, high pitched and off-key. I took a step, but the ground wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and then I heard sweet-nothings from the asphalt.


“Max!”


I opened my eyes, and the world had rearranged itself. I was on my back, and Cade was kneeling over me. I relaxed. Everything was okay if he was here.


“Max, are you okay?”


I swallowed, and opened my mouth to answer, but something swung and hit him on the side of the head. I gave a strangled scream as my attacker went after a distracted Cade.


I heard a groan, and the sound sharpened my focus. I pushed myself up to a sitting position, and this time I rose slowly. The world wavered, but stayed in place.


Cade was a pretty tall guy, but Mr. Clean had at least half a foot on him. Blood stained Cade’s mouth. That’s what pushed me into motion. My still-lit cigarette that I’d dropped when the door hit me was lying a foot or two away, so I grabbed it. I heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh again, and spun around. Cade was on his feet, but I watched him shake his head and wondered if the world was spinning for him now.


I took my chance and staggered forward. “Hey jackhole!”


Mr. Clean turned and snarled down at me. And I pushed the lit end of my cigarette into his neck. I heard the small sizzle, and his whole body convulsed in an attempt to get away from me. He screamed and shoved me away.


The ground rushed toward me. I knew the most important thing was to keep my head forward so it wouldn’t hit the pavement. I wrapped my arms around my head, and my back took the brunt of the fall. I hit the asphalt and went skidding. Gravel gouged into my bare lower back, and I felt the skin stretch and tear.


“You bitch!”


I forgot about the pain and scrambled backward when he came at me again. I hit the curb just as Cade stepped between us, looking focused once more. The guy swung his right arm toward Cade, who saw it coming and ducked. He wasn’t quite fast enough. My attacker’s knuckles grazed his forehead. Cade’s head rocked on his neck like the least funny bobble head doll ever. My attacker must have been drunk, too, because he swayed on his feet. Cade paused just for a second, shook his head, and then came up, ramming his shoulder into the guy’s midsection.


Mr. Clean stumbled backward, and Cade got in a quick uppercut while he was off guard. I heard the smack of his teeth clacking together, but he didn’t even seem fazed by it.


“Get inside, Max!” Cade yelled.


I didn’t want to leave him. He was looking at me, and there was blood on his face, and my heart felt like it was going to burst wide open.


“Go!”


He was too busy looking at me to see the guy coming. I screamed, “Cade!” and he barely turned fast enough to avoid getting hit. I dragged myself up and ran for Trestle. My hands shook as I reached for the door handle. The metal door felt even heavier than normal, and it took all my strength to pry it open.


“BENNY!”


My throat felt like I’d swallowed burning coals, but I yelled Benny’s name again. The drunken bar-goers looked at me like I was crazy. Some didn’t even register my scream. But I saw Benny shouldering his way through the crowd.


“Benny, hurry!”


I ran for the door as soon as he was close to me.


“What is it, Max?”


I shoved open the door as hard as I could and breathed, “Fight.”


The cold wind was like glass shards against my skin, but I didn’t care. “Cade!”


My attacker was flat on his back, and Cade was on top of him. Both of them were bloodied, but Cade was okay. Really okay if the punch he threw was any indication. Benny charged forward and grabbed Cade by his clothing. He jerked him to his feet, and I cried, “The other one, Benny!”


He looked at Cade for a few moments, and Golden Boy stared back, his jaw set in a grim line. Finally, Benny released him to address the guy still on the ground.

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