His eyes search me a moment before he responds. “Yeah. I get it.” The response is gruff but he softens it by putting stray hairs behind my ear.

Excited by the fact that Gh- I mean Asher will be fucking me again soon has me giddy. Smiling hard at him and squeezing his waist, I ask, “So what are the rules?”

His eyes widen comically as he asks, “There are rules?”

Rolling my eyes at his dramatics, I utter, “Uh, yeah. If we’re going to do this, we both need to be on the same page. So I’ll go first.” I tilt my head and narrow my eyes in thought before I gasp, “No talking about feelings.”

Ash nods his agreement, “Yeah, that shit’s for pussies. Good one. Okay.” He thinks a moment then smiles a saucy smile, “If there’s a door with a lock, anywhere is fair game.”

Leaning back to look up at him in disbelief, I say, “Wow. Um, okay. I’m for it.” I rub his chest absentmindedly thinking, then say, “We can call on each other at any hour. Day or night.”

Kneading my ass with his large hands, he responds, “Fuck yeah. That’s a given.” He looks down at me seriously. “You sure you want to do this, pretty girl? I can be very demanding.”

Scoffing, I reply, “Oh, honey. You have no idea what you’re in for.”

I mentally smirk.

He really doesn’t.

Chapter Fourteen

Skeletons in the closet…everyone has them

Waking with a smile on my face, I squint over at the digital alarm clock. The blaring red numbers flash 5:25am.

I am so tired but deliriously happy. That’s what three orgasms in an hour will do to a woman.

We only arrived home a couple of hours ago. The rest of last night went perfectly. When I say it went perfectly, I mean when Asher and I re-emerged from our sex den, all we had to do was call each other a few choice names while giving each other dirty looks and no one suspected a thing.

At least, I think they didn’t.

Tina looked a little shocked when Ash demanded I wait for him so we can go home together, but when he mentioned that he wanted to check my apartment to make sure it was safe, Tina got all dreamy happy. And I seriously wanted to slap her.

Lola and Trick were wrapped up in each other, being all cute and so them, not even noticing we were gone. Mimi and Nik kept narrowing their eyes at my lips which I’m sure were pink and puffy from the rough kissing during the sexiness, but I just looked at them with a confused expression on my face as if I couldn’t work out what they were looking at. Mimi straight-up frowned at me but let it go. Nik just shook his head as if clearing it.

Score: Nat 1 - the world 0.

We spent the rest of the night talking and laughing at the booth. Max and I were huddled close, flirting and touching. Ash was not happy about that. He didn’t have to say anything. The look on his face was enough to see he was seething. And moronically, it made me feel good to see his jealous side come out. So, of course, I played a little harder. Kissing Max’s cheek and whispering dirty nothings into his ear until around 3am when Ash pulled me up by my arm and announced we were leaving. Not even giving me a chance to give more than a goodbye wave, he dragged me to his hot-as-hell muscle car and helped me in. When I was in and ready to go, he turned his scowling face to me and demanded, “Suck me.”

It starts.

My heart thumped excitedly. Putting on my sexy smile, I unbuttoned his jeans and whispered, “Gladly.”

It was dirty and awesome. There we were in the front seat of his sexy car, in The White Rabbit’s parking lot with his seat pushed back. Me, leaning over the seat to take him into my mouth, my bare ass in the air, a free show to anyone who walked past. By the time Ash was ready to blow, I was ready to blow myself. Through a groan, he said “It’s coming, girl. Where do you want it?”

I didn’t respond, just bobbed my head faster and deeper. He stroked my hair and whispered, “Dirty girl. Fuck. So dirty. You want my load? Take it, baby.” Then he came. With every jerk of his orgasm, warm saltiness filled my mouth. And like the good girl I am, I swallowed it up then wiped the sides of my mouth. Smiling up at him, I returned to my seat, buckled up and off we went. When we arrived home, he didn’t say goodnight, just slapped my ass when he walked by me to his apartment. Twice. Hard.

My face scrunched, I rubbed my sore butt and mouthed Ow at him. He just winked at me then went into his apartment. Now, I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think that was a warning about being too openly frivolous with Mad Max.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face, thinking about when and where the next round would take place.

So now in the wee hours of the morn, I’m wide awake. Well, my brain isn’t but my body is burning. I know we started this affair saying that we could call on each other day or night, anytime, but am I really going to go over there right now?

Yes. The answer is yes.

I throw the covers off smiling like a complete ass and basically run down the hall, only stopping to get the key to Asher’s apartment. I skid down the hall and unlock his door fast as I can, giggling all the way. Once inside his place, I hear moaning coming from his bedroom. I stop in my tracks.

And my heart squeezes.

I’m dead. I’ve died.

My heart kick starts with a vengeance and I storm up the hall and make my way to his room so fucking angry that my heart is now racing. Blood roars through my ears. I won’t ever admit that my heart is silently breaking.

Really? The fucker came twice tonight and he’s already got some floozy in his bed? What an asshole!

Just when I get to his bedroom door and start to open to door, the anger fades. I think for a moment about what this will mean for us if I can’t control my emotions which, funnily enough, was one of my rules in this affair. My heart says don’t do it while my brain screams shame the fucker!

Before I can think too hard about it I throw open the door and switch on the light.

I gasp, put a hand to my chest and step back from this horrific scene.

Oh God, no!

Asher thrashes on his bed, red faced and moaning loudly in pain. His eyes are shut, but they move rapidly beneath closed lids. I don’t know what’s happening here. A sob catches in my throat watching this disturbing mess. He gasps in heaving breaths and shouts out, “No!”

Having had a moment to steady myself, I run to the edge of his bed and try in vain to wake him. With his thrashing, I can’t seem to get close enough to him to touch him. His back arches and his eyes squeeze shut as he bares his teeth. An agonizing gurgling noise sounds from low in his throat before he screams in a childlike voice, “Mom, help me!”

I don’t know what to do. I’m petrified. I’m losing my inner battle to keep calm.

Unblinking, tears rush down my face as I sob hysterically. No longer caring about being hit by his flailing limbs, I grab at his hands and hold them. His foot connects with my stomach and I moan in pain. One of his hands comes free from mine, and he backhands me across the face yelling, “NO!”

I’m too heartbroken by this situation to even shout for him to stop. I sob so hard I can barely get a full breath in. He grips my hair tight and pulls so hard I think he might actually rip it out of my head. I yelp in pain. After a second, his hand comes loose from my hair and he pushes me back hard. I stumble back from the bed and fall flat on my ass with an oomph.

Ash sits up in bed and looks around his room in confusion before turning to look into my eyes. The only thing that can be heard is our combined heavy breathing. His face turns passive as he puffs out heavy breaths. “What are you doing here?” he asks quietly.

Overwhelmed by heartbreak, I sit on the floor, lower my face to my shaking hands and silently sob. I hear shuffling before I’m pulled back into a hard body and wrapped up tight. Asher rocks me and coos reassuring words til I finally settle. The silence is comforting. After a moment, he whispers into my ear, “I’m so sorry, pretty girl. I feel like an asshole. Did I hurt you?”

I feel his shame seeping through him like poison. He obviously has no idea I just went through another Cole moment. Ignoring his question, I whisper back, “What the hell happened to you, Ash?”

Tightening his arms around me, sitting on the cold floor together, he sighs. “They’re dreams. Well, technically nightmares, I think.” He pauses before he corrects himself. “Actually, they’re fuckin’ memories.”

My heart squeezes. The scars. I’m sure this all stems from the scars, and even though I really don’t want to hear it, I think I have to hear it. I think he needs to tell it as much as I need to hear it. I think back to that day at The White Rabbit when he taught us self-defense and what he said to me, “You need to tell them, pretty girl. If you don’t tell anyone about it, it’ll eat away at you. You’ll stop seeing your friends and you’ll stop going out. You’ll be a fraction of the person you were without their support. You’ll lose that fierce about you and just become cold. You’ll become me.”

I guess what they say is true. Everyone has skeletons buried deep in their closets.

Clearing my throat. I ask, “Can you let me up?”

When he releases me, I stand and turn to face him. I hold out my hand for him to take. He stares at my hand, unsure of what to do. Not giving him an option, I reach forward, take his hand and help him up. As soon as he’s up, I wrap my arm around his waist and pull him to his bed. Without asking permission, I pull back the dark blue covers and climb in. I look up at him and pat the free side next to me but he shakes his head. “I can’t fall asleep with you. I- uh- I get violent. I don’t want to hurt you, babe,” he says quietly,

Nodding, I reply, “Okay. We won’t sleep. We’ll just talk.” When his face becomes pained, I amend quickly, “Talk about anything, Ash. It doesn’t need to be anything specific. Maybe I want to know what your favorite cereal is.”

He doesn’t smile but his eyes crinkle. After a moment of stillness, he walks over to the door and switches off the light before climbing into bed. Once he’s settled next to me, I move over to him and lay my cheek on his scarred chest. I wrap my pajama covered leg over his pajama covered leg and sigh. He strokes my hair and asks, “So, I got you, huh?”

Replying with closed eyes, I confess, “Yeah, you got me good, too.”

His kisses my head and speaks into my hair, “I’m so fucking sorry, girl. I don’t remember any of the shit that goes on when the nightmares start. It’s like I’m eight years old again.”

Oh, God.

Eight years old. Something horrific happened to him when he was eight fucking years old. Thinking about Ash as a child and in agony, makes me want to ugly cry, but I hold it together. Instead, I turn my head a little and place kisses on his chest. “So what’s your favorite cereal?”

His body shakes in silent laughter as he replies, “Chocolate rice puffs.”

Smiling into his chest, I tell him, “I’m an original rice puffs kind of girl.”

Body still shaking with mirth, he says, “Good to know.” Then squeezes me tighter.

Enjoying this cuddling session, I’m a little surprised when he asks, “Nat, do you think you could talk to me? About anything.” I lift my head to look into his shadowed face. He plays with my hair and goes on, “I like your voice. It makes me stop thinking.”

My heart swells and I’m relieved that I can do something to help him. Without answering him, I rest my cheek on his chest. “When I was eleven years old, Nina cut my hair into a Mohawk.”

My body bounces on his as he bursts into laughter. He laughs long and hard and I tell him, “Yeah. The faux hawk looks good on you. Unfortunately, not a good look on me.”

I suddenly remember the last time I was in this room: so were my sisters and the girls. It was such a great morning and because of that, it became a great day. Tina came to bring him a present…

“Ash, what did Tina get you for your birthday?”

I feel him shrug as he replies softly, “No idea. It’s still wrapped on the bookcase.”

“Well, that’s a very ass thing to do!” I scoff. Before he can stop me, I’m up and walking over to the bookcase to retrieve the wrapped present. Once I’ve got it, I make my way back to his bed. “Switch on the lamp, will ya?”

With a huge sigh, he turns on the lamp and we’re suddenly illuminated in low light. Smiling, I hold out his gift. “Would you like me to sing for you?” My voice is dead seriousness.

Rolling his eyes, I chuckle as he snatches his gift from my hand and unwraps it. His brow furrows for a moment before his eyes crinkle at the sides and a big smile appears on his face. He turns the bright pink photo frame around to me, and I bite my lip to stop myself from laughing.

Gotta love Tina. She’s the only person who could get away with giving a gift like this without any repercussions. The photo is of baby Tatiana and Asher. Asher lies on his back holding Tatiana above his head. Tatiana fights to come down to his level. She holds Asher’s ears, lowering her head to suck on Asher’s nose. Asher’s profile shows he’s smiling a very sweet, genuine smile.

Sweet baby Jesus. Look at the smile.

Those are some extreme feels.

My heart swells looking at the two of them. He looks so happy. I utter, “She’s so beautiful.”

Nodding, Ash replies, “Yeah, she is. I’d do anything for Tatiana or Ceecee.” Feeling his eyes on me, I look up to find him searching my face. Just before I tell him to knock it off, he tells me, “You’d be a good mom.”

And just like that, my heart goes from swelling to shrinking.

Wearing a tight smile, I move away from him, take the frame and place it on his nightstand. Sitting back down on his bed, I tell him, “I can’t have kids.” Before he can respond to that, I go on, “And that really sucks because I wanted kids. I wanted marriage, kids and two pug dogs named Pizza and Donut. Then we had sex and didn’t use protection. Next thing I know my period didn’t come and I just assumed I was pregnant.” Looking up into his stunned face, I tell him, “Which is cool. I would’ve been fine with that. Actually, once I convinced myself that I was pregnant, I was pretty damn happy about it. I met this doctor in the city and he does an ultrasound, umm-ing and ahh-ing and tells me ‘Sorry, doll. No kids for you.’” I finish with a short humorless laugh.

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