He opened a dresser drawer, digging through the pile of clothes until he pulled out a long sleeved black T-shirt. “We’re going out. I need to blow off some steam.”

I wondered what had changed his mood and turned him into this closed off version of himself. If he’d slipped up and been with someone, would he tell me? “Where are we going?”

“To the bar. I need a drink.” He tugged the shirt on over his head and sat down on the bed to put on socks and his boots.

I’d never been to a bar. I was of legal age, but somehow it was just one of those things I hadn’t gotten around to yet. The idea of going out with Knox made the skin of the back of my neck tingle pleasantly. “If I go out with you, will you tell me what happened?”

Dark eyes leapt up to mine as Knox finished lacing his boots. “Jaxon got in a fight a school. He f**ked…um, slept with the quarterback’s girlfriend right before the big game.”

“Oh. Did you talk to him, find out why he’d do that?”

“Of course I talked to him. He said the guy was a douche bag and they have gym class together and the guy was always an ass to him. So he wanted revenge. But the team lost their football game because the quarterback was so torn up.”

“And then they fought?”

Knox shook his head. “No. He got jumped. Because once word got out what Jaxon had done, half the school was pissed at him.”

“And the other half?”

“Thought he was a hero.”

Wow. Talk about high school drama. “Is he okay?”

“He’ll live. He’s got some bruises and a fat lip.”

“Is he here?” The nurturer in me wanted to go see if he was okay. Maybe bring him some pain reliever and some ice for the swelling, talk to him about his actions.

Knox nodded. “Yeah, but they’re all in bed early tonight.”

It sounded to me like he’d punished all three boys and sent them to bed early because of Jaxon’s mistake, but I kept my mouth shut, unwilling to question him when he was in such a foul mood.

Knox rose from the bed and stalked toward me. “You ready?”

His plan worried me. Anytime his life got stressful, Knox turned to drinking and sex. I knew they went hand in hand for him. Sudden unease at what the night held in store settled in the pit of my stomach. “I don’t know, Knox. Me? At a bar?”

He shot me a pointed stare. “What do you do to blow off steam?”

Without giving it a second thought, I rattled off my schedule. “Monday night I work at the food bank downtown, Tuesday I visit the youth shelter, Wednesdays I’ve been helping out on a Habitat for Humanity project, Thursdays I go to the Humane Society, and whenever I have time, I serve meals at the soup kitchen. Oh, and Saturday is group.”

He shook his head at me. “My point exactly. Do you even know how to relax?”

I forced the rigid tension in my shoulders to ease. I could do this. And if I didn’t babysit him tonight, who would? “So where are we going?”

We walked the several blocks to a nearby bar, huddled into our coats the entire time. Once night fell, so did the temperature. Drastically. But once we stepped inside the cozy warmth of the tavern, my spirits lifted. Knox led the way to a booth across from the long bar and we sat down facing each other. It felt intimate and foreign being out with him like this, and I liked it. Knox’s eyes remained on mine as I slid out of my coat. He was wearing a dark leather jacket and coupled with the way his long-sleeved tee clung to his broad chest, it made my ni**les tighten and rasp against my bra. My entire being took notice of his –on every level– both emotional and physical. It left me staggering for breath.

“So, are we going to talk?” I asked after several tense moments.

“Drinks first.” His eyes cast over to the bar. “What do you want?”

My gaze followed his. Bottles of liquor were lined up along a glass wall behind the bar, overwhelming me. There were too many choices. “I- I’m not sure.”

“You’ve never had a drink before?”

“I’ve had a drink. But I’ve never ordered something for myself at a bar before.”

“Beer? Wine? Something fruity? I’ll order for you, just tell me what sounds good.”

I chewed on my lower lip. My parents died in a drunk driving accident. I’d never been big on drinking. “Something fruity I guess. But not too sweet.”

He chuckled at me. “Got it.”

A few moments later, Knox returned with a pale pink concoction in a tall glass for me, along with a bottle of beer and a shot of something for himself. He pushed the drink toward me and I took a sip from the straw. Mmm. It tasted like lemon-lime soda and cherries with a hint of something tart. Wait a second. “Is this a Shirley Temple?”

He chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. “There’s alcohol in it.”

“Are you mocking me?” I straightened my shoulders, locking eyes with him.

“Of course not, angel. Drink up.”

I watched as Knox downed the shot in front of him, bringing it to his full lips and draining the glass in an easy swallow.

“Can we talk about what you said at the soup kitchen…about me and you….”

He nodded.

I paused, taking my time. I didn’t know if I was really ready to go there with him yet. I decided on a different question that had been plaguing me for some time. “Knox I know you’ve told me about your addiction, but will you tell me how it first began? I need to understand. How did you get this way?


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