“Enough.” He picked me up and tossed me onto the bed where my body sank into heaven. Fluidity surrounded me, enfolding my skin in cool satin. I fisted my hands in it, suddenly discovering their existence. Why had it taken me so long? Fingers curled, smooth texture clenched in palms—everything exquisite, especially the inflexible expanse of his chest brushing the tips of my breasts.
His breaths whispered across my face, rustling my hair like a summer-laced breeze. My jaw slackened, tongue relaxed against my teeth, and a finger pressed inside. I closed my lips and sucked the salt from his skin. “Mmm.”
“God, I love you so much,” he said.
Soaring at his declaration, my mouth pulled on his finger, drawing him deeper. Tasting. I never wanted to stop tasting.
“No, baby.” He withdrew his finger. With a frown of displeasure, I chased it with my mouth. “Say what I want to hear.”
“Mmm, you taste so good.”
His laughter rumbled like a trombone. “I like you this way.”
“What way?” I almost told him to stop talking and let me taste again, but his voice was a drug I couldn’t resist.
“Higher than Mt. Fucking Everest.”
The curve of my lips felt alluring. “That’s pretty high.”
“Tell me you love me,” he demanded.
I loved everything about him. His taste, his touch, his voice. The way he made me feel, how he openly wore his vulnerability. The way he still loved me, protected me, even after all I’d done to him. Somewhere in the darkest corner of my mind, a siren sounded. A warning. Feeling this way was wrong…but I couldn’t recall why.
“I love you.” My chest squeezed as I uttered the words, and I imagined not only the love in Rafe’s green eyes, but the promise of forgiveness.
The promise of forever.
He smothered my grin with his mouth, and I was pretty sure Mt. Fucking Everest was a speck of dust in my brilliant world.
“I was sixteen the last time I set foot in this cabin.” The door shut behind me with a soft thud of finality, and I turned and faced the stranger who, apparently, knew me better than my own brother. After the things he’d told me about the elusive years my psyche refused to acknowledge, I was beginning to think he just might.
“As far as your memory goes, yeah, but before the shooting, you were living here.”
“Right,” I said with a sigh, dragging a hand through my unruly hair. A sling trapped my left arm, rendering it useless. I wandered into the living room, cursing the huge gaping hole in my life, and studied my dad’s cabin with new perspective. In so many ways it appeared unchanged. Same sturdy furniture, crafted by my grandfather’s hands and worn from many summers of use.
Standing in this place was akin to setting one foot in the present while the other planted firmly in the past. So much remained as I remembered, yet the subtle changes—the uncluttered space, free of Dad’s disorganized, spread-out existence—made my head swim with the evidence of what Jax had told me.
I’d been in prison.
My dad died while I was in there.
And I had no chance at ever fighting again—not in the way I’d dreamed of since I was old enough to throw a punch. Irritatingly, both Jax and Adam remained tight-lipped about why I’d been locked up, but Adam had made that last point abundantly clear; I’d left the world of fighting and had joined him in the family business. I was still trying to wrap my head around that piece of information.
“After your dad passed,” Jax said, halting beside me, “you offered me a place to stay. I’ve been doing the upkeep since.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Things look…different but the same. It’s strange.” I swerved my head toward him and he shrugged.
I moved toward the kitchen and sensed him following my slow steps. The room where Dad, Adam, and I had shared dirty jokes as we ate the day’s catch appeared the same too, though impeccably clean compared to what I remembered. The disorderly array of tackle boxes, fishing poles, and Dad’s overflowing ashtrays and beer bottles were absent. So was the musky scent of smoke. The paddle hanging by the back door was the only notable evidence of him.
An eerie chill drifted over my skin, almost as if someone had opened the door to the dead cold of winter, though the weather was mild for early June. I studied the kitchen table, drawn to it like a magnet, and the feeling I should recall something hit me with such significance, I froze, my feet stuck in place.
Drops of water pooling on the table, tangled hair, wet and wild, rioting down creamy skin. A perfectly round ass, reddened from the slap of wood. I blinked but the weird vision tingled down my spine in an odd way, making my dick stir.
I glanced out the windows and almost expected to see rain pummeling the ground, but the morning was just as clear and bright as it’d been when they released me from the hospital an hour ago. With a shake of my head, I lowered into a chair, being careful not to knock my sling into the table, and smoothed my palm across the course red oak surface, hoping to bring back that niggle of…something.
Jax pulled two beers from the fridge, popped the caps off both, and slid one over to me.
“Isn't it a little early for that?” I asked, gesturing toward the dark ale. It was barely 10 a.m.
“For this conversation?” He raised a brow. “Doubt it.” He turned the chair around and straddled it, and again I willed my mind to reach out and catch a memory.
“Did something happen here?” I gestured to the table spanning the distance between us.
“Lots of stuff happened here.” His mouth quirked into a half smile, half smirk as he tipped the bottle back and took a swig. He set the beer back on the table with a loud clunk. “Look, I said we’d talk once you got out. I know you have questions, so let’s get to it. What do you wanna know?”
That was a fucking loaded question. “Let’s start with why I was locked up.”
“The sheriff didn’t tell you?”
I shook my head, remembering how he’d questioned me in the hospital, as if I were guilty of shooting myself or something. Lyle Lewis hadn’t changed a bit, from what I could tell. His contemptuous attitude really dug under my skin. Fucking ridiculous that the town bully would become sheriff. “He didn’t tell me shit, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about finding the fucker who shot me either.”