I reached out and tugged on her arm, bringing her against my chest. Her hands rested on my shoulders, and I stiffened under her touch. Though I no longer needed the sling, my shoulder still ached.
“Nikki…” I licked my lips, tantalized by the thought of losing myself in her, and I almost forgot she was eight years older from the last time I saw her. The last time I fucked her. I tilted my head, closing the distance between us, and moved in for a taste of something I hoped would bring back a spark of sanity to my life.
She gripped my shirt. “What are you—?”
“Shut up and fucking kiss me.”
Nikki stared at me for a few seconds that beat in my head like a gavel. She deliberated, indecision warring on her face—in the squint of her brown eyes, the downturn of her lips. All at once, she met me halfway, open-mouthed and as far from shy as I remembered. Her tongue thrashed with mine, trying to get the upper hand until she gave in. She always gave in. I gripped her hips, pulled her into the hard ridge of my jeans, and the whimper that escaped her throat told me all I needed to know.
I could conquer her right now, in broad daylight as the occasional car rolled past, and she’d let me. I lowered my zipper, pushed up the flirty skirt that hugged her ass too tightly, and wound her strong legs around my waist. We swayed for a moment, both hanging on until we regained balance. I was a moment away from tugging her panties to the side and thrusting into her, except something about this didn’t feel right—beside the fact it was an insane, irresponsible public display of indecency. In my gut, it felt like a betrayal to someone else.
Our mouths disconnected, and her legs slid down my jeans slowly. My chest rose and fell in rapid succession, matching the movement of hers. I wiped the sweat from my brow and returned her perplexed gaze.
“I’m sorry.” I gestured to the ring on her finger. “You’re engaged, and I’m…” I paused long enough to yank up my zipper. “Really fucked up in the head.”
She smoothed her hair, patted down her skirt, and stood up straighter. “You’re not the only one. I kissed you back.”
“I guess we have unresolved issues,” I said, waving a hand between us.
“Our issues were forgotten a long time ago.”
“Nothing seemed forgotten when I had your legs wrapped around me. Except for the last eight fucking years of my life, that is. What happened to us?”
“You went to prison!” She stumbled back, still fidgeting with her clothing. “That’s what happened. Doing this again, it’s too painful.”
Angling her head downward, she tried to hide her sorrow. “I’m glad you don’t remember, Rafe. That place did something to you.”
“I can’t stand the blankness.” I pointed to my head. “There’s nothing here and it’s driving me insane. I’m imagining all sorts of things. How could I have gone away for that?” I swallowed hard. “Do you believe I did it? Did I do it? Please, just tell me.”
She covered her trembling mouth with a hand and shook her head.
“You do, don’t you? You believe I raped her.”
“No!” She closed her eyes. “I’ve never doubted your innocence. I just…can’t. You shut me out eight years ago and I refuse to open myself up to that again.”
“No, you need to hear me. When you got out and came back home, I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. But then we talked, and I put up the biggest front of my life. You didn’t even blink. It was obvious you’d moved on from us, and you definitely didn’t kiss me. I tried to let you go, Rafe. But seeing you now, it’s like seeing the man you were before those bars closed on you. What happens when you remember?”
“I don’t know, Nik, but being with you is the only thing that feels…normal.”
She shook her head. “I won’t be your crutch. You’re just turning to me because you’re scared.”
“Who says I’m scared?”
“Please. I know fear when I see it.” She jumped into motion and stalked past me in the direction of her house. As she climbed the stairs, I stood on the side of the road feeling like an idiot who couldn’t break an old habit.
Fuck it. I went after her, feet pounding the ground as I covered the distance. I bolted up the staircase and shot out a foot to keep the door from closing at the last second.
“We’re not done.”
“Move your foot.”
“No!” I shoved the door until it gave. Feeling like a Neanderthal, I forced my way into her foyer. She could run from me in public, but not here in her own home. “All I’m asking for is—”
She wasn’t alone.
Jax stood in the middle of her living room, barefoot, his mural of tats disappearing from view as he pulled a shirt over his chest. His jeans hung open in the front. It wasn’t his state of undress that bothered me as much as the guilty expression on his face.
Zach’s psychological warfare took a toll on my entire being. I often lost hours while he forced my body and spirit into an uncontrollable pleasure zone. Maybe I’d retain a small amount of sanity if my memory would only disappear into that dark hole.
But it didn’t. I always recalled the total mind-fuck he put me through daily. Time soared past, as if it had wings, and while on the ecstasy, I not only believed I had wings, but I used them to fly. It was ironic, really. Zach drugged me because he thought doing so would bring me back to him, but when I was high, I fell into an alternate reality where Rafe was still alive for a few precious hours.
The crash back to Earth never failed to gut me. I stared at the waterfall in horror, unable to stop shuddering. Thick foliage protected us from discovery, but that rush of water, toppling over rocks and crashing below, threatened to pull me into its depths. The thought was irrational, yet every bone in my body believed the lie—the facade my phobia enforced.
It wasn’t that long ago that Zach had laid me near the ledge, lifting the skirt of my dress up past my breasts. I’d been so high on his reality-altering cocktail, I’d opened my mouth to catch the spray misting down on us, unmindful of the threat that existed only a few feet away as he’d hunched between my spread thighs and feasted.
Again, some sick and twisted part of my psyche had believed it was Rafe. Maybe it was my subconscious tricking me in order to cope. All that remained was shame. Sadness. Sorrow that ran so deep, my muscles ached with it. I tried to hide my pathetic state from Zach, knowing how my tears pissed him off. He expected the old me—the girl who clenched her jaw and took his cock like a trooper—not this blubbering, serotonin-depleted shell of myself who pretended he was another man to keep from wanting to slit my wrists.