Badd to the bone, p.15
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       Badd to the Bone, p.15

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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  A sigh. "Yeah, last night was different."

  "She's not home in Seattle and she's not answering me. Her phone is off, and I don't--I don't know where else she'd go."

  "I don't know. Maybe back to Michigan? Now that her dad has passed, it's possible she'd go back to see her sisters. Especially if she's having trouble figuring out what to do about you guys." A pause. "She just...left?"

  "When I woke up this morning she was gone, and her stuff is all gone."

  "Did she leave her running shoes?"

  "No, those are gone, too."

  "Damn. For Claire, home is kind of just wherever her Brooks are."

  "I know." I groaned, rubbing my face with one hand. "This is bullshit, Mara."

  "I'm sorry, Brock. She's going through a lot, and I don't think she knows how to deal with any of it."

  "She won't talk to me. I could help her, even if it was just listening and being there."

  "She doesn't even talk to me about this kind of thing, though, and I'm her best friend."

  "Did she tell you about what her mom told her?" I asked.

  A pause. "Sort of. Just that her parents had lied to her all her life, but she wouldn't talk about what." Another pause, and I heard Mara suck in a sharp breath. "Holy shit. He wasn't her biological father, was he?"

  "Nope."

  "Who was?"

  "A guy named Brennan O'Flaherty. He died before Claire was even born. That's the only reason Claire's mom even got back together with Connor. Claire doesn't seem willing to consider him her dad, anymore. She's just been calling him Connor."

  "Holy shit, Brock."

  "I know."

  "No, you don't understand how bad that's going to fuck with her head. It's going to throw everything she thought she knew about herself into question. We never talked much about this stuff, but I know enough to be certain she has very serious daddy issues. This is only going to compound them."

  "Plus I think she's falling in love with me."

  "Yeah, that's not going to help."

  "No shit," I said.

  Another pause. "You feel the same way?"

  "Yeah."

  "Then you can't give up."

  "She's not making it easy."

  "Nothing about Claire is easy," Mara said.

  "Well...?" I said, my tone of voice making it a joke.

  Mara laughed. "Oh my god, you're terrible."

  "I'm really pissed off at her, Mara. Like, I've never been so angry at another person in my whole life." I slammed back the last of my third cup of coffee. "I'm going crazy. I don't know what to do."

  "Find her."

  "Anywhere else she might go besides Michigan? You guys lived in San Francisco for a long time, didn't you?"

  "Yeah, but I don't know if she kept in contact with anyone from down there. We had a circle of friends, but none of them were, like, real friends. More just drinking buddies, work acquaintances, and such. I don't know of anyone she'd feel comfortable crashing with."

  "I'll have to try Michigan, then. If you hear from her, call me, will you?" I asked.

  "Of course. But Brock, she's my best friend. If she asks me not to tell you where she is, I'm not going to. I hope she doesn't do that, but I can't betray her trust in me."

  "I'd never pit you against her for my sake. She might, though. Right now, I feel like she's capable of just about anything."

  "I know," Mara said. "That's what scares me."

  A terrible thought occurred to me. "She was suicidal once. You don't think she'd..."

  "Fuck me," Mara breathed, but then she hummed a negative. "But no, I don't think she's there. She's not depressed, she's just...scared and panicking and mixed-up. She'd run away where she thought you wouldn't go, wouldn't find her. And if you do find her, she's going to put up a hell of a fight."

  "If I can find her, be face to face with her, I think I can figure this out."

  "I think your best bet is her sisters."

  "Thanks."

  "I want you for her, Brock. I'm really hoping you find her and convince her to give you guys another shot."

  "It's not another shot. Nothing's over. She's just panicking, like you said. I just have to make her see that this is worth it."

  "I know it is for me, with Zane, and this is scary as hell, being pregnant with his baby."

  "You feeling okay, by the way?"

  "Eh. Peeing a lot, hungry all the time, and I can't eat red meat anymore, for some reason." She sighed. "I just get sick thinking of it. It's weird. But I'm craving guacamole like all the fucking time, and I've never liked that stuff until now. Pregnancy is weird."

  "My brother taking good care of you?"

  "The best. He barely lets me out of his sight long enough to wipe my own ass."

  "Good," I said, laughing at the visual of Zane hovering around like a protective mother hen. "All right. Time to hit the skies for Michigan. Again."

  I paid my tab and trotted across the street and up to her building. I buzzed, and buzzed, and buzzed. No answer. I buzzed a different door.

  "Yes?" A gruff male voice.

  "My girlfriend accidentally locked me out of 4-B, I just need to get back in."

  "Oh. All right."

  The door clicked with a buzz, and I went in and trotted up to Claire's apartment. Knocked on the door, and waited, listening. Silence. There was a gap under the door, light shining through from the rare sunny day in Seattle; I didn't see any movement to indicate she was on the other side, ignoring me. I knocked again, and waited some more.

  The door across the hall opened, and an older black woman poked her head out. "Nobody's been there for a couple weeks, so you might as well spare your knuckles, honey."

  "She didn't come home early this morning?"

  "I'm an early bird, been awake since five, and ain't nobody come through. I'd have heard, since these walls are thin as paper."

  I sighed. "Okay. Thanks."

  She closed her door and I left, and took a taxi back to Kenmore. I topped off my fuel tanks and then went through preflight and headed southeast for Michigan. Several hours later, I was in a rental car heading from the Oakland County International Airport in Waterford to Claire's mother's house in Huntington Woods.

  There were three cars in the driveway, and I couldn't remember how many there had been before. I sat in the rental car parked at the curb, trying to figure out what to say, if she was here. Eventually, I knew I would just have to wing it. I climbed out of the car and went up to the front door. Knocked.

  Moira answered. "Hi, oh--Brock? This is a surprise. I was expecting a friend from church."

  "Is Claire here?" I asked.

  Moira shifted her weight to her other foot, clearly hedging. "I, um--"

  I could see past her to the staircase--I saw Claire's overnight bag on the third step from the bottom. "She told you not to tell, I'm guessing, so you don't have to. I see her bag right there. Just...tell her I'm here, please?"

  "She's out running with the girls. They went out after dinner."

  "Can I come in and wait for them to come back?"

  Moira hesitated again. "She's in a difficult place, as I'm sure you can appreciate."

  "I know. But she left pretty abruptly, and there are a few things we still have to talk about. If she won't see me, if she tells me unequivocally that this is really over, then I'll leave. But I need to see her."

  "Okay. Come in, then, and I'll make some tea."

  "Thank you."

  Claire was capable of running well over ten miles at a time, so I knew I had a wait in store. I'd already spent the whole day looking for her, and would wait as long as I had to.

  I settled in at the kitchen table with a mug of powerfully strong black tea, making uncomfortable small talk with Moira.

  Chapter 10

  Claire

  I was impressed with Tab and Hayley. I'd shown up unannounced, and immediately changed into my running gear. Tab and Hayley had begged to go with me, and I'd agreed only after they said they both ra
n a lot of miles together. And so we ran. I set a punishing pace, with my earbuds in and Lemonade on as loud as I could handle it. I'd put in nine miles in record time, and Tab and Hayley had kept pace, although they were both fighting to stay with me.

  I couldn't stop, though.

  If I stopped running, I'd start thinking. And thinking was the last thing I could handle right now.

  I pulled out an earbud and turned back to the girls, who were a few yards behind me. "I'm going to keep going. You guys should go back."

  Tab put on a burst of speed to catch up. "You can't outrun your problems, Claire." She tugged out both her earbuds. "Literally or metaphorically."

  "Yeah, well...I'm sure as hell gonna try." I put my earbud back in and took off, leaving them both behind.

  Funny how well I knew this neighborhood, even after all these years. I could still navigate the twists and turns and know exactly where to go to extend my route by another mile. My feet just...knew. So I ran, and I ran, and I ran.

  The girls were lagging behind now, but they were still following, refusing to give up. And, truth be told, I felt better knowing they were back there. They hadn't asked a single question, they'd just run with me, just been there, and damn if that wasn't exactly what I needed.

  No questions, no interrogations, no demanding I open up.

  Dammit, dammit, dammit--don't go there, don't go there, do not go there. Don't think about Brock.

  Fuck, I just thought his name. His name conjured images of his face, and his hands. Of him, this morning, mostly asleep. How he made love to me. That's what it was, too. I had to admit it. I couldn't deny it. He'd made love to me. Soft and sweet and slow, sleepily, clutching at me, moving with me in perfect sync. Thinking he was dreaming.

  God, I hated myself. I fucking hated myself for how I'd handled that. I was a goddamn coward. A pussy. I'd let him think he was dreaming, and I'd taken the goodbye pleasure I'd needed and had run off in the early hours of dawn. But...I didn't know how to figure it out. I couldn't do it. He was falling in love with me, and I didn't know how to love. I knew I was feeling the same way but...I just couldn't. It was too scary. Too much. Too hard.

  And he didn't know about the other things I wanted, sexually. How much I wanted him to spank me and bite me and tie me up and do all sorts of dark, dirty, bad things. I didn't even really understand why I wanted that stuff, why I craved it. A psychologist would probably trace it all back to Dad--to Connor, and all that, but I wasn't interested in psychobabble analysis. Fuck all that.

  But I wanted it. I wanted him to put his big strong hands around my throat and squeeze while he fucked me and I wanted to come when he let go, gasping for air as I exploded around him. I wanted to be tied up at his mercy. I wanted...fuck. I wanted too much, and he was too pure, too good. He liked sex; he was amazing at sex. He knew how to read my body, how to touch me, how to make me come. He was so generous, always making sure I came before he did, usually two or three times. He liked to fuck me everywhere. He was adventurous, but not...kinky.

  And I am.

  And also...love?

  That was too much.

  I was running all-out, full-on sprinting. I wasn't even aware of where I was, just that I was panicking, my legs pumping crazily, lungs burning like fire, breathing ragged, heart slamming so hard it was dangerous. I realized I was on my mom's street, nearing the house. I pushed myself as hard as I could, and when I reached the mailbox, I slapped it as I let myself stumble to a stop, gasping, hands on my knees, chest heaving. A full two minutes later, Tab and Hayley arrived at a much slower pace, sweaty and gasping.

  "Damn, Claire," Tab said. "You finished that entire last mile at a seven-minute pace."

  Hayley just stared at me.

  When I could finally stand upright and breathe somewhat normally, I realized there was a newer model Taurus parked at the curb that hadn't been there when we'd left for the run.

  "Whose car is that?" I asked.

  Tab and Hayley both shrugged.

  "I don't know," Hayley said. "Mom mentioned she had a friend coming over today."

  I sighed in relief. I couldn't handle Brock. I'd burst into tears and probably slap him and be angry and say a bunch of hateful shit I didn't mean, simply because I didn't know how to handle his overly emotional bullshit. Not when I was as fragile as I felt at the moment.

  I followed Tab and Hayley into the house, wiping sweat out of my eyes with the back of one wrist. I heard Mom say something to my sisters as I moved through the den toward the kitchen. The next sound I heard was the three of them speaking softly and then the front door slammed shut.

  The kitchen table was in the corner, so when you walked in from the den, you had to turn to see it completely. Which meant when I walked into the kitchen and went straight for the fridge for a bottle of water, I didn't stop to look at the table, to see who was there with Mom. I just assumed it was Mom's friend.

  I twisted the top off the bottle and braced one hand on the edge of the sink as I drained half the bottle, still fighting to breathe normally.

  Mom had gone silent, and so had her friend.

  My skin crawled, suddenly, the back of my neck tingling, my spine going cold. Goosebumps broke out over my skin.

  No.

  NO.

  I turned.

  "Have a good run, Claire?" Brock asked.

  Fuck, he was hot. I couldn't help but notice, appreciating the faded, light-wash blue jeans, combat boots left unlaced so the tops slouched open and the hems of his sort of but not really tight jeans sagged into the opening of the boots. A plain black V-neck T-shirt, tight and stretchy around his perfect body, highlighting his rippling abs and thick pecs and broad arms. He had a faded, dirty yellow baseball cap on, a black patch on the front with "PIPER" in white embroidered lettering, the bill curved just enough, and a pair of aviators hanging from the V of his shirt.

  His eyes burned into me, mocha brown, pissed...and deeply hurt.

  Fucking gorgeous.

  My throat seized.

  My hands started shaking.

  "Brock." My voice sounded...tiny, and as scared as I felt. "Hi."

  "Hi?"

  He stood up, and I realized exactly how big and strong he really was, and how tiny I was in comparison. I wasn't afraid of him, but--oh hell, yes I was; not physically, I knew he wouldn't ever hurt me, but--shit. I was just scared.

  "Hi?" he repeated, stalking toward me. "After the way you ran off, that's all you have to say?"

  I stood my ground. "Don't. Just don't, Brock."

  He tilted his head to one side. "Don't what?" He stopped when barely an inch separated us, and I had to stare up at him. "Don't be pissed at the cowardly way you left? Letting me think I was dreaming? Letting me wake up and find you gone? I've spent most of the day in the air, trying to figure out what I could have done differently, and I--I can't come up with anything. I'm so fucking angry, Claire."

  "We're not doing this."

  "Yes, we fucking are," Brock snarled.

  The bitter, shaking anger in his voice rattled me to my core. I shrank away from him, curling into myself at how angry he sounded. Brock was even-keel, always. He was unflappable. He never freaked out. He never got angry. He was the most stable person I knew, which was part of what was so attractive about him to me--I could always count on him to be just...him. Cool, calm, collected, and beautifully handsome no matter what.

  And now he was so angry he was literally shaking.

  "Back up, please," I said. "You're scaring me."

  He ground his jaw, but didn't back off. Instead, he grabbed me by the hips and lifted me off the floor, sitting me on the counter. He took my jaw in one hand, pressed my head back against the cabinet, and he kissed the ever-loving hell out of me. His grip on my jaw was a vise, painful. I relished the pain of his grip, succumbed to the kiss, to the brutality of it. There was no love in the kiss, only claiming. Domination. Punishment.

  It turned me on so hard I felt my pussy gush with damp hot need, clenc
hing in anticipation.

  He didn't disappoint. Brock reached down and yanked my tiny blue Spandex running shorts down around my knees, rolled up my pink running bra. He had his jeans open in a flash, and then, before I could so much as suck in a breath, he was slamming into me. He filled me in one hard, rough thrust, driving his cock into me to the hilt, so hard I gasped. He palmed the back of my neck with one hand, grabbed my wrists in the other and pinned them against the cabinet over my head.

  Oh...oh fuck.

  He pulled out slowly, until I thought I was going to lose him, and then he fluttered a few times, short shallow teasing nudges, and then...he fucked me. He drilled me so hard it hurt, and his grip on my wrists was painful, and his hand on the back of my neck was fierce and harsh, keeping my head tilted back so I was forced to look up into his eyes.

  "Look at me, Claire," he snarled.

  "I am," I whispered.

  He pulled out again, and this time he fucked me even harder, no warning, no teases, no making me come first, just a wet pounding of his cock into me. God, so good. The pain told me I was alive, that this was real. His anger was terrifying and his power was delicious. The dominance was intoxicating, so deeply, intensely heady that I could barely breathe for the perfection of this. His cock filled me so beautifully, the powerful thrusts so hard and rough and brutal and unflinchingly possessive that all I could do was wrap my legs around his waist and accept what he was doing to me.

  His hand left my neck and cupped my breast, then he pinched my nipple with throbbing, piercing power to the rhythm of his fucking, and the harder he pinched the higher and hotter the pressure inside me built. I wanted to touch him, I wanted to flick my clit, I wanted to kiss him--but he would allow none of that.

  I struggled against his hold on my wrists, and knew that he wasn't letting go. So I thrashed as hard I could, genuinely struggling to get free, tugging against his hold as hard as I could, with all my strength. I growled like an animal, snarling and raging, my hips writhing helplessly and furiously against his pounding thrusts. I craned my neck, stretching toward him, trying to get my mouth on him, my lips, my teeth. I'd bite him, I'd kiss him, I'd lick him, but he stayed out of reach. I thrashed, and he held me in place. He pinched my nipples, one and then the other, so hard I squealed from the pain of it, and yet the pain only made me fuck him back even harder, and he felt it, he knew it.

  I growled in my throat as he fucked me, and I couldn't help but stare up at his unflinching gaze, and couldn't help the anger that flashed through me, the hate, the self-loathing, the pain, the hurt, the confusion, and everything else inside me that was all too tangled up to name or sort or understand.

 
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