Big badd wolf, p.16
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.16

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  Big Mama Thornton tossed the cigarette out the window.

  "I'm pickin' up a load in Olympia," she told me, "so think on what I told you till we get there."

  I stared out the window, turning the events of the last few months over and over in my head.

  Forty-five minutes later, Big Mama Thornton brought her truck to a stop at a red light just off the exit from I-5 heading toward Olympia. "Best place for us part ways is right here," she told me. "You figure out what you're gonna do?"

  I opened the door and climbed down. "I'm gonna go back," I said. "I just have to summon the courage to call him."

  "Smart girl." She glanced at the light as it prepared to turn green. "Good luck to you, Joss."

  I smiled at her. "Thanks, Big Mama."

  She tipped an invisible cap, and then waved at me. "Safe travels, girlie."

  "You too." I closed the door as the light turned green, and stepped off to the side of the shoulder.

  The tractor-trailer groaned away with a roar and a belch of diesel exhaust, and I was alone again. Traffic whooshed past me, wind from their passage buffeting me.

  Analysis paralysis--overthinking my situation...that's exactly what I've been doing. But the thought of calling Lucian and saying...what? Hi, I want to come back, can you come get me? Yeah...no.

  I started walking again, my eyes burning from exhaustion, legs aching, feet throbbing, stomach rumbling. I didn't have a destination, other than to find somewhere to sit down, get some coffee, and summon the courage to call Dru.

  That was the smart angle, I decided. I wasn't ready to face Lucian. I'd dropped a bomb on him, two bombs, actually, and then bolted. He was probably angry at me. He probably wouldn't want to see me, not after the way I'd jerked him around and then run off. But I was tired of running. Big Mama was right--I just had to do something. If I wanted to ever open The Garden, I would have to settle somewhere and work at making it happen. It had been a pipe dream for so long, nothing but an ephemeral sort of idea, a nebulous, far-off goal, meant more to keep myself moving than anything else. Now? It was more real. An actual possibility. I'd worked an hourly wage job for three months and had more money saved than I'd ever possessed in my life. I had no idea how much it would take to actually buy or rent a space, much less all the equipment and shelves and books and everything I'd need to make the store a reality, but...if I ever wanted to actually do it, I had to just...do it.

  No more running.

  As for Lucian? Well...I wasn't sure what to do about him.

  First things first--coffee.

  I walked until I started seeing gas stations and restaurants. When I passed a cafe on the same side of the road as I was on, I went in, sat at a table and ordered coffee and breakfast. As I waited for the food, I sipped coffee--nowhere near as good as Dru's--and stared at the cell phone Dru had given me. I woke it up and read for the hundredth time the contact information on the screen:

  Dru Badd; 907-445-5555; When you're ready to stop running and come HOME, call me. Xoxo. Dru.

  She'd used a photo of herself as her contact info photo--it was her in the kitchen, cup of coffee held up in one hand, flashing a thumbs-up with the other, smiling a wide, goofy grin.

  Come home.

  Ketchikan was home.

  The Badds were home.

  The Badds were family.

  Lucian was...god, what I wanted him to be scared me so deeply my mind and heart just recoiled from even thinking about it.

  Before I could second-guess myself, I hit the dial icon, held the sleek device to my ear, and waited through two rings, my heartbeat pounding as if I'd sprinted up a flight of stairs.

  "Hi, Joss," came Dru's voice.

  I choked on a sob. "Hi."

  There was nothing but sympathy in her voice. "I don't know when the last time you heard this was, but--speaking solely for myself here--I love you, Joss Mackenzie."

  Any hope I'd had of retaining some semblance of dignity vanished. "Y-you--you don't..." I breathed in slowly through my nose and exhaled shakily from between pursed lips. "You don't even know me."

  "Sure I do." I heard noise in the background, voices and chatter and laughter, all of them familiar enough that I could identify the owners--Bax, Eva, Zane, and Mara. "You're Joss Mackenzie. You're an orphan who used to be homeless. You're a hard-ass, a tough-ass, a badass, and if you don't tell me where you are so I can get you home where you belong, a dumbass. You're beautiful, you're a hard worker, and smarter than you give yourself credit for. You resort to sarcasm when you feel on the defensive, and everything makes you feel defensive. But you belong with us."

  I took a sip of coffee to buy time--it didn't make any difference. I was still crying too hard--again--to speak clearly. "I hate you."

  "I think you pronounced 'love' wrong, babe," Dru said, laughing. "And listen, it's just me you're talking to, here, okay? No pressure, nothing to be scared of. Regardless of what else may or may not happen in your life, I'm your friend."

  "Why?"

  "Why?" Dru echoed. "What do you mean, why?"

  "I lived in your house for three months. I'm just some orphan girl who fell into the water near your bar. I'm no one. So yeah...why?"

  "Hell if I know," Dru said. "I'm not a psychologist, so I can't explain why we click with certain people and not others. I just like you, okay?"

  "Lemme see that," I heard Bax say in the background; there was a muffled shuffle, and then I heard his voice on the line. "Yo, Joss, whassup my girl?"

  "Hey, Bax."

  "So here's the scoop, a'ight? People click or don't click for a very obvious reason, psychologically speaking. I took a class on this shit back at Penn State, and I remember the basics. It works like this. We recognize something in a person that resonates in our psyche--something familiar that makes us feel comfortable, or something opposite that attracts us--or the reverse, for the same reasons. This works for friendships as well as romantic relationships. So, we see something in you that makes our heads, hearts, and souls go 'fuck yeah, bitches, this chick is cool! Let's be friends!' and it's really that simple."

  I couldn't help a laugh. "Is that right?"

  "Sure is, princess. I'm a smart mothafuckin' meathead, you feel me?" I heard his voice go distant again. "There. Fixed it."

  Dru laughed louder as she took the phone. "Ohhh, Bax. You're something else."

  "He sure is," I heard Eva say. "And that's why I love him so much!"

  "Yeah, there's that," I heard Bax say, "but Eva, darlin', you love me for my really, really, really huge--"

  "BAXTER!" Eva shrieked, laughing in embarrassment.

  "I was gonna say heart, honey," Bax said. "You love me for my really, really, really huge heart."

  "Well, you are a big softie, underneath that brawny exterior," Eva said.

  "And also my cock." Bax, of course, got the last word. "You also love me for my enormous and talented penile appendage."

  I heard Eva groan. "You're impossible."

  "And incorrigible," Bax added. "Don't forget incorrigible."

  I was laughing--I couldn't help it. They were just...ridiculous. Always funny, always entertaining, and just...impossible not to like.

  "So." Dru said, serious now. "Are you ready to come home?"

  I'd gotten my tears under control, but her use of the H word brought them back out. "Yeah, I think I am."

  "Send me your location."

  "Ummm..." I snagged a menu and read the address off the front.

  Dru whistled. "Olympia? You went a ways in a short time." She laughed, then. "I had actually meant ping me your location from the messaging app, but an address'll work. I'll just find you on Google Maps." Dru was quiet a moment, thinking, and then I heard her snap her fingers. "I've got an idea. Just sit tight, okay? Stay where you are. We're coming to get you."

  I frowned, though she obviously couldn't see me.

  "I'm hundreds of miles away. How are you going to just come and get me?"

  She just laughed. "It'll be more fun if
it's a surprise. So just stay there."

  "For how long?"

  "A few hours?"

  A moment of silence passed between us, in which Dru was obviously waiting me out, knowing I had something to say.

  "Dru?" I asked, my voice querulous.

  "Mmmm-hmmm?"

  "Lucian...do you think he...I mean, do you think there's a chance--" I couldn't get any more out.

  "Joss, my brother-in-law is so in love with you he doesn't even know which way is up, or what to do with himself. It may take some finagling to get him to admit that to himself much less to you..." Dru paused, and I could hear the shrug in the texture of the silence. "But I think if you work at it, if you're honest and courageous in your vulnerability, you'll discover something amazing waiting for you on the other side."

  "Honest and courageous in my vulnerability," I repeated. "I don't even know what that means, what it looks like, or how to do it."

  "Simple, honey. You just trust him. Give him your heart, and give him a chance to show you who he is and what he's got."

  "Oh." I swallowed hard. "That sounds...terrifying."

  She chuckled. "Oh, it absolutely is. But it's also totally worth it." There was a commotion on her end of the line. "Oh, good, Brock is here." To me, then. "I've gotta let you go right now, so I can arrange to get you home. Just stay where you are and one of us will call you when it's time"

  "Okay," I whispered.

  "Bye, honey."

  "Bye, Dru."

  So just like that...I was going home.

  About four hours later the cell phone--my cell phone, I supposed it was--rang, startling me. It was Brock Badd, a photo of him in a cockpit of a plane, headset on, aviator glasses on his face, the world spread out underneath him making it obvious the selfie had been taken when he was upside down.

  I swiped the tab to answer it. "Hello?"

  I heard a blast of white noise in the background, and then a familiar voice that sent a warm current through me. "Joss?"

  "Yeah, it's me."

  "This is Lucian."

  "I know," I said. "You think I wouldn't recognize your voice?"

  "I--yeah, I guess you would. I dropped my phone in the water when I was getting into Brock's plane," he said. "Which is why I'm calling you from his phone instead of mine. Just, you know, so you know."

  I'd never heard him making small talk before. "Lucian, are you...rambling?"

  He cleared his throat. "No?"

  "You are. You're rambling."

  A brief silence. "Can you get to the Swantown Marina Seaplane docks?"

  "Um. Is that in Olympia?"

  "Yeah. It shouldn't be too far from where you are. A cab or an Uber or something could get you there."

  "I...um...I can figure it out."

  "You're sure?"

  "Yes, Lucian. Remember, I did manage to navigate my way across Canada...in case you, you know, forgot."

  "We should be landing there in...how long, Brock?" A muffled answer I couldn't make out, and then Lucian's voice again. "About thirty minutes or so."

  "And you're coming by airplane?"

  "Seaplane, actually."

  "How...how will I know it's you?"

  Lucian laughed. "Oh, you'll know. It's a giant red-and-white twin-prop seaplane, with 'Badd's Air Taxi' written in black letters across the side. Hard to miss."

  "Oh."

  "See you soon?"

  "Yeah," I said. "I'll see you soon."

  I ended the call, more nervous now than ever. I paid my bill and left the cafe, bringing up a map of Olympia on the cell phone. I managed to acquire walking directions from the cafe to the seaplane docks and set out, trying not to think too hard about the fact that I was about to see Lucian in about thirty minutes.

  What would I say to him?

  Should I apologize for freaking out? Did he really, actually want to see me?

  God, my head was a mess. My heart was squeezing and hammering, and too many thoughts were buzzing in my head like moths trapped in a lampshade.

  I followed the app's directions to the marina, my anxiety increasing the closer I got to the docks.

  God, I didn't know whether I was coming or going, which way was up--

  I had no idea what I really wanted.

  Or maybe I did, but I was scared to let myself even admit I wanted it.

  I reached the seaplane docks in a little under half an hour and stood watching the skies. The sky was overcast and heavy, leaden, threatening rain. I heard a buzzing in the distance, but couldn't find the source. Thunder clapped. Raindrops pounded on me, spatting on the docks. The buzzing grew louder, and then I saw the aircraft heading toward the docks, nose up, going what seemed to be way too fast. I watched, my heart in my throat, as the huge red-and-white seaplane settled with precise gentility into the waters of the bay, throwing up a white spray from the floats. Then it taxied slowly away from the middle of the channel toward the dock.

  By the time the seaplane arrived where I stood, I was soaked to the bone, the rain having arrived in earnest, hammering down in thick sheets. There was nowhere to take shelter, so I just stood and waited, growing colder and wetter by the minute. When the aircraft thumped to a halt, I was so nervous that I was nauseous.

  What would I say?

  What would he say?

  Oh god, this was so dumb. This was a mistake.

  He opened the passenger side door and climbed down onto the float and then to the dock, ducking his head as the rain battered him. He ran toward me. I was frozen, paralyzed, motionless.

  He stood in front of me, soaked to the skin. "Joss."

  I swallowed hard at the sight of him--tall and lean, long hair slicked wet against his back, a plain white T-shirt pasted to his skin, showing his hard muscles. His eyes searched me. What was he hoping to find?

  "Lucian, I--" My voice cracked, broke. "I--"

  "Do you want to come back to Ketchikan?"

  I could only nod.

  He took a step closer, so only inches separated us. "And...and me?"

  I gazed up at him, my heart pulsing in my throat. "And you?" I asked, my voice barely a whisper.

  "Am I...are we...?" he trailed off, wiping rain off his face with one hand.

  "Are we what, Lucian?" I couldn't lift a hand, even though I wanted to.

  I was afraid of letting myself want him, letting myself give in to the desire, until I knew how he felt. I could keep myself shut down if I didn't let myself want him. I could skate through life around him, but not with him, if I didn't allow how I really felt about him to come to the surface. If I kept it tamped down, shut off, the furnace of desire cold, I would survive, if he didn't want me.

  He searched me with his piercing brown eyes. "Fuck it," he murmured.

  And then he kissed me. His hands seized my waist, hauling me up against his body, and I felt his heart slamming in his chest as hard as mine was, and I felt the trembling in his fingers as they clutched at my back. His lips were firm yet soft, crushing against mine as if helpless to stop himself from this.

  A heartbeat...two...

  And then it all came crashing through me.

  Everything I'd been shoving down, denying, bottling up. All the need, the desire, the hope...

  That sharp hot piercing...need for Lucian. For everything he was. The need to understand him. To know his foibles, to know his mood, to know his body, to possess his heart, to pierce the mysteries of his personality. The need to know he was mine and I was his. To know we belonged to one another.

  All of it came crashing through me all at once.

  I lifted up onto my toes, my arms encircling his neck. I leaned into him, pressed my breasts against his chest and my hips against his, pressing our hammering hearts together. The kiss became a sob, as the full onslaught of emotion hit me, and Lucian pulled away.

  "Joss?"

  "I want--" I choked on a sob and started over. "I want to go...I want to go home."

  He held my face in his hands. "Home?"

  "With y
ou."

  He sagged against me, cradling my head under his chin, wrapping me up in his arms. "Thank fuck."

  Lucian scooped me up, backpack and all, and carried me to the seaplane. He set me down and held my waist in both hands as I climbed from dock to float, and then from the float into the cabin of the seaplane.

  Brock was waiting for us in the seaplane, sitting at the controls, headset on, one hand on the throttle, the other holding his cell phone. He had a goofy grin on his GQ-worthy, Hollywood-handsome face, staring at his phone screen. As I slipped to sit behind the copilot seat, I saw why: Claire had sent him a nude selfie, which I caught a glimpse of--it wasn't just a nude, either, but an...erm...action shot, shall we say. I looked hastily away, and Brock jumped, startled at my presence, and fumbled with his phone, clicking the lock button.

  "Joss, hey." He wasn't blushing, exactly--men that gorgeous didn't blush, I was pretty certain--but he did seem at least mildly embarrassed. "You--uh...you didn't see anything, did you?"

  The interior of the seaplane, originally meant for cargo, I surmised, had been converted to hold seating for passengers, and the walls had been insulated against noise and cold. There was a partition between the cockpit and the passenger area that could be closed, if needed, but it was open right now. I buckled up.

  I managed a genuine smile for Brock. "Did I see anything? What would I have seen?"

  He chuckled. "Right, exactly."

  I winked at him. "She's beautiful, Brock."

  "I know." He gave Lucian a thumbs-up when he tossed the line off and climbed in. "Okay, kids. Let's go home."

  Lucian took the seat beside mine, buckled up, and met my gaze.

  As Brock taxied back out into the middle of the channel and prepared to take off, Lucian glanced down at my hands, folded in my lap, and extended one of his hands.

  I gave him mine, and he threaded our fingers together.

  "Let's go home," Lucian whispered.

  13

  Lucian

  * * *

  Joss squeezed my hand so hard during takeoff I thought she might break bones, squeaking in fear as our floats left the water. I didn't blame her; taking off from the water in a seaplane was a vastly different experience from taking off from a runway in a 747. Once we were airborne, however, she immediately relaxed. Within minutes, her eyelids were drooping.

 
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