Big badd wolf, p.17
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.17

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "Tired?" I asked, mouthing the word since we didn't have headsets and would have to shout to be heard over the noise of the propellers.

  She just nodded.

  "Where did you sleep last night?" I asked, leaning close and speaking directly into her ear.

  She shrugged, and shook her head. "I...I didn't, really."

  "At all?"

  She just shrugged again. "Couldn't."

  "Well, it's almost four hours or so back home," I said. "Rest."

  She tilted her seat back and closed her eyes, and within a few minutes, her mouth had fallen open and she was snoring, a soft, feminine huff of breath. I watched her sleep, hardly daring to believe she was here. There was so much to say, but I didn't know how to say any of it. I didn't even know where to start.

  She tilted sideways, drifting slowly toward me as she fell into a deeper sleep, and soon her head was resting on my shoulder. She murmured in her sleep, nuzzling closer; my heart twisted into a knot at the soft, vulnerable sound.

  I hadn't slept much myself last night, too worked up, too upset, my mind too occupied by thoughts and plans and fears and doubts and questions to allow for rest. There was no way I was sleeping now, though. I was hyperaware of Joss--her scent, the soft soughing of her breathing. I was hyperaware of the kiss--however brief it had been--she'd leaned into it, clutched at me. Kissed me back. Admitted she wanted to go home. She'd called Dru.

  Did that mean she had changed her mind about us? She'd run away from me, from us, from...everything. But now she was coming back. With me? Was it with me? Or had the kiss just been one of relief? It didn't seem that way, but...she was so hard to read, sometimes.

  I didn't dare let myself hope too much. Not yet. Not until we'd had a chance to talk alone.

  I shoved my hand in the hip pocket of my jeans, fingers toying with the cold jagged metal keys I had. Had I been too impulsive? Was it too much? Should I have done it? had made so much sense at the time, had seemed like the perfect gesture to communicate how I felt. Now, with her beside me, doubts assailed me. Would she be overwhelmed all over again when I told her what I'd done?

  Maybe I'd misinterpreted things. Misread her feelings.

  If she didn't want to be with me, I'd be stuck with the results of my impulsiveness.

  I'd risked everything on this plan, staked my future and everything I owned on it, and now, with Joss beside me, her head resting on my shoulder, I began to wonder if I'd made the right choice.

  It was early afternoon when we landed and taxied to the docks across from Badd's. Joss slept through it all.

  "Joss?" I said, as Brock powered off the aircraft and set aside his headset. "Joss. We're here."

  "Mmmm." She nuzzled closer to me, resting on hand on my chest. "Mmmm-mmm."

  Brock laughed quietly. "Just carry her, bro. She's done for."

  I handed him her backpack, unbuckled the both of us, and knelt in front of her so I could scoop her up. Standing, I edged toward the door. Brock was there, standing half on the dock and half on the float, one hand out to steady me, the other gripping the wing strut for balance. Once I was safely on the dock with Joss in my arms, he shut the door and followed me up to my room over the studio. I settled Joss on my bed and covered her with the blankets; we'd both dried out most of the way on the flight home.

  Brock set the backpack down in the corner of the room, and I followed him out into the hallway.

  "You good, Luce?" he asked in a low voice.

  I shrugged. "I hope so. I guess I'll see."

  He frowned at me, puzzled. "She came back with you. And she kissed the ever-loving shit out of you back in Olympia."

  "Yeah, but..." I shook my head, "she's been so back and forth about her and I, so I just...I have no idea what to expect."

  Brock clapped me on the shoulder. "It'll be fine, Luce. Believe in it."

  "I'm trying."

  "You know, Claire's been seeing a therapist lately? Just kind of working through some of her old shit and whatever. The therapist she's seeing is kinda...out there, if you ask me, but Claire loves her. She rings one of those bowl things before every session and does a lot of guided meditation or regression meditation and stuff."

  I eyed him. "What's this got to do with me, Brock?"

  He waved a hand. "One thing Claire has been talking about a lot lately is how the energy you put out into the world determines the energy you receive back."

  I snorted. "The fuck's that mean?"

  "It means Claire will always be Claire, and you know how she is. It's part of what I love about her, how fierce and fiery and brash and everything she is. But she's been working on being softer, putting out more positive energy, expecting good things out of her day rather than anticipating the negative."

  I stared at him. "It's weird as fuck to hear you talk like this, Brock, I'm not gonna lie."

  He laughed. "It struck me as mystical hoodoo mumbo jumbo nonsense too, but..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Claire has been different since she got into it. It's making a difference. She puts this positivity out there, and it gets to me, and makes me feel the same way, and I just..." He shrugged. "I'm just saying, Luce, try to expect good things, okay?"

  I sighed. "Okay, I hear you."

  He clapped me on the shoulder again. "Hey. It'll be great, okay? She came back with you. That's gotta count for something, right?"

  I nodded. "It does." I shifted, uncomfortably. "Brock...thanks. For taking me to pick her up."

  "It's what I do, man."

  I shook my head. "You didn't have to. So...thanks."

  He laughed as if I'd told a joke. "Luce, dude--you're my brother. You need something, I'm there, man. No question. All right?"

  I nodded. Dropped my voice to a whisper. "I think I'm falling in love with her, man. She was gone for...not even a full twenty-four hours and I just..." I shrugged, unsure how to finish it.

  Brock laughed again. "You think you're in love with her?" He grinned at me. "Lucian, if you only think you're in love, you need to work on being more in touch with yourself or something, bro, because that shit is obvious to all of us. You were a cranky, miserable bastard for three months, man. You were pining! Every time you two were in the same room, sparks flew. But you're so damn aloof all the time none of us could get you to talk about it. You'd just be like, nah, I don't wanna talk about it, and go be all 'elven' and mysterious and shit."

  "It's that obvious?"

  Brock leaned back against the wall. "You've been a different person from the moment she showed up in Ketchikan. You actually show emotion. You speak in more than monosyllables, at least when she's around." He faked a dramatically shocked expression. "You're turning into--gasp--a real person!" He actually said the word "gasp" too, which made me laugh.

  "As opposed to, say, a chocolate lion?" I quoted. Brock just quirked an eyebrow at me. "It's from Madagascar 2. Anyway. What do you mean by a real person?"

  "You've just always been...there, but not really present. You'd pop up during a conversation, say something insightful, and then go back to being aloof and almost invisible. Like...there but not there, you know?" He gestured at the still, sleeping form of Joss, visible through the crack in the door. "She brings you to life, Luce. So yeah, she makes you act like a real person instead of the weird, invisible half person you've been ever since you were a kid."

  I glanced back through the doorway at the curvy profile of Joss, sleeping on her side, facing away from the door, and felt my heart expand and soften and twist all at once.

  "It's scary, Brock." I tugged my hair out of the ponytail and ran my fingers through it. "How much I feel for her, how it's all happened so fast."

  "That's how it goes, man. Claire was supposed to be a one-night stand, except by the time it was morning I realized I wasn't ready to stop being around her. Every moment afterwards, that feeling only increased, until I realized I was fucked. I was done. I wanted her, all the time. It's scary. It hits hard and it hits fast and you just have no way of fi
ghting it." He slugged me on the shoulder. "That's why they call it falling in love, bro--because there's no stopping that shit."

  "Yeah, I think I'm starting to see that."

  Brock shoved me toward the door. "Go be with her, Luce." He walked toward the door, and then stopped and stabbed a finger at me. "Word of advice? Grow a pair of balls and tell her how you feel."

  I nodded, but couldn't find the words to respond. When Brock was gone, I went into my room, closed my door behind me, and leaned back against it, staring at Joss.

  In my bed.

  In Ketchikan.

  I thought I'd lost her. I thought she was gone. It hadn't really sunk in until I was finally alone that night, after she left. And then I'd panicked. I'd lain in bed awake most of the night, realizing that now she was gone how deeply I really felt for her, how badly I wanted her around, how desperately I wanted there to be an us.

  Now she was here and my feelings were stronger than ever, especially seeing her here in my bed.

  She twisted on the mattress, tugged the blanket up around her shoulder, and lay facing me now. One hand was curled under her chin, and her lips were pursed into a little moue.

  God, she was beautiful. Had I ever told her that?

  The camera Eva had given me was in the bag sitting on the floor at the end of the bed. I dug the camera out, acting on some kind of instinct, and flipped it on. I focused on Joss's face, tilting to get the perfect angle. Her face filled the viewfinder, in profile, perfectly lit by a ray of sunshine peeking through a break in the clouds. The golden light illuminated her to perfection, making her glow. I pressed the shutter, adjusted the angle slightly, and snapped another. In seconds, I was lost in the process, capturing her beauty in the moment with as many photographs as I could.

  Her lips, especially, caught my interest. I closed in on them until they became the sole focus, the curves of them an echo of the curves of her body, evocative in some way. Snap snap snap snap.

  "Luce?" I heard her voice, mumbling sleepily. "What're you doing?"

  She'd never called me that before, never used my nickname before. "" I held up the camera. "Taking photos."

  She rolled onto her back, rubbing at her eyes. "Of my mouth?" A small smirk appeared on those lips. "From six inches away?"

  I shrugged. "Yeah."


  I shrugged, unsure how to answer. Instead of trying to explain it, I brought up the last photo on the display, sat on the edge of the bed, and showed it to her.

  She stared at it for a moment, silent, and then her eyes shot to me. "Lucian, that's...that's amazing." She shrugged, and I suspected she was blushing. "It kind of looks like...if you look at it the right way, it kind of looks like a body. Like a woman's body."

  "That's what caught my interest," I said.

  "I had no idea you were a photographer," she said.

  I laughed. "Neither did I, till yesterday."

  Silence. I let the camera hang from my neck by the strap, and held Joss's gaze.

  "How long have I been asleep?"

  "All the way home, and maybe twenty or thirty minutes since we got back."

  Her eyes searched mine. "Lucian, about how I left--"

  I interrupted. "Joss, I apologize. I should have realized. Once you told me, it all made sense, why you were...the way you were. I should have realized and not pushed you so hard. I should have been more careful. Gone slower. You said you wanted to take it slow, and I let it get out of hand anyway."

  She shook her head and put her fingers on my lips. "No, Lucian. That's not what I was saying." She sat up, faced me, sitting cross-legged. "I shouldn't have left like I did. I was scared. I still am scared, if I'm being honest, but I shouldn't have run. I should have...I don't know. Given you a chance, I guess."

  Her fingers were still on my lips, and my hand caught hers, holding her fingers in place, and I kissed them.

  "It's just..." She blinked hard. "I've carried that secret for so long. It hasn't mattered until now, but still. I mean, I was a virgin in high school, as a senior, when all my friends and classmates had been having sex since like sophomore year, if not earlier. But then Mom and Dad died, and I just--and then I met you, and--" She stopped with a bark of laughter. "I'm not making sense."

  "Weirdly enough, I understand what you're saying."

  "You do?"

  I nodded. "When do you tell someone something like that? How do you broach the subject? Especially if you feel...weird about it, or whatever."

  She exhaled shakily. "Exactly." Her eyes met mine. "Lucian, you're not--you're not a virgin, are you?"

  I shook my head. "No."

  A silence.

  "Can I ask you--" She stopped, shaking her head. "No, that's none of my business."

  "How many?" I suggested, and she nodded. "Two."

  "Only two?"

  I nodded. "A local girl in Thailand, and another American ex-pat in a hostel I stayed at in the Philippines." I ducked my head. "Both were sort of but not really...things. Not just a one and one thing, if you know what I mean."

  She sighed. "I get the sense your older brothers are...or, fairly active. Before they got married."

  I laughed at that. "That's an understatement. My older brothers, the oldest four especially, were all major players." I shrugged. "I'm not like that. Never have been. Another thing that sort of made me feel like an outsider, because I didn't have 'game' or whatever, like they did."

  She offered a hesitant smile. "Is it okay if I'm glad you're not like that?" She shifted a little closer to me. "It would make me feel weird if you'd been with, like, dozens of girls and I've never even been to third base."

  "Is it okay that I think it's kinda cute you still refer to the bases system?"

  "How else are you supposed to say it?" she asked.

  I frowned. "Honestly, I don't know. I'm no expert. But that's a good point. That system does allow for easy distinction between levels of sexual engagement." I shot her a look. "And, actually, if that's the system you're using, then you have been to third base."

  "I have?" She seemed confused.

  "Yeah. With me." I cut my eyes away, and then back to hers. "I...we touched each other. You manual stimulation, or something like that, which I think counts as third base."

  "Oh. Right." She let out a breath. "I'm sorry about that. How that ended, I mean. Breaking your nose."

  I gestured to my face--the areas under my eyes still showed hints of the injury, but my nose was as good as new. "I'm fine." I hesitated, and then asked the question on my mind. "If you hadn't--if I hadn't accidentally triggered far would that have gone?"

  She shrugged. "I don't know. I really don't. I'm still..." Joss toyed with a dread, and then looked up at me. "I've wondered the same thing."

  "You have?" I swallowed hard, shifting over on the bed, closer to her.

  She moved aside to make room for me, so we were sitting side by side with our backs to the headboard. "I...I want to get past the triggers." She said this so quietly I almost couldn't hear her. "I don't want him--that horrible experience--to have a hold on me anymore. I want to be able to move past it."

  "How do you do that?"

  She met my gaze, reached down and took my hand. "With you, is what I was hoping." The hope in her voice, painted on her resonated in me, mirroring the tumult of my own emotions. "That is, if you still--"

  I twisted, leaned in, and kissed her, cutting her off before she could finish. It was just a kiss, at first. Slow. Hesitant. Careful.

  "More than anything," I murmured.

  "You don't care that I'm a virgin?" she asked, one hand on my face, her golden-brown eyes hunting back and forth, fear and doubt and hope and desire mingled on her features. "It doesn't...weird you out, or scare you?"

  "I just want you to...I don't want to push you."

  "But" Her voice broke on the word "want" and lifted with doubt and hope on the last word.

  "Of course I do
. So much." I kissed her again, once, carefully. "I want to show you how much, but only if you--"

  She leaned into me, and now she was the one to initiate the kiss. This time, there was no hesitancy. Just hunger. Desire. She pushed against me, tasted my lips with her tongue and then our tongues danced together and we were sliding downward together, and she was rolling to her back and I was levered over her.

  And then I remembered what had happened, and I started to move away.

  Joss caught at me. "Wait." She pulled me back down. "Just...just wait."

  "Joss, I don't want to--"

  She pulled me closer, gazing up at me. "Kiss me like this. Erase that memory. Show me it can be different."

  I palmed her cheek and pressed one fist into the mattress beside her shoulder, not quite on top of her, but almost. Slowly, I moved in until our lips touched, and then I gave her a brush of a kiss, and she moved to deepen it, but I danced away. She laughed, a breathy giggle, and I teased her with another kiss. And another, until we were playing a game of it, her trying to kiss me, and me dodging. And then, tired of the game and eager for my kiss, Joss wrapped my hair around her hand and tugged me down to her and demanded my mouth, kissing me fiercely, moaning as our lips met, whimpering when our tongues tangled.

  Her fingers knotted in my T-shirt, pulling me closer, and so I gave her more of my weight; I hooked my arm under her neck and wedged my body against hers, so I was almost completely on top of her. I cupped her hip in my hand. Her fingers danced up my back, and then down, edging under the hem of my shirt to seek skin. Her hands smoothed up my spine under the cotton, and then she was tearing at the shirt, ripping it off of me and tossing it aside so she could roam my back and shoulders freely.

  We lost ourselves in the kiss, then, and it intensified with every moment, our natural chemistry igniting. I was still trying to keep my need at bay, reminding myself that this was about her, not me, but as the kiss became hotter and hotter, that became a more and more difficult task. Her body beneath me was so soft, so lush, and so tempting, and the more we kissed the more desperate I was to get her out of those layers of clothes so I could see her, feel her...taste her.

  Joss's hands explored my torso, everywhere she could reach, pulling me closer as we kissed so our bodies were lined up perfectly...except for the layers of clothes between us.

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