Badd to the bone, p.17
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       Badd to the Bone, p.17

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "You want me to leave."

  I nodded. "It's best, for right now."

  "You're staying here?"

  I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know anything." I tried to stop crying, but couldn't. "I'm sorry, Brock. I'm so sorry."

  He lifted his aviators and slid them onto his face, hiding his eyes. "I just have to say two things, for the record."

  I crossed my arms over my chest, hugging myself. "Okay."

  "One, I want you to know that I think this is complete bullshit. I think you're wrong, and you're just too scared of being abandoned to let me in. And two, I'm in love with you." He kept his distance, hands shoved into his hip pockets. "I told you I'd leave you alone if that's what you really want, so that's what I'm going to do. I'll give you time, I'll give you space. But I think you're wrong. I think you're underestimating yourself, selling yourself short. And me, too, for that matter. But I'm not going to try to talk you into being with me. Either you want it, or you don't."

  I'm in love with you.

  GODDAMMIT. He had to say that? Now? Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Not fair. So not fair. Because I knew I was doing the right thing. If I tried to have a relationship with him right now, it'd be a disaster for both of us.

  But fuck me, this hurt so bad. I couldn't stop crying, and I could tell he was fighting it, too.

  "I'm sorry, Brock," I said, in a broken whisper. "I'm so sorry."

  "Me too."

  "You have nothing to be sorry for."

  He shook his head, but more because he seemed unable to find words. He backed away, heading for the side gate. He let himself out, pausing before latching the chain-link gate behind himself. "This is fucking bullshit, Claire. I hope you know that."

  I shook so hard with sobs that I couldn't stay on my feet. "I'm sorry."

  "I'll wait. You change your mind, you find your way through whatever it is you're going through that you can't share with me, I'll be there on the other side." He backed away another step, digging a set of keys from his hip pocket. "You know where to find me."

  I didn't get a goodbye from him. He didn't look back. He got in the rented Taurus and drove away. He didn't peel out, didn't do anything crazy, but as the back of the car pulled away, I could see his head and shoulders from behind. He yanked his hat off and tossed it angrily, then slammed his fist on the steering wheel a good half dozen times, so hard it was a wonder the wheel didn't break. Then his hand disappeared in front of him. Wiping his face, maybe?

  The idea of Brock crying shredded me. I didn't want this. I'd never wanted this. This was exactly why I never did the emotional connection thing. This was why I just fucked 'em and chucked 'em. No emotions, no mess, none of this bullshit emotional agony.

  Fuck this.

  Fuck Brock for forcing me into this.

  It wasn't just him, though, was it? It was me, too. I let this happen.

  I collapsed into the grass and gave into wracking sobs.

  At some point, Mom found me there, and sat in the grass with me, and her silent presence was almost more than I could bear, but also not enough.

  Nothing was enough. Nothing could heal this.

  And it was all my fault.

  Chapter 11


  What a fucking day. It was well past midnight before I finally made it home to Badd's. I'd had to stop to refuel and to eat. I hadn't been hungry, but I knew I couldn't fly on an empty stomach, so I forced myself to eat a burger and some fries at a diner near whichever local podunk airport I'd stopped at. I wasn't even sure where I'd stopped--I'd been functioning on autopilot, going through the motions.

  All I knew was pain.

  I'd told her I loved her...

  And she'd let me walk away.

  That was all I could fathom. All I could think about, all the way to Ketchikan.

  I stumbled into the bar, haggard, exhausted, and feeling like I'd been beaten up. I made my way to the service bar, where Zane was mixing drinks for Lucian. They both took one look at me and swore, almost in unison.

  "What the fuck happened to you?" Zane asked.

  "She dumped me."

  Zane's eyes went wide. "She...what?"

  "She fucking dumped me. Said she couldn't do it. She didn't deserve me." I shook my head. "I don't wanna talk about it. Just...give me a bottle of something."

  "What's your poison?"

  I shrugged. "Don't fucking care. Something that'll burn this shit out of me."

  "Burn what out of you?" Lucian asked, his voice quiet, his eyes seeing far too much.

  I stared him down, unwilling to let him see how badly I was hurting. "Everything."

  Zane returned with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and a tumbler. I took the bottle, ignored the tumbler, and lurched upstairs. Sinking into the couch, I flicked on the TV, tuned it to something with boobs and explosions on HBO, and set about drinking myself into a stupor.

  I was more than halfway through the bottle when Sebastian, Zane, and Lucian showed up. Zane plopped onto the couch on one side of me, Bast on the other, and Lucian sat on the coffee table facing me.

  "Why the fuck did she break up with you?" Bast asked.

  I peered at him. "Because she's stupid."

  "Brock, come on," Zane said. "This isn't you."

  "Yes it is." I slugged off the bottle, taking three long swallows.

  "You're the smart one, the stable one. You're not the drink yourself out of your problems brother." Bast took the bottle from me, took a swallow, and passed it to Zane, who took a drink and passed it to Lucian, who took two swallows and handed it back to me.

  At which point it was mostly empty, so I knocked the rest out with four long pulls. "You don't know shit about me."

  Lucian took the empty bottle from me and set it aside. "Explain that statement."

  I was fucking hammered, now. I rarely drank more than a few beers or a glass of wine or whisky now and then, and never like this, not after...fuck, I couldn't even think her name.

  Yet when I opened my mouth, words just sort of fell out. "I was engaged, you know. Before I came back."

  All three stared at me.

  "You fuckin' what?" Bast demanded. "Say that again."

  I swiveled my head sloppily around to stare at him, nose to nose. "I...was...en-gaged. Like, gonna marry someone."

  "And you never told any of us?" Zane snapped.

  "Who was she?" Lucian asked.

  I shook my head. "Need more whisky for that question."

  "You've had enough, I think," Zane said.

  "Fuck you, Zane," I snarled. "You don't decide when I've had enough."

  Lucian met Zane's stunned gaze; I never snapped, never snarled, rarely even got irritated. This was a side of me no one had ever seen. Whisky-wasted and heartbroken Brock was a monster.

  Bast stood up, went into the kitchen, and got a bottle of Blanton's from the cabinet over the fridge. He uncorked it and set the fancy cork on the counter, probably so I wouldn't break it. I took a slug of the bourbon, and then another, and finally handed it back to him.

  I heard a door open, and Dru shuffled out of their room, wearing a white button down of Bast's, blinking sleepily at us. "Whass goin' on?" she slurred, still half-asleep.

  "Brother time," Bast said. "Sorry if we woke you."

  She smiled at him, one eye closed, the other squinting. "I woke up to pee and you weren't there." She squinted at me. "Brock? Hi, honey. You okay?"

  I shook my head. "Nope."

  She shuffled to me and pressed a kiss to the top of my head. "I'm sorry."

  "Women are stupid," I mumbled. "You excluded."

  "No, I can be stupid too, and so can men." She turned and shuffled back to the bedroom. "I expect you to be on that couch in the morning, Brock. I want to make you pancakes and give you my stupid woman's opinion on another stupid woman."

  "'Kay." I waited until the door was closed and then eyed Bast. "She's pretty amazing, bro. You got lucky."

  "I married way up, man. I'm a lu
cky fuckin' bastard, and I got no intention of ever letting her go." He slapped my shoulder. "Now. As the ladies say, dish."

  "Dish?" I couldn't remember what that meant.

  Lucian took a pull off the bourbon, and then fixed a look on me. "Talk. Who were you engaged to and what happened?"

  I took the bottle from him and drank until my throat burned. "We trained with the same aerobatics instructor. She was better than me. Better reflexes, a more instinctive feel for things. Just...better than me in every way. Yet she looked at me like I' I'd hung the moon and stars. It was...seeing her look at me that way was like a drug. I couldn't get enough." Another long drink, because this was the second time I'd spoken of this in one day, and that was more than I'd talked about it in a long time. "I wasn't keeping it from you out of, like, spite, I just...I wanted it to be mine for a while. You know?"

  Bast nodded. "I gotcha, bro."

  Zane nodded too. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

  "She crashed," I said. "I watched her crash. I pulled her charred corpse from the wreckage with my bare hands."

  "Jesus, dude," Zane said. "Having been around burned bodies, I know exactly how horrible that is."

  "Her name was Beth."

  Zane lifted the bottle in salute. "To Beth," he said, and then drank.

  Bast and Lucian did the same in turn, and I followed suit, although I didn't say anything. I couldn't.

  "So what are you going to do about Claire?" Lucian asked.

  I shook my head and shrugged. "Hell if I know. There's nothing I can do. She said she just...can't do it. Can't be with me. That she's too messed-up."

  "She has been through a hell of a lot," Zane said.

  "I know, but why can't she figure it out while being with me? I could help."

  Lucian cleared his throat, and we all looked at him. "Sometimes, being alone to figure yourself out is the best thing for everyone."

  "Doesn't feel that way," I grumbled.

  "Of course not," Bast said. "I'm sure that shit hurts."

  "I told her I loved her," I admitted.

  "Damn." Zane clapped a hand on my shoulder. "And she still dumped you?"

  "Yep." I closed my eyes and sighed. "What really sucks is that I can't even wish none of it ever happened, because it was amazing."

  "I wouldn't give up yet, Brock," Lucian said.

  "What if she never figures herself out? What if I...what if she--" I groaned instead of finishing my thought. "Fucking sucks. It just sucks."

  My brothers were around me, keeping me from floating away on a river of whisky. I let myself drift, and eventually I felt hands lower me to a reclined position, and then pull my feet up on the couch. A blanket covered me.

  "You're good brothers," I mumbled.

  A deep laugh. "Shut up and go sleep, you drunk dickhead," Zane said, laughing.

  "You're...dick." I couldn't manage anything else, and then I passed out.

  I woke up to the smell of frying bacon, brewing coffee, and pancakes on a griddle. I cracked an eyelid, and caught an eyeful. Bast had Dru pressed up against the counter's edge, facing away from him, his arm around her waist--and judging by the way the muscles in his arms were moving, he was fingering her. She had her hands braced on the counter, her head thrown back. He was in a pair of gym shorts and nothing else, his tats bathed in the morning light filtering in from the window over the kitchen sink.

  I cleared my throat so they'd know I was awake; the sound of my own voice made my head throb.

  Bast pulled away from Dru and put his back to the counter while Dru rearranged her clothing and emerged from behind him.

  "Hi, Brock." Her voice was far too bright for this early in the morning.

  "Ung," I grunted.

  Bast rumbled a laugh. "Hungover, huh?"

  I managed to pull myself to a sitting position, and immediately regretted it. The world swam, and my head throbbed, and my mouth was full of cotton balls, and I wanted to die. "Shoot me."

  He just laughed. "Nah. We like you too much. How about we feed you instead?"

  I stood up and shuffled into the bathroom for an epic piss, the kind that lasted for a solid minute and required a hand braced on the wall. When I emerged, there was a plate of pancakes and bacon on the table with a mug of steaming coffee. My head throbbed, but my stomach told me to eat. So I sat, and tried a piece of bacon.

  "Crispy, almost burnt," I said. "Perfect."

  Dru laughed. "I had to learn how you Badd brothers like your bacon. I grew up eating it floppy. Meaty, as my dad calls it."

  I shuddered. "That's not bacon, then, that's just a sin."

  "Amen to that," Bast said. "Bacon should be just this side of black, and so crumbly it just dissolves in your mouth."

  "Damn straight." I tried the pancakes, and discovered that those were damn near perfect too. "Jesus, Dru. You do breakfast like a pro. Thanks."

  She plated pancakes and bacon and put it at the place next to me, and then shoved her husband into the chair, pausing to kiss his temple. "My dad is a cop. Breakfast was often the only time I got to see him, so I learned to make breakfast count."

  "I like your dad," I said. "He seems cool."

  She smiled at me. "I like him too. He's actually considering taking his retirement and moving up here."

  "That'd be cool," Bast said. "He have any desire to work in a bar?"

  She laughed. "You know, he just might. Hell, he's spent enough time in bars that he should know the ropes already."

  A few moments later, she had her own plate of food and mug of coffee, and now it was the three of us chowing down in companionable silence. The food was exactly what I needed, reducing the severity of my hangover by several degrees. When we were all done eating, Bast cleared the dishes, poured more coffee, and set another pot to brewing.

  "I hope you don't mind, but I filled Dru in," Bast said to me.

  I shrugged. "None of it is a secret."

  "I'm so sorry about your fiance," Dru said, sympathy in her voice.

  I nodded. "Thanks. It was...the hardest thing I've ever been through." I glanced at Bast. "How I was last night? That's how I was pretty much constantly for a good three months."

  He shot me a look of shock. "You flew like that?"

  I shook my head gingerly. "Hell no. I grounded myself after Beth died. Couldn't stomach the thought of getting back into a cockpit again."

  "How'd you get yourself clear of it? Obviously you're flying again." Bast sipped coffee, tapping the table with a thumb and forefinger.

  "A buddy literally dragged me out of my trailer and into his, forced me to dry out, and then took me to a therapist. I resented it at first and was an asshole about it since I was in booze withdrawal, but I went back the next week, and the next."

  "So a few months back when I was being a dick and said you'd probably been to a shrink, and you said yes, you actually had..." Bast prompted.

  "That was why. I saw Dr. Patel every week for two months. Three months of drinking myself to blackout every single day, two months of sobriety and therapy, and another month of working around aircraft and was a full six months before I could even sit in the cockpit again.

  "When I finally went up, it was in a trainer plane with a double set of controls and my buddy was in the plane with me, and good thing because I had a legit panic attack. I kept seeing Beth's plane go down. Her wing catching mine, toppling and spinning, hitting the ground, and going up in flames. Her body, all--fuck." I squeezed my eyes shut against the memory, felt both Bast's and Dru's hands on my shoulders. "Took me another three months of easing into it before I could fly on my own again. In a weird, freak turn of events, my first performance after her death was on the one-year anniversary of her death."

  "Goddamn, man. That's fuckin' rough." Bast's hand squeezed my shoulder. "Why the fuck didn't you call us in? We're your fuckin' brothers, dude, we shoulda been there for you."

  I shook my head. "Couldn't. At first, I was too ashamed of how clobbered I was getting every single
day, and I didn't want you guys to see me like that. Then it was because I wanted more time to heal before I told you. And then...too much time had passed for me to be like, yo, guys, guess what?" I got up and poured us all more coffee, and then resumed my seat. "After that, I just didn't want to bring it up, couldn't handle the thought of talking about it."

  "I guess I don't blame you," Bast said. "Wish you'd have told us though."

  Just then Zane pounded up the stairs, drywall repair equipment in hand. "I've come up to re-mud those holes our dear idiot brother Bax pounded into the walls a couple weeks ago. They need to be mudded properly before I paint everything." He left the door at the top of the stairs open, and I knew he was listening.

  Dru was eyeing me thoughtfully. "I have a question, which may or may not be out of line."

  I sipped coffee, holding up a hand to forestall her. "I'm not an alcoholic. I chose to drink that way because I didn't know how to deal with Beth dying, and with the guilt I felt even though it wasn't my fault. It was too much pain and I couldn't handle it, so I drank myself stupid. I didn't touch alcohol again after Eddy pulled me out of my trailer, not for--god, how long? Eighteen months? A long time. And when I did, it was with Eddy so he could kick my ass if need be.

  "I was scared of that same thing, that I'd be an alcoholic. But I'm not. I know my limits. I usually don't like drinking more than a few at a time. Being hammered to excess, like last night, it reminds me of that period of time, and I hate that side of myself. I'm a nasty drunk. I like a drink now and again, and I can stop myself whenever I want. Last night was a choice. I guess when extreme pain hits, it's the only way I know how to escape it."

  "Well, thanks for answering my question and being so honest about it," Dru said. "Now I'm going to have a shower and get cleaned up. I'll see you guys later."

  "You lived in a trailer?" Bast asked.

  I nodded. "When I wasn't flying from show to show, I had an Airstream I lived in, hooked up to an old Power Ram. I'd just bum around between shows. I've driven all over this country, and what I haven't driven through, I've flown over--especially in the Pacific Northwest."

  "You still have the trailer?"

  I nodded again. "It's in storage, along with my aerobatics plane." I traced the rim of the mug with an index finger. "It's down in Juneau. I've thought about bringing that stuff up here, using the airport here, spend some time doing the old tricks, and the trailer would come in handy for weekend getaways or something."

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