Badd to the bone, p.19
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       Badd to the Bone, p.19

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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  I hadn't seen Brock in six months, but I'd texted him a few times, as requested, telling him I was still alive, still in Michigan, and still working on myself.

  I had a month-to-month lease on an apartment not far from where Mom and the girls lived. But I hated my apartment.

  I hated Michigan.

  I missed Mara.

  I missed Badd's, and the brothers.

  And most of all, I missed Brock.

  I'd been totally celibate for the last six months, not even using my vibrators on myself. Total sexual celibacy. It was utter hell...but it was good, too. It made me focus my time and thoughts on what counted: fixing myself, understanding myself, and forgiving myself. Getting to a place, as Dr. Liz said today, where I could be with Brock.

  It was a bright sunny day, warm and beautiful. I had the top and doors off my Wrangler, Sia blaring from the radio, and for the first time in a very, very long time...I felt good. I'd made huge progress today, I could feel it. Understanding that I'd taken on Connor's disapproval--if not downright dislike--of me made it easier to see how I'd gone so long hating myself, refusing to allow myself to have anything good. The moment a guy got too close, he was gone, and that was assuming I even saw him more than once, or bothered to learn his name.

  I drove for a while, letting the sun beat down on my skin, the wind ruffling my hair, big bug-eye sunglasses making me feel glam and gorgeous, one foot hanging out of the doorway onto the step. I let my mind wander, ruminating on everything Dr. Liz had said, everything I'd learned over the past five months with her.

  After an hour of driving, I ended up in the parking lot of a suburban park, watching the kids play, and I realized I was done here. Oh, I'd have Dr. Liz refer me to someone in Ketchikan to keep up with the sessions, since I knew I wasn't done done, but...I felt ready to see Brock. Ready to have a conversation with him, ready to see if he was still willing to explore a future with me.

  I kicked my feet up on my dashboard, pulled out my phone, and called Mara.

  She answered on the third ring. "About fucking time you called me, whore," she teased, joy in her voice. "I miss you so much it's stupid."

  "I miss you too, hooker-face." I heard myself sniffle, feeling oddly emotional. "So, guess what?"

  She hesitated, sounding wary when she replied. "What?"

  "It's time."

  Another pause. "It's time?"

  "It's time."

  "No way." She was still skeptical and wary, not wanting to get her hopes up.

  "Way."

  "When?"

  "Well, I don't have an exact time frame, but soon. Very soon."

  "Can I tell anyone?" Mara's voice was hushed, but was trembling with excitement. "Can I tell Brock?"

  "No!" I shouted. "No. I'm driving there. I'll need the time to figure out what I'm going to say to him."

  "Claire, I--"

  "He's not...he's not seeing anyone else, is he?" I asked, interrupting her.

  "What? Hell no. He barely leaves the bar, these days. Since Zane and I have the warehouse finished, Brock moved from the apartment over the studio into the one over the bar. He works, and he flies."

  "He flies?" I wasn't sure what that meant. "He's always flown. He's a pilot."

  "Well, yeah, but he brought his stunt plane up here, and he's been practicing a lot. If he's not in the bar, he's in the air. And no, he hasn't so much as looked at another woman." Mara hissed. "Shit, shit shit--ow."

  "What?" I asked, panicked; Mara was due any day now. "What's wrong?"

  "Oh, it's just the baby. He's kicking me right in the spleen, and it fucking hurts."

  "You better not have that baby before I get there, bitch-nuts."

  "Well then you better get your tiny ass up here, slut-muffin! I'm about to pop like a champagne bottle. My OB says if I don't go into labor on my own in the next week or so, she wants to induce me, otherwise little baby Badd will be too big for me have him vaginally without increased risk of needing a C-section. Plus, he'd tear me from hoo-ha to hey-ho, and that doesn't seem fun, to me."

  "Tear you what-now?" I asked, faint.

  "Apparently I have a small vagina, despite the fact that the rest of me isn't exactly small, which means a big baby might tear my perineum."

  "Jesus, Mara. That sounds horrible."

  "Yes, it does," she said, her voice far too cheerful. "But that's childbirth for you."

  "Well. On that note, I'm going to let you go. I'll be leaving here in the next few days, so I should be in Ketchikan by the end of the week." I let out a heavy breath. "I love you, Mara. I can't wait to see you, and the others."

  Mara sucked in a sharp breath. We'd toss out love ya, bitch now and again, but that wasn't that same as a heartfelt, insult-free statement. "Claire. Stop. I'm already a hormonal mess. Start in with that shit and I'm gonna be sobbing in about ten seconds."

  "Okay, fine. I take it back. You're probably a fat whale and I hate you."

  She sniffled, laughing. "That's more like it. Get up here. We miss you." She hesitated. "He misses you."

  "Don't tell him. Don't tell anyone I'm coming, okay?"

  "I won't." She sucked in a steadying breath. "Get here soon. Love ya."

  "Bye, Preggo."

  "Bye, Thumbelina." She hung up first, so I couldn't hit back, which made me laugh in affectionate irritation.

  I left Michigan two days later, the few important possessions and bags of clothes packing my Wrangler to the roofline, and it took me four days of driving to reach Alaska; I made it to Ketchikan a little after four in the afternoon on the fourth day. I parked across the street a hundred or so feet down from Badd's. The door to the bar was propped open by one of the tall bar chairs, and Brock was lounging on the chair, his feet hooked around the chair legs, half of a grilled cheese sandwich in one hand, his phone in the other.

  My breath caught at the sight of him, and my heart palpitated. He was more beautiful than ever. He'd bulked up some, his chest and arms looking a bit brawnier, his face fuller. His hair was longer too, as if he hadn't even bothered to have it trimmed since I saw it last. It suited him, the scruffy look. He hadn't shaved in a few days, and the heavy stubble on his jaw was a delicious shadow of masculine hotness.

  He looked...sad, though. He was staring at his phone and frowning, letting out deep breaths every now and then. I wondered what he was looking at, what he was thinking.

  I got out of my Wrangler, stretching and twisting to crack the kinks out of my spine. He didn't notice me. His attention was on his phone, the sandwich in his hand going to his mouth every now and then, his jaw flexing as he chewed. Even his jawline was gorgeous. God, I had missed that man. I had missed everything about him from his hands to his cock. I'd missed...fuck, I'd missed everything. But I was still scared--in fact, I was probably more scared now than ever.

  I moved up the sidewalk in the direction of Badd's, on the other side of the street. I slid my phone out of the back pocket of my jeans and pulled up the text message thread with Brock.

  Hey, I sent.

  I leaned against the railing separating the sidewalk from the docks beyond, the sea at my back, and watched Brock. I saw the moment he got my message; his posture straightened, and he set his sandwich down on his knee, his brows furrowing even deeper, a heavy breath expanding his thick, broad chest.

  Hi.

  I hesitated, thought through a dozen different messages, but in the end, nothing I had to say could be said over iMessage. So I kept it simple.

  Look up.

  His head shot up, and his gaze fixed on me. He didn't react right away, just stared at me almost blankly, as if trying to absorb the fact that I was really standing there.

  And then he shoved the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and washed it down with some beer from a half-empty pint glass he'd hidden on the ground behind the chair. He brushed off his hands and mouth, and stood up, slowly unfolding his big frame. His expression still revealed nothing, which I knew meant he was wary. He glanced both ways for traffic, and t
hen strode slowly across the street, stopping a foot away from me.

  My eyes swam with tears I wasn't ready to let fall. "Hi, Brock."

  His jaw flexed, and his broad chest swelled, sank. "Hi, Claire."

  "Um." I shifted from foot to foot; now that I was here in front of him, I had not a single fucking clue where to start. "Hi."

  An amused grin chased across his features. "We did this already, babe."

  Babe. God, it felt so good to hear that word from his lips.

  "Yeah. I just--I don't know where to start." I sucked in a deep breath, blinking hard.

  "Well, start by answering me a question."

  "Okay." I let a breath out. "Shoot."

  "Are you back?"

  I pointed at my Wrangler, so full of random shit and boxes of knickknacks and bags of clothes that only the driver's seat was useable. "That's mine. So yeah, I'm back."

  He eyed my Jeep, a silly grin on his face. "You bought a giant, tricked-out Wrangler?"

  "What, you think I'd own a...a Camry or Sentra or something?"

  He laughed, nodding his head and then shaking it. "Yeah, no, I can't see you in a Camry. That Wrangler absolutely suits you." He sobered, his gaze flicking back to me and holding there. "And us?"

  "I..." Another stupid tear escaped; now that I was learning to feel and then deal with my emotions instead of suppressing them, I was a lot weepier than I'd ever been, especially when it came to Brock. Anytime I talked about him in my sessions with Dr. Liz, I'd go through half a box of tissues. "If you...if you still feel the way you did before, then...I would--shit, this is a hell of a lot harder than I thought it'd be."

  "Claire."

  I held up a hand, sniffing hard and blinking, staring at my toes in an attempt to get a grip, because if I looked at him too long I'd lose my shit. "Hold on. Just...let me work through this. I'm learning to let my emotions have space inside me. I'm not very good at it yet, but I'm trying."

  "Claire." Again, patiently.

  "I just--I've done a lot of work on myself over the last six months. You're probably gonna hear a lot of therapy lingo out of me, because I've been seeing a therapist." I wiped my eyes with both hands and looked up at him, then back down at my feet. "I'm going to keep going, my doctor down in Michigan referred me to someone up here. I'm still going to be a mess and I'm still working on some things, but I was hoping that if you still--"

  "Claire." Another patient interruption. I heard a grin in his voice, and felt his fingertip on my chin.

  I looked up, met his eyes, saw a world of emotion in them. "I'm trying to make amends here, mister."

  He snaked a hand around my waist, curled his fingers into the small of my back and yanked me up against his hard body. "No amends to make. You needed to figure yourself out. We've got all the time in the world to talk about all that shit." His palm cupped my cheek, his thumb brushing over my lips. "You're here. That's what matters."

  My breath caught again, at the hardness of his body, the strength of his grip, the heat in his eyes, the love written on his face. "God, Brock. I've missed you."

  He laughed, and bent down to brush his mouth against mine, a ghost of a kiss. "I thought about you and missed you every single day. It was horrible."

  I wrapped my arms around his waist, clawed my fingers into the thick muscle of his back. "You remember the conversation we had, about not...about not masturbating?"

  He quirked an eyebrow at me. "Yeah."

  "I held to that."

  "You have?"

  I nodded. "There's been no one else, not even myself."

  He let out a relieved sigh. "Me too, actually."

  "How are either of us sane right now, if neither of us have even whacked off in six months?"

  Brock's laugh was infectious. "I don't even know. I don't think I am, to be honest." His hands rolled over my shoulders, kneaded the back of my neck, and then slid and danced down to my ass. "It's been made worse by the fact that Bast and Dru are like goddamn teenagers, and the walls in that apartment aren't exactly soundproof."

  I couldn't help laughing with him. "Poor Brock. That had to have been torturous." I leaned against him, my cheek to his chest, his heart thudding under my ear; despite his calm demeanor, his heart was hammering as hard as mine. "Can it really be this easy, Brock? I just show up and it's fine?"

  "I've been waiting six months, Claire. It's been hell, I don't mind admitting." His fingers buried into my hair, which I'd let grow, so it was now a little past my jaw. "You're here. You want to be with me. Right? That's what this is, a yes to us?"

  I nodded, stepping closer to him, feeling his erection behind his jeans against my belly. "Yes, Brock. I want to be with you. If you still love me, then--"

  His hands tilted my face up toward his, and his mouth crashed down over mine, his tongue clashed and slashed against mine and over my teeth, and I could only kiss him back with a delighted, desperate whimper. His kiss was a welcome home, and an expression of how badly he'd missed me, and a declaration of how much he wanted me.

  I broke the kiss, gasping for breath, resting my forehead on his chin. "Holy shit, Brock. You take my breath away, you know that?"

  "I missed you."

  "Clearly," I teased, and reached between us to trace the ridge of his erection. "Someone else missed me too, I see."

  "Someone else is fucking dying right now, that's what. Someone else needs you so bad it's not even funny." His hands cupped my ass possessively. "If I wasn't by myself in the bar, I'd--"

  "HOLY SHIT! Is that Claire?" I heard Bax's booming, gravelly, thunderous voice from down the street. "She's back! Hot damn! Maybe now Brock will stop being such a mopey little bitch all the fuckin' time."

  Brock sighed in resignation, but didn't let go of my butt. "Bax, has anyone ever told you that you have absolutely zero tact what so fucking ever?"

  Bax just laughed. "Yes, in fact, they have. Frequently. Tact is for politicians and pussies."

  He stopped beside us, wearing a pair of black track pants and a white wife-beater, a pair of wraparound Oakley's on his face. And holy fuck, if he'd been big before, Bax was positively colossal, now. Every inch of him was packed with heavy muscle, yet as he'd approached us, his step was light and graceful.

  There were shadows of bruises on his face, though, under his eyes, as if he'd recently broken his nose or gotten black eyes, or more likely the latter because of the former, and his nose was crooked from having been broken and reset several times since I'd last seen him. He lifted a hand to shove his sunglasses up on top of his head, and his knuckles looked...rough. Scarred.

  And even though he'd always been the most beastly of the brothers, he was in some ways the most easy-going and playful.

  Now though, he exuded a sense of...I wasn't sure. Threat? Danger? Not the way Zane did--you took one look at Zane and just knew in your bones that the man was lethal; Bax was different--the air around him was one of barely controlled and thinly veiled rage and brutality.

  He scared me, and I don't scare easily.

  Bax's gaze slid from me to Brock and back. He grinned at us. "Go on. Get out of here."

  Brock frowned. "I'm behind the bar tonight. Till close."

  "I know. I'll cover you. Your girl just came back." He wiggled his eyebrows, and then winked. "You gotta get...reacquainted."

  Brock frowned again, brows scrunching, lines creasing the corners of his mouth. "Don't you have a...thing...scheduled tonight?" There was heaviness of meaning to that hesitation.

  Brock waved a hand dismissively. "I did, but the match got rescheduled. Apparently the guy I was gonna fight got into a motorcycle accident, and they can't find anyone to take his place in time. Not anyone that could put up a half-decent fight, at any rate."

  I tilted my head. "What are you guys talking about?"

  "Not important," Brock said.

  At the same time Bax answered, "I'm a prize fighter. Twelve matches undefeated." He thumped his chest with his fists like a gorilla. "They call me the Basher. Beca
use any fucker who enters that ring with me gets fuckin' bashed to shit."

  "Bax," Brock snapped. "Cool it."

  Bax blew a sarcastic raspberry. "Yes, princess, I know you don't approve. Still don't give a shit."

  "At some point, somebody's gonna enter that ring and take you down."

  "I hope so. Winning all the time is getting boring. I could use a challenge." He clapped a huge, hard, heavy hand on both Brock's and my shoulders, angling us toward the bar. "Now. You two go upstairs and get it on like Donkey Kong before you start fucking right here in the street and, trust me, none of us want to see that shit. I got the bar shift tonight."

  "You're sure?" Brock asked.

  Bax whacked his brother on the back a little too hard, on purpose. "What, is this my first day or something? Yes, G-Q, I got it. Go. Diddle your woman while the diddling's good."

  I laughed. "You're out of control, you big dumb ape." I slapped his arm, and it was like slapping the side of a cliff.

  "Why yes, yes, I am." He nodded seriously. "Control, tact, sanity, the Baxter craves not these things," he said, in a truly horrible Yoda impression.

  I didn't need to be told again. I tugged on Brock's hand. "Babe. He said he's got it. Let's go."

  Brock eyed Bax one more time, suspiciously, and then shrugged. "All right. But if you need help--"

  "I won't need help, dick lips." He waved us away in a shooing motion as we paused in the doorway of the stairs leading up to the apartment. "Now seriously get the fuck out of here before I change my mind."

  Brock nodded, and then hauled me upstairs, taking them two at a time.

  I followed him into his room, and he shut the door behind us, locked it, and then twisted to face me, ripping his shirt off.

  I whistled appreciatively. "Damn, baby. Looks like Bax isn't the only one who's been working out."

  He flexed for me, half-serious, half-joking. "Gotta channel my libido into something, don't I?"

  I reached for his fly. "I've got a channel for your libido."

  Chapter 13

  Brock

  My back was against the bedroom door, and Claire was facing me. For a moment, we just stared at each other, sparks of sexual tension flaring between us, but also something else. It was like a Vulcan mind meld--we just totally, completely got each other in that moment. It was powerful, emotional, and completely open and honest.

 
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