Big badd wolf, p.4
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.4

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  I nodded. "Yep. That's Claire. She, ahh...her engine revs rather high, it seems."

  Joss just shook her head, and then rubbed her temples with her fingertips. "I was going to ask if I could go up there and be somewhere quiet, but now that they're up there fucking..." she groaned, tipping her head back. "I really need to just sit and be somewhere quiet. I'm exhausted."

  I felt like an ass. She'd already said her day had been crazy long and hard, and she had already fallen into ice-cold water, and now she was struggling to deal with my crazy brothers.

  "If you can brave the outside for another few seconds, we can go to the other apartment." I addressed the rest of the group. "Joss did just fall into the Passage, guys. I'm gonna run down the street with her where it's quieter."

  "Keep one hand on the wall," Bast said. "Super easy to get turned around in shit that thick."

  "We'll clean up here," Xavier said. "You guys go. She's probably crashing after the adrenaline rush of falling in. That can make you even more tired than the shock to the system itself."

  Bax grabbed his coat off the back of his chair and held it out. "You want this?"

  I shook my head. "Nah. It's not that far. Thanks though."

  I led her back outside. "It's literally two doors down," I told her. "So we'll just follow the wall and jog. Ready?"

  She nodded. I put her against the wall, and we trotted down the street. The wind blew the snow in swirling, sideways drifts, turning the snowflakes into a battering ram of icy razor blades, obscuring everything in a wall of white. I felt the brick transition as we passed the travel agency that was sandwiched between Badd's and the studio, and then I felt the next transition, and then the front door of the studio was right there. I shoved the door open, keeping a tight grip on the doorknob as the wind tried to snatch the door away from me. We stumbled inside, mounds of snow drifting in after us, and then I put my shoulder to the door and shoved it closed, falling back against it, out of breath from the effort and the cold.

  "Holy shit," I panted. "Never seen a blizzard this bad in my life."

  "I heard it was supposed to be pretty temperate here," Joss said, shaking snow off her head, her dreadlocks wiggling and dancing.

  "It is, usually. But when people think of Alaska, they think it's like this all the time, but it's really not. I mean, unless you go up near the Arctic Circle, like in Barrow or somewhere way north. But down here? It snows, but not usually like this."

  I found the light switch and flipped it on, revealing the twins' studio--racks of guitars, a stand holding several ukuleles, a banjo, and a mandolin, a drum set, several different types and sizes of hand drums like bongos and cajones and such, a sectioned off, soundproofed isolated recording booth, a high-end mix board, speakers, amps, microphones, a snake pit of cords and wires, concert posters on the walls from Canaan and Corin's stint as Bishop's Pawn as well as newer posters billing Canaan and Aerie as Canary, and a small desk with a pair of mammoth iMacs side by side.

  Joss stared around at all the equipment. "Geez. Somebody must be hardcore into music."

  "The twins," I answered. "They used to be Bishop's Pawn. Now they own their own record label, and Canaan and Aerie tour as Canary."

  Joss snapped her fingers. "That's why they look so familiar! I was sleeping at a bus station a week or so ago, and they had MTV on the TVs for some reason. They were playing a live recording of a Bishop's Pawn concert from like two years ago or something."

  I nodded. "Yeah, they recorded a live concert special from...Atlanta, I think it was? Pretty big deal. Scored them their world tour with Rev Theory." Something she said had me frowning at her. "Wait. Did you say you were sleeping at a bus station?"

  She hung her head. "Shit. Forget I said that?"

  I sighed. "Sure. I did promise no questions." I jerked a thumb at the door behind where there were stairs leading up to the apartment above. "Let's go upstairs. You can crash on my bed if you want."

  I preceded her up the stairs, but the silence between us was thick with the questions I wasn't asking. That slip, added to the way she was dressed when I rescued her from the water, made me think she didn't have a permanent housing situation.

  I showed her my room--it's small, but it's mine. Most of the wall space is covered in bookshelves, stuffed and overstuffed with paperbacks and hardcovers, all well worn and dog-eared. My bed was underneath the window, the headboard something I made myself out of a set of bookcases, two on either side of the mattress and a third set on end horizontally across the top of them, with the books stacked vertically between the shelves in neat rows. The frame of the bed, underneath the mattress, was a bureau, essentially, with three large drawers on each side and two more at the foot, creating enough storage for all my clothes.

  The only decoration in the room aside from the books was a large corkboard nailed to the backside of the door, on which are postcards and photographs from all the places I've been--Hawaii, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Taiwan, and most of the Indonesian islands.

  Joss examined my room--it's a queerly vulnerable feeling, showing someone my bedroom. This is my space, my private haven. It's where I go to be alone--alone time is something I crave, and it is hard to come by with eight brothers and six sisters-in-law, plus a nephew, and my ever-increasing responsibilities at the bar.

  As my brothers settle into life in Ketchikan for what has been just over a year now, several of them have found work outside the bar. Bax has the gym and his growing list of clients, Brock has his air service, flying tourists around the local area and points abroad, the twins have their music, so it's really just Bast, Zane, Xavier, and me running the bar fulltime.

  She shot me a look. "You read a lot, huh?"

  I shrugged. "Yeah, it's my only real hobby. I don't get a lot of downtime from the bar, and what I do get, I spend in here reading."

  "That bar, where we were all eating--you own that?"

  I shook my head. "I don't--we do. My brothers and I. Our grandfather started it, our dad ran it, and then Dad passed a little over a year ago and now we run it."

  She perused the titles of the books--my tastes are broad, ranging from sci-fi to historical fiction to biography and science and mathematics.

  "Little bit of everything, huh?" She plucked one of my favorite biographies on Teddy Roosevelt and thumbed through it. "He was a fascinating guy, Teddy."

  I nodded. "Sure was."

  She put the book back where I had it, and continued her examination. I hadn't closed the door behind us, not wanting her to feel trapped or enclosed or awkward, but she caught a glimpse of the corkboard on the back of the door, and she closed the door to look at it.

  Her breath caught when she saw the huge collage of photos and postcards. "Wow. I mean--wow. You've been to all these places?"

  I nodded. "I started working on a fishing boat when I was...thirteen? The owner, Clint Mackey, was a friend of my dad's, and I was obsessed with his boat from when I was a kid. I'd beg to go play on Captain Mackey's boat whenever he was docked, and eventually he just told me if I'd come help him on the boat after school every day, he'd pay me. So I started cleaning and repairing nets after school, and he paid really well. I worked for Clint for years. I was never a very good student, not because I'm not smart, I was just...I was restless, you know? I wanted to be on the boat. Out on the water. I wanted to fish, not take stupid tests and do homework. I didn't see the point. I'd have just dropped out and worked on the boat fulltime, but my dad wouldn't let me. So he made me a deal--if I got my GED, I could drop out of school and work with Clint full time. So I busted my ass, got my GED in a matter of months, and worked for Clint fulltime until I was eighteen. The day I turned eighteen, I took a berth on a deep-sea fishing boat and sailed away. Never looked back, either, not till I got the email last year about Dad passing."

  "Sorry to hear about your father."

  I let out a breath. "Yeah, it was...I don't know. Unexpected and not, at the same time. He wasn't in good health during most of my life
."

  She looked at me with compassion. "He was sick?"

  I sat on my bed and wondered how much I should tell her. "Um, not sick, exactly." I let out another slow breath. "My mom passed away when I was nine, and Dad was never the same after that. Drank a lot, worked open to close all day every day, and then passed out as soon he closed the bar. After Mom died, my only memories of Dad are of him behind the bar, a drink in hand, watching ESPN, or serving customers. Bast raised the rest of us, essentially. My dad just kind of...checked out. Mom was his whole world, I guess, and without her, he just couldn't cope."

  Joss plopped down on the bed next to me, close but not touching. "So you're an orphan."

  I nodded. "I guess so. Never really thought of it like that."

  Silence settled between us.

  Joss sighed, flipping one end of a dreadlock between her fingers. "I guess we have those two things in common, at least."

  I eye her sideways. "That being what?"

  "No parents and a penchant for travel."

  "I see." I didn't know what else to say.

  She dug in her backpack and pulled out a pink pocket folder full of postcards and travel brochures--I noticed all the locations in her collection were Canadian. She opened the folder carefully--it was soaked from her fall, and everything in it was soft and wet, easily ripped.

  "Dammit," Joss whispered. "It's all ruined."

  I know exactly how important a collection like that can be to someone for whom travel is a way of life. "Not necessarily," I said. "We can salvage most of it." I reached out a hand for the binder. "May I?"

  She met my gaze warily. "What are you gonna do with it?"

  "Blow-dry it."

  She smiled hesitantly. "I guess that could work."

  "I dropped a backpack full of books into the ocean once. I jumped in after it, swam down almost ninety feet before I caught it. I spent hours blow-drying those books to save them."

  I grinned at her, and then carefully removed each item from the binder and spread them out on the floor. I grabbed the hair dryer from the bathroom and brought it into my bedroom, plugged it in, and turned it on. Joss just sat and watched; hope blossomed in her eyes, as I spent the next hour saving her postcards and brochures.

  We chatted as I dried her collection, talking about the places we've been. I told her about adventures from my travels, getting lost on a trip to a temple in Burma, almost getting shanghaied by pirates in Taiwan, weathering a typhoon off the coast of Java. In turn, she told me about walking across all of Canada by herself, and the people she met--long-haul truckers, farmers in their beat up old pickups, kind old ladies who insisted on putting her up the for the night, dodging local police as she tried to find somewhere to sleep. I still didn't know exactly how she lost her parents, or how she ended up walking across Canada or why, and I didn't ask.

  When everything was mostly dry, we sat on the floor and just talked. I think I talked more to Joss in those hours than I have to anyone in my whole life. There's just something about her that drew me in, made me want to hear what she had to say, made me want to share my own stories. Time vanished--we just talked. We talked music, politics, books, movies, our childhoods. The sky outside the window grew dark.

  At some point during the course of the conversation, we ended up side by side on my bed, backs to the headboard, shoulders brushing. Gradually, we sank lower and lower, until somehow we were both lying down. It was comfortable, easy. We just lay there, and we talked to each other. Full night dropped in around us, and my eyes burned with fatigue, and Joss was clearly fading herself.

  There was a pause in the conversation and, for the first time in hours, there was silence between us. It was utterly dark in my room--we never turned the light on, so we'd been talking in the darkness for a while now. I heard her breathing slow down and even out. I felt her twitch a little, toes curling in and relaxing, her thigh muscles where they brushed against mine tensing and relaxing.

  I was utterly comfortable. Relaxed, more at ease at this moment, with this near-total stranger in my bed beside me, than I maybe have ever been.

  The thought made my heart pound.

  Deciding to give her space to sleep so she didn't wake up disoriented and in a strange bed with a strange man, I sat up and twisted my legs off the bed. I felt her hand latch onto my wrist.

  "Stay." Her voice wasn't even a whisper, just a sound so quiet, so sleepy, that if the room hadn't been dead silent I would have missed it.

  "You're sure?"

  She let go of my wrist. "Just don't try anything."

  I lay back down, gingerly. Now that I'd decided to get up, my comfort and ease vanished. I was tense, hyperaware of her presence.

  It took a long time, but I eventually fell asleep.

  4

  Joss

  * * *

  I woke up disoriented. Where was I? How had I gotten here?

  Sleeping on park benches and in bus stations, you never really truly fall asleep, never totally relax your guard, so there's no chance of falling so deeply asleep that you risk waking up disoriented. When was the last time I slept in a real bed? Edmonton? A trucker had taken me from Saskatoon to Edmonton, dropping me off at a no-tell motel sort of place outside Edmonton at three in the morning. The night clerk had seen me get dropped off by the trucker and assumed the worst about me. The jerk propositioned me--a free night in a room if I'd blow him. I told him to go fuck himself and turned to leave, and then thought better of it. I turned around with a proposition in return. I'd work for free cleaning rooms the next day in exchange for a room for the night.

  He agreed because his cleaning lady had quit the day before, and he was facing the prospect of having to make up the rooms himself before he could go home after his shift. I sweetened the deal, telling him I'd stay on for a few days, cleaning rooms in exchange for the room for the night and some cash under the table.

  I did that job for almost a week, sleeping in a room as far from the creepy-ass night clerk as possible, with the chain on the door and a chair propped under the doorknob. I cleaned rooms all day. Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the motel's business was even more brisk during the day than it was at night--mostly cheating assholes meeting their side pieces for afternoon sleaziness, drug dealers selling their wares, and prostitutes selling theirs. Being a place that rented by the hour as well as by the night, I often ended up cleaning the same room several times in a day, which was fine by me, as it meant I got paid. And sometimes, I even got tipped by the patrons.

  That week in the motel outside Edmonton netted me enough cash to get me the whole leg from Edmonton to Prince George. By the time I'd gotten picked up by a kindly long-distance trucker named Mark outside Fort Fraser, my cash was nearly gone, which was the only reason I'd had to accept his charity in the first place.

  I opened my eyes, blinking at the white snow-filtered light streaming in through the window over my head. The bed I was in was distinctly masculine--red-and-black checkered flannel sheets and a down comforter in a black duvet. The pillow under my cheek had a masculine scent--shampoo, a hint of cologne, and just that man-smell, which jarred memories of climbing into Mom and Dad's bed and sleeping between them. Dad's pillow always smelled like the one I was on, and there was something comforting and nostalgic about it.

  Lucian.

  Our hours of conversation last night flooded through me, hours spent pouring myself out to him. I avoided the touchy stuff--Mom and Dad's death, and those hellish weeks and months immediately afterward--but I told him things I'd never told anyone. I shared the small stuff, the minutiae, that in some ways defines who we are as people. I told him about eating a mushroom I found in the backyard as a little girl, and getting so sick I had to be rushed to the ER, about failing English class my sophomore year for refusing to read The Scarlet Letter because I'd found the book unutterably horrible and boring and stupid and irrelevant and hadn't wanted to be bothered with it, which I think the teacher had recognized. I told Lucian about my breakup with my best fri
end my freshman year, how we'd quarreled over a guy we'd both liked, and the fight had spiraled out of control, but by the time we realized how stupid the whole thing was, the damage had been done and too many nasty things had been said to overcome, and we'd never hung out again.

  He, in turn, told me about growing up with seven brothers, being the second youngest, the struggle of being raised by an older brother who was still really just a kid himself, having an absentee alcoholic father. Lucian had idolized his father, until their mother passed, and then his father had shut down and Lucian had been disenchanted, to say the least. He told me a lot about the places he'd seen, how he'd walked across much of southeast Asia by himself, catching rides here and there, occasionally taking a train or bus, working for meals and living on a shoestring, as he called it. While his travels had been voluntary, as in he'd at least had a home to go back to, I still understood him on a visceral level, and he understood me the same way. Unless you've lived a vagabond life, you can't really understand what it's like, and Lucian is the only person I've ever met who genuinely understands.

  I sat up, feeling more rested and refreshed than I had in...god, so long.

  A glance out the window told me the blizzard was still in full force outside, perhaps even worse than yesterday. Snow was piled on the sidewalks several feet deep, and even higher in drifts in some places, and the snow was still flying so thickly the water across the street was totally obscured.

  Looked like I wasn't going anywhere for at least another day.

  There are worse places to be stuck--the thought popped up in my head and refused to go away. I mean, yes...Lucian has been kind. He saved my life, and he let me take a shower and got me clean clothes and fed me, and his family seemed to accept me without question, his brother's pushy interrogation notwithstanding.

  And yeah, none of the Badd brothers were exactly hard on the eyes, Lucian especially.

  God, that man. Those deep, dark, expressive eyes, and his long, thick, wavy brown hair? His features, thin and sharp and otherworldly in their beautiful perfection. He wouldn't need a wig or makeup to play an elf in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings--just give the man pointy ears and he'd be an elf. Orlando who? Lucian was Legolas, but way sexier.

 
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