Big badd wolf, p.5
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.5

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  I mean, his name was Lucian, for god's sake. How cool was that?

  Why did my pulse thunder just thinking about him?

  The entire time we'd been talking last night, I'd been tempted to hold his hand, which I'd refused to let myself do. I'd also wanted to trace those sharp, high cheekbones with my fingers, and the line of his lips. I'd found myself wanting another look at him without his shirt on.

  None of those thoughts were even remotely like me. I wasn't that type of girl, and my life didn't lend itself to idle, unproductive nonsense like being attracted to guys. Surviving took every ounce of energy and every second of my day, and I didn't dare trust anyone that far. Not with my body, not with my safety.

  I'd learned that the hard way, and wouldn't be making that mistake again.

  A lesson I'd do well to remember around Lucian. Just because he seemed nice, seemed kind, didn't mean he was. It's possible that he might expect some gesture of gratitude from me at some point, the way some guys seem to expect something in return. Granted, I'd learned to trust my gut when it came to which trucks to get into--one look at a guy, and I could reliably tell if I should trust him. I'd also learned the hard way to trust my gut, and that I was never wrong about men.

  Lucian was the real deal--that's what my gut told me. His brothers were the real deal, too. His sisters-in-law, well...I had no real, recent experience with women near my own age. Should I be their friend? I wanted to be; they all seemed like smart, sophisticated, fun, funny, cool girls, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, that made them as intimidating as hell. How could I measure up? I wasn't educated like they all seemed to be, and I certainly couldn't match Eva's flawless fashion sense, or Claire's brutally blunt and hysterical humor, or Dru's easy, competent grace, or the twins' effortless sense of worldly cool, or Mara's fiercely feminine aura of strength.

  Ugh. I'm falling into my own head.

  My stomach rumbled, shaking me out of my thoughts. There was no clock in the room, which didn't surprise me, as Lucian probably used his phone for an alarm, if he needed one at all. I had no concept of what time it was, not with the sun obscured, but judging from how stiff I was as I got out of the bed, and how hungry I felt, I suspected I'd slept really late.

  I went across the hall and used the bathroom, and then made my way out into the living room, where I was greeted by a sight that stopped me dead in my tracks.

  Lucian, wearing nothing but a pair of tiny, tight running shorts, was gripping a tension bar for pull-ups, hauling himself up in slow, smooth repetitions. His body was coated in sweat, his chest was heaving, and his muscles bunched and flexed as he pulled up, lowered himself, and pulled up again. I counted eight reps, and then he dropped to the ground in the pushup position, and began running in place, his knees driving up to his chest, palms flat on the floor. His back was to me as he did the mountain climbers, and I tried in vain to not appreciate how tight and hard his ass was, but failed miserably.

  I found myself wondering if it was as hard and firm to the touch as it looked.

  Probably.

  My breath caught as he finished the mountain climbers. He went back to the tension bar, leapt up and caught the bar in both hands, and now, instead of pull-ups, he pointed his toes and lifted his stiffened, outstretched legs until his toes touched the lintel over his head, and then lowered them again, as slowly as he'd lifted them. He did this twenty-five times before dropping to the floor, gasping for breath. He wasn't done, though. He dropped to the ground again and did pushups, fifty of them, slowly. His back rippled, and his arms flexed.

  He saw me, I know he did, but his focus was total until he finished his pushups and leapt up to his feet. Facing away from me yet again, he squatted down so his butt was nearly touching the floor, and then leapt into the air with a single powerful spring, landing into a squat, and then leaping again.

  This time, I didn't bother trying to stop myself from staring. I just owned it. I mean, what else was I supposed to do? The man had an amazing ass, and it was right there in front of me, in action. Flexing, hardening, going taut as he leapt. Good god.

  Should I be this faint? Why were my thighs quivering?

  Shit. Shit. Shit.

  I leaned against the wall and watched as he finished his jump-squats, and went back to the bar and began the entire circuit again--pull-ups, mountain climbers, pushups, jump-squats. He did the circuit through twice more without resting, at which point he was gasping for breath, chest heaving, dripping sweat.

  He was nowhere near as bulky as his older three brothers, especially--Bast, Zane, and Bax. They were each monstrously muscled, heavy with muscle, like bulls or bears, whereas Lucian made me think of a wolf, lean and quick and powerful.

  I thought, after the end of his fourth round, that he'd be done, but he wasn't. He rested for a full sixty seconds--I counted--and then he dropped to the pushup position, did a pushup, and then jumped his feet underneath him, leapt into the air, dropped back down, did a pushup, and repeated the leap. After doing this twenty times, he collapsed on the floor on his back, gasping and sweating so bad I was honestly worried about him.

  I couldn't keep my eyes off him--lying there gasping, each muscle of his abdomen rippled and flexed with each breath.

  Finally, once he'd caught his breath, Lucian glanced at me. "Hi."

  I blinked hard, and forced my eyes away from those abs. "Uh, hey."

  He rolled to his feet in a lithe movement. "Hungry?"

  I nodded. "Famished." Following him into the kitchen, I glanced at the clock on the stove: 1:25 p.m. "Holy shit, it's one thirty in the afternoon?"

  He nodded as he began pulling out ingredients--some kind of flour, eggs, extracts, oil, baking powder. "Guess you needed sleep."

  "Yeah, I guess so." I gestured to the ingredients. "What are you making?"

  "Pancakes."

  "You have a thing for breakfast food in the afternoon, huh?"

  A shrug. "I have a thing for breakfast food in general." He glanced at me as he mixed the ingredients together. "You know how to make pancakes?"

  I shook my head. "Um, no. Not really."

  He smirked and shook his head as he set a griddle to heating. "What do you know how to make?"

  I shifted uncomfortably. "Kraft Mac 'n Cheese?"

  He made a disgusted face. "That is not food."

  I flipped him off. "That shit was my jam, growing up, man. I made it every single day after school."

  He sighed. "I'll make you real mac and cheese for dinner, tonight."

  Now that the griddle was heated, he waved me over to the stove and handed me the bowl with the batter. "Ladle out some of this onto the griddle. Just big enough to be about the size of your palm, or less. These are going to be thick so we're making them on the small side. Do six."

  I did as he'd instructed, making six small circles of batter on the griddle, the air immediately filling with the scent of frying pancakes. While I did this, he was heating up another pan and adding frozen breakfast sausages, which sizzled as they cooked.

  "When do I flip them?" I asked.

  "When the batter is mostly solid on top." He glanced at them. "Another minute or two."

  I started to panic--what if I messed them up, and ruined them? He didn't seem worried, focusing instead on making coffee and turning the sausages.

  "Should I flip them now?" I asked. "They look like what you said."

  He glanced again as he filled the carafe with water and dumped it into the coffee maker. "Yeah, they're good. Go ahead and flip 'em."

  I carefully and nervously flipped them one by one, and felt an absurd burst of joy in the sense of completion. Lucian made sure I removed them when they were done, and then I managed to make the second batch all on my own, flipping them when they were a perfect golden brown. By the time the pancakes were done, Lucian had finished the sausages, and the coffee had finished brewing. We sat down together at the table, across from each other, took turns drizzling syrup and spreading around butter, and dug in.


  "Damn--these are amazing!" I said.

  He grinned at me. "You made 'em."

  "All I did was cook them, you made the batter."

  He finished a bite. "Wanna know the secret?"

  I nodded. "Of course."

  "The flour I used was a mixture of sprouted oats and almond flour, rather than traditional pancake mix. Makes them denser, and if you get the mix right, they'll be just as fluffy, but twice as filling."

  "Well, damn. I had no idea you could even make flour from almonds."

  He shrugged. "I'm kind of the health food junkie of the family. Bax eats pretty healthy too, being an athlete and all." He eyed me, hesitating. "How is it you don't know how cook? I know I said I wouldn't ask questions, but I'm super curious about this one."

  I ate in silence, not answering right away. I took a sip of coffee, breathed a deep sigh, and set my fork down.

  "I can make a hell of a latte," I said. "I just never learned how to cook."

  "You worked in a coffee shop?"

  I shrugged, tilting my hand side to side. "Yes and no."

  He frowned at me. "You'll have to clarify that one."

  "It's complicated."

  He sighed as he finished his pancakes and took two more. "Seems like an innocuous enough of a question."

  "You'd think, but it's not."

  "You really won't tell me a damn thing about yourself, will you? I mean, not the real stuff."

  "I told you things last night that I've never told anyone. Seemed pretty real to me." I felt anger rising, my quick-burning temper flaring.

  "I know, I know--I'm sorry." He held up his hands to forestall my impending outburst. "I just--it's just that you dodge the weirdest shit."

  "My parents owned a cafe--a coffee shop and a bookstore. Mom shelved the books, Dad worked the espresso machine, and they took turns with the register. They were the only two employees, so they worked all day every day. I'd come home from school, do my homework, make a snack, and eventually head over to the cafe." I let out a shaky breath. "As I got older, I helped out after school. Dad taught me to how to make lattes and cappuccinos and mochas and whatever, and I'd shelve the books and help with inventory, stuff like that. I'd stay with them until they closed at nine, and then we'd all go to dinner at this little mom-and-pop diner down the street, owned by friends of my parents'. Mom didn't cook, and neither did Dad--although Dad would make us eggs or pancakes on Sunday mornings, the only day they opened late. I never learned, though. Dad would make them before I woke up, and he'd come in and get me up--waking up to breakfast on Sunday mornings was...it was magical."

  Lucian just stared at me, his gaze understanding, compassionate. "That sounds awesome."

  I nodded. "It was. It really was. But we were open from nine to nine six days a week, and from noon to seven on Sundays, which meant Mom and Dad never had time for home-cooked meals. I'd figure out my own breakfast, eat lunch at school, and dinner with them after work, at the diner. Breakfast on Sunday mornings, and then dinner again. I usually stayed home and caught up on homework or went to Maria's for the afternoon on Sunday. But...cooking just wasn't part of our life."

  "I grew up on bar food. Burgers, chicken tenders, fries, shit like that. When I was little, Mom would cook for us, but like I said before, she died when I was nine, and food for our family that wasn't grilled or deep fried disappeared when she passed away."

  "Is that why you like healthy food?"

  He nodded. "Partially. I got in shape and cleaned up my diet while I was overseas, and when I came back, I just had no interest in going back to living off bar food. I worked as a cook on several boats, so I learned how to make a lot of different stuff, and I just tweaked the ingredients to make them healthier."

  I couldn't help the question. "How did your mom die?"

  His eyes searched mine. I knew we're both aware of the hypocrisy of my question--I asked him a question I wouldn't answer myself.

  "Brain cancer," he said, eventually. "It was fast. She was fine and healthy, and then one day she had a headache that wouldn't go away, and then she came home from the doctor's office, crying, and then, just a couple months later, she was gone."

  "God, that's awful. I'm sorry."

  He toyed with his fork, his eyes downcast rather than on me. "It was...pretty gnarly." He slugged back coffee, which was still scorching hot, but he didn't seem to notice. "She went from beautiful and healthy to frail and skeletal in a matter of weeks. There wasn't a damn thing anyone could do. The tumor was too big to cut out, and chemo and radiation wouldn't have saved her, only prolonged the inevitable, so she refused treatment. Which means we just...sat in a hospital room and waited for her to die."

  The pain in his voice was very carefully modulated, hidden behind words carefully enunciated, his tone too calm. As an expert in that same tactic, I saw through it.

  "Lucian, I'm sorry."

  He stood up abruptly. "You'd think after eleven years that I'd be less affected by it."

  He walked back toward his bedroom, and I was torn between following him and letting him go.

  But my legs didn't seem to be conflicted at all, because I found myself following him. He was in his room, removing clothing from the drawers under his bed. He stood up and turned around, finding me standing in the doorway, watching him.

  "Lucian, I--"

  "In case you're wondering, Dad died of a heart attack," he interrupted. "But don't worry, I won't ask about your parents."

  He twisted to slip past me, and I breathed in his sharp scent, tensing as his body brushed up against mine. I felt his chest against my breasts, and his breath on my face, and his hips and his thighs against mine, and every muscle in my body froze, tensing. I stopped breathing. My heart hammered in my chest.

  His eyes met mine for a split second as he slid past me, and then he was gone, into the bathroom.

  And then I found myself chasing him yet again, emotions rampaging through me--anger, confusion, desire. I shoved the bathroom door open without thinking, without hesitating. He was naked, the water running, and just about to step in. When I slammed the door open and entered, he turned around to confront me.

  "The fuck, Joss?" His voice was surprised and not a little angry.

  Ohhhh shit. Oh Jesus. God, he was perfect. I couldn't look away. Every muscle was defined, not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. All lean, hard muscle and masculine angles and planes. And then...my eyes wandered downward.

  To say I blushed wouldn't be doing the fire on my cheeks due justice.

  I didn't have a lot of experience with male anatomy, but...oh my god. HUGE. Long and thick and pink, hanging down his thigh, curled to the right ever so slightly, with a thatch of dark pubic hair in a spray around the base. I swallowed hard, trying like hell to tear my gaze away, to leave, to act, to say something, anything.

  "Get a good look?" Lucian snapped.

  His voice shook me out of my trance, and I spun around, covering my face with both hands. "I'm--I'm sorry. I'm sorry." I just--" I had no good way to finish that, so I didn't, instead took a deep breath and started over. "I wasn't thinking. I apologize."

  "Turn around." His voice was quiet, but firm. Not angry, anymore.

  I shook my head. "Um, no. Thanks."

  "I'm covered, Joss." His voice was amused, now.

  I turned around, and he had a towel around his waist, the water still running, the curtain open.

  He gestured at me. "You barged in here like you had a hair up your ass. Might as well say what you were gonna say."

  I shook my head. "Doesn't matter."

  "Joss."

  "No."

  "Joss."

  I took an aggressive step forward. "They were killed in a car accident, okay?" I shouted the words, the first time I'd spoken of it since it happened, and then I continued more quietly, once the initial outburst was out of me. "We were on vacation in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, three years ago. I was seventeen. They wanted to go hiking the Evangeline Trail, and I didn't want to. I was on
my period and had horrible cramps, and hiking sounded like complete hell, so I stayed at our hotel. They were driving to the trailhead. It was eleven o'clock in the morning. We'd just had breakfast together. An older guy was driving the opposite direction, had a stroke, and crossed the centerline. Hit my parents head-on. All three of them died instantly, although I think the old guy was already dead from the stroke."

  "Shit." He turned off the water and then stepped toward me, mere inches between us, and his hands came to rest on my upper arms. "Joss, I'm sorry."

  I kept going, because now I had to get it out. "The cops found me at the hotel. I was in my pajamas watching a comedy special on my iPad. I'd ordered dessert from room service, and I'd...I'd just pigged out. I was eating Key lime pie when they knocked on the door. I answered it, and I saw them standing there, and I knew. I just...I knew. I fell to the floor crying before they'd even said a word. 'Miss Mackenzie, your parents have been killed in a head-on collision. I'm so sorry. Can you come with us, please?'" I choked as I repeated the words I won't ever forget, in the same flat, emotionless, robotic tone they'd been spoken to me. "He was a kid, the guy who delivered the news. He looked scared. Probably his first time doing a notification call, or whatever it's called when you have to tell someone their family is dead."

  I blinked away tears, swiped at them angrily, because I don't cry. I don't cry.

  I sucked in a breath, and shook my head, and forced them away. I kept going. "My dad was from Jamaica, and his family was all still there, but we never saw them. He left when he was nineteen and never went back. I never met any of them." I flipped up the end of one of my dreads. "My dad was black. Where the name Mackenzie came from, I never knew. It was his legal name, I know that much, because it was on his driver's license. I don't know. Maybe he picked it at random to distance himself from his family...that's what I've always assumed. Mom was from upstate New York, where I grew up. We lived less than half an hour from my grandparents, and I was pretty close to them as a kid, but they died when I was young. Which left Mom's brother, Uncle Derek, as my only family, and he was--or still is, I guess--the quintessential permanent bachelor uncle. Nice guy, loved hanging out with him on the holidays, but...there was no way he was going to take me in. Not a seventeen-year-old girl."

 
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