Big badd wolf, p.8
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.8

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  Dru just gazed levelly at me. "You just want to get out of here, because you're overwhelmed and your fight or flight reflex is kicking in."

  "I guess."

  "Where are you going to go?"

  I shrugged. "I don't know. I never know. I was heading west for Alaska, and now I'm here, and I don't know anymore."

  Dru's gaze sharpened. "Are you backpacking? I didn't see a real backpack, like for hiking the PCT or something."

  I squirmed. "I...um. No, I'm not a backpacker. I don't know where I'm going. I'm just...going."

  "Drifting, you mean." Dru hesitated, opened her mouth, stopped, and tried again. "Joss, I don't mean to pry, because god knows how I used to feel about people asking me personal questions, but...do you have anywhere to go?"

  I shrugged again. "Um. I've been...I've been on my own for a while. I'm fine."

  "Joss." She shifted closer on the bed. "I'm asking, do you have anywhere to go?"

  "I said I'm fine," I snapped. "I've made it this far. I started in fucking Nova Scotia and fucking walked here, so I think I can survive Ketchikan."

  Dru sighed, and let the silence build for a few minutes, thinking. "So that's a no. Nowhere to go back to, and nowhere you're really trying to get to." Her eyes met mine. "You're drifting."

  "Yeah, I'm drifting," I said, hot, sharp, spiky emotions rising inside me. "I'm not a goddamn hobo, though, okay? I'm not going to steal your fine china or anything."

  Her eyes narrowed. "That's not what I meant."

  "Yeah, well, that's how it sounded--you're drifting, like there's something wrong with it. It's the life I've got, okay?" I heard my voice rising and couldn't stop it. "I'm homeless, is that what you want to hear? I'm just choosing to spend my life going somewhere rather than sitting on a street corner somewhere begging for spare change, or turning tricks for somewhere to sleep at night."

  The door opened, then, and Bast's massive, six-foot-four-inch frame filled the doorway, darkening it. His thick, ropy, tattooed forearms were crossed over his thick chest, and his dark hair was messy, a strand hanging in one eye, weeks of scruff that didn't quite make a beard darkening his craggy jawline. Jesus, the man was sexy, in a rough, brutal, menacing sort of way. He stepped in, kicked the door closed behind him, and leaned against it, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

  "Bast, baby, we're talking," Dru said, her voice sweet but firm.

  "I heard you." Bast's ursine brown eyes flicked to me. "Heard you say you were homeless."

  "Fuck me," I groaned, tugging on a dread. "Should I make a fucking announcement so everyone knows they've got a transient in their midst? Hide your purses and wallets, it's a homeless girl!"

  "Joss, shut up." His rumbled order took me by surprise.

  I frowned up at him. "Excuse me?"

  "You heard me." He lifted his chin, gazing evenly down at me. "I said shut up. Means shut up and listen."

  I glared at him. "This had better be good, you big macho fuckstick."

  The corners of lips quirked in a stifled grin. "Only my wife gets to call me that." He slid down the door to a squat. "We got a lot of people in this crew, you may have noticed--"

  "No? Really? You think?" Sarcasm couldn't have dripped anymore thickly from my words.

  Bast just quirked an eyebrow at me, jaw ticking, and I promptly shut up--this clearly wasn't a man to ignore.

  "But recently, we've had a lot of shifting around in living situations. Brock and Claire have a place; Bax and Eva have a place, and Zane and Mara have a place, which just leaves the two sets of twins, Luce, Xavier, and me and Dru. Canaan and Aerie are touring most of the year, so they don't need a permanent room, which takes them out of the equation."

  I made a face. "For a grunty orc of a man, you sure are talking a lot. Get to the point."

  He continued like I hadn't spoken. "We've got six bedrooms between the two apartments--and only four rooms are being used right now. It's the first time since everyone came back that we've had more rooms than we do people staying in them." He tapped the floor between his huge, wool-socked feet. "This room's empty."

  My heart started to pound. "What's your point?"

  "Point is, we own both buildings free and clear, no rent, no mortgage. The bar is pulling a profit. And we got extra bedrooms."

  "Don't bullshit me." I blinked hard.

  "I don't bullshit." He waited until I met his eyes. "This room is yours. No rent, no utilities, no nothing. You wanna work, we always need help downstairs, and I'll pay you average restaurant wage. You want to get a different job, whatever, fine with me."

  I swallowed hard. "I'm not--I can't..."

  "Don't have to be homeless, Joss." For such a large, gruff, imposing man, his voice was shockingly gentle as he said those six little words, and then hardened again. "You wanna walk away when the storm clears tomorrow, be my guest. But you'll be walking away from a roof, a bed, and safe place to figure your shit out, free and clear."

  "I don't take charity." I managed to get it out through the knot in my throat and the conflict in my head and heart.

  "I look like a fuckin' philanthropist to you?" he snarled. "We got space, you need space--problem solved."

  "It's not that easy--"

  "It can be," Dru said. "If you let it."

  I blinked hard, swallowed again past the burning lump in my throat. "I...um."

  Dru stood up, patting me on the shoulder. "Take your time. Think about it." She reached down, took her husband's hands, and hauled him to his feet. "Come on, you big sexy lummox. I'm gonna kick your ass at Mario Kart."

  They left me alone and when they were gone, the door closed behind them, I slid onto my back on the bed, and stared up at the ceiling.

  Sebastian had offered me a place to live. No conditions, nothing. Just...hey, stay here for a bit. Get your life together. Figure things out.

  Could I do it? Should I? I'd been drifting, traveling for so long I wasn't sure I knew how to stop. Previously, I would sometimes stop for a few days here and there, sometimes a bit longer if it was a good situation, but I always worried about overstaying my welcome. And besides, being a US citizen loose in Canada without a visa...well, staying put in one place too long risked drawing attention to myself. I'd have landed back in the States, but I didn't want to deal with any difficulties so it was easier to just keep moving, work for cash, and keep my head down.

  Keep moving; don't trust anyone. That was my mantra.

  But it's a free room! A bed to sleep in every night. A safe place to actually live. I could stop drifting and start working toward opening The Garden. How could I turn that down?

  Plus, if I stayed here, and Lucian was at the other apartment, I'd be less likely to get myself mixed up with him. Which would be a danger and a distraction I didn't need. A temptation I didn't dare give in to.

  I tried that once, and nearly didn't survive the experience. No thanks, not doing that again, no matter how nice and kind and sexy the guy may be.

  But I could stay here. I could get a job. Save money. And maybe, eventually, find a little spot, put a down payment on it, and work on opening my own place.

  It doesn't have to be here--after all, I've seen nothing of this town except snow and water. But I could pause here, take time to breathe, to feel safe, to put money aside and formulate a plan for opening the cafe.

  The thought of actually living here brought tears to my eyes, which I couldn't stop. I didn't try--I was alone, I was safe, so I could indulge in a little emotional weakness.

  Although, the last time I'd indulged, Lucian had caught me with my hand in my pants, and had watched as I'd had my first orgasm in...well, since that four-day stretch in a little cabin near Thunder Bay--an older couple had picked me up on ON-17 outside a little place called Hurkett, and they'd taken me to their rustic little "resort" on Lake Superior. It was a handful of ancient, tiny log cabins with decor, appliances, and electric wiring from the Eisenhower era--or whatever the Canadian equivalent would be--but it was cute and quiet and quaint. T
hey'd let me stay there in exchange for helping them catch up on some maintenance chores. They'd fed me, let me watch TV in their main house, talked to me, and told me to stay as long as I wanted--clearly they were lonely and missed their grandkids or something like that. They were sweet, and I started liking that little cabin a bit too much, so I'd moved on. There'd been one other person staying at those cabins, a guy in his midthirties, alone. Muscular, bearded, attractive. We'd spoken a few times, and he'd been nice enough. Then I went outside late one night, unable to sleep, and had caught a glimpse of him diving naked into the frigid water of Lake Superior. I'd gone immediately back inside, but my imagination had gotten the better of me and I'd given myself an orgasm.

  That was the last time.

  Until today. And today was...utterly unlike that previous time.

  Today was...shit. SO much more than that. I'd NEEDED to release the insane pressure kissing Lucian had incited in me. Just thinking about him, about that kiss, about walking in on him in the shower got me all jittery and flustered and made my pulse pound.

  And when I think about him catching me touching myself? Yeah, there's embarrassment there. But beneath it? There's something else. I don't dare examine it too closely, though. And when I'd found him in the music studio, it had been clear what he'd seen had affected him, too.

  I'd affected him.

  In a huge way.

  I snickered at my own mental joke, because if he'd been big when he was about to get in the shower, the glimpse I'd gotten of him aroused, confined in his jeans...well... that left me short of breath and a little delirious.

  Why am I thinking about Lucian? I'm not supposed to think about Lucian.

  Or his penis.

  Or his lips, kissing mine.

  Or his eyes, when he looks at me like...like I'm something amazing, something he desperately wants.

  Fuck, there I go. I'm going in circles, thinking about him, getting caught up in him.

  From ONE kiss.

  What if there was more...more kisses, or more than kissing?

  NO.

  Nope.

  Don't go there, Joss. Remember Toronto? Remember Rob? That's what happens when you let a cute guy get too close, when you let a sexy smile and pretty eyes lure you in.

  I let my mind drift.

  I tried to imagine living here. Having Canaan and Corin around, Dru, Bast, Bax and Eva, all the others. Waking up to coffee, maybe sitting around with Dru and just chatting.

  Not walking through the night on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere, or sleeping under an overpass during the darkest, coldest hours of the night. No more sleeping on a bench in a bus station, or dozing in the corner of a library, a book on my chest to make it seem like I'd come in for a book and had merely fallen asleep. No more accepting rides from truckers and hoping they were nice. No more begging midnight shift waitresses to let me wash dishes for leftover food.

  The thought of not having to go back to that choked me up all over again.

  I thought about hitting the road again. Catching a ferry from Ketchikan to wherever...and just continuing to drift. Is that what I want?

  My mind and my soul recoiled at the idea.

  No. A hundred times, no.

  I didn't have to stay here forever, but I knew I couldn't hit the road again with the same kind of drive and determination. At least not yet.

  Some part of me was insisting I stay here, and dammit...I just wanted to.

  I just have to keep myself uninvolved with Lucian.

  Something told me that would be easier said than done, but I had to try if I wanted to stay here a while longer.

  But a man that sexy, a man with that much power to lure me in with a look, a touch, a kiss, was a man who stood between me and staying here in Ketchikan.

  I had to keep my distance.

  Yeah...right, a tiny voice deep in my heart whispered.

  7

  Lucian

  * * *

  It was Xavier who found me sitting at the bar, nursing the same glass of whiskey. He sat beside me, sniffed at the amber liquid, made a face, and then leaned over the bar to pour himself a beer.

  "What are you brooding about, down here by yourself?"

  I shrugged. "Things."

  Xavier rolled his eyes at me. "Come on, Lucian."

  I could only shake my head. "Don't really want to talk about it."

  He nodded. "Okay."

  And so we sat in silence, sipping our drinks in the dark.

  I glanced at him. "You know, I came down here to be alone."

  Xavier didn't look at me. "I know."

  I waited. "You're still here."

  "Yes." He finally shot me a glance. "You never want to talk about it, or anything, ever."

  "Just how I am."

  "Maybe it should be different."

  "Maybe not. But it's the way it is." I tossed back the last of the whiskey. "Good talk."

  I stood up and went back upstairs, leaving Xavier behind, watching me go, a speculative look on his face. When I arrived upstairs, there was a bastardized, drinking version of a trivia game happening. Everyone was jammed into the living room and they each had a card in their hand, and there was a bottle of Crown and a bottle of tequila side by side on the coffee table, along with a cluster of shot glasses, cans of soda and bottles of beer as chasers, a container of lime wedges, and a salt shaker near the tequila. One person would read a trivia question, and the team that guessed the correct answer first won, with the losing teams all doing shots.

  I sat down beside Joss.

  "LUCE!" Bax hollered. "You're finally back from Broodyville! You're behind on shots, bro! Catch up!"

  "Whose idea was this game?" I asked, ignoring his jibe as I reached for the tequila, lime, and salt.

  "Mine, bitch!" Bax shouted. "Snow's s'posed to stop tomorrow, which means the bar opens back up, so we might as well spend the last day of our unexpected mini-vacation getting naked wasted, right?"

  "Makes sense to me," Corin said.

  "Getting naked wasted always makes sense to you, babe," Tate said.

  "Well duh," Corin said, chuckling. "I'm a rock star, that's what we do."

  "Especially the naked part," Canaan put in, and the brothers bumped knuckles, cackling in unison.

  I watched this exchange as I licked my wrist, sprinkled salt on it, licked it off, poured a shot of Patron Silver, and drank it, then sucked the juice out of the lime. I felt Joss's eyes on me while I did this, but refused to glance at her. The rejection still stung and I wasn't quite ready to act as if it hadn't happened.

  Xavier came up, then, and took a seat on the floor beside Canaan and Tate, and despite Bax's prompting, wouldn't do a shot.

  "I tried doing shots once," was his explanation. "It...did not agree with me. At all."

  Bax snorted. "What happened, you forgot how to do calculus long enough to actually have fun?"

  Xavier twisted his head to stare at Bax. "I had calculus mastered by fifth grade, if you must know. My issue with drinking to excess is not about fun, Baxter, it is about control."

  "Exactly!" Bax reached down and patted Xavier's head paternally. "It's about letting go of control, in safe situations, or with people you trust."

  Xavier just shook his head. "It did not feel good. I have little enough by way of verbal filters and awareness of social cues when I am in full possession of my faculties. Inebriated, I become someone I...do not care for very much. It is entirely a personal choice, however."

  Joss leaned close to whisper to me. "Did he really learn calculus in fifth grade?"

  I nod. "He was into higher math by junior high, like the kind of math where equations take up entire blackboards and academic papers get written on theorems."

  "So he's, like, really smart."

  I actually snorted at that. "He has The Odyssey and The Iliad memorized...in the original Greek. He builds and sells robots in his spare time. He can speed-read a book in a matter of minutes, and then recite the whole thing to you, ess
entially verbatim. Really smart doesn't quite cover it."

  "Oh." She glanced at Xavier, and I tried to see him from an outsider's perspective.

  Same height and build as me--tall, lean, and angular--with dark brown hair shorn nearly to the scalp on the sides with the top left long, loose, and messy in a mop of curls, and bright, arresting green eyes, the only Badd brother to get Mom's eyes rather than Dad's. His hair was darker than any of ours, more like Mom's black ringlets than Dad's messy thatch of brown hair the same shade as a grizzly's fur. He was wearing a tight red T-shirt with the logo of a robotics lab on it, and tight, ripped jeans; he had tattoos on his forearms, a series of interlocking geometric shapes and mathematical symbols, and both ears were pierced three times. He looked more like a rock star than a Tesla or Da Vinci level genius, and it was a look he could certainly pull off, although I doubted he realized how attractive girls found him.

  She glanced at me again. "Really? In the original Greek?"

  Xavier heard her, tilted his head to the side and glanced at the ceiling, then began reciting ancient Greek. He kept going until it became evident he hadn't just memorized the first few lines as a party trick.

  Eventually Bast leaned forward and threw a lime wedge at his head. "All right, Homer. No one else knows what you're sayin', kiddo."

  Xavier threw the lime back at Bast and repeated everything he'd said, except in English this time, until everyone groaned, and he finally stopped.

  The game continued, and Xavier's team won any question that wasn't current events or pop culture, which meant my team was quickly losing the battle against sobriety. Joss had even taken a few shots of Crown, while I stuck to tequila.

  I tried not to think about how much I wanted to lick Joss's wrist, put salt on it, and lick the salt off.

  Or do body shots from her navel.

  I squirmed on the floor, shifting, trying to tamp down the thoughts rifling through me.

  Joss eyed me. "You okay?"

  I nodded. "Fine."

  Eventually, when everyone was pretty drunk--except Xavier and Tate, who was pregnant and thus not drinking--Xavier called a halt to the game and insisted on heading downstairs to make food. Bax and Brock went down to help him, while everyone else remained where they were, half a dozen different conversations going on at once.

  Bast and Dru were murmuring to each other in low tones, and then Bast nudged Joss with his elbow.

 
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