Authors: L.J. Wilson
“A byproduct of the environment. A necessary layer to your guard. Though I’m not sure what it’s doing for me here.”
“Let me assure you, it’s gonna work fine for you on this side of things.”
She reached up and kissed him. Aaron’s fingers touched the nipple rings, like he had no control. In his head was the crazy whirl of a merry-go-round. What kid doesn’t get on and grab for the brass ring? Her mouth became the icing he’d wanted to taste, sweet and creamy. The thing achingly absent from his broken life. Chloe kissed him, her tongue darting playfully at his.
Aaron’s hands responded, moving spontaneously over her body. But his brain—capable of good and bad decisions—stopped him. Old rules about safe sex were too engrained. Besides, surely Honor hadn’t been that accommodating with her bathroom goodies to include a box of condoms. “I don’t have… Unless you… I don’t think there’s a… ”
“It’s fine. I’m on the pill.” She kissed him again as her hands skillfully worked his cock and his balls, running over Aaron’s shower-soaked ass.
Not good enough. While there wasn’t any space left, Aaron managed to inch back.
Her blue eyes narrowed. “My God, do all Clairmont men come with the same streak of caution?”
He didn’t know what that meant, but Aaron found himself turning away. Chloe read it as encouragement, her steam-covered body embracing his. Soft, damp skin pressed into Aaron’s, her front to his back. He tilted his neck. Shit, it felt so fucking good—especially if he didn’t have to look at her. He could almost close his eyes and pretend…
“Turn around, Aaron.” The voice was unfamiliar, and it kept Aaron in the moment. “Let’s make this easy—I see you’re a little unsure. So this is a gift you’ll want to indulge in.”
Mechanically, he followed the direction and turned. Chloe reached up, moving the shower’s spray so it arced over their heads. Only tickling drops of water rained down on the two of them, enhancing the whole idea. Chloe dropped to her knees, hitting a fantasy mode that his longest night in prison hadn’t produced.
“Jesus,” he said, having to grip the bar of the soap dish to stay upright. But his other hand succumbed to the pleasure, grasping Chloe Pike’s head as it thrust in a rhythm that seemed highly
From Aaron’s viewpoint, it was a tangle of red hair, fair freckled skin, and a porn-flick hint of bobbing boobs, rings jiggling as his cock moved deeper into her mouth. When her indulgent hum chimed in, he was a goner. It was like this fantasy was hers, and any rational words drained from his mind. Objection and objectivity had taken a fucking hike.
Aaron went with it, hanging on long enough to make a decent showing. Even if she was some neighborhood kid he barely knew, Aaron had a little pride left. Chloe Pike seemed to have carnal knowledge about the short list of post-prison desires. A guttural round of curse words spilled from Aaron’s mouth as he exploded into hers. Seconds later, he stumbled around her body. At the far end of the shower, the spray slapped him into some cloudy out-of-sync reality.
Chloe’s body unfolded, swiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She smiled and her crooked teeth reemerged, sinking into her lower lip. “Were you in a prison gang?”
“What?” he said, still dizzy from the moments before.
“Those tats,” she said, pointing high on his thigh. “They’re hard to miss—if you’re naked, and, um… I’m on my knees. I’ve seen markings like that before. It’s, like, Chinese, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “Asian symbols.”
“So you were in a gang! Was that like a rite of passage or something? Did you have to kill somebody then burn them on yourself? I’ve read about stuff like that. That’s so cool!”
Aaron shifted closer to the side of the shower, obstructing his thigh from her view. He didn’t want her anywhere near his ink. “No, I wasn’t in a gang. The ink doesn’t have anything to do with prison.”
She looked disappointed. “I don’t believe you.” Her fair eyes scanned him like radar. “Every guy who’s been on the inside has tats,” she said as if quoting
Bad Boys for Dummies
“Believe whatever the fuck you want. I’m not discussing them with you.”
Chloe shrugged, breasts and bling jiggling. “Fine… keep it to yourself—they’re certainly out of public view. I just thought guys got lots of tattoos in prison. That’s all.” She smiled sweetly as if they were having the conversation at the kitchen table. “Anyway, I sure hope that made for a memorable homecoming. It did for me.”
“Aaron? Are you in here?” His eyes widened as his gaze jerked toward the bedroom door, a crease of it visible from the open bathroom entrance. He never realized how much Honor’s voice sounded like their mother’s. Chloe giggled again, and Aaron’s hand clamped over her mouth.
“Uh, I’ll be out in a few, Honor. I decided to take a shower.”
“A shower. Okay… Try not to be too long. Some people want to say good-bye.” He heard the bedroom door click shut.
He let go. Chloe licked her lips. “I’m cool with bondage too, just in case you’re wondering.”
“I’m not,” he said.
Chloe shrugged and tipped the shower spray so it hit her. From the far end of the shower, he watched. The girl just sort of rinsed off before turning off the spigot—like her work there was done. She leaned over, and Aaron thought she was so top heavy she might tip. He also realized if he had a second hard-on that instant, his desire to fuck her was nil. She stepped out of the shower and grabbed a thick white towel, patting her damp hair and skin. “Do you have a hair dryer?”
“A hair dryer?”
“Yeah, you know, a
dryer?” The repetitive pitch of laughter was irritating. “My parents are downstairs. I’ll, um, need to… Unless you want me to explain this?” Chloe shook her flaming hair, damp and frizzy from the steam.
He wondered if explaining the nipple bling might be of more interest to her parents. On that thought, Aaron couldn’t scramble out of the tub fast enough. “Uh yeah, no worries.” He grabbed a towel as he spoke, wrapping it around his waist. He felt more naked than in the shower. “There’s got to be one here somewhere.” He flung open cabinets and drawers. He didn’t want a trace of this following him anywhere.
In the days that followed, the family goal seemed to be about giving Aaron space. Great, like he knew what to do with that. Nobody roused him out of bed at the crack of dawn or assigned him kitchen or laundry duty. Maybe it felt like a vacation, if he could remember what a vacation felt like. Actually, he couldn’t remember what having a life felt like. The first night home, Aaron couldn’t sleep. The dark freaked him out, so did the silence. He’d ended up leaving the light on and looking for a DVD—at least the player was right where he’d left it. But he couldn’t find any movies and eventually wandered into Troy’s room.
Troy wasn’t there, but he did find all his old flicks, plus his brother’s movies—a slew of gruesome titles: Saw, Frozen, Kick-Ass, Dead Snow, The Human Centipede. The playlist was gorier than the junk Aaron used to watch. As he flipped through, he did wonder if Honor knew what kind of movies the kid was into. Or, better still, Aaron thought, glancing at the clock, where Troy was? It was two in the morning. He shook his head. He had nerve even silently questioning Honor. Aaron chose two movies that guaranteed ugly noise and little plot. They would be a good match to the last seven years.
That night, and during the ones that followed, Aaron got into bed searching for the scent of Ruby. The smell of dryer sheets filled his nose. Ruby did not smell like dryer sheets. She smelled like
, the perfume she always wore. It was exotic and spicy, sexy, the scent mirroring her. Aaron would know it anywhere. Without thinking, he’d lay on one side of the bed, his mind tracing the outline of Ruby’s body on the other—a beautiful hourglass shape, skin the color of sun-kissed sand, pearly onyx eyes. But he didn’t dare conjure up body specifics—the way her breasts fit her body and his hands. How he knew every spot that made Ruby release the rule-following persona that ran most of her life. Instead, Aaron took his punishment. His night visions succumbed to Chloe Pike reruns, his half-asleep mind unable to escape them.
He wondered what the hell Chloe Pike gave out for Christmas presents.
Even so, real sleep was worse. Silas Brikk assaulted his dreams like he had in prison. Aaron’s mind was caught in an endless loop—
“Jerry wants you to take out Mayor Vasquez. It’s the opportunity to prove your loyalty. Get rid of the man bottlenecking our business, Aaron. Then… after it’s done, we’ll see about you and Jerry meeting face to face.”
Even asleep, Aaron felt Brikk’s grip on his shoulder
. “Jerry was asking, how’s that pretty little piece… Ruby, is it? Good you’ll be around after her old man goes down. We hate to see bad shit happen to pretty girls. But such is the nature of our business… ”
Aaron woke up, yet again, gasping for air. Inside prison or out, he felt as cornered as the night Brikk had given him Jerry’s order. He’d had no choice.
Aaron leapt from the bed the following morning. He felt icy air or maybe just the cold sweat of his most recent nightmare. Either way, he slid open the closet door, looking for the flannel shirts he used to own. They were there. But as his hand reached in, a black athletic jacket peeked out from between his clothes. Aaron snatched it off the hanger, burying his face in the silky garment. Woven between the fabric and his mind was the faint but present
scent of Ruby. He couldn’t deal with it. It was worse than the stints he’d done in the SHU—solitary housing unit. Aaron shoved the jacket to the back of the closet and yanked at a flannel shirt, its hanger snapping in two.
His fourth day on the outside was the longest. Alec had said something about going out of town. Honor would be gone all day too. She’d left Aaron with an empty house, full fridge, and six televisions. She put his keys on the bar and told him that Alec had repaired the Dodge Challenger’s hood, made sure it was running. Then she was gone.
It took a few minutes of empty and silence for Aaron to realize he had nowhere to go. He dropped the keys back onto the counter, equally aware he couldn’t imagine lying on the couch and watching TV. That wasn’t Aaron—before or after prison. On the kitchen table were a stack of textbooks. Troy was supposed to be in class. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.
According to Honor, he was in his half-hearted junior year of college. Aaron hadn’t seen too much of Troy since he’d been home, and he didn’t know if this was because of him or something else the kid had going on. Honor had said something about coaxing Troy through every year of college. The remark sounded like classic Aaron, the early years.
He’d started college on the outside, but never could figure out what he wanted to study. That’s where things had taken a bizarre turn. Aaron was good at math, zipped through all the required sciences—particularly chemistry. He was a starter on the football team. But none of it seemed to be clicking. Then, in his sophomore year, when he was just nineteen, a branch of the local DEA left a card on the Dodge Challenger windshield. They’d been watching him. They thought he looked the part—older than he was. Could they interest him in a part-time job? Nothing fancy, nothing like the stuff they made movies about, but would he consider working for the local DEA undercover? It was a night gig, hitting local bars and liquor stores, trying to score alcohol with a fake ID.
Sure, what kid that age wouldn’t sign up for a low-risk, high-octane job? What Aaron hadn’t realized was how right and wrong were connected, how good and evil were really close cousins. How eventually his DEA handlers would prove to be more dangerous cohorts than the scum he ran with. Aaron’s gut clenched, wondering years later if he’d made the wrong choice. Back then, it seemed like there were no options. He’d done what he had to when it came to Silas Brikk and Jerry—even the DEA. Aaron drew a shaky breath. Right now, he needed to get a grip on a fast-beating heart. Standing in the Clairmont kitchen, Aaron dragged his mind out of the past. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t change shit. He gave up on the inside of the house and spent the rest of the morning trimming the shrubs out front. Troy should have been taking care of that chore. He didn’t want to sound too much like Sebastian Clairmont, but maybe that’s where a conversation with Troy needed to start.
Honor showed up right after lunchtime. She claimed hunger, adding a line about having a run in her stockings. She needed to change them. That was bullshit. Aaron didn’t spend a lot of time looking at his sister’s legs, but he was certain she wasn’t wearing any stockings… pantyhose… whatever. She came back downstairs wearing pants. Honor was smart. He couldn’t even question her excuse. Still, the idea of being watched was enough to make him challenge her. “Worried I’ll pawn all the TVs—or maybe it’s worse. Maybe you’re thinking I’ll set up shop, start a heroin satellite business out of the basement?”
Standing in front of the refrigerator, Honor spun around, a Tupperware container gripped in her hand, a look of awe riding her face. “That’s so far from being funny, I’m not sure whether to slap you or throw this at you.”
“Good, because I wasn’t going for humor. It’s why you’re here, Honor… in the middle of the day, isn’t it? To check up on me?”
Her grip tightened around the container.
“You can skip the feigning hunger part. You told me this morning you had a lunch meeting.”
She glanced at the container. “I did, didn’t I?” Honor put the container back into the refrigerator. “Okay, I was worried. But not about the things you just suggested.”
Aside from being the only Clairmont girl, Honor was one of two blondes in the
Tribe of Five,
Jake’s movie-star head being the other. Other than birth, it was the only physical thing that seemed to make them twins. Honor ran her hand through shoulder-length honey-colored hair. He remembered the nervous habit. As she sat through his sentencing, Aaron thought she might rake herself bald.
“I shouldn’t be worried?” she said. “You’re set free from what had to be an awful experience, and you’ve hardly said more than five sentences to me since you’ve been home. And to be honest, I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to start the ball rolling here or you are. I’ve been making this up since the night you were arrested, and I don’t know what comes next. Alec warned me that you weren’t too chatty on the way home. In fact, he said ‘Don’t be surprised to wake up one morning and find him gone.’ Not what I had in mind, Aaron.”
She was babbling now, and Aaron thought it best just to let her get it out. “Of course, I go ahead and totally misread everything by throwing you some dopey surprise party, thinking we can all just act like it was a big mistake and ‘so what?’ I guess… Well, I suppose…” She stopped talking, her arms slapping against her thighs. Her chin quivered, tears spilling over like they did in the courtroom.
An exhale shuddered out of Aaron. Well, he’d managed to totally fuck this up too. He came across the kitchen and folded Honor into a big-brother hug. He could feel her hands dig into him, the same way they did on the day they hauled him away—like she wasn’t letting go, no matter how many correctional officers insisted otherwise.
“I… I still don’t understand how this happened to you,” she said, hiccupping into his shirt. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t. It shouldn’t have, I know that.”
“Just take a breath, Honor. Just stop.” Looking into her glassy eyes, he could see how deep seven years of sorrow went. Make that eight. The year before Aaron screwed up his life had to be the worst of Honor’s. Really? Aaron’s troubles had only been the latest bad news to invade Honor’s life. Around her eyes, Aaron saw tiny lines that shouldn’t be there. Not yet. And still, there they were. Pretty Honor who didn’t look like any Clairmont. She was small boned, hair like Evie’s, but a tiny up-turned nose and wide tropical water-colored irises. There was nothing of Pop in her. Aaron always thought it was because she was a girl, but there was something about Honor that was decidedly not a Clairmont—she lacked the brazenness that described himself, Alec, Troy, even movie-star Jake.
Aaron drew a breath—
… Through every day that his sorry ass was locked up, Aaron took solace in one thing: Sebastian and Evie—his nomadic, unmarried parents—weren’t alive to see any of it. Looking at Honor now, he realized the selfishness of the thought. Sure Alec, Jake, Troy, they had to live with some of the burden. But Honor had taken the brunt of it for all the Clarimonts, dead and alive. He reached for a tissue box, handing her a few. “Let’s sit. If that’s what you want, I’ll talk. Okay?”
She nodded, wiping her nose, following him to the bar stools.
“I’ve had a few days to get my bearings. Maybe that’s enough time to stop treating me like some new piece of furniture nobody’s supposed to sit on.”
“Is that what we’ve been doing?” she said, blotting the tears, blowing her nose.
“More or less. But it’s just as much my fault. I don’t know how to do this either, Honor. Where I fit—into this family or Nickel Springs.” Aaron shrugged hyper-muscular shoulders and glanced at the hodgepodge of furniture that filled the family room. It wasn’t designer, but it did go together in a way that seemed like home. Any new item would easily upset the balance. “Life’s gone on here for a lot of years. A life that I wasn’t a part of. Alec was right. Bolting would have been the easy way out. We’re all kidding ourselves if we think I’m just going to
“You don’t have to blend, Aaron. You belong. Don’t ever forget that.”
“Belong where?” He held up a hand. “Save the part about how things will settle down eventually. Maybe they will. If so, great. And if I haven’t said it, I appreciate it, Honor—you letting me come back here, not renting my room out.”
The tears had dried, a small smile curving around her pouty mouth. “It never crossed my mind—you not coming home. Although I did have to keep Troy from taking it over. Even for a guy, having your own bathroom is a pretty good draw.”
Aaron tensed, hands rubbing over the nap of his cotton sweats. The mention of the bathroom evoked images that didn’t go with brother/sister conversation. “Uh, yeah, right. I could see that. Speaking of Troy, I’m not too sure he’d vote for me coming home to any room in this house.”
“It’s not you, Aaron. Troy’s been moody, out of touch for a while now.” Honor sighed, her head shaking. “It’s hard to pin down, approach him about it. I mean, he hasn’t gotten into trouble—not that I know about. But he has been distant.”
“What kind of friends… girlfriend?”
“The guy friends have faded. At least they don’t come around much. He was seeing somebody for a while—an older girl, maybe you remember her?”
Aaron held his breath, anticipating the one name he didn’t want to hear. He ripped the Band-Aid off himself. “Chloe Pike?”
“Yes. How did you know…?”
“Just a guess,” he said, recalling Chloe’s comment about the cautionary ways of all Clairmont men.
Well, that’s just fucking great… a blow job courtesy of my kid brother’s girlfriend.
He didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or furious. And what about the other tidbit Chloe had shared, informing Aaron that “an admirer” had paid for her boob job and bling. If she was talking about Troy, where the hell would he get that kind of money? Aaron cleared his throat. He’d figure it out later. Right now, he wouldn’t be mentioning either to Honor. “Is, um… is he still seeing her?”