Authors: Eden Summers
He hitched her leg higher over his hip, reminding her of their connection. “You’re falling for me again.”
Falling was an understatement. There was nothing that mimicked the way she currently felt. Nothing in the realm of love and lust that perfectly encapsulated the utterly terrifying sensations overwhelming her.
“Get over yourself.”
He chuckled. “You’re not walking away, princess.”
She shoved at his pecs again. Shoved and shoved and shoved until he rolled off of her with his belly convulsing with laughter.
“I missed this.” He scooted from the bed and strode his naked ass over to open the door. “I’ll be back in a second. Don’t go anywhere.” He padded down the aisle and disappeared into the bathroom, clicking the door shut behind him.
As if she had anywhere else to go.
She leaned on her elbows and took in the pitch black sight through the windshield straight ahead of her. The bus had stopped at some time during their scramble for pleasure and was now dark inside and out. Although Tank wasn’t the usual driver, she assumed he was in the spare bunk, hopefully with a set of earplugs firmly planted in his ears. She had no clue where they were, so walking home wasn’t an option. And the thought of calling her brother or a cab didn’t set well either.
She wanted to stay. For a few hours at least. Until the lust faded and reality dawned with the rising sun. Daylight always brought clarity, and tomorrow would be no different. If anything it would be harsher, highlighting her stupidity in Technicolor.
The bathroom door reopened with a deafening click and her pulse quickened at the silhouette of Judd before her. He padded into the room, flicked off the light and closed the door.
The covers flicked back on his side and the mattress dipped with his weight. She held her breath as his arm snaked around her waist and instead of snuggling into her, he dragged her back, pulling her into his chest. Making her come to him.
making her come to him.
“I need to know why you left me,” he murmured into her hair.
“Go to sleep, Judd.” She scooted under the sheet and nestled back into him, unable to stop herself. “We’ll talk about it later.”
He kissed her shoulder, branding the spot forever. “Later, when?”
“Tomorrow,” he repeated on a breath. “I’ll hold you to it.”
The room fell silent, the world dying under the noise of her thoughts. She clung to the arm around her waist, wishing she could be the person needed to maintain this relationship. But she couldn’t. She’d spent her childhood in places she didn’t belong. Scholarships had allowed her to be a temporary part of high society, rubbing shoulders with teenage millionaires and entitled brats. She lived each day surrounded by wealth she couldn’t experience and prestige she didn’t deserve. Then her father became sick and she had to change to a public school closer to home. One without expensive text books that was also overflowing with kids who considered her previous education a point of contention.
She hadn’t fit in with the rich, and the less fortunate didn’t want her either. She’d been a loner who didn’t belong on either side, and she wouldn’t put herself through that again by staying with Judd.
He was the scholarship from her childhood. He was the wealth and prestige she didn’t deserve. He was all the things she wasn’t, and the differences between them had been slammed in her face too many times to ignore.
She sighed into the silence and waited until he was purring with slumber before she slid out from under his arm. She dressed quietly and crept to the door as she finger combed her hair. He didn’t wake when she turned the latch, and she didn’t hear him stir with her progression down the aisle.
“Where the hell are you going?” Tank pulled back the curtain to the spare bunk beside the booth seat and blinked his sleepy gaze at her.
He huffed and fell back against his pillow. “There’s food in the fridge if you’re hungry. Or vodka in the freezer if you prefer.”
“I’m good. Thanks.” She slid into the booth and pulled her feet onto the seat, cuddling her knees to her chest. The bus was shrouded in darkness, the moonlight from outside barely shining in through the tinted windows.
She was alone in the middle of nowhere, and all her heart wanted to do was climb back into bed with the man she had to say goodbye to. He didn’t even know her. Not really. She’d placed too many barriers between them, hiding herself behind a shield of sarcasm in an effort to stop herself from falling too hard.
She’d descended in a tumbling free fall anyway.
A thud sounded behind her, and she turned to find Tank striding toward her in boxer shorts and a whole heap of exposed muscle. “You plan on staying out here for a while?”
“Yeah. I’m organizing an escape plan.”
He scowled. “Not on my watch.”
She released a breath of defeated laughter. “I’m not going anywhere, Tank. You can go back to bed.”
“Want to talk about it?” He slid into the booth opposite her, shoved his elbows onto the table and sank his head in his hands.
“Are you going to talk to
“Want me to mind my own business?”
She mimicked his pose, sinking her head into her hands. “More than anything in this world.”
“That’s my cue to go back to bed, then.” He shot her a half-hearted smirk and pushed to his feet. “You sure you’re okay?”
His palm glided over her shoulder, the comfort sinking into her chest like an anvil. She nodded and kept her gaze fixed straight ahead, on the blackness outside the bus windshield. She wasn’t okay. She was nowhere near the vicinity. And nothing could fix the gaping hole in her chest.
He squeezed her shoulder and left her to deal with her solitude. Minute by minute, she ran over the events of the night not knowing how she’d turned into the lunatic who cursed like a drunken sailor and threw vases with the intent of inflicting at least a little harm. Judd made her lose all sense of reason. He warped her reality and turned her life into a roller coaster that wouldn’t end.
She had to reclaim normalcy. At least she told herself she did. The stamina and faked confidence it took to stand by his side was out of her depth. More so when they mingled amongst his musician crowd.
“Yeah,” his deep voice drifted from the bunk.
“When all is said and done in the morning, will you drive me home?”
“Is that what you really want?” His question was casual, without inflection, but they both knew he wasn’t talking about the ride.
“Yeah.” She swallowed over the pain in her throat. “It’s for the best.”
She massaged her scalp with the tips of her fingers, wishing she could push away the punishing thoughts threatening to drag her under. She did love Judd, she just didn’t love herself when she was around him.
“Kyle is bringing us breakfast in a few hours. I can borrow his rental to take you wherever you need to go.”
The exit strategy should’ve brought relief. Instead, her insides tightened and agony consumed her. She laid down on the bench seat, scrunched in the fetal position with her hands curled under her head. She couldn’t sleep next to Judd again. Sex was as clinical as you wanted it to be, and even though what they’d shared tonight was far from clinical, falling asleep in his arms was too heavy a burden for her to bear.
He’d said he loved her. And it shouldn’t have been a shock. But it was. Along with the money he’d spent on that ring. A damn
“Thank you.” Her words were barely audible, barely flittering over the sound of Judd’s muted snore from the back of the bus.
She closed her eyes and begged for sleep. For anything that would bring a glimpse of peace before the storm otherwise known as tomorrow.
“Harper?” Tank murmured.
“You know you’re going to kill him if you walk away again.”
Her heart fluttered, pulsed, threatened to stop its erratic beat. There was nothing she could do. She would hurt him by leaving, and if she stayed, she be forever crazed with senselessness and continuously reminded that she didn’t have a place in his world. Their lives weren’t meant to intertwine.
“It’s for the best,” she repeated and hoped to hell she was right.
Judd woke to a faint tap, tap, tap coming from the front of the bus. He sat up and stared down the aisle, seeing Harper’s head pop up from the booth seat. He blinked then blinked again.
What the fuck?
She hadn’t slept beside him? He ran a hand along the sheet at his side and clenched his teeth at the lack of lingering body heat. Damn her
He swung his legs to the side of the bed and snatched his jeans off the floor. Her lack of interest in getting back together scared him. She’d always warned him she wasn’t going to stick around. She wasn’t going to be a permanent part of his life. He hadn’t wanted to believe it. He’d actually hoped the threats were another way of keeping him on his toes.
There was too much lust keeping her at his side and too much love pulling him toward her to ever imagine a life without her.
But she did leave, and he needed to know why to ensure he did everything to stop it happening again.
The bus door opened and Tank filled the front of the aisle to greet Kyle at the top of the staircase.
“Morning,” Judd grated as he strode toward them. He kept his focus trained on his employees, unable to look at her. Not yet. Not when he was still drugged from sleep and deprived of waking up beside her.
Tank hit him with a stare filled with pity, giving him a world of information with his tight lips and concerned eyes before he even opened his mouth. “Kyle and I are going to have a chat outside.”
“We are?” His assistant looked between them with a frown. “What about?”
Tank continued to hold Judd’s attention, letting him know he hadn’t won Harper over like he’d thought.
“About tonight’s show.” Tank turned to Kyle and grabbed the boxes from his hands to place them on the small dining table. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“But I brought breakfast.” Kyle balked. “The croissants are still warm.”
“Move.” Tank descended the stairs, forcing Kyle backward.
“I’m going. I’m going.”
The crunch of gravel entered the silence of the bus, the heavy footsteps disappearing down the desolate road.
“What was that about?” Harper stretched her arms above her head, the picture of lazy perfection.
He still couldn’t look at her. He didn’t want to see her lack of emotion when he was so overcome with it that bile rose in his throat. She had no clue he was devastated to wake up alone. No clue that, yet again, he was already mourning the inevitable loss of her.
“You couldn’t even sleep beside me?” Finally, he lowered his focus, taking in her wide eyes and sleep tousled hair. She was beautiful, even with the darkened stain of mascara marking the top of her cheeks.
“I was restless. I didn’t want to keep you awake.”
A derisive laugh vibrated from his throat. “Sure…” She was ready to leave. He could see it in the defiant lift of her chin. “You promised me answers, Harper.” His tone wavered, and he didn’t care at how weak it made him. His pride was dying under the fear of loss. He just needed to know why. Why did she leave? Why did she quit loving him? Why couldn’t they make this work? “What happened between us that made you walk out on me?”
She huffed out a breath and turned her focus to the road outside the front windscreen. “How much time do we have for this conversation?”
“Fucking hell,” he muttered. The bile crept higher, threatening to bring him to his knees. He’d been reckless with his feelings before. He’d sprouted his affection to past lovers in songs. He’d written love letters. He’d inundated florists with bouquet orders.
Harper was different. She rejected any display of affection—public, private or otherwise—and her constant reminders that she was going to leave made him cautious enough not to push the boundaries. He’d been wary with her, never knowing if his next step would be the last.
“Here I was thinking you were having as much fun as I was. How fucking clueless am I?” He grated his knuckles over his sternum, trying to kill the ache there.
She kept her focus straight ahead, staring into space, ignoring him.
“Talk to me.” He couldn’t move. Couldn’t get closer. She’d scorch him if he did. “Explain.”
“Whatever we shared wasn’t working for me anymore.” She released a heavy breath and turned to face him. “I’m sorry.”
“Whatever we shared?
.” He stepped back and bumped into the bar fridge. “Whatever we shared was a big fucking deal to me. How could it mean nothing to you?”
“It didn’t mean nothing.” She rested her elbows on the small table and hung her head into her hands.
“But it didn’t mean enough to stick around either,” he muttered.
“There’s no future with us.” She pinned him with a mere glimpse of the honesty in her eyes. Pinned him like an insect to a cork board.
“I don’t fit in. I don’t mesh. I’m on the outside, constantly looking in on the perfection of your life.” Her voice grew with confidence. “And that’s fine for a fling that involves great sex, but I can’t be on the sideline forever.”
“You were never on the sideline,” he growled. “I was always with you. I wanted to spend all my spare time with you.”
“Yeah. To have sex. But when it came to public appearances you wanted me out of the spotlight as soon as possible. You took me to two award ceremonies, only out of obligation, and didn’t even broach the subject of attending the after parties. And not once did you take me out for dinner with your famous friends.” She raised a check-mate brow. “Those actions are a clear statement on how you saw me.”
Fucking hell. His pride rose, burning up his chest and into his cheeks. “No, Harper. Those actions were a statement of how much I hate those events and how comfortable I was in our relationship not to feel obliged to take you. But obviously my message wasn’t clear. Maybe if you had a problem, or were eager for the media attention, you should’ve said something.”