Authors: Tess Oliver
I pulled the bike over three blocks before Everly’s house at Tashlyn’s request. We hadn’t discussed why, but I knew Everly would give her a hard time for riding home with me, and I wasn’t about to add to the stressful night by debating it. Even if it really was none of Everly’s fucking business.
Tashlyn had wrapped her arms around me and held me so tightly the entire ride home, I was disappointed when she finally let go. I could still taste her lips, and it was going to be hard as hell riding away from her tonight. But scary fucking shit was happening, and it was about time I faced the demons of my past, including the devil himself, my dad. There was more at stake than me facing up to the cold hard reality of what had been happening in this town for years. Tashlyn’s arrival seemed to have stirred up some of Blackthorn’s ugly past, a past, that even as a kid, I’d played an unwitting role in. But those days were over, and I would destroy anyone who tried to harm Tashlyn.
I rolled up the driveway to the house. Television light flickered through the front window. I’d hardly spoken to my dad all week, but I was ready to sit down for a real fucking father and son chat right now, even if he wasn’t in the mood.
I walked inside. A weed cloud filled the house. Dad was draped like a lifeless corpse on the couch. Six empty beer cans were stacked next to the arm of the sofa. Dad always had a theory that he wasn’t completely drunk until he could no longer stack empty beer cans. It seemed his liver should have protested that theory long ago. Now it was in full rebellion.
He’d fallen asleep in front of a porn flick, a sure sign that he’d had enough weed and beer for the night.
I stared down at him and, for a second, it struck me that he might be dead. A long snore followed, kicking me out of that idea. The tall, thickly built menace of the town was shrinking down to skin and bones, as if his dying liver was sucking all the life from him one muscle at a time. Tonight, the yellowish cast on his skin looked extra ghoulish. Dane and I would be losing him someday soon. That thought was supposed to give me some kind of reaction, a pressure in my chest, a swelling in my throat, but it didn’t. He’d chosen his life and now, his death, and he was going to take his fucked up decisions to an early grave.
I picked up one of the unopened beers and popped the top as I plunked down in the easy chair. I lifted my foot and nudged him with my boot. “Hey, Dad.”
He opened his eyes and worked hard to focus on the figure sitting in the chair. The rope scar around his neck became easier to see as his weight dropped. He sat up. “Jem, why you waking me? Something up with Dane?”
“Nope. He’s not around. Must have gone out to play some pool. We need to talk.”
He reached for the opened can of beer on the coffee table. He smiled as he brought it to his mouth. “Bottom’s up.” He dropped his head back and gulped down the flat beer, finishing with a satisfied sigh. He squinted at the movie on the television. “Damn, did I sleep through the good part?” He lifted his hand to point at the monitor, and it struck me that he suddenly had old man hands. Ten years ago, I’d been ducking away from his massive fist when he was pissed and ready to smack me around. Those hands were gone for good. “That brunette with the giant tits loves to take it in the ass. Love that part when he folds her over the kitchen chair and—”
I reached forward and grabbed the remote off the table. I turned it off. The room was bathed in shadows. The pallor of his skin glowed as if he was sitting under a florescent light, instead of in an unlit room.
“What’s in your craw this time, Son?”
“Why’d you take the newspaper from Aunt Alice’s shop?”
He forced a weak grin and leaned his head back against the couch. We’d had the same damn furniture my whole life, and every cushion smelled and looked like stale smoke. “Don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” He closed his eyes. “Hey, can you get me my pills off the kitchen counter. I forgot to take them.”
I stayed put, but he kept his eyes closed, pretending I was no longer in the room. I walked into the kitchen and grabbed the pills. I shook them in his ear. “Here, see if you can breathe some life back into that pickled liver.”
He lifted his head and reached for the pills.
I stared down at him. It made him uneasy enough that he finally had to look at me. “Fuck, Jem, I’m a dying man. Leave me to my beer and that brunette and her shaved pussy.” He searched around for the remote.
I held it up just out of his reach.
I was getting nowhere and decided on a more direct approach. “Did you have something to do with that trucker going off the side of the road? Let me rephrase that. Did you send all those trucks off the road?”
“What? You’re fucking nuts. Your mom was crazy too, you know? Guess that’s where you get it from.”
He was testing my patience. I reached down and grabbed his shirt to force him to look at me. People had always told me I looked like my dad, and for a brief second, I could see my own face staring back at me.
He scowled angrily up at me. “Don’t go sticking your nose into shit that doesn’t concern you, Jem. You stir up the wrong people, and you’ll have to watch over your shoulder for every fucking shadow. How the hell do you think I kept you two alive all this time? By keeping my business to myself. Now let go of my shirt, and put my brunette back on the television.”
I released his shirt and glared down at him, wanting to shake the life out of the man.
He seemed to read my mind. A sad smile crossed his face. “Bet you’re regretting that day you saved me from the noose, huh?”
“Every fucking day.” I turned on the television, threw the remote at him and walked out. I climbed on my bike and fired it up. I knew where I was headed before the final decision had even entered my mind. Tashlyn had invaded my soul. I couldn’t get through a decent breath without thinking about her, and after the frustrating scene with my old man, I needed to clear my head just to keep from going crazy. I needed to see her. The weird fucking thing was that Tashlyn’s arrival in town had pushed the first domino, and the rest, it seemed, would follow. She’d opened the fucking Pandora’s Box, and there was no going back.
I pulled up to Everly’s house. It was dark. I got back on the bike and headed to Gregor’s Market, a place I rarely stepped into. With any luck, Landon wouldn’t be around. He was the last asshole I needed to face tonight.
The parking lot was filled with people stopping in to pick up sandwiches and fried chicken for a quick dinner. I didn’t give a shit who was inside.
As if he had Wolfe radar, Landon Gregor’s face shot up from behind the register. If he’d had the ability, he would have been shooting fire from his nostrils at the sight of me. Rumor was, that the old, self-righteous bastard, the honorable Mayor Gregor, was sick with something. He sure didn’t look sick as he scowled at me across the store.
“Find what you need, Wolfe, and be on your way.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Every nosy customer in the store turned to look. Everly poked her head around a display to see where her uncle’s rage had been directed. Her face fell, but it was more disappointment than anger.
Tashlyn was sitting at one of the small tables in the corner by the sandwich counter. Her blue eyes rounded with surprise when she spotted me. I walked straight toward her and thought about just how shitty it would feel if she turned me down.
I reached the table, and without a word, I offered her my hand. There was only the slightest hesitation before she placed her hand in mine.
I popped her to her feet. She had just enough time to stick her trash in the can as I pulled her past it. It seemed as if the only sounds in the market were the whirring motors of the refrigerators as I led Tashlyn through the store to the exit.
“What the hell are you about, Wolfe?” Landon barked from behind his counter.
I ignored him as I slammed open the door. I glanced back at Tashlyn in her faded and thin denim jacket. I took off my hooded sweatshirt and handed it to her. “Put this on. It’s cold tonight.”
She pushed her arm through but her hand never reached the end of the sleeve. She smiled as she curled her fingers around the end of it. “It’s got built in mittens.” She blinked up at me before glancing back at the store. Several people were staring out the window watching us. “Everly will be mad at me.”
Not giving a damn about the audience in the shop window I took hold of Tashlyn’s face and kissed her. A satisfied sigh ushered from her plump lips when I pulled my mouth away. “Do you want to go back inside?”
The blue of her eyes was like turquoise under the full moon sky. “No, I want to go with you.”
I couldn’t hold back my smile as I threw my leg over the bike. Tashlyn climbed on behind and wrapped her arms around me. All I could think was how badly I just wanted to ride off with her tucked in behind me and never look back at this place. Instead, I swung around and headed north on Main. The houses and stores were a blur of wavering porch lights and dirty white stucco facades as I twisted the throttle and rode through town.
Tashlyn held me tighter, pushing her breasts against my back as she propped her chin on my shoulder. I knew I didn’t deserve someone like her, but I was done standing on the fucking dark side of the moon. Sometimes you had to find the light or just drown in the blackness of it all.
I knew exactly where to head. It was only a few miles out of town, but it was far enough away from Blackthorn to forget that the town existed for a few hours.
I pulled the bike onto a tractor plowed road. I parked in the clearing next to the wood structure overlooking a steep ravine. The moon was glowing like a massive flashlight in the sky, showering yellow light over the valley below.
Tashlyn could have wrapped my sweatshirt around her twice as she pulled it closed. She reached back and pulled up the hood. “I feel bad about taking your sweatshirt. Of course, I’m not planning to give it up anytime soon, but I just wanted you to know that I was feeling some remorse about wearing it.”
I grabbed some of the loose material and yanked her against me. “Could you be any fucking cuter with your
and everything.” I kissed her again.
“Hmm,” she sighed, “is that long, hard and getting down to business?”
My mouth hovered over her lips. “Darlin’, trust me, you’ll know when I’m getting down to business.”
“Said the extremely appealing man with the completely unshakeable confidence.”
I took her hand and led her along the thin trail leading to the lookout. “Not true. You’ve been a great test for my confidence.”
“Is that right?”
“Yep, I was shaking in my damn boots tonight when I walked into that store. I thought, shit, what if she slaps my hand away.”
“Baloney. You walked past all those appalled expressions as if you had your middle finger raised at everyone. And you knew I wasn’t going to push away your hand.”
I shrugged. “Extremely appealing, eh?”
She laughed and stared up at the slightly tilted wood structure. It had walls on three sides and a roof overhead, but the front side was wide open. “What is this place?”
“It’s a viewing perch for birdwatchers. About twenty years ago some big bird club built it to watch for bald eagles. I haven’t been here for a long time.”
I stepped onto the platform and reached my arm down to give her a hand up.
“Somehow, I just don’t picture Jem Wolfe with his binoculars and bird identification guide book.”
“My visits here had a lot to do with nature, but I had less wholesome motives than bird watching.”
She hopped up on the deck with me. “Like what?”
I lifted a brow at her.
“Oh, yes, I see. Stupid question.” She spun around a few times with her face turned to the star covered sky before stopping. She swayed with dizziness for a second then flashed a smile that caused my head to spin along with hers. “So, what you’re saying is, your motives for bringing me up here are purely dirty.”
“Mostly. But I also thought you were the kind of girl who’d appreciate this place. You know, a girl who likes a breathtaking view with a little dirty thrown in.”
“You do seem to have me sort of figured out.” Her light blonde hair rippled in the breeze as she walked to the edge of the perch and gazed out at the view. Even swimming in my giant sweatshirt, she made my head spin with the idea of having her naked and in my arms.
“It’s beautiful up here, Jem. Thank you.” She turned around. I still hadn’t gotten used to how fucking beautiful she was. “And, thank you for today. If you hadn’t been working late . . .” Her voice trailed off and was lost in the vast canyon below.
I walked up next to her. We’d shrugged it off as fast as possible, so the true horror of what might have been couldn’t sink in. But the gravity of what had happened in the mill that afternoon still hung over us like a heavy shroud. And my talk with the old man hadn’t gotten me any closer to the truth.
Tashlyn lifted her face. “You’ve been there late all week, haven’t you? I see your bike in the lot as I walk up to the bus stop.”
“Yeah, I’ve been there.”
She took my hand. “Is it because of me?”
I looked out at the ravine. Tall trees dotted the granite slabs along the side of the valley, a deep cut in the mountain created by ancient glaciers. “I was just making sure you got on the bus all right.”
She turned and pressed her body against mine. “Funny. I had an entirely different image of what a guardian angel might look like.”
“Yeah? Too bad, cuz I’m thinking a fine pair of chrome-colored wings, and I’d make a pretty badass one.”
“I’d have to agree.”
I lowered my mouth to hers. My hands parted the panels of the sweatshirt. I slipped my hands beneath her shirt. Her skin was like cool silk beneath my callused palms. “God, I just need to touch you, Tash. Please let me touch you.”
Her lips parted, and my tongue dove deeper. My hand smoothed over her bra. She pressed her breast harder against it. I tugged the bra down, and her nipple hardened as my thumb circled it. She mewled softly against my mouth as I teased her. The sweet sound and the feel of her in my hands made my cock rock hard.
I lowered my hand to hers and turned her around so that her back was against me. I slid the sweatshirt off, hoping my body heat would be enough as I circled my arms in front of her and continued to caress her flat stomach and breasts. Her body rubbed against my cock, making my head spin with the idea of fucking her. Right then and there. She was frail and ready and in my arms, but I would hold back until she asked me, until she wanted me as badly as I wanted her.
Her head lolled back against my shoulder, exposing the smooth, long curve of her neck. I pressed my mouth against it as my hands traveled to the button on her jeans. She pulled in a short breath and stiffened for a fleeting second.
“Don’t deny me this, baby. I want to show you just how badly I’ve been needing to touch you.”
She relaxed at my words. I unzipped her pants, and before she could protest, I pushed them down, not completely just a few inches to let me freely touch her. I slid my hand down beneath her panties.
“Spread your thighs some, darlin’.” My pulse was fucking racing. My cock had been solid almost from the first time I’d met her, and I was ready to explode with wanting her. I’d never needed anything so badly.
Her feet slid apart. She reached up and wrapped her hands around my arms for support. It was a gesture that made my chest tighten. I realized right then that I was never going to let anything happen to her. I was going to tear apart anyone who tried to hurt her. Anyone.