Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
When I’m sure he is sleeping, I slip into the shower. I wonder, if Colt doesn’t fight, what will he do? He doesn’t fit the mold for a playboy millionaire, living off his father’s money. I suppose he could train other fighters. That is a common career direction for retired athletes.
I don’t know what he wants.
I lean against the tiled wall of the shower, letting the water cascade down. There is no second choice. Colt will have to get through this. There is no other option.
Colt is still sleeping when I get out of the shower. I put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and head downstairs, my stomach rumbling. I think back to when I first worked at Buster’s Gym, barely a loaf of bread to my name, and how hungry I would get. I’m glad those days are past.
My mother is downstairs. I don’t know what to call her. I am not ready for Mom or Mother. I’ve never called anyone that name in my life. But Marianna seems wrong too. Once I do that, I can’t see ever going back to something more familiar.
I’ll just have to avoid calling her anything.
She stands at the sink in the kitchen, wiping down a cutting board. Since I don’t know what to call her, I just watch her work for a minute.
She hums this little tune I start to recognize. It’s a song my grandmother would sing to me. The words are long lost to my memory, but the melody remains. I’m comforted despite my resistance to acknowledging this woman as anyone related to me.
She turns and sees me. “I have another smoothie prepared for Colt,” she says. She picks up a clipboard. “Tonight you get a kale salad and a grilled strip of sirloin.”
“When does Colt get to eat real food?”
My mother consults the printed pages. “At dinner tomorrow we add a poached egg and a bit of fruit.”
“Sounds like a lot of trouble, making all these different things.”
She sets the clipboard down. “It’s actually sort of fun. I’ve never worked for athletes before.” She opens the refrigerator and removes a bowl and a bit of marinated meat. “Sit down. I’ll get you the salad. Is he sleeping?”
I nod and slide into one of the chairs at the small breakfast table to one side of the kitchen. Even though the dining room is small and informal, I’m glad she doesn’t expect me to eat alone in there.
My mother sets the bowl in front of me. “I tried to cut the bitterness of the kale with a touch of honey in the dressing. Can’t hurt you, but a bit of sweet will make the leaves go down more easily.”
I stab at the salad. I have learned to separate the taste of food from the nutrition of it. But it’s nice that she thinks of it. “Thank you,” I say.
She busies herself cooking the strip of meat on a grill inset onto the stovetop. It sizzles and fills the room with the scent of garlic.
I don’t know what else to say to her. Maybe it’s a mistake to think we can ever have any sort of real relationship. I’m no good at these things anyway. I’ve been alone most of my life. It’s a miracle that Colt managed to somehow get to me.
Suddenly I miss Zero something fierce. He would have such a good time here. I can totally see him in a lei and grass skirt.
“This says to keep it rare,” my mother says. “But I’d rather just ask you what you prefer. Too much red in my meat makes me feel ill.”
I am the same, but I don’t want to admit it. “Rare is fine.”
She spears the strip of steak and transfers it to a plate. “All right, then.”
I’m hungry enough that it really doesn’t matter all that much, although when I cut into the still-bloody meat, my stomach turns. I maintain a poker face as I take a bite.
“Would you like me to take the smoothie up to Colt?” she asks.
“No, I will do it in a little bit. I’ll wake him.”
She turns away and tidies up the grill and counter. I’m pretty sure she’s stalling, not wanting to go. I’m not sure what to do. Finally I say, “I could use company.”
My mother wipes her hands on a dish towel and sits in a chair opposite me. Her expression is both sorrowful and grateful. I remember Colt telling me I was an “open book.” I see that I got this trait from her.
“So, is Hudson in high school?” I ask.
“Yes. He is a senior. He will graduate in a few months.” Her expression turns to pride. “He works on one of the docks.”
“How long — when did you get him back?”
“Well, I never really lost him. He was raised by my brother and his wife.”
I jump up from my chair. “I have an uncle?”
She stands up too. “Three, actually. And four cousins.”
I sink back down. Family. So much family. “I have had no one,” I say.
She walks around to me and places her hands carefully on my shoulders. I want to flinch, to twist away. My whole life I have had no one. And I could have had so much.
“I’m so sorry, Joanna. When I was with your father, I was trying to escape all this family. These overbearing brothers. Parents who wanted to tell me what to do. I didn’t realize they were watching out for me. That they acted the way they did because they cared.”
“Are your brothers here?”
“Two of them, yes. One brother is in Maine.” She laughs a little. “He got as far from Hawaii as he could.”
“Are your parents here?”
“Yes,” she says. “Although they live on one of the other islands.”
Grandparents, I think. Another grandma.
Her hands are still on my shoulders, kneading the muscles. It’s such a familiar thing to do, but she’s a stranger.
“Do you want to meet them?” she asks.
I don’t know. It’s so overwhelming. So much family. So many new people.
She pats my arm. “Perhaps in time.”
She collects her quilted bag from a counter by the back door. “I’ll get the dishes tomorrow. Goodnight, Joanna.”
Then she’s gone.
I force myself to eat a few more bites of the steak. Despite what she said, I scrape the plates and wash everything. Inside the refrigerator is Colt’s smoothie. I’ll take it up to him.
As I head up the stairs, I still feel dumbfounded.
Grandparents. Uncles. Aunts. Cousins. A brother. A
I feel like I’ve flown into another life.
The door to our room squeaks when I open it. Colt startles awake, and his hands move instantly to his belly.
I push it wide so the light comes through, just enough to see by.
“I brought dinner,” I say.
He shifts backward on the bed, using his hands to prop himself up. “Thanks.” He accepts the container. “I’m starving.”
“I was too.”
I crawl up onto the bed, mesmerized by the movement of Colt’s Adam’s apple as he drinks a swig. “Oh, that’s foul,” he says.
“I can spirit you away for a cheeseburger if you like.”
Colt smiles at that. “I’m all for messing up the trainer’s plan to make me wish I was dead after all.”
I punch his arm. “Not funny, Colt.”
“I know, I know.” He sets the smoothie on a table by the bed and draws me against him. “Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh about your predicament.”
“You’ll get there.”
“I suppose showering is still not on my agenda.” He pulls up the bottom of his shirt and surveys the bandages.
“There’s a basin in the bathroom with one of those hospital sponges,” I say.
“Sexy,” he says.
I shift around until I’m on my knees. “Could be.” I tug at his shirt and pull it up over his head.
“So, you finally get a turn at playing nurse?” he asks.
“I was mighty jealous that they got to clean you up. I swear they did it more often than was necessary.”
This gets another smile. I realize how few smiles we’ve had lately. “Jealous?”
“I only threatened two of them,” I say.
I move down to take off his socks. His legs are as strong and muscular as before. I run a hand along his calf.
“So, I’m guessing we’re alone in the house?” he asks.
“Right now we are.”
“Mmmmmm,” he says.
“I will be careful with you,” I say. I’m just inches away from his fight shorts, and I can see that some things are still in perfect working order. It feels like years since we’ve been together, that night of the fight with Diva Delaney, against the wall behind the restaurant.
I tug on the band of the shorts. “Don’t lift,” I say, knowing this will engage his abs. I peel the front carefully away from the bandages. Then, with a swift jerk, I get the back side down to his thighs.
“I think I like this,” he says.
I look at him, really get to look, for the first time since the attack. “Your harem has neglected their duties,” I say, running my hand across that thatch of hair that is usually neat and trimmed flat. The bandages begin just an inch above it.
“I guess I’m down to a harem of one,” he says.
I grasp him firmly at the base and slide my fingers along his length. The skin pulses, eager and hot.
Colt exhales in a long slow breath. “God, I have missed you.” Then he grins, a mischievous look coming over him.
“I like my nurses naked,” he says.
“Take that shirt off, slowly.” He glances around. “By the window.”
The moon is full and streams in through the open blinds. “Neighbors?”
“Let ’em see. I like the moonlight on you.”
“Colt!” I walk over to the window and glance down. There is one house on that side, but it is one-story and well below.
Colt has slipped down to a more comfortable position, his hands behind his head. The bandages gleam white, but the rest of him is as perfect as always. The tattoo loops around one arm. His chest is still muscled and hard, leading down to his chiseled hips. His erection stands straight up.
I finger the bottom of the shirt. “Since you want the neighbors to see,” I say, “I guess I will show them.” I turn around to face the window, double-checking that no one is out there. And I pull the shirt off over my head.
“Oh, that neighbor boy likes this,” I tease. “I think he’s trying to take a picture.”
Colt growls from the bed. “You come away from there.”
I whip around, laughing. “You are so easy.”
I crawl across the bed. Colt’s hands are on me instantly, cupping my breasts, thumbing my nipple. I lean in to kiss him, heady with the power I have over him for the moment.
He jerks at my shorts, taking them off with the panties in one yank. Before I can register what he’s done, his fingers are inside me.
It’s been so long, and just the feel of him touching me sends me spiraling up with need.
He pulls my body over his, but I’m afraid of the bandages, the wounds, so I hold myself above him. His hands run over my thighs. “You’re so strong,” he says.
His fingers go between us again. I’m high over him, holding on to the headboard. My breasts fall against his face, and he mouths one, sucking at the nipple. I’m feeling completely lost, moving over him as he works his fingers inside me.
His hand withdraws, and he pushes down on my hips. I hang on to his shoulders now, making sure I don’t put pressure on his belly as I settle down on him. I feel splintered by him as he enters my body, like it’s the first time all over again. But there is no pain in it, and we’ve barely even started when I’m feeling everything erupt.
I’ve wanted this, needed this, not let myself think of it as Colt healed. He starts thrusting, but I don’t let him, pinning him with my thighs, keeping him still as I work over him. The orgasm begins in a wave, blasting through me. I cry out, emotional and raw, relieved and thankful. Colt holds on to my hips, and I can feel his release into me, warm and wet.
He shudders beneath me, his breathing ragged.
I smooth the hair off his forehead. His eyes are closed, and I’m panicked that we’ve done too much, that he’s in pain. That we’ve ripped open the sutures, that he’s bleeding internally. I picture calling the ambulance, another surgery, another setback.
“Hey, hey,” he says, gripping my arms. “I’m okay, Jo. I’m all right.”
God, he knows me. I suck in a breath and stare into his eyes. It’s too dark to see what mix of brown and green he has tonight.
“Come here,” he says and shifts my knee so I will lie beside him.
I curl up next to him. “I’m not a very good nurse,” I say.
“How is that?”
“I never even got your sponge bath ready.”
His chuckle rumbles through my head where it rests on his chest. “You’re the only nurse I ever want tending to me.”
The quiet settles over us. The house has unfamiliar noises. A tree brushing against the roof. A ticking clock somewhere down the hall. But I remember what I knew was true before. Home is where Colt is.
So, I’m home.
Over the next week, Colt improves faster than anyone expected. He graduates to the next level of abdominal workouts, and a doctor approves the removal of the bulky bandages.
Seeing his belly the first time, uncovered, is such a shock I want to faint. An enormous suture crosses his skin, still yellow on the edges and fiery red beneath the radiating lines of the stitches.
My heart bangs against my throat and ears as the team doctor examines the wound. “We can reduce this to just some friction protection,” he says. “It’s looking great.”
I try to keep my voice even. “You’ll intimidate your opponents with your scars,” I say.
Colt laughs, and the ripple of the wound sends another wave of light-headedness through me.
We have the day off from workouts. The Cure and Eve have flown back to LA to attend to business, and having this house to ourselves, with my mother helping, is a relief.
The doctor tapes a narrow strip of gauze across Colt’s belly. “You’re good to go,” he says. “I’m not sure I’d get in the ocean water if you head to the beach, not just yet. But showering is fine.”
We’ve planned for an afternoon in one of Oahu’s public parks. My mother has suggested I meet a few people.
I shoulder a basket of food she has packed. Zandalee, the florist, is a friend of the family, so she picks us up in her pink and green hearse. Without a stretcher in the back, she has lifted a second row of seats. Colt and I scoot back there, the basket between us.