I was standing next to my truck, grabbing a pack of gum from the console because my nerves were all over the place. Ever since I quit smoking gum has been my go to when I was stressed out. But as soon as I shut the door, I turned and saw Adrena coming out of the stations front doors and my heart beat started to race. She was the only woman to ever make me feel this way and as I watched her, I couldn’t help but smile.
That was until I watched her start running in Dane’s direction, right into his arms, and start kissing him like her life depended on it. And something snapped inside of me. Watching them all over each other, Dane having an ear splitting grin across his face, made me want to break something. It should be my arms that she ran to, not Dane’s, and now I was pissed off.
Dane’s words from earlier came back to me and I gritted his teeth. Dane had stated that Adrena wanted me, not Dane, but what I was looking at right now made me feel like the complete opposite. It wasn’t me she had wanted, but his brother.
And I wanted nothing to do with either of them. I was glad I could help get her out but I was done; just done.
I jumped in my truck and tore out from my spot by the curb before either of them could spot me. I was headed back to the ranch to pack a bag and get the hell out of here. I was going to let Dane win this time. I was going to tuck tail and finally go out on my own. I was done with all of it.
I told himself I wasn’t going to, but I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw both Dane and Adrena turn in my direction and watch me drive away. A look spread across Adrena’s face that I couldn’t decipher. But I didn’t care anymore as I looked straight ahead and turned the corner and out of their sight, heading towards the ranch.
I felt anger towards Dash in that particular moment, unsure why he was driving away and not standing here next to me. Why was he always running away? Why was he always such a jackass?
Dane gripped my shoulders, pulling my gaze away from the direction that Dash had just disappeared, as I looked up at him.
“Why is he so complicated? Wasn’t he just here bailing me out with you? And now he’s running away?” I had heard them talking out in the barn again, but this time I couldn’t hear what they were saying. The music that Dane had left on the back porch was muffling out their voices but now I wished I had heard what they were talking about because there was no doubt that they were talking about me.
“He’s a very complicated person, Adrena. He’s had a pretty tough go at life and running away is his mechanism for guarding himself.” Dane sounded sad and I had no idea why.
“Like I haven’t had a tough go at life? Running away isn’t going to fix anything, but if that’s what he wants, then fine!” I was beyond irritated and just wanted this day to be over. And if Dash wanted to run and didn’t want anything to do with me, then fine, let him go, I thought.
Dane sighed. “I think we should head back to the ranch. We can tell Mr. Hughes to meet us there but I think we all need some rest.” Dane guided me towards his car and helped me into the front seat as the lawyer came out and started speaking with Dane.
Their voices were muffled over the engine but I made out a few things. Dane was going to bring me back to the ranch while the lawyer was headed back to his office to grab a few things and then would meet us back at the ranch in the morning. He wanted to put some things together before discussing the case any further and he wanted to speak with Officer Connelly, the man who questioned me, before making any decisions regarding their next step.
I was grateful because I was exhausted and just wanted this horrible day to be over.
Dane thankfully didn’t say anything as he pulled away from the police station and just let me stare out the side window at the trees whipping by as he drove along the highway. The sun was setting behind the horizon, creating a beautiful orange hue that cascaded over the low clouds and created a breathtaking sunset.
But I finally turned to look at Dane and asked, “Seriously, what is wrong with your brother? Did I do or say something to make him hate me so much?”
Dane lightly laughed and shook his head. “He doesn’t hate you, Adrena.”
“Oh, really?” I was being sarcastic and a bit on edge.
“It’s the opposite of hate and I think that’s why he’s being such a jackass. He thinks you’re choosing me over him and he’s pissed about it. Every woman we’ve ever been with has always chosen me, I turn them down of course, but it burns his ass that it seems like nobody wants just him. Women are afraid of him.” Dane continued to talk but I was in my own mind.
How could women be afraid of him? Sure he was rough around the edges and could be a scary, intimidating man, but I had never felt scared of him. In fact, when he got possessive and his roughness came out, was when I was the most attracted to him. He set my skin of fire by those mean looks he gets. Hell, even when he was clearly directing his hatred for me towards his punching bag, I had been completely turned on. And when he stormed towards me and took me against the barn wall, I felt like I was having a dream come to life. I liked the roughness about him, his take charge attitude, and the tough exterior he paraded around. Everything about that man was like sex on a stick and I had never felt more connected to anyone in my life and now I wanted to learn more about the man and not just how he completely put me under a spell when we were naked and tangled together.
“He’s never really been good with women, Adrena. He ends up scaring them away, and now that you’re clearly not afraid of him, I think he’s terrified that if he did end up letting you in, actually accepting the fact that you choose him, that he might fuck something up in the long wrong and lose you forever. Dash has never been in an actual relationship other than a physical one between me and another woman. He doesn’t know how to do this, Adrena.”
I was breathing heavily, listening to everything he was saying to me. He might be afraid, hell, so was I, but that wasn’t going to stop me from being with a man that was clearly perfect for me. We both had rough go’s at life from the beginning and we were both rough around the edges, and maybe that was why we were so connected. We both needed each other, but it obviously scared us both in different ways.
Well, after my run-in with the law and knowing how close Karl is to my location, I wasn’t going to be afraid anymore. I was going to grab the one thing that made me feel normal, feel loved, feel grounded, and I was going to hold on for dear life.
Dane was still talking, but I cut him off, “Dane? Drive faster.” And he did with a grin on his face, getting us to the ranch in record time.
I let out a breath of relief when I saw that Dash’s truck was still parked in front of the barn as I jumped out of the front seat and took off towards the barn, leaving Dane to himself.
I pushed the door open and scanned the immediate area, seeing the punching bag had been dropped to the ground and waited to be moved. There were a few duffel bags sitting next to it also. He was seriously trying to take off on me and I wasn’t going to let it happen.
I heard some rustling coming from above me and spotted the stairs near the back, running in their direction, as I climbed them two at a time. I was nearly out of breath when I reached the top. A second wind came to me when I marched towards the slightly open door, a light illuminating it, and shoved it open.
The space was not at all what I was expecting to find for a loft in a barn and couldn’t help but look around. It was a true apartment with walls and everything. You would never know it was a barn loft if you hadn’t entered through a barn to get up here. And it was then that I noticed more bags and a few paintings pulled down from the wall, leaning against a couch next to the bags and my heart sank. He wasn’t just planning on taking off for a short time. No, he was planning on leaving forever by the looks of it, and panic set in.
I still hadn’t caught sight of him but heard more rustling coming from a room I assumed was the bedroom and marched in his direction. And as I stood in the doorway, I saw Dash shoving clothes into yet another bag.
“You have a lot of stuff for being a guy. How many more bags are you going to pack?”
My voice clearly startled him as he turned to stare at me, a hand full of clothes in his hand. “What are you doing here?” His voice was gravely and his eyes were bloodshot, which only made my heart tighten even more. Had he been crying? My big tough guy?
“I kind of live here right now, if you haven’t noticed,” I was trying to lighten the mood, hit him with some sarcasm, but it was clearly not amusing him.
“It’s hard not to notice.” He started shoving the clothes into the bag again, taking his eyes from my form in the doorway.
I studied him for a long while. I had never met a more stubborn man in my life, but I was crazy about this stubborn man and I don’t know how it happened or when it happened, but I had fallen in love with this stubborn man, and it took me until now to fully admit that to myself.
I am in love with Dash McCarthy.
“So, where are you going?” I asked nonchalantly, slowly walking farther into the room but still keeping my distance from him.
He shrugged. “Not sure yet. I’ll figure it out, I always do.” He kept his eyes averted from me as he continued to pack the bag full of clothes in front of him.
“You don’t have to go, you know. I won’t be here long.” I was trying to get some kind of reaction from him but so far I was failing. “In fact, I could leave tonight. This is your home, not mine.”
He snorted, glaring up at me finally. “And make my brother hate me more than he already does? No thanks. I still have to work with the prick.” He stopped packing and put his full attention on me now, making the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. His glare was not friendly one bit. “Besides, I don’t want to get in the way of you and my brother having a good life together. It’s clear how much you two care about each other.” He started packing again, walking to the other side of the room and opened a small closet door, his back to me.
I nodded. “Yeah, your brother means a lot to me. He’s been an amazing friend, but... you can’t seriously be this blind right?”
He stopped what he was doing and turned to look at me again, the bag in his hand falling to the floor at his feet. “Excuse me?”
I squared my shoulders and walked up to him, not afraid of him one bit. “You heard me, Dash.”
He studied my face, his gaze dropping to my lips, before glaring back into my eyes. Just his glare alone sent shivers of desire across my skin. “What are you trying to get at here, Adrena? I have more packing to get to.” He stepped away from me and opened the nightstand next to the bed and rummaged around, pulling a tablet and laptop out.
“Well, then I better start packing too,” I started, walking towards the door.
Then I heard Dash groan. “You don’t have to leave. I’ll be out of your guys’ hair before the night is over.”
“You’re not hearing me correctly then.” I bit my bottom lip and took a deep breath before continuing, “Where you go, I go. So, if you still plan on taking off tonight, that’s fine, but I’m coming with you.”
He stopped everything he was doing and turned to stare at me, a confused look spread across his face, and clearly didn’t know what to say to my statement.
“So, where are we going Dash?”
He finally shook his head. “We’re not going anywhere, Adrena. You don’t have to do this anymore. You don’t need to play nice with both of us when it’s clear who you’ve chosen. And it’s okay, really...” He was staring at me and I couldn’t help but see the small glint of moisture building in his eyes: Tears. “I’m used to it now, but this time I’m leaving and allowing my brother to finally have the happily ever after he has deserved for years. I won’t be in your guys’ way any longer.” He turned back to packing, but walked past me and into the living room, dumping the bag next to the others.
“You are such a jackass!” I shouted as I followed him out into the living room area.
He stopped and turned to me, hurt clearly evident on his features. “I’m a jackass? Why am I a jackass?”
I marched up to him and poked him right in the chest. “Because I’m standing here trying to tell you that I choose you! It’s you I want, Dash! Not your brother, not Karl, not anyone else! I. Want. You.” I poked him with the last three words individually and glared up into his confused eyes.
“You don’t want me, Adrena...” his voice was soft as he continued, “I don’t know how to do this.” He pointed between the two of us. “I’m not good at being alone with anyone because I’ve never done it. I don’t know how any of this works. Yeah, we have this wicked awesome connection in bed, but what if we don’t outside of the bedroom? What if we don’t when it’s just the two of us sharing each other?” He was nearly out of breath, clearly freaking out.
I slowly brought my hands up and cupped his face, staring deeply into his eyes. “You don’t believe any of that, do you?” I kept my voice low, my heart pounding. “You can’t stand here and tell me you don’t feel the connection we share every time we look at each other. You can’t stand here and tell me you don’t think this can work between us. Because I call bullshit.”
“Adrena,” he sighed, reaching up and grabbing my wrists as he held his gaze on mine. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
He sighed again. “You don’t understand.” He finally pulled my wrists and hands from his face as he stepped away from me. “I’m not the kind of guy you date, Adrena. I’m not the kind of guy that will be a good husband or a good father. I’m not made for that shit, I don’t know how to do any of that. That’s Dane’s department. I know how to fuck and fight and carry on alone. The rest is completely foreign to me.”
My heart squeezed at his words and how he thought so little of himself. He could be all of those things if he just let them happen. If he pushed those walls down around himself and forgave those in his past that have hurt him, he could live a wholesome and free life.
“If you haven’t noticed, Dash, I’m not exactly wife and mother material either. I’ve had a shitty fucking life and all I know is fear and fighting for my life. I don’t know what it’s like to love someone and have them love me back. I don’t know how to hold a house together without drugs and guns. I don’t know what it’s like to have a man touch me tenderly, or what it’s like to be in a faithful relationship. I’ve never been with anyone who isn’t afraid to sell my body so they can pay the electric bill or get some fast cash in their pockets. I’ve been used and abused, abandoned, and forgotten.” I was almost out of breath, tears streaming down my face as I shook. “We’ve both had horrible pasts in some way or another, Dash. I’m not looking for Mr. Perfect, I’m looking for someone who is perfect for me,” I paused, searching his torn, emotion-filled face. “Someone who is just as broken as I am. Someone who can relate to me when I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares as tears stream down my face. Someone who can build me up as I build them up. Someone to learn and grow with.” I crossed my arms over my chest and swallowed back a sob. “So if you don’t feel like you’re that guy for me, then go. But I want you to know that I won’t settle for someone that I don’t love because I don’t want to be alone. I’d rather be alone for the rest of my life than to pretend I love someone else.”
I took a deep breath then and just stood there, not sure what else to say or do.
Dash was still staring at me, but the look he was giving me now was something completely different from the cold, distant stare he normally gave me.
I wanted him to say or do something, but he wasn’t budging. And it was then that I felt like I had lost. It was clear that no amount of words were going to convince Dash that we were meant to be together. So I pushed away from the chair I had leaned against and turned towards the door. I began to cry silently, tears streaming down my face unlike they ever had before. I normally hid my emotions or only let a few tears go, but Dash McCarthy made my dammed up tears breakthrough like a waterfall.
“Hey,” Dash whispered from right behind me as I felt his large, warm hand grab my elbow and spin me toward him as he cupped my face, wiping my tears away with his thumb. “You love me?” His voice was a whisper while his eyes misted over, and all I could do was nod. He had cupped my face with both hands now as he stared down into my eyes that were still full of tears as he caressed my cheek with one thumb while the other trailed across my bottom lip. “You never have to go through any of that shit again if I can help it...and you definitely won’t face it alone, babe.”I let out a small sob with a laugh as I wrapped my arms around him tightly and got on my tip-toes to press my lips firmly against his. He continued to hold my face between his hands as he opened his mouth and pressed his tongue against mine as I opened up for him. I moaned into the kiss and had never felt so complete in all my life. How a single man could make me feel this way was still flabbergasting. I had definitely found love where it wasn’t supposed to be, but it was a love I would cherish for the rest of my life. Now I just have to wrap up my past so I can move forward with Dash.