For days Dom stayed out of sight, barricading himself in his room. Day in and day out, he did nothing but keep himself busy with pushups until nighttime hit. Then he’d go out for a run. He didn’t want to be around anyone, not even his brothers. He didn’t want to see the questions in their eyes. Because if he were honest, he didn’t have an answer for them.
Whatever the hell was happening to him—he hated it. It was the first time he had that odd feeling that made his adrenaline pump ever time the girl cracked a smile. So he didn’t quite know what was wrong with him. He suppressed every urge he had, and he grew angry at himself for even thinking about some girl with big, deep brown eyes and silky, dark hair that he wanted to run his fingers through . . .
Fuck! He was doing it again—he was thinking about those goddamn urges.
He did another pushup and then rolled onto his ass, bending a knee as he wiped the sweat from his brow. He leaned against the railing, his eyes scanning the land. The sun dipped behind the hills, casting orange and pink shadows across the clouds. Blowing out a breath, he stood and closed the open French doors behind him. He grabbed the white towel off his dresser and wiped his face and chest with it.
A pack of Oreos set on his nightstand and he frowned, knowing it was empty. He twisted the cap off his Gatorade and drained it. Letting out a giant belch, he exited his room with the hope that his brothers were too busy to notice him. The lounge sat empty and Dom slid behind the wet-bar. He kneeled, opening a cabinet and withdrawing a bag of Doritos.
As he stepped into the hallway, he saw a shadow in the kitchen. He quickly tried to make a run for the stairs.
“Dom? Is that you?” Jason called as his footsteps echoed in the dining hall.
Dom swore under his breath. Luck did not exist for him.
“Uh, I was wondering if I could talk with you?” When Dom didn’t move or say anything, Jason continued. “Aidyn let it slip you’ve been having some sleeping issues. He said that’s why you’ve been running late at night.”
Dom bit his tongue and closed his eyes, picturing his boot stomping on Aidyn’s head.
“I know you don’t like Len, but I think she’d be able to help you.”
“I don’t need you sucking up to me,” he muttered as he stomped up the stairs, “and I damn sure don’t need her help.”
Jason sighed. “Just think about calling her. You look like shit.”
“Who was that hot guy chatting you up outside the school?” Erica leaned over the booth table as if talking about a secret, but her voice didn’t lower.
Jade glanced around the cafe before taking a sip of her coffee. "Just a guy from class."
Of all the times Jason refused to let Erica drive his car, today had to be the one exception.
Jason arched a brow as he stuffed a cream cheese pastry in his mouth.
“Christ, Jason, you should have seen him. Those eyes will haunt me forever. Swear they almost looked silver.”
His head whipped. “What?”
“Yeah, his eyes were this gorgeous silver color. I mean, they were probably gray—but damn did they shine.”
The wrinkles of his forehead deepened. “Silver?”
Erica ignored him. “He ask you out yet?”
“No, we’re just friends.”
“Pff, friends are overrated. You need to take charge.” Erica dropped her fork on her plate and balled her fist. “Grab him by the nuts, look him dead in the eye, and say, ’I wanna fuck you.”
“I’m pretty certain that’s sexual assault.”
Her sister’s nose scrunched. “Prude.”
“No, I just don’t feel like being on the sex offender list.”
“It’s already September. Your birthday’s next month. We will be getting you laid, or you’re gonna turn into one of those old prudes with twenty cats—”
“Dogs,” Jade interjected.
“—and then you’re gonna die alone.”
“Newsflash: everyone dies alone.” Jade poked at the raspberry cheesecake in front her.
“Well, you can at least get some dick before you die alone.” Erica shook her head and crunched down on a cookie. “Everyone needs some dick.”
“I’m not wired like you. I can’t just jump on someone I don’t know.”
“Sure you can. He’s just gotta be hot enough. Like Dom.”
At the mention of his name, her mouth watered and heat licked its way up her neck. She shook off the speck of lust that flamed inside her body. Clearing her throat, she took a bite of her cheesecake.
Erica smiled. “Still recovering from the other day, huh?”
Jason perked up. “Recovering from what? What happened?”
“She almost subdued the dragon.”
Jason still stared at her sister, not quite understanding the hint.
“Her and Dom shared a moment on the couch the other day.” Her sister failed to mention the fact that Dom knocked her off the couch and barreled out the room like his life depended on it.
“Oh, no, no, no. Don’t be mackin’ with my cousin. You can have your choice of any other guy but him. Hell, get to know Zeke.”
“He’s an alcoholic,” Jade said, thinning her lips.
“And Dom’s the reason.” Jason put his elbows on the table. “Look, I only trust the man to protect you because he’s strong, but he’s stone in here.” Jason tapped his temple. “Leave him alone.”
“Last time I checked, she was twenty-three, not fifteen.”
“I’m not trying to pull the whole ‘overprotective big brother’ thing—”
“Then don’t.” Erica rolled her eyes. “If Beauty wants to screw the Beast, you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
Jade wasn’t sure when her sex life became the center of the conversation, but she was ready for the topic to change.
“How’s Len?” she asked.
Jason finally stopped glaring at Erica. “She’s doing okay. Her leg’s been moving better lately. She might be over later.”
“Good, I haven’t seen her in a month.”
Back at the house, Jade hefted her bag of clothes down the stairs to the laundry room, threw them in the washer, and flipped open her sister’s Cosmo. Her lips turned down as she read a few articles.
“How to land your man in bed with a simple look and a few words,” she read aloud and raised her eyebrows.
A list of helpful tips followed.
And Erica reads this crap. She bowed her head in shame.
After she washed and dried her clothes, she carried the unfolded mountain up the stairs, keeping them balanced and stable with her chin. As she reached the third floor, a strange draft blew back her hair. She glanced over her shoulder and stared out the window that overlooked the dirt road. At the corner of her eye, a dark figure flashed out from behind a tree and ducked behind another. It was so fast she thought she imagined it.
Keeping her eyes on the woods, she took a few steps forward and bumped into a body. The clothes flew in the air, scattering along the top steps of the staircase and the mouth of the hall.
“Dammit.” She bent down, picking up the shirts and pants.
It was then that she spotted a pair of black lace panties lying on top of a black boot. Dom’s boot. Her cheeks burned as she went to reach for them, but he was faster and grasped them first. She closed her eyes, knowing somewhere a cruel God was playing a joke on her.
She stood as he straightened with her panties in his hand. He looked at them, admiring them from the look of it, and glanced at her with an arched brow and smug smirk, his black eyes glinting with humor.
“Aren’t my panties pretty?” she asked, batting her lashes.
He opened his mouth. She saw the words forming on his tongue, but he pressed his lips together and glared. He let out a slow sigh and held out her panties. She tried wrenching them from his hand, but he wouldn’t let go.
“Uh, my good man, you cannot keep those. They’re mine. And I hate to break it to you, but your junk won’t fit in them.”
He snatched them back, brought them to his nose, and took in a big, nice sniff. He closed his eyes and when lids fluttered open again, he looked . . . sated. Happy, even.
“Uh, did you—” her brow knotted and she looked from side to side, “did you just sniff my panties?”
A devilish grin formed on his lips and he nodded.
“Smell good? Like Snuggles?”
His grin grew bigger.
“Whelp,” she popped the “p” and put her hands on her hips, “now that you’ve . . . smelled them, you can give them back.”
He paid her no attention, stuffed her panties in his pocket, walked around her, and descended the stairs.
“Or that’s cool, too. You know, just stuffing them in your pocket and walking away. That’s completely normal. You shouldn’t be worried about your mental health at all,” she called out to him as she leaned over the banister.
When those pair of panties floated onto his boot like a heavenly feather, Dom knew there was no handing back those panties. Not now. Not ever. They were his.
Psycho? Yes. Did he care? No.
He figured it was payback for the coat and shirt he lost three years ago. He jogged down the stairs to the bar. The brick walls were lit with dim lights and behind the bar, Aidyn stocked bottles of liquor onto the shelves. His brother glanced back.
“Haven’t seen you down here much.”
“Hand me a beer.” He leaned his stomach against the counter and rested his elbows on its surface.
Aidyn grabbed a Bud Light from the icebox and set it in front of him. “Where’ve you been lately? You’ve been acting strange for the last three days.”
“No, I haven’t.”
The last thing he needed was his brother telling him he was acting strange because he wasn’t. He was merely staying out of sight. A lot.
“Yes, you have. I don’t even think you’ve eaten.”
“Are you my mother now?”
Aidyn sighed, popping the cap off his own beer. “What’s your deal with Jade?”
He cut his eyes. Why did everyone think there was a “deal” between them? There was no deal. If anything, there was just the tiniest hint of attraction, which rebelled against all laws of physics, and it was slowly eating at his brain, making him want to step out in front of a truck.
“The other night, you got all possessiveness at the window, and a day later you were probably the drunkest I’ve ever seen you. Even Zeke was asking questions, and he was drunk.” Aidyn’s face scrunched as if he’d eaten a lemon. “And now it’s like you're hiding.”
He was. He wouldn’t deny it. Hiding from her was stupid—he knew this. Comforting but stupid. It was just easier to suppress the bouts of lust than to face them head-on. His smell was on her. He was confused and freaked and . . . a little turned on, but for the most part, he stayed confused.
And he kept asking himself the same question: how’d his scent get on her?
It was only a small amount embedded in her skin, but he knew there was a chance it could grow more profound over time. And that thought alone sparked a fear in him. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want anyone knowing he somehow marked a human. It wasn’t a claim he stood proud of.
“What’s going on? It’s like you know this chick or something?”
“He does,” a woman’s gruff, smoky voice answered.
Dom glanced over his shoulder, eyes hardening as Len stood under the archway with her wooden cane in hand. The old woman hobbled toward them, her long blue nightgown swishing back and forth against the floor. Looking away from her, he stared at his beer. Dread knotted inside him. Of course the witch would come over and stir some shit.
“Don’t you, Dom?” She sidled up on the stool beside him.
He eyed the counter, content with not answering.
“He doesn’t like talking about how he made out with her on my couch.”
Aidyn’s eyes bulged out of his skull. “What?”
“Tell him about it.” Len nudged Dom and he glared at her. “Go ahead.”
“It was nothing.” He cut his eyes, not looking at either of them as he shook his head.
“It didn’t look like nothing. In fact, if I hadn’t walked in, I think it’d gone a little further.” She looked to his brother. “He would’ve taken advantage of that poor girl.”
His head jerked up. “No, I wouldn’t have. You always put me out to be the bad guy.”
They had a staredown, his fiery eyes pinning into her soft green ones with daggers.
Aidyn stood in front of them, confused. “Why am I just now hearing about this?”
“He said he didn’t want anybody to know, so nobody knows.” Len shrugged. “Hell, she doesn’t even know.”
An empty feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. “She doesn’t remember any of it?”
“She remembers bits and pieces, but the concussion kind of wiped her memory of you.” Len looked to him. “She just knows some guy saved her. She asks me all the time if I’ve seen you since, so she can thank you.”
His face paled as a wave of nausea swept over him. She didn’t remember him, which meant she didn’t remember anything else that happened between them that day.
His brother still seemed baffled, and Len’s gaze drifted to him as she pulled a cigarette out of her nightgown pocket. “He saved her from the river by my house.”
“When was this?”
Dom looked down at his full beer and suddenly didn’t want it anymore. “It was after Zeke’s mate died. I felt like I owed someone something.”
Aidyn’s eyebrows shot up. “So, you guilt-tripped yourself into saving a human?”
The muscle in Dom’s jaw ticked annoyance, his pride deteriorating by the second. He hated humans, yet here he was admitting he’d saved one.
“Wait ’til I tell Zeke this. He’s gonna rag on you for life. Dom all soft for a girl.”
“You wanna talk about going soft a girl? You’re going soft for a whore.”
The laughter faded from Aidyn’s eyes. “Watch your mouth.”
Dom sniffed the air. “I can smell her all over you . . . you already marked. You getting ready to brand her too?”
“Don’t turn this around, Dom,” Len said.
He flashed his gaze to her. “And you can get the hell out of my house. The only reason you come over here is to screw with me.”
“Hey, you called me.”
“Yeah, and now I see it was a bad idea.” He gave her another icy look and pivoted from the counter as he walked away.
“You ever gonna tell Jade about the river?”
He spun around, teeth gritting. “You think I care if that human doesn’t know it was me? I’m glad. Saves me a helluva lot of trouble.”
“Of course you care. You were hoping to relive those heated minutes you had with her on my couch.”
Dom snorted as Len lit her cigarette. “I could’ve already had her in that position—in fact, I almost did.”
Aidyn nodded. “That’s true.”
“I’m sure she wasn’t looking at you the same way.” She took a drag from her cigarette.
He swallowed hard and swerved his eyes away from the witch, hating the truth. “What do you want from me?”
“It’s not what I want from you. It’s what you want from me. I know why you called. Go ahead, ask.”
Biting his tongue, he stared at the floor. “How do I get rid of the dream?”
“Jeez, you ask so nicely.” She dug into her nightgown pocket and pulled out two bottles. “I found two potions lying in the back of my cabinets that happen to relieve bad dreams.”
His eyes widened. “For good?”
Len cut her eyes. “Well, no, but they get rid of it until the bottles run dry, and by the time that happens, I’ll have found out how to completely get rid of it.”
He reached out a hand to take the bottles but she pulled back.
“Ah, ah, ah, you don’t get these until you admit you like Jade.”
What the hell did this old hag think he was made of? Powdered sugar and candy canes? He didn’t like anyone, especially a pint-sized human.
Aidyn snickered as he wiped the counter down with a cloth. “Don’t be embarrassed to have feelings, Dom.”
“Shut up,” he grumbled.
“It’s not that hard, just be open with your feelings.” Len smashed her cigarettes in the ashtray.
His hand twitched with the urge to smack the wrinkles right off her face.
Growling out of frustration, he walked away again. This time, he didn’t stop. “Keep the damn bottles.”
“Stubborn ass,” Len muttered.
Ignoring their chuckles, he left the bar and went upstairs to his room. The black book sat on the table by the door, open to the sketches. He should have done something else at night, instead of looking at them with the stupidest flick of hope that she’d remember.
It wasn’t like it was that great of a kiss. It was just . . .
He shook his head and dropped onto his bed, putting his face in his hands. Okay, that was a lie. It was that great of a kiss, the only kiss worth remembering out of his entire existence. She hadn’t been an expert at it, but damn, she left an impression.
It was time to end this infatuation he’d grown. It was unhealthy and unnatural, and he needed to stop it before it got out of hand. He was sick of looking at the sketches, he was tired of those little sparks he felt, and he was done with the possessiveness that overpowered him when she was around.
He stalked into the hallway with every intention of going to her room, waking her up from sleep, and giving her another taste of his lips to help her recall who he was. This night he had to make himself see that those skin to skin sparks were in his head and that she was no different than any other broad he walked by on the street.
He cracked open the door and it gave-way with an eerie squeak. The darkness blinded him as his eyes adjusted. With bile rising in his throat, he stepped in and locked the door behind him. The last thing he needed was for her sister to walk in and find him looming over her like a mindless creep. In the pale moonlight pouring in from the glass wall, he saw her curled up on the bed in a ball.
Sucking in a breath, he stilled. Mine.
Too mesmerized to take back the thought, he carried forward.
Jade lay close to the edge of the bed, her hair tousled across her pillow, her head tilted toward him, and the sheets pushed down to her feet. He moved closer, inching toward her with caution, clenching his fists so hard his knuckles turned white.
A cover lay bundled at the tips of her toes, and he tugged it over her, the back of his fingers brushing the soft skin of her arm as he did. He winced. Damn her, and damn the sparks that shocked him each time he grazed her. He swallowed hard. The mere touch generated his insides, heating them like an oven full of fluttering butterflies.
This was a lesson—his punishment for what happened to Zeke. She was an angel sent to tease him with what he couldn’t have. Couldn’t hold.
Don’t want to hold, he caught himself.
He glared down at her, hating the feeling she obliviously stirred inside him. With every fiber of his being, he hated her. He wanted to rip her apart, rip her to shreds, rip her clothes off, wanted to touch and lick every inch of her skin, taste those lips, bury his nose in those mass of dark waves and curls.
He wouldn’t let a human get in his head like that and drive him mad. No one would ever make him that vulnerable. A moan fell from her parted lips, and he flinched. He should’ve known he wouldn’t have the balls to wake her.
But he couldn’t make himself leave, not yet. His fingers itched to touch her. They wanted to feel that shock one more time. He bent down on his knee beside the bed and brushed a curl off her forehead. His thumb glided across her bottom lip. So soft and plump. He smiled, remembering them once being swollen and bruised from his own.
She reached out to him, her hand grasping his shirt and pulling him forward, and like a drunken fool, he allowed her. Hell, allowed wasn’t even the term for it; he all but melted in her hands, his body liking the warmth, begging for more of that foreign solace. Her hot mouth pressed a kiss to the corner of his lip, a small peck, harmless.
Lovely . . .
Reluctant, he pulled his hand away and rose from the floor. He had to get out of her room before he lost his senses—before that sweet smell of her skin made its way to his brain, damaging what rational thoughts he had left.