M A X
Something was wrong.
I’d told my parents I wanted some fresh air, refusing any company. The truth was, I was meeting Cain, and they wouldn’t be overly pleased with that. The air was chilly, my breath coming out like puffs of smoke with each exhale. I didn’t mind the cold. I pushed my hands down further into my coat pockets, savouring the warmth there.
The road my parents lived on was a cul-de-sac of similar-sized houses, most of them occupied by larger families. I keep my head down as I walk towards the curve in the road, glancing up intermittently to see if Cain had arrived. On my third or fourth glance, I saw him.
The way my heart leapt when I saw him made me breathless, especially when he lifted his head in my direction. I slow down my pace, not wanting to appear too eager. His arms unfold as I approach, and he turns to face me with a small smile on his lips.
“Thanks for meeting me,” he says, his eyes scanning my face thoughtfully. “I wasn’t sure if you would.”
“You said you had something to tell me?” I blow on my hands, wishing I’d brought gloves. Cain gestures to his car, raising his eyebrows quizzically.
“Wanna get inside? I can put the heater on?” He offers, already walking towards the driver’s side. I hesitate, but the numb feeling in my fingers decides for me. I climb in beside him, my fingers positioned over the air vents, ready for warmth.
“Why haven’t you answered my texts?” Cain turns the heaters on, turning to gaze at me. I’d forgotten how mesmerising his eyes were, the unique cloudy grey swirling against tornados of blue, creating the perfect storm.
“That’s not why I’m here,” I say curtly, flexing my fingers against the hot air that thawed them. I could sense his bewilderment from here, but I wasn’t interested in setting him straight. I stole a glance at him, proving myself right. His jaw was clenched, a confused frown dominated his brow.
“Fine,” Cain moves his gaze to the window beside him, allowing me to view his side profile. My stomach fluttered when he swung his head around, catching me staring at him. I look away, biting my lip. “I want you to hear this from me.”
I lift my eyes to his, his tongue wetting his lips as he makes a face. Gone is the confusion; it has been replaced with confidence and empathy.
“Andy didn’t kidnap Alex; nor you,” he breathes, his eyes searching mine. He expects my next question, speaking before I can ask. “Yan’s girlfriend came clean.”
A roar filled my ears, my heart thumped so hard in my chest I had no option but to press my hand to it, to stop it from bursting out.
“She could be lying,” I croak out, as the stormy eyes dropped my gaze. I could barely breathe. “Cain?”
The mention of his name commands his attention, and he looks up at me with sadness. He blinks slowly, his fingers running against his jaw as I try to compose myself.
If Yan’s girlfriend had told the truth, then that meant my sister was lying.
Nausea sweeps over me, and I take a deep breath, closing my eyes before speaking through gritted teeth.
“So Yan took us? Why would he do that?” my voice cracks, the image of Andy- poor, sweet, innocent Andy- being held in custody over something he didn’t do. Hot tears of frustration spill down my cheeks, and I wipe them away with the back of my hand. “Alex wouldn’t- “
The sob that leaves my throat replaces the words I try to say, and Cain reaches out for me, holding my hand in both of his. His touch both comforts me and angers me, and I pull back, shaking.
“Why would Alex lie?” I whisper. It devastated me he had confirmed my fears. “Is she in trouble?”
Cain sighs, reaching out to wipe my tears away with his thumb. I close my eyes then, allowing my head to fall into the crook of his hand. His silence answered my question. Yet I had so many more. I open my eyes to see a police car pass us and fear grips my heart.
“My parents,” I go to move when I feel Cain wrap his hand around my wrist, his head shaking.
“I’m coming with you,” he mutters, and I nod. I get out of the car in a daze, my legs trembling. My sister had lied to us- her family. My parents thought they knew who was responsible, and they had all their hatred stacked up against him.
My chest heaves with guilt, my eyes unable to lift from the floor. All because my stupid brain couldn’t remember anything.
“Don’t, Cain,” I whisper, the air carrying my words to him. “Don’t say this isn’t my fault.”
“Hey,” Cain laces his fingers with mine, tugging me towards him. More tears flood my cheeks, and I curse this man for evoking such emotion within me. I want to scream at him to leave me alone, to let me deal with this family trauma alone. But his eyes tell me he is here to stay; to fight any demons beside me. Then his words follow. “It’s not your fucking fault, Max. Do you understand me? Everyone is responsible. Everyone.”
I try to believe him, but I know otherwise. The only reason Andy was involved in any of this is because of me. I try to breathe, but my chest feels too tight. I’m gazing at Cain as he pulls me into his arms, flush against his chest.
“If you want to blame anyone, blame me. I should never have let you go into this alone. I should have protected you,” he says hoarsely, as I pull back just enough to frown at him.
“You can’t protect everyone, all the time, Cain. Sometimes even the good guys lose,” I shake my head, my fingers trailing down his arms as I move away. His gaze lingers on my lips, and for a moment I’m paralysed. Like a deer in headlights, I’m unable to move, unable to breathe. He takes a deep breath, and when he exhales, it’s all peppermint and...man.
“I don’t want to protect everyone, all the time, Maxie,” Cain whispers, his fingers tightening around mine. I know I should pull away, assisting my family in this crisis, but there’s something deeper going on right now. I’m torn, desperate for him to finish the sentence, but needing to go.
“Cain?” I tremble, glancing behind me. “What do you want?”
“I want to protect you,” Cain admits, his grey gaze penetrating mine. “Because, well- “
“I’m suing the entire police force! What the hell is wrong with you people!” My mother’s anguished cry fills the once quiet street, and Cain releases me. Alex is being marched towards a police car, as my mother falls to her knees on the street, still in her apron. “My daughter is a victim- “
I pull Cain along with me as the officers nod at him respectfully. My sister stares ahead in the car, oblivious to my mother’s distress.
“Is this your doing?” My father barks at Cain, who shakes his head solemnly. The two men glare at one another, and I twist my hands helplessly.
“Dad, please,” I hiss, waving a hand at my heartbroken mother. She was sobbing on her knees, as the neighbours came out to have a nosey. “We need to get Mum inside.”
Frankie was standing beside Dad, a blank expression on her face. She blinked, her gaze meeting mine as she shook her head in disbelief. My heart lurched with sympathy for Frankie, but I soon forgot it when my mother wailed again. It took both my father and Cain to get her into the house, but Cain didn’t get any thanks for it. He left the house, standing in the front yard as he watched me walk towards him.
“I’m sorry, I’d ask you to come in but my Dad thinks you’re out to ruin our lives,” I joke, as Cain remains expressionless. “Look, Cain, I appreciate-“
“I think I’m in love with you, Maxie,” he whispers, cupping my face in his hands. My jaw drops, my hands clamming up. I shuffle my feet, unsure how to stand, or even how to be. Cain bites his lip, wincing at my reaction. “That wasn’t how I planned to say it.”
“You planned to say it?” I whisper, my hand reaching up to stroke the side of his face. His stubble scratches against my palm as he dips his head towards mine.
“No, I didn’t. I’m shit at this,” Cain groans, his hand moving to the back of my neck as he studies me. “But fuck it. I’m in love with you.”
Fireworks are exploding in my core, my heart dancing with delight when he smiles, a slow, sexy smile that teases my soul. I lift my hand up hesitantly, running it through his soft hair, my hand moving down to his neck, pulling him towards me. He dips, wrapping his hands around my waist. I’m on tiptoe, and I’m aware my parents could be watching, the neighbours are watching- but I’m on a different level. His breath fans my face, and I arch my back, allowing his hands to bring me in even closer to him.
Cain can make me feel like a dainty little woman, despite me being anything but. I allow him to kiss my cheek, his lips moving quickly to my mouth. As our lips meet, I’m aware that my hands have fistfuls of his hair, and his hands are squeezing my ass. But then our bodies reacquaint, and we move in a slow, sensual way. I’d never kissed Cain like this, like it meant something.
When we part, I’m dizzy, holding onto his shoulders for stability. He seems as drunk as I do, his lips curling into a smug smile.
“I know you’ve got shit to deal with, but you still owe me that first date,” he murmurs into my ear, sweeping my hair away.
I nod, knowing it was pointless fighting the attraction with Cain. He spoke to my soul, and despite his womanising ways, I adored the very bones of him.
“I’ll deal with this, and then you can take me out. Deal?” I whisper, meeting his lips again.
“Deal. Sealed with a kiss,” Cain smirks, dropping his mouth back onto mine, scooping me back into his arms. I was lost then, and so was all the guilt and shame I felt about the current situation.
Because although I hadn’t admitted it, I’d been falling for Cain for a long time.
But he can earn that confession.