Salty

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26

O L L I E

Relief. Finally, they’d made it off the farm and were heading back to Chicago. Ollie had watched his mother’s heart break all over again as they back their way down the drive. He’d forced himself to promise her that he’d be back soon, knowing it was a promise only meant for breaking. This trip had been salvageable for one reason, and one reason only. And that reason was sitting beside him, flipping through a catalog of old CDs, attempting to pick the music for their drive home. She picked Shania Twain, he picked Garth Brooks, and they settled on Jason Aldean.

“You Make it Easy” played loud enough through the speakers of the car that Ollie had no problem singing along with it. His fingertips tapped the steering wheel as he drove, keeping time with the beat. Meanwhile, the girl beside him was shaking her head with the cutest smile—one he wished would last longer than just this trip.

“What?” he questioned as her head continued to shake.

“That country boy look on you got so much hotter,” she giggled, tucking one foot beneath an outstretched leg and making herself more comfortable. “I see it now. The plaid, the food you cook when you’re not trying to be trendy, the country music...”

“That I’m a total farm boy,” he agreed. “I told you I was.”

“I like it.”

And he liked that she liked it. There were so many things he liked about her that he wouldn’t even know where to start. Her wit, her intelligence, her character in general—they were all things he thought he’d never see in a girl again. Sloan was sexy without trying, and it wasn’t just her body that made her that way. Although, her body didn’t hurt. Even the way she was currently yawning, curling herself up in the passenger seat adorably, was something that Ollie liked about Sloan. He did not like the way her yawning made him do the same though. His exhaustion was catching up to him.

“I don’t know how you’re still awake,” she observed. “How much sleep do you get a night?”

Ollie sighed tiredly. Not much. Less than usual as of late; that was for sure. Between the sex after the movie, and waking up ridiculously early to overthink his whereabouts and start breakfast, he figured about three hours. Now, that number may have been typical, but usually he found time for a nap between classes and working at the restaurant. With it being Christmas and having to drive back tonight, there really wasn’t time for it. The only time they could have used was taken by a shower that he still had on his mind. So, it was worth the lack of rest.

“Are you okay to drive?”

“I’m fine,” Ollie immediately followed with another drawn-out yawn. He shared a glance with Sloan, seeing her brows raised high on her head, calling his bluff. “There’s a McDonalds on the way out of town. We will get coffee.”

She seemed to like that plan.

***

“Two large coffees, black,” Ollie ordered via drive-through. He had a horrible feeling that this wasn’t going to be the only stop for coffee on the way home.

Sloan cleared out the trash they had accumulated from their last trip into town from the cupholders while Ollie continued to the first window to pay. At one point, her slim body was half-way between the two front seats, rummaging through her bags in the back with her sexy ass up in the air. It took everything in him not to smack it, but he thought better of it with the person at the drive-through window looking in on them. He grinned thinking about it though.

After she had settled back into the seat, Ollie moved on to the second window to accept two steaming, hot coffees. When he went to set the first one into the open cupholder, the bottom of the cup bumped something that he wasn’t expecting. Lifting his arm due to it obstructing his view, Ollie saw a brown bottle was sitting in his cup’s spot.

Sloan took the coffee from his hand, putting it up to her lips that could not control the smile that she was trying to hide. In fact, there was no way she could stop the laughing that she was attempting to hide with the smile.

“You stole Worcestershire from my mother?” Ollie’s own laugh boomed through the car.

“I so did!” she giggled uncontrollably, using her finger to collect the tears that were pooling at corners of her eyes. She had to pick up the condiment to set her coffee in its holder. “Your move, Chef!”

“Oh, it’s so on,” he agreed, enjoying their game and impressed that she was willing to go there.

After putting his own coffee into place, Ollie leaned over the center console and stole a kiss from the giggling girl. Her laughter halted just long enough for a moan to rumble against his lips. Every single time he kissed her, everything else around them tuned itself out. That included the honking cars behind them that were waiting on their own food.

Once they were back on the road, with coffees to keep them awake and Worcestershire now in his glove box, Ollie’s hand was now comfortably linked with Sloan’s. On the way into town, this hold meant something so different. She held his hand to offset his anxiety. Now, this hand meant more. This weekend was coming to a close, and he wasn’t ready to let go of it yet.

There was going to come a point when a discussion actually needed to be had. They both knew it and were putting it off. Before the trip, they’d agreed not to fool around again. It was done and they’d move past it. Everything was different now. He was falling in love with her, and didn’t even know if he could tell her, out of fear she wasn’t ready for anything like that. Were they dating now? At certain moments it felt like it. At other times, it felt more like he wanted something he couldn’t have. What if Sloan was sexually available, and emotionally unavailable? The last thing he wanted to do was to bring up Steve. It was just last week that he helped her end a panic attack over him.

At least he had a new issue to dwell on during nights of little sleep.

As he overthought Sloan’s last relationship, Ollie looked to his left, seeing his own was now passing him on the highway. Mikah and Shelby were now on the road, making their own way back to Chicago. He met Shelby’s glance for only a moment, and it was enough to make his blood boil. Her blue eyes softened while his rolled hard. Sloan hadn’t seen it, but she did notice that his grip of her hand tightened, giving his a quick squeeze back to let up.

“Sorry,” he muttered, letting go completely to grip his steering wheel.

Sloan turned her body to look at him, now spotting Mikah’s truck passing and seeming to understand Ollie’s demeanor change. “It’s really okay to be upset that they’re engaged,” she offered carefully, trying not to let her lips curve downwards. “I know you love her, Ollie.”

“I don’t,” his head shook, exhaling. He didn’t need Sloan believing that. She didn’t have to worry about Ollie still loving Shelby. “That’s not the problem.”

“Tell me what is.”

“She said yes.”

A confused Sloan slowly readjusted in her seat. “If you don’t love her anymore, why does that matter? Why should she say no?”

Another, louder, exhale ensued. He pressed on his tired eyes to get them to focus on the road while overthinking the night prior. This wasn’t going to be easy to explain, because this was a new emotion for him. Or at least, it was an emotion he hadn’t felt in years.

“I told you that I found out last night.”

“Yeah...”

“I got up to get water, and Shelby was up. She wasn’t wearing the ring yet, but she told me that Mikah proposed.”

“Okay?” Sloan continued to appear confused. It only took a few moments of silence before she followed up with an “Oh.”

Ollie hated himself for wanting just that for the last two years. He wanted so badly for Shelby to come back to him, that he didn’t care if Mikah got hurt in the process, because what Mikah did hurt too. There was no doubt his little brother loves Shelby.

“She used him,” Ollie’s head shook in disgust. “She is using him. She seriously thought that by leaving, I would change overnight. I didn’t, because I’m stubborn. And when that didn’t work, she thought she would make me jealous. I told her to say yes or let him go, and I should have just said to tell him the truth. Now, I don’t know what to do.”

“You should tell him,” Sloan motioned with her head to the truck that was now in front of them for the next three hours. “He’s about to make a big mistake.”

“I can’t.”

“He’s still your brother, Ollie.”

“Exactly. And I know, better than anyone else, after all these years of fighting, that he’s not going to believe me. He’s going to think that I’m trying to break them up, and he will pull away even further than we already are.”

For the first time in years, Ollie felt extremely protective of his little brother. There was still a rift between them that wasn’t going away, especially when it came to the restaurant. But, both him and Sloan knew there was nothing Ollie could do but to let Mikah figure Shelby out for himself.

***

It was almost ten at night when the pair pulled up to Sloan’s place. The roads only got worse as they hit another snow storm coming home. They had to add another hour onto an already long three-hour-drive back, and Ollie still had a good hour back to his own apartment in the city. Still, his mind hated the countdown of minutes that landed them here, when their holiday together would officially end.

Even though the car had come to a complete stop in the driveway, Sloan remained seated in the passenger seat. The pair were locked in one hell of a hold on each other with their eyes, knowing there was so much they needed to discuss and not wanting to. At the exact same time, they met again over that stubborn center console and hungrily collided their mouths.

“You’re spoiling me with these,” she confessed between kisses, struggling for air the same way he was. He wanted her in his arms, and she was struggling to get herself there with the limited space.

The no kissing rule was out the damn window now. They were never going back. In fact, all the rules went up in smoke this weekend. She’s a student and an employee. They definitely did it more than once, and that also wasn’t about to stop. His biggest rule was that he wasn’t going to fall for another girl just to have his heart smashed again. But he forgot how good this felt.

“I don’t think this holiday is over yet,” Ollie growled, moving those kisses to her neck and sucking the skin to leave a mark. “Come home with me tonight. Stay through the holiday break with me.”

“It has to be,” she giggled, pushing on his chest to halt him. “I’m out of clean clothes! I can’t make it to tonight, let alone New Year’s Day.”

Ollie quickly shifted the car back into drive, pulling away from her house. “I can do laundry in the morning. You’re sleeping naked tonight.”

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