Forgotten Wolf

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8 Space

The sun is shining, it’s warm with a gentle breeze, a perfect day for the market. I smile, walking up to Trish and Jude. “Hey guys, how’s it going so far?”

“So good news, we’ll be sold out soon. Just waiting for the rez to pick up,” Trish says happily while Jude grumbles.

“Oh speaking of that, do you have extra red pepper jelly? Chris asked for a case to be sent with the rest of their order.” Her face lights up as she makes herself busy, boxing up the new addition.

“So all buddy-buddy now?” Jude asks, frowning. He leans back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest as his frown turns into a scowl. I know he doesn’t have warm fuzzy feelings for them but this is pretty openly hostile for him.

“I don’t know about buddy-buddy,” I say with air quotes, “but not openly hostile. He came over to pick up Ethan Wednesday night and stayed for dinner. He apologized for being an ass that day, and thanked me for dinner and taking care of Ethan.” All I got back was a curt nod as he scans the parking lot.

He softens and looks at me with concern. “Just be careful with him, he’s not someone to mess with, okay?” I just nod.

I don’t plan to spend much, if any, time with him.

The rez’s dark SUV pulls up with a full complement; Jace is driving with Grandmother riding shotgun, Xavier and Chris step out of the back. They make their way over, I can’t help but notice the looks they are giving Jude. I can expect that from Chris and Xavier, but even happy go lucky Jace is staring him down.

Jude shifts uncomfortably, but stands his ground instead of going to his booth like usual. I raise a brow and frown, looking from the guys to Jude. Grandmother is the one to break the tension. “Stop scowling at the boy like some junkyard dog, Christopher!” She chirps, lightly back handing him in the chest. All three guys grumble but break off.

I can’t help the little giggle that slips out at the guys defeat at the hands of the old lady a third their size. Grandmother checks her order then heads over to some other booths. Chris and Xavier head back to the SUV with their boxes, while Jace lags behind.

“Now I know you’re magic,” he whispers.

I simply respond with a questioning, “Hmm?”

“One dinner with you and he’s chilled right back out. What exactly did you guys get up to?” He asks, wiggling his brows, suggestively.

My face feels like it’s burning at his insinuation. “Shut it! We just talked and had some food, same thing I would have done with you, but you blindsided me. Thanks for that, by the way,” I say with a hard glare.

He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah sorry about that, I couldn’t exactly go against him. He was standing right there when you called and he looked pissed, I don’t even know why he wanted to go. But magically he comes back completely mellowed out,” he trails off with a smirk.

The thought of even kissing such an intimidating man makes me shudder, and yet... Instantly I blush and bite my lip.

“I’m telling you nothing happened! He actually thought you and I had something going on.” He’s enjoying this, grinning away. “Once I cleared that up he seemed to chill out some.”

“You mean you don’t love me?” He asks, eyes wide as he brings the back of his hand to his forehead. His theatrics are louder than I’d like, and has Trish’s full attention, as well as half the market. “So that time we went skinny dipping in the lake, you were just using me for my body!? And to think I trusted you!”

Correction, the entire market as my cheeks burn in embarrassment. He can’t keep up the charade and busts out laughing. I hit him hard with my elbow in the ribs but it doesn’t phase him.

“You ass! You dragged me into the middle of the woods, no heads up I needed a bathing suit until we got there! I wasn’t naked, that t-shirt was like a dress!” I hiss, man I fucking hate being the center of attention. By now Chris and Xavier are back and grinning along with everyone else there.

Shoot me now.

I throw my hands up in surrender and they say bye and head back towards the SUV. I sigh, but immediately freeze when I feel someone close behind me. “I guess that explains why you smelled like him, next time bring a suit,” Chris whispers in my ear then takes off.

I let out a shaky breath; that simple phrase has sent my heart racing, or is it because he was so close I could feel his breath on my neck and ear. I quickly grab my neck and try to sort myself out.

“What else have you been hiding from me, Jess?! Skinny dipping with playboy and dinner and secrets with Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome; I know I told you to get out and live a little but I didn’t mean all at once,” she laughs while I groan.

“It wasn’t like that at all, and I didn’t skinny dip!” I groan, palming my forehead. Trish doesn’t believe me one bit, and Jude looks to be judging me ten ways to Sunday.

-----

That night, my sleep is restless to say the least. Chris dominates my dreams, though I don’t remember much. Much like before there were just flashes, but unlike before Jace and Jude weren’t there, only Chris.

It didn’t make sense, after my ex I spent months picking up the pieces he left behind. He was the worst kind of person and he delighted in breaking me. I don’t even know how he got so much power over me, I didn’t even love him. But I swore I’d never let anyone have that kind of control and power over me again.

And for two years now I’ve had no problems keeping my distance from everyone. I’ve stayed single, I have zero interest in dating, I haven’t even thought of a man in that way for so long. Even when I was still with ex, I didn’t want him touching me, and using me like he did.

And now Chris is haunting my dreams, waking up something inside I thought died long ago. I usually cringe when people touch me or get too close, but with him my heart starts to race and I get a knot in the pit of my stomach.

I don’t want this. I finally have my shit together, I don’t want to lose control again.

After waking up for the third night in a row from some close dream encounter with Chris, I’m exhausted.

I need some distance, maybe that will smooth things out.

Later that day when Jace texts to set up a pick up time, I just say I’m not feeling good so I’d have the order ready for them on the back deck but I’d be lying down. He wishes me a quick recovery and says he’ll be as quiet as possible.

At five the dark SUV pulls up, I watch Jace and Chris get out, walk to the back door, then grab their order and pack up before leaving.

When Trish stops by Friday to pick up for the Saturday morning market I help her load up, and tell her I’ll be skipping because I didn’t feel well. She looks at me skeptically but accepts my lie and tells me to let her know if I need anything before taking off.

-----

Mid week again and I’m still dodging Jace. He’s trying to call me, I don’t think he’s buying my excuse. When they show up, he proceeds to knock on the back door which I ignore until they leave.

This is the second week of putting Jude off too. We’ve had dinner every Thursday night for nearly two months now. Even though I tell him I’m sick and not up for dinner, he shows up anyways with chicken noodle soup. I take it, thank him and head inside.

This would be a lot easier if they would just stay away.

I decide to skip the market again, at which point Trish calls my BS, but knows better than to push me.

By mid week there are several unread or short reply messages on my phone from Trish, Jace, Jude and even Chris.

Wednesday pick up I hear a truck pull in and am surprised to see Jude. Like clockwork the rez’s dark SUV pulls up, but there’s only Chris this time.

This doesn’t make sense, he never comes solo and Jace said he’d be coming.

My thoughts are cut short as I see Jude jump out of his truck, jaw clenched, fists balled and eyes locked on Chris as both men beeline for each other.

Oh shit.

Before I have a chance to get outside, they collide in a flurry of fists. My eyes go wide as I take in the savage fight before me; neither man is holding back. Jude lands a solid hit on Chris’s jaw, sending him staggering back before he recovers, landing his own powerful right hook. I yell for them to stop but neither seems to even notice I’m there.

Panic wells in me as I watch them brutally beating each other. Chris swings, landing a hard uppercut which sends Jude stumbling back. Both men rush at each other with fists flying, landing hits on both sides with vicious accuracy. My heart pounds in my chest as I scream at them to stop; they look like they are going to kill each other.

‘Don’t do it, getting involved is only gonna get you hurt.’ ‘If I don’t do something they’re going to kill each other!’

I take a deep breath, pushing my nerves down as I carefully approach the battling men. When Chris knocks Jude down, I seize the opening and grab Chris’s arm, stopping him from hitting Jude again.

“Stop, please!” I beg, eyes darting between them. On instinct, Chris spins on me, tossing me to the ground.

His eyes go wide as he realizes what he’s done. “Shit!” He freezes, pulling away from Jude, and reaches out to help me up.

Jude however, is beyond livid having a front row seat to seeing me thrown to the ground. He takes the moment to get up and throws himself at Chris, tackling him away from me. “Don’t fucking touch her,” he snarls as they hit the ground.

So close, but no, they just won’t fucking stop!

With a frustrated sigh I get up, brush myself off and turn my blooming temper and attention back on the fighting men.

Chris regains his footing and spins to face off with Jude again. His dark gaze is locked on with murderous intent as he roars, “I’m gonna rip your fucking head off mutt if you don’t get the fuck out of here now!”

Jude’s not backing down. “You’re welcome to try, but I told you to leave her alone and I meant it!”

“Enough!” I yell, shaking in anger as I step between the battling men. “What the fuck is going on?!” I look at both men and neither answers; both just look past me at their opponent, waiting to finish what they started.

“Seriously!? You guys are going to just show up here and beat the shit out of each other and ignore me?” I growl, glaring from Jude to Chris before palming my forehead.

Chris speaks up first. “He was just leaving,” he nods, indicating Jude.

“The fuck I am! I’m not leaving with you here,” Jude retorts, standing taller.

I pinch the bridge of my nose in frustration. “Deck, now!” I drag two chairs far apart and point for them to sit. They just keep glaring at each other, which just fuels my temper.

“I wasn’t asking,” I say with a dangerous edge in my voice. Both men grumble but slowly make their ways to the chairs, never taking their eyes off each other.

“Sit there don’t say a word to each other, hell don’t even look at each other,” I shout as I walk away into the house for ice and my med kit. Once I get what I need, I rush back outside, not wanting to leave them unsupervised any longer than necessary. A small sigh of relief passes my lips when I see them exactly where I left them.

Chris grumbles as I hold out the ice pack, “I’m fine.” I glare at him until he takes it. Jude simply takes his and puts it on his split right eyebrow. Eventually Chris moves it to his left cheek.

“So what the hell was that all about?” I ask again, letting my frustration lace my words.

“Nothing,” both men mumble.

“Are you for real?!” I snap, looking directly at Jude. “You came here and waited for Chris.”

Silence.

“And you,” I say, switching my attention to Chris. “Took one look at him and just went straight for the fight, and neither of you are leaving here until I know why.”

More silence.

Assholes.

Finally, Chris breaks the silence with, “I overheard Trish talking to Jude at the market. She said something had to have happened because you were avoiding everyone again.” I sigh and roll my eyes as I catch on.

Leave it to Trish to cause more problems.

“I talked to Jace and he swore he didn’t do anything,” Chris trails off.

I look at Jude, narrowing my gaze to prompt him for his excuse. “I thought he did something to you again. So I came here to get him to back off, but before I could say anything Chris started swinging so I swung back,” he replies with a shrug.

“So because Trish said she thought something might have happened, you both decided to beat the shit out of each other?” I groan, palming my forehead in frustration.

“She said that you’ve done this before when bad things happen, you just pull away and avoid everyone,” Jude trails off. “It’s not like you would answer any of our texts or calls,” he says locking eyes and raising a brow.

“I’m fine,” I grumble. “I’ve just been sick lately.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Chris says lowly, standing up and taking a step towards me.

“I-I’m not,” I stutter weakly.

“Yes, you are. Now what’s really going on,” he says, stopping right in front of me. Suddenly my throat is as dry as the Sahara as my mind reels, searching for a way to spin the truth but coming up empty.

“Nothing! God, why are you guys being like this?!” I turn to Jude who is also standing close to me now. “Chris and Jace didn’t do anything to me.”

I turn and face Chris, whose eyes have never left. “Jude hasn’t done anything to me either, you guys just beat the crap out of each other for no reason!”

Both men grumble but relax a bit. “Now sit back down before you do something else stupid.” They reluctantly comply as I return from washing my hands and getting a couple wet cloths. I hand one to Chris as I go to check Jude.

“Oh don’t worry about it, I’ll clean up at home.”

I gently pull the ice pack away, the bleeding has stopped, but his brow is deeply split and the shadow of a black eye is already forming. “Hold still,” I say as I wipe up the dried blood. I close the gash with a couple steri strips after disinfecting it. I clean other cuts and scratches on his face and step away.

I walk up to Chris and pull his ice pack off. As I survey the damage, I feel him staring at me. His proximity sends a shiver down my spine and my heart flutters in my throat. His intense gaze follows my every move while I clean the cut on his cheek and mend it with steri strips. I put a hand under his chin to tilt his head so I can get a better view, nearly jumping at the way his skin feels under my fingertips. The last cut is on his lip; instantly I swallow hard.

“This may sting,” I whisper, bringing a disinfecting wipe to his lip. He smirks slightly as my thumb grazes his bottom lip. “That should do it. I can’t use the strips to close it because it’s - umm, your l-lip,” I stammer as a blush creeps across my cheeks.

I quickly step back, crossing my arms across my chest to slow my racing heartbeat as much as to get them to leave. “If you guys are done beating the crap out of each other, I’d like to go to bed.” Getting the point, they get up and go their separate ways. Jude hesitantly leaves as I help Chris load the last of the order.

As I go to step away, Chris calls over his shoulder, “You could have just kissed it better,” with a throaty chuckle. My mouth falls open but I have no retort, so I just stand there blushing as he gets into his SUV and drives off.

So much for getting some space.

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