“I ordered us lunch but it shouldn’t be here for another twenty.”
It rang again.
Not sure how she managed it, but Jayden had chipped away at the rage that filled me. I was still angry, yes, but not nearly to the degree as I was. I had done well in trying to keep my anger from exploding after everything. And damn it’s been hard. My emotions have been like a roller coaster; I have my ups, I have my downs. Still trying to keep the cap pressed down on my bottled rage, I did manage to find a molecule of humor when the doorbell rang a third time.
“Oh, my gosh.” Jayden laughed. Heavy knocking by what seemed to be at least three people echoed from the foyer.
“That would be the guys.”
Jayden laughed while I went to open the door.
“We didn’t interrupt anything did we?” Harden slapped me on the shoulder as he strode in. “Damn man, you reek of sex.”
“Why the fuck are you smelling me?” I heard Jayden giggle from the dining room. It sent a warmth through me and the cap to the bottle I was struggling with got a little tighter. I hated that I was so unpredictable. I knew it would subside, but I also knew I needed to fight it out. I had been training but I needed to unleash. And we all knew that wasn’t going to happen until I faced off with Xavier which was two days away yet.
Harden’s brows shot up and he grinned at me like an asshole. He pointed to the dining room before he headed straight towards it. I gave the brotherly love of a half handshake half hug to Dillan, Jalen and Tom.
“How’s the hand?” Jalen glanced at my wrap. I’m scheduled to go in after my fight to the orthopedic to determine if I needed surgery or if they can just cast it. It took a lot of arguing, on my part, but the doctor cleared me to fight.
I shrugged. It hurt but not overly. Nothing Tylenol and Advil couldn’t fix.
“Tom filled us in.” Dillan pointed to Tom who had made his way to the kitchen. “That’s fucked up.”
“Yeah.” Was all I said. I saw the leeriness and knowledge of my current state in Dillan and Jalen’s eyes and I chose to ignore it.
Instead of finding Jayden, Harden and in the dining room, they were standing in the kitchen with Tom. Harden was only a few feet from Jayden. He was a notorious flirt. Honestly, I could count on the same hand how many times he’d been turned down since I’ve known him. Normally he would be flirting with Jayden, but to my surprise, he was checking out her black eye and bruised cheekbone. It made my cap loosen a bit.
“You look like you’re hanging on by a thread, bro.” Harden gave me the elevator look over, clearly not in a sexual way but in an observant manner as to how to continue forward. “Tom told me you fucked that bastard up pretty good.”
“Not good enough.” I replied with a graveled tone. My jaw got tight and I turned my gaze to Jayden. She tilted her head at me and gave me a warm smile screaming ‘I’m ok, Gage’.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well,” Harden changed the subject and I was grateful for it, “we are here to take you and your beautiful girlfriend, which I still can’t fucking believe you have one— Not to mention that I’m dumbfounded that she’s attracted to your ugly ass, out to lunch.”
The guys chuckled and Jayden laughed at Harden’s quip. Out of everyone, I knew Harden was shocked the most. Normally I would have grinned at his quip’s and would have even thrown some back at him, but I wasn’t in the mood. I found myself slipping and I was trying to rein it in.
“Give me ten to cover this.” Jayden motioned to her eye. She pushed off the counter and placed her hand on the center of my chest, giving it a light rub along with a warm smile. She went up slightly on her toes and kissed me softly. She had been doing that a lot lately. Especially when she saw me slipping. Damn did I love the fact that she knew me so well. I hadn’t said anything. I hadn’t needed to. She just knew. And now she was doing her best to calm me down. When she pulled back, she nipped my lower lip making my dick twitch. The smile she gave me told me exactly what she just did to me.
Her eyes dilated and that made me twitch even more.
“You’re wicked.” I whispered with a grin.
She tossed me a sexy wink causing me to huff a smile; a genuine one at that, before she disappeared into the bedroom.
Tom grabbed his phone from his pocket and sent a quick text. Jalen and Harden’s gazes flicked from Jayden to me while Dillan’s eyes followed Jayden with a goofy smile on his face. I knew that smile. It was a smile that said he understood what Jayden and I were going through having gone through it himself. Not the stalker slash attacker part of our relationship, but the fact that he lost his heart to Emma. After a second, Dillan turned his attention to me, “I’m happy for you man.”
“Thanks.” I nodded.
“Never thought I’d see the fucking day.” Harden interrupted.
* * *
Jayden came out of the room wearing sandals and a floral sundress that ended just above mid thigh. She had left her hair down with her usual beach waves. She looked sexy as hell. Her make up hid her black eye only a little and I had to turn my eyes from it when I felt my chest getting tight.
“I’m ready.” She smiled and retrieving her sunglasses from her purse that was on the kitchen table she set them into place. I followed the guys out the door with Jayden’s hand in mine.
We entered the restaurant and I knew something was up when the waitress only smiled at Harden but didn’t stop us as I followed him towards the back of the restaurant. As we rounded the corner, it all came clear. A smile filled my face when Tom’s hand gripped my shoulder.
“Thank Jayden.” Tom said. “It was her idea.”
I looked at Jayden and she shrugged her shoulder like she always did with a smile. “You are always spoiling me and I wanted to do something special for you in return. It’s a big week for you.”
I brought her to a stop and as Harden, Tom, Dillan and Jalen went to the table I pulled her close and pressed my lips to hers. “You never seem to amaze me.”
She placed a chaste kiss on my lips. “Come on...introduce me.”
It took a few minutes to introduce her considering how many people had shown up. Alex had brought his wife and kids, Tom was sitting beside his girlfriend Kimber. Jalen and Harden came alone since they were still playing the field and Deion’s wife had passed away several years ago. Dillan of course brought Emma and Isabella. I waited to introduce my parents and my two sisters last knowing that it would take the longest.
After my sisters were done with their demonstrative jabbering, my dad held his hand out, “I’m Gage’s father, Sebastian.”
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“That’s quite the grip you have there.”
“Oh,” Jayden laughed, her blush crept up her cheeks, “my father told me a long time ago ‘When you shake a man’s hand, you shake a man’s hand’. It was one of the things that stuck with me.”
“Sounds like a smart man.” My father smiled.
My father never misses anything. I knew he didn’t miss that Jayden said ‘was’ not ‘is’, but he hadn’t shown it. Unless Jayden highlighted the loss of her father, he’d be questioning me about it later.
“This is my wife, Helen.”
Jayden turned to my mother with a smile and put out her hand. “Hello.”
My mother shook her hand. She’s a nice woman. Generous. But having seen first hand the women I used to sleep with I couldn’t blame her for being cautious. I knew she was wondering what was different about Jayden than the others that had me not dropping her long ago.
Before dinner was over, she’d know why.
“That was nice of you to invite us all for dinner.” I could tell my mother was trying and hoped that Jayden didn’t pick up on it.
“Oh, you’re welcome. I wanted Gage to be able to spend time with his family before the fight.” Jayden explained.
Clearly my father picked up on my mother’s standoffishness and I was glad when he touched her back telling her to sit.
We took our seats and not a minute after Isabella came running around the table and stopped between Jayden and I. “Hey, there little warrior. I see you brought your cat with you.”
“Hmmm. Her name is Callie.”
“I wasn’t kidding about that damn cat.” Dillan said over the rim of his beer.
Isabella held up a marker. “You haven’t signed my cast.”
I was quick to take the Sharpie. She pointed to a blank spot right above her pointer finger. “Right here.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Here?” I pointed.
I moved to another blank spot asking, “Not here?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I saved this spot,” she pointed to the spot she’d shown me earlier, “for you. I didn’t let anyone write here.”
“Again, she’s not kidding.” Dillan laughed.
“Did you get a special spot?” I asked Dillan.
I grinned at him like an asshole. “That tells you right there who’s more important.”
I heard Jayden laugh and she shook her head at me.
“Fuck you.” Dillan laughed. He flinched when Emma smacked his arm telling him to watch his language around his daughter.
I wrote ‘My little warrior’ and put my name underneath. She beamed up at me and I leaned down and gave her a hug when she reached up indicating that she wanted one. She turned to Jayden asking, “Can I sit on your lap?”
“Sure.” I have to say I thought it was cute that Jayden looked flattered that Isabella wanted to sit on her lap.
“Want to sign it?” Isabella held up the marker after she settled on Jayden’s lap.
“I would love to sign your cast.” Jayden grabbed the Sharpie. “What is your favorite flower?”
“Sunflower it is...Where would you like it?”
It took only a split second for Isabella to point to a spot above her wrist. “Here.”
Jayden drew a sunflower and put her name beside it.
Isabella’s smile was huge.
“Can you say, ‘Thank you’?” Emma suggested.
“You’re welcome.” Jayden laughed.
“Why do you have your glasses on?” Isabella wiped her blond bangs from her face.
I stiffened at the question. I knew it was innocent but I hated the reminder.
“I have an owie.”
“I want to see.”
I knew Jayden came uncomfortable not knowing what to do. It pissed me off that she was even in this situation. Not at Isabella of course, but the situation in general. I hated that she was self conscious about a mark she had no control over. I balled my hand into a fist and clenched my jaw when my eyes landed on the bruises. My heart rate kicked up a notch. Emma jumped at the opportunity when there was a window of silence. “It’s ok, Jayden. She sees the guys with bruises all the time. She won’t think anything of it.” I knew Emma was trying to make light of the situation and I appreciated it.
Jayden took her glasses off and I knew she forced a smile. “It’s not so bad, see?”
“Does it hurt?”
“Only when I touch it.”
“Gage can kiss it and make it better.” The table was filled with laughter and ‘that’s so cute’ at Isabella’s innocence.
“You know what, Gage kisses it all the time and it is getting better.”
Jayden glanced at me and her smile faltered a bit. She gave me that smile again.
“Isabella, sweaty, come here.” Dillan called her over and scooted his chair back to pick up his daughter.
My phone rang and saw that it was one of our family attorney’s I picked up. “How are you Harry?” I saw my parents look at me but I didn’t look back.
“Hey, Gage. I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but I just needed to call you and let you know that Jim, Hank and I got the charges of assault that the family was trying to pin on you dropped.”
“I appreciate it.”
“They folded pretty fast.” Harry said. “They tried using his current condition and whatnot but we got it handled.”
A deep ominous chuckle escaped me. “His condition? Did you tell them I don’t give a flying fuck what condition their son is in? That fucker should consider himself lucky that he’s able to drink through a fucking straw.” My chest got tight and my heart raced. I pictured Jamie backhanding Jayden and her crumbling to the floor. I glanced at her. I ignored the leers casting toward me from the neighboring tables.
“Paraphrased it a little differently but ‘yes’.”
“Good.” I said tightly.
“Well, I’ll let you go. Call me if anything else arises.”
“Alright.” I agreed. The second I hung up the phone Jayden took my phone and grabbed my hand and I immediately threaded my fingers through hers.
“Would you excuse us for a moment please?” She addressed everyone at the table. I stood when she did and followed her towards the restroom sign. We hadn’t made it five feet from the table when I heard my mother questioning what was going on and why I was so irate. Whether my father realized it or not, he backed me when he told her to sit. Tom jumped in with, ‘You need to leave him be.’
“Why?” My mother sounded upset.
“Because she’s the only one who can, pardon my French, calm him the fuck down when he gets worked up like this.” Tom replied.
And he was right.
All I needed was a few moments with Jayden in private.