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Authors: Nicola Marsh

Brash (15 page)

BOOK: Brash
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He stared at her in stunned disbelief for a suspended moment in time where everything intensified. Where every granule of sand itched the soles of her feet. Where every whisper of the wind swaying the palms magnified. Where every agonizing emotion gutting her increased tenfold.

“Jess, I—I can’t…”

Can’t hear her. Can’t want her. Can’t love her enough to change his life to be with her.

Yeah, she got it.

Had taken her a while but she finally got it.

Without saying another word, she turned her back on Jack McVeigh for the final time and stumbled away.

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

Burlesque Bombshell Basics

 

 

Being a Burlesque Bombshell isn’t about the outer trappings, it’s about being elegant, classy, confident and empowered. Embrace your inner femininity and let your beauty shine
.

 

Jack couldn’t move.

He wanted to. He wanted to run after Jess and tell her the truth, his noble motives be damned.

But shards of shock were shredding his insides, one excruciating slice at a time, and the resultant pain made him double over.

He clutched at his middle, wishing he could vomit, wishing the bile burning a trail in his throat would erupt so he could start cauterizing the pain with alcohol. Copious amounts of alcohol until he didn’t have to think or feel or rationalize.

The latter was the worse, rationalizing why he’d let the best thing to ever happen to him walk away, explaining it away as being good for her.

It had worked too, until she’d said all that stuff at the end.

She loved him.
Him
. A no-good, gypsy bum who’d stumbled onto a great career by sheer luck—and the help of Reid Harper.
Him
, a guy who’d never loved anyone in his life. A guy who’d already broken her heart once if she’d spoken the truth.

And she had. Jess wasn’t the type to lie. He was the gutless coward who hid the truth behind pompous justifications.

He was doing this for her.

He didn’t want to hold her back.

He wanted her self-discovery to take place without the encumbrance of a guy with expectations of ultimately settling down.

Yeah, a whole bunch of stupid justifications, because he loved her too much to tie her down.

Bullshit, the lot of it.

Because it wasn’t until she’d walked away for good that Jack finally confronted the truth.

He wasn’t worthy.

He’d never felt worthy.

Having a woman like Jess love him…the pressure was too great. He’d stuff up eventually and she’d leave him and he’d be back to where he’d been so many times before in the past.

It’s why he’d been shunted from foster home to foster home, not being good enough, not measuring up.

People left him. Jack was used to that. How much worse would it be if he actually loved the person who left?

Dragging in deep lungfuls of air, he finally had the strength to straighten. The pain hadn’t eased. It probably never would. But if he didn’t pull himself together he’d never get off this frigging island without everyone knowing his business.

He trudged up the beach, the wind against his wet shirt adding to the chill seeping through his body. Taking the first flight out with Reid and the other corporate businessmen desperate to get back to the mainland probably wasn’t his brightest idea, considering he’d have to act like nothing was wrong.

Reid would kill him, just like he’d promised, and Jack would happily hand him a weapon of choice.

His head pounded with the potential fallout from this. An absolute frigging mess.

It wasn’t until he’d reached the pathway ringing the beach that something Jess had said resonated.

I thought you’d want to explore what we have and see how far it takes us
.

But how could that be? He was firmly based in Sydney, her new life planning weddings was in the US. How could they have made a relationship work unless…

Would she have willingly given up her country and family and friends to be with him?

Did she really love him that much?

And the biggie, had he just made the hugest mistake of his life?

 

Once Jess reached the path she’d run blindly, not caring who saw her, not caring about anything other than reaching the sanctity of her villa where she could nurse her humiliation in peace.

She didn’t see Adele step onto the path until she ran smack into her and they staggered, before Adele grabbed her arms and righted her.

“Del, I can’t talk right now—”

“Come with me.” Sensing her distress, Adele slipped an arm around her waist and led her to a secluded alcove with a sole love seat. The irony wasn’t lost on Jess.

Adele guided her down to the seat and said, “Deep breaths. You’ll feel better.”

“Doubtful,” Jess answered, but did as instructed.

“Jack?”

“Bastard,” Jess spat out, the calming breaths doing little at the thought of his callous indifference.

“I’m guessing you don’t really mean that.”

“I do—”

“He loves you,” Adele said, patting her hand. “Reid said so.”

Shock stiffened Jess’s spine. “What?”

“Reid saw you go tearing off toward the beach. Dorian told him you were off to meet Jack. That’s when he said it.”

Stunned by Adele’s revelation, Jess pressed her fingers to her temple. “Tell me exactly what Reid said.”

“That he’d only ever seen Jack look like he’d been tasered twice in his life. Once after being with you in the outback, and now here on the island.” Adele smiled. “Your brother’s a pretty observant guy. Said you’re the only common denominator both times and he already gave Jack his blessing. Told Jack he’d kill him if he ever hurt you, so whatever this lover’s tiff is about, I’d settle it fast if you don’t want Jack heading off the island in a body bag.”

Jess shook her head. It did little to ease her confusion. “None of this makes sense. Reid gave Jack his blessing?”

“Apparently.”

“Then why…”

Jack had let her blather. He’d let her admit her feelings, cry like a baby and he’d done nothing. If he loved her like Reid said, what was his freaking story?

“Word of advice from an objective observer?”

Jess shrugged. “Go ahead, I need all the help I can get.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you and your brother have this air about you, like you’re almost too good to be true.”

“What the—”

“Hear me out.” Adele paused, as if searching for the right words. “When Dorian suggested Jack do the menu for the wedding, Zazz Googled him extensively. Looks like he had a pretty tough upbringing.”

“So?” Jess had no idea where Adele was going with this but she’d come this far. Anything that helped her gain insight into Jack’s psyche was worth listening to.

“I’ve been there.” Adele absentmindedly twirled a curl around her finger. “It sucked, growing up in an environment where you never felt good enough. I’m not saying this for certain, but if Jack felt the same way it might explain why you’re having problems now.”

Jess heard Adele’s logic but couldn’t accept it.

“Jack thinks he isn’t good enough for me? Is that what you’re saying?”

Adele shrugged. “It’s just a thought.”

“That’s crazy,” Jess said, mentally reliving their time together, and at no stage had she made Jack feel second best.

“Is it? Because guys can be pretty thick sometimes.”

“Most of the time,” Jess said, and Adele laughed.

“Why don’t you go see him, sort it out?”

A small part of Jess wanted to, but she’d put her heart on the line twice with Jack McVeigh. No way could she stand a third rejection.

“Thanks for the advice, Del, I appreciate it.” Jess hugged Adele. “Why don’t you head back to romancing my bro and I’ll go mope in my villa?”

“Don’t mope too long.” Adele stood alongside her. “Guys like Jack don’t come along too often.”

Jess didn’t need reminding. What she needed was perspective and distance, two things Jack had magnanimously granted her by getting the hell out of her life.

For all Adele’s sage advice and Reid’s observations, this time, Jess was done.

 

Jess had just slipped out of her chartreuse chiffon cocktail dress when someone knocked once at the villa door before barging in.

“Hey, you can’t do that…” The protest died on her lips as Jack strode into the bedroom like a demon, hair spiked, shirt wet and plastered to his chest, eyes wild.

“What is it with you and this frigging fancy lingerie?” His hungry gaze devoured her as he stopped two feet away.

Good. Let him look; see what he was missing out on.

“You seem to like it,” she said, planting her hands on her hips, angry and defiant. “Now get out.”

“Not ‘til you tell me you don’t want me.”

“Is this some kind of joke?” She stabbed a finger at him. “I handed you my heart on that beach and you broke it, you moron.”

“I need to make this right.” She couldn’t decipher his expression as he took a step toward her, close enough she could smell the sea spray on him. “Now.”

He reached out, traced the swell of her breasts with a fingertip. A slow, light drag on her skin that gave her time to protest.

She should’ve.

She didn’t.

Their gazes locked, mirroring hurt and confusion and desperation. Desperation for one more chance, one more touch, one more time.

And then he was upon her. She wanted this, wanted one final, memorable encounter as he tore at the back of the ivory lace corset, sending buttons flying. Ripping at the matching panties. Bruising her mouth with his savage kisses. Unzipping and sheathing. Shoving her up against the wall and entering her in a hard thrust that made her cry out.

He didn’t let up either, pounding into her like a man possessed. Hard. Fast. Deliciously long.

She wrapped her legs around his waist and clung to him, matching him in every way. Nipping his jaw. Biting his shoulder. Clawing his back.

Her unrestrained responses fired him further. His fierce pounding accelerated, making her insides clench around him in unbearable, rapturous torture.

He recaptured her mouth and she bit down on his lip, shocked by her uncontrolled, depraved yearning to have him drive her over the edge and not caring how she achieved it.

He shifted his hips, drove deeper, and her orgasm slammed into her, brutal and uncompromising. A second later his ferocious roar echoed to her iniquitous soul that still craved more despite all that had happened between them. As aftershocks pulsed through them, her sweat-slicked skin hypersensitive to the point of pain, she belatedly wondered if it was heinously, immorally wrong to crave something, someone, so obviously bad for her.

The pain he’d inflicted on her with his rejection…yet she’d just taken what she could, had taken whatever scraps he’d offered.

What the hell had she done?

When he tried to disengage, she held him tighter.

“Jeez, Jess, it wasn’t meant to be like that—”

“Why not? Works better than talking for us.”

“We need to talk too.” His wry smile broke her heart all over again. “I saw you in that sexy get-up and I couldn’t stop.”

This time, she unwrapped her legs from his waist and allowed him to slide out.

“Are you okay? I wasn’t exactly gentle—”

“Stop.” She placed her fingers against his lips. “We’re past this point. Let’s go talk.”

Jess slipped into a robe while Jack took care of business in the bathroom and they reconvened in the lounge room.

“Here.” She handed him a glass of merlot. “Don’t know about you but I could sure use a drink.”

“Thanks.” He downed the fine red in four gulps.

She sipped hers and waited. She’d said enough on the beach earlier. Time for Jack to start talking.

He paced the small room before stopping in front of her, hands thrust into his pockets. “You were right. I lied. Lied to you ten years ago and on the beach before.”

Not wanting to read too much into his confession, she nodded. “Takes a big guy to admit he’s wrong. Go on.”

With a pained expression that bordered on mortification, he continued, “I shut people out my whole life. Got used to it. Used it as a defense mechanism most of the time. Then you came along, crept under my barriers…”

“And you freaked out?”

“Yeah.” His adoringly bashful smile made her want to hug him and never let go. After she kicked his ass for rejecting and hurting her. Twice. “I really liked you but I couldn’t let someone like you throw away everything for someone like me.”

Hot damn, Adele had been right.

“I had nothing to offer back then; you were eighteen years old. Had your life ahead of you.” He resumed pacing. “Then Reid set me up, my career took off and I couldn’t screw around on our friendship despite how much I wanted to contact you.”

He stopped, wrenched his hands from his pockets, only to drag one through his mussed hair. “Fast forward ten years. I walk into Burlesque Bombshell and there you are, standing in front of that mirror with nipple tassels, so frigging hot I wanted to fuck you on the spot.”

“Wish you had; would’ve saved us a lot of stuffing around.”

He chuckled at her dry response. “I used a lot of excuses to keep my hands off you, the main one being not messing with Reid’s friendship and his belief in me. But ultimately, the buck stops here.”

His palm splayed over his chest. “I thought I was doing the right thing pushing you away after I heard you talking to Adele how you’d aced the wedding and were ready for the adventure of a lifetime.”

“That meant with you, you great dufus.” Her forefinger made circles at her temple. “Crazy. Rather than assuming you know what I’m thinking, next time how about you ask me/”

He knelt in front of her. “Fine. Tell me what you’re thinking now.”

She tapped her bottom lip, pretending to ponder. “Let’s see. I’m thinking you’ve blabbed a lot but have skirted the real issue.”

“Which is?”

She hesitated over setting herself up for the ultimate fall. Jack had hurt her in the past and his answer to the next question had the power to break her heart forever.

BOOK: Brash
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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