Authors: Joanna Wylde
Something cold touched my cheek.
I opened my eyes to find Ruger standing over me, eyes intense. They slid slowly across my body. Impossibly, the bulge in his pants was larger. God, it’d be so easy to just reach out and take him into my hand, feel that hard length for myself. Or I could sit up and lean my head forward, letting my cheek touch him through the soft fabric. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
I rose until my face was only a few inches away from his crotch. Then I looked up at him, wondering if I’d lost my mind.
“Here’s your beer,” he said roughly, holding it out to me. I took it and wrapped my mouth around the neck for a drink, holding his gaze.
I hated him for being sober and in control.
“Jesus, Sophie …” he groaned. “Don’t fuckin’ look at me like that.”
“Like what?” I asked him, catching a drip on the side with my tongue.
“Don’t play stupid,” he whispered. “If you don’t stop I’m gonna fuck you. We’ll both regret that tomorrow. You’re drunk.”
I tilted my head to the side, thoughtful.
“Are you?” I asked him.
He shook his head slowly, sinking down to sit next to me. He leaned over, scenting my neck. We weren’t touching at all, but just the warmth of his breath on my skin almost killed me. I took another drink of my beer, slow and deliberate.
His eyes burned a hole right through me.
“No,” he whispered. “I’m not drunk.”
“Then what’s your excuse?” I asked softly. “Mine’s alcohol. Whatever I do tonight, I can blame the beer. What excuse should we use for you?”
Ruger reached over and took the bottle from my hand, setting it on the deck.
“No more tonight,” he said, his voice cracking. “You’re done. We’re done. We’re not doing this. Got me?”
“Yeah,” I said, forcing myself to think past the buzz. I knew he was right. Noah needed us both, and we had enough trouble getting along already. I was going to be living in his basement, for God’s sake, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t been clear—he wanted to fuck me. No heart, no flowers, no dates, and definitely no commitments. At least I wasn’t just a piece of furniture anymore.
“Can I ask you something?”
“What?” he replied. I swallowed.
“Is this a new thing for you?”
“I don’t follow,” he said, glancing at me. His eyes pierced mine, the warm night air hanging heavy between us.
“Wanting me,” I said softly. “Is it a new thing for you? I mean, aside from … back then … I always assumed that was just a moment, you know? You always looked right through me.”
“It’s not a new thing.”
We sat together, neither moving, frogs chirping all around us.
After a while he reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, like he had in the car.
“You still sore?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I kinked it somehow last night while I was driving. Stupid.”
“Want me to rub it for you?” I asked him.
“No fuckin’ way you’re touching me,” he said. “We covered that already. I’m not drunk, Soph. I won’t fuck things up for Noah.”
“We’re not going to fuck up anything,” I told him. “I’m getting sober now, it’s okay. I took a massage class, though. I’m actually pretty good at it. Let me help you. You’ve done so much to help me, I feel like I owe you something.”
“Not a good idea.”
I rolled my eyes, and bumped his shoulder with mine.
“Chicken?” I asked, smiling at him.
“Jesus, you’re annoying,” he muttered, but he didn’t protest when I crawled behind him. I ignored the screaming need between my legs as I knelt up and put my fingers on his shoulders. They were hard and strong, soft skin stretched over sleek muscles more than capable of supporting him while he pounded into my body.
Unfortunately, it was too dark for me to see much of his tattoos, which was a damned shame. Ruger wasn’t shy about taking off his shirt, but I never got close enough to really scope them out.
I dug my fingers in and he groaned, head dropping forward. He wasn’t kidding about being tight, either. Big knots snarled his neck and shoulders. After a few minutes of going at them with my fingers, I started using my elbows. Slowly I got his neck to relax and started moving down his back.
“Lay down on your stomach,” I told him, sliding off the side of the lounger behind him. I flattened it. He didn’t move.
“You really are chicken,” I murmured. “I’m just going to give you a back rub, Ruger. Enjoy it for what it is, okay?”
He grunted and rolled onto his stomach. I leaned over him and went to work. Some of the knots just wouldn’t give, so I decided to climb on top of him to get good leverage.
Was this stupid?
Of course. Did I care?
Not one drunken bit.
I straddled his butt, enjoying the feel of his hard body between my legs and his skin under my fingers. He smelled fresh and clean, but still utterly male. Drove me crazy. With every stroke of my hands I rode him, not getting quite enough stimulation to satisfy me, but enough that when I felt a light beading of sweat break out, it definitely wasn’t from the effort of giving the massage.
At first he tensed, but slowly he gave in to it, each muscle group relaxing in turn. Finally my hands were tired and we were both limp. I lay down across his back, taking in his scent, the warm summer breeze just enough to keep me from overheating.
“Soph …” he said, his voice a warning.
“Don’t, Ruger,” I whispered. “It doesn’t mean anything. Just let it be, all right?”
He sighed, and silence fell between us.
I was still frustrated, no question. But it was a strange, relaxed kind of sexual desire washing through me now. Night sounds surrounded us and I let myself enjoy the feel of Ruger’s body under mine, wishing I really could have a man like this—strong, steady, and capable of protecting me from anything.
If Ruger were mine, I’d be safe. Always.
“It’ll be okay, Sophie,” he murmured softly, sounding half asleep. “I promise.”
I didn’t answer, because I didn’t believe him. Instead I dozed off. The next thing I remembered was him lifting me and carrying me down to my bed.
Ruger was wrong. It wasn’t okay.
Things got weird.
So weird that he took off on me for nearly five days, leaving Sunday afternoon and not showing up again until Thursday. I had no idea where he went and didn’t ask him about it when he came back. But it
to get less uncomfortable, right? Because you can only be all tense and strange around each other for so long …
At least Noah started school without any problems, which didn’t really surprise me. He’d always been good at making new friends and tended to roll with whatever changes came along. Before Ruger left on his club run (I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what “runs” were, but apparently this one involved being gone for five days), he’d handed me some money and suggested I wait until the next week to start job hunting. He wanted to explore work options with the club, and also thought I should focus on helping Noah adjust to his new situation.
I’d love to say I’m such a strong, independent woman that I told him to butt out, but it was actually a huge relief. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a week off, and I loved it. I unpacked everything, sucked up the sun and got reacquainted with the area.
I also spent an afternoon with my old friend Kimber.
She invited me over for lunch on Tuesday. We’d stayed in touch through the years, and last summer I’d stayed with her and her new husband when we came to visit. Kimber had gone a little wild for a while after graduation. Then she met Ryan and settled down. He was some kind of software engineer and apparently did pretty well for himself, because she had one of those big houses popping up like mushrooms out on the Rathdrum Prairie. It was part of a development, not custom like Ruger’s, but twice the size and pretty impressive.
She also had a pool.
“You want a margarita?” she asked, opening the door in a bikini, a brightly colored wrap, and sunglasses that would’ve made Paris Hilton jealous. I smirked, because some things never change.
“It’s always happy hour when you have kids,” she replied, shrugging. “Either that or it’s sad hour, and that’s not half as much fun.”
We grinned at each other like total dorks.
“So, you want one or not?” she asked, dragging me through her grand entryway and down the hall to her kitchen. “Because I’m definitely having one. Ava was up all night teething. She
fell asleep about fifteen minutes ago. If I’m lucky, I have two hours before she’s up again. I need to make the most of it and pack in six weeks’ worth of social life before you go.”
“Okay,” I told her. “But just one. I have to drive and pick up Noah later. I take it you’re enjoying mommyhood?”
“Loving it,” she replied, pouring me a drink in a brightly colored martini glass with a flamingo-shaped stem. “I can’t believe how amazing Ava is. But it’s crazy, too. I had no idea how much work they could be—I still can’t believe you did this when you were seventeen. I couldn’t even find my keys half the time back then, let alone keep track of a baby.”
“Well, sometimes life brings us surprises,” I replied, thinking back to those early days. After Noah, I’d gone to the alternative high school and lived with Ruger’s mom. It hadn’t been easy. “I couldn’t give him up, so I figured it out. What doesn’t kill us, and all that shit.”
I waved my hand airily to illustrate the point.
Kimber burst out laughing, and it was just like high school again. God, I loved her. We made our way out to the backyard, sitting at a tile-topped table under a vine-draped pergola. Her backyard really was gorgeous. Totally different than Ruger’s wild acreage … Kimber had a perfectly manicured little Garden of Eden in the suburbs.
“So, you’re staying with Jesse Gray,” she said, arching a brow. I laughed.
“I haven’t heard him called Jesse since his mom died,” I replied. “He goes by Ruger.”
“Um, yeah,” she said, eyes drifting away from mine as she sipped her drink thoughtfully. “I don’t want to be negative, but is this a good thing? I thought you hated him. I mean, things got bad there before you left … It was an ugly time.”
“Um, ‘hate’ is probably too strong a word for Ruger,” I replied, taking a sip from my flamingo-themed glass. Ugh, way too much tequila. Yuck. She wasn’t kidding about packing in weeks of social life. I set it back down, eyeing the yard speculatively. When she went inside, I’d dump it on a shrub or something.
Did tequila kill shrubs?
“I’d say our relationship is a little tense, though,” I added. “He
was kind of a jackass about me coming back to town, but I have to admit, it’s a good move for us. Things weren’t so great in Seattle.”
Kimber made a soothing noise and waved her hand at me.
“You’ll be glad you came back,” she replied. “If nothing else, now you’ll have me around to babysit for you. I promise—no drinking when I’m watching your kid. Scout’s honor.”
“They kicked you out of Scouts.”
“Only the Girl Scouts,” she mused. “Those boys always found room for me in their tents. Seriously, though, Noah’s a great kid, and it’s not like I get to go out and do anything these days anyway. Not that I mind—I’ve had my fun.”
I snickered at that. She didn’t even blush. I wasn’t entirely sure she was joking about the scouts and their tents.
“Speaking of fun …” she said slowly, swirling her drink. “I need to tell you something.”
I glanced over at her, and for the first time since I’d known her, Kimber looked embarrassed.
“What?” I asked, a little nervous.
“I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to spit it out,” she replied, swallowing. “I slept with Ruger three years ago. It was a one-night thing, nothing special. I figured you should know, since I might want to come and hang out at your new place sometime. Full disclosure.”
I gaped at her.
did you sleep with Ruger?”
She cocked a brow at me, eyes knowing.
“Seriously?” she asked, and I flushed. Of course I knew
. “It was before Ryan, so it’s not like I did something wrong. You were still living in Olympia and could hardly stand him long enough to let him see Noah. I thought I was in the clear.”
I looked away from her, trying to process. The thought of her
and Ruger felt wrong. In fact, it made me kind of angry. And that was ridiculous, because it wasn’t like I had any business being upset. Not only that, it’d been three years ago. A full year after things fell to shit here, and not even Kimber knew all the details on that one …
Strong or not, I took a big gulp of my margarita, which blazed a nasty, fiery trail down my throat. My lungs spasmed in protest.
“You aren’t planning to do it again, are you?” I asked once I stopped coughing. She burst out laughing and shook her head.
“Of course not!” Kimber sputtered. “For one, I’m
. Remember? You were in the wedding, dumbass … But even if I wasn’t, he’s not a return-trip kind of guy. I mean, I’d have done him again, because he’s that good—trust me—but he’s definitely not the type to stick around. He’s fucked half of Idaho. It was fun, but I don’t get off on being one of many.”
“Do we have to talk about this?” I asked, squirming.
“No, not really,” she said. “But I wanted you to know, just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
“Well, just in case I come over. It seems weird not to tell you, now that I know you have a thing for him. I didn’t know that when I fucked him, though. I swear. I thought you hated him as much as you hate Zach.”
“I don’t have a thing for him,” I said quickly.
“Don’t bother denying it,” she replied lightly, giving a theatrical shudder. “I can see it in your face when you talk about him, and I get it. He’s one of those guys you just want to shove down and lick all over. Which I did, actually. He’s nasty in bed, too, never tried some of that shit before. Pierced dick. I shit you not.”
My eyes widened and I took another gulp of my drink.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “Does that mean—wait, no.
I don’t want to know.”
She burst out laughing.
“The answer to your unasked question is
,” she said, leering comically. “But you need to stay away from him, babe. No kidding on that one.”
I rolled my eyes. I wanted to be annoyed with Kimber, but you just couldn’t. She was too sweet and crazy to get pissed at.
“I live with him,” I said dryly. “I can’t stay away.”
Her smile faded.
“I guess that’s my point,” she said thoughtfully. “But you can keep your distance in other ways. You need to build your own life and cut out any fantasies of messing around with him, because it won’t end well. If you guys fall into bed one night, you better be ready to wake up and clear out before the next chick shows up. And the next one and the next one and the one after that. That’s just how he is.”
“I know. Pisser, hmmm?”
“Well, it’s not like you have to give up on sex,” Kimber said. “Like I said, I’m stuck at home all the time anyway. Might as well watch Noah so you can go out and get some. You’re hot—guys’ll be crawling all over you. In fact, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
“I don’t do setups,” I told her.
“You will,” she replied knowingly. “Trust me, when you see his picture you’ll be all over him. His name is Josh, he works with Ryan, and he’s loaded.”
She turned on her phone, flipped around until she found what she wanted, then handed it over.
Damn. This guy really was hot, in a pretty, clean-cut lawyer kind of way.
“Okay,” I told her.
She burst out laughing and I chugged the rest of the margarita. Ava squawked over the baby monitor and Kimber groaned.
“Fuck my life …”
As Kimber went inside to check on her, I pulled off my sarong
and slid down into the pool, considering Kimber’s cute friend. Unfortunately, when I tried to imagine him kissing me, I thought about sucking on Ruger’s lip ring instead. Then I thought about sucking on other things, which wasn’t productive at all.
What exactly did a pierced dick look like, anyway? And how would it feel inside?
Kimber finally got Ava settled and came back outside, jumping into the water with me.
“So, have you started job hunting yet?” she asked.
“Not yet,” I replied. “Ruger wants to see if there’s something I can do with the club. I’m on the fence about that. Not sure I want to get involved.”
“Well, if your goal is to make good money, the best place to work is The Line.”
“The strip club?” I asked, widening my eyes. Everyone knew about The Line, of course, but I’d never been there.
“Yup. Totally paid for my degree that way,” she replied, leaning back into the water to wet her hair. I gaped as she came back up.
“You worked at a strip club? Stripping?
“No, I worked there valet parking,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Yes, I stripped. Made really good money, too. I only had to work two nights a week. It kicked ass.”
“But wasn’t that kind of … icky?” I asked, intrigued. She shrugged.
“Define ‘icky,’” she replied. “I mean, sometimes it was really fun. I liked dancing on the stage and all the flirting. The lap dances weren’t quite as much fun, especially if the guys were old or something. But they aren’t allowed to touch you. At least, not unless you go back into the VIP rooms. All kinds of things happen back there—but only stuff you decide to let happen. Nobody forces you to do anything.”
I turned this information over in my brain, stunned.
“So did you?” I asked, knowing it was rude but completely incapable of
“Go back in the VIP rooms?” I asked, unable to help myself. She giggled.
“Yeah, I did,” she replied. “You don’t have to, but that’s where you earn the most money. Security keeps a pretty close eye on things. It’s not dangerous or anything.”
I stared at her. She stared back, smirking.
“Wow,” I said finally. “I didn’t know that.”
“What? Are you going to get all judgy on me?” she asked. “Fuck that. I’m not ashamed. Ryan knows all about it, too. That’s where I met him.”
“And it didn’t bother him?” I asked, even more startled.
“It would be pretty damned hypocritical if it did,” she said, laughing. “First time he came in, he paid for me all night, and I gotta tell you, we had a damned fine time in that little room all by ourselves … I swear, I fell for him on the spot. He didn’t like the idea of sharing me with any other guys, so I quit the next day. I didn’t want to fuck things up between us, you know?”
“Wow,” I said. “I know I keep saying that, but I’m just trying to wrap my head around this. I hate to be too nosy, but how much were you making?”
She leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“No kidding, right?” she asked. “Now, I worked hard at it, took it seriously. And I didn’t get into drugs. A lot of the girls blow their money on drugs and stupid shit. But the smart ones? They save their cash and retire early. I covered our wedding, our honeymoon, and the down payment on this house. Ava’s got a college fund started, too.”
“Damn,” I murmured. “That’s amazing.”
“Well, it’s not a long-term career,” she said. “But think about it. A regular job keeps you away from Noah forty hours a week, at least. Maybe more. You start stripping, you’re only away from him two nights a week. What’s better? A mom with a lily-white reputation, or one who’s actually around to take care of her kid?”
“Hell of a good point,” I answered, bemused.
“No shit,” she replied. “And consider this—you start making good money, you’ll have your own place in no time. I don’t care how nice Ruger’s house is. So long as he’s living there, you’re up shit creek.”
Hard to argue with that.
“I’ve never seen a town with so many damned strip clubs,” Picnic muttered, sipping his beer. Ruger glanced over at his club president and shrugged. It was Wednesday afternoon, but they’d only been awake for a couple hours.