“What are you smiling about?” he whispered, tracing the contours of my lips with the index finger he had so shamelessly driven into me only an hour ago.
“Nothing.” I stretched out like a cat in front of a fireplace, enjoying the last few hours before routine would kick in.
We were about to step out of our shell and back into the real world, which worried me. The last two weeks had been interesting, with very little work and very much other stuff. Back home, it was only a matter of time until reality would crawl back in, and I realized things would most certainly change. I wished I could hold on to us forever, lock us up in a protective cocoon, and let the world pass us by so nothing and no one could ever touch or separate us.
Was that what love felt like? Wanting at all costs to protect the frail shell of emotions coating our hearts?
It was so easy to get wrapped up in him and his body, to let him take control. My mother had always said that no man should lead the way and no woman should just follow but, even though I barely knew him, I wanted to let him into my circle of trust because I could feel he’d never betray me.
“Is there anything you want to share with me?” he asked.
His question took me by surprise. Why would he ask me that? I sat up on my elbow, fully facing him. “I don’t think so.”
“What exactly are you looking for, Brooke? Because, from what I gathered, you don’t really do relationships.”
Another surprising statement. My heart pounded hard against my chest. “What makes you think that?”
“The way you still don’t talk much about you shows me you don’t trust me fully.”
I opened my mouth to tell him he was wrong, and closed it. Was it true? Did I shut him off in some way or another? I thought back to one morning when he’d asked about my past relationships, and I avoided giving a straight answer. Could Jett have interpreted the fact that I didn’t like talking about my past as a sign I wasn’t interested in a relationship?
“Trust doesn’t come easily to me,” I said, unsure of what Jett really wanted to hear from me.
His eyes turned a shade darker and his jaw set. “Why? Is it because of what happened to Jenna? Because if that’s the reason, I can assure you most men aren’t like that guy.”
“I know that.” I knew Danny had targeted and abused her to pay for his habit. My therapists had told me that over and over again.
His gaze bore into my soul, searching for the answer I didn’t want to give. How could he understand when all he knew about my past were a few empty words that barely managed to express a fragment of the pain I had to go through?
“Why?” Jett persisted. “Please, help me understand. I need to know whether there’s—” He hesitated, keeping to himself what he had been about to say.
I took a deep breath, feeling my resolve waning. I had told him about my sister, which was my biggest secret. Why not share my feelings with him as well?
“Why do you even want to know? Why can’t you just leave it the way it is?” I whispered.
He shook his head, hesitating. I held my breath as I regarded his dense lashes casting dark shadows beneath his eyes. He was so beautiful it broke my heart, and we weren’t even done yet. What would happen once he tired of me? Would I survive the pain? I had let down my guard and now I was in too deep. I should have run—the way I always did, and yet I had made no move to leave, neither physically nor emotionally. And now I was facing an array of emotions I had never felt for anyone before. Fear, desire, hope, and yet more fear. Emotions I couldn’t deal with. Emotions that would suffocate me the moment our arrangement ended.
“This isn’t working, Brooke. Don’t get me wrong, the sex is amazing. But it’s turning into something else, and I need to know where I’m standing. I need to know whether we’ll ever be together.”
My heart skipped a beat. It tended to do that a lot ever since he entered my life. What exactly was ‘more’? A relationship? Or a different contract? “You want more?” I whispered, daring not to hope.
“Yes, Brooke. I do. I want to see where this is heading.” His voice was deep and low. Sultry.
I peered into his eyes to see if he was joking, but his expression remained serious. Half of me wanted to jump right into his arms and never let him go, the way you see in movies. And the other half, as strange as it sounded, wished she could wipe out each and every memory that included him. Because I wanted him too much and I couldn’t handle it. Because I had never felt this way before, and it scared the hell out of me. If I gave it a try and it didn’t work out, my heart would shatter and my world would crumble. If he lost interest and broke up with me, it would kill me.
“But…we signed a contract.” I almost choked on the words. There were a hundred reasons why this wasn’t a good idea, one being that we barely knew each other. You don’t jump headfirst into a relationship when you met the person two weeks ago and haven’t really dated. And then there was that one issue that made any reasoning turn into dust.
I was falling in love with him.
“You said you had done contracts before, and that this is the way you like it,” I continued, hoping he would reveal more about his past and his feelings for me. Anything to justify the decision I had already made.
Jett shook his head slowly. “I never said I had done this before.”
“But you had a contract drawn up by your lawyers.”
He nodded slowly, his gaze darkening. “It was their idea after an ex-girlfriend tried to screw me over with some sordid sex stories that never happened.” Hesitating, he ran his fingers through his dense hair, reminding me that I had done the same thing just a few hours ago. “You’re different. I know you’re not sleeping with me because of my money.”
“How do you know that?”
He placed my hand onto his chest. Beneath his skin, his heart thumped fast and in unison with mine. “Because I feel it,” Jett said softly. “I always have. I wanted you right from the beginning, but you pushed me away, so I had to convince you. Otherwise you would never have given me a chance.”
I smiled at the memories of the last two weeks. So much had happened. Never in my life did I imagine the arrogant guy I met at a bar would interest me on more than a sexual level. Someone I might fall for.
“I want us but at the same time I’m scared because—” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, gathering the courage to share with him my biggest fear.
“It’s okay, baby.” His fingers brushed my cheek gently, settling right beneath my chin, where my pulse pumped hard and fast, matching the erratic speed of my changing emotions.
My eyes met his warm gaze in which I found the courage I needed. “My parents were so deeply in love. They adored the ground beneath the other’s feet. When my father killed himself, my mother’s soul died with him.” I laughed to mask the choking sensation in my throat. “She turned into someone else, someone I didn’t recognize. I lost her the moment he died, and no matter what I tried, she never recovered. I don’t do relationships because I don’t want to love and lose myself.”
“What happened to your family was a tragedy, but many people have loving relationships. You can’t rob yourself of that experience just because you’re scared of loss before you’ve even given it a try.”
I could see his conviction in his eyes, hear it in his tone, and feel it in his gentle touch on my body. He believed the happily-ever-after story, and I couldn’t blame him for it, when he’d never experienced the ugliness of having one’s family torn apart, or seeing one’s sister falling for the wrong man only to end up dead.
“You think I haven’t seen my fair share of shit happening?” Jett said.
Clamping my mouth shut, I remained silent. No point in arguing with him. Of course he had. I never doubted that. It just wasn’t the same thing.
Jett sat up and put a few inches between us, staring me down. Angry waves wafted from him, and I knew a revelation was imminent. “You know why I like to use my mother’s name? Because it’s one of the few things she gave me before she left us behind. You lost your dad, whereas I never really had a mother because she couldn’t stay sober. She blamed her addictions on my father’s work schedule and his unwillingness to lay off the secretaries, strippers, and every female who’d open her legs for him. In the end she finally had the guts to divorce him. She took half of his fortune and left me and my brother behind. I ended up doing some pretty bad shit, of which I’m not proud.”
“I’m sorry, Jett. I didn’t know,” I whispered and reached to touch his shoulder. My fingers lingered on the Tribal tattoo I never asked about. Even in the bright light, it looked gloomy and mysterious. Frightening and dark. I wanted to know everything about his past and him as a person. And in that instant I understood that he had insisted learning about my past and previous relationships because he probably felt the same need to know.
“Tell me more,” I whispered. “Please.”
Jett’s jaw set, and his eyes turned into layers of ice. “She barely made the effort to write a card or call. As a kid, I thought it was my fault for not being good enough. It took me a while to understand my mother wasn’t just an alcoholic, she was a drug user. She loved us, but she loved her drugs more. She chose to be like that, which in some way is worse than tragedy. I tried to help her. We all did, but she pushed us away. I learned to live with it and made it my prerogative to turn into a different person. A person capable of love and trust and intimacy.” His hands cupped my face, his gaze boring into me, shaking my core. We had similar experienes in life. Maybe we weren’t so different after all. If my sister didn’t die, she might have gone on the same destructive path, like his mother. “Tragedy may hit all of us in one way or another, but fate’s not our enemy, Brooke. We are. By locking yourself away from the world, you choose your own mistakes and destroy any chance of ever finding happiness. You cannot control life, but you can choose who you are and what you make of it.”
I could feel the truth in his words, and it spoke to me on an innermost level. Tears pricked the corner of my eyes, but I didn’t hide them.
“I’m sorry for my outburst,” Jett said softly. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He kissed my forehead. His eyes were no longer clouded, as though he could leave the past behind by just looking at me. He wanted to be with me. And I wanted to be with him. But was it too soon to let love happen?
“Why do you want me?” I asked, suppressing the trembling of my voice. “I’m strange, definitely not perfect, and f**ked up. Actually, a lot of the latter.”
“Perfect is boring and overrated.” He smiled that lopsided grin of his that made my lower abdomen twist and curl with delicious desire. “I’m looking for sexy, fun, kind, and honest. And you tick all the right boxes, Brooke.” Compliments weren’t my thing, but for some inexplicable reason Jett’s words made me return the smile. “And then there’s the fact that we’re kindred spirits. You’re f**ked up and I’m f**ked up too, and that makes great dinner conversation.” He winked, as though he didn’t really mean that, but his expression remained serious.