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Wild for you, p.17
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       Wild For You, p.17

           J. C. Reed
 
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  My body screams for him, reminding me that it’s been hours since he was last inside me. I’ve never been the insatiable kind, but then again, I’ve never met someone like Cash.

  Pointing to the folders on the desk, I ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be resting?”

  “Yes, but business is business. Work never rests.”

  I catch the flash of worry on his face. “What’s wrong?”

  “We’re constantly in the red, no matter how much money’s coming in. We’ve lost millions in the few months since my accident. The numbers in the accounting books don’t add up, so here I am, trying to figure out where the problem is.”

  I blink once, twice. Wow. Millions is a lot of money to lose in a few months. “Don’t you have people for that?”

  “Of course I do,” Cash says grimly. “But at this point, I don’t trust anyone. If someone on the payroll is screwing me over, I want to find out who it is. I won’t let anyone else do this job for me and risk alarming whoever’s stealing from my clubs.”

  “May I?” Without waiting for his permission, I get up and get one of the folders.

  “Sure.” Cash heaves a sigh, as though he doesn’t believe I’ll find anything but doesn’t want to argue.

  “Before I decided to become a physical therapist, I took a few business classes. Maybe I can help.”

  “You already do enough here,” Cash says.

  “I don’t mind.” I catch his glance and smile. “I probably won’t see more than you do, but it never hurts to get a second pair of eyes, right?”

  I wait for his nod of approval before I peek at the papers. Cash pulls me back onto the sofa, his hand settling at the low of my back as he draws me close to nuzzle my neck.

  “What did you find?” he whispers against my skin.

  His hot breath makes it hard to focus, but I don’t complain.

  I frown as I try to make sense of the numbers. “Find?”

  “You barged in saying you found something. What is it?”

  “Oh, right. I forgot.” I put down the folder and slide my hand into the pocket of my jeans to retrieve the piece of jewelry. “This old chain.”

  In the light of the sun streaming in, the pear-shaped sapphire stone sparkles in a million facets of blue. Cash stares at it and his expression changes.

  “Where was it?” He takes it from my hand to inspect it.

  “It was buried in the soil near the barn.” I stare at the stone, marveling at its beauty. When he remains silent, I add, “I took the liberty to clean it. I hope you don’t mind.”

  A few seconds pass before Cash meets my gaze, his eyes dark and distant. “It belonged to my mom. My nan passed it on to her. I thought I’d never find it.”

  His voice vibrates with emotion.

  “It’s beautiful,” I say, even though the word cannot do it justice.

  “After we realized it was gone, we spent weeks looking for it.” He dazzles me with a warm smile.

  “I’m glad you found it,” I say softly.

  “No. You did, and for that I’m grateful.”

  His expression grows distant again, as though he’s a million miles away, lost in memories. And then he opens the clasp and brushes my hair away from my shoulder. “I want you to have it.”

  I stare at him, unsure whether I’ve heard him right. “I can’t accept it. It’s your family heirloom. It’s too personal.”

  Too everything.

  Ignoring my protests, Cash clasps the necklace around my neck and leans back to inspect it.

  My hand moves to it, my fingers gently brushing over the smooth stone. “It should stay in the family.”

  The corners of his mouth twitch with amusement. “Why? Are you planning on leaving anytime soon?”

  “No. It’s just—” I suck in my breath, hesitating, as I consider my words. “You might want to give it to someone special.”

  Like someone you love and want to marry.

  Someone who’ll stay in your life even after the job’s finished. The thought crushes me, but I need to keep it real. Cash will meet that special someone one day. It’s only fair that she wear his mother’s necklace.

  “You are special to me.” His gaze falls to my lips.

  “I am?”

  “Yes.” He nods slowly, meaningfully. “You’re helping me.” The words sting for some reason. I want to be the one he loves, not the one who helps him. “It suits you, Erin,” he says. “And I’d rather you have it than it gathering dust.”

  Maybe for the time being, but not for long.

  “I can’t—” I shake my head. It’s such a beautiful necklace. But it looks expensive, and our future is uncertain. “I can’t accept it, Cash.”

  “You don’t have a choice. I want you to wear it.”

  I nod because I don’t want to start a fight. But I know that I’d never take it with me. “Your mom…” I say carefully. “What happened to her?”

  “She died from a gun wound.” His eyes don’t stray from the stone as he speaks. His tone is soft, but his face remains unaffected. His words are spoken casually, as if we’re discussing the weather, not an event that likely changed his life.

  Okay, I so did not expect that.

  All air is squeezed out of my lungs.

  There is a long silence. I dare not speak out of fear that I’ll break the moment. I know he’ll continue when he’s ready.

  “It was an accident.” He drops his hand from my neck and turns to look at me, his eyes a dark green shade I’ve never seen before.

  It’s anger I’m seeing. And fear, and guilt.

  So much guilt. I don’t know what happened, but it breaks my heart for him.

  “I don’t have many memories of her,” Cash goes on to explain. “But I remember the day she died as if it happened yesterday.” He pauses to draw a sharp breath, as though to steady himself before speaking about something terrible. “We were young. I was four, and Ryder five. Kellan was seven, which would have made my sister twelve.” There is a long pause. “Yeah, that’s about right. Carla must have been twelve.”

  Suddenly, he gets up and walks out into the backyard. I don’t know whether he wants to be alone or whether he expects me to follow, so I follow him, keeping two steps behind. The air around us is quiet, as if every bird, every tree is listening. A cold breeze begins to blow. I rub my arms, but not to keep myself warm.

  The haunted look in his eyes makes me shiver.

  We sit down on a bench, our gazes focused beyond the vast fields, on the dense woods stretching as far as I can see.

  “Dad was already the sheriff. On the day my mother died, he left the house like usual. I knew where Dad kept the keys to his office, so Ryder and I stole his gun from its place to play with it in our backyard. We were just a bunch of stupid kids who didn’t know that it was loaded or…real. We thought we were cool just like Dad, pretending to be adults.”

  Fuck!

  I can almost see where this is heading, but my mind can’t comprehend it.

  I open my mouth, then close it again, waiting for Cash to continue, as my heart begins to slam hard against my chest.

  “We had other kids over all the time. I can’t remember where Ryder was when it all happened, but suddenly all the other kids wanted to hold the weapon. I tried to fight them off when I saw my mom running toward us, probably to check what we were up to. I don’t know whether the gun slipped from my hand or whether someone dropped it. All I know is that when it hit the ground it went off and my mom was hit.” His eyes narrow, focusing on something in the distance, a memory from the past only he can see. “At first, we didn’t know what happened. There was a loud bang, and then there was silence. Everyone was staring at my mom lying on the ground, a lifeless heap surrounded by a thick red liquid that wouldn’t stop pouring from her.”

  He falls silent again. I stare at him, his words echoing in my mind, burning me, twisting inside me like a poisonous snake.

  I feel sorry for the little boy who didn’t know any better. I feel ev
en more sorry for the adult who’s probably blaming himself every single day.

  “She was calm. So calm,” Cash says slowly. “I remember her telling Ryder to go and bring dad, then her eyes moved to me. As I leaned over her, she took my hands in hers and kept telling me over and over again that she was fine. She told me that she loved us and that she was proud of us. She claimed to be lying on the ground because she was tired, but I knew better. I knew something was wrong. I could see in her eyes that she was in pain.”

  A tear rolls down my cheek at the magnitude of his words. I wipe it away, but more follow in its wake.

  “When Dad arrived, she was still warm. The first thing I said to my father was, ‘Don’t worry, Dad. Mom’s just sleeping.’ I really believed that. I thought letting her sleep would make her pain go away. I was only four years old. Such a stupid kid.”

  He turns to me, and for the first time, I see the tears gathered in his eyes.

  My chest begins to tighten, my lungs fighting for oxygen. But I can’t seem able to draw breath. My pain’s choking me.

  “At that time, I didn’t understand what it meant to die. For a long time, my brothers and I were under the impression that Mom was on vacation and that she’d come back. She told us so.”

  “She?”

  “My sister. Clara was the one who carried the burden of my mom’s death. She was always the strong one. We’d ask every day when Mom would be back, and Clara would always come up with a story about some road trip. She encouraged us to write letters to tell her what we were up to, the good and the bad things included, and she made sure to send fake birthday and Christmas cards, even gifts, to make us believe Mom was still alive.”

  “Did it work?”

  “Yes.” He smiles bitterly. “Surprisingly well, actually. I was nine years old when I finally realized it had been Clara’s handwriting all along. That she was the one who always replied to our letters. I’m pretty sure Kellan knew by then, maybe even Ryder. I think everyone protected me, kept me in the dark for as long as possible.”

  Cash smirks, his face twisting with pain, and eventually a tear rolls down his cheek.

  “What about your dad?” I ask gently.

  He shrugs. “He took the fact that he couldn’t save her badly. He blamed himself for a long time. I think he still does. Once he told me that he should have been more careful where he kept the key to his office, but the truth is we boys used to spy on him. We knew every crevice, every hiding place in the house.” His hands ball into fists as he shakes his head. “We were such stupid kids.”

  “You were too young to understand.”

  “Still. I wish Ryder and I never got the idea of playing grownups.”

  “I’m so sorry.” My hands reach out to him, touching him, the gesture meant to convey the compassion my words cannot convey.

  Cash nods gravely. “That’s life. You say sorry, and then you move on because you have no choice. Even I did. My father never moved on after her death. We’ve all been waiting for him to remarry, but he’s remained true to her. Even so many years after her death he talks about her like she’s still with him.”

  “Sounds like he never stopped loving her.”

  “She was his life. That’s what he always told her.” He looked at me. “My mom’s death hit us hard, but we learned to cope. After all Clara did for the family, it’s a shame she died so young.”

  My throat chokes up again as I remember looking at the family pictures in the hall upon my arrival. They tell the story of a happy family. They don’t show the tragedy and the tears. I had guessed nothing of those before Margaret revealed Clara’s story—a soldier who died in a bomb blast.

  “It’s her I miss the most,” Cash whispers. “It’s her I have to thank for who I am. For years, she was the light in the dark. She was the one who made sure we grew up okay when my father started drinking. If it weren’t for her and Margaret, none of the Boyd brothers would be who we are today.”

  His fingers brush over the gemstone absentmindedly, reminding me of his generous gift. “I’m not perfect, Erin. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes.” His eyes meet mine with the kind of intensity that takes my breath away. “You’re important to me which is why I’m telling you all this. I just wished you’d confide in me, too.”

  I blush. “Why would you say that?”

  “Because I know you’ve had a difficult past.”

  My eyes narrow at his choice of words.

  “I’ve read the report about what happened to your boyfriend,” he answers my unspoken question. “I know you’re afraid you’ll get hurt again.”

  I take a large gulp of air as waves of anger shoot through me. “How did you—”

  “Find out?” He shrugs, as though it’s not a big deal. “The police report. I always take the liberty to look into the people who work for me…or move into my home.”

  Which makes sense. If I were him I’d probably do the same. Besides, it’s not like he made a secret out of it. He already revealed that he looked into my credentials. Reading the police report would be the next step to take.

  “So you know about my ex.” My anger’s slowly dissipating, replaced by relief.

  He knows, and yet he still wants me. He doesn’t think that I’m a monster. How could he when he doesn’t know the whole truth?

  “It happened a few years ago. And it’s not like it’s a secret. His accident made the headlines, and my name was mentioned a few times.” An accident that caused his death. “Teen DUI tends to get a lot of coverage. The truth is he was a really good driver.”

  He looks at me. “Do you think he did it on purpose?”

  “What? I don’t know,” I lie. “He might have been distracted. Maybe something on the side of the road, like an animal or his cell phone.”

  We fall silent. This is the moment where I could tell him everything, pour my heart out as he did. But something holds me back. I want him to drop the subject. I want all those memories to go away, if only for the time being.

  “Do you still love him?” Cash asks gently.

  The question comes so unexpected I almost choke on my breath.

  “Do I still love him?” I shake my head. “Did I ever?” I turn away, avoiding his gaze. I could leave it at that, but I won’t. Cash has told me so much about his life. It’s only fair that I tell him something about mine. “I never loved him, but I cared for him.” My voice is trembling, the truth too heavy, the burden suddenly too heavy to carry. I’ve kept it locked inside me for so long that it’s poisoned my heart. I need to let it out, even if it means the end of Cash and me.

  “He was my best friend,” I continue slowly. “We had known each other forever, so it was only natural that we started dating. The day I lost him, I didn’t just lose my boyfriend. I also lost a friend.”

  Tears gather in my eyes again, but it’s not the pain that’s too unbearable to keep inside. It’s the guilt that’s weighing heavy on my chest.

  “The newspapers described me as this distraught girlfriend, but the truth is I broke off our relationship that day.” I feel so horrible I don’t even look up as I continue, “I told him that I didn’t love him the way he loved me. That I only cared for him as a friend, and nothing more.” I draw a sharp breath, but no oxygen reaches my lungs. “I told him that I wanted him to move on, that he deserved someone who loved him the way he needed to be loved.” I shake my head. “He didn’t take it too well.”

  “Was it the truth?”

  I look at him and nod gravely. “Yes. He was nothing more than a good friend. I tried to be gentle, but maybe I could have chosen my words more wisely. I don’t know. For a long time, I felt guilty. Guilty that I didn’t return his feelings when I should have. Guilty that I didn’t stop him from driving away. Guilty that he died barely an hour later. Guilty that I chose to reveal my true feelings rather than keep my mouth shut. If I hadn’t been so selfish, he might still be alive. Who knows?”

  “It’s not your fault, Erin.” Cash pulls me into his arms, cradli
ng me to his chest, his warmth comforting. “Who knows what happened on that road? For all you know, he tried to avoid hitting a wild animal. Or he was so drunk he passed out.”

  “Maybe,” I say, unconvinced. “But I still can’t help myself thinking that I could have handled things differently. I should never have broken things off the way I did. He was a good guy. I was too harsh, and he didn’t deserve it. I just couldn’t help the way I felt. I—” I struggle for words. “—I felt like I was leading him on, and I didn’t want that.” My throat chokes up again. “He was always driving too fast because, in so many ways, he was a risk taker like you. He’s the reason why I became a physical therapist. I wanted to help others, if only to amend my mistake.” My fingers move to the necklace. “I can’t accept this, Cash, simply because I’m not worthy of it.”

  “I want you to have it,” he says, stroking my cheek gently. “My mom used to say it was her good luck necklace. She wasn’t wearing it on the day she died. I wish she had.” He meets my glance, and something passes between us. “I want a part of me to stay with you for as long as you want it.”

  “Why?” I whisper.

  “Because I love you, Erin.” His words are soft, but heavy with meaning.

  For a moment, I forget to breathe. I forget where I am. All I see is a beautiful man who’s just told me that he loves me.

  After everything I’ve revealed to him, his feelings haven’t changed.

  “I love you,” he whispers.

  “Even knowing everything about me?”

  “Yes.” He smiles gently. “Nothing could possibly change the way I feel.”

  “I love you, too, Cash.” The revelation makes it past my lips before I can stop it. But it’s true. I love him and I want him to know it, even if this won’t last.

  His mouth lowers onto mine. My arms wrap around his neck as I push my chest against him, my body ready for him. His fingers tangle in my hair, pulling me to him. I moan as a tingle begins to travel through my core.

  The sound of a cell phone ringing jerks me out of the moment. I peel my mouth off of his and look around when Cash reaches into his pocket to switch it off.

 
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