Riding the edge, p.25
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       Riding the Edge, p.25
 

         Part #4 of Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton
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Page 24

  Author: Jaci Burton Ava shook her head and twined her arm with Rick’s. “I can’t believe you knew about this. That you did this. For us. ”

  They ate, and Lacey washed her face and calmed down a bit. By the time they were ready to leave, she seemed to be okay enough to drive.

  “So what are you going to do now, Lace?” Ava asked.

  “I’m going home. ”

  “Home where?”

  “To my parents’ house. I need some family time. Bo screwed with my head. I need time to think, to figure out how I could be so stupid. ”

  “You weren’t stupid, Lacey,” Rick said. “You just picked the wrong guy. ”

  She sighed. “I made a lot of really bad choices. I need some time to refocus. Some time alone to think about a lot of things. ” Lacey turned to Ava. “Can you get a ride back with Rick?”

  “Are you sure?” Ava asked. “I can ride with you. We’ll talk things out. ”

  Lacey shook her head. “I’m not ready to talk just yet. I’m exhausted and pissed and confused. I need some time alone, Ava. Maybe in a few days we can talk. ”

  Ava nodded. “I understand. ” She turned to Rick. “Can I hitch a ride?”

  “No problem. ” Rick went over to Lacey and laid his hands on her shoulders. “Get clean. And I don’t mean by yourself, even if you think you can, because that shit never works. Get into a program that can help you. Lay off the drugs and alcohol. Clear your head. Once you do, I think you’ll find you’ll get past this—past him—and it won’t be as hard as you think. ”

  She sniffed, nodded. “You saved my ass. I’m scared shitless, Rick. ” She glanced down the highway toward the border and wrapped her arms around herself. “I could be in jail now. ”

  “Yeah, you could. But you got out in time and you got lucky this time. Use it wisely. ”

  She sniffed, nodded, and raised her gaze to his. “I’m grateful. When I think about how blind I was—”

  He stopped her. “Don’t do that. You aren’t the first woman it’s happened to. You loved him and you let the real you go because of it. Go find that person and get her back. ”

  She shook her head. “I don’t think she exists anymore. ”

  “Then make a clean slate and start over. You can be anyone you want to be. ”

  Her eyes filled with fresh tears. “My best friend is one very lucky woman. I envy her. ”

  He kissed her forehead. “And you were too good for my cousin. ”

  “Thank you, Rick. I’ll work on trying to believe that. ”

  Rick waited while Ava hugged Lacey and they exchanged a few words. He carried Ava’s bag over to the bike and stashed it on the back. Lacey got in her car and took off. Ava walked back to Rick and took the helmet he held out for her. “I heard what you said to her. Thank you for that. ”

  He shrugged. “She’ll be fine. She just needs some time to realize what an asshole he was. It shouldn’t take long for the hurt to be replaced by some righteous anger. ”

  Ava nodded. “I just hope he burns for a long time. ”

  Rick put on his helmet and smiled as he climbed on the bike. “Oh, he will. Trust me. ”

  It was late by the time they made it back to Las Vegas. Rick drove Ava to her apartment and carried her bag upstairs.

  She’d never brought him here. For some reason it felt . . . strange. She was nervous. What would he think?

  She opened the door and he went in, set the bag down on the floor, and waited while she stepped in and flipped on the light.

  “This is nice. ”

  Nice. Wasn’t he just oh so polite? She scanned the room, trying to see what he saw. Two sofas positioned perfectly in front of the fireplace. Nothing on the tabletops. Not a speck of dust. No knickknacks, no art on the white walls.

  Nothing at all to indicate anyone with a personality lived here.

  It was boring. Sterile. Devoid of life. She thought of Rick, of the color of his life. He might have no walls and no furniture, but his life was full.

  “I’m usually at school. I haven’t really . . . uh . . . given much thought to decorating. ”

  “How long have you lived here?”

  “Two years. ”

  He cocked his head. “There’s nothing of you here, Ava. ”

  She twisted her fingers together. “Force of habit, I’m afraid. ”

  “Which means what, exactly?”

  “Decorating equals clutter, unless it’s done precisely right and only my mother has that magic touch. I was never allowed much in the way of . . . things as a child. ”

  “Things?”

  “Leaving things out. Toys, books . . . anything really. Everything had to be put away. God forbid your life and your interests should be put on display so others could get a glimpse into who you were. ”

  Had she just said that out loud? Dear God.

  “Sorry. I don’t usually vomit out such personal information about my life and my family. ”

  Rick laughed and took her hand. “I like who you are. I think you should show yourself off. This isn’t your parents’ place. It’s yours. Isn’t it time you be yourself?”

  “Yes. It is. ” And she could already envision splashes of color—pillows and fabric and art on the walls and placemats and plants and . . . clutter. How she had changed during the short period she’d hung out with Rick.

  He’d been good for her, had drawn her out of her shell, out of her fears of living life and just existing on the fringes.

  “Would you like something to drink? I have soda and bottled water. No beer or anything. Sorry. ”

  “Bottled water would be fine. ” He shrugged out of his jacket and laid it on the top of the sofa. “Did you want me to hang this up?”

  She laughed. “No. ”

  And wasn’t that a first? She didn’t even twitch when she said it. Maybe there was hope for her after all.

  She went into the kitchen and grabbed a couple bottles of water, then came back and sat on the sofa. He sat next to her and she handed him a bottle. As they drank, she pondered.

  What was going to happen now? To them? She didn’t want this to be over. Not after realizing how much life he’d brought to her, how he’d changed everything about her. She was more relaxed now, less tense, less worried about what other people thought.

  She wanted more of that. She wanted more of him.

  She shifted to face him. “What’s going to happen to Bo now?”

  Rick shrugged. “I imagine he’ll be brought up on federal charges and do time. ”

  “And you aren’t concerned for him. ”

  “No. He has to face the consequences of his actions. ”

  “Like you did when you went to prison. ”

  “Uh, yeah. ”

  “I feel bad for Lacey, though. ”

  “Lacey has to grow up, too, and face the consequences of her actions. ”

  Harsh words. But Rick was right. Lacey had made the choice to be with Bo, to do drugs, to let that lifestyle overtake her. Lacey had been blind to who he really was. Surely there had been signs . . .

  “Do you think she knew?”

  Rick shifted, put his arm over the top of the sofa. “About what?”

  “About Bo using her to run drugs. ”

  “I doubt it. Or maybe she suspected something and was too blinded by love to face the truth about him. Or too afraid. I don’t know. I don’t know much about love and how people behave when they love someone. ”

  “You’ve never been in love?”

  He smiled. “No. Have you?”

  “No. Well . . . ”

  “What?”

  It occurred to her as soon as he asked her that she wanted to tell him how she felt. But the thought of putting herself out there, making herself vulnerable like that, made her stomach twinge. Should she tell him about these feelings? They were so new, even to her, she hadn’t wrapped her head around them yet.

&n
bsp; She had to. Because otherwise he was going to walk out of her life without ever knowing how she felt. That might be how she was raised—to keep her emotions to herself—but she wasn’t going to continue to live that way. Besides, he’d come all the way to Mexico to see her. Surely there was something between them.

  She took a long drink of water and set it down on the table—without grabbing for a coaster. A monumental start. She took a deep breath, and let it out.

  “I’m in love with you, Rick. ”

  His eyes widened. “What?”

  “I’m in love with you. I want to be with you, to continue this—whatever it is that we have together—after today. I want to ride with you for a while and see where it goes. I don’t want to lose you. ”

  Oh, shit. Rick was simultaneously filled with a stab of incredible joy and utter panic.

  No woman had ever told him that she loved him. Hell, he couldn’t even remember his parents telling him they loved him, or if they did he’d never believed it. Love had to be expressed in action, otherwise it was just empty words.

  That Ava did was something he hadn’t expected. He had no idea what she saw in him, but he was damn glad she did. She was beautiful, smart, and adventurous. The thought of having a woman like her by his side filled him with a warmth he’d never felt before.

  Was that love? Maybe it was. But he had no room for love in his life. And he sure as hell couldn’t be in love with Ava Vargas. She was his assignment, not his girlfriend. And he couldn’t even tell her who he really was or what he did for a living.

  Fuck. This was bad. Really bad.

  And maybe she really didn’t love him. She was just leaning on him because of everything that had gone down with Lacey. Her best friend had just been shit on by the man she loved. Wouldn’t it be natural for Ava to see—to want—a different outcome for herself?

  That was probably it. She didn’t want to be screwed over by a guy like Lacey had. She wasn’t really in love with him. She just didn’t want to get dumped.

  Ava laughed and grabbed his hand. “Say something, Rick. I just put my heart in your hands. ”

  Son of a bitch. His gut twisted because he knew exactly what he had to do.

  He pulled his hand away and stood, dragging his fingers through his hair. His heart pounded and his palms began to sweat. Hell, he’d walked away from plenty of women in his lifetime. It had always been easy. Why wasn’t this easy?

  “Ava, we had a great time together, no doubt about it. But my life is solitary and I like it that way. I don’t do relationships. ”

  Her smile died instantly. And a part of him died with it. The hurt in her eyes was palpable. He felt like someone had just stabbed him in the heart with a knife.

  “Oh. ”

  “Look, darlin’. I think you’re beautiful, intelligent, sexy, and I had a great time with you. Let’s just leave it at that. ”

  She nodded and stood. “Sure. You’re right. ” She grabbed his coat from the other sofa and handed it to him, refusing to meet his gaze. “You should probably go. It’s getting late and I have a lot to do tomorrow. ”

  He felt like an asshole. He was an asshole. But if he lingered any longer, he’d pull her into his arms and kiss those tears away that trickled down her cheek. He’d tell her that he was in love with her. He’d tell her who he was. He’d fuck everything up.

  He needed to get out of there and fast.

  She opened the door and he stepped outside, turned to look at her. “I’ll see you later. ”

  She raised her gaze to his, her eyes glittering with tears and her lips lifting in a tortured smile that wrecked him. “No, you won’t. Good-bye, Rick. ”

  THIRTEEN

  It took Ava two days before she could leave the house. Two days of crying, of feeling empty inside. Two days of feeling stupid, of feeling just like Lacey must have felt.
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