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       Jacked, p.22

           Tina Reber
 

  I wanted to go on a complete tear through, looking for more evidence, but a brand new box of thirty-six tampons was pretty much all the proof I needed.

  I shoved the box back in its spot, berating myself for once again falling for the suave bullshit. I may not be the most experienced when it came to the shit guys keep in their bathrooms, but tampons were definitely not one of them. Reminded me of the time I found a discarded birth control pack in Randy’s apartment. He never did give me a good explanation, either. Bastard.

  I left the bathroom light on and cracked the door, illuminating his bedroom enough for me to find my clothes and get the fuck out of there. My ten-minute fantasy was just shot to hell and I had no desire to stitch it up or even confront him with it.

  We didn’t have a formed relationship and I had no right making a big to-do out of the fact that he obviously has a steady woman in his life who parks her fresh-scented shit in his closet.

  I found my jeans and one of my socks; the other sock was missing somewhere and if it meant that I’d have to stay here a second longer looking for it, the sock would end up a casualty of war.

  I shucked his shorts off and crammed my toes into a sock, balancing precariously on one foot in my hung-over irate state.

  A light flicked on, freezing me like a deer caught in headlights.

  “What are you doing?” Adam grumbled low.

  Shit. I curbed my frustrated anger and went for an innocent smirk and a “quiet walk of shame with as much dignity as possible” moment.

  “Oh, sorry. I tried not to wake you. It’s, um, late, and I have to go.”

  The covers slipped down his bare chest when he propped his head up. “Go?” He glanced over at his clock. “It’s five twenty-two in the morning, Erin. You got someplace to be?”

  My mind blanked. “Yeah.”

  His eyes narrowed. “Now? You have someplace to be at five thirty a.m.?”

  I nodded while ineptly cramming a leg into my jeans. I nearly fell over; my balance was shit. “Yeah, I have this thing. But thanks for…” Saying everything at that moment seemed so cheesy. For holding my hair while I puked?

  When he sat up, the sheets dropped, exposing his deliciously bare chest and those incredible arms and sexy-as-hell rope tattoos that wrapped onto very impressive pecs… making me wonder for a second if I was being too hasty. He should arrest himself for being so insanely sexy that it should be illegal. But knowing my luck, his woman would be coming home soon anyway.

  “Hold up. Five minutes ago you were sleeping. Now you’re running a race to get the hell out of here? What the fuck happened from the time you got out of my bed to now?”

  Do I accuse him? Nah. Best if I just leave without making a spectacle of myself. I’m wiser now and he can play all the games he wants with the next hopeful who crawls into his bed, but that won’t be me. No way was I going to get fooled twice.

  “Nothing. I just have to go.”

  Adam frowned. “Bullshit.”

  I could tell that I’d angered him.

  “You have to go to work or something? Pretty sure they won’t appreciate you coming into the hospital in your condition.”

  “I don’t go in until Sunday night,” I blurted, inadvertently wasting my only plausible excuse.

  He craned his neck, glancing at the dark window in his bedroom. “You hear that?”

  I stopped moving, concentrating on some mysterious noise.

  “That’s the sound of heavy snow and sleet hitting the window. You aren’t going anywhere.”

  “I’ll be all right.”

  He gazed down at my bare foot. “With one sock and no car? What the hell, Erin?”

  Oh, you want to be grumpy with me? “Are you even wearing any clothes under there?”

  He flopped the bedding back, exposing what looked like dark cotton sleep pants riding dangerously low on his beveled hips. “I usually sleep naked.” He was out of bed and in my face three seconds later. “What’s going on with you? The truth.”

  I watched him cross his beefy arms over his chest, waiting. We were at a draw and I was in knots, just like the braided artwork on his body. Fine. He wanted to know so damn bad, I’d tell him. “I shouldn’t be here.”

  His brow tipped up. “No?”

  “No.”

  “Who says?”

  I wanted to laugh. “I wasn’t snooping.”

  “Excuse me?”

  Gah! I wished I had my full wits about me. I knew my words would not come out of my still inebriated brain properly. “I used the last of the toilet paper.”

  “And?”

  “And I needed more. Listen, you obviously have a girlfriend and I don’t want to go into the many reasons why I need to go.”

  “Wait. Hold up. I have a what?”

  I wanted to shove him for playing dumb. “A girlfriend. A wife. I don’t know. Whatever. I got a new roll of toilet paper out of the closet and that’s when… You have an entire box of tampons and shit in there, Adam. Girl’s deodorant and hairspray and stuff. Listen, it’s cool. Thanks for helping me out but I’m in no condition to defend myself when your woman gets home.”

  He gave me such an angered look, it shook me a moment. “Do not move,” he ordered harshly before turning for the bathroom. I watched him shove the door out of his way; another sound told me he was in his linen closet.

  He walked back with the box gripped in his hand. “This what you found?”

  I nodded. “Listen, Adam. It’s cool. You don’t owe me any explanations, really.”

  “Well, now I think I do, seeing as you are running out of my bedroom like your ass is on fire, willing to go out in the middle of the night into a blizzard to get away from me.”

  He had a point. Blizzard? Shit. Guess I’ll be moving out to a couch for a few hours instead of walking home.

  He held the box up and took a deep breath. “Box is still sealed, right?”

  I looked at it until he dropped it in my hands. The box was still glued shut. “Yeah. Really though, Adam. Seriously, you don’t have—”

  “Still sealed. Untouched. Guess I never thought about it until now, but do those things have an expiration date on them?”

  “I don’t know.” I turned the box over, trying to read the small print in the dimmed light and answer the question while he turned this confrontation into a quiz.

  “Doesn’t matter. They upset you, they’re gone.” He snatched the box back and tossed it blindly across the room without regard. “They belonged to someone who used to live here. She left. I couldn’t see throwing a new box of anything away, especially since she used my money to buy them. Shit in my bathroom closet is all new, too. Figured it might come in handy one day if somebody was here who needed that stuff.”

  “Oh.”

  “Oh,” he mimicked and sighed, his frustration waning. “You have any more questions or can we go back to bed now?”

  “Adam…” I felt like a fool.

  He gazed passively at me. “Bed’s new, too. Bought it the day after she left. That was last June. Only person’s been in it is me… and now you.”

  My eyes roamed over his totally cut body and incredible abs, finding that extremely hard to believe.

  “You look like you doubt me.”

  I waved a hand at him, pointing out the obvious, losing my track of thought when I zeroed in on that delicious “V” that disappeared into those sleep pants. “I don’t want to, but… but you said you’d never lie to me.”

  He nodded. “I have no reason to lie. It’s pointless.” He tipped my chin up so I’d meet his eyes. “And know this: if I didn’t want you in my house or in my bed, you wouldn’t be. You need any girl products, there’s some shit in my closet that’s untouched. Use it. Got new toothbrushes in the top drawer, too. But right now I’m tired and you’ve obviously been out partying with a variety of alcohol. I’m not up for arguing over nonsense.”

  His warm hand glided up over my cheek. “We good?”

  All I could do was nod. “I’m s
orry.”

  His hand slipped up the back of my neck; his thumb skating along my jaw line. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on my forehead, which warmed my entire body. “Apology accepted. Now let’s go back to bed,” he muttered on my skin. “You can lose the jeans, Doc. No need to sleep in them. I’ll give you some privacy to change again.”

  I thought he would try to kiss me, but he let go and stepped back, giving me a heated stare after nudging me toward the side I’d been sleeping on. I watched his sexy ass retreat into the bathroom.

  I curled back onto my side under the lukewarm sheets and stared at the window, tracing imaginary patterns in the dark curtains, feeling like an absolute drunken fool filled with regret. The bed dipped when Adam climbed under the covers a few moments later. He had his back to me while he turned out the light.

  I heard the sheets shuffle as he got comfortable, breathing out an audible breath from his nose. As we lay there in uncomfortable silence, I actually reconsidered leaving, but the wind was howling outside, rattling the window in its frame, making that thought a very foolish and perilous option. I was stuck here and we both knew it.

  I couldn’t blame him for being guarded; after all, I brought this on myself again. At least he was being a gentleman and not tossing me out into the cold and…

  He rolled over and slipped his hand over my stomach. “Stop overthinking,” he muttered, honing in on my thoughts so accurately it sent another chill through me. He urged me backward toward the middle of the bed. “C’mere.”

  His warm body molded around my back, pulling me into his chest, sending a wash of elation through me. I felt his breath, his chest rising and falling, the confusion and arousal from skin touching ski. My mind whirled from the close proximity of his parts near mine. He placed a soft kiss on the nape of my neck and tightened his arm around me. “I want you here, Erin. That’s all you need to think about.” He snuggled even deeper and slipped his arm under my pillow. “Get some sleep, babe.”

  I WAS IN the throes of a familiar reoccurring dream—the one where I’m back in high school of all places, and I’ve obviously forgotten to wear shoes again. My feet are bare and the industrial flooring is cold, and I am becoming more and more frantic because I can’t remember my locker combination. Random numbers barrage my brain as I spin the dial on the lock, but none of them seems to be correct, and for the life of me I can no longer even remember the PIN for my ATM card. An older woman with shellacked blonde hair clears her throat and informs me that I’ve missed a few important tests and therefore I’ll have to repeat my last year of high school because I haven’t technically graduated.

  Somehow I know this is all so preposterous and untrue but I can neither stop the dream from unfurling or from letting it upset me. I knew I shouldn’t have argued with the strange woman because now the police have come to remove me from class. People are staring, some in shock, others with glee.

  The cold steel they place around my wrists echo their frigidness down into my fingertips, making them as numb as the rest of me. A chill blasts down my spine. I wish I had shoes on; the floor is so cold. They don’t care that I didn’t do it. My words fall on deaf ears. Mrs. Morton is crying, pointing a finger at me, screaming accusations of murder that are untrue! Blue vomit dripped from the lifeless body clutched in my arms. Someone make her put down the chainsaw! Please!

  I woke on a gasp, pulled right out of the fog of sleep. Despite the black-out curtains covering the solitary window, bright sunlight was still beaming down from the edges, casting a warm, ethereal hue over everything.

  It took me a few moments to realize that I wasn’t in my own bed. My bedroom walls were still painted their original sterile white, not soothing sandstone. After three years, I still hadn’t gotten around to changing the color or making my mark on the place. The harsh reality was that my place wasn’t really mine. It didn’t belong to me.

  I blinked a few times and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, rationalizing that the loud machine noises were coming from outside and not from the inside of my inebriated skull. My chest muscles felt strained from having expelled the contents of my stomach, but the pounding headache seemed to have mostly subsided. I didn’t even want to think about the complexity of toxins poisoning my system.

  Shit, Erin. Let’s not do that ever again.

  My head felt like it weighed a lot less resting on the mound of soft pillows. I was warm, cozy. Adam’s bed was super comfortable, cradling my body in some invisible layer of cushioned protectiveness. The soft blankets covering me held enough weight to keep me snuggled in though they did nothing to prevent the onslaught of reality from slamming into my thoughts.

  Visions of my mother crying, utterly devastated, melded with the sounds of the rest of my family member’s painful reactions from yesterday. I’d been preparing for this outcome since the moment the extent of his injuries were assessed, and from a medical standpoint, was surprised my uncle had lasted as long as he did. Uncle Cal’s passing was probably for the best. A vegetative state was no way to live.

  My own body felt in a vegetative state, lethargic and weak. I rubbed my face, trying to make the barrage of unwanted thoughts go away, and rolled over slowly, only to find Adam’s side of the bed rumpled but empty. I closed my eyes, imagining what it might be like to wake with him beside me on a regular basis.

  Outside, faint voices were drowned out by the whirl of snow blowers and the scraping sounds of shovels. Apparently last night’s storm was over and Adam’s neighborhood was digging out. My eyes were still heavy, though the clock on his nightstand indicated it was after ten.

  My car. That thought had me tossing the covers off.

  I found the light switch on the wall in the bathroom and winced at my haggard reflection in the mirror. The purple and yellow crescent-shaped bruise under my eye didn’t help. I needed a hot shower and clean clothes and most definitely a toothbrush. Adam’s baggy florescent green T-shirt was okay but not…

  Wait…

  What?

  I held the shirt out, seeing the image of what appeared to be a martini glass and a car key in the center of a circle with a slash across everything.

  I felt my eyes go wide with astonishment.

  And here I thought Adam was just the strong, silent type. Apparently he had a wicked sense of humor. I found my jeans and pulled them on but my black, long-sleeved shirt was missing. I searched everywhere, even under the bed. Next to his bedroom was a hallway closet and two smaller bedrooms; one containing a desk and makeshift office and the other barren except for some tools, some cans of paint, a canvas tarp covering the floor, and strips of white molding. Would he hide the rest of my clothes on purpose? It made no sense.

  I had just found my hat and scarf on the floor in his living room downstairs when I heard Adam come into his kitchen, his alarm system announcing his arrival. The mechanical grind of a closing garage door reverberated behind him. That moment of awkward silence hit me—the one where you’re not sure if the guy really wants to see you hanging around in his house the next day or if I should ask where he put my coat so I could scatter quickly.

  He eyed me warily, which did nothing for me to be able to read his mood.

  “Hey. Didn’t think you’d be up yet.”

  I ran a hand through my hair, hoping he wouldn’t be appalled my haggard appearance. “I heard the snow blowers.” I pointed toward the windows. “I was going to come help you but I can’t seem to find my coat or my other sock.”

  Adam gave me a soft smirk when I tugged up my jeans and wiggled my bare left foot.

  He shrugged out of his heavy tan-colored work jacket and hung it over the back of the chair at the counter at his huge kitchen island.

  “My shirt seems to be missing, too.”

  Adam rubbed the back of his neck. “What’s wrong with the one you have one?”

  I grabbed the hem. “I see you have a sense of humor.”

  His boyish smile was devastating. “Figured it was appropriate considering…”

>   I found I couldn’t hold my smile either. “Dressing me in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving shirt—how apropos.”

  He tossed his gloves onto the kitchen island and for a moment I was lost, drinking him in from head to toe, watching his methodical movements. The man surely filled out a pair of jeans. A tinge of sexual intrigue hit me; I wanted to bury my nose in the space where his gray thermal Henley grazed the nape of his neck and see if he smelled as delicious as he looked.

  His soft chuckle blended perfectly with his rosy cheeks and strong shadowed jaw. “I thought so.” He slipped his black knit hat with ATTF written in yellow letters off his head, patting his hair down. “Your shirt is in the washer.”

  I followed where his chin indicated, catching the thrumming sounds of a spin cycle. “You washed it?”

  Adam nodded. “It was a casualty of your, ah… overindulgence. You got some yuck on it when you got sick.”

  A burst of extreme embarrassment made my head spin for a few seconds. My grand show in his bathroom was not something I cared to relive. “I’m so sorry. I’m…” Feeling humiliated, mortified, unsure of how to move. “Thanks for… taking care of me last night. I appreciate it.”

  Adam’s pleasant demeanor vanished, washed away with a frustrated scowl and a discerning glare. Every nerve in my body itched to disappear. Not only did my world come crashing down yesterday, the one man I could actually see myself spending time with was assessing me as if I were an experiment gone terribly wrong. I couldn’t look at him anymore. It was too awkward. I noticed my purse on the leather recliner chair in his living room.

  “It’s um… I should probably get going. Are the roads okay?” I pulled out my cell, wondering who I could call to come and give me a ride.

  “Sun is out. Snow is starting to melt.”

  His low, grumbling voice set my body on high alert.

  “Good, okay.” I scrolled through my phone, seeing a missed text from Tommy: “What’s up? You coming?”

 
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