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       Jacked, p.28

           Tina Reber
 

  My jeans were draped over the chair in the corner. My heart broke into a million pieces just thinking about having to put them on, but I’d be damned before I let him or any man see me shed another tear.

  Adam snagged me by my wrist when I tried to step past him. “Where you going?”

  I steeled my shoulders and tried to jerk free. “Getting dressed.”

  His eyes narrowed and his hand tightened. “Why? Erin, sit.”

  “I need my clothes.”

  “Erin.” His voice was severe, so was the grip he had on me.

  Gone were the soft “babes” and other whispered sentiments. We were back to the formality of first names.

  “Why? So you can give me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech?” A small chuckle erupted, though this constant reality of my sad love life was far from humorous. “Save it. We both have busy lives and it’s cool. I understand, believe me.”

  He huffed in frustration, glaring at me. “Jesus Christ. Jumping to conclusions pretty fast, don’t ya think?”

  I tried to tug away. “Just say what you’re going to say.”

  “You gonna sit the fuck down and listen?”

  I gave him my “I don’t think so” glare.

  He tugged me again, this time with some force, pulling me across his body until my butt was sitting on the bed next to him.

  I wanted to find my coat before he had a chance to go on.

  “Listen, just hear me out. The other night… Damn it. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t expect…” His head swayed. “This morning, I was angry. In my mind, I thought you were different, and then you went out and got fucked up on alcohol. I can’t have that in my life, Erin.”

  None of this made any sense. “Wait, are you still mad at me?”

  “No,” he declared. “No, I’m not. I have no right to be upset with you. This is my problem. It’s me that has to deal with it, not you.”

  He stared at me for so long, making me feel like I was missing some obvious point. “I’m confused,” I whispered.

  Adam pried my fingers apart, lacing his with mine.

  Is he placating me?

  His head dipped, gazing at the floor instead of just gutting me with the obvious truth. The span of silence was almost deafening, waiting, imagining a thousand different responses that might tumble from his lips to spear me through the chest. It was almost too easy to imagine a young Adam, guilty and unwilling to admit to his mistakes, hoping that some dimpled-cheek charm might spare him from the repercussion of his misdeeds.

  “After sharing what we just shared, I want you to know me, Erin, and that… well, that includes the ugly parts too. I can’t… I can’t bring you in or ask you for more, not without you knowing all of me. You have the right to know what you’re getting yourself into before we go any further, no matter how much I want you. It’s only fair. I care way too much about you to do that to you.” He drew in another deep breath. “But I know once I tell you, things between us are going to change.”

  Now he was scaring me. “I don’t understand. What—?”

  “I’m trying to explain. Shit.” He muttered another curse and then looked me straight in the eyes. “I have a drinking problem, Erin. Ever since my partner was shot, it’s been… rough. The job. The stress. It was hard to deal with it all. But I’m sober now. Been sober for ten months.”

  Reality hit hard. “You’re an alcoholic?”

  Adam shrugged slightly. “Hate that word. Hate thinking that something like that got the better of me. Some days are harder than others. But I’m working on it. I’m keeping clean, avoiding temptation. Channeling my frustrations with other things that are giving me back a sense of control. But that label is going to follow me and haunt me and spill over on whoever I’m with.”

  My hair started to tingle from absorbing all of this at once. “You go to meetings?”

  Adam let out a small sigh. “Not the public kind but yeah, I see a counselor twice a month. It’s part grief and part addiction, since things tipped when my partner got shot.”

  “So no AA?”

  “No,” he uttered.

  Substance abuse was rampant in Philly; all of the doctors on staff were well versed with addiction and treatment plans. “Why not?”

  He bristled at that. “Listen, when I say I’m dealing with it, you have to trust me on that. There’s no way I’m going back to that. No way.” He eyed me warily. “See, this is why I didn’t want to bring anyone into this; it already cost me too much. My shit forces the people around me to make choices and sacrifices, and that’s not fair. Not fair to you.”

  He stood up abruptly. “I want this, Erin. I want you and I want to see where this goes because I think we could have a great thing between us. But what I want and what you need are two different things,” he muttered. “I thought you of all people would understand the crush that comes from the overwhelming stress of our jobs. Day in and day out, it’s never pretty.”

  I watched him reach for his discarded jeans, fishing in the front pocket.

  “Fuck. Here are your keys. I’m going to take a shower. If you’re still here by the time I’m done…” He dropped my keys in my hand and then raised my chin up. “Well, I hope to God you stay, but I understand if you can’t deal with it. At least I have the peace of mind knowing that you know. That I was honest.”

  I was stunned. Utterly stunned. My mind was spinning in its own tornado of confusion, further muddled by the look of regretful despair on his face. What I had thought he was going to drop on me turned out to be a multi-layered confession. He flicked the light on in the bathroom, leaving the door cracked a few inches. I could see the well-defined triceps of one arm, then a gloriously bare ass as he tugged his boxers back off, leaving me in a perpetual state of lustful want. I sat in a stupor, hearing the shower water raining onto the enormous glass surround.

  Did he think that having a character flaw was a deal-breaker for me? Was it? My head started to throb, but my heart didn’t feel like it was being ripped out of my chest anymore.

  I could easily leave—leave him to his demons—tthough Lord knew I had my own legion of demons plaguing me. After all, I did wind up at a bar by myself and got drunk trying to get over the crushing stress.

  I replayed his words—well, the ones I strategically picked out of his monologue—paying particular attention to the ones that described his current feelings for me.

  The last twenty-four hours had been absolute hell. I hurt. My heart ached. But now I just felt angry.

  I shoved the bathroom door out of my way and flung the shower door open, catching him with both palms flat against the tiled wall, the shower water raining down on his head.

  Adam rolled his gaze over and shoved away from the wall. “Erin—”

  “So that’s it? You fuck my brains out then give me an ultimatum?”

  He swiped his hair back. “Not an ultimatum. A choice.”

  “A choice?” My voice came out a bit higher than I wanted it to. I also felt the need to give his dumb-ass a shove. “So that’s why you were being such a jerk this morning? Because you think I’m some raging party girl who gets fucked up every Friday night?”

  He gave me a curt nod. “I admit when I’m wrong.”

  My eyes zoned in on his face, doing my best to ignore the water rippling down the contours of his body. “Do you get violent?”

  “What?”

  “Do I have to worry about you getting violent? Doing stupid shit, like punching walls and stuff?”

  “No,” he said emphatically.

  I crossed my arms. “Do I have to be worried that you might get abusive or hit me?”

  Adam scowled at me. “I’ve never hit a woman in my life, Erin. Never.”

  I stepped into the shower, water pelting me, soaking into my tee. “So if I get up in your face like this, you going to get rough with me? Continue to be an asshole to me?”

  Adam growled, seized my upper arms, and spun me; my back pressed flush with the tiled wall. “You get up in
my face like this, I’ll get rough.” As soon as he let go of my arms, my wet shirt was ripped up over my head and my intimidating cop was back in full force. He pinned my wrists to the wall above my head and cut off the rest of my rebuttal by shoving his tongue in my mouth. “I want you, Doc,” he announced on my lips, water pouring down both our faces. “More than anything I’ve wanted in a very long time. From the moment I first laid eyes on you, you’re all I fucking think about.”

  “You already said that,” I reminded.

  He hands held me captive. “Maybe you need to hear it more than once.”

  I tried to wiggle free. “Maybe, but—”

  He pressed harder. “Then hear this. You’re in my veins, Erin. Understand? You’re twisted in deep now. I’d never hurt you. Never. Not even if you ripped my heart out.”

  “Let go of me,” I ordered.

  Adam’s hands instantly opened.

  I wrapped my arms around his neck, needing his mouth back on mine. He gave it all back to me, biting and sucking my lips with equal force and desperation, sliding his hands all over my body.

  I may be in his blood but he was my air.

  He palmed my ass and lifted my leg, impaling me on his newly formed erection, connecting us from the inside out.

  I should have cared that he wasn’t wearing a condom, but I didn’t, needing him just as frantically.

  Just when I thought I’d be broken again, left to fall apart and wither to dust, Adam put us back together again.

  IT’D BEEN A long time since I felt this type of peace, this semblance of serenity. The soft tick, tock of the clock in my bathroom seemed to match the cadence of the heart beating steadily against my side.

  Erin’s cheek was pressed to my chest; her arm was draped over my abs. I was twisting a piece of her long blonde hair around my fingers, feeling every muscle in my body finally relax. The index finger of my other hand was busy circling the tiny freckles on her upper arm. If things kept up at this soothing rate, I could make a career mapping out each dip and swell of her body, kiss every fine nuance of her skin.

  This morning, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this woman lying in my arms. My mind had gone round and round in an endless circle, making up reasons why it would be best to keep her at arm’s length. Letting her in meant I’d have to break down some of my walls, but history showed that leaving the fortress vulnerable never worked out for the inhabitants.

  Earlier when she broke and told me all the things making her sad, I felt like a complete bastard. Here I thought she’d just gone out to get fucked up. Boy was I mistaken. Years of bad experiences had me jumping the gun, letting the shit poison my mind.

  Erin nuzzled in deeper and let out a soft, contented sigh. Without thinking, my body responded, holding her tighter. She was settling in, giving me her trust, her affection, and after the grief I’d given her over the last week, I wasn’t sure I deserved it.

  But there she was, patching the holes in me without even knowing it. I thought she was the broken one but it was actually me that needed saving.

  Erin’s mouth moved over my chest, breaking our silent moment. “Adam?”

  I dipped my chin. “Hmm?”

  Her fingertip glided over my bicep, following the path of my ink. “Did all of this hurt to get?”

  “What, my tats?”

  Her finger trailed down my arm, sending tender sensations right through me. “Yeah. They’re so intricate. Must have taken a while.”

  I rolled my arm. “Took a couple of sessions. I think I have about nine or ten hours in so far. I have a bit more to go yet ’til it’s finished.”

  She looked up at me, squinting her eyes. “Was it painful?”

  Compared to some of my past pains, it wasn’t even close. “It hurts a little. You get used to it after awhile. Why you asking?”

  Erin shrugged. “I always worry that I’m hurting people when I have to inject them. I think it’s one of the things people fear the most about doctors. I can’t imagine having to do it repeatedly.”

  “It’s not so bad. And you did a fantastic job when you worked on my hand. Why, you thinking of getting one? I’ve searched your entire body, so I know you’re a blank canvas.” I squeezed her in my arms. Just hearing her playful laugh made me smile.

  “Maybe. One day.”

  In a flash, I thought about tattooing my name on her ass. “I hear women have a higher tolerance for pain. I’m sure you’d be able to handle it.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  “You do that.” I envisioned her getting a pretty butterfly or something hanging off the “A” in my first name that I’d have inked on her luscious behind. Maybe put a warning back there too that says “If your name isn’t Adam, I’m gonna kill you for attempting to fuck my woman.” That might be too many words though. “Property of” might work.

  “Why the rope?”

  “Hmm?”

  “The rope? Just curious as to your choice of artwork.”

  I shifted underneath her, not sure how to explain the lengths I’ve gone through to keep myself together, whole. “It’s a reminder. Hard to explain.”

  Erin propped herself up on my chest, giving me her full attention. She didn’t ask me to go on. She didn’t prod or make faces at me either. She just studied me, silently assuring me that I’d be safe if I shared my reasons. I combed her hair back, finding myself unable to deny her much of anything. If she only knew how hard this was for me.

  “I understand. It’s okay.” She kissed my chest right above my heart, cracking the last bit of my stubbornness.

  I blew out a breath. Naked and vulnerable were never a good combination. “I’ve been a cop for over ten years, Doc. I’ve seen things, horrific things, just as I’m sure you have. Kids, drugs, violent crimes, violent criminals. I thought… I thought once I became a cop I could put an end to it, ya know? Make a difference. But no matter how hard I try it’s like pissing in the wind. That accident you and I worked together? That was just one of many I’ll never be able to forget.”

  Erin’s head tilted, spilling her hair over her shoulder. I twisted another lock around my finger, concentrating on how soft it felt instead of the unrelenting demons that plagued my mind. “Sometimes I can still hear the gunshot.” A phantom pain flashed over my temples. I’d never admitted that to anyone; not even during counseling. “Back then, after I… after Tom was killed during that traffic stop, I stopped caring about a lot of things. It took me a while to realize that that was an empty, lonely road.”

  Her fingers brushed over my arm. “Is that when you got these?”

  I nodded. “I got the ink on my arms when I gave up drinking. The only person who could throw me a lifeline back then was me. These tats are my lifelines.”

  She rested her cheek on my chest and blew out a deep sigh, as if she’d been holding her breath in as long as I’d had. “I know exactly how you feel.”

  I felt the jolt when her words passed right though my walls. “You do?”

  “More than you know. It’s like no matter how many medical miracles I perform, I’ll never be able to keep people from dying. Everything I do, everything I try is nothing more than a temporary fix. I love what I do, but sometimes it’s discouraging. Some days it feels like for every person I patch up, there’s an endless line of people falling apart, waiting right behind them.”

  “Exactly. I put one bad guy away and five more crop up to take his place.” Her finger was still softly tracing my tats, lazily blazing her heat down my arm. “The rope reminds me that what’s inside of me is my first priority. I can’t lose me. I can’t lose my sanity to the ugly. If I do, then I’m done.”

  She sighed, nuzzling even deeper. “Maybe I need some rope tattoos.” Her fingers tickled down over my ribs, circling over the tats that ran down the side of my stomach. “What about these? Are they Chinese?”

  More like hidden messages to myself scored into my skin. I nodded, answering her.

  “What do they mean?”

  I felt my
muscles tense as I cleared my throat. “That one is ‘Remember’. Second one is ‘Truth’ and then ‘Trust’.”

  “And this last one?”

  It was the one I had the most difficulty with. “It’s ‘Forgiveness’.”

  She rested her lips on my skin, patching another unseen hole. “I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns, too. You got to see my embarrassment firsthand.”

  Oh, baby. Don’t go there. My fingers tensed in her hair. It’s just between us, sweetheart.

  “I love what I do but sometimes the pressure is… it just builds up and gets to be too much. I see enough gore in one shift to leave most folks scarred for life.”

  “I bet you do.”

  Her head tilted up. “I bet you do, too. I guess not too many people can relate to what we go through on a daily basis. Most of the people who come into the ER are far from happy and sometimes they yell and scream and add mental abuse to the physical and emotional strain. And you,” she tapped my chest, “you get the added pleasure of them pointing guns at you. Maybe we should go into selling bathroom fixtures or something. Can’t be too much stress in doing that, right?”

  She made me laugh. “Could be fun, but now I’m thinking of taking you back in the shower.”

  Erin smiled broadly and just like that, she gently bit my nipple for being a smartass. Fuck, that felt good. No… great. That’s it, use your tongue. Heal me, baby.

  I ran both hands through her hair. “It takes a special kind of person to do what you do, Doc.”

  Erin’s head popped up, grinning. “You like calling me Doc, don’t ya?”

  “I do. It fits. Why, does it bother you?”

  She seemed unsure. I hauled her up my chest. I was done talking. I needed to kiss her again, to feel that heated connection to this amazing creature who was consuming me like fire.

  She drew my top lip into her mouth and then pulled back to study my face. “How would you feel if I called you Cop?”

  Her feistiness was such a turn on. I pulled her leg over my body, making her straddle me. I was glad the rest of her came along for the ride. She climbed right on and owned me.

 
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