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       Jacked, p.47

           Tina Reber
 

  Maybe I’d have to add “delivery of a baby in a restaurant” to my resume before this day was fucking over.

  Sherry was all business. Jen had been somewhat starry-eyed until she eased into the real purpose for this meeting.

  Jen glanced at her watch. “We have to speed this up as she’s meeting us here soon.”

  Just hearing that Erin was on her way made a strange ache develop in my chest.

  “We’re going to look at a few apartments with her after lunch,” Jen continued.

  “She’s moving?” I don’t know why this detail surprised me, and hurt.

  Jen became somewhat indignant. “Someone shot up her house. She won’t even go back to pack up her stuff.”

  Cherise raised a hand. “Now hold up. Before everybody goes blaming Adam again, I’ve been a cop’s wife for years and this situation is very unique.”

  Sarah leaned in. “Erin hired a moving company to do it.”

  My guilt was crushing. I rested my head in my hands; it was hard to face all of their reproachful stares. “I’m glad she has all of you looking out for her,” I muttered. “I can’t fix it so why bother trying.”

  “Unh ah.” Cherise cracked me in the back of my head—hard. “You love her, you fight for her. None of this ‘I’m giving up’ crap. You hear me?”

  I rolled my gaze over. “Entire city heard you.”

  She scowled and then smacked my shoulder for good measure. “You want her back?”

  “Isn’t that why we’re all here?”

  Cherise turned meaner. “I said, do you want her back?”

  My head was close to exploding. “Yes, of course I do.”

  “Well then.” Her face softened. “Here’s what I suggest we do.”

  CHERISE’S PLAN PRETTY much involved random forms of kidnapping, which didn’t sit well with me at all. Forcing Erin’s hand was never going to work, and each second that ticked by made this latest play seem like an equally bad idea. My mouth was dry, like I’d been sucking on cotton balls for the last hour.

  I never wanted a drink so bad in my fucking life. My nerves were shot, sending tiny shakes down into my fingers. My hands were sweating, making me question the differences between love and losing my fucking mind.

  The second she slipped through the door, the sunlight at her back, the air seized up in my lungs.

  With perfect precision, the three from Erin’s team surrounded her, leading her like a sacrificial lamb to the waiting lion.

  The bloody bandage was ripped off when Erin’s smile crashed down into irritation.

  “Nope.” Sherry body-blocked her from retreating. The pain in my chest turned into agony, knowing with absolute clarity that Erin didn’t want to be here, facing me.

  “You’re going to talk. You’re going to listen,” Sherry said, laying down the law to both of us.

  “You two love each other,” Sarah said with a knowing smile.

  “And as your best friends,” Jen added, “we all agree that this has gone on long enough. You’re miserable without each other, and any man who has the guts to ask us for our help deserves a second chance.”

  I don’t know why I stood. Part of me was ready to chase after her should she decide to turn and run. And I was acutely aware of my shoulders and ribs and the muscles and bones in between.

  “You going to sit?” Sherry asked her.

  Erin’s magnificent blue eyes were locked on mine, wavering in her resolve. I could see that a part of her wanted this, which gave me hope. Her friends were poised to argue, which left her without much of a choice.

  “I have an appointment at two,” Erin muttered over to Jen, but her stare was pointed at me.

  “Hear him out,” Jen said. “We took a vote and decided unanimously that Adam’s offer is better.”

  “Adam’s offer?” Erin questioned, confused.

  Sherry grabbed a chair, steering her by the shoulder. “Just sit and hear him out. FYI—the pregnant one is prepared to take you down if you bolt.”

  I stifled my grin. Erin’s friends were fucking awesome.

  Erin sat roughly. “You have an offer?”

  “Move in with me.” I held my breath.

  Erin twisted in her seat, ready to stand, until Sherry smacked her in the head. This intervention was turning into a no-nonsense smack-down.

  “Ow!” Erin squealed.

  “Cherise cracked Adam in the head earlier and figured it worked so,” Sherry shrugged. “looks effective.”

  Erin rubbed her scalp. “You met Cherise?”

  “Yep,” Jen answered. “Woman is fierce. We’ve adopted her. Oh and we’re all going to her house tonight. You should wear those new boots you got. With the lacy dress and blue sweater? You looked so cute in that. Josh is taking our boy to his grandmas.”

  “Jen—” Erin frowned.

  “What? It’s Saturday night and she’s making margaritas… and you looked adorable in that outfit. Now you have a reason to wear it.”

  Erin’s questioning gaze flashed back to me.

  “It’s poker night,” I said with a shrug, wishing her hands were near the tabletop so I could hold them.

  “Doesn’t seem like I have much of a choice,” Erin growled reluctantly through her teeth.

  We’d effectively cornered her, but that’s not how I wanted us to come back together. “Ladies?”

  “Yeah, let’s give them some privacy,” Jen said, ushering the other two away. “We won’t go far,” she muttered to Erin.

  They sat at a table a few feet away.

  It felt so good to be seeing Erin’s face with my eyes instead of my memories. “You always have a choice, Doc. If you really want this to be dead and history, just say so and I’ll walk out that door and never bother you again. It’s that simple. This was my last ditch effort to show you how much I miss you and how much I am still madly in love with you, but I’m not going to force you to feel it back.”

  My legs wanted to stand, to get up and put distance between me and the pending rejection. “You don’t want a future with me, it will hurt like hell but I’ll accept it. Can’t hurt much worse than these last three weeks have been without you.”

  I studied her, waiting, praying, hoping… Thirty seconds and still… nothing. I tapped the table with my knuckles and stood, taking the silence as her final word. I’d lied… this hurt so much worse than I thought possible, but I’d be damned to let her see how completely gutted I was.

  “Adam, wait.”

  I had to remember to breathe.

  “Why do you love me?” she asked.

  So many words crossed my mind. Between that and the hurt watering my eyes, I was blinded by it all. But one thought out of them all rung true. It was all I had left. “You make me want to be a better man, Erin.”

  She stood.

  Two steps and I had her in my arms. The feel of her body finally pressed up to mine, chest to chest, maybe there was hope to come out of this alive after all. “I’ve missed you, so much.”

  Erin’s hand tensed into the back of my head. “I’ve missed you, too,” she cried softly into my neck.

  I had to see the feelings in her eyes, make sure they were there, that this was true. Air mixed with every emotion, stuttering out of my lungs.

  Her kiss was the only medicine that could heal me.

  I clung to her, to my lifeline.

  There was no way I’d ever let her go again.

  It was till death do us part now for me.

  “THE GIRLS SEEMED like they had fun tonight. Everyone get along?”

  Adam turned left onto Fourth Avenue, definitely not taking me back to my parents’ house. Jen and Josh had picked me up, giving me some space to think about Adam’s presence back in my life, but they had left me at Cherise and Marcus’s house after seeing how happy Adam was with me being there.

  God, I’d missed him, but I’d made the conscious decision that I had to draw the line between love and having someone shooting at me and unfortunately, self-preservation had won that
round.

  The familiar scent of Adam’s truck, his commanding presence behind the wheel, feeling his attention and affection throughout the entire night, all brought about a sense of contentment I hadn’t felt in weeks. “It was a great time. I think your poker circle has expanded now though.”

  Adam’s smile was marvelous. “Josh is a cool dude. Pretty much fit right in. And Sherry’s husband is funny as shit. We don’t mind losing Booger at the table, that’s for sure.”

  I got the willies just thinking about someone touching their nose and then touching the food plates. “That’s good, because Cherise is expecting girl company from now on. She’s already planning on making some sort of Jell-O shots for next time.”

  “You can drink with them, Erin. Just because I don’t doesn’t mean you can’t.” He rubbed his scalp, muttering about me resenting him.

  I was stone-cold sober. The rest of girls, not so much. “It’s not a sacrifice, Adam.”

  “But it is.”

  “No, and we can argue this forever. It’s hard enough to fight an addiction and beat it without the people who care about you making it more difficult.”

  “Does that mean you care about me?” His smirk was playful and yet he was truly worried asking.

  “I’ve never stopped.”

  He nodded, chewing his bottom lip. “Good. That’s good to know.”

  “I was scared.”

  His grip on the steering wheel tightened. “I know.”

  “I still am.”

  “I don’t want you to be scared. You need to know I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you never feel that way again.”

  I knew he meant every word but there were so many things out of his control. It wasn’t worth arguing about or pointing out how he’d failed in the past. Wounding him that way would solve nothing. “I’ll need time.”

  He pulled into his driveway; watching his garage door rise up made me nervous, as if the mouth of his lair was welcoming me to a point of no return.

  “I’m not sure jumping back into things so quickly is the best decision.”

  “Christ.” He parked and left me sitting in his truck, which was something he never did.

  I followed him into his kitchen, carrying a handful of guilt in with me.

  He tossed his keys onto the counter.

  I slipped my coat off. “Adam, I—”

  “No.” His glare was daunting. “We do this, we go all in. I’m not going to spend the next year taking shit slow and seeing if we can make things work. Either we get along or we don’t. No more skirtin’ issues and making assumptions. You want this with me? Here I am, offering. You want it? It’s a simple yes or no, Erin.”

  “I want to try.”

  “No. Fuck trying. It’s a yes or no.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Then strip.”

  “What?”

  “You heard me. All in. I won’t settle for less and frankly, neither should you.”

  I hesitated. “I think we need to—”

  “Put your coat back on.” He sighed. “I’ll take you home. I can’t forget about you with you standing in front of me.”

  “Adam…” Pushing him away was easier to do when it was on my terms, not his. “That’s not fair.”

  “Fuck what’s fair. If you want me, you will take all of me and you will give me all of you—NOW. Not later, not after a month of tryin’ or waiting and seeing. Now.”

  My nerves skittered at his demand. His brow rose, waiting, daring me to say no to his ultimatum.

  “Okay.”

  He tossed his jacket and grabbed my hand, leading me down the steps. When we hit the lower level, his silent demand was in full form.

  I sat and pulled my boot off, worried that if I didn’t I might regret it later.

  “All of it,” he ordered, fetching his bag of tricks. “Jeans, sweater, everything.”

  Weeks of bitterness and anger welled. If he wanted to solve our problems with a fuck, then so be it. I’d lock what was left of my shattered heart away in its protective box.

  Watching him peel his black T-shirt up over his head, exposing those solid pecs, rippled abs, and that light trail of hair that disappeared into his jeans, made my anger wrestle with my uncontrollable desires.

  His chest rose and fell hard while he gazed at me, tucking things away in his back pockets.

  I stopped at my bra and underwear. Adam folded his shirt lengthwise and then twisted it. “You don’t look all in, Doc.”

  I straightened. “You want to solve things with a fuck, you can work for that.”

  His nostrils flared, making his partial grin quite sinister. I locked my bones in place when he stepped up to me. I hated feeling this vulnerable, being on display while he circled me. Fingernails lightly grazed down the hollow of my spine, stopping to unhook my bra.

  “I’ve never just fucked you, Erin.” With the softest of touches, he slipped the straps down, tossing my bra to the side before it fell to the ground. He guided my arms behind my back, dusting my shoulders with his mouth.

  He folded my arms so each of my hands cupped my elbows. I felt the bite of hard plastic when he zip tied my forearms together.

  “Adam…” I tugged at the second cinching, my pulse racing from the implications.

  “Shh…” He stilled my arms; his soft lips trailed over my shoulder to the nape of my neck. “We’re working out our problems.” He covered my eyes with his T-shirt, tying it in place. “Blind trust, Erin. Time we get back to basics. You and me.” He shifted my hair; his fingertips’ gentle caress sending tingles throughout my body. “I’ve told you so many times, I will always take care of you. No fear between us.”

  I actually feared being plunged into darkness, where everything heightened. Each touch magnified. The smell of warm masculinity amplified. Each breath becoming music to the ears. Sensations normally taken for granted transformed into my sole purpose for existing, just to relish in the joy of experiencing them. Pleasure came from nips of pain.

  “I love you,” he whispered on my neck. “And I know you’ve missed me, too. You wouldn’t be standing here if you didn’t. But I know you think they are just empty words. I know you’ve been hurt, let down, disappointed. It all scares you, right?”

  How did he know?

  “Going forward, I want there to be no doubts, no mistrust.” My underwear slipped over my hips. “I want us to be absolute.”

  Fingers scored down the sides of my legs, eliciting a gasp to roll out of my mouth.

  “Do you want that?” His teeth bit gently into the space where thigh turned into ass, making me step out of my underwear.

  “Yes.” I wanted that more than anything.

  I felt his smile on my skin.

  The waiting, anticipating, was nerve-wracking.

  I heard the sharp sound of a long metal zipper separating, the rustling sound of weighted nylon. A pass of cording went around my waist, over my hips, wrapping around the tops of my thighs. Endless looping, fingers wiggling between my flesh and the bindings, Adam’s deep concentration audible in his breathing—the spider was weaving me into his web.

  Oddly the experience was quite soothing, even though I knew in the end the spider would devour me, leaving nothing but an empty shell where the last of my vitality once existed. But I knew, somehow instinctively, that his mastery of human macramé was executed with the sole purpose of taking us to another level of understanding.

  I still wanted him to stop this, to allow me adequate time to analyze and to draw educated conclusions. Normal love didn’t include these perversions and yet my body was tingling.

  Adam worked quickly but precisely. He bathed me in tenderness, preparing each area with soft kisses before his ropes made their next pass. Above my breasts, below. Around my ribs, across my back, and over my shoulders. The zip ties were cut, allowing me to straighten while each arm, each wrist was wrapped. The ropes pulled my arms up straight above my head and bit into my skin, driving me to stand on the tips of m
y toes.

  Then he moved on to wrapping my lower half.

  “You look so beautiful,” he whispered below my ear, and, without any control of my own body, my feet left the ground. He kissed my left ankle and then wrapped and tugged, tethering me to the sun or the moon or whatever center of the sky he commanded.

  He wasn’t the spider. He was the puppet master.

  I was the marionette, awaiting his bidding.

  He tugged on one of the ropes, sending my body gently swinging.

  My every thought, every stress, every insecurity and responsibility fled, solely focused on swaying in the air. I was free.

  Adam cradled my head against his bare chest and kissed me. I’d been starving but until I felt his tongue caress mine, I didn’t realize how close to expiring I’d been. His kisses were infused with so much intensity, they were silent words and meanings and messages meant only for me. He slipped the covering off my eyes, connecting us even deeper.

  “Do you love me?” he asked.

  “Yes.” I’d been broken down into the rawest of truths.

  “Tell me why,” he whispered, stroking my hair.

  “I don’t know. So many reasons.” Each one was like trying to catch a leaf in the swirling wind. “I see you in everything. I hear you in every song. I feel you in places I didn’t know existed.”

  His smile was gentle and kind; a panther momentarily friendly before it sank its teeth.

  “Do you remember when you put those stitches in my hand?”

  I nodded.

  “You said to me, ‘my first priority is you’. Do you remember that?”

  It was hard to think through the hazy fog his kisses had left me in.

  “I remember,” he went on. “It shocked the hell out of me. That’s what love is all about, right? Putting each other first?”

  My heart felt even more impossibly heavy. Could dreams actually come true?

  “Why don’t you want children?” he asked, still caressing me.

  “Adam…” This was not a conversation to have and yet there it was—tossed out front and center.

 
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