My eyebrows lifted. Not one word had been spoken about what had happened with Blaise last night, and Blaise had been tense. I knew he’d been waiting. With this question, he relaxed. His hand had been gripping the back of my chair, but it eased down and he shrugged.
“I’m thinking that’s up to you.”
Zeke nodded, eyes falling to the table. “Yeah.” Then he looked back up. “Anyone called you today? Your family or…anyone?”
Blaise’s hand stalled on my leg. “Nah, man.”
Zeke went back to studying the table. “You turned your phone off after my call?”
Blaise’s jaw clenched as he leaned forward. “The phone’s on. If you got something to say, say it.”
Zeke didn’t blink. “That piece of shit needs to go to jail.”
My stomach dropped. I froze in my chair.
“He put his hands on you,” Zeke added. “I’ve got a big fucking problem with that. I don’t know if your girl knows about this—” His eyes slid my way, an apology there. “But I’m your best bud, and I fucking love you. You’d be okay if someone did that shit to me?” He nodded at me. “To your girl?”
Blaise’s fingers gripped my leg. He wasn’t hurting me, and he pulled me in closer.
I looked over.
He wasn’t looking at Zeke. And his jaw kept clenching, unclenching, and clenching again.
A wave of sadness pierced me. I felt a tear fall, but I let it go.
My voice was hoarse. “You were beaten?”
“No,” Blaise hissed.
“Yes,” Zeke said at the same time. “‘You beat me, you miserable piece of fuck.’” He paused. “That’s what you said. Locked in closets. He threatened you. He threatened your mom. He used belts on you.” He leaned forward in his seat, his voice dropping low. “If you don’t think those words are going to be permanently engrained in my memory, you’re a fucking moron. You saved me when I was kid, and then you went home and were beaten on by an adult, a parent.” He placed a fist on the table. “Make that fucker pay.”
I closed my eyes.
Belts? Locked in closets?
Wave after wave of sadness sliced me.
My entire chest felt like it was caving in.
An adult did that to Blaise? My guy! The guy who held me, made me feel loved, who had started to show me a world I never thought I’d see, much less walk in?
I wanted to kill this guy.
“It was your father? Who did that to you?”
Blaise jerked toward me, and he stiffened even more. “Aspen.”
Zeke watched me. After a moment, he grinned. “I like you.”
I glanced at him, but stayed focused on my question. “Your father? Your non-bio dad did that?”
Blaise didn’t answer, but his eyes were bleak.
Zeke answered, “Yeah. His non-bio dad.”
I shoved my chair back.
“Where are you going?”
I picked up my phone. “My brother. He knows people who can hurt that man.”
Blaise muttered a curse. He shoved his chair back and took the phone from my hands. “Aspen, no.”
I looked at him. “He needs to hurt. A lot.”
He smiled down at me, his hand on my hip. “I know, and he will, but I gotta make sure he doesn’t hurt my real dad.”
I waited. “Your real dad?”
“My real dad beat the crap out of him last night. He was whaling on him when we walked inside.”
He nodded, sliding my phone into his pocket. “It’s all good. I won’t let him hurt anyone else I care about, but he’s hurting today. I bet he can’t even piss standing up.”
That made me feel better. Some of the tightness eased. “Good. He shouldn’t piss standing for the rest of his life.”
Zeke lifted his fist. “I really like you.”
Then it hit me what Blaise had gone through. There were pieces and holes, but I was putting together what had happened last night.
And he’d come to me.
He came to me.
I wanted to cry.
“Aspen.” Blaise’s voice came out thick. He was feeling it too.
I pressed my forehead to his chest, grabbing ahold of his shirt. His fingers slid through my hair.
I slid my arms around his waist and held on. After a moment’s hesitation, Blaise wrapped his arms around me too. We held each other, ignoring the world around us, or just Zeke since it was only him here.
Blaise leaned down to my ear. “Later I’m going to show you how much your reaction means to me.” He pressed a kiss to my forehead.
I looked into his eyes.
They blazed with an emotion that made my throat swell.
I didn’t dare name it. If I did, I’d fall even harder, faster. And I was scared of what I already felt.
“I wish Owen could’ve met you,” I whispered.
“Babe.” His face transformed with such tenderness and warmth. He cupped my face with both hands and lowered his head, his lips finding mine.
Yes. Owen would’ve liked him. He would’ve liked him a whole bunch.
The three of us hung out the rest of the day.
Blaise suggested the pool, so we swam for the next couple hours. Miss Sandy brought out swim trunks for both of the guys. I went up to my room to change. I pulled out a one-piece and a bikini, laying them both on my bed.
I couldn’t decide.
I’d normally grab the one-piece, but Blaise was here, and I wanted to look good for him.
It wasn’t until Miss Sandy knocked once on the door, stuck her head in, and said, “The bikini, Miss Aspen,” that I made my choice.
She came in and disappeared into my closet. After I changed in the bathroom, she held out a cover-up for me. I took it, feeling sophisticated for maybe the first time in my life.
She took my hand and whispered, “I like your boy very much, even if he did stay the night.”
I nodded, fighting a blush. “Me too.”
“We’ll bring lunch out to you and your guests,” she said as she retreated. “They’re already enjoying the pool.”
She paused, glancing back.
She nodded, her eyes blinking a few times. “Of course, Miss Aspen.” She started to leave, but looked back once more. “It’s nice to hear laughter in the house again. It’s been a long time.”
Oh. Now I was crying.
I took a deep breath, pulled the cover-up on, slid my feet into sandals, and headed downstairs. She was right. It’d been a long time coming, and I was going to enjoy this moment.
Who knew when I might get another one like it.
It was nice to spend the day with Aspen and Zeke. My girlfriend and my best bud were getting along. Zeke didn’t bring up the party again, and I was grateful. That would’ve made Aspen tense. I didn’t want to put her in a situation she wasn’t ready for. Having Zeke here was a big deal, and I thought he might have realized that.
He brought out a soccer ball later, his head cocked to the side. “Yeah?”
It’d been a while since I played.
I wanted to. Instantly. The feel of kicking it, moving it forward, moving it with me, running alongside it as if it were a part of me—that all came back to me in an instant.
I wasn’t known for soccer here. I was enjoying that. It was a break from another thing that came with New York. The pressure. The extra attention.
I got attention here, but it wasn’t like anything I got in New York.
I was enjoying that, and Aspen. I glanced over. I hadn’t talked to her about soccer yet. She had no clue, and right now, I kinda liked the confusion there. But damn. Zeke knew what he was doing when he brought that out. Just seeing it in his hands and I wanted to rip it from him, herd it, keep it to me, and that feel of running the length of the field, kicking it in, almost nothing was better. Well, sex was, but I was really missing the feel of scoring a goal especially when it was after a tough battle.
Zeke couldn’t compete with me. If I gave in—fuck. Who was I kidding?
“Give it to me.”
His grin turned cocky. “Come get it from me.”
There was a section of grass on the other side of Aspen’s dad’s man-shed.
Zeke led the way, swaggering over there like he could hold his own against me. He knew I played. He knew how well I played, but I was thinking that he had forgotten.
He was about to be reminded.
He turned, dropping the ball with his hands going to his hips. He was going to say something, maybe lay out some rules, but I was already there.
One touch and I pulled the ball from him.
His legs closed. He thought I was going to kick between them, but I didn’t. I merely reached out, my toe on top of the ball, and I tugged it to me. That’s right. It was mine, not his, and I flashed him a grin, knowing he’d pick up on my sentiment.
He scowled. “Not fair.”
I laughed, starting to run with the ball. “If you think I’m playing with a handicap against you, no fucking way.” I urged it farther down the grass, nudging it with the side of my foot. The inside. The outside. I bounced it back with my heel, stopping, rotating, jumping around it, and when Zeke got closer, I flipped it in the air, my knee bouncing it beyond him.
I was toying with him.
He knew it. I knew it. I caught his grin. He was loving this too.