Then he nodded. “I love you too.”
Poof. The headache was gone.
Or, kinda. I smiled.
“I do. I love you.” His eyes moved back to my mouth, and he pulled me even tighter against him. His leg hitched higher, rubbing.
My breath quickened.
I was feeling the love. Or, I was feeling something down there.
“I want to have slow sex with you.”
Oh, dear Lord. “Okay,” I whispered.
Grinning, he moved over me, his mouth found mine, and he did what he’d said.
I was pretty sure slow sex was code for making love.
I headed out before everyone else, needing wind and speed.
There were four things in my life I now loved: my mom, Aspen, soccer, and ATV racing. The place called it dune buggying, but it was more riding an ATV up and down a large beach. This early in the morning, I had the entire place to myself.
The guy drove my ATV up and double-checked my gear, and then I got the go-ahead to light this place up. I did.
I was an adrenaline junkie—had been for almost forever. Cliff diving. Jumping out of a plane. Bungee jumping. I was up for it. But this morning, I wasn’t doing it to escape my non-bio dad, which was usually the case. I wasn’t trying to hide from a household I was trapped in and not giving a fuck if I died or not. This morning felt different.
It was like a goodbye, in an odd way.
That way of life was done, and I knew it was because of Aspen. It was time to let go of some of my haunts. Griffith couldn’t hurt me anymore. He couldn’t hurt my mom either, but the other shit was my brother and sister. They were here. They didn’t have to come, and they’d stayed to their side of the campsite last night.
I had to let that shit go too.
I didn’t have to let them in, but Taz would weasel her way. She already was. Our conversation had been stilted on my end, but she’d been laughing the whole time. She knew I was trying, so I’d gotten an earful about her and her boyfriend—more than I wanted. She enjoyed torturing me with it. When she’d started to get into their sex life, I said goodnight.
She laughed the entire way back.
But it had felt good.
Sitting with her, talking to her, that felt good.
I kicked on some more speed, the wind and ocean whipping past me. I braked, and the ATV flipped around. There was a small dune above with a path going up and over it, so I gunned, heading for it and past it.
Defying the odds.
It was exhilarating.
I used to love defying serious injury, but even the injuries never really bothered me. Griffith never messed with me when I was laid up with a broken arm or leg. The more serious the injury, the longer he stayed away. That was my time, my choosing.
In those moments I’d controlled what pain I felt—rather than enduring it from him. Because fuck him.
I’d wanted to murder him, so many damn times.
I didn’t think that want would ever leave me. It was another haunt I’d carry probably all my life. But on this run this morning, something was changing. It was bittersweet.
I raced up and down. I drove up the cliff, jumping over it, wet sand spraying everywhere behind me.
I wouldn’t stay out here when the others came. It wouldn’t be as fun, and most of those guys didn’t know what the hell they were doing. They’d just drive up and down the beach. They didn’t understand the fun of pushing, fearing what you were about to conquer, not knowing if you actually would or not, and then if you did—the elation that you’d defied gravity. There were always bigger challenges, more odds to overcome, and one day you would lose. If you were scared of that, you didn’t have any place on the trek. But if you accepted the inevitable, you could never lose.
But anyway, I was done with this stuff.
I had people I wanted to stay alive for now. That had hit me hard this morning—waking up and smelling the air differently, feeling the heaviness of the morning sun, knowing people would hurt if I died. It made me scared. Today was my last time. Not that doing adrenaline-junkie shit had been my life goal or a career or anything. But if an opportunity came up, I took it.
This was my last trip, my last weekend. My last time.
Eyeing a higher rise, I headed for it. That was my last trick for the morning. After that, I’d go back and hand over the keys.
I could hear other ATVs farther down the beach now.
Driving up to the peak took a little while. I had to gun the engine a few times, but I got up there. I was higher than everyone else, high enough to see where we were camped, and I saw a lot starting to move around.
Another ATV drove down the beach, coming right for me.
I waited, watching it.
It was bypassing all the ridges and trick spots, heading straight for me.
Just below me, it paused, and the driver leaned out, looking up.
Even with his protective gear on, I recognized my brother.
He leaned back in and the ATV shot beyond me. He was coming around, starting up the path to where I was waiting. After a moment he pulled up right next to me. He raised his head in greeting.
I didn’t respond, just watched him.
He cut his engine and leaned back against his seat, waiting for me.
We were totally alone. The others had remained below.
Fine. I was Mara déjà vu here.
I turned my engine off.
“I figured we should talk,” he said.
I grunted. No shit. “What do you want to talk about?”
“You done hating me?”
Yep. Right for the jugular. I didn’t answer.
“I saw you talking to Taz last night. She was glowing when she came back.”
“Maybe you should try talking to her too.” I eyed him, resting an arm over the wheel.
He glared. “What’s that mean?”
“She’s lonely, dickhead. Fucking talk to her. Give her the time of day.”
“Like you do?” he shot back.
I shrugged. “You knew about this fucked situation before I did. You were digesting it the day I saw you for the first time. Fuck off if I’m not handling it the fastest rate I could.”
Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to say, but it was the truth. And right now, that’s all I had. I didn’t know what else was going on with me, but finding out about Stephen, then finding out about Cross and Taz had thrown me for a loop. A big loop.
I still didn’t know if I was right again.
But I was getting there.
“They were separated.”
I looked over. Cross wasn’t looking at me anymore, and his hands were tight on the wheel in front of him.
“My mom told me that recently,” he added. “I thought it was an affair, but it wasn’t. Not really. My mom and dad were going to get a divorce. I’m guessing they’d been struggling for a while. She told him she was pregnant before your mom did. That’s why he and my mom tried again.”
My insides felt scraped, like an ATV had been joyriding over me.
“Did you talk to your mom?” he asked. “Find out why she lied to you?”
Yeah. Right. Like I was going to tell him how that conversation went? “You first.”
His face clouded instantly. “Why are you like this? I’m trying. I’ve been trying—”
“I tried first. Remember that?”
He stilled. “Yeah.”
And I had tried. When this first came out, I’d approached him twice. He wasn’t receptive either time, and since then, well, forget him. That’d been my motto, and that was around the same time my anger had started to bubble up. I’d been pissed, then angry, then livid, and I’d been running on furious ever since. I was trying to get back to the pissed level, but it took work. A lot of work.
“I’m sorry I was an asshole to you first,” he said, still not looking at me. “Can we, just…I don’t know. This is hurting Taz, and I didn’t get it until last night. It made her night that you talked to her for a while. Seeing that, I started thinking differently.”
I wanted to gut myself. With a plastic knife.
“You were nice to Aspen last night,” I told him. “Thank you for that.”
He let out an abrupt laugh, shaking his head. “I bet that killed you to say.” He pulled his helmet off, and he was grinning. “It wasn’t hard. She’s a nice girl. Got no clue how the fuck you ended up with her, but it is what it is.”
I knew that. At this point, I was certain everyone knew that. I didn’t need him to say it. But whatever.
This felt weird. Uncomfortable.
I was sitting here, on top of a cliff, having a talk with my brother.
I still hated him. Except I didn’t, actually. Not really.
I rolled my eyes. “Lay off your dad.”
He turned to me. “How’s that your place to say?”
I looked right at him. “Because he beat the shit out of the guy who used to lock me in closets. He’s there for my mom. You have a good dad. Don’t take that for granted.”
We stared at each other, neither backing off. Eventually he sat back, and his shoulders dropped. “I’m supposed to go easy on my dad because he didn’t beat my ass? You kidding me?”