Storm Page 34

He grinned, and she loved how it stole the tension from his features. But then he was pulling her to him, shifting until they were in the corner of the sofa and her face was against his shoulder. His arm fell around her waist, holding her close. She had no idea where her free hand should go there were so many wrong places and finally settled on resting it across his chest, until his heart beat under her palm.

Becca held her breath, afraid to move.

’’You okay?’’ His voice was closer. His breath touched her forehead.

She nodded.

He reached up and pulled the sticks out of her hair, and she felt the semi-damp strands drop onto her neck. ’’I don\ want to put an eye out,’’ he said.

She giggled. ’’Sorry.’’

He said nothing for the longest time, and she relaxed into the feel of his body, allowing the rhythm of his breathing to settle her own.

She\d forgotten what this felt like, to rest against a boy, to share the weight on her shoulders with someone else.

’’Do you have a curfew?’’ she asked.

’’Not really.’’ He paused. ’’Mom\s not ... she\s been kind of distracted since Dad died. She might not even know I\m gone.’’

His voice wasn\ empty, but carried a note that warned her to tread carefully. ’’What about your grandparents?’’

’’I don\ think they remember that teenagers are supposed to have a curfew.’’ Another pause, and she heard a smile in his voice. ’’Why? Want to go out?’’

She shook her head, glad he couldn\ see the blush on her cheeks. His hand came up to rest over her own, his thumb sliding along her wrist until he found the twine bracelets. He slid them until the knots were aligned.

’’Why don\ you believe in accidents?’’ she said.

Hunter was silent for so long that she thought he might not have heard the question or he might not want to answer. But he ducked his head and spoke low, as if the words were too much for the living room to hear.

’’My father and uncle used to go on these ... trips,’’ he said. ’’I always thought it was adventure-type stuff. Male bonding, sleep in the woods and skip shaving, you know.’’

She could imagine. Her dad would probably love it. ’’Was your dad a cop, too?’’

’’No.’’ Hunter paused. ’’He worked for the government. Ex-Marine Special Ops. That\s where he learned the self-defense stuff. When he got out of the Corps, he took a job in the private sector. I still don\ know everything he did, but Mom used to worry that he\d die on some top-secret mission and we\d never know what really happened. I don\ know if he was aware of the car crash like, I don\ know if it was instantaneous or whatever but I know he\d be pissed to go out that way.’’

A lot of pride hung in his voice and grief, too, though that was better hidden.

’’When he and my uncle got together they never let me come,’’ Hunter said. ’’The last time, I\d been bitching about it for days. I always thought they just went fishing and told bullshit stories, and it used to drive me crazy that they wouldn\ let me go. We had a big fight the morning they left.’’

Tension crawled across his shoulders, and she lifted her head to look at him. Hunter\s face was close, his eyes dark in the shadowed room.

’’They left,’’ he said. ’’I was pissed, but they were gone.’’

He held his breath, looking at her. The look in his eyes was almost fragile.

’’You don\ have to tell me,’’ she said.

He glanced away. ’’I just I\ve never told anyone,’’ he said, and his voice was nearly steady. He paused again. ’’They came back.’’

She nodded.

’’My uncle he\d told my dad that if I was old enough to put up a fight like that, I was old enough to come along. So ... I went along. But it wasn\ a guys\ weekend at all. My dad was taking private security jobs. Like, on the side. Mom had no idea.’’

Hunter\s eyes flashed to hers. ’’She still doesn\ .’’

Becca nodded, and he continued.

’’It was supposed to be something simple,’’ he said. ’’I never learned all the details. I kept some of his things after the crash, but most of it was lost. Just some surveillance or something Dad was careful about what he told me, but they didn\ think it was a big risk for me to come along. I\m not stupid, and I can take care of myself. He made sure of that.’’

His voice started to sound fractured.

’’He did a good job,’’ Becca said softly. If anyone could take care of himself, Hunter could.

Then she wondered if he\d agree with that.

Becca thought of her father\s hand on her back in the hospital, the gentle support he\d offered. She\d run him out of the house without even a thank you. She\d been pretty clear that she didn\ need him.

But was that true?

’’We were driving fast to make up time,’’ said Hunter. ’’When we drove through western Maryland, where you\ e practically climbing the Appalachians? There was a thunderstorm, and a rockslide, and the car was crushed.’’

The last sentence fell out of his mouth as if he lost control of it. Hunter was staring at her like her gaze was a lifeline if she looked away, he\d be lost.

But she swallowed. ’’Were you ... hurt?’’

He nodded, and his eyes flicked up. ’’Dislocated shoulder. Concussion. I had a pretty bad cut across my hairline. Thirty-six stitches. The white streak it\s a scar. They said it would probably go away, but it hasn\ .’’

She wondered why he didn\ dye it why he\d want a reminder in the mirror every morning.

’’That\s why I don\ believe in accidents,’’ he said. ’’The timing was too perfect. Coming back for me, the fight that made them late in the first place the storm, the rockslide. All of it.’’

’’It wasn\ your fault,’’ she whispered.

’’I know.’’ His voice hardened. ’’But it wasn\ an accident, either.’’

She held still, feeling his breathing slow under her palm. He seemed to sandbag all that emotion, and he reached up to push her hair over her shoulder.

’’I didn\ mean to get so heavy,’’ he said. ’’I don\ want you to think I\m a psycho.’’

Hardly. She wanted to hold him. ’’I don\ think that.’’

’’I get protective.’’

Her eyebrow went up. ’’I noticed.’’

That made him smile. ’’Sorry.’’

’’What a crazy thing to apologize for.’’ She wished she\d met Hunter six months ago. Hell, six weeks ago.

He shifted his weight until he was sitting straighter, looking down into her eyes. ’’Thanks, then, for listening.’’

Becca could feel him distancing himself, as if he regretted saying so much. She reached up and traced her finger over the piercings along his brow, and he went still. ’’I never would have figured you for a military brat,’’ she said.

’’My parents were definitely an unlikely pair.’’

The metal studs felt warm from his skin. ’’Did these hurt?’’

He shook his head.

’’Liar.’’ She poked at one.

He smiled and caught her wrist. ’’Are you going to tell me your story?’’

Her heart stepped up. Was he talking about Chris? Had he guessed about the Elemental stuff somehow, in their talk about accidents and car crashes?

Hunter reached out to rest his palm against her face, his thumb sliding along her cheekbone until his fingers trailed in her hair. ’’You know there\s ... talk. About you.’’ He paused. ’’Around school.’’

Oh. That.

She ducked away. ’’Yeah, well ’’

Hunter caught her chin. ’’I don\ believe it.’’

She almost pushed free of him. ’’Well, don\ do me any favors.’’

’’Hey.’’ One hand secured her wrist, the other holding her face, reminding her how strong he was. ’’That right there is why I don\ believe it. Any girl who wanted to sleep with half the school wouldn\ pull away when I touch her.’’

She couldn\ look at him. ’’Leave it. It doesn\ matter.’’

He didn\ move, but his voice became very careful. ’’Does it bother you when I touch you?’’

’’Stop it.’’ She glared at him, knowing exactly where this conversation was going. ’’I\m not a victim.’’

’’Does it?’’ He didn\ look away.

Her breathing felt too quick, and she didn\ like the way all that heavy emotion had somehow shifted into her. ’’Do what you want, Hunter.’’

He shook his head, very slightly. ’’What do you want, Becca?’’

She wished everything could stand still, that everything could be as simple as his fingers on her wrist, his palm against her cheek.

Hunter shifted on the couch until he had to duck his head to speak to her. She heard her breath tremble in the space between their bodies.

’’Do you want me to let you go?’’ he said.

She shook her head and had to shut her eyes.

He did anyway, releasing her wrist so his hands could touch her face. He traced the shape of her eyes, the arch of her cheekbone, the line of her jaw. His touch was light, reverent almost.

’’Is this okay?’’ he said.

Her traitorous body warmed to his voice, seeking his touch. She opened her eyes. ’’I\m not broken.’’

’’Liar.’’

’’I\m not.’’ But it sounded halfhearted, even to her.

’’I\d be more inclined to believe you’’ Hunter\s head moved close, until his lips brushed her cheek while he spoke ’’if you\d give me a straight answer.’’

’’It\s okay.’’ She wet her lips, feeling lightheaded. ’’It\s okay you touching me.’’

He traced a thumb across the edge of her mouth, and she felt him smile against her cheek. ’’Just okay?’’

’’Why?’’ she said carefully, because teasing felt precarious. ’’You think you can do better?’’

He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, just for a heartbeat, maybe a moment more. His mouth felt warm and dry, very sure. He only drew back an inch, weighing her reaction.

Becca held still, not trusting herself.

Hunter kissed her again, this time lingering just a bit, giving her a chance to respond. Her lips parted, but he kept the kiss chaste, butterfly touches of his mouth against hers.

Her hands wanted to find his chest, to slide beneath his tee shirt and see if his skin felt as warm as she did. These kisses were addictive, simple promises of more with each press of his lips. And she found freedom here, in his restraint. She didn\ have to struggle to find her own boundaries.

He pulled away, but not far, kissing along her jaw. ’’Better?’’

She nodded, pressing her forehead into his neck. He smelled good, like woods and shaving cream and lemonade.

She lifted her head and smiled. ’’But I think there\s still room for improvement.’’

This time when her lips parted, he responded, sliding his hands to her waist to pull her close. Her body softened into his, her br**sts pressed against his chest as his fingers teased at the tiny edge of skin revealed by her tank top. His tongue brushed hers, quick, then slower, drawing a low sound from her throat.

Her hands pulled at his tee shirt, her fingers finding the smooth stretch of skin across his stomach, the muscles that defined his waist.

’’Easy, Becca,’’ he whispered against her lips.

She froze.

’’Easy,’’ he said again. He kissed her cheek, her mouth, her eyes. ’’There\s plenty of time.’’

He kept her so off balance. ’’For what?’’

’’For you to trust me.’’ He caught her hands, kissed her fingertips. ’’I\m not going anywhere.’’

Then he drew back on the couch and pulled her up against him.

And did nothing more than stroke her hair until she fell asleep.


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