I giggle as he pulls me to his chest, our legs scissoring together. “I’m really not. Thank you for the note and the lavender.” Tipping my chin up, I smile at him. My fingers trace the lines of his chest and the ink that covers it.
He stares at me with a serious look for several moments before submitting to a tiny smile. “Was this your idea of going slow? Felt fast to me. We could try it again … only slower.”
This pang in my heart keeps me from fully appreciating his humor. What are we doing? Really … we couldn’t be more opposite. “Do you think what we have is what two people on a stranded island feel? Do you think we ended up in bed together for a lack of a better choice? And now that we’ve rejoined reality, do you think regret will set in?”
“I’m no longer your first choice?” He messes with a few strands of my hair, focusing on them instead of holding my gaze.
“I’m not talking about me. I just said ‘we’ so you wouldn’t feel like I was specifically talking about you. But now that you’re questioning me, I’ll admit … I’m talking about you.”
“You don’t think you’re my first choice?” His eyes meet my gaze again.
“I think you know I’m not as bad at sex as what you originally assumed.”
“But I also think Deedy marrying my dad connects us, and maybe that connection feels hard for you to break. What if your loyalty to Deedy is what’s really keeping you tied to me?”
His lips twist as he scratches his head, tugging a bit at his messy, blond hair. “That would be tragic.”
“You’re making fun. Not nice.” I push away.
He grabs my waist just as my feet touch the floor at the side of the bed. “It was a road trip.” He kisses my neck. “The truck didn’t break down. We weren’t stranded. We weren’t even away from what I assume you’re referring to as ‘reality’ for very long. I wasn’t sex starved and desperate. You weren’t an impulse. What I feel for you right now—with a world of other choices—is real. I want you.”
My next breath holds back the tears. I want to be strong—not for Jake. I want to be strong for me. “I like to shop. And I like impractical shoes and manicured hands and feet.”
“I know.” He chuckles, kissing my neck again.
“And I have a past. A past dotted with moments and decisions I’m not proud of. But … it’s made me the person I am right now. So if you want me, then you have to—”
“Love you as a whole. Not the parts I find most attractive. I have to love you—all of you.”
“Yes,” I whisper. “I think you going back to Milwaukee is good timing. I need to get a better job and a place of my own to live. You need to spend time with your friends. Maybe when you have Mo at your place and I’m halfway across the country, you’ll have a better perspective of your feelings for me.”
His grip around my waist stiffens. His whole body pressed to my back goes rigid.
I twist around to look at him. Jake releases me and sits back against the wood headboard, covering his midsection with a pillow.
“What?” I pull the sheet to my chest … since we’re apparently covering up now. “Why do you have that look—that constipated look?”
“About Mo …”
I tighten my grip on the sheet held to my chest, feeling extra vulnerable.
“I may have fictionalized her a bit … to gauge where we stood. I wanted to know if you’d be jealous … if you still cared. If you still wanted us.”
My eyes widen, lips part. “Wh-what? You made her up?” My head jerks back.
He tips his head up, tightening the cords in his neck as he scratches his chin. “Mo is Jace’s dog. Golden Retriever. She’s beautiful. And I took her camping with me two years ago while Jace scouted a fighter.”
My shock transforms into a full scowl. “You. Ass!” I toss the sheet aside and collect my clothes from the floor like I’m mad at them more than him.
No. I love my clothes … Yep, I love them more than the liar in the bed. If I didn’t love these black Jimmy Choo’s so much, I’d jab the heel into Jake’s eye.
“Ave …” He grabs his jeans at a much slower pace.
Before he gets them fastened, I have my bag on my shoulder, frantically fishing my keys out of it. “Bye, Jake. Don’t get eaten by a bear on your trip home … or do.”
“Avery …” He chases me down the backstairs to my loaner car.
“I don’t like liars. One minute you’re declaring your love and the next minute you’re eating chocolate mousse from the pussy of another woman.”
He grabs my door before I can shut it. “Stop.” He leans into my car, no shirt, no shoes, jeans still unfastened. “I lied because I wanted you. I just needed to know if we stood a chance. I didn’t lie because I am cheating on you.”
“Doesn’t matter.” I try to pull the door shut, in spite of his body blocking it.
He laughs. LAUGHS!
“Fine, Ave. I love this stubborn side of you too. I’m leaving Saturday. I will be back. In the meantime, get a better job … or don’t. Find another place to live … or don’t. I don’t care. I’ll want you, love you, and need you no matter what. I’ll wait as long as it takes for you to get that.”
“Move. Now.” I start the car.
“Fasten in, baby.” He stretches the seat belt across my body and locks it.
I grit my teeth and stare straight ahead, hands death-gripping the steering wheel.
Why does he have to be terrible and amazing all the time at the same time?
“If you forgive me before Saturday, call me. If you don’t, I’ll call you from my first stop.”
I won’t answer your call.
“Drive safely. I love you.” He kisses me.
I don’t pull away, but I don’t move my lips.
You’re a jerk. And I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you.
Jake claimed every beating cell of my heart in under a month. But for now … I need to be pissed off at him. Also, I’m not feeling so awesome at the moment.
He shuts the door and waits for me to back out before he retreats up the stairs.
* * *
“Hey.” Sydney smiles, slathering sunscreen on the kids in the kitchen.
I swallow the rising bile and run to the bathroom. So much for the juice Aspen pressed for me. I flush the toilet, rinse my mouth, and splash cold water on my face. Lucky Jake; he’s going to be sick. We swapped all the germs this morning. I feel marginally bad about his impending illness.
“That bad?” Sydney asks from the doorway.
I shake my head, drying my face with a hand towel. “I was better. Felt fine this morning. Then boom … the second I left Jake’s, I started feeling nauseous again.”
“That’s the friend you were visiting? You spent the night there?”
“I went to make amends of sorts. You know … since he’s close to Deedy, and now Deedy is family, so …”
Sydney smirks. “For Deedy, huh? How mature of you.”
“Move.” I brush past her to get to my bed before I pass out or vomit again. “Don’t give me that stupid smirk.”
“Have you told him?”
Collapsing onto the bed, I curl into a ball. “Told who what?”
“Told Jake that you’re pregnant.”
I squint. “I thought we discussed this last night. What you have is not contagious. Which … I’m so happy for you. And as soon as I don’t want to die, I’ll give you a big hug. But you don’t want to get sick, so let’s keep our distance for now.”
She sits on the edge of the bed.
“I said to keep your distance.” I cover my mouth to hide my germs.
A smile slides up her face. “I’m already pregnant. You can’t infect me with your pregnancy.”
“Sydney … you know that’s not it.” I frown. Anthony thought I was going to marry him someday and have children with him. I wanted him to believe it. Hell, I wanted to believe it, but I’ve always known my children would be the kind you adopt.
“You were told there’s a slim chance of getting pregnant. That’s not zero percent.”
“I’m on the pill anyway.”
“You take it when you’re supposed to take it? Never missing? Not one single time? Did you use condoms?”
I try to roll my eyes, but I’m too weak, too nauseous. Condoms? No. We didn’t have condoms. We were so fucking irresponsible, I can’t even come up with a good reason. It just didn’t feel real. The whole trip was just … not real.
It’s feeling mighty real right now.
“Because I kinda sorta took my pills, and as a result, I have two kids and a third one on the way.”
“You don’t have endometriosis,” I grumble.
“When was your last period?”
“I’m irregular, so that doesn’t mean anything.” I close my eyes like our conversation is over, but really I’m thinking.