She was partially right. Bax was nothing but bad news, but Shane . . . well, Shane could be sweet, thoughtful, and there was more going on with him than met the eye. Bax didn’t hold me when I couldn’t sleep, Bax didn’t grab me clothes, even though I was being a brat, and Bax wasn’t the guy I let touch and stroke me into mindless oblivion. That was all Shane. Too bad he inhabited the same body, because without his alter ego, Shane was a pretty great guy. But I wasn’t delusional enough to think he was all one or the other, I knew he was a complicated mix of both Shane and Bax, and there was no having one without tolerating the other.
I kept quiet and helped her finish dinner. We wrangled the kids together for an after-dinner movie and then fed them a healthy dessert before wrestling them all into bed. I had to explain no less than ten times that Bax was just a friend and that his car was not mine to ask for rides in. I also valiantly tried to explain to teenage girls that guys like Bax were not what they should be looking for, gorgeous or not. I don’t think I sold it very convincingly because really, who was I to talk about rational reactions to a guy that bled heartbreak and sorrow from every pore when they had seen him kissing the life out of me hours ago.
It was pretty late by the time we had the house settled and got everything cleaned up. It was my preferred way to spend the weekend; at least it used to be. When I lay down in one of the institutional little beds all the staff shared, I couldn’t help but wonder how my time would have been spent if I had still been at the little bungalow at the base of the Hill. Right on the tail end of that, I wondered if Bax would really keep it in his pants over the weekend. He didn’t owe me anything. It wasn’t like we were dating, or even really friends, and all I had to go on was his word, which was worth absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell if that made me sadder for him or for myself.
I was staring at the darkened ceiling, wondering exactly how I got myself into this mess in the first place. I silently cursed my brother and whatever his motivation had been for setting this entire thing in motion, when the soft ping of my phone sounded. I glanced at the other bed in the room where Reeve was out cold and slid my legs silently off the edge of the bed. We had to do a bed check every hour, and we typically rotated on and off, and since this was my hour anyway, I figured I would kill two birds and check the message while I checked on the kids.
The little kids were all down for the count. The teenagers . . . well, they were teenagers and it was easy to tell they were faking being asleep, but since they were in the room and not out roaming the streets, I let it slide. I went out onto the front porch and clicked open the text messaging on my phone.
You have a good night?
I wasn’t expecting to hear from him until Monday, and by then I wasn’t sure I was going to want to talk to him. I felt like space away from him gave me some kind of breathing room to escape the Bax force field that surrounded him. Blowing out a breath, I sent my hair flying over my forehead.
It was alright. How about you?
It took a minute to get a response, not that I even really expected one. It was Saturday night, and he was wild at his best. I didn’t even want to think about what kind of shit he could stir up. It made my skin crawl and made me wonder how I had ever thought I could handle him. I was an amateur and he was a pro all the way.
Hit up some places. Asked some more questions. Race was asking about some rich guy doing business with Novak. I think I need to find out who the rich guy is. That might be the key to the whole thing.
Where are you at?
I shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t my business and I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer. I was right.
I bit my bottom lip and stared at the glowing screen of my phone. He had spent time in the District before me, and undoubtedly he would be right back there after me. I hated that I cared one way or another. While I contemplated what to say back, like he could sense my unease across the space that separated us, he sent me:
I’m headed back to my mom’s place. I went by my place in the city to grab some stuff. I told you I would be good.
I don’t think you know how.
Really? I thought I just showed you how good I can be. I guess I’ll have to step it up next time.
I snorted out a laugh and silently thought that if he stepped it up any more, I wouldn’t be able to walk. I had bruises on the outside of my thighs, hickeys chasing across my chest, and there were twinges in muscles I didn’t even really know I had until he had gotten ahold of me. Like they were mocking me, those checkered flags flashed across my mind, and I suddenly felt a little warm. I pushed my hair off my face and blew out a breath.
It was all I could think to say. I wanted to trust that he was being good, more because he wanted to than because I asked him to, but whatever the reason, I was grateful.
I get the feeling that you won’t let me put my hands on you if I put them on someone else. Right now that doesn’t work for me and I want my hands on you as often as you’ll let me put them there.
Well, hell, if that didn’t just make all my girl parts get all warm and tingly.
You scare me, Bax.
That was it. He didn’t send anything else and I spent a half hour wondering what exactly I was going to do when this ended up killing me or more likely making me wish I was dead.
THE NEXT MORNING THE kids were up early and I was exhausted because I had spent the entire night replaying the last two weeks and every encounter I had had with Bax over and over in my head. I shouldn’t have ever told him I was going to go to bed with him. What was I thinking? Like he needed an in. Like he needed any kind of encouragement. I should have stayed strong, never given in to the temptation and gone to the fight when I knew it was more than likely a setup. When I had asked him to lie to me, to tell me that I would be different than the other girls, it had taken me sideways when instead, he had done the opposite. I might not be important to him, matter to him, but he was honest enough to admit that whatever was brewing between us was significant and different.
I was getting the kids’ breakfast when one of the teenage girls, Blake, decided to grill me about Bax. She was a pretty girl, her story was sad and broke my heart. Her parents were way worse than mine ever had been, and the things she had seen at only fourteen made me hate the world we lived in. She was a prime candidate for going into a long-term foster situation, if only someone could teach her how to trust. I had talked with her at length, tried to make her understand not all grown-ups were going to sell their kids into prostitution because they owed their dealer money for drugs, but it was like talking to a wall, and frankly, I couldn’t blame her after everything she had endured.