Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(11)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(11)
Author: Penelope Douglas

As soon as I walked through the automatic doors, I broke into a run and couldn’t help the laughter that escaped. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, giggling like a child.

But I loved my damn car. It was fast and hot and all mine.

I’d owned my Pontiac G8 since my senior year of high school, and I would admit it only to myself, but it owned more of my heart than Ben did right now. Driving was like a drug. Climb in, sit down, shut up, and hold on. It was the only time in my life when I felt like I was moving but also didn’t need to work to accomplish anything. I was going places but not really getting anywhere. For hours on end, I’d drive and listen to music—lost in my own head—but I always seemed to find myself, too. My shower used to be the one place I’d escape to. Now it was my car.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I threw my backpack—loaded with some books and a change of clothes—onto the passenger seat and set down the sushi I was probably going to give to Madoc. I started the car, rolling down the windows and jamming up the music. Saliva’s “Click Click Boom” raged out of the speakers, vibrating off my body, and I inhaled the sweet, early evening summer air. It was a little after five, but the sun still shone bright in the sky, and the warm breeze blew through the windows, tickling my hair.

I tightened my hands around the leather wheel, cruising down the two lane highway well over the speed limit and feeling so much more alive behind the wheel than I did anywhere else. This was the one thing I did with my time that I loved.

It wasn’t always like that. Two years ago I was connected to everything, each day built the foundation for a tomorrow I couldn’t wait to jump into. But now . . .

Now I couldn’t help the fear that crept in when I thought about what would happen when I finally got to tomorrow. When I was done with school, when I was a doctor, when I achieved the future I’d worked for . . . what then?

For some reason, driving—racing—kept me connected. Connected to a time when my blood ran hot under my skin and my heart craved more life.

Always more.

Sticking my arm out the window, I smiled at the gush of wind pushing against it as the air blew between my fingers. Cranking up the volume, I inhaled an excited breath as my stomach dropped with the increased speed. I loved those butterflies.

I got back to the house quickly, even though the last thing I wanted to do was get out of my car. But I reminded myself that the wind was waiting for me later on tonight, and it would all be good when I was on the track.

I had a lot of work to do before I left, though, so I parked the car along the side of Madoc’s house and grabbed my phone off the seat, instantly feeling it vibrate in my hand.

Peering down, I saw Juliet’s name. “Hey,” I answered. “Did you get my text?”

“Did you get mine?” she burst out, sounding excited.

I narrowed my eyes in confusion as I climbed out of the car. “No, but I saw you called.” I swung my backpack over my shoulder and slammed the door shut. “I just got off work, so I haven’t checked my messages yet. What’s up?”

I rounded the stone staircase, jogging up the steps to my private entrance. Jared and I used to keep a room here, and I still used it from time to time. Madoc and Fallon were like family, and I’d needed a place to escape to while the entire downstairs of my house was being repainted.

“Where are you?” she asked, and I could hear her excited breathing.

“I just got home.” I unlocked the door and dropped my backpack inside, switching the phone to the other ear.

“At Madoc’s?” she rushed out.

I nearly laughed at her urgency. “Alright, spit it out. Is something wrong? Did Katherine go into labor or something?”

“No,” she shot back. “I . . . I just need you to stop and listen to me, okay?”

I groaned. “Please tell me Jax didn’t hack into Ben’s Facebook and flood it with gay porn again,” I said, kicking off my shoes and walking toward the private bathroom.

“No, Jax didn’t do anything,” she answered, but then continued. “Well, he kind of did. We all did. I should’ve told you, and I’m sorry,” she rambled, “but I didn’t know he was going straight to Madoc’s, and I didn’t want you to be ambushed, so—”

“What is going on?!” I shouted, pushing open the bathroom door.

“Jared is at Madoc’s house!” she finally cried out.

But it was too late.

I’d already halted.

A lump stretched my throat as I stood there, locking my eyes with his dark ones staring at me through the bathroom mirror, her warning coming a second too late.


“Tate, did you hear me?” she yelled, but I couldn’t answer her.

I tightened my fist around the doorknob and glued my teeth together so hard my jaw ached.

He stood at the mirror, with his back to me, and every muscle in his naked arms and torso was steel-rod tight as he leaned down on his hands and held me with a hard stare.

He didn’t seem surprised to see me. And he definitely didn’t look happy.

I inhaled short, shallow breaths. What the hell was he doing here?

“Tate!” I heard someone shout, but all I could do was watch as he straightened and picked his watch up off the counter, fastening it to his wrist as he held my eyes the entire time.

So calm. So cold.

It was like a razor cutting through my heart as I resisted a need to rush him. Maybe to hit him or maybe to fuck him, but whatever it was I was going to hurt him. I cemented every muscle in my body to keep myself in check.

He wore fitted black pants that hung low on his waist, his feet and torso were bare, and his hair was chaos, like he’d just towel dried it.

Our childhood tree filled his back in a stunning black tattoo, and I looked over his shoulder and arms to notice a few new ones.

My stomach shook, and I tightened my abs to resist it.

It had been so long.

His black clothes, his black moods, his nearly black eyes . . . My heart pounded like a drum, and I gritted my teeth, feeling my core tighten.

He looked exactly like he had in high school. Gone was any trace of his ROTC days in college. He was a little more muscular, with more angle to his jawline, but it was four years ago all over again.

I tipped my chin up, seeing him grab his belt off the counter and turn around, walking toward me.

“Tate?” Juliet pressed in my ear. “Tate, did you hear me? Hello?”

He stepped up to me slowly, threading his belt through the loops, and my chest was on fire. My heart couldn’t possibly beat any faster, and I hardened my eyes and expression as he stopped a few inches in front of me and hovered.

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