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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(12)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(12)
Author: Penelope Douglas

“Tate,” Juliet yelled, “I said that Jared is at Madoc’s!”

And the corner of Jared’s lips tilted in a smile, telling me he’d heard her futile warning.

“Yes,” I answered, clearing my throat as I glared up at him. “Thanks for the heads up,” I told her.

And I brought the phone away from my ear and clicked End Call.

His arms worked, fastening his belt, but he didn’t break eye contact. Neither did I. This was natural for Jared. Hover, make me cower in his shadow, threaten with just his presence . . . but it was all in vain.

Because that’s just how well I knew myself now. No one dominated me.

I kept my voice calm, trying to sound bored. “There are about twenty other rooms in this house,” I pointed out. “Find one.”

His eyes turned from threatening to amused, and it was the exact same look I got in the lunch room the first day of senior year in high school when I’d decided to fight back. Jared always got a rush out of challenging me.

“You know,” he started, reaching behind the bathroom door and pulling out a white T-shirt. “I smelled you as soon as I stepped foot into the room. Your scent was everywhere,” his velvety voice sent chills over my skin as he continued, “and I thought maybe it was just leftovers from our time here, but then I noticed all your shit.” He gestured to the beauty products on the bathroom counter and then threaded his arms into his short sleeves and pulled the shirt over his head.

So he’d come here not knowing he’d find me. At least he wasn’t planning anything, then.

He patted his pants pocket and cocked his head, smirking. “I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed a few of your condoms.”

My hand suddenly ached, and I realized I’d been squeezing the doorknob this whole time. I didn’t know if I was angry that he was referring to my sex life or insinuating plans about his own, but the asshole hadn’t changed. He was waiting for me to react.

The condoms were leftovers from a year and a half ago, the last time I had sex. They were probably expired anyway.

“By all means.” I plastered a tight smile on my face. “Now, if you don’t mind . . .” I cleared the doorway, waving my arm wide and inviting him to get the hell out.

A million questions raged through my head. Why was he here? At this house? In my room? Where was his little entourage I’d seen him with on TV and YouTube when I’d given in on lonely nights and Googled him?

But then I reminded myself that Jared Trent wasn’t a part of my life anymore. I didn’t need to care about him.

He brushed past me, grazing my arm, and I started breathing through my mouth, because the smell of his body wash messed with my nerves. With my memories and a time when I was completely his.

I couldn’t stand here with him. Not in this room.

I’d never let Ben stay the night when I crashed here, and no one knew, but Jared’s and my homecoming photo still sat in its frame, hidden in the dresser drawer. Along with my charm bracelet he’d given me senior year. I’d wanted it out of my house but not gone. Not yet.

This room had played a crucial part early on in our relationship. It was the first space, away from our parents, that was ours—where we could do what we wanted and act the way we chose. To wake up next to each other, to shower together, to make love without fear of who would hear us, to stay up all night talking or watching movies . . . Whether it was the bed, the floor, the shower, the wall, or the bathroom fucking counter, every surface had a memory of him attached to it.

I still couldn’t face the fact that I loved being in here, and what’s more, I couldn’t face the fact that I had never let Ben—or anyone else—stay in here.

It didn’t matter, though. It was my room, and I didn’t need to explain anything.

I crossed my arms over my chest and watched him clip his wallet chain to his pants and tuck his wallet into his pocket. I glanced over, seeing his duffel on the bed, a few clothes—all black, gray, or white—strewn about.

“Make sure you take everything with you when you leave,” I ordered, sliding off my socks and tossing them into the hamper by the door. “This is my room now.”

“Absolutely,” he said smoothly, and then finished in a hard voice, “Tatum.”

I straightened, suddenly feeling the first spark of excitement under my skin—outside of racing, anyway—in a long time. I hated being called “Tatum,” and he knew it.

We were back there again.

I looked over at him, tilting my mouth into a smile. “Tatum?” I repeated. “Those are tactics you come home armed with?” I asked.

He turned his head, eyeing me over his shoulder with a stern expression.

I laughed. “The players might be the same, Jared,” I said, untying my scrub pants and letting them fall down my leg, “but the game has changed,” I warned.

His deep brown eyes flared just slightly as his gaze swept down the long legs that he used to love and back up to my lacy, white underwear.

I turned to step into the bathroom, but I stopped to regard him over my shoulder. “This isn’t high school,” I said, eyeing him playfully. “You’re way out of your depth.”

And then I slammed the bathroom door, cutting off his view.

Chapter 4

Jared

I’d been played.

Of course, my mother’s pregnancy had forced me back home, but I should’ve been warned instead of lied to.

Tate wasn’t in fucking Italy.

She was staying with Madoc and Fallon, which Jax should’ve told me when I’d insisted on coming here first.

But no, he’d let me trail my ass upstairs to shower and clean up while we waited for Madoc to get home, and as soon I opened the damn door to that room, her smell hit me like a ten-ton tranquilizer. I was almost dizzy.

But then I remembered . . .

No. She wasn’t here. She was out of the country. The bed was made. The room was spotless. There was no one staying in here.

I’d put my bag down and started to strip as I walked into the shower, but then I noticed that someone was very much staying here.

The same products that Tate used to use for her hair and face hugged the back edge of the sink counter, and then I saw her brush, clogged with her blond hair.

And that’s when I knew.

My eyes fell closed, and I froze.

Tate was home.

She was home, and she was staying with Madoc and Fallon, and I immediately wanted to see her.

Was she okay? Was she happy? What would her face look like when she saw me again?

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