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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(15)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(15)
Author: Penelope Douglas

The backyard where we made love the first time. Our bedroom windows facing each other. The tree that connected us.

I bared my teeth, inhaling a sharp breath. I’d thought nothing would change.

“Jared.” Madoc cleared his throat. “We just told you that your girl tried to cut down your tree. The one you tattooed on your back.” His hard voice got louder. “That the house she’s lived in ever since you’ve known her is up for sale.”

“She’s not my girl,” I barked.

“She’s not anyone else’s, either!” Madoc shot back. “Tatum Brandt loves one person. You. She will always love you.” His threatening growl was almost a whisper. “She breathes for you, no matter how much she denies it or tries to hide it.”

I wanted to believe that was true. That buried inside this new, cold Tate was the girl that still held my heart.

Standing up, I slid my hand into my pocket, my fingers fisting around the familiar round of clay that held her fingerprint. After all this time, I still needed the little thumbprint fossil she’d made as a kid. I couldn’t live a day without her.

“You should’ve come back for her a long time ago,” Madoc scolded.

“I did,” I growled, lashing out at Madoc. “Six months after I left I came back, and she was with somebody else!”

I inched back, my limp hand releasing the fossil and falling to my side as I looked at his shocked expression.

I nodded breathlessly when he remained speechless. “Yeah, I came back, and it was too fucking late, okay?”

Jax knew, but Madoc and I hadn’t been speaking, and from the looks of it, Jax hadn’t told him.

I could still feel everything as if it was yesterday.

I stand at my old bedroom window, stunned and angry. Frozen and hard.

I vaguely recognize the guy. Gavin something. He was from one of her study groups at Northwestern; I’d met him a year ago. I ball my fists. How long did she wait after I left?

Tate is in her bedroom, her arms wrapped around his neck as he holds her close, slow dancing with her. He kisses her, and my stomach coils into a knot.

His blond hair—matching hers—is cropped short, and she laughs as he hugs her close and swings her around.

Six months. She couldn’t even wait six fucking months.

I’d waited. I hadn’t screwed anybody. Not a damn thing but my hand—a pathetic loser still pining for her and believing she would wait. Holding out hope that I could get her back.

My chest caves, and I zoom in on them, hating that she laughs, hating that he dances with her, and hating that she’s moved on.

I still love her. Nothing has faded for me.

I fall into the window, my hands gripping the frame as I watch him kiss her neck. His hands are all over her, and she’s smiling.

Why is she smiling? She can’t want him.

He falls on the bed, taking her with him. She straddles his waist, and I lunge back, jutting my leg out and kicking the glass, hearing it shatter but not staying to survey the damage.

Let her move on if that’s what she wants.

I will, too, and everything will be done.

Bolting out of the house, I jump in my car and head back to my hotel in Chicago, where my team is racing.

I’ll forget her.

I try to forget her.

But I don’t.

I didn’t know when she started seeing that guy, but I knew one thing. She was back in the game before I was.

“Gavin,” Madoc remembered. “She tried to move on after you left. They dated for a couple of months, but then she broke things off.” He looked me dead in the eyes, but I didn’t want details.

“I don’t care,” I maintained. I didn’t want his name or the name of anyone else she’d been seeing.

But Madoc pushed on. “She’s been single for over a year, Jared,” he pointed out. “She wasn’t over you, so she cut things off with him when she realized she’d tried to jump back in too fast. It took her a long time to heal, but she needed to try to move on with her life.” He looked at Jax and then back at me. “She only recently started dating someone again,” he said quietly.

I cast an angry glance at him but kept my voice low.

“Who?”

“She started seeing Ben Jamison over spring break.”

Jesus. Ben Jamison?

“As far as I know, though,” Madoc continued, “they’re taking it slow. It’s not serious yet.”

I noticed Pasha staring, unblinking, at the spectacle before her.

“What are you staring at?” I growled.

She popped a gummy candy in her mouth. “This is better than TV.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, forcing my breathing to calm down as I dipped my head. “If she wants him,” I told Madoc and Jax in a calm tone, “then let her be with him.”

Madoc let out a bitter laugh. “Take off your pants.”

I popped my head up. “Why?”

“Because I want to see what a man with a pussy looks like.”

Mother . . . I moved right into Madoc’s space, standing chest to chest and glaring down at him.

He fell back a step but stood strong, looking like he wanted to drive a hole through my head with his eyes.

Jax cut between us, pushing me back as I held Madoc’s stare.

“Pasha?” Jax stood in front of me, arms crossed over his chest and looking into my eyes as he spoke to my assistant. “Does my brother drive with a charm hanging on his rearview mirror?” he asked. “It has a thumbprint on it.”

I dropped my glare to Jax.

“Yeah,” she answered. “And it’s around his neck when he’s on his bike.”

Jax continued, his smug smirk pissing me off. “Does he avoid blondes like a preacher in a pink shirt?”

I swallowed, hearing Pasha’s snort. “Can’t stand ’em, actually,” she answered.

Jax continued, holding my eyes, “Does he have an almost unhealthy obsession with Seether? Specifically, the songs ‘Remedy’ and ‘Broken’?”

“I’m to make sure they’re on every playlist,” she shot back, repeating my directions to her.

Goddamn it.

Jax dipped his chin, eyeing me defiantly. “Now, we can spend weeks going back and forth. You want her. You hate her. You can’t live without her one day. You can’t stand her the next. And we’ll all be ready to strangle ourselves as you two go back and forth, but let me ask you this.” He raised his eyebrows expectantly. “What would you do if Tate was in her room right now, curled up in bed and wearing only a sheet? Where would you want to be?”

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