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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(9)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(9)
Author: Penelope Douglas

Pasha grumbled and climbed into the backseat behind Juliet. I slammed the door and headed to the driver’s side.

Jax straightened, seeing me coming. “This is my car now.” He knew what I was doing.

I pinned him with a pointed look. “And I don’t ride. I’ll wait for you to come to terms with that.”

After about three seconds, he realized he wasn’t going to win. He finally let out a hard sigh and walked his ass around to the passenger side.

Climbing in, I started the engine and stilled, slowly easing back into the seat. The old, familiar rumble of the engine reminded me of a time so long ago. Back when I was the king of a small pond. When I thought I knew everything.

The long, late-night drives, my music filling the small space, as I planned my life around Tate and how I was going to torment her in the only universe that mattered.

An image of her flashed in my mind, walking to school. Her back would straighten when she’d hear my engine coming, and I’d blow past her, seeing her hair whip in the wind in my rearview mirror. I almost wished she was in town this summer.

I’d give almost anything to make her feel me again.

Not to mention, she’d turned my best friend against me. He wasn’t talking to me, and I knew it was because of her.

I buckled up. “So let’s have it,” I told Jax. “Where’s Madoc?”

He hesitated, speaking softly. “Around,” he caged. “He commutes to his summer internship here in the city, but he’s still staying at his house in Shelburne Falls.”

“Good.” I nodded, remembering that it was early Friday afternoon. “I’m going to hit his house before we go home.”

“Dude,” Jax urged as I drove out of the garage. “I don’t think Madoc’s going to be up for—”

“Screw it,” I gritted out. “It’s been two years. I’m sick of his bullshit.”

Chapter 3

Tate

Summer breaks no longer exist once you reach college. Maybe you start taking a summer class, or you pick up a summer job, or you have a reading list or an extra credit to pick up, but free time slowly starts to ebb away, and before you know it, you’re doing one thing a day that you like and fifteen that you hate.

Welcome to adulthood, my father would say.

I should be grateful. All in all it wasn’t so bad. Opportunity abounded in my life, and anyone else would be gracious and appreciative. My education would secure my future.

I had it made. I’d be a doctor someday. Maybe close to home. Maybe far away. I’d undoubtedly marry and have children. The house and car payments would come. The stock portfolios to ensure a comfortable retirement. Maybe I’d have a time-share in the Bahamas. I’d laugh at my children’s school plays and hug them when they were scared.

My patients would hopefully bring a feeling of worth into my life. I would help some and lose others. I was prepared for that. I would comfort many and cry with a few. I would take everything in stride and with the knowledge that I did my very best.

My professional life would be devoted to curing illnesses. My private life would be the dutiful spouse and mother.

Patients and patience.

And up until two years ago, I was excited for all of it.

I had wanted all of it.

“There you are.” Ben took my hand, brushing a kiss on my cheek. “They’ve been paging you for five minutes.”

I smiled, placing a hand on his chest and leaning in. “Sorry,” I whispered, kissing him again, gently on the lips this time. “I couldn’t exactly drop the bedpan, could I?” I joked, pulling back and setting my charts down at the nurse’s station.

The corners of his bottom lip turned down at the disgusting thought. “Good point,” he acquiesced. “Besides,” I continued, “I’m a woman worth waiting for. You know that.”

He lifted his chin and hooded his blue eyes. “I’m still deciding,” he taunted.

“Ouch.” I laughed. “Maybe Jax was right after all then.”

His face fell, the humor gone. “What did that guy say about me now?” he grumbled.

I grinned, pulling my blue scrub shirt over my head, leaving me in my white tank top. “He said that you’re awesome,” I teased.

Ben cocked an eyebrow, knowing better.

Jax, my ex-boyfriend’s brother, didn’t like anyone that tried to take his brother’s place in my life. Good thing I didn’t need his approval.

I shrugged and kept going. “But he does think that I am far too much for you to handle.”

His eyes bugged out, and he smiled, challenge accepted. Sliding his hand around the back of my neck, he stepped up and crashed his lips down on mine.

The warmth of his body surrounded me, and I relaxed into the kiss, savoring the hunger I felt rolling off of him.

He wanted me.

I might not be reeling from need of him, but he made me feel in control, and I definitely liked that.

Pulling away, he smiled like he’d just proved a point.

I licked my lips, tasting his Spearmint gum. Ben always had a flavor and taste I could pin down. Mint or cinnamon on the lips, cologne on the clothes, Paul Mitchell in the hair . . . and it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what he smelled like without all of that. Cologne preferences change over time. So do shampoos and breath mints. What would he smell like on my pillow? Would it change or always be constant?

He gestured to the black container and package of wooden chopsticks on top of the counter. “I brought you dinner. It’s sushi,” he pointed out. “Salmon is supposed to be, like, some super brain food.” He waved a hand in front of us. “And you’ve been burning the midnight oil, so I thought you could use it.”

“Thank you.” I tried to act excited, knowing it was the thought that counted. I hated sushi, but he didn’t know that. “But I’m actually about to get off work. I thought I told you that.”

He narrowed his eyes, thinking, and then they went wide. “Yes, you did.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Your schedule changes so much, I forgot.”

“It’s okay.” I unwrapped my messy bun, feeling instant relief as the cursed bobby pins were removed. When I wasn’t working at the hospital—giving sponge baths and administering Band-Aids—I was at the library getting ahead on my reading list for my fall classes, or at the Loop, blowing off steam. I was a hard girl to pin down lately, but Ben rolled with it.

“I can still eat it,” I offered, not wanting to be ungracious. “And now I don’t need to worry about dinner, so you see? You really are a lifesaver.”

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