Noah seeks my hand again, but this time I let him take it. He lifts my fingers to his lips and kisses my knuckles. “We’re okay. I swear.”
Echo stays silent when I ease into a spot at the hotel and shut off the engine. She gave me a special part of her last night, and I almost fucked it up. First my parents then my brothers. Echo’s the lone piece of my soul worth holding on to.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
I will never understand her. “For what?”
“For being me.” Echo drops the statement and exits the car. What the hell?
I follow her out then join her when she leans against the side of the car.
“I thought after we took this trip,” she continues, “that I’d somehow be stronger and more confident—I thought this summer was going to change me, but I only have two thousand more questions instead of any answers.”
I rest my hands on her shoulders and stare straight into her eyes. “Do you regret it?”
She blinks, shocked at the question. “What?”
“Do you regret making love to me?”
Lines form on her forehead as she squints. “No. I…I…”
Not reading her mind is torture. “What?”
“I want things to be simple…and for us to be okay…and…and to know that after all this, you still love me.”
Bang—the sound of the weight of the world sliding off my shoulders. Is that it? Is that all that bothers her? I gather Echo into me like a man pardoned from death row. “I love you. We won’t change. I promise.”
It’s when she relaxes in my arms that I find the peace I had last night when we were together. She craves simple, and all the two of us have ever known is complicated.
I’m a man of word, and I’m determined to keep this promise. If I’m doing this whole relationship thing then it’s time I figure out how to put her needs first. Damn me to hell that this plan includes eating my pride. “What are your plans for today?”
“Laundry,” she mumbles into my chest. “I’ve noticed your lack of boxer short wearing.”
“Easy access, baby.”
A muffled humph on her end. “I’ve already told you that the dressing room was a one-time deal.”
“Stop messing with my fantasies. What else are you doing today?”
“I need to call my dad.”
Echo’s shoulders turn rock-solid, and she shifts. She’s terrified of starting another fight. For the past couple of days we’ve been unbalanced. I can’t allow it, not anymore. Not after last night. “You should try the painting.”
She rises onto her toes. “For real?”
For that look? “Yeah. Knock this Hunter asshole dead.”
Literally, and then I’ll kick him while he’s down for shits and giggles.
“He’s giving me a shot. He’s not an ass. I swear, he’s a good guy.”
Hole. I said asshole. He stalked her then stared at her tits in front of me. Open a dictionary and that would be the ghetto translation of asshole. “All the same, I’m dropping you off and picking you up. If I text, you text back. If I call, you answer. Otherwise, I’m showing. At least for today. I want to confirm the guy’s not a serial killer who’s decided to create a living doll out of you.”
“Are you going to beat your chest next and toss me over your shoulder before killing something with your bare hands for dinner?”
I love that she throws shit back at me without batting an eye. “I’ll even start the fire to cook it up.”
Her head falls back. “Oh. My. God.”
“Just for today. Push me on this, Echo, and I’ll redefine caveman for you. No one fucks around with you. Got it?”
No one. I once failed the two most important people in my life, and I won’t fail her. Period.
Which means I won. “Damn straight.”
“Fine, but you have to play nice with Hunter.” Schooled on how to seal a deal, she stretches for a kiss. Echo’s going for a quick peck, but I’ll be damned if that’s all I get. My fingers weave in her hair, and I immediately crush my lips to hers, sweeping my tongue into her mouth, a move that drives her wild.
Echo goes weak as if her knees gave, but she draws enough strength to heighten the kiss. The entire world fades, leaving only her fingers tracing my neck. She presses her body so tightly to mine that I can feel the soft weight of her breasts against my chest. Our lips greedily dance in time, and my exploration of her body begins.
My hand cups the curve of her ass, and flashes of her naked body under mine from last night rip through my brain. Her warmth surrounds me, and a rough sound leaves my throat. I want Echo, and I want Echo now.
“Get a room,” Beth says.
Echo jerks away, and I immediately rest my fingers around the nape of her neck to keep her close and to silently tell Beth to back off.
Beth stands with her arms crossed over her chest near the hood of the car, scowling at the move. “For real. You. Her. Walls.”
“I had a room,” I say. “But someone took it.”
“That’s something you should have considered before you told Isaiah to drag my ass to everybody-loves-nature middle of nowhere.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” As in not here.
“That’s the problem—no, I don’t.”
I scratch my forehead. She’s right. She doesn’t. Not for a week.
Beth looks Echo over like she’s a mannequin in a store. “I need a bathing suit.”
“We’re not the same size,” replies Echo. My girl is taller—by half a foot.
“I’ll stuff the top with tissues if you’re that concerned, but it still doesn’t remove my need of a bathing suit. There’s a hot tub, and I’m going in. Unless you help me out, clothing is becoming optional, and I’m telling hotel management that it was your idea.”
Echo beelines for the hotel entrance. “I’ve got a couple you can try on.”
Beth follows her and heads in, but Echo hesitates. “You’re coming, right?”
I shove my hands in my pockets. Once I walk through that door, regardless of whether or not we’re in Kentucky, with Beth and Isaiah staying with us, Echo and I will be back to our reality.
That’s good and it’s bad, and I’m determined to make it work. “Yeah. I am.”
Noah scans the outside of the gallery like he’s a Special Forces soldier on the prowl behind enemy lines. We’re in the same quaint little village as I was before with the cobblestone streets and cute Swiss-type buildings, but Noah acts as if we’re dodging hostile fire.