“You’re shaking,” he says simply now. And with that, he rubs my arms, and somehow, I don’t know how, I fold into him. It feels right, it feels normal, it feels so freaking good, it feels like I’ve stepped into one of my dreams.
He startles for a second, and then lets me stand there, my forehead pressed to his shirt as he rubs my back. His scent is so soothing… so woodsy and masculine and perfect. He smells just like I dreamed he would. I breathe it in, then sniffle and that’s when I realize that I’m crying.
I’m an utter mess today.
He must think I’m a lunatic.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize finally, stepping away from him. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“You’ve had a lot to deal with,” he says understandingly. “Anyone would be edgy.”
Would anyone be having a panic attack in the middle of the road, crying on a beautiful guy that she’s only just met?
I look at him. “You must think I’m crazy.”
He shakes his head solemnly. “Nope.”
“Because I’m not,” I insist.
His mouth twitches. “Never.”
I have to giggle now, at the ridiculousness of this situation.
I look at him and somehow, he seems so out of place out here among nature, with his slender, refined body and black eyes.
“Did you see the kitten?” I change the subject.
He shakes his head. “I just saw the dust from your tires on the shoulder.”
I’m worried now because I don’t want to be a cat killer on top of everything else. Dare takes one look at my expression and rushes to assure me, probably because he doesn’t want me to cry on him again.
“I’ll go look for it,” he tells me quickly. “Why don’t you go back up to the house so you’re not standing on the side of the road?”
I hesitate. “I should wait for you. I mean, you’re doing it for me, after all.”
He smiles, a wide bright smile. “You can repay me on a different day. For now, you should get out of the road.”
“But the groceries,” I murmur, already heading back to the car.
“We’ll get them later.”
Dazed a bit, I start up my car, do a three-point turn and head back up to my home. I’m still dazed as I cross the yard and sink into a chair on the porch to wait.
Twenty minutes later, Dare’s bike idles back up the drive.
“I couldn’t find anything,” he calls out as he climbs off the bike and idles towards me. “I think maybe you saw a raccoon or something.”
I hesitate, trying to picture the animal I’d seen.
“It seemed too small to be a raccoon,” I offer.
“Maybe it was a baby,” he suggests.
Or maybe I’ve gone nuts and it wasn’t anything at all. But of course, I don’t say that.
“Thank you for looking,” I finally say, my gaze dropping to his feet. His boots are covered in dew and tiny bits of leaves. He really did trek out into the mountain to look.
“Want to go get your groceries now?”
I nod reluctantly, for some reason dreading the idea of driving down the mountain again.
Dare looks at me. “Want me to drive you?”
My head snaps up. “You want to come?”
He grins. “I need some shampoo. I’ll be happy to drive if you want.”
“Weren’t you wanting to read or something?”
He rolls his eyes. “I read at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. I’m perfectly free at the moment. In fact, I’ll be free tonight, too.”
The mere thought of Dare in his bed, sprawled out, naked, his muscles gleaming in the moonlight, it spreads heat to my cheeks and I yank my eyes back up to his, focusing on reality, not on Dare in his bed.
He grins. Dare me.
“Perhaps we should focus on the now,” he suggests lightly, as if he knows that he was just undressed in my mind. I internally combust, then nod.
“Yeah. I’d better get some groceries.”
I toss him my keys and we drive down the mountain.
Dare and me.
It’s an exhilarating thought, and one that for the moment, distracts me from sadness.
That’s a miracle in itself.
You’reAMiserableMiseraleMiserableExcuse, the voices hiss and I clench my teeth and draw around them, drawing faces and then scratching them out every time a voice says something. Before long, the page is covered in scribble.
Calla’s gone and I don’t know where she is, and for the first time in weeks, I’m alone.
I don’t like it.
I don’t like it.
A motor roars through the yard and I go to the window, looking down. The new guy stands on the edge of the grass. Calla stares up at him, her hand so close to the guy’s chest.
I watch, enthralled, horrified as my sister smiles.
It’s like she knows him. Like she belongs there, smiling with him.
I’m alone and she’s there.
I grit my teeth again, because it’s not wrong. My sister is an adult and she can do what she wishes and obviously it’s normal for her to smile at a guy.
But not him, the voices protest, so many of them that I can’t tell them apart. There’s something about him, something wrong, something he’s hiding.
YouCan’tTellHerSheWon’tBelieveYou. For the first time, I agree with them. Calla would never believe me if I voiced this reservation, because I don’t have any proof.
All I have is a feeling.
And we all know I’m crazy.
I sort through the million different kinds of pasta sauce, picking one, before I find Dare in the shampoo aisle.
I’m halfway to him when my eye falls on Dove, the kind of shampoo my mother used. I can almost smell her hair as she hugged me, and my throat clams up and I pointedly look away, because that’s what I have to do when something reminds me. I have to ignore it and put it away for later. Because I simply can’t deal with it now.
“Are you ready?” I ask Dare. He nods, then eyes my heaping cart.
“Good thing we brought your car and not my bike,” he observes. I have to laugh, but I don’t want to explain how my father is sliding, how we’re out of every imaginable thing in my house. So I don’t.