His eyes smiled, and I can’t tell you what it did to me that I could make him that happy. “Of course. We’ll go whenever you want. But we’re coming back.”
I nodded. “I was only moving to Virginia because I thought you were moving into Isla.”
Braden grunted. “Nice.”
“You’re firing her right?”
He narrowed his eyes. “You just want me to fire her?”
“If I told you that Craig kissed me last night would you make me quit?”
“Point taken. I’ll find her a job elsewhere.”
“Elsewhere as in nowhere you work.”
“Christ, your bossy.”
“Uh, do you not remember dry humping me to a desk after Craig kissed me?”
“Again, point taken.”
I buried my head against his chest. “I thought I’d really f**ked up.”
He squeezed my nape. “We both really did. But that’s over now. From now on I’m completely in charge. I think we’ll have a lot less drama, and definitely no more breakups, if I’m in control of this thing.”
I patted his stomach. “Whatever you need to tell yourself to get through the day, baby.”
“You still haven’t said it you know.”
I turned my head and smiled up at him. I took a big inner breath. “I love you, Braden Carmichael.”
His grin made my chest swell. “Say it again.”
I giggled. “I love you.”
He sat up quickly and then swung out of the bed, pulling me with him. He pushed me towards the en-suite. “You’re going to say it again while I f**k you in the shower.”
“This whole taking control thing is kind of hot.”
“It’s about to get hotter, babe.” He smacked me lightly on my ass, and I gave a little squeal, his laughter and mine filling the bathroom as we stumbled together into the shower.
“Now, you’re sure you’re going to be okay?”
Ellie crossed her arms over her chest and blew air out between her lips. “If you ask me that again, don’t bother coming back.”
I shot Braden a look and he shook his head slightly. “Don’t look at me. She didn’t have attitude until you moved in with her.”
That was fair.
Ellie giggled at my faux wounded look and threw up her hands. “Guys, come on. It’s been a month. I’m fine. Adam’s practically living here and you have a plane to catch.”
Braden kissed his sister’s cheek before turning to open the front door with our suitcase in hand. In the end it had been a good thing Braden ripped up my plane ticket, because inviting him to come to Virginia with me meant rearranging his schedule and changing the flight dates. And well to be honest, we wanted to make sure Ellie was back on her feet before we left.
After a month of being mothered by me, Adam, Braden and her actual mother, Ellie was probably glad to be rid of us. She was still trying to get her energy levels back, and was still exhausted, and still very much shaken by the experience. I’d suggested she start seeing Dr. Pritchard and Ellie had her first appointment in a few days. Hopefully the good doctor would help her out. I wondered if the good doctor would help me out. I was feeling a little separation anxiety.
“Joss, the taxi is waiting.” Ellie shooed me towards to the door.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “But if you let anything happen to yourself while we’re gone, I will kill you.”
“Tell Adam the same goes for him.”
“I will warn him. Now will you go and do this very important thing.” She hugged me tight. “I wish I could come with you.”
I gave her a squeeze and pulled back. “I’ll be fine. I’ve got a bossy businessman watching my back.”
“I heard that,” Braden called from the other side of the door. Damn. I thought he was already in the cab.
“I better go before I end up taking this flight alone.”
“Call me when you land.”
We said goodbye and I let Braden bundle me into the cab. It had been a long month, worrying about Ellie and we were still worrying, but the lots of make-up sex Braden and I were having definitely took a load off.
We were still finding our way back after the whole break-up mess but this new ‘us’ was kind of hot. Oh and this new ‘us’ involved no Isla. Braden ‘fired’ her and got her a job at a nightclub he did not own. I think she could have gotten another job by herself, she was annoyingly beautiful, but Braden felt guilty. Technically his manager had come onto him so he had nothing to feel guilty about, but Braden wasn’t comfortable with the idea that his manager had somehow tried to take advantage of him. That didn’t go down well in ‘caveman world’.
I, for one, was still feeling guilty for the emotional mess I had turned into. In an effort to make up for it, I cleared out one of my bedside cabinets and two drawers in my dresser, for Braden’s own use. I still couldn’t get the image of his stupid grin out of my head when I told him that. He’d jumped out of bed—mid make-out I might add—to unpack his overnight bag into the drawers.
He was like an excited little kid on Christmas morning.
Braden had to one-up me though and gave me a key to his apartment the next day. I’d give him a key to ours, but he already had one.
I was pretty quiet on the way to the airport and pretty quiet when we got there. My head was already in Virginia with my family. We were flying into Richmond and staying at the Hilton. The storage facility where the lawyers had put all of my family’s belongings for me until I inherited it was in the city. Rather than taking it all out, I’d continued to pay rent to keep it there. Once I’d sorted through everything and decided what to do with it, Braden and I were heading out to the small town I grew up in, in Surry County. It was just a little over an hour outside Richmond and driving would be an experience for both of us since neither of us had driven in a really long time. And Braden had never driven on the right-hand side of the road before.
I mused over this as Braden guided us through check-in and security.
“I know you’ve got a lot on your mind,” he said as he took a seat outside our gate. “But if you start to freak out you have to tell me, okay?”
“Okay.” I nodded.
I sat down beside him, pressing a soft kiss to his lips as I did. “Promise.”
We were quiet a moment, the silence between us nice.
“You fancy joining the mile high club?” I turned my narrow-eyed gaze on him and he gave me that slow, sexy smile that got me here in the first place. “It could be fun.”
I shook my head at him, smiling despite myself. “Baby… with you it’s always fun.”
“Mmm,” he dipped his head towards mine and whispered across my lips before giving me a searing kiss, “Good answer.”
Three Days Later…
“Oh, baby, don’t stop,” I begged, my hands curling into the sheets in front of me.
Braden gently squeezed my breast before pinching my nipple between finger and thumb. He did that at the same time he circled his h*ps as he thrust into me and I panted harder.
I’d woken up that morning on my side to feel his heat at my back, his arm around my waist and his c*ck already buried deep inside of me.
“Come for me, babe,” he demanded breathlessly, his strokes growing faster. “Come for me.” he slid his hand down my nightie and between my legs, his finger slipping through my sex to circle my clit.
I threw my head back, crying out his name as I came around him.
Braden slammed inside me one last time, burying his shout in my neck as his body shuddered against me as he cli**xed.
I fell limpid against him. “Good morning.”
His mouth smiled against my skin. “Morning.”
“If you wake me up like that at least once a week, I will be a very happy girl.”
“Good to know.” He eased out of me gently and I turned around to face him, my hand reaching to cup his cheek so I could pull him down for a deliciously soft kiss.
When Braden pulled back, he was frowning. “No more stalling. Today we do this.”
I swallowed but nodded. We’d arrived in Richmond two and a half days ago and I’d not been able to leave the hotel room, insisting on hav**g s*x constantly with my boyfriend. Now this was difficult for Braden because he really, really didn’t mind the constant sex, but was worried that I kept putting what we were here to do off.
Obviously, my time was up.
The self-storage facility was just over twenty minutes out from the hotel on a street not too far from Three Lakes Park. I saw Braden taking in the city as we got a cab out—we’d rent a car for the drive to my hometown later—to the facility, but I wasn’t really in the mood to reminisce about the State I’d grown up in. I was about to do plenty of that, and I was pretty scared if I was being honest with myself.
The guy was friendly at the storage place. I gave him my I.D. and storage number and he took us around what looked like normal car garages with bright red doors. He stopped in front of one of them abruptly. “Here you go.” He smiled and left us to it.
Braden rubbed my shoulder sensing my hesitation. “You can do this.”
I can do this. I keyed in the code on the keypad next to the door and the metal doors started to rise. When they’d finally rotated up along the ceiling, I let my eyes take in the sight before me. There were boxes and boxes of stuff. Suitcases. A jewelry box. Trembling, I took a step inside and tried to calm my heart before it rocketed me into a panic attack.
I felt Braden’s cool, large hand slip into mine and he squeezed. “Breathe, babe. Just breathe.”
I smiled up at him, a wobbly kind of smile.
I could definitely do this.
Edinburgh, Dublin Street
Two Years Later…
At the sound of a throat clearing I glanced up into the mirror and saw Braden leaning against the doorjamb of our room. I whirled around, my hands immediately going to my hips. “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.”
Braden smiled softly, his eyes drinking me in, and the look in them made me feel all mushy. Damn him. “You look beautiful, babe.”
I glanced down at the dress and sighed. “I can’t believe you managed to talk me into this.”
“I can be very persuasive when I want to be.” He was grinning smugly now.
“Persuasive is one thing. This… this is a miracle.” I eyed him carefully. “Wait, is that why you’re here? To make sure I leave?” That bothered me. A lot. I actually felt my heart stop.
Braden grimaced. “No. I have every faith that you’re going to walk out that door.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because I haven’t seen you in a few days and I missed you.”
“You’re about to see me in half an hour. You couldn’t wait?”
“There will be other people there though.” He made a step towards me, giving me that look.
Oh no. No!
“That can wait.” I held up a hand, holding him off. “Now, you got me into this. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but you got all persuasive, and then you got me all into it. And I want it to be kind of perfect—as in… done right. So get your ass out of here, mister.”
He was grinning broadly now as he backed up. “Okay, you’re the boss.” I snorted at that one. “I’ll see you in half-an-hour.”
“Braden!” Ellie fell into the doorway in a champagne, silk floor-length gown. “It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. Get out!” She pushed him up the hallway out of sight.
“See you soon, babe!” he called back, laughing.
I shook my head, trying to calm the nerves and the warring giddiness as I looked into the cheval mirror. I was almost unrecognizable in my ivory wedding dress.
“Ready, Joss?” Ellie asked, out of breath from beating her brother out of the apartment.
Rhian appeared at her side, wearing a teasing grin, the same champagne dress Ellie had on, and a gold wedding band beside the diamond engagement ring James had given her. They’d been married for eight months. “Yeah, you ready, Joss?”
We were standing in the master bedroom, what used to be Ellie’s room but was now mine and Braden’s. In Virginia I’d found some things—my mom’s jewelry, Beth’s favorite teddy bear, Ted, a few photo albums and a painting—that I’d wanted to keep. Everything else we gave away or threw out. It took us a couple of days, and a lot of tissues for me, but we did it, and then we took off to say goodbye to them at their graves. That was hard. I couldn’t stop the panic attack on that one and for a while Braden just sat in the grass with me and held me as I tried to apologize to my mom, dad and Beth for eight years of trying not to remember them.
Going through that with me just made Braden and I closer. When we got back to Scotland, we were pretty much inseparable, and since Ellie and Adam were inseparable, there was too much awkwardness with the four of us living together with Ellie and Braden being brother and sister. Neither of them wanted to hear the sex stuff. So Ellie had moved into Adam’s place a few months after her surgery, and Braden had put his apartment up for rent and moved into Dublin Street with me. A year later he’d actually pre-arranged it with a cab driver, and proposed to me in a cab outside the Bruntsfield Evangelical Church, in reminiscence of how and where we first met. Fast forward to now. After the wedding we’d be flying off to Hawaii for our honeymoon, and when we came back it would be to Dublin Street as Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael. My chest squeezed and I took a deep breath.
Braden had been talking about having kids lately. Kids. Oh wow. I glanced at my completed manuscript lying on my desk. After twenty rejection letters I’d gotten a call from a literary agent who wanted to read the rest of it. I’d just mailed the full manuscript out two days ago. For two years that manuscript had been like a kid to me, and I’d had plenty of freak outs about publishing my parent’s story. Real kids? I’d freaked out when Braden first mentioned it, but he’d just sat there sipping his beer while I silently spiraled out. Ten minutes later he’d looked back at me and said, “Are you done?”
He was used to my freak outs now.
I shot a look at the photograph I had of my parent’s on my desk. Like me and Braden, mom and dad had been passionate about each other, argued a lot, had their issues, but always got through it because of how deeply they felt for one another. They were everything they couldn’t be without the other. Sure it could get rough sometimes, but life wasn’t a Hollywood movie. Shit happened. You fought, you screamed, and somehow you worked like hell to get out the other side still intact.
Just like me and Braden.
I nodded at Ellie and Rhian.
Sometimes the clouds weren’t weightless. Sometimes their bellies got dark and full. It was life. It happened. It didn’t mean it wasn’t scary, or that I wasn’t still afraid, but now I knew that as long as I was standing under it with Braden beside me when those clouds broke, I’d be alright. We’d get rained on together. Knowing Braden he’d have a big ass umbrella to shelter us from the worst of it.
That there was an uncertain future I could handle.
“Yeah. I’m ready.”