Take Me On (Page 19)

Take Me On (Pushing the Limits #4)(19)
Author: Katie McGarry

Marissa has been hot and bothered by Jax since he helped her when she tripped in elementary school. Fortunately and unfortunately, Jax has no idea that the mostly mute honor student exists. Bad for Marissa, yet great for her. Jax would devour her as an appetizer.

“He kept me company while I searched for scholarships.”

Marissa nervously tucks her hair behind her ear three times. “Did he mention me? We were in a group last week in gym. There were four of us, but he was next to me so…you know…he might have remembered me…or something.”

Conversations like these are why I am welcome at this lunch table. As Jessica lovingly had put it: She’s the girl who knows the hot guys. Yep. That’s me. The living, breathing Wikipedia of Eastwick’s hot guys. I keep it to myself that they all currently hate my face.

“You know Jax.” Though she doesn’t. “He doesn’t discuss girls with me.” He used to, but then Jax and I lost the ability to talk with ease. He and Kaden have a hard time forgiving me for leaving the gym.

She nods. “You’re right.”

Movement to my right catches my attention and I become one of those oil-slicked birds smothered and weighed down. Conner, Matt’s little brother, enters the cafeteria with his wrist in a brace. Yellowish fading bruises cover his face and the remnants of a black eye mark his skin.

I scoot my chair back, preparing to bolt. Conner’s a year younger than me, so I’ve been able to avoid him…until now.

A few tables away, Kaden and Jax slide to their feet. Jax leans one shoulder against the wall with his arms held tight to his body and fists clenched. He’s burning a hole through me. Kaden, on the other hand, paces like a pissed-off tiger behind Jax, his sights set on Conner.

“Oh, my God,” whispers Marissa. “He’s coming.”

He who? My head whips so fast in preparation of finding Conner at our table that my hair stings my face. Nope, not Conner, but someone just as bad. “Really?”

“Ladies,” says West. “Mind if I join you?” He’s asking the table, but he’s surveying me.

Does the boy ever listen? I shoot up and my chair rattles against the floor. “You can have my seat.”

His smile grows. “I don’t have personal space issues so you can sit on my lap.”

My mouth pops open. Did he just say… “You…” No words. “You are…”

West gestures with his fingers for me to continue. Oh, my freaking God, this is a game to him. “Handsome? Irresistible?”

I slam my chair into the table and head for the food line, hoping to blend in with the stragglers. The only way out is past Conner. I’ll buy another lunch if it means he won’t spot me. I peek over at the entrance and blow a relieved rush of air out of my mouth. Conner’s deep in conversation with Reggie, his dealer. I have a reprieve in being hunted by him—at least for today.

“Me and you, Haley.” Matt’s familiar gravel voice sends a shock wave of shivers through my soul. “We need to talk.”

“My family is watching.” I have to force my eyes up and, even as I curse myself, I begin to shake. I don’t want to show fear, but he scares me. Matt is the stuff nightmares are made of.

“You’re the one who chooses whether or not Jax and Kaden get involved. Make this hard and they will. Make it easy and they won’t.”

There’s a faint resemblance to the cute guy I fell for my sophomore year: tall, dark hair, hazel eyes. He shaves his head now, his ears are a bit deformed from fighting and there’s a roughness to him, an edginess that wasn’t present when I first met him. Who knows, maybe the edginess always existed and I was too naive to notice.

Matt turns and heads to the front right corner of the cafeteria. Toward where the other Black Fire fighters sit and in the exact opposite direction of Kaden and Jax. Matt doesn’t look back to see if I follow because he knows I will. He controlled me then—even when there was blood on his hands and blood on mine. Any self-respect, any self-confidence I thought I had built disintegrates. He controls me now.

I can’t glance at my brother or cousin. My cheeks are on fire and I stare at my moving shoes. Six months ago, Jax and Kaden found me as a lump, alone in a garage at a party. My body shook, my teeth chattered and all I could think was that Matt was stronger than Jax and Kaden.

With my body still pounding with the proof, I lied. I protected what I loved—I protected Jax and Kaden, and then walked away from fighting. A decision I still bleed over.

With a few hushed words, the guys seated at Matt’s table disperse, leaving me and him somewhat alone in the crowded cafeteria. None of them make eye contact with me because each of them is fully aware that they had a hand in what happened. They’re the ones that pointed out Conner’s drug use to me. They’re the ones that begged me to talk to Matt because Matt wouldn’t see what was in front of him.

“He’ll listen to you, Haley. You’re the only one he listens to.”

Nope, he didn’t listen to me and I figured out quickly why no one else had the courage to speak badly about Conner to Matt. A right hook to the head is a great deterrent.

Matt crosses his arms over his chest. “I don’t take to people hurting what’s mine.”

No, that job belongs solely to him.

Matt used to hold me in his arms. He’d caress my face, my body. I realized too late we were an inferno and that I had been chained to the stake. He touched me. He kissed me. He said words to me no one else ever had. He made me feel special.

After being with Matt, I don’t care if I ever feel special again.

“Because of what we were to each other,” he says, “I’m giving you a chance to explain.”

My toe nudges a spot of dried ketchup on the orange tiled floor. Telling him the truth enraged him last summer. Nothing since then has changed. He steps closer and cold sweat breaks out along my neck.

“I hated it when you wouldn’t talk to me,” he whispers. Once upon a time, he whispered the words “I love you” into my ear and I kissed him in return. Hurt and regret can slowly kill a person from the inside out.

“You have never wanted to hear what I’ve had to say,” I respond.

“Not true,” he says. “That’s not true.”

It is and somewhere deep inside he knows it.

“What did Conner tell you?” If it doesn’t damn me too bad, I’ll go with Conner’s version of the truth, because real truth doesn’t exist. There are only other people’s perceptions of reality.