Take Me On (Page 24)

Take Me On (Pushing the Limits #4)(24)
Author: Katie McGarry

I laugh and the high feeling plummets when I search for the last time I laughed before today. Last month? Six months ago? Years? “My point is, you don’t know me, yet you volunteered to become a modern-day gladiator without an ounce of training.”

“Cool. Does that mean I’ll get a sword?”

“I’m being serious! This whole situation is utterly and completely serious!”

“You need to learn how to chill.” West exhales, then slides his hand over the steering wheel. “I don’t know why I’m doing this.”

“Please?”

He’s silent, but it’s the type of silence that tells me he’s sorting his thoughts. My dad, before he was laid off, had that same expression whenever we had a discussion. Dad always answered me and I have no doubt West will, too…if I grant him time.

“I’m involved now because that Conner kid hit you.”

My stomach sinks. “West…” God, I hate admitting it out loud. “I hit him first.” Because he wouldn’t relent against West.

He holds up his hand. “He hit you. I don’t care if you backed over him with my Escalade two hundred times. It’s not okay to hit a girl. Besides, you had my back. I don’t forget that type of thing.” His lips slant. “Granted, I’m usually saying this to a guy.”

There’s more. I can see a pain etched on his face…in his eyes.

“You said earlier you couldn’t live with the idea that you failed. What did you mean?”

“We all have demons.” He stares at the bar situated at the end of the strip mall. “How about we leave it at that.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve walked yourself into?”

“In two months I’m going to be in some tournament. For all I know, I’ll be throwing knives at this kid and he could be tossing them back at me.”

“No knives. Though that could be faster and less painful.”

“Good to know.”

The school bus rumbles on the road behind us. “I need to get home. Can I explain everything tomorrow at lunch? Then we can devise a plan to keep you alive.”

“Sounds like a date.” West puts the SUV in gear and I give him directions to my uncle’s. He leans against his door as he drives and watches the road intently. Something tells me he’s not focused on the road as much as he’s trying to digest the world he’s thrown himself into.

West stops in front of the box house. “What are you trained in?”

The instinct is to divulge nothing because my fighting days are long over.

“I saw the damage you did to Conner. You’re trained in something.”

If West is going to survive, I’ve got to wade through the charred and ruined bridges I’ve burned and find a way to rebuild them. Might as well start with the truth. “Muay Thai.”

“And that is?”

“Kickboxing.”

West releases a paralyzing grin. “Holy shit, my girlfriend’s a kickboxer.”

I sort of giggle, but it’s so halfhearted it falls flat. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I’d be sitting in such an expensive car with such a gorgeous guy. Taking a page from Marissa’s book, I tuck my hair behind my ear and suddenly care what I look like.

I wish I was wearing something nicer. Something more than ripped jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt. Something that would make me “girlfriend” material for a guy like West. “Look, the whole relationship thing—”

“Yeah,” he cuts me off. “Sorry. No one was buying what we were saying so I ad-libbed. Can we keep up appearances for a while? We can ‘break up’ in a couple of weeks after they believe the reason I went after Conner was because I was into you.”

The glare I throw him causes him to toss his hands in the air. “I swear to God, I’ll keep my hands to myself. I highly respect that my girlfriend can throw a punch.”

Which is the reason why the only guy I’ve ever dated or kissed has been Matt. Boys are repelled by strong girls. “Have you considered transferring to another school? This was your first day. You could start fresh someplace else. I can play dumb and say I have no idea where you lived because it’s true. If you leave now, this could blow over.”

“You mean it could blow over for me.”

I nod.

“And leave you hanging? Not happening.” The crazy expression I often see on Jax and Kaden spikes across his face, and suddenly I don’t care what I look like anymore. I’m not interested in becoming involved with another fighter.

“It’s not my style to run from a fight,” he says. “Besides, I’m not sure if you heard, but my new girlfriend is going to teach me some of her kick-ass moves.”

“Assume much?”

“I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already thought yourself.”

True. I reach for the handle and ask one last question. “Curious. Is my new boyfriend a drug dealer?”

West laughs. It’s deep and smooth and gives me beautiful shivers. “No.” He pauses. “I’m not much of anything anymore.”

The ache from earlier returns to his eyes and it reflects the hurt tucked deep inside me.

“Whatever it is that’s going on with you,” I say, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m good.” His eyebrows furrow and he stares out the front windshield.

He’s obviously not good, and I bite my bottom lip. For strangers, West and I have become uncomfortably familiar in a rapid amount of time. Our worlds didn’t just collide; they merged as paint spilled on a sidewalk and it’s like neither one of us will be the right color again.

“You can tell me—that is, if you want to talk. If you’re worried, I’m not a gossip because I’m not exactly—” my fingers flutter in the air “—popular.”

West opens and closes his mouth a few times and I hold my breath. Whatever he has to say, it’s big, and somehow, it feels right for him to tell me. “My family threw me out Saturday.”

The air rushes out of my lungs as if I got steamrolled by a front kick to the chest. “Do you have somewhere to stay?”

“Yeah.”

But I’m not sure I believe him. For months, I’ve been the queen of chaos. I’m a mist, a vapor. Belonging nowhere yet stretched everywhere.

This boy drops into my life with his clothes and car and attitude that suggests he’s rich and affluent and the king of the world. With one small yet enormous statement, the gap that existed between us disappears. I slide across the divide, placing my fingers as tightly as I can around his. “I get it, West,” I whisper my secret to him. “I understand not having a home.”