My uncle demanded our car and she gave it to him. The bastard took the last thing my parents owned. If that hadn’t worked, then we would have lived on the mats in the gym: waking between three and four in the morning to be gone before classes began and not returning until well after eleven at night. It would have been the same as living out of the car.
“You saw where my grandfather lives,” I say. “There’s barely enough room for him and until my mother begged, my uncle wouldn’t take us in…”
The memories burn brightly in my brain and I wish they would fade. “I know what it’s like to be scared. To wonder if anything will feel normal again. There’s this hopelessness, a sadness that permeates through your pores, when you have no idea what home is or what the word means. I may be under somebody’s roof, but it’s not a home. I just want a home.”
West edges closer and his musky scent envelops me like a welcome blanket. His lips press against my shoulder and I allow myself to melt into him.
Goose bumps rise on the back of my neck and I shouldn’t, but I angle my head so more of my neck is exposed. He kissed me. I should tell West to stop, that he’s crossed lines, but his lips against my skin created a feeling of togetherness, a closeness I’ve been longing for.
In quiet acceptance of my invitation, West skims his nose along the sensitive skin near my hairline. “What did home feel like?” he whispers into my ear.
“Warm,” I whisper back. West’s fingers roam along the end of my tank and when he discovers bare skin, he splays his palm across my stomach. His heat radiates into my bloodstream.
He pulls me into him, creating a shelter—one like I haven’t experienced in months. I feel small against him, fragile. Like he’s realized the secret I’ve hidden: that I’m breakable, if not already broken.
I’ve noticed his muscles before—his biceps, his abs—but there’s a difference between seeing them and being held in them. I release a breath, one I’ve been holding for six months, for a year, possibly forever.
“When I had a home, I never felt alone,” I whisper. His lips press against the hollow of my neck and my fingers find his. We lace our hands together and his leg rubs against mine. Every part of him connects with a part of me.
“I’m here, Haley,” he says. “You’re not alone.”
“Do you know what my favorite part of the day is?”
West settles his head into the pillow. His mouth continues to drift against the curve of my neck; then he lazily kisses the sweet spot near my hairline. “When?”
“Those brief few seconds when I wake up and I forget and I think I’m at home.”
“Until now, that’s also been my favorite part of the day. Sleep, Haley. Sleep knowing tonight, I’m not letting go.”
I listen to his breath, enjoy the rise and fall of his chest and focus on the gentleness of his fingers against mine. My mind wavers and I no longer exist in an attic and the darkness no longer taunts me with my fears. Sheltered in warmth and in strong arms, I sleep.
The sun doesn’t rise for another hour and Haley’s alarm went off twenty minutes ago. She headed downstairs to get ready and I wait like a man on trial with the jury out for deliberation.
Outside, a new layer of icicles hangs from the eaves of the house. Last night was possibly one of the best nights of my life and as I slump onto the corner of the air mattress, I feel like shit.
Sillgo. I rake my hands through my hair, pulling at the roots. I swear that’s one of the companies Dad bought. I don’t pretend to know everything about Dad’s business, but he had a crap ton of documents on his desk with that name on the letterhead last year when I got called into his office for cutting class. My father—he did this to Haley and her family….
And I’m falling for her hard.
Haley already knows that my family does well financially, but she doesn’t know I’m a Young and I have to admit I like it. I like that Haley doesn’t see me as a meal ticket or act weird around me because my family is the equivalent to royalty in this town.
Even if she knew I was a Young, she probably wouldn’t know that the Youngs are the ones who bought Sillgo and shipped the jobs to Mexico. But keeping all this to myself? I’m lying to her. Before I drop that bomb, I need to be sure that my dad is the one that owns the company.
The door creaks open and Haley sends me a shy smile and I automatically smile back. Last night, the two of us said too much, felt too much, and I had somehow convinced myself that the moment we shared would remain that—a moment. But it didn’t; the emotions between us linger and I don’t know what that means.
Haley closes the door behind her and crosses the room to me. “I’ve got to go in a few minutes to catch the bus. John wants me there early to train.”
I stand, understanding she’s handing me an eviction notice. “Can I drive you?”
“No. Jax and Kaden are working out this morning, too, and I don’t want them to know that you stayed here, so do you mind…” Her eyes flicker to the window.
“Got it. I’ll head out.”
Haley smooths the hair trailing from her ponytail. “Last night…we…uh… I don’t think…”
Shit, she really is handing me an eviction notice and not just from her room.
“If we get involved,” Haley continues, “and then things don’t work out…it’ll make what’s going on between us complicated.”
“Right.” Complicated. “And it has nothing to do with the fact you don’t date fighters?”
She shrugs. “Maybe.”
I nod, getting it, yet not. Because the truth is, she’s too good for me; plus she’s right. We have an agreement and I need this shot at redemption. Reality—the truth of who I am would ruin us anyway, but I’m a selfish ass**le.
I step into Haley’s personal space and her breathing hitches when my body slides against hers. “How about we don’t overthink it and just see how this plays out.”
Haley licks her lips as if they’re dry and stares up at me from under dark eyelashes. Damn, she’s gorgeous.
Footsteps pound against the stairs and Haley pushes me into the shadows. She races across the attic and my heart beats hard at the thought of causing her trouble.
Haley grabs the door right as it opens and blocks the view of the room with her body. “Everything okay, Jax?”