I drove as far away from that damn barn as I could get. When the lake came into view, I pulled over and jumped out of the truck. Then I started for the water. I needed to cool the f**k off. I’d wanted to stop Eva from anymore of her flirty little remarks and damned if I hadn’t just screwed myself. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
I started unbuttoning my jeans.
“Hey, if you plan on stripping give me time to get gone first.” I spun around to see Jeremy walking over from his side of the fence. Not exactly who I wanted to see at the moment. My head was all kinds of screwed up over his future sister-in-law.
“It’s hot,” I replied. The annoyance in my tone was unavoidable. I was pissed. I had no reason to be but I was. Why hadn’t I just banged Becca Lynn and took the edge off? It would have given me physical relief and pissed Eva off. If she went back to hating me then she’d stop hunting me down and saying shit she had no business saying.
“Yeah, it is. We don’t get much of that gulf breeze out here like y’all do down on the coast.”
I wasn’t in the mood to talk about the weather.
“You working?” I asked before I told him to run the f**k off so I could strip.
“Nah, I’m done. Going fishing with my dad this weekend. Thought I’d come down here and check out the fence line before we headed out.
Just his dad? He’d never mentioned his brother. Not once. That was odd.
“Your brother going too?”
Jeremy’s easy smile vanished. “Uh, no.”
“He not live around here? I’ve never seen him at Eva’s.”
Jeremy stuck his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and his frown deepened. “What do you know about my brother?”
“Nothing except he’s engaged to Eva.” What was the deal here? Why the weirdness about his brother? It was a simple question.
“Eva tell you that?” Jeremy asked still frowning.
Jeremy let out a deep sigh and shook his head. Something was way off here.
“I really shouldn’t tell you this because it’s Eva’s story to tell. Still, you at least need to know the truth. Eva was engaged to my brother.”
They broke it off? Except, she was still wearing the ring. Was she mentally off? Was that what I was missing here?
“Cage, my brother is dead.”
That had not been what I was expecting. I had almost been convinced Eva was a little unstable. I sure wasn’t expecting to hear she was wearing the ring her dead fiancé gave her.
“He was in the army. About eighteen months ago, a bomb near Baghdad. Him along with four other soldiers. He’d proposed to Eva on his last leave.”
“She still wears the ring,” I said, trying to wrap my head around this.
“Yeah, she does. They grew up together. We all did. He was my twin. But he and Eva were inseparable. They were so alike.”
I didn’t have a response for this. What could I say? I was sorry? That seemed too shallow. The guy had lost his brother. Eva had lost her fiancé. Sorry wasn’t exactly deep enough.
“Do me a favor and don’t tell her I told you. She isn’t over it. As you can see she still wears the ring and don’t get me started on that badass Jeep she has and won’t drive.” He stopped and the concern in his eyes was clear. He didn’t want Eva upset.
“I won’t tell her I know,” I assured him.
“Thanks, man.” He started to turn and walk away when he stopped and looked back at me. “Remember this the next time she acts like a complete bitch. She hasn’t given you a fair chance but I’ve decided it’s because she’s attracted to you and it scares her. I doubt she ever gives you a break. Just ignore it.”
She’d started to give me some sort of break in the barn earlier. Sure as hell wish I’d stayed around to find out what it was now that I knew this. I’d run because I was real close to kissing her pretty little lips. Her being engaged had been a red flag. Then there was my scholarship I had to think about. But truth be told, if Eva pushed hard enough I’d break.
“Hey, Jeremy,” I called out and he stopped again. “She ever smile?”
I’d been waiting to see her smile. I thought maybe it was just me she didn’t smile around. After hearing this, I wondered if she ever smiled anymore.
“Haven’t seen her smile since the day before we got the call about Josh. It was the weekend and I’d decided to surprise everyone by coming home from Vanderbilt. I remember walking in the door to the kitchen and Eva was sitting at the table with Momma looking over wedding magazines. Both of them squealed and jumped up to hug me. We got the call the next morning.”
My chest hurt. I wasn’t a real emotional guy. I’d had a shit life for the most part. Even so, the picture he’d just painted of a happy Eva with her life ahead of her then having it snatched away … hurt me.
“What’s her smile like?” I asked
Jeremy looked wistful for a moment. Then replied, “Incredible.”
Daddy was gone for the weekend and Cage would be gone tomorrow. Jeremy wouldn’t even be around. I thought about calling Becca Lynn but then I wasn’t sure I wanted her around here just yet. Whatever happened with her and Cage hadn’t been something she enjoyed because she hadn’t called me or come by.
I wrapped Saran wrap around the two turkey and swiss subs I’d made Cage for dinner. I hadn’t cooked anything but Cage would need to eat. I reached under the counter and pulled out a sports bottle. He had to be tired of water. I filled it up with the rest of the lemonade I’d made for Daddy.
Unable to resist, I left both items sitting on the counter and went to the mirror in the hallway to check my hair and face. I wasn’t going to think too hard about why I wanted to look attractive for Cage. If I did think about it the answer would more than likely bother me.
Once I was sure I looked good enough, I went back to the kitchen and picked up the plate of food, grabbed a bag of chips and the lemonade then headed to the barn.
The sun was setting and it was later than I normally brought his dinner out. Normally, I managed to get here before he finished working and leave it on the table by his bed. But tonight, I wanted to see him. I wanted him to touch my hand again and make my body tingle. It had been so long since a single touch had made me feel alive. It was exciting. I missed excitement.
I opened the barn door. Looking to the right I saw the door to his room closed. The only air-conditioner in the barn was the small window unit in the back room. Keeping the door closed was the only way for him to keep the room cold so he always kept it closed. I normally didn’t have to question whether he was in there or not because I knew he wasn’t. But I hadn’t seen him come inside so all I had to go on was the fact the truck was parked outside.
With a tight grip on the plate in my hand, I made my way to his door. I started to knock and decided to lean forward and listen first. Maybe he was in the shower, or on the phone. I pressed my ear to the warm wood. I couldn’t hear anything. Maybe if I set the lemonade down and used my hand to cup my ear to the door I could hear better.
I bent down and set the sports bottle at my feet then used my hand to see if it made hearing through the wood easier.
“What’s going on in there? Can’t be a whole lot. It’s too damn small,” Cage’s amused voice startled me and I fumbled with the plate I was holding with one hand.
“Whoa, girl. Don’t drop my dinner,” he laughed. Then he reached out and took the plate from my hands.
I’d been caught trying to eavesdrop on him. This could not be more embarrassing. Crawling under my bed and not coming out for a week sounded appealing right about now.
“Before you kick it over, can I have that bottle down there?” he pointed to the lemonade I had set down so I could be more efficient in my eavesdropping. I bent back down and picked it up. Maybe I could hand it to him and then run out of here without having to actually make eye contact. I held out the sports bottle but kept my eyes diverted from his. I could feel the amusement on his face. I didn’t have to see it.
“Ah, come on now, Eva. You can’t not look at me. You had no problem listening in at my door. Who knows what you could have heard if I’d been in there.”
He was teasing me and he had every right to. I couldn’t keep the small bubble of laughter down. Lifting my eyes I met his gaze. “I can’t believe you caught me,” I replied honestly.
I expected him to crack another joke but his face was no longer amused. He appeared to be studying me closely. A pleased smile formed on his lips and he held up the plate of subs. “There are two subs here. You gonna eat with me?”
Oh. Wow. Um. No. I started to shake my head when he leaned forward causing me to shiver from the warmth of his skin.
“And why not?” he asked in a husky whisper as the door behind me started to open.
“I already ate,” I blurted out.
“Then keep me company while I eat,” he replied, leaning back away from me now that he had the door behind me opened. “Go on in Eva, it’s nice and cool.”
This was when I should’ve politely refused and gone back to the house. Except, I didn’t. I turned and walked into the small room that Cage occupied during the week.
Like all the other times I’d been in here to leave his dinner, the bed was a mess. He never made it up. There was also a pile of dirty clothes in the corner. The only neat habit the boy had was that he hung up his bath towel every night on the back of the door. I remembered that I’d only left him one towel and one washcloth when I’d prepared the room for him. Was he having to use the same washcloth? I felt guilty for being such a judgmental brat earlier this week. He’d worked hard all week. He deserved a clean washcloth and towel every night.
Cage walked around me since I’d stopped in the middle of the room and went to take a seat on his unmade bed. He began unwrapping the plate of subs like he hadn’t been fed in days. Glancing at the clock on the wall over his bed I saw it was after eight. It had been over six hours since I’d brought him out fresh water and a slice of Mrs. Mabel’s lemon pound cake. Another stirring of guilt at how I’d been treating him churned in my stomach.
“If that isn’t enough I can go make another one or two,” I offered as he took a large bite out of the sub. He grinned as he chewed and then took a long swig of the lemonade.
“This is great. Thanks. I was starving. And the lemon cake thing the invisible fairy brought me earlier was fu—amazing too.”
What? “Invisible fairy?” I asked confused.
Cage looked so sincere. “You know the fairy who magically brings me water and ice rags when my back is turned.”
He wanted to be a smart guy, huh. Well fine, two could play that game.
“Oh, that fairy. Yeah, she has an aversion to cocky guys who think they have the world at their fingertips.”
Cage set the sub in his hand back down and narrowed his eyes, “Is that so? Hmmm… and here I was hoping she was going to finally appear one day and give me a nice diversion from work.”
“Highly doubtful,” I replied unable to keep from grinning.
“Well, day-um. I’ll have to come up with something other than my sexy topless fairy fantasy the next time I need a break.”
Oh dear God, did he mean…? “You are sick,” I said through my appalled laughter.
“Who me? You were the one listening at my door. What was it you were hoping to hear, Eva? If I’d known you were coming in hopes of a show I could have been more prepared.”