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December 24, 2011
For a minute, before opening her eyes, Trina Crawford allowed herself to believe she was in her own bed.
But there was someone else in this one.
And there had not been a someone else in her bed for a very long time.
Oh no, what have I done?
Trina turned her head on the pillow and nearly bumped noses with Dean.
Dean McKenzie. I did Dean McKenzie.
She clapped a hand over her mouth, squelching a delighted squeak.
Maybe this is a dream… just some strange stress-and-coming-back-to-Dusk-Falls-induced dream.
But when she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, Dean was still there. So was the headache pounding behind her eyeballs.
I slept with Dean.
His long, angular face was relaxed in sleep, his black hair like great sweeps of ink across the white pillowcase. His mouth, those wide lips–she curled her fingers against the urge to touch them, trace their edges–they’d been soft, softer even than she’d dreamt.
And she’d dreamt about Dean McKenzie’s lips a lot.
The second half of her senior year, after that night on her porch. Her first year of college. After breaking up with Trevor after the party, she’d spent several long months counting every opportunity she’d missed with her once-best friend.
That all ended last night.
Needing a shot of courage before facing her future–which, oddly enough, looked a lot like her past–she’d stopped at Holly’s on the edge of town, and there was Dean, sitting alone, nursing a beer. Blinking Christmas lights from the mirror over the bar had been reflected in his dark hair.
Like a Christmas sex fantasy come true.
After that, all of it–every moment, every breath and touch–had seemed inevitable.
As if, since their birth, they’d been working their way to this.
I blame Christmas. And our fathers. I blame Christmas and fathers for everything. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on us.
Head pounding, she held her breath and slid backward beneath the quilt, the cold air of Dean’s apartment chilling her body inch by inch. Tomorrow she’d analyze every minute of last night: the beers, then the shots, the flirtation, his hand on her hip, her fingers in his hair. That kiss in the hallway near the bathroom.
“Come home with me, Trina,” he’d whispered. “Haven’t you always wanted to find out what it would be like between us?”
Because it was Christmas, and Christmas made her crazy. And because yes, she had always wondered, like a million times she’d wondered–she’d kissed him back and she’d said yes.
And she got her answer–oh boy, did she get her answer. Well, sort of. Some of the details were a little hazy. But between what she remembered and the way her body ached in all the right places in all the right ways, she could jump to some pretty logical conclusions.
Hot. Together they’d been hot. Incendiary. She was amazed the sheets weren’t scorched from their bodies. But that was another thing she would analyze in the days and weeks ahead. For now she just needed to get out. Get her head together. Find some coffee.
She got one foot on the ground and forced herself not to recoil back under the warm covers with warm Dean.
Winter in Dusk Falls, Wyoming was no joke. She’d forgotten in California. It had been nice to forget. She looked up at Dean, sleeping on his side. He had one foot poking out of the bottom of the blankets.
She’d forgotten a lot. Too much, maybe.
Naked and shivering, she got up off the mattress Dean had on the floor and looked around for her clothes. She found her jeans. Her sweater. One sock. The cold plank floor creaked under her feet and she paused every time, holding her breath, glancing over her shoulder at Dean, who only sighed and rolled over, revealing his long, pale torso, ridged with muscles. He looked like a marble sculpture.
But he’d felt like fire.
She shoved her feet into her boots, ready to sacrifice her new bra and underwear, her other sock. All in order to get out of there before she made more mistakes.
“I didn’t peg you as the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.”
Dean was awake.
And his voice was gruff and warm, with–as usual–a laugh, buried somewhere inside.
“I didn’t want to wake you up.” She looked down at her boots, like getting them perfectly tight was all that mattered.
The tone of his voice made her head snap toward him. Still laughing, but now there was an edge to it. He was sitting up on his mattress, blankets pooled around his waist. His bright blue eyes were lined with dark lashes, and they saw right through her crap.
They always saw right through her crap. From the minute she discovered her own crap–he was seeing through it.
“If you’re going to run away, at least have the guts to say it.”
He quirked his eyebrow, and there was no point in trying to lie to him.
“Okay, I was running away.”
He leaned back against the wall, shoving his hair off his face. It was long. Longer than she remembered. It made him look like a pirate.
A sexy, sexy cowboy pirate.
“It’s all right,” he said, forgiving her rudeness. “You can go if you want.”
“No,” she sighed. “I…I want to stay. I’m sorry. I just…don’t want things to be awkward.”
“I’m not awkward.”
“Of course you’re not. But the rest of humanity gets a little awkward the morning after drunk monkey sex with a childhood friend.”
“It was pretty hot drunk monkey sex, so I figure there’s not much to feel awkward about. But you go right ahead, if it makes you feel better. You want some coffee?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. So much for awkward.
“Sure,” she said. “Where is it?”
But he stood up, shameless and naked. Long and lean and perfect. He pulled on his jeans and the dark long-sleeved henley he’d been wearing last night and stepped over to the little galley kitchen on one wall of the small apartment. The window was still dark and the wind howled outside.
Outside really didn’t seem like a good idea anymore.
“Good God, is that the time?” he asked, staring at the clock on the microwave. “Why are you even awake?”
“Habit,” she said. “I always wake up early.”
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“A little rough. You?”
“I have some experience down at Holly’s,” he joked. “I know my way around a hangover.”
He brought her a glass of water and a couple of aspirin.
Dean’s apartment, conveniently located above Holly’s Bar, for all its bareness was cozy. Kind of library-chic meets lumberjack couture. It was basically one large room. The floors were wide planks of pine. A kitchen with white cabinets on one end, a beat-up brown leather couch and TV on the other and a bed right in the middle. He had a bunch of bookshelves crammed with paperbacks.
His old guitar sat on a stand, a beat up Gibson acoustic with the pretty mother-of-pearl inlay.
“You still play?” she asked. He’d gotten it for his tenth birthday. She’d been there, wearing a Star Wars party hat, when he opened it.
“When I get a chance. How about you?” he asked, stirring sugar into her mug. The way she liked.
It took a far tougher woman than her not to melt at that.
“No. No time for piano.”
“The party is ruined,” he joked.
It had been years, but the memories were entirely fresh. Like brand new and crisp. That was how this…crush on him had started. Playing music with him. It was, and probably always would be, one of the most intimate things in her life. Timing, breath, that thin layer of expectation from their parents that had sort of trapped them inside a bubble of shared experience. The creation of something beautiful, even if it was only a slightly offbeat “Silent Night”.
Honestly, what did it say about her that those were her best childhood memories?
The mug he handed her said Laramie Tech in yellow letters.
“Last time I saw you was that Christmas Eve,” she said, shoving her thoughts away from those intimate memories. “That party at your apartment in Laramie.”
He winced. “When Dad showed up?”
I have to tell him. This secret, the longer she spent with him, was feeling like a lie.
He narrowed his eyes. “Has it really been six years since I saw you?”
“You look the same, Trina. Exactly the same. Like time doesn’t move for you.”
“Oh, it moves.” She laughed. “And you’re just…bigger. The same but bigger.” Okay, Trina, you can shut up now. But of course she didn’t. “You’re like man-sized.”
And beautiful. All that adolescent promise had been fulfilled, and Dean was one of the handsomest men she’d ever seen.
Easily the handsomest one she’d ever seen naked.
Cowboys had way better bodies than accountants. It was fact.
“Anything else you want to say about my size?” He was laughing at her, so she scowled at him.
Still laughing, he crouched down in front of the brick fireplace, laid out some dried cedar and started a fire. His shirt slid up in the back and his pants dipped low, and she saw a small swatch of alabaster skin at the small of his back. She felt like a sixteen-year-old ogling a hot guy’s butt.
She had to look away, or she’d touch him. And she kind of thought that all the touching that was going to happen between them had happened last night.
By getting out of that bed, she’d given up her claim.
“I like your place,” she said.
“Thanks. It’s not much, but Holly let me have it cheap for the winter.”
She wondered why he needed it cheap, but was afraid to ask.
A star hung crooked on one of his cupboards. A dark tree sat on a table in the corner, dressed in tinsel and red bulbs.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” she blurted out. Somehow in the drama and fire of last night she’d forgotten what she’d walked into Holly’s to forget.
His blue eyes moved over her with intensity, as if he were checking her for injury. Blood, maybe from a wound. But all her wounds were internal. And he already knew about those.
“You okay?” he asked. For a moment the weight of the memory, of both their memories, was almost too much to bear.
This is why she’d stayed away for so long. Because it was all too grim. There was nowhere to turn here without running into her failure, the ghost of the scared, trapped kid she’d been. Unloved and left behind.
On the heels of that came the freezing anger. The urge to push herself away from anyone that could potentially hurt her.
“It’s never a good night.” She turned the mug in her hands, letting the heat seep into her skin. Part of her felt like she’d never thawed from that night. She was still a frozen girl sitting outside in December, waiting for her mom to come home.
“You ever hear from your mom?” he asked.
“Yeah. She called once a few years ago.”
“I wasn’t interested in forgiving her. I mean…my phone rang one day and it was her, and I’m supposed to just forgive her?”
“No. But aren’t you curious?”
“She lives in Denver. She’s married to a dentist, has two step-kids. And she left me. She left me behind like I didn’t matter. So I figure I got all the pertinent details.”
“Oh my God, Trina–”
“It’s fine,” she said. Though it wasn’t. Every other day of the year she barely thought about it, but on Christmas Eve, it stung. Hard. And Christmas Eve back here… God, what had she been thinking?
She stood, unable to sit. The urge to move, to leave, was hard to resist.
It was so, so hard to stay.
“Why are we here?” The question sprang from some dark place. A dark place she’d been able to forget about the last few years. She’d buried it under work, endless work. And distance. Miles of it.
“Well, I live here.” He shot her that cocky grin that made her want to climb inside his lap, his memories, into every joke he had. “And last night you wanted to get laid.”
“No, I mean, how are we both here? In Dusk Falls? We promised, remember? That we’d never come back?”
“I remember.” He shrugged. Set his coffee down. Picked it back up. Odd, he seemed nervous. Dean was never nervous. “I don’t know, Trina. But we were kids and I think maybe some places are hard to avoid.”
“Right.” The bitterness, the guilt she felt over her choice, it would not be contained and came out as a terrible, rough laugh. “This place shouldn’t be one of them. It’s nothing but bad memories for both of us.”
“Not all bad.” He waggled his eyebrows and tilted his head toward the bed.
She laughed, happy to jump onto the raft of easier thoughts. “Not all bad. A little foggy, maybe.”
“You only have yourself to blame. The shots were your idea.”
“No way,” she cried. She was not a shot kind of girl. She was a half a white-wine spritzer at a firm party kind of girl.
“Hand to God, you wanted tequila.” He leaned back against the counter. “So, what are you doing back here? Last night you didn’t say.”
No. Last night she’d avoided the issue.
“New job,” she hedged.
“Around here?” His happiness actually made her hurt. “I thought when you left for law school in California, we lost you forever.”
“I couldn’t turn it down.”
Tell him. Tell him. He’s going to find out sooner or later.
“Well, I for one am happy to see you.”
“Yeah.” She smiled at him over the edge of her mug. “You made that clear last night.”
She’d forgotten one of the most adorable things about Dean. He blushed. Bright pink. Big burly man blushing like that, it was enough to make her take her pants off again.
“When did you move back here?” she asked.
“To my palace above a bar?” He spread his arms out wide.
“No, Dusk Falls. Last I heard you were engaged and living near Laramie.”
“We broke it off before the wedding. I think she caught on that I was more interested in pissing off my dad than I was in actually being married. So we split–or rather, she split. And last year I…ah…I got a job offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“Really? You ramrodding somewhere?”
“Yeah.” He said it casually. But she knew that was all he’d ever wanted, and his family had sold much of their herd and acreage years ago. But still, he’d gone to school and graduated top of his class in land management, despite the narrowing field.
He’d gotten what he wanted, what he’d worked hard for, what his father both disdained and never thought he could do. He got it.
And that wasn’t easy in his world. In any world.
She put her mug down on the edge of a bookshelf and crossed the room to him, like he was gravity and she was a stone at the top of a hill.
He turned slightly to face her when she came to stand beside him. Both their hips pressed against the counter. Their bodies cupped the air between them. While the cold wind blew against the window, she was safe and warm. With Dean. The world could fall away around them. As long as she had this moment. This now.
“Hey,” he said, smiling at her.
“Hey.” She smiled back.
He ran a finger down her nose. “I remember you.” The fondness in his voice made her feel so special, so wanted. So cared for.
No person had ever made her feel this way.
It was like taking a first hit of something very addictive.
“You are vaguely familiar to me, too.”
They stood so close that when she took a breath, their bellies touched. Her knee brushed the inside of his leg. His breath in her mouth tasted like coffee.
It was nearly, so very nearly, too much. And she stood there in this wide puddle of longing and desire and melancholy and happiness and pride and she tried to handle it all. She wasn’t good at that and she started erecting sandbag walls and levees, drainage ditches to divert the feelings she didn’t know how to handle.
“You angling for more hot monkey sex?”
“The memories are a bit hazy. They could use some clarification.” She ran her hand over his chest, the waffle print of his shirt both rough and soft against her palm. “I’m so glad for you,” she whispered. Inexplicably, she felt tears in her throat. “That you’re doing exactly what you wanted to do. That you’re happy.”
“And what about you?” he asked. “Are you doing exactly what you want to do?”
“At this minute?” She got lost in the blue of his eyes. “Yes.”
“I missed you, Trina,” he breathed. “A lot. It’s weird going years without a best friend.”
Instead of answering him, she stood on tiptoe to press a kiss to his lips. Chaste, nearly. Friendly, sort of. It was a kiss with a promise, an edge. And they both leaned hard on that edge, as if savoring it.
Because this will never happen again. Not ever.
It was funny how touching Dean, kissing him, felt both entirely new and like she’d been doing it for years. It was a strange kind of magic, the stretch and pull of time. The quality of her fantasies given heft and weight. A wild sense of real.
Tell him. You need to tell him.
And she would. In a minute. When she’d gotten her fill of this kiss. This moment.
Her hand slid up from the edge of his denim onto the warm bare skin under the hem of his shirt. It was so soft. So tender. He worked day in, day out in the weather, but that little patch of skin, right where his spine curved and dipped, that was hidden skin. Secret skin.
His hand brushed her cheek, slid into her hair. His fingers were thick with calluses and her hair got caught and pulled. It stung. Just enough. Just right.
“Last night.” He was looking at her, watching her so hard, she could feel his eyes on her and she didn’t quite have the guts to look at him. To see him. Let him see her. “I never thought I would see you again. And you walked into that bar…”
“I know,” she sighed.
“No,” he told her. “You don’t. Not really.”
His words seemed to imply too much and she didn’t want to press him further, or try to figure it out, because they were running out of time.
She pressed her face to his wide chest. Breathing in the scent of him, of sweat and sex, but under that he smelled like warm sheets and cold wind. Winter and fire, all together. And somehow, under that, pencil lead.
He always smelled like pencil lead.
The familiarity of it, of him, broke her. She was like that dried cedar, only needing a spark–and he was exactly the right spark. She put her fingers in his hair, clenched the silky black strands in her fist and pulled him down to kiss her.
It was like last night all over again. Friends to lovers in no time. She was breathing hard into his mouth, standing up on her toes. Running her hands over as much of his body as she could touch, she cataloged all his textures: soft, silky, rough, sharp. He had scars on his forearms from countless run-ins with barbed wire and scared calves, and for some reason she couldn’t leave those scars alone.
They were so entirely him.
Groaning, he lifted her by her waist and spun, shoving her against the plate drying rack. She pushed it into the sink. Consumed by his mouth, by his heat, she didn’t even flinch when something broke. He pulled her sweater up and over her head, his lips leaving hers for the barest second before he was back, licking into her mouth, tasting her like he’d tasted her last night. Completely.
There was no hiding from him like this. He meant to see and taste and touch all of her. And she’d never in her life had sex with someone like him. No restraint, no careful apologies. Just an impossible and delicious instinct.
She pulled him hard against her, until their teeth knocked together. Until they couldn’t breathe. And she didn’t want to. Because they would do this, one more time, and then she had to tell him. She had to.
His hands lifted to her breasts, holding them gently in rough palms, and she loved it. For years the moment when she took off her shirt and her bra was always a loaded moment.
Ha! She always thought. You got suckered by a push-up bra.
But Dean didn’t even pause. Didn’t seem to even notice. They were breasts and they were in his hands and that was all he needed. All he wanted. She arched against him. Wanting more. Wanting every opposing force inside of him. He growled and kissed her harder, touched her harder.
“More,” she breathed, and she fumbled with his belt, pushing past leather and denim to hold him in her hand. Hot and hard and soft.
That part from last night was not hazy. And between her legs, she throbbed. Empty.
“Trina,” he breathed, and he pulled back, just a little. He wanted her to look at him, look him in the eyes, and that was something she didn’t like. It was an intimacy she never allowed another person. “Look at me.”
“No,” she said. If she couldn’t do it with other men, she certainly couldn’t do it with Dean. Other women had other limits. This was hers. She’d do anything with him, she just wouldn’t look at him while she did it.
“Hey,” he whispered. “Trina. It’s just me.”
Oh God, that was a stupid thing to say. Honestly. He wasn’t just anything.
He stepped back, creating a small slice of cool air between their bodies. His hands fell from her body.
“Is that blackmail?” she asked.
“If that’s how you want to think about it, sure,” he said. He was smiling. Teasing her, because he knew this was hard for her.
“Fine,” she muttered, putting as much screw you in her gaze as she could.
“Oh girl, if you’re trying to scare me off with that look, you need to come up with something new.” His hands when they swept up over her skin had new urgency. He touched her harder. Rougher.
A log fell in the fire and the sparks filled the air. Her body.
She fell right into his blue eyes and touched him, holding him firmly, stroking him, until his hips started to move in counterpoint to her hand.
The connection between them was nearly painful and she wanted so badly to end it. To look away. And like he knew, he grabbed her chin in his rough-gentle hands and held her still.
She leaned her head back, her hand still working him, until she was resting back against the cupboard. His fingers touched the seam of her jeans between her legs, and she twitched as if touched by electricity. He did it again, back and forth, his fingers pressing harder against that seam that ran right between her legs. She jerked and twitched, caught her lip between her teeth, but she did not–could not–look away.
He yanked open the button of her jeans, the zipper half unzipping with the force of his tug. She groaned. Whimpered because she liked that so much.
“Get a condom,” she breathed.
“No, like this,” he told her, his eyes pinning her to the wall.
“We got time. Lots of time.”
She didn’t have the courage to tell him they didn’t. And she didn’t have the will to tell him the truth now. So she let it go. Let everything go. She was nothing but bone and blood and desire in his hands.
He slipped his hand down over her stomach, between her jeans and her skin, right to the heart of her. The heat and wet. Her legs twitched and her eyes closed.
“Open your eyes, Trina,” he breathed, and she did what he asked. It did not occur to her not to. Not for a minute. Even though she knew it would hurt in the end. Because these hands that pulled her closer, impossibly closer, they would push her away.
Bright color filled his cheeks and he was breathing hard through his mouth. His eyes were the bluest things she’d ever seen.
He was wet now, she was infinitely so.
He wrapped a hand around the back of her neck and pulled her up to him, kissing her. Breathing into her mouth. Holding her there, long after the kiss stopped.
“I want you to come,” he said against her lips.
The words made everything worse and better. “Yes…yes.” She sighed, sucking his lip into her mouth. Nipping him with her teeth.
His finger slipped inside of her and she jerked, pushing herself against him. Hard and hard again. Another finger and she was breaking apart.
“There we go,” he breathed, and his voice in her ear lit the match on everything, and she exploded against him. He grabbed her wrist, holding her hand. He lifted it and licked her palm and then put her hand back against him, tighter this time. So tight she thought she might hurt him, but then he shuddered and groaned and dropped his head against hers. Faster, harder.
She felt entirely too far away from him, from this pleasure he was feeling. She slipped off the kitchen counter and fell onto her knees.
This. This was what she wanted.
“Let me taste you again,” she said and slipped him into her mouth. She reveled in him, his texture and taste. He was hot and hard, salty and sweet. Earthy. Perfect.
His fingers tangled in her hair and he groaned, falling back against the counter. And he was at her command. Her mercy.
She licked and stroked, listening to him, feeling him. Finding out all the things he liked by collecting all the data she could glean. He groaned and whispered, nonsense about how good she felt. How beautiful she was.
“Yes, please… Trina,” he cried out. He tried to push her away, the gentleman, but she stayed where she was, her hands around his thighs, and he came in her mouth.
When it was over, he pulled her away and up into his arms, holding her hard between his chest and the cupboards. For long moments the only thing she heard was their breathing and the pounding of her heart. And, distantly, the pounding of his.
But then he was laughing, soft little breaths against her hair. A rumble under her cheek. “Why in the world haven’t we been doing that all along?” he asked. “Like every minute in high school?”
“You were sort of busy.”
“No way. Not too busy for this.”
“Yeah.” She smiled at him. Replete and happy. “Doing this with other girls.”
That blush again. Really. It was too much on him. “Well, you were busy saving the world.”
“Some of us just have higher callings, I guess,” she said with a grin. Slowly, they disengaged from each other. They both shuddered and twitched, rocked by the end of the unexpected storm.
“Thank you,” he breathed, kissing her hands. Her cheeks.
“Back at you. I honestly never thought–” She stopped, and he looked down at her.
“Really?” he asked. “You never thought about us?”
“No. I thought about us a lot. For at least a year straight, that was about all I thought about. But I never really thought it would happen. There’s just always been so much between us. You know?”
“Yeah. What happened to Trevor?”
“Trevor was hardly between us.”
“He was the night I invited you to my Christmas party.”
She blinked. “You mean…you wanted…?”
“Of course I wanted,” he said. “There’s no way I thought you were actually bringing your boyfriend.”
“But you acted–”
“Like a total gentleman, because I am. And a nice guy, too.”
“And a sex god, don’t forget that.”
Their laughter faded and in the silence guilt was like a rat in her stomach.
“Actually, I was talking about our parents.” The room was getting colder, the truth harder to avoid. “And our friendship and the fact that… we were so different.”
“Meaning you were a genius would-be lawyer and I was a simple cowboy?”
“No!” she snapped, furious that he would accuse her of thinking like that.
He grinned. “Just checking.” The silence between them was not as warm as it had been. The past had been let in and the edges of this room, of their night, were growing cold.
“You heading out to see your dad?” he asked, watching her through the flop of his hair as he zipped up his pants.
“Not…yet.” She’d need a few days after Dean to put together her defenses. Rebuild her walls. Around her father she’d need to be unbreakable. Because there was nothing that could break her like her father’s drunk indifference. Being the daughter he never saw had ground her down into a fine powder. And she’d spent all these years away from him trying to figure out who she was. “Have you seen him?” she asked, pretending like she didn’t care, or that it wasn’t important.
But because this man knew her better than anyone else in her life, he wasn’t buying it.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have even brought it up,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. “Let’s go get some breakfast. Or I could run down to Deckers and grab some–”
“Stop.” This was the moment.
Trina held him hard for one more second. Memorizing every bit of him. The smell, the feel. The way his breath touched the top of her head and tickled.
“Trina? You all right?”
“Fine. I just…I need to tell you something.” She pushed away from him, and then took a few more steps, hoping she’d find a bit more courage with some distance.
“I should…I should tell you something, too.”
That made her look up, stunned. Anger, because she was her father’s daughter, primed. That was always her first reaction to surprises. And she worked hard on that every damn day of her life. “What?”
She imagined him married, but he wouldn’t be married and spend the night with her. He wasn’t that guy. And, other than that, she wasn’t sure if anything he said would be as bad as hers.
“I’m working for your dad.”
He recoiled, nearly laughing. “What?” he asked.
“It’s not a joke. Or anything. Your father, or rather I guess the company, has hired me as part of the legal team as they fight the pipeline.”
“You’re here because you’re working for my dad?”
“I wouldn’t do it if it was just your dad, but we need to fight this pipeline and he’s throwing big money behind it.”
“You’re crazy if you think he’s going to fight that. It’s a trick somehow.”
“I know you have no reason to believe your father wants to do something noble.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been sucked in by his lies!”
“It’s not. It’s real. It’s a real job, an important job, and I couldn’t–”
“Turn it down. You said.”
She nodded and braced herself for an explosion. Because Dean did not talk about his father without, at some point, exploding.
“You know why he’s hired you, don’t you?” he snapped.
“Because I’m very good at my job, Dean.”
“Yeah, and there aren’t seven thousand other lawyers who could do the same damn thing, but no, he hired you. The daughter of the man who owns part of that land. The man he hates.”
“Stop, Dean. Stop. No one else knows the area like I do. No one else knows the players.”
“Right. The players being our parents. The land the small acreage they fought over for years. The same stupid piece of rock that drove them apart. And you’re going to tell me this isn’t your chance to come back and screw your dad once and for all? Make sure he notices you the way he never did?”
“So what if it is?” she asked, shaking. “So what if this is my chance to hurt him like he hurt me? Like he hurt my mom.” Tears burned behind her eyes, so much anger. She’d thought she had this under control. She’d believed that, that she could come back here, do the job, relish slightly any discomfort it might give her father. But this. This was hot. And it hurt.
“Right,” he said. He pushed his hands through his hair and paced the small room as she tried to get her breath back. Calm down her fury. “I need to tell you, that job I got last spring–it’s for your dad.”
Trina reeled back and tripped over the edge of the bed. She caught herself before she fell, but she was unbearably unbalanced. “You’re working for my dad?”
“He’s got the largest working spread in the area. And I know you haven’t kept in touch, but he needs help.”
“Don’t you for one minute pretend that you’re not taking this job for any reason except you want to fuck with your father.”
Dean stepped back, his arms spread out wide. “So what if I did?”
“How’s it working out for you?” she asked.
“Great!” he cried.
“Oh my God, this is why you didn’t ask me why I was home last night. Because you didn’t want to tell me why you were home.”
“Right. Because if I told you, last night would have never happened.”
“Oh well, thank God we both got laid before the truth came out.”
“You’ve never been reasonable about your dad.”
She gasped. “Oh! And you are?”
“My dad’s a manipulative bastard.”
“And mine is a drunk who ignored me my entire life. Why are we playing who had it worse? Look.” She took a deep breath. “This isn’t about our dads. It’s business. This is the pipeline.”
“Right. Sure. Who cares who you screw as long as you get to save the world?”
“Yeah? And who cares who you screw as long as you get back at your dad?” She gasped, her eyes going wide, the implications of what she’d said hitting a bull’s-eye in her chest.
Oh God, she’d never expected this. It hurt. It hurt so bad.
“No,” he said as if he’d read her mind. “Last night had nothing to do with getting back at my dad.”
She took a deep breath. Another one. But the pain didn’t go away.
“It sure is convenient, isn’t it?”
“Nothing about you has ever been convenient. Ever. I’m not doing this to hurt you.”
All this time she’d been so worried about betraying him, but a wound had opened in her stomach. Her heart.
She turned, searching for her coat. Her hat. Purse. Her dignity. Her heart. The last of her self-respect.
“You can work for whoever you want, screw whoever you want, but it won’t ever get you what you want.” She pulled out the longest, sharpest weapon she had to use against him.
“Don’t, Trina,” he breathed, but she ignored him.
“You still won’t be good enough. Not for him. Not ever.” He went white. Even his lips were colorless, because she’d hurt him. She’d hurt him so bad. And the guilt and the remorse was just as bad as her anger. Her own hurt.
“You think your dad is finally going to realize he loves you when he finds out you’re working for my father?” he asked, wounding her with his own swords, impossibly sharp with his knowledge of her. Of her relationship with her dad.
They both looked away, the words like some awful violent act happening right in front of them. They couldn’t go back from it. The night, their friendship, it was all shattered and broken, and if they moved or breathed too deep, they’d bleed.
“I’m sorry,” he said. But it was useless. They’d said too much. Way too much.
She grabbed all of her things in her arms. One of her boots. Her purse and coat. She wrapped her scarf around her neck, her eyes stinging with tears.
“Trina, don’t leave like this.”
“How am I supposed to leave?”
“We could talk.”
“I think we’ve said enough, don’t you?”
His silence pounded, and the air between them vibrated. Her ears ached from the pressure.
“Wait,” he said from directly over her shoulder. She stopped, but she didn’t turn around. “Do you have someplace to go?”
He was worried about her. After everything they’d just said to each other, he was still worried about her.
Don’t be touched. Don’t be moved.
And in the end, it was easy not to be. It was what she was good at, after all. Keeping herself removed. Alone.
“I have a house in Durande,” she said. It was a town a few miles away. Forty miles from her father’s house. She’d looked it up on a map, stared at the distance between the dots, wondering if it was far enough away.
“Are you okay to drive?” he asked.
“Fine.” It was a lie. She wasn’t fine. But she could drive a damn car. She could drive a car away from him.
She slipped out the door.
“Merry Christmas, Trina,” he yelled after her.
She flipped him her middle finger.
Right. Just another awful Christmas in a long line of awful Christmases.
December 24, 2011
Dean fought it as long as he could. And he had a lot of fight. He was used to long, drawn-out battles over many years. He was very comfortable with trench warfare. He could–very easily–pretend last night never happened. And when he ran into Trina at the grocery store or the post office, he could pretend. Pretend to be casual. Pretend not to care.
He was so damn good at that, after all. He’d been pretending with her most of his damn life.
But quite suddenly, and all at once, he didn’t have any fight left.
And he called Trina. Or he called the cell phone number she’d given him in the bar last night.
Predictably, it went to voice mail.
“You’ve reached Trina, leave a message.”
For a nanosecond he nearly hung up. But this morning had been a life-changing event. Her in his house. In his bed. Him inside of her… He wanted that. Had wanted that forever.
And that too was worth fighting for. And he figured it was about time he fought for what he wanted.
“Hey, Trina. It’s…uh. It’s me. Dean.” Awesome. Starting with a bang. “Sorry to call so late, but I’ve just…I just feel really bad about the way things ended this morning. I said some stuff I really don’t mean. And,” he laughed. “I’m hoping that’s true for you too. That you didn’t mean some of the stuff you said.” This was not the direction he wanted to go. “Anyway. This morning, last night… it was…” the best night of my life. “Really good. And I want to see you again. I mean, we’ll probably see each other anyway, in town and everything. And I don’t want it to be awkward. And…” He took a deep breath. “And it wasn’t just a casual thing for me. With you. It could never be casual, with you. And I want to see you. A lot. So, I’m going to call, and keep calling, and sooner or later I figure you’ll get sick of that and call me back. Okay…ah…well, merry Christmas, Trina.”
He hung up and threw the phone down on the bed.
He wished he could feel good about that, like he’d made a wrong step right. But he knew Trina. And he had a really good sense that she would not call him back.
He turned off the lights and stretched out in the sheets of his bed that still smelled like her.
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