Bully Page 75

Jared’s mom had gone on a couple of outings with us that summer. My dad was always trying to help her get straight. He loved Jared and knew Katherine was a good person at heart. He was only trying to get her out of the house and show her, in a humble way, what she was missing out on with her own son.

“You became a target, Tate. I hated my parents, I was worried about my brother, and I sure as hell couldn’t rely on anyone but myself. When I hated you, it made me feel better. A lot better. Even after I realized that nothing was your fault, I still couldn’t stop trying to hate you. It felt good, because I couldn’t hurt who I wanted to hurt.”

Silent tears streamed down my face, and Jared walked up to me and cupped my cheeks with his hands. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I know I can make this up to you. Don’t hate me.”

I shook my head. “I don’t hate you. I mean I’m a little pissed, but mostly I just hate the wasted time.”

He wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close.

“You said you loved me. I hate that we lost that,” I said sadly.

Bending down, he grabbed the backs of my thighs and lifted me up. My breath caught, and I held onto his neck. His warm body only made me want to curl up in him. I wrapped my legs around him as he walked to the bed and sat down.

He put a hand to my face and guided my eyes to his. “We never lost that. As much as I tried, I could never erase you from my heart. That’s why I was such an ass**le and kept guys away from you. You were always mine.”

“Are you mine?” I asked as I wiped my tears.

He kissed the corners of my mouth softly, and I felt heat rise up my neck. “Always have been,” he whispered against my mouth.

I wrapped my arms around him, and he held me tight as I buried my face in his neck. My body relaxed into him, knowing without a doubt that we had crossed over. He wouldn’t hurt me again, and I knew that I needed him like water.

“Are you okay?” I asked. It seemed pretty late for such a dumb question, but I wanted to know.

“Are you?” he responded.

And I loved that about him. He’d been abused, abandoned, and helpless to protect his brother. My embarrassment at his hands seemed like small potatoes compared to that. But I also knew that his trauma wasn’t an excuse to treat me badly all those years.

“I will be,” I promised. If he could take the step to trust me with all of this, then I could try to move forward, too.

“I love you, Tate.”

He lay back on the bed, and I fell with him, clutching him tight. We stayed there, just holding each other, until I felt the steady rise and fall of his chest telling me he was asleep.

***

It was after midnight when awoke. I’d fallen asleep half on and half off of Jared’s chest. My legs were entwined with his, my head tucked in his neck, and my arm draped over his chest. His musk and wind scent filled my world, and I closed my eyes as my fingers slowly threaded through his hair. My lips glided up the side of his smooth neck, tasting his salty skin with an uncontrollable need to touch him with more than just my hands.

Damn. He’s asleep. And he looked peaceful, too. Not one worry creased his brow, and no scowl marred his face.

Shaking my head and deciding to leave him alone, I gently crawled off the bed. Heading to the double doors to pull the curtains, I noticed a light rain splattering my window panes.

Perfect. I had Jared and a rainstorm. I couldn’t help but smile.

I tore off my socks and tiptoed out of the bedroom, letting him sleep.

Heading out the backdoor from the kitchen, I stepped onto the porch with my bare feet. My fingers tingled, and I clenched them into fists with the renewed energy coursing through my body already. The air smelled like autumn. Like apples and burnt leaves.

The awning protected me from getting wet, so I walked down the steps and onto the brick patio. Drops of water fell on my feet, spilling between my toes, and the familiar hum of electricity charged my skin. Crossing my arms over my chest to help keep warm, I felt a surge of goose bumps fall over my arms and legs as I listened to the peaceful pitter-patter of rain dotting the trees and ground.

Tilting my head back to let the sprinkles cover my face, I already felt years younger than I’d been feeling lately, and the wind chimes clinking from Ms. Trent’s back yard lulled me into a peaceful meditation.

The rain was getting slightly heavier, and I closed my eyes as the light wind caressed my face. Thoughts drifted through my mind like clouds, and nothing existed but the distant rumble of thunder and my hair floating on the wind around my face.

As the sprinkle started to turn into a downpour, I opened my eyes and twisted around to head back inside. A semblance of calm had fallen over me, but I nearly screamed when I saw Jared leaning against the house by the back door.

“Jared! You scared me. I thought you were asleep.”

I held my hand to my chest, since my heart felt like it was trying to push through my chest.

But Jared wasn’t saying anything, and I straightened up when he started to approach me. His eyes were scary intense. He didn’t look mad, but he still looked about ready to explode.

If only I could move, then I’d meet him halfway. But I was stuck. His piercing eyes were burning me, and he looked…hungry.

When he reached me, his hands rested on my hips, and he just stared into my eyes for a minute. Normally, anyone making direct eye contact with me for too long of a time was uncomfortable, but Jared looked at me like I was his last meal.

And damn if I didn’t love it.

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