“I texted Kaidan, who was listed in my contacts under “James,” for James Bond. He’d chosen it. He had me listed as “Hot Chick From Gig.”
Video chat in 30.
His immediate response made me shake my head.
It was nice to know he could keep a sense of humor in the face of calamity. Or maybe he wasn’t joking...
“Are you two flirting?” Patti asked, her eyes darting to me from the road.
I blushed and deleted his message.”
“He froze. “I . . .” Then, as he searched my face with wonder, he slid from his seat and down to one knee. “My sweet, lovely Anna. I love you . . . and I want to marry you. But only if you want to. Do you? I mean, will you? Marry me?”
Be still my heart. His proposal was so adorably awkward that I had to laugh, sliding out of my chair so I could face him on my knees, too. I grabbed his face and kissed him for saying exactly what I needed to hear. We kissed once, twice, three times before he pulled back.
“Does it always take this long for someone to answer? It’s making me bloody nervous.”
I looked into his eyes. “Yes, Kai. I’ll marry you.”
“Halfway through the meal, while we were all laughing and telling stories, I made the mistake of placing my hand on Kaidan's upper thigh without thinking.
He let out a groan loud enough to silence the room. I slipped my hand back into my own lap, and Kaidan cleared his throat.
“Wow,” he said. “The corn pudding is fantastic.”
I snorted, which started a round of snickers. Patti smiled at Kaidan like he was a precious boy.
"Isn't it good? Anna found the recipe a few years ago. She's a great cook."
"Mm-hm." Kaidan gave a tight-lipped smile. "That she is.”
“This is right, Kai. We love each other.”
He closed his eyes. “I'd do anything for you.”
“Just love me,” I whispered”
“I laid back the lounge chair and rolled to my stomach, content.
Sounds of splashing faded as I dozed.
And then I heard a beautiful voice. . . .
“Cover your arse, and nobody gets hurt.”
I lifted my head to see Kaidan crouched next to me. He was here! Just as I was about to get up and throw my arms around him, his gaze slid down my body to my butt and stayed there. Hello, stormy eyes.
I felt twice as hot under the sun as I had one minute ago.
I threw the towel over my body, which forced his eyes back to mine.
“Hey,” I whispered.
He touched my face, and I leaned into his palm.
“I feel like it’s been a year since I saw you,” he said softly. “I’ve missed you.”
I reached up and cupped his hand. “I’ve missed you, too.”
“But you’re still in trouble.” His voice was low and gravelly.”
“You're so bloody cute,” he whispered, his voice all low and yummy.
Blood whooshed through my body. A Kai buzz. Oh, he was totally using the bedroom eyes...all heavy lidded and seductive. I don't even think he was trying. I suddenly felt shy. Even from the other side of the country, this boy was dangerous.”
“Stop!” I pinned him with a serious look. “No more. Get it out of your head, Kai! We are not running. This is happening whether you like it or not. It's time to get your game face on and get ready to kick some ass.”
“Jay took out his guitar. He was decent at it, but the piano was his best talent. He couldn’t get a certain riff right, so he handed the instrument to Kaidan, and my heart flipped.
I recalled him saying he played guitar, but I’d never actually seen or heard him play. Kaidan began to pick at each string, testing and tuning with his full attention. I watched the way his hands moved across the wood and strings, gently, reverently, his body seeming to curl around it as if it were a part of him. . . . I felt my hands getting sweaty, because watching Kaidan get lost in music did crazy things to me. My breathing became ragged and I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
He looked up at that moment and caught me staring hard. He knew. He knew what it did to me! I could tell because his badge expanded.
He angled himself away from the others and signed to me, I want to be alone with you tonight.
Patti did have a lot of guests staying in the house. I signed back, I’ll work on it.
“Excellent,” he whispered, a hot grin sliding onto his face.”
“That’s your damned female hormones talking, Jez.” Sonellion grabbed his crotch. “Grow some balls again.” She gave him a venomous look. “I have more clarity about the world in this body than I ever had with a set of balls.”
“Life was often so cruel, so ugly. And then, in the midst of all the madness, a precious gift would be placed in your lap. Because life could also be so sweet.”
“Behave, Kai.” My voice sounded more sultry than I intended. “I didn’t say a word.” He wet his lips, and I thought of that mouth on my body several days ago. We’d only been apart one day, and already it felt way longer. “Okay, stop,” I said. He grinned. “Stop what?” As if he didn’t know. Kaidan Rowe was anything but innocent, and well aware of his charm.”
“To love or have loved, that is enough... There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”
“We all stood in the kitchen talking over one another. Marna and I noticed at the same time when Zania made her way back to Kopano’s side and slipped her arm snuggly under his. And then they shared a look so tender that Marna turned and gave me a hand-over-her-heart “Aww!” face. She then wrapped her arms around Jay, and they stood there holding each other with their eyes closed. So much emotion filled the room, but one stood out above the rest. . . .
Love was in the air.
Among other things. Like lust. And the smell of turkey. A weird combo.”
“They were speechless for a long while.
“It’s starting,” Marna finally said.
“Yep,” I whispered.
“Bring it, arseholes,” Ginger said.
In a rare moment of camaraderie I stuck out my fist and Ginger bumped it, causing Marna to say, “Aww!” Ginger rolled her eyes.”
“Hey, Kai,” Jay called from across from us.
“What’s the difference between a drummer and a large pizza?”
Kai held back a smile. “I’ve no clue.”
“A large pizza can feed a family of four!”
Everyone cracked up.
Blake said, “Thank God for Daddy’s money, huh?”
“Dasha!' Rin yelled, 'Dasha!'
A face looked up, then two. They started walking toward her, then running. Dasha was in front, her eyes set on Razo, her face caught in an expression of desperate hope.
'Razo,' she said, .... 'Razo, it had better be you. If it just looks like you, I am going to kill you. It had better-'
He'd reached her by then. They embraced, and he swung her around, her legs lifting in the air, her tunic swirling...Then Dasha was kissing Razo's face and crying and smiling and declaring all his perfections.
'Well, this isn't half-bad,' said Razo, 'I think I'll die more often.'
Dasha embraced him again and squeezed until Razo had to admit he was injured. 'Love the lips, not the ribs,' he said, and pulled her into a long kiss.”
“What gets me most about these people, Daddy, isn't how ignorant they are, or how much they drink. It's the way they have of thinking that everything nice in the world is a gift to the poor people from them or their ancestors. The first afternoon I was here, Mrs. Buntline made me come out on the back porch and look at the sunset. So I did, and I said I liked it very much, but she kept waiting for me to say something else. I couldn't think of what I was supposed to say, so I said what seemed like a dumb thing. "Thank you very much," I said. That is exactly what she was waiting for. "You're entirely welcome," she said. I have since thanked her for the ocean, the moon, the stars in the sky, and the United States Constitution.”
“[G]randma was always afraid of something. She set aside time each day for dread. And not nameless dread. She was quite specific about the various tragedies stalking her. She feared pneumonia, muggers, riptides, meteors, drunk drivers, drug addicts, serial killers, tornadoes, doctors, unscrupulous grocery clerks, and the Russians. The depth of Grandma’s dread came home to me when she bought a lottery ticket and sat before the tv as the numbers were called. After her first three numbers were a match, she began praying feverishly that she wouldn’t have the next three. She dreaded winning, for fear that her heart would give out.”
“It’s going to be okay, Jacinda.”
I angled my head. “So I won’t be punished?”
“I convinced them that you wanted to return. I told them you’re eager to fall back into pride life. That you’ll behave yourself and be more compliant.” His top lip curls faintly, and I remember what he told me in Chaparral when he found me, that he liked me because I was different from everyone else here. Now he wants me to be the same.
I inhale sharply through my nose. Compliant. Submissive. Meek. Biddable. Do I even have it in me?
“Compliant? Jacinda?” Az giggles, unaware of the tension. “They bought that?”
“Her worst nightmare and her wettest dream.”
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