Falling into you, p.14
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       Falling into You, p.14

         Part #1 of Falling series by Jasinda Wilder
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“No,” I agree. “But that doesn’t matter once you start singing. ‘Sides, keep playing, keep practicing, you’ll get better. ”

  She rolls her eyes, much like I did, and starts hitting chords. I don’t recognize the tune at first. It takes me into the first chorus to figure out what song it is. It’s a low, haunting tune, a rolling, sad melody. The lyrics are…archaic, but I understand them. They’re sweet and longing. She’s singing “My Funny Valentine” by Ella Fitzgerald. At least, that’s the version I know. I’ve heard a dozen versions of it, but I think she was the one who made it famous.

  The way Nell sings it…her voice is a little high for how low the song is written, but the strain to hit the lower notes only makes it full of that much more longing. As if the desire was a palpable thing, so thick inside her she couldn’t hit the notes right.

  She trails off at the end of the song, but I roll my hand in a circle, so she plucks a few strings, thinking, silent, then strikes another slow, bluesy rhythm. Oh, god, so perfect. She sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me”. Louis Armstrong and Ella. God I love that song. I doubt she realizes this. I surprise the shit out of her by coming in right on cue with Louis’s part. She smiles broad and happy and keeps singing, and holy shit we sound good together.

  I would never have thought of covering jazz numbers in a folksy style. It’s so hot, so fresh. I know the song, so I can weave in some fancy picking, over and around her strumming.

  We finish the song, and I never want to stop making music with her. I take a risk and start up “Stormy Blues” by Billie Holiday. It’s a slow song, and Nell’s crystalline voice and my gravelly one make it into a ballad. I can hear Billie’s voice as I’m singing, though. I hear it coming out of the open window from the building next to the shop, back when I first bought it. Mrs. Henkel had a thing for jazz. She was old and lonely, and jazz made her think of long-dead Mr. Henkel, so she’d crack all the windows and play Billie and Ella and Count Basie and Benny, and she’d dance and remember. I’d help her bring her groceries up, and she’d pinch my ass and threaten me with sex, if only she was half a century younger. She’d make me tea and spike it with whiskey, and we’d listen to jazz.

  I found her in her bed, eyes closed, a photo of Mr. Henkel on her ample chest, a smile on her face. I went to her funeral, which shocked the shit out of her rich, ass**le grandson.

  My eyes must give away some of my thoughts, because Nell asks me what I’m thinking. So I tell her about Mrs. Henkel. About the long conversations I’d have with her, slowly getting drunk on spiked Earl Grey. How she was always clucking about my tats and my baggy pants. When I went straight and stopped thugging it up, she was over the moon at my tighter jeans.

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  What I don’t say is that my spending time with Mrs. Henkel was typical selfish Colt. I was lonely. I’d walked away from all my boys from the hood, all of them except Split, and I was lonely. Mrs. Henkel was a friend, a chance to be around someone who was good influence on me. She’d probably have shit her Depends if she knew half the shit I’d done, and I think she knew that, since she never asked.

  Finally, I go silent, the subject of dead Mrs. Henkel exhausted.

  “Explain what you meant,” she says.

  “About what?” I know exactly what she meant, but I couldn’t let on.

  “Why aren’t you any good? Why would it be taking advantage of me?”

  I set the guitar on its side and take a pull off the bottle, hand it to her. “I’m…fucked up, Nell. ”

  “So am I. ”

  “But it’s different. I’m not good. I mean, I’m not evil, I have some redeeming qualities, but…” I shake my head, unable to put it into the right words. “I’ve done bad things. I’m trying to stay out of trouble these days, but that doesn’t erase what I’ve done. ”

  “I think you’re a good person. ” She says it quietly, not looking at me.

  “You saw what I did to dickhead Dan. ”

  She snorts. “Dickhead Dan. Fitting. Yeah, I saw, and yeah, it scared me. But you were protecting me. Defending me. And you stopped. ”

  “Didn’t want to, though. ”

  “But you did. ” She yawns behind her hand. “You’re selling yourself short, Colton. And you’re not giving me enough credit to know what I want. ”

  “What do you mean?” I know what she means, but I want to hear her say it.

  “I kissed you back. It’s crazy, messed up, and it confuses me. But I did it eyes wide. Knowing. I wasn’t drunk. ” She looks at me past long, dark lashes, eyes saying a thousand things her mouth wasn’t.

  My mouth goes dry. “I shouldn’t have kissed you. ”

  “But you did. ”

  “Yeah. I’m an ass**le like that. I just can’t help it, around you. ”

  “I don’t think you’re an ass**le. I think you’re sweet. Gentle. ” She says it with a little smile.

  I shake my head. “Nah. It’s just you. You bring that tender shit out of me. I’m a thug, Nell. Straight up. ”

  “Ex-thug,” she counters.

  I laugh. “Once a thug, always a thug. I may not run the streets anymore, but it’s still part of who I am. ”

  “And I like who you are. ”

  I stand up, uncomfortable with where this is going. “It’s late. We should sleep. ”

  She glances at the sun, which is peeking between a couple high-rises across the street. “It’s early, but yeah. I’m exhausted. ”

  I take her guitar and hold her hand as she steps onto the stairs. I like how her hand feels in mine. I don’t want to let go, so I don’t. Neither does she. Nell stops at the bathroom, and I change into running shorts. Finally, I let myself feel the pain from the fight with Dan. I stretch, feeling my ribs twinge, and I probe my loose tooth with my tongue, wince at the dull ache. At that moment, Nell appears beside me with a washcloth. I eye her warily, then pull away when she reaches for my face.

  “I’m fine,” I growl.

  “Shut up and hold still. ”

  I roll my eyes and bring my face back within reach. Her touch is far too gentle for a rough bastard like me. She touches my chin, turns me to the side, brushes the cuts and bruises as if frightened to hurt me further. I stop breathing from her proximity, from the drunk-making wonder of her scent, shampoo and lemons and whiskey and woman. She turns my head again, wipes the other side of my face, eyes narrowed as she focuses on wiping away the crusted blood. I’d cleaned up a bit while she was in the shower at her place, but apparently not well enough. She wipes my upper lip, my chin, my forehead, my cheekbones. Then she lowers the washcloth and runs her fingers over my face, touching each cut gently, exploring.

  I hold still and let her touch me. It scares me. She’s looking at me as if seeing me for the first time, as if trying to memorize how I look. Her gaze is intense, needy. Her thumbs end up brushing over my lips, and I bite one of her thumbs, a little hard.

  Her eyes widen and her nostrils flare, and she sucks in a fast breath as I run my tongue over the pad of her thumb.

  What the f**k am I doing? But I can’t stop.

  This time, she leans in. Pulls her thumb from my mouth and replaces it with her lips. Her tongue. This is so crazy. I shouldn’t let it happen.

  But I do. My god, I do. I kiss her back with all the hunger inside me. We’re in my room, just inside the doorway, inches from the bed. It would be so easy to spin her around and lay her down, peel her clothes off, and…

  I pull away. She sighs as I do, and it’s a disappointed sound.

  “You keep stopping,” she says.

  I slip back out of her arms, reluctantly. I’m confused, messed up. I want her, but some vague voice in my head tells me it’s wrong to have her. Part of me says we belong together, tells me to cradle her close and never let go. She seems to want me, and I want her…but I know—I know—I’m not good enough for her.

  “We need to sleep,” I say. “You can have the
bed. ”

  I turn away, but her hand catches my elbow.

  “I don’t want to sleep alone,” she says. “I’ve slept alone for so long. I just… I want to be held. Please?” She’s vulnerable again, suddenly.

  I shouldn’t. It’s tempting and I haven’t figured out what’s right or wrong. But I can’t say no.

  “I could do that,” I say. “I would love nothing more, if I’m being honest. ”

  Nell

  Chapter 9: Ghosts; One Breath at a Time

  Every single fiber of my being is screaming at me. I’m liquid in his arms. Fire burns in my veins. Guilt and peace rage in my brain, warring.

  I told him. I told Colton my secret guilt. I cried. I sobbed for hours. Hours and hours. I don’t even know how long. And god, did that feel good. But the guilt remains. I know it’s ridiculous. I know, but goddamnit, I can’t shake the guilt.

  And now, it’s all compounded a million times by Colton’s brawny arms around me. God, I still can’t fathom the raw, savage, masculine glory of the man. I hadn’t seen him in two years, and then I saw him on a bench—singing that song of things—and he’d bulked up in that time. Hardcore. He’d been a beast at the funeral, stretching the sleeves of his suit coat. Now? Holy hell. My mouth went dry as a desert when I saw him busking outside Central Park. Ink-black hair down around his eyes and curling above his collar, messy, shaggy, perfect. His eyes, those hadn’t changed, soul-spearing sapphires. But his body? Oh god, oh god…ohmigod.

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  The tattoos turn his torso into a living mural, poetry in script along his ribs, a dragon on his right shoulder breathing fire on Japanese characters, the fire spreading like wildfire down his back and fading into a golden sun on his spine, an archaic-looking thing, like a compass rose, almost. A pinup girl in silhouette on his left arm, more script lettering on his opposing ribs, Latin it looks like. Music notes scattered over both forearms, stars, suns, skulls and crossbones, iron crosses mixing and merging and joining it all. He’s a masterpiece of skin art. A masterpiece of bulky male muscle, hard and heavy and huge.

  He’s terrifying. A force of violent power, raw brutality. He destroyed Dan. Took a hard beating in the process and seemed completely unfazed by the broken nose, the blows to the ribs and chest, the cuts on his face. Dan was a monster, and Colton ripped him apart easily.

  It was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen; the scariest thing I’d ever seen. Colton’s fury was a primal thing, so thick and hot I could feel it in the air. His eyes were the eyes of cold, calculating warrior, terrifying for the icy fury.

  I’m completely unable to resist him.

  He wants me, but won’t give in to it. Which I get, I really do.

  He’s my dead boyfriend’s brother. It’s just…wrong.

  How did you two meet? Oh, we met at his brother’s funeral. His baby brother, my first love.

  Awesome.

  But Colton is…I’m safe with him. He draws the truth out of me. He draws the pain out of me. Colton knows pain. He’s intimately familiar with it. Lives with it. Guilt too.

  Colton has secrets, and I want to know them all.

  I want his mouth on me. His hands on me. I need it. It makes me feel alive. Safe. Protected, treasured. Colton will, literally, kill anyone who might hurt me. He nearly did kill Dan. Might have, actually.

  I don’t want to know.

  I want to know why Colton is alone in New York when his father is a Congressman. Why he was forced into back alley prize fights to survive. Why he ended up in a gang.

  I want to know why Colton won’t keep kissing me. Why he always pulls back, why he thinks he’s no good. No good, when he’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. So freaking talented. His deep, gravelly, raspy voice, insane guitar skills, his passion when he performs.

  That song he sang to me, a cappella? Most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. So jarringly sad. The loneliness, the longing in that song was wrenching. I don’t think it had a title, I don’t think anyone but me has ever heard him sing it.

  And now? Oh, now his arms are around me, holding me close. So close. I want to turn in his arms and burrow close, nestle in and let the warm strength of his body wash over me. Like this, spooning, his arm draped over my waist and not touching me too intimately, this is almost platonic. Almost.

  I want more. Dare I?

  I dare.

  I twist in place, and Colton stirs, loosens his grips, makes a low sound in his throat, sleepy. It makes me smile, that little moan. He’s on his side, doesn’t roll away when I burrow into him. I press my face to the hollow under his chin, slide my palm over his ribs to curl around his back. I breathe in his scent, let the heat of his body warm me. Oh god. This might have been a mistake, because this feels entirely too perfect. I’ll never want to sleep any other way. My other arm is curled beneath the pillow under my head, and his body is a shelter, a fortress I can lose myself in. I can feel his pulse thumping in his throat against my nose, and I count the beats, wait for sleep.

  It comes, so sweetly. No dreams. No empty shoe, no red-slick mud, no blood froth. Just sleep, Colton’s hand on my hip. I may or may not have put his hand on my hip. Okay, I did. And I love it. I shouldn’t, but I do.

  I’m going to give in to this. Time heals all wounds, right? Well, maybe I’ve had enough time, and now I just need to move on, let go. Have something that makes me happy, after so long in misery.

  * * *

  I wake slowly, like drifting to the surface of a lake after diving deep. The first thing I’m aware of is the thumpthump…thumpthump of Colton’s heartbeat under my ear. God, I love that sound. Then I become aware of his body, hard yet soft beneath me. I’m basically on top of him, half of my torso on his chest and stomach, my leg over his, my foot between his. Then I become aware of my hand.

  It’s on his belly. Okay…well actually, it’s not quite his belly. It’s a bit lower than that. A lot lower. And I’m cupping a part of his body that is most definitely awake. Very, very awake. And huge. Thick. My hand is on it. Holding it.

  Oh god. Oh shit. Oh god.

  His breathing is even, softly soughing in and out. He’s still asleep, then.

  The major problem in this situation is that I don’t want to move my hand. I want to touch him. It’s been so long, and the thought of him, of what my hand is touching…I feel a clench down low in my core, a gush of damp desire.

  I can’t really help it. I slide my palm down, then back up. He shifts, rolls his hips up and then relaxes. I do it again, slowly, gently, guiltily. I watch in hungry fascination as his abs ripple and tense as he rolls his hips again. He moans, a lupine growl deep in his chest. His breathing stutters, and then he takes in a deep breath.

  I look down. A sliver of pink shows at the top of his gym shorts. I lick my lips. I’m so awful. This is so wrong, so stupid, so slutty. But I don’t stop. His shorts are hiked up around his thighs, and yet tugged down low on hips by the way he’s moving, shifting. So now, the very tip of him is peeking out from beneath his shorts.

  I glance up at his rugged face, lax and handsome and innocent in repose. He swallows, shifts his face to the side, lifts his lower half up slightly into my touch. I don’t know what I’m doing, why, where it’s going to go. He’s still deeply asleep, sucking in long, even breaths, letting them out on a slight and adorable snore.

  His arm is around me, curling over my back and cupping me to him, his other hand on his chest. And now his hand slides down my back, falls limp and lands on my ass. Yes. I like that. I shift up a little so his palm and fingers are clutching my left ass cheek.

  What am I doing? I’m such a f**ked-up mess. He stopped kissing me while I was upset to avoid taking advantage of me, and here I am fondling him in his sleep, getting cheap thrills off his hand touching my butt while he snores innocently.

  It’s so wrong, but I tug his shorts a little lower, so more of him peeks out. Now I can s
ee the thick pink mushroom head, the tiny hole at the tip, the groove around the bottom of the head. I squeeze my eyes shut and tell myself to stop. It doesn’t work. I touch the pink flesh with my thumb, biting my lip. So soft, like velvet. I can’t help stroking his length again, and I swallow hard in appreciation. It takes me a ridiculously long time to stroke him from root to tip.

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  I bite my lip hard, just to make sure I’m not dreaming. The sharp twinge of pain tells me I’m awake. Awake, and clearly a slut with no morals. I mean, I haven’t touched anyone like this since Kyle. I’ve kissed a few guys in an attempt to force myself to move on, in an attempt to ease the ache of need that I’ve carried in my belly for so long. But none of the guys I kissed ever ignited any kind of spark in me. Just dead, nothing. Dan tried and tried, and I really did try to get into it. I never could.

  I can’t accurately say there’s a spark, with Colton. No, it’s way, way beyond a spark. Just looking at him lights a fire. Touching him, being touched, even innocent touches, even his hand in mine creates an inferno.

  This? Touching him so intimately, so erotically? You could light a match from the waves of palpable heat radiating from me, flames of desire fanned hotter every second.

  I can’t stop stroking him. Up and back down, caressing his length, exploring his thickness through the swishy fabric of his shorts. He moves in time with me, now, and he’s waking up. Moaning, writhing under my touch. I can’t stop now. I think he’s close.

  I press my thumb to his tip again and rub in circles, and I feel his body tense beneath mine. I glance up at his eyes, watch them flick open and waver in confusion, then stutter and blink as he comes. My gaze flits down to watch the white stream cover his belly.

  “The f**k?” His voice is muzzy and and puzzled and slow.

  He’s awake, he’s released, but still thick. I slide my hand into his shorts and take him in my hand, and I bite my lip at the satiny hardness of him. His eyes meet mine, and I can tell he’s wondering if he’s awake, how he should feel, what to say.

  “I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I woke up touching you, by accident. And then I couldn’t stop. ”

  “Am I dreaming?” he asks, wary.

  I shake my head. “Nope. ”

  He looks down at himself, at the mess on his belly. “So you just…”

  I nod. “Yeah. ”

  “While I was sleeping?”

  I nod again, and I can’t meet his eyes anymore. “Yeah. I don’t know—I’m sorry. I—I couldn’t help it. I knew I shouldn’t, but I just…” I trail off, unable to make a complete sentence. I suck in a deep breath and try again. “You were so hard and big and it had been so long, and I—”

  “Nell,” he cuts in. “Shut up. ”

  I shut up.

  “Look at me,” he ordered. I forced my eyes to his.

  “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

  “I said shut up. ”

  I wrinkled my face at his harsh tone, but kept my mouth closed and waited for him to continue.

 
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