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Unconscious Hearts, Page 12

Harper Sloan


  "Ari," he rumbles.

  "You wanted it, Thorn," I remind him. He asked for the truth of my disappearing act.

  "Yeah. Still do. Why did it scare you that I got in?"

  I exhale. "I felt that in a few days of meeting you. Days. As strong as it was in those days, I couldn't give it time to get stronger."

  "Why?"

  Just say it, Ari. Rip it off like a Band-Aid. They can't hurt you anymore. YOU are in charge of your future.

  "Seven years ago, people I loved were lost to me forever. My parents were two of them. My sister another. And the last, well, after last weekend, I know the last person never even came close to making me feel the way you did that night, and I wore his ring."

  He hisses in a breath, and I finally have the courage to look up.

  "Days, Thorn. I felt that zapping between us in just days. Each time I looked into your eyes, what started as simple attraction had grown into something more. If losing them almost killed me, I couldn't even imagine what would happen if I let that kind of power closer to me, let it build into something even stronger, only to have it taken away later. So I ran."

  "You'd just give that up without sticking around to see what could happen if, instead of it being taken away, it just kept growing?"

  This time, it's me who frowns up at him. I hadn't expected him to understand this well.

  "Yeah, I see you've only thought about what could happen if we went bad. You aren't the only one who felt it. You also aren't the only one with a past giving you a reason to believe it might turn bad. However, I laid awake with you in my arms that night, and instead of letting that bullshit win, I went to sleep willing to take a chance and see what would happen if we continued building more. I woke up knowing that if I lost it all in the end, at least it would be worth the ride."

  "Thorn, it's not that simple."

  "Oh, it is. Day by day. You take the time to explore something that you feel, in your gut, is going to keep burning bright. You don't just toss that away. In the end, if this doesn't keep going the way I feel it will, the way I hope it does, we won't lose each other. You won't lose me. This turns out to be something else, Ari, I promise I'll still be here. You're meant to be in my life; I have no doubts. All that said, though, my gut is never wrong, baby. I know why you're meant to be in mine. Now I get to show you why I'm meant to be in yours."

  "I haven't let anyone close enough in all those years, Thorn. I wouldn't have known how to do day by day before I left."

  He bends down, way down, and when his eyes are level with mine, he speaks. "And I haven't let anyone close enough to explore anything with in my whole goddamn life." His words fanning softly from his lips to mine are so close I can taste him.

  The shock of his confession dances over my face. He doesn't move, continuing to hunch down and search my eyes.

  "You scare me," I remind him. "What I felt in days made me scared of you."

  "Well, baby, you terrify me. That night, my world shook, and it still made me want to grab on with both hands. Day by day, Ari. Give me that, and I promise, no matter how long we're meant to explore this, I'll do everything to make sure you don't feel pain."

  I swallow, the loud gulp echoing around the room. As the silence ticks on, his touch brands me. I don't look away as my heart drowns my remaining fears. Even after all the healing I've experienced in the past two weeks.

  And then, I nod.

  My best friend is back

  After working on paperwork all day, I drop the last bit into the tray on my desk marked "to file" and lean back with a sigh.

  Today was busy. Now, that's not right. It was beyond busy. Today, I didn't even look up from going through the piles that had amassed in the past two weeks I was absent from Trend. Well, not absent, but popping in for a few hours here and there isn't exactly the best way to stay on top of my duties.

  Piper walks by my office door, catching my eye, and I call out to her. We haven't talked since she left my house yesterday. Well, not about anything aside from things that had to do with Trend. I know she wanted to ask, to discuss everything and find out what happened with Thorn, but she also knew how much work was waiting for me. Even though I wanted to talk to her as much as she wanted to listen, before now, I needed to get my work done so I could focus.

  "You've been busy," she says, leaning against the doorframe, looking over at the desk that had been a complete disaster when I sat down this morning.

  "Yeah. Remind me never to put off everything for two weeks again."

  She scoffs.

  "Hannah here yet?"

  "She clocked in about an hour ago."

  "Good," I say, picking up my phone and pressing the button that connects me to the front desk.

  "This is Hannah," she answers with a smile in her voice.

  "If you're good, Piper and I are going to have a meeting in my office."

  "We're all good, boss. Hayley and Jess are already here, so we're set for the afternoon."

  "Let us know if you need anything; otherwise, Pipe's done for the day."

  "Okie dokie."

  I hang up and smile at Piper. "Remind me again how we functioned without Hannah?"

  This time, she does laugh. "We didn't. You were stretched thin, even with me getting Matt to agree that I needed to be full-time, until we found her. Sometimes, I pray she never leaves, and we don't lose the best manager--aside from myself, of course--that Trend could have."

  "Better knock on wood," I joke. "Come on. Shut the door and sit down."

  She shoves off where she had been resting, knocking on the door as she closes it. She doesn't waste a second sitting down on the couch and exhaling loudly after ensuring our privacy.

  "You know I love you. You're more than just my best friend. It doesn't matter that we don't share blood; you're my sister, and I'm so thankful I have you in my life. You deserved more from me than what I've been over the years, and I'm sorry for that."

  "Ari, you make it sound like you haven't given me just as much over the years."

  "It's not the same, and you know it."

  "I don't keep tabs. That's what I know. It's what we are."

  "I know. I know. But I want you to know how much I appreciate your support through the years. And for pushing me to see things differently that morning when I couldn't get there myself. I don't know that I would have taken the steps I did over the past two weeks if it hadn't been for that shove."

  She shrugs. "Like I said, it's what we are."

  "It was like I had been sleeping through my own life, Pipe. All I could see was everything that led up to losing my parents. You're right; I've been using that to keep me from living. Dr. Hart has really helped, too. I don't think I would have started the intense therapy he's been pushing me toward for years had you not forced me to listen. Forced me to see. I know I'll never be able to say thank you enough for what your hard truths brought me."

  "Ari, don't give me all that credit. You were ready, and I believed it. I just needed you to believe it, too."

  "And you nudged me along to start the process of believing it."

  "Whatever. I'm not comfortable taking all the credit, but for the sake of you telling me about the past two weeks and what happened with Thorn after I left yesterday, I'll say you're welcome and I'm happy that you finally believe."

  "You know, two weeks ago, I never would have thought I'd be thanking you."

  She laughs but doesn't say anything. I know she's waiting for me to continue. She doesn't hide her worry for me well.

  "Dr. Hart, he finished opening my eyes the rest of the way. The first week, I felt every single emotion imaginable. Every one. It was ugly. It was unbelievable, but it was what I needed. Every single day that first week, I spent four hours in his office, and by the time I was dropping into my bed at night, I felt another shift. Last Monday, I went into our session with the acceptance of what happened, and the guilt was completely detached from my mind. We spent this past week working through the grief I have over losing my
family. It still feels like something is empty inside me, but I know that's okay ... even if it never fills back up completely. It's okay, and more importantly, I'm okay."

  She sniffles.

  "Half of the past week we talked about Thorn and why it was okay for me to keep you close but believe I couldn't let anyone else in."

  "And?" she breathes, hanging on my every word.

  "And I didn't freak out completely when he showed up yesterday because of what I've gained from my sessions with Dr. Hart."

  "God, Ari. That's great."

  "I know I can't control what happens in my life, but I also can't continue to live half a life. Dr. Hart taught me a few exercises in case I freak out about it again, but he doesn't think I'll be back in that place again to need them. My therapy will continue bi-weekly for just an hour, though, instead of four. I won't stop seeing him again. Even if I get to the point where I don't need him, I'll still continue to go."

  "Really?"

  "Really. It's been a hard two weeks, but I don't want to lose this strength I've gained since returning to my sessions. One day, I'll get to the point where I only need him once a month, maybe once every few months, but that's a while down the road."

  "My best friend is back," she whispers, tears falling freely.

  "Yeah," I confirm, leaving my chair and walking to where she's sitting. She stands the second I'm around my desk, and we meet, wrapping our arms tightly around each other. "I'm sorry I couldn't find my way back before now."

  "Shut up. All that matters is that you're back, here with me, and ready to move forward."

  "He woke me up, Pipe. He did, but it was you who made me understand the fear my nightmares had festered while I slept. You did that and pushed me to realize I needed Dr. Hart's help to finally believe what you kept telling me."

  We hug for a while, neither of us willing to let go. When she pulls away, her red-rimmed eyes study mine.

  "I'm really happy you're back."

  "Me, too."

  She takes a deep breath. "What about Thorn?"

  "How long have you wanted to ask me about his visit yesterday?"

  "Since I woke up this morning. No, actually, I wanted to call you last night, but I managed to hold back. Barely."

  I giggle, releasing her to sit on the couch. I wait until she's back on the cushion and fiddle with my bracelets.

  "I told Dr. Hart how I met him, you know? I told him about the visit to The Orchard, the contract, the bet ... all of it. While he might not have agreed with the way it started, he felt like it was okay for me to continue exploring things with Thorn if I felt like something was unfinished between us. However, he did express his concerns that I take it slow until I knew where Thorn was after everything that happened, and ... well, until I knew how genuine his interest in me might be. It helped that I shared the calls and such I had received from Thorn since I had left with him. Dr. Hart felt that, had I just been the bet, Thorn wouldn't have continued to try to contact me after I left the way I did."

  "That's good, right?"

  "It's something." I laugh uneasily. "What it did, however, was open the door for us to discuss my fear of letting someone else into my life. Only more in depth this time since this is different from my relationship with you. I could never see past the pain of losing my family to see things differently. I let that pain and my fears cloud everything else. I might not completely believe that letting someone all the way into my life will be worth the pain if I were to lose them, but I'm willing to try. I'm willing to open myself up to finding my dreams again, and if it isn't with Thorn, I'm at least going to take it day by day while I find out."

  "Does that mean that last night went well?"

  "Yeah. I think it does." Last night comes rushing back, and I'm once again enveloped by the warmth of my decision ... well, Thorn's and my decision.

  "Anddddd?" she prompts, drawing the word out and wagging her brows.

  "He knows why I ran. Well, he knows I lost people in my life, making me afraid when what we shared was more intense than I had expected. He let me know he has some stuff in his past too, and the rest we decided to just take it as it comes and see where we go. He also made sure I knew exactly where he stands."

  "That's all you can do, girlfriend. I have a feeling about that man, though. So, tell me, what happened after you guys decided that?"

  The smile on my lips dips down a little, something Piper doesn't miss. "He ordered another pizza--you know, since you stole the one we ordered--and we talked while we waited. And after it was delivered, we talked while we ate. Well, I probably did more of the talking and he listened, but it was nice to share normal get-to-know-you things with him. I know his favorite color is black, which I shared wasn't really a color, his favorite movies, shows, and books. He knows the same about me, minus the black, but in addition, he knows about my weakness for Hershey's Kisses, chocolate-dipped cones from Dairy Queen, my Kindle being an obsession I should buy stock in Amazon over, and my propensity to read trashy magazines while watching even trashier television. I guess it was the kind of thing two people, who are whatever we are, share when they're new. He hung around for about an hour after we finished eating, then he kissed my forehead and left after I promised to answer his call next time. I'm not really sure what kind of timeframe that next time implies. It's been a while since I've been on this particular bike."

  "You mean the tall, dark, and handsome bike?"

  We both laugh, lightness in the air and in the pit inside me ... it feels good.

  I start to open my mouth, a joke about riding that tall, dark, and handsome bike on the tip of my tongue, but stop when a knock sounds on my office door.

  "Uh, sorry, guys," Hannah says, poking her head in. "I would have waited, but I didn't want it to melt."

  I look from Hannah to Piper to back at Hannah, then stand to walk toward her. "Didn't want what to melt?"

  She opens the door wider and thrusts her arm into the office. "This."

  Piper starts laughing like a crazy person.

  Hannah waits with a smile. A confused smile but a happy one nonetheless.

  And I have a good feeling I know what kind of timeframe Thorn is calling with now.

  Only, this call is in the form of one melting chocolate-dipped cone and an armful of trashy gossip magazines.

  I don't care if I haven't seen you for an hour, you kiss me

  "I didn't think you were really listening to me," Ari whispers, her voice coming through the phone and hitting me right in the gut. The two weeks I spent with her silence made me feel like a fucking caged animal, but hearing that softness over the line made it worth it.

  "Babe, looked at you the whole time you were talking."

  "Yeah. I mean, I know ... but I talked, uh, a lot. I probably would have tuned me out."

  She isn't wrong. She did talk a lot, but she was also nervous. I could tell even without her rambling about everything just how nervous she was. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to get a word in edgewise, but fuck if I didn't enjoy the hell out of just listening to her talk. Not once did I want to tune her out, though. Not fucking once.

  "And I listened a lot," I reply, wanting to keep hearing her whisper to me through the phone.

  The low giggle I hear isn't felt in my gut this time. No, that one went right to my cock.

  Slow, Thorn. Not going to do you any fucking favors if you make her think you just want to sink into that sweet as fuck pussy again. Well, it won't if she thinks that's all I want.

  "Thank you, Thorn. Thank you for surprising me. Thank you for not letting me screw everything up and for accepting my apologies. Thank you for thinking I'm worth the trouble."

  Damn, this girl has no clue. Not one fucking clue. Any other chick, I would have written her off the morning I woke up alone and found someone else to wet my dick and wash her off. But Ari? No. She wasn't the only one who felt something in one day. That's all it took for me to know she was different. All it took was her sweet fucking smile aimed ri
ght at me over a plate full of steak and potatoes to confirm it. Two weeks apart hadn't even dulled an ounce of that. I saw that she was fragile with my own eyes even when I kept my distance. A few days after she ran, I had everything I needed to ensure I could keep watch over her until I knew she was ready for me. Like a fucking stalker, I watched her come to her store three times. The first time, she looked like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. The second, it was still there but not as heavy as before. The last time, four days ago, was when I knew she was ready. Ready for me. She wasn't moving like every step was difficult anymore. She looked like she was lighter. So I set my shit in motion.

  "You don't need to thank me for that, Ari," I tell her, honest as fuck.

  "Maybe not, but I mean it." She clears her throat, the moment gone. "The ice cream was just what I didn't know I wanted today."

  I step from the wet bar and walk over to the window that looks down on the female side of The Alibi, my eyes scanning over the servers and bartenders getting ready for the night.

  "I wasn't sure it would make it," I tell her, pushing aside my annoyance that, once again, I see one of the girls coming from the back stumbling on her heels. Fucking coke head. I make a mental note to deal with that after my call, moving away from the window so I'm not distracted.

  "It was a close call," Ari replies, bringing me down from the anger boiling inside me. Just like that.

  "Wish I didn't have to, but both of my floor managers are out until Wednesday. Unless you feel like coming here, it's looking like I'm not getting you back in my car until Thursday night, at the earliest. That's not working for me, Ari."

  She hums, and my cock twitches. Fucking Thursday.

  "Do you want me there?"

  "Not sure there's much of anywhere I don't want you."

  "Chinese or Mexican?" she oddly asks, and I frown.

  "Not following, babe."

  "Dinner. You need to eat but have to work. I don't have to work and like to eat. So Chinese or Mexican?"

  "Surprise me," I answer instantly, feeling my chest get tight, liking that she wants to spend more time with me just as I do her.

  "Okay, Thorn," she says huskily.

  "Text me when you're here, and I'll come get you. Pull around back and park next to my bike."

  "Yes, sir." She laughs.