Unconscious Hearts, Page 16Harper Sloan
I shake my head. "I wish I was. Some shit can't be made up even if you tried."
"I can see why you're worried about her, but man, she's not given you a reason to worry. From what I can tell, you two are solid ... and so is she."
"The sister also hasn't been in contact since that morning, either."
He pushes off the counter, grabs two beers, and pops the caps off, handing me one and keeping the other.
"Ari asked me to leave it be. Told her I would ... unless that bitch calls again. All bets are off next time."
"I'm shocked you agreed to leave it be in the first place."
"She wants to move on, and her doctor is helping her do that. We've talked about it a lot, too. I know she's stronger based on what she's told me about her past. I get why she wants to just move on, but that doesn't mean I like it. Goes against my instincts to not do something about it, but I care about Ari's feelings a lot more than I care about my own."
"Not like you not to take charge no matter what someone else asks you to do. Hell, I probably would have called the bitch myself just based on what you told me."
"Yeah, well, as I said, you didn't hold Ari in your arms when she ripped her heart out to explain why she almost let her past get in the way of us. Telling me about the pain she carried because of that bitch was enough that I'll be happy if I never have to see her relive that again."
Wilder hums and takes a drink. I look over his head at the game playing on the televisions around the room, not seeing a damn thing as my thoughts get away from me.
If you would have told me two months ago I would be sitting here with Wilder talking about my relationship, I would have laughed. If you would have told me I would be this far gone over someone, I wouldn't have believed it. We've spent every chance we had between both of our businesses demanding our attention together. The only exceptions being the time we spent with our friends alone--which was rare. Living us day to day, just like we agreed, there hasn't been a single one of those days we weren't together, or that we didn't speak on the phone. Our lives have effortlessly woven together in those two months to the point where I can't imagine a day without her in my life.
She stopped looking at me like she was terrified to let me in a few weeks ago. I didn't just think she was different than other women anymore because I knew she was. What she said she felt building between us in just days has only grown stronger in our weeks together. We hadn't even slept together again yet, and she was effectively taking place of The Alibi, Wilder, and Harris as the most important thing I've ever been given in my life.
I was done dragging my feet and playing it safe because I was letting my past scars stand in the way. I wouldn't push her away. She was mine, goddammit. She gave me her more, and as soon as we finished up with that shit at the house in The Orchard, I'd give her mine.
The door opens behind the bar, pulling me from my thoughts, and I watch a few of his servers walk in--all female--and ignore them to glance back at Wil with a raised brow before taking another pull of my beer.
Two of the girls walk away, off to set up their shit around the room, I'm sure. I nod at one of Piper's sisters, Meggie, looking around but not seeing Melissa. Meggie frowns, but before I can ask her about it, I feel a hand on my arm. I glance down, frown, and follow that hand up the arm and to the body it belongs to.
"You're touching me why?" The anger I feel when I see the lust in her eyes--having someone's touch that isn't Ari makes my skin crawl, and I don't need to see my reflection to know I probably look like a mean bastard.
Wilder barks out a laugh, joining Meggie's softer one. I, however, don't find anything funny about this at all. I deserve it, though, and I know that logically. Logic doesn't matter, though. Yeah, I used to be the type of man who would take that flirty smile and lust-filled gaze and give her what she wanted, but that man stopped existing when Ari blew into my world.
"Uh, hey, Thorn." The girl bats her eyelashes. All I see, though, is the thick clumps of her mascara and the heavy hand of her makeup, instantly comparing Ari's effortless beauty to the woman next to me.
"Remove your hand," I demand through tight lips. So out of depth with what I'm feeling. Unable not to be rude when I've never had to deal with something like this. I don't want to be what I used to be to the easy women I went through. Fuck. For the first time, I actually regret the life I lived before I found Ari.
Her hand drops, but she doesn't move away, standing way too close to me. Her perfume making my head hurt.
"I haven't seen you around in a while. I, well, Marcie said she hasn't seen you hook up with anyone since her, and she was months ago. I just thought maybe, if you were free later and all," she trails off, and those eyes start going crazy again.
Yeah. That regret isn't just there, but it churns up something nasty in my gut. My own self-loathing just makes the scowl on my face grow. It's not this girl's fault. She knows the old me. She knows the man who just used women. She's never met the one who only breathes for one. The one who made me a better man. The best man. Her man.
"Excuse me?" I lean back when she crowds me again, putting space between us.
"She said she didn't mind if we hooked up. If that's what you're worried about."
I bark out a laugh. "She might not, but I sure as fuck do."
"Oh, well, I mean ... if you want her to join, I guess that's cool. I didn't think you and Marcie were a thing."
I look at Wilder, glance at Meggie, then back at my friend. Wilder doesn't look like he has the answers for me. "Is this shit happening? How is this shit still happening?"
"You can hook the ball and chain on the man, but that doesn't mean anyone else can see that shit."
"Yeah, well, now you know why it's been so long since I've just stopped by."
"Does this happen when Ari is in here without me?"
He doesn't answer, but I can tell by his face that it fucking does. Now that shit I like even less.
"Need to make that ball and chain more visible," I mumble to myself. I can't do shit about my past. I can do whatever I can to show everyone around me that I'm not that person anymore. Ari, though? She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, so there's no shock that she would attract other men. I know in my gut she doesn't do anything more than just be herself. She can't help that her natural perfection is the most attractive thing ever--especially when she has no fucking clue that she is just that.
"You could put a fucking ring on both of your fingers, and it would still happen. Get used to it, you good-looking bastard. Unless one of you wakes up less attractive, it's your life now."
I flip him off.
Apparently, the chick at my side didn't appreciate being ignored because instead of her hand, she presses her hard tits against my arm this time. I might not understand why her hand on my arm had made me angry. Might have tried to mask that then. But I'm hopeless to keep it checked now. All I can think of is Ari seeing this and assuming I encouraged it. Fuck, the rage that flows through me at the thought is palpable, I'm sure.
"You've lost your fucking mind, woman," I thunder, jerking away from her. She wobbles on her heels and pouts. "I don't give a shit what you and your friends chat about. Forget it all. You hear my name leave any of their lips again, you tell them to forget that I fucking exist. You see me, they see me, look through me. I don't give a shit what any of them had or want from me. I'm off the market. Understand?"
She nods, but it doesn't appear to hit home because she goes to press her hand against me again, and I lose it.
"One woman has permission to put her hands on me. One woman. That woman is not you. Hear what I'm saying to you. You take that and go back to Marcie or anyone else who still thinks I'm fucking free, and you express with certainty that I'm most fucking definitely not free!"
She finally gets me and rushes off. I look around the room, seeing about six other girls eyeing me.
sp; "Any of you have one of these chats with Marcie too?" I snap. They shake their heads, looking at me like I'm the possessed one. They're not wrong. It's not their fault that girl stirred up shit I didn't like feeling. I don't want to be a fucking bastard about it, but when I imagined what Ari would see if this happened in front of her, I couldn't be nice about it if I tried.
"You brought that on yourself, you know. You've never had a problem with easy before, and you haven't been around here enough with Ari since you two started. All they knew was that you cut them off. You became some sort of golden prize to claim before with the no attachment, no relationship speeches you gave every chick you hooked up with. You created this game they didn't know had ended." Wilder stops talking and isn't even attempting to be a professional boss and keep his enjoyment to himself by keeping his voice down. He's holding his gut and laughing like a fucking idiot.
"Made plenty of mistakes in my life, Wil, and I'm not proud of them at all. Before Ari, that was the only man I thought I would ever be. Fuck, it was all I thought I deserved. Not once did I think I would find someone who blew not only what I learned out of the water, but made me want to be someone different than who I was for the first time ever. Don't make it sound like I let anyone before her think there was a chance at more. And don't fucking rub this shit in my face. You make it sound like I fucked every woman who works here."
"You want to stop by same time tomorrow? Different shift is on. I wouldn't mind watching that again and making you eat those words."
"Fuck off, you lying bastard," I hiss, standing up to leave. I glance at Meggie, just remembering that she was standing at the bar, and cringe when I think about how that looked--and what she might tell Ari. Only, with how she's smiling at me, I'm pretty sure the only thing she's going to be telling Ari is just how good her man is.
"Well, he didn't fuck Melissa or me, so at least he's safe with two tomorrow," she jabs, laughing. "Don't worry about it, Thorn. It's a good look on you, what you have with Ari being something you want to protect. It's even better knowing she's finally got someone who feels that strongly about another person other than her being near him. I don't know you well enough to say, but I'm pretty confident I'm right regardless. You might regret whatever you were to get Kirsten to act like that, but don't let that fester. Everyone has a past, just like everyone has a future. You got both now, and something tells me you've earned that just as much as Ari has."
She winks and turns to go farther down the bar, beginning her work instantly.
Fuck, now that felt good.
I wouldn't have stopped chasing you
Piper and I had just carefully stored the last item from the huge collection of Thorn's--or the one he had been willed, I should say--into the van we rented for the day. Piper had been driving back and forth between the house in The Orchard and Trend all day. When the van would fill up, she would head off and monitor the offload by the cage staff, then head back to help inventory, store, and load another trip. Luckily, this was the last load because we were beyond exhausted at this point. I knew the collection was extensive before we started, but I didn't think it would take us this long.
We've been here, in this huge house in The Orchard, for hours now, and I feel like I could crash any second. Heck, we've been here for so long, it seems as if days have passed since this morning when Piper came to pick me up from my house in that huge van. In reality, that was really only eight hours ago. Eight really, really long hours.
Thorn greeted us with breakfast when we arrived this morning, but he took off shortly after to head over to The Alibi to get some work done. I frown when I recall the tense set of his shoulders when we walked into the house earlier. I wanted to ask him about his reaction to this place, but I didn't--just like I hadn't the other times we discussed when I would come and pick up everything or the sale of the house that just went under contract the week prior. Knowing he doesn't like being here is one thing, but pressing for him to tell me what makes him so uneasy about this place, especially when we aren't alone, wouldn't be right.
"Remind me the next time some tall, dark, and handsome man shows up at Trend with promises of grand riches to deny him before he can so much as blink, okay?" Piper complains with a laugh, pressing her hand to her head before making a dramatic show of dropping to the floor. She rolls onto her back in the middle of the now empty closet, her curls even more wild than normal after working so hard today running all over the place. Even tired, my friend looks beautiful. Aside from her unruly locks, she looks like she is ready to strut her stuff in an activewear runway show.
"I shouldn't agree with you for the sake of Trend thriving and all, but right now, I think I would shut the door on that hypothetical tall, dark, and handsome man myself. I can't believe how sore I am." I drop down next to her, the carpet soft against the exposed skin around my tight workout clothes.
I smile, remembering how Thorn had reacted when I got out of the van this morning in my racerback tank and short spandex shorts. My very short spandex shorts. We've been together for a while now, but he's yet to see my workout gear. I vowed right then and there, while I watched as he adjusted himself without shame, that I would make an effort to work out when he's around. Instead of fitting it in whenever I could find time between our time together and my schedule at Trend. Plus, if I go back to my morning workouts, chances are he'll be there to join me. Getting to see Thorn working out, getting all hot and sweaty while displaying his delectable body? Not even close to a hardship. But to see all of that while getting a reaction from him like I did this morning? UH, yes please! I make a mental note to add some equipment to my home gym, just in case and all that.
"I hurt in places that shouldn't hurt, Ari!"
"You and me both, Pipe. I thought I had discovered all the muscles I had that could ever get sore, but I found new ones today, that's for sure. I mean, I didn't get this sore after being thoroughly worked over by Thorn, and trust me, he knew how to work me hard in a way that I should have already found these stupid sore muscles. So either I've become a lazy bum over the course of the past two months, or I need to throw down a new bet with him."
A throat clears across the room, and I lift my head from the carpet to see the very man smiling from the doorway.
Of course. Of. Freaking. Course.
"You heard all that, didn't you?"
"Babe," he says with that tone that I know exactly what he wants. I know what that particular babe means, and if he's going to play like he didn't just hear me, that's A-okay with me.
I roll my eyes and drop my head back on the carpet, rolling it to look over at Piper. "He thinks I can actually move from this floor. Do you believe that?"
"Uh, I'm not really sure how to answer that." She leans closer to me. "He didn't ask you to get up, though. You do know that, right?"
"Yes, he did."
She just blinks at me, and I can tell she thinks I've lost it. For someone who doesn't know Thorn speak, I get it.
"Babe," Thorn calls again.
"Don't you babe me, Thorn Evans. I'm dying down here, can't you see! You want it, come and get it."
"What exactly is going on?" Piper asks, mumbling the question more to herself than actually wanting an explanation from Thorn or me.
"Not going to tell you again, Ari." Impatience mixed with desire-driven need laces his words.
"Oh, wow." Piper sighs. "Doesn't even matter if you two are talking in code. That's hot."
"Even if you give me that 'babe' again, you're still going to have to walk your hunky self over here and peel me off the floor to get it anyway."
"Ari. I come over there, you're going to find out there are still a few spots I can make sore that you haven't discovered or even dreamed of. Get over here before Piper gets a show."
"Holy shit, girlfriend. I'm pretty sure I've just learned I'm some closet slut for authority or something. It doesn't even matter that I have no clue what your sugar muffin wants, but for Christ's sake, whatever it is, give it to him."
I lift my tired arm and point a finger at her. "You say that now, Pipe. The second you have a demanding alpha throwing all of that authority around all the time, you might change your tune."
"Ari." This time his tone is all parts impatient. Even if he's smiling when I glance back at him, I know he wants me off the floor and in his arms. I'll be honest, knowing he's not willing to come over here because he wants me too much isn't a hard pill to swallow, either.
"Actually, Pipe, that's a complete lie. There's no way anyone would change their tune."
She giggles, and Thorn says my name again, only deeper, rougher. Severely stressing what he demands without words--or those deliciously spoken babes.
"Oh, fine. Keep your panties on, mister."
"No, please, don't."
I ignore Piper, get to my feet, and roll my sore shoulders before walking toward him. He doesn't move from his position leaning against the doorframe. He looks like the epitome of a relaxed man with not one care in the world, but I know it's a ruse. He's holding himself back from taking more than the kiss he wants. It isn't until I make it to him, stepping close and tipping my head back to look up at his handsome face, that he straightens to his full height. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that he's over a foot taller than I am. I'm either wearing tall heels, we're sitting or lying together, or I'm in his arms.
"In tennis shoes, you handsome giant. You want your kiss, you're going to have to lift this girl up so she can reach her man's mouth without breaking her neck or back trying to give it to you."
His hands are at my hips, and I'm in the air before I even finish speaking. My hands immediately land on his shoulders, and my legs wrap around his waist. I smile, not even annoyed that my man gets impatient when I take too much time to greet him with my mouth each and every time he sees me--no matter how long we've been apart. Just last week, I left him on my couch watching some sports thing so I could shower. I don't think I was gone more than twenty minutes, but sure enough, he gave me that babe, and I gave him his kiss.
I reach one hand up, running my fingers through the thick hair that had fallen from the stylish mold it had been gelled to this morning. A few pieces falling across his forehead. My fingers move to the sides of his head when I'm done, loving the soft buzz that tickles my fingertips, then settle my hands back on his shoulders.