My Fallen Saint, Page 2J. Kenner
“I’m sad,” I admitted, and it was as if the words were permission for the tears to flow. “I don’t think I’ve been this sad since Daddy died.”
“Oh, Ellie…” I barely registered the fact that he’d crossed the room to me. That he was sitting on the edge of the bed, and I was upright and clutching him, sobbing against his shoulder.
I don’t know when he slid into bed next to me, but he did. We were both fully clothed, him in jeans and me in PJs, and he held me tight as I snuggled against him. He stroked my hair, and I cried myself to sleep. Not only because Brandy was gone, but because I knew that one day soon, Alex would leave for college, and I’d lose him as well.
Nothing happened that night. Nothing sexual, anyway. But emotionally? Well, whatever bit of my heart I’d held back was fully his by morning. He snuck out before Uncle Peter arrived, and we shared a secret smile in the kitchen as I made toast to eat on the way to school. Just a normal day. Except it would never be normal again.
After that, every day held smiles and shared glances, and I floated on a cloud knowing this wonderful guy had become my rock. Someone solid and real in a world where everyone I loved kept getting ripped away.
I didn’t have a party on my seventeenth birthday. With Brandy gone and Alex out of town for some work thing, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm. Instead, Uncle Peter took me out to dinner, and when he went out later that night, I took a twilight stroll down the beach to the tidal pools.
I sat on the rocks, careful not to slip into the pool and disturb the tiny ecosystem. The moon was full, so there was enough light to see the silver fish, brown anemones, and all the rest of the sea life that lived in that fragile little world.
I was bent forward, watching a hermit crab navigate its way across the pool, when I heard the soft pad of footsteps behind me. A spike of fear shot through me, and I jumped to my feet, not even thinking, and lost my footing. I started to go down, certain I’d either squash all the critters in the pool or scrape every bit of exposed skin on the rocks.
But then suddenly I wasn’t falling. I was flying, being pulled off the rocks and into Alex’s arms.
“I’ve got you,” he said as my blood pounded in my ears. Not from my near miss, but from his proximity. From the sensation of his body pressed against mine as he held my upper arms tight in his clenched hands.
Our eyes met, and though I’ve never considered myself particularly bold, I moved first, tugging my arms free so I could wrap them around his neck as I rose on my toes and closed my mouth over his.
There was no fear, no worry that he’d push me away. I’d known in the instant before our lips met that this was the way it had to be. This perfect, intense moment that ignited a firestorm inside me as he cupped the back of my neck, pulling me closer until I felt like I could crawl inside of him.
“Ellie,” he murmured when we broke apart, and hearing my name on his lips was like throwing gasoline on a fire. I wanted him. All of him. And once again, I lifted myself onto my toes and lost myself in the taste of him.
He hesitated only a moment, but in those few seconds, I feared he’d push me away. But then he made a low noise in his throat and thoroughly claimed my mouth, his tongue tasting and teasing, dancing with mine as his hands slid down to cup my ass.
He pulled me close to him, and I moaned when I felt his erection against my belly. I’d never been this close to a guy, and the proof that he wanted me that way burned inside me, making my inner thighs ache and my core throb.
Then suddenly he wasn’t cupping my rear anymore. He had one hand down the back of my shorts and I was spreading my legs, offering him all of me.
“Please,” I begged, gasping for air. I wasn’t even sure what I was asking for. His finger? His cock? Did I want him to lay me down in the sand and make love to me? Did I want him to take me home?
All I knew was that the answer was yes. All I wanted in that moment was to be his, however and wherever he wanted.
When he looked down at me—when I saw the wild, raw heat in his eyes, I knew that’s what he craved, too.
This was happening. Oh, God, this was really happening.
But then something in his face shifted, and he pulled his hand out of my shorts. I heard myself whimper as he took a step back, breaking the contact between us.
“Alex?” I heard fear in my voice. Fear that he didn’t want me. Fear that I’d done something wrong.
“We can’t,” he said, taking my hand and holding it close to his chest. “I’ve never wanted anyone as much as I want you, Ellie. But we can’t do this.”
I tried to swallow, but the knot of tears stuck in my throat. And when I asked why my voice was little more than a croak.
He cupped my cheek. “You’re barely seventeen, El. And I’m almost twenty. Plus, I work for your uncle.” Something in his face hardened. “Your uncle’s not the kind of man who would overlook it. We’ve already been playing with fire. Push this, and we’ll both get burned.”
I wanted to shout back that I didn’t care. I wanted to burn. I wanted to get lost in the flames with him until we were both reduced to ashes.
But I didn’t say any of that because I knew he was right.
He shook his head slowly, his expression profoundly sad. “I never wanted—”
“Here. I never wanted to come here.”
“To Laguna Cortez?” My voice rose in surprise. “I thought everybody wanted to come here.”
“My dad made me. Now, though… ” He trailed off, running his fingers over his short hair. “God, Ellie, now this is exactly where I want to be.”
“Please,” I said, blurting out the word before I lost my nerve. “I want to.”
The corner of his mouth curved up. “Me, too. Obviously. But we can’t.”
“Yes, we can. Uncle Peter’s barely noticed that we’re friends, much less that there’s more.”
“Fine. We can.”
For a moment, my heart stopped, but then he continued.
“But, El,” he said. “I won’t.”
He stuck to that, too.
Every night, I’d go to bed and slide my hand between my legs while I imagined him doing all the things I read in romance novels. Every night, I’d silently pray for him to sneak into my room and into my bed.
But he never did. He kept his word, even though each time we were alone the air was so charged, I was sure that one of us would crack.
We didn’t, though.
Not then. Not yet.
For the next two months, our friendship grew even stronger. Especially with Brandy gone, he became my closest friend. We talked for hours that summer after he was done with work, mostly at the tidal pools. Sometimes he’d stay late at the house, because Uncle Peter was hardly ever home.
We’d talk or cook dinner or watch movies. Horror mostly, because it was an excuse to sit close and hold hands at the first scary scene.
And always, always, there was that greedy, guilty need that had me squeezing my thighs to relieve the pressure. I imagined crawling into his lap and doing exactly what the girls in those movies were doing.
And I didn’t even care that if I did them, then surely the monster would get me, too.
Maybe I should have cared more. Maybe in the end, I really did bring the monsters down on me.
I don’t know. But I vividly remember that September day when Chief Randall came to school and delivered the news that Uncle Peter was dead. Killed by a single bullet to the back of the head, shot from the gun of a monster.
In grief and fear, I’d run home, expecting to find Alex working in the office. But he wasn’t there. Later, I learned that he’d been checking the books at one of Uncle Peter’s properties when a detective had come to give him the news. They’d questioned Alex for over an hour, digging deep into Uncle Peter’s business, searching for clues as to who might have held a grudge.
I didn’t know any of that at the time. All I knew was that I was dying inside. That I needed to hear his voice in o
rder to know that he was truly okay. Because everybody I loved—everybody—was taken from me. Over and over and over again.
All afternoon and evening I sat with my phone beside me, curled up under a blanket in the living room with Amy Randall, the Chief’s wife, bringing me hot tea and cookies. I loved her for taking care of me, but even with Amy in the room, I felt alone.
Alex never called, and at ten o’clock Amy kissed my cheek and got herself settled in the guest room. I went upstairs to my room—and there he was, sitting on the edge of my bed.
I don’t know how, but I managed to shut and lock the door behind me before I fell, sobbing, into his arms. “You’re going to be okay,” Alex whispered. “I hate that you’re hurting, but you’re strong, El. Never forget how strong you are.”
There was an unfamiliar edge to his voice, and he spoke straight to my soul when he said, “I’ve seen your heart, and you will survive this. And I’ll tell you something else, too. I love you, Elsa Holmes.” His voice burned with emotion. “That’s why I call you El,” he added, his thumb and forefinger making the sign for the letter L. “Because it’s the first letter in love.”
Pure joy battled the loss and pain inside me as he cupped my cheek, his eyes locked on mine. “Promise me you won’t ever forget that.”
“Alex… ” I could barely say his name though my tears.
“Promise me.” The words were harsh. Demanding.
He closed his eyes, then took a deep breath. And when he opened them again, I gasped at the wild intensity I saw. The blatant hunger. “Tonight, Ellie. Damn me all to hell, but I’ve got to have you tonight.”
“Yes,” I said, though I wanted to cry with relief. “Yes,” I repeated, only to have the word lost in the soft brush of his lips, that innocent, tender touch exploding into something much more passionate. Something raw.
He flipped me onto my back and straddled me, his mouth hard on mine as I clenched at his hips and pulled him down, craving a deeper connection. Needing skin on skin. I wanted everything I’d been fantasizing about, and I wanted it right then. But at the same time, I wanted this to go slow. To last forever. I wanted no one but Alex, and nothing except being in his arms.
“Ellie,” he whispered, then trailed kisses down my neck and lower still. I wasn’t wearing a bra, and his mouth closed over my breast through my T-shirt. I arched up, so startled by the intensity of the sensation that I had to bite the soft spot at the base of my thumb in order to keep from crying out. Amy was all the way on the other side of the house and a floor below us, but considering the magnitude of what I was feeling, if I let go, I was certain that my cries of pleasure would shake every wall in the place.
He moved lower then, his tongue teasing the thin strip of bare skin between my shirt and my PJ bottoms, making me writhe beneath him. I felt the brush of his fingers as he unfastened the string, then watched as he lifted his head to meet my eyes while he gently eased my pants down, along with my panties. A shiver ran through me—not fear, but anticipation and wild nerves.
I nodded, then closed my eyes as he kissed my belly button, then moved slowly lower. His hands were cupped at my sides, his thumbs barely touching the swell of my breasts. The only truly intimate contact was his mouth. Such a small bit of skin to generate such incredible sensations.
He moved with wicked slowness. He probably wanted to make sure I was ready, but I was flying from the heat of him, from the wildness and need he was setting loose inside me. Even with all the times I’d made my own body explode, I’d never experienced this growing anticipation or the pure erotic pleasure of being tended and led down a sensual path toward an avalanche of pleasure.
It almost became too much. I whimpered, then shifted my hips as his lips pressed against my mound. He slid his hands lower, then gripped my waist, holding me firmly in place. Only once did he take his mouth from my skin, and that was when he spoke to me. My eyes were closed, my back arched as my body strained for more. “You should touch yourself,” he said. “Your breasts. Your nipples.”
“You’ll like it,” he said. “I will, too.”
I swallowed, the thought that he’d watch as I did something so intimate making me more than a little nervous. Ironic, considering how intimately he was touching me. But I did as he asked, barely grazing my fingertip over my very tight nipple. And oh my God, the sparks that set off. I closed my eyes again, forgetting to be nervous, letting my hands tease my breasts as his mouth explored below, his tongue flicking over me in ways that had me biting my lower lip to prevent me moaning so much that he’d worry about me and stop.
And then—oh God, and then—my whole body tightened and exploded with way, way, way more intensity than I’d ever managed on my own, because on my own, I’d always stopped. But Alex was relentless, teasing and sucking until I didn’t care about embarrassing myself, and I writhed and moaned and screamed until he finally slid up my body, put his hand on my mouth, and reminded me that the walls were thin.
He’d held me then, taking over the job of playing with my breasts, then helping me out of my bunched-up T-shirt so that I was naked and he was still fully dressed.
I bit my lower lip and asked, “Do you want…?” I held my breath, waiting for him to answer. I was warm and sated, but I still wanted more. I wanted him.
“Desperately,” he said. “I want everything with you, El. I want a night that neither of us will ever forget. I want to bury myself inside you and feel it as you shatter around me.” He kissed me gently. “Is that okay?”
I nodded, mute, and he kissed me again before sitting up and reaching for his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and took out a condom, and I felt like an idiot, then, because I was so worked up it hadn’t even occurred to me.
“You’ve done this before,” I said, a bit accusatorially, but that was only to hide my embarrassment.
“No,” he said as he peeled off his jeans and shirt.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not naive, you know.”
His smile was both teasing and sweet. “Sex, yes. But never with someone I love.”
“I do love you, El, and it’s destroying my reason.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“We shouldn’t do this. Not tonight. Not when I—Not after—But dammit, I want you too much. I can’t stand the thought that I might—”
He made the words a question, and I nodded in understanding. Peter was the first person he’d lost. And I understood grief better than anyone. “You won’t lose me, Alex,” I promised. “How can you if we love each other?”
I thought I saw tears in his eyes, but then he kissed me, and once again I was lost as he swept me away, out to sea on a tide of passion. He moved slowly, every touch bringing me that much closer to begging until, finally, I did exactly that and showered him with pleas.
He didn’t ask if I was sure—he knew that I was—but he met my eyes, and when he grinned, he was more than my new lover, he was my best friend. And I knew right then that no matter what, the night was going to be perfect.
He buried himself inside me, moving slowly, taking care to hurt me as little as possible, until I was actually whimpering with need. And when he exploded, I opened my eyes and watched the release play out over his face and body, amazed that I had the power to take him there—and then amazed again a few minutes later when he once more sent me off on the same journey until we were both utterly spent and limp as rags.
He slid up the bed, pulling me against him, and we clung to each other, whispering softly until sleep claimed us. I drifted off in his arms, knowing that I would survive this. Because with Alex by my side, I could survive anything.
That’s what I believed, anyway, but I learned soon enough that it was a crock of steaming bullshit.
Because by the time I got up the next morning, Al
ex was gone, vanished with no word other than one crappy slip of paper telling me he was sorry and that I was strong. I’d loved him. I’d trusted him. And he’d walked away.
Everyone else in my life had been stolen from me. But Alex? He’d left of his own accord.
And that made him the worst devil of all.
It’s Uncle Peter’s murder that’s dragged me back to Laguna Cortez. At the time, the police believed the perp was a guy named Ricky Mercado, who’d lost his shit after Peter called him out for dealing drugs at one of the apartment complexes Peter owned.
They believed it because Ricky Mercado turned himself in the day after the murder, and the evidence backed him up. He ended up with a sentence of twenty-five to life, lasted about a decade in prison, then was killed in a prison fight last month.
Just shy of a week ago, I learned from Chief Randall that new evidence shows that Mercado couldn’t have committed the crime. Turns out he was in Long Beach at the time of the murder—caught on camera beating the shit out of a clerk at a local convenience store.
So who did kill my uncle? And why the hell did Mercado confess to a crime he didn’t commit?
I don’t know. But I came back to find out.
My cell phone rings, and I return from the cliff’s edge to Shelby. I see that the call’s from my editor, so I bend over and grab the phone off the passenger seat. “Hey, Roger. Checking up on me?”
“Checking in on you. How’re you doing, kid?”
With anyone else, the nickname would grate on me, but Roger’s been my mentor since the first day I arrived at The Spall Monthly as an intern after quitting my job with the Irvine Police Department to start a new life in New York as an investigative reporter.
Now I’ve got a Masters in Journalism and a job as a staff writer, but he’s still my mentor and friend. And a little bit of a father, too.
“It’s weird being back,” I confess, because I know he’s worried about me. He doesn’t know my entire story, but he knows how my family’s ghosts haunt this town. And he knows I’d left Laguna Cortez in my rearview mirror about five minutes after I got my GED during the first semester of what would have been my senior year.