Trashed, p.3
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       Trashed, p.3

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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“Foster care, huh?”

  “Yep. ” She keeps her gaze on the TV screen in the corner and sips at her drink, her posture closed and tensed. Clearly, that subject is off the table.

  “So you’ve been coming here for five years?”

  She opens a little at that. “Yeah. I came here the summer I graduated high school. I’d already been accepted to Wayne State at that point, and my counselor at the high school suggested I do the summer co-op program. She knew the program liaison at Wayne, so she got me in before I’d technically started college. Been coming back every year. ”

  “Just for the summer work, or what? What keeps you coming back?”

  She answers right away. “I don’t know. A lot of things. It’s a good way to save up money for the school year. It’s good work experience, looks good on a résumé. It gets me away from Metro Detroit for a few months every summer. Plus, I just like it here. The horses, the atmosphere, the tourists. It’s just so fun and different. My best friend Ruth comes here with me every year, and it’s just kind of what we do. ” She glances at me. “What about you? What brings you to little old Mackinac Island?”

  “There’s a fundraiser dinner at the Grand Hotel tomorrow night. It’s a big deal. Couple grand per plate, silent auction, red carpet, and photographers and the works. ” My head aches just talking about it.

  Des must hear something in my voice. “You don’t sound all that excited. ”

  I shake my head. “I’m not. ”

  She stares at me in disbelief. “Why the hell not? That sounds like fun!”

  Page 7


  I laugh. “You’ve clearly never been to one, then. They’re boring. Stuffy. You just sit there all dressed up and have quiet little conversations about the weather or whatever. The whole thing is just a pain in my ass. I hate wearing suits, for one thing. Tuxedos are the worst. I’m an actor and an athlete, not a wine-and-dine and be all haughty and hoity-toity kinda guy, you know? I like beer and football, not champagne and golf, and that’s all these sorts of events are about. Everyone is drinking expensive fucking champagne, which is gross if you ask me, and talking about golf and the latest gala in Beverly Hills, and gossiping about who cheated on whom, and who got funding for their latest script. It’s boring and stupid. ”

  “So you’re just an average guy that gets dragged to fancy events against his will, huh?”

  I laugh. “Yeah, pretty much. I swear, you act in one blockbuster movie, and everyone goes fucking nuts. ” I deliver the line casually, but I’m trying to feel Des out, see how she feels about my status as a relatively famous movie star.

  “Price of fame, or something like that, right?”

  I nod. “Pretty much. You do a movie, and then you have to do the junkets and the press release events, and these fundraisers and whatever. I just want to shoot the film and be done, but no, that’s not how it works. Gotta play the game their way, I guess. ”

  “What are you shooting?” She’s pivoted slightly toward me, now. Finally her posture and body language is relaxing and opening up a little.

  “I can’t really talk about it, actually. The whole project is on the down low. The script is super-secret. I have to check my script in and out every time I take one. You can’t just walk around with it, can’t risk someone getting a look at it. The whole thing is crazy secretive. ”

  “Really? Why?”

  I hesitate, unsure how to answer that with really giving anything away. “Well, it’s one of those things where the director and producers don’t want any spoilers or leaks, just because of the nature of the project. ”

  She grins at me. “Nice non-answer. ”

  I duck my head and laugh. “Well, I told you I can’t talk about it. I’ve gotten good at not really answering interview questions by now, I suppose. ”

  “Well, I wouldn’t want you to feel like I’m interviewing you or anything,” she says, and then slides a food menu toward me. “We eating, or just drinking our dinner?”

  I scan the options as I answer. “Oh, we’re eating. I’m fucking starved, and this is a cheat weekend for me. ”

  “Cheat weekend?”

  “My trainer has me on a wicked strict diet. Like, when I started training for the shoot he gave me a one-page list of things I could eat, and when, and how much. ”

  She seems to find this hard to believe. “That’s nuts! Why?”

  I curl my arm up, flex my bicep, and slap it. “Gotta look a certain way for the role, babe. You don’t get guns like these by accident. ”

  “Oh my god,” she snorts. “You did not just say ‘guns’, did you?”

  “I believe I did. ”

  “That’s just…I can’t even. I just can’t even. ”

  “Can’t even what?” I ask, glancing at her.

  She laughs into her vodka tonic. “It’s a meme…white girls who just can’t even…’”

  I shake my head. “Not familiar with that one. ”

  She sits up straight, and her face twists into a prim and proper expression. She flips her hair. “Like, ohmygod, did you see her shoes? I just can’t even. ”

  I choke on my beer as I laugh, picturing the exact stereotype she’s mimicking, the kind of girl who populates L. A. so thickly you could hit six of them every time you throw a stick. “That’s a good one. I know exactly what you’re talking about now. ”

  “But seriously. You don’t really call them guns, do you?”

  I frown at her. “I hope to fuck I’m not coming across as that type of guy. ”

  She shakes her head. “No! No, I’m just—I barely know you. I just met you. You never know, you know?”

  “Fair enough. ” The bartender swings by and we both order burgers and fries, and when the bartender leaves to put in the order, I turn on the stool to face her. “So anyway. Be assured I am not that guy. You will never, ever, hear me in any seriousness refer to my arms as guns or pythons or anything fucking stupid and vain like that. They’re just arms. ”

  “But they are very nice arms,” she points out. “Just saying. ”

  I grin at her. “Thanks. ”

  Another awkward silence descends, because I’m not sure what I can ask her about. From the way she froze up over me asking about her focus on foster care, I’m guessing questions about family are going to be off limits at this point. And that’s usually what I lead with, to get conversations going.

  “How’d you get into acting?” Des asks, eventually.

  I lift my beer in a signal for another. “Well, it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do. It just wasn’t on my radar, you know? I was an athlete. Football. I played football from the time I was ten all the way through college. Played in school. Stanford. That was really what I thought about. But then, my senior year at Stanford, a friend of mine who is a filmmaker asked me to be in his movie. ‘You don’t have a lot of lines,’ he promised. Only, the other guy he had as a lead quit halfway through, and Rick conned me into taking the lead role. It was just this tiny little thing, you know? A film school project, that’s it. But it was fun. A lot of fun. Rick was raving about how good I was, but whatever, I just had fun doing it. ”

  Our food arrives, and I pause to take a few bites, relishing each morsel. Burgers and fries aren’t exactly on the approved list. “Anyway. I got drafted after I graduated, and played a season in San Diego. But then Rick got hired to direct a bigger project, and he wanted me in it. So during the off-season, I worked on his movie. And this one got the attention of a director who was looking for a male support who looked a certain way, which I just happened to fit. And that role? It was a big deal. Big. The kind of thing that could start a real career, you know? And I knew at that point that I had the chops to maybe really act, so it was a dilemma. Training season was about to start, and I had a role on the table. I had to choose, you know? Football, or acting?”

  “When you say you played a season in San Diego…” she trails off expectantly.

Page 8


  “The Chargers. ”

  “You mean the NFL?”

  I nod. “Yeah. ”

  “You played pro football?”

  I shrug. “For one season, yeah. ”

  “What position?”

  “Fullback. ”

  “I don’t know anything about football, so I don’t know what that means. ”

  “A fullback can be either a blocker or a running back, depending on the team’s playing style. I was more of a blocker. ” I wave my hand. “It’s not important. Not anymore. ”

  “Do you miss football?”

  I shake my head. “Not really,” I say immediately, but then have to backtrack and try again. “Well, that’s not entirely true, actually. There are some things I do miss, I suppose. Practice with the guys. Working out with ten or fifteen guys is a lot more fun than spending four to six hours every day in the gym with just one hard ass trainer. I miss the rush of competition, too. That most of all. The all-out exertion, pushing yourself past your max. Making the block, being out there on the field with these massive guys coming at you, and just being as fucking dominant as humanly possible, stopping them and making the block to get the ball down the field. It’s a rush, you know? I miss that part. ”

  “What don’t you miss?”

  “The pressure to perform at your peak every single game, every single practice. You can’t slip, not once. There are so many guys itching to come up, all these huge, talented guys that are just hungry to take your place on the starting line-up. And I also don’t miss getting hit. Even with the pads, when a guy that stands six foot six and weighs three hundred and twenty pounds of solid muscle drills into you, it fucking hurts. I don’t really miss that at all. ” I notice she’s turned the conversation back to me again. “Enough about me. Tell me something about yourself. ”

  She shuts down immediately. Until I asked the question, she was facing me, knees apart, one foot propped on my stool, sipping her drink and nodding and watching me intently. As soon as the question leaves my mouth, she turns away, returns her foot to the rail of the bar, ducks her head, stares down into her drink.

  “Not much to tell. ” She lifts a shoulder in a small, dismissive gesture. “Grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit. Went to Southfield-Lathrup High School. Just graduated from Wayne State University with my bachelor’s in social work, starting on my master’s in the fall. I’m a janitor at U of D Jesuit, and I live in downtown Detroit. ”

  I sigh. “Des. That’s like…the abbreviated Cliff’s Notes version. There’s got to be more to tell than that. ”

  She shrugs, shakes her head, and drains her drink. “Not really. ” She glances out the window. “Looks like the rain has slowed down a bit. Guess I’ll head home. Thanks for dinner. And, you know…stalking me. ”

  Before I can register her words, she’s slapping a ten-dollar bill onto the bar and is out the front door, jogging back up the hill. I growl in frustration. She’s the most closed-off person I’ve ever met. It’s ridiculous. Clearly, she has something to hide, or something she just really doesn’t like talking about.

  I leave a one hundred-dollar bill on the bar and slide her ten into my wallet, and then jog out into the rain after her.

  She’s not getting off the hook that easily.

  Chapter 3

  I run out of the bar and into the wet streets. I have to escape him. I have to get away from his piercing, knowing eyes, from the heat of his body that seems to just suck me in, draw me closer. Something about Adam is just…magnetic. Hypnotic. He makes me want to talk to him. Trust him.

  But…I don’t trust. Not anyone. Not ever. Not even Ruth knows much about me, or about my past. We both went through the foster care system, so she understands that part. She doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell. We’re friends because we get the need to let the past stay in the past, to forget and move on and pretend none of it ever happened.

  I can’t trust Adam. It’d be beyond idiotic. He’s a famous movie star here for the weekend. I’ll never see him again, no matter what happens. Or would have happened, now that I’ve made my escape. He had expectations. When someone like him shows interest in a random girl when he’s on a weekend trip, he’s only interested in one thing. I am most definitely not the type of girl to go back to some movie star’s hotel room for a night of debauchery. Nope, nope, nope. Not me. For a lot of reasons, that’s just not me. And he doesn’t need to know any of the reasons.

  I’m soaked. I was already wet, but within half a block, I’m even more thoroughly drenched. Every inch of me is dripping with rain. My shoes squish with each step, my hair is a heavy, sopping wet mass of tangles on my back, and my jeans are pasted to my legs. I slow to a walk and keep trying to convince myself that I made the right choice in leaving Adam at The ’Stang.

  I did make the right choice, though. The more he asked me about myself, the more I felt myself just shrinking in, closing off. Not fair to him, I suppose, since he was asking normal questions, but I just can’t start answering those questions. How do you explain to someone you just met what it’s like growing up in the foster system? Being bounced from house to house, family to family? How do you explain that not all the families were stable, or…safe? Or that you never bothered making friends or getting close to anyone because you knew it wouldn’t last? You don’t. I learned that the hard way. People don’t want to know. People don’t care.

  I’m rounding the corner and approaching my dorm when I hear footsteps on the pavement behind me. I turn, and there he is. Huge, bulky with muscles upon muscles, yet quick and quiet on his feet. He’s lit by the street lamps, passing through the circle of dull yellow light, and his T-shirt is clinging to his torso, pretty much sheer now. I can see every ripple and ridge of his abs, the deep grooves at his sides, the heavy slabs of his pecs…his shoulders are so broad he could be Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his back. His arms are nearly as thick around as my waist, toned to perfection and solid as granite. He’s jogging after me in a lithe, easy stride that belies his enormous size, his body shifting and rippling. He looks like a predator, like a lion stalking through the shadows, all muscle and grace and power.

  I stop and wait for him, heedless of the rain now. I’m so wet at this point it doesn’t even matter.

  Lightning stabs the blackness, a quick flicker of brilliance, followed by a roar of thunder so loud my eardrums hurt and my bones rattle.

  Page 9


  I force myself to remain motionless as he approaches me at an easy jog, even though he’s so huge it’s scary. He exudes power and threat and confidence and I shiver all over in his presence, he steals my breath and my capacity to make sense. I’m not that girl; I’m always totally unaffected by guys.

  But Adam? He’s all man, all masculinity and raw sexuality and aggressive beauty. And I just don’t know what do.

  I want to back away from him, creep deeper into the shadows and hold still and hope he doesn’t see me, as if I were a mouse and he was a tomcat hunting me and toying with me. But I’m not that girl either. I don’t back down for anyone. I don’t let anyone control me or push me around. I am my own person, and I will not be cowed by anyone.

  Especially not movie stars who happen to be far too gorgeous for their own good. No matter how interested in me he seems to be.

  So I stand my ground as he stops in front of me just within arm’s reach, and I lift my chin to meet his eyes, and I resist the urge to fit my fingers in the grooves of his abdominal muscles. My breath sticks in my throat as he erases the inches between us until his chiseled, rugged features are all I can see, until his scent is in my nostrils and his heat is billowing against my skin. His hands cup my upper arms momentarily, and his palms are rough and his hands are the size of dinner plates and callused, and though his hands feel strong enough to crush stones into powder, his touch is gentle, so gentle. And then one of his palms slides up my arm, missing the wet cotton
of my shirt and he cradles the side of my neck, a thumb tracing over my ear. Surely he can feel the hammering of my pulse in my throat? His other hand moves to the back of my head and eases me forward, and I cannot for the life of me remember why I ran away from him, because I know all too well what he’s about to do, and I want it and have absolutely zero chance of stopping it.

  The rain is a cascade, harder rain than I’ve ever experienced in my life, and the wind is a brutal, raging force, knocking us sideways, blowing rain in sideways curtains, and thunder is banging and crashing in explosive tympani, lightning crackling and spearing and sparking.

  Adam twists so his back is to the wind, taking the brunt of the storm’s force upon himself, and I fit inside the cavern of his arms just perfectly.

  A kiss is the meeting of lips, an expression of tenderness and affection, a physical demonstration of emotion. A kiss is a mutual act, two people giving and taking in equal measure.

  What comes next—it’s not a kiss. It’s a statement of possession. A claiming. His mouth demands mine, his tongue seeks out mine, and his hands clutch at me, refusing to let me escape, and his arms encircle me, imprisoning me.

  I should beat him away, push at him, curse at him. Flee. Call him names: Brute; Oaf; Cave man; Troll. But I don’t do any of that. I only press closer, melt into him, burrow deeper into his warmth and his protective shelter, and I kiss him back.

  I let myself be claimed, possessed in that single kiss.

  I’ve known him for two hours, max.

  He pulls away enough to move his lips, and I feel his words more than hear them. “I won’t ask you any more questions, Des. I promise. ”

  Not what I was expecting him to say. “Okay,” is all I can manage.

  “Come on. ” He pulls me into a walk, away from my dorm, in the direction of the Grand Hotel.

  “Where are we going?”

  “My room. ”

  “That’s a fifteen-minute walk. ”

  “So?” He tilts his face to the sky, baring his teeth. “We’re already as wet as we can get. ”

  I don’t bother arguing. I just let him pull me back to Main Street until it turns into Lake Shore, and then I nudge him onto Market Street and then left on Cadotte Avenue. He doesn’t speak and neither do I, although I have a million questions and a billion doubts and I know what he’s going to expect from me and I can’t let that happen, because I’ll get attached and he’ll go back to shooting a movie and it won’t mean a goddamned thing.

  But I can’t take my hand from his, because his fingers are laced into mine, and he’s absolutely sure I’ll follow him, rightly so because I am following him, and anyway something tells me he’d just pick me up and carry me with him if I tried to escape. And I don’t want to escape, that’s the part that has me shaking with fear. I want to follow him, I want to see his room, want to let things happen even though I know I can’t go through with what he wants from me.

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