Unraveled, p.15
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       Unraveled, p.15

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
 
Page 15

 

  "Since when," I scoffed unbelievingly but at Noahs steady stare I started believing. "Really?"

  Noah nodded but Bo was the one who explained. "She was always trying to make you jealous. Chatting up some new Marine, placing him in jeopardy and getting you riled up. "

  "She was just insecure, is all. " I didn’t know why I was defending Carrie. She did like to make me jealous. In high school, when we’d first started dating, I hadn’t been a jealous guy at all. I didn’t mind when she had other stuff going on because I was busy. I liked that she went her own way. That’s why I thought we’d make it when other Marine couples didn’t. She was independent. But, eventually, I found out that she really wasn’t. When I was busy and she deemed I wasn’t paying enough attention to her, Carrie got her attention fix with someone else. At first, when she started flirting with other guys at the enlisted club, it made me feel good because while she may have gotten them worked up, the only fire she was putting out was the one in my pants. And the sex after those nights in the bar were scorching hot. As time wore on, though, the plays for other people’s attention became tiresome. Like Bo said, she invariably picked on a new guy who I couldn’t bring myself to punch out because I was superior to him in rank. It wouldn’t be fair.

  It was almost a relief to go on deployment. I didn’t have to see her making eyes at anyone else and in my imagination, she never ever flirted with another man. Her eyes were only for me. My vision of Carrie and the reality of Carrie were two really different things. Yeah, getting cheated on sucked hard, but there was a welcome lack of anxiety there too. I needed to chew on that for a while.

  "Whatever, just saying that her only flaw wasnt cheating on you so maybe you can believe that not all women are cheaters. Maybe it was just Carrie," Bo said.

  "Maybe. " I’d spent a long time running from anything even remotely resembling a relationship. I’d had sex with a couple girls who had been too busy with their own lives to want something steady, and I’d gotten the physical release I wanted without any emotional entanglements. But it seemed like everyone around me was settling down, even someone like Bo, and I couldnt help but wonder if I was missing out on something—something important.

  The next few days passed in a blur as I tried to drink away my attraction to Sam and those unsettling feelings she roused. It was the only way I could keep myself from knocking on every door in the neighborhood to find her. I knew that if I sought her out, I’d be asking for more than forgiveness, and given my past behavior, I needed to work that all out before I saw her again. Could I take her to bed without her taking off her ring first? Maybe. Could I have sex with her in her condo with her dead husband’s stuff all around us? Possibly. Could I stay here for forty some days and not see her again? No.

  Amy, the small, slightly-dimwitted blonde, had tried to lay a claim on me. Shed rubbed up against me like a cat the other night, and Id had to pry her off when I went to bed. I tried to tell her that neither of us was ready for anything like that but that alcohol and loneliness could drive you toward people that you ordinarily wouldnt hook up with. And it wasnt like I didnt understand. We were surrounded by couples, really happy couples, and seeing them together made you believe you could start something up and have it be just as meaningful.

  Unfortunately my hard-on would not go away no matter how many times I tried to jerk it in the shower. After a week had passed since we went hiking, I asked Adam for her house number and her phone number. He gave them over with a warning. “You’re Bo and Noah’s friend and we like you but fuck her over and you’ll never be welcome here again. ”

  I didn’t take offense. It was the same type of warning I’d give out if I had female friends to be protective of. I tucked the information in my pocket and made for the driveway. I was almost out to the street before Bo and Noah ran me down with Noah’s truck. “Climb in, we’re going to make a slip and slide today. ”

  “I’ve got other plans for the morning,” I said and turned up the street where the map app on my phone indicated Sam’s house sat. Or at least her parents’ house. Her condo was somewhere downtown but I’d start close to home and move on. Good recon took time and given my major fuckups with Sam, I figured the more insider information I could gather the better.

  Bo frowned. “Dude. We need you to help build the slip and slide. This is about upholding the honor of the Corps. We build stuff. We get shit done. What else you got going on that’s more important than showing civilians how awesome Marines are?”

  “You serious?” Bo was never much of a motivator, as we liked to call super-eager Marines.

  “Nah, but we do need you. Besides, it’ll be a nice pick-up line for Sam. ” He grinned knowingly and said in a fake falsetto voice. “Hey Sam, I built you a slip and slide. Go put on your bikini and come down to Adam’s house. ”

  “You sound like a choking chicken. ” But his idea actually made some kind of weird sense. It’d give me an excuse to go and see her and she’d be nearly naked and doused in baby oil if she accepted the invitation. That was worth a short delay. “Shotgun,” I said, opening the passenger-side door.

  “You can’t call shotgun when I’m sitting in the shotgun seat,” Bo protested. I ignored this and pulled on his arm.

  “I’m the guest. ” And with Noah giving Bo a shove, I managed to pull him out of the truck and then clamored over his body to get into the passenger seat. “Let’s get this rust bucket moving. ” I slammed my fist on the dash of Noah’s truck, which was still so new it smelled like it had just rolled off the lot. Nearly naked and oiled Sam. Now if that wasn’t worth getting going for in the morning, nothing was.

  CHAPTER NINE

  Samantha

  A WEEK AFTER THE HIKING trip, I still hadn’t heard from Gray. He’d mentioned that he’d see me later as he exited the Rover, but it had been a brush-off, which I hadn’t figured out right away. I kept waiting for another invitation to do something but it never came. Somehow I had made him think I was trying to jump off the cliff. He must have been pretty traumatized by the experience with the widow and, looking back, I guess I could kind of, sort of see where he was coming from. I told Eve about it while we were bartending together but she thought he was the one who needed therapy.

  "Randy was right on when he pegged soldier boy for being weird. You should stay away. "

  "I thought you said he was perfect because he was just here temporarily. "

  "You want temporary? Summer league semi-pro baseball is gearing up. A new visiting team will likely show up in the bar this week. You cant get any more temporary than a one-night stand with a player who wont be on the roster the next time the team rolls into town. "

  "That sounds super enticing. ”

  "Im sure that there are summer hobos you could try out. Do a little service project. "

  "Your ideas are terrible, Eve. "

  I kept looking over at Adam’s table, but it stood conspicuously empty. Tucker and his friends had come in one night and sat there; I stared at the table as if I could wish Gray into existence. That had never worked with Will and it didn’t work with Gray either. It did, unfortunately, make Tucker think I was ready to forgive him for ignoring his family.

  “Hey, sorry again about bailing on lunch the other day. ”

  I started to say that it was okay but then stopped because it wasn’t okay. “I think Carolyn really could use a visit from you. ”

  Tucker shrugged. “She likes to see you better. You’re Will’s wife. ”

  "Wills wife couldve used the support," I said more sharply than I intended, and then I felt bad for making him feel guilty. But Id said it because I needed him to be there. It was tough emotionally for me but Tucker would always be the guy who was running away from all of his problems and leaving them for other people to sort out. While I admired the fact that he had gone off and pursued his dreams, a big part of me was pissed off was he couldnt be more supportive of the grief his parents were suffering. It was hard to hold up Ca
rolyn and myself at the same time. We both couldve used a bit of his support to lean on. My biggest objection against Bitsy getting involved with Tucker had more to do with the fact that I thought he was a selfish bastard then the fact that he was ten years older than her.

  "Sorry," he said blandly but we both knew that he wasnt.

  “Besides,” I said. “I’m not Will’s wife anymore. ”

  He reached out and tapped my diamond. “This says you are. ”

  I fisted my hand. “Maybe it’s time to take it off. ”

  Tucker’s eyes widened but a rush of customers cut off any opportunity to talk. By the time a lull hit, he was gone. He and his crew had vacated the patio and either headed inside or to some other bar. Tucker’s feelings for me were entirely fabricated. He, like his mother, viewed me as an extension of Will. They kept me close because I was someone who loved him and, I suppose, because I answered Carolyn’s phone calls and went to the monthly luncheons for the same reason. But I was only twenty-two and I couldn’t be Will’s widow forever. There was only a long life of loneliness if I hewed to that path.

  For the last week I’d run errands for my moms law firm and when I wasn’t tending bar, I knitted, all the while staring at the unfinished flag Id been working on for Will when he deployed. When I realized Id made mens socks on the second night, I resolved to hunt Gray down and make him listen to me.

  I’d never finished the afghan, but I hadn’t taken it down either. It kind of paralleled my life. The act of living it had been interrupted, and Id never quite gotten back into the swing of things. Taking down the flag wouldn’t even be that hard, but it was just one of those things I’d never gotten around to. Id dropped out of college, abandoned the flag, and kind of holed up with my family hoping that it was all a bad dream.

  Gray obviously thought I was just an emotional mess he didnt want to take on for his temporary stay. I was lonely, but I wasn’t a danger to myself. I wasnt going to kill myself, and I had never thought of it, even in some of the darkest hours of my grief. While I had wanted Will to come back to life, I guess I was too selfish to want to leave it. Being out with Gray had made me feel enervated. Hanging off the side of the cliff, feeling that weightlessness, was exhilarating. I wondered if that sensation was what Will had felt, what he chased after, and I wanted a deeper taste, a fuller understanding of it. I thought Gray could give that to me.

  So I was done waiting for him. I was going to find him and ask him to spend another day with me. Yes, there were lots of guys I could pick up for one-night stands here at the bar. There was always someone at the last call who’d struck out all night and would gladly go home with me regardless of what I had in my apartment or how many rings I wore on my fingers, but I didn’t want them. I wanted this golden-eyed man who told me he’d catch me if I fell. I was determined that he not see me as a sad widow who’d tried to hurl herself off the cliff. That was not going to be his last encounter with me. I was fun, dammit. He was going to see that if I had to hold him down and motorboat him. And if he was nice, I’d give him the men’s socks that I’d started knitting the other evening.

  “So you think you’re ready to take off your ring, huh?” Eve asked as casually as she could when the band took a break.

  “Maybe. ” I fiddled with the ring. It felt looser tonight, like I could push it off my finger with a light nudge.

  Eve eyed me speculatively. “Randy’s got this friend he works out with—”

  I held up a hand. “Just because I’m ready to take off my ring doesn’t mean I’m going to start dating. ”

  “What does it mean?”

  “It means that I can’t live like Will’s coming back anymore. ” I pushed the ring back down to the base of my finger. Not yet. With a shaky smile I said, “I’m not ready for a relationship but I think what Gray has in mind might be perfect for me right now. ”

  The next morning I contemplated the ways that I could run into him casually. I could go to my parents’ house since that was in the neighborhood where Gray was staying. He might walk by and I could pretend I was getting the mail and he could stop to talk to me. With a sigh, I realized I was going to have to go down to Adam’s house, and I had no good excuse for it. Except maybe… A thought occurred to me as I stared at my condo walls. That green felt should come down. The half-finished afghan was the first thing that needed to be packed up. I wasn’t in the mood to complete it, and the project only made me feel bad. I could wander down and see if I could borrow a ladder from Adam’s roommate, Finn. Finn was in construction, and he had to have a lot of ladders. If Gray happened to be standing nearby and heard I needed help, well, I wouldn’t refuse it if he offered.

 
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JEN FREDERICK SERIES:

Woodlands