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Understood, Page 2

Maya Banks

  Chapter Three

  Three days. It had been three days since he’d dropped his bomb on Ellie, and he’d yet to see hide or hair of her. And that was hard to do considering she worked for him and Luke.

  He hadn’t wanted to push her this soon, but in light of her most recent antics, he’d say it was time. Well, she was getting one more day before he hauled her out of her hidey hole kicking and screaming.

  Jake uncurled the rolled-up plans and splayed them out over the hood of his truck. Then he glanced back at the building site and swore under his breath. He propped his foot up on the bumper and leaned in closer to try and figure out just how his foreman had managed to fuck up the design this badly.

  The weather was downright balmy. Not a cloud in the sky. No threat of rain the entire week. A miracle for the southeast region of Texas this time of year. He couldn’t afford to lose any time on this project, because sure as shittin’, rain would move in the next week and they’d be sitting around with their thumbs up their asses.

  A truck roared up next to his, and Luke Forsythe got out, a frown on his face. He strode over to where Jake stood.

  “How much is this going to set us back?” Luke asked.

  “Money or time?” Jake asked dryly.


  “The money depends on whether they can salvage the awning. Time lost is at least three days. Days we can’t afford to lose if we’re going to finish on time. We need this done by Christmas.”

  Luke bent over the plans, his lips drawn into a grim line. “Did you fire Shelton?”

  “Hell, yeah. This is his second screw-up in a week. I put Colin in charge. He’s over cracking the whip now.”

  Luke nodded his approval. He studied the schematics intently then said in a casual tone, “I hear there was a bit of excitement over at Zack’s Saturday night.”

  “Fuck you.” Jake glowered at his partner. He’d have to remember to have a word with Colin. Damned big mouth.

  Luke chuckled. “Well, it’s not every day Big Jake Turner is seen hauling a woman out of a bar over his shoulder. Especially when the woman in question is our secretary.”

  Jake made a few derogatory remarks pertaining to Luke’s parentage.

  Luke laughed again. “You’re too uptight, man.” His expression grew serious for a second. “Speaking of Ellie, I see Ray seems to be doing well. He just got a big write-up in the Beaumont paper. Contract extension. Two more years.”

  Jake’s disposition went even further south. He hoped to hell Ellie wasn’t reading the damn paper. Like she needed Ray’s name splashed across her consciousness. Bastard didn’t deserve squat.

  “Maybe he’ll take a sack and break his fool neck,” Jake muttered.

  Luke raised an eyebrow. “You know, I’m curious, Jake. And feel free to tell me to mind my own fucking business, but why is Ray still off in the NFL prospering and doing well? I don’t get it. Why didn’t Ellie go after him with both barrels?”

  Familiar anger seethed within Jake. He rolled his fingers into balls and clenched them at his sides. Then he turned to Luke.

  “Would you have believed Ray was capable of what he did if I hadn’t told you face-to-face?”

  Luke looked away then down. “Probably not, man. He’s snowed a lot of people.”

  “Bastard laid the groundwork well in advance, making it impossible for Ellie to be taken seriously. She actually went to the police once. They didn’t do a goddamn thing other than listen to Ray’s excuses and laugh it off as a marital spat. Then he made her sorry she ever tried to get someone to help.

  “He made her out to be a jealous, spiteful wife. Even now, she gets her fair share of scorn for divorcing the local golden boy.”

  “It’s been hard for you,” Luke said quietly.

  “What do you think?” Jake asked, rounding a bit too ferociously on him. “He was my best friend. We played football together through high school and college. Even got drafted by the same pro team. I mean, what are the odds? Never once did I imagine what a bastard he was, and I’ll never forgive myself for not seeing it. For not getting Ellie the hell out of that situation before he hurt her so badly.”

  “It’s not your fault, man.”

  Jake scrubbed a weary hand through his hair. “Yeah, Luke, it is. I was in love with her long before I had any idea what was going on. If I hadn’t been so all-fire determined to keep my distance, I would have seen what was going on. As it was, I turned my back on her when she needed me most.”

  “Shit, Jake. You can’t carry around that kind of blame. The only person at fault here is Ray.”

  Jake shook his head but refused to pursue the subject any farther. He didn’t like to talk about Ellie and Ray. It was something he’d just as soon forget. Only he knew Ellie never would.

  “How are Jeremy and Michelle doing? I heard she’s having a boy? Did you go hunting with the gang this weekend?”

  Luke nodded, accepting the topic change. “Yeah, we celebrated this past weekend. We spent Saturday and Sunday at the hunting camp, and damn it if Gracie didn’t bag a fucking monster of a buck. Pisses me the hell off.”

  Jake laughed. “She’s still running circles around you, huh?”

  “Wes is getting it mounted for her, and now I’ll have to see it every time I go over to her house.”

  Jake shook his head at Luke’s mournful look. He liked Luke’s circle of friends. Jeremy and Michelle had been married a little over a year. Both Jeremy and Wes were cops with the local police department, and Gracie was Michelle’s best friend. Jake hung out with them every once in a while, and they were a hoot as a crowd.

  “So, uh, have you seen Ellie this week?” Jake asked, changing the subject again.

  Luke shook his head. “Nah, I figure she’s laying low after the Saturday night deal. I know she’s been in the office because all the paperwork’s been done.”

  “I’m way too fucking easy on her,” Jake mumbled.

  Luke chuckled. “Fire her, then. It was your idea to hire her.”

  Jake glowered at Luke.

  “Ah well, there’s the answer to your question,” Luke said. “That looks like her now.”

  Jake peered around, following Luke’s line of vision to an older model Toyota Corolla turning onto the gravel road leading up to where he and Luke were. It was her, all right, but what the hell was she doing out on the jobsite?

  “I, ah, think I’ll head over to talk to Colin,” Luke said with barely suppressed amusement.

  Jake strode over to meet Ellie before she could even get out of the car. She wiped her palms down her slacks as she stepped out.

  “Where the hell have you been?” he demanded.

  She bit her bottom lip, and he cursed the fact that his eyes tracked every movement of her mouth.

  “I, uh, wanted to talk to you,” she said nervously.

  He took a deep breath then sighed. “Ellie, why the hell are you so jumpy? You’ve never been nervous around me. You act like I’m going to bite you or something.”

  She flushed a delicate pink, her cheeks blooming as her eyes flared.

  “Yes, but I’ve never said what I have to say before.”

  His pulse surged and ratcheted up about twenty beats per minute.

  “What is it you want to say to me?” he asked softly.

  “You said…you said that I’d have to come to you.”

  He arched an eyebrow. Did this mean what he thought it meant?

  “That I did, sweetheart,” he drawled.

  “Well, I’m here,” she blurted.

  He closed the remaining distance between them in a split second. They stood only inches apart. She looked hesitant. Soft and unsure. Her eyes gleamed with need. She took his breath away.

  “Do you know what you’re saying?” he asked hoarsely.

  She nodded. “I want you, Jake.”

  He cupped her chin in his palm. As much as he’d sworn never to touch her while she was married to Ray, he now ached to kiss her. He’d waited too damn long fo
r her to tell him she wanted him.

  He lowered his mouth to hers. She let out a small feminine gasp before touching him sweetly with her lips. Her hands feathered over his face, her fingertips touching and stroking as he deepened the kiss.

  She tasted of mint and the sweet tea she always drank. He inhaled, wanting her scent deep inside him. Her tongue brushed lightly over his upper lip, and he opened his mouth to let her inside.

  Finally remembering he was mauling her in public and they likely had more than a dozen interested onlookers, he pulled away, desperately sucking mouthfuls of air into his lungs.

  He dug around in his pocket and retrieved his keys. With shaking hands, he unhooked his house key from the ring and held it out to her.

  “Go to my house. Let yourself in and wait for me.”

  He swept her into his arms for one last kiss.

  “I want you naked, in my bed, waiting for me to get home. I’ll be there just as soon as I can.”

  She blinked and her fingers curled around the key he laid in her palm. “O-okay.”

  He trailed a finger through her hair before brushing it softly across her lips.

  She backed away, looking hungrily at him. It was all he could do not to toss her over his shoulder again and take her home immediately. Damn it, he was going to be civilized about this.

  “Go on, sweetheart. I’ll meet you there.”

  She pushed her curls from her face and got into her car. Seconds later, she turned out of the drive and headed down the road.

  Jake strode back to his truck. He rolled up the schematics and headed to the building site to find Luke. A few minutes later, he thumped the papers over Luke’s chest.

  “All yours, buddy. I’m out of here for the day.”

  Luke worked to keep a grin from his face. The smug bastard.

  “I’ll run them over to the office and let Ellie make the changes,” Luke said innocently.

  “I gave her the afternoon off,” Jake growled. “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

  He turned and walked away before Luke could rag on him further.

  Chapter Four

  Ellie turned onto Jake’s street and drove toward his house. She didn’t glance over as she approached the house she used to live in. The one just two houses down from Jake’s.

  She registered its passing but wouldn’t give in to the urge to see if it still looked as evil as she remembered. She hadn’t been down this street since the night she’d run out in the middle of the night.

  She hadn’t known where to go, hadn’t realized she was at Jake’s door until he’d opened it and hauled her sobbing body inside.

  Her hands shook, and she tapped on the accelerator, anxious for the house to be out of her periphery. Ahead, Jake’s house loomed, and she turned into his driveway.

  She used to love this neighborhood. When she and Ray had married, he’d surprised her by buying the house in the upscale development. She’d dreamed of children playing in the yard, backyard barbeques and socializing with the neighbors. Instead she’d spent her days praying she wouldn’t become pregnant and avoiding the neighbors for fear they’d know all her dirty secrets.

  Her legs shook as she made her way up the paved walkway to Jake’s front door. The shrubbery lining the walk was all well maintained and manicured. The lawn was freshly mowed. It ought to be since she made sure a crew came out weekly to keep up Jake’s yard.

  She stopped at the door and inserted the key into the lock. When she pushed it open, she was assailed by memories of that night…

  “Ellie, what the hell are you doing here this time of night?” Jake demanded.

  She staggered forward, praying he wouldn’t turn her away.

  “My God, Ellie, you’re bleeding! What happened? Where are you hurt?”

  He wrapped his strong arms around her and pulled her inside, shutting the door behind him. She was sobbing. She could hear herself, but it seemed so far away. As if someone else was doing the crying.

  “Ellie, talk to me. Where are you hurt? Do you want me to go get Ray?”

  She’d panicked then, striking out, trying anything to get away.

  Jake swore and held her tightly against him as she fought in vain to escape. She managed to break free for a moment. It was then he seemed to notice the torn clothing. The bruises forming on her face. The blood smeared on her thighs.

  His entire body went rigid. He reached out and took her hands gently in his, holding her still when she would have fled.

  “Who did this to you, Ellie?”

  His voice was low. Dangerously low. It sent a chill down her spine as she registered the violence in his tone.

  “Please,” she whispered. “Don’t make me go back to him. Please, please.”

  Hot tears ran down her face, and she stared up at him, knowing he was her only chance. If he didn’t believe her, she was well and truly doomed.

  His mouth opened and closed. Fury raged in his eyes. Then a sorrow so deep, so profound, crept over his face.

  “Ray did this to you?” he asked in disbelief. “He hurt you?”

  She turned away, knowing she was destroying more than just her marriage with her admission. She was destroying Jake’s friendship with a man he’d grown up with. A man he considered a brother in the truest sense of the word.

  “Ellie, look at me,” he commanded. He gently pushed her chin up with his fingers. “Ray did this?”

  She closed her eyes as sobs welled in her throat once more. It shamed her beyond words for Jake to see her like this, for him to know the dirty little secret that was her marriage.

  “Ellie,” he prompted once more. “Did Ray do this?”

  “Yes,” she whispered. And she knew with her admission that not only would she never be the same, but neither would Jake.

  Ellie shuddered lightly then realized she was still standing in Jake’s entryway, the door wide open in front of her. She quickly stepped inside and shut it.

  She glanced around, taking in the sparsely furnished living room. It had all the male essentials. A big screen TV, a couch and a recliner, but it was devoid of any décor save for the large Christmas tree in the corner.

  It surprised her that Jake would have gone to the trouble of putting up a tree and decorating it in such detail since he lived alone, but the tree was perfectly shaped, draped in old-fashioned wood ornaments.

  She turned away, unable to bear the cheerful sight.

  She set the key on the coffee table and looked toward the hallway she knew led to his bedroom. She started across the wood floor, her mind reliving the night Jake had carried her to his bed so he could care for her.

  At the doorway, she paused, staring at the big bed centered in the room. Could she do this? Reach out and take what she so desperately wanted? She knew Jake wanted her. Knew he’d wanted her a while, but she’d been determined she wouldn’t go to him so soon after her break-up with Ray.

  She took a few steps into the bedroom and kicked out of her shoes. She reached for her zipper and let her skirt fall in a pool around her feet. Next she unbuttoned her blouse and slowly let it slip from her shoulders.

  Now standing in just her bra and panties, she felt a surge of nervousness. At any moment, Jake would walk through that door, expecting to have sex with her. What if she couldn’t do it?

  She closed her eyes and banished all thoughts from her mind but Jake. Imagined his hard body pressed against hers. Those big arms wrapped around her, sheltering her from the rest of the world.

  Her fingers slid up her body, raising goose bumps on her skin. She ran them underneath the underwire of her bra, around to the back until she fumbled with the hook. When it sprang free, she let the straps slide from her shoulders until the bra joined her other clothes on the floor. Then she reached for her underwear.

  Soon she stood completely naked. She shivered slightly. Finally she opened her eyes and moved toward the bed. She pulled back the covers and eased onto the mattress, tugging the sheets over her body as she went.

sp; As her head hit the pillow, she breathed deeply, inhaling Jake’s scent. It was as if he were lying next to her. She closed her eyes and burrowed deeper into his pillow. He’d be here soon.

  Jake roared to a stop in his driveway, relieved to see Ellie’s car parked a few feet away. He got out and hurried for the door. He sure hoped she hadn’t changed her mind in the time it had taken him to get here.

  Shelton had caught him just as he was leaving the jobsite and forced a confrontation over the foreman’s firing. Jake had wasted thirty minutes before Shelton had finally backed down once he figured out Jake wasn’t budging.

  He let himself into the house and closed the door quietly behind him. Had she done as he’d told her? Was she lying naked in his bed just a room away?

  His cock surged to life.

  He walked through the house on silent feet. When he reached his bedroom, he paused at the doorway and stared over at the bed. His chest shook at his sharp intake of breath.

  Unable to resist, he moved closer to the bed. The sheet was tucked underneath her arms, covering her chest. Her silky, dark hair splayed out over his pillow. His fingers itched to touch the curls, to twine them around his hands.

  While the sheet covered her body, it did little to conceal the dark imprint of her nipples. He swallowed as he imagined what they’d taste like, the sensation of the buds on his tongue.

  As if sensing his presence, she stirred and her eyelids fluttered open. A shy, sweet smile curved her full lips.

  “Jake,” she whispered. “You’re here.”

  Hell and damnation, it was all he could do to keep himself from ripping the sheets from her body, spreading her legs and diving in. Instead he eased to a sitting position beside her and trailed a finger over her cheek.

  “Did you think I wouldn’t be?”

  She nuzzled her cheek against his hand as if seeking his touch. “I hoped you would.”

  He shifted to alleviate the ever-growing discomfort in his groin. Her voice, so sexy, husky, like a shot of good whiskey. It licked over him, and he began to imagine her tongue doing the same.

  “Ellie, we need to talk.” He didn’t recognize his own voice. It sounded hoarse and needy.

  She struggled to sit up, and when she slid upward, the sheet fell to her lap. He groaned aloud as the rosy tips of her breasts became visible.

  She yanked the sheet back up, clutching it to her chest. Pink dusted her cheeks, and she peeked up at him.

  He fought to remember what it was he wanted to say to her. His mind had gone straight to mush as soon as he’d gotten a glimpse of those perfect breasts.

  “What did you want to talk about?” she prompted.

  He shook his head and refocused his attention.

  “I need to be sure this is what you want, Ellie. I don’t want a martyr in my bed. You need to be absolutely certain you want what’s about to happen here, because once I take you, you’re mine.”

  He watched as her lips formed an O of shock. He leaned in closer until his lips were a hair’s breadth from hers.

  “Mine, Ellie. In my bed. All mine. I won’t let you go. You need to tell me if you’re prepared for that, because if you aren’t, you need to hightail it home right now.”

  She ran her tongue over her lips, licking nervously then pulling at the