More than want you, p.23
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       More Than Want You, p.23
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  I can’t take it. I stomp to the kitchen and swipe all the loose papers there onto the floor. It’s wholly unsatisfying. There’s no crash. No destruction. If I’m coming apart, everything around me should be, too. Goddamn it.

  I look for a better target. The coffeemaker stands squarely in my crosshairs. Yeah.

  Yanking the cord from the socket, I jerk it from the counter and hurl it against the closet door on the other side of the foyer. It falls to the ground in a twisted heap. The water in the reservoir splats all over the walls and floor. After a belch, the guts hang out. The unit lies there without fight, totally dead.

  Unfortunately, I still have a raging ocean of fury flowing inside me. It’s boiling, brewing, bubbling. I look around for my next victim. The microwave looks promising. That son of a bitch has never worked right, and it would be so satisfying to teach it a fucking lesson.

  But as I pull the cord free and wrap my arms around it to hoist it up, I feel a soft hand on my shoulder. And I freeze.

  Keeley.

  I drop the appliance on the counter. If I didn’t want her to see me beat down by my old man, I didn’t want her to see me enraged, either. Shame slithers through me. I close my eyes, wishing the world would swallow me up whole.

  “Go away. Let me do this alone. I don’t want to talk about it.”

  With a gentle hand, she curls her fingers around my arm. I know I should resist, but how can I refuse something I want so badly? Someone I love so much?

  I let her pull me around to face her. I still can’t look at her, but I feel her all around me. Her empathy. Her tenderness. Her adoration.

  “Maxon. I’m here.” She pulls my stiff form closer, toward her embrace.

  I try not to go. I try not to cry. I try not to be the loser my father accuses me of being. “You should go.”

  “I won’t leave you like this.”

  “I don’t want you feeling sorry for me. Don’t do it.” I stab the heels of my palms into the sockets of my eyes and retreat from her until my back hits the counter. “Don’t you fucking dare!”

  “That’s not what I feel at all. Maxon, look at me. Please.”

  I’m huffing. I can’t get myself under control. I can’t find my center. The fury rages with a sadness I can’t get out from under or push away or process out. It’s just sitting in the middle of my chest, suffocating me.

  But her voice is pulling me away from the darkness, beckoning me with hope and kindness and promise.

  Finally, I open my eyes. Blink. Stare. “Jesus. Oh, sunshine…”

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Keeley is naked. Every inch of her skin is pale and glowing and exposed. She’s looking at me with blue eyes full of not pity but concern. A desire to help and comfort. An open kinship that says she understands and she’ll be with me.

  My guts knot. My eyes sting. Water. What the hell is she doing to me?

  “It’s all right,” she promises in a voice so soft it almost hurts me.

  I shake my head, slowly at first, then the motion picks up steam and I think over and over how wrong and terrible tonight’s scene was. “I never wanted you to hear that.”

  All of a sudden, she wraps her fingers around my fists and kisses her way up my clenched jaw. I feel her gentle touch clear down to the living, breathing anger inside me.

  “I know,” she assures. “And I know everything he said hurts. I’m sorry. Truly. But I understand so much better.”

  “What, that I’m fucking broken?” A tear slides down my cheek even as rage keeps my heart pumping in a stomping rhythm. “You knew that. Why the hell is it good that you’ve seen the gory details?”

  As I mentally replay every word she overheard, mortification curdles my blood. My father’s beatdown is a brand blackening my soul. He couldn’t have found a more complete way to humiliate me.

  “No, he’s broken. You…” I hear a shaking in her voice and risk a glance her way. Tears pour openly from her eyes as she cups my cheek. “You’ve survived. I’m so proud of you.”

  At those five words, my knees buckle. I’ve been waiting to hear them from someone my whole life.

  I choke back more tears and try to modulate my voice. “He’s left me with a lot of scars.”

  “Of course he has,” she says earnestly, right into my eyes with no shame for the emotion she’s spending on me. “But you’re stronger for them. Better. And softer in here.” She places her hand on my chest.

  My whole body lurches. I grit my teeth. “I don’t want to be softer!”

  “It’s not a bad thing.” Her fingers graze my cheek. “It’s what separates you from him. He will never be capable of caring about the people around him, not even his own children. You’re right that he’ll die alone and unloved. He’s reaping what he’s sown. You have a chance to be different.”

  When she reframes the situation like that, I see she’s right. I absolutely can’t rail about the fact that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone, then be afraid to care about people myself.

  I take a deep breath, hang my head. I’m still wound up and turned inside out. And I’m doing my best to apply familiar logic to emotion, like if A plus B equals C, then A plus C must equal B. I know that isn’t accurate, but when I fill in the blanks with feelings and opinions, it works. If hurt plus resentment equals egotistical bastard, then hurt plus egotistical bastard must equal resentment. Yeah, that makes total sense.

  “You have a chance to purge everything he dumped on you and be whole, Maxon. Let it go and be happy.”

  The words come out so softly. Every syllable grips my heart and squeezes. But her meaning kicks me in the teeth. Forget everything the old bastard has ever said or done to me? Carry on as if the demeaning way he’s treated me for thirty-three fucking years doesn’t matter? I can’t bend my brain around how to pretend all that away. How would that make me happy?

  I gape at Keeley. A cynical comeback streaks through my head, perches on my tongue.

  Then I stop. Think.

  What good does it do me to expend so much energy and hate on an asshole I rarely see if I neglect to live?

  I’ve come to a fork in the road. I can be a motherfucker, like my old man. It would certainly be easy. I’ve learned from the master, after all.

  Or I can be my own man.

  I can’t believe how much courage it takes to simply open my eyes and look at Keeley. No way I can hide the tumultuous confusion churning my insides like a blender. For once, I don’t even try. I just lift my head and meet her stare.

  She’s blurry because my eyes won’t stop watering. I grind my teeth together. I’m not sure I’ve ever openly cried in my entire adult life. It’s ugly, I’m sure.

  It’s also like a runaway train I can’t stop, especially when I see the empathy waiting for me in her blue eyes. It nearly fells me.

  I grab her shoulders to hold on. She closes the distance between us and wraps her arms around me. God, how fucking badly I need her touch…though it’s unraveling me even more.

  My chest heaves. My breath is a sob. Another tear falls. The part of me that’s resistant to change doesn’t want this, yet I know I need it.

  “I’m here,” she vows. “I’ll catch you. Just…fall.”

  If anyone else were standing in front of me, I would scoff and insist they fuck off. But I believe Keeley. This woman is everything to me. In this moment, I’m pretty sure that, despite everything, she must love me, too. Why else would she put up with my crying-baby routine? Yeah, compassion and whatever. I have to believe she isn’t comforting random people on the street. The fact that I’m special to her fills me with peace and warmth that smooth over so many of the wounds my father gouged out in his wake. I want more of her comfort. I need more of her caring.

  As I seize her in my arms, I crush her against my chest. I feel complete when her heart beats in time with mine. But it also turns me inside out. The shield around my soul is splintering apart with every quiet moment we’re locked together. All I can do is hold on tight an
d let myself feel.

  I splay my fingers across her back until there isn’t a single breath between us. I can smell her, feel her, inhale her. I fucking sob into her hair. A part of me is waiting for her to laugh, call me a pussy, and bark at me to man up. But that old tape belongs to my dad. Keeley will never say those things. She simply soothes me with slow strokes of her palms up and down my back, comforts me with kisses up my neck and across my cheek. I feel her tenderness like a blanket wrapping me in safety, care.

  Love.

  The idea of this woman giving her heart to me is both reassuring and terrifying. I would never mean to, but what if I’m a thoughtless jackass and I break it? She’s giving me something precious. I have to figure out how to not fuck it up. The fact that I have no clue terrifies me all over again.

  I shake as I try to rein in more sobs. But stopping them seems pointless now, so I’m rolling with it. Not like I have a choice…

  Her lips press against my temple. She breathes over to my forehead. I have to bend down so she can reach me, but the effort is worth the payoff, especially when she eases back to look into my eyes. “Better?”

  Yes and no. It’s confusing. “I don’t know.”

  She sends me a smile of soft understanding. “That’s honest.”

  “Why are you here for me? Why do you give a shit what happens to me? I’ve been an inconsiderate asshole. I’ve tried to make you do things that go against your grain.”

  “Don’t forget that you’ve consistently tried to get me into bed, too. But under all that, I see you. Not the cocky but likable douchebag you project to everyone else. I see the boy who was neglected and hurt, so he never learned to trust his heart. I see the man dying for someone to not only care for him but give him undying devotion. And love. He’s strong…but he’s so afraid to ask for what he needs most.”

  I choke out a groan and drop my forehead to hers. “I sound pathetic.”

  “I could call you a lot of things. That’s not one of them.” She brushes her hand through my hair. “Maxon?”

  I hear the shift in her voice. It beckons me to search her face again. I see not just tenderness there. I see invitation.

  “Yeah.”

  “In case it’s escaped your notice, I’m naked. I want to be with you.” She caresses her way down my nape. “Make love to me.”

  My heart stops. Is she serious right now? I’ve waited and ached for Keeley for interminable days and endless nights. And she wants me when I’m sniffling, red-eyed, and too raw to have a filter?

  It’s official: I will never understand women. But I’m grateful for this one.

  “You sure?” I croak out.

  Keeley smiles at me, nothing but assurance in her big blues. “You’ve been trying to hustle me into bed for nearly three weeks, and now you’re hesitating?”

  “I want you to be sure.”

  “I don’t have a single doubt.”

  That’s all I need to hear.

  Keeley believes in the concept of soul mates. I never have…but I’m wondering if they’re real and if she’s mine.

  I bend and lift her against my body, cradling her in my arms. She wraps herself around me, curling her legs about my hips. The glance we share steals my breath.

  I can’t stay away from her for another second, so I plunge into her mouth. Tonight, she’s mine, and I want her to feel it. I’m thrilled when she melts against me with a moan.

  Though I’m drowning in her taste, I somehow manage to stumble through the maze of the kitchen and foyer. I’m thankful I keep my living room uncluttered. When I hit the threshold to my room, I have a clear path to the bed.

  With one hand, I tear the duvet down. Pillows topple and scatter. Pristine white sheets beckon. I lay Keeley in the center of the bed.

  She looks perfect because she belongs here. I’ve fantasized about having her in my bed so many times, rolling to me in the night for pleasure, cuddled up to me in the morning for warmth. But she’s looking at me now as if she wants all that and more. She wants the things I’ve never been willing to give anyone—my heart, my soul, my promises of tomorrow.

  A week ago, I doubted I’d ever be capable of giving anyone all that. Now I’m seriously considering whether I could share every moment with her and—maybe for the first time ever—be happy.

  I brace above her, drinking in her beauty. I have no idea how she saw past my inner asshole and decided she likes me, anyway. The only explanation is that I got lucky.

  Her fingers climbing up my arms and curling around my shoulders distract me from thinking. When she winds her hands around my neck and tugs me down, I don’t fight the urge to plaster myself over her bare body and sink into her mouth again. As my naked chest settles against hers, I groan.

  In the past, women have felt good. Women have felt dirty. Women have never simply felt right.

  Keeley does.

  I lose myself in her. She’s sweet and soft and open beneath me. Her thighs part, and I slide between them, deeply resenting my pajama bottoms. I could shove them aside, reach into my nightstand for a condom, and be inside her in less than sixty seconds if I want. Which I do…but I don’t.

  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had time to think about all the ways I wish I’d touched and taken Keeley that first night. I’m not letting this opportunity pass me by. Yes, I want what I want when I want it—and I’m determined to get it this time. But I also want her to be dizzy and dazzled. I want to give her everything she could ever yearn for in a lover. That means I can’t go about this like an impatient shithead again.

  I tangle my tongue with hers, losing myself in the sway of our rhythm. Then I ease back, press a kiss to her mouth, brushing my lips over hers before I lean away. She groans and tries to pull me down again.

  “One second, sunshine. Trust me. I’m not going anywhere.”

  It’s too dark, so I flip on the light. I want to see her. Once I do, I blow out an amazed breath at the soft glow beaming across her bare skin. Then I reach into the nightstand with one hand while shucking my pants with the other.

  Keeley smiles at me and crooks her finger my way with a come-hither glance.

  She won’t get an argument from me.

  I knee my way between her legs again. She welcomes me without hesitation, and I set the foil packet aside. It’s within reach when I’m ready…but that won’t be for a while.

  Because for the first time in my sexual life, the goal of tonight isn’t pleasure, it’s connection.

  Shit. Do I even know how to do that? I’m good at sex, but I don’t know the first fucking thing about joining more than bodies.

  “What’s wrong?” she whispers.

  I can’t tell her that I’m lost. I’ll sound stupid and dickless. Inept.

  “Sunshine, tell me how to give you what you want. I want to do this right for you.”

  Her face softens. Then she curls her fingers around my hand and brings it to her breast. She caresses my chest in return. “Just touch me. Be with me. Let it flow from here.”

  Keeley makes it sound so simple, like all I have to do is close my eyes and breathe.

  Does it have to be more complicated than that?

  I’m certainly willing to give it a try. The alternative is to hang around with my dick in my hand, staring at her like I’m stupid. Um…no. Not happening.

  Instead, I cradle her flesh, thumb her nipple, and bend to take her rosy lips under mine. They’re already slightly swollen and so fucking soft. She meets me halfway, eyes half-dazed, arms winding around me. As we join mouths, I delve deep. We share breaths. She arches into my palm. Her legs wrap around me. I feel her heat, sense the excitement skidding through her.

  “Maxon…” she moans.

  I press my forehead to hers to catch my breath. Normally,
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