Sustain, p.11
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       Sustain, p.11

           Tijan
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  “What are you doing?”

  He didn’t look back at me, but his shoulder muscles shifted under his skin. His thumb touched something on the thermostat. He glanced over his shoulder to me. “It’s cold in here. I’m turning the heat up.”

  “Oh.”

  “Are you cold?”

  I heard his question, but I was distracted by his tattoos. I’d gotten a peek at them earlier, and I saw them last night, but I hadn’t really looked. Sitting up, wrapping the blanket better around me, I inspected them now. They were birds. I counted three of them, and they ascended up his bicep and over his shoulder. It looked like they were flying off him. On the inside of his side, under his arm, a large tribal tattoo was there.

  I pointed at them. “What do they mean?”

  He’d been waiting for my response, but a frown graced his features. The atmosphere in the room shifted. It’d been light, intimate, but it was tense and distant now. Not knowing why, I held my tongue. My instincts were warning me to tread lightly here, then I heard Luke answer in a quiet voice, “Each bird stands for someone who has left me.” He came over and sat next to me. Lifting his arm, he pointed at each bird. “My mom. My dad.” His eyes fell to my lips as he pointed at the last one. “You.”

  My stomach flipped over on itself. Why would he want to remember who had left him?

  “They’re reminders that no matter who leaves you, you keep going. You persevere. No matter what, but.” He shook his head as a laugh left him, sounding regretful. He raked a hand over his head. “Anyway, that’s too heavy for now. How about coffee? Did you still want some?”

  “Yes.” My throat was dry. He had a tattoo for when I left him. I…hated that.

  “Okay. I’ll get some from upstairs quick.”

  “Wait.” He started to stand. My hand caught his and tugged him back down. “We’re at Rowdy’s.”

  He nodded. The sight of his smile transformed his entire face. Luke had a mesmerizing beauty to him, and as he smiled, it had the same effect that I witnessed the night before. It kicked up his charisma. It’s what pulled people in.

  He sighed, shaking his head as he stood. “No one will be around. I’ve stayed the night here before.”

  With other women. Reality crashed back down on me. Luke wasn’t mine. He hadn’t been in so long. He’d been with others, and I knew there would be so many more.

  I moved back. “Right. What was I thinking?”

  He moved to the door. “You were thinking we’d be caught, but no one’s here this time of day. Kelly always locks up around three in the morning. She won’t be back in until eleven, ten at the earliest.”

  “Yes, you’re right.”

  He paused before slipping out the door. “You okay?”

  “Of course.”

  He stared at me, his eyes squinting, and he raked a hand through his hair. His head tilted at an angle. “Listen,” he hesitated. His hand grabbed a fistful of his hair. “Things are weird with us. Getting that phone call pissed me off. The one you made from the police station.”

  What? I sat up, readjusting the sheet so I was still covered. That’d been a while ago. “Why?” I could almost feel my heart pausing. Luke kept so much from me. We had sex, but I knew there was a cement wall around his heart. I’d once been lucky to be allowed past that wall.

  Was he going to let me back in?

  His hand grabbed the doorframe above his head. Leaning there, that pose accentuated how lean he was. He was the image of a panther stretching. “I know it’s dumb, but Turner got you in trouble. You finally called for help. I know you were calling your brother, but I was here, and he wasn’t. I was happy, but I was damn mad at you. Mad at him, too, for putting you in that position. A lot of the shit inside me from the past few years came out, and I’ve been a dick since then. I kept waiting for you to go back to him, but you didn’t, and I don’t know.” He let go, and his arm dropped back to his side. He was lost in thought, and his hand raked through his hair again. “I’m sorry. For everything. I should’ve shut down Emerson more than I did. I should’ve done a lot of things.”

  My hands curled into the blanket, pulling it tighter around me. I wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was…my heart was right there, pressed against my chest. My throat swelled up, and I managed out, “Thank you.”

  He let his arm drop a second time. “Yeah. I know I said a while back it was sex or nothing, and you’ve been nice, really nice, actually.”

  “What are you saying?” I sat further upright. The blanket was wrapped so tightly around me now, but I pulled even harder on it. A red mark was going to stretch across my chest soon.

  “Nothing really.” He gave me a half-grin. “It doesn’t have to be just sex or nothing. I don’t know if that’s why you followed me here last night. I don’t want you to feel…I have no idea what I’m saying. I just wanted to apologize for being an asshole since you came back around.”

  Now I was really confused. “Luke.” I shook my head. “We just had sex.”

  “I know.”

  “A lot of sex.”

  The other corner of his mouth twitched up. “I’m aware.”

  “I didn’t fuck you so you’d be nice to me.”

  His eyebrows shot up. “I know. I know. I’m not saying—Bri. I’m not saying that.”

  “Good.” My hand let go of the blanket, just a bit. The material loosened around me, but I was still clutching onto it. “I didn’t know where you were going with that.”

  He grunted, and his hand rested on the back of his neck. “Neither did I. This whole thing, you and me, I have no clue what’s going on. You’ve got me spinning. Then again, you always did that to me before. I’d be wound so tightly, I didn’t know if I was up or down some of the time.”

  “So?” My lips were suddenly dry. My tongue darted out to wet them, and I gestured to the bed. “What does this mean?”

  He straightened from the doorway and took a step closer to me. His hand hooked on his jeans, hanging there. “That’s what I’m saying. I’ve got no clue, but I won’t be a dick anymore.”

  “Oh.” I was confused. “Well…thank you?”

  He gestured to the ceiling. “Listen, let me get some coffee. I’ll come back down, and we can figure our shit out.”

  That sounded wonderful. I closed my eyes, relishing the sound of Luke heading upstairs. He was going to get something for me. He was coming back. We were going to talk about ‘us.’ My hand curled into the sheet. Us. I hadn’t thought…I blinked back a sudden onslaught of tears. I hadn’t thought this would ever happen. An emotion was filling me, but I didn’t want to figure it out. I’d let it simmer there. I didn’t want to deal with whatever the emotion was, because if I did, and if it didn’t work out with Luke, I couldn’t handle it. I needed to stop myself from jumping too far ahead.

  There was an ‘us.’ That was enough.

  For now.

  KNOCK! KNOCK!

  “Hey!”

  Someone knocked again.

  “Bri? Luke? Let me in!” A voice yelled through the back door as they kept pounding on it.

  I had tensed at first and went to the basement doorway, but I held back. Recognizing Braden’s voice, I relaxed, but when Luke walked across the floor for the door, my muscles tightened once again. He wasn’t—I thought he’d call through the door, but not let him in. Nope. It was in slow motion, like watching an accident happening, but I couldn’t stop it. His hand unlocked the door and wrapped around the doorknob. It twisted to the right, and yes, I sucked in my breath. He opened the door.

  But nope.

  His foot acted as a doorstopper. With only his head and shoulders in the doorway, Luke still blocked Braden from coming downstairs. I scurried from the doorway and grabbed my clothes. I could hear the murmur of conversation, but it was only a matter of moments before Braden pushed his way through, or Luke would let him inside. Either way, I knew my brother was going to see me in my post-coital glow. As I ran my hands through my hair, trying to smooth it out, I tr
ied to tell myself this wasn’t a walk-of-shame. I had nothing to be ashamed of, and I wasn’t walking anywhere. Still. It was embarrassing.

  “Yeah?” Braden’s voice was clearer now.

  The door opened.

  He stepped inside, and Luke moved back, allowing him to enter. I double-checked my appearance in the mirror. I thought I looked okay. Rolling my eyes, I knew this was ridiculous. Like Braden wouldn’t know what we had done?

  The steps creaked under their weight. They were both coming downstairs.

  “…we have to go. It’d be good for the band.”

  Luke replied, “She crashed here tonight. You can ask her.”

  “Hey!” Braden saw me.

  I looked up. Moving from the bathroom, I smoothed out my shirt. My reflection showed that I looked presentable, but the mirror was more smudged than clean, so the real test would be my brother’s reaction. He did nothing. He only threw his arm around my shoulder and jostled me. “My favorite twin sister.”

  “What do you want?”

  He laughed, giving me a loving squeeze. “Nothing…that you shouldn’t want.”

  My eyes narrowed. “Spill it, brother. I have a shift to get ready for in a couple of hours.”

  “Okay.” He released me, but held up a finger. “One, you need to get out of that shift. Two, go home and shower. You reek of sex. That’s like spoon-feeding Emerson. You know how he is.”

  Luke and I shared a look. Yep. He had noticed. I’d been an idiot to hope he hadn’t. Crossing my arms over my chest, I tuned in as Braden continued with his list. He had four fingers in the air, saying, “…it’s for the band. We can’t not go, you know?” He waved those fingers at Luke. “Right? You’re with me.”

  “I am.”

  “You are?” I cocked my head to the side. What was going on?

  “Of course, he is.” Braden was shaking his head, his eyes filling with disbelief. “You don’t agree?”

  “What is happening?”

  The four fingers dropped back to his side, and my brother looked at me like I had grown an extra head. I checked both sides, and nope, there wasn’t a second growth there. I murmured, “Say it again, Bray. I missed the third finger.” I cringed. “And I didn’t mean that how it came out.”

  The disbelief slid away, and my brother’s eyes sparkled. The corners of his mouth pinched inwards as he tried not to laugh.

  “Come on.” I groaned. “Tell me what the third point was. I didn’t hear it.”

  “Okay.” Two short laughs slipped from him. “The Feast is tonight. You know, where all the bands get together and take turns jamming on the stage. No outsiders are allowed. Only everyone who matters—”

  His chest puffed up. He was going to launch into a spiel about The Feast, but I held up a hand, stopping him. “We know what The Feast is. We’re in the same band.”

  “I know.” His mouth turned down. “Last year all those college students came. Not cool. I know it was Mel from D’s Boobs that let everyone know. No outsiders allowed—”

  Luke interjected, “Unless they’re invited.” His arms were crossed over his chest, and I tried not to stare at him. Ogling Luke in front of my brother, especially after the night we had, wasn’t needed, but still…my eyes lingered on a bird tattooed over his bicep.

  “One or two,” Braden snapped. “Not thirty.”

  “I know.” Luke’s arms unfolded, and his hands slid inside his pockets. His jeans slipped an inch lower, exposing how his obliques cut into a V, heading downward. It was like a big arrow pointing where to go. My hand twitched, and my mouth watered. Goodness gracious. Ripping my eyes away, I knew my cheeks were flushed. I had to get ahold of myself, but I’d just been with him moments ago. The feel of his body on mine as his arms held me was addicting.

  I wanted another taste.

  “So, how about it?”

  Braden’s voice grated against my eardrums. He was waiting for my reply. Again. “Uh, sure.”

  “Really?” His eyes lit up.

  What had I agreed to? My stomach tightened, and I looked at Luke. He was shaking his head with the corner of his mouth curled up.

  “Good. Okay.” Braden clapped his hands together. His fingers started tapping against each other. “Here’s the plan. Brielle, you give your shift away, then go and shower. Luke,” his nose wrinkled, “you shower, too. I have to check on Mom. She wasn’t feeling good earlier, and then we can go.” His hands separated and pointed in opposite directions. “Just don’t shower together because I’m here, and that’s gross. When you’re done showering, come to the house. I’ll call Emerson and have him meet us there. He doesn’t need to ride with us. Band bonding is good, but the extra car ride might be too much bonding.”

  Band bonding? My mouth dropped. “What?”

  “Okay.” My brother ignored me and clapped his hands together once more. “We have a plan. I feel good about this. Be ready in thirty minutes. I’ll grab the coffee and donuts.” He didn’t stick around. He dashed up the stairs. As the door closed behind him, I turned heated eyes to Luke. “What the hell did I just agree to? The Feast is tonight. It’s always late at night and in the park.”

  He was shaking his head, but his shoulders were lifting slightly. “Paul Montrose—”

  “From Shifter?”

  “Yeah. He’s hosting a pre-Feast shindig today.”

  “That’s not bad. A car ride to his house…”

  Luke moved back a step, scratching underneath his jaw.

  “What?” This wasn’t going to be good. I knew it…I waited.

  “It’s not at his house. It’s at the river.”

  The river was an hour away. I squeaked out, “All day? That’s how long this will go?”

  His head moved up and down. “I’m sorry. I thought you heard your brother.”

  “Oh my god.” I pressed my hands to my temples. They were throbbing already. “A whole day with Emerson?”

  “I’ll be there.” His hand fell away and slid back inside his jean’s pocket. “I should’ve stopped your brother from coming down. If it’s any consolation, I think your brother just wants to go because Avi is going to be there.”

  I rolled my eyes. That made it worse. “So, my brother is subjecting me to an entire day of torture with Emerson so he can get in some hot singer’s pants?”

  The corner of his mouth twitched. “Apparently her vocals are supposed to be off the charts.”

  “Grammy winning off the charts?”

  Both corners of his mouth were stretched. He was trying not to laugh. “I guess. Does that make it better?”

  I groaned. “It’s done. Avi’s vagina had better be the best he’s ever felt because a whole day with Emerson…” I shook my head. “Someone’s going to end up in the hospital.”

  It was nuts when we got there.

  “Took you long enough, my future band masters.” The first person we saw was Dustin. Barefoot and wearing only black swimming trunks and a yellow inner tube around his waist, he lifted his beer in a salute. When we got closer, we could see a small rubber ducky was duct taped onto the inner tube. A six-pack of beer dangled from his waist, hanging from a cord that had been looped around the inner tube.

  “What the…” Braden stopped beside me, holding a cooler of beer on his shoulder. “I thought this shindig was insiders only.”

  Dustin’s hand went to his chest. “That hurts, my future best friend. Insiders only? I’m a Grant West purebred.” His hand went to the rubber ducky. “Is no one going to mention my buddy here?”

  I didn’t care.

  Braden scratched the back of his neck.

  Luke’s eyebrows bunched forward.

  “That hurts.” Dustin squeezed the duck so it squeaked. “His name is Hitchcock. He’s a rebel.”

  “How’d all these people get invited?” Braden asked, scowling.

  “Okay.” Dustin indicated behind him, his hand sweeping out like
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