Page 23

 Kristen Ashley

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“What?” I asked.
“Nothin’, baby,” he said quickly. “You’re right. It’s weird. I don’t know how much she shared, but yeah, you hearin’ that from her is weird. But this isn’t me and her. This is me and you. And we haven’t even kissed, Emme. So, honey, don’t get wound up in this shit. You said one step at a time with McFarland, that’s the way we’re gonna take it. I’ll lead but you tell me the speed. You want slow, that’s how we’ll go. That work for you?”
“I don’t want us to get screwed up,” I told him.
“So we’ll take it slow,” he told me.
“I don’t want to lose you again.”
Jacob fell silent.
“I missed you,” I whispered.
“How bad?” he whispered back.
“I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it, that bad.”
“Maybe we should just be us,” I suggested.
“And maybe this was the us we were always meant to be and we should be that.”
At his words, words that spoke to me deeply, my shoulders jerked forward with the force of my lungs hollowing out.
“Emme, you with me?” he called.
I closed my eyes tight, put my forehead in my hand, my elbow to my knee and I whispered, “What if you don’t like the way I kiss?”
“I’ll like the way you kiss,” he whispered back.
“What if you don’t?”
“You’re the smartest woman I know, baby, you’ll learn to give me what I like.”
That was an excellent answer.
“What if you don’t like the way I do other things?” I pressed.
“I will.”
“You’ll learn, and just sayin’, honey, so will I. That’s the way it goes.”
Not in my experience.
“This is an important part of us takin’ it slow,” he carried on. “Said it before, I’ll promise it now, Emme, we’ll go at your speed. But I want us finally to go where what we got has always been leading.”
“Do you really think so?” I asked.
“Babe, would we be having this conversation if I didn’t?”
We wouldn’t. Absolutely.
I opened my eyes, sat up and admitted, “I’m a psycho.”
“You care about me, have for a while, don’t want to lose me. That’s not psycho, Emme. That’s real. And it’s smart. And it means a great deal to me. What you need to get from all I’m sayin’ is, because it means that much to me, I’m gonna handle this with care. You just gotta believe in me.”
“Do you believe in me?” I asked and got nothing so I felt my heart squeeze.
Then I got something.
And it was huge.
“Emme, what you’re worried about, I get. I like it. It’s sweet. It’s you. But outside of us makin’ our way in that, discovering that part of the relationship we’re gonna have, nothin’ else about you makes me think for even a second I don’t believe in what I could have with you. That’s somethin’ else you gotta get. I missed it. For years. There are three people in this world I trust with everything about me: my father, Chace and you. And I finally figured out I don’t give you that because you’re my girl but because you’ve always in a way been my girl. I felt it again last night. You feel it too. You just gotta admit it then we’ll sort the rest out.”
It was my turn to say nothing.
“Emme, baby, talk to me.”
“I want this,” I whispered.
And I did. Badly. And I might have done for a very, very long time. I just wouldn’t let myself think about it when he was with my friend and definitely not after I lost him.
“Good. You got it. Starting Sunday,” he replied immediately.
“There’s things to know about me,” I admitted.
“You’ll tell me and you’ll do that at your pace too.”
God, he was so nice.
“Okay,” I agreed.
“You gonna sleep now?” he asked.
No way.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Bullshit,” he muttered, a smile in his voice.
“Uh, reminder, Jacob, it’s just over twenty-four hours since we met in town and things have progressed at light speed. Since I’m the first human being in history to travel at that speed, I think it’s okay that I allow myself a moment to process the feeling.”
“I get you but I don’t want you losing sleep over this.”
So nice!
“Not sure you can do anything about that,” I told him. “But I’ll be okay.”
“Faye’s having a boy,” he announced, and I blinked.
Then I asked, “Pardon?”
“You in bed?” he asked back.
“Yeah, kinda. Sitting on it.”
“Get under the covers, Emme.”
His deep voice saying that started that pulse beating in that awesome place and I did what I was told.
“Light out,” he ordered.
I did that too.
“You in?” he asked.
“Yeah, but—”
“They’re namin’ him after me.”
“Oh God!” I cried. “That’s so sweet.”
“Yeah,” he replied.
And that was when Jacob talked to me about a lot of things, none of them taxing, none of them earth shattering, all of them how we always used to be except sweeter, and he did it for a long time. He did it until he heard my voice get sleepy.
Then he said softly, “Gonna let you go now, baby.”
“Okay, honey.”
“Sleep good.”
“You too.”
“ ’Night, Emme.”
“ ’Night, Jacob.”
I disconnected, put my phone to the nightstand and stared at it in the dark for three seconds.
Then my eyes closed and I fell asleep.
* * *
Twelve hours, seven minutes later…
I hit Jacob’s contact button and hit go.
It rang once.
“You okay?”
Feeling weird when I called him, at his question, I felt weird no more and laughed.
“Yeah, honey. Just that, you’re bringing boys over, I need to know how many and what they want to eat.”
“Manual labor. Beer, chips and brownies.”
“I was thinking more along the line of homemade burritos.”
“You’d be thinkin’ wrong ’cause, one, you lucked out on the Shake ’n Bake, but it’ll be important to keep those boys fed, and your stove gives up the ghost, I’m not gonna wanna take a break to try to fix it or go out and buy a camp stove.”