In attempt to extinguish her skin and calm her wild heart, Kylie leaned over the sink and splashed her face with water from the tap. Again, she filled her hands with cool reality and lifted them to her cheeks, but with her eyes closed, the room and the water disappeared, allowing the memory of every kiss, every breath, every whisper, every taste, every stroke to awaken anew and melt around her like liquid fire.
Straightening, she stared at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. With a light touch, she pressed her fingertips to her swollen lips, to the angry red stubble burn staining her neck. She flushed hot in embarrassment and tears came to her eyes as she bit back a smile of joy. A single laugh escaped, like an insane hiccup. Waves of euphoria flushed through her chest, mixed with crippling guilt pooled in her stomach as her head and her heart battled to dominate her emotions.
Jimmy had felt so good, so right, so perfect in her arms, against her skin, inside her heart, but what they’d done was so horribly, horribly wrong. She had been stupid and weak, exhausted from always telling herself no. Just once, she wanted to say yes, to give in to that all-consuming desire she felt whenever he was around. For one single, stupid moment, she said yes. And it would never happen again. She had told him once already, and she would tell him again the moment he returned from picking up Brayden from her mother’s house. But for two seconds, she wanted to rejoice. She called the one person she knew would share in that joy with her, her best friend since childhood, Vanessa Martinez.
In nervous anticipation, she listened to the phone ring across the miles, and then heard Nessa’s beautiful voice, full of heart and humor and California sunshine sing, “Ky, Ky, Bo-by, banana fanna foe-Ky—”
“Nessa,” Kylie interrupted. “I did something stupid.”
“I doubt that.”
“I slept with Jimmy.”
“Ho… Ly…” she breathed out on a long exhale, followed by a heartbeat of dead silence. “Hang on, Ky. I’m a block away from work, and this one’s a doozey. I need to give you my full attention. Once I pull into the parking lot, I’ll only have a few sweet seconds to sit in my car before Frog Man mistakes me for a transient again and tries to have me arrested, so you’re going to have to talk fast and in full, glorious detail. Okay… and… go!”
“I don’t know where to start.”
“With his penis.”
Kylie laughed. “How about I start with Brent’s girlfriend invited me to a football party to set me up with this kid, Trevor, and I really didn’t want to go. I didn’t feel very good this morning. I had a massive headache and was just exhausted from pulling a double shift, and Brayden’s been fussing at night with some molars coming in. I knew if I called Aria she would talk me into going, so I texted Jimmy instead.”
“I’m snoozing here and Frog Man’s shaking his scrawny fist at me. Get to the good part.”
“I’m getting there,” Kylie assured her, but she started talking faster. “Jimmy said I had to go to keep him company. I said I could just text him all night and he said I’d better come up with something interesting to talk about. As a joke, I texted, ‘What are you wearing?’ It started from there.”
Nessa let out a surprised laugh. “Omigod, Ky! You sexted a guy? You?”
“I know, right?” Kylie blushed. “I still don’t know what came over me. And it was some pretty heavy stuff. Like fifteen minutes into our conversation, I ended up going to Dan and Stacy’s. I don’t know what I was expecting when I got there, but I showed up and Jimmy looked like he was going to have a heart attack when I sat down like four feet from him and texted, ‘Pretend we’re alone. Touch me.’ I never once looked at him, and he avoided looking at me, but we texted back and forth the most sensual sexual experience I ever dreamed of having. It was raw, it was hot as hell and I wanted so bad to just reach over and touch him. But I couldn’t. And that made it so much more erotic.”
“Balls, Ky. Holy balls.”
“I was hot. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding in my chest. I swear my face was probably bright red from the excitement. Dan kept giving me this look, like he knew something was up but he couldn’t figure it out. Jimmy was just sitting there cool as a cucumber, like nothing was going on, except he had a bead of sweat at his temple. He only glanced at me once during the whole thing, and it set every nerve ending I have on fire. His blue eyes were like coal they were so dark.”
“Screw Frog Man, this is getting good.”
“It was beyond good.” Kylie fanned herself to cool the fire racing across her cheeks. “And then Dan sent us to the store to buy some toilet paper or tampons, or something for Stacy. I don’t even remember what, but I could barely stand up my knees were shaking so bad. I was dizzy and my heart was pounding. I climbed in his truck and was just consumed by his scent and his heat and I could feel him trying desperately not to look at me. He was gripping the steering wheel so tight I thought he was going to rip it in two. We got maybe a block away from the house before Jimmy said ‘Fuck it,’ and threw the truck into park and pulled me into him, and he was just… fire. Oh, my god, Nessa, the way he kissed me…”
“I couldn’t even tell you we got to my house, or inside. I just remember his hands and his lips and his touch. And it was so right. So perfect. Not anything like I imagined it would be. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve thought about it, how many times I’ve dreamed about sleeping with Jimmy. Every single time, I imagined it being absolutely amazing during, but then totally awkward once it’s over.”
“That’s the worst,” Nessa agreed.
“But it wasn’t like that at all. He stayed and he kept kissing and touching, and we talked about everything, and he kept looking at me like he was amazed, like he was the one whose dream had become reality, and we made love again. And it was like we had done it a million times before, like he instinctually knew every single thing I liked. And I don’t know if it’s because he’s just that good at it, or if it’s something deeper between us, something spiritual, but it was… incredible.”
Tears came to her eyes as the emotions of the day started to become overwhelming.
“So this is it, you’re finally together now?” Nessa asked.
“No, we’re not. I’ve already told him it was a onetime mistake, that it didn’t change anything.”
“Oh, Ky,” Nessa sighed in frustration. “Why do you do this to yourself?”
“He’s dating my sister. I’ve already committed the biggest sin known to man by sleeping with him. I’m not going to steal him away completely, too.”
“You can’t steal something from someone if they don’t own it. Jimmy doesn’t belong to Ashley. They’re not married. They’re not engaged. They aren’t even exclusive.”
“But they’re something more than a hookup. And she really likes him. Maybe someday, when she meets someone and falls in love for real and she’s able to let him go, then there will be a chance for us. But I’m not going to push her into that situation. And besides, I have to think about Brayden. I can’t have guys flirting in and out of his life. If Jimmy’s going to be in it, he’s going to be there permanently. And Jimmy’s not ready for that yet.”
“He’s already in Brayden’s life.”
“Not as a father.”
“Keep lying to yourself. It’s gotten you real far already.”
Suddenly, the house shook as the front door slammed open and smacked into the entryway wall. “Ky!”
“Oh, shit!” Panicked, Kylie peered down the hall, toward the living room. “Ash is here.”
“Don’t freak out. Just play it cool,” Nessa advised. “And no matter how guilty you feel, keep your damn mouth shut, at least for today.”
“Okay,” Kylie agreed.
“Love ya, girlie.” Nessa kissed her through the phone. “And congrats on the big O!”
Unable to stop the smile, Kylie rolled her eyes, and then immediately switched gears. Frantically, she combed her fingers through her knotted hair, straightened her shirt, and hurried down the hall to the living room where she found Ashley near hysterics and Trevor standing awkwardly near the door, anxious to escape.
“What’s wrong, Ash?”
“Where the hell have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere! We’ve gone to every store, every gas station, drove by Jimmy’s—Where is Jimmy?”
“I didn’t feel good, he’s picking up Brayden because Mom needs to go to work,” Kylie muttered out in a string of excuses as she continued to obsessively comb at the knots in her hair.
Ashley didn’t have the patience to listen. Shushing Kylie, she grabbed onto her hands. “Stacy’s not with Dan. She’s with Chase. He’s married! How did we not see that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“My friend Jill, the one who’s having a baby.” Frustrated, she spit out, “The father of Jill’s baby is Stacy’s husband, Chase!”
“I thought Dan was Stacy’s husband?”
“So did I, but no! It’s Chase. There’s pictures of him all over Stacy’s bedroom. He’s cheating on Stacy with Jill, and he got Jill pregnant, and the only reason I was even able to go to the party—at his house—was because he’s sitting at the hospital with Jill, while she’s recovering from emergency appendectomy. His wife was giving me a homemade baby quilt to give to his baby-mama! How messed up is that?” She let go of Kylie and brought her hands to her face. “Oh my god, Ky. I’m freaking out here. What am I supposed to tell Jill? We all knew he was a jerk, but she’s going to totally flip her shit when she finds out Chase is married!”
Kylie looked to Trevor for help, but he was even more useless than she felt. “I don’t think you tell her anything today. Wait until she’s home and feeling better, and maybe talk to Chase in the meantime, find out for sure what’s going on.”
“I’m not talking to that asshole ever again. Who cheats on their wife like that?”
As guilt bubbled hot in Kylie’s stomach, almost spilling out in a rush of gruesome confession, Jimmy opened the front door and walked in on their conversation. He carried Brayden in his arms, half asleep and snuggled up against his shoulder, Boo Bear tucked tight in his little arms. He also carried a grease-stained brown paper bag emitting the unmistakable scent of fast food cheeseburgers and French fries, a rental movie, and a six-pack of beer.
On the inside, Kylie panicked, but she kept her cool on the outside, and they may have been able to play off the fact that Jimmy had walked into her house, with her son in his arms, carrying dinner and a movie, but he looked to Kylie before he looked at Ashley. In that moment, Ashley knew.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me! How long, Ky?” she demanded.
Closing her eyes in cheap attempt to hide her shame, Kylie whispered, “Just today.”
“Bullshit,” Ashley muttered under her breath and pushed past Jimmy as she stormed out of the house, Trevor hot on her heels.
“What happened?” Jimmy asked.
Tears poured hot down Kylie’s cheeks. Carefully, she lifted Brayden from Jimmy’s arms and cuddled him close to her heart. She kissed her son’s sweet head, his hair sweaty from sleep, and she whispered, “I can’t do this, Jimmy. I’m sorry.”
“Ky…” His voice cracked.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered again. With a reluctant touch, she placed a hand over his heart and gently pushed him out the door.
Ashley slid into the passenger seat of Trevor’s Audi and slammed the door behind her. She wanted to punch someone, sink her fingernails into flesh and rip it apart, she wanted to bite and kick and scream. She wanted to cry. But the bitch wasn’t worth it.
A few paces behind her, Trevor slipped in behind the wheel and closed his door with more control. He started the engine. “Where to now?”
She slumped in her seat and picked mindlessly at a seam on the leather-wrapped door handle. “Back to Jimmy’s so I can get my shit. Maybe screw you on his bed.”
“I’m up for revenge sex, if you want, but I’m not doing it on his bed.”
Surprised, she turned to face him. She hadn’t paid the guy much attention throughout the day. He had been another body in a crowded room, a means of transportation and distracted conversation. For the first time, she truly looked at him, beyond the high and tight haircut, square jaw and perfect grooming, past the Abercrombie-costumed gym body, and saw a devastating hunger for danger in his world-weary hazel eyes. “Are you serious?”
“Dead serious.” With a brazen touch, he slipped her shirt from her shoulder and skimmed a calloused thumb down to the cusp of her breast, outlining her magnolia tattoo. “I want to see the tattoos you hide.”
She wanted to be bad with him. Very, very bad. There was no way in hell she was taking him to her room at her mother’s house. “I have a place we can go.”
She directed him to Juliette, to Jill’s trailer on the south side of town. The hint of guilt she felt over taking advantage of her best friend’s hospital stay dissipated the moment she closed the door behind them and Trevor’s mouth descended upon hers. Even his taste surprised her, spicy cinnamon, slightly sweet from the beers he’d consumed earlier in the day. He was sanity to her insane, crazy to her sensibility, doing, moving, reacting exactly opposite of what she thought she wanted, making him absolute perfection between her legs.
Later, as he knelt before her in the steaming shower spray, lathering her skin with sweet pea and jasmine, she revealed her tattoos. He lightly nipped the razor blade inked above the cutting scars high on her inner thigh. He pressed hot kisses on the angel wings fluttering on her left shoulder, a memorial to her first boyfriend who died of an overdose the night of her fifteenth birthday. He journeyed around her body, and then she toured his, caressing and massaging his scars and bad memories, carefully reading each chapter of his life story.
They popped popcorn and blended margaritas and let their inner geeks out to watch Iron Man and YouTube stupid cat videos, then made love again and fell asleep twined naked in a nest of blankets on the floor. In the morning, he woke her with hot, greedy kisses, hungry and impatient for more of her. After, she made pancakes while he put his military training to use cleaning the trailer quickly and efficiently, to spotless perfection. Just as they were washing up the last of the dishes, Chase opened the door and carefully walked Jill into the living room. She looked tired and pale, but her eyes were clear of fever and she moved with more ease than she had for the previous week.
Gently, Ashley removed Jill from Chase’s hold and helped her settle onto the sofa. “How are you feeling, love?”
“Better,” Jill assured her, her grip strong as she held Ashley’s arm. “Much better.”
Ashley placed a protective hand over Jill’s belly, felt the baby kick strong against her palm. To Chase, she spat, “You can go now.”
“No, he can stay,” Jill protested. “We rented movies and bought bland foods. We have a Jell-O party planned.”
“No, he needs to get home,” Ashley insisted. She looked pointedly at Chase and mouthed the words so Jill wouldn’t hear, “To his wife.”
Too stupid to lip read, confusion crossed Chase’s expression. “I don’t need go anywhere. I have the whole day.”
Trevor stepped into Chase’s personal space, with his hands clasped behind his back but his stance authoritative, and commanded a more direct approach. “Let’s go for a walk.”