Choosing Theo: Chapter 22

I could kill him!

After all that, she’d still ended up in the bathing room. He’d roughly dropped her here after coming in, then left, locking her inside.

Her treacherous body was still feeling the effects of their beach scuffle. How could someone she despised turn her on that much? If he hadn’t stopped, she would’ve come right there in the sand. No question.

Jade shivered. It felt like it would’ve been a really good orgasm too.

Was he going to come back? What was she going to do if he did come back?

The fear of getting naked and wet with a complete stranger wasn’t the only reason she fought so hard to get away. The sexual attraction she felt toward Theo was undeniable. She didn’t trust herself to be naked in a tub with him.

They’d been together less than two days, yet she was already so sexually frustrated that being in a bath with him might send her over the edge.

She rifled through the contents of a nearby cupboard but only found towels and a large bottle with thick, shimmering liquid. As she closed the drawer to the cupboard, she noticed something shiny on the wall.

She concluded it was some sort of control panel. The screen illuminated when she waved her hand in front of it. Four small squares appeared on the panel.

What’s the worst that could happenThe tub drains, and I get to leave?

The first button she pressed caused a blinding light to fill the room. Shielding her eyes, she pressed the button again to turn the light back down. The next two buttons she pressed caused the steam in the room to intensify and abate.

A loud whirring sound filled the room when she pressed the last button. She turned to see that jets in the bathing pool had been activated. Her shoulders slumped. Well, that doesn’t help.

Maybe I’ll leave them on anyway. When she was young, her father had owned a jacuzzi for a while, and she’d always liked to run the jets on and float on the softly bubbling water. When she was about seven, they’d had to get rid of it because…

An idea came to her in a flash. She dashed to the cupboard and pulled open the drawer containing the bottle of thick liquid. She ran to the edge of the pool and dumped the contents into the water, all while chanting, “Please let this be soap. Please let this be soap.”

Frothy bubbles started to form, covering the surface of the water like a blanket.

Ha! She smiled triumphantly.

The reason her father had to get rid of the jacuzzi when she was a kid was because she’d broken it. She’d poured bubble bath into the water, thinking it’d be fun to use the jacuzzi instead of the bathtub, not knowing that soap clogged up the jets.

Suddenly the door opened and Theo strode through, carrying two large bottles of that red drink. He looked slack-jawed at the mountain of bubbles now forming in the pool.

Shooting her a lethal glare, he stalked toward the panel to turn off the jets. “Here,” he said, holding out the bottle to her.

She eyed it wearily but made no move to take it.

He clenched his jaw then started walking toward her, at which point, she quickly backed away. Setting the bottle on the floor, he returned to stand near the front of the room.

He stared at her menacingly as she retrieved the bottle and sipped. “Strip and get in.”

“No,” she said firmly.

“If I have to come over there and do it for you, I will, but I doubt you want me near you right now.”

She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes.

It only took one step in her direction before she cried, “Okay! At least turn around.”

“So, you can throw that bottle at my head? No thanks,” he snapped.

“I’m not stripping in front of you,” she argued, shooting him a lethal glare.

Gradually he turned away. “You have ten seconds to get in that tub!” he barked.

She stripped quickly then slid into the tub from the ledge. Once in the water, she made sure the bubbles shielded her body from view.

Theo turned back around and stared at the bubbles as though trying to see through them.

After taking a swig from his bottle, he set it on the ground and started to undress. Jade tried to look away, but it was like her eyes were magnetically drawn to him.

He pulled his shirt over his head and revealed his broad shoulders, rock-hard chest, and chiseled abs. She barely contained an appreciative sigh. As he started unbuttoning his pants, Jade forced herself to look away and focus on retrieving her booze.

Bottle in hand, she chanced a glance over her should and saw that Theo was now sitting on an underwater ledge, staring at her.

“What was that on the beach?” she snapped. “Does tackling people turn you on or something?”

Theo scrubbed a palm over his chin. “Chasing does. Not tackling.”

Jade arched her eyebrow. She hadn’t been expecting that answer and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why the thought excited her.

Not knowing what else to say, she asked, “How long do we have to stay in here?”

“We can leave when we’re both done bathing.” Theo made a show of stretching his arms over the ledge of the pool.

Pursing her lips, Jade said, “And I suppose you’ve decided to take your time.”

“What’s the rush?” he replied casually.

Locating another submerged ledge, Jade got comfortable. His stubborn ass would probably make her stay in here all night.

“What was your life like on Earth?”

The only conversations she’d had with Theo were either fraught with sexual tension or anger. Jade was surprised to hear a genuine question about her life from him. Not knowing how to traverse this new terrain, she decided an honest answer would be best. What was the harm in him knowing about her life?

“Well, I live in a house alone and I work as a landscape designer.” At his confused expression, she added, “I help people make their yards and gardens beautiful.”

“Do you enjoy that work?”

Was landscape design her passion? No. Jade had chosen her career because her aunt, who’d raised her for the most part, had been a landscape designer. Although very good at her job, Jade had never enjoyed it.

“I was good at it and it paid the bills. Do you like your job?”

Theo tensed and ignored her question. “Why did you live alone?”

She didn’t know exactly how to answer that question. “Why does anybody live alone? I hadn’t found anybody I wanted to live with, I suppose.”

“No husband or family?”

His tone was very casual, almost too casual. Jade rolled her eyes. “You don’t care about any of that. You’re just trying to interrogate me again. Aren’t you?” Why else would he care about her life outside of here?

“Why can’t it be both?” If he was bothered by the fact that she’d just caught him trying to suss out information about her, he didn’t show it.

“How about this…I’ll answer your questions as long as you answer mine. If you don’t answer my questions, though, I can leave.” Jade reasoned that asking him about himself would help to distract from the fact that they were in a tub together naked. And that was the only reason. It definitely wasn’t because she was curious about the hot, mysterious, brooding man sitting across from her.

In answer to her proposition, Theo gave a small nod.

The only downside to this agreement was that she now had to answer his earlier question about her family. Jade had always hated talking about her family or lack thereof. Her heart ached whenever she talked about her parents and her aunt. The pity she saw in people’s eyes only made it worse.

Better get it out fast, Jade thought, taking a long swig from her bottle. “My parents died when I was young. I was raised by my aunt.” She spoke quickly, fearing that her already frayed emotions would snap. “After my aunt died, I decided to stay in our house. I live there alone now. I don’t have any other family.”

When she met his eyes, she expected to see the usual pity. Like she was an animal with a broken leg that everybody “awwwed” over but couldn’t help.

Instead, she saw…compassion? “How did your parents die?” he asked solemnly.

More curious about Theo than before, she chose not to answer his question and instead said, “It’s my turn. Do you have any family?”

He shifted his shoulders then replied, “Yes. Four brothers and one sister. My parents have both passed on.”

“Do you see them often? Do they live near here?”

He looked as though he weighed his answer carefully before responding. “They live close by but I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. Out of all of them, I see my sister the most.

“You owe me two answers now. What happened to your parents and aunt?” he asked firmly.

Her protective shield of humor firmly in place, she answered, “They refused to get me the pony I wanted for Christmas, so I killed them all. That’s how my life as an assassin began.”

The corner of Theo’s mouth quirked, but otherwise he stayed silent and waited for a real explanation.

“Tough crowd,” Jade quipped under her breath, then with a deep sigh, her gazed fixed on the bubbles in front of her, she answered honestly. “My mother died during childbirth…while having me,” she added feeling a familiar tightness in her throat.

“My father raised me for a while but then he got sick. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, so I’ll just say he was very sick for a long time and then, when I was ten, he died and I went to live with my aunt.”

Feelings of sadness and loneliness always tore through her when she talked about her father and aunt. When she talked about her mother, however, she felt guilt.

When Jade had gotten old enough to understand what had happened to her mother, she’d felt such a weight of responsibility that her birth had caused her mother to die.

Her sweet father had always tried to reassure her it wasn’t her fault. He told her he loved her more than anything in the world and her mother never would have blamed her, but a small part of Jade had never believed him.

Maybe if he’d remarried, she might’ve believed him, but he never had, and he’d always teared up whenever he’d spoken about the great love of his life, her mom.

“I’m sorry you never knew your mother and that your father died when you were a child,” Theo said frankly. “My mother died when I was young as well.”

Jade glanced up into Theo’s eyes and recognized the ache she saw in them.

“Jade I…I’m sorry you had to experience all that pain and death.” Sincerity shone through his eyes when he said this, and she found herself feeling a little better. It was strange how his acknowledgement, not of her “loss” as so many liked to call it, but of her pain soothed her.

Not wanting to talk about her parents anymore, Jade rushed to finish answering his question. “Anyway, I was raised by my aunt, and five years ago she became sick the same way my father had. After she died, I started shutting everyone out.” Jade took a long drink from her bottle. “You can’t feel the pain of losing someone if you don’t have anyone to lose.”

Emotion suffocating her chest, she attempted to change the subject. “Are there any more surprise mandatory rituals I’m unaware of?”

Instead of pressing her for more information about her family, he allowed the conversation to shift. “A few. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, though.”

The annoyance she experienced at his smug tone was a welcome relief from the sadness she’d felt a moment ago. Jade couldn’t help but wonder whether his tone had been purposefully used to change her mood. She smiled inwardly at the thought and then scolded herself.

Stop crushing on the alien who just manhandled you! She was leaving in one year, and even if she weren’t, he hated her. Sure, he definitely wanted to have sex with her, but they could never have a real relationship.

Jade needed a reminder of his temper, so she decided to ask him about the one thing that would rile him up and get him to storm out. “What’s the story with your marks? They’re different than everyone else’s. Why?”

As if on cue, he tensed. “I don’t want to talk about my birth marks,” he replied in a low growl.

“No answer? Is bath time over then?” Jade asked hopefully. Theo would have to pick which battle he lost now.

As Jade waited for his answer, she could almost see the gears turning in his head. “We’ll stay,” he said finally.

Both disappointment and excitement washed over her. At last, she’d find out what the deal was with these marks.

“My mother was an off-worlder too,” he began.

Jade couldn’t see how this related to his scars but she didn’t want to interrupt.

“She was a leader of her clan, from a planet called Traxia, a Class 3 planet. Everything is much harsher there. The whole planet is very hot and dry. Covered in desert. The people of Traxia live in different clans, and they’re all constantly at war with one another.”

It was no wonder his mother wanted to stay here instead. But how did this relate to his scars?

“One of the more ruthless clans from a neighboring city was planning an attack against my mother’s people. My mother knew they wouldn’t win if attacked, so she sought help. She made a deal with the Clecanians. She’d stay on Clecania and try to produce offspring, if they provided her with soldiers.”

“What happened?” Jade asked, enthralled.

“She stayed and had many children, and Clecanian mercenaries fought against the invading clan until they were defeated.” Theo’s eyes became unfocused. “Everything was good for a while. She chose to stay married to one male, and they were happy together. I was their first born.”

Theo paused here to take a long pull from his bottle, obviously dreading the next part of his story. “When I was a young male, she decided it was time for me to visit Traxia and meet the rest of my family. My siblings were still too young to go, so they stayed behind with my father. A day after we arrived, the city was attacked. They stole everything of value then burned everything else.” Theo’s eyes grew unfocused as he continued. “I remember fires raging all around me while my mother and I ran. Then an explosion went off right next to us, and I was knocked out. When I woke up, everyone was dead. The intruders were gone, and I was alone. I wandered that planet for weeks, surviving off of bugs and small animals. There was no shelter from the sun anywhere since all the buildings had been destroyed and most of my clothing charred. By the time my father finally found me, I was so badly burned that I was unrecognizable.”

“And your mother?” Jade questioned breathlessly.

“My mother had been crushed by debris saving me. My father never recovered from her loss. He was a hired soldier and died in a battle off-world a few years ago.” Theo gulped and took another swig of his mott.

Turning his attention to her, he stared. “My mother died because of me as well. Guilt…can be a hard thing to overcome.”

He knew how she felt about her mother without her explaining those emotions. She would never have to justify the irrational guilt that plagued her. He understood.

Jade marveled at the thought that two people from different worlds, galaxies apart, could share such similar emotions. She nodded, silently agreeing. “How old were you?”

Theo stared into the water before him stoically. “Thirteen.”

Thirteen? What kind of emotional damage had been done to him? Had people always treated him with fear and disgust? Even as a young man starting husbandry school? It was no wonder he had a hard time believing she found him attractive. He’d probably been rejected relentlessly.

Had he ever been looked at or touched by a woman with affection? No, Jade concluded.

She found herself softening toward him as she recalled the way his body had relaxed, lids going heavy when she’d tended to his injured hand the night before. “Couldn’t those machines heal you?”

Theo’s eyes snapped back to Jade as though he’d just remembered she was there. “For most of my body, yes. But our birth marks are different. The skin is more sensitive and doesn’t respond to our healing machines as well as the rest of our bodies. If they’d found me early enough, they might’ve been able to fix them, but after weeks in the sun, they were damaged beyond repair,” Theo finished.

Without thinking, Jade blurted, “I can see why you hate them. The marks, I mean.”

Theo narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists. “So, you finally admit—”

“Wait! No, I didn’t mean it the way you think,” she interrupted. “I just meant it must be hard to constantly see those marks and be reminded of what happened.”

Unconvinced, Theo continued to glare at her. How could she make him understand that she didn’t see what others did?

“I don’t think they look like burns. When I first saw you, I thought they were tattoos.”

“Tattoos?” Theo grated.

“They’re very common on Earth. They are like permanent drawings on your body. Most people nowadays have one. The design chosen usually has some special meaning to the person getting the tattoo.”

He still didn’t seem convinced. “These,” he said, motioning to the markings running along his arm, “are not intentional designs. They’re burn scars. Here, on Clecania, they’re ugly and they represent imperfection and weakness.”

“Not to me,” she said, eyeing him seriously. “Not every girl wants a knight in shining armor.”

“A what?”

“It’s an expression. A long time ago on my planet, some soldiers, called knights, used to wear heavy pieces of silver metal all over their bodies to protect them against weapons. The image of a knight in shining armor became something women referenced when they were wishing for a good man to come into their lives.”

Theo continued to scrutinize her.

“So today instead of saying, ‘I wish a strong, handsome man would show up and take care of me,’ they say, ‘Where’s my knight in shining armor?’” Jade was starting to get heated thinking about the way Theo had gotten his scars and about how everyone had treated him like some kind of pariah for it.

“The problem with that expression is that no woman should wish for a knight in shining armor. A knight with shining armor has probably never been to war. They’ve never fought or been hurt. If you want a strong man who can protect you, then you should hope for a knight in dented, scratched, rusted armor. That knight has fought and survived.”

She motioned toward Theo and said, “You earned those scars. You survived. The marks that cover your body are an outward representation of your inner strength. Those marks represent the opposite of weakness, and anyone who thinks differently is an idiot.”

He was staring at her now with his head cocked to one side.

“Also, perfect people are boring,” she snapped. “Every imperfection tells a story. I’d be very upset if I didn’t have some of my scars. That’s why I told that doctor not to heal them.”

That caught his attention. “You chose to keep your scars?”

“Some of them. My tattoo…” she pulled her ear forward, exposing the small star tattoo behind it, “…and a few others that remind me of different things.”

He scanned the exposed parts of her body.

“They aren’t in a place you can see right now.”

Theo’s eyes lowered to the thin sheet of bubbles shielding the view of her body and growled low in his throat.

She shivered and felt the inexplicable urge to jump out of the water and give him a better view. Cool your jets, girl! He’s the enemy, remember?

As she learned more about him, Jade started to wonder if that was still true. Sure, he had a temper and was a little heavy handed with her, but he hadn’t actually done anything to hurt her. Physically or verbally. All his bluster was meant to scare her off because he believed she was there to betray him in some way.

If what Asivva had said about his job was true, then she could understand how a deeply insecure man might come to that conclusion.

Jade wanted time to think through her feelings. For now, she couldn’t trust herself around him. She’d have to make sure and choose her words more carefully.

Even after what everyone had told her, Jade still didn’t understand why women didn’t want him. She’d assumed the inexplicable draw of the “bad boy” was universal. Did he ever interact with women?

Jade was feeling bold, so she decided to voice her question. “Do you have sex often?”

He wasn’t expecting her to ask him that, that’s for sure. It took him only a moment to recover. “Every few weeks. Why?”

“I think you’re exaggerating about your scars. You said women don’t like you, but they like you enough to have sex with you occasionally.”

With a deep scowl, he said, “There are some females from around here who like to visit me every so often, it’s true. They chose to marry soft, pretty males and have pretty babies. They come to see me when they want to be fucked.”

Yep. Jade was right. The draw of the “bad boy” factor was universal.

“When these females visit, I bend them over the closest surface. They don’t spend much time admiring my looks.” He sneered. “How many males have you been with?”

Jade guessed it was only fair that he ask her about this as well. “Been with in what way? Dated? Had sex with? Kissed?”

Theo looked puzzled. “Kissed?”

“You know…kissed. With your mouth.” Jade didn’t know what to say. Kissing was kissing. Did they not kiss here?

“Do you mean oral stimulation? Do females do that for males on Earth?” he questioned.

Jade’s face heated as she deduced what he might mean by “oral stimulation.” “Yes, women from Earth do…that, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Kissing is when you press your mouths together.” Explaining how to kiss wasn’t easy, Jade realized. She couldn’t think of a way to describe it that made it sound pleasurable.

The expression on Theo’s face made it clear that kissing wasn’t common on Clecania. “That doesn’t sound pleasant.”

Jade’s eyes locked on his lips when she imagined kissing him for the first time. Although he’d never kissed before, something told her he’d be a fast learner. “Kissing is wonderful. I guess it may sound gross at first, but trust me, it can be wonderful. If you kiss the right person, anyway.”

He looked at her mouth, brows drawn, trying to imagine it.

Uh-oh. Have to change the subject before I decide to teach the alien more about kissing. “Theo, I was wondering if I could ask a favor?” His eyes focused on hers.

“I wanted to invite a woman named Asivva over to help me finish picking out the things I’ll need. She was very nice to me at the ceremony, and she said that she knew you.” Jade noticed a muscle twitch in Theo’s jaw at the mention of Asivva’s name and again she had the sense that there was a long history between them.

Still raptly gazing at her, he said, “I’ll let her visit, but I want something from you.”

“That’s not surprising,” she mumbled. “What do you want?”

Oh God, what was he going to ask for now? She was already naked and in a bath with him. Now that he knew Earth women gave blow jobs, he’d probably ask for that. Especially if women here did not.

“I’d like to take you up on your offer.”

“Offer?”

“To lick my scars.” He gave her a predatory grin that made her core clench.

This was obviously some kind of test. The way he stared at her smugly as if he was about to catch her bluffing stopped her from flat-out refusing.

Did Jade want to lick the handsome damaged man? Hell to the yeah. Did she think she should? Probably not.

If she got close enough to him and touched him, she might not be able to stop herself from doing more. An old children’s book she’d loved flashed in her mind. If you give a girl a chiseled pec, she’ll ask for a bulging bicep.

What other choice did she have? She needed to see Asivva. She had so many questions, and whenever she talked to Theo she just got flustered or angry.

“Okay,” she said finally.

Theo cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “Okay?”

“Yes. Okay,” Jade said firmly. “I was embarrassed you heard me say that, but I wasn’t lying about wanting to do it. I’ll lick one scar only, and you’ll keep your hands at your sides. Agreed?” Rules that were more for her than him.

He grunted but lowered his hands into the water at his sides.

Jade finished off her bottle and slowly made her way over to him. She made sure to stay below the surface of the water and accumulate bubbles along the way.

Damn. The closer she got, the more she noticed how delicious he was. His damp, raven hair was disheveled. His tanned skin was slick from the water, and the muscles of his arms and chest gleamed.

Which scar to choose? A jagged one along the top of his shoulder and a curved design over his heart drew her eye first. Then, she looked at his throat, remembering when he’d licked her there.

Jade decided to repay the favor. A long, dark line began at his nape, curled around his neck, and then ended in a point near his collar bone.

Once she neared him, she had to position herself between his legs in order to be close enough to reach his neck. She found his gaze riveted to her barely concealed breasts.

She snapped in front of his eyes to get his attention. “Remember, no touching.”

He frowned at her.

She leaned forward and gently placed her hands on his chest to steady herself. His muscles jumped under her touch, and he stifled a groan.

As she drew nearer to his tattoo, she could feel his heartbeat pick up speed. He was excited, and she decided she wanted to make this good for him.

She licked her way up his neck, starting near his Adam’s apple. Reaching the area where her sensitive spot was located, she started slowly kissing. When she used her teeth to give him a soft bite, he hissed in a breath.

Damn, he smelled good. His skin was warm and smooth.

When Jade moved up to a spot just under his ear, Theo’s chest started to vibrate, and a rumbling sound came from him.

Pulling away from him, she laughed. “Are you purring?” Jade had never heard a sound like that come from a human. He was like a very large cat, and she thrilled at the fact that she’d caused him to produce that contented sound.

“What?” he said, dazed. In an instant, he changed. His eyes cleared and he grew rigid. “Back away from me,” he growled.

“I thought you lik—”

“Back away!”

Jade jumped and hastily backed away. Looking down, she understood.

The bubbles had vanished, and her breasts were in full view.

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