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Hopeless: Chapter 21


Beau: You at home?

Bailey: Yes.

Beau: What are you doing?

Bailey: Edging.

Bailey: FML. I am *EDITING*.

Bailey: My resume. Polishing it up. Changing a few things.

Beau: We really just going to skip over the edging part?

Bailey: Yes. It was an autocorrect.

Beau: Why does your phone assume you mean edging though?

Bailey: Guess my phone knows you.

“What is that?” Bailey points at the shiny black and chrome Harley I just pulled up on.

I bought it to give myself something to do that isn’t holding my dick while thinking about you.

I don’t say that, though. Instead, I say, “My new motorcycle,” like the Neanderthal I am around her.

“But why?” She lifts her sunglasses off her eyes, pushing them back on her head. I know what she looks like, but I study the movement. She’s painted her nails a pretty peach color that pops against the tan tone of her skin. Her lips glisten with gloss, and a bead of sweat trails down her chest, right between her breasts. The ones propped up in a creamy orange triangle bikini top.

I assume she’s wearing matching bottoms, but I refuse to let my eyes trail that far down.

Today I’m in control. I won’t ogle the twenty-two-year-old propped on a lounger, sunbathing on my back deck.

“Because I wanted to.”

“Is this a thing you’ve always wanted?”

My head quirks as I rip off my helmet. “No. Does it need to be?”

Her gaze peruses me all the way down and then all the way back up. She’s blatant. And it makes me wonder why I keep thinking of Bailey as innocent or treating her like she’s made of glass.

The girl flat out told me we could do things that aren’t sex, like I didn’t know that was an option.

But I’ve always known it was. And I’ve always known it wouldn’t be enough.

She crosses her legs tightly and glances away. “Just seems kind of unsafe.”

I take a couple of steps closer to my back deck, even though I dread coming that close to her.

Proximity to Bailey has an intoxicating effect.

“We could all die tomorrow, Bailey. Gotta do what makes us happy today.”

Now her gaze is back on me, and her brow rises. She’s silently rubbing my face in what we talked about just last night.

Would you have fucked me? She threw the words at me like weapons, didn’t lower her volume or dance around the subject.

I glare at her until her plush lips tip up in a knowing smirk. She lowers her sunglasses and settles back in her lounger as though dismissing me. “If I didn’t know you were a total stick in the mud, I’d say your new personality trait is impulsiveness.”

I puff up with a bit of defensiveness at that. After years of special forces training, my impulse control is something I pride myself on.

You can’t be impulsive on missions. It’ll get you killed.

Or stranded.

I shove that thought away as quickly as it springs to life. “I am not impulsive,” I mutter and glance at the creek, wondering if I should grab my fishing gear and head out for the afternoon. It’s Saturday after all. Normal people do things like going fishing on Saturdays.

“Could have fooled me.” She glides a palm over the length of her slender arm, as though rubbing more sunscreen in.

“Bailey.” I sigh out her name. In a lot of ways, I appreciate her candor. In a lot of ways, she tests my patience.

“You decide to pick up a short-lived drinking habit at my bar.” She holds her hand up, lifting her fingers as she prepares to list all the ways I am out of control. “You look for fights in said bar.”

“I don’t—”

“You get engaged to a girl you barely know, mostly for shits and giggles. You buy an absurdly expensive ring for her.” She flips that finger up and waves her hand in my direction.

A grin stretches across my face. I don’t regret that ring, not for one fucking minute. “Don’t see you complaining, sugar.”

Bailey shoots me a saucy glare, and, fuck, she looks her age when she does. Ponytail high on her head. Silky, lithe body sprawled on my chaise lounge. Nails painted obnoxiously bright.

“And now you buy a motorcycle? Apparently, I’m the only one you’re terrified of being impulsive with.”

She sounds bratty. The tilt of her head makes me want to fist that thick ponytail, give it a tug, and tell her to watch her fucking tone.

I shove my fists into the pockets of my jeans, it’s far too hot standing around in leather and denim under the scalding sun. Or maybe she’s the one I should blame for feeling like I’m suffocating.

“Felt pretty impulsive when you came that hard on my fingers, Bailey.”

Her sunglasses cover her eyes, but she’s glaring at me. I can tell by the way her lips purse, by the way she crosses her arms under her pert breasts and her shoulders creep up.

“Put some clothes on. I’m taking you to the town fair.”

“No, thank you.”

“Yeah? How’s the job hunt going, Bailey?”

She tips her chin up defiantly. “Great. I dropped off a bunch of resumes this morning.”

“And this week?”

Her jaw ticks. “You know I did.”

“Hear anything back?”

“Fuck you,” she murmurs with a shake of her head, clearly frustrated.

“You can’t keep letting those assholes see that you’re scared of them.”

“I’m not!” she snaps, and I know I’ve hit a sensitive spot.

“You’re better than them, Bailey.”

We have a silent staredown. I know she’ll never respond to my statement. I suspect, deep down, she doesn’t believe the words.

But I do.

“Get dressed. We leave in”—I lift a wrist to check my watch—“two hours. I’ll take you to dinner first.”


“Fine. I’ll take you wearing that.” I wave a hand over her orange bikini. “Since I’m so impulsive, I’ll probably break the wrist of every fucker who so much as looks at you.”

Her jaw drops, mouth opening so daintily. The speechless reaction fuels me, so I prop my helmet on the new bike and bound up the stairs to get showered.

But not before I stop at her chair, fist her ponytail, tug her head back to drop a kiss to her forehead, and say, “Let’s go give ‘em something to talk about, sugar tits.”

“Everyone is staring at us.”

“No, they aren’t,” I reply while regarding the check.

“They are.”

I don’t bother glancing up. I know people are gawking. Talking. Whispering. I don’t especially care, but Bailey does. She’s kept her eyes downcast, and she’s spent most of our dinner with her left hand hidden beneath the table.

“They’re only staring because we’re sitting on the same side of this booth, which is fucking weird.”

Her head snaps up as she hisses, “You’re the one who yanked me in here beside you!”

I smile at her because I like when she’s feisty and shit. Normally, I’d hate the sensation of being boxed into a corner where there’s no view of the door and no easy escape. It’s a terrible defensive position. But it was worth it to not leave her alone on the other side, exposed to prying eyes—worth it to feel Bailey so close for an entire meal.

I reach up and drape an arm over her shoulders, pulling her stiff body into mine. Then I drop my head, dusting my lips over the shell of her ear. “Fuck yeah, I did. And I’d do it again.”

When she tilts her face up to mine, her breath whispers against my lips as her eyes move around my face.

We’re seated in the fanciest steakhouse that Chestnut Springs offers. It’s booked solid, full of people, on a Thursday night that coincides with the kickoff of our weeklong town fair.

But when she looks at me with this intensity, our surroundings melt away.

I don’t know how no one else sees it. Sees her. It’s like we’re all staring at the same painting and every other person in this town is missing the point.

Without thinking too long about it, I drop my head closer and let a sliver of light through the door of our arrangement. An opening for her to kiss me.

“We should go,” she whispers, tilting her head ever so slightly. Her soft lips graze my rough stubble, and I’m transported back to that night at 2:11 when she came into my room. Those same lips against my chest. Her tight heat around my fingers. My utter lack of control to stop myself where she was concerned.

“Thanks for dinner.” The words filter back to me as she turns to slide herself out of the booth. Another delicate, feminine summer dress, this time in blue, trails behind her on the leather bench.

I swallow hard and follow her, muttering under my breath, “You’re going to be the death of me.”

With a stiff back, she twists the engagement ring on her finger while people stare. She’s uncomfortable. It’s written all over her body, which is why my arm is back around her in no time.

I hug her against my side as we walk through the restaurant. “Do it, sugar. Put your hand in my back pocket. You know you want to,” I murmur before pressing a soft kiss to her hair.

Someone gasps, followed by a trail of harsh whispers.

He’s been through a lot.

War changes people.

I’m sure it’s just a phase.

It makes me furious. It makes me want to lay Bailey in the middle of their table and kiss her senseless just to prove a fucking point.

But that would be impulsive.

So I don’t.

I kiss her hair again, and though I know she must have heard their cruel sentiments … she slides her hand into my back pocket, and we push out into the sunny summer evening.

The sounds of the fair filter down from the end of Rosewood Street. Buzzers buzzing, bells ringing, children screaming. The air smells like popcorn and cinnamon mini donuts. We follow that tantalizing scent down the sidewalk.

My arm slung over her shoulder, her hand in my pocket.

And all the way to the fair, neither of us draws away.


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