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Hopeless: Chapter 22

Beau

Harvey: Haven’t seen you lately.

Beau: Haven’t seen you lately either.

Harvey: Been busy.

Beau: Yeah? With who?

Harvey: You know.

Beau: No, I don’t. You haven’t told me a single thing.

Harvey: Rich coming from you.

Beau: So, anything you want to tell me, old man? About you? Your life? Any news to share?

Harvey: Nope. Not a thing. Mind your business.

Beau: Chicken.


I swing the oversized hammer over my shoulder one final time, bringing it down with every bit of power I can muster.

I channel every ounce of frustration that bubbles inside of me—that constant feeling of this life not being enough. Of never being satisfied.

I’m realizing I am deeply unsettled and constantly peeking around every corner for that little bit extra. That one thing that will give me some sense of peace.

I thought a good old-fashioned fair game would do the trick.

The hammer hits the pad, and the weight flies up to the top. The sharp ding of metal rings out around us, and the surrounding people watching cheer. I turn, all puffed up like a teenager showing off for his crush.

Except today it’s for my fiancée. I flex and kiss a bicep like a total tool. But I don’t care. The girl laughing at me makes it worth the embarrassment.

I grin at her. Bailey bites down on a smirk and rolls her eyes.

“Alright, kid,” the rough-around-the-edges carnie says. His mullet, which ends in a scraggly gray braid, sways as he waves at the wall of stuffed animals behind him. “Pick of the litter for you and your muscles.”

Some girl shouts my name, asking me to pick something for her, but it’s not Bailey’s voice, so I don’t bother giving her a glance. Instead, I analyze the wall of stuffed toys.

“The horse!” Bailey calls out to me.

I check it out, but it’s too small. I’m not letting her walk around the town fair with a tiny prize when I just made this game my bitch.

I’m not replacing her ripped horse with some cheap fair prize, either.

I take a step toward the end.

“Beau Eaton, don’t you dare pick something huge.”

I turn to face her now. She shakes her head at me as I walk backward, straight into the waiting arms of … a giant stuffed raccoon. The biggest toy they’ve got.

“Why not, future Mrs. Eaton?” I call back, grinning so hard my cheeks hurt. “You love that massive rock I put on your finger, don’t you?”

“Beau.” I guess it’s her turn to use my name as a single-word scolding.

“You also like my massive—”

“Beau Eaton!” She rushes forward, clamping a palm over my mouth. Her eyes sparkle while her loose hair dances in the breeze—she’s fucking glowing.

“I was going to say motorcycle, sugar,” I mumble behind her hand. Then I turn out of her grip to the carny. “I’ll take the massive raccoon, sir.”

“Sir?” The man chuckles as he unclips the oversized stuffed animal. “Not sure I’ve ever been called a ‘sir’ before.”

When he hands me the raccoon, I instantly pass it over to Bailey, amused by the way it reaches from beneath her chin down to her knees.

“This is ridiculous,” she says, peeking around a furry shoulder.

“Utterly,” I agree.

“Am I supposed to carry it all night?”

I throw an arm over her shoulder, getting more and more comfortable touching her. I don’t even think about it. I just draw her close. “It? Kinda harsh. He deserves a name, don’t you think?”

“Who said it’s a male?” she volleys back, smiling up at me. Even with an oversized raccoon in her arms, she finally seems at ease.

So it kills me when I hear someone say in a stage whisper, “Bailey Jansen carrying around a trash panda is the only thing that makes sense about that relationship.”

How fucking dare someone say that loud enough for her to hear?

My eyes narrow and I go to turn, instantly ready for a fight, but Bailey is just as fast.

Her hand shoots up and wraps around my wrist, giving it a sharp tug. “Don’t bother.”

“Bailey, people aren’t allowed to talk to you like that.”

“She wasn’t talking to me.” Bailey tugs again, urging me forward. “She was talking about me. And that’s not new. Let it go.”

I can’t let it go.

“Don’t be impulsive,” Bailey adds as I turn abruptly.

My eyes land on the girl, and she flicks her long blonde hair over her shoulder like her cruelty might impress me.

Fuck her.

I slip into that eerily cool, calculated zone I know all too well. My gaze cuts through the crowd, and I swear I’m seeing at them all through the crosshairs of a rifles cope. I point at the girl, singling her out, and project my voice, enunciating every word very carefully.

“Talk shit about my fiancée again. I fucking dare you.”

Bailey shrinks, but the girl who said it just looks … confused.

I stare hard, not at all uncomfortable in the awkward silence. And when no apologies come, I shake my head at all of them and lead my girl away from the confrontation.

“Beau, you shouldn’t have done that just now,” Bailey whispers tersely.

“You’re right. I should have started doing it a long time ago,” I grit out as I set my sights on the Ferris wheel.

Bailey doesn’t respond, and she stays silent as we wait in line. When we step onto our square and open-air capsule, Bailey instantly dives for the bench across from me. She seats the massive raccoon beside herself so that I’m forced to sit facing her.

I stare at her profile. The feminine line of her jaw, accentuated by the way she’s turned her head to gaze out over the town. The slope of her nose. The unnatural way that she avoids blinking.

She’d be terrible undercover. She looks like a deer caught in headlights, frozen and unmoving.

Our unit moves jerkily, stopping and going as they load other riders into the seats. Bailey still doesn’t look at me, even when we reach halfway up one side of the massive circle.

“Bailey.”

“Mm-hmm.” She crosses her arms as though that could keep me out.

“Come here.”

“I’m fine. My trash panda and I have heard worse. It barely hurts anymore.” She turns now, giving me the stiffest smile I’ve ever seen on her face. “Gets easier to brush off every time.”

Her eyes peek up and to the right. A dead giveaway that she’s lying.

In fact, I get the sense this shit is getting harder to brush off all the time. And I’m not sure if our arrangement is making her feel better or causing her more distress because people still seem to think it’s open season for insulting her.

“Come. Here.” I fold my hand, ushering her forward.

“No, thanks,” she replies, not taking her eyes off the horizon.

“For crying out loud, Bailey,” I grumble as I stand, grab her by the waist, and fall back into my seat with her straddling my lap.

“What are you doing?” Her expression is one of shock as the pod swings back and forth wildly. They mentioned not standing, but fuck that. She needed to be held.

“Holding my fiancée.” I settle my hands on her hips, fingers splaying dangerously low over the top of her ass. We both glance down, acutely aware of the way we’re lined up right now. Her thighs on either side of mine, the hemline of her dress edged up over them.

She swallows, hands on my shoulders. “I said no.”

“Okay.” Her chest rises and falls as her breathing picks up. I know what I do to Bailey. I’m just so fucking torn about whether or not I should be doing it. “Then go sit back over there, if that’s what you want.”

She clears her throat and stares at the view like there’s something fucking interesting out there when we both know it’s just a lot of flat farmlands. “We’re not supposed to stand up.”

I almost laugh. We both know what’s going on here. Age difference be damned. Bet be damned. Bailey and I like each other. We want each other. But we both know we shouldn’t complicate things when this agreement has a pretty firm end date. There’s a pretty obvious parting of ways on the horizon. One that doesn’t feel very amusing at all.

So, I don’t laugh. I dip my head forward and press a soft kiss to the center of her chest, just beneath where her collarbones meet.

She sucks in a breath, arching in toward me. “What are you doing?” Her fingers fist the collared shirt I put on just for her tonight.

“Kissing my fiancée.” I drag my close-cut stubble over her chest, dotting her collarbones with kisses as I go.

“Why?”

“Because I want to.”

Her fingers extend over my shoulders, sliding up my neck as a shiver racks her body. “But no one’s watching.”

I flick the flimsy strap of her dress and watch it fall away, dangling limp over her bicep. “Why does anyone need to be watching?” I kiss the spot where her strap was and glance up at her. With the low sun behind her, her silky hair blazes like a dark fire.

Her tongue darts out over her full bottom lip as her mouth parts on a shaky breath. “Because this is meant to be for show. Right?”

I watch her watching me. Her question hangs between us like a line I know I shouldn’t cross. A line she knows I shouldn’t cross. A line that is becoming consistently less stark the more time I spend getting to know Bailey.

The more time I spend with my hands on her.

“Well, Bailey.” Her face dips closer, as though she’s struggling to hear me over the noise of the fair. “We can give them all a show when we’re at the bottom and just enjoy ourselves when we’re at the top. We can walk off this ride looking a little tousled. How does that sound?”

She flushes, cheeks bright pink, just like her parted lips. Her body hums in my hands, and the surrounding air is downright electric.

“Sounds good,” she whispers.

“You tell me if there’s something you don’t like, okay?” I slide my palm over her elbow, wanting nothing more than to give her pleasure after the earlier altercation made her crumble. She went from vibrant and happy to locked down and wounded.

I never want to see that look on her face again. I want to patch her back up and send her out into the world with confidence, knowing she deserves respect and is strong enough to demand it.

“Okay,” her voice cracks, and her thumb swipes over the bone behind my ear as she settles her weight on my crotch.

I give her a stern nod, willing my cock to not go full mast. But that’s a losing battle.

When I drop my lips to the soft tops of her breasts, the twanging sound of that one flimsy thread of my control snapping echoes in my ears.

Impulsive.

The word repeats in my head as my hands roam her body. And I don’t give a fuck.

Being impulsive has never felt this good.

My tongue darts out, leaving a trail of glistening saliva over her cleavage. Her head tips back and she moans, all breathy and scandalized sounding.

That fucking moan.

All hope of not walking off this ride with a raging hard-on evaporates in an instant. Poof. Gone.

I move back up her chest, her thighs snug against mine as she squeezes herself closer. Tighter against me.

Her fingers dive into my hair as I work my way back up her sternum. I take my time and savor every inch of her. Every little huff of breath, every whimper.

But the closer we draw to the ground, to the line of people who will no doubt see us, the more she tenses up. She’s not a showy person. She’s perfected flying under the radar, and straddling me in public is definitely not that.

“Bailey.”

“Yeah?”

My lips brush over the expanse of skin where her neck meets her shoulder. I haven’t kissed her lips yet.

I’m still not sure I should. Not sure I’ll recover.

Not sure I’ll be able to walk away after that.

“Ignore them.” I rake my fingers through her hair on the side where people congregate, trying to break her line of sight.

We stay locked in a tense, quiet moment. My hand in her hair, my arm over her back, caging her in.

“Ignore them,” I say again as we trend back up again.

“It’s hard,” she whispers against my ear, sounding a little broken.

When we’ve passed the crowds and head back up into the evening sky, I ask, “Do you mean this?” I guide her hand between my legs to my cock.

She sucks in a breath but doesn’t pull away. Her hand grips me through my jeans almost instantly, like she just can’t help herself.

“Or do you mean how hard I’m going to bite you for the hickey you left on my neck last time?”

I don’t give her a chance to reply before I latch on to the tender flesh of her neck. One hand travels under her skirt, gripping her ass hard enough to leave marks there too.

The sharp gasp that rushes from her sifts through my close-cut hair and over my neck. I pull away and stare at the red spot blooming on her neck before meeting her sultry gaze. Bailey’s previously worried eyes are now full of fire.

“Impulsive looks good on you, Bailey,” I rasp before lifting her strap back onto her shoulder, then opting to hold her against my chest for the rest of the ride.

Holding her seems safe enough. Safer than kissing her again, than biting her again. Better to pull back now before we both lose our minds and go altogether too far.


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