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Hopeless: Chapter 23

Bailey

I can’t sleep. I’ve tried.

When I close my eyes, I see Beau.

I smell Beau.

I taste Beau.

I hear Beau.

I feel Beau’s hands touching me like I’m his for real. I feel his cock hard for me.

My brain is all Beau, all the time. I feel like I’ve got a song stuck on repeat. One I can’t get out of my head.

My brain keeps missing the memo that this thing between Beau and me is fake.

It’s cute how I thought getting out of bartender mode to fall asleep was hard.

But this is worse than the sensation of going around in circles all night long that usually follows me to bed.

So much worse. I’m spinning alright, and it’s a downward spiral that I’m too horny to stop.

I check my phone. It’s 1:54 a.m. and I have my alarm set for six minutes from now. So, there’s no point in trying to sleep. I’m mentally preparing myself to walk across that hallway and slap on a cheery facade. One where I pretend I didn’t grope his dick in public, at a family-friendly event.

I’m not even sure if Beau is here. After the fair, he walked me to the house, ushered me inside, and said he was going to Cade’s house. Then locked the door behind me.

So, I’ve been alone and left to my devices. To my vicious thoughts.

My head took me down the rabbit hole of how the town will spin what we did. They’ll chalk me up to being a cheap whore. And Beau will be the poor, sad soldier just trying to find his way. Rightfully blowing off some steam, they’ll say.

I can just hear the way the old biddies who meet for morning coffee at Le Pamplemousse will talk about it.

That filthy Jansen girl mauling poor Beau Eaton.

Bless Beau. Bless his good fucking heart. For a man who has seen so much, he’s sure got rose-colored glasses on when it comes to me and my reputation.

Maybe we both underestimated how deeply this town hates me, because I don’t think the promise of his last name is helping at all.

It might actually be making things worse.

Before this engagement, I moved around town like a shadow. Now I move with a big freaking target on my back, followed closely by a bunch of envious eyes that seem to track me everywhere I go.

I flop onto my back and press the heels of my hands against my eye sockets, preparing myself to get out of bed. My hands fall away when the sound of an alarm filters in from across the hall. The shrill, repeating beep shatters the silence for a few moments. It’s followed by a gruff, “Fuck,” then heavy footsteps.

I lie flat on my back, alert and listening.

The quiet click of a door. Softer footfalls. And then … silence.

I check my phone. It’s 1:59 a.m. on the nose. One minute before my alarm.

I swear I can feel Beau standing outside my door. We’re holding our breath in time. These 2:11 meetings take a toll on our sleep and our ability to think straight.

A light knock. Butterflies in my stomach.

“Bailey?”

My heart pounds. This isn’t the routine. I’m the one who sets the alarm. I flip my legs out of bed, oversized T-shirt falling mid-thigh as the cool floor seeps into the bottoms of my feet. With my hand on the doorknob, I pause. I don’t know why. Beau doesn’t scare me or make me uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Yet my throat is dry, and my body is coiled up tight like a spring. If I didn’t have my fingers wrapped around the metal lever, my hand would shake.

“Yeah?” I ask.

“You up?”

My lips curve. “That’s an awfully dumb question for a tier one operator.”

“Open the door,” he grumbles, clearly exasperated by my response. But who could blame me? That was a dumb question.

I open the door to face my big, dumb soldier. His body practically fills the corridor, consuming the space, the air. He’s a silhouette in a darkened hallway, lit by the soft glow of his room behind him. Beau’s enigmatic presence sucks all the shadows in from around him, straight into his darkness.

Me included.

“You set your alarm?” I inch toward him, fingers curled around the doorframe to keep myself tethered, as though holding onto the molding might keep me from reaching for him.

“Yeah, but I didn’t need to. I keep waking up at two every night now.”

“But not 2:11?”

“Well, I don’t know. Haven’t made it there.”

I worry my bottom lip. “Then why do you keep letting me set an alarm and come wake you up for a swim?”

He shrugs and drops her gaze. “I enjoy going swimming with you.”

“So you just lie there waiting for me to come knock?”

His lips twist in a mischievous smirk. “Yeah.”

A disbelieving laugh bubbles up out of me. “Beau. Eaton. Do you know how fucking tired I am?”

He looks so boyish right now, only mildly chastised. He doesn’t offer an apology.

Instead …

He offers a wordless thank you.

His thickly corded arm extends into the space between us, and my eyes need a minute to adjust to what I’m seeing in the dim light.

“Is that … ”

I reach out, fingers brushing against the matted, almost woolly texture of my stuffed horse’s coat.

“I stitched it.”

I let go of the doorframe and take the toy in both hands. My fingertips run over the line of perfect stitches down her side. “You stitched her.”

He scrubs at his beard. “Right. Her. Well … she’s Franken-pony now.”

Tears well in my eyes and I blink rapidly to push them away, not risking a glance up at Beau. I’ll sob if I do.

“I found her in a park, forgotten on a bench.” I trace the thread lines again and laugh dryly. “I know now I probably stole some other kid’s toy. But, man, in that moment? God. It felt like the universe gifted me something that was meant to be just mine. I didn’t get Barbies or toys, but I had Princess Peach.”

“Princess Peach?”

I sniff. “Yeah. That changed into just Peaches somewhere along the way. But I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t feel like a princess walking around with this stuffy for a long time.” I smile at the little beige horse. “I thought she’d be in a landfill somewhere by now.”

“Had to dig through three bags of garbage to find her.”

The bridge of my nose stings.

“And then go get a mending kit from Willa.”

“Is that why you went to Cade’s?” I finally force myself to glance up at him, his rugged features appearing darker in the night.

He shrugs. “Yeah. Willa has all sorts of craft shit. Including extra stuffing. She’s gone full Martha Stewart mom.”

I smile sadly. What must that be like? Having a mom who does crafts with you?

“Thank you,” I whisper, stroking the fuzzy, pilled mane. Touching the threadbare faux leather that covers her hooves. “Thank you so much.”

I launch myself at him, hugging him almost violently. My body flying toward his like a magnet that can’t resist the pull. My arms clamp around his torso, Peaches pressed to his back, as a surprised whoosh of his breath breezes over the top of my head. I feel like I’ve squeezed the air out of his lungs. And yet I continue clinging to him, and after a few short beats, his arms wrap around me, and he hugs me back.

I sigh. I melt against him. The protective shell around my heart softens. I don’t think anyone has ever done something so thoughtful for me.

“You’re welcome.” His voice is gritty. It scrapes across my skin, down the side of my neck, and summons gooseflesh over my forearms.

Then he steps back, hands on my biceps. Holding me at a distance when I wish he’d go on touching me.

“Let’s go swimming,” I say brightly. Trying to cover the emotion, the confusion in my voice. Unable to continue facing him, I turn to place Peaches on my bed.

But his voice stops me.

“Nah, Bailey. Get some sleep.”

When I swing back around, he’s propped his hand against the top of the doorframe. Like it’s holding him back. The same way it did me. Until he gave me the sweetest gift and knocked away all my restraint in one fell swoop.

“But I thought you liked swimming with me?”

The way his arm is slung above his head has his bicep bulging and his shoulder tugging at the fabric of his T-shirt. I remember the way he clamped me against him with that exact arm. The way I felt wrapped up safe in him.

“I do.”

“But—”

“But you’re tired. So am I, and it’s probably past 2:11 now. We could both use some sleep.”

I nod, pressing my lips together and taking another step toward the doorway. Toward him.

For all the nights I’ve begrudgingly dragged myself out of bed, I find myself feeling … wounded. Even though I logically understand his choice not to swim tonight isn’t a big deal, I can’t shake the irrational emotion.

I reach for the door handle, offering him a wan smile. “Yeah. Totally,” I say lamely. “Have a good sleep.”

His gaze drags down my body, then slowly back up, settling on my lips for a beat.

Then he taps a flat hand against the frame twice—so casually—before drawing away. For some reason, this exchange is painfully awkward. The humor we usually compensate with is notably absent tonight.

“Is everything okay?” I blurt, foot stepping out into the hall as he takes his first step away.

“Of course, Bailey.” He gives me a reassuring smile over his shoulder and then takes another step.

“Why haven’t you kissed me?” My question rings out in the empty space. I swear it echoes through the entire oversized house.

Beau freezes, going eerily still. He doesn’t turn to face me when he says, “What do you think that dark red mark on your neck is from?”

I reach up, pressing my fingers to what I knew would be there in the morning. “That’s not what I meant.”

He sighs, shoulders rising and falling heavily. He still doesn’t turn my way. “I’ve kissed you plenty. As much as is needed to sell this. I don’t want to blur any lines.”

Sell this. My stomach drops. It makes me feel like there’s something dirty and undesirable about me.

“Right.” My voice is breathy. “Do you think people will find it weird if we never kiss normally?”

He turns now, hands propped on his hips.

“Like a real couple?” I add.

“Do you see lots of real couples out there kissing on the lips all the time, Bailey? Cause I don’t. It’s more just familiar touches in public, don’t you think?”

I nod, swallowing. He’s not wrong. I’m just tired. And confused.

“To be fair, I don’t see many couples full-on making out on the Ferris wheel while avoiding each other’s lips, either.”

He stares, eyes narrowing.

“Is there a reason you’d be okay with kissing my shoulder but not my lips? Is it me? I know people talk a lot of shit about me, but did I do something that—”

“Bailey, don’t finish that fucking sentence,” he grinds out, back to scrubbing a hand over his mouth.

He sounds angry, and it makes emotion well up in me. In my eyes. In my voice. Fuck, I’m about to cry. I can feel it coming, but I forge ahead anyway in a thick, rasping voice. “If I’m doing something wrong, you’ll tell me, right? So I can do this for real with someone one day and not make a total fool of—”

“Fuck it!” His hand rips away from his mouth, like he tore off a piece of tape that was keeping him from talking, and with two long steps, he’s here.

In front of me.

Cupping my head.

Backing me up against the doorframe.

And kissing me.

The edge of the molding bites between my shoulder blades as Beau devours me. Firm lips, soft tongue, rough stubble, big hands.

He consumes me.

And there isn’t a soul here to see it. This is just me and him in a dark hallway. This is … I don’t know what this is.

The hickey he gave me pulses on my neck, the pads of his fingers rake down the back of my head, his thumb strokes at my jawline, all while he kisses me senseless.

A swipe of a tongue.

A moan.

The press of a body.

My hands on his abs. His chest.

For however long we kiss, I don’t feel like dirty Bailey Jansen. I feel like a woman kissing a man who wants her. Really wants her. He can’t fake this. No one could fake this. No one is that good.

Eventually, the fever between us ebbs. Hard, heavy kisses turn to slow, languid ones. He melts against me, hips on hips. My calf rubs against his, and my hands lay flat on his pecs, no longer searching and tugging. Just settling.

“Bailey,” he murmurs against my damp, swollen lips. “You are doing nothing wrong. You have done nothing wrong. Anyone who talks shit about you is cruel and small-minded and not worthy of your attention. You are fucking perfect.”

Beau presses a kiss to my cheek and then pulls away to dive into my eyes. Long, strong fingers brush through my hair and then curve as they tuck it behind my ears. His hands settle around my neck, and he stares me down so seriously that I can’t help but stare back, can’t help but listen and hear what he’s saying.

I nod, eyes fluttering shut as he rubs his thumbs over the tops of my cheekbones, wiping away tears he never let fall.

“Go to bed, Bailey.”

My eyes snap open, my body whining. This is it?

“Get some sleep.”

I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had a hot older man kiss me stupid and then tell me to go to bed.

So I just nod.

He nods back at me and steps away, hands falling from my cheeks. I want to yell at him to put them back. I want his hands on me. All over me. Inside me.

I stay slumped against the doorframe, boneless and stunned from his kiss. It wasn’t my first kiss, but it was my first kiss to feel like that.

Like the house could crumble around us and we wouldn’t notice.

Like I was safe.

He’s stepping back into his room when I finally drum up the will to form words again. “Hey, Beau?”

“Yeah?” He turns, gripping his door handle.

“Why’d you kiss me with no one here to see it?”

The subtle smirk that plays across his lips makes my stomach flip. It’s full of promise, and sensuality, and experience.

“Because I wanted to.”

And with that, he shuts the door.


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