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Hopeless: Chapter 27

Beau

I don’t wake up screaming for once.

But I wake up with phantom burning pains. My first thought is that this is an improvement. My second thought is that it’s 2:11 a.m. and Bailey didn’t come to my room.

I should be happy I seem to be improving, even if my healed feet feel like they’re sizzling against a hot grill beneath the covers.

But all I can think about is Bailey. The girl I’m supposed to be helping, not playing games with.

I saw her today. The way she looks at me. How easily she told me she trusts me.

She shouldn’t.

And I shouldn’t have taken as much trust as I did. Said the things I did.

I thought about marching across the hall and dragging her into my bed. It kills me to know she’s right there, yet just beyond my reach. It kills me to know there’s an expiration date on our arrangement. But there needs to be, because I’ve gotten myself in far deeper than I ever should have. I’ve taken my hero complex to unseen levels.

This mission I backed myself into is beyond compromised, and she has no idea.

I scrub at my face and roll up to sitting, turning to press my feet against the cool floor. It does nothing to stop the burning sensation on my feet or the roiling in my stomach. I basically promised her a next time when I shouldn’t have. I know I should keep her at a distance, but I wish she was in my bed, not alone in hers after what we just did. I want the “next time” to be right now.

How fucked-up am I? I’m hot and cold. I say left and go right.

I tell a girl who needs help getting a job that her pussy is mine now, like I’m some sort of over-the-top obsessive caveman.

She makes me feel like I am.

I’m so lost in thought that I don’t even hear her approach. She rushes into my room without knocking. Tiny shorts, an even tinier tank top, and totally disheveled hair. “I’m so sorry! You orgasmed me stupid, and I forgot to set my alarm.”

Hands propped on the edge of the bed, chin almost against my chest, I laugh silently. My shoulders shake, and the laughter comes out as a soft whoosh of air.

“Oh my god, Beau.” She rushes forward, falling onto her knees at my feet. “Are you cry—” Her eyes widen when she gets a read on me in the dark room. “Are you laughing? I thought you were crying!” She slaps my knee.

I bring one hand up, pressing my fingers into my eye sockets. “The shit you say sometimes. I never know what’s going to come out of your mouth.”

“You scared me!”

“Did you really say I orgasmed you stupid?”

She glances away, biting at her lips, clearly to keep from laughing too. “Well,” she says primly, glancing down to brush at her shorts. “It’s true. You did. And I was sleeping like the dead because of it.”

I go to reach for her, but drop my hand back down on the bed. “I shouldn’t have just walked away after that. I’m just not used to … I haven’t done this before.”

She smiles, turning big, dark eyes up at me. Giving me a flash of how she might look on her knees, staring up at me with a mouth full of my cock.

I shake my head and blink the image away.

“Been engaged? Yeah, me neither.” She waves a hand dismissively through the space between us. “It’s okay. I didn’t expect you to stick around.”

There’s no trace of hurt in her voice, no thread of a lie. She didn’t expect me to stick around after being intimate with her, and that realization is like a steel-toed boot to the gut.

“Did you have the bad dream?” She carries on like what she just said to me isn’t infuriating.

“Bailey, don’t let men take advantage of you and expect nothing in return,” I grumble.

She leans back a little, taken aback by the abrupt change in my demeanor, no doubt. “Is that what you did, Beau? Take advantage of me? Sure didn’t feel like it. Felt like I asked you for something and you gave it. And then we high-fived and parted ways.”

“We didn’t high-five.”

“If I’d been able to move, I’d have high-fived you.”

“Good god, Bailey.”

“Listen, I know you’re hung up on treating me like a porcelain doll because I’m a virgin, but I think you’re mixing up my expectations with your expectations. What happened tonight was consensual. I don’t feel taken advantage of just because we’re doing this thing for show.”

“I wish you wanted more for yourself.”

She barks out a quiet laugh, and I realize the words are cheap. They make what happened feel cheap.

I reach out and run a palm over her silky, mussed hair. “I’m sorry, that came out wrong.”

She looks back up at me now, sadness shimmering in her eyes. “I want plenty for myself, Beau. I am single-mindedly making that more happen. It’s why I’m here. It’s you who believes he isn’t more of what I want.” Her hand covers mine. “You are more. But I’ve become accustomed to wanting more and not getting it. I don’t let myself need more. That’s a luxury I can’t afford. I just keep moving toward my end goal. But you’d be a fool to think that means I don’t want things for myself.”

Her fingers pat against mine, and she pushes up to standing, turning to walk away like I did to her earlier. I thought I was doing what was best for her.

For me.

I felt cocky and amped up, ready to tease and play games. But now, my feet hurt, and with every step she takes away from me, so does my chest.

“Bailey,” I croak her name in the quiet room, and she stops but doesn’t turn. “Stay.”

It feels like the world stands still for a moment. Like I just poured myself out there and am waiting to be judged. It’s a strange sensation, waiting for another person to choose when I’ve always prided myself on being a person of action. A rational decision-maker.

This isn’t rational, though. I’m operating on instinct, which is something I’ve done before, just not with a woman. Usually, I prepare for women in my life the same way I prepare for anything else. I let myself imagine all the outcomes—the worst outcomes—and then I decide if it’s worth the risk.

I’ve done this exercise with Bailey in my head.

And I think that’s what holds me back.

I won’t let myself think of the worst-case scenario. It hurts too much.

After one moment turns into several, she slowly rises up on her toes and rotates, like she’s trying not to startle me. “Stay?”

I say nothing. I feel laid bare enough right now, hunched over on the edge of my bed, asking her to stay while my feet continue to burn.

“Like, you want to go swimming?”

I swallow and shake my head.

“Stay here? In your bed?”

I nod, biting at the inside of my cheek and kicking myself for coming off all Old Beau before. I acted confident and commanding when this is what I feel like inside. Panicked, and sore, and lonely.

I must be giving Bailey whiplash. It’s not fair to need her like this. It wasn’t the deal we made. But I care less about that deal all the time and more about keeping her close.

“If this is you offering some sort of pity sex, I don’t want it.”

I scoff and hang my head. This girl.

“I’m serious, Beau.” She walks toward me. “If I’m going to lose my virginity, it’s going to be hot. Not sad.”

I bark out a dry laugh and swap to staring up at the ceiling as she approaches. “Dear God, send help. I’m so far out of my depth with my fiancée.”

She points at the ceiling as though adding to my fake prayer. “Same for me, big fella. Send help. I’m engaged to the most confusing man in the world.”

Then she moves past me and crawls onto the bed.

“You’re going to stay?” I turn to ask.

She tugs back the covers and wriggles in with a grumbled, “I can’t believe our military thought you were cut out for special ops. Get in. I’m tired.” Her hand pats the mattress matter-of-factly, and she flops back on the pillows like she owns the place.

I thought she might be awkward, but I should have known better. Bailey might get uncomfortable around other people.

But not me.

“Why do I get the mouthy version of you and everyone else gets the agreeable version?” I ask as I stand up, flick the bedside light on, and head to my ensuite bathroom. Once I grab the body lotion, hoping it will help the sensation in my feet, I head back to the bed.

Bailey shrugs, wild dark mane tumbling around her shoulders, a web of creases on her cheek from where she was clearly passed out against a crinkled pillow. “I’ve thought about that. I think it’s because I know you won’t hurt me.”

I suck in a hissing breath like I’ve just been sucker punched.

“What are you doing?” she asks, carrying on with her stream of consciousness as I take a seat beside her on the bed.

“Rubbing some lotion on my feet.”

“As one does in the middle of the night,” she replies dryly.

I snort and carry on, propping one foot over my quad to spread cool cream over the mottled skin.

Bailey watches without speaking.

I glance at her and her eyes flick to mine but drop back to my foot. I swap to the opposite foot and start rubbing. I wish I could say it was making them better, but my hands just feel like chafing on raw skin. I growl in frustration, refusing to look up at her.

The silence between us is almost awkward.

And then Bailey says, “It rubs the lotion on its skin,” in the softest, most sugary voice.

I crack up.

My feet burn like I’m stuck in that fucking cave, but I didn’t laugh then. “Bailey!” I wheeze her name and tears prick at my eyes. “Please tell me you did not just quote The Silence of the Lambs right now.”

Her melodic laughter caresses my ears and the bed shakes beneath us as we both laugh over the creepiest fucking quote she could have pulled out.

But that’s Bailey. Saying random shit at random moments.

“Woman, you’re out of control.” I wipe at the corners of my eyes, smelling the non-scented lotion that smells like a hospital to me.

“Come on. You gotta tell me why we’re silently sitting here side by side, rubbing cream onto our feet in the middle of the night.”

I’m still chuckling when I offer her an explanation. “Phantom burn pain, according to Google.”

“And your doctor?”

I grunt.

“Beau.”

“I haven’t asked. Not a big doctor guy.”

“Therapist?”

I give her a wry look. “You saying I need therapy?”

“I’d go if I could afford it. Gotta take care of yourself, Beau. If you don’t, who will?” As she scolds me about taking care of myself, she crawls out from under the covers, moving down toward the end of the bed. Then she peeks up at me, folding her hand in a come-hither motion. “Give me a foot.”

“Apparently, you will.”

She yanks my foot into her lap, hands wrapping over the sensitive skin so gently. The burning sensation instantly soothes under her touch. Her dainty fingers trail over my limbs with a feather-light touch. She spreads the moisturizer up over my ankle, pressing more firmly at the back of my calf.

“Someone’s gotta do it.”

“Might as well be my fiancée,” I say, eyes fixed on her face.

When she looks at me, I wonder if she’ll correct it to fake fiancée. I’ve used the term twice tonight. I’m testing our boundaries, waiting for her to put me back in line.

But she doesn’t.

“Might as well be,” she agrees softly.

Her hands work and we both get lost in watching until she asks, “What did you eat in that cave for eight days?”

“Rations from my kit. A sip of water here and there. It wasn’t much, but just enough for us each to have a bit each day. We ran out the day before they rescued us. Micah was starving, so he got more of the dried rations.”

“So you just didn’t eat?”

“I didn’t say that. I had to at least stay strong enough to get us out when the time came.”

“Alright. So … ”

“Cockroaches.” I grin as I say it, ready for her to get all squeamish. But I should know better by now. She doesn’t.

And she doesn’t offer me sympathy for it either, which is something I constantly brace for when I talk about those days. I don’t want sympathy; I want to feel normal again.

I want to feel something again, and with Bailey, I do.

Her hands keep working, and her lips part and close. Like she was about to say something and then thought better.

“Were they good?”

That’s what she comes up with. She is priceless.

“They kept me alive. Not gonna be ordering them at a restaurant anytime soon.”

She smiles, switching to my other foot and propping it over her thighs.

“Speaking of delicious foods.” I chuckle at her transition, my eyes fluttering as the burning sensation slips away. “I had brunch with Willa, Sloane, and Summer today. Well, yesterday, I guess.”

“Terrifying. But go on.”

“It was nice. I wasn’t having a very good day. Applied at the hair salon and got told the position had been filled. Spoiler alert: it hadn’t.”

I scrub a hand over my face. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“And then some guy was a dick to me at Le Pamplemousse.”

“Bailey—”

She waves me off. “It’s alright, Willa swooped in and … ” She pauses, smiling while staring off into space. “Willa fucking lost it on him.”

That makes me smile too. “Good.” In my book, Willa is one of the best. Actually, all those women are.

“They seemed a little confused when I told them I was saving up to leave town. I probably shouldn’t have said that, but I just—”

“You’re an honest person. It’s okay.”

She nods. “And then, Summer offered me a job.”

I sit up straighter at that. “Yeah?”

She nods, lips rolling together, looking a little bashful over it. “Yeah. But Beau … ” Big brown eyes flick up to mine. “You didn’t ask her to do that, did you?”

“No.”

“Because it seems like a bit of a handout, and I already feel like a welfare case. It would embarrass me if you were maneuvering like that behind my back. You’re already doing enough. I need to achieve some of my successes on my own.”

“I didn’t.” I swallow, my body taut.

Her eyes are wide, earnest, searching. “Promise me you didn’t create a job for me.”

“I promise I didn’t create that job for you with Summer.”

She sighs a deep sigh, shoulders softening as she releases the breath. “Okay, good.”

“I—” I start to talk and then … stop. Switching gears, I blurt, “I think I want to become a fireman.”

She stops rubbing my foot as her head quirks. “Yeah?”

“I thought a lot about what you said that night. About doing something I want to do, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working this land. It seems weird to switch careers and start something new at this age—”

“It’s not weird at all. You’d be incredible at that.”

Leave it to Bailey to support me more than I care to support myself. “I think a lot of the skills I learned in the military could be applied there.”

She bites at her lip in the most distracting way. “Yeah, I don’t think firemen do any stealthy undercover work, so you’d probably be fine.”

I gently shove a foot at her, toppling her back, and we both laugh.

Always picking on me.

“Beau Eaton, tier one operator.” She waves a hand in front of herself like my name is the title on a movie poster. “Asker of obvious questions. Shaver of pussies.”

I lunge for her with a laugh. “Bailey, get your snarky ass up here.” Arms around her waist, I haul her to me and soak her laughter in, letting it soothe what’s inside me the way her hands soothed my feet. She squirms and squeals as I cage her in, leaning over to click my bedside light off.

I turn, flopping down and wrapping my body around her the way I did that night on the riverbank. Been dreaming of holding her like this since then, so I might as well capitalize on it while the opportunity is still here.

With my arms around her torso and my leg slung over hers, she finally settles. Her laughter eases into a light, contented sigh.

“How are your feet?” She pushes back into me, pressing her back flush against my front, and I drop a kiss to her hair.

“Better. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” is her soft reply.

I shut my eyes, assuming now is the time we go to sleep.

But I should know better than to assume anything where Bailey is concerned.

“Hey, Beau?”

I sigh raggedly. “Yes, Bailey.”

“Why didn’t you let me put your cock in my mouth earlier?”

Good fucking god. “Bailey.”

“I thought that was coming next. Ya know? You stood up, and it was right there. Pointing at me like I was the chosen one. And I was ready to practice. But you took off before I could make my vocal cords work again.”

Any trickles of relaxation that were taking over in my brain are washed away in an instant. Rapidly replaced by images of shoving Bailey back into those white lavender-scented bubbles and letting her practice putting my cock in her mouth.

“Ready to practice?” I grumble, annoyed by how uncontrollable my urges are around her.

“Yeah, some instruction would be good, so I know what I’m doing out there.”

Out there. That means after this and I don’t like that thought at all.

So I squeeze her tighter, not letting my head go there. Not letting my brain plan for that worst-case scenario. The inevitable case scenario.

I can’t handle facing it, so I just say, “Go to sleep, Bailey.”

And I spend all night dreaming of teaching her all the things she wants to know.

But only here and only for me.


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