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Hopeless: Chapter 36

Beau

Jasper: Did you tell her?


I lather soap over Bailey’s body, rubbing her shoulders to ease any tension, running my thumbs firmly over the tight spots. Her head tilts, and she lets out a moan as she leans into the pressure.

After I shampoo her hair, I rinse it under the warm spray, then follow with a generous amount of conditioner. I comb my fingers through her strands to rid them of any knots and turn her, enjoying the way her body moves readily to mine. The way she trusts me is more than I deserve.

Our eyes meet in the steamy space. But we don’t talk and she watches me as I carry on soaping her and massaging her body. Her chest, her breasts, gently and quickly before moving over her ribs.

I drop down onto my knees before her, using the bar of soap to wash her hips, the trim triangle of hair I helped her shave, her thighs, calves. Hell, even her feet.

Her perfect fucking feet.

They go with everything else that’s perfect about her.

I’m at a loss for words. For what she shared with me tonight. For what she’s shared with me over the past several weeks. I feel unworthy in the most profound way. But I want to be worthy.

I feel desperate to be.

Reaching behind her, I trace the soap over the round globes of her ass before putting it back on the ledge and directing the water to rinse the soap away. I retrace my steps, ignoring the nip of the porcelain against my knees. When her fingers comb through my hair, I drop my stubbled cheek against her stomach and hug her to me.

This girl has brought me back to life without even trying. All that time I searched for someone to make me feel something, and she was right fucking there.

My lips press a kiss to the spot just above her belly button and then I tip my head, dragging my gaze up to meet her dark eyes, swirling with emotion and edged in confusion.

I don’t think anyone has ever cherished Bailey.

Not like I do.

And no one else ever will.

“I love you,” I repeat to her, not caring I’ve said it multiple times tonight and she hasn’t.

You don’t tell a person you love them with the expectation they’ll say it back. You tell them because you want to. You tell them because it’s true.

I spent many hours in a cave in Afghanistan wishing I’d told more people how much they meant to me. I promised myself I would start, but I’ve been too hung up on my shit to get around to it.

That ends now.

Bailey’s fingers press firmly at my temples before sliding back through my hair. “How do you know you love me?” she asks softly.

“How do I know?”

“Yeah.” Her hands don’t stop moving, soothing. “Doesn’t it seem soon? Fast? Unlikely?”

I hum, a smile touching my lips. “I don’t know that there’s a prescribed length of time it takes, Bailey. There’s not some magical benchmark or test you need to take to see it. Sometimes I think you just know.”

“You just know,” she repeats thoughtfully, worrying her bottom teeth between her lips.

I kiss her stomach again. “My pain disappears when I’m with you. I get to be a new version of myself when I’m with you. I sleep. I laugh. I have something—someone—to look forward to at the end of the day. I feel … ” I peer back up at her again, swallowing as I run my hands up the column of her spine. “I feel whole again with you.”

Her palms cup my neck while her thumbs brush over the high points on my cheeks. “I don’t know what to say to that.”

My hands squeeze at her hips, and I know I’m overwhelming her. That I need to lighten the mood. That she’s too young and I’m coming on too fucking strong.

So I land a playful slap on her ass that rings out in the shower, then I tease, “You say ‘yes, sir’ and let me rinse the conditioner out of your hair.”

She bursts into a fit of nervous giggles as I stand and flip her around into the spray, watching the creamy-colored water cascade down her back until it runs clear. I wait, and I watch, and I wait some more while she tries to get her bearings.

When she steps out of the water, I take a fistful of her hair, tipping her head back to me, and murmur against her lips, “I didn’t hear you, Bailey.”

“Hear what?” Her eyes glisten with excitement, and I know she’s pretending not to know what I’m talking about.

“Do you know what brats get?”

She bites down on her bottom lip, but she’s not worried. She’s trying not to smile. “Hopefully spanked.”

I groan and let my eyes fall shut as I rub my lips over the apple of her cheek. “You’re going to be the fucking death of me.”

She chuckles and turns her face into mine as she whispers, “But what a way to go. Am I right?”

Then she kisses me, and I let her. Because she’s not wrong.

This would be the way to go.


I wake with a start, shooting straight out of bed, practically shoving Bailey off of me as I go.

A glance at the clock tells me it’s 3:26 a.m., which is a refreshing change from 2:11. We must have either slept or fucked through that one.

“What’s wrong?” I hear the alarm in her voice and sneak a quick glance at her over my shoulder. She’s on her knees in the middle of the bed, both hands held flat over her chest, likely over her pounding heart.

Something is off. It feels like a spider is crawling up my spine. Call it what you want—a sixth sense maybe. One that has saved my life countless times in the field.

I hold one finger up to Bailey, signaling to her to be silent, as I approach the large window facing the river out back.

I hear it then. Clumsy footsteps. A soft, “Ow!” Followed by, “Shut up! Someone will hear you!”

I roll my eyes. He fucking shouted it. Of course someone is going to hear them. You wouldn’t need to be special ops to hear these idiots coming. I pull the curtain back an inch to see two dark figures on my back lawn. With a shake of my head, I turn and stride toward the door.

“Bailey, stay here. On the bed.”

“What’s wrong?” she repeats, apprehension in her voice.

“Gonna go have a chat with your brothers,” I grumble, not bothering with a shirt as I storm out of the bedroom.

“Beau!” she whisper-shouts with such ferocity that I turn to take her in. It’s a good thing I didn’t go searching for my shirt because she’s wearing it. Hair all wavy and bed-mussed, looking so tiny and swallowed up in that plain white tee.

I quirk my head, waiting for her to say what she needs to say.

She sighs and licks her lips before offering a quiet but borderline tearful, “Be careful.”

I give her a salute and a wink, which only earns me a watery smile, and then I’m heading down the hallway, straight for my gun safe.

Don’t have much use for them now, save for target practice or if I ever happen upon something in my backyard that wants to kill me. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need to shoot a bear or a cougar to stay safe.

At the back of the closet near the front door, I enter the safe’s code and pull out my old hunting rifle. I prop it under my arm as I make my way to the back.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb are trying so hard to pick the lock on Bailey’s trailer they don’t hear me exit my house. Granted, I’m pretty stealthy about it, even as I plunk myself down in the chair where Bailey lays herself out while wearing that tiny bikini I like so much.

I spread my legs and prop the gun over my knee. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but I think they’re using a bobby pin to open it. I watch them struggle for more than a few seconds.

Fucking stupid.

Bet they slam river rocks together trying to start a fire too.

“Y’all want some help with that?” I announce, forcing myself not to laugh at how high they jump when my voice rings out, echoing back off the river.

“Fuck you!” the first one to get his bearings says. I can’t tell in the dark which is which. “This is our trailer.”

I bounce my knee, noting the way their eyes drop to the gun propped on it.

I wouldn’t actually shoot them, but I get a kick out of watching them go real fucking still. I feel like the old me. In my element.

“It’s not your trailer. It’s Bailey’s. And it’s on my property. So are you. It’s time to get the fuck off.”

“Where’s Bailey? She owes us rent!” the other pipes up and licks almost rabidly at his lips. High as a goddamn kite.

“Bailey doesn’t owe you shit. You got something to tell her? It goes through me. Something to give her? You give it to me. You want to so much as lay eyes on my fiancée? You better come crawling asking for my permission.”

“She’s my sister! Over my dead fuckin’ body am I askin’ you for permission for shit.”

“That’s exactly what you’ll be if you go anywhere near her or her things.”

“Come again?” I can see now that it’s the older brother as he takes an aggressive step toward my back deck. He’s too high to be properly afraid of me.

I chuckle and scrub at my beard. “You heard me. Harass her again and I’ll paint my driveway with your brains. You won’t be the first man I’ve killed, but you could easily be the last.”

It’s the younger one who pipes up now. Possibly the smarter one. Likely the more sober one. “She owes rent! She pays it and you guys won’t hear from us again.”

I click my tongue. “You Jansen boys must be as dumb as everyone says if you think that I, of all people, am going to negotiate with terrorists. Get off my property.”

“You just—” They start to argue with me, but I don’t let them get far.

I pick up the gun and pretend like I’m taking aim, which is when they scramble. I almost want to laugh. These two fuckers are addicts, petty thieves—not criminal masterminds.

But they’re just troublesome enough that I know they’ll pick on Bailey as long as she’s here. They’re too lazy to follow her anywhere else. She’s just an easy target for them here in Chestnut Springs.

Well, she was an easy target.

Not anymore.

“You’re fucking insane!” one of them calls back as they run into the dark river valley.

“Yeah, buddy. You have no idea!” is all I call back as I watch them scamper away. Eventually, I hear cussing and splashing as they make their way back across the creek to their land.

Idiots.

I don’t like them on our river, where Bailey and I first spent a night together. It seems like an intrusion, so I’ll be running electric fencing along that side of my property too. With a labored sigh, I stand and head inside. I check every door and window on the main floor and set my barely ever used alarm system before trudging upstairs to the girl who feels like she’s the part of me that’s been missing for too damn long.

When I get to my room, she’s standing at the window, looking ashen.

“Thought I told you to stay on the bed.”

She nods. “You did.”

“And yet, there you are, at the window.”

“I wanted to watch.” She shrugs. “And you’re not my boss anyway.”

I smirk. “Yeah, I am.”

She rolls her eyes before letting the curtain go and making her way back to the bed. I meet her there, lifting the covers so I can tug her closer and cradle her in the curve of my body where I know she’s safest.

Silence surrounds us until she whispers, “Paint your driveway with their brains?” A soft snort leaves her, and her shoulders shake on a laugh. “That is so romantic.”

I pull her tighter against me and huff out an exasperated breath. “I meant it, Bailey. You asked me how I know I love you? That’s how. I’ve got anyone who wants to hurt you in my crosshairs, and I won’t feel bad about taking them down, either.”

That statement makes her quiet for a few moments.

She kisses my hand and presses back on me. “Should we call the cops?”

“Nah, I got this.”

“Thank you,” are her final whispered words before her breathing eventually goes deep and even.

But me? I stay up listening.

Until the sun comes up and I know she’s safe.


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