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Powerless: Chapter 10

Jasper

Harvey: How’s the hand?

Jasper: How do you know?

Harvey: I’m old. Not deaf.

Jasper: It’s fine. I’m fine.

Harvey: No, you’re not. None of us are. But you know what will make you feel better?

Jasper: What’s that?

Harvey: Fixing my wall. There’s spackling and a putty knife outside your door.

Jasper: Sorry, Harv. I’ll fix it. Promise.

Harvey: All good, son. Have you seen Sloane? Her door was open, and her room was empty.;)


. . . “I was wondering . . . well, I was thinking . . .” Sloane peeks up at me from under her lashes, hands twisting in front of her. She’s stunning. She’s grown up so much since last summer I almost can’t believe my eyes.

I came out to the ranch for Easter dinner and wasn’t expecting her to be here. We still mostly only see each other in the summer because, living in the city, she’s busy with dance and high school and I’m fully immersed in keeping this spot I have on the main roster with the Grizzlies.

I was about to leave when she ran after me to the door.

I drop my voice, resting my hands on her shoulder to look her in the eye. “Is everything okay, Sloane? You’re making me nervous. Did something happen? You know you can tell me anything.”

“Oh! No!” She laughs shrilly, cheeks turning pink as she pushes her loose blonde hair behind her ears.

A pit of dread grows in my stomach. It’s the eyelashes. The blushing. The nervous way she’s playing with her hair. And the fact that Harvey, Violet, and my brothers are all basically watching from the living room.

I’m not oblivious to the fact Sloane has had a crush on me. But I’ve pretended I am. Because shit is so much less awkward that way.

“Okay.” She smiles up at me nervously, and nerves roil in my stomach. “I’m just going to go ahead and say it.” She takes a deep breath. “Will you go to prom with me?”

Now she isn’t the only one blushing. I feel like my entire face is on fire. “Oh, Sunny.” My fingers pulse on her shoulders, and I get lost in the twinkle of hope in her eyes. Hurting Sloane is enough to make me feel like I might be sick.

I don’t want to disappoint her, but fuck . . . I can’t do this either. “I’m not the guy you want to go with. I’m . . .” I search for a good reason that isn’t just, I don’t want to lead you on. “I’m twenty-four. Really in the media right now. With you being in high school, I’m just not sure it would be a good look, you know?”

I try so hard to ignore that her eyes instantly fill. The too-fast way she nods her head. “Oh. Yeah.” She steps back from me, my hands falling from her shoulders, and she glances over at the living room. “Yeah. Of course. That makes perfect sense.”

“Still friends, right?” I reach forward, trying to give her forearm a reassuring squeeze. She tugs her arm back and forces a bright smile onto her face.

“Yeah. Of course. Still friends. Always.” With another frantic nod, she turns, but she doesn’t head back to the family gathering. She disappears down the hallway that leads to the upstairs bedrooms.

I feel like shit as I wave goodbye to a room full of wide-eyed, awkward-as-fuck family members. I don’t know what to say to them. I half expect someone to crack a joke, but no one says a word as I flee the house, and all that does is drive home how brutal that interaction was with Sloane.

Because even if there is a little part of me that thinks it would be kind of cute to go with her, I know I can’t.

She needs to go have fun at her prom. Make memories—with someone her own age. She needs to have the very best night, and I’m certain I can’t be the one to give her that.

Sloane Winthrop has grown into a woman who is smart, beautiful, and so damn talented. She has an entire life ahead of her with some shiny, rich boyfriend she’ll fall head over heels for while she pursues her higher education at some fancy, private university.

She doesn’t need the likes of me holding her back anymore.

I’ve almost convinced myself I did the right thing by the time I get to my truck. But when I pull away down the driveway, regret niggles at me. I glance up into the rearview mirror, and Sloane is there.

Sitting on that roof all by herself.

Probably realizing what I already know.

That I’m not good enough for her. Never have been. Never will be . . .

I wake up with Sloane’s forehead pressed into the center of my chest. Her hands are rolled into loose fists and clutched under her chin like she’s trying to keep herself from touching me in her sleep.

I don’t suffer from the same hesitance. I’ve got my arm slung casually over her petite frame and one leg draped possessively over both of hers.

It borders on too far. Yes, we’re friends. But we’re also a man and a woman. Alone and barely dressed on a bed that’s too small.

And she’s still wearing my jersey.

Friend. Friend. Friend.

I slam the word into my brain repeatedly like it might cement it somehow. I imagine it for four seconds, the letters cropping up like they’re being typed beside a cursor. Like it might keep me from wondering, “What if we weren’t just friends? What if we were more?”

Sure, I shut things down between us when she was practically still a kid. And even not so long ago, she made an offhanded joke that hit a little too close to home as I helped mount her TV on the wall.

I laughed even though I didn’t find it funny at all. I told her it would never happen. Again. Because how could it?

But she planted a seed that day. One that’s grown into a question I’m too scared to ask.

Now I’m lying here wondering . . . why the fuck can’t it happen? There was a time I was convinced I couldn’t be the guy to give her what she needs, to make her happy.

She wanted me, and I fucked it up—like I always do.

But that was then. And this is now. I’m not the same scared kid I was back then.

The word friend fades the longer I stare at her—the slightly upturned tip of her nose that wiggles a little when she talks. Her high, noble cheekbones that go so perfectly round when she laughs. Her lashes that are washed clean of mascara and take on more of a pale brown color where they’re fanned down over her smooth skin.

Her engagement ring, the one she’s still wearing, shines blindingly beneath her chin. And it’s the dose of reality I need.

Proof that I’m too late. That no matter how hard I work on my reaction time between the pipes, my personal life has always been one big miss. I freeze up. And while I get stuck in my head, the world keeps turning.

Because as I sit around wondering if we could ever be more, nursing all my complicated emotions, the reality is she almost walked down the aisle with another man. Any feelings she once had for me must be long gone.

Truth be told, I can’t really tell what she’s feeling right now. She can say she’s not sad, but I’m familiar with how grief works. I know it comes in waves. I know you can feel fine about something one day and it can fucking cripple you the next.

The anger always comes.

And I know that what she needs right now is Jasper, her friend. Not Jasper who’s been too big of a coward to cross that line even though he’s been thinking about it for years.

I carefully remove my limbs from her sleeping form, pushing away the swell of regret that hits me when I release her. I force my eyes to the ground, watching my toes against the hardwood floor as I reach for whatever clothes I can find.

And then I leave the room, too weak to keep myself from looking back at her sleeping form one last time. She looks small and frail—too thin. She looks exhausted and I hope she sleeps. I hope she eats.

The door shuts quietly behind me, and I take long strides down to the kitchen, not sure what I’ll be walking into when I get there.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t handle emotional situations well. Trauma? I’ve got enough, thanks. Feelings? Too many of those too.

I round the corner into the big farmhouse kitchen consisting of wide, worn floor planks, dark wood cabinetry, and hunter-green walls. The entire house is outdated and yet . . . not. It’s like it was transported straight off the set of Yellowstone.

Complete with two country boys sitting at the table over a cup of coffee.

“Did you get dressed in the dark?” Cade snipes at me.

Harvey barks out a laugh, and I glance down at myself, realizing I grabbed a neon pink shirt with a yellow energy drink logo on it, black and white stripes on the arms. It truly is atrocious, but it was dark last night. I think it was promotional. I’m positive I’ve never worn it before. And it really does clash with the pair of army green joggers I’m wearing.

My lips quirk. “Listen, the day I take fashion advice from someone as old as you, who barely leaves this ranch, is the day I die.”

I see Cade’s cheek twitch. Picking on each other is our comfort zone. And damn, it feels good. The days have slowly bled into a depressed normalcy. We’ve had one awkward family dinner. Harvey didn’t make any blow job jokes, and Beau wasn’t there to lighten the mood. It feels like everyone is just going through the motions. Waiting to hear something is the worst.

I go straight for the coffee maker, pour myself a mug, and take a seat at the table with the two other men.

“I think you’re just so used to everyone fawning over you that you don’t know when you look like a fucking clown anymore.”

“Adorable coming from the guy who wears his jeans at least two sizes too small.” I give Cade a big, cheesy grin, loving the feel of something that isn’t just sad.

“Willa likes them tight.”

I quirk a brow. “How long does it take her to peel them off of you? My money is on at least five minutes.”

“Bring your timer. You can watch next time, could probably teach your dumb ass a thing or two.”

Harvey’s head whips between us, an amused smile on his lips.

“I’ll be sure to give you some notice so you can get your Viagra down in time, old boy.”

“Oh, nah.” Harvey waves a hand dismissively. “The Eatons are a virile bunch. Even I don’t need those.”

“Jesus Christ.” Cade’s head drops, and his eyes stare into his coffee cup like he’s scrying for answers on how to make his dad stop saying inappropriate things.

I snort because I know that day will never come. And it’s a sign of life that I’ll take. Harvey’s sense of humor is one of my favorite things about him—always has been.

And quiet as I’ve been through the years, I never can quite resist toeing that line with him. Pushing him a smidge farther to see what he’ll say.

“You got someone special on the receiving end of all that virility, Harv?”

“A few someones. Hard to pick just one, ya know? Why choose?” He smiles back at me maniacally.

“Make sure you wrap it up,” is my casual response. After the death of his wife so long ago, I’m happy he has some company.

Harvey grins. “Talk to Cade about that. Not me.”

Cade groans and tips his head back, now staring at the ceiling. “I should have stayed at my house.”

I nod, taking a long pull of the coffee in my hand. “Probably. It’s early. Wasn’t expecting to find you here.”

“Well, Harvey and I were about to do rock, paper, scissors to see who would take a road trip out to see Violet in Ruby Creek with a load of hay.”

My head quirks. “Sorry?”

Harvey jumps in. “Something about a hay shortage out that way. Hot, dry summer. So she called us, begging for a trailer full to help them get through the winter. She still complains that the hay out there sucks compared to ours.” The older man puffs up a little at that compliment from his only daughter.

Cade hits me with a serious look. “But neither of us really wants to leave.” He clears his throat. “Just in case.”

Harvey nods, eyes shrink-wrapped instantly.

Just in case. I know what they’re saying without having to ask for more. Just in case Beau is found. Just in case Beau is gone. Just in case they need to lean on their family when news about their beloved brother comes in.

“I’ll go.” I don’t even need to think twice about it.

Both their heads whip in my direction, surprise written all over their faces.

Harvey smiles at me kindly, the way he has since he took me in, even when he already had too much on his plate. I’ve never met a man with a bigger heart than what’s in Harvey Eaton’s chest. “You’re a good boy, Jasper. But you’ve got your season. You can’t leave, though it means the world to me you’d offer.”

“Yeah, about that . . . I’m actually on leave now. For at least two weeks.”

Harvey’s thick brows scrunch on his forehead. “Why?”

“Did you not see his games this week?” Cade tosses in.

I glare in his direction. He just smirks.

“Fucking dick,” I mutter with no malice as I turn back to Harvey. “Because Roman is a domineering asshole who found out I didn’t disclose what was going on to management or coaching staff and then I shit the bed on the ice and lost us a bunch of games. And I guess rather than yelling at me from the bench like he always does, he’s decided to be inspiring or some shit and coddle me like a sad toddler.”

I’m met with silence and slightly concerned looks because I don’t often get that many words out in one breath. In fact, I don’t usually get many words out, period. I retreated into myself a long time ago and got really good at listening rather than talking.

“Well . . . that’s quite the story,” Harvey provides, like he doesn’t quite know what to say.

“You do remind me a bit of a sad toddler,” Cade deadpans.

Dick.

“I’ll go. You guys stay.” I gesture between them. “You need to be here. Cade, you’ve got Willa and Luke—a baby on the way. Harvey, you’ve got several girl-friends and also your entire family.”

They both chuckle and I muster a small grin, happy to lighten the mood.

“You’re our family too, you know?” Cade is all serious now. It’s sometimes hard to differentiate with him because he’s got such a dry sense of humor, but this is him being sensitive in his own way.

“I know. But there’s no one here who needs me. Let me go. I can support the family by making this trip. You both taught me how to haul, you know I’m capable with the truck and trailer. Plus, it’d be good to see Violet. She could use some distracting as well.”

Harvey’s fingers drum on the table. “The roads could be bad through the mountains this time of year.”

He knows my anxiety about driving, vehicles, and accidents. It’s wild how one simple mistake can translate into such widespread anxiety. But for him? For my family?

I can swallow it down and overlook it.

My smile is tense. “I know. I can manage though.”

“Yeah.” We all jerk, surprised by the soft voice coming from the corner of the kitchen. Like having women in the house is just that unusual these days. “He can manage. And I’ll go with him to make sure he has company.”

Without even glancing at us, Sloane pours herself a coffee. She’s changed into a simple pair of black leggings paired with a gray sweatshirt that swallows her upper body, woolen socks stacked over her ankles.

And when she turns to smile at us, her pale blonde locks a little mussed, I can see the lines on her cheek from where her face was pressed into the sheets of my bed. She looks cozy—a tad dopey. It makes me think of how she felt pressed up against me last night.

She looks different than I’ve ever seen her. Or maybe it’s just the way I’m seeing her now.

“Good lord, Gervais. What the hell are you wearing?” she blurts.

Everyone else dissolves into a fit of giggles. Cade murmurs something about he told me so, but I barely hear him.

I’m focused on Sloane. Because I will not tell her what she can and can’t do. So I’m left wondering how I’m going to handle a road trip through the mountains with just the two of us and not go completely insane.

Or do something completely insane.


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