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Powerless: Chapter 19

Jasper

Jasper: Bad roads. Brake issues. Spending the night in a town called Blisswater Springs.

Harvey: Do you win a prize for using as few words as possible? You guys okay? Can you elaborate?

Jasper: I’ll call you from the hotel. We’re all good. Safe. You don’t need to worry.

Harvey: Come on. Give me something. One bed or two?

Jasper: Talk to you later.


The tips of my fingers are tingling as intensely as the rest of my body. Sloane is silent and introspective beside me. When I got back into the truck, she stared at me with comically wide eyes, pressing her lips together either to hide a smile or to keep from saying something.

We’re safely back on the highway. The wiring is firmly in place with the connector, and I’m finding it easier to breathe—unless I think too hard about Sloane writhing in my lap, her ass grinding against my cock.

I’m still stopping at the closest mechanic to have the brake connector checked because that shouldn’t have come loose at all. According to Google, that means we’re spending some time in a town called Blisswater Springs.

“Are we just not going to talk anymore?” Sloane blurts, cutting the silence. “Like I know you’re generally not a big talker. But can we not be awkward about the . . .” Her hand flaps around in front of her.

“About the kiss?”

“Yeah. It was a stressful moment. A moment of insanity. We can be cool about it.”

I’ve thought about kissing Sloane for a long time now, whether or not I’ve wanted to admit it to myself.

In fact, she almost took the last name Woodcock for the rest of her life because I’ve spent so long thinking rather than doing anything about it.

This might not be the perfect moment for me to figure out my shit where Sloane Winthrop is concerned, but it is a moment. And if I’ve figured out anything in this Shakespearean tragedy of a life, it’s that life is just moments all strung together like multicolor Christmas lights. You always end up liking some colors better than others.

Joyful, tragic, peaceful, funny. Unforgettable moments, and moments we wish we could forget.

And kissing Sloane in this truck is not one of those. It’s a moment I fully intend to hang onto. In the past, I was told to stay away from her. In the past, I cared about that warning.

In this moment though? I don’t give a fuck.

“It wasn’t a moment of insanity,” I say matter-of-factly.

“Sorry?” She sounds incredulous.

“I definitely meant to kiss you.”

She scoffs, crossing her arms and turning beet red. “You were barely responsive mere seconds beforehand. You were in shock, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t need you to believe me for it to be true.”

I don’t know why after years of keeping my mouth shut, I’m now blurting this all out. Most likely, it’s because I saw our lives flash before my eyes back there. When I looked over at Sloane beside me and saw her beautiful blue eyes clamped shut, fingers gripping the seat, shoulders scrunched up to her ears, I realized it could be my last moment with her.

My last moment and she would never know what she is to me. How much she is to me. That she’s it for me. And that’s just fucking insane. Like a waste. Like for a man who knows loss so intimately, why would I ever set myself up to lose something so precious?

I think that’s the realization that hit me at the dinner where I watched Sloane sit beside a man who talked over her every chance he got. She was about to marry a piece of human chauvinist garbage, but she could have had me—if she wanted me.

If I’d just told her.

And she didn’t know because I was too stuck in my own my head to tell her. Too paralyzed by my fear of losing people I care about. Of losing her.

But fuck, losing someone and having them not know that you care about them? Wishing you could go back and tell them?

That’s a special hell. One I have no intention of living in because I’ve given my demons enough of myself already—they can’t have her too.

“I just almost married someone else.”

I nod brusquely, glancing over at her. She looks pissed, which is not the reaction I expected. But then, so am I. Because the mere mention of her marrying someone sends me into a hot, simmering rage so unlike me I don’t even know what to do with it.

“Yeah. That would have been a shame because he really fucking sucks.”

“Ha! Un-fucking-believable.” Her jaw pops, and she stares out the passenger window. “I’ve known you for what? Eighteen years? Almost half your life? And this . . . this feeling is just occurring to you now?”

A humorless laugh bubbles up out of her and she shakes her head. “Someone else came to play in your sandbox and you got all territorial after years of not giving me a second look? Love that for me. I’m not a fire hydrant for you to piss on, Jasper.” Her hands shoot up beside her head. “Like . . . I’m supposed to buy that you’ve just had some sort of awakening and your childhood friend is suddenly hella kissable these days? God. That’s hilarious. If I didn’t like you so much, I’d kick you in the balls for this.”

I should be worried, but all I can think is there she is. The firecracker girl. The prima ballerina who trains her ass off and drinks cheap beer like it’s fine wine.

I tell her the truth, eyes on the road. “It’s not just occurring to me now.”

She rolls her eyes, shimmying her shoulders up taller, as if straightening in her seat might make her feel less vulnerable.

“It’s true.” I wish the roads were better so I could give her my full attention and look her in the eye. Wipe that petulant expression off her face and kiss her again. Make her believe me. Because I know I haven’t been imagining these moments between us. The ones where the air grows so heavy that it feels like more than I can bear.

“I don’t believe you,” she repeats, but this time her voice is a little hoarse.

“You kissed me back,” I say right as I’m hit with the sickening thought that maybe I’m out to lunch. Maybe this is all very one-sided and I’ve gone horribly offtrack. After all, my experience with women in any capacity beyond sex is nonexistent.

Except for Sunny. She’s the girl I tell everything. The girl who was always there on my worst days and darkest nights. Not because I asked her to be, but just because that’s what we are to each other.

It doesn’t matter how many years have passed. We’ll always be that to each other.

“No shit.” She’s crossed her arms over her ribs again, and my eyes trail over the way it props her breasts up. The tingle in my fingers is now an itch to explore every inch of her body, to show her all the ways I want her.

Fuck, I want her.

Sloane is soothing. She’s the eye of the storm. True North. Somehow our compasses always bring us back to each other.

When we stop at the first red light in Blisswater Springs, I turn in my seat and ask, “What’s that supposed to mean, Sloane? I was there. Felt your thighs go all tight on me when I tugged your hair. Heard you moan when I kissed you. Are we going to sit here and keep pretending that things don’t feel different between us now?”

“They’ve always felt this way for me!” she explodes, arms flung wide, eyes shining with emotion. “And you’ve never noticed. But now you do? What am I supposed to do? Jump for joy and say thank you for blessing me with your interest?”

I pale, hands going clammy on the wheel. I respond in a stream of consciousness, trying to explain myself in the wake of what she’s just said. “I mean . . . we all knew you had a childhood crush. I was a teenager. But you were just a kid. And then you outgrew it. You had boyfriends and ballet. I had hockey and endless training. We became friends in the city. You got engaged.”

Her pale pink lips part like she’s about to say something, but quickly press back together. She turns back to the windshield, eyes forced ahead so hard it almost looks painful. The seconds stretch out and I’m certain she’s not going to respond to me. And shit, that’s what I deserve for everything I just dumped on her.

But right as the light turns green, her sad voice hits me like a punch to the fucking gut.

“I never outgrew it, Jas.”


When I kissed her, I counted to four in my head. I told myself I’d give it four seconds, but she took more.

It was a moment of insanity.

Or maybe every moment where I tried to deny what I was feeling for her have been moments of insanity all strung together. Lights of all one color.

Does regret have a color?

“Check again,” Sloane says to the woman behind the front desk at the small resort-style hotel. “There has to be something.”

Listening to Sloane explain that we need separate rooms feels like her own moment of insanity. But I’ll let her have it.

Because I know Sloane. I know how she processes things.

What I didn’t know is her childhood crush never left. I should feel bad for never noticing. I should feel like an idiot. But I feel . . . relieved.

I see a chance. A glimmer of hope.

“Something with two beds at least? How about a rollaway cot? I’m almost child sized.” She gestures down at herself.

I stifle a chuckle and look out the window toward the parking lot, where snow is still falling heavily.

“We can have have a cot sent up, of course.” The woman at the desk smiles patiently, eyes bouncing between us curiously like she can’t quite figure out what’s going on.

“That will be fine,” Sloane forces out, a practiced smile on her face. Cool mask perfectly in place. Her bun is pulled up tight the way she likes it when she’s ready for a performance—or for battle.

That’s what she resorted to doing in the truck. She tugged down the visor and used the mirror to obsessively pull her hair back. It was never flat enough, or smooth enough, so she’d pull it out and do it all over again.

She did it five times. I know because I counted. There wasn’t much else to do once she settled into ignoring me. I was also struggling to peel my eyes away from her after her crush revelation.

This woman has been my friend for eighteen years.

How did I miss it?

Either she got good at hiding it or I wasn’t looking. It was probably a combination of both.

Defiant stray blonde hairs catch the light in the dated hotel lobby. I almost want to point them out just to rile her up.

Because when she’s riled, the truth comes out.

“Thank you for your help,” she tells the woman as she turns to me, holding up to two key cards. The smile on her face has moved from forced to kind of insane looking. “Let’s go,” she singsongs a little too loudly before storming away, clearly expecting I’ll follow.

Within a few strides, I’m standing right beside her, staring at the elevator door.

“Fourth floor,” she says rigidly.

“Okay.”

“One king-size bed.”

“That’s fine.”

“No. I’ll sleep on a roll-away cot. They’re going to bring it up.”

“Sunny, that’s really not necessary. It’s just a bed. We slept together the other night.”

She hikes her bag higher on her shoulder and tips her nose up. “Yes, well, that was before I embarrassed myself and decided I was pissed at you. So I’ll take the cot.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. I’m glad she’s not being the doormat she was with that dickhead, but I’m also not accustomed to her being angry with me.

When the elevator dings, I gesture her ahead of me, letting my eyes drop to her ass as she walks inside. Only a day ago, I watched her walk into the lake in her underwear, but it feels like it’s been weeks.

I guess it’s been years.

“You heard from your dad?” I ask as the doors slide shut.

“No. I mean, well, yes. He’s messaged. And called. And emailed. But frankly, I’m not a fan of his tone, so I’m ignoring him too. At least until he asks me how I am or if I’m safe rather than just demanding I come back.”

“Fair.”

I hear her teeth clank together over the soft elevator music. “Come to think of it, I’m kind of done with men in general right now.” One hand waves up and down in my direction. “The whole lot of you.”

“Also fair.”

She spins toward me now. “Why do you have to be so fucking agreeable, Jasper?”

“Because I’m your friend, Sunny. Nothing will ever change that. If you need to bitch about something, even if that something is me, I’ll be that person for you.”

“What if I go back to Sterling?”

My entire body stills. Not a fucking chance. I know she’s goading me. And it’s working. “No.”

“You think you can just waltz in, tell me you’re”—her hands form sarcastic air quotes as she carries on—“kind of interested mere weeks after I was meant to get married, and I’m going to take your hand and skip off into the sunset? After these past couple of weeks, I must seem really stupid to you, but I’m not that stupid.”

The door opens, and she surges out of the elevator and down the carpeted hallway, irritation wafting off of her. She laughs. Actually laughs.

Because of course she does. Only she would laugh at a moment like this.

“This is insane,” she mutters as she turns the corner and finds our room. One swipe of the key and she’s into the space, tossing her bag onto a chair. She storms toward the windows where she stands with her hands on her hips, silhouetted by the whiteout on the opposite side of the glass.

“You’re not going back to him.”

She shrugs nonchalantly. “Maybe I will. You don’t tell me what to do, Jasper.”

Not yet. But I will.

“You’re not.”

She spins, her voice cutting across the room like she’s thrown a dart right at my chest. “And why not?”

“Because he sucks the life out of you!” She rears back, clearly shocked by the volume of my voice. “And I want to breathe it back in.”

Her laugh this time is not at all amused. “Years, Jasper. Years. For years I have been the little cousin, the little sister, the good friend. For years I have seen you. Waited for you every summer. Watched you go on dates with women who weren’t me—who would never be me. I was sick over you. And then I came to terms with what we were. I accepted I would always want you and you would never want me back. I convinced myself that sometimes the greatest loves of our lives will be our closest friends. And I was okay with that.”

My stomach drops, my chest seizes, and nausea roils.

“I got really fucking comfortable in my head where I could want you that way but had the safety of knowing you didn’t want me back. And now? You just change your mind? Willy-nilly? When emotions are already running high for us both? This is insane.”

“I didn’t just change my mind.” I dread what I’m about to tell her. She’s already angry with her dad, and I loathe the thought of being the one to make her hate him. Because hearing what she’s just told me, I know this will hurt her.

“Make this make sense for me, then!”

My voice drops, and so do my eyes. “It was your dad.”

“What?”

I pry at the edges of my cap, pulling the brim down to shield myself. “It was the fall you got a spot with your company. Finally went pro. Got a role in The Nutcracker. I came to help you move into your new condo downtown. You were eighteen, and I was twenty-four.”

“I remember.” Her voice is quiet, hollowed-out sounding.

“We had fun setting everything up.”

She nods. “We did.”

“I had secured a spot on the Grizzlies. Clawed my way up off the farm team.”

“I remember,” she repeats.

“Everything was going so well for both of us. I was so happy for you. So excited to see you on stage. To have a friend from back home in the city with me.”

Her eyes are shiny now.

“But your dad found me leaving your place.” I swallow, staring down at my hands, arms limp at my sides before crossing them and slipping them beneath each other like a shield. “He threatened to pull strings with his friend who owns the team and have me cut from the roster if I ever crossed that line with you. He told me to stay far away from you. That he never wanted to see me in your presence alone again.”

She still says nothing. Her baby blues bore into me with unnerving intensity.

“You were still a kid to me back then. I really didn’t think of our relationship that way, but he scared me all the same. Sloane, you have to understand, I had nothing to my name except being good at hockey. Being really fucking good at hockey. Good enough to pull myself out of the gutter I got left in. And your dad? He’s just powerful and connected enough to follow through on his threats.”

Her bottom lip wobbles and her eyes blink. “But why would he want you to stay away from me?”

My face scrunches, and I wipe a hand over my stubble, hearing the rasp in my ears. “You really can’t guess, Sloane? It’s because I’m not one of you. I’m from, I believe he called it ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ I don’t take six figure trips to hunt lions or drive a Maybach. I came from nothing and made something of myself by working my ass off and putting on a show for the masses. I’m beholden to men like your father, but I’ll never be one of them. I’m an Eaton at heart. A small town boy. And I always will be, no matter how many zeroes are on my paycheck. And to be frank, I’m happy with that.”

“But I don’t care about your paycheck. I never have.” Her voice is so small, so brittle.

I sigh and reach up to squeeze at my brim, wanting to comfort her but not wanting to overstep either. “I know you don’t. But this is what I’ve been trying to tell you all along. He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t care that Sterling is a shit match for you. He doesn’t care about what you want. He cares about what he needs. He couldn’t risk me or you ruining his plans or his reputation with my dirty upbringing and fucked-up family dynamic. And I was too young and too desperate to defy him. I missed your first professional ballet on the big stage because I was scared. I kept you in the friend zone for years after because I was scared.”

She stays perfectly still. The shiny veneer she’s assigned to her father all these years has cracked, and a tear spills down her cheek. A perfect droplet rolling over her pale skin, the reality of his manipulations seeping out in a slow, devastated trickle.

That frustration surges up in me at the sight, and I say what I’ve been wanting to say to her for god knows how long. “Times have changed, Sloane. I’m not scared anymore. You’re not my fucking friend. You’re just mine.”


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