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Powerless: Chapter 24


Sloane: Give your boys hugs from me. And yourselves. I can’t believe it.

Summer: I can’t stop crying. I’m so relieved. We’re sending hugs back to you.

Willa: I’ll hug Cade for you if you bang Jasper for me.

Sloane: When I bang Jasper, I’m banging him for myself.

Summer: Ooooooo!

Willa: Possessive. I like it.

Willa: Wait. Did you say WHEN?!

I’m happy and rung out all at once. I’m back in a huge truck, but this time, Violet is behind the wheel. I’m sitting in the front passenger seat, and all three of her closest friends are in the back.

Billie, who has a knack for making us all laugh, proclaimed that unloading hay is a “boy” job and we should all go get wine to drink straight from the bottle. She’s a bit scary if I’m being honest.

She’s like Willa.

On crack.

Then there’s Mira with her black hair, keen eyes, and a knowing smirk. I feel like she knows all my deepest, darkest secrets just by glancing at me.

And Nadia, who’s a little younger, is so beautiful I can’t stop staring at her. It’s like she strutted right off a Victoria’s Secret runway and onto the farm.

They chatter happily in the back while Violet and I sit in a companionable but stunned silence up front. It’s like I didn’t realize how much tension I was carrying over Beau until the weight lifted.

Now I’m hit with a full-body exhaustion that stretches from the tips of my fingers to the ends of my toes. I could sleep for a week.

“You okay?” Violet glances at me, high ponytail flipping over her shoulder as she does.

“Yeah.” I sigh. “Just so, so tired.”

“You guys had a long journey.”

“That we did.”

Long doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A smile tugs at the corner of her lips. “I always wondered when you two would notice the other.”

My head flips to her. “Pardon?”

“You and Jasper. You’ve both been so in love with each other for so long. I saw that hug. Plus, I saw the look on his face that day when I first spilled the beans about your engagement. And on your wedding day?” She snorts. “I think he was looking for a reason to barge in there and break you out. Poor emotionally stunted idiot that he is.”

I just blink, mind whirring. “He’s not emotionally stunted.” I always jump to defend Jasper, no matter what.

Violet hits me with a sidelong glance. “Yeah, he is. I married one of those, so I know them when I see them.”

“Wait,” Nadia says. “Aren’t you guys cousins?”

Mira’s finger waves back and forth. “No. He’s the adopted brother.”

I see Nadia’s smile in the rearview mirror. “Fuck. That’s hot.”

I groan but don’t get a word in edgewise before Billie pipes up. “You should fuck him.”

I can’t help but laugh. My body shakes with it because this scenario is just too much. Emotions are too high. I’m delirious.

Violet laughs too. “Billie, that’s always your advice.”

“I tried,” I say from behind my hands because hiding while I admit this feels easier. “He said we needed to talk first.”

“But something happened?” Violet can’t hide her curiosity. She always was the chatty girl-talk type.

“Yes.” I lower my hands, staring at the roof of the truck. “Something happened.”

Billie hums thoughtfully from behind me. Like she’s about to offer profound advice. “You should demand he fuck you.”

I snort, and a different type of tears well in my eyes. They’re the good kind that come from laughing and trying to hold it back. I glance at the rearview mirror into the back seat.

“It worked for me,” Mira says with a feline smile on her lips.

“Ew. Don’t tell me these things about my brother, please.” Nadia turns away and stares out the window, a look of exaggerated disgust on her face. “You could do what I did and just drive him insane until he snaps.”

Billie pipes up again. “No. Pull a Violet. Just send him nudes.”

Violet doesn’t shy away from Billie’s statement like she might have when she was younger. Instead, a proud smile touches her face as she drives down the snowy road until we pull up to Neighbor’s Pub, the most run-down bar and liquor store I’ve ever seen. A flashing sign advertises “COLD BEER AND WINE!!!”

Exclamation marks and all.

It feels suitably dingy for the updated version of me I’m working on.

I like it already.

“Or just do what I did and make him so jealous he loses his mind, bangs on your door, and then bangs you on the kitchen counter,’’ Billie adds.

I laugh harder, so does everyone else, and warmth flickers in my chest. I’d love friendships like this in my life. I think I could have them with Willa and Summer.

When we pile out of the truck, moods lighter from cracking jokes about my hot mess of a personal life and flaming dumpster fire of a friendship slash relationship slash lifelong crush turned who the fuck knows what, I ask, “Do you think they sell Buddyz Best Beer here?”

“Fuck yes, they do,” Billie calls over her shoulder as she heaves the wooden door open.

Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about everything anymore. Everyone I love is safe and content. Violet has a happy little crew here. They found Beau. Things between Jasper and me are messy right now, but . . . it’s us.

We always end up back together somehow.

We just need to stop fighting it.

Mira’s husband, Stefan, cooked us a massive, gourmet meal. Over dinner everyone in Billie and Vaughn’s expansive house clearly shared my feeling of relief.

Vaughn cracked jokes that lightened the mood considerably. Cole and Griffin were quiet but friendly. The sense of family between all the friends warmed my heart. Wine flowed easily and so did the conversation.

The dining room windows look out over the pristine farm, and all the kids have crashed out in the enormous, sunken living room while a Disney movie still rolls on the screen.

It’s cozy and comforting, and I can tell this group of people gets together like this often. There’s a level of comfort between them I want to curl up in, but I still feel slightly removed from it all. I’m still an interloper here.

It just isn’t Chestnut Springs.

I keep peeking at Jasper across the table from me, wanting to see him smile, wanting to see him looking relieved and happy after weeks of seeing him look devastated.

He’s not wearing a cap tonight, and it makes it so easy to see every expression that touches his face. I want to know he’s okay, but I still quickly glance away when his eyes lock on mine.

My cheeks heat and my spine tingles, and my brain plunges me back into last night when he slid his fingers between my legs and made me come harder than I ever have.

I told him so much and he told me so little. He still held back and that stung. I’ve always felt like I’m his person, his safe place to let it all out, but in the past couple of days it’s come to my attention that he still keeps so much locked up tight.

He hasn’t told me everything and that shouldn’t matter. We all have those secrets, I guess.

But it does. I want to know. I always want to be the person who knows the most about him. That’s always been the one thing I’ve had with him that no other woman can claim.

I might not know his body. I might not have memorized all his tattoos. But I know his heart. I’m intimately familiar with all the pieces of it he’s given to me over the years.

But they aren’t enough.

I want the rest of it too.

When a lull in the conversation hits, I stifle a yawn.

Violet, sitting beside me, pats my knee. “Tired?”

I nod. “Yeah. Think I’m going to pack it in for the night.”

“Okay. I took your bags to the little A-frame cottage near the creek. That way the kids won’t wake you at like five in the morning.”


Billie leans over and whispers in my ear, “That cottage has become known as the Love Shack around here.”

Violet gives her an unimpressed look. “That’s what we called it when you and Vaughn lived there.”

Billie holds her hands up in surrender. “Right. I’m just saying there’s good ‘fuck me’ juju in there.”

I push to stand, smiling at their antics, but freeze and glance down at the sassy brunette. “Wait. Is this the kitchen counter place?”

She shrugs with a knowing grin. “I’m a clean freak. Don’t worry. I sanitized it.”

I roll my lips together to keep from barking out a laugh, but Jasper draws my attention from across the table. “I’ll go with you.” He nods to the men at the other end of the table. “Thank you for dinner. It was excellent.”

There are hugs and goodnights, but they all blend into the heavy pounding of my heart because within minutes it’s just Jasper and me walking on a quiet farm under the dark night sky.

We’ve been here before.

In the dark together.

But it’s never felt quite like this.

Jasper enters the code into the lock on the door. The tension between us is so thick right now that neither of us even laughs about that code being 6969. I’m tired and wound up all at once.

We step inside and I toe my shoes off, keeping my eyes trained on the floor. I showered and changed at the main house when we arrived but haven’t been into this cottage yet.

It’s a cozy open concept with exposed wood beams. I assume the flight of stairs leads to a bedroom. Or bedrooms? I’m not sure because it doesn’t seem like there’s enough space for more than one.

But no one even asked us about that. So either there are definitely two beds or my cousin and her friends are playing matchmaker in the fucking Love Shack.

“Cute cottage,” I say absently as I look around.

Jasper’s tightly corded back strains against the navy T-shirt he’s wearing as he pours himself a glass of water from the dispenser on the fridge. I take a moment to ogle the broad expanse of his shoulders, his posture always so immaculate, and the way it tapers down to his waist.

To that round hockey-boy butt.

I tip my head up and stare at the ceiling, all wooden planks and cross beams. Industrial wrought iron light fixtures and a fan hang above me, a funky contrast to the Persian rug beneath my feet. Cushy leather couches face the tall A-frame windows.

“You must be feeling relieved about Beau,” I say right as Jasper turns and leans against the kitchen counter. I absently wonder if it’s that counter but decide against bringing it up right now.

“Yeah. Will be good to see him. Hopefully, we’ll get more information from Harvey once he gets there.”

I nod. We found out later in the day Harvey was flying out East to a military hospital where they had transferred Beau so he could be with him.

“Are we going to stick around here at all? Or head straight back?”

His head tilts, and the expression he gets when he’s heading out on the ice paints his features. The focus. The edge. The narrowed gaze.

“I don’t know, Sloane. What do you want?”

I sigh heavily, rolling my shoulders back and holding my head high where I stand near the front door. “For once, I would like you to tell me what’s going on in your head. I’m tired, Jasper. Tired of guessing, tired of tiptoeing around everyone else’s feelings, tired of giving so much and getting so little back. And not just from you, from everyone. Can you just tell me something real for once? What are you feeling? What is our plan? Are we staying here? Or are we driving back? It’s really not complicated. And since you’re the one on a timeline with the team, I’m going to assume that you have a plan. Because you always do.”

He glares at me so I keep going. “You just, as usual, don’t feel the need to talk about it.” I wave a hand in front of me, frustration bleeding into my tone. “Or anything, for that matter. I guess it’s much better for you to keep everything locked inside and then blind- side me with all of your shit at once. So, like, can I have a heads-up or something?”

I watch his jaw pop, fingers clenched around the glass of water, forearm rippling as he squeezes it. We stare each other down, and I dive into those eyes I know so well, willing him to say something. I’ve spent years monologuing while he listens, but I’m done with playing that role for him now. Frustration simmers in my chest before leaping out.

“Oh my god, Jasper! Fucking say something!”

“I feel like I could crumble under the weight of not wanting to disappoint you. I’m paralyzed by my fear of losing you.

His words suck all the air out of the room. Like a punch straight to the gut. I remember falling off the tire swing on the ranch as a child and gasping for breath.

He was there . . . rubbing my back and telling me to stay calm.

I open my mouth to respond, but he cuts me off.

“The thought of needing you this badly and letting you down.” He drops my gaze, shaking his head. “It fucking kills me.”

“You’re never going to lose me,” I whisper back, itching to rush forward and touch him but wanting to give him space. I don’t want him to corner him or smother him.

“I almost did lose you.” He takes a couple of steps forward, and I think he’s going to come to me. But he places the glass of water on the marble island before propping his hands there, like that island is the only thing keeping him from moving across the room toward me again.

As though he’s fighting to keep himself away from me.

“On that mountain runaway lane. To your dad’s maneuvering. To him,” he adds, eyes dropping to the ring on my finger, the one that clearly did not prevent me from crossing that line with Jasper at all.

“Then fucking take me back already! I’ve been dreaming of you for literal years and never knew you saw me as anything other than a friend.” He flinches but I’m done holding back. “I’ve been licking those wounds for so damn long, Jasper. And you’ve been too chickenshit to say anything. So say it already. Tell me what you want!”

He groans and drops his head for a beat before leveling me with his midnight stare. “That’s what I want. That’s what I get off on. Telling you what to do and having you listen. Control.” His cheeks flush bright under his stubble. “I’ve tried not to. But with everything that’s happened in my life, it’s just become . . .” He runs an agitated hand through his hair. “Part of me. But I don’t want you to do something that makes you uncomfortable just to give me that. That’s not what you need. It’s not what I want for you. I see you. I see what you’ve been through. I’ve seen these men in your life telling you what to do, using you as a pawn. And I don’t want to be another asshole telling you what to do.”

Arousal unfurls in my gut, heat leeching out into the tip of every limb. “Don’t you get it, Jas? I’ve seen all the darkest parts of you and I’m still here. I still want more. Stop trying to scare me away. It isn’t going to work.”

He looks pained now.

“I don’t want to be another man who—”

My hand slashes out in front of me, and I cut him off. “You talk about not telling me what to do, that you don’t want to let me down, but I’m sick of being treated like I’m too fragile or too pristine. I don’t want to be a damsel in distress! So stop treating me like one. I’m not a trophy. You aren’t telling me to do anything! I’m telling you I want you to take me, and you’re sitting here, patting my head like I’m stupid, telling me I don’t know what I want. If I don’t like something, I will fucking tell you. But for the love of god, stop deciding what I like or don’t like. What I can or cannot endure. What feels good or doesn’t. Stop holding back with me.”

My breathing is labored by the time I finish. Saying what’s on my mind feels good. I feel empowered and frustrated and . . . alive.

“How many times do I need to tell you for you to believe me? Before I get to hear it back?” I shake my head in disbelief at this man I know so damn well, yet not at all. “It’s always been you, Jasper. It will always be you.”

I sigh heavily. “Please tell me what to do with that.”


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