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Powerless: Chapter 31

Jasper

Jasper: How’s my girl? I’ll be back tonight. Meet you at the ranch?

Sloane: Yes. Really good. Especially when you call me that.

Jasper: My girl?

Sloane: Yeah. Haha. Never thought I’d hear that.

Jasper: Sunny, you’ve always been my girl.


Sweat trickles down my back in the quiet studio. There’s no bar, and the floors are too soft for pointe shoes.

And I can’t remember a time when I loved dancing so much.

Possibly as a child before it got competitive and came with criticisms about my body. Before it made my feet so sore I could barely walk.

For over a month, I’ve danced how I want to dance, ignoring every single responsibility and enjoying every moment of independence.

I stand in the skybox and watch every single one of Jasper’s games.

I wait at the exit and feel my heart race when his tall, broad form appears in the doorway.

I revel in the way he comes straight for me, kisses me, and squeezes me against his chest.

I make love to him whenever I want.

I dance when I want.

I eat what I want.

I only take the phone calls I want.

I sleep in until whenever I want.

I spend my hard-earned money the way I want.

I’m finally living for myself and feeling empowered about it.

I feel reborn.

Jasper and I have holed up in the house at the end of the block he owns. It’s right behind Summer’s gym, so I can easily have social time and get my dancing in too.

When Jasper heads out for away games, I have girls’ nights with Willa and Summer, or I have dinner with Harvey, or I help Cade check all the electric waterers on the ranch. Or I stay up too late putting fresh coats of paint in the bungalows Jasper owns.

I’ve watched YouTube videos on how to install new faucets, and Jasper never tells me I can’t or I shouldn’t or that it’s something a man should do.

No one does.

Instead, he walks in, gives the house a little smirk with his hands slung casually in his pockets and tells me how fabulous it looks. What a great job I’ve done. How capable I am.

He makes me believe in myself.

Then he bosses me around in bed—but I like that part.

The rest of it makes me realize how powerless I’ve been trained to be my entire life. It stirs an unfamiliar rage inside of me, one that keeps me from answering any of my dad’s phone calls.

I miss him and yet I’m furious with him. I miss who I thought he was—the relationship I thought we had—and yet this new perspective I’ve gained makes me loathe him at the same time.

I’ve had the time and space to reflect on the controlling way he treats my mom, the way he’s always treated her. The way he talks to serving staff, the way he walks all over anyone he deems beneath him.

Which is alarmingly similar to how he’s treated me. The only difference is that with me he uses a sugary voice and calls me “darling” while he pushes me into the places he wants me. The places that benefit him the most while sucking the soul right out of me.

Without this distance, I’m not sure I’d have even noticed. I’d still be a pretty little mannequin, born and bred to make appearances in his world.

But that era has ended. I do plan to face him at some point, to demand the respect he’s never given me. And every day I get closer. Every day I grow stronger.

Distance has brought perspective, but also an all-new pride in my capability, in my intelligence. Women like Summer and Willa surrounding me bolsters my inner fortitude.

And the support of men like Jasper, Harvey, Rhett, and Cade makes me feel less self-conscious about this new version of myself. The one who does weird dances in the back room of a gym and drinks coffee at 11 p.m. so she can rip out vomit-green shag rug until two in the morning and admire the hardwood floors beneath.

I feel . . . found. I enjoy helping Cade and Harvey at the ranch. I enjoy doing odd jobs. I still love dancing but I’ve reclaimed it for myself. My body doesn’t riot when I dance now, it sings with it.

I don’t know how this all looks for me long-term, but I am tentatively happy. Tentatively optimistic.

I sit on the floor and fold myself over my legs, sinking into the stretch. My body is all warm and buttery and I feel a deep sense of accomplishment, like I’ve flattened another little corner of my scrunched-up life map in my head while I danced around today.

Jasper is heading back from an away game and we’re doing a holiday dinner at Wishing Well Ranch. Christmas is a week away, but there’s a vibe at the ranch that always makes it seem like Christmas.

Warm. Cozy. Family.

A wholesome movie-style Christmas, not a ballgown or caviar canapé in sight.

I wrap my fingers around the arches of my feet and press my breasts down into my legs, my sit bones into the floor.

When my phone buzzes across the room, I ignore it. It buzzed while I was dancing, cutting off the music in my earbuds, but I didn’t feel like stopping. Whoever it is doesn’t give up this time. It just starts up again. With a sigh, I decide I’m done enough with my workout that I can abandon it. I sit back up, walk to the table in the corner with the big stereo system, and pick the phone up.

Royal Alberta Ballet Co. flashes across the screen. They’re probably wondering if the prima ballerina they’ve dumped years of development and money into is done fucking around. I haven’t gotten back to them about spring season. I saw the email and I just . . . didn’t feel like responding.

I slide the green phone symbol across the bottom of the screen and take the call.


Everyone was jealous of the hockey game Jasper and I recounted when we returned from Ruby Creek so I spent the afternoon helping Rhett clear off a shallow and very frozen section of the creek near Beau’s still empty house for a few Christmas games of shinny.

From what I gather, Beau won’t be back until the new year. He told us “minor burns” but since Harvey’s return, it’s become clear that minor might be an understatement.

All I know is that he’s going to be okay and he’s coming home. Jasper is itching to see him. I’m just not sure the man he’ll see now will be the same as before he deployed.

Rhett dropped me off at the main house ten minutes ago. It’s snowy out, but the bench beside the wishing well is cleared off. The sky is so full of stars that I stake a seat in all my snow gear, tip my head back, and stare up at the chips of bright light as I wait for Jasper to arrive.

Constellations. Planets. Satellites.

Everything is clearer out in Chestnut Springs. Not just the stars.

I remember Jasper sitting in this exact spot on a rainy summer night. It was the night he told me everything. It was the night I danced him because I didn’t know what to say. It was the night we became irrevocably tied to one another.

I hear the brittle crunching of tires against the packed snow on the main gravel road followed by the soft rolling sound of them hitting the asphalt driveway up to the main house. When bright white lights turn toward the house, my heart pitches in my chest.

Eighteen years I’ve known Jasper Gervais and I still get excited when I’m about to see him. Still look forward to him coming home every day. Still smile when a text comes in.

I’ll never tire of him. Of that I’m sure.

His SUV rolls right up in front of me, and he grins at me through the window.

He looks happy.

Happier than I’ve ever seen him. And I can’t help but hope I’m playing a part in his happiness.

That we make him happy. Because we make me so fucking happy.

He jumps out, dressed all classy in a camel-brown peacoat over a charcoal suit. Brown dress shoes on his feet. He is pure sex.

“I came straight from the airport,” he says as he rounds the front of his vehicle, eyes raking over me like I’m his first meal in days.

I shiver under the intensity of his stare. His irises are a perfect match for the navy winter sky lying like a blanket over us. His long legs eat up the ground, dress shoes crunching on the packed snow.

“I can see that. You look all shmancy, Gervais.” I smirk and twirl a finger. “Do a spin. Let me see that ass.”

He chuckles, a low rumble that I swear vibrates the air between us before he scoops me up and switches places with me. “I’d rather be grabbing yours,” he breathes, pressing a chaste kiss to my lips as he easily flips me onto his lap.

My legs straddle his, and his broad palms firmly grab each ass cheek as he gazes up into my face and whispers, “I missed you, Sunny.”

I roll my eyes. “It was only two days.”

“Too long,” he grumbles, giving me his signature broody look.

“All you did was fly out, play hockey, and then fly back.”

“Yeah, but I like it when you’re at my games.”

“You have played better since you and I …” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, and his fingers pulse on my ass.

“You trying to take credit for our wins?”

“It’s science, Gervais. You can’t argue with it. You were sucking and now you’re not. Your winning streak is going to break records at this rate. My pussy is good luck. The kingmaker. No . . .” I hold a hand up. “The Stanley Cup Maker.”

Jasper gives me a flat expression. “I’m not calling your pussy The Stanley Cup Maker, Sunny.”

I giggle, feeling all girlish and giddy sitting in my childhood crush’s lap, in the snow, under a starlit sky, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. And then I drop my head down to kiss him, the cold tips of our noses brushing together. The stubble on his cheeks pokes through the thin knit of my gloves, scratching against my palms as I hold his handsome face.

When I practiced my choreography out here as a child, I dreamed of kissing him, his hands on me, his warm, sure body under mine.

I thought I loved him then, but I’m not so sure I did. I was infatuated with him. This? Now?

It’s different. We’re different.

“I missed you too, Jas,” I whisper against his lips as I pull away to run my hands over his hair, trying to remember the last time he’s worn a cap. Maybe when he works out? Or when we work on the house together. His cap functions more as a way to keep his hair out of his face now than to hide behind.

It seems like maybe he’s done hiding.

Maybe we both are.

“I got a call today,” I continue, taking in his heavy brows and the fine lines across his forehead.

“Yeah?” His hands rub firm circles over the globes of my butt cheeks, warming me better than my thermal leggings.

Light snow falls, and I watch a crystalline flake land on his dark lashes, suspended there for a moment until he blinks.

“Yeah. The backup dancer for the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker is out with the flu and the principal dancer for the role has Achilles tendinitis that needs a rest. They asked me to step in tomorrow for the final show before Christmas since I danced the part last year.”

“And? Are you happy about that?”

The person you’re with asking how you feel about something shouldn’t seem like a big deal. But it strikes me here and now that no one has ever really asked me this.

This is new for me. He doesn’t jump to tell me whether I should or shouldn’t be happy about something. He just asks me how I feel. Like what’s going on inside my head—inside my heart—is worthy of his notice and respect.

And I think I love him even more for that.

“Yeah,” I whisper, going all mushy as I stare at him. “I think I am.”

A soft smile touches Jasper’s lips, still glistening with my lip gloss from the sloppy, happy welcome-home kisses I planted on him. His dimples peek out from behind his stubble, and I almost swoon on the spot.

The way he’s looking at me right now makes my cheeks heat despite the chilly air. Unable to withstand the saccharine sweetness of the moment, I drop my face into his chest. I suck in his signature scent and nuzzle against him as he wraps his arms around me.

We sit like this until we cars roll down the driveway. I turn my head at the lights that crop up as they draw near. The vehicle in front is a pearl white Audi sedan, and behind it is a massive silver truck with chunky winter tires and a loud engine.

The Audi screeches to a halt at the top of the roundabout driveway, and a tiny blonde woman flies out of the driver’s side with her finger pointed at the truck, keychain jangling beneath her hand. She has her keys shoved between her fingers like claws. Like she’s ready for a fight.

“Are you fucking insane?” she yells.

Jasper sits up tall beneath me, clutching me protectively against his chest. I can feel every limb go taut, like he’s ready to spring into action. After cutting the engine, a handsome, dark-haired man hops out of the huge, loud truck. And not regular handsome, the kind that would turn heads when he walks down the street.

The patio lights illuminate the grin on his face, and when Jasper catches sight of him, his body relaxes.

“Easy, Tink,” the man says good-naturedly but a little teasing. “You’re gonna pop a blood vessel stomping around like that.”

“Tink?” she shouts, pulling up about six feet from him, not at all affected by his good looks.

He waves a hand over her casually. “Yeah. You’ve got this whole angry little Tinkerbell vibe happening. I dig it.” His eyes rake over her body appreciatively but not lewdly.

“You’re fucking nuts, you know that? You drive like an asshole behind me for a solid ten minutes, and now you follow me here? To . . . to . . . check me out and compare me to a Disney pixie?” The woman continues reaming him out, her doll-like features twisted in a furious mask. “That was dangerous. You could kill someone.”

My head whips between them as they volley back and forth.

“I think she’s actually a fairy. And for the record, driving twenty below the speed limit is also dangerous and could kill someone. Mostly me. From boredom,” he quips, leaning a hip against the truck and crossing his arms over his chest, not looking the least bit concerned.

“It’s dark and snowy! I don’t know the area. There could be wildlife! Driving slowly is safe so long as a back-forty hillbilly isn’t riding my ass in his small-dick truck, flashing his high beams at me.”

Jasper’s body shakes with laughter, and I toss a hand over my mouth to cover the snort-laugh that’s ready to burst out. “Who is she? I think I love her.”

“That’s Summer’s older sister, Winter.”

My eyes shift back to the interaction near the front door. We’re obscured by Jasper’s SUV but still have a good vantage point for the unusual, but superior, holiday entertainment.

“Ohh. That Winter?”

“Yeah. That Winter.”

The man’s dark brows shoot up on his forehead, and I can tell he’s trying not to laugh. “I hear that if you want your ass ridden, a small dick is the way to go. So maybe I’m your guy.”

Winter’s mouth drops open comically wide, and I cover my entire face with my hands to smother my giggles. “And who is he?”

Jasper wheezes a laugh, clearly enjoying this exchange just as much as me. “That’s Theo.”

“I don’t think I know him.” I peek back over at the clean-shaven man. His eyes sparkle like polished onyx, eyelashes so dark and long they make me jealous. “He’s cute.”

Jasper pinches my butt. Hard. And I squeal into his chest.

“Theo Silva. Bull rider. Rhett’s been his mentor for a while now.”

Winter holds up her left hand and cocks a hip. “I’m married, you fucking pig. Now leave.”

Theo shrugs and smiles. “Married for now, maybe.”

Rhett’s voice draws my attention to the front door. I don’t know how long he’s been standing there watching. “Yeah, don’t worry, Winter. We’re definitely gonna free you from that husband and bury him in the back field. It’ll be like that Dixie Chicks song. Rob is the new Earl.”

Winter presses her fingers to her temples. “You’re lucky you make my little sister so happy, Eaton.” Rhett chuckles and suddenly Winter looks exhausted and very wrung out. She looks like she could crumple. I want to march across the driveway and hug her, but I also don’t want to out our eavesdropping position.

“Theo’s just a baby though. You can’t corrupt him, Winter,” Rhett carries on while Winter shoots him an exasperated glare, sighing heavily.

Theo rolls his eyes. “I’m not a baby. I’m twenty-six.”

Rhett scoffs. “No, you aren’t. You’re twenty-two.”

“Dude. I was twenty-two when I first met you on the circuit. I’ve gotten older. You’re doing the thing my mom does with her pets. They hit a certain age and then she says they’re that same age until one day they just die.”

Rhett chuckles. “Well, I’ll be. You’re like that store with the skimpy dresses. Forever 22.”

“Yeah. You’re definitely getting old. That store is called Forever 21.”

Rhett swipes a hand through the air as though batting away a fly. “Whatever. I only know about the skimpy dresses.”

“Are you two done? I need a drink if I’m going to stay here all night.” Winter’s arms cross over her stomach protectively. From what I know, she and Summer have been mostly estranged all their lives, and for good reason. But in recent months, they’ve been trying to mend that bridge.

“Ah, yes, Winter, meet my protégé Theo Silva. Theo, meet Doctor Winter Hamilton, my future sister-in-la—”

“Winter Valentine,” she corrects stiffly.

“For now,” Theo reiterates and winks at her. She rolls her eyes dramatically, which makes Theo smile bigger as he sticks his hand out to shake hers.

She walks past Theo’s outstretched hand without a second glance, and he rolls with it by swiping his palm through his hair, joking like he wasn’t trying to shake her hand at all.

“Call your dog off, Eaton,” she mutters as she passes Rhett and enters the log ranch house.

“Woof!” Theo makes a deep barking sound into the snowy night air, and Rhett laughs at him as Winter disappears.

“You’re an idiot, Theo.”

“Dude. I think I’m in love with your sister-in-law. She’s so fiery.”

Rhett shakes his head as he turns to go back into the house, Theo on his heels. “Like I said, man, you’re an idiot.”

The door closes, and Jasper and I snuggle up into each other on the quiet bench again.

“Well . . .” he starts, arms swiping up over my back. “Should we go in? I don’t want to miss this dinner. It’s gonna be a good one. I can tell already.”

“Yeah.” I chuckle, kissing his bristly cheek. “Let’s go.”

I go to extricate myself from his lap, but his hands clamp down on me, keeping me where I am.

“First, can I come to The Nutcracker? I wanna see you dance. I wanna be there. Front row. Big bouquet of roses. The whole thing.”

“You better be there, Gervais.” I grin at him, heart swelling in my chest. Having the people I love in the audience is the best part, and suddenly my heart twangs at the loss I feel where my parents are concerned.

They might not be there, and I’ll be spending Christmas without them for the first time in twenty-eight years.

My birthday is this week too. I absently wonder if I’ll miss that with them as well.

But as we stand, Jasper squeezes my hand and draws me close. And nothing in the world has ever felt more right.

I can’t have them but I have him. And the more time I spend living my own life, the more I think that’s an okay trade to make.

Jasper is worth it.


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