*** UNEDITED ***
My stomach growls, hungry, and angry that I’ve haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.
I grit my teeth, blowing out my frustration. Fucking Cole. He left forty-five minutes ago, walking down the block to the bakery to get us something quick to eat. He should have been back eight ten. It doesn’t take that long to buy donuts, but knowing him as well as I do, he’s balls deep in the baker as we speak.
He’s no different than any other man. Thinks with the piece of meat dangling between his legs well before he uses his brain for something useful—like remembering that I’m starving. I only said it half a dozen times before he crawled out of his bed to go get us some substance.
I slept here last night after having one of my ‘bad nights’ and now I’m late for work. Luckily, being a senior special agent for the Los Angeles, California field office of the FBI, I’m not required to clock in every workday morning like clockwork. I’m often times working outside of the office with my team.
My eyes cut to the top of the toilet tank, my phone chiming with an incoming text message when my arms are midair, securing my long, red locks into a sleek, tight ponytail high on my head. My hair isn’t nearly the length it once was, but I still prefer to keep it on the longer side. It normally extends to the center of my back, but while I’m working, I have to have it out of my face.
Letting the strands fall, coving the back of my neck, I lean to my left, away from the mirror, grabbing my cell.
Josh: Where the fuck are you?
Joshua Beckett—my boss, longtime friend, and my teams’ Special Agent in Charge.
Josh: You were supposed to be here half an hour ago. The fuck, Cat?”
I’ve gone by Jenna, my first name, since I was seventeen. Only Josh calls me ‘Cat,’ preferring it over my real name. There was a time, long ago, when I hated that he’d call me that, or even worse, ‘Wild Cat,’ but over time I got over my issues with him. We got through them together, and now he’s one of my best friends. He’s ‘boss’ first and foremost, but friend nonetheless. I hate how he came into my life, but also love that he was the one, because had it been anyone else . . .
My head snaps to the open bathroom door that leads into Cole’s bedroom when I hear the front door from downstairs slam closed.
Finally. Much longer and I might’ve pass out from lack of nourishment.
I form a quick text, shooting it back to the boss.
Me: Headed your way now.
I’ll never make excuses. I’m late and there is nothing that’s going to stop the ass chewing he’s going to give me when I arrive. It’s deserved. I have a job to do, and as one of the two senior agents on the team, I shouldn’t be late for any reason.
I didn’t bring a change of clothes and I knew that before I decided to shower at Cole’s this morning. I’ll have to wear the same clothes I showed up in last night, the same ones I wore to work yesterday. In my case, every outfit I wear to work is the same. The only thing that ever changes depends on whether I wear a jacket due to changes in the weather, or if I have to be present for court proceedings. Living in LA, it’s only cool during the nighttime hours for the most part. Today, the September sun will shine and the sweat will roll.
I slip my cell down the deep pocket of my black, tactical pants and step into Cole’s master bedroom, snagging my bra off his four-poster bed as I head out of the spacious room.
Sliding an arm through one of the straps of my black racerback bra, I wrap it around my back and push my other arm through, pulling the cups under my boobs and snapping the hook closed around the front as I take the first step down the stairs. Chills rush down my spine, stopping me dead in my tracks when I hear a voice I haven’t heard in years.
“Looks like our boy had some kind of night.” Trey laughs and it guts me, stealing the air in my lungs but pulls my eyes down the landing into the large, open living room anyway.
My gaze flicks over when I hear a snicker come from Seth’s mouth. “I don’t think I wanna meet whatever chick he’s banging,” he remarks, leaning over the glass coffee table, picking up my leg holster and weapon. I cringe, hating anyone putting their hands on my shit. It’s the FBI agent in me. When I’m at Cole’s, I tend to let my guard down when I know I shouldn’t. I sure as shit should not have let my weapon out of reaching distance. I know better.
There’s a third person in the room with them, and it’s taking everything inside me not to move my gaze to him. It physically hurts me not to look at him and I know as soon as I do, it’ll hurt ten times worse.
“No way!” My eyes snap down to Trey’s. He’s turned around and looking up the staircase at me with the same hard, hateful look on his pretty face that matches the one he had last time I saw him. “No fucking way is he fucking you!” he snarls.
If I had any doubt that he still hates me, that just proved to me he does.
I hear his quick intake of breath, the shock rolling out of his mouth, knowing he’s seen me. Still, I force my eyes to remain locked with Trey’s angry green ones. He’s always worn his wavy locks short, but with long strands on top. The front always finds its way into his eyes. It’s his signature look and it still looks good on him. Even with the hatred rolling off him, he’s still as good-looking as he was at eighteen. All four of them are.
“I don’t know.” I shrug, continuing down the steps, taking them slower than I normally would, not wanting to lose my balance. He’s here. Jamie Hart is within breathing distance. Everything inside of me is screaming to run. But I won’t. Not this time. “You’d have to ask Cole. I’m not one to kiss and tell.” I force a smile, my brown eyes still locked on Trey.
Cole and I aren’t an ‘item’ and never will be. Other than my partner, Malachi Hayes, he ranks up there as one of my best friends. My second best friend to be exact. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when Cole was my worst enemy. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we’d be friendly with one another, let alone that he’d be someone I’d confide in, lean on, and love for the man he is today, for the things he’s done and been there for.
“Elise.” His whispered voice sends a sharp pain shooting across my back, digging up memories I’d rather never think about again. I haven’t been called by my middle name in such a long time, I’d almost forgotten what it sounded like on his tongue.
My eyes finally pull in his direction, giving in to the need to see him and hating myself for still feeling the way I do about him all these years later. After everything he’s done and said, I still haven’t gotten over him. And I still love him. I shouldn’t, but I do.
He isn’t looking at me. Those indigo eyes that I still remember so clearly are looking at something he’s holding in is palm. I know what it is without seeing it. It’s the silver cross pendant with a single black diamond in the center that he gave me for my fifteenth birthday with the inscription on the back: J and E.
I’ve never been a religious person, but there is something about crosses that I love. They’re comforting in a way I can’t explain. Jamie knew I liked them and still to this day, it’s my favorite treasure.
Jamie and the guys were a year older than me and a grade ahead of me in school, but I had known them since we were little kids. We were in the same Sunday school class, growing up in a small southern town in Mississippi. I was infatuated with Jamie from the first day I met him at age nine after my parents moved one town over, buying a new house and enrolling me in a new school.
He knew I liked him, because for him it was love at first sight too. That’s the one thing I always knew was true with us. We were meant for each other from the very beginning. Only when push came to shove, he wasn’t in it forever like I had been.
He believed her over me. And that sealed our tragic fate.
“Cole wouldn’t come within touching distance of you,” Trey spits, pulling my attention away from Jamie and back to him.
“Yet, I’m in his house.” I step off the last step, four feet from William ‘Trey’ Thompson. He hates me. All three of them do.
Seth is silent, but the same disgust on his bandmate’s face is the same one he has trained on me now. Jamie is still in shock, but the anger is coming. I know that because I know him. His emotions are slow, but when they hit, it’s like a Mack truck coming at you at a hundred miles per hour.
“Why are you?” Seth finally speaks up at the same time the door of the one-car garage bangs shuts. Cole is back, and I’m going to kill that motherfucker for them being here. For having to deal with this shit when it’s the last thing I ever wanted to come face to face with.
“Fuck!” Cole shouts, coming through the opening leading from the kitchen, stopping and taking all of us in. “Fuck,” he shouts again, running his hand through his short dirty-blond hair.
“You want to explain this, brother,” Jamie barks, his anger finally making its way here.
I step past Trey, walking in Jamie’s direction. He steps backward, retreating from me like he can’t stand the nearness. He probably can’t. I glance down, hating that he backed away from me. It’s like another stab in the heart along with so many other cuts he’s made. Hasn’t gotten any easier. Still hurts just as it did before.
I see my black tank top on the coffee table and snatch it up.
It’s the sharp intake of air behind me that stops me midair from pulling my shirt over my head. It’s confirmation Trey saw the ugly scar that mars the flesh across my back in a nine-inch diagonal mark. Most of the time I forget it’s there. I wear ribbed tank tops most days, but it’s rare when someone other than me, Cole, or Malachi sees it, and they act like they don’t even notice it, even though I’m not stupid. I know they do. I know they hate what it represents. But I can’t change the past. They can’t change the past. It is what it is.
I yank the material over my head and pull it down my torso, tucking it into my pants. I snatch my holster and weapon out of Seth’s hand, quickly strapping it on my right thigh. Then I whip my body around, facing Trey head on, and give him a look that says he better not even think about opening his damn mouth.
“Leave it,” I order. “It’s in the past, Trey. It stays in the past. Got it?”
He swallows as he nods, shock and guilt, perhaps, coating his olive complexion.
I look back over my shoulder. Jamie’s face has hardened. Lifting my arm, I open my hand, requesting the item of mine that’s in his. Instead of giving it to me, he closes his fingers around the cheap piece of jewelry, fisting his hand. It pisses me off, but I’m not in the mindset to fight him over it.
I turn away, needing to get out of here as fast as my feet will go without running. My cell phone chimes with an incoming text message, but I ignore it. It won’t be Josh, that much I know. It’s either my best friend and partner, or it’s one of the boys. Either way, they’ll have to wait until I have my shit under control.
“Jen.” Cole says my name in a way that sounds like a heartfelt apology.
I’m not mad at him. I know he had no way of knowing they’d show up. He and I don’t talk about Jamie or the guys that much. We stay away from the topic of his band. Bleeding Hart has been my favorite band since they formed, back when they were named Hideout. I was their biggest fan at one time. Thing is, I still am. Jamie’s voice, the lyrics he writes, the music the guys create speak to my soul in a way nothing else ever has. Individually, all four are talented. Together, they make a phenomenal music group. They were always destined for success and they found it. For that, I’m so very proud of all four of them.
I stop in front of Cole and his hands clasp onto my biceps, lightly squeezing. Leaning down, Cole’s lips brush against the shell of my ear and I have to lock my jaw in order to stop my body from reacting to his touch. “You’re shaking.” He whispers the obvious.
“I’m leaving,” I bite out in a low tone through clenched teeth. If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to lose all my strength and break. I can’t allow that to happen. Not in front of the rest of them. Cole is a different story. Between him and Malachi, I can’t say which has seen me at my worst, but probably Cole. I sought comfort in the one place I never should have—Jamie’s best friend. It isn’t right. I placed Cole in an impossible situation, but I didn’t have much of a choice.
Fear and the need to protect what is dearest will do that to a woman, to anyone.
He leans up, his remorseful face coming back into view. His brows furrow and his deep blue eyes cloud. “I’m sorry,” he mouths, but I shake my head, silently asking him to let it go and let me leave.
“I’ll see you tonight,” I force out, my tone nowhere near as light as I would have liked it to come out. My nerves are shot and I have to get out of here. I raise my brown eyes up to his six-foot height, pleading with him to understand in only a way that he can.
There’s a part of me that wants to step into Cole’s arms, letting him wrap them around me. We may not be a thing in terms of sex or an intimate relationship, and never will be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or take from the physical touch and comfort that he gives, because I do. More so than I have the right to. It’s why I was here last night.
When I have a bad day the only way for me to have a fighting chance at sleep is being nestled in Cole’s arms. I should be ashamed of that, but I’m not. It’s the only solace I’ve had in the last ten years since he’s know the full truth, and I eat that comfort up. The fact that he and Jamie smell so much alike because of the brand of cologne they wear is just something neither of us verbally recognize, though either of us are that stupid and we both know it.
“I swear to God,” Jamie barks from behind me, stealing the trimmers from my body. “If you do not take your hands off her, I will rip them off. Stop fucking touching her!” he commands, and I swallow, my throat feeling clogged. For a moment, I welcome his jealousy. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it, seen it, or heard it.
The thing about Jamie is that his emotions roll off him in stark honesty. He’s never shied away from them or hid them. What you see is what you get. What you get is who he is to the core.
“It’s not like that,” Cole says, tipping his head back in frustration that his best friend would think, even for a second, that he’d want me that way. Cole loves Jamie in a way that I used to not understand. The same way Cole didn’t understand how I loved Jamie. It’s why we were always at each other’s throats as kids and teenagers. We weren’t friends like I was with Trey and Seth. Cole and I didn’t hate each other, but we certainly didn’t like each other back then.
Cole is bisexual. He likes the feel of a man’s body against his as equally as he loves a woman’s. He hid that fact for a long time, but eventually the struggle of fighting who he is, what he wants, became too much, so he admitted it, first to Jamie and then to Trey and Seth, and finally to me. Apparently, his bandmates already knew. It was me that it first came out as a shock. Not because I didn’t approve or anything, but because I had never opened my eyes to see what had been in front of me the whole time.
Cole and my spats stemmed from him thinking he was in love with Jamie too. It was years later that he realized it was his attraction to men in general and the real love he does in fact have for his best friend. Just isn’t the same kind of soul-baring love I feel for Jamie.
“Sure as fuck looks like it to me,” Jamie throws back at him.
“Us too, brother,” Seth pipes up.
It doesn’t go unnoticed that Trey has remained silent. He’s never the silent one of the group. He’s usually the loudest and most outspoken.
“They’re yours to deal with,” I say to Cole, still looking up. “I have to get to work.”
Cole’s head falls forward again, his eyes landing back on me. He nods but hasn’t moved to release me. Tired of this, I step around him, forcing him to drop his hands from my arms. I don’t stick around any longer, and as soon as I’m out of the other three’s sight, I bolt out of his garage door and race to my black Tahoe.
I wasn’t ready for this. I’m still not ready for any of it, but I know the walls are going to come crashing down around me. It’s only a matter of time. And that scares the hell out of me.
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