Read Before Online

Authors: Nicola Marsh

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Teen & Young Adult

Before (10 page)

BOOK: Before
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“Then what is it?”

I looked into his eyes, their striking green-blue highlighted by his tan, and wished with all my heart things could be different.

I’d been an idiot. I’d spent the last six days sulking after storming out of his shack, a small part of me hoping my absence would make his heart grow fonder.

So I’d wasted almost a week of our time together, time I could’ve spent hanging out with him, having fun. Instead, I’d plotted a million different scenarios in my head, ranging from slipping into his bed naked at night to storming his dusk shower.

But who was I kidding? I’d never have the guts to do anything like that. And I’d felt like a bitch, not congratulating him the moment Reid had returned with his offer.

The fact was, I couldn’t deal with all the feelings making me go a little crazy. I’d never been in love. Wouldn’t have a clue what it felt like. But this constant being on edge/thinking about him/craving him thing I had going on? Could be classed as a naive, clueless moron falling in love with someone who would never return the sentiment.

“Jess, what’s wrong?”

I blinked, stared him straight in the eye, and lied. “Nothing. Thanks for inviting us to go camping. Should be a blast.”

I bolted for the homestead before I told him the truth.

That I was crazy about him, the kind of crazy that extended to me giving up my life in America to share his in Australia if he asked.

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

JACK

 

 

“Sorry kids, I can’t come.” Reid slung his arms over my shoulder and Jess’s. “Conference call with my boss and a hotshot from the cattle council tonight that I can’t get out of. But you two go and have fun.”

If I didn’t already feel like a bastard for having constant lascivious thoughts about Jess, knowing that Reid trusted me to take his little sister camping made me feel worse.

“You’re a workaholic, mate.” I elbowed him and he grunted. “Sure you can’t get out of it?”

Reid shook his head, while Jess stared at me with wide brown eyes. Was that a flicker of triumph I glimpsed?

“No can do. Politicians never sleep.” Reid fake-knuckled his eyes.

“Yeah, that’s because they’re too busy sucking up to people.” Jess smirked.

“Easy, Sis, or I’ll ground you and stop you from going camping.” Reid bumped Jess with his hip and I envied their closeness. The Harpers were genuinely nice people and for a guy like me who rarely established ties with anyone, I’d miss them.


You
ground
me
?” Jess snorted. “Like to see you try.” She elbowed Reid from the other side and he let out another grunt. “What time are we leaving, Jack?”

“In thirty minutes,” I said, the beef pie and pumpkin scones I’d consumed for afternoon tea churning in my gut.

I needed that much time to weasel my way out of this camping caper, because no way was I spending a night under the stars with Jess. Alone.

“Okay, I’ll meet you back here then.” She practically skipped into the homestead and if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost say she’d planned this.

Not that she could’ve, considering Reid’s boss needed him to work, but did she have to look so damn chipper about it?

Her overt enthusiasm sparked an idea…I knew just how to get out of this.

“Reid, you’re one of the most upfront blokes I’ve ever met, and you’ve done me a huge favor in securing that apprenticeship for me, so I think you should know—”

“My sister has a crush on you.” Reid chuckled. “It’s pretty obvious.”

“Really?” I swallowed my trepidation, hoping my reciprocal crush wasn’t quite so noticeable. “And you’re okay with me taking her camping alone?”

Reid nodded. “’Course. You looked out for her while I was away and I trust you.” He mock frowned. “Unless there’s some reason I shouldn’t?”

Damn, so much for getting out of this. Having Reid’s approval once he knew of Jess’s feelings wasn’t something I’d banked on.

“I’ll look after her,” I said, worrying about just how well I’d like to look after her.

“Good man.” Reid hesitated, as if he wanted to say more and wasn’t sure how to approach it. “Jess is an amazing kid. She lived in Craye Canyon with Mom until she got accepted into UNLV and has always done the right thing. I sometimes wish…”

“What?”

Reid blinked, as if caught up in memories. “That she’d step out of her comfort zone a little. Shake things up. Take risks. How do we learn unless we make mistakes?”

If that were the case, I’d be a frigging genius, I’d made so many of them.

“She’s a nice girl,” I said, hating how trite that massive understatement sounded.

Jess wasn’t just nice. She was amazing. Sweet and sexy, fire and ice, sassy and cool.

I’d give my left ball to have one debauched night with her.

“Anyway, thanks again for taking her camping, Jack.” Reid stared off in the distance. “Can’t believe we leave tomorrow. This place has felt like a real home away from home. I’ll miss it.”

And I’d miss Jess.

The thought of not seeing her every day, even when she was strutting around with her nose in the air pretending to ignore me, made me sadder than I could’ve imagined.

I’d never grown attached to any woman. Ever. Mum abandoning me had seen to that. But the inexplicable bond I shared with Jess? Something I would definitely miss.

“We’ll be back late morning, plenty of time to reach Cairns for your evening flight to Brisbane.”

Reid grimaced. “Followed by a fifteen hour flight to LA with Jess snoring like a grizzly the whole way.”

I laughed, wondering if I’d get the opportunity to hear Jess snoring tonight, and wishing I wasn’t so damn happy by the prospect.

Reid shook my hand. “Thanks. I’ll head in and rustle up Jess.”

“No worries.”

But as Reid headed into the homestead and I hoisted my swag onto my shoulder, I knew that spending the night under the stars with Jess would give me plenty to worry about.

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

JESS

 

 

I couldn’t stop grinning.

For the entire hour on horseback that it took us to reach our camping destination, I smiled like an idiot.

I was finally spending the night with Jack.

Okay, so it wasn’t quite the dream scenario, sleeping on hard ground with the possibility of Australia’s deadliest creepy crawlies attacking me in my sleep. But with a little luck Jack would feel compelled to slip into my sleeping bag to protect me.

“I’ll take care of the horses if you want to find kindling for a fire,” he said, looking absolutely delectable as he took off his Akubra hat and ran a hand through his hair.

The simple action pulled his olive T-shirt tight across his chest, highlighting ridges of muscles I’d already seen. And wanted to see again.

He caught me staring but rather than looking away, I raised an eyebrow in a silent dare. I had no idea how long our gazes locked, hot and challenging, before he turned away, giving me ample time to fan my face.

With one, scorching look, Jack had me hot and bothered. Incredibly hot.

Other girls in the dorm had vibrators. I’d seen them as their owners casually handed them around and discussed the pros and cons of different brands. Me? I used my hand, but that seemed pretty inadequate when confronted with Jack’s blatant sexuality.

I wanted him.

I couldn’t have him, in the story according to Jack.

Tonight, I really wanted to rewrite our ending.

“That fire won’t start itself, you know,” he flung over his shoulder and I sprung into action. I felt safe with Jack but I’d learned dusk fell quickly in these parts and I’d done enough research online to know I’d prefer a fire to keep the creepy crawlies at bay.

“Will it take long to set up the tent?”

He glanced at me, and my heart sank as I caught sight of his smirk. “What tent?”

“You’re not serious?”

“Deadly.” His smug grin widened, as if he knew my secret fear of Aussie fauna. “Why, nervous?”

“No,” I lied, speeding up my kindling gathering. “So where do we sleep?”

“In sleeping bags with that for our roof.” He pointed overhead, where I spotted the first smattering of stars. “I’ve done it a thousand times before. You’ll be fine.”

“Easy for you to say, Cookie. You don’t have long hair that could house a nest of those red back spiders Doreen keeps mentioning.”

His gaze drifted to my hair and an amazing thing happened. His eyes blazed and his hands curled and unfurled, as if he wanted to run his hands through it.

“Plait it, and the sleeping bags have hoods.” He turned away to resume tending the horses, but not before I’d seen a look of sheer longing. It snatched my breath. “Unless you want to chicken out now and head back?”

I was tempted. For all of two seconds, before I remembered this was my last night in Australia, my last night with Jack, and I wanted to make the most of it.

“No way,” I said, bundling the kindling into my arms and dumping it in the clearing near our stuff. “Let’s do this.”

“That’s my girl,” he said, smiling his approval, and for a long, loaded moment I wished I was.

“You sure it’s safe to camp out in the open?” I eyed the clearing dubiously. It seemed devoid of slithering nasties right now, but what about when darkness fell?

“I lied.” He gave the horses a final pat, picked up his massive hiker’s backpack and loped toward me. “I have a tiny two man tent in here.”

“Idiot.” I slugged him on the arm and he laughed.

“Was worth it to see your face.” He pulled a horrified expression complete with goofy crossed eyes.
“Spiders might nest in my hair.”
He mimicked me in a high falsetto that made me punch him again.

“Just for that, I’m going to find an ants’ nest and leave a trail of honey direct to your sleeping bag,” I said, trying to muster a defiant glare and failing because I was still laughing at his imitation of me.

“Did you pack honey?”

“No.”

He smirked. “Well then, sweet thing, looks like you’re out of luck.”

“Smart ass,” I muttered, as we shared a conspiratorial grin.

This is what I’d miss the most. Our camaraderie. When we hung out like this, teasing each other, I felt closer to Jack than I’d ever been to any other guy.

“I’m going to miss you,” I blurted, instantly regretting my impulsive declaration when his smile faded and he raised the invisible barriers by deliberately blanking his expression.

“You don’t even know me,” he said, his tone devoid of emotion.

But I saw a vein pulsing in his neck as he swallowed; saw the glance away because he couldn’t look me in the eye.

“I know you well enough,” I said, determined to get us back onto easy footing, otherwise the rest of the night would be a bust. “I know you cook the best pasta outside of Italy. I know you like loud Aussie rock.” I went for broke. “I know what you look like naked.”

Heat flared in his expressive eyes as the backpack slipped from his hands to land at his feet. “Don’t go there.”

“Why not?” I tapped my bottom lip, pretending to think. “Though I do seem to have an unfair advantage. Because I’ve seen you naked and you haven’t seen me.”

He groaned. “You don’t play fair.”

“And you don’t play at all.”

I wish I was the kind of girl who had the courage to strip on the spot. The kind of girl to push the limits and see how Jack responded. But I’d never had that kind of chutzpah and it would be beyond humiliating if he still rejected me.

No way did I want my last memory of my time with Jack to be of him seeing me stark naked and still saying no.

“I better get this tent set up,” he said, squatting to unzip the backpack.

“Chicken,” I muttered under my breath, not sure if I was referring to him or me.

As I busied myself ensuring the firewood was in a neat pile to start the fire, Jack said in a low voice, “For what it’s worth, I have seen you naked. In my fantasies all day and night.”

I spun around so fast I stumbled and landed on my butt, sending the kindling scattering. “If you laugh, you’re a dead man.”

Jack’s guffaws could’ve been heard back at the homestead, they were that loud, and I soon joined in. Every time one of us tried to stop, the other would start, until I held my side because of a massive stitch.

When he reached out his hand to me, I took it. He helped me to my feet. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, holding my breath the longer he held my hand. “Did you mean it? You’ve been fantasizing about me?”

He hesitated, then squeezed my hand before releasing it. I knew the exact moment our closeness vanished because he blinked, erasing the tenderness, replacing it with a harder edge. “Don’t take it personally. It’s a guy thing. We all do it. Pays to stock up the wank tank.”

“The what?”

“It’s like watching porn.” He tapped his temple. “We stock up on naughty stuff up here for when we…you know.” He mimicked masturbating and damn, if I wasn’t turned on.

“Wank tank…” I let the words roll of my tongue, enjoying his tortured expression. “Must remember that for when I get down to business.”

He spun on his heel and stalked away. “Fuck, Jess, I can’t talk about this with you.”

I had him rattled. Good. I wanted to see how far I could push him. “Why not? We all get horny. We all need to get off. It’s natural.”

“Stop. Please.” When he turned around, I saw the bulge in the front of his jeans, and grinned.

“Glad to see I’m not the only one who’s turned on,” I said, deliberately turning my back and walking toward the edge of the clearing.

I wanted him to come after me.

I willed him to come after me.

Instead, I heard him cursing as he resumed tent-erecting duties.

Not to worry.

The night was young.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

JACK

 

 

I was in hell.

Squashed into a two-man tent, lying next to Jess, our sleeping bags touching but not being able to touch her.

Frigging blue ball hell.

BOOK: Before
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ads

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