Authors: Alison Foster
Tanner was right. He’s always right. I’m such a fool. No one can win when they deal with Jordan Kane, not even his daughter. He did not get to where he is now by losing.
Wandering back inside, I stop for a moment before the fire that has been burning all day in the safety of the rustic cabin. Through a large window, I see Tanner and Jax still out on the porch.
They look like an Abercrombie and Fitch commercial on steroids. They look like better looking, more muscular Kennedys. They look like every girl’s fantasy. American Princes. The boys you dream about.
But now suddenly Tanner looks like more to me. Not every dream ends on a sunny beach with unbridled laughter and a perfect kiss. Some dreams start perfectly, but take a turn, sometimes a very dark turn. My father was right about one thing.
There is so much I don’t know about Tanner.
candlelight Christmas dinner takes my mind off the future. It’s hard to believe I’m here with friendly faces, holding onto the hand of a man I adore. It’s impossible to believe it has only been twenty-four hours since I was living a completely different life alone. It feels like years have passed.
Whatever Jax told Tanner has cast a shadow over him. He’s polite and charming when called upon but otherwise serene and withdrawn. Asking him now would do no good. I will have to press the issue later. Every woman knows how to pump a man for information when necessary.
Ella raises her wine glass to make a toast. We all follow suit. “May this be the first of many wonderful nights together,” she says.
“We are so thankful,” Tanner says. He catches himself before he becomes too serious. “Salute!”
The wine tickles my throat and almost instantly scintillates my blood. The weight of the world falls warmly away. Things might not be perfect, but I’m with Tanner and two more shimmering souls and it’s Christmas. Even in uncertain times magic can spark to the surface and shine in the eyes of friends, especially when there’s wine and candlelight.
“To be in this cabin, having this meal with you on Christmas night,” I say, but I can’t finish. Tanner squeezes my hand. Ella takes my other hand.
“Yes,” Ella says. “It feels sacred, doesn’t it? We’re so happy you guys are here. Life is so fucking good sometimes.”
Jax laughs. I sense that he loves the rare occasions when Ella swears freely in front of guests. “Did you just swear in our little private church?”
We all smile except Tanner who seems to have missed the bonding.
I move our linked hands onto his strong thigh, trying to get him to remember we are here with him.
“So, any plans for tomorrow?” Jax says.
Tanner shrugs as he puts his wine glass down. “We can get out of your hair anytime. You’ve been too kind.”
“Don’t be silly, Tanner. We’re friends,” Ella says. “Jax is trying to tell you that we’re going to drag ourselves back to Pacific Palisades. Family stuff. You guys should totally stay until New Year’s. It’s so romantic here.”
“Bullshit,” Tanner says, dead serious. “You’re doing this for us. You don’t have family stuff. We are not going to ruin your holiday plans.”
“Tanner’s right,” I say. “It’s so not cool causing you to change your plans.”
“We have no plans,” Ella says, slapping the top of my hand. “That’s the point. If we are together, we’re happy. You need to not get caught up in Tanner’s formality and gallantry. He thinks he lives in the middle ages. One of those knights who saves everyone. Don’t listen to him. It’s all good.”
“I just feel like we’re the worst guests ever now,” I say because Tanner has gone mute again.
“Actually, we love having you,” Jax says. “If you can work it, we’d love to have you at the wedding.”
“Wow, a wedding,” I say overly excited. “Do you have a date?” I can’t believe I just got excited about a wedding. What’s happening to me?
“We’re working on it,” Jax says and I swear he pinches Ella’s ass, even though I can’t actually see him do it. Her face says it all.
“Not long,” Ella says. “For some reason this guy wants a honeymoon even though he gets one for free every night.”
“Too much information,” Jax says.
“Yeah, honey,” Ella says, rolling her eyes at him. “I bet our guests are surprised to find out we’re affectionate in this romantic hideaway.”
Jax wraps an arm around her to pull her in for a kiss.
“Let’s talk about this in the morning,” Tanner says. “It looks like you’d like to be alone.”
“Us?” Ella says. “You two can’t hide it at all. Go ahead and enjoy your night. And we’re grown-ups so don’t worry about the sounds.”
“Babe, too much information again,” Jax says. “Really.”
“Oh shush,” Ella says, slapping his cheek and then kissing it.
I can’t deny it. The idea of being alone with Tanner finally in that big, comfortable bed upstairs makes my belly tickle and shudder with butterflies. We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of our sexual potential. So far, we’ve been quite explosive together and I crave more, more, and fucking more.
Ella has different ideas though. “Actually, I have to know. I’ve been wanting to ask since you arrived, how did you guys meet?”
Something tells me she knows more than she’s letting on but I decide to humor her, especially since Jax seems to be in the dark.
“Tanner is, well, was my bodyguard,” I say, fully aware I’m pissing him off right now. He hates that word.
“I knew it,” Ella says, high-fiving Jax. “You owe me five bucks.”
“Tris, I’m sorry. Her little bets mean everything to her,” Jax says to me, but really just to tease Ella.
“He’ll never pay the bet,” Ella says. “He’s not a fan of gambling. Listen, I had a feeling when Tanner first told me about you last summer.”
Okay, I totally did not expect to hear that Tanner talked to Ella about me months ago. I turn to him, more than curious. “You told Ella about me?”
Tanner looks annoyed. “Nope. Never happened. Ella hears voices,” he says. “She reads horoscopes. That’s who we’re talking about here.”
Jax laughs, unwisely bumping fists with Tanner. It wins him a deadly serious glare from Ella.
“Fine. He didn’t say anything specific. Not in so many words, but he did harp on about how much of a pain you were in comparison to your sisters.”
“He did what?” I say, trying to replicate Ella’s deadly glare and aiming it at Tanner. I need some more practice.
“Man, you should never talk to women about women. They have a nose for that shit,” Jax teases Tanner. “Amateur.”
“She kept asking about my job,” Tanner says, shrugging.
“You boys are so cute,” Ella says. “Thinking you are in charge and have secrets to keep. A woman should be running things.”
“No politics,” Jax says.
“That’s his number one rule for dinner,” Ella says.
“It’s a good one,” Tanner agrees.
“Tanner, nothing to talk about in the morning,” Jax says, changing the subject. “We’re driving down to the city tomorrow. If there’s anything you need, let us know. We still have friends in all the right places.”
“And in the wrong places, too,” Ella adds. “If that’s what you need.”
“Thanks,” Tanner says, “but it shouldn’t come to that.”
“What kind of friends?” I ask. No one answers.
Ella stands suddenly, taking me by the hand. “On second thought,” she says. “We need a night cap. Do you know how to make margaritas?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I mean, fuck yeah.” It took me a moment but I realize Jax and Tanner need to have a follow-up talk.
“I thought you looked like a Tequila girl,” she says, giving me her brightest, widest smile. “Let’s get these studs drunk.”
The green spotlight lighting bounces softly off the brass pots and pans that hang over the island, making the entire kitchen look like a huge emerald.
Ella goes to a cupboard to bring out the margarita glasses. She spins to find a bottle of tequila on the island’s side shelves.
“So, you’re no stranger to Tanner’s world. I just don’t understand how Jaxson Cole is a part of that world,” I say.
“Yeah, that came as a surprise to me as well,” she says as she opens the bottle of tequila. “There’s lime juice in the fridge.”
I go to the fridge to get the juice and stumble upon a big, delicious red velvet cake. “You know,” I say with a grin, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tanner eat cake. We should definitely give him some and see what happens.”
Ella chuckles. “You don’t get biceps that big by eating cake.”
I shake my head, laughing. I feel relaxed with Ella. She’s kind, funny and honest. That’s one serious thing missing from my life right now—having a BFF, someone you can spill your guts out with. My best friend from childhood, Amy, went to Harvard and started a new life. I guess to her Harvard and the notorious reputation of my family was not a good mix.
With my preposterous, excessive security detail—basically being escorted by goons everywhere I went—making new friends in college hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. Ella’s the closest I’ve had to a girlfriend in some time. And she gets it. She’s not freaked out by my mobster father or the risks in my world.
“Tris, I don’t know what trouble follows you, but it can’t be worse than what Jaxson and I went through,” she says, probably noticing a touch of melancholy on my face.
“Tanner told me someone wanted you dead.”
“Oh, yes. I found myself in the middle of a mob war because of something my father did. It escalated so fast, it actually cost my stepsister her life.”
I remember the headlines now about Jaxson Cole being arrested but I have no idea what happened in between. I don’t want to open old wounds for Ella, so I decide not to ask any more of the thousand questions filling my brain.
Fear seeps through me like icy water. Tanner might be set-up, arrested or made to disappear. Did I unknowingly seduce him all these years? Did I draw him into a situation he couldn’t escape? Am I a fucking black widow? Will he regret me with his last breath?
My facade finally breaks down. I lose my composure. It begins with tears and an overpowering feeling of helplessness. “I’m glad it all worked out for you, Ella,” I say, turning my face away.
“Tris,” Ella says as she puts her hand on my back. “You can tell me anything. I hope you know that.”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” I say weakly. “The more I think, the more the fears take over.”
“You can’t block out what’s happening,” Ella says. “It’s better to face it with your head up and eyes on the problem. Trust me, I learned that the hard way. There’s always a way out. There has to be.”
“Do you know who my father is?”
“I do,” she says. “My father is no angel either.”
“I’m afraid my father wants Tanner dead. And my father is not a man who has ever been stopped.” An embarrassing sob escapes my throat. “He’ll do anything to protect me, even ruin my life.”
Ella’s reassuring hand is on my hair, petting it back, as she rests her forehead against mine. “Tris, there’s no one better equipped to deal with this than Tanner. Let go of the future. Let go of your fears. Put your arms around him tonight. That’s all you can do. Believe in your man. He’s a good one.”
Her words resonate. Tanner will handle this. Alone. It’s his nature. He will take on the world for me. He’d even die for me and I can’t let that happen.
thought you’d never come back to me,” I say when Tris walks into the room in the tight blue jeans and faded sweater that Ella provided. She is flawless even when she’s overwhelmed and has a weary smile on her face. She can make my heart race with a simple twist of her hips.
I’ve been lying in this position—stretched out on my back, head on pillow, hands underneath the pillow, clothes and boots still on—for a few minutes but I decide to let her think it’s been longer. Maybe she’ll feel the urge to make it up to me.
“Ella’s so cool,” she says with sparkling eyes. She plops down on the bed and lies next to me. Her little hand lands on my chest.
“What did you talk about?” I ask, taking her hand in mine to move it down to my abs. I work hard on those things. I like it when she plays with them.
“Girl stuff. You’re not the only one with secrets,” she says, tracing my shaft ever so gently with her fingernails.
My cock rises to life. Around her I cannot control my senses. Tris is in possession of the road map to my most primal urges and she’s had it since the first moment she touched me. She’s magic like that.
I groan, sliding my arm under her delicate neck and narrow shoulder to pull her closer to me. “Girl stuff, huh?” I say with half-shut eyes. The electricity of her touch courses quickly through my body, tightening muscles and accelerating blood flow.
“Yep. Do you want a first-hand account?” She grabs my cock now, hard as hell underneath the fabric, squeezing hard, like she’s mad at it.
“I’m good. I’ve heard enough girlie talk to last me a lifetime.”
She lets go of my erection and sits up a little, supporting herself on her elbow. Something tells me there’s trouble coming my way.
“I am curious about something,” she starts. “What did Jax say out on the porch to distract you so much?”
“Now you want to have that conversation?” I find her firm breast under the sweater. It fills my palm nicely, like the two were separated at birth.
“A quick answer would end the conversation.”
“Your timing has been better. Jax had obvious questions. I felt I had to answer them. Hearing the words out loud was distracting, I guess.”
“And did you tell him everything?”
“Most of it. Jax has a useful perspective.”
“The male model?”
“There’s another side to him.”
“I know,” she says which surprises me.
“Really? Sounds like you had more than girl talk.”
“Well, did your underwear model have any brilliant suggestions?”
“Nothing I hadn’t thought of already,” I say, getting tired of this cat and mouse game. There’s no way I’m telling her that Jax made a few calls and found out there is a bounty on my head. I’m sure Carter Wade knows by now, too, and is cursing himself for allowing me access to Ella.
Tris considers my words intensely. “I’m not sure I believe you.”
Her accusation hangs in the air between us, pulling us apart. “Are you calling me a liar, you brat?” Fuck, I hope she’ll buy the shit I’m feeding her. I don’t want her worried about me when there’s nothing she can do.
“I want to make a deal,” she says, offering me her hand. “Don’t ever hide things from me to protect me. Don’t ever disrespect me that way. I’ve had enough of that from my father.”
I take her hand, feeling like the scum of the earth. “Deal,” I say, immediately pulling her down on top of me.
“Not so fast,” she says, laughing. “So you told Ella I was a royal pain before she even knew who I was?”
“I have no such recollection,” I say, nibbling on her earlobe.
“Maybe you didn’t say the exact words but that’s definitely the image you painted, isn’t it?”
“Are we going to talk or fuck?” I say, sliding both hands underneath her sweater to grab her by the ribs.
“Can’t you multitask?”
“Fuck, no. I’m a caveman, remember? I just want to sink my cock deep inside of you.”
“Trust me,” I say, “it will be.” I grasp her wrists, holding them together behind her back, squeezing a little harder than usual.
She begins to breathe faster, trying to turn her wrists inside my hands but she remains positioned on top of me.
I attack her like a big predator, quickly rolling her onto her back with her wrists still pinned behind her. My free hand unzips her jeans and she begins to pant now, her smoky eyes never leaving mine.
My teeth are on her stomach, gently nibbling on the soft flesh there as she begins to fight the grip on her wrists. Watching how the skin on her belly puckers and turns pink under my teeth sends tremors along my spine all the way to my dick.
Some part of me wants to go slow, arouse her to the max and get her dripping wet before I fuck her but that’s not going to happen. Not tonight. Tonight I want to take her like a savage, steal her breath from her with my relentless attack.
I let go of her wrists, tugging on her tight jeans and panties fast until they slide off her feet.
“Owie,” she protests as I scratch the tender skin along her hips and thighs in the process.
“Shush,” I say, kissing the pink lines where my nails dug a little into her skin. “Take off your sweater.”
She does as I say, her hands on the hem as she pulls the sweater over her head. She’s left in a black lacey bra that hugs her beautiful tits tightly, making the top spill a little.
I reach down to the heaped jeans on the floor to look for her panties inside to verify they’re also black and lacey. A match. “Were these for me?”
She laughs as she nods. “I’m surprised you noticed.”
“Naughty girl. I love it. Now get on your hands and knees.”
She considers this for a second. “Uh, you’re skipping foreplay?”
“Fuck foreplay. I’ll do whatever I want,” I say, grabbing her hips to flip her over onto all fours.
“Tanner, I’m just a little girl,” she warns me as she gets into position, lifting her ass up in the air and spreading her legs apart.
My palm smacks her ass hard like a whip, instant trauma that turns her pale skin pink.
“Why?” she says as she turns her face to me in shock. I love the fear and uncertainty on her face.
“Being a bad girl isn’t a good enough reason?” I take off my clothes, one by one, admiring her delicious backside, and then lean over her, my chest against her back, hard cock between her legs, teasing her opening. “Have you been spanked before?” I whisper in her ear.
She shakes her head, breathing heavily. “I’ve dated gentlemen.”
I laugh. “That explains it,” I say, fisting her hair.
“Why none of those boys could keep your interest.”
“You’re so arrogant,” she says and I smile.
I glide two fingers inside her, catching her by surprise. I slide them in and out slowly, finding her G-spot and pressuring it firmly. She throws her head back. Reluctant moans escape her lips.
I play her body like a guitar string. I want to strain it, bend it, force it to obey my fingers, to make the sounds I want to hear. I want to give her as much pleasure in return, sexual harmonics making up for all the shitty things I allowed to happen to her over the years.
As soon as she begins to shudder around my fingers, I replace them with my cock. She stills as I enter her, holding her breath. I know my size causes her discomfort but I can’t stop until I’m all the way in, as far as I can force it.
Fuck, so tight
. A deadly grip around my pulsing, swelling cock and I need to pound that tight little pussy until it gets all raw and submissive. I can’t help it. I’m her brute. I know it’s what really turns her on.
On that, we’re in total fucking agreement.
Slow down, asshole
, the sane part of me cautions, finally showing up.
This is all about her, about what she wants.
Then she speaks my name. “Tanner,” she says. “Don’t stop, baby. Fuck me hard. I think I can take it. Please, I’m so close already.”
I drag my hand across her back, finding the clasp of her bra. I undo the clasp, letting her full tits spill out. I cup them both, one in each hand, as I begin to pound her mercilessly.
Her body fights it and then suddenly adjusts. She moans in a new way. Her hips find the rhythm and glide in unison with mine, grinding herself against my cock, fucking milking it ever so hot and juicy.
The moment she clamps down around my cock, whimpering, gripped by a powerful orgasm, I lose control. I push deeper inside her, letting go of her tits to find her hips as my pounding takes on a frenzied rhythm.
I delay one more long second before I explode inside of her, a real steady gusher. Fuck, it’s the longest, deepest, messiest orgasm I’ve ever had. I shake and groan and mine deeper and deeper for so long I realize she is nearly lifeless from her own extended orgasm.
Hell, what is this girl doing to me? I’m so lost in her, so lost without her. How did this happen? Coming inside her is like being split in half and then put back together again. She’s the one reshaping me.
We lie next to each other, shoulder against shoulder, unable to catch our breath. This moment is so beautiful, this girl is so beautiful, I don’t care about tomorrow. Fuck tomorrow. I will make it bend to my will just like I’m learning to bend to Trista’s will.
“Tanner?” she says in a whisper. I turn to my side to take her in my arms.
“I’m right here,” I say.
“You’d be better off if you had never met me. Look how I’ve completely messed up your life.”
This is the last thing I expected to hear right now. There are too many responses to choose one.
“Tanner?” she says again.
What the hell? Find the words, asshole. Say something that will make sense of everything.
“Come here,” I say, as I sit up with my back against the pillow. I take her in my arms, stroking her hair. “I don’t ever want to hear you talk like that again. You are my everything, the fucking light of my life.” Not bad.
Her mouth tightens as her eyes begin to water. Uh, I have no idea how to deal with sadness. I’ve avoided it for so long. I never want to see tears on her face. I can track down madmen and criminals, diffuse bombs, knock out underworld bosses and take a bullet or two, but a crying Trista? Man, no, there’s no way I can handle that.
“Don’t do that,” I tell her softly. “Don’t be sad. Not now.”
“I’m not sad,” she says through sobs. “I’m happy.”
Damn, I’ll never understand women, not even when hell freezes over and doomsday morning arrives. “This is what happiness looks like?
” I say, kissing the top of her head. “You need to work on that. Things will get better.”
My vague reassurances sound hollow. I guess that’s always the case with vague reassurances. She deserves a real relationship, a regular man by her side who loves her and respects her and treats her like she’s a queen. I can’t do any of that if I’m not breathing.
“We can be happy together, Tanner. I know we can.”
Okay, desperate hope also sounds hollow. It sounds like she’s trying to convince herself but is failing. “I want to take you out on a date, Tris. You know, do things properly. You deserve all that shit and I want you to have it.”
“You think we’ll have a normal, quiet life?” she says. “Really?”
“You know me. I’m not a man that takes no for an answer. I’ll bend whatever I need to bend to give us a shot. Break whatever needs to get broken.”
“Such a good terminator,” she says groggily.
It’s true, I want to do all that normal stuff and then some. For once in my wretched life I want to earn the right to be loved and be happy.
She falls asleep in my arms, tender and sweet.
When I close my eyes, I slip away fast.
Somewhere in the night I dream. I dream of Tris in the sunlight. I dream of her luxurious hair hiding half of her angelic face. She spins and her hair flows back in slow motion. A smile erupts onto her heavenly face. She captures her hair under a wide-brimmed beach hat. I wonder where we are in that perfect moment. I wonder why I can’t quite reach her in the dream. The only sound I can hear is an infant happily muttering. Our future child.
My eyes open suddenly. I’m in bed alone. I run to the window.
The garage is open. The SUV is gone.