Authors: Molly E. Lee
“You make it sound like you’ve won a lottery ticket,” I said, wondering how she pictured this expedition going.
She brushed some blond strands that had come loose from her tight ponytail off her face. “I’ve wanted to go since the day I found out I’d lost him. Like if I could get back there I would gain a piece of him I never had to begin with.”
I swallowed hard, resisting the urge to spill the truth and straight up beg for her forgiveness. To start fresh. To get to know her again with no secrets between us. “It’s taken me way too long to go back.”
“It has to be hard to face.”
I nodded. She had no idea.
Oh, here it comes.
“Did you . . . ?” She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
“Never mind. I don’t want to know.” She rubbed her palms together. “So your producers suggested the limited-to-no crew tactic?”
The air exited my lungs. Part of me wanted her to break open my scars and let them bleed. Another part was beyond relieved she’d changed the subject, even if it was into the second set of lies I had to tell her.
“Yes.” At least that was the truth.
“And if shit really hits the fan? They’ll know? Send in the cavalry?”
“Something like that.”
Absolutely nothing like that, you asshole.
Damn, lying to her directly was ten times worse than lying to her by omission. And I’d done both in the span of a day, and who knows how many more times I’d be forced to back that lie up. She couldn’t know, though. Without insurance, funding, or help if we needed it, she’d bail. Any smart person—and Rain was the sharpest woman I’d ever known—would see the risks and turn back.
Even with the knowledge that she wanted to go to this cave as badly as I, despite for starkly different reasons, she still wouldn’t be crazy enough to trust me, and me alone, to guide her. There had to be a contingency plan in every expedition—people got killed when there wasn’t—and I’d barely survived the last time, but I didn’t have a choice. Rain would be safe with me. I would die before I’d let anything happen to her, and I knew that motivation, paired with the intense desire to earn back the only role in life I’d ever known, would be enough to get us through this journey safely.
Or at least moderately safe.
The plane trembled as it hit a bank of clouds, and Rain’s hand came down on top of mine on the armrest. Her skin was soft and warm, and my entire body reacted to the completely innocent touch. It responded to her with the memories of
Of how perfectly we’d fit together, how consumed with passion we’d been, even as young as we were, and how no other woman had ever tasted as sweet as Rain.
Her eyes found mine, her grip still firmly cast on top of my hand. I placed my other hand over her wrist, stroking it with what I hoped were soothing circles. She exhaled and closed her eyes as the plane lifted out of the clouds and smoothed out its course.
She drew her hand back slowly. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries.” I took her hand back. “You’re safe with me.”
She let me hold her hand for a few moments before ice coated her nearly melted blue eyes. She jerked out of my touch. “Right. As safe as can be until the job is complete. Then you’ll run, just like you did before.”
A knife to the chest would’ve hurt less, but she wasn’t wrong. I had no intentions to continue to see her after we’d successfully made it back to the States. She was far better off without my presence in her life, and if she ever found out the truth about me, about the day her father died, it’d crush her. She’d grown into a perfect, strong woman in my absence. She didn’t need me to fuck up her life any more than I’d already risked by begging her to join me on this adventure.
“I’m not using you,” I said, more for myself than her. I wasn’t. She wanted this just as badly as I did. And she was more than qualified for the job. She wasn’t a delicate flower who couldn’t handle the struggles we would face once we landed in Israel, but it didn’t make me any less protective over her.
“Of course not. You’re capitalizing off my skills. I get it. Business. We should keep it that way.”
I tilted my head, anger flaring in my gut. “Do you see me crossing any lines, Raindrop?”
Her eyes turned to slits at the sound of the childhood nickname I’d given her the week we’d first met. As an adolescent punk I’d instantly made fun of the name her hippie parents had given her. Over time it had morphed into a pet name, then into something shared just between the two of us. Special.
You’re fucking losing it.
“I want to make sure the lines are firmly in place,
I flinched at the name, but her use of it instantly quelled my anger over her accusation that I had plans to cross lines. To her credit, I was barely holding back the urge to breech the minimal distance between us and see if she tasted as sweet as she used to. My money was on she tasted better, now, just as I bet I could get her off in more ways than I’d ever known as a kid. I knew her body, what made her moan, and what made her ache. It would only take a few swift flicks of my fingers and—
Stop. Must stop.
I clenched my eyes shut.
“Touché,” I said. When I’d given her the nickname, she’d come right back at me with a jab at my own—stating it sounded more like a sense of direction than an actual name. I’m pretty sure that was when I fell in love with her. Her ability to not miss a beat regardless of who dished out the blows only made her more incredible. It had been years later before I’d ever acted on the feeling, though.
I peeled my eyes open, locking them with hers. We each stared without blinking for as long as possible. Right past comfortable and beyond awkward. I saw the shift in her eyes before the grin shaped her beautiful, pink lips. She chuckled and shook her head, her laugh filling my insides with a warmth I’d forgotten.
“You never win,” I said.
“Not when it comes to you, no. I was always in second place.” She sucked in a deep breath.
The woman was ripping me apart without touching me, and we still had several hours left on the damned flight. The second-place jab wasn’t intentional, I could tell by the tone in which she’d said it, but it stung either way. Harrison had often made her stay behind and had taken me on expeditions instead. Not for thinking Rain couldn’t handle it, but wanting her to not miss any school or have her grades drop. Since I’d been a rejected foster child earning my education on the streets when he’d found me, I was the easier candidate to take. Plus, I genuinely loved archeology, and Harrison was better than any professor I could’ve ever paid for.
His face—serene and settled even in the knowledge of his impending death—flashed behind my eyes and I flinched. Damn. It never got easier, and being around Rain only made the wound seem more fresh.
“You all right?” she asked.
I rubbed my hands over my face. “Tired. We should try to sleep.” I shifted in my seat, leaning my head back and cutting my eyes to her. “On our appropriate sides of the line, of course.”
She rolled her eyes. “You haven’t changed much. Cocky as ever.”
“Oh, I’m worse now.”
She propped her head on the far side of the chair, her forehead nearly touching the window. “This will be the longest two weeks of my life.”
“Maybe the best.” I shut my eyes before I could see her reaction. One more lie, but it was easier to dream than dwell on the truth.
I DROPPED MY
bags two feet inside the hotel room in Tel Aviv, the weight of them hitting the carpet with an audible thud. My eyes felt like they’d been rubbed with steel wool, and I was desperate for my toothbrush. Nine-hour flights weren’t new to me, but the emotional exhaustion from maintaining a sense of rationality around Easton had worn me out. I hadn’t even been able to sleep on the plane, despite trying for hours. I’d just sat there with my eyes closed, listening to Easton’s breathing and wondering if his eyes were on me. Memories from the first time he kissed me had played on repeat behind my lids.
He hadn’t hesitated for a second when we were sixteen. He’d taken me to a secluded stream he’d found hidden in the forest where our cabin—home base in the States—had resided. My family always traveled around the world. It was a way of life with my father being the archeologist he was, and he never wanted to leave me or my mother behind. And when Easton came along . . . well, it was almost an instant adoption, though not legally. Whenever we did sit still, we did so in the hundred or so acres of land my grandfather had left my father in Oregon—the place still acted as home base for me today.
The stream had practically sparkled with the way the sun hit it through the trees that huddled around the water like they were preserving it. The smell . . . it was so much like Easton himself—fresh, crisp, earthy. We’d been mid-debate on how long it’d been since anyone had discovered the free-flowing stream, and he’d simply kissed me. But it
simple. It was incredible, consuming, and hot as hell. And it had only gotten better from that day on.
Until he left without a word. Or an explanation.
I glanced at the bed topped with a thick down comforter and gorgeous royal-blue throw pillows resting in the middle of the plush hotel room. I contemplated arguing his arrogance to think I’d sleep with him in the same bed, but then I remembered how utterly exhausted I was, and suddenly didn’t care where or who I slept with, as long as it was within the next ten minutes.
Easton came in behind me, carrying a sack full of water bottles, and unloaded them on the desk across from the bed. He twisted one open and downed half of it, his eyes cutting from me to the desk, to his bags, and back. He hadn’t said much since we’d landed and seemed determined to avoid me. I wondered why he didn’t secure two rooms, but I suppose he wasn’t as made of money as I’d assumed. Plus, this hotel was five-star all the way, the view of the city filling our floor-to-ceiling windows was breathtaking. I wouldn’t want him wasting money on separate rooms, especially when this had to cost him a pretty penny on short notice.
I gave him a half smile, snatched the bag I knew had my toiletries in it, and booked to the oversize bathroom. A huge, sunk-in tub took up most of the space, the sheer size of it calling my name. I cranked the water to hot and brushed my teeth while it filled, the sensation of having a clean mouth bordering on divine. Sinking into the hot water topped that.
After a good forty-five-minute soak—where I tried desperately to ignore how my body pulsed with a craving for its old flame—I slipped into some fresh sweats and a T-shirt. I expected to find Easton snoring in the bed, but he wasn’t in sight when I came out of the bathroom, towel-drying my hair. I took a few steps toward the bed and froze.
The ends of a sheet and thin blanket stuck out on the other side of the bed, where Easton lay on the floor, stomach down and head turned to the side. The sheet barely covered him, and I couldn’t blame it—there was a damn lot of man there to cover. His bare, tanned back was rigid even as he lay still, his muscles carved and toned, every piece of his body sculpted. A bulging bicep cushioned his head, and he breathed in deep with his eyes closed.
I swallowed hard, noting he’d drawn the curtains to keep the daylight out so we could catch some sleep. He’d left on the lamp perched on the nightstand above him, the soft glow allowing me to find my way to the bed—if I could ever take my eyes off him.
His smooth skin tempted me, making my body ache in ways I hadn’t remembered possible in years. I knew exactly how good it felt against mine, how delicious he felt over me, in me.
I clenched my eyes shut and forced the thoughts away, reminding myself of the weeks I’d spent crying over him. I’d grieved for my father, but Easton had
me. I tossed my damp towel on the desk, took a drink out of one of the water bottles, and finally found the courage to move to the bed.
I climbed over the foot of the bed, then immediately slid to the side closest to him, and snuck one more peek over the edge. He wasn’t asleep. He was entirely too still, like he held his body locked in place for fear if he moved it’d trigger an earthquake. I knew all too well how he could make my body shake, and part of me ached for it. I contemplated rolling over, turning my back on him like he had all those years ago, but the need in my chest burned to the point of pain.