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Authors: M. Leighton

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BOOK: Fragile
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When the bitter acid spewing from Hardy’s lips had come to an end, he sat back in his chair, stunned that he’d voiced so many of his private thoughts to a veritable stranger. 

Miracle was still watching him, less with pity now and more with a quiet understanding.  It felt to Hardy as though the doors of his soul had opened up to her, without his permission, letting her see everything that made him hate who he was, what he came from.  He held his breath as he waited for the judgment to come. 

But it didn’t.  In her eyes, he saw only acceptance.  And it was like a soothing balm to a life full of superficial people who wanted nothing more than to take from him—take and take and take. 

Not Miracle, though.  Looking at her, Hardy knew she wasn’t a taker.  She was a giver.  Despite all that she’d been through, it was plain to see when he looked into her eyes that she would give anything of herself to help someone else, even if that someone else was him.

“I think you’re too hard on yourself,” was all Miracle said before she cast her eyes down to the plate the waitress set down in front of her.

Just before Hardy took his first bite of food, he looked up to see Miracle grinning over the loaded nacho she held pinched between her fingertips.  She licked her lips dramatically and pushed the whole chip into her mouth.

Hardy chuckled.  “You’re pretty amazing, you know that?”

Since Miracle couldn’t talk around her mouthful of food, she giggled and put her two thumbs up, winking at Hardy as she chewed.  Hardy was positive he’d never been more attracted to another person in his entire life.

********

On the drive back to the park after lunch, Hardy racked his brain trying to think of ways to prolong the day, to prolong his time with Miracle.  He was out of film, out of reasons to stay at the park and out of ways to casually remain in her presence.  The thought of asking her out terrified him, though.  He didn’t want to give her reason or opportunity to reject him because then he’d have to back off.  And Hardy didn’t want to back off. Not by a long shot.

By the time they arrived back at the park, back at Miracle’s car, Hardy was no closer to finding the perfect excuse not to let her go.  Luckily for him (unfortunately for her), he no longer needed one.

It was obvious as they approached that something was wrong with the car.  Miracle’s little blue Civic listed noticeably to one side.  Both tires on the driver’s side were flat.

Although Hardy would never have wanted for something like this to be the reason he’d get to stay with Miracle a little longer, he couldn’t bring himself to be completely upset about it.

Until he saw Miracle’s face.

She was visibly devastated.  He heard her gasp before she reached up to cover her mouth.  Then he heard her muffled
Omigod
right before she buried her face in her hands.

“What is it?”

“My mom’s gonna kill me,” Miracle mumbled from behind her fingers.  “How could this happen to
both
tires?”

Hardy’s mood quickly went from pleased to be able to spend more time with Miracle, to upset because she was upset, to fury over what had likely happened to her car.

Banging his fist on the steering wheel, Hardy let out a growl as he came to a screeching halt, slammed the gearshift into park and leapt out of the vehicle.  He stomped over to Miracle’s car and bent to look first at the rear tire and then moved forward to the front one.  There was a nail in both.

If the nails had been in the tread, he could almost see that it might’ve been an accident, something Miracle had run over.  But these nails were more toward the rim, in a place where it would be virtually impossible to get an object lodged accidentally.  And that meant it was purposeful. 

Only one culprit that came to mind—Cheyenne.

Straightening, Hardy growled again, running his fingers through his hair in frustration.  When he spun around, he nearly toppled Miracle who had come to stand behind him as he inspected the tires.

She jumped back to get out of his way, losing her footing in the loose gravel.  Before she could fall, however, Hardy’s snake-like reflexes kicked in and he grabbed her.  Wrapping his fingers around her upper arms, Hardy hauled Miracle forward until she was crushed against his chest with no fear of going backward.  Her eyes were wide and her lips were parted as she looked up at him.

Instantly, the tires were forgotten.

All Hardy could see was Miracle.  All Hardy could hear was the sound of her breath whispering through her lips. All Hardy could smell was the hint of lavender that wafted up from her hair.  All Hardy could feel was her stomach pressed to his.

He watched her pupils dilate just before her eyes flickered to his mouth and back again.  A battle waged within Hardy—to kiss her or not to kiss her.  He wanted to.  Badly.  But did he want their first kiss to be when she’d just discovered that his bitchy ex-girlfriend had likely sabotaged her vehicle?  No.  No, he didn’t.

So it was with great determination and a heartfelt sigh that Hardy righted Miracle and then released her to step back.  Shoving both hands in his pockets to keep himself from reaching for her again, Hardy cleared his throat.

“Well, the good news is that there’s a nail in both tires and a hole like that should be easy to patch, which means you won’t need new tires.”

Miracle exhaled, putting a hand to her chest.  “Oh, thank God.”  A few seconds later, much calmer, she turned questioning eyes to Hardy.  “Um, so what now?  I mean…”

“I’ve got a pump in my trunk.  Why don’t we see if they’ll hold air long enough to get us to Tire World, okay?”

Miracle shrugged and smiled.  “Sounds like a plan.”

Hardy got the pump and, much to his relief, the tires held the air he put in. 

“Why don’t you give me your keys and I’ll drive your car there.  You can follow me in mine.  That way, if anything happens, it’ll happen to me and not you.”

Hardy thought his suggestion made perfect sense.  Not for one second did he ever consider letting Miracle drive a vehicle with tires that could blow out at a moment’s notice.  If something happened to her, he’d never forgive himself.  In fact, the possibility made him shudder.

Miracle’s brilliant smile told Hardy that his offer both surprised and pleased her.  “Thank you, Hardy.  I would really appreciate that.”

For the third time since meeting her, Hardy felt blood warm his cheeks.  What was she doing to him?

“It’s, uh, it’s no trouble,” he stammered uncomfortably.  The way she was looking at him made him feel like some sort of hero, when all he’d done was offer to drive her car.

They exchanged keys and Miracle followed Hardy into town to Tire World.  She parked and went in with him and, even though it was her car, he did all the talking.

When he’d made arrangements to have the tires patched and for them to text his cell phone when they were finished, Hardy put his hand on Miracle’s lower back and guided her toward the door.  When she handed him his car keys, she was frowning.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You really didn’t have to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Take care of all that for me.”

“It was no problem.  Really,” Hardy replied casually, opening the passenger side door for her.

Once he’d slid behind the wheel, Miracle continued.  “I can take care of myself you know.”

She wasn’t sharp or nasty when she said it; she sounded more wounded than anything.

“I know you can.  Why would I think you couldn’t?”

Miracle shrugged, a frown pinching the skin between her eyes.  “Because I’ve been sick.”

Pieces started clicking together and Hardy could’ve kicked himself.  Why hadn’t he seen it sooner?

“Miracle, I have no doubt you can take care of yourself.  None whatsoever.  I only did that because I
wanted
to take care of it for you. Not because you couldn’t.  You deserve to have someone do things like that for you.  And…” Hardy trailed off, suddenly feeling embarrassed.

When Hardy had been silent for nearly a minute, Miracle prompted him. “And what?”  Hardy couldn’t meet her eyes.  He was afraid she’d see too much.  “And what?” she asked again.

“And I want to be the one to do them for you.”

There was a long pause, during which Hardy dared not look at Miracle.  But then she was grabbing his face and pressing her lips to his, and his world exploded.

CHAPTER SIX

 

Miracle’s lips on his felt like fire of the best kind.  They were soft and plump and he felt the pressure of them all the way down to his stomach. 

He was so stunned that, at first, he did nothing.  He just sat there.  But then she started to pull away and his desire to have her near kicked in.

Boy, did it kick in.

Before she could completely break the contact, Hardy raised one big hand and slid it into the hair at the back of her head, holding her mouth to his.  Angling his head, Hardy parted his lips until he felt Miracle’s warm breath enter his mouth.  Unable to stop himself, Hardy slipped his tongue past her lips, desperate to savor her, to savor every second of their kiss. 

She tasted like sugar and sunshine, like she took in the best of everything around her and made it her own.  It was like sipping nectar and Hardy was certain he could never get enough.

When her tongue touched his, Hardy felt his body become rock hard.  She was tentative at first, her tongue tangling with his, running slowly along its length.  She was tasting him as he was tasting her and the knowledge made him ache—ache to feel her weight on him as she explored his body, ache to roll her onto her back and lick every inch of her satin skin, ache to make her his and never share her with another. 

When Hardy felt her fingers slide into his hair, he was lost.  He moved his hands down her back to her tiny waist and he lifted until she was practically sitting in his lap.  His hands roamed up and down her leg, caressing her thigh and the curve of her hip.  In all his years, as hormonal as teenage boys could be, he had never wanted someone so much.  He was sure of it.  And he wanted her in every way, not just physically.  He wanted to hold her and protect her, to make her smile and to dry her tears.  He wanted to comfort her and please her, to make her feel safe and loved.  And, of course, he wanted to make love to her for hours, to know her body as well as he knew his own.

But not like this.  Not in the front seat of a car.

Reluctantly moving his hands up to either side of her face, Hardy held Miracle still while he leaned back, breaking the contact.  He felt the loss immediately, poignantly, and he nearly started kissing her again.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he leaned his forehead against hers while they both caught their breath.

Hardy’s head was reeling.  His first coherent thought was of how soft Miracle’s skin was.  He was absently rubbing his thumbs back and forth over her cheekbones.  When he leaned back to look into her eyes, he didn’t care that he might be wearing his heart on his sleeve.  He wasn’t sure he cared about anything in the world as much as he cared about the girl in his lap.

Miracle looked up into his eyes, the green like drops of liquid emerald that begged for him to get lost in their depths, and then she smiled.  It was a slow, tentative curve of her lips that ended in a brilliant display of happiness.  It shined from her face like a thousand watt bulb.  And it took his breath away.

“What are you doing to me?” he asked softly, touching his lips to hers for the briefest, sweetest of kisses.

“The same thing you’re doing to me,” she answered, equally softly, reaching forward to run her index finger along his lower lip.

Hardy could’ve held her like that for days and he thought she might have let him, but they were interrupted in the worst possible way.

The prolonged blaring of a horn caused both Hardy and Miracle to look out the driver’s side window.  There, stopped on the road that ran in front of the tire place, was Elise with Cheyenne in her little red convertible.  They were both flipping Hardy and Miracle the bird.  They laughed boisterously as Cheyenne punched the gas to speed away.  The words
Suck it!
drifted on the wind back to Hardy and Miracle.

“I guess that’s a little much to be considered coincidence, huh?” Miracle asked, pushing away from his chest to slip back into her seat.

“There was no doubt in my mind.”

“Well, I was thinking it was possible that I ran over—”

“No,” Hardy interrupted.  “It’s not.  I know she did this and I’m so sorry.”

Miracle shrugged.  “Don’t be.  It’s no skin off my nose.”

Hardy let his temple fall against the head rest as he watched Miracle.  “My god, you really are amazing.”

Miracle said nothing, but Hardy saw a flush of pink suffuse her cheeks.  He couldn’t help but smile. 

“No, not really. While my tires are getting fixed, I got to make out with a hot guy.  What do I have to complain about?”

Hardy laughed.  “You did?”  Miracle nodded, a mischievous grin curving her lips.  “With a hot guy, huh?”  Again she nodded.  “Anyone I know?”

“You might recognize him.  He has short brown hair and the most amazing stormy blue-gray eyes I’ve ever seen.  His smile is addictive and his arms are strong.  And he’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.  Does any of that sound familiar?”

BOOK: Fragile
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