Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
Collin nodded. “There’s a bag on my bed. I’ll wait in the hall. When you’ve put some panties on, lie facedown on the bed and call out.”
“Okay.” I watched him walk out of the bedroom. And then the tears I could no longer hold inside fell. I realized that for the first time in ten weeks and two days, I was crying - but not for the loss of my brother.
I was crying for the loss of the man I was in love with.
Yes, I was in love with Collin Donnelley. I don’t know how it happened or even when it happened, but I knew, without a doubt, that I loved him. I couldn’t possibly feel this ache in my heart in response to the pain I had caused him, if I didn’t love him so completely.
Now that I knew I loved him, I didn’t know what to do about it. Did I tell him? Did I come right out with it and admit my feelings to the man who ran from feelings like lost souls ran from the Devil?
Taking a deep breath, I wiped my now swollen eyes and moved from the bathroom to the bedroom. I found the bag Collin had brought back with him from my cabin and I dug through it for my clothing. He’d brought panties, a couple bras, and two dresses. But he’d forgot a nighty. Feeling my heart thud into the deep of my belly, I pulled on a pair of lacy pink booty shorts before I stared down at his bed. My heart pulled (or sling shot) back up into my chest. Finally gaining courage, I climbed over the duvet, and lowered myself facedown on the soft material of the comforter.
Pulling in a deep breath, I called out. “I’m ready.”
Not even a second passed before Collin walked back into the room. His jaw was rigid and his steps were determined as he crossed the distance between us with the Aloe Vera in his hand. My heart raced and I slammed my eyes closed as he sat down on the bed beside me.
I heard the cap of the Aloe Vera unsnap, and then I heard the liquid pour into his hand. Then, I felt his hands smearing the cool, tingling liquid, over my shoulders. I sighed, unable to help myself as he continued rubbing the cool liquid down my back and over my burned skin.
When he’d begun rubbing my lower back, I spoke into the silence. My words sounded breathless, and I felt my face deepen in a blush. “Thank you for this, Collin.”
“Don’t mention it.”
His hands stilled over the small of my back. “Why would you be sorry?”
“For what I said earlier.” I was so ashamed of my words. “I didn’t mean it.”
“It was the truth, Hadley, no need to be sorry.”
“Do you really believe that?” I opened my eyes and tilted my face to catch sight of his face. As soon as my eyes met his, I saw that he did, in fact, believe that he didn’t deserve something special.
His voice was gravelly. “Yes.”
“Well, I don’t.” I spoke with conviction. “You’re special enough, Collin.”
He offered a smile I knew was to ease the guilt I felt inside. “Thanks.”
I took in a deep breath and felt the nerves in my stomach jump at the consequences for the words I was about to say. And then I spoke. “You would be worth it to me.”
His hands stopped moving again and I watched as his eyes fluttered closed, and then they opened, to connect with mine. “You don’t mean that.”
“I do.” I assured. “I actually can’t think of someone else I’d rather give that piece of me to.”
Again, he closed his eyes and I could see he was struggling with my words. “You don’t know what that means to me, Hadley.” His voice shook. “But I care about you too much to ever allow you to be with a man like me. I’ll always be here for you, but not like that - I can’t be everything you need.”
My heart shattered. “Collin.”
“I’ll never be good enough for you.”
Tears moistened my eyes as he moved his aloe-covered hands over the back of my legs and I fisted my hands in his blanket. “Please don’t tell me what’s good enough.” I whispered. “Only I can decide that.”
He stood from the bed. “I’m done.” He turned to the door. “You can get changed and meet me downstairs. I’ll start grilling some steak.”
“Collin.” I spoke his name through the thick emotion in my throat and he stopped moving, but didn’t turn around. “You forgot to pack me a nighty.”
“Shit.” I heard him breathe. His shoulders fell slightly and then he turned and walked to the closet. Disappearing inside, I waited facedown on the bed. When he returned, he had a large t-shirt bunched in his hand. “You can wear this. It should come down to the middle of your thigh.”
“I can go home.” I offered, not wanting to make him feel trapped here with me - especially after everything I had said. Jeez, when my mouth ran it really ran. Like marathon ran.
“You’re not going home. We’re going to have to reapply that aloe throughout the night.”
“I can call Kami or Reese, Collin.”
“Will you stop?” He growled, his voice was tense and his hands were fisted. “Just stop.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. “You’re staying here tonight and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
“Okay.” I said again.
“Just, for once, can you let someone take care of you?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
Boy, he was mad.
There was a part of me that wanted to ask if he could let someone, just for once, take care of him - but I knew asking would make matters worse than they already were and I had no desire to do that. For some reason, Collin Donnelley was afraid of being wanted. He was afraid of commitment and he was afraid of feeling something for someone. For some reason, he felt unworthy - and I’d fed that very wrong fear with my darted words.
Finally, after an uncomfortably long few minutes, Collin nodded. Dropping the shirt on the bed beside me, he strode quickly from the bedroom. He swung the door closed a little too hard behind him and I flinched.
For a moment, I just lay there on the bed. Then, I scurried to dress myself in the t-shirt. Collin had been right. It was huge. I did my best to brush through my hair with my fingers, as he’d not thought to pack me a brush. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered my brother packing for me. At least Michael had remembered to pack me a brush - but I had to give Collin props for remembering to pack what my brother hadn’t - panties.
After sitting through a very awkward dinner of silence, and then cleaning the kitchen in that same awkward silence, Collin and I settled down on the couch in the living room. I sat on my side with my legs curled up on the cushion and stared blankly ahead as I thought, feeling terrified, that I’d ruined my relationship with this man I’d found such good friendship in.
“Do you, uh, want to watch a movie?”
“Sure.” I shifted again on the couch and sighed. “Actually, no. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can sit here for two hours. My skin is hurting.” I blushed. “If you could just show me where I’ll be sleeping, I’ll go to bed.”
His green eyes were intense on my face, and I felt my eyes well again, but thankfully nothing fell. Sighing, Collin stood. He reached out for my hand, braiding his fingers through mine before tugging me to the stairs. I wanted to tell him to stop holding my hand, but I couldn’t. I loved the feeling of his hand around mine, even though it broke my heart that every time he touched me, I fell deeper for a man I couldn’t actually have.
Collin turned out the lights as he moved past the switches. I was surprised when he led me past the last spare bedrooms to his doorway. I tensed. “I can’t sleep in here with you.”
“Why not?” He asked pointedly.
My lips parted. “I...”
“I won’t try anything, beautiful. Don’t worry.”
“I have a television in here. We can lay down and watch a movie so you don’t have to sit.”
“Oh.” I nodded, feeling a little more relaxed. “Okay.”
He smiled a ghost of a smile as he pulled me into the bedroom before closing the door. I watched as he moved across the room to the bed, pulling down the blanket and sheets. “Climb in, baby.”
My feet felt heavy as I dragged them over the floor, closer to Collin. Closer to the bed. “So, uh, where are the dogs?”
The corner of his lips lifted. “They prefer to be outside in the summer. In the winter, they usually come in at night, but in the summer they like being outside.”
“Huh.” I lowered myself slowly onto the bed, on my stomach. “What about wildlife?”
“We see a lot, but they tend to not come close to the houses so the animals are safe for the most part.”
“For the most part?” I watched him disappear into the closet before reappearing in nothing but his boxers.
“There’s a lot to eat out here, beautiful. They don’t need to take the risk of coming so close to man to hunt.”
“Makes sense.” I breathed.
“Yeah.” He flicked out the light before walking in the dark to turn on the bedside lamp. The room illuminated in an amber glow and I tried to calm my racing heart as the bed shifted beneath his weight. With him lying so close to me, I could smell his scent. It was familiar to the scent I’d lathered over my body in the shower. God, I loved this scent. “What movie do you want to watch?”
“Doesn’t matter.” I shrugged. “I’ll probably sleep anyway.”
“You didn’t get enough during your nap?”
“Shut up.” I snapped and he laughed. Oh, listening to that laugh after the strained couple hours we’d endured was beautiful.
“Just saying.” He laughed more and I couldn’t help but pray it never ended. If there were one thing I listened to for the rest of my life, I would choose his laugh.
Collin turned on a movie - and I should have guessed it would be a scary movie. Maybe I should have chosen something. Maybe I should have admitted that I didn’t deal well with fear.
Curling my fists in the pillow, I watched the screen through squinted eyes as the bedroom door creaked open and something unseen lifted the bed sheet before grabbing the girls ankle and dragging her quickly, screaming, from the bed.
I screamed loud, burying my face in the pillow as I winced at the sharp pang in my back from my quick movement. Collin chuckled, touching my shoulder. Again, I jumped. “Turn it off!” I commanded, and he laughed again.
He protested. “We can’t turn it off, it just started.”
“I don’t care, turn it off.” I cried. “Now!”
He shook his head. “No.” Then his hand was hooking around my butt, against my hip at the only place I hadn’t been burned, and he was dragging me closer.
“What are you doing?”
“Keeping my chicken safe.”
“I’m not a chicken!” I barked. “And I didn’t know I was yours.”
“You are a chicken, beautiful.” He quirked a grin and I stared down into his face. “And I didn’t know you were mine either. Until now.”
My breath caught and my eyes widened. “What?”
“You’re always going to fight me aren’t you?”
“You will.” He smiled. “You’re always going to challenge me, and fuck if you don’t have a quick reply to everything I say, but I love that about you, Hadley.”
Oh God...he loved something about me.
“Go on.” I whisper-pleaded.
He chuckled and then his eyes turned serious. “You said I’d be worth it to you, Hadley. Did you mean that?”
What was he asking, exactly?
I didn’t ask. Instead, I replied with the honest to God truth. “Yes. You would be worth everything to me.”
“Then I want...” he closed his eyes and I waited for what felt like eternity. “Then I want to have this night with you - and then I want to have breakfast. And maybe, tomorrow we could repeat the entire scenario minus the sunburn?”
My breath was coming in short. “Can we take it slow?”
“Baby, I’ll try to be everything you need. If you want slow, we’ll take it slow.” He quirked a teasing grin. “So no breakfast then?”
Oh, baby steps.
I slapped his shoulder teasingly. “We’re doing breakfast.”
“Damn, you’re hot when you get bossy.”
I smiled. “Can you turn off the movie?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I like having an excuse to hold you.”
“Do you really need one?”
He stilled for a moment, and then he reached for the remote. Silence filled the room as the screaming in the background was killed. “No, beautiful. I don’t need an excuse.”
“Good.” I moved my head down to rest over his chest, pressing a small kiss to the place over his heart, I announced. “You smell good.”
“You smell like me.” He replied huskily.
“You didn’t have any girl stuff in there.” I defended myself. “I had no choice.”
“I like you smelling like me, baby.” He pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “I like knowing my scent is on you.”
“Caveman.” I jabbed playfully as I closed my eyes, and fell into the bliss of sleep against a man I loved - who had decided it was worth it - to see where things could go if we gave into our fears and let down our guard just enough to let each other in.
Thunder clapped loudly in the sky and I startled awake against a hard, warm body. Perching up on my forearms, I gazed out the bedroom window into the night as a bright flash of light lit the sky and illuminated the darkness of the room fleetingly before not even three seconds later, loud thunder roared.
“What are you doing awake?” Collin’s deep voice was husky with sleep and his arm tightened around my waist.
“It’s storming.” I whispered, feeling excitement burn deep inside.
“You’re afraid of storms?” He asked in surprise, shifting up onto his elbow beside me while still leaving his arm to rest over the small of my back.
“Not even close.” I replied. “I actually have a thing for storms. They’re just beautiful to watch - so unpredictable and powerful.”
“You amaze me.” He breathed. And despite the mesmerizing storm raging outside, I felt Collin’s eyes on me rather than on the storm raging above us.
Collin and I had been seeing each other - in secret - for almost two weeks. Thankfully, my sunburn was gone, but I wouldn’t change falling asleep that day in the sun for anything. It was that horrific sunburn that had aided to evolve my relationship with Collin into what it was now - and God, I never wanted this to end. There was something so beautiful about life with Collin - so wonderful - I couldn’t imagine ever going back to the way I had been living without him.