Dad had decided to turn over the rest of the Germany project to his partner, so he could stay home with me. It’d been tough to face him after the video leaked, but after a couple of days and lots of talks, we got the situation under control. He came down on me for making such a dumb choice at a party, and he was slightly uncomfortable with Jared’s new role in my life. But, he admitted, he probably wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone at any time dating his only daughter.
Jared and I had been online constantly, taking down the video wherever we found it. Our classmates also seemed to be laying off the gossip. But I was sure it had more to do with their respect for Jared than their sense of decency.
A week ago, I thought I’d never live down that storm, but I was already concentrating on other things. I had a list of modifications to perform on my new car, and I hoped Jared, my dad and I could work on it together throughout the winter. Madoc seemed to think he’d be included, too, and I didn’t do anything to dispel his little brain fart.
My father agreed to let me take the money for Jared’s repairs out of my trust, but I’d have to get a job to replace it. He was very strict that my college fund wasn’t a snack dish that I could stick my hand in whenever I wanted. And that was fine. A job was a good idea. I needed something to take up my time now that Dad was limiting my time with Jared. I don’t think he was as worried about our intimacy as he was about me losing focus in school.
Jared started a slow grind between my legs as his soft nibbles quickly changed to devouring and caressing. The chill that came into the room with him was replaced by sweat and heat.
Oh. I breathed hard, the pulse between my legs twitched with the friction he was making.
“You know,” I gasped. “I want you here more than anything, but my dad will wake up. It’s like he’s still in the Army or something. He sleeps with one eye open.”
He abruptly stopped and peered down at me like I was crazy. “I won’t be able to stay away. Not with knowing that your cute little body is curled up in this nice, warm bed without me.”
“You would never disrespect my dad. Even I know that.”
“No, you’re right,” he conceded, and then his eyes widened. “Do you want to come over to my house?”
I folded my lips between my teeth to stifle a laugh.
As I guided my legs up and around him, he kissed me harder before whispering against my lips. “I love you, Tate. And I’m here for you always. With or without the sleepovers. I just needed to see you.”
I held the back of his neck as he raised himself to look down at me. “I love you, too.
The top half of his body slid off of me, over the side of the bed, as he searched for something on the nightstand. I ran my fingers along his back, barely noticing his scars beneath his shirt. He popped back up with a box in his hand.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Open it,” he urged gently.
I sat up, and he leaned back on his feet, watching me. Sliding the lid off, I pulled out a charm bracelet. Not the clunky, jiggling kind that makes lots of noise but a dainty, silver chain holding four charms. My eyes darted up to Jared, but he just sat silently, waiting for something.
Eyeing the bracelet closer, I saw the charms were of a cell phone, a key, a coin, and a heart.
A cell phone, a key, a coin, and…
“My lifelines!” I burst out, it finally hitting me.
Jared exhaled a laugh. “Yeah, when you told me on our way to Chicago about how you always wanted your escape plans when dealing with me in the past, I didn’t want you to see me that way anymore.”
“I don’t—” I started.
“I know,” he rushed to assure me. “But I want to make sure I never lose your trust again. I want to be one of your lifelines, Tate. I want you to need me. So...” He gestured to the bracelet. “The heart is me. One of your lifelines. I took Jax with me today to pick it out.”
“How is your brother?” I ran the bracelet through my fingers, never wanting to let it or him go.
Jared shrugged his shoulders. “He’s hanging in there. My mom is working with a lawyer to try to get custody. He wants to meet you.”
I smiled. “I’d love to.”
I didn’t know what else to say. The gift was beautiful, and I loved what it represented. But what I loved more was that I was getting to know Jared. We’d missed time over the years, but he had found family in his brother, and I could see the love he had for him.
A tear glided down my cheek, but I brushed it away quickly. “Put it on me?” I handed him the bracelet and blinked back more tears.
He worked the clasp and secured it around my wrist, not letting go of my hand as he sat back and pulled me on top, straddling him.
He brushed the hair away from my face, and I came down, meeting his lips. He tasted like heat and man, and I wrapped my arms around him, savoring the reality of just being here with him.
“Jared.” My father knocked on the door, and we both jerked our heads up. “You need to go home now. We’ll see you for dinner tomorrow night.”
My heart thumped so hard it hurt.
Jared snorted back a laugh and spoke to the door. “Yes, sir.”
The heat of embarrassment covered my face, my arms, my toes—hell, everywhere as I saw my father’s shadow under the door disappear.
“I guess I need to go.”
I clenched his black t-shirt and touched my nose to his. “I know. Thank you for my bracelet.”