Page 15 of 28
“Here I was thinking we were already on the same page. Isn’t that what you want? What all this was about?”
“Yes. Definitely yes, but we never said it, so…” Now I feel even more stupid.
He folded her into his arms again and kissed her forehead. “We’ve never had to say things with words, Fi. We just need to figure out how to navigate the rest of the world, and we’ll either sink or swim. I’m a really good swimmer. The question is, how long can you hold your breath?”
I’ve held it for the last few years. I’m pretty sure I can hold on a while longer.
Twenty minutes later they walked hand in hand into one of the buildings. Fiona convinced herself not to feel stupid for assuming the worst about Jake, and she could tell by his easy steps and the smile on his lips that he wasn’t upset with her about how she’d reacted. She only hoped that Megan Flexx wouldn’t say something that made her feel foolish.
“Where are we going?” Fiona asked. The building felt like a warehouse, with high, exposed-truss ceilings and hallways that echoed as they walked. They passed a doorway, and Jake draped an arm over her shoulder.
“It’s a surprise. You know, actors and actresses come to the sets and they rarely get to see much more than the places they run their scenes. They give tours to strangers who will never work a day on a set, and they see more than the people who are sweating their scenes out day after day. And then there’s you.”
He stopped in front of a closed door and turned to face her. He rested his forearms on her shoulders and fiddled with her hair, making her heart do all sort of leaps and flips.
“You’re here every day, helping your friend without being paid, because you wanted to get my attention. You put your own job on hold, your own life on hold, for that matter, and all you wanted in return was a chance at us being together again.”
She crinkled her nose. “I sound like a loser, don’t I?”
“No. You sound like my lucky charm.” He pressed his lips to hers in a sweet kiss. “You deserve to have some fun other than pure enjoyment of my incredibly awesome body.”
She rolled her eyes and choked back, It’s that cocky side of you that makes me want to play with your body right now.
“So…” He pushed open the door, revealing an enormous room with rack after rack of clothing and costumes. He took her hand and led her inside, closing the door behind them.
“Are we allowed to be in here?” She’d never seen anything like it. Beyond the endless clothing racks, the wall to her right held shelves of footwear from floor to ceiling. Accessories of all shapes and sizes hung on the back wall along with weapons—swords, guns, whips, and more.
“It’s all ours, and you can try on anything you’d like.” He released her hand and waved toward the clothes. “Usually Trace grabs the clothes I need, so I haven’t spent much time in here, but I thought you’d get a kick out of it.”
Fiona walked down one of the wide aisles, trailing her fingers along the sleeves of hundreds of costumes. Her fingers ran over lush velvets, slippery silks, soft cotton, lots of spiky embellishments. The room smelled like dye, warm fabric, and strangely…plastic. Jake reached into a rack and withdrew a fluffy blue taffeta dress that was longer than she was tall.
“Princess?” He arched one thick, dark brow.
Fiona crinkled her nose and shook her head. She fingered through the rack and pulled out a hanger marked Conan, complete with sword and other gold accouterments; then she withdrew another one marked Xena. She held them at chin height and smiled.
“I’m game if you are.” She held out the Conan costume, practically salivating at the idea of Jake wearing the little fur and leather crotch pocket like the one that Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in the movie.
“Babe, I’ll dress up as the Easter bunny to see you in that hot little number.” He took the Conan costume and began undressing.
“Hey, you go over there.” She pointed to the other side of the clothing racks.
“Fi, I think I’ve seen everything there is to see.”
He stepped closer to her, and she pressed her hand to his chest and shook her head.
“Go.” She pointed again.
She felt like a giddy teenager as she hid behind the clothing rack and put on the costume. The gold-plated bra fit almost perfectly, but the arm guards, which covered her shoulders and biceps, were a challenge to put on. She felt sexy as she slithered into the black miniskirt with gold panel flaps that hung from the front and rear. But it was the red leather gloves that made her feel like a total vamp. They stretched to two inches above her elbow, with black leather fingers and gold shields covering her wrist to elbow. She piled her hair into the long black wig and slipped the coiled whip into a holder on her hip. The sword was heavier than she’d imagined it would be, and when she slid the belt low on her hips, hooked the sheath to it, and slid the heavy sword into the dark leather, she felt seductive and naughty. She eyed the wall of footwear and found a pair of leather boots with gold embellishments. They weren’t exactly what Xena wore, but they laced up to her knees. She smiled to herself, anticipating Jake’s reaction.
“Hot damn.” Jake’s voice startled her.
She spun around and her jaw dropped open. She gawked embarrassingly at him with no hope of closing her mouth, as her brain was stuck in holy-shit mode. Every inch of Jake’s tanned, muscular flesh was on display, save for a gold-plated leather pouch in the front that held his very large package. Beneath the leather belt was a swatch of what was supposed to be animal skin and fur. Fiona had no idea what it was, but she wanted to rip it off. A leather sheath hung from his right hip, complete with a gold-handled sword. Her eyes slipped lower, taking in the sinewy lines of his powerful legs, and then traveled up again, hovering around that sexy leather pouch. How could leather make a man look even more enticing?
She licked her lips as her eyes took another stroll up to his broad chest and shoulders. His arms arced out from his sides, all bulging muscles and thick wrists wrapped in leather. Around his neck was a leather strap with fake ivory tusks and a gold medallion in the center. The crowning glory was a leather headband adorned with jewels.
Jewels. She smiled, dropping her eyes again.
She was startled again, feeling her cheeks flush.
“Eyes up here, woman.” He pointed to his face.
“I’m…trying.” She forced her mouth to close and shifted her gaze up. The hunger in his eyes made her flush all over again and did something altogether sinful between her legs. She was suddenly very nervous, afraid she’d go to great lengths to rip that leather from his body and then get in trouble for ruining a costume. In an effort to distract herself—and him, given his lustful stare—she unsheathed her sword and held it up in his direction.
“Stay back, you horny thing,” she teased.
His lips lifted in a crooked smile. “My sword is way bigger than yours.”
She waved her sword. “It’s not the size that matters.”
“You know how to do a lot of things well, Fiona Steele.” He took a step forward, and she took a step back. “But I still wield my sword more skillfully than you.” He narrowed his eyes as he moved in on her, hands at his sides.
“No argument there.” She walked backward around the clothing rack. “But I know how to slay it.”
He grabbed the sharp blade of her sword with one hand and tugged, slamming her into his bare chest. And, oh, did he feel good! She let her hands explore his hard muscles as he backed her against the wall.
“That you do,” he said in a husky voice, before taking her in a kiss so lascivious she relinquished her sword, and he must have, too, because it clanked to the ground and his big, hot hands were all over her. Fiona was lost in the feel of his mouth, his hands, and his body. God, his body. He was so hard and hot, and…Her eyes flew open. Her arms and legs were wrapped around Jake. She was trying to climb him like scaffolding in the costume room!
She forced herself to tear her lips away, brea
thless. It was a good thing he kept ahold of her, because her spaghetti legs needed a minute to remember how to work. They gazed into each other’s eyes for a long, silent moment. Fiona, weighing the idea of throwing caution to the wind and making love right there on the floor, and Jake looking like he was doing the same—only leaning more heavily toward the whole throwing caution side, while she feared getting caught.
She pushed at his chest halfheartedly. “We should look at more costumes.”
“It’s your night. Whatever you want, you shall have.”
“That’s full of delicious innuendo.”
He pressed his stubbly cheek to hers. “It was meant to be.”
He was wrong. He had a greater power to slay her than she did him. She wanted him more than she wanted anything else in the world, but being caught in a costume room having sex with Jake Braden seemed like something rag magazines headlines were made of, and after fending off a few paparazzi on the way into work that morning, she didn’t trust that they weren’t everywhere, no matter how paranoid that might seem.
She took a step away and snagged another costume without looking at what it was.
“Little Bo Peep?” Jake flashed a coy smile and picked up her sword from the ground.
“Why, Jake,” she said with her best Southern drawl. “I bet there’s a wrangler outfit in here somewhere.” She batted her eyelashes and disappeared around the side of the rack.
“So now you have a thing for my brothers?” His voice was filled with jealousy over his rancher brothers, Wes and Luke.
She went up on her tiptoes and looked at him over the clothing rack. “Hardly. I have a thing for Jake Braden in a pair of assless chaps.”
“Careful. Good things come to those who wish.” He searched through a rack of Western outfits.
They spent the next hour trying on everything from assless chaps to genie costumes and Planet of the Apes outfits. They laughed and kissed and chased each other around the room like teenagers, reminiscent of how they used to be. She loved this playful side of Jake, which conflicted with his überalpha side. His devilish grin made her want to be even coyer.
Fiona peered around the edge of one of the racks, hiding her body from Jake.
“Do you have a fan?” she asked.
“A whole entourage,” he teased.
“Ugh. Remember, I knew you when you were a sixth grader who threw a fit when your brother stole your BB gun.”
He leveled her with a dark stare. “And then I kicked the shit out of him.”
“Gee, I don’t remember that,” she said with a teasing smile. “Fan,” she reminded him.
He disappeared into a closet and pulled out a large metal fan and flicked it on.
“Your fan, madam.”
She sauntered into the center of the room wearing a Marilyn Monroe–style white halter dress and pulling a chair behind her. The skirt of her dress flapped in the wind of the fan. Jake stood up taller in his Jack Sparrow costume and raked his eyes down her body so slowly it felt like he took the dress off with the heat of it.
“Damn, Fi.” He stepped closer and ran his hand up the back of her leg as she climbed onto the chair and turned her back to the fan.
Her dress rose up with the current from the fan. Fiona pressed her hands to her knees, pursed her lips, and flashed her best come-hither look, which she was pretty sure made her look like she was in pain, because she sucked at making sexy faces. Jake ran his hands up her thighs, and he shifted her to the side, bringing him face-to-face with her steamy lady parts.
“That seductive look is going to get you in trouble.” He licked his lips before pressing them to the inside of her thigh. When she felt the slick glide of his tongue, she nearly toppled off the chair. Jake caught her in his arms and kissed her.
“I should bring you here every night.” He set her feet back down on the floor and led her over to the closet where he’d retrieved the fan.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed so hard or felt so uninhibited.
“Thank you for tonight, Jake. This has been really fun.”
Jake held up one finger, disappeared into the closet, and when he came back out, he was holding up a dress identical to the blue dress Rose wore in the scene from Titanic where she stood at the bow of the ship with the wind blowing her hair.
“Jake.” She felt her eyes widen as she touched the velvety material. “You remembered.” Titanic had been their favorite movie. They’d watched it at least a dozen times over the two years they’d dated, and both knew most of the lines by heart.
“How could I forget?” He handed her the long blue gown. “Go ahead. Try it on.” This time she didn’t send him away. She was so touched by his thoughtfulness that she turned and swept her hair over one shoulder, allowing him to untie the top of her dress and help her into the other. He secured the wide satin tie around her waist and ribs and then draped the gold scarf over her arms.
He stepped back and drank her in. “Fiona, you are more beautiful than Kate Winslet could ever hope to be.”
“Thank you, Jake. For everything.”
He went back into the closet and retrieved a black jacket, dark pants, and white shirt that matched the ones Jack wore when he wrapped his arms around Rose from behind to keep her from jumping off the ship.
She helped him off with his Jack Sparrow costume, pausing when he was stripped down to his skivvies to admire his body for the hundredth time that evening. He stepped into the slacks, which fit snugly across his hips, and slipped his arms into the white shirt. Fiona stepped closer when he began buttoning the shirt and silently moved his hands away and buttoned it herself. The room was quiet, save for their shallow breathing and the wind of the fan. Fiona picked up the jacket and held it up for Jake to put it on. It was tight across his broad back, and the material strained against his biceps.
Fiona smiled up at him. “You should take it off so you don’t split the seams.”
“After.” He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, then turned them toward the fan. He gathered her hair over one shoulder, which was probably whipping him across the face from the breeze, and kissed the back of her neck.
“I swear, Fiona. Just being close to you again like this…It reminds me of everything we were together.”
She leaned her back against him, feeling his heart hammering through his chest and his eager arousal against her butt. She held her hands out to her sides like Rose did in the movie.
“Let’s do this.” His voice fluttered in the wind of the fan.
She closed her eyes against the wind, remembering another time when she’d had to close her eyes against a big wind. Jake hadn’t been with her then, but she’d felt like he was. She clutched his forearms and shared the memory with him.
“You, well, this, pulled me through a rough time when we were exploring for gold by drilling geophysical targets. We were flown to the drill rig by helicopter. On the flight out, I thought to myself, Jake jumps out of these, and it blew me away. I was so frightened, and I remember wondering how you were able to push past the fear and jump.”
She turned and faced him, her hair blowing against her back, the ends of the scarf flapping beneath her arms. She pressed her hands to his chest, still getting used to being with him. Really with him.
“When the helicopter landed and I stepped out of the chopper, the wind was so strong I worried that I’d be swept into the water. It blew me back a few feet, and then I thought of you, standing behind me like this, and I stopped moving backward. It was like you were there with me. I felt your presence, and you stayed with me every minute of every day while I was on that rig. Every time fear got the better of me, I drew upon your voice, and I swear, Jake, I could actually hear you whispering, I’ve got you, Fi.”
He pressed his cheek to hers and whispered, “I’ve got you now, Fi.” He touched his forehead to hers. “I wish I’d been there with you. We’ve missed out on a lot of years.”
She heard sadness in his voice and hated that
she’d been the cause of it.
“What I’ve realized over these last few days is that we can’t go backward. We’re either moving forward or we’re wasting time. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you feel guilty about those missed years, but as I told you before, we probably needed that space and time to grow. And I don’t want to go back. This is better. We’re better. Even if we stumble along the way, we can still be better than we were.”
“We were pretty great.” She knew they would be better than before, because even this, here, now, was better.
“And we’ll be awesome now. Back then we had no idea what we were capable of or what life had in store for us. We were dreamers, and we were full of indestructible teenage rebellion.”
“You were filled with rebellion, and you still believe you’re indestructible.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” He laughed. “Don’t fool yourself, Fi. I think breaking up with me was rebellion, even if you don’t see it that way. It was your way of fighting back against your father for tearing apart your family, and that’s okay, because back then we didn’t know anything beyond what we felt. Now we’re armed with experience. So no more worrying about what might have been or what we didn’t get a chance to have. We’re lucky to have history to draw upon, but let’s not dwell on it. Let’s just see if we can blaze a new path to the future.”
“You’re really serious about us.” It wasn’t a question, and she didn’t need confirmation. It was a realization, an acceptance.
“Yes, I’m serious. Being with you again…” He shook his head and looked away, as if he were watching a memory unfold before him. “I had buried everything good. You know how close my family is, and you’ve made me realize that I’ve created distance even with them. They have no idea what to make of me anymore.”
“Yeah, they do.” Fiona clamped her mouth shut. She shouldn’t have said anything. Wes had done her a favor, and she didn’t want to breach his confidence.