And he took.
He kissed the sensitive spot under my jaw, nuzzling my neck. His lips soothed the burn of the fine stubble around his mouth. My entire body ached for him, for more—for everything that went beyond this.
As if in a tunnel, I heard the loud rumbling of a car. At first I thought it was my imagination—I prayed that it was. But as the seconds passed, the sound grew louder.
Jase sprang off me, onto his feet, and backed up. The rush of air felt cool in spite of the muggy day. In a daze, my gaze crawled down the length of him. Straw clung to his shirt and the fine hairs along his arms. My attention got snagged up below the h*ps before I looked down at myself.
My shirt was bunched up under my bra.
The car passed the bend in the road, and a flash of red appeared beyond the tall yellow and green cornstalks.
Processing skills had yet to catch up with the events. So when Jase came forward and towed me onto my feet, I was unprepared. I swayed to the right and tried to correct myself before I put my weight onto my bad leg. He caught me before I did, steadying me as I panted for breath like I’d just done a series of tricks on the stage.
“Shit, Tess,” he said, dragging his fingers along the hem of my tank top. He straightened my shirt while I stood there like an imbecile. “That . . .”
The car had stopped beside Jase’s Jeep and the passenger door creaked open and a tiny form stumbled out. A woman shouted.
“Jase!” shrieked a small voice. His little brother spun toward the pen. “Jase!”
I was frozen in place, knowing that I was covered in hay and my skin was way too flushed, like a heatstroke was now a true possibility. My wild gaze swung toward Jase.
“I’m sorry. That shouldn’t have happened,” Jase said, and then he turned and walked away.
Jack threw himself into Jase’s prepared arms. Lifting the little guy up, Jase spun him in a wide circle. Anyone standing nearby would’ve lost an eye if they’d been close. Jack shrieked happily, eyes screwed shut and mouth open.
My chest lurched at the sight of them together. Jase . . . he’d make a great father one day. Not that I’d obviously get firsthand experience with him as a dad, since I was one permanent, giant walking mistake according to him. Knowing that stung like I’d walked into a hornet’s nest and started kicking it. I didn’t know why it hurt so badly. The idea of having babies was so far off from what I planned on doing in the near future, but it didn’t make the squeezing in my chest ease off.
Jack wiggled down and the moment his feet touched the ground, he sprinted toward me. Wrapping his little arms around my legs, he peered up at me, grinning in a way that melted my heart. The kid was adorable.
“Did you learn to ride the horsies?” he asked, surprising me with his memory.
I forced a smile. “I fed them, but I didn’t learn to ride them.” And, apparently, I never would at the rate Jase and I were going.
“Why you not teached her?” Jack demanded as he craned his neck toward his brother.
“Teach,” Jase corrected absently. Walking up, he wrapped his fingers around Jack’s upper arms. “You’re like a little amoeba.”
Jack’s brows puckered as he held on to my legs. “What’s an ah-meeb-a?”
Jase chuckled as he tugged on him again. “Something that has a tendency to attach itself to other things. You should let go.”
For a second, it didn’t look like he would, but then he relinquished his surprisingly strong hold. Jase glanced up as he spun his brother away from me. Our gazes collided and then he hastily looked away.
Oh, joy. The trip back to the dorm was going to be fun.
But not as awkward as addressing his mother for the first time looking like I’d just gotten it on in the hay. Which I sort of just did.
Mrs. Winstead smiled warmly enough as I followed the two brothers over to the Jeep, but surprise was etched into her features. She was a pretty woman with fine lines around her mouth and eyes. Dressed in jeans and a worn shirt, she looked like she knew her way around the farm and hadn’t been scared of getting hands-on.
Taking a deep breath, I held out my hand as Jase picked up his brother, draping him over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes. There weren’t going to be any introductions. Not like with his father. Not after what happened, and I felt awkward, totally out of place, as if I didn’t belong here. And I didn’t. A burn crawled up my throat, deepening an ache in my chest.
Jase glanced over sharply at the hoarse quality to my voice, and I cleared my throat, focusing on his mom. “I’m Cam’s sister.”
Recognition flared in her deep brown eyes. “Ah, yes. How is that brother of yours doing?”
On safe, common ground, I started to relax a little. “He’s doing good. He’s going to try out for D.C. United early next year.”
“Really? That’s great to hear.” She glanced over at Jase, who now had his brother doing the Superman cape thing again. God, they were adorable together. Sigh. “Did you know Jase used to play soccer?”
I nodded. “Yeah, Cam’s mentioned it a time or two, but he never said why he stopped.”
Mrs. Winstead opened her mouth, but Jase swung Jack around, putting him safely on the ground. “We’ve got to run, Mom.” He barely looked at me. “Come on, Tess.”
I folded my arms across my chest as I stepped back, biting my tongue. I was not a dog, and I did not respond to commands.
“I wanna go!” Jack immediately started toward the Jeep, but Jase caught up with him.
“Nah, little buddy, you have to sit this one out.”
His lower lip started to tremble. “But I wanna go with you.”
“I know, but I’ve got to take Tess back, all right?”
Jack pouted, clearly seconds away from what would likely become an epic tantrum. Jase knelt in front of him, brows raised as he held the boy’s shoulders. He got down on his level, so unlike most guys his age. “I’ll come back, okay? We’ll go out for ice cream. How does that sound?”
Jack’s eyes lit up, but the boys’ mom frowned. “Jase, you’re going to ruin his dinner. Again.”
Jase stuck his tongue out. “We aren’t going to ruin anything, are we?”
“Okay. Get your butt inside.” He rose, guiding Jack over to where Mrs. Winstead waited. “I’ll be back in a little while.” He turned to me, and I tensed.
Feeling as awkward as a dancer on a stage for the first time, I waved at Mrs. Winstead and Jack. “It was nice meeting you.”
She smiled broadly as she glanced over at Jase and then back to me. “I hope to see you again.”
Ah, well, shit just got more awkward.
I nodded, because what could I do? Jack tore away from Mrs. Winstead’s hold and gave me one last hug. Squeezing him back, I knew it would be hard not to love the little boy.
Part of me wanted to stay behind and hitch a ride back to campus, but that would look weird, so after Jack ran off, I made my way over to the Jeep. Ever the gentleman when he wanted, Jase held open the door.
I didn’t say thank you.
Jase climbed in, letting out a sigh that rivaled anything I could’ve produced, which pissed me off, because why was he feeling put out? Jaw locked down, he turned the car around and headed down the gravel road. He didn’t speak until we neared the end of the long stretch of road.
“Don’t,” I said, cutting him off. “There is really nothing you have to say right now that I’m probably going to want to hear. And if you tell me what just happened is a mistake again . . .” My voice cracked in an embarrassing way. “I’m going to punch you in the throat. Seriously.”
His lips twitched as if he thought I was joking. “I shouldn’t have phrased it that way, but—”
“Nope,” I warned, sensing he was about to say something even worse. “Just take me home.” I pressed my lips together to keep them from quivering like a pansy ass, and I could feel his eyes on me. “I just want to go home.”
There was a beat of silence and then he said, “Fuck.”
Instead of pulling out, he shifted the gear into park. The Jeep idled as he twisted in his seat toward me. “You don’t understand, Tess.”
I rolled my eyes, about to make a smart-ass comment, but stopped when my throat closed up. “You’re right. I don’t. You’re attracted to me. You want me, but you keep pushing me away. Is it because of Cam? Because seriously, that’s lame, Jase. He’s my brother, not the holder of my chastity.”
Jase’s face puckered as if he’d tasted something sour. “Okay. That’s an image I never wanted to picture.”
His features smoothed out as he clenched the steering wheel. “All right, it’s not Cam. Maybe in the beginning it was, because hooking up with his little sister is crossing all kinds of lines, but I can get over that.”
“Obviously you did,” I muttered, turning my gaze to the passenger window. “Or your c**k got over it real quick like.”
Jase swallowed a strangled cough. “Tess, I . . . it’s just you don’t want to be with me. You really don’t want that.”
I barked out a short laugh. “Wow. So this is a new attempt. You’re not rejecting me, but it’s more like I’m rejecting you? Smooth.”
“It’s not like that,” he insisted. “Trust me. There are things you don’t know about me and if you did, you wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Returning my gaze to him, I arched a brow. “Did you kill someone? Cut up their body and feed it to hogs?”
“Have you beaten or raped a girl? Have a stash of kids locked in a basement somewhere? Or you’re secretly a terrorist?”
“Okaay,” I said slowly. “I’m not sure exactly what you could’ve done that is so terrible then.”
He looked away, shaking his head. “You don’t get it, Tess. I can’t have you.”
“But you do have me,” I whispered, and then clamped my mouth shut. Did I just say that? Horrified, I could only stare as his eyes widened.
Oh my God, I did just say that out loud.
But it was true. Jase had me whether he realized it or not, even if he wanted me or not. I couldn’t change how I felt about him or what I wanted.
“I don’t,” he said, shadows forming in his eyes. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
But . . . there was an unspoken “but” that sunk deep within me.
Closing my eyes, I sucked in a shrill breath as pressure in my chest formed and expanded. I put it out there for him, so pathetically, and that was all he could say? Embarrassed beyond belief, all I wanted was to get away. “Please take me home.”
He remained still in the driver’s seat. “Tess—”
There was a heartbeat of silence as he dropped his hands into his lap. “He’s my son!” Jase shouted, startling him and me, and then he said lower, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually saying it, “Jack’s my son.”
I didn’t think I heard him right at first. I had to have heard something other than what he said, because there was no way Jack was his son. Jack was his brother.
But as I stared at him and took in the paleness of his face and the clarity of his gray eyes, I knew that what he’d spoken was something so rare, so unknown to probably almost anyone, that it was the truth.
Jase held my gaze a moment longer and then focused ahead. Several seconds passed before he spoke. “Shit. I . . . no one knows that, Tess. My parents do. Cam does, but he would never say anything. No one else knows.”
Unsurprised that Cam knew this about Jase, I was still a little shocked that he hadn’t told me. Then again, it had never been my business.
I really didn’t know how to process this as I stared at him. My thoughts raced. Jack and Jase did look an awful lot alike, but so did brothers. Jase was superclose with Jack, seeming to have a two-way bond with the boy, but so did a lot of brothers. Jase seemed to put Jack before a lot of things, but brothers did that.
They were father and son.
Lots of things suddenly made sense. Besides how he acted around Jack, there was our conversation earlier. How he seemed to know firsthand that some of the best things in life weren’t planned. And it probably explained why he no longer played soccer or had any plans of taking a job after college that would force him to move away. He wanted to be here with his son, no matter the status between them. It also explained why he didn’t keep girls around, because he did have a kid, and even if he wasn’t actively raising that child, he could be one day. And that was a lot to dump on a girl. I could get that. I was pretty shell-shocked.
He was most definitely a FILF—a father I’d like to fuck.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Oh my God, I couldn’t believe I just thought that. But he was a dad.
The air leaked out of me, and then I swallowed hard as he reached over, plucking something—a piece of hay—out of my hair. He twirled it between his fingers as I gawked at him. “Does . . . does he know?”