Slowly, I begin to kneel down in front of him. The cold dirt cushions my knees softly and I look up to give him a devilish grin. Desire instantly begins swimming in his eyes and he tries to shake his head back and forth, but it’s obvious he wants this too. I ignore him and reach for the waistband of his jeans. The button takes me a second, but I have the zipper down in no time. My eyes never leave his face.

“Baby, not here. Not while you’re drunk.” His hoarse words are barely audible.

“Shut it, Jace. You don’t get to control this. You control everything and usually I like that, but not when it’s to tell me to go away. It’s my turn,” I demand.

He groans and places his hands on each side of my face. “Audrey, I’m so...”

“Shh,” I rush to say. I reach inside of his pants and pull him out, and he hisses as the air hits his na**d skin. Or maybe it’s because my hand immediately begins to pump up and down. I’ve missed him. And in this moment, I realize I’ll never get enough of him. I’ll never tire of him. I wet my lips and slowly slide him inside my impatient mouth. He moans as I move him in and out, with the rhythm of my hand sliding across his skin at the same time.

“Christ, Audrey.” The words whistle past his teeth. He shifts on his feet and braces his hands against the wall. Without removing my mouth, I reach for his hands and bring them to my head. He groans as he receives my message. I guess I still need him to have some control. Slowly, he threads his fingers through my loose hair and grips my scalp, applying just enough pressure to bring a moan out of my throat that vibrates onto him.

I release more of my control and allow him to thrust in and out of my mouth. I stare up into his eyes and watch as he finds his pleasure with me. This is my favorite part of any act with Jace. Watching him claim what’s his is the most euphoric sensation I could ever feel.

His mouth begins to open and close and he seems to be having trouble getting the words he wants to say out. His unspoken thoughts let me know he’s close. I grab onto his thighs so I can feel his strong muscles working toward his release.

“Ahh...” he calls out loudly, and I smile around him at his shameless abandon. Knowing that anyone within a close proximity could hear what I’m doing to him right now gives me a wanton feeling. When he’s finished, he lays his head against the wall and looks up at the sky, breathing heavily. I gently place him back inside of his jeans and carefully zip them up. Slowly, I pull myself up and wobble a bit as the alcohol takes another hit at my balance.

Jace drops to his knees in the same moment and runs his hands down the length of my legs. I’ve never been more thankful for long legs than when I’m around him. He’s undeniably a leg man. His roaming fingers reach my knees and he gently dusts the dirt off of my skin. When he leans in to give each of my knees a gentle kiss, I run my fingers through his messy hair. With one more fleeting touch of my legs, he stands back up to his full height. He runs a hand down the side of my face, and I blink hard so I can focus past the fogginess in my vision.

Just as I try to think of a snarky comment, the sky begins to spin and I suddenly don’t feel as well as I did two minutes ago. I must have stood up too fast. I feel a clammy coldness engulf my skin. I push off of Jace and try to step as far away from him as possible. When I reach the opposite side of the large air-conditioning unit, my stomach heaves.

Jace is immediately behind me, scooping my hair out of my face and steadying me with one hand on my hip. Embarrassed, I remember one of my many reasons I’ve never had a drink. With my hair safely out of the disaster zone, he rubs my back gently.

Jace was right earlier. Who was going to help me when I reached this point? I’d be lying to myself if I thought Garrett or Mason would actually stand here and help me while I’m sick and humiliated.

Tears begin to squeeze out of my eyes and Jace soothes my discomfort.

“Shh, it’s okay. You’re not alone, I’m here,” he whispers. He doesn’t rush or condemn me. He waits patiently for the moment when my stomach is finally empty and my body begins to sag in exhaustion. Gently, he scoops me up into his arms and carries me away.

If someone had asked me a year ago if I would ever lie on the cold, hard tile of my bathroom floor for a girl, I would have laughed in their face. But here I am with my cheek squashed into the freezing stone and a little bit of my drool underneath. I push off the ground, wipe off my face, and rise to a sitting position.

I finally passed out last night after watching poor Audrey spend more than half the night hugging the toilet bowl. I’m almost positive that she’ll never be doing that again. After she apologized to me for the hundredth time, I rubbed her back, slipped down to the floor, and made a pillow out of my towel, while she laid her head on my chest.

The bathroom isn’t very big but I still do a quick search to confirm that she’s not in here. The sneaky escape artist strikes again, and I didn’t get a chance to apologize or make anything right with her before she took off. Her newfound friendship with the porcelain god didn’t exactly put her in the best position to have a serious talk.

Sluggishly, I make my way out to the kitchen, bypassing my bedroom altogether because I know she’s not here. I spot a bright green sticky-note affixed to the fridge when I round the counter. Sloppy handwriting is scribbled across the surface.

Here’s my number for next time. Sorry we had to skip out. I tried to wake you but you sleep like a damn rock and I sure as hell wasn’t about to carry your ass to bed, princess. – Lane

I pull my phone out of my jeans that I’m still wearing from last night and quickly call both Audrey and Lane’s numbers. Both go straight to voicemail. Typical.

If I want to graduate this year, I have to get my ass to class and beg for forgiveness for my missed days last week. I’m hoping the fact that I was so far ahead will help my case. I jump in and out of the shower quickly and rush over to the girls’ apartment because our fridge is empty as hell. I knock twice and let myself in. I find Em sitting on the couch, looking better than I’ve seen her in days. Chuck rushes up to my legs and sits at my feet like I taught him. Immediately, I begin walking around the apartment to look for her.

“Then why is Chuck here?” I reach down and scratch him behind the ears.

“I forgot that I agreed to watch him while her and Lane went out of town,” she says, grabbing for her cereal bowl.

“They went out of town? Together?” I ask, trying to keep the uneasiness out of my voice.

“I thought you were going to make everything better last night?”

“That was the plan. Obviously things changed.”

“Last week, Audrey asked him if they could go check out New York to see if it was somewhere she’d want to move to...after graduation,” she adds timidly.

“Hell no. Hell no. Over my dead body,” I claim.

“I was hoping you’d say that. But since you’re in the same boat as I am and can’t afford to miss any more days of class, you’ll have to wait here for her to come back.” She smiles brightly as if that’s the best f**king news she’s heard all day.

“Hell yeah, I want to see you grovel in person. Hearing it secondhand is never as fun,” she confides.

“Hey, I have to make up for all those years I never had a brother.”

“Funny, I never actually wanted a sister.” And just like that we fall back into our normal banter and easy relationship. “Chuck’s gonna stay with me, okay?”

“Go ahead, I guess he’ll be your dog soon enough,” she replies and pats him on the head.

“So how much longer do I have to suffer without my girl?”

“Shouldn’t be more than a week,” she replies with a smile.

I bite back a groan and say, “Well shit, I might as well catch up on my sleep this week. I sure as hell don’t plan on doing much of that when she finally gets back.”

Once I told Uncle Logan I had Jax and Cole on board with me, his enthusiasm kicked into overdrive. Logan will keep the reins for another couple of years until we have the hang of everything, but I can tell he’s itching to retire. Something about buying a cabin in the mountains, being able to spend his days with the wife, and catching fish.

Every day, I’ve had the damn UPS man at my door with another box of documents for me to get familiar with. I don’t think Logan understands that I eventually have to move all of these boxes back to Texas. It’s nice to get a head-start on working there though.

All of his paperwork is teaching me the groundwork of the company and what I should initially be expecting in our day-to-day operations. I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with our clients and their backgrounds. The last thing I want to do is show up and not know who the hell I’m protecting.

It all comes down to security, whether it’s installing advanced systems on their properties or individual protection on their persons. The company itself is pretty well-rounded, and I can’t wait for the three amigos to jump in there and start taking care of business. Now I just need to get the third lady to permanently join this gang.

Thankfully, I convinced my professors to not drop me from their courses. A couple of them assigned an extra paper and one asked me to bring her a Diet Coke to every class until the end of the semester. The last one was a hard sale, but when I showed him that I have my entire business proposal that’s due for our final already drawn up, he quickly turned a blind eye to my absences.

It’s taken everything in me not to haul ass to New York and go all cavemen on Audrey. While I would love to drag her back here, Em is right. It wouldn’t do any of us any good if I get kicked out of school due to my deficient attendance record.

Jax is actually going to be able to come home any day now. He got up and walked the day after he woke up, but even though it wasn’t anything spectacular, he was exhausted within seconds. He’s continued to push through and now he can get up and around on his own for short bursts here and there. Regardless of the progress he’s made, he’ll have to continue with outpatient rehab once he checks out.

I’ve hit the gym twice a day every day while Audrey’s been away and today is no exception. Chuck and I walk up to the double doors of the big, red gym that I’ve been going to since last year. I discovered that Chuck does not enjoy being by himself or maybe it’s because it’s not actually his home. Either way, I’ve lost a pair of shoes because of his separation anxiety and Jax lost a pillow. He doesn’t know about that yet. Chuck actually does really well sitting in the gym though. When I hop in the ring to spar, he just sits and chills on the ground, watching the action and not bothering anyone.

However, the bastard makes me eat my words the second we enter the gym when he takes off running at full speed toward the boxing ring. He flies through the ropes, up onto the platform, and barrels into one of the guys currently handing his opponent his teeth.

“Chuck! You asshole,” I hear Lane’s deep baritone voice laugh out loud. My body freezes as I see Lane lying on his back with Chuck perched on top, licking his face. I didn’t know Audrey was back! What the hell? They only left three days ago. Quickly, I jog toward the ring and whistle for Chuck. Just like I taught him, he immediately hops out and heels at my side, panting happily and looking up at me.

“Hey asshole, hit the bags with me so I don’t end up tuning your face up,” Lane calls out. Chuck and I ran to the gym but I’m still not warmed up enough to begin, so I head toward the heavy bags and grab a jump rope.

I extend the rope above my head to stretch my arms from side to side and ask, “Y’all are back?” With frustration, I pull the rope taut again and continue, “Man, I’m trying to be patient with her. I know I f**ked up at the hospital and I need to apologize, but I can’t do it if I can’t find her anywhere! I call her phone and it’s always off. I went to all of her classes on Monday and she wasn’t there. I ran to a party because I heard she was there getting drunk! I take care of her all night and she’s gone by morning. I’m about to go f**king crazy, Lane. Seriously, do me a solid and help me out a little.”

“Chill for one second, princess,” he groans dramatically.

With speed on my side, I reach out and jab him in the rib cage. Before he can retaliate, I step back and start jumping rope. “Cut the nickname.”

“I had some stuff to take care of, so I came back early. She stayed.”

“What the hell…” I drop my rope. “You left her alone?”

“Yeah, I left her all alone in a multi-million dollar highrise apartment in Manhattan with her cousin and her cousin’s best friend.”

“By the way, she crushed her phone on accident the day she ran out of the hospital. She put it on top of the car and drove off. She wasn’t in school because we worked in an accounting firm all day Monday and we had an early flight on Tuesday, which is why she was gone when you got up. Did you ever stop to think that maybe she’s not avoiding you, that maybe she’s just continuing on with her life?”

“Well start. Because if she’s learned anything since I first met her, it’s that she shouldn’t wait for others to make her happy. Hence her sporadic trip to New York. She wants a home, Jace, and she’ll make it for herself if she has to. Well, actually I’d make it for her but she won’t let me.” He finishes and begins to punch the bag again.