“Considering I nearly went crazy from being away from you for less than a week … I think you know what I mean.”
Relief washed over me. For the tiny moment that losing him was a possibility, my world had stopped for the second time in my life. Well-thought-out steps had been taken to keep myself from feeling that way, yet there I was, vulnerable.
“No. It’s a non-promise.” He leaned up, kissed my bare shoulder, and then lay down, melting into the mattress.
I had never slept in the same bed with someone before, not even as a child with my parents. Somehow, lying next to Taylor was the most normal thing in the world, as if it had always been and always would be.
But he was already asleep.
“I got it,” Taylor said, pulling my carry-on off the conveyor belt.
We had overslept and were running a little late, trying to get through security before they began boarding our flight.
I hopped on one foot to slip on a sandal and then dropped my other shoe on the floor, sliding the strap between my first and second toe and then pulling the back over my heel. Shoes and clothes from the thrift store were always wonderfully worn in. It wasn’t the first time I appreciated not having to use the buckle on my three-seasons-old, half-size-too-big Steve Madden sandals.
Even though Taylor was in a rush to get to the gate, he watched me, a patient smile on his face.
“Ready?” he asked, holding out his hand.
I grabbed it. “Yes and no and yes. Stop asking me that. I’m trying to stay calm.”
“Haven’t you flown before?” he asked as we walked.
I shot him a look. “I’ve flown all over the world. My parents loved to travel.”
He grimaced. “I’m trying to respect your privacy, but I’m getting more and more nervous about walking into this blind.”
“For someone so nervous, you sure fell asleep fast.”
“Sleeping with you wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be.”
He made a face. “Can’t say I’ve ever heard that from a woman before.”
I looked up at the four large screens secured to the ceiling. The flights were listed by city, alphabetically, with the corresponding gate number.
I pointed to the first screen. “Gate six. They’re boarding now.”
Taylor and I ran, heaving by the time we reached our gate. There was still a long line, but we were both so happy to have made it that we didn’t care.
“Damn,” Taylor said. “I’m glad this is a small airport. If we were in Denver, we would have been screwed.”
After making it down the jetway and all the way back to row twenty, Taylor shoved our carry-ons into the overhead bin and collapsed next to me.
“Fucking hell, Ivy League,” he said. “You stress me out.”
“Which one of us overslept?”
“Okay then.” I let my head relax back and closed my eyes.
A warm hand slid under mine, and our fingers interlaced.
“Not yet,” I said, looking over at him.
He was leaning his head back, too, his face turned toward me. “You had another nightmare last night.”
“I did? Is that why you overslept?”
“What happened to you … was it bad?”
He grimaced. “Is going back going to hurt you?”
He breathed out a puff of air and looked forward. “Then why are we going?”
“Because it has to hurt before it can get better.”
He looked back at me, his eyes falling to my lips. “I don’t want you to hurt.”
“I know,” I said, squeezing his hand. “But you’ll be with me, right?”
“For as long as you’ll let me.”
He let his head fall back against the seat. He was fidgeting. “I talked to Tyler. He said you were a fantastic kisser.”
“Oh, yeah?” A smug grin curved my lips. “How did that go over?”
“Do you ever argue without your fists?”
“Not really. I …” He looked at my mouth again. “I can’t figure out why I can’t stop thinking about you. From the moment I looked up from my menu at the Bucksaw, everything has been different.”
“I’ve gathered that Maddox boys just aren’t told no very often. You love the challenge. Even Tyler admitted to it.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s more than that. I saw something in your eyes, something familiar.”
Taylor blinked, and I turned away from him, pretending to pay attention to the flight attendants’ safety instructions.
He shook his head, confused. “What makes you say that?”
He sighed. “I guess I can’t expect you to tell me your shit when I haven’t told you mine.”
The captain came over the PA system and instructed the flight attendants to prepare for takeoff. Taylor tightened his seat belt and squeezed my hand.
“You don’t have to tell me,” I said.
“I know,” he replied. “But I want you to trust me. So, I’m going to trust you.”
I swallowed down the absolute dread threatening to strangle me. There was no telling what he was about to say.
“My little brother Travis is in deep shit,” he spoke close to my ear, whispering as softly as he could while still being heard over the noise of the plane. “He was involved in a fire a few months ago.”
The plane surged forward, and the entire fuselage rattled until the front wheels left the ground. The wings shifted, and we drifted right, the blinding morning sun shining through our window. Taylor closed the shade and then looked to me for a reaction.
“Is he with the Forest Service, too?” I asked.
Taylor shook his head. “He’s a college kid. My brothers and I used to fight all the time—with the locals and later with the college kids who would come to our parties and start fights. One night, Tyler beat this freshman, Adam’s, ass at a frat party, and Adam approached him later about taking bets. From there, they started these floating underground fight rings at Eastern.”
Taylor breathed out a laugh, amused. “Yes, very. But Adam organized the fights well. No one would know about them until an hour before the fight, sometimes less. We made a lot of money, and we never got caught. Our younger brother Trent fought a few times when he was a freshman, too, but our baby brother, Travis, was the rock star. He was unbeatable. Never lost a fight.”
Taylor lifted his chin, his expression one of pride. “He’s a badass.”
His smug smile vanished. “The fights were held in the basements of campus buildings where a lot of kids would be crammed underground. Adam set up a spring break fight. It was the last fight of the year. Travis was set to make a shit-ton of money. Something happened. A fire broke out. A lot of kids didn’t make it out. Adam was arrested. I think Travis is being investigated.”