Will picked it up in one hand, swinging it over his shoulder. Beside me, Hanna let out a shaky exhale.
“What’s that, Pippa?” Will asked, mock-serious expression pulling his brows together.
Niall emerged from the shed with a log that, I swear to this day, was bigger than he was, and laid it on the ground for Will to chop into smaller pieces before they could easily split it on the chopping block.
But instead of taking a swing at it himself, Will handed the ax to Jensen and then looked up at me, giving me a sly grin that somehow said both You’re welcome and This’ll shut her up.
Without even sparing a glance in my direction—truly, he was an obliviously sexy man on a mission—Jensen hefted the ax over his right shoulder and came down hard, cracking into the trunk. The sound echoed around us, sending a flock of birds out of their comfort in a nearby tree.
“Holy shit, I feel like a man,” he growled in surprise, laughing as he worked the blade free before taking another swing.
His T-shirt was white, and beneath it I could see the muscles of his back straining as he sent the ax into the fresh wood. Hanna bounced beside me, chanting for her brother, but my attention was focused entirely on Jensen. And his back.
The same back that had felt the bite of my fingernails as he fucked me against the trunk of a tree yesterday.
The same back I had soaped into a bubbly lather last night in the bath.
The same back that had grown sweaty beneath my palms as he worked his body over mine in bed this morning.
“I fear for Pippa’s health,” Niall said through a laugh. “Does anyone know CPR?”
Jensen pulled back at this, his brow damp with sweat as he looked over his shoulder. His eyes turned up a little at the corners in his predatory smile when he saw my expression.
It was precisely the look he’d worn two nights ago when he’d literally thrown me down on the bed and prowled toward me.
“Your turn!” Ruby sang at her husband, and Jensen, flushed and disheveled, handed Niall the ax.
Will picked up a two-foot length of the trunk that Jensen had cleaved and propped it on the chopping block for Niall, his eyes bright with excitement and envy.
Jensen came to stand by me—suspiciously close. And then I got a whiff of the clean sweat smell of him, mingled with his aftershave. He was such a little shithead. I had, after all, told him only a few days ago on a hike how much I loved the way he smelled when he got sweaty.
“Me?” he asked innocently, not even looking over. “You’re the one who manipulated this entire group into coming out here and chopping wood.”
I folded my arms across my chest, pleased. “I am smart.”
“The phrase ‘evil genius’ did come to mind.”
“You’ve got quite the stock of wood—”
He turned, clapping a hand over my mouth with a laugh. Leaning close, he whispered, “You are so filthy.”
“You like it,” I mumbled against his palm.
He couldn’t argue with this, and instead kissed my forehead before giving me a playful warning look and removing his hand.
Niall hefted the ax as we all watched, and in my peripheral vision I could see the exact same reaction I’d had to Jensen ripple through Ruby as she witnessed her husband slice the log perfectly in half.
“There’s definitely some instinct to this,” Will said, nodding in approval. “After this we should go wrestle something or hunt some . . .” He trailed off and looked down at Hanna, who was laughing up at him, her arms wrapped around his waist. “Yeah, never mind, I already bought salmon for tonight.”
Will took a few turns, and couldn’t stop proclaiming that chopping wood must be in his blood and he never wanted to stop.
“This was a brilliant use of our afternoon. I feel like we should dedicate our firstborn to Pippa,” Hanna said, mildly breathless.
Dropping the ax, Will turned to look at her. “Wanna go get started on that now?”
She let out a delighted shriek as he threw her over his shoulder, carrying her inside.
Niall and Ruby’s exit was more subtle. He simply took her hand, gave me a small smile and a quiet “If you’ll excuse us . . .” and guided her inside.
Turning to me, Jensen gave me a smiling slow clap. “Your evil plan worked.”
“Evil?” I repeated, looking around us meaningfully. “Not only do we have chopped wood for the fireplace, everyone is getting afternoon sex!”
“Everyone?” he asked, walking closer. The sweat on his chest made his shirt cling to his skin, and I lifted a hand, resting it there.
He bent, barely touching his lips to mine. And if Jensen’s quiet, dry wit didn’t make me adore him, these tender, reassuring moments did. “Your room or mine?”
I laughed at this. “We’ve been here for three days. Why bother using a second bed now?”
There were four bedrooms in the house: two masters and two spare rooms with queen beds. Jensen had dropped his suitcase off in a smaller one down the hall, but otherwise the bedroom went largely unused. And I don’t know how to explain it—how it felt like we just eased into this routine of lovers among his closest friends and my dearest Ruby—but we did. It wasn’t as if we were playing at being married anymore, or even that we’d somehow tricked ourselves into thinking we could somehow continue this after we left, but we weren’t treating it like casual rutting in the dark corners of a corridor, either. It’s true we’d been coupled off by default, but it no longer really felt contrived.