“I’ve never ventured so deeply into the forest,” Megan chirped from behind him. “I hope you know the way back because I’m already lost.”
Keeping a secure hold on CJ whose little legs dangled around Johnnie’s neck, he chuckled. “Almost there, Megs. I promise.”
“You wanted to get out. I thought I’d show you my special place.”
“Shouldn’t you be showing this to Kendall?”
He wanted to show it to Megs first to see what she thought of his idea to surprise Kendall. He knew how to romance and impress women, but Kendall needed an extra touch, more gentleness to break through her defenses, and he couldn’t think of a better person to ask than a woman with such a forgiving heart.
“I will. But I need your opinion first, sweetheart.”
CJ wiggled and clutched his hair.
The sound of a waterfall reached his ears, already calming him. It was beautiful here, with unsurpassed scenery. His hidden cave backed up to a small waterfall and fast moving stream. Though it was cold, the evergreens sharpened the dull day with color.
“Oh my God,” Megan gasped. “This is gorgeous!”
“Come on.” Two minutes later, he was guiding her into the entrance of the cave.
“Johnnie?” she whispered, unsure.
He stopped. “What’s the matter? Afraid of the dark?”
“Mommee!” CJ whined.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “Grab onto my shirt, Megs. There’s an inner cavern where I have matches and lanterns and blankets.” She didn’t hesitate, just gripped each side of his shirt and clung to him all the way to their destination and didn’t let go until he’d had the lanterns lit. Ancient drawings decorated the stone wall but neither sound no air reached the place. She reached for her son and rubbed his little back. CJ sniffled and laid his head on her shoulder.
“Shoot! I didn’t bring a bottle for him.” She glanced around, her hair moving with her, the light playing off her features. “It’s all right, love,” she cooed. She kissed his forehead. “Mommie is sooo sorry. I promised I washed my hands before we left.”
Before Johnnie questioned what she meant, she stuck her pinky in the little boy’s mouth, who began to suck in contentment. He stared, fascinated, and CJ looked up at Megs with such an adoring regard, his chest hurt. Megan rubbed her nose against CJ’s, said over and over again how much she loved him, before she began to sway from side to side in tune with a lullaby.
She looked around again and he realized she’d been standing up for the past fifteen minutes while he gawked at her.
“Let me get a blanket for you to sit on,” he whispered, knowing not to raising his voice too much or else CJ would awaken. When he had two blankets arranged across from one another, he took care and transferred the toddler from Megs’s arms into his own. She plopped down and drew in a deep sigh. Although she reached for her son, Johnnie ignored her and went to his blanket, stretching the little boy out in his lap.
Dark circles ringed her eyes and she looked exhausted, sad, and dejected. She folded her legs up and laid her head on her knees. “Where’s Christopher, Johnnie?” she whispered. “Why hasn’t he called?”
He was wondering that himself, but he wouldn’t mention his worry over his cousin’s safety. It could be something as simple as Christopher not wanting to waste time. He just wanted the job done, so he could get the hell back home. She raised her gaze to him.
“He has to appease the men, Megs,” he answered. “He needs to stay focused.”
“It’s been four days.”
“We’re talking a million bucks. That won’t be easy—“
“He’s there with the goods, isn’t he?”
Johnnie didn’t know. All efforts to reach both Christopher and the buyer went unanswered. He wanted to believe in the possibility of Christopher being caught and arrested. But that would’ve been all over the news. He wasn’t smuggling guns. He was smuggling GUNS.
That left only one other possibility and he refused to accept the fact that his cousin was dead.
He wanted to pretend Megs’s sweet voice didn’t affect him. But, Jesus, it did. Which was so fucked because he truly cared for Kendall. The problem was he didn’t like her most of the time. She was so hard and bitter. Then he reminded himself of all the hell she’d gone through, the times when she’d let her guard down—few though those might have been—and the kinder, gentler woman came through. He liked that Kendall and wanted to bring that side out of her more often.
“He isn’t dead, Megan.” He shifted and sighed, watching the rise and fall of Christopher’s little prototype.
“His promise that he’ll return is the only reason I’m holding it together,” she admitted.
“And you’re doing a damn good job. Christopher is going to be proud as hell of you.”
She flushed and bit her lip. Johnnie held in a groan. Kendall’s suggestion to sleep with Megan had put all sorts of ideas into his head. Then, earlier, she’d acted jealous and defensive. Kendall was a maddening witch.
“I’ve not done much. You all have seen to almost everything.”
“The boys, yes. You’ve kept the women occupied.”
She shrugged and they fell silent. He wasn’t sure how to broach the topic without giving Kendall away. But Kendall had issues. Remembering Christopher’s inspection of Megan, it was apparent she did, too.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Why’d you bring me here?”
“I want to surprise Kendall,” he announced. “Bring her here later with food and some drinks.”
Megan glanced around and shrugged again. “Kendall isn’t me.”
No shit. He scowled at her. “Thanks for pointing that out,” he snapped.
She sat up and glared at him. “You asked. You know Kendall. Do you honestly believe if I like something, she’ll like it?”
Johnnie drew in a deep breath. “I thought you two…” He searched for a word. “Did the girl bonding thing.”
“She apologized. I accepted it and we decided to move on. Put the past behind us.”
The light reflected off Megan’s features showed her displeasure. “Can you?” he asked quietly.
“Can she?” she countered.
“You don’t like her.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re being a jerk, a moron, insufferable, and stupid.”
She huffed. “What do you think?”
“We’ve been through this,” she gritted. “She…she…” She topped and swallowed, took a deep breath. “I want you happy. I’ll forgive her eventually. I know why she did. It doesn’t excuse her, though. Nor does it take away my grief.”
This was as good a segue as any, he decided. “How do you cope, Megs? Where do you get your capacity to love when so much shit is handed to you?”
“I have ways,” she said and from her vague tone and closed expression Johnnie knew she wouldn’t say more. “More importantly, though, I know it’s ridiculous to blame one person for what someone else has done. In Kendall’s case, she thought I hurt Ellen, so she came after me. It isn’t your fault, though, so I can’t hold a grudge against you. Or anyone else.”
CJ moved and Johnnie shifted his weight to make the child more comfortable.
“We don’t know which way our heart is going to lead us. You wouldn’t want Kendall if you didn’t think at the essence of her is a good person.”
“Do you ever think about the time we spent together?” By the widening of her eyes, he knew he shouldn’t have asked that question. He didn’t want to sound like a pathetic loser, but damn it if he didn’t wish he’d made love to her when he had the chance. “Christopher said you’ve been crushing on me for a long time.”
She gasped and her mouth fell open. Instead of acknowledging his statement, she turned a delightful shade of pink. He laughed and, after a moment, she giggled, breaking the tension between them.
“I need to add incorrigible to my list,” she said around another laugh. “Does it matter?” she asked after a moment. “We’ve both moved on.”
“Was I so special that you had to move on from me?”
“You know what I mean.” She gave him a sad smile. “I’m not Kendall,” she said softly.
“You sure aren’t.”
“She isn’t me, Johnnie. Stop comparing us. Stop making me the standard by whom you measure every woman you deal with.”
“That’s rather presumptuous of you—“
She cocked her head and waited. Johnnie had the grace to blush.
“A part of me will never stop loving you.”
She lowered her lashes. “I’ll hold onto our memories together forever, Johnnie,” she whispered. “But they are tucked here.” She laid her hand over her heart. “In a tiny, special place that no one can touch. It’s time for you to let go of me and do the same with those memories.”
He swallowed at her blunt honesty, appreciating her sweetness all the more and realizing he’d already tucked away their time together in that special place she spoke of. That’s why he wanted to move on with Kendall.
If only Kendall wasn’t…No, no if onlys anymore. He had to accept Kendall for who she was or not accept her at all. She had a lot of healing to do and needed a lot of understanding. As long as he if onlyed he’d always expect her to be something she wasn’t.
“Fair enough, sweetheart.”
She smiled at him and crawled to where he sat, taking CJ into her arms and laying him on her shoulder. They stared at each other for long moments and she allowed him to touch her cheek, pass his thumb over her lips. She did the same to him then sat back and smiled at him, her tenderness for him there in her eyes.
“Kendall is really, really lucky to have you, Johnnie,” she whispered.
He nodded. “And Christopher is lucky to have you.”
“I think I’m lucky to have him,” she returned.
He didn’t respond, so she continued. “If I was Kendall and you brought me to your special getaway for a romantic date, I’d love it. I think she will appreciate the idea you’re showing her a private side to yourself. Just don’t tell her you brought me here first. Or ever.”
Kendall scowled at Johnnie’s back as he led her deeper and deeper into this godforsaken forest. He was carrying a knapsack and he kept promising they were almost there. Instead, it seemed to get longer and longer. She was a city girl. She didn’t like hiking or whatever they were doing to God knew where.
Besides, she was still furious with him because he’d left with Megan and had been gone with her for several hours. When they returned, he looked carefree and happy. They stopped to talk to Val, looking gorgeous together, the only anomaly the little black-haired boy Johnnie had passed to Val.
She still hadn’t told anyone about the call, yet. How could she explain she suspected Outlaw had been shot to death and she’d heard it? Why should she, anyway? If Johnnie hadn’t needed to talk to his Megs so badly, they would’ve been there when Kendall first got the news and she would’ve told them. Now, she wanted to let Megan suffer with worry.
Finally, they reached a cave. Darkness was descending and Kendall wondered about nocturnal animals. Did wolves roam out here? She shivered at the thought and stepped closer to Johnnie, hot on his heels as he walked deeper into the darkness. When they halted, she almost barreled into him. A moment later, he was lighting lanterns and illuminating the area.
Kendall’s mouth dropped open in surprise at the rose petals and candles and table cloth held in place by the lanterns. In the corner were blankets, surrounded by pillows.
Her heart seemed to turn over and her belly fluttered. She blinked and turned in a circle, looking at everything, silent as Johnnie’s laughter rumbled through her body. He crouched down with the grace of a sleek lion and opened the knapsack. He pulled out paper plates, plastic utensils, four beers, and a covered container.
“Why’d you do this?” she whispered, at a loss. She didn’t deserve this. No one had ever done anything like this for her and for good reason. She wasn’t a woman who inspired this type of thought.
“I wanted to take you on a date,” he responded, the earnest look in his eyes making her want to cry. “That can’t happen until lockdown’s over, so this is the next best thing.”
The lantern light played off his blond hair and beautiful features. His long lashes framed those silver-gray eyes that saw too much. She didn’t want to feel any attachment to him, but she knew that’s what was happening. That’s why she so readily jumped at the chance to live with him and that’s why she hated Megan so much more. Because Megan had his heart first and she wanted to erase her from Johnnie’s memory and his heart. She wanted to erase her from the face of the earth.
He stood to his full height and closed the short gap between them, settling both hands on each side of her neck and caressing her nape, threading his fingers through her hair. He leaned closer to her while pulling her head, and brushed his lips against hers with the lightest, barest touch that sent goose bumps racing along her spine. His light, tender kisses felt more erotic than deep, open mouthed tongue twirling. He gave her another gentle kiss and she shivered. Sensation travelled to the tips of her nipples, making her breasts achy, her pussy hot and needy. She opened her mouth beneath his, expecting him to pull away. Instead, he returned her kiss, his tongue touching hers in a tentative exploration, opening a deep longing inside Kendall. She pressed her body closer to his, feeling every hard inch of his body, grinding against the length of his erection.
He pulled away and gazed at her, his smile a combination of sexy man and vulnerable boy. “You’re so gorgeous, Kendall,” he whispered. “You’re smart and loyal and ambitious. You’re a wonderful woman.”
For once, she wasn’t ashamed of her height or her body. She was glad she stood almost eye level with him, because she didn’t have to strain to stare deep into his soul as she stared into the molten silver of his eyes.
She grabbed his cock and started massaging. He laid a big hand over hers and stopped her. “No. Let’s eat first, sweetheart. Talk and enjoy each other’s company.”
He guided her to the blanket she just noticed near the tablecloth and helped her down onto the ground, then sat next to her. He opened the contained and revealed quartered turkey and lettuce sandwiches. He opened beer for each of them, held his up, and toasted ‘to us’ when she clanked her bottle against his.
Even as Kendall resisted the notion of falling in love with her beautiful, blond biker, she knew it was too late. She was already in love with him and intended to do everything in her power to keep him and make him fall in love with her.
TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW