Aftershock / Page 2

Page 2


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Author: Sylvia Day


“No, that’s not what I’m interested in. Maybe you can’t help me. Maybe I’m looking for something only he can give up.” I sighed. “I don’t understand why he’ll do anything for his family when he doesn’t always seem like them. He certainly spends a lot of time warning me away from them. I thought he was hiding me like a bad habit, but now I feel like he’s...protecting me from them.”


“If he cares about you that may well be what he’s doing. You gotta figure the Rutledges are like tiger sharks—they swim in the same womb but cannibalize each other until only the strongest comes out alive.”


I froze, remembering what he’d said to me the night before. You’re swimming with sharks and acting like you’re on vacation.


“Okay,” I said carefully, thinking of Jax’s father. “Who’s the strongest shark in that family, then? Parker Rutledge?”


“Without a doubt.”


Jax said his parents had started out as a love match and ended up miserable.... “What do you know about Jax’s mom?”


“Leslie Rutledge? Talk about an enigma. Almost never seen in public the last five years before she died, and she avoided the spotlight even before that.”


“Jax won’t talk about her.”


“I can poke around, see what turns up, but it’ll take some time. Whenever you turn over a Rutledge stone, security teams come crawling out.”


I sighed. I’d been seriously delusional dreaming of a “normal” life with Jax. “I’d appreciate anything you find. And I’ll pay for your time, of course.”


“Sure thing.”


Sitting up, I rolled my shoulders back. I was going to ask Jax outright about his family, but having a Plan B didn’t hurt. Especially considering how things had gone for us so far. “Thanks, Deanna.”


“Hey, take care, okay? Guys like Jax can really fuck you up if you’re not careful.”


“Yeah, I know. Thanks. You take care, too.”


We hung up and I set my smartphone down on the desk. I was back to running through my email when my cell pinged for an incoming text. Looking at the screen, I saw it was from Jax. My feet tapped a little dance on the carpet before I realized what I was doing.


I know you’re thinking about me.


I stared at his message and snorted. “Whatever.”


Obviously, you’re thinking about me, I typed back.


I dreamt about u 2.


That made me smile. Dreaming about Jax was one of my wayward mind’s favorite pastimes. Hope it was a nightmare about me blowing a major business deal for u.


A minute later: It was a wet dream about u blowing me.


I laughed. He’d changed tactics from our earlier conversation, switching from playing hardball to just playing. Jax knew when a particular strategy wasn’t working.


I started typing a reply, but he beat me to it. My phone started ringing. I answered and he spoke before I could even say hello.


“You sucked me so good, baby,” he crooned. “I couldn’t breathe, it felt so good. Your hot little mouth tugging at the head of my dick, your tongue swirling around me, your tight fist jacking me off. I came so hard for you. And you swallowed it all, Gia baby. Every drop.”


For a moment, I couldn’t think of what to say, my mind filled with images of me doing just what he said. I loved going down on Jax. Loved the way he felt...how he tasted and smelled. More than that, I loved the way he lost himself with me, shameless in his pleasure. In those moments, I felt the intimacy with him that I craved so much.


“You’ve always loved sucking my cock,” he said silkily. “And God knows I’d spend every minute in your mouth if I could.”


I found my voice. “Selfish bastard.”


“When it comes to you, yeah.” He sighed. “I’m lying in bed, naked and hard, wondering why the fuck you’re not here yet.”


“Don’t you have something to do?”


“You.”


I heard the sound of his email pinging in the background and laughed. “Liar. You’re working.”


We used to play phone sex games with each other, often leading to both of us getting off simultaneously. There was nothing in the world like hearing him say my name when he was coming.


“Guilty,” he confessed, unabashed. “Trying to keep my mind off you and failing miserably.”


“Probably because what you’re working on is the deal that screwed me over.”


“You promised me a round of angry sex.” He hummed softly, with obvious relish. “I’m waiting for it, baby.”


“Not sure you want your dick anywhere near my teeth while I’m feeling this way about you.”


Jax laughed and my toes curled. He had the best laugh, deep and full-bodied. “Even threats of bodily harm can’t kill this hard-on I’ve got for you. Come over, Gia.”


“Can’t. I’ve got a meeting in a bit.” I stood and walked to the window, feeling restless. Pushing the sheer curtains aside, I looked down at the city of Atlanta. Where was Jax? It was a question I’d been asking myself every day over the past two years. He hadn’t had to ask where I was, though, since he’d had me followed. “Besides, didn’t you say we needed to talk? I doubt you’ll do much of that when I get there.”


He was silent a minute, then, “You’ve got a great family. I’ve always known where I stood with them, good or bad. They don’t bullshit and they don’t waste time on petty crap. They’re good people.”


“Thank you,” I murmured, taking that to heart. I was proud of my family, proud to be a Rossi.


“My family isn’t like that, Gia. Don’t be fooled by Parker’s charm. He only gives the time of day to people who are useful.”


“Jax, I don’t have anything.”


“You have me,” he said grimly.


“Are you saying your dad would use me against you?”


“Maybe. Or he’d just use you, period. It could be anything, babe. Just trust me, there’s an angle.”


I absorbed that for a moment, trying to wrap my head around a father and son who didn’t trust each other. “Is he the reason you stayed away the past couple of years?”


Is he the reason you’re determined to leave me again?


“I stayed away because it’s the best thing for you.”


I hated that non-answer. “Yet here you are. Give me a good reason why I should see you, Jax.”


“Because you want to.”


“I suggest you come up with something better than that.”


He exhaled in a rush. “Because I want you to. Because I need to spend time with you. You make me feel...human. Being with you makes me feel like I’m not a complete piece of shit.”


I closed my eyes, my hand lifting to my chest to rub the ache in my heart. I wanted to know why he always put himself down, why he thought he wasn’t good enough for me. I knew I was going to make a go of it just to try to get those answers. Still, I was honest and told him, “Being with you makes me feel lonely. It reminds me that I want to find someone to be steady in my life. Someone I can depend on.”


“I wish I was that guy,” he said quietly.


“Yeah. Me, too.”


2


I INTERRUPTED MY sister-in-law the instant she answered the phone. “Traitor!”


Denise paused in the middle of reciting the name of her beauty salon, then said, “So he called you, eh?”


“He’s here!” I sat on the edge of my bed with a groan.


“He’s in Atlanta? Are you serious?” Denise whistled. I heard a squeak in the background and could picture her sitting on the hot-pink stool behind the front counter of her shop. “He’s got it bad for you.”


“I can’t believe you ratted me out like that. Don’t you think if I’d wanted him to know where I was, I would’ve told him?”


“Come on. I’ve never seen you look at a guy the way you look at him. You can’t blame me for wanting you to be happy.”


“He deserves to stew a bit, Denise. He deserves to miss me and wonder what I’m doing.”


“Ah, I feel you. Sorry.”


I kicked out my legs, my gaze dropping to my pedicure. “No, you’re not.”


“I’m a little sorry,” she amended. “So, are you two going to kiss and make up?”


“It’s not like that.”


“So tell me what it’s like.”


“Boy meets girl, boy ditches girl, boy pops up again two years later, boy screws girl and then almost screws her big business deal, boy wants to screw girl again—maybe both ways—but this time, boy says up front that he’ll be ditching girl again at some point.”


“Hmm.” Her chewing gum bubble popped loudly. “If I hadn’t seen the way boy looks at girl, I might tell you to kick him to the curb.”


“Probably the smart thing to do. So what’s your alternative?”


“Screw him senseless. Rock his world. Show him what he’ll be missing. Make it hurt when he decides it’s time to walk away so he won’t go through with it.”


If only it were that easy. “I think that’s an asinine plan.”


“Maybe.” She laughed, and I smiled reluctantly. “But that’s a fine piece of prime male ass, Gianna. There are worse things a girl can do than spend a few hours in bed with a hot guy who’s in love with her.”


She was saying what I’d wanted to hear—some excuse to go forward instead of cutting my losses and running. “You’re an enabler, Denise!”


“Whatev. If Jackson’s bad for you, think about how good sex is. It’s great for the complexion, good exercise, an awesome mood booster—”


I rolled my eyes. “Hanging up now.”


“Love you!” she said quickly.


“Love you, too.” I killed the call and stood for a moment, lightly tapping my chin with the end of my phone.


I loved Jax enough that it was impossible to just walk away, even for my own self-preservation. Jax loved me enough that walking away was the only end he’d consider. Maybe Denise was onto something. Maybe instead of pushing back all the time, I had to love him with everything I had. Really make him feel it, so he’d miss it when it was gone, enough to bring him back to me.


Problem with that, though, was that he’d screwed me businesswise. And I couldn’t let it go. That was a cut that ran deep.


* * *


Chad and Rick, the hotel manager, hit it off right away. I enjoyed listening to the two talk with their Southern drawls, charmed by both men and entertained to boot. But when Rick extended an invitation to dinner, I declined after Chad accepted, not wanting to cramp his style. I figured it was important for him to feel connected on his own, without me hovering all the time. I wasn’t his babysitter, and I didn’t want him to feel as if I didn’t trust him to handle his business on his own.


When I got back to my room, I called Lei.


“Gianna,” she said when she picked up, knowing it was me from the office’s caller ID. “How are things going in Atlanta?”


“Chad’s feeling good,” I said. “He’s been comfortable and relaxed, and really excited. The visit did what we’d hoped.”


Perceptive as she was, she asked, “And you? Are you feeling good, too?”


“Jackson followed me down here.” I didn’t share that personal detail with my boss, or dish like I would with Denise or one of my girlfriends. I would with Denise or one of my girlfriends. I told her because there was no way around a possible conflict of interest. I wasn’t going to let Jax jeopardize my job any further.


“Did he?” Her tone was thoughtful. “Well... How do you feel about that?”


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