Afterburn (Afterburn & Aftershock #1)

Afterburn (Afterburn & Aftershock #1) - Page 8/14

“Nico—”

“I’ll call a service, have a car pick you up.”

I closed my eyes, grateful for him and more certain than ever that hanging with him would do me a world of good. It’d been a few weeks since I’d seen him. Too long. “I need to shower and change.”

“Thirty minutes. I’ll see you when you get here.” He hung up.

Setting the handset back into its cradle, I hurried to get ready.

IT WAS CREEPING past four in the morning when I arrived at Nico’s apartment complex. He’d called a few minutes before to check where I was and was standing on the sidewalk waiting for me when I pulled up. Dressed in sweats with a shadow of stubble on his jaw, he looked a bit dangerous in that bad-boy way so many women gravitated toward.

God knew Jax’s alpha-male qualities could put me into heat.

“Hey,” he said, taking my duffel bag from the driver and handing over cash. He slung his arm around my shoulder and led me toward his place. “It’s good to see you.”

“No, it’s not.” I bumped my hip into his and made us both stumble. “Sorry to crash your night.”

“I got mine.” He grinned. “She got hers, too, so it’s all good.”

“Gross. TMI.” He was such a player. Always had been. “Is she anyone special?”

“Not in a serious way. Got no time for a relationship now. My hands are full with Rossi’s Two.”

He released me to unlock the lobby door, then led me through to the interior courtyard. I’d been to his apartment complex before to help him move in, but it felt different at night. Too quiet and unfamiliar. I wondered if he got lonely without the rest of us. It made me sad to think of it.

“I wish you had someone to take care of you,” I said.

“You first,” he retorted, deftly bringing it back to me. He was good at that.

We climbed exterior steps to his apartment. Once inside, I saw that he hadn’t done much more to it since he’d moved in. It was a typical bachelor pad—sparse on decoration and laid out for comfort rather than aesthetics.

A large flat-screen TV dominated the living room, which had a black leather couch and love seat, coffee table and one end table with an open soda can on it. Light spilled into the otherwise darkened room from the open-plan kitchen and ajar bedroom door, trying valiantly to compensate for the lack of table and floor lamps.

“So, Jax is back,” he said, watching me as I dropped onto the couch. “Vincent owes me a hundred bucks.”

“Are you kidding?” I would’ve thrown a sofa pillow at him if he’d had any. “You bet on Jax?”

“Bet on you.” He sat on the love seat, setting my duffel on the floor at his feet. “He was gonzo over you, which meant he was either going to put a ring on you or run scared. I figured he’d run, then come back around once the fear wore off. He’s a guy, but he’s a smart one. Question is, is he too late? I’m guessing no or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Maybe I just wanted to see you,” I argued. “God knows why.”

“Maybe,” he said in a tone that told me he’d believe it when hell froze over and pigs flew. “You still love him?”

My head fell back against the sofa, and I closed my tired eyes. “Yeah. Damn it.”

“And him? Where’s he coming from?”

“He’s confused.”

“Should I smack him around some? Knock some sense into him?”

I laughed softly. “God, I miss you.”

WE SLEPT PAST NOON, went out to eat, then sat on the couch and played video games until my thumbs ached from using the controller. I left my smartphone in my purse, powered off and squashed any impulse to check it. I’d left a note for Angelo and Vincent about where I’d be. With Lei off the grid for the weekend, there was no one else who needed to reach me before Monday.

When it came time for Nico to head into Rossi’s, I got up off the couch with him.

“Need an extra set of Rossi hands?” I asked.

He grinned. “Sure. I have an extra T-shirt around here somewhere.”

By seven, I found myself helping out at Rossi’s and remembering how much I loved the hands-on part of the business. I couldn’t do it long-term, like my brothers, but I was reminded that helping out every now and then was good for my soul. Dressed in jeans and a black Rossi’s T-shirt with my hair pulled back in a ponytail, I could almost believe I was back in high school. I didn’t know any of the customers coming in, but they quickly picked up on my relationship with Nico, due in large part to the playful ribbing we indulged in.

Crossing my arms on the bar, I leaned over and teased, “Where’s my Bellini order? Pick it up, Rossi. You’re laggin’. I’m waitin’.”

“Ya hear that?” he asked the pretty redhead sitting in front of him. “She’s rushing greatness.”

I felt a charge that raised the hairs on my nape an instant before I felt a hand on my hip. I turned my head...

And saw Jax.

Blinking, I stared, drinking in the sight of him in jeans and a Rossi’s T-shirt from way back, before we updated the logo. It twisted me up a little to see that he’d kept the gift. And worn it some, judging by how broken in it was.

“Jax. What are you doing here?”

“What do you think?” He smiled.

Damn it. His dimple threw me for a loop.

I turned to face him, leaning back on the bar with my elbows and hitching my shoe onto the brass foot rail. It was a deliberately provocative pose and got me the response I’d been hoping for.

His dark eyes swept me from head to toe and back again, coming to rest on my mouth. “Have dinner with me.”

“Okay.”

His brows rose at my quick reply.

“Order up,” Nico said behind me.

I turned back to him just in time to see him acknowledge Jax with a jerk of his chin and a handshake.

“Jackson,” my brother greeted him. “I was just talking to Gianna about kicking your ass.”

Jax grinned. “Good to see you, too, man.”

Nico wagged a finger at him and moved back down the bar.

As I transferred the three Bellinis onto my tray, I felt Jax’s hands come to rest lightly on my hips, an unmistakably proprietary move. His lips touched my nape, brushing softly. “I missed you,” he murmured.

My hand shook slightly as I set the last tall, slender glass down. “Don’t fuck with me, Jax. It’s not cool.”

“You missed me, too.”

“Yeah, I did. Back up.” I lifted the tray and headed toward the table awaiting the order. “Come on,” I told him over my shoulder.

I dropped the drinks off, smiling at the party of three women who were clearly out on a girls’ night. They eyed Jax, who leaned against the end of a booth with his arms crossed, his gaze on me as I leaned forward to serve.

“You training him?” the brunette asked, grinning at Jax.

“Tried to,” I quipped. “Failed miserably.”

“I’m asking her to try again,” he said, winking at the table. A really rotten thing to do since it got the women all riled up...and me, too.

“Give it a shot, girl,” the blonde encouraged. “Trying is half the fun!”

They were laughing as I walked away, exchanging words with Jax, who lingered as I hit the bar to drop off the empty tray.

“You okay?” Nico asked, intercepting me.

“Yep.” I straightened my shoulders and abruptly decided on a course of action. Jax and I could dance around each other for days if I let us. I didn’t have the patience for it. “I’m heading out for a bit.”

He nodded and reached over to squeeze my hand. “Give him hell.”

“Thanks.” I pivoted and nearly ran into Jax, who’d come up behind me. “You staying somewhere?”

The faint amusement on his face faded into something darker. Hotter. “I’ve got a room, yes.”

“Let me grab my purse.”

He caught my elbow before I walked away. “Gia.”

I looked at him, let him study me.

His thumb brushed over my skin. “There’s no rush.”

“In three days, you’ve popped up where I am across three different states. Now you’re going to cock-block yourself? Really?”

A slow smile curved his mouth. “You’ve got a point. I’ll go get the car.”

A SLEEK BMW waited just beyond the front doors of Rossi’s when I stepped outside. The car was a rental, but it suited Jax. He was standing by to open the door for me, his lips brushing over my cheek before I took the passenger seat.

It was addicting the way he touched me, as if he couldn’t help himself.

Jax slid behind the wheel. The engine purred to life, and we set off.

Sitting back, I watched him drive, turned on by his confident handling of the powerful car. His grip on the wheel was light, his arm extended in a way that showed off the beauty of his chiseled arms. He was an inherently sexy man and I was crazy in love with him, able to adore every commonplace thing he did.

Which wasn’t fair, I realized. I’d never recognized his flaws, although he surely had some. I had never acknowledged that there might be struggles in his life, circumstances and people who might pull him in different directions and away from me. I’d never scratched below the surface.

Reaching over, I set my hand on his thigh, feeling my palm tingle as the hard muscle bunched in reaction to my touch. He switched driving hands so that he could hold me in place, his skin warm and dry.

He glanced at me. “Are you nervous?”

“No.” Wary, yes, but not anxious about it. “I want you.”

He nodded and drove faster.

We didn’t say anything further on the drive to his hotel or once we arrived. He parked and we entered a center courtyard via a key-card entrance at the side of the building. We took an elevator up, standing on opposite sides of the car, our gazes locked as the seconds ticked by.

The tension was so thick I found it hard to breathe, my lips parted as I pulled air into my lungs in a near pant. I could feel the need radiating off him, sensed the hunger tightening his muscles and sharpening his focus on every response of my body to his. He was hard already, his cock straining against the button-fly of his jeans.

And I was wet and ready, aching between my legs, my breasts full and heavy. My nipples were furled so tightly they throbbed and stretched shamelessly toward him.

His gaze was there on my chest, caressing me, his tongue sliding along his lower lip in a blatant promise of what he’d be doing to me as soon as we were alone.

The elevator dinged to announce our arrival on his floor and he surged toward me, grabbing my hand in his and dragging me after him. A long hallway later, he was shoving open a door to a suite and then he was on me, grabbing me so tightly my feet left the floor. I dropped my purse and hung on.

Jax’s mouth found mine as the door clicked shut, one arm around my waist and the other hand shoved into my hair, dislodging the elastic restraining my ponytail. The finesse he’d shown the night before was gone, only animal hunger left in its wake. His lips slanted over mine, his tongue plunging rhythmically into my mouth, luring me to climb his big body.

My legs wrapped around his lean waist, my arms caging his shoulders, my hips rocking to rub my cleft against the rigid outline of his erection. I moaned as the pressure drove me mad, the layers of denim between us too thick to relieve me.

“Jax,” I gasped into his mouth.

“Hang on,” he growled, pinning me to the door.

My legs straightened, my hands going to the front of my jeans. I popped the button open and yanked down the zipper, struggling against Jax, who was shoving up my shirt.

His hands found my breasts and squeezed through the thin satin of my bra. I gasped, shocked by the intimacy.

“Christ, you’re gorgeous,” he breathed, his thumbs circling the hardened points of my nipples.

My head fell back against the door, my lungs struggling for air.

His dark head lowered, his tongue licking me through my bra, his lips wrapping around me. He sucked hard, and I writhed, my hands clawing at the door behind me.

“Hurry, Jax. Damn it!”

His dimple flashed, then he was kissing me again, his body hard against mine, his hands between us as he wrenched his button-fly open. I barely had the sense to dig his wallet out of his pocket before he shoved his jeans down and out of the way. Fumbling, I found a condom and tossed the wallet on the tiled entryway.

I was ripping open the foil with my teeth when he started pulling at my pants, tugging them roughly. I stumbled, laughing, falling into him, letting him sweep me up again and lower me to the floor.

Kicking off my shoes, I wrestled with him, our arms and legs tangling as we fought our clothing and our own desperate urgency. Jax yanked off his shirt, pulled the jeans off one of my legs and ground out, “That’s good enough.”

He ripped my panties to get at me, hissed through his teeth when I sheathed him in latex. Then he pushed my thighs wide to sink between them.

His first thrust inside me had my back bowing off the floor.

“Gia.”

With his neck arched, shoulders straining, sweat glistening on his chest, Jax was impossibly beautiful. He throbbed inside me, so thick and hard, so deep. My heels dug into the carpet, my hips churning as I struggled to accommodate him.

“Baby, wait,” he gasped, gripping my waist to hold me still. “I’m too close....”

“Jax...please!”

He looked down at me fiercely, his eyes glittering in the semidarkness of a room lit only by light spilling through the windows.

“Is this what you want?” He pulled back, sliding out of me. Then thrust.

“Oh, God,” I moaned, quivering. “Don’t stop.”

One hand at a time, he linked his fingers with mine and pulled my arms over my head. Rolling his hips, he stroked deep on the inside, rubbing me perfectly on the outside. For all his impatience to get at me, once he was there, he took his time.