Bad Case of Loving You(6)

By: Kait Nolan

That painted mouth he’d all but built a shrine to and worshiped in high school curved. “The only one who’s ever rescued me was you. And anyway, there hasn’t been a Mr. Paisley in quite some time. Two unsuccessful attempts have convinced me that casual is the way to go.”

Did she mean she was twice divorced? It didn’t fit with how he’d imagined her over the years. “That surprises me. I figured by now you’d be married with a whole brood of kids.”

It occurred to him she might still have the kids.

“Nope.” She said it simply. No bitterness, no sadness, just a statement of fact.

It made no damned sense to him. Any man should’ve considered himself fucking lucky to have landed this woman. “What the hell was wrong with them?”

Surprise and something that might have been wistfulness flickered in her eyes before humor drowned it out. “That’s a question I asked pretty often, as it happens.” She shrugged. “Life doesn’t always turn out like we expect.”

He sure as hell knew that. But unlike him, life didn’t seem to have dimmed her natural optimism. She still felt bright and vital, like sunshine incarnate. Ty felt himself pulled in just as much as he had been at sixteen, desperate to bask in the glow of her ready smile. If there was a part of him that rejected that, he wasn’t strong enough to walk away because if Garrett had been the bass beat of his childhood, Paisley had been the sweet harmony. He’d loved her once—beyond reason. Enough that he’d let her go rather than risk doing to her exactly what Garrett had done to Bethany. Paisley wasn’t a girl who had ever been capable of being okay with sharing her life with duty. And he wasn’t the kind of man who could shirk his.

Even as the familiar, dark thoughts crowded in, Paisley trailed a finger down his nape and smiled, chasing the shadows away like his own personal Patronus. A Patronus who just might be a siren in disguise. He shivered at the touch.

“Still there,” she murmured. “Even after all these years.”

He didn’t have to ask what. “Chemistry seems pretty basic and fundamental.”

She huffed a laugh and pressed just a little closer. “We always had plenty.”

That seemed the understatement of the year. She’d all but blown the top of his head off with that kiss, rousing parts of him he’d thought dormant, if not dead entirely. Ty found himself wondering what else she was even better at than she was at sixteen.

“Yeah I’m wondering, too.”

Had he spoken aloud?

Her laugh bubbled over him like champagne. “You didn’t have to say a word. I remember that look in your eyes.”

It did something to him to have someone read him so easily. Though maybe lust wasn’t that difficult to interpret. “You were gorgeous in high school. You grew up even finer. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t respond to that.” He was feeling very, very human just now.

She paused, those rich coffee eyes searching his. “Curiosity is human.”

“I seem to recall you always had a healthy sense of it.” She’d wanted to experience everything, hungry to feel and learn and do. Her thirst for life had been infectious. They’d had so many firsts together, and abruptly, he regretted losing touch entirely. But he didn’t know how he’d have survived the choices he’d had to make if he’d still had her as part of his life. He’d had to let go of her light to become one of the shadows.

“Still do. I’ve been curious about you for years. Wondering where you were, what you were doing. How you turned out.” She stroked a hand across his shoulder, down over his pec, her eyes going impossibly darker in appreciation. “Can’t say I can argue with the end results.”

The Army had forged him into a weapon and honed him to his physical prime. And it had left him broken.

But they weren’t talking about that. Paisley didn’t know about the ghosts or the regrets. She didn’t know about his failures. Maybe, for tonight, he could just focus on the physical, on the nostalgia just being with her evoked. Assuming he wasn’t so far gone he was reading this wrong.

As the song ended, Ty didn’t loosen his hold. “Do you want to continue this walk down memory lane? Maybe get out of here?”