She put the bowl down, and I pulled her into me, kissing her beautiful soft lips. I couldn’t let my father show up here. Now I understood what Jared’s worry was. He wasn’t concerned about himself. He needed to protect Tate and me. The people he loved.

And I needed to protect Juliet. Even the idea of my father seeing her …

I wrapped my arms around her waist, squeezing tight.

“They mean nothing, you know?” she said into my neck. “They don’t deserve us.”

Meaning, our parents.

“Nothing,” I repeated.

Her arms circled my neck, and I dived into the kiss, wanting to get happily lost. She rolled her hips into me, and I grabbed her ass as I ate up her taste and smell. God, she was incredible.

Breathing hard, I lifted the shirt over her head and dumped it on the floor. I kissed my way up her warm neck and splayed my hands across her back. My fingertips touched the silkiest skin I’d ever felt.

But I sucked in air, trying to calm down.

I hadn’t made love to her properly yet. In a bed. But fuck … She was irresistible on this chair, moving on top of me, her skin against mine.

She’d moved her hands, holding them clasped under her chin, keeping her arms up to cover her breasts. When I brought my hands around to open her up, she tore away from the kiss, shaking her head. “Mmm, nope. Sorry,” she insisted. “You have to do the dishes.”

Huh?

She pried herself free from my grasp and stood up, still holding her arms over her chest for modesty’s sake.

I pinched my eyebrows together in disbelief. “Dishes?”

She nodded, biting back a smile. “Dishes,” she repeated, and turned to walk out of the kitchen.

Her round little ass had my handprints on it, and I shifted, in pain, at that lacy black thong I wanted to rip off her.

“I pay someone to do the dishes,” I growled.

She stopped in the doorway, peering back at me with humor in her eyes. “I cooked. You clean. Fair’s fair. I’ll be upstairs.”

She left the room.

And I had never cleaned anything so fucking fast in my entire life.

CHAPTER 21

JULIET

Jax had turned on me.

He’d morphed into a loose cannon, and I saw the same fierce temper I’d seen on Jared. The same temper I’d seen on my father. But strangely, neither of them had come to mind.

The moment he pulled the knife, all I thought about was how to get him back. I didn’t think about running. I was scared for him, not of him.

All I saw was Jax. What had happened to him, and how was I going to catch him when he fell?

I walked up the stairs, smiling at the sound of dishes clanking and a pan crashing to the floor.

Someone was in a rush.

I liked him. Man, did I like him!

I remembered Tate’s dad sitting both of us down to talk about the birds and bees. We were fourteen or fifteen, and someone at school had taught us what a blow job was. Mr. Brandt deemed it high time to give us the talk, even though I wasn’t his daughter and it wasn’t his call to educate me. He’d said when my mother emerged from 1958 she could come and kick his butt. Until then …

Anyway, he gave us three irrefutible pieces of advice about the male species:

1. Boys will lie, cheat, and steal to get into your pants. A man will stand the test of time. Make him wait, and you’ll see which one he is.

2. They will try to tell you that it feels better without a condom. You just tell me where they live.

3. And relationships are supposed to make your life better. You don’t drag each other down. You hold each other up.

When we’re little, we think true love is Romeo and Juliet, together in life or together in death. They couldn’t stand not to have each other, and when you’re young it’s romantic to think of suicide as the answer. Better not to live at all, etc.

When you grow up, you realize that that’s bullshit. I mean, who really wins there, right?

Jax was happy to see me happy. I didn’t need him to survive, but I liked him. He made my life better. Happier. He also challenged me to grow.

Coming to the second floor and turning for his bedroom, I glanced behind me, noticing the padlock on the office door.

I walked into his bedroom, still uneasy about everything he’d done in my life without my knowledge. And everything he was doing. He was mistaken if he thought he was going to continue to keep an eye on me.

And the people who’d hurt him and what he’d done to them? I knew I should be nervous or even scared that he was capable of violence, but I knew he didn’t rush to react. The only thing I was worried about was how far Jax had to be pushed to do it. And would he do it again if he were pushed hard enough?

I didn’t fear being on the receiving end, but I didn’t want to worry about him in trouble, either.

I stopped in the middle of the bedroom, taking a minute to look at my surroundings. The only other time I’d been in here was the night he’d gotten in the fight on the front lawn. It had been dark and I hadn’t wasted time exploring. Now, as I looked around, my eyes fluttered at the warmth pooling in my stomach and farther down.

His bedroom.

Everything was dark. I loved how the cherrywood furniture made the black bedding and curtains seem warm. And with the drapes drawn and a small lamp lighting the desk in the corner, the whole room glowed like an old chapel, lush and elegant with its carved furniture but cozy and secluded as if it were some room lost in the middle of a thousand other rooms buried deep in a mansion, never to be discovered.

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