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THE THINGS I NEVER SAID

(A short epilogue to MICAH)


by Jo Raven


Evangeline loves Micah, Micah loves Evangeline, and it seems like the perfect Summerso why is he acting weird? Withdrawn, distant, not talking about whatever it is that’s bothering him. He won’t tell – and she won’t give up, not until she sees him smile again.



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THE THINGS I NEVER SAID © Jo Raven 2015


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.






CHAPTER ONE

Evangeline


Summer is here, and it’s sticky hot. The park is full of people, children running and screaming in the trimmed grass, dogs barking at each other. There are families with their picnic spread on blankets, athletes jogging or rowing their canoes in the lake… and Micah.

My boyfriend.

I watch him sleep in the fading sunrays, lying on his back in the grass. He’s cast in gold, his hair and lashes glittering, his strong, bare arms made of molten bronze. He looks so relaxed like that, dressed in a black tank top and faded jeans. Relaxed, and gorgeous.

God I love him… It scares me how much I love him.

We’ve only been together two months, but we fought for it, tooth and nail. We survived my crazy ex-boyfriend’s stalking and attack on Micah and his friends and my family’s disapproval. My parents and overprotective brother thought Blake, my ex, was better for me than Micah who lived on the streets for a while and has no family. Boy was he wrong. Blake turned out to be a psycho, while Micah…

Micah is the best thing that ever happened to me. He’s kind and strong, patient and protective. He looks out for me, does everything in his power to make me happy – and I am. From cuddling on the sofa to watch movies to cooking together, taking long walks and posing as he sketches me – and let’s not forget the hot sex, because, oh God, it’s really, really hot – he makes me smile day in and day out. Makes me feel safe. Makes me believe I can do anything I put my mind into. Makes me love him.

And yet…

He’s been acting a bit weird lately, tense and worried-like, his blue eyes going dark when he thinks I’m not looking. When confronted, he shrugs it off, says it’s nothing.

It makes my heart ache to think there could be something, anything wrong between us. What if I am blind to the problem, blinded by my love for him? What if he’s having second thoughts? What if he’s about to break my heart? I know so many broken-hearted girls. I just never thought I could be one of them.

Something my friend Cassie told me about Micah a couple of months back haunts me.

“He’s too gorgeous to be a keeper.”

He is gorgeous, that much is true. His body is lithe and muscular, his arms bulging with muscles where they rest in the grass. His lips are soft, his jaw square, his lashes thick and long. My gaze returns to his lips. I want to touch them, run my fingertip over them. I want to kiss him awake, see the moment his dazed look melts away only to be replaced by something darker and full of desire.

But I hold back and just watch his chest rise and fall, his fingers curl and uncurl, his eyes move under his lids as he dreams.

What is he dreaming of? He never tells. Sometimes I find him in the shower, hands braced on the wall, head bowed. Sometimes he wakes me up and enters me fast and hard, a storm in his eyes. And sometimes he lies there shaking, and the only thing he has admitted to me so far is that his past wasn’t kind to him. That being an orphan, he got the short end of the stick, and his time in group homes and foster homes wasn’t good.

Has to be the understatement of the year. And I wish…

“Ev?”

He’s awake, blue glinting under his golden lashes. His voice is raspy from the cough that was plaguing him until recently. It’s all but gone now, the last reminder of his struggle with Legionnaire’s disease which he caught in one of the group homes where he lived before I met him.

He’s drifting off again. Despite being better, he hasn’t been sleeping so well lately.

Why am I thinking of the past now? It’s tranquil here, with the blue of the lake, the green of the grass and Micah’s gold. He’s with me, and he loves me. I should stop doubting. I should accept happiness.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just scared we’ll end up like my mom and dad, sleeping in the same bed and yet worlds apart, nothing in common, no affection and no desire.

Not that Micah and I live together. He hasn’t asked me to move in with him, and I haven’t offered. I’m scared of so many stupid things…

“Ev… you okay?” Micah reaches for me, and I take his hand, tangle my fingers with his. He turns onto his side, sprawled so gracefully on the lawn, a beautiful statue, eyes heavy-lidded with sleep.

“Yeah,” I mutter. “I’m okay.”

He says nothing, only tugs me closer. I tug back, and the corners of his mouth lift in a faint smile. His fingers tighten around mine and he pulls me to him slowly, inexorably. It was like this from the start, from the first moment I saw him: he’s a flame, and I’m caught in his glow.

I lean back, try to resist.

A sudden sharp tug, and I’m falling on top of him. He rolls, hauling me up so that I’m fully pressed to his body, our noses almost touching, my breasts crushed to his muscled chest.

He chuckles softly at my wide-eyed expression. “Hey there, beautiful.”

And I’m caught again – this time by the sound of his laughter. I love that deep, throaty sound. It makes me want to smile, and at the same time turns me on, a magical thing.

“Hey, sleepyhead.” I gasp when his hands move down to my ass and squeeze. “Micah…”

“Yeah?” He winks at me, and I gasp again as he hardens quickly against my belly. “What’s up? Well, apart from the obvious.”

I laugh, and he silences me with a long, deep kiss. Caught by surprise, ensnared body and soul, I moan when his tongue slips into my mouth and strokes mine. Sparks fly down my spine and my eyes fall closed. The world fades like every time I am with him, my universe shrinking to my desire for him, the need to feel him deep inside me.

So I kiss him back, planting my hands on his broad shoulders and taking my time to taste him, his all-male spice exploding on my tongue. Delicious. I drag my lips over his, our tongues tangling. His hands slide under my short summer dress to my waist, his hips roll up—

A dog barks nearby, startling me. Sounds rush back in, and the world returns into focus.

“Shit.” I break the kiss and push up, breathing hard.

He moans, blinks dazedly as I climb off him and tug my dress back down. “What?”

A mother with her little daughter glare at me and I clap a hand over my mouth to stifle nervous laughter.

“Oh my God. I think we put up quite a show,” I hiss. “The whole park is staring at us.”

“Fuck them.”

I giggle as I turn toward him, realizing a moment later that his voice is strangely cold. He’s lying there, propped up on his elbows, and his blue gaze is distant. His brows are drawn together in a dark frown, even as his chest rises and falls sharply and his arousal is clearly outlined in the material of his jeans.

“What’s wrong?” I whisper.

“I want to kiss my girl in public, like everyone else. Am I not good enough to be here? Maybe I have ‘scum’ written on my forehead? Is it too much to ask—?”

Before I can process what he’s saying, he scrambles up to his feet and storms away.

What the hell happened? I just gape at his broad back as he strides away, too stunned to react. I’ve never seen him like this. He’s the most patient, good-natured person I know. This rant, this lashing out…

This lashing out means something is seriously wrong. It’s not my imagination. Something is troubling Micah, and I’m going to find out what it is and fix it.

Grabbing my bag, I scramble up and run after him, and yeah, everyone in the park is definitely looking at us now.

But Micah is right: fuck them. He is the only person in the world that counts right now and he’s angry.

And if I’m not wrong, that means he’s in pain.







CHAPTER TWO

MICAH


The air is turning cooler as I stride through the park. The sun is setting over the buildings, blinding me with its dying light, and I keep going, blind and deaf, burning inside.

What the fuck’s wrong with me? Why did I start spouting stupid stuff like that, instead… instead of the things I really need to say – to her.

I’m chicken-shit. Too scared to believe she’ll stay with me, that she won’t up and leave one day soon. I mean, why the hell is she with me? Does she realize…

Probably not. Thing is, she knows my name, knows I never met my parents, but apart from that, she knows nothing about me. She doesn’t really know who I am. Doesn’t know about my past. My wounds. She can’t see where my anger comes from. Will she still want me when she knows? Won’t it drive her away?

Can I survive that?

Dammit. I want her in my bed, in my apartment. In my life. I want to wake up to her smile every morning, but how can I work up the nerve to ask her to move in with me when she doesn’t know me?

And if she wants to know more about me? I’m fucking dying to tell her, get it off my chest, and yet would do anything in my power to avoid it.

Hey, Ev, do you know what my life was like before I met you? What I had to do to survive? What gives me nightmares at night?

Christ. I slow down, kick at a loose stone and shove my hands into my pockets. This is driving me fucking nuts.

“Micah!” Ev is behind me, and damn, I hate it that she saw me at my worst.

Not my worst. No, definitely not my worst. Just the worst she’s ever seen me in, and how fucked up is that, that a little rant against the unfairness of this fucking world can shock her?

She’s no princess, but compared to me… Compared to me she’s a queen.

But she’s seen the streets, my mind counters. She works with homeless teenagers. She knows how bad things can be.

Can she? How different is it, meeting abused boys and girls you don’t really know and finding out that your boyfriend…

Fuck.

I force my feet to a stop. Taking a calming breath, I turn to face her. Her features are pinched with worry, her eyes a bit too bright.

Jesus, I’m hurting her, the one person I never want to hurt.

I chew on the inside of my cheek, roll my shoulders. “Sorry about that,” I say, sorry about all the things that are tearing me up inside and spilling into my life.

Into your life.

She shakes her head, pouts a little, a crinkle forming between her copper brows. Damn, she’s adorable when she does that. Whatever she does. If she leaves me…

“Take me home?” she says and I nod, a band of steel squeezing around my chest, cutting off my air.

Yeah, asshole, you hurt her. Of course you did.

Dammit, I can’t stand it. I’ll tell her. Fucking ask her. Do anything to fix this. Ruining things is all I’ve ever been good at, and this relationship thing… Never knew how to do it, how to see beyond myself, beyond my survival.

Now it’s swim or die, and I’ll do my best to swim. I’ll fight for the right to be with Ev.

Because, hell, I can’t live without her.


***


The ride back is quiet. The small apartment Ev shares with another girl, Kayla, is north, quite far from the one I share with Seth.

Fuck, I don’t want to drop her off. I want her in my room, on my bed.

Get your shit together, Micah, and say what you wanna say.

“Hey, Ev…” I stall at the traffic lights, clench my hands on the wheel. “Wanna come to my place tonight?”

She doesn’t reply, and when I shoot her a quick sideways look, I find her worrying her lower lip between her teeth.

So sexy.

But she hasn’t said yes, and the tension returns to my shoulders. “Ev?”

“What’s going on with you?” she asks, and her soft voice isn’t helping. If she yelled at me, and I lost it, and we got into a fight, it might be easier to say all those things that have been banging around inside my head for weeks now.

“I just want to go home with you. Fuck, I just…” My teeth are gritting. What’s this – this emotion that’s hitting me like a truckload of bricks, crushing me? “Please, Ev.”

Her small mouth presses into a tight line, and her eyes are still tight around the corners. It makes me jittery. I’m not good at gauging people’s reactions.

All I know is, in the past, when I upset people around me, it ended bad.

My stomach twists as I wait for her to say something, even if it’s just to tell me to fuck off, to tell me I screwed up and she needs time, or some other bullshit like that.

I haven’t found myself in this downward spiral of fear in a long while.

“Ev…” Her name comes out mangled and I force my jaw to unclench. “I’m—”

“Let me call Kayla,” she cuts in, her voice still soft, “tell her I won’t be home tonight.”

A sigh of relief escapes me, and I nod, my voice gone.

Home. I want my home to be her home. I want us to be a home.

Fucking hell. If only I could be content with what I have… God knows it’s more than I’ve ever had before. She makes me greedy for more. More pleasure. More happiness. More everything.

Ask too much and you’ll fall, my mind warns, a seductive, dark whisper. You want to be happy like everyone else? What makes you think you deserve that? What makes you think this isn’t an illusion, a trick to make you trip and fall again? Watch your back. That’s what saved your life all these years. Don’t you know yet that when things seem to go right, boy, you’re already off the rails and accelerating?

“Fuck…” I shake my head, trying to dispel the thought, and Ev gives me a narrowed-eyed look as she calls her roomie and lets her know about tonight.

Great, now I look like a lunatic, twitching and muttering to myself.

Never wanted a girl so much before, with every fiber of my being. Didn’t know it would turn my world upside down.

“Micah. Hey.” She has put a hand on my arm, and I didn’t even notice. A spark of amusement lights up her pretty eyes and gives me hope. “All set. Let’s go.”

Hope is all I have left, so I nod.

She loves me, doesn’t she? I will open myself to her and hope. She saved me once without knowing who I was. Gotta hope she’ll do it again once she knows the rest.







CHAPTER THREE

EVANGELINE


Something’s going on, I’m sure of it, and my heart is pounding in my ears. Struggling to keep my expression blank, to hide my fear, I lean back in my seat and let Micah drive us to his apartment. He’s acting so out of character, it has to be something serious.

Then again… I’ve known him for all of two months. How do I decide what out of character is for him?

I bet it has to do with the past he won’t tell me about. Why else would he avoid the topic every time I ask? Although doubting him makes me feel like a horrible person, I can’t help wondering. About his childhood. About the foster families and group homes where he lived.

It never ceases to amaze me that he can laugh and love, that he is capable of feeling so much without ever having had a real family to call his own. Without the affection and acceptance that comes with it.

Sometimes I sense the reason he doesn’t want to talk about it all is that he’s embarrassed. I couldn’t care less about what went before, except it seems to be hurting him, like a thorn lodged deep in his flesh, infected, festering.

And, to be honest, deep inside of me, I’m scared shitless that he will decide he can’t do it. That he can’t go on living like nothing happened, that this brave, solid front he’s putting up is just that: a façade, and that he’s about to shatter behind it, go to pieces.

Since I started working with the mom of Asher Devlin’s girlfriend at the National Runaway Safeline, I’ve heard horror stories about kids growing up in appalling conditions and about the terrible psychological scars they end up with. I wish I’d been there for him back then to keep him safe from harm, to surround him with love. All I want…

If only I could shush the voice of doubt that tells me I’m not seeing the real Micah, but a facet of him. That he may wake up tomorrow and say he can’t love me. I imagine things and assume things, but truth is, I don’t really know anything about him – whereas he knows everything about me.

I sigh. All I want is to be with him, but what if it isn’t enough for him?


***


“Seth not in?” I ask as Micah unlocks the door and flips on the lights, illuminating the small living room. Seth is his roommate, a nice guy all around, except I’d like us to be alone, to get Micah to talk.

He shakes his head, snags my hand and pulls me inside, closing the door behind us.

Good.

Yet I’m worried. I fully expect him to drag me to the sofa, sit me down and tell me something awful – like, I don’t think I can do this anymore, Ev. We’re done, Ev. I don’t really love you.

God.

But instead, he backs me up against the door, grabs both my hands and slides them up until they are pressed over my head, against the polished wood. As my chest rises in a shallow, shocked breath, he presses his muscled body to me and crashes his mouth to mine, his tongue slipping between my parted lips.

My body responds before I even know it, my eyes falling shut, my breasts tingling, my insides heating, one leg lifting to wrap around his. He tastes so good, feels so good that my mind goes blank like every time. In a tiny corner of my mind, red flags are wagging – we were supposed to talk, figure out the issue – but when he rubs his hard-on between my legs, all thought is gone in a flash of white-hot pleasure.

“Say my name,” he whispers against my mouth, and it’s not the first time he’s asked this of me as we writhe together. “Say my name, Ev…”

I blink and frown, breaking the kiss to pull back and take a good look at him. “Why?” Does he think I’m seeing someone else when I close my eyes?

His lashes lower, hiding his eyes. His breath hitches.

Alarm bells go off inside my head. What the hell is going on?

But he buries his face in my neck, biting lightly, distracting me again. He releases my hands in favor of slipping them under my dress, lifting it off me, and I let him. He draws in an uneven breath, his gaze rolling over my yellow, lacy bra that does little to hide my pebbled nipples. It’s the way he looks at me, the blue of his eyes darkening to a midnight sky, that gets me every time.

“Jesus, Ev,” he breathes, running his hands over my breasts, then underneath, cupping them in his large hands. “You’re the prettiest girl in the world.”

My heart melts. These can’t be the words of a man about to break up with me, right? Though, what do I know about break-ups?

Then he kneads my nipples with his thumbs, his eyes smoldering, and I moan, lost in sensation. I wonder what he’ll do – I can never predict his moods – and my knees buckle when he bends his head and kisses the mounds of my breasts. He lowers himself a little for better access, and I think he might go to his knees, taste me then and there.

But he releases my breasts and instead rips my panties down and away, dropping them to the floor. Before I recover, he reaches for his fly, pulls it down and reaches inside his briefs.

“I want to be inside you,” he murmurs. “Need to, Ev.”

“Yes,” I say. “Please.”

It’s going to be fast and hard. I like it when he loses control like that, when he can’t wait to enter me. He pulls out his cock, rock hard and flushed, glistening with precum and strokes it twice, before he looks into my eyes.

Waiting for me to signal I want this, that I haven’t changed my mind.

I’m not even sure I know how to say no to him – not sure why I’d ever want to – but it warms me that he always makes sure I’m on board with whatever he plans. Always makes sure I have as much pleasure as possible.

Though right now I wish he’d hurry up. Toeing off my sandals, I grab his arm and press my mouth to his, lick his lips, and he gasps. He presses against my folds, pushes into me, slowly at first, then faster, slipping deep inside me.

We both moan as he buries himself all the way, as I open up to receive him, my leg hooking higher on his thigh.

Oh my God, he feels so good, stretching me, a burning rush of need hitting me low in my belly at the mounting pressure. My hips are already rolling of their own volition, and he grabs them to stop me, hissing.

“Slow down, love,” he whispers, and I try.

Then he lifts my other leg over his hip and grabs my ass, lifting me – entering me even deeper, and my eyes almost roll back in my head with the pleasure. I pant, my arms somehow finding their way around his neck, my legs tensing around his slim hips. His heart beats wildly against my own, his arms tense and his jaw clenches as he tries to regain control.

But maybe what he needs to do is lose control. Let go. Because, the thought returns, we need to talk and he’s holding back, doing everything in his power to put the conversation off.

And it’s working, oh God, it’s working…

He steps back, still buried in me, and each movement makes his cock shift inside me. I catch my breath on a moan and hold on for dear life as he makes his slow way to the sofa.

He manages to lay me down without pulling out of me and settles between my legs, his face screwed up in concentration. Sensations play over his beautiful face – need, pleasure, some discomfort. He’s so hard it has to hurt.

Too handsome to be a keeper…”

“Are you sure being on the pill is safe?” he asks. Always careful, as if afraid one wrong step might end the world.

As if his world ended many times before, and this is his last chance. His last life.

“I’m sure.”

He hikes my legs higher up and pushes into me, a groan escaping his clenched teeth. “Ev… Say my name, Ev…” He slides his hand down, between us, between my folds, and finds my clit. His thumb circles it, teases it.

“I won’t,” I gasp. “Won’t say your name. I know who you are.”

“Do you, really?”

Before I can ask what the hell he means by that, even as I try to ignore the fact his question is the one I’ve been asking myself all day today, he presses down on my clit while sliding in and out of me, and my back arches off the couch. Pressure is building so fast I grab onto his shoulders not to drown.

He rocks inside me, his head bowed, sweat gleaming on his brow, his blue eyes luminous behind lowered lashes.

He takes my breath away.

Micah…

My orgasm slams into me, and I cry out, clenching around him, my leg muscles tightening and my heels digging into the backs of his denim-clad thighs. Pleasure rips me up and I moan as I contract around his cock again and again.

I slump bonelessly on the couch, trying to draw air into my lungs, my legs sliding down to rest on the cushions. His lips part on a shaky exhale as I relax. He’s still rock hard inside me, his stomach clenched so tight I can count his impressive abs, his arms shaking at my sides.

“Hey. Come here.” I still have one arm around his neck and I pull him down until our noses touch. He shudders, his erection twitching inside me, and I have to bite on my lip to swallow a moan as echoes of pleasure ricochet inside my belly.

“Ev…” His voice is raspier than usual, his eyes heavy-lidded.

“You need to tell me what is on your mind.” I kiss his lips lightly, pull back when he bends his head, going after my mouth.

You are on my mind.”

“I bet.” I lift my hips a little, tightening around his shaft, and he groans deep in his throat. “But you brought me here to talk.”

“How do you know that’s what I brought you here for?”

I smile at him. “Because you haven’t denied it.”

“Damn.” He shakes his head, the corners of his mouth lifting.

“I know you, Micah Owens.”

Suddenly he raises himself off me and pulls out in one swift movement that has me gasping. “And I told you, you don’t know me.”

My eyes narrow. If there’s one thing I learned in this past year is to fight for what I think is important, and he is the most important person in the world to me. I am a fighter, and many may be fooled by my small stature, my copper curls and big eyes.

But Micah should have seen it coming. By the shock on his face as I push him back and straddle him, he didn’t.

Well, tough. He should know me better by now.











CHAPTER THREE

MICAH


Talk. Christ, yeah we need to talk, but I can’t. Can’t risk it. Can’t tell her. I need a minute, need to lock myself up in the shower, cool down, think.

But she doesn’t let me. Maybe I pushed her too far with my stupid shit these days, and even more so tonight, because in a flash she’s pushed me down on my back on the sagging couch and climbed on top of me.

Whoa.

Not that I mind Ev sitting on me. Especially when she starts tugging on my T-shirt, and I oblige in a daze, letting her pull it off me. I let it drop to the floor and her small hands wander down my chest, reaching the small peaks of my nipples, pinching them, then continuing down as I process the small pain that echoes in my aching cock.

A shudder runs through me. My dick twitches, bobbing against my stomach, leaking as she drags down my jeans and briefs. With a determined expression on her small, heart-shaped face, she pulls everything down, but not off, leaving the material bunched around my knees.

Wait, is she trapping me? Why, the little…

She grabs my cock and guides it back between her pretty legs, into her slick warmth, and I moan her name, reaching for her. I grip her hips as she lowers herself on me, inch by torturous inch, and my mouth falls open, my jaw slack with the pleasure pooling in my groin.

“Tell me,” she whispers. “Talk to me.”

I blink at her, trying to force my brain to work. Fuck, no. Not like this. I’m not ready. I start to sit up, but she brushes her mouth over mine, leans over me until her luscious breasts are almost spilling out of her bra.

Christ. My mouth goes dry and my heart races, out of control. My hips snap up, and she captures my groan with her soft lips.

“Tell me what it is I don’t know about you,” she whispers, licking my mouth, her sweet scent flooding my senses, intoxicating. “What you think is so important you’re afraid to tell me.”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck.

“You don’t really want to know,” I say through clenched teeth, even if the words want out. The knowledge is crushing me.

“Yes, I do,” she says and kisses me again. “I do want to know everything about you.”

“Better off not knowing,” I say, or think, not sure which, my body and mind on overload. “Trust me, Ev, it’s better that way.”

“I love you,” she says, and reaches back, unclasping her bra. Her soft tits spill out and sway in front of me, tipped with rosy nipples. I want to feel them, touch them. I try to sit up again, and again she pushes me back. She bends, sliding her tits over my chest, her nipples hard and dragging on my skin.

My blood is boiling under my skin. My balls ache, the pressure reaching critical mass. I need to move, grab her, rock inside her until I come.

“Why are you so worried now?” she whispers, her voice winding around me, warm and soft like toffee, binding me. Spell-binding me. “What happened?”

“I want you,” I gasp as she rolls her hips, “to move in with me.”

A pause, a beat of silence and stillness that makes me want to howl.

Then her eyes soften. Her mouth curls into a tiny smile, and she finally starts moving. She’s riding me, her core rippling around my dick, milking it, and the pressure behind my balls snaps.

I shout out her name as I come, my hips jerking, my grip on her bruising. My head falls back on the cushions, and I surrender. Pleasure rips through my body, races up my spine, swallows me down until I can’t breathe. I’m shaking and can’t seem to stop.

Holy shit.

Instead of chewing me out, she put me into a post-orgasmic coma, melted me, took my heart into her hands and now she’s waiting for me to speak.

Dammit. There’s no way back. I have to tell her.

I should have known she’d fight back, that she wouldn’t give up, that she’s strong. So much stronger and better than I ever was or hope to be. And dammit, she’s about to find that out for herself, so I pull her down and crush her to my chest, hold on tight, and just to put off the moment of truth just a while longer.


***


“Micah…” Ev squirms on my chest, then plants her hands on my pecs and sits up. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?” I tug on her, trying to keep her there. She’s soft and warm and smells amazing. I love the way her copper hair is sticking up all over the place, the way her eyes glow. The way her round tits move softly with her movements.

“That you want me to move in with you.”

I swallow hard. “I do. Goddammit, I want it. But I swear to God, I’ll understand if you don’t.”

“What?” She slaps my chest lightly and frowns. “Why wouldn’t I want to, silly?”

I press my lips together. Here it comes. “Because…” I lick my lips. My heart is pounding, trying to break free of my chest. “Because you should fucking know who you’re moving in with. You might not wanna do it, when you find out.”

“Seriously?” She tilts her head to the side, and damn, I shouldn’t get sidetracked by her glorious hair and lush tits, but hey, I’m a guy and I can’t help staring.

Mine. She’s mine, unless I lose her with the truth. But she deserves to know.

“What is it you’re worried about?” she whispers, soft again, sweet.

It makes my chest go tight. “My past.”

My goddamn past, haunting me when I’m happy. Especially when I’m happy. That’s when I’m most scared.

“I know about your past.” She huffs. “Why should I have a problem with it?”

My mouth is hanging open. I shut it. “What do you mean…? What the fuck do you know about it?”

She shrugs, a light roll of rounded shoulders. “I know you grew up in foster care. And you have nightmares.”

“What…?” Shit. My mouth is dry. I clear my throat. “What about the nightmares?”

She leans forward, and my eyes follow the rolling movement of her tits. I’ve slipped out of her heat, but I’m growing hard again.

“Micah…” She grips my chin, forces my eyes up to hers. “I know bad things happened to you, okay? And I am so angry.”

“Angry.” Heat spreads up my neck, and I am not even sure what the hell I’m feeling right now. “Why?”

“I’m angry at those who hurt you when you were too young to defend yourself – defend your body and your heart.”

Dammit, I really can’t breathe. I shove her off me none too gently and swing my legs off the couch, bent over, struggle to draw air.

“Hey…” She sits up behind me. “Micah.”

“I’m selfish, Ev.” I barely feel her hand drawing circles on my back. “I hurt people, too.”

A moment of silence, and fuck, this isn’t getting any easier.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“I put myself first.” I force the words out. “I’m not like you, Ev, giving everything up for others. You’re… special.” I rub a hand over my mouth. “I’m not.”

“What are you talking about?” I can hear it in her voice. She’s starting to freak out. About damn time.

And yet I wish I didn’t have to tell her.

“I did bad things, Ev. In the group homes where I lived.”

“Bad things.” Her voice is so low I can barely hear it. “Like what?”

“Like…” Fuck. My hand shakes when I let it hang between my knees. I clench it into a fist to hide the tremors. “Once I hid under a bed while three bullies kicked another kid unconscious. In the third or fourth group home I was sent to,” I swallow hard, “fuck I can’t remember which, I punched a boy who was trying to take my blanket. There was no heating, it was so damn cold. I just punched him and broke his nose.”

Jesus. Just remembering it all makes my teeth rattle.

Ev’s hand stops moving on my back. It’s still there, resting between my shoulder blades, a warm center sending heat through my bones.

“What else?” she asks, a sharp edge to her otherwise quiet voice.

“Two orderlies in the first group home I stayed… They’d beat us up. One of those times, I caught quite a few punches in my ribs and fell down. I pretended to be out, let them beat the other kid up. A girl.” I try to swallow. This time I can’t, a knot in my throat. “They beat her senseless, and I saved myself. I let her down. I just saved myself, Ev…”

I don’t realize how hard I’m shaking until she wraps her arms around me and whispers my name over and over again.

“Shh, calm down, Micah. Micah, hey, hey… You’re okay. It’s okay.”

I somehow turn around and catch her in my arms, crush her to me. The scent of her hair calms me down, the feel of her naked body distracts me just enough to relax my hold on her before I hurt her.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“What for? For doing what you had to in order to survive?” She pulls back to look at me. There’s a fire in her eyes. “Thank you.”

I narrow my eyes at her, utterly lost. “What for?”

“For making it out of that hell alive and sane. For finding me.” She squeezes me, kisses my cheek. “Thank you.”

Heat builds behind my brow. My eyes sting. “Ev…”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Her gaze is steady and clear. “If anything, I apologize.”

“You what?” Yeah, one hundred percent lost. “Whatever for?”

“On behalf of a world that failed you so spectacularly. You shouldn’t have to pretend to be unconscious to avoid being beaten to death. You shouldn’t have to hide under a bed not to get kicked around. You shouldn’t have to fight for a blanket so you don’t freeze in winter. You…” She peppers my face with kisses, and I’m still like a statue, absorbing her words. “You had to fend for yourself, and you did your best. So stop beating yourself up about it.”

“Shit.”

Nobody has said these things to me before. Granted, I never talked about this to anyone. Not even to Seth, who knows quite a bit about me, since we room together. I assumed she’d hate me when she knew.

“Were those orderlies who were beating you larger than you?” she asks.

I blink at her. “Yeah. Hell yeah, we were just kids.”

“What about the bullies? Were they stronger than you?”

I nod, wondering where she’s going with all this.

“What you’ve told me…” She shakes her head, her curls bouncing. “I hear such stories all the time now. Listen to me, Micah. You didn’t start the fights, or beat other kids up. You were not an instigator, you were a victim. This isn’t on you. And nobody can blame you for trying to stay alive.”

The more she talks, the easier my breathing becomes. She’s not mad at me. She’s not leaving me. She’s not blaming me. She says maybe it’s not my fault.

Not sure I believe that last one, but a ghost of a doubt stirs in my mind.

What if she’s right?

Yeah, right. Whatever.

But she wouldn’t lie to me, would she? Ev isn’t like that. She really thinks it’s not my fault, and now my heart’s racing for a different reason.

“… talk to a counselor,” she’s saying. She puts a warm hand on my cheek. “Are you listening to me, Micah Owens, or am I talking to the walls?”

I shake my head, and a bark of laughter escapes me. “You think a counselor can help me?”

“Maybe. You lose nothing by trying. At least you’ll get to hear from more than one person – that’d be me – that you should stop feeling bad about the hell of your past, and that your guilt is misplaced. That you should be glad you survived.”

“You think?” Doubtful – and yet more hopeful than ever.

“I think, yes.” She smiles, and my eyes burn like fire. “So can I?”

“What?” I wipe a hand over my face, and it feels wet. My voice cracks a little. “What, Ev?”

“Move in with you.” She now cups my cheeks in both hands and plants a soft kiss on my mouth. “Please?”

I laugh again, no idea why. I feel so happy all of a sudden, it’s like a punch to the gut. I feel dizzy, vaguely sick, terrified, and light like a hot-air balloon.

“I love you,” I whisper, and haul her back into my lap. I guide myself into her and she gasps, her eyes flying wide as I slide deep into her in one long thrust. “More than anything and anyone. More than my life. You keep saving me, Evangeline Kingsley, every year, and every month, and every day.”

“I’m yours,” she says, and when I rock inside her, she moans, a throaty sound that shoots straight to my cock. “Love you more every day, every month, and will love you more with every year that passes.”

I want that. To be with her for the rest of my life. The realization dawns that I don’t just want her to move in with me. I want to marry her and have children with her. Grow old with her.

Jesus. Talk about a revelation. But one thing at a time.

I lift up on my elbows and grab her hips, then I flip us over so I’m looking down at her, pushing into her, buried to the root in her velvet heat. Her eyes fly wide and I grin as I raise her legs and wrap them around my waist. I bent my head until our foreheads touch and push deeper, a roll of my pelvis that has her gasping.

“Hold on tight,” I say against her parted lips and pull back, then thrust back into her slick core. Again and again I slide into her, and she meets my thrusts, holding on to my shoulders and rocking up. The world narrows down to my girl, to her panting breaths, her half-lidded eyes, her silky skin.

“Micah…” she whispers my name, and then cries out, clenching around me.

This time she really knows me, knows all about me, and I sob out her name as I come undone, spilling inside her. Claiming her, marking her. Wanting her like no other girl, ever.

All the things I never said are now laid out in front of her, and in spite of them, she still chose me, still loves me.

And I love her more than ever.




Micah and Evangeline have their own novel, recounting how they met and fell in love. Their story is Book 1 in the Damage Control series:




MICAH

(Damage Control, #1)


There’s me: Micah Owens. Tattoo artist at Damage Control. No parents or siblings. A past that still gives me nightmares.

And then there’s her: Evangeline, the girl who saved my life and haunts my more pleasant dreams. Only she doesn’t know who I really am, and telling her might well send her fleeing for the hills. She deserves better than a loser like me. She’s pretty. She’s clever. She’s goddamn sexy and has a heart of gold.

Which is why I can’t tell her. A smile from her and I’ll do all I can to make her mine – including pretending to be someone I’m not, someone worth having.

Isn’t love weird?


Find the links to the book here: http://joraven.com/books




AUTHOR BIO


Jo Raven is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, best known for her series Inked Brotherhood and Damage Control. She writes edgy, contemporary New Adult romance with sexy bad boys and strong-willed heroines. She writes about MMA fighters and tattoo artists, dark pasts that bleed into the present, loyalty and raw emotion. Add to that breathtaking suspense, super-hot sex scenes and a happy ending, and you have a Jo Raven® story.

Find all my books here ▶ http://joraven.com/books

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What comes next?

JESSE (Damage Control #2)


Returning to Madison hurts. I thought I’d left my past behind, but the past goes on living. I carry it inside of me, it’s a piece of me. People have marked me in indelible ways and I drag the shreds of my soul behind me, trying to put my pieces back together. I’m not the Amber I used to be. I fly under the radar, try to be invisible.

It doesn't always work. Drawing attention scares me. It always spells trouble. Returning to my home town is a last ditch effort to lay my demons to rest and start anew, for good this time.

Meeting Jesse Lee wasn’t in the plan. Yet here he is with his heart-stopping, sexy grin, handsome like a god, shining bright. He’s full of life, full of heat, packing the energy of a thousand suns in his gaze and muscular body. Jesse burns, and the pain of being near him is sweet.

But he’s foiling my plans. It’s hard to remain a ghost when he’s around. Hard to avoid his attention, to remain invisible. He sees me, really sees me, and behind his bright radiance, I can see shadows from his own past crowding in. He’s swimming hard to stay afloat even as he reaches for me.

What is he afraid of? And how can he save me from drowning when he can’t even save himself?


Find the links to the book here: http://joraven.com/books



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