Jason calling me beautiful threatens to derail my focus, but I hang in there. “I’m not lying. We have th-this relationship that consists mostly of arguing. We needle each other constantly…and because of that…the non-fighting moments in between make no sense to me. Where do they come from? Are you always like this with a woman you…”

“Want to fuck? Nah, baby. That would just be counterproductive. But I’m not usually looking to get tail from a woman who’s got her sights set elsewhere.”

His words are meant to be a slap, but I feel the sting for another reason entirely. “Is that what you were doing tonight, Blackbeard?” I whisper. “Prowling for a woman?”

Oh Lord. I can’t believe I asked that. It’s the least important part of the statement he just made. And I have no right, especially after he saw the beginnings of my email to Elijah. Something inside me calms nonetheless when Jason’s angry expression turns to one of utter disbelief. “It’s a testament to how deep you’ve gotten under my skin that I didn’t even look, isn’t it?” He presses his hands to the door above my head, dropping his mouth to the space just above the curve of my neck. An inch away so I can feel his heated breaths. “Jealous. Aren’t you, beauty queen?”

I give a slight nod, unable to do anything but be honest when my body is practically humming out loud, giving me away. I am jealous. And a hypocrite.

“Good,” he rasps in my ear, his tongue brushing the sensitive lobe, his teeth worrying that same spot until I’m preparing to be taken against the door. “Try sleeping jealous. I’ve been doing it for weeks.”

Jason backs away and raps twice on the door. “Musgrave. Birdie,” he calls, still looking at me. “Let’s go.” Then just for my ears. “You want to stop tossing and turning and come claim responsibility for this hard dick, you know where to find me.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

ColdCaseCrushers.com

Username: StopJustStop

Good gravy. Next thing I know, you’ll be throwing out Bigfoot theories.

I’m out of here. Good bye, Internet, forever. And I mean it this time!!

Jason

The joke is on me. Despite taunting Naomi last night about tossing and turning through her jealousy, I barely slept a goddamn wink. Several times, I had to talk myself out of kicking down her door and apologizing. Or possibly starting another argument. I probably wouldn’t have made up my mind until she answered the door. If she’d had the nerve to answer my knock in that silk, pink robe, though? In the wake of seeing her email to another man? I might have put her over my knee. Shredded that thin, pink tease of a garment in one hand and spanked her yoga-tightened butt rotten with the other.

This is it. I’ve lost my fucking mind.

Because I know damn well if Naomi answered her door a second time with that vulnerable expression she was wearing when she admitted to being jealous, I would have gotten down on my knees and asked for forgiveness. The fact that she might have spent a night unnecessarily jealous makes me want to quit my morning run, lean over the ocean wall and lose my breakfast. And I feel this way even though she’s planning on returning to another man.

I’m pretty sure that makes me a damn fool.

Or I’ve been horny for this woman so long, my self-respect is waning.

Could be both.

If I could go back and do last night over, I wouldn’t have walked away so fast. I would have checked my own jealousy and talked to Naomi. She exposed herself by admitting there’s something between us, and I played dirty instead of taking the opportunity to get inside her head. Now the progress we made is lost in the rubble of the fight.

And when the hell did I start believing progress was possible?

When did I start to want it?

An unfamiliar row of houses brings me up short and I realize I’ve missed the turn for our street. With a curse, I turn and kick up my pace to a sprint, wanting to get home before Birdie leaves. Last night, she stayed up late playing poker with Musgrave and me—until she fell asleep facedown on the table, chips stuck to her forehead. When I carried her to bed and threw the covers over her, I remembered my earlier resolve to talk to her more. Attempt to be more of a brother, rather than a last-ditch guardian. I woke up after my one hour of sleep even more determined to try. Saturdays are pageant cramming days, so she’s usually up and out the door by eight, running with Naomi or practicing in the church basement. Maybe I have time to catch her.

I glance up at Naomi’s apartment as I slow to a halt at the backdoor, fishing the house key out of my sweatpants. No sign of her. God, I’d give anything for her to turn her nose up at me through the window right now, so I’d know where we stand. This whole wondering if she’s got hurt feelings business is going to give me a stroke by noon.

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