Unhinge Me, page 8
Caleb looked up at her.
“Is that what you are - happy?” he asked softly.
She looked into his eyes and smiled tenderly.
“Yeah… I really am.”
And that was Caleb’s moment. As he lay there looking up at her with her hair falling down loose around her shoulders, it made him remember about how he used to wonder about its softness. He was right about the florescence; they did hide the natural red highlights. In the afternoon daylight they shimmered with all different shades of brown and auburn. The sun above her made a little halo effect around her head and her green eyes shone brilliantly with her smile. That’s when he knew he loved her.
He’d probably known for a while. Maybe back at her apartment, when he saw so much of her in the décor, or maybe the first time he took her to Shenanigan’s and introduced her to Joe and Josie. It was possible he’d known all long. But in that moment, in their little secret place, he knew it more than anything he had ever known in his entire life.
“I…” he began, but Alex, oblivious to his newfound feelings, interrupted him.
“Anyway, it was just for my birthday, so you don’t have to worry about it becoming a weekly thing or anything.”
Caleb stopped and sat up.
“Wait, your birthday? Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday yesterday?” he said, distraught.
Alex looked ashamed.
“I don’t like to celebrate my birthday usually,” she confessed. “And it’s today, not yesterday.”
“Why don’t you like to celebrate your birthday, Alex?” he asked quietly.
She sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration. “Because I just don’t, okay,” she half-shouted. “It’s not fair, I keep having them… while everyone else doesn’t…” she trailed off, getting so quiet Caleb had to lean in to hear.
“Alex, who are you talking about? Who doesn’t get to have any more?” Caleb had noticed that Alex never talked about her family. He’d tried many times, but she never seemed to want to elaborate and he never pushed, always afraid to scare off the little doe in her. Perhaps whatever she was withholding from him would be a key.
Alex was embarrassed by her sudden outburst and didn’t know what to say next. When she didn’t answer, he took her chin in his hand and made her look at him. The depth of the sadness in her eyes broke his heart in two.
A tiny bit of the wall she had built around her heart and soul fell down and, feeling like she could really trust him, Alex started to tell her story to the only other person besides Rachael.
“I lost my mom at birth,” she began. “Complications with her heart, the doctors said. So I never knew her. Her family was so distraught about her death that they all ran away from me and my dad. Seeing me reminded them of her and they said it brought them too much pain, so we never heard from them again. Even so, my dad did a great job of raising me. He was both my mom and my dad and he was really good at it. I think I had a pretty good childhood. He had such patience with me and never lost his temper. He loved poetry, and we spent a lot of time reading it together, as you know.” Alex smiled at the thought. Then immediately her face darkened again.
“Just after my thirteenth birthday, I lost him too. Drunk driver.” Alex took a ragged breath. “I… didn’t take it well. My other grandparents, his parents, took me in then. I was especially close to my grandmother already and she was like a rock for me. Whenever she didn’t think I was looking, I saw the pain in her eyes from losing her son, but she always kept a smile on for me. I wasn’t easy to deal with after that though. I was a teenage girl who was struggling with the death of her only parent and going through puberty at the same time. It was rough for a while, but she was tough lady. She managed to keep me from doing anything too stupid. It was during the rough part though that Grampa got sick. They said it was cancer, but there was a part of me that couldn’t help blame myself,” she confessed.
Caleb cringed. He knew the feeling.
“Anyway, he died when I was sixteen. My grandmother’s heart was utterly shattered and this time she couldn’t hide it. I saw her age what seemed like decades in just months. By the time I graduated high school, she was a small and frail version of who I knew growing up. That summer, we got the news: cancer again. I always wondered if it wasn’t a broken heart instead.” Alex stopped to take a deep breath. She didn’t even look up at Caleb, in fear she would see his sympathy and break down and not be able to go on.
“No longer able to be my rock, I decided it was time for me to be hers. I took a year off from school to care for her. She was angry with me for doing it, of course, but she was so small, she just didn’t carry the same authority she used to. Yeah, I blamed myself for the loss of her husband, so guilt was part of it, but really I felt like I was losing the only person I had left, and I had to stay to take advantage of every moment. We spent lots of time talking and laughing. Her mind was as sharp as a tack for a long time, even though her body was failing her fast. She was such a smart ass and would pick on me endlessly.” Alex laughed in memory.
“Thinking back on it, a lot of what we talked about were things about my future. It was almost as if she was trying to prepare me. We also spent lots of time reading poetry together too, my father’s love of it having been passed down from her. In the end, all I did was read to her whenever she was awake.” Alex’s eyes got a very faraway glaze.
“I lost her at the end of that summer. I intended to stay home another year and try to do… something. I don’t know what… rebuild… understand maybe. But when the lawyer read me her will, I found out she had gone behind my back and submitted an application for here because she knew it’s where I wanted to go. He’d done it all for her. She had me enrolled and the whole four years paid for. Even set up a small apartment so I could grieve and deal with things on my own. And since the semester was starting soon, there would be no refund if I didn’t go. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, which of course was her plan. She was bossy even in death,” she smiled. “She was right, I suppose. Had I stayed home, I would have wilted away and not known what to do with myself.”
“The lawyer put the house up for sale. I packed a few things, put the rest in storage, and drove here. The only other thing I brought from home was Bear. Four years later and here I am. I think I’m doing pretty good considering. But I still have a hard time with birthdays. Somehow it feels unfair I should have them when everyone I loved won’t ever have another.” She closed her eyes and shook her head, deciding whether to admit the rest.
“And it’s why I am so afraid of our relationship. Eventually I lose everyone… If I love you… I might lose you too. I couldn’t bear that…” A tear dropped from her eye and landed on her hand, which she realized was being held by Caleb’s. When had he done that?
For a moment, Caleb sat there frozen, trying to decide what to do. He wanted to take away her pain, but he felt so helpless. Struggling for words, he finally just took her head in his hands and kissed her, hard. Her tears smeared on both of them as they kissed. Caleb put everything he had into it, trying to ease her heart, even just a little.
“Please don’t say that,” he begged when the kiss broke. “Please don’t be afraid to love me.”
Alex squeezed her eyes shut tight and more tears splashed out. How could she possibly explain to him what it felt like to lose everyone you loved? To be that alone? How it felt to fear love like it was a curse to be avoided. She had convinced herself that she was doing so well, and then in comes this man who sweeps her off her feet and makes her feel things she never imagined possible. Now nothing made sense.
“Oh, my little doe, I think I am beginning to understand now…” sighed Caleb sadly.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffed, her eyes still squeezed shut.
“Don’t apologize. Please. You have nothing to apologize for. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to lose all those people and when you were so young. You must be very strong, having been given such trial
Once again, Caleb managed to be absolutely understanding and completely take away any pressure. The man really was such a gentleman. It centered her. He centered her.
She wiped away her tears and looked up into his gorgeous blue eyes. They seemed so deep, like if she looked closely enough she would be able to see his very soul in them. My God, what am I going to do about him…?
Switching positions, Caleb leaned back while Alex laid in his lap. It wasn’t long before he noticed she’d fallen asleep. She needed it.
What a revelation that had just been, seeing her talk about her family like that. It was like watching another one of the onion layers peel off, only it was such a sad and painful layer.
He knew it didn’t change the way he felt about her. In fact, it only made him love her more. And now he felt a fierce need to protect her too. He felt like he owed her so much already. The breath of life she had given him was making him happier than he had ever been. He wanted more than anything to make her just as happy.
It also meant he absolutely had to tell her about his life back home as soon as possible. The last thing he wanted to do was wait too long and have it manage to hurt her again, especially now that the note had shown up. At the thought of the note, he got chills again. He needed time to study it more. Maybe there was a clue in the way it was written that could help him figure out who wrote it. More than just his title, his family’s company was large enough that it had some enemies. But having someone fly all the way over to a little known college town in Georgia just to blackmail him was pretty intense. He was going to have to figure this out before it went too far. As if it hadn’t already.
Caleb looked up to see some clouds rolling in. Nothing serious, but he wasn’t going to rule out rain. He decided to ignore it and let Alex rest.
Alex woke up slowly and, without opening her eyes, laid there remembering where she was and how she felt. She had just spewed out her deepest, and darkest fears and memories to Caleb and the exertion had definitely exhausted her. She felt better now that she’d slept though, and could smell the fresh grass and cool lake air. Still keeping her eyes closed, she took a deep breath and smiled.
“Did you know that swans mate for life?” Caleb asked casually, obviously having been watching her and noticing she was awake.
Her smile got wider as she opened her eyes and looked right at the cute pair of birds swimming in the lake not too far off from where she laid.
“I thought that was penguins,” she remarked. Sitting up slowly, she stretched like a cat and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. That may have been the best nap she had ever had.
“Actually, I think it’s both,” he answered thoughtfully.
“Smart birds,” she decided and snuggled up close to him. For a brief second, she almost hesitated, wondering if her earlier confession was going to change the way he felt about her. But he opened his arm easily and nonchalantly, so she nuzzled into her spot on his chest.
“So now that I am so over talking about me, can we finally talk about how the hell you are an Earl?”
“It’s really not that hard actually. All I had to do was be born. The title has been in my family for generations. It gets passed down to the oldest son in the event of the patriarch’s death.”
“The patriarch’s death?” She sat up.
“Did you lose your father too, Caleb?” She looked upset.
He sighed and nodded.
“Yes, I did. But my father wasn’t like yours, Alex. He wasn’t patient or really all that kind and he did have a temper. He was a businessman first and foremost. He treated all of us more like employees than his family. I loved him, of course, as much as you can love a man who keeps his children at arm’s length on purpose,” he said with an undercurrent of hurt and anger in his voice. “He could be very old fashioned and was pretty hard on me when I tried to express myself and go out on my own. I swear the royal princes had more freedom than he ever gave me and my younger brother.” He shook his head. “When he realized I had found ways around him and was… enjoying my life, and the women in it-”
Alex’s eyebrows went up.
Caleb smirked at her. “…he found the quickest good match for our family he could find and threw me an engagement party before he even told me the news,” he said with sarcastic excitement.
“Wow…” Alex shook her head. She couldn’t imagine how that must have felt. It made her feel even more blessed to have the father she did. Even for that short time.
“Anyway, not long after the wedding, he had a heart attack and died. I swear he waited until he knew he had me where he wanted me and then he was gone. The title went to me, and all the expectations that come with it. It wasn’t easy, but I tried to assimilate. But after the fire and Lilith’s death, I just fell apart. I stopped caring about the business, my relationships, even myself. My brother came to me and told me I had to get away from it all. I hesitated, but it didn’t take long for him to talk me into it. I left all the business responsibilities to him and I left. I wanted - no needed, a fresh start.”
“Do you ever miss it?” she asked
“All the time at first,” he admitted. “Mostly my family and friends. But it got easier,” he said thoughtfully. “And then you came into my life and everything changed.” He smiled at her.
Alex sat up and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I’m so sorry for your loss too,” she said quietly. “I guess we are both strong to be given such trials.” Then, before he could answer, she kissed him fully. The kiss quickly became more intense and she slid to sit on his lap.
Immediately aroused to have her there, Caleb groaned and leaned into the kiss.
Suddenly, the sky opened up completely and it started pouring rain down on them. Alex shrieked in surprise and they both sprang up off the ground. Shocked that the rain had snuck up on them, they quickly started cleaning up the picnic. They got soaked as they packed and, by the time they were done, there was no way to get any wetter unless they jumped in the lake. Instead of making a run for it to the car, Caleb pointed to the willow tree to suggest running there. Just wanting to get out of the rain, Alex didn’t even answer and just ran in that direction. Caleb grabbed whatever remained on the ground and followed her. They found a small opening between two branches and dashed into the small space.
Even though it was downpouring the sun was already starting to peek out around the clouds.
Under the protection of the big tree, it was much drier. They could easily stand under the branches, which were long enough that they almost hit the ground. It made a little canopy that was the perfect spot to wait off the rain storm. The rain hit the branches on the way down and splattered into a fine mist as it filtered down around them almost like dew.
Alex listened to the muffled rain in their little cocoon and looked around. It was surprisingly light in there considering, and the ground was a nice, soft grass, not the dirt she would have imagined. She heard Caleb speaking quietly, almost under his breath. To her pleasure, she realized he was quoting poetry again.
“Dripping rain like golden honey,” she said the next line with him. He looked over at her and smiled, realizing she was listening.
“Jean Toomer,” she pointed out, though he already knew that.
For a moment, they just stared at each other. The rain had soaked them so bad they were both dripping wet. They started laughing at how they looked and at the turn the afternoon had taken.
As they looked over each other in merriment, they again met each other’s eyes. Instantly, as if snapped together like a rubber band, they closed the space between them and were in each other’s arms. They kissed hungrily, grasping any part of one another’s bodies they could reach. Caleb slammed Alex against the trunk of the big tree, but she didn’t even flinch. The rough bark in her back as Caleb’s
Caleb slowed down and took a look at the woman standing in front of him. Her wet, dark hair hung down to her waist. Her lips were dark pink from his kisses and her cheeks were flushed from the excitement. Her eyelashes dripped with rain into her green eyes, which stood out with the backdrop of green leaves surrounding them.
Alex noticed he was looking her over and covered her breasts with one arm and her waist with her other. Caleb lifted an eyebrow and shook his head at her. Slowly, he pulled her arms down to make her stand there uncovered.
“Don’t ever be ashamed of your body with me, Alex,” he commanded softly.
She tried to straighten her back to appear confident, faking it like he said she did so well, and tried not to think about the fact that she stood there so vulnerable in front of him.
Caleb smiled at the change and went back to carefully studying his muse. Even covered in goose bumps, her skin was creamy and alive. Her body had the most delicious curve to it and her breasts stood proudly, so full and plump. Her nipples hardened of their own volition in anticipation as he stared at them. Caleb himself stiffened to rock hard proportions and he groaned.
Alex noticed what was happening and her body flushed pink, the effect making him even harder.
She held her breath as he walked slowly up to her and laid just one hand on her breast. Alex gasped. The instant warmth on her cold and wet body made her moan in pleasure and bite her lip.
Caleb pulled her to him, holding her close, wrapping his arms around her to share his body heat. He slowly licked her wet lips and then parted them with his tongue as he plunged into her mouth. Alex moaned and seized him in her hand. It was easy to slide up and down the shaft with the wetness from the rain. Caleb jolted at her touch and he looked around for a spot to lay her down. Finding nothing suitable, he instead sat down on his knees and pulled her down to him. She straddled him and he eased himself inside her carefully. Alex bit her lip so hard she almost tasted blood. She cried out and moaned. Her sounds of pleasure still sent him over the edge and he cried out in response.