When they reached the house in Riverview, Gage came around to open Kass’ car door, but she had already stepped into the snow. He made a joke about carrying her into the house, but she made a face. He was worried she was upset as the evening’s events had taken a traumatic turn, but then she laughed, and looked up at the night sky as snowflakes fell around them as if on a movie cue. Gage was relieved. He followed her into the house, hovering over the small of her back in case she should trip and fall.
“After you,” he said, waving her inside after he unlocked the door.
“Dad?” Kass called.
Gage felt guilty hoping her father wasn’t home. He wasn’t ready to share her yet, plus he had no idea how she wanted to handle the evening’s situation and what she did and did not want to say to her father. He wished they had discussed these things in the car before arriving. When there was no response, he assumed Howard had gone to bed, until Kass read him a note from the refrigerator, stuck on with a penguin magnet.
“He’s apparently met up with Marisol Loera since she’s in town,” Kass said, handing him the paper, her eyes widened with surprise.
“The romance novelist?” he arched a brow.
“Yeah, they met in Lucky Palms,” Kass replied. “I wonder how she knew he was here.”
“Maybe they kept in contact,” he offered.
“Maybe,” she shrugged.
“I’m assuming you want to go to bed,” he said.
“Actually, I could…” she rubbed her arms. “…I’m not tired, really. I think… with everything…” she trailed off awkwardly. “I kinda want to stay up.”
Gage smiled. “I’ll make coffee.”
Kass poked her head in the refrigerator and rustled around while Gage began brewing the hot beverages. He tilted his head impatiently waiting for the liquid to spill into the cup.
“Not much in here,” she remarked.
“Yeah, Christmas cleaned us out,” he replied. “I’ll have to make a run to the store tomorrow.”
Kass shut the fridge door, holding the milk in one hand, and placing her other hand on his upper sleeve. “I’ll come with you.”
Gage couldn’t believe how happy that simple statement had made him. The idea of doing something as mundane as grocery shopping with a girl he loved shouldn’t have made him excited, but it did. He stared into her brown eyes deeply, and wished with all his heart he would only ever make her happy. He wanted to kiss her, but he refrained. He didn’t want to push her after the incident with Ethan. He sensed she needed time to sort things out.
Gage set their mugs on the coffee table before starting a fire in the fireplace to warm the room.
“You remembered the latte art,” she said, softly, taking a sip of the coffee, a foam mustache appearing on her upper lip.
“Well, I did work at Jade’s for awhile,” he said, setting the lighter on the mantle. “I did pick up a thing or two.”
He settled onto the couch, and Kass set down her cup. For a few moments, they both stared into the fire, crackling and popping to life.
“Gage…” she said his name hesitantly, almost like a question.
“It’s okay,” he interrupted. “You don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to.”
Two big tears splashed down her cheeks and she trembled, hunching her shoulders.
“Oh Gage, it was awful!” she sobbed.
Gage scooted closer, and wrapped his arms tightly around her frame. She lay her head on his shoulder, hiccuping in between cries. He wanted to do his best to protect her, and he felt like a jerk for having abandoned her in the park.
“If I had known…” he began.
“If I had known,” she repeated, pulling back and swiping at the mascara stains on her face. “Gage, it’s okay. It’s not your fault. I didn’t know Ethan was going to react that way. He…” a faraway look crossed her face, and he wondered if she was back in the moment.
He leaned forward and tucked her tear-stained hair tenderly behind her ears, trying to pull her back into the present.
“…it was so strange…” she said, her voice low and quiet. “…like some other force was there.”
“What do you mean?” he frowned.
“I’m not sure,” she chewed her lower lip. “Like something supernatural.”
Gage felt panic seize his heart. He couldn’t believe he had left her, and he kicked himself mentally as he realized what could have happened if he hadn’t arrived when he did.
“I…I…don’t want to think about it… really…” she sighed, leaning her head back against the edge of the couch.
“Do you want to press charges?” he asked, coldly.
“Well, if I did, I should’ve done it when I was in the City,” she replied. “Um… do you think I should? I mean, he’s just a kid.”
“That kid…” Gage bit out, and then softened his tone so as not to upset Kass. “…did things to you… said things to you…”
“Yeah, but you punched him,” she said. “He could…” she laid a hand against his chest, worriedly. “…could press charges against you.”
Gage shook out his hand subconsciously, and cracked his wrist. “He had it coming.”
“Maybe… yeah… I mean… yes,” she agreed. “But I don’t want you to… get… in trouble.”
“Kass, I think you should at least talk to the police and see what they can do,” Gage insisted.
“Okay… in the morning…” she sighed heavily, and closed her eyes.
Gage sat, feeling awkward, as she rested. He wasn’t sure what to do or say. He wished he knew how to make sure she was always safe. This Ethan kid was more trouble than Kass realized, and creepy as hell. If they didn’t do something, Gage was worried they might be facing bigger problems down the road. After everything Kass described, he was certain something sinister had happened tonight and there was more to the scene than met the eye. He wished he had called the police immediately, but his only thought was to get Kass home safe, like she had asked.
“Kiss me,” she asked sweetly.
“Are you sure?” he inquired, surprised by her request.
Kass’ eyes fluttered open, and she frowned in his direction. “Yes, please…I want to feel you… and not…” she touched her lips. “…him… there.”
Gage obliged, pulling her into a kiss. A little moan escaped her lips, and he pulled back an inch to make sure she was okay. She bobbed her head, encouraging him to continue. Gage wrapped his arm around her neck, and she raised her hand to interlock fingers with him, pulling his hand closer into her neck. Her other hand lay on her knee, with a single finger stroking his lower thigh. He tingled at the sensation. He took his other arm and wrapped it around her waist, squeezing her lower rib cage slightly.
“Ow!” she murmured, releasing her lip lock. “Sorry…” she winced. “Um… I think it hurts… from earlier…”
“Oh, I should’ve known,” he dropped his hands back into his lap, feeling stupid. “I’m sorry.”
Kass surprised him. In one fluid movement, she slipped off her shoes, kicking them under the coffee table, and climbed into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, and returning to kiss him. He groaned into her mouth, and shifted his arm so as to hold her more securely around her waist, and his other arm stayed trapped between her legs and the couch. He didn’t really care. She was kissing him. This was real. This was magical. Her hand came around the back of his head, and brushed over the soft bristles of his remaining hairs. He loved the sensation. None of the women he had been with had ever stroked his head, and it felt incredible.
After a few minutes, she pulled back and buried her face in his neck, curling a hair absently around her finger.
“This is nice,” she murmured.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“I think the fire is dying,” she remarked.
He glanced over to the fireplace and watched as a pile of snow fell through the chimney landing on the flames.
“Talk about a wet blanket,” he joked.
Kass laughed tiredly.
“I think I didn’t put in enough kindling,” he said, standing to go observe the fireplace from a closer distance, and poked at the wood. “I think you’re right… it’s dying out.”
“The fire is slowly dying… and my dear… we’re still goodbye-ing…” she sang softly.
“But as long as you love me so,” he continued where she left off.
Kass threw her hands into the air. “Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”
Gage returned and knelt by the couch, taking her hands in his own. “Do you love me, Kass? Do you really?”
She hesitated, before responding, “Of course, I love you, Gage. I think I always have.”
He was so ecstatic that he let out a whoop of joy, and she looked startled, but then laughed too.
“Gage, will you hold me?” she asked.
“Sure,” he climbed back onto the couch.
“No… not here… tonight…” she glanced up at the ceiling. “I… just don’t know if I can sleep alo….” she trailed off and he knew she was about to say alone but changed her mind. “…I am worried about nightmares…” she bit her lower lip. “…I’m not sure… if… I feel safe… in the barn alone.”
“Kass,” he put a finger over her lips. “Say no more. You can sleep with me tonight.”
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