Hold Me

Page 21


“What happened when you turned sixteen?”
“She said I had to go join the real world. That I couldn’t hide forever. I didn’t want to go, but she was right, as usual. I stayed with my father while I took college entrance exams and applied to different universities.”
She remembered how she’d been so scared that she wasn’t going to know enough. She should have trusted Grandma Nell. “I got accepted everywhere I applied. My scores were really high, and I ended up being able to test out of half my general education courses.”
Neither of which had made up for missing the woman who had taken her in and loved her like a mother.
“She visited me at college every semester, and everyone adored her,” she continued.
“I’d like to meet her,” Kipling said.
“She’s gone.” Destiny felt her smile fade. “Three years ago, she came to stay with me for a couple of weeks. When she was leaving, she said it was her time. I didn’t understand. She died three days later.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. Me, too. I miss her every day. Even more so now that I have Starr. Grandma Nell would have known what to do.”
“You do, too.”
“I’m less sure of that.” She shook her head. “Sorry. I’m not sure where that all came from. I’m usually more private.”
“I asked.”
“Still.” She stood. “I should go check on my tech guys. Every now and then they remember they have to eat. I can do a lunch run for them.”
Kipling rose and walked around the table. He gazed into her eyes. “Grandma Nell sounds like she really loved you.”
“She did.”
“You’ll always have that.”
They walked toward the front door of the building.
“The Man Cave is opening soon,” he said. “It’s this bar I own with a few business partners.”
“I’ve heard some people talking about it,” she admitted. “You must be excited.”
“I am. Come to the opening with me. We’re going to have a killer karaoke setup. You could sing.”
“I don’t sing,” she told him firmly.
“Not in public.”
“But it has to be in your blood.”
“There are a lot of things in my blood. I deny most of them. It makes life easier.”
“Who said easy was the right path?” he asked. “I’d like to hear you sing.”
“It’s never going to happen.” She narrowed her gaze. “I don’t need fixing.”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“Shelby warned me, and she was right. Let me repeat myself. No fixing required. I’m perfectly fine. I have everything under control. I prefer life without surprises.”
Kipling studied her for a second then leaned in. She had no idea what he was going to do so wasn’t the least bit prepared for the feel of his mouth brushing against hers.
The contact was brief, soft and rocked her down to her tiniest toes. She went hot then cold. Her chest got tight, and somewhere deep inside, a dark, lonely place she rarely acknowledged, warmed up at least three degrees.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded when he’d straightened.
One corner of his mouth turned up. “Two reasons. First, because I wanted to. And second, everyone needs a good surprise now and then.”
She struggled to speak, but there were no words. She could only stare as he gave her a wink then turned and walked away.
DESTINY GENTLY STRUMMED her guitar. The music was elusive tonight. Taunting her with melodies attached to half phrases. But when she tried to capture the notes or even the words, they faded away.
You could be my best regret. I could be your peace of mind.
She made a few more notes then put down her guitar and flopped back on her bed. She immediately sat up and began playing the hillbilly music Grandma Nell had loved. Mostly the songs didn’t appeal to her, but they were a connection. Many a winter’s night, she and Grandma Nell had played and sung by firelight as the snow fell outside. There had been an old piano in the front room. A man came by every spring and tuned it. The rest of the year, they made do.
Now she sang about the mountain and God and life until she started to relax. Unfortunately, the second she did, she remembered Kipling’s kiss and tensed up all over again.
Stupid man, she thought as she put down her guitar again. Stupid, stupid kiss. Why had he done that? And then to walk away. Who did that?
She told herself it didn’t matter. So he’d kissed her. It wasn’t as if she’d asked. And while she got a little thrill every time she thought about his mouth on hers, it wasn’t as if she was letting her hormones run away with her. She was perfectly in control, as always.
In fact, it was probably good Kipling had kissed her. As she’d recently realized, if she wanted to find the man of her somewhat quiet dreams, she was going to need a little more experience. While she doubted he would be the type who wanted to be seduced, she should at least be able to hold her own. So more kissing was a good thing. As long as she didn’t let herself get carried away.
It was all so ridiculous, she thought as she stretched out on the bed. The whole boy-girl-sex thing. Why did people give in so easily? Why did they let themselves get swept away? People let their bodies take over, and then they made bad decisions. Which would be fine if those decisions didn’t have consequences for other people. But they usually did. Like when Dad and Mom broke up and forgot about their children. Like Jimmy Don with Starr.