All my life, I’ve wanted nothing more than to feel protected. Safe.
You know, that feeling you get burrowing into a mountain of blankets on Christmas morning, surrounded by the soft glow of white lights? I get that same exact sensation when I walk out onto the back patio and see Rex for the first time.
I know it’s him, because he’s the only person at the anniversary party I don’t recognize. My stepfather hates Rex, his brother, and probably only invited him to show off the new house. It’s obvious now why my mother’s husband of one year can’t stand his sibling—Rex is everything he isn’t.
Rex is almost too male with his weathered face and unkempt beard. I’ve heard stories of the Alaskan king crab fisherman who now stands silhouetted by the night sky. My stepfather calls him reckless for fishing on those dangerous waters, but that boldness clings to him, makes him look twice as capable as any regular man. The buttons of the flannel shirt he’s wearing barely contain his thick masculine bulk—muscled and meaty and…God, is that black hair curling through some of the openings between buttons?
My thighs clench together all on their own and I gasp, because I’ve never felt that tug between my legs before. It’s a warm, melting twist that doesn’t end, only gets more intense as Rex puffs on a short cigar, releasing a steady stream of smoke toward the ebbing sunset.
This man is strange to me. We haven’t even been properly introduced. But something draws me closer. A promise of safety, which doesn’t make any sense considering we haven’t exchanged a word. Maybe it’s his huge hands or the thighs that look so sturdy I could jump on them like a trampoline and he wouldn’t notice. My nipples grow stiff at the idea of touching him. What is happening to me?
Out of everyone, my step-uncle had to make me feel this way?
Although…surely it can’t hurt to talk to him. My body is probably just confused. It’s reacting to what it wants most—safety—and uncles are supposed to make you feel safe, right?
Remembering my manners, I cross the patio with my hand extended for a shake. “Hello, nice to meet you, my name is—”
My toe catches on a brick and I go flying.
You see, this is why safety appeals to me so much. I’m a disaster. A walking, talking disaster that should be wrapped in bubble wrap or kept indoors. Ever since I was a toddler, I have found my way into messes, scrapes and broken bones. I don’t mean to—honestly. My mother says God forgot to give me balance. Isn’t that terribly sad? It’s hard not to believe her some days, though.
Especially now, when I’m about to hit the patio and probably sprain a wrist—again—or earn a gash on my chin. But no…
Rex catches me.
And when I look up into his ogre-style frown? Angels. They start singing.
“What in the good goddamn is wrong with you, girl?”
His voice. It’s ashes and soot. A rusted gate swinging open. It shouldn’t make me feel as though I’ve landed on a fluffy cloud sent from heaven, but it does. Wow. “God didn’t give me any balance. Isn’t that terrible?” I whisper. “I save loose change in a jar so I can go to Paris one day and see the Eiffel Tower, but I keep having to cash it in for Band-Aids.”
In my flushed and flustered state, my words have come out in a high-pitched jumble, but he still seems to comprehend all right. I think. Those narrowed eyes are sweeping over me and lingering in my sensitive places, a tick-tock beginning in his cheek. “When I asked what was wrong with you, I meant you shouldn’t be out here in the cold wearing nothing but pajamas.”
“This is a dress, silly.”
He gives a low grunt and when he speaks again, his voice has dropped to a scraping baritone. “Ain’t like no dress I’ve seen.”
Oh God. He thinks I’m sexy, doesn’t he? Boys have asked me out before and I’ve even gone on a few movie dates. Having them stare at my boobs never felt like this, though. As if I’m seconds from being carried off into the shadows. I should tell him who I am. Right this very second. But he would stop holding me if I did that. I’m not even sure he realizes I’m still locked in his arms, my side pressed against his hard, unmovable body. “It’s my favorite color,” I say, instead of the right thing. “That’s why I bought it.”
“Pink, huh?” Those eyes trace down lower, where the hem of my dress brushes my upper thighs. “Sweet baby pink.”
I squeeze—squeeze—my legs together. It’s like going over the steep drop of a roller coaster. “I lied.” I lean up to whisper against his ear. “They are pajamas.”