“Well, at least it ended well,” Ryder said. He was resting his hand on her thigh and she thought it was the sweetest gesture.
“Kind of,” she said. She covered his hand with her own, lacing their fingers together. “When he died, I was still so young. Jackson said I spent hours sitting in the bathroom, waiting for him to come home. My brother liked to tell me that he got in trouble for peeing outside because I wouldn’t give up the house’s only bathroom. Of course, my father never came back and I realized then that my life was going to change forever. Jackson stepped up to the plate, trying to keep everything running smoothly at home, but he was older and had to do his own thing. My mother convinced him to join the police force and he was away from home more often. I had to grow up pretty quickly, especially when my mother was first diagnosed.”
Tatum looked over at the sadness she saw in his eyes and regretted telling him her sad, sappy stories. “Enough about me,” she said, “how about you, Ryder? You have any sad childhood stories?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “My mom and dad are still around. But they live in New Hampshire and I don’t get to see them very often. I have three brothers and I’m the oldest. They are constantly arguing about something or other. I gave up trying to fit in with them a long time ago.”
“No sisters?” Tatum asked.
“Nope,” he said. “My mother said she threw in the towel when my brother Axel popped out.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that four boys would make me want to throw in the towel too,” Tatum teased. “I always wondered what it would be like to come from a big family,” she said.
“It’s fun, most of the time. Holiday’s and parties are a blast but then you have to deal with the bullshit of everyday life. You know—like when your youngest brother runs off to join the military and doesn’t tell anyone,” Ryder said.
“That happened?” she asked.
“Yep, and so much more,” he said. “My middle brother eloped with a woman he met in Atlantic City, on a trip he took with a couple of friends, for the weekend.”
“Shit,” Tatum said.
“Yeah—shit doesn’t even begin to cover how pissed off my mother was. She went on and on about how she was robbed from watching a daughter walk down the aisle but then my stupid brother, Finn went and eloped.”
“So, your brother’s names are Finn, Axel, and—” she paused and looked over to find Ryder smiling.
“Jackson,” he said, laughing.
“Oh my God, that’s too funny. But you call my brother Hart, so it shouldn’t get too confusing, right?” she asked. What were the odds that they both had brothers named Jackson?
“Yep, and I call my brother Jack, so not too confusing. Honestly, until I met you, I almost forgot that Hart had a first name or that it was Jackson. Your brother told all of us to call him Hart when he first came into Savage Hell,” Ryder said.
“I guess he got used to everyone on the force calling him by his last name and that just stuck. I’m one of the only people that calls him Jackson now. My mom used to call him by his first name, too.” She remembered how their mother reacted when her brother’s friends stopped by and were calling him Hart. She told her brother that she gave him a perfectly lovely name and those boys needed to use it or not come by her house again. That was one of the last times her brother brought home friends to hang out.
Tatum turned the corner to head down the gravel path that led to her grandmother’s cabin. “Almost there,” she said, just like her mom used to when they got this close to her grandmother’s place. She could remember the excitement that she felt every time they pulled onto the gravel road that led back to the cabin. Half the time, her mom couldn’t find the road under all the snow, but she had grown up in the old cabin and said she’d be able to find her way back to it one way or another.
“When you said that she lived off the beaten path, you meant it, Honey,” Ryder said. “When we get up here, we’ll need to figure out what will be necessary for provisions. You have any little grocery stores around here?” he asked.
“Only one,” she said. “It’s about ten miles back the other direction from where we came. I won’t make any promises that the cabin is in the best condition,” she said. She suddenly felt nervous about him seeing her grandmother’s place. It was like sharing an intimate look into her life and she was worried he wouldn’t like what he saw. She felt the same way when she had to come clean and tell him she was a virgin.
“That’s it,” she said, pointing out the front windshield. “My grandma’s cabin.” He studied it and she worried that it wasn’t measuring up to what he had envisioned. “It’s not much,” she admitted. “But it’s cozy and homey.”
“It’s wonderful,” Ryder said. “I love the rustic feel of it. You said that your mom grew up here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. Tatum parked the rental SUV in front of the house and looked over at him. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous about showing you my family’s cabin,” she admitted.
“Hey,” he said, “come here, Baby,” he ordered. He unbuckled her seatbelt and pulled her onto his lap, helping her to straddle him. “It’s perfect, Tatum. You can’t show or tell me anything that will have me running for the hills. I thought we went over all that when you told me about you being a virgin. None of that shit matters to me, Baby. I want you for you, period.” Tatum shyly nodded and he pulled her down and sealed his mouth over hers. She liked the way he was always taking what he wanted from her. He didn’t ask permission and he made no apologies for wanting everything from her. He took that, too—everything. He had her body, heart, and soul, she was just too chicken to admit it to him.
“Really?” she squeaked, still feeling unsure of herself.
“Yep,” he breathed. “You’re perfect, Tatum.” She made a phishing sound and he covered her mouth with his hand. “No argument,” he insisted. “I know you probably aren’t ready to hear me say this, but I don’t care. I’ve waited weeks for you to give me a chance and now that you have, I need for you to know that I think I’m falling for you.” He stilled, seeming to wait her out and all she wanted to do was throw her arms around his neck and tell him just how perfect she thought he was.
Tatum pulled his hand down her lips, gently kissing his palm. “I think you’re pretty perfect too,” she whispered. “And, since we’re laying our feelings and things out on the table, I’m falling for you too, Ryder.” Now it was his turn to seem taken off guard.
“Really?” he asked, his voice squeaking a little like her’s just had.
“Yep,” she said, giving him back his words. “I know that we met under crazy circumstances,” she said.
“Well, you did run me over with your car and all,” he teased.