Home > Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)(2)

Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)(2)
Author: C.L. Stone

Helpless. Useless.

Liam’s lips twisted, frowning, and then he spoke. “Whatever happened, I’m sure it’s horrible. But if your team was any sort of team, the heat of the moment misunderstandings...You’re clearly sorry for whatever happened, or you wouldn’t be here trying to fix it. They’ll see that.”

Nathan swallowed thickly. “I’m just afraid they’ll decide to boot me off the team. I’ll lose them. I’ll lose her.”

“If they are your team, they won’t kick you off. It’s always a mutual decision.”

He wished he believed it. But at the moment, he was pretty sure.

Liam motioned to the library room. “Come sit down. Hurry before you wake anyone else up. If you need to vent and get another opinion, I guess I was the lucky dog to answer the door first. The answer you’re looking for probably isn’t as hard to get as you think.”

Nathan breathed out heavily through his nose and relaxed, but only a little.

He wasn’t so sure it was going to be fixable.

Cake in a Pan


Two Weeks Earlier

Cold seeped through the windows upstairs in the Lee household. Mid-January in South Carolina wasn’t as cold as Illinois, but the darkness and cooler temperatures made me want nothing more than to stay in bed with a blanket and a book.

Kota’s bedroom was still. The drapes to the windows had already been pulled back to let in what early morning sunlight could get over the trees. The room was cool in purple and pink hues.

I had two or three blankets piled up around me.

Luke was pressed to my side, hip to hip.

The narrow twin mattress left little room, so no matter where I rolled over, he was at my back, my front, everywhere. Luke’s legs were crossed on top of one of mine.

When did he crawl in with me? I barely remembered him coming in. I must have been sleeping extra hard, or I’d gotten so used to someone crawling into the bed with me that I dismissed it entirely.

Luke draped an arm over his eyes. His breathing was steady. I slowly blinked at him, keeping still so I wouldn’t wake him. His tapered shoulders were bare. The tan he’d built up during the warmer months hadn’t faded much. His blond hair was getting as long as mine, and it framed his face, splaying out over the pillow.

I considered getting up to wash and dress, but I was comfortable next to Luke. The bed was warmed by the two of us sleeping so close together.

The other reason to stay in bed as long as possible was Erica.

Even though it was an early hour, Erica was downstairs rattling around in the kitchen. Kota had joined her not long ago. Their voices floated up, mild tones. I couldn’t really hear what they were saying. When I was around, Kota’s mom seemed to ask a lot of questions.

Luke turned his head to me, with one brown eye opening. An arm stretched lazily across my shoulders. He tugged me closer until my back was to his chest, and his lips dipped down at my spine along my neck.

I flipped over so I could look at his sleepy brown eyes. “Good morning,” I whispered.

“I like mornings like this,” he said. Even though I had flipped, he kept an arm around me, his forearm resting on the side of my rib cage loosely. “Erica isn’t going to work today?”

“It’s so hard to keep track of her schedule,” I said. “Sometimes she’s getting in at two in the morning. How does she do it?”

“It works for her. I think she likes the non-routine.”

The volume of voices downstairs rose, mostly Erica. She didn’t do it often, but I’d been in the house for about a week consistently now, and I was getting used to hearing it. Usually, she got very animated around Kota.

I sometimes listened, because often the questions were about me.

A couple of weeks ago, the Sorenson house had been taken over by my stepmother. She returned from the hospital and Marie took care of her, with a little help from the Academy.

They both seemed relatively happy with the arrangement. With my father staying at a small rental with his new fiancé until a divorce finalized, everything was settled.

Except for me.

The paperwork for the divorce was handled delicately. Each side had hired Academy lawyers, luckily. The lawyers were careful with the documents they prepared, limiting my name in each page until I’d eventually disappear before any official record was signed for the court.

The only one concerned at all was my father, who asked carefully about keeping me.

We all knew the reason was to keep my background a secret. His assumption was that my stepmother wouldn’t want me anyway.

I wasn’t in the clear, but the guys assured me repeatedly I wasn’t going back to anyone.

And me being at Erica’s house for a week left her with a lot of questions about what was going on at my house. She trusted Kota, but she knew something was wrong and she wanted to know. Kota explained there was a divorce pending, but he left out a lot of details and claimed he didn’t know because I didn’t know the full details either. She had accepted this, but she did pry for updates.

Luke moved to curl a lock of my hair. He made the curl taut against his finger, and then quickly released it. “You’d look good with curls, I think.”

“Hmm.” I didn’t have much opinion about curls or my hair while I was listening to the voices downstairs. “If Erica is home, maybe we should go somewhere else today.”

“Might be a good idea to get you to stay overnight somewhere else,” he said. He sighed and got up on his elbow. The blanket we shared slipped off of his shoulder, exposing his bare chest underneath. As he twisted and stretched his arms, the blanket fell off of his waist and revealed he was wearing a pair of Kota’s pajama bottoms. They hung loose and low on his hips. “She doesn’t mind you staying at all, but with her odd hours becoming odder, it makes it harder to manage...”

I breathed out slowly. “Our schedule.” I didn’t say it, but the Academy had the guys keeping odd hours, too. And because I was here, the guys were constantly streaming in and out of the house.

“It will be different once we’re back on a school schedule full time. Now that our class schedules have changed...” Luke twisted his back as he sat up, stretching. He scratched at his forehead. “Are the cakes ready yet?”

“Cake?” I asked.

“Pan in a cake,” Luke said. He shook his head and blinked a few times. “I mean cake in a pan. Pancake. Don’t talk to me. I mean don’t listen to me, I haven’t had breakfast yet.”

I laughed a little as I sat up and combed my hair away from my face. “I think we need breakfast to come up with something. I could go back to Nathan’s.”

“You’ve spent months at Nathan’s,” he said. “Come stay with us for a while. We’ve got the room.”

It sounded like fun, but there was a problem with staying anywhere long term. “But what about Uncle?” My black hair clip was on the bedside table. After combing my hair with my fingers, I pulled it all back, twisted and then attached the clip. “Isn’t he going to think it’s weird if I’m staying overnight for a while? Won’t he have the same questions as Erica?”

Luke shrugged and moved to put his feet on the floor. He absently scratched near his eyebrow. “I don’t even know. But he asks about you. Like why I’m not out with you on Friday nights. It’s sort of hard to explain.”

There were lots of things that were hard to explain to others. The secrets we kept were so strange I wasn’t sure anyone would understand. Even Academy members like Uncle found us odd.

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