Home > Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)(3)

Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)(3)
Author: C.L. Stone

I moved to sit beside Luke, leaning into him and pressing a cheek to his shoulder. He stared off, either daydreaming or thinking. I listened passively to the voices downstairs and general noises in the house but enjoyed the simple moment of being next to him.

He still smelled of vanilla and sugar, although he had taken on a bit of Kota’s spice scent. The mix worked surprisingly well together. His blond hair was wild, sticking out at places, but framed his high cheekbones. His lean muscles and tan skin had once made me think of him akin to clothing models. The longer hair softened his angled jaw and chin, but in a notable way.

Compared, I felt like a mess. I wore my own pajama bottoms, but I was pretty sure the shirt was Nathan’s. I touched the collar of the T-shirt absently, wondering where he was and if he’d slept at his house alone again. He’d done so almost all week.

Luke tilted his head and blinked rapidly, looking at me as if realizing I was there. He reached around, hugging me around the shoulders and kissed the top of my brow. “We can’t forget, the important thing is you’re out, right? We will always have to juggle us anyway, given the Academy and everything, but it could have been much worse if we left you there. That’s one thing not to worry about anymore. Everything else is cake...in a pan.” He laughed at his own joke. “I’m starting to sound like Silas.”

He was right about us and the continuous need to mind our schedules. I could have been stuck at my stepmom’s house, sneaking around and at great risk. I wrapped my arm around his back, hugging him in return. “I don’t mean to be so glum. I’m just... I mean there’s a lot to think about.”

He chuckled and nuzzled my face until I tilted it enough and he could kiss my cheek, closer to my mouth. “I don’t have much to think about. I’m all in. Whatever happens. Okay?”

I knew he wasn’t just talking about the living situation, but the relationship we had developed, between the nine guys in our group and myself. I sighed but smiled at him. “I do worry about the others...”

He kissed my lips briefly and his fingers smoothed over the skin just above the elbow. He slowly slid his fingers up my arm, under the sleeve, massaging a little with his fingertips. “I’ve known them for a good long while. If any of them really felt they wanted to not do any of it, it would have been out the door by now.” He lightly held my arm and pulled me in, his lips meeting mine and putting more pressure into his kiss.

I closed my eyes, a little passive at first as my mind was slow to readjust. Eventually, I became more animated, responding to his kiss, leaning into him.

Suddenly, the door to Kota’s bedroom down below opened. Swift footsteps thundered up the stairs.

Luke leaped away from me, turned, and rushed into the bathroom, but not before Erica popped her head up. He closed the door just as she finished clearing the last step.

My cheeks warmed quickly. The guys came and left often enough. I suspected most of them didn’t ask to stay, so Erica usually wasn’t surprised to see them. However, I had been up here alone with him, and he’d not had a shirt on. We had been quiet.

There was only one bed unmade...

Erica slowed at the top of the stairs, her smile frozen on her face. She glanced at the bathroom door and then at the bed. The rollaway bed had been put away.

The rule was to stay overnight, Kota slept on the rollaway and I slept in his bed. If the others stayed, they usually had sleeping bags on the floor. Most of the time we followed this, but Luke had come in really late and just crawled into the bed with me instead of waking us up pulling out sleeping bags.

“I...” I muttered. I stopped myself, not wanting to lie to her. I also couldn’t stop the heat in my cheeks, and I knew I was blushing. I just didn’t know how to respond.

Erica turned to me. Her smile was still there but it flickered with confusion. “Did he stay over?”

“He...woke me up. I was sleeping in...” I stuck with partial truths, like what Mr. Blackbourne and the others often did when they needed to be careful with what they said. “But he beat me to the bathroom...”

“Don’t wait on him,” she said. She motioned to me. “I came to get you anyway. I was going to make breakfast, but Kota volunteered to go pick some up from Bob’s.”

I relaxed, hoping I was overthinking her glances and pauses. I hurried over to her, and she tugged me by the arm to get me to follow her downstairs.

I only hoped she didn’t see too much into Luke running off like he did.


Kota was in the kitchen with a notepad in his hands, scratching a list onto it with a pencil. He was already dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a green polo shirt, with a white T-shirt underneath noticeable at the unbuttoned collar. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have cheese grits,” he said over his shoulder as he glanced at what he had written. “I think it’s just the normal sort.”

Jessica stood behind him, wearing jeans, a sweater and socks. She touched the edge of her pink glasses. When they stood close together, I noticed how alike they looked as siblings, with the face shape, hair color and features. Jessica was just the younger version. “North knows how to make it if he’s in.”

“I’ll ask.” Kota picked up his head to look over at his mother and then at me. He brightened a little. “I know what Luke wants,” he said. “But you want the same? Chocolate chip pancakes?”

I nodded. If North would be making them, he’d include fruit and plenty of eggs anyway.

Erica rolled her eyes. “I need my sixteen-year-old metabolism back,” she said. “By the way, I didn’t know Luke was here.”

“He came in sometime this morning,” Kota said and took out his phone, ready to dial, but turned his attention to his mother. “Is he awake?”

“You know I don’t mind them here,” Erica said. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the counter before looking over at me. “Go on to the bathroom. It should be open. There should be plenty of towels if you want to shower.”

I didn’t want a shower, but I got the feeling Erica had something to say to Kota without me being nearby. I walked away slowly. Jessica seemed to get the hint as well and padded off to the living room, where she sat down on the couch and picked up the remote.

I tiptoed through the front hallway, trying to listen to what was being said in the kitchen.

“What?” Kota asked.

“You know I trust them, but I don’t have a good feeling about leaving them alone with Sang without you or the rest of us around.”

Kota coughed shortly in a way that sounded like a laugh. “They’d never... I don’t know what you’re thinking...”

“I know they wouldn’t hurt her but...” A footstep echoed in the kitchen.

The sound startled me enough to drive me forward, through the hall.

In the bathroom, I closed the door and pressed my back against it. My heart thundered. My palm slipped over it, feeling it thudding and trying to calm myself.

It was normal, I told myself. Erica was doing what any mother would do when concerned about boys and girls being alone together. I supposed all of them together, it didn’t seem too bad, but being alone with one of them was a little too much for her. She did make the rules for a reason.

It was something to talk to the guys about, and probably why Luke felt the need to bolt to the bathroom quickly when hearing someone coming up the stairs.

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