Want to know what Travis was thinking when he first met Quinn at the Florence Bar in GIVE ME STRENGTH?
Let’s not forget Casey. What WAS he thinking during that chat scene on the couch with Quinn? Read on…
I broke into a light jog as I left the Florence Bar, keeping my eyes peeled for a bright scrap of yellow so I wouldn’t miss her. There! I jogged towards the kerb, the odd mix of lust and relief at finding her not confusing me at all. When I saw something I wanted, what was the point in playing games or wasting time? I saw her, I wanted, hence no time to waste.
Unfortunately she tipped her glass of wine all over me, and that was after I caught her accidently spraying her friend with her drink earlier. It was apparent she belonged to the klutz club. Not that I minded, as long as all that stumbling she was doing was over me, I could work with it.
Reaching her side, I forced deep even breaths in an effort not to appear breathless. “Running away?” I asked.
She spun around and once again, I was struck stupid, just like at the bar where I first saw her. Wild flutters had hit my belly when I first ran my eyes over her. I tried soothing them by swallowing from the cold bottle of beer in my hand, but damned if that didn’t work. She’d been sitting in a booth opposite her pretty friend looking like a wild daisy in the middle of thorny roses. Her pale hair spun under the soft lighting and my eyes lingered on her mouth—the soft, full lips definitely captured my attention. When she caught me looking at her, those eyes—hazel? Green? I couldn’t tell from the distance—flared wide and that’s about when clumsiness took the reigns. Going by the wild flush of pink on her cheeks, I probably shouldn’t have saluted her efforts with my beer, but how could I resist? She was fucking adorable. Seeing her flustered was pretty much the highlight of another night out when I’d rather have been at home.
So I bought her a wine as an apology and was just about to take it over and offer it up, along with myself, when suddenly she appeared right next to me. What luck!
After I called out a drinks order to the bartender, Vince, she spun around and I caught her eyes—deep, rich pools of chocolate. Jesus. She was tiny. I would bet that without those sexy shoes of hers, she would only reach my chest. Visions of picking her up, slamming her back into the wall and kissing those lush lips hit me hard.
Realising I was staring, I said the first thing that came to mind. “You’re not gonna toss your next drink at me, are you?”
Her mouth fell open. “My drink?”
I chuckled at the confusion clouding her eyes. “Yeah, your drink.”
“Oh.” She paused. “I don’t have one.”
I nodded to the bar where Vince was just setting it down for her. She followed my direction and frowned. “I didn’t order that,” she mumbled along with something else I didn’t quite catch and gave me her back.
Holy fuck me. Her back. It was entirely naked. I swallowed. Her dress was a stealthy torture device because it snuck up on a man, then dared him to keep it together instead of leaning in and running his tongue from her neck down to the tip of her ass. My dick jerked wildly, taking an obvious liking to that idea.
That was unfair. Surely she had to know that turning her back and showing me all that creamy expanse of naked skin would get me hot.
Payback is going to be a bitch, sweetheart.
Eyes narrowing determinedly, I leaned in towards her ear, stopping just shy of licking the lobe into my mouth and splayed my hand across the small of her back. My dick jerked again, liking the fact that my hand was touching naked skin. “I ordered it,” I rumbled softly and took pure, male satisfaction at feeling her shiver beneath my touch. Yeah, two can play this game, baby. “For you,” I added.
“You did?” she asked breathlessly.
“Uh huh,” I replied into her ear, my lips curving at her response. “When I saw you throw your drink at your friend, I thought you could do with another.”
My words were rewarded when she spun around, her breasts brushing my chest for a brief moment. I sucked in a quick breath when all the blood in my body headed in one, single-minded direction.
Hmm, that round to you, sweetheart.
Determined to best her, I tried not to frown.
“I didn’t throw it,” she denied.
“Sure you didn’t,” I replied. I smiled at her, slow and lazy, and chuckled to myself when her eyes lost focus. “You know, you could just say thank you.”
“What?” she muttered.
Oh, she was making this too easy. I leaned in again and caught her holding her breath. Stretching out my arms around her until I was almost pinning her to the bar, I picked up the beers Vince left for me with a thanks and twisted sideways to hand them to my friends.
“Now,” I murmured, returning to my pretty blonde. “Where were we? Oh that’s right. I believe you were thanking me.”
“Umm…thank you,” she replied, flustered, and I was utterly charmed. How did she do that—come across so sweet and sexy all at the same time? Fuck, I want to see if she tastes the same way.
Fighting the urge to adjust myself inside my jeans to get desperate relief, I realised it was time to kick it up a notch. “Pity,” I murmured with a shake of my head, letting disappointment creep into my voice.
Her smile fell. “What?”
“I was hoping I’d get more than words,” I replied, keeping my voice low and suggestive.
“What were you hoping for?”
Her eyes dropped to my lips. Bingo! I licked them lightly and with my beer in one hand, I used the other to grip her hip lightly and leaning in again, said, “You.”
There. You couldn’t get much clearer than that. See how quick and easy the whole process was? Minimum effort, minimum fuss, no time wasted.
She pulled back, her eyes wide with fear and panic as they searched my face. It was a like a punch to the gut. Fuck. Did I put that there? I could feel her closing off from me and suddenly I realised my mistake. She wasn’t flirting at all.
You dumb, stupid asshole!
How the fuck was I supposed to fix this?
“Excuse me,” she mumbled. “I have to get back to my friend.”
The thought of her leaving tied a knot in my stomach but I didn’t have time to ponder the odd sensation because suddenly her icy cold wine was splashing its way down the front of my T-shirt.
The shock of being doused in alcohol rendered me speechless.
“Oh God,” she cried out, looking like she was ready to be sick. “I’m so sorry!”
Ignoring the catcalls of my friends behind me, I brushed a hand down the sopping mess, only succeeding in spreading it around further. “Vince?” I called out over the blonde’s shoulder. “Towel, mate.”
She took hold of the towel Vince offered and handed it over. Averting those pretty eyes, she mumbled another apology and turned to leave.
Did she think a minor blip like that was going to put me off? Newsflash, sweetheart, I still want you. Reaching out, I grabbed her arm before she could take another step. She paused and met determined eyes. I arched a brow at her. “Leaving me?”
My chest tightened at the sadness flitting across her face. Who or what had made her look so damn lost and unhappy? The sudden urge to throw a punch stumbled across me.
“I’m really sorry,” she whispered. “I can’t do this.”
My brow furrowed with confusion as the towel I held hovered over my chest. “Can’t do what?” I asked.
“Life,” she muttered so softly it was obvious I wasn’t meant to hear. “It wasn’t meant for me.”
Stunned and shaken, my hand dropped from her arm and she spun around and disappeared so quickly my eyes couldn’t keep up with her. Which brought me back to now, outside the bar, catching her by the kerb before she could disappear from my life completely and asking her if she was running away.
“Absolutely,” she answered, her voice clear and honest.
Her eyes flared with disbelief. “You are?”
I nodded seriously towards my sopping shirt. “I bought someone a drink, and they threw it at me. Seems like a good excuse to ditch my friends in there and head home.”
Well, that’s what I told her anyway, but I wasn’t running away, I was chasing, and heading home alone was not my intention. Catching the flush of embarrassment heating her cheeks, I chuckled.
Seemingly skittish, I realised a bit more finesse than just a direct, “I want to fuck you,” was going to be needed here. “Share a cab?” I asked.
Letting her respond wasn’t going to work in my favour, so before she could speak, I lifted an arm and let out a piercing whistle.
Her eyebrows flew up, appearing stunned when a passing cab squealed to a stop. Baby, if getting a cab to stop impresses you, then wait to see what else I can do.
With manners ingrained into me by my mother since I could remember, I stepped forward and after opening the door, I turned to her expectantly, suddenly feeling like I was trying to coral a skittish horse.
Satisfaction thrummed through my veins when she slid inside the car. Getting in beside her, I shut the door and asked, “Where do you live?”
“Campsie, mate,” I told the cab driver and looked at her. “Campsie’s a bit of a hike for cab ride,” I replied, suddenly frowning. Did she live on her own or with friends? Maybe her place wasn’t such a great idea. Mine wasn’t that great either because my best mate, Casey, was at home. Having to leave early to catch a flight, it was likely he was in bed though, so my place was looking more like the better option, not to mention it was a hell of a lot closer, and there was that whole time wasting factor to take into consideration. So how did I work this?
“Do you mind if I get dropped off at Woolloomooloo first? I need to get out of this wet shirt.”
“Um…sure.” Her shoulders slumped with obvious disappointment.
So far, so good. I smothered a grin and gave the cab driver new directions while she texted her friend. The girl was being safe. Good. Done, she found me appraising her intently, imagining all the places I wanted to kiss and lick her. I shifted slightly in my seat.
“So… What do you do?” she asked me.
“I’m a consultant,” I replied. Feeling the heavy weight of my job come crashing down on my shoulders, I waved it off as unimportant. “What about you?”
“I’m uh…in between jobs at the moment.”
“So what do you do when you’re not in between jobs?”
She bit down on her lip and desire coiled in my belly like a barely restrained spring ready to pounce. I wanted to bite her lip, then run my tongue over it to soothe the sharp hurt.
“Sorry?” she repeated, pink hitting her cheekbones.
I repeated the question.
“Um…I just finished uni doing business management actually, but that was part time. During the day I worked full time as a receptionist.”
After directing the cab driver, I turned back to her. “Sounds like you’re a busy girl. Who do you work for?”
“Jettison Records,” she supplied.
“Oh yeah?” My eyebrows flew up in surprise. Small world, what with my little sister, Mac, managing a band that just signed with the big Australian music label. “That’s—”
The cab driver squealed around a sharp corner, cutting off my words.
“Ouch!” the girl cried out when her head cracked into the side window.
“Goddamn stupid sonofabitch,” I cursed under my breath, anger at the idiot cab driver heating my blood. “Are you okay?” I asked her. Cupping her cheeks gently, I tilted her head, checking for an injury. “Goddammit, mate,” I growled at the cab driver as I let go of her soft skin reluctantly. “You bastards need to learn how to slow the fuck down.”
Squealing to a stop out the front of the loft apartments where I lived, he had the nerve to say, “Time is money, man.”
I bit back the urge to tell him where he could stick his time and money, when I suddenly realised I’d been provided with the perfect opportunity. “Come on,” I told her while fighting the upward curve of my lips. I threw money at the cab driver and before she could protest, I unbuckled her seatbelt and hauled her out of the car with minimal effort. “I’m not sending you home with this speed demon.”
Lacing our fingers together, I led her towards the entrance of my building, shuddering under the feel of her soft hand in mine. “I’d drive you home…” I told her as punched the code into the security panel and heard the door unlock, “…but I’m probably over the limit.”
When I pushed the door open, ready to invite her upstairs for a drink, and hopefully into my bed if I played this right, she tugged her hand free.
“Well that’s okay,” she told me. “I can just get another cab.”
Pausing, I frowned. No. Just…no. Not ready to let you go just yet, sweetheart. “You think I’m gonna leave you out here wandering the city streets waiting for a cab to pass by?”
There she went with the lip biting thing again. I stifled a groan. My restraint around her was non-existent—holidaying on some remote, inaccessible island. With my eyes burning into hers, I told her she had to stop doing that.
“Doing what?” she asked. Her breathless voice and lowered lids told me one thing—she wanted me just as much.
The realisation had me letting go of the door. “Biting your lip like that,” I replied, taking both her hands in mind and inching closer.
“Oh,” she muttered as I stepped inside her space.
My eyes lowered to her lips. “Your mouth gets all red and swollen until I want to lick it better.”
Planning to do just that, I cupped her face in my hands, angling her body towards the red brick wall of my building so it could bear the force of the kiss I was about take from her.
“Shit,” I cursed. “Sorry.”
“My fault,” she breathed, her chest fluttering up and down as I pressed my body into hers. “I ahh…should probably get going.”
She didn’t sound like she wanted to get going and I didn’t want her to go. “Uh huh,” I placated.
Then she went and licked her lips. God, but she knew how to flirt without even realising what she was doing. Groaning, I ducked my head until my mouth hovered over hers.
“Can I kiss you?” I whispered against her lips. Not wasting time waiting for a response, my grip on her tightened and I crushed my lips on hers. What was it she did to me? She looked like she needed gentle, but the way she responded to my rough, desperate touch was wild. She moaned when I fisted her soft, silky hair, tilting her head so I could get better access to her lips and tongue. Hard and throbbing, I pressed my hips into her, not wanting to let go of her lips, but needing that hot, wet mouth to move south, and fast.
Christ, Travis, you want her to blow you in the fucking street?
I pulled back, panting, my eyes widening in shock at my complete lack of control.
“Jesus,” I gasped, my eyes falling to her swollen lips. That was a mistake, or not, depending on how you looked at it, because I only gave her a second to catch a breath before I was slamming my mouth back down on hers. I didn’t just want her right now, I needed her like I needed to breathe.
“Do you want to come in?” I breathed against her lips.
Please, God, don’t say no.
I couldn’t remember the last time someone made me feel like this—out of control, desperate and so achingly alive.
Exhaling loudly, I rapped reluctantly on Travis’s door, not really wanting to interrupt whatever the hell he and Quinn were doing in there. Well, it wasn’t really whatever the hell, I did have a good idea, and I wished I was doing it right now too. Lucky bastard. I had a shitty day. Having it wiped out by someone like Quinn would have turned it all around.
“Um, sorry, guys,” I called through the door as I shoved the thought away, “but Travis, it’s the phone, mate. It’s one of your work assignments.”
Moving quickly away, I went for the fridge and a beer. It would have to do the job that sex couldn’t. So would television. I flopped back on the couch, bottle in hand and stared blankly at the screen. The movie I’d been watching with Travis and Quinn was paused, silently reminding me that there was still another hour of the torture to get through. It was a sappy love fest with some supposed action thrown in, but I’d yet to see it. I’d lived through more action sitting at my desk filling out endless police reports.
Travis slipped out of the bedroom door, tying back his hair and sliding his shuttered expression into place. I knew that face. It’s the same one I wore almost every day. It was a good face. It didn’t tell people shit and in our line of work, that could sometimes mean the difference between staying alive or getting shot.
“Take care of my girl,” he muttered as he slipped by me, heading for the front door.
Travis glanced over his shoulder at me and unable to resist, I grabbed my crotch and grinned. “I’ll make sure she’s well looked after, don’t you worry.”
My words smacked the shuttered expression right off his face in favour of narrowed eyes and flared nostrils. Getting the desired reaction, I laughed out loud.
Shaking his head, Travis disappeared out the door, shutting it none too gently behind him. Well, that was fun for a few seconds, what now?
“Quinn? You can come out. I don’t bite!” I yelled out. “Much,” I muttered under my breath.
She emerged from Travis’s room in a tank top and little pair of sleep shorts. Fuck me, but she was cute. We were already close after knowing each other for such a short time because we shared a connection. Not a good one, but one that brought us closer together. I could honestly say I loved her and with everything going on right now, I wanted to be the big brother she could turn to when things went to shit.
Finished pouring a wine, she joined me on the couch and glanced at the television. “Prolonging the torture?” she asked.
I shrugged, liking that she didn’t show me the same reservation I saw come out in her around others. “Didn’t want you to miss it. If I have to sit here and watch this crap, you have to too.”
With that I pressed play, tilted my head back on the couch, and zoned out. What felt like a lifetime later, the credits rolled.
“Mmm,” she mumbled sleepily. “That movie was shit.”
A smile spread slowly across my face at the understatement of the century and I chuckled. Not yet ready to face a cold, empty bed, I asked, “Wanna watch another one?”
I probably should have let her get some sleep, but she agreed. Relieved at having the company, I loaded my movie choice in the DVD player this time while she returned to the kitchen. Disappearing in my room, I grabbed a pair of sweatpants and got changed.
I came back out to an open fridge door and Quinn bent over, her head buried inside it. To give myself credit, I really did try not to stare at her ass, but I was a man after all. It was almost an automatic requirement. Maybe not so much when the woman in question was your best mate’s girl, but she was female, and breathing, and sometimes that’s really all it took.
“Tea, coffee, beer?” she called out.
“Sex,” I muttered under my breath, but obviously that wasn’t on tonight’s menu. Jesus. I needed to get laid and get sex off the brain. “Beer me, Quinn,” I told her.
Shrieking a little, she jumped and elbowed me in the chest. Obviously she wasn’t expecting me right behind her. “Oh God, sorry.”
I smothered a grin at her pretty flush. “My fault.”
Drinks in hand, we returned to the couch and I snatched up the remote, not willing to let Quinn even look at it, let alone touch it like she did last time.
She glanced at me sideways. “This job Travis got called out to. He’s not in any danger is he?”
After taking a deep pull of my beer, I exhaled heavily. “Nah,” I lied casually. Having Quinn up half the night worrying wouldn’t do her any good. “Just another sorry custody dispute.” That was the truth, but it was one that was escalating wildly out of control. With my eyes trained to the television, I explained, “We get called in when it gets out of hand. You know you’d think it’s good—both parents loving the kid so much they can’t agree who gets to spend more time with them—but that’s hardly ever what it’s about.”
“What is it about?”
“Winning,” I muttered bitterly, swiping a hand across my face. All those parents who claimed to give a shit. It wasn’t about their kids. It was about them. What they could get, and how far they’d go to get it. It made my stomach roll. “But for there to be a winner, there’s got to be a loser, right? And we all know who that turns out to be.”
Not wanting to take the conversation further, I pressed play on the movie.
“Is that what happened with you? Travis says he does what he does because of you.”
Is that what happened to me? My chest tightened painfully at the loaded question. My fuck up lost me everything, including myself. Maybe I could tell her one day. Quinn would understand at least some of it, but other parts might be too much for her to hear. I swallowed hard and forced a chuckle. “Travis and I have been friends since we started uni, so I know how you feel around the Valentines, Quinn. They’ll be quick to tell you they’re not the perfect family, and they aren’t. But they’re not perfect in the way that it counts.”
“What way is that?”
“Love of course. They grew up with it. People like you and me, Quinn, we grew up with fear.” Perfect didn’t matter when you were loved, because love—the type the Valentine family share—that’s unconditional. No matter how hard I tried, and eventually failed, I never experienced anything like it, not until I met Travis, and even then it took years for me to trust it. No matter what, a Valentine always had my back. I wanted that for Quinn and after the fallout from their Melbourne trip, it still burned that I hadn’t been there. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you in Melbourne,” I told her, effectively changing the subject.
“But if there’s a next time…” God fucking forbid, “…you get straight on your phone and ring Travis. If you can’t get Travis, you ring me. You can’t get me, you ring Jared, you can’t get—”
“Casey.” She held up a hand, cutting off what appeared to be the beginning of a rant. Since when the fuck did I rant? Since now, apparently. Huh. “I’ve had this chat with Travis already. And Mitch. And Jared,” she added.
Good. I would have been disappointed if they hadn’t stepped up and told her how it was going to be, but damn it all if I didn’t want to have my say. “It’s my turn, and this won’t take long.”
Quinn nodded, sipping at the last of her wine before placing the empty glass on the coffee table. Sitting back, she appeared to be bracing herself. I wasn’t that much of a hardass, was I?
“I know what Travis was like before you, and I know what he’s like since you, and I like the latter.” My voice was firm as I held her eyes and spoke the truth. Travis had been there. He’d seen me through the worst. I always had his back, and him, mine. Seeing the change in him, the spark of happiness in his eyes, was deserved. “He smiles like he means it, even after a long shitty day like he’s dealing with today.” I tapped a finger to my temple. “Up here, there’s you at the back of all that, making his day not so shit because at the end of it, he gets you. You leave, he loses that and we lose him, and I don’t like that. I already feel guilty enough getting him involved in what he does, but it doesn’t come as easy for him to deal with because he hasn’t lived it. So you understand me when I say don’t ever think about leaving again.”
Taking a deep breath, Quinn looked away, nodding at the television. “We’re missing the movie.”
Understanding the diversionary tactic, I saluted her with my beer and we both settled in to watch The Fast and the Furious.
“Paul Walker’s hot,” she blurted out. “He reminds me of Henry.”
I tilted my head, watching the apparent man of the hour on screen. I didn’t see it. Paul Walker was dressed like a ten year old. Shaking my head, I glanced sideways at Quinn. “So you think Henry’s hot?”
“Well I’m not blind,” she mumbled.
“Oh shush,” she muttered, slapping my shoulder.
“I like having you here, Quinn,” I told her, because I did. I felt comfortable, like I could be myself around her and not have to think carefully about what I said, or what I gave away.
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat, swallowing a hard lump in my throat. She was like family, and mine was gone. “I had a brother but I never had a sister.”
A multitude of emotions crossed her face, but eventually, her eyes, wide with shock, found mine, realising what I’d admitted to. “Wait. You had a brother?”
I nodded towards the television, gripping tight to the empty beer bottle in my shaky hands before it smashed to the floor. “We’re missing the movie.”
With relief, I felt her let it go and face the television, and as the movie played out I fought to get myself under control until I could breathe again.