Eden by flambard Flckr
Ally knew Jack was going to feel guilty, and a twinge of anxiety fluttered in her tummy, but she felt so incredibly good it was hard to get too worried about it. They’d talk about it and she would convince Jack it was silly to be so worried about Carter.
She stroked his back, the rippling muscles and smooth skin, down over his tightly muscled behind, then back up. His weight squashed her, making it hard to breathe, but it felt so good she wasn’t going to complain. Wow.
After long moments, while his breathing gradually slowed and he regained control of his body, Jack rolled off her and off the bed. He went into her bathroom presumably to get rid of the condom, came out and picked up his jeans from the floor. His face looked like someone had died.
He stepped into his jeans then sat down on the bed beside her. She looked up at him, that small knot of fear growing.
“Do not apologize again,” she hissed and sat up, pulling the duvet cover over her. “I’m the one who instigated that, so you can just blame me. You don’t need to feel guilty.”
He gave a short laugh at that. “Yeah, right.”
Ally snagged his gaze. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”
He closed his eyes. “Ally. We’ve been over this. We shouldn’t be doing this. Carter would be so pissed off at me.”
“But Carter and I are not together!” She sat up and held the sheet to her bare breasts. “I just don’t get this! I know you’re a very loyal person, Jack, but this is crazy.”
He was silent, his lips pressed tightly together.
“He cheated on me,” she said earnestly. “I don’t owe him anything.”
“But I do,” he said gravely.
Ally was silent for a moment. “You know, I was going to tell you that I think I was starting to have feelings for you, too, back in college,” she said slowly. “I was feeling very weird when we were graduating and I didn’t really know what was going on. I wish you had told me how you felt back then.”
His lips twisted. “I was about to, and then I found you and Carter together.”
Her heart sank. She had hurt him without any idea of what she was doing. What a mess.
Jack got up and left her room, quietly shutting the door behind him. She must have dozed off, sexually and emotionally exhausted, because the next thing she knew her alarm was going off at the usual seven-thirty. She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering if she had the guts and the strength to get up and face Jack again after what had happened.
But she didn’t need to worry because he’d already left.
* * *
Jack trekked back to Brittany’s home to do more work on the tree house. Even if Sarah hated it, he needed to distract himself from what had happened last night.
Christ. He’d slept with Ally. His body leaped at the thought, his dick twitching, yet he felt heavy with guilt. He rubbed the back of his neck as he drove. They were supposed to be friends.
Like hell. Since he’d discovered his feelings for her five years ago, the chance of them being just friends was about the same as him dancing naked in the streets of Baghdad. Coming back had driven that realization home.
Carter could never know about it. He and Carter were supposed to get together this weekend and somehow Jack was going to have to pretend it never happened, act as if he and Ally were the friends they’d always been. He could do it. Sure.
He parked in front of Brittany’s house and walked around to the back yard. She’d given him a key so he could come and go, and it was on his key ring next to Ally’s. He paused and studied the two keys, side by side.
The tree house was coming together and actually looked like a house, now. He hoped he could finish it today. Then maybe Sarah would be excited about it.
He’d pictured Sarah out here with him, handing him nails and pieces of lumber. He’d envisioned taking her back to the home center to pick out paint colors for the house once it was done, and the two of them laughing and slopping paint around. He chewed at his bottom lip as he got to work. Maybe they could still do that this weekend.
The familiar drone of a lawnmower stirring up the scent of freshly-cut grass made Jack realize how long it had been since he’d heard and smelled such things. He paused, closed his eyes, transported momentarily back to Garden City, to his own back yard, helping his dad saw and nail and put together a ramshackle tree house with a rope ladder that he’d loved beyond anything.
Emotions squeezed his chest and for a few moments, he longed to go home to Garden City, the last home he’d really known. His relationship with his parents had never really been the same since he’d had to tell them he’d gotten a girl pregnant. Disappointed. Ashamed. He didn’t really know he they felt. They hadn’t talked a whole helluva lot. He’d left for college, had only gone home for holidays, but things had been strained ever since.
He would go see his parents before he left, tell them they had a grand-daughter. God. How were they going to take that? They’d thought things had worked out for the best, but, Jesus...here he was, a father.
Hell, he hoped Sarah would be excited. She’d been so disappointed the house wasn’t exactly what she’d wanted. It wasn’t exactly what he’d planned either, but dammit, it’d be better.
He firmed his lips as he worked, sweating more in the late afternoon heat. He stripped off his T-shirt to work bare-chested. Steadying a nail with one hand he lifted the hammer and brought it down sharply right onto his thumb. “Jesus Christ!” He dropped the nail and the hammer and straightened, clutching his throbbing thumb. “Son of a bitch.”
“Those are bad words.”
He turned to see Sarah frowning at him. He hadn’t realized it was so late.
“Yeah,” he ground out. “Sorry.” He looked at the thumb. No blood. That was good. He flexed it and it moved, another good thing.
“Did you hurt yourself?”
“Yeah. Hammered my thumb.” He shook the hand vigorously. “I’m okay.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That you hurt yourself.”
“Thanks.” He picked up the hammer again with a sigh. “Are you here to help me?”
“I can’t help,” she said solemnly. “I don’t know how to build a tree house.”
“You can be my gopher, okay? Bring me that piece right there.” He gestured with the hammer.
Obediently Sarah picked up it up and brought it over to him. And for a while they worked side by side, Sarah doing whatever he asked of him. She’d gotten over the letdown of the house not being in a tree, apparently, but Jack still felt crappy that he wasn’t able to build what she wanted. He blew out a long breath.
“How’s it going?”
Ally’s voice behind him startled him and he damn near whacked his thumb again. He stood up and turned and her eyes moved over his torso with both heated interest and wariness. He felt himself get even warmer, memories of last night flooding his body with hot lust.
“Good,” he managed to say. “What are you doing here?”
“Just thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing. You’ve been talking about this tree house all week and I was curious.” She dragged her eyes off his body with apparent reluctance and surveyed the structure. “It looks great, Jack. Do you like it, Sarah?”
Sarah tipped her head. “I guess so. I still think it should be in the tree, though.”
“It has a ladder for climbing up into it,” Jack said. “See?”
Sarah nodded. “That’s cool.”
Ally smiled, shot him a told-you-so glance. “Need anything? More nails?”
“A beer would be great,” he muttered, dropping the hammer on the grass.
Ally moved closer. “Brittany just invited us to stay for dinner.”
Ally’s eyes moved away from his bare chest and abs and surveyed the mess. “Wow,” she said. “That thing is huge.”
“It’s going to take up the whole yard.”
He saw her lips twitch and his own curved in response. Trust Ally to make him laugh about it.
“And it’s not in the tree,” Sarah put in again, despondently. So she wasn’t quite over her disappointment. He put a hand on her head, wearing her usual ball cap, her long blonde ponytail hanging down her back.
“Sorry, kiddo, it’s the best I could do.”
She nodded. “I’m going to swing.”
They watched her go over and grab hold of two rings hanging from the top bar. She started flipping around like an Olympic gymnast.
Ally and Jack’s eyes met and they stood there, memories of last night coiling around them, drawing them together. Jack felt himself harden and cursed mentally. His body didn’t know that he and Ally couldn’t be together like that – ever again. Ally swayed toward him and he took a step back, saw her eyes darken with hurt.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 23