“You asshole,” he said, yanking me into his arms. “You worried the hell out of me. I lost ten pounds on the drive here.”
“Aaron,” I managed to squeak out before he pressed my face into his chest. “I’m okay.”
“Just, let me be.”
So, we stood like that for at least three minutes. His ridiculously large frame towered over me, but not in the way Mr. Burly back there had. Aaron was different. His body was sculpted from hours and hours in the gym. My arms barely fit around his middle, but I tried anyway. He squeezed me one last time and broke our hug. His gray eyes still held on to some anger, but relief took over. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, G.” His lips turned white while he glanced at the sign. “Now, get in the car.”
I obeyed, not foolish enough to piss him off even more. He opened the passenger door and glared at me until I buckled myself in. Without a word, he shut it and pinched his nose walking to the driver’s side. His cologne clouded the car, the pleasant aroma of wood and leather comforting my nerves.
My body shook, the adrenaline wearing off. Aaron must’ve seen, because he turned on the heat despite the high July temperatures. I understood him well enough to let him stew. We had been close for over two years, but last year things were different. His dad being diagnosed with cancer had made the Aaron we all knew and loved change and we had grown closer and closer. Callie was my girl for life, but I couldn’t envision a future without knowing Aaron would be there. He understood me, respected me and pushed me to be better. He was allergic to feelings and emotions while I was forever giving up on men. Our friendship worked.
He drove the silent, dark path back to campus, one hand on the wheel and the other repeatedly making a fist. I blamed myself for his anger. He had enough to worry about and now picking me up… Remorse filled my chest and my eyes stung. “I’m fucking sorry. I’m an idiot. I don’t know why I went there. I wanted to have an adventure or something.”
He nibbled on his bottom lip, keeping his expression blank. Shit. Instead of remaining silent and letting him deal with it, I’d decided to ramble. Rambling was a favorite sport of mine and I couldn’t stop.
“He had a motorcycle…”
“I thought he would be a winner…”
“I want what Callie and Zade have…”
“I didn’t realize he was a felon or something and would get the shit beat out of him…”
“I had no fucking clue I would get manhandled…”
“Excuse me. What did you just say?” His jaw tightened.
“I didn’t have a clue—”
“No. You said manhandled. Someone hurt you?” His grip on the wheel tightened and I swallowed, loudly.
“Not hurt, no.” I tucked my arms further into myself. A bruise had already formed and Aaron was in no state to know that. “Forget I said anything.”
“I swear to God, Greta.” He pulled off the road and stopped the car. He shook, his large frame tight with pent-up rage. I wanted to crawl into a hole. Pissed-off Aaron could scare the boogeyman into retirement. “Don’t fucking lie to me. Are you hurt?”
I shook my head, but kept my arms crossed. His gaze flicked to my arms, and without asking, he grabbed them. I closed my eyes and knew he’d seen the bruise when he sucked in a breath. My lip trembled.
“Take off your shirt. I might have another one in the back.” He released my forearms and turned to grab something in the back of the car. He was too calm, too well-behaved. It freaked me the hell out. I expected him to lose his shit and break something. Calm Aaron was new.
“I-it’s okay.” My voice shook again.
“No,” he growled at me. “You have blood on you. Take it off now. I’m getting rid of it.”
He waited, staring daggers at me until I took my blood-soaked shirt off. He wasn’t lying. He whipped it out of my hands and chucked it out of the window. “I can’t find my gym bag. Take mine instead.”
Aaron Hill taking off his shirt should be photographed and made into a calendar. Or, better yet, a promotion for a porn video. He had always been hot as hell, and this was so not the time to ogle my friend. But I was human and his muscles rippled as he tugged off his shirt. “Put this on, Greta. Don’t argue.”
I didn’t. I took the warm black shirt and put it on. It was three sizes too big, but I felt loads better. It wrapped around me like my favorite childhood blanket. I sniffed it unabashedly and closed my eyes. Sleep took over, and it wasn’t until we pulled into Aaron’s driveway in the early hours of the morning when I woke up.
I yawned, not sure why he hadn’t dropped me off at my apartment. He ran his hand down his face, getting out of the car without a word. Okay then. I followed suit and tried not to stare at his back. His beautiful, sculpted back. “Aaron, why didn’t you drop me off?”
“We need to ice your bruise. I have stuff here.” His clipped tone told me he still wasn’t happy with me. I couldn’t blame him, though. “Come on.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, guiding me into his home without making a sound. I walked toward the kitchen, but he shook his head and pointed upstairs. The floor creaked with each step and I made a vow to myself then and there.
No more dating.
No more being a dumbass.
I am going to focus on school and my friends.
I needed to save as much money as I could, ensuring I could return my senior year, because one of the things that had triggered my spiral was my dad losing his job six years before retirement. My parents had had to sell our childhood home, retire three years before they’d planned, and most of their money had been spent helping my brother with his nasty divorce. Shame consumed me again at how selfish and foolish I had been. My eyes stung and I clenched my jaw, hoping to stop the waterworks.
I planned to delete my online dating apps and have someone change my password as soon as I woke up the next day. Tonight had crossed a line. Too fucked-up.
“Go ahead and sit on the bed. I’ll get my kit.” He held the door for me and disappeared down the hall. Aaron’s room fit him well—baseball legends and pinup models plastered on the walls. Clothes scattered across the floor made it appear messy, but I knew the closet was organized by colors. The bed welcomed me, the exhaustion of the night taking me. I lay on it, just closing my eyes for a little. I would leave after I’d iced my bruised arm. Dreams began to take over when I felt the softest touch on my cheek, like a feather.
A deep, hushed voice forced me to open my eyes and Aaron’s gray ones were inches away from me. “Hm?”
“Sit up for a second. You can sleep right after.” He nudged my leg with his arm and sat next to me. He was still shirtless, the handsome devil. He carefully put my forearm in his left hand and used his other to hold the ice against it. “It hurts me seeing this bruise on you.”
I closed my eyes at his honesty. I leaned into his shoulder and sighed. “I’m so embarrassed. And sorry. And I hate myself a little right now.”
“We all make mistakes. Hell, you knew me when I went on a bender. You stood by me when I drank every night, slept with countless women, and chewed my ass out the one time I tried drugs. I haven’t forgotten that.”
I groaned into his shoulder. “I would do it again if I had to.”
“I know you would, G.” He laughed softly, the first time that night. I’d missed that sound.
“There it is. I wondered if your laughing part broke.”
“Okay, no need to be dramatic.” He picked up the ice and hissed at my arm. “Promise me something.”
“No need. I already made a vow to never online date again. No, to never date again. Or at least for five years. Don’t worry. This will never happen again.”
“It better fucking not.” His hand came around my leg, squeezing my knee. “Promise me you’ll call me if you need help. Any time. Any place. You’re one of the most important people in my goddamn life.”
“Okay.” I met his gaze and winced at the intensity in his eyes. “I promise.”
“Good.” He yawned, taking the bag off my arm. “I’m going to sleep. I’m beat.”
“Uh, should I call a cab?” I hesitated.
“Don’t be a dumbass. Sleep here. You’ve crashed on the couch countless times.” He leaned back, fluffing up the pillows and rolling over. Damn those back muscles. I want to bite them.
I pushed myself up to head downstairs when his arm wrapped around me. “Uh, Aaron?”
“Stay here. My bed is huge. Don’t make it weird.”
He pulled me back onto the bed but kept enough distance between us. He must’ve sensed my trepidation because he rolled over and mumbled, “You mean too much to me to try anything. Go to sleep.”