Rescue My Heart (Animal Magnetism #3)(12) by Jill Shalvis

Not to mention proving that she was every bit as stubborn as he thought.

Frustrated, she flopped onto her right side, facing away from him. But that rock that had bit into her butt was now hurting her hip. She flopped over to her left side and—

Adam reached out, yanked the jacket out from between them, slid a muscled arm around her waist and hauled her in so that she was spooned to him, her back to his front.

Heat infused her. His heat, which radiated out from his body to hers. “This isn’t okay,” she said.

“You still cold?”

Her head was pillowed on his bicep. His arm was wrapped around her, holding her closely, his hand opened wide and sitting disturbingly low on her belly. The backs of her thighs were plastered to the front of his and…and all their other parts were perfectly lined up. This made her parts very happy. And that wasn’t all. She could feel that his parts were happy, too.

“Holly.”

“No,” she managed. “I’m not still cold.” She was on fire…

“Good. Go to sleep.”

Was he kidding? How was she supposed to sleep when all she wanted to do was turn over and…No. Don’t go there. She sighed and regrouped, thinking about…mmm, if she wriggled just a little bit she could feel his muscles go all taut. Goodness, the man was locked and loaded. She squeezed her eyes shut and wracked her brain for a new train of thought in order to keep from rolling over and jumping his bones.

Her dad was still missing.

Yes, that did it. That swiped the sexual thoughts from her more effectively than a bucket of ice water would have. They were doing all they could to find him. Adam was doing all he could. And he’d made sure she was safe and fed and warm while he was at it.

It had been a long time since she’d let anyone take care of her, and she’d have thought it would be unsettling and uncomfortable. And while she’d like to think she could have handled this by herself, she knew she couldn’t have.

Adam had come through for her, and he’d done so without any hesitation at all. In fact, the whole day had gone by and he’d only asked her one thing. It had been a question, a personal one, too personal to answer at the time. “Pride,” she whispered.

Adam stirred slightly. “What?”

“Earlier you asked why I didn’t tell anyone about my marriage falling apart. It was pride. Stupid pride.”

He let out a surprised breath, disturbing the hair at her temple. “Why are you telling me this now?”

Good question. “I guess I just want you to understand. I didn’t run off and get married to get back at you. I did it for even more stupid reasons than that.”

“The pride thing,” he said.

“Yeah.” She sighed and admitted the rest. “My dad and Grif didn’t want me to get married in the first place, so I couldn’t tell them when it went bad. It was easy enough to keep it to myself, seeing as I lived so far away. But then, before I knew it, it’d become this huge secret.”

“They didn’t want you to get married for a good reason,” Adam said. The arm he had wrapped around her tightened. “He was your college professor. Someone should’ve kicked his ass for even looking at you that way.”

So he knew more of her past than she’d thought. “I was his teaching assistant, not his student, not technically. And to be honest, I wasn’t really even an official teaching assistant. I was an errand girl, nothing more. As for why I let him in, he was very different from the men I’d known.”

“No shit. He needed an AARP card.”

She choked out a laugh. Derek was only eight years older than she. “Stop it.”

“He had no business touching you.”

They both left off the fact that at one time, most of Sunshine would have felt the same way about Adam touching her.

“And what do you mean he was different from the men you’d known?” he asked.

“The men I knew were all big and rugged and…tough. Alpha. Always so freaking alpha. Derek wasn’t. He was…well, to be honest, he was sweet and gentle and approachable.” At least at first. “He listened to me. He liked the things I liked. Reading. Going to art galleries and museums.”

Adam didn’t say a word to this, but she felt his censure just the same. “He was a whole new world,” she said.

“Yeah? Then what went wrong?”

Why had she started this again? She couldn’t remember. All she knew was that she wished she’d just kept her mouth shut and gone to sleep.

Adam waited, but it was pretty clear that Holly was taking a page from his own book and not planning on answering. It was a good strategy, but she had him curious now. “Holly.”

“He was so different,” she repeated softly. “And I…wasn’t really prepared.”

Okay, he wasn’t going to like this story, he could tell. Wasn’t prepared for what? “What did he do?”

“Just about everything that my father and Grif warned me about.” She was twisting and untwisting her fingers together and he lifted his hand from her belly to settle it over both of hers.

“It’s nothing you haven’t heard before,” she said. “It’s a classic cliché, really. Apparently, old habits are hard to break, and he was still very attached to his students. Especially the female ones.”

Son of a bitch. He’d cheated on her. Fucking idiot. “Ah, Holly.”

“I know, pathetic, right? I just honestly believed that I was the only one, that I was special. But it’s okay. It was a long time ago. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve grown up.”

“And yet,” Adam said, coming back to the one point that was bugging the shit out of him about this whole thing, “you didn’t tell anyone. You didn’t seek help from your family or…” Me.

And why should she have come to him? He’d dumped her cruelly. But he couldn’t help but wonder whether, despite her confession, she was holding back on just exactly how hellish her marriage had been.

“Are you kidding?” she asked with a mirthless laugh. “I couldn’t ask for help. My dad and Grif had been so dead set against me getting married so young and then living so far away. I couldn’t go to them. I had to handle it alone.”

“You were nineteen.”

“A grown-up,” she insisted. “I’d gotten myself into that mess. I got myself out. I didn’t need help, not from anyone. Especially my hotheaded brother and father.”

Adam knew exactly how pissed off Grif had been about Holly rushing into marriage. He also knew Grif and Donald had flown out to New York several times to try to talk her out of it. And he’d known then—and now—that talking Holly out of anything she wanted to do never worked.

“They even tried to pay Derek off,” Holly said. “That was probably my dad’s idea. I don’t know why Derek didn’t go for that deal.” She shook her head. “But you can see why I couldn’t tell Grif or my dad when, a year later, I caught Derek in our condo with his colleague’s TA, testing the stability of our foyer table.”

Adam winced. “Tell me you then tested out the stability of your boot to his family jewels.”

She snorted out a soft laugh. “I threw his laptop out the window.”

“Not bad.”

“It was a third-story window,” she said. “And it hit his precious car.”

Adam felt a grin split his face. “Not bad at all.”

She lifted her shoulder. “It was good, solid anger therapy.”

Adam had gone through anger therapy, both officially and unofficially. Official anger therapy had taken place in his therapist’s office in Coeur d’Alene, where he’d been given tools with which to work through his issues. They’d helped some. Maybe even a lot. But unofficial anger therapy had been a bigger help. Unofficial therapy had been Dell taking Adam to the top of Fallen Lakes, where they’d taken turns screaming at the top of their lungs into the canyon below.

Adam gave that therapy a big thumbs-up. He was feeling a little bit like he could use a visit out to Fallen Lakes right about now, in fact. “And neither Grif nor your dad ever suspected your marriage was in trouble?”

“Grif kept asking me if Derek had done anything he needed to get beaten up over,” Holly said. “But…” She shook her head.

And he got it. They’d backed her into a corner, to a place she couldn’t get out of without eating her own pride. She was lucky she hadn’t choked on it. He buried his face in her hair, wishing he’d been there for her.

“So you see, right? I got myself into that situation, and—”

“And Reids don’t quit,” he finished for her. “Your father always says that.”

She nodded.

“I get all of that,” he said. “But Jesus, Holly, I don’t think he meant for you to take it to heart in that context. You do realize that you don’t have to be as stubborn as he is.”

“I’m not. I’m not at all like him.”

This wrenched a soft laugh from him. Because Holly and Donald? Two peas in a pod. Grif was the third pea. But Adam was smart enough not to admit that to a single one of them.

“I’m not,” she repeated, sounding insulted as hell. “He’s ornery, and when he thinks he’s right, he won’t budge an inch. He’s ridiculously opinionated and always knows best. That’s not me.”

“Uh-huh,” Adam said, trying to keep the sarcastic inflection from his voice, but he must have failed because she reached back and smacked him in the arm.

He let out another laugh and just barely ducked her second smack. Catching her hand in his, he tucked it against her chest. “Your dad is smart as hell,” he said. “And incredibly intuitive. He’s got the biggest heart of anyone I know. He’d give away his last buck. And you, Holly, are the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree.”

She played tug-of-war for her hand back and lost. “Fine,” she said, sounding a whole lot less hostile. “Maybe we’ve got some things in common.” She paused. “But I don’t know about giving away my last buck.”

He let go of her hand to slip his just beneath her sweatshirt, his fingers brushing the creamy, soft skin of her stomach. “Once you gave me everything you had.”

“Yes, well…” Her voice was soft now, and thick. With memories? “I’m smarter these days.”

They were both supposedly smarter now, which was a very good thing. Back in those days, there’d been no history between them, no rolled-up jacket as a barrier, no boundaries at all.

He’d given her everything he had, which admittedly hadn’t been jack shit. He wasn’t sure anything would be different now, though he honestly hadn’t given much thought to trying. He was still working on being okay with being among the living, when so many others he’d once known weren’t. He’d mostly accomplished this by burying himself in work, spreading himself too thin so that he’d fall into an exhausted sleep at night.

Tonight wasn’t going to be one of those nights.

Tonight he was going to lie here, wide awake, fighting not memories of war and destruction and loss but memories of a better time.

The best time of his life…

He thought about that for a minute and realized he wanted, needed, her to understand him. Unable to help himself, he let his fingers dance across her abs and felt her muscles quiver. “I told you I wasn’t coming back because I didn’t want you to wait for me.”

“I know. You’ve said.” She tried to roll away, but his arm tightened on her again, holding her still.

“You know that if I’d stayed,” he said, “I’d have kept screwing up my life. I needed to get out of Sunshine, Holly. I needed to become a part of something and learn some discipline.”

“I understood that. You had to go.”

He grimaced at that, which luckily she didn’t see.

She loosened her grip on his forearms and gentled her touch, stroking his skin, her words making him feel like an even bigger asshole. “Seems like maybe you got more than you bargained for,” she said quietly.

He let out a low sound of agreement, then spoke the sentiment he’d held on to for too long. “I just couldn’t have lived with myself, if I’d stayed and dragged you down with me.”

There was a beat of silence. Then she fought to free herself and he let her this time. She rolled over to face him and he expected…hell, he wasn’t sure what he expected. Appreciation for what he’d done for her, maybe? Certainly a softening toward him. Warmth and affection. Maybe even more…

Instead her eyes were flashing the heat of anger and he’d have sworn sparks were shooting out of her scalp. “Look at you,” she said, voice tight. “Making decisions for me. Guess that doesn’t make you any different than any other man I’ve ever had in my life, does it?” She shifted back away from him, accidentally kneeing him in the groin.

Or maybe not so accidentally.

“And you shouldn’t have worried,” she said while he sucked in a careful breath. “Because in case you hadn’t noticed, I managed to drag myself down all on my own just fine.”

“Holly—”

“I’m tired,” she said flatly, turning away from him now, giving him her back and a very cold shoulder. “I’m going to sleep.”

He tightened his mouth to keep it from running away with his good sense. “Fine.”

“Fine.” She sat up and replaced the jacket barrier, making a point of patting it into place before plopping back down.