Home > Cross (The Gibson Boys #2.5)(2)

Cross (The Gibson Boys #2.5)(2)
Author: Adriana Locke

“Oh, Ruby.” I giggle, helping her down the steps. Her hand clasps against my elbow as she steadies herself. “You should listen to him. He is a doctor, you know.”

“Those fancy letters after his name don’t mean he has any sense.” She pats my hand and turns toward the parking lot. “Come by and see me, Kallie, and bring back that book you took out, Nora. The one about the…well, you know.” She flits my friend a knowing look before unlocking her car door. “Kids these days.”

“What are you checking out?” I ask Nora, curiosity piqued again.

“It’s that one with grey in the title.” Ruby shakes her head. “I had to order another copy because she hasn’t brought it back in six weeks. Six weeks!”

“Just put my business out there, why don’t you?” Nora laughs. As my laugh mixes with hers, Ruby shakes her head and climbs in her little maroon car. With a small motion of her hand as a goodbye, she pulls onto the street toward the only doctor’s office in town.

“So, you love that book so much you can’t bring it back?” I tease as we head down the sidewalk again. “You could’ve just bought your own copy instead of stealing from the library.”

“Machlan has it.” She sighs, rolling her eyes. “I took it to the bar one night when I figured we’d be slow and found him kicked back at a table reading it while I made drinks. He refuses to give it back to me. What am I supposed to do?”

“Machlan Gibson was reading that?” Eyes wide, I bite my bottom lip. The vision of one of the infamous Gibson boys—the too-hot-for-their-own-good guys I knew growing up—reading that book makes me shiver. “I don’t think I can deal with that if he’s even remotely as hot as he used to be.”

Nora ponders this for a second. “You know how people age? Like wrinkles and beer bellies?”

“Unfortunately.” Without thinking, my fingers pat at the crow’s feet lining the corners of my eyes.

“Well, Machlan doesn’t,” she says easily. “I have no idea how he’s still single with the women who throw themselves his way every night at Crave. I tell him one night I’m going to have to stage a diversion just so he can get home unscathed.” Pausing to shoo away a dog yapping at the edge of a lawn, she turns to me again. “They’ve all aged well, Kallie.”

I try to remain unaffected, to pretend like discussing our old group of friends is no big deal. It wouldn’t be if we could stop with Machlan, Walker, and Lance Gibson and their cousins, Vincent and Peck, but we won’t. It’ll also include Cross Jacobs, and I’m not ready to do that quite yet.

“If Mach’s still single, maybe you should hook up with him,” I suggest. I know she’ll shoot it down and she does—promptly.

“What?” she barks. “Are you kidding me?”

Laughing, I bump her with my shoulder. “It’s not the craziest suggestion in the world. You’ve known him forever. He’s freaking gorgeous. You like him.”

“All of that’s true, but I didn’t say I was attracted to him.” She makes a face like she’s just bitten into a lemon. “He’s like a brother to me now…sort of.”

“Remember that time…” The sentence trails off as I catch myself, the rest of the words hiccupping in my throat. “Never mind.”

“I know what you were going to say.”

Peering up at her, I try to force the corners of my lips to turn up, but they refuse. “No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. When is the last time you talked to Cross?” The hesitation in Nora’s tone only feeds the anxiety bubbling inside me, and hearing his name doesn’t help either.

I’ve spent the last three years trying to forget Cross Jacobs. Trying is the operative word.

I don’t have to ask if he still looks the same. I know the creases in his forehead that developed over the last year and a half like the back of my hand. I’ve watched through social media as he started to wear his inky black hair just a little longer than the buzz cut he used to sport, have noticed how he still gets it cut the first Monday of every month, like his father taught him to do. The playfulness I remember seeing in his jade-colored eyes has dimmed, replaced with something more stern. His shoulders are more broad, his body stockier than the man I used to curl up next to every night.

What I don’t know these days is the sound of his voice at two in the morning or if he wears the same woodsy cologne, a scent that stops me in my tracks whenever I get close to someone wearing anything remotely similar. I wonder if he still favors basketball shorts to sleep in and who is there to time his boxing rounds like I used to do when he was training for a match.

My heart wrestles in my chest as I look at my friend, trying desperately to get myself in check. “When was the last time I talked to Cross?” I stop walking and glance up at the antique sign over our head that reads CRAVE. “The last time I stood here. That’s the last time I talked to him.”

I wait for Nora to push, but she doesn’t. Instead, she tosses me a slight smile. “I need to run into the bar really quick and see if Machlan has my check ready. I don’t work tonight and don’t want to have to come all the way back to town later.”

“Is it even open?” I ask, looking at the unlit open sign.

“It doesn’t open for another two hours, but Machlan will be here. He practically lives here.” The door swings free with a simple tug, the cool, salty bar air rushing out onto the sidewalk. “Come on. He’ll be happy to see you.”

Following her inside, my eyes adjust to the dim light. Alcohol ads glow from various positions on the walls, and strings of Christmas lights outline the mirror behind the bar and drape along a set of bulletin boards as I walk by.

All of that is hard to focus on with Machlan Gibson sitting at the bar. He leans back in the chair, dropping the remote for the television hanging in the corner onto the countertop with a flourish.

“Kallie Welch,” he says, folding his arms over his chest as a smirk pulls at his lips. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“How are ya, Mach?” I grin.

He gets to his feet, a wide smile splitting his cheeks. “It’s been a long time.” Enveloping me in his arms, he gives me a warm hug. He’s thicker, his back more muscled than the goodbye embrace he gave me before I left town in my little Honda Civic. “You home for long?”

“Yeah, actually,” I say, pulling back. “The attorney I was working for in Indy got into some legal trouble of his own, and Mom’s here alone now that Skylar moved to Wisconsin with her boyfriend.”

“That explains why I haven’t seen her around lately,” he says. “Someone said she met a guy in Chicago, but you never know what to believe.”

“She did. He’s a nice guy. His family is from up there so Skylar moved up to be with him, which left Mom on her own, and I feel guilty about that.”

“Because you’re a good girl.”

Nora clears her throat. “Now that’s over with, you got my check ready?”

There’s something Machlan wants to say as he processes Nora’s question. He watches me carefully, like he’s connecting some invisible dots scattered over my face. “Yeah, I got your check. Be right back.”

He moves easily through the bar with such command that I imagine if people were standing in his way, they’d move. It’s amazing to see him in this light. I knew he’d bought the bar, but seeing him as a legitimate business owner and not the immature party boy I knew before is almost unbelievable.

Turning toward the bulletin boards, I sigh. A warmth I haven’t felt in so long causes the stress in my shoulders to melt away. Maybe it was the friendly hug from Mach, or maybe it’s being back home in Linton.

“Want to get something to eat?” I ask Nora, scanning the boards.

“Sure. We could run to Peaches. They have great fajitas.”

“It’s still weird that a place called Peaches serves Mexican food,” I say with a laugh. Running my finger across a set of papers advertising handymen services, I chuckle at one particular set of ‘services’ offered on a napkin. “This is ridiculous.”

Nora laughs. “We take the really bad ones down—you should see some of them after a rowdy Friday night.”

“I can only imagine.”

“I can imagine a lot of things.” The shock of the deep, husky voice behind me causes me to jump, but as the timbre of the tone settles, the familiarity washes across my heart.

I suck in a breath, capturing a gasp, though I’m not sure if it’s is mine or Nora’s. Inhaling the rich, almost velvety scent from behind me doesn’t help the shakiness in my hands as I bring one to my throat.

One of my unknowns is answered: Cross wears the same cologne he used to.

Three

Cross

If Nora weren’t standing beside her giving me that look, I’d swear to God I was seeing things.

The swallow I force down my throat is hot and heavy, as if it were laced with a shot of whiskey. It burns as it barrels its way to my stomach, but I don’t register the drop into the pit of acid churning in my gut.

I can’t do anything but stare at the back of Kallie Welch.

Her hair is pulled into a ponytail. I used to bury my face in the crook of her neck and kiss the top of her shoulder. She loved it. She loved me.

My stomach sinks as I take her in, fighting with myself not to reach for her. It’s almost impossible to keep my hands to myself as I see the woman I think about every fucking day standing in front of me.

Nora looks my way before dropping her gaze and slinking to the side. The sound of her shoes against the floor as she makes her way to the back of the bar is barely heard over the white noise coursing through my veins.

I take a half-step back as I wait for her to turn around. She sighs, lets her hand fall to her sides, but doesn’t move.

“What are you doing here?” My voice is rougher than I intended.

   
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