“How about there?” I asked him. Silently we settled ourselves, close to each other without touching—I could feel him, though. Feel his heat and his presence and the unbreakable tension that ran between us all the time, whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t see how a person can live through a bull jumping on them.”
He didn’t answer for a minute. “People can live through a hell of a lot. Didn’t look promising, though.”
There wasn’t much emotion in his voice, which threw me. My mind was swimming, images from the rodeo running through my head over and over again. I’d assumed Painter was as upset as I was . . . that maybe he needed to talk, too.
“You aren’t bothered by it?” I asked, my voice soft.
“I’ve seen a lot of shit, some of it not so good. I don’t take it lightly and I don’t enjoy seeing a man suffer, but you can’t afford to get involved emotionally.”
“You mean, in prison?”
“Yeah,” he said after a minute. “In prison.”
Neither of us spoke for a moment. I stared up at the stars, watching as a satellite blinked its way across the sky.
“And in the club,” he added softly. “Bad shit happens there, too. Although so far nobody’s started dropping bulls on their enemies.”
The words caught me off guard, and a little giggle burst through. I bit my cheek, feeling awful. “I can’t believe I laughed at that.”
“It’s okay—you have to laugh when things fall apart. Otherwise you’ll go crazy. Better not to think about it too much, at least that’s how I do it.”
Rolling over, I leaned up on my elbow to stare at him.
“So you just turn off your brain when something bothers you?” I asked, studying his face in the moonlight. His features were softened by the shadows, leaving him handsome but less intimidating than usual. He met my gaze, giving away nothing. “That must be nice—wish I could do that. Sometimes I lie awake in bed for hours, wondering why my mom took off and left me.”
“I keep my attention focused where it needs to be focused,” he replied, reaching up to touch the side of my face. It took everything I had not to turn toward his hand, rub against him like a cat. I felt breathless, expectant . . . Hold on. Why was he touching me like this? It didn’t make sense—he’d made it damned clear he didn’t want anything more than friendship.
“You shouldn’t be doing that,” I whispered. “We’re just friends, remember? You made that very clear last night.”
“Friends can touch,” he whispered back. The words hung between us, teasing me. I wanted to lean over and kiss him. Crawl on top of him and grind and writhe and hump and do things I was relatively sure qualified as molestation in the fine state of Idaho. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like you want to . . .”
He stopped talking, licking his lips as his eyes drifted to mine. He was going to kiss me. My eyes started to flutter closed. Then his phone chimed, breaking the spell.
Painter blinked—he’d been as lost in the moment as I was.
“I should check that,” he said. “Might be an update on Chase.”
Chase. How could I have forgotten about Chase? A man was dying, yet all I could think about was getting laid. A man I’d gone to school with. What was wrong with me?
I flopped back as Painter pulled out his phone, the screen obscenely bright in the darkness.
“Group text from Em,” he said. “He’s alive. There’s about three hundred people at the vigil so far, and more showing up every minute. He’s in surgery.”
I shivered, trying to imagine what his family was going through. How awful would it be, sitting and waiting to hear if the man you cared about was dying? How would you feel if it was Painter? The thought chilled me, and I closed my eyes, willing it to disappear.
“You cold?” he asked. “Come here. I’ll keep you warm.”
I wasn’t cold, and touching him was a very bad idea. Whatever this thing was between us, touching wouldn’t help. But then I imagined the warmth of his body around mine. The strength of his arms, not to mention that broad chest. I wanted it. I wanted it so bad.
And he did make the offer . . .
“Thanks,” I whispered, sliding toward him. Seconds later I was tucked against Painter’s side, one arm under my head. My body had turned into his, and there wasn’t an easy place to hold my arm. I shifted awkwardly, and then he was catching my hand and resting it on his chest, right next to his own.
Our fingers weren’t touching, but they would be if I slid my pinkie over half an inch.
Painter’s head tilted toward mine—was he smelling my hair? Oh God, I think he was. This was going to kill me. My leg shifted restlessly, because I wanted to lay it over him and straddle his thigh. I forced it to be still instead. Now what? I needed to make some conversation or something, because this was too weird and stressful.
“So are things good, now that you’re back?” I asked. “How’s the work situation? You’d mentioned that they were holding a job for you at the body shop.”
“It’s all good. I do the custom design there,” he said. “You know, bikes and cars and shit like that. A lot of it’s for guys in clubs, but we get RUBs in there, too—city types who play biker on the weekends, looking to dress up their rides. Also a lot of rich fuckers who want hot rods. I’ve done some paintings of motorcycles and cars that are up on the walls—people seem to like ’em. Got two guys waiting for me to do portraits of theirs. Right now I’m workin’ on something for the club, though. Sort of a happy-to-be-home-again present for the Armory.”