"Listen, it's not my idea," Axel growled in obvious frustration as he ran a hand down his face. "Alpha Vance just had his heart set on Rolland taking over as alpha with his chosen mate by his side. Now that Rolland turned out to be a crazy-ass fake, Vance thinks it's the only way to save our streak. It's like, now that the idea has taken root, nothing can pop the fucker out."
He seemed to startle, looking around apologetically, his gaze lingering on me before turning back to Flynn. "Sorry about the language."
I hid my face, trying not to smile. The guy was just too damn cute for words. A big, gruff looking redneck who growled more than spoke and he was worried about saying fucking?
Thompsyn and Ridley's tiny little humans were going to come out cussing the elder who delivered them, and every other person in the room practically inhaled air and exhaled expletives. It was safe to say nobody was going to be offended.
Flynn sighed, gently rubbing circles into Ridley's back as his mate napped against his shoulder. It was getting late and apparently the poor guy had had a rough night the night before because the baby had been head-butting his bladder like a little asshole.
"It's just…it's really not that much different than auctioning them off," the alpha said, cringing slightly. "Asking them to parade around in front of a bunch of shifters with the sole intention of getting them a mate is kinda almost exactly like an auction."
Axel groaned from where he sat in the tall-backed chair across from Flynn, letting his head fall back against the dark gray upholstery. "He didn't say anything about parading them. He was simply suggesting letting members of our streak come by at different times to meet all your chosen and possibly find a good match."
"They aren't my chosen," Flynn said, letting a bit of growl into his words. "They make decisions about their own life."
I glared at the alpha, fighting my body's illogical need to go sit in front of Axel and protect him from the man who'd freely offered me a place to stay after I was abducted. He wasn't wrong in what he was saying either. I definitely didn't like the idea of being considered anyone's property. Been there, done that. But something about him growling at Axel set me on edge.
Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Axel seemed to be getting control of his temper. "Look," he said tightly, his voice deep and hard as he spoke through clenched teeth. "You're making me out to look like a fucking asshole when all I'm really doing is relaying a fucking message from my uncle. Like I said before, given some little changes here and there to modernize our streak, we could continue on business as usual, and there would be no need to speed-date a bunch of traumatized humans who'd probably rather live the rest of their lives alone than be married to a shifter." When he opened his eyes, they flicked in my direction a crease popping up in the center of his eyebrows before he shook his head. "But he's convinced that all the different groups are going to end up with chosen among their people, and we're going to get left behind."
"So they're like weapons?" Bennett asked dryly from his position tucked into Thompsyn's side on the couch, his legs slung across the man's thighs.
"For fucks sake!" Axel growled, standing up and marching across the room before marching back. "This isn't my idea! I have nothing against chosen, but if my uncle thinks having a couple special babies is going to change things so dramatically for our streak that we'll no longer be struggling to function, then he's lost his mind. Before the chosen came along, we were struggling while everyone else was doing fine. Having a couple chosen popping out streak babies isn't going to fix the politics and the pure stupidity of some of our members. It's just going to make them that much more ignorant. Relying on anyone else for our needs is stupid."
I watched his powerful body prowl across the floor, his long legs eating up the distance in just a few easy strides. I was absolutely transfixed by the flex of his muscles under his white ribbed tank that clung to his body, the flaps of his flannel taking flight behind him as his strong legs carried from point A to point B at top speed.
His eyes met mine on a return, and he eased to a stop, his dark gaze never leaving my green one as he stood there, watching me, the crease once again popping up between his brows.
I squirmed in my chair, flinching slightly when it caused my bruised ribs to protest.
"What are your needs?" Flynn asked calmly, pulling his attention away from me, though it went reluctantly.
I hid another smile, wondering if it meant what I hoped it meant that he couldn't seem to stop glancing over at me.
He seemed to need to concentrate on Flynn longer than was normal to understand the question asked, but with a big sigh, he flopped back into his chair. "Where do I start? The most important one is change. We live in a tiny community that basically consists of elderly humans and our streak. We own the local newspaper, a movie rental store, a photo processing store that doubles as a tailor's shop and we have a big farm and ranch with crops and livestock." He rolled his eyes, pressing his thumb and index finger to the bridge of his nose. "Are you starting to get the picture?"
Flynn nodded narrowing his eyes in thought. "All those things are dying industries except the farming and livestock."
"Exactly. But my uncle is so stuck in the past, he can't see how the newspaper costs more to run than what we're actually selling, the rental store is kept open by the fact that the building was paid off twenty years ago and the tailor is carrying the photo processing store. What very little income the streak has comes from the crops and the livestock, but that has its ups and downs, and we really need to modernize.
"I absolutely get that the chosen are important and having babies is beautiful and having powerful ones is amazing and special, but how is a newborn supposed to fix our dying streak in this minute?"
He threw himself back against the seat again, letting his arms flop over the arms like an exasperated teenager and I couldn't stop the giggle that burst from my throat.
I threw a hand over my mouth as every set of eyes in the room turned in my direction, faces in different phases of surprise.
"Sorry," I mumbled behind my hand, horrified at myself and my lack of control at a time when laughter was the absolute last reaction a person should be having. "Inappropriate laughter."
I stood quickly, racing toward the staircase. I managed to falter only one step when my breath caught from the pain in my side. I needed to get out of there before I said something that would result in a very offended tiger shifter.
Like that time at my great aunt's funeral.
"Purple really did make her look almost alive," I said, waving my hand at the people in the room as I left, glancing at and catching the nearly black eyes of the gorgeous man still flopped back in his chair.
My brother snorted, distracting me from the odd almost smile the big, gruff shifter had on his face.
Retreat! Retreat was good.
I knew I shouldn't be watching the guy like I was. It was weird and rude, and if my brother was right, Axel Oakes was probably a redneck homophobe who wouldn't appreciate how my eyes always seemed to follow him.
But my brother was a bit of a drama queen, and the quiet, serious-looking guy really didn't seem like a homophobe. He never seemed bothered by the countless gay couples surrounding him and seemed genuinely polite to all of them.
He didn't laugh like the rest of us when Bennett talked about bear dick, but that could be because he didn't laugh at anything. If ever there had been a man who personified seriousness, it was Axel.
Still, I didn't know for sure how he felt about any of it. Regardless of how much time I spent hoping the little looks he sent me sometimes were because he was just as drawn to me as I was to him and there was the running fantasy I had of him walking up to me, telling me I was his mate and he wanted me more than he'd ever wanted anyone ever just before he slammed our mouths together and ravaged my being, I didn't know his sexual orientation or his tolerance levels and maybe I shouldn't be testing them like I was by staring at the man continuously.
Again, my control was nonexistent with him. Like my sister's control around cheesecake.
"He'd definitely be turtle."
"What can I get for you, Edmond?" A sweet, quiet voice said from next to my table where I sat completely alone at Bunny's dinner, startling me a little.
I hid my cringe, but the air whooshed out of me when my tensing body pulled on my side.
"Huh?" I said quickly, snapping to attention and turning to find Rory standing less than a foot from my seat, smiling sweetly at me. "Oh! Uh, just a coffee and a cinnamon roll, please."
Giggling softly, he wrote my request down on his order pad before leaning in a bit closer. "Have a thing for the tiger?"
"What?" I squeaked, my eyes widening as I glanced back over at Axel, looking quickly away and cringing when my eyes met his intense brown ones. "Sh!" I whispered out of the corner of my mouth. "Shifter hearing, remember?"
Rory cringed also, glancing over at the table where Axel sat talking to Green, Flynn, Richmond, and Quinn. "Damn." Drawing his lips between his teeth, Rory slipped into the unoccupied seat in front of me, leaning in. "I still forget. I'm sure I say stuff all the time that would embarrass me if I remembered they could hear it. How is it so easy for you to adapt?"
Unable to help myself, I looked over at Axel, taking in his handsome, in a rough way, features. I was completely infatuated with the man, and he'd never even spoken one word to me. Not one. In fact, I got the impression he was avoiding me completely when he wasn't forced to be in the same room as me because that was where everyone else was.
He'd been staying in the leap house for a few days. His door was three down from mine on the same side of the hallway, both rooms part of the new renovations they'd done to make more space for all the chosen.
I'd tried to casually be where he was more often than not, but it was like he knew when I was coming and managed to escape just before I reached him.
Maybe I should just take a hint. He's clearly not interested.
He must have felt my eyes on him again, because his deep brown gaze landed on me, making me freeze. His stare transfized me, and I stopped breathing completely. He frowned for a moment looking almost confused about something before Quinn grabbed his attention by reaching over and touching his shoulder.
Was that it? Was he in a relationship with the gorilla shifter? That would explain why he never spoke to me and definitely didn't come up to me and confess to being my mate.
If Quinn was his type, then I definitely wasn't his mate. "I'm way too small," I said, shaking my head when his eyes released their hold on me.
I blinked away the feeling of loss and cleared my throat. "My aunt was an owl shifter," I said, answering Rory and trying to pull my attention away from the guy who managed to unsettle me with his mere presence. "We got away with nothing when she was around. Until we learned to use whiteboards." I smiled, shrugging. "They erase well and everything."
Rory giggled, covering his mouth. "That's great."
I knew he could be a little self-conscious about the scar on his face, tending to look down or let his hair fall in a way that covered it. He'd mentioned once that he thought it was unattractive and off-putting when he laughed. He worried about how it looked when his smile pulled against the skin. But he was just so beautiful inside and out, I honestly couldn't even see it unless I was thinking about it.
I smirked, holding up a finger. "Put nothing past a teenager who is trying to sneak out to meet friends."
Rory tilted his head, still smiling as he looked at me for a moment. "You don't seem like the type to sneak out."
Rolling my eyes, I slumped back in my seat, forgetting for a moment that there was a gorgeous man across the room that I couldn't seem to get out of my mind and was most certainly stalking. And failing pretty miserably, actually. "I was always conned into it by my brother and sister."
They were also the reason we got caught and grounded for two months at the end of our senior year. Though our mother hadn’t stuck to it, letting us all attend prom less than a month into it.
"So?" Rory said after a moment of me sitting there, my stupid eyes automatically wandering to Axel and his calm, seriousness.
What was Rory talking about?
My mouth fell open in an O when my stupid brain finally processed what he was asking. I held up a finger. Digging my phone out of my back pocket, I opened up my notes and started typing, before sliding the phone over to Rory on the table.
Definitely. And I might be borderline stalking him.
Rory read what I wrote, face lighting up at the decided mode of communication before typing something himself and sliding the phone back. You should go talk to him.
Yeah, so not my strong suit. And I don't think it's mutual. I don't blame him. I'm kind of boring.
"That's not true!" Rory said a bit loudly, making me jump. "You're freaking gorgeous and not boring at all. Any guy would be happy to snatch you up."
Blushing, I slouched down, glancing around and finding more than one set of eyes on us. Including the redneck enigma and all the inner circle of the leap.
"Uh. Thank you," I mumbled, feeling on display and not helping myself out any with the blushing. "You're very handsome too."
After an awkward moment that had Rory and me giggling, two large figures cast shadows across our table before Green crouched down next to his mate's seat, raising an eyebrow at Rory. "Pretty angel, are you hitting on Edmond?"
"No!" I gasped, not wanting the man to think Rory was actually attracted to me or that I'd want to steal his man. I could see a nice friendship forming between the beautiful man and me, but I doubted Green would care for it if he thought something might happen between us. "He was just being nice to me."
Rory rolled his eyes, giving Green's shoulder a shove that didn't even budge him in the slightest before turning to me. "Don't mind him. He knows no matter how cute you are, I've only got eyes for him."
Green smirked, winking in my direction before leaning forward and stealing a sweet kiss from his mate's lips. When he pulled back, he stared at Rory like he was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen.
It was the same way Carpenter looked at Moore and the same way my brother looked back at his mate.
"I want that," I whispered, not thinking.
I blinked when Green and Rory turned to look at me, a soft smile on the big, black man's face and a happy, wide-eyed grin on Rory's.
"Keep hanging around the leap, and I bet you'll get it," Rory said, glancing not so nonchalantly at the other figure who'd walked up with Green.
Swallowing, I followed his gaze and found my eyes locked with dark brown ones that were watching me with such an intensity, I nearly stopped breathing.
Axel Oakes was just everything.
"Who are you here with, Edmond?" Green asked, gaining my attention. My dazed-from-failure-to-breath-and-staring-at-Axel attention.
I blinked stupidly, shaking my head slowly. "Uh, I'm not here."
Rory giggled, and my eyes panned his way before going back to Green when he cleared his throat trying to stop his own laughter. "I'm sorry?"
Sorry about what? Had he said something rude? Didn't he just ask me who I was there w…
"Oh!" I said a bit loud once I realized the problem. "I guess I didn't finish that sentence. I'm not here with anyone."
Green's eyebrows rose, his face still amused, but slightly concerned. "Did someone give you a ride? You didn't walk, right?"
"Oh. No. I rode," I glanced over my shoulder again, my eyes taking the long way up Axel's body, stopping when I reached those dark, dark eyes.
Green looked around the diner, his gaze easily skimming the limited guests. "Uh, who did you ride with?"
I smiled, remembering Bennett as he came skidding around the corner at the back of the leap house, pure glee on his handsome face. I didn't even have to ask if he'd done something to piss someone off. It was Bennett. Of course he did. And it was probably his own mate.
"You coming, E-Money?" he asked, rushing to the driver's side door of the SUV and hopping inside. When I just stood there, not really sure if he was talking to me, he rolled down the window, leaning across the console. "Come on. Thompsyn let me out of the house because I told him I had to go in for my mom, but I took too long plastic wrapping Green's toilet and Ward's doorway. I'm going to be late."
For some stupid reason, I got in the vehicle with the crazy person like everything he'd just said wasn't possibly going to get us both mauled and Bennett sped through town like a drug dealer on the run.
I wouldn't lie. There was a moment I wasn't completely sure he wasn't going to wreck and kill us both.
"Thankfully that old lady didn't step out in the road like I had thought she was going to for a second," I said, shaking my head. My asshole was still clenched up from that.
Green looked over at Rory and then back at me, his face unsure. "An old lady brought you here?"
Frowning, I shook my head. "No, Bennett did."
"Bennett's here? Green asked, making another sweep of the room. "I haven't seen him yet."
I raised an eyebrow, wondering if he thought the man was incognito, possibly one of those nosey old ladies over in the corner who kept watching our little group with small smiles on their faces.
"He's in the back," Rory said, smirking. "I think Bunny guilted him into helping since she never sees him anymore. Speaking of, I better get back to work before he tries to bring the food out himself again." Rory stood, stepping back to push the chair in under the table. The last time, he offended some lady so bad, she actually yelled at Bunny."
"Ow," Green said, cringing. "How did that go?"
I hadn't been around that long and even I knew that sounded absolutely stupid. I had a feeling she could hide a body pretty easily and probably make it taste amazing.
"Sweeny Todd," I said nodding to myself just as Rory said, "Flynn got her before she clawed the woman." Rory smirked, his dancing eyes locking on me before he continued, shaking his head. "But she did manage to knock the woman's wig off with her own handbag."
Green's dancing eyebrows gave away the fact that he too was laughing at me. "You still getting off in thirty," he asked Rory after clearing his throat. "Or do you have to stay late?"
"No. The new new guy seems like he might actually stick around. He's nice too, so maybe Bunny can relax a little, especially since Marshall is supposed to start when he gets back. I guess he used to manage a restaurant in Oregon."
Green smiled at his mate, brushing a kiss to his lips before he stood, reaching out a hand to help Rory to his feet. "Do you just want to catch a ride back with us, Edmond?"
I appreciated his worry. It was actually a pretty dangerous world out there for chosen. Though it was unlikely anyone who didn't already know what I was would find out anytime soon since my mark was just to the left of my spine between my shoulder blades and I was not going to be running around outside without at least two layers of clothing on.
Thankfully, I knew Carpenter would pick me up anytime, so I wasn't too concerned. I'd just call him when I was getting close to ready to go. I smiled at Green and Rory, purposely not looking over my shoulder at the gorgeous creature there. I needed to keep my brain functioning. I was starting to sound like a complete moron.
"I actually have a degree in business," I said, glancing at all three, but only allowing my eyes to land on Axel for a moment before I moved on. "I've never really used it, though."
Green frowned, opening his mouth to say something, but closing it when Rory laid a hand on his forearm. "You're not going to walk back, are you?"
Damn! I was doing it again. Axel's presence was really messing with my head. Sighing, I rolled my eyes at my self before shaking my head. " No, I’m going to look at the snow globe display."
Green's jaw moved forward after a moment, and his eyebrows rose oh-so-slowly. When he nodded like he wanted me to go on and all I could do was blink at him because I wasn't quite sure what it was that he was wanting from me, his face went soft, and he tilted his head to the side.
"How are you getting home, Edmond?"
"Oh." I groaned rolling my head on my shoulders. There was no way I was going to be able to have an intelligent conversation with the hot redneck standing over my shoulder. "I'll call Carpenter when I'm ready to go back. I'm sure he'll give me a ride."
Green frowned, glancing at his mate. "I don't think you should be walking all over town by yourself."
But I didn't have anyone to go with. Moore was busy with his man and Bethany wasn't much on Christmas spirit. I could ask Rory, but I knew Green would have to come and I felt bad dragging the man around to look at snow globes when I knew he was super busy.
My only other option was not to go at all. "But it's snow globes," I said miserably, suddenly feeling so alone.
I felt my chair wobble slightly and when I looked back over my shoulder, Axel was lowering his big to a crouch beside it, putting himself at eye level with me. "Edmond, would you mind if I went with you? Just to make sure you were safe."
Really? Did he really need to ask? Of course he could go with me. Was church camp where I'd received my first blowjob?
Axel blinked, his mouth opening then closing. He glanced at Green and Rory, and I have no idea what he saw because I was too damn busy watching the flex of his jaw muscles under us unruly beard, "Yeah, you mind?" He finally asked, his face confused and possibly disappointed.
I blinked back for a moment, trying desperately to get a handle on my thought to speech process. Sighing, I closed my eyes for a moment shaking my head. "I swear I'm not an idiot. I just tend to think a lot of things and not necessarily say all of them out loud."
Rory giggled, and I glanced at him, catching his happily smiling face. At least he wasn't making fun of me. "That's like the exact opposite of Davis and Harley."
Truer words. Those two had a direct line from their thoughts to their mouth. Mine was a twisting tunnel that had several forks, and three-quarters of the words went careening down the wrong tunnel until what came out of my mouth were fragmented thoughts that very few people could follow.
Axel's big, gorgeous hand came up, a finger tucking under my chin, so he could turn my face back to him. "So," he said, a small, amused smile showing off his thick, delicious looking lips. "You're okay with me going?"
I nodded, unable to keep my mind from wondering to wishing the weather was a bit nicer, because I would love to see the man walking around without that over shirt and jacket. Just that white, ribbed-tank so the sun could kiss those sexy shoulders. Maybe he'd wear shorts so I could see his well-muscled legs. Of course, I wasn't sure if the man owned a pair of tennis shoes or flip-flops. That only left one option and oddly, I found it kind of appealing.
"Boots and shorts."
Green chuckled and Rory giggled, alerting me to the fact I'd probably done the spotty cell phone reception thing, but once again, my eyes were focused on the handsome, confused face of Axel Oakes. Not even snow globes were better than that.
Axel paused to lean forward and watch the flurries swirl and gently touch down on the heads of two snowmen kissing. The fact that they were both looked to be of the male persuasion made me smile, glancing at the owner of this particular shelf.
She was a sweet looking woman in her mid to late fifties sporting bright purple, shoulder-length hair, and a black and white polka-dot muumuu. When she caught my eye, she winked before spinning around and continuing to drag more snow globes out of the box sitting in a chair behind the case.
Axel picked the snow-mo snow globe up again and gave it a tip before putting it back down, his avid concentration looking almost angry.
"It's because you frown," I blurted, and even I realized how out of the blue that comment probably seemed.
He turned his head slowly in my direction his eyes sliding over my face. "What is?"
I licked my lips, my concentration already shifting to the way his plump top lip looked uneven, one side just slightly plumper than the other, leaving just the slightest of gaps right next to the center where it touched the bottom one. I wanted to taste it. To suck it into my mouth and stick my tongue in that separation.
"Edmond?" Axel prodded, making me blink up into his dark brown eyes. Was he close? He seemed closer. "What is because I frown?"
I was really making a good impression. "My brother thinks you're a homophobic redneck who wants to beat us up."
Axel actually chuckled, and my eyes widened at the sight. If a frowning Axel Oakes made my body all melty, then a laughing one went straight to my dick and plumped it up to the point of hurting.
"Yes, he's actually told me that more than once." Axel's deep, gruff voice was a vibration against my skin, and I think I might have actually moaned out loud.
"That's the reason," I whispered, swallowing.
Shaking my head, I smiled slightly. Moore was always so dramatic. Our mother had actually expected him to go into drama after high school. Especially since he'd starred in every single one of the plays in school.
"He chose massage therapy instead," I mumbled, picking up and tipping an English bulldog sitting in the snow with a kitten perched on its head.
"Instead of what?" Axel asked, once again seeming closer than he had been before. Was I leaning into him? There was a possibility I was. I had a desperate need to be closer to him.
"Drama," I said absently, wondering what Axel's beard would feel like against the skin of my face. Was it soft or coarse? It looked in need of a trim, but that didn't mean he didn't take care of it. It didn't have any knots or anything like that.
"Are snow globes a thing for you?" He leaned past me, dragging his shoulder against my chest, grazing a nipple and I gasped so hard I dragged too much cold air in at once and started coughing while Axel continued like he didn't even notice I was dying. "Or did you just decide to come see them because they have a display?"
Once I could breathe properly, I smile at the question. It was a legitimate one. I'd kinda made a fuss about coming to see them, but it wasn't like I collected them or anything. I wouldn't mind having a collection of the beautiful, enchanting balls, but I felt maybe my collection days were over.
"I used to collect baseball cards."
An odd smile flitted across his face that looked full of mirth and possibly a bit of tenderness. "Did you play baseball?"
But my uncle Tosh had given me several packs for my eighth birthday, and I'd felt this weird compulsion to start a collection. It probably didn't help that at that age, I'd thought Uncle Tosh was the coolest guy in the world.
He'd had a motorcycle. How could he not be?
"So you don't collect snow globes." Axel replaced the one he'd just picked up, again letting his shoulder drag across my chest, and somehow I managed to keep my shit together. Though honestly, it was an immense struggle. "You just wanted to see them because they're in town."
"Correct," I choked out, nodding like a lunatic. Clearing my throat, I frowned, pursing my lips. "I was doing it again, wasn't I?"
The smile he turned on me made my legs nearly give out, and I actually had to lean on the concrete post that usually served as a barrier between the road and the sidewalk of the plaza, though it had all been turned into walking space for the giant display of nearly four thousand snow globes.
"It's okay," he said, standing up straight and moving around me to get to the case a couple down that had about fifty globes with different colored lights shining up from the bottom. "I think I'm kinda getting the hang of it."
Well, that was probably good, though it wouldn't stop me from making a fool of myself in other ways when it came to him. "I probably shouldn't talk to hot people."
Axel's eyebrows rose when he turned back to look at me, and I could actually see him running my words through his inner Edmond translator. "Are you saying hot people make you nervous and you live in your own headspace when you're nervous?"
Wow, that sucker was good. Maybe I should just take Axel with me everywhere. He could be my personal Edmond to English dictionary. Of course, that would mean more time in his presence. Would I be able to handle that? "Yes."
"Are you saying I'm hot?" he asked, his mouth quirked up in humor, but his eyes serious as they focused on mine. When I nodded stupidly, his brows shot up in surprise, and he barked out a laugh. "Huh. I can't say that anyone has ever said that about me before."
I blinked several times, more than a little shocked that this man didn't know how fucking gorgeous he was. "Really?" I asked quietly. He was just so handsome. Maybe people didn't give him the time of day because his beard was more mountain man than hipster. "But I like your beard."
Axel chuckled out a "thank you" while I blushed furiously, realizing that I'd not only fawned all over him when I didn't even know if he was open to being fawned on by me, but I'd insinuated that other's probably didn't like his beard, which wasn't at all what I'd been trying to do.
Glancing sideways for something that could maybe pull our attention away from just how awkward I was, I met the eyes of a man I'd hoped never to see again. A man whose abuse hadn't stopped the day I'd broken up with him months ago. A man who'd managed to find me the last day I'd been in Oklahoma and had actually been the deciding factor for moving to Purdy, Nebraska. "What the fuck?" I whispered, dodging around a heavyset man who walked across my path, blocking out the view. When I could finally see around him, the man was gone, and I was left with the feeling of dread.
Had I really seen him? Or was I being paranoid because I was actually enjoying myself and I knew Kelso would hate that?
A hand landed on my shoulder, making me jump and pull away, but when I turned to face its owner, I found warm, dark brown eyes staring back at me and I wanted to walk into his arms and feel that safety all around me.
"What's wrong?" he asked, once again reaching up and cupping my shoulder, obviously seeing the reaction as what it was, surprise.
That couldn't have been him, right? He didn't know where I was. "I'm in Nebraska," I whispered forcefully, my breath sawing in and out on ragged breaths that weren't actually doing much to get oxygen into my body.
"Sh." Axel cupped my face, bringing me in close to him and staring directly into my eyes. "I need more information than that. Can you breathe for me?"
Had I stopped breathing? Maybe that's why I was feeling little faint.
If that had been him, the only person that could have told him where I was was my mom. And given all the information, she would never dream of it, but she didn't know everything, and she'd said more than once that she'd though Kelso and I made a cute couple.
I sucked in a breath, finally remembering how to do that and panted, latching onto Axel's wrists where his hands still cupped my face, a thumb stroking across my cheek. "My mom doesn't know," I whispered, letting him see the worry on my face.
"Doesn't know what, sweetheart?" Axel asked softly, pulling me into his body and wrapping his arms tightly around me. "Talk to me. All the words."
He was warm and solid, and even though I barely knew the man, I let my head fall to his chest, closing my eyes and relishing the feeling of being held.
"I thought I just saw my ex-boyfriend,” I whispered huskily, trembling slightly. "But he lives in Oklahoma. The only way he would know where I live is if my mom told him because she doesn't know why I broke up with him."
Axel's body stiffened suddenly against mine, and he slowly leaned back to look down at me, anger in his features. It didn't make him any less beautiful. "Did he hurt you, Edmond?" He asked on a growl and I trembled for a completely different reason.
"Can you take me back, Axel?" Preferably before I made too big a fool out of myself by having a nervous breakdown in the middle of a town-wide festival.
"Of course," he said simply, surprising me by dropping a sweet kiss to my forehead.