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THE LONG WAY by Tribue, Alice (1)

CHAPTER ONE

I’d love to wreck you

Ashton

California

 

“I want to. I swear I’m ready,” I reassure him mid-whimper because I’m so far-gone, all reasonable thoughts have left my brain. His hands are everywhere, and it feels so crazy good ... scarily good, though he refuses to go where I need him the most. I swear to God, I’m on the verge of desperation. I’ve never been this worked up in my whole life.

“Sam,” I call breathlessly, needing him to hear how badly I want this.

“Fuck.” Indecision is evident in his voice as he pulls my bra down to expose my breasts. His dark gaze on them makes my nipples impossibly harder. “We can’t,” he says, his voice strangled before he tugs at my nipple with his teeth and then sucks it into his mouth. My head falls back onto the makeshift pillow made from his discarded T-shirt.

I vaguely register the sound of crickets in the background; the moonlight above provides a sliver of light and a gently breeze blows through the trees. Old blankets are spread out along the tailgate of Sam’s beat-up pickup truck. To some people, this might not be ideal, but to me, it’s perfect. Anywhere he is, is perfect.

He releases my breast with a pop, and I cry out at the loss of him. His eyes are on me, and though I can’t see the rich color of them, I love the way he’s staring at me intently, longingly, making me feel cherished.

“As much as it kills me”—he lets out a sigh—“you wanted to wait for marriage and that was important to you. I’m trying like fuck to honor that, baby.”

“I know,” I whisper, cupping his face between my hands. “I know what I said, but we’re engaged now. I love you, you feel the same way about me, and I’m ready. We don’t have to wait,” I tell him, running my fingers through his light brown hair. I catch a glimpse of the ring he presented to me earlier on my finger.

I can see the uncertainty playing in his eyes as I wrap my arms around him. He wanted it, I know he did, maybe even more than I did, but the vow I had made to myself, a vow that I shared with him early in our relationship, was holding him back. It was important for him to give me that, and I loved him even more because of it.

But the ring he placed on my finger that very night was a game changer for me. For me, the promise of forever with him was enough to let myself have more and, in turn, give him more. I wanted that for him, for us, because I had never in my life met someone as patient as he had always been with me.

I met Sam two years ago when I moved to California to attend college and to be closer to my mom. She and my dad divorced when I was ten years old, and though she tried her hardest to get custody of me, ultimately, my dad used all his resources—money, power, and influence—to sweep up the courtroom floor with her. She never had any real chance of winning a custody battle against a man like him, and I think she always knew this. I think that’s why she stayed as long as she did, why she put up with him even though he never treated her well. He ruled with an iron fist where my mother was concerned, and she had the scars to prove it. Everything about my father is hard, cold, and unfeeling. The only thing he’s ever loved was money. The art of making it, keeping it, and watching it multiply. Anything else that he’s acquired over the years, including me, has been for show. So he could appear to be a man who not only had everything, but had the love of his family as well. This is why my mother’s departure was such a problem for him. This is why he would rather put up with a daughter he had no desire to raise than let her be with a mother who loved her.

I suffered through losing my mother in lonely silence because any show of a less than positive emotion in front of my father was expressly unacceptable. Even still, I tried my hardest to make him proud of me, to gain his approval and his love, but I was barely even a blip on his radar. So when it was time to think about applying for colleges, I set my sights on California. I wanted to be closer to my mother, and my father allowed this because I was accepted to the University of Berkeley, one of the top schools in the country, and he could brag about me to his colleagues and clients. He moved me into my dorm, personally making sure I had the best of the best, a rare single room on campus. A room I rarely occupy because I spend most nights sleeping at my mom’s, wanting to spend as much time with her as I can to make up for the years we’ve been apart and I’ve missed her.

I like to think my move to California was fate, it was meant to be, and I know this because it took me exactly three days to meet Sam once I moved here. The minute I saw him, I knew my life was about to change, and he would be the one to change it. I couldn’t have been more right. He brought color into a world that, for me, had only ever been gray. He gave me more joy than I knew what to do with. His presence in my life was immeasurable. Even when I had my mom around, she was never able to shelter me from my father. She was never able to protect me, and when she left, it only got worse.

Unbeknownst to my father, and obviously against his wishes, my mother provided me with her old car when I got to California, a little red convertible that I loved more than anything. Taking her advice, I took it to get the brakes checked and oil changed immediately. That’s where I saw him for the first time. I’d checked the car in and sat in the tiny waiting room of the old garage waiting for the car to be done. After about an hour of sitting there watching a really bad morning news talk show, I was starting to get beyond antsy. Luckily, not more than a few minutes later, the receptionist called me to the front. She took my payment and kindly let me know that the mechanic who worked on my car would bring it around the front of the building. I smiled at her but thought to myself, great, now I’ll have to wait some more.

When I headed outside to wait, I was relieved when I saw my car pulling up to the curb. The driver’s side door opened, and I kid you not, I felt my heart stop the minute he stepped foot out of my car. His tall frame in greasy coveralls bent impossibly to clear the door. His dark hair was cut neat and short, but it was his eyes…those honey-colored eyes, that had me sucking in a sharp breath. I took in as much as I could of him without staring too long, but what I was able to take in was good, all good. He was so amazingly handsome with tan skin, a strong jaw, and perfectly chiseled features. The rest of him was equally as magnificent—lean, hard, sculpted … just, wow.

“You’re all set,” he said, holding out the car keys for me and snapping me out of my revelry. I couldn’t help but to blush when my eyes locked on his as I reached out for the keys. His fingers grazed my hand during the transfer, and I couldn’t deny the feeling of warmth that spread through me with just a touch.

“Thanks,” I managed to murmur, closing my hands around the keys. I moved toward the car, thinking what a disappointment it would be to never see that face again. It was like all the stars aligned in my favor when he called out to me.

“Hey.”

I turned to him just as he took a step toward me. A flurry of butterflies took flight in my stomach as his eyes locked on mine, rendering me speechless. He stared at me for a moment, and I watched with utter fascination as his face transformed from serious to playful. It was like the most complex magic trick, completely fascinating.

“This is about the time I give you a really bad pickup line, but I don’t want to scare you.” His words allowed my body to relax enough to smile and find my voice.

“How bad could it be?” I asked with a curious tilt of my head.

“I have a few.” His grin was mischievous, but I found something about it endearing.

“Okay, hit me,” I said, relaxing my stance further. Even then, just a moment into our conversation, I knew I could easily stand there and talk to him for hours.

“All right,” he agreed, taking a step closer to me. My heartbeat quickened at his proximity, and I wished he would’ve kept walking, caged me against the car, and planted a kiss on me. Unrealistic, I know, but a girl can dream.

“Do you know what the difference is between you and my car?”

“No…” I drew out the “o” playfully, unable to control my lips tipping up in an even bigger smile. “What’s the difference?”

His shoulders shrugged almost apologetically as he delivered his punchline. “I’d love to wreck you.”

“Oh, wow.” I giggle. “That’s really bad.”

“Okay, how about this one,” he stated with that same grin. God, the charisma of this guy was off the charts. “Is your battery dead because I’d love to jump you?”

“I’m not sure which one is worse.”

“Yeah,” he agreed with a nod, “they’re pretty bad.” He took another step closer, close enough for me to reach out and touch him, and I found it surprising how badly I wanted to do just that. How badly I wanted to touch the slight stubble on his jaw and experience the feel of it just once.

“How about I just tell you that I’m Sam and I think you’re beautiful?” I believed him. When the words came out of his mouth, he made me feel beautiful. I didn’t know if he was just skilled at delivering a compliment, or if he actually meant them, but I didn’t think it even mattered.

“That’s much better,” I said quietly, averting my eyes toward the ground.

“Now you’re supposed to tell me your name,” he pushed gently.

“Ashton,” I replied gazing back up at him, trying to formulate an accurate assessment about just how amazingly handsome he really was.

“I don’t normally attempt to pick women up at work, but uh, I was hoping you might like to go out with me some time.” For just a moment, he sounded insecure. Maybe he was unsure whether I’d say yes or just politely turn him down and walk away.

I didn’t have much experience with boys. Thanks to the tyrant of a father I had, dating was nearly impossible. Maybe that was why I didn’t play games where Sam was concerned. Not once did I play coy or hard to get. I wanted to go out with him, and I wasted no time in telling him so.

“I’d love to go out with you,” I answered almost immediately. It was just that easy with Sam; he always made everything beautiful and easy. He went to the local community college and worked at the garage. I went to the university and our schedules couldn’t have been more different, but he always found a way to make it work. He always found the time to see me. He gave of himself easily and let me be myself, let me express myself in a way that I’d never been able to do before. For years, my life had been stifling, and Sam gave me freedom. Sam was freedom, and because of that, I loved him more than anything.

The sound of Sam calling my name brings me back to the present, and when I look into his eyes, I know he’s come to a decision.

“Let’s make a deal,” he says, righting my bra and pulling me up to sit next to him. “You sleep on it, and if you still want to, I’ll make sure it’s right. Not in the back of my truck. I’ll get us a hotel room in Santa Cruz, and we’ll go down for the weekend.”

I smile, liking the idea of that…a weekend with just Sam and me alone.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” he says with a kiss to my forehead. We make out a little more and listen to the music. He holds me the way he always does, the way I love.

It was a perfect night, one of our last perfect nights.

To this day, I still regret not forcing his hand and pushing him to go all the way that night. It’s just one in a list of many regrets where Sam is concerned.