(The first make out scene told from Noah's point of view.)
Echo walked down the stairs to the basement and she immediately begun to rub her arms for warmth when she stepped onto the concrete. I followed her slowly, giving her time to absorb where I lived. So far, she’d handle my world extremely well and if I gave her a few minutes, I had no doubt she’d soak this in just fine, too.
Echo slipped her fingers into her jeans pockets and glanced around, but then zeroed in on the wooden beams of the open and unfinished ceiling.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“It’s…ah…cozy.” Echo shrank into herself as if she was terrified of what monsters might be popping out of the shadows.
I swept her hair behind her shoulder and placed a kiss on the nape of my neck. Damn, she tasted good. Goosebumps formed on her skin and my lips touched her ear when I whispered, “Liar.”
Before she could overthink the situation, I hooked a finger into her back belt loop and tugged her toward the bed. She came, willingly, and if she was fine with going this far, then hopefully she’d be fine going a little farther. I slipped my arm around her waist then pulled her down onto the bed beside me.
Her red curls tumbled around her and with that soft smile on her lips, parts of me that had felt dead for the past couple of years were being resurrected back to life. Echo Emerson was a gift, a sexy gift, and the way her sweater had ridden up and exposed her flat stomach was a tangible reminder.
I propped himself up on his elbow. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to see you on this bed?”
Unable to resist, I began to trace circles around her belly button and my mind was already five steps ahead. My lips on hers, our shirts off, her warmth surrounding me….
“Noah?” Echo whispered.
“When did you start smoking pot?”
I placed my palm on her stomach and practically groaned with how badly I wanted to taste that tempting tummy, but Echo was the kind of girl who needed time. I was going to be the guy who gave it. “You’re going to make me work for this.”
She nodded at me with wide eyes, yet her skin was flushed—the type of flush that meant she enjoyed being near me.
I kicked off my shoes and maneuvered up the bed to the pillows. “Come on.”
Echo took her time taking off her boots and her hands shook slightly as she lined them neatly on the floor the next to the bed. She acted like a gazelle terrified to get a drink from the watering hole and while her instincts were dead on about how much I wanted to devour her, I hated that she felt nervous.
She crawled up to join me, but instead of laying down beside me, she sat curtain rod straight with her back against the wall. No. This wasn’t how this was going to happen. “Don’t do that, Echo.”
Echo ran her fingers through her hair and her voice trembled. “Do what?”
I snatched her hand and rubbed my fingers over her skin as a promise. She was safe. Here. With me. Always. “Be scared of me.”
If lying down would be too much, I’d move, but as I shifted up, she slid down and rested her head on my shoulder. I briefly closed my eyes. Damn, I could sit like this, with her beside me and my hand holding hers, forever.
“I’m not scared of you,” she said.
“What are you afraid of?”
“You answer my question first.”
She didn’t waste time hitting hard with the difficult questions. I stretched my arm around her shoulder and let my head rest next to hers. “I was a lot like Luke my freshman year—the basketball star, the guy who dated all the right girls and had all the right friends…I tried to remain that person my sophomore year, but no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing. I couldn’t stay on a sports team because I couldn’t afford the equipment or my foster parents would make it impossible for me to make practices or games. Finally, I got tired of working so hard to fail, so I quit. One day a guy asked me if I wanted a hit, so…”
I took it. I accepted the joint. I took a hit and I welcomed the numb that followed.
“I’ll never smoke pot or do drugs,” Echo said. “I don’t want to do anything that messes with the mind. It’s a delicate thing.”
My heart ached for her. Her mother. Echo was always being chased by a demon and that demon was her mother. I turned my head, kissed her hair and inhaled her sweet signature scent. I didn’t know how to tell her that I’d be here for her. That I didn’t care what her past contained, that I only cared about now.
“If you’re going to try to get custody of your brothers,” she hedged, “aren’t you scared they’re going to do a drug test at some point? I mean, if I was the judge, I would.”
That stopped me cold. My brothers. Custody. Drug tests. Damn. “I guess you’re right.”
Echo leaned forward and her eyes met mine. “I don’t care that you smoke pot. I mean, I’m not going to join you and I’d prefer to hang out with you when you’re sober, but I’m not looking to change you.”
The sincerity of her words rang true and something within me moved. Her statement was real and raw and I’d spent the past three years with people who were trying to change me, telling me that everything about me was wrong and this girl…this perfect girl was telling me that she’d take me exactly how I was. That she’d take me broken.
I shook my head so that my hair fell into my eyes and scratched at the stubble on my face to hide the emotions brewing inside me. “Why didn’t you go to Hoffman?”
“Because my father thinks art is as evil as the devil himself.”
But she had talent. “That makes no sense.”
“My mom was an artist. He associates her talent with her behavior.”
I tugged on a curl, hoping to lighten her mood. “You’re not crazy.”
Her lips twitched as she attempted to smile, but the expression fell quickly. “My mom came off her meds because they inhibited her creativity. For every painting my mom accomplished, I could tell you the timeframe of her manic episode. Like when I turned nine and instead of taking the time to sing happy birthday, she painted the Parthenon on our living room wall. You can’t blame my dad for wanting to protect me from becoming someone who could do this.”
She held out her sleeved arms as if that was all the justification needed for how he treated her…or an acceptance of how the world treated her.
I reached for her arms, but she snapped them away. Anger rumbled through me. All she saw when she looked at herself was the scars. She never saw what I did. She never saw the beautiful person inside and out.
Some scars—they weren’t ugly. They were proof that we had survived.
I pressed my lips together and with a deep breath, yanked off my shirt, revealing to Echo a secret few knew.
Her sharp intake of air was like a knife to my soul. “Oh God, Noah.”
Some of my foster homes were shit. Full of people who knew how to play the game in front of the right people, how to pretend to be decent, but at the end of the day they were worse than Satan. I was younger then. I was weaker and I swore I’d never be weak again.
Echo reached out as if to touch the cigar burn on my arm, but then withdrew as if she was terrified her caress could harm me. But she couldn’t. I didn’t believe Echo could ever cause intentional harm.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can touch it. It stopped hurting a few days after it happened. It won’t bite your fingers off. It’s a scar. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Echo placed her fingers over her mouth. “What happened?”
“Foster parent number one. My fault. I decided to go hero and keep him from beating his biological kid.” The kid still got hurt and I lost my brothers in the process, something I had to live with day and night for years. The system fucking sucked.
“And this—” I touched the top of my tattoo on my other arm “—is from where I used my body to protect Tyler and Jacob from debris falling in the fire.”
We were almost out of the house. I’d held a passed out Tyler in one arm and a crying Jacob in the other. The ceiling gave. Fire rained down around us and I’d enfolded my brothers into me, taking the burn, taking the heat….taking the pain.
I shook my head to rid myself of the memory, of thoughts of those I couldn’t save, of the two brothers I’d failed to take care of since.
Echo reached out again, but this time, she didn’t shrink back. She brushed her finger along the one-inch wide scar that ran down the middle of my cross tattoo.
“It’s a beautiful tribute to them,” she said and a heaviness unfurled in my chest. On my bicep was a single rose weaved through the black Celtic cross and on each tip of the cross was the name of my mother, my father, and my brothers. I wanted to remember them. Even in the haze I brought onto myself with the pot Echo had called me on, I never wanted to forget.
They weren’t here right now, but Echo was and I showed her this part of me for a reason. I took her hand tracing my tattoo and kissed her fingers. “Yes, it is. My parents would be proud of each scar.”
Her eyes snapped to mine. “I didn’t mean…the…I meant the…tattoo.”
Time to get it through her head that I didn’t care about her scars. “I know. I showed you mine, now it’s time you showed me yours.”
Echo shook her head so violently that her curls bounced. “It’s not the same. You’re strong. You helped people. I…I trusted the wrong person and then I go all pathetic and don’t remember a thing. Anyhow, you’re a guy. Scars on guys are, like, sexy. Scars on girls…that’s just…ugly.”
Ugly? Did she just call herself ugly? “Fuck that. There is no shame in trusting your mother. She fucked up. Not you. And as for that pathetic bullshit – fuck that too. You are not pathetic. You had the guts to return to school and continue to live your life like nothing happened. Me? I lost it all and flushed anything left of me down the damn toilet. Now that’s pathetic.”
I released her hand and tried to move faster than the fucked-up thoughts going on in her head. I wrapped my arms around her waist and laid her flat on the bed. My entire world stilled at how gorgeous she was with all that red hair sprawled around her and those green eyes staring up at me.
“Baby, no one would ever make the mistake of using the word ugly with you. Especially with me around. Everything about you is beautiful and sexy as hell.”
Echo turned her head as if she couldn’t look me in the eye. “There’s more.”
Shocking the hell out of me, she grabbed the hem of her sweater and yanked it over her head. A wave of lust hit me when I spotted a black lace bra, but then I turned into stone as she twisted, revealing another scar. A long one. A thin one. One that caused me to want to break someone’s bones.
On impulse, I touched it, wishing that the caress could heal her, could undo the past that fucking haunted us both. But the world didn’t work that way. Not for us. Never for us. “I’m sorry, baby.”
“No one else knows, Noah. Not even Lila.”
I nodded, but she didn’t see. Nodded because that statement said more than she ever had before. She was trusting me. Just like I was trusting her. Yeah, I was fucked because I was definitely falling in love.
Unable to resist, I kissed her scar as I slid my hand over the scars on her arm. “You’re beautiful.”
More than beautiful, and she was slowly becoming my air to breathe. Echo tensed and to prove to her that these scars were a part of her that I accepted, just like she accepted me, I lifted her arm and kept eye contact as I trailed a line of kisses along the raised skin.
Her green eyes began to smolder and her chest rose and fell at a faster rate. My own blood began to heat and if she didn’t give me permission soon, I was going to combust. “Kiss me.”
Echo closed the gap between us and pressed her lips to mine. All my resolve disappeared and my hands had a mind of their own. They raced to tunnel through her hair, to caress her face, to skim along her back, and when Echo pressed her soft body to mine, I took a risk and touched her breasts.
She gasped for air, wound herself tighter to me, and began to explore. Her fingers curved over my muscles, sweetly along my spine, and when her hands began to wander lower, my mouth left hers and I kissed along her neck.
And I continued down, to places that I had yet to visit with Echo, but had dreamed of multiple times. In response, Echo arched her back and the blood pounded in my veins.
More. The need was for more. For her to consume me. For her warmth to be the only sense in the world. For her voice to be the only sound. For her heart to beat right with mine.
With a touch to her thigh, Echo whispered my name and that single utterance rocked me.
“I love how you smell,” I whispered as kissed my way back to her earlobe. “I love how beautiful you are.”
Echo guided my head back to hers, reclaiming my lips and hooked a leg around mine. We began a rhythm. One that was fast, one that was constant, one that caused us to kiss each other deeper and longer.
She broke away and whispered, “I love you.”
I blinked and ran her words over again in my mind. She loved me. Echo loved me. An ache and a joy rushed through me and I should have told her. I should have fucking told her how I loved her back, but the words became caught in my throat.
I caressed her cheek once, then again. “Make love to me, Echo. I’ve never made love.”
Her mouth slacked. “But…”
I cut her off with a kiss, not wanting to hear the sins of my past fall from her lips. “Yes, but never love. Just girls who didn’t mean anything. You…” My tongue teased her bottom lip, and she began to melt back into me again. “…are everything. I got tested over winter break and I’m clean and I’ve got protection.”
Because I thought of this. I thought of us making love and, in case it happened, I wanted to be prepared. I reached over to the side of the bed and pulled out a condom.
Echo paled out and I kissed her lips in an attempt to see if this was something she wanted to do with me.
“And since break?” she asked.
“There’s been no one,” I said against her lips. “I met you soon after and I could never think of touching anyone else.”
Echo laced her fingers in my hair and eased my head to hers, but the moment I placed my hand near her jeans, her hands snapped to my chest. “Please. Wait. Noah…” She paused as if she was choking. “I’m a virgin.”
Holy hell. “But you were with Luke.” And his reputation was worse than mine.
A smile grew on her lips and I found myself speechless. As if my mind couldn’t turn the wheel.
“That’s why we broke up. I wasn’t ready.”
Because he pushed her and Echo was the type of girl who definitely needed time. Time that I could give. I shifted my body off of hers and tucked her close to me. Parts of me that I thought I had lost became found when she laid her head on my chest.
“I’m glad you told me.” I ran my fingers through her hair. “This needs to be right for you and I’ll wait, for as long as you need.”