The Outlaw’s Back Story Part 5
Elise wasn’t interested in showing up at home without her father’s treasured Yeti cooler he’d allowed her to borrow for her campout. She also wasn’t interested in showing up at Jesse’s grandparents’ home looking like something the dog dragged in while begging for the cooler back.
She’d only managed four hours of fitful sleep at most, and all of that was in a pitifully padded sleeping bag laid out on the cold hard ground. Everything was filthy. Her sleeping bag, her hands, her clothes, and though she couldn’t see her face, that was probably filthy too. So she begged her friend Charlotte to let her take a shower at her house, and then borrowed a change of clothes so she wouldn’t embarrass herself further in front of Jesse or any of his sisters, not to mention his grandparents who were about the nicest people on the planet.
It was already off-the-charts embarrassing having to go collect her dad’s cooler from the guy who’d caught her red-handed with forbidden alcohol before overhearing her say she’d allow him to feel her up.
This was literally the never-ending nightmare.
She’d learned a few big lessons last night.
One, the Forest has ears.
Two, never stash illegal substances in a bag with your name on it.
Seems like that should have been a no-brainer, but sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.
The upside of getting caught? (If there was an upside.) You learn. You get smarter.
So you hopefully won’t get caught again.
It was still relatively early morning as she lumbered across the golf course, sleeping bag and backpack in tow, making a direct line to Jesse’s house, hoping Jesse had the courtesy to leave her father’s cooler out on the porch so she wouldn’t have to disturb anybody to get it. (Code for hoping she wouldn’t actually have to see him and relive the worst part of her nightmare.)
Of course, she’d have to see him eventually so getting it over with now, while not surrounded by anyone else would be cool too. This whole thing was just so embarrassing.
“I just want to get home and crawl into bed,” she mumbled as she managed to drag her sleeping bag across the street and up the steps to the James’s screened-in porch. She peered through the door and—“Oh, thank God,” she let out on a breath—there was her father’s cooler. She dropped her sleeping bag on the step before easing the screen door open as quietly as she could, desperate to get in and get out without alerting anyone to her presence.
Her hand was on the cooler as an ear-piercing whistle scared the living bejesus out of her.
“Oh my gosh!” She grabbed her chest, stumbling back and looking into the eyes of her nemesis. “Why did you do that?”
Jesse’s counselor whistle was caught between his teeth and wasn’t much of a distraction from his broad, irritating grin. “Anybody creeping onto our front porch trying to pilfer something deserves an earsplitting alarm.”
Elise’s eyes narrowed. “You know darn well why I’m here, Jesse James. And that was completely uncalled for.”
“Was it?” One of his brows shot up.
“You’re gonna wake your entire family for no good reason.”
“Nah. They’re all awake. In fact, they are all out and about.”
“Yeah. Abigail and Lacey are running the swim meet this morning, Dad and Mom are preparing the boat for a big day with their peeps, and Gramps and Gran just left to hit the Amish Market. It’s their thing on Saturdays.”
“Oh. Okay. Still, after next to no sleep, I did not need that whistle.”
“Sorry,” he said, while his grin clearly claimed him a liar. He moved closer.
She took a step back.
He took another step forward.
She backed into a rocking chair. “Ouch.”
“Come here,” he said gently, locking his grip around her upper arm and easing her away from the rocker and toward him. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Or feel me up?” She bit her lip, not believing she’d actually released those words.
“That is the elephant in the room, isn’t it?” He continued to grin as his gaze drifted over her face. “And not that this subject hasn’t had its moments of hilarity, but I wasn’t able to fall asleep with this particular elephant dangling about. I suggest we clear the air. Usher out the elephant.”
The way he was making Elise’s heart pound right now, she couldn’t imagine this particular elephant ever not being between them. Standing very still under Jesse’s careful scrutiny, she became fully drawn into the magic that was Jesse James. Whatever latent attraction to him she’d previously held swelled like a dry sponge expanding with water. She soaked up his I’ve-got-it-all-going-on grin, his twinkling hazel gaze as it consumed her, his broad shoulders contributing to his looming presence, his glorious sun-streaked hair begging to be touched. Jesse James was nothing if not cool and chill and really, really easy on her eyes.
And her heart.
Way, way too easy on the heart because hers just opened up and swallowed him whole. She’d never felt anything like this pull—this gravitational force—this undeniable attraction to another human being. Instinctively she knew she did not want this feeling to end.
Embrace the elephant.
That’s what she was going to do.
She was going to make the damn elephant her pet.
“I like the elephant,” she blurted. “We don’t have to clear the room.”
Jesse chuckled, looked heavenward for a brief moment and then pulled her closer, placing his forehead against hers. He spoke quietly, logically. “I’ve been feeling the elephant for a while now. A few more weeks won’t kill me, I guess.”
“A few more weeks?”
“Trophy Night. You and I. Let’s meet up after Trophy Night.”
“What’s Trophy Night have to do with the elephant?”
He took a step back, a scowl scrunching up his gorgeous features. “Come on.”
“Oh. I’ll have aged out of the camp program.”
“And that’s an issue for you?”
“I didn’t date a Senior girl last summer, I’m not doing it this summer.”
That had her smiling, because … insight. Delicious, surprising insight. “You mean, not until Trophy Night.”
“When you will be eligible to be a counselor next summer. You and I. Equal footing.”
Something told Elise they’d never be on equal footing. “And this is your plan to get the elephant out of the room? I think you’ve made it so big neither one of us will be able to sleep.”
Jesse laughed and pulled her in for a hug like she was his favorite pet. Not exactly what her heart was eager for.
He released her and stepped back—way back—and hefted her father’s cooler onto his shoulder. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
She grinned. Her heart liked that a lot. “And then you’ll kiss me.”
He sputtered a laugh as he followed her out the screen door. “Not a fucking chance.”