Somehow, coming to this grand opening party had seemed a lot less terrifying when she’d been standing in her bedroom an hour before. The gleaming Twisted Steel sign beckoned, though Jessi stood still, rooted in place.
Her pulse sped as she realized the sleek, black Mercedes parked near the entrance was the super pricy AMG GT. Adam drove a car just like it.
Which meant, most likely, that Mick and Adam both were inside. Hard enough as it was to imagine seeing Mick again after four years, Jessi didn’t know if she had it in her to attempt this…this reconciliation with both of them at once.
You can do this. You are awesome and you have nice tits and pretty eyes and you know all the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You are the perfect woman, she told herself as she marched right up to those big bay doors and into the party beyond.
Inside it was all ink and chrome. Cars and motorcycles parked under lights aimed to cast a gleam and shine on all those curves. The paint and interior design competed with some of the most gorgeous inkwork Jessi had ever seen. The party was full color, men and women rocking a whole lot of ink and piercings milled around. Every imaginable idea of party wear was on display from suits and ties to leather and denim.
It was hard-edged, colorful, a little wild—and though out of Jessi’s comfort zone—unabashedly hot.
Jessi tried not to guzzle champagne as she wandered around pretending to sightsee when she was really on the hunt for Mick.
There was no denying the impact of the showroom. Soaring ceilings with fans bearing blades resembling airplane propellers rotated lazily. Large windows at the roof level would flood the room with light during the day, but right then a golden glow warmed the walls from inset fixtures. The floors were gorgeous honey-toned hardwoods with customized tile work.
Jessi tapped the woman next to her as they’d been looking at a ’34 Ford. “I need an honest opinion.”
The woman grinned. “Okay.”
Jessie motioned at herself. “How do I look? I mean, if you had foolishly dumped me several years ago, would you look at me tonight and think about how stupid you were?”
She didn’t usually go for the kind of body-conscious dress she wore just then. But she’d wanted to wow Mick, to remind him what he gave up when he ran away. Wanted him to realize he needed her.
“Give me the three-sixty so I can see it all.”
Jessi did and the other woman nodded. “He will totally be sorry he was so dumb. You look great. I’m PJ.” She held out her hand for Jessi to take.
She shook it. “Jessi. Thanks for the opinion.”
PJ pointed to Jessi’s head. “How do you get your hair so smooth and sleek? I had a long bob like that for a while, but the humidity makes it curl up all the time.”
“There’s no way I could get it to look like this daily. Are you kidding me?” Jessi laughed. “I went to a salon earlier and they did it all. Once I wash it, it’ll be curly again.”
“I really like that you just admitted that. And that you’re not so perfect you can get your hair like that regularly. Okay”—PJ looked around the room and back to Jessi—”who are you looking for? I might know him. I do a lot of paint for Twisted Steel—and full disclosure, I’m with Asa Barrons, one of the owners—so I’m around here all the time,” PJ said.
“Oh.” Obviously she’d know Mick. “Uh, you do know him. Mick Roberts.”
PJ’s brows went up and then she leaned in. “I knew you’d be gorgeous.”
“Me? What? You did? He talked about me?” Holy crap, she needed to find a sentence and go with it instead of word vomiting.
PJ waved a hand and rolled her eyes. “He’s a dude, so he hints at lost love. You didn’t hurt him did you? I’m pretty protective of my guys, you know.”
Jessi snorted. “I’m sure we hurt each other lots of times, but that break was him.”
“He’s wearing a suit tonight. They all are. So handsome, I made them let me fuss over them extra long.” PJ’s grin was sort of infectious.
“I’m not sure I’ve had enough to drink yet for that. Mick in a suit is pretty impressive,” Jessi said quietly.
“That’s easily remedied. There’s a bar station right over there. It’s also next to the mini tacos. You should have some of those too. For strength.” PJ patted her arm.
This PJ was all right. Jessi liked her pretty much immediately as they headed toward the bar.
Just a few feet away, a wall of incredible-smelling male stepped into her path and she bumped straight into him.
Careful hands took her upper arms to save her from falling. She took a deep breath and looked up into Mick’s face for the first time in far too long.
The last time she’d seen him he’d broken her heart.
“Jess…” He smiled and she smiled and the love she’d felt for Mick Roberts since she’d been fifteen tumbled through her heart, making her a little dizzy.
“I got the invitation. I figured it was a sign,” she told him.
He was there. Right there. She wanted to bury her face in his chest and never let go.
His smile softened, went sideways. “You and your signs.” He hadn’t let go and she made no move, just content to take him in.
“Well. Here I am looking at you. So I was right. It was a sign I chose to take note of and my reward is right in front of me. You look very handsome.” He’d always had a filter on when he was in public. His eyes were hard, but it was a front. He’d been so pummeled emotionally over his life his only real defense had been to keep people far enough away from his heart that they couldn’t hurt him.
But the real Mick, the one so very few people got to see, was the one he showed her just then and it brought tears to the back of Jessi’s throat. She shoved them away, choosing joy instead.
“I guess so. It could have been the invitation, though,” he teased.
That made her laugh. “I’m really glad to see you. I’ve missed you so much.” This time she’d say all the things she should have been plainer about before. Life was fleeting. She was done letting it get away from her without a fight.
A rush of emotion played over his features right before he pulled her into a hug.
It had been so long since she’d felt like this. Totally happy. A sense of rightness of place and energy. He was the part of her that had never healed over when it was ripped away.
Jessi held on, soaking him in, knowing it would need to end soon because they were in public and standing near the bar. It was his party after all. After one last sniff—holy cow he smelled amazing—she loosened her arms a little, as did he, until they finally broke apart.
That was when she got the full impact of Mick in person. She’d known him since she’d been five. He’d always been bigger, but right then she wasn’t sure if he’d always been so very wide and hale and braw or if the time apart had only made him seem so overwhelmingly large.
Despite his size, he wore a pale gray pinstripe suit with a dark blue shirt and a skinny tie. And he worked it. He didn’t look like a big lunk wearing a costume. No, he looked like a man who rocked the hell out of his clothes. A little bit of edge, a little bit business. Yum.
He had ink on his knuckles, Fists Up, and red roses peeked from the edge of his shirt cuff at the wrists. Jessi really wanted to know how many other tattoos and piercings he might have and where.
She knew what was beneath the suit pants. Her nipples beaded at the memory.
Quickly—but not so fast he hadn’t noted her attention on his cock—she shifted her gaze up to his face and got stuck. His beard was the same caramel brown as his hair, neatly trimmed a little long, but not anywhere near guy-who-has-a-manifesto stage. She liked it. A lot.
Like the hair. That’d had been a new thing when he’d come back from Iraq. Not a smooth shave because he had a perpetual stubble. It was just clipped very close.
She wanted to touch it. Wished she had the right.
Mick had sent Jessi and Adam invitations on a whim and they were both there. Both looking at him the same way they always had, and it was simultaneously the best moment and the worst because he’d left them behind.
He hadn’t seen Jessi in nearly four years. Gone was the long dark braid she’d worn daily, replaced by one of those haircuts women made look effortless but probably had to be redone every six weeks. The back of her neck was bare—he’d noticed when they’d hugged—and he’d bet it was downy soft.
The dress was…wow. Something he’d never seen her wear before. At first glance it seemed like a classic cocktail dress. It came to her mid-calf and wasn’t cut low in the front. But it had these panels on the sides that offered tantalizing glimpses of one of God’s finest things, side boob.
She had ink and a nose ring. It looked good on her. He wondered what she had going on under the dress. Given the fit, he could see there was a large back piece that wrapped around her biceps and shoulder. She didn’t wear a bra, and she was even more irresistible than she’d ever been.
She was both the girl he’d known and loved since he was a boy and a supremely alluring woman. He wanted more.
“So.” He waved a hand indicating the space. “What do you think?” What she thought was more important to him than he’d realized until the words left his mouth.
“I think this place is absolutely fantastic. I’m impressed and really proud.”
“Thank you.” Pleasure that she approved hummed through him. “Want a tour?”
He held his elbow out and she took it. Before they walked away, Jessi glanced over her shoulder and waved.
“You know PJ?” he asked.
“I met her a few minutes ago. She was helping me locate you after we had a drink.”
Guiding her through the building, pointing out the bells and whistles, he tried to pretend he wasn’t keeping an eye out for Adam.
“By the way, I read the thing in the paper about Twisted Steel and how you’ve been named a third partner. I’m pleased things are going so well for you.”
She meant it. Which eased at least a few knots of tension. “Thanks. I’ve been putting down some roots,” Mick said.
Jessi’s eyes widened, just a brief thing and then she nodded. “You’re back then? For good? In Seattle I mean.”
Mick didn’t want to pretend away the hope in her tone. “Yeah.”
He wanted to kiss her. Wanted to sling an arm around her shoulders and pull her to his side like he had dozens upon dozens of times over the years. There was a hesitancy between them now that there’d never been before, and it was his fault.
Mick had been about to blurt out something stupid when Duke approached with Asa. Both men gave him a look that asked Who is this?
“It’s long past time you met these guys,” Mick said to her quietly. “My other best friends.” Then to the dudes he meant, he said: “Perfect timing. I want you two to meet someone. Asa Barrons and Duke Bradshaw, this is my oldest friend, Jessilyn Franklin. Jessi, Asa and Duke are the guys who started Twisted Steel.”
“Along with Mick, now,” Duke said with an easy smile as he took Jessi’s hand to shake.
Asa shook her hand next.
PJ approached and Asa oriented his attention to her. Something stirred deep in Mick’s belly every time he saw the way Asa was with his girlfriend. A connection that was heart and soul deep. He craved it.
“I see you found him,” PJ said to Jessi.
“He found me. But you were so right about the suits.” Jessi grinned PJ’s way and the two shared a moment.
Asa gave Mick a raised brow, amusement in his eyes.
“You said she was your oldest friend,” Duke began. “What’s that story?” He was being so warm and welcoming Mick wanted to hug him.
Jessi turned back to look at Mick before telling the story. “Mick wandered into my fifth birthday party and pretty much as been in my life since.”
He heard the emotion at the end. Knew she thought of his absence as well as their long history.
“My family lives on the property next door to the Franklins.” He spent so much time there growing up that it was the Franklins’ overstuffed household he considered home, not the place his parents lived.
“He was so adorable and sweet on my mom we just kept Mick.”
His parents hadn’t even noticed. Hadn’t seen the way he’d drifted away from the heart of their home and into someone else’s. They’d been so bent on correction they hadn’t had time for affection.
“Her parents are self-described ‘aging hippie Jesus freaks.’ They’re pretty amazing, and her dad is the best cook I’ve ever come across,” Mick said.
PJ and Jessi chatted a while longer. Mick didn’t want Jessi to leave so he kept a hand at her elbow and soaked her in.
“Have you seen Adam yet?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “I saw his car outside though. Have you? Oh, well I guess you have since you asked.”
“I did right before I bumped into you. He’s mellow tonight. The last time…” Mick didn’t finish. The last time he’d seen Adam, Adam had tried to kiss him and Mick pushed him off. Neither of them had been ready.
They’d texted over the last several years. At least once or twice a month. Nothing more than a few lines. Not enough.
“It’s okay. We’ll talk about this later. In private,” Jessi murmured.
There she was, soothing, making things better like she always did around him.
That was what he’d missed the most when he’d been estranged from Jessi and Adam. Belonging.
He had a brotherhood with Duke and Asa, which had saved him more times than he could count. They’d given him a place to land, a safe haven, and he let himself take it for once.
Once he’d stopped fighting needing the safety of the home he could make in Seattle, Mick had allowed himself to belong in the community Duke and Asa had been offering him all along.
But Jessi was something to him no one else was. His first advocate. His fiercest defender. Mick had been hers in all the best ways.
He’d run from this connection before. Twice. He’d thought at one time it had made her happier, but he’d been lying to himself.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She said that quietly before taking some food off a passing tray, handing him a little plate of salmon. “This is your night, Michael. I’m here to celebrate with you.”
PJ winked at him when he looked toward everyone else once more.
“I should warn you my parents said they were stopping in tonight,” Jessi told Mick.
“Your mother called me a few days ago to tell me they were coming. She didn’t mention you were visiting.” Addie Franklin was sneaky that way.
Jessi laughed. “You’re so funny that you think she was going to tell you anything she didn’t want you to know. And I’m not visiting. I leased a studio space that also has a small apartment upstairs.”
He blinked, surprised and pleased. He hugged her before he’d even realized he wanted to. Mick wanted to tell her he was glad. Wanted to say a whole lot, but she’d said it wasn’t the time or place and she was right.
But now there’d be a time and place, which was more than he’d been willing to admit even a month or two before.