Prequel – The Broken One
copyright: Brittney Sahin 2021-2022
*First draft / unedited – this was backstory I wrote almost a year ago – never meant to be read buuut if you’d like to read it 😉
YOU CAN READ HERE OR DOWNLOAD A COPY FROM BOOKFUNNEL WHICH INCLUDES A COVER.
Part I –
“Which frat brother do you know?” Ella tossed a bored look at the guy attempting to chat her up on the lawn at the party.
“Um.” California Ken, with his long blond hair pulled into a ponytail and his surfer-boy good looks smiled.
Ella lifted her chin to stare at the canopy of stars overhead instead of focusing on him, wondering where Jesse was now and was he sharing the same view as her?
Jesse. God, she missed that man. Missed everything about him.
“Jack Henley,” ‘Ken’ finally responded.
“Yeah?” Ella set her gaze back on him. “And where’s Jack from?”
“Mmhm.” Ella knew guys like this. The kind that attempted to crash a frat party he didn’t have an invite for to pick up women. And she wasn’t the type to get all worked up about it, but from the moment Ken opened his mouth to try and talk to her, he’d rubbed her the wrong way. “Let me save you the trouble. You don’t know Jack,” she tossed out with a wink.
She may have been a freshman at Bama, had far too much tequila already after failing her exam earlier, but she didn’t lose her A-game in separating the wheat from the chaff, and this guy was not her style. No, not even close.
He wasn’t well . . . Jesse, so.
She started to turn, but the hand circling her upper arm had her halting in place, and she had to resist the urge to rear her leg back like a pissed-off Mustang.
When she slowly pivoted to give Ken a bit of her Southern mouth, she nearly stumbled in her cowgirl boots at the sight twenty feet away.
Not a ghost.
But . . .
No, that couldn’t be Jesse. Her Jesse. Well, he’d been hers in her head since she developed a crush on him forever and a day ago.
And that crush still had a strong grip around her heart even now.
But could it really be Jesse talking to California Ken’s counterpart, Barbie, across the lawn? He had on a backward black ball cap, a white tee beneath a plaid shirt, and faded denim jeans. But the boy who left for the Army four years ago was all man now.
Twenty more pounds of muscle on his six-one frame too. She’d seen him here and there in the years since he left Alabama, sure. But not as often as she’d hoped, and not as often as her best friend and his sister, had wished.
When Jesse’s gaze cut Ella’s way, that weird movie-moment thing happened where time slowed and the music became white noise.
Jesse waved off Barbie and started for Ella.
“It’s just a party.” Right. Ken was still there. “Cut me some slack.”
“Huh?” Ella whispered as Jesse dodged a guy doing a handstand near the keg while beer funneled into his mouth with some type of tube. She’d forgotten Ken’s hand was still around her bicep. Forgotten absolutely everything with her Army Ranger heading her way.
“I would let me go. I’m tipsy.” Okay, drunk-ish. “But not interested in kissing you. Or doing anything with you for that matter. Well, aside from kicking you in the nuts if you don’t unhand me.”
And poor Ken had no idea there was a man capable of damaging his face with a few punches heading his way.
“You always such a bitch?”
Ella tossed a hand to her chest and eyed Cali-Ken. “Bless your heart. Seriously. You won’t survive the South if you—”
“Let. Go. Of. Her.” The roar choked out all the surrounding sounds once it escaped Jesse’s lips.
Her stomach muscles banded tight as she set eyes on him, and she was tempted to reach out and touch him. To confirm he was real.
“You her babysitter? Big brother?” Ken released Ella and faced Jesse head on as if he were stupid enough to tangle with him.
Did Ken not see the bronzed and corded forearms? The tight lock of his jaw?
Jesse had always been a fighter. It didn’t take much to get him to raise his fists, which his parents had hoped the Army would shake out of him a little. From the looks of it, his time in the service had yet to suppress his twitchy palms from locking into powerful weapons.
Because right now, his hands were bunched at his sides.
A faint line of restraint cut across Jesse’s forehead, barely noticeable with the hat on. But Ella saw it. She knew every square inch of this man. Had every part of him committed to memory.
But to Jesse . . . she’d always be his best friend’s sister. He’d never so much as looked at her sideways over the years. Well, she didn’t allow herself to think that at least because then she might have a dash of hope. And hope could be cruel.
Focus, Ella. Jesse’s here. And Ken is about to die.
“She’s like my sister, so you need to step off,” Jesse hissed the command that was yet another knife to her heart.
Her stomach revolted.
The tequila was two seconds from exiting her mouth . . .
No, I’m not your sister.
I want you to take my . . .
She slapped a hand to her mouth worried her thoughts not the tequila would leave her lips.
“He was just going,” Ella finally spoke up, finding the right words to say. “He’s not worth it.” She stepped forward and wrapped a hand around Jesse’s arm, and her palm skated up along the ridge of muscle in a soothing motion.
She glimpsed the tightening of Jesse’s clean-shaven jaw, and he peeked at her out of the corner of his eye. That’s all it took for Ken to split. To realize he would be screwed if he did go hand-to-hand with Jesse.
“Hi,” she let the word fall out on a breath. “You’re here,” she whispered, not sure if he heard her over the music blasting from the speakers not too far away.
His blue eyes fell to her hand still on his arm, and she’d swear the muscle in his jaw jumped more now than it did when he wanted to rip Cali-Ken apart.
“I just got back from . . .”
“Iraq,” she finished for him when realizing he had no intention of finishing his sentence. I should probably let go of you.
She released a shaky breath and removed her hand.
He took a step back and cocked his head to the side, his eyes taking a slow journey over her body in her jean skirt and white tank top. It was the first time she’d ever felt like this man was mentally undressing her, and it had her body heating and her sex growing lightning-fast wet.
Before she could digest whatever was happening, she found herself slammed straight into the rock-hard wall that was his chest when someone had careened into her.
“Watch it,” Jesse growled out, and she didn’t bother to look back to see who’d bumped into her, because Jesse’s hands were on her arms, and her breasts were smashed against his chest, and it was as if they were sharing a heartbeat in that moment.
She didn’t want to move. To breathe. To do anything but just be there with him.
“You okay?” he asked, his tone sounding a bit battle-hardened. Husky and deep. Or was that . . . desire?
“I’m fi-fine,” she stammered, still not ready to unglue herself from his embrace. “Which, um, brother of mine are you here with tonight?” She knew A.J. was somewhere overseas, so he wouldn’t be there.
“Shep, but he ditched me about five seconds after we got here for a petit brunette.” He dropped his focus to her face, a smile playing across his lips for a moment as his thumbs made small circles on her arms. Did he realize he was doing that? Did he know they were still locked together as if they’d been destined to be that way? “Where’s my sister?”
“Ah, she ditched me for a tall, dark hair broody guy.”
He cocked his head as if wondering whether he needed to go fuck someone else up since he missed his chance with Cali-Ken.
“Trust me, she can handle herself. The guy won’t set a hand on her unless she wants him to.” She smiled, and another gorgeous one chased across his lips as if he were surprised it was there. “And I wouldn’t mind if you keep your hands on me all night.”
At the widening of his eyes, she realized what she’d confessed, and instead of dropping her like a hot pan, he kept his hold of her. Head angled, eyes pointed to her mouth. “How much did you drink tonight, Ella Mae?”
“Maybe not enough.” Because there’s so much more I want to say, but I need some liquid courage to do it. What if she didn’t see him again for months? A year?
“Why don’t I walk you back to your dorm, and then I’ll go find my sister and make sure she’s all set?” he suggested, then cleared his throat while letting go of her.
She smoothed her hands along her silhouette and tried to summon what to say next without her sounding like a pathetic nineteen-year-old with stars in her eyes.
“Come on.” When he reached for her hand, enveloping her small one inside his, she almost choked on a cry.
This was a grip of a man determined to see to it she made it to safe to her room. He was being A.J.’s best friend by watching out for his little sister while A.J. was off in the Navy. This wasn’t some I-like-you declaration-hand-holding moment.
. . . Right?
And his “come on” was also deep, authoritative and meant she was pretty sure if she argued with him about going back to her dorm, he’d toss her over his shoulder and carry her.
“Rory says you don’t call much. Or write,” Ella softly confessed once they were in front of her dorm building after walking quietly hand in hand without so much as a word passing between them. “Why not?”
“Busy doing the whole war thing,” he deadpanned.
“Mmhm.” She rolled her eyes after facing him, and he still had her fingers interlaced with his.
“Come on, woman, time to get you to bed.” He jutted his chin to the building as a directive.
Yes, please, get me to bed. Join me. Be with me. I need you.
As if hearing her thoughts, he untangled their locked palms and brought his big hand to his jaw, stroking the hard-bladed line as if contemplative.
Maybe you do want me? Maybe I should just . . . say something?
But she turned and started for her dorm instead, and he wordlessly followed her to her room.
“You can come in,” she invited once they were there. “I don’t bite.”
He smirked and joined her in the small dorm room, his eyes moving to her small bed. Could they both fit on there?
She thought back to her drunken moment at fifteen when he was about to leave for the Army, and she’d asked him to be her first kiss.
That rejection had made sense. But what if . . .?
She was desperate to know how his lips would taste. She wanted to erase the kiss of every other woman who’d tasted his mouth, and for him to only remember her lips. Her kiss.
But she also wanted more than that.
She wanted every piece of him. Especially his heart.
He folded his arms, looking pretty damn uncomfortable, and she followed the column of his throat up to his eyes, and if it were bright in the room, she knew the vivid blue color would pierce right through her. Hit her soul. Take a piece of her with him back to Iraq when he deployed again. Hell, he already had every piece of her, he just didn’t know it yet.
A harsh throat clear from him before he met her eyes. “Yeah?”
She set a palm to his chest and leaned in. “I’m a virgin.” And if that wasn’t a tequila-infused bomb drop of a moment, then she didn’t know what would qualify as one.
The beats of his heart intensified beneath her palm, and his lips parted in surprise.
“What?” The word was more like a strangled sound. Battered and bruised from shock as it tumbled from his perfect lips.
“Plenty of boys want to.” She swallowed, and her hand slid up and over his shoulder as she moved an inch closer, and he remained frozen in place as if he’d stepped on a landmine and if he were to even blink . . .
And oh God, she hated the analogy when she remembered where he’d been before tonight.
WAR. Where IED’s stole lives.
Her stomach turned, but when she focused back on his eyes, she found herself lost to the moment again. This moment.
“None of the boys were you, Jesse. And I want, no, I need you to be my first.” What did I just say?
The quiet way he studied her had her heart breaking into a million pieces. She felt the rejection coming like the onset of a Southern summer storm.
“Ella, I, um.”
“I know. I’m a Hawkins.” But, damn it.
He eased a bit closer, and her breath hitched at the feel of his hardened length pressing against her body. Well, I turn you on, but . . .?
She let go of her nerves and brought her other hand over his shoulder, tipping her chin up to remain confident and stare into his eyes.
“You’ve been drinking.” His words and the slow and steady way he’d said them had her wanting to wilt. To lose all of her petals. “I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes fell closed, but she didn’t pull back. She wasn’t ready to lose him. His body was still nearly pinned to hers, and his arousal there.
“I need to go,” he gritted out, and she felt his cock twitch against her. “I’m sorry,” he rasped. “I have to go.”
She nearly fell to the floor as he pulled away and turned within a matter of two seconds. But it was the look in his eyes when he peered back at her with the door open that shredded her.
There was pain there.
Pain in those haunted blue eyes.
What happened to you, Jesse? Why are you so sad?
He tipped his head goodbye, his jaw locked, his lips a tight line . . . and then he left.
Jesse slammed both palms against Shep’s truck in the parking lot and then did it again. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
He kept his palms on the truck and bowed his head to the driver’s side window, trying to pull himself together. To not turn around and head straight back to Ella’s room and take her virginity from her.
“Don’t do it. Don’t fucking do it,” he hissed under his breath then pushed away from the truck and turned to put eyes on her building. His heart pounded fiercely as he spied her light blink and go out from the fourth floor.
The devastation in her eyes when he’d walked away from her was going to haunt him, but what kind of a man would he be to take something so sacred from her when she’d not only been drinking, but he wasn’t even close to being in the right state of mind . . . plus, she was A.J.’s sister, and . . .
“Don’t go up there,” he had to tell himself again because his dick was throbbing, and more than that, his heart hurt like a son of a bitch.
Because he did want her.
He wanted to tell her so many damn things.
About his brother-in-arms he lost in the war two weeks ago. Killed five feet away from him by a sniper. And he couldn’t save him.
About the fact he had nightmares every other night.
And also . . . tell her how he felt about her. How he couldn’t survive Iraq without looking at her photo. Without latching on to the hope that maybe she’d be there for him when he got out. And somehow, he’d find his way to her.
But I can’t.
I’m too . . .
God, he wasn’t sure. Unworthy? Broken? Just overall, undeserving of someone of such a pure heart?
He grabbed his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out Ella’s photo he kept with him, trying to get a grip. To not think about whatever man would eventually make love to her, because he knew it would happen. And the very idea made him want to . . . kill.
His shoulders fell when he felt the vibration of his Nokia in his pocket. It was Shep.
“Hey man. Where are you?” Shep asked straight away, a bit breathless.
Not about to screw your sister. Nope. “Just walked Ella back to her room. By your truck now. What’s up?”
“I’m about to go fuck up some frat boys. I mean, Rory had it handled, but the fucker did try something on her, and well . . .”
“Where are you?” Jesse rasped, the urge to fight strong as ever. “I’m on my way.”
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