“Keesha? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, AJ. Put me down.”
AJ gently lowered Keesha to her feet. When she swayed, he placed his hands on her waist to steady her. Her hands clutched his upper arms and for a brief moment, they held each other.
Keesha subconsciously held her breath as AJ’s eyes burned into hers with love and desire. Then as suddenly as the look appeared in his eyes, it vanished. AJ’s eyes clouded over with pain and he abruptly released her.
Keesha released the breath she had been holding and took a step back from him. Tentatively, she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Today is the recruitment fair, right?”
“Yeah,” she answered with a slight frown.
“Well, I told you and V that I’d help you with it and here I am,” he said, forcing himself to look away from her. When he left the hospital and headed for the park, he made a pact with himself. No matter what, he would get through it. He wouldn’t let her get to him, no matter how beautiful she looked or how her eyes held his.
“I know you said you’d help, but I thought…” She bit her lip as she let the sentence drift. Even though he refused to look at her, she couldn’t help but look at him. They’d only been a part for less than a day, but she missed him. She didn’t realize how much until he just miraculously appeared.
“You thought, what?” he asked, finally raising his eyes to hers.
“I just thought you wouldn’t come because of…”
“Because of what happened between us?” he asked somewhat harshly. “You must have a really high opinion of me if you’d think I’d flake out on a bunch of kids.”
“AJ, that’s not what I thought,” she said, reaching out to place a hand on his arm. When he shrugged her hand off, she flinched as if he’d hit her.
AJ’s eyes flew to hers. He saw his hurt mirrored in her eyes and he longed to reach out to her. He ached to have her in his arms again as he had moments before, but he couldn’t.
Instead, he took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry.”
Keesha shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself. “You don’t have to apologize.”
He smiled faintly at her softly spoken words. Even now, she was his defender. He always felt empowered by her protective nature where he was concerned, but now it left a bitter taste in his mouth. It reminded him of the man he used to be. The drunken shell of a man who needed a protector, a defender.
AJ sighed as he realized that Keesha hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t that man any more. Before, he thought, her role grew from her love for him, but as he stood before her, he wasn’t so sure.
With a deep breath, he said, “Yes, I do. I’m sorry, Keesha. I thought I could do this, but I can’t.”
He turned his back on her and walked away.
Jason watched as Keesha stumbled on the railing. He told Reynaldo to watch Michael and he attempted to close the distance between them before any harm could come to her.
By the time he reached her, he saw that he was too late. AJ had caught her, and for what seemed longer than necessary to Jason’s envious eyes, he held her close to his chest. When he finally set her down, Jason breathed a sigh of relief. He almost came from behind the bushes which hid him from their view, but something stopped him.
Maybe it was the way they looked at each other. Or maybe it was his need to know how his competition fared. Whatever the reason, he stayed where he was until he saw AJ leave. Then, he made his move.
“Keesha?” he asked, his voice quiet and caring as he moved into her view.
Keesha’s eyes drifted to his. They were filled with such pain and helplessness that Jason immediately closed the distance that separated them and pulled her into his arms.
She went willingly. Wrapping her arms around him, she rested her head on his chest. Tearfully, she whispered, “Oh, Jason.”
He shuddered as he heard her say his name. One hand pressed against her back, holding her close to the pounding of his heart. The other hand moved to gently stroke her hair. With a soothing, hypnotic voice, he said, “Oh, sweetheart, let it all out. I’m right here, Keesha. I’m right here.”
Keesha wrapped her arms tightly around Jason’s strong body and gave in to her tears.
She cried for the time she and Jason lost. She cried for the love she and AJ had shared. But mostly, she cried for what she could no longer deny. She cried because try as she might, she still loved him. She still loved Jason and it scared the hell out of her because deep down inside she knew that she still loved AJ, too.
Jason sensed a change in her and he moved so that he could see her face. Keesha lowered her eyes to chest, but not before he saw the answers they gave him. She still felt something for him. He wondered when she allowed him to comfort her, but now, he knew. The special magic they once shared was still there. He’d known that for the last few weeks and now, she knew it, too. But would she admit, he wondered. The question was on the tip of his tongue when…
“Keesha!” V exclaimed. With surprise in her voice, she added, “Mr. Morgan?”
“Hi, V,” Keesha said with a faint smile as she pushed herself away from Jason.
V glanced questioningly at Jason before she moved closer to Keesha. Quietly, she asked, “Are you okay?”
Keesha nodded and turned her attention to the quiet man who had come with V. “Hi, did you come to help?”
“Yeah. I heard you could use an extra pair of hands,” Jax said with a smile. He had seen the intimate moment between Keesha and Jason, and he was curious. He always thought she was too smart to involve herself with a gangster. He hoped she knew what she was doing.
“Well, the more the merrier,” Keesha said with a smile as she took the box from V to place it on the steps next to the others.
“What about you, Morgan?” Jax asked. “Are you helping?”
Jason’s eyes moved from Jax and V’s inquisitive gaze to rest on Keesha. When she faced him hopeful brown eyes, he nodded and said, “Yeah, I’m helping, too.”
“Hey! Watch it, buddy!”
“Sorry,” AJ mumbled as he moved to help the unfortunate person who had been in his path. Papers were strewn all over the sidewalk and AJ kept his head lowered as he retrieved them. When he stood to hand them to the person, he groaned.
“Not you again,” Eve said with an exaggerated sigh.
“Yeah, it’s me. Sorry about that,” AJ said gruffly as he moved to walk away.
Eve watched as his downtrodden form walked away from her and she began to feel guilty. Earlier, in the hospital, he seemed like a jerk, but now she wasn’t so sure. Now, she thought his rough demeanor was due to the pain she saw reflected in his eyes. She’d seen enough of it in her life and for some reason she felt compelled to go after him.
“Hey! Wait,” she said, as she caught up with him.
“What?” AJ asked as he paused to look at her. In his present mood, the last thing he wanted was to be around anyone. Especially someone who wore the same scent of the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind.
“Are you okay?” Eve asked, shifting the stack of papers to the crook of her other arm.
“I’m fine. Now, will you excuse me,” AJ said and turned to move away from her.
Eve hoped that she wouldn’t live to regret this, but she continued. “You don’t seem fine,” she said, moving to follow him.
“Why are you following me?” AJ asked, irritated. Why couldn’t this woman just leave him alone, he wondered.
“I don’t know!” Eve replied. “You just seem like you could use a friend right now.”
“Well, I couldn’t,” he said, as he swallowed the lump in his throat. He turned to move away again, but he stopped. As he contemplated her words, he realized that he could use friend. He also realized that he didn’t have any. He left his best friend in the park and he couldn’t go back to her. But right then, he knew that he didn’t want to be alone.
“Listen, I’m sorry,” Eve said. “I had no right to barge in on you. Forget I said anything.”
“No, wait. Don’t go.”
Eve stood still as AJ moved closer to her. “What’s up?” she asked.
“I want to apologize about before. May I buy you lunch as a peace offering?” he asked, his warm brown eyes filled with sincerity.
“Sure,” Eve said with a smile.