Home > Dirty Bastard (Roughneck Billionaires #3)(22)

Dirty Bastard (Roughneck Billionaires #3)(22)
Author: Jessica Clare

He puts a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it, and then rubs the back of my neck. “I ain’t blamin’, Lexi. I was just curious what happened is all. You don’t need to justify it to me. I understand. And if I was so morally opposed, I could have said no, right? I was all too happy to say yes.”

His grin is making my stomach flutter. That, and the big hand that’s kneading my neck is doing all kinds of crazy things to me. “Pretty fucked, timing-wise, isn’t it?” I say lightly, trying to play things off.

“It is. You shoulda texted me. I would have wired you some money.”

“Like a hooker?”

“More like someone that just didn’t wanna get knocked up.”

“Oooh, burn.” I poke his leg with one finger. “You got me there. I made a bad choice. Sorry. Are you mad at me?”

“Mad?” Knox looks surprised. The hand on the back of my neck pauses for a moment, and then begins rubbing once more. “Naw. I ain’t mad. Shit happens, you know? I didn’t think I was going to be a dad at twenty-three, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.” He glances over at me. “And I really like the idea of bein’ your partner. Gettin’ married.”

Oh god, I should hate that he even throws that out there. He’s so casual about it. Marriage is a shit-show for someone like me, but the thumb that’s so casually grazing the skin on my neck is distracting me. That has to be why I’ve got that wild flutter in my belly at the thought of marriage. Has to be. I’m not thinking clearly due to his nearness and my pregnancy horniness. That has to be it.

I’m very antimarriage. Very. It might be good for some people, but it’s terrible for me. I should tell Knox this, but the words stick in my throat. It seems to be important to him, and I don’t want him to hate me. The thought fills me with despair. For some reason, the idea of Knox hating me feels like a gut punch.

I can’t be attached to him. I can’t. That’s such a bad idea. I’ve got enough stress in my life.

“How does it feel?” Knox murmurs, and his thumb slides along the cords of my neck.

Feel? “What?”

“Bein’ pregnant. Any noticeable changes? Nat’s super sick all the time, and it makes Clay strut around like it’s a badge of honor. Every time I talk to him he’s runnin’ around gettin’ something for her stomach and tellin’ us all about how many times she puked. I can’t decide if it’s cute or bizarre.”

Oh. We’re still talking about the baby. I touch my flat stomach. “Nothing much yet, really. No morning sickness. I haven’t really had any strange food cravings yet, either.” I glance over at my destroyed dinner plate and think of my cookie-pickle-ketchup burger. “Well, uh, until now. Other than that, just a bit of tenderness, really.” The tenderness is probably a TMI for him, but I feel like if I give just enough information, I’ll be able to hide other bits.

Things like how the pregnancy has made me super, ultra-aroused at the drop of a hat.

But Knox isn’t a woman, so I doubt he knows anything about pregnancy like that. He just nods like what I’m saying makes sense, and then adds, “If you need anything, just let me know and I’ll get it for you.”

Like dick? I want to say, but for once, I hold back. I have no doubt in my mind that if I wanted sex right now, he’d give it to me. Screw ghost hunting. The undead can just watch. But I remind myself that I can’t think like that. I can’t. Much as I may want otherwise, it’s smartest to keep Knox at arm’s length. I can’t forget how bad my first marriage was.

Nor can I forget Keith and his constant looming presence in my life. Ugh. So I look over at gorgeous, sexy Knox and do what I can to try to stem the rising tide of my stupid feelings. “I’m glad we’re here, but in the future can you please not ambush me in my studio? It makes me feel trapped.”

He cocks his head, regarding me. “Trapped?” When I nod, he removes his hand from my neck—which makes me want to cry—and adds slowly, “You ain’t married, are you?”

And now I feel like an asshole. There’s a cautious wariness to his face that wasn’t there before, and I feel like I’ve somehow ruined something I wasn’t even sure I wanted. God, I’m such a mess. I can’t tell him about Keith, though. The last thing I need is him white-knighting his way into my life more than he already is and making the fuckery dial up to eleven. It’s already going to be at an eight by the time I get back from this date with him, but I can handle Keith at an eight. “I’m not married now, but I was married once.”

Knox seems surprised at this admission. “Oh?”

I can tell he wants more information, and I feel like I owe him this much. More than anything, I just want him to put his hand back on my neck and stroke it again. That’s shamefully weak of me, but I’m not sure I care. Just having him here at my side seems to make everything okay. Like it doesn’t matter that I’m broke and pregnant and my stalker is gonna flip his lid when he finds out I’m gone. As long as he touches me again and smiles, everything’ll be okay.

Ghost hunting seems like a distant second right now compared to snuggling. Snuggling that I shouldn’t want, of course, but I can’t seem to help myself.

Just like I can’t seem to bring myself to make the first move.

“I’ve never told Natalie,” I admit to him. “Don’t say anything, all right?”

“Is it a secret?”

“No, just not something I’m particularly proud of. Nat’s a big believer in happy ever after and love conquering all things despite the whole ‘Clay being out of her life for seven years’ thing. Though I suppose she’s really, really into the whole Prince Charming thing now that she and Clay are back together.” I pick up my phone and start to fiddle with the camera. It’s either that or start wringing my hands like some demented damsel in distress. “So yeah, I was married once. It sucked. Not a fan.”

Knox puts a hand over my phone, gently pushing it aside. “Tell me about him. Who is he, and do I need to murder him for hurting you?”

I laugh at his suggestion, but when I look over at him, there’s an intense expression on his face, and he’s not smiling. He’s not fooling around, and I get the impression he really would go after my ex and make him pay for past slights. I’m not sure if that’s crazypants or sweet. Maybe both. Maybe that’s why we get along so well. We’re both a little crazypants. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

Oh jeez. Everything, huh? That’s such a broad statement. “Well, when I was a kid, it might shock you to hear that I was a bit of a rebellious teenager.”

A hint of a smile quirks his mouth. “No shit,” he drawls.

“No shit,” I agree. “I had problems with authority, and I really, really had problems with my parents, who were very strict and found religion again when I was about fifteen. Instead of cleaving to Jesus, I cleaved to goth clothing and rock music and staying out late with my much-older boyfriend.”

“You wild thing, you.”

“It should also not surprise you that I influenced my younger sister, and when my parents found her with a cigarette one day, they blamed me. I’d just graduated from high school, and I’d had the bad decision to stay out late with my boyfriend, Jonas. I’d slept over at his place. See, he was twenty-three or so, and I had just turned eighteen, and at the time, I didn’t think it was weird that an older guy wanted to date some high school kid. I just thought he was cool. Of course, now that I think back to how flat-chested and skinny I was, I wonder about that guy, but that’s besides the point. Between the cigarette and the sluttiness I was showing, my parents kicked me out. Jonas offered for me to move in with him, but then he lost his job a week or so later, and decided to enlist in the army. The only way we’d get housing together was if we got married. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea because it meant I was trading one authority figure for another, and we were already fighting after a week of living together, but I was also young and stupid, and I figured we’d learn to get along better over time. Plus, I didn’t have any options other than going back to my parents and begging for forgiveness. That wasn’t going to happen . . . so I married my sleazy boyfriend about a month after high school ended.” I give him a faint smile. “You can guess how things turned out.”

Knox isn’t smiling. His expression is pretty . . . well, stony.

I reach over and pat his hand. “Oh, this gets better. See, it’s a combination of two people being really wrong for each other and desperate situations. Jonas was desperate for work and he was a real pothead, so he couldn’t get a regular job. Plus, he was kind of stupid, looking back. So he joined the army because he figured they couldn’t really fire him if he was enlisted. We got married, he shipped out, and then I had an apartment on my own. I wanted to get a job, too, but Jonas didn’t like that idea, so I spent my time playing video games online and generally being a lazy slob. I guess you could say I was depressed, but I was eighteen and I figured shit like that only happened to older people.” I shrug. “So it didn’t make for a good situation when Jonas got home from his deployments.”

I can feel Knox tense next to me. “Did he hit you?” His voice is low, brimming with pent-up anger.

“No, but he grabbed me pretty hard a few times. I know I had bruises. I’m not saying I was blameless, of course. I was a real asshole to him, but—”

“That doesn’t excuse it,” he tells me tightly.

“No, it doesn’t, which is what I was about to say.” He seems so stressed and angry over my past that I reach over and squeeze his knee. “It’s all right, Knox. Like I said, I was an asshole kid at the time, but I wasn’t a dumb one. I was more than happy when he’d go away again. It meant I didn’t have to deal with him. Of course, while he was gone, I was trapped at home. We didn’t have a car, and he was the one earning all the money, which meant I sat around a lot. One time he came home and got really jealous of my friendship with some people online and destroyed my computer and smashed my phone. After that, I didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

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