By Kris Calvert
Adorkable? Jess had no idea what was wrong with him. He wasn’t the kind of guy who tried to impress women with cute pick up lines. Frankly, before he’d lost his hand and his confidence, there’d never been a need for them. He’d always beamed with confidence—the kind of light emitted by men who weren’t afraid of anything on the outside, including a beautiful woman. But since he’d been home, his confidence had been replaced with anger and a cockiness that only reared its ugly head when he felt pitied. But Lindsey had shown him she didn’t pity him. She treated him like the man he wanted to be again, and he found himself in new and dangerous territory—spending time with a woman who made him feel whole. A woman who could destroy him all over again if he allowed her into his new and closely guarded life and heart.
“Did you just call me adorkable?”
“What? No.” Jess fumbled the words, stepping out of the tangled web of dog leashes and away from the scene. He needed to catch his breath. A breath that wasn’t filled with the vanilla scent wafting from her red locks.
Lindsey dropped her chin, hiding the blush on her cheeks. “Oh. Sorry.”
“You’re the dog trainer. Can’t you do something about these two?” Jess did his best not to look Lindsey in the face. If he caught her glace just once, he didn’t know if he could stay away from her.
The weeks of pretending he didn’t care for the beautiful redhead, beyond Java’s training, were wearing thin on his stubborn constitution. More importantly, she was the first woman he’d even thought of in a sexual way since coming home. Countless nights he’d pulled a self-imposed sentry duty, watching through the blinds for a glimpse of Lindsey in her Princess Leia shirt before getting pissed at himself for lurking. He was better than that, and he knew it. Still, he couldn’t help himself. He was drawn to her like a fly to sweet honey.
“Java is in your charge, Jess. Why don’t you control her?”
All Jess could think was, I can barely control myself around you. How can I be expected to control the damn dog?
Lindsey went to the floor, solving the leash puzzle that quickly unraveled in her hands, as Java left Shelby yapping in Lindsey’s arms only to sit at Jess’ feet without command.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Jess said, the words giving his now obedient mutt’s ears a loving twist. “I’m not ready for…”
Lindsey walked the four steps it took to meet Jess head on and stared at him without pretense. “You’re not ready? Or the dog’s not ready?”
Jess pulled the vanilla-filled air into his lungs, exhaling in a slow, deliberate breath. He was trying to calm his nerves, but mostly he was weighing his options. “Look, I’ve done my best from the moment I met you not to…”
Lindsey moved a step closer. “Not to what?”
Jess hung his hand on his hip, shifting his weight in his well fitting jeans, and looked around the room like a man who’d accidentally stumbled into the feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery store. He was lost, filled with panic, and looking for a way out.
“Why can’t you just acknowledge what we’ve both known since the night I stepped foot on your front porch in nothing but a Star Wars t-shirt?”
Jess’ eyes uncontrollably darted back to Lindsey.
“What? You think just because I was embarrassed when I noticed your arm that I didn’t see you looking? It’s true. I was checking you out. But you were checking me out too and have been every day since that night. At least I have the balls to admit it. Listen Jess, you want to act like there’s something wrong with you, but the only thing wrong with you is that you think there’s something wrong with you.” Lindsey’s voice reached a high pitch as she rammed her point home. “And there isn’t. You might think you’re not a whole person—a whole man, but I’ve seen your arm. It doesn’t scare me, Jess. It doesn’t,” she repeated. “Because even though you left part of your body on the battlefield, your soul is intact. And that’s the most beautiful part about you.”
Jess took a deep breath. “So, you weren’t wearing panties that night?”
“Out of all of that,” she said, waving her arm in a complete circle, “the only thing you heard was no panties?”
“I’m a man who hasn’t been with a woman in a really long time. I couldn’t help but hear no panties. So…really? No panties?”
Lindsey dropped her shoulders and took another step forward. “I never wear panties,” she whispered.
“Fuck it,” Jess muttered. “I can’t do this.”
Taking the nape of her long neck into his strong hand, Jess pulled Lindsey into his body, pressing his forehead into hers. Swallowing hard, he stroked the back of her head, gripping her long red hair in his capable fist. Resisting his urge to back her into the couch and kiss her—among other things—into tomorrow, he held his ground and made his confession. “I’m not very good at this…anymore.”
Lindsey blinked deliberately and without another thought, dropped her arm to her side, grasping his new hand in hers.
“Don’t.” It was all Jess could think to say. No one outside of his physical therapist had ever touched his prosthetic hand.
Bringing it to rest on the waistband of her tight jeans, she left him there, placing both of her hands on his rugged face. “Don’t say don’t to me.” She whispered the words and shook her head.
“Fine,” Jess replied, feeling his newfound confidence and neglected manhood growing by leaps and bounds. “How do you feel about, yes?”
“Depends on the question.”
Running his tongue across his dry lips, Jess closed his eyes and made the first real decision with consequences since coming off the battlefield.
“May I kiss you? I need to ask because once I start, I’m not stopping.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
“Is that a yes?”