Home > Ride Wild (Raven Riders #3)(9)

Ride Wild (Raven Riders #3)(9)
Author: Laura Kaye

Ben gave a toothy grin, his voice sleepy as he spoke. “I almost picked purple.”

She shook her head. “No way, blue is the awesomest. And tomorrow we’ll find a marker and everyone can sign it.”

His eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, leaning her elbows on the mattress so she could be closer. “You could get a bunch of the Ravens to sign it, and then when you go back to school, everyone will think you’re the baddest dude on the block.”

“Yeah!” he said, grinning wider.

Cora had such an easy way with Ben. With both of his kids, really. God, Slider admired that about her. Especially when nothing about him was easy, and hadn’t been in years.

Ben yawned and peered up at Slider. “You’re gonna stay with me, aren’t you?”

“You better believe it, Benji. And remember what we talked about. Nurses are going to come in a couple of times throughout the night. Just to check on you. I’ll be here the whole time,” Slider said, leaning over the boy so he could look him in the eyes. There was nothing like the unconditional love and admiration of a kid. But that didn’t mean Slider shouldn’t have to earn it. And he hadn’t done nearly enough these past few years, had he? He pressed a kiss to his son’s cheek. “Now shut those peepers.”

Ben giggled. “Your whiskers tickle, Dad.” Slider ran his hand over the facial hair on his jaw. One more piece of evidence of the mess he’d become. But at least it made Ben laugh. The boy looked up at Cora next, his hand snaking into hers and tugging her closer. “You’re staying too, right?”

“Wild horses couldn’t tear me away,” she said, squeezing his hand.

Ben made a face. “There are wild horses here?”

Cora chuckled and Slider shook his head. “Peepers. Closed. Now,” he said.

The boy was asleep in an instant.

After not sleeping much today himself, Slider probably wasn’t far behind him. Still, he nodded at the small sleeper sofa and quietly said to Cora, “You can take that. Nurse said there are pillows and blankets in the closet.”

She shook her head. “No way. You haven’t slept. And I’m kinda attached here,” she said, glancing at where Ben still clutched her hand. “Seriously, Slider. Get some sleep while you can.”

Frowning, he pulled out the sleeper, which was only a little wider than a twin-sized bed, found the bedding, and lowered the lights. “How ’bout this. We’ll take shifts.”

She smiled. “Sure.”

On a bone-deep sigh, Slider sat on the bed’s edge and kicked off his boots, and then he went horizontal still wearing his jeans and T-shirt. Cora laid her cheek against her arm, her face turned away from Slider toward Ben, her blond waves a soft cascade against the white hospital blankets.

And damnit all to hell, but it played with uncomfortable things inside his chest to see her like that. Things he didn’t want played with. Not ever again.

So he closed his eyes. And woke up two and a half hours later when the nurse came into the room to check Ben’s vitals. The kid hardly stirred, but Cora was still awake and making small talk with the woman about how her night was going.

“Your turn to get some sleep,” Slider said when they were alone again.

“Don’t worry about it. Go back to sleep.”

“We had a deal,” he said, his voice like gravel. Years of exhaustion did that to a man.

“Later,” she said, her expression soft with sleepiness. He forced himself into a sitting position, his stiff movements making him feel ancient. “You need it more than I do.”

He shook his head and pushed to his feet. “I’m not hogging the bed all night while you sit up in that hard chair.”

“Don’t be stubborn,” she said. “Sleep.”

He arched a brow. As much as he wanted to lie back down, he wasn’t doing it at her expense. “It’s your turn.”

“Slider—”

“Cora—”

She sighed. “I’m trying to take care of you, too.”

The words were like a sucker punch. Just nearly laid him flat out on the floor. And he had no idea how to reply. So he said the first thing that came to his mouth. “We could share the bed. To sleep.” As if that clarification had been necessary. For. Fuck’s. Sake.

“As opposed to?” Her brow lifted in a taunting little arch.

He scrubbed at his face. “As opposed to nothing. I just meant—”

“Don’t have a coronary, Slider. I was just teasing.” She eased her hand out of Ben’s grip. “You sure?”

“Yeah. Of course.” As she stepped into the little bathroom, he lay down again and made sure his body hugged the edge. And then he tried to remember the last time anyone had teased him. Definitely not since Kim’s death. Man, once upon a time, he’d been teased relentlessly. It was how he’d received his nickname. Slider. He’d been on a ride up on the back roads of South Mountain with a bunch of other Ravens and taken a turn too fast. He’d wiped out, his bike just sliding out from underneath of him right off the road. And he’d walked away without a scratch, earning a new handle now sewn onto the name patch on his club cut.

For freaking ever, it’d seemed at the time, he hadn’t lived that shit down. And, really, all he could do was take it and laugh. Not that he’d really minded.

But he’d lost all the easy rapport he’d once shared with his club brothers. Lost it to his grief and humiliation and shame. Lost it to caring for two brokenhearted, motherless boys—kids Slider wanted to make sure never learned the truth about their parents. Lost it when he’d withdrawn from the world around him rather than hear a million well-meaning but clueless people try to console him by saying how much Kim had loved him and how great a couple they’d been.

Damnit all to hell.

Finally, Cora emerged from the bathroom and toed off her sneakers. As she settled on her side facing him, she let out a little moan that stirred things that had no business stirring. “My back was getting tired, so thanks.”

He tugged the covers up to his stomach. “Don’t thank me when you’re the one going above and beyond.”

“I’m not doing anything more than anyone else would do for people they care about,” she said, her voice trailing off into a yawn. “I’m just glad Ben’s okay.”

The words hung there between them for a long moment, and Slider’s brain swam with possible responses as he stared at the ceiling. She was doing more than others would do. And in saying they were people she cared about, did she include him in that?

I’m trying to take care of you, too.

Her earlier words ping-ponged around in his brain, and he allowed himself to believe. On some level, Cora cared about him.

What the hell was he supposed to do with that? Or with the weird satisfaction it unleashed in his chest?

Finally, he manned up to meet her gaze, and turned his head to the side. “I’m glad you’re in our lives, Cora,” he said, his heart pounding from the unusual admission.

But he was too late. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was soft and even. Her pretty mouth was slack.

Probably just as well. No matter how true his statement had been, the sentiment still raised complications he was in absolutely no shape to handle.

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