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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
Tears stung my eyes. Never in my life had I ever doubted Jake’s love. And now here he was acknowledging that he had once hated me. Part of me could understand—I mean, I probably would have felt the same way toward someone who had caused my parents’ divorce. But at the same time, Jake was the big brother I idolized, and I could never, ever accept he had once felt that way about me.
“What changed your mind?” I finally croaked.
“One day my mother sat me down. She told me that regardless of how I felt about my dad and Nancy, you were an innocent in what had happened, and you didn’t deserve my hate. She had never wanted me to be an only child, but she’d barely been able to have me, least of all give me a sibling. She explained that you would need a loving big brother, and that I could benefit from the pure, unselfish love of a little sister.”
Although I never got to know Susan that well, there wasn’t another woman around with such a loving, giving heart. While she had every reason to hate me, Susan had been worried about me enough to try to bridge the gap between her son and me.
“So I finally agreed to visit Dad for the weekend. Mom bought an outfit and some toys for me to give to you.” He shook his head with a wry smile. “The whole drive to Atlanta, while I sat with that damn package on my lap, I fantasized the whole time about rolling the window down and chucking it out onto the interstate.”
A nervous giggle escaped my lips at both his sentiment and the expression on his face. “After Mom dropped me off, Dad and Nancy gave me my space. They didn’t force you on me to start with. Finally after roaming around the house and playing basketball with AJ, curiosity finally got the best of me. I found you in the living room. You were in this frilly bassinet thingy. When I walked over to you, I had a thousand horrible thoughts running through my mind about what harm I’d like to do to you.” At my horrified gasp, Jake grimaced. “I said I was a punk kid, didn’t I?”
“Yes. But it’s just terribly hard for me to imagine that you would ever think such horrible things.”
“Ah, that’s the unfailing love you have for your big brother speaking. I was a real bastard then.”
“What changed your mind about me?”
With a ragged sigh, Jake jerked a hand through his hair. “You.”
I furrowed my brows in confusion. “Me?”
“It all changed the moment I bent over the bassinet to look at you. Even though I probably stared down at you with such hate on my face, do you know what you did?”
“What?” I questioned softly.
Tears shimmered in Jake’s dark eyes. “You smiled at me.”
Witnessing Jake’s emotions caused tears to sting my eyes as well. “I did?”
He bobbed his head before dragging his sleeve across his face. “And then just like that—” he paused to snap his fingers, “any hate or anger I had toward you evaporated. The longer I stood there, the longer you kept smiling and cooing like I was the best thing you had ever lay eyes on. Nancy came in the room and asked me if I wanted to hold you. Never would I have imagined saying yes, but I did—I wanted to feel you in my arms, snuggle you against my chest.” With tears streaming down his face, Jake smiled. “And from that day on, I’ve loved you with all my heart, Allie-bean.”
I hiccupped a sob at his words. Fumbling out of the chair, I couldn’t seem to get to him fast enough. When I threw my arms around his neck, Jake pulled me down beside him on the couch. “Oh Jake, I love you so much,” I murmured, as I hugged him tight.
“I know, baby girl. I know. I love you just as much.”
Relief flooded me when Jake’s arms came around me. They felt safe and comforting just like they always did. I hoped that meant that he had forgiven me for what he had witnessed earlier. Pulling away, I stared up into his handsome face. “Nothing will ever change my love for you or how much I need you as a big brother. Not even my feelings for Rhys.”
Jake’s expression darkened at the mention of Rhys. “I just can’t believe he betrayed me by going behind my back with you.”
Shaking my head, I replied, “He didn’t betray you. It takes two, and I’m just as guilty as he is.”
“Allison, you’re just a kid, but Rhys is a man. He knows better. Just the thought that he seduced you for his own selfish, bullshit reasons makes me want to throttle him again.”
“He didn’t seduce me.” When Jake started to protest, I held up my hand. “Didn’t you hear me say that I’ve been in love with Rhys since I was thirteen years old? Trust me, no one wanted this more or consented more than I did.”
Jake’s brows creased with confusion. “What are you saying?”
“There’s never been and never will be any man in the world for me but Rhys.”
“But how?” Jake croaked.
I laughed. “Are you asking me to explain why I love him? Because I don’t necessarily think I can. Just like I’m sure it would be hard for you to explain why you fell in love with Abby despite your differences and the fact the world was against you guys.”
Jake winced as if he knew what I was saying was true but hated to admit it. “I promise you that Rhys never set out to seduce me into his bed and make me one of his conquests. More than anything, he fought against what he felt for me because he didn’t want me to get hurt. But Jake most of all, he didn’t want to jeopardize your friendship.”