Duff knew how to test limits, to push boundaries. He'd pressed his luck with the Sandy Point speed restrictions pushing his roadster hard through potholes and drifting sand to get home. He'd avoided traffic, state troopers, and the rain. He'd set a land speed record if he had to.
Rayne was distressed. She would not have texted him for anything trivial; he'd made sure she understood that. He should have hired a mover to clean out her place. He never should have left her alone in that state.
The gate on his estate gaped open. Shooter must have made it there before him which seemed reasonable enough although Duff hadn't left too long after him. Knowing Shooter, he would have stopped for food or a quick beer. Considering how fast he'd driven to get home, Duff thought he'd arrive first. The least Shooter could have done was close the gate behind him. Duff's house was remote but that didn't mean passers-by didn't get curious.
Uncomfortable with the thought of Rayne having to deal with Shooter while in a fragile state, he tore down the drive. Sure enough, Shooter's red F-150 was parked in front. It appeared he'd only just gotten there. The truck was still loaded and Shooter was just now exiting the vehicle. Maybe he'd used common sense and chose to wait for Duff instead of disturbing Rayne.
"Hey, man. I knocked but she didn't come to the door. I figured she might be sleeping or something so I waited for you. You made good time." Shooter clapped him on the shoulder.
No, he had not used common sense. Rayne probably had been sleeping, and hopefully still was.
No, he had not used common sense. Rayne probably had been sleeping, and hopefully still was.
"How did you get through the gate if she didn't let you in?"
Puzzled, Duff stared down the drive. Had he left it open when he drove off that morning? He'd been concerned to the point of distraction over Rayne. Things had moved fast, were still tenuous, new, and he still needed to adjust to her finally being under his roof. It was conceivable he'd neglected to shut it. An uncharacteristic slip and not one he would make again.
"Look, before we unload her stuff, I gotta tell you something. I stopped for a burger and fries on the way off the island and some chick was mouthing off about Rayne and Jimmy. Most of it was the usual BS but your thing, you know, what you do, it came up in the conversation. I don't know what the chick knows but TMZ was there and when I left they were talking to her."
Surprising, annoying, but it made no difference. "I don't care what anyone has to say about me. They can speculate all they like and I don't give a rat's ass. People are going to talk for a day or two and it will be old news. Jimmy Breaux was no one, a loser stuck in that dead end town."
"Yeah well I don't think so Duff. They were talking about Flight – well not directly – but it won't take long for TMZ to connect the dots and drag us into it. There must have been a reporter lurking around Rayne's place when we were cleaning it out. How else would the press tie you to Jimmy? He might be a nobody but we aren't."
"Let it go Shooter. None of it matters." They would tie him through Rayne, of course, whether or not he had set one foot in her house. He could not avoid that connection. Irritated, Duff began unloading boxes. The last thing he needed right now was a lecture from Shooter James on bad press or his lifestyle choices. They'd never tried to understand who he was and made assumptions like everyone else.
"Maybe it doesn't matter to you but Blade's got two new babies, Rob's got a new girlfriend, and we're getting ready for a big tour. We don't need any more crazy shit and man, what you've got going here counts as very crazy shit. When Rob finds out-"
"Enough! Either help me get these things inside or unload your truck and go." Duff drew a long deep breath. He scanned the downstairs for any sign of Rayne. She was nowhere to be seen. It was a text, he told himself. He did not need to go running inside. Rayne knew how to call for help if she needed it, and an anxious text was not calling for help.
None of this was Shooter's problem, either. Shooter had spent all day helping haul heavy and sometimes strange items out of a dilapidated house, cut his hand on a knife deep in a drawer where no knife should have been, and had been good natured about it. "I appreciate your assistance today and your concern but it is unfounded. I shouldn't have jumped down your back - all of this, though...I have more pressing things to take care of than worrying about babies, Alex's ego, or Rob's neuroses."
Duff and Shooter began unloading Rayne's things in uneasy silence. It took all the control he could muster not to leave Shooter to it so he could attend to Rayne. His apprehension began to churn in his gut. He'd driven hard to get home, worry punctuating every gear shift as he drove across the last bridge to South Beach.
And here he was, stuck with Shooter. He'd asked Shooter for help, not to do the move by himself; he couldn't leave him to finish it alone; there was nothing for it except to keep dragging the boxes out of the truck and dumping them on the walk.
His mind skipped back to the girl in Sandy Point and the gossip. Maybe the band would take issue with him if Jimmy's death brought up what would be difficult to explain. Maybe it would blow up and become more than an 'issue'. He had been uneasily expecting that for some time now. Maybe it wouldn't happen. It probably would not happen. Right now, shoving another box filled with rattling things on top of a bigger box, he could not care less. Right now, the only thing that mattered was Rayne and easing her pain. Pain. Such a double-edged sword.
Shooter took another look at the house, glanced back at Duff, then reached down and picked up a box and set it on the hand truck he'd pulled out of the truck bed. “I’m gonna stack her gear and the rest of it over behind your spa and take off. It won’t take me long and it’ll be all right until tomorrow. Go find out what’s wrong.”
Once again, Duff had reason to be grateful for someone he too frequently dismissed. Already in motion toward the door, he called out over his shoulder, “Thank you.”
“Sure thing. Take care of your girl.”
Only the glow from the pool lights lit the dark room. Turning around, Duff tried to see if Rayne was in the living room somewhere but it was simply too dark to tell. “Rayne!” he called out. “Where are you?”
When he got no response, he crossed the room through the silent kitchen, heading toward the staircase, now truly alarmed. In a stronger voice, he shouted, “Rayne! Answer me!”
He found her huddled in the shadows near a sofa in his upstairs loft. He'd expected to find her distraught. Instead she'd curled up in as small a ball as she could, like a lost child, with her arms wrapped around her bare legs. She drew a shuddering breath but did not look up at him, instead focusing on the floor. Tired, on edge, and perplexed, he didn't know where to begin. Perhaps with the text.
Kneeling next to her, Duff gently tucked a strand of her long hair behind her ear, ran his thumb along her cheek and tried to determine whether or not she was physically unharmed. She appeared to be although in the dark loft it was difficult to tell.
"I'm here now cara. What happened that caused you to send me that text? Are you hurt?”
Rayne shook her head, leaning into him, pressing against his shoulder, but she didn’t answer. He comforted her, whispering words of endearment as he tried to make sense of her behavior. He intended to repeat his question when she softly spoke.
"There's too many windows in this house."
Like everything else he had seen so far, the remark was strange enough to give him pause, however he did not intend to sit up here on the floor in the dark and question her or attempt to console her further.
"I like the light and my home is private and secluded. I brought all the things you wanted, your clothing, everything you asked for. Now let's get you dressed and fed."
Instead of responding the way he expected, Rayne flared up in angry distress. "It doesn’t matter if it’s private and secluded if anybody can walk right in! People can come right up to the door and see you! Didn’t you know that? Didn’t you hire somebody to tell you how to keep people from getting into your house? You can't live out here and leave your house open like this! Wyatt’s mother had a private and secluded house and somebody walked right in and killed her!"
What…Duff drew a careful breath, fighting impatience, but the day had been long and grueling, and he’d been worried about her. He knew nothing about the unfortunate fate of Wyatt’s mother or whether it was even remotely relevant. Deliberately and with an effort, he kept his voice steady.
"The gate is locked, cara. No one will intrude. No one will come in here and hurt you."
Glancing back outside the front windows at nothing but night sky, her expression uneasy, she shook her head. "Two people did get in and they were horrible, they said horrible things. I wanted to wait outside but I heard a car and thought they were coming back, so I tried to hide from them if they got back in. You know, back in through the gate that was not locked."
She abruptly changed again, her voice tight and shaking. "You know what was locked, Duff? That door upstairs, the door on the third floor, that door is locked. Why is that door locked? What's in there? I tried to hide, to get away, and it was locked and all these windows let everybody in the whole world see in and I can't get away from them!" She curled up again, fisting her hands and rocking back and forth.
This was past getting out of hand, and definitely was not the right time to explain anything to an incoherent girl. He needed to take control and take it swiftly. Using a more masterful tone, Duff again tried to manage the situation. "Cara--"
She interrupted before he could say more than one word, placing her hand on his arm, pleading with him. "I need to go to Jimmy's. I have to go there now because he might have fallen off the roof and broken that picture. It might not be what they say and I could tell - Duff, they said…they said…"
As he had said to Shooter, enough of this. Rising stiffly to his feet, Duff looked down and gave her one terse order. "Rayne, eyes on me now!"
Her head snapped up and Rayne looked directly at him. Her golden eyes were alight with what Duff believed from experience were the warring emotions of grief, anger, and need. She blinked back tears yet unshed but her gaze on him never faltered. There was his girl.
“Get up off the floor, Rayne. You will not speak, not one word. You will come with me and I am going to bathe you. When I’m satisfied you’re calm, we will begin again. Now stand up!”
To his surprise and pleasure, she did as he asked. Lifting Rayne in his arms, Duff carried her to the bathroom. Her body trembled and as she circled his neck with her arms, Rayne rested her head against his shoulder.
His own throat tightened with emotion. It had been a long day, and he had been impatient, irritable, and worried much of the time. Her simple gesture felt so right, so perfect, and in that moment she returned all the comfort he had spent the day trying to give to her.
Duff drew her bath and knelt beside her. He smoothed his palms up her legs and under the t-shirt she wore. He tugged on her panties, lowering them until she stepped out of them. As he lifted the hem of the shirt, he admired her ass, imagined it reddened by his palm, and placed gentle kisses on the dimples of her lower back.
"What you do to me, il mio dolce, should be illegal," he murmured against her warm skin.
Rising, he pulled the shirt off her, paused to feather kisses along her neck, and helped her into the tub. As she settled in, Duff poured a liberal amount of bath oil into the water.
"What is that?" Rayne laid her head against the tub, settled into the heat of the bath, and closed her eyes.
"Lavender oil. Do you remember our first lesson cara in the garden? Close your eyes and breathe, take in the scent and let it calm you. I'm going to prepare a light supper and feed you while you soak. I won't be but a moment."
Rayne sat up, her expression filled with apprehension. "I want you to stay with me. I don’t want to be alone."
Lifting her easily from the bath, Duff pulled her onto his lap. Rayne tenderly brushed her hand against the stubble on his face. In that moment he abandoned all thought of food, talking, locked doors, or opened gates. The only thing he wanted was Rayne, in his arms, his bed, his life. Duff leaned toward her and whispered, "Mi amore, I will never leave you alone."