CHAPTER 21

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"Does it hurt bad?" I asked Tom.

He sat on the edge of the bed while I knelt in front of him, dabbing the peroxide-soaked cotton ball against the puffy cut above his swollen eye.

"Not too bad."

"Why didn't you fight back? You know a little self-defense at least, don't you?"

His mouth curved into a crooked smile. "I knew you'd come."

"Testing me?"

"Sort of. I wondered how it would work if I was threatened." He brushed the back of his hand against my cheek. "And the fact that I know you care for Sean. I didn't want to hurt him."

I sat back on my heels. "I can't believe he did this. How'd he get in?"

"Followed me in from the bathroom. Hid his thoughts enough that I didn't pick him up. And I know why he did this."

I glanced up.

"You're a special woman, Red." He reached out and tugged at one of my springy red curls. "He feels you slipping away."

I gulped through the emotion choking me.

"What brought you here? Can you tell me what happened?"

"Just before I came to the door, I felt sick, like the wind got knocked out of me. And your face flashed in my brain before I even heard the commotion." I glanced up at him. "I still can't believe—"

"He cares for you."

"Until somethin' prettier comes along."

"Maybe. But for now, he thinks I'm lying to you."

"Are you?"

"No."

I slouched. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that. I've seen the book. I know what it says." Tremors rattled my hand, knocking the cap against the neck of the brown bottle.

With concerted effort, I managed to get it screwed on and the bottle set by the foot of the bed without any bleaching spills. I wasn't sure what sent the tremor through me more, the intensity I felt for Tom or my rage for Sean.

Tom's warm hand rested on my shoulder. It gravitated to my neck and guided my face to turn to him.

"You might know what the book says, but how do you feel about what it says?"

I pulled in a hitched breath, instantly shaking inside. My heart fluttered and my cheeks burned, almost like he had an electrical current flowing through his fingertips. He'd probably already read my mind, so did I really need to answer?

He nodded.

My gaze drifted to his lips, then back to his pool of chocolate eyes. Undeniable attraction and a deep connection from the first time I'd met him. And now all the information about Patronus and intense reaction I had when Sean attacked him.

I'd never felt so connected to someone, that had to mean something right? And this past week, spending every minute together, researching this whole Patronus thing, him answering questions, and...just sitting together.

How could I deny it?

"Red?" His voice just above a whisper.

Directly in front of him now, still kneeling, I looked up into his eyes. "I choose you."

The corners of his mouth curled upward. His thumb caressed my cheek as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against mine. I drew in a sharp breath through my nose at the contact. It wasn't an electrical spark, at least from what I could tell, but it was close.

His other hand cradled the nape of my neck, drawing me closer. He pulled away, then brushed his lips against my cheek, then my eye, then my forehead.

My heart exploded with excitement. He held my neck so gently while his fingers tangled in my hair. I rested my palms against his chest but leaned my head back, giving him more room to graze.

I could tell he liked that because his intensity increased, and I felt his teeth against my earlobe. The room spun. What if I couldn't protect him? What if he died, like all the others I'd loved?

Tom's mouth found the sensitive spot on my neck, just behind the ear, and peppered my flesh with butterfly kisses. Tingles, like just before I was about to electrify something, zinged through me, warming me from the inside out.

"Oh. Wow," I said with a gasp.

Was the intensity I felt for Tom because I was his Patronus? Because the Patronus and Melace were supposed to be a couple? Or was it because I wanted to be with him?

His mouth found mine again, and I took the kiss deeper, really tasting him for the first time. He must have just brushed his teeth before Sean pulled that little stunt, because a wave of cool mint zinged through my mouth.

I wove my arms around his neck and buried my hands in his hair wanting to be closer, needing to be.

"Come up here," he whispered into my mouth.

I pulled away, and drew in a deep breath as I glanced at his bed. Was I ready to do that? My body urged me forward, especially as he kept his hands touching my face. His cheeks were flushed, as I imagined mine were.

He scooted farther to the end of the bed and patted the mattress beside him. The crooked poster on the wall behind him reminded me of the fight that had just happened. How hurt Sean had looked when I told him I'd chosen Tom.

But did I choose Tom on my own? Or was I forced into it because of what Tom was? What I was?

He reached out and wrapped his fingers around mine. "Red. Come up here with me."

I pushed myself up from my knees and sat beside him. "I'm not sure—"

He cupped the side of my face. "No pressure for anything more than just holding you." He smiled. "I want you close to me."

I settled in next to him. "You read that from me, didn't you?"

"No. You asked me to stay out of your mind." He brushed his mouth against my cheek.

"You can just turn it off like that?"

"With a little work." His hot breath tickled my neck followed by soft lips. "I just want you to be happy."

"You're doing a good job at that right now. This feels like a dream." I grabbed each side of his face and held him inches from me. "Are you for real? You're not going to up and disappear on me, are you?"

"Not a chance. There's no separating us now, Red."

I yanked him forward and fell back onto his bed. His body weight on mine triggered little bursts of electricity throughout my body. And that felt right. Almost like my electricity craved him. Ignited deep within me because he was around.

So, I'd chosen Tom, chosen therole of Patronus. But was I ready to give all of myself to him?

 But was I ready to give all of myself to him?

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***AUTHOR NOTE***

Well, I made it through my 50k (31 miles) race yesterday. 6500 feet of climbing. HOLY DIFFICULT BATMAN. But we raised $2400 for St. Jude, so I'm a happy camper.  

I'm glad to be resting today and uploading this next chapter of Charged for ya. Thanks for reading it. Any thoughts? 

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