Pulling his cap low over his eyes, Kevin set his rod down, reaching into the cooler behind him for a cold beer. "Howie?" he asked, offering one. His good friend accepted, popping the top and taking a hearty gulp as the water splashed against the sides of the small boat. "Easy, man," Kevin said with a chuckle. "It's not even noon yet." Propping one foot on the side, he let his thoughts drift as the boat did, gripping the can in his hand as his thoughts turned to the woman who'd stayed in his bed for too short a time the night before. Her memory lingered, as had her fragrance on his pillow. His back still smarted from the nail marks she'd left, and so far Howie hadn't mentioned the marks left on his neck. Never again, though. He swore to himself that he wouldn't let it happen again.
“I know,” Howie choked slightly, the can already almost empty from the initial rush. The cold liquid burned against his throat as he turned on rubbing a hand over his tired face, somewhat unsettled about being in the middle of the deep lake with a small oar boat. Surprisingly, he was much more comfortable on the ocean in one of Nick’s expensive ‘sweethearts.’
“What’s wrong?” Kevin questioned, running a hand against the side of his neck were the broken capillaries resided from Austin’s powerful mouth. He attempted to focus on Howie, realizing the vacation had been about him in the first place. About helping Howie find his way back from his dark demons.
"Cheyanne asked what business we're in. And I couldn't just tell her the truth, could I?"
"Oh, Lord. What kooky career did you dream up?" Kevin asked, taking a sip of his beer. Setting his foot down, he propped his elbows on his knees, his eyes on Howie.
"Kooky? I'm almost offended," Howie chuckled, shaking his head. "Real estate."
"So I go from being a world-famous pop star to a dowdy real estate agent overnight?" Kevin couldn't keep the smirk off his face.
“We are anything but world-famous,” Howie replied, somewhat taut as he dropped his gaze to the now empty beer can. In an instant, the chuckle and smile faded at the mere remembrance of his career. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of his career, because music was an essential part of his core. But, how could he possibly get a beautiful girl like Cheyanne to fall for him if he was nothing but a back-up singer to three handsomely distinguished men. The same men he had considered his best friends for the longest time. No, he wasn’t ashamed of his career, but more so his lack of being able to stand apart from the crowd. “Remember? We’re not Nick Carter, AJ McLean, or Brian Littrell. We’re the faceless nobodies at the back of the stage, practically nonexistent.”
Tapping his can lightly, Kevin nodded. "I know," he murmured, glancing down at the small pool of water in the bottom of the boat. Was it getting bigger, or…No, he was imagining things. "Maybe we should just strike it out on our own," he suggested with a rueful sigh, knowing it was a stupid idea. If nobody noticed them now, who the hell would care if they did something on their own? The world only saw them as 'those other two', the ones standing on the sidelines.
“I really don’t even want to go back,” Howie lamented, confessing his darkest thoughts. He continued to stare down at the crystal waters, exhaling a painful breath. “If Cheyanne asked me to stay--”
“Cheyanne?” Kevin caught in surprise, arching his thick brows to convey the same facial expressions. “If Cheyanne asked you to stay? I… Wow… D, I didn’t realize you were that… You really like her?”
"A lot," Howie admitted, meeting Kevin's eyes. "I know, it sounds crazy, it does to me, too. I know I just met her, but when I'm with her…" He let his voice fade, crinkling the can in his fist as he remembered her sweet smile, the way she'd so lovingly responded to his kiss. No kiss had ever affected him so.
“Makes you feel like you actually belong somewhere?” Kevin guessed, knowing on the deepest level that’s what he felt with Austin. That she was actually his equal. His match in life. Though she drove him utterly insane.
"Exactly," Howie murmured. "So… Go along with what I told her, please? I want her to think I'm a normal guy."
Kevin nodded, taking a sip of his beer, relaxing a bit with each passing second. "You? Normal? Howie, I hate to tell you this, but--- Holy shit!" he exclaimed, jerking his now soaking wet feet up. Looking down, he saw the small pool of water had steadily grown, and, from the looks of it, would continue to do so.
“Kev…” Howie trailed in bewilderment, shifting uncomfortably at the wetness accumulating beneath his seat. He couldn’t help but glance down at the few inches of water in the bottom of the boat, then toward the lake. He tried to remember if North Carolina was home to alligators or crocodiles. “What did you do to the boat?”
"Nothing," Kevin said, scrambling around to find the source of the leak. There, just below his seat, was a jagged hole that surely hadn't been there the day before when he'd looked at it. As the water level grew, he racked his brain, trying to think who would do such a thing. His mind could think of only one person. "That little bi--"
"Kev…are we going to have to swim ashore?" Howie asked nervously.
“Unless you plan on going down with the ship, Captain?” Kevin snorted, any sweet emotion he could have possibly felt for Austin now buried underneath a layer of annoyance and sheer disgust.
"But…" Howie hesitated as Kevin stood, removing his cap to tuck it in his waistband. "I…oh, alright," he relented, standing shakily, peering into the water as the boat swayed.
“It’s just water,” Kevin scolded, easing himself into the chilly water. He instantly shuddered with disbelief, vowing Austin a slow and painful death.
Austin heard heavy footfalls on the porch, and dove to the couch, picking up the nearest book and flipping it open. Taking a deep breath, she gave off the impression of having spent the entire morning in that spot, though she had been in and out of the cabin, nervously taking hits off the cigarettes she'd wrangled from Kevin's pocket the day before. He couldn't possibly know it was her, she decided as the door to the cabin flung open. Glancing up, she bit back a smile as Kevin stepped inside. "Oh, did you fall in the lake?" she asked innocently, snorting with laughter when she saw his wet clothes. Howie stepped in behind him, bewildered and just as soggy.
“You--” Kevin was at a loss for words as he pointed an accusatory finger at Austin. He wanted to reach out and backhand her sharply for being so vicious, but he couldn’t will himself. Instead, he seethed as he pulled a long weed of grass from his hair, slamming it to the already sopping wet floor. “If I wasn’t such a southern gentleman and slightly afraid of my mother’s wrath if I hit a woman, I would take you out and drown you in the bottom of that lake with my phone!”
“Austi!” Cheyanne suddenly called out of no where, hurrying toward the living room with an adorable smile. Only, the smile quickly faded when she looked at the horror in front of her, hurriedly reverting her steps back toward the hallway. “Oh, Holy Hell!”
"Me? What did I do?" Austin asked innocently, setting the book aside as Kevin took a menacing step forward. The anger on his face made her slide to the other side of the couch, the memory of Steven's same expression still fresh in her mind. Cheyanne rushed from the room, muttering something about towels, but Austin was unable to pull her eyes from Kevin.
"You know damn--you know what you did," Kevin said, his eyes narrowing. "What kind of childish trick was that to play? Do you--"
"Kev, calm down," Howie said softly as Cheyanne breezed back in, carrying an armload of towels.
“If I had any mind I’d…” Kevin growled sharply until Howie reached to grasp his upper arm. That seemed to catch Kevin’s temper and he finally noticed the glimmer of fear cascading from Austin’s dark coffee eyes. Scoffing sharply, he snatched a towel from Cheyanne’s awaiting arms. “Don’t say a damn word.”
“I’m sorry, Howie,” Cheyanne whispered, somewhat clutching the towels against her chest from Kevin’s crankiness.
"It's not your fault, Honey," he whispered in reply, giving her a gentle smile as Kevin stomped towards the bedroom. Cheyanne relaxed a bit at his words, handing him a soft towel.
"If you had any mind, you would have checked the boat before taking it out on the lake," Austin snapped, unable to keep her mouth shut.
“Why even do it, Austin?” Howie questioned openly, dabbing his face with the soft, terry towel Cheyanne had retrieved for him. “I mean, fine, you and Kevin butt heads like crazy… But I was on the boat, too.”
"I'll go get you more towels," Cheyanne offered, already moving down the hall. Brushing past Kevin, who lingered, seething, she whispered an apology.
"Can't you take a hint, Howie?" Austin asked, folding her arms over her chest. "I don't want you anywhere near Chey. Period."
Howie recoiled as if he had been physically slapped by the petite woman’s powerful hand, but he really didn’t have a chance to respond. In fact, Kevin decided to answer for Howie as he barreled forward and hoisted Austin over his shoulder by the waist. The little joke may have been one thing, but attacking Howie so viciously was out of boundaries. Kevin had no desire to hear her mouth run against the poor man, deciding to teach her a grand lesson. She instantly screeched with disgust and began to fight against Kevin’s hold, but he was too strong, running down the porch and toward the dock. And, with great ease, tossed her hard into the water.
“What happened?” Cheyanne breathed at Austin’s scream, rushing toward the porch to see Austin sputtering heavily from the depths of the water, Kevin simply walking back toward the house to shower. “Oh my Lord… He just signed his death warrant…”
"What do you mean?" Howie asked softly, but she was already rushing down to the dock, clutching the towels to her chest.
"Austi!" Cheyanne cried, skidding to a stop. "Are you okay?" she asked worriedly as her friend pulled herself out of the water. Expecting her to be livid, she held out a towel. Austin's expression was blank, though, and she wordlessly took the towel, holding it to her face. "Austi…"
"I'm okay," Austin said softly, turning to look out at the lake. "Just…go tell Howie I'm sorry, okay? I'll be in soon."
“Austin…” Cheyanne trailed with obvious bewilderment. “But…”
"Please, Chey?" Austin whispered, sitting on the edge of the dock. She heard Cheyanne's sigh, followed by her slow footsteps as she headed back to the cabin. Plucking at the towel in her lap, she continued to stare out at the lake. "I'm so fucking stupid," she muttered, closing her eyes. She had realized it had been a huge mistake the moment Kevin had stormed into the cabin. It had seemed like good payback for the cigarette scenario the day before. But saying those things to Howie… He was, despite all her hatred towards men and general distrust of him, a decent guy. He surely hadn't deserved taking an unexpected swim in the lake. Cheyanne seemed to like him, for whatever reason. Sighing, she pulled her knees to her chest, resting her forehead on them as she fought back tears. "Steven was right," she whispered morbidly, clutching the towel, "I am a fuck up."
Kevin glanced up in confusion when he heard the soft tapping sound on his door. Glancing up briefly from the novel he had been ignoring for the past several hours, he was surprised to see Austin standing in the threshold of his bedroom. She actually looked quite somber and complicit, her dark brown, layered locks lying perfectly against her creamy shoulders as her bottom lip puckered into a soft pout. She looked quite inviting in her light pink panties and matching silk camisole, causing warmth to start to burn in Kevin’s nether regions. He willed that thought away though, still furious at what she had said to Howie earlier. But, when her light coffee eyes begged for a chance, Kevin complied with the shut his novel. “What do you want now, Austin?”
"I…" Austin trailed, hesitating still. "I wanted to say…"
"Say it then," he said wearily, setting his book aside. Yanking the covers up to his waist so she wouldn't see what she was doing to him, he drew in a breath and looked at her intently. Forgetting his earlier promise to himself, he tapped the mattress beside him invitingly, felt the heat increasing when she finally stepped into the room, pushing the door shut behind her. She stood there for a long moment, gazing at him warily. "Austin," he drawled, throwing the covers back, crossing the room to meet her, knowing that he'd never be able to resist her, despite the Hell she put him through. Leaning her back against the door, he caught her neck in his hand, lifting her head to look at him. "Do you have any idea what you do to me?" he murmured against her cheek, his fingers tangling in her soft locks.
“Probably exactly what you do to me,” Austin breathed softly, wrapping her arms around his neck. She could smell the mint lingering against the hot breath blowing softly to warm her cheek. She could feel the growth in his boxer briefs growing harder at each moment, which caused the moistness to grow in the pit of her soft womanhood. “But I’m sorry… Just don’t yell at me like that again… You scared me…”
"I'm sorry too," he breathed, sliding one hand over her body as he moved closer, his lips caressing hers. Her turgid nipples rubbed his chest through the flimsy silk, sending shockwaves of desire coursing through him. "I won't yell again…"
"Some yelling is okay," she murmured with a smirk, gasping when he lifted her legs around his waist, his mouth and teeth assaulting her neck. "If I remember correctly, you did quite a bit of yelling last night…"
“Then I think tonight is your turn,” Kevin chuckled wickedly, tossing her onto the bed before launching himself on top of her in attempts to muffle her squeals.
But, her squeals naturally turned into moans of delight while he grunted and groaned, throwing all of his passion into her body and throwing the bed into the wall. The same wall that connected his room to the girls’ room where Cheyanne had been attempting to sleep. But all hope was lost when Kevin and Austin became lost in their throes of passion, causing the bed to slam repeatedly into the wall, yanking the peaceful shroud of sleep that had been draped over Cheyanne. She yelped in shock at the first assault, rolling slightly only to fall off the bed. Her behind instantly smarted against the wood floors while she cringed at the muffled screams projecting from the room next door. Usually, Cheyanne attempted to ignore the noise, but she couldn’t anymore. The child growing inside her had been getting her far more sick than usual, masking a mild flu-like quality, though it begged for sleep. She had tried to nap frequently during the day, but this wasn’t helping. She felt her heart break as tears threatened to fall while she scrambled off the cold floor, fully prepared just to sleep on the couch.
The hallway was dark, but for the crack of light shining under the door opposite. Was Howie awake? Cheyanne wondered, tiptoeing across. A loud slam sounded from Kevin's room, and before she lost her nerve she flung the door open, startled to see Howie standing just on the other side of the door. "Howie," she breathed with relief, needing his kind words and comforting smiles more than anything.
“Chey…” Howie whispered with surprise, never expecting Cheyanne to be within the threshold of his bedroom. In fact, when he heard the first fall of footsteps in the hall, followed by the series of loud sexual noises, Howie had just figured he’d go sleep on the couch. He had hoped putting distance between himself and the noisy bedroom would give him a better sense to sleep. Or perhaps being further from the bedroom Cheyanne was occupying. He wasn’t sure what he had been thinking at first, because all those thoughts were lost when he gazed at his infatuation. She looked so adorable within the soft glow of his bedroom, dressed in a simple light green cami with the words Sweet Love scrawled across her bosom, matching a pair of short hot pants with a decal of Disney’s Tinkerbell on the bottom right side. Her long, loose curls were tossed back into a low ponytail, a few curls already falling out to frame her face.
“Howie… Hey…” Cheyanne trailed softly, blushing softly with embarrassment that she had been caught. Tucking the pillow underneath one of her arms, she reached with her hand in attempts to brush away any frustrated tears that might have fallen. “I… They’re banging on my wall again and if they’re not careful, they’re going to be joining me in bed.”
"We can't have that," he said with a smile. "I…the noise isn't so loud in here…you're welcome to stay," he murmured.
Cheyanne stepped toward the side as Howie moved to shut his door, demonstrating how the noise was practically muffled from within. Though, he really didn’t need to show her, because she instantly wanted to accept his invitation. She hated sleeping by herself, especially when Austin drifted in and out of their bedroom during the nights. It was unsettling. For once, she just wanted to be held. Someone to tell her everything was going to be okay. That she was going to be okay. But, unfortunately, her shyness exceeded her desire to instantly agree, causing her to blush furiously and shift uncomfortably. “In here? With you? All night?”
"It's a big bed," he assured her, gazing at her in the soft light. Admiring the delicate pink hue of her cheeks as she hugged the pillow to her body. "You'll be safe," he murmured. "I don't bite…"
Smiling, she blushed even more, her heart tripping over his words. Safe. That was what she needed above all else. Burying her face against the pillow, she let out a tiny squeak of excitement at being able to share this wonderful man's bed. Covering it up with a loud clearing of her throat, she lifted her head, smiling shyly. "Alright…"
Howie chuckled softly at the enthusiasm dancing in her sapphire eyes, causing a mixture of blue sparks to emulate across her irises. She may have hid the squeak, but he could recognize her emotions in her beautiful gem-like eyes. It gave him a sense of purpose, knowing how to fulfill her needs just with simple looks and touches. Like now, when he guided her toward his large bed. Taking her pillow, he settled it against the other on the right side, moving across to the opposite side to turn down the bed. He had to smile again when she worked with him to turn down the covers, like they were a perfect unit. He stood admiring her for a moment as she slid easily between the sheets, meeting his dark gaze with confusion. He jerked slightly with a bashful smile, motioning to his wardrobe consisting only of blue, pinstriped boxers. “Is this alright?”
“As long as you’re warm?” she returned with a soft smile, making sure to stay perfectly perched on her side of his bed. She clasped her hands delicately in her lap, trying to avert her attention away from his body. She knew that he exercised regularly, demonstrated by his amazing muscular physique. He was toned and perfected, causing her heart to accelerate just a touch as she thought of running her fingertips over each chiseled muscle.
Climbing into the bed, Howie pulled the covers to his waist, keeping a safe distance between himself and the angel next to him. "Do you want the light on, or…"
"You can turn it off," she murmured, pleating the blanket between her fingers nervously. "If you want to, that is."
“I think you might be able to sleep better if I turn the lights out,” Howie suggested logically, leaning toward the lamp to kill the lighting. Darkness comfortably consumed them as the full moon outside filtered in a soft silvery glow. Shifting, he made himself comfortable on his side of the bed, curling an arm underneath his pillows as he faced Cheyanne. He longed to reach out and draw her close to him, but she kept her distance, practically on the edge of the bed. He exhaled a soft breath. “Cheyanne, Honey, are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Cheyanne quickly answered, though it was too fast. She mustered a bashful smile as she dropped her gaze down to the warm blankets. Even though they had shared a kiss, she was still skittish, because her emotions were tying her into knots. Austin pressed for Cheyanne not to continue any type of relationship with Howie, but she wanted him so badly. She loved him. “I just don’t want to disturb you… I mean, this is your bed and you’re offering it to me. I want you to be comfortable…”
"I want you to be comfortable, too, Honey," he murmured, reaching over to cover her hands with his. "Everything's going to be okay," he whispered, something in his heart telling him she needed to hear those words. She was so gentle, so shy… Howie knew there had to be something troubling her. He only hoped that, whatever it was, she would feel comfortable enough to confide in him one day. He couldn't bear the thought of her being in any kind of pain, emotional or physical. Without realizing it, he edged closer, heard her soft sigh as her hand turned to grasp his gently.
Cheyanne blinked back a rapid set of tears flooding against her eyes with Howie’s sweetly tender words, her emotions like changing tides of the ocean in her hormonal state. It scared her, the way he seemed to be able to reach directly into her soul, finding the source of her heartache. The way he could make it all disappear with a few words. But, as much as it scared her, she also wanted to welcome it, hoping he could help her. Just the way his hand had reached for her in the dark, intertwining their fingers into a blend of perfection. He was offering himself to her. “I just want to feel safe…” she finally confessed in the soft moonlight.
"Cheyanne…Honey," he murmured, sitting up to look into her eyes. "Sweetheart, I want you to know that you're always safe with me, okay? I'd never let anything hurt you. Or anyone." Lifting his hand to her cheek, he smoothed her soft curls back, letting his thumb graze her lips lightly before resting his forehead against hers. "I know I'm going to sound completely corny, but… Is it okay if I hold you? Just until we fall asleep?" he breathed, wondering if he'd be able to sleep with her body so close to his.
“I like it when you’re corny,” Cheyanne giggled softly, tempting fate as she delicately brushed her fingertips against the side of his face. She suddenly wondered why God would have let Howie come into her life at this point instead of a month earlier. It didn’t seem fair, though, she did thank Him for this moment. To know someone could care for her without pressuring her beyond her boundaries. “And, I’d really like you to hold me all night. Not just till we fall asleep.”
The thought of waking up with her in his arms made his heart skip a beat, and the feel of her fingers on his skin made him long for more of her soft touches. He wondered if God knew He had such a sweet angel missing. "I'd hold you forever," he whispered, brushing her lips with his. "If you'd let me."
“You don’t even have to ask,” she promised with a sweet smile, leaning in to kiss him once more, framing his handsome face within her hands. The taste of him and the feeling of his soft lips against hers were addictive. Enticed by his seduction, she even allowed her tongue to slowly trace his bottom lip before kissing him again. Her entire soul warmed with the soft tones of his voice, promising her the world. Not that it mattered. She would have just rather had him anyway.
Reluctantly dragging himself from her tempting kisses, Howie lay back down, gently pulling her into his arms. She flashed him a beatific smile, her body curling against his perfectly. Breathing in her heavenly scent, he sighed softly when her hands rested on his chest, her head lying against his shoulder. Pressing a soft kiss to her forehead, he whispered her name. "Good night, Honey," he breathed.
“Night,” she lulled quietly, feeling him shift slightly to accommodate her before settling. Closing her eyes, she snuggled deeper into his embrace, tracing her small fingers delicately against his bare chest. She loved the warmth his bare skin provided her, the silkiness beneath her fingertips. And, soon, she slipped into the darkness, reaching to rest one of her legs over his for comfort. The slow beat of his heart providing a rhythm of perfection, finally allowing her to drink in the sleep her body so desperately craved.