...“You’re just a kid.” Jeremy looked down at me with those sharp, green eyes. “Just a dumb kid who’s got no idea what the hell he’s doing.”
I bit my bottom lip to keep it from trembling and looked away. He’d never called me dumb before. Others did all the time. If I took too long to answer a question so I could get a hold of my stutter, they thought I was slow. I’d gotten used to it. From other people. That Jeremy thought I was dumb really, really stung.
He was the only person in my life who ever treated me like I mattered. He didn’t rush to finish my sentences when my stuttering took over. He was always patient with me. I’d worked in three other tattoo places before getting hired here because no one else could stand me. It was only at Jeremy’s shop that I’d been able just to do my art and not have to worry about chatting up the clients. Jeremy did that part for me.
I realized now that him telling me to go home was probably him actually telling me I was fired.
“S-s-s-s-sorry,” I managed, but he didn’t let me move, so I just stared at the wall to my right. I had to clench my fists to keep from wrapping my arms around myself and sinking to the floor.
Yeah. Dumb, pathetic loser—that was me because I still loved him.
“I can’t do it anymore, Sam,” he said and really sounded upset. I chanced a look at him through my bangs only to have him brush my hair back and cup my cheek. I gasped.
“I tried.” He got right in my face. “Understand that, okay? I tried to keep near you and stake my claim without the need for the rest of this shit, for your sake.” He sighed, his breath smelling like the peppermints he always sucked on.
“No. Just let me get this all out. You can talk after.” He let me go and turned sideways. “After you’re done screaming, that is,” he mumbled. He sighed again, then waved toward that chair. “Go sit, Sam. It’ll be better if you’re sitting.”
I walked over and sat. There was no point in protesting because I was so amped up right now with worry and fear that I couldn’t have said anything anyway. I’d never been afraid of Jeremy before today. He’d never given me a reason.
He paced in front of me for a few seconds, and I realized he wasn’t wearing shoes. All he had on were those black leather pants. I bet there wasn’t any underwear under them either. Not with how low they’d been while he sat. I’d have at least seen the top of a thong or a jock. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as my libido went on red alert from the image of Jeremy in a jockstrap. A ratty one. A ratty one in desperate need of a wash. It’d smell like sweat and piss and every delicious man-smell he could produce. That was something I could—
“Seriously?” he snapped. I flinched and looked at him again. “This is turning you on? Right now? I could fucking tear this place apart at any second and you’re over there getting hot?”
I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say to that. How the hell did he know?
He kind of growled and ran his hands up into his short, brown hair, spiking it up in places. “You’re really something,” he said and kind of laughed, shaking his head. “I can smell your fear, but right underneath that is arousal. Shit, Sam.”
He took a deep breath, his eyes fluttering closed. Both his hands smoothed down his toned and hairless chest. Oh, man. One stopped to tease his abs as he took another breath and the other hand went down to cup his crotch. I became very aware of my own heartbeat right then because Jeremy was getting hard. Like a Pavlovian response, my own dick swelled in my jeans, that little bit of pain turning me on even more.
I stopped, not for any reason except that, when he looked at me then, a car drove by and the light that reflected off his eyes was bright green. That… That wasn’t normal, was it?
“Do I what?” He actually grinned and took a few steps toward me. “Do I want you? Fuck, yes. Every panther wants his mate, Sam...”