Mia held her up hand. "AJ, trust me when I say this. Jason got what was coming to him."
"What do you mean?"
She gave me a tight smile. "I'm Sicilian, remember? After my dad calmed down enough to speak and think somewhat coherently, he called some of his buddies from his old neighborhood back in Jersey."
"You're telling me that they made Jason an offer he couldn't refuse?"
"To the tune of beating him so badly he was hospitalized in a full body cast."
"Good for your dad. Of course, I would have preferred they render him dickless as well."
Mia chuckled. "Don't think Daddy didn't contemplate having his associates take care of that."
"Hell, I admired him before, but now I admire him even more."
"Yeah, well, nobody hurts his little girl."
"I'll remember to never piss off your dad, because I sure as hell don't want to end up sleeping with the fishes."
Mia's expression lightened, and I could tell she was fighting hard not to smile. "For you, being dickless would be a fate worse than death."
Wincing, I cupped my crotch. "I gotta agree with you on that one."
This time she did smile, and I was so fucking glad to see her smiling again. It was timid-one I had never seen on her face before. Normally, she is so confident, strong. I closed the gap between us. "I'm so sorry you had to go through all that shit."
"Thank you. But I'm the one who should be sorry."
"Why?" I demanded.
"Because my past keeps fucking things up for us. I mean, I just had a major freak-out back there when you were only teasing me. As hard as I try, I can't seem to put what happened with Jason or Dev to rest." She gave me a sad smile. "You're too good for all my bullshit, AJ."
It took me a second to process her words. Why in the hell did she think I was too good for her? If anyone wasn't good enough, it was me-the goofy drummer who had never had to go through any harsh shit. "Don't apologize for shit you can't help. And you're wrong, about not being good enough. You and me…? We're good for each other." Cupping her face in my hands, I leaned in and kissed her gently. "I think you're so fucking brave to have lived through what you did."
Her brows shot up in surprise. "You really think I'm brave?"
"Hell yes, I do. I mean, you finally left that fucker."
"Yeah, but even after that awful night, it took someone who I respect very much for me to finally see the light."
"Who was it?"
"Pesh-the doctor who I did my clinical placements under. He'd suspected I was being abused for a while, kept trying to get me to talk to my family or leave Jason, but I wouldn't. That night, I was a mess when I went into work-physically and emotionally. He was the one who stitched me up. Then, he called someone to cover for us. Even though I begged and pleaded for him not to do it, he drove me straight to the restaurant. He stood beside me and held my hand while I told my dad everything from start to finish. I moved in with my dad until Jason was taken care of. I've never heard or seen him since." She shook her head
. "Besides the support of my family, Pesh was there through it all. He even threatened to flunk my evaluations if I even thought of ever going back to Jason."
"Sounds like a stand-up guy to me."
A dreamy expression filled her face. "He really is."
An uneasy feeling came over at me at the way she was talking about this doctor. I couldn't help the jealousy that pinged over me that she might still be hot for this dude or worse she was somehow in love for him. Shifting on my feet, I asked the question I really didn't want to. "So were you and this Pesh guy together or something?"
Mia's eyes widened. "Oh, God no. Besides the fact he was married, we didn't feel that way about each other. I mean, I love him-as a mentor and a friend, but not in a romantic way."
My relief whooshed out of me in a long, exaggerated sigh. "I see."
"Of course I can't say the same for his brother." When I furrowed my brows in confusion, Mia replied, "It was two years after I left Jason that Pesh introduced me to his younger brother, Dev, my ex-fiancé."
I growled. "There's another asshole I'd like to rip apart."
Mia laughed. "Trust me, most of the men in my life would like to do that-including Dee. Even though Pesh is a peacemaker, I think he'd probably join in too. He was pretty livid at what his brother did, especially after what I'd been through with Jason."
We fell into an awkward silence then. The atmosphere around us felt laden down with the admission of Mia's abuse. I could tell she was still reeling-both pain and embarrassment radiated in her eyes, even though she tried to hide it. But I felt utterly and completely helpless at what to do to help her.
Finally, Mia cleared her throat. "I guess we better get back before they send out a search party, huh?"
Seeing the opportunity to lighten the mood, I grinned. "I'm pretty sure they know what we're doing out here-or what we were doing."
She made a face. "Fabulous."
"Come on," I said, holding out my hand. We made our way up the riverbank in silence. Although I wasn't saying anything, my mind was whirling with what I thought I should say or do to ease Mia's pain. When we got to the four-wheeler, I handed her back the keys. "You drive."
"I don't want this out of pity, AJ," she countered.
Damn, just when I thought she couldn't get any more stubborn, she did. "Oh Christ, that's not it at all. Okay?"
She eyed me, and the keys, for a few seconds before she snatched them out of my hand. After she sat on the seat, I slid in behind her. She cranked up as I wrapped my arms around her waist. Peeking at me over her shoulder, she grinned. "Watch it with the happy hands."
"You mean like this?" I asked, as I reached up to cup her breast with one hand while the other slipped between her legs. She squealed and slapped at my hands. I chuckled and then brought them behind me to rest on the back bar. "Better?"
She grinned. "Yes. But if it gets bumpy, I'd rather you hold on to me than fall off."
"I'd rather hold on to you, period."