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Because of Low (Chapter Twenty-One)

Two Months Later

Marcus

"A sober Marcus Hardy, I do believe my eyes deceive me," Dewayne drawled as I pulled out a chair and sat down beside Rock at the table they'd taken over at Live Bay to hear Jackdown perform.

"He just got here. It's early yet. Give him time," Preston chimed in as he plopped back down with a girl apparently attached to him. She wiggled on his lap and he licked her ear. Usual Preston behavior. The tourists were piling in and there was fresh meat everywhere. Preston would screw his way through the best looking ones for the next three months.

"I'm not drinking tonight. I dropped out of all my classes this semester before I failed them. So I figure it's time I sober up and play makeup with a few summer courses." Rock patted me on the back, "There's the old Marcus we know and love. Knew you were in there somewhere. Glad you're back."

I didn't look over at him. Because I wasn't back. I was just as dead inside sober as I was drunk. The old Marcus had been completely destroyed. Never to return.

"Smile brother, there are hot barely clothed girls crawling all over this place. And all they want are one night stands. It's freaking heaven on earth," Preston said grinning like a little boy in a candy store.

"Screwing faceless girls is getting old. I need a break from them too," I said and turned down the beer a waitress offered me. I had a bottled water. It was going to take a lot of water to cleanse me of all the alcohol I'd forced on myself.

"Break from pussy? Whatever man," Dewayne replied with disbelief in his tone.

"I thought you were going on that road trip with uh," Rock paused and glanced at me.

"You can say his name. I'm not an idiot and I don't care.

How many times do I have to tell you that it doesn't matter to me."

"Okay, um, so that road trip you were talking about with Cage. You decided to pass it up?"

Preston shrugged, "I don't know. Cage seems to be backing out of it. He's kind of changed lately." He trailed off and I could feel the tension at the table. They were so worried that one mention of Will ow would send me into a blind rage. I was past that. Sure I'd gone a little mental at the mention of her name or anything that reminded me of her for a while but I was over it. Completely numb where she was concerned.

I leaned back in my chair and watched as the sea of people danced. No one caught my attention. No one stood out to me. I was numb to more than just Will ow. I was numb to life.

She'd completely messed me up. But I survived. I was better now. I wasn't a brainless sap anymore and no female would ever have that much control over me again.

"Uh, Marcus man you sure you're all good with Will ow and stuff now?" Dewayne asked.

I glared at him. Why'd he have to keep saying her name and bringing it up?

"Yes."

He nodded, "Good 'cause she just walked in lookin' like a damn goddess."

I hadn't seen her since the night I'd left her standing in my father's new home. I'd avoided her at all costs and she'd done the same. Not once had she stepped foot into this place. I tried not to look for her. I told myself I didn't give a shit. But I was weak and I turned my head toward the door.

She'd lost weight.

Her hair was longer.

She had on a new dress that clung to every curve.

She was breathtaking.

And she was wrapped up in Cage York's arms.

I'd heard he didn't go out much anymore. I knew it was because of Will ow. I'd told myself he was just being her friend. That he was still sleeping around just not as much.

But the possessive gleam in his eyes as he kept her pulled up against his side told me something else. I wanted to look away. And damn I wanted not to care. She was a liar.

Cut from the same cloth as her whore sister. That's what I'd tried to convince myself over the past weeks. It never sounded believable. Even though I'd caught her there.

There were so many things about her that screamed she was nothing like her sister. Watching her as she looked nervously up at Cage as he spoke to her. He was her safety net. Just like he'd predicted. I'd left her and she'd had Cage to run back to. But she hadn't stood by and lied to Cage either. She hadn't watched as her sister tore his family apart. NO. She'd done all that to me. She'd claimed to love me then let her sister almost destroy my mother. My sister.

Me. Cage bent down and whispered in her ear and a small smile lifted the corners of her mouth. Then her head turned and her eyes locked with mine. The smile vanished and she froze. Her hand flew up to grab Cage's arm as if she needed his protection and rage ignited in me. She wasn't going to destroy me again. It was my turn. I stood up and grabbed the tipsy brunette in Preston's lap.

"Come on baby, dance with me," I didn't wait to see Low's reaction. My dance partner scrambled out of Preston's lap and clung to me, obviously happy with this turn of events.

Closing off my feelings and shutting down my emotions, I pulled her against me and moved against her. I cupped her barely covered ass, and she purred and pressed closer to me. I'd show Will ow. She wanted to show up here with Cage? Well baby, you can look your eyes full. The girl's arms ran up my chest and clasped around my neck. I smiled down at her, focusing on her face and trying my damnedest to get Will ow's image out of my head.

"Alright man, you accomplished what you set out to do. She turned and fled. Congrats. Now give me back my date," Preston said, pulling the brunette off me. I didn't even try to hold onto her. I looked back at the door. Will ow was gone.

Willow

Cage walked into the living room holding a large bowl of popcorn and two sodas. I'd stopped drinking Jarritos. They reminded me of Marcus too much. I pulled back the blanket to let Cage under it with me. Once we had it covering us up he put the bowl in his lap and handed me a soda.

"I'm agreeing to this chick flick shit because tonight sucked.

But the next movie is going to have some blood and action.

Got it?"

I laughed and nodded. Cage was beyond wonderful.

"Pinky promise," I said holding out my pinky. Cage looked down at it and then back at me with a mischievous grin before pulling it into his mouth and sucking it.

"Cage!" I squealed pulling it out of his mouth with a pop.

"Don't point your cute little body parts at me and I won't suck on them," he replied with a wink.

I would have never made it over the past two months without Cage. My chest still ached and my anxiety attacks were back full force but I was actually doing better. Well until Cage had talked me into facing everyone at Live Bay tonight. I'd thought I was ready. But Marcus had been there.

He'd looked at me and I'd thought for a moment I saw relief as our gazes locked. But I'd been way off base. He'd jumped up and taken a girl on the dance floor and began to grope her right there for my viewing pleasure. He was sending me a message and I got it loud and clear. Cage had spun me around and hauled me out of there so quick I had spun me around and hauled me out of there so quick I didn't have time to fall apart.

"Eat. I've loaded this down with butter and salt. You're doing better. Putting on a little more weight. I don't want you to relapse after tonight."

I reached into the bowl and grabbed a large handful of popcorn and stuffed it into my mouth.

Cage chuckled, "Awesome."

Chewing I settled in against Cage's side and focused on the movie. If I didn't concentrate I'd think about all the times I'd spent with Marcus on this couch. How many times I'd watched him sleep right here where we sat. It seemed like forever ago now. Almost like that part of my life was a dream. Tonight reminded me that it wasn't. It was very real.

And just like before the person I loved had left me. I reached over and grasped Cage's shirt tightly in my hand. I needed the reminder that I loved Cage and he hadn't left.

Not when I'd lost it and completely shattered after Marcus had left me standing there at my sister's. Not when the panic attacks started happening every night. He'd stayed.

Given up his nights out so he could take care of me. He was my family. He was all I had. Facing my sister was impossible. I missed Larissa so much it hurt but I couldn't go back there. The memories attached to that house were too painful. One day I'd be okay. Then I'd go see my niece.

I'd learn to accept what my sister had done and accept Jefferson Hardy as Larissa's father.

"He still cares."

Cage's words startled me.

"What?" I asked looking back to the screen thinking he was commenting on what was happening.

"Marcus. He cares Low. I saw it in his eyes. What he did tonight was shitty but it was his defense mechanism. He doesn't want to care. But he does."

I shook my head and closed my eyes. I didn't want to hear that. Not now.

"No Cage. Don't. I can't let myself hope. He hates me. He always will."

Cage clicked his tongue, "There's a thin line baby. A thin line between love and hate."

"No. There isn't."

Cage tucked the hair that had gotten loose from my braid behind my ear.

"Low, a guy doesn't fall in love with you and have you love him back then just throw it away. You're too special. After being loved by you, he can't completely forget. He's haunted by it. I'd bet my life on it."

Cage loved me. He thought I was perfect. He was the brother every girl deserves. I turned my head and kissed his chest.

"Thank you. I know you really believe that. And I love you for it. But you're wrong."

"Haven't you figured out by now that I'm never wrong?" Laughing I reached for another handful of popcorn. I was safe here in this moment. I didn't want to think about anything else.

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