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Because of Low (Chapter Two)

Willow

I glanced down at Cage sprawled out on the floor beside me. He'd somehow managed to find a few blankets and a pillow last night when he'd returned from his two a.m. booty call. He reeked of whiskey and sex. I didn't allow him to sleep next to me when he'd been out screwing some nameless chick, crazy boy. I resisted the urge to reach down and brush the long black hair out of his eyes. I needed to leave and if I woke him up he'd stop me. My sister was expecting me to keep my niece Larissa today. I was still furious with her but Larissa was a baby and she needed me. She couldn't help the fact her mommy was a selfish brat.

I took the quilt off the bed as I stood up and gently covered Cage's half naked body. He'd stripped down to his boxers last night in his attempt to get rid of his smoke, whiskey, and cheap women infested clothing. Didn't matter he still smelled like all those things. The ridiculously chiseled body of his was always a golden brown. His mother had been one hundred percent Indian and it was obvious in his features. The intense blue eyes of his had to be the only thing his dad gave him genetically and physically. That was one of the many bonds Cage and I shared, absent fathers.

My suitcase held the only three clean outfits I currently had.

My dirty clothes were piled up over in the corner of Cage's room in a plastic laundry basket. I really needed to make time to do the laundry. Grabbing a pair of jeans and a

"Hurricane's baseball " t-shirt Cage had given me from my meager supply of clothing, I dressed quickly and quietly.

After I'd brushed my hair, I closed my suitcase and threw my clothing from last night into the dirty clothes basket.

Gently closing the bedroom door behind me so I didn't wake him, I turned and headed for the fridge. I needed some coffee and I wanted to leave some ready for Cage when he woke up. Lord knows he'd need it after his late night.

"I thought you left last night."

I spun around to see Marcus Hardy sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper and a cup of coffee already in his hands. I really wish he wasn't so dang gorgeous. Marcus Hardy wasn't in my league or even my atmosphere. How Cage had landed a Hardy for a roommate, I had no idea.

Preston must be really tight with Marcus which seemed odd since Preston grew up much like Cage and me.

"Um, no, that was Cage that left last night." Marcus frowned that disapproving frown I'd seen last night again. He really didn't get Cage and me at all. I wasn't sure if he was judging me or Cage but it annoyed me. Even though he had the prettiest green eyes I'd ever seen on a guy in my life.

"Cage isn't here?"

I shook my head, "No, he's back. He had a um, call last night and he went out. He got back a few hours ago."

"So he left you here while he went… out" I sighed and reached for a coffee cup.

"Yep"

"I was going to make me some eggs and toast. You want some?"

That hadn't been the response I'd expected. I was sure he was going to beat this thing with Cage and me into the ground. Instead, he was offering to fix me breakfast.

"No thanks, I've got to go keep my niece today." I held up the coffee mug in my hand, "I take mugs full of coffee with me when I leave but I always bring them back." Marcus shrugged, "No worries. They aren't mine anyway."

"I know. I bought them for Cage when he got this place." Marcus stood up and walked over to the fridge and began getting eggs and butter out. If I was honest with myself I really wanted to stand here and watch him cook. Then eat breakfast with him and see if I could make him smile. I felt sure he had a really nice smile. Those green eyes would probably twinkle.

"If you're sure you can't stay. My cooking is pretty damn impressive."

Marcus reached over to open the drawer beside me. The clean soap smell mixed with coffee and something else that reminded me of warm summer days met my nose. I fought the urge to grab his shirt and take a deeper whiff. He'd think I was crazy. I'd always thought the way Cage smelled when he came home from celebrating a victory game was the best smell in the world. But Cage's sweat, beer, and cigarettes couldn't compete with clean Marcus Hardy.

Okay, I needed to go.

"Um, okay, I gotta run. Thanks again and I'll take you up on breakfast another time. I've got to get to my sister's place before she comes over here with my niece in tow." Marcus glanced up and a small frown puckered his brow.

He seemed concerned. If the guy only knew this was the least of my problems. I wondered what he would think if he knew I actually had nowhere to live. My sister's couch and Cage's bed were the only options I had for now. Somehow I knew he'd want to fix that and it warmed me. Shaking my head from my illusions of Marcus, I stepped around him and his yummy goodness then headed for the door.

"You gonna be okay?" He called as my hand touched the handle. A smile tugged at my lips. I was right. He did care.

But then guys like Marcus wanted to save the world.

"Yep," I replied glancing back over my shoulder to flash him a smile before stepping outside and heading to my reality.

"Where the HELL have you been? No wait don't tell me.

You've been in Cage York's bed again. You know you have no right judging me when you go sleeping with that male whore."

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming. My sister was so uninvolved in my life she didn't have a clue how off track she was. Yes, Cage was probably considered a male whore but he did pick really hot sexy females to screw around with. He had pretty high standards. Which never ceased to amuse me that people thought I was one of his many conquests. I didn't fit the profile, at all. For starters he kept me around. He never kept a girl around after he slept with her. Second, I wasn't nearly tall enough, I was red headed, and my hips were too big, and my chest too real. Cage had a thing for fake boobs. Strange but true.

Anyway, my sister was the walking persona of the kind of girl Cage went after. Granted she had red hair too, but hers was naturally curly and she was tall and thin. Red hair looked better on her than it did me. She made red sexy.

Me, not so much.

"I'm here now. Just go and stop cursing and yelling in front of Larissa. It took me an entire week to get her to stop saying s-h-i-t when she dropped things" If I wasn't so worried about the fact it might become a permanent word in her vocabulary I would've found it funny.

She would sit in her high chair and drop one cheerio at a time. Each time one bounced on the cracked linoleum she'd yell "SHIT" and clap her hands and do it again. This was all thanks to my lovely sister yelling "shit" every time Larissa dropped her food onto the floor. So, my niece had decided to make a game of it.

"Whatever, it was funny. I gotta go. Call Janet Hall, the lady with the sponge roll ers always in her yellow hair that lives three houses down and ask her if she can watch Larissa tomorrow. You've got class tomorrow, right." I nodded, "Yes."

I hated leaving Larissa with the cat lady. She'd come home with several scratches from the thousands of cats in that house last time she stayed there, not to mention the place smelled like cat poo. But I couldn't miss a class or make less than a B in any of my courses or I'd lose my scholarship. I needed that scholarship. Faulkner was a junior college and that was all the college I would get. Once my scholarship was up I wouldn't be furthering my education. Unless I could manage a student loan and considering I didn't even have a home that seemed unlikely.

"Okay, I'm gone. Don't call my cell while I'm at work. If you have any problems just figure them out." And she was gone. No kiss goodbye to Larissa. I hated her for that if nothing else.

My mother died of cancer when I was twelve leaving me and my sister alone in the world. Tawny had been eighteen and she'd taken custody of me and luckily the house was paid for thanks to Mom's frugal budgeting over the years.

The house had been left to Tawny along with the meager amount of money in the bank. She'd gotten her GED

instead of finishing her senior year and managed to get a job to pay the bills. Once I was old enough to work I got an after school job to help out. Then Larissa came along a little over a year ago and everything got harder. Tawny told me she couldn't support me any longer and I needed to get my own place. I couldn't afford my own place on a waitress's income. So, she decided that if I took care of Larissa for her while she worked she'd let me stay a night free of rent in return. Problem is she doesn't need me to keep Larissa every day and when I don't keep Larissa she doesn't let me stay the night.

Sounds harsh but the truth is I am more than positive Larissa's dad comes around those nights and she doesn't want me to know who he is. If it wasn't for her secret of who Larissa's daddy is, I am pretty sure she'd let me stay. But I get booted for a guy. At first I went to the Methodist church because they have a homeless shelter but when Cage found out I was going there because Tawny wasn't letting me stay at home anymore he flipped.

Now, I go to his place instead. I tried to fight him on it just because of his crazy notion we're going to get married but I need him. Even if he is possessive and insane at times, he takes care of me. No one else ever has. He likes knowing he has the ability to take care of someone.

When Cage's grandmother passed away she left him everything she had saved and tucked inside her mattress.

Cage had never even met the woman because his mom had run away from home when she was sixteen and never gone back. It had been a surprise when Cage received a check for over two hundred thousand dollars. The first thing Cage did with the money was buy his apartment. He figured it was a good investment and he wanted some security. The rest of the money he put in the bank and only draws the interest. He's been trying to get me to move in with him ever since.

"Lowlow out," Larissa demanded as she banged her small pudgy fist on the tray of her highchair. Lately she'd gone from calling me Mama to Lowlow. It infuriated Tawny when she called me Mama. I'd had to work on breaking her of that habit.

"Yes, I'll get you out but first let's wash the banana off your hands."

Marcus

"When did Low leave," Cage grumbled as he stepped out of the bedroom door an hour after Will ow had left. I could smell the whiskey on his breath from across the room.

How'd she sleep near that?

"About an hour ago."

He nodded and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. I tried to appear as if I was focused on the screen of my lap top instead of curious about what he was going to say to her.

"Hey baby, why'd you leave without waking me?"

"Aw come on. You know I'd wake up for you."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you."

"No, I shouldn't have. I thought you were sleeping."

"I want you to come back here tonight and please take the key. I keep leaving it out for you. I don't like you having to stay with her and God help me if I find out you're going back to that damn shelter."

"I'll come get you myself if you don't get your ass over here tonight."

"I got a game tonight. You want to come? I promise to leave with you after."

"Okay fine. But come here. If you need rest so badly before class tomorrow then get your sexy ass over here and go to bed. I promise not to stink tonight."

Cage chuckled and hung up the phone.

"That girl's gonna drive me nuts, I swear." I glanced up from my computer screen. Cage was pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"Did she get some coffee before she left?"

"Yeah, she did."

He nodded and leaned back against the counter.

"She look upset or tired?"

She looked defeated but I didn't want to tell him that. Not because I was worried about him but I didn't think she'd want me to point out that observation.

"She seemed fine."

I thought about the part of his phone conversation where he'd brought up a shelter. My insides cringed at the thoughts of Will ow sleeping at a shelter.

"What did you mean about her going to a shelter?" Cage cursed and shook his head, "That sister of hers is mean as hell. She's basically kicked Low out. I didn't know about it at first. I found out she was sleeping at a church in town that had some kind of homeless shelter. I was so fucking furious I could've killed her sister with my bare hands."

"Where does she live then?" I had a feeling I wasn't going to like this answer but I needed to know.

"On the days she keeps her niece her sister lets her stay the night. The rest of the time she comes here. I tried to move her into the room you're staying in several times but she refuses. Says she can't handle my life style full time.

The only reason I didn't press it is because I'd end up losing her. She'd see what a chicken shit I really am and I'd lose her. I can't lose her."

The guy was really screwed up. How did he think he was really in love with Will ow if he couldn't even stop screwing every chick with a pair of long legs and fake tits in order to take care of her and keep her safe?

"I see," I replied even though I didn't.

Cage chuckled and sat his coffee cup down. "Naw, I doubt you see at all."

I didn't respond because he was right.

The knock on the door startled me even though I'd been anticipating it for hours. Ever since Cage told me to expect Will ow around seven tonight, I'd been surprisingly anxious.

I'd have Will ow to myself. Even though I knew it wasn't wise I was looking forward to it. She fascinated me.

"Hey Marcus," she smiled up at me as I opened the door wide and stood back so she could step inside.

"Hey yourself."

"I hope I'm not interrupting your night. You can just ignore me and go about whatever you were doing. I'll even hide out in Cage's room if you prefer privacy or anything." No way.

"No, uh, I actually need some company. I've been working on getting my online courses set up. I need a break and an actual conversation."

She beamed and both dimples flashed at me.

"Oh good! I brought a DVD I rented from the Red Box and some supplies for a homemade pizza." She held up the large canvas shopping tote in her hand. Clinched in her other hand was the handle on the old suitcase. My stomach twisted at the thought of her having to carry her things around with her. And the fact such a small suitcase held all she owned. My sister's swimsuit collection wouldn't even fit in that thing.

"That sounds perfect."

"How good are you at chopping veggies?" I pushed up my sleeves and flexed my arm, "I've actually had some pretty good experience."

She laughed making me feel like I'd just moved a mountain instead of agreeing to chop vegetables for her.

I followed her into the kitchen and enjoyed the view of her backside. Tonight she hadn't covered those incredible legs with jeans. A pair of khaki shorts and a snug red tank top showcased her flawless peaches and cream skin. And that hair of hers was hanging down her back free of its pony tail.

The silky waves seemed almost unreal.

"Okay, I know there is a decent knife in one of these drawers because I brought one over a couple weeks ago.

You go on a scavenger hunt for it and a cutting board and I'll get the veggies washed."

I started looking for the knife while attempting to keep the goofy grin off my face.

"How old is your niece?" I was determined to find out more about her tonight. The girl was an enigma. She glanced back over her shoulder and smiled at me, "She turned one last month."

I opened a drawer to find the missing knife wedged between two koozies.

"Found it."

"Oh good. Here, start slicing up the mushrooms," she said nodding her head toward the mushrooms lying on the towel still damp from her cleaning them.

"Yes ma'am."

"So, how do you like living with Cage? I mean you two are absolutely nothing alike from what I can tell." What did she mean by that exactly? Not that I was upset she didn't think I was a player but she obviously held Cage in some sort of high regard.

"He's a nice guy. Rarely here. It's been easy to find quiet time for my online classes."

"Cage can't stay put long. He needs to be social. He's always been that way. When we were kids he was always on the go. So many nights he snuck in my window because he'd stayed out too late and his mom had locked him out." I couldn't comprehend a parent locking their kid out of the house because they'd missed curfew. My parents were always standing at the door pacing ready to unleash their punishment if I came home late.

"Stop frowning," she chuckled and nudged my side with her elbow. "I can practically see your thoughts. You're friends with Preston so you know the kind of home life he had. Well most of the kids in our neighborhood had the same kind." I forced a smile and focused all my attention on the vegetables in front of me.

"No, yeah, I mean I know."

That made absolutely no sense. Will ow let out a soft laugh and began mixing up the pizza dough. We worked in silence and I tried hard to focus on the vegetables I was supposed to be chopping up while she kneaded and rolled supposed to be chopping up while she kneaded and rolled out the dough. Her arms were slender but the small muscle that flexed as she pushed and pulled on the dough was literally mesmerizing. What was wrong with me?

"So, did you come home because you were tired of college life or do you have some other big plans that explain your sudden change in location?"

She wasn't the first person to ask me this question. I'd been nailed with questions from all my friends who knew I loved life in Tuscaloosa. They also knew I had been looking forward to some space from the girl who had gotten under my skin this past summer. However, Will ow was the first person I really wanted to tell the truth to, but it was too soon.

"Family stuff brought me home."

I prepared myself for her to press further like Preston had but she just nodded and reached over to scoop a handful of the mushrooms I'd chopped and began sprinkling them onto the pizza.

"Family sure can screw things up can't they," her defeated tone tugged at me. Pulling her into my arms and promising her everything would be okay wasn't the best idea since I'd probably freak her out. Instead, I just nodded and reached over to sprinkle onions on the pizza just so my arm could brush against hers.

"That was one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten," I admitted after helping Will ow clean up our mess in the kitchen.

"We make a good team," she said throwing me a grin over her shoulder as she put the DVD into the player.

I sat down in the straight back chair leaving the sofa available for her. There was enough room for both of us on it but I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable with my sitting beside her. Will ow turned around and frowned at me.

"I don't bite Marcus. You can come sit on the comfy old couch with me. That chair is incredibly uncomfortable." Just the opening I needed. I jumped up and sat down on the end of the couch and stretched my legs out in front of me.

"You don't have to tell me twice. I was just being polite." Will ow chuckled and brought a blanket over to the sofa with her. She didn't sit at the opposite end which surprised me.

Instead she sat down next to me just far enough away that our bodies didn't touch and held up the blanket, "Wanna share?"

"Yeah," I wasn't the least bit cold but an offer to get under a blanket with Will ow wasn't something I was going to pass up.

"Alright," she announced as she spread the cover out over both of us, "here we go."

The dark room was ill uminated by the television screen.

The warmth from Will ow's body was so tempting. I wanted to close the distance and run my fingers through her hair. I'd been dying to see if it was as soft as it looked from the moment I'd opened the door last night to see her standing there in tears. As if reading my mind she scooted over toward me and laid her head on my shoulder.

"I hope you don't mind but I'm a cuddler when I watch movies."

I almost choked on my words. "Uh, no I don't mind." Even though she'd closed the distance I forced my arm to remain on the back of the sofa and not find its way to her hair.

"I didn't even get a romantic comedy. I thought about you when I rented it and you don't appear to be a romantic comedy type of guy. I went for Sci-Fi instead." With her snuggled up against me on the couch I would watch the damn Princess Diaries I abhorred since my sister had forced me to watch it over and over when she was little.

"Sci-fi is good," I assured her knowing I wouldn't be able to focus on anything with the sweet smell that reminded me of honeysuckles wafting up from her hair.

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