“You did.” I shift my weight, hating how awkward I feel around him. “I didn’t think that you would.”

“You should have more faith in me,” he says, and I know he’s not talking about Cass.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe I should. But I say none of that out loud. I just shrug and repeat myself. “Anyway, I am glad you came. It means a lot to her.”

“And to you.”

“Yes. And to me.”

He looks at me for a minute, his gaze so steady that it feels as though he’s memorizing my face. “You know what you know, Sylvia. Don’t second-guess yourself.”

I look away, unwilling to meet his eyes. I don’t like the way his words sting, the way they bring out everything that I’m afraid of.

But mostly I’m afraid that I’ve screwed up. And that I’ve lost him again.

I’m back on Damien’s desk on Wednesday, and the day is so crazy with him out of the office and the various fires that I need to put out that I have very little time to think about Jackson.

I’m grateful for that small blessing.

I’m even more grateful that I don’t see him all day, but when seven o’clock rolls around and the building starts to empty out, I find myself thinking more and more about him. It’s stupid, because I’m not ready to see him again. I don’t know what I want to say or how I want to say it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m craving him, and the fact that he hasn’t come up to see me—that he doesn’t crave me, too—is bothering me more than I like to admit.

And so even though it makes me feel like I’m in high school all over again, I call down to building security and ask Joe if Jackson is in the building.

“No, ma’am, Ms. Brooks. He hasn’t been in today at all.”

I hang up the phone and feel like a fool. Because the truth is, I could have gone home an hour ago, but I’d been hanging out hoping to see Jackson, when Jackson wasn’t even here to be seen.

I’m a mess and I know it, and as I drive home, I call Cass, who sounds about as stressed as I feel.

“What’s wrong?” Pathetic, perhaps, but I’m happy to know that I’m not the only one having a truly fucked up day.

“Nothing. I’m just freaking out about the franchise thing. Zee thinks it’s a mistake.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Cass sounds both exhausted and exasperated. “She says it’s too much of a commitment. That it’ll take too much of my time. She says it already has, because I’ve spent most of today reading all the material Ollie gave me, and then some. Plus she was pissy that I didn’t get to see much of her last night.”

I frown. “She wants to be with you,” I say, hoping that I am right. “You two just started dating, so she’s jealous of everyone who has your time. That includes your job.”

“I guess. Listen, I have a raging headache and we’re open late tonight and I’m booked back-to-back. I’m going to go pop some ibuprofen and get ready for my next client. Hey,” she adds, almost like an afterthought. “Why’d you call anyway? Are you okay?”

“I’m great,” I lie, then let her go.

I tell myself that I should believe my own press, and as I let myself into my condo I repeat the words like a mantra. I’m great. I’m awesome. I’m doing just fine.

The mantra is not working very well, so I decide to take a page from Cass’s book and self-medicate.

Ibuprofen, however, is not my drug of choice. That would be Kahlua over vanilla ice cream and as many reruns of Friends as I can stand.

I know that I have fallen asleep when Ross steps out of the screen and turns into Bob.

“You’re not real,” I say. “Not anymore. You’re just a dream.”

“I’m as real as it gets, and we both know it.” He takes a step toward me, his camera aimed at my face. “What did you think? That he would save you? He fucked you up as much as I did.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“He can’t help you. But I can give you what you want. We both know you liked it.”

“No.”

He reaches for me, his fingers cold as they slip over my skin. He tries to close his hand around my wrist, but I jerk free and run, racing down dark corridors, through half-constructed sky rises, and then out onto long steel girders that are suspended across the sky.

“He can’t save you. You can’t even save yourself.”

He’s coming closer, but I can’t let him get me. I look around frantically, not sure what I am searching for but knowing that I have to find it.


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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