Antonio, Luther, and Sebastian turned up later on…and just in time to see Stuart, Max, Evan, and I being perched on the other squad member’s shoulders and paraded around while people cheered. I wasn’t impressed, nor was I happy that Jared didn’t rescue me. Instead, he actually laughed. Plonker. I shot him a look that swore revenge but he just laughed harder.
When Denny and Damien finally finished their circuit around the apartment and returned me to Jared, he gripped my hips and slid me down his body until my feet met the floor. He easily dodged my bitch slap and pinned my hands behind my back. “Come on, baby, how could I not celebrate that you’re healthy and safe?”
Well, when he put it like that…“You’re still a plonker.”
Laughing again, he mashed his mouth with mine and sucked on my bottom lip before giving it a sharp nip. “I’ll make it up to you later.”
And he did.
Ignoring the ‘oh for God’s sake’ sigh that came from my left, I concentrated hard on the very important matter in front of me. Jared knew that I needed to focus, so he could sigh all he wanted. I blocked him out, blocked out everything around me, as I put every ounce of my concentration into dealing with the enemy in front of me. Almost?
“As much as I’m glad that you love my gift, we have to go. The squad will be waiting.”
“Fine,” I grumbled, saving my progress and switching off the game console. Jared just shook his head at me, smiling. I shrugged a shoulder defensively. “Okay, so I get a little too engrossed in the game.”
He snorted. “That’s the understatement of the year, but whatever. Think Max and Stuart are definitely ready to return to training?”
“They’ve had enough time off.” We had given the entire squad three evenings off training, allowing Max and Stuart to fully recover from the exhaustion that had been riding them and giving the boys some time together. According to Antonio, ‘reconnecting’ would be good for them and for morale. It had also given me a nice break from my annoying shadow. Unbelievably, Collins had turned up at the squad’s party, expecting entry. Butch had opened Chico’s apartment door, looked at Collins blankly, and then allowed it to swing shut in his face. Ava had been delighted by it and had hugged Butch in gratitude. Salem hadn’t liked that.
I’d talked a little with Paige and Imani over the past few evenings, slowly getting to know them. Although Paige was pretty guarded, she was no longer suspicious of me. She wasn’t yet comfortable with everyone else, though. Imani was quiet among a crowd, but she was very chatty at other times – especially around Butch. She was pretty much the only person I knew who thought he was normal. I found both females to be very nice and fun, albeit cagey, people. I still had no clue as to why they still expected to be betrayed by everyone sooner or later, or what it was they were so afraid of. Paige had looked on the verge of telling me a few times, but she had quickly snapped her mouth closed. Winning her trust would obviously take time.
Abandoning my contemplations about Paige and Imani, I took the hand that Jared held out to me. A second later, we were stood in the arena. The entire squad was waiting there, laughing and joking – clearly excited to be training as a whole squad once more. The sight tightened my chest, making me smile. Training hadn’t been the same without them all there together. Unfortunately, Collins and Eloise were also present, sitting in the spectators’ area.
As usual, Eloise was practically half-naked. “You look good this evening, Jared,” she called out, close to purring. She licked her lips as she ran her gaze over him. Her eyes then moved to me and she grimaced. “Rough night?” The insinuation that I looked like shit was clear.
“I’d quite like to kill her,” I told Jared with all seriousness.
His mouth twitched in amusement. “But you know better than to let her get to you. We both know that she’s been baiting you since the second she arrived.”
I did know that. Admittedly, it hadn’t occurred to me in the beginning. But the more she persisted in pushing my buttons, the more I’d come to suspect that she was hoping I would do enough to f**k up the result of the Prelature’s investigation. It could simply be out of spite because I had Jared. But I sincerely doubted it, because she had never pursued him in the past – why bother now if she had originally been satisfied with a one-night stand?
As Antonio had pointed out, I would always have enemies because I had a position of power, so Eloise’s behaviour could even be down to that. Or it could be something else, something darker…Unfortunately, I was beginning to think it was the latter.
As Collins descended the steps and made a beeline for me, I inwardly groaned. Presenting him with a bright but totally false smile, I said, “Yes, Mr Collins?” He began ranting, pointing his finger as he towered over me…but no words came out. My confusion lasted only a few seconds. I sighed at Max, who shrugged. “How long has he been like this?”
“Since he tried to join us for breakfast earlier like we were all chums. He actually tried to play volleyball with us on the beach last night, too. That’s our time, Coach, and he’s got no right to bug us then.” Yeah, I could understand how Max felt. I’d been just as pissed when Eloise went to my apartment.
Butch came to Max’s side. “He’s right. That dick’s got some f**king nerve, Coach.”
Max briefly sneered at Collins. “After everything he’s done and what he accused me of, he should be grateful I only took away his ability to speak.”
I hadn’t been there when he confronted Collins the previous night about his claim that Max had contacted the Prelature about me. But apparently the little prick had told Max that he had only alleged it was him to protect the identity of the real complainant. He’d even apologised to Max, but his apology hadn’t been accepted. Collins had made himself an enemy for life in Max. If the entire squad didn’t already despise Collins, they would do so now purely because to go against one of them was to go against all of them.
“You’re right, Max. He deserved this, and he’s lucky he got off so lightly. But now that it’s time for training, I’m going to need you to give him his voice back – sadly.”
The entire squad groaned in both disappointment and frustration. Mumbling under his breath, Max waved his hand at Collins.
“…Parker you have no control over your own…Oh.” Collins paused, clearing his throat with a cough.