“Colleen, where are you?”
“The Salty Dawg, but you don’t need to get me. I’ve got a ride.”
Kerry cursed again as the line went dead. “It sounds like she’s planning to leave with someone.”
“One of my cousins is a race-car driver,” Adam told her. “He’s taught me a few things over the years.”
She grabbed her bag and hurried out to his car, which he gunned up and out of her neighborhood in true race-car fashion. “What if we’re too late?”
“Then I’ll have Rafe trace her cell phone ASAP.”
“He can do that?”
“You know he’s a P.I. He can do pretty much anything, even if not all of it is completely legal.” Despite the speed at which Adam was driving, he reached out for her hand and squeezed it. “Either way, we’re going to find your sister tonight and bring her home safe and sound.”
The first time they’d done this, Kerry hadn’t wanted to let herself believe having this kind of support was more than a one-time anomaly. But here he was again, sitting beside her, helping in every way he could, promising her that she didn’t need to worry because he was just going to keep helping.
Kerry had tried not to be angry with her sister these past months. She’d tried to understand how hard it had been for Colleen to get over the hurt of her relationship crumbling.
But now Kerry couldn’t stop herself from wishing she could have one Friday night where she wasn’t on babysitting duty for her fully grown sister. Just one Friday night where she didn’t have to keep pretending that she had any control whatsoever over the situation.
The flash of anger was short-lived, though, when she thought about how much worse things could be if her sister didn’t call some night for pickup, and instead went home with one of the losers.
The thought of anything happening to Colleen made Kerry’s blood run cold. Cold enough to put out the fire Adam had so deftly stoked while they’d watched Star Wars. And by the time they made it to the bar, it felt like having pizza on the couch together had happened in a different lifetime.
She shot out of Adam’s car, and he was only a couple of steps behind her when she nearly plowed into Colleen and her guy-of-the-night weaving their way out of the bar.
“Thank God,” Kerry breathed. She believed Rafe could have traced Colleen’s whereabouts, but it would have taken time. Time in which any number of horrible things could have happened to her sister.
Colleen’s eyes were blurred with drink, but they still went wide when she saw Adam step up beside Kerry.
“Wait, I remember you. The hot guy from last weekend who wouldn’t let me stay and have more fun.” Colleen turned to Kerry. “You’re fucking him, aren’t you?” She made a move to high-five her, but stumbled and Kerry had to catch her instead. “Not such a little goody-two-shoes, are you, out having sexytimes with Mr. Hunk. What other dirty secrets are you hiding from me?”
“Enough.” Adam’s tone was hard. Hard enough to have her sister’s mouth turn down into a pout. “We’re leaving. Now.”
“Why do you always have to come to ruin my fun?”
But Kerry could see that Adam wasn’t feeling particularly charitable tonight. Was it because he was upset that their sexytimes had been interrupted? Or was it something else? Something that made Kerry’s chest ache because she could only think of one reason he’d stick up for her.
Because he cared.
* * *
Just like the previous week, despite the fight she put up getting into Adam’s car, Colleen was fast asleep by the time they got back to Kerry’s house. And after she finished cleaning her sister up and putting her to bed, this time Kerry wasn’t surprised to find Adam waiting in her kitchen.
“You can’t keep doing this,” he said the second she walked into the room.
She’d been hoping for comfort. But she’d known that he was going to confront her, hadn’t she? If only because she’d finally come to the point herself where even she had to admit that she couldn’t keep on like this forever.
Still, since she didn’t have any other answers yet, she couldn’t just let Colleen down. “How can I just turn my back on my sister? What if I don’t go pick her up next Friday night and she gets hurt?”
“You can’t stop your sister from getting hurt if that’s what she wants.”
“Why can’t I?”
Even though she knew she shouldn’t be taking it out on him, Kerry didn’t know what else to do with all of the anger that kept bubbling up inside her tonight. She felt as if it had been bottled up forever. Not just in the past three months, but long before that.
And not just anger bottled up, either. Her sensuality. Her passion.
“You know why, Kerry.”
“But if I’m not there for her, she’ll think she’s all alone.”
Kerry knew she was being stubborn, knew he was making a good point, but she honestly couldn’t see any other path right now.
“I can’t stand listening to her talk to you—about you—the way she does.” He took her hand and drew her closer. “You’re perfect just the way you are, Kerry. Beyond perfect.” He tipped her chin up with his free hand so that she had to look him in the eyes. “Tell me you know that.”
When she opened her mouth, all that came out was a choked sob. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, for the second time that night.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew any other man would have kept arguing with her to try to force her to see things his way. But Adam was simply letting her rest her head on his shoulder for a little while and stroking her back while she let all of the stress, all of the strain of the evening drain slowly out of her.
Tired. She was so tired. But even though asking Adam to stay the night would be the easiest thing—and the most comforting by miles—she had just enough sense left to know that the lines between them had already been pushed way too far.
The last thing she wanted was for things to get blurry between them. Not when it was so lovely to have a man like him in her life. One with whom she could laugh and have hot sex, and not have to worry for one single second about anything more. About perfect. Or forever.
Or, most of all, about setting herself up to be hurt or let down by him like all the other women in her family had with the men they’d thought were their forevers.
“Thanks for tonight,” she said when she could finally force herself to move out of his arms. Arms that had given her more comfort—and pleasure—than she’d ever known before. “I know it’s probably pretty different from how you normally spend your Friday nights.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
She knew he never lied to her, but still, it was difficult to take his words at face value. “Star Wars is a pretty great movie,” she joked.
But he didn’t laugh. Just said, “Are we still on to see the house in your old neighborhood tomorrow?”
The cautious voice inside was telling her she should postpone their visit to the house. That the two of them needed space. That she needed some space, at the very least, to get her head back on straight about what she and Adam were. And more important, were not.