To put himself out there to be hurt again?
Gesturing toward the screen, he asked, “So you came back just for pictures?”
It was as close as he’d let himself get to addressing the elephant in the room. He really wanted to know why she hadn’t come back for him. She was the one woman he’d ever felt he could actually let into his life, have a real relationship with. And she’d walked away without looking back.
“I was in the area and heard about the explosion. I wanted to check it out.”
She looked too calm, acted too casual. And she just happened to be in the area? He shook his head. When had he gotten so suspicious?
“What about you?” she surprised him by asking. “What were you doing there?”
That’s when he realized she wasn’t the only one who had changed in five years. “I’m head of security for the Blackstones—”
She smiled. “Wow. That’s really great. Going from maintenance to head of security is a big jump.”
He knew he shouldn’t, but he said it anyway. “I’m not head of security for the mill. I handle security details for the entire family and all of their interests. I run my own security firm.” Bragging did not come easily to him. Not that he’d ever had much to brag about. But somehow it felt good to rub his success in Sadie’s face.
He wasn’t the same man she’d met then—recently returned from combat in the Middle East, fighting the nightmares while maintaining a strong facade for the women in his family he’d spent a lifetime supporting.
Then one night he’d let her in, and he wished she’d never seen that side of him.
“Until we can get a good look inside and evaluate the damage, the mill is a huge security risk. So the Blackstones have asked me to oversee this initial part of the investigation.”
“I heard it was a bomb.”
He nodded. Yep. A bomb set off by a crazy man.
It was a natural question. Simple curiosity. So why did his muscles tense when she asked?
“Yes, but that information is not being released to the public.”
The words came out in a more formal tone than he would have normally used, but it was all for the best. Keeping their distance meant keeping himself sane. Instead of leaning in to see if her hair smelled the same as it did before.
He did not need to know that.
He eyed the bright waves dancing around her shoulders. He definitely didn’t need to know.
“So it would be better to stay away from there right now.” And away from me, so all these emotions will respond to my control. “Wait until we can guarantee it’s safe.”
“In the parking lot?”
“Right.” He didn’t care if she wasn’t buying it. A man had to do...
Suddenly realizing he’d accomplished nothing but torturing himself during this visit, he stalked back to the door. Unfortunately, she followed, until she was within arm’s reach. He was too far away from the door to escape.
It all flooded back—all the memories he’d struggled to hold at bay since that first moment he’d seen her again at the mill. The way his heart pounded when she laughed. The way her soft voice soothed his nerves as she told him a story. The way his body rose to meet the demands of hers.
So many things he couldn’t force himself to forget.
But he could force himself to walk away this time. “I’ll be seeing you, Sadie,” he said, as casually as he could.
She pulled the door open and smiled. “Definitely.”
Something about her tone, that confident edge, ruffled him, pushed him to throw her off balance. He couldn’t stop himself. He stopped in front of her, bending in low to place his mouth near her ear. He sucked in a deep breath. “So...” he said, letting the word stretch, “aren’t you gonna tell me why you really left?”
Her gasp left him satisfied...for now.
Sadie’s entire body instantly snapped to attention. She might not have moved, but every nerve ending was now awake and focused on the man before her.
She hadn’t thought he’d directly address her leaving. Indeed, he’d seemed to do everything but ask the all-important question: Why? She’d thought she was prepared. Her flippant answer rattled around in her brain for a moment, but she couldn’t force it out.