Twenty minutes later I’ve changed into a simple, versatile little black lace dress I scored for $29 on a bargain rack. With my heels on it’s a bit sexy, but I tell myself I’m dressing up to feel confident, not to impress Liam. I’m so good at lying, I almost convince myself it’s the truth.
I check myself in the mirror and argue with myself about ending things with Liam. I begin with all the reasons I don’t have to say goodbye. I’ve dated other men. I had a dorm mate, albeit we didn’t bond, but we lived together. Liam can handle himself far better than anyone I have ever known. But he is also the only person I’ve ever known with the resources to dig into my past and get himself killed in the process. People have died. I am not hiding for no reason. He could die. I won’t let that happen.
Resolve in place, I head for the elevator and ride to the bottom level. The doors ding open and I am startled to find a denim-clad Jared standing there. He grins at the sight of me, all sexy male charm and hotness. “Ditched the t-shirt, did you?”
“I did,” I agree, finding myself smiling despite my nerves over Liam. I step out of the car and expect Jared to move aside to catch the door. He doesn’t and we are toe to toe. The sense of familiarity with this man is instant, and I freeze, unable to move away. I am terrified, and not of Jared. Terrified of this piercing black hole that I know too well will suck me into a place where everything and everyone is a potential threat. I swore I would never return to this place but I feel the fingers of the beast reaching for me, pulling me inside.
“You’re supposed to take that out of the box.”
I blink Jared back into focus and the very fact that I have to says a lot about my state of mind. “Box?”
He glances down and I briefly follow his gaze to the iPhone box I wasn’t able to fit into my small purse. “Oh.” I lift it slightly. “This. I like the box. I’m a rebel like that.”
He laughs. “A woman out to seduce me.”
I snort, a ridiculous sound that makes my answer all the more meaningful. “I’m the last person to seduce anyone.”
His light brown eyes fill with the amusement I intended to spark. “You had me at the t-shirt and high heels,” he teases.
“You are never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Probably not.” He flicks a quick look up and down my body. “Does the dress mean your things arrived okay?”
This is almost the same question Liam asked me earlier and my mood swings from comfortable in our neighborly banter to completely uneasy. I make a weak attempt at a smile.
“All is well in Amy-land.” I’ve barely spoken the lie when the cell phone begins a mocking ring from inside the box. Jared arches a brow and I quickly say, “Late to a dinner thing. I should run.”
“So you have friends here already?”
I avoid a lie I might have to remember later and shrug. “I guess the t-shirt and heels were an ice-breaker. I’m going to head out. Goodnight, Jared.”
There is a softer quality to his voice I now think I’ve heard before. I have no idea why, but something about his tone strikes a memory and a chill slides up and down my spine. Spots begin to form in front of my eyes, and oh no. No. No. No. Let it stop now. Please let this not be happening. But it’s too late. The pinching sensation in my forehead I know all too well, but haven’t felt in years, begins to form. I sway and Jared grabs my arm. Reflexively, my hand goes to his chest.
“Whoa,” he murmurs. “What just happened?”
I can’t open my eyes. I don’t even try. “Blood sugar,” I whisper, reverting to the excuse I’d used years before when these spells hit me. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t seem fine.” He sounds worried. Worried is not good. Worried will get me an ambulance and attention I don’t need.
I inhale and the air feels like lead in my lungs, but the pain is good. It wakes me up and brings me back. “I am.” I force my lashes open and the spots begin to fade. Relief washes over me. I am already past this episode. “Really,” I assure Jared. “ I already feel better.” Except that my hand is on his chest. Appalled, I jerk my hand back.
He chuckles. “Easy. You’ll tumble over.”
“No. I’m fine. I’m steady now.”
He hesitates but lets my arm go. “That kind of reaction will kill a man’s confidence, you know.”
I doubt seriously this man has confidence issues. “Sorry. I was just embarrassed.”
“Don’t be embarrassed.” His voice is a gentle caress.
More of that familiarity creeps into my mind and the spot in my forehead starts to tingle at the moment my phone starts to ring again. This time the sound is music to my ears, offering me a welcome escape from another episode and from Jared.
Jared’s lips quirk. “You really need to ditch the box.”
“Or get a bigger purse,” I say, sounding like a complete idiot, which fits perfectly with me touching a stranger’s chest. I am officially ready to get the heck out of here. “Thanks for the save. I’ll see you around.” I don’t wait for an answer. For the second time today, I take off running, only this time I’m running to Liam, not away from him, and that feels so much more right than the goodbye I have to deliver with the phone in my hand.
In a short dash across the street, I approach the hotel in a gust of wind that has my dress lifting. With a gasp, I struggle to capture the skirt and juggle the phone. Somehow, I shove the material down and through the wild mass that, thanks to my new purchase, was my sleekly flat-ironed hair, I watch the doorman smirk and nod. Cheeks heating, I hurry past him, wondering if he also witnessed Liam and me tongue-dancing in front of the hotel earlier. This night is off to a grand start. I was right when I decided to change clothes. I need all the confidence I can get to survive the next fifteen minutes.