Chapter Fifteen

I twist out of Liam’s arms and rush for the hallway, certain he will follow. Eager to get as much of a jumpstart on him as I can, I all but sprint the rest of the distance and a second knock sounds on the door right as I reach for the knob. I don’t bother with “who is it?” as I normally would. I yank the door open and I am both stunned and relieved to find Jared leaning casually on the doorframe, one elbow on the frame above his head, a Boeing logo on his pale blue t-shirt.

He straightens when he sees me, one thin strand of light brown hair falling from the clasp at the back of his neck. “Hey,” he says, and offers me a sexy smile I imagine a guy like him has down to a science.

That familiar sensation I get with him is back. “Hi.”

He pulls an envelope from behind his back and the adrenaline already racing through me spikes. “This blew off of your door so I thought I’d hold onto it for you,” he explains, and offers it to me.

Remarkably my hand does not shake as I accept it, and I note that it’s free of any text or stickers. It’s also not sealed. “I appreciate you doing this.”

“It gave me an excuse to check on you.” He gives me a half-smile I just manage to return as he adds, “You gave me a scare yesterday. I actually came by last night before the envelope to check on you but you didn’t answer. I was concerned about you being alone after you almost bit the dust.”

“She wasn’t alone. She was with me, and what do you mean she almost bit the dust?”

Liam steps by my side, his hand sliding around my waist, and the touch is a branding, his hip leaning into mine, fingers flexing into my skin. The two men’s gazes lock and I am suddenly swimming in a pool of testosterone, in need of a life raft. The crackle of power being pulled and pushed is almost palpable. The certainty Liam and I will have words over the encounter: absolute. He’s out of control, or rather, he’s making me out of control.

“Liam Stone,” I say, “meet Jared Ryan. Jared lives across the hall, or at least he will for thirty days.”

“Thirty days?”

“That’s right,” Jared says, offering no explanation, the two-word answer hanging in the air with the heaviness of a storm cloud about to erupt. Silence lingers and we all three just stand there. And stand there. Oh good grief, I’m losing my mind. Someone say something!

“Do you work for Boeing?” Liam asks, proving he is not done being direct, and I am not done being flustered by it, and yet, I find myself curious about the answer as well.

“No,” Jared replies. “But I have a Dallas Cowboys shirt too and I don’t play football.”

“Smartass,” Liam says, sounding irritated while I am slightly amused, though still uncomfortably lost in the power play between these two. I wonder why Jared is so secretive.

Maybe it’s simply that he doesn’t like Liam. I’m pretty sure Liam doesn’t like him either. Maybe though, like me, Jared has something to hide. This, with the familiarity I feel for him, does not sit well.

“Most of the time,” Jared agrees, and I find myself caught in the line of his stare. “Glad you’re okay. If you need anything, you know where to find me.” He turns away and makes his way to his door and neither Liam nor I move, and I wonder if Liam is as surprised by Jared’s abrupt departure as I am.

Jared unlocks his door and he’s about to enter when he cuts us a sideways look. “I’m in safe now. You two can go back inside.”

He disappears into his apartment, leaving me with my new envelope and the overwhelming man that is Liam Stone.

I am the first to move from the doorway, turning away from Liam with every intention of escaping to the other room to see what is in the envelope. I cannot be cornered by Liam until I know what I am facing. In another mad dash, the bedroom is my destination, but I do not make it. Liam shackles my arm and the next thing I know I am back against the wall, caged in his arms. Clearly we are turning the entryway into the confrontation corner of the apartment. “What does he mean you almost bit the dust?” he demands.

“I hadn’t eaten.” Truth.

“You had another blackout.”

“You’re being overbearing.” Another truth. I’m liking this confrontation so far. I’d like it better if it were after I opened the envelope.

“Don’t be coy,” he warns.

I deflect. “What was the ‘she’s with me’ thing? I’m not property, Liam.” I try to duck under his arm. He blocks me and I can feel emotions building inside me, ready to explode. I need to know what is in this envelope. “Let me pass. You’re being more barbaric than you are Prince Charming.” I can’t pull it back. It’s out and it’s like a rock landing at our feet and I try to cover it up. “You’re suffocating me. I need space.”

It’s too late. Liam’s hands drop away as if I’ve burned him and there is no missing the petrified look on his face. My gut twists in knots. “Stop looking like one of your sharks just bit you.”

I head to the bedroom and this time he lets me. He lets me. Damn it, I keep turning this into more than it is but he sends mixed signals. I don’t need or want Prince Charming. Okay, maybe sometimes I do. I don’t know anything anymore.

I pause at the bed to grab my shorts and t-shirt I wore yesterday, and I both wish Liam would appear and pray he will not. Yep. That is how much of a tripped-out mess I am. And I lied again. I said I wasn’t looking for Prince Charming, but deep down, I know I’ve made Liam my hero. And I know how dangerous that is, for too many reasons to count.


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