I watched him stride purposely across the lounge to the elevator. Whatever people saw on his face made them move aside rather than try engaging him in conversation.
Blowing out a breath, I sank back into the cushioned booth. I was still struggling to process everything he’d said. He’d given me a lot to think about.
Did I believe he’d idiotically lied about Chicago in the hope of sparing my feelings? Yes. His words had rung with the truth, and his apology had been sincere.
Did I believe he truly wanted more? Yes. And no. I could see that his possessive streak was giving him trouble; it was entirely possible that it was the driving force behind his little declaration. Surely if I was truly on his mind so much, he’d have made it clear in some way before now.
Did I believe he was capable of more? Not really. He hadn’t been part of a relationship since he was seventeen—a relationship that may have gone badly and, as such, was quite possibly the very reason why he hadn’t made another attempt at one. Or maybe that was just my writer’s imagination making leaps. But it was possible.
Oh, God, his ex-girlfriend wasn’t Tara, was it? My nose wrinkled at the thought.
There was still so much I didn’t know or understand. The fact that he’d shared some of his past with me was big, though, right? It showed that he could share things about himself. Showed that he was willing to try and make ‘more’ work. But could it work? I just didn’t know. And I really didn’t know whether I wanted to take a chance, because it had become abundantly clear that this guy had the power to really hurt me.
Very aware that I’d only think myself in circles—I knew the signs—I fished my phone out of my purse to distract myself. I smiled when I saw I had a message from Sarah:
I quickly typed:
Blake says he wants more xx
Sheer moments later, she replied:
I knew it!!!
I snorted to myself as I responded:
No, you didn’t xx
I added an emoji with a long nose and then pressed ‘send.’ Her reply was fast.
What did you tell him? Xx
I bit my lip, wondering where to start and whether to ask for any advice. I decided against the latter; this needed to be my decision. As such, I typed:
There’s too much to cram into a message. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow xx
Before I had the chance to return the phone to my purse, it began to vibrate in my hand. I would have thought it was Sarah demanding more information if Private Number wasn’t flashing on the screen. I answered, “Hello?”
“I’m disappointed with you, Kensey.” The voice was male, raspy, and filled with a gentle reprimand. “You know he’s not loyal to you. He spends more time with other women than he does with you.”
Motherfucker. Anger welled up fast, bunching my muscles. “At least he doesn’t sneak into people’s apartments and take pictures of their cups. The video was petty, by the way.”
A sigh. “It was. But you needed to know.”
“How easy it is for me to be close to you.”
The hairs on my nape rose. “You’re not so close to me right now.” Was he? I glanced around, but no one appeared to be talking on their cell phone.
He’d quite possibly followed me all the way here, so there was a good chance he was outside. Yep, that was indeed close enough. “Why do you want me dead?”
“If I wanted you dead, you’d already be dead.”
I wasn’t buying that; not given that the end of his little story had seen my death. “You want me dead. You just don’t want to be the one who makes it happen. Maybe you don’t have the stomach for it,” I taunted. “I mean, all you’ve done is write a half-assed story, break into my apartment, play with my phone, make a petty video, and send me some pictures.”
Silence. “Why don’t you come down to the private garage? I have a nice view of what’s happening there. Come and see why Blake Mercier isn’t for you.” The line went dead.
I stared at the phone, pissed and incredulous. The bald-faced fucker had called me. He’d actually fucking called me.
He’s escalating—the disturbing thought came from nowhere, like a ghostly whisper. It was also right.
First came the story, which now seemed like more of a ‘Boo!’ to get my attention and scare me. But he’d gotten bolder—broke into my apartment, left evidence on my phone of his presence there, videoed me in the shower, sent me incriminating pictures of a guy I was seeing, and now the phone call. He even had the gall to reprimand me for being with Blake. And what was that shit about inviting me to go see why Blake wasn’t for me?
My eyes flicked to the elevator. Ricky could be just trying to lure me outside, though it seemed doubtful—it wasn’t like he’d be able to touch me unless he had access to the private garage. What I was certain of was that he wanted Blake out of the picture. To call me now, he must truly believe that what I’d see downstairs would lead to that. And before I knew it, I was heading for the elevator.
Maybe it was shitty of me not to have a little more faith in Blake. Yes, it was shitty. But as I ascended to the main floor, I realized that it wasn’t distrust that had me heading outside. It was simply the need to know.
Finally reaching the door that led to the garage, I pulled it open, stepped out … and stopped dead.
It took a few seconds to process what I was seeing. Four guys were kicking the shit out of a rolled-up piece of carpet that had been dumped on the pitted pavement. It was only when I heard a pained howl that I realized somebody was inside the carpet.
Standing to the side near a concrete pillar, arms folded across his chest, was Blake. He watched the spectacle, face utterly blank. And I suddenly felt very, very cold.
I couldn’t move. Seemed rooted to the spot. It wasn’t that I was shocked by the violence itself. I’d grown up in a shitty neighborhood where gangs routinely fought over territory, drive-by-shootings occurred on a monthly basis, and there were drug dealers galore. I’d seen people get a beating before. Violence was a way of life there. Hell, I’d had close and personal contact with it. No, what rolled my stomach was Blake’s dispassionate expression. He could have been watching paint dry.
There was no emotion in the way that the men beat at the guy on the floor either. It all just seemed so … callous.
Still, maybe I wouldn’t have felt quite so ill if it wasn’t for the jagged knife in Blake’s hand.
For just a moment, I was in another parking garage, looking at a different knife; a place where the buzzing lightbulb had flickered above me as I’d heard footsteps on the cement close behind me; where I’d smelled exhaust, road salt, smoke … and my own fear.
And I panicked.
Despite how much I downplayed that night to everyone—hell, I downplayed it to myself—I’d been very afraid. My heart had jumped at the light glinting off the knife; my chest had tightened painfully as I felt the tip of the blade dig into the skin just under my jaw.
And as I stood there now … it was like I just stopped thinking. Just watched and listened, completely still. Watched the men snap out their legs or ram their boots into the carpet-covered man on the pavement; watched him jerk and flinch and wriggle. Heard his pained grunts, pleas for them to stop, and the thud of their boots slamming into him.