He catches my waist with both hands this time, the heat of his touch magnified by two, and when my eyes collide with his, the current between us is electric. “Don’t run from me, Emma. Run away with me.”
“They’re waiting for me.”
“You don’t even like them,” he says, his tone pure silk as he adds, “You like me.”
“I don’t know you.”
“Do you want to know me?” He lowers his voice. “Because I want to know you, Emma Knight.”
Everything inside me warms in ways that I haven’t felt warm in a very long time, but I’m not clear-headed. I’m vulnerable right now in ways that make this dangerous. My hand flattens on his chest. “I can’t.”
“This,” I say. “Whatever this is.”
At the sound of Marion’s voice, Jax’s chin lifts slightly, his broad chest rising with a breath. I step back from him, and his hands fall away. For a split second, maybe two, our eyes collide again, and I can’t explain it, but it’s as if we share a secret. A secret we can’t allow to be told.
And then suddenly Marion rounds the corner and launches herself in our direction. I turn to face her and find myself whisked into a hug. “I know this is a hard time for you. I know.” Her voice cracks with emotion that she might play off as losing a friend, but I know it’s more. I know the many ways this woman hurt my mother and I don’t know how I leave that alone.
I push back from her. “I’m fine.”
Her eyes narrow on my face. “You’re angry.”
“I do believe that’s a phase of grief.”
“Yes,” she says, after a pause. “I do believe it is. Randall is antsy for your return. I’ll just hurry into the ladies’ room.” She steps around me, leaving ice in the air around me as she does. A chill the man behind me will no doubt heat. I draw in a breath, preparing myself for his impact, but when I turn he’s not there. He’s disappeared down another hallway. Apparently, he didn’t want me to run away with him all that badly. And I wouldn’t have anyway.
Would I have? No. I would not, and yet that regret I felt when he stopped touching me is heavy and oh so undeniable. I rotate and start walking the direction I came from, but I don’t leave Jax behind. He’s already gone.
I don’t wait on Marion. I round the corner and run smack into a hard body, but oddly, I know before I look up that it’s not Jax. This man standing in front of me doesn’t charge the air when he touches me. This man doesn’t stir a burn low in my belly. Jax does these things and when I look up, I find that this man is Randall. “What are you doing?” he demands.
“It’s the call of Mother Nature,” I say. “I went to the bathroom.”
“You’ve been gone a long time.”
“In other words, I have a time limit while peeing. Next time I’ll be more aggressive about the toilet line.”
“Don’t be a smartass,” he snaps. “I was simply worried about you.”
“Worry doesn’t sound like a reprimand. That was a reprimand.” I pull against his arm and when he lets me go, I feel relief not regret to such a degree that I wonder how I once entertained this man as my man. It was a time not so long ago, a time I feel that I was lost, when perhaps most would say now is the time of loss, and that loss is my father. I’ve lost him, but with him, I realize I’ve lost all that I thought knew of myself.
Randall steps to my side. “I’m just trying to keep you focused,” he says. “Focusing on work keeps you from focusing on other things.”
I don’t look at him. I don’t need him to tell me what I can or can’t do in the aftermath of my father’s sudden departure from this world. From what I know, he’s now higher up the chain of command, certainly above me, perhaps more so than he even knows, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t want what he wants. I don’t want to rule the world. All I ever wanted was—something else. Something I’m not even going to let myself entertain right now.
Entering the bar again, I glance toward the table where I’d sat with Jax but find it empty. He’s gone, and I don’t know how a stranger has somehow left me so damn empty. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe I’m just facing what was already there. Maybe a man and his whiskey made me stop running from the truth. I almost laugh. I haven’t finished running at all.
“We got you back and I lost my wife,” Monroe says as we rejoin him at the table.