I WATCHED HIM FOR ANY SIGN OF hesitation, for any sign that he would say more. His head was down, his hand gripping mine. It took him a moment to raise his eyes to me.
“Only once. That’s the truth?” My voice was soft, my chest too tight to speak louder.
His nod eased some of the tension, and I could take a full breath, but only for a moment before the next thought hit.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I pulled my hand from his.
He stiffened, shoulders rising, lips pressed together, and lines etched deep between his brows.
For every second that passed without him talking, I stepped away, the ocean of uncertainty in my gut swelling.
His hand lifted, telling me he didn’t know what to say.
“That’s it.” I mocked his simple gesture, raising and dropping my hand. “You won’t open up to me about this but expect me to believe what you say? Expect me to listen to what you say?” My voice gained power as I spoke, the storm in me building, churning up.
I darted to his desk, digging through the drawers that would open, but found nothing suspect. Frustration mounted as I stirred around things I already knew were there. “Unlock this.” Stepping back, I pointed to the bottom drawer that wouldn’t budge.
“What are you going to do?” He was hesitant, but already pulling out his keys and stepping to where I was. Sliding the key into the lock, he twisted and a soft pop filled the silence. He stood between the drawer and me with his arms crossed. “This is stupid. You going to do the same thing to our house? Search everything? How often? What will that prove?”
His words were like sticks, poking me, only provoking more anger.
“Maybe if you’d actually talk to me, tell me things, I wouldn’t have to.”
“That’s what I was doing right now. I told you what I did. But see, this,” he swept his hand through the air gesturing to the length of me, “is the reason I didn’t tell you that day. I already have enough on my fucking plate without adding this to it.”
I stepped back like he hit me. “Fuck you. Don’t you dare put this on me. I’ve been nothing but supportive, I’m freaking out cause you hide so much shit Gage. If you would tell me these things—”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” He swiped his had over his face as he spoke, “I’m sorry.”
“You always are.” I was shaking as I looked him over. He was sitting on the edge of his desk, still blocking that drawer. I turned to steel. “Move. Now.”
He lifted his brow, head shaking with disappointment. Still facing me, he stepped to the side and opened the drawer. “Fine.”
It rolled open on smooth tracks, its own momentum keeping it sliding even after Gage’s hand was gone. The manila folders in the front were in neat order, all lined up and labeled.
“Don’t mess it up. But look at whatever the hell you need to believe what I say.”
The heaviness in his voice weighed on me, but I crouched down on the balls of my feet as I looked through the drawer. My finger trailed over the tops of the folders. Then I reached the last one and pulled them all forward to check behind it. There was a leather binder and small metal box.
I grabbed the box, lifting it out as if it might explode. Gage made some sound, but I didn’t dare look up at him. It wasn’t locked, and I undid the latch, opening it. Disappointment or relief knocked me down, so I sat on the ground. The box held business cards and scrap pieces of papers with different names and numbers. Nothing more.
I took a few breaths, set the box back, and closed the drawer. Drained of fight, I looked up to him.
He sunk down and sat on the floor beside me. After a moment he bumped me with his body. “Feel better?”
I shook my head, silent. I felt sick.
“I’m stopping. I promise.” He put his hand on my knee. “I should have told you.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I told you now, doesn’t that count for something,” he was quick to respond.
I raised my knees up to rest my head on as I looked over at him with a shrug. “I want it to. I hope it does. But…” I wrapped my arms around my legs, trying to bring warmth back to my limbs. “I’ve felt on the outside for so long now. This weekend has been better. I don’t want to go back to before.”
He slipped his arm around my back, folding his body around me. “This weekend has been good. Scary as fuck, but good.” He brought his fingers to my chin, raising my head to look at him. “Having you around is always better. I’m trying here. I really am.”
His eyes shown with the truth I should have seen before. He really was trying, but I still needed more.
“You’ve done good here, and I liked having you close by.” He pressed his lips to forehead, speaking into my hair as he gripped me. “We should keep this schedule on the weekends.”
It felt like I won by default. He lied, so I got my way. But either way, I was taking it. I let myself relax on him, too exhausted to pull away.
“Let’s go home.” He tugged on my shoulders, lifting me up.
I grabbed his hand as I rose to my feet. “Promise me something,” at his nod, I continued, “Promise me, you’ll talk to me, tell me when you’re struggling, let me help you. If you are close to using, let me know. If you use, let me know.”
He nodded, with a weight I couldn’t ignore on his shoulders. “I won’t use. I promise I’ll turn to you if I need to though. But right now, I need to go to bed and so do you. It’s been a long night.”
I stood at the edge of the bed, watching him sleep. The lines in his jaw and brow were still there. It was those lines, proof that he couldn’t find peace even in sleep, that had me skipping classes and coming home early after dropping off my paper.
If I was honest, I was also exhausted from the late nights, and a part of me wanted to soothe my still present wounds from this past month. I wanted to make sure I was there for him to reach for, before he turned to anything else. But mostly, I just wanted those lines off his face. I wanted him to rest, relax, and find some peace.
Peeling off my sweater and pants, I slid into bed as silent as possible. The warmth in the blankets seeped into my muscles, my body sinking into the mattress. I lay as close as I could without touching him, not wanting to wake him. But his arms slipped around me, pulling my back against his chest, and his legs tangled in mine, completely locking me to him.
“Why aren’t you in class?” he murmured, voice raspy with sleep.
“Turned in my paper. Wanted to be here instead.” I wrapped my arms over his, holding him to me. The heat of his skin melted me, melding my body with his, and I closed my eyes, disconnecting from consciousness.
I opened my eyes, and was greeted with light blue ones. We had shifted in our sleep, facing each other, nose to nose. His lips slid to a smile as I blinked the sleep away.
“God damn, you’re beautiful.” His fingers brushed my cheek, pushing my hair off my face.
I half laughed, but he silenced me with his lips, tasting, inhaling, but only for a moment. His nose brushed against mine as he shook his head, both hands gripping my hair.
“I mean it. I could watch you sleep forever, but watching you wake up is even better. I got to do it more often.” He pecked the corner of my mouth and pulled back with a groan. “You even smell good.” His hands moved down my back, the firm caress waking up my body.
I pressed my forehead to his chest and slid my hands up his bare back, over smooth skin. “We should wake up like this every morning.” I didn’t want to dwell on why that hadn’t been happening.
“Hmm,” he hummed, pulling me tighter. “What are your plans today? Are you going to class later?”
I shook my head. “I was hoping we could spend time together, just us, before you have to work.”
“I’ve got several hours before I have to be anywhere, you have anything in mind?” He pulled back to look down on me with a raised brow.
Shrugging one shoulder up, I traced lines down his back, to his chest. “Maybe the gym? Maybe the shooting range, haven’t done that in a while.” My hands had a mind of their own, circling over his stomach, enjoying the way his muscles flexed and twitched under the light touch of my fingers.
His muscles quivered as he laughed, and his hands covered mine, stilling them. “You know,” he rolled on top of me, trapping me under him, his blue eyes bright, “Most girls would say something like, the movies or go out to eat.” He took my hands with his and brought them on either side of me so he could raise himself up.
“Nothing about us is like most people.” I met his teasing gaze and arched my body to rub against him. “But we could do that too. We’d have to get up now though.”
He shook his head as he slid my arms up over my head. “No. I want to stay in bed for a while.” His voice was hypnotic, but his lips grazing my collarbone lit a flame that spread like wildfire. He released one of my hands to slide my tank top strap out of his way. My free arm moved to touch him, but he captured it before I could reach his shorts.
“Uh-uh.” He stopped his maddening but pleasingly slow assault on my neck to hover over me with a stern face, but the glint in his eye held its own warning.
And that look had me squirming beneath him, arms straining against his hold with the need for more.
“Relax,” he commanded, hands tightening on my wrists. “Relax that body because I plan on taking my time on you.”
If his words hadn’t taken my breath away, the kiss that followed surely would have.
I checked my phone as I slid into the car and out of the rain pounding around me. Still nothing. In the dry interior, I took off my jacket, throwing it over my gym bag on the passenger seat.
Gage had promised to text when he knew information about Viktor and his meeting. It was supposed to be today, but Viktor always met on his time, and always last minute arrangements.
My stomach rolled, the little food I’d eaten barely staying down. I went to type out a text and my phone died before it sent. Shit. Searching through my gym bag, I looked for my charger but didn’t find it. Double shit.
I had been so off ever since this morning when Gage insisted I go about my day. He made it clear I couldn’t be there at his meeting with Viktor. I understood, I really did, so I went to school, and now I was supposed to go to the gym, but I couldn’t. I felt sick and tired, the stress of the meeting getting to me. And now, my phone was dead, my only way of communicating with Gage.
I tossed my cell onto the passenger seat and started the car. I’d go to the club. Gage should be there if he wasn’t called to the meeting yet, and if he was at the meeting, I could charge my phone and wait there. He had said I was welcome there after this weekend, so why were my muscles tensing and goose bumps prickling my skin like needles?
I pushed the warning in my head down and drove, stopping for Gage’s favorite lunch first, teriyaki chicken and vegetables. I knew what I was doing, giving myself an excuse for showing up even though I shouldn’t have to. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was trespassing.
Running to the back door, I let myself in as fast as I could to avoid the downpour. The feel of the key in my hand should have been reassurance. I had a key to the club, a sure sign I could be there.
The back room was filled with boxes; a new shipment had arrived but wasn’t unpacked. Voices in the bar floated through the stale air of the stock room, then several girls laughter. When they spoke it was fast, the words foreign and unclear.
I hesitated in my path to the bar when I saw Gage in the center of the girls. There were new girls, three of them, probably the ones Alessandra had mentioned. They were all just talking, nothing really suspicious. But it was Cherry at Gage’s side that made me pause, made me want to eavesdrop when I shouldn’t.
And the way she was looking at him set my heart on fire. She was glued to him, her eyes never leaving his face even when she dismissed the girls. My muscles ached from the strain, stomach clenching as Gage and her walked away from the others, towards his office. She was speaking too low for me to hear, and his head was dipped as he listened. Then when he responded, she hung on every word, like she’d jump to do whatever he said.
These thoughts had to be crazy. There’s no way I could be certain of her intentions, but I already didn’t trust her, and seeing her twirl her pigtails as she stepped closer to his side made me want to bang her head into the office door he was about to step through.
I moved to the open door of the backroom to get a better look at them across the club. He stood in his doorway, nodding at whatever she said. I couldn’t see her face as she stepped even closer, almost in the doorway with him. Her height put her up to his nose, so it was hard to make out his features now too. But her hand moving to touch his chest was clear, and the action snapped something in me.
And I wished to God Gage hadn’t looked up and spotted me right then because his eyes lit on me, just as he pushed her hand away, before it touched him. Now I didn’t know if it was me that stopped it or him. But either way, that girl needed to back the hell up.
Gage was already walking past her to me and I was walking towards him, dizzy with the emotions coursing through me, churning in my stomach. He grabbed the bag of food from my hand, nervousness clear in his shifty eyes.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were going to the gym right now?”
“I can tell.”
He shot me a look. “I’m glad you’re here, I’m starving.” He lifted the bag of food. “We can eat in the office. I just finished up with the new girls.”
The three new girls were at the bar filling out some sort of paperwork, giggling between them.
“Hello Rea, you going to be in all night?” Cherry approached bold as ever, fake smile on her ruby red lips.
“Don’t you fucking worry about my schedule.”
“I said—” I stepped towards her, but Gage pulled on my arm.
“Whoa. Come with me.” Gage didn’t even look at her as he pulled me away.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” He asked as soon as the door closed.
“Why does she think she can touch you? Why are you protecting her?”
I shook my head at his attempt to play dumb. “Yes, Cherry. Unless those other girls are touching you too, then I’d ask the same thing about them.”
“She didn’t touch me.” He stepped closer to me. “You don’t need to be jealous, babe.” His hand went to my hip and I stepped away.
“Then fire her. I don’t like her.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Are you drunk right now? What’s going on, you’re being irrational?”
“Don’t even go there. I haven’t drank anything.” But I had to admit there was truth to his words. I felt it. I was being crazy, but I couldn’t hold back the emotions. “I just don’t trust her.”
“But you trust me, right?” His eyes widened as he stepped close again.
And I stepped back, till the wall had me trapped. “What if you hadn’t seen me? Would you have pushed her away?”
“Of course. Babe, you know it’s you I want. It’s you I always want. Calm down.” He reached me and gripped my shoulders in his large, strong hands. “Didn’t these past couple of days show you that?”
“I don’t know.” I couldn’t speak or breathe. I was shaking, tears filling my eyes, unable to stop any of it from overflowing.
“Yes you do.” His voice was dropping, trying to soothe, reassure.
“I know something is going on with her. And I don’t want her around you.”
“What do you think is going on?” His patience was wearing thin, anger lacing his words.
My chest was heaving, trying to keep down whatever was swirling in my stomach. “I think she wants you. And I think you’re helping her.”
“Keep going.” He was no longer touching me, standing rigid, inches from me. “What else do you think?” Something about the way he sneered the question fed my anger.
“I think you like to play the hero a little too much.”
He barked a laugh, no humor in it at all as his hands moved to his head. “So now you’re mad that I helped her. You’re being a bitch.”
“And you’re being a coward. Answer my questions. What is going on?”
“I think you’re on some hormonal shit and need to go have your period or something.”
“Fuck you.” My initial white-hot anger crashed to ice cold as his words sunk in. My period.
I bit back my words and leaned on the wall behind me, closing my eyes to his accusing glare. I never had a regular period since I was on the shot, but I hadn’t even spotted in a while. The shot. When did I last have it?
Everything was spinning, the room a torturous carousel. I opened my eyes and reached for my phone. “I need your charger.”
Gage gave me a look like he suspected I really had lost it.
But I walked to his desk and retrieved it. My phone’s calendar would have the answers, but it was supposed to alert me when I had to get another shot too. It was in the summer, I knew. I just didn’t know which month. Please let it be August.
“Are you feeling okay? You look pale.”
Looking at him only spooked me more. My stomach finally reached its limit, and I threw up in the trash bin under his desk.