“I’m home, Kat!” I called to my best friend, who had been my roommate for the better part of the year.
We had met right after my brother and I were dragged into Leland by our very spontaneous and erratic mother. Kat and I had hit it off right from the start. A lot of it had to do with how distracted Kat was, and how many times I ended up saving her ass. Kat, in a way, reminded me a lot of my mother—except she was my age, she was nicer to me, and was a lot more reliable.
“In here!” Kat called back.
I hadn’t expected her to be awake. It was her fault I had been out in the middle of the night, and had almost been kidnapped by a bunch of creeps. The thought that I almost got taken to who knows where by some thugs should have scared me. But my mind was still distracted with thoughts of the guy who had saved me… Liam. Now he was gone.
“Where’s the food?” Kat asked, walking into the kitchen, where I was standing in front of a fridge. I really hated that I hadn’t picked up the shopping bags after Liam had saved me.
Liam… Liam. Liam. Liam.
It was stupid how much I wanted to keep repeating his name in my mind. It really was—it was pathetic. I was still trying to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the last hour. I could have. It wasn’t the first time crazy things happened to me, and Kat reminded me that I often over exaggerated. In my defense, I got that from my mother.
“I got mugged… sort of,” I told Kat, finally sticking my head out of the fridge.
Kat gasped, dramatically, and ran to my side as soon as she saw me. My clothes were soaking wet, my long dark hair was sticking to my skin uncomfortably, and I probably had a bruise forming on my cheek.
“What happened to you? Oh my God, you look like crap! Are you okay?”
Kat touched my cheek, the one I felt getting swollen. It hurt when she pressed her fingers against it and I had to slap her hand away. She apologized, but still tried to touch around my face.
“Who did this to you?” she asked, looking at me worriedly.
Before I got a chance to reply, Kat pulled away from me and went to the fridge. She was quicker than me at thinking of what to do. She was already filling up a Ziploc bag with ice cubes.
“I told you, I got mugged. The car broke down, again. I had to walk back here with the grocery bags,” I told her, taking the plastic bag filled with ice from her. She’d wrapped a kitchen towel around it, and I was thankful for that. The cold and I—we had a mutual hate towards each other.
She crossed her arms over her chest, looking at me suspiciously. As if I would lie about something like that. When I rolled my eyes at her, Kat broke out laughing. “Right, you got mugged.”
“I did! In fact, I almost got kidnapped!”
Kat was grinning at me. She walked up to me, placing her hands on either side of my face. She again apologized when I complained about her touching my aching cheek. She didn’t realize that even brushing her fingers against my cheek hurt. “You, Sav, are a terrible liar.”
I giggled. If only she knew. “I’m not lying, I swear. I can’t even believe you don’t believe me. Why would I lie about that?”
“You look too calm. If I’d gotten mugged, I’d be a whole lot more freaked out.”
“I don’t think I really got mugged. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly call it that…”
“Uh huh! See? You didn’t. What really happened?”
I sighed, and slumped myself on the kitchen table while Kat started making coffee. “You do know it’s like almost one in the morning, right?”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Kat had an unhealthy affair with coffee. I couldn’t exactly judge. Bubbly sodas were more my thing. We both had a problem.
“I have a paper to write and I’m way behind. I was hoping you’d bring some goodies to help me pull off an all-nighter. Now I’m more worried about you. Should we go to the hospital? What really happened?” Kat asked, giving me her no-nonsense glare.
If she didn’t believe me when I said I almost got mugged, I didn’t think she’d believe anything else, especially what had happened with Liam. I wasn’t sure where she thought I’d got the bruise on my face, though.
“You’re still working on that?” I asked, changing the subject, and stealing an Oreo from the packet she’d set on the table.
Kat ran to her room and returned with her laptop a minute later. “I got distracted,” she said guiltily. “I’ve been trying to get through it all afternoon but the hottie has kept me busy.”
“Because stalking him is such a hard job,” I stated flatly.
“It takes time, obviously. Anyways, I’m done with the research of hottie for today. I really need to finish this paper.” The way she sounded, and how she was looking at me with her guilty-but-wanting-something eyes, made me groan.
“You’re on your own. I have things to do and it’s already really late,” I told her, getting up from the table and speeding up to my room. “Good luck on your paper!” I yelled, before closing my door.
I could hear Kat whining and calling out for me. If she was too loud, the neighbors were going to come knocking on our door. It wouldn’t be the first time. Kat didn’t get along too well with any of our neighbors. She was loud and she liked to be right. That didn’t go too well when she was yelling at ungodly hours and our neighbors tried to complain.
I lay down on the bed without doing my nightly routine or changing into my sleeping clothes. I was thinking about what had happened earlier. I had wanted to share it with Kat, but she seemed preoccupied. Now that I was safely in my room, I allowed myself to feel scared. Things could’ve turned out badly for me. I had gotten lucky.
One never expects to be the one who has a story about some random guy—attractive as sin—saving you in a dangerous situation. I dozed off because I’d had a long day. I was tired, and my body had been ready to give up five hours ago. The last thing on my mind was him. And he looked perfect.
I woke up the next morning to an empty apartment.
I had a few text messages and a missed call from my brother, Asher. He had been nagging me to go see him since Sunday and I had been too busy to make the trip into the city. Having a non-functioning car wasn’t exactly going to help my case. I was going to have to call him either way. I needed a ride to school the following day, and I wasn’t sure if Kat was going to classes. Her stalking was really cutting into her student life.
I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Asher. He was going to flip once he caught sight of my face. The worst part was that I couldn’t give him a true explanation unless I wanted him insisting that I move into his apartment with him.
He had been at it since I graduated high school—wanting me to move into the city with him. He thought it was safer and I would be closer to campus. I didn’t really mind the forty-five minute long trips. My schedule for school was strictly a two days a week thing. I didn’t think Asher would understand if I explained that what had happened had been an accident—even if it wasn’t.
My brother was probably the toughest dude I knew—now with the exception of Liam, of course. I still didn’t understand how we got along so well. Kat always told me that if I hadn’t been his sister, Asher and I wouldn’t even talk to each other. I agreed with her.
Asher and I were different. He was just over six feet tall, light sandy brown hair, a muscular build, only sharing my same blue eyes. But our appearance wasn’t just where our differences showed up. Asher was always more lively and carefree, while I was more closed off. He was a total and complete jock. He’d always been like that. But he was sweet with me. The only good thing that came out of my mom’s crazy lifestyle was that it made Asher really protective of me.
Every time we moved, Asher had coped easily. He was good at making friends, and people really liked him. I, on the other hand, struggled to catch up with my mother’s erratic ways. Just when I got used to a place, we were moving again. If it hadn’t been for Asher, I wasn’t sure what I would’ve done.
It was later than I usually woke up. I was surprised that Kat woke up to her alarm. She usually needed me to drag her out of the bed. I found a note from her on the kitchen counter.
’Feel better, Sav
Made you a snack’
Her snack was just some frozen waffles that she had toasted, which had gotten cold by the time I’d woken up. It was already past ten in the morning. Since I was an early riser, Kat must’ve thought I’d be up earlier. I had plenty of things to do, but no desire to even leave the apartment.
My bruised stomach hurt every time I brushed against anything. It had turned a mean purple, reddish color. My cheek was slightly swollen, and also bruised. I looked worse than I had the night before.
I made the decision to go out that morning around midday, when I felt starved and there was nothing but frozen waffles to eat. I rummaged through all of my books, which was where I usually ended up stashing ones or fives whenever I was reading. My books weren’t just in my bookshelf, but piled everywhere around my room. I was glad that I’d always had trouble finding bookmarks. Dollar bills, more than once, served as a way to keep track of the page where I was reading.
I wasn’t going to get paid until Friday and it was barely Tuesday. There was no way I was going to dip into my savings just to have money for food. I ended up finding twenty-seven dollars—a total win, considering I wasn’t even expecting to find ten.
I was wearing some skinny jeans, to make up for how loose the t-shirt I wore was. I left my hair down—a lame attempt to hide the bruise on my cheek. Even though it wasn’t in my usual routine to wear too much make-up, I’d ended up adding foundation and powder to try to cover up the bruise on my face, even if there was nothing I could do about the slight bump. It hurt each time I dabbed some foundation and then tried to spread it around. In the end, the purplish bruise was still visible, but not as bad as it had been before. After grabbing a pair of sunglasses from Kat’s room and my purse with the twenty-seven dollars I’d found, I was out the door.
I groaned as soon as I stepped outside and remembered my car was not there. I’d have to find someone to tow it from the grocery story. That would cost me money, which I didn’t have.
It was way too early to feel in a bummer mood, but that was exactly how it went. The darkened sky and cool air, threatening of rain, only made things worse.
There were hardly any people walking on the sidewalk. It seemed like it was going to be a rainy day, and in Leland, that usually made people stay indoors.
I should’ve woken up earlier to get a ride from Kat. It was my own fault. I never overslept, but I’d been too tired.
I was sulking all the way down the street. I didn’t see him at first, coming towards me, not until he was a few steps away. It wasn’t like he could’ve been someone else. No, people like him—you didn’t confuse them with anybody else.
“You,” he said, speaking up before I did, not that I thought I could’ve actually gotten a word out of my mouth. “You okay?”
I’d been stupidly staring at him; it took me a moment to notice he was looking down at my cheek. The bruise must’ve been more obvious than I originally thought.
“Better than getting kidnapped,” I said, and giggled, awkwardly.
I freaken giggled awkwardly. I couldn’t even believe I’d done it. I was sure my face was red with how warm I suddenly felt. Liam was just looking at my bruise. He seemed upset. He was frowning, but just staring at me.
“You’re wearing make-up,” he commented.
I didn’t think he was trying to make fun of me, but that still made me feel really self-conscious. “I was trying to hide the bruising,” I said, snappily. Now I wasn’t sure if the way he was looking at me wasn’t really anger but disapproval at how I looked. “I have to go,” I told him, and walked away without waiting for him to make any more comments. I was thinking about going straight to a bathroom once I got anywhere near one, and washing off all the make-up.
I was surprised when he reached out and took hold of my hand, bringing me to a complete halt. The touching—I’d realized it was difficult to handle it. I had always found touching too personal. I had never dated anyone, so it wasn’t like I really knew what it implicated.
But I’d seen him the night before, how he had just barely brushed his hand against my cheek and completely pulled away.
I didn’t drop his hand, not that I could’ve. His hold on my hand was strong, but not painful. When I looked up and locked eyes with him, I realized that his hazel eyes really did change color. They were darkening, and I couldn’t help but find it mesmerizing, even though I couldn’t explain why that was happening.
“Where are you going?” he asked, pulling on my hand so that I was standing right in front of him.
“I was going to the grocery store,” I told him, nodding down the street, even though it was somewhat a long walk.
“I’ll drive you,” he said.
Without waiting for my reply, he tugged on my hand and began pulling me down the street.
I had a million things to do. Kat had taken the forms she’d wanted signed from city hall, but I needed to make sure she hadn’t forgotten about them. I worked that afternoon, not that I was looking forward to it. And I had a pile of homework waiting for me at the apartment. I’d been neglecting it in favor of helping Kat with her stalker ways. Yeah, I thought it was dumb how she stalked that guy but it was still amusing and distracted me.
“You don’t have to do that,” I finally told him when I snapped out of it.
We were already reaching his car, which seemed ten times fancier in the daylight. Much like the day before, Liam was wearing dark denim jeans and a fitted white t-shirt. It was simple, but oh did it make him look good. He must’ve known. The way Liam carried himself—his confidence was both appealing and threatening.
“I have nothing better to do,” he shrugged.
“So you’re taking me because you’re bored?” I asked, just a tad bit offended.
I once again saw that smile on his lips, a mixture between mischievous and teasing. I didn’t know what to make of it, but it made me feel insecure.
“I have a long list of things I can do if I’m bored. I am taking you because I want to,” he replied, opening the door to his car and extending his arm so that I’d climb in.
I did. I wanted to. It was flattering. I wasn’t even sure how he did it. Any other guy—that included my own brother—would’ve given me an irritated answer to my question. Liam was, strangely enough, reassuring.
“Did you ice your cheek?” he asked.
It was a short drive to the grocery store. I was almost surprised that he respected all the speed limits. He was a good driver and extremely careful.
“I did, last night. That didn’t help with any of the bruises, but I guess it numbed the pain a bit,” I shrugged.
“It hurts?” My head snapped in his direction after he’d asked that question. He sounded really upset, angry even. He used that tone—something like a growl—and it was frightening, but exhilarating. If Kat would’ve been there, she would’ve told me I was crazy for finding it attractive.
“I got punched. Of course it hurts. Well, not anymore and not right now. I mean, it hurts when I touch it, but I’m fine. What are you doing out here anyways?” I asked, changing the subject. I was hoping he would forget the incident from the night before. I didn’t think it was going to be possible if he had to be looking at my bruised face, a reminder of the previous night.
“I was scoping things out.”
“Because that doesn’t sound cryptic at all,” I said, rolling my eyes. He laughed. When he turned to look at me, and it was only for a second, I grinned at him. It felt good that I’d made him laugh, even though I hadn’t found my words all that funny. He had.
“I’ve lived in Leland for a while now. I was away, but I’m back now. I am trying to see just how much has changed in my absence.”
“Sounds serious and slightly nostalgic,” I told him.
He nodded. “It is. But it’s not all good things.”
We made it to the parking lot of the only grocery store in town. It was big, so I didn’t mind. It beat making the forty-five minute trip into the semi-average city.
“Where’s your car?” Liam asked, looking around the lot.
“You remembered,” I said under my breath, more to myself. I had forgotten half of the things I’d told him the night before. I had been shaken up, and felt distrustful of him.
“It’s that one,” I said, pointing to the white Fusion parked a few rows away.
“You can go in and get what you need. I’ll take a look at it. You have the keys?”
Inside, I could hear the alarms blasting loudly, telling me that I shouldn’t just hand over my car keys. But he had saved my life, given me a lift twice, and had a car that was worth more than ten times what mine was—even on its good days. That finally pushed me to rummage through my purse until I found my keys.
“Just… be gentle with it,” I told him, looking at my car sadly. It was the third time in two months that it had broken down. I still couldn’t understand why it kept happening, and I never managed to find a mechanic who would actually fix it, and not just fix it temporarily.
Liam chuckled at my comment, and probably at the depressed look on my face. “I will. I’ll meet you inside in a minute,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if he’d done it on purpose, but I noticed his fingers grazing my hand when I handed over my keys. It was a gentle touch, but he held my hand for a few seconds, before pulling away. When I looked up, I found him looking at me, a dark look in his eyes. He seemed… troubled.
On the walk into the store, I kept thinking back to the things I had noticed about Liam. Most of it was centered on how his mood seemed to change quickly. One minute he was grinning happily at me, and the next, he was frowning and looking mad. I couldn’t explain that.
I grabbed a cart, not that I needed one, considering the shortage of funds I was dealing with. For the sake of feeling better about myself, I dragged the cart around the store.
I was in the dairy section, deciding whether it was better to buy milk for cereal, or cheese for sandwiches. I never ended up picking one or the other because I kept going back to my savings and thinking about taking a hundred, and considering how much that would set me back. I hadn’t dipped into my savings account since I’d opened it, and I had a healthy amount. Kat taking my debit card had really set us back, and I’d forgotten to ask her about it.
Liam had not been kidding when he said he would meet me inside in a minute. He had taken about five minutes before catching up to me.
“If that’s how long you take to decide on milk, I can’t imagine how it would be shopping with you,” he said, coming to stand by my side.
When I looked up at him, he was smiling down at me. There he went again, from upset to happy. I wondered if he would get mad if I asked him about it. It wouldn’t be too surprising with the bipolar mood swings he’d been having already.
“I don’t know what to take,” I shrugged.
I was so not going to talk about my economic problems—as my mother used to call them. She never had those, though. My father had always had a good job, and after the divorce, my mother had gotten a great settlement and checks for my brother and me every month. The problem was her spending.
“I went back last night to Main Street,” Liam said, slipping his hands into his jean pockets.
“Did you find the guys? Were they still there?” I was worried that he’d gone back on his own. I had little to worry about, though. Liam could kick some serious ass.
“I took care of it. I saw the bags of groceries you left behind. Sorry about that,” Liam apologized, sheepishly. It looked so unlike him, even though I didn’t know him too well. He looked too playful to be looking embarrassed. “Grab whatever you need, and I’ll pay for it. Last night, I didn’t mean to just pull you away. I didn’t notice the bags while we were there.”
I smiled, I couldn’t help it. He looked so cute, and he was even blushing. Weird. I soaked in the sight. I didn’t care if he thought I was creepy for just smiling and staring at him—well, I cared, but I still did it anyway.
“You don’t have to do that. It’s fine,” I told him. I felt better just because he’d offered.
“No, I’m paying.”
“I told you, you don’t have to.” There was no way in hell I was going to let him pay. It would be embarrassing, and I felt like he’d done more than enough for me already.
“I’m still going to. Take your time, I’m in no rush,” he said, smiling.
I laughed, and shook my head at him. “I’m not gonna let you. But thanks for offering.”
“You won’t let me?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow and crossing his arms over his chest. He would make a great detective, was the first thought that crossed my mind at his stance. He looked like one of those guys they send in when a criminal didn’t want to confess about a crime. You have that guy that intimidates the criminal until he’s almost shitting his pants—Liam would be really good at that.
“No, I won’t. Stop trying to intimidate me,” I told him, waving him off and deciding that I’d rather eat cereal than sandwiches. I ended up putting a gallon of milk on the cart. Either way, it was going to have to be milk in the end, what with Kat’s addiction to coffee. I couldn’t take cheese, and torture her until I got paid on Friday.
“Last chance, Savannah,” Liam whispered against my ear, making a tingling sensation run down my spine. It felt… electric somehow. I liked it, a lot.
He was standing directly behind me. I hadn’t even noticed he had moved so close to me. His breath was fanning over my neck. He was leaning down. Liam wasn’t even touching me, but he didn’t have to. I felt him, so close, igniting me somehow. It was crazy. Kat was right. I was crazy.
“Thanks,” I said, clearing my throat. “But no.”
“Alright, have it your way,” he whispered, placing a gentle, feathery kiss on the crook of my neck. My hand quickly covered the area where he’d kissed me. For a moment, I wondered if I’d imagined it, but I didn’t think so.
Liam had moved away from me, and was now looking at the open freezer area with all the dairy stuff. He began grabbing random things and throwing them into the shopping cart.
“Just so you know, I have no idea if you will ever eat what I’m throwing in there,” he said teasingly. He laughed when he saw the dumbfounded look on my face.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m shopping for you. I am going to probably end up spending more money trying to guess what you want. We’ll see how guilty you feel about that,” he said.
“And I’m making sure I dump all the bags in your apartment. You can still stop me and pick what you need to buy, or I’ll keep going with this,” he said, grabbing some kind of cream cheese that looked weird and dumping it in the cart.
“Stop!” I kept repeating, holding on to his hand to keep him from grabbing more things. He was too strong for me. My hands were practically following him along while he continued to dump things into the shopping cart.
“You’ll pick what you need to buy?” Liam asked, grinning down at me. I could see the mischievous glint in his eyes. He looked like the guy my mom warned me about—if I’d had a mother that actually cared.
“That is very manipulative,” I told him, shaking my head.
“Are you picking or not? It’s kind of fun to grab random things. I bet half of this doesn’t even taste good,” he said, scrunching up his nose like a little kid. I had the urge to pinch his cheek, which would’ve been awkward.
“You don’t have to do this.” I couldn’t hide the smile from my face. His cheeriness was contagious.
“I want to. I owe you,” he said, finally stopping the craziness of dumping random stuff into the now half full cart.
“You saved me. If anything, I’m the one who owes you.”
Liam’s featured softened, and he moved towards me until he was standing only inches away. I had to look up at him, because he was standing really close.
“Just let me do this. I’ll feel better,” he said.
I gazed at him for a long while. He didn’t say anything, and he held my gaze. I finally nodded when I realized that he wasn’t going to back down.
“But you won’t push?”
“Promise,” he said, holding up his arms and stepping away from me.
Liam and I walked through the store picking things out. Unlike my usual routine of getting just the essentials, Liam was grabbing other things. It got to the point where I felt like breaking down crying over what Liam was doing for me. He picked up on it pretty fast, and stepped in front of me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, scrunching up his eyebrows. I couldn’t tell if he was confused or worried about me. I wasn’t crying, not really. But every time my eyes got teary, my face usually got blotchy, ready for the waterworks.
“I didn’t even have half of the things that you’re buying me,” I mumbled, and half-shrugged.
Liam gave me a soft smile, somewhat playful. I was already getting used to that look and I’d only seen it once or twice before on him. “Then I’m glad that you’re letting me do this. Actually, I’m glad I stumbled into you today.”
“Thank you,” I said, hating how my voice cracked. I didn’t usually feel weak, or vulnerable, especially in front of people.
In just seconds, Liam had me pressed against his chest, his arms around me. He was warm, and his chest was hard. I could feel the electric feeling surging between us. Liam nestled his head against my neck, and his arms slowly wrapped around my waist. It was like I could feel everything happening slowly. His breath was fanning against my skin. I closed my eyes, focusing on the sensations I felt surging through my body. Being in his arms was amazing.
I’d practically forgotten why I had suddenly felt emotional, until Liam spoke up.
“Do you feel that?” Liam whispered, pressing a small kiss against my neck. I did, but I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to ruin the moment.
I only had to wait a minute for someone else to come and ruin it for me.
Liam’s arms tightened on my waist, and I felt him tense up.
“What?” I asked.
Liam squeezed my waist, and I felt him shaking his head. “Trouble,” was all he said.
When he finally released me, and I pulled away, I saw what he was talking about. A group of guys was heading towards us, blocking both sides of the aisle. They looked aggressive and dangerous. It took me only a moment to realize that they were carrying guns, openly, in the middle of the store.