I frowned when I found myself staring at a large gate made of wooden planks. The spaces between each plank was enough for me to peek through but there wasn’t much to see but a gravel driveway and foliage of the surrounding woods. Also, it was impossible to ignore “no trespassing” sign hanging of the towering blockade. It was homemade – a piece of thick wood, painted yellow with sloppy black lettering. I could see places where the paint used for the words had run. Clearly, the person who had made it didn’t care much for aesthetics and had little patience if they couldn’t wait a couple hours for it to dry.
This had to be Rhys’ place.
And he, obviously, had a thing about his privacy. Under different circumstances, I would have respected that. Everyone was entitled to a few secrets. However, he had ignored my right to privacy last night when he had sent his friend to act as my guardian. We weren’t living in the middle ages, and I could take care of myself. He had crossed the boundary of our fragile acquaintance – if you could even call it that – into a very personal territory.
I paced the length of the gate, looking for a way through or over it. Today hadn’t started off great and it wouldn’t be getting any better from the look of things.
I had planned to ask Dace for the directions to Rhys house later in the morning, but when the sun had risen, and I’d finally left my room, he was nowhere to be found. I had been forced spent twenty minutes of my day trying to bribe Rhys’ address out of a postal worker – which he hadn’t felt inclined to take. Instead, he had threatened to call the cops. In a moment of desperation, I had lied, hoping to gain some sympathy. I told him that I had a one-night stand and had gotten pregnant. That was what I should’ve started with from how quickly he had scrambled to find me the address.
I grabbed the no trespassing sign in my hands, releasing all my pent-up anger and frustration. I tugged at it. There was much huffing and puffing as I worked on the strong piece of wood, fingers burning as I pried it loose inch by inch. I stumbled back when it came free, tossing the reward of my labor into the gravel. I dusted my hands on my jeans before poking my fingers through the cracks between the wooden planks, slowly hoisting myself upward. My toes pressed into the wood to hold some of my weight. I did my best to ignore the fact I would, without a doubt, be digging splinters out of my hands later.
This was far from a graceful entrance. I had practically done the splits as I tried to use the latch of the large gate as leverage to reach the top. Once I sat astride the six-foot behemoth, I couldn’t feel anything but the relief to have made it successfully to the top. I did realize that this all seemed like a lot more work than it was worth, but now that I had come this far I wasn’t going to turn back. I shifted to the left, glancing over the other side of the gate. My stomach churned as I noted the distance between myself and the ground. This wasn’t my first time jumping a fence but I wasn’t a fan of heights.
I sucked in a deep breath as I swung my other leg over the top, pushing myself off with a small yelp. I landed on the gravel with a hard thump, stumbling forward and catching myself with my hands before I could faceplant. I pushed myself back up on wobbly legs, dusting my hands off as I glanced back to see the feat I had just conquered.
I started walking down the long driveway. I had gotten the hard part out of the way, everything else from this point onward should be a breeze. That thought proved to be a foolish one. The driveway was much longer than I had anticipated it to be. It took me a good twenty minutes of power walking to reach the end of it. By that time, I was sweating like a stuffed pig, red-faced and out of breath.
There was definitely something strange about this man. Who in their right mind needed a driveway so long? Or a gate so large? I mean, who the hell was he trying to keep out? Or maybe the better question was, what was he trying to keep in? A part of my mind was screaming at me to turn back now, get into my truck and leave town. I paused for a moment – what was I doing? This wasn’t like me. I was the smart girl who didn’t go looking for trouble. Rhys had already exhibiting those overbearing qualities that Silas had.
And here I was, seeking him out? I chewed on my lip. There was something wrong with me – fundamentally. I needed to leave this place, get back in my truck, forget about Rhys, and drive on to the next town. Even as I thought that, though that would’ve been the intelligent thing to do, my feet moved toward the house as if pulled by some kind of invisible force. I couldn’t explain it but it was starting to freak me out. It was a similar sensation I had felt last night at the bar.
An uneasiness began to grow in my stomach the closer I got to Rhys’ home. It was like I was floating in the ocean, being circled by sharks on the verge of a feeding frenzy.
I was in the middle of nowhere, no one was out here with me. I knew I was being ridiculous. Still, I couldn’t resist the urge to look around, staring into the dark shadows of the nearby trees. I searched the darkness of the underbrush until I could confirm that I was indeed alone. However, knowing that didn’t stop me from quickening my pace. The lingering sensation that I was being watched only seemed to grow. I hurried up the steps and onto the rotting porch, knocking hard on the front door.
When no one answered, I knocked again.
“Rhys,” I called out his name through the thick wooden door. I knocked a couple more times, a little more frantic. I moved to the large window, cupping my hands to the glass. I peered through, looking around the dark room. I could see the back of a couch, a nice leather chair – a flat screen tv mounted on the wall. I was surprised by the interior of the house, considering its outside condition. I angled my face, spying the entrance to a kitchen but no signs of life. Maybe, the old man had given me the wrong address.
“Hey!” A deep voice called out to me. I turned around in surprise. My eyes landed on a large bare-chested man, scratch that – a couple more of his sweaty bare-chested friends stepped out of the woods. The one in the lead was moving towards me with a murderous scowl on his face, dark eyes full of anger. “This is private property! You’re not allowed to be here without permission.”
I didn’t wait to try an explain myself. I darted toward the steps, planning to make a great escape. In my haste, my foot slipped and my body pitched backward. This was not my finest moment, and if to make it worse my brain resorted to the age-old instinct of crying out for help as I went down like a sack of potatoes.
My head was pounding like someone was banging on it with a hammer. The last thing I remembered was the group of shirtless men coming out of the woods before the world turned to darkness. I didn’t know how long I had been out of it, or where I was currently. The only reason that I was even awake at the moment was due to the angry whispers echoing around me. These people didn’t understand the definition of whisper because it was like they were screaming in my ears.
I found myself tuning into one voice, specifically. His voice. A voice I was certain I would know anywhere for some strange reason.
“You’re all a bunch fucking idiots, you specifically.” I knew he must have pointed at one of the men who had startled me. “What were you planning to do with her if I hadn’t shown up?” Rhys questioned in a low voice that had the hairs on my arms standing on end.
“I was only trying to scare her a little so she’d leave. She was the one that knocked herself out.” Someone replied with amusement and no remorse. My cheeks burned as I recalled the fact that I had tried to run away, only to slip and tumble down the stairs, knocking my head against something.
“And now she’s inside the house, passed out on my couch. Good fucking plan.” Rhys remarked, not impressed. I repressed the urge to shiver at the harshness of his tone. I shifted on the couch as there were a couple more words murmured softly around me in response.
I blinked my eyes open, taking in the world around me. I was laying down on a leather couch that smelled like clove cigarettes. Above me stood several men, staring down at me with varying expressions of interest. I pushed back deeper into the cushions as I met the familiar green-eyed stare. Another shiver rushed through my body, heat pooling in my stomach as it had last night.
“Can you please stop staring me?” I asked as I licked my dry lips. Rhys cleared his throat, casting his glare around the small group of men, which seemed to do the trick. They all scurried from the room like they had found out that I was infected with some kind of skin eating bacteria. I let out a small sigh, feeling a little bit more at ease. “That really is quite the talent you have there.”
I made a move to sit up, but when I pushed up, the pain in my head intensified. “Ow!” I winced, closing my eyes again.
“I wouldn’t move around much. You probably have a concussion.” Rhys commented. I opened my right eye to chance a peek in his direction and found him staring down at me with a weighted look. I knew that look, I had gotten it a number of times in my life growing up. It was the look that said I was in trouble but a suitable punishment had yet to be decided.
I sighed in annoyance as I reached up, cradling my aching head in my hand. “Do you think you could spare something for my head? It’s killing me.” I murmured, hoping that he would take some more pity on me before he got into whatever lecture and punishment I could feel he wanted to deliver. I heard the sound of him leaving the room – heavy footsteps growing distant to be followed by cupboards opening and the rush of water escaping a tap. He returned a moment later with a glass of water and a Tylenol bottle in the other. He held them out towards me and I took them with a sigh.
I sat up a bit and popped the pills onto my tongue before swallowing it down with a large gulp of water. I held the glass back to him and he took it. I prayed silently that the medicine would be fast acting as I closed my eyes and leaned my head back on the sofa.
I could feel the heat of Rhys anger. His eyes branded me with it. I opened my eyes slowly to meet his narrowed gaze. “Just what the hell are you doing out here, Dove? Do you not any common sense? Did any part of you think that maybe there might have been a good reason for the large locked gate and the ‘no trespassing sign’?” He growled, making me flinch back.
My cheek blazed with embarrassment and anger. How dare he try to call me stupid! The only reason that I was even out here in the first place was because of his issue with respecting other people’s boundaries. I turned my face away from him, not wanting to meet his burning gaze. “Don’t yell at me. I have the headache of the century and you’re not helping.” I wasn’t going to put up with anyone talking to me like that.
He sucked in a breath between his clenched teeth. ”I apologize. Please explain to me why you were wandering around the property? How did you even get here?”
I peered over at him, though I kept my body angled away from him. “A man at the post office gave me your address. I had to tell him you knocked me up, though, before he would give it to me.” I felt my cheeks heat up again as I revealed that tidbit of information to him. His lips twitched, the suspicion in his eyes turning to amusement which helped ease the tension in my body.
“Just so you know, I wasn’t wandering around. I was looking for you. I wanted to talk to you about the ‘protection detail’.” I remarked, lifting a brow as I waited for him to try and deny it.
“What about it?” He didn’t seem all that remorseful – as if this was a normal thing that happened between two strangers all time.
"What about it?” I questioned back in stunned confusion. “Well let’s start with everything.”
He blinked – slow and bored. One would think I was some simpering female from his reaction. It only made my anger burn hotter. I clenched my hand into a tight fist.
“I don’t know you and you don’t know me. It was completely inappropriate. I wouldn’t like it if someone I did know, did something like that...let alone a complete stranger.” I was breathing a little heavier as my emotions about the situation got the better of me.
“You weren’t supposed to know anyone was there.” He replied with annoyance.
I wanted to scream. “That’s not the point. The point is that no one should have been there in the first place – no one but me.” I spoke through clenched teeth.
Rhys frowned and turned his face away. I watched as he reached up and rubbed his neck. “You seemed rather nervous the other night. I thought maybe you were in some kind of trouble. I was only looking to help you rest easier.” He formed his words carefully as if he was afraid of saying the wrong thing. He turned back to me, eyes narrowed. “Did Dace do something to upset you?”
“No, he...he didn’t do anything.” He obviously didn’t see what he had done as wrong, and I doubted that he would from the way he was talking. What a clueless man. “In the future – if a woman seems distraught, ask her about it. Don’t just run off making a rash decision when you have no idea what is going on.”
“If I had asked you what was wrong last night would you’ve told me?”
His question took me by surprise, along with the intensity of his stare. I wet my lips. “No.”
“You are in some kind of trouble then.”
My eyebrows shot up. He had trapped me with his words and I’d had fallen right in. I quickly turned my face from his. “I never said that.”
“You didn’t need to.”
I frowned. I didn’t like that he seemed to be able to read me so easily. I didn’t like that I lost control of myself when I was around him. I forced myself to turn back to him and meet his gaze. I’d come here to make him understand and I could tell I was failing. He seemed more agreeable when he had a drink in him – and I liked him more when I had one in me. “Won’t you at least apologize for what you did?”
“Why should I apologize? All you’ve done is proved that I made the right choice.” He crossed his arms over his chest. And my frown deepened at the way his jaw set in his stubbornness. He was a man who got his way – more often then he should.
“I would like to leave, please. Now.” I rasped out in a small demand. I was definitely over being in this house – I was over having this conversation. I didn’t have the energy at the moment to deal with this.
He scanned my face silently for a moment. “You’re obviously not fit to drive yourself at the moment. So, I guess that means I’ll have to take you.” He leaned down toward me bringing our faces closer together.
My heart jolted with fear and excitement as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and his other hand slid between my thighs and the sofa cushion. He met my gaze with muted desire, similar to the other night at the bar.
“What are you doing?” I asked him in a soft voice.
“Wrap your arms around my neck. I’m going to carry you.” His voice was gruff, but his touch was gentle. It caused the heat in my lower stomach to bloom. God, this man was too much. One moment he was arrogant and stubborn – the next...he was whatever the hell this was.
“I can walk. I bumped my head...my legs work just fine.”
He met my gaze with a seriousness. “You won’t be steady enough on your feet to walk the length of my driveway at a speed that will get you home anytime soon. It will be much easier on both of us if you just let me carry you.” Rhys waited to hear my agreement, though I had a feeling that even if I denied his offer he would carry me anyways.
Having no strength left in me to fight – I leaned into him, closing my eyes. “Fine. Just don’t drop me.”