I had been tossing and turning for the past hour since moving to my new room. I had convinced Rhys to compromise and let me have my own space since he wouldn’t take me back to the motel. I couldn’t sleep in the bed next to him, I didn’t trust myself and I certainly didn’t trust him. Though it seemed like I couldn’t sleep in my own bed either. I had been tossing and turning for the past hour. The bath and protein bar had helped, but any sense of ease disappeared in the darkness of the spare room.
I threw back the blanket and sat up on the bed, running my hands through my hair. I gave up on the idea of sleep. I left the bedroom as quietly as I could, glancing toward the door across the hallway. A part of me was tempted to crawl into Rhys bed and let him fuck me to sleep but I controlled the impulse. That wasn’t who I was.
Instead, I followed the length of the hallway, noting that the walls lacked any sort of warmth. There weren’t any family pictures or other personal items hanging around to make it feel like someone actually lived there.
I heard faint sounds, soft clinks and rough grumbling coming from the opening at the end of the hall. I followed the noise curiously, moving into a living room that I had seen once before. A couch, a chair, the television, wall of movies, and a coffee table. There was a small reading lamp set up on a side table next to the chair with a stack of papers resting next to it. I leaned over, scanning the top page. It appeared to be a spreadsheet with lots of numbers.
I turned away from it, not wanting to get caught snooping.
I followed the sound out of the living room and into the kitchen, finding Rhys with his back to me, hunched over a counter. I couldn’t stop myself from drinking in the sight of the wide shoulders that framed his muscular back. All of which tapered down into a narrow waist and long toned legs that were currently encased in dark denim. I licked my lips as he turned around, not looking at all surprised to find me standing that.
“You should be in bed.” He poured coffee into a mug before turning away to grab another one from the cupboard.
I shrugged my shoulders as I hugged my arms to my waist. “So, should you,” I said as I surveyed the kitchen. The space was light and airy, and completely at odds with what I knew of Rhys. It was so clean and organized. The walls were a soft purple, making the room appear sweet and gentle. The island broke up the room into cooking and dining. The cupboards were made of weathered wood, the gray color only complimented by the white granite countertops. I had the strong sense that this room was the product of a woman’s touch – his mother’s I hoped.
I turned my attention back to Rhys to see him pushing a mug in my direction. I moved toward it, already resigned to not getting any sleep. “Thanks.” I enjoyed the warmth of the ceramic, the heat moving through my palm and up my arm before I took a small sip. Rhys watched me intently, which had my cheeks growing flushed.
“Is there a problem with the room?” he asked with a bit of a frown.
I shook my head. “No, the room is fine, just couldn’t sleep.” I didn’t want to explain to him that I rarely slept more than a few hours at a time because of Silas. The fear had turned me into a zombie of sorts – a shell of the girl I had once been.
I set my mug down on the island that separated us. “What’s got you up?” I wanted to turn the topic away from me.
“I have things that require my attention at the moment, hence the coffee.” He lifted his mug and took a sip of it. I didn’t have anything more to say to that and neither did he. We stood in silence, sipping from our mugs. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence like one would expect. It was pleasant, all the tension that had been between us before was absent. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation.
Rhys finally broke the silence. “I’ve got to leave pretty soon, pack business. I might be gone for a couple of hours.” I arched a brow, curious about where this conversation was leading because he seemed rather reluctant about that fact. “Do you think you’ll be okay here on your own?”
I tilted my head. He was such an interesting man. From his appearance alone, one would think him a hardened male without emotions but that wasn’t really the case. He just hid them behind a powerful mask— or so I was beginning to assume based on our interactions.
“I’ll be fine.”
He held my gaze, green eyes full of so many unsaid emotions before he turned away, setting his empty mug into the sink. “Well, I’ll leave a number you can reach me at if you need anything.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a notepad and pen. He turned back to face me, scribbling on the paper.
“Should I be worried?” I asked.
“The place is secure, only an idiot would attempt anything while you’re in my house.”
I leaned forward, resting my elbow on the island, placing my chin in my hand as I held his stare. “And if I did need you, Rhys?”
His eyes raked over me, making my body grow hot and achy all over again. In a way, I was certain that I might always need Rhys, which was confusing and disappointing. I knew I shouldn’t want him but it seemed to be beyond my conscious control.
“I would come back as quick as I could,” he said in a low voice, words dripping with a double meaning. I shivered, my desire to have him touch me growing. What I needed was for him to leave, because if he didn’t I was almost positive where this conversation was going to lead. And I knew I’d give into him.
“Like I said...” I broke away from his heated stare. “I’ll be fine on my own. I’ve been that way for a while.” I peeked in his direction.
Before he could formulate a response, a knock echoed through the house. He let out a long sigh of frustration. “Hold that thought...” he walked out of the room. I remained where I was, watching him from the corner of my eye. He opened the door to reveal a leggy brunette. She was wearing tiny shorts and a tight t-shirt. It looked like the same uniform the girls had been wearing at the bar. An unexpected irritation rushed through me at the way her eyes devoured him.
“What are you doing here, Camila?” His tone was gruff and to the point. He obviously didn’t appreciate the unexpected guest showing up on his doorstep.
She smiled up at him, blue eyes sparkling like a lovesick teenager’s. “I had time to kill before my shift. I thought we could hang out or something. You left last night before the party really got going.” Her words had my irritation transforming into a big angry green monster. It was irrational. I didn’t know Rhys. Sure, we had fucked in my motel room, but for all I knew he might have a mate. This could be her, just another Rachel. That thought sent my mind reeling and I quickly shut it down. I was not in the right place in my life to be thinking about any of those things.
“I told you to never come here. I’ve made the terms of our relationship clear,” Rhys replied.
Camila lost her smile. “That is what you said but I thought...”
“I meant what I said, Camila.”
She stood there awkwardly for a moment. Then peering in my direction her eyes widened then narrowed. Rhys stepped to the side, blocking me from her view.
“You’d have better luck with someone at the bar. Or hell, Dace is probably free. Now, leave before you embarrass yourself further.” His voice rang with authority. I turned away, his words were rather harsh but I didn’t know him as a thoughtful communicator. There was a mumbled apology from Camila and a deep grumble from Rhys. I tried not to smile into my coffee mug at the sound of the door closing, a part of me pleased that he had sent the other girl away. He walked into the room like nothing had happened.
“Do you need anything else? Are you hungry?”
It was such an interesting switch of attitude. He had dealt with Camila in an almost cruel manner but he was being nothing but gentle with me. I wondered what it was that he saw when he looked at me. Was I a strong girl who fought monsters? Or was I just the weak human he was taking pity on? Maybe I was just over analyzing everything and there was nothing to it at all. I gave a small shake of my head, tucking some hair behind my ear.
“I’m fine. Thanks.”
It was odd relying on someone I had barely met. I didn’t want to feel like I was some kind of sob story take advantage of the compassion of strangers. “I don’t want you to stop living your life just cause I’m around. If you wanted to hang out with your friend or whatever...you could just pretend I’m not here.”
I could feel his eyes on me but I didn’t look at him. He released a heavy sigh. “I know how it looks. But it’s not serious. I’ve never brought a woman back here.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” I didn’t want to hear about him with other girls, it burned my ears.
He continued to talk. “This is my space and I like it that way.”
I lifted my eyes to his face, taken in by the beauty of it all over again. “But you want me to stay here with you?”
“It’s different with you.”
“Why is it different?” I asked, curious and hopeful.
I could see that he wanted to say something, that it was hanging on the tip of his tongue. Perhaps whatever he wanted to say would explain why I seemed to be so drawn to him. Maybe it would explain why it felt like I was drowning every time we had to part ways. It wasn’t right. It was completely irrational behavior that I couldn’t seem to stop.
“Because you don’t want anything from me.” It was a simple and expected response. Of course, I wouldn’t want anything from him. We didn’t know each other. He was simply a man I’d met at the bar and had slept with. Now due to certain circumstances, he had taken me in.
Except my heart clenched painfully tight at his words. Maybe I did want something from him. But I was confused by how much that was and what it was I wanted from him. We certainly had chemistry in between the sheets. He made me hot— hotter than any man I’d ever been with. But, it felt like there was something more than lust between us. I just didn’t know what the hell it was or if there was even a name for the way Rhys made me feel.
“I think I might go try and lay down again while you’re gone...” I didn’t really feel all that tired but I was done with this conversation. It was leading down a dangerous road. One I had told myself I would never walk down again.
“You’re upset with me,” he said, brows furrowed.
“Yes,” I replied without a thought, cheeks burning when I realized. “I mean no. I mean...”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, breathing deep. I wanted to open up...I felt like I could but my past said otherwise. “I don’t know what I feel right now, Rhys. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been going through some things and now there’s this...” I motioned with my hand between the two of us happy to have the island as separation. “It’s too much.”
I watched his expression soften. He stepped around the island that had been keeping us safely separated. I arched a brow. “What are you doing?”
“Just want to try something.”
I tensed as he reached for me gently wrapping his fingers around my wrist before pulling me to him. His arms wrapped around my small frame as he towered over me. The heat from his body seeping through the clothes I had borrowed from him.
“Don’t make this weird. Relax.”
It took a minute before I let myself melt into his touch. I hadn’t realized how much I had needed to be touched like this. Sure, the sex had been great, more than great, but being held when I felt like I was on the verge of a meltdown was...I didn’t have a word for it.
“I’m sorry I upset you...that’s the last thing I want to do.” He whispered before he broke away from the hug. Taking a step back, looking slightly unsure of himself. “I have to go...” But he seemed even more reluctant than before.
“I’ll be fine.” I gave him what I hoped was an encouraging smile. He appeared like he needed the reassurance.
He held my attention with a skeptical look on his face. “You’ll call me if you need anything.” It came out more as an order than a question.
“If I need you, I’ll call.”
“Is there anything other than meat and beer in this damn thing?” I questioned in an irritated huff as I stood in front of the open refrigerator, my stomach practically eating itself. It was clear that Rhys had priorities in his life and none of them involved grocery shopping. I didn’t suspect that he was entertaining many guests from the looks of things.
“Meat and beer are the essential food groups. What more do you need?” I whirled around at the unwarranted response to my rhetorical question to find Dace walking into the kitchen. He looked even better in the light of day. The whole classic bad boy image thing was working for him. Of course, I was more partial to the rugged and tough appeal of Rhys.
“Do you make a habit of walking into someone else’s house uninvited?” I closed the fridge, keeping my gaze on the predator in the room. Had Rhys sent him to keep an eye on me?
He grinned. “Only when I where the spare key is.”
I sank back against the stainless steel, the chill passing through the thin cotton shirt I wore. I pressed my lips together in annoyance. “I don’t need a babysitter, anymore.”
He ignored my remark as came up beside me, invading my personal space. I shifted away from him. My heart started to race as I envisioned all the horrible things that could happen to me out in the middle of nowhere with no one around to hear me scream. Had I lost my mind? These people weren’t people, they were mythical creatures who put on “human” suits. I threw my arms out on instinct, intending to push him away.
He captured my wrists in his hand, leaning in and giving me a sniff. “What it is about you that has Rhys so enthralled...”
He let me go, and I stepped away from him, rubbing away the itchy feeling his touch had left on my skin. I felt allergic to his touch somehow; his proximity to me completely unsettling my whole being. My lips dropped down into a frown. “Did you...smell me?”
Dace shrugged his shoulders. “Like I said curious,” he stepped back and leaned his elbow into the island. “So how long are you going to be staying here, Dove?”
I met his probing gaze. “I guess until things blow over...” I felt more self-conscious as the minute hand on the clock on the far-left wall ticked forward. I didn’t know what the rules were for this pack but I got the sense that they weren’t going to be welcoming to an outsider, especially a human one.
He gave me a smile that showed just a few too many teeth. “Why are you on the run?”
I blinked, cringing. Dace kept his grin, but he was reading every emotion that played across my face. He had seen more than Rhys had, more than he should have. I looked away from him to the clock again. Rhys had been gone for several hours and I wish he’d return. “That’s none of your business.”
“I think it became my business the moment I killed someone for you.” He was pressing the issue.
I straightened up, my body like someone had shoved me into the fire. “I appreciate your daring rescue the other night but I didn’t ask for it. So, I don’t owe you anything. Now, I think you should leave,” I urged with a firm tone, mustering as much authority as I could. I wanted my revolver, it was hard to be as commanding without the ability to follow it up with force if necessary.
“Don’t be like that,” he held up his hands in mocking surrender. “I’m looking out for my friend, you understand, don’t you?”
“Let me be clearer, leave.” I was breathing heavy, the muscles in my body coiled up tight. I was ready to fight if it came to that, running would be pointless. His pierced brow arched up as if surprised by the force of my demand.
The sound of the front door banging open and close cut the tension. “Leave her alone, Dace. Rhys won’t be happy to find out you were harassing her.” Astrid’s voice echoed from the entrance to the kitchen. I found myself relaxing at the sound of it, turning to see her entering with a paper bag filled with groceries. She set them down on the table, unloading them.
My stomach growled as I looked at the items she was laying out; fresh veggies, orange juice, bread, peanut butter, Jelly, a couple potatoes and other feminine necessities. I could have hugged her but I wasn’t sure how she would react to a complete stranger in her personal space. Dace eased away from me.
“I thought you were in town with the other females.” He seemed annoyed that his interrogation had been interrupted.
Astrid moved to the fridge carrying the veggies. “I was but I ran into my son and he asked me to bring a couple of things to make his guests stay here a little more comfortable.” Her gaze shifted to me for a moment. It had been a long time since I had someone looking out for me. It made me feel a swell of emotion that I tapped down before it could overwhelm me.
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” I mumbled.
She nodded her head. “We can’t let you get any thinner than you are or people in town might start to suspect my son starves his guests.” I didn’t know if she actually cared about me or if it was only her concern for the way people would view Rhys that brought her here, but I still appreciated the kindness.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Dace muttered at me with a bit of a sneer.
“Knock off the attitude,” Astrid growled, holding his gaze until he dropped his head, reluctantly, in a submissive manner.
“Sorry.” He grumbled. I doubted he was actually sorry for the way he’d been acting. He had his suspicions about me and I didn’t blame him for that but he should’ve approached me differently.
I felt the warmth on my cheeks, feeling uncomfortable with the situation. “I promise I’m not here to cause any trouble...” I meant what I was saying. I didn’t want to cause Rhys any trouble, especially after the fact that he was being kind enough to offer me his protection even though I was just the girl he had fucked. He didn’t owe me anything, none of them did.
Astrid smiled in my direction, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Of course, you aren’t.”