We spent the next thirty minutes in heavy silence. Sam was probably talking herself down from knocking Sean flat on his ass the instant he opened his door. Me, I was biting my figurative nails.
Sean and I had not parted well. Follow that up with our conversation earlier today…looking at the dash clock, now yesterday afternoon…I didn’t have a lot of expectations that this was going to go well at all. Sean was likely to be combative, snobby and above all else, his usual charming-less self.
How was it that I had been so blind to him in the year that we were together? These last two weeks away from him really proved to me that I had been walking around with blinders on. Suddenly everything was so clear. There was nothing to muddy the water anymore. No influence from my family or acquaintances that run in the same circles as my uptight family. No more obnoxious ticking clocks that seemed to remind me I wasn’t getting any younger or likely to do better. No denying myself happiness because I wanted to make everyone else happy, even though deep down inside I had always had that small voice of doubt that had constantly screamed at me day in and day out that we were all wrong for each other.
And to make it worse...to really twist the knife further than it already was, (cause let’s face it, realizing you just wasted a year of your life with someone who really didn’t give a damn about you but about appearances instead is already a pretty deep cut), and despite the fact that Sam will swear up and down all day and all night she was the real cause, I had Kade to thank for my sudden clarity.
Kade brought out a side of me I hadn’t known I had. I had never been an overly sexual person, and I certainly never focused on that as being the sole reason I was attracted to a guy before. How could I? I grew up with Old Mother Richer-Than-Sin-and-Overly-Judgmental-to-Boot Hubbard who raised me to believe that wealth and prestige a good husband make. Being attracted to him was at the very bottom of the list of concerns as far as I was brought up to believe. Admittedly I hadn’t settled for bottom of the barrel in the looks department with Sean, but I had when it came to personality. What my mother thought was marriage material I now knew was a blow to my self-esteem so devastating that if I hadn’t gotten out now I probably never would have. The thought alone made me shudder in fear.
Kade was a complete alpha male. The kind that the naïve heroine swoons for in historical romances about overly brusque pirates. He didn’t answer to anyone. He didn’t worry about anyone. And in the end, that’s how it was likely to always be. Men like Kade didn’t settle down. They didn’t do happily ever after. And they sure as hell didn’t suddenly fall in love (or lust) with the one woman they were hired to take out. Which brought even more questions to the forefront. Was he telling the truth? Had he been hired to only retrieve this mysterious unknown item or was it all a bunch of bull in hopes I would let my guard down?
My first instinct still told me that despite everything I now knew he could be trusted. But my past experience with men pretty much told me that I probably wasn’t the best judge of character when it came to this type of thing. There were pieces of this puzzle that didn’t make any sense, such as why he was living in my building if he was here to simply steal something back, or why he put himself in the cross hairs in order to get me and Sam to freedom. If he really was the bad guy, then why were there all these instances in which he pretty much proved he was anything but? Or was I once again reaching for something that wasn’t really there?
At the rate I was going, I was going to bite my figurative nails down to the quick.
Fortunate for me, or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, my moment of worry was about to end as we pulled into the gated community that Sean resided in.
Sam pulled toward the guard house, and I leaned over and gave Will a little wave.
Will was African American, in his mid-fifties and cute as a button. He had dark hair that was just now starting to gray and soft chocolate eyes that were always winking and smiling, mainly because he was a shameless flirt. I’m not shy to say that he stole my heart every time I spoke to him. Listening to him reminisce had been the highlight of my time at Sean’s. Will’s wife had passed on more than ten years ago, but when he spoke about her, it was like everything he spoke of happened just yesterday. He had never remarried nor ever thought there was reason to. He had lost his soul mate to cancer, but he still held a torch for her that made me a firm believer that true love has to exist. He was a sweet man and I enjoyed talking to him immensely.
Sean use to hate that I would always stop to chat with Will, but I know if I had to sit in a box by myself every day for eight hours a day, I would be dying for a little human interaction. And for a single dad who worked long hours and two jobs to put his two sons through college, I think he more than deserved a little friendly conversation.
He smiled and opened the gate with the no question.
My stomach was filled with butterflies at the thought of asking Sean for help. Sam had valid points. He always had money on him and he enjoyed people owing him. It was the idea of how much he would want in return or in exchange that scared me.
We pulled in front of his Tudor house. Like Sean, it was obnoxious.
Two stories, expansive manicured green lawn, shrubbery and flower bed expertly done and maintained, security lights lighting the path to the front door and a doorbell that played some classical music I probably should know.
Admittedly the house itself was beautiful. I couldn’t fault Sean on that. Everything was expertly decorated, carefully placed and essentially off limits to anyone but Sean. More times than not we stayed at my place because I wasn’t comfortable walking around the house. Being prone to klutzy on more than my fair share of occasions, I knew it would take one bump, one slip, one topple and his entire house would go down like a domino set. The few times I had actually slept here I had woken up in cold sweat, dreaming that his house was a deck of cards and with one little cough, it all came tumbling down. For someone who has difficulty walking on her own two feet, being in a house that was essentially a glass museum was nerve wracking. Probably should have been my first clue that Sean and I clearly were not fit for each other.
Sam and I stood outside his door, the unknown classical song playing through the house. All the lights were off, which was expected at this late hour. Just another thing to add to the list of items that Sean would likely make me pay for later.
We stood outside for a few minutes and waited.
When Sean didn’t show, Sam pressed the bell again and started banging on the door frame, carefully avoiding the glass inlay.
“It’s possible he’s out of town,” I said, almost relieved by the idea.
She shook her head.
“He’s not,” she said as she hammered the door. “If he was, your friend back at the gate would have told us.”
Damn Sam and her logical deduction.
A light clicked on upstairs, followed by light in the foyer and then the light outside the entryway where we stood.
Sean’s sleepy face appeared in the glass.
He opened the door with a frown.
Clearly we had woken him up. He was sporting bed head and was wearing his traditional t-shirt and lounge pants.
“Addison?” he asked in confusion.
Looking over to Sam, his frown deepened.
“Samantha,” he said in a huff.
Sam crossed her arms menacingly as I gave a little finger wave.
“What are you doing here?” he asked behind a yawn.
“A real gentleman would invite their guests in rather than have them stand outside in the middle of the night,” Sam said, pushing past him and entering uninvited.
He rolled his eyes in a way that only a cultured snob could and stepped back and motioned me forward.
“What’s going on?” he asked, closing the door behind him.
Sam didn’t reply but fixed me with her laser stare that said “go on, ask him.”
I cleared my throat nervously.
“Sam and I need your help,” I said quietly.
“Help? Help for what? And why the hell do you need help in the middle of the night?”
I caught Sam balling up her fist out of my peripheral.
“I can’t really get into it right now, but someone is after us. They’re trying to kill me.”
“Kill you,” he said with a restrained eye roll. “Addison, do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “It may sound ridiculous, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.”
“And you came to me for what exactly? A place to hide?”
I shook my head. “No, nothing like that. I don’t want you involved and I’m sorry that I’m involving you this much.”
“So what is it you want then?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
I bit my lip before answering.
“We need to borrow some money,” I said in a rush.
“Money,” he repeated.
“Yes. We can’t go home. We have no cash or credit cards on us. We need to lay low for a little bit, get some sleep and then try to figure out what the hell is going on.”
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose which wasn’t a good sign.
“Look, Sean, I wouldn’t be here asking this right now if we weren’t desperate. You know that about me. I’m not the type of person to beg for a handout.”
He sighed again and nodded slowly.
“Addison, I realize that you and I are not on the best of terms right now and I’m willing to admit that I played a very large role in all that. My behavior yesterday was deplorable and completely unacceptable. I said some very regrettable and terrible things and for that I am truly sorry.”
Well I certainly wasn’t about to argue with that logic.
“Thank you Sean,” I replied.
“Let me make it up to you,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulder and leading me toward the dark living room.
“What do you mean?” I asked, looking over my shoulder to make sure Sam was following.
“If you guys are serious that someone is after you, that someone is trying to kill you, I’m not going to just give you money and wish you well. I have a security firm that I have worked with for years. They provide top notch security. Let me call them. Have them come here to keep an eye out and you two can stay here for as long as you need. Eat, sleep, and once you’re both rested, you can tell me what’s going on and we can try to figure out who’s doing this to you and why.”
Okay. I hate to admit it, but that actually sounded like a good plan. Not that I didn’t think Sam and I could hide out on our own, but doing it with a security firm outside our doors sounded heavenly.
I looked over to Sam, almost worried about what abrasive response she was likely going to spew forward.
She must have been thinking the same thing as me because she didn’t argue. She simply nodded.
“Honestly Sean that would be amazing. And believe me; we will pay you back every dime with interest for doing this.”
He shook his head and pulled me into a hug.
“I want you safe Addison. I don’t care about the money.”
My eyes welled with tears. This was the Sean I had fallen for a year ago. Where the other one came from, I had no idea, but I didn’t realize until just now how I much I had really missed the old Sean.
In the beginning, when our families were trying to force us together, I didn’t give Sean a second thought. When we reconnected on our own, I realized things about him I had never really noticed (or tried to notice) before. His sweet demeanor. His shyness. His playfully fun nature. His strong determination. Those had all been the most distinguishing traits of his that I had found attractive. What happened over the course of the past few months still had me baffled. He had turn from prince charming to pretentious royal pain in the ass. Was I better off single then with a guy who was outright judging me all the time? Absolutely. But it didn’t mean that I couldn’t still miss the good times.
Sam, however, was not feeling so nostalgic.
“Too bad you didn’t have this human side while you two were dating,” she said in a snarky voice.
I felt him tense for a brief second before releasing me and turning his attention to Sam.
It had been a rough couple of days already what with dodging bullets, being attacked in what I am still claiming is a haunted house, tripping over unknown dead bodies, dodging more bullets, and then the piece de resistance, finding out the one I was trusting (and lusting for) to keep me alive was actually hired to do the exact opposite. (I know, I know. He says differently.)
Listening to Sam and Sean start battling it out in the middle of the night when I was hungry, sleep deprived, and oh yeah, being hunted by a group of hired professionals was not something I was really in the mood to deal with right now.
“Normally Sam, I would tell you to mind your own business and follow it up with some witty playground insult, but in this case, I’m not going to argue with you. You’re absolutely right. If I hadn’t been such an asshole for the past few months, we would not have been at each other’s throats like rabid dogs and Addison wouldn’t have felt the need to end things.”
Sam stood dumbfounded, blinking in quick succession as her brain tried to process what he just said. She clearly understood the words, but I think her brain was thrown off by the person who actually muttered them.
In all fairness, I’m pretty certain I mirrored her exact same look.
“Where is Sean and who the hell are you?” she asked.
He rolled his eyes and once again, all was right with the world.
Well…as right as it could be if you took into account the fact that someone was attempting to kill me, but why dwell on that little point?
“Come on,” he said, leading us into the living room. “I’ll call Bridge Security and then get you guys settled.”
He flipped on the light switch just inside the room and I was immediately overtaken with a foreboding sense of dread.
I had been in this room a hundred times, but despite that, it didn’t erase the unease of being in the space. The white walls, white carpeting, white furniture was like a blank canvas calling to me to ruin the overly sterile ambience. For someone as accident prone as I was, that was a dangerous combination. Add in the glass tables, expensive lamps, fragile awards and picture frames, and a few other random glass or crystal trinkets (in this case trinkets was beyond an accurate description), it was a klutz’s worse nightmare.
“Jesus,” Sam mumbled, standing beside me in the doorway. “Hospitals aren’t this sterile. How in the hell did all of this survive you for the past year?”
See? That was precisely why Sam and I were best friends. She read my mind like no other.
I flashed her an exaggerated frown and squinty eyed glance. It’s not like I could dispute what she said. How it survived was still one of those unsolved mysterious of the universe.
Sean had abandoned us in the entryway and made his way over to the large desk in the back corner where he flicked on the desk lamp and rummaged through a black binder on the desk. This had always been Sean’s favorite spot in the house (for reasons that had become more apparent the longer we had been together) so he had a second desk in the here for those times he decided he didn’t want to actually be locked away in his overly dark office upstairs, which was the polar opposite of this room. It was made up of black and deep blood red colors that made it appear like a black hole. It had always creeped me out how much I thought of vampires and blood sucking when going in there so I always made it a point to avoid that room at all costs.
Nudging me forward, Sam and I walked over to the white leather sofa and sat down.
Instinctively I crossed my leg, and caught the corner edge of the glass coffee table.
I bit back a curse word and rubbed my leg.
Sam, who of course had seen the whole thing, was snickering to herself at my quick re-acquaintance with painfully avoidable injuries.
I flipped her off.
Sean must have reached the security firm because he was murmuring quietly behind us.
Sam, who didn’t have a patient bone in her body, quickly jumped up from the couch and wandered over to one of the three glass display cases surrounding the room. Each display served a particular purpose. The first case held his awards in achievement through work and his community involvements, the second held photos of friends and family in tastefully expensive glass frames and the third housed his crystal knick knacks collected all over the world.
Playing with a chain around her neck, Sam squinted at the photos in the case, and then looked over to me with a confused look on her face.
I wandered over to where she stood and looked at the picture she was questioningly pointing to.
The frame held a picture of Sean with a beautiful blond woman. I didn’t recognize her, but based on the doe eyes she was giving Sean and the tight embrace they were in, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.
Sam looked at me with a look of confusion, and then looked over her shoulder to Sean who was still speaking quietly in the back of the room.
“Who’s the blond,” Sam whispered.
I shrugged, dumbfounded.
Sure, we had broken up, but it had only been two weeks. And considering the fact I had never seen this picture before, it was safe to assume it had been taken recently. How recently was the question. Since Sean’s sudden travel for work, and the fact that we had started mixing like oil and water, I hadn’t spent much time at his place. Hell, I would have to admit that it had probably been a good couple of months since I had last been here.
Studying the picture with a suspicious eye, I studied Big Boobs Barbie. She was petite with long bottle bleached blond hair that was piled into a sexy mess on her head. Her black dress clung to her like a second skin, showing off an impressive set of legs, cinched waist and surgically enhanced DD’s. The slinky black dress had designer written all over it, and one wrong move on the dance floor would have the Double Mint Twins popping out for the whole world to behold. Her tan was fake bake, her teeth bleached and enhanced, and the aqua blue of her eyes could only be done with the pair of color enhancing contacts.
They stood pressed together at a black tie affair. Sean smiled lovingly at the woman in his arms, his hands just inches from grabbing her perky little ass. Someone had clearly caught them during an intimate moment.
The pieces were falling together rapidly and I admonished myself for being so stupid. How had I not read the signs before? How had I not noticed?
The travel. The sudden distance. The continuous fighting. The random and sometime overly expensive gifts. They were all starting to make sense.
There had been another woman.