I woke up in the worst pain of my life.
It felt like I had been run over by a truck and dragged a mile before being thrown over a cliff and dropped into the rocky sea below. And based on my current level of pain, I was being generous in my assessment. The thought alone of how badly I must have looked after my mile long drag had me cringing, and instantly regretting it. That microscopic motion caused a thousand daggers to stab my brain.
Clearly my body was protesting any further movement, so more sleep was in order. The idea of sleep was heavenly and instantly eased the throbbing in my head. Yeah, more sleep would do my body wonders. Looks be damned at this moment because I didn’t have a single ounce of strength left to fix the problem even if I could.
Settling back into my pillow, I squeezed my eyes tighter and tried to return to the blissful black void of sleep. Unfortunately it didn’t appear that the universe agreed with my plan. Loud beeping noises flittered around my head, causing the throbbing in my head to intensify. Try as I might, I couldn’t shut the sound out.
All I wanted to do was go back to sleep and pretend none of this ever happened. Was that too much to ask?
I opened my eyes carefully and again regretted it immediately. Shooting pain accompanied every move, no matter how minimal, but the assault of light had me begging for mercy. The feel of sandpaper had returned and my eyes protested once again at the forced action.
I blinked rapidly in hopes to dispel the gravel that was stuck in my eyes, and looked around.
Despite the millions of daggers stabbing me all over, I had been wrong in my assessment of how bad the situation was. The mile long drag had been the easy part. The worst part was that I was completely drawing a blank as to where the hell I was as I stared at the sterile white walls around me.
I heard muffled voices off to the left but my body wasn’t cooperating with me when I attempted to turn my head. Probably for the better considering how badly it was throbbing.
The conversation suddenly stopped and a fuzzy face swam into my view, but I was too disorientated and confused as it was to try to figure out who the hell the face belonged to. The mysterious figure said something, but all I could hear was the blurred sounds of a thousand loud bees buzzing around me ears.
I forced my eyes closed for a moment, took a deep breath and opened them wide. Luckily the blurred vision appeared to be clearing.
It was then that I got my first good view of where I was and I’m sorry to say Toto, this wasn’t Kansas. Considering the stark walls, the uncomfortable mattress I was sitting on, and the insistent beeps behind my head, I put two and two together and I realized I must be in the hospital.
“I have got to stop doing that,” I said weakly.
“So this is a regular thing for you then?” asked the fuzzy face standing above me.
The bees had thankfully turned down the volume so I was finally able to decipher what was being said, though I suspected one or two bees felt the need to rebel since the buzzing sound hadn’t completely gone.
I shook my head slowly and attempted to sit up with a groan, grabbing my head in an attempt to keep it from exploding. With help from a large warm hand planted firmly on my back, I finally succeeded and instantly wished I hadn’t. Though the dancing spots in front of my eyes had finally started to clear and my vision was a lot less cloudy, the throbbing in my head had intensified and my empty stomach knotted up.
Looking over slowly to my left, I was pretty certain I didn’t mask the look of shock on my face very well when I looked into the chocolate brown eyes of my new neighbor, Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy…err…Kade, I mean.
At that moment I couldn’t tell if it was the second hit on the head today that was making me light headed and dizzy or if it was the jolts of electricity currently running through my body thanks to the feel of his warm hand spread across my back.
“A regular thing? I try to avoid it at all costs if I can,” I responded in a gravelly voice, looking down at my arms and the IV’s currently attached. “Apparently just not when impossibly sexy men are around to witness my unbeatable talent of making an ass out of myself,” I grumbled under my breath.
Shit! Did I seriously just say that out loud??
If I was lucky, maybe he hadn’t heard me. Of course, even under the best of circumstances I’m not naturally a quiet person so I could only assume that the current awkward pause was the direct result of his discomfort at my comment.
I glanced over and knew from the small smile on his lips that had heard me. Double shit!
I cringed. “Sorry. Clearly my common sense filter isn’t working at the moment.”
“Believe me, I’ve been called a hell of a lot worse,” he said with a casual shrug.
He sat on the side of the bed, and leaned in close as he shifted me forward so he could examine the back of my head.
“They did a good job on the stitches,” he said quietly as he examined my head. “You’ll be relieved to know they didn’t need to shave the back of your head to do it. You were very insistent that they didn’t.”
He sat back with a small smile on his face.
“I did?” I asked in confusion.
He nodded slowly, never taking his eyes off of my face.
Embarrassed didn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling at this moment, but I knew that I had to know what the hell happened and how I ended up here so I bit the bullet and asked.
“So, uh….what exactly happened?” I asked hesitantly
He smiled and I am not too proud to say I stopped breathing. It should already be illegal for this man to be as sexy and imposing as he is, but when he smiled? Holy shit! Heaven seemed to shine down and the Hallelujah chorus rang through the room.
Dark spots crowded my vision as I became a little light headed.
Kade kept smiling as he leaned in dangerously close to my ear.
“Breathe,” he whispered.
I swallowed a gulp of air that probably made me look like a fish out of water, but I was not one to ignore sound advice.
He sat back, his gaze steady on my face, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
I had already embarrassed myself beyond measure in front of him earlier, and here I was doing it again. He was a complete and random stranger who just happened to live in the wrong apartment at the wrong time. The last thing he probably needed (or wanted) was some random woman gracing his doorstep in a heap of broken bones and pride. And just when I thought my level of humiliation couldn’t reach a high score, it had. The poor guy had gotten roped into coming with me to the hospital. If I were him, now that I was conscious, I would run home, pack, and run like hell. Clearly he had picked the wrong place to take up residence.
“Actually I think it just got more interesting,” he said.
I looked up quickly and got a stabbing of pain for my troubles.
He must have seen the look of confusion on my face because he answered my unspoken question.
“You said you think I should run like hell because I picked the wrong place to live,” he said with a smirk.
“No I didn’t,” I said quickly.
His brown creased for a moment, probably thinking I was bat shit crazy when I had clearly expressed my thoughts outward.
“It’s okay, Princess. I know firsthand how confusing it is to wake up in a hospital, especially when you don’t know what in the hell just happened. Believe me; it can really screw with a person’s ability to think straight. The added head injury doesn’t help matters.”
I’m not sure what surprised me more. The fact he seemed to understand my current mental state (most people try for years and never succeed) or the fact he was being so kind to me after all I had put him through this morning. If I were him, I would be running for the hills like those damn hounds of hell were on my heels again.
After my moment of confusion passed, I noticed the scratches on the side of his neck. I could swear that they hadn’t been there before I passed out.
“What happened to your neck?” I asked.
A thousand scenarios quickly filtered through my over taxed brain, none of which I wouldn’t be embarrassed by. I immediately started to panic.
“Dear God, please tell me I didn’t do that,” I said a few octaves higher than normal.
He flinched at my question. I took that as a sign that whatever happened couldn’t possibly bode well for me. Either that or he was flinching at the unusually high pitched octave that I managed to squeal. His hearing must have been damn good because I’m pretty certain only dogs should have been able to hear the noise I managed to emit at that moment.
“Oh God, what did I do?” I asked horrified.
He laughed. “Nothing.”
“Oh God, oh God, oh God. I’m so sorry,” I said, nearly hyperventilating.
“Why are you apologizing?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I managed to crash land on your front door. Or it could be that I completely ruined your Saturday morning. Or it could be because it looks like I tried to claw your face off. I don’t know. Take your pick.”
He sat forward and the sincerity in his eyes stopped me cold.
“Relax Princess. You don’t have anything to apologize for. None of this, and I mean none of it, is your fault. You had some very bad misfortune today. Don’t beat yourself up for being a victim. And as for this,” he said, pointing to the scratches, “you didn’t do.”
I took a calming breath and flinched at the throbbing in my head.
“Okay…,” I replied as I rubbed my temple, “but if I didn’t do it, then what happened?”
I almost laughed at the look embarrassment that suddenly flashed across his face.
He sighed in defeat before responding.
“The scratches,” he said quietly, “are from Mrs. Kingsman.”
I shook my head and cursed at the amount of pain the jerky movement caused.
“Sorry. I didn’t hear you correctly. I thought you said Mrs. K did that.”
“Mrs. K? Did that? To…you? How in the hell…? Why?”
“Let’s just chalk it up to a very big misunderstanding,” he said with a casual shrug.
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this,” I said with a laugh as I settled back with a grin, ignoring the painful throb in my head.
His eyes narrowed.
“I’m glad you find this amusing,” he said.
His tone hinted at irritation, but the small smile he was trying to hide said differently.
“Mrs. K,” he said sarcastically, “must have heard the commotion from all the sirens because right after you passed out she came barreling down the stairs to find out what the hell was going on.”
Now that wasn’t a pleasant thought. Mrs. K, as I called her, wasn’t a small woman by any stretch of the imagination, but she was under the misinformation that she in fact was and wore clothes that were designed for people a quarter of her size. She was in her early fifties, had been married four times, and was still under the impression she had it going on. I never felt the need to correct her. One, because personally I liked Mrs. K and I hope I have half as much spunk as she does when I get to be her age (hell, at this age even). And two, I had seen the fatal error of people attempting to change Mrs. K. For a large woman, she’s rather quick.
“And,” I prompted.
He sighed. “Let’s just say that when she caught sight of everything, she made a very bad assumption and was a little too quick to act without thinking first.”
“What kind of assumption did she make?”
“The very wrong kind.” He laughed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “You know, I’ve heard of people looking murderous, but I’ve never really seen what people meant until today. For a very brief moment, I was almost certain I was about to take my last breath.”
Murderous? Mrs. K? Okay, she could be scary as hell when provoked, that I could attest to, but that rarely happened. She always managed to find the positive in any situation or person. The woman had a heart of gold. A regular ol’ Mother Teresa of the plentiful bounty.
“You still haven’t explained the scratches,” I pointed out.
He sighed again. “In all fairness, from her vantage point on the landing above, the scene was extremely deceptive. I’ll give her that much.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in confusion.
“You were out cold on the floor, the paramedic had just come back in with the gurney, and I was standing there with blood on my hands. Without knowing what was happening, it all looked very suspicious so I understand where she was coming from. The police, unfortunately, didn’t see it that way.”
“For the love of God man! Tell me what happened,” I said in exasperation.
My pain was momentarily forgotten. He was telling me a story without actually telling me the details so I knew that 1) whatever it was that happened was a good story and 2) he was embarrassed about whatever it was.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “She came barreling down the stairs, screaming at the top of her lungs for help. Lucky for me the two officers had been right outside and came in as soon as they heard her screams. Unfortunately their presence did nothing to calm her down. She didn’t even notice they were there. She just tossed them aside like they were toothpicks as she barreled forward, and went straight for my throat. Literally.”
My mouth dropped open in disbelief. “She attacked you?!”
He nodded. “It’s been a very long time since anyone has gotten the drop on me, but she succeeded. It took both the officers and the EMTs to pull her off me.”
“But…but…but why,” I finally managed to stammer out.
“She thought I attacked you,” he said with a casual shrug as if it was no big deal. “She was trying to fend me off, or so she says. Personally, since I was on the receiving end of the choke hold, I think she was out for blood since she thought I hurt you. She told the officers that you were like a daughter to her and she knew the instant I moved in that I was nothing but trouble and clearly I had proven her right by killing you in the lobby.”
He laughed and nodded.
“Head wounds are a bitch and they bleed a lot,” he said matter of fact. “After you went down, I tried to figure out what the hell happened and found the gash on the back of your head had reopened. I tried to press the wound back together to staunch the blood flow while the medics were getting the gurney so my hands were covered in blood by time she appeared. Between you being out cold on the floor, and me literally being caught with blood on my hands, she put two and two together and came up with five.”
I couldn’t believe it. Mrs. K had taken this man on because she thought he had hurt me. Unreal!
“Where is she now?” I asked.
“At the police station I suspect,” he replied.
“Why?” I asked confused.
“Because she was arrested,” he replied slowly, with a well implied “duh”.
“Because she attacked you?”
He shook his head. “No actually. I told them I wasn’t pressing charges. It was a simple misunderstanding and she had me dead to rights. If I had been attacking you, she would have singlehandedly fended me off.”
“Then I don’t understand. Why was she arrested?”
“For assaulting an officer.”
“She was arrested for assaulting an officer,” I parroted in disbelief.
“She punched one of them square in the face when he tried to pull her off me.”
“Oh my god! She didn’t?!”
He laughed again. “She did, but that was nothing compared to what she did to his partner.”
My eyes widened in shock. “Oh God, what did she do?”
“Let’s just say I hope he wasn’t planning to expand his family. I’m pretty certain there is no chance of that happening now.”
I cringed at the thought. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
He laughed as he shook his head slowly.
I didn’t get a chance to respond because the room door suddenly opened and a nurse came in.
Normally I don’t pay that much attention to other women, but the look on her face when she saw Kade annoyed me. I’m not sure why since I had just met the man and barely remembered his name. Probably because I looked like I had just risen from the dead and she looked like she had just jumped off the pages of a Victoria Secrets catalog with scrubs on instead of underwear.
She was about my height with honey blond hair that flowed around her like a halo. Her blue eyes sparkled under the light and her makeup was flawless, though I couldn’t even begin to guess why she wore it since she was the true definition of classic beauty. She was one of those annoying women who could jump out of bed and the world would never know. She had curves in all the right places and from the look on Kade’s face, he was enjoying said curves.
I could only guess how I had to have looked in comparison. My dark hair was likely in knots considering the numerous head injuries I had just sustained. (I prayed that he wasn’t lying about shaving the back of my head. Somehow I didn’t think I could pull of the bald look.) My blue eyes were probably red and rimmed with caked on mascara that was supposed to be waterproof but had proven otherwise.
Glancing down quickly I noticed that I was wearing a frumpy hospital gown that washed me out completely and made me appear twice as large as I really was. I was by no means super model thin, but I always prided myself on my natural hour glass figure. The compliments I got from men certainly didn’t hurt the ol’ ego. By my own right, I knew I was pretty though most of that was with the help of Cover Girl.
My normally healthy dose of self-esteem was taking a beating and Nurse Barbie wasn’t helping.
“Hi,” she said a husky voice, walking towards Kade as he stood up beside the bed.
“And how are you feeling,” she said, finally breaking her gaze from him and noticing me for the first time. She walked over and started taking note of my vital signs then reached behind me to fluff my pillow.
She didn’t fool me for a second. She had no idea how the two of us knew each other and I was willing to bet a whole lot of Starbucks she was trying to impress him by showing that she was an overly caring nurse.
“Fine,” I answered bitterly.
Kade must have detected something in my tone. He turned towards me and raised a brow in question.
I looked away, cheeks flaming red, too embarrassed to meet his gaze.
I had no clue who the hell he was, what he did for a living, or if he was even available and here I was feeling jealous of the little bit of attention he gave her. The knocks on the head must have done more damage then I realized.
“Everything looks good,” she said, updating the small tablet she carried with her. “You’re due for another pain killer. I’ll go grab that and some water and be right back.”
She turned back to Kade.
“Your girlfriend is in good hands. She’ll be out of here in no time,” she said, laying a reassuring hand on his arm.
He turned back to her and gave her a smile. She blushed in return.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I bit out quickly.
“Oh? Husband?” she asked with a little less luster in her smile.
I gave her a forced and overly exaggerated smile so full of sugar I thought I was going to be sick.
“Nope. Just a nice stranger going out of his way to help his klutzy new neighbor. Poor guy was just trying to enjoy his Saturday before he had the misfortune of me falling down the stairs outside his door.”
He turned back to me to give me a brief look of annoyance before addressing the nurse.
“Thank you for taking such good care of her,” he said with a small smile. “As you can guess, she’s had a rough morning. I appreciate you helping to make her as comfortable as possible.”
Nurse Barbie nodded like a bobble head with her mouth gaping open.
“That’s what I’m here for. I’m Stacey, by the way,” she said, recovering quickly as she stuck out her hand.
“Kade,” he responded, shaking her outstretched hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she said in that annoyingly husky voice.
It took every ounce of strength I had to not roll my eyes. Not because I didn’t want to appear rude, but because I certain the movement would cause them to stick in the back of my skull.
“Nice to meet you too Stacey,” he replied with a sexy smile.
Her mouth fell open again. Unfortunately I couldn’t blame the girl. I had been on the receiving end of that same smile and stopped breathing. She at least had the common sense to continue drawing in air.
After a few seconds passed, she snapped her mouth shut and let go of his hand. I felt a little smug, enjoying the look of total bewilderment on her face. Her face was turning red and she seemed to be at a loss for something to say.
Finally finding her tongue, she took a few steps back towards to the door.
“I’ll go get your pain medications, Miss Walker. I’ll be back in a few.”
She pivoted on her toes and headed out the door.
Unfortunately for her, the door had not yet closed when we heard her burst out “Holy mother of God. That man it HOT!”
He laughed and turned back to me.
My face must have conveyed what I was feeling because he suddenly asked how I felt and resumed his position on the edge of the bed.
I swallowed, willing myself to refrain from saying anything stupid.
“I’m fine. Really. You don’t need to stay. I think I’ve already ruined enough of your Saturday as it is,” I answered.
He gave me a questioning look. “Did I do something to make you mad?”
That caught me off guard.
I shook my head and groaned.
Head injury, Addison. For the love of god, remember it’s a head injury.
“No,” I replied a moment later. “Why would you think that?”
He gave me the raised brow look again that basically said “I know you’re full of shit”, but apparently he was too polite to actually say it that way.
“You seemed annoyed,” he said instead.
I cleared my throat and tried to wipe the look off of my face.
“No, I’m fine. Just sore.”
He nodded in understanding, but said nothing.
After a moment of silence, he stood up. Guess he felt he had fulfilled his obligation in helping his crazy neighbor.
Walking towards the front door, he grabbed a chair I hadn’t noticed and sat it next to the bed. He sat down, propping his feet up besides mine on the bed, and laced his fingers over his taut stomach.
There was no way to hide the look of surprise on my face. I wasn’t that good of an actress.
“You’re staying?” I asked quietly.
He nodded slowly, watching me intently.
“Why?” I asked in confusion.
He tilted his head slightly, watching me closely before finally answering.
“One of the nurses called your parents earlier. They told her to have you call them when you were discharged.”
I looked down at my hands in order to avoid his gaze. That was my parents for you. I loved them to death and I knew they loved me in their own way, but nothing would derail Timothy and Vivian Walker from schedule.
“That still doesn’t answer the question of why you’re still sticking around,” I said around unshed tears.
I blinked furiously to keep them from falling. After twenty seven years of this behavior, you would think that my parent’s selfishness wouldn’t affect me as much.
He looked around.
“There’s no one else here.”
I looked at him like he had grown a second head.
“And,” I prompted.
He shrugged. “Doesn’t feel right to leave you alone.”
I couldn’t describe why, but that comment pissed me off royally.
“I don’t need you sticking around out of some misplaced feeling of obligation or responsibility. It wasn’t your fault I was hit over the head. I’m grateful…very grateful…for the fact you stuck around as long as you did. I’m a complete stranger to you and you went above and beyond the call the duty, but you don’t need to stay to take care of me. I don’t need your pity.”
Something flickered across his face, but it disappeared as soon as it appeared. He said nothing for a moment before sitting forward; his feet oddly quiet when they hit the floor. He sat close, bracing his arms on his knees.
“I realize you don’t know me Addison, but let me clue you in on something. I don’t ever feel unnecessarily obligated or responsible for others. It’s not in my nature.”
The sudden change in his demeanor took me by surprise and I instinctually leaned back as if I had been slapped.
He made no further move towards me and remained quiet. Instead he kept his steady gaze on my face, which unnerved me tremendously.
“Then why?” I asked quietly.
He laughed and the tension disappeared as he sat back and propped his feet back on the bed, crossing one ankle over the other.
He shrugged. “Honestly? I have no idea why. I just want to. Is that okay with you?”
Color me surprised.
I nodded slowly.
“I would prefer not to be alone,” I answered honestly.
“Do you want me to call someone for you? A friend? A more reliable family member?” He paused. “A boyfriend?”
I cringed inwardly. At least I hoped I did. I’d forgotten all about Sean.
“My friend Sam is also listed as my emergency contact so I’m sure they’ve already called her.”
“And your boyfriend?”
I gave him a suspicious look. “What makes you think I have a boyfriend?”
He gave me a confident smile. “Let’s just call it intuition.”
I gave him a suspicious glare to which he laughed in response. Clearly he wasn’t going to elaborate.
“Sam will let Sean know where I am, though I doubt he’ll be surprised. I seem to be ending up in the emergency room every other week lately.”
His brow creased in confusion. “Every other week?”
I nodded carefully. “I have been brought to the emergency room four times during the last three months. I realize that I may be more accident prone then others, but even for me, that’s a record.”
“Why all the accidents?”
I shrugged slightly. “Wish I knew. Bad things just keep happening. I have no idea how or why. I must have broken about a dozen mirrors to warrant the amount of bad luck that’s been plaguing me lately.”
Nurse Barbie decided at that moment to reappear and handed me two cups: one small paper cup with a white pill and a larger Styrofoam cup filled with water.
I popped the pill and had to show restraint so I didn’t chew it like candy. The idea of being able to move my head without it constantly pounding had me popping the pill like it was a tic-tac. The fact that Kade was watching me forced me to show some measure of self-restraint so instead I tipped back the water to swallow the pill down like a normal person would do. It wasn’t until the cool liquid hit my throat that I realized just how thirsty I had been and I greedily drank the rest down in just a few gulps.
Nurse Barbie gave me a friendly smile and walked back out, but not before she managed to “accidentally” brush her hand against Kade’s arm.
“You were saying,” he prompted after the door closed.
I shrugged and sagged back against the pillow, looking over to him again.
“Stupid things really. Well…more stupid than usual. I’m prone to locking my keys in the car or forgetting my wallet. I may or may not have fallen down the stairs in the front lobby a couple of times. But lately, I have been the poster child for the word ‘stupid’.”
He smirked. “Such as what?”
I sighed. “Well, I managed to almost get ran over.”
His brow furrowed in confusion.
“I was out with Sam having dinner one night. I had parked right cross the street so after dinner I was making my way back to my car when some asshole came speeding through the intersection and directly into my path. It all happened so fast I never even got a chance to react. If Sam didn’t have reflexes like a damn cat...”
His expression turned blank.
I couldn’t tell what he was thinking and it drove me crazy. Normally I could care less what a stranger thinks, but for some reason I was extremely curious about him and not in an innocent-friendly-neighbor sort of way. I was going to go to hell for the things I kept thinking about, which should speak volumes on the man’s sex appeal considering my current state. Of course, the fact that I had a boyfriend whom I completely forgot about during this whole ordeal only heaped on the guilt.
“What else?” he asked when I didn’t continue.
I sighed. “At work, I got shoved from behind and took a nasty fall, head first, down thirty or so concrete steps just outside of the courthouse. That got a lot of public viewing. Fortunate for me I’m an expert in the field of falling down so I was able tuck and roll, which is the only reason my head didn’t crack open like an egg. Instead I fractured my wrist in two places and was covered in dark purples bruises for weeks. It was fabulous,” I said sarcastically.
“You work at the courthouse?”
I tried to shrug again. Not a good decision. “Temporarily. I’m filling in for a woman on maternity leave.”
He didn’t say anything, but I could see the question in his dark gaze.
“I’m a temp,” I replied. “I bounce around a lot, filling in while people are out or companies are between permanent placements.”
He smirked again. “Thanks for the clarification, but I know what a temp is, Princess.”
I ignored his little smart ass jab and continued on. “There was the time about four weeks ago when I accidentally ingested antifreeze and almost died.”
He sat forward again, his whole body tense and alert.
“How do you accidentally ingest antifreeze?” he asked in a tone completely devoid of humor.
I shrugged again and winced.
Damn! I have got to stop doing that!
“I have no idea. I got sick almost instantly. Luckily Sam was with me. She called 911 and they rushed me to the hospital. I had my stomach pumped and found out afterwards that I had somehow ingested it, probably in a drink considering how quickly I got sick. I don’t know how or when, but somehow it was there.”
“Those are some serious accidents,” he said after a moment. “You’re lucky you weren’t killed during any go them.”
“Don’t I know it,” I said with a laugh.
I looked down at my hand, nervously fidgeting. Man I needed a manicure.
“Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt you?” he asked quietly.
My head whipped up at that question.
Worst. Idea. Ever.
“Of course not,” I said matter of fact, as I clutched my head. I prayed my brain didn’t accidentally roll around in my head any more then was usual. “Why in the hell would someone want to hurt me?”
He shrugged. “You tell me.”
He sat back in the chair, cool as a cucumber, whatever the hell that means, but I didn’t miss the danger radiating off him. No matter how casual he appeared, something dark always seemed to be lurking just underneath. Though anyone that walked in would just assume we were casually talking, I could see from my slight vantage point that his muscles were bunched up, like he was ready to spring forward at any moment.
There was something about my gorgeous and sexy neighbor that was dangerous and lethal, and heaven help me, I wanted to lick him like a lollipop.
Unfortunately on top of being dangerous as hell, he was also keenly observant. The slight raise in his brow told me he was assessing me assess him. The idea was completely unnerving.
“Why do you even care?” I asked suddenly, hoping to break the sudden tension.
He smiled. (Hallelujah!) “A woman takes a header down the stairs outside my front door after her apartment has been vandalized and she’s had her head cracked open. Then I find out she’s almost died three times in three months. Color me curious.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” I said weakly. “And I came down the stairs on my ass,” I mumbled under my breath.
He smirked and continued to watch me.
Reality was finally coming back and I knew what he said was true. The nature of my accidents were escalating and I didn’t know why or how. Up until today, I was certain that I was responsible for what was happening. After all, being a klutz was in my DNA, but Kade was right. Someone had bashed the back of my head in when I got home. Clearly my accident prone self wasn’t that talented.
“Addison? Thank God! Are you alright?” Sam practically screamed as she came bursting through the door. Sean followed quietly behind her.
She ran over and gave me a tight hug, taking careful measure to avoid jolting my head thankfully. Her normal calm composure was a little off if the smudges of wet mascara around her eyes were any indicator. She stepped back, giving Sean room to move closer. Kade had vacated his seat the moment the door slammed against the wall and was now standing at the foot of the bed, quietly assessing my visitors.
“What happened this time Addison?” Sean asked with a sigh.
“I’m fine Sean, but it’s so sweet of you to be concerned,” I replied with an overly exaggerated Colgate smile.
Now was really not the time for him to decide he wanted to be a pretentious jerk, which I will admit he was prone to being from time to time. I was lying in a hospital bed, wearing the world’s most unfaltering hospital gown possible after getting my head stitched closed after I was assaulted in my own home. I think if anyone deserved a couple of nice words right now, it was this girl right here.
He sighed in frustration and rubbed his eyes.
“Of course I’m concerned and I’m glad that you’re okay. I’ve been reassured by your doctors that everything is fine. What I don’t understand is how you managed to injure yourself this time,” he replied with a disapproving frown.
Sam rolled her eyes beside him.
I could tell she was on the verge of telling him where he could stuff it and was showing great restraint in doing so. Sean had never been her favorite person and she reminded me of that regularly, along with the fact that I could do better. But really, could I?
Sure, Sean was usually pretentious, snobbish and a complete know-it-all, (okay, so he was also vain, self-righteous and quite frankly a pain in the ass, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers), but he also had his enduring qualities. His biggest one being that he was beautiful. I know that’s not a thing people are supposed to say about men, but he was. He was tall, blond hair, blue eyes, with a chiseled physique that clearly reflected his five days a week work out regime and strict diet. He was also attentive and charming when he wanted to be. When we were together, I always had his complete attention because he was a true gentleman. He ignored the numerous women who flirted shamelessly with him and only had eyes for me. Honestly, there were times that he was too focused on me, but when was that a bad quality in a guy?
And sure, our relationship wasn’t perfect (far, far, far from it actually), but then again, whose relationship was outside of Brangelina?
Sean was the son of my parent’s closest friends, Jacob and Michelle Willingham. They had been hoping for years that Sean and I would get together and eventually marry. After all, we were breed from the same wealth and class, and socially it made sense. I avoided his pursuits for years just to be spiteful. Though he was charming and handsome, I had continuously turned him down because I refused to be backed into an arranged marriage of sorts. Eventually my parents stopped asking about him, and Sean gave up trying. A year ago we accidentally bumped into each other on the streets and had coffee together. Without the interference of the outside world, I found Sean to be charming. We had been dating ever since.
Stealing a quick look over to Kade, who still stood silently at the end of my bed with his arms crossed over his solid chest, I couldn’t help put do a quick comparison of the two.
Where Sean was chiseled and trim, Kade was defined and broad. Broad shoulders, broad back, muscular arms that weren’t overly thick, but impressive all the same. Sean screamed rich kid while Kade screamed danger. Sean was charming and the exact type of guy parents prayed their daughters would eventually marry. Kade was sexy and intoxicating, and the exact opposite of what parents want for their daughters. He was very definition of bad boy and he wore that fact proudly.
Sam must have been really worried about me because there was a whole minute delay before she spied Kade lurking in the corner.
“Hi,” she said, shoving past Sean and extending her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. I’m Samantha. Samantha Reynolds,” she said, flashing her infamous supermodel smile.
Here’s the thing about Sam. I love her to death. She’s closer to me than anyone else on the planet and if I didn’t love her as much as I do, I would hate her.
Sam’s gorgeous with long flowing golden locks that cascade down her shoulders, piercing baby blue eyes, and a curvy figure that had caused more than one man to swallow his own tongue. She had a natural golden tan, long legs that were only highlighted by the expensive designer heels she lived in. Her voice purred when she spoke, and if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the girl had a heart of gold. She gave to the needy, volunteered in soup kitchens and mentored teenagers in her spare time. That is, when she wasn’t flying around the city saving the world from giant robots hell bent on world domination. Okay, so that last part may be a bit of a stretch, but the woman really was a living superhero. At least, to everyone she knew.
Sam and I had met years ago in high school and were polar opposites. I was odd-rich-girl-out and she was the head cheerleader dating the star quarterback. She saved my butt one night when one of the guys on the jock patrol, or football team as most everyone else referred to them as, decided to get a little too handsy on our first date. Refusing to take no for an answer, he didn’t exactly agree with my other response: a knee to the nuts. He left me stranded in a dark parking lot after pushing me out of the car. I had no idea where I was, had no way to reach anyone and didn’t have any money or ID since he had taken off with my purse. Sam had been passing by and stopped to help me. She had been outraged at what had happened. The next day at school, she walked right up to him, kneed him in the nuts a second time then followed it up with a cross punch to the jaw. He dropped like a stone and she and I have been the best of friends ever since.
Kade was suffering a moment of discomfort, which was expected since most men did when Sam had them in her sights. I tend to believe the cat-ate-the-canary look would put anyone off of their game, even the most dangerous, fiercest men alive. Most men are used to being the one doing the pursuing. When the roles reverse, most guys aren’t sure how to react at first. Kade seemed to be no different.
“Kade,” he said, taking her hand.
Huh. Looks like Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy wasn’t quite yet ready to reveal anything more about himself to her either.
Sam smiled, and started doing the annoying hair twirl that most dumb females did when they were hoping to get some attention. I’m not sure why women thought the baby doll/pouty look was attractive, but they did and God help any man who tried to resist it. Maybe it was the look of complete vulnerability or maybe it was the less then subtle ‘I’m very fuckable’ look. Either way, it worked. I, of course, am completely against this tactic simply due to the fact I could never pull it off. I usually ended up looking like a psych ward inmate off her meds.
Sam eventually took her hand back, but not until long after she had passed that awkward moment of no return. You know the one. The long awkward few seconds after what is considered socially acceptable when the other person starts to wonder when the hell they are going to get their hand back, but refrain from pulling back first because they don’t want to make the other person look a complete idiot.
“Kade? No last name?” she asked with a smile as she inched closer. “A man of mystery. Interesting.”
She turned back to me and gave me a conspiratorial wink.
Sam had a bag of tricks so big that most of California would fit inside. If there was one thing she knew and knew well, it was men. She could read them like a book and play them like a fiddle. Despite all of that, Sam had a code of ethics she never broke. She didn’t pouch from her friends. All bets were off if she was given their blessing, but she stayed true to her friends and she didn’t make a play toward any man that was somehow linked to her friends. She flirted shamelessly, mostly to see if said guy could pass muster, but she never pouched. Like I said, she was loyal to a fault. After seeing Kade, I would have broken that code faster than you could blink.
She didn’t even try to mask the look of curiosity on her face before turning back to him.
“So Kade, how do you know Addison?” she asked like the normal person I knew she really was. Baby doll/pouty lips were nowhere to be seen thank God. I don’t think I could have stomached watching her flirt with him so outrageously in my current state.
“I’m curious of that myself,” Sean said, speaking up suddenly.
All eyes turned to Sean. There was venom in his voice he didn’t even bother to try hiding.
I’m not sure if it was the tone that did it, or if it was the sudden anger Sean seemed to be radiating, but suddenly Kade smiled. And this smile was nothing like before. This one was all predatory and I shivered in response.
He casually shrugged before saying, “We live together.”