The next morning, I thought I’d dreamt of everything that went on yesterday. The bakery stuff, Elizette Moore, Gunner’s and my talk at the intimate bistro... but I knew it wasn’t a dream.
Remembering the worry I felt for Gunner, the way he let me hug him tightly, then embraced me when I needed to shed some tears. He was caring and gentle yesterday, more than he ever had been, and I was afraid to come to the gym for our morning session and find out he returned to be as cold and distant as ever.
The way back from the bistro had gone in comfortable silence, like no words were needed. When we’d returned to the mansion, he’d even told me good-night and cupped my cheek fondly. It made things curl in my stomach and my heart to flutter.
Half of the night I couldn’t sleep just because I kept on thinking about Gunner and what he’d told me about Willow and... well, Echo. But mostly, my thoughts were on him, and I had a feeling my crush on him wouldn’t go away as easily as I would’ve liked.
Operation Chase was about to continue today, if Chase wouldn’t act as weirdly as yesterday. Hopefully he would be happy, cheery Chase again.
Getting out of bed, I put on my sweatpants and shirt and went to the gym. Gunner, of course, was already there, wearing his own training clothes. His jet-black hair was as tousled as ever, his greenish-blue eyes steely and his muscular, tall form just as strong, as sex-godly.
God, he was gorgeous. Scratch that, he was past gorgeous. How could a man be so good-looking? “Good morning,” I forced the thoughts away and focused on keeping my stupid crush under control.
I braced myself for a flat look and a dry “good morning”, and was kind of wistful we were back to being distant, but he surprised me. He came over to me and stood right before me, looking at me with an unreadable look. “How are you feeling?” was what he said, and for my astonishment he cupped my cheek with his warm palm.
Electricity shot from the touch straight to my heart, that started to hammer in my chest. Flush heated my face and my knees were a little weak. The reaction was familiar, but the strength of it was different. It felt deeper, stronger, and it scared me. Could my crush go another level into actually falling totally for him? Oh God, I hoped not.
But my feelings had other thoughts. Hope blossomed inside my chest that maybe, just maybe, things would be different between us now that he actually expressed his concern for me, but I hurried to shut that hope down. Even if it was happening – and I doubted it – I didn’t want to be disappointed later if it didn’t. So I had to brace myself for the worst-case-scenario. “I’m fine,” I said slowly, suspiciously, tilting my head back so I could look into his eyes.
He then did something I didn’t think he was capable of: he smiled. Truly smiled, I mean. Not smirking or grinning. He was smiling a soft, small smile that made things inside of me go all mushy and stuff. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said, and then stepped back and dropped his hand from my face. His smile disappeared and he was all-business again.
Our training session went as alway and when it ended, I expected him to just go back and leave me there alone to get ready, but instead he came over and put a hand on my shoulder. I jerked at the sudden motion and stared at him, stunned, with wide eyes. “You did a good job today, Rae,” he said, completely serious.
“Er, thanks,” I mumbled, looking away so he wouldn’t see me flush.
He nodded at me and when I glanced at him, I saw something flash in his eyes. Fondness. He felt fond of me, like one would feel for his little sister, or his pet. Something in me sank. Sure, I didn’t expect him to suddenly like me as a woman or something, but at least, I would’ve preferred the caring would be for the teenage-going-woman I was, not like I was his sister.
I didn’t know if he saw my painful disappointment, but he stepped away. “I’ll see you later,” he said, grinned a little, and then left me there, staring after him with tightness in my stomach and aching chest.
“You’re quiet today,” Jez noted, looking at me with those sky-blue eyes of hers. I couldn’t help a sigh, because she was right. I was just too lost in my thoughts today.
“Yeah,” I muttered, not wanting to make Miss Summers, our hot, young history teacher, notice that we were talking.
“A lot on your mind?” Jez asked knowingly.
“Something like that,” I mumbled back. “Besides, you’re quiet today, too.”
She looked away. “I’m worried about Danger,” she confessed, flushing slightly. “I mean, he was really hurt from the grenade and everything. I just...”
“I’m worried about him too,” I said, and it was the truth; Danger was still at the clinic, and while he was conscious and everything, he was still hurt badly. It made me smile a little, thinking about big, bad Danger. “But he’s built like a tank. I’m sure he’ll be alright in a matter of days.”
Jez smiled a bit too. “You’re right,” she said, chuckling quietly. “He’s not easy to take down.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “I mean, what’s a grenade for him? He can take dozens of grenades and still be up and going.”
“I can really imagine it happening,” Jez giggled, and I was happy I succeeded cheering her up.
“I think I’m going to call him the Tank from now on,” I smirked quietly. “Serves him right for calling me ‘redling’ all the time.”
“Oh, come on,” Jez grinned. “You know you love it when he calls you that.”
I regarded her lowly. “I do not,” I denied. “It’s a ridiculous nickname.”
“Whatever makes you feel better,” Jez smirked at me and I chuckled slightly. Who would’ve thought I would become sort-of friends with Jezebel Smith. It was quiet unbelievable.
When lunch break arrived, Jez and I took our regular seats. I waited to see if Chase would come and sit with us, and for my relief he did. He looked as amazing as ever today, with his golden hair and deep blue eyes. His tall and muscular body was dressed in casual jeans and shirt but on him it looked really good. He was the school’s hottest guy for a reason, after all. “What’s up?” He asked Jez and me with a charming grin.
Before Jez could answer, I decided to put on the table the situation. “I don’t know,” I said lightly. “I think I should be asking you that.”
Chase had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “I’m, uh, sorry about what happened yesterday,” he smiled sheepishly. “It’s inexcusable.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” I said, surprised he took it this hard. “I’m just curious.”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry, it was nothing,” he smiled at me. “Hey, have you heard about that grande that blew up yesterday? The whole city’s talking about it.”
Jez and I exchanged brief glances and I let her respond politically and unsuspiciously to him. “Yeah, I’ve heard,” she said, “but it’s probably someone’s idea of a joke or something.”
“Yeah,” Chase nodded, like it was the most logical of reasons. “Probably some stupid kid’s idea.”
“Probably,” I mumbled in agreement.
“Anyway, are you doing something today after school?” He looked at me with a happy smile.
Startled, I looked at him with wide eyes. Was it Operation Chase in action? “Um, I don’t know,” I looked hesitantly at Jez. I was still under some sort of house-arrest after all. The Prestons didn’t like me being out in the city without a Preston escort.
Unfortunately, Jez shook her head slightly. I sighed; she probably didn’t want me to miss another knives-throwing session. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think so,” I smiled apologetically at Chase.
His shoulder slumped in obvious disappointment. “Oh,” he said, “so maybe some other time.”
“Definitely,” I said, grinning encouragingly at him. Now, more than ever, I needed to move on from Gunner. After all, he saw me as no more than a sister, which was worse than being ignored and told time after time that nothing would happen between us.
“Great,” Chase grinned flirtatiously back. Good. He was still interested. Operation Chase was still on after all.
By the end of the school, Chase asked me if he could talk to me alone. Jez went ahead and said she would tell whoever came to pick me up today that I was held back for a few.
Chase and I sat on a bench at the school’s yard and I asked, “What do you want to talk about?”
He grinned secretively and it was kinda sexy. “I just want to talk to you,” he said, shrugging. “Alone.” He added, as though I didn’t get it.
“Oh,” I was a bit startled. “Why? Is there something wrong?”
He actually chuckled. “Yeah, you can say that,” he looked at me then, any trace of a smile gone from his face. “I wanted to talk about... us.”
My eyebrows shot to my hairline. “Us?” I asked, incredulous. Was there any us with Chase and me? Oh God, Operation Chase was moving way too fast. I was not ready for an us. I just wanted to flirt, to build an interest or something like that – I didn’t want an us yet. Besides, how could there be any us when I was so furiously crushing on freaking Gunner?
He didn’t smile, didn’t even smirk. He was serious, determined even. “Yes, Rae,” he said with serious voice. “That’s what I want to talk about.”
“I...” What should I say? Should I tell him I wasn’t, well, into him yet? That I was just trying to figure stuff out? God, why did he have to throw this bomb? Breathe, Rae Marie, just fucking breathe.
Okay. I have to be honest with him. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Chase,” I said, wincing slightly.
Something odd flashed in his eyes and for a second I thought he would argue – but then he thought better of it. “I see,” he said, smiling briefly.
“I – I’m sorry?” I didn’t even know if I should apologize for that.
“Nah, it’s fine,” he said lightly and stood up. “Let’s just forget about it, ’kay?” He winked.
Relieved, I smiled a little. “Sure.”
He laughed. “I’ll walk you to the gate,” he said.
We were talking about light things, fortunately overcoming the awkwardness from what had just happened. I even chuckled slightly at one joke he told me and he laughed at something sassy I retorted.
But my better-attitude soon dimmed to the worst when I saw our sexy, hot history teacher, Miss Summers, talking at the gate with none other than Gunner.
I stopped in my track without even realizing it and my eyes opened wide. Miss Summers was laughing at something Gunner said, and Gunner himself didn’t seem to be so nonchalant or something. In fact, he had the smallest of grins on his face. It made my heart sink.
Miss Summers was everything I wasn’t; hot, blonde, hazel-eyed, tall and curvy in the right places. Also, she was twenty-seven years old, only two years older than Gunner, and was single. Very much so. Just like Gunner, unless he had some mystery lover that I didn’t know about but for some reason I doubted it.
Still. It made the impact of seeing him actually flirting with a hot woman no less hurtful. And he was flirting; he stared at her with seductive greenish-blue eyes, just the way I’d wished them to stare at me all the time, and she was flirting right back with, blinking at him with sexy smile. God, they could be a really beautiful couple. Gunner with his sex-god looks and Miss Summers and her hot curves.
“Hey, is everything okay?” Chase’s voice snapped me out of my haze and I looked at him. He looked down at me, worry in his deep-blue eyes, so different than Gunner’s sea-like ones.
“I...” Was I okay? Oh no. I was certainly not okay. Gulping, I forced on a smile, which felt tight and too-feigned. “I’m fine.” I said, my throat dry.
Chase didn’t buy my smile but I didn’t intend to tell him that there was something wrong. Instead I walked with faked confidence toward Gunner and Miss Summers. Chase came right after me and Gunner and Miss Summers raised their eyes to us when we entered their field of vision.
Miss Summers smiled at Chase and me, while Gunner just looked at us with one of his inscrutable looks. “Hey, kids,” Miss Summers said fondly. “What are you doing here?”
Chase smiled at her politely. “Just having an after-school talk,” he said and for my astonishment and slight dismay – he put his arm around my waist and pulled me to him, like, in a possessive way, which was very uncharacteristic and strange. We’d just talked about not-talking about the relationship (could I call it that?) between us, and now he was doing this, in front of Miss Summers? Of Gunner?
I didn’t know what expression I wore on my face but it didn’t matter, because Gunner looked at Chase, who looked right back at Gunner. It took me a few moments of watching them staring – or rather glaring? I couldn’t be sure – at each other to get it. Chase thought of Gunner as a competition, like he was hotter than him – which was true, but still. After all, even sweet-natured Chase had an ego and testosterone.
But how could he possibly even think that I had any chance with Gunner? Or, more likely, that Gunner would want someone like me when hot Miss Summers was standing right there, with her hotness available for him? It’d just made no sense.
Miss Summers, who seemed a little too oblivious to the situation, laughed knowingly. “Oh, you lovebirds,” she said tactlessly. “We should probably leave you alone.” She winked at me “secretively”, like we now shared something in common. Yeah, right. She’d just made things even worse by assuming that Chase and I were together... but how couldn’t she? Chase had his fucking arm wrapped around my waist like he was afraid Gunner would poach on his territory or something. Not that I considered myself anyone’s territory.
Chase smiled, but it was a cold smile – which he turned to Gunner. “It’s fine, Miss Summers,” he said to Miss Summers but his eyes were still in a glaring-competition with Gunner’s.
Or was it glaring? Chase was glaring pleasantly, which I hadn’t thought was even possible up until one. But Gunner, who was always difficult to read... it looked like he was just staring flatly back at Chase.
At least until he said, “You’re late, Rae,” in a very cold, very low voice, that indicated he was getting angry, while his eyes never left Chase. He probably hated the fact that Chase was challenging him about his maleness or something just as manly.
I didn’t even bother apologizing; I just wriggled myself from Chase’s arm and stepped toward Gunner. I then glanced at Chase, who even after dropping his hand from me was still glaring at Gunner.
“Let’s just go,” I hissed at Gunner, who was still looking back at Chase, two hot guys who seemed to be in a middle of some stupid competition. “Stop that,” I felt the need to scold him and then grabbed his arm. He still didn’t look at me, though, and his eyes narrowed at Chase.
Miss Summers, who finally realized that there was a certain tension here, looked between Gunner and Chase with uncertain eyes but kept quiet. After what seemed like forever, Gunner smirked ever-so-slightly at Chase, who scowled in response, or acknowledgment. Apparently, Gunner had won the silent, testosterone-filled competition.
Finally, Gunner turned his eyes to Miss Summers and said with a small, polite, pleasant smile, “I’ll see you around, Emmeline.”
Miss Summers blushed and looked away, and I turned to Chase. “See you tomorrow,” I told him with a brief smile and then let Gunner’s arm go and we took our leave.
But if I thought it was the end of it, the moment we were in Gunner’s black SUV, I realized I was mistaken.
Because the moment it was only the two of us and Gunner drove out of the parking lot, he said in the frostiest of voices, “Stay away from him.”