Igniting Blaze

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Chapter 9

She woke to a clattering in the kitchen. She sat up, more suddenly than she should have, and felt her head spin as she blinked her eyes open. Looking around her, she remembered where she was and why she was there. She quickly patted down her clothing to check that it was still where she left it.

“Don’t panic,” the voice came from the kitchen, “I didn’t touch you. I know you don’t think much of me but, really? I’m not going to rape you in your sleep.”

“That’s not what I thought,” she said too quickly, “I was just checking.”

“Coffee?” he looked tired, and his shoulders were slumped.

“Thanks,” she pulled herself from the bed and joined him in the kitchen. Fully dressed, all she needed to do was straighten her shirt, “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Like an idiot,” he said in a soft voice.

That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. She was asking if he had a hangover from the alcohol not about their fight. Not sure how to respond to that she just sat and drank the black coffee. He’d remembered that she liked her coffee black.

“You look tired,” she said in a soft voice, “You didn’t sleep, did you?”

“No,” he breathed out, “But that doesn’t matter.”

“Why?” she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer, but she asked the question anyway.

“Sam’s already read me the riot act,” he didn’t look at her, his eyes flicked over to where his phone sat on the benchtop, “I don’t blame you if you never want to see me again, but I’m asking for a second chance. I don’t deserve it, but I’m asking for it.”

“Drew,” she grimaced.

“It’s Andre,” he lifted his head and looked at her, “My name is Andre Matthews. I changed it to Drey Anders because my family didn’t approve of my music or my relationship with Kay, and then to Drew Miller to distance myself further. If they thought I was wasting my life on music, then I doubt they’d want to be associated with me now. My Grandparents raised me after my Mum skipped out just after I was born. I’m named after my French Great Grandfather.”

“You said you weren’t ready,” she whispered without dropping his stare.

“I have two choices,” he frowned as his eyes went back to his coffee cup, “Either I tell you everything, or I lose you. I can’t lose you, so I have no choice but to trust you.”

“But what if I’m not ready,” she watched him. His whole body looked tense like all his muscles were tight causing his shoulders and limbs to be in pain.

“I’m falling for you Jen,” he said with his eyes closed, then he turned his head to look at her, “I’m falling in love with you.”

“No,” she shook her head, “That’s not true. You hardly know me.”

“I know that you have concerns,” he flinched as if she’d slapped him, “But I’m asking for more time because I want a chance to show you that they are unfounded. I want you to trust that I am genuine.”

“You embarrassed me last night,” she whispered avoiding his eyes and his pained request.

“Yes, I did,” he didn’t hesitate, and his voice was still rough with emotion.

“You humiliated me in front of your friends,” she grimaced as she looked at him.

“Yes, I did,” his eyes were focused on her as if he was stealing himself for a physical assault.

“How am I supposed to forgive you for that?” she dropped her eyes, “How can I face your friends after that?”

“Together,” he said in a flat voice, “We will face them, together. And it’s me that owes them an apology, not you. I was at fault not you.”

“Yes, you are right,” she felt her eyes burning, “You did that to me last night, and yet you expect me to trust you today?”

“I want more than that,” he breathed out a long breath.

“More? What more do you want?” she blinked back the tears.

“I want you to be honest with me,” he lifted his eyes to her, “I want you to trust me with your heart.”

“You want? What?”

“I heard what you said last night,” he paused and took a breath before he continued, “You spoke about your insecurities, but you said nothing about how you feel about me.”

She opened her mouth then snapped it shut.

“I’m not going to drink,” he said when she didn’t speak, “I won’t touch alcohol and I won’t touch you until you are ready to admit how you feel about me. You said that I only felt this way about you because of the alcohol and the lust I feel. I’m going to prove to you that you’re wrong about that.”

“You’re not going to touch me?” she laughed a hard snort, “Are you sure about that?”

“Within reason,” he breathed out before he levelled his gaze at her, “But if you touch me then I won’t be held responsible. I won’t initiate, but I will respond. I am a man, and you know how I feel about you. If you kiss me, you’d better be prepared to have me kiss you back.”

“And you think that’s all you need to do?” she looked away.

“No,” he scoffed, “But it’s a start. I’m serious Jen. I will do what it takes to prove that to you.”

She couldn’t help but look at him. She had no answer to that, but she searched his face looking for some slight expression to contradict his words.

“I’m going to tell you everything about me,” he said softly, “But it will have to wait until this afternoon. We have somewhere to go to, and we can’t be late.”

“Do you have another rehearsal?” she asked.

“No, it’s the surprise I told you about,” he frowned and looked at the large bags with ribbons for handles that were sitting next to the door, “Nicole has sent over the clothing. Pick something that looks smart casual.”

“Where are we going?” she approached the bags gingerly. Given that the packaging looked expensive, she was dreading to see what was inside.

“Can you trust me enough to let it be a surprise?” he asked.

“Alright,” she shrugged, “Smart casual? You pick something then.”

She picked the bags up and took them to the bed. He followed with his coffee cup. The first one she opened held trousers. She pulled out a pair of jeans, a pair of tailored black trousers, and two skirts. She didn’t like skirts, but the ones on the bed caught her eye. One was a patterned soft long skirt, and the other was knee length and denim. The long one was something she could wear out to dinner, and the denim one looked slightly retro, and she instantly liked it. The next bag held cotton buttoned blouses in white, cream and a soft blue. She was busy looking at these as she pulled the contents of the next bag. The lace and cotton underwear fell from it and spilt out onto the bed. She looked at it and felt her cheeks blushing.

“Definitely the purple set,” he smiled at her embarrassment, “The tailored trousers and the blue shirt. There should be shoes as well. Give the work boots a holiday.”

She picked up the items he’d identified, scaped everything else back into the bags and vanished into the bathroom to shower and prepare. He had stepped back to lean against the benchtop and was staying out of the way. His eyes watched her, but he didn’t add any of his usual innuendos. She washed and dried with her mind buzzing.

His confession had caught her off-guard. Her heart was fluttering like a butterfly in a cyclone. She didn’t know what to do. He’d really hurt her last night, but now she felt like she couldn’t walk away. She’d seen his vulnerability, he’d laid himself open, and she couldn’t ignore that. And then there was Belinda’s warning. It didn’t make sense before, the fact that they thought she’d hurt him rather than the reverse, but now the pieces were starting to fall into place. But how did Belinda know he felt this way when she didn’t know they were together? Were Drew’s feelings so transparent to everyone other than her? Or was there another reason for their intuition?

She put the clothes on and was impressed. Nicole didn’t even measure, and yet they fit perfectly and suited her too. She looked at herself in the mirror and knew she would be disappointed when she gave these back at the end of her stay. But that wouldn’t be the only source of disappointment.

“You look amazing,” Drew grinned as she walked out of the bathroom. He brought his eyes back to her face, but his customary smirk and sparkling eyes were missing. Then he held up a case to her, “Makeup, hair products and other personal hygiene stuff, clear off a shelf for yourself in the bathroom.”

She peered into the square box at the neatly arranged cosmetics and other stuff, all in bottles, jars, brushes, and miscellaneous packets. She’d never seen such an assortment. And a shelf? She’d seen enough movies to know that implied more than it sounded. Would accepting mean that she was now a permanent fixture in his life?

“We are taking the car so don’t worry about getting helmet-head hair,” he continued oblivious to her dilemma, “We should leave soon so don’t take too long.”

She watched him turn away and felt her heart drop. His face was a mask. He was tired, but it was more than that. She felt like he was forcing himself to be someone else. She retreated to the bathroom and hoped that this was a temporary change in him. It was probably a reaction to her lack of response. She focused on the task at hand and pushed the guilt and insecurities into the dark recesses of her mind, she needed to get ready, and this wasn’t a problem she could solve right now.

She applied a small amount of natural-looking makeup, added some lip gloss, and a spray of floral perfume, and decided that was as good it got. She didn’t like to spend hours in front of the mirror and makeup was something that she only used for special occasions, so her skill was limited to the basics. Since that night with Troy, when her friend had gone all Barbie on her, the transformation brought up too many bad memories. She wasn’t going to pretend she was someone she wasn’t for a guy again.

He had her new coat ready. She silently slid her arms into the woollen knee-length coat and followed him out the door. No words were spoken. He held the elevator door open into the parking garage, and then she followed him as he walked past the motorbike and to the Mercedes AMG GT S, she stood there and stared at it. It was a royal blue. She knew the car because she’d seen it on the cover of one of the car magazines in the reception area. It was expensive, and the colour made it even more ostentatious. She forced her mouth closed and swallowed dryly the words she wasn’t going to say. This car alone spoke volumes about the differences between them.

“You aren’t talking to me?” she was sick of the silence which made the car interior even more intimidating.

“No,” he frowned, “Yes, I’m trying to think of something to say that won’t offend you.”

“Am I that bad?” she whispered, despite everything she didn’t want him to think that of her, “Do you want me to call you Andre?”

His head pivoted to her, almost sending the car flying into the car next to them.

“Sorry,” his arm had come out to hold her while he steered back into his own lane, “Is that what you want?”

“I suppose I can’t keep calling you Pretty Boy forever,” she said as he pulled his protective arm back to the steering wheel, “You have a few names, which one would you prefer?”

“It’s been a long time since anyone called me Andre,” he said in a quiet voice without taking his eyes off the road, “That name has a lot of bad memories associated with it. I left it behind and haven’t looked back. Drew is who I am now.”

“Drew it is then,” she frowned, “Are you going to tell me where we are going?”

“Are you going to give me grief about it?” he didn’t take his eyes off the road, “I don’t want to argue with you today.”

“I’ll do my best,” she frowned, “As long as it isn’t a pregnancy clinic, I should cope.”

“You’re going to see Reed MacArthur,” he glanced at her before he turned back to the traffic, “Of MacArthur Touring Logistics. He runs the company that provides our tour buses and transport.”

“This is a job interview?” she turned to him, her eyes wide, “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m not prepared for this.”

“Sam knows the guy,” Drew continued, “He’s not expecting anything formal, I told him about you, and he wants to meet you.”

“What, exactly, did you tell him?” Jen knew her voice was verging on angry, but she couldn’t help it.

“Nothing big,” Drew exhaled, “I told him that what you did and that you might be interested if he had an opening. Don’t overreact. If you don’t like it, you can walk away. There are no expectations, I want you to see an alternative workspace, so you know that your options aren’t limited to Trenton.”

“I’m not overreacting,” she closed her eyes and forced herself to calm down, “It’s not what I expected, but I will have a look, under those conditions.”

“Thanks,” was all he said.

“I don’t think the worst of you,” she added quickly, shifting the conversion on a tangent, but she felt she needed to say this while she still had the courage, “I don’t understand why you think you feel that way about me, but I don’t want to run away. You hurt me last night but, if you’re prepared to make an effort for me, I’ll wait and see what happens.”

“Can you tell me how you do feel?”

“Scared,” she said simply, “The whole thing scares me.”

“Is there anything I can do to make it less so?” he asked in a soft voice, “You know that I’ll do what it takes.”

“There is one thing,” she whispered.

“Yes?” his voice sounded strained.

“You were right,” she whispered.

“What about?” he turned his head to her.

“I miss your cheeky arrogance,” she scrunched her eyes closed refusing to look at him, “Can we go back to how it was before?”

“Are you giving me permission to tease you, to tell you what I’m thinking, and to not hold back when I tell you how much I want you?”

“Maybe,” she bit her lip, “This, it feels uncomfortable. I miss the way we were before.”

“Deal,” he breathed out, “Then can I tell you how hot you look right now. That blue cotton top matches your eyes making them pop, and I’m dying to see you in that skirt. And let’s not start with the underwear, I wish I’d never seen the underwear. I’m struggling to keep my mind on driving and not think about that purple lace that you’ve got on right now.”

“Does it feel better to get that off your chest?” she laughed softly.

“I thought I was going to explode,” he exhaled, “I’ll keep to my promises, but I can’t pretend to be unaffected by you.”

“Keep your promises? The thing about touching me?” she frowned.

“I’m going to prove to you that I love you by containing my lust for you.”

“You’re what?” she made a face at him, “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“You think this is just a physical attraction,” he tightened his hands on the steering wheel, “I’m going to vow not to have sex with you. If we sleep together, we will be making love not having sex.”

“There’s a difference?” she rolled her eyes, “I thought sex was sex to all men.”

“Yes, there is a difference,” he glanced at her as he drove, “If you let me take you to bed then you better be prepared to commit to me. I don’t ever want to hear you question my love for you and I don’t want you to have any doubts. I want to possess you.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but he spoke first.

“I know what you’re going to say,” he growled, “But that’s how I feel and what I need. I want you to be as sure about this as I am and then to hold nothing back. I want you to be mine.”

She frowned, there was nothing she could say to that. There were a hundred ‘but’ statements that came to mind, and yet, she didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to hear her logic.

“We are here,” Drew said as he drove into the large industrial building’s carpark, “I’m not expecting anything from you right now, just think about what I’m saying.”

She nodded and kept her mouth clamped shut. He parked, got out and opened her door for her. Glancing at the large concrete and glass building with a fleet of identically painted vehicles parked behind the security fence down the side, she couldn’t help but compare it to the basic iron shed with the bodies of repaired, part-finished, and dead trucks parked haphazardly outside. This was the equivalent of upgrading from a Toyota to a Ferrari.

“It’s just a meet-and-greet,” he said as he waited for her to get out, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be there with you. No pressure.”

“No pressure,” she repeated his words with less certainty in her voice as she got out of the car and straightened her clothing.

The showroom was clean with large framed pictures of their fleet, a large flat screen showing their company video, and a whole wall of signed photographs from their past and present clients. There wasn’t an old coffee maker, snack machine or a stack of out-of-date car magazines. She fidgeted.

“Hi, you must be Drew Miller?” said a man in his late thirties with shoulder length black hair tied back at the base of his head, “I’m Reed MacArthur, and this must be Jennifer? Or is it Jen?”

“Jen,” she spluttered as she held out her hand to shake the handsome man’s hand, “Nice to meet you, Mr MacArthur.”

“Please call me Reed,” he held her hand for longer than necessary as he looked at her with his hazel-green eyes, “It is nice to meet you.”

“Thanks for taking the time to meet us,” Drew’s voice was harsh as he stepped in between them, forcing Reed to let go of her hand, “From what Sam said, I was expecting someone older.”

“Sam’s met with my Father,” Reed smiled as he returned his hand to his jeans and took a single step back, “He’s the salesman, I’m just the operations manager. Let me show you around the workshop.”

He opened the door, and they entered a huge light space. The trucks had their own bays, and there was plenty of space to move. The equipment was new, clean and ordered and the staff wore uniforms and worked with silent efficiency. She watched them in awe. There was no swearing, no bitching and no one stopped to stare at her. It was all so professional.

Reed called over another man who he introduced as Russell the Service Manager, and together they pointed out the features of the workshop and asked a lot of questions about how she dealt with certain mechanical problems. It was clear they were testing her, but she didn’t mind. She found herself answering the questions with excitement. They had some equipment that she’d heard about but never had the opportunity to use, and she enjoyed quizzing them on how it improved the job.

“Russell,” Reed said when they got to the end of the workshop, “Could you show Drew to the staff room? After all that talking, I’m sure we could all do with a coffee?”

“Sure, Jen?” Drew took Jen’s arm.

“Actually,” Reed interrupted, “There are a few questions I still have for Jen. We’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

Drew’s entire body tensed. Jen watched as his jaw tightened as he edged closer to her. This wasn’t good.

“Drew,” she forced a smiled at him, “It’s alright, I’ll be there in a minute.”

He looked at her then back at Reed before he turned and walked off in the direction that Russell was heading. Jen breathed out a long breath. She knew that he was tired and today hadn’t started well for him, but she didn’t expect him to react like that in this situation. Reed had to be ten years older than her, and although he was very good-looking, he wasn’t her type.

“Can I be honest with you Jen?” Reed asked as the door closed behind Drew and Russell.

The staffroom was behind a large glass window, so she knew Drew had entered the room and had immediately turned to watch them.

“Sure,” she laughed nervously.

“We provide logistic solutions for touring acts,” Reed was ignoring the man who was glaring at them, “This is only the workshop. A large part of the service we provide is sending out specialists with each order to manage the vehicles while on tour. When the Four Horsemen start their Summer Tour of Florida, in six-weeks-time, we will be providing them with ten vehicles, but the larger acts we work with require a much larger fleet. Having a qualified mechanic on tour to support, service, maintain and repair these vehicles is critical to our business model.”

“Yes,” she nodded forcing herself not to look at Drew.

“I think you would fit in perfectly with our team,” he continued, “But that isn’t my decision. I need you to think about how you will fit in with us.”

“I don’t understand?”

“The job requires travel,” he glanced at the man standing behind the glass, “I’m not interested in getting involved with your private life, but ask yourself if he’d be willing to watch you go on tour with someone like Jake Stanford or the guys from the Slick Green Zucchinis? We have signed contracts this summer with both acts plus a dozen others.”

“Didn’t you say that you’re providing the vehicles for the Four Horsemen’s tour too?”

“Yes,” he smiled, “But that would make him your client. If I’m your boss and he’s your client as well as your boyfriend, then that gets complicated for you. He will have you questioning your priorities. Tours rely on their schedules. If one of our vehicles breaks down, it puts pressure on everyone. If this happens, who will you listen to? What will you do if I tell you to do something that he doesn’t like? This job is about putting the vehicles first.”

“Oh,” she frowned glancing back at the man who was still standing in the window but now had his head lowered, “I see. Don’t you have jobs here? In the workshop?”

“The guys who work here are the married men with young families who can’t travel,” he looked around, “Opportunities to work here do come up, but the guys who are on-the-road get the first option. They’ve earnt their stripes. All these employees that you see in here have been touring and know the requirements and pressures that the vehicles need to endure.”

“Are you saying that you don’t have an opening for me?”

“Not at all,” Reed smiled, “I’d start you tomorrow if that’s what you want. We’d keep you here for induction and some specialised training, and then you’d be sent out on tour. I can’t guarantee which artist you’d be travelling with, and I can’t allow you to pick and choose. However, if you do sign with us, I want you to be very sure that is what you want. It would be inconvenient and would reflect badly on us if one of our employees was dragged off assignment by a jealous boyfriend. Do you understand?”

“Jealous boyfriend?” she queried, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Your man,” he tilted his head without looking in that direction, “I know his type. He’s been glaring at me since I held your hand in the reception area.”

“No, you’ve got that wrong,” she shook her head, “He’s not like that.”

“Really? I’m wrong?” Reed smiled with a patient look, “Do you want to put that to the test?”

“He’s had a bad day,” she started to find excuses.

Reed was still smiling when he leaned forward, putting his face close to hers like he was about to whisper something to her, while he placed one hand on the centre of her back turning her away from the man in the lunchroom. His eyes never left hers, she stood stunned, confused by his closeness and intensity. Then he tossed his head back and laughed as if she’d just said something funny. His eyes returned to her, and he smirked an apologetic smile as the staff room door opened with an audible bang. She closed her eyes as Reed didn’t move his smile or his gaze from her. Frozen in place, she waited as the footsteps got closer.

“We’re leaving Jen,” Drew growled as he grabbed her arm.

“Drew,” she protested, “We aren’t finished.”

“You’re done,” Drew said to the man standing opposite her who was still looking amused.

“But Drew,” she wanted to tell him that this was just for show.

“Don’t argue with me Jen,” Drew hissed.

“It’s fine Jen,” Reed nodded, “You know the deal, call me if you’re interested.”

“She’s not,” Drew said as he pulled her towards the exit.

She looked back to see Reed with one hand raised in a waving gesture as she stumbled after Drew, his hand wrapped around her wrist. The look on Reed’s face was a resigned ‘I told you so’. She wanted to argue the point, but the man who was pulling her from the building was proving the point. She’d thought that the episode of unprovoked jealousy with Sam was an isolated event, but the current circumstances were forcing her to question that assumption.

If Drew was someone who became jealous this easily, what did that mean?

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