Sirri wandered around the city block ten minutes or more before he made his way back toward the college auditorium. His car was parked in the lot behind it. He was totally ready to get the hell out of here. No matter how long he walked, how long he brooded, he couldn't drive the images of Makenna with Niko out of his head. It was going to drive him over the edge. He knew this, knew it as well as he knew his name. He simply didn't understand why she insisted on keeping it such a secret. Why couldn't she come out with it? He assumed she did so to keep his working relationship with Niko neutral, but that reason didn't make sense. If she had indeed moved on, why would she care what he thought of it? Unless she was using Niko. Unless she still loved him. Perhaps he was getting ahead of himself. Perhaps he was allowing his ego to speak for him. Although certain her news was related to Niko, it didn't appear that way. But what else did she have to say? What else was so important that she had approached him after two months of keeping her distance? It wasn't quite connecting with his confused brain. He couldn't put anything together and understood less. His life was messed up and aimless. If he could get home, he thought he might be okay. Maybe, just maybe. If he could find the damned car he would leave this place far behind.
"Sirri, where did you hide all this time?"
Sandra. Slowly, he turned toward her. She was a cool blonde, about forty, and looked quite fetching in her salmon tinted summer dress. He assumed she dressed this way on purpose. Your ego again, Amandurre. She still wanted to date him, but he had held back. He thought she had as well, but apparently, he was wrong.
Sirri approached her. Unconsciously, he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his slacks. It was another terrible habit, another terrible way he had of showing nervousness or uncertainty. "I ran into a friend." It killed him to think of Makenna that way, but it was true. Perhaps he wasn't her friend, either.
She smiled. "Lucky girl."
A sad smile framed his lips for a few brief seconds before fading. "No. I was the lucky one."
"Listen, Sirri. I know you have turned me down many times. I know you probably have a wonderful girl waiting for you somewhere else. But would you consider allowing me to buy you a celebratory drink?"
In real time, probably no more than two minutes elapsed. It felt like hours to Sirri as he kept his eyes fixed on Sandra. Her invitation was sincere, her anticipation at his answer genuine. Reese's words reverberated in his mind repeatedly. Let her go, man. Just let her go. Move on with your life. For almost two months, he had fought that voice, had fought those words. He had battled them so fiercely that he removed himself from the speaker's presence. Tonight after seeing Niko intimately holding Makenna's hand, the fight had grown weaker. In fact, it was almost damned well nonexistent. If Makenna could let go so easily, why couldn't he? It was more than apparent that Sandra didn't want an attachment or an involved relationship. All she wanted was to have a good time, a one night stand. It had never been Sirri's style to live that way, but lately, he hadn't exactly been acting like he normally did. What the hell? What could it hurt now?
"There's no girl waiting," Sirri said dejectedly. "Not anymore."
Niko had wanted to drive around for a while, but Makenna refused, insisting that he take her home. It had been a long night. Despite the fact that Sirri had explained his behavior, his words hadn't exactly brought as much comfort as they did more pain. What made tonight worse was that she had given Niko fuel to toy around with. She didn't know if it was such a good idea to allow him to know her vulnerability. Then again, what could it hurt? Niko wanted to be her friend…he wanted more than to be her friend…she needed an ear to bend. It was wrong. It was so wrong.
Meeting with Sirri tonight made her realize that she missed him terribly. Maybe if she could have said that tonight, she might have left with him instead of Niko. The one thing that ruined those thoughts was his confession about Melissa. What would he say to her if he knew the true secret she held? Could it be seen as the same thing? Could it? Still…her heart ached so very fiercely. What was she thinking? The hurt was biting, the betrayal fresh as ever. Wasn't she supposed to hate him for the rest of her life? She didn't. She wasn't close to hating him, especially now, after tonight. God help her, but she loved Sirri. She loved him and wanted him back in her life.
Makenna looked up, stunned, when the car came to a jarring halt. She hadn't noticed they were so close to home yet. She could feel Niko's eyes on her. She turned her head slightly to meet his gaze. His eyes were almost the same color as Sirri's. When they weren't filled with mirth, they sparkled with life and vitality. Maybe he was faking it, but it seemed as if he had the ability to look through to her soul. She had once thought Sirri was the only man who could do that. Sirri. She couldn't drive him out of her mind. It was worse now, much worse. She felt like crying again, but she actually didn't know if she had tears left in her.
For longer than she intended, Makenna's eyes stayed focused on Niko's face. Again and again, she waged an internal battle. She didn't want to use him. She didn't want to become a person like Melissa. The thought of that turned her stomach. She tried to tell herself that the situation was completely different, but she was a hypocrite. A big one. Coupled with that was extreme upset. How would Niko react to Sirri now? She shouldn't have opened her big mouth, but she had felt as if she was going to explode. It was too much. Too confusing. She had no clue as to what she would do now. Sirri was far from out of reach, but he had revealed one truth that shattered her fragile resolve. A time would come when all had to be told, but would the timing ever be right? After tonight, she wasn't so sure anymore.
"Would you like for me to take you to your car," Niko asked, finally breaking the nerve wracking silence.
She shook her head. "No. I'll call a cab and pick it up in the morning. It will keep."
"Amandurre's ex…what is her name?"
What an odd question. Suspiciously, she gave him a sideways glance. "Why would you want to know that?"
He nodded as if to confirm her suspicions of his voiced question. One thing he had learned quickly about Makenna O'Neill was the simple fact that she was guarded, healthily paranoid. Perhaps some bullshit peppered over the situation would increase her vulnerability, increase his chances, and decrease the hell out of Amandurre's credibility even further. "It's just that I've heard him speaking of a woman from time to time with my partner, Sandra. They seem to be fairly good buddies. He leans on her a lot."
His words made her already taxed heart beat hard. Sirri spoke of Melissa to his employer? Sirri was close to her? He leaned on her? Her healthy paranoia suddenly dissipated, became nonexistent. "He speaks of Melissa? To your partner?"
Tenderly, he took her hand and stroked it with this thumb. "He does. Sandra has always had a thing for younger men, especially those swarthy types like Amandurre. He's not a trustworthy type."
She wanted to scream at him, to tell him he was wrong about Sirri. For all he had said, for all he had told her, would he simply be blowing smoke up her ass while playing around with his boss? Would he? Would he? After what he had pulled with Melissa, perhaps anything was possible, but she didn't want to believe that, not unless she saw it with her own eyes. However, the words cut like a machete, cut so very deeply. The pain would never go away, not knowing that she would soon look upon the face of… No.
"Are you going to be okay?"
His question brought her abruptly out of her thoughts. She tried to smile, but her throat was choked with tears. Instead, she swallowed hard, fighting with all she had in her. "I'll be fine."
"Makenna, for what it's worth, I've never known a better person than you. I consider myself lucky to be your friend. If you need someone to talk to, I'm just a phone call away."
His sincerity stunned her. She had never believed this glib bastard had it in him. "I'm sorry, Niko. All this time, I think I misjudged you."
He smiled and tightened his grasp on her hand. "You did," he said amusedly. "I'm only a bastard in court. Would you object to my calling you?"
She wanted to say no. She didn't want an entanglement with Niko, but she kept it to herself. What would it hurt to have an additional ally? "No, I wouldn't."
Without another word, he leaned toward her and placed a soft kiss on her mouth. Makenna did not react to it, but she couldn't help but wonder what she had stepped in. Hopefully, whatever it was wouldn't stink.
Sirri sat quietly on a fashionable rather than functional sofa in Sandra's elegant apartment. He wasn't quite sure what had led him to this, from the seeming point of no return.
After leaving the auditorium parking lot, they had gone to an upscale restaurant where they ordered two tasteless meals. Sandra seemed to have enjoyed herself. Although she had worked through her entire meal with relish, he had only managed to push the food from one side of the plate to the other. The only thing Sirri could get down was two scotch and sodas. They did nothing to alleviate the pain, but he had to remind himself that he was putting Makenna behind him. If that wasn't the case, then why had he gone there with her at all? He had been more than tempted to order two more drinks, making them doubles, but he hesitated. He didn't want booze to cloud the issue.
At first, Sandra did nothing more than talk. She was an incredible rambler. Most of her words were lost to Sirri. As the meal wore on, she had begun to loosen up more. Before he knew which end was up, Sandra had moved to sit beside him, touching his hand and arm intimately. He had felt uncomfortable with her so close, but he said nothing. After all, who was he saving himself for? Her behavior had grown bolder still. When she placed her hand on the inside of his left thigh, he almost protested…almost. But again, he remembered he was a free man.
Not long after that, Sandra had leaned even closer to him. He had jumped in his seat when her teeth delicately nibbled his earlobe. She then whispered an invitation for him to come to her place. All the while, her hand had caressed the inside of his thigh. He didn't want her. He didn't want this. He was driven forward to move on. After tonight, after she had had him, she would find another young, attractive man for whom to focus her sexual energy.
And now, he sat awaiting her. She had gone off into her bedroom to change. Many times during his wait, he was tempted to haul ass out of there. It was too late to turn back now. Besides, this was the best way to move forward and let go of Makenna.
Sirri looked up when Sandra emerged from her bedroom. She was clad in a dark silk robe. It didn't take a genius to figure out she wore nothing underneath. She truly was an incredible looking woman. Any man would consider himself lucky to garner her attention. She took great pains to appear sexy and seductive. Her hard work paid off, but Sirri felt nothing, no stirrings of need or desire. His body was already telling him this was wrong, but his mind didn't want to listen. He couldn't help but wonder why his body hadn't protested like this before. He knew why. He was a shit…a lousy cheating shit. He was about to make the same mistake.
Sandra straddled his lap, pressing her lower body against his. Her perfume was cloying. She was entirely too close. When her lips captured his, he allowed the kiss to deepen, but the invasion of her tongue inside his mouth was less than welcome. During the kiss, she lifted his hands and brought them up against her breasts. They were firm, full, probably very beautiful to the eyes, but he could feel nothing. She broke the kiss to allow one of her hands access down between his legs. The moment he felt her hand on him, her fingers working toward his zipper, it all became real again. Quickly, he grasped her wrist. Suddenly, letting go of Makenna wasn't such a hot idea.
"What is it," she whispered.
"I can't do this," he said. "I'm sorry, but I can't."
Slightly rebuffed but not offended, Sandra slid off him, settling next to him on the sofa. She tightened her robe's sash. "I suppose this might have to do with your friend? The girl no longer awaiting you?"
Sirri ran his hands over his face before nodding his head dejectedly. "Yes. I made a horribly stupid mistake, destroying a wonderful relationship. I'm only here because it is obvious she has moved on. I thought I should, too. I was wrong. This would have only compounded an already complicated mess. I love her. I can't let her go."
Sandra ran her hand through her hair. "She is a lucky girl. The very reason you're telling me to bug off is one of the qualities that attracted me to you."
"I'm sorry, Sandra," he said, apologizing again. "I never should have let it get this far. I should have gone my own way."
She shrugged nonchalantly before slapping his knee. "I won't say I'm not disappointed, but we both know this was no more than me fulfilling an unrequited lust crush. I was the pushy one. You should be suing me for sexual harassment," she commented jokingly.
He smiled. "No, really. I'm flattered. I first assumed you and Niko would be an item, but he…"
"No way," she burst out before he could complete his thought. "Niko isn't exactly my type. He can also be a bit…loopy with his girlfriends."
Her words edged his concern tenfold. "Loopy? What do you mean?"
She shook her head. "I really shouldn't be discussing him with you like this. Forget what I said. Would you like some coffee before you go?"
She had made moves to stand, but Sirri stopped her. "No. I must know what you meant," he demanded urgently.
She settled back and let out a deep sigh. "Niko can sometimes be overly attentive to his lovers. He can be slightly obsessive. It's no big deal, really. It takes him a while to let go…mentally, I mean. His last lover left him crushed." She was silent for a moment, but a look came over her. It was one of dawning recognition. "Oh my God. The cute little CPS worker…the one who Niko is now enamored with…she was your lover? The lucky one?"
He nodded. "Yes. Will he hurt her?"
Sandra shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I'm sure work will now be quite interesting."
He batted the comment aside. "The ex-lover…do you know her name?"
"Lindsey…Leanne…I don't remember. Really, Sirri. It's no big deal. Niko might be an ass, but he is not dangerous."
Perhaps he wasn't. However, Sirri was taking no chances.
The ex-lover whom Sandra had alluded to had a name: Linda Carpenter. Her relationship with Niko had begun casually, but grew serious quickly. They had fallen in love, going so far as toying with marriage. But something in Linda's life changed, something significant.
She went away for the weekend to attend a high school reunion. She had asked Niko to accompany her, but he had work to do and couldn't attend. Once at home, Linda became reacquainted with her high school sweetheart. It was nothing serious. They spent time together catching up. Before Linda left, they exchanged phone numbers and email addresses.
Linda began corresponding with him on a regular basis. After several weeks, her former beau moved to town and took a job at a local college. Unbeknownst to Niko, Linda began a discreet affair with him. The guilt ate her alive, especially when she fell in love with him. Her only option was to come clean with Niko. When she told him, she first thought he would be okay with it. Needless to say, he wasn't. Strange occurrences began to befall her college professor lover. She never knew it was related to Niko until her lover lost his job and was sent back to his hometown downtrodden, humiliated.
A mutual friend disclosed that Linda's lover had complained about an attorney trying to frame him for sexual assault perpetrated against a student he had never met. When Linda heard of this, the first person she thought of was Niko. Linda wasted no time confronting him.
Niko didn't admit to any wrongdoing, but Linda was convinced. After she left, strange things began to happen to her. Niko gave up on her lover and his jealousy, but he found a new target: Linda. He had made her life a living hell until just recently. It was at that time she discovered he found a new object of his obsession.
The woman had similar features to hers. Niko wasn't finished yet. When Linda saw them together, she longed to approach the woman to warn her. She obviously had no idea what kind of man he was. No idea at all. She didn't want to risk bringing Niko's attention back to her. Could she sit back and allow him to do to this woman what he had done to her? She decided she couldn't, but how could she approach her without sounding or looking like a jealous ex-lover? There had to be a way. And there was.
On the night of Sirri's graduation, Linda had followed Niko to the auditorium. She knew that graduation was tonight, but had no clear idea why Niko would attend the ceremony. It was rare of him to give a shit about anyone that wasn't Niko Milionis. Keeping her distance, she stayed behind him only close enough to watch where he was going. Before the ceremony, Niko approached his law firm partner who was speaking to a young man she had never seen before. She watched the exchange curiously, but she wasn't close enough to hear their conversation. It was during the ceremony when she discovered that the young man was a Juris Doctor candidate. She assumed he was affiliated with Wade and Milionis. Later, she focused on the man, following him upstairs to the reception room. It was there she noticed him speaking to Niko's new love interest. Linda was determined to find this man, to warn him, to have him warn the woman before it was too late.
After leaving Sandra's apartment, Sirri drove around for an hour or more. He supposed he was trying to drive tonight's events out of his mind. In retrospect, it would have been very simple to have allowed Sandra to complete her seduction. It would have been very easy to have gone to bed with her, to have let her work out her crush. Yes. It would have been easy, but it wouldn't have been so easy to live with himself the next morning. There was no way that anything could have happened, not with his determination to prove Niko for the bastard that he was. If he never had Makenna in his life as he had before, he would still prevent Niko from hurting her both mentally and physically. Something wasn't right with the man. Something inside him had festered. He didn't want the noxious poison to infect Makenna. He loved her too much for that to happen.
Sirri wound up outside Makenna's apartment building. He put the car in park, but didn't kill the ignition. He was actually unsure as to what step he needed to take next. He was more than tempted to exit the vehicle, bang on her door, and demand that she see him. After what transpired tonight, it was what he wanted more than anything. But he hesitated. Perhaps she had had enough of him for one night. Would she see him? Did he really think she would? After everything? Your ego is out of control. Tuck your tail between your legs and go home. You have caused enough damage. He did exactly that. Leave her be. He would take care of trying to uncover Niko's nastiness, not to impress her or win her back, but to keep her from harm's way. Whatever the cost, he was willing to pay it.