Playing With Fire

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Cars Are For Talking

Holli

I hum on the way to class, more buoyant than I’ve felt in months.

Despite the fact that I was a breath away from getting what I’ve dreamed about since the first time all those weeks ago and went back to bed in the arms of a traitorous man who’d thought I’d needed sleep more than I needed him.

I’d gone back home deprived, emotionally spent, and jet lagged when I should’ve gotten laid.

I should’ve known I’d be back to baby-bird stage the second Lucas found out about Ella.

What I was trying to avoid in the first place.

“Hurry up!” I gripe at the stupid copy machine that always seems to have one problem or another.

I don’t know what’s sadder, that I’m talking to inanimate objects because of my pent up frustration or that I’d had to use a vibrator last night despite having a boyfriend.

When my copies are finally finished, I exit the office with the stack of papers in one arm while pushing open the door. I’m headed toward the writing lab to drop off the sign-in sheets when a giggle comes from my left and I nearly choke on air.

Lucas’s brother, my student, currently has his tongue down the throat of the sweet girl I’d assigned to do his peer review last week.

I’d expected nothing less than Belle’s thorough critique of Dale’s essay, but I have to admit, I wasn’t prepared for that to move this quickly.

Great. Everyone’s getting frisky but me.

I sigh, forcing my best teacher-voice. “Mr. Sutton, Miss Bryce. Not on school grounds.”

They both jump apart, startled and Belle blushes beet red. Dale stands behind her, placing a protective hand on her shoulder and my eyes nearly bug out of my head at the way he looks at her.

Oh my. That moved really fast.

“Sorry, Miss D,” he says, not taking his eyes off of Belle and I suddenly wonder if I’m obligated to say anything about this to Lucas.

I’m back and forth about it in my head until I’m halfway home, but Dale is the last thing on my mind when I see Lucas and my brother on my sister-in-law’s porch swing. Deep in conversation about something, my brother’s strained expression makes my stomach clench.

Something’s wrong.

I park, rip off my seat belt, and approach the house. Lucas and Andy both stand when my feet hit the porch steps.

“What’s going on?” I ask, reaching for Lucas. He pulls me to his side by my waist and my brother stares at his arm around me.

“That’s going to take some getting used to,” he grumbles, swiping a hand over his face, but when I meet his gaze, it’s anything but comical.

“Andy.”

My brother looks to Lucas, then back to me.“My lawyer referred me to an attorney that handles domestic abuse cases, Hol. I hired her after you told me you wanted to press charges. When Mrs. Newman went to do so on your behalf, we learned that the LAPD has been searching for Winston for over a month now at the request of his daddy. It’s like he just vanished, Holli.

“His credit cards and bank cards haven’t been touched since last January, his home in Granada Hills was sold, and the last known activity was a withdrawal of eight thousand dollars at his bank branch in L.A. After rumors leaked about why you’d left his son, Silas Drake resigned as captain of the Northeast Community Police Station. Did you know that?”

I shake my head. I’d made a point to forget everything about Winston, including his father. I’ve always maintained that no one is born evil, it’s learned. Winston craved his father’s approval so much he’d started to become him.

When we first met, he’d said he never wanted to be like his father.

And he wasn’t. He was worse.

I swallow. “I have no idea where he could be. Winston was extremely paranoid. I think he was afraid I’d figure out how to leave him, because he never told me about any properties we had.” Even with all the vacations he brought me on, we’d stayed in hotels.

My brother nods. “I’m going to keep in touch with Captain Hernandez, but in the meantime, I don’t feel comfortable with you staying here, Holli. I already sent Lolo to Mom and Dad’s and I think you should join her there. They’ve got APD squad cars driving through, but they can’t spare anyone to sit outside. I’ve already hired security and they’re on their way from Savannah.”

Lucas’s hand tightens on my hip in agreement and I ask my brother a question I already know the answer to. “You’re going to stay?”

He nods, his eyes hardening. “If he comes here, I want to be home.”

A shiver runs up my spine at my brother’s quiet but lethal declaration and I try not to panic. “Andy.”

“He so much as steps foot on this property, he’s done, Holli. I’m never going to let him get to you and I can’t risk putting my wife in danger. Which is why I need you to go with Luke to Mom and Dad’s. I’d have you stay at his place, but if there’s a chance you’ve been followed, I don’t want to risk it. Besides, Mom and Dad live far enough out of the city, it’s hard to locate unless you know exactly where you’re going. All they know is you’re staying over for a family barbeque and I can’t make it because I have fundraiser stuff for the foundation.”

I suck in a relieved breath. “You didn’t tell them.”

It’s not a question, but he answers anyway. “No… but Hol, I think you should.”

I shake my head. “They would blame themselves, you know they would. They’d say they should’ve known when Winston was just a master manipulator. I didn’t want anyone else to bear that burden. It shouldn’t have taken me so long to leave him.”

“Holli, you were in survival mode. You left when you felt safe enough to risk it and that in itself is brave. But I have to be honest, I don’t like that no one knows where this guy is and we have no idea if he’s armed or what he’s doing. I don’t want to risk putting Mom and Dad in danger.”

I nod, clearing my throat. “How long am I going to be staying at mom and dad’s?”

“Just until I can get a PI on this guy. The departments in LA are stretched thin as it is, they don’t have the budget or the time and Silas doesn’t have any more favors left to cash in.”

“I guess I’ll go pack a bag then.” My heart sinks. The only thing more terrifying than fighting to survive one of Winston’s benders, is not knowing where he is at all. There were times in our marriage he’d leave for days and I’d had no knowledge of where he’d been. The first time it happened, I’d made the dangerous mistake of questioning him about it. That was the fourth time he’d hit me after two good months and the moment I’d realized his ‘one-time mistake’ was just the opposite.

I don’t like the idea of my brother being here alone when a dangerous, mentally unstable man with police training could be anywhere. But Andy’s never been one to back down from a fight and this has been a six year long battle.

“No need. Lolita took care of it. I just need you to lay low for a while. Explain the situation to the school and see if you can get a sub for the last few weeks of summer school. I’m so sorry, Hol.”

“It’s fine. Nothing we haven’t been through before right?” I ask, forcing a smile.

My brother doesn’t respond. He looks over my head to his best friend. A silent communication passes between them and I try not to feel defeated.

Of all the things that have thrown a wrench in the progress I’ve made with Lucas, this is just one more, making space in the crater-sized wedge between us. Once again, a past I’ve already healed from has come back, making it infinitely more difficult to move on.


The entire drive to my parents, it’s all I can think about. Lucas absently strokes the knuckles of my hand and I can practically feel his worry emanating from him in droves.

“Holli, please say something,” he says, surprising me and I realize for the first time that we’ve parked. I look up at him.

“Why didn’t you want to sleep with me in Kansas City?” I blurt. My cheeks heat at not wording that better, but hell. Too late to take it back. “I showed up in a trench coat like some hussy for Christ’s sake. I shaved. I did my hair and I never straighten my hair. I dressed up as that stupid lifeguard from the sandlot—what’s so funny?”

Lucas tries to hide his smile and fails. “You are. You knock on my door at eleven ’o clock at night like I’m your booty call, interrupt my dinner and now I’m getting the third degree because I’m getting old and don’t bounce back from a tackle like I did in undergrad?”

My hand slaps over my mouth and I stare at him, horrified. “Oh my God. You got hit?”

He chuckles. “I’m teasing you, Holli. I mean, I did get hit and I was exhausted, but honestly? I didn’t try anything because… Well, I told you I loved you and we didn’t talk about it. And before you say something, I know that sounds juvenile, but after everything that happened with Andy, a part of me was afraid you’d run again when the dust settled and I had to make sure that didn’t happen.”

I blink. Of all the reasons I’d expected Lucas to give me, that was the last thing I’d ever expected to hear him say. “So… you’re not keeping me at a distance because you think I’m fragile?”

He laughs sharply. “Is that really what you’ve been thinking this entire car ride? Jesus, Holli. I thought you were afraid.”

Relieved breath releases from my body and takes insecurity with it. “No. I mean, I don’t like the fact that my brother is going to be in that house all alone, but I spent too long fearing Winston. I don’t know where he is, and yes, that worries me. But it’s not all-consuming the way it was when I was married to him.”

No sooner than the words leave my mouth, I realize something. Aside from today, I’ve rarely thought of little else besides Lucas for weeks now. He lingers in every conscious thought I have on a daily basis and even when I’m not thinking of him, he’s never far from my mind. That first night that I’d spent with him, I hadn’t wanted more than a distraction from my impending stint in prison. I’d spent the entire plane ride dreading moving into my brother’s place after two years of freedom to do whatever I pleased and in a last second decision, I’d thrown caution to the wind and had the night of my life.

But Lucas isn’t a faceless one-night stand anymore. He’s a human being with thoughts, opinions, values, and he’s everything I’d wanted Winston to be when I got married.

Kind. Loyal. Accepting. Forgiving.

And I don’t love him.

My heart trusts him in a way my brain never thought I would again. My soul recognizes the good in him and lies in contentment in his presence. The way he cares for his mom, his brother, and his teammates reveals his character and I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner.

Lucas Sutton isn’t a good man. He’s the man.

“And to address the other thing... ? I love you. And I’m not running anymore. I promise,” I say reaching for his cheek. “From the beginning, you’ve given me everything I didn’t know I needed. I’m just sorry I was so resistant at first.”

He reaches for my hand and presses my fingers to his lips. The small action makes the achy feeling return to my core and I fail at convincing my sex-deprived body that this is a romantic moment, not a sexy one.

“I’m not. I earned your trust and your love Holli. And I know this is shit timing, but I wasn’t lying when I said everything I do when it comes to you, is intentional. I promise you, I’m going to make sure you know that I don’t take that lightly.” Emotion wells in my throat so thick, it’s hard to speak through it. Thankfully, Lucas continues. “And I want you to know, you’re my responsibility now, and yes, that means keeping you safe, but I’ve never thought you were fragile and I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone up to your room that night if I thought that. So… barring exhaustion and injury, don’t expect me to turn you down often.”

Lucas’s green eyes transition from emerald to forest and my entire body pulses at one sentence. “So… what if I said I wanted you to make love to me right in this car?” I ask, raising a brow.

“I’d tell you cars aren’t for making love. Beds are.”

“So fuck me in it then,” I whisper.

And before I lose my nerve, I pull the front of my shirt over my head and toss it into the backseat.

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