He nodded and pulled me to him for a long, tight hug. “Thank you.”
I hugged him back without saying anything and I desperately tried to ignore how perfect being in his arms felt. When I pulled back, he looked at me like he wanted to say something else but Kevin speaking to Valerie behind where we were snapped us both out of our daze.
“I’ll text you later, okay?” I whispered and Jared nodded again.
I smiled at him and turned to gesture to the door. “Ready?”
Everyone said goodbye and I led the detectives to the elevator. The doors had barely closed before Valerie was grinning at me.
“Are you guys dating?”
“Nope,” I replied with a shake of my head as I watched the floor indicator lights. “Jared and I are just friends and he’s been really open to me spending time with the baby.”
They both exchanged a look and I pretended like I hadn’t seen it. The rest of the ride down was in silence and I gave them both hugs as they went out the main doors to where they’d parked in the loading zone. I smiled at Howie and shook my head.
“Well, that was an exciting lunch break.”
He looked guilty as he shook his head, too. “I didn’t even see her come in. I feel terrible.”
“Don’t. She intentionally waited until she could get by you. You can’t be everywhere all of the time, Howie.”
I wrapped him in a hug before getting into my car and heading back to work. I didn’t even have a chance to walk through my office door before Robin was calling me into hers. When I made it inside, she looked up at me.
“An email just came through. They arrested the mother in the Hart baby case?”
I fell into a chair that was in front of her desk. “Yeah. She showed up at his place while I was there and wanted to see the baby.”
“Wow. That’s pretty ballsy.” She stared at me for a moment. “You’re spending a lot of time with Jared Hart.”
“We’re just friends,” I insisted for the second time that day. “Nothing more.
Robin’s all-knowing gaze held mine for a moment. “Uh huh.”
“I’ve known you a long time, Gibson. Don’t bullshit me,” she said, eyes still locked with mine. “I don’t know why you’re fighting it but I hope it’s not because of work. I can assign their case to someone else easily enough. Don’t be a chicken. Go after what you want because life’s too short.”
Something in her tone told me that she was speaking from personal experience and I swallowed as I searched her face for something. Anything. “What is going on with you?”
“I’m old and wise, Steph.” She turned to look at her computer, effectively dismissing me. “Just take my words to heart.”
I cleared my throat and stood from my desk. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Robin’s words replayed in my head. I was completely useless at work and ended up leaving around five to head home. When I got there, the house was empty and loneliness hit me hard.
I had no desire to be home. I wanted to be with the boys. I wanted to be withJared. All of the excuses I had been making suddenly felt so silly. Robin was right- the case could be reassigned. All of the bullshit I’d said about him not having time to date went right out the window because I was already spending my time with him anyway.
I didn’t want to be just friends. Not anymore.
Moving quickly, I changed into a pair of jeans, a short sleeved shirt, and sneakers. I didn’t bother doing anything else before running out to my car. I stopped by the grocery store and loaded up on ingredients to make my favorite chicken pasta dish and headed back to Jared’s place.
I parked in a free spot inside the resident parking lot and grabbed my stuff to head inside. Howie held the door open for me and grinned when I placed a kiss on his weathered cheek.
“Two times in one day. Mr. Hart is a lucky man.”
“Well, I figured I’d make him dinner,” I replied as I held up the grocery bags. “He’s been living on take-out and he has to be sick of it.”
Howie chuckled and nodded his head. “He’s actually down here in the mail center right now.”
“Oh, perfect. Can I leave these here for a minute?” I gestured to the bags and Howie nodded quickly, relieving me of my load. I squeezed his hand and started towards where the building resident’s mailboxes were. I turned the corner and spotted Jared standing in the mail center with Chris in his arms. A smile hit my face but I froze when I realized they weren’t alone.
I stepped back so that I was behind one of the floor plants and out of sight so I could watch him interact with the pretty woman he was talking to. I had seen her once or twice during my comings and goings but had never spoken to her.
She looked to be around my age, maybe younger, with shiny brown hair and flawless make-up. She was petite all around, about five inches shorter than me and a slender frame. I never had any self-esteem issues when it came to my body but I suddenly felt like a giraffe with huge hips.
I couldn’t completely hear the conversation from where I was standing but they both laughed at something Jared said. When she reached up to squeeze his shoulder, he let her and I felt my chest squeeze slightly. Jealously like I’ve never felt in all of my life hit me hard and it only increased when she used that same hand to run her fingers through Chris’s hair.
“So, I’ll stop by later then,” I heard her say and Jared nodded his head, that handsome smile still on his face.
They both began walking towards where I was hiding and I whipped around. Thankful I’d gone home and changed into my sneakers, I tore across the lobby of the building and ducked behind Howie’s counter. He looked down at me in alarm and I just shook my head quickly.
“Please. Don’t let him know I’m here.”
He nodded, his alarm turning to confusion, but he looked away from me and focused his gaze on something else. I watched from my position below as he offered a small smile to someone.
“Mr. Hart, Ms. Swanson. Is there anything I can do for you?”
I heard them both say there wasn’t and Jared bid Howie a good night right as the elevator chimed to announce its arrival. A few moments passed before Howie looked down at me.
“They’re gone, miss.”
I blew out a long breath and ran a hand down my face. I forced myself to my feet and pasted a smile that I was sure looked scary onto my face. “Thanks, Howie. Don’t tell him I was here, okay?”
He started to protest but I just gave him a quick hug, grabbed my groceries, and rushed out of the building. Once I was to my car, I got in and dropped my forehead to my steering wheel.
So much for not being a chicken. I had friend-zoned him for too long and lost my chance altogether.