Freshly showered, I exit the hallway and see X setting up a plates on the table. Sandy is sitting in the living area on the far corner of the couch, and when I meet her eyes, she gives me a meaningful look. I try not to laugh, but it’s easy to decipher what she’s trying to tell me.
Sandy is definitely not comfortable around X. Understandably so. He’s pretty intimidating with his black attire, closely shaved hair, and considerable muscles. However, after our stay at the cabin, he doesn’t intimidate me as he once did. There’s a good person in there. A person who has been hurt, yes, but one I trust.
I admire said muscles as I take a seat at the table. My phone dings a text but I ignore it, already knowing it’s Michonne—again—wanting to know if X and I have “given in to our base desires” yet. It seems not everyone on my team has been wary of my new bodyguard.
“Food smells amazing,” I say once X disappears into the kitchen to grab waters. “Thank you.”
“Yes, thank you,” Sandy says, coming over to sit down.
X passes out the water and then seats himself at the head of the table, taking a large bite out of a considerable piece of steak. He reaches down and gives Bella one of her treats as well. “You’re welcome.”
It’s hard not to watch him eat after that. The man went after his food like he went after life—full steam ahead. He had such a sculpted, enticing jaw, and I couldn’t look away from the way it was moving up and down. I eyed the stubble on his face, remembering what it felt like on my cheek. He is such an incredibly attractive man. How many hearts had that face broken?
Sandy clears her throat, making me realize I had once again been staring. If X noticed, he didn’t say anything. Sandy’s eyes dance a little as she wipes her mouth with a napkin. “All your wardrobe is set for the tour,” she announces, breaking the silence. “And we finally were able to hire that ballerina you wanted for the second set.”
That brightens my mood. “She agreed? Holy cow, that’s amazing.”
Sandy nods. “Everything is really coming together. The wardrobe, the lighting, the schedule, the backup singers…”
She lets the sentence trail off, and I know what she’s thinking. “I started my new song. I’m going to work on it in the next couple days and hand it over to the production studio this weekend.”
Her eyes pop. “That soon? I thought you had writer’s block!”
“I did, until a little birdie in a tree house gave me some inspiration.”
If I hadn’t been watching, I wouldn’t have seen his lovely jaw pause for the tiny second that it did.
“I don’t know what that means, but Rob is going to flip! Can I tell him?” Sandy asks, wringing her napkin in her hands. I realize then how nervous my writer’s block had made everyone on the team. Apparently they could finally put everything into place once it was done.
“You can tell him,” I say, watching her shoot up from the table. “And tell him I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
Sandy skips into the connecting room, and I turn my smile to X. “If you didn’t get that, the little birdie was you. Thank you.”
“So you’re writing about something you hate?”
I nod. “In so many words.”
He grabs another slice of pizza. “Well, what’s it called?”
X’s hand pauses, and he looks at me. “I see.”
A thought occurs to me, and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll bite. “What would yours be called?”
To my surprise, he appears to give it some thought. What looks like a sliver of pain wrinkles the skin around his eyes. “‘Guilt.’”
Curiosity sizzles beneath my skin, but we both fall silent. What does he feel guilty about? Does it have to do with his mother? I want him to elaborate, but it’s clear he isn’t going to say anything further on the subject. Baby steps.
The tension in the air is palpable. I can only wonder if he feels the pulsing energy, too, and if it is what I think it is. Because it feels a hell of a lot like chemistry. I’m drawn to him, picturing him in ways he’d probably be furious about—if the way he reacted to my kiss was any indication.
But how could I help it? Not only was he mysterious and incredible to look at, he was the man who was keeping me safe, the one I unwittingly bared my soul to. He was the man I was entrusting with my life. The man who was allowing me to be brave and face all this. And the mystery hidden behind the depths of his eyes attracted me like a magnet.
He gets up to clear his plate, and I watch him as he makes his way around the kitchen. Was he going to turn in for the night? I wasn’t remotely tired, and I could admit to myself I wasn’t really ready to leave his company, either. Which is probably why the next sentence came out of my mouth without much thought. “Do you want to watch a movie?”
“Now?” he asks. He was turned away from me, washing his hands at the sink, which was a good thing because my cheeks were definitely growing hot. It feels like I just asked the man on a date.
“I’m not really tired, so I figured I’d order one…” I trail off and take a sip of my water to fill the silence.
“Sure,” he responds casually. His nonchalant answer is at complete odds with what I’m feeling inside, and I can’t help but feel like a dumb schoolgirl.
His phone rings, and he dries his hands before picking it up. “It’s the police chief. He’s going to want to talk to you.”
My stomach drops. “Why?”
“They want to talk about what happened at the house. I’ve been warding them off, but they want to see if you know anything.”
“I don’t. I talked to them extensively after the attack on the red carpet, and I really have no idea who it is.”
He walks into the hallway and calls to me over his shoulder. “I’ll take care of it. You pick the movie.”
What would I do without him? Feeling decidedly charitable, I scroll through the movies, bypassing the romantic comedies in favor of something we both might like. I wonder how he feels about horror?
Five minutes later he comes back, his face tight.
“Is everything OK?” I ask.
He sighs loudly before taking a seat on the end of the couch. I notice he’s changed into sweatpants, and I wonder when our bags were brought up. He really did take care of everything. I try not to stare too hard at the outline of his legs, because they still seem impressive despite the loose fabric. “I held them off for another day, but we have to meet with them sometime in the next couple days. Hopefully, they’ll have some damn leads by then.”
The ever-present fear simmering beneath the surface of my skin flares to life. Why couldn’t they find anything on this guy? The thought was terrifying. “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to tell them.”
The door to the connecting room opens, and Sandy, followed by an eager Bellatrix, comes into the room. Bella jumps on my lap, and I cuddle her close, happy for her comfort.
“Rob is over the moon,” she says happily, taking a seat beside me. “That missing song was the final piece.”
All the relief I should have felt is overshadowed by bubbling fear. I try not to let it show on my face. “We’re going to watch a movie,” I say instead. “Everyone good with scary?”
Sandy makes a face. “Really? Can’t we watch a comedy or something?”
“Horror is a better reflection of my mood these days,” I half joke. I pull up the latest zombie thriller and raise a brow at my companions. “What do you think?”
“Looks good to me,” says X, leaning back into the couch. His quiet solidarity makes me feel as if he understands my mood.
Sandy shrugs but ultimately settles in as I press “Play.”
I’ve always had a thing for scary movies. I used to watch them in slight awe, a fascination born from being on the outside looking in at something terrible. But it felt different this time. Was I in my own horror movie? Was my ending going to be just as tragic?
Sandy makes it about half an hour in before tapping out. She gets a text and then stands quickly, her face red. “I’ll see you two in the morning. I think if I watch any more, I’ll have nightmares.”
“Chicken,” I tease. I wonder for a moment whether she’s leaving because of the movie or because of the text she just got, but I don’t say anything.
And then it was just X and I. I was getting used to the tension between us. I just couldn’t decide if I was the only one feeling it, and it made me feel a little out of balance. The urge to stare at his strong jaw, built-for-sin legs, and powerful upper body was overwhelming.
Apparently I’m not the only one drawn to him, because Bellatrix jumps off my lap, trots over to the other couch, and crawls into his. The old traitor.
“Where is the loyalty?” I joke.
X shakes his head in resignation and pulls Bella into a more comfortable position. When he reaches out to stroke her head, I nearly melt into the couch. There’s just something about a sexy man and a small dog. “What can I say? The women love me.”
Was that a joke? I laugh more out of shock than anything. My heart skips a beat when I catch the boyish sparkle in his eyes. Latching on to the subject, I stretch out my feet to rest them on the coffee table. “Is that so?”
He looks as if he wants to take back his statement, but he responds quickly. “I was kidding, E.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” A sharp look is thrown my way as if to scold me, but I don’t regret what I said. From the beginning, I’ve been wanting to push this man’s buttons, wanting to get under his outer shell. And what did I get for my efforts? A goddamned crush. I feel it as I stare at him now, along with the desire to push him more. “What did I say? Why do you look uncomfortable now?”
“You definitely are. But what’s so wrong about what I said? You’re a good-looking man, X. You must have women all over you.”
His eyes flash. “Drop it, E.”
“Can I just ask one question?” I plead. “Just one, I promise.”
He rolls his eyes but doesn’t say no, so my heart does a little victory dance. “When do you have time for women? I know you don’t have a girlfriend or anything, but you seem to work…a lot.”
“I’m not talking to you about my sex life. That’s incredibly inappropriate.”
I pout, and then inspiration strikes. “Mine is nonexistent at the moment,” I share suddenly, shocking both him and me. “I haven’t had sex in over a year.”
He pauses in the motion of petting Bella and gives me a piercing look that nearly sets me aflame. He mulls over that statement for a while—long enough for embarrassment to creep in. He must think I’m such a loser! I have to redeem myself. “I just…haven’t really had the opportunity, getting ready for the tour and all. And there’s no one…there hasn’t been…no one’s been…”
“No one’s been what?” he asks quietly.
I shrug. “Interested.”
He gives me a look. “Somehow I doubt that,” he replies, throwing my earlier words back at me.
Wait a second. Did he just admit he thought I was good-looking? I can’t help my shit-eating grin, and I’m unable to form another sentence because I’m so pleased, but luckily he just returns my smile before turning toward the TV.
It doesn’t escape my notice that he avoided my question. I doubt I’ll ever figure out this man. But I know one thing: he thinks I’m attractive. I fall asleep a little while later with a smile on my lips, comforted by the thought.