7. 1

I’m sitting in Flynn’s car and I’m feeling guilty, which is not a feeling I’m used to. I was fuming mad at him over his “beggars” comment; a reaction that I now see was probably just a bit over reactive.

I’m touchy—I get it.

But because I’ve lived my entire adult life learning to only trust myself, learning to only depend on myself, I get a little heated when my ability to do so is called into question. When I left home—and my father told me that I would be nothing but a failure—I was determined to prove him wrong. When he told me I’d never be able to provide for myself, it only made my spine stiffen with resolve.

I may not have amounted to much in his eyes, but I’ve kept myself alive and surviving all on my own, and I’m damned proud of it. Besides… I’m still young, and if I can ever distance myself from this Juice fiasco, I’m going to buckle down and really try to make something of myself.

I pick subconsciously at my new “slightly used” plaid, pleated mini-skirt, which was one of the many great things I found at a local thrift store Flynn took me to. I paired it with a black tank top and a really, really worn-out, black leather jacket I picked up for just ten bucks. My biggest score was a pair of broken-in, leather combat boots I found in the freebie pile. They were slightly too large for me so I just doubled up on the socks.

After I made my purchases, I asked Flynn to wait a second while I went into the dressing room and took off the expensive clothes that he had brought me. He had told me his cousin’s fianc?e had loaned them, and they probably cost more that I made in a month at Zeke’s Bar. I hated wearing them because they reminded me of my old life, but I folded them with care to show my gratefulness over their use.

When I came out of the dressing room, Flynn roamed his gaze over me with lazy interest, but I swear he spent extra time looking at the way my legs were showcased in the mini-skirt. Spending the last five years working in bars, I knew how to dress to get maximum tips and, frankly, it was the only way I knew how to dress now.

When we had left his apartment, I gave Flynn the address to my friend Amy’s apartment. I wanted to go there first to get my money, but Flynn insisted we go shopping for clothes first and that I could pay him back. I didn’t like that but I eventually gave in, not needing to win every battle with him just yet. I just hoped that Amy hadn’t spent my money and that I could, indeed, pay him back.

I call Amy a friend but she’s more like a casual acquaintance, a former co-worker type of friend. She used to work at Zeke’s with me but quit saying she got a better job. My instinct says she’s hooking, but I never asked her outright. The only thing I asked was if I could start storing some extra cash at her place. I had hoped that this emergency fund would help me disappear if my break up with Juice didn’t go so well.

“We’re here,” Flynn says.

I look up in surprise, my fingers smoothing out the edges of the skirt I had been fiddling with. I was so lost in my thoughts that I hadn’t even realized where we were.

Turning my head, I look at Flynn and he’s wearing that casual, friendly smile that I’m getting used to seeing on his face. I don’t know many people that wear friendly smiles all the time.

It’s weird… but nice.

Which also ramps my guilt up further over the way I reacted this morning.

“I’m sorry,” I blurt out.

Those are two words that don’t come easily to me because I rarely apologize for my actions. It’s not that I don’t ever think that I’m wrong, but in my world, you have to react on instinct most of the time, and you have to be confident about it. Apologizing for foolish actions could get you in trouble down the road and ruin your street cred.

“Sorry for what?” he asks as he turns the car off.

“For being a bitch this morning. I know you didn’t mean anything by that “beggar” comment. I was just being too defensive and you didn’t deserve it. Not when you’ve been so nice to me and all.”

His casual smile turns into a full-blown grin, that deep dimple showing brightly. “Let’s not forget I saved your life, too.”

I giggle just a bit and then immediately bite down on my tongue to stop the foreign sound from coming out of my mouth. I can’t manage to turn down the corners of my mouth that unwillingly lift up. “Of course not… I could never forget that.”

My gaze falters a bit from the open acceptance of my apology on his face, and I stare back down at my skirt. I’ve never met anyone like Flynn Caldwell and his generosity unsettles me.

Because generosity is something I’ve never encountered in my entire adult life.

Not once.

Before I can act even more a fool over the way he ties me up, I grab the door and open it. Giving him a quick look, I tell him, “I’ll be back in just a minute, okay?”

He nods. “Sure. Take your time.”

Just before I shut the door, I tell him one more thing. “Do you mind if we make another stop before we head back to your place?”

His smile is warm and accommodating. “Sure… what do you need?”

“I need a cell phone and underwear,” I tell him. “It’s a bit drafty under this skirt without it.”

For some reason, I cannot fathom why, I get a surge of satisfaction as I see Flynn’s eyes flicker with heat and his gaze travel to the edge of my mini-skirt. I can practically see inside his head, as understanding dawns on him that I’m going commando.

“You’re not wearing underwear?” His voice is rough and for some reason, it causes me to have a reactive shiver.

Our eyes hold each other, and while I started out telling him this as a way to show him I didn’t have to be so serious all the time, it’s now turned into something a little sensual.

I shake my head. “I guess I better be careful… this skirt is awful short.” His gaze flicks back down to the hemline, which rests against my upper thighs, and back up again.

While his eyes seem to grow warmer as they look at me, his lips curl up when he says, “Don’t bend over and you’ll be fine.”

My face involuntarily reacts and I shoot him a grin as I shut the door. As I turn away to walk into the apartment building, I know his eyes are on my ass the entire time and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

1

Amy opens the door after I pound on it for about five minutes. I’ve clearly woken her up, even though it’s almost noon.

Her eyes are foggy as they try to focus on me but when recognition hits, she grabs my arm and pulls me in, slamming the door shut quickly.

“My God, Rowan… What are you doing here?”

“I came to get my money you were holding.”

She looks twitchy but says, “Sure… no problem. But then you have to leave.”

Her statement makes the hair on my neck stand up. “Has Juice been here?”

She nods as she reaches over to the counter for a pack of cigarettes. Pulling one out, she lights it, inhaling deeply and then letting a huge plume of smoke out. “Last night. He told me about the fire and that he’s been looking for you. He thought you were here and that I was hiding you.”

I can only imagine the intimidation tactics Juice would use and I feel terrible I put her in this situation, just by the mere fact we know each other. “Are you okay?”

She turns her back on me and walks into the kitchen. Reaching into a cupboard, she pulls out an old coffee can and pops the lid. “I’m fine. He scared the shit out of me though. Threatened me if I didn’t cough you up. He searched every inch of this rat-trap and when he didn’t find you, he left.”

Reaching into the can, she pulls out a roll of green and hands it to me. “It’s all there if you want to count it.”

Shaking my head, I stuff the wad into the pocket of my leather jacket. “Nah… I trust you.”

I really don’t trust her but I don’t want to stick around. The mere thought that Juice could be watching her place is giving me the willies.

“Thanks, Amy. I’m sorry he came here.”

I turn and head toward the door. As I reach for the knob, Amy touches my shoulder and I turn to look at her.

“Juice may not be looking too hard for you right now, so you might be okay.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was really bent out of shape about the fire. Said he knows who did it and they were going to pay. I’m thinking his energy is going to be focused on finding that person.”

“I doubt that. I’m pretty sure he set the fire himself.”

Amy looks at me in surprise. “No way!”

I grab the door handle and give her a hard look. “That shit kept me chained to the bed for three days. I don’t think he’s above taking me out. He’s fucking crazy, Amy.”

“I don’t know, Rowan,” she says, while shaking her head. She’s completely unfazed by my statement that Juice kept me chained up. “He was really pissed about the fire.”

Is it possible that Juice didn’t set the fire? I had just assumed that he was tired of keeping me chained to the bed, particularly because I was fighting him every step of the way. There wasn’t a time he came into that room that I didn’t curse at him for what he was doing to me. He had to have known, for sure, that I would never stay with him voluntarily.

“Give me some paper and a pen,” I tell Amy.

When she hands over the implements, I jot my cell number down and hand it to her. “Do me a favor… call me if Juice comes back or if you hear anything, okay? I should have a replacement phone this afternoon.”

“Sure. Take care of yourself,” she tells me, but I’m not sure she’d actually call me if she knew something. She’d be smart to stay far away from this, and that’s what I expect her to do.

Giving her a look of thanks, I leave Amy behind and head out to Flynn’s car. When I hit the sidewalk, I look left and right, expecting Juice to jump out at me. I half run to the car and throw myself in. When the door slams shut, I tell him, “We need to go… now.”

Flynn gives me just a cursory glance, then he starts the engine and swiftly pulls away from the curb. Turning in the seat, I watch to see if anyone pulls out behind us. After a few minutes, I feel like we’re in the clear and turn back around, latching my seatbelt on.

“Want to tell me what that was about?” Flynn asks.

I really don’t, but I feel like I owe him a heads up. Juice is out there looking for me and he’s pretty fucking resourceful.

“Juice was looking for me at Amy’s last night. I was afraid he might be around… watching her place.”

I watch as his jaw muscles clench and he looks in the rearview mirror. Pulling his gaze briefly away, he looks at me. “I’m not telling you to do this, but shouldn’t you consider going to the cops now?”

His words aren’t even entirely out before I’m shaking my head in the negative. “No way. I don’t trust them.”

“Rowan… he tried to kill you. You should take this a bit more seriously.”

Chewing on my lip, I consider what Amy said. “I’m not so sure he set the fire.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s just something Amy said. She said Juice was really freaked out by the fire and that he knew who set it.”

Flynn is quiet for a while and I stare blankly out the window while he drives. Finally, he says, “What do you believe?”

“I don’t know. Juice isn’t a nice guy… He’d probably kill someone in a heartbeat. But… I don’t think he wanted me dead. He just wanted me back.”

“He kidnapped you and chained you up,” he reminds me.

“I know… I mean… I don’t know. I have no clue what the hell is going on. I really just need to disappear and start over again.” I hate that my words have a whiny sound to them but I’m starting to feel the pressure of my situation.

Just this morning, I was thinking it would be cool to hang at Flynn’s for a few days, absolutely positive I’d figure a way out of this mess. Now I don’t know what to do. And now I have Flynn involved, and while I’ve known him for less than twenty-four hours, he’s done so much for me that I don’t want him to be at risk.

“It’s probably best if I move on, Flynn.”

I’m startled when Flynn moves one hand off the steering wheel and grabs ahold of mine. The warmth of his skin against mine immediately sets my pulse fluttering. “Absolutely not. I told you I’d help you out, and I will.”

Sighing, I squeeze his hand so I have his attention and his eyes flick to mine briefly. “No cops, though.”

He squeezes my hand back. “No cops. I promise.”

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