8. 1

“I better go put some underwear on.”

Those words practically make me groan as I watch Rowan walk down the hall to the guest bedroom, her shopping bag filled with what I can only imagine is black lace.

When we got to Gateway Center, she reached into her jacket and pulled out a roll of cash. She peeled off a few bills to pay me back for her thrift store purchases, and then hopped out of the car, promising she’d be back soon.

While she was inside shopping, I tried to keep my mind off the fact that she was bare under that tiny mini-skirt and I tried not to imagine what she was buying. Instead, I tried to focus on the bigger issue… and that was what to do with Rowan. I’m bothered by the fact that she has a deranged ex-boyfriend searching for her, who may or may not have tried to murder her, but certainly was deviant enough to chain her to a bed so that he could keep her. That’s about as fucked up as you can get.

Rowan’s talk about disappearing has me slightly freaked and I have no clue why. It would certainly make my life easier if she left, and I have no allegiance to her, nor do I owe her anything. Except, for some demented reason, I feel utterly compelled to see this through.

And while this started out, no doubt, as nothing more than a manifestation of my old hero complex running amok, it’s turning into something different. Now, there is not only a connection to Rowan forged out of the bizarre circumstances of her rescue, but I’m feeling a personal attraction to her as well. And not just an attraction to her beauty, although there is plenty of reasons to have me fantasizing about what lies underneath that mini-skirt, but I’m attracted to her entire character.

Her stubborn pride has me intrigued, and her bravery in the face of some scary fucking danger makes me respect her. She’s tough as nails and as beautiful as an ocean sunrise. I find that combination to border on the addictive side.

Yes… it’s too fucking late for me. I’m fully invested in seeing this through with her.

My mind briefly goes to Marney. I don’t think of her every day, but I do think of her often. I wonder if she’s looking down on me now, shaking her head and thinking, “Poor bastard.” While not many thoughts of Marney have me smiling, this one does.

“What’s so funny?”

I look up and Rowan is walking back into the living room, followed by Capone. She’s changed into another thrift store outfit—a pair of worn jeans and a tight, vintage t-shirt that says “Mountain Dew” on the front. The material is thin, because the t-shirt is probably older than dirt, and hugs her breasts like a glove. I’d be dead and buried not to notice her nipples are popping hard against the soft cotton and while she may have put on panties, she certainly didn’t put on a bra. She’s fucking sexy as hell but I really can’t be thinking like that. We have more serious things to worry about.

“When you’re done staring at my boobs, want to tell me what’s so funny?”

My eyes slowly lift to hers. “You’re not wearing a bra.”

Rowan smirks at me. “And you find that funny?”

“There’s never anything funny about a beautiful, bra-less woman. That’s something I take very seriously,” I tell her with a slight grin of my own. “But apparently, I got sidetracked from what I thought was funny.”

I’m actually startled when Rowan breaks out into a soft laugh. It’s rich, warm, and filled with amusement. Completely at odds with the general taciturn nature I’ve seen so far.

“Well, you better get used to it, roomie. I hate wearing bras. Too confining.”

Holding my hands up in mock surrender, I tell her, “Hey… no complaints here. In fact, I’m betting there isn’t a man on this planet that would complain about it.”

She snorts as she walks by me and grabs the Donald Duck tie that I had looped over the front doorknob. “I’m going to take Capone for a quick walk.”

“And we’ll talk when you get back?”

She regards me for a moment and I can see barriers starting to form. But then, she takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “You’ve done a lot for me, Flynn. I owe my life to you. We’ll talk some when I get back.”

I watch as she bends over to knot the tie around Capone’s collar. She regards me as a hero, a thought that both pleases me and scares me at the same time.

I hope I won’t be a failure to her.

1

While Rowan is out walking Capone, I decide to give Tim a call. He answers on the second ring. “Man, you’re missing a helluva game.”

“Damn,” I respond and walk into the living room to turn the TV on. I quickly find the Jets game and mute the volume.

“So what was so important today that you ditched me and the Sam-meister?”

I sit down on the couch and let out a pent-up sigh. “Dude… it’s a strange and fucked-up story.”

“No worries… it’s almost half-time. I can lend an ear to you for a bit.”

How do I start my story with Tim? He’s going to give me the same shit that Nix and Emily did, except he’ll try to be more subtle about it. Outside of my family, Tim is the only one that knows what happened to Marney. He’s one of the few that understand what drives me at times.

“So, that girl that was chained to the bed yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, she’s sort of staying at my apartment for a few days.”

Tim makes sort of a low whistling sound through his teeth, which is his version of saying, What the fuck?

Pressing on, I tell him, “I had to take her out today and get some clothes. She lost everything in the fire. That’s why I had to ditch.”

“Doesn’t she have any place else to go?”

See, I knew Tim would be subtle. I read that question to mean, What the fuck are you doing bringing a strange woman to live in your apartment?

“Nah, man. And she left the hospital with only a set of surgical scrubs to her name. She was going to sleep out on the streets with that dog of hers. I had no choice. It was the right thing to do.”

Tim is silent for just a minute, and I can tell he’s choosing his next words carefully. “Flynn… buddy… she has some serious shit going on. She was chained to a bed and I don’t even really want to know how that came about. Are you sure this is the wisest thing for you to do?”

If he weren’t a firefighter, Tim would make a great politician. What he’s really saying is, Not only is that not the right thing to do, it was the craziest fucking move you could make.

It’s a good question and the answer is, It’s probably not the wisest thing. But there is no backing away now. Like I said… I’m fully invested in helping Rowan.

Before I can even tell Tim that, he pushes on. “Flynn… just listen to me for a second. This woman… she was chained to a bed. I can only assume that she was there against her will, and that is some serious felony shit going on. She almost dies in a house fire, so I’m thinking there may be attempted murder involved. I don’t even want to think about the emotional baggage she’s bringing into your life. I mean, for all you know… she could be scamming you. This is a mistake, man. I know you don’t want to hear that, but I need to say it anyway.”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. It gets tiring… having my motives questioned all the time.

Still, it is with patience that I say, “Tim… you’re my best friend, and I respect the shit out of you. But this is the right thing. She needs help and I had to fight her hard to get her to take it. But more than that… she’s a good woman, Tim. She deserves to have someone on her side right now. I don’t know what her background is, or what led her to this situation, and frankly, I don’t give a shit. I just know that… in my heart… it’s the right thing to help her.”

I can hear Tim sigh but then he proves to me why he’s my best friend. “I still think it’s a fucked-up situation but I trust your judgment. If you need any help, you just let me know, okay?”

“I will. Thanks, man.”

I disconnect the call and throw my cell phone down on the couch beside me. Laying my head back, I stare at the ceiling and hope that Tim’s faith in my judgment is strong enough for the both of us.

“Hey,” I hear from behind me.

Sitting up, I look over my shoulder and see Rowan standing there with Capone. She had come in so quietly, I hadn’t even heard the door open or close.

“That was a quick walk.”

“Yeah, well, my boy here got down to business pretty fast.” She unknots the tie from his collar and he pads into the kitchen for some water. After she lays the tie back over the doorknob, she walks to the couch and sits on the opposite side of me.

After staring at the muted TV for a few seconds, she turns my way. “I caught part of your conversation… I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”

I shrug my shoulders. I wondered if she had heard any of it, but I didn’t say anything to Tim that I wouldn’t say to her face.

Clasping her hands in her lap, she looks down at them, seemingly lost in thought. She promised me she’d talk to me about what was going on, and I assume she’s trying to collect herself. I wait patiently.

And I wait.

And then I wait some more.

I actually start watching some of the game on TV, letting my mind take a break from all the craziness that has been my life the last twenty-four hours.

Without any warning, Rowan stands from the couch and says, “I’m hungry. How about I make us some lunch?”

She’s stalling and I know it. But I’m hungry as well so I stand up and say, “Sure. We can talk while we’re eating.”

Rowan actually grimaces over that statement but then turns and heads to the kitchen. I follow her in and lean against the counter while she pulls out all the stuff to make us some sandwiches.

Her back is to me and she silently works on making us lunch. I don’t press her for information, taking my time enjoying the view of her backside. It’s just as lovely as the front.

“How do you know?” she asks as she turns to me.

I manage to sling my gaze up from her ass to her eyes and I don’t think she caught me checking her out. “How do I know what?”

“That I’m a good woman. You said that to whoever you were talking to. I mean… you’ve known me for a day. How do you know I’m a good woman?”

For a split second, I feel like I’m caught in the glare of a spotlight, and I’ve just been asked the million-dollar question. My mind blanks, and outside of knowing for certain that her tits are exquisite and her ass is slammin’, nothing is coming to mind.

But then I focus on those gray eyes of her, watching me carefully, and it all comes to me in a rush. “I know for lots of reasons. You’re brave enough to try to leave a guy that’s so demented he kidnapped you. You have pride… a little bit stubborn, but respectable all the same. You don’t like handouts and you have a hard work ethic. You like to earn your keep. You’re distrustful, for sure, but I’m thinking that’s just to protect your heart, which I’m guessing has been bruised. But that means you have a heart. I know you’re a good woman because of that damned dog in there. He saved your life as much as I did and that means you inspired love and loyalty in him. That means you have a soft touch and the heart you have is warm and caring. You don’t like to see people get hurt. You were worried for me today at Amy’s. You wanted to move on after you realized Juice was looking for you, and that was so that I wouldn’t get caught up in this. There are so many reasons, but more than anything, Rowan… I just know. It’s an instinct, and I’m going to trust it.”

She just stares at me, those gray irises wide and unblinking. Then I see her lower lip start to tremble ever so slightly and a veil of tears forms in her eyes. Her voice quavers but she smiles when she says, “Boy… you sure do see a lot.”

“I see you,” I tell her simply.

Taking a deep breath, she blinks her eyes rapidly and the tears disappear. She turns her back on me and goes back to making the sandwiches. Maybe it’s because we aren’t making eye contact, but she feels brave enough to share with me, “Thank you, Flynn. No one has ever said nice things like that about me.”

Picking up the plates from the counter, she walks to the kitchen table and I follow her. As we sit down, I tease her, “I find it hard to believe no one has ever said nice things to you. Not a hottie like yourself.”

It cracks me up that Rowan actually blushes over that remark. I never would have pegged her for someone that would get embarrassed.

She picks her sandwich up and takes a bite. After she swallows, she says, “Sure… I mean, guys are always saying nice things… I mean, it’s what you do when you want in a girl’s pants, right?”

I snicker, because that is exactly what we do.

“But not you, Flynn… you meant those things you said. I heard the truth in your voice. And you said it, expecting nothing in return from me. You think I’m a good woman, and I’m not so sure about that. But I know you’re a good man. Like you… I just know.”

I’m stunned for a moment, because her words touch me, and that doesn’t happen often. She stares at me, and I return it, both of us silent… both of us thinking over the things we just said to each other. It’s a definitive turning point in our relationship and by the look on Rowan’s face, I’m not sure she’s ever opened up to anyone like that before. She looks slightly stunned and a little fearful for allowing herself a moment of vulnerability.

I decide to lighten the mood, so she won’t have the opportunity to close herself away from me. “Yeah, well, who says I don’t want in your pants?”

I try to keep a serious face and she blinks at me, trying to comprehend what I just said. Then I break out into a huge grin and shoot her a wink.

A smile slowly comes to her own face and then a devilish gleam sparkles in her eyes. “Who says I won’t let you get there?”

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