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She’s wearing one of my favorite pair of jeans that hug her ass perfectly, and showcase her long, toned legs. Her shirt is one of those blousy things that kind of hang loosely in a sexy way. It’s sheer, so I can still see her tight body and full chest incased in a tight, black tank. I almost swallow my tongue when I see her shoes. That woman could have me licking the floor just to have her in those heels, and those heels alone. Red-hot and sky high.

Temptation on legs.

I clear my throat and will my erection down. Last thing I need is to look like some creepy, old man getting hard on at a four-year-old’s birthday party. Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well at all.

Her eyes snap over to where I’m leaning against the doorjamb that leads into the kitchen. I can tell the exact second that her wall she has up starts securing all their extra locks, and the bulletproof glass starts to rise. You can literally see her protecting herself. And the worst part, the part that guts me right to the fucking heart, is that she is protecting herself from me.

“Izzy, Em, Dee… good to see you.” I turn and walk back into the living room. No sense in sticking around where I’m not wanted.

Chapter 7

What a mess. I should know by now that my body will react to being around him, even if I beg it not to. My therapist keeps telling me that it’s time to trust. Time to stop letting my fears, and the ghosts of the past stand in the way of my happiness. She says I can’t keep condemning everyone around me for the crimes of others. The rational part of me knows that she’s right, but then I remember, for the billionth time, what happens when the good guy turns into the devil. It’s getting easier, though. I feel stronger, and that in itself, is a huge step for me.

I look around at the happy faces of my friends and feel the usual tug at my heart. The love so clearly painted all over them, is almost too much to take. Hell, even shy, little Emmy seems to be smiling and laughing more.

Everyone is happy.

Everyone is loved.

Everyone is blinded by that perfection.

I smile, donning my ‘I’m so happy’ look, and excuse myself from the group. I know I saw Maddox walk in a little while ago, and if I plan on getting the information I need from him without others around, I have to do it soon, or it will be hours before I get a chance to corner him alone.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to avoid letting one of these overprotective apes in on my issues at the office. The North Carolina branch of my insurance agency has been having issues. Big issues. I only caught wind of it because one of our larger clients called to inform us that they would be moving their account to another agency. One they claimed could give them better rates. Knowing damn well that wasn’t true, I started digging and when I found the number of times their account had been overbilled, I was shocked. When I began to understand that the problem was bigger than I had realized, or ever imagined, I knew it was time to call in help.

Enter Maddox. He’s been helping me, with the promise that he will keep his mouth shut unless he notices something potentially dangerous. How dangerous could this really be?

The only plus to the giant cluster fuck that my company has turned into is that I don’t have time to miss Beck. Well, I don’t have time to miss him with the same bone crushing intensity that I have been. Still, it won’t ever be easy to be in the same room with him. Not when I can feel the invisible line that seems to connect us pulling tight every time we’re around each other.

There have been a handful of times over the last two years when I haven’t been able to hold those walls up anymore, and we’ve come together with the same ferocious lovemaking that we always create. And each morning after, I make sure I’m long gone before he even wakes. Neither one of us mentions those stolen moments, but I know him… I know he wishes that just once, I would be there in the morning. I’ve made a promise to myself that last time would be it. No more hurting him because I’m too weak to keep my walls up.

“Looking for me?”

I am so lost in my thoughts that I almost run right into Maddox. He doesn’t give me a chance to fall because his hands shoot out to steady me until I catch my footing.

“Uh, yeah.” I look up into his unreadable eyes. Maddox has always been the master of giving nothing away when you look at him. His face is almost always expressionless, his bottomless eyes hard, and his large frame is never anything but intimidating. To be honest, he would scare the daylights out of me if I ran into him on the streets. Maddox Locke looks like a man that eats babies for breakfast.

“Found me.” His gritty, deep voice rumbles his normal ‘as few words as possible’ way of speaking.

“Yeah, I noticed when your hard ass chest almost knocked me out. Were you just going to let me break my neck?” My patience, for the most part, is in small supply these days, but for some reason, Maddox, and all his asshole tendencies, just works for me. I know that part of it is him knowing something about me that no one else does.

“Probably. Seemed pretty lost in thought there, so I’m not even sure you would’ve heard me say anything anyway. Noticed you and Beck doing your normal bullshit, too. Which do you want to avoid talking about more?”

“Don’t be an asshole, Mad. Did you find anything out from the files I sent you?” I’m pretty sure I sound as desperate as I feel, maybe even borderline manic at this point. I know he told me he wouldn’t say anything to the others, but depending on what he’s found, that could change everything. And the last person that I need to find out that I’m in trouble is Beck.


That’s it? Are we serious right now?

“Please, don’t play games with me. This is serious, Maddox.”

“Yeah, I know it is. I know it’s serious because I’ve dug deep enough to know just how dangerous this can be for your pretty little ass if you keep being so obvious with your detective work. Hell, you might as well just show up and tell the whole office what you’re looking for.” He narrows his eyes and does that stupid manly huff and grunt thing that is supposed to put me in my place. Fat chance of that happening.

“Tell me what you found. Please.” I know, before he even opens his mouth, that I’m not going to like what he tells me.

“Adam Harris. Age thirty-six, single, agent in your company for the last eight months?”

“Yes, I know who you’re talking about. I hired him myself. He had a good resume, and all of his references checked out. He might not have finished top in his class or anything, but he had enough work history in the insurance field for me to give him a go. Hell, his last employer told me he didn’t want to let him go!” Okay, I might be close to losing my calm, because this guy was nowhere near my radar.

“That would be the one. Seems like Mr. Harris has a nasty little habit. The kind of habit that costs a lot to keep up.” The confused look on my face must have clued in the fact that I’m not exactly following him, because almost as an afterthought he added, “Drugs, Dee. He’s so far in debt with his drug dealer that I’m not really sure how he’s still breathing.”

“What?” I gasp.

“Dee, I checked his financial history, and best I can tell, he’s in the red everywhere. Mortgage is in foreclosure, truck repossessed, and that doesn’t even count the negative bank statements, and at least fifty thousand in credit card debt. Looks like from all the company reports you’ve given me, he’s only done this to the one account. It wasn’t enough for them to get suspicious, until recently. My guess is that he was getting close to desperation, and that makes people like him sloppy.”

I just stare at him in disbelief. I know Adam. Hell, I’ve gone to dinner with him a few times on my trips back to North Carolina. I’ve told him about my life here. He can’t be doing this to me. “You have to be mistaken. He doesn’t look like he would be so… evil.” I try to calm my breathing, and when I’m not successful I lean against the hallway wall before sliding down to the floor.

Maddox sighs before he crouches in front of me, takes my face between his hands, and forces me to look up. “Calm your shit, Dee. I told you I would look into it, and I did. Now that we both know what’s going on, it’s time to let the others in. There is no damn way it’s safe enough for you to try and fix this on your own.”

Before I can reply, an angry voice cuts through the silence, and I jump so high that my chin knocks into Maddox’s nose. I watch in horror as his legs give out, and he falls on his ass. He doesn’t even seem worried about the blood pouring from his nose; he’s more worried about pulling down the leg of his jeans where it’s ridden up mid-calf. His head snaps up when my gasp echoes around us. His expressionless eyes are now full of anger and panic.

“I’ll keep your secret for now, Dee, but don’t you dare say a word about that to the girls.” He jumps up and stalks away, roughly hitting Beck against the shoulder.

I must be in shock because I don’t even move. My mind’s spinning out of control with all the information Maddox told me, and with what I just saw when he fell. I don’t even notice when Beck stomps up into my space. Still staring into the distance, when I feel his hands close around my biceps and lift me to a standing position in front of him. His body is vibrating with anger.

“What the hell was that?”

It takes me a second to put the pieces together, but when I do, my eyes widen. He thinks that me and Maddox… That Maddox and me… Oh, shit.

“It’s not what it looks like, Beck,” I whisper.

“Right, so you weren’t sitting here in a dark hallway, all cozy with one of my closest friends? Huh? I’m not good enough for you, but Maddox is?”

I’ve never seen Beck this pissed before. I’ve seen him mad, but never like this.

“He was just helping me out Beck. It’s not easy being here, and I was having a bad moment. All he was doing was talking to me, trying to get me to stop being upset, and enjoy the party. Can you please calm down?” It’s not exactly the truth, but it’s not a lie either.

He takes a second; I can clearly see him calming himself down. One of the things I love about him is his ability to control his emotions. He doesn’t hide anything from me. I can see the anger fade, and in its place is confusion, which just as quickly turns to hurt. Hurt because it wasn’t him that was able to comfort me. And finally, understanding dawns. He might not like it, actually, I know he doesn’t, but he still puts his feelings aside and understands. It wasn’t Maddox and me being together in a lustful way. It was about Maddox being there for me as a friend. For everything I’ve put us through, the only thing he cares about is that I’m okay, even if he isn’t the one that’s making it possible for me to be that way

I don’t deserve him. I know that now. But the worst part, in this moment, I know there is no way that this man in front of me could ever be anything other than Mr. Perfect. He could never be what I’ve been running from. All along, he’s been right in front of my face, promising me the world, and I just couldn’t see it. That’s all it takes for the waterworks to start, and my whole body shakes with silent sobs.


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