Clearing his throat, Carlito stood. “All right. You’ve dealt with enough today. Do you have someone to drive you home?”
She snorted. “I think I can manage driving myself home.” Though she had a feeling Travis and Vincent were still waiting for her in the lobby. Mainly because they’d told her they weren’t going anywhere even when she’d insisted she’d be fine.
As they reached the door that opened up into the lobby of the three-story building, Carlito paused with his hand on the doorknob. His face slightly flushed underneath his flawless bronze skin. “Ah, normally I wouldn’t do this but I wondered if you’d be interested in grabbing a drink sometime.”
Belle blinked at him, sure she’d heard wrong. “Drinks? As in a date?”
His flush deepened and something told her that was unusual for this man. “Yeah.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Aren’t you friends with Grant?”
Surprise covered his expression. “He’s one of my best friends.”
“Then why are you asking me out?” Sure she and Grant weren’t exactly dating…yet. But still, she was more than just friends with her sexy neighbor. She’d assumed Grant would have said something to his former partner about it.
“Oh, shit. Are you two dating? I asked him if there was anything between you two and he said you were just friends.” Carlito rubbed a hand over his hair, looking extremely uncomfortable.
“He said we were just friends?” Hurt slammed into her like a semi-truck. On top of everything else that had happened today, this was the worst. Her hands clenched into balls. Not trusting her voice, she turned away from the detective. She opened the door and stepped out into the lobby even if it was rude. She didn’t need an answer from him and she had nothing left to say to him anyway.
As she stepped into the lobby there were various clusters of people sitting in chairs. Including Travis, Vincent and Grant. She glared at Grant, whose indigo eyes just widened when he saw her. Without a word to any of them she grabbed her keys out of her purse and stalked for the glass doors. Striding across the parking lot, she tensed when Grant fell in line with her.
“You’re pretty pissed at me, huh?” he asked quietly.
She didn’t answer. Just pressed the keyfob on her keychain and jerked open the driver’s side door. When he got in the passenger’s side, she swiveled to face him. “You think I’m driving you home?”
“One of the guy’s is driving my car.” He sighed heavily as she started the engine. “I should have told you I had them shadowing you, but I didn’t want to freak you out. I figured better safe than sorry after what happened last week and—”
“You told Carlito we’re just friends?” Damn, she did not know how to be subtle. She’d calmed down about the bodyguard thing because really, someone clearly wanted to hurt her and she couldn’t get mad about Grant looking out for her. Yeah, she was annoyed he’d kept her in the dark, but she’d get over that too if it didn’t become a habit. The thing with Carlito, however, pissed her off. Well, it actually hurt more than anything but anger was easier to latch onto.
“If you’re scrambling for an answer or a lie, don’t bother. You told him we were just friends.” Her voice was accusing. “Good to know.”
“We are friends,” he murmured.
Her fingers tightened around the wheel as she drove. “Do you kiss all your friends?” Of course it had been a week since that kiss so maybe there wasn’t going to be a replay. No matter how mad she got at him, that thought was depressing.
“No. I didn’t know what we were when he asked and hell, I still don’t. I keep thinking you’re going to wake up and see that you can do better than me.” There was such a vulnerable note in his voice that it tore at her heart.
But not enough for her to back down. “I wish you could see yourself the way I do! You’re compassionate, kind, gentle, funny, ridiculously protective—which is good and bad—and sexy. If you’re so concerned about your perceived flaws and the way I look then maybe we should put the brakes on. If all you can focus on is my looks then—”
“Damn it, Belle! I don’t see you like that. Okay, at first I noticed how gorgeous you are. I’d have been blind not to. Now that I’ve gotten to know you I see how much more there is to you. You’re a smartass, incredibly thoughtful, and funny. And you have a temper.”
She shot him a quick glance. “Having a temper is a good thing?”
His lips quirked up slightly, the action softening his entire face. “Oh yeah.”
She swallowed hard and averted her gaze back to the road. Even though she wanted to say more she bit the words back. Earlier—right before she’d been accosted—she’d pretty much admitted to herself how she felt about Grant and she wasn’t going to throw herself at him.
After a long, seemingly interminable moment, Grant spoke again. “I want more than friendship with you.”
Belle let out a breath of relief she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding. “Me too.” As she pulled up to a stoplight, she risked another glance at him and almost wished she hadn’t.
His eyes seemed even darker in the dim lighting of her car. They were also full of erotic promises. Despite the crap that had happened and the fear in the back of her mind about some lunatic trying to kill her, the heated look Grant gave her almost made all that other stuff disappear.
Her gaze fell to his full lips and all sorts of wicked thoughts ran through her mind. Instinctively she moistened her lips with her tongue. Grant let out what she could only describe as a soft growl. Oh yeah, when they finally made it to the bedroom—a sharp horn blast made her jump.
The light had turned green and there was no telling how long she’d been staring at Grant like a lovesick moron. Keeping her hands firmly on the wheel and her eyes straight ahead, she didn’t say another word. There would be time enough to talk later. Right now she didn’t trust her voice or herself not to say something stupid. Like inviting him to take all her clothes off the instant they got back to her place.
The closer they got to their neighborhood she reached over and took one of his hands in hers. She needed to touch him. It grounded her in a way she didn’t quite understand. When he laced his fingers through hers, she inwardly smiled. Tonight things were definitely going to change between them.
* * * * *
Grant entered his alarm code onto the numbered pad then slid the cover over it. He took a deep breath before stepping out of the small closet under the stairs. He’d left Belle waiting in the foyer while he set the alarm.
Mainly because he’d needed a few moments to get his shit together. Belle kept taking his breath away with her openness. Right now he wanted to kiss her so bad he ached for it. Well, he wanted to kiss and strip her naked. But that would mean he’d have to take off his clothes too.
He knew he had issues and was trying to come to terms with his own crap. It was just hard. If it had been another woman it wouldn’t have mattered much. But Belle had the ability to destroy him. He was half in love with her and if she saw him naked, freaked over his scars and then rejected him…he didn’t know if he could deal with that kind of rejection. Sighing, he headed down the short hallway to his foyer.
He froze in the entryway.
Belle’s shoes, socks, scrubs—and bra and panties—were scattered from the front door all the way up his stairs. Holy shit. She was somewhere in his house naked and she was making sure he knew it. They’d come straight back to his place. He’d told her they’d get her clothes later and she hadn’t cared.
She’d said she would just sleep in one of his shirts and that thought had been appealing so he hadn’t argued.
The sound of running water upstairs jerked him into movement. Taking the stairs two at a time, he barely noticed his limp as he raced toward his bathroom and found himself hovering outside the stone and frosted glass wall of his custom made shower.
Only a foot separated them. He could see her silhouette under the water and she was singing a current hip hop song so off-key he couldn’t hold back a laugh.
She paused and he watched as her hands fell from where she’d been massaging her head—likely with shampoo. “Took you long enough.” Her voice was husky and sensual and he knew all he had to do was take a couple steps and see everything he’d been fantasizing about since the moment they’d met.
But his feet were leaden and he was unable to force his body into action.
Finally she started moving again, humming a familiar sounding tune and he realized she was giving him a choice. He could join her or not, but she wasn’t going to push. Through the glass he could see her head fall back under water as she ran her hands through her hair. God, how he wanted to do that. To run his fingers through her tresses and grip the back of her head in a dominating grip.
“My entire back and left arm are scarred and it’s not pretty,” he blurted out.
“Okay.” Belle continued humming and he realized he needed to get over himself.
If she rejected him then she wasn’t who he’d thought. Would it destroy him? Oh yeah. But he’d never find out her reaction if he stood on the other side of the shower like a pussy. He’d been a Marine and a member of the Miami PD. He could do this.
Even though he was nervous he was still rock hard. Just being in the vicinity of Belle had that effect on him. But to know she was mere feet away from him, naked. Oh yeah, his erection wasn’t going away any time soon.
Stripping off his clothes, he didn’t look at himself in the mirror before stepping into the giant enclave. If he’d dared glance at himself he’d have chickened out.
Belle’s back was to him, her face tilted up to the shower head as water rushed over her. Her dark hair was plastered against her back and her waist seemed even smaller because of the way her hips flared out. She had faint tan lines but thanks to her Mediterranean heritage her skin was a gorgeous olive tone. Even her backside was a pale brown, only a shade lighter than the rest of her body.