My cheeks were flushed, my hair was a disheveled mess, and I looked exactly what I was. Fucked. I’d scurried into the bathroom so Chase could answer the door to his office. Looking in the mirror now, there was no doubt I’d made the right choice. I was even more certain of that when I heard Samantha’s voice. Great, the VP of human resources had just walked into Chase’s office, and it probably still reeked of sex.
The serenity I’d felt not three minutes ago was long gone—replaced by its evil friend, paranoia.
Were we loud?
Was I loud?
Did the whole office hear?
What was I doing? I’d set ground rules and promptly broken them the first time Chase pushed a little. Had I learned nothing from my mistakes?
Feeling vulnerable, I tiptoed to the door and pressed my ear against it.
“What were you doing in here?” Samantha asked.
“I was on the phone.”
Her voice sounded suspicious. I pictured her squinting her eyes as she spoke. “With whom?”
“A supplier. Not that it’s any of your business. What do you need, Sam?”
Her voice became more distant, and I had to strain to hear. She must have walked to the windows or the seating area on the other side of the room. “Detective Balsamo called me this morning. She said she’s been trying to reach you.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“That’s why I’m here asking the question. It’s not like you to blow off anything related to Peyton. There was a time when they couldn’t get you out of the police station, you were so involved.”
“That was the same time when I blew off my work and spent most nights drunk. Not sure I want to go back to those days.”
“I get that. I do. But I wanted to make sure nothing else was going on. You seem…different lately.”
“I don’t know. More jovial, I suppose.”
“Jovial? What am I? A jolly old fat guy who rides around in a sleigh?”
“Something’s going on with you. I can tell. Are you seeing someone new?”
The room went quiet for a minute, and I wondered how he was going to respond. A part of me wanted him to say he was seeing someone, just to hear him declare it out loud to one of his closest friends. Then again, he was talking to the vice president of human resources at my place of employment—probably not the best person to make that declaration to.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I am seeing someone.”
“Someone you’ve gone out with more than once?”
“I’m not talking about this with you.”
“When do I get to meet her?”
“When I’m ready.”
“So that means you expect her to be around a while?”
Chase huffed. “Did you have any actual business you came here to discuss? Because I was in the middle of something important when you interrupted.”
“Fine. But you love my interruptions, and you know it.”
I heard footsteps move closer followed by the click of the doorknob, but then it went quiet again without the door closing. Samantha’s voice was serious the next time she spoke, and for some reason, I visualized her stopping and looking back over her shoulder.
“I’m glad you’re moving on, Chase. I hope it works out and I get to meet her.” She paused for a second and then spoke softly. “Maybe it’s time you take down the shrine, too.”
I waited a few minutes before hesitantly cracking opening the door. Chase had opened his windows to the outside and was staring at the advertisement on the building across the street.
He didn’t turn to face me when he spoke. “Sorry about that.”
“Things went too far today. We shouldn’t have…” I trailed off.
He was quiet. I assumed his mood shift was because of what I’d overheard. Even though I’d never had one, I imagined talking about a dead ex-fiancée was kind of a buzz kill. So he surprised me when he turned and said, “I want this.”
“Sex in the office?”
The corner of his lip twitched. “That, too. But that’s not what I meant.”
He shook his head. “I want this. Me and you. Sam just came in here to talk about Peyton. The lead detective on the case called her, too. It’s time for her annual call where she tells me they’re still working the case but nothing new has come up.”
“I’m sorry. She called you last week, right? That must be hard.”
He nodded. “It was always hard. I’m not saying it’s easy now. But normally I go to a dark place after the mention of Peyton’s case. I pretty much expected to feel miserable after Sam walked out the door—waited for it to hit me even. Took a deep breath while I was waiting, and you know what happened?”
“I smelled you on me.”
I blinked a few times. “I don’t understand.”
He shrugged. “Neither do I. But I fucking love smelling you on me.”
He looked so sincere, even though it was a bizarre thing to say.
“And smelling me made you feel better?”
His grin was lopsided. “Uh-huh.”
“Okay then.” I fought a blush. “I really should get back to work.”
“I’d like that. How about if I make you something at my place?”
“Even better. Then I don’t have to wait to get you home to get you naked.”
Over the years, I’d learned to accept my neuroses. Checking under the bed, behind the shower curtain, and inside every closet had become part of my daily routine. I didn’t try to change it. I’d let it become part of who I was instead of letting it define me. Plenty of women were extra precautious…especially living in New York City. Yet, as I was about to enter my apartment with Chase right behind me, I wished like hell that my compulsions could take the night off. I unlocked the top lock, and my key hovered at the next one. Deciding to just get it over with before going inside, I spun around and confessed right there in the hallway.
“I have a routine when I get home.”
Chase’s eyebrows drew together. “Okay…”
“I told you I have issues with safety. I check behind the shower curtain, open all the closet doors, check under the bed and couch.” I paused and chewed on the nail of my pointer finger. “I have a routine, and I do it in a certain order. And I do it at least twice—sometimes more if I don’t feel calm after the second time. Although most days it’s only two passes.”
He said nothing for a few seconds, his eyes questioning. Finding I was dead serious, he nodded. “Show me the routine, and after you’re finished with the first pass, I’ll take the second.”
I had no idea what I’d expected him to say, but that answer couldn’t have made me happier. He didn’t poke fun or belittle my safety concerns. Instead he was going to pitch in. Pushing up on my tippy toes, I planted a sweet kiss on his lips.
Tallulah, of course, was waiting with green eyes glowing in the dark. If I ever had a house, I could put the beast in the window to scare away children at Halloween. I flicked on the lights, and Ugly Kitty stared at Chase as she licked her lips.
I know, Ugly Kitty, I know. He’s pretty delectable.
“Jesus, she’s even uglier in person,” he said.
I scooped Tallulah from the top of the couch and kneeled down to check beneath it, beginning my rounds. Chase followed quietly along. After my last checkpoint, I turned to him. “That’s it.”
He set the bottle of wine he was holding down on the kitchen counter and took Kitty from my arms.
“I’ll be back.”
Watching him go through my routine was comical. He must have thought holding the kitty was part of it. I didn’t bother to tell him because…well, because oddly, I really liked watching the oversized man walk around and check my closets for prospective intruders while holding a hairless cat. It certainly wasn’t a sight you see every day.
Finishing, he bent down, let Tallulah go, and walked into the kitchen where he began to open my drawers, looking for something. Finding a bottle opener, he spoke as he unscrewed the cork. “How’d I do?”
“Perfect. You’re hired. You can come sweep my apartment for criminals every night, if you like.”
He pulled the cork from the bottle with a loud pop. “Be careful. I might take you up on that.”
Since my refrigerator was even emptier than I’d thought, we ordered in Chinese food. I got the kung pao chicken, and Chase chose shrimp lo mein. We sat on the floor in the living room, eating out of containers with chopsticks and swapping meals from time to time.
“Do you think Sam knows?” I asked.
“No. She’s not subtle. If she knew, she’d say it.”
“How do you think she would feel if she did know? Considering I’m an employee and all.”
“Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t like it, I’ll make her change the policy.”
“From prohibited relationships to screwing in the office strongly encouraged?”
He grinned. “Absolutely.”
I’d been thinking about the things I overhead in the bathroom all afternoon. While the conversation was obviously not meant for my ears, I couldn’t unhear it. Part of my hesitancy with jumping into this relationship full force with Chase—even aside from him being my boss—was wondering where his relationship with Peyton had left him. Whether he could truly move on. What shrine had Sam been referring to? I’d been in his house, and nothing had struck me as unusual.
I looked into Chase’s eyes when I spoke. “I overheard some of your conversation with Sam today from the bathroom.”
He swallowed his mouthful of food. “Okay.”
“Can I ask you something that’s probably none of my business?”
He set down his carton on the coffee table. “What’s on your mind?”
“Are you…able to move on?”
He’d told me he wanted to try. But trying and actually putting the past behind you were two very different things. I should know.
“To be honest, the last seven years, I had no idea I wasn’t moving on. Thought what I was doing was moving on.”
“You mean sleeping with women?”
He shook his head. “Yeah. I was standing in place a long time. Not letting go.”
“But you think you’re ready to move on now?”
“I think it took me this long to realize what moving on meant. It doesn’t mean forgetting what you’ve left behind. It means making her a memory and deciding to have a future without her in it.”
“Wow. That’s sad and beautiful at the same time.”
He took my hand. “This feels right. So, to answer your question…am I able to move on now? It feels like I already have.”
Chase was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch. Setting my container down on the table next to his, I climbed over him, straddling his hips, and gently kissed his lips.
“That was a really good answer,” I whispered.
“Oh yeah? Do I get a prize for the right answer?” Chase’s thumb brushed gently along my jaw.
“You do. You get your pick of rewards. Tell me how you’d like to receive yours, and your wish is my command.”
I felt his cock harden beneath me. “Any way I want?”
I nuzzled into him. “Any way you want.”
He grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled hard, gaining access to my neck. Leaning in, his tongue licked its way from the top of my throat down to my collarbone. Reaching the soft spot between my neck and shoulder, his teeth sunk in, not breaking the skin but strong enough that I suspected I’d have a mark tomorrow.
I moaned, and Chase ground up, pushing his erection into me with a groan.
“Does any way I want include tying you to the bed for days?”
Just as he pulled me down to him again, sealing his mouth over mine, his cell phone began to ring.
“That’s you,” I mumbled into our joined mouths.
His hand slipped under my blouse and found my pert nipples, which made ignoring the ringing cell easy. But then thirty seconds after it stopped, it started again. Someone really wanted to reach Chase.
“Don’t you even want to see who it is?”
His dexterous fingers unhooked my bra. “Don’t care.”
But when his phone stopped and started a third time, even Chase couldn’t ignore it any more. He groaned and reached into his pocket to dig his cell out.
“Shit. It’s my brother-in-law. He never calls. I need to take it.”
I leaned back and gave him room.
I heard a man’s voice, but couldn’t make out the words.
“Isn’t it too early?” And then, “Yeah. Okay. I’m on my way.”
He swiped to end the call.
“What’s going on?”
“My sister’s in labor. She’s a month early, but her water broke, and they said the baby is far enough along that it’s safe to deliver. Sounds like she’s going to have him really soon.”
“Wow. That’s exciting.”
Even though it had sounded like he was going to leave right away, Chase made no immediate attempt to move. So I prodded him.
“Go. I’ll take a rain check on tonight. Besides…” I teased. “I didn’t have any rope anyway.”
“Will you come with me? Keep me company. Meet my new nephew?”
“Sure. I’d like that. Let me quick clean up so Ugly Kitty doesn’t polish off the rest of the Chinese food, and we’ll go.”
Evan, Chase’s brother-in-law, had just given us an update and gone back in to his wife. He’d been dressed in blue scrubs and a hat with matching blue paper booties over his shoes.
“How is what he was wearing any different than street clothes?” Chase asked. “He just walked through the hospital and out into the waiting room wearing that outfit. It’s not like it’s any more sterile than what I’m wearing now.”
“You have a point,” I said. “Maybe they just make the father wear it so he feels like he’s part of the team.”
“Maybe. But if I know my sister, Evan’s the only teammate she’s berating right now while she’s in labor.”
I shrugged. “That seems fair, if you ask me. He didn’t have to walk around carrying a bowling ball for nine months, and doesn’t have to suffer through labor. The least he can do is take some abuse.”
Chase smiled at me. “Is that so?”
We were the only two in the waiting room, so I pulled my legs up and snuggled into him. Chase pulled me closer and wrapped an arm around me.
“You want to berate your husband some day?”
That was a strange question. “Not on a daily basis, I hope.”
He chuckled. “I meant in the delivery room. I was asking you if you wanted to have kids some day?”
“Oh.” I laughed. “I totally missed that.”
“Kinda figured that from your answer.”
I thought for a minute before responding. “I never really thought I’d get married, much less have kids. I guess my parents didn’t give us the best example. Even before everything happened with Owen, all they did was fight all the time. I remember playing house with my friend Allison when we were in elementary school. She’d pretend to be the mom and be baking a cake in the fake oven, and I’d be the dad and come home and pick a fight. Her mom overheard us play-arguing one day and thought we’d gotten into a real fight. When we told her we were playing house, she asked why we were yelling, and I said because the daddy came home. I remember her just staring at me, not knowing what to say.”
Chase squeezed me.
“I started to see things a little clearer as I grew older, realizing not all families were as dysfunctional as mine. But by then, I was already checking under the bed two and three times when I walked in the door. I guess I just couldn’t imagine having a family of my own when I was afraid of imaginary things that lurked in my apartment.”
“Sounds like what you really need is someone to make you feel safe. The rest will just fall into place.”
I pulled my head out from its comfy place in the crook of his shoulder and looked up at him. “You might be right.”
If only it were that easy.
It was after five in the morning when a booming voice woke us. Evan looked exhausted, stunned, and out-of-his-mind happy when he announced he had a son. He and Chase exchanged hugs and talked for a few minutes before Evan said he’d better go check on his wife.
“Room 210. I have to get back before she convinces the doctor to give me a vasectomy without anesthesia. But they said she’ll probably be in her room within the hour.”
Chase headed to the lobby to get us some coffees while I went to the bathroom to wash up. I had some dried drool on my cheek, and my hair looked like a giant rat’s nest, even though I’d slept sitting up in one position. Splashing some water on my face, I realized I was about to meet Chase’s sister for the first time.
Over the last few days, it felt like our relationship had changed. It wasn’t just physical anymore. Chase and I had shared a lot about our lives and the things that made us who we were, and now I was already about to meet some of his family. Things moving this fast would normally scare the crap out of me. Yet I found I was more anxious and excited than nervous.
Anna was the spitting image of Chase—only somehow his rough edges were smoothed out, and his masculinity had been replaced with feminine beauty. I smiled at the way his sister lit up when she saw him.
He pecked her cheek. “I couldn’t listen to you complain about missing it for the next fifty years. Of course I’m here.”
Evan slapped Chase on the back. “Come on, walk with me to the nursery. They should be finished cleaning him up by now.”
Chase did a quick introduction for Anna and me before leaving the room with his brother-in-law.
“I had a feeling I’d meet you eventually,” she said.
I was surprised she knew anything about me—even that I existed.
“Congratulations. I’m sorry if I’m intruding. I wanted to keep Chase company while he waited. I can wait outside and give you some privacy.”
“I just had half the hospital staring up my gown. Getting to shut my legs feels like privacy at this point.” Her smile was genuine.
I laughed. “Did you pick out a name for your son yet?”
“Sawyer. We’re naming him after my Dad. Sawyer Evan.”
“Thank you. I’m glad Chase brought you. He talks about you at our weekly dinners. I’ll admit, I was curious.”
“He doesn’t usually talk about women, doesn’t bring them to any family events, and definitely doesn’t leave them alone around me.”
I smiled. “He’s afraid you’ll tell all his secrets?”
“Yep. And I better hurry and do it because the nursery is only down the hall.”
I thought she was kidding, but then her face turned serious.
“My brother is a great guy—ask him, he’ll tell you,” she joked. “But the thing is…underneath all that cocky arrogance, I think he’s afraid of a relationship.”
“Because of Peyton, you mean?”
Anna looked surprised. “You know the whole story?”
“I think so. Can’t say I blame him for being nervous about getting close to anyone after what happened. People are afraid for much less than that.” Like me, for example.
She nodded like we were on the same page. “Just don’t let him fool you. He walks around like he’s wearing a coat of armor, but the truth is, there’re some chinks in that protective shield.”
“Maybe that’s why we get along so well. My armor has some pretty big bullet holes. But thank you. I’ll try to remember mine are just more noticeable than his.”
Chase walked in behind Evan, who was wheeling a plastic baby carrier. In the center of the translucent tray lay a tiny bundle swaddled in blue hospital blankets.
“Didn’t even have to look at him to know which one was yours,” Chase teased his sister. “He was screaming so loud. Kid’s got your lungs already.”
Her husband gently lifted the baby and placed him in Anna’s arms. She cooed to him and then lifted him up so we could see his sweet little face.
“This is your Uncle Chase. I hope you got your brains from him, but your looks from me.”
Chase leaned closer. “Considering you look just like me, that’s a smart wish.”
Anna rocked the baby in her arms when he started to fuss. “Have you talked to Mom and Dad yet? I told Evan not to call since it was so late.”
“I haven’t. But they wouldn’t have been able to get a flight up from Florida until this morning anyway.”
We stayed with Anna and Evan another half hour until Anna yawned. She must have been exhausted after being in labor all night. Hell, I was exhausted just from napping in the waiting room.
Traffic was light in the city as we pulled out of the lot around the corner from the hospital. “Your place or mine?”
“That’s presumptuous of you,” I teased.
“You make me keep my distance at the office during the week. It’s Saturday. I figure the weekend is mine.”
I thought back to what had transpired yesterday, what we were almost caught doing. “You didn’t seem to be keeping your distance yesterday when you had me pinned down face-first on your desk.”
He groaned and adjusted himself in his seat. “Your place. It’s closer. And now that you just reminded me of how spectacular your ass looked raised in the air, that’s the way I’m going to take you the first time when we get home.”
It was just a figure of speech, I knew, but I loved the sound of Chase saying when we get home.
Although, what I loved even more was what he did when we arrived at my place. Taking the keys from my hand, he unlocked my bevy of locks on the front door and walked inside first. He then completed my ritualistic entry sweep. Twice. In my exact neurotic order, all while holding Tallulah.
After he finished, he kissed my forehead. “Good?”
Nodding, I pushed up on my toes and kissed him on the lips. “Thank you.”
“Anytime. By the way, I called the guy who did the security at the office. They’re going to install a monitoring system here. I’ve referred a lot of business his way. He owed me a favor, so he’s doing the install free, and the monthly cost will be absorbed into the office bill.”
“Too late—it’s being installed next week. He’s going to get back to me with which day he can get here. I’ll need a key to let them in, or you’ll need to be here.”
“Chase, I don’t need an alarm.”
“You’re right, you don’t. But it will make me feel better, especially when I’m traveling and out of town.”
He lowered his head and silenced me by pressing his lips to mine. “Please. Let me do this. It will make me feel better.”
I huffed and stared at him. Eventually, I gave. “Fine.”
I dug my extra set of keys out of a drawer for him, told him to relax, and went into the kitchen to make us some omelets for breakfast. We ate in the living room in front of the TV, watching Good Morning America, and then snuggled on the couch, him lying behind me. Although we’d slept for a little while at the hospital, both of us had been sitting up in chairs, which wasn’t productive sleep at all.
I yawned. “Your sister seems great.”
“She’s a pain in the ass. But she’s good people.”
He took a deep breath in and out, and I felt his breathing begin to slow. After only a few minutes, I thought he might have fallen asleep, but then he spoke, his voice groggy. “She’s going to make a good mom. So will you someday.”