I finally had a hot date.
At least I thought my brother was handsome. After a week of self-pity for all of my stupid man mistakes, I decided to take the one man I trusted with my love up on his dinner invitation.
We ate in the Village and rode the subway back to my stop. Even though I told him it was completely unnecessary to see me home, he always insisted.
When we came up the stairs from the subway, my phone buzzed in my purse. There were five missed calls, all from an out-of-state number I didn’t recognize. Figuring it was a spammy sales solicitation, I ignored it. Until it rang again as we turned the corner onto my block.
My heart began to race as soon as the caller said he was from my security company, and my alarm had been tripped. It was then I noticed a police car parked outside of my building. The alarm company put me on hold and checked in with the police, who said they were upstairs, and it was safe to come up.
Two uniformed officers were talking to my neighbor in the hallway when I stepped out of the elevator.
They turned toward me. “Ms. Annesley?”
“I’m Officer Caruso, and this is Officer Henner. We responded at your alarm company’s request since we weren’t able to reach you to determine whether things were okay.”
“Seems like it was a false alarm. Your building lost power for a few minutes, and the surge when the backup generator kicked in might have sent a false signal. It’s not uncommon. Your apartment is still locked, and there’s no sign of breaking and entering.”
I felt Owen stiffen next to me when the policeman said breaking and entering. His arm had been on my shoulder as the officer spoke, and he pulled me to him, protectively.
I turned to him. “Did you get all that?”
The officer’s brow furrowed.
“My brother is deaf,” I explained. “He was reading your lips.”
Officer Caruso nodded. “If it’s all right with you, we’d like to take a look inside and just make sure everything is okay.”
They had no idea how all right that was with me. The officer took my keys and asked us to wait outside while they did a search. A few minutes later, they opened the door.
“It’s all clear in here. Like we said, it’s pretty common for power surges to trip these alarms. We just need to fill out a report and get you to sign it, and we’ll be on our way.”
Inside, even though the officers had inspected the place, I still needed to do my own search. While they sat in the kitchen and filled out the report, I discreetly did my usual routine. I was good at concealing it, having concealed it from every date I’d ever brought home. Except for Chase.
I took off my shoes as an excuse to open the hallway closet, then shut myself in the bathroom and ran the water to cover my shower curtain check. Finding all clear in the bedroom, I returned to the living room just as Owen opened the front door.
Chase stood in the hallway, bracing himself against the wall as his chest heaved. He looked at Owen and then found me over his shoulder.
“Chase. What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Is everything okay?” He was really winded.
“Yes. Why? What’s going on?”
“The alarm company called. They weren’t able to reach you, and I’m listed as your backup contact. I told them to call the police and came as soon as I could get here. Are you sure everything is okay?”
I opened the door wider so he could see the police in the kitchen behind me. “The police inspected, and they think it was a false alarm from a power surge. The building is old and loses power occasionally. There’s a backup generator, but it takes a few minutes to kick on, and apparently that can cause a surge and a false alarm.”
“Do you want me to double check for you?”
I gave him a reassuring smile, even though I didn’t feel very sure of myself at the moment. His presence was making my already racing heart palpitate. “I’m good.”
Chase looked at Owen, then back to me. His jaw was rigid. “If you need me, just call.”
It would do him good to wonder, so I didn’t mention that the man he was eyeing was my brother.
Instead, I said, “We’ll be fine. But thank you for coming. I appreciate it.”
And just like that, he was gone.
After Owen and the police left, I spent the night tossing and turning, trying to figure out what Chase’s appearance tonight had meant. It was nothing. He probably had a sense of obligation because he was listed with the alarm company. He would have done that for anyone, I was sure. Yet…there was no mistaking the jealousy in his eyes when he’d looked at Owen.
He’d wanted an explanation.
I didn’t think he deserved one.
Since my mind was whirling and not going to let me go back to sleep, I decided to get my lazy ass out of bed. I hadn’t been to the gym in weeks, and the sun was already up anyway.
After a quick cup of coffee, I pulled my hair into a ponytail and threw on some yoga pants and a cropped workout shirt. I grabbed a zip-up sweatshirt from the hall closet before walking out my door.
My eyes darted all over the street before I exited my building. Last night had made me hyperaware of my surroundings. Otherwise I might not have spotted it.
Sitting on the steps three buildings to my left and across the street was none other than Chase Parker.
He turned his head when he realized I saw him, but I’d know that face anywhere. As soon I started walking toward him, he stood. The air was cold, so I slipped on my sweatshirt as I crossed.
“Chase, what are you doing here?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn’t expect you to come out so early.”
Noticing his clothes were familiar, I was confused. “Have you…been here all night?”
The look on his face answered for him.
“I figured you’d be nervous. Wanted to make sure you didn’t need anything.”
My gut reaction was to snap I’m fine. But he wasn’t wrong, and his actions—no matter how much I disliked him for the way things had ended—were very thoughtful.
So I held back my snark and instead said, “Thank you.”
He nodded, and his eyes dropped to my exposed stomach beneath my unzipped sweatshirt. It was brief, but I caught it, and he knew I’d caught him checking me out.
“Your date left right after the cops.”
“Is that what you were doing? Spying on me? Because you have no right to—”
“That’s not what I was doing. I didn’t want you to be alone. I wanted to be close in case you needed someone.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and was met with sincerity. “Well, again, thank you.”
As much as I wanted to stay, wanted to tell him I didn’t want to be alone, I wanted him to be with me, I knew I needed to go. I looked down at my feet, trying to think of one reason I should stay. Then I made a last ditch effort.
“Why aren’t you the man for me?”
He stared at me and then did what he’d done every time I tried to get the truth. He looked away.
“Have a good day, Chase.” I smiled sadly and walked away from him. Yet again.
That night, I was exhausted but still had trouble sleeping. My anxiousness and constant movement had even sent Tallulah off the bed to find elsewhere to sleep. At one point, around two in the morning, I went to make some Chamomile tea and found Ugly Kitty curled up on the windowsill in the kitchen. I lifted her and started to pet her mindlessly while looking outside. I almost dropped her when I saw him. Same spot. He hadn’t been there earlier when I came in from the grocery store. What the hell was he doing?
I turned off the kitchen light and went to grab my phone. Texting in the dark, I watched to see if he would respond.
Reese: What are you doing out there?
Chase reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He looked up, right at my window, and I jumped to the side out of view, sucking in a deep breath as if that would keep him from seeing me. I leaned enough so that one eye could see what he was doing. After a minute, his head bowed, and I looked at my phone to find the little dots jumping around.
Chase: Just keeping my eyes on the place.
Why does he care? One night after a call from the alarm company and knowing my fear, I could understand. But again? It made no sense.
I watched as he stared up at the window for a long time before dropping his head down to text.
Chase: Get some sleep. I’ll be here until the sun comes up.
I went back to my room with my ugly cat and slipped under the covers. I plugged in my phone and turned off the light. After a minute, I flicked the light back on and reached for my phone.
Reese: Why aren’t you the man for me?
A minute later my phone pinged.
Chase: Good night, Buttercup.
I slept like a baby after that. It was after eight the next morning by the time my eyes opened. The first thing I did was go to my window. There was an emptiness in my chest when I found the stairs across the street empty.
But I wouldn’t have to wait long for my bodyguard to reappear. He was there the next night when the sun went down. And the night after that, and the night after that, and the night after that.
Each night we’d exchange a text or two. They were even growing friendlier as the days passed. But it always ended the same way…me asking why he wasn’t the man for me. And him not giving me an answer.
After a week, I finally decided I needed answers, and if he wasn’t going to give them to me, I’d get them somewhere else.