Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 35

Reese

He cooed up at me with those big chocolaty eyes that both made me melt and broke my heart. Sawyer looked just like his uncle. Well, technically, he looked like his mother. Only his mother was the spitting image of her brother. Needless to say, all three had been blessed by their gene pool.

“He’s absolutely gorgeous, Anna.”

She scooped baby Sawyer from my arms and positioned him to take a bottle. “He looks just like Chase. Let’s hope he gets his uncle’s brains and not his attitude.”

We’d met at a small Greek restaurant within walking distance from Anna and Evan’s apartment. They must have been regulars because the owner took Sawyer from Anna’s arms the minute she walked in and smothered him with kisses. The restaurant also sent over a half-dozen plates of food without our even ordering.

I’d debated whether to reach out to Sam or Anna but ultimately decided on Anna. Sam was locked up like a bank vault when it came to Chase. Between working for him and being Peyton’s best friend, her loyalty ran deep. That’s not to say Anna wasn’t extremely loyal to Chase. However, I had a feeling she’d do what she thought was best for him, no matter what—even if it meant telling a story he might not have wanted to be told.

“I hope you don’t mind my looking you up and calling.”

“Mind? Call me every day. I love this little guy, but I’m starting to talk in baby talk even to adults. I could use an excuse to get out more often, to make me get out of my sweats and wash my hair before eight at night.”

We made small talk for a while, about the baby, plans for the fall, and even some of the products Parker Industries was working on. I thought I’d have to uncomfortably bring up what I wanted to ask, but Anna beat me to it.

“Can I ask you something personal?” she said.

“Of course.”

“Did my brother do something to upset you? That’s why you’re not together anymore?”

“Yes, actually.”

“I figured. What did the idiot do?”

I deadpanned, “He broke up with me.”

She seemed genuinely shocked. “Why?”

“I have no idea. That’s part of the reason I wanted to talk to you. He broke up with me, and yet he’s sitting and guarding my apartment every night.”

Anna scrunched up her face. “What is he doing?”

I gave her the full story, although even as I told it aloud for the first time, it sounded like parts were missing. Which made me even more certain several parts were… Big parts.

When I finished, the baby had just fallen asleep, and Anna gently set him down in the stroller. I was surprised to see tears in her eyes when she sat back down in her seat.

“It all makes sense now.”

“What does?”

Big drops slid down her cheeks, staining her face. “He feels like he failed to keep Peyton safe, and your biggest concern is safety. He doesn’t feel worthy, but can’t let go.”

The gates opened wide after that. Anna filled me in on everything I’d been missing, from Detective Balsamo to Chase’s walnut knife, and all about Eddie in between. By the time she was done, we were both full-on crying. My heart broke for Chase. It was bad enough to have lost someone he loved, but to find out it was his knife—a knife he’d voluntarily given the man who killed her—made him feel like he’d been the cause of Peyton’s death. Like he hadn’t protected her. Oh God.

Anna and I walked with our arms linked as she pushed the carriage back to her apartment.

“Do you want to come in? Have a glass of wine?” she asked.

“I’d love to. But another day, maybe?”

She nodded. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“You won’t have to. I’m going to keep in touch whatever happens.”

We hugged each other like long-lost friends.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I need to give it some thought. It’s so much to take in right now.”

“I understand.”

“Could you…do me a favor? When you talk to your brother, don’t let him know you told me? I’m still holding out hope that he’ll tell me himself. I think I’ve just been going about it the wrong way to get him to open up.”

“Of course. I hope everything works out for you two. I really do.”

“Thank you, Anna. For everything.”

I walked away finally understanding why Chase thought he wasn’t the man for me. Now I just needed him to realize he was.

Chase arrived at nine that night. I wondered if he was even going to work anymore. He was spending all night guarding my apartment building. He couldn’t possibly be working all day.

I left him out there for an hour while I got things ready and then went downstairs without warning.

When I approached him, he stood. “Everything okay?”

“I…just wasn’t having a good night. Mind if I join you for a while?” I held up the plate I carried. “I made cookies.”

He searched my face, clearly unsure what I was up to. Finding sincerity—I was having a bad night—he nodded. “Of course.”

Our conversation was slow at first, neither of us knowing what to say. I asked him about work, and he asked me about job prospects. I gave some vague responses about considering my options, and eventually, I brought the subject around to what I’d come out to share. There was a lull in the conversation, and I took a deep breath and exhaled audibly.

“I don’t know if I locked the door.”

“Tonight?”

I shook my head. “No. When our apartment was broken into. The key was on a long, red ribbon I liked to wear around my neck. I was the last one out, and I was supposed to lock the door. But I can’t remember if I did. That’s why I always check it three times before I leave.”

“You were a kid.”

“I know. And the neighborhood had a dozen break-ins in the weeks leading up to ours. Some had no signs of forced entry. Others had windows and doors broken. It probably wouldn’t have mattered either way. They still would’ve been inside when we came home. The police said if they wanted to get in, they’d have gotten in one way or another.” I shrugged. “But tonight I was trying to remember if I’d locked it again. I used to replay that day over and over in my head, trying to remember.”

Chase put his arm around me and squeezed. “What can I do?”

“Nothing. Just talking to you made me feel better, actually.”

His grip around me tightened. “Come on down anytime. I’m here between sundown and sunup.”

I heard the smile in his voice, and I turned, wanting to see it. I’d missed it so much. For a brief second, the way he looked at me, I could see that everything he felt for me was still there. He’d just buried it so damn deep, I could only catch distant glimpses of it before it was out of reach again.

Figuring I’d pushed as much for one night as I probably should, I forced myself to get up. “I’m going to head to bed. Thanks for listening, Chase.”

“Anytime.”

“I’ll leave you the plate. I figure cops get free donuts, the least I could do was give my bodyguard some cookies.”

I started on my way and then turned back. I was so thrilled to catch his eyes on my ass, I almost forgot what I wanted to say.

“Why aren’t you the man for me, Chase?”

Some day, I’d get him to tell me. Today just wasn’t that day.

We went on that way for another week. I’d bring him a snack, and we’d sit and talk for an hour or two on the steps of some random apartment building across the street from my place. Each morning when I woke, the plate I’d left behind was sitting outside my apartment door.

While it was great for my sleep—I’d never slept better, knowing someone was watching over me like a hawk—I began to think he’d never come around. Chase seemed content with our newfound friendship. Me, not so much. So I decided to push a little harder.

It was a misty night, and I’d made him cupcakes. I went outside to offer him his daily snack. He was wearing a windbreaker with a hood, and the craziness of him sitting outside in the rain provided the perfect opportunity.

I opened my golf-sized umbrella and held it over us as I sat on the wet steps.

“Hey.”

“It’s gross out here tonight,” I said.

“Had to happen eventually. We’ve had good weather the last few weeks.”

An unseasonably warm breeze caught the smell of his cologne and reminded me of our nights together. His chest would glisten with sweat, and the cologne he’d put on that morning would rise to the surface. I wanted to lean in and take a deep breath. But I couldn’t. It was frustrating as hell.

Losing my patience, my invitation came out differently than I’d planned. “Just come inside,” I blurted. “You don’t need to sit out here all night.”

It seemed like my suggestion was completely unexpected. Chase just stared at me. Could he really be that blind? Did he think we would just go on forever with him sitting across from my apartment all night and me delivering baked goods?

When he still hadn’t answered, I repeated myself. “Come inside. This is silly. It’s raining out, and I have a perfectly dry apartment just footsteps away. You can stand guard from the couch all night, if you want. Just come inside.”

The nice, friendly face I’d come to expect for my nightly visits transformed, replaced by the stony and distant face he’d used when he dumped me. I knew what was coming next, and I wasn’t accepting it anymore.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Reese.”

I stood. “Well, I do.”

“Things between us are good. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.”

He couldn’t really believe that crap, could he?

“Things between us are good? What are we even, Chase? Tell me.”

His jaw flexed. “We’re friends.”

I could see him shutting down, and I didn’t care. My emotions had been all over the place lately, and I needed an outlet. Unfortunately, the outlet was going to be Chase tonight.

“I don’t want to be friends!” I yelled. “We were never friends.”

I hadn’t come out planning to give him an ultimatum tonight, but somehow I was there.

It was time.

“I can’t give you anything more, Reese. I told you that.”

“Maybe. But your words and actions vastly contradict each other, and I’ve always been taught to believe what people show you, not what they tell you.”

Chase raked his fingers through his wet hair. “You want something I can’t give you.”

“What I want is you. That’s it. I don’t need someone outside to guard me and be my friend. I need someone to be with me.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Is there a difference? They both wind up with the same result.”

“Is this really what you want? You’re going to sit out here night after night? What happens when I start bringing home men I plan to fuck?” I could see the anger brewing in his eyes, and I thought maybe it would break him. “How will that work, exactly? Will you shake hands and ask him what time he’ll be done with me so you can take a break from your post?”

“Stop it, Reese.”

I was beyond frustrated that I couldn’t get through to him.

“You know what? I will stop it. Because I’m done. You don’t want me, that’s fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Stick around here much longer, and I’ll be bringing home a man to stay for the night.” I leaned in closer and nailed my point home. “I’ll leave the window open so you can listen.”

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