Yours Tonight: Chapter 1

Yours Tonight

 A Reign Novel

By: Joya Ryan

 

Copyright

 

This is an original publication of Bear and Gunner Publishing, LLC

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Bear and Gunner Publishing, LLC or the author, does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Joya Ryan

All rights reserved.

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Contact Joya@JoyaRyan.com for permission.

www.JoyaRyan.com

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Maybe if we left and I got these pants off you, I’d be more convinced.”

Okay, that had to be one of the better—worst—lines I’d heard tonight. And, like all the other lines, it wasn’t directed at me.

“I think I’ll have to show you my tattoo after all then,” the woman responded. The way she spoke was so confident. Like she was in control of herself and her sexuality, and the man coming on to her was eating it up.

The woman also looked happy.

Not scared in the least.

I took a deep breath, ignoring the flash of envy shooting through my veins, and looked around again.

Waiting.

Tattoo woman and her guy didn’t seem to care that they were all but invading my table in order to better climb all over each other. Mine was a small table wedged against the corner of a packed bar…a table for two.

And yet, I sat alone.

I had been there for almost an hour, and was now convinced my “blind date” wasn’t coming. Pulling out my phone, I called my best friend Harper; she was the one who had the great idea to set me up in the first place.

“Hey, Lana,” she answered.

“Hey, so Rick never showed up.”

“What? He didn’t? I’m sorry. He was an idiot.”

“Then why did you set me up with him?”

“Because you need to get out more. Date. Be social. It’s summer, you should be enjoying your freedom.”

Ah, yes, freedom. Too bad all I could think about was the fall and starting grad school in my sleepy town of Golden, a safe twenty miles outside of Denver. Harper was on this kick that I needed to “live life,” to which I politely pointed out that going for my masters in statistics was a plenty thrilling endeavor.

Tattoo girl bumped my table with her butt again, only this time it was because she and Mr. Smooth Talker were getting even closer.

“I think I’ve reached my fun quota for tonight,” I said, wishing I had driven myself into the city, instead of having Harper drop me off tonight. “Can you come get me now?”

“Yeah, I’m at the office. I just need to finish up a few things. I can be there in an hour.”

I laughed a little. “And you tell me to have fun? You’re the one still working on a Friday night.”

“What was that?” she teased. “You don’t need a ride home?”

“Yes, I do. I’ll wait. Thank you.”

I glanced around. An hour. Not my ideal scene, but, surely, I’d survive.

I hung up and scrolled through my text messages. My heart skipped when I saw my dad had finally texted me back about my suggestion for lunch tomorrow. But that skip didn’t last long, since it was a polite way to say:

Sorry, Pumpkin, can’t tomorrow. Next week?

At least he used a colon and parenthesis after the rejection to soften the blow. Text jargon or not, it was a smile from my father, so I’d take it.

Running a few fingers through my brunette curls, I tried to smooth away a little of the anxiety creeping up. One hour. Two words that were growing a little daunting. I pulled out my phone one more time and texted my dad back.

I know it’s a little late, but can I come over and hang out for an hour until Harper can pick me up? I’m kind of stranded in the city.

And send. My dad only lived a mile away. Twenty minute walk, max. Though his wife wasn’t my biggest fan, it was better than sitting alone in a busy bar. Maybe not better, but the lesser of two evils. My phone dinged and excitement raced. That was quick!

I smiled and read:

Sorry, Pumpkin, busy night tonight.

My smile faded, and I put my phone on the table and sat back in my seat. Looking down at my simple summer dress, I felt the same thing I’d felt a thousand times growing up, while I waited around for my dad to swoop in and save the day:

Invisible.

When the couple bumped me again, apparently I wasn’t the only one they annoyed. A guy standing next to them started yelling. Before I comprehended what was going on, a fist was thrown, and the two men were in a fight. One of them knocked against my table so hard it spilled my water all over me, and I gasped in fear and put my arms over my face like an “X.”

My nerves went into overdrive from the shock of what had just happened. Mentally chanting to myself to calm down, I slowly lowered my arms and saw a large man in a white T-shirt throwing himself between the two fighting men and, along with the bouncer, kicking them toward the exit.

They’re gone, I told myself, trying to get a handle on my breathing. The water had hit me straight on, and covered my stomach and lap. I did my best to blot the wetness with my napkin, shaking my head. I shouldn’t have even come tonight. I should have stayed home, like usual.

Two more months and I’d start grad school in Golden and not have to come back to the city for any reason, other than my part time job working at my dad’s financial service company. A job I was doing so well at that I had been bumped up to thirty hours a week, now that summer was here. If I kept up this pace, logged my hours at his company, and succeeded at grad school, he’d hire me on as an account lead. Finally, he’d give me the chance to build toward the dream he’d hammered into me since I was a kid. Family business. Sure, it was a small, struggling business he’d started back when I was a kid, but when he married Anita, she and her money put my dad in the black. I may be the dirty, poor step-child, but I was still his, and whether Anita liked it or not, I was determined to be a person he’d be proud of.

People were already over the fight and back to enjoying themselves. At least their eyes weren’t on me anymore, but I was soaked and now getting cold.

“Excuse me?” A deep, raspy voice said. I looked up to find a tall, chiseled man with the darkest eyes I’d ever seen, staring down at me. “Are you alright?”

“I, ah…” I looked down at the front of my damp dress and blotted again. It was no use. The thin fabric was clinging to my thighs, making me very uncomfortable.

“Here,” he said, shrugging out of his jacket and placing it on my shoulders. It smelled of spice and leather. I tried to work a breath out, but it was no use. Between the sudden heat of his jacket enveloping me and the sight of his obviously broad chest and hard torso, I found it difficult to make my mouth move.

I didn’t know if it was the rush of the fight I’d witnessed followed by the cold water, but whatever it was, my body was confused and prickling with heat while flushing with goose bumps.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, his onyx gaze roaming over my entire body.

When he began to roll up the sleeves of his white button-up shirt, I watched transfixed. His forearms flexed a little as he moved to the other cuff. The way his long fingers worked the material, exposing tan skin as he went, made me wonder how the simple act of rolling up his sleeves could be sexy.

Trailing my gaze up, I took in every edge of his face. With a five o’clock shadow that matched his black hair, he looked exotic. Powerful. What must it be like to be a man like him? A person with so much confidence it radiated in every tiny movement. What would someone have to do to obtain that kind of essence?

Without knowing the answer to that, I’d likely sign up. Because whatever Kool-Aid this guy drank, I wanted some. Bad.

Harper told me once that prey could recognize predators and, while most run, some go into shock from the predator’s power. I think she had been on her third shot of tequila and was only half listening to The Animal planet episode that was on, but it made some sense.

True or not. I felt like prey, transfixed by a predator. And I didn’t have the good sense to flee just yet.

“You don’t have to lend me your jacket,” I said, kind of wishing I hadn’t. But manners were manners. “I’ll be fine.” I caught a heavy whiff of his scent again, and it instantly swarmed my senses, warming me from the inside out.

“Please, I insist.” His words were kind, but there was a definitive tone that made me not want to challenge him. The man had to be a couple inches over six foot, and the large jacket covered me well, reinstating a bit of security.

“Are you sure you didn’t get hit or injured?” He tilted his head and examined me. The low light of the bar made shadows dance across his face, like some mythical underworld god.

I smiled a little because while he might look fierce, his concern was sweet. Actually, he was the only one who’d asked. Everyone else just stared. Then I realized why he must be asking. I hadn’t gasped, I had yipped like a spooked puppy.

“I was just surprised, but I’m really okay. Wasn’t even touched. Well,” I glanced down the front of me again, “aside from a little water.”

He did that body scanning thing with his eyes again, leaving a trail of hot shivers along my skin.

“Good, I’m glad.”

I went to thank him one more time, but something near the entrance caught my attention. My eyes went to the door and I froze…it couldn’t be. Oh, God, it was…him.

He was here. Walking into the same bar I was currently sitting in. My throat closed up and the sudden urge to bolt, to vomit, to scream, overwhelmed me. An unfortunate reaction, but one I’d had many times whenever I encountered my step-brother. I’d seen him thousands of times over the years, and yet, it never got easier. I just learned how to remain silent and pretend I wasn’t terrified.

That I was okay.

“Brock.” I whispered.

What the hell was he doing in Denver? He worked for my father too, and was supposed to be overseeing the New York branch. Which meant he hadn’t been around in six months. Six months of blessed peace that allowed me to actually work at my father’s company.

He took another step into the bar. I watched his beady eyes scan the room as he adjusted his tie. He was only six years older than me, but his dull brown hair had flecks of gray, and his chest puffed out a little extra to make up for the fact that he was five-nine on a good day. Since he was still in his suit, he’d likely come from the office, but which one?

Everything else in the world blurred, because all I could think about was getting away. Gripping the table with one hand, I tensed to move, to leave, but he was right at the entrance, and there was no way I could get out without him seeing me. Granted, the way he kept looking around, he’d likely notice me any moment.

My blood pumped faster and a kick of anxiety laced with a heavy dose of fear surged until all I could hear was my pulse beating. I couldn’t escape.

I looked around, wishing I had a wall, something to hide behind. But I didn’t. Just like I didn’t that night ten years ago when he came into my bedroom.

When Brock shifted his stance in my direction, my nerves short-circuited. He was going to see me. Huddling the best I could, I tried to make myself smaller. I wished I could disappear. I wished for the thousandth time that I could just be someone else. Somebody braver.

Somebody who mattered.

But, once again, I was alone. Like a laser beam, his gaze was drawn closer…closer…

“Hey, hey,” the man who gave me his coat whispered. He’d obviously read my body language, and the fact that I was bouncing in my seat, yet not making a move to stand. “It’s okay, those guys are gone,” he said, referring to the men who had been fighting.

It was a reasonable assumption on his part that I was having some kind of post traumatic freak out moment. Which was half true, just the wrong moment.

He sat right next to me and turned his body so that I faced him head on, and his back was toward the crowd and the bar.

A wall.

“I…” I couldn’t get words out. Because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want him to go. Between his broad shoulders and strong chest, he effectively kept me hidden from Brock.

He just sat there, one arm on the table, the other gripping the back of my seat, boxing me in and shielding me with his entire body.

“No, actually, I’m not fine. I saw someone I don’t want to see.”

“Man from your past, I take it?”

“Something like that,” I said, not wanting to go into detail. “How did you know?”

“You went pale. Before, you were almost on the brink of a smile, then your whole body tensed. Something obviously terrified you.”

My heart sank when I realized that my fear was obvious to a total stranger. Embarrassing even. A true sign of weakness. One thing I hated being, but worried I would never overcome.

I glanced at my hands in my lap.

“Hey,” he whispered and tapped his finger under my chin, making my gaze meet his. “No one can see you.” He flexed his shoulders just enough to reassure me that he did, in fact, provide the perfect barrier.

Every syllable that left his mouth was coated in power. The exact thing I lacked. From the way he sat, to how he moved, it was obvious this man was all things alpha and in control. And prey or not, I was caught. And I liked it.

I peeked around his shoulder. I didn’t see Brock, but the bar was dark and with the low lights and mass amounts of people, he could be lurking anywhere.

Or maybe he’d left.

I could only hope that was the case, because I still had an hour to kill.

“What’s your name?”

“Lana,” I said, finding it difficult to breathe with him so close. But for a totally different reason than fear.

“Thank you for—” I motioned at his chest, “being my wall.”

He smiled back and—wow! Talk about an earth-shattering sight. All those straight white teeth and the small crinkle by his eyes made his face light up.

“I’m happy to be your wall.” He leaned in a little. “Anytime.”

My legs instantly ached and my chest pounded with such a hot need it sent tingles along my breasts and straight to my nipples. Which was shocking. Mostly because I had never “needed” much before.

Not in this way.

My body was very aware of him. Right down to every last goose bump he brought to my skin.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Jack.”

I repeated his name and he glanced at my mouth. Suddenly, it was hard to swallow. He was still, and a calming, controlled essence rolled off of him.

He glanced behind his shoulder real quick. “Would you like me to stay seated like this?”

“No, it’s fine.” I was about to tell him that I didn’t see Brock anymore, but that would start a conversation that I wasn’t interested in having—ever.

He adjusted slightly, but kept his full attention pointed in my direction. Such a thing was new, and I couldn’t help but fidget a little, swaying my shoulders, threading and unthreading my fingers.

“Am I bothering you?” he asked, glancing at my hands.

“No,” I shot out quickly, because he wasn’t. His stare on me was like an acute laser beam, but for some reason, I didn’t want it to go away. I wanted to be seen, by him at least. “I just don’t usually meet guys in bars. Much less…”

Much less what? The more I babbled, the more I realized I had no clue what I was doing. Dating was a bad idea for me, despite what Harper thought.

“Lana?”

My gaze snapped back to Jack.

He tilted his head, examining my face with a softness in his. “Care to continue your thought?”

“Not really.”

He laughed. Jack didn’t look like the kind of man who laughed much. Not because he was scary, but an intense, professional, controlled aura definitely surrounded him. That fact that I just made him snicker a little, felt good. Like I’d accomplished something.

“Well, now you have me very intrigued.”

I shrugged and tried the best I could to explain away my obvious awkwardness. “I’m not very smooth with this—” I motioned between us— “type of interaction.”

He raised a brow. “Oh? And what kind of interaction are we having?”

I swallowed hard. “The kind that makes me nervous.”

He leaned away. “I see. I didn’t mean to make you nervous.”

“It’s a different kind of nervous than a regular nervous,” I said quickly, not liking that he was backing away.

His dark brows sliced down. “You’re losing me on your logic.”

I licked my lips, an action he seemed to zero in on, and tried again. “I’m not great with words, I tend to blurt things out. Quantifying things is easier than qualifying them.”

“You must work with numbers?”

I nodded. “I just got my degree in statistics.”

“Impressive.” He scooted a little closer, and I didn’t shy away. Instead, straightening my shoulders, I allowed the advance. I was even excited about how it made me feel. “I’ve found that playing to your strengths allows for practice of your weaknesses.”

It was my turn to frown. “Now you’re losing me.”

“Let’s keep it simple with words and quantify. That’s what you’re more comfortable with, correct?”

I nodded.

“You say I make you nervous?” He ran a finger along my folded hands. A shiver raced at the contact. “On a scale of one to ten, how nervous does this make you feel?”

“Five,” I breathed. Probably pathetic, since it was a mere touch of hands. But my hands were in my lap, which meant his hands were near my lap. My skin zinged with anticipation, not only from the proximity of this man, but by the fact that I hadn’t been touched in a lot longer than I’d care to admit.

“And is it a hot or cold nervous?”

That made me pause. I’d never thought of it that way. The nervousness I felt most of the time when I was out of my comfort zone, much like I’d been feeling sitting alone, waiting for Brock to zero in on me made me cold. Very cold. But when Jack sat down, the first thing I felt was…

“Hot.”

His eyes bored into mine and he removed his hand. “So that was a Five: Hot.”

I smiled and nodded. “Sounds like the makings of a flow chart.”

“That would require more data.”

Suddenly, I was very interested in what kind of data we would collect.

“I brought you a fresh bourbon,” the bartender said, interrupting to set a glass in front of Jack.

“Thank you, Angel,” he said. The extremely beautiful female bartender stood, giving Jack a little smile.

I swallowed hard, realizing right then that she was the kind of woman he must date. And I was nowhere near the five-ten, painfully pretty, rail thin goddess who was slinging drinks and, from the looks of it, warding off wandering hands regularly.

Plus, he called her angel. It was a sign of familiarity.

I’d learned a long time ago that endearments usually came with strings. They were said when someone was prepping to brush you off, or needed something. My father called me “Pumpkin” every once in a while, but he was the head of a financial service company and didn’t need much from me.

Brock, however, was my father’s pride and joy and backed him up accordingly. While it wasn’t technically an endearment, my father called Brock “son.” Even when I was a kid and told my father what happened, Brock had denied everything, and my dad chose to believe him instead of me. I pretended that maybe it was because he couldn’t handle the truth, and believing Brock was easier and less painful information to deal with. But, deep down, I feared he was really trying to avoid a scandal.

I shook my head. Tonight was not the night to think of this. No night was, actually. The past several years had been spent with me burying such thoughts. Jack was my focus…what I kept my eyes on to drown out the rest of the world around me.

But he must have a history with the bartender. They may even be seeing each other now. And if a mere hand touch made me a Five: Hot, I was obviously way out of my league when it came to the likes of Jack, or his tastes and what it would take to make him hot.

Not that I was considering that.

“Could you also bring us another water and,” he glanced at me, “a pineapple vodka and soda?”

The bartender looked at me with annoyance. “Sure.” She hustled away and Jack readjusted so that his gaze was solely back on me. Funny how I craved it already. Like his attention was some kind of rare, priceless charm. Of course, such a rarity would also be considered unlikely to obtain. A fact I should keep in mind.

“Pineapple and soda?” I asked.

“I figured you’d have your water, and if you wanted something else, it was available.”

“Thank you.” A drink did sound good.

The bartender was surprisingly quick returning with the drinks. She set them in front of me, her cleavage pressing into Jack’s space was obvious. But he never glanced at her. Just said a simple thank you and she walked away with a bit of a stomp.

I looked between Jack and the distant-growing bartender and took a sip of my drink. Forget the water, I needed something stronger. Maybe some liquid courage.

“Something you wish to say?” he asked, taking a drink of his own.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because you’re glaring at Angel.”

My eyes widened. “Wait, her name is Angel?”

Jack nodded.

“Oh.” A smile of relief came out, but I tried to disguise it with another long swallow of my fruity drink. “I thought you were calling her an endearment. Like you two had a history or dated or maybe are dating now. Not that it’s any of my business.”

Crap. Babbling again. Stupid words. I shut them down by finishing my drink. The alcohol hummed through me just enough to slow my brain and calm my nerves.

“The idea seems to make you,” he looked at me over the rim of his glass, swallowing down his drink, then gave a sly smile, “nervous.”

“More like annoyed,” I muttered, then clamped my mouth shut and embarrassment flooded.

“Really? My possible history or present interactions with Angel annoy you?”

“I’m sorry. This is inappropriate of me. I don’t even know you and have no right to feel—”

“You have every right to feel however you want, whenever you want,” he cut me off quickly with seriousness in his tone. “I just wish you’d follow through on those feelings.”

“Excuse me?”

“If you feel something, want something, want to know something, then follow your gut or ask. Don’t simper.”

My mouth hung open. He was direct, I’d give him that. And whether it was the alcohol or how he’d gone from protector to challenger, a fire sparked inside me, rising to the challenge.

“Alright,” I said and raised my chin. “It’s obvious the bartender has a thing for you. It annoyed me because it was a blatant display.”

“That’s it? So you prefer to play coy?”

“No, I don’t play anything. I just…”

Sit there.

Waiting to be stood up. Waiting for my dad to save the day. Just…waiting.

But that wasn’t what I wanted to get into. Because it reminded me that the reality was, I wasn’t the bartender, or tattoo girl. I was in a damp sundress staring down a man that fascinated me and made my blood heat. A welcome notion after being bored, lonely, and cold for far too long.

I was tired of waiting.

“You’re avoiding again, Lana,” he said, his tone a little rough. “Perhaps my conversational skills are lacking?”

“Nothing about you is lacking.” That time I slapped a palm over my mouth.

He grinned. “I like your honesty. You should say what’s on your mind more often.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“I disagree,” he said calmly and set his drink down. “You may not intend to play anything,” he said, using my exact words from earlier, “but you do.” He leaned in a little and whispered in my ear. “So, let’s play.”

I swallowed hard. “W-what’s the game?”

“Honesty. Let’s start simple. I’ll ask something, you answer. Quickly and honestly. No thinking.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off with his first question. “Am I still making you nervous?”

“Not like before.” Quick and honest. Easy enough.

The look on his face made me think I’d just answered wrong.

“That’s a shame.” Taking one fingertip, he ran it along the condensation of my drink, then slowly slid it up my knee.

I jolted a little.

“Give me a number, Lana.”

“S-six,” I said with a small stutter.

“Hot or cold?”

“Hot.” It was instant, no thought needed, because my body was the one talking. His finger may be cold, but the way it grazed my skin left a heated trail.

“Good. The number I can work with. The cold I can’t.”

His words hit a spot deep in my chest. Like he cared. Understood me in a weird way that allowed me to feel in control and calm, while on fire at the same time. The number was a way to keep track of my limits. But the cold? He couldn’t work with that? It spoke to the kind of man he was: one that wasn’t interested in scaring a woman.

Pushing limits maybe, but not scaring.

I knew this deep down. Though he was still an unknown rogue type of hero out of nowhere, he wasn’t cruel. Cruel men I could sense. Not Jack. He was hard and intense and dark, but not in a way that frightened me. Instead, he had a way about him that rose my curiosity and my blood pressure.

“You said there was a man here, someone from your past you didn’t care to see. Is he still here?”

I peered around again. Though I couldn’t see Brock, I had a feeling he was still here. Lurking.

A violent tremor rushed through me, and I went for another drink of my vodka, only to find it was empty.

“I’m not certain.” Without thinking beyond the desire for another dose of liquid courage, I took Jack’s bourbon and finished it.

“Careful,” he said.

I winced because it burned, but somehow dulled the ache in my chest that had become a permanent fixture. Just as vital as my heart and lungs, so was the emptiness. The hole that fed on insecurity and grew slowly every day. It was also why I didn’t date much.

To be honest, I’d had one college boyfriend, and I didn’t think my attempts at sex with Andy counted, since I always started panicking every time he tried. Brock had ruined me, and a few less than stellar moments of “intimacy” attempts with Andy later, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

I looked at Jack.

Not worth it?

Then why was my body screaming? Why was I responding to him in a way I never had with anyone else? It was as if someone had come and flicked a light switch, turning everything I never knew existed, like lust, on. Was this how the tattoo girl felt? How a normal woman felt?

I wanted to explore that, but had no idea what to do. How to feel. How to act. It took one encounter and a matter of moments to feel comfortable around Jack. Something that never happened when I met new people. Hell, it never happened after years of knowing someone.

“I’m going to get another,” I said, my voice a bit shaky. I reached for my wallet, but Jack laid his hand on top of mine.

“I’ll get you another one.”

All he did was glance toward the bar, lift his chin, and magically, drinks were being brought over to us in record time. When Angel sat down another pineapple vodka and bourbon, she deliberately looked at Jack and said, “I get off work at two.” Then winked as she strutted away. A quick surge of jealousy shot through me.

“Sounds like a good offer,” I said, taking a sip of my fresh drink.

“I must have missed it, because I heard no offer.”

I laughed. “I know you’re not that dense. She was just—”

“I’m aware of what she was doing.” He shifted so his knee barely parted mine. The feel of obviously expensive denim scratched my skin in a way that sent a surge of need straight to my core. “But I’m busy at the moment.” A small smile tugged his way-too-perfect lips. “I seem to find myself engaged in a game I’m not ready to quit.”

I took a deep breath, trying to hold on to any kind of boldness I had. “All games end eventually.”

“True.”

“And there’s always a winner and loser.”

He nodded.

Trying to hone in on his energy, and thanking God the alcohol was helping, it was my turn to lean in just an inch…that spark in me flickering a bit stronger.

“Statistically speaking, smart money would be placed on a sure thing,” I said and glanced at Angel behind the bar, then back to Jack. “Because I’m not interested in being on the losing end of anyone’s game.”

Respect, accompanied with dark expression, flashed over his face.

“Here I thought I was the one losing myself.”

His tone was deep and soft and packed a punch straight to the stomach that had me thinking this man was interested in me. Beyond interested. And I was beyond ready to take him up on it. But there was too much unsaid, too much unknown to make that possible.

“What do I make you?” When he frowned, I clarified. “We’ve established that you make me nervous. What do I make you?”

“Captivated.”

Air caught in my throat. His response was quick. If this was the game I entered, playing by his rules, then I could only hope he was being honest.

In the spirit of saying what was on my mind, I decided to try it. What had Jack told me? If I had a question, ask?

The way he was looking at me, brows furrowed in concentration and dark eyes staring at my face, making me feel more seen and alive than I ever had, made me desperate to know:

“What are you thinking about right now?”

Without breaking that penetrating gaze he said, “What you taste like.”

My lips parted, and that was when I caught a glimpse of Brock, hovering near the opposite corner of the bar.

Brock’s gaze met mine, and for a horrifying moment, time hung and I felt everything good and warm melt away and spiral into a ball of panic in my stomach.

I couldn’t handle it. Not tonight. Not under the same roof with him.

“I need to go,” I said, clutching my phone and fumbling for my purse.

Jack stayed seated and did that “protecting body shield” thing again, but was obviously surprised by my change in mood.

“Okay,” he said calmly. “Why don’t I see you home safely?”

I shook my head. “My friend is coming to pick me up in about a half hour.” A half hour was too long to stay there, waiting for Brock to approach me. Especially now that he’d seen me. I had to get out. Now.

Jack stood up, and then I did. Well, tried to stand. Between the drinks hitting me fast and my nerves, I stumbled a little. My hands landed on Jack’s chest. I looked up at him and he held the underside of my wrists as I righted my stance.

“Why don’t you drink some water first?” he offered.

“No, thank you, but I have to leave.” With that, I bolted for the exit.

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