Authors: Lily Harper Hart
“We’ll check the kitchen first.”
Jake walked into the kitchen, which looked untouched except for the back door, which was hanging open. “I take it you didn’t leave that door open either?”
Jake moved to the door, glancing into Ally’s small backyard and scanning the area. “Maybe we interrupted him. I think whoever it was fled really quickly.” Jake shut the door, latching it shut and engaging the safety chain. “Okay, let’s check the bedrooms.”
When Jake turned around, the space behind him was empty. Ally was gone. “Ally?”
No one answered. Had someone circled around? Had they managed to grab Ally without him hearing? That seemed improbable. He would have heard something.
Jake’s heart was hammering.
“I’m down here.”
Jake froze, following the sound of her voice. He found her in the far bedroom searching through a jewelry box. “Everything is here. I think they just went into the living room. That’s weird for a robber, right?”
Jake’s face was contorted, rage and relief coursing through him. “When I told you to stay right behind me, what did you hear?”
Ally’s face was blank. “What?”
“I told you to stay behind me,” Jake said. “I turned around and you were gone.”
“Sorry. It was obvious no one was here.”
Jake shook his head, frustration bubbling up. “I think I need to sit down. You make me tired.”
“I think we should call your brother.”
Jake was sitting on the couch, watching as Ally looked over her wrecked living room. His tone was serious, but he was waiting for her to make a decision.
“Why? What is he going to do besides have a freak out?”
“Well, we should at least call the cops,” Jake said.
“Why? Nothing was stolen.”
“You’re fine with this?” Jake’s tone was incredulous.
Ally took a deep breath, steadying herself. “I’m not fine with it. I’m … processing.”
“What does that mean?” Jake asked, leaning forward and fixing Ally with a hard look. “I need to know what that means.”
“It means I’m processing,” Ally said, kneeling down and picking up a few scattered magazines. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“You’re just … you’re unbelievable.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“Yes, it was.”
Jake straightened his fingers on his knees, opening his mouth and then snapping it shut. If Ally didn’t know better, she would’ve thought he was talking to himself. She decided to ignore his histrionics.
“Can you go into the kitchen and get a garbage bag?”
“I need a garbage bag,” Ally said. “I need to clean this mess up. I can’t do it without a garbage bag. So, can you please go and get a garbage bag?”
The sound Jake emitted was something akin to a growl. “You shouldn’t touch anything if we’re going to call the police.”
“We’re not calling the police.”
“And why not?”
Ally slammed the magazines down on the coffee table. Hard. “Because I want to clean up this mess. I want to put my house back in order. I want … I want one little bit of normalcy. Is that too much to ask?”
Jake got to his feet, his reluctance seeping into his stooped frame. “I still think this is a mistake.”
“Thank you for your input,” Ally said. “Now, get me a garbage bag.”
When Jake returned, he’d regained a modicum of control. He handed the bag over to Ally. “Why don’t you want to call the police?”
“Because nothing was stolen,” Ally said. “All they’ll do is take a report and stick it in a drawer. I know how it goes.”
“Okay,” Jake said, his voice even. “Why don’t you want to call your brother?”
“Because he will completely spazz,” Ally said. “What can he do about this? Can he do anything? Because I don’t think he can. He and Mandy have a night planned. It’s the weekend. Just … let it go.”
“I can’t believe you’re just ignoring this,” Jake said. “It defies logic.”
“No one is making you stay,” Ally said. “In fact, you can go. You were just tasked with giving me a ride home. You’ve done that.”
Jake’s face flushed with color. “You think I’m just going to leave you here alone? Are you kidding me?”
“I’m an adult,” Ally said. “Adults can usually spend the night alone.”
“Someone broke into your house,” Jake said. “The door wasn’t jimmied, and it wasn’t kicked in. That means a professional did it. I don’t care what you think, you’re not safe here.”
“I’ll call and have a locksmith come and upgrade the system tomorrow,” Ally said, weariness suddenly overcoming her. She leaned back, planting herself on the floor, and rubbing her forehead tiredly. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Jake’s tone softened. “In the past thirty-six hours you’ve sat with a man while he died, brought supplies to some people who desperately needed it, and returned to your home and found someone broke in. I think you’re overwhelmed.”
“I don’t get overwhelmed,” Ally shot back. “I’m not some damsel in distress.”
“You’re tough. I get that,” Jake said. “Even tough guys – tough gals, I mean – get overwhelmed.”
“I just need to get this place put back together,” Ally said. “I won’t be able to sleep with it like this.”
Jake reached over, grabbing her arm to get her full attention. “Then I’ll help.”
Jake’s touch set Ally’s skin on fire. It was a peculiar reaction given the mess they were sitting in, but suddenly the only thought she had was moving closer to him. Jake’s busy hands didn’t give her the chance. Unfortunately, his hands were busy with things that didn’t include her. Ally forced the thought out of her mind. He wasn’t staying because of her, he was staying out of obligation. She had to remember that.
It took the two of them about thirty minutes to get the room cleaned up. When it was done, and Jake had carried the garbage bag outside and settled it in the large cans, he found Ally staring blankly at a wall in the living room when he returned.
Ally jumped at the sound of his voice. “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
Jake moved in front of her, putting his hands on her shoulders so she didn’t have a chance to run, and squaring her so her face was inches from his. “What’s wrong?”
“I just … I thought everything would be okay once the room was cleaned.”
“And now you realize you’re scared,” Jake supplied.
“I’m not scared,” Ally said. “I’m … unsure of what to do now.”
“Now? Now you’re going to go to bed,” Jake said. “You need a good night’s sleep. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Ally balked. “Absolutely not. Taking care of me is not a part of your job description.”
Jake released his grip on Ally’s shoulders. “Well, maybe this isn’t part of the job,” he said. “Maybe I’m staying because I want you to ceaselessly question me until I can’t possibly come up with another answer.”
Ally smiled, the expression bubbling up out of nowhere. “Thank you.”
had been settled on the couch for a half hour, the television on but his mind wandering to anything but what was being projected onto the screen, when he heard Ally in the hallway.
From his vantage point, he could see her walk out of her bedroom and into the bathroom across the hall. The light was dim in the living room, the only illumination coming from the television. Ally’s movements were but a shadow.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to take a bath,” Ally said. “I’m not sure I can sleep if I don’t. I feel … dirty.”
Jake understood her reaction. Someone had violated her home. “Okay. I’ll be out here if you need me.”
“You don’t have to stay.”
“Don’t bother arguing, although I think you get off on it,” Jake said. “Just take your bath and go to sleep. We’ll talk about this again in the morning. Don’t think I’m done trying to talk you into telling your brother about what happened.”
“You go to sleep,” Ally shot back. “You’re going to need your sleep if you possibly think you can bully me into agreeing with you.”
“Arguing is not bullying.”
Jake sighed, focusing on the television. He heard the bathroom door shut, and the water turn on. Jake flipped to the news, checking for updates on Michael Sawyer’s death. The only tidbit was a minor one, saying that the police didn’t have any suspects, and the investigation was ongoing.
Jake shifted on the couch when the water shut off in the other room. His mind kept wandering ten feet down the hallway – and the wispy thoughts flitting about were taking specific form. That specific form just happened to belong to a certain brunette who was naked and sitting in a tub full of steaming hot water.
Jake shook his head to dislodge the thought. When the television couldn’t distract him any longer, he shut it off and rolled on his side. He had to think of something else. Anything else. To keep his mind busy, Jake thought of his family. He hadn’t called his parents in almost two weeks. He was due for a chat. Heck, he hadn’t seen them in four months. He was also due for a visit.
Before he realized what was happening, Jake drifted off.
He had no idea how long he was asleep, but something jolted him awake. Jake glanced down the hallway, but it was dark.
What had woken him?
Jake got to his feet, discarding the blanket onto the floor as he moved to the front door. He didn’t turn on the lamp by the couch, not wanting to alert anyone outside that anyone in the house was awake.
He peered out the peephole, letting his eye relax enough to scan the length of the yard. He stood there, waiting, and yet nothing moved. The neighborhood appeared to be quiet. After a few moments, he pulled away. Something else had woken him.
He double-checked the back door and yard, finding nothing of consequence, and then headed down the hallway. He didn’t want to wake Ally, but if someone had somehow managed to find their way into this house, he had to know.
He’d managed to traverse the length of the hallway in silence when the bathroom door swung open and Ally walked out. She jumped when she saw him, dropping the towel wrapped around her chest and screaming in surprise.
The towel dropped to the floor, and even though the light was behind her, Jake saw everything she had to offer and was floored.
“What the hell?” Ally screeched, covering her ample breasts with her hands.
“I … I … .”
“What are you doing?”
Jake recovered. Slightly. He moved quickly, trying to avert his eyes, and slammed his head into the doorframe. “Oh.” He grabbed his head.
“Omigod, are you okay?” Ally reached for him, stumbling forward and pressing her naked body to his side.
Her touch sent Jake’s already muddled mind into a tailspin. “I … oh, man, that hurts.”
“Let me look.”
“Let me look.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, let me look!”
“Put some clothes on!”
“Oh. Oh. Oh.” Ally bent down and picked up the towel, wrapping it around her damp body. “I’m sorry.”
Jake rubbed his head ruefully, refusing to look and see if she was fully covered. “Why are you the one who’s sorry? I’m the one who surprised you.”
“I know, but you banged your head.”
“I heard a noise,” Jake said. “I think I fell asleep. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn’t know you were still in the bathroom.”
“It’s okay,” Ally said. “I’m not shy. You just took me by surprise.”
“Well … it’s still not right.”
“Oh, give me a break,” Ally said. “Grow up. I’m an adult. You’re an adult. I’m sure you’ve seen it before.”
“That’s not the point,” Jake said.
Ally finally wrenched his hand away so she could look at his head. “You’ll be fine,” she said after a moment. “You might have a bruise.”
“Let’s hope that you knocked some sense into your fool head.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Jake asked, anger bubbling up.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” Ally said. “I’m sick of playing this game.”
She dropped the towel again, and this time Jake couldn’t look away. Her body was a masterpiece, and everything inside of him was urging him to reach out and touch the art she offered. Somehow, he fought off the urge.
“I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning,” Ally said, sashaying the few feet into her bedroom. “Night.”
Jake watched her go, the view of her firm rear almost too much to bear. When he sank back down on the couch a few minutes later, he knew exactly what his dreams would be filled with.
“Damn her,” he muttered.
phone is ringing,” Mandy murmured.
“So, answer it.”
“It’s your phone,” James grumbled, pulling the covers over his head.
“Yeah, and tell whoever is calling you this early on a Sunday morning that I’m going to kill them.”
“You’re such a joy.” Mandy grabbed her phone. “Hello.”
“He saw me naked.”
Mandy’s morning-muddled mind took a minute to focus. “What?”
“He saw me naked.”
“Yes, it’s Ally. Who else?”
“It’s early,” Mandy said, glancing at the clock. “Why are you calling?”
“Because you’re my best friend, and I’m having a crisis,” Ally shot back. “Wake up!”
Mandy sighed, rolling out of the bed. “Hold on a second.” Mandy put the phone down, grabbing James’ discarded shirt from the night before and pulling it over her head.
“Who is it?” James mumbled.
“It’s Ally,” Mandy said. “She’s having a crisis.”
“Why do you have to get dressed for that? She’s always having a crisis.”
“This is a private crisis,” Mandy said. “It’s a girl thing. Go back to sleep.”
“Where are you going?”
“Out in the other room. Mind your own business.”
“You are my business,” James said.
“Go back to sleep.”
Mandy pulled the door as close to shut as she could without making a noise. She didn’t want to make James suspicious. “Okay,” Mandy said, pressing the phone back to her ear as she sat down on the couch. “I had to get out of the bedroom. We’re talking about Jake, right? He saw you naked?”