Authors: Jackie Ashenden
To my editor, Christa, for loving Finn and Anna as much as I did.
To my wonderful critique group, the Seven Sassy Sisters: Maisey, Robyn, Aideen, Barbara, Jilly, Jane and Rach. Also Lorraine and Janette. You guys consistently made me get back on the horse, even when the going got really tough. I wouldn’t have got here without you.
To my incredibly supportive family, who believed in me even when I didn’t.
And most important of all, to Emma. Without whom I wouldn’t be writing romance.
“Jesus Christ. Anna. What the fuck are you doing here?”
Okay. So it was official. Finn was not pleased to see her.
Anna gripped the strap of her backpack tightly. Well, she’d always known this would be difficult. She hadn’t been the world’s greatest friend for the past six months, and he was probably pissed off about it.
Actually it looked like he’d bypassed pissed off and gone straight to furious.
“Hey, Finn.” She hoped the friendly smile on her face would be enough of a white flag. “Long time no see, huh?”
He leaned casually against the doorframe, arms crossed. The shocked look on his face had faded, to be replaced by an expression she’d never seen before. At least one that had never been turned in her direction before. Hostility.
“Yeah,” he said on a long breath, no softening in his dark eyes as he looked her up and down. “You could say that.”
Anna resisted the urge to shift nervously on her feet. She couldn’t blame him for being angry with her. She really couldn’t. She’d been the one who’d gone into hiding. Who’d cut everyone off. Who’d avoided everyone. Avoided everything until she couldn’t avoid it anymore.
And that wasn’t Finn’s fault, was it? Oh no, that was all hers.
An awkward silence fell, and she realized she was waiting to be invited in, though it didn’t look he was going to be producing a gilt-edged invite anytime soon.
Oh hell. She’d really stuffed up then. Because no matter how much they’d argued, no matter what problems they’d had in their friendship, Finn had always been there. Had never shut her out.
Until, apparently, today.
“Soooo…” She kept the smile firmly in place. “Shall I stay here in the hallway or are you going to ask me in?”
“Any particular reason why I should?”
“Because I’m your oldest friend?”
Something flickered in his eyes. “Oh, you mean the friend I haven’t heard from for six months?” The sarcasm in his voice cut like a sword. “The friend who ignored all the messages I left on her phone? The friend who wouldn’t even open her goddamned door?” His voice had risen, the deep, velvety tones of it gone rough with anger. “Is that the friend you’re talking about?”
She swallowed, remembering the sound of Finn hammering on the door. She’d been there, hiding out, putting the ear buds of her iPod in her ears and turning her music up loud. The first couple of times it had been too soon after the assault. She’d been neck-deep in shame and anger, and the thought of talking to anyone—even the man who’d known her since she was five years old—was too much. And afterwards…she just hadn’t been able to face the explanations.
Well, yeah. Usually. But not today.
“There were reasons, Finn.”
His mouth, sharply cut and sensual, was set in a grim line. “Were there? And what were they exactly?”
Wait. Sensual? His mouth was sensual? What on earth are you thinking, girl?
Anna pulled her thoughts back, almost shaking her head. Obviously something about the decision she’d made before she got here messed with her head. She lifted her chin. “I don’t want to explain in the hallway.”
A terrible silence fell between them.
The austere, beautiful lines of his face were hard, his brown eyes hostile.
He didn’t move. Just stood there, stern as St. Peter before the Pearly Gates, measuring her as if she were a sinner looking for absolution.
Crap. He was going to make her work for it. A small curl of anger swept through her. Because he had no idea. No idea in the slightest what she’d been through. The hell the last six months had been. But she’d worked her way out. Yeah, she had. Here she was, still standing. Broken but unbowed.
And one thing was for sure. She wasn’t going to beg.
Anna lifted one shoulder, trying for casual. Swallowing the bitter disappointment and the hurt she knew she had no right to feel. “Okay. Have it your way.” And she turned to go.
“What makes you think I’m even interested?”
Of course. She should have remembered. He always came out fighting when he was hurt. But he also always apologized afterwards. Finn never had any problems with admitting he was wrong. But when he thought he was right, he was stubborn as hell.
Turning back, she met his dark eyes. “Please, Finn.” She took a breath. Held his gaze. “I need your help.”
She wanted his help? Surely she had to be kidding? Six months ago he would have moved the earth and everyone in it to help her. But now?
Now he wanted to tell her what she could do with her fucking request.
Get a grip, Shaw. Stop acting like a hurt child.
Shit. So he was. But then Anna Jameson had always had the power to hurt him like no one else in the world.
Shifting against the doorframe, Finn stared at her, fighting his anger. “What do you want?”
His first reaction when he’d opened the door had been one of sheer, gut-wrenching relief. Which had then morphed into a volcanic fury he couldn’t remember ever having felt before. Certainly not directed at her. He’d known Anna for twenty years, and though she’d made him madder than hell on more than one occasion, he’d never felt like he wanted to punch a wall or anything.
His third reaction was to notice that she’d cut her hair and he didn’t like it.
Her green eyes, so vivid in her pale face, had a wary look to them. A look he’d never had turned on him. “Like I said, I’m not doing this in the hallway.”
Finn pushed himself away from the door and stood aside, gesturing at her to come in. He’d always been going to. No matter how angry he was with her, he’d never turn her away.
Besides, if he wanted an explanation, he’d have to let her in.
A look of naked relief passed over her face. “Thanks,” she murmured and brushed past him.
Kicking the door shut, Finn watched her as she walked into the huge open space of his warehouse apartment. There was no hallway. The front door opened directly into the apartment. Afternoon sun fell through vast windows, the air full of Auckland’s humid February heat.
Anna dropped the backpack she carried onto the old leather couch he’d once picked up from a roadside rubbish collection. Anna had helped. He still remembered trying to fit the damn thing on the roof of her old Volkswagen Beetle. It had been a miracle it had stayed on for the journey back to his house.
“Beer?” he asked shortly, moving over to the galley kitchen situated along one wall of the apartment.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
He opened the fridge, hooked out a couple of bottles, snapped off the tops and walked back over to the couch. She’d already sat down, perching right on the edge of it, her feet firmly on the ground.
Not like Anna. Normally she curled up like a cat, kicking her shoes off and tucking her feet under her.
He frowned. “Here.”
She didn’t meet his gaze as she took the bottle from him. Another puzzle.
Shit. He didn’t have much patience for puzzles.
Normally he would have sat down beside her, but something about her warned him off. A tension to her shoulders. A certain stiffness about the way she was sitting.
Finn backed away, sprawling instead in the old velvet armchair opposite her, an Anna gift from years ago.
“So,” he said, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen. “Do I get an explanation or what?”
Anna said nothing for a moment, lifting the bottle to her lips and taking a sip. Her hair slipped forward, glossy dark brown, the feathered ends of it touching her jawline. Nope, he definitely didn’t like the cut. She’d always had long hair, down to her waist.
“You cut your hair.” The words were out before he could stop them.
Green eyes flicked to his, a surprised look. “What? Oh, yeah, I did.”
“I felt like a change.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I didn’t do it for you.”
Something wasn’t right here. This strange awkwardness between them. She’d always been reserved, preferring to stay back and observe rather than head straight into things. People who didn’t know her took it for snobbery or aloofness, but he knew the truth. Anna thought before she spoke. She was careful. Cautious. She always had been. Ever since she’d been a silent five-year-old peering over the fence to watch him do stupid tricks on his skateboard.
Yet she wasn’t like that with him. He’d never gotten the ice wall. The one she projected to defend herself from the worst of her parents’ arguments.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on? Or do I have to guess?” He couldn’t stop his anger from bleeding into the question. Anna had always been there for him. She’d never shut him out like this before. Never ever.
She took another sip of her beer. “How’s Katie?”
Ignoring his question. Another one of her “I don’t want to talk about it yet” techniques. Fuck that. “You said you were going to give me an explanation. Or have you changed your mind?”
A hand pushed one of the dark wings of her hair behind her ear. “No, I haven’t. I just wanted to know what you’ve been doing.”
“If you’d bothered to listen to any of my messages, read any of my emails, or even answer your bloody door, you’d know.”
Green eyes slid away from his.
Great. Now he really did sound like a petulant, angry child.
He lifted his bottle, took a sip of beer. “Katie and I broke up. She wanted more. I didn’t.”
Anna let out a breath, dark brows knitting together. “Oh, Finn. I’m sorry.”
She always was sorry whenever he broke up with a girlfriend. Sorrier than he was. He lifted a shoulder. “Easy come, easy go.” Because he didn’t want to settle down. Katie had been a lovely girl, but when she’d started angling for “the conversation”, he’d had to get out. He wasn’t a cruel person, and keeping her hanging on just because he’d liked the sex wasn’t right.
“Finn,” Anna murmured.
“No, it didn’t worry me, truly.” Only a little.
Anna’s watchful green eyes looked at him from beneath her new fringe. “But something happened, didn’t it? That’s why you’re so angry with me.”
Ah. Deflection. Another Anna-ism. When there was something she didn’t want to talk about, she turned the conversation back on him. Fuck that too.
Finn leaned forward. Put his beer on the floor, elbows on his knees. Stared at her. “This isn’t about me, Green Eyes. So come on, spit it out. Why are you here after six months of silence? What happened?”
. Finn’s affectionate nickname for her. She’d always liked it. Liked how it made her sound exotic when she was anything but.
Yet even the familiar sound of it didn’t stop the cold feeling spreading through her. Neither did sitting here on Finn’s comfortable leather couch, the same couch she’d spent so many nights sitting on, talking or watching TV, or listening to music or arguing, or sleeping on when she’d had too many glasses of wine to drive home.
It should have reassured her. Should have grounded her. But it didn’t.
Because what had happened six months ago was too big for familiarity to overcome. As was the request she had to make. Still, she had to try. Had to ask.
Finn never let anything get in his way when he wanted something. He never had. And she knew he’d always wanted to help her. That was why she was asking him in the first place. That and because she trusted him as she trusted no one else.
Anna took a fortifying sip of her beer. Talking to him shouldn’t have been so difficult, but the therapist she’d gone to see for a few months afterwards had told her not to expect miracles. That these things took time. But if she couldn’t tell her oldest, most trusted friend, then who could she tell?