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Authors: Amanda K. Byrne

Hidden Scars

BOOK: Hidden Scars
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Hidden Scars
By Amanda K. Byrne

If your words are less important than silence, keep quiet.

– Souleyman,
The Class

Chapter One

       Snow flew with such force, Sara couldn’t see the plane. Hell, she couldn’t see the gangplank. This could not be good. There was no way they would be able to take off.

       Only her boss would make her fly to Chicago on a sales presentation knowing a massive storm was on track to barrel through the Great Lakes and hit the city before they could return to Portland. Turning from the window, she wheeled her roll aboard to the ticket desk.

       Canceled.

       She blinked. The sign could not be right. She blinked again. Yup. Flight 246, Chicago to Portland, was canceled. Fantastic. One thing was certain. She was not spending the night in the airport. Her narrow skirt was too uncomfortable.

       Taylor had to be around somewhere. Scanning the gate area, she skipped right past her partner in crime for this trip before she spotted him leaning against a support pillar. She marched over. “I’m going to see about booking a flight out tomorrow, and then I’m heading to the nearest hotel with a free room. You staying or coming with?”

       He straightened. “Coming with. I’m not keen on sleeping on the floor.” He followed her over to the ticket desk line, and then pulled out his phone, seemingly ignoring her.

       Standing next to him, she did her best to ignore him as well, running through the report they’d have to give when they arrived home, ticking off errands she’d need to run, stifling a groan when she remembered she hadn’t gotten a birthday present for her mother.

       Her gaze slid sideways. Taylor was an attractive man. Tall, slimly built, his dark brown hair edged toward red and his hazel eyes cornered the intensity market. He was just so damn quiet, so good at blending into the woodwork, she honestly hadn’t remembered he worked down the hall from her until Larry announced they’d be working the presentation together.

       He’d proven to be the perfect partner; efficient, calm, and willing to wait out long outbursts by the potential client. The late nights she’d come to expect with her usual work partner never happened, and he didn’t crowd into her space. Though she found herself wishing he would sometimes. He didn’t wear cologne, so it was only when he’d bend in close to her desk that she’d catch the hint of juniper from his aftershave.

       No, Taylor was all about the job, and that was all that mattered. Nailing the presentation was the big, glossy cherry on top.

       The line inched forward, and her feet started to cramp. She shifted from foot to foot, trying not to grimace.

       “What are you doing?”

       She smiled up at him. “Feet hurt.”
Don’t say it. Don’t say I shouldn’t have worn heels.
The four inch, round toe pumps were actually some of the most comfortable heels she owned. They were, however, still high heels, and the balls of her feet were beginning to protest.

       He made a noise that sounded like a snort.
Typical male response
. Her shoulders set into a hard line.

       They finally made it to the desk and were assured if the storm blew through tonight like the forecast predicted, the runways would be operational and tomorrow’s midday flight to PDX would leave. Maybe not on time, but it would leave.

       Grateful to have one part of the evening over, Sara headed for the baggage claim. She’d flown through Midway often enough to know which end of the baggage claim to go to for the airport hotels. Taylor resumed his strong, silent type impression and followed her.

       Digging out her phone, she pulled up an app and started checking for hotels. The search returned a couple options, and she blew out a breath, some of the tension leaving her back. “Hey, can you see if there’s a Red Lion shuttle? Supposedly they’ve still got rooms available.”

       “You could call them.”

       “About to. But if the shuttle’s already here, we might as well get on it. It’s way too cold out to keep standing around.”

       She jerked as he placed a hand on her elbow, the warmth from his touch zinging through her. She glanced up at Taylor’s impassive face. “Shuttle’s over there. Just pulled in.”

       Good. Great. She nodded rather than speak, certain her voice would crack.

       The air froze in her lungs as they stepped out of the terminal. Snow swirled under the overhang, piling on the roadway. Would the shuttle even be able to leave? They didn’t get storms like this in Portland. The driver stood next to the shuttle door, waving people on, so she tightened her grip on her carry-on.

       They climbed aboard, and after she found a seat, she dialed the hotel. The call dropped. She tried again. No signal. Technology sucked balls. It never worked when you needed it most. She crossed her fingers the website wasn’t lying and they’d have rooms available. With the number of travelers stuck in the airport this evening, she’d take all the luck she could get.

       The damn heels were choking her feet. She couldn’t wait to get the shoes off and stick her feet in some cool water. She imagined a nice, long, relaxing shower, followed by a horrendously expensive glass of wine. It would be worth it.

       Twenty snow covered minutes later, the shuttle crawled to a stop at the entrance to the hotel. Biting back a moan, she did her best not to limp to the front desk and pasted on a cheery smile. “Hi. I’m really hoping you’ve got a couple of rooms available.”

       The front desk clerk was already engrossed in her screen. “You’re in luck. I’ve got a single available. Queen sized, non-smoking.”

       Her nerves went on high alert, telling her feet to turn right around and walk out the door, find another hotel. Silly. She shook it off. No reason to panic. If there was one room left, they’d get one of those cot things. “I’ll take it. Do you have a rollaway?”

       The clerk’s smile was apologetic and did nothing to quell the anxiety rising once more in Sara’s stomach. “No, I’m sorry. That is, literally, the last bed we have.”

       Her stomach twisted at the thought of spending the night with a man for the first time in seven years. It was just sleep. One of them would take the floor. Easy. Her hands were steady as she pulled out her corporate Amex, and she gave herself a mental pat on the back. Her therapist would be proud. Once she’d received the room key, she discovered Taylor had been behind her the entire time. She held up the key. “Room 505. I promise I don’t snore.” Her grin felt brittle. She kept it in place, letting it fall only after Taylor nodded and walked off toward the elevators.

       She could handle one night with a stranger.

       Since he couldn’t see her, she limped her way to the elevator, and once inside, gave up and pried off her shoes. “Don’t say it,” she muttered, anticipating Taylor’s retort. She yawned, fatigue overriding everything else. Her fantasy of a hot shower and a glass of wine died a quiet death. All she wanted to do was undress and fall into bed.

       “Wouldn’t dream of it.” Was she crazy, or was there a hint of a smile in his voice? She risked a glance at his face. Perfectly blank. The man was a frickin’ safe.

       They found room 505, and she swiped the card key through the reader. She fumbled for the switch on the wall, and the dim light didn’t do much to chase the shadows from the room. Her gaze immediately fell on the bed. Definitely not big enough for two. Hell, even if it was a king size it wouldn’t be big enough. “I’ll take the floor. I’m sure there’s extra blankets and stuff in the closet.” Most hotels had them. She was certain it was some sort of hotel requirement.

       “Take the bed. I can sleep on the floor.” He set his laptop case next to the closet.

       “No, I’ll take it.” Despite her tiredness, she doubted she’d get much sleep anyway, and she didn’t want to keep him awake with her tossing and turning.

       Now he did snort. “Fine.”

       Hitching up her skirt, she knelt in front of her roll aboard and found her toiletry kit, and the boxers and oversized t-shirt she’d been sleeping in. Taylor was working at the knot in his tie when she shut the door to the bathroom.

       
Deep breaths
. He hadn’t shown any signs of being attracted to her, either tonight or in the past. He hadn’t put up much of a fight over the bed versus floor thing. She could do this. She could think of it as a practice run for when she
did
want a man in her bed, and, well, being in the room was safer than trying to sleep in the concourse.

       Drawing her brown hair into a ponytail, she washed her face, then pulled on her sleep gear. After one last check in the mirror showed she’d gotten rid of the mascara rings under her eyes, she opened the door.

       “Taylor, did you—” She stepped out and the words dammed up in her mouth.

       The tattoo covering his back was more than ink. It was art. It belonged on full display, where it could be admired, studied, envied. Black shaded to grey, the edges of the frame bleeding out rather than squaring off. A lone figure was stretched along his spine, and she could feel the pain of the needles as they worked over the thin skin, so close to bone. Stuck in the middle of a desolate wasteland, it conveyed a bitter, suffocating loneliness, the figure hunched over as it walked.

       His muscles rippled, and she balled her hands into fists, shocked at the impulses twitching under her skin. She wanted to trace every line with her fingertips, then do it all over again with her tongue. It was a slim back, broader at the shoulder, tapered at the waist, fit and lean. A back that would hide well under a tailored suit.

       It had her considering Taylor Smith in a whole new light. The unassuming sales executive with his quiet good looks took on a sleek and sensuous edge.

       Her mouth snapped shut when he glanced over his shoulder. “Um. Blankets? Were there any?” Swallowing became very difficult as she watched him walk to the closet, muscles bunching as he reached up.

       He tossed the blanket on the bed. “Thanks.” She grabbed the pillow nearest to her and hugged it to her chest.

       There were scars. Faint ones, thick ones, running over the ridges of his abdomen, up on his biceps, and a long, jagged one trailing down his sternum. There had to be a story behind those, too, and the questions whispered in the back her mind.

       She wasn’t staring. She just couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. She shifted it to the floor, the pillow falling from her hands.

       “Sara.”

       Her head snapped up.

       He reminded her of a hunting cat, all patience and stealth. His expression gave nothing away, although he had to be annoyed by her staring. If her scars were visible, she’d be annoyed, too.

       She brushed the guilty thought aside. “Yes?”

       “Room service? We didn’t get a chance to eat.” He handed her a paper menu. “You done in the bathroom?”

       She nodded absently, studying the menu. Better to study the menu than the man in front of her.

       When the bathroom door clicked shut, air rushed from her lungs. She had to get a handle on this. This was Taylor. Boring old Taylor. Who cared if his body made him a little more interesting? Under it, he was still the same person who ignored her unless he needed something for work. It was probably her mind’s way of telling her she was ready to take the next step. There were other men out there if she wanted an entanglement. Men who talked. Unlike Taylor.

       Sitting on the edge of the bed, she switched on the TV, flipping channels while she waited for him to come out. Russell Crowe’s face flashed over the screen, and she paused.
LA Confidential
. Awesome. Scooting toward the headboard, she grabbed the remaining pillow and tucked it behind her.

       Guy Pearce was interrogating the three punks they’d picked up on suspicion of committing the Nite Owl murders when Taylor emerged from the bathroom. He’d exchanged his suit pants for a pair of ratty grey sweats, and covered his scars and tattoo with a worn t-shirt. Good. He’d be less distracting.

       He sat on the bed and reached for the phone. “You know what you want?”

       “Mmm.” Sara kept her eyes on the screen.
Ignore him
. “Club sandwich. Fries. And wine. I think there’s a merlot on there.”

       Her mind trick worked, and by the time the food arrived, he was back to being Taylor, quiet Taylor, and she picked at her food, the film sucking her in. God, she loved this film, the intricacies, the performances, the
costumes
. The women of that era knew how to dress. They didn’t starve away their curves. They played them up, skirts slim and molding over hips, waists nipping in, colors popping.

       “What are we watching?”

       She almost jumped at the question. He’d melted into the woodwork, as usual. She bit a fry in half. “
LA Confidential
. One of my favorites.”

       “Never heard of it.”

       She flapped a hand at him. “Now you have.”

       There may have been a soft chuckle, but as Vincennes was about to get his brains blown out, she wasn’t paying attention.

BOOK: Hidden Scars
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