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Authors: Amanda K. Byrne

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BOOK: Hidden Scars
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       Reality returned as the end credits rolled, and she stretched, noting with surprise her plate was gone. She smothered a yawn. She was wiped, and even though it was only half past ten, she needed to pass out. “Um. D’you mind if I turn in now? The light on the bedside table won’t bother me.”

       He shrugged, hazel eyes inscrutable. “You sure? I might catch up on some work.”

       Was that all he did? Work? Normally at this time of night, she’d be curled up in bed with a book. He had to have hobbies. Things he did outside of work.

       And it
so
wasn’t any of her business. “Sounds good.” She climbed off the bed, taking the pillow with her and dropping it on the floor.

       “You don’t really need to do that.”

       She glanced up. “Do what?”

       He lifted a brow. “Sleep on the floor. I’ll do it.”

       “I don’t mind.” She wasn’t going to let him take the floor for her any more than she was going to share the bed. He could have it. The hard floor would help keep her from sleeping too deeply.

       She padded into the bathroom and brushed her teeth, lecturing herself. Everything would be fine. Taylor was a co-worker. Not all men were horrible assholes. It was one night, and she was on the floor, he was in the bed, and everything would be fine.

       He was stretched out on the bed, reading through some papers when she came out of the bathroom. He didn’t look up as she picked up the blanket from the end of the bed. Spreading it over the floor, she lay down, pulled half of it over her, and shut her eyes.

       She was asleep within seconds.

* * *

       Taylor sat in the semi-darkness, listening to Sara’s steady breathing. He’d seen her reaction to his tattoo, his scars. He was used to it. It was a typical female reaction. Everything else about her was off. Outgoing, friendly Sara had secrets in her eyes.

       Curvy little thing. The shirt she slept in covered it well. Her suit was a different story. It had followed those curves like a sports car hugging the road. His fingers twitched with the urge to peel it off her, piece by piece, find all her sweet spots with his tongue as her clothing fell away.

       The contrasts sparked his curiosity. So he’d sat back and watched the movie, picking up what he could without asking questions. The longer he stayed quiet, the more comfortable she seemed, at least until the end of the movie. She’d tightened up again as she’d gotten ready for sleep.

       A soft snuffling noise drew his attention to the floor on the opposite side of the bed, and he eased over. She’d curled into a tight ball and was huddled under the blanket. He shook his head. Stupid. It was snowing outside, and she was sleeping on the floor with nothing more than a blanket. She needed a quilt.

       He watched a shudder work through her. Fuck this, fuck the chivalry. It was too damn cold, and she’d looked completely worn out by the time the movie ended. They both needed a good night’s sleep. He slid off the bed and stalked around the end of it.

       She jolted, then stilled, as he placed a hand on her shoulder. One eye cracked open, and he wanted to curse. “It’s too cold for this shit, Sara,” he said quietly. “Get in the bed. I won’t bite.”

       Both eyes open, she stared at him a while longer, watching him with a weariness he felt echoing in his bones. She struggled to sit up, kicking aside the blanket. The pillow went back on the bed, and she crawled under the covers, curling into a ball once more as she shivered with cold. “Thanks,” she mumbled.

       “Nothing to thank me for.” He wasn’t some kind of monster. He circled the bed and slid in, listening for her breathing to go deep before he lifted his hips and pushed his sweats down, then eased into a sitting position and yanked off his t-shirt. He wasn’t going to touch her, but he wasn’t going to make himself uncomfortable, either. She’d have to deal with his boxers.

       As he waited for sleep to come, he wondered who’d made her so afraid.

Chapter Two

       Sara rolled the pen toward her, snatching it before it could fall off the edge of her desk. She’d been having trouble concentrating this morning. The report was taking twice as long to complete, and she’d spent the last twenty minutes alternating between staring blankly at her screen and rolling the pen around on her desk.

       It was all Taylor’s fault, of course. She’d woken in the hotel bed, and she had a vague memory of him telling her to get in it. Her initial terror at waking next to him, clad in just his boxers, quickly gave way to embarrassed relief when she discovered his back was to her and she wasn’t naked.

       She’d wanted to touch him as much that morning as she had the night before. Rather than tempt herself by staring at his tattoo, she’d climbed out of bed and gone into the bathroom to shower. The rest of the day had been spent in relative silence, the two of them ignoring each other, as usual, though it took a lot of effort on her part, considering he was crammed in next to her on the flight home.

       Now, two days back at work, she couldn’t stop thinking about the damn tattoo, what his muscles would feel like under her hands. Couldn’t stop thinking about his scars and where they’d come from. That ink meant something, and she wanted to know what it was.

       It was easy to admit her curiosity was piqued. It was harder to convince herself he wasn’t worth the pursuit.

       It would pass in a few days. It was the same as it was with any new guy she found intriguing. She’d give it a few days, and this weird itch would disappear.

       Thoughts of Sam crowded her brain, and she pushed them out, one by one. Dating again after the emotional abuse she’d suffered at his whim had been difficult at first, but she was doing it. She enjoyed it, even, the subtle dance humans did to signal attraction. She knew her strengths, and she knew what she wanted. Compromise wasn’t an option. She hadn’t found anyone she was interested in for more than a few dates, and that was fine. She wasn’t in a hurry.

       Her stomach rumbled, a reminder it was past lunch time. Rolling back from her desk, she retrieved her purse and stepped out into the hallway, wondering if she had enough cash in her wallet for some pasta or if she’d have to settle for a sandwich.

       Taylor was intent on his monitor when she passed his open door, and she hesitated. The shiver working its way down her spine was suppressed before it could take over her body. Why had she never noticed him,
really
noticed him? Better than quietly attractive, there was something about his absolute focus that had her knees going weak. Oh, lordy. She kept her smile firmly in place. Curiosity. That’s all it was. She could indulge curiosity. What the hell. She stuck her head in and smiled. “Hey. I was heading out to pick up something to eat. You hungry?”

       He blinked once, heat flashing in his eyes as he turned that intense gaze on her. And just as quickly, it was gone, and he was shaking his head. “I’m good.” His attention went back to his computer, and her smile slowly faded. Heat aside, she knew a dismissal when she saw one. Her heels clipped down the hall as she shrugged it off, determined not to do it again.

       Two days later, her curiosity got the better of her, and she went back.

       He glanced up at her knock. “Yeah?”

       She couldn’t have imagined that flicker of interest. She pasted on a cheerful smile. “I could use a cup of coffee. You?”

       His smile, however, was bland. “No thanks.”

       Her stomach plunged to her knees. She covered her disappointment with a wave and headed out for her promised cup of coffee. This time she meant it. Twice. He’d said no twice. He probably thought she was trying to work up to asking him out or something.

       She snorted. Dating Taylor? Even if she was interested in dating regularly, he’d be her last choice. Curiosity getting ready to kill the frickin’ cat was all it was.

       Three days later, she asked him about lunch again.

       The next day, she was going on a snack run, did he want in?

       On and on, for almost two weeks. The answer was always the same. No. And she couldn’t seem to stop herself.

* * *

       The morning after her latest attempt, she passed his office without stopping. Stubbornness hadn’t gotten her anything except a one-way trip to Embarrassville. Taylor wanted to be left alone. Message received.

       In her office, she brooded while she waited for her computer to boot up. It had to be the whole mystery thing. His silence, how he could walk around without being noticed, the tattoo, the scars, it all pointed to some secret he had locked away. And she did love a good mystery.

       He wasn’t cooperating. Since it wasn’t a matter of life and death, letting it go was her best option. Her only option, really, because if she kept at him, she’d make a fool out of herself. He wasn’t worth it.

       He was also interfering with her productivity. She’d commanded her latest raise because the department would tank without her. It wasn’t bragging on her part; it was a statement of fact. Her record was nothing short of exemplary, and her boss was bent on keeping her.

       If she wanted to continue to make the mortgage payments on the cute little bungalow she’d purchased out near Reed College, she needed to get to work.

       She eyed the door. She rarely closed it; she could work through interruptions without losing her rhythm.

       Still, closing the door was a good, symbolic move. She was shutting off the idiotic attempts she’d been making to get Taylor to talk. Getting to her feet, she crossed to the door and closed it, the
click
satisfying. She followed it up by pulling her mp3 player from her bag, inserting her earbuds, and hitting play.

       The sound of Alice in Chains flooded her ears at a noise level she was pretty sure most audiologists would shake their fingers at, but she needed to drown out thought. And if her therapist approved of the tactic, who was she to argue?

       Over the pounding guitars and Layne Staley’s plaintive vocals, she finished up a report her boss needed for a client meeting, shot it off, and switched over to their newest proposal. She worked steadily through the morning, Alice in Chains making way for Sevendust, putting everything she had into polishing the proposal going out for bid next week. All she needed was Larry to give the okay for her to pitch it.

       She came up for air, pulling out the ear buds to check her voicemails. She handled two clients in a row, assuring them she would do everything she could to make sure they got exactly what they were looking for.

       And hung up cursing the exec in charge of providing those services.

       Jeremy had screwed up. Again. Forcing her to pick up his slack.
Again
. Why was he still employed? Her annoyance was compounded by the knock at her door, followed by Kaylin sticking her head in, blond ponytail swinging forward. “Yo. You’ve had your door shut all morning. It’s almost two. You need a break.”

       She didn’t, didn’t want to break the momentum. Her stomach, on the other hand, agreed with Kaylin’s statement. And dining with Kaylin would keep her from making a fool out of herself yet again. “Happy’s?”

       “Happy’s,” she confirmed. She stepped back as Sara walked out into the hallway, falling in beside her. “So. When’re you gonna give me all the details about your unexpected sleepover?”

       Sara groaned. Kaylin was one of those people you didn’t mind at work and avoided hanging out with outside of it. The woman worked in HR, and since everything in the office flowed through them, Kaylin was a central hub of information. Nothing got by her. Including Sara’s delayed return from Chicago.

       “Seriously. We got stuck at the Red Lion overnight. We went to sleep, got up the next day, and came home.” Despite having made this assertion several times already, Kaylin had yet to accept it as fact. Sara hoped this time would be different.

       “Nuh uh. Can’t be true. Something has to have happened.” Kaylin slid a sidelong glance at her, her green eyes gleaming.

       “Why do you think that?”

       “Because you stayed in the same room. You’re attractive. Taylor’s attractive, when you remember he’s in the room. Two attractive people equals nookie.”

       She snorted. “There’s a mighty big flaw in your logic there, Kaylin. We didn’t share a room,” she lied. “Ergo, you’re wrong.” And even if Kaylin found out the truth, she’d still be wrong, because nothing
did
happen in that room.

       “Then how come Taylor hasn’t submitted an expense report for that night?”

       “I don’t know!” She threw up her hands. “Maybe he hasn’t done it yet. Or maybe he decided to eat the cost himself. I sent him the billing information. I’m not his personal assistant.” Her lovely sense of satisfaction at having worked through an entire morning without being distracted by Taylor sluiced away. She cast about for a different topic. “How’s Derek?” Kaylin had complained about Derek, her boyfriend, on a few occasions. Maybe there’d be some new drama to take the spotlight off her.

       It worked. Kaylin rattled off a laundry list of complaints, dominating the conversation through lunch and all the way back to the office. Sara begged off when they reached her floor. Shutting the door again, she repeated her little ritual from the morning, substituting the angry rock for some Decemberists.

       Her back ached by the time she surfaced again, her player long having gone silent. Almost eight. Overtime.
Yay!
Her mortgage would thank her. With a grin, she shut down her computer for the night, gathered her things, and headed home.

       The bus ride sped by as she kept her bleary gaze trained on the passing scenery.
Home
was a chant, running through her brain, and she wondered if she had any leftovers in the fridge or if she’d be stuck with another salad.

       Her front steps creaked as she climbed them a half hour later, and her shoes skittered across the hardwood floor when she kicked them off once inside. Tossing her coat over the back of the couch on her way to the kitchen, she opened a cupboard for a wine glass and poured herself a generous serving of Syrah.

BOOK: Hidden Scars
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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