Against my better judgment, I asked, “Yeah? What?”
“It’s called a cocktease.”
I flinched. That accusation had been laid at my feet before. A few times. Annie called me that when I would fool around with a guy and then not go all the way. Yeah. She sucked. “What’s wrong? Can’t handle a little rejection? Maybe I just don’t want you.”
“Right.” He grinned like I had just said something amusing, and that annoyed me.
Before I could respond to that bit of arrogance, he got out of the truck and went around to my side. Still wearing that infernal grin, he opened the door for me. I slid down, careful not to touch him.
I led the way, punching the code to open the front door. He stepped in after me. “You’re walking me all the way to my door?”
“Fine.” I stopped in front of the elevator and punched the button to my floor. Crossing my arms over my chest, I sent him a guarded glance. “You’re not getting laid.”
He chuckled. “I’ve never met a girl to go hot to cold so fast.”
“Yeah, well, you just called me a cocktease. I don’t want you to have false expectations.”
“Understood.” There was a wealth of laughter laced in that single word.
The elevator dinged and we stepped off. And came face-to-face with Annie. I hadn’t seen her since she’d ditched me at Maisie’s.
“Emerson, how’s it going?” she greeted me, looking not the least guilty.
“Annie,” I returned.
Her gaze skipped to Shaw, sliding over him appreciatively. “Well, I can see you’re having a good night, Em.” She pulled back her shoulders. It was a move I had seen her do countless times. It thrust out her double Ds. She stepped closer, totally invading his space as she held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Annie and you look familiar.” She wagged her finger at him playfully.
He stared down at her hand, his face cold, and I knew he remembered her. The fact that he didn’t even accept her hand filled me with satisfaction. His gaze slid over her, but it wasn’t in a way that made me think he liked what he saw. Quite the opposite. That was a definite change. She never had any problem winning over guys. Annie’s smile vanished and she dropped her hand.
“You look familiar, too,” he replied. “You’re the friend who left Emerson stranded at Maisie’s.” The way he emphasized “friend” made it clear what he thought of her.
Her mouth parted in a small O of surprise. She took a small step back, relaxing her shoulders. “Yeah, well.” She turned a tight smile on me. “You’re just moving up in the world, Em.” She looked Shaw over now with decidedly less appreciation. “Hanging out with all sorts of interesting people.”
I nodded, staring at Shaw. “I’m definitely keeping better company these days.”
He smiled at me and a strange fluttering erupted in my belly. I looked back at Annie. Her cheeks flushed. With a sniff, she stepped around us and punched an elevator button. Still feeling her eyes on me, I slipped my hand around Shaw’s and led him down the hall. I swiped my door card and entered my room, releasing his hand.
My desk lamp glowed, saving the room from total blackness. Avoiding his gaze, I removed my jacket and hung it up in my criminally small closet, taking my time with the mundane task, struggling to slow my racing thoughts. I didn’t usually bring guys back home with me. It was letting them into my world. I fooled around plenty, but I didn’t want to wake up staring at some guy who should have taken the hint and left hours ago. And the thing that scared me the most in this situation was that I could see myself not wanting Shaw to leave. Assuming he wanted to stay over. Oh. God. Would you listen to me? It was like I was a love-struck teenager. Nothing was going to happen because I didn’t want it to happen. It was as simple as that.
Finally, when there was no delaying it further, I looked up. “Thanks,” I breathed, motioning to the door. “Annie . . . she’s a real bitch.”
“I take it you’re not hanging out with her anymore.” He shrugged off his jacket and tossed it on my swivel chair. This only made my chest tighten. So he was staying. At least for a little while.
I nodded, maybe a little too fast. “No. Not anymore.” Was that high-pitched squeak my voice?
“Good.” He approached me with slow strides. With his long legs, it took about three steps for him to reach me in the small space of the room.
I held myself utterly still as he tucked a short strand of hair behind my ear. Even my lungs froze, unable to move air in and out. This close, all I could think about was kissing him again. The taste of him still lingered on my lips, and I just wanted to grab him by the back of the neck and slam my mouth over his again. God. I was a wreck around this guy.
He grazed my cheek with the rough pad of his thumb. “She’s not the kind of friend to have your back.”
I nodded again. “I-I know.”
He was so close now. I could make out the tiny gold-brown flecks in his eyes. “Do you want me to go, Emerson?” His voice was deep and low. He didn’t even need to speak. This close I could have read his lips.
I dragged a deep breath into my lungs through my nose, but that was a mistake. It only brought the clean, heady male scent of him in.
“N-no.” What was I saying?
“You don’t sound that convinced.”
Because I wasn’t. Being around him I didn’t even know myself anymore.
He dropped his hand from my face and stepped away. I leaned forward, chasing after that hand, almost falling. I staggered a step and stopped myself. He turned his attention to the suite, surveying it. His gaze trailed over Georgia’s side, rife with pictures of her family, Harris, me, and Pepper. Even her dog from back home graced his very own frame. It was easy to know which side was hers. Mine was less identifiable. Mine was just . . . less.
Naturally, I had a lot of color. Several bright pillows and my floral bedspread that looked like some kind of Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Postcards and posters of various art—some of my favorite pieces. There was only one picture. It was of me and Pepper and Georgia last year at Christmas. We had all piled onto Santa’s lap at the mall. And that was it. No family pictures. It would be a lie to have them and pretend I had a real family.
I’m sure he noted the lack of family pictures. It was in such opposition to Georgia’s side that showcased a great family. Even Pepper had a grandmother who loved her . . . and a father who had adored her before he passed away. She’d just drawn the short straw when it came to her mother.