“Be great. It’s freezing out there,” I reply.
Lacey nods, too, just once. Pippa goes about making the tea, kettle rumbling its irritated rumble, spoon clanking, the bright chime of china clashing against china, and Lacey dips her chin into the throw, staring at the floor. I’m about to ask her if she’s okay when my phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s a number I don’t recognize. I answer the call, getting up and pacing to the window. “Hello?”
That voice. “Why aren’t you calling from your number? And where the hell are you?” I hiss.
Silence from the other end of the phone. Perhaps Zeth Mayfair isn’t used to people being so hostile with him when they take his calls, but tough fucking luck. If he thinks he can just dump his responsibilities on me and vanish into thin—
“This phone’s a burner. Had to get rid of the other one,” his gruff voice informs me down the phone. “And I’m driving. To California to try and get your sister back. Forgotten already?”
Well fuck. I can’t really chew him out when he puts it like that. “No, I haven’t forgotten,” I snap. “It’d just be better under different circumstances.”
“You mean if you’d gotten your way and you were coming along for the ride?” His smirk is the audible kind, the kind that I can imagine all too plainly tugging persistently at the corner of his mouth. I shake my head, trying to dislodge the image of those full lips bowed into a knowing curve.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.” Behind me Pippa arrives with three mugs, two of them clasped precariously by the handles in the one hand, the other carrying just the one. I turn my back, hissing again into the phone. “When are you gonna be back?”
Caring for Lacey is hardly a job I would have volunteered for, but my urgency for Zeth to get his ass back to Seattle also pertains to my sister. Two years is such a long time. It seems impossible that she should be kept away from her home a second longer.
“Need me already?” Zeth growls. “Don’t worry. I’ll be around to take care of you as soon as I’m done.
My cheeks blush hotly. “No, I do not need you to come take care of me!”
“You sure? I’m betting you’ll be begging me to use that key the second I hit the city limits.”
I hate the arrogance in his voice. Equally, I hate that I lie to myself and tell myself it doesn’t turn me on, too. Every dark, hazardous aspect of him turns me on. I’m drowning in the dark, velvet folds of his voice even now, my skin breaking out into gooseflesh at the highly sexual dip in his tone. Fucking get a grip, Sloane! “Just bring my sister home okay, buddy.” Buddy? Where the hell did that come from? Zeth is a lot things but he isn’t a buddy. A deep, throaty chuckle meets my ears.
“I’m on it. I just—” A deep inhalation says he is thinking on his next words. “Just keep an eye out, okay? There’s a chance someone might be following you.”
What. The. Fuck? Someone following me? My body reacts like a struck tuning fork. “Why? Why would someone by following me? What someone?”
“My boss’s a little jumpy. He might have put people on me. Could be they saw me bring Lacey to you,” he says matter-of-factly. A cold wash of dread percolates down through my chest to pool in the pit of my stomach.
“Seriously?” I try and fail to keep my voice down. Both Lacey and Pippa look up from their hushed conversation, entirely one sided by the looks of things, to give me quizzical stares. I spin around, facing my back to them, whispering, “How dangerous are these guys? Do I need to call the cops?”
“Fuck no! Just sit tight. I got you covered.”
I don’t ask questions about that. Got you covered can only mean more shady characters stalking me through the streets of Seattle, lurking in the shadows. “Alright, Zeth,” I sigh. “Just get your ass back here the first second you get. I’m not cut out for this.” Which has to be the understatement of the century. Not cut out for waiting. Not cut out for babysitting. It may seem big to others, the hospital, the vast number of patients I see every time I walk through the doors, the responsibility and the weight of all that knowledge pressing down on me, but I have made my world small. No outside requirements of me, nothing demanding much of anything at all from me besides getting up with my alarm and being there when I’m needed. Being there accounts for the majority of my day. The right person to be there when a pair of hands are needed inside the chest cavity of a wounded person. The right person to be there when an arterial bleed needs stemming. But that’s all physical, logical, manual stuff. I can do that. I’m hollow enough for that. But the other side of things—the nerves I haven’t allowed myself to feel properly when I consider getting Alexis back; the pressure of trying to be there for Lacey in an emotional sense…that’s something I have no idea how to deal with.
Zeth makes a stiff sound down the phone. “You’re gonna do just fine, Sloane,” he tells me, his voice softer than I’ve heard it before. And then he hangs up the phone.
Lacey’s story makes me sick to my stomach. I try to leave Pippa and the other woman alone so they can have their session together, but she reaches out and grabs hold of my hand with frightening strength. It seems that she doesn’t like strangers, and out of Pip and me I’m the familiar face. I plant myself on the other end of the couch, determined to remain impervious to whatever I hear, but that becomes increasingly difficult as Pippa asks Lacey question after question and the girl answers in a stiff, emotionless voice.
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