“Busy?” he said, his gaze dipping over her. “How have you been? You’re looking great.”
“So are you,” she mumbled, turning as her coffee was handed over. “I’ve been busy, too. I’m actually running late to see a client.” She started to back away. “But it’s really good seeing you. We should do dinner sometime.” She had absolutely no plans of doing that, but it sounded polite.
Steven’s smile spread. “I’d love that. I’m actually engaged now. Would love for you to meet her.”
“Oh.” Well, shit, was everyone getting married? “That’s really nice. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “You?”
Me? Ah, yes, here comes the awkward moment. “There’s…um, no one I’m too serious with.” As in no one in general, but he didn’t need to know that. “Well, then I’ll call you.” She was almost to the door. “It’s nice seeing you.”
Alana ducked out before she had to make any more embarrassingly stilted conversation.
God, she was the most awkward person ever when it came to running into exes. As cruel as it sounded, she was the type of person who, when the relationship was over for her, was done and could live happily ever after if she never ran into him again.
Steven was a blast from the past, a man who’d claimed to love her, and while she’d cared for him deeply, it hadn’t worked out. He’d wanted more, a part of her that Alana had never been able to give. That had saddened her, still did. Steven would’ve made the perfect husband—successful doctor, well traveled with homes on the east and west coast, patient, and alarmingly kind.
But after a few months, Alana had grown restless and had sensed that Steven would continue to push for more from her: a serious commitment, and that wasn’t what she wanted. He’d been upset when she broke off the relationship at the beginning of last year, claiming that she was running from him and her feelings.
She was happy to hear he was engaged, though. He was a good man and deserved a rich, happy life.
It didn’t take too long to shake off the weirdness from the unexpected meeting, but as she walked back to her office’s parking a garage, she shivered. The feeling of…of being watched was so strong, she looked over her shoulder, but all she saw was a sea of unfamiliar faces.
The odd sensation stayed with her until she climbed into her rental car. It could be paranoia or something else, but how could she tell the difference? All she could do was be vigilant.
After about an hour drive to make it out to the senator’s home in Alexandria, she discovered the senator half dressed with yet another woman of questionable employment right in his foyer, while his wife was at a charity function.
The man had no impulse control.
It took her an ugly amount of time to explain why fornication with prostitutes shouldn’t be high on his to-do list, and then nearly two hours to get back into the city due to a traffic snarl on the beltway. By the time she pulled into the parking garage, all she wanted to do was eat her weight in pie and call it a night. At least it was Friday night. As long as her senator didn’t run through his gated community naked, she could grab what she needed from her apartment and head back to the hotel, order room service, and hole up like a sloth.
Chandler hadn’t called her back. She could’ve called him, and she almost did on the way to her apartment. The idea of going there alone gave her the creeps, but she couldn’t bring herself to press the numbers into her cell. He’d said he would call her. Calling him seemed… It seemed what? Like she was interested in something other than what she had come to him for?
She rode the elevator up to her floor, chewing on the inside of her cheek. Although she’d been expecting a call from him, it had completely caught her off guard. Well, her reaction to his call was what truly surprised her. The rest of the afternoon and well into the evening, she’d experienced alternating flashes of edgy excitement and then queasy nervousness. It had felt like forever since she’d been attracted to someone or felt like a giddy girl with a secret crush.
And she was far from being a giddy girl.
Walking to her door, she dug her keys out of her bag as her thoughts spun around the possibility that she was actually harboring a godforsaken crush on Chandler Gamble. Of all the eligible men she came into contact with on a daily basis, her body would have to decide it was him it was interested in. He was the worst possible choice, considering his wild reputation. Normally Alana gravitated toward the quiet and safe men, the kind whose good time consisted of movies and takeout. Not whips, handcuffs, and God knows what else Chandler brought to the table, but there was something about him that made her want to let loose and…and get a little wild.
Alana had never been wild. Not once in her entire life, which was amazing given the genes she’d inherited. None of her relationships had ever evoked the nervous rush of excitement or the kind of attraction that had her catching her breath. But it was better like that. Way too many women in her family had fallen prey to lust that flipped into unrequited love that destroyed the potential of their lives.
So caught up in her thoughts, she almost didn’t notice that her door was ajar as she reached forward to slide in the key. Her breath caught and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose.
Time slowed down as her instincts fired off warnings, telling her to get the hell out of there, to call the police, but she saw her hand, incredibly pale and trembling, push open the door.
What she saw wrenched a horrified cry from deep inside her chest and almost brought her to her knees.
“Chad is such a pansy ass.”
Sitting next to his brother on the large sofa, Chandler snorted as he nursed a beer. He and Chase were watching Chad on the big screen, pitching against the Braves. The Nationals were in the fifth inning, likely to win big in the away game.
The camera zoomed in on Chad as he lifted his left leg and reared back, prepared to deliver another wicked fastball. From this angle, it was hard not to notice the fuchsia hanky tucked in the back pocket of his uniform—his Bridget-inspired good luck charm and what, according to Chase, made him a pansy ass.
“Look who’s talking,” Chandler replied mildly, taking a swig of his beer. “I think you broke the record for how many texts you can send a girlfriend in a hour.”
Chase shot him a look. “Whatever. Maddie isn’t feeling well, so I’m checking in on her.”
Real concern pinched his features as he looked at his brother. Maddie was like a little sister to Chandler and he cared for her deeply. “What’s wrong with her?
“I think she’s got the flu,” he said, his gaze moving from the screen to his phone. “Woke up this morning throwing up like she was on an all-night bender. I told her I’d stay home with her tonight, but she told me to leave or she’d kick my ass.”
Chandler’s lips twitched into a smile. “You’re not going to the clubs tonight, then?”
“Hell no.” Chase had taken over their father’s business, running and operating several exclusive clubs throughout the tri-state area. “I’m already itching to get back to her, so I’m sure as hell not going to spend half the night away just in case she gets sicker.”
“Then you should be home.”
Chase glanced at him. “Like I said, she threatened to kick my ass. You know how she gets.”
He laughed. Maddie was a tiny thing, but he wouldn’t put it past her to make good on her threat. “You should pick her up some ginger ale and crackers.”
Chandler flipped him off as he kicked his leg off the coffee table and leaned back. A foul ball cracked up into the air, then got snatched by the catcher, ending the inning. As it switched to a commercial, his thoughts wandered to the phone call he’d made earlier and a small grin pulled at his lips.
He’d flustered the un-fluster-able and didn’t that fill him with a ridiculous amount of smugness? He really shouldn’t be messing with her, considering the situation she was in, but he just couldn’t help himself.
His own phone sat like a stone on the arm of the sofa. He hadn’t expected Alana to call him, even if she’d said that she would. It wasn’t like her, but damn if he wasn’t seconds away from turning into Chase. He wanted her, and he knew she wasn’t going to make it easy, but he needed to proceed with caution. He had a feeling that the more he pushed, the more she’d push back. And while her snappy mouth and fierce personality were a huge part of her allure, he didn’t want her to close him out before he even got in.
But maybe…maybe he’d swing by her hotel later, accidentally, of course.
“Did you get fitted for your tux yet?” Chase asked, throwing his arm along the back of the couch. “Please tell me I’m not the only one who hasn’t. I’m pretty sure Mitch got it done already.”
“No.” Chandler laughed. “The wedding’s not until June. We have plenty of time—”
A knock on his front door interrupted him. He started to move, but Chase got up, sliding his phone into his pocket. “I’ll see who it is.”
“Have at it.” Chandler leaned back as Chase disappeared from the room.
He wasn’t expecting anyone, but it could be Murray or one of the other guys who worked for him. But when his brother returned, rocking one hell of a “what the f**k” expression, he knew it couldn’t be one of them.
“You have a guest.”
“No shit,” Chandler replied drily. “Where is said guest?”
Chase eyed him strangely. “Where I left her—inside the foyer.”
Her? Chandler dropped his feet to the floor in surprise. Before Chase even continued, he already had a suspicion of who it could be.
“Do I even want to know why Chad’s publicist is here?” Chase demanded in a low voice.
“Ex,” he muttered, putting his beer down on the coffee table.
Chase made a face. “Like the fact that she no longer works for Chad matters. What the hell…?”
Whatever else his brother was saying was lost to him. Chandler left him standing in the living room as he made his way through the dining room. Curiosity was riding him hard. Alana had sought him out? Not even calling him, but coming to his house? Fuck yeah. Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as he thought.
His curiosity turned to apprehension the moment he laid eyes on her.
Alana stood with her back plastered to his front door, holding a black purse to her chest in the same manner she’d held the file folder. Tiny strands of raven-colored hair wisped around a face that was way too pale. She was in another boxy, lackluster suit that seemed to swallow her whole. Her eyes were impossibly wide, the look about them wounded and scared.
“Are you okay?” he demanded, his voice harsher than he intended.
She flinched and croaked out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Sorry for what?” He made sure his voice was softer this time as he approached her. “What happened?”
Her lower lip trembled as she swallowed hard. “I went home after work to get a few things and discovered that someone had broken into my apartment.”
“Shit,” he muttered, thrusting a hand through his hair. He would’ve tailed her ass this evening, but watching Chad on the big screen was tradition. The muscles in the back of his neck tensed. “But you’re okay?”
She gave a quick jerk of her chin, but her face was still too pale. “I should’ve called, but—”
“No. It’s okay. Did you call the police?” When she nodded, he cursed again. “Did they just take a report?”
“Yes. I told them about the letters and my car, but there’s really nothing they could do at the moment and I couldn’t—”
“Go back to the hotel?”
She blinked. “How…how did you…? Of course,” she said numbly. “You’ve been watching me.”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you. There’s a difference.”
Several moments passed as she seemed to let that sink in. “I didn’t know what to do.” She drew in a deep breath that shuddered through her frame. “I don’t have anyone else…” She trailed off, clamping her lips tightly together and shaking her head.
“Fuck, Alana. I told you not to stay in your apartment. You could’ve been home when—”
“I know. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to…”
Admit that there wasn’t anyone she could go to. Shaking his head, he looked away for a second. Truth was, she could’ve just been honest, but she was too damn stubborn for that.
“Are you sure you’re okay? No one was there when you showed up?”
She shook her head.
Apprehension flipped to anger in less than a second. Partly due to the fact that someone had been in her apartment again and also partly toward himself. He should’ve f**king tailed her tonight.
Alana drew in a shallow breath, drawing his stare. “Everything was destroyed, Chandler—my couch, curtains, furniture, and clothes. Food was pulled out of the fridge, emptied all over the floors and my bed.” She broke off suddenly, her eyes blinking furiously. “Everything. Looked like someone took a knife to it. I have rental insurance, but to do all that? And the letters—I left them in the file on my desk. They were gone.”
At the sight of her valiantly holding back tears, something unhinged in his chest. Alana was strong and stubborn, but through the course of his career, he’d seen people break over less things. Having her home broken into repeatedly and having her personal items destroyed was enough to put anyone in shock, especially someone like Alana, who would try to control the path of a tornado.