“Did you meet someone else?” His steady gaze landed on me, causing a buzz of raw lust to poke every single vertebrae and I fumbled to clarify. “I mean, after you two broke up. Did you meet someone?”
He went very quiet, any sign of the breezy, seemingly carefree conversation we were just having gone.
“I was overseas for a long time, Emma. I met a lot of people,” was all he said.
Not an answer, and if there was one thing I noticed, it was avoidance. Whatever happened with Rhys over there, whoever he met, was something he clearly didn’t want to talk about.
I studied my pancake, trying to figure out how every passing hour, things got more complicated. More involved. Operation Don’t Fall for Rhys was failing.
I peeked out of the bedroom and into the dark living room. Rhys was sprawled on the couch, asleep. I had tried for hours to unwind enough to sleep, but couldn’t get my mind to turn off.
I tiptoed from the bedroom and into the bathroom, careful not to wake him. Maybe a warm shower would relax me enough for me to get some rest.
I stood in the stall and let the water run down my shoulders, the steam enveloping me. It did little to calm my brain.
Ever since our earlier conversation at dinner, I couldn’t stop thinking about Rhys and what he was hiding. There was so much I didn’t know about him, and yet, I trusted him. Why? Why was he different?
My mind churned out the same answer it had for the past several hours: I don’t know.
Maybe I needed more information before I would figure out the reason behind my weird responses to him. Never once had I felt true jealousy until tonight. I knew right away it wasn’t a healthy thing to feel or admit to. This backwoods, small-town, polite people world made me feel more and more inadequate every second.
In the city, even back when I was dirty and on the street, I knew what I was. Owned it. Made it work the best I could. But here? It was like all my flaws were easily seen. And every area I was lacking in was more noticeable because I had stared down a woman today that looked the part. She looked like the kind of woman that belonged with a guy like Rhys. And that woman wasn’t me. Would never be me.
Stepping out of the shower and feeling more tense than when I entered, I dried off and wrapped the towel around myself, knotting it in the middle of my chest. The smallest things were annoying me. Like my hair hitting the middle of my back. I usually I kept it a bit shorter but hadn’t thought of haircuts lately. Either way, it wasn’t sculpted into a pretty mid-length bob like Sara’s.
I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the same thing I always did. Exhaustion. Dark circles were under my eyes and I felt exactly how I looked. Letting out a deep breath, I opened the bathroom door and —
“Jesus!” I gasped. There was a large, shirtless Rhys standing in front of me. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Black drawstring pajama bottoms hung low on his hips giving me prime view of all his chiseled, muscled glory. My ni**les hardened instantly and the subtle scratch of the terrycloth they were pressed against only made it worse.
“Is something wrong?” Rhys asked.
I snapped my gaze up to his just before I was caught drooling. “I couldn’t sleep. Thought maybe a hot shower would help.”
He nodded and looked me over, taking in my damp skin and towel. His gaze heated me way more than the water I was just under.
“I’ll make you some tea.”
“No, it’s okay.” I made a mental note to add, “offers to make tea” to the list of everything good and seemingly perfect about him. Operation “Don’t Fall for Rhys Striker,” was not going well. Because instead of finding unflattering things about him, all I got was more and more reasons why he was wonderful.
“You look like you haven’t slept well in a while,” he said softly, his thumb running along my cheekbone just beneath my eye.
“Yeah, I know.”
I turned away because I was aware how haggard I looked. I didn’t need Rhys with all his muscles and way too sexy pj’s pointing it out. I also didn’t like how self-conscious I felt. Put me in a city or on a busy street and I was fine. But the country?
When it came to townsfolk and small talk with neighbors, I had no idea how to act. I was out of my element and everything I wanted to say just sounded so harsh. And I didn’t want to come across mean, not right now at least. I reserved snarky words for when I needed space. Needed to verbally cut someone enough to make them leave me alone.
Right then, I didn’t want to be left alone, I wanted Rhys. But I didn’t want to be near him either. Mostly because I didn’t want him to have an up close and personal view of all the shortcomings that I was too tired to conceal at the moment.
“When was the last time you slept?” he asked.
“You mean other than when I was roofied?” I smiled. He didn’t. “Come on, that was a little funny.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Most women would be shaking in fear after having a scare like that. Certainly not joking about it.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not most women.”
He kept his eyes on my face. “I know.” He glanced at the knot in the middle of my br**sts, or dare I assume Mr. Platonic was looking at my actual br**sts, then back to my face. “When, Emma?”
I let out a long huff. “The last time I actually slept through the night was at your hotel.”
“And before that?”
I studied the floor. “Not since I left Chicago.”
He exhaled and when he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper. “Why do you suppose you can’t sleep now?”
“I don’t know.” Liar. I did know. But admitting it out loud wouldn’t help anything. That night I was surrounded by Rhys, his scent, his strength. It was easy to slip into a coma of bliss and know everything would be okay.
“Are you scared?” he asked softly.
He kept his eyes on the pulse in my neck. I could tell because I realized he did this often. Probably part of his “reading people” skills. Naturally, I tried to steady my heartbeat, which only made it jump a bit more.
“Would you like me to come sit with you until you fall asleep?”
“No,” I answered quickly and that time it was the total truth. I didn’t want him to sit, I wanted him to lie down with me. Own my entire body like he had that night. I wanted to get lost in him. But reality was just too brutal to forget. Call it exhaustion or hormones, I was feeling so low, in every way possible, and I didn’t want Rhys to see it.