Trashed, p.18
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       Trashed, p.18

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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He stumbles, lands on his ass, scrambles to his feet and runs out the door. People clap, a few whistle. Oliver is standing guard, keeping the bouncer at bay. I flex my hands into fists, shake and release them, and then sit down across from the girl. She’s quivering, fighting back the tears.

  I touch her chin, and she looks at me. “Hey. What’s your name?”

  “Quinn. ”

  “You listen to me, Quinn. ” I pin her with my eyes, let her see my sincerity. “You don’t need a piece of shit like him. If he doesn’t appreciate how pretty you are, just the way you are, then he doesn’t deserve you. ”

  She searches me. “You think I’m—pretty?”

  “Yeah, Quinn, I do. And anyone with eyes can see that, too, as long as they’re not shallow, spineless assholes like that guy. ”

  “He’s not so bad. He’s nice enough most of the time. He just…he wants me to be healthy. ”

  “That’s bullshit. He just says that because he thinks it’s an easy way to manipulate you. He thinks he can make you believe he’s got your best interests in mind, when all he really wants is an easy target. ” I grab her hands. “But you’re not an easy target, are you, Quinn? You’re the type of girl who stands up for herself, right? You want a guy to like you for you, who finds you attractive exactly the way you are. Isn’t that right? You wouldn’t date a pathetic loser just because you think it’s all you can get, would you? You aren’t that girl, are you, Quinn?”

  I can see her processing my words, my challenge. She lifts her chin, and determination hardens her features. “No. I’m not that girl. ”

  I smile at her. “Good. ”

  She tosses back her martini, and stands up. “Thanks, Mr. Trenton. ”

  I stand up too and shake her hand, and then pull her in for a quick hug. “When that loser tries to get you back, you tell him to fuck off. Okay?”

  “I will. ”

  I gather my things and stop by the bar, hand a few large bills to the bartender. “Pay her tab and mine, keep what’s left. ”

  The bartender’s eyes bug out and he nods.

  I leave the bar, hand my script to Oliver and tell him to find somewhere to park. I need to walk. Need to clear my head. Seeing Des, even in a magazine, has me flipped out all over again. I’d buried it all, moved on. Or so I’d thought. But obviously, I hadn’t.

  I walk aimlessly, my thoughts whirling. Every once in awhile I see Oliver pass by me in the Rover, circling me to make sure I’m not getting mugged or anything.

  Eventually I realize I’m outside Wayne State University. Students are filing out in singles, twos, and threes. A late class must have just let out. I watch them go, scanning the faces, not sure what I’m looking for, or why I’m here. Des isn’t here, I know she isn’t. She’s in New York, modeling. But I don’t walk away; I lean against the pole of a streetlight and watch the students from across the street.

  They’re gone now. The thirty or thirty-five students have quickly dispersed, and the street is empty again.

  I turn away, and then I hear the building door swing open. I glance back, out of instinct, I guess.

  And there she is.

  Des.

  Hands in her jeans pockets, backpack slung across her shoulders, hair in a sleek ponytail.

  I’m running across the street without thinking, ignoring the honk and the squeal of brakes. She turns at the noise, sees me, and then I’m in front of her.

  She’s in my arms, chest to chest, and her warm brown eyes are staring into mine, wondering, amazed, fearful, hesitant. “Adam?”

  There are too many things to say, and I don’t even know where to start. I feel as if I’m in a dream.

  “I’m sorry I never called—” she starts.

  A million thoughts skirl in my brain, and I can’t even begin sorting them out. All I know is this is Des, here, in my arms, and her lips are wet, like she’s just licked them, and I need to kiss her.

  Page 51

 

  So I cut her off with a kiss, my lips slanting across hers, my heart thumping in my chest. She’s frozen at first, shocked, and then she’s pressing up on her toes and her tongue finds mine, and I know whatever her reasoning was, it’s irrelevant now.

  She wants this as much as I do.

  She moans into the kiss, leans against me as if her legs won’t hold up her weight.

  I break the kiss enough to whisper to her. “You’re coming with me. ”

  She just nods.

  Chapter 12

  Is this real? Is this happening? How did he find me?

  His hand in mine is big and rough and familiar, and his presence beside me is huge and warm. His eyes on mine are the pale pastel green that has my heart flipping and my stomach knotting, because he sees me, sees into me.

  He wants me.

  I still don’t entirely know why.

  The question is becoming: do I care why, or only that he does?

  I’m walking beside him, and then a black Range Rover slides to a graceful stop beside us and Adam slides in, pulls me in after him. He reaches across me, pulls the seatbelt over my chest and clicks it into place. It’s a sweet but bizarre gesture, buckling me in. Is he that worried for my safety? Or is he worried I’ll bolt? I don’t know. But his fingers are twining in mine and the driver seems to know where we’re going without being told.

  I open my mouth to speak, and Adam shakes his head. “Not yet. ”

  My lips tingle from the force and tenderness of his kiss, and my heart is palpitating furiously and my lungs are expanding and contracting deeply, as if his mere presence beside me requires more blood in my veins, more oxygen in my lungs. I want to crush myself to him, cling to him. I want to mash my lips against his and eat his breath, feel his muscles and tell him to take me, own me, claim me. I also want to run away; being with him will require truth. I’ll have to tell him how I grew up, about the foster homes and the things I endured.

  The abuse.

  NO. I can’t go there, not even in my mind. No.

  I’ll have to tell him he took my virginity. That I gave it to him, and didn’t tell him.

  I’ll have to tell him about New York, and Ludovic.

  So much to tell him, so many things I’ve never told anyone.

  I might even have to tell him my real name.

  We’re pulling into an underground parking garage, sliding into a reserved spot near an elevator. The driver, a burly man in his mid- to late-thirties with a huge black beard and tattoos curling up his neck and peeking out from the cuffs of his suit coat, pulls open my door and extends his hand to me, helps me down from the SUV. He closes the door behind Adam, follows us to the elevator, and even presses the call button.

  Standing in silence waiting for the elevator is excruciating and awkward. I extend my hand to the driver. “Hi, I’m Des. ”

  “Oliver. ” His voice sounds like stone rasping across stone.

  “Nice to meet you, Oliver. ”

  “Same. ”

  And the awkwardness is back. Adam has my hand again, as if he’s afraid to let me go, like I’ll disappear if he’s not physically touching me.

  The elevator finally arrives, the doors sliding apart. Oliver extends an arm through the opening and waits for us to board, and then follows us on, reaching out to insert and twist a key, then pushes the top-most floor button.

  I find it funny for some reason that a man as intelligent and dominant and powerful as Adam lets someone call elevators for him. “Must be nice,” I say, “having someone to push the button for you. ”

  Both Adam and Oliver stare at me as if I’ve grown a second head.

  “My job,” Oliver says, one corner of his mouth curling up almost imperceptibly. “He wouldn’t let me do it for the first few months I worked for him. He’d get there first, push the button. Get on the elevator first, push the button. Stubborn fucker, makin’ me look bad. So I told him he had to let me do my job. ”


  Adam shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “It’s ridiculous. I’m a grown-ass man. I don’t need anyone to hold doors for me. He all but cuts my fucking meat for me. I swear to Christ, he’d peel the crusts off my sandwich if I asked him to. ” He snorts. “You’re a bodyguard, Oliver, not a goddamned nanny. ”

  “Yeah, well, you need a nanny, you big pussy. ” Oliver says this with a straight face, but his voice holds humor, and his narrow, deep-set dark eyes hold merriment.

  “Twat,” Adam says.

  I watch the exchange with bemusement. “What is it with men insulting each other? I don’t get it. ”

  Oliver and Adam glance at each other, and Adam laughs. “It’s just a guy thing. ”

  The elevator stops and the doors swish open. Oliver waits till we’re both off, and then somehow manages to move past us without seeming to hurry, leading us down a long, narrow hallway of slate-colored walls and dark hardwood floors. There’s a small table with fake flowers up against the wall every dozen feet or so, with either an abstract painting or a mirror above it. We reach a door at the end of the hallway. Oliver unlocks it, ushers us in, and then moves past us once again. He prowls through the kitchen, living room, and through another door, finally returning to where Adam and I wait by the entrance.

  “All clear,” he rasps. “Need anything?”

  “Privacy until further notice,” Adam says.

  “Cool. ” He pauses halfway out the door. “Need some carryout, just let me know. I’ll grab it. ”

  Finally, Adam and I are alone. “So, Oliver the bodyguard. What’s up with that?”

  Adam shrugs. “My agent insisted. Said I’ve reached the level where fans are liable to do crazy shit, so best to be prepared. ”

  “You don’t seem like you’d need a bodyguard. ”

  Adam laughs. “Oliver is ex-special forces. Like, black ops. He’s trained in all sorts of hand-to-hand combat, defensive and offensive driving, threat assessment techniques, and all sorts of nifty and slightly scary shit. Plus, he’s just plain cool. ” He tugs me by the hand out of the small foyer area and into the kitchen. It’s an open-plan apartment, the same dark hardwood floors as in the hallway, large windows facing the street, offering an amazing view of the river and the Ontario skyline. The kitchen is all dark speckled marble and stainless steel appliances, with a round table between the kitchen and living room. The living room itself has a huge brown leather couch and matching loveseat and chair, with an exposed brick wall and a mounted flat-screen TV.

  “Nice place,” I say, feeling awkward again.

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  “It’s a short-term rental. Just while I’m here filming. ”

  I decide to bite the bullet. I take a seat in the corner of the couch, curling my legs under me. Adam sits on the opposite corner, facing me. “Adam? Why are you here? Why am I here? How did you find me?”

  He takes a moment to think before answering, which is a quality I admire in him. “I’m filming a movie here. I’ll be in Detroit for two months. ”

  “So how did you find me?”

  “Were you hiding?” he asks. I start to answer, and he holds up a hand to forestall me. “It was totally accidental. I thought you were in New York. Ruth told me you moved there to be a model. Anyway, we were cutting a scene, and I needed to get out for a walk. I just ended up at Wayne State. I don’t know how. I was just watching the students leave after a class and…thinking about you, honestly, and there you were. ”

  “Adam, I—”

  “Why didn’t you call?”

  I don’t know how to answer. “I just…couldn’t. What would I say? Would you have come to New York? Yeah, you probably would have. But for what? For how long?”

  He stares at me for a moment, his eyes narrow in thought, and then he looks away. He puts a palm to his ribs and massages gently, wincing. Finally, he looks back at me. “Why do you seem so dead-set on insisting this couldn’t work?”

  “What couldn’t work, Adam?”

  He waves between him and me. “There’s something here, Des. Between us. There is, and I know you know there is. You’re just scared. Of what, I’m not sure. ”

  “Of what? Of everything. ”

  “Why?”

  I let out a breath. “Because that’s what life has taught me. ” I close my eyes briefly. “I don’t trust anyone. I don’t know how. My capacity for trust got broken a long fucking time ago. ”

  Adam’s face softens, and he just looks at me in silence for several moments. And then he gets up, goes into the kitchen, and pulls two bottles of beer out of the fridge and a bag of pretzels from a cabinet. He twists the caps off the beers and returns to the couch, setting the pretzels on the coffee table between us. He takes a long drink of his beer, chews some pretzels, and drinks again. I do the same, and then Adam is somehow closer to me, his thigh brushing the foot I’ve got tucked under my butt.

  He looks at me, and I can see him sorting out his thoughts, his words. “Des, I almost don’t even know where to go with that. ” Another swig. “I know I promised you last time that I wouldn’t ask any questions. Well, I’m breaking that promise. Here’s what it is, Des: I like you. I’ve missed you. God, we spent less than forty-eight hours together, and I just can’t forget you. I’ve tried. I mean, fuck, it’s been what, six months? And I can’t get you out of my head. I can’t get that night out of my head. Two days out of a hundred and eighty, and I can’t stop thinking about it. About you. And just so you know now, there’s been no one else since then.

  “I’m going to give you a choice. If you have any sort of feelings for me at all, then you’ll take a chance. On me. On us. On whatever this is, whatever it can be. That means telling me shit about yourself. Answering questions. Volunteering information. I mean, it’s not like I’m expecting your whole life story in one sitting, or all your deepest, darkest secrets right here right now. But something. Take a chance, Des. ” He pauses, drinks, sets the bottle down. “Or if you can’t do that, or won’t, then tell me. I’ll have Oliver take you home, and you’ll never see me again. ”

  Everything inside me clenches. My flight reflex is burning at me. Don’t trust him, part of me screams. You can’t. He’ll hurt you. He’ll betray you. Everyone else has and everyone else will, and you know it.

  But the other part of me argues back. No, not everyone. Ruth hasn’t. Adam may not.

  Adam takes my silence as hesitation. He takes my beer from me and sets it down. Grabs my hands and sits angled toward me, as close as he can get. “You can’t go your whole life alone, Des. You have to trust someone, sometime. Start with me. ” He leans even closer, whispering. “You can trust me. ”

  Fight-or-flight wars with my loneliness, my desire for Adam. I blink hard. “Why do you want this?”

  “Because I’ve never met anyone like you. And to be totally honest, I’m not sure I can even quantify exactly what it is about you. I mean, I don’t know anything about you. But I’m drawn to you, intensely attracted to you, and I want to know more. Find out more. ” He pauses again, and then squeezes my hand. “How about this: ask me anything. I’ll answer any question you ask me. ”

  “What happened between you and Emma Hayes?” I ask.

  He winces. “Wow. Straight for the jugular. In that case, I’m going to need another beer. ” He gets up, grabs two more, and I use the opportunity to straighten my legs out and prop them on the coffee table. He sits beside me, grabs my ankles, and pivots me so my legs lay across his thighs. “So, me and Emma. We met filming Blood Alchemy. We had a kiss scene in that movie, one of only two or three I’d ever done. Typically not my thing. But it was in that movie, and we just…clicked. The kiss was good, I guess. I mean, when you do a scene like that, there’s usually like at least six or eight takes, sometimes more. The director wants a variety of angles and different elements, whatever. So it wasn’t just one kiss, bam, done. We were on set, kissing in front of dozens of people, cameras rolling, Mike
Helms yelling instructions at us and telling us to ‘feel it more’. And like I said, we just…clicked. So after we wrapped, we went out on a few dates. That turned into a month, two, three. We got along. Similar interests, I guess. She grew up with brothers, so she could talk football, and we’d both gotten into acting from an odd direction, you know? She was a makeup artist at first. Then an extra got sick and they didn’t have time to do an extras casting call, so they put her in. She could do the makeup on herself, and since the role needed heavy makeup effects, that was helpful. Turns out she could actually act, so the director tapped her for a supporting role in his next project. Grew from there. Whatever. ”

  He takes a moment to gather his thoughts, then continues. “I’d had a few casual relationships here and there, right? Girls in high school, some brief flings in college and when I played ball. Nothing serious. Not till Emma. I was always so focused on football and then acting, and I just…never cared about anyone very seriously. It was all just fun. But Emma was different, to me. I thought I loved her, okay? I really did. She was gorgeous and talented and a lot of fun. We dated for a year and a half. We visited each other on set, went on a couple short vacations together.

  Page 53

 

  “And then one day, I was in an airport somewhere. Paris, maybe? Germany? I can’t remember. Somewhere in Europe. Oh, I remember now. It was France, after Cannes. I did this bit part in an indie art film, and I’d gone to the festival to support it. Anyway. I was in line in an airport shop, buying some water and a book, and I saw a magazine, a tabloid. And there were these pictures on the front page, photos of Emma and her co-star from her latest project. It was a serious drama, no romance at all. But there they were, holding hands. Kissing. ” He shrugs, but it’s obviously difficult for him to act unaffected. “I flew back to L. A. early, didn’t tell her. Showed up at her house in Malibu, unannounced. Ryan’s car was there. She’s got this big bay window in front, you can see all the way through the house to the ocean behind. I saw them on the deck together. She was wearing his T-shirt, he was in his underwear. Drinking fucking mimosas. She saw me, and she just…fucking waved at me. Like, oh hey. No big deal. ”

  “What? She didn’t even care that you’d seen her?”

  He shakes his head. “Nope. I was backing out of her driveway and she comes out the front door, still in his goddamned T-shirt and nothing else. She stops me. I open my window, and she leans in for a kiss. I was like, what? What the fuck is going on, right?” He snorts in derision. “Turns out, she had different ideas about the…exclusivity of our relationship than I did. You know what she told me? ‘We never said we were exclusive, Adam. I’m sorry if you assumed that, but I never said it. ’ She’d—she’d been dating other guys the whole time we were together. I thought it—I thought we’d meant something, I guess. The whole time, a year and a half, whenever I wasn’t around, she was banging other dudes. Thing was, she never hid it, or lied about it, she just never told me, and I never thought to ask. ”

 
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