Fire In You: Volume Six (Wait for You Series)J. Lynn
Also by Jennifer L. Armentrout and available from Hodder:
The Titan Series
The Gamble Brothers Series
Tempting the Best Man
Tempting the Player
Tempting the Bodyguard
Don’t Look Back
For details about current and upcoming titles from
Jennifer L. Armentrout,
please visit www.jenniferarmentrout.com
About the Author
Jennifer L. Armentrout is a Number One New York Times
and internationally bestselling author. She lives in
Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Don’t Look Back was nominated as Best in Young Adult
Fiction by the Young Adult Library Association. Obsidian has
been optioned for a major motion picture and her Covenant
Series has been optioned for TV.
Fire In You
Jennifer L. Armentrout
writing as J. Lynn
First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Cover Photograph © Sara Eirew
The right of Jennifer L. Armentrout to be identified as the Author of
the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 473 65690 1
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
50 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DZ
“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”
—Joshua Graham (Fallout)
I was going to kill Avery Hamilton.
Sweaty palms gripped the steering wheel as I told myself I needed to get out of the car. It was way past time, but I knew I’d rather walk barefoot across broken, heated glass than go into that restaurant.
Sounded excessive even to me.
But all I wanted to do was go home, change into a pair of leggings that were probably not suitable for public viewing, curl up on the couch with a bowl of sour cream and cheddar potato chips (the ruffled kind) and read. I was currently going through this weird stage where I was devouring historical romances written in the eighties, and I was about to start a Johanna Lindsey viking romance. There was a lot of bodice ripping and alpha men on steroids awaiting me. I loved it.
But then, Avery would kill me if I bailed on tonight.
Well, okay. She wouldn’t kill me, because who would babysit Ava and little Alex so she and Cam could have a date night? Tonight was a rarity. Cam’s parents were in town, so they were watching the babies, and I was here, sitting in my car, staring at one of the Japanese maple trees that lined the parking lot and looked like it was seconds from toppling over.
“Ugh,” I groaned, tipping my head back against the seat.
If I was doing this any other day, it wouldn’t be so bad, but this had been my last day at Richards and Decker. There’d been so many people in and out of my tiny office. Balloons. An ice cream cake that I may have had two . . . or three slices of. I was all peopled out.
Leaving my job of five years had been weird. I’d convinced myself for so long that I’d loved it there. I went to work, closed my door and, for the most part, was left alone while I processed insurance claims. It was a quiet, simple job I could lose myself in, and I had no risk of ever bringing it home with me at the end of the day. It paid for the two-bedroom apartment and covered the loan on my Honda. It was a quiet, boring, and harmless job to go along with a quiet, boring, and harmless life.
Then my father had finally, literally, made an offer I’d be an idiot to walk away from, and that offer had unlocked something inside me, something I’d long since thought was dead.
The desire to start really living again.
Yeah, that sounded cheesy to even think it, but it was the truth. For the last six years, I’d existed from one day to the next. Not looking forward to anything. Not doing any of the things I used to dream about.
Taking the offer my father made was the first step—the biggest step—in finally moving forward with my life, but I still couldn’t believe I was doing it.
My parents hated . . . they hated how things had turned out for me. They had all these dreams and hopes. I had those same—
A tap on my car window startled me and I jumped. My knee cracked off the bottom of my steering wheel as I looked to my left.
Avery stood outside my car, her hair a fiery red in the fading evening sun. She wiggled her fingers at me.
Cringing because I felt foolish, I reached over and hit the button. The window slid down silently. “Hey.”
She leaned over, resting her forearms on the door and all but stuck her head in the car, speaking directly to my left side. Avery was a few years older than me and had two kids, one of them less than a year ago, but with those freckles and warm brown eyes, she still managed to look like she was barely in her twenties. “So, whatcha doing?”
I glanced from her to the windshield and then back again. “Um, I was . . . thinking.”
“Uh-huh.” Avery smiled a little. “Do you think you’ll be done doing that anytime soon?”
“I don’t know,” I murmured, feeling my cheeks heat.
“The waitress just took our drink orders. I got you a Coke,” she offered. “Not diet. I’m hoping you’ll join us before we order appetizers, because Cam is talking soccer and you know how my attention span is when he starts talking soccer.”
The right corner of my mouth curved up a little. Cam had played pro soccer for several years. Now he’d moved onto coaching at Shepherd, which meant he got to be home way more often. “I’m sorry to leave you hanging like that. I wasn’t going to bail.”
“I didn’t think you would, but I figured you might need a little coaxing.”
Peeking up at her again, the small half-smile slipped from my face. Letting Avery talk me into this was also a part of the whole getting out there and living again thing, but this also wasn’t easy. “Does . . . does he know about . . . ?” I gestured at my face.
A soft look crept onto Avery’s face as she reached inside and patted my arm. I was back to gripping the steering wheel like a freak. She nodded. “Cam hasn’t gone into detail, of course, because that’s not our story to tell, but Grady knows enough.”
Meaning he wouldn’t have that “WTF” expression on his face when he saw me.
Granted, he probably would still have that expression at some point. From a distance, there didn’t appear to be anything off about me. It was upon closer inspection that my face just didn’t add up.
And that’s what I was dreading about tonight, what I dreaded whenever I met anyone for the first time. Some people just blurted it out, having absolutely no care if the question embarrassed or bothered me, or made me think of a night I’d rather forget for a multitude of reasons. Even if they didn’t ask what happened to my face, they were thinking it, because I would think it too. Didn’t make them terrible people. It just made them people.
They’d stare, trying to figure out why my right jaw looked slightly different than my left jaw. They’d try to hide that they were looking, but they’d keep glancing at my left cheek, guessing about what could’ve left such a deep notch just below my cheekbone. Then they would wonder if the deafness in my right ear had anything to do with what was going on with my face.
No one had to ask those questions, but I knew that was what they were thinking.
“He’s a really great guy,” Avery continued, squeezing my arm gently. “He’s super nice and very cute. I’ve told you how cute he is, right?”
Ducking my chin, I smiled—smiled as best as I could, which always looked fake or like I was smirking. I couldn’t get the corner of the left side of my mouth to work right. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that a few times.” I sighed as I forced my hands off the steering wheel. “I’m sorry. I’m ready.”
Avery stepped back as I hit the button, closing the window. Turning my car off, I grabbed my burnt-orange purse off the seat. I had a thing for purses. Truly the one thing I splurged on, and I could throw down some ridiculous money on a purse. As in, that autumn-themed Coach purse was by far not the most expensive one I’d bought.
I stepped out into the cool, late September evening air, wishing I’d worn something heavier than the thin black turtleneck, but the light sweater looked good with the black, knee-high boots, and I was actually trying tonight. You know, putting effort into how I looked, which meant I would hopefully put effort into this date.
“You need to stop apologizing.” Avery looped her arm through my left one. “Trust me. Take it from someone who used to be a habitual apologizer of the secular order. You don’t need to apologize when you haven’t done anything wrong.”
I lifted my brows. I knew Avery had a pretty messed-up past. For the longest time, I’d had no idea what had happened to her, but about five years ago, she’d confided in me. Hearing what she had gone through, even though it was vastly different than what had happened to me, had helped. Especially seeing her moved on from such a traumatic event, happy and healthy, and in love.
Avery was the proof that scars, whether physical or emotional, could be not just a representation of survival but also a story of hope.
“Yeah, but you guys have been waiting for me,” I said, reaching around my neck and gathering up the long strands of hair. I brought them around my left shoulder, so the thick curtain of hair fell forward. “I’m almost twenty-seven years old. You shouldn’t have to come get me out of my car.”
Avery laughed. “There are times that Cam has to come get me out of the closet and pry a wine bottle from my fingers, so this is nothing.”
I laughed at the image those words created.
“I’m glad you agreed to come out tonight.” Avery slipped her arm free and opened the door. “I think you’ll really like Grady.”
I hoped I did.
But I didn’t have the highest expectations, mainly because I had, well, not the best of luck when it came to the opposite sex. I’d only been super interested in two guys. I didn’t even want to think about the first one—about him—because that was a pit of despair I was not going to fall back into. And there was this guy I dated three years ago, but Ben Campbell had treated me like he could deduct dating me from his taxes under charitable donations.
Other than that, I was sort of dateless and I truly believed my mom feared I’d end up unmarried, childless, and alone for the rest of my life, living in my apartment with a dozen exotic birds.
“You ready?” Avery asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
I nodded, even though this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I lied, because sometimes lying was like surviving. You were doing it without even realizing it. “I’m ready.”
Stomach churning, I followed Avery toward the back of the restaurant with my gaze trained on the pretty green sweater she wore so I didn’t get distracted. Crowds were weird now, because the chatter made me feel off-balance. Like I was only capturing half of what was going on around me. Keeping up with conversations in large groups or when there was a lot of noise was often as successful as using my forehead to bang a nail into the wall.
Avery’s steps slowed as we neared a table, and Cam looked up with those extraordinarily bright blue eyes of his. The first time I’d met Cam, I’d been struck tongue-tied and unable to formulate simple words. He was that gorgeous, and he was so much in love with his wife that at times I felt a little jealous. To be on the receiving end of that kind of devotion and acceptance was something I’d never felt. Truthfully, I didn’t think everyone in the world got to experience that level of love. It was as rare and beautiful as an albino alligator.
“You’ve found her.” Cam leaned back against the chair, grinning up at Avery. “Good job, wife.”
She grinned as she slid into the seat beside him.
“Sorry,” I said, slipping my purse off my shoulder while I ignored the pointed look Avery shot in my direction. “I was running late.”
The man with his back to me, who I knew was Grady, rose and turned. With a bit of relief, I realized he would be seated to my left. Looking up, I found he was a few inches taller than me and was just as cute as Avery had said. His sandy brown hair and light blue eyes reminded me of the beach. He was smiling, and it was warm and friendly.
“That’s totally okay,” Grady said. “It’s good to meet you.”
“You too,” I replied, flushing slightly as he pulled my chair out and waited for me to sit down. I did just that, carefully placing the strap of my purse on the back of my chair. No way in hell was my Coach purse sitting on the floor. I glanced around the table. “So, um, have we ordered food yet?”
“I put in an order for spinach artichoke dip.” Cam curled his arm around the back of Avery’s chair. “And cheese fries . . . with extra bacon and cheese.”
“Someone eats like they run up and down a field for a living,” Grady commented, grinning as he glanced over at me. “Unlike the rest of us.”
Cam chuckled. “Don’t hate.”
Picking up the glass of Coke, I took a sip to ease my dry throat and calm the nervous buzz trilling in my veins. “So, Avery was saying you work at Shepherd?”
Grady nodded and spoke directly facing me, obviously aware of my partial deafness. “Yes, but my job is nowhere near as entertaining as Cam’s. I teach chemistry.”
“He’s just being modest,” Cam said, waiting until I turned to him before he continued. “He’s the youngest professor in the science department.”
“Wow. That’s impressive,” I commented, wondering if he knew I’d dropped out of college and what he thought about that. You had to be pretty smart to teach chemistry. “How long have you been there?”
As he answered my question, I saw his gaze drop from mine, flickering over my cheek, but his expression didn’t change, and I wasn’t sure what that meant. “They were telling me you attended Shepherd?”
I nodded, glancing at Avery. “I did . . .” I closed my mouth, not sure of what else to say. Silence trickled out, and I grabbed my glass again.
Cam came to the rescue, bringing up the subject of seven-year-old Ava’s fixation with soccer. “She’s so going to play.”
“She’s going to dance,” Avery corrected.
“She could probably do both,” Grady jumped in. “Couldn’t she?”
It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. “With her energy? She could do dance, soccer, and gymnastics.”
Avery laughed. “Our girl is . . . well, she’s a handful.”
“It’s so strange that Alex is the mellow one out of the two,” Cam mused. “Would’ve expected him to be all over the place.”
“Give him time,” she replied dryly. “He’s only eleven months old.”
“He’ll be playing soccer too.” Cam leaned in, kissing Avery’s cheek before she could respond. “You’ll be carting them both around to practice in a minivan.”
“God help me,” Avery laughed.
The waitress appeared at our table then, stopping abruptly when her gaze roamed over Grady and then halted on me. I hastily looked at the menu, settling on the roasted chicken and potatoes. I didn’t look up at her when I placed my order because I didn’t want to know if she was staring at me or not.