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Because of Low (Chapter Five)

The night air was still cool. Even though our super short spring weather was almost gone our nights hadn't begun to warm up yet. I took a deep cleansing breath of ocean air and stepped into the white sand wishing I hadn't worn boots. I could have slipped off heels easily and felt the sand between my toes.

My phone rang in my purse and I pulled it out. It was Cage.

"Hey you," I said holding the phone pressed between my ear and shoulder as I walked down the beach toward our apartment.

"Where are you?"

Figures this would be his question. Knowing Cage he was in the middle of sex and realized he didn't know where I was tonight and grabbed the phone to call me in between thrust. Gross, bad mental image.

"Currently I'm outside Live Bay on the beach getting some fresh air. Jackdown is playing tonight."

"Who's with you?"

"Well, I was with Preston but he left with a girl and Marcus said he would give me a ride home."

"Where's Marcus?"

"Inside dancing with a girl."

There was a pause.

"You ready to leave?"

I was, but telling Cage that would have him leaving his date and rushing to my side. He had a hero complex when it came to me. I often wondered if it was because no one ever saved us as kids. No one saved his Mom when his step-dad beat her. He was just a kid but I knew he blamed himself for not stopping it.

"I'm good."

"No you aren't Low. I can hear it in your voice. Something's wrong. I'll be there in five minutes."

"Cage don't–"

But he'd hung up. Oh well. No doubt the girl will let him come right back. They always did, which baffled me. If a guy ran off on me to go help some other girl while we were on a date I would not let him just run right back and jump in my bed later. But then I wouldn't be having casual sex with a strange guy either. So this was a moot point.

Heading back up to the street I glanced over at the lights of Live Bay and figured I'd just call and let Marcus know I was leaving instead of going back inside. Besides from the looks of the blonde bombshel in his arms he probably wouldn't realize I was gone for awhile.

Marcus

Ì finally managed to untangle myself from Jess. I wanted to dance with Will ow. I'd watched her briefly when I'd first arrived and all I could think about was being close to her and touching her while she moved like that. Jess had come along and delayed me. Dewayne sat at the table with Rock and Trisha. They were laughing and talking but there was no Will ow. I glanced toward the bar but I couldn't see her in the crowd of people.

"Where's Will ow?"

"What? No love for me first?" Rock taunted as he smirked up at me.

I turned to Dewayne. He was leaned back in his chair with a long neck beer in his hands as he watched me.

"Where's Will ow?" I asked him specifically this time.

He flicked the metal bar in his bottom lip and tilted his head toward the door, "Went to get some air a while ago." Oh no.

"How long ago?"

Dewayne seemed to be enjoying my frustration. He put a stupid cigarette to his lips and took a long drag then shrugged, "Since you ran off with Jess." I turned to head outside when my phone rang. I hoped it wasn't Manda with another crisis concerning Mom right now. That was the last thing I needed. I had been making some headway with Will ow. Until Jess had drug me out onto the dance floor.

"hello," I said pressing the phone close to my ear as I stepped outside.

"I got my girl. I'm taking her home. In case you remembered you were her ride and couldn't find her later I wanted you to know."

Cage had come to get Will ow. HELL!

"Why, what's wrong? She okay?"

She'd called Cage to come get her and he'd come to rescue her. Where had I been? Dancing. Perfect. Just perfect.

"She was just tired and ready for bed. Didn't want to bother you and your girl. I got her. All 's good. Later man." The phone call ended.

My girl? Jess was not my girl. I mean I'd messed around with her in the past. She was Rock's hot little cousin but never anything serious.

I stood in the parking lot looking out at the cars. I'd screwed up already. Will ow had all kinds of walls built around her. I'd wanted to get past them. I wanted her to trust me and let me in. But I'd let her down and she'd gone running to Cage.

There had been interest in her eyes tonight. I'd seen it. I'd wanted to shout out loud in triumph at it. But then Jess had shown up and I hated turning her down. Rock said she was going through a really bad time right now. All that had been about was trying to cheer up an old friend. Nothing more.

But to Will ow… it had looked like more. I'd left her. Cage had come for her. Who would have thought competing with Cage for the most trustworthy guy would be hard?

"You find her?" Trisha asked when I returned to the table. I needed another drink. This time screw the Coke. I just needed the whiskey.

"Cage got her."

Dewayne chuckled and I shot him a warning glare. I didn't need to hear it from him right now. He always saw too much. Tonight, I wanted him to keep his opinions to himself.

"Awww dang. Krit wanted to come see her after this set." I shifted my angry glare toward Trisha who was grinning at me like she knew a hilarious secret.

"Hey, Hardy don't look at my woman like that. Save your angry snarls for someone else," Rock's warning wasn't in jest. He meant business. I ran my hand through my hair and growled looking back toward the door wanting desperately to leave.

"She's got you all tied up in knots. It's about fucking time.

Sadie White did a number on you. Good to see you getting all worked up over another girl." There was no reason to deny Dewayne's observation. These were my best friends.

They knew me better than anyone else. Lying to them was pointless.

"Why the hell does she run off to him all the time? I don't get it!"

Trisha sat her drink down and leaned forward staring directly at me. "Because he's her safe house. As screwed up as it is considering who we're talking about. Cage cares about one thing in this world and it's Low. He's been fighting her battles and fixing her problems since they were kids. We all lived on the same street. I remember watching them. It always fascinated me how bad boy Cage York acted like a love sick puppy when it came to her. She fell down he came running. You want her, then good luck.

Because every time you aren't there to pick her up I can assure you Cage will be. She knows she can call him. She knows no matter what he'll love her. Unconditional love is hard to compete with."

I reached over and took a long swig of Dewayne's beer.

Trisha was right. How did I compete with that? And did I even want to?

Willow

Cage closed the door behind us and threw his keys on the table.

"I picked up some more of your Jarrito's today. Go get you one while I get a shower."

I'd made Cage paranoid about the smell of perfume, sex and whiskey that always clung to him after his dates. I wanted to tell him not to worry about it. I was fine but I wanted alone time. So I nodded and headed for the fridge.

Cage kissed the top of my head on his way to the bathroom.

"I'll scrub up good. I promise," he called out as he closed the door.

I laughed quietly to myself and started to go to his bedroom when the couch caught my attention. Memories of curling up against Marcus and waking up in his lap had me walking over to sit down on it instead. I liked it here. He sat here for hours letting me sleep in his lap. No one other than Cage had ever done something like that for me. Smiling I took a sip of my drink. He was a good guy. A sexy guy. A fun guy to fantasize about.

My cheeks flushed at the thought that Dewayne may have told Marcus what he suspected. He suspected right. I was jealous. I liked Marcus way more than I should. But Marcus knowing was just embarrassing. My phone dinged alerting me of a text message.

It was from Trisha

"U make it home okay?"

I quickly typed

"yes. Thank you =)"

"U r missed," she replied.

Missed by who? Marcus? Or just her? Surely Dewayne hadn't discussed with everyone those unspoken words before I left. God, I hoped not.

I tucked my phone back inside my pocket and stood up.

The shower had stopped and I wanted to get one next.

Dewayne's cigarette smoke clung to my hair and clothes. I was exhausted and ready to put this night behind me.

* * *

I woke up before anyone else and collected Cage's and my dirty laundry and headed to the washroom downstairs to get started on it. Cage had crawled in bed beside me last night and we'd gone to sleep without many words. He didn't get up and leave all night which meant he was resting up for a reason. Today had to be a game day. And his uniform was dirty as were all my clothes and most of his jeans. I added bleach to the water and threw his filthy dirt stained uniform in by itself. Luckily, there were three washers and dryers down here and all three were empty. Many of the apartments had their own so rarely did I come down here and find someone else using them. It made laundry time go so much quicker. Once I got all three machines going, my phone rang. Pulling it out of my pocket, I glanced down to see it was Tawny. She never called me and when she did it was never good.

"hello."

"Where are you?"

"At Cage's."

"Figures. Listen I need a sitter for tonight. I have a date.

Larissa is asking for you. If you keep her then you can stay the night. I probably won't be home until the morning anyway."

"I've got work Tawny."

"Shit. Fine. If I have to pay a sitter then don't come back here this week."

"I wasn't planning on it."

"What you've finally shacked up with Cage? Just like our Mama."

"No Tawny, YOU are just like our Mama. I'm still a virgin and you have a kid and no husband. Do the math sister."

"Whatever. Bye."

The call ended. I felt sick at my stomach at the thought of Larissa being left overnight with some sitter. There was no telling who Tawny would get. I dialed her number back.

"What?"

"After work I'll come over and keep her overnight. Don't get a sitter for all night."

There was a brief pause.

"Okay, fine. What time do I tell the sitter you'll be here?"

"I work a double but I'll get someone to switch with me so I can leave by eleven. So tell her eleven thirty. I may have to walk."

"Fine."

She hung up again.

If it wasn't for my niece I doubt I'd even talk to my sister.

There was no love between us and I wasn't sure why. When we were little, I tried so hard to gain her approval, but nothing I did pleased her. It was as if my being born ruined her life. Who was I kidding. My mother acted the same way.

My birth had not been cause for celebration for anyone in my family. Some days I imagined getting on a bus and leaving this town behind. The memories weren't good. At leaving this town behind. The memories weren't good. At least most of them weren't. I could fit my life into one suitcase. The only person who would miss me would be Cage. Well and Larissa until she forgot I existed. Just starting over anywhere else was so tempting. Eventually Cage would see the wisdom behind my leaving. He'd be free of his need to protect me. I'd make new friends. Maybe find a decent job and finish my education.

"Deep thoughts?" Marcus's voice startled me and I jerked my gaze up from the cement floor to stare up into sleepy green eyes.

"Hey, what're you doing down here so early?" He shrugged and sat down a basket of laundry on the ground beside him.

"Well I thought I'd get some laundry done before I fixed breakfast. But it appears all the machines are in use," his tone was teasing.

"Oops. Sorry about that. I didn't think anyone would need them so early."

"That was my thought too."

I let out a small laugh and fiddled with my thumbs while my hands fisted nervously in my lap. Did he know I'd run out like a jealous idiot last night?

"So, you left me last night." His tone didn't give anything away.

I tucked the hair acting as a wall between us behind my ear.

"Um, yeah. Sorry. I was tired and needed some air." He didn't respond right away and I prayed my breathing was normal because my heart was doing a strange little fluttery thing.

"I would've taken you home if I'd known you wanted to go." Because he was one of the good guys.

"You were having fun. Your friends obviously miss you. I didn't want to ruin your night. Cage was coming my way so it worked out okay."

A small frown touched his lips and I turned my eyes back to the cement crack in the floor I'd been staring at before he'd arrived.

"I was enjoying your company too. I'd looked forward to taking you home."

Okay now the fluttery thing my heart was doing had turned into a full blown pounding.

Had Marcus Hardy just insinuated he was upset because he didn't get to take me home?

"Oh," I responded. What else did I say to that?

The first washer stopped and I jumped up and made myself busy with putting the load in the dryer.

"Washer is free," I announced smiling back at him.

He stood up and instead of waiting on me to move out of the way he crowded me back against the washer and sat his basket on the closed washer beside it. I lifted my eyes up to his to say "excuse me," but the heated look in his green eyes stopped me. A small gasp left my mouth.

"I don't think I'm making myself very clear Low," he'd lowered his voice and the effect made goose bumps break out over my body. "I was only interested in one person at that bar last night. I only came to see one person," he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and softly caressed my earlobe before tracing the line of my jaw. "I was there for you."

The husky whisper in his voice made it hard for me to take a deep breath. Instead, I was making small little pants.

"Oh," I whispered.

He chuckled and lowered his head until his lips were hovering over mine.

"OH! Ah, um, I, uh," the startled female voice broke the spell and Marcus closed his eyes tightly and cursed.

Straightening up he turned around to face whoever had entered the room. I couldn't see over his back and the way he was keeping me cornered with his body I realized he didn't want the intruder to see me either. At least not my face.

"Sadie?" I could hear the surprised confusion in his voice.

"Uh, Marcus I'm so sorry. I was headed up to your apartment and I saw the back of your head through the window and came in. I didn't see anyone else."

"No it's okay. What're you doing here?" Marcus body was strung tight as a bow. Something was off with this situation.

Who was Sadie?

"It's Amanda. She stayed over at my place last night. I took her home this morning and your Mom was well… anyway, uh, she's outside in the Hummer and upset. I didn't know what else to do." The sound of the girl's musical voice was not helping my imagination. She had an odd affect on Marcus.

"No you did the right thing. I'm coming." I heard the door shut and Marcus let out a defeated sigh.

"I gotta go check on her."

"Of course you do." I stepped out from around him this time and went to the other washing machine that had stopped to unload it.

He stared at me as if he was going to say something else but instead shook his head and left the room and his dirty laundry forgotten.

I got my other two loads in the dryer then put a load of his dark clothes in to wash.

Standing in the washroom without Marcus suddenly felt cold and lonely. He'd almost kissed me. He'd come to see me last night. But then Sadie had shown up. She affected him.

Why? Jess, Sadie… there were many girls in his life. Just like Cage. I shook my head and cleared my thoughts. I needed to finish up and get ready for work.

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