Free Me (Page 21)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(21)
Author: Laurelin Paige

It was the last invitation he’d give me. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew it clear as crystal. And I ached inside, wishing I had the strength to be someone else. Wishing I was the kind of person who didn’t think too much or too hard or too long.

Wishing I could do more than watch him leave.

He was almost gone when it happened. I called after him. “JC!”

I waited until he spun back toward me before I went on, mostly because I had no idea in hell what I was going to say. When I spoke, the words were automatic. “Your offer—did you mean it?”

His brow furrowed questioningly.

“You said before that you could help me. Help me be less tense.” My words fell out in a rush partly because I was suddenly full of adrenaline and partly because I was afraid I would stop myself if I slowed down. “Did you mean it?”

JC smiled in a way that was half-taunting and all hot as hell. “Gwen, if you’re asking if I’m willing to pop your cork again, the answer is yes, I very much am. Additionally, I’m willing to help you relax.”

“You’ll help me relax with fucking?” Norma would be so proud.

“And other things.” He grinned like a man who had caught his long-hunted prey, and my pulse kicked up from both fear and excitement. “Did I mean it when I offered it? Yes. I did. I do. Is it something you’d like to talk more about?”

“I think I would.” I wanted to sound surer than that because I was surer than that, so I corrected myself. “I would like to talk more about it.”

“I’ll take you to lunch tomorrow.” His tone was final. He may have been tentative before, when I’d still been indecisive, but once I’d admitted my interest, he took control.

Surprisingly, I liked that. It was strangely comforting to not to have to worry about something even though it also felt foreign. But this was what I wanted. So I’d let him make our plans.

Except for one thing. “I don’t do lunches.” If JC were going to be in my world, it would have to be on my schedule.

“Of course you don’t, I wasn’t thinking. That’s fine. We can work with that.” His tone suggested he was talking about more than just the date we were currently planning. “We’ll do breakfast. I’ll pick you up here at six.”

He left then, and in complete opposition to the morning I’d heard about Ben when I’d felt numb and frozen, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to scream or squeal or laugh or cry. I felt like a pressure cooker ready to burst.

For better or worse, I’d done it—two impulsive things in less than a week.

Somehow I had a feeling this was just the beginning.

Chapter Six

I had no idea what JC meant when he said “I’ll pick you up,” and I half-feared he’d show up in a car and take me someplace fancy. That wasn’t what I wanted from our meeting. I wanted a conversation, not a date. Also, I didn’t want anyone at the club seeing me leave with him and starting rumors.

But I needn’t have worried. When I walked out the back door, JC was standing a few yards away, casually leaning against the side of the next building and not at all appearing to be waiting for me. He was dressed in jeans now, and a tailored gray wool coat that fit him so perfectly it made my stomach flip-flop. He nodded at me inconspicuously as I said goodnight to the other closing manager who took off in the other direction toward the subway.

Then I headed over to meet JC.

We didn’t say anything as he led me a couple of blocks down to Café Angelique. It was cold and still fairly dark, but between our brisk pace and my hyperactive hormones, the temperature barely fazed me. By the time we arrived at our destination, my cheeks were flushed and my heart was beating, and I was grateful to be able to blame it on our walk.

At the café, we ordered breakfast—quiches and coffee—and found a table in the back. I waited until we’d stripped our coats and gloves, noting that the blue of JC’s sweater brought out his eyes, before diving into conversation. “So…your offer.”

With a smile, he shook his head. “You can’t even enjoy five minutes of just hanging out before jumping in, can you? No wonder you need me.”

Actually, it had been closer to ten minutes, twelve even, if you counted the walk over. I pursed my lips, trying to decide if I should correct him or not. Also, there was the irksome you need me remark. It was the latter that I addressed, borrowing a variation of the words he’d said to be earlier. “Don’t be so cocky. It doesn’t become you.”

“Touché,” he said with a grin. “But, really, I don’t think it bothers you very much. My cocky, I mean.” He emphasized the cock, which was totally juvenile, but also sort of cute.

I bit back a smile. “Somehow I don’t think you’re using the term in the same way I was.”

“You are like one-hundred percent uptight, aren’t you?” It was amazing how he could say something like that without coming across as a total douche. He was abrupt, yes. He was bold. But it was evident his motivation was curiosity, not cruelty.

So instead of snapping back at him—my first impulse—I attempted humor. “Ninety-nine percent. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that small window.”

“Thank God for that.”

His serious response, paired with the intense heat from his stare, shook me. I shivered, not feeling chilled in the least.

His eyes blazed at my reaction. All night as I’d worked my shift, I’d wondered what our meeting would be like—friendly, banal, sensual, or flirtatious. It was in this moment that I realized that whatever happened from then on, whatever else occurred between us, my encounters with JC would be nothing if not electric.

As far as I was concerned, we were here to discuss a repeat of the other morning. Now I knew there was a very probable chance that the repeat would happen before this morning was over.

The epiphany was exciting. And it strangely relaxed me.

JC looked away first, taking a bite of his quiche. I followed his lead. He watched me while he ate, studied me. I couldn’t be so bold, so I snuck in my glances. His eyes weren’t just blue, I realized. They had flecks of gray and I imagined the prominent color shifted with what he wore. When he put the coat on again, I wondered if they would seem less blue.

Mostly, I wondered about his body. I’d only ever seen him covered, but his outfits so far had been tailored and fitted to him. He was obviously fit—I just didn’t know how fit. He’d carried me easily when he’d lifted me to the table in the kitchen. I suspected he was impressively toned underneath his clothes. Just imagining how toned brought a flush to my skin that I hoped he’d attribute to the coffee I was drinking.