Free Me (Page 8)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(8)
Author: Laurelin Paige

But there was no way I could let him know that. He knew way too much about me already.

My pulse quickened as JC took several fast steps toward me. But he merely circled behind me to help me take off my coat. “You know which offer. The one where I help you loosen up a little.”

Now he was close to me, real close. And even as I shed the weight of my coat into his arms, I felt my temperature rise.

I groaned though it sounded almost like a moan to my own ears. “You are so crude.” I turned to face him and snatched my coat from his hands.

“You are so uptight.” He said the word uptight as though it intrigued him. As though it challenged him.

Just what I needed—to be someone’s challenge. Still holding my coat, I crossed my arms over my chest. “You don’t even know me.”

“I don’t know you, but I know that. Everyone knows that.” Again with his hands in his pockets, seeming to mock my more defensive posture.

“Everyone knows that I’m uptight?” My voice sounded shrill. I realized I was only proving his point. I shook my head and mumbled, “This is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had with anyone.”

“Then stop talking. We don’t need to talk.” His eyes searched mine. Which gave me the opportunity to search his. They were bright and alive in a way that I was sure mine hadn’t been in years—if ever. But beyond that, beyond the laughter and the light, there was the same thing I’d seen that night in the Viper. Something hollow. Something lonely. Something void.

“You two know each other?” Matt’s wary tone cut through my focus. I’d been so fixated on JC that I hadn’t heard him come in from the office.

Great. Just great.

Now that he’d seen me with JC, I’d have to admit I knew about the rule-breaking deal Matt had set up. And that meant I’d have to either tell on him with the owner or let him believe I was okay with it. I wasn’t going to tell on him. I also wasn’t okay with it. I liked it better when he thought I was in the dark. More than that, I liked it when I was in the dark.

Too late now.

Matt was worried as well. His expression said it all. I bit my lip, trying to decide what to say.

But before I could admit anything, JC said, “We’ve just met.” He cocked a brow. “Gwen, you said?”

He probably wanted me to say something, but all I could manage was a nod. I was too surprised. JC had no reason to hide that we knew each other. Unless he understood the position I was in. Unless he understood me better than I gave him credit for.

The idea made the blood rush from my face and my throat go dry.

“I thought I knew all the managers at Eighty-Eighth. Guess not.” JC turned away from me and walked over to Matt. “Anyway, I came by to see you.”

I’d have thought that Matt would be relieved to find that I didn’t know about his secret dealings with JC. But his voice sounded even more anxious when he asked, “Why? What did you find out? Is there something new?”

Matt’s reaction sent a chill down my spine. He was fraught and concerned where I’d always known him only to be mellow and reasonable. That it was JC he was addressing bothered me. Made me interested in their relationship when I’d normally not care in the least.

JC put his hand on Matt’s shoulder. “No, no, I’m not here for anything like that. Just haven’t seen you for a few weeks. You took that time off and then the holidays—it’s been a month.”

They’d forgotten I was there, and I let them. It wasn’t polite of me by any means. I should have excused myself so they could discuss their private matters. Instead, I slid onto a bar stool and pretended to straighten a stack of happy hour menus.

Behind me, Matt gave a shaky sigh. “I just couldn’t be around that week. Not this time. Too many memories.”

“I know,” JC said. “I understand. Why do you think I spend so much time on the coast?”

I peeked at them in the mirror above the bar. JC’s face couldn’t be seen, but his hand was still on Matt and now Matt had put his hand on JC’s shoulder as well, as if they were comforting each other about…what?

“You were still here though. That’s tough of you.” Matt patted JC one more time before dropping his arm.

JC let his hand fall too, stuffing it in his pocket with a shrug. “I had work to do. It helped distract me.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that you’re still trying.”

Their voices lowered then, and I couldn’t make out more of what they were saying. What I had heard, though…it was obvious that Matt and JC were more to each other than just business associates. Matt was the type to keep personal, personal and work, work, so this relationship between the two men struck me as odd. I’d known my boss five years and still didn’t know whether he had a family besides the wife that his simple wedding band suggested. The whole interaction between him and JC, a man young enough to be his son, was curious and intriguing. And personal. It was a mystery that I knew full well wasn’t mine to know.

Whatever was between them, I did know this—it was heavier and more urgent than JC’s flirtation with me. Was I not even the reason he’d come to the club tonight? Had he really come to see Matt?

And why did that disappoint me so much?

“Gwen?”

I jumped at the sound of my name but tried to hide my surprise by pretending to be consumed with my work. “Hmm?”

“Matt went upstairs. It’s just us.”

I looked up again into the mirror and realized it was only JC behind me.

And he was close behind me. “Oh. Okay.”

I spun so that I was facing him. “Uh, thank you. For not letting him know that I knew about you.” Maybe if I were polite and straightforward, he’d accept my gratitude and leave.

“I should tell you it’s purely selfish and that I was just worried that I’d lose my deal.” He took a step toward me, and I had to lean back now to meet his eyes. “But that would be a lie.”

I swallowed, but my voice still felt weak as I asked, “What would be the truth?”

“I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable on my account.”

It was amazing I didn’t laugh. I already felt uncomfortable. He was invading my personal space, the heat from his body warming my chest, my thighs, my face, and for a split second, I wondered what it would be like to press myself into him. Against him.

Perhaps I should have shoved him away. I didn’t. “Why do you care?”