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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter three


    Introduction

    "Here's Chapter Three of Inside, the new serial novel I'm working on. If you need to catch up, you can use the links to the first two chapters below.
    Just a reminder that I'm only reading each chapter over once before I send it out, so try to overlook any editing/proofreading errors.
    Last week, more people were able to reply to the email, but if you want to send me a note and still ahve trouble replying, you can email me directly at noelle.s.adams@gmail.com. I do appreciate hearing from you on the chapters as I send them out!"
    Noelle Adams

    Need to catch up?

    You can catch up on the earlier chapters through the links below.

    Chapter Three


    An hour later, I was staring at myself in the mirror above the sink in the bathroom.
    The place was basically clean, but it didn’t feel lived in. There was a thin coat of dust on the shelf above the toilet, and there was no soap or shampoo on the molded ledge of the small shower. The air smelled and felt like it did at mid-range chain motels. Not bad but just not fresh.
    I’d already peed and washed my hands, but I hadn’t yet opened the door and returned to the main room of the apartment. Will was lurking out there with his lack of expression and his watchful gray eyes. It felt safer by myself in the bathroom.
    I had no idea what I was even doing here. I should have been at home, talking to Chance on the phone or working on one of the three big essays I had due in the next few weeks. I shouldn’t be in danger, and I definitely shouldn’t be stuck in this little studio apartment with no one but Will Stone.
    For several minutes now, I’d been imagining nightmare scenarios. Things that could happen, things that could be done to me. If Will hadn’t come to find me… if Will couldn’t hold off this faceless villain.
    One of the problems with my rich inner life was that I didn’t just imagine fun, romantic stories happening to me.
    I made up all kinds of stories.
    Terrifying ones too.
    I kept staring at myself in the mirror, as if the sight of my pale face and tousled brown hair might ground me back in reality. They didn’t. It felt like I was looking at a stranger. My face was almost white, even though I normally have a lot of natural color in my cheeks. My eyes looked a lot bigger than they were supposed to. The blue of them appeared somehow artificial. And my cheekbones and the line of my neck seemed to cast strange shadows against my skin.
    I didn’t feel like the same woman who’d looked in the mirror that morning.
    The disconnect was unnerving. Something inside me was still trembling.
    I have no idea how long I stood there staring at myself, but eventually there was a light tap on the door.
    “Greer?”
    Turning my head slowly, I glared at the closed door.  “I’m in here.”
    “I know you’re in there. I was wondering when you were coming out.”
    “Why?”
    “What are you doing in there?”
    How he managed it, I didn’t know, but Will could always awaken the latent, seldom aroused feistiness inside me. Distracted from my weird daze, I snapped, “What do you think I’m doing?”
    “Are you sick? Because I’ve got some basic medic—”
    “I’m not sick!” I yanked the door open. “Can’t a girl go to the bathroom in peace?”
    Will was standing right in the doorway, blocking my way out. He scanned me from top to bottom. “You flushed the toilet almost ten minutes ago. What were you doing?”
    “Why do you need to know what I was doing?”
    “Because I need to know what’s going on with you.” He’d finished his intrusive inspection of my body and was holding my gaze now.
    “How is that possibly your concern?”
    “Of course it’s my concern.” He didn’t look angry or indignant. Just cold and slightly impatient. I’d never seen him angry before. I almost wished I could—so I would know he wasn’t in perfect control every moment of his life.
    He went on with that same edge of impatience. “Because if you weren’t sick, then I can only think of two reasons why you’d be staying in the bathroom for so long. Either you were in there making up exaggerated stories in your mind about the danger you’re in, stories that would eventually make you panic, or you were trying to figure out a way to get away from me.”
    “Wh—”
    He didn’t let me even get the one word out. He narrowed his eyes. “And if it was the first one, then you’re better off being scared out here with me, so you don’t take off on terrifying flights of fancy. And if it’s the second one, then you damn well better stay out here so I keep you from doing something stupid.”
    I gaped at him. Literally gaped.
    My stupefaction was partly because he’d somehow known exactly what I was doing in the bathroom—getting more and more scared by the stories running through my head.
    How the hell could he have possibly known?
    But another reaction was stronger than that unnerving question.
    The nerve of this man. Believing he had a right to not just control my actions but to also control what went on inside my head.
    He clearly wasn’t sure what to make of my expression because his eyebrows pulled together and he asked, “What’s going on here, Greer? Are you sick after all?”
    I snapped. Just a little. “No I’m not sick! I can’t believe you, asking me what’s the matter. Let’s get a couple of things straight. First, I’m here by choice. My own choice. I believe that I’m in danger, and so I’ve accepted your offer to protect me. You don’t get to force it on me. I’m an adult, and I’m a human being with a free will and the ability to make my own choices. So if I want to get away from you, for any reason, then I can just walk out the door.”
    He opened his mouth, and I knew very well he was going to argue, so I spoke over him. “I don’t care if that would be stupid or reckless or childish or anything else. I can do it if I want. If I want to act stupid, then I’m allowed to do so. You don’t get to stop me.
    His eyes had narrowed again, and I saw a muscle rippling in his jaw, just above his beard. He inhaled audibly. “Are you going to?”
    “No, I’m not going to. I happen to agree it would be stupid. That’s part of my being a thinking human being. I can come to my own conclusions.”
    The tension in his jaw relaxed slightly. “Good,” he said gruffly.
    I was still on a roll—which almost never happened verbally for me unless I’d planned out words in advance. But at the moment, I was so frustrated with Will’s presumptuous attitude that I didn’t think through every word before I spoke it. “And, second, if I want to make up stories, exaggerated or not, then I’m allowed to do that too—even if they scare me.”
    “But why—”
    “It doesn’t matter why. I’m allowed to think what I want.”
    “So I’m supposed to be okay with you hiding in the bathroom, working yourself up into a panic for no reason?”
    “Yes, you’re supposed to be okay with it because you don’t get any choice in the matter. My thoughts are mine. They’re not yours!”
    I suddenly lost my outraged momentum. It deflated in a rush like a popped balloon. In its place came a wave of embarrassment for saying so much, for revealing so much of what I was feeling, for acknowledging that Will was right about me.
    For exposing to him a little of what was in my soul.
    I ended up dropping my head and mumbling, “And I wasn’t working myself into a panic.”
    “You’re paler now than you were when you went in.” He reached out and took one of my hands in his. The gesture startled me so much I didn’t pull my hand away. He rubbed my palm with his thumb, and it felt strangely good. The feather light touch evoked little tingles of pleasure that ran up my arm, that lingered in my chest, that roused more tingles below my belly. “Your hands are cold and clammy. You were working yourself into a panic. Instead of imagining the worst possible scenarios you can dream up, you can just talk to me about the situation.”
    I did pull my hand away then, wishing I hadn’t let him hold it for so long. “And you think talking to you is going to make me feel better?”
    “Why wouldn’t it?”
    I might have gaped again. Just a little. “Because I don’t like you. And I don’t trust you. And you’re not a person I would ever turn to for comfort of any kind.”
    As soon as I said the words, I wished I hadn’t. Not because they were too mean—although they were a little bit mean. The meanness didn’t matter because what I’d said hadn’t gotten past Will’s impenetrable defenses. His feelings hadn’t been hurt. He hadn’t flinched or averted his gaze or given even a hint of emotional response. He wasn’t wounded by my words.
    Rather, I regretted what I’d said because they once again revealed too much of what I was feeling inside.
    And Will wasn’t entitled to know that.
    He stared at me for a long time, not moving even a muscle. Then he asked in a softer tone, “If you don’t trust me, then why are you even here?”
    I let out a breath and relaxed my fingers from their fisted positions at my sides.
    I’m not a person who thrives on conflict. I find it exhausting and draining and disturbing in a number of ways. If I kept up this kind of antagonism with Will for long, I’d end up too tired to function.
    And I’d also keep revealing things to him that I didn’t want to reveal.
    So I said in a moderated tone, “I’m here because I believe you when you tell me that I’m in danger. Not because I take you at your word, but because I have a really good imagination but I still can’t come up with a single reason why you’d be doing this at all, if what you say isn’t true. So I believe you. I believe I’m in danger, and I understand you feel guilty for the way you treated my dad so you’re trying to make up for it now. So I suppose I appreciate that—if it means you’re going to try to keep me safe. And I’ll thank you for that. But it doesn’t mean I trust you. Because I don’t.”
    Finally, he looked away from me. He turned his head and stepped to the side, giving me room to come out of the bathroom at last. “I see.”
    It wasn’t the response I would have expected, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I shot him a quick look, but his face was as stoic as ever. His beard masked a lot of his mouth, making it even harder to read than it had been when I’d known him before.
    “I don’t want to fight all the time,” I said, feeling uncomfortable about a lot of things and wanting to draw this conversation to a close. “I do appreciate that you’re helping me. And I’m not going to be stupid or take risks with my safety. I’ll follow your lead, as long as what you say makes sense to me. But I’m not okay with your acting like you can control me—either my thoughts or my actions. So please don’t do that.”
    “Okay,” he murmured. “I understand.”
    “Okay,” I repeated, meeting his eyes again. There was something else in his gaze now, but I didn’t know what it was.
    I didn’t know a lot of things about Will, and I wasn’t likely to ever discover them.
    Needing a distraction, I asked, “Do you have anything to eat in here?”
    His face changed, as if he too was ready to move on. “Yeah. There’s some canned foods and some stuff in the freezer. I’ll have to go out sometime tomorrow if things are quiet and get some fresh food, but we can make do for tonight.”
     I went into the kitchen, pleased to have something concrete to do, something other than sit and brood about who was out to get me and what it meant that I was trapped in this place with Will.
    There was a frozen pizza in the refrigerator, so I took it out and turned on the oven. Will came into the kitchen after me, looking in a couple of cabinets and pulling out a box of chocolate cookies—which I was very happy to see—and a bottle of scotch.
    I snorted when I saw that. “Your emergency provisions in a safe house include a bottle of whisky?”
    “Of course. It’s always at the top of my list for provisions.” He met my eyes and the corner of his mouth went up just a little. “I thought we could both use it. You want some?”
    “Sure.” I’m not really a scotch drinker, but alcohol sounded good right about now. I took the glass he offered me and tried not to make a face as I tasted it.
    The first sip was always the worst.
    Will eyes were on me as I swallowed, but he didn’t say anything.
    I took the pizza out of the box so it was ready when the oven preheated. After I slid it on to the rack, I leaned back against the counter, suddenly feeling so exhausted that I could barely stand up. I knew Will was still watching me, though, so I didn’t slump. I took another sip of the whiskey—which wasn’t nearly as harsh as the first swallow—and said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to wear to sleep in. I don’t have anything except what I’ve got on.”
    “I’ve got some spare clothes here,” he said. “Maybe you can find something that would work.”
    I nodded to acknowledge this and took another sip. I was feeling warmer now, more relaxed, even more exhausted. “How often have you used this safe house?”
    “I’ve never used it before.”
    “Really?”
    “Yes, really. Do you think I’m on the run all the time?” He’d gone around the tiny island that divided the kitchen area from the rest of the main room, and now he sat down on one of the two stools.
    “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. Safe houses aren’t something I’ve ever spent much time processing.”
    “Your dad had a few,” he said. “In more than one city.”
    “I didn’t know that. They didn’t turn up in his possessions after he died.”
    “He would have kept them under different names. So they can’t be tracked.”
    I swallowed hard. My father hadn’t told me a lot of things. So much of his life had been hidden from me. I’d never really wanted to get tangled up in criminal activity, but still…
    It made me a little sad.
    “He didn’t want you involved in all that,” Will said softly.
    I shot him a quick look. His expression was almost gentle, which bothered me because I didn’t want him to feel sorry for me. I could hardly tell him not to look at me that way, so I tightened my lips and didn’t reply.
    “Are you going to stand up for the whole twenty minutes the pizza is cooking?” Will asked.
    I wanted to now—simply to be contrary. But my legs felt weak, and there was no reason to be irrationally stubborn, so I went over and sat on the second stool at the island.
    Now I was way too close to Will. There were only a few inches between us.
    His body was right there beside me.
    I was strangely aware of the breadth of his shoulders, the dark hair on his forearms, the way the waistband of his jeans dipped slightly in the back because he was leaning forward.
    He didn’t look much different than he had a few years ago when I’d seen him all the time—except now he had more of a beard. Not a full beard or a purposeful one, but more like he’d not bothered to shave for a while. He generally looked the same as he had when I’d first seen him as a teenager, but I’d never been hit with his physicality like this back then.
    He just felt… more than he had before.
    “What is it?” he asked.
    “Nothing. Just… are you bigger than you used to be?”
    See, this is what happens with me when I’m overly tired or emotionally drained. I don’t contain myself as well as I normally do, and silly internal things slip out.
    “I don’t think so.” He glanced down at himself, as if he were genuinely trying to assess my question. “Why?”
    “No reason. You just seem…” I caught myself that time, before I said too much. I’m not sure what I would have said, but it would have been embarrassing.
    Will did seem bigger. Bigger and harder and realer than he had to me before. Even when I’d gone into his bedroom, wanting him to take my virginity, he’d been more solid to me as an idea in my head than he had as a living, breathing man.
    I found myself staring at his arm, the way his T-shirt fit over the curve of his broad shoulder, the way the sleeve followed the shape of his bicep.
    I wondered if he worked out regularly.
    He must—to have arms as molded as that.
    “Greer?” Will asked, breaking into my reflections. “What’s going on right now?”
    “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
    He opened his mouth again, and I knew he was going to ask about the content of my thoughts, demand to know what was happening inside my head. But he must have remembered our conversation from earlier because he closed his mouth again without asking the question.
    It was a strange moment. Almost a small victory.
    Or maybe the scotch was already going to my head.
    The pizza was ready a few minutes later, and we ate it at the island. It was decent enough, and I was hungry, so as meals go it wasn’t bad. We ate in silence at first, but that just gave my mind the opportunity to get going again.
    Following one rambling line of thought, I asked, “So what… when is this over?”
    “I really don’t know. I’m sorry.”
    “No, I mean, what needs to happen before it’s over? When can we say it’s all clear?”
    Understanding dawned on his face, and he chewed for a few moments before he replied, “We need to make sure you’re safe.”
    “So how does that happen? When the bad guy’s caught?”
    “Maybe,” he said with a frown. “Although that’s not the most likely scenario.”
    Of course it wasn’t. Even if the bad guy could be caught, who was going to catch him if Will was protecting me and Dax was protecting Chance. The police weren’t likely to get involved at all unless someone got hurt.
    That someone would probably be me or Chance.
    “What is the most likely scenario?” I asked.
    “We find the diamonds first. We get them out of hiding and put them somewhere safe. If they’re not in the wind, then you and Chance won’t be in danger.”
    “But I don’t want the diamonds. If I knew where they were, I’d tell anyone who wanted to know, just to get this whole thing over with.”
    I meant it. Completely. Maybe a fortune suddenly dropping in my lap should have sounded appealing, but those diamonds were already tainted in my mind. I didn’t want them. They were stolen, and my father had hidden them from me. They were putting me in danger, forcing me to rely on a man I despised.
    I didn’t want anything to do with them.
    “I get that,” Will said. “But we still need to find them or they’ll always pose a threat to you. You’re only in danger because they’re hidden and it’s possible you know where they are.”
    “But I don’t know where they are, and I don’t think Chance does either. How are we supposed to get them out of hiding?”
    “Like I said before, I don’t think your dad would have stashed them away without making sure you and Chance would be able to access them if necessary.”
    “He didn’t. I’m not lying to you. He never mentioned them to us at all.”
    “I believe you. But I think he must have given you some sort of hints about them, about where they are. We need to figure that out, or you’ll always be a target.”
    I took a larger sip of my whisky since I liked how it was dulling the harsh edges of my thoughts. It burned down my throat, but I didn’t mind. “So you think my dad gave us some sort of secret clues about where they are? That sounds kind of crazy. He’d have to have concocted an elaborate plan and then…”
    I trailed off then because this sounded exactly like my father. He’d always been a lot like me—too creative, too reflective, too internal for his own good. He’d loved making plans. Intricate, detailed plans for things of even minor importance.
    It was entirely possible that my father had hidden the diamonds and left us clues, exactly as Will suspected he’d done.
    But I didn’t have even the slightest idea of where to start looking.
    “I really don’t know,” I whispered, staring down at the pizza crust on my plate.
    “We can work through it. We can go over whatever you remember—stories he told, comments he made, whatever. We might be able to figure it out.”
    I wrapped both of my hands around my glass. “Okay. How should we start?”
    “We can do it tomorrow.”
    “I’d rather do it now. The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.”
    “Tomorrow will be better.”
    “But I just said I wanted to do it now.” I tried not to roll my eyes at him in frustration. “I think I should be able to decide.”
    “And I think you’ve had a shitty day.” His voice was slightly rough. “You’re exhausted, and you’re still too pale, and the alcohol is going to hit you really hard. It’s not going to be an easy conversation. You’re going to have think back, dig deep, rehash a lot of memories of your dad. It’s going to be hard. You need to rest first.”
    I stared at him. Speechless. Was he actually worried about my feelings, my condition? Was he actually thinking of my well-being?
    He went on, “We’re not going to be able to accomplish much of anything tonight. So we’ll wait until tomorrow, when you’ll be in better shape to remember something that can help us.”
    Oh. That made more sense. He was just being practical. He wasn’t worried about me.
    “Did I say something wrong?” he demanded.
    “No. No, it’s fine. We’ll do it tomorrow.”
    I got off my stool and took my plate to the sink. There wasn’t a dishwasher, so we’d have to wash the dishes by hand.
    “Greer?” Will prompted in a voice more guttural than usual. “Are you mad at me about something? I’m not trying to control you. I just think—”
    “I said it’s fine. We’ll do it tomorrow. I’m not mad.”
    Will was still shooting me looks, but I dutifully ignored them. I finished my scotch, and then I washed the glass and both of our plates. When Will swallowed down the last of his drink, I washed his glass too.
    I didn’t feel obliged to do all the dishes. I mostly just wanted something to do with my hands.
    When I was done, I asked Will about the clothes I could change into, and I found a T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts that were wearable. The clothes were too big, but they stayed on, and they were more comfortable to sleep in than the clothes I’d been wearing all day.
    It was too early to go to bed, so I propped up on the bed with my Shakespeare and tried to do some of the reading that was due for class next week.
    I did try, but it was nearly impossible to concentrate on the words. I managed to spin my wheels for about a half-hour, but then I finally gave up.
    Putting down my book, I instead moved over to the second chair in front of the TV and watched the news that Will had turned on. When it was over, we flipped around until we found a channel with old sitcoms that ran all night.
    I went to get cookies from the kitchen, and I munched on some as I watched.
    It was better than trying to read Shakespeare in these circumstances.
    Will wasn’t a chatter. I’d known that from way back when he’d first started working with my dad. But occasionally, when something was funny on the shows we were watching, I’d glance over to find him looking at me.
    He’d meet my eyes and give that almost-smile.
    When I was eighteen, I was sure those smiles were secret, those smiles meant he liked me.
    I wasn’t fooled about that anymore.
    Eventually, I got too tired to stay in the chair, so I went to the bathroom, washed my face, used my finger to rub some toothpaste over my teeth since I didn’t have a brush, and then came back out and got into the bed.
    “Where are you going to sleep?” I asked, pulling up the covers.
    “I’ll be fine.”
    He hadn’t answered the question.
    I said, “We can take turns if you—"
    “I said I’ll be fine,” he interrupted curtly.
    I’d been trying to be considerate. There was no reason for him to be so cranky about it. I scowled at him as I settled myself on my side. “You can keep the television on,” I told him.
    I’d much rather listen to the TV than to hear nothing but silence and Will’s breathing and people lurking outside the walls.
    I wasn’t really scared at the moment—not of people breaking in here to get me. I might not trust Will in the ways that mattered, but I trusted him to fight back against any intruders.
    He was alert. And he was strong. He knew what he was doing.
    But I still felt small and vulnerable, lying in the bed in this strange place.
    Will was in the same room, sitting in a chair, maybe even watching me.
    I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to sleep at all.
    As it happened, I was asleep before the next sitcom was over.

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