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  • Inside a serial novel by Noelle Adams #Chapter 1 and 2

    First chapter of my new serial novel.

    "Introduction

    I'm starting a new serial novel, and here is the first chapter. I'll be sending out chapters every Saturday morning, as long as I'm able to get the updates written. (There may occasionally be weeks when I just can't get a chapter done, but I'll try to avoid those as much as possible.)
    This story is a bit different. I've been playing around with it in my head for more than a year now, but I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, so I never got around to writing it. I figured writing it serially might be a good way to tackle it. There is an action plot that's part of this story, but it's fairly minor. Like all of my books, the focus is on characters and romance.
    Just so you know, I'm not editing these chapters before I send them. I do read over them once to catch any obvious errors, but don't expect them to be perfect. And I don't have an outline for this story yet, so I don't know how many chapters it's going to be.. At least ten, but probably longer. "
    Noelle Adams

    Inside - Chapter One

    Some people live their lives most fully inside their heads. I’ve always been one of those people.
    I’m a thinker, a daydreamer, a brooder, a planner. I’ve lived a hundred million lifetimes in my imagination. I’ve had hundreds of jobs, been with hundreds of men of breathtaking brilliance and sexiness. I’ve traveled all over the world and into numerous periods of its history. I’ve been to many other worlds as well, worlds where magic is real.
    All these ventures have left me entertained and satisfied. All these lives have made me happy.
    One of the results of having such an active and intense inner life is that sometimes the inner life spills over into the outside world. Occasionally, I mentally rehearse something to such an extent that I accidentally end up doing it.
    When I was five, I had this idea to save up all the coins I could get my hands on and walk down the block to the corner shop to buy all the candy I wanted but was never allowed to get. I talked over the plan with my twin sister, Chance, and she was just as excited about the idea as I was. So I started daydreaming about it, going through every step of the process in my mind. We collected all the change we could find in a little coin purse, and every morning when I woke up I would visualize myself finally following through with this adventure.
    After about a month, the dreaming finally spilled over into reality. One night, I went to bed, telling Chance we were going to do it in the morning. I set an alarm for four o’clock in the morning to make sure I woke up.
    The next morning, I turned off my alarm, woke up my sister, got dressed, and waited impatiently until Chance was ready.  Then I dragged her out of the house and onto the city street as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up our dad.
    She was scared. She didn’t want to go. But I’d seen us doing this so many times in my mind that I knew we could do it. So I bullied her into going with me.
    There we were, two five-year-olds creeping down a Chicago street at four-fifteen on a Saturday morning by ourselves. Chance whined the whole way and tried to make me turn back, but I was committed.
    I’d done this in my head. Now I was doing it in real life.
    We made it to the shop, but we were so scared when we got there—convinced the scowling man behind the counter was going to report us to the police—that we only bought a wrapped piece of bubblegum each. We hurried back home, snuck back into the house, took off our clothes and huddled back into bed.
    We never told our dad about what we’d done, and eventually it faded into one of those vague, blurry memories that are barely distinguishable from dreams.
    Something similar happened the day after I turned eighteen. I’d visualized myself doing a certain thing—something I would have been far too scared to do under normal circumstances—until finally my inner life spilled over into action.
    I tried to seduce Will Stone into taking my virginity.
    I’m cringing as I write the words because I can relive the mortification of that night so vividly. I should have known better. I did know better. I was a shy, plain, inexperienced eighteen-year-old girl, and he was sexy and cynical and ten years older than me.
    He was also my dad’s right-hand man, second in command on his crew. There was absolutely no way he would have thought about me sexually, much less been willing to act on it.
    But I’d had the world’s biggest crush on him since he started working with my dad two years earlier. And, for me, having a crush meant making up romantic scenarios in my mind, playing them out again and again until they start to feel as real as anything else.
    My father was a high-end thief—running sophisticated, lucrative jobs with a small crew. The guys he worked with were skilled and loyal, but they changed over the years as the men moved on, fell out, or found new sources of income.
    This sounds like it would make for an exciting family life for me, but it really didn’t. My father might as well have been a businessman for all the details he shared about his work with his two daughters. Chance and I were kept resolutely away from any criminal activities, so the only interaction we ever had was when the guys in my dad’s crew dropped by the house.
    They came by pretty often, and I was sixteen when Will Stone started to work with my father. Everyone in the world called him Stone, but I thought about him as Will. He was big and dark-haired and stoic—rough looking, almost dangerous. I didn’t much like him at first. He never smiled, and he had a perpetual glower on his face that wasn’t at all inviting. He barely said a word when I was around. He wasn’t even traditionally handsome (not like movie-star handsome golden boy, Dax, who was also on my dad’s crew and was much more likely to turn most teenage girls’ heads).
    But as the weeks passed and Will started hanging around the house more often, my impressions of him changed. Despite his lack of expressiveness, I believed I saw intelligence and interest in his gray eyes. He seemed to look at me a lot, watching what I said or did. When something funny happened, I would always glance his way, and he’d meet my eyes and smile just a little.
    It started to feel intimate, like those smiles were just for me. And eventually I built a whole romantic relationship around those smiles in my head.
    I loved him. And, in my mind, he loved me back.
    I was still a virgin at eighteen and still living at home—having just started college at a local university. Chance got away as soon as she could, going to a college in California, but I wasn’t nearly as adventurous, and I also didn’t want to leave my father on his own. I stayed local.
    I waited until I turned eighteen, convincing myself that my age might have been part of why Will had never made a move on me. I’d never dated much at all. Guys at school had never been interested in me. I liked to believe this was because they were too immature to appreciate my depth, but the truth is I was shy and retiring and not nearly as pretty as Chance.
    Chance and I are identical twins, so we should look exactly the same. But no one has ever confused us. We have the same brown hair, blue eyes, balanced features, and bone structure, but otherwise we’re nothing alike. She’s always been fun, outgoing, and athletic. She’s always been careful about her weight, so she’s at least two sizes smaller than me, whereas I’ve been going back and forth between sizes twelve and fourteen since I was a teenager. She started getting highlights in her hair when she was fifteen, and she’s always sparkled in a way that I just don’t.
    Guys have always liked her a lot more than me.
    But Will didn’t give her those secret smiles. He liked me better. I was sure of it.
    So on the evening after my eighteenth birthday, Will stayed at our place late, working on plans with my dad in his office, and then he spent the night in the guest room. He often did this. It wasn’t unusual, and it suited my plans perfectly.
    I was in a kind of nervous daze as I took a shower and prepared myself, shaving and primping and putting on a little nightgown I’d bought specifically for the occasion. I’d rehearsed it in my head so many times—thousands of times over the last year—that it felt like I was simply performing a role that someone else had written.
    Then I tiptoed down the hall to the guest room and knocked on the door softly.
    It was well after midnight. I didn’t want to knock loudly or call out. I couldn’t risk waking up my father. So, when there was no response to my little tap, I just opened the bedroom door.
    I can barely believe it’s true myself—looking back on it now—but that was exactly what I did. I just walked into a man’s bedroom in the middle of the night.
     In my mind, Will would see me with my undone hair and my sexy nightgown, and he wouldn’t be able to rein in his desire any longer. He would take me there and then, making me a woman in his arms.
    You can probably imagine what actually happened—what I would have known would happen if I hadn’t blinded my rationality with so many vivid daydreams.
    It was dark in the room when I entered. He’d already gone to sleep. Disoriented and chilled with nerves, I groped my way through the dark room until I ran into the foot of the bed. I huffed and doubled over at the pain from my shin impacting the wooden bedframe.
    Now, remember, Will was a criminal. He wasn’t a killer or a particularly violent man—my dad didn’t work with anyone who killed indiscriminately—but he was definitely a criminal. He stole things for a living that didn’t belong to him.
    And there I was, sneaking up on him in a dark bedroom.
    Less than thirty seconds after I ran into the bedframe, the light suddenly turned on in the room and Will grabbed me roughly, pulling me onto the bed on my back and holding me down with one big hand at my throat.
    His reflexes really were quite impressive.
    He slept in his underwear. Despite everything else, I did notice that. He had about a week’s worth of beard, and combined with his fierce expression, it gave him a darkly dangerous appearance as he loomed over me, holding me in place with one hand.
    I gaped up at him, breathless, wordless, terrified.
    None of my romantic daydreams had ever gone like this.
    It took about fifteen seconds for him to realize who I was.
    With a hoarse intake of air, he let go of me and took a couple of stumbling steps back from the bed. “Greer?” he gasped.
    My name is Greer, by the way. A name just as ridiculous as Chance, as far as I’m concerned. My dad always told us that our mother named us—she died when we were barely one so we never knew her—and I have no idea what she was thinking when she gave us these particular names.
    When I just lay there like an idiot in my flimsy silk nightie—cream colored with lace straps and a bow that tied under my breasts—Will jerked his head toward the closed door of the bedroom and then back at me. “Greer? What the fuck is going on?”
    It was a good question, and I didn’t have a good answer.
    “I… I…” I couldn’t get any words out. My cheeks were burning hot now, and I was shaking from my fingertips to my toes. I managed to sit up on the bed, pulling my nightgown down over my thighs.
    “What the fuck, Greer?” His voice was rough, and his eyes ran up and down my body. My bare legs, rounded hips, soft belly, full breasts—barely concealed by cream-colored silk. Slowly, I saw enlightenment dawning on his face.
    I knew then that he knew what I was doing here.
    I had one little flicker of hope that he might be overcome by my female charms.
    He made a choked sound and rubbed a hand over his mouth and chin as he took another step backward.
    “I thought…” I’d managed two words that time, but any other words got stuck in my throat.
    I’d thought a lot of really ridiculous things. I could see that very clearly.
    This was a mature, sexy, twenty-eight-year-old man standing in front of me in a pair of black boxer briefs. His body was big and strong and impressive—with well-formed muscles and a lot of dark hair. He might not be classically handsome like Dax, but he was smoldering with masculine energy and sex appeal. He could have almost any woman he wanted.
    He was never going to want me.
    “Get out,” he said gruffly, turning his face away from me, toward the door.
    That was all he said. It was all he needed to say.
    I scrambled to my feet and fled.
    It’s hard to describe the extent of my mortification over this incident. Years later, I was still flushing hot and cringing at even the slightest recollection of it. I avoided Will for months afterwards, and I was pretty sure he was trying to avoid me too.
    We never talked about it, never mentioned it again, but for a really long time it lingered at the front of my mind, humiliating me, reminding me of what an idiot I was.
    I was never going to let my inner life spill over into reality like that again.
    And I didn’t, at least not for a long time.
    It was three years after that, at my father’s funeral, that it happened again. It was different that time. Not as cringe-worthy. More intense.
    See, a year before my father died, Will dumped him.
    There’s no other word for it. After all the time and effort my father invested in mentoring Will, the younger man just walked out on him. And what was worse, he took Kurt Gallagher, a tech guru who’d been working with my dad for almost as long as Will, with him. Kurt had been Will’s best friend for as long as I’d known the men, so of course he went with him.
    Half my dad’s crew, gone in one blow. People move on a lot in that profession, and it’s to be expected. But this was different. Will owed my dad loyalty and didn’t give it to him. He hurt my father in a very real way.
    For a year, I was so angry I wanted to strangle Will. I had daydream after daydream about finally being able to tell Will exactly what I thought about him. In my mind, I always did this was the sharpest, most effective words, wounding Will to the quick with how wrong he’d been.
    Then my dad died—from something as mundane as a heart attack—and Will came to the funeral. I hadn’t seen him for a year at that point, and he was still just as darkly attractive, just as rough and stoic and dangerous, even in the black suit he wore.
    After the graveside service, he had the gall to come up to me and tell me my dad was a good man.
    My dad.
    Who I loved more than anything.
    A good man.
    As if I didn’t know this already.
    I snapped.
    I was still dazed from the sudden loss—half my family gone in a matter of minutes. I’d been stewing with resentment toward Will for months now, and I hadn’t yet forgotten my mortification of his rejection when I was eighteen.
    I’ve never hated anyone as much as I hated him at that moment. So I simply snapped.
    I slapped him hard across the cheek.
    I’ve never been a physically violent person. I’d never hit anyone before that moment, and I haven’t hit anyone since. The impact was sharp, stunning. It hurt my hand. It made a red mark across the lower part of one of Will’s cheeks.
    He stared at me, unmovingly, like he was just as shocked as I was by the blow.
    Then I told him off the way I had so many times in my mind over the past year. “How dare you come here today! How dare you tell me he was a good man. You walked out on him, after everything he did for you. He loved you, and you broke his heart, when he’d been nothing but good to you. Maybe you live in a world where people can act out of selfishness and spite and still come crawling back to play nice and put on the pose of respectability so that other people believe they’re a decent person at heart. But I don’t live in that world. My father didn’t either. You screwed him over, and you’ll never be a decent person. You don’t get to play nice now. You don’t get to talk to me. Walking away is what you wanted before, so you can keep doing it. For the rest of your life, for all I care.”
    Since I’ve never been a very good spontaneous talker, this tirade came out far more articulate than it would have had I not been giving it to him in my head for so long.
    It wasn’t really like me to actually say it though. It was once again my inner life spilling over into reality.
    Will’s expression was blank, motionless, for several long moments. He just stared at me with those steel gray, unnerving eyes, his face still reddened by my hand.
    Then he gave a curt nod, turned on his heel, and walked away.
    That was the last I saw of Will Stone for two years.
    I did grow up finally. I kissed a man at last. I had sex. I even had a boyfriend I kept for almost a year—one of those philosophy-major, coffee-shop types who like to sit around and gaze at the stars, talking about all the problems of the world for hours. I finished college and went to graduate school, enrolling in a dual mater’s program in English and Library Science. I wanted to be a librarian, to spend my days surrounded by books.
    I stayed close with my sister. I made some good friends. I missed my dad. I thought about Will sometimes still, but he mostly faded into the background.
    Until I was twenty-three and getting out of a Shakespeare class on campus. Some of us were standing around, talking about Henry V. I was trying to flirt with a classmate who was cute in a geeky kind of way.
    If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not a very good flirter. I’ve never been able to do it. The most I can do is smile a lot and laugh at a guy’s jokes and act like I’m really interested in what he’s saying.
    That was what I was doing just then, standing on the sidewalk outside the English department building. I was smiling and giggling and hoping the guy was interested in me.
    Then Will Stone strode back into my life.
    I recognized him immediately. It’s impossible not to notice him when he’s on the move because he doesn’t just walk. He paces like a tiger, he prowls, he stalks. That afternoon, he wore a pair of old jeans and a black T-shirt—similar to what he’d always worn when he was hanging around our house. He had more of a beard than he used to have, but his mouth was set in the same forbidding glower.
    He was heading right toward me, striding down the block. People were moving out of his way quickly, and I could hardly blame them. He didn’t look like the kind of person you wanted to confront.
    I had been saying something to the geeky guy when I first saw Will, but my words trailed off forgotten. I couldn’t make my mouth work. Or my mind work. I couldn’t do anything but stare as Will approached.
    There was absolutely no reason for him to be here.
    The geeky guy I’d been talking to turned toward Will too, since my attention had so clearly moved to the approaching man.
    I opened my mouth to say something. To apologize to the geeky guy or to ask Will what the hell he was doing here.
    I didn’t have time to say anything.
    “Excuse me,” Will muttered when he’d reached me. He was talking more to the geeky guy than to me.
    To me, he didn’t say anything. He just put his big hand on my back, turned me around, and walked me away in the direction he’d come from.
    I still have no idea how he did it, since I had absolutely no desire to go anywhere with him. But I was still slightly dazed from the surprise, and I couldn’t think clearly enough to object to the move.
    So I walked with him toward a black SUV I somehow knew was his. It was the only vehicle in sight that looked like it could belong to Will.
    He didn’t say anything. He kept a hand on my back and used it to guide me along, keeping me walking at a pace far faster than I normally moved.
    Until it finally clicked in my mind that this man was taking me somewhere I didn’t want to go.
    I didn’t know him anymore. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t like him, and I had more reason to resent him than I did almost anyone else in the world.
    And here he was, bullying me into going with him without any explanation at all.
    I made a choking sound and jerked away from him, whirling around to glare up at him. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
    “I’ll explain later,” he said, his eyes scanning the street and then the sidewalk. “Come with me now, and I’ll explain later.” He stretched his big hand out toward me again.
    I moved out of his reach. “You’ll explain now, or I’m not going anywhere.”
    He looked faintly annoyed but too urgent to indulge the annoyance, if you can understand what I mean. “You’re in danger, Greer.”
    “I’m…”
    “In danger. Now get in the car right now.”
    He spoke in a manner that made it clear he was used to people obeying him. And who wouldn’t obey this man. He was big and hard and scary-looking. Just his physical presence alone was intimidating.
    I wasn’t intimidated though. I was angry.
    “You don’t get it show up out of the blue and boss me around. I’m a grown woman, not a stupid teenager. I don’t have to do what you say.”
    “For fuck’s sake, Greer,” he growled. “Do you think I’m doing this for fun? If there wasn’t real danger, I wouldn’t be here at all. I promise I’m not looking for a good time, and I’m not into practical jokes. You’re in danger, and if you don’t move now, I’m going to throw you over my shoulder and carry you.”
    He was clearly losing his patience, and I knew very well he was entirely capable of going through with his threat.
    It wasn’t the threat that made my decision, however. It was the fact that he was so annoyed with me.
    There was no reason at all for him to come here like this and demand I leave with him unless what he had claimed was actually true.
    Maybe I was in real danger.
    I’d never gotten into any trouble. Not in my whole life. My dad might have been a criminal, but he’d made sure neither of his daughters had any stray thoughts about following in his footsteps. I’d never wanted to. I’d done well in school. I’d lived a quiet life. I’d never done anything that would put me in danger.
    But still…
    Will evidently believed that I was.
    So without another word, I walked to the passenger door of the black SUV. Looking relieved, Will clicked the locks opened and moved quickly to the driver’s side.
    We got in, and he was pulling out onto the street in less than thirty seconds.
    I watched him as he drove, realizing as I did that he was more than urgent. He was in crisis-mode. Adrenaline must have been pumping through his veins because his skin was slightly damp and his eyes were alert and watchful. He was breathing heavily.
    It scared me. A lot.
    If he felt that way—if he believed I was in real danger—than maybe I actually was.
    I’ve made up hundreds of daydreams about adventures in my life, usually in the company of at least one handsome man. I enjoyed putting myself in those kinds of stories, the danger becoming a bonding catalyst and leading to very romantic outcomes.
    This wasn’t a daydream. This was real life. I didn’t want to get hurt—and I definitely didn’t want to die.
    Will Stone was the last person I’d wanted to see when I woke up that morning, but he would have always been my first choice to fight off any danger I might face.
    If anyone was capable of protecting me, Will was.
    I could hardly believe I was sitting in his car like this, only a foot away from his tense body, still disturbingly familiar to me despite the years that had passed.
    I waited until he’d gotten off campus and pulled onto a downtown street before I finally demanded, “Now tell me what the hell is going on.”

    Inside - Chapter Two

    I waited a full minute for Will to respond to my demand for information. I know it was at least a minute because I counted off the seconds.
    Will glanced over at me, but his cool, gray eyes didn’t linger. He was laser-focused on maneuvering through traffic, his gaze shifting often to the rearview mirror. I waited it out because I could see he was tense and distracted, but I was deeply nervous now and I needed some answers.
    I’d gone from a flirtatious conversation on campus with a cute, geeky guy to a heart-stopping drive with a man I thought was gone from my life for good in less than five minutes, and I needed to know why.
    “If you don’t tell me what the hell is going on,” I gritted out at last, “then I’m going to get out of this car right now.”
    We were currently stopped at a red light, so my threat wasn’t entirely baseless (although I’d have to be harder pressed than this to actually go through with it).
    Because I was watching, I saw Will let out a small breath. “Did your dad ever talk to you about a job in Quebec?”
    I blinked. “No.”
    “Did he ever talk about Chevaliers? Allard? Does any of that ring a bell?”
    “No, of course not. He never talked to us about his work. Never. You know he didn’t.”
    Will’s lips tightened.
    I fidgeted with the leather strap of the big bag I used to carry around my laptop and books for class. “Will, talk to me. I know you like to act like a stone wall most of the time, but you can’t do that to me right now. What’s going on?”
    “Your dad never told you where he had anything hidden?”
    “Hidden? What are you talking about? He never talked to us at all about anything related to his work. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I shifted in my seat, trying not to sound as anxious as I was feeling. “What is this about?”
    Will was looking in the rearview mirror again, so intently that I turned to study the cars behind us through the back windshield. I couldn’t see anything unusual in the normal city traffic, though. Certainly not a dangerous-looking vehicle tailing us, which was what I half expected.
    “Will!” My voice was sharp.
    The man was clearly just as infuriating as he’d ever been, never conversing like a normal person or showing even the slightest hint of emotion.
    He shot a quick look over at me and evidently decided I meant business. “Your dad did a job in Quebec three years ago. Twenty million in diamonds.”
    I almost choked at this. “That’s crazy! He never took home anywhere close to that amount.”
    All my life, we’d always had plenty of money, but I’d never considered us rich. My father worked high end jobs, so I assumed when a job was successful, he earned a hefty amount of profit. But those lucrative jobs didn’t come up all that often, and he had to first cover expenses and then split the profit with his crew. He was always working on something, but a significant percentage of his plans never panned out. He made enough for us to live comfortably, but he certainly didn’t leave Chance and I a fortune when he’d died.
    Twenty million. The idea was absurd.
    “The job was his. That diamonds are somewhere. He must have hidden them somewhere.”
    “The house?” I breathed.
    I still lived the old row house where we’d lived since I was a child.
    “It’s already been searched. They’re not there.”
    For some reason, this was the detail that made the whole thing real to me. My home. Invaded. Searched. Someone’s hands touching all of my stuff.
    Will continued, “He put them somewhere else, either saving them for a rainy day or because they were too hot to fence. I don’t think he’d have hidden them for so long without giving you and Chance the ability to access them. He would have given you hints. Something.”
    I stared at Will’s face, a flickering muscle in his jaw just above his dark beard, and realized he was telling me the truth, at least as he understood it. “Well, if he did, he never said a word about it to me. I certainly would have remembered him mentioning twenty million in diamonds. And what does this have to do with me being in danger?”
    “Someone thinks you know where they are.”
    “That’s crazy! If I knew where it was, why wouldn’t I be living like a millionaire?”
    He lifted one shoulder slightly. “I’m not the one who think you know.”
    “So you’re saying some bad guy is after me because they want my dad’s diamonds and they think I know how to find it.”
    “That pretty much sums it up.”
    “Who’s after me?”
    “Is a name going to help?”
    “No, but I’d at least like to get a sense of how serious to take this.”
    “It’s serious,” he said gruffly. “You need to take it seriously.”
    “So that’s why you’re whisking me away to…” I looked around at the city streets, trying to orient myself to where we were. “Where exactly are we going anyway?”
    “We’re going somewhere safe.”
    I rolled my eyes at this non-answer, but I didn’t try to press the subject. I wasn’t going to get anything more than these curt, brief answers while Will was so tense and so focused on our surroundings.
    He was checking the rearview mirror again, and it was starting to worry me.
    “Are we being followed?” I asked, turning to look behind us again.
    I was expecting an immediate denial. That would have relieved me considerably.
    Instead, Will said, “I… don’t know.”
    I swallowed hard and stopped talking.
    Some people talk when they’re scared. They babble, they spill out whatever’s on their mind, they try to share their nerves with someone else. I’m not one of those people. If I’m truly terrified, I don’t say a word. I close in on myself. I try to shut out the world.
    My heart was starting to pound painfully, and my hands and feet had gone cold. I kept looking back at the cars behind us but couldn’t tell which car was prompting Will’s suspicion.
    He was obviously worried about one of them though.
    He picked up his speed, passing a couple of cars on the right and then darting in front of a taxi just before a city bus pulled out in front of him from the curb. The maneuver wasn’t really all that unusual for city traffic, but it made my breath hitch.
    When I looked behind me this time, I saw a gray sedan cutting off a delivery truck two cars behind us. My eyes flew over to Will’s face.
    He gave a slight nod.
    Shit.
    We were being followed.
    This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t my life.
    This wasn’t even my father’s life. He’d never been involved in car chases or life-threatening scenarios. As strange as it sounds for a thief, the reality of his work had been almost prosaic—a lot of planning, working out endless details, organizing moving pieces. He’d been a quiet, thoughtful man with a soft belly and a bad heart.
    He hadn’t been all that different from me—not really.
    What the hell was I even doing here?
    Will was just as silent as I was, all his attention on driving and on eyeing that car behind us. I assumed he was planning to do something to lose them, but he hadn’t done it yet.
    I hoped he would soon. I didn’t like being followed.
    I might not like or fully trust Will, but I never doubted for a moment he was competent in everything he did. He was capable of getting rid of a tail if he needed to.
    I crossed my arms in my lap, my hands tightening around both my seatbelt and the strap to my bag in a grip that channeled all my nerves.
    I had more questions. A lot of them. But I couldn’t think clearly enough to ask them now, even if I’d believed it to be a good time for a long conversation. Instead, I sat in silence and waited for four more minutes until Will finally made a move.
    The light at an approaching intersection turned yellow, and the cars in front of us sped up to make it through. Will put on his brakes, as if coming to a natural stop. But before he stopped completely, he suddenly accelerated instead, flying across the intersection on the newly red light, just before the cross traffic started up.
    The sedan two cars behind us obviously couldn’t get through.
    For about five minutes, Will drove like a maniac. There’s no other way to describe it. He made turn after turn, cutting off cars and going so fast I occasionally had to hide my eyes. I understood why he was doing it, so I didn’t complain, but I wasn’t used to this kind of driving and I was trembling by the time Will finally seemed to relax. It felt like the blood had drained out my face.
    “Okay,” he murmured, giving his rearview mirror one last glance. “We lost ‘em.”
    I let out a ragged breath. “That was… some driving.”
    Will slanted me a look that was almost leisurely for the first time since he’d approached me on campus. “Was that actually a compliment?”
    “No, it wasn’t compliment!” I’m not sure why I objected quite so vehemently, but I did.
    “Okay,” he murmured, a glint in his eyes I hadn’t seen there for years.
    Not since I’d been a stupid teenager and fatuously believed he was giving me special, secret smiles.
    I was embarrassed by my response just now and also by the memory of how foolish I’d been back then, and the embarrassment almost overwhelmed my earlier anxiety. My cheeks burned and I knew they had reddened, even though they must have been white from fear just a minute ago.
    Then I remembered something.
    “Chance!” I gasped.
    Will blinked. “What?”
    “Chance! If I’m really in danger, then she must be too. Whoever thinks I know something about those mythical diamonds must think she knows something too.” My heart was racing again, and I was already pulling out my phone.
    “Chance is being taken care of,” Will replied.
    “By who?”
    “Dax.”
    “Oh.” Golden, charming Dax, who’d been just as frequent a visitor in our house as Will himself had been. I’d always liked Dax.
    And he hadn’t dumped my father the way Will had.
    I’d have been a lot more comfortable about this whole thing if Dax had come to find me instead of Will.
    “So you got stuck with me, I guess,” I murmured dryly. “Did you flip a coin to decide which of us you’d get?
    Will gave me the strangest look—half impatient and half curious. I had too much else on my mind to figure out exactly what it meant, though. I was dialing my sister on my phone.
    I slumped in relief when I heard Chance’s voice on the other end of the line. “Greer? Are you okay?”
    “Yes, I’m fine. Are you?”
    “I guess. Dax appeared out of nowhere and whisked me away from work like we were in some action movie. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
    “No. Dad never told me anything.”
    “Me either. Oh, hold on, Dax wants the phone.”
    A few seconds later, Dax’s low, familiar voice was saying, “Hey, Greer, can you put Stone on?”
    Like a gullible fool, I handed my phone to Will.
    He took it and gave an affirmative grunt to whatever Dax said to him.
    Then he rolled down the window and tossed the phone out onto the street.
    I choked on an outraged exclamation.
    “Sorry,” he said, not looking a bit sorry. “Phones can be tracked. We can’t risk it.”
    I knew this was true, but surely there were other options than dropping the phone onto a street.
    The phone was expensive.
    And it was mine.
    I glared at Will, remembering suddenly how much I despised him.
    “I’m not kidding around here,” he murmured, obviously recognizing my expression. “There’s real danger to you, and I’m not going to take any chances.”
    I blew out my breath, letting go of my annoyance.
    Maybe it was irrational to trust Will Stone in this after our history together, after how he’d left my dad. But I did. Not in everything but in the reality of the danger. There was no way he would be here at all if the threat to me wasn’t real.
    Plus, the thing was… I knew him. I still knew him.
    No matter what his faults were—and there were plenty—he wouldn’t be making something up like this for his own purposes.
    I felt like I should have said something, responded to him, maybe think up a good comeback to Will’s comment.
    But I couldn’t think of anything to say.
    Clever repartee was never my strong suit.
    Instead, I sat like a lump as Will drove for about ten more minutes. He vigilantly checked behind us, but he was evidently satisfied that we weren’t being followed. He was still in crisis mode, but he wasn’t quite so urgent now.
    It should have made me feel better, but it didn’t.
    I felt sick and dazed and confused and anxious, and I had absolutely no idea what to do or to say. So I just sat there.
    Without warning, Will pulled the SUV into a loading zone on a busy street.
    I blinked at him.
    “We’re here,” he said brusquely. “Get moving.”
    Part of me wanted to object to the bossiness, but the rest of me just did what he said because my heart was racing again. He strode around the SUV to the sidewalk, put one big hand on my back, and propelled me forward.
    We walked halfway down the block and then turned into a parking garage. I had no idea where we were going or what was happening, and Will was pushing me to walk so quickly I didn’t have the breath for a conversation anyway.
    We hurried all the way through the parking garage until we reached an elevator. We took that up to a level that connected by walkway to another building. We walked past a lot of a little shops until we reached a stairwell. We took the stairs down to an underground parking deck that connected to yet another building.
    This building appeared to be apartments, and Will had to use a keycard to unlock the entrance door. We walked up more stairs to the third floor, and then made our way down a hallway.
    There was no one in sight.
    I was breathless and flushed and shaking and sweating an embarrassing amount when Will used the same keycard to unlock a door that said 326.
    Then we walked into a simply furnished studio apartment. Bed in one corner, kitchenette in another, and two chairs and a television on the other side.
    “Where are we?” I asked, still panting from the long, fast walk to get here.
    “Safe house.”
    “Oh.” I stood where I was near the door, holding my bag, trying to catch my breath.
    Will returned his hand to that place between my shoulder blades and moved me farther into the room, toward one of the chairs.
    Since he was pushing me to sit, I sat. I wasn’t sure how long my legs were going to keep holding me up anyway.
    “I need to move the car,” he said, looking down on me as if he were inspecting my condition. His gray eyes scanned over my flushed face, my huddled body, even my cute leather boots.
    “Okay.” I wasn’t sure what else I was supposed to say.
    “I can’t leave it parked so close to this place.”
    “Okay.”
    “I’ll be gone no more than a half-hour.” He was still peering at me with that intense scrutiny.
    Did it look like I was about to fall apart or something?
    It probably did.
    was about to fall apart.
    I didn’t want Will to know that though, so I made myself smile. “Okay.”
    He reached into the bag he carried and pulled out a small pistol.
    My eyes widened.
    “Do you remember how to use this?” he asked.
    I nodded. My father had taught both Chance and I how to use guns very similar to the one Will was holding. I hadn’t touched one in years, but still remembered how.
    Will handed me the gun.
    “Don’t let anyone in but me,” he said hoarsely. “Not anyone.”
    I just stared at him, incapable of making my voice work.
    “Did you hear me?” he asked.
    “Yes,” I managed to say. “No one but you.”
    He left me holding the pistol, closing and locking the door behind him.
    And I sat there.
    I kept sitting there.
    I did nothing but sit there.
    It didn’t even seem like I was thinking. Just sitting.
    Twenty-five minutes later, I heard the sound of the door unlocking. Then Will was walking back into the apartment. He shot me a quick look before he latched the door.
    “I moved the car. We should be safe here.”
    I was still incapable of doing anything but sitting so I didn’t answer.
    Will walked over to me, looking bigger and darker and more dangerous than ever in the small, sparse room. His jeans molded his long, strong legs, and his short beard seemed oddly menacing—like he was the villain instead of the hero of whatever story was happening to me here.
    There was trembling inside me that I’d been feeling since Will first showed up, and it had gotten so intense now I thought it would shake my insides apart.
    He leaned down toward me and gently took the gun from my hands.
    I stared at him blindly.
    I thought he was going to say something, but he didn’t. He went over to the kitchenette and poured water into an electric kettle, plugging it in and waiting until it was hot.
    Then he got a mug off one of the shelves, took a tea bag out of a box, and poured the hot water in. After dumping about five spoons of sugar into the tea, he carried it over to where I was sitting.
    He crouched down, picking up one of my hands and wrapping it around the warm mug.
    “Drink it,” he said.
    I blinked, which I thought was progress because it was an actual reaction.
    “Drink it,” he said again, more curt and bossy now.
    I drank it.
    After about four sips, I started to feel better. My hands warmed up, my mind cleared, and I mostly stopped that internal trembling.
    I let out a long, shaky breath.
    Something in Will’s shoulders relaxed, and it suddenly occurred to me he’d been worried about me.
    “I wasn’t going to fall apart,” I said with more confidence than was entirely warranted.
    His dark eyebrows lifted. “Did I say you were?”
    “You were thinking it.”
    His eyes gave that little glint again. “What makes you think you have any idea what I was thinking?”
    “I know exactly what you were thinking. And I’m telling you I wasn’t falling apart. I’m just not used to this kind of drama.”
    “Honestly, I’m not either.”
    For some reason, the words and the slight dryness in his tone made me feel better, like I wasn’t the only one who was having trouble keeping up with all this. “So what exactly do we do now? Am I just going to stay here?”
    We’re going to stay here, yes.”
    I like to consider myself an independent person, but I couldn’t help but be relieved by his qualification. I certainly didn’t want to be left alone here. “For how long?”
    “Until we can figure this out. Until you’re safe.”
    “How long will that be?”
    “I have no idea.”
    My eyes widened, and I studied him, trying to figure out if he was serious.
    It was clear from his blunt expression that he was.
    He meant what he’d said. We were going to stay in this little studio apartment for however long it took to figure out what was up with the diamonds and to get me out of danger.
    I wasn’t going to get to go to class or go to the library or go to have coffee with that cute, geeky guy I liked. I wasn’t going to get to live my life.
    I was stuck here with Will Stone, who I couldn’t stand, for the foreseeable future.
    “This is ridiculous,” I breathed.
    “I know,” he said. “But this is where we are."
    I was silent for a minute, finishing my overly sweet tea while Will walked around the room, checking out all the windows and then double checking the locks on the door.
    When he looked at me again, I asked, “Why are you doing this?”
    “Doing what?”
    “This.” I made a vague gesture with my hand to encompass the whole situation.
    Will held my eyes for a minute. He opened his mouth. Then closed it again. And when he spoke there was a slight thickness to his voice. “I owe it to your dad.”
    If I’d still been a teenager, I would have been crushed by this response, by how little value it placed on me in his estimate.
    But I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I wasn’t silly or stupid. I might still daydream a lot and make up stories about myself, but I knew how to control them and didn’t let them spill over into reality anymore.
    Will wasn’t on some romantic crusade here to save the woman he loved.
    Will wasn’t a noble hero or even a particularly kind-hearted man.
    He felt guilty for treating my dad the way he had, and this was his way of feeling better about it.
    Of atoning.
    I understood it with crystal clarity. I understood him—even if I didn’t understand anything else about our situation here.
    I knew what I was to him and what I would never be.
    And it was fine.
    Because I’d changed a lot more than he had in the last few years.
    Will wasn’t important to me either.
    Not anymore.

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