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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter eleven

    nside - Chapter ElevenCan't see images? Click here...

    Introduction

    Here's Chapter Eleven of Inside, the serial novel I'm working on. If you need to catch up, you can use the links to the earlier chapters below.
    Just a reminder I'm writing this book chapter by chapter along the way, so a few of the plot threads might not have as much groundwork as there would have been had I had a chance to revise the earlier chapters. I'm also only reading over the chapters once before I post them, so please try to overlook any proofreading errors or mistakes. There will be fifteen chapters and an epilogue.
    If you want to let me know what you think of the chapter, you should be able to just reply to this email.  If you have any trouble, you can always just email me directly at noelle.s.adams@gmail.com. You can also join my reader group on Facebook and leave a comment there. I do appreciate hearing from you on the chapters as I send them out!

    Need to catch up?

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

    Chapter Eleven

    When I woke up the next morning, Will was still holding me in his arms.
    It felt significant.
    We’d gone to bed early and I’d slept soundly most of the night, so I woke up earlier than normal. Maybe that was why Will was still in bed with me.
    It seemed like more than that though. It seemed like he wasn’t immediately retreating, running to hide behind his impenetrable walls, the way he had after we’d had sex the first time.
    At least, I hoped that was what it meant.
    I woke up slowly, gradually aware of Will’s big, hard body beside me. I knew it was him immediately, even before my mind oriented to my location and situation. There was only one person in my life who would feel this big and strong and masculine and solid. There was only one person who would be holding me this intimately, this possessively, this protectively.
    There was only Will.
    After a minute, I opened my eyes and shifted slightly. My body rubbed against his, and then he began to move too. I glanced up toward his face to see that his eyes were open.
    He appeared fully alert, so I knew he wasn’t just waking up now the way I was.
    “Hi,” I said. What else was I supposed to say?
    His expression was quiet and thoughtful, and he didn’t smile. “Hi.”
    “Are you going to push me away again this morning?” The words might sound confrontational, but my tone wasn’t accusatory. It was a genuine question. I needed to know.
    “I don’t know.”
    “Okay.”
    “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured, moving his arm to adjust my body beside his. “I really don’t know.”
    “Okay.”
    His eyes were soft—even softer than they’d been last night. “Don’t look at me that way, Greer.”
    I slid a hand up his chest, the firm muscles and scattering of coarse hair teasing my palm. “We had a discussion yesterday about your telling me how not to look.”
    “I know we did. But you’re killing me with that look. I feel guilty enough already.”
    My throat was aching slightly—from rising nerves and something else, something deeper. He was lying on his back, his head on a pillow, and I pulled myself up enough to look down at his face. “I’m not trying to be mean here, but maybe you should feel a little guilty. It’s not cool to fuck a girl—twice—and then push her away afterwards like she’s meaningless.”
    His face twisted, and his eyes were suddenly fierce. He reached up to cup my face with one hand. “You’re not meaningless, Greer. Don’t you dare say that. You know you’re not meaningless to me.”
    Briefly overwhelmed by his urgency and the intense emotion that had flared up inside him, I swallowed hard. “Okay.”
    “You’re so far from meaningless to me that it’s not even funny,” he continued, in a softer, hoarser voice. “That’s why I’m so torn up about this.”
    “Okay.” The response didn’t come close to expressing everything I was feeling, but I was at that point where I was feeling too much to put it into words.
    He reached up with both hands and pulled my head down toward his. He claimed my lips in a kiss that was soft, gentle, but also deep and possessive.
    If I was having trouble speaking before, then it was completely impossible after that kiss.
    “You’re not meaningless to me, Greer,” he whispered against my mouth.
    “Okay.”  I was pleased I’d managed to get at least that much out. My hand was still stroking his chest. Exhaling deeply, I relaxed my body, laying my cheek against his shoulder. It was a full minute before I was able to add, “Then please don’t push me away.”
    Maybe I should have been embarrassed about so openly showing him how I felt, but there wasn’t any choice for me. I was naked, completely exposed. And it was so new and so uncharacteristic for me that I couldn’t put up even the normal, socially acceptable pretenses for the beginnings of a relationship.
    I know how things usually go in modern romances. Both people walk a kind of social tightrope, expressing enough interest in the other to keep moving forward while at the same time being careful not to go too far too quickly. Everyone seems to know that this is the right way to get together. Too much earnestness too quickly will scare the other person away, as surely as not expressing enough interest.
    Everyone else seems to know how to walk this tightrope, but I’ve always fallen off on either one side or the other. I’m too internal—and therefore the guy doesn’t know I’m interested at all to begin with. To compensate for this, I have to make an effort to flirt and show interest, but I’m just no good at it. I end up being too intense, too out there, and the guy goes running for cover.
    I showed up in the middle of the night in Will’s bedroom when I was eighteen, without invitation or warning. The perfect embodiment of my hopelessness when it comes to romance.
    I sometimes look around at other people and marvel at how they know how to flirt, know how to progress toward a normal relationship without fumbling around and making one mistake after another. That they seem to know how to do it instinctively.
    I never have. And I was just as clueless in bed with Will that morning as I was in every other romantic situation before that moment. I hadn’t said any words out loud, but my feelings for him must have been painfully obvious. After all, I was begging him not to push me away.
    “Oh sweetheart,” he murmured thickly, pulling me up farther on his body so he could wrap both arms around me and nuzzle at my hair. “What the hell am I going to do with you?”
    I could think of several things that he could do with me that would make me very happy, but I couldn’t get any of them said.
    When I didn’t answer, I heard him sigh again, long and slow. “Okay. We need to put the rest of his conversation on hold until you can get back to your normal life. Whatever else is going on with us, we are not in a normal situation. And you can’t be making major decisions when you’re in this kind of intense… bubble.”
    Maybe I hadn’t been as naked about my feelings as I’d thought. He seemed to believe I hadn’t already made a decision about him.
    I had.
    Of course I had.
    I might have been stupid when I was eighteen, but I hadn’t been wrong about him.
    He was the only man in the world who I’d ever wanted enough to lower my internal defenses. He was the only man in the world I’d ever wanted to be naked with. (Not physically naked. Truly naked. Exposing the depths of my soul.)
    “Okay.” Again, the one word was having to stand in for a powerful flurry of feeling, but what else could I say? I might have already made a decision about him, but he hadn’t made one about me.
    After all, I’d wanted him since I was eighteen. The same wasn’t true about him. He hadn’t wanted me back then. And maybe he only wanted me now because of this unnatural situation. Maybe he was just feeling manly and protective because my life was in his hands.
    There was no guarantee that he’d feel the same way when a bad guy wasn’t out to get me, when I was just a normal girl with a normal life and offering him very normal attractions.
    He turned my head enough to kiss my mouth again, lightly, very sweetly. “Okay. I’m going to try to be good again, but I don’t make any promises about not slipping up. I thought I’d be better about withstanding temptation, but I guess I’m not as strong as I thought. But the serious conversation is going to have to wait.”
    “Okay.” That was me. Saying okay when it felt like the whole world was shuddering with from the emotional tension inside me.
    He eased me farther over onto the bed, releasing me from his embrace. “I need to get up.”
    “Okay.”
    He groaned softly as he stretched, and because my eyes had lowered to his chest, I noticed that the sheet was tented over his groin.
    He was turned on.
    Before this knowledge could provoke matching feelings in me, he was getting out of the bed. He went immediately into the bathroom, and I heard the shower turn on.
    I flopped my head down on the pillow and closed my eyes.
    It was time to switch gears anyway.
    My romantic turmoil was going to have to be put on hold for the time being.
    I still had to figure out the puzzle my father had left me if I ever wanted to get out of this apartment.
    I was still trying to switch my focus to the main problem at hand when Will came out of the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt, his hair and beard still damp from his shower. He stood looking down at me in the bed for a minute. “You okay?” he asked at last.
    I made myself smile. “Of course. I’m not falling going to fall apart because you’re not sure whether you want me or not.”
    His mouth opened, and I saw the objection on his face. He was going to tell me it wasn’t about wanting, when I knew very well that it was.
    “I know, I know,” I said. “I’m really fine. There just doesn’t seem to be much point in getting up and getting dressed when I’m stuck here in this room for another day.”
    He paused briefly before he said, “Well, get up anyway.”
    I rolled my eyes because his tone deserved it, but I did manage to haul myself out of bed and head for the bathroom. While I was in there, I took a quick shower and pulled on yoga pants and my last clean T-shirt.
    When I went back out into the main room, Will was at the kitchen island with his tablet and a cup of coffee.
    Coffee was a good idea.
    “So we still need to figure out what the song is trying to tell us,” I said, pleased that my voice sounded natural, matter-of-fact.
    His gray eyes rose to my face. “I know.”
    “You come up with any brainstorms in the last few minutes?”
    He shook his head. “I was looking up streets that have anything to do with birds or sparrows and oak trees. There’s a bank on Oak Street, but I’m not sure that’s going to do us much good.”
    Interested, I leaned over to look at the screen of his tablet, on which he’d been searching.
    I sucked in a breath when I saw the screen.
    “What is it?” he asked in a different tone.
    “The name of the bank. South Bend Bank and Trust.”
    “Yeah. S—oh.”
    “Bend. From the song. She’s safe inside the oak tree’s bend.” My heart was hammering again—with excitement this time. “That’s got to be it. It’s got to be.”
    “It does seem like a pretty strong connection,” Will said slowly. “But we’re still stuck. He couldn’t have opened an account there under his own name or your name or Chance’s name. Kurt would have found it for sure.”
    “It’s probably a safety deposit box, if that’s where he put the diamonds.”
    “Yeah. But if it was under his own name, Kurt would have found it. So we still have the problem of knowing what name to look under and finding the key.”
    “Damn it,” I muttered, my excitement fading from this reality. “You’re a thief. Can’t you just break in to the bank and look through all of the safety deposit boxes until you find it.”
    He chuckled and shook his head. “I was a thief. And, believe me, if I thought it would work and get you out of this mess, I’d break in to the bank in a minute. But it takes weeks and weeks to plan a heist like that. And I’d need to bring a bunch of other guys in and tap a lot of resources. It wouldn’t take Kurt long to hear whispers, and he’d figure out what I was doing pretty quickly. It would never work.”
    I’d known that, of course, but it was a still a disappointment to hear.
    Will went on, “So if there is a safety deposit box in that bank, he put it under a different name and then hid the key somewhere.”
    I nodded. “So there must also be a clue in the song about the key.”
    “I hate to say it, but the most obvious place for him to have hidden the key is in the house.”
    “We’ve already—”
    “We’ve already gone over everywhere in the house where the diamonds might have been hidden, and Kurt has too, I’m sure. But a key? He wouldn’t be looking for a just a key. And neither have we.”
    “Shit, we’re going to have to get back in.”
    I’m going to have to get back in,” he corrected. “But I’m not going to do it unless I have a good idea about where the key might be.”
    “Okay.” I was almost done with my coffee, and I swallowed the last of it from my mug before I turned around to pour myself another cup. “So let’s think. Where could he have hidden a key?”
    “Keys are easy to hide. He could have put it anywhere—even behind framed photographs and inside of books.”
    “Don’t you think Kurt would have looked in the books? After all, they could have been fake books that were actually hiding the diamonds. I feel like he would have looked in them.”
    “Yeah. Probably so.”
    “And photos? There are a few framed pictures of my family around the house. I guess a key could be hidden behind them. But that seems like an obvious place to look too. I don’t think my dad would have gone through all the trouble of his stupid, puzzle song just to hide a key behind a photo of me and Chance.”
    “Probably not.”
    I put down my coffee cup so suddenly the liquid sloshed slightly. “Oh, but there’s the bird picture in his office!”
    Will’s eyes widened and his shoulders stiffened. “What picture?”
    “You know. You must have seen it. It’s a little picture of a sparrow and a blue jay—done in watercolors. It’s on the wall beneath the old map. Chance and I bought it for him for his birthday when we were about fourteen. There’s no reason Kurt would have suspected that, so maybe he didn’t look there.”
    Will’s face was strange—focused and interested but also oddly resigned, as if he knew something was coming that he didn’t want. “Maybe.”
    “It’s got to be. What else could it be? The bird in the song is indicating that picture, and then the oak tree and bend and nest is about the safety deposit box. Do you have any better ideas?”
    “No. None. It’s a good thought, and I’ll have to check it out.”
    “Do you think you can get back into the house?”
    I saw that same odd look on his face again, and I suddenly knew how to interpret it. He knew the idea was a good one, and he knew it meant he’d have to get back into the house.
    And he knew how difficult it was going to be.
    I was suddenly terrified.
    “I’ll try,” he said.
    “Call up Bryce and get him to help you again.”
    He gave a curt nod.
    “Or I can—”
    “You can not,” he cut in sharply.
    I made a face at his tone, but I didn’t take it personally. He must be feeling as anxious as I was right now.
    “I’ll get it done,” he added.
    “Only get it done if it’s safe.”
    “It’s never going to be completely safe, but I’ll make it as safe as I can. The longer we stay here, the more danger we’re in right here. Kurt is going to find this place eventually.” He sighed and put down his mug and tablet. “Speaking of, I’m going to go check the perimeter again. When I come back, we’ll figure out what to do.”
    I let him go because he made sense and because I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but I was scared as he disappeared through the front door.
    It was easy with all the other emotional stuff I’d been going through to forget that my life was in danger. That Will’s life was in danger too.
    That it was going to stay in danger until this whole ordeal was over.
    For just a moment, I imagined Will getting killed, and the bleak darkness that followed that vision was so painful I had to forcefully push it out of my mind.
    He wasn’t going to get killed.
    He was good at this. Better than almost anyone else.
    If anyone could get through this, it was Will.
    As he was outside, I did a mental inventory of the whole house, and I concluded yet again that the bird picture was the only real option. If the key was hidden in the house and the song was the clue, then it had to be that bird picture.
    If it wasn’t, we would have to start from scratch again, and that was so depressing it was unthinkable.
    Will was gone longer than usual, and I was starting to get nervous when the door opened and he came back in.
    I could see immediately from his expression that something was wrong.
    “What is it?” I got up from my stool and walked over to him.
    His face tightened. “I saw one of Kurt’s guys in the neighborhood.”
    “How do you know it was—”
    ”I know.”
    I had to trust him. If he was sure it was one of Kurt’s guys, then it was.
    “So they’re probably just searching, right? You said they’d have a general idea of the neighborhood, but that’s not going to lead them right back here.”
    “They’re close. They’re too close.” He was standing perfect still, his body so tight I could see the tension in his jaw, his shoulders, his stance.
    “So do you think we should move somewhere else?”
    “I don’t have anywhere else safe to move you.” He was staring at a spot in the air, obviously thinking hard.
    “Well, if the key is behind that picture, then we’re close. We can probably have the diamonds and be done with this whole thing by this afternoon or tomorrow at the latest. They’re not going to find this place that quickly.” I was trying to sound confident, but my voice wobbled just a little.
    Will’s mouth twisted. “I’m not going to risk it. I’m not going to leave you alone.”
    “Okay. I can go with you. I can—”
    “No!” His expression was suddenly that fierce one again, the one that took my breath away. “There’s no way in hell you’re coming with me. But I’m not going to leave you alone here. Bryce can stay here with you.”
    “No!” My objection was just as sharp and loud as his had been. “That would mean you’d have no one to help you get into the house. It’s too dangerous. You can’t—”
    “Yes, I can. I’ll figure something out. But I’m not going to leave you in danger. There’s no way in hell I’ll ever do that. Bryce can stay here with you until I get back.”
    Then, before I could argue more or object to this irrational plan, he walked out the front door to the apartment again.
    He just walked out.
    I wanted to scream, but I didn’t.
    Someone might have heard me, and we didn’t need more danger than we were already in.
    ***
    Two hours later, I was still in the apartment. Where else would I be?
    Only now it wasn’t Will sitting on a chair in the corner while I pretended to read. It was Bryce.
    I hadn’t seen Bryce in years, and I’d never known him very well. He was tall and rangy and laidback with reddish hair and freckles. He didn’t give off the cool, competent, strong vibes that Will always did. In fact, most of the time it looked like he was half asleep. But Will wouldn’t have left me with him if Bryce hadn’t known what he was doing, so I figured he was capable of protecting me, if it came down to that.
    I didn’t feel safe with him though. Not like I felt with Will.
    The truth was, I was a lot more worried about Will than I was about myself.
    “You don’t say much, do you?” Bryce had been fiddling with a phone, but he looked up at me as he spoke.
    I’d been slumped over the kitchen island, focused down on my Shakespeare book. I hadn’t read a single word in more than thirty minutes. “What do you want me to say?”
    “Nothing really. I’ve just been here more than an hour and you’ve said about five words.”
    “I’m not much of a talker.”
    “No wonder Stone likes you so much.”
    “Will doesn’t—” See, I don’t know why my first instinct was to deny Bryce’s claim, but that’s what I started to do. I did stop myself, but not soon enough.
    Bryce snorted and slouched down in his chair, like he was getting ready for a good chat. “Stone doesn’t what? Because I know you weren’t going to say he doesn’t like you.”
    I shook my head and glanced away, strangely embarrassed.
    “I always liked working for your dad,” Bryce went on, evidently needing little encouragement to continue a conversation. “And the first thing he always made clear was that no one was allowed to mess with his daughters. Fair enough. But it didn’t take long before I learned another rule. No one was even allowed to look at you too long or Stone would be all on their case.”
    “What?” My heart jumped slightly at these words, and I leaned forward, wanting to hear more.
    Bryce was laughing to himself. “I’ll never forget the first time I came by the house. You were coming home from somewhere and had stopped on the sidewalk out front to talk to someone. All I did was glance out the window. I wasn’t really checking you out or anything. I was just looking. And, damn, I thought Stone was going to bite my head off.”
    “Really? When was that?”
    “I don’t know,” Bryce said with an easy shrug. “You were in college, I think. It’s not like you were jailbait. How the hell could I have known he’d already called dibs on you.”
    I almost choked on my surprise. “Dibs?”
    “You know what I mean. He’d already, you know, marked his territory. I didn’t know. I was just looking. I liked your dad, and I wasn’t going to try anything.”
    I was almost shaking with my shock—and something that was thrilling with pleasure. But what Bryce was saying was too close to what I wanted to hear, so I couldn’t really believe it.
    “I don’t think…” I paused. Reshaped my sentence. “He never thought about me like that.”
    Bryce snorted again. “He sure as hell did. You think I imagined all the icy glares I got whenever I happened to glance your way?”
    “He might have been kind of protective, but it wasn’t because…”
    “For Christ’s sake, girl, get a clue. He was totally into you. Any fool could see it.”
    My heart was jumping with excitement again. “But he never… he never…”
    “What, you think because he never made a move back then, that he didn’t want to? You were what, like eighteen? Nineteen? Your dad would have killed any guy who tried to touch you. And Stone respected your dad more than anything. Even I wouldn’t have tried anything. You were totally forbidden territory. You think Stone would have ever crossed that line?”
    I was staring at him, almost bewildered with a tumult of emotion.
    “Why do you look so gob-smacked?” Bryce asked, frowning at me. “This can’t be a surprise to you. The guy is full-shit crazy about you, and he always has been. You should have heard the endless lecture he gave me before he left earlier about everything I was and wasn’t supposed to do while he’s gone.”
    “What did he say?”
    “Everything. All this obvious stuff that any fool would know about keeping you safe. And then he tells me I’m not supposed to touch you. Like I’d really think about trying something on you right now when you’re all scared and in danger. For fuck’s safe.” Despite his words, he looked like he was silently laughing again. “Stone’s always had a few screws loose about you.”
    I had no idea what to say to this, so I ended up saying nothing.
    My mind was whirling though. Could Will really have been interested in me back then, when he’d rejected me so completely, when I’d been sure he had no interest in me at all?
    Had I had it wrong about Will all this time?
    All I had were Bryce’s casual comments, but he seemed so sure about the situation and Will’s feelings.
    And I wasn’t sure of anything at all. Not anymore.
    “So anyway,” Bryce concluded, picking up his phone again. “Don’t take it personally if I don’t make a move. I think you’re hot and all, and I really like that you don’t talk my ear off. But I’m not about to risk Stone’s wrath if I even look at you just a little too long.”
    I made a strangled sound that might have been a laugh.
    Then I remembered Will was out there by himself. Trying to get into a house that Kurt would be rigorously guarding. I was safe right now, and Will was in danger.
    When he’d gotten into the house yesterday, he’d been seen and followed.
    Something worse might happen today.
    The surge of fear that rose inside me at this reality overwhelmed everything else, including the lingering pleasure over hearing Bryce’s description of Will’s feelings for me.
    I didn’t even know if Bryce was right.
    And it didn’t matter if he was right if Will ended up getting hurt.
    If he got killed, then nothing would matter at all.
    ***
    Two hours later, and I was on the verge of panicking.
    Bryce had been trying to keep me calm for more than an hour now, but we hadn’t heard anything from Will, and time was slipping by very quickly.
    If everything had gone smoothly with Will getting into the house and retrieving the key, then he would have been back by now.
    Things weren’t going smoothly.
    Something had gone wrong.
    It was possible that something truly terrible had gone wrong.
    And I didn’t know anything.
    “Can you sit down?” Bryce asked, sounding more sympathetic than annoyed. “All that pacing is driving me crazy.”
    I’d been walking from one window to the other, trying to look out onto the street, hoping to see Will approaching.
    I saw a lot of people out on the sidewalk and streets.
    But no Will.
    “Stone knows what he’s doing. He probably had to sit tight before he got a chance to get into the house. There’s no reason to get panicky about it.”
    I was panicky. I was cold with dread. “I feel like something’s wrong.”
    “You’re imagining it.”
    “Maybe.”
    “Give him a chance to get back. He’d let us know if something was wrong.”
    I didn’t say it out loud but there was one obvious reason why he wouldn’t let us know if something was wrong.
    If he wasn’t capable of letting us know.
    Maybe Kurt had caught him, was holding him. It would take only the slightest hint of a threat to Will’s safety for me to spill out everything I knew about the diamonds. It wouldn’t even be a struggle. I’d tell Kurt everything in an instant if he was threatening Will.
    If something had gone wrong, I almost hoped it was that. At least it would mean Will was okay.
    I couldn’t hold out much hope for that though. I knew Will, and there was little chance he’d ever let himself be taken. He’d fight tooth and nail before he submitted.
    He was much more likely to get hurt or killed than get captured.
    “Hey,” Bryce said, his voice just as leisurely as ever. “Try to sit down. Will’s going to beat me up if he comes back and you’re sick from freaking out.”
    I managed to walk back over to a chair and started to lower myself into it, but I jumped back to my feet like a jack-in-the-box when a phone rang in the quiet apartment.
    It was Bryce’s.
    He answered it immediately, and I saw his face change.
    My knees started to buckle so I sat down again.
    “Okay,” Bryce said once. Then a minute later, he said, “Okay.”
    He disconnected the call and got to his feet, faster than I’d ever seen him move.
    “What happened? Was it Will?”
    “Yeah. He needs help.”
    I almost groaned with relief over the fact that Will was still alive. “Help with what?”
    “I’ll be back in just a minute.” Bryce walked over and handed me the gun that Will always left me. “You stay here, and don’t move.”
    “Okay.”
    “I mean it. Don’t take a step. Stone will kill me for sure if you leave.”
    “I’m not going to leave. Just go help him! Hurry!”
    Bryce was gone in less than a minute, and I was left sitting shaky and breathless and completely clueless about what was going on.
    About fifteen minutes later, I heard a sound at the door, and I ran over to it just as it was opening.
    I first saw Bryce. His shirt was smeared with blood, which made absolutely no sense.
    Then I saw why.
    The blood was Will’s.
    It was all over him. He was leaning heavily on Bryce, and his skin was sickeningly white. There was so much blood.
    I made a whimpering sound as I stepped aside to let them in and then locked the door behind them.
    “I’m okay,” Will muttered. He was barely able to move. He was completely relying on Bryce for support. “Sweetheart, I’m okay.”
    “No, you’re not.” My voice wobbled, and I ran over to help support Will on the other side as we made our way toward the bed.
    Will groaned as he collapsed onto the mattress, and his eyes closed almost immediately. He looked so weak. So pained.
    “He was shot,” Bryce said.
    “Oh my God,” I breathed, reaching down with the need to help but having no idea what needed to be done. I ended up reaching for one of Will’s hands. “Will.”
    His fingers gripped mine so suddenly and so tightly that I gasped. “I’m fine. Don’t scare her, damn it.”
    “What the hell did I do?” Bryce asked, pulling Will’s torn shirt away from the wound, which was evidently on the side of his abdomen. “All I said was that you were shot. Which you were.”
    “Don’t scare her. I’m fine.” Will’s voice seemed to get weaker each time he spoke, and he flinched when Bryce moved his body to rip the shirt off completely.
    “You’re hurting him,” I said, still clinging to Will’s hand.
    “It will hurt him more if he bleeds out because I can’t get to the wound. I don’t think the bullet hit any vital organs. I think it just grazed him, but we have to stop the bleeding.”
    “We’ve got first aid stuff. I’ll go get it.” I tried to retrieve my hand from Will’s grip.
    He wouldn’t let it go.
    “Greer,” he whispered, his eyes open just a slit. He looked so pitifully pale I couldn’t stand it. His face was drenched in sweat.
    “I’m here,” I said, trying to pry his fingers loose. “I just need to get the first aid stuff.”
    “Tell me where it is and I’ll get it,” Bryce said.
    “It’s in the cabinet beneath the sink in the bathroom.”
    As Bryce went to get it, Will said again, “Greer.”
    “I’m right here.” I was almost in tears now, but there was no way to help it. There was so much blood.
    Will had been hurt so badly.
    He’d been hurt because of me.
    “Greer,” he rasped for a third time. He was shifting uncomfortably on the bed. “Pock… pocket.”
    I blinked, trying to follow what he was saying.
    “Pants. Pocket. Sweetheart.”
    Understanding now, I reached into the front pocket of his jeans. When he shook his head, I tried the other one.
    I felt something in there.
    I pulled out two things. One looked like a driver’s license but that wasn’t what caught my attention.
    The second thing in his pocket was a key.
    A safety-deposit box key.
    He’d done it.
    He’d gotten into the house, located the picture of the birds, and found what my father had left me.
    He’d gotten shot in the process, but Will had done what he’d gone there to do.
    And now I was holding the key in my hand.

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