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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter twelve

    Introduction

    Here's Chapter Twelve 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.
    We're nearing the end on this one, so I'm going to wrap it up before I start a new book. So, for the next week or so, I'll be sending out updates every few days rather than waiting an entire week. I'm hoping to get this done in another week or so.


    I feel like I need to say again that I'm writing this book chapter by chapter along the way, so please don't expect a perfectly crafted book. This book is much more complex in both plot and characterization than Second Best, and there are a number of things I'll need to revise in earlier chapters after I've done. Since I'm writing it serially, I can't go back at this point and change the stuff in earlier chapters that needs changing (although I'll certainly do it before I publish this as an individual title). Second Best was simple enough that I could write it completely and coherently in the first draft, but the same isn't true of this one. 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 in this book
    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.

    Need to catch up?

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

    Chapter Twelve

    The next fifteen minutes were terrifying.
    I’ve never been around someone as injured as Will was, and the amount of blood, plus his pallor and weakness, were so much more intense than I would have known to expect.
    Fortunately, Bryce appeared to know what he was doing, so I left it to him to mop up the blood, bandage the wound, and apply enough pressure to get the bleeding to stop.
    When he turned and muttered that it was definitely just a graze, I was able to relax my shoulders slightly.
    This wasn’t life or death.
    It wasn’t a heartbreak waiting to happen.
    It wasn’t the end of the world.
    Will was drenched in sweat and was still as white as the sheets beneath him, but he wasn’t likely to die from this.
    At least, he better not.
    My body was sore with tension and my stomach was tied into knots an hour later when Bryce finally collapsed on a chair, having done everything he could do. I was still perched on the edge of the bed with Will gripping my hand hard.
    My fingers had gotten tingly a while ago, but I didn’t try to pull them away.
    “He’s going to be okay,” Bryce said, slouched in his chair and looking almost as sweaty as Will. “Hovering isn’t necessary anymore.”
    “I’m not hovering.”
    I was hovering, but I couldn’t help it. If I didn’t watch Will very closely, he might slip away from me.
    I wasn’t going to let that happen.
    “He’s really okay, Greer,” Bryce said.
    “I told you I was fine,” Will said unexpectedly.
     I’d thought he was mostly unconscious or asleep because his eyes had been closed now for a half hour. But evidently not. He looked at me through a slit in his eyes as he spoke.
    “You wouldn’t have been fine if I’d let you bleed out on the bed just now, so a little thanks might be in order.” Bryce’s voice was light. Not bitter.
    “Thanks,” Will said, glancing over to the other man. Then his eyes rested on my face. “You okay?”
    “Am I okay? You’re the one who was shot.”
    “Yeah, but I don’t care as much about that.”
    The words were muttered. Not emotional or sentimental in any way. But it might have been the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me.
    “So are you okay?” he added, when I did nothing but stare at him with blurry eyes.
    “Yes. I’m fine. I’m worried about you.”
    “Oh, God, you two,” Bryce groaned from his chair. “Get a room or something.”
    “We have a room,” I told him—tartly because Will’s face flinched just slightly, as if he’d realized how he was acting. How he wasn’t supposed to be acting. “You’re in it.”
    Bryce gave a few snorts of amusement and then stretched out his lanky body. “Fuck, I need a drink.”
    “We’ve got scotch,” I told him. “Help yourself. The bottle is getting low, but there should still be enough left. In the cabinet to the right of the microwave.”
    Bryce got up right away and opened three cabinet doors before he landed on the right one. “You want some?” he asked.
    “No. Thanks.” With the way my stomach was still twisting, alcohol would be a mistake.
    “Will?”
    “Yeah.” Will shifted on the bed, clearly in pain.
    “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked.
    “Damn right it’s a good idea,” Bryce said, bringing a glass over and handing it to me. “All we’ve got for the poor guy is aspirin. Gunshots hurt like hell.”
    I handed the glass to Will and was relieved when he finally let go of my hand to take the drink. I shook my hand out discreetly and straightened my back, but I relaxed immediately when I saw Will’s eyes on my face.
    I smiled at him, and he smiled back. Just a little.
    “Don’t keep sitting there hovering like that,” he said. “I’m fine.”
    “I’m fine too. I’m not hovering.”
    “You’ll be finer if you’re not uncomfortable. Come lie down next to me.”
    That sounded good to me. My back was achingly sore now. So I stood up, went to the bathroom, got a bottle of water, and then stretched out on the bed beside Will.
    “Did you look at the license?” he asked, turning his head so he was facing me.
    It took me a minute to follow what he was referring to. “Oh. No.” I’d put the driver’s license from his pocket next to the safety deposit key on the nightstand. I had to straighten up, reach over, and pick it up before I relaxed onto the bed again.
    When I held the license up to read it, I gasped.
    It was my picture on the license. The photo couldn’t have been more than a few years old.
    It was me. But the name on the license wasn’t mine.
    “Oh my God,” I breathed.
    “I assume the safety deposit box is under that name. Now that you have an ID, you can access it with the key.”
    “Oh my God,” I said again. “I guess Dad was pretty smart after all.”
    “Yeah.”
    “So we know where the diamonds are at last and how to get them.”
    “Yeah.”
    Then I thought of something else. “But this means I’m the one who has to go to the bank to get them.”
    “Yeah.” The one word this time had a different, bleaker tone. He clearly wasn’t happy about this fact.
    “It will be fine. I can do it. Kurt and his guys aren’t going to know about the bank.” I paused, suddenly nervous. “Maybe Bryce can go with me.”
    “Sure I can.” Bryce had dragged a chair over so he was closer to the bed and part the conversation. “No problem.”
    “I’m going with you.”
    “Wh—” I almost choked on my surprise. “Don’t be ridiculous, Will. You’ve been shot.”
    “It’s nothing. Next to nothing. I’ll be fine tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, you and I will go to the bank, and Bryce can maybe distract Kurt’s guys. He can go to the house and get them to follow him or something.”
    “Sure. That’d be fine too.” Bryce’s expression was almost lazy, like none of this was any big deal.
    I turned to glare at him. “But Will isn’t going to be in any shape tomorrow to do something like that. Don’t encourage him to be stupid.”
    “It’s not stupid. I’ve been shot before. This is nothing.” Will's voice was hoarse, and he held my gaze. “You’re not going to the bank without me, Greer.”
    I sighed, recognizing the stubbornness on his face. He meant it. If I tried to go without him, he’d probably haul himself up out of his deathbed and try to follow me. Better to agree with him, so I’d have some way of managing his worst tendencies and keeping him safer.
    “Okay.” My stomach had knotted again in fear. “If you’re up to it tomorrow, then that’s what we’ll do. If you’re not, then we can wait another day to get to the bank.”
    Will just nodded, but I saw something in his expression.
    He was worried about waiting another day.
    He didn’t think we had another day.
    Kurt’s guys had been searching in this neighborhood this morning.
    They might find our little safe house before tomorrow was over.
    ***
    Will appeared to improve as the afternoon progressed, and a lot of my anxiety eased as a result.
    I was still nervous about the idea of going into the bank, flashing a fake ID, and then retrieving twenty million in stolen diamonds. Who wouldn’t be nervous, having to do something like that? But if Will was okay, then he’d be able to come with me.
    And I always felt safe with Will.
    If Will was okay, then everything else would be okay too. I was sure of it.
    Bryce hung around the whole day, occasionally going out to check the perimeter and once running to a convenience store to get some more first aid stuff for Will. I made us all a light dinner, and Will managed to eat more than I expected. He wasn’t as pale as he’d been earlier, and he wasn’t sweating all the time either.
    When Bryce finally left for the night, I was moderately confident that, between Will in this condition and me, we’d be okay until morning.
    I felt icky after all the fear and urgency today, so after changing the sheets on the bed, I took a shower and then changed into the clothes I’d been sleeping in. When I came out again, I poured myself a glass of scotch and poured another one for Will.
    He’d eaten plenty and he looked a lot stronger now. He could have another drink without getting sick from it.
    “Thanks.” He took the glass I offered him. “You smell nice.”
    “Soap from the shower, I guess.”
    “I wish I could take a shower.”
    “No way. Your bandage would get messed up, and I’m not good at fixing it like Bryce is.””
    He made a face but didn’t argue.
    I took a sip of whiskey and then put down my glass. I found a couple of wash cloths, put water in a bowl, got the soap out of the shower, and brought everything over to the bed.
    Will’s eyebrow cocked up. “A sponge bath? Really?”
    “If you mock, you’re not going to get one.”
    “No mocking. No mocking from me.” His expression was still slightly ironic but it was also very soft. “You really don’t have to do that.”
    “I want to.”
    I did want to, but I also felt strangely self-conscious about it. I’d never done anything like it before.
    But he must feel absolutely terrible right now, and this was something quite small I could do to help him, to make him feel better.
    I was going to do it.
    He didn’t have on a shirt, and Bryce and I had gotten him into a pair of gym shorts earlier, so I didn’t have to take off any clothes. I put down my stuff and went to get a big towel from the bathroom, and then I eased him up so I could spread it out beneath him so I wouldn’t get the sheets wet.
    Then I got a wash cloth wet and started to wipe down his chest, shoulders and arms, putting just enough soap on to clean him without making it necessary to use a lot of water to rinse it off.
    Will didn’t say anything as I worked, but his eyes never left my face.
    I don’t know why I felt so self-conscious, so aware of myself, of each movement of my body—and so aware of Will, his body, his expression, at the same time. But I did. It felt so intimate, doing this for him.
    I was amazed he was even letting me do it.
    I worked on his chest, the tight skin, firm muscles, and coarse hair nakedly masculine. I ran the wash cloth up and down his arms, over his shoulders, and then lifted his arms to reach his underarms. When I was done, I moved down to his abdomen. Bryce had wrapped him up tightly, but I cleaned up the skin that was still exposed and then gently tugged at his shoulder until he sat up enough for me to reach his back.
    As I washed his back, I said softly, “Bryce said you called dibs on me.”
    I had no idea I was going to say that. Absolutely no idea at all. I was obviously stretched emotionally to the point where the words tumbled out without planning or qualm.
    Will’s whole body stiffened.
    “That’s what he said.”
    Will let out his breath in a loud exhale. “Did he?”
    “Yeah. Back when he first started coming by the house. He said you’d called dibs on me. Marked your territory.”
    “I didn’t say a word.”
    “Maybe not directly. But he said he got the point really quick.” I paused, gently running the wash cloth over his lower back. My eyes were focused on his damp skin. “Was he wrong?”
    He didn’t answer immediately. The silence stretched on a long time.
    I didn’t prompt him or say anything else. I just kept working on his back.
    Finally, he said, “He wasn’t wrong.”
    Something new, inchoate, was trembling inside me. It took me a minute to get any words out. “I didn’t… I didn’t know.”
    “You weren’t supposed to know.”
    “Why? I was old enough by then. I mean, eighteen.”
    “Eighteen isn’t really… but it wasn’t just your age.”
    “Then what?” I’d finished on his back, so I eased him down again.
    He met my eyes briefly and then looked away.
    With sigh, I got the wash cloth wet again, wrung it out, and then started to rub his neck. “Was it my dad?”
    He didn’t answer in words, but I felt an affirmative in his body. Like all his muscles tightened and then relaxed in resignation.
    “My dad loved you.”
    “He didn’t—”
    “Yes, he did. I know he did, Will. He loved you. He thought of you like—”
    “A son? Maybe. I don’t know. But, if he did, then he sure as hell wouldn’t want his son hooking up with his daughter.”
    I was stroking his face with the wash cloth now, and he suddenly pulled my hand down. “You don’t have to do that.”
    I frowned and moved back up to his face. “I know I don’t have to do it. I want to. So stop being an ass and let me help you a little.”
    “I—” I could tell he was starting to argue again, but he stopped himself. His body softened. He wasn’t meeting my eyes anymore.
    I was supposed to be cleaning him, but it was more like I was caressing him. I don’t remember ever feeling so tender, so possessive, about another human being. Like he was mine to care for, to take care of.
    Like he was mine and no one else’s.
    When he’d relaxed completely, I said, “I really think my dad would have been okay with… with us.”
    Will just shook his head. His jaw was clenched.
    “How do you know? He loved you, and he trusted you. He would have wanted us to be happy.” When he kept shaking his head, I added, “How are you so sure?”
    “He told me.”
    “What?” I lowered the wash cloth.
    “He told me. He told me to stay away from you.”
    What?” I knew I’d just said that, but there wasn’t anything else I could say. My eyes had widened, and a chill of surprise had run up and down my spine.
    “He didn’t want me anywhere close to you.”
    “But that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense. Nothing ever happened between us back then. You barely even talked to me. You never mentioned anything to him about me, did you?”
    “Of course not.”
    “Then why would he think that you were… Why would he say that to you?”
    “He knew.”
    “Knew what?”
    “What I was thinking.”
    “About me?”
    “Yes, about you.” His voice was suddenly hoarse, urgent. “All I ever did was think about you, want you. I tried not to. I tried to hide it. You were eighteen and your father’s daughter. And I wasn’t one of those men. But I couldn’t help it. I… yearned for you, and I couldn’t stop myself. He somehow knew it.”
    I could barely take a full breath now. “But… so that was why you’re the hawk?”
    “Of course that’s why. I was way too old for you, and I would just drag you into a life of crime. Your dad would have done anything to keep that from happening. He might have trusted me to work with him, but he sure as hell didn’t trust me around you.”
    “I… never knew.”
    “You weren’t supposed to know. I couldn’t control my feelings, but at least I could keep you from knowing about them.”
    “I came to your room. That night. You pushed me away.”
    “Of course I did.”
    “I thought you didn’t want me. Did you… want to push me away?”
    His face twisted. Reluctance. Guilt. “I don’t think I wanted you before then. At least, I’d never let myself think about it. I liked you. I liked you from the beginning. But I never… But then you were there, in my bedroom, in the middle of the night, looking so… looking like everything I’d ever wanted. Fuck, I wanted you so much I couldn’t see straight, and I haven’t stop wanting you since.”
    I was trembling helplessly, and I twisted the damp wash cloth between my hands. “I didn’t know.”
    “You couldn’t know. I couldn’t let you know.”
    We stared at each other for a minute.
    Then I admitted very softly, “I wanted you too.”
    His face changed, softened visibly. His head leaned up, like he would kiss me, but then he must have changed his mind. He leaned back against the pillow again.
    “Do you want me to do your lower half?” I asked. I’d cleaned every part of his top half I was able to reach.
    He shook his head.
    “You sure?”
    “Better not.”
    “Why?”
    He slanted me a significant look, and I lowered my eyes to his groin.
    I saw why immediately. His was visibly hard in his shorts. The sheet that covered his legs wasn’t thick enough to hide it.
    I blinked. “But you’re injured.”
    “You think a slight graze is enough to keep me from wanting you, Greer? Did you even hear what I just said about how long this has been going on for me?”
    I swallowed hard. “I’m not sure sex would be a good idea in your condition.”
    “I wasn’t suggesting it. I’m just saying that, if your hands move any lower, it’s going to be hard for my body to recognize it’s not going to go anywhere.”
    I thought for a moment. Shook my head slowly. I wetted down the wash cloth again, squeezing out the excess water. Then I gently pulled the waistband of his shorts down over his erection.
    “Greer,” he said thickly.
    “No sex. I’m not taking a chance on your wound. But I can still take care of you.”
    “You don’t—”
    I leaned forward to kiss him gently, silencing his objections. Then I used to wash cloth to stroke him intimately.
    He groaned as I caressed him, and a coil of both arousal and tenderness tightened inside me as I saw him responding to my touch.
    When I wrapped my hand around his shaft and started to pull and squeeze rhythmically, his hips came up toward my hand. His body tightened quickly, his shoulders lifting off the bed and his features twisting. He was groaning uninhibitedly, and it was the sexiest thing I’d ever heard.
    Then, before I knew to expect it, his body froze on a strangled sound. He worked through a long release, his body twitching, his head falling back against the pillow, and thick exhales escaping his parted lips.
    “Greer,” He breathed, as his body softened completely.
    I leaned forward to kiss him again, and his mouth clung to mine sweetly.
    “Thank you.”
    “You’re welcome.”
    He’d ejaculated into the washcloth, so I took it and the bowl of water and put them up. Then I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my hot face, and tried to get my emotions under control.
    Too much was happening. Too much that went too deep.
    And I had no idea how I was supposed to process it all in my rattled mind.
    Pushing aside the most intense of the feelings, I went back out and climbed into bed beside Will.
    He turned his head toward me, his face relaxed and his eyes heavy. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
    I kissed him. “You’re welcome again.”
    He couldn’t take me in his arms, but he reached out with one hand and fumbled around until he could pull mine into a firm grasp.
    We lay in bed together, holding hands.
    We were still holding hands when I fell into an exhausted sleep.

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