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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter five

    Inside - Chapter Five...


    "Here's Chapter Five 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 that I'm only reading each chapter over once before I send it out, so try to overlook any editing/proofreading errors.
    I think I've sorted out the glitch that was preventing folks from replying to these emails, so if you want to let me know what you think of the chapters, 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!"
    Noelle Adams

    Need to catch up?

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

    Chapter Five

    I sat for an hour and waited for Will to return.
    I suppose I could have done something. Worked on some reading for one of my classes. Watched TV. Dug back into my memory and tried to come up with more ideas.
    But I didn’t do any of that. I just sat and waited.
    When an hour passed, I began to listen for signs of Will in the hallway, at the door. I only heard normal street sounds. Nothing from outside the door. Not even one of the residents in the other units passing by.
    When an hour and ten minutes had gone by, I started to get nervous.
    There was no reason to expect Will to return exactly an hour after he’d left, but I did. He never spoke lightly, and he was usually true to his word. He wouldn’t leave me here alone any longer than was necessary.
    What the hell was taking him so long?
    I sat for twenty more minutes, growing tenser and tenser. Eventually, my shoulders and neck hurt from holding the muscles so tightly, and a churning weight deepened in my gut. I was cold. I had trouble breathing slowly.
    And Will still hadn’t returned.
    What if something had happened to him?
    The danger was real. I knew it. Will was strong and capable, but he was one man and wasn’t invulnerable, no matter what he liked to pretend.
    How long was I supposed to wait here before I concluded that something bad had happened?
    Another hour?
    A day?
    Even longer?
    I was trapped. Helpless. Incapable of doing anything useful. I could go outside and try to find Will, but that would be inexcusably foolish this soon. If he was just delayed, he’d be furious that I’d put myself at risk.
    But I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even have a phone.
    So I sat and stewed and brooded and hugged my arms to my chest for another hour. Two hours and ten minutes after Will had left, I was in such a frightened daze that it took several seconds for me to realize that someone was at the door.
    I reached for the gun with a trembling hand.
    “Greer, it’s me.”
    It was Will’s voice through the cracked door. He’d unlocked it but was stopped by the latch.
    I jumped up, ran over, unlatched it, and then yanked the door open to see Will.
    Something had happened.
    I didn’t know what, but it was definitely something. Will looked basically the same as he had when he’d left. Jeans. T-shirt. Stoic expression. He carried three plastic grocery bags.
    But something wasn’t right.
    His color wasn’t normal, and he’d sweated through his shirt. His posture was stiff, and his expression guarded.
    “What happened?” I asked, my voice cracking on both words.
    “Everything’s fine.” He came in, closed the door, and latched it again.
    I stared at him in astonishment. “Will? It’s been two hours, and you look…” I didn’t know how to describe how he looked, but something wasn’t right.
    “I’m sorry it took so long.” He handed me the grocery bags, and I accepted them automatically, carrying them over to the kitchen counter.
    Then I whirled around to face him again. “Will, tell me what happened.”
    “I said everything was fine.”
    Staring at him then, I realized he wasn’t going to tell me.
    He seriously wasn’t going to tell me.
    He’d withdrawn into himself in a way I couldn’t fully articulate, but I could see it so clearly. He was hiding. Hiding behind his composure and his stiff posture and his guise of invulnerability.
    I marched over and took the front of his shirt in one hand the way I had before he’d left. I glared up at him. “Will Stone, you tell me what happened. You tell me this instant. I’ve been sitting here for more than an hour now, thinking of everything that might have gone wrong.”
    “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”
    “Then tell me what’s going on.”
    “Don’t Greer me. My life is in danger, and you can’t do this to me. You can’t clam up on me when it’s something I need to know.”
    “Greer—” he began again, this time in a different tone. He reached to pry my grip off his shirt, and he flinched.
    I saw him flinch.
    It wasn’t much of a response. Just a soft intake of breath and a sudden tightness to his features. But I saw it, and I knew exactly what it meant.
    “You’re hurt!” I let go of his shirt and put my hands on his shoulders, anxiously scanning the front of his body for a sign of what might have injured him. When I saw nothing, I moved behind him, and that was when I saw blood on the back of his shirt, just over his right shoulder blade. “Will—”
    “It’s nothing,” he gritted out, trying to turn his body so I could no longer see his back.
    “You idiot,” I breathed, at the very end of my patience. “I could claw your face off right now. I really could. Sit down and stop being stupid.”
    I turned on my heel and hurried into the bathroom, grabbing a first aid kit out from under the sink where I’d seen it the day before.
    When I came back into the kitchen, Will was still standing where I’d left him.
    I’d never known a more infuriating man.
    I put my hand behind his uninjured shoulder and pushed him toward one of the stools at the island.
    To my relief, he moved at my insistence and even sat down on the stool.
    He was stiff and guarded and silent, but at least he was sitting down.
    Very carefully, I pulled his shirt up and then over his head. He raised his arms to help me get it off, but I could tell that moving his right shoulder was painful.
    There was blood, but not a huge amount of it. He couldn’t have been shot or even stabbed with a knife. The wound wasn’t deep enough.
     He’d sustained some sort of impact, though. The skin around the wound was red and inflamed and starting to bruise. It looked like he’d been thrown backward against a sharp corner.
    I let out my pent breath at this realization. He was hurt, but not critically.
    I wet some paper towels and wiped the dried blood away before I used antiseptic wash on the cut and then put a large bandage over it.
    When I’d finished, I felt around gently to make sure he was just bruised.
    His back was toned, and his shoulders impressive. His body was warm and masculine and in another context I would have taken the time to appreciate it.
    I wasn’t feeling very sexy at the moment though.
    “Nothing is broken,” Will murmured thickly. He’d been sitting perfectly still, letting me tend to him, his face revealing nothing. “I told you it wasn’t serious.”
    When I’d verified this for myself, I relaxed even more. I threw away the bloodied paper towels and packaging from the bandage. Then I washed my hands and came around the island to sit on the stool next to his.
    I met his eyes evenly. “What happened, Will?”
    He let out a slightly ragged breath. “I was just… sloppy.”
    “I don’t believe that for a minute. You wouldn’t have been sloppy.”
    “I was. I went to that park where you used to play and searched, but there wasn’t anywhere your dad could have hidden something and been sure it was safe.”
    I hadn’t thought there would be, so I wasn’t surprised. I nodded and let him continue.
    “Then I went to the neighborhood library you mentioned.” He adjusted his position carefully. He was definitely in pain. “That was a more likely possibility, but obviously Kurt had thought of it too. He’d put someone there. To watch.”
    “He surprised you?”
    Will shook his head. “No. I saw him immediately. As soon as I did, I knew nothing could have been hidden in that building because Kurt would have already found it. So I made sure I wasn’t followed and left.”
    Despite his vagueness, I assumed Will had knocked the bad guy out to keep him from following him. He certainly wouldn’t have killed him, but he must have used some sort of force. “Did you get hurt in the fight?”
    “No. I took care of him with no trouble. But by then it had been almost an hour, and I knew you were waiting here alone. I was sloppy. I… rushed.”
    There was an ache of knowledge in his gray eyes, and I realized instinctively what was prompting it.
    He felt guilty. Guilty and embarrassed and angry with himself. For being less than perfect.
    “There was someone else?” I asked softly.
    He inclined his head in a stiff nod. “He followed me. I might have led him back here.”
    That was very scary, but I pushed the wave of fear aside. “But you didn’t.”
    “No. I noticed him at the grocery store. But I was caught off-guard. I was…”
    “Sloppy. Yeah. You mentioned that. So that was how you got hurt.”
    He nodded again.
    “But he didn’t follow you back here?”
    “Then it’s fine.”
    “It’s not fine. They’ll know the general neighborhood now.”
    This was undeniably worrisome, but I made myself be reasonable about it and reflect that in my voice. “There are thousands of places we could be hiding in this neighborhood. It’s fine, Will. You’re okay, and I’m just fine, and this safe house is still safe. We can’t hole up in here forever. We have to go out occasionally.”
    He reached over to wrap his fingers around one of my wrists. He said in a growly voice, “You’re not going out. Not until it’s safe.”
    My heart was beating like crazy, and it wasn’t just from the lingering fear. The intensity of his expression was… unsettling. “Well, it’s not going to be safe until we figure out the diamonds, so we’re going to have to take a few risks. There’s nothing to beat yourself up about.”
    “I do.”
    I gazed at him, clearly seeing that his tension and shuddering angst wasn’t only caused by his physical pain. “I know you do,” I murmured.
    If he was going to beat himself up for being sloppy, there was no way I could talk him out of it. He wouldn’t listen to what I said about it anyway.
    “Do you think we need to change locations?” I asked, trying to give him something else to focus on so he could get over the self-flagellation.
    “No. That would be more dangerous, and I don’t have another safe house in the city.”
    “All right then. So we’ve crossed a couple of places off our list of possibilities, and you got us some groceries. And you’re not too seriously hurt. It’s not the end of the world.”
    I looked at him for a long time. Eventually, he raised his eyes to meet mine, and I could see something in his expression relax.
    “Were you all right?” he asked, in something closer to his normal voice.
    “I was scared,” I admitted.
    He’d let go of my wrist, but his hand had moved to cover mine. The touch felt warm, comforting. “I knew you would be. I’m sorry.”
    “I know.”
    He was big and handsome and shirtless and sitting very close to me. His hand was touching mine. His eyes were deep and full of a feeling that seemed… intimate.
    I was washed with emotions I definitely shouldn’t be feeling, and it triggered alarm bells in the back of my mind. Gently, I pulled my hand out from under his and stood up. “I’m going to put the groceries away.”
    He got up too. “I’m going to find another shirt.”
    After that, the rest of the day was quiet.
    We killed time until dinner, doing our own thing, which wasn’t very much. When it was close enough to dinnertime to justify getting it started, I went to search the refrigerator and cabinets. Will had gotten some ground beef and produce, and there was dried pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce in the cupboard, so I made spaghetti and a salad for dinner.
    Will asked if I needed any help. As far I knew, he’d lived alone all his life, so he must have had at least basic proficiency in the kitchen. But I wanted something to do, and preparing a meal was something, so told him I didn’t need help.
    We ate at the island in the kitchen as we had the day before, and I almost enjoyed it. I felt more comfortable with Will now than I had yesterday. Maybe it was just familiarity, but what had happened today made him feel different. He’d been injured. He hadn’t been perfect. So he felt less untouchable now. More real. More human.
    More like me.
    We didn’t talk much, but that was okay.
    After dinner, we cleaned up the dishes. I went to turn on the news, and Will sat in the chair he spent most of his time in.
    I could see from the way he was sitting that he wasn’t comfortable. He had a gash over his shoulder blade and bruises all around it. He must be in pain.
    “Why don’t you lie on the bed?” I suggested. “You’re going to be miserable in that chair with all those bruises.”
    “I’m fine.”
    “Well, you don’t look fine. You look like you’re in pain. You’ll be better if you can lie down.”
    His eyelids lowered slightly. “I’m not going to take the bed while you’re stuck in a chair all night.”
    “It wouldn’t be in the end of the world, but I don’t have sit in a chair. The bed is plenty big. We can both use it.”
    His eyes narrowed even more.
    I rolled my eyes. “For God’s sake, Will. I’m not eighteen years old anymore. I don’t have designs on your irresistible body. We can share a bed without my making a move on you.”
    “Damn it, Greer,” he gritted out. “I wasn’t thinking that.”
    I could tell he meant it, and it relieved something clenched in my chest. “Then what’s your problem? I’m also not some delicate flower who can’t be a less than a foot away from a frightening man-creature. There’s plenty of room on the bed. If you’re worried, I can sleep under the covers and you can lie on top of them. But if you don’t get comfortable, you’re never going to feel better, and then you won’t be much use to me for protection. So either give me a good reason, or stop being an stubborn jackass about this.”
    He was holding something back that looked like frustration. It wasn’t anger, but it was closer than I’d seen in him before.
    I took a step toward where he sat. “It’s going to get really old if we keep having arguments because you’re so ungodly obstinate about everything.”
    Something changed on his face. “At least half the time we’ve argued, it’s been because you were obstinate. Not me.”
    I thought about this and decided he might have a small point. “Fine. So you can set me a good example by not being obstinate about this.”
    The corners of his mouth went up just a little. It was as close to a smile as he got.
    I chuckled softly. “All right then. We’ll share the bed, and we’ll both work on being less obstinate.”
    I was smiling as I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, Will had poured us both a glass of scotch. I took mine, and then watched as he put his glass on the nightstand, carefully lowered himself to the bed, and stretched out on top of the covers. He was obviously in pain, but he did look more comfortable lying down than he had in the chair.
    When he saw me looking at him, he raised his eyebrows. “What?”
    “Nothing.” I went to the freezer and pulled out the cold pack I’d seen there earlier. When I brought it back to the bed, I stood next to him and waited.
    “I don’t need that.”
    “Shut up. You were going to be less obstinate.”
    His face relaxed into that little smile, and he lifted his back in obvious discomfort. I leaned over to position the cold pack beneath him and tried not to think that if I leaned forward a few more inches I could kiss him.
    I straightened up without doing anything stupid.
    “Thanks,” he muttered.
    “You’re welcome.” I took my drink over to the other side of the bed and lay down beside him.
    “I thought you were going to get under the covers,” he said.
    “It’s barely seven in the evening. I’m not going to sleep yet.”
    Smiling to myself, I watched the news and drank my whiskey. It warmed my throat, my belly, my whole body, and it eased some of the constant tension I’d been holding inside me.
    We watched the news for an hour, but I couldn’t take much more than that, since so much of the news made me anxious or depressed. I flipped around and finally ended up back on the channel that played old sitcoms. I’m not normally a sitcom person. I prefer hour-long shows with more depth and complexity and that aren’t written to generate artificial laughs. But I couldn’t concentrate enough to watch those kinds of shows right now. I needed something light, distracting, short.
    Will didn’t seem to mind one way or the other. He watched the shows with me and occasionally glanced over and met my eyes when something was funny.
    It wasn’t bad.
    It was almost nice.
    I felt almost close to him.
    Because of this, I didn’t plan my words as much as I normally would have. During a commercial, I found myself voicing what was on my mind.
    I asked, “So what happened with you and Kurt?”
    I felt his body stiffen slightly, and he turned his head toward me. He didn’t answer.
    “I mean, you were friends. Since high school, right? How did it come to… this?”
    Will was silent for longer than normal conversation allowed. I wasn’t sure he was going to answer at all. But he finally said, “The diamonds were too much of a temptation, I guess.” He sounded tired, slightly bitter.
    I ached for him. “How did he find out about them?”
    “There have been rumors about them for years—ever since the theft took place. Everyone seemed to know that it had been your father’s job, and Kurt heard about the rumors like everyone else. He fixated on them. He couldn’t get them out of his head. I didn’t know he was looking into them, but he was. After your dad died, he thought they’d finally make an appearance, but they never did.” He paused for several moments. “Then he decided that you and Chance must know where there are. He wanted me to help.”
    My breath hitched. “He thought you would…”
    “Help him. Get the information out of you.”
    “Surely he knows you well enough to know that you wouldn’t hurt innocent women—not for any amount of diamonds.”
    “Yes. He knows that.” Will’s voice was slightly strained, and he’d turned his eyes back to the television. “He didn’t want me to torture the information out of you.”
    I saw it then. I understood the sudden discomfort in his expression. “He thought you would… you would seduce me or something?”
    “Something like that.”
    My mind was whirling, and my cheeks flushed hot. I tried to keep my voice natural as I said, “He obviously doesn’t know you very well, if he thought you would do that.”
    “No.” Just the one word. Nothing else. He still wasn’t looking at me.
    “So what happened when you said no?”
    “We fought. He didn’t do anything immediately, but I knew what was in his mind then. He was going after those diamonds one way or another. So I kept an eye on him. And I touched base with Dax because I knew I’d need some help. When Kurt started to make some moves, we were ready.”
    I let out a breath, feeling far too many things to sort them out in any reasonable manner. “Thank you.”
    Will finally met my eyes again. “You don’t have to thank me.”
    “I feel like I do.”
    He shook his head. “I don’t want you to be obliged.”
    The wording was strangely formal, and I wasn’t quite sure why. So instead I focused on something else. “Was it… was it really a surprise? To find out what Kurt was capable of?”
    There was another long pause before he answered. His eyes lowered briefly. “I… I don’t know. It felt like a surprise. Like it knocked me off my feet. But it shouldn’t have been. I’d always known he had fewer… boundaries than I have. We both had almost nothing growing up. That seemed to gnaw at him more than it did me. He was always… reaching. And twenty million. Just sitting there somewhere. He couldn’t let it go.”
    His voice had grown slightly raw at the end, and that small sign told me all I needed to know about how much Kurt had hurt him.
    Will wasn’t the kind of guy who had a lot of friends.
    He was like me in that.
    I wasn’t sure what to say, but I wanted to say something. So finally I murmured, “I don’t pretend to really know what that must have felt like. But I do know that when I was about twelve, there was a girl I thought was my best friend. I’d never really had a best friend like that before. I’d had friends, but no one like that. I… loved her. Then one day I walked into the bathroom at school. After coming in, there was a wall you had to get around before you really entered the bathroom, so when you first stepped in, no one could see you. I walked in and heard some girls talking. They didn’t see me, but I recognized the voices, so I stopped to listen. One of them was my friend. She was talking about me.”
    The memory of so long ago was still so sharp that the words caught in my throat. I had to swallow before I continued. “She was so mean. She said such mean things about me. She was supposed to be my best friend. I’ll never forget how it felt."
    Will was listening. His eyes were almost gentle on my face. He reached over and put a hand on mine, which was resting on the bed between us. He didn’t say anything.
    I took a shaky breath. “And then when I was in college, I had another friend. I was better at socializing then, so she wasn’t the only friend I had. But I thought we were close. I really did. We were both in this upper-level literature seminar, and the professor really liked a paper I wrote, so she encouraged me to submit it to an online journal. They accepted it, and it was published. It wasn’t a huge thing, but the professor made a big deal about it. I was proud of it. My friend acted like she was happy for me. The journal had a comments section, and mostly it was just agreement or polite questions or alternate viewpoints given in a way that wasn’t offensive. But then someone posted this really mean comment about my paper. They used an anonymous profile to post it, but I knew who it was. It was her. My friend. Making that nasty comment on my essay. Because she was jealous, I guess.”
    “How did you know it was her?” Will’s hand was still covering mine, and the simple touch was deeply comforting.
    I gave an ironic huff. “She’d told me she used that screen name. A couple of years earlier. She’d told me.  I guess she’d forgotten or she thought I was too stupid to remember. People can be kind foolish online, you know. They think they’re safe, they’re anonymous, when they really aren’t. She still acted nothing but sweet to me. She never dreamed I knew what she’d done.”
    “What did you do?”
    “Nothing. I said… nothing. I never confronted my friend back when I was twelve either. I just don’t do that. But afterwards I knew she wasn’t my friend. I knew she’d never been my friend.”
    I stared down at my lap for a long time. Then I slanted a look back up to Will, and saw he was watching me with something deep in his eyes.
    I gave him a little smile. “I know it’s not the same. Neither of those things are as hard as what you must have gone through with Kurt. You’d been his friend for so long. But I guess I just wanted you to know that I understand at least a little bit. It’s… terrible.”
    “Yeah.” The one word was soft, gruff.
    After a few seconds, I grew uncomfortable at the intensity of our shared gaze, so I broke it. I asked, “Weren’t you tempted, at least a little?”
    “Weren’t you tempted a little? Twenty million in diamonds. If you could have gotten the information without hurting me, wouldn’t you have been tempted?”
    My eyes darted up to his face again.
    His jaw was tense as he replied, “I couldn’t have gotten the information without hurting you, in one way or another. I would have hurt you even if I’d gone with the… the other method. And I’d also have betrayed your father’s memory. I never even considered it.”
    “Even to hold onto your friendship with Kurt?”
    He shook his head.
    I believed him.
    “The thing is,” he went on, “I was never really friends with Kurt. I thought I was, the way you thought you were friends with those girls. But the friendship was never real—not if it could be broken so easily. I just felt… like an idiot. Like I should have known better. Everything I invested in him was just… thrown away.”
    “Yeah.” I moved my hand that was still under his until I’d taken his hand in mine. I squeezed it. “I’m sorry.”
    “I’m sorry too.”
    We sat together holding hands for a little while longer until I realized what we were doing. I carefully pulled my hand away from his.
    I couldn’t let myself think that this momentary closeness meant something significant.
    Will wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t necessarily a good guy either. All the reasons I’d resented him before still applied.
    Plus, he’d never wanted me.
    It would be the height of foolishness to offer my heart to him. It would never be safe with him.
    I knew that for sure.
    I focused back on the television, and we fell into silence. At nine-thirty, I got up to put the cold pack back into the freezer and change into the same T-shirt and shorts I’d slept in the night before. I washed up and got under the covers, trying not to think about Will lying just a few inches away.
    I eventually fell asleep, and when I woke up a couple of hours later, the television was still on.
    But when I looked over at Will beside me, I discovered he was asleep.
    That made me happy in a strange, silly way, and I was smiling as I closed my eyes again.

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