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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter four

    Inside - Chapter Four.

    Introduction

    "Here's Chapter Four of Inside, the new 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 Four


    The first time I was alone in a room with Will following my disastrous seduction attempt was several months after it happened.
    It was my second semester of college, and I had a Friday morning biology lab that I hated. I didn’t have any trouble with the lecture part on Mondays and Wednesdays. It was boring, but I’ve always had a good memory so I could learn the information required to do well on the tests without too much trouble. But the labs on Friday mornings made me miserable. I hated messing with petri dishes and cutting up animals that were once living, breathing creatures. Each week after the lab, we had to write up a report to turn in the following Monday, so I always got it done immediately so it wouldn’t hang over me all weekend.
    That Friday, I came home to the rowhouse where I was still living with my dad. As usual, I went directly into the kitchen. I sat down at the table and got out my laptop, textbook, and the notebook where I’d written down all the information on the lab experiment I’d just completed.
    The report only needed to be a page or two, and I could usually whip that length out in about a half-hour. But I hated the lab so much it always took twice as long to write as it should.
    I was sitting there at the table, forcing myself to type out words, when I heard a voice approaching in the hallway.
    My dad.
    I glanced up with a smile to greet him, but the smile froze on my face when I saw who was with him.
    Will Stone.
    Standing there in the kitchen, just behind my father.
    Looking big and sexy in his black shirt and worn gray trousers.
    I’d been successfully avoiding him for months now, and it had been made easier recently because my father hadn’t been working on a job. Will hadn’t come over to the house at all in at least six weeks.
    But there he was. Looking at me with deep gray eyes that gave nothing away.
    I dropped my gaze hurriedly back to my laptop screen.
    “Hey, Sparrow,” my father said, using his nickname for me. I was Sparrow, and Chance was Blue Jay. As you might imagine, the names were inspired by our personalities. You might assume Chance came out much better in this comparison than I did, given the respective appearance and nature of those two birds, but the nicknames were never anything but affectionate on my father’s part. For both of us. “We were just looking for some lunch.”
    “If you need to work in here, I can go somewhere else,” I said, keeping my eyes focused on my notebook, even though everything inside me was screaming to look over at Will again and try to figure out what he was thinking.
    “Nah. We’re just starting to make some plans. It can wait.” My father went to the refrigerator and began to pull out deli meat.
    I kept working, kept resisting the need to look over at Will.
    No one said anything as Will and my father started to make sandwiches, and eventually I surrendered to the need to glance up.
    I kept my gaze casual, cursory, but it was just my luck that, as my eyes drifted over to Will, he’d turned to look at me too.
    Our eyes met for a few seconds.
    He had to be thinking about my showing up in his room in the middle of the night, wearing that stupid little gown (which I’d thrown in the trash the next morning). He had to be remembering it.
    What else would he be thinking about right now as he stared at me?
    Even back then—even with the mortification far too fresh in my mind—part of me knew that it said something good about Will that he hadn’t taken advantage of me that night. If an eighteen-year-old girl had shown up in his bedroom in the middle of the night, offering herself to him, a lot of men wouldn’t have hesitated. Even if he hadn’t really been interested in her. Sex was sex. A willing female body was a willing female body. A lot of men would have fucked me because I was there. Because they could.
    Will hadn’t.
    That fact that spoke well of him.
    It wasn’t something that meant a lot to me back then, however. He’d rejected me. He’d humiliated me. He hadn’t wanted me.
    Those were the truths that were most filling my mind, even several months later.
    “What are you working on?” my dad asked, sitting down at the table across from me and still piling up meat and cheese on his bread. He didn’t ever put vegetables on his sandwiches.
    “Lab report.”
    “That should be easy enough for you. You’re a fast writer.”
    “Usually—if it’s on something I care about. I hate this.” I was pleased that my voice sounded normal and that my eyes stayed on my dad. I hadn’t turned back to Will since our eyes had met accidentally.
    My dad gave me an affectionate smile. I knew he was feeling fond for some reason—although I wasn’t quite sure what prompted it—so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he started to sing a silly little song he’d made up about me as a child.
    It was sung to the tune of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” and he sang the first two lines right there at the kitchen table.
    Sparrow, sparrow, deep and smart. Build a nest to hide her heart.”
    “Dad,” I said, softly, sharply. My whole body had stiffened defensively. “Stop.”
    I had always been nice to my dad, even at fourteen and fifteen when everything about him had embarrassed and annoyed me. He’d raised me and Chance on his own, and I’d never doubted for a moment of my life that he loved me completely. I loved him too. I made a point to never hurt him.
    But I couldn’t help the edge to my tone at the moment. I was already feeling young and vulnerable and exposed—just being in the same room as Will.
    That song made me feel like a child.
    And I couldn’t feel like a child around Will. I just couldn’t.
    My eyes shot over to Will’s face, and I saw he was staring at me again. His expression was as stoic as ever, but there was something in his eyes. Something more than cold disinterest. I couldn’t read what it was, though.
    I had absolutely no idea what he was thinking just then.
    My dad looked surprised by my tone, and he stopped singing.
    “Sorry,” I said immediately, feeling bad about snapping and more embarrassed than ever. I could feel my cheeks burning, and there was no way to stop them from doing so.
    I knew Will would see them too.
    My dad smiled at me, and then looked over at Will. “Stone doesn’t care if I sing to you. He’s like family.”
    My breath felt ragged, and I had to fight to keep it quiet. I pretended to type, even though nothing but gibberish was being written on the screen.
    Will wasn’t like family.
    My father might have thought about him as family, but that was where the relationship ended.
    I didn’t think about him as family, and he didn’t think about me as family either.
    I knew it. I knew it with all the certainty and clarity that sometimes hits me—back then and still today. The knowledge wasn’t based on step-by-step rationale or on logical evidence. It just was. And when I knew something with so much intuitive certainty, it was almost always true.
    I wasn’t family to Will.
    But I also wasn’t a desirable woman.
    I was… someone he didn’t want.
    Before I had time to think of an appropriate reply, my father’s phone rang. He looked at the screen and then said, “I’ll be back in a minute,” as he stood up and walked out of the kitchen to take the call.
    Normally, this wouldn’t have mattered.
    But right now his decision to take the call in another room left me alone in the kitchen with Will.
    I felt cold and fluttery at the same time, and I tried desperately to focus on my lab report.
    I would just ignore Will.
    I didn’t have to talk to him.
    We weren’t family.
    We weren’t friends.
    We weren’t anything.
    The compulsion to see his expression was eventually too strong. I looked up again.
    Will was watching me still. It was unnerving.
    And there was still that something in his eyes that I couldn’t figure out.
    I wondered briefly if it would make things easier if I just brought up what had happened between us that night. If we could clear the air, maybe I could start to feel about him the way I had before.
    But I couldn’t bring it up. I couldn’t get any words spoken.
    And I wouldn’t have known what to say, even if I’d wanted to say something.
    The silence was deep and tense and uncomfortable, but I wasn’t capable of breaking it.
    Will sat with his sandwich in front of him uneaten. He kept looking at me. I knew he was still staring, even as I turned back to my laptop.
    I focused on breathing. On pretending to type. On calming down so my cheeks would fade to a more normal pink.
    After a few minutes, I said, “So there’s a new job?” I hadn’t turned back to look at him. I couldn’t.
    “Yeah.”
    “And that’s what you want?” My voice was light, surprisingly unconcerned. I still have no idea how I pulled it off, since I was feeling so much that wasn’t reflected in my tone.
    Will was silent for a moment. I still wasn’t looking at him. “What’s what I want?”
    “Those jobs. That life. That’s what you want?”
    The only reason I said such a thing to him was because I was trying so hard to act like I didn’t care about that night after my eighteenth birthday. It wasn’t fair for me to ask Will such a thing. We’d never had that kind of relationship—not even in my silly fantasies.
    The question was hypocritical, since my own father was perfectly comfortable living a life of crime, and I was still supported by the profits of his criminal activity.
    I should never have asked Will such a thing.
    When I finally had to glance over at him, his expression was different. He’d grown very still, and I assumed it was from surprise. He asked slowly, “What else would I do?”
    I shrugged. “Anything.”
    Will just stared at me some more, and neither of us said anything else.
    My father returned a minute or two later, and the tension in the air dissipated.
    I went back to my lab report, and they ate their sandwiches and then returned to my father’s office to plan out some sort of elaborate theft.
    For no reason I could understand, I felt a little better afterwards.
    Maybe Will hadn’t liked what I’d asked him. Maybe he’d thought I was judging him. Maybe he’d thought I wasn’t being fair.
    But that was far better than his feeling sorry for me, better than his thinking I was some silly little girl who was panting after his sexy body.
    I’d much rather him dislike me than pity me.
    ***
    That particular memory from five years earlier came to me in the middle of the night, waking me up out of a sound sleep.
    I sat up straight in an unfamiliar bed, in a dark room.
    It was silent and pitch black, and I was alone.
    I was in danger.
    My body went cold and damp as I tried to catch my breath.
    In only a few seconds, I’d oriented myself, but doing so didn’t make me feel better.
    Where was Will?
    He was supposed to be here.
    He’d said he would keep me safe.
    After a minute, I heard a familiar sound. A toilet flushing, the noise muffled by a closed door.
    He was in the bathroom. Of course he was. Where else would he be?
    I heard water turn on in the sink. It stayed on for longer than I expected.
    How long did Will take to wash his hands?
    Eventually, the water turned off, and then the bathroom door opened, casting light into the dark room.
    Will stood in the doorway of the bathroom. His face and body were silhouetted against the light, so I couldn’t see his expression. I knew he was looking at me though.
    “Are you all right?” he asked.
    “Yes.”
    “Did I wake you up?”
    “No.”
    “Then what woke you up?”
    I wasn’t about to tell him the truth—that an old memory about him had hit me in my sleep. “I don’t know.”
    I got out of bed, feeling sloppy in the oversized shorts and T-shirt. I tugged on the hem, acutely aware that I wasn’t wearing a bra beneath it. It was still mostly dark in the room though. Will wasn’t likely to notice my body.
    “What are you doing?” he asked.
    “I’m going to go to the bathroom, if that’s all right with you.”
    “Oh. Yeah. Of course.” He stepped out of the bathroom doorway at last, allowing me to go in.
    As I got closer, I saw he was still wearing the clothes he’d had on all day. He hadn’t changed or gotten ready for bed or anything.
    I wondered if he’d even slept.
    I closed the door behind me and cringed when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked like a messy kid in the oversized clothes and tangled hair.
    Not any chance of his being swayed by any of my feminine charms.
    Not that it mattered.
    I didn’t want him anymore.
    I sat down on the toilet but couldn’t pee immediately because I was suddenly self-conscious at the idea that he might be able to hear me in the other room.
    I didn’t want him to hear me pee.
    Maybe it was a ridiculous thing to worry about, given my situation, but I couldn’t help it. The idea bothered me.
    After a minute, I stood up and went to the switches on a panel near the door, flipping on another one to turn on the vent fan. It made a satisfyingly loud whirring sound.
    With that sound to mask any other noise, I was finally able to pee.
    When I was done, I washed my hands. Then I splashed water on my face, hoping it would clear my mind a little and relieve the cold sweat I’d been feeling earlier.
    Finally, I went back into the main room. I left the bathroom light on so it wasn’t pitch dark.
    Will was sitting on one of the two chairs, and I went to sit on the edge of the bed.
    He was watching me.
    It had always been unnerving—the way he watched me but never revealed what he was thinking or feeling as he did so—and it was doubly unnerving right now.
    “It’s two in the morning,” he said after a minute. “You should go back to sleep.”
    “I know.” I didn’t move. I didn’t lay down.
    “What the matter?”
    “What do you think is the matter?”
    “You’re safe right now. You should sleep.”
    I didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t feel comfortable. Nothing about this situation felt right. “Do you have a way of contacting Dax?”
    “Yes.”
    “I thought you said phones could be traced.”
    “I’ve got one that can’t.”
    “When did you last talk to him?”
    “An hour ago. He and Chance are okay.”
    I let out a little breath. It would have been easier if I’d been the only one in danger, but Chance’s life was threatened too.
    And that was even scarier than the threat to my own life.
    “You can talk to her tomorrow,” Will said, as if he’d yet again read my mind. “She’s probably sleeping now.”
    “Like I am?”
    Will hesitated for a moment. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. I watched as he hit a button and then put the phone to his ear.
    In just a few seconds, he was saying, “Hey. Is Chance sleeping?”
    I couldn’t hear the response, but Will stood up then and walked over to the bed. He handed me the phone.
    “Hello?” I said.
    “Hey.” It was Chance’s familiar voice, and I could hear a smile in it that made me feel better. “Can’t you sleep either?”
    “No. Not really. Where are you?”
    “I don’t even know. In the middle of the woods somewhere.”
    “What? The woods? Are you serious?”
    “Yeah. It’s a long story. Dax is glaring at me, like I can’t say anything more. But I’m okay. Are you okay too?”
    “Yeah. I am.”
    “And is everything all right with Stone? I mean, is it… weird?”
    I was glad Will couldn’t overhear Chance’s side of the conversation. “It’s fine,” I said, purposefully noncommittal.
    “That good, huh?” Chance sighed audibly. “We’ve got to figure this out, Greer. What the hell was Dad hiding from us?”
    “I don’t know. I really have no idea.”
    “Well, you’ve always been smarter than me, and you have a better memory. I’m counting on you to figure it out.” There was a brief pause. “Okay. Dax is giving me a bossy look, like I need to hang up. We’ll talk again soon, okay?”
    “Okay.” I swallowed hard, feeling better, feeling more like myself. “Love you.”
    “I love you too. Stay safe.”
    I clicked the button to disconnect the call and kept holding the phone in my hand.
    Eventually, Will came over and took the phone away from me.
    He sat down on the bed next to me. After a minute, he reached over and put one hand on my bare knee. He wasn’t making a move on me. It was a silent, comforting gesture.
    And I appreciated it.
    “Chance is safe,” he murmured after a minute. “You’re safe. It’s really okay for you to sleep.”
    I nodded, any words I might have said trapped in my throat.
    “So can you lie back down?” he asked, standing up but lingering beside the bed.
    I found that I could lie back down. I stretched out again, my head on the pillow. I pulled the covers up to my shoulders.
    I was gazing up at Will, who was gazing down at me.
    “Go to sleep,” he said.
    “Maybe you’ve never realized this obvious fact, but you can’t boss someone into going to sleep, you know. It doesn’t work that way.”
    My eyes had adjusted to the dark, and there was still light coming from the bathroom, so I saw the corner of his mouth turn up just a little. “Why not?”
    “Because sleep doesn’t come just because you tell it to.”
    “Maybe it should.”
    “There are a lot of things in the world that should happen but don’t.” Those words lingered strangely in the air, taking on a resonance I hadn’t intended.
    He didn’t answer immediately. When he did, all he said was, “Go to sleep.”
    I glared at him—purely out of principle—and then I turned onto my side and closed my eyes.
    He stood over me for a minute, which was frankly a little disturbing, but soon I heard him walk back to the chair on the other side of the room.
    I stayed awake for about twenty more minutes, thinking about Chance, thinking about Will, remembering far too many moments from the past that I’d thought had meant something but clearly hadn’t.
    Eventually, I fell back to sleep.
    ***
    I made an exasperated sound as I slumped forward against the tiny island in the kitchen. “I’ve told you everything I remember. There’s nothing else to tell.”
    I’d been talking with Will for more than two hours now, going over every conversation I remembered with my father that was remotely connected to money, savings, retirement, secrets, or specific locations. It was like hunting for a specific leaf in the middle of a forest, and the whole discussion felt frustrating and futile.
    And painful.
    It was hard enough to dig up specific memories of my father on my own. It was much harder to have to share them with Will Stone, who sat beside me the whole time, taking notes on a legal pad and searching my face as if looking for signs of weakness.
    I wasn’t a person who shared personal things easily.
    And I definitely didn’t want to share so much with Will.
    But I needed to get this ordeal over with, and I’d do anything necessary to make that happen, even spill out all kinds of intimate memories with a man I neither liked nor trusted.
    “Okay,” he said, putting down his pen. “We’ll stop here for now.”
    I didn’t like the sound of that. He clearly expected us to continue this conversation in the future.
    Honestly, I did too. He had two pages of notes, ideas to pursue, places to look, but I was convinced none of them would lead to anything.
    I rubbed my eyes, feeling tired and emotional and both mentally and physically drained. “None of that is going to go anywhere.”
    “You don’t know that. We have a few places to start with. It’s better than nothing.”
    “Maybe.” I shook my head, suddenly angry at my father for putting me and Chance in this position. What the hell had he been thinking? Why hadn’t he put the damned diamonds in a safety deposit box like a normal person?
    Or never stolen them at all.
    Then I swallowed hard over the wave of guilt I experienced at being angry with my father.
    He’d done the best he could for me and Chance. That was all anyone could do.
    But if he’d been hiding the diamonds away as some sort of nest egg for our future, one would have thought he could have let us know how to find them.
    “You okay?” Will asked softly.
    I glanced back up at him and saw that his expression was gentler than normal, like he’d read some of my emotions on my face.
    I didn’t want him to read them. I didn’t want him to know what I was feeling. I definitely didn’t want him to feel sorry for me.
    I straightened up and faked a smile. “Fine. As fine as a girl can be when she’s in danger from some malevolent faceless villain and trapped in a tiny safe house with you.”
    He made a soft huff that sounded amused. “Well, you’ll get a break from me soon. If you think you’ll be all right, I should go out and get us some groceries, and I might check a few of these places out.”
    As contrary as it sounded after feeling so crowded by him for the last twenty hours, I didn’t want him to leave. The idea of being alone here was terrifying.
    If someone came after me, I’d only have a very small chance of fighting them off.
    But I wasn’t about to admit that Will made me feel safe—not to him—so I gave another stiff smile. “Sure. I’ll be fine.”
    I expected him to get up and get ready to go, but he didn’t move. “I won’t be gone more than an hour.”
    “I said it would be fine.” There was an edge of impatience in my voice now because, damn, the man could be annoying.
    “You should be safe here. It’s been quiet. No one knows where you are. I’m sure of it. I wouldn’t leave you if there was any risk.”
    “Good. I’ll be fine. I’m not going to wilt the moment I’m out of your presence, you know.” My tone was slightly sarcastic, but there was no way I could help it. “Go on and go. The sooner we can make progress with this ridiculous treasure hunt, the sooner I can go back home.”
    He didn’t say anything immediately. He looked at me some more. Then he got up and went to his bag, returning with the same gun he’d left with me the day before. He placed it carefully on the countertop of the island. “If anyone except me tries to get in here, you know what to do.”
    “I can take care of myself.”
    “I know you can.” He said that, but I wasn’t sure he believed me.
    I wasn’t sure I believed me either.
    I was a grownup now. I could take care of myself just fine in all the normal ways. But if someone came after me with weapons, with physical violence, there were limits to how effectively I’d be able to defend myself.;
    I knew how to use that gun.
    But whether I’d actually be able to do it in the heat of the moment was still a question.
    “No matter who’s at the door, you don’t open it unless I’m with them. No matter who it is,” Will said, his voice a little thicker than before. “Do you hear me?”
    “Yes, I hear you.” My first response was immediate, instinctive. I watched as he gave me one final scan and then turned to walk to the door.
    He was leaving me alone, and I hated it.
    hated it.
    And I hated myself for hating it.
    Then what he’d said finally caught up to me. “Will?”
    He paused and turned back.
    “Do I… do I know who's after me?”
    He didn’t respond, and that was answer enough.
    I stood up and walked to him, my hands clenching at my sides. “Who is it? Who is doing this to me and Chance?”
    “It doesn’t matter.”
    “Yes, it does. It matters to me. You have to tell me who it is.”
    It had never even occurred to me that I might know the person who'd become a threat. It had always been a faceless villain in my mind.
    But maybe it wasn't.
    For the first time, emotion twisted on his face. It was quick. No more than a flicker before his expression composed itself again. But I saw it, and I knew it meant something.
    “Tell me,” I said, reaching out to take the front of his shirt in my hands. I wanted to shake the answer out of him, but his shirt was the only part of him soft enough to really get my hands around.
    He let out a breath. “Kurt.”
    I blinked. The word passed through my mind, at first leaving no impression. Then it finally sank in. “What?”
    He met my eyes, and I knew he was telling me the truth.
    “Kurt? Kurt Gallagher?”
    Will gave a stiff little nod.
    “But…” Kurt had been part of my dad’s crew for several year. He was a tech genius, and he and Will had always come as a package deal. When Will left my dad, he took Kurt with him.
    Will’s face was utterly impassive.
    “But he’s your friend,” I whispered. My fingers were still clenched in Will’s shirt. I couldn’t loosen them.
    “He was,” Will rasped.
    It hurt me like a physical wound, and it was worse because the pain wasn’t really mine. Kurt was betraying my father in a very real way, but my dad wasn’t alive to know it.
    Will was alive. And the only thing I’d ever really known about Kurt was that he was Will’s best friend.
    “But why…” My voice gave out.
    “Twenty million in diamonds. That’s why.”
    “But…” I had no idea what I was trying to ask. Something to make sense out of a truth that was utterly insensible. “He’d really… hurt me… to get them?”
    “Yes. He would hurt you. But he won’t. I’m not going to let him.”
    “Will.” I said his name, but I didn’t really know why.
    “I know it’s a shock to you, but it’s old news now to me. It’s nothing to get upset about.” I could tell Will was trying to sound like it was no big deal. I’d tried to sound that way with him many times myself. Maybe that was why I could recognize it.
    Maybe that was why I didn’t believe him.
    “Will,” I said again. I was standing so close to him that I could feel the heat from his body. I could feel the tension. “I’m sorry.”
    I felt him give a little jerk—so small it was barely recognizable. Then he gently reached up and pried the grip of my fingers out of his shirt.
    I finally let go of him, still stunned and shaky.
    “You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said, a lot of gravel in his tone. “I’ll be gone an hour or so. Don’t let anyone in except me. Anyone. Latch the door behind me.”
    “I will.”
    He turned and put his hand on the doorknob, pausing for a moment, as if something was compelling him to wait.
    I didn’t know what he was waiting for. I just stood there, staring at him, wondering how wounded he’d been when his best friend had turned on him like this.
    Maybe Kurt hadn’t thought it was a betrayal. Maybe he’d thought Will would be on his side. Maybe he’d assumed that the money would be enough to cause Will to give up the very few principles he’d ever lived by.
    I could have told Kurt it would never happen.
    I might not have any soft feelings for Will anymore, but I knew there were things he’d never do.
    He’d never put innocent people in danger.
    And he’d never plunge a knife into the back of someone who trusted him.
    He’d left my father. He’d crushed him when it happened. He’d thought more about himself than he had my father. But that was different.
    That might have been a betrayal, but it wasn’t treachery.
    Will wasn’t capable of true treachery.
    Finally, he glanced over his shoulder at me, his hand still on the doorknob.
    I stared at him, my eyes burning with tears that didn’t fall. “I’m so sorry he did that to you, Will,” I murmured.
    That flicker of emotional response flashed across his face again. This time he muttered, “Thank you,” before he opened the door and left.

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