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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter nine

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    Introduction and Note

    Here's Chapter Nine 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.
    I finally outlined the rest of the book, and it looks like this one will be fifteen chapters plus an epilogue, so we're almost 2/3 of the way done now. Just a reminder that I'm writing this book week by week. I didn't have a plot outline when I began it, and I'm not able to go back to the beginning and change, develop, or revise what came earlier. So if you spot details that don't quite fit or haven't been appropriately set up earlier in the book, that's why. What you're reading is a rough draft, and this book is much more complex in plot and characterization than Second Best was, so I hope you'll be gracious as the story comes together and not expect a perfectly crafted novel. Obviously, I'll revise the whole thing before I put this book up as an individual title.
    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 Nine

    I woke up groggy and slightly sore.
    When I opened my eyes, the small apartment was filled with light, sun streaming in from the window near the kitchen, so I knew I must have slept late.
    I rolled over and blinked around the room, searching for some sign of Will. But the chair in the corner where he normally sat was empty, as were the stools at the small island and his rumpled side of the bed.
    My stomach clenched as I sat up. A chill on my skin alerted me that I was still naked, so I pulled up the sheet around my shoulders.
    No answer.
    He wasn’t here.
    For just a moment, I experienced a painful jolt of fear. Had he been so upset about having sex with me last night that he’d given up on protecting me? Had he walked out the door this morning and shook off this mess my father had left behind?
    I dismissed the idea immediately.
    Not Will.
    He’d never do that, no matter how much he regretted what we’d done last night.
    He clearly wasn’t in the apartment at the moment, but he hadn’t left me for good. He was probably checking the perimeter of the building, as he did a few times a day. With this resolved in my head, I rolled off the bed, gasped at the ache when I put weight on my thighs, grabbed my shorts and T-shirt from the floor, and then limped into the bathroom.
    I needed a hot shower, but I’d rather wait until Will returned. I’d feel too vulnerable in there right now, not knowing where Will was or who might be trying to get in. So I went to the bathroom, washed my hands and face, and put on my sleep clothes.
    When I came out, Will had just stepped in through the front door.
    “Everything all right?” I asked.
    “Yeah. Sorry I left you. I was just checking the perimeter. I thought I’d get back before you woke up.”
    “It’s fine. I figured.” I studied his face, trying to discover how he was feeling this morning. I could still feel him inside me—so vividly, so acutely. It felt like a dream or a fantasy, except the soreness of my body left no doubts about the realness of the sex.
    When Will’s face was as unrevealing as a stone statue, I gave up and went to the coffee pot. Pouring myself a mug, I sat on a stool and sipped it in silence.
    I wasn’t going to say anything. I’d wait to see what Will had to say. He’d been so sweet last night. He’d held me afterwards and told me it would be all right. He’d let me see the man I’d always intuitively known existed beneath his hard surface. But his expression wasn’t soft and open now.
    It was his regular face. Stoic. Unreadable.
    He poured himself a cup of coffee too and then sat on the stool beside me. We drank in silence for a minute, staring in front of us instead of at each other. Then finally Will cleared his throat.
    I glanced over, and now his eyes were on my face. I had to bite back a sharp question or a demand for him to open his mouth and say something. I’d resolved to let him speak first, and I was going to hold myself to it.
    I had no idea what I might say anyway.
    Well, it was a start. I arched my eyebrows questioningly.
    He cleared his throat again. “How do you feel about last night?”
    I let out a soft huff of ironic amusement. Excellent. He finally got a few words out, only to ask me about my thoughts instead of telling me his. “I don’t know.”
    “I don’t either.” He looked down at his coffee.
    “I know you didn’t want it to happen.”
    “I did. Obviously I did.” There was the slightest roughness in his voice, and it comforted me. He wasn’t a statue or a stone wall. He was Will, and he felt things just like I did. He felt things deeply that he never revealed. He wasn’t that different from me.
    “But you were determined not to do anything about it,” I said.
    “Yes. My determination clearly wasn’t strong enough.”
    “So what do you want to do now?”
    He let out a breath. “It’s… complicated.”
    His eyes shot back to my face. “For every damn reason in the world.”
    I straightened my shoulders, suddenly wishing this conversation was over. I knew what was coming now, and it wasn’t good. This was what I had suspected would happen this morning. Will would withdraw. The walls would come up. He’d go back to keeping everything he felt inside, holding it in a clenched fist.
    I knew all about keeping thoughts and feelings inside. I lived that way too. But this was different. Will and I had shared something deep. I felt closer to him than I’d felt to anyone except my dad and Chance. I’d opened up to him. I’d let him see inside.
    But he wasn’t doing the same for me. At least, not anymore.
    I shifted on my stool as I took two big swallows of coffee.
    “I’m sorry, Greer,” he said softly. “I wish it were easy.”
    He knew how I felt about him, and not just because I’d shown up in his room in the middle of the night when I was eighteen. He clearly knew how I felt about him right now. I’d tried to keep up my guard so I wouldn’t humiliate myself again, but I hadn’t done a good job.
    He knew.
    And now he was sorry for hurting me.
    I hated this fact. Couldn’t stand it. I swallowed hard and managed to say, “Nothing is easy. I’m a big girl. I’m not going to fall apart if I can’t fuck you again.” I chose my words intentionally so it wouldn’t sound like I was broken-hearted.
    He knew I wanted this, but he didn’t have to know how much.
    There were limits to how far I could expose myself. Even to him.
    Especially to him.
    He jerked. Then slowly put his mug down on the countertop. “I know you’re not going to fall apart.” He sounded slightly stiff.
    I didn’t say anything.
    “Why don’t we just wait until this thing is over?” he said, after a few moments’ pause. “Everything is going to feel confusing and unnatural right now because of this crisis situation, so we’re not likely to make good decisions. Let’s just get through this, and then we can talk. We can figure out what’s next then.”
    He was blowing me off, as clear as day. He was stalling, putting off the final conclusion, but I wasn’t confused or mistaken about his intentions.
    Whatever had happened between us last night would only happen once.
    “That sounds fine with me.” I finished my coffee and stood up. “We’ll talk about it later. I really need a shower.”
    With that, I escaped into the bathroom.
    I cried under the shower spray, but only for a minute. It hurt, but it wasn’t a surprise.
    I wasn’t eighteen anymore. I wasn’t fooled by my own daydreams. And that was what last night felt like to me. A daydream. A fantasy. A hot story I made up in my mind about the way I wanted the world to be.
    But the world had never been what I wanted it to be, and it wasn’t likely to become so now.
    I felt more like myself when I’d showered and dressed in a pair of yoga pants and a T-shirt Will had bought me. I brushed my hair, pulled it back into a low ponytail, and then came out of the bathroom determined to be matter-of-fact and sensible about our situation.
    I was an adult. I normally acted like one.
    Will was still sitting on the stool at the island, so I went to join him again. “So do you think you’ll be able to get into the house to get that book?”
    He looked up in surprise. I wasn’t sure if his surprise was prompted by my sudden presence or by the fact that I sounded normal and not distraught over his rejection.
    “Well?” I asked, when he didn’t answer.
    “Oh. Yeah. I’m going to try. It’s going to be hard though. I know Kurt is watching the house.”
    “If it’s just one guy, you can probably get around him. Go in the back or something.”
    “Yeah, but it’s probably not just one guy. Kurt knows as well as we do that the most likely place for your dad to have hidden something is in that house. And he must know that, even if he couldn’t find the diamonds there, something else might be hidden there that will lead him to them. He’s not going to let me just slip in and out.”
    “So what will you do? You need a distraction or something.”
    “Yeah. I need help.”
    “I can—”
    I tightened my lips at his curt interruption, but I wasn’t surprised. He’d never let me put myself in danger, even to help him get into the house. “So who then? Dax?”
    “He’s too far away, and he needs to stay with Chance.” Will sighed and picked up his phone. “Bryce, I guess.”
    Bryce had been on and off in my dad’s crew, and I never knew him as well as I knew Will and Dax—or even Kurt. “You think you can trust him?”
    “Yeah. He never liked Kurt, and he did like your dad. Plus, I’ll pay him good money.”
    I frowned. “You shouldn’t have to use your own money. I can—”
    “I’ve got it covered.” His eyes had narrowed slightly. He wasn’t happy by my half-finished suggestion.
    “I thought you’d gotten over this macho bossiness, but here it is back again. There’s nothing wrong with my suggesting I contribute to paying a guy who’s going to help keep me safe. Why should you have to do it?”
    He didn’t answer with words. Just glared at me coolly.
    I rolled my eyes. He was back to the guy he’d been when he’d first showed up on campus—cold, controlling, closed off. I could barely even recognize the man I’d been in bed with last night, who had talked to me so sexy and tender, who’d been so generous and passionate.
    “You can’t even access your money right now,” he said, after our nonverbal face-off. “Where are you going to get the money to give Kurt?”
    “Well, I can pay you back after this whole thing is over then. I’m not going to let you go broke trying to cover all this stuff you’ve needed to do to keep me safe.”
    “I’m not going to go broke,” he gritted out between clenched teeth.
    “I know you’re not. Because I’m going to pay you back.”
    He looked momentarily like he would argue, but then he must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Instead, he said, “We can talk about that later.”
    “Sure. Why not? Add it to the list.” I didn’t like how sarcastic I sounded—afraid it might indicate how hurt I’d been. So I softened my voice and asked, “So you think Bryce will help us?”
    “Yeah. I’ll call him. He’ll help. I don’t think I can get into the house on my own.”
    Will didn’t sound worried or anxious, but his words made the reality hit home.
    Going to get that book in my father’s office was going to be incredibly dangerous. More dangerous than anything else we’d done yet.
    Will might act like a hunk of granite, but he was a living, breathing man. And the thought of his getting hurt was terrifying.
    It couldn’t happen.
    I couldn’t stand for it to happen.
    He might always reject me—even after I’d taken incredibly hard steps to share some of myself with him—but I still needed him to stay well. And alive.
    “It’s going to be fine, Greer,” he said, clearly reading my expression. “I’ll get Bryce to help. It will be fine.”
    I gave him a jerky nod.
    He reached out to cup my face with one hand. “I mean it, Greer. It will be fine. Don’t look so scared.”
    His touch was comforting, and so were his words. “Now you’re bossing me around about how I look?”
    His mouth twitched up in a little smile. “I think you better just resign yourself to the fact that I’ll boss you about everything—at least until you’re safe again.”
    “I’ll never resign myself to being bossed.”
    He moved his hand so he was gently pushing back a strand of hair that had escaped my ponytail. “You wouldn’t be my Greer if you did.”
    My heart gave a ridiculous leap at his words. My Greer. I really liked the sound of that.
    Then Will cleared his throat and dropped his hand. “Sorry. I better call Bryce and figure out what we’re going to do.”
    He took his phone and strode to the far corner of the room, and in a minute he was talking to Bryce.
    I half listened and half remembered what Will had just said to me.
    He did care about me. There was no way I could believe otherwise. He obviously had doubts about whether a relationship between us was the best thing for both of us, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want it.
    He might still choose against us. There was a decent chance that he would. But at least he really wanted me. At least he was genuinely torn.
    I wasn’t making up the feelings I’d sensed from him for the last few days.
    And I wasn’t alone in wanting more.
    This wasn’t like it had been when I was eighteen. It wasn’t a complete rejection.
    I still had no idea what would happen if we ever got out of this apartment, but at least I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
    I felt better than I had earlier that morning.
    Bryce was willing to help, and Will left the apartment an hour later to meet him. They would need to work out a plan, and then manage to get into the house without being stopped or hurt (or worse) by Kurt and his men
    It wasn’t going to be easy. There were just two of them against who knew how many guys working for Kurt.
    As soon as Will left the apartment, I was scared.
    And as the minutes passed, I grew more and more terrified.
    I had no idea what was happening and had no way to find out. Will had left me the gun, as usual, but otherwise I was helpless, trapped in this room behind a locked door.
    I hated sitting passively, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. I’d almost rather be out there risking my life than be stuck here not knowing whether Will was alive or dead.
    The time passed slowly. One hour and then another. Will had told me not to get worried until four hours had gone by, since he didn’t know how long it would take, but I was worried from the very beginning.
    And it just got worse.
    By the time three hours had passed, I was so tense than every muscle in my body hurt. I thought about getting up and trying to walk around or stretch. Maybe take a shower. But I couldn’t get off the stool. I couldn’t do anything except sit.
    Pray that Will was still okay.
    It had been three hours and ten minutes when I heard a sound at the front door.
    I made a squeak of surprise and jumped up, reaching for where the gun was lying on the counter.
    “Greer. It’s me.”
    Will. It was Will’s voice muffled by the door.
    With a sob of relief, I ran over and unlatched it before swinging open the door.
    Will was soaked with sweat. It was dripping down his face and gluing the front of his shirt to his chest. But he appeared undamaged. He had a red book that I knew was the one he’d gone to find tucked under his arm, but I barely noticed it. I was checking out his face, his body, searching for bruises, for blood, for anything that I might have missed.
    “I’m fine,” he said, gazing almost hungrily at my face, as he closed the door behind him. “Greer, it’s all fine. I’m not hurt.”
    I made another choked sound, the tension of three hours all releasing in an intense rush that nearly buckled my knees. I reached out to give him a hard hug.
    I’m not normally a hugger. In fact, I’ve never been a hugger—not even with Chance or my dad. But I was dealing with such a tidal wave of feeling at the moment that it had to be channeled into something. So I hugged him.
    Will exhaled deeply and wrapped his arms around me. “I’m fine, sweetheart.”
    “I was scared.”
    “I know.” He pulled away slightly and met my eyes. “I told you not to worry until four hours had passed.”
    “Now you think you can boss me into not being worried when you’re in danger?”
    His expression softened, and he leaned forward to press a little kiss on my lips. The light touch sent tingles of pleasure through my body, so I leaned into it.
    Before either one of us could deepen the kiss, Will got control of himself. He pulled away abruptly. “Sorry. I’m really okay.”
    He’d said sorry earlier this morning when he’d called me “my Greer.”
    Evidently he felt the need to apologize whenever he slipped even a little from his iron control.
    I didn’t mind when he slipped.
    In fact, it encouraged me. Proved his feelings were big enough that he couldn’t always contain them.
    “So everything went okay?” I asked.
    “Yeah. Well, not exactly. Bryce distracted the guards, and I got into the house and found the book with no problem. But I was followed as I left, and I couldn’t shake the tail. So I had to dump the car and go the rest of the way on foot, which means they’ve gotten an even better idea of where we are now.”
    “I’m never going to believe you led anyone back to this building.”
    “Of course not.” He sounded almost offended. “But every time they see where I stop, they have another point of reference. They’ll know the neighborhood for sure now.”
    I shrug. “It can’t be much more than they knew yesterday. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Is that why you’re all sweaty? Did you have to run all the way here?”
    He nodded. “Three miles. I lost the tail pretty quick on foot, but I didn’t want to risk them spotting me again.”
    “Shit. I would have died if I had to run that far. You better take a shower and clean up. I’ll start looking at the book.” I reached my hand out for it, and he handed the red book to me. “Maybe there will be a really clear clue in here that .”
    “I wouldn’t count on it.”
    I sighed and watched him walk to the bathroom. “Me either.”
    I heard the shower turn on less than a minute later, and I sat down on my stool and opened the book to the first page.
    Chance was right. It was filled with my dad’s little doodles. Some of them were drawn right onto the thick pages, and some were on separate scraps of paper and taped or glued into the book.
    Why the hell had my dad kept all these things? He’d never been a particularly sentimental man, and none of the drawings were of particularly great quality.
    They were better than I could draw, but still…
    They were just doodles.
    Some were of animals, and some were pictures of nature. There were a few airplanes and several trains and a ridiculous number of bicycles.
    None of them pointed to a full picture or an obvious clue. There were no diamonds. No safes. No banks. No buildings of any kind. Just animals, nature, and modes of transportation.
    “Oh Dad,” I sighed, dropping my head onto my hands for a few seconds.
    Then I straightened up and turned back to the front page, determined to look at each picture more carefully.
    I was four pages in when Will came out of the bathroom. He smelled like soap now and he’d changed into sweats and a clean T-shirt. He headed for the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. “Anything?”
    “Not that I can tell. It’s all just nonsense. Animals and trees and birds…” I trailed off as I turned the next page and laid my eyes on a drawing taped onto the page of a little bird on a branch.
    A sparrow.
    It was perched on a thin end of one branch, and its nest was farther up toward the trunk of the tree. The bird appeared to be singing, since my dad had drawn a few little musical notes trailing out from the beak, the way they’re drawn in old cartoons.
    “I guess this is supposed to be me,” I murmured, scanning the rest of the page.
    “What is it?” Will leaned over my shoulder to look. “Is there something there?”
    “I don’t know, but it’s a sparrow, and he always called me that. What is this up here? It’s another bird.”
    “No. He always called her Blue Jay, and this is definitely not a blue jay. It looks like a hawk or something. Look. It’s scoping out the little sparrow. It’s all dangerous and threatening.”
    Will had leaned farther over so he could see, and I felt a dramatic twitch in his body, as if he’d jerked in reaction. Then without warning he reached down and slammed the book closed, almost trapping my hand between the pages.
    I gasped and snapped my head up.
    Will didn’t say anything. Just stared down at the closed book with something intense and disturbing in his gray eyes.
    “What the hell, Will?” I demanded, opening the book up again. “Does this picture mean something to you?”
    He didn’t answer. He was breathing heavily and not meeting my eyes.
    Bewildered, I found the page again and studied it more closely. It looked the same. Just the little sparrow, its nest, and a hawk watching from a much higher branch.
    I looked from the page to Will’s shuttered face. He was so tense, like something had clenched inside him.
    “Do you know what this means?” I asked him.
    He shook his head, but I didn’t believe him. I looked back at the drawing. Then it finally occurred to me. “Shit,” I breathed. “Will? Is this hawk supposed to be you?”
    He met my eyes, and I saw the answer on his face.
    My breath was trapped in my throat. My heart was racing painfully. It felt like something important was happening here, but I had no idea what it was.
    “But… why? It doesn’t make sense. You were never predatory in any way, against me or anyone else. I mean, you literally pushed me away when I... Why would he have drawn you as a dangerous, lurking hawk, preying on the little sparrow who’s just singing her song all innocent on the—”
    I broke off, slammed with something else, something just as intense but different, something that now took precedence over everything else.
    “Oh my God,” I whispered, staring again at the page. “Oh my God, I’ve been so stupid.”
    “What?” Will asked, the tension of before morphing into his characteristic competence. “Did you see a clue? What is it? The bird?”
    I shook my head. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. It’s not the bird. It’s the song.”

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