Those who follow my Facebook author page, have seen part of Chapter 1 of TRUTHS WE TELL. But for those who visit me here, I think a little extra is in order, don't you?
Josh’s phone is still in my hand when he walks into his office. My ass still perches in his office chair. The browser page on the laptop behind me still displays the so-called news that Eric plans to fucking sue me again, compliments of The Hollywood Reporter. Josh still looks as hot as he did six minutes ago. Everything is still exactly the same as it was before Josh’s phone rang.
On the surface.
Beneath the surface, my blood races through my veins like the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby – pounding, fierce, powerful. I eye Josh, the door, and the distance between them. I can slip by him. He won’t try to stop me.
Except when I rise and try to do just that, he does. Stop me. With his arms outstretched for an embrace like everything hasn’t just changed irrevocably. I stop inches away before he can touch me.
“Hey. Is everything ok?” he asks, his voice soft. “What happened?”
“Um, I, um…” My eyes dart to meet his and I have to look away. Goddamn those brown eyes looking through me. “I need to go.”
“What happened?” Josh’s voice is firmer now, tinged with worry.
I make myself take another step back. I can’t do this with him touching me. “Nothing. I just need to go.”
“Ella?” Josh takes a step closer. “I thought we were okay? Better than okay. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but last night…”
Last night was amazing. The stuff x-rated movies are made of. And romance novels. I should know, considering the love triangle between the main characters in my Triumph series has launched one hundred hashtags and counting, so apparently I know a thing or two about romance. At least on paper. If I wrote the scene last night between me and Josh, I’d have been smiling the whole time, and only partly because of the physical chemistry.
The way he kissed me, like it was what he’d been put on this earth to do. The way his hands explored every inch of me, like my body was a wonderland. And, God help me, the way he looked at me – like I was the Hope Diamond, sunset on Waikiki beach, and chocolate ice cream on an August afternoon all rolled up into one. Hell, even Josh’s ex showing up the morning after hadn’t marred what last night was for me. Truth be told, she stopped me mid-freak out, turned the focus of my attention to her craziness instead of my own. It was amazing.
Until it wasn’t.
“Last night was great.” I shrug and focus on a point over Josh’s shoulder. “Thanks.”
“Thanks? Thanks?” Josh’s voice swirls with confusion. “I’m not sure I even know what that means.”
I make myself ignore the hurt that’s crept into his tone and shrug again. “Last night was great. It was fun. I’m not sure what else you want me to say?” I offer a smile, but it’s tight and fake and I know Josh can tell.
His chest rises and falls three times before he gives me a shrug of his own and says, “Okay. Well. Thanks to you, too, I guess.”
“Sure. Great. I’ll, um, get my bag. Do you think you can take me back to Si and Trudi’s?” I still can’t look at his face.
“If you’re in a hurry.” Josh’s voice softens a degree. “Or I can cook breakfast? I make a great bacon and egg sandwich.”
I can see the domestic scene like we’ve already done it. Although, I suppose we have. Our first date he brought me here and cooked for me. I liked it, too. Dammit. I shake my head. “I’m not really hungry, thanks. I had some coffee, though. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not.” His reply is hurried and I’m pretty sure he’s on the verge of asking again what’s wrong, but he doesn’t. Instead his gaze travels to his phone, still in my hand. “Do you need my phone for something?”
“No. No, sorry. It was just here and I picked it up.” I practically throw it at him. “But, no. No, I don’t need it at all.”
I need to get out of here before he sees the voicemail notification. Before he can start to explain. Because I realize as my heart sinks that I want him to have a good explanation almost as much as I know I won’t believe him if he does.
I bite my lip. There’s no way I’m fast enough to slip around Josh to avoid him gabbing me if he wanted to. Not that he would. His face is closing up. I recognize that look. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. I’m glad. Really. It will make this easier.
“I’m just going to…” I wave my hand towards the hallway and thank God Josh steps aside and lets me by. From halfway down the hall, I call back. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”
He doesn’t answer and I scurry up the stairs to find my bag in the spare room. It’s right on the bed where I left it and I sling the strap over my shoulder and bend to pick up my sneakers in one movement. It’s still a little too much for my ribs and I watch myself wince in the mirror.
Funny how my ribs didn’t hurt last night.
And that is exactly what I don’t need. Two more minutes remembering how I felt last night and I’ll be asking Josh how he knows Eric. A small voice in the back of my head says that’s exactly what I should be doing, but I’ve learned not to trust that voice. Because no matter how Josh and Eric know each other, the fact he didn’t tell me – the fact that I have to ask despite all of the conversations we’ve had –is a red flag if I’ve ever seen one.
I have a long history of not heeding flags of any color, but I’m heeding this one.