...Turning down Alex’s street, I took a few deep breaths and willed my pounding heart to slow down. She was fine. Probably drunk and upset, but no more worse for the wear than the last time she saw her mother and stepfather. I was overreacting. I was being too protective.
Or maybe I wasn’t.
I chewed my lip as her house came into view up ahead. Her car was parked in front of the garage, and the faint glow of a single lamp illuminated her living room window. There were no other cars in the driveway or on the street, so presumably she was alone. Assuming, of course, she was home. Someone else could have driven her somewhere, or she—
Easy, Damon. Don’t jump to conclusions yet.
Heart still pounding, I parked beside her car. On my way up to the porch, I hesitated, wondering for the hundredth time if she’d be upset with me showing up when she clearly didn’t want to see anyone. No, she’d understand. She might be pissed off at first, but when she calmed down, she had to understand why I was concerned.
After almost turning back twice, I made myself get all the way on to the front porch, and before I could find another reason to talk myself out of it, I knocked. Waited. I craned my neck a little, listening for movement on the other side of the door.
My heart beat faster. I knocked again, harder this time.
I rocked back and forth from my heels to the balls of my feet, staring at the door and wondering if I should give it one more try or leave. In my coat pocket, my keys ground against each other as I ran my thumb back and forth over them. Her house key was on the ring. I could let myself in. Damn it, where was the line between caution and intrusion?
One more try, and if she doesn’t answer, I’ll go.
Knock. Knock. Knock. Silence.
I exhaled hard, a knot twisting in my gut. She wasn’t here. Or she wasn’t answering. Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to stand here all night, so I turned to go.
Movement inside the house stopped me in my tracks. I froze, listening, and the muffled sound of approaching footsteps sent a cool rush of relief through my veins.
The deadbolt turned. I exhaled.
Then the door opened, and that relief turned to something else. Something much colder.
“Who the—” My breath and voice stopped in my throat. Confusion and fury slithered through my veins as I stared at the man on the other side of the threshold. He leaned on the door and rested his arm on the doorframe. Vague surprise flickered across his expression and straightened his posture, but the heavy fatigue in his eyes kept his reaction subdued. I wondered if he was drunk. Or maybe he’d been asleep. In my girlfriend’s bed. That was all too likely, I realized. He was pale, sleepy-eyed, dressed only in a pair of gray sweatpants, and his short hair was disheveled enough to imply far more than I ever wanted to know.
Alex, baby, tell me you didn’t…
I finally found my voice again. “Who the fuck are you?”
Barely whispering, barely even keeping his eyes open, he said, “You might want to sit down for this. Come in and—”
“Just tell me what the fuck is going on,” I snapped.
He flinched, closing his eyes. “I can explain.” His voice was quiet and slurred. “Please, just—”
“You can explain?” I snarled. “Yeah, please do, because—”
Flinching again, he put a hand up. “This isn’t what it looks like. Not even close.”
I laughed bitterly. “Oh, I’m sure it’s not.” With every word, the barely contained fury rose, as did the volume of my voice. “I suppose you’re just keeping her company? Where the fuck is she? Where—”
“You…you know who I am?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, I do.”
The anger swelled in my chest. “But you’re still—”
“Please.” His hand went to his temple, and he grimaced as he whispered, “Don’t shout. You’re upset, I get it, I understand, but…” He winced. “Please. Don’t. Shout.”
I furrowed my brow. Anger made me want to grab his shoulders and show him the meaning of the word “shout,” but I held back. Quieter now, I said, “What’s going on?”
He stepped back and gestured for me to come in. I hesitated, but then followed him into Alex’s house...