Without waiting for a response, I slide off the stool and head toward the hallway, but not before I see the strain on his face. Oh, I’ve hit a nerve. A Bigfoot-sized one. His eyes flash with intent and suddenly he’s lifting the bar’s hatch and letting it slam back down while he pursues me. My heart begins to pound, echoing in my ears as I pick up my pace, my boots quickly carrying me down the hallway. It has become imperative that I get away from him.
Not because I’m scared of Shane. I’m scared of the fact that when I’m around him, the numbness I’ve felt since breaking up with Evan fades, at least for a little while. It doesn’t matter that irritation pops up in its place. It’s too much, too soon.
At the base of the stairs, he curves his hand around my elbow and he pulls me to an abrupt stop. When I face him, we’re both breathing heavily. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s simultaneously thrilling and daunting. Every rational part of me is screaming, begging for me to wrench free and leave him standing there. But I can’t. I can’t move when he’s so close, looking at me like he doesn’t know whether to shake me or kiss me. I don’t know which is scarier. “What the hell did you mean by that?”
With a concerted effort, I think back, but I can’t remember what I said to piss him off. As far as parting shots go, it must not have been that memorable. To me, anyway. He appears to remember it well enough to be blowing steam from his ears. “Maybe if you can’t take a little criticism, you should stop dishing it out.”
“You don’t know a damn thing about me.”
“That’s exactly how I plan to keep it.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I remember what I’d said to kick the hornet’s nest. “I don’t care what you’re running from. So why don’t you follow suit and stop asking me about—”
Fucking ouch. Hearing his name spat like a curse, intending to hurt…well it works. Again, the guilt arrives on a shiny, silver platter, making me question what I’m doing standing in a darkened hallway with Shane and his too-big presence. I’ve done nothing wrong and yet if I strain to hear, I swear I can hear the gentle ticking of a countdown clock until I do. No. No, it’ll never happen. It can’t.
“Why didn’t it work, Willa?” Shane all but whispers. “Did he try and tame you? Turn you into a nice girl?” His eyes are unkind, but there’s something else lurking underneath the hostility. Something a little tortured. Is he attracted to me? If so, he must hate it. The worst part? I don’t seem to be quite as immune as I want to be. Excitement is threatening to outweigh my urge to push him away and end whatever is happening.
When I make no move to leave, he backs me up against the hallway wall, bracing both of his hands on either side of my head. My heartbeat has graduated to a roar. This feeling of being dragged under is wholly unfamiliar, a realization that intensifies the guilt even more.
“Don’t you dare,” I manage breathily, when his gaze drops to my mouth. “I bite.”
Damn him, he presses closer. “Maybe tonight I fancy being bitten.”
Ignoring the unwanted thrill those growled words deliver, I search for a way out of this. His lips cannot, will not, be allowed to touch mine. Shane will drown me again when I’ve only just breached the surface. My skin feels paper-thin and he’s a sharp object. “I still love him,” I blurt out, refusing to examine the lack of conviction in my tone.
His gaze finds mine quickly, self-awareness creeping back in where none existed moments before. In the blink of an eye, his belligerence is back in place. “That has nothing to do with this. Don’t flatter yourself.”
He’s backing away from me, the action contradicting his words. Obviously there is a small part of Shane Claymore that won’t kiss a girl whose heart is elsewhere. Briefly, I wonder if I’m wrong, if maybe I’m an exception to the rule, then decide that line of thinking is pointless.
I’m not sure where the shame comes from, but it barrels in, suffocating me. Even the idea of kissing someone besides my ex-boyfriend feels like cheating. It’s made even worse by Shane talking about Evan like he did something wrong, when it was me all along. I was the unfixable one. Still am.
Trying to swallow my guilt and muster some pride at the same time, I look him straight in the eye as I back away on shaky legs toward the staircase. He looks like sin personified, standing in the shadows with chaotic eyes, hands clenching at his sides as if fighting the need to drag me back.
“Don’t ever touch me again.”
His only response is a muscle ticking in his jaw. I make it to my room and slide down the door before the tears start to fall.
Friday night, I stand in front of the full-length mirror, not really seeing my reflection. After taking a quick shower to rid myself of another day of on-again, off-again rain, I’d pulled on skinny jeans and a T-shirt that says Bad Samaritan on it.
A friendly disclaimer, if you will.
Halfway through the process of pulling on my boots, though, I’m hit with another Evan flashback. Since arriving in Dublin, I’ve been having them with increasing frequency, almost as if the distance gave my subconscious enough space to try and figure out if my screw up could have been avoided. I also suspect Shane’s presence has something to do with it, but I’m not willing to explore that worrying notion just yet. At the mere thought of Shane, I willingly dive headlong into the recurring flashback, just to escape him.
“Why do you keep running away from me?”
“Because you don’t belong with me, Evan! Dammit. Look how different we are. And I’m not just talking about what’s on the surface, even though those differences are more than enough. My past is ugly. Really, really ugly. You shouldn’t be anywhere near me.”
“Willa, whatever happened in your past, it made you this girl. This girl I want to know more than anything. You think I’m so great? Then give me enough credit to decide who I want to be around.”
Affected by his words against my will, I considered him across the car. “I do give you credit. I do. But you’ll change your mind.”
“You’re wrong.” He grabbed his bag from the backseat, pulling out the envelope of photos I’d given him. The ones I’d taken at his basketball game two nights prior, focusing more on his brother in the stands who’d recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan with a heavy case of PTSD.
Embarrassed at having my rare kind gesture thrown in my face, I looked away. “Please don’t make a big deal out of them.”
“I won’t change my mind about the girl who took these pictures because she wanted to show me I made my brother happy, even if just for an hour. I won’t change my mind about her.”
A quick rapping knock on my door drags me out of the bittersweet memory. I shoot a glance at my reflection, horrified to see a tear rolling down my cheek. I swipe at it with a curse, then cross the room to open the door, completely forgetting to ask who is on the other side. It’s Faith. When she sees I haven’t left yet for the night, she smiles like I’ve just presented her with a giant oversize check à la Publisher’s Clearing House.
“Willa. Sure, you look lovely, don’t you?” She breezes past me, leaving perfumed optimism in her wake. “What are your plans for the evening, then?”