The VIP Doubles Down
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“Pie is a she, not an it.” He was getting a little high-handed. “Trust me, you don’t want Pie in any of your fancy cars. She gets motion sick.”
“That’s what plastic was invented for. Jaros will take care of cat proofing.”
Boundaries. She needed to set boundaries. It was one lesson she’d learned the hard way with Troy. “I am going home after work and staying there until tomorrow morning.”
He got up and stalked over to where she sat, looming over her with a hot gleam in his eye. “Then I’ll join you there after dinner.”
“Not again. You have a houseguest, and it’s rude to leave him alone.”
He took a step back, his expression baffled and frustrated. “What the hell is this about? Hugh couldn’t care less where I spend the night.”
It was about setting limits before she let him roll right over her. “But I care.”
“I’ll tell Hugh to find a hotel room.”
“It’s one night.” Thank goodness he was being an arrogant jerk, or she might have a hard time holding on to her resolve. “Give it a rest.”
He rubbed at the back of his neck as he tilted his head from side to side. She couldn’t decide if it was an unconscious gesture or if he was doing it deliberately to make her feel guilty.
“Fine,” he said. “But tomorrow . . .” His smile sent a promise and a warning, and she felt an unwilling fizz of response in her breasts and her belly.
Allie was reading in bed with Pie curled up beside her when the apartment intercom buzzed. She glanced at the clock on her bedside table—10:34. It must be a resident who’d forgotten a key and was randomly trying neighbors’ intercoms. She decided someone else could help the person out. It buzzed again, but she ignored it.
Her cell phone began to dance on the bedside table. “He wouldn’t,” she muttered, scooping it up to find out that, indeed, he would. “Gavin, did you just buzz my intercom?”
“I came to apologize.” He sounded tightly wound.
“For coming here when I told you not to?”
“For being an ass.”
“If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have come here, because that makes you, well, an ass all over again.” It sounded ridiculously circular.
“You mean I’m digging myself an even deeper hole.” He gave a ragged laugh. “Please, let me explain. In person.”
She heard something in his voice that concerned her, so she sighed. “You see that coffee shop about halfway down the block? I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”
“Why should we meet in a coffee shop when I’m standing in front of your apartment building?”
She knew what would happen no matter how good her intentions were. “Because if you come up here, it will just muddy the waters.”
A pause and then he said, “I see,” with a mixture of satisfaction and annoyance. “The coffee shop it is.” He disconnected.
Allie sat staring at the phone in her hand. A strange exhilaration vibrated through her, half excitement, half trepidation. To have Gavin Miller trek down to her dingy neighborhood late at night because he felt the need to apologize in person was heady stuff.
Yet she knew she was playing with fire. He was dark, complicated, and powerful, in ways that were far out of her limited experience. She had the feeling that Gavin had depths in his soul that her ex-husband couldn’t even comprehend, much less descend into.
Refusing to dress up for his intrusion, she threw on jeans, a T-shirt, and a hoodie, and left her hair in its neat nighttime braid. Grabbing her jacket and purse, she jogged down the stairs and out the front door, half expecting him to be right outside. But for once, he’d listened, which suggested he was truly repentant.
She hunched her shoulders against the cold February night and walked the half block to the Achilles Coffee Shop, a clean but no-frills place where you got coffee in small, medium, or large with milk, cream, or sugar.
The shop held five round tables on the vinyl tile floor. Gavin sat at the one in the window with three paper hot cups in front of him. He wore black from head to toe, and his dark hair was rumpled. While she watched, he rolled his head in a circle and winced, reminding her that she needed to find him another PT.
As she walked through the door into the overheated shop, Gavin stood, the grim expression on his face lifting.
“I thought I might be sitting here alone for the rest of the night,” he said, holding the chair for her.
His uncertainty pulled at her heart, so she stood on tiptoe to give him a peck on the cheek. His eyes lost some of their wildness at her gesture. “Is that why you bought three cups of coffee?” she asked as she seated herself.
When he sat, the vinyl-and-aluminum chair creaked. “I bought you a coffee and a tea. I wasn’t sure which you’d want at this hour.”
“Tea’s good, thanks.” So he did know how to let her make her own choices.
He picked up one of the cups and set it closer to her. As he brought his arm back to his side, she caught a tiny flinch of pain. Guilt jabbed at her again.
Gavin rotated his cup with one hand. “I’m a desperate man,” he said, “but that’s no excuse. I overstepped when I pushed you about tonight.”
“Desperate?” Allie wasn’t sure what he meant.
He concentrated on the revolving cup. “The Christmas novella. You got me thinking about it. I had some ideas. Even thoughts about how to resolve the last movie’s cliff-hanger. Then I got pulled away for those goddamned meetings, and when I came back, you were gone.” He brought his gaze to meet hers, letting her see the bleakness in them. “I tried talking to Hugh about the story.” He shook his head and winced again, making her want to massage away the pain. Leaning forward, he turned his hand palm up on the tabletop. “I need you.”
The baldness of the statement socked her in the chest. The uncomfortable angle of his shoulders tugged at her desire to heal.
But she’d nearly lost herself the last time she put her own needs aside because someone else’s seemed greater. She had to remember the lessons it had cost her a marriage to learn.
She forced a calm, rational tone. “We can work on the story all day tomorrow.”
He curled his open fingers into a fist. “My class meets tomorrow afternoon.”