“Anastasia, Leila is obviously suffering a psychotic break. I don’t know if it’s you or me she’s after, or what lengths she’s prepared to go to. We’ll go to your place, pick up your things, and you can stay with me until we’ve tracked her down.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“So I can keep you safe.”
Give me strength.
“You are coming back to my apartment if I have to drag you there by your hair.”
“I think you’re overreacting.”
“I don’t. We can continue our discussion back at my place. Come.”
She glowers at me. Intractable. “No,” she says.
“You can walk or I can carry you. I don’t mind either way, Anastasia.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, baby, we both know that if you throw down the gauntlet, I’ll be only too happy to pick it up.”
She narrows her eyes.
Ana. You give me no choice.
I scoop her up and throw her over my shoulder, ignoring the startled look of a couple walking past us.
“Put me down!” she rages, and starts to struggle. I tighten my hold on her and slap her behind.
“Christian!” she screeches. She’s mad. But I don’t give a fuck. An alarmed man—a father, I presume—pulls his young children out of our path.
“I’ll walk! I’ll walk,” she shrieks, and I put her down immediately. She whirls around so fast her hair hits my shoulder. She stomps off in the direction of her apartment and I follow, but I keep watch. Everywhere.
Where are you, Leila?
Behind a parked car? A tree?
What do you want?
Ana comes to a sudden stop. “What’s happened?” she demands.
“What do you mean?” What now?
“I’ve told you.”
“No, you haven’t. There’s something else. You didn’t insist that I go to your place yesterday. So what’s happened?”
Perceptive, Miss Steele.
“Christian! Tell me!”
“She managed to obtain a concealed-weapons permit yesterday.”
Her whole demeanor changes. Anger turns to fear. “That means she can just buy a gun,” she whispers, horrified.
“Ana.” I pull her into my arms. “I don’t think she’ll do anything stupid, but I just don’t want to take that risk with you.”
“Not me. What about you?” she says, her voice filled with anguish. She wraps her arms around me and hugs me hard. She’s scared for me.
And a moment ago I thought she was leaving.
This is unreal.
“Let’s get back.” I kiss her hair. As we move on, I extend my arm around her shoulders and pull her to my side to protect her. She slips her hand into the belt loop of my jeans, holding me close, her fingers curled around my hip.
This…proximity is new. I could get used to it.
We walk back to her apartment and I keep an eye out for Leila.
I CONTEMPLATE THE RANGE of emotions I’ve experienced since waking as I watch Ana pack a small suitcase. In the alley the other day I tried to articulate how I felt. The best I could do was “unsettled.” And that still describes my psyche right now. Ana is not the mild woman I remember—she’s far more audacious and volatile.
Has she changed so much since she left me? Or have I?
It doesn’t help that there’s a whole new level of disquiet because of Leila. For the first time in a long time, I’m fearful. What if something were to happen to Ana because of my association with Leila? That whole situation is out of my control. And I don’t like it.
Ana, for her part, is solemn and unusually quiet. She folds the balloon into her backpack.
“Charlie Tango’s coming, too?” I tease.
She nods and gives me a tepid smile. She’s either scared or still mad about Elena. Or she’s pissed for being hoisted over my shoulder in the street. Or maybe it’s the twenty-four thousand dollars.
Damn, there’s a great deal to choose from. I wish I knew what she was thinking.
“Ethan is back Tuesday,” she says.
“Kate’s brother. He’s staying here until he finds a place in Seattle.”
Ah, the other Kavanagh progeny. The beach bum. I met him at her graduation. He had his hands all over Ana. “Well, it’s good that you’ll be staying with me. Give him more room.”
“I don’t know that he’s got keys. I’ll need to be back then. That’s everything,” she says.
Taking her case, I have a quick look around before we lock up. I note with displeasure that the apartment has no intruder alarm.
THE AUDI IS PARKED out back where Taylor said it would be. I open the passenger door for Ana, but she stays rooted to the ground, staring at me.
“Are you getting in?” I ask, confused.
“I thought I was driving.”
“No. I’ll drive.”
“Something wrong with my driving?” she asks, and there’s that tone again. “Don’t tell me you know what I scored on my driving test. I wouldn’t be surprised, with your stalking tendencies.”
“Get in the car, Anastasia.” My patience is running thin.
Enough. You’re making me crazy. I want you home where you’ll be safe.