Adam asked me to wait for him so we could get a drink after the interview. At the time, I was so pleased that I agreed, but I’m too restless to sit in the green room. Pacing isn’t cutting it for me, either. Because the interview? I tanked it. Every hope I had of convincing people I’m sorry flew out the window when I started talking to Casey. Our conversation went so much worse than I expected it to. Even when I pictured how spectacularly I might fail, it was never quite as bad in my head as it was tonight on the air.
I walk out of the Mercury FM building, needing something to do with myself. If only I knew what. Briefly, I eye my car in the lot, but I know that if I get in, I might never stop driving. I don’t know where I’d go, but I don’t know how to face my friends after the nightmare that just took place. I’m glad my parents aren’t alive to witness my spectacular fall from grace.
After putting my handbag in my car, keeping only my keys and phone with me, I start walking along the dark street, keeping my head down as I send Adam a message: Went out walking.
I ignore my phone when a text comes back. It could be from him. It could be Kristy checking in with me. It could be any one of my acquaintances, letting me know they heard the interview. I don’t want to hear from them. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
I have no idea how long I’ve been walking for when headlights flash me from behind, and someone honks their horn at me. It’s only then that I realise it might not be the smartest idea to be walking along this road on my own. There are a few eateries open, and streetlights on, but no one is out. Who would come running if I screamed?
It’s a relief to hear Adam’s voice from the car now idling beside me.
“What the fuck are you doing, walking around here by yourself at night?” he shouts when I turn to look at him. “I told you to wait!”
His jaw is rigid and his eyes are dark with fury.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t just sit there. I was restless, and I needed to move.”
“You could have gotten yourself killed! Is that what you want? Have you got a death wish now?”
Do I want to die?
I certainly wouldn’t take my life. But I’m not sure my survival instincts are super strong right now. If someone had approached me, I don’t know how hard I would have fought them off.
As if he can see what I’m thinking, Adam’s eyes darken further. “Get in the car.”
I stare at him, almost sure I want to argue with him, even though I don’t know why. It’s not until he says, “Please, Jess,” that I feel guilty for worrying him.
I walk around to the passenger side of his car and climb in. The engine of his V8 is so loud it’s a miracle I didn’t know it was him before he yelled my name and pulled up beside me. I guess my inner turmoil was so loud it drowned out everything else.
“We’re going out for that drink,” Adam says gruffly, performing a U-turn with such speed that I start worrying I might have been safer outside of his car.
“I’m not good company at the moment, Adam.”
“I don’t give a shit. I need one. So do you. And you owe me after the fright you gave me. Shit, Jess, do you have any idea the kind of crimes happen on that very corner.”
I think he’s talking about the corner I’d been approaching when he pulled up beside me.
“Drug dealers and murderers hang out on that corner,” he insists.
“I didn’t see anyone, but I realise it was a dumb move. I saw my car there. I just didn’t think I’d be okay driving.”
He shoots me a look filled with sympathy. “I’m taking you to this little hole in the wall pub I know. You’ll like it.”
“I don’t want to deal with people right now.” I can’t bear to be recognised.
He ignores me, and once he parks out the front of the pub, he pulls a cap out of his glove box and shoves it over my head, as if he knew what I was thinking. Then he grabs his leather jacket out of the backseat and passes it to me. “Put it on.”
He’s out of the car before I can protest, so I sigh and put the jacket on. A second later, he opens the car door for me.
As soon as I step out, he’s in front of me, pulling the cap down a little further over my head and pulling his jacket – a jacket that smells like his aftershave – around me more tightly.
“How do I look?” I ask.
“You’re never going to be ugly,” he mutters as if it’s a curse. “God knows I did my best to see you that way.”Adam Granger to Jessica Skyler
Our eyes catch and hold, and I lose all ability to speak as his words warm through me. Fortunately, I don’t have to work out how to talk. Adam puts his hand on the small of my back and begins to usher me inside the pub. I don’t know if his decision to touch me is so that I can’t bolt away from him, or because he wants to comfort me. Whatever the reason, the heat of his hand makes me aware of just how cool I feel everywhere else, and I shiver within the confines of his jacket.
White Noise by the Living End is playing as Adam and I walk over to the bar and take two of the seats there. The pub looks a little dingy, but there aren’t many people inside. So I already like it a little.
“Six shots of bourbon,” he says to the bartender.
I only have my phone and car keys on me. “I left my handbag in my car.”
He takes his wallet out and slaps a bunch of cash on the bar. “My shout. And when we run out of money, I still have my card.”
“You do need a drink,” I murmur, watching him carefully.
His eyes lock with mine. They’re a mixture of so many emotions in them that I can’t pick them all out. I can see the sympathy and concern, though, and maybe regret. Has he forgotten I brought this on myself?
“You told me not to do the interview, Adam. You warned me.”
“I wish you’d listened.”
The bartender puts down six shots in front of us, and Adam picks two up, handing one to me. “To putting yourself in the eye of the storm and facing your fears head-on,” he toasts.
I clink my shot glass against his before raising it to my lips and drinking, feeling warm from the shot and the thought that Adam might respect me a little for what I did.
“I’ve never liked bourbon too much.” I put the shot glass back on the bar.
“You choose the next six shots, then.”
My gaze wanders to his car parked in front of the pub. “How are we getting home?”
“Taxi,” he says without missing a beat, as though he planned it this way the whole time. “I need to get shitfaced.”
Once again, his eyes are full of that cocktail of emotions I’m having so much trouble deciphering. “Adam, you warned me. You don’t need to worry so much.”
“My co-host and I have been arguing about this interview ever since you agreed to do it,” he says, passing me my second shot. “And then we had words right at the end. At this stage, I don’t know how long our professional relationship is going to last. And your reputation was just violently assassinated in public. Tell me you don’t want to get shitfaced right now.”
Two things cross my mind. One, Adam’s been fighting with his co-star about my interview, and two, the last time I got inebriated I slept with someone’s husband.
I throw back the second shot at the same time as he does, both of us slamming our glasses down on the bar together.
“The last time I got ‘shitfaced’, it didn’t work out for me that well.”
“I won’t argue with that, but you didn’t have sex with Grant Glendon, Jess,” he says.
My heart stops. “Why would you say that?”
“Didn’t you hear what Casey said today? She called Grant a sucker, and she’s taking him for all he’s worth. She wanted his money, and I reckon she set you up.”
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t sleep with him.”
“Think about it,” he demands, passing me the third shot glass in front of me. “How sure can you be sure you had sex with the man when you were so out of it? You said you didn’t feel like you had.”
“Yes, but then there’s the small fact we were both naked. In a hotel room.”
“I don’t think you did it,” he says, knocking back his last shot. “I was going to prove it to you before I said anything, but I think you need to hear it now. And maybe you can help me prove it.”
“No, Adam. I did all this because I’m guilty and I’ve accepted it. Now I’m trying to make amends for it.” I shake my head, emotion clogging my throat. “But you’ve been nice to me because you think I was set up, not because you think I’m a good person who made a mistake.”
When he’d asked me whether I thought I slept with Glendon, I’d desperately wanted him to believe me when I told him I didn’t think so. And he had, which I should be thrilled about. But now instead of believing I’m worthy of a second chance – that he misjudged me initially – he’s painted me as the victim. If he’s wrong about that night being a setup, will he go back to hating me? My chest aches at the thought.
I want so badly for him to be my friend and believe I’m worthy of his friendship and respect. I only did the interview because I thought he’d changed his mind about who I am, but I’m not sure I have changed his mind.
“I think I should go home, talk to Kristy.”
He puts his hand out on top of mine as I put my third – and still full – shot back on top of the bar. “Even if you did have sex with him, even if I’m completely wrong about it being a setup, I would still like you. I would still have helped you this week.”
Maybe it’s the shock finally wearing off, or the alcohol having an effect, but I can’t keep the pinpricks of emotion at bay. I can’t see more than a blur and the outline of Adam in front of me as my eyes fill with tears.
I blink rapidly, desperate to see his face; I need to see for myself that he means what he says. When my vision clears, he’s studying me intently, and I feel emotion clench inside my chest. He looks genuine and sincere.
“Drink.” He motions to the shot glass still in front of me.
After I’ve downed it, he waves the bartender over, and when he asks what we want, Adam looks at me. “Vodka, please.”
“Vodka and Bourbon. That’s a terrible combo, you realise.”
“They’re both spirits. I’d go with tequila, but I have too many bad memories.” Or rather no memory at all. “Do you really believe I could have been set up?”
“I’m one hundred and ten percent sure you were.”
I can’t even think about that, not now. “The last think I want to do is think of myself as a victim in this situation, Adam. Not when I know I did the wrong thing by getting close to a married man.”
“I understand. But will you at least help me gather some information so we know for sure?”
I don’t want to start digging around, trying to find out more about that night. I especially don’t want to start thinking I might not have done something that I did do. My emotions have been yanked around enough for a lifetime.
“You said it wouldn’t matter if I slept with him or not, we’d still be friends,” I remind him.
“And I meant it.” His gaze softens as it meets mine. “You have to remember that I wouldn’t even contemplate the possibility it was a setup if I hadn’t started believing you’re a good person, Jess.”
He’s right, of course. If I’d stopped to think about it for a moment, I would have realised that sooner. He would never believe I could be the victim in this situation if he thought I was the ugly person he once accused me of being. I’m just…tired and strung out. And now profoundly emotional to top it all off.
“You don’t think I’m ugly on the inside anymore?” I feel so silly for needing his reassurance, especially after what he said outside, but I do need it.
“No. But I have to ask, why does my opinion matters so much to you?”
His question knocks me between the eyes. Because I’ve tried and failed so many times to answer it myself. I could tell him it’s because he’s the first person who didn’t like me. I could say it’s because he’s the first person to look beyond my appearance. Even if did get me wrong, he didn’t get hung up on the way I look. He cares about who a person is at the core of their being, and that has earned my respect. As has his intensity, intelligence, and high moral code.
“There are a few possible reasons, I suppose. But I don’t have a definitive answer. I only know it does matter.” My eyes meet his and hold. “A lot.”
He has more power over my emotions than he should. No one’s opinion has ever gotten under my skin the way his has. Not even Kristy’s. I want to impress him; I want his approval.
After a moment of studying me, and making me sweat on whether he’ll accept my answer, he nods. “Want another drink?”
One shot of vodka and one glass of wine later, I’m in danger of sliding off my barstool and falling to the ground. I giggle, actually giggle, when I do nearly slip off my seat. Adam reaches out and cups my elbow to stop me, letting out a small chuckle as I flail.
“That’s probably our cue to stop drinking,” he says, making sure I’m sitting again and have my balance before letting go of me.
“Probably,” I say. “How about just one more?”
I don’t want this night to end. I don’t want to face tomorrow. I’m not ready. Kristy has been calling and messaging. When I took out my phone, Adam replied to one of her messages, letting her know I was with him. I’m still not ready to face her yet and hear her comments about my conversation with Casey.
“Bourbon or Vodka?” he asks me.
“That’s going to finish you off,” he says under his breath.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom now, then.”
“Can you make it by yourself?”
“Are you offering to carry me to the loo?”
He shakes his head but smiles. “Off you go. I’ll order. If you’re not back in five minutes, I’m coming in.”
I get off the stool and walk slowly towards the bathroom, where I do what I need to and then walk back out. The smile I’ve been wearing since I left slips as soon as I see a beautiful brunette leaning on the bar and talking to Adam. I don’t know where she came from. For the past hour and a half, I’ve been so focused on Adam that I haven’t kept track of who’s come in or left the bar.
My heart twists when her face splits into a wide grin and then she starts laughing at something he says as if it’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard.
There’s a good chance it is.
For the first time in my life, I’m out drinking with a man, and I’m not sure how to handle the intrusion of another woman. If I were on a date with Adam it would be simple; I’d walk right over there and make sure the woman knows I’m with him and that he’s unavailable. Normally, the moment most women see me, they back right off. But I’m not Adam’s date. I’m here as his…friend. I think.
When she writes down her number on a piece of paper and slides it to him, I know I was right to hang back.
What isn’t right is the way my heart trembles in my chest and the stab of envy I feel as he makes her laugh again and looks at her with interest – similar to the way he looks at Kristy.
You like him.
I swallow and mentally try and bat away the voice in my head, but the more I try and shoo the thought away, the more it persists.
You like him. You like him. You like him.
After the woman walks away from him, winking first, he checks his watch and then turns around to face the bathrooms. Of course he sees me standing in there watching him. And as I take in his dark wavy lock of hair falling over his forehead, the dark stubble on his strong jawline and full lips, elephants start tap dancing in my stomach.
You. Like. Him.
All this time I’ve been chasing his respect and his admiration, but it’s not the only thing I want from him.
Of course it isn’t, you idiot.
I walk back to the bar, pretending my feelings aren’t throwing me off balance more than the alcohol I’ve consumed.
“Were you standing there long?” Adam asks as I take my seat.
I wouldn’t mind leaving now. The sexy brunette who hit on Adam kind of took the wind out of my drinking sails, but my wine and his beer have arrived. “Not really. I came out a couple of minutes ago, but I didn’t want to…cramp your style.”
“Cramp my style?” He shakes his head and grins at me. “You really are…refined.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever called me refined and made it sound like an insult before.”
“It wasn’t meant to be an insult. Just an observation. And you couldn’t cramp my style if you tried.”
I disagree silently, taking a sip of my wine before putting the glass on the bar. “She gave you her number.”
“Will you call her?”
He shrugs. “Maybe.”
I watch him sip his beer before I ask, “Because of Kristy?”
He looks at me, a mixture of anger and confusion on his face. “No, not because of Kristy. Why would you say that?”
“Because you’re into her. You told me you were,” I remind him.
“I like Kristy a lot. But that’s never going to happen.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the things you feel for her.”
“Listen, Jess. I’m not holding out hope I have a future with her. I haven’t been since I knew she was hooking up with Logan. I might be attracted to her, but my feelings for her aren’t going to stop me from being with other women.”
“Oh, I know,” I say, remembering his one night stand from the first night I was back in Melbourne. “I just meant-“
“I know what you meant, but it’s not like it’s some unrequited love situation, where whenever I see her with Logan I feel like I’m dying inside.”
“But you do have feelings for her.” My heart hurts even to say it. “Even if you’re not holding out hope, you’re attracted to her, and she’s more to you than a friend or just Logan’s girlfriend. You can’t tell me I’m wrong.”
He shakes his head. “Maybe not wrong, but not right, either. I guess you could say I hold her in high esteem. She’s the ideal, you know? I’ve never been interested in settling down before. I was dead against it. Am again now. But when I met Kristy…Well, she seemed like the kind of girl who could make me change my mind.”
“Why?” I ask, not wanting to know, and at the same time needing to find out. “What was it about Kristy that made you think she could change your mind?”
“The truth? My parents lied and betrayed each other the whole time I was growing up. They never paid much attention to my life or what was happening in it. Their focus was on how much they could hurt the other with their affairs. They were never faithful.”
“I’m sorry, Adam,” I say, meaning it with all my heart. My parents may be gone, but they loved me. And they loved each other.
“But Kristy…” He shakes his head. “She just seems like the complete opposite of my parents.”
“Because she’s real and genuine?”
He smiles. “And the fact she’s a curvy brunette with a warm-hearted and caring attitude helps. Not to mention she bakes cakes and muffins that taste like heaven.”
It doesn’t escape my attention that I am none of those things he likes about Kristy. The thought twists painfully inside me, wreaking havoc in my chest.
“What about you and Logan?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you like him?”
I twirl the stem of my wine glass. “My reasons for liking Logan were probably similar in a way. I don’t mean that he was the opposite of my parents, but he made me think that settling down wouldn’t be so bad. I’ve never had any interest in falling in love before. It’s always seemed terrifying, losing control of your emotions and being that intimate with someone, but the way Logan looked at Kristy…It was as if the whole world revolved around her.”
Adam’s gaze is so intense that I have to look away. I take another sip of my wine before I continue. “That night, at Shark Bait, when you caught me watching them, I felt this yearning for him to look at me the same way. For a moment, the idea of falling in love didn’t seem so terrifying. It seemed like it could be…fun, even amazing with the right person.”
“You don’t want that anymore, though?” Adam asks. “To fall in love?”
The idea scares me to death. Take these feelings I’m having for Adam, for example. He’s the first person I’ve gotten close to since my parents died. I already feel too attached to him, and I already desperately crave his respect and friendship. The idea of caring about him more deeply than I already do makes me feel like as if I’m about to have a panic attack.
“I don’t need to go down that path this lifetime,” I say.
Adam tilts his beer in my direction, echoing my sentiment. “Love gets screwed up by millions of people. For Logan and Kristy, it works, though.”
“They’re probably going to get married.”
“The writing is on the wall.” And with Logan and Kristy tying the knot, Adam and I getting involved in any way other than as friends would make things messy for them when it ended.
And it would end. Didn’t he just say he has no interest in settling down?
That’s the upside of Adam not sharing my feelings, I suppose. There’s no possibility of us getting involved when he’s not interested in me that way. He might be the first man who isn’t attracted to me at all. Outside of Logan, anyway.
I chug the rest of my wine. “We should probably look at ordering a taxi.”
“Jess.” I put my glass on the bar and look at him, finding him studying me carefully. “You can’t let what Casey told everyone get to you. That thing she said about women keeping their men away from you was bullshit. I could see you were thinking about Logan and Kristy when she said it, but Kristy trusts you implicitly.”
“I know, but I still…sometimes I worry she might change her mind. After that interview, especially.”
“Don’t doubt Kristy. She knows you’re no threat, and she cares about you as much as you care about her.”
“I still feel like I should…Like I need to give them space. They’re still a relatively new couple, and they need to spend time together without me intruding.”
Adam looks amused. “And you’re tired of hearing their wild sex noises, admit it.”
I smile. “That, too. However, I never planned to stay in the house with them for very long when I came back. I always thought I’d…” I trail off when I realise where my sentence was heading.
“You thought you’d what?”
“Well, I thought…” I shrug. “I’d move in next door.”
He grins. “Ah.”
“Kristy never told me you were living there. I assumed it was vacant. I was going to offer to take the empty property off their hands for a while, but…”
“No wonder it was such a shock, coming home and finding me living there.”
“So…” I start, attempting to look sly. “Are you planning on being there for long?”
“Now you’re trying to kick me out?”
I laugh lightly. “No. But I do need to find a new place. I just haven’t felt up to looking. I’ve focused on the interview. With it out of the way, however, I should start.”
“There’s no rush, though, right?” he says, frowning. “Maybe you should focus on what you’re going to do now, or wait for things to settle down before you move out.”
“My life is a cyclone of turmoil right now. I don’t want Kristy sucked into it. Not when she should be enjoying her relationship with Logan.”
“Then move in with me.”
He says it so quickly, I’m not sure I heard him right. “What?”
“I said, move in with me. I have the space. Logan and Kristy will worry about you if you move any further away than that.”
He might be right, but still… “Adam, you’re a swinging bachelor.”
“So what? Will listening to my one-night stands be any worse than listening to Logan and Kristy going for it every night?”
Yes! “I’d get in your way.”
Adam shakes his head. “I told you, you’re not going to cramp my style. Besides, you’ll be able to get rid of any pesky one-night stands who want to linger.”
“Ah, no. I’m not bailing you out of morning after duties.”
“Why not?” He looks so appalled by my refusal that I giggle.
“Because you can deal with them yourself.”
“Fine, but I still think you should move in for the short term then. There’s no lease. If it doesn’t work out, you can just move out. Or I can. Whatever. You can move in while you wait for things to settle down. We can work on clearing your name together.”
“Just think about it, Jess. Will you?”
“Think about helping you clear my name, or moving in with you?”
“Both.” He finishes his beer and then shifts in his seat so he can pull his phone out of his jeans pocket. “I’ll call a taxi if you’re ready to go.”
I nod, then watch him make the call. Once he hangs up, he slides his phone back into his pocket. “Should be here soon.”
“Thank you for tonight, Adam. I…needed it.”
“Same. What you did in that interview today was brave, Jess. Whether you slept with him or not, that took serious guts to speak up the way you did. And it was damn hard to watch you put yourself out there like that.”
The intensity and sincerity in his gaze take my breath away. “I couldn’t have done it without you and your help.” I wouldn’t have done it without his help and support. “So, thank you.”
“What are friends for?”
Did he just imply we’re friends?
Despite everything that has happened tonight, and the confusing way I feel about him, I can’t stop smiling as the taxi arrives and Adam and I walk out of the pub together.
A/N: This book is the longest book I’ve written. We are gearing up towards the midway point. It’s a bit of an intense chapter…
Some of you may have noticed I have a love-hate (more of a hate) relationship with the media. It won’t be the first or last time my feelings about the media crop into my work.
Out of curiosity, did any of you see Adam’s proposal that Jess moves in with him coming? And will Jess move in?
I said this is one of my favourite chapters, and it is for no other reason than it makes me happy. I hope it made you guys happy, too. Thanks for reading! <333