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Last resort, p.21
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       Last Resort, p.21

           Jill Sanders
Chapter Ten

  Cassey sat across from him at his favorite fast food place in town, and he could see the wariness in her face. Her silver eyes, which were normally bright, were dull and foggy looking. There were purple blotches under those eyes, and he could tell she wasn’t getting enough sleep. She looked like she’d lost some weight as well, but he knew better than to mention it.

  He reached across the table and touched her hand lightly. “Has it been that bad?”

  “What?” She looked up at him as she rubbed her forehead. “No.” He could tell she had just automatically denied it.

  When he sighed and looked at her, she closed her eyes and lowered her hand from her temple.

  “Yes, okay, it has. Half of my staff has been out the last few weeks with the flu.” She laughed a little. “To be honest, at first I thought that was your father’s doing. Then this morning, after seeing the notice, I spent a few hours arguing with the local health inspector, who is apparently the only health inspector in Adams County. After going back and forth, I finally got him to agree to come back down to my place and reinspect on Monday afternoon. When I walked back from the meeting, I noticed that two other places, including The Lunch Box, were closed down due to violations as well. I can’t even remember driving to Emerald Beach.” She closed her eyes and shook her head.

  “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with all this by yourself,” he said and meant it. He wished she hadn’t turned him away. It had hurt not being with her, but the time apart had only reinforced his desire to be with her. He’d taken so many steps in the last few days, and he knew that once he had everything lined up, he would find a way to change her mind about their relationship. All he needed was some time.

  “It’s not that bad. I have the new inspection on Monday.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve given the employees a day off.”

  “A day?” he asked, his curiosity in his voice.

  “Yes, everyone is scheduled to be in first thing Sunday for a complete cleaning of the place. I want that inspector to be able to eat off the floor.” She smiled and he gained even more respect for her.

  “I’ve got nothing to do on Sunday if you need another set of hands.” Her smiled dropped away a little, and he could see concern flash in her eyes.

  “I don’t know.” She looked off, pulling her hand away. She shook her head and looked back at him. “I just don’t think I can deal with you right now.”

  He felt like laughing. “Deal with me?”

  She nodded. “You—” She stopped and swallowed, and then reached for her iced tea and took a sip. “You said you couldn’t be friends with me.”

  He waited, taking a breath before he spoke. “No, I said I want to be more than just friends, and I still mean it.”

  She looked off over his shoulder. He could see her eyes water up a little as her hand went to her forehead again and started rubbing her temple.

  “I can’t.” She shook her head lightly.

  “Can’t or just don’t want to?”

  She blinked, holding her eyes closed for a moment. “Both. I have too much to handle right now. I don’t think I can deal with trying to figure out what is going on between us.”

  He thought about it. “What if we went back to how it was before?”

  She blinked and looked at him. “How?”

  He smiled a little, deciding that it might just work. Reaching across the table, he picked up her hand and leaned a little closer. “Cassey, I want you…physically. I know you want me, too.” He watched heat replace the weariness in her eyes. “This way, I can be there to help you out. I want to be there for you.”

  “I…” She sighed and he could see her mind changing. “I just don’t know.” He had to do something quick, or he’d lose his chance, lose her. He didn’t want to lose her.

  “What do you say I drive you home? I’ve been staying in Surf Breeze for almost a week now.”

  “What about your car? Didn’t you drive here?”

  He shook his head. “My father sent a car for me. I really had no choice but to come.” She looked at him for the first time. He was wearing a ratty shirt and sweats—not his normal clothing.

  “What did he do,” she chuckled, “send the hulk after you?”

  He looked down and realized his gym clothes had gotten a few more holes in them since the last time he’d worn them. Laughing, he nodded. “Ricardo can seem like it sometimes. Think of your Tyrone on steroids.”

  She whistled. “Why does your father employ someone like that?” She leaned forward, taking another sip of her tea. For the first time today, her eyes actually sparkled.

  “Oh, you’d be surprised who my father has threatened before.” He stood up, gathering their tray and trash. “What do you say I tell you all about it as I drive you home?”

  She sighed and leaned back. “Fine, you win. I’m too tired to argue or drive back by myself.” She stood and waited until he’d cleared their table. “You know…” She smiled as they walked out the door. “I could use a new bus boy.” He laughed.

  He talked to her as they drove back to Surf Breeze, telling her stories of his childhood and of what he’d heard about his father from some of the people who’d worked for him over the years. She’d listened and laughed, but he’d kept the stories lighthearted and upbeat. There was no reason to mention some of the more aggressive moves his father and grandfather had made in the name of keeping the family business thriving.

  By the time they pulled into the parking lot next to her apartment, her eyes were barely open. He brushed a strand of hair over her shoulder.

  “You look beat.” He smiled a little.

  “I feel beat. Listen, I’m probably not going to make the best company.”

  He shook his head and pulled her as close as he could with the middle console in the way. “Cassey, you don’t have to always entertain me. I’ve got my laptop.” He nodded towards the dark bag in her back seat. “And I have some work that I can do.”

  She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “How about some hot chocolate and an old movie instead?”

  He smiled. “Sounds wonderful.”

  An hour later, his left arm was completely numb behind her neck as she slept peacefully against his shoulder. The Towering Inferno played quietly on the set. He’d turned the volume almost all the way down when he’d seen her eyes close for the fourth time. Their hot chocolate mugs sat on the coffee table, empty. He’d made a large bowl of microwave caramel popcorn, which she had barely touched.

  He knew she was under a lot of stress, thanks to his father. Actually, he was sure that in the next few weeks, he was going to be dealing with some of his own problems because of his family.

  He wanted to finish some of the work he’d hoped to complete today before being whisked away by his father.

  Shifting, he pulled Cassey close and easily carried her into her room. She moaned a little then snuggled closer to him as he walked sideways through her bedroom door. Laying her down gently on her bed, he watched as she snuggled into her soft pillow. He pulled off her low heels and smiled at her bright pink toenails. He’d missed that about her in the last few weeks; her toes were the cutest he’d ever seen. Her ankles weren’t half-bad either. He smiled as his eyes followed her long limbs up her body. She was a nice package, he thought, as his eyes rested on her eyelashes. He frowned a little when he noticed the dark circles under her eyes.

  Walking into the next room, he pulled out his laptop and got to work, trying to counter anything he thought his father would throw at him in the next few weeks.

  By midnight, he thought he had all his bases covered. He’d emailed all the contractors he’d been working with as well as his contact down at the city office to confirm his permits wouldn’t be disturbed. He had even composed a press release, which he’d sent to several local papers along the coast. He thought that once word was out about his new business, there would be no stopping him.

  He stood up, stretched his hands over his head, and
rolled his neck. He was a little stiff, since his workout had been cut short by his father and he hadn’t been able to cool down. Walking down the hallway, he pulled off his tennis shoes and climbed into the bed. Cassey rolled over in sleep and snuggled up against his side. He wrapped his arm around her and closed his eyes. For the first time in weeks, he felt at peace.

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