Authors: H. M. Ward
his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by H.M. Ward
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.
LAREE BAILEY PRESS
First Edition: February 2016
, trying to make the image of the sexy socialite—if you can call him that—vanish. I open my eyes.
He’s still there.
Supple leather drapes comfortably around strong shoulders, framing a wall of masculine muscle before stopping mid-thigh. His hair is slicked back to exhibit those startling Ferro eyes people love so much. Their exact shade of blue is lost somewhere between ice and sky, storm and sea.
My jaw flops around as I sputter out, “I’m sorry. Please excuse me.” I move to push past him. Even the shock of meeting the Peter Ferro can’t subdue the sting of Nathan’s words. I step forward, but Peter doesn’t budge. I glance up at him, trying to quell the emotional storm brewing inside of me. Torrential tears threaten to blast from my eyeballs at any moment. I know damn well this moment is the eye of the storm, and I have seconds to find a safe harbor before all hell breaks loose.
Peter glances past me to Nathan, and then back down at me. “I apologize for my intrusion.”
“You've no need to apologize. I’m leaving.” I glance back at Nathan, who is avoiding my gaze. He’s done nothing but run his hands through his hair and stare at the floor, muttering things I can’t hear—things I’d rather not hear.
“Actually,” Peter smiles kindly at me, “if you could stay for a moment, I'd appreciate it very much. I know I walked in on something and, if you need to leave, please go ahead, but this will only take a moment. I wouldn’t ask if it weren't direly important.” The sincerity in his voice cuts through my inner storm, forcing the turbulence to fall still. His expression says something is very wrong.
“Can I help you, Mr. Ferro?" Nathan's voice is sharp, and his arms are locked tightly across his chest in a stance that screams fuck off. "You'll find the dean's office down the hall, and if you’re here for the scholarship committee, you’re lost. The COMS building is next door. Everyone is over there tonight.”
Peter steps across the threshold, passing me. The easy kindness that seems to be his resting expression is laced with apprehension—as if he isn't confident in being here doing this. Whatever this is. “I’m not here for the scholarship committee. I’m here to make a delivery.” He fishes a tattered envelope from the breast pocket of his coat and presents it to Nathan. It’s addressed to "Mr. Ferro" with a postmark and an edge sliced by the blade of a letter opener. From the looks of it, Peter has had the letter with him for some time now.
I’m still standing by the door studying the two of them. They’re equally handsome despite the few years Peter has on Nathan. Where Nathan is slimmer and slightly taller, Peter has broad shoulders and a chiseled jaw that looks like it belongs on a marble bust.
Nathan shakes his head and steps toward Peter. “Am I supposed to know what that is?”
Nodding, Peter replies, “Yes. A duplicate was mailed to you weeks ago. I was surprised when you missed the meeting.”
Nathan’s expression darkens. He steps into Peter’s space. “I have no idea what you’re talking about—”
Peter cuts him off. “After the funeral, you should have—”
Nathan’s eyes cut across the room to me. He takes a single step closer to Peter, then changes his mind, every inch of his body tensing as he steps away. Nathan gathers up some of the student materials left out as he answers, “You have the wrong guy.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Peter follows him, trailing patiently behind Nathan.
This feels incredibly uncomfortable. I’m not sure if Peter is trying to serve Nathan with papers, or if he truly has the wrong person. Either way, I’m not sticking around to find out. I raise my finger in the air and point at the hallway, ready to dart. But things go screwy, and I don’t get the chance to speak.
Nathan spins on his heel, suddenly nose to nose with Peter Ferro. “I do.”
“I wouldn’t have come here if you'd given me another option.”
“You have no business with me. Like I said—you have the wrong guy.”
Peter shakes his head. “Nathan Lucas Smith, born to Adeline Pike and Augustus Smith on March fourth—”
“What do you want?”
“When you didn’t attend the meeting, I assumed it was because your letter failed to reach you. Upon his death, two copies of this letter were dispersed at your father’s request.” Peter’s voice is kind, patient. “One was addressed to my father and the other was addressed to you. You should read it.” He hands the envelope to Nathan and steps away.
Nathan's father died? If there are still meetings going on about it, it must have happened recently. Empathy slithers up my throat and lodges itself midway up, making it hard to swallow. I wonder if that’s the reason he wasn’t in class at the start of term. I wonder if that’s why he acted so weird when I first met him. Was it that recent? Are Nathan’s wounds still raw? I find myself looking across the room, watching Nathan stare at the papers in his hands. When he glances up at me, I see fear flash on his face then vanish. Swallowing hard, he opens the letter, his dark blue eyes sweeping over each line. Before he gets to the second page, he starts shaking his head, saying, “No. This isn’t true. It can’t be.”
Peter hangs back, but his soft answer drips with pity, “I’m afraid it is. My father confirms it.”
Nathan’s hands tremble slightly as his eyes widen and he stares at nothing. He remains frozen for a moment, then his hands move frantically, lifting the letter and tearing it into pieces before shoving it into Peter’s chest. He holds his hand there until the other man takes the remnants of the note. “These are lies. Don’t ever come here again. I don’t care how much money your family has or what they can give to the university—you have no right to make such accusations.” Nathan storms past Peter and disappears down the hall.
in the classroom, alone with Peter Ferro. I know things with Nathan were supposed to be hot, heavy, and unattached, but I want to throw a fist in Peter’s face for making Nathan that upset. I usually try to choose my battles carefully, but this impulse stems from emotion instead of logic. I start spewing words before I have time to consider what I’m doing. “That was cruel. Just because your family owns everything in sight doesn’t mean you have the right to crush people. Nathan is a good guy, and he didn’t deserve that!”
Peter doesn’t reply right away. Instead, he watches me fume, listens to me curse a little bit, then tips his head to the side and says, “Are you done?”
“NO!” Yes. I ran out of words and for some reason, I’m huffing like I ran a race. I don’t even like Nathan. Why am I fighting a Ferro for him? My shoulders hunch up around my ears, and my fingers spread wide ready to claw his face off.
He treats me to an incredibly familiar lopsided smile. It must be because of the newspapers. Everyone loves Peter and hates Sean. The youngest Ferro—Jon, I think?—is a party boy, but recently the paps photograph him with the same woman over and over again. People speculate he might finally be settling down. Not that I read the celebrity news rags. It’s just common knowledge. There’s no way NOT to know what the Ferros are doing. They’re the Ferro family.
Peter clears his throat and leans his narrow hips against a desk as he forces the shredded letter back into his pocket. “I’m not here to hurt Nathan. He needed to know.”
“Know what? What’s important and horrible enough to cause a reaction like that?” I point down the now empty hallway. Nathan is long gone.
“His father’s final wish," Peter says, his eyes boring into mine with an unnerving intensity. "I don’t know what happened to his letter, but I think you'll agree this was the first time he's read its contents.” Peter suddenly closes his mouth and places his hands on his thighs. He glances around the classroom and then back at me. “What’s your relationship with him?”
I bristle, mainly because I don’t know. It’s not what it should have been, and it’s not what I thought it was, which means it’s a total clusterfuck. “I met you five minutes ago, so I’m going to go with it's none of your business.”
Peter smiles, nods, and pushes off the desk. “It was worth a try. From what I know of Nathan, he’s completely alone. His mother passed when he was young, and his father raised him alone. He has no aunts or uncles. No one attended the funeral besides Nathan.”
My stomach twists and I feel sick for a moment. “That’s horrible.”
He nods. “I agree. When Nathan didn’t show yesterday, I was worried about him. I have an idea of what he’s going through,” Peter's voice tightens as he speaks, but he doesn’t pause, “still, some secrets are meant to be exposed. Now that he knows the truth, I'd suspect he needs a friend. If you know anyone who might be able to offer a shoulder or drive him to a bar, please call them.”
I’m quiet. I don’t know his friends. As far as I know, he doesn’t have any. I’ve never seen him bullshitting with anyone. In fact, he only seems to talk to his students, Jax, and me. I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose as a headache threatens to rip my face open. “As far as I know, he doesn’t have friends. I’m not worthy of the title either. I don’t even know where he lives.” My eyes have gone glassy and sting.
When I glance up at Peter, he holds out his phone. A map is glowing softly with a pin stuck in the middle of a street. “I do. And I suspect he’d rather see you than me. You better head out before he does something stupid. That news was hard to hear.”
“What was it?” I know I shouldn’t ask, but I have no idea what we’re dealing with. I’d assume it has something to do with his father’s will or his estate. Still, I’m not sure why that would involve the Ferro family. Maybe a long-forgotten loan gives them a claim to his stuff? I doubt that warrants the reaction I just witnessed.
Peter shakes his head. “I just met you, and it’s not my secret to tell. My job was to make sure Nathan knows. Now it’s up to you to help him through it.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Really? From what I saw, it is.”
My eye scrunches up, and I look up into his face. “How long were you standing there?”
“Long enough. True friends are rare. Despite what events might transpire due to employment or status, it won’t change your loyalty, will it?”
I shake my head and look away. I wrap my arms around my middle and turn toward the darkened hall, wondering if I should go to Nathan’s house. Will he let me in or slam the door in my face? Everything changed in a matter of seconds. When he said he was the professor for this class, I nearly died. I can’t help but wonder why. Why am I pulled so hard toward this man? It’s like there’s a prefab connection there, and every time I see him it ignites. What causes that? Is it friendship? I sense something more between us than a good time.
I find my voice. “Text me the address. I’ll find him.”
this night isn’t over yet. The entire day has been one mess after another. I ease my bus out of my coveted parking spaces and head down the street. This trip is going to use all my gas. As it is, I only have a quarter of a tank, and I probably get two miles per gallon. I shift the yellow beast into gear and stop thinking about it. The raccoon stirs in the back. As long as he stays back there, I’m okay. If he jumps on my head, well, that’s another issue.
A few turns later, I stop the bus in front of an old brownstone in the nicer part of town. I cut the engine and pull the lever that opens the doors. I leave them open and rush up the sidewalk, my guts twisting inside my body. I feel sick. He’s going to tell me to get lost. I have no right being here, in fact, now that I am I feel kind of stalkery.
I stop on his porch and turn back toward the street. The raccoon is sitting in the stairwell of the bus with his beady black eyes narrowed at me. His hindquarters hunch down like he’s saying, ‘Back off bitch, this is my bus!’ He hisses at me.
I whisper loudly back at him. “I had to come, so suck it up you oversized rat.”
I feel eyes on me and the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. There’s a breeze behind me. That’s not possible if the door is closed. I groan inwardly and turn.
Nathan is furious until he looks past me to see my travel companion. “Holy shit! Is that a raccoon?”
I sigh and nod. “Yes. He came with the vehicle.”
Nathan blinks at me. Tears glisten at the tips of his clumped lashes, and his cheeks are flushed.
“I’m sorry," I say. "I shouldn’t have come.”
Nathan watches me, quiet for a moment. Our eyes lock, and my stomach dips. The world around me fades away and that pull toward him is there again. It consumes me, spreading from my fingertips to my toes. I want to touch his face and feel his warm skin under my hand. I want to step closer and press my lips to his cheek and kiss away his tears. But most of all, I want to wrap my arms around him and never let go.
Okay, maybe the raccoon was right. I am a stalker.
Nathan looks down at me, his anger visibly fading away. The barriers that jutted up in the classroom are gone. He’s the guy with the notepad, and I’m the girl who can’t walk away. But I have to. This was a bad idea. How am I supposed to be his friend when my brain gets gunked up with pheromones whenever I see him? I suck in a shaky breath and smile awkwardly. “I’ll be going now. Sorry.”
I turn away from him, and it feels like the air has been pulled from my lungs, but I manage. As my foot hits the first step, I feel his fingers wrap around my wrist, stopping me. I glance back at him.
“Don’t.” Before I can ask what that one word means, he pulls me up the step and to his chest. His arms wrap tightly around me, and he whispers against the top of my head, “Don’t go.”