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Authors: Nicole Helm

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #AcM

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BOOK: Too Close to Resist
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at the door, three precise raps. Definitely not Jacob. He usually pounded once and barged right in. Only Kyle would knock as though he was concentrating on the action.

When Grace opened the door, instead of finding Stuffy Kyle, she found Runner Kyle. Man, she really liked the way Runner Kyle looked. It made the man underneath, whoever that might be, even more appealing.

She leaned against the doorjamb and smiled brightly. “Hey. What’s up?”

“I thought your mother was coming over this evening.”

“Her meeting went late. We rescheduled for later in the week.” Which had made the decision to stay with Jacob seem like a genius move on her part. If she’d stayed home, alone, in Carvelle, Mom never would have let a late meeting stop her from hovering. Things were better already. A few more weeks and Grace was sure she could go back home without devolving into a psychotic mess.

“Oh.” Kyle frowned. “Well, Jacob is out with Candy.”

Grace rolled her eyes. “I know. She practically strong-armed the little wimp into taking her to a movie. I have to say it’s nice, though. Hovering is kind of what I moved out here to avoid. Jacob sure as hell isn’t hovering.”

Kyle looked around her room at the handful of canvases she’d propped against the walls. Usually, Grace was all for people looking at her art, but something about Kyle’s scrutiny made her stomach clench. “Is there something you wanted?” she asked, hoping to get him on his way before she felt compelled to ask him what he thought.

“I’m headed to the gym. I’ll set the alarm before I go, but I’ll be gone longer than I usually am when I just run around the neighborhood.”

Grace tried to act nonchalant. This was no different from when he ran in the early evening. Just because it was dark and she’d be alone for a few hours was no reason for this wiggle of fear to work through her chest.


“Right, yeah. Go. I’ll be fine.” She tried to smile and failed while the wiggle intensified to a flop. “Can I come?” she blurted. She managed a casual smile instead of a wince of embarrassment. “I’ve been using Jacob’s weights, but he’s got sissy ones.”

Kyle’s mouth actually twitched into an almost smile. “If you’d like.”

“Great. Give me ten minutes.” She closed the door before he could change his mind. As she changed, she refused to dwell on the fact that her heart was still racing and her palms were still sweating from the idea of being alone at night. Even after spending seven long years making sure no one could ever hurt her the way Barry had again, even with a loaded gun in her dresser drawer. Barry’s being free sucked all the power from the things that once made her feel safe.

She’d deal with that later. When Barry’s being free became normal and inconsequential.
Oh, please, God, let that happen.

Dressed, Grace stood in front of the nightstand drawer, contemplating the gun. Usually she took it with her if she left the house, but with Kyle around she wasn’t sure that’d be such a great idea. And she didn’t know what kind of lockers his gym had. No, it was best to leave it behind.

And the idea shouldn’t make her vaguely nauseous.

Pushing that away with the rest of her worries, Grace hurried downstairs to where Kyle was waiting. He leaned casually against the counter, checking something on his phone.

“You should ditch the khakis more often.” Maybe if she goaded him into his typical disdainful eye rolls, she could ditch the panic and the insecurity in one fell swoop.

He gave her that condescendingly patient look. “I’ll keep it under advisement. Are you ready?”

Grace nodded, feeling jittery and amped. Her body practically vibrated with it as she followed Kyle out to the car. She couldn’t stand the silence. In silence, she could think far too much.

“So what do you do at the gym?”

She watched as he went through a precise routine of buckling his seat belt, turning on the ignition, adjusting the radio to a lower level, checking the street behind him. Was he precise in everything he did?

Grace had to fight back a giggle as her mind immediately jumped to sex. Well, at least her nerves weren’t making her a total wreck.

“I swim Wednesday and Friday nights.”

Grace took in the broad shoulders and thought of the muscled arms she’d seen when he’d peeled off his shirt the other day. Yes, she could definitely picture him as a swimmer.

“Are you one of those guys who do those run, swim, bike things? What’s it called? A triathlon?”

“I have done them in the past, yes.”

“Do you have the cute little bike shorts?”

He gave her a disapproving look. “No, I do not.”

“Bummer.” She grinned when he shook his head, his knuckles going white as he pulled into the lot of the gym. “You’re so easy, Kyle.”

“Great. Here.” He handed her a little piece of paper. “This is a guest pass.”

“You sure do think of everything, don’t you?” she muttered. Even if she belonged to a gym and got guest passes, she was pretty sure she’d lose them before she ever had a chance to use them. Not Kyle, of course.

Grace followed Kyle into the Bluff City Fitness Center, impressed by the big, bright lobby. She usually worked out at the Carvelle High School weight room or track thanks to Dad’s being the baseball coach. This place was twice as clean and smelled ten times better. No doubt the equipment would be superior, as well.

What had been a rash decision to avoid being alone wasn’t turning out half-bad. Maybe if she worked out hard enough, she’d manage a dreamless sleep tonight. Kyle gave her the basic layout of the place before disappearing into the men’s locker room.

Grace spent the next hour quite happily busting her butt on the weight machines. If after that she wandered over to the big windows overlooking the pool, it was only because the free weights were right there and she needed to check out if they were the brand she liked. If her eyes happened to scan the pool below and pick out Kyle’s long, impressive arms slicing through the water, well, who the hell could blame her? Watching him do stuff might be a little on the creepy side, but jeez, it was better than the alternative. Thinking about Barry.

Instinctively, Grace scanned the people around the pool. Her blood turned to ice at the sight of a large man with black hair standing off to the side. Her stomach pitched, fear paralyzing her breath.

And then a little girl ran across the wet concrete with open arms and the man smiled, hoisting her up.

Not Barry.

Grace stumbled back into someone running the track around the weight machines. She mumbled an apology.
Not Barry. Not Barry. Stupid, stupid mistake.

She closed her eyes, sucked in a breath. Well, seeing Barry where he wasn’t hadn’t happened since the trial. Grace opened her eyes, squinted at her shoes. She let out her breath, took another, easier this time.

Regression. Plain and simple. Unacceptable.

Grace took to the track and began to run. Hard. Eventually she would exhaust herself enough so the panic and fear and worry that this feeling would always be a part of her life would disappear.

Or at least hide away for a while.

Her lungs burned, her already tired muscles screamed, but Grace kept running. She wasn’t going to stop until the pain drowned out everything.

* * *

, hoping Grace would want to stick around at least another thirty minutes so he could get some spinning in. He was toying with the idea of doing a Half Ironman in October, and he’d need to pick up the pace of his training.

Which wouldn’t be all that hard with Grace underfoot. Exercise was far more appealing than enduring any more alone time with her. Somehow, it always ended up with him flustered, revealing too much. And worse was when she showed a hint of vulnerability. He didn’t like what it brought out in him, this strange need to help and commiserate and smile. Worst of all, smile.

Kyle didn’t commiserate and he didn’t let people into the dark places of his mind, so it was best to avoid Grace as much as possible.

He scanned the machines, looking for Grace’s rainbow-streaked ponytail and that ridiculously yellow, ridiculously tight exercise shirt she’d been wearing. He didn’t see her on any of the machines, but he caught a bullet of yellow out of the corner of his eye.

She was running the track. Hard. His stomach did a sickening slow roll when he saw her expression. When he recognized it as panic and fear.

He should know. He saw that expression enough in the mirror. Not knowing what he was going to say, Kyle still found himself taking to the track and running until he caught up with her.

When he fell into step next to her, she actually flinched, stumbling over her feet a little. He reached out to steady her, but she jerked away.

“What are you doing?” she huffed out, not bothering to slow down once she’d regained her footing. Her face was red, her words barely audible through the gusts of breath she was sucking in and letting out.

“Take a break, Grace.” Good Lord, how long had she been going at this pace? The breakneck speed was enough to have even a seasoned runner like him exert a lot of effort.

“Nope.” But she began to slow. It took a while, another two laps, and then she was down to a normal pace. “What are you doing?” she repeated, breathing heavily. Sweat dripped down her temples, and her chest heaved with the effort to breathe.

“Hoping to keep you from having a heart attack.”

“I’m fine,” she snapped, a shot of temper so unlike her.

She looked so close to breaking down he was afraid sympathy might lead to the possibility of tears, and he was not at all comfortable with that. So he went for a different reaction instead. “Don’t be obnoxious.”

She stopped dead in her tracks so quickly he almost toppled over trying to stop with her.

The outrage on her face was short-lived, morphing into eyes filling with tears and a quivering lip.

Crap. Wrong tactic.

“I’m not done yet.” She put her hands on her hips and took a deep hitching breath. “I’m not done yet.”

He took a step away from her.
Just leave her alone,
his mind instructed. “All right.” But his feet didn’t listen to his mind, because he didn’t take any more steps away.

“I just need...” Her voice hitched, but she shook her head as if to shake it off. “I just need...”

Kyle couldn’t stand it any longer. Knowing all too well what it was like to fight those gnawing, oppressive feelings. The way they dug into every wound, making them deeper, more painful. It was too much to bear seeing those feelings on Grace. Gently, he took her arm and led her toward the stairs. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

He expected her to fight him, but she didn’t. Perhaps she was too busy fighting the tears shimmering in her eyes.

He stopped in front of the locker room and she nodded in silent understanding. Forgetting his normal after-workout routine, he grabbed his bag out of the locker. When he returned to Grace, she was slumped against the wall, her eyelashes suspiciously wet.

He took her arm again, not sure why. Crying didn’t make her incapable of moving on her own, but he didn’t know what to say, so a friendly touch seemed the way to go.

Grace climbed into the car, her body tensed from head to toe. He slid into the driver’s seat, and though the rational part of his mind told him not to look, he couldn’t help himself. When it came to Grace, the other part of his brain too often took over.

She was curled up in her seat, forehead pressed to her knees. He opened his mouth to tell her to buckle her seat belt, but clamped it shut. He’d just drive with extra caution.

“I’m not going to cry.” Her voice was muffled by her knees.

“Praise every available deity.”

She laughed. “I like it when you’re funny. It’s much better than pretentious-asshole Kyle.” She turned her face so her temple rested on her knees and she looked at him, just the hint of a smile on her lips.

He looked at the windshield. “I wasn’t really trying to be funny.”

“Things were fine when he was locked up.” Her voice was a whisper. “No, they were good. Great. Why does it have to change?”

“The unknown tends to screw with us a lot more than what we know for fact.”

“Yes! Exactly. I don’t even know if he’d try to hurt me, you know? I mean, we’d only been on three damn dates, so it’s not like I was the love of his life. Maybe he doesn’t even care that I testified.” Her vigor faded and she slumped in her seat. “And maybe he does.”

“Grace.” What could he say? What was there to say? He knew the weight of uncertainty, the oppressive bulk of it. He remembered reading
The Crucible
in high school and thinking it felt a lot like the way being pressed to death must feel. Except lucky Giles had an end. This way, you just felt it all the time, that heavy weight, that struggle to breathe.

He’d done what he could to circumnavigate it, but he knew his way wouldn’t fit Grace. She was too bright and vibrant to mold herself into something else, someone else. So he had no advice. Only silence.

“Did your parents beat you?”

The question didn’t surprise him, but he never knew how to answer it. Had he been hit? On occasion. But beaten in the after-school–special sense? No. And now, well, it didn’t constitute beating if he dished it right back. “Not exactly. What happened to us isn’t the same.” Not at all. Grace was innocent. He was not. “But I know what it’s like to try to beat something and feel like you’ll never win.”

Grace rested her hand on top of his. Kyle let the feeling of human contact, human comfort, wash over him for a minute. Just a minute. Any longer and he’d take more than he deserved.

“Let’s head home.” Kyle lifted his hand from Grace’s and turned the key in the ignition. Part of him wanted to see what expression he would find on her face, but fear bolstered the rational part of his brain and he kept focus on backing out of the parking spot.

“It’s nothing to feel ashamed of.”

But that was exactly what he felt, what drove him. Shame. Of everything he’d let happen in that trailer for eighteen years. Of everything his father still could bring out in him.

BOOK: Too Close to Resist
12.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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