Authors: Rhian Cahill
Tags: #friends to lovers;contemporary romance
Glancing over at the phone, he saw Red’s name and quickly grabbed it and hit answer. “Hello.”
“Go home, Zac.” She sounded so tired.
He sighed. “We need to talk.”
“No. No more talking. Not now.”
Zac debated getting out of the car, but her next words stopped him.
“Please, Zac,” she pleaded. “Just go home.”
He closed his eyes. It was the please—the shaky way she’d said it—that did him in. “Okay. But first tell me when we’ll talk.”
Zac was sure his heart didn’t beat for the eternity he waited for Red to answer him. He definitely didn’t take a breath.
“I don’t know. I need to think.”
“Tomorrow?” Zac wanted to say tonight but didn’t want to push her away any farther than he already had. He could feel her backing away from him—from what they’d shared—and cold fear slid down his spine. “At least send me a text to let me know you’re okay.”
Her heavy sigh filled the phone line. “Sure.”
“And you’ll ring if you need anything?”
The laughter that met his ear held no humour. “What could I possibly need, Zac?”
He didn’t say it, but he felt it in every part of him. And that was the moment he realised Red wasn’t the only one who needed time. Because no matter what his body wanted. No matter that he’d gladly walk inside her house and take her again, he still couldn’t get past the fact she was his best friend’s little sister.
“Argh.” Freddie tossed her phone on the sofa. “Men are idiots.”
Not only had her stupid brother called her from the airport, but he also contacted Coop and sent him around to check on her. Although, to give Cooper credit, he’d told her it wasn’t
he was checking on exactly. He was looking for Zac.
She was so worked up over her brother’s interference that she almost lied about seeing Zac. But in the end, Freddie had given Coop what little info she could.
After telling Zac to go home, she’d come inside so she didn’t have to watch him leave. She knew it was best for both of them to take a step back, but part of Freddie—a big part—was afraid she’d stop him from going if she saw him leave. So she’d avoided all windows for a good twenty minutes.
And when she’d finally given in to the need to find out if he’d done as she’d asked, the street in front of her house was empty.
Freddie had to admit she hadn’t liked the hollowness that filled her chest. She shouldn’t have been disappointed to see Zac gone—she’d asked him to leave after all—except there was that little piece inside her that crumbled anyway. He’d given up.
She glanced at her phone.
He hadn’t called or sent a text either. Everyone else—including her mother—had. But not Zac. He’d done as she asked and she wished he hadn’t. She really did need to get a handle on her emotions or she’d never work out what to do about them.
And to top it off, now she had to deal with Pierce Taylor. The personal trainer she occasionally worked with hadn’t taken no for an answer when she’d told him she couldn’t consult about one of his clients today. Mind you, the man they were supposed to discuss did have serious health issues that required not just the exercise program Pierce would put together for him. Any exercise affected blood sugar levels, and as a recently diagnosed diabetic, Mr. Turner needed to be sure he was managing his diet around the times he worked out.
At least she’d managed to convince Pierce to meet her at the office. The idea of meeting at a café hadn’t sat right with her and only brought home the fact she needed to set him straight. His overtures had been subtle enough that Freddie had questioned whether or not he was coming on to her. Until today. Ending their call with, “See you soon, sweetheart,” with a syrupy tone to his voice had set off warning bells in her head.
Freddie went into the spare bedroom she used as a home office and grabbed her laptop. She’d worked with a few diabetics in the past and it would be simple to tweak one of those existing meal plans to suit Mr. Turner. If she was lucky, she could deal with Pierce and be heading home again in less than an hour.
The beauty of having her own business was being able to house it wherever she wanted, and Freddie loved the little cottage she’d bought on the quiet street of Manly. It was close to the beach and shops, and yet traffic—pedestrian and vehicular—was minimal. It also allowed her to set up her office like a home.
Being able to show her clients how to prepare a nutritionally balanced meal was just as important as handing out meal plans, recipes and shopping lists. It was also simpler and easier to demonstrate how to make one of her nutrient-supplementing smoothies than to try to explain how.
Sunday afternoon traffic was light, and Freddie pulled into the driveway of her office within twenty minutes of leaving home. She’d spent the entire drive replaying everything that had happened with Zac since he’d pushed his way into her room last night.
She could have another twenty days to think about it and still not be any closer to knowing what to do.
With a sigh, Freddie turned off the engine and opened the door. Climbing out of the car, she surveyed the yard. The service she hired to look after the gardens had done a great job yesterday. Her one stipulation was for the place to look lived in—just like every other house on the quiet residential street.
Freddie wanted her clients to feel comfortable and relaxed when they came to see her. A lot of them were making dietary changes due to poor health or illness, like Mr. Turner, and she knew all too well how either of those could affect a person.
Memories of her own struggle with anorexia filled her head. A shudder rattled through her. She pushed the bad thoughts aside and pulled up the good ones. The ones of the woman who’d helped Freddie get control of her chaotic mind and her eating. Janice had not only saved her from herself, but also inspired her to help others who were dealing with food issues. Hence Freddie acquiring degrees in nutrition and psychology.
With a smile on her face, Freddie walked to the front door. She slipped her key into the lock and turned it. The beep of the alarm system started the second she opened the door and she quickly punched in the code to deactivate it. Having the security company turn up on her doorstep would be one more disaster this weekend didn’t need.
Cool and quiet, the air held a trace of the flowers she’d set on the entryway table. She needed to remember to pick up some more on the way to work in the morning. Moving deeper into the house, Freddie headed for the kitchen and her blender. A nice energy-boosting smoothie was just the thing to get her through the next hour or so.
She’d barely pulled the ingredients from the fridge when a commotion at the front door drew her into the hallway. What greeted her left her speechless and frozen to the spot for a second. But when Pierce pulled his arm back—fist clenched—she sprang into motion.
Pain radiated across Zac’s face and into his skull. Blood burst from his nose. Ran into his mouth and down his chin. Damn. That was the second time today he hadn’t seen a punch coming. He had no idea who the meathead that held him by the shirt was or where he’d come from, but Zac was paying attention now.
Using a move he’d learned from years of wrestling with his brothers, Zac dislodged the guy’s arms from where he gripped Zac’s shirt and took two steps back. He rolled to the balls of his feet and got ready for a second attack.
Only it never came because, before either he or the meathead could move another inch, Red came charging out the door like she’d been fired from a cannon.
“Zac. Oh my God.” She reached his side and cupped her hands on his cheeks. “Hold still.”
“What the hell?” Meathead asked.
Red glanced over at the muscle-bound punch thrower. “That’s my question.”
“He was hanging around your door. Looking inside.”
“I was about to knock,” Zac mumbled, the words muffled in his ears like he spoke under water, and even those softly spoken words sent pain lancing through his head.
“We need to get you a towel. Stop the bleeding. Do I need to take you to the hospital? Do you think it’s broken?” Red rambled.
“Nah, not broken.” Zac brought his hand up and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger, applying the necessary pressure to stop the flow of blood. “Fucking hurts like a bitch though.”
“C’mon.” Red took her hands away and turned to the guy who’d nailed him. “What the hell were you thinking, Pierce?”
Who the fuck was Pierce?
“I thought he was going to attack you.” The meathead—
—crossed his behemoth arms over his equally huge barrel chest.
“From the front step?” Zac asked, genuinely confused because he hadn’t hung back waiting at all. He’d gotten straight out of his car and walked to the front door.
Red shook her head and turned back to Zac. “C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Pain meds would be good too.” Zac’s head throbbed. Thanks to West and this guy, he had a blinding headache, and no doubt his face would be black and blue come morning. Good thing he didn’t have any pressing court cases this week. He could work from home if he needed to.
“I’m sure I’ve got something. If not, Pierce can go to the shop and get some seeing how he’s the one who did the damage.” Red led him into the house.
Zac winced. Pierce was right behind him so the guy’s voice not only echoed off the walls, it bounced around the inside of Zac’s head.
Red threw a daggered look at the guy but didn’t say anything.
She took them through the house to the kitchen. Zac was surprised by what he saw. He knew from West that she’d set up her consultation rooms in a house, but he’d never been here. He had to admit, he was impressed by what he’d seen so far. When she pointed to a stool in front of a long counter, he took a seat.
The second he sat, Zac lowered his forehead to the cool countertop. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he couldn’t deny he was a little wobbly on his feet right now. Between the pounding in his head and the blood still trickling from his nose, it was a wonder he’d made it this far.
“Here.” Red smoothed her hand down his back. “Press this to your nose and you need to sit up straight, Zac.”
He knew she was right. He’d had enough bloody noses in his lifetime to know what to do, but the urge to lay his head down and forget everything that had gone on in the last twelve or so hours since she’d come in his arms the last time was too much to deny. “Give me a sec.”
“No.” She tugged on his hair lightly, but it still shot a shaft of agony from the base of his skull to his eye sockets. “Stop bleeding then lie down.”
“Bossy,” Zac whispered.
“Better bossy than you bleeding to death all over my counter.” She stood behind him, her chest to his back, and helped him upright. “Lean back if you need to.”
Zac wanted to lean against her. Not that he needed to. He might be a little woozy, but he wasn’t that incapacitated that he couldn’t sit up. “I’m good.”
“Don’t be a hero.” Red pressed the cool damp towel into his hand. “Press this to your nose.”
“Like I said. Bossy.”
“Bossy over bleeding preferred.”
“Freddie, he’s obviously fine. He doesn’t need you babying him.”
Zac had forgotten the meathead was still there. “Who
this guy?” He didn’t mean for the question to slip out, but his brain wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment.
“Who the fuck are
?” Pierce the meathead growled.
Zac stiffened, but the hand Red placed on his shoulder stopped him from getting up and punching the dickhead.
“Zac this is Pierce Taylor. I occasionally consult on his clients.”
Zac was pleased by the way she introduced them. She was clearly stating what place each of them held in her life. Zac was a friend, while Pierce was a work associate. He grunted but didn’t offer his hand.
“You know him?” Pierce asked, his gaze directed over Zac’s right shoulder where Red stood behind him offering her support.
“Of course I know him. Why else would he be at my office on a Sunday?”
Why indeed. Zac couldn’t stop the smirk from forming. Good thing he held the towel on his nose, it covered the whole bottom half of his face from view.
“I didn’t realise you had a boyfriend,” Pierce said, a frown pulling the corners of his mouth down.
Red moved closer to Zac’s back, pressing her soft breasts into his shoulder blades. “And why would you know? It’s not like we socialise outside of work, Pierce.”
“Right. No. Right.”
Zac almost felt sorry for the guy. He’d obviously had his sights set on Red.
“Speaking of work. We’ll have to reschedule our consult. When are you seeing Mr. Turner? I’ve got a two o’clock half-hour slot Monday, but other than that I’m booked solid through the week,” Red said.
“I was waiting to get the meal plan from you before making a time with him.”
“Okay, then I’ll see you tomorrow at two.”
It was a clear dismissal. One just as obvious as when Red had directly told Zac to go home earlier today. Twice. He frowned.
“I…” Pierce’s gaze bounced between Red and Zac. “Right. Okay. Well, sorry about…” He waved a hand towards Zac’s face.
“Yeah.” Zac wasn’t going to let the guy off the hook completely. “Next time, you might want to think before you punch. Assault is a charge you don’t want to be brought up on.”
“Assault?” Meathead’s face paled.
“Yep. Unprovoked too.”
Red squeezed Zac’s shoulder, digging her nails into his skin through his shirt. “Zac’s only winding you up. It’s his lawyer sense of humour. Most of us don’t find it anywhere near as amusing as he does.”
“Lawyer?” Pierce’s eyes bulged—more than his muscles—and Zac hid his grin behind the towel.
“As I said. He’s joking. Right, Zac?” She dug her fingernails into him again.
“Yeah.” He might have agreed verbally, but the guy would be an idiot not to read the warning Zac sent him with his eyes. Pierce might be muscle-bound but there were at least two brain cells rubbing together inside his thick head, because he took a step back.
“Sorry. Again. I’ll see myself out.” Then he was gone, leaving a heavy silence behind.
Neither of them spoke, and Zac was pleased that Red didn’t move away either. He knew the bleeding had stopped and his vision was no longer blurred. The pounding in his head had eased a bit too. But even with all that, he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure of touching her. Especially when she was the one doing the touching.
Freddie had never been more bewildered or confused as she was now. Even in the throes of her eating disorder, she’d had direction. It might have been destructive and life threatening, but she’d felt there’d been something to head towards—a goal. Right now, she didn’t know whether to hold Zac closer or run a mile.
With a sigh, she moved to the side and propped her hip on the counter next to him. “How’s the nose?”
“The bleeding has stopped.”
“Do you want those pain pills?”
“That would be good.” He pulled the towel away from his face and revealed a blood-smeared chin. “Got a bathroom I can clean up in?”
“Oh, sure. Down the hall.” She pointed behind him. “You can’t miss it. There’s a sign on the door.”
“Thanks. Be back in a second.”
She watched him go. Wondered what the hell he was doing here. How he’d known she was here and whether either of them had a clue what they should do now. First things first though. They needed to take care of Zac’s nose.