He wasn't sure how exactly he'd ended up with a pretty blonde sleeping in his bed like Goldilocks. He knew more about Goldilocks than he did about the blonde. Blondes typically weren't his thing, not that this one was a thing. Hell, he was still raw from finding out his wife had betrayed him. It was a bit of a predicament, though, considering it was his only bed. He was a sentimental idiot is what he was. That was what led to this situation.
He'd been on the road for what seemed like weeks. Maybe it was, he couldn't be sure. Finding out he'd been duped, conned, had not sat well with him. He didn't imagine it would with anyone. He'd mulled it over in his mind for what seemed an eternity. Kathryn had seemed so genuine. Even knowing now what he did he still couldn't find a chink in the armor that had been her disguise. She'd been a good and loving wife. He'd had no complaints at any rate.
He'd taken this car and put that life behind him once he found out the truth. They'd brought it out of him again. He was a different man with this car. A man with the desire for a mission but no place to go. And so, he'd taken her for a ride, a more casual one this time. No race to a finish line that only resulted in having his whole existence crash down around him.
He'd been sucker-punched and that was nothing compared to his feelings of late. Hatred, anger, bitterness. Those were all things he felt tenfold. He'd fallen off the radar but good once he'd found out the truth. He'd taken a room at, of all things, a bed and breakfast. Certainly, no one would think to look for him at a place like that.
He was on his way back there, in fact, after spending a good portion of his evening at a bar. He'd watched the Dodgers play somebody; he'd lost track. All of the games he'd seen lately blended together.
He almost saw it too late, the bundle in the middle of the road. He almost hit it, was glad he didn't. No telling what it could be and the damage that could be done to his baby as a result. And it was his baby, this Dodge Challenger; the only thing that had never let him down.
He realized as he passed the thing in the road that it wasn't a thing at all. It was a person. A woman and she wasn't moving. He cursed as he automatically slammed on his brakes, shifted gears, and spun the vehicle around to go back. He should know better than to get involved, but the road was deserted and it was late at night. Who knew when someone would drive by again?
He left the lights on, aimed at the woman but off to the side a bit. He stopped to grab his trusty knife and a flashlight from the glove compartment before getting out. He didn't think it was a setup, but one never knew.
He stooped over her and saw her closed eyes. She hadn't moved which meant she was probably pretty hurt. She should have moved at the sound of a car speeding right at her. She was dressed so he couldn't see how hurt she was, but clearly she was unconscious. Had she been hit by a car out here? He glanced at the pavement, but saw no sign of tire marks other than his own. He had no cell phone with him. He'd thrown his into the ocean somewhere along the drive, not wanting anyone to be able to find him.
He felt to see if she had a pulse. She did. That was a good sign. Other than one of her arms bent at an odd angle and some scrapes and bruises she appeared to be okay. Besides the being unconscious part anyway.
He was torn.
Should he leave her be in case she was seriously injured and drive ahead to the nearest pay phone?
On the other hand, if he left her here in the middle of the highway, she was bound to get hurt even more. Or dead.
Not feeling as though he had much choice he took her into his arms. If he was going to move her, may as well go all out and move her to his car. It was easy enough to do; she was a slight thing. He had no blanket or anything to put over her, but at least in his car she was out of the elements. And away from the danger of getting hit by a car whose driver didn't have the reactions he did.
He thanked God he hadn't had more than a couple of beers or he might not have been able to react fast enough.
He set her as carefully as he could on the backseat before sliding into the driver's seat and putting the car back into gear. He had no idea where a hospital was, but he could find one easy enough in town.
He was more than a little surprised when not too long after getting her settled in the car she made a noise. She sounded as if she was in pain, which was understandable considering how he'd found her.
"You all right back there?" he asked, gazing into his rearview mirror.
She didn't answer for a few minutes. In fact, she didn't give a verbal answer at all. Just all of the sudden there she was, looking back at him in the mirror.
"I guess you are then," he said softly.
"Where am I?"
"I'm taking you to a hospital as soon as I find one, found you on the road a ways back."
"You're welcome. What were you doing out in the middle of nowhere by yourself at night?"
"I wasn't, I mean, I didn't come out here by myself."
"Oh," he said simply.
"I can't go to the hospital."
"You were unconscious just a few minutes ago. I can't let you go wandering off by yourself."
"Where am I?"
He didn't need much light to see she was frowning.
"I don't rightly now, as I said I just happened upon you in the middle of the road."
"Monterey," she murmured. "I still can't go to the hospital."
"I have to do something with you, you were injured."
"I can't explain it, all right, but I'm fine and can't go to a hospital. I'm not sure how I got up here, I live by LA."
"That's like three hundred miles, sweetheart. You telling me you wandered that far and don't recall it?"
Was she a runaway? In trouble? Running from the law? She didn't look like a criminal, but he knew first hand criminals came in all shapes and sizes.
She placed her hand on her head and shook it slightly. "I I don't know."
"You in trouble? Wanted by the police?"
"No, nothing like that. I'm just " her eyes met his again in the mirror. "I can't go to a hospital."
"Are you in trouble? You pregnant? Got a daddy back home who beats on you? Running away from overprotective parents who won't let you wear the clothes you want?"
She smiled and gave a light laugh.
"Glad I can be amusing."
"No, none of those things. I just, it's complicated. I can't go to a hospital. If I did, then I probably would have to run away. That's all really, there's nothing else to it."
"All right," he said, accepting that as strange as it sounded. Lord knew he didn't want anyone to find out where he was now either. Maybe she was hiding from someone.
He studied her via the rearview mirror. She had a trusting face and looked innocent enough. Not that looks couldn't be deceiving. That was another thing he had first hand knowledge of. She didn't look as though she was going to keel over and die. And he didn't have anything for her to steal or pilfer through anyway.
"Here's the deal. I've got me a room at a bed and breakfast not too far from here. I'll take you there so you can get cleaned up, scrounge up something to eat if you're hungry, and then call whoever can come get you. No hospitals."
She was quiet for a few minutes, he wasn't sure if she was going to turn him down. He wouldn't blame her. She didn't know him, but if she was three hundred miles away and, seemingly, didn't have anyone nearby to turn to it was him or nothing.
"Welcome," he said through pursed lips. He didn't need to be responsible for someone else. He could barely look after himself. "I'm Alex," he added.
"I'm Claire," she said softly.
"Nice to meet you, Claire."
"You, too. Do you always rescue damsels in distress?"
"Only those in the middle of the road."
"I guess it's my lucky night then."
"Not sure how luck plays into it, but if you say so."
So, here he was, attempting to sleep in a chair that was not designed for such an activity. And not succeeding very well. The bed and breakfast was as horrific as he'd always pictured them being. Frilly lace, floral patterns everywhere, and furniture designed to look nice but not be very practical. Evidently, people weren't supposed to actually sit in these rooms because the chair wasn't even comfortable for that.
So, he watched while she slept. She was entirely too trusting and naïve - or just that tired - to fall asleep with a strange man nearby so easily. He supposed finding herself in this type of situation could be exhausting.
The scrapes and bruises he'd noticed earlier were gone. That was perplexing enough, but her arm was fine, too. He knew this because he'd seen her use it. He supposed he could have imagined it, but he didn't think so. He'd seen enough injuries in his time to know when medical attention was warranted. He'd been prepared to go out to an all-night drug store and get supplies for a makeshift sling or something.
"Quit staring at me."
"I'm not, just thinking is all."
"How it is you can use your arm when I saw it injured earlier."
She stretched, sliding said arm under the pillow. "It wasn't as hurt as you thought it was?"
"All right, if that's the way you want to play it. I won't ask any more questions, not that you're accountable to me or anything. I just wondered is all."
"I can't tell you."
"Go back to sleep, Claire, you had a scare if nothing else."
She regarded him. This man who didn't know her and yet not only helped her but gave up his bed. Her mom and dad would freak if they knew she was spending the night in a strange man's room. She was probably stupid, but there was something about him that said she could trust him.
She'd seen the look in his eyes earlier in the car. He'd told her his story. It was a sad one. Beyond sad. She couldn't even imagine. You marry someone, you're supposed to be able to trust them above anyone else. Right? Maybe she was naïve to think like that.
She realized the look in his eyes was more than just being lost. She'd probably had the same look finding out her father had not just been lying to her but altering her memories. Betrayed. The ultimate disappointment. She didn't have a boyfriend or husband. West was a potential boyfriend, but still too new to say. There was a part of her that wasn't sure she should trust him. She considered betrayal by her father, though, almost as bad as what Alex Tully had gone through. He was the one man she should be able to trust entirely.
He said he'd been a race car driver then somehow had gotten involved in being a getaway driver. She wasn't sure why he'd admitted that to her. Hoping she'd tell him the truth? Or seeing if she'd threaten to do something with that information?
He'd turned his life around and he'd helped her when he didn't have to. She knew all about keeping secrets, she had her own to keep. His was safe with her, too.
"Have you slept?"
"No, this chair isn't made for someone like me I guess."
"You can sleep here. I won't tell or mind."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. I haven't slept with anyone besides my wife in quite some time."
"You said you weren't even really married, though."
"It's more than that. This is all still rather new to me."
"It's just hard to think of the person I slept with as living a lie to get me into some race."
"Maybe you need to sleep with someone who's not her."
His eyes narrowed. "You coming onto me?"
"No. You could have left me in the middle of the road, so that tells me you're a good man."
"You sleep with a woman for a length of time you do things instinctively."
"I don't mean to offend. I'm just saying that the chair seems the safer option."
"Is instinct going to make you do anything to hurt me?"
"No, of course not! I ain't never "
"Well, then come on. I'm not going to bite." She sat up then, drawing her knees to her chest. "Unless maybe you want me to."
His eyes widened. "Sweetheart, saying things like that are liable to get you in trouble with the wrong man."
"I was kidding." Something like disappointment passed over his face. "I mean, not that you're not a good looking guy. I just don't feel right taking your bed when you don't even know anything about me. So, sleep on the bed with me. It will make me feel better."
"How did you get to Monterey?"
He was back to that again. She'd already told him a few times, apparently he didn't believe her. She couldn't blame him, really, considering he'd just found out his life the past few years had been a complete lie.
"I don't know!" She turned away from him.
"I shouldn't push. You get lied to, though, and it makes you a little gun shy."
"I know the feeling, you have no idea. I've been lied to, too," she said. "I said I don't know and I really don't."
He sighed heavily and stood, going to the bathroom. She heard running water and knew he was getting a drink of water. She felt his eyes on her as he regarded her from the doorway. He probably thought he was insane to take her up on her offer. She wasn't offering him sex, he had to know that. She thought she might be offering him something that maybe he needed even more. To know that someone could lie beside him because she wanted to, not because of some con she was running.
"You sure?" he asked.
"Yes," she said softly. She really wasn't sure. She'd never shared a bed with anyone but her parents or her brother. She wasn't really afraid of those instinctual things he'd spoken of, but there was that bit of doubt that had her wondering if she wasn't crazy to even be here at all.
"All right then," he said finally. "I'll be out in a minute."
He closed the bathroom door then. It was too much to swallow. Part of him wondered if she wasn't part of the scheme, but how could she be?
He wasn't going to forget Kathryn or get over her in a night. Probably not even a number of nights. If he really wanted to get over her betrayal, he had to move on. To come to the conclusion first-hand that not everyone was out to deceive him. And moving on meant starting somewhere. And why not sleep with her, if sleeping was all that there was. He certainly wasn't betraying his wedding vows.
As crazy as it would sound to most, that still entered into the equation. He had a hard time processing the fact that they hadn't been married. He didn't feel any different and knew it would take time to adjust to the new reality he was faced with. That everything right down to that piece of paper had been planned and plotted.
He thought of himself as honorable, but he was still just a man and she was a pretty woman offering him a side of his own bed. Bathroom business taken care of, he returned to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. He wanted - needed - to ensure she wasn't going to yell or scream foul. When she didn't, he joined her under the covers.
She scooted closer, not quite pressing against him. Certainly not much space separated them, and the bed was large enough there should have been.
"What's that for?"
"Maybe I need the closeness of someone, too."
"You scared of something?"
"I've been scared of something for a while now, waiting for it to catch up to me."
"But you can't tell me what."
"Someone bad, who wants to see me dead because I can," she paused. She hated talking in riddles, speaking half-truths. Telling him she was someone special who could regenerate was a little more farfetched then the tale he'd told. "Do things and he wants to be able to do them, too."
"You think that's how you got here?"
"I don't know, I really don't. Last thing I remember I was talking to a friend of mine. The next thing I knew I woke up in your car."
"You want to call this friend of yours and find out what they know?"
"It's late "
He turned onto his side to face her. He hadn't turned the lamp off yet, so he could see her clearly. Could he see how scared she was? "You scared of what you might find out?"
"A little. My friend," she closed her eyes, not before he saw the tears though. "He can do things, too."
"So, you think that maybe this bad someone might have gone after both you and your friend?"
"And you wouldn't call your parents because?"
"My dad would freak if he found out I was in Monterey!"
"I see," he said simply. "Won't he freak if he thinks you're gone all night?"
"Yes, but you said you'd give me a ride home. I figure it's better to come up with a story as to where I was then to admit spending the night with you."
"I really do appreciate you not taking me to the hospital."
"It goes against my better judgment, but I've been in a situation or two where I didn't need someone knowing what I'd done or where I was."
"Are you a dangerous man, Alex Tully?"
"Dangerous? No, I just drove a car, but I hung out with some people. Yeah, you could say they were dangerous."
"And now you're a landscaper?"
"I don't know what I am anymore, but yeah, that was my chosen vocation for the past little while."
She reached for him then, touching his cheek with the palm of her hand. It was the simplest touch, meant to comfort. "I'm sorry you're going through this, Alex. You seem like a good man."
"I'm not," he said, taking hold of her hand. He meant to push it away, touching him was the last thing she should be doing. He held onto it, though. Every touch he'd gotten from Kathryn was now in question. Had any of it been real? Sincere? So, to have someone touch him, really touch him, out of want shook him. "I'm really not."
"Everyone's done things "
"You're too young to say things like that."
"But my dad's not. I'm sure he's done worse than you have."
"Yeah, well "
"Maybe I'll just stay with you."
"I'm sorry. What did you say? Why'd you wanna go doing a thing like that?"
"Well, if someone found my friend and me, going home isn't an option. That means that not only am I in danger, they are, too."
"From the person after you and your friend?"
"And others like us."
"You've touched that 'like us' part, but haven't gone into detail."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
She sat up in bed then. "You still have that knife?"
"What you need a knife for?"
"You won't believe me if I tell you, but if I show you," she shrugged. "You won't have any choice."
"Can you get a towel from the bathroom, too?"
"Anything else you need?"
She laughed softly. "No."
She watched as he stood and went to his things, coming back with the knife and towel. She took them from him and sat up straight, placing the towel over her lap. She'd cut off her toe, she could do this. She gave a sharp hiss from the pain as she sliced her forearm open with the blade of the knife. It was good and sharp so it didn't take much effort on her part.
She saw the look of horror on his face. She knew when he was going to reach out to stop her and took the knife away from her skin on her own.
"What the devil are you doing?"
"Just watch," she said, wiping the knife off on the towel. It always amazed her to see it happen. She imagined one day it would be so commonplace that it was no big deal, but she hadn't gotten to that point yet.
He pushed off the bed and took a step back as the wound started the process of healing. It was hard to describe, but it was fascinating to watch her body heal. Was it magic? He didn't seem fascinated so much as horrified.
"I told you wouldn't believe me."
"You can? I'm not sure I understand what I just saw."
"I regenerate," she said simply. "Want me to do it again so you know you aren't hallucinating?"
"No, once is plenty. And your friend?"
"He can do something else. There are a lot of us, genetically different I guess. There's a book, Activating Evolution by Chandra Suresh. You may have heard of it. Or maybe not. I haven't read the whole thing yet. Anyway, there are people looking for us. Some just me and my family, and some all of us who are different."
"So, that's how your arm?"
He sat on the bed again. She placed her hand on his forearm. "It's not something I just walk around telling people. You see that now?"
"Well, yeah, who'd believe you? I've seen it with my own eyes and am still trying to come up with some optical illusion that could explain it."
"I can do it again."
"No, please don't. Once is enough."
"You think I'm a freak."
"No, I didn't say that."
"You don't have to, I know what I am."
"But there are others like you, so you're not a freak."
She shrugged. "I have to hide what I am. It wasn't so bad when I was back home, but I'm not anymore. So what's even worse is now I can't tell anyone my real name, I can't do anything I want to do. All to stay under the radar of anyone looking for us. And all because I'm special."
"That's why you mentioned coming with me?"
"Sort of. I mean, I can't help but think my parents and brother are better off without me there to cause problems."
That wasn't entirely true because her father had his own issues with The Company. Certainly, though, knowing Claire was with him heightened their interest in him.
"I think in the morning you should call and find out if your friend made it home or what happened to him."
"Because if he didn't make it home that would indicate someone got a hold of him, like you think. You do think that, don't you?"
"Yes," she said softly. She couldn't explain what she and West were doing here without explaining about what West could do. She might expose herself, but she wasn't going to do the same with anyone else. She was still fuzzy on what had happened, but she remembered West dropping her knowing she'd survive the fall. She just didn't know why he'd done it.
"Well, then we'd know whether to bring you home or not. If you're really in danger, I wouldn't feel right just taking you home."
"What are you saying?"
"We'll see what's going on with your friend and family. You said earlier you just moved here from Texas?"
"Yeah," she said. "You have no idea how great it is to be honest with someone. The past month I've done nothing but lie to everyone, even my family. It sucks."
"Maybe they'll move again and you can hang with me until they're settled."
She smiled slightly. "I'd be in your way."
"I've got nowhere to go, just the open road calling me. And maybe some company would do me good while your family gets settled."
"I don't think my dad would like that."
"Yes, because you being here with me tonight when he has absolutely no idea where you are or who you're with would sit with him so much better."
"All right then," he said, collecting the knife and towel from her. "Not sure how I'm going to explain the towel to the maid. That's a little more than a cut from shaving."
He filled the sink with cold water and put the towel in it. That'd keep it from setting. Why he was concerned about that, he wasn't sure. His knife was another matter. He'd have to clean it properly tomorrow. He glanced at himself in the mirror, clutching the sides of the sink with his hands.
"What have you gotten yourself into, Tully?"
There was no answer, because he didn't have one.
"Listen," he said, walking back into the bedroom. "I've been thinking on this whole situation."
His words, however, weren't heard by anyone but himself. She'd fallen asleep. He walked to the bed, taking hold of her arm as gently as he could. He grazed his thumb along her forearm in the general area he knew the cut to have been. There wasn't a mark, a scar, an indication of any kind she'd been bleeding moments ago.
He was surprised she felt normal, like any other human he'd ever touched. He expected, he guessed, after seeing what she could do that she'd feel different somehow. He let go of her arm, having no business really touching her and sat in the chair. That seemed to wake her up a bit.
"I told you to sleep in the bed."
She lifted her head a little, regarding him. "If you don't I'm going to think you think I'm a freak."
He stood then and moved back to the bed next to her. He slid an arm behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
Freak. There was a word.
What kind of man gets duped so badly that he doesn't even realize his whole life is a sham? Alex Tully hadn't always been that type of man. Hell, he never would have expected him to fall for such a con.
"Neither are you."
"How'd you know what I was thinking?"
"Not hard to know."
"Yeah, well, it's still a bitter pill to swallow. It casts doubt on your whole existence. Whether you're a good man. Whether you're any good at any of the things you thought you were. The things that you thought mattered."
"Nothing should change that, Alex."
"You'd think not."
She did something incredible then. Well, maybe not so incredible as just surprising. She leaned in and kissed him. It was just a light brush of her lips along his cheek. She was so quick about it he almost thought he'd imagined it.
"I know not."
"You don't even know her."
"I don't need to."
He wasn't sure what to say to that.
"Good night," she said softly.
"G'night," he said, sounding irritable even to his own ears. What had brought that on?
He woke when the alarm went off and found two things. One, he'd slept better then he had in weeks even if it hadn't been a lot in quantity. First had been the race, thinking his wife was in danger. And then the rest had unfolded. And two, he hadn't done anything stupid or embarrassing while they slept. They were both fully clothed and while she was snuggled against his chest that seemed to be her doing not his.
He knew he should get up, but he couldn't help but enjoy feeling her warmth and closeness. He certainly didn't have anything to do today, other than a drive down to LA. That brought him to the problem at hand. She had phone calls to make and he really had no business enjoying the way she felt pressed up against him. His hand, resting innocently at the small of her back now would be easy enough to move.
She murmured and shifted slightly in her sleep. He lifted his hand from her back and rested it against the top of her head, smoothing down her hair. It was the right thing to do, even if his body rebelled against his mind.
"Mm, getting there."
"Good. You've got phone calls to make and I really should hit the shower."
She chuckled lightly and instead of letting go actually pressed closer against him. He stifled a groan. Closer was not what he needed right now. His body was doing what any warm-blooded male's body would do with a pretty thing pressed up against it. Reacting.
"What do you mean?"
She laughed then. "I had health class."
"Sorry, should I not say anything?"
"No. Yes. I need to get up and you need to make your phone calls. Find out about your friend and then you can decide what to do about going home after that."
"And in case I don't say it later, thank you."
"For letting me sleep in the bed. It was much more comfortable then that chair."
"It occurs to me, you told me something about yourself that maybe you shouldn't have. Are you all right with that?"
"Are you going to go tell everyone?"
"And I don't think The Company is going to come looking for a race car driver, so I think I'm fairly safe."
"They'd be hard-pressed to get information out of me anyway."
"That's good to know."
They grew quiet. He ran his fingers through her hair. Her fingers were toying with one of the buttons on his shirt. It seemed such a natural, normal thing to do. It was a little bothersome actually, how comfortable it was.
"What are you thinking?" he asked.
She shrugged, glancing up at him. "I've never spent the night with someone before."
"I'd guessed that."
"My dad "
"Will probably have a noose ready when I bring you home."
"I had sort of assumed you'd drop me off."
"Is that the way you want to play it?"
"It's safest. He won't meet you, you won't see where I actually live."
"Right," he murmured, shifting under her touch. "Well, let's get on with it then. Make your calls so we know what we're doing."
The day had been almost unbearable. Luckily, Alex had gotten her home early enough that she'd been able to sneak inside without her parents even knowing she hadn't come home. She'd barely made it through school, though. And West. Well, she'd had to break things off with him, which didn't make him happy at all.
She'd come to realize last night that while she thought of her dad as being overly paranoid, he probably had reason to be. Hanging out with West while exhilarating was dangerous. Two specials together was bound to attract attention. Especially as careless as he seemed to be about the fact he was different. He almost seemed to be begging The Company to find him again.
She knew, though, that The Company would do exactly as her dad said they would to her. They would poke, prod and push her knowing all the while she'd heal and recover from the damage of everything done to her. All in the name of science, to find out what she could do, how she worked. Well, she wasn't a watch or a TV, she was a human being and she did not want to be someone's living experiment.
He'd taken a huge risk the night before and he didn't even seem to care. Granted, she'd let him and gone along with it. She hadn't really stopped to think about the danger, though. She was lucky it was someone like Alex who had found her. There were so many other possibilities. Imagine what a rapist or serial killer would do to her if they found out she could heal. It almost made her gag thinking about it.
"Claire!" She turned at the voice. It was West. Of course it was. He didn't seem to know when to give up. That was partially her fault, too, she'd been wishy-washy about the yes and no thing until now. Because truth was, she liked him and it was so nice to spend time with someone she didn't have to lie to or pretend to be something she wasn't with.
"West, I," she paused, not sure what to say.
"Just hear me out."
"No, I have heard you out. You told me to give you one date. I gave you two and I'm just not ready for that yet."
"I thought we had a good time."
"We did," she said sincerely. She did have a good time with him. Until he'd dropped her lord knew how many feet from the sky. He said he'd thought someone was watching them and he'd wanted to protect her. She believed him.
And, yet, there was doubt in the back of her mind. That doubt is what made her want to take a step back more than anything did. When it got down to it, she knew nothing about him other than what he claimed. As farfetched, and as paranoid sounding as her father, he could be a plant for all she knew. Of course, if that was the case it was too late now because they'd know where she was.
The revving of an engine in the parking lot caught her attention. She smiled as recognition took hold and started toward the car, forgetting for a minute West was even there.
"So you just walk away from me?"
She stopped but wasn't happy about it. "West," she said. "Please don't make this any more difficult than it is. I like you and there's nothing saying I can't be your friend, but if you keep harassing me I'm not going to want to even be that."
"Whoa! I'm not harassing you," he said, taking a step back. "I just thought we connected, shared something in common that made us different and unique yet not so alone."
She looked both ways before stepping onto the parking lot and walking toward the car. She leaned in the passenger's side window, which was down. She smiled, tucking some hair behind her ears.
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, I had this whole thing worked out in my head about offering you candy or something, but now that I'm here that doesn't play out so well. I don't feel like getting arrested today. So, I thought maybe you could use a ride."
"I thought you were going back?"
"Change of plan. Of course, I have no plan so there wasn't much to change. I thought I'd stay a spell."
"Is that all right?"
"It's a free country."
He chuckled. "I meant, my coming to pick you up."
"Claire," West said from behind her. "Who is this guy? You know him?"
"Well, yeah, he's a friend, Alex."
"Oh," he said and she saw something pass through his eyes. "I'll see you tomorrow then, or later if you're around the neighborhood."
"Sure," she said, tossing her books into the backseat before getting in. She realized West probably thought Alex was a much-older boyfriend. She started to laugh then.
"What's so funny?"
"You just helped me a second time I think."
"That guy. I'd gone out with him a couple of times. He was getting a little pushy."
"Understandable. If I had a girl like you showing even the slightest interest in me I'd be pushy, too."
"Thank you, but I'm not ready for pushy. I'm not even ready for a boyfriend I don't think."
"So, why's that funny?"
"I think he thinks you're my boyfriend."
"I'm a little "
"Old?" She shrugged and leaned over to kiss him. Maybe if West thought there was another guy he'd move on from her without much of a fight. Or without feeling the need to expose her secret. She could tell Alex was surprised, it wasn't like she was Frenching him. It was just a kiss. She drew away after what she thought was long enough. "If it gets him off my back for a while I'm okay with that."
"So, is that your way of saying you want me to pick you up while I'm in town?"
"If you can and want to, sure."
"Driving pretty girls home has always been an interest of mine."
"Well, then, far be it for me to disappoint."
"Sweetheart, I doubt the word disappoint crosses the minds of many who come up against you each day."
"Is he still standing there?"
"He's too far back for that. That why you kissed me?"
"Sorry. I probably shouldn't have done that, especially knowing "
"Claire, it's all right," he said. "Now, where to for the afternoon?"
"I don't have a lot of homework so pretty much anything."
"All right. I'll see what I can come up with."
"I think I can handle that."
"You're not expected home?"
"Not until dinner and I can always call with an excuse."
"Well, then I'd best make skipping dinner worth your while."
"I can't wait."