Home > Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)(8)

Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)(8)
Author: Krista Ritchie, Becca Ritchie

It’s a clever move on her part, and I’d applaud if she were in the store.

My mom has always wanted me to choose a job that I’ll enjoy. I’m aware it’s far from a problem. I suspect not very many parents would push their children in the direction of “passion” over practicality, and even fewer have the billon-dollar cushion to fall back on.

I am grateful for them, for this life, and I’m trying not to take a moment for granted. And so I have to be realistic.

At the last Wednesday family dinner, I vehemently expressed that I have no one-true-passion in life. I’ve searched while I could, and my self-indulgent hunt is now over.

I’m committed to using my time wisely, and helping my family seems like the most sensible avenue. I used to work as a temporary CFO for H.M.C. Philanthropies, but ever since Moffy was ousted from the charity he built, I’ve refused to step through those doors.

Starting at the bottom of the fashion ladder at Calloway Couture—wherever my mom needs me—that was the plan. Instead, she’s pole-vaulted me to a position I am so drastically unqualified for and one that I do not deserve.

I push a frizzed strand of hair out of my eyes. “Are you positive you wouldn’t rather have me run errands? I could spend the day helping you—”

“No, four fabrics, cut enough for a maxi dress.” She speeds through more directions and terminology that’s only vaguely familiar.

Oh God.

In a brief pause, I cut in, “Vanessa—”

“Fashion is in your blood, Jane. As your mom always says, do or die. ” She struts past me like a strong gust of wind and puts the phone back to her ear. “Lance, look again.” The doorbell dings and she’s gone.

In this scenario, my mom would like me to die.

To perish an ugly death on the musty carpet and then revive into the version of myself that is so hopelessly me .

I know who I am, but sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

On instinct, I unzip my acorn-squash purse. Itching to call Maximoff and ask him for advice. Two brains are better than one.

But I hesitate…

He’s teaching a swim class at the aquatic center, and then he has a lunch date with Farrow. Moffy was beyond giddy about the date this morning. Even as he said Farrow was “fucking aggravating” him, he couldn’t restrain a smile.

I catch myself smiling up at the fabrics. His happiness makes me extraordinarily happy.

Maximoff and Farrow have been on numerous dates before, but we all endure so many interruptions. If I can help it, I’d rather not interrupt them at all.

My best friend will be a last-resort phone call.

Do or die .

“My mom wants me to quit,” I say aloud, more so to my bodyguard.

His domineering presence is my shadow. Always with me. Usually silent.

Longish hair tucked behind his ears, Thatcher is uncapping a water bottle while he blocks the entrance of the aisle. He hydrates often, and until Thatcher, I never knew the act of drinking water could look that unbelievably sexy.

His unwavering gaze stays fixed on me, and I watch him take a strong swig of water.

Ask him something.

But unearthing a question among the thousands of questions I have for my bodyguard will just heighten this sort of all-consuming pull. Just being alone with Thatcher is a perfect breeding ground for tension. I don’t even need to plant a seed for attraction to sprout.

Ask him, Jane.

No.

I shouldn’t torture myself. Not today.

So I take a breath, about to face the copious fabric rolls. Back to the task at hand. Just as I begin to turn, he speaks.

“If your mom wants you to quit, why hire you in the first place?” He slowly screws the cap onto the water bottle.

He’s asking me a question. Surprise inches up my brows.

Hard lines crease his forehead, and he sets the water on a shelf. “I didn’t mean to overstep—”

“You’re not at all,” I interject. A much larger smile tugs at the corners of my mouth. “This is the Cobalt way,” I answer with pride. “It’s what I know. We’re given choices. Every choice has costs and benefits, and it’s up to us to choose accordingly. She’s made the cost of working here much higher so that I’ll quit on my own terms.” I tie my hair back into a low pony. “It’s a mental chess game.”

His gaze drops down me for one of the first times.

Ever.

As though I’ve just bared a new layer of myself.

Hairs prick on my arms, his roaming gaze like static electricity. Nearly compelling me forward in a dream, and I want to ask more, so many questions crowding me at once.

If you could be anywhere, would you still choose to be here?

What were you like as a teenager?

What made you join security?

What’s your dirtiest, wildest fantasy?

When did you lose your virginity? Did you enjoy your first time?

Do you ever think about me? …of course he does.

I shift my purse to my other shoulder.

He’s my bodyguard. He has to think about me and my personal safety.

Perhaps he feels the same bottled-up sexual tension that writhes around, aching to be unleashed, but I wouldn’t dare ask. To use his word, I’m not overstepping.

Thatcher suddenly diverts his gaze, his fingers to his earpiece before speaking hushed into the mic on his collar.

So I steeple my hands to my lips and stare down the disastrously enormous shelf of silks and sheer fabrics. “It’s not checkmate yet,” I say to myself. I’m not a sad little cub about to be eaten.

I’m a motherfucking lion.

Thatcher finishes with comms, arms crossing like usual. “You’re sticking this out then?” he asks, his tone not disclosing an opinion of his own.

“I think so.” I eye the fabrics. “I just hope I can figure out what fabric would work so I don’t completely destroy my mom’s new line. She’d do anything for me, and she’ll include whatever ugly dress I construct in her collection.” I take a breath. “This most definitely isn’t my passion, but I don’t know what I want.” And I’m curious, of course, so my eyes drift to my towering bodyguard. “What do you think?”

Thatcher stands with commanding stillness. On-duty. But when I’ve seen him off-duty, he’s just as stern. “I think you’re twenty-three,” he tells me. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want.”

I tip my head, my gaze falling in thought. Did he not know what he wanted at twenty-three? Or does he just think I’m young? But he’s been going strong as a bodyguard for six years. It seems he knew what he wanted when he was my age.

“You think I’m young,” I say aloud.

He hardly blinks. “I think you’re twenty-three.”

My pulse hops a measure. God, I’m too fond of how cut-and-dry he speaks. I say too fond because I shouldn’t be drawn to him when he’s not divulging much at all, you see. Yet, I nearly sway forward. “That, I am.” I nod. “…good ole twenty-three.”

Thatcher pins his gaze right onto my eyes.

I smooth my lips together, face heating as I recall the first time I met Thatcher Moretti. It was long ago, back on his official first day as a bodyguard. His client was Xander Hale, and I’d serendipitously been at the Hale house during their first interaction.

Thatcher was only twenty-two.

Good ole twenty-two.

And after he greeted me, these were the first words I ever uttered to him:

“I’m seventeen—I mean, I’m Jane.”

Six years later and he’s still one of the few people who tongue-tie me.

But before that encounter, I have no idea what he was doing. Where he was living. What his life looked like, and this isn’t the first time I’ve contemplated this cumbersome space of unknown time.

I can’t bolt my tongue down fast enough. “What did you do before you became a bodyguard? Were you in college?”

He gives me a protective look like I’m about to step on a landmine. “No. I didn’t go to college.” His squared shoulders never budge out of their readiness state of being.

I nod.

Tread carefully.

“I don’t mean to pry—that’s a lie, I do mean to pry.” I smile more at him.

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