Imagine Me, page 2
“Once you move out, then you can be as free as you want. Drink all the alcohol, throw parties, drive around in your shit car without hearing about it every morning. Have all the sex with all the men–just use condoms. The possibilities are endless.”
Sex. I was surprised I hadn’t forgotten what that was, it had been so long. About eight months to be exact. I hadn’t stayed celibate on purpose. It was just that the last time I’d had sex, the bar had been set so damn high, I was scared to jump with anyone else. And being in the same city as the man who’d set that bar, I couldn’t deny hoping to see him again and maybe have another go.
Another go of his rough hands on me as they held my legs apart. Another go of him wrapping his body around me from behind as he bit my shoulder and moaned his release against me.
Yeah, I needed my own place. If I ever got another chance, I’d need somewhere to take him.
We pulled up to my temporary home. It was actually my sister-in-law, Luella’s family home. Jack moved in when they got together. It was pretty big, especially by downtown standards, and they were letting me stay until I found a place of my own.
I inserted my key and opened the door.
“Yes. Yes.” Luella’s chanted words greeted me and Evie as we stepped through the front door.
My brother’s bare ass peeking out of his jeans as he flexed and pushed into Luella was the first thing I saw when I jerked my head in the direction of the living room.
I dropped the handle of my suitcase and covered my eyes, letting out a horrified yelp of disgust. I jerked in the direction of the door and bolted, completely judging the distance wrong and ran into the door itself, bouncing back, almost falling. “Fuck. Ouch.” I peeked past my hands and shoved past a laughing Evie to get out.
“Nice ass, MacCabe,” Evie said.
“Get out, Evelyn,” my brother’s voice bellowed from the open door.
She lifted her hands in defeat and stepped out.
“I guess something really did come up,” Evie muttered, still smiling.
I shuddered, wishing I could bleach my mind of the last five minutes.
Yeah, moving out had just jumped to the top of my priority list.
“Hey, girl, hey.” My lab mate, Jolene, spun her chair in circles giving me the wink and the gun. I laughed as she slowed to a stop and turned to face me as I settled in at my desk in the lab. It was good to see her. I’d been home for a week and was ready to get back into the pattern. “How were the holidays?”
My body sagged into my chair with an exasperated sigh. “Good. Nothing like sitting around the tree on Christmas morning and defending your decision to be in Cincinnati. Merry Christmas to me.” My fingers waggled, giving jazz hands and a fake smile.
“Hey. Me too.” Jolene sat up excitedly in her chair, but it didn’t take long to pick on her sarcasm. “Because fuck, the six years I slaved away at school and all the research awards I won. Science is nothing for a pretty little girl like me. I should just move back home and marry a good man. Be a good little wife.”
“You don’t sound bitter at all.”
She shrugged. “Not even a little bit.”
I laughed and hit the button to bring my computer to life. “If it makes you feel any better, I was welcomed home to my brother’s ass as he fucked my sister-in-law against the living room wall. My efforts to move have increased ten-fold.”
Jolene’s jaw dropped before she threw her head back and cackled. I glowered.
“You’re right. That does make me feel better. Especially imagining your brother’s tight ass. Mm mm.” Her eyebrows bobbed up and down.
“Well today is your lucky day, chica.” She spun in her chair again, arms held wide. “My roommate got engaged on Christmas.” Her eyes rolled. “Cheesy, I know—but she’s moving out.”
Tiny waves of excitement shot through me, though I tried to ignore them until I knew for sure she was serious. “It’s not funny to play with my emotions, Jo.”
“Why would I play with your emotions when I’m still busy imagining your brother’s naked ass?”
I threw a paper clip at her. “Stop it.”
“Juliana.” Dr. Stahl’s voice boomed across the lab, announcing his presence.
“If it isn’t Mr. Misogyny,” Jolene muttered under her breath.
“Dr. Voet wants to see you in his office. Jolene, I’d like to double-check your procedures. Make sure you’re doing them correctly.” He didn’t look up from his iPad as he barked orders at us before turning to leave again. Jolene rolled her eyes and pretended to shoot herself in the head.
Dr. Stahl was the biochemistry professor at the University of Cincinnati and ran the lab where we worked. He was Russian with a strong accent that made his orders sound harsher than most. He also had horrible manners, but worst of all were his beliefs about women in science. Yet, Jolene and I were the two lucky women to keep the lab going as his senior research associates and teaching assistants. Someday, I hoped to go back to school for my Ph.D. and have a lab of my own. Until then, Jolene and I worked like a well-oiled machine, dodging Dr. Stahl’s jaundiced eye as much as possible.
I ducked out of the lab and headed to Dr. Voet’s office. He was the dean of the chemistry department and also a professor in inorganic chemistry. I shook out my limbs before knocking on the door. The man was freaking gorgeous, and I always got a little nervous when I was around him. He may have been the hottest scientist I’d ever seen, with his dark, scruffy beard and longish hair that he was always pushing back off his head. And boy did I love it when a piece flopped forward. His biceps would flex as he threaded his fingers into his hair and shoved it back, all the way down to where it brushed against his collar.
I will not blush. I will not stare.
My knuckles sounded too loud against the door in the empty office. It was before eight, so his secretary wasn’t in yet.
“Come in,” his slightly accented voice called out. Jolene gushed over the faint lilt in his speech. She Googled him and discovered he was Dutch. I didn’t know what they put in the water over there, but they did right with Dr. Voet. It didn’t hurt that he was actually friendly and treated all the employees in the department equally.
I pushed the door open. “Dr. Stahl said you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, come in. Have a seat.” He stood by a shelf that held a Keurig and some cups and gestured to the seats in front of his desk with a warm smile. “Can I get you a coffee? I know it’s early.”
“No. Thank you though. I had one on the way in and too much caffeine will ruin my steady hand.”
“We wouldn’t want that.” He sat and brought his mug to his smiling lips. Before taking a sip, he mumbled, “Wouldn’t want to make Dr. Stahl any angrier than he is.”
A laugh escaped at his unexpected joke. It was no secret that Dr. Stahl was the Grinch of the department. It just caught me off guard when our dean made a joke about one of his staff. I laughed a little harder when I saw what his mug said.
Lab Rule #3. If you don’t know what you’re doing, at least do it neatly.
He shifted it in his hands and looked at the front. “It’s a good rule.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
He took one last sip, and eyed me over the rim. Don’t stare. Don’t blush. I managed to look away, waiting for him to speak first.
“Anyway, Ms. MacCabe. I called you in here because I have a job that I think you would be perfect for, considering the lab you worked in while attaining your master’s degree.” I raised my eyebrows and waited for him to explain. “I’d like for you to train the new forensic toxicologists and technicians in the Cincinnati Police Department’s Forensic Unit.”
A tingling started low in my abdomen and fluttered up through my chest at hearing the possibility of going to the police department. I knew a certain detective there and just the thought of possibly seeing him, of having a reason to stop and talk
“They’re taking on more employees and need help training them on the equipment and techniques,” Dr. Voet continued, completely unaware of the bells and whistles taking up residence inside me. “I know we’ve discussed the experience you have with the instruments, and I thought you’d be a perfect fit. You would head to the department lab twice a week instead of being Dr. Stahl’s TA.”
“Does that mean Jolene will be his sole TA?” My face scrunched up at the idea of leaving poor Jo taking the brunt of Dr. Stahl’s rudeness.
“No.” Dr. Voet chuckled at my expression. “We’ll have a student from the master’s program help this semester.”
“Well, then. Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say. I was blown away by the opportunity to work so independently. “Thank you.”
“Of course. I see how well you work as a teaching assistant and I thought, with your patience and the way you take the time to explain things, that you’d be perfect.”
“Well, thank you.”
He returned my smile as I stood, and we agreed to meet again and talk before I was needed at the department in a few weeks.
I had a little more pep in my step as I skipped into the lab and sat at my bench. Jolene stared at me with a pinched expression on her face.
“No one is allowed to be that happy in this lab. Spill the beans.”
After I explained my meeting with Dr. Voet to Jolene, she rolled over to slap my arm. “You lucky bitch.”
“I know.” I agreed easily as I plucked out two blue nitrile gloves.
Jolene cocked her head to the side. “Didn’t you say you knew someone who worked as a detective in the CPD?”
I focused on fitting my hands in the gloves and thought about how to answer. Did I know him? Not really. But I knew what he tasted like. I knew the sound he made when he came. I knew how rough his hands felt as they palmed my breasts and pinched my nipples.
“What’s that blush for?” Jolene asked with narrowed eyes.
“Nothing.” I turned in my chair and grabbed my notebook, hoping she would drop it.
No such luck.
“Unh-uh, Juliana MacCabe. I need details.”
I turned to face her, rolling my eyes. “I don’t really know anyone. But I may have slept with someone that works there when I was in Jamaica for my brother’s wedding.”
Jolene’s smile was big and knowing. “This is the guy your brother sometimes works with isn’t it. Shane?”
I didn’t respond. Just pinched my lips and stared at the wall over her shoulder.
“Ooooo. This is going to be great.” She clapped her hands and rubbed them together as though plotting a trap. “When is the last time you saw him? Do you still talk to him? Maybe you can continue the hook-up now that he’s so convenient. Maybe he can use his handcuffs this time.”
“Oh, enough,” I interrupted. “I haven’t spoken to him since that night. I’ve actually only seen him when we’ve crossed paths at my brother’s office. On those rare occasions, I say hello, and he responds with a head nod as he bolts out the door.” I hated those times. Especially at first. I remembered the first time, walking in and seeing his broad back not long after moving to Cincinnati. I’d been swinging by to have lunch with Jack and Shane had stood, leaning against Jack’s office door. My heart beat in double time and my body heated, remembering the way he’d worked me over. What would I say? Would his eyes simmer across my skin? Would he smile, and demand I have dinner with him so we could repeat that night? Would he look at me with regret and apologize for abandoning me in the early rise of the morning?
None of those things happened. He’d briefly glanced in my direction before nodding and leaving. He’d barely looked at me, and there was no recognition in his eyes. They had been blank. It had been the biggest shock for him to treat me like that, and the few times we’d crossed paths since then, it had been the same thing.
“He probably isn’t even in the building where the lab is. You know there are different department buildings.”
“Maybe he won’t. But maybe he will,” Jolene said, her eyes flashing in excitement.
I shrugged, trying to tamp down the butterflies that had taken flight in my stomach at the thought of being around him long enough for him to actually look at me and acknowledge me.
“Well, either way, I want all the details.” Jolene tugged her goggles back on her face. “And since you’ll be my roommate, you won’t be able to escape me.”
I rolled my eyes at her chipper tone and assumption that I’d move in. I mean, I was, but she could’ve at least waited for me to say yes. Laughing to myself, I tugged my own goggles down to get to work. Before I got too far, my phone vibrated on the bench next to me.
Hudson: I hope you made it home okay. You never checked in. Have you found an apartment yet? If not, you are always welcome home.
That was one hell of a loaded text. I couldn’t wait to rub in his face that, as a matter of fact, I had found an apartment. He would learn, along with the rest of my family, that Cincinnati was my new home, and I was just fine on my own.
“Finally done with the last of my clothes. Only four-thousand, three-hundred, and seventy-six more boxes to go.”
“Don’t exaggerate. That room will only hold four-thousand, three-hundred boxes.” Jolene leaned against the kitchen counter, playfully rolling her eyes as she licked the ice cream off her spoon.
I placed my hands on my hips and nodded. “You’re right. I’m a total drama queen.”
“I may have to kick you out if you don’t get it together.” She pointed her spoon at me as I walked into the kitchen where I snagged my own spoon and dug into the mint chocolate chip.
“Then who would buy you ice cream on the second day of living here?”
“Fine. I’ll let you stay a little longer.” She tapped my spoon with hers while I laughed.
Jack, two of his employees, and Jack’s brother-in-law, Jameson, helped move me in yesterday. Between the four of them and my minimal belongings, it only took one trip. They made it seem so easy, but there was nothing easy about unpacking boxes all day. But it was worth it. Jolene’s apartment was newer, with an open layout and two bedrooms and bathrooms. The bedrooms were both the same size, except the master had an en suite.
The real bonus was never, ever, walking in on my brother and his wife again. I mentally shuddered at the slightest reminder.
My phone vibrated against the granite countertop, and I abandoned my spoon to read the message from my sister-in-law.
Luella: Come over for grilling. Everyone’s coming.
Luella: Bring Jolene.
Did that include Shane?
I liked to play this game with myself. I figured a lot of people did, at least that’s what I told myself to rationalize my overactive imagination. I would think of these extravagant situations that would never happen, but I’d let them play out in my mind and let my heart rate speed up like they would actually come to fruition.
I’d been in Cincinnati six months and hadn’t had one let’s-sit-down-and-chat kind of run-in with Shane, but it didn’t stop me from imagining. Yesterday I waited impatiently at Jack’s for everyone to show up to help move, hoping maybe he would’ve been one of the guys Jack called to help. Maybe we would’ve exchanged heated glances when no one was looking, and afterward, he would stay to help me unpack . . . And undress.
For the first few months whenever driving around Cincinnati, I looked at every police car, not that a detective would be driving a police car, and wondered if it would be him. Maybe he’d pull me over for speeding and demand sex to get out of the ticket. So many possibilities. I knew my little daydreams were crazy, but my body failed to pick up on that, what with the way it heated and tingled in preparation for a man
Like it did now, letting the chance that Shane may be part of the “everyone” Lu mentioned. My skin warmed and my heart skipped a beat. Maybe he’d wait for me to leave Jack’s and follow me home, where he would knock on the door and ravish me as soon as I opened it.
Probably not though.
“That was Lu,” I said to Jo. “They’re cooking out and want us to head over. You game?”
“Free food? Hell yes.”
When we pulled up, the driveway was almost full and all the lights were on. We got out and were greeted with the smell of burgers on the grill wafting from the backyard. Winter be damned. Nothing was going to stop Jack from using his grill. He loved that damn thing.
“They can be a little rowdy, but everyone is pretty awesome.” I went to go open the door, but stopped and gave Jolene one last warning. “Beware of Evie. Super awesome. Super bold. Try to hide your fear.”
With that I pushed the door open. No one was in the front room where the stereo was playing some jazz music my brother favored. I hung our coats on the rack by the door and led the way to the voices in the kitchen.
“Juliana.” Luella greeted me with open arms and pulled me in for a hug. “I’m so glad you could make it. Dinner’s almost ready. Evie,” she directed over her shoulder. “Take them into the dining room and introduce everyone.”
“You got it, boss.” Evie saluted Lu with a glass of wine and led the way.
Walking in I saw all the guys standing around. I recognized one from Jack’s office, then there was Jameson, Jack, and—.
If my imagination could conjure up a faster heartbeat and rapidly warming skin, then the real thing was setting my heart off at a gallop and my skin heated like a wildfire.
He stood leaning against the table, legs cross at the ankles. He held a beer bottle in his hand and was laughing at something Jameson had said. Blood pounded through my veins and sent a whooshing sound in my ears.
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