Imagine me, p.3

Imagine Me, page 3

 

Imagine Me
 


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  “Boys, you all know Jack’s sister, Juliana. And this is her friend . . .” Evie faded off waiting for Jo to fill in her name.

  “Jolene,” she said with a small wave. “Thanks for having me.”

  “Jolene?” The guy I didn’t know repeated.

  “Yup. Puerto Rican parents who really loved Dolly Parton.”

  “I love it,” Evie said. “Well, since you’re new let me introduce everyone.”

  “I’m Evie. You’ve already met Lu, Jack and Jameson.” She pointed off each guy in the room, landing on the tall blonde in the back. “This is Clark, he works for Jack. And this big, silent one is Shane.”

  Shane slanted a small smile Jo’s way with a head nod before his eyes moved to me. I fully expected them to flick away like usual, but this time they lingered. His jaw ticked and nostrils flared, but then he looked away and drained his bottle. It was the first time he’d actually seen me. It was the first time he gave any sign that he remembered me.

  There was no stopping the smile slowly stretching my lips. Maybe tonight would turn out somewhat like I’d imagined. My hopeful heart soared at the merest idea.

  “Hey, Jules.” Jack came over and kissed my cheek. “Jolene. I’m glad you could come.”

  “Thanks for the invite.”

  “Make yourselves at home. There’s beer and wine in the fridge. I’m about done at the grill. Shane, come help me bring the food in.”

  Shane’s eyes flicked to mine one last time before turning to follow Jack out. When I went to follow Evie back into the kitchen, I was met with Jolene’s wide, knowing eyes that shifted to the doors outside. I shrugged, playing ignorance about her acknowledging Shane, and walked into the kitchen.

  We each got a glass of wine and stood around as Lu finished putting together the salad. I almost choked on my drink when Evie asked, “Is that the first time you’ve seen Shane since the wedding?” There was a glint in her eye, and I did my best to banish the red creeping into my cheeks.

  Looking into my glass, I responded, “Yeah. Why?”

  She waited for me to look up at her before she cocked an eyebrow. “No reason.” She held my eyes. “He doesn’t come around much. Too much of a loner and very private.”

  “He has beer with the guys every once in a while,” Lu chimed in. “He’s actually pretty close to Jack. An anomaly according to Jack, because he said Shane’s not really close to anyone.”

  “Hmm. Maybe he’s looking to change that.”

  “What makes you say that?” Lu asked.

  No matter how much I tried to avoid Evie’s eyes, I kept looking back. She knew. I didn’t know how she knew, but she did. The silence became more apparent when Jolene cleared her throat uncomfortably.

  “What?” Lu asked, looking at everyone. She stared between me and Evie, and it didn’t take long to click. “No. No, no, no.” She faced me. “Jack would lose his mind if he found out you liked Shane. Juliana, he’s a perpetually single guy. I’ve never seen him with the same woman twice, and I always hear about his exploits.”

  “It’s nothing.” I waved my hand and tried to control the high pitched panic in my voice. “Don’t tell Jack anything. Evie is just assuming too much. It’s nothing.”

  Evie scoffed, but thankfully remained silent, and Lu looked unconvinced.

  “Other than he’s hot.” Jo inserted her opinion. “Anyone can appreciate that mountain-sized body and those ice-blue eyes. Nnng,” she groaned. “And that scruff.”

  “Do you need a minute?” Evie laughed.

  Jolene took a deep breath and pursed her lips in thought. “Nah, I’m good.”

  Her joke broke the tension and we all laughed. Each of us grabbed a dish and took it to the table where the guys were already waiting with the meat. Praise everything good and holy, because there was an open seat by Shane and since Jo sat by Clark, it was the only place left.

  Thank god for all the conversation to drown out my heartbeat. It vibrated in my chest, and I was sure if the room was quiet, everyone would be able to hear it. The whole time, I was acutely aware of Shane next to me. I hadn’t been this close to him in almost a year. I wondered if he was just as excited as me. If he was having a hard time focusing on the conversation because he was remembering our night in Jamaica.

  “You think you can sneak into my room, put these perky tits in my face and not expect me to suck on them?” His tongue traveled down my breastbone, parting my satin robe. Kneeling between my spread legs, he stared down at me, taking in my bare body. “I’m going to do so much more than taste your breasts. I’m going to eat your cunt. Listen to you scream and beg me to let you orgasm. I’m going to pinch your rosy nipples and lick up all that cum. Make you all nice and wet, so I can fuck you as hard as I want.” He leaned over me, nibbling at my trembling lips, pressing his cock to my core. “You made a mistake sneaking in here, little girl, but since you’re here, I’m going to use you up.”

  I had to clench my fists around the silverware to help stop the shaking. Once I had it under control, I reached out to take a drink of water, hoping to cool myself down.

  Toying with my fraying nerves, Jolene kept shooting me looks, and waggling her eyebrows. I almost choked on a bite of cheeseburger when she ate her hot dog a little inappropriately.

  “You okay over there?” Jack asked, concerned.

  “Yup.” I leveled a death stare over at Jolene who shrugged innocently.

  “Gag reflex giving you trouble?” Shane’s voice rumbled across my skin. It was the first thing he’d said to me all night. The first thing he’d said to me at all in nine months. And it was laced with a lot more meaning than a simple question. I turned to look at him for the first time since I sat down, and one side of his lips had barely curved up. It was the knowing glint in his eye that sent a blush roaring into my cheeks. A look that said he knew how good my gag reflex was. He’d tested it well that night.

  “Watch it, Shane. That’s my little sister you’re joking about.” Jack’s voice was light as he pointed his fork at Shane. Like he didn’t think he had to be serious enough to actually worry about Shane flirting with me.

  Shane looked at Jack and his lips tipped more firmly in a smirk that was meant to taunt him. “C’mon, man. I think she can handle all I’ve got going on.” My skin prickled when he dragged his finger along my shoulder, firing Jack up. My chest heaved from nerves and from having him touch me again. Even if it was a faint graze along three inches of my body through my sweater. Even if he did jerk away like he’d been burned from the small connection.

  Jack, still playful, cocked his brow at Shane. “The real question is can you handle life without your balls if you even think about my sister that way.”

  “Jack,” I interrupted, not wanting to be spoken about like I was some child.

  “Juliana,” he said, staring innocently at me. He used to be the overprotective brother all through high school, but I wasn’t fifteen anymore.

  “I don’t think many men would be able to handle Juliana,” Evie cut in between the sibling stare down. “I bet she’ll crush all the men of Cincinnati. I’ll be sure to help her.” She gave me a nod of solidarity.

  “Ha. Ha.” Jack was not amused, as all the girls clinked glasses. Shane turned back to his meal.

  The conversation moved on after that, until we all finished and began clearing the table. The night was coming to a close and the pressure increased in my chest as my chances of talking to Shane alone became more and more limited. So, when I saw him head off to the bathroom, I followed.

  When he came out, he looked at me leaning against the wall. The hallway was narrow and away from everyone else, so we were left with a little privacy.

  “Hey.” I stood up and took a step closer.

  “Hi.” His eyes flicked down each end of the hallway, checking to see if anyone was watching, then back to me. I tried to see something in his face, something in the depths of his blue eyes. Anything that would give me an inkling that I was making the right move. But they rema
ined mostly blank, other than a tinge of caution. Fuck it. I had to take this chance.

  “So . . .” My voice came out a little high-pitched and I cleared my throat. I wanted to sound confident and seductive, not like Minnie Mouse. “I was thinking, maybe you can come by tonight. Or whenever you’re not busy.” I wanted him to know the offer was open past tonight.

  I watched for a reaction and my breath caught when I saw a spark in his eyes, but it faded too quickly for me to decipher. The silence stretched for hours, each passing second making me more nervous. His jaw clenched and he swallowed, looking over toward the family room where everyone was hanging out.

  When he looked back at me, his eyes were no longer blank, but hard.

  “No, Mini MacCabe.” His tone was condescending, as if he were speaking to a child, and it was the first hit to my confidence. “I work with your brother and just because you caught me off guard that night, doesn’t mean I’ll make the same mistake again.”

  Mistake? Mistake? The word rolled over me, crushing my lungs under the weight of what it meant. I was a mistake?

  “You’re cute, and you’re a good fuck, but I’m much too old for you. Find some little boy your own age to play with.” And with that, he left me alone in the hallway.

  My eyes burned, and I looked away, because hell no was I going to cry. My mind scrambled at how quickly my imagination had crumbled. This was not how I’d expected the conversation to go. He may as well have patted me on the head when he delivered his speech.

  I was cute?

  Find some little boy my own age?

  I was a mistake?

  My pain morphed with each line replaying in my head and shifted to anger.

  Good fuck?

  He was full of shit. That night was amazing and if I was such a mistake, maybe he shouldn’t have repeated it three more times that night. I could still hear his moans replaying in my mind, reminding me of just how much he enjoyed himself.

  Fuck him.

  My anger took over my imagination. The possibilities changing. Plans began forming.

  I’d find a man. A man better than him and then I’d rub it in his face. I’d take Evie’s advice and crush all the weak men of Cincinnati until I could find one that made Shane look like a little boy.

  That asshole was going to regret calling me a mistake.

  Chapter 4

  “You can do this. Shane won’t be in there. He’s probably in another district.” I squeezed my hands around the steering wheel, my knuckles turning white, and continued with my pep talk as I sat in the parking lot outside the station. “And if he is in there, you won’t even see him. You’ll be locked away in a lab he’ll have no business being in. Hell, he may not even be in the building. Probably roaming the streets as a super cop anyway. You can do this.”

  I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath to further steady myself. But behind my closed lids, I imagined walking in and seeing him. He would stare at me and realize what an ass he was, and what a huge mistake he’d made. He’d eye me across the room and follow me to the lab, where he’d sweep all the pipette tips off the counter and take me right there.

  “Enough,” I growled. I needed to shut down my imagination and get in there. I didn’t want to be late on my first day.

  I entered the one-story brick building and was checked-in. Security at the entrance looked through my purse and had me walk through a metal detector. While all of this went on, they made a phone call and by the time I had my jewelry back on, a dark-skinned woman with curls that bounced with each step, strode toward me.

  “Juliana?” she asked with a smile.

  “That would be me.” I moved my purse to the crook of my arm and offered an awkward wave.

  “How nice to meet you.” She took my floundering hand and shook it. “I’m Laney, supervisor of the crime scene unit. I’ll be showing you around and helping you get settled.”

  I followed her down a labyrinth of hallways as she pointed out things here and there until she opened a set of double doors to the lab. “And this is where you will be most of the time.”

  “Oh, wow.” I stroked my fingers lovingly across the new science equipment, the large machines unmarred by years of wear and tear. “Is this the new RapidFire Mass Spectrometer? It’s so beautiful.”

  “Spoken like a true lab rat.” She laughed softly at the way I looked at each instrument with reverence. “We recently got funding to upgrade some of our space and old equipment. And with more space, we can hire more people. That’s where you come in. We’ve worked closely with Dr. Voet and the entire department at UC. We believe in hiring locally as much as possible and helping each other out. So, thank you for taking the time to come here.”

  “I was honored to be chosen. This is one hell of an experience.”

  She walked me around the lab, explaining how it was set up and introduced me to some of the workers there. I got a good vibe from the space and my excitement increased.

  “Why don’t I show you the rest of the building? Get you comfortable with your surroundings should you need to go anywhere else.”

  I set my purse down at my bench and followed her, trying to remember each turn we took so I could find my way back to the lab.

  “This is the bull pen,” she said, pushing open another set of double doors. “This is where all the cops, detectives, and everyone else resides.”

  I took in the rows of desks, each with a computer and cluttered with paper, half-empty coffee cups, and takeout containers. Offices flanked each side where I assumed the higher-ups on the force were located. Men and women walked around hurriedly. Some in uniform and others in street clothes. I blinked a few times, taking in the organized chaos until my eyes clashed on a giant of a man across the room with ice blue eyes staring straight at me.

  I choked on a breath and fought to keep my eyes from widening. I would not let him know he had an effect on me. I lifted my chin and held his gaze until he was forced to look away when someone began talking to him. I still stared, hoping if I looked long enough it would be like contact therapy, and my heart would stop jumping up into my throat every time I’d see him.

  He stood across the room, dressed casually in jeans and a long sleeve, gray Henley, that did nothing good for the pounding in my chest. I had to make sure my jaw was hinged closed from the way the shirt stretched across his broad shoulders.

  “Girl, don’t waste your time. As closed off as a wall, that one is.” Laney interrupted my therapy session, dropping the same words that Evie and Luella used last night. “He’s okay with the other detectives, and he’s polite if not a little rough around the edges, but he isn’t very friendly beyond that.”

  I let out a short laugh. “Oh, don’t I know it,” I said, recollecting his not so kind words from the other night. It had been a week and they still managed to knock the wind out of me. When Laney looked at me, eyebrows raised, I rushed to clarify. “He’s my brother’s best friend, but I don’t see him much. They usually hangout around work-related things or go out for drinks.”

  “MacCabe,” Laney said. “I thought your last name sounded familiar. Now Jack’s nice. Especially when he brings some of Luella’s cookies to share with everyone. Those delicious treats are always an added bonus when the station contracts his security company.” She smiled before turning back toward the door. “Alright, I have a few more places to show you, then we can get back to the lab.”

  I followed Laney out but shot my eyes one last time back at Shane, who was looking at me again. I wished I was closer so I could see what those depths held, but all I’d probably see was that same blank stare.

  Laney continued to point things out, but I was too consumed with the fact that Shane was here in this district building. What were the freaking chances? I wanted to tamp down the excitement and smother any hope. Stupid hope. Stupid imagination, hoping for anything positive to happen with him. Stupid memory trying to remind me of the look in his eyes when I’d dropped to my knees in front of him.

 
We were lucky enough to get a small cafeteria added on recently,” Laney said, bringing me back to the present. We walked into the last room on the tour, and my stomach grumbled at the smell of food wafting through the air. “It’s not much, but better than a vending machine if you forget your lunch. Let’s run back to the lab, grab our purses and we can come back and have something to eat. Then we can sit and you can ask me any questions you have up to this point.”

  I didn’t really have any questions. Probably because my mind was consumed with thoughts of Shane for most of the tour, but I managed to think of a few while we ate. A couple of people from the lab sat with us at the bench-style seating and it was nice getting to know them.

  When the doors opened again, I could tell it was Shane from the corner of my eye. He was taller than most and his broad shoulders were hard to miss. Plus, my body seemed to have developed a sixth sense where he was concerned, and zeroed in on his presence. Traitor.

  He stared right at me, just as aware of my presence as I was of his, as he walked toward the lunch kiosk with a man next to him.

  I tried to divert my eyes and focus on the others, laughing at the table, but it felt impossible. Even more so when the two men came over to our table.

  “Hey, Laney.” The man who walked in with Shane greeted Laney with a flirty smile.

  She cocked her eyebrow in return, but responded. “Hey, Reese.”

  “This spot taken?” He asked gesturing to the open seats next to her. He didn’t wait for an answer before sitting down. Shane sat beside him.

  “Reese, this is Juliana.” Laney introduced me. “She’ll be training our new technicians on the lab equipment and procedures. Juliana, this is Reese Hill, the only man dumb enough to be partners with Shane over there.”

  Shane just grunted and stared down at his sandwich, but Reese stretched his arm across the table for me to shake. “Nice to meet you.” His full lips stretched into a handsome smile.

  Hmm. Shane’s partner. It seemed like an interesting combination. Shane, with his lighter hair and eyes, and his closed-off personality. And then there was Reese, who was dark in contrast and seemed to have an easy smile for everyone. Maybe the two of them worked perfectly and used the good cop, bad cop routine.

 
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