Unbreakable Hearts, page 12part #2 of CEP Series
Quinn laughed. “If I swung that way, I’d totally choose you, you know that, right?”
Tilly giggled. “Of course. And ditto.”
“I’m coming over tonight to help you get ready. Wish I could stay, but I have a business date,” Quinn informed her.
“Rod again?” Tilly asked, not able to keep the edge out of her voice. Rod was a fellow psychologist Quinn had hooked up with at some seminar she’d attended back in the spring. Tilly had met him a couple times and she couldn’t say she really liked him. What she could say was that she thought he was an arrogant prick, but Quinn had just laughed that off, insisting he was just a booty call. But Tilly noticed that every time she got with him, Quinn would be depressed for days after, as if he really messed with her head or something. Quinn never went into detail about why she kept seeing him except that the sex was good, which always made Tilly clench her teeth.
“Yes Rod. Till, I know what I’m doing. It’s just sex,” Quinn added as Tilly sighed. “Look, this isn’t about me. It’s about you,” Quinn stated firmly. “So back to my diagnosis. At least have a friendship with the guy. You already established one in high school. It shouldn’t be hard since you have a foundation on which to build. And then open yourself up to see where that goes. Swear to God, if you don’t let this happen, I’m gonna file a 302 and have your ass committed. And don’t think I won’t do it!”
Tilly appreciated that her best friend wanted this for her, a relationship with a good guy. She just didn’t know if she had it in her to ever allow it to happen. The lock on her heart was pretty solid after so many years, and she didn’t know if anyone could ever break it loose.
Oz chuckled as Tilly turned away from him, accidentally ran into an end table, uttered an “Oops!” then turned back to him, red-faced, giving him a flustered look and hurried off. She was just as awkward as ever and just as adorable.
He got back to work, and twenty minutes before he thought he’d finish, he called Jeff to let him know he was almost done. When Jeff showed up, he went to get Tilly to join them in the living room so Oz could show them how everything worked.
“Oh, Till, this is John Osby, or Oz. Oz, this is my sister, Tilly,” Jeff said, making introductions.
“We’ve already met,” Oz said with a wink at Tilly, and he had to chuckle again as she blushed.
“Oh, yeah?” Jeff looked between the two of them.
Tilly cleared her throat. “Yeah. We went to high school together. Well, until Dad…”
“But I never forgot her. Thought about her a lot over the years,” Oz said, looking at her with a smile. She looked back at him as if she were shocked at what he’d just said.
“Oh, well, that’s cool,” Jeff said, not paying any attention to the looks that were being exchanged. “Now, how ‘bout showing us how to get this thing activated. Gotta get back to the precinct soon.”
Oz explained how to use the system, showing them how they could use their cell phones to perform different actions.
“So this is pretty much foolproof then, right?” Tilly asked.
Jeff and Oz exchanged a look and Jeff nodded for him to go ahead.
“It’s pretty damned good, I’ll say that. But nothing’s foolproof,” Oz explained.
“Oh,” Tilly said on a whisper, her brow creasing with worry.
“Hey, it’ll be okay,” Jeff assured her. “We’ll have it alert me through my phone, okay? I can be here pretty damned fast.”
Tilly still looked uneasy. “But you live thirty minutes away.”
“If it’ll make you feel better, I can do the same thing. I’m only about ten minutes from here,” Oz offered.
She looked at him and bit her bottom lip before nodding. “That’d make me feel a lot better.”
While Jeff showed Tilly something on the alarm, Oz called the central monitoring system to finish the installation, reading the tech their phone numbers off his invoice and giving his own to be connected to the system. “Well, that’s all,” he said when he’d hung up. “Each of our phones is now connected. It’s all good to go.”
“Thanks, man,” Jeff said, shaking Oz’s hand. “I appreciate everything.”
“No problem. Well, I’d better pack up.” Oz looked at Tilly. He grabbed all of his equipment then asked, “Any preference on dinner?”
Tilly’s felt her face get hot when her brother looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“Dinner, huh?” Jeff asked with a grin.
“Yes,” she squeaked out then cleared her throat again. “Yes. We decided to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last saw each other.” She looked at Oz. “I like everything,” she said then he saw her wince, which he assumed was because there was all kinds of innuendo that could be attached to that little statement and his grin just got bigger. Damn. Definitely too fucking cute. Face flushed she asked, “Uh, do you need my number?”
He quirked an eyebrow. “I work for a security company. I’ve got all kinds of ways of getting information, Tilly. I’m kind of insulted that you’d even ask. Guess you don’t think I know how to do my job.”
A look of contrition crossed her face. “Oh, God! I’m sorry! I wasn’t even thinking. No, I’m not questioning how you do your job at all!”
He chuckled then said, “I’m just teasing. I got your number just now from the paperwork when I gave it to the security tech.”
The look on her face was priceless as she sputtered out, “What? Wow. I totally missed that.” She put her hand to her forehead, shaking her head as she laughed at herself.
Yep, too damned cute.
“I’ll call you in a couple hours to see where you want to go, okay? Jeff, nice meeting you.” Oz gave a nod to him then looked back at Tilly with a smile. “Talk to you in a little bit,” he told her with a wink then headed out the door.
As he walked to his truck, he wanted to pound his chest like a damned caveman. Hell yeah. Tilly Maxwell had come back into his life and if he had any say in it, he intended on keeping her there.
“I like the blue,” Quinn said, sitting on Tilly’s bed. She’d brought a few things over for Tilly to wear on her non-date.
“I don’t know. Are you sure? The red looks good too,” Tilly said, holding the royal blue sweater in front of her then switching it to the red as she looked at herself in the mirror. She had on a black pencil skirt and just a bra.
“I personally think if you went like that, he’d have no complaints.” Quinn chuckled when Tilly shot her a dirty look.
Oz had called an hour after he’d left her house, telling her he’d bring a cab to pick her up. They’d decided on a steakhouse that was, of course, known for its steaks, but also for its extensive wine list, which she could so handle. God knew she’d need something to help her relax.
“I just wanna look nice, you know? I had on jeans and a sweater today, going for the grunge look, which I think I accomplished.” She shook her head. “And I’m sure he still thinks of me as the socially awkward, nerdy girl with a camera always stuck to her face.” She threw the red sweater on the bed and held the blue one in front of herself in the mirror again.
“From what you’ve told me, I don’t think he ever thought of you like that, Till.”
Tilly sighed and twisted her face up with a frown as she looked at Quinn. “But I was that girl. I feel like I’m gonna have to work extra hard to show him that I’m not her anymore.”
Quinn raised an eyebrow.
“What?” Tilly asked after she’d pulled the blue sweater on, adjusting the cowl neck that dipped low in front.
“You seem pretty worried about what this guy thinks for someone who swears she doesn’t want to have any kind of relationship with a man.”
Tilly stopped fussing with the sweater and turned to look at Quinn with a gasp. “You’re right.” She dropped her head to her hands.
“Don’t do that! You’ll mess up your makeup!” Quinn scolded.
Tilly flopped down dejectedl
Quinn chuckled at her. She knew Tilly didn’t realize it, but over the years, she’d talked about this John Osby guy as if he was the perfect guy. Her eyes had actually gotten dreamy when she’d told Quinn about The Kiss back when they were in college.
“Honey. You’re gonna be fine. Just remember, friends first. Then we can talk about getting horiz—”
“Stop!” Tilly said with a laugh. She looked at Quinn. “I’m just really scared.”
“I know you are. But that’s what makes this so much fun.” Quinn chuckled.
“For you, maybe.” Tilly took a deep breath and stood up looking at herself in the mirror. “If I change my rules now, he could end up hurting me. Bad.” She smoothed her skirt as she thought for a few seconds then made up her mind. “All right. I’m just gonna take this one step at a time. I’ll try to stay open-minded, just for you.” She smiled at her best friend’s reflection.
“For you,” Quinn replied, smiling right back at her.
“For me.” She nodded.
She could do this. Take this first step toward opening up her heart. If she didn’t freak out before the evening began.
Oz stepped out of the cab and walked up the steps to Tilly’s house. He had to admit he was a bit nervous.
“Hi,” he said when a pretty, petite redhead answered the door. He leaned back and looked at the address to make sure he had the right house, which made the redhead snort.
“You’ve got the right address. If you’re John Osby, that is,” the redhead said. “But I do need to see your ID,” she added rather cheekily.
Oz waited to see if she was serious, and when she didn’t budge, he reached inside his jacket, pulled out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license.
“Oooohhh, six four, huh?” She glanced from his license to look him up and down in approval. “Two hundred thirty pounds. All muscle too, from what I can see. Nice.” She smiled wickedly at him.
He felt like he was on display in a beauty contest or something as she looked him over, waiting for her to tell him to spin around so she could check out his ass. Jesus. Well, at least she approved.
“Tilly wasn’t lying. You are hot.”
Oz choked out a surprised laugh. Who in the world was this woman?
Laughing with him, the woman stated, “I’m Quinn McDonnell, Tilly’s best friend.” She held out her hand and he shook it. “Won’t you come in?” she offered, stepping back from the door and sweeping out an arm like a game show model. When they got inside she said, “Have a seat, John. Can I get you something to drink?” Oz declined before sitting down, so she added, “I’ll just go check on Tilly.” She grinned at him then went upstairs.
Oz sat on the edge of the sofa and could clearly hear Tilly’s friend gushing over him from what he assumed was Tilly’s bedroom upstairs. He smiled as she told Tilly that he was very tall, very hot and very handsome. She went on, saying that he had on dark blue jeans, a dark blue button-down shirt under a black blazer with black boots. Damn. She’d checked him out pretty thoroughly. But thank God for the best friend. He liked her. And he figured she may very well be the best thing to help his cause.
As he sat there, he took a look around at Tilly’s things. He hadn’t done much looking when he was working earlier. Now he saw that her furniture was very contemporary and very comfortable. The couch he sat on had thick cushions and soft pillows; the matching loveseat, the same. The coolest thing about them was they were both a deep, rich red. On the hardwood floor was a plush rug of warm browns and the walls were a soothing tan, making the whole room extremely inviting. He could see Tilly spending a lot of time in here relaxing.
Of course, she had tons of photos on the walls and he got up to inspect them. They were mostly grouped in collages, and he assumed she’d taken them. When he saw several of her brother with whom he assumed were her parents, he was sure she had. He walked around the room gazing at all of them, but when he got to one particular grouping, he stopped and leaned in to get a better look. He pulled back in surprise then looked closely again to make sure he’d seen what he thought he’d seen.
He heard heels clicking on the floor, which came to an abrupt stop, and next he heard a soft gasp. He turned to see Tilly looking at him eyes big, mouth open in surprise.
“I, uh, I kept those…” she explained.
He gave her his crooked grin then looked back at the pictures that were of him from high school in full football gear, action shots that featured him passing, running or just standing on the sidelines. There was even one of him with his head down from when they’d lost the State Championship their sophomore year.
“I can’t believe you’ve kept these after all these years,” he said turning to her, not being able to help the heated look he gave her. This was a very good thing that she’d not only kept the pictures but displayed them on her wall. A very good thing.
She began sputtering again, which made him grin even bigger now. “Well, I, um… You know, they’re, uh, well…” He saw her chin jut forward as she said matter-of-factly, “They’re very good pictures. I was proud of how they came out, so of course I’m going to keep and display them.”
He turned to look at the collage again then back to her. “Fifteen of them?”
She frowned and explained, “They’re very good photos! I was only sixteen, and I think I did an excellent job with them!” She turned to Quinn for help.
It was then he noticed what she was wearing. Jesus. Tight, black skirt that stopped just above her knees that made her ass look spectacular, a royal blue sweater that showed some major cleavage and went well with her blond hair and also brought out the blue in her eyes, and lastly black stiletto heels with a strap that went around her ankles accentuating how delicate they were. What a fucking knockout she was.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
She turned as if to argue some more but his saying that threw her off balance. “Oh. Well, thank you,” she replied, brushing a piece of hair behind her ear. He noticed her face was flushed a little. So goddamned cute.
“Holy shit! You two make a gorgeous couple!” Quinn said looking back and forth between them. “So, John, you married? Got a girlfriend?”
Tilly’s eyes bugged out at her best friend as she silently admonished her for being so nosy.
“Nope, I’m not and sure don’t,” he responded to her questions, amused at the friend’s seeming lack of decorum when it came to Tilly. Nice that she had someone watching out for her who’d ask all the “dangerous” questions.
“Ever been married?” Quinn eyed him suspiciously eyebrows raised.
“Not even close.”
“So on this date…” she began.
“It’s not a date!” Tilly threw out quickly, which made him chuckle.
Quinn turned and gave Tilly a rueful look. Yep. He liked this best friend. She was a no-holds-barred type of gal who was definitely on his side. “So,” Quinn began as she kept looking at Tilly, “on this ‘not a date, date,’” she said sarcastically then looked back at Oz, “since neither of you is attached, there could be some major hanky panky then, right?”
Tilly’s audible gasp made Oz’s shoulders shake with laughter. Oh, this Quinn chick was a riot.
“Quinn! That’s enough!” Tilly looked at him, apology in her eyes while he could do nothing but continue silently laughing.
Quinn tilted her head to the side and shrugged. “Just trying to move things along. C’mon, Till. You’re gorgeous, Mr. Hotter than Hot is a total alpha dude, I can tell,” she looked at Oz and winked, “and I can absolutely see babies in your future.”
At this, it was Oz’s turn to draw in a breath, but his came out more like he’d choked on something and he felt himself getting hot under the collar. Damn. Chick was vicious.
Tilly’s eyes sliced to her friend’s and she gave her a murderous look. She then looked back to Oz, annoyance clear on her face. “Are you ready
“I don’t know. I’m kind of enjoying this.”
Tilly narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t you have a cab out there? It’s probably gonna cost you an arm and a leg,” she turned to Quinn with a scowl, “since we’ve been wasting time listening to this drivel.”
“And it’s been worth every penny,” Oz stated, half grin in full force.
“You kids have fun!” Quinn said, breaking up the tension in the room. Then to Oz, “Don’t worry. Tilly’s shown me how to work the alarm system, so after you guys leave, I’ll set it up before heading back to my loft.” She turned to Tilly then, walking to her and putting her hands on her shoulders, leaning in and whispering something to her that Oz couldn’t hear. He saw Tilly nod at her friend then a look of determination covered her face. Quinn, finished with whatever secret they’d shared, pushed Tilly toward him.
“Ready?” Tilly asked rolling her eyes at her friend’s brashness as she picked up her purse from off the bar.
“Yes, ma’am.” He reached his hand out and took hers, leading her toward the front door. “It was nice meeting you, Quinn.” He turned back and smiled at her.
She winked at him again. “Same here, John. You take care of our girl.”
He walked down the steps with Tilly then held the door of the taxi for her. Before he got in himself, he turned back to look at Tilly’s door where he saw Quinn holding back the curtain and giving him a thumbs up with a hopeful look on her face.
Well, it was apparent that he’d won her over. Now if only he could make the beautiful woman he’d just helped into the cab do the same thing, his life would be pretty damned good.
At ten that night, Graham drove slowly down Tilly’s street, checking out her house to see if any lights were on. He’d driven by the night before to see if anything had been off-kilter but he’d seen nothing. Her lights had all been out and everything had seemed peaceful but he’d been reluctant to go in again so soon.
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