Five years ago
Freezing cold rain pelted my skin like needles. One drop after the other, poking, pinching, penetrating. I wrapped my arms around myself and marched on. Max had left me on the High Street and taken off. I kept marching in the hopes of finding an off license or a mini cab office.
I had nothing on me, so I just hoped for a phone to be able to call my aunt. She’d been going out tonight with some friends , so I hoped she would even hear the phone ringing. But that was a step-two problem.
Step one was getting to a phone.
Maybe you should have grabbed your purse before breaking up with Max…
Just thinking his name right now sets my teeth on edge. When I’d said I didn’t want to bone him, he’d told me to get the hell out of his car. Like an idiot, I’d climbed out without grabbing my damn purse. I hadn’t really believed he was serious. Up until now he’d been patient, never pressuring me.
My purse, my phone, my wallet were all in his car, but at least I wasn’t. I knew what my mother would say. That I had brought this on myself. That she’d known something like this would happen to me. And if I’d just listened, blah, blah, blah.
Shivers racked my body as I rounded the corner. Unshed tears stung my lids as I mentally cursed myself. Just get to help. Then you’ll get warm, get home. That’s all you need.
I saw the lights of the off license just ahead and sent up a silent prayer of thanks. A car careened around the corner, and its tires screeched on the slick road, sending up a wave of water that nearly drowned me as I passed by. “Hey!”
The driver’s side window rolled down and a too familiar voice growled, “Get in.” When I hesitated, the door shoved open and I was forced to stumble back or get hit with the heavy metal door. “Did I stutter? I said get in the bloody car, Rian.”
I swallowed hard, unable to process the verbal command. For starters, Ollie Wexler was my age. He had no business driving and no business having a voice that sounded like it had been formed in a whiskey barrel. He also had no business looking like Theo James’s doppelgänger. Despite the rain, I suddenly felt too hot, too muggy in my now sodden clothes. I wanted to say something clever, but all I could manage was, “You shouldn’t be driving, Ollie.”
At sixteen, Ollie was Max’s younger brother but the most self-possessed person I’d ever met. Like he had a steely strength. While Max had been all charm and little substance, Ollie had a distinctly self-possessed quality about him. He was the kind of person to never let anything stand in the way of what he wanted. It didn’t matter how long it took, he was going to achieve his goals. He also never forgot anything. And he had this way of looking through me. Like he could see every secret I’d ever held.
He’d also made it clear from the day Max had introduced us that he couldn’t stand me.
It was in the way that he watched me,silvery-gray gaze always full of anger. His jaw ticked as he leaned in closer. “I said get in the bloody car.”
The thing was, heat beckoned and Ollie might not like me, but at least I’d be warm and he might give me a chance to call my aunt. “Fine.” I marched around to the passenger side, only to have Ollie beat me to it. He opened the door for me, and I slid in to Max’s precious leather seats of the Peugeot he drove.
There were towels on the seat and in the center console, I saw my bag and my phone. When Ollie climbed back into the car, I could see the muscle in his jaw ticking.
“I—thank you. How did you know where to find me?”
There was a long pause before he spoke. I could hear him taking long drags of air. I didn’t dare look at him for fear of the angry gaze that would meet mine. “When Max came back without you, I saw he had your purse and phone. He wouldn’t tell me where you were, so I checked your maps app to see your last locations. Took a chance you’d be along the High Street.”
“And you came for me?” Even as I turned to face him and ask the question, a kaleidoscope of butterflies took flight in my belly. I couldn’t fathom why. He’d made his displeasure of me known in the last few months.
I’d tried everything I could think of to make him like me. Because there was no reason for him to despise me so much. I’d never done anything to him.
“You were alone with no phone, no wallet, no jumper. And my prick of a brother left you to fend for yourself. So yes, Rian, I came for you.” He didn’t turn to face me, but he did turn up the heat a little.
Unsure of what else to say, I whispered a choked, “Thank you.”
The ride to my aunt’s house was quiet the rest of the way. I was impressed with Ollie’s recollection of how to get there as he’d only been along with Max to pick me up once. When we arrived, he threw the car in park and was already out of the car before I could even register what he was doing.
I tried to shove open my car door before he could get to me, but he yanked it open. “Thanks, but—”
His sharp silvery-gray gaze cut me off, and I could see there was no point in arguing with him.
I led the way to the cottage my aunt owned just on the corner of Grove Park Gardens in Chiswick. “This is me.” Ollie clenched the umbrella as I fumbled with my key, but he ultimately opened the door with a sigh of irritation at my inability to do even that. I expected him to leave with another huff of indignation, but instead, he surprisingly followed me inside.
“Ollie, what are you doing?”
“Where’s the kitchen?” No eye contact. Damn was he even breathing?
That earned a slow blink from me, a very, very slow blink. “Through there.” I pointed. “But why?”
I followed lamely behind him only to watch him put the kettle on. Then he grabbed two of the tea towels hanging off the stove and stalked over to me like a man on a mission.
Instinct told me to ease back.
Instinct told me to be wary.
Instinct was too slow.
Ollie set about attempting to dry my hair some more as if I was going to catch pneumonia at any minute.
Gently squeezing out the excess liquid then patting my neck dry, his hands moved with care as if it mattered whether I lived or died. I had no idea how long we stood there, kettle on the stove, Ollie Wexler looking after me like I was a wayward child that had gotten lost in the rain. But for those moments, for the first time since I’d come to London, maybe for the first time in my whole life, I felt looked after. Like someone could see how much I needed looking after.
I was just so surprised it was Ollie doing the minding.
When the kettle started to whistle, he stepped back, breaking our spell. He was efficient with his preparation of tea, pouring one mug, settling in one tea bag. I’d had tea often enough at his place that he knew I took it without sugar or milk. He set it on the counter before tucking his hands in his jeans pockets. “Drink the tea. Then hop into a bath. It should warm you up.” His eyes were remote. The way they always were with me. As if he looked right through me. Was I so awful to even look at? There had been these moments though, when I’d swear I could feel his ice-cold gaze on me, but whenever I turned to meet it, he was always looking away.
It had almost become a game to see if I could catch him. But wasn’t that the way of things? When something was out of your reach, you needed it, wanted it—perhaps even craved it.
I slowly shook out my hair as I watched him. “Why are you doing all of this? You don’t even like me.”
I watched the muscle in his jaw tick. When he spoke his voice was low, raspy, too annoyingly perfect. ”You think I don’t like you?”
I dragged my now messy curls into a thick bundle over to one shoulder. “Well, tonight notwithstanding, you’ve gone out of your way to be unfriendly. You’ve not exactly warmed up to me.”
“I haven’t warmed up to you?”
I tossed the used tea towels on the kitchen table. “Would you stop repeating what I say if you’re not going to weigh in and tell me why you don’t like me but then went out of your way to come looking for me today? It doesn’t make any sense.”
He shoved away from the counter, prowling toward me. This time I listened to my instincts and backed up. “Have you ever considered for a moment that I keep my distance for a reason?”
“That I have to be watchful that I never seem too particularly interested in your latest photo or exhibition you want to see?”
“That I am aware that my brother is a vindictive, malignant narcissist, and any whiff from him that I couldn’t take my eyes off of you would be bad for you?”
The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
What was he saying?
He kept walking. No, stalking.
“You’re my brother’s girlfriend. You’re not mine to touch, or worry about, or please. You belong to him. Though to all the gods, I really fucking hope after the shite he pulled tonight, you’ve finally fucking dumped him.”
Except this time I had nowhere to go. My back had met the wall. “Ollie.”
“So sorry if I’ve given you the bloody impression that I hate you. I’ve been too busy trying to save your arse because you didn’t have the good sense to run when you saw Max.”
My bottom lip quivered as I stared up at him. “I—we broke up tonight. I dumped him. Th-th-that’s why he kicked me out of the car.”
Ollie’s brows furrowed, and his gaze searched mine as if he could ascertain the truth in the depths of my gaze. “Thank fuck.”
His lips slammed down on mine so fast, it took my brain several seconds to come online and get with the program. I’d been so accustomed to the hard line of Ollie’s mouth that I hadn’t been prepared for how soft his lips would be. I wasn’t prepared for the completely intoxicating combination of the scent of sandalwood and the flavor of mint.
His hands shifted into my curls and tugged a little to angle me just so. When his tongue dipped into my mouth, I gasped. His responding growl had my legs turning to pools of jelly.
At first I let him drive the kiss, where we were going, the intensity, the pace. But it was suddenly as if something low in my belly unspooled and woke up for the first time, stretching and angling for what it wanted, what it had been long denied.
What it had needed this entire time.
So, this was the big deal about making out with someone? Max was only the second boy I’d ever kissed. And while sometimes I felt excited, I was mostly worried about doing it wrong, as he always acted frustrated with me and stopped our kissing.
It was like he took pleasure in embarrassing me.
But this, this felt like a wicked, enticing pulse of electricity all along my nerve endings. And I wanted more. I wrapped my arms around his neck, trying to pull him closer, and when that didn’t work, I clawed at his shoulders, needing more… closeness, touch, him. Just more of everything.
Ollie braced me against the wall with his hips, and I could feel the pulsing length of him throbbing against my belly. With a muttered rough curse against my lips, his hands left my hair to travel down my torso and to my ass. Lifting me easily, he ground his hips against mine. And pleasure started to pulse between my thighs.
His strong hands began rocking me against his hard length as he kissed me. This was what the big deal was. This was why people would do anything for a kiss from the right person. This feeling with Oliver Wexler, this was what I had been chasing, and now he was the bar that I would always measure kisses by.
He dragged his lips away, dropping his forehead to mine. “Jesus, you taste—” A loud banging at the door interrupted him. “Are you expecting anyone?” he asked with a frown and ragged breath.
I shook my head. “No, my aunt has her key.”
Ollie set me down gently before brushing a thumb over my cheek. “To be continued.”
While he went to see who was at the door, I wisely used the time to do my full mental analysis of what the hell had just happened. Ollie had kissed me. Ollie didn’t hate me. Kissing Ollie Wexler was better than breathing.
The commotion at the front door dragged me kicking and screaming out of my reverie, and I went to see what was happening. My aunt’s neighbor, Mr. Wicks, could go on and on, and she would have a lot to say about a boy being over when he told her. But when I stepped into the living room and answered the door, it wasn’t my aunt.
It was the police.
“Oh God. Did something happen to my aunt?”
The burlier of the two brushed past Ollie. “Miss, Rian Cooke, you’re under arrest for the charges of burglary. Four counts. One of which is the jewelry store on Highgrove Way.”
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