If you haven't read the first two chapters, go here first.
The man was messing with my mind. Not intentionally though. No, he had the ability to fluster me simply by being in the same room. I turned my gaze to him and found him watching me. “What?” I snapped.
“You see him?”
God he was so serious. Too serious for me. “No.” It came out all grumbly and I did nothing to hide that.
“Are you always this cranky?”
“Yes, but especially so when I’m forced to do something I don’t want to do.”
His shoulders tensed and his chest rose. When he spoke, it was in a very controlled manner. “Roxie, we’ve established you have a situation and we’ve also established this situation is intensifying so I’m not sure why you’re so against finding this man. Don’t you want to know if he’s got something to do with this?”
“Yes, but I’d rather do that on my own. I don’t like the fact you and your boss have pushed your way into my business.”
The vein in his neck pulsed and I sensed his frustration, but he held his cool. “Zane owed Scott a favour and Scott was pretty adamant he wanted to call it in on this job. If you’ve got a problem with someone trying to help you out, free of charge, I suggest you take that up with Scott. Personally, if someone who was an expert in finding assholes like this wanted to help me for free, I’d take him up on the offer without complaining.”
Shit, he’d put me in my place and I stared at him, not sure what to say to that.
He waited for me to say something but when I didn’t, he asked, “You gonna help me find this guy?”
“Fine,” I said as I blew out a breath. “But I want to talk to him first if we find him.”
“No, I don’t want you to say anything to him.”
I threw my hands in the air. “Do you always do this, Liam?”
“The thing where you give short answers without elaborating.”
“Did I need to elaborate?”
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t.” He jabbed his chest with his thumb. “I’m leading this investigation, Roxie, and I’ll give you information on a need-to-know basis but I’m not going to waste time going over details.”
I put my hands on my hips and glared at him. Bossy men like Liam pissed me off. It was why I struggled to understand the attraction Madison had to J. “I’ll give you a heads up, Liam. You need to run this whole investigation on a need-to-know basis with me otherwise I’m not having any part of it.”
His eyes widened and he returned my glare for a few moments. And then he caved. “Okay, sweetheart, we’ll do this your way but I’m giving you a heads up. The moment I sense you’re in any kind of danger, I will do anything and everything to keep you safe and if that involves me withholding information, you’ll suck that up and run with it.” His green eyes flashed me a warning not to argue and for once I kept my mouth shut. He moved his face closer to mine before asking, “We clear?”
“Yes, we’re clear,” I muttered.
“Good,” he huffed.
We stared at each other for another moment and then I dragged my gaze away from his to begin searching the club for the guy.
“Now we have a drink, kill some time and resume the search in about half an hour.”
“He’s probably not coming here tonight.” Having a drink with Liam was not high on my wish list.
He headed towards the bar. “How many times have you met him here?”
“Seems to me this is his pick-up place.”
We hit the bar and I leaned on it while looking up at him. “You’re so sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Been doing this job for a long time, Roxie. I know how to read people and their behaviours, so yeah I’m fairly sure I’m right. Sometimes I’m not though, and I’ll always admit that.”
My irritation lessened a little with his admission. I respected people who could admit they weren’t always right. And with my annoyance levels lowering, I softened towards having a drink with him. “I’ll have a vodka and lemonade,” I said.
Surprise flickered on his face but he hid it quickly before ordering our drinks. “How long have you owned the hairdressing salon?” he asked, turning his attention back to me.
“It’s my mum’s salon and she’s had it as long as I can remember.”
“I was under the impression you owned it.”
“She doesn’t work in it anymore, hasn’t for two years now, so I run it as if I do.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s just got other stuff to take care of and asked me to look after the salon.”
Our drinks arrived and Liam studied me while drinking some of his. “Does she have other business interests?”
His voice was slightly strained when he spoke. It was the only sign of his frustration; Liam was skilled at controlling his emotions. “Are you being intentionally guarded about this or is this just the way you always are?”
“I don’t see the need for you to know any of this,” I answered him as I took a sip of my drink.
“Roxie, I’m trying to learn about the salon as part of the investigation. If your mother has other business interests, the problems at the salon could be tied to those. I don’t ask questions just for the sake of making small talk.”
I huffed out a breath. My irritation flared up at the fact he made sense. “No, she doesn’t have other business interests. She’s a foster mum and took on more kids a couple of years ago. I took over the running of the salon so she’d have the time for the kids and to help bring money into the house.”
His mouth fell open. “You help your mum raise those kids?”
He blinked a few times and then just stared. It ruffled me and I didn’t give him time to say anything before I demanded, “What’s so weird about that?”
“Nothing,” he said in a soft voice. “It’s an amazing thing to do. Why would I think it’s weird?”
I began rubbing my forearm as the insecurity I’d lived with my entire life crept over my skin. Fuck, I hated this shit. People were always so quick to judge but Liam stood before me with an earnest look on his face and I knew without a doubt he held no judgement. Taking a deep breath, I explained, “My mum was my foster mum before she adopted me. She took me in when I was thirteen and I owe her so much. My choice to support her and help her raise these kids seems to be one a lot of people find odd. They can’t seem to understand a twenty-five year old woman giving up her time for that. I’m sorry if I came across as a bitch just then but I’ve been dealing with judgemental assholes my whole life and I made an incorrect assumption about you.”
A smile spread across his face. “Apology accepted, and sweetheart, fuck what people think. You’re dedicating your time to making the lives of others better. In my book that’s something to be admired not judged.”
Warmth spread through me and I knew I should have accepted his words with grace but my walls came up and I was helpless to stop them. “Yeah, well you’re in the minority, dude,” I grumbled before finishing off my drink.
His eyes narrowed on me and he opened his mouth to say something before thinking better of it and remaining silent. He tossed the rest of his drink down and then said, “Right, so for all intents and purposes you run the salon as if it’s yours and most people you meet would assume it’s yours. Yes?”
I nodded, relieved we’d reverted back to the matter at hand. “Yes.”
“Have you sacked any staff recently?”
“No. Bobby and Tahlia have been with me for years and I trust them completely.”
As he processed that, my gaze caught sight of the guy I’d slept with, and I grabbed Liam’s arm as I leant close to him. “The guy’s here.” I jerked my head in his direction as I said that.
He verified which guy I meant before ordering, “Stay here.” The tone he’d taken was one I was sure most women would take heed of. I wasn’t most women and when he turned and went after the guy, I followed.
The minute the guy saw Liam, he bolted. Liam pursued him and I pursued Liam. We ended up out on the street and the crowd worked against us. We kept sight of him for awhile but then he just vanished and as Liam came to a halt, I ran into him when I couldn’t slow myself down fast enough.
He turned angry eyes on me. “I thought I told you to stay in the club,” he barked, finally losing his control.
“You seriously don’t think I’m the kind of woman to do as I’m ordered, do you?”
His face tightened and he glared at me. “I’d fucking hoped you would.” He threw his arms up and turned and paced away before coming back at me. “Jesus Christ, Roxie, whoever is doing this shit to your salon isn’t fucking around and you need to realise how serious it is. If I tell you to do something, it’s for your own safety. Do you understand that?”
Anger swirled around us and yet right there with it was desire, and I warred with my response to him. I wanted him but I also wanted to tell him to fuck off. Shit, what a complicated mess. I’d never experienced such contradictory emotions about a man before.
While I did battle with my feelings, he repeated himself. “Tell me you understand that.”
I stared at him, anger winning out over desire. “No, you need to understand I’ve always looked out for myself and I’m not going to stop that now just because you have this need to take over. I’ve let you push your way into this situation but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to participate in it too.”
Our eyes remained locked in a fierce struggle before he grunted, “Fuck.” He broke eye contact to look away for a moment, and then he turned back to me with a resigned look on his face. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“I don’t see what’s so hard for you here, Liam. Surely me helping you investigate is a good thing.”
“I’m used to doing jobs on my own, I get in, do the job and then get out. Having someone tag along is not how I operate.”
“Well on this job you’re just going to have to learn how to work with someone.”
“I can see that,” he muttered.
“Good,” I muttered back.
He watched me for another moment and then said, “If that guy makes contact with you, I want to be the first to know about it. There’s something not right there.”
“Because he ran?”
“Because he ran without even seeing you. Fuck knows what he’s involved in.”
“Okay,” I agreed, seeing his point.
“Thank fuck for that,” he said, clearly happy I’d agreed. “Now, let’s get you home so I can get back to your salon and stake it out for the night.”
“Wait, you’re going to stay there all night to see if someone turns up?”
“Well, I want to be there too.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face and muttered, “Of course you do.”
I grinned at him but didn’t say anything else.
He waved his hand to indicate for me to start walking. “Lead the way, sweetheart.”
I did as he said and thought about the night ahead and why I’d just demanded to spend it with him. Sure, I wanted to catch the fucker who kept breaking in but on the other hand, the thought of spending hours with Liam caused a delicious excitement in me. And if I was honest with myself, it was the excitement I was more drawn to. Shit, this man was getting to me.