“Of course you did, because I called it the first night Steph walked in the bar.”
I turned to Katie. “You did?”
“Remember. I’m kind of psychic.” She tapped her finger off her temple. “I called it.”
“She did,” Roxy confirmed, grinning gleefully, while I’m sure I had What the Hell written all over my face. “Katie told Nick that someone was coming into the bar who he was going to fall for and he was going to meet his match. Guess what?”
“What?” I said wryly.
“You strolled right on in that night.” She clapped her hands excitedly. “And here we are.”
For a moment all I could do was stare, and then I laughed. Some of the weird comments Roxy and Katie had made when I first met them now made sense. “I don’t see why this is such a big deal. Nick’s a player who normally doesn’t apologize or act decent to chicks he’s slept with. Knowing that doesn’t make him more alluring in my book. And even you said he was a dick.”
“Well, no shit, but the fact that he is acting different with you means something,” Roxy countered, and then she squinted. “Unless you don’t want it to mean anything.”
“She doesn’t,” Katie answered, and my gaze swung to hers sharply. “She’s going to break his heart.”
I stared at her, absolutely dumbfounded. “I am not going to break anyone’s heart.”
“Oh, you will. You won’t mean to, but it’s going to happen.” She was serious, and a sad look crept into her features as she met my stare. “Yeah, it’s going to happen.”
Shaking my head, I turned to Roxy. She was staring at Katie with this perplexed look on her face. I threw up my hands. “Why are we even having this conversation? Just because I accepted his apology and he appears to want to be friends doesn’t mean either of us are entertaining the idea of going there again.”
“People can change,” Roxy said.
I shot her a bland look. “Please don’t tack ‘for the right person’ on the end of that.”
She made a face. “No. I was going to tack ‘when they want to’ on the end of that.”
“Oh.” I flashed a brief grin. “That sounds more believable, but still, it doesn’t matter. Maybe Nick and I will be friends at some point, but that’s it. I don’t think our paths are going to cross a lot outside of visiting you.”
“I don’t know about that,” Katie said, and when she looked at me, the unwarranted and strange sadness lingered on her pretty face. “I don’t think you’re going to have a choice when it comes down to it.”
The first day of October slammed into the city of brotherly love, winds blustery and temps that made me rethink the decision to move farther north instead of south. As I worked at my desk, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to go out again. The thin linen pants and blouse, even with my jacket and scarf and gloves, did nothing to beat down the cold.
There was a good chance I really was coming down with something.
I bit the inside of my cheek as I flattened my hand on my belly. My stomach churned like a washing machine. It had been that way since I got up. Running in the wind had been hard enough, but adding in the nausea and the lingering fatigue, I barely made it this morning.
Missing any time when I was only in my forth week at the academy was unacceptable. What I needed to do at lunch was swing by the Walgreens down the street and stock up on antiflu meds.
I was going to try to will myself into not being sick, I decided as I started working again. Mind over body and all that jazz.
My fingers stilled on the keyboard as I heard Rick’s high-pitched laugh and I gritted my teeth. As I focused on my screen, my cell phone buzzed from where I’d placed it under the monitor. My gaze flicked to it. It was a text, and there was a number in the little box above the message, one I didn’t recognize.
That was all the text said. Frowning, I waited a few seconds, and when there wasn’t another message, I picked up my phone, and clicked on the text, then went to the add photo option. I scrolled until I found an image of a little girl glaring at the camera with a perfect what-the-hell expression on her little face. Grinning, I sent the picture back as my response and then placed the phone down.
Perfect timing, too, because I heard Mr. Bowser’s voice—er, Marcus. He’d insisted that I call him Marcus. Stretching up, I peered over my cubicle. My eyes widened. It was Marcus walking with Andrew Lima. The man who owned Lima Academy was shorter than me, but even though he was well into his fifties, the body under the shirt and nylon pants was that of twenty-year-old. He was smiling at something Marcus said, his teeth a brilliant white against skin that reminded me of sunbaked clay. The man was definitely handsome, even with the two cauliflower ears and the thin scar that ran across a nose that had obviously been broken a time or dozen. It was crazy—the older man probably knew exactly where to deliver a blow that would immobilize a person or worse in under a second.
My heart tripped up and the acid in my stomach started bubbling. I was nervous to meet my boss for the first time.
Andrew and Marcus also weren’t alone.
Beside Andrew Lima was the one and only Brock “the Beast” Mitchell. I knew this because it’s what his shirt said. Plus the guy was built. Not as overly done as Rick, but those shoulders could take down doors. He wore a dark blue baseball cap, twisted backward, but otherwise was dressed the same as Andrew Lima. His gaze was lowered as he walked along, trussing his right wrist with white hand wrap. I assumed they must be gearing up for training.
Brock glanced up at something Andrew said and his lips spread in a wide smile. His dark brown eyes were a deep, warm shade, and his features intense, almost perfectly asymmetrical. Wow. I’d seen pictures of Brock, but they hadn’t done him justice. I totally got why Katie said she’d have a landing strip just for him. The guy was gorgeous, almost too gorgeous to be putting that face in front of punches and kicks.
My phone buzzed again, but before I could glance down to check it out, Marcus was at my desk. Our eyes met, and I fixed a smile on my face as I rose, ignoring the nauseous tumble my stomach decided to take.
The group stopped and Marcus’s skin crinkled at his eyes as he gestured toward me. “Ah, Andrew, you haven’t had a chance to meet my new assistant. This is Stephanie.” Marcus angled his body toward them. “And this is Brock,” he said to me. “He just returned with Andrew.”
Don’t puke on the boss. Don’t puke on the boss. I extended my hand, and Mr. Lima’s handshake was firm and brief. “It’s nice to meet you.” Don’t puke on the hot martial-arts dude. Don’t puke on the hot martial-arts dude. I offered him my hand, too. “It’s nice to meet you also.”
Recognition flared in Brock’s brown eyes as he shook my hand with his left. “You’re the infamous Steph.”
I froze, having no idea what he was talking about. As my wide gaze swung to Marcus, I could feel the bile climbing up the back of my throat.
Marcus arched a brow.
Andrew chuckled as he leaned against my cubicle wall. “Infamous? This is a story I’ve got to hear.”
“I’ve heard that Stephanie schooled Nick over at Mona’s last week,” Brock explained, and there was a good chance my eyes were going to pop out of my head. “Brought him down a peg or two in front of everyone.”