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Beautifully Damaged(9)

By:L.A. Fiore

I clearly was not cut out for undercover work since we hadn't even gone two blocks before Trace realized he had a tail. It was mortifying to lose him in a crush of people only to have him sneak up behind me a minute later. He spoke my name and I almost jumped ten feet off the pavement. I turned, knew I was the color of a fire truck, and was greeted to the most devilish smile that I'd ever seen.

"Are you following me, Ember?"

I tried to look outraged but was clearly as good an actress as I was a private investigator based on Trace's amused expression. "No, of course not. I was just walking. It's a wonderful form of exercise -- walking."

There was the slightest of grins pulling at the one side of his mouth before he offered, "I've heard that about walking."

I didn't know how I managed to hold his gaze since I knew that he knew I was lying. And then I shocked even myself. I blamed the sugar from the cake-pops or the caffeine or the adrenaline when I opened my mouth and asked, "So what happened to your friend?"

I paled and then blushed beet red. Trace's reaction was interesting. He shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and rolled back on his heels. He held my gaze and I swear I saw humor dancing in his eyes before he said, "She was tired."

Liar. He knew that I knew that he was lying but the question I had was why? He was supposed to be a player, a love-them-and-leave-them kind of guy so why didn't he love her before he left her? We both continued to stare at the other and maybe I was being fanciful but I felt the air all but zapping between us. I didn't know where the boldness came from since I usually fumbled when trying to talk with a man.

"A shot or two of espresso may have helped her with that."

He said nothing but his eyes were laughing. I didn't want to go, I wanted to stand there all day and talk to him. That was weird -- weird enough to have me moving it along.

"Well, I should probably be getting home. It was nice to see you again, Trace."

"Would you like me to walk you home?"

"Would I ever." I said and then I realized I actually said that out loud. I spared a glance at Trace who was full out smiling at me. This would be a good time for a bolt of lightning to strike me down. I started backing away from him as his laughing eyes stayed glued to mine.

"I'm fine but thanks."

"Hope you have a nice day, Ember."

I was beyond words so instead I smiled, turned and fled. I felt his eyes on me until I disappeared from sight.

The following morning as I ate my breakfast I contemplated my chances of getting into the witness protection program. The idea of changing my identity and disappearing off the face of the Earth was oh so tempting after my ridiculous display from the day before. Not only had I stalked a man but I actually got caught doing so by said man. I didn't think I'd ever been more embarrassed in my life. The only thing that kept me from picking up stakes and heading for the hills was the fact that we lived in Manhattan. What were the chances that I was going to see him again? Slim to none and this thought both delighted me and depressed me. I was pulled from my thoughts when my phone rang.


"Hi, Ember, it's Trent."

"Hey, Trent. What's up?"

"You interested in going out tonight?"

"Yeah. Anywhere that serves alcohol."

I could hear the humor in his voice when he asked, "Why?"

"Because sometimes I can be stunningly stupid."

"Clearly there is a story there. You'll have to tell me later."

"Not if I can help it."

He laughed at me before he offered, "I wanted to check out Peacock. Does that work for you?"

"Yup, what time?"

"I'll come for you around seven."

"Cool, see you then."

After breakfast I tidied up the apartment, read for a bit, and by five I started for my room to get ready when the door opened and in walked Lena. Things had been a bit tense with us and I hated it, especially since we lived together. It was because of this, and our life-long friendship, that I tried to smooth things over.

"Hi, Lena."

She looked over at me, an odd expression on her face, before she said, "Hi."

"I'm going out with Trent tonight. Do you want to come?"

"No, Todd and I are going out. He's taking me to the theater." She offered this as she moved through the apartment towards her room.

"That sounds like fun. What are you going to see?"

She tensed before she looked back at me.

"Why do you care?"

"I'm trying to make pleasant conversation, Lena."

She closed her eyes for a moment before she offered, " I don't know what we're seeing, he's surprising me."

I didn't understand how Lena couldn't see that her relationship with Todd was not a good one, not when someone changed so radically so quickly. I wanted to say something, a friend would, but Lena was the kind of person who didn't like to hear anything that went against what she wanted or believed. So I held my tongue and offered, "I hope you have a nice evening."