12 Rounds (Knockout 1) - Page 34

We don't talk for the rest of the ride home. Me, my mind keeps flashing back to that moment where we almost collided head-on with that truck. For a minute I actually thought we were going to die. And that was my second brush with death in the last two years. I think of the way Sean, put his arm out in front of me. It seemed like he was trying to protect me. But why? Why would someone want to protect a total stranger? Maybe he likes to play the hero. Maybe he was just trying to be nice. I also think of what he said before that; I don't hate you. Well, if he doesn't hate me then why all the nasty looks? Why all the harsh innuendos? Maybe he just doesn't like me in the way I like him. Maybe he was just trying to push me away because he could tell from looking at me how I feel about him.

It's crazy to me how a person I barely know can make me feel this way. This way meaning, just a smoldering glance from him makes my heart beat all erratically, hearing his voice drowns out my noisy thoughts, and the feel of his touch keeps me from jumping out of my skin. I peek over at him, and he's not relaxed like he was before. He seems more nervous. More tense.

I tell him which exit to take then instruct him where to turn on all the side roads. Before I know it, we're pulling into my driveway. Sean turns off the engine and leans back in his seat with a sigh. My eyes center on his abs and the way his flimsy shirt clings to them. Heat sears in my cheeks and I look away momentarily, hoping that the blush will fade.

I inhale and exhale slowly, swallow my nerves, and face him. “Thanks for the ride.” My voice is low—hushed. “I guess...I guess.” I can't find words. I wish he didn't make me so nervous. I wish that I could act normal around him.

“No problem.” He gives me a cocky smirk and I fight off a smile pulling on my lips. Then he shifts in his seat. “Hang on a sec.” In a flash he's out of his seat, out of the car, and opening the door for me. “I'll walk you to the door.”

He extends his hand to me and helps me out of the car. I climb down and he instantly yanks his hand away. Oh. Now we're back to the cold, calculated Sean and I don't like it. He walks me up to my door and I look up at him through my lashes, my insides a tangled mess of confusion and emotion. “That was nice of you.” I rock back and forth on my heels. “You didn't have to walk me to the door.”

“I just wanted to make sure you got in okay.” He appears to be distracted. He's doing everything he can to avoid looking at me. He glances over his shoulder and studies the sidewalk along the front of my condo.

It’s like he's canvasing the joint.

I snap my fingers in front of his face. “Yo! Sean.” Finally he looks at me, eyes vacant of any emotion. “You okay?”

He fidgets and shoves his hands in his pockets. “It's cool. I'm cool.”

My eyes sweep over him and I've never seen him so rigid. “Are you sure you're okay? Do you want to come inside for a minute?”

Wait...What am I saying? First off,I don’t know him that well. Second he's acting all weird like he's a snake about to shed his skin. I study him hard for a few minutes.

Instead, he politely refuses me. “No thank you, Hadlee, I'm fine.”

I drop my head, and start playing with my fingers. “Oh, okay.” I don't know why his refusal upset me so much, but I have fight back the oncoming tears. I just don't understand this man. He seems to be concerned for my safety, but wants nothing more to do with me. “Why did you put your arms across me earlier when we almost hit the truck?” I ask weakly.

He ignores me, but I hear the sound of his breathing picks up when I ask.


He clears his throat and even though my gaze is lowered, I notice him picking up a hand and running it over his jaw. “I didn't want you to get hurt.”

“Why? Why would you try and save someone you don't even know or like?”

“Just drop it, Hadlee!” There's a harsh tone in his voice and it startles me. He exhales in frustration and kicks a rock off the porch. I can't look at him. I don't want him to have the satisfaction of seeing the emotional part of me that he brings out. I don't want him to see the weakness in my eyes. Not just because of him and the way he makes me feel. I don't want him to see me like this because I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed of the person I've become. Then after a second he inserts two of his fingers under my chin and tilts my head up. “Look at

me, Hadlee.”

I don't obey. My eyes are all over the place; on the porch steps, the front door, on the gold crusted address numbers bolted to our door. “No.” I'm doing everything I can to avoid looking at him because I know if I look into his deep, puddles of blue that it will be my undoing. I know at that point I'll fall apart.

I've been rejected before. Many times. So I can't understand why this time it hurts so bad. It’s like a venomous spider bite, starting out as a tiny sting, and now it’s spreading breaking out into a full-on throb, a lethal red line snaking its way to my heart.And everything hurts. My head, my limbs, and more than anything my heart. Sean keeps his fingers under my chin, then his whole hand is on my chin. He jerks my head to the side and forces me to look at him. Don't cry. Don't cry. I repeat the mantra several times inside my head. It's not working. Tears well in my eyes and as I blink them back several stream down my cheeks.

Sean uses his free hand to wipe the tears away. “Don't cry,” he murmurs. “It's not you, it's that...

I yank my head out of his grasp and frown. “What?” My voice is thick with emotion. “Is it that I'm too weak? Not pretty enough? What is it? Tell me, I can handle it.” Even though I said that I'm not sure if I will be able to handle it when he tells me the truth.

He clenches his jaw as a flash of anger sparks in his eyes. “It's not you. It's me. I'm a bad, bad man, Hadlee. I've done terrible things. I do…” he trails off. “Nevermind. I should go.”

I open my mouth to answer, but he silences me with his finger against my lips. Then I lower my gaze for a second and when I look back up, eager to gaze into Sean’s eyes, I realize something.

He’s gone.

Chapter Fifteen


It took me about an hour to come to terms with the fact that the one person I’m trying to avoid lives in the same building as me.

Tags: Lauren Hammond Knockout Romance
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