“I like to start my sessions off by getting to know my clients better and setting goals that you want to set for yourself…,” Zoey began as she sat down on the other side of the couch.
“That’s easy. I want to finish this so I can feed my dog and drink a cold beer.”
“Hannibal has been alone all day?” She hesitated at picking up the iPad sitting on the table.
“No, he spends the day at Ice’s house, and he brings him to the club when I get off.”
“Oh… that’s okay then.” Picking up the iPad, she relaxed back on the couch as if they were friends about to have a chat.
Stump’s lips twitched. “I’m glad that meets your approval.”
Her eyes twinkled in response. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it.”
He watched as she lowered her lashes innocently, peering at him from underneath.
“If you want, you’re more than welcome to bring him to work. He could stay in my office,” she offered.
“I’ll think about it.”
Her lashes flew upward. “You will?”
She hadn’t been able to keep her pretended disinterest longer than a second. The woman had no ability to hide her emotions.
“Yes, I miss him. It’ll be nice to have him close by.”
Zoey’s smile lit up the room.
Swallowing hard, he had to look at the water fountain to calm the rioting emotions that were telling him to lay her down on the couch cushions and sink into her.
“I can tell you’re thinking of him now.”
“I’m not thinking of him right now.”
“Oh…? What are you thinking of then?”
Stump pointed a finger at her. “You.” Using his thumb, he pointed at himself. “Me.” Then he patted the couch suggestively. “Naked.”
I wish you would call. There’s so much I want to tell you!
I have a baby sister! She’s so adorable. I just want to hold her all the time. She looks a lot like Tracy, but she looks like Dad, too. Her name is Aubrey, and her fuzzy hair stands up. She doesn’t look anything like me, so I know she’ll grow up to be beautiful. Dad says Aubrey is going to be tall when she grows up and not short like me.
How tall are you? Dad’s six-three. I wish I could remember how tall you are so I would know if I’m finished growing or if I’m a late bloomer. I picture you in my mind, but it’s getting harder. Every year it gets harder and harder. When I ask Dad for pictures of you, he says he doesn’t have any; that he’s all I need. It isn’t true. I need you, too.
Jacob asked Christy to our eighth-grade dance because Dad wouldn’t let me go. He doesn’t eat lunch with me anymore either. I’m not upset because I have Aubrey to keep me busy. I love my baby sister so much, and she loves me, too, not like Jacob. Aubrey cries when I go to sleep or have to go to school.
I wish you would come for a visit. You’ll love her as much as I do.
Zoey stared blankly at her iPad screen, bracing herself to look up at Stump.
“Stump, there isn’t going to be a ‘you, me, naked.’ If you’re under the misconception that there is going to be after this morning, then I’m sorry.” Dropping her iPad onto her lap, she didn’t shy away from the penetrating gaze he was giving her.
“I didn’t get any signals crossed. You wanted my mouth as much as I wanted yours before Penni interrupted us.”
“It was a moment of weakness that won’t be repeated,” she stated firmly.
“Why? Is it because of your boyfriend?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Zoey admitted. “I’m ashamed I said I did. I said that so Penni and Grace wouldn’t worry about me in the evenings.”
“Where do you spend the nights?”
At his frown, she stopped twisting her hands together, laying them on top of her iPad.
“I watch a friend’s mother during the nights. I’m perfectly safe there. There’s a security guard, and Mrs. Combs has a private room. I feel terrible misleading Penni and Grace, but technically, my friend is a male and a friend.”
“You do that a lot, don’t you?” His frown grew darker at her confession.
She blankly stared back at him. “What do you mean?”
“Stretching the truth. I saw your face this morning. Neither Penni nor I believe you’re going to the police this evening. I asked a friend to check you out. You don’t exist on paper. What are you hiding, Zoey? You’re not the only one in danger. You’re placing Grace and Penni in danger, too, by lying to them.”
She shook her head, denying his assertions. “You checked me out? How?”
“Does it matter? The house you rent isn’t in your name, and we couldn’t find a license on file with the DMV.”
“I could have saved you the effort if you asked,” she said numbly, hurt that he hadn’t given her the opportunity to answer any questions he had.