Until We're More(9)

By: Cindi Madsen

“It’s okay if you’d rather stay with your parents,” Liam said, and I might be projecting, but he almost sounded sad. The barest hint of sadness, really, but for a guy who didn’t often show emotions, it seemed huge to me. “I just thought it’d be—”

“I’d rather stay with you,” I said, meeting his gaze. “Like, it’s not even a competition. I just don’t want it to get weird, and what if you get sick of me?”

He reached out and tugged the end of my ponytail, his callused fingertips brushing my neck and sending a cascade of goose bumps across my skin. “Chels, I’ve missed you like crazy. I’ll never get sick of you.”

“But what if you get sick of George?”

“I’ll do my best to remember that you two are a packaged deal.”

“Okay, but I can totally pay you rent, and—”

“You’re not paying rent.” His eyebrows drew low, and his frown took hold. Most people would run scared and/or give in. Luckily, I wasn’t most people, and I’d grown immune to his scowls.

“Liam, I don’t need you taking care of me all the time. Like I said, I’ve changed.”

“I’m always going to take care of you. That’s never going to change, so get used to it.”

A swirl went through my stomach. Probably a good indicator that my previous assertion about this being a bad idea held some validity.

Then again, if I was going to make a stupid decision, it might as well be a fun, superhot one, right?

Then again again, I couldn’t keep being the human version of an alley cat that always showed up at Liam’s door. The side of me desperate to prove I’d changed wasn’t ready to give up on a stipulation. I crossed my arms and set my chin so he could see I meant business. “I will only go along with this if you let me pay at least some rent. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

He grunted.

“Or grunts.”

He grunted again, sighed, and added a shrug that meant he gave in to my terms without having to say it. Still felt like a victory to me, and I loosened my arms from the stance that felt way too stiff and unnatural. “Then I say we get this party started.” My excitement got the best of me, and I bounced on the seat of my chair as I flashed him a giant grin. “Roomie.”

Liam set my giant suitcase and duffel bag next to the couch—I’d attempted to carry one, but he’d simply raised an eyebrow, taken it from my shaky grip, and hefted both of them. As much as I appreciated that he took care of me, I couldn’t get used to it, and more than that, I wanted to be a strong, independent woman and all that. Hey, Beyoncé made it seem possible, and while I wouldn’t be dropping a record anytime soon, I was trying to do my part for female empowerment in other ways, starting with moving up the corporate ladder at my company so I could not only make a better living but also so I could make a difference. I’d almost botched it already by holding back and not being firm enough, and that was after the months I’d spent improving my boldness skills.

I frowned, and Liam asked, “What?”

“I was just thinking about how I want to move up the ladder at my company.” Not that it wasn’t a valid goal, but I sometimes had to work on marketing campaigns I didn’t totally agree with, for people who weren’t very nice, to say the least. “Maybe I am a corporate monkey.”

“I’ll make sure to buy some bananas tomorrow.”

My frown got aimed at him.

“Cutest corporate monkey I’ve ever seen,” he said, which somehow made me feel better, even though there were prettier girls than me at work by a long shot. Ones who didn’t have to hold back their awkwardness and didn’t trip over their heels or their words. Hell, they gave their ideas out loud in meetings, too, instead of holding them in their heads and swearing to voice them next time. “As for the tour…kitchen, living room”—he pointed at each sparsely decorated area—“and the bedrooms are down the hall on the right; bathroom’s on the left. I’m starving, though, so we can finish settling you in after we eat.”

The scent of the Chinese food hit me, making my stomach rumble. During the two-day drive from Colorado, I’d eaten a lot of fast food, and I’d promised myself I was going to eat healthier and maybe even learn how to cook better to help with that, but for now, Chinese on the couch was definitely in order.