The Arrangement (Chapter 14)

His voice is in my ear. It sends a shiver down my spine. I feel exposed even though we stand in darkness. Sean speaks rapidly, "This isn't the way it's supposed to be. The rules were broken. I don't know what to do. I mean, I know you." I feel the heat from his body and know he's a breath away from me.

I'm not confident, but bold words spill from my lips. "Which makes it better, doesn't it?"

"No," he replies softly. "The anonymity mattered to me."

"I can't change that."

"But you changed the ground rules." I feel him lean against the wall next to me, like it pains him to admit it. "Now what? I don't want to send you back."

My palm finds his cheek. I turn his face toward me and feel his breath on my face. Softly, I say, "Then don't."

Sean takes a deep breath and suddenly the lights come back on. The elevator is moving again. When we reach the ground floor, I don't look at him. Sean says nothing. He takes my hand as we leave the elevator.

A person dressed in a hotel uniform approaches us. Sean swiftly walks past him without a word. I'm being led through the foyer and hotel staff and patrons are everywhere. Sean pushes through the front doors before the doorman can open them.

"Mr. Ferro, should I call for your car?"

Sean says, "No, thank you. Just taking my friend for a walk."

My heart beats harder. It's cold outside and I'm not dressed for it. I'm not supposed to leave the hotel. The little black bomb on my ankle will tell the ninjas to attack. After we pass the entrance, I dig in my heels and we stop. Sean looks at me with a strange expression on his face. I explain, "I can't leave the hotel grounds. She'll know."

Sean shakes his head and runs his fingers through his hair, grabbing at it. "This isn't turning out how I planned."

Although he seems to be talking to himself, I answer. "Nothing ever turns out the way I plan. It makes me wonder why I bother." Sean looks over at me. I grin sheepishly. "You caught me. It's not my life's ambition to be here tonight. I had other things planned, all of which got shot to hell. In a manner of speaking, you're my last chance…my last plan."

Sean seems surprised. His mood lightens a little. "Rule breaker," he teases. A light smile crosses his lips.

"Yup, rebel to the core." I answer. I sigh and suck in the cold night air and look around. People move up and down the street around us, all hurrying somewhere. I shiver and run my hands over my arms. "So, I can't pretend to understand your, uh, preferences, but if you want to swap me out – "

"No." Sean's eyes lock with mine. "You stay. I just have to figure things out."

"Why are we on the street?" I can't help it. I have to ask. I wrap my arms around my middle and try to keep warm. The wind blows gently, lifting the curls off my shoulders.

Sean looks at me. The expression says he can't tell me, and that something's tearing him up inside. His spine straightens and everything changes. "Listen, we need a new arrangement."


"But I need somethings that came with the previous agreement. That's nonnegotiable."

"Fine," I say, shivering. "Let's go inside and discuss it like normal people."

"Since when are you normal? You run around with cans of ether in your pockets." He forgets himself and smiles. That hard mask he was wearing, cracks. My God, he looks beautiful.

The corners of my mouth lift. I step towards him. "Mind telling me why you were always at that corner?" I place a hand on his chest and smile up at him.

Sean shakes his head. "My secret." He's silent for a moment and adds, "You'll be safe with me, Avery, ah I mean, Miss Stanz."

Something flutters inside my heart when he says my name.