WE’RE STANDING OUTSIDE of my hotel room door and I’m trying my hardest to determine the specific look swimming through Axel’s eyes. I can only assume it to be regret from the mistake he made in the SUV.
“You said you’ve known me…” I say, breaking the silence.
“It’s not important,” he replies. I figured his response would be along those lines.
“To me, it is. Actually, it kind of freaks the hell out of me and I want you to tell me.” When you someone tells you they’ve known you, you begin to wonder if they’ve been watching your every move. How long they’ve been watching. What they know of you. What they know that they shouldn’t. It’s going to eat away at me and I want an answer. I stand firmly behind my words. I have protected myself dearly over the past couple of years, changing my name, hiding from old friends and family, giving up every luxury I ever had. For what? So I could be followed by someone.
“Open your door,” Axel demands. The boss thing is getting old and I want to tell him to leave, but at the same time, I want answers—possibly more than just answers. I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and retrieve the room key. Axel takes it from my hands and pushes the door open, holding it as his hand rests on the door above my head. Walking inside, my heart flutters when I consider what will come out of his mouth next.
The moment the clang from the door meeting metal echoes through the room, Axel takes my arm and pulls me over to a chair, urging me to sit down. “Are you going to talk or continue trying your hand at intimidation?” I ask.
“Dr. Philips was my professor too,” he explains. “You were a freshman. I was a senior.” While rage begins to rise through my gut, I try to keep my calm, knowing his explanation is far from over. I shift my weight around in the chair, biting my tongue, holding my breath, and feeling the heat burn my cheeks from within. “I never wanted a psych career. I needed the courses in order to complete my Criminal Law degree.”
I breathe before I speak, knowing what might come out of my mouth if I forget to breathe. “So, what, we were in the same class?” I ask. Some of the earlier classes I took with Dr. Philips were lecture halls, filled with more than one hundred students sometimes.
“We sat beside each other for an entire semester,” Axel tells me. He’s lying. I would have remembered him. I think. “My hair was longer, I had a beard and glasses.” Still not ringing a bell. I attending school for four years and took more classes than I can count. Though, with all of the thousands of students who attended my school, he was watching me.
“You used to talk to me every day,” he says. “You introduced yourself on the first day, told me how excited you were for the particular class we were in. At the time, I was wondering what person could be that excited for a psych class. You had this wild passion in your eyes when you started talking about shit I had no clue about. It was impressive for a freshman.”
I’m struggling to remember this, but I do recall talking to some guy every day in that class, however, he didn’t look like him. That guy was scruffy, always in sweats, and was never quite interested in the class. The lost look on my face provokes Axel to reach into his back pocket. He pulls out a worn, brown leather wallet and flips it open. Searching through his cards, he slides one out from the back. It’s a Boston University student ID. He hands it to me and I examine it, instantly remembering the man he used to be. “Hmm, yeah, I remember you.”
Glancing up at him, I realize part of the reason I didn’t recognize him is because the innocence he once had within his eyes and on his young looking face is gone. In its place, is a hardness, a cold gaze, rather than warmth. He’s unfriendly, rather than always smiling and being goofy as I remember him being. He takes the ID out of my hand and I watch as relief passes through him. He sits down on the edge of my bed and unbuttons his suit jacket. “I had a thing for you,” he admits.
“Me?” I laugh. I wasn’t dressed to impress most days. I rolled out of bed too; wore sweats to class, and never put on a stitch of makeup. I was there to study. I was there to make something of my life. I almost did.
“Beyond the fact that you’re attractive as hell, your intelligence and desire to learn were what drew me to you. I had the same passion for what I was studying and I always wondered what the two of us could achieve between our two skill sets.” I’m listening to what he’s saying, but my confused and fragile mind tripped and fell over the part where he called me attractive.
“What happened to you?” Is all I can manage to ask. “I think I might have liked you better then.” And I hardly remember him.
“Life,” he responds, shortly. “And you? What happened to you?”
“Life,” I mirror his reply.
“Well, I like you better now.” My stomach is turning in knots and my heart is pounding, urging me to stand from my chair and pace the room. “When I brought you on to start this team, I knew we needed you—your skills. I had read papers written by Dr. Philips over the years you were in class, constantly mentioning your name when it came to developments within the research he was conducting. I didn’t know Dr. Philips as well as you did—do, but I knew well enough that he doesn’t speak highly of anyone. You were the only one, which confirmed my beliefs on where you were headed in your career. I knew when he was arrested. I know what he was arrested for. I know you were smart enough to escape what he wasn’t smart enough to escape. It was the exact moment the student became the teacher—it was the exact moment you became more important than you may ever realize.”
“It’s just a psych degree,” I tell him, continuing to pace.
“Your skills are untouchable, Isabelle. Your passion turned into success, and we need that.” He stands up, forcing me to stop moving. “I’ve watched what you’re capable of with my own eyes. You may think you’re doing something bad, but we’re the good guys. We’re protecting this country from things they should never know of— turmoil, fear, and destruction.”
Considering this is the most amount of words I’ve heard come from Axel’s mouth since I met him, I have to believe what he’s saying is sincere.
“I don’t want to be beaten,” I remind him. Did he forget why I left this morning?
“I can train you,” he says. I close my eyes and want to nod my head. I want to tell him no. “You can trust me.”
I pull away from his grip. “Trust you? First, tell me why you’re always so angry?”
“I’m not angry,” he argues.
“If it’s any consolation, I’ve been a lot less angry since you agreed to work with us. Well, most of the time,” he says, giving me a hint of a smile.
“That’s a little scary,” I tell him, making my way over to the window, needing a break from the conversation and the question of whether or not I want to stay.
He gives me a minute as I press my forehead up against the cool glass, staring out into the sapphire water. What other options do I have? No one would hire me before and I doubt that’ll suddenly change.
Heavy hands rest on my shoulders and the warmth from his skin seeping through the thin cotton of my shirt creates a fog in my head against the chill I feel everywhere else. His body is pressed up against my back and I don’t know what the hell is happening right now. I don’t know why I’m not pushing him away from me, coming to my senses and not putting myself in any more situations like I was in with that psycho woman. “Please,” he whispers into my ear.
The one word sends a shiver down the length of my spine and other places that shouldn’t be shivering from any kind of word. With the relentless ache in my chest growing more painful, I mutter a, “Yes,” as if it were an automatic response; one I didn’t make a final decision on.
His hands release from my shoulders and wrap around my arm, turning me around to face him. My focus is locked on his chest, refusing to look up at whatever expression he may have on his face. “Good,” he says.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” I repeat his words from the SUV after he kissed me.
“So…” he says. Still avoiding his face, I hear a small sigh escape his lungs. “I shouldn’t do this either.” A finger slides beneath my chin, urging me to look up at the look I was desperately avoiding. Nothing good can come of this. He leans down slowly and I hold my breath and pretty much lose it all together. He pins me to the window with his steel-like chest while his hand works through my hair. The tips of his fingers make contact with my head and his touch makes my knees weaken. A quirk in his lips is the last thing I see before they press against mine. His grip tightens within my hair and his body becomes heavier against mine as the coldness from the window seeps into my skin. His other hand finds my cheek and the gentleness of his touch doesn’t match the rest of his movements. I struggle for air, realizing I must not have taken a breath in at least thirty seconds. Sounding like I just ran a mile, he pulls away with a questioning look in his dark eyes. “I wanted to do that every day in that class.”
I swallow hard, trying to take in this other side of Axel. “Why didn’t you?” I kind of remember finding him attractive, but I thought we just had a common interest making up our friendly conversations—there didn’t seem to be more. We never spoke outside of class.
“You were out of my league,” he mutters.
“I still am,” I say, grinning.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Axel backs up and gives me a little space so I can catch the breaths I lost over the past minute.
“Your phone is lighting up on the desk,” I tell him as the colorful display catches my attention.
The moment is over and Axel grabs his phone, answering it quickly. “Yeah, man.” I listen to the brief pause, wondering who is on the other end. “I—ah—I just got Harley back to the hotel.” There’s another silence as I watch Axel squint an eye closed and look up to the ceiling. “You’re in the hotel?” He squeezes at his temples and clenches his eyes. “We’re in her room, yeah.” Axel ends the call and tosses the phone onto the bed. “Everett’s on his way up.”
“Oh, okay.” Should I be bothered by this?
“You’re all red and stuff,” he says. “He’s going to know.”
“He’s going to know what?” I question.
“That I kissed the chick he hasn’t shut up about in the past week.” Well, this should end well. I’m guessing the least of my worries is the martial arts training they both want to offer me. I should be more concerned about the fact that they’re both very good at martial arts.
I walk past Axel, closing myself inside of the bathroom. I turn the sink on and lean forward to splash water on my face. There’s already a knocking on the door and a conversation growing within the room. I can’t make out what they’re saying but I think there’s laughter. Looking in the mirror, I notice the redness in my cheeks—it’s not fading. I haven’t stopped thinking about the kiss because Axel has already proven to be good at everything he does.
After a long two minutes of forcing myself to think about something else, the white complexion I normally have is replacing the blush and it’s enough coverage to step out of the bathroom.
“How do you feel about traveling?” Everett asks me with a wide grin. “Oh, and I’m glad you’re sticking around.”
“Travel?” I question.
“Where would we be going?” I ask.
“D.C.,” Axel says. “We need to meet with someone important.”
Flying may be an issue for me considering Isabelle Hamell is a wanted woman, and Harley doesn’t have an ID legal enough to check out with TSA. “Um,” I stall.
“We have a private jet,” Axel adds in. Of course you do.
“What about the training?” I ask them. They’re both standing in front of the window in the same stance with their arms folded across their broad chests. The sun is shining around their figures and the sight makes me want to laugh.
“You won’t need it for what we need to do in D.C., but we will be tending to that when we get back,” Axel says.
“You’re scared of flying, aren’t you?” Everett says, teasingly.
I raise a brow and open the closet I’m next to. “How long are we going to be gone?”
“Two days,” Axel says.
I grab my bag and fill it with the clothes I have and grab my cosmetic bag out of the bathroom, tossing that into the bag too. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Wow, what changed your mind so quickly?” Everett asks. “Looks like Axel sweet talked you pretty good, huh?” He laughs. Though, neither Axel nor I are join the laughter, which may be more of a giveaway than if we just smartly laughed along with him.
“Don’t question me or I’ll change my mind again,” I tell him, exhaling as I turn away from them.
“I have to go collect the others,” Axel says. “Meet downstairs in an hour.” He walks past me as if we were strangers on the street, opening the door to leave. “Everett, you coming?”
“Nah, I’ll keep Harley company,” he says.
Axel gives me a quick look, and I can imagine what’s going through his mind. “See you in an hour,” he says, letting the door close behind him.
Please note: these episodes are not edited.
Copyright 2016 - Shari J. Ryan