Opposites Attract book three
All rights reserved.
Copyright Erin Nicholas, 2017
Finn would have noticed her even if she hadn’t been wearing hot-pink lingerie. And nothing else.
He really would have. She was totally his type—brunette and curvy and, apparently, a little crazy. As evidenced by the fact that she was trying to sneak into a burning building. He did seem to be attracted to crazy. No matter how hard he tried not to be.
But maybe she wasn’t actually trying to get back into the building. All he knew for sure was that the building was definitely burning and she was definitely acting sneaky. As she pulled away from the crowd, she moved slowly, looking over her shoulder and from side to side, as if checking to see if anyone was watching. She obviously didn’t notice Finn. Because he was absolutely watching as she made her way across the street, now acting as if she were just casually strolling along. Toward a burning building. In nothing but a bra and panties.
It made sense that he hadn’t seen her before now. For one, he’d been a little busy evacuating a hundred people, give or take, from the buildings on the block. For another, if she’d been huddled with the crowd, she could have easily been blocked by some of the other spectators. No one seemed inclined to leave, all choosing instead to stand around and watch the real-life drama unfold. She was short, and there were two women in enormous skirts that stood out several inches on each side, a woman dressed in a full-length fur coat and hat—in spite of it being a pleasantly warm September night—and a man dressed as a cow. He was on two legs, but otherwise he was clearly a cow. So there were plenty of big, distracting people to hide behind.
Which might all have seemed peculiar at any other scene, but considering that the burning building was the Birch Community Playhouse and that the onlookers had been in the middle of a production when the alarms went off, it wasn’t so strange. Finn had no idea what the play was called or what it was about, but it explained the cow. He hoped.
He watched the woman stop at the east corner of the building, the one farthest from where the firefighters were working. Then he frowned as she slipped into the shadows along the side of the building and out of sight.
He started after her.
As one of the cops on scene, he had to keep the area clear for the firefighters and keep the crowd of onlookers safe. If one of them happened to have a great body and be dressed in nothing but a pink bra-and-panty set, well, he’d just call that a perk. And as he jogged across the street, Finn couldn’t help but wonder if she was in costume or if the alarm had caught her in the midst of a wardrobe change. If that was her outfit for the show, he might need to buy a ticket.
His foot hit the sidewalk as his cell phone rang. He glanced at the display and then shook his head and answered, “What?”
“You saw her too, you bastard.”
The voice on the other end belonged to his best friend and partner, Tripp. Finn grinned. “Who?”
Finn laughed. Tripp had a radar for beautiful women. Finn shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d noticed the brunette too. “Do we need to flip a coin to see who checks her out?”
“Nah. You go be the mean guy that says she can’t play by the burning building. I’ll be the good cop later. If you know what I mean.”
Finn definitely knew what he meant. And he ignored it. Tripp was a notorious flirt and had plenty of women, but he was also a big talker.
Finn rounded the corner of the building. The streetlights didn’t quite reach along the entire length of the building on this side, and it took his eyes a second to adjust. Just in time to see her duck around the back.
Finn sighed. “You sure you don’t want to be the bad cop this one time?” he asked his friend, who was assigned to crowd control out front.
“Why’s that?” Tripp sounded amused.
“I think she’s trying to get back into the building.”
“That’s perfect,” Tripp said.
“Perfect?” Finn asked, heading toward the back of the building after her.
“Sure. ‘Hey, you can’t go in there’ is better than trying to come up with some charming line to start a conversation, right?” Tripp asked, sounding as if he was enjoying himself. “And maybe you’ll get to use your handcuffs.”
Finn could practically hear Tripp’s eyebrows wagging. He turned the corner to the back of the building and looked around. He didn’t see her. She’d gone inside. Dammit. He climbed up the four steps that led to the back door of the theater.
The theater was only one story and wasn’t very big. He’d never been inside it, the art studio next door, the trendy new bar on the other end of the block, or the twenty luxury apartments that occupied the upper two stories of the building that housed the bar. This was the artsy part of downtown, just a few blocks off the true theater district. Finn was more the type to hang out at sports bars and, better yet, the sporting complexes around the great city of Boston.
Finn touched the back door and found it cool. It seemed that the flames were still contained to the wall on the other end of the theater, but it was a mistake to assume anything when fire was involved.
Finn yanked the door open and paused.
“You’re going in, right?” Tripp asked in his ear, suddenly more serious.
“Okay, talk to me. What’s going on? Where are you?”
Tripp was a good guy and a great partner. He was a smartass and a man-whore, but he was a hell of a cop and knew exactly when to be serious.
“Back door. West end. No smoke. No noise,” Finn reported, referring to the lack of crackling or other sounds that would alert him to fire nearby.
He stepped inside and pulled the flashlight from his belt, then shone it back and forth. In the center of the room was a huge wooden table cluttered with tape measures, ribbon, lace, and other stuff. There were sewing machines, and the room was filled nearly to bursting with bolts of fabric, mannequins, racks of clothing, and shelves of hats, purses, shoes, gloves, and other accessories. “Looks like this is where they make and store costumes,” he told Tripp.
Finn shone the flashlight around, located the door on the other side of the room, and started in that direction. His foot hit something as he rounded the table, and he stumbled. He gritted his teeth, his irritation growing.
“You ever been in a play?” Tripp asked in his ear.
“When I was, like, six,” Finn replied without thinking.
“Yeah?” Tripp sounded delighted at the news. “What part?”
“I don’t remember.” Finn totally remembered. He’d been a Dalmatian in his school production of The 101 Dalmatians Musical.
“I bet Angie has pictures.”
Finn could hear Tripp’s huge grin. And he knew his friend was right. His mother most definitely still had pictures. And she would happily show Tripp every damned one of them over roasted chicken and potatoes one night without Tripp needing to do anything more than mention the play.
Damn. “You ask my mom about that play, and I might forget to block Duncan next time we play.” Tripp was the quarterback for their rec league football team, and Duncan was the huge lineman for the firefighters. Duncan had a tally on the inside of his locker of the number of times he’d sacked Tripp. The number was significantly lower than it would have been if Tripp hadn’t had Finn on his offensive line.
“Yeah, well, my ass would tell you that you’re not as great at that as you’d like to think.”
“Let’s find out how great I am,” Finn challenged as he reached the door, found it cool, and pushed it open. He stepped into a hallway. It was lit, which was helpful. It was also empty, which was not helpful. Fuck. Now which way? He looked up and down the hall. There were several doors. She could be anywhere.
“Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a wad,” Tripp said. “I’m just giving you shit.”
Finn grinned. Tripp knew damned well that he needed Finn blocking for him. “I’m in a hallway with a bunch of doors,” he said. “These are probably dressing rooms and stuff. Maybe she came back in to get dressed.” That would make a little sense, even though it was stupid.
“Or to get something,” Tripp said.
Yeah, maybe. People always did shit like that.
Dammit. She was one of those. Convinced that material possessions were worth risking her life for. Finn had no choice but to start searching. He moved up and down the hallway, throwing doors open. “Nothing. And yeah, these are dressing rooms,” he reported to Tripp. The lights were all on, and there was clothing scattered everywhere in all of them. “Looks like a tornado hit.”
“Well, they were in the middle of a show,” Tripp said.
“Yeah, at least everyone bailed and left their stuff behind.” That was incredibly intelligent. With the one exception who’d come back in, of course.
After he’d opened every door to every dressing room, a storeroom, and a bathroom, Finn swore. No woman in pink panties. Or any other color of panty.
“Where the fuck is she?” he muttered out loud.
“Keep going,” Tripp said. “I haven’t seen her come back out.”
“I’m heading south. There’s an exit sign up here.” He headed down the hallway for the door at the end.
“You’re at the front?” Tripp asked.
“No. There’s no way this door opens to the outside.” A moment later, he stepped into the outer lobby of the theater. The empty outer lobby.
“Box office to my left, doors into the theater to my right,” he told Tripp.
Finn looked to his left again. “The box office,” he repeated. Where the money would be. And the computers.
“You think she’s looting the place?” Tripp asked.
“Money or clothes,” Finn said. “People also go back in for scrapbooks and photographs, but she wouldn’t have any of that here. Why else would she come back in?”
“Check it out,” Tripp agreed.
“How are things going out there?” he asked Tripp.
Finn didn’t see or smell anything that made him worry right now, but he had no way of knowing if the flames were, at that very moment, licking along the rafters or crawling through the other walls. Finn scowled as he stomped toward the front office. He might be making an arrest here. If nothing else, he was going to chew this lady’s ass but good. The ass in the hot-pink…
Fuck. He shoved the office door open, but as it banged against an interior wall, he realized the room was empty. The lights were on, the computer was still running, but there was no one in sight. He also smelled smoke.
He turned a full circle, not sure where to go next. It was a typical office, and there was a safe under the desk in front of him. So she hadn’t come for the money. Well, what the hell?
“She’s not here.”
“She’s in there somewhere.”
Just then Finn heard a door slam somewhere behind him. He swung toward the sound. “Hang on.” He moved back into the lobby just in time to see the woman step out from a room behind the coffee machine.
Her eyes went wide when she saw him.
“Boston PD! Stop!” Finn shouted.
She had covered up. Kind of. She now wore a robe, short, sheer, and unbelted. Which really did nothing to cover his view of her panties and bra. Or all that skin.
And maybe that was why she suddenly took off at a run.
Finn stared after her for a moment, a little stunned. She was actually running from him?
“She’s running,” he told Tripp grimly.
“You need backup?” Tripp still sounded amused. The bastard.
“Maybe. You know anyone good?” Finn asked, starting after her.
“Ha ha. You need to hang up so you can run? If you huff and puff into the phone, I’ll make fun of you.”
“If you make fun of me, I’ll kick your ass on our next run. Again.”
“Go get the girl,” Tripp said.
Finn disconnected, mentally calling his friend names. But nothing he hadn’t called him out loud and in person.
The woman made it to the other end of the lobby and through one of the doors leading into the main theater before Finn got to her. He grabbed the door as it was swinging shut, nearly smashing his fingers. The lights were off in the inner theater but, as he plunged into the darkness, he got a big whiff of whatever body spray or perfume she wore. He took a deep breath. It was nice. Lemony. Sweet and…
Jesus. Finn scowled and turned his flashlight back on. He was thinking about how she smelled? How about the smell of smoke that was going to be chasing them both pretty soon?
“Hey!” he called into the theater. “You can’t be in here. Just come out with me now. No problem. You’re not in trouble.”
He heard what sounded like papers rustling behind him, and he swung around. He had to lift the beam of light above his eye level. The sound was coming from the room up above the rows of theater seats, where the lighting and sound equipment were. The door to the booth was hanging open, and he heard muttered swearing in addition to the papers.
He started in that direction, but suddenly the door slammed shut.
He strode to the door and banged his fist against it. “You have to come out, ma’am. It’s not safe for you to stay in the building.”
“Just give me a damned minute!” she shouted through the door.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t do that,” Finn said.
“I have to find something. Then I’m coming right out.”
“Ma’am, the fire could be spreading. You need to evacuate the building.” Finn shone his flashlight on the door, wondering if he could break it down.
“I will!” she called back. “I promise.”
“Ma’am, I will have to remove you myself if you don’t come out immediately.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” he heard her exclaim. Something in the room banged—a file cabinet closing, if he had to guess. Then it sounded as if she slid something across the floor. Like a chair or a table.
As something heavy thumped against the other side of the door, Finn frowned and grabbed the doorknob, turning it easily. It wasn’t locked. He started to push it open and realized that, yes, she’d slid something across the floor—and put whatever it was in front of the door. He shoved hard, moving whatever it was several inches. He could see now that she was bent over a table, a small flashlight held in her teeth as she rifled through a stack folders frantically.
Maybe she wasn’t going for the safe in the front office, but she was clearly messing with the theater’s stuff. The theater that belonged to his mother’s friend Sophia. “Ma’am, this is your last warning. Stop what you’re doing and come with me.”
She took the flashlight from her teeth and glanced over, her eyes meeting his. She didn’t look scared. She looked irritated. Her dark hair lay against her cheek, her mouth was a grim line, and the beam from his flashlight easily penetrated the sheer fabric of her robe, highlighting the curves of her right breast and hip. They stared at one another for several beats, and Finn felt heat sweep through him. Damn, that was stupid. And careless. He was working here.
But she broke the spell a moment later when she bent back over the table, her fingers flying over the folders. Okay, well, he’d warned her. Whatever she’d been able to move in front of the door wouldn’t slow Finn down much. He put his shoulder against the door and shoved. The table scraped across the floor, and as soon as the opening was wide enough, Finn slipped inside.
She straightened, looking even more irritated now. “I have to check one more place.”
He shook his head. “No way. Let’s go.”
“Officer, I understand what you’re doing. But I promise you that I’m not going near the fire. I just need to—”
Enough of this. Finn stalked over to her, put a hand around her upper arm, and turned to remove her from the sound booth. And the building.
She dug her heels in, though, pulling against his hold. “Hey, you can’t—”
“Oh, yes I can,” he told her calmly, careful to keep his eyes off her body. The heat from her skin had immediately soaked through the thin robe, and Finn felt it traveling from his palm up his arm. “I’ve given you several opportunities to cooperate.”
“You’re arresting me?” she asked.
“Are you doing something that you need to be arrested for?” he asked, moving her toward the door, even with her resisting.
“No! I need to get something. It’s very important. It belongs to a friend of mine. It’s irreplaceable.”
“Ma’am,” he said calmly, “don’t make me carry you out of here.”
He really didn’t want to carry her out. That would involve touching a lot more of her. And the fact that she was barely clothed would become even more of an issue. As it was, he was far too aware of not only her body heat and how much skin was on display, but that the scent surrounding her was definitely lemony. And it was completely inappropriate to acknowledge how badly he wanted to take a really big, deep breath.
“You can’t give me two more minutes?” she asked.
“Absolutely not.” Finn took a risk and glanced at her. Then he gritted his teeth against the sheen in her eyes. It wasn’t as if he’d never had someone cry when he was trying to get them to do something they didn’t want to do. But sometimes it got to him and sometimes it didn’t. This time it did.
She pulled against his grip and leaned all her weight into fighting the forward motion across the room.
Well, shit. He’d kind of figured it would come to this, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to touch her more. Still, it didn’t look as if he had a lot of choice. Reminding himself that he was a professional, he bent and hooked an arm behind her knees, looped the other around her back, and lifted her.
She gasped, and for a moment she didn’t fight. And he thought maybe the hard part was over. But as he headed out the door, trying to ignore how warm and soft and fucking lemony she was, she started to wiggle.
“Knock it off.”
Sophie frowned up at the cop who was carrying her out of the theater. Carrying her. Out of her theater. “You can’t force me to leave.”
“The fuck if I can’t.”
Of course he could. Obviously. And she’d known going back in had been a stupid, risky thing to do, but she’d thought she’d known exactly where the script was.
She had to get that script.
Angela had finally finished it. And it was amazing. And it was handwritten on pink notebook paper with purple ink. And somewhere in the theater that was possibly burning down.
Sophie squirmed in the cop’s arms again. It was the only copy in the world. There was no way Angela could rewrite it if it burned. It had taken her over a year to write it in the first place.
The arms holding her tightened, and with a sigh Sophie gave up trying to get loose. The cop was far bigger and stronger. And under any other circumstances, she would have enjoyed being this close to him. A hot guy carrying her away from danger? Oh yeah, that was good stuff. If only carrying her from danger wasn’t also carrying her away from the most beautiful script she’d ever read, written by the woman who was the closest thing to a mother she’d ever had.
Sophie tamped down the swirling emotions that threatened to take over. She needed a plan, not panic. And if she was going to be carried away—literally—she might as well enjoy it. While she came up with what to do after he put her down.
She looked up at him. The cop had dark hair, cut very short, and dark eyes. With the lack of light, she couldn’t tell the exact color, but she felt their intensity. He had a strong jaw, because of course he did—just like all the great save-the-day heroes. He also had wide shoulders, large biceps, and big hands. Nice big hands.
She was acutely aware that she was pressed up against his solid, very warm chest. And that one of those big hands was curled around her thigh. Her bare thigh. Which reminded her of what she was wearing. Or what she wasn’t wearing. In act two she was in the bra, panties, and robe—until she slipped out of the robe just as the curtain came down. She’d been in the dressing room, about to pull her dress on for act three, when the alarm had gone off. She was smart enough to know that you got out when a fire alarm sounded. But as soon as she’d determined where the fire was and that the firefighters were on it, she’d truly thought she could slip back in, grab the script, and get out again without anyone knowing. No harm, no foul.
She’d kind of forgotten about her lack of clothing. As crazy as that sounded. She certainly wasn’t the type to run around in barely-there clothes, and definitely not in her underwear. It was the theater that made her forget the real world. And the wig. Sophie lifted her hand and touched the wig of straight black hair that covered her own blond waves. She really did love wigs and costumes. They allowed her to do all kinds of things she wouldn’t normally do.
The cop started for the front doors of the theater.
He frowned down at her. “What?”
“How about the side door?” she asked. Maybe if she was cooperative and sweet, he’d let her down. And maybe relax a little. And then leave her alone once they were outside.
Then she could slip back into the costume shop, the only other place in the building where the script might be. She’d gone in through that room, but it hadn’t occurred to her to stop and look there. Angela had given it to her in the sound booth, saying it was finally done, but Sophie knew that Angie had sneaked it back and had been tinkering with it over the past couple of days. No matter how many times Sophie assured her that the script was wonderful, Angie was having a hard time letting it go.
“Why the side door?” he asked, but at least he’d stopped walking.
That was good. That was very good.
“Less attention. I don’t want to freak anyone out when they see me with the big, bad cop.”
He sighed. “If I was so big and bad, you’d be in handcuffs right now.”
Sophie felt a bolt of electricity shoot through her unexpectedly. Handcuffs, huh? Well, okay then. She cleared her throat. She must still be channeling her character Beth, Sophie decided. She wasn’t a handcuffs kind of girl—not in the bedroom and definitely not in the back of a squad car. She liked things peaceful and easy and very vanilla. She saved all her drama for the stage.
Well, she tried to, anyway. She worked really hard at it, in fact. The more boring things were in her real life, the happier she was.
So she needed to get away from the hot cop, convince him she was going to be good so he would leave her alone…and then be sneakier about getting back in here. This didn’t need to be any more dramatic than it already had been.
“Please.” She ran her hand up his chest, tapping into her flirtatious Beth on purpose now. “I’m sorry I was giving you a hard time. I know you’re just trying to keep me safe. Can we please go out the side door? I don’t want my friends to be worried.”
His dark brows pulled together, and his jaw tensed.
She’d always been excellent at reading people. Her father had taught her all about body language and tells. It had been important in his…work.
Sophie almost rolled her eyes at even thinking of that word for Frank Birch’s way of going through life, but then she pushed all thoughts of her father and his cons out of her head. She’d left her dad and his shenanigans behind her a long time ago. But she’d never been able to stop studying people and figuring out their buttons. And it seemed that her hand on this guy’s chest was pushing one of his.
“Your friends should be worried about the fact that you thought coming back in here was a good idea.”
She ran her hand over his chest again, noting the hard muscles and the way he swallowed as she did it. She might be doing it to figure out how to get on his good side, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy it. “Please,” she asked again, softer.
His gaze snapped to hers, and for an instant every plan and idea deserted her and she just stared up at him. Whoa. She had absolutely no urge to get away from him at all in that moment.
“Where’s the side door?” he finally asked.
She thought maybe his voice was a little gruffer now. She pointed. “That way.” But she didn’t look away from him.
Finally he was the one to break the staring contest. As he looked in the direction she’d indicated, Sophie mentally shook herself. .
“Fine, we’ll go out the side door. But you’re going back to the front with the rest of the crowd, got it?”
She nodded. “Sure. Of course. But we can’t go out together.”
He sighed. “I have no idea why I’m going along with any of this, you know.”
Sophie bit back a smile. She thought maybe she knew. He was attracted to her. Attraction made people do crazy things. And he was rescuing her from a potentially dangerous situation. He was feeling protective of her, or at least responsible for her. So she was getting her way with him. That made her feel a little tingly.
He started toward the side door, and Sophie wondered if he’d noticed that she’d stopped fighting him. That was why he’d picked her up. And as much as she liked being in his arms, she needed to get her feet on the ground before she had a hope of losing him and sprinting for the costume shop.
“You can put me down,” she said. “I’m not struggling anymore.”
The hand on her thigh squeezed slightly. “Yeah, I noticed.”
“So…you don’t have to carry me.”
He glanced down at her. “You think I didn’t notice how quick you were to get sweet and friendly?” he asked.
She narrowed her eyes. “So you don’t trust me?”
He gave a bark of laughter. “Lady, you ran from me, hid from me, pushed a table in front of a door to try to keep me out, and fought me every step—right up until you realized you couldn’t win that way.”
So she’d gotten agreeable too easily. Noted. She frowned. “Well, none of it slowed you down a bit. Why would I keep fighting once you picked me up?”
He hit the horizontal door handle with his hip. “It wasn’t that you stopped fighting that made me suspicious. It was that you got all…soft.”
They stepped out into the night as he said that last word, and Sophie was hit by the darkness and the gruffness of his voice all at once. Suddenly the moment felt very intimate.
She looked up at him, his face in shadows now. “Soft?” she asked.
“Yeah. You were feisty as hell to start. Then you went soft and sweet.” He cleared his throat. “I’m thinking the first is the real you. So I’m not trusting the soft and sweet, thank you very much.” He descended the four steps as if carrying another person around didn’t require an ounce of extra effort.
Sophie had no idea what to say to his observation.
Soft and sweet. That’s what she wanted to be. But that was the part he didn’t believe. Which was strange on two levels. One, she’d perfected being soft and sweet. For years she’d played the nice girl, the shy girl, the pleaser. Because that made people like her. Especially the women. The trusting, single or widowed, childless women her father had targeted, seduced, and married so he and his daughter had a place to live and someone to take care of them. Frank had blatantly used his sweet, young, motherless daughter to make them trust him and his whirlwind courtships. “Be sweet, Soph,” “Let her fuss over you,” “Tell her you love her.” Sophie could still hear his voice telling her to be a good girl or they’d end up back out on the street.
The thing was, she had loved them. All five of them. She’d loved having them fuss over her. The sweetness hadn’t always been an act. At least she didn’t think it had been. Though she would have done and said anything to stay in any one of those homes.
And now, all these years later, without her father using her to manipulate people, she wanted it to be real. She wanted to be kind and generous, to have people actually trust and love her without all the acting.
But this guy thought the feisty side was real. That was…annoying.
They got to the sidewalk, and the cop stopped. Sophie quickly shook off all her suddenly introspective thoughts. Where had that all come from? She thought she’d pushed all of that down deep a long time ago.
He let her legs go, her feet swinging to the ground. Then, when she was on her feet, he let go of her completely and stepped back.
Too bad. The thought flitted through her mind, completely unwanted. But it was colder when she wasn’t pressed up against him. She wrapped her light robe around her body and crossed her arms. “Well, thanks, I guess,” she told him.
“For saving your life? You got it,” he told her with a grin.
And she felt her pulse stutter. That grin. Thank God he hadn’t given it to her inside the theater, because now she really wanted to be nice and sweet to him. He could have her soft and sweet all night.
Sophie mentally slapped herself. And what was that? She wasn’t the type to go all mushy for big muscles and a great smile. She was way too cynical for love-at-first-sight or even lust-at-first-sight feelings. That stuff wasn’t real. You couldn’t know a person within a few minutes of meeting them, and you couldn’t trust someone you didn’t know. Hell, you couldn’t trust a lot of the people you did know.
“Yeah, for that, I guess,” she said with a shrug. Act cool, take it easy, let him relax.
Of course, she knew there was no way he was going to leave her on the sidewalk so close to the building. He was going to escort her across the street and behind the barricades. Fine. She’d go along. She’d be easy to get along with, do whatever he said, act contrite even. The sooner he turned his back, the better. Guys like this—the take-charge types that cops needed to be—liked when people just went along with whatever they said.
Sophie told the stupid voice in her head to shut the hell up because that wasn’t helping at all.
They stood just looking at each other for another long moment. It might have been that each was waiting for the other to say or do something first. But Sophie though it felt a bit as if they were both stalling.
Stupid!She cleared her throat and shifted her weight on her feet.
He nodded, about what she wasn’t sure, and said, “I’m going to need you on the other side of the barricade.”
Right. Duh. She knew that. “Okay,” she said agreeably. Maybe too agreeably. He’d already said he didn’t trust her soft and sweet side. So she added a frown and a “whatever.”
She turned on her heel and walked toward the front corner of the building, mentally planning how to get to the edge of the crowd without her friends seeing her. Because the hot cop was right that they’d be concerned about her going back into the building. Especially Angie. She’d freak out if she knew Sophie had gone back.
Sophie wasn’t the type to risk her life for a thing. She knew very well that things came and went. Hell, people and relationships and feelings all came and went a lot of the time too. But the script was special. Besides, she didn’t have time for a lecture from any of her friends or fellow actors. She needed to get back inside.
The low, deep voice immediately made her turn. “Yeah?”
“Sorry about whatever you were looking for. But, you know, I had to get you out of there.” He seemed to actually mean it.
Sophie shrugged. “It was stupid for me to go back in.” That was honest, at least. She knew that it had been a risk. Not a huge one. She wasn’t an idiot. If the fire had been anywhere near where she’d needed to search, she never would have gone back in. But she knew that any of the other cops or firefighters would have done the same thing he had. And she was glad he’d been the one to come after her. Being held against him for a little bit had been nice.
“It was,” he agreed. “But I get it.”
Sophie’s eyebrows went up. “You do?”
He didn’t strike her as the nostalgic type. But what did she know? She’d just met him.
“Why did you say you think feisty is the real me?” she asked. Stupidly. She couldn’t stand around chatting. Plus, who cared why he’d said that? She was never going to see him again. And her feisty side was going to have to stay pushed way down deep anyway. She got that from her father, and she was staying far away from any and all Frank Birch influences now and forevermore.
“You were panicked and in a dangerous situation,” he answered. “People tend to be the most real in those moments. No time to filter your thoughts or actions. Just instinct and adrenaline.”
She nodded. That was all probably true. Though she was so programmed to put on a show that she wasn’t sure adrenaline and panic got to her the way they did to most people. She was shocked by how sad that thought made her.
“Are you okay?” the cop asked, stepping forward.
Sophie pulled herself together. She needed to stop talking to him for multiple reasons now—he was pushing her buttons too. She straightened and gave him a smile she knew looked totally sincere. She’d practiced it and used it since she was six. “Yep. I need to get back out front so you can go back to work.”
He frowned but nodded. “Right.”
“So give me a minute. I’ll go out, and you can follow in a little bit,” she said. She had a much better shot at getting back to the crowd without being noticed if he wasn’t with her. Not just because of his uniform or size but because she got the definite impression he wasn’t very good at sneaking.
…She shook her head. No need to think about all of that. The little trick she had planned would irritate him if he found out, but so what? She was never going to see him again.
“I’m going to head around the other way,” he said. “Need to check out the back.
Even better. He’d come out on the other side and it’d take him awhile to do it.
Still she said, “Be careful.”
He seemed surprised, but he gave her a smile. “Thanks.”
The smile was almost as powerful as the big grin he’d flashed earlier, and Sophie had to make herself turn away. It was so typical that she’d meet a guy she had a potent attraction to and he’d be a cop and she’d be in a wig and lying to him.
Because she was definitely lying about going out front and staying there.
She managed to get to the fringe of the crowd without being noticed. She wove her way between people to one of the shorter girls in the theater company. “Hey, Chelsea.”
Chelsea looked up. “Hi, Sophie. Well, this is exciting.”
Exciting. Hmm, not the word she would have used. It was a pain in the ass, and she hadn’t even started thinking about things like repairs and cleaning and insurance claims…She took a deep breath. “I need a favor.”
Five minutes later, Chelsea was wearing the black wig and the robe while Sophie dashed back through the shadows to the back door of the theater. Again. The door led straight into the costume shop, where she and Angela spent most of their time together. Sophie grabbed the first thing on the rack—an evening gown that was two sizes too big and four inches too long—and stepped into it before rifling through the pile of lace and trim on the end of the big worktable. Sure enough, the stack of notebook pages was there. Sophie almost wilted in relief. She grabbed the pages, lifted the skirt of her dress to keep it out from under her feet as she ran, and headed back out. She’d been in and out in less than five minutes. Perfect.
Forty minutes later, the firefighters finally called the all clear. They let the theater company back into the building with supervision, and the crowd of spectators began dispersing. Sophie realized that the script would have been completely safe. But she still clutched the pages to her chest and smiled. It had been worth it to be sure.
As the crowd thinned, Sophie felt a tingle start at the back of her neck, and she stopped to look around, feeling as if someone was watching her.
But he wasn’t watching her. The hot cop was approaching Chelsea. Or rather, he was approaching the dark hair and robe.
He was at least fifty feet from her, and there were several people in between them, so Sophie hung back, watching as he put a hand on Chelsea’s shoulder, a big smile on his face. A smile that died as Chelsea turned and he realized she wasn’t who he’d expected.
Sophie felt a little twinge in her heart at how disappointed he looked. She did not like that she’d tricked him. And she did like that he’d come looking for her. Sophie took a step forward and then caught herself. What the hell was she doing? She couldn’t go up to him now. She’d lied to him about going back into the building. She’d also put him in danger in the first place by going in so he had to follow. And now she’d purposefully dodged him. He said something to Chelsea, and whatever she responded with made his lips pull into a grim line. Nope, Sophie decided, any interest that might have been there was now gone.
When he lifted his head and looked around, Sophie had the urge to duck and turn away, but his gaze landed on her before she could. Her breath caught in her chest, and she felt her lips part. His eyes barely lingered for a moment, but his expression didn’t change and he didn’t come toward her. A few seconds later, he turned away. Sophie blew out a breath. He hadn’t recognized her.
What a relief.
Sure, relief. That had to be what she was feeling.
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