Home > Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(7)

Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(7)
Author: Catherine Bybee

“I’m obviously not.”

She considered him for a brief moment, his size, the actual concern in his eyes. “Did you let me win?”

He pointed a thumb behind him at the closed door. “Back there?”

“Yeah. Did you hear your mother’s voice and let go?”

He shook his head. “Much as I hate to admit it . . . no.”

At least she had that.

“But Brenda’s right. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. And my guess is, the only kind of man you’d have to use those moves on isn’t trying to be your friend.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“So what’s the issue? Why not practice with men twice your size more often?”

She closed her eyes, thought of the recurring dreams she’d had ever since her face had met the bottom of someone’s boot. “I have my reasons.” She reached for her bag, hiked it up on her shoulder, and closed the locker behind her.

“Then why did you let me join in?”

“Because you don’t look like—” Avery stopped short and quickly diverted her eyes. Him.

“Oh . . .”

“It isn’t what you think.”

“I call bullshit.”

Avery shook her head. “Usually I know the people insulting me or calling me a liar.”

“I haven’t insulted you. But you are lying and you know it. Which is why the defensive hair is probably spiked on the back of your neck.”

“So you’re a therapist and a handyman?”

“My sister is a crisis counselor. I guess some things wear off at our family dinners.”

Avery wondered what it felt like to have a weekly dinner with someone she admired enough to pick up some of their habits. “Well, you’ll forgive me for not paying for your little session here.” On some level Avery knew she was channeling her inner bitch and taking it out on this hulk of a stranger. The corner she felt herself being pushed into was as uncomfortable as wool in summer.

She took a step toward the door, and he stood in front of her.

Her feet froze.

“My name is Liam. Let me buy you a drink.”

She blinked several times. “Are you trying to pick me up?”

“An hour ago I would have said yes.”

Her brain couldn’t process what he meant. “But not now?”

“The protective part of me wants to erase that look in your eyes.”

“The angry, pissed off look?”

He smiled. “Sure, that, too.”

“Well, Liam. Thank you, but no thank you.” She brushed past him and stepped out the door.

Halfway across the gym floor, Brenda called out from her office, “See you Friday.”

Avery knew she’d be back.

Sometimes addictions took time to become the compelling habits that often debilitated a person. Then there were times those addictions happened overnight.

Liam was pretty sure he was on the latter half of that thought.

That’s why he was standing in a group krav maga class with a bunch of strangers on a Wednesday night. Brenda made it clear that he could train in her studio for free as long as he gave one day a week to Avery. Actually the conversation hadn’t quite happened that way.

As he was leaving the studio after Avery stormed out, he approached Brenda about returning to spar with her problem student. Brenda allowed it on the condition that he take classes with her group.

The class started with a warm-up that reminded Liam that he didn’t spend time in a gym. He never needed to in his profession. Yet as his crew had grown to twenty or so men doing most of the heavy lifting, Liam had softened up in the past couple of years.

Brenda paired him off with Craig, one of her trainers.

“Have you ever boxed?”

Liam shook his head.

“Weight lifting?”

“Do two-by-fours count?”

Craig had Liam’s height but not his broad shoulders or natural girth. That wasn’t to say the man was thin—he wasn’t.

Liam looked around the gym at the other men. Lots of them were on the thin side, but most of them seemed to punch like demons were talking in their ears.


“High school, but that was a long time ago.”

Craig nodded. “Okay, let’s start with some basics.”

An hour and a half later Liam pulled into the driveway of his single story bungalow and put the truck in park. He looked at the backs of his hands.


He thought of the bruises on Avery’s wrists and how they didn’t fit her perfectly manicured fingernails.

Liam jingled the keys to the front door and was greeted by Whiskey barking from the other side. He opened the door and braced himself.

His lab was sixty pounds of energy that should be reserved for puppies, but at seven years old, it was obvious she wasn’t going to settle down because of age.

He knelt down and let the dog crawl all over him, her tongue lapping his cheek.

“Did you miss me?”

“Your dog is crazy.” Michelle peeked around the corner from the kitchen, dish towel in hand.

“Uncle Liam.”

Liam knelt and caught his niece as she ran into his arms. He swung Cassandra up in the air to a chorus of giggles.

“You spoil her.”

He settled the spirited five-year-old on his hip and pinched her nose. “That’s my job.”

Whiskey barked at his feet, tail wagging, tongue hanging out. He stepped past the dog and into the kitchen. It smelled like his childhood home. “Pot roast?” he asked as his stomach approved with a growl.

“Mom’s recipe.”

He kissed his sister’s cheek. “You’re too good to me.”

“We live here rent free. It’s the least I can do.”

He’d heard that before. “Well, I appreciate it.”

Cassandra placed her hand on his cheek and pulled his attention away from her mother. “Uncle Liam, do you wanna see what I made in school today?”

She’d started kindergarten in the fall, and every day it was the same. From pictures colored with crayons, to watercolors, to plants growing in egg cartons that sat in the kitchen window, to decoupage plates with his pixie nosed niece smiling at the picture placed in the middle.

“Wash your hands.”

“Yes, Mom,” he teased his sister.

“I was talking to Cassie, but you should, too.”

He set Cassandra down and took her tiny hand in his. “You heard your mother.”

“Washy, washy . . . happy, happy.”

Liam laughed. “Where did she get that?”

Michelle shrugged. “Someone at school says it.”

“Mrs. Steel says germs are the enemy, and soap and water are the weapons.”

They walked into the bathroom, and Cassandra marched up on the two-step stool that put her at the right height to wash her hands on her own.

“I like Mrs. Steel.”

“She’s married. So you can’t like her too much.”

He laughed. “Good to know.”

Liam helped her with the soap dispenser and lathered his hands along with hers.

“Uncle Liam?”

“Yes, Pipsqueak?”

“When are you getting married?”

Not anytime soon.

“I don’t have a girlfriend, so I can’t get married.”

Cassandra considered him through their images in the bathroom mirror.

“Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Liam considered changing his nickname for her to Twenty Questions. Or Twenty-Q. “I’m a little too busy for that.”

“Mommy says you’re working extra hours and that makes dating hard.”

“Your mom is right.”

“What about when Mommy and I move out? Will you get a girlfriend then?”

He turned off the water and grabbed a towel. “I don’t know.” It would certainly be easier to get naked with a woman.

“Who will cook for you if you don’t get a girlfriend?”

Liam lifted her off the stool and placed her little butt on the counter. “You know, I did cook for myself before you and your mom moved in.”

“Mommy says frozen dinners don’t count.”

He lowered his voice. “One of these days you’re going to go to college, and you’ll realize they do count.”

“You guys coming or what?” Michelle yelled from the kitchen.

Liam made a face at his niece. “I think we’re late.”

Easily amused, Cassandra giggled, and Liam lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder. She held on to his back, her head closer to the ground than her feet were, and laughed all the way to dinner.

Thirty minutes later, Liam was on his second beer, and the pot roast was a pleasant memory. Cassandra left to go play in the room she shared with her mom.

“Are you still okay to watch Cassie tomorrow night?”

“My social schedule hasn’t changed.”

“Would you tell me if it did?”

“Family first. Always. We’ve been over this.”

Looking into his sister’s eyes was a lot like looking into his own.

“You seem more restless than normal.”

“Busy, not restless.”

“Did you pick up another job?”

He sipped his beer and set it down. “Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been coming home late.”

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