Home > Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(8)

Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(8)
Author: Catherine Bybee

He picked up his plate and hers and took them to the sink. “I worked late before you moved in.” She’d been there for a year. Slippery Scott, her slimy ex-husband, had left her and Cassandra a month before they moved in. Michelle had started taking classes after Cassandra started preschool so she could earn her degree. Scott couldn’t handle being a dad longer than a few hours at a time, so when Michelle needed to pull a few nights working the crisis hotline as a class requirement, Scott couldn’t deal.

According to Michelle, he picked a fight one night, packed a bag, and left. Come to find out he hadn’t paid their rent on the apartment for two months. If Scott had stayed in town, Liam would have happily pounded some sense into his brother-in-law. But the coward moved to Atlanta, denying him the chance.

Liam was there to pick up the pieces.

“You’re working extra for me.”

“I’m the boss. I’m working late because that’s what being the boss means.”

She brought the other dishes from the table to the sink while he filled it with hot water. “Sit down. You cooked.”

“I can help.”


“Okay, okay.” She sat down and took a drink of his beer.

“So what’s Cassandra’s obsession with me having a girlfriend?”

“I think it has to do with her new friends at school. She started talking about a baby brother or a sister, and somehow she’s concluded that I can’t give her that since Scott is gone.”

“But I can? That’s a stretch.”

“She’s five. What can I say?” Michelle sighed. “He sent a check.”

Liam looked over his shoulder. “Who?”


He almost dropped the dish he was rinsing off in the sink. “You’re kidding.”

“Four hundred dollars.”

Considering the man had ignored his child support bill ordered by the divorce court for the past five months, the amount was laughable. “Big spender.” Liam went back to the dishes.

“He says he finally got a job.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No. There was a check in the mail with a note. He said he would send more.” Michelle sounded hopeful.

“I wouldn’t count on it.”

“I won’t.”

He dried his hands on a dish towel and turned to his sister. “You don’t need him.”

She sighed and offered a weak smile. “I know. But she does.”

“Cassandra has me.”

“It’s not the same.”

“I know. It’s better. She can depend on me. Forever and always.”

Michelle walked over and wrapped her arms around him.

Liam kissed the top of her head.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Chapter Six

Thankfully, Brenda didn’t harp when Avery showed up for her lesson. The woman was painfully quiet, and thirty minutes in, Avery figured out why.

The door to the studio opened and he walked in.

Big shoulders. Thick biceps. Liam.

“What are you doing here?”

“Right on time,” Brenda announced.

Avery shifted her gaze between the two of them. “What is this? An intervention?”

Brenda shook off her boxing gloves. “He agreed to spar with you.”

That was comical. “I don’t remember agreeing to spar with him.”

“You did last week, and I don’t look like your demons.” He dropped a bag on the floor and walked farther into the room.

When he was damn near nose to nose with her, she looked up and held her ground. He didn’t look anything like her demons. The fact that he knew she had them was a little unsettling.

Avery weighed her options.

Stay and spar with Handyman Hulk, who didn’t know krav from a bar fight, or find another instructor.

Brenda didn’t have a warm and fuzzy bone in her body. It was one of the reasons Avery liked working with her. She didn’t ask questions, didn’t offer a shoulder to sob on. She slapped Avery into place and pushed her out of her comfort zone.

That zone was just pushed a little further.


Liam’s whole face changed when he smiled. Even now, with a smirk that resembled a cocky teen’s, he looked completely different.

“All right. Let’s get started.”

Most of their lessons before Liam showed up had consisted of practicing the moves Brenda taught Avery in the past and building on them. In the past few months there were times Brenda would attack Avery without any predetermined moves. She didn’t tell her she was going to attempt to choke her or grab her from behind. She just did it and Avery needed to respond.

They rewound the tape, and now Avery was back at the beginning.

Brenda would do the move first, have Avery respond, and then have Liam be the aggressor. This time, he wore more than a jock. He barely fit in the padding needed to protect his head. The first time he wrapped his arms around her as if he were snagging her off a street corner, she barely felt his strength before she dropped her weight, pulled him off balance, and started elbowing his face from behind her.

He let go.

Once Brenda explained the moves Avery was doing, Liam attempted to adjust his attack to challenge her from escaping. Anytime she struck just shy of his junk, he hesitated. In reality, she knew he would do more than pause if someone boxed his goods. After a while, he learned to keep his hips far enough away, or too close, to avoid being a target.

There were times Avery got away . . . and there were times Brenda stopped their sparring when it was obvious that Avery wasn’t going to win.

As much as Avery hated to admit it, when they were done she felt stronger, even in light of the weakness she demonstrated in Liam’s shadow. The fact was she did manage to get away from him several times. Like when she’d taken the guy down at the bar, she felt empowered.

When they were done and Avery was wiping the sweat from her shoulders with a towel, Brenda approached her. “Liam agreed to come every Friday.”

Avery glanced at Mr. Hulk. He sat on a bench, water in hand. “Works for me,” he told her.

Avery nodded.

“Good. This was good. You’re better for it, Avery.” Brenda turned away. Avery knew surprise was written on her face.

“That was almost a compliment.”

“I take it those don’t come often from that one.”

Avery grinned. “Never.” She had questions. Lots of them. “About that drink we didn’t have last week.”

That little-boy smirk on that big-boy face peeked out. “I don’t know . . . I have a lot to do.”

Was he turning her down? “Suit yourself.”

He stopped her halfway to the showers.

“Meet you outside in fifteen.”

She didn’t turn around. Smiling, she waved a hand in the air, felt the heat of his eyes on her ass, and disappeared into the locker room.

Pug’s was busy, it being Friday night and all. They found a small table tucked in the back, away from the majority of people.

Liam grabbed a couple of bottles of beer and sat across from her.

He’d barely sat his ass in the chair and she was asking the questions that had been swimming in her head for hours. “Why? Why are you doing this?”

He struggled with his answer for half a second. “I’m attracted.”

Avery should have been prepared for his answer.

She wasn’t.

“That’s the short answer.”

She took a drink from her beer. “And the long answer?”

“I need a challenge, a change in pace. Something tells me pursuing my attraction isn’t going to be easy. Not from a woman who has no problem kicking my ass . . . repeatedly.”

She forced her lips from smiling but knew her eyes lit up. “All this for a date.”

“That’s why it started.” He leaned on his elbows and stared. “Now I’m genuinely fascinated. Who is this beautiful, guarded woman, and what drove her to master a class in kicking someone’s butt?”

He blinked a few times as he spoke, and a voice told Avery that he was well practiced in throwing women off his scent of seduction. “Do women fall for that? The ‘fascinated’ line followed by a compliment and a smile?”

He lifted his eyebrows, leaned back. “Yup. All the time.”

Avery laughed and grabbed her drink. “I think I might have written a book on lines that get me what I want from a man. So you’re going to have to do better than that.”

He lifted his beer in the air in a silent salute. “I’ll work on it.”

“I don’t want any of it.”

Avery took in the dark hall of family portraits professionally painted on canvas. “Not even the artwork?”

Sheldon Lankford considered the paintings and shook his head. “My parents waited until they were fifty to adopt me. I never met any of these people. I was raised by a series of nannies and knew my parents through weekends and the occasional summer vacation.” Sheldon kept looking up at the vast walls that filled the room, which hosted thirty-foot ceilings. “Did you ever go to boarding school?”

Avery sighed. “Yes.”

Sheldon focused on her as if surprised. “Then you know.”

At thirty-five, Sheldon inherited his parents’ wealth with the passing of his mother.

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