I am trying desperately to ignore the fact that Josh Garrison is standing only twenty feet away, looking sexier than any man has a right to in a tuxedo, and staring right at me. Focus, Sloane. Focus on your job.
I smile seamlessly at the guests, calmly assign tasks to the staff and volunteers, and always, always, know exactly where the photographers are located.
This is actually the easy part, if I’ve done my job well. Once an event has started I should just have to manage schedules, give gentle nudges and keep an eye out for potential problems – hopefully anticipating them early enough they never actually happen. Or at least happen without anyone else noticing.
I’m really good at anticipating behavior. Especially behavior that could become a problem. I honed that skill early in life and survival skills are rarely forgotten.
Except when Josh Garrison is standing twenty feet away. Wearing a tux. Watching me.
Except he’s not. He’s smart and handsome and good. He’s like Captain America or someone equally difficult to hate. Impossible to ignore. Despite my practice at trying. It’s annoying.
Usually I am quite successful at avoiding him. Chicago is a big city. It’s easy to avoid people, especially when you know where those people work and live. But I know there are two nights every year when that won’t be possible. As much as I love the work I do with The Bridge, organizing their fundraisers, it has also become incredibly stressful. Because I know he will be here. On these nights I know I will have to interact with him.
Interacting with Josh is dangerous. I have spent years perfecting my camouflage. Years deciding what the outside world should see when they look at me. He’s the only one that doesn’t seem to accept my disguise. He studies me with equal parts interest and confusion. Like he can’t figure me out and I’m both annoyed he sees through me and terrified he’ll discover all my secrets.
So avoidance. This is the solution I’ve come up with. And it works for me.
Except two nights a year.
I smile serenely, accepting Margaret’s praise. She is the Executive Director of The Bridge, the organization benefiting from tonight’s event, and has become a dear friend over the years. We’re just about to investigate the silent auction and make some bids of our own when I hear someone call her name and stiffen, recognizing the voice immediately.
Suddenly he’s right there, crowding me with his sheer presence, charming Margaret with his smile.
She’s beaming under his attention, even 70 year old widows no match for his teasing and compliments.
Then he turns his attention to me. “Great job on the event tonight, as usual.”
Forcing a smile, I plan my escape. “Thank you. If you’ll excuse me, I have to check in with Brice.” Brice is my assistant, I’m sure there’s some reason I need to talk to him. “Margaret, I’ll speak with you shortly.” I nod at them both, proud of my composure as I turn to leave.
Margaret waves her fingers, dismissing me and turns her full attention to the man in front of her. “I just heard about your transfer, such wonderful news.”
I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, unnamed and unexamined feelings forcing the air from my lungs. Without considering my actions I turn back to the pair.
“You’re transferring?” I hear myself demand.
His brown eyes move across my face a small smirk twisting his mouth. He pauses for just a heartbeat before responding. “Just into a different department. I’ll still be in Chicago, don’t worry.”
I feel my cheeks heat, embarrassed both my unguarded reaction and the fact that he seems fully aware of it. He grins watching how flustered I’ve become. I take a deep breath determined to get myself together.
“I see. Congratulations.”
Seemingly oblivious to the tension in our little circle, Margaret weighs in again. “I just could not be happier. Ever since the Blackwell Ring arrest, I thought you would be a perfect addition to the Civil Rights team. You-”
“The Civil Rights team?” I blurt out. No. No, no, no. This just keeps getting worse and worse.
Josh is studying me carefully and I curse my inability to control my responses when he is around. He sees too much and I hate it.
“I’ll be focused primarily on human trafficking cases,” he responds slowly.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Margaret gushed. “To have an ally like Josh bottom-lining our cases?”
“Wonderful,” I agree and get the hell away from those clever brown eyes. Crossing the room, I slip into the kitchen and allow myself a moment. I lean back, my head resting against the wall behind me and close my eyes.
FBI Agent Josh Garrison is going to be focused on sex crimes and human trafficking. And likely even more involved with The Bridge, especially if Margaret has her way. Despite my best efforts, that man has a way of seeing right through me. My avoidance strategy has worked to keep my secrets intact but frequent exposure? He would discover things best left alone.
And I can’t let that happen.
I pull out my phone and quickly send a text. I think we have a problem. When are you back?
Almost immediately I get a response. Monday. I’ll meet you at your place.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I close my eyes again and calm my racing heart. Monday. Less than forty-eight hours and Ethan, the only other person in the world who knows all my secrets, will be home. Together we can figure out how to navigate this new potential land-mine.
I owe Ethan my life.
We would have been fine if Ethan and I had never met. I know that. I had a decent place to live. I had a decent job. We’d stayed off the grid. Hidden. We’d been making things work and we would have been fine, but meeting Ethan had changed our entire lives.
He made sure I went to college. He helped me launch my own event organizing business, both financially and then by referring his incredibly wealthy friends. Because of Ethan, I’d been able to stay in Chicago, lead an almost normal life.
He’d helped me try to fight my demons. When that failed, he had trusted my judgment and helped me hide from them. We would figure this out too.
Feeling reassured, I return to the ballroom. My eyes immediately fall on Josh’s form across the room. I force myself to look away.
Forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours and I’ll have a plan. Once I have a plan, I’ll be fine.
I just need a plan.
See the story from Josh’s perspective.
And meet a young Sloane here.