The point of Project Ziggy actually wasn’t to spend as much time as possible with Will—even though he was quickly becoming my favorite person—but to help me find balance, to have a life outside the lab. In the past couple of weeks, Chloe and Sara had become an important part of the effort, dragging me out for dinner or coming over to just hang for a few hours at my apartment.
This particular Thursday evening they’d brought takeout and we’d somehow migrated into my room, where Chloe had taken it upon herself to go through my closet, deciding what could stay and what absolutely had to go.
“Different good,” she clarified, and then turned to Sara, who was stretched across my bed, thumbing through some sort of financial file for work. “Don’t you think so?”
Sara looked up, eyes narrowing as she considered me. “Definitely good. Happy, maybe?”
Chloe was already nodding. “Was just going to say that. There’s definitely some kind of glowy thing happening in your cheeks. And your ass looks amazing in those pants.”
I looked at my reflection, checked out the front and turned to see the back. My ass did look pretty happy. My front wasn’t too bad, either. “My pants are a little loose,” I noted, checking the size. “And look, no muffin top!”
“Well, that’s always a plus,” Sara said with a laugh, shaking her head, then going back to her documents.
Chloe started putting things on hangers, shoving others into plastic bags. “You’re toning up. What have you been doing?”
“Just running. And lots of stretching. Will is big on the stretching. He added sit-ups to our routine last week, and let me be clear on how much I hate those.” I continued to study my reflection, adding, “I can’t remember the last time I had a cookie, and that feels like a crime.”
“Still training with Will, huh?” Chloe asked, and I couldn’t miss the look that passed between her and Sara. The look that said I’d just dropped a giant nugget of awesome in their lap and they were going to talk it to death and then dissect it until I begged for mercy.
“Will trains with you every morning?” Chloe asked. Another look exchanged.
I nodded, moved to pick up a few errant things lying around. “We meet at the park. Did you know he does triathlons? He’s in great shape.” I snapped my mouth shut, realizing it probably wasn’t safe to be as obliviously unfiltered with Chloe as it was with Will. I knew her well enough at this point to know she didn’t let very many things slide.
And indeed, she lifted a brow and reached up, pushing a thick wave of dark hair behind her shoulder. “So, about William.”
“Do you see him outside of this daily running date?”
I could feel their attention like heated laser beams on the side of my face so I nodded, not looking over at either of them.
“Have you seen each other na**d?”
Chloe snorted, moving to the closet with a handful of clothes draped over her arms. “Right.”
“We run in the mornings, meet up for coffee sometimes. Maybe breakfast,” I said, shrugging and ignoring the way my honesty meter seemed to flare into the red zone. Lately we’d been having breakfast together almost every morning, and talked at least one other time during the day. I’d even started to call him for advice on my experiments when Liemacki was traveling or just busy . . . or just because I valued his scientific opinion. “Just friends.” I glanced at Sara. Her eyes were trained on her papers but she was smiling, shaking her head.
“Bullshit,” Chloe all but sang. “Will Sumner doesn’t have any women in his life that are just friends, outside of family and the two of us.”
I didn’t say anything, just turned and began searching through my drawers for a sweater. I could feel Chloe watching me, though, could feel the pressure of her gaze against the back of my head. I’d never had a lot of female friends—and I’d definitely never had one like Chloe Mills—but even I was smart enough to be a little afraid of her. I got the distinct impression that even Bennett was a little afraid of her.
I found the cardigan I’d been hunting for and slipped it over my favorite Firefly T-shirt, doing my best to keep my expression neutral and my head free of anything Will-related that ventured outside of the friend zone. Something told me these two would see through that in a second.
“How long have you guys known each other?” Sara asked. “He and Max go way back, but I’ve only known him since I moved to New York.”
“Same here,” Chloe added. “Spill, Bergstrom. He’s too smug and we need some ammo.”
I laughed, grateful for the semi-shift in topic. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, you knew him when he was in college. Was he a giant dork? Please say he was in the chess club or something,” Chloe said, hopeful.
“Ha, no. I’m pretty sure he was the guy who turned eighteen and all of the moms wanted to bang.” I frowned, considering. “Actually, I think I might have heard that exact story from Jensen. . . .”
“Max said something about him dating your sister?” Sara asked.
I chewed on my lip and shook my head. “They hooked up once over a holiday, but I think they just made out. He met my oldest brother, Jensen, on their first day of college, and then he lived with us and worked with my dad after graduation. I’m the youngest, so I didn’t really hang around with them that much other than at meals.”
“Stop evading,” Chloe said, narrowing her eyes. “You have to know more.”
I laughed. “Let’s see, he’s the youngest, too. He has two sisters who are way older than him, but I’ve never met them. I get the feeling he was sort of mothered a lot. I remember hearing him talk one time about how his parents are both physicians, and they divorced long before he was born. Years later, they met up at a medical conference, got drunk, and reconnected for one night . . .”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah. But his mom raised him. So, his sisters are twelve and fourteen years older than he is. He was their little baby.”
“Well, that would explain why he thinks women were put on this earth to cater to him,” Chloe added, flopping on the bed next to Sara.
That didn’t sit right with me, and I sat down, shaking my head. “I don’t know if it’s that. I think he just really, really likes women. And they seem to like him, too,” I added. “He grew up surrounded by women so he knows how they think, what they want to hear.”
“He definitely knows how to play the game,” Sara said. “God, some of the stuff Max has told me.”
I thought back to Jensen’s wedding and watching Will slip off, otherwise unnoticed, with two women at once. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the first or last time something like that had happened.
“Women have always loved him,” I said. “I can remember overhearing some of my mom’s friends talk about him when he worked for Dad. Jesus, the things they would have done to that boy.”
“God, every girl was in love with him.” I pulled a pillow to my chest, remembering. “I had a few girlfriends in school—I was twelve the first time he came home with Jensen—and they would find all these crazy reasons to need to come over. One of them pretended like she had to return my sweater on Christmas Eve, and it was her sweater she gave me. I mean, picture Will now but as a nineteen-year-old guy, playful, clearly wise to the ways of the female body, and with that damn cheeky smile. He was in a band, had tattoos . . . he was walking sex. Then when he lived with us over the summer? He was twenty-four and I was sixteen. It was unbearable. It was like it offended him to wear a shirt in the house and he had to show off all that smooth, perfect man skin.”
I broke out of my memory to see both of them grinning at me.
“Those were some very lascivious descriptions, Hanna,” Sara said.
Glancing over at her, I asked, “Did you just use the word lascivious?”
“She most certainly did,” Chloe said. “And I agree. I feel like I just watched something dirty.”
I groaned, getting up off the bed.
“So, clearly, teenage Hanna had a bit of a crush on Will,” Sara said. “But, more importantly, what does twenty-four-year-old Hanna think of him now?”
I had to think on this for a beat, because to be honest, I thought about Will a lot, and in every possible way. I thought about his body and his dirty mouth and of course all the things he could do with them, but I also thought about his brain, and his heart. “I think he’s surprisingly sweet, and he’s absurdly smart. He’s a total player but underneath that, a genuinely good guy.”
“And you haven’t thought about banging him at all?”
She stared right back at me. “What what? You’re both young and hot. There’s a history there. I bet it’d be incredible.”
Hundreds of images flashed through my mind in only a few seconds, and even though I thought about banging him more than I should probably even admit to myself, I forced the words out: “I am absolutely not ha**g s*x with Will.”
I turned to her. “Aren’t you supposed to be the demure one?”
A laugh burst out of Chloe’s mouth and she shook her head, giving Sara a playfully scolding look. “Demure. It’s always the ones who seem sweet and innocent, trust me.”
“Well, regardless,” I said, “Will thinks of me as a little sister.”
Chloe sat up, pinning me with a serious expression. “I can tell you that when a man meets a woman, he puts her in one of two categories: unequivocal friend, or possible banging candidate.”
“Doesn’t he have scheduled booty calls?” I asked, wrinkling my nose. I liked the idea of dating, but I got the impression that Will was more structured in his relationships than just a conversation about keeping things casual. To have regular nights scheduled the way he seemed to? I wasn’t sure I could get behind that kind of boundary regarding something as fluid and shapeless as sex.
Sara nodded. “Lately, Kitty is Tuesday nights, Kristy is Saturday evening.” She hummed thoughtfully and added, “I don’t think he’s seeing Lara anymore, but I’m sure others make cameos here and there.”
Chloe shot her a look and Sara stared back. I blinked away, letting them have their little showdown in private.
“I’m not suggesting she fall in love with him,” Chloe said. “Just bang the hell out of him.”
“I’m only making sure everyone knows the score,” Sara answered, a challenge in her eyes.
“Well,” I started, “it doesn’t matter anyway. Given that he’s my brother’s best friend, I think we can pretty safely assume I am in unequivocal friend territory.”
“Has he talked about your boobs?” Chloe asked.
I felt the heated blush crawl up my neck. Will talked about, stared at, and seemed to idolize my chest. “Um, yes.”
Chloe smiled, smug. “I rest my case.”The next morning, I’m sure Will was convinced I was on some sort of mood-altering medication . . . or needed to be. I was distracted during our run and kept going over my conversation with Sara and Chloe in my mind. Not only was I thinking about how often Will looked at my boobs, gestured to my boobs, and spoke to my boobs, I was unfortunately thinking about Will with the other women I knew were in his life: what he did with them, how they felt when they were with him, and if they had as much fun with him as I did. Plus the fact that he was probably na**d with women . . . a lot.
This, of course, led to me thinking about Will na**d, which did nothing to help my focus, or my ability to go in a straight line down the path in front of me.
I forced my thoughts away from the man running in easy silence beside me, and to the work I had waiting at the lab, the report I needed to finish, the exams I needed to help Liemacki grade.
But later, when Will leaned over me, stretching my right leg after I’d basically crumpled on the trail from a leg cramp, he stared at me so intently, his eyes moving slowly over my face, every thought I’d tried to banish came rushing back. My stomach twisted and a delicious heat spread from my chest and down to the neglected ache between my legs. I felt like I was melting into the cold ground.
I was only able to nod.
His brows drew together. “You’re so quiet this morning.”
His sexy little smile appeared and I felt my heart trip and then begin to hammer in my chest. “Well, I hope you’re not thinking about p**n or bl*w j*bs or how you want to experiment with sex, because if you think you’re keeping that shit to yourself, you’re in trouble. We have a rhythm now, Ziggs.”
I took a particularly long shower after that run.I’d never been a texter—in fact, before Will, my only texts had consisted of one-word responses to my family or coworkers.
Are you still coming? Yes.