Why should she care that Jack had found her scrapbook about him? He was her friend. Wasn’t it natural she’d be interested in and proud of what he was doing? Maybe it was a bit much, which perhaps was the embarrassing part.
“I found this.” He looked up at her, his blue eyes full of questions.
“I hadn’t heard from you.” She could hardly speak through her tight throat. “When I came across something you’d done, I kept it.”
“I see that,” he said slowly, turning another page. “This is basically my whole career in here.”
He looked up at her again, and her glance skittered away from his.
He got up off the floor, unfolding his long legs in their faded denim, the scrapbook in his hands.
“You want to tell me why you collected all this stuff about me?” he asked softly.
Her mouth went dry. “Um...it’s no big deal. I was relieved when I saw your name in Newsday, I started keeping an eye out for more of your work.” She gathered the sides of the ridiculous fluffy robe together over her chest.
“Relieved?” One straight brow eyebrow lifted.
Shit. “Well, yes.” She blew out a long breath. “Yes, okay? Relieved. I thought maybe you were dead.”
“Then when I found out where you were, I was even more worried. It’s so dangerous, Jack,” she told him earnestly. “Every time a journalist or a photographer got injured or killed, I worried about you.” She’d thought about him a lot more than that. Damn it.
If it hadn’t been for that crazy, hot kiss earlier, she’d be fine telling him so much more...about how much she’d missed him, how hurt she’d been that he’d left like that, how she worried about him all the time. She’d tell him how much she’d wanted him there to talk to and comfort her like nobody else ever could when she’d been crushed and betrayed by Carter.
But she couldn’t say all those things, because there was still that arc of tension between them, that edge they were both balancing tenuously on.
“You were worried about me?” he murmured, moving closer to her. She backed up, clutching the robe. Her damp hair dripped water and a drop ran down between her breasts. She was surprised it didn’t sizzle, she felt so hot.
“Well, yes. Of course.”
“That’s nice, Ally. At least I know you cared.”
She swallowed. “You were my friend, Jack.”
His brow lifted again. “I was your friend?”
She frowned and put a hand out to stop him from coming closer. She wanted him closer, so, so much, but she was not going to embarrass herself again. “I mean, you are my friend. Of course, you are. Even though you didn’t contact me the whole time you were gone. I know, I know, you and Carter e-mailed all the time.” Christ, she was babbling like a baby but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “And even if Carter didn’t bother to tell me about it, and it’s true that you did e-mail him, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, you never contacted me.” She jabbed a finger into his hard chest. “We were friends, even before you and Carter were friends. You should have e-mailed me. And you should have told me why you left like that so I didn’t have to hear stupid rumors about you.”
His eyes narrowed and he put up a hand to clasp the one she’d poked him with, keeping her from continuing to jab at him. His warm, lean fingers closed around hers and held them between them, pressed against his chest. “What rumors?”
She sighed. Hell. “Carter told me he’d heard a rumor that the reason you’d left in such a hurry was because you’d gotten another girl pregnant.”
“Whaaat!” Jack’s face was comical, his mouth open, eyebrows up near his hairlie .
She nodded, frowning. “I knew it wasn’t true.” She looked up at him through her lashes, practically begging him to deny it categorically even though she’d never believed it.
“Hell, no, of course it’s not true!” He ran his other hand through his thick, sun streaked hair. “Jesus Christ. Who the hell would start that rumor?” He laughed shortly. “I barely even dated in college, and believe me, when I had sex, I used protection. I learned my lesson the goddamn hard way.”
Um. She’d known how much he had dated. After all, they’d been best friends. But she was disturbed to hear him talk about having sex. She frowned. She wanted so badly to ask who he’d had sex with, but that was a stupid question, none of her business and she was probably better off not knowing.
“I know,” she said. “I told Carter that couldn’t be true.”
“He believed it?” Jack asked incredulously.
She shook her head rapidly. “No, no. Of course not.” She bit her lip. “Although he did say it kind of made sense because you’d done that before.”
There was silence for three heartbeats.
“Fuck him!” Jack burst out. His fingers tightened painfully on her hand. “I may have gotten a girl pregnant, but I never abandoned her!”
“I know, I know,” she soothed him, surprised this conversation had gotten him so riled up. She put her other hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “It doesn’t matter, Jack. I knew it wasn’t true, and Carter did too. And I don’t know who would have started such a crazy rumor, but I don’t think anybody else would have believed it either.”
Jack stared down at her, his blue eyes stormy and flashing. “You want to know the real reason I left?”
Extreme Close Up Chapter 20