While fantasizing, Rowan’s expression shifted to the big, doe eyes she’d use to get in Phelps’ favor, and once he realized what she was doing, he immediately protested. “No. Absolutely not. Get the thought out of your head, Rowan, because it’s not happening.”
“Please, Dr. Phelps. Please. This is everything I’ve ever wanted. A project like this could make my career. And to work with my idols. Sir, you and Miller were the reason I went to university, why I pursued biology, you’re the reason I am where I am. If I can so much as be involved in something with the both of you...” Rowan paused because she didn’t even have words to express the rest of her thought.
It was unfathomable.
Phelps stared hard again, like he was trying to muster up the last bit of his will to withstand her. Rowan promised herself a yes, though.
“Please Phelps, you can’t just let me not be involved. I can’t miss out on this, especially after knowing all this. Knowing about Miller. I’d spend the rest of my life wondering exactly what I missed out on.”
Rowan sat on her last attempt, waiting for Phelps to crack with her racing heart pounding away in her throat. She steady her wringing hands on her thighs, and watched the deep lines of the hard frown on his forehead loosen.
“You’re lucky that I’ve always liked giving Miller a hard time.”
Phelps sent Rowan home early with a thick folder of papers and specific instructions: read the lengthy contract front to back, think seriously on what it included, and return the next morning with it signed if she still wanted to be involved. When Rowan pressed about how Miller would react, he assured her everything would be handled when she arrived the following morning, leaving Rowan little more to do than sit down and get some reading done.
She had some errands to run, and since she expected to be tied up from the next morning forward, Rowan decided to make some pit stops before heading home with the contract. She’d have to pick up some groceries since she tended to fall into bad eating habits when work took over, and there wasn’t proper food in the house. She’d also have to pick up some migraine medication; she got them when she would forgo sleep, which she anticipated would be happening often.
Rowan was so caught up in her excitement and fantasizing, she didn’t notice the black SUV following her until she parked at the market and saw that it stopped at the other side of the parking lot, as well.
A chill seized the back of her neck, remembering the night before: the security personnel in dark suits and the feeling of a weapon to her spine. Rowan reminded herself that lots of people had SUVs, and everyone needed to shop. She was just being paranoid. That was all. With a deep breath, she forced the thought away.
She almost completely forgot the unpleasant idea, but it burrowed deeper into her bones with every nervous glance over her shoulder, leaving a chill that made her stiff and uncomfortable as she shopped. There was never anyone when she looked, but when she’d turn back, the hairs stood up on her neck like there was. The discomfort rushed her through the aisles, definitely forgetting something while counting the times she involuntarily checked behind her.
When she left the market, the parked SUV seemed empty, and Rowan felt momentarily relieved. She was being foolish, hyper sensitive in her exhaustion, and still dwelling on Cameron’s foolish fantasy from the night before. Maybe she’d allow herself to take a nap when she got home before diving into the contract, just to clear her head.
That was a short lived plan though, she realized, while exiting the pharmacy after picking up her migraine medication and seeing the same black SUV parked down the street, in plain sight of the exit she used to return to her car.
Rowan tried not to let her panic get ahead of her, but a churning dread in her stomach reminded her of the night before. This time though, it was the middle of the day, the sun was up, and she was surrounded by people. She would be fine. She was fine.
Even as she tried her best to act normal, to take deep breaths and calm herself down as she got back in her car and pulled out onto the road, the first thing she did once out of the parking lot was dial Cameron’s number.
“Row, what’s the occasion? You never call me during working hours. How’d it go with Phelps?”
“Cameron, are you home?”
There was a pause over the line. “I had to pick something up for the truck. Why?”
“Ok, no problem. I’ll just—” Her voice cracked. “I’ll use my key, then.”
He saw right through her weak facade. “What’s wrong, Row?”
“It’s not a big deal, it’s actually kind of stupid. You’ll think I’m going crazy.” She tried to brush off his concern, holding her phone between her ear and her shoulder as she adjusted her rearview mirror, the SUV four cars behind her as she drove.
“Why would I think you're going crazy?”
Rowan laughed nervously. “Because I think I’m going crazy.”
“Try me.” Cameron snorted.
She forced her eyes back onto the road ahead of her, exhaling shakily. After another breath, she swallowed hard and said, “I think I’m being followed.”