Authors: Delphine Dryden
Still, it was a little brutal, like physical therapy on a muscle that hasn’t been used in ages. He wasn’t sure if he should be thanking Lindy or blaming her. Not that he would ever do either of those things to her face.
Thinking about Lindy and sex all the time had been bad enough. What Richard was thinking about now was worse, though. Not just sex, although those visions continued to plague him in a way he hadn’t been plagued since high school. No, now he was looking back and realizing just how integral to his life Lindy had become, long before the sex came along to complicate things.
She had been there every day for months, a friend, a touchstone. He was as aware of her presence in the background of his days as he was of the sun, which was to say he had taken it for granted and had no real concept of its necessity until it was gone.
He had stayed with Natasha long past common sense because he had wanted so much for it to be right, because he had worked so hard on that relationship for the first time in his life. He had chased Natasha instead of the other way around, and he’d thought that was the critical difference. He’d been crushed to realize he had picked the wrong person.
But the thing with Lindy had happened without his even noticing. He might have called it effortless, but looking back over the past few months he could see that it hadn’t been. It was just that the work was usually so pleasant and the payoff was always worth it.
Now Richard looked up a dozen times a day, starting to call out a question or comment to the loft across the hall, only to realize the doors were closed. Not just metaphorically. Their easy back-and-forth, treating the entire floor as one big loft, had ended after Lindy started dating Paul Maddox. Now Richard didn’t even know whether she was home or gone most of the time. And he missed it terribly, that light but almost constant contact. He missed knowing she was just there, in the next room. He missed
Richard tried to convince himself that if Lindy wanted to be just friends, he could learn to handle that. If he never got to have sex with her again it wouldn’t matter, as long as he was able to talk to her and spend time with her. But he couldn’t believe his own lie. He wanted to see Lindy, wanted to have long conversations with her and quite possibly spend the rest of his life with her, because at some point he had lost the ability to imagine a life without her in it…but he also still wanted to sleep with her in the worst way. Also in several of the best ways.
And he couldn’t bear the idea that she might, at any time, start having sex with Maddox.
She seemed to spend her nights at home, and he didn’t think she was sleeping with Maddox yet. But that could only be a matter of time. After all, she was no virgin anymore. Hadn’t that been the point? Hadn’t that been his undoing, the reason he had been drawn in like this?
Richard’s only consolation was that he couldn’t actually picture that match. His sweet, shy neighbor, turned fiery and daring and utterly magnificent in bed, just didn’t work in Richard’s mind with Maddox and his straight-arrow, conservative demeanor. Maddox was probably a good guy, Richard was willing to admit to himself, but he seemed like vanilla all the way. And Lindy had come in to her own with Richard, whose position on the ice cream flavor scale was probably closer to Rocky Road.
After a long period of distraction spent trying to decide just what flavor might represent Lindy, Richard gave up even trying to work and put his pencils and chalk aside for the evening. As he was trying to decide what to do next, the phone rang and he was surprised to see Tess Moore’s name on the caller ID.
“So can I talk to Lindy?” Tess asked after the opening pleasantries were exchanged.
“She’s not here,” Richard replied, puzzled.
“Yeah. Pretty sure. I think I’d know if she were hiding under the bed or something, it’s not that big a place.”
“I would have thought she’d be back by now. She was at Ally’s earlier, but she left there like fifteen minutes ago.”
“Well,” Richard speculated, “she’s probably out on a date. With Paul Maddox.”
He was surprised at Tess’ response, a snorting laugh that clearly indicated she found the idea ludicrous.
“I did not just hear that. Seriously, can I just talk to her? I need to find out if she can pick up my mail and stuff, I’m going out of town this weekend.”
“Tess, she’s not here.” He was starting to get a little annoyed. “I think she’s out with Maddox. They’ve been going out ever since her show at the gallery. You mean you didn’t know?”
After a tense pause, Tess asked, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes. So I guess that’s a ‘yes’ on you not knowing.”
“No, I didn’t know. What has she gotten herself into? Man, I don’t have time to deal with this.”
“I don’t recall hearing her ask you to
with it. What would be the problem? He’s supposed to be a great catch, isn’t he?”
“Of course,” Tess agreed. “But Lindy doesn’t do this. She doesn’t date. As far as I know, she’s never even had a boyfriend. And now she’s setting her sights on somebody like that? She’s bound to get hurt. Somebody needs to talk to her.”
Richard shifted in his seat, edgy with the growing irritation at Tess’ big-sister attack and his own desire to defend Lindy without giving up any of her secrets. “Maybe you don’t know her as well as you think. But I know she has…had a boyfriend.” Or something like it, anyway. “And as far as setting her sights on anyone, I don’t know that she’s done that.
out, and so they’ve gone out a few times. Or at least I think it’s been a few times.”
“Richard, I’m sure she’s told you she’s had a boyfriend. I mean, come on. She wants to impress you. Just like in college.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh please. You knew she had a crush on you. I’m sure that hasn’t really changed. For all we know, she’s really out pretending to be with some made-up Canadian boyfriend right now. That makes more sense than believing she’s dating Paul Maddox.” Tess made a dismissive noise, and Richard had to force his teeth to unclench.
“No, she really is dating Paul Maddox. I’ve seen them.”
“I wouldn’t kid about that. Why are you so convinced it’s impossible they would be dating?”
“Well, he’s Paul Maddox. And she’s Lindy. Which, you know, I love her and all, but she’s not exactly the kind of girl you’d expect to see with somebody like—”
“Tess, stop. Really. Just keep the rest of that thought to yourself, all right?”
He knew Tess didn’t mean to sound abrasive. She just still saw the awkward girl Lindy had been growing up, and wanted to protect that girl. But he still bridled at the implied insult. And his brain was still trying to wrap itself around the other thing Tess had just told him.
“Lindy,” he said after collecting himself for a few seconds, “is beautiful. And talented, and a great friend, and I could go on but the point is that she’s
the kind of girl any man would kill to be with. I don’t know how long it’s been since you took a good look at her, but I’ll tell you again that you don’t seem to know her as well as you think.”
“She’s my sister.”
“Exactly.” The sound of footsteps in the hall caught Richard’s attention, and he hastened to end the call. “Tess, I have to go. If I talk to Lindy, I’ll tell her you called, okay?”
Hanging up in short order, he hurried to the hall in time to see Lindy fumbling with her keys at the door to her loft. When she heard him she turned her head, startled, and something in her eyes reminded him of what Tess had said. Some hesitation, some question waiting to be answered.
She had a crush on him.
It was like a light bulb going on over Richard’s head. All their interactions, all the seemingly casual comments and sideways little glances, everything was suddenly cast in a new light. She had a crush on him, and she was shy. And she had still mustered up the courage to ask him to sleep with her, to be the first. Even though she had known, or thought she’d known, that he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship.
Because she trusted him that much.
It took him a moment to realize that Lindy was struggling with her key because her hands, like the rest of her, were soaking wet and shaking with cold. Her coat was muddy at the hem and her knee was bleeding from a scrape.
“You’re a mess.”
He had already taken the key out of her hand and opened the door, and he followed her into the loft without asking.
“What happened? Are you okay? You’re bleeding.”
“Oh crap.” Lindy looked down at the blood with a growl. “I thought it had stopped. The weather happened. I had to run to my car with no umbrella and I slipped.”
“The other knee is scraped too.”
“It’s really no big deal. I’m fine. I’m just here to get some Band-Aids and change clothes, I’m late for a date.”
She has a crush on me.
He looked at her face and then down at her bleeding knees, and knew one thing with startling clarity. He couldn’t let her go on that date with Maddox. Even if it meant telling her what he’d been trying to talk himself out of believing for days.
* * * * *
To Lindy’s dismay, Richard had crouched down and was examining the damage to her legs close-up, one hand curled around the back of her knee for support.
And there it was—the bolt of lustful need she’d been waiting for since she started dating Paul. Traveling from Richard’s fingers straight up the back of her leg and circling around her pussy like a plane just waiting to land.
“I’m fine,” she said again and tried to step away, to no avail.
“It’s these fuck-me heels you’ve started wearing lately. Those things are lethal. We need to clean this.” He probed carefully at the deeper wound and came away with a tiny piece of what appeared to be gravel. Lindy hoped he mistook her needy whimper for a complaint about the slight pain.
“I don’t have time. I’ll do it later, I just need to get a bandage for it right now.”
“No,” he said calmly. “We’re going to clean it.”
“Richard, I’m fine.”
“When was your last tetanus shot?”
“Within the last ten years. Look, I’m going to be late for the movie. Let me go.”
Instead he wrapped both hands more firmly around her legs, holding her in place and managing to look commanding even though he was the one looking up.
“So you’re going back out with Mr. Red House?”
“You’re shivering and bleeding. You think he would care more about you being late than you taking care of yourself?”
“I don’t care what he thinks. I’m going for myself. Because it’s what I want to do. But not without changing first.”
Her coat, hanging open, was dripping onto the floor. Lindy pushed it off her shoulders and let it fall, then crossed her arms defiantly across her chest. Richard noticed she was dressed up, a simple black dress accented by a gold-fringed red silk shawl that was now damp around Lindy’s neck where it had ridden up outside her coat.
“All this for the movies? Why not just throw on some jeans? It’s raining, it seems dumb to get dressed up.”
“Paul will still be in a suit. I can’t go looking all scruffy. I’m not really wet all over, I just need a different pair of shoes and a scarf or something. If you would let go of me.”
Richard shrugged and tugged the red shawl from her neck, letting it land on his knee where it contrasted beautifully with the worn black denim of his jeans. “This was pretty. It’s a shame the pussy scarf is still on display at the gallery, you’d have looked great in that.”
“Don’t call it that,” she said softly.
He looked up again, eyeing her sharply, and Lindy noticed his nostrils were literally flaring. She couldn’t decide if she liked it or not. The look on his face might have scared her coming from anybody else. It was too hard, too much. But it was still Richard. And she couldn’t be afraid of Richard. In fact, if fear had an opposite, she thought that might be what she was feeling.
“Pussy scarf,” he repeated, flexing his fingers tighter around her hamstrings.
“Pussy scarf, pussy scarf, pussy scarf.”
For perhaps the first time in her life, Lindy found that only one retort expressed the depth of her feelings about the situation at hand.
“Fuck you, Richard,” she said crisply.
“Gladly. Been waiting to hear that since I walked through the door.” And he stood up, grabbed her by the waist and slung her over his shoulder before heading for her bed.
Caught off guard and with a little wind knocked out of her, Lindy didn’t even think to start kicking until Richard was almost to the bed. He seemed more amused by her struggles than anything else, pinning her legs easily with one arm and swatting her firmly on the butt.
, put me down!”
“Planning on it.” He slung her onto the bed and straddled her, caging her tightly with his knees and holding up the scarf by one relatively dry corner. Lindy’s eyes widened.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
He already was, his greater reach making it fairly easy for him to secure first one of her hands and then the other to the conveniently sturdy antique brass headboard that graced Lindy’s bedroom space. It didn’t hurt that her struggles lacked conviction. She’d gone weak and wet at the first tug of the twisted fabric around her wrist, and by the time the second arm was secured she felt like a needy rag doll. Not that she wanted Richard to know that, because she didn’t think this type of behavior should be encouraged. At least, up until now she hadn’t thought so.
“You want to have sex again so you’re just going to caveman your way through this? Seriously? Just club the virgin on the head and drag her off by the hair to your cave?” Appealing to his higher sensibilities was always worth a shot. A long shot.
“You’re not a virgin anymore,” Richard pointed out, pulling off his t-shirt and moving down to the foot of the bed. “And I didn’t club you on the head. I’ll admit to one pop on the ass. But only with the best intentions. And you know you liked it.”
“Maybe, but you still liked it. Straighten your leg.” She complied automatically, and she saw that fact register on Richard’s face as he tied her ankle to the footboard with his shirt. She made a pretense of trying to kick at him with the other foot when he grabbed for it, but she knew he wasn’t fooled. And then he had his belt off and strapped around her ankle and there she was, spread out at his mercy. And about thirty seconds from an orgasm, if he had cared to proceed in that direction. But Richard, it seemed, had calmed down enough to do some forward planning.