Authors: Helena Newbury
She sipped her coffee and smirked. “Like in the kitchen at Darrell’s house.”
My jaw dropped. “You
” I thumped the table with my fist. “I
you saw, but you didn’t say anything!”
“I think he’s cute. I think you’re cute together.”
I shuddered. “Eww. Don’t. I don’t want to be cute. And I don’t know if I want to be some guy’s…
” I finally picked up my coffee and started to drink. God, Nat made good coffee. After a moment, I said, “And the irony is,
the one dating the billionaire.”
I finally summoned up enough courage to really look Nat in the eye, and that’s when I saw the look on her face. The smile I’d just managed collapsed. Something was really, really wrong.
Clarissa dived off the bed and started to scramble into some clothes. My eyes stayed locked on her naked ass the entire time.
When she trudged off after Natasha, she looked like she was walking to the gallows. The poor girl was so uptight about what was happening between us….
That made me stop. What exactly
happening between us?
I fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. This had started out so simple. Casual sex, with me the more experienced one and her the innocent learning about her submissive side. Then she’d come to the clubhouse and I’d had to lay down the rules for her. I couldn’t, under any circumstances, let this get deeper than sex. Both of us were going to wind up hurt, if I did.
All fine, in theory. And it seemed like Clarissa had accepted what the relationship was, at least for now. So why had the week I’d just spent away felt like the longest of my life? I liked what I did, even if it was something I couldn’t share with anyone else. It should have been a fun trip—I should have made some money and probably enjoyed some female company along the way. And yet, for the first time ever…I hadn’t wanted to. I’d sat there in my hotel room night after night, ordering room service like a priest at a damn church convention. Clarissa and I were supposed to be casual, but since I met her I just wasn’t interested in anyone else. What the hell did that mean?
I sat up, fists bunching.
I thumped the bed.
No, no way. Keep it simple. Keep it about sex. That’s all I can offer her.
I wanted to scream in frustration—at what could have been, if I’d been a different person.
My phone rang. Darrell.
“You’re breathing heavy,” Darrell said. “Are you at the gym?”
I took a deep breath. “No. Clarissa’s place.”
“Should I call back? The two of you aren’t—”
“We were. Natasha and her just left.”
I almost laughed at that. Clarissa and Natasha together…now there was a thought. “Chill, you idiot. Natasha walked in on us. Clarissa’s gone to the kitchen to explain.”
I ran a hand over my face. “There was spanking.”
I heard him sigh. “How did she look?”
I grinned. “Fantastic. Smokin’ hot bod. We started out up against the wall—”
How did Natasha look? Did she look upset?”
“I didn’t get a good look at her.” I frowned. “Why?”
Darrell sighed. “We had a fight.”
You want me to go see?”
“Hold up,” I told him. “I’ll go make a sandwich.”
I put the phone down on the bed and ambled through to the kitchen. I briefly thought about putting my t-shirt back on, but, hell, Natasha was a grown woman—she’d seen it all before, right?
In the kitchen, I kissed Clarissa on the back of the head. They both shut up as soon as I appeared—not a good sign. I snuck glances at them as I slapped some cold meat and mustard on bread. Clarissa looked worried. Natasha looked broken-hearted.
I tried to drag Clarissa back to the bedroom so I could ask her what Natasha had said, but she waved me away—probably assuming I just wanted sex. I went back to her room and picked up the phone.
“How did she look?” asked Darrell immediately.
“There’s definitely somethin’ wrong with her, man. They shut up when I came in. What did you do to her?”
“Nothing.” I heard Darrell sigh. “Something. I’m not sure.”
I shook my head, a tight ball of anger swelling in my chest. Here I was, wanting things to go beyond sex with Clarissa, and I couldn’t, for her sake. I had to keep it casual, which would probably doom it eventually. Darrell was a goddamn millionaire, reliable and open and sweet and all that shit women love. He was free to do whatever he wanted, but he was messing it up. “You’re crazy, man. First girl you really like in years and you
“I’ve dated other girls.” He sounded defensive.
“But you haven’t
There was a pause while he thought about that. “Okay, I’m an idiot,” he said.
“I already knew that. What’d you fight about?”
“Just some stuff in her past. I wanted to know, and she didn’t want to tell me.”
“Oh.” Now I understood. “You mean: she had a secret and you were being you.”
“What does that mean?” He sounded annoyed…and a little worried.
“Obsessive and a pain in the ass,” I told him.
I could almost hear him gaping. “I’m not obsessive. I’m…thorough.”
“Which is awesome when you’re working but not good with fragile chicks.”
Another pause. “I didn’t know she was fragile,” he said. “Natasha’s fragile?”
“Everybody’s fragile, man.”
I lay back on the bed. No, of course I wasn’t fragile. Not Neil. Not the biker, big and strong and silent. I’m just fine out there on my own, thank you kindly. Out there on my own…
“Maybe not me,” I told him, making sure it sounded like a joke. “Everybody else.”
He sighed. “Okay, okay. Stay out of her past. What else?”
“Call her,” I told him.
Natasha filled me in on what had happened on their date. How Darrell had stood her up because he’d been too caught up in his work. How some creepy guy in the bar had tried to feel her up, and she’d run to the restrooms and almost cut. How Darrell had arrived and stopped her, taken her back to his mansion and fed her champagne and pizza and eventually made love to her on the table.
The high point, of him finding her scars and not caring. When she’d believed that he somehow knew about her cutting and accepted it—accepted
for who she was.
And then the low point. The next morning, when she realized that Darrell thought she’d been abused—that her foster father had been the one who cut her. Now she felt guilty, not just for the cutting but for his misplaced kindness. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t misplaced—that she
kindness and love, that she deserved a man like Darrell. But I knew that whatever I said just thudded uselessly against the dark wall she’d built around herself. I knew about the cutting, but I still didn’t know her reason for doing it and, until someone finally convinced her to share it, I knew she wouldn’t be able to start letting go of it.
She slunk back to her room in despair, and I heard her get onto the exercise bike. My heart was breaking for her, but there was nothing more I could do, for now. It sounded like she and Darrell were over, and I had mixed feelings about that. I’d thought from the start that it was all happening too fast, but she’d been so happy with him…. The guy still made me mad, sometimes—what kind of guy gets so immersed in his work that he forgets a date?!—but now that I saw her without him, I realized how good he’d been for her.
I sighed and padded back to my room to check on Neil. Just as I got there, I heard him on the phone.
It sounded as if he was talking to Darrell. Asking what they’d fought about. Angry at Darrell for messing things up with the first girl he’d cared about.
I froze there in the corridor, amazed. Was this really
talking? Gruff, monosyllabic
“Everybody’s fragile, man,” I heard Neil say. I pressed myself against the wall, shocked. Was he really talking about feelings and emotions? This man who’d wanted to keep our relationship just about sex?
I could feel my heart suddenly pounding in my chest. I wanted more. It was the first time I’d really, fully admitted it to myself.
I wanted more.
And all along, I’d been hoping that maybe, deep down inside, there was some softer, gentler side to Neil that he kept hidden away. Now I knew it existed…but in a way that only made it worse. If he was capable of feeling—of
maybe—but didn’t want that with me…what did that say about me?
I heard him end the call, waited a few seconds so it didn’t look as if I’d been standing out there listening and then went in. He was lying on the bed, still stripped to the waist. As I came in, he turned onto his side to face me, the broad curves of his pecs and those rippling abs tempting me. I wanted to leap on him. Instead, I closed the door and forced myself to sit down, cross-legged on the floor.
“What the hell is with your friend?” I asked. “Nat’s really upset.”
I was hoping,
that I’d get to see some of the Neil I’d just overheard. But when he spoke, he was back to his old self—gruff and arrogant, all man. “He’ll call her,” he said with a shrug. Not mentioning that he’d just been on the phone imploring Darrell to do just that. Why was he so ashamed to admit that he had feelings? Why couldn’t he just open up?
I sat there staring at the floor for a moment. He patted the bed next to him, but I shook my head. He sighed and rolled over onto his back. “What?” he asked, staring at the ceiling.
“I don’t know if I want to do this,” I told him.
“You were into it enough before Nat came home….”
He rolled to face me again. “You were damn near climbing that wall when I had the vibe on you—”
“And when I was spanking you, you were just about ready to—”
I could feel my face getting hot. “I didn’t mean that! I meant this whole thing. This relationship. I’m not sure I can just—I’m not sure it can just be about sex.”
I saw something cross his face. Frustration, which I expected. But something else, too. Pain. “I told you,” he said, his voice strained, “that’s all I got.”
I knelt up, moving closer to the bed. “I don’t believe that.”
“Girl, you’re seein’ somethin’ that ain’t there.”
I could feel his anger rising, and this wasn’t the same sort of anger I’d felt in the kitchen that time, the sort that led to kissing. This was the other sort, dark and jagged and raw, dredged up from deep inside him. The sort of anger he fought to control. I knew it was dangerous…but maybe it was the only way to get a glimpse of what was going on inside him.
“Why won’t you explain it to me?” I moved even closer, looking up at him, our faces inches apart, now. “Just talk to me! I know that there’s more to you than this!”
He swung his legs around so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed facing me and gave a low growl of frustration. When he spoke again, his voice was rough with pain. “Why? Why do you think that? There isn’t, okay? What you see is what you damn well get.”
My eyes felt hot. Oh shit. I
He stared up at the ceiling for a second and took a couple of deep breaths. When he looked back down at me, his eyes were softer, his voice gentler. His huge hand came down to brush my cheek, and I could feel wetness under his fingertips. “Clarissa…I’m not that guy. You want someone to wake you up by droppin’ rose petals on you? Walk you up the aisle one day?
I’m not him.”
He looked at me steadily. “You’re just confused, ‘cause you’re findin’ out what you are.”
I looked down at the floor. Maybe he was right. Maybe it
that simple—he was just offering sex, and that was all I really wanted, but I was feeling so guilty about it that I was trying to pretend there was something more there. “I just want to
you,” I said forlornly.
“No,” he said. “You don’t.”
“I don’t even know where you live! Can’t we go to your place, one time?”
“I live in Boston.”
It was both an explanation and a
at the same time. My jaw dropped open.
It made sense, now that I knew he was still at MIT, but I’d just assumed he was traveling there a few days a week and living here in NY. In a way, it didn’t make all that much difference—Boston wasn’t
far away. But in another, it made all the difference in the world. Now I knew why he showed up so infrequently, even when he wasn’t “out of town on business.” He was just visiting me in New York—hell, he’d only been visiting Darrell that day we met. He was a stranger here, and we’d met through pure chance. It shouldn’t have been a big deal but, somehow, it made what we had seem even more fragile.