Authors: Ruby Reid
“There,” she said. “Good enough?”
There was another silence that Alex rather liked. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so comfortable with a woman when sex wasn’t involved. This time, it was Amanda that broke the silence. She got to her feet and slung her purse over her shoulder.
“Thanks so much for being there tonight,” she said. “I owe you.”
Alex was pretty sure he could have her within an hour if he pushed. She had just told him she had been craving intimacy and the fact that he had just saved her from Mark worked in his favor. But while he was far from a choirboy, he was also not a total asshole.
“All you owe me is answering the phone when I call in the morning,” he said.
“And maybe another hug?” she said.
He smiled at her, making sure they locked eyes as she stepped forward and embraced him. Was it his imagination, or was this one softer and somehow more personal?
He thought it was.
And suddenly, leaving for Chicago in about seven hours was the absolute last thing he wanted to do.
Amanda wasn’t at all surprised she had trouble falling asleep that night. She had taken a long shower, not getting out until she felt as if she had scrubbed the events of the night off of her skin. She dressed for bed quickly but the moment she closed her eyes, she saw Mark’s face and the maniacal look in his eyes.
She slept with the lamp on, waking up several times and somehow sure that Mark had found her house. Maybe he was at the front door…or maybe he had found a way in and was standing by her bed.
By three o’ clock, she was pacing around the house. To busy herself, she called the police to check on her call from earlier. They had no news to give her, stating that a patrolman had been sent to the parking lot but the car was gone.
Around three forty-five, she managed to doze off. She dreamed, but not of Mark. She didn’t even dream of Stephen…not really. In the dream, she was standing by Stephen’s graveside. When she set the flowers down on the tombstone, she looked up and saw Alex standing at the edge of the forest. He was looking at her and smiling. He beckoned her forward, the smile still on his face. She tried to go to him but when she moved her feet, they kept striking Stephen’s headstone and she could not find a way around.
When her cellphone rang and jerked her awake, the image of being trapped behind Stephen’s grave was stuck in her head. She felt profoundly sad when she answered the phone. She hoped it was the police, calling to tell her that they had found Mark and that he was currently behind bars.
“Hello?” she said, trying not to sound sleepy.
“You make it home?”
It was Alex’s voice.
He really called.
She had passed off his gesture as something nice guys did to make a girl feel safe and special. But here he was, on the phone as promised.
She looked to the clock and saw that it was 7:30. She has dozed off longer than she had thought. This made her feel at least marginally more awake and alert.
“Hello?” he said.
Say something, you idiot,
she scolded herself.
“Yes, I made it home okay,” she said. “Thanks for checking up on me.”
“Yeah. No problem.”
“And thanks for rescuing me last night, too.”
She was waiting for him to say
and then hang up, but there was a thick silence between them that made her feel uneasy. She nearly said it herself but she was struggling with a middle-school-crush sort of feeling. The man had, after all, been a knight in shining armor for her last night.
And let’s be honest,
she thought through that silence,
he’s pretty damned hot.
“Breakfast,” she said.
What the hell...
She cleared her head, took a deep breath and went on. With that one word out of her mouth, she’d seem like an idiot if she didn’t finish the thought.
“Would you like to get breakfast with me this morning?” she asked.
There was a pause on his end and she worried that it came from him trying to think of a nice and respectable way to decline. But that fear was dashed when he answered: “Sure. Where and when?”
“Whenever you’d like,” she said. She had no idea why, but she was beginning to feel confident (although she was sure she would not be like that
if this conversation had been taking place face-to-face). “And I feel like I should make you something. What do you like?”
“You mean at your place?” he asked, clearly shocked.
It took him saying it for Amanda to realize what she had just set into motion. She opened her mouth to take it back, to suggest that they meet at a diner or something, but it was too late now.
Wincing in embarrassment, she said, “Sure. Why not?”
He paused again and when he finally spoke up, there seemed to be something like humor in his voice. “Sounds good. What’s the address?”
She gave it to him, mentally slapping herself.
What the hell are you doing? Do you know how you must seem to him right now?
She tried not to let it bother her, though. If last night’s brush with nearly being killed or raped or whatever her would-be captor had planned had taught her anything, it was that life was incredibly short and unpredictable.
Maybe with Alex coming to her house for breakfast, she could find a way to enjoy a bit of unpredictability in her life. Stephen’s death had been unpredictable, as had last night’s scare. So why the hell not try to make unpredictability work in her favor for once?
“And you’re sure about this?” Alex asked once he had the address and it was clear that there was going to be no small talk.
“Yes,” she said, hoping that she sounded convincing.
“Okay, then,” he said. “Give me about forty-five minutes.”
Alex pulled his bike up alongside the curb of Amanda’s house fifty minutes later. He had thought long and hard about this ever since leaving the motel. Slim had still been asleep and Alex had left a note that had been very simple:
Out. Be back by noon.
The truth of the matter was that he figured he’d likely be back way before then. There had been something in Amanda’s voice that had keyed him in to the idea that she had not planned on inviting him over. It had just come out of her.
He understood that, but at the same time, was glad that she had taken that odd step. He had been drawn to her and after they had parted ways last night, he had found himself wanting to see her again. Of course, given his lifestyle and the plans he had with the club for the next two years or so, any sort of romantic hopes were out the window.
Not that he was expecting anything here. While he was a character of some questionable morals, he wasn’t about to go into Amanda’s house expecting anything more than breakfast. He’d seen the state she had been in last night. It would take a pretty deplorable person to either take advantage of that or to expect something more than simple companionship.
He parked his bike and walked up her sidewalk as slowly as he could, trying to ready himself for what was sure to be an awkward encounter. By the time he was on her porch and knocking on the door, he thought he had himself under control. This woman clearly just needed someone to talk to. And because of the way things had turned out last night, she had apparently elected him to be that someone. He didn’t understand it…not really. But then again, outside of the bedroom, he had never really understood how women worked.
He waited less than ten seconds before she answered the door. She opened it slowly and peered out at him. Alex was instantly reminded of why he had found her so interesting last night. She looked tired now and there was less make-up. But seeing her in a more relaxed and plain appearance only intensified his thoughts from last night. Her eyes without eyeliner or the highlights of surrounding makeup were genuine…almost childlike and shy as they she looked out at him. Her hair was done up in a ponytail, revealing her perfectly sculpted cheeks and the delicate curve of her neck.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi,” she replied. “Is this weird?”
Alex shrugged. “Maybe a little.”
“Well, let’s make it weirder,” she said, opening the door wider. “Come on in.”
He walked in with a smile, taking in the place. It was a respectable little home that was decorated sparsely. It had the look of a place that had been cleaned in a hurry, but was also very quaint and warm. He could smell something cooking in the back of the house and his stomach started speaking up.
“Smells delicious,” he said.
“It’s bacon,” Amanda said. “It always smells delicious. We’re having bacon and cheese omelets, pancakes, and biscuits.”
“And look,” she said, stepping in front of him and looking up into his eyes. “I know what it must seem like…me inviting you over. But…well, no offense…there’s nothing implied there. I just thought it would be nice to thank you one last time, even if it
with a lousy breakfast. I could be dead right now if it wasn’t for you.”
“It’s not a problem,” he said. “And the breakfast is payment enough. I did not come over here expecting anything but that.”
The relief in her eyes was immediate. Her shoulders slumped a bit, as if someone had just removed a large boulder from her back. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s why I’m dressed like this and have no makeup on. I didn’t want to look like I was trying to…you know…”
“It’s okay,” Alex said. He reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder, again smiling at her. “Now please, let’s eat.”
She smiled back at him, flustered and slightly embarrassed. She led him into the kitchen where the small table was already set for two. The bacon still popped and fried in the pan on the stove and the coffee maker was brewing.
“Sit,” she said. “I’ll serve.”
He did as she was asked, admiring the way she moved around the kitchen. “How did you sleep last night?” he asked.
“Not good. That’s why the coffee might taste a little strong.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“How about you?” She asked as she removed the bacon from the pan and brought it to the table. “When do you leave to finish your trip to Chicago?”
“Whenever my riding partner wakes up. I’d guess noon or so.”
“Do you go on long trips like that often?” she asked.
“From time to time.”
“And this club…is it one of those…well…one of those ones like you see on TV? Always outrunning the cops and getting into fights?”
get like that,” he said. And to his surprise, he found himself wanting to tell her more about the club and how much it had helped him over the last few years. But he let those things fall away; this was for her, after all. She needed to talk, even if it was just to gush about how thankful she was that he had rescued her.
They ate their breakfast slowly and Alex found that she had indeed made the coffee strong. He took two cups, two omelets, and three biscuits as they shared their small talk. He found out she was originally from Boca Raton, Florida and she had gone to college at Michigan State. She had come to Chicago when her husband had landed a great advertising job. When she got to the topic of her husband, she clammed up and Alex though he sensed the brimming of tears around the corners of her eyes.
In return, he revealed bits of his past, leaving out the depressing parts about how he’d basically been on his own since the age of fourteen. All he really revealed was that he had grown up in Virginia and then, through a huge ordeal and circumstances not worth talking about, had ended up in Las Vegas.
“And now you ride your bike all over the country?” she asked.
“It appears so. And from time to time, I meet some very nice people.” He looked her directly in the eyes when he said this. “Last night,” he added, “was terrible. I’m sorry that guy tried to do whatever it was he planned to do. You don’t deserve it.”
She nodded. “Thanks. I just…I can’t help but feel that I sort of deserved it. I was so pressed to try to get over Stephen. It was like I—”
“You didn’t deserve that,” he said. “You were…” He trailed off here because he wanted to finish with
lonely. You were lonely.
But it was not his right to assume that. He was pretty sure that was accurate, though. After all, she had invited
over without much thought.
“Lonely,” she said, finishing for him. “I’ve been so damned lonely. And it’s getting depressing. Sometimes I can’t stand it. Sometimes it’s not even about Stephen being gone. Sometimes it’s about just not wanting to be alive. Not caring, you know?”
And before Alex could come up with any awkward reply, Amanda was crying. He could see her trying to hold it all back but it came out in a flood. Usually very stand-offish in matters like this, Alex was surprised to find himself instantly getting out of his chair and going to her.
He placed his arm around her shoulder and gave her an innocent squeeze. “It’s okay,” he said.
“But it’s not,” she said through a sob. “It’s really not. I need to pick my life back up and I need to be able to do it without feeling guilty about Stephen or feeling as if I’m making myself do it. And..and…oh God, I’m sorry to do this to you.”
“Do what you need to do,” he said. “Crying won’t make me run away.”
She smiled through her tears. “I’m really not a big crier, you know?” she said, still trying to get control of the sobs. “I know that’s hard for you to believe based on our very brief history.”
He chuckled at this and then hunkered down on the floor. She was still sitting in her chair, her mostly empty plate in front of her, so this allowed him to look into her face. “Here’s the thing, though,” he said. “You can’t just cry on me like this and not expect me to offer a hug.”
He then wondered,
Have I ever said anything like that in my life? What the hell is this? A cheesy romance novel?
But she nodded and said, “That would be nice.”
So he wrapped his arms around her and brought her to him. She relaxed against him and he held her as innocently as he could as she brought her sobs to a stop. Her breath eventually slowed and her breathing became more regular. As she got control, Alex felt her hands gently kneading at his back and he wondered if this was something more than just her hugging him back.
Don’t do that,
he thought to himself.
Don’t try to make this more than it is.
But then he felt her breath on the side of his neck, just an inch or so below his ear. And her grip on him was growing tighter. Then there was her voice in his ear, her breath hot against his skin and sending a chill through him.
“Alex, would you kiss me?”
Everything about it felt wrong to him. Surely this was taking advantage of her, wasn’t it? “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to take advantage and—”
“No advantage. I haven’t kissed a man in two years. I haven’t even felt an embrace like this one in that time. I want you to kiss me. But I won’t beg.”
Her hands were still at his back and her body was pressed awkwardly against him as he knelt by her. Her breath was hot on his neck and later, when he looked back on it, he’d think her breath was what had pushed him to his decision.
He broke the hug and looked into her eyes. They were seeking, almost desperate. He then looked to her lips. He didn’t think he had ever wanted to kiss someone so bad in his life. He took her face gently into his hands and brought his face to hers.
He kissed her softly, intending to give her a soft and brief kiss without any pressure, force, or tongue. But five seconds in, he couldn’t pull away. He could feel himself sinking into her, nearly falling over in his awkward kneeling pose. She then parted her lips and opened her mouth. When he felt her tongue slip into his mouth and find his own, he forced himself to back away. At some point very soon, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop.
He pulled away and got to his feet. He did so in a way that was not quite abrupt or rude, but still implied urgency. Usually, his time spent with women was simple. There was usually very little kissing. There would be a heap of clothes on the floor, some semi-aggressive sex that lasted anywhere between two minutes to an hour (depending on how much he’d had to drink) and then an awkward goodbye in the morning.
This was new. And, truth be told, this was scary as hell.
“Thanks,” she said, sitting back in the chair, her eyes a little dazed.
he said, startled by how that seven second kiss had rocked him.
He stood there for a moment in the silence of the kitchen among the smells of bacon and coffee. She sat in her chair and they looked at one another for several seconds, doing nothing. Alex was waiting for some cue to either leave or sit back down to the table for another cup of coffee.
Instead, Amanda got to her feet and took three slow steps towards him. Her eyes met his and never left. She reached out and took his right hand, bringing it forward and placing it on her waist. He held it there, not quite gripping, but applying pressure.
She then took another step forward and their chests were touching. Her breasts were just slightly above average size and he was very aware of them as they faintly pressed against him. He almost said something to stop it but he had no time. She was kissing him again, this time with force and passion. He went rigid for a moment, trying to find the strength to pull away.
Instead, he found his hand on her waist pulling her tighter to him. When he did and their kiss intensified, Amanda let out a little gasp of surprise.