Jack's expression was unreadable. "Why?"
"He's picking up some monitoring equipment in Katy. And since he's going to be in the area, he wants to see me."
"Where's he going to stay?"
"With me, of course."
Jack was quiet for a long moment. It might have been my imagination, but I thought his breathing had acquired a rough edge. "I can get him a hotel room," he finally said. "I'll pay for it."
"Why would you . . . what? . . ."
"I don't want him staying overnight with you."
"But he's my—" I stopped and stared at him in disbelief. "What is this? Jack, I live with him."
"Not anymore. You live here. And—" A short, gouging pause. "I don't want you to have sex with him."
At first I was more bewildered than angry. Jack seemed to have reverted to knuckle-dragging mode, which I had never seen before, certainly not with Dane. That Jack felt possessive, that he wanted a say in when I had sex or whom I had it with, was no less than astonishing. "You don't get to be part of that decision," I said.
"I'm not going to stand by while he takes what's mine."
"Yours?"I shook my head, letting out a helpless sound, something between a laugh and a protest. My fingers crept to my mouth and lay over it lightly, like a lace curtain on an open window. It was a painstaking process to collect enough words to reply. "Jack, my boyfriend is coming to visit me. I may or may not have sex with him. But it's not your business. And I don't like games like this." I took an extra breath, and found myself repeating, "I don't like games."
Jack's voice was soft, but it contained a savage note that caused all the hairs on my body to rise. "I'm not playing games. I'm trying to tell you how I feel."
"Got it. Now I'd like some space."
"I'll give you all the space you want. As long as he does, too."
"What does that mean?"
"Don't let him stay in that apartment with you."
I was being given orders. I was being controlled. Suffocating panic rolled over me, and I opened the car door, needing air. "Back off," I said. I climbed out and headed to the elevators, while Jack followed.
I jabbed my finger so hard at the elevator button that I nearly sprained it. "You see, this is why I will always choose Dane, or someone like him, over you. I will never be told what to do. I'm an independent woman."
"Chicken shit," I heard him mutter. His breathing wasn't any better than mine.
In a rage, I whirled to face him. "What?"
"This doesn't have fuck-all to do with independence. You're scared because you know if you start something with me, it'll go to a place you and Dane never went. He won't stand by you—he's already proved it. He went pu**y on you. And now he gets laid for that?"
"Shut up!" I had had enough. And I, who had never struck anyone in my life, hit the side of Jack's arm with my handbag, which happened to be a heavy leather hobo. It made a loud thwack, but he didn't appear to notice.
The elevator door opened, the empty cab shedding light over gray concrete and tile. Neither of us made a move to get in, just stood and glared at each other as the argument gathered force.
Taking me by the wrist, Jack hauled me around the side of the elevator bank, into a dark corner scented with exhaust and oil. "I want you," he muttered. "Get rid of him and take me. The only risk is losing someone you don't have anyway. He's not what you need, Ella. I am.
"Unbelievable," I said in disgust.
"Your ego. It's surrounded by its own cloud of antimatter. You're a black hole of . . . of hubris!"
Jack stared at me through the shadows, and then he averted his face, and I thought I saw the white flash of a grin.
"Are you amused}" I demanded. "What the hell is so funny?"
"I was just thinking if the sex with you is one-tenth as fun as arguing with you, I'll be one happy bastard."
"You'll never find out. You—"
He kissed me.
I was so infuriated that I tried to hit him again with my bag, but it dropped to the ground and I lost my balance on my high heels. Jack grabbed me and kept kissing me, opening my mouth with his. I tasted warmth, the sweet permeation of a breath mint. . . I tasted Jack himself.
Despairing, I wondered why it wasn't like this with Dane. But the way Jack's mouth caught at mine, the firm damp articulation of each kiss, each succulent impact, was too insanely good to resist. He pulled me close and searched slowly with his tongue. The deeper he went, the more heavily I sagged against him, my entire body saturated with lust.
His hands went over my black suit, fondling and gripping lightly. My skin turned hot beneath the layer of delicate wool. He brought his fingers up to my face, stroking back my hair, and I felt a tremor in his hand, the vibration of intense desire. Reaching behind my head, he tangled his fingers in my hair and kissed me. I shivered as I felt his free hand working at the three fabric-covered snaps that held the front of my jacket together. The garment parted, revealing a stretchy cream-colored camisole, held up by two threadlike straps.
Jack muttered something—an imprecation, a prayer—and he reached beneath the camisole to find the soft, fine skin of my waist. We were both shaking now, too absorbed and ravenous to stop. He jerked the fabric upward to reveal private skin that gleamed eggshell-white in the shadows. His head bent to one breast, his mouth hunting for the tip. I drew in a hissing breath as I felt the sinuous glide of his tongue, a firm wet tug. Every pull and stroke sent a shot of pleasure to the pit of my stomach. I leaned my head back against the cold, hard wall, simmering, my h*ps writhing in a forward tilt.
Jack stood and took my mouth aggressively, his hand sliding over my breast. Long, erotic kisses . . . bites and licks of kisses, until I was drunk on sensation. My arms curled around his neck, pulling his head harder over mine, and he took the offering with a low, savage sound. I had never known such desperate excitement, wanting more, wanting to tell him, Do anything, anything, I don't care, do it now. I groped over the front of his body, the powerful muscles covered in a smooth elegant suit, and that excited me even more, the thought of what was beneath those civilized layers.
He gripped my skirt, pulled roughly, and I gasped as I felt the air on my legs, cool against the torturous hot ache of my skin and nerves. He pried beneath the elastic of my panties, searching between my thighs, the humid flesh opening to the invasion of his fingers. I felt him breathing against my neck, the brutal muscles of his upper arm flexing beneath my hand. He slipped a finger inside me, and another. I closed my eyes, going weak as his thumb skated tenderly over my clit, his fingers massaging deep and sure. With each flexing stroke, the knobs of his knuckles gently rubbed a maddening place inside. The pleasure was disorienting . . . disabling . . . crazy.
For the first time in my life, I wanted something more than safety. I wanted Jack with an intensity that went beyond choice or thought. I fumbled with his belt, zipper, button, opening his pants. I gripped him, the shape of him huge and rearing.
Withdrawing his fingers, Jack tugged my underwear and skirt out of the way. He lifted me with shocking ease. The realization of how strong he was sent a flood of anxious excitement through me. Helplessly I wrapped my arms around his neck and dropped my head on his shoulder. Yes. Yes. He entered me, and I squirmed at the impossible thickness of him. Kissing my neck, he murmured for me to relax, he would take care of me, just let him do it, let him in. . . . He brought my full weight down until my toes grazed the floor, and the luscious force opened me inexorably.
It was stunningly erotic, ha**ng s*x while fully clothed, tightly impaled, whimpering against his greedy kisses. Jack set the steady upward-plunging cadence, and every time he went in, my muscles clenched on the pleasure of it, pulling helplessly, taking more and more of him. I was spasming, riding the heat, my limbs tightening around that big driving body until the sheer plenitude of feeling tipped me over into a rich, nearly unendurable orgasm. Jack took my choked cry into his mouth, muffling the sounds I made. He drove deep and held and shuddered, his breath breaking as he found his own release.
A long time passed before either of us moved. I was clasped against him, intimate flesh moistly locked, my head lolling on his shoulder. I felt drugged. I knew that very soon, when my mind started functioning again, I was going to feel some things I badly wanted to avoid. Starting with shame. There were so many inappropriate things about what we'd done that I was actually awed.
And the worst part was how good it had felt, still felt, with his body wedged inside mine, his arms secure around me.
One of his hands clasped my head more firmly against his shoulder, as if he were trying to protect me from something. I heard a quiet curse.
"We just did it in a garage," I said weakly.
"I know, darlin'," he whispered. He began to move, lifting me off himself, and I made a sound of distress. I was wet, and a little sore, and all my muscles were trembling. Leaning against the wall, I let him pull my clothes back into place and snap my jacket back up. After fastening his own clothes, he found my handbag and gave it to me. I couldn't look at him, even when he took my head in his hands.
"Ella." The scent of his breath and the salty essence of sex and hot skin mingled in a sublime erotic perfume. I wanted more of him. The realization brought frustrated tears to my eyes. "I'm going to take you up to my apartment," Jack murmured. "We'll take a shower, and—"
"No, I . . . I need to be by myself."
"Sweetheart. I didn't mean for it to happen like this. Come to my bed. Let me make love to you the right way."
"That's not necessary."
"Yes. It is." His tone was low and urgent. "Please, Ella. This wasn't what I planned for our first time. I can make it so much better for you. I can—"
I touched his lips with my fingers. His breath was searing and soft. I would have spoken, but the elevator doors opened with a ding. I jumped at the sound. A man exited and went to his car, his footsteps a hollow-sounding echo on the concrete.
I waited until the car had left the parking garage before I spoke to Jack. "Listen to me," I said unsteadily. "If what I want or what I feel means anything at all to you . . . you've got to give me some space. Right now I've reached the limits of what I can handle. This is the first time I've had sex with anyone besides Dane. I've got to have time to think." Hesitantly I reached up to stroke his taut jaw. "You don't need to show me any more fireworks," I added. "In fact, the thought is sort of terrifying."
"You have to back off," I told him. "I'll let you know when or if I'm ready for anything more. Until then . . . I don't want to see or hear from you. The person I need to see right now is Dane. The person I need to make decisions with is Dane. If there's any room for you in my life after that, you'll be the first to know."
It was a fairly safe assumption that no woman had ever spoken to Jack Travis that way before. But it was the only way I knew how to handle him. Otherwise I was pretty sure I would be na*ed in his bed within the next ten or fifteen minutes.
Jack caught my wrist, pulling my caressing hand away from his face, and he skewered me with a wrathful stare. "Damn it." He hauled me into his arms and held me close, breathing hard. "I've got about ten things I want to say to you right now. But at least nine of them would make me sound like a psycho."
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, I nearly smiled. "What's the tenth thing? " I asked his shirtfront.
He paused, considering it. "Never mind," he grumbled. "That one would make me sound like a psycho, too."
Guiding me to the elevator, he pressed the button. We rode up in silence. Jack drew his hands over my shoulders, my waist, my hips, as if he couldn't keep from touching me. I wanted to turn against him and let him hold me, and go up to his apartment. Instead I got off the elevator when we reached the sixth floor, and Jack followed me.
"You don't have to walk me to the door," I said.
He scowled and stayed with me until we got to the apartment. I was about to enter the combination on the keypad, when Jack took my shoulders and turned me to face him. The way he stared at me brought a flush to every visible inch of skin. His hand slid behind my neck.
He kissed me roughly. My lips parted at the demanding pressure. It was a lewd, scorching, brain-demolishing kiss . . . not that there was much left to demolish. I pushed against him, trying to end it, but he kept on until I went boneless against him. Only then did he pull his head back, glancing down at me with hunger and a flash of belligerent male triumph.
Apparently he felt he had made some kind of point.
It flashed through my mind that this entire event had been a form of territory-marking. "Men are like dogs," Stacy was fond of saying. And she usually went on to add that, like dogs, they all took up too much space on the bed, and they always went for the crotch.
Somehow I pushed the correct combination on the keypad and went into the apartment.
"I'm on the pill, by the way," I said.
Before he could reply, I closed the door firmly in his face.
"Hi, Ella," the babysitter, Teena, said cheerfully. "How'd your meetin' go?"
"Just fine. How's Luke?"
"All clean and fed. I just put him in the crib."
The mobile was playing gently, bears and honeypots turning in a lazy circle.
"Any problems while I was gone?" I asked.
"Well, he was a little fussy right after you left, but then he calmed down." Teena laughed. "Boys never like to see Mommy go off without 'em."
My heart skipped a beat. Mommy. I thought about correcting her, but it didn't seem worth the effort. I gave Teena some cash, let her out of the apartment, and I went to take a shower.
The hot water soothed and relaxed me, easing my aches and twinges. It did nothing for my guilt, however. For the first time I experienced the two-pronged remorse of having cheated on someone . . . remorse for having done it in the first place, and also for having enjoyed it so much.
Sighing, I wrapped a towel around my hair, put on a robe, and went to check on Luke. The mobile had stopped, and everything was quiet.
Tiptoeing to the side of the crib, I peeked in, expecting to see the baby sleeping. But he was staring up at me in that somber way of his.