A few minutes later, on the verge of sleep, I heard him talking, softly, and my ears strained to catch his words.

“I need you to take care of something.” Brad spoke into his cell, looking out on the passing lights.

“What, a body?” The voice laughed roughly, loud enough that I could hear it. He shifted, and I saw his jaw tighten, face hard.

“There’s a Russian girl, at 42 Hemingway Drive. In the morning, have Maria call Beverly Franklin—I’ll text you her number. Tell Maria to offer assistance to Beverly, see if there is anything she can do to help out with the girl’s situation. Have her mention our contacts in immigration.”

There was silence for a moment. “You f**king this girl?”

“No. Not that it matters.” Brad’s voice changed when he was on the phone. Softer in volume, but harder in tone. The smooth cadence and cultured voice were gone, replaced with a rough brogue and steely tone. He ordered rather than asked.

“Okay, okay. I was just asking.”

“If I was f**king her, I wouldn’t have left her there. Just tell Maria and call me when it’s taken care of.” Brad ended the call, tapping his phone to his mouth and then looking down at me.

I shifted, turning onto my back and gazing up at him. “What’s going to happen to the girl?”

He smiled down at me. “Don’t worry. Beverly won’t abandon her. She will be fine.”

“Who’s Maria?”

He looked away from me, out the window for a brief moment. “My sister. She is the saint of our family. She is the one person I would trust with something like this.”

“Why don’t you just take care of it? Doesn’t someone in the firm deal with immigration?”

He shifted underneath me, looking down again, locking me into his stare. “Julia, one danger of our type of relationship is the risk of getting involved with a sexual partner. I don’t ever want to worry about you falling for someone that we meet with, and vice versa. We have to be very careful to separate ourselves emotionally. What happened tonight, everything that went on, it was too much already. I shouldn’t have touched her, shouldn’t have done that.”

I frowned up at him. “Because you’re worried you have feelings for her?”

He chuckled. “No. It is very rare for me to have ‘feelings’ for anyone, which is what makes my relationship with you unique. But I’m not the only person involved in a threesome, and other people don’t have the same cavalier opinion of sex that I do. I shouldn’t have done anything with her because of everything else that went on. The fact that she was a virgin was a whole other moral issue, but in her state tonight, upset and scared, there was more of a chance for her to take that experience as more than it was. All I’m saying is that there are a billion people out there for us to meet with, to f**k. We have the means to be picky, to isolate our experiences, to only be with other people or couples who are emotionally safe. Some couples in this lifestyle like to ‘hang out’ with their outside partners. I don’t follow that philosophy. I feel like that is a dangerous game, not to mention a colossal waste of time. I don’t want to ‘care about’ or ‘become friends’ with the people in this lifestyle. That leads to nothing but problems.”

I laughed at his serious expression. “Yeah, you like to skip the talk and go straight to sex.”

He leaned over, pulling me up to him for a kiss. “When I can.” He laid me back down and ran a hand through my hair, snagging my extensions, and I winced. “Sorry.”

I swallowed, closing my eyes and trying to focus my mind on anything other than what lay beneath my head. I liked what he had said. The “getting involved” part seemed to be what my feminine jealousy had the most trouble with. I relaxed, pushing my hands underneath his legs, the warmth of his body comforting. “I didn’t know you had a sister. Just one?”

“Yeah.” His tone was short, and the stress in it caused my eyes to open again. I turned to him with a question in mine. “I have two brothers.”

It didn’t answer my question, but I sensed the land mine behind the simple statement. I reached up, capturing his hand before it went through my hair, and brought it to my mouth, kissing it softly. He ran his fingers over my lips, and then looked out the window again.

“You mentioned that you rarely have feelings for anyone. What did you mean when you said I was unique?”

He looked at me carefully, his eyes a cluster of competing emotions. “You are unique in that I am developing feelings for you.”

“Developing.” I pursed my lips and looked at him.

“Fine. There may be a few already developed. Little ones.”

I rolled my eyes and shifted, burrowing deeper into his lap and putting his hand back on my hair, his fingers obediently resuming their movement. Little, barely developed feelings, he said. I did a spot check of my own warm and fuzzies. Hmmph. Well, Mama always said I developed ahead of the others.

I closed my eyes, the gentle feeling of his fingers wiping any thought from my head. I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up in Brad’s arms, being carried like a small child, up the inner stairs of his home. At the top I untangled myself, standing up and stumbling to the bathroom, where I ran hot water over a washcloth and wiped down my face, turning his white terry cloth nine shades of colors. After thoroughly rinsing my face, I flipped off the light and shuffled toward the bed. His grip stopped me, and his hands brushed down my body, grabbing my dress and pulling it up and over my head. He then helped me into bed, pulling the covers up and over my naked body.

I awoke when he got in the bed, sometime later, smelling of fresh soap and toothpaste. He wrapped his arms around me and we fell asleep, our bodies spooned together, the hum of the fan the only sound in the dark room.

Fifteen

Brad’s hand was on my cheek. He traced the curves of my face, gently, light, his soft touch a strange contrast to his muscular hand. I smiled, my eyes still closed, and felt his fingers move to brush my lips. I opened my mouth and sucked on a finger, opening my eyes to find his handsome face, close to mine, his eyes on mine.

I gave a contented sigh and closed my eyes again, his fingers leaving my mouth and traveling back up, smoothing my hair back and tracing their way down my shoulder and back.

“It’s late.” His voice, husky and dry, sounded in my ear as he leaned over and gave me a soft kiss on my neck. I pulled the blanket over my head in response, burying down deeper into the soft down. He tugged on the blanket, trying to pull it off, but I held firm, locking my fingers tight and using my body to pin the edges down.

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