“Yes. I want a relationship with you.” His voice was quiet but firm, his hands sliding up my legs and stopping on my thighs. He looked at me as if he was completely in control of his emotions, utterly sure at the words that came out of his mouth. I yearned for that resolution, for that decision-making ability that he seemed to so cavalierly hold.
“I’m not available,” I whispered. “Not fully. I do want a relationship with you. And it’d be exclusive ... except for him. If we dated, he would still be in my life. That’s something you’d have to be okay with.”
His face darkened, his hands tightening slightly on my skin. “You’d date both of us?”
I nodded silently, unable to look away from the train wreck that was occurring between our eyes. “I love him,” I said simply. I did. I had fallen for Stewart quickly, despite the gaps of time that kept us apart, despite the little that I saw him. He just ... stayed with me. And it felt like every man I was with, every other touch I felt, was just a hollow substitute till I could have him again. Until Paul. Paul’s touch, Paul’s smile. It tugged at me in a new way. And I hoped, desperately, as I straddled him in that rundown duplex, a siren sounding one street over, that he would understand. That he would agree.
He didn’t agree. I could see the fight on his face, the inner turmoil that pulled him this way or that. He sighed, sitting up, our position changing, and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me tightly to him, crushing my br**sts against the muscle of his chest, his lips putting one soft kiss on my neck. “I can’t,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Madd.”
It was the first time he called me that. I liked hearing it on his lips, even if it was attached to such a horrid decision. I left his place fifteen minutes later, wanting, hoping, he would say the nickname again. Hoping I would hear it roll off his tongue one last time. But he didn’t. He only hugged me close, kissed the top of my head, and studied my eyes, as if he could find out some secret answer that lay in their depths.
The second time I heard the nickname was one week later, when he showed up at the bookstore, his face flushed, his eyes intense, and told me that he changed his mind.
“I don’t like it,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair, biting his bottom lip with a look of raw need that had me gripping the paperback in my hand a little tighter. “But ... I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. If it’s what you want ... what you need. I’ll give it a try.”
We celebrated our new union right then, right there, pushing books aside and closing the doors, and he lowered me to the floor, his mouth frantic on me, ownership in every touch of his hands.
I think he was surprised at how easy it turned out to be. The seamless union our lives took. The separation played a big part in that. The separation of my two worlds. That was, and still is, the key that keeps this whole production running.
Now, two years later, I lie on his back, its firm strength golden in the morning light. He paddles, his muscles working smoothly underneath me, stroke after stroke that carry us farther and farther from shore, the sounds of the shore disappearing, replaced with sea gulls and ocean surf. He takes us out, till the waves subside and there is only calm, smooth rocking every ten seconds, my eyes closed, head flat against his back. Silence. No need to say anything, do anything that will break this perfect moment.
“I love you.” His words quiet.
I know. My unspoken thought floats away from our bodies. “I love you too.”
My men are so different, yet similar in so many ways.
Their eyes, a similar tint of blue, yet Paul’s smiles at me with carefree abandonment and Stewart’s pierces my heart with its dark intensity.
Their bodies. Paul’s naturally muscular, his arms developed from hours of surfboard paddling, his abs ripped from balancing on a board, his thighs and calves strong from jumping, balancing, and kicking through currents. Stewart’s body, attacked like everything else in his life, with fierce devotion, aggression worked out with miles on a treadmill, weight-lifting, sit-ups, pull-ups, and calisthenics.
Their love. Paul loves me with unconditional warmth, his affection public and obvious, his arms pulling me into his warmth, his mouth littering my body with frequent kisses. Stewart loves me with a tiger’s intensity, his need taking my breath away, his confidence in our relationship strong enough to not be bothered by the presence of another man. He stares into my soul as if he owns it, and shows his love with money, sex, and rare moments of time.
Tonight is one of those rare moments. I have his attention, his cell phone is away, and he is staring at me as if I contain everything needed to make his world whole. I step forward, towards his seated form, the dress hugging my form to perfection. He sits up in the chair, spreading his knees and patting his thigh, indicating where he wants me. I sit sideways on his thigh, my eyes held by his, his hand stealing up and running lightly along my bare back. “You are breathtaking.” His voice gruff, he leans forward and places a light kiss on my neck. “And you smell incredible.”
“Thank you. You clean up pretty well yourself.” And he does. In a suit that no doubt costs more than my dress, he looks every bit the successful executive that he is. Short, orderly hair. Clean-shaven chin. Those intense eyes staring out of a strong face. “Is the car here?”
“It’s downstairs. But it can wait.” He runs a hand up my knee, sliding the material of the cocktail dress up.
I wait, my breath becoming shallow, my concentration focused on the path of his fingers, as they travel higher, taking their time, the tickle of rough skin against soft flesh. He leans over, brushing a quick kiss over my lips and then moves lower, soft kisses making the path down the line of my jaw, whisper soft against my neck, and deepening in touch when they reach my collarbone. His hand caresses my thigh, the brush of his thumb moving higher up my thigh until it is just breaths from my sex. I groan, sliding my hips forward, but his hand stops me, gripping my thigh and holding me still. “Not yet. Let me enjoy you for a moment.”
There is the sound of approaching footsteps, and I open my eyes to see a suited man, our driver, round the corner and stop short when we come into view. His eyes drop respectfully and he speaks softly. “Mr. Brand, I’ll be downstairs with the car when you are ready.”
Stewart mutters something unintelligible, the man taking the cue and leaving, the firm pull of the door behind him leaving us alone. Stewart’s hands push apart my legs, moving the fabric of my dress aside and leaving me bare and open to his eyes. He looks down, examining the exposed skin, his mouth curving into a smile. “No panties?” His eyes flick up to mine.