“Is this an information exchange again? Are we sharing?” I asked archly.

He blew out a frustrated breath. “What do you want to know about me?”

A question popped immediately into my head. I hated it, but I hated not knowing more. “When was the last time you had sex, before the first time with me?”

He cursed. “I don’t think you want to know that. I don’t think that’s good for our relationship, to tell you that.”

I shrugged a tiny shrug, and he cursed again.

“That damn shrug is the most infuriating thing I’ve ever seen! What does it mean? That you don’t give a damn, one way or another?”

I shrugged again. “It means tell me or don’t tell me. But if you want my information, you’ll give me yours.”

“About eight days, I think. The day before I met you,” he said, and I felt him watching my face like a hawk.

So it was as I had suspected, I thought, keeping my face blank. He does this all the time. I was right to place no stock in this.

I just nodded, though unaccountably, my chest hurt a little.

“Yes, you scare me,” I told him, after a very long silence, while I processed his answer. “But I’m irrevocably fucked up, so you excite me in equal measures. I find it liberating, to let someone control me. Someone who makes me tremble with fear. I’ve spent a great deal of my life running from the things that scare me, so this has been illuminating for me.” My voice was quiet, but that damned accent was back.

He stiffened and backed away from me, looking aghast.

I glanced over my shoulder, surprised. “Is that unusual? Isn’t that how this little game is played? I just assumed that most of the women who liked pain with pleasure were like me. But I suppose you are probably a far bigger expert than I am about that.”

I studied him closely. His face held a harsh sort of tension, though I could see that he was trying to hide it.

“I don’t want you to fear me,” he said, his voice raw. “I want to make you nervous and skittish and submissive, but not scared. I want you to trust me.”

I blinked at him, at a loss. “I’m sorry.”

I went back to cooking, and he fell silent.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Mr. Charming

“You get a faint accent sometimes. What is that?” he asked, breaking the long silence.

It was almost a relief to have him do something other than just stare at me, brooding, though I didn’t care for the question. I would have preferred that he not notice my slip.

“Another exchange, so soon?” I asked cooly. “I would have thought the last one was enough for one night.”

He didn’t speak for a long time, though I knew without looking that he was angry.

“Fine. Ask me anything,” he said through clenched teeth.

“How many women have you slept with?” I asked, and immediately wanted to kick myself. If I was going to reveal my feelings so recklessly, I would have preferred a better question.

“A lot. I haven’t been counting. More than I’m proud of. Mostly submissive’s in the last five years or so, and, for the most part, very short acquaintances.”

“Have you ever had a serious relationship?” I plowed on, hoping he wouldn’t make me reveal two things as well, though if he tried, I was ready to point out that he hadn’t technically answered my first question.

“No. I was basically a slut in college, if I’m honest. I fucked any hot woman I saw. And after that, I found girls with very specific tastes, but it was never about anything but sex and dominance.”

I sighed, not knowing if I was relieved or appalled. I’d have to examine my feelings later.

“I was born in the states,” I began. “My parents, however, were both from Sweden and spoke with heavy accents. I had a slight accent myself, until they were gone. Then I tried to lose it. It comes back sometimes. I don’t know why.”

“It’s lovely. I don’t know why you would make an effort to disguise it.”

I gave him my little shrug, not looking at him. “Stephan and I stood out enough already. We attended a few high schools together. We were inseparable even then, but I didn’t want to make us stand out even more with a strange accent. We were already the only two ridiculously tall blonds at every school we went to. We were a head taller than everyone else there.”

I glanced at him.

He was focused on me with that certain look on his face that made me think he was soaking up every scrap of information I fed him.

I fell silent. He had actually gotten me to chat about myself. I was a little dismayed at the realization.

Eventually James went back to answering his phone, and I went outside to put the chicken on my tiny charcoal grill. I texted Stephan that dinner would be ready in twenty minutes.

He brought a bottle of red wine, revealing it with a flourish.

I gave him a wry smile. We both knew he would be the only one drinking it. He grinned back, going directly into the kitchen to open it and pour himself a glass.

“Would anyone like some?” he asked politely.

James shook his head, ending his phone call quickly.

I refused, and James sent me a warm look. The man did not like alcohol, it was clear.

I served dinner as soon as it was ready, and there wasn’t even a hint of awkwardness while we ate dinner, chatting amiably. I enjoyed it while it lasted. Both men complimented the simple meal lavishly.

“So Bianca tells me you two went to high school together here in Las Vegas. And that you towered a head above everyone else there.”

Stephan laughed, sending me a surprised but pleased look.

“Yes,” he said. “Everyone called us Barbie and Ken. They all thought we were a couple, since I carried her backpack and walked her to every class.”

James smiled a cheshire cat smile.

Sneaky bastard, I thought. I saw his plan clearly now. He was going to get some free information out of Stephan.

“Bianca wouldn’t admit it at the time, but the nickname embarrassed the hell out of her,” Stephan continued.

James was all charm and smiles now, a man getting everything he wanted through a clearly easier route. “And what about her other nickname? Where did Buttercup come from?”

“Remember that old movie, Princess Bride?” Stephan asked James, not even hesitating to open up.

James nodded.

“We used to love that movie. This…” Stephan’s glance shot to mine as he paused, “place where we used to hang out a lot used to show it on movie night. It was the only movie on movie night. Ever. We could both quote you every single line. So I took to calling her Princess Buttercup. You have to admit she kind of looks like the actress in the movie, the one that played the princess. And as a teenager, she even kind of acted like her, very haughty and proud, but still so sweet to me. She was annoyed with the nickname at first, but it grew on her when it became just Buttercup.”

“Good movie. Now I want to watch it again. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid,” James said, still smiling.

Stephan smiled brilliantly. “I can’t think of anything I’d like to do more. I have the movie at my house. And ice cream. What do you say, Buttercup? Dessert and a movie at my place tonight?”

I agreed readily enough.

Stephan headed next door to find the movie and get his house ready. We stayed behind to clean up dinner.

James insisted on helping, clearing the table and washing dishes while I put the food away.

“This is not exactly what I pictured when you talked about not dating,” I told him carefully. “Hanging out with my best friend and watching movies feels pretty personal.”

He turned to me, looking baffled. “I never said anything about not getting personal. I intend for us to get very personal, Buttercup.”

His answer perplexed me, but I chalked it up to him being too rich and spoiled. Even his most casual affairs had to have a rich eccentricity to them…

We watched the movie and had ice cream and then popcorn at Stephan’s house. It was a highly enjoyable day overall, I thought, even with some bumpy conversations in the road.

We got ready for bed in silence later, and my body sang with anticipation as I lay down to wait for James, who was still in the bathroom.

He joined me a few minutes later, sliding in beside me and spooning me from behind. I tensed, waiting to see what kind of a move he would make, but he just nuzzled against my hair and settled down to sleep.

I tried to turn to him, but he kept me securely in place, placing a soft kiss on my temple.

“I’m letting you recover for a few days, Love. Just sleep. I’m content to hold you for tonight.”

I was in that house again. I lay in my hard, tiny bed. I was hugging my knees to my chest, rocking and rocking, and trying to ignore the harsh shouts just a few thin walls away.

If I stayed in my room, it would all go away. They would forget I was even here and in the morning my Dad would sleep all day and leave us in peace so I could tend to my Mother.

But that wasn’t meant to be. Not this time.

The yelling grew louder, my mother’s shouts turning into terrified screams. When I couldn’t stand the horrible noises a moment longer, I crept quietly through the house to investigate.

In spite of my overwhelming fear, my need to at least attempt to aid my mother almost always thrust me into the violent thick of things.

I looked down at my thin bare feet, wishing I knew where some clean socks were. I was so cold, an achy kind of cold, down to my very soul.

My parents were speaking in Swedish, and I pieced together some hysterical words as I got closer to the kitchen where they fought.

“No, no, no. Please, Sven, put that away.”

My father’s voice was an angry roar. “You’ve ruined my life. You and that brat. I’ve lost everything because of you. My fortune, my inheritance, and now, my luck. You’ve taken everything from me, just by living. Tell me why I shouldn’t take everything from you, you silly cunt?”

“When you’re sober, you’ll regret it. We have a child together, Sven. Please, just go to sleep. If you sleep on it, you’ll feel better.”

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! Fuck sleep. Fuck you. And fuck that little brat. Look at her, hovering in the door, frozen like a frightened little mouse.” His cold eyes went to me.

I was frozen in place, as he’d said.

He changed his tone when he spoke to me, and it turned into a mockery of a gentle tone. “Why don’t you join us, sotnos? Come be with your pretty Mama.”

I moved to my mother, having learned a very long time ago not to disobey him when he was in this mood.

He sneered at the two of us when I stood beside her.

I was in my early teens and tall, already taller than my mother, but he towered over us both.

My mother didn’t look at me, didn’t reach for me. I knew she didn’t want to draw more attention to me. She tried to protect me, as I did her, though she did a better job of it than I did.

“Look at my pretty girls. The daughter is even prettier than the mother. What use, then, is the mother? Tell me why you’re useful, Mama?” he asked her.

I didn’t hear her answer. My gaze was focused solely now on the object he was holding at his side. It was a gun. My gut clenched in dread. The gun was a new and terrifying addition to this violent scene.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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