I finally got an inkling of where I was as James rushed to me, cradling me into his chest. “What’s wrong, Bianca? What can I do?”
I gasped in several breaths before I could speak. “Shower. I need a shower. I need to wash the blood off.”
He didn’t ask anymore questions, getting us both into the shower in a flash. He turned the water directly onto me, and the cold water that hit me for just moments before it began to warm helped bring me a few steps further away from the dream.
Slowly, my broken sobs turned into gasping breaths as I became clean in the water, my mind moving further and further out of the nightmare realm.
“Can you talk about it?” James asked. His voice was so vulnerable with his concern for me that I couldn’t resist him.
“It’s the same old dream about my mother’s death. I was in that room, not three feet from her, when it happened.” I felt the floodgates open, and I told him everything, every gory detail, of both the dream and the horrific event. He didn’t speak at all, just made sympathetic noises and gave me reassuring touches while I spoke. I was surprised to feel much better when I’d gotten it all out. It had actually helped to tell him about it.
He helped me out of the shower and dried us both off. We lay in a naked snuggle on the bed with only a sheet covering us. He was on his back and had pulled me almost on top of him.
I rubbed my cheek over my name on his chest as he stroked my wet hair back, arranging it over his arm.
“You’ve done all you can. You told the police everything you saw. It’s not your burden anymore, Bianca.”
“Yes, I know. I haven’t had that nightmare since that other time, over a month ago. I think it was learning about her, his wife, that got my mind back into that dark place again. I need to tell her what he did, to warn her. I don’t know the woman, but she deserves that much. Lord, I don’t want to speak to her. I don’t want anything to do with her.”
“You could always just send her an email, or hell, a letter. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
I mulled that over. It seemed so cowardly to be afraid of a simple phone call. “I’ll call her tomorrow,”
His arms tightened on me, his hold becoming almost painful. It was comforting to my twisted senses. “I need to stay in New York this week. Will you come back to be with me on your first day off?”
I thought about it. It didn’t take me long. “Yes. Do you mind if I invite Stephan? You have plenty of room, after all.”
I had felt all of the anxious tension leave his body when I agreed to come. “We have plenty of room,” he chastised. “And yes, of course. Invite Javier, too, if you like. Or anyone you want, for that matter. I’ll have to work quite a bit anyways. I’ve been putting some important meetings off that need tending to.
And god only knows what a mess my New York management has made of things on the Manhattan property. I would feel better if you had someone to hang out with while I’m working. I wouldn’t want you to get bored, though you do have a studio set up for painting downstairs. I never had time to show you. We never seem to have enough time. How many days can you take off this week?”
“I can fly into New York Monday morning, and take a flight back on Thursday. I can take a week off from working overtime.”
I began to wonder if Stephan could work his own overtime with Javier, instead of me. My boyfriend was filthy rich. It seemed silly not to at least keep my days off.
My stance had changed so drastically from just a week ago that I felt almost dizzy with it. Instead of intending to continue my life exactly as I pleased, I found myself wanting to compromise to please James, and of course, to see more of him.
He gave me a soft kiss for my concession. “I would love that. Thank you.”
I sighed, plunging in deeper. “It seems ridiculous to work overtime anymore, everything considered.
My straight time can more than cover my mortgage and food, and you bought me enough clothing to last a lifetime. I’m going to see if Stephan will work his extra shifts with Javier. I’d be willing to bet he won’t mind the idea.”
“Thank you,” he said with quiet sincerity. “I’ll make sure to make it worth your while.”
I burrowed against him, feeling good. Good about him. Good about us. “You already have.”
“You make me so happy, Bianca. I never knew life could be this good. I’ve been alone for so long, since my parents died, really. But I don’t feel alone with you. I feel like I have a family and a home again. You’re my home. All of the dark shadows seem to disappear when we’re together.”
I placed a kiss on my name over his heart, feeling myself drifting off. I didn’t even know what time it was, but I wasn’t worried. I knew James wouldn’t let me oversleep. More and more, I just trusted him.
I couldn’t stop yawning as I got ready for work the next morning. James woke up with me, in spite of the ungodly hour. He was alert but quiet as we both got dressed. He wore an elegant pale gray suit. It was so pale it almost looked white at first glance.
He paired it with a brilliant turquoise dress shirt with a stark white collar. A skinny tie as white as the collar hung to his pale gray belt. The pant legs were very narrow and fitted, and he’d chosen faded gray lace-up dress shoes. The full effect was devastating. Only James could have pulled it off.
He approached me from behind as I shrugged into my uniform dress shirt. He held up a tiny silver object in front of my face. It took me a moment to place it as a small lock. “May I lock on your collar now?”
I stiffened, but tilted my head forward to give him access. “Yes,” I said.
For better or worse, I had made my decision.
He locked it on quickly, placing a soft kiss to my nape. “Turn around,” he told me. I did, and he was holding the key on a chain around his own neck. He tucked it under his shirt as I watched. “There will be security at your house. Please cooperate with them. They’re there to keep you safe.”
I just nodded. I knew better than anyone that I wasn’t safe, and I was grateful for the extra protection.
He rode in the town car with me to the crew hotel. He gripped me tightly to his side and buried his face in my hair. “This is harder than I thought it would be, letting you go like this,” he murmured into my hair.
I rubbed a hand over the spot over his heart where he’d etched my name. I knew that the action comforted us both. “It’s only for a few days.”
“Call or text me when you land, and again when you’re safely in your house. I’ll worry if you don’t.”
I nodded, the motion rubbing his face against the back of my hair.
“I can’t kiss you goodbye, Love. If I start, I know I’ll never stop.”
I nodded again. I understood the odd sentiment. Instead, when the car stopped in front of my crew hotel, I held his elegant hand to my lips, kissing the palm and then moving my lips over the faint thin scars on his wrist, placing a soft kiss there as well, and then moving my lips back into his palm, allowing myself just a moment to nuzzle against it.
He made a soft little sound in his throat that made it so hard to get out of the car. He caught my hand as I was about to move away and copied the motion on my own wrist and palm. It was sheer agony to walk away from him. I didn’t look back. I knew that would only make it worse.
Only Stephan and Javier were in the lobby when I walked in, Stephan in his uniform, Javier dressed business casual in a lavender dress shirt and beige slacks.
I was five minutes early, I saw as I checked my watch. Stephan grinned when he saw me, striding over to hug me tightly. “I missed you, Buttercup.”
I hugged him back, just as tightly. “We have so much to talk about, but I needed to ask you and Javier something.”
Javier approached us rather cautiously, as though afraid to interrupt our reunion. “What’s up?” Stephan asked.
“How would you like to stay in the swankest pad in New York for our days off this week? Most likely we’d fly in Monday morning and stay until early Thursday.”
Stephan’s grin grew even wider. “I can’t think of anything I’d love more. I take it this means you and James are working things out?”
I nodded, smiling and looking up into his eyes. I let him see all of my happiness but none of my troubles. It was what he deserved.
Javier cleared his throat. “Um, so, did you mean just for Stephan, or…”
I gave him a friendly smile. “I meant for the two of you to come, if you want to. James has an obscene amount of room, considering that it’s in Manhattan.”
Stephan cleared his throat, shooting Javier a positively wicked glance. I could have sworn Javier blushed just a tad even through his lovely pale mocha skin. “Javier and I only need one room regardless.”
I blinked. That was moving incredibly fast, for Stephan. I took it as a good sign. He seemed to be more comfortable by the minute about being in an open relationship with a man.
“I had one more thing I wanted to talk to both of you about. I’ve decided to stop working so much overtime and just stick with my regular shifts, for the most part. I hope you don’t mind losing your overtime partner.”
Stephan didn’t look in the least perturbed. “About damn time, Bee. I figured you would be catching on to that soon enough. I already asked Javier if he wanted to be my new overtime buddy. He’s doing some trades to share our days off, so it should work out perfectly.” As Stephan spoke he stroked a hand over Javier’s jet black hair.
Javier closed his eyes, as though savoring the light touch. I didn’t know if it was just the only thing I knew with my limited experience with relationships, but it looked to me like Javier was clearly Stephan’s submissive. The way he closed his eyes, his hands in his pockets to keep from touching back, just reminded me so much of an act of submission. Stephan’s hand moved down to rub at a spot on Javier’s thin, straight shoulders. Javier let out a pleased little moan. I thought they were beautiful together.
“The crew bus is here. Let’s load up,” Stephan said, releasing Javier.
We filed out, handing our luggage to the driver, who loaded it into the baggage compartments mounted along the bottom of the mini-shuttle. “Five more coming,” Stephan told the driver, climbing inside.
Stephan and Javier took the backseat, and I sat on the row just in front of them. “Bianca, be our lookout,” Stephan said rather cryptically. I turned to look at them. I was as shocked as I’d ever been by what I saw.
Stephan had a flushed Javier pinned down on the bench seat beneath them. He was straddling the smaller man and giving him a very intense, very heated look. He held the other man’s wrists pinned tautly above his head. As I watched he bent down and kissed him. It was not a casual kiss but a rough one, and I knew dominance when I saw it. My shocked gaze flew out the window as I suddenly realized that I was the lookout, and that I actually needed to do the job considering the things going on in the backseat.
I heard Stephan murmuring something to Javier, and I could hear that whatever it was was muffled against some part of the other man’s skin. “Bianca, do you suppose you could manage ten minutes without me on the flight?” Stephan addressed me. “I know it’s going to be hectic, but I would really appreciate it.”