“I still want it. Nothing’s changed in that regard. What he did… and what you do, I don’t see them as the same thing. I can’t explain it, but the one helps me cope with the other. Can we not talk about this anymore?”
He smoothed my hair back from my face, kissing my forehead. “We need to talk more, not less. About a lot of things. If you would just let me talk to you, we could get things settled between us. I can’t stand this constant uncertainty where you’re concerned.”
I sat up, feeling a need for some distance.
“Let’s make a deal. How about we not talk. I’ll go home with you tonight. I’ll stay at your place. We can do anything you want. You can fuck my brains out all night.” My voice was getting embarrassingly thick, even a hint of accent was coming out. “But I don’t want to talk about the attack, not any part of it.
And I don’t want to talk about our relationship, or lack of one.”
His jaw clenched, but I saw almost immediately that he wouldn’t turn me down.
“Do we have to go back to the party first?” he finally asked, his mood clearly darker.
“Yes,” I said firmly.
We walked back into the building without another word. James gripped my elbow in a proprietary manner.
We re-joined my group of friends. A few people gave us good natured smirks for our absence, but no one said anything about it.
James was quiet and withdrawn. I had a hard time enjoying myself when I knew I had put him into his sudden dark mood. He was barely even touching me. It wasn’t until Damien engaged me in conversation that he became suddenly affectionate. Damien was asking me if I had any plans for the next New York layover when I felt James press against my back, wrapping his arms around me very carefully, just under my breasts.
Contrary man, I thought darkly, as he buried his face in my neck.
“Um, no, I don’t think so.” I tried to answer Damien, distracted by the mercurial man at my back. He’d pressed his groin against me, and I had no doubts as to what he was thinking about.
James raised his head at my answer. “I have an event I’d like you to attend with me, if you’re up for it.
It’s a formal affair, for charity.”
I stiffened, bewildered by the offer. It was an about-face for him, asking me to something so public. We had established from the start that we weren’t going to date. It wasn’t what either of us had wanted from each other. I had quickly found myself hurt by the arrangement, but I hadn’t known he’d changed his stance on any of it. When had it changed and why? Or was this just a stunt to show his ownership to Damien?
“Um, I don’t have anything to wear to something like that,” I said, naming off the first excuse that came into my head.
His hands started moving along my stomach, stroking. He grabbed my hips, holding me still as he straightened behind me. The motion brought his erection more flush against my butt, and I had to stifle a gasp. I didn’t want anyone to see just what he was doing. I tried my best to look normal, but had no idea if I succeeded.
“I’ve had my dresser select a wardrobe for you, to keep at my place,” he said in a perfectly casual tone.
“And she’ll be there Friday morning to help you either select something from the wardrobe, or find something else. She’ll have a sampling from several designers for you to try on.”
I blinked, not sure what to think of that. “You shouldn’t-“ “It’s only fair, if I want you to attend a bunch of stuffy affairs with me, that I provide the clothes you’ll need to wear to them. And besides, we’ve already discussed the gift thing exhaustively. If I recall, that was one of the concessions that you actually agreed to.” He was moving against me as he spoke. It was hard to hold on to a thought when he did that.
“When did you do all that? The wardrobe thing?” I asked, baffled.
“Weeks ago, when I realized that I was just going to have to get used to the idea that I couldn’t shelter you from the paparazzi, so I might as well show you off.”
I just blinked.
Damien was looking between us, studying James. I had almost forgotten, for a few minutes, that he was even there. James had that effect on me.
“You’ll come with me, won’t you?” James murmured in my ear.
He wrapped his arms around my shoulders, his arms moving slowly, rubbing against my nipples. There was no way that he wasn’t aware he was touching them. They were hard little pebbles that he had to feel through the material of my thin shirt and lacy bra.
“I, um, I don’t know. The invitation is unexpected, as I’m sure you know. I’ve never been to anything like that.”
“There’s nothing to it. We just get dressed up and walk around, mingling. I won’t leave your side, if you’re nervous. I just want your company.”
Damien walked away, likely feeling ignored. He made his way to Murphy, who was telling a story loud enough for the entire room to hear.
I pitched my voice low, speaking over my shoulder. “I thought we weren’t doing any of that. You said from the beginning that we weren’t dating.”
“I’d talk to you about it, but I’m not allowed to talk tonight, remember?” His deep voice was a rumble against my ear.
I saw his game. He wanted to get me curious enough to take back my own words. I wouldn’t do it, though, even if my curiosity was eating at me.
I poked an elbow behind me. “Fine then, let’s not talk about any events either, while we’re at it. That raises too many questions about our relationship.”
He made a displeased little hum behind me that I could feel rumble through me. He didn’t speak for several minutes. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking him questions.
Finally he broke his silence. “Do you like horses?” he asked.
“Horses?” I asked, baffled.
“Yes, horses. Do you like them?”
I thought about it. More about why he was asking then what he was asking. Finally, I just focused on the question. “Yes, I like horses. Doesn’t everyone? Why?”
“Have you ridden?”
I flushed. “Once. It was just a two-hour guided tour, up in the mountains, so I’m not even sure it counts, but I loved it.”
“Do you think you feel well enough to try riding now? Or do you need to heal up more?”
I cast him a suspicious glance. “Do you have horses in town?” I hadn’t noticed any stables at his property, but I also hadn’t exactly gotten a proper tour.
“I do. I need to show you the entire property sometime, including the stables. They’re set away from the house. But that isn’t what I had in mind. You said I could do whatever I wanted with you. You didn’t give me any restrictions, including staying in town. I would take you to the beach, to relax, but I find that lately I absolutely despise the beach.”
I raised my brows at him. “You don’t like the beach?” I asked him, baffled.
He set his jaw and looked across the room with a steely glare. I followed his eyes. He was staring at Damien as though he wanted to do the man bodily harm.
“Currently, just the thought of the beach makes me want to do violence,” he said, his tone quiet but ominous. “So I have another idea, if you’re up to try some riding.”
I studied him, trying to follow his odd thought patterns. “Where did you want to take me?”
He turned that steely glare on me. “You said I could do anything with you tonight. And you did not say I had to tell you what or where. All I want to know is, do you think you can ride a horse?”
I glared back. “I’m not sure. I feel okay. If I didn’t do anything too crazy, and it was a calm horse, I suppose I could.”
He nodded decisively. “Okay, we’ll take it easy. Let me make some phone calls.”
I watched him walk outside, a little stunned by the sudden turn of events.
He always seemed to do that, turn everything around until I was dizzy and panting and giving into his whims without a protest. It was infuriating, and exhilarating. I had thought my life was content and full before I met him. I had thought that excitement was the last thing that I wanted for myself. And the thought of falling in love had been anathema to me. How could meeting one person make everything change so suddenly? I wondered, not for the first time. I didn’t know where he was planning to take me, but it didn’t matter. I would go. My self-control became an elusive quality when I got into James’s orbit.
I approached Stephan, listening to the long-winded story Murphy was into before I was noticed. He was walking everyone through the horror of waking up with two women and a new tattoo with one of their names on it. Only he hadn’t remembered either of their names, just that one of them was Lola, since it was written in big black letters on his chest.
I blinked at the ridiculous story. Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard it before, though I had seen the tattoo when he was lounging by the pool. I listened, as interested as everyone else to find out which woman the tattoo was for, and why.
“Turns out, it was another woman I’d met earlier that night. She’d left in a jealous rage after the tattoo, when I started talking to the two I woke up with. I was just being friendly, I’m sure!”
His defensive stance about two women he’d woken up in bed with made everyone laugh. He was still genuinely offended by the woman who’d inspired his tattoo and never spoken to him again.
Four other pilots had joined the group. I recognized them only vaguely. They were part of the younger generation of pilots, and I knew they were friends with Damien and Murphy, but I couldn’t recall any of their names.
“He calls her the one that got away every time he gets really trashed,” Damien said in an amused voice, making me start. He was just behind me.
I turned to give him a slight smile.
His voice was pitched loud enough for the large group to hear, but he seemed to be speaking to me. “He doesn’t even remember her, but he says he trusts even his drunk judgement enough that, if she inspired a tattoo in one night, she must have been ‘the one.’ Every time he goes on a rant about how he hates being single, he blames Lola’s damned temper.”
I looked at Murphy, laughing. He had a sheepish, good natured-grin on his face. It sounded like something he’d say, and he didn’t deny it.
“Where was this?” I asked him.
“Melbourne, Australia. I bet she had a sexy accent,” Murphy said in a dejected tone.
“We all know how much you love sexy Australian accents,” one of the pilots added, sending everyone into new peals of laughter.
“Hey, now.” Damien said, raising his hands. “Don’t drag me into this. I’ve been with Murphy for years, and he has yet to get a tattoo for me on any part of his body, sexy accent or no.”
“Now we know for sure he’s never slept with you,” Marnie interjected. “If he had, there would be a Damien tattoo somewhere on his body, I can attest. One night, and I had to check the urge not to brand you on my ass.”
Loud hoots and hollers followed her brazen announcement, Murphy laughing the loudest. His laugh was particularly infectious.