We sped towards Manhattan in a luxurious town car. Stephan and Javier sat close together, clutching hands, their eyes fixed on me in concern. James held me close against him, his hands comforting as they stroked over me.
I’d found out just a few days ago that my father had remarried after my mother’s death. On the tail of that revelation, I had found out that I had a half-brother who was just one year younger than I am. That meant that my father had been with this other woman for years before my mother had died. Before he had killed her.
I had no love for the woman, Sharon, who my father had married. In fact, I felt a cold distaste shiver through my body at just the thought of her.
I’d just discovered that she had been killed last night, and in the same method that my mother had been. I hadn’t liked the woman, but since I had discovered her existence, I had felt the need to warn her about my father. I was positive that she must have known firsthand just how abusive and violent he was, but I had wanted to warn her just what he was capable of, if only to clear my conscience.
I had tried, several times, to get ahold of her, but I’d had no luck. Logical or not, I felt a crushing guilt at my failure. James seemed to sense my inner turmoil, and sought to comfort me with his touch.
He just held me for several minutes before breaking the heavy silence that had overtaken the four of us. “Would you guys like to have breakfast at a restaurant or at our apartment?” His tone was polite.
Stephan didn’t hesitate. “Your apartment. I saw a spread on it in an interior design magazine a few weeks ago. I’ve been looking forward to getting a tour.”
James nodded. “Good.” He checked his watch. “Unfortunately, I only have about an hour before I need to get back to my office.”
I stiffened, feeling unreasonably disappointed at the news, though I hadn’t even thought he’d be there to meet us at the airport. He had mentioned several meetings today, but I still couldn’t seem to help feeling let down that we wouldn’t get more time together before he had to go back to work.
He seemed to feel the change in me and began to rub my back comfortingly. He spoke softly to me. “I should be able to cut my workday short, and make it back to the apartment by four, but I’d still love for you to come by my office for lunch. Say around eleven? I—“
“I’ll be there,” I told him quickly, wanting any time with him that I could get.
I felt needy for him, as though we’d been parted for weeks or months instead of days. I hadn’t been this desperate ever before, even during the time I’d forced him to stay away for nearly a month. I thought I was more desperate now because I had allowed myself to begin to think that he and I might actually have a future together. The thought both excited me and made my gut twist with an acute anxiety.
He kissed the top of my head but didn’t say anything more about it. We let Stephan and Javier chatter excitedly about their plans for the day, which included a jog in Central Park and a Broadway show, though they couldn’t decide on what.
“Do you guys mind if I make us all early dinner reservations? I’ll make it somewhere good, though that may be my own bias showing, since I’ll most likely own the place.” James smiled that self-deprecating smile of his that I always wanted to trace away with my fingertips.
Stephan and Javier agreed enthusiastically. I thought it was sweet of him to think of it, but I felt just a tiny bit disappointed. I wanted time alone with him, and even a few extra hours of waiting seemed torturous.
Clark drove us to the underground garage elevator without having to be told, giving me a very friendly smile as James helped me from the car. I smiled back. James’s chauffeur/bodyguard was apparently pleased that we’d gotten back together. I thought it was nice that he seemed to approve of me.
Stephan was restless with excitement as the elevator climbed to the penthouse.
James gave us a rather rushed tour through the opulent space, making a point of showing off all of the spaces that now sported my paintings. I flushed every time he did that, still uncomfortable with compliments about my favorite hobby.
The whole place was modern and sleek with the Cavendish designer touch all over it. I’d seen it all before, and even I was impressed.
He led us down a long hallway with stark modern gray wood lining the floors, ending the tour at the intimidating dining room.
Stephan and Javier immediately moved to the window that lined nearly the entire wall of the room and looked out on the spectacular view of Central Park.
“Wow,” Javier said quietly.
“Amazing,” Stephan breathed.
I moved to the window beside Stephan, equally awed by the now familiar view.
James wrapped himself around me from behind, leaning down to my ear. “I need to go. Your security will be waiting at the elevator at ten thirty to take you to my office. If you need to go anywhere before then, just call the security number saved into your phone.”
A door opened from the kitchen, a smiling Marion peeking in. She got our breakfast orders and cheerfully bustled back into the kitchen.
“Walk me out?” James asked softly, mouth still right at my ear.
I shivered, nodding.
James said his goodbyes to Stephan and Javier, tugging me swiftly from the room.
He took a shortcut to the elevator. Or rather, I thought it was a shortcut, right up until he was yanking me into a small sitting area.
I barely got a glance at the vaguely familiar room before he was closing the door and crushing me against it, kissing me like his life depended on it. The kiss had none of his finesse, and not an ounce of his restraint. It was a rough, bruising kiss, and I reveled in it. I would have kissed him back, but it wasn’t that kind of kiss. All that I could do was submit, my mouth softening for him—my whole body softening.
He pulled back abruptly.
I moaned a protest.
He wrapped one hand around my throat, squeezing just enough to make me gasp, the other hand going to my mouth. He pressed just one finger over my lips. “I have to go. But I need to have you. Promise me you’ll come to my office at eleven.”
I met his beautiful eyes, searching them. His face and voice were raw with need. And fear.
“I told you I’d be there,” I said to him, not sure what he needed from me, or how to take that awful look from his eyes.
“Promise me,” he said softly, his voice close enough to a plea to make my chest hurt.
“I promise,” I said softly.
He just nodded, his face painfully solemn. He tugged me after him, and I followed him to the elevator.
He pushed the button, pulling me into his chest as he waited for the car. It wasn’t a coincidence that he pressed my cheek over his heart. Right over the place where he’d tattooed my name in crimson.
He didn’t kiss me again. In fact, he barely looked at me. His professional mask was in place as the elevator closed on my last glimpse of him.
I walked back to the dining room on heavy feet.
We finished breakfast quickly, all of us ready for a nap.
Stephan and Javier were staying on the floor below my bedroom with James, lined up with that perfect view of Central Park. I walked them to their door, giving Stephan a perfunctory kiss goodnight before heading up to the room I shared with James. I could hear their amazed and excited exclamations even as I walked away, and I smiled fondly. That was the greatest benefit of wealth, I thought. To make others happy.
I made my way to our lonely bedroom.
I stood frozen in the doorway to our room for long moments, feeling so odd being there without James. It felt so empty and strange.
I did the minimum amount to get ready for bed, crawling into bed only after I had carefully set an alarm. I would only be getting a short nap, but it would be worth it to see James in a few hours.
I woke up groggy and disoriented but as the fog cleared from my brain and I realized whose bed I was in, and who I would be seeing in just one hour, the fog cleared completely, and I rushed into the shower, nervous and excited.
My phone beeped a text at me right as I was re-entering the bedroom, and I went to read it, still wrapped in a towel.
James: Wear a skirt.
It was an innocent enough request, from anyone but James perhaps, but from him, my breath caught in breathless anticipation. I hadn’t known just what we would be able to do at his office, so I had been braced for just an innocent lunch, though of course I had been hoping for more. My mood soared as I got ready, excitement pulsing through me. He had plans for me; I just knew it.
I tried not to be intimidated by my new wardrobe as I browsed through it for a skirt. The labels were things I never could have afforded on my own though, so it was hard for me not to dwell on the fact that I was letting James spend a fortune on me. I had been counting my pennies for so long that I couldn’t help but think it was all a bit of a waste. Half of his colossal closet was now filled with extravagant designer women’s clothing. There was no way that he hadn’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on it all.
I knew it was silly, but somehow the clothing intimidated me even more than all of the diamond jewelry that he seemed to need to lavish on me. Yes, it was silly, but the fact was that I knew enough about clothes to have a clue what those labels were worth, whereas my knowledge on the price of jewelry was beyond negligible.
The clothing was all paired together into outfits. I would have been more grateful for that convenience if I hadn’t known that it had to be the work of Jackie. I wasn’t exactly a fan.
I quickly picked out a comfortable looking azure blue, silk dress. I tried not to even look at the label, but it didn’t work, since the Armani Collezioni tag practically jumped out at me.
I donned my bra and panties, pulled the decadently soft fabric over my head, and fell instantly in love.
It was beyond comfortable, and actually looked great to boot. It hugged my curves in the most flattering way, without being the slightest bit tight. And unlike most of the clothing I usually tried on, it was made for my height, the proportions just right, not too short in either my torso or legs. Apparently there was something to spending a fortune on clothing. Of course, most of the clothes I’d owned previously never cost more than twenty dollars, tops…
There was an entire section of the closet devoted entirely to shoes and I went there next. My mouth curved and my heart warmed as I saw what James had done there.
There were nothing but wedges and running shoes. Of all the things he’d purchased for me in this monstrosity of a closet, I thought that this was the sweetest. I’d made the barest mention to him once that the only shoes I liked were wedges and running shoes, and it was apparent that he had been listening.
All of the women’s shoes were peeking out of boxes, and all of the boxes were marked with yellow tags sporting numbers in big red letters. My brow furrowed. The tags on all of the clothing had the same thing. I reached back with a sigh, carefully trying to rip off the tag at my back without causing damage to the lovely dress.
My brow furrowed as I saw the number 543 listed on the tag. I studied the rows of shoeboxes, my eyes eventually finding a matching number there. I sighed, my mouth twisting wryly, as I saw the system that had been set up. Jackie apparently didn’t trust me to pair my shoes and clothing without help.