“I’m Stephan,” I told her numbly. It had been so long since anyone had cared for me, or touched me in any way, that I felt almost in shock at her actions.
“You’re like me,” she said quietly, still working gently to wash the blood from my hands and wrists. She didn’t look up.
I had to clear my throat to speak. “What do you mean?”
She glanced up then, meeting my eyes squarely. I saw the strength in her from those eyes, and her quiet resolve. “You can never go back home.”
My jaw clenched, and I nodded slowly.
She never showed a hint of fear for me, and the longer I knew her, the more I realized that, considering her past, she’d had every right to.
We never asked if we’d be staying together, we just never separated.
“You don’t ever have to worry about me…trying what that old man tried. I’m gay, so it’s not an issue,” I told her the first night we slept huddled close together, sharing one thin blanket.
It wasn’t only to assuage her fears that I told her. If my preferences were going to make her recoil from me in disgust, I wanted to know it sooner rather than later.
She just wiggled closer. “I wasn’t worried, Stephan. It didn’t even occur to me that you would try to harm me. You’re a good guy—a hero. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. I feel so safe with you. Safer than I’ve ever felt.”
Her words gave me a warm feeling in my chest, and above her head, my eyes filled with foreign tears. For the first time in years, I felt a fierce joy in my heart. Maybe I’d found a person who could love me. Maybe I’d found a family.
I was beyond relieved when James reappeared about two hours after they’d gone upstairs, though I would have been more so if Bianca had been with him. He wore only a pair of black athletic shorts, and he was covered in sweat. His hair was tied back and his eyes were scary. He carried a small laptop in his hand.
I swallowed hard. I wanted to see Bianca, needed to know that the scary thing in his eyes wasn’t more than she could take, but I knew she trusted me not to interfere, and I valued that trust.
“We need to talk,” he told me.
I nodded. I would take any information I could get.
He sat beside me and opened his laptop. He set it on my lap. A video was playing on the screen. I watched it for maybe a minute before I had to turn away, blushing profusely. I handed it back to him with a grimace. “Jesus! Why would you show me that, James?”
“So Bianca hasn’t mentioned it to you?”
I was livid in a heartbeat, ready to punch him. “You showed that to her?”
“No! Of course not.”
My eyes widened in realization. “That’s online?”
He nodded, looking miserable and furious all at once. “I don’t know how. I’m looking into it. But I need to know if she knows about it yet. And I need your opinion. Will she leave me if she sees it?”
I rubbed my temples. “It’s old, I assume. Long before you met her.”
“Of course. I didn’t even know it existed until a few weeks ago.”
“It will be upsetting. And she’s so skittish. I just have no idea what she’ll do, James. She’s so different with you. When she left you the first time, I was almost certain that she’d never give you another chance. All the rules changed for her when you came into the picture. I just can’t predict what she’ll do with you. But don’t let her see that video. That certainly won’t help. Knowing and seeing are two different things.”
“How can I stop her? You know her. She’ll want to see it for herself. I just know it. This is killing me, Stephan. What can I do?”
I shook my head. “So this is what has you so upset? It’s not that she went out without security?”
I watched his fists clench and felt mine copying the motion.
“It’s both. Do you know what she fucking did? She went all by herself to meet her brother. Sven Karlsson. He even has the same fucking name, and she went alone to see him.”
I felt my gut clench. “What happened? Is he like her dad?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’ll find out. Don’t worry about him, Stephan. I’ll make sure he’s well vetted before he breathes the same air as her again. I swear it.”
I nodded. I knew he would. And I saw that I’d been wrong to doubt him. Even in this dangerous mood, he was still only thinking of Bianca. He’d been like that from the start, which was why it had been so easy for me to share her with him. There was just something so steady about him. He’d swept into our lives with such a benevolent sort of authority. The messed-up, wounded kid that still lived inside of me longed for his approval, and he was generous with it, too. He thought I was amazing—he told me so often, and he found me worthy to help him take care of Bianca, who I knew he adored more than life; it took one to know one. He filled a role of both friend and mentor for me that I hadn’t realized I’d been missing, which made it even harder for me to fight with him. But when it came to me and Bianca, he had to know that her side was my side. There could never be a question of that. “I’m sorry I tried to interfere, James. It’s just so hard for me—“
“It’s fine,” he cut in impatiently. “We have something else to discuss.”
I nodded for him to go on, relieved that he didn’t seem to be holding a grudge.
“I know your first inclination is going to be to tell me no, but remember that this is for Bianca. I want her out of that house. He knows where it is, she was attacked there, and every time she’s there without me, it drives me absolutely out of my fucking mind crazy. She won’t leave that place until you do. I know it. I need you to sell your house.”
I blinked at him, totally thrown for a loop.
“There’s a property next to mine that I think will suit you well, and you would still be neighbors. She needs that. You know she does. I’m buying you that house. And you need to help me convince her to sell hers. She’ll resist the idea, but this is important. She needs to get out of there. My property is much safer.” He seemed to sense my uneasiness. “I’ll give you time to think about it, but you’ll see that I’m right. I know you’re uncomfortable with my buying you a house, but it is literally nothing to me to do this, so if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for Bianca.”
I knew he was a manipulative man. Generous, but manipulative. I honestly didn’t think he could even help himself; he was so used to getting things his way. Even knowing that, though, I considered the idea.
Playing by his rules means staying close to her forever. As I realized that, it wasn’t even a question for me.
I woke up as James pushed himself into me. I was so wet that it made for a smooth as silk entry. I shuddered and gasped in pleasure before the sleep had fully left my body. This was, without a doubt, my favorite way to wake up.
“Morning, my love,” James rasped, his face just over mine, but his chest held carefully off my breasts.
I studied his eyes, my free hand moving to grip into his silky smooth hair. I wanted to catch a glimpse of my tender-lover in those intense eyes, and I was relieved to see it there in the warmth of those turquoise depths. He’d left me so cold before. I needed reassurances and answers now. I needed warmth. But first, I needed this…
He rocked into me with deliciously long strokes. His hands pushed my legs far apart until there was a near painful stretch added into his perfect thrusts. I gasped as he dragged out then buried himself to the hilt, again and again.
I clenched around him in the most delectable wake-up orgasm, but he just kept going, driving into me without pause, working me towards another pinnacle as I was still coming down from that high. I cried his name as I came again.
I cupped his cheek and watched with covetous eyes as he pounded out his own release long moments later.
Our eyes stayed locked as he hovered over me, staying buried deep while he watched me. It was one of our silent standoffs, and I broke first.
“Are you going to tell me what has you so worried that I’ll leave you? So worried that you kept me tied to the bed while we slept?”
His jaw clenched and his eyes flinched but he nodded. “A…video of me was released this morning. It’s all over the internet. There’s no way to control it. I’ve known of the video for about a week, and I’ve been trying my best to keep it from leaking, but I failed. Whoever was behind this didn’t care about making money.”
I swallowed, a sick little ball of dread forming in my gut. “A sex tape,” I guessed.
He broke eye contact, staring down at our joined bodies. “Yes. I’m sorry. Just when I’ve been trying to clean up my image, to clean up my life, this would happen. I’m disgusted with myself, if it makes you feel any better.”
It didn’t. “When was this video made?” I asked him.
He pulled himself out of me and I gasped at the raw sensation. His hair trailed into his beautiful face as he looked back up at me. “About three years ago, I think, or possibly closer to four. It was taken without my knowledge, I’m embarrassed to admit. It was a setup. One of the few times I wasn’t at one of my own properties. I’m so sorry. My past just won’t seem to go away. Please tell me this isn’t your breaking point.”
I studied him, wondering how his mind worked. “Of course I’m not happy about it, but I would hardly leave you over it, James.”
I couldn’t speak for a long minute because he crushed the breath out of me. I gasped at the raw sensation it caused in my tender nipples.
He pulled back when he heard the gasp, muttering an apology. He moved back over me, more carefully this time. “Thank you,” he murmured into my ear.
“I know about your past,” I continued, when he let me. “You’ve been forthcoming with me about your promiscuity. But you should have told me a week ago, when you first heard about this. You’ve been moody and strange and I don’t like to be kept in the dark. You should know better. If we’re going to make this thing work, you can’t keep things like this from me. One of the things that makes me trust you is your honesty. I need that honesty, James. Do you understand?”
He nodded, his face buried in my hair. “I was just so terrified that you would run again.”
I tugged hard on a lock of his hair. “What will keep me from running is you being upfront with me.”
“Yes, okay. I understand.”
I took a deep breath, hating this next part, but not enough not to ask. “Who is it?”
He tensed against me. “Jolene.”
I nodded. Somehow I had known, though that didn’t make me happy about it. “So she made the video, and leaked it. Obviously.”
He shook his head. “I can’t rule that out completely. And yes, she obviously set the thing up. But I just can’t see her leaking it, not with the kind of money I was offering to keep it under wraps. And this will ruin whatever she has with Scott. She’s too mercenary to do this just for spite, and with nothing to gain.”