Page 14 of The Other Man

I was lying in bed, naked, well-rested, and he’d stuck around for the night, for once, though he wasn’t in bed with me.

He was prowling around my room, fully dressed, like he’d just been waiting for me, instead of sleeping himself.

“If we did, I think I won.”  His tone was sardonic.

That irked me.  Arrogant bastard.  But it was true.

If we were going to fight in the bedroom, I was going to lose.

“You know, you can be a real pain in the ass?” My tone was not as scathing as it should have been.

He got a kick out of that.  I could tell by the unholy light in his eyes, and the tone of his voice when he said, “I think that’s understating things.  Honey, I’m your worst nightmare.”

Ha.  Wasn’t that the truth.

I got up, got dressed, and cooked us breakfast.

Heath paced around my dining room while he waited for the food.

I was trying to think back and recall if I’d ever seen him sit before.  Nothing came to mind.

“Did you sleep last night?” I called out to him.

He stopped pacing, coming to stand a few feet into the kitchen.  “Yes.  Everyone needs sleep, Lourdes.”

I shot him a look.  “Well, I slept for eight hours last night.  How long did you sleep?”  It was a pointed question.  I was pretty sure I had a clue about the answer.

“I didn’t keep track.”

“Guess,” I prodded.

“Maybe two hours.”

I wanted to scold him, but I was well aware that I was not his mother.  “That’s not enough sleep for anyone, Heath.”

“It’s enough for me.”

I mulled that over.  “Where did you sleep?”

“On your sofa.  In the living room.”

“Why didn’t you just sleep in the bed with me?”

“I was being considerate.  Trust me, I did you a favor.”

It was pretty obvious that this was a touchy subject for him, so I just said, “Let me know if you ever want to talk about it,” and then dropped it.

But while he seemed to be in a talkative mood (for him) I decided to pry further.

“Tell me about your family,” I tried.

He started pacing again.  “There’s not much to tell.  Not many of us left.  How about you?”

I sighed resignedly, though I’d fully expected him to turn the question on me.  Just not quite so quickly.  “I’m an only child, and my parents divorced when I was in my early twenties.  I have a big extended family, but most of them still live in Europe.”

“Where do your parents live?”

“My father lives in Lyon, France.  He’ll die there, too, I guarantee.  He runs a restaurant.  He’s a world-renowned chef, actually.  If you gave a damn about haute cuisine, you’d be impressed.  My mother lives in the states.  In Florida.  That’s a fairly recent development, though.  She grew up in Spain, and they both raised me in France.”

“How was that?”

“Growing up in Lyon?”

He nodded.

I thought about it.  “It was pretty amazing, actually.  There’s little I can complain about.  And I’m still close with both of them.  I take the boys to visit each of them at least twice a year.  What about your parents?  Where do they live?”

“They died when I was younger.”

“Any siblings?”

He didn’t answer for so long that I thought he wasn’t going to, but then, “One left.”

That sounded ominous.  “Brother or sister?  And are you close?”

He completely ignored the first question.  “We have a complex relationship.”

“Too complex to elaborate on?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

I took the hint, and let yet another subject close.

I was plating up the eggs, sausage, and bacon before I tried another.

“Why don’t you ever let me touch you?” I asked him, tone neutral, almost off-hand.  I’d wanted to broach this topic with him from the beginning.

“Do you really want to know?  It’s fucked up.  It will probably just make you more scared of me.”

That did the opposite of what he thought it would.  Now I was more intrigued, with only the slightest touch of trepidation.

I put the plates down on the table, then headed back into the kitchen for drinks.

I grabbed two glasses and a pitcher of orange juice on the return trip, but he still hadn’t taken a seat.

I wondered if he’d eat standing up.

I took my own seat, poured us each a glass of juice, and looked up at him.

Finally, he sat, though he looked ill at ease, like he thought it was a mistake the second he did it.

“Tell me,” I urged softly.

Without a word he started eating.

I began to eat as well, resigned to the fact that this was yet another subject he wouldn’t be opening up about.

I was quickly distracted by the way he ate, as though this was his last meal on earth.  It was strange.  His manners were fine.  He used his utensils and closed his mouth when he chewed.  But his every movement was so economical and mechanical.

I had a thought.  “You’re military, aren’t you?”

He pretended not to hear that one, finishing his food before I’d even salted my eggs.

“The not touching me thing.  Is that going to be a deal breaker for you?” he finally asked, shooting his eyes at me.

His face was set in stone.  So much so, that if he smiled right then, I thought it might crack.

“I would like to touch you,” I said carefully.  “Is that going to be permanently off-limits?”

He took a deep breath.  “It was a long time ago, but you see this scar?”  He pulled his shirt up, baring his mutilated torso.  He dragged his thumb along the worst of his marks, the long jagged one that went up his side that had to have come from something awful.

I set down my fork and reached out, tried to touch it, but he grabbed my hand, holding it firmly in his.

“I see it,” I finally answered, because he seemed to be waiting for that.

“A woman did that to me.”

I blinked at him.  That I had not expected.

“We were fucking at the time,” he added.

Holy shit.  “Why—why would she do that?”

He grimaced.  “She was hired to kill me.  I guess she figured her best shot was to catch me when I was distracted, and it almost worked.”

Holy shit.

“Why would someone be hired to kill you?  Tell me what you’re involved in, Heath.  I have a right to know.”

His mouth twisted.  “For your own protection, I can’t tell you much.  But . . . I used to be a spy for the government.”

That did add up.  “Are you still?”

“It’s complicated.”

“What happened to that woman that tried to kill you?”

“I snapped her neck.”

He saw my face, took a deep breath, and added, “It fucked me up, but I was still inside of her when I did it.”

He was watching me closely, like he needed to see my reaction.

I was shaking, and it was an effort, but I kept my eyes on his.

“I had to,” he continued.  “I knew I’d bleed out if I didn’t get help soon, and if I’d passed out with her still alive, she’d have finished me.”

I nodded, still trembling.  I got it.  It sounded like a clear case of self-defense, but it was completely awful and like nothing I’d ever been exposed to.

This was heavy shit.  Even heavier than I’d suspected.

“And she wasn’t the only one,” he added quietly.  “I’ve killed a lot of people.”

I was outright shaking now.  I didn’t know how to react to this.  It was beyond my realm of experience.  So beyond it, I’m ashamed to admit that some small, pathetic noise escaped my throat.  It was quiet and involuntary, but Heath still heard it.

And addressed it.  Quite perfectly, I thought.

“Shh shh,” he uttered quietly, one hand reaching up to stroke my hair away from my face.  “Here’s why you shouldn’t be scared of me.  Yes, I am a killer.  I will never be a normal guy.  I do not blend in.  There are men out there like me, and God willing, you will never run into one, that blend in, that play normal, that would not trigger your instincts, or make you think they have the least thing wrong with them.  Those are the ones that you need to worry about.  I’m a killer, but I’m not a sociopath.”

Either I was completely naive, or he was completely masterful at manipulating me, but his alarming speech helped.

Still, it felt like something huge was stuck in my throat.  I swallowed with effort.  “But you’re only a killer because of your job?  You killed, like, bad guys, right?”

Jesus, I sounded like a kid that needed reassurance, I realized.

But I did.  I wanted badly to hear that he was one of the good guys.

“I followed orders, and when you’ve killed as many people as I have, it’s impossible to assume that they were all justified.”

Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance