Page 19 of The Other Man

He leaned in close, his eyes all over me.  “You’re right that people are staring.  But not at us.  At you.  But this I guarantee, no one is staring at you because of that.”

I felt instantly better.  He really did have a sweet side.

I ordered a martini, and he ordered a water.

“You don’t drink alcohol?” I asked him when the waiter had left.

“I do, occasionally, but most of the time I like to keep my senses sharp.”

I gave him my best imploring smile.  “This is a date.  You don’t need to stay sharp.  This is when you relax.”

After staring me down for a brief moment, he called the waiter back and ordered a beer.

“Anything look good to you?” I asked him after he’d perused the menu for a bit.

He just shrugged.

“I can tell you what’s good.”

He shrugged again.  “I’ll just have whatever you’re having.”

“Do you mind having an egg on your burger?”

“Sounds fine.”

I ordered the truffle fries and two farm burgers.  It was simple, but the best burger: duck breast bacon, English sharp cheddar, and a fried egg.  Perfection.

“So good, right?” I asked him after the first bite.  I was one and a half martinis deep, and he’d downed nearly his entire pint of beer.  I was feeling great and it might have been my imagination, but I thought he was starting to relax.

“It’s good,” he agreed, then proceeded to finish the burger off in under two minutes.

I was about a third of the way through mine.  “Should we order you another one?” I teased him.

His answer was to finish off the fries.  Then my fries.  Then his beer.  He ordered another and I almost cheered.  I wanted him to have a good time tonight, wanted him to unwind and open up, and alcohol seemed like a great way to make that happen.

“Do you like to gamble?” he asked me.

The restaurant was located inside of a casino, as most of the good ones were in this town.

“Very rarely.  How about you?”

“Never, if I can help it.”

“I don’t mind losing the random twenty dollars on a few rounds of blackjack,” I shared, just to keep the conversation going.

His brows went up like I’d said something fascinating.  “My . . . friend is obsessed with blackjack.  She counts cards.  Makes a fortune whenever she needs it.”

“Really?  Isn’t that illegal?”

“It’s actually not.  The casino will blacklist you if they catch you, but she sticks to the smaller establishments, wins little bits at a time, then moves on.”

“Wow.  She must be smart.”

“She’s brilliant.”

I wondered who this brilliant friend was.  She was important to him, I could tell with just a few sentences.  And the hesitation before he said the word friend bothered me a bit.

Also, he quickly changed the subject, like he hadn’t meant to bring her up at all.

Other than that, though, dinner went well.

The movie, well, that was another story.

Intense was the best word to describe that part.

He was bored as hell walking in the door.  This was not his thing.  He was humoring me.  Proving a point?  Or just trying to be nice?  I couldn’t say.

Once the actual movie started, though, things changed a bit.

I had a loud laugh.  I knew this.  It’s also the kind of laugh I just couldn’t hold back.

I loved me some romantic comedy, and this was a good one.

I laughed hard.

Once I started laughing, he stopped being bored.  He didn’t watch the movie so much as study me for most of it, putting his arm around me and leaning close when I started laughing like he was taking it in, inhaling it.  Soaking it up.

I reached over and touched his knuckles lightly.  He grasped my hand instantly and firmly, interweaving our fingers, watching himself do it like he couldn’t quite believe it was happening, like he’d surprised himself with the action.

We both just stared at our hands for a while, and the whole time I was thinking about how horrible I was at casual sex.  An utter failure at the casual part of it.

And then I went back to laughing, and he went back to watching me.

He didn’t even smile much, but something about the way he was staring at me, his eyes losing some of their usual shutter, had me feeling things I hadn’t thought I’d ever feel again.

When he looked at me like that, it’s hard to even describe, but I’d never felt more beautiful, never felt more desirable, never more joyful, or hopeful.

How could the way someone looked at you change the way you saw your life?

And how was I just now finding this?

And—what was it?

But I knew.  It was different from the first time, I was different, but, regardless of how fast it was happening, I knew what it was.

That first sweet blushing bloom of the L word.

I was embarrassed to even think it, but we did have a moment in there, where something occurred.  Both of us softened toward the other just that little bit more, that profound distance between intense interest and true affection, between adoration and endearment, and suddenly the future looked very bright and exciting.

This new, familiar, alien feeling was as scary as it was utterly addictive.

“So that was a date,” he stated.

We were driving back to my house.

“Yes, it was,” I agreed, tone wry.

“Was it a good one?”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing.  “You tell me,” I urged him.

“Depends.  Do I get to fuck you soon?”  He sounded surly.

I tensed.  Just when I thought things were going so well that I was giddy with it, he had to open his big mouth.

“It seems likely,” I told him slowly.  “Though the more you talk, the less likely it is.”

“Noted.  Shutting my mouth until you’re ready to fuck.”

I tried not to grit my teeth.  He could be such an asshole.  The only redeeming part of that was that I didn’t think he had any idea how to be any different.  For whatever reason, he’d never developed that kind of a filter.

“Do you enjoy spending time with me, doing anything besides fucking?” I asked.

He sighed.  “I hated that movie.”

My mouth twisted.  He hadn’t had to tell me.  I’d known that.

“Fuckin’ hated it.  But I’d sit through it again.  I’d put that thing on repeat just to watch you watching it.  To see you laugh like that.”

And just like that, he turned it all around.  Sneaky man.

“I love it when you say sweet things to me,” I told him, voice breathless.

“I’m not good at sweet.”

“You have your moments.  Tell me another sweet thing.  Let’s see if you can do it again.”

He didn’t even miss a beat, like it had already been on the tip of his tongue.  “You’re the best sex I’ve ever had.”

Wow.  That shocked me into silence.  And made me feel good, really good, because I believed him.  I didn’t think he’d lie about something like that, didn’t think he’d waste the energy or the breath.

“You too,” I finally managed to respond.

“Good,” he growled, his hand going to my knee.

And just that easy, from that one simple touch, hot life flooded inside of me.

I realized that he hadn’t had me since this morning.  Nearly a full day and it felt like ages.

I felt deprived.  Needy.  Desperate for him.

I leaned toward him, hand going to his chest, touching softly because I knew the area was sensitive.  “Drive faster,” I breathed into his ear.

He floored it.

When he parked at the curb in front of my house, I pretty much shot out of the car and ran to the front door, fumbling to unlock it fast enough.  But I needn’t have rushed.  He was still at his car fishing a big duffle bag out of his trunk, by the time I got the door open.

I stopped what I was doing to stare at him.

“I’d like to stay a few days, if you don’t mind,” he said as he approached and saw that my gaze was transfixed on the bag.

“Not at all,” I said, voice faux casual and went inside.

“There’s not much extra room in my closet,” I told him.  Which was a huge understatement.  Due to my lifelong love of shopping, the thing was stuffed.  “But there are other closets, and feel free to put whatever in my bathroom.  Just make yourself at home.”

I cringed inside.  Did I sound too needy?  I didn’t know.  I’d never done anything like this.  Sleepovers were out of my realm, one of the many quirks of marrying young and staying married for too damn long.

This relationship, for lack of a better word, was unprecedented for me.

He didn’t seem interested in unpacking.  The second we got into my bedroom, he tossed the duffle in the middle of the floor and started rummaging through it.

I saw why a few seconds later as he straightened, grinning at me, a pair of padded handcuffs hooked on one of his fingers.

Oh yeah.  That.

Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance