Page 31 of The Other Man

Where Heath struggled to express himself, Kevin over-expressed.

He smiled at me, a warm smile, to belie the cold eyes.  He was a tall man, but lean with an attractive, angular face.  He was dark in the way that I was dark, where you couldn’t have placed his race if you tried, a good mix of something Latin, I assumed.  With the exception of Heath, I’d always been drawn to the tall, dark, and handsome type.

With every contact, I found myself comparing them.  It was hard not to.  So much about them was either identical, or opposite.

In spite of myself, I was working up a tally with two columns.

Identical/Opposite.

Heath/Kevin.

One clearly meant for the opposite column:  He stated from our first date that what he wanted was a serious relationship.

Another opposite: He didn’t want to rush into anything physical.  He was content instead to take things very slow, letting the anticipation build in its proper time, he said.

“I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal,” I told him with a smile, “so I’m okay with that.”  I was more than okay with it.  It was, in fact, one of the reasons we got on so well so quickly.  It made me feel comfortable with him, knowing he wasn’t expecting to get physical right away.  I wasn’t ready for it.  Not by a long shot.  Heath had been an anomaly for me in that respect, to be sure.

He was an accountant (one for the opposite of Heath column) and his schedule was as consistent as clockwork (another opposite).

“Tell me something about yourself,” he’d say often, his tone imploring and endearing enough that I always obliged.

“Like what?” I asked on our very first date.  He’d surprised me by taking me to one of the best French restaurants in town.  There was no way he could have known that was my favorite, so I chalked it up to the two of us having preferences in common.  How lucky was that?

“Anything, to start.  I want to know it all.”

I found that sweet.  And refreshing.  So I gave him something good.  “I have slutty feet,” I told him playfully.  Yes, I was flirting, quite shamelessly.

He looked more than intrigued.  He was delighted.  “It just so happens, foot rubs are a specialty of mine.  See how perfect we are for each other?”

That first date, he didn’t try to steal a kiss.  I was learning fast that he was a true gentleman in that way (opposite column).

But he did come back to my house, shared a glass of wine with me, and rubbed the hell out of my feet.

He was good with his hands (identical column).

I went to bed smiling.

If I was brutally honest with myself, Kevin was, more than anything, a tremendous stroke to my ego.  He pursued me relentlessly, not leaving me guessing about anything, not his feelings or his intentions.  It was just what I thought I needed.

We’d been seeing each other pretty regularly for a few weeks when Kevin said out of the blue, “I’d love to meet your boys.”

That made me uncomfortable, but I leveled with him as best as I could.  “I’d rather hold off on that.  Give it some time.  I doubt they’re ready to meet someone I’m dating just yet.”

Of course I hadn’t told him about Heath, but he did know about my messy divorce, and the fact that my boys were overprotective to a fault.

He looked briefly annoyed, but his face smoothed of the expression so fast that I almost thought I’d imagined it.  I’d never seen him show so much as a hint of annoyance before, so it threw me for a brief moment, and I stared at him.

“That makes perfect sense, of course,” he finally said.  “Whenever you’re comfortable with it.”

This was more the response I’d expected from him, so I took it in stride and didn’t give the incongruous expression that he’d first shown another thought.

I found out on our fourth date that he wouldn’t even consider letting me photograph him (identical column).  Not for any reason.  He was adamant about it, which surprised me.  It was such an innocent request.  What did he have to hide?

But of course he had nothing to hide, I told myself.  That was Heath baggage, clearly.

A quality of Kevin’s that I was pretty shocked went into the identical column hit me on our fifth date.

He was unreasonably enraged by phone calls from my ex-husband.

Kevin didn’t even get a true preview of how unpleasant our actual conversations were, but he reacted nonetheless.

My phone rang, I checked the screen, and shoved it back into my bag.

“Who was that?” Kevin asked, his tone polite.

My nose wrinkled up.  “No one I wanted to talk to.”

“Oh.”

His baffled expression had me explaining further.  “It’s my ex-husband, but there’s no good reason for the call.  In general, he just says something unpleasant to me, and I hang up on him, so I just skip the middle part now and don’t answer.”

He scowled, actually scowled, something I’d never seen him do before.  “Want me to have a word with him?”

I almost laughed out loud.  What would mellow Kevin say to my volatile, asshole ex?  I couldn’t even picture him confronting someone, let alone someone that hostile.

“No, there’s no need.  He doesn’t bother me.  I just ignore him.  Someday he’ll get the hint.”

“He needs to get the hint sooner rather than later.  You should let me handle it.”

He was so menacing when he said this that I was taken aback.  Clearly there was a side to Kevin that was unknown to me.

“I can handle my ex,” I reassured him.  “Trust me on this.”

“Okay,” he begrudgingly agreed.

I didn’t write the list down on paper, but I didn’t need to.

It was branded into my brain.  It was the strangest thing, how the opposites and identicals grew.

And it was tedious, how fixated I was on it, though I tried not to be.

I’d have myself talked out of it, determined not to think of it at all, and then something would come up to trigger it.

Okay.  Many things.  There were just so many.  That was the whole problem.

Kevin spoke five languages.  Heath barely spoke.

Kevin called me five times a day.  Heath had never called me once.

Kevin could read me like a book.  Just like Heath.

Kevin knew his way around my house like he had it memorized.  As had Heath, though Heath had spied on me.

I found myself worrying the first time Kevin came to my house and made himself at home.  He went right into the kitchen, grabbed my corkscrew, picked out just the perfect bottle of wine, and worked it open.

I told myself firmly it was all a coincidence.  The paranoia was Heath baggage, obviously.

’Tato hated Kevin with a passion.  So much so, that by the second week we were dating, I found an excuse to have Raf take my dog to his place for a few weeks.

’Tato had adored Heath.

It was all breakup baggage, I knew.  The comparing.  The obsessing.  Heath shouldn’t have made enough of an impact to leave me with baggage, but here it was.

I tried my best to ignore it and move forward with my life.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

“I’d like to spend the night tonight,” Kevin told me over dinner.

My whole body stiffened. I knew this was coming, eventually it had to, of course, but I didn’t feel ready for it.

We’d been dating for almost a month.  I probably should have felt ready.

I just didn’t.

“Kevin,” I started to say.

His hand covered mine across the table, and he gave me what I thought was supposed to be a reassuring smile.  “Not for that.  I wasn’t trying to be crass.  I’ll stay in your guest room or something.  I just happen to have a day off tomorrow, and I thought it’d be nice to share breakfast with you.  In your home.”

It struck me as an odd request, it really did, but I was too relieved at what he wasn’t asking for to give it much thought.

“Sure,” I said awkwardly and went back to eating.

We were trying a new French restaurant that night, as we did on most of our dates.  Kevin was a foodie, and his favorite just happened to be gourmet French cuisine.  He even ordered in French.

How lucky was that?

The rest of the night went down basically how he had sold it.

We made out for a bit on my sofa.  We’d worked up to making out, but that was about it.

He was a good kisser.

I didn’t feel a Heath level of attraction for him, but I knew better than to expect that.  It was not normal the way Heath got me going, and I didn’t plan to set myself up for disappointment with every future relationship by expecting such a thing.

But kissing Kevin was nice.  That was something.

And then we went to bed.  Separately.

He’s a man of his word, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.  He hadn’t even tried to take it further.

I woke up turned on and to the smell of bacon.

I recalled vaguely the feverish dreams that had my sheets twisted up around my hips.

Stretching, I smiled and wondered if Heath could actually cook.

And then it hit me.

Fuck.

That wasn’t Heath cooking for me.  It was Kevin, and I felt guilty as hell for the slip-up.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance
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