I couldn’t help grinning. Another archaic term!
Ioniko caught sight of my expression. “Perhaps you should know that I am not as conservative as you are, my Schuyler. I wouldn’t mind fucking you now if you keep grinning like that…”
I looked at him horror. Did he really mean that?
Ioniko raised a brow. “Care to put it to the test?”
I fervently shook my head, saying feelingly, “I’ll take your word for it.”
And so that was how I ended up in bed with Ioniko, with all our clothes on.
“And nothing happened after that? As in, zero? Nothing at all?” Sara asked disbelievingly the next day. It had only been an hour since Ioniko had dropped me at my apartment, and Sara hadn’t wasted any time in coming over and demanding deets about my weekend with the billionaire.
“He told me if he kissed me, he might not be able to stop.”
Sara wrinkled her nose. “And you believed him?”
Her eyes widened. “Oh.” A moment later, she asked with great interest, “How much evidence?”
Both of us burst into laughter after that, and it was quite some time before Sara finally stopped asking questions about length, width, and thickness, and we were able to get some actual work done.
It was already six in the evening when Sara left, but it was still enough time for me to shower and fix myself up a little before my doorbell rang and Clay presented himself with a bouquet of tulips.
He was as good-looking as I remembered, and while the unconcealed admiration in his gaze made me feel self-conscious, it was still different. Too different, and it worried me. A lot.
Dinner was fun and lightly flirtatious, and while I couldn’t quite make myself flirt back, I strove hard not to be discouraging in any way either. If I were serious about protecting myself from future hurt, then I had to be just as serious in giving other guys a chance.
And I thought I was succeeding until we were standing outside my apartment door and Clay remarked ruefully, “I guess that does it.”
What was he talking about?
“You tried your damnedest. I appreciate that, but…the fact that you had to try—”
“Clay.” I tried not to sound anxious even as my stomach started churning. “What exactly are you saying? Didn’t we have a good time? I thought—”
“Whatever you thought this would accomplish,” Clay interrupted gently, “you obviously thought wrong. You’re already halfway in love with him.”
“No. No. You’re wrong.” And this time, I was seriously panicking. “It’s not like that—”
But Clay only stepped forward and pressed a soft kiss to my forehead. “Take care, Schuyler.”
I found myself staring dumbly as he walked away, and the entire time, I kept thinking to myself, He can’t be right. He can’t be. He can’t. Clay was wrong. He had to be wrong. But in order to prove this, I had to go on another date. I had to keep going on dates until I found someone who could make me feel more than Ioniko did. Be more than Ioniko was.
That was all, just that, but this time the mere thought of it suddenly made me feel like gagging.
I can’t do this again, I realized sickly. There had to be another way for me to protect my heart and keep myself from falling for the billionaire. There had to be. Just had to be. But no matter how hard I tried to come up with a solution, my mind remained frighteningly blank, and when I eventually fell asleep, it was with my heart still lodged in my throat, and the shadow of Ioniko’s name tainting my lips.
When I woke again, it was only close to midnight, and the shrill sound of my doorbell was ringing throughout the apartment. I could barely keep my eyes open as I fumbled my way to the door. “Coming—” My voice trailed off the moment I saw him.
“Can I come in?”
“Uh…of course.” I was instantly awake, and I took my time shutting the door close while frantically working to calm my racing heartbeat. When I turned around to face him, it was to bump straight into his chest instead, and I would’ve lost my balance if not for Ioniko swiftly taking hold of my arms.
“Um, yes—” My voice trailed off as the way he instantly relinquished his hold caught me off guard. Something was wrong. The Ioniko I had come to know in the past few days tended to seize any excuse to touch me. So for him to suddenly act like this…
Please just don’t stare at me like that.
Tell me what’s wrong.
But the continued silence was forcing me to draw conclusions that made me want to throw up. He’s here because he’s going to say goodbye. He realized I’m not worth the wait. Or maybe he was never…
My heart stuttered at the thought. No. It couldn’t be that. Could it? My gaze flew up to his, a part of me unconsciously yearning for his reassurance but instead all I saw in his eyes…